昨夜風兼 雨，簾幃 颯颯 秋聲。燭殘 漏斷 頻 欹枕，起坐不能平。
世事 漫 隨流水，算來一夢浮生。醉鄉 路穩 宜頻到，此外不堪行。
Last Night the Wind and Rain Together Blew
(sung to the tune of crows crying at night)
Last night the wind and rain together blew,
The wall-curtains rustled in their autumn song.
The candle died, the water-clock was exhausted,
I rose and sat, but could not be at peace.
Man's affairs are like the flow of floodwater,
A life is just like floating in a dream.
I should more often go drunken through the country,
For otherwise I could not bear to live.
- Li Yu
The air was heavy with water, stuck in pregnant clouds that refused to feed the dry earth, and so, everything under the sky suffered. A man walked on, pausing every now and then to wipe the sweat dripping from his nose, stuffy under his straw hat, weighed down by the dusty clothes that dragged along the barren dirt. Even the desert heat was preferable to this torment, with its cool night air-- this, all he had was the neverending humidity of a barren road and the churning of his stomach, so starved that he no longer hungered. He refused to yearn for respite, but the discomfort won out in the end: he was made of flesh and blood.
He fell in a cloud of dust, mouth too dry to speak. And like gnats, the companions gathered around him, fluttering in their ragged clothes as they checked for signs of life.
“Is- is he dead?” the masked one asked with feigned concern.
“So he takes us halfway and just drops dead? Well, what do we do now? And he calls himself our head?” the gilled one rasped.
The hooded one knelt by the Tang priest’s side, calloused fingers undoing the strings of the monk’s hat. He pushed the hat off, unwound its strips of black cloth, and pulled the man into his lap. “Still alive,” he said, before turning to the other two, “he’s still alive.”
“Lovely,” Bajie said, “now we have to carry baldy out of here, great .”
Wujing narrowed his eyes: “I can’t. I’m pulling the wagon.”
“What if we just put him in the wagon. Problem solved!”
“I said. I can’t. I’m. Pulling the wagon.”
“So what? You want me to carry him, in this weather? Then we both collapse and die, can you live with that?”
The eldest disciple scowled: “Shut it, you two! I’ll carry the baldy. You assholes can’t do anything right anyway.”
That being said, Wukong placed the priest on his back, dragged both of Xuanzang’s arms around his neck, and took to the road once more, miles of grey sky stretching ahead. Behind, the junior disciples exchanged looks of delight. Problem solved , the pig mouthed, it worked . Of course it would , the fish mouthed, eldest brother would do anything for him, and we just enjoy the ride . Haha, yes , the pig replied, haha .
Wujing lifted the handles and marched, rickety wheels scraping the ground as he followed the monkey’s footsteps, with Bajie powdering his sweating face as he struggled to keep up. But they might as well have been invisible to their eldest brother, and as far as they were concerned, it was just as well.
Wukong carried the Master until the sun set, silent feet never once stopping. When night washed over, he gave a simple order: “Make camp.”
And so, in the middle of nowhere, they did. Wujing stopped the wagon, gathered his dirty pots and pans, and cooked in spite of the heat. Bajie slumped lazily beside him, too frazzled to complain, and not far away, Wukong set the Tang priest down on a pile of scratchy blankets. Without a peep, the pig watched him tend their Master, spilling water from his wooden canteen into that parched mouth. Wukong cradled the monk’s head, fingers prodding Xuanzang’s lips to prevent a choke. Almost hungrily, Bajie looked on, oblivious to Wujing’s deadpan glare.
“Took you long enough! Eldest brother, food’s ready!”
Wukong: “You have legs, don’t you? Bring it over!”
“Right away, boss, right away! Little brother, you bring the boss his food, alright?”
Wujing: “Fuck you.”
Wukong never touched the congee. After Friar Sand came and left with the bowl, he took to spooning bits into the priest’s mouth, little by little until the monk was surely full. He hovered there for the rest of the night, pouring water into Xuanzang’s mouth, and soothing the Master’s fevered moans with soft strokes against that bald head. It was too hot for the other two to sleep, and with nothing better to do, they watched the monkey work. Wukong never drank from the canteen.
