Neither Gods Nor Demons

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Neither Gods Nor Demons A Death in Chunfen
Male Yumenite A icon.png
Anxious Villager
Female Yumenite icon.png
Bystander Villager
Yanese Villager Male icon.png
Female Yumenite icon.png
Food-Delivering Villager
Fang Xiaoshi's Father icon.png
Yanese Villager Female icon.png
Reporting Villager
Male Yumenite B icon.png
Senior Villager
Anxious Child
Overbearing Child
Yumen Desert
Yishan Temple
Moushan Lot
Sargon House
Yan Alley Night
An unexpected mudslide washes away the Chidao outside the village, revealing a nameless corpse. Faced with such a tragedy, the villagers present can only fall into silence.
<Background black>
Is there a way to make the mountain disappear?
The people of this settlement have been here for generations, begging the mountain to grant them a living.
The wild fruits are poisonous before they ripen while the beasts are cunning and vicious. One could easily lose one's life to carelessness, but there is no other source of food.
The rain flows through the rocky crevices, turning yellow by the time it reaches the foot of the mountain. But there is no other source of water.
He sharpens a stone's edge, breaks some vines and ties the rock to a slender tree trunk.
Now he has a hoe.
He finds a small patch of relatively moist and flat ground at the foot of the mountain, and digs out ridges with his hoe. He plants seeds he has collected over time.
Now he has a plot of arable land.
This small piece of land cannot feed everyone, but if the mountain weren't there...
It is tall enough to pierce the clouds, it spans wider than the eye can see. With sharp peaks and drops this way and that, it makes an imposing obstacle.
The wind itself cannot freely pass, let alone men. It's as if the mountain before them is draining their very vitality.
And so, hoe in hand, he begins digging into the mountain.
He works and rests at the foot of the mountain. Armed with just hoe and pan, he would wake, dig, sleep, repeat.
Six months pass and the mountain shows little more than a few shallow scars. But the spectating villagers put down the fruit and pulp in their hands.
More and more join the excavators. With more hoes at work, the arable land expands.
The cycle of crushing rock and reclaiming soil continues day after day, night after night.
[Someone calls out the excavating villager.]
??? You there, how long have you been digging?
Excavator Three years? Five? I'm not sure anymore...
??? And, how long do you plan to dig?
Excavator Til I can dig no more.
??? Such foolishness! No matter how sharp your hoe, what can it do against hard rock? No matter how wide your pan, how can it possibly collect all the rubble?
Did you honestly think you can clear this mountain within your lifetime?
Excavator Who says it has to be done in my lifetime?
Even when I can dig no more, I have my clansmen and my children. And when they can dig no more, their children will carry on.
This mountain cannot change, but our numbers will grow forever.
There is no need to clear the entire mountain, but with each day we dig, we gain one more field, and feed one more child.
??? You don't plan to stop?
Excavator To stop would be to give in.
??? For what reason would you want to make an enemy of the mountain?!
Excavator Why did it have to be here?! It was Heaven and Earth that stood against us first.
Take your words and go back wherever you came from. I have work to do.
[The excavator resumes his work.]
??? ......
Preposterous! And with such a din!
You have been whittling away at my tail for five years, three months and seven days...
I've had enough, if you people won't stop, then I'll just have to move.
The mountain suddenly vanishes.
There are no sounds or sights. After yet another day of work, he uses his pan as a pillow and enjoys a good night's sleep.
The next morning, the only sight is rubble scattered all over the land, a sight so unprecedented he wonders if the mountain ever existed in the first place.
His clansmen said his diligence and sincerity must have moved the gods, who in turn moved the mountain away.
<Background 1>
A few days ago...
Bystander Villager Hey, the Elder is here.
[The clan elder shows up.]
Clan Elder ......
Reporting Villager I was worried about the mud and plaster getting soaked by the rain, so I came to check first thing in the morning. But now I see this part of the Chidao had been washed away by a mudslide.
This boy was lying near where the mud settled. When I went to check on him, he... he wasn't breathing.
Clan Elder ......
Reporting Villager Elder? Elder! What's wrong?
Clan Elder Why... why would someone...
Reporting Villager If I had to guess, he was probably walking along the Chidao before getting caught up in the mudslide...
I've asked around the village, and no one knows who the boy was. No one from the nearby villages seemed to recognize his face either.
Bystander Villager The way he's dressed, he's definitely not one of us mountain folk... what was such a young boy doing all alone in the mountains?
Elder? What should we do? We're all waiting for you...
