The Twelve Spirits: Ugly Spirit (Chapters 4-5)

Hi everyone!! Sorry for disappearing in the past year; real life got in the way shortly after I posted chapters 1 to 3 and I forgot about it for a year. But I’ll be posting the rest of this story over this weekend. It’s a short novel, so it will end by chapter 8 🙂


[4]

Later, Xiao Yan returned.

Xiao Yan – her playmate in their childhood, the Prime Minister’s precious daughter. When they were eight, Ning Xishi shielded her from that pot of boiling water and was left permanently disfigured. Since then, Xiao Yan had been forbidden from leaving her family’s manor. Later, rumours spread across the common folk that Xiao Yan was forced to refuse all visitors as she had contracted a strange disease, until, at nineteen years old, she was fully cured and could finally re-enter society.

And now, two years later, Xiao Yan had been bestowed marriage to the Great General Xie Huan in a ceremony that was celebrated by the entire nation. Even though the two of them had not met in eleven years, when Ning Xishi thought about her old friend, she still prayed for her happiness.

Ning Xishi originally intended to attend Xiao Yan’s wedding, but as she was feeling unwell that day, she had to entrust Su Zicheng to deliver her gift on her behalf, while she recuperated within the manor.

Su Zicheng brought her gift and paid a visit to Xiao Yan’s family manor. He stood at the long corridor, preparing to hand the gift over to a servant of the Xiao family. Yet he raised his head – a careless action – and his gaze fell upon Xiao Yan.

That day, Xiao Yan had been dressed in a beautiful gown, her face lit in a warm smile.

At once, Su Zicheng was stunned. He stood rooted on the spot, his hands still clutched around Ning Xishi’s gift.

A second later, he shoved the servant aside and dashed across the corridor towards Xiao Yan. The guards of the Xiao manor swarmed towards him, restraining him, while Xiao Yan stood there, staring at him through perplexed eyes, her brows furrowing.

– –

‘Did you know, that day, it was His Majesty himself who decreed a restraining order? He actually attempted to use his personal troops to stop the wedding…’ Ning Xishi’s words trailed off and she laughed, yet her laughter was broken like cries.

‘His Majesty summoned me into the imperial palace, hoping I could dissuade him. But how could I have succeeded?’

When Ning Xishi returned to their manor from the palace, she saw the wine bottles that had been scattered across the ground, and Su Zicheng in a drunken state of misery.

That warm and cheerful youth of her memories; the powerful and confident man she had married had been reduced to a child as he locked himself in his room, wailing to the heavens.

She walked towards him, and he immediately clutched her, words spilling forth from his lips, ‘Xishi, do you know… she has forgotten me. Her servants told me that she had once been assaulted by kidnappers, and her memories are distorted. She has forgotten me! Just like that – she has forgotten me!’

He said, ‘Xishi, I refuse to give up, I refuse to give up… I should have gone to see her earlier. I should have met her earlier.’

Ning Xishi did not speak. Under the darkness of the night, she reached out, holding him close within her arms.

– –

In the days that followed, Su Zicheng was frequently away from his manor. Rumours said that Xiao Yan’s husband did not treat her well, so Su Zicheng often found trouble with him. Day after day, he entrusted a servant to deliver his gifts to Xiao Yan; day after day, he waited for her, but was only ever met with rejection.

Su Zicheng was convinced that Xiao Yan had only forgotten him, and that one day, she would eventually remember him. And… in truth, regardless of whether Xiao Yan remembered him or otherwise, his love towards her would remain unchanged.

Throughout this, Ning Xishi did not say a word, only watching silently, day after night.

All she could do was to learn the way Xiao Yan dressed, as well as all her habits and mannerisms.

Xiao Yan had a talent in concocting new fragrances, and the fragrance pouches which she carried were unique. Ning Xishi saw that Su Zicheng carried with him a fragrance pouch which he treasured, and though the fragrance belonging to that pouch had long dissipated, leaving behind only the faintest traces of fragrance, after one inhalation, Ning Xishi was still able to discern that it was one of Xiao Yan’s creations.

She sent a servant over to Xiao Yan’s manor, pleading to learn how she created her fragrances. With the knowledge, she then sewed her own fragrance pouch and recreated a smell identical to Xiao Yan’s creation.

During this period of time, not once did she meet Xiao Yan nor Su Zicheng.

