[I know, I know. I should have spent more time on SPW. But this is such a good story and it helps me to get into the translation mood. SPW will come shortly after.]
[The direct translation of the book title would have been “Celebrating the Remaining Life.” I decided to use the name “Joy of Life” because throughout the life of the protagonist when he was given a second chance, he slowly discovered the true joy of life in himself which is really something that transcends life – The Translator]
Prologue: Black Cloth
-- written by Maoni
Fan Shen worked hard to keep his eyelids open, so he could look at his fingers and count how many meaningful things he had done in his life. But before he even finished counting the five fingers on his right hand, which were so thin that they looked like chopsticks, he sadly gave it up with a deep sigh.
As always, the hospital room was filled with the stinking smell of medicine. The old man in the next bed had been gone for two days, reporting for his duty to the lord of the underworld. It might not be long for his turn.
He was very sick. It was some kind of a strange disease that completely weakened all his muscles, the kind that was perfect for a typical male lead in romantic fiction novels. The disease was also terminal, and during his last moments, he would not even be able to move a finger, except to let tears stream down his extremely pale cheeks.
“But I am not the main character of a romantic fiction!” Fan Shen murmured, which turned into a stream of incoherent groans due to the non-functioning muscles around his jaw. Staring at his middle-finger, he felt great sympathy for himself. “I am still a virgin!”
He hadn’t really done any meaningful things in his entire life, except for things such as helping senior citizens cross busy streets, offering his seat to the needy on buses, getting along well with neighbors, and helping classmates cheat during exams……
Fan Shen was a good man in the traditional sense: good, but useless.
His parents had passed away a long time ago, leaving him alone in this world, in this hospital, waiting for the end of his life.
“Good men don’t have good endings,” he thought.
During one lonesome and cold night, Fan Shen could almost feel the slow slackening of his muscles in his throat and chest, like an old rubber band that had lost all of its stretch and no longer tightened. That clean, young nurse caring for him was nowhere to be found. The only companion was an old woman, who seemed to be in the middle of an incessant chatter.
“Is this the moment of death?”
A mixture of fear for death and the deep yearning for a further taste of life created a complex feeling he had never felt before. Sharing his last few minutes with the old woman, instead of the lovely little nurse he had long hoped for, only added more sorrow to his heart.
Wretched and miserable, he felt a drop of liquid sliding down from the corner of his eye. Downheartedly, Fan Shen licked at it. To his surprise, it not only tasted salty, but also a bit pungent – did his tears begin to stink because he seldom showered at the hospital?
“Weeping like a girl, did you really think you are the main character of a romantic fiction?” He couldn’t help but scold himself angrily in his mind.
But he immediately noticed that something was not right. How was he able to stick his tongue out to lick his tears? Didn’t the doctor say that his tongue had lost all mobility? The only function left for it was to easily fall into his gullet and block his breathing canal and make him the kind of rare genius who could commit suicide by swallowing his own tongue.
Then he noticed that opening his eyes also became easier. He could see a wide angle and his eyesight was also greatly superior compared to before he became sick. The world in front of him was bright and something made out of bamboo lay right before his eyes.
Fan Shen stared blankly at the bamboo strips. Suddenly, through the cracks of the bamboo strips, he made out a shocking scene: men in black robes, each with a murderous look, were swinging their deadly weapons right toward him!
Having no time to distinguish whether this was just a bizarre dream or maybe the standard experience for people on the brink of death, Fan Shen cringed spontaneously, covering his eyes with his two hands, the ostrich kind of behavior any normal person would have chosen.
“Whoosh…!” Sounds of objects tearing through air suddenly arose, followed by stifling groans and then ultimate silence.
Hands still covering his eyes, Fan Shen waited for a moment and tried to make some sense out of it. Gingerly spreading two fingers slightly open, he eventually built up enough courage to look out sneakily from behind the crack. The bamboo strips that made up the basket sliced the view in front of him into countless diamond-shaped windows, and looking through these windows, he could clearly construct the shapes of over a dozen corpses lying motionless on the ground; blood streamed everywhere and started to build up a strong smell of death.
Fan Shen was stupefied. All of this in front of his eyes appeared so real that he simply couldn’t wrap his mind around it. Suddenly he remembered the hands that were still covering his face.
“Did I just move my hands? Can I move my hands now? Have I recovered? But what on earth just happened out there? Am I in the middle of a dream? Once I wake up, will I still be that good-for-nothing, lying on the sick bed, not able to move a muscle, and simply waiting for the approach of death? If that were true, then I’d rather remain in the dream and never wake up. At least my hands can still move and my eyes can still blink.” Immersed in these mournful thoughts, he rubbed his wet face with his hand.
When he withdrew his hand, he found his hand covered with blood. The drop of liquid that had rolled down from the corner of his eye was no tear. It was blood – blood splashed onto his face from someone.
