Chapter 1: The Higanbana
Translator: Mike Editor: Chrissy
As a plume of haze sprouted into the dusky sky above the Great Desert, the Yellow River dimmed as the setting sun faded within the vista.
The sun, which was cladded in its garnet garb, paced at the skyline, prying the horizon with its finest crimson booze. Underneath was the unending stretch of the desert, deep and devoid, grand and august, bearing an odd combination of bustling solitude and deafening muteness.
The ancient beacon-fire, which was strewed across the desert, was lost to time as centuries passed. The ancient course of the Yellow River had changed and altered, abiding to a perpetual transition throughout the ages. Yet, as all things become lost to time, the Yellow River’s strenuous flow never dwindled.
Chu Feng was all by himself. Tired and wasted, he lolled on the desert sand, watching as the sun set. As to how long before he could leave the void of this place, he was mystified too.
Days ago, he bid his farewell to the “goddess” of the same school. Maybe, this was the end of luck by which they were first brought together. All in all, he had been informed that from now on, the two would have to live far from each other; or to be far less euphemistic: the fate called that it was time for them to split up, and it was time for him to move on.
The setting sun, which was gleaming like a crimson flame, hung at the end of the desert, breezing an unspeakable beauty of tranquillity into the vast emptiness.
Chu Feng sat down for a few sips of water to resupply the energy he needed. He was a sturdy man with a slim and slender frame. He was fit as well, so it wasn’t long before he rid himself of tiredness.
Standing up to look into the distance, he felt that he was close to the furthest limit of the desert. If he was lucky enough, he might even encounter some herdsmen and their lodges and tents, so with a cheerful thought, he re-embarked on his desert trek once again.
Journeying due west, he left a long and drawn-out track of footprints behind him, single-filed and lonely-looking.
Still, a fuzzy mist rolled in. It was not often to see a misty desert, but as the mist thickened and developed into a fog, which was gloomy and mystically blue, it was truly an astonishing sight to behold. Soon, the desert was inundated with a sea of blue vapor, quivering its visitors with its ominous chill.
Even the sinking sun seemed wicked. As it gradually turned blue, it embodied an undeniable beauty in a devious way. Even the typical red clouds of summer nights were turned into a beryl hue.
Chu Feng showed a dubious frown. He knew that in a desert, weather could be erratic, but the sight in front of him seemed barely anything ordinary.
All but silence. He ceased his pace in awe of this view.
Before having set off into the desert, a herdsman had warned him of every strangeness that belonged to a wild desert: the strange sounds, the strange sights, and the strange elements. One must have great cautiousness with any strange encounter.
But in fact, he had never minded those words at all.
Still shrouded in silence, nothing appeared to be out of place except for the dreariness of the blue fog. Chu Feng sped up his pace, keener than ever on leaving the desert as soon as he could.
The setting sun still lingered about the horizon, bearing a menacing blue hue to haunt the world before it dissipated through the darkness of the night.
Chu Feng’s casual stroll readily became a hurrying dash. He did not want to stay at a place of such uncanniness and of such uncertainty for longer than he needed.
In a desert, wonders such as a mirage mostly cropped up under a scorching sun, but never at dusk. So, to attribute the cause for the blue fog to a mirage would certainly be unreasonable.
Suddenly, a chipping noise sounded in the distance not far away. It resembled that of blades of grasses spearing out of the earth. It was relentless, incessant and unfaltering.
Chu Feng ceased his pace as he gazed into the desert. The ground in front of him was peppered with bits and pieces of glittering scatters. They looked like blue diamonds, beautifully wrought carved; all were lustrous and pure without imperfections, boasting their dazzling glamor under the afterglow of the setting sun.
They were a cluster of delicate seedlings, shorter than an inch, sprouting one after another. They broke through the gritty ground of the desert with a charming glitter that were gleaming but oddly sinister.
The chipping noises soon gave way to a symphony of rustling sounds. Bearing the same shimmering blue, all seedlings briskly boosted up. Their growths were all in a sudden blitz.
The blue sun was sinking into the horizon inch-by-inch. The dense fog still lingered, cladding the vast desert with a peculiar blue organza.