She was afraid that she would come to hate Xiao Yan, even though she knew that Xiao Yan was not to be blamed.

That night, she dressed in robes similar to what Xiao Yan usually wore, and attached the fragrance pouch she had made to her belt. Just like the days of the past, she stood by the manor gates, awaiting Su Zicheng’s return.

Su Zicheng swung himself off his horse and headed towards his room, but as his body brushed past hers, he abruptly stopped.

His gaze dipped towards the fragrance pouch hanging by her waist, before they returned to her face.

A long moment passed before a bitter laugh issued from his lips.

‘Ning Xishi, you disgust me,’ he said as he shoved her aside and decreed for her to be exiled to a side manor.

– –

‘He did not allow anyone to taint her image. With my disfigured face, my attempt to act like Xiao Yan was a laughable imitation. In the past, he believed her to be dead and allowed me to be her substitute in her memory. But now that she has returned, how could I remain?’

Ning Xishi understood this, so it was without protest that she began her life at the side manor.

News of her exile from Prince De’s manor soon spread across the entire capital. As the rumours passed from one curious commoner to another, the story eventually morphed into the current ludicrous hearsay: that Ning Xishi had been exiled from Prince De’s manor from the onset of her marriage.

In the days that followed, Ning Xishi began to harbour the thought that perhaps, she ought to grow old and live the remainder of her life in this manner. She tried her best not to think of Su Zicheng, stopped herself from going to see him, and slowly awaited for the day where she no longer loved him to come, so that she might request an annulment of their marriage and disappear from his life.

She heard the common folk sing of the infatuated love her husband held for Xiao Yan, and also heard them discuss the love-hate relationship between Xiao Yan and her legal husband, the Great General Xie Huan.

More than that, she heard that Su Zicheng had bought the peach forest located behind the Radiant Temple for Xiao Yan; that Su Zicheng had released half a night of fireworks for Xiao Yan; that because Xiao Yan was unwilling for Xie Huan to join the war, Su Zicheng volunteered himself to go in his stead.

Su Zicheng departed to enlist in the army.

Three years passed.

In these three years, Ning Xishi remained at the side manor. Every day, she hung a peace amulet on a tree. Even after she entire tree was covered with the amulets she had tied to its branches, still, Su Zicheng did not return.

On one quiet night, she heard the sound of rainwater falling upon the peach blossoms tree and slowly opened her sleep-filled eyes.

She saw Su Zicheng standing there, his smile gentle and warm, as though she had returned to the long-gone past and he was once again the youth who had comforted her and soothed her fears away.

Memories of the past swarmed her mind and her longing for him returned, tears falling past her cheeks. It was then that she finally understood that, in the end, she was still unable to forget him.

That night, she left the manor and hurriedly made her way towards the war-torn country border. Sure enough, she soon heard the news that he had fallen into an ambush.

It had been a devastating and fiercely violent battle. When she reached the war field, the battle had already been concluded. Blood streaked across the grass, transforming the grounds into a red river now home to innumerable corpses. Crying his name, she overturned the corpses one by one, desperately searching for him.

Everyone pleaded with her to stop her futile search, but she did not pay heed to their words. Her fingers which had never been exposed to the harsh elements of rain and sun were soon blistered and bloodied, until, at last, she found him.

He was barely stirring. She stared at him, clinging onto his frail form.

He raised a trembling hand to her face and caressed her. In an exhausted voice overflowing with love, he whispered that person’s name.

Xiao Yan.

He said, ‘Xiao Yan, I promised to help you paint your face for a lifetime, but now, I can no longer fulfil my promise…’

‘Ah Yan,’ he said, a faint smile appearing on his lips. ‘Your name is obviously Xiao Yan, but why did you tell me you were called Ning Xishi… Look… I made a mistake, and now my mistake will haunt me for life.’

Ning Xishi did not speak, supporting him up as they staggered past the countless bodies, making for the military camps.

She listened to his delirious murmurs as they walked, her tears falling.

She did not understand why she was crying, yet the ache in her chest was undeniable.

– –

In the end, Su Zicheng survived, though he was left severely weakened. Later, Ning Xishi returned to the capital with him, and nursed him back to health within his manor. The days passed quietly when, unexpectedly, news of the execution of the entire Xiao family issued from the imperial court. Not long after, Xiao Yan withered away and passed on from ill health, and news of Xie Huan’s suicide soon followed.

