A Town sees Life. A Town sees Death. A Town sees Rebirth.
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The Kingdom of Yue was once a prosperous nation. A prosperous nation, under a kind ruler. A man who brought riches to the region, and happiness to its people. A man who ruled through wisdom and not through force, beloved by its allies and respected by its enemies. A man who ruled for four and sixty years, before falling ill and ceding his throne. A man who, thankfully, would not live to see his kingdom fall.

When he died, his kingdom was given to his elder son. A son considered weak by the younger son, who soon brought his troops to take Yue by force. The elder son retaliated, and twelve years of battle soon followed.

Yesterday, I walked past the town of Luyi, part of the Kingdom of Yue. Once known for its wool production, it was now a loose collection of burnt structures, rotting bodies sprinkled about. Yet another victim of this senseless war.

I move towards the bank, ransacked and destroyed, when I hear the cries of a lone raven, the black birds that revel at the sight of conflict, devouring all flesh in sight. A misunderstood agent of the cycle of Samsara, I approached them.

“Lady Tianhong, what an honor to meet you here!” A raven cries, beak covered in blood. “Are you here to join us in our feast?”

“Of course not.” I shook my head. “I am here to inquire about this battle. Do you know of the event you feast upon?”

“Ah, the battle? Well, it was like any battle. A group of people came from one side, towards the town, as another group prepared for them. The town was razed, its townsfolk massacred. The attacking force then left, for there was nothing left, neither for them nor for anyone else but us.” The raven explained, cleaning off the blood with his feathers. “Ah, but that is a story you must know already, scribe of Heavens, for many battlefields you’ve walked through, I presume. Nothing of importance lies here.”

Ravens have the habit of speaking without pulling a single punch; they’re single minded avians. Not a bad trait, in one’s opinion, but certainly one that made conversations harder than needed.

“I have walked through many, yes, but that doesn’t make this one any less important.” I spoke to the raven. It laughed, like ravens often do.

“We all live to die, die to be reborn, and are reborn to die again. I say any event of great dying is as meaningful as any event of great birthing.” The raven spoke, removing sinew out an open ribcage. “But then again, I am but a carrion bird. What do I know of such themes?”

“More than any human on this Earth.” I responded, for the raven has reincarnated past humanity, many cycles ago.

I resumed my walk, but the raven decided to speak up.

“You know, I arrive once the smell of decay sets, past the time of action, but I saw lights several nights ago, close to the monastery north of here. There might be a soul left to tell a tale. If it matters to you, of course.”

“It does. Thanks.” I bowed to the raven, who replied in kind. I then walked towards the monastery, letting the bird carry on with his duty.

I had visited the monastery before. A place of religious discipline and knowledge, a small building holding sacred books of the monks of the area, it doubled as a school for the children and a place for meetings when the head of the town was out in the Capital, a trip that lasted a month and one days.

I reached the area, but there was no monastery to be seen; only rubble and half buried corpses. I held not hope for an encounter, but I must admit there was disappointment in my step as I got closer and closer. I spend a single day in each place I visit, and spending four and twenty hours in a ruined town covered in corpses was not something to look forward to. Thankfully, as I give my last step, I see a shadow moving about.

“Hello?” I speak, the shadow turning tangible, an old man appearing before me. I know him, being the head priest of the monastery, a compassionate man, having lived eighty good years. His skin has turned black and charred, he lacks eyes, nose and tongue, and is missing an arm and a leg, yet still walks, white strings holding him together. These strings float above and around him, turning blue, then red, then green, to then turn back into white: A spirit. The priest is long gone, but his soul remains.

“Ah, Lady Tianhong, is that you? I apologize… My vision is not what it used to be.” The man laughs, seemingly aware of his state. “I also must ask for forgiveness… This is not a presentable look, especially for an important visitor such as yourself.”

“Nonsense, Xiangru.” I spoke his name, for I had spoken it several times before. “You know what matters is that we are here, meeting each other.”

“That is true, that is true.” The living dead spoke, before letting out a sigh. “Wish better circumstances had brought you here. As you can see, the town is no more.”

“What happened?” I asked, and Xiangru chuckled.

“Do you not know? It’s been happening for quite a few years now. The elder son and the younger son have fought for power that no longer matters. The kingdom burns, and there’s nothing we can do but burn as well, hoping that our acts in life will yield us fair chances in the next one.” The priest spoke, conviction in his words. It takes a strong conviction to believe in one’s karma, prepare one’s phowa, and still remain in soul amongst the living.

“Of course I know. I just… I wished this not to be the case.” I admitted. The raven’s words kept me thinking. It was a rather pointless siege, and yet, the dead still died, strangers to the reasons behind the battle that took their lives away.

“And yet it is. But don’t be distraught. You of all beings under Heaven must understand that this is merely a sliver of a whole; a mere grain of sand in the beaches of the universe.” Xiangru spoke, and as he spoke, I could see light. The strings began to disappear. “It had to happen, because it was bound to happen. The soil burns so nature can grow again.”

“I know this, and it is because I know this that I grieve.” I remember replying. “The cycle of Samsara holds infinite futures, yet the present must be mourned, because it’s the only one one’s life has. I know you know this. It’s because you know that your soul remains.”

Xiangru chuckled. “A soul remains on earth when there is unfinished business to take care of. As the head priest, it’s my divine duty, to make sure all who die are buried, and the proper rites are carried out.”

“Yet you’re a soul, who cannot carry them out anymore.” I spoke, knowing what this meant. The raven is brought to life to consume death; the priest is denied death to ensure rebirth.

“Allow me to assist in your rebirth.” I told the priest, because that is my role. “And while I help, you might narrate me your life.”

“Always the chronicler, no?” The priest chuckled, before guiding me to a ransacked shed, empty of all but what I needed: A priest’s shovel. “But I accept. You know the rites better than I do, for you’ve written of them for centuries.”

“That I have done.” I told Xiangru, picking up the shovel and digging the first grave. “So how was life in Luyi, for the past one and twenty years?”

“It was calm… Soothing, almost. The first spring after your parting, a festival came to town. Oh, how wonderful it was! You must have seen it, hundreds of men carrying palanquins, each containing a vendor of fruits and meals and candies from the capital…”

The priest began his story, catching up on the period I was absent for. Each tale shared, a string shattered, Xiangru’s soul losing consistency, becoming the aethereal mass that would then peacefully float towards Heaven, ready for the next part of the cycle.

Seven hours needed to pass for the town to fall silent, never to speak again. I kept digging, for there were still bodies left to appease, Xiangru’s included.

Finally, upon the next dawn, no bodies could be found among the rubble. Only a fatigued Tianzi, and one thousand five hundred and twenty seven tombs.

I placed the shovel by the Priest’s tomb, and I left Luyi, a town full of life, that had to see death, but will be reborn, and will see life again.

Such is the cycle of Samsara.

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