That Which Can Be Described

Fiction by: Sam M., Grade 12

The rain poured down from the Heavens onto the soldiers as they retreated from Korea. Zhi Jian gave one last look at the damned place before falling back in line with his company. So many of his closest friends now lay dead in the fields because of his emperor’s foolish attempt to expand his realm. Just thinking about that made Zhi sick. According to the Great Philosophers, the emperors were supposed to care for their subjects like a father treats his son. Remembering the horrors he had experienced at the Battle of the Salsu, where his entire army was almost completely wiped out, it seemed more similar to the oppressive relationship between a master and his slave. There is no point, Zhi thought, to dying for a ruler who doesn’t treat his people as human beings, and only imposes laws on them to make himself even richer. So that night, as the army camped just above China, Zhi slipped out of the camp and headed west. He left behind his weapons and armour, taking only his rations and clothing, and prepared to make his way back to his farm.

For several weeks, Zhi wandered across the countryside from the rugged steppes of the north to the green mountains of the southwest. He had used all his rations and had resorted to foraging for various plants. His clothing was tattered and torn, and he was covered in sweat and smelled as if something had died on him. After travelling for three weeks and prepared to just give up, Zhi came across a small hut in the middle of a bright forest. As he approached, a little old man came out to greet him.

“Come inside young man,” the man called, “I see that you have been travelling for some time. Come in and eat, I may not have much but I hope it will be satisfying.” Zhi, seeing no other option, entered the little house. The man then came out with a bowl of soup and a fresh set of clothing. As the two ate, Zhi was wondering who this old man was and why he was all the way out in the middle of nowhere. In addition he was fascinated by the man’s incredible physical condition.

“Excuse me?” he asked. “I was just curious as to why a man of your ability is living out here? What is it you seek?”

“I am but a lowly philosopher who has returned to nature in order to become one with the Dao. As my body reflects my mind and my relationship with the Dao,” the sage said, “I must keep in top form mentally and physically to maintain a good long life.”

“But what is this Dao you speak of? Is it a god? Is it a way of life?” Zhi enquired.

“My son,” the philosopher laughed, “that which can be described is not the Dao. The Dao has existed before all, it exists now, and it will continue to exist. It flows through all things, sustaining us but never overpowering us. It leads us through our lives and our tasks, yet it does not control us, but rather helps us become peaceful.”

Zhi was fascinated by what he was hearing. Having experienced such horrors on the battlefield, this talk of inner peace greatly appealed to him.

“Tell me,” Zhi asked, “how can I help you in your task? I too wish to seek the Dao.”

The old man smiled and rose.

“I have been working on something special,” he said, “An elixir that will grant eternal life to whoever drinks it. Yet I am old and weak. I lack the strength that I once had. You, however, could help me. You will be greatly rewarded.” Zhi accepted and almost immediately the two set to work. The old man taught Zhi how to identify which herbs and minerals were safe, and which ones were poisonous.

One day, as Zhi was putting the finishing touches on a potion, he heard a scream from the hut. He grabbed the mixture and ran back, only to find the old man lying the ground in pain. Thinking fast, Zhi approached and prepared his master the potion. He realized, however, that they were missing one major ingredient: blood. The two had planned to just use animal blood, but because Zhi saw nothing nearby, he pulled out a knife and slit his own wrist. The blooded oozed into the cup, as Zhi weakly mixed it into the elixir. As the potion hit his lips, the old man disappeared in a flash of light; Zhi fell to the ground and everything faded away. Just as all went black, he saw in the man’s place a tall warrior in gold and green armour with dark red skin and a long luscious beard.

“Zhi,” the warrior said in a kind voice, “I am the god Guan Yu. I have been watching your journey since you left the army, as I saw great potential in you. Now, with this selfless sacrifice, you have proven yourself worthy to ascend to godhood.”

As he said this, Guan touched Zhi’s head, causing light to surround his body. When the light died down, Zhi found himself in the middle of the Heavenly Court, surrounded by gods and goddesses of all shapes and sizes who bowed in respect and welcomed him. Overcome with emotions, Zhi smiled weakly as tears ran down his cheeks. For the first time since he had joined the army, he was truly happy.

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