I want the sky to never again cover my eyes; the earth, never again bury my heart. I want every living creature to know my will; I want all the gods to scatter like smoke.
The four stopped before a forest. There was no more road ahead.
"Wukong, I'm hungry. Go get some food." Tang sat ostentatiously down on a rock, and said.
"I'm busy. Go get some yourself, you've got legs." Wukong said, leaning on his staff.
"Busy? What are you doing?"
"Don't you think the clouds at sunset are really beautiful?" Wukong said, eyes on the horizon, "I have to take a look at them every day, to be able to continue walking west."
"You can look at them as you are getting food, just don't walk into anything."
"When I'm watching the sunset, I don't do anything else!"
"Sun Wukong, you can't do this, you can't be mean to the bald guy. If he starves to death, we'd never get to the Western Paradise; if we never get to the Western Paradise, the curses we bear will never be lifted." said Zhu Bajie.
"Fuck off, pig-head, who asked you?"
"What'd you say? Who're you calling a pig?"
"Not a pig, a pig's head." Wukong snickered through his teeth.
"You wanna say that one more time?" Bajie charged with his rake lifted.
"Shut the fuck up, I'm sleeping! Get the fuck out of here, if you want to fight!" Friar Sand roared.
The three thugs glared.
"Fight all you like! The more of you die, the better!" Tang stood up, "You're all masters, I'll go get food for all of you, how about that? It'd be great if a passing demon could eat me up too, then you can all cry your hearts out."
"Go on, there's a lady demon waiting for you!" Wukong called.
"Hee hee hee." The three monsters snickered.
"Don't think I won't!" Tang turned to shake his fist at them, then patted down his robes, then straightened his robes, then began to walk towards the forest. On the first step, "skritch" - his robes had caught on something.
"Ha ha ha…" The three monsters were rolling on the ground, quite forgetting to fight.
This was a purple wood, and all around, strange plants grew in an ever-present, indigo mist. The deeper one walked, the wetter the ground and darker the canopy, until finally, the branches and leaves completely covered the sky, and Tang was completely lost.
"Wonderful! What lively, what unique living beings!" Tang said happily.
"Thank you!" said a voice.
Tang turned, and saw a tree; set into its purple trunk were two blinking eyes.
"Amazing, I see a demon! I love such supernatural beings, what a wonder life is! Let me feel you, spirit of the earth." Tang reached out, joyfully rubbing the trunk.
The trunk was covered with purple sap, and felt slippery-wet and silk-smooth.
The tree relaxed into the stroking, and allowed its thousands of draping branches to wave about in pleasure.
"Ah! No one has touched me for several tens of thousands of years! It used to be… perhaps a few thousand years ago, that a tribe of monkeys played on me, but since then they have disappeared. Back then, I did not yet have eyes, and only felt so many moving creatures all around me, talking, singing… I couldn't see, and couldn't move, but I was happy. Now, I have finally grown my eyes, but I'm not sure where they all are…"
"They're dead." said Tang.
"Dead? What is dead?"
"Death means you cannot see anything, cannot hear or feel or think anything, like the time before you were born."
"No! Don't want death. And don't want to be alone."
"You will live for a long time yet. You don't have hands, or legs - you'll grow those later."
"I spent a hundred thousand years growing eyes - I cannot bear such waiting anymore! I want to feel the others around me right now, feel you, the smell on your body intoxicates me!"
"It has been a while since I last showered. By the way, if you don't have a mouth, how are you talking?"
"I use this." The tree waved a branch in front of Tang.
On it hung a human mouth.
"That's not yours."
"Correct. I found it. Three hundred years ago, a man was eaten here, and this was left behind. I used my sap to keep it fresh, then spent another dozen years to grow a branch and pick it up."
"That's not nice, you know, you have become opportunistic. If it's not yours, you should return it to where it's from."
"Don't you want to know why that man was eaten?"
"Because he met you?"
Suddenly, Tang realized his feet have been tangled by vines for some time.