“The boss can be pretty dumb, don’t you think?” Bajie whispered, shifting on his side to face the fish, “Master won’t know he did any of this. And he won’t tell either. Tomorrow he’ll just go back to being the ‘bad monkey.’”
“How do you know Master doesn’t know?” Wujing narrowed his eyes at the priest in the distance, still cradled in Wukong’s lap. “He’s a slick one. For all we know, he’s pretending to sleep. But he won’t let any of us know, especially eldest brother.”
Wujing: “Because he knows himself best, and when it comes to eldest brother, Master wants him to be that ‘bad monkey.’ It’s easier that way.”
“Easier, eh? Doesn’t look that way to me… well, sweet dreams.”
“Sweet dreams, your head.”
The junior disciples slept and when dawn came, they were kicked awake by their senior. Wukong once again placed the Tang priest on his back and after their makeshift camp was packed away, the four journeyed on. The monk didn’t stir until well into the afternoon, when he awakened to the scent of unwanted hay and murky dirt, the texture of wildgrass on his sleeves and skin, and all else that made up and was his third-foe first-disciple. Coming to, he promptly slipped off Wukong’s dusty cloak, and without casting the monkey so much as a glance, Xuanzang croaked between limps on numb legs, “I can walk from here. I was just testing to see if you three hooligans would abandon me.”
“Too bad you woke up, baldy,” Wukong said with a roll of his eyes, “we were planning to chop you up and eat you.”
Bajie: “What a terrible joke to make! Master, don’t listen to him. We never left your side. I cried and prayed for you. I’m just so- so happy you’re fine!”
Wukong: “Does he make you want to throw up, Master?”
Bajie stepped behind Wujing to wipe his tears, Wukong’s eyes flashing murder as he trudged past them and that rickety wagon. Ahead, Xuanzang sighed, stopped, and turned: “Wa- water.” Wordless, Wukong opened the Master’s canteen, walked up to the priest’s side, pressed it to his lips, and swung the monk’s right arm over his own shoulder. And side by side, they trekked on.
Grateful for the aid, Xuanzang called back to the other two, “See? This is how you respect your elders!”
“You’re not even thirty!” Wujing snapped.
The pilgrims plodded along until the end of noon, basked in the unwanted warmth of a blood red sun. Xuanzang was in the lead, not because he was any faster than usual, but because the other three were much slower, too cooked to quicken. The monk licked his cracked lips for the upteenth time, barely any saliva left to soothe his dry throat.
Behind the Tang priest, Friar Sand dragged the wagon onwards, blue skin shining with sweat, drenched robes wrapped around his bare waist. Slowed to a limp beside him, Bajie eyed Wujing with disdain, leaned on the nine-toothed rake, and said, “You really had to strip here? Aren’t you sexy enough already?”
Wujing: “I don’t need you to tell me how sexy I am!”
Bajie: “Right, because we’re all dying to see those fish pecs!”
Stick over shoulders, Wukong shoved his way past the arguing brothers with a muttered, “zip it before I zip it for you,” frazzled hair dripping with sweat. The cloak lay draped about his back, too heavy to bear in the weather. He looked to the air again, convinced that the rain was refusing to fall out of spite. He always knew the dragon clan were assholes.
“Master,” he said with a tilt of the chin, “look there.”
Xuanzang looked to where he pointed. And nearly wept with joy. Red roof, bamboo gate, a fine well in front. A grand mansion stood several steps away, vast, rich, and best of all, shaded by high healthy trees. “Amitabha,” Xuanzang croaked, “praise Buddha.”
And just as he turned to share the good news with his disciples, Xuanzang realized the trio had run past him, already halfway to the mansion door. “You heartless demons!” he cried, “leaving your master behind like this!”
And left with no choice, the Tang priest ran after them, complaining to deaf ears all the while. The four reached the gate, whereupon Xuanzang desperately started shouting, to the protests of his throat, “Hello! Your humble guest is the priest, Tang Sanzang, from the kingdom Tang, sent to retrieve the holy sutra from-” He trailed off, voice overcome with dry coughs, before resuming, “-from the western paradise! I and my disciples have come-” Another bout of gasping took over. “-come from far away, and we kindly request-”
Wukong: “Cut to the chase! Old Sha’s turning into fried fish!”
