Synopsis: A fast-paced story about a youngster who loses everything and everyone he holds dear. Through the only family that still remains with him, his uncle, he gets to choose to dedicate his focus and attention to blacksmithing rather than to fall into depression and street life...
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Author’s note: BTW guys, this arc is a depressing one, so read at your own risk. There cannot be happiness without pain. Not when there are these trials…
The pain was akin to a needle prick, lasting only for a few moments, then disappearing. I still didn’t want to open my eyes, scared that I would see my own blood-splattered corpse on the tracks. I probably looked like minced meat. I shivered.
“Your Highness, please stand up and walk on your own,” I heard soul collector A’s voice.
I opened one eye, still afraid.
Once I turned my head to look at the shadow in my peripheral vision, my other eye flew open, and I stared at the imposing figure with shock and dread.
“Jin! Why the hell did you follow me!” I was beginning to feel extremely incensed. How could he choose to follow me in death, when it could possibly affect his trials!
He helped me stand up by holding my arm, but his grip was a little too tight.
“How could I not? Juju, tell me, do you know how it feels to be the one left behind?”
His eyes were clear, boring into mine, and I felt stifled.
“I don’t…” I answered honestly. I remembered that I had died before him in our first life, leaving him in such an emotional state that he killed the Emperor of Ku without remorse. I looked down at my feet in guilt.
“Then you should know this. I would rather die with you, if I could.” He lifted my chin with his fingers, and gazed solemnly at me.
“Ahem.” Soul collector A cleared his throat. “As much as I would like to see deities flirt on the open road, we sincerely ask you to hurry up and walk back to the netherworld.”
“We’re busy, you know,” soul collector B added irritably. “We don’t have all the time to wait. You’re messing up our schedules!”
“Sorry!” Jin and I exclaimed, turning away from each other in embarrassment.
On the way back to the netherworld, I was a tad bit surprised that he grasped my hand as if it was the most natural thing to do.
Because I wanted to get my mind off of the fact that the God of War Jin himself was now currently holding my hand for the first time in Heaven, I decided to ask him about what had transpired during our last hours on Earth.
“Kina was an interesting character,” Jin mused.
“But didn’t she push you to your death?” I asked in puzzlement. I was still amazed by how Kina could act so brashly. It was just an accident right? Kina shouldn’t have any murderous tendencies, right?
“People can do stupid things when they’re in love,” Jin remarked dryly.
“Do you hate her?” I asked him. I still had a hard time digesting the fact that she had done that to Jin, be it an accident or not. But I did not want to hate her, and hoped Jin felt the same.
Jin shook his head. “I don’t hate her. If anything, I pity her. I’m pretty sure she’s wallowing in a pool of regret right now. After all, she lost the love of her life. Both she and Gary would never forget that day. They would probably think of themselves as murderers.”
I bit my lip. Although I didn’t want them to feel such tragic emotions, I couldn’t very well go back to Earth right away even if I wanted to.
How shocked would they be if they saw Ryle walking around after being splattered by the train? No, the thought of going back was preposterous at this moment. But I was also feeling a bit depressed, as I had never gotten the chance to say goodbye to my parents on Earth. I really did love them.
I felt Jin squeeze my hand in reassurance and comfort, and I smiled up at him in gratitude. I prayed with all my heart my friends and family on Earth would be alright, and hoped they wouldn’t dwell so much on our death. Perhaps sometime in the future I would leave a note to tell them that we were okay.
My brain started recounting the memories I had with them on Earth, and my heart was full. I would never forget the time I spent with them. My life on Earth was colorful and beautiful because they were there. Although I still felt sad, I needed to move forward towards the next chapter.
“Juju!” I saw my father in the distance. He ambled over quickly, and when he saw that my hand was entwined with Jin’s, he suddenly turned to stone.
“Darling Juju! Welcome back!” My mother pushed away the corpse that was her husband, and came over to kiss my cheeks.
“Mother, this is…” I gestured to the majestic man beside me.
Before Jin could open his mouth, my mother cut him off.
“I obviously know who he is!” Mother smiled slyly. “Hello, Jin!” She looked down at our interlaced hands with a histrionic display of shock. I quickly took my hand away in embarrassment, hiding it behind my back.
Mother placed her fan over her mischievous smile. “Well, well, well. Jin still has another lifetime to prove himself worthy of my daughter. Do your best, okay?” She winked at Jin, turned around, picked up my father’s corpse off the ground, and walked back towards the palace. Everything happened so fast, that I was left slightly befuddled.
“You can ignore my mother,” I looked at Jin, and suggested. “She says the silliest things.” Mothers really knew how to embarrass their daughters! Ah, saying that Jin’s trials were to prove himself worthy of me was humiliating!