Behind him came a snuffling noise, and hot air the smell of rotten flesh blasted at his neck, but he could not turn around.
"Leave his hands for me. I like those hands." said the tree.
"Taking other demons' leftovers; If I were you I'd hang myself for shame." said Tang.
"If I had a neck, I'd consider it."
A pair of claws rested on Tang's shoulders.
The tree said: "Wait, I want to say one last thing to him. He is the first to talk to me after I got this mouth. I'm very curious what the psychology is like for a person about to be eaten."
"Don't you prattle on at me!" said Tang, "the earlier I die, the earlier I reincarnate! I'm not scared! …do you really want to hear my last words?"
The tree nodded it's branches.
"Alright." Tang took a deep breath: "HEEEEEEEEEAAAAAALLLLPPP!"
"The master's calling for help again." said the pig.
"Ignore him, he's always like that. Tireless." Wukong has finished looking at the sunset, and was now gnawing on a bone.
Bajie stared at him. "What are you eating?"
"All right, you little-" The pig leaped at the monkey.
"Yeah." Friar Sand turned over in his sleep. "Chop… Chop him up…" And fell back into a deep slumber.
"You have called seventeen times. I only permitted one sentence." The tree stared at Tang. "Why are you leaking water?"
"Grandpa Tree, I'm really scared. I'm still young, I'm barely twenty years old."
"You have your limbs and your senses at only twenty. I've lived hundreds of thousands of years and only have a pair of eyes. How is that fair?"
"To become human you must reincarnate several hundred times, so altogether I haven't waited for much less time than you. Please let me live a few years longer."
"If I release you, you will leave me, and I will be left alone. No."
"I won't leave, I swear by my eldest disciple Sun Wukong that I'll stay until your death. And can whatever's behind me stop licking me? I'm rather dirty, you know."
"Sun Wukong? I've heard of that name somewhere… Oh forget it, you said you have disciples?"
"Yes. My second disciple Zhu Bajie is very fat."
"Then keep shouting."
"The master has called for the one hundred and thirty-forth time. You still won't go and shut him up?"
"Call me uncle first."
"Never! Hey! Take your foot off my back and fight me like a man!"
"No, huh? Then you bring this on yourself…"
Bang, bang, crash. #%!!&@.
"Ahem.. Um, can I get a drink of water before I get back to yelling?"
"They're not coming. Maybe they've run away."
"Wait, I think hear a sound like a pig getting slaughtered." The creature behind Tang said.
"Oh yeah, that'll be them." said Tang.
"I don't care, I'll eat you first, then go look for them."
"No no no, don't do that, why don't we sit down and talk about philosophy - how about I give you a riddle? What is a lotus before it's a lotus?"
"Ahh!" Both the tree and the creature gave a sudden scream, and disappeared in a puff of smoke.
"Huh?" said Tang, "What happened to you? Sorry if my riddle was a little too hard."
"A lotus before it's a lotus is still a lotus." A girl's voice said.
Tang turned around, and saw a girl smirking at him, with long flowing hair and shimmering clothes woven from the finest silver grass.
"You're really pretty, lady!" said Tang.
"It appears you are a lustful monk."
"Oh, no! Only, a monk must not lie."
"If you weren't bald, girls would like you."
"I've always thought it makes me look rather dashing."
"Such a slippery tongue; how will you ever learn the true way?"
"The way I learn is different from everyone else's; they study the Smaller Scriptures, I study the Bigger Scriptures; they learn of emptiness, I learn of fulfillment."
"Bigger Scriptures? Ha, never heard of them."
"Because I haven't made them up yet."
"I've only heard of a Gold Cicero who doubted the Smaller Scriptures, and wanted to comprehend everything all by himself. He ended up going astray, and re-entered the mortal world."
"That's dumb of him."
The girl was suddenly angry. "What right do you have to talk about him like that?! He has enough wisdom in his little finger to reveal the very heaven's secrets; you are only a common mortal who begs demons for your life!"
"Because I want to live, and I cannot bury the desire in my heart; in the same manner, I delight in your beauty - how then can I say that all is empty?"
