The Twelve Spirits: Ugly Spirit (Chapters 6-8) (Completed)

Here’s chapters 6-8, which marks the end of Su Zicheng & Ning Xishi’s story.


[6]

Ning Xishi sat in her room, and taking advantage of Su Zicheng’s absence, used her authority as his Princess Consort to have a servant retrieve the Techniques of Necromancy for me. Then I prepared everything and brought her back into the past with me.

Our return to the past did not pose much of a threat to my own health, because all the life force required to sustain our alternate space-time would be exhausted from Ning Xishi.

We returned to a time when Ning Xishi was thirteen years old. Back then, Su Zicheng was eighteen years old and Ning Xishi had not yet married him. As for Xiao Yan, she was still grounded within the Xiao manor, unable to leave owing to her frail health.

On the day we returned, it was early spring, and the skies were drizzling with fine rain. I helped Ning Xishi pick a beautiful dress and combed an elaborate hairstyle for her, before having her wait under a peach blossom tree. Next, I stole Su Zicheng’s seal, and lured him here.

Pursued by Su Zicheng and his personal guards, I ran. As I neared Ning Xishi’s hiding spot, I dashed towards her and tossed the seal into her hands, then waited for Su Zicheng and his men to emerge from the small alley.

Immediately, their eyes fell upon Ning Xishi.

Spring rain; peach blossoms; a beautiful woman. Ning Xishi was holding a black bamboo umbrella as she stood beneath the peach blossoms tree, her smile bright and warm.

Uncurling her hands to reveal the seal within her palms, she asked him with a smile, ‘Are you looking for this?’

Su Zicheng stared at her in a daze. A long moment passed before he answered with a smile, ‘So it has ended up in your hands. It is my blessing accumulated from three lives.’

He strode forward and his gaze caught on the fragrance pouch hanging on Ning Xishi’s waist.

‘Your pouch is exquisite. How about giving it to me?’

Hearing this, Ning Xishi and I were both stupefied for a moment. A heartbeat later, Ning Xishi’s face relaxed in a smile. She unfastened the pouch and handed it to Su Zicheng, saying, ‘Shouldn’t you give me something in return?’

‘Behind the Radiant Temple is a beautiful peach blossoms forest. Would you like to join me for a tour?’ Su Zicheng smiled, his eyes curving into crescent moons. He unfolded his fan; the picture of a carefree young man untouched by the harshness of life.

So this was how Ning Xishi and Su Zicheng came to meet. Every day, Su Zicheng would come and seek her out. They would explore the gardens, admire the moon, climb the mountains and swim the lakes while I followed behind them, watching over them quietly.

One night on the third day of the lunar month, Ning Xishi suddenly coughed out a mouthful of blood. I could not help but sigh, and said, ‘Let’s return. Your body cannot hold on for long.’

Ning Xishi shook her head and said stubbornly, ‘I won’t return. Even if I were to die, I choose to remain here. Ye An, did you know, he said that he liked me.’ Smiling faintly, Ning Xishi’s eyes were filled with simple bliss. ‘This is the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. If I were to die here, 0so be it.’

I did not know why, but the corners of my eye began to sting. My lips parted; I wanted to say something, but I found myself unable to utter even a word. I could not find the words with which to express my feelings.

I did not say anything else, and in the subsequent days, I no longer followed behind them. Ning Xishi left the house every day to be with Su Zicheng. Su Zicheng treated her extremely well, gifting her lychee which he had sought from a thousand miles away and good wine which had been stowed away for decades.

When Ning Xishi suffered a cold and wanted to look at the peach blossoms, Su Zicheng had his men transplant a garden full of peach blossoms to her manor overnight. For her birthday, she asked for him a hairpin, so he spent half a month carving one for her with his own hands.

He said, ‘Xishi, I will give you anything you wish for, as long as it is within my power.’

She stared at him with a faint smile. A long moment passed before she finally spoke, ‘Zicheng, I like you. Do you like me too?’

‘Of course, I do.’ Su Zicheng’s eyes curved. The flirtatious young man whose amorous reputation had preceded him was nowhere to be found at this moment. All that remained was a man who had fallen in love. All traces of playful flirtatiousness had disappeared from his eyes, leaving behind only warmth and devotion.