Clan Elder Did...?
Did he have anything on him that could be used to identify him?
Reporting Villager No... if there was anything, I think it would have been washed away by the mudslide.
Clan Elder What's that in his hand?
[The reporting villager tries to grab the object held by the deceased.]
Reporting Villager Ugh, he's gripping it tight... A plastic box? It's pretty heavy.
[The villager pulled the object, a camcorder, off the deceased's hand.]
Reporting Villager Take a look. It has some movable parts, and if you open it there's even a mirror? No idea what it is.
Clan Elder This is... a camcorder?
Put it away before you break it.
When the government investigators arrive, give it to them... Maybe we can find out where the boy came from, and notify his family.
Bystander Villager ......
Elder, are... are we calling them here just for this?
Clan Elder A life was lost, so of course we have to... Besides, we're obliged to inform them about the damage to the Chidao anyway.
As for... well, I'll explain it to the mandarins when they get here.
Bystander Villager It's not that I want to cover this up, but... Elder, if you could hear me out.
The mudslide washed away part of the Chidao, and this child has lost his life... what if he perished doing maintenance work?
Clan Elder What do you mean?
Reporting Villager Elder, just look at him...
If the hunter's boy, Fang Xiaoshi, was still with us, wouldn't he look pretty much like that?
Clan Elder ...!
<Background 2>
The old man grabs his sleeve, wiping the offering table in front of the statue and placing a few stale fruit and a handful of moldy wheat seeds upon it.
He collapses in front of the statue, keeping his gaze to the floor. He keeps silent in that position for a long while.
Man and temple alike, damaged and empty.
Clan Elder The fruit has been in the cellar since last winter... March is almost over, but the few trees in the village have not yet flowered, so I beg for your forgiveness for these paltry offerings.
As for the seeds... we weren't able to stockpile much due to the drought the last two years, and they've grown moldy with all the rain recently.
The weather has only just started to clear up, but Chunfen is almost over. We have so much catching up to do, I've been urging everyone to help out on in the fields.
Honored ancestors... I have no other choice.
It's difficult making a path through the wilderness. The Chidao is such a huge project, and the Ministry of Engineering pays very well. They pay even more for those who die on the job.
Well over a million. It's more than enough for the village.
We could renovate the canals, and have a Messenger bring us some new farming equipment from the nomadic cities... we could even drill more wells for water.
If, if there was money left over after that, we could buy the finest seeds and store them for emergencies.
The village gone without grain for many seasons. Our harvests have been deteriorating the past few years, and we might not be able to make ends meet...
*sigh* They said they would grant us a subsidy, but we still haven't received it. Moushan needs money to survive.
It's all I can do to borrow that child's corpse, and the name of Fang Xiaoshi...
It's been three years. The hunter has never mentioned it, but everyone knows the boy probably died in the wilderness.
Honored ancestors, this is a most wicked idea, but... it is still an idea.
[The clan elder leaves the altar.]
<Background black>
??? ......
Head Priest, pray tell the difference between earthly events and the visions of the painting?
Empty Mind, Clear Senses.png
The wandering priest opens her eyes.
She sits on the ground with her back to the statue of the excavator, using her folded-up robe as a cushion, and carrying a half-filled bowl of water.
She looks to have just finished meditating, but also to have just woken up from a nap.
Saga Many thanks for the food and water...
Though thou mayst be naught but a statue, quoth the head priest, 'Karma is infinite, living or dead', and thus I dub thee a being as well.
Last night was such a terrible deluge, and I was so tired and hungry. I could not carry on and so borrowed thine back upon which to rest mine. It was not my intention to eavesdrop.
While all places may not sport a giant bell like P'o-shan Village, all places still need their bell-ringers.
[Saga walks off.]
<Background 3>
[A villager approaches the cabin where Xiaoshi is being held.]
Food-Delivering Villager Open up.
Fang Xiaoshi ......
Food-Delivering Villager Don't worry, it's not poisoned.
It's sand beast meat... your father brought it for you. We haven't any for a long time, and he wouldn't touch it either. He said you like strong flavor, so I made it spicier than usual.
Your first meal after your long trip home shouldn't have been like this, but...*sigh*
Fang Xiaoshi *spit*
Food-Delivering Villager Come on, have a little, at least? Don't starve yourself.
It's not like we actually want you dead, you know.]
Fang Xiaoshi You might as well just kill me right now.]
Food-Delivering Villager Again with the childish tantrums?
I know it's weird, giving your name to a corpse. But it's just a name, isn't it?