Fan Shen stared at his hands, thunderstruck, while a scream reverberated fiercely in his head, “These are not my hands!”
Extending in front of him was a pair of extremely fair-complexioned and lovable small hands. Covered by blood stains, they looked almost like a white lotus blossoming in the underworld, with an eerie kind of beauty. However, they were absolutely not the kind of hands that would have belonged to an adult!
Waves of mixed feeling surged into Fan Shen’s head and dumbfounded him. Myriad questions and incomparable terror soon completely consumed his mind and his heart.
That year was the 57th year of the Qing Calendar. The conquering army led by His Majesty was still in the middle of a war against the western barbarians. The Count of Southernland was also at His Majesty’s service in the army, and the capital was governed by the Great Empress and the High Councils.
On that day, the Villa of Serenity outside of the capital by the riverside of the Flowing-Crystal Creek caught fire. A group of assassins, under the cover of the night sky and the fire, attacked the villa, began killing everyone in sight, and committed the most atrocious massacre.
A young servant of the villa carried the young master with him and fought his way out. The murderers in night suits chased after him and they fought all the way to the road entrance leading south outside of the capital.
The attackers had no idea that the handicapped youngster turned out to be an expert fighter of fathomless kills. Besides, there were also reinforcement behind the small hills – and the identity of the reinforcement was even more horrifying!
“The Dark Riders!” moaned the assassins who were mowed down by the crossbows. Lying in a pool of blood, they were already on their last breaths.
All the riders wore the standard black suit of armor, which radiated a faint, soul-stirring shine under the illumination of the moon. Each rider carried a strong crossbow, the kind only authorized for the military. The first barrage of the crossbows had wiped out most of the assassins.
Surrounded by the Dark Riders was a middle-aged man sitting inside a horse-drawn wagon. He had a wan face and very sparse beard under his chin. Fixing his glance on the young servant carrying the child on his back, he nodded slightly, and then gently clapped his hands.
The clapping was the signal to strike!
A section of the riders began to separate from the main formation and charged toward the badly beaten assassins, as swift and merciless as the reaping scythe of Death himself under the dark sky.
A wizard among the assassins raised his wand high and began chanting some secret spell, and people in the field felt some kind of unknown energy gathering alongside the small hills.
The middle-aged man frowned slightly, but did not move. A dark shadow suddenly leapt out from beside him and shot forward swiftly like a night hawk. The wizard’s voice halted abruptly after a crisp snap, and his head flew high into the air, splashing blood along the way.
The middle-aged man on the wagon shook his head. “These wizards from the far west never get it. When confronted with true might, wizardry is just like the pen of the Prime Minister, useless.”
Dozens of the solemn Dark Riders combed the surrounding areas and signaled safety with closed right fists. All the assassins had been eliminated. The troop split up. The horse-drawn wagon inside moved forward slowly until it arrived in front of the young servant. With the help of his subordinates, the middle-aged man sat in a wheelchair. Rolling the wheels himself, he slowly approached the young servant who remained in an upright position in the middle of the field, as sharp as a spear.
The middle-aged man on wheelchair glanced at the bamboo basket on the young servant’s back. A faint redness finally appeared on his pale face.
“It’s very fortunate!”
A black cloth covered the face of the young man carrying the basket. Inside the tight grip of his hand was a long black iron chisel that looked almost like a sword and fresh blood dripped slowly from the tip. Around him lay many dead bodies, all top-notch ambushers. On the throat of each body was a small red clot. Apparently it only took the youngster one strike to stop each of the assassins.
“I need an explanation,” the man with the black cloth around his eyes said in a chilling voice. The voice didn’t have the slightest tremble and neither carried the slightest emotion.
“Of course, you shall have it. I also need to give my lord an explanation.” A faint softness flashed past the middle-aged man’s face so quickly as though it never happened.
The young servant wearing the black cloth nodded and made to leave.
“Where are you taking the child?” the middle-aged man on wheelchair said coldly. “You are blind. Did you want the young lord to wander about the world with you?”
“This is Her Ladyship’s flesh and blood.”
“This is also His Lordship’s flesh and blood!” the middle-aged man in the wheelchair exclaimed in a gloomy tone. “I promise you I can find a safe harbor for the young lord in the capital.”
The young man shook his head and straightened the black cloth on his face.
The middle-aged man on wheelchair knew very well that the young man was loyal only to her Ladyship. Even his own lord could not have commanded the blind servant. So he heaved a sigh and persuaded, “Once His Lordship is back, everything in the capital will quiet down for sure. Why do you insist on taking him with you?”
“I don’t trust your lord.”
The middle-aged man frowned as though he really detested these words. After a short pause, he said, “Nursing the child, teaching him to read and write; are you capable of any?” He let out a sneer. “Blind, what do you know besides killing people?”