The night before their wedding, Ning Xishi coughed up blood once more. I looked at the lifelines on her palms which had almost entirely vanished and could no longer suppress my protests. ‘If you return to our time with me now, I’ll think of a way to extend your life. In the present day, you still have many days to spend with him. Why are you forcing yourself to continue on with this path?’

Why did you have to be so resolute in your unwillingness to go back to our time – to the point of no return?

Ning Xishi only smiled, turning her head to look at the view beyond the window.

‘I like Su Zicheng the way he is now – because he treats me so warmly and sincerely. This is something I can never hope to obtain in our present time.’ She turned back to look at me, smiling faintly. Her smile was simple and uncomplicated, as though she were truly a young woman in her teens who had never been tainted by the troubles of life.

Her eyes were filled with gratitude as she said, ‘Ye An, I am content. Thank you.’

She retrieved a dress from the closet. Meeting my gaze reflected on the copper mirror, she said, ‘Ye An, do you think this dress looks nice?’

‘Very nice,’ I said, but my voice was hoarse.


[7]

It was Su Zicheng’s birthday the next day.

Early in the morning, Ning Xishi changed her clothes into the dress she had picked out the night before. I had booked a banquet for the two of them.

Ning Xishi waited for a long time. Only when the skies had darkened and a silver of the moon glimmered within the skies did Su Zicheng finally appear, a strong smell of liquor clinging onto him. He stumbled into the courtyard, and as his gaze landed on her, his lips stretched into a carefree smile.

‘Xishi,’ he said, calling her name from afar.

Ning Xishi smiled. She stood in the courtyard and gazed at him with bright eyes. Behind her, peach blossoms fluttered from the trees and scattered across the grounds. Clothed in a pale blue dress with her hair fastened by  a white ribbon, at that moment, Ning Xishi was the picture of a virtuous wife awaiting the arrival of her husband who had returned after days apart.

The serenity she exuded caused Su Zicheng’s breath to hitch.

A long time ago, the thought had crossed his mind that, in his lifetime, he wanted to meet such a woman – one who, no matter where he was, would always be at home with a pot of lukewarm fine wine, awaiting his return.

And at this moment, he had finally met her.

The young woman he had met by chance on a drizzling spring day had always been silently waiting for him, carrying a love which had she had harboured close to her heart for years.

Su Zicheng felt his heart constrict, and a sudden phrase sprang into his mind.

Till the end of time.

He could not help the quickening of his steps as he drew closer to her, clasping her hands tight within his.

Her hands were cold, and he spread his hands, covering hers with his as he lifted their intertwined fingers to exhale a warm breath of air onto her palms. Rubbing her palms gently, he said, ‘Why are you so cold? Have you been waiting for long?’

‘I have…’ Ning Xishi exhaled and raised a hand to stroke his face. ‘Zicheng, I have waited too long for you. But…’ Her eyes curved into smiles. ‘I’m grateful that you’ve come at last.’

Su Zicheng could not help but be slightly dazed.

Perhaps, even after he had lived his entire life, he would still be unable to understand the love this young woman held for him.

Ning Xishi spoke. ‘It’s your birthday. Have a seat, I’ll dance for you.’

She performed the Startling Swan dance.

She had practiced this dance for three years, from when she was thirteen to sixteen.

Each movement of the dance was something she had practiced hundreds of times, and each time she had practiced this in her youth, she thought of him.

Thought of his easy-going humour and flirtatiousness; thought of the elegant way with which he sampled fine wine and admired the flowers; thought of how he often raised his brows when his attention was piqued, and the way his lips curved. It seemed like a trance, where she was trapped in a beautiful dream.

Ning Xishi extended her arms; turned her body; unfurled her sleeves.

Like a butterfly, she danced through the night.

Su Zicheng stared at her, his gaze caught on the deep love reflected clearly within the depths of her eyes.

A long time later, the dance came to an end and she stopped in front of him, watching him silently.

On this night, the moon lit the skies. Peach blossoms fluttered gently to the ground, but all else was still.

Su Zicheng’s lips parted as he spoke, his words sincere. He said, ‘Xishi, I’ve been amorous my whole life, but this is the first time I have wanted to spend the rest of my life with one person.’

‘Xishi, I like you.’

Ning Xishi did not say a word, but she smiled, tears shining in her eyes.