It was the sound of a full blossom. As twilight was about to merge into darkness, the plants burgeoned, and the buds unfolded and effloresced.
The sea of blue blossom embellished the desert with a dotted reflection of the pale moonlight, emitting a cluster of charming glitters that turned the desert into something surreal.
The plants were over a foot tall with bodies as bright as blue corals. They had strip-like petals, pretty and coquettish. Their astonishing beauty arrested the minds, souls and spirits of its beholders.
Chu Feng retreated a step, but soon he realized that this feral flora had drastically multiplied and grown around him. No gritty desert, but only waves of blue sheen stretching into the far-flung distance without a clear border.
The beautiful crooked petals coincided those of a Higanbana, but Higanbana was often seen in a bright crimson color, yet the ones here presented themselves in an uncanny blue hue.
Higanbana carried many powerful religious overtones that entitled it to many legends and fables of the past. Although Chu Feng believed in none of those, he was still truly astonished by the view.
The aridity of the desert decreed that only the most tolerable plants could survive. Higanbana, on the other hand, was known to be fond of humid and shaded environment, so in any case, Higanbana should not even be seen in a desert, let alone displaying themselves in such a pretty and coquettish fashion.
The desert was coated under the sprawling overgrowth of Higanbana. The fog steadily diminished into a chiffon of blue mist which hovered above the newly-found garden of blue Higanbana
Chu Feng fiercely shook his head in an effort to liberate himself from the beguiling redolence emanated from the flowers. Each of his steps was made with great care to avoid contacts with the flora. The verdure covered every inch of the desert except for the dried riverbed of the Yellow River. It was during the age of transition period that its course had diverged into the desert. Today, it had only left a dried riverbed, along which the blue Higanbana blossomed, clustering around the once sacred River.
Finally, the sun went down, leaving all the vegetation to blossom to their full perfection. The desert became an ocean of glittering blue, shiny with colors and lights.
The dusk befell, but the blue luster lingered. All the glamor and glitz gave the desert a glittering new façade unparalleled by even the most excellent godly work.
Chu Feng stood on the bank of the ancient course of the Yellow River, unsettled by the strange encounter. Although parts of him were left in awe, he still wanted to leave the place as soon as he could. So, in a hurry, he scurried on.
As the last sunset glow vanished, delivering the inevitable darkness to the sky, the blue desert was even more contrasted with the dots of luster.
Suddenly, a husky thump echoed out, pulling all serenity asunder. In the beat of a heart, all the blossoms withered and drooped as if stricken by a vicious explosion.
The spontaneous withering was soon followed by a rapid shrivelling of the whole plants. They lost their coloration, and they rapidly turned into a lifeless batch of dehydrated stalks that eventually shattered into splices, as if they had lost ten years of their life-span in a second.
In the very last instant, all the dry Higanbana splintered into meager fragments, despicable and insignificant.
It was a rather eccentric scene. Hardly any valid explanations could be given.
The Higanbana was like a fireworks display. Their brilliance was striking yet short-lived. They lived their lives to the fullest, then withered and crumbled into a swing of despicable cinders.
The drab cinders settled into the gritty ground of the desert, hardly distinguishable amongst the sand. The blue fog finally dispensed, leaving the desert to regain its initial image, as though putting on a pretense that nothing had occurred. The deafening silence ensued.
Chu Feng did not pause to appreciate the restoration of peace and serenity, instead he kept his scurrying pace and clambered over many dunes before he could see the silhouettes of mountains in the distance, suggesting the end of his desert trek.
Before it turned completely dark, Chu Feng found himself out of the desert. He could clearly see the plains and mountains as well as some herders’ lodges and tents.
When he turned around to face the desert for the last time, it was still the desert that it had always been: vast and serene.
Flickers of lights dazzled in the village ahead, but it was all noisy and boisterous. Everything there seemed unsettled. The cattle wailed and fussed, the mastiffs growled and roared, as if all were greatly terrified by something menacing.
What was happening? Chu Feng hastened his feet, scurrying towards the unsettled village.