Bajie: “Please, Master- this heat is terrible for my skin!”
Xuanzang: “ We need water! Please! ”
Bajie: “And food! And a place to rest! And maybe a woman while you’re at it- just you know, to serve us! But not sexually!”
Wukong smacked the pig over the head. “Keep talking and they’ll never let us in!”
Bajie opened his mouth to say, “Master, he’s bullying me!” but never had the chance to get the first word out. By then, the gate had swung open and standing before them was the most beautiful woman Tianpeng had ever seen, barring Chang’er. She stood proud, handsome face serene with just a touch of makeup, hair coiled into a long bun resting on her scalp, and green silk robes doing little to hide her rounded hips and full breasts.
“Venerable elder, would you like to come in?” she asked.
Xuanzang could only dumbly nod. He looked to his disciples, and on cue, all three began bobbing their heads as well.
Liu Xinan was the owner of the house, an inheritance from her dead husband, and it was just as splendid inside as it was out. She told the venerable elder that she had lived a good many years inside with nothing but the company of her servants and daughters, twelve in number and each prettier than the last, much to Bajie’s delight. The Liu family was much obliged to receive Xuanzang, and it was with the utmost joy that they prepared a feast for the pilgrims.
Any other day Xuanzang would have been embarrassed to enter such a fine home looking so dirty. But now he was too uncomfortable to care. He and the demons sat in a row behind Liu’s long table, dirty, sweaty, and dressed in rags (or in Bajie’s case, fine clothes that might as well be rags), cloaks, scarves, tools, and robes strung all over the ground. They hungrily lapped up the family’s water and shamelessly let themselves be fanned by plantain leaves.
Across, Liu’s daughters watched them with shy curiosity, giggling as each pilgrim ate. Wukong paid them no mind, taking bite after bite of the peaches offered, the juice dribbling down that dark chin. Friar Sand paid even less mind as he grabbed a pot of water from the servant’s hands- splash! He dumped it over his own head and yes, it felt good. Bajie stuffed his face with everything on the table, rice, plums, steamed greens, and all, shifting between pig and dandy every few seconds. Mortified, Xuanzang picked at his rice in silence, half resisting the urge to fling his chopsticks at Bajie’s head. Or Wujing’s. Or Wukong’s. Or maybe his own and end this shame.
“Sister, which one do you fancy?”
“Oh, the master is very handsome. So refined too.”
“He’s the cleanest of their group, yes.”
“Do you think mother would approve?”
“Of the pig man, I’m not sure, but then again…”
“I’m fonder of the first disciple. Rugged, mysterious, oh…”
“That peach, oh…”
“I think the third disciple would be an interesting character.”
“He’d certainly be good around the house, yes. Those muscles...”
“The second disciple’s batting his eyelashes. Look- he’s pretty this way.”
“They have such big appetites… I wonder how to please them…”
“Four of them, and twelve of us? How will this work?”
The daughters whispered among themselves, smiling and giggling as they exchanged thoughts, each word passing clearly through the monkey’s ears. But Wukong’s only reaction was an eyeroll. Bajie was much more excited at what he could hear, silently hoping for a chance to rest from their pilgrimage at last.
Liu took a sip of tea. She sighed, stared at her girls, and turned to Xuanzang. “Venerable elder,” she said sadly, “it may not seem that way but my family is in dire straits.”
Concerned, the monk asked, “What is it, kind bodhisattva, and how may we help?”
“We live in this isolated house and it’s far too dangerous for a group of vulnerable women to be on the road for long. We have no neighbors for miles on end, let alone families of renown.”
“Would you like us to accompany you on your travels? My disciples have valuable skills.”
“No, no, far too dangerous-”
“ Too dangerous . Now… what I meant to say was, it would be much easier to stay here. I worry for my children’s future, as any mother would, as well as my poor husband’s family line.”
