“Have you ever seen heaven?”
“Not at all. My sins are too heavy, I’m going to hell.”
I killed countless people over the course of my life, and ended up dying with thousands of arrows pierced through my heart.
My soul landed in hell; the eighteen levels of the underworld seemed to have been made for me.
I smiled faintly, “If I have to go to hell, then so be it. As a female general of the nation, it was my duty to defend my country. I died for my country, and it was a worthy death. I’m fine even if I have to enter the eighteen levels of hell.”
Only to see the King of Hell sigh and say: “Han Lingling, you have accumulated grave sins and killed many people. You should have been cast into the eighteen levels of hell, never to reincarnate as a human again. However, you now have the chance to choose an alternative punishment: ‘three lifetimes of trials’.”
“What kind of trials?” I was in doubt, how could there be another chance left for me?
The King of Hell sighed yet again with a grave expression.
“The punishment of ‘three lifetimes of trials’ is to be thrown back into the mortal world to pass trials for three incarnations. You might be utterly deserted by your family and friends, or your family might be utterly ruined and killed. After passing through these three lives and understanding the suffering of the world, you’ll get the chance to reincarnate into a new life. Are you willing to take on this punishment?”
Hearing so, I hurriedly knelt down and kowtowed three times to the King of Hell, joy rising in my heart.
“Thank you, Your Honour!”
Thus I reincarnated into a normal family: an honest couple with a small child.
The first few years were ordinary, but full of the pains of poverty. There was barely enough plain porridge to fill our stomachs each day, yet I had a little brother to feed as well. The four of us sold vegetables to make a living.
I called the kind and gentle woman my mother, while the cute child was my little brother.
However, the years passed quickly and bandits invaded the village one day. In the blink of an eye, I was the only one left of my family.
Thinking that this was meant to be my punishment, that I was meant to suffer, and that it was all fake, I thought I could simply not care about it.
However, when the head of the bandits picked up my three year old little brother and pierced him through with a sword, I couldn’t resist struggling and fighting against them.
I was only ten or so then, and my little body was sent flying with a kick.
I saw that the head bandit’s face was extremely gloomy, and he looked young. However, his handsome face was twisted into a cruel grimace.
He took me back to his stronghold to be his maid. He killed my whole family, yet he still wanted me to serve him day and night.
After he dodged my countless attempts at assassinating him, I got angry and killed his wife instead.
In that life.
My body was badly mangled, and I was on my dying breath. He took off my arms to feed the dogs, as well as my legs.
I couldn’t die, yet I wasn’t living. My rage carried on for a lifetime, and I couldn’t reconcile myself to my fate.
I couldn’t take revenge, I couldn’t release my hatred, I couldn’t handle the pain.
I knew that this was the suffering that I had to bear, but the pain I felt was real. My family was gone, and it felt so real. It was such a long life.
I was deathly afraid of having to face that sort of suffering again, so at the age of two, I ran away from home.
I was scared that my family would get involved in my punishment, since this was a real life. It was close to a hundred years of time, it all felt too real.
Afraid of crowds, I stuck to my lonesome self.
I was still young when I left home, so I could only survive by begging by the roadside.
At that time, I met a little girl who begged together with me. I was a reclusive loner, while she was lively and cheerful. She kept sticking to my side, saying that it was better to have a companion around.
I knew that misfortune would follow wherever I went, so I kept trying to distance myself from her, to escape her; I didn’t want her to get hurt because of me.
However, she kept saying, “Even if we’re beggars, we can’t do without a companion.”
I told her that I was destined to bring misfortune to anyone around me.
She then said, “If I was lucky myself, I wouldn’t be begging out here. I’m actually unlucky too.”
With a big smile on her face, she reached out to me; the sunlight passing through the clouds above lit up her face, making me feel warmth again.
Thus the two of us ended up as companions after all. We passed our days quite happily.
What I hadn’t expected was that my escape hadn’t drawn disaster away from my family at all. Every single one of them ended up dead.
I watched the great fire burn down everything in that mansion in a daze, hidden in a corner far away, tears streaming down my cheeks.
That day, I hurriedly left her, afraid that she would get caught up in my trials.
However, I met that man again. That cruel man from my previous life, who had dismembered all of my limbs.
As if he had some sort of grudge with me, as if he hated me to the extreme, so much so that he had to push me into suffering in both my lives.
When I saw him, he told me that I was the escaped little miss from that mansion, and that he had a bone-deep grudge with my family.
I was very afraid, and filled with loathing.
But I couldn’t end my own life, that was against the rules.
Thinking that he would simply take my life, I knelt down and begged for him to kill me to end this trial early.
However, he said, “I’ve struggled at death’s door for so long, how could I let you die just like that? Since you’re the last lucky survivor, then you should have a taste of my suffering back then.”
