“Do you love me?” Ah Bai asked.
That was it? He could get the stone just by answering that question? It was that easy?! No wonder Ruan Zhan said he was too smart for his own good, overly complicating things, coming up with so many unscrupulous means. He could have solved everything with one word.
“No, tell me after thinking it over.” Ah Bai stopped Si Ma Nan from speaking, her expression a little nervous. “You have to think things through clearly. Ask your heart. Don’t give me a random answer. You absolutely must not lie, take it as me begging you. Even if you say you don’t love me, I will still give you the stone. You just have to tell the truth. Just one truthful word!”
Looking at her gentle and earnest beautiful eyes, Si Ma Nan was momentarily dazed.
Did he love her? He wasn’t sure. If he did, why was he able to leave her, lock her up and betray her? If he didn’t, why did she linger in his heart for so long? Why was she different from anyone else to him?
Ever since he started his cultivation, he had forced himself to sever his emotions. He just wanted to study all the ancient Chinese mystic arts, and even restore the ones that had been lost to time. In his eyes, human emotions were incredibly stupid. He had no need for those at all.
When he stayed in the mountains and married Ah Bai back then, he had just wanted a safe place to cultivate the Japanese resurrection spell of the Matsui clan. He wanted to use Ah Bai’s divine gifts, and also learn the secret arts of witchcraft. Although he hadn’t actually learned many secrets due to Ah Bai’s vows regarding her knowledge, he had successfully “resurrected” due to Ah Bai’s kindness and power. Furthermore, he had to admit that the time spent with Ah Bai was the happiest he had been in years.
But none of that proved whether or not he really loved her! Perhaps he wasn’t even able to tell himself. Love was something too foreign. He didn’t understand it, and couldn’t figure it out! Yet for the sake of that stone, he had no choice but to answer before he could figure it out.
“I do.” He nodded solemnly, “I love only you.”
Someone sucked in a sharp breath by the awning. Si Ma Nan knew it was Hong Hao Hao, but he didn’t care at all. He was even able to lie to Ah Bai. What was Hong Hao Hao even worth? She was just a pet he raised, an ornament for him to play with.
Ah Bai looked at Si Ma Nan, her face pale. It wasn’t clear if she felt joy or sorrow at those words she had hoped to hear for so long. She didn’t give Si Ma Nan the stone right away. Although Si Ma Nan was anxious, he endured it and didn’t move.
“Are you sure you love me? You cannot lie, or you will suffer retribution.” Ah Bai mumbled. “I’ve said that I would give you the stone no matter your answer, as long as you don’t lie to me. You don’t have to coax me.”
“I’m very sure.” Si Ma Nan said half-truthfully, “You are my first love, and also my last.”
“If you lie…”
“Ah Bai!” Si Ma Nan finally couldn’t bear it. “What I’m saying is true, I really love you. If I lie, let me…”
Before he finished speaking, Ah Bai suddenly rushed over and hugged him. Although she was just a spirit, Si Ma Nan still felt a soft chill enter his arms. At the same time, a soft little hand covered his mouth. “Don’t make any vows. You just need to be sure. It’s fine as long as you are sincere.”
Si Ma Nan immediately let out a breath in relief. It wasn’t because he was about to obtain the stone, but because of the embrace of reunion. He was really fond of her gentleness. It had been hard for him to leave her, but he couldn’t allow himself to indulge. He forced himself to relentlessly pursue his goals.
“Here’s the stone.” Ah Bai held Si Ma Nan’s hand. He felt a warm beating sensation in his palm, making him ecstatic with joy.
Ah, the stone, the magical stone he had been seeking for so long. The stone that could fulfill his wishes. Finally, it was his.
Ah Bai took a few steps back and stared at Si Ma Nan from afar. In her eyes, apart from gentle affection, there was also a hint of nervousness.
“Don’t be afraid, I spoke the truth. I really love you.” Even though he had secretly taken the antidote to the love potion, even though he wasn’t sure if Ah Bai had purposefully placed the antidote where he could find it, even though he didn’t sufficiently understand his own feelings, what did it matter now that he had the stone?
“The Stone of Eternity, oh, the Stone of Eternity. You are finally mine. You can finally exhibit your true worth.” He muttered, then suddenly swallowed the stone into his stomach under everyone’s astonished gazes.
Ah Bai looked at Si Ma Nan with a complicated gaze. Seeing no unusual changes, she let out a breath and smiled gently, “You didn’t lie to me.”