When Su Zicheng learned of this, his emotions reared, and he spat out a mouthful of blood. Then he called her over, and said to her, ‘Xishi, perform the Startling Swan dance for me.’

Obediently, Ning Xishi walked over and lifted her arms as she began to perform. As she danced, tears abruptly sprung from Su Zicheng’s eyes, and he lunged at her, engulfing her into his arms.

Crying for Xiao Yan, he pulled at her robes…

– –

‘At that moment, I truly believed that he would die together with Xiao Yan.’

That was what Ning Xishi believed as Su Zicheng held her within his crushing grip that night.

Back then, she had thought that, if that were to be so, then she was also willing to follow him in his death.

In their game of love, none of them were more fortunate than the rest, just as how not one of them loved any lesser.


[5]

‘Last night, he called me over.’

‘He asked me to leave.’

He said that when he saw her, he would be reminded of Xiao Yan. He said that he should not ruin her life in this manner, so he wanted her to leave.

Xiao Yan’s face had been successfully transplanted onto Ning Xishi, while her own face had been dissolved with my potion and placed within my wooden box.

Then I supported Ning Xishi up and placed the mirror in front of her. She stared at the stunning face reflected within the mirror and raised a shaking hand to her face.

‘Can you make me look younger? Just like a fifteen year old child?’ I did not know what went through Ning Xishi’s mind when she abruptly made such a strange request.

Though puzzled, I had always been accommodating of my customers, so I stepped forward to help her mould her face. A moment later, Xiao Yan’s fifteen year old face was reflected in the mirror.

Ning Xishi laughed, just like a young child. ‘Ye An, you are a Master of Destiny. Does this mean that you have the ability to manipulate space-time to allow me to return to the past?’

Hearing her words, my eyelids gave an involuntary twitch. Ning Xishi turned around, and held onto me in a tight grip as she said expectantly, ‘Help me return to the past, will you? Let me return to the past – to a time when he hadn’t met Xiao Yan yet.’

‘You…’ I was put in a spot. ‘Do you know the price you have to pay for defying the laws of nature?’

Ning Xishi did not reply, her gaze still expectant. There was a pause, before she murmured, ‘Is there any price I cannot pay? Is there anything I cannot bear to part with?

‘From my youth, I had a wish. I want to become the most beautiful woman in this world, to meet him at my most beautiful time, and then have him fall for me and paint my face for a lifetime.

‘Unfortunately, I could not be a beautiful woman. But now that I have become one, I will give everything I possess to go back to a time when he had not yet met Xiao Yan.’

Hearing this, I sighed. ‘To sustain the world in that space-time, you will have to trade your life force. I can let you return to the past – but you cannot stop him from falling in love with Xiao Yan, or should I say, your love for him will not be able to change his and Xiao Yan’s, nor affect the outcome of your marriage with him. And you… perhaps you would have exhausted too much of your life force and die within the past. Or perhaps, when we return to this time, you would have aged to be an old woman. And, apart from all these, you will have to give me another payment.’

‘With all these conditions…’ I looked at her hands, curled into fists. ‘Do you still wish to return?’

‘What do you want?’

‘I heard that Su Zicheng’s manor has a copy of the record Techniques of Necromancy. I want that.’

‘Deal.’ She laughed, ‘This has become the only hope in my life. It’s just a book. I’ll have someone pass it to you.’


Translator’s notes: For context, Ning Xishi’s story is the 2nd story of Ye Xiao’s 12-part series. The series is collectively titled, 十二魂 (The Twelve Spirits), although only 11 parts were ever released because Ye Xiao did not write the twelfth/final story. Xiao Yan and Xie Huan are actually the main characters of the first story… As you can probably tell from this chapter, they did not have a happy ending either.

When Ning Xishi said – In their game of love, none of them were more fortunate than the rest, just as how not one of them loved any lesser – I think she might have been referring to all four of them: Ning Xishi, Su Zicheng, Xiao Yan and Xie Huan…


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2 thoughts on “The Twelve Spirits: Ugly Spirit (Chapters 4-5)

  1. Well….. So it seems. It was indeed her who SZ loved and yet the face said otherwise. Oh what a twist of fate
    Many thanks
    Happy new year 😀

    Like

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