“Would you like us to help you find suitable matches? I’m sure there are gentle, hardworking men willing to help you, waiting to be sought out.”
Liu smiled. “In a way, yes. We met by a stroke of luck today. Venerable elder, the best men are sitting right here at my table. I would like to marry four of my daughters to you and your disciples.”
Wujing: “Marry, your head!”
Wukong: “Master, now’s our chance to get rid of the pighead!”
Bajie: “Master, brothers! How can we leave a tearful, beautiful woman in need, let alone thirteen? It’s our duty to help!”
Xuanzang put down his chopsticks and shook his head, too shocked to think of a better reply. “N- no!” he said, “I’m sorry, bodhisattva, we’d love to help. But this- we- we’re holy men, on our way to the western paradise. We simply cannot do this. You must be mistaken.”
But Liu was unrelenting, clearly refusing to take no for an answer. Wukong snickered, offering no solution as the monk looked to him for help, nearly beside himself with ugly laughter. “Oh, this is rich! You’re really the ladies man, master.” And when Xuanzang continued to stare at him like a helpless lamb, he said, “Ah, stop looking at me, baldy. You’re the master- you decide.”
Bajie: “Master, I will sacrifice for our quest! I’ll stay and you can go on!”
“Your second disciple is so devoted,” Liu said, moved by the pig demon’s words, “I do hope his spirit spreads to the rest of you.”
“Bodhisattva, my answer is still no. We’re men of the temple.”
“Men are men, all the same. Elder, you’ll be married to my eldest. I’ll make you the master of the house. All of this- our fortune, our servants, all this fine land- will belong to you.”
“Please! There’s really no need. We can’t possibly-”
“I see you’re having trouble deciding. Then why not take the night to think it over?”
“But I said no-”
“Yes, I see that this is a difficult decision for you. Come, daughters. Let us retire and leave the monks to rest.”
“I,” Xuanzang stuttered, “but, I- wait-”
“You,” Liu said, ignoring the priest as she gestured at a pair of maids, “show the venerable elder and his disciples to their rooms. Prepare a bath for them and tend to their every need.”
Bajie looked to the young women in question and batted his lashes, framing his pretty, perfected face with baby-smooth hands. “Well, if the madame insists, it can’t be helped.”
He never saw the results of his flirting because the boss chose that moment to dig both his hands into Bajie’s scalp and slam his face flat against the table. “Damn pig,” the monkey hissed. And giggling at the sight, the maids left the room.
Water was bliss against his skin. Releasing another moan of pleasure, Wujing submerged himself in the Liu family spring, gills happily absorbing every bit of water that came through. The water was cool, refreshing, everything he needed to replenish those sore muscles. The heat was no more than a thing of the past, a nightmare of the past.
“Stop those noises,” Bajie said, a good three feet away, now a homely pig free from the eye of pretty girls, “you’d be in trouble if the boss heard you.”
“Fuck the boss.”
“Stop that, you want to get us both killed?”
Bajie shifted, dirt clearing from layers of pink fat, and sighed, allowing his true form a brief respite of comfort. “That baldy has to make his decision soon. If he’s smart, he’ll let us all stay.”
“Tsk. You’re the one who wants to stay.”
Wujing looked to the sky, now shrouded with stars and grey clouds, its sun replaced with a waning moon. Save for Bajie’s chatter, the chirping of crickets and the rustling of leaves were the only sounds around. The maids had left them fresh robes for bed and cloths to dry their bodies by the spring rocks. Then they’d taken the pilgrims’ dirty clothes for washing and abandoned them to their own devices. Now the disciples bathed in fresh, clean water under the cover of bushes and trees. Only the eyes of miniature maidens surrounded them, the stone statues modeled after the Jade Emperor’s seven celestial daughters.
It had been centuries since he last bathed in heaven. Wujing could barely recall the sensation. But he was a monster now- that was just a thing of the past.
“It’d be nice, you know,” the pig continued, “just us and these women. Waiting on us hand and foot, all we can eat, no more of this sutra crap- it’d be like heaven.”
He chuckled, an ugly piggish sound: “Just like heaven.”
Wujing: “Heaven wasn’t that great anyway!”