“Of course I didn’t…” Before Si Ma Nan could finish speaking, he suddenly felt something was wrong with his body. A numbing sensation was spreading. He subconsciously rubbed his chest, thinking it was just some minor side effect. However, before he removed his hand, the numbing sensation returned. It became more and more frequent, as if countless ants were crawling inside him.
“Ah Nan, what’s wrong?” Hong Hao Hao asked loudly, noticing his expression was off and his hands clawing at his chest.
Si Ma Nan didn’t seem to hear her, not answering at all. He drew a seal and slammed it against himself.
With a bang, Si Ma Nan was forced back by his own spell and slammed against the tower doors, spitting out a mouthful of blood. However, he didn’t seem to have noticed. His brows furrowed and his hands pressed against his stomach. After rubbing a couple of times, he let out a pained groan.
“Ah Bai…what on earth…ah…did you give me?” Si Ma Nan looked up and glared angrily at Ah Bai. At this moment, the numbness had already transformed into the pain of countless arrows piercing his heart.
Ah Bai’s face was so pale it was almost transparent. She walked over without a word and merely held Si Ma Nan’s head in her arms. Si Ma Nan wanted to break free, but he couldn’t do it. The great pain made him unable to resist, and Ah Bai’s gentle and cold embrace was like an antidote, making him feel much more comfortable.
“What was it that you gave me? Did you still help Ruan Zhan in the end?” He lay in her arms and asked, unreconciled, his pain exacerbated by his jealousy.
“The Stone of Eternity. Wasn’t it what you wanted this whole time?” Ah Bai said softly, her tone both gentle and mournful. Her tears fell drop by drop like a broken pearl necklace.
“You’re lying! The Stone of Eternity is something that can fulfill my wishes. Why would it take…my life!” Another wave of pain hit Si Ma Nan. He hugged the formless yet tangible Ah Bai tightly. She felt delicate and frail, as if she would snap in his arms.
“I repeatedly said that I would still give you the stone even if you didn’t love me. Why didn’t you believe me? Why do you fail to understand that if you want something, there’s no way I wouldn’t give it to you as long as I had it?” Ah Bai’s tears fell on Si Ma Nan’s face. They were actually warm, making him feel some gentle comfort. His consciousness involuntarily blurred.
“I didn’t lie to you.” He grumbled.
“If you didn’t lie to me, you wouldn’t end up like this. I was very happy to hear you say you love me. But if that lie had to come in exchange for your life, I would rather you not love me!”
“I didn’t lie. I do really love you. Ahhh…” Si Ma Nan stubbornly insisted, but before he could finish speaking the heartrending pain struck again.
“Don’t speak. I know you eavesdropped when I spoke with my master’s soul. But do you really know what the Stone of Eternity does?”
Si Ma Nan endured pain that felt as if his body was melting, yet he still answered Ah Bai, “The Stone of Eternity can help someone become immortal. I need to be immortal to accomplish my desires.”
Ah Bai shook her head, her tears still trickling. “It turns out you misheard. You actually misheard! The stone of eternity doesn’t grant immortality. It’s actually called the Love Divining Stone, meaning eternal in life and in death.”
“Love Divining Stone?” Si Ma Nan asked blearily.
Ah Bai held Si Ma Nan tightly, as if trying to merge him into her own body, never to part.
She regretted it so much. She shouldn’t have brought this stone over all this way. It turned out Ah Nan hadn’t known its true purpose. She had never understood why he had to have this stone. Only today did she realize he had misunderstood its true use.
This type of stone was inadvertently discovered by the ancestors of their witchcraft teachings. It had been passed down from master to disciple until it ended up in her hands. Since the majority of witchcraft practitioners were witch doctors, hence women, it made this stone especially important.
Apart from instilling eternal loyalty when combined with a spirit, it could also test a man’s sincerity. A woman who possesses the stone can gift it to a man who truly loves her. After he swallows it, not only is it harmless, he will also become the stone’s next owner. It also helps develop his spiritual powers.
If he was a cultivator, it would be of great benefit. Even if he weren’t his life would become smooth sailing. It would be as if a lucky star followed him around!
For the woman, the wish it could fulfill was to help them obtain true love without any falsehood. It sounded very laughable, yet for a woman, this was the most important thing in life. As long as they had love, they could abandon everything else.
Witchcraft has been passed down for nearly a thousand years. Most practitioners who obtained the stone remained celibate. Even those who married chose drug spirits as their husband. Therefore, the stone had never been used, and it had never been given to any man. It was only during her time when her master foretold the disappearance of witchcraft, and when she also encountered someone she truly loved.