“What, what do you want to do?” I trembled slightly as I spoke.
He smiled sweetly, “I heard that you’ve always been hiding in that pile of beggars, and that there’s a girl in there whom you’re close to. Why don’t you take a look at how she suffers?”
I was stunned and horrified. I pled continuously for mercy, for death, but he still captured her and brought her over.
I saw how she had been tortured to the point that her flesh was mutilated, and how her pretty face was covered in tears. When she saw me, that silly girl still managed to pull off a smile and ask, “Why are you here?”
I wanted to tell her that I was sorry, that I had pulled her down into this mess, but she continued speaking, “I went to steal two buns just now and I got caught. I must have gotten you into trouble too, I’m sorry…”
After she said so, she pulled out two buns; she bit into one and threw the other to my side.
I saw that she hadn’t even finished swallowing that bite before she stopped moving.
In an instant, my tears fell. I charged at that evil man, emotions astir.
Perhaps seeing that I would be difficult to deal with as long as my spirit was around, a single thrust of his sword pierced through my head.
I finally made it to the third life, but I wasn’t allowed to continue on into the next life yet.
Full of suspicion, I paced back and forth near the Wheel of Reincarnation, and questioned them endlessly. No one gave me any hints, and only said to wait for someone.
I glanced back unintentionally and spotted a familiar face. As I watched him walk towards me slowly, hatred bubbled from the depths of my heart. It was him!
That stranger who had tortured me for two lifetimes!
I charged forth and tried to beat him, but he quickly dodged my blows and said, “I’m not a human, I’m simply a stranger here to help you with your trials.”
“What do you mean by help? In both my lives, you killed my whole family. In one life, you took my limbs and killed my three year old brother. In the other, you burned down my entire family and tortured my best friend! How is this considered helping?” I glared angrily at him, tears falling as I spoke.
However, he said, “Han Lingling, I’m helping you with your trials, I’m Ling…”
“Screw your help! What do you want to say here? I have another lifetime of trials to experience, don’t block my way!”
He showed a hurt expression and said, “Your first two lives were simply a taste of suffering. In your last life, you’ll finally experience real pain.”
I abruptly retreated a step backwards, impatient and disturbed, “How are you going to torture me next?”
He then smiled faintly at me, “I’m here to give you a chance. You can try taking this challenge. If you do try it, you can skip this last trial, drink a bowl of Granny Meng’s soup and enter the Wheel of Reincarnation again. If you’re not willing to try it, then you’ll have to continue with your last trial. However, I have to tell you that in your last trial, you’ll be sold to a brothel and you’ll have to experience thousands of men…”
I was in full panic in a split second. I laughed bitterly, “Do I even have a choice? How do I try this challenge?”
“Kill me, and you can skip your last trial. If you don’t manage to kill me, then you’ll have to continue with this last trial.”
He spoke slowly, and as he spoke, he tossed a dagger at my feet. That faint smile of his was like a taunt to me.
I hated him to the core! I wanted to hack him to pieces and tear off all his limbs!
However, when I picked up the dagger, a burst of familiarity bubbled up from my heart. Was this man really just a stranger to me?
Thinking back to my three year old brother and my ordinary family, and that simple, kind girl, I gripped the dagger tightly. In that instant, all my hatred surged forth and I pierced at him with the dagger.
He didn’t fight back at all. His smiling face shone like a flower in bloom. As if the dagger in my hands was made to kill ghosts and spirits, that one stab caused his spirit to fade out of existence, with a trace of bitter agony.
A wind chime suddenly dropped to the ground where he had stood. I bent down to pick it up.
Why did this chime look so familiar?
After passing my three lifetimes of trials, the King of Hell told me that I could finally reincarnate into a new life.
Gripping onto that wind chime in my hands, full of misgivings, I wanted to ask about that young man, but I couldn’t bring myself to speak.
Forget about it, I finally passed my trials and my heart was full of pain. I might as well go to Granny Meng’s for that bowl of soup and forget everything that happened.
I stepped onto the Bridge of Helplessness. However, I spotted a familiar face. That person being held by the ghost envoys, didn’t he look like that young man I loved when I was still a female general?
I glanced at the bowl of Granny Meng’s soup in my hands, then asked Granny Meng, “Granny, why won’t that young man come and drink this soup?”
Granny Meng cast an eye at him and sighed, “That young man? He was the emperor of a nation. He died a little early with too much blood on his hands, so he’ll likely be entering the eighteen levels of hell.”
With a thud, the bowl in my hands dropped to the ground. I hurriedly chased after him, not even looking at where I was going in my panic. That must be his reincarnation!
He must have reincarnated once or twice while I was undergoing my three trials. He became an emperor in this life, so he was no longer ‘him’, but in that past life, he was my fiancé!