You can call yourself Fang Xiaohe, Fang Xiaoshu, or whatever you want. Why wish for death over something like this?
Besides, the village will be grateful for your sacrifice, and treat your family even better. What's wrong with living in peace?
Fang Xiaoshi Oh yes, just like a burdenbeast living its peaceful life, letting anybody else name it whatever.
Food-Delivering Villager How could you compare us to burdenbeasts?
Though now that you mention it, we both eat, work, age, get sick and die. Then why all the fuss if we're so alike?
Fang Xiaoshi I don't care what kind of lives you want to live, but I want to live mine the way I want!
Food-Delivering Villager Man, you're so difficult... what kind of reasoning is that...?
<Background 4>
[The old man stands hunched over by the well, his arched back as tall as the well's shaking frame.
He cranks the lever, and sets the raised bucket to the side, standing up straight to catch his breath.
Inside the bucket is mud that has yet to settle.
Though it is not drinkable water, it is suitable for crops. The wells have not been drilled in vain.]
Senior Villager Elder, what are you doing here? You should be leaving the hard work to the youths.
Clan Elder I'm preparing the water that it's ready for everyone once they finish planting the seeds. I have the strength to do this much, at the very least.
Besides, how could I just sit around at a time like this?
Senior Villager When did you become so sentimental? You weren't like this when you led a crew to bid against the neighboring village for the Chidao contract a few years back.
Clan Elder That was different.
Senior Villager It was for the good of the village.
Clan Elder Of course, but my conscience thinks otherwise...
Senior Villager And why is that?
We checked the dead kid over and over again, nobody knows or has even seen him before.
All that's left is to wait for the mandarins to come the day after tomorrow to deal with the hukou stuff, then let the hunter put a marker on the grave and cry a little, and we're good.
We're all together on this, and no one's going to snitch. Who would ever find out?
Clan Elder Has the hunter not said anything?
Senior Villager What could he even do now? He agreed to it a long time ago, and now he's even got his son back. How could he be unsatisfied?
Clan Elder How's Xiaoshi doing?
Senior Villager We've set it all up, we have men watching the door and its locked up tight. There's no way he's escaping.
Clan Elder Don't let him starve.
Senior Villager Relax, Zhou Liu's family is making sure he's fed.
Clan Elder We just have to get through this, and then we'll have plenty of time to convince him... Anyway, don't be too hard on him, alright? He's still a boy, after all.
*sigh* The day after... tomorrow... These days have not been easy.
I pray nothing goes awry.
<Background 3>
Fang Xiaoshi ......
Hey, where's my dad? Why hasn't he come to see me? You lock him up too?]
Food-Delivering Villager Your dad is...
He's...*sigh* how do I even explain it...?]
Fang Xiaoshi So whose idea was this? That damned xingbao Zhou Si, or the Elder? How did you even get my dad to agree to this?
Or was it something he came up with himself?
Food-Delivering Villager No, no... Dear boy, you can't think badly of your dad like that.
We all thought you were already... We thought you weren't coming back... right up until you did.
Fang Xiaoshi Well, I'm back!
Food-Delivering Villager But we already made the report, so everyone thinks that there's no going back now.
We're all in on this, including the Elder, and your dad too... he agreed to it.
Fang Xiaoshi !!!
Food-Delivering Villager Xiaoshi, please, listen to me...
Everyone is happy to see you come home alive and well. Your dad most of all, can you imagine how happy he was to see you again?
You've seen what's become of Moushan. We really need that money.
You remember my girl? You were like her big brother when you were kids, she called you gege.
She's sick, and she has no hope of fighting it way out here. Zhou Liu and I had planned to save up money to send her to a nomadic city for treatment.
But the last years have been so hard that we're just barely getting by, there's no way we could save anything.
Fang Xiaoshi You're not gonna win me over here...
Food-Delivering Villager I know you're a good boy at heart. So in a critical moment like this... we can't let an opportunity go to waste, right? Just do the village a little favor.
Fang Xiaoshi Do you not feel the least bit ashamed of your actions?
I'll say it again. My name is my own. You can't have it.
Food-Delivering Villager *sigh* I've said my piece, it's not like it's up to me.
No matter how much noise you make, the nail's already in the coffin. Nothing's going to change.
I'll leave the food here. Have some when you get hungry, alright?
<Background 4>
[A villager walks toward the clan elder while he is tending to a well.]
Clan Elder Zhou Dazhi? Why aren't you out working in such good weather?
