We will become enlightened
Oblivion, Chapter 6
Quick recap: Elysia awoke on a beautiful island with no recollection of her past and a painting of Fenghu, isle of the immortals, beneath her arm. She thought she had arrived in Asia, but she’s about to learn where she is.
composed a beautiful musical score for this chapter. I hope you enjoy this meditation as you read. (This is my favorite one so far!)
I dreamt of a flood. It washed away the whole world until only the best parts of it remained. One beautiful flush and then… Eden.
In the morning, Taka and I walked to the sea, where the waves crashed madly against the cliffs. Towering pillars of stone rose on either side of us, and when I looked up I saw a goddess carved into the cliffs and reaching for long-forgotten gods. A lagoon sparkled at her feet, and rising from its depths was the stone woman’s kimono, a staircase carved into its folds.
Taka grabbed my hand and led me into the water. We waded across, then climbed up onto her feet and into her kimono. We spent the entire day in this way—slowly climbing the stairs carved into her dress, clinging to an ancient chain that was left anchored into the cliff, our robes catching on the occasional stone as we stood thousands of feet above the ocean.
“Long ago,” Taka said. “There were stories of a woman born from the mouth of a lotus flower. The goddess was so beautiful that she was sought after by every suitor, but she was unwilling to wed any except the one that was her fate. She evaded everyone, fleeing into the snowy mountains where none could catch her. It was assumed she would die in that harsh winter, but every now and again the people who lived in the mountains claimed to catch sight of a woman walking in the snow with nothing but her long black hair to protect her.
“The emperor heard these tales and set out to find her. He sent an entire legion of soldiers into the snowy mountains covered head to toe in furs—many of them died. It took months, eventually a year, but a small contingent eventually found the woman. She was sleeping in a snow cave, laying upon the pelts of a tiger recently beheaded, and the ice was so blue and so ancient that it sang her to sleep with the echoing sounds of the earth as it cracked and moved. She was waiting for her fate.
“The woman was brought to the palace and made empress, and the emperor deeply loved her. But it was clear early on that she was not from this world. She seemed to disappear at night, returning to her chambers just when the sun rose over the horizon. She dressed herself in a black gown with gold stitching, and she perfumed herself with sandalwood and tangerine. She stood on the balcony of the palace and the people wept when they saw her. She was of the mountains like them, and they loved her.
“Those from the mountains believed the woman had killed the tiger she was discovered with, beheading it with the edge of her own teeth so she might take its form at night. When the moon rose, she wrapped the pelt around her body and embodied the tiger, climbing steps that only she who had lived in these mountains knew existed. Her paws were such that she would not slip, her eyes so keen she could see every stair, and her steps so silent none could follow her.”
As he said this, we reached the top of the cliffs only to discover an enormous monastery that was carved into the woman’s head, with gold turrets that were her crown, enormous caverns that were her eyes, and a courtyard grown through with trees, overflowing with branches and flowers that fell into the sky and became her hair.
“This was her lair,” Taka continued. “Every evening, her journey thus completed, she would return to her human form, sit upon her tiger pelt, and overlook the whole world. They said the gods taught her to meditate and she sat with them right here, listening to the sounds of her own spirit. The evening she attained enlightenment, the tiger pelt rose from the ground and carried her across the snowy mountains. Many claimed to have seen her flying through the air that night.”
“When the sun rose the next morning, she was gone. The emperor sent legions of soldiers to find her but never did. In his heart, he knew she must have attained enlightenment, that she had returned to the isle of the immortals. He followed every river to its end and sailed every sea to find her. But it was said that the island lived on the back of a turtle and could not be reached by mortals. In his search for immortality, for the river of life that would allow him to live with his beloved, it was said he either discovered the islands and lived with his beloved for eternity or perished. But he never returned.”
Taka turned to look at the ocean. “The mountains are all islands now,” he said.
I followed his eyes to the horizon—there were islands scattered about as far as the eye could see, enormous mountaintops climbing from the ocean into the clouds—all of them blooming purple and pink depending on the inclination of their trees. Several islands were carved with the faces of gods and goddesses—and more than a few of them erupted lavender smoke into the sky, the remnants of volcanoes that had gone still.
“This is Asean,” Taka said, the sun now setting over it all, “an archipelago in the great Bohai Sea. There are five islands: Fanghu, Penglai, Yingzhou, Daiyu, and Yuanjiao. The world was flooded long ago, and these islands are all that remains.”
“So the scroll….”
“The scroll in your pocket was lost long ago. It was rumored to be the map once used by the Emperor Qin Shihuang to reach the isle of Fanghu, but it hasn’t been seen in thousands of years, not since he set out to find the Emperess and the isle of immortality.”
He turned to face me then, a silent question passing behind his eyes. “You can see why Ama found it strange you thought yourself in Asia,” he said after a moment. “And why it is stranger still that you hold that painting in your pocket.”
Thank you for reading! Become a paid subscriber to unlock my author’s commentary and collect the print books ✨