"You are a simple mortal; you cannot see that the perceptions of all things are but illusions."
"Even the bitches of swine have beauty and ugliness, there is no need to feel ashamed of yourself."
"You have already broken the Ban of Hostility! Incessant talk of nonsense; unclean heart and mind - how can you possibly be a monk?"
"Heaven's mercy, it's not my fault I was born in a temple."
"You are not worthy of discussing Buddhism. When I heard your riddle, I thought you had some understanding, and so came to your aid - now I see that I have saved an ignorant fool. Leave my sight!"
"Ha, that was not well said, lady; 'life and death are the will of heaven' - if I were a wise monk of deep understanding, the Buddha would naturally protect me - how would ever I require your fussing?"
"Infuriating, bald -"
The girl suddenly turned about and the pretty face was immediately twisted and frightening: "If you are such an unimportant mortal, then I should devour you!"
Tang sighed. "Why is it that demons always have so much to say before they eat me?"
In the blink of an eye, a figure streaked through the air.
It was, of course, Sun Wukong.
The moment the girl's wrist was caught, she felt a suffocating force flooding her body; it was an unassailable will power, paralyzing her every muscle. With a soft sigh, she gave up the fight, and fell to the ground.
Wukong studied the girl-demon. "Well, egg-head, you attract female demons like dung attracts flies; using you as bait seems to be working marvellously well - I'll have collected enough merit points very soon… Why is it that the demons that fall for you become uglier by the day?"
"Amita - good heavens - bha! You think even this beautiful lady is ugly?" said Tang.
"Beau- Beauti- Look at her, she's nearing my level… Does that turn you on or something?"
"Ah, though appearances be ever-shifting, the heart remains a clear mirror. How can your monkey's eyes distinguish beauty from ugliness?"
"Pfft. Just because I have cataracts and moderate astigmatism, in addition to teary eyes in strong wind and direct sunlight - only because I'd been underground for too long! - How dare you mock me for my handicap? Make me angry and my staff will pay retribution to your behind. Now, let me finish off your little lady first."
Wukong lifted his Gold-tipped Staff.
The girl stirred, and opened her eyes to Wukong raising his staff.
"Sun Wukong… You are Sun Wukong!"
She suddenly clutched his legs to her chest. "Is it you? Is it really you? I'm not dreaming?"
She lifted the ugly face to fix it with deep emotion on Wukong, tears actually spilling from her eyes.
Sun Wukong felt his whole body shudder, like all his organs had jerked, and thought, what magic was this, that prevented him from using even an ounce of his strength?
The girl was still talking: "You've come; it's too wonderful - is it another dream? But I am satisfied. I've stayed here for so many years, hoping one day you would appear before me - you are free - are you finally free? I knew this day would come, no-one can imprison you, never… I'm so happy… so happy…"
She had become inarticulate with sobs.
Wukong coalesced his power, and gave a shout. The girl flew through the air, and rammed into a tree, cracking a trunk large enough for two men to wrap their arms around clean into two.
"Ha, you incorrigible demon, do you think this is any use on me? Crying? Crying won't do a thing for you, I kill people as soon as I look at them."
"You, you don't recognize me… True, now that I look like this, you cannot recognize me… but I was cursed by the Jade Emperor, and cannot change back… I am…"
The girl suddenly screamed, and blood poured from her mouth. She fell writhing to the ground.
Tang gave a sigh of pity: "Are you cursed as well to prevent you from saying who you are?"
The girl clawed at the earth, clearly in terrible pain.
"Don't believe her, egg-head, I've seen plenty of demons, they'll use any trick they can. Get out of the way and let me finish her." said Wukong.
"I'm not stopping you, go on... why aren't you finishing her?"
"You're not the boss of me, I don't kill when you order me to."
"Amitabha. A thousand difficulties forges an undying will." Tang straightened his shredded robes, and strolled towards the edge of the forest. "You two take your time, I'll not impose myself. I'll take a walk in this beautiful wood, and hope to meet a flower demon…"
He paused beside the remains of the trunk of the old tree, and gave a deep sigh: "Don't want to die, and don't want to be alone. Have you lived hundreds of thousands of years only for this day?"