Anxious Villager Plow's broken.
I was working over at the east end of the village when I hit a buried stone... now there's a huge gaping hole in the middle.
Clan Elder There should be some spares in the shed over at my place, just take one and replace yours.
Anxious Villager ......
Clan Elder Anything else?
Anxious Villager Elder... when I hit the stone, the Originium motor broke too.
No one to blame but myself. The motor's been in bad shape for a long time, but I couldn't afford to repair it when the last nomadic city passed by.
Clan Elder I've spoken to you many times about this bad habit of putting off repairs, and now you've found yourself in a tough spot.
Anxious Villager I'll... go look for a solution.
Clan Elder How do you suppose you'll turn dirt and rock into an Originium motor?
Anxious Villager If, if comes to it... I'll plow the fields the old fashioned way, just like our ancestors did... they dug out an entire mountain after all.
Clan Elder Are you sure about that?
Easy to say for the flatlands, but most of our fields are on steep slopes, and coupled with soil erosion, even a burdenbeast would have a hard time.
Anxious Villager I know that...
Clan Elder Your aunt should be home by now, go look for her. She can help you fish out that mobility scooter of mine.
Anxious Villager You don't mean...?
Clan Elder It's not as powerful, but it's still a working motor. With a little tinkering you can probably make it work on your plow.
Anxious Villager Didn't the foreman see you having trouble walking while we were finishing up the Chidao, so we bought that for you from the nomadic city...?
You might need it come winter.
What if I break it too?
Clan Elder It's already broken.
Anxious Villager H-huh? How?
Clan Elder I'm not used to toys from the city.
We've reached the end of March. We sow in spring and harvest in autumn, the seasons don't wait for us.
It's not like I'll be totally immobile without the little car, but if we don't grow enough food now, none of us will last through the winter.
Anxious Villager But...
Clan Elder Stop whining and get moving.
[The villager leaves...]
Clan Elder *sigh*
[ the elder heard something.]
Clan Elder Hmm? What was that? Is someone there?
I know I'm old, but are my eyes failing me already...?
[It turns out that Qiubai is silently peeking behind the fence.]
Qiubai ......
The young swordswoman steps back just slightly, enough for the fence to hide her figure.
The villagers carry water to and from the fields while the sound of well machinery trundles on.
Qiubai looks at the old man by the well, and then at the mud and scattered footprints on the ground.
Roads in mountain villages are always like this. People are out working under clear skies while smoke and dust abound, but in the rainy season there is mud everywhere.
She steps back and goes no further.
Some questions are not worth asking, but there is something that she needs to confirm.
<Background black>
She pushes open the small courtyard door.
The place was so packed the day before she didn't have time to look closely.
The north-facing fence has an opening not unlike an old man missing his front teeth. It is stained with dirt and mud, mostly likely from all the heavy rain a few days ago.
Qiubai ......
<Background 5>
[The door opens.]
A long bench sits in the middle of the house, black and shiny, showing it's age.
Leaning against the bench is a log, half a man's height, The hunter rests his shoulder against the top part of it, chipping away the wood, sawdust flying to the ground.
Qiubai recognizes the log. It's the one the hunter carried home yesterday, now cut in half, and being roughly chipped into a rectangular shape.
Hunter Who's there?
[Qiubai walks in.]
Hunter Oh, Miss Qiu... I thought you already...
Did you happen to forget something?
Qiubai ......
What is the lumber for?
Hunter Huh?
Qiubai The wood you're working.
Hunter Oh, uh... I'm making a bow.
Qiubai You are?
Hunter Yes, it's going to be a bow... I wanted a new one. I was a hunter, back before I came to Moushan. I figured I might try my hand at it again.
The last two years have been rough, the harvests dwindling more and more, so I thought I could hunt some sand beasts to help the food shortage.\
Qiubai Walnut wood is dry and brittle, but you think it could be used for a bow?\
Hunter You know your stuff. Us mountain folk don't have the privilege of using sturdy wood, and I don't need this bow for fighting or killing. As long as I can use it to hunt...
Qiubai I thought you were making a grave marker...
...For Fang Xiaoshi.
The hunter sets down his carving knife on a stool.
His eyes reveal panic, but his movements are slow. He grimly rubs his hands, the corners of his lips curling down.
Hunter So you know...
You didn't leave the village after all.
Qiubai I was hoping my assumptions were wrong.
Hunter You don't know how bad things are here...
Qiubai You don't have to tell me.
I can already know what you want to say.
