Treasure Mountain Part III - The Magic Mirrors
Now it was me and Mneme, a notorious friend of mine, doing what we don’t usually do together - talking a long walk. It was some time before the Crown thing, when one could still walk down any smaller alley without attracting hateful looks or generally too much attention. That was one of those days when you decide to take a peek around the corner and end up walking for miles and miles, finding new destinations as you go. That was when I first visited the Coal Mine Village, and that was when I discovered a secret path connecting the imposing mountains that line on the border of the Old City. Most importantly however, that’s when I had a chance to finally meet the Elephant; this is, Dear Reader, how he started his story:
A long time ago, there were three recluses - the Black Spirit, the Dawning Glow, and the Front Gate Wall. They lived for eternity among the emerald hills of the Black Land, seeing how lesser beings gradually find their home in this natural cradle of earth that kept the summer heat away and shielded them from malice. Over those little people they watched, their solemn faces rarely moving; offering shelter to those who needed it. It is in the habit of every human to name things he sees, be it a grain of sand or the sky above, so names they were given. So many, indeed, that they can’t all be recalled, and most are now forgotten; I only know of the ones that were deemed the most proper by the passing ages.
Should you build a house, it would not be right to have the wind howl freely through the main gate, or strangers take sneaky looks inside as they walk past. In this case, a front wall is needed to protect the household from perils and inquisitive human eyes. With this in mind, the little ones turned to one of the recluses and said:
‘You stand firm, guarding us from the dangers that come from the east, be it an enemy army or disease. We shall call you a Front Gate Wall.’
The other recluses also had their magical properties, that did not go unnoticed, hence their names. One day, the Black Spirit, being the true embodiment of the nature of the land, mused:
‘We have all stood here for time immemorial. Since the day we emerged from the ancient sea, we have held guard over the land thinking little of the days yet to come. But the same sea that had once given life is now no more than a vapour, and its lesser children’s bones lie in our bosoms. It is the truth, that we too will one day perish, as this word is no more than a conflux of all things uncertain.’
The Dawning Glow replied, basking in the rosy light:
‘It is indeed so. All the same, the time given to us to exist in this world is long, and it’s easier for us to accept our fate. Look upon the little ones, brother. How they toil, like ants, their days being no more than a speck of dust in the everlasting chaos. How is it that they find the strength to keep going in a world where their names and deeds will soon be forgotten as they’ll find themselves replaced with the countless new generations? Ah, I find their willpower to carry on remarkable, yet futile.’
So they conversed. And then one day, came strange men in robes, bearing a number of peculiar gifts and curios, as well as answers to the Dawning Glow’s question. They spoke of things that the recluses found incomprehensible; the little ones, however, now knew of purpose. There was to be life after death, and not one, but many, a never ending circle of rebirth. The men spoke of the One who would grant them all a way out of this malicious trap, and taught about the passing of all things material.
Seeing the change in people’s hearts the Front Gate Wall exclaimed:
‘How strange it all seems to me! Surely, though, one cannot practice the way of becoming detached from the materia mundi while living in squalor, spending his days on drinking and wenching. Even we understand that much. We all became recluses eons ago, strangers in this strange land, devoid of purpose and meaning. I now feel it changing. Let us grant haven to those that wish to pursue their ways, whether they’re true or not; together we shall find solace in this unusual cooperation.’
So the pass was granted, and soon after people of the robe raised towers of stone and houses of wood to protect themselves and their holy artefacts. They carved wards and poems into the flesh of recluses, creating bonds of blood. Magical powers flowed through the veins of earth to aid them in their meditations, and supernatural would happened. Guarded buildings held scriptures in tongues so ancient and foreign that to utter one word would mean to rebuild the reality… Holding such powers, the recluses become the symbols of the newborn City.
‘I was one of them.’ the Elephant finished his story,
‘Proud I stood, of those magical words etched in my pale skin, a famous sight to behold for all that found themselves in these parts. They wrote and sang about me, calling me the Emerald Shield, the holy protector of the land and the treasures. And there were more than many that I held.
The bronze mirrors - holy relics of magic incomparable to anything else. If there was a man brave enough to look into one of these, he would see the multitude of his past lives and forms he had once taken; pictures of past triumphs and failures, of love won and lost, of torments one endures while being reborn time after time thinking to have grasped great things, but in fact achieving so little… all this would fill his mind, enlightening it for a brief moment but then ultimately breaking a spirit not trained to bear such burden. Therefore, things like these remained locked and hidden, and I was their guardian.
Times change. What was sacred once, does not stay sacred forever. Just as the Black Spirit has once foretold, things come to an end. As ideas abandon people’s hearts, so do they then, in turn, abandon their constructs.
For a moment I thought I might exist to protect again, as soldiers made me their new home and we waited for the great enemy to come. He never did. They too left soon after, and I was left a recluse once more.
The Front Gate Wall. The Emerald Shield. I have two heads, one lower than the other. If you could make the concrete jungle disappear, you would see that I do look like an animal of sorts. ‘Look like’ sounds just like ‘an elephant’. Ways of drawing names of things change frequently in the City. A treasure mountain that looks like an elephant. It gives a name to an entire road, decades after all that remained of the past is utterly destroyed during a violent revolt.
A tattoo or two left barely visible on my skin; a rotten and half collapsed staircase leading to all that is left of my glorious past - a few stones scattered on what used to be my crown. I need not look in the fabled mirrors to see it all in front of my eyes every single day: the rise and fall of the mighty Xiangbaoshan.