Back then, I was a female general of the nation, while he was the eldest son of the prime minister. We were engaged, and got along well together.
I had thought to marry him once I returned in victory, but who knew that I would end up dying on the battlefield and get separated from him just like that?
I loved him so very much, and he was like my lifeblood. How could I just watch as his soul enters the eighteen levels of hell, never to reincarnate as a human again?
No! I just can’t!
I went to see the King of Hell again, and asked if he could exempt that young man from the punishment of entering the eighteen levels of hell.
He shook his head and said no.
I then asked the King of Hell how I could be exempted, while he couldn’t. We had probably killed about the same number of people, right
He sighed, “Your case is different.”
I asked again, “Since it’s different, can I take his place in the eighteen levels of hell?”
The King of Hell shook his head once again, “You can’t take his place, but you can help him.”
“How do I help him?” I asked with suspicion.
“Erase all memory of your existence in all of his lives. From now on, he won’t remember you or recognise you. Use the beautiful memories from your previous lives and change his punishment from suffering the eighteen levels of hell into three lifetimes of trials. In these three lifetimes, he won’t remember you and he won’t recognise you. You’ll have to become his greatest enemy and use the most cruel methods to help him through those three trials.”
After pausing for a moment, the King of Hell then said, “When it comes to the third trial, you can give him a chance. If he doesn’t kill you, he’ll experience one more trial. After three lifetimes, both you and him will come out unscathed. If he kills you, he’ll be able to skip his last trial and suffer one lifetime less. If that happens, the price of helping him lessen the punishment of his sins will be the utter disappearance of your soul.”
When he finished speaking.
Like a splash of cold water, I abruptly woke up to a heart-piercing pain.
The last words left by that strange, yet familiar young man suddenly echoed in my ears.
“Han Lingling, I’m helping you, I’m Ling…”
I hurriedly held up the wind chime in my hands, only to hear the King of Hell speak slowly, “How is it? Do you still want to help him?”
I smiled bitterly in conflict and my lips parted slightly as my heart suddenly ached. However, I kowtowed three times continuously.
“Your Honour, please grant the three lifetimes of trials to me. I’m willing to help him through the trials.”
As I spoke, my mind was filled with images of that so-called stranger, that young man.
“In your last trial, you’ll be sold to a brothel…”
“Kill me, and you can skip your last trial…”
Like that ‘stranger’ who had helped me through my trials, I helped my beloved young man through two lives.
Just like I had hated that man before, when he saw me, he gritted his teeth in hatred.
In his third life, he was to lose his family and become a eunuch. I heard that if he was to become a eunuch in one life, he would face some problems in his next few lives.
I couldn’t bear for him to face that fate, so before his third life began, I told him how he could skip his last trial.
I said, ”Kill me, and you can skip your last trial. If you don’t manage to kill me, then you’ll have to continue with this last trial.”
His eyes were filled with enmity. He picked up the dagger I tossed to him and charged at me without any hesitation, piercing my chest.
In that instant, surprisingly, I didn’t feel any pain at all.
I only felt that my sins were too heavy.
Thus my soul dispersed and faded from existence.
A single tear rolled down my cheek silently.
The wind chime fell to the ground where I once stood.
Perhaps no one could remember the time back then?
A little boy squatted beneath the branches of a tree and trembled as he cried.
He was the second son of the prime minister, and because he had been cowardly since birth, he was always getting bullied by others.
Each time he was bullied, he would always hide here to cry in secret.
A young girl found him.
“Oh? You have a ‘ling’ in your name too? Then do you like wind chimes?”
“Don’t cry any more, it’s not good for boys to cry! Here, I’ll give you a wind chime! If anyone tries to bully you next time, come and look for me!”
“Oh yes, my name is Han Lingling!”
He knew her.
She had been betrothed to his older brother since they were little.
How could he not know of her!
She was clearly a girl, but she kept acting so manly all the time.
She was just a girl, but she just had to follow others and head to the battlefields!
And she died just like that?
She even said that she would protect him.
In the end, didn’t he have to protect her still?
Lucky he still kept that wind chime.
Lucky there was still a later.
He would help her through three lifetimes of trials.
However, in the end… everything vanished into thin air.
TL Note: The ‘ling’ in both their names means ‘chime’.
When souls reincarnate in the Chinese underworld, they have to cross the River of Forgetfulness on the Bridge of Helpfulness. Old Lady Meng stands there with a bowl of her soup. Drinking it makes you forget everything that happened in your previous life, allowing you to enter the Wheel of Reincarnation and into a new life.
You can read up more about the Chinese underworld and the eighteen levels of hell here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diyu#Eighteen_Levels_of_Hell
Read more about Old Lady Meng here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meng_Po