With that, he violently sent a splash of water in Bajie’s direction. Returning the favor with an offended cry, Bajie splashed back. And as they assaulted themselves with Liu’s spring water, the Tang priest listened on from his hiding place behind the leftmost bush.
Xuanzang had bathed before his disciples, on the grounds that, “The Master deserves to clean up first- you three should know that by now!” He’d used that time to gather his thoughts, or rather, tried to, because the monk had fallen into a dreamless doze and when he awoke, the maids were there to dry him off. “Amitabha,” he’d said in silence as they patted him from head to toe, taking far longer than necessary.
When the maids finally took their leave, he chose to stroll about the Liu garden and when he saw the daughters circling about as well, realized he had nowhere to turn. He had no desire to engage in small talk with Bajie and Wujing, so the only thing left to do was hide.
As the disciples badmouthed him, Xuanzang held his tongue in check and decided. His answer would stay a solid “no.” Even upon torture, he would say “no.” If worse came to worst, he’d just leave Bajie behind. Besides, he couldn’t possibly think of marriage-- only in his dreams, and even then-
He looked up. The moon. He thought of her twirling under it, dirty, wild, borderline insane, and yet, beautiful, so, so beautiful. All things considered, Xuanzang was not an indecisive man; he knew himself well and he knew Duan was the only woman he ever wanted, in this lifetime and the next, perhaps even the last. I never knew her name . Never had the chance. And now Duan was a memory, a lively, charming memory, strung together by could-have-beens and should-have-dones.
And then there was Wukong. Stormy, thunderous Wukong who’d taken Duan from him in one swipe. And even so, even so , Xuanzang knew this grudge would take either of them nowhere. He was not an indecisive man- he knew very well how he felt about that monkey. He knew what held them together, what kept them apart, knew that under it all, he didn’t hate his disciple. At one point he did, he very much did. But now- he knew very well how he felt. And he knew very well that he would never speak of it; he was too human to try.
He couldn’t think about women without thinking of Duan. And he couldn’t think of Duan without thinking of Wukong. And he couldn’t think of Wukong without thinking of Duan. He smiled in spite of himself. The journey west would go on, and he would find a way to solve this en route. Yes, that was a wise way to think about it. Liu was just another obstacle and he’d overcome that too. He was the great Xuanzang of Tang. But he’d keep that to himself because he was low key.
Then, for the first time that night, Xuanzang found himself wondering: where was Wukong anyway?
He would tell the rest of them he was looking for eldest brother if they asked. That was Bajie’s rehearsed excuse as he prowled the garden for women. He fluffed his hair, put on this beautiful form’s most charming smile, and spread his fan. The fish was still soaking in the bath and that baldy had probably gone to bed. And if the heavens smiled on him, the monkey would leave him alone too. All thirteen women and their eight maids, barring the four manservants, all to himself. He swallowed the incoming drool.
But all he saw were lifeless sculptures and trees, and a few dangling lanterns here and there. Behind him, a leaf crunched.
Bajie froze and turned, knowing full well who was at his back-- the first disciple stood still, head bowed, shoulders slouched, a twig between his teeth, and hands poised for murder. “Oh, boss, it’s you!”
Wukong lifted his eyes just enough to cast him a threatening glare.
Bajie strolled up to him, desperate to appease the boss’ scorn. “Big brother, I was looking for you all over! We were worried!”
“You’re always full of so much crap. It’s a miracle you haven’t choked on it.”
He was teasing him, or that was how Bajie chose to interpret it; that meant eldest brother wasn’t in too bloodthirsty a mood. So laughing much louder than need be, Bajie strolled up to the monkey, clapped him on the back, and said, “Oh, you’re hilarious, boss! Ha ha ha, ha ha ha!”
Met with the other demon’s eerie silence, Bajie took another look at him, just to be sure Wukong wasn’t planning to impede him. The monkey was still in his traveler’s gear, ragged cloak and all, a sure sign that he hadn’t visited the springs. Bajie patted him on the back again, palm digging against the sweat-soaked cloth. “You didn’t bathe, boss? You know how much that baldy values cleanliness. Come on, it’s right over-”
“Don’t touch me!” Wukong snarled, hand crushing over Bajie’s wrist. He yanked it away with a savage snap, shoved Bajie down, and let go when the screaming pig hit the pavement.