While my brain was still churning from recent events, one of the imps of the netherworld suddenly scuttled towards us and bowed low.
“Your Highness, God of War Jin, the Jade Emperor requests an audience with you in the Jade Palace.”
“What for?” Jin asked cautiously.
“I don’t have the slightest idea,” the imp replied. “I’m just paid to deliver the news.” The imp jiggled the purse tied around his waist with glee. I actually felt like throwing a punch at his face for some reason.
“Let’s go then.” Jin held out a hand to me, but I refused to take it. After what my mother had blurted out, I was feeling diffident. This was the first time I talked so much with Jin in deity form, and since I had a full and unobstructed view of his appearance, it became too much for my heart to handle.
Jin looked at me questioningly. “You’re actually getting shy about this? You were the one forcing yourself on me in the second life, have you forgotten?”
I blushed red in an instant. “N-No, I wasn’t!”
With mock indignation, I walked hurriedly towards Heaven, with Jin laughing behind me.
We arrived at the Jade Palace, with servants bowing their heads at us as we made our entrance. Uncle was sitting on his throne, and when he saw us, he smiled.
Jin kowtowed thrice in front of him, while I just stood there awkwardly, unsure if I should follow etiquette.
When I was about to bend down on one knee, uncle stopped me with a hand as he shook his head at me in disapproval.
“Welcome back, my little Juju.” Uncle’s gaze was warm towards me, but when he turned his head to look at Jin, his gaze hardened.
“And God of War Jin.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Jin bowed his head in response.
“I congratulate you for passing the first two of your trials,” uncle told Jin, a small wry smile playing on his lips.
“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Jin could not contain the happiness in his voice.
“But,” uncle raised one finger in the air. “The last lifetime you will face will be the most difficult of all, as it will test your perseverance.”
Why was uncle saying such ominous things?!
Jin looked at the Jade Emperor with resolution in his eyes, his head held high. I guess Jin really wanted to obtain higher divinity, huh?
“I will keep that in mind, Your Majesty,” Jin said.
“I hope my niece was not bothering you with your trials.” There was an underlying sinister tone in uncle’s voice, and I was a bit scared.
“Not at all,” Jin replied, a smile tugging at his lips.
“My niece will accompany you during your third life as well, if you do not mind.” When the Jade Emperor saw Jin tilt his head in puzzlement, in order to cover for me and my dubious reason, he hastily added, “Because she wants to explore the new worlds. She has always been quite a curious little child.” Jin nodded his head, seeming to accept this. Yes, I love you so much, uncle!
Uncle motioned me over to his side. “I will take away your seal, Juju. You will not need it anymore.” His voice was warm again.
“Seal?” Jin repeated curiously.
“The birthmark!” I hurriedly said. “It’s getting itchy!” I scratched my wrist to prove my point. I didn’t want Jin to know I was using a seal to stalk him in his lifetimes!
“…” Jin was nonplussed.
“Please remove it now, uncle.” I bared my wrist in front of his face.
The Jade Emperor laughed. He pressed two fingers against the flesh of the seal, and it started to glow brightly, then dimmed as the gold circle disappeared in a few moments.
After I said my thanks, I went back to stand beside Jin. Why did my seal have to be removed? How would I be able to find him in the next life now? I felt downcast. But then again, what use would I have for the seal if we were both obliged to drink the soup of oblivion in the third life?
“Juju, take care in the next life. Jin, I hope you won’t disappoint me.” With one wave of uncle’s hand, the doors of the throne room opened, indicating that it was time for us to leave. “Don’t forget to drink the soup of oblivion,” he reminded us.
I quickly went to uncle to kiss him goodbye on the cheek, and his tender eyes made me feel warm inside. “Thank you, uncle! I love you so much!” I hugged his neck and he patted me fondly on the back, as he whispered, “I shall await your return, my little juju. Happiness is waiting just around the corner.”
After drinking our bowls from Old Meng, Jin and I walked to the dimensional cavern where the pools to Amara were located.
“Will we see each other in the next life?” I looked at Jin with apprehension.
“I’m sure we will find each other. We always did, after all,” he said.
I nodded my head, hopeful.
“Be careful you don’t jump into the wrong pool again,” Jin said as he guided me to the edge of the Yin pool.
To spite him, I pretended to jump into the Yang pool, but Jin started laughing as he pulled me away by the collar.
“Let’s see who arrives in that world first!” I said excitedly, raising my skirts to reveal feet that were ready to jump into the pool at any minute.
“One…two…three…!” Jin was laughing as he counted, and we both submerged ourselves into the waters in haste.