Su Zicheng pulled her into a hug and said, ‘Xishi, will you marry me?’

‘Yes,’ Ning Xishi said, without hesitation.

Yet her face was deathly pale. She understood that she did not have much time left.

She grasped his sleeve tightly within her hands and said, ‘Zicheng, help me to paint my face once.’

‘En.’ Su Zicheng nodded and clasped her hands within his, leading her into the room.

Ning Xishi sat before the copper mirror while Su Zicheng stood behind her. His slender hand reached for the brow pencil, and cupping her face, he started to draw her brows.

‘When we are married, I’ll help you to paint your face every day.’

Ning Xishi lifted her head to look at him. ‘When I’m old, you must remember this is how you should draw my brows.’

Su Zicheng murmured in assent and picked up the rouge, his attention fixed on her. ‘I’ll always be with you, to paint your face for a lifetime.’

He powdered her face and painted her lips. Minutes later, it was done.

Ning Xishi turned her head and stared at the image of the two of them reflected in the mirror – a picture of bliss and contentment. She was in a daze as she stared at their reflection for a long time, before she finally smiled, her eyes shining.

She felt her energy begin to leave her body and reached for his hand. ‘Even if I were dead, you cannot love another.’

‘What…’ Su Zicheng wanted to say something, but abruptly froze. He saw the woman in the mirror slowly close her eyes, her body falling backwards.

The world began to shake in tremendous fashion. I sighed and pushed the door open, walking in.

Ning Xishi was leaning against Su Zicheng’s chest, her eyes closed. I cast a spell onto Su Zicheng, strode in, lifted Ning Xishi onto my back and left the room.

The peach blossoms strewn across the grounds of the courtyard shone brilliantly. Ning Xishi rested her head against my back and whispered her last words.

She said, ‘This is – the best I could have hoped for.’

To die in a time when Su Zicheng loved her, when she was at her happiest.

Truly, this was the best Ning Xishi could have hoped for.


[8]

I brought Ning Xishi back with me to the present time. She had spent several days in our alternate space-time, but when we returned, only a quarter of an hour had passed. I placed her body on the bed and turned to leave. The night was drizzling with soft rain and I had forgotten to bring my umbrella, but still, I left. When I walked past the Heavenly Fragrance Pavilion, I saw Su Zicheng striding out from within.

A careless, untroubled smile decorated his face; loud, bubbling laughter followed the group. Except, when the group of them finally parted, Su Zicheng returned home alone.

An aura of desolation and loneliness clung onto his person, as though he had been blanketed by heavy snow.

Without thinking, I followed behind him. After walking a distance, he abruptly stopped.

He stood before an old peach blossom tree. I thought the tree looked familiar, but suddenly, I heard Su Zicheng’s voice travel from ahead.

‘Why have you been following me?’

‘Ning Xishi is dead.’

My words registered in his mind. He froze. A long time passed before a word issued hoarsely from his lips, ‘Impossible.’

‘She is still young and has always been in good health. She is a person who has the tenacity to stand by the manor gates every day just to await my return. She is even bold enough to travel miles alone to the war-torn borders and overturn corpses just to search for me.’ He stopped. His lips stretched into a smile, but his eyes were shining. He said, ‘This is the sort of woman she is. And you’re telling me that she is dead?’

‘But – she is truly dead.’ My lips parted. I did not know why, but my voice was hoarse. ‘She died when she was seventeen. She borrowed Xiao Yan’s face and, at the most beautiful time, in the most beautiful manner, met you,’ I said.

My gaze remained on the peach tree and I finally understood all that had transpired.

‘She first met you here, at this peach tree. She had always thought of herself as a disfigured woman, so I helped her change into Xiao Yan’s face. She thought you loved Xiao Yan, so she had learned everything about Xiao Yan – her demeanour, makeup, and also, that fragrance pouch which only Xiao Yan knew how to make.

‘The day she met you, the skies were drizzling with light rain and the grounds were littered with peach blossoms. She stood under this peach tree, holding onto a black bamboo umbrella, as I lured you over…

‘For you, she refused to return to our time…

‘She said that she would rather die in the past, than return…

‘Using the entirety of her remaining lifespan, she performed the Starting Swan for you…

‘From when she was eight to twenty-four years old, she had given you her all, be it love or hate.’