I was planning to go right to the Elder, but after thinking it over, I'm much more concerned about something else.
How does it feel, to be a father declaring his own son dead, shaping his grave marker with your own hands?
Hunter ......
I never imagined...
Qiubai You thought he died out there three years ago.
<Background black>
You can't.
Even though Xiaoshi has caused so much trouble, you can't do this!
Besides, who said he was dead?
Uncle Fang, listen to me. You know how dire our situation is. We wouldn't be doing this, if there was a better way.
It's been three years, if Xiaoshi was still alive, he would have come back by now.
He knows you live alone, that you need someone to look after you in your old age.
Keep it simple. By using Xiaoshi's name, the money will pass through your hands first, so you get a share, and give the rest to the village...
Consider it compensation for the both of you.
<Background 5>
The money will go through me first.
I could use it to travel all kinds of places.
It's funny. I spent the first half of my life as a wandering hunter in the wilderness, and after I got sick, I decided I'd do anything I could to leave that life behind.
It was hard to save enough money to buy this plot of land in Moushan, and to make a home for myself. And now, in the end... I'm leaving again.
It's been three years, I have to find my boy.
I don't know if I'll find him, or if I'll even make it back.
Hunter Miss... no, a heroine like you deserves an even greater title. You brought Xiaoshi home, and you still care for his welfare. I'm grateful for that, but please, stay out of our lives from here on.
He's caused so much trouble for the village, and it wasn't easy for him to come home. If we cross the villagers again, we might not have a place to stay.
The mandarins will be here in two days. Nothing can wrong, or the entire village will suffer.
Qiubai I've seen plenty of crazy business in Jiangnan and the lands beyond.
You're trying to get money for the sake of the village, and I have no intention nor method of getting in the way of that.
Hunter Good... that's good to hear...
After this is all over, the boy will get to stay in the village to live safe and sound.
That's all I've ever wanted.
Qiubai ......
Will staying in the village really guarantee safety and peace?
Hunter The villagers wouldn't do anything to Xiaoshi.
Yesterday, they swore before their ancestors at the Yishan Temple, the Clan Elder and all of them promised me...
Qiubai You'll take their word for it?
Hunter ......
Qiubai I'm sure you know Fang Xiaoshi's temperament. He won't go along with them. He'll insist on keeping his name, just as he did with your land those years ago.
Or, are you planning to keep him locked up forever?
If you lose control of him and he ruins the whole plan, what will the villagers do then?
Hunter ......
Qiubai Evil, once summoned, does not stop at your request.
You probably already know what I'm getting at.
Hunter At the very least, we can wait until the day after tomorrow.
Qiubai You're his father, but you have no to handle this.
[Qiubai approaches Xiaoshi's father.]
Hunter W-What are you going to do?
Qiubai Don't worry. I won't stand in your way, let alone expose your plans. Otherwise, I would have sent Fang Xiaoshi to the authorities long ago, instead of bringing him back here.
But since I was the one who brought him back, I have to ensure his safety. I can't see him come to harm, or it would be as if I hurt him myself.
I won't be leaving the village for now.
<Background 6>
[Two children are running on the alley.]
Overbearing Child What are all these buttons for? I've pressed them so many times, but nothing's happening. How did that guy turn it on?
Anxious Child You done yet? Huh?
Overbearing Child Calm down! I've almost got it figured out, okay?
Anxious Child You don't know how the camera works, and you're still hogging it. Let me have a try.
Overbearing Child You? You'll break it.
Anxious Child I want to see the people inside arguing again, I didn't get a good look before it turned off.
[The anxious child tries to take the camcorder from the overbearing child...]
Overbearing Child Let go!
[...and bumps into the village elder in the process...]
Overbearing Child H-Hello, Elder.
[ he walks toward them.]
Clan Elder ......
Xiaoping and Xiao'an? Come on, hand it over. No use hiding It from me.
[The children hand over the camcorder to the elder.]
Clan Elder Wasn't this supposed to be in my room? Who said you could mess with it?
Anxious Child We've never seen anything like this before. We just wanted a closer look...
Clan Elder You're so interested in it? Do you even know how to use it?
Overbearing Child Well, we managed to turn it on!
Clan Elder You did?
Overbearing Child Yeah, a person appeared in this little box!
Anxious Child Was that a movie?
Overbearing Child Please, have you ever seen one? Movies are performed by famous people in the nomadic cities, on a big screen. But the person in there... wasn't it the lady Messenger who comes to the village sometimes?
Clan Elder That boy... he wasn't alone...