Bajie: “Boss! Boss! Wait-”
A foot smashed against his nose, and- crunch!- Blood poured from that pig snout. Bajie curled in on himself, cowering when Wukong shot him another glare.
“ Damn pig ,” he hissed.
And with that, the monkey left. Bajie waited until he was out of earshot before picking himself up, adjusting his head with a few pops and cracks, and willing his nose to heal. His right palm was bloodied, but he could detect no wound. From the nose, then. He wiped it against his skirt. Then he ran his hands over that handsome face to make sure it was clean, sightly, and most importantly, free of blood. Thankfully, it was in tact. Stinking monkey, fuck you- tonight’s not the time to get kinky with me.
Giggling. Female giggling. A grin splitting between his cheeks, Bajie started his stroll in that direction. He crossed a red bridge and parted a group of bushes. Liu’s lovely daughters sat on and around a stone bench, resting in each other’s pretty arms, and flaunting their silk robes.
“Elder Zhu,” the seventh daughter said, a seductive edge to her tongue, “will you join us?”
“Yes, please join us,” the others said.
All self control lost, elder Zhu cried, “yes!” and all but jumped into their midst.
It was loud for a quiet night. The cudgel-turned-stick lay against the winding tree trunk. Wukong listened to the pig humiliate himself from his place in the treetops, one leg flat on the branch, the other raised, as he rested his back against bark. It stung, but very few things could garner a reaction from the Great Sage Equaling Heaven.
The crickets’ chirps melded into a monotonous hum, the night breeze weaved into distant giggling, and the chatter of frogs became one with echoing water. And still, the rain refused to fall. It was much cooler in the Liu family garden, but come morning, they would have to brave the heat once more.
For all his teasing, Wukong knew that baldy was a man of principle-- this challenge was overcome from the start. The twig snapped in his mouth. He spat it out.
He put a hand over his back, along the shoulder blade where that damn pig felt the need to press and press. The palm came away webbed with blood, dark and warm. Wukong grit his teeth, shed his top of it all- scarf, cloak, robes- and rolled the innermost cloth into a tourniquet. White, now faded yellow, it’d turn to red soon.
He reached behind and pressed it against both shoulders, squeezing the stretching holes. Those wounds hadn’t bled in a long time. Dots of blood grew along his collarbones, century-old scars reopening against the air. They had ached on that dry road and pricked at Liu’s mansion. And defying all odds, their blood gushed out when the moon rose, ensnaring him in a pain he hadn’t felt for a good five-hundred so years.
Wukong snorted. He couldn’t hand these clothes to Liu’s maids, lest Xuanzang think he committed murder in the night. He would wait until the bleeding stopped and clean himself in the family spring, and the clothes, he would wash himself. There was no reason to get rid of perfectly good clothes ( rags, clothes, same thing ).
That baldy gave him those clothes.
Wukong tilted his head and squinted at the moon. Tathagata, you’ve really got me this time . He shut his eyes, and not for the first time that night, wondered why the pipa bone ached so much.
Xuanzang sneezed himself awake. After brushing away the snot with a silk sleeve, he slowly but surely came to his senses. At first, he credited the disorientation to a trick of the light, then to the possibility that he was still asleep, then to the increasingly clear fact that he was no longer in Liu’s luxurious guestroom.
The porcelain pillow beneath his head was replaced with dirt. The intricate cuts of red wood? Gone. The wooden bed? Gone. The smooth silk sheets? Gone. The shining floorboards? Gone. Even the windows were gone. He was lying in the middle of a forest, covered in twigs and leaves, pulled from his sleep by a caterpillar that had tried to enter his nostril.
Flecks of morning light poured through the gaps between the healthy leaves above him. Liu’s garden remained, but her mansion had disappeared into the night. Xuanzang sat up and shook the dust from his head. His string of prayer beads lay on the coarse cassock in front of him, neatly folded atop the rest of his pilgriming clothes-- they were indeed washed. Once he was convinced no one was watching, the Tang priest changed, tucked Liu’s robes away for packing, and went on his way.