I stopped and raised my head to look at Su Zicheng. But Su Zicheng did not say a word. He stared at the withered peach tree, smiling, tears on his cheeks.

I did not say anything else, and finally turned away.

Su Zicheng did not stop me, and a long moment passed before I heard his laughter pierce through the skies.

– –

That night, a fire engulfed Prince De’s manor. The fire which billowed through the manor was untameable, its flames leaping towards the skies. Even standing at the outskirts of the city, I could still see glimpses of the roaring flames.

I stood beneath the peach blossoms tree and felt the late-spring rain land on my body like tiny pricks of needle.

Behind me, footsteps echoed against the grounds as a person drew near to me.

White robes and black hair; the newcomer held onto a lantern.

‘When he returned and saw Ning Xishi with Xiao Yan’s face, he finally believed all that you had said.’ The man said, his voice deep and calm.

I could not help but laugh.

‘Mo Ran, congratulations.’ I smiled as I raised my head, but I did not look at him, my gaze remaining on the peach tree. ‘To have obtained the ugly spirit of the twelve spirits.’

Mo Ran did not speak. He stood behind me, and I did not know what he was thinking of.

I glanced at the overcast skies. My gaze dipped towards the flower petals falling gently to the grounds, my mind wandering to that young lady.

Spring rain; peach blossoms; a beautiful woman.

She held a black bamboo umbrella in her hands as she stood beneath this blossom tree, her smile warm and blissful.

Su Zicheng said that he wanted to meet a person who would, no matter where he was or had gone, always be there, awaiting his return.

He had met such a person.

She had always been standing there, waiting for him.

End.


< Previous | Chapters Index |


Translator’s notes: This is the end of Su Zicheng & Ning Xishi’s story… It’s a short novel, but I enjoyed it because it is reminiscent of Hua Xu Yin, which was one of my favourite novels.

Although at first read it seems as though Su Zicheng is heartless and cruel, I think it’s actually the opposite – it is precisely because he is a person who is extremely steadfast in his love once he has truly fallen for someone that the tragedy in this novel happened. He clung onto his memories of “Xiao Yan” long after she disappeared, and refused to accept a substitute. He did not even allow Ning Xishi to act like “Xiao Yan”, because he was so fiercely protective of her that he did not want anyone to taint her image.

I particularly liked this paragraph – “… Only when the skies had darkened and a silver of the moon glimmered within the skies did Su Zicheng finally appear, a strong smell of liquor clinging onto him. He stumbled into the courtyard, and as his gaze landed on her, his lips stretched into a carefree smile.”

Here, we get a glimpse of what Su Zicheng had been before he had fallen deep in love. We see a simple young man in his youth: this is a man who has not given way to pensive introspection and desperate longing of a love forever lost, and is stranger to heartache, frustration and despair. Contrasting this image of him now to the opening chapters where we see the hate and bitterness in his heart makes me feel sad for him. Ning Xishi is not the only one who has changed with the passage of time. Su Zicheng has also become a ghost of his former self. He is trapped by his own obstinacy, clinging onto his memories of his love with “Xiao Yan”.

I do hope that one day Ye Xiao will return to finish the series, but it’s highly unlikely as she has quit writing. Ye An (the Master of Destiny who swapped Ning Xishi’s face with Xiao Yan’s) is actually the ‘main character’ of the series who links the twelve spirits together. The unfinished 12th story is Ye An and Mo Ran’s story.

Hope you guys enjoyed this short story.

9 thoughts on “The Twelve Spirits: Ugly Spirit (Chapters 6-8) (Completed)

  1. Thank you so much.. this is too sad… and beautiful ToT I wonder if you’re interested in translating the other stories of the series..
    I read your Ballad of Ten Thousands Gu before and it’s my favorite tragic novel so far.. <3<3

    Like

  2. It was such a beautiful readddd!!
    I tend to stay away from tragedies, but I adore the ones you translate *^*
    I hope you can find time to translate something else soon ❤

    Like

  3. Ahh you know it’s gonna be a good story when it’s translated by Catharcity. Thank you for translating this beautiful short story ❤

    Like

      1. That’s so sad. I also thought that possibility too that the Prince had alreadly fallen in love with the current ning xishi because she already showed her characteristic in the past which reminded him of her in the present. However, he is in denial because of her appearance.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s