The blind man was not annoyed and only gently gave an upper push to the basket on his back. “Cripple, isn’t killing people the only thing you know as well?”
The middle-aged man let out an insidious smile. “It was only some nobles in the capital who started this. Once His Lordship is back, of course I’ll clean them up.”
The blind youngster shook his head again.
The middle-aged man gently rubbed his fingers against the wheelchair, as though he was guessing what the other party might be afraid of. A short moment later, he said with a frown.
“I know what you are afraid of. But in this mundane world, who else is capable of protecting him against that kind of unknown danger besides the child’s father?”
The blind youngster suddenly opened his mouth again, his voice still emotionless. “A new identity and an uninterrupted life.”
The middle-aged man gave it a thought, and then nodded.
“Port Danzhou. His Lordship’s nanny lives there.”
The blind youngster remained silent for a while but eventually accepted the arrangement.
With a relaxed smile, the middle-aged man rolled the wheelchair behind the blind youngster and picked the child up from the basket. Looking at the child’s pretty and lovely little face, he couldn’t help but sigh. “He looks almost identical to his mother. So pretty!”
He suddenly burst into a string of loud laughter. “I am sure he’ll grow into a great man!”
In the distance, his subordinates stood silently. Although they kept their faces blank, deep inside, they were astounded by the joyous laughter from their boss. What kind of important figure could the child be? They couldn’t help but wonder.
“Oh?” The blind youngster leaned his head slightly and took the child back into his own arms. Although he was simpler than any normal person, he didn’t want the child’s face to be too close to the hands of that venomous snake. In the meantime, he used a one syllable word to express his pure politeness-prone question.
The middle-aged man kept his smile as he stared at the child’s face. However, the smile seemed to also contain an indescribable flavor of horror. “A child only two months old, yet he was able to wipe the blood off his face with his own hands. And after such dreadful terror tonight, he could still sleep so soundly. He is certainly worthy of…”
He suddenly lowered his voice, making sure none of his subordinates could hear the next few words, “…being the child of the Heavenly Vessel.”
This middle-aged man was a powerful man in the capital with a reputation for his cruelty and brutality. No official falling into his hands could withhold anything from him for more than two days. Needless to say, he was a man with sharp eyes. But even such an extraordinary man failed to recognize that the child was not in a sweet sleep but had been scared senseless.
In the name “Heavenly Vessel,” heavenly indicates the divine connections, and vessel means container for the blood. Putting them together, it means vessel of divine blood descended to the human world. In the legends of this world, every couple hundred years, one of the Heavenly Vessels left in this world by the divine would awaken.
Being a Heavenly Vessel could mean they possess mighty and invincible fighting power, for example, the great general in the Nasgu Kingdom far, far away. At the brink of the complete destruction of their kingdom by the barbarians, with shear personal valor and fighting power, he killed the majority of the barbarian elder assembly and made history.
Some “Heavenly Vessels” would show extreme genius in art or intellectual development, for example the Great Wizard Poore in the western world, who only passed away three hundred years ago, and his wife, playwright Fubo.
Of course, no one could prove that they were true Heavenly Vessels left by divine creatures to overcome the many tribulations of the world. But these people did, in fact, bring peace to the world along with many other things.
In the end all of the “Heavenly Vessels” vanished. No one, not even any country could find any trace of them. They would appear all of a sudden and then disappear out of the blue. Other than some obscure records, they didn’t leave anything that could have proven their existence.
The middle-aged man on wheelchair happened to be one of the very few who knew for sure that such “Heavenly Vessel” phenomenon did indeed exist.
For some unknown reason, after Fan Shen died, his soul came to this world. And just like that……was miraculously reincarnated into an infant’s body, and the infant’s father or mother happened to be the mysterious “Heavenly Vessel” bloodline on this continent.
By daybreak, the battlefield had been cleaned up. The horse-drawn wagon slowly followed the stone slab road eastbound. Right behind the horse-drawn wagon, a troop of dark riders and a pale-faced middle-aged man in a wheelchair made up an eerie scene.
A small rock on the road gave the horse-drawn wagon a bump, which woke the infant lying flatly on the soft silky mat.
The infant’s stare dispiritedly wandered about, skipping the faces of the men who had saved his life, and instead, fixed upon the direction the wagon was heading. The stare was totally different from a normal infant’s stare, which would constantly wobble but remain clear yet unfocused. The stare now contained something more, something beyond words.
No one knew that such a fragile, small body actually contained a soul from a different world.
At the end of his stare, the curtain flapped in the coming wind and exposed a corner of the green hills outside the wagon and the long stone slab road that rapidly moved backward as though there were countless frames in a continuous rewind.
In front of the wagon, the blind youngster held the iron chisel tightly in his grip. A black cloth covered not only his two eyes, but also the entire world.
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Give yourself a pad on the back once a while. You deserve it somehow! And if you can't reach behind to your back, you can always use a robotic arm.