The Fox of Luopan
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Luopan had once been a land of luxury. The town had once been a hub of merchants and claypotters, of bronzemasters and mercenaries, standing in between massive mountains, said to be the cadavers of dragons and giants, dividing the lands of the Great Qaghan, the Omnipotent, everpresent Chinggis Khan, and the Tatars; the Qara Khitai; the Jin Dynasty. Protected by the Pax Tatarica, Luopan thrived when many others fell, and even after the Great Khanate fractured, it continued to grow and expand.

Today I walk its dusty roads, once made of bronze and gold, of pearls encrusted within volcanic rock and the bone fragments of the Qilin that once treaded these mountains. Today, there’s only dried muck, dried blood, and weeds growing to the sides of a dirt path leading nowhere.

Luopan is no more. No, it’s less than that; it’s a corpse of a once illustrious municipality, beaten to death by the many regents that have come and gone, each gorging themselves on the fruit of the land, on the gold minted on the aptly named ‘Minted Castle’ that stood at the center of the town.

“Miss, please, spare a coin… Anything, miss…”

The woman turned to her side, where she saw a pauper, asking for anything of sustenance, anything of substance. He stretched out his hands towards the sky, begging to anyone who passed: He could not see the woman, because his eyes had long since atrophied, becoming empty milk blots, his body morphing to reject the Sun, the symbol of the one that had ruined Luopan. He could see no more, for there was nothing worth facing anymore.

And yet, a woman had manifested here, amidst this Hell on earth. A Celestial being, the kind his grandparents, and their grandparents had mentioned in the past, in the stories that would once fill him with hope, those stories he could not remember anymore.

The woman looked to the sides, dozens of corpses resting with their hands in the same position as the pauper, the last man standing. The woman searched her pockets, pulling out a single golden tael, the last possession she had. She looked around, at the derelict houses, the destroyed buildings, the arid land, devoid of any plant life, wondering what the point of it all would be, before offering the coin to the man.

The man closed his hands, feeling the item in between his fingers, moving the coin to his lips, feeling the cold steel turn warm, feel alive, palpitating. There was more to the coin that the mere value the steel represented. So, so much more.

“I’m sorry, uncle, this is all I have on me.” The woman laments. It’s not a deep lament, but merely the kind one says when they see a squashed bug, a dead pigeon by the side of the road, a drunk soldier, or a pauper who you know can’t help. The kind of impotence that you feel when you realize you cannot do enough for this world.

But she was willing to try.

“Worry not, miss… This is all I ever wanted… This is all I ask for…” The old man muttered, hugging the coin like a mother hugs her firstborn, like a footsoldier hugs the letter of his dear, who’s at home, or his leader, the man who he will die for. The dearest thing to him.

“And yet… I wish to know your name, miss… The name of my savior.”

The woman hesitates: She’s lived long enough to know that names have power. Giving one’s name away was akin to throwing that power away, into the garbage, never to be recovered. Never to return. And yet, the pauper didn’t seem like danger to her. Could she really trust him, let her guard down for once? Was she ready to confront death because of a blunder yet again?

Yi XiangDirection. My name is Yi Xiang, uncle.”

“What a beautiful name you have, miss…” The pauper laughs, and for a moment, his eyes recover their colour, and he sees a contour, something past the darkness. Something bright, with many tails. A goddess that walked the Earth. Something he could believe in.

“Who are you, miss?…” The pauper asks.

“I’m someone who can’t help but move only one direction一向/Yi Xiang, never looking back.” The woman replied, this time with confidence. She knew what to say now. The words would flow, as they had once done in her previous life. “I’m someone who still looks for her purpose意向/Yi Xiang amidst this foreign land异乡/Yi Xiang I walk through; amidst these unknown experiences I swallow.”

“I see…” The pauper stopped, before looking at the coin he held in his hands. It was so bright. “I hope you find what you’re looking for… For I have found mine.”

And with a last breath, the man passed, his body turning to proverbial stone, his soul ascending to the Four Heavens, the Eight Directions, the Eternal Cycle.

Yi Xiang prays for the soul of the pauper, then turns back to the Minted Castle; what’s left of it. It was a sad moment; a tragic encounter. And yet, she continued. True to her name, she only knew the way forward.

The Minted Castle was at the center of Luopan, and it was gorgeous.

A massive pagoda-like structure stood in front of Yi Xiang, eight stories tall. The entrance was made of some sort of wooden finish she had never seen before, a new renovation to the old rusted bronze sculpture that once stood here, a relic of a time long, long gone.

There was no door, Yi realized. Or, rather, it would be more apt to say the door had been removed, broken hinges resting on the ground nearby, the nests of weevils and barber bugs. Their nests also rested atop the corpses of the old imperial guard, now collapsed into brittle marrow, their armor cracked, their weapons broken into pieces, daos and qiangs spread about, making the entrance to the palace look like a battlefield, one long since forgotten.