Was it fate? She didn’t know. Despite her lifespan being shortened due to loving him, she had never regretted it. Yet she regretted it now. She was about to permanently depart from the world of the living, and therefore wanted to see him one last time. She had wanted to leave him something to remember her by. In the end, she was the selfish one.
She didn’t want him to forget her! She had also wanted to know his true feelings! Now that she knew, she would rather not have known.
He didn’t love her, and would even lose his life for lying. If the person who swallowed the Love Divining Stone lied, it would suck him dry from the inside, not even leaving his soul behind. Therefore, she had lost him forever! Forever and ever!
Why had she been so foolish? When he eavesdropped on her conversation with her master’s spirit, they had been speaking the local dialect. Even if Ah Nan could understand some of it, he was Chinese after all. It was very likely for him to mishear things. Why did she never anticipate this? Now, because of his lie, he would lose everything, including his life and soul!
What should she do? What should she do? How could she just let him turn to nothing, yet how was she to save him?
“So that’s how it was!” Having blearily understood Ah Bai’s explanation, Si Ma Nan’s hopes turned to ashes.
He had been obsessed with Daoism from a young age. Only after embarking on the path did he realize how vast it was. The lifespan of a human was so limited, it wasn’t enough to even comprehend even a tiny part of it. The path of the Dao was a struggle for longevity. Yet in his latter years, he understood that he wouldn’t succeed merely relying on cultivation. Therefore, he did his best to learn resurrection spells, and everything that could prolong his life.
Due to this obsession, he used all sorts of means, and ended up forming an irreconcilable grudge with Ruan Zhan’s father.
In the end, he failed over and over, until his body passed, dying at the southwest border on his search for immortality. Yet he ended up meeting Ah Bai. Although she couldn’t revive him, she also didn’t let him truly “die”. She also inadvertently let him find out about this Stone of Eternity.
He had seen how Ah Bai’s master could still instruct her after death, and his own wishful thinking made him conclude the stone could grant eternal life. Therefore, he used Ah Bai’s feelings for him to remain by her side. Now, it seemed everything he sought had been an illusion. No one could live forever. No one could truly comprehend everything the world had to offer either!
But, did he really not love her?
It seemed to be the case from the pain in his body. However, why did he feel something abnormal protecting his heart?
“I’m sorry!” Ah Bai cried. “Don’t leave me! I’m begging you.”
Seeing Ah Bai’s heartbroken state, Si Ma Nan really wanted to agree. However, he could tell from his body’s condition he didn’t have long to live. His soul would also not remain intact. If he couldn’t do it, he couldn’t agree. He didn’t want to lie to her once again in his final moments.
It turns out that people did end up thinking benevolent thoughts prior to death. At this moment, he suddenly felt what he pursued for so many years was truly laughable. He was so tiny in the grand scheme of things. He regretted ruining everything for things that weren’t worth it in the end.
He hadn’t seen the woods for the trees. How many beautiful things in life had he destroyed for his goals.
“I’m the one who let you down.” He smiled, his gentle appearance reminding Ah Bai of when they were newlywed. “I shouldn’t have lied to you or trapped you. Do you know why I did that?”
“No, I don’t want to know, don’t talk.”
“But I want to tell you.” Si Ma Nan said softly, “You were powerful, and would be able to see through people even more after death. This made me feel guilty, afraid you would realize I wasn’t sincere towards you. I was afraid that in revenge, you would hand over your secrets and the stone to someone else.” Si Ma Nan took a breath and continued intermittently, “I’m sorry, but I really had my own struggles. I was afraid you would look down on me. As such, I would rather you hated me, because…at least that is a strong emotion.” He paused again, “Seeking immortality so I had enough time to research all of Daoism was something I wanted to achieve all my life. For that, I could abandon everything, including you. Yet in reality…I wasn’t able to abandon you. Therefore, I trapped you. I didn’t want you to find me and see my shame, yet also didn’t want you to reincarnate and disappear. By trapping you, I would know where you were. It felt like you were waiting for me.”
His words were too gentle, making Ah Bai cry incessantly from sadness. Everyone else present stood stunned and silent.
“Can you forgive me? Ah Bai!”
Si Ma Nan’s body didn’t show any signs of change, but he was becoming lighter and lighter. Ah Bai convulsed with fear.
She had wanted to say farewell and leave him a parting gift. Why did her affection end up killing him instead!? Yes, he had done many terrible things. Yet no one apart from her knew about his struggles and conflict, his suffering and anger. Therefore, she figured since everyone else hated him, she would be the one to love him.
“I have never blamed you.” She gave him a gentle kiss on the forehead.