Tang left. Wukong hopped on a tree branch, and swung around while the girl convulsed and moaned on the ground. After a long time, the girl slowly recovered.
Wukong: "It's not that I pity you, I just don't kill anyone who can't defend themselves. You're done now, right? Bring it on."
He was still swinging languidly on a thick vine, looking more like he was preparing for an afternoon nap than a battle.
The girl's face was very pale, but as she watched Wukong, a trace of laughter came to her mouth, still red with blood.
"You haven't changed. You used to be… just like this… Do you remember the time we first met? You were lying on a tree branch then too, on the branch of a Heavenly peach tree…"
"The hell, I've met an insane demon. Lady, I've never seen you before, nor have I ever seen any Heavenly peach trees. Why don't you make a random move, so I can kill you with one counter move instead of wasting time?"
"You still can't remember who I am? Have… have you forgotten everything?"
"Old lady, stop going on about your life story, you've got the wrong person. I was only released from the Five Dungeons Mountain five years ago, and all I want to do is to kill a few extra demons so the guys in heaven can clear my old charges - maybe even give me a job as a minor earth spirit or something… When have I ever met you?"
"What are you talking about? Five Dungeons? Shouldn't it be the Five Elements Mountain? As for your charges… You know what crimes you've committed, do you really expect Heaven to forget it all just for killing a few demons?
"What are you talking about? I was a monkey-demon from Fruit-blossom Mountain, punished in the Five Dungeons for being disrespectful to the Jade Emperor. Now the Emperor himself has pardoned me, on the condition that I perform those three tasks… I remember the past perfectly clearly - where do you come into it? Why the hell am I even talking to you about this?"
The girl's expression was full of shock and suspicion.
"How could.. Unless.. They want you to do three tasks? What three tasks?"
"You're just endless, aren't you? Well, I guess you can die with your curiosity satisfied. The first task is to get the egg-head to the Western Paradise. The second is to kill the four Demon Kings…"
"The Four Kings!?"
"Yeah, you know, the Great Sage in Level with Heaven, Demon Bull King of Western Heniu; the Great Sage Clouding Heaven, Demon Hawk King of Northern Julu; and another one of those sages, Overlooking Heaven, the Macaque King of Southern Jiabu, and also, the Great Sage Equal to Heaven, Monkey King of Eastern Shen -
"Ha! The - the Monkey King?"
" - Yeah, you know him? - The third task they said they'll tell me after I've done the first two. Why are you crying again?"
The girl had lowered her head, murmuring: "Yes, he has forgotten everything, forgotten you…" Her tears fell into the earth beneath her.
Wukong leaped from the tree with a sigh. "You look so miserable, it would probably be a good thing for me to finish you. In your next life, try to be a wild flower or something growing on a cliff, and sway around in the wind a bit - wouldn't that be better than a demon that lived too long to keep its memories straight?"
The girl lifted her face through the pain: "I do not remember wrongly. I will remember everything, remember it forever… I could never have guessed that after five hundred years of waiting for you, I would die by your hand. We never did escape the center of his palm."
Wukong lifted his staff…
"Before I die, I want to ask you one thing." said the one beneath the staff.
"Is it true that, after you forget everything, there will be no more pain?"
Wukong held the staff in the air.
"Argh!" He swung his staff to the side, clearing all the trees in a fan-shaped space of over ten yards in diameter.
"A demon with dementia, no point in killing…" He muttered, walking away without a single look back.
Not seeing the girl as she stretched her hand towards him, too weak to shout, her eyes full of sadness.
As he walked, he thought he heard the sound of ocean waves. But he was in a forest, surrounded by trees.
"Five hundred years ago," he thought, "where was I?"
At the thought, he had a sudden headache. He shook his head to clear it, and felt better.
"Weird. How come I suddenly don't feel like killing anymore?"