Yi Xiang passed through the liminal barrier, and for a moment, she was not who she really was. No, she was a boatman, she was an architect, she was the concubine of an affluent merchant, and she also was the merchant.

Buried memories flooded like the Yangtze, like the Yellow River. She knew why she was here; no, she had always known. This was different. She understood the powers guiding her to this castle, but now that she was inside, she knew her purpose. She visualized it.

She moved towards the staircase at the side of the building, one that was usually only reserved for princes, and their concubines, and their advisors, and the captain of the Royal Guard, a man by Lu Bu, not to be confused with the Great Fengxian, whose achievements are as great as they are many. His stallion was just as magnificent as the Red Hare, however, if she was allowed to be proud of a man who was murdered long ago. A man who died defending her cowardly self.

One step, then another, and the memories returned. She saw herself enjoying a magnificent meal after the forces allied to her felled the Magnificent Sultan Said Khan, the Slaughterer, putting an end to hundreds of years of ironclad rule. She remembered the nights of passion with the daughter of a magnate by the name of Begum, whose eyes shone like emeralds; whose body was like the finest marble; whose blood lay on the seventh floor of the structure, her body thrown out in seventeen pieces, never to be found again. Never to become whole again.

And at the top, once her most trustworthy advisor sat atop her throne in the aptly named throne room. His body had decayed beyond recognition: His eyes had turned into a pulpy mush, hard like zirconium, yet still liquid, flowing out like blood, or tears, or pus. His body had bloated, becoming a thick corpse whose figure resembled that of a pig, of a boar, of the slowest of the sacred animals, and yet, they still were the most cunning, for they had stepped on the fox’s head, crushing it like a fig. Like mere scum.

His arms and legs were broken, thin like twigs, and yet even though they were destroyed beyond use, the advisor still moved his hand, pointing at Yi Xiang as she entered the room, whatever muscles still left attaching his jaw to his saggy skin twisting into a jeering smile. Even now, she was being ridiculed by the man who had brought her life to an end.

“Tsang Ze, is that you?…” The decrepit being spoke, teeth falling off his face as he spoke. The zirconium tears would fall onto his nose, onto his mouth, and would cause him to cough violently, the putrid flaps that composed his body flailing like leather drying on a rack. It was nauseating.

“That was my name once, yes.” Yi Xiang admitted.Tsang Ze, the rightful, benevolent leader of Luopan. The heir to the throne. She who had been promised a beautiful future, full of bronze and gold. The star who would never flicker out, for stars are not meant to disappear. Oh how wrong they were.

“What is your name now, aberration?” The bloated corpse asked.

Aberration, that word made her head throb, as if something wanted to escape from it. She could feel her white tails beginning to emerge from their conceptual prison. She was losing her power to mere words.

“Yi Xiang.” She wasn’t going to tell him her name, but something forced her too, as if keeping the name hidden would kill her. Her old advisor was pulling the strings; he was the showmaster, Yi a mere puppet, a vestige of the píyĭngxì, rags in the shape of a human being strewn about without care. Had she fallen for such a foul trap. Had this entire life been naught but her following a beast to its lair?

“A commoner’s name. The name of a whore who is killed and thrown to the side of the road, to be eaten by vermin. Ah, but that was the fate that befell you, no?”

A third tail had appeared behind her, losing control of her shape. Yes, that had been her fate once.

“And there it is.” The Pig laughed at the Fox. “The aberration shows its true colors, those of a monster who knows only destruction, only desolation. The Fox who pretends to be a woman brings darkness to Luopan, and so Luopan falls, and is gone, and history will never dare gaze upon the empire that once thrived here.”

A fourth tail appeared, and the advisor could feel a certain heat emanate from Yi Xiang. The supporting wood and steel frames of the castle cracked and swayed side to side as balls of blue and red light emanated from both the fox’s hands. The fire ran up her sleeves, setting fire to her arms, her body, her clothes. Her tails glowed a bright white, giving the flames on each side a lighter tone as Yi Xiang, as Tsang Ze, as Eleonor de Varela, as Sabah Tafesh, as a hundred- A thousand more names, a thousand lives, and yet, there was only One True Direction. A single way forward. A single purpose.

The Rebirthed Fox God新生狐神 stared at the advisor, showing her fangs. Her claws glowed hot-red, burning through the rotten flooring. One step, and the staircase behind her collapsed. The next step, the punctured seal-fat lanterns on the ceiling turned again with fury, glass scattering everywhere as they burned like will-o-wisps on a winter night. Her tails shined so brightly they began disintegrating, sulphur dust releasing from each of their tips. Her two-colored eyes reflected the advisor’s joy and fear perfectly, binary concepts clashing and melting like day and night, a pandemonium being freed from its chains.