Looking for his disciples was not hard. All he had to do was follow the sound of Wujing’s wrinkled laughter, a dry, near-cough.
Xuanzang was busy tying his hat on when he stumbled into the disciples’ view. They were gathered around a tree, a white horse tethered to it by a piece of old rope. And hanging from above was Zhu Bajie in his most fetching human shape, stripped nude, eagle-spread, and tied down by thick coiling vines. He was blindfolded, gagged, and from what Xuanzang could hear, trying to sputter, “ Help! Help! Let me down! Master, boss! ”
“The look suits you!” Wujing said, tears streaming from his laughing face.
Wukong knelt by Friar Sand, gnawing a twig, and looking thoroughly unfazed by Bajie’s plight. “About time you woke up, baldy.”
Xuanzang: “Can’t you lot stay out of trouble for once? Now look at what you’ve gotten yourself into, Bajie!”
The monk sighed and approached the tree. “I’ve warned you all many, many times not to get into this kind of perverse trouble,” he chided, “but you never listen to your master. Do you know how much this hurts me? And where did you get this horse-”
He had more to tack onto the speech, but something caught his eye: pinned to the trunk was a piece of parchment, the character “Liu” carved into the spot above it. Xuanzang yanked the parchment out, the material rich against his fingertips. It was a letter.
Tang Sanzang, my Lord Buddha’s good disciple. Your resolve most impressed me the night before. I am now more confident than ever that Chen Xuanzang is the holy man who will go west for the holy scriptures. Please accept this horse as a reward for refusing my proposals and thus, passing my test.
Be wary of mortal temptations, for they can lead you astray.
Put down what still tangles your heart and cast them away.
Zhu Wuneng, your second disciple, is still the Marshal Tienpeng I remember. Do your best to steer him and the rest from their demonic ways. A student’s conduct reflects badly on the master, and just as they are yours to guide, you are mine to teach.
Remember these words, good Sanzang, from the former “Lady Liu”- Guanyin Bodhisattva of the Southern Sea.
“Good news? Grin any harder and you’ll disfigure yourself,” Wukong said.
Xuanzang: “You didn’t read this?”
“It’s yours. Who knows how long you’d complain if I looked at it.”
Above them, Bajie continued calling for help. Eager to share the letter, Xuanzang ran up to the monkey, threw an arm around him in a moment of forgotten boundaries, and all but shoved the Bodhisattva’s words in his face. Wujing peered down from behind them and said, “You knew it was her all along, didn’t you boss?”
Liu: Willow .
Wukong smirked. “It’s more fun if I don’t tell, no? Really ups the stakes.” He cast Bajie an upwards glance and unable to hold it back any longer, broke into a peal of cackling.
As Xuanzang carefully tucked the letter into his robes, he said, “Get your brother down and let’s be on our way. And if anyone asks about this-”
Wukong: “Nobody will.”
Xuanzang: “If anyone asks about this, we won’t say anything unless they really want to know. Because even though I’ve received a gift from the Goddess of Mercy for my incredible patience, determination, and faith, I’m won’t tell because-”
“Because you’re low key,” Wukong finished, keeping an eye roll at bay, “yeah, yeah, what else is new.”
Xuanzang pat him on the shoulder, grinned again, and said, “ We’re low key. All four of us.”
He turned to Bajie again, the disciple that failed to pass the Bodhisattva’s test on all accounts. “Wukong, get Wuneng down right now. Wujing, untether the horse- you won’t have to drag the wagon anymore.”
As Wujing went on to complete his orders, Wukong snapped his fingers and Bajie fell with a painful thud, face-first in the grass. Mouth still half-gagged, he cried, “Thank you boss, thank you!”
Xuanzang clapped his hands together, called the demons towards him again, and looked to the sky. “Ahmitabha! Thank you for your blessing, Bodhisattva! Xuanzang and his disciples are most grateful indeed!”
The four pilgrims kowtowed as the rain clouds gathered above.