“I’m no pretender, Pig.” The Fox growled, and the foundations of the building bent towards the east, the crushed bones of both instigators and victims vibrating to the song of the distant Fire Phoenix of the Sun, and the tremors caused reached even the Golden Capital, where even the Emperor of all Heavens wondered who could have caused such a ruckus. “I am who I am, unlike you. You’re naught but a facade, the picture of a corpse遗像/Yi Xiang, not even the corpse itself. Bloated with lies, a reflection of something darker, yet never real. You are who brought Luopan to its knees. You are the only aberration here.”

The corpse laughed, and clapped its broken arms, because he’d been bested. He was not real, none of this was. “You are right, of course, but you are still naive. Neither of us is real, mere ideas臆想/Yi Xiang, long forgotten, long since irrelevant. Luopan is a land of fantasy, just like this castle; just like the dragon it rested upon. Just like Fox Spirits.”

“I am real. I exist.” The Fox Spirit gnashed at the air. The castle’s first floor gave to the pressure, collapsing into itself, neither the Pig nor the Fox batting an eye.

“Prove it.” The Pig grinned, and the second floor gave in, then the third, then the fourth.

Yi Xiang leapt at the Pig. Then the fifth.

The Fox clawed at the Pig’s bloated corpse, and the skeletons of many came from his belly. Tsang Ze was amongst the many. Then the sixth.

The Fox howled at the moon’s zenith, and dug down into the Pig’s neck, removing the head of the snake. Then the seventh.

The Fox became real, and so she found her purpose. Her lineage avenged, Yi Xiang closed her eyes as the ceiling collapsed, kissing her vulpine features, brushing against her whiskers, caressing her ears, embracing her Valiant Soul.

And so, the Minted Castle was reduced to rubble, and Luopan was no more.

The tale of the Fox of Luopan is a tale that has resisted erasure in Xinjiang for hundreds of years. It has survived strife, mudslides, earthquakes, the fall of nations, the birth of new ones. The Fox has become a lesson in resilience when the Khans walked the earth, it became a tale of demonic influence when the Uyghurs took Khara-Koja, joined collections of poetry of Turkic Islam that spread throughout the basin.

In the end, no one can know for sure what the story is meant to represent, or what was added or subtracted throughout the years: Luopan is not in any maps, although it’s believed to represent the direction of a desired object, rather than any actual location. According to many sources, it represents the locations of bronze and copper mines in the Kazakh prefecture of Lli, the story a map of sorts, the Fox the literal manifestation of the land: Her bronze blood falls into the earth, and spreads, vengeance turning into progress, rebirth here turning more abstract — She is the land, and the land is now alive, the bronze becoming her veins, the Fox becoming Xinjiang itself.

Others argue that the story is more personal, perhaps of a real figure fighting a regent of the zone. Maybe the kingdom was a mere reinterpretation of a mine. Maybe the Fox was never a Fox, and the Pig was never a Pig. She was merely someone who was disgraced, and taken over by a monster in all but body, who then returned to her rightful position, or died trying. Sections of the tale point towards some sort of sacrilege in either mind or body that she committed that was used against her by the Pig. ‘The Fox who pretends to be a Woman’ leads many to believe in a gender issue. 'A man who turns into a woman is to doom a dynasty into ruin'; these are words of the Southern Provinces that refer to an incident in which a man’s ‘yang’ attributes turned into feminine ‘yin’ attributes, dooming Southern Qi to fall during a rebellion in the 6th century. It is also at times linked to Pure Land Buddhism, where women must turn into men to advance into the Pure Land, the opposite change leading into Hell. ‘Neither man nor woman, but rather a third’ are the words of Mara, the representation of forces antagonistic to enlightenment. Maybe it was just a normal event, shaped by the beliefs of the time, defined by the many examples given here.

And what does the author believe? Well, there is no way to know for sure. Who knows which parts are true, and what parts aren’t, after so long. Xinjiang has been a cultural petri dish since the conception of humanity, and it shows. That being said, I believe the Fox existed, and so did the Pig. And the two fought, perhaps not a battle of physical prowess, but one of volition. And Yi Xiang persisted. Even in death, she reigned victorious.

And, who knows, maybe she did survive the ordeal. Perhaps not in any traditional sense, but more so as a concept, as a soul that moved onto something else, somewhere else. A lesson had to be learnt; it would be tragic — anticlimactic even — for a tale to end in pointlessness. No tale compiled here has ended in such a way, so why start here?

Yi Xiang is ephemeral, but also eternal, a perfect figure to represent the rich culture of the land. The Fox lives, and breathes, and continues fighting; she continues moving forward, because she has found purpose, and death isn’t part of it. She is alive: She lives in the Tales of the White Snake, of the stories of Qiu Miaojin, in the fight against oppression, whether mundane or supernatural, whether in mind or body.

Yi Xiang breathes and walks amongst us and, with some luck, maybe you’ll meet her one day, holding a different voice. Holding a different name.

Xinjiang Mythos: A Collection of Captivating Tales

Miss Zoë JuzhengDirection
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