The Final Scene
It was the final scene for <<The Person Within the Painting>>.
The resurrection medicine was finally concocted after they went through countless hardships.
There was only one dosage of the medicine, but there were two people.
One was Princess Ling Shan who had been dead for a long time, the other was the male lead who was on the verge of death.
“Quickly take it.” Shi Zhong Tang looked up at Ning Ning and said gently, “I’ve waited for this day for so long.”
They had already escaped out of Yumen Pass1, raging sands were blowing past them as a camel stood beside them, the bells on its neck were ringing in the wind which brought forth golden waves. Ning Ning sat on the golden sandy ground in her white dress, Shi Zhong Tang in her arms, she gently shook her head.
“You are still so stubborn even in this moment.” His voice was getting softer, then he finally closed his eyes.
Ning Ning opened the bottle the moment his breathing stopped, and poured the contents into his mouth.
She stared at his eyes for a long while after the bottle was emptied, asking in a trembling voice, “Why is he not waking up?”
The Taoist Priest hemmed and hawed, spreading his hand out. “I’ve already told him, how could a resurrection medicine exist in this world?”
“What did you say?” Ning Ning was slightly taken aback. Unable to control her anger, she drew the sword out of Shi Zhong Tang’s waist. She stood up and pointed the sword at the priest’s neck. “You lied to him?”
“I did not lie to him!” The priest frantically took an ancient book out from his clothes. “This book was passed down by my ancestors, all the magic arts on it are real. If they weren’t, you would not have become the person within the painting…”
Ning Ning snatched the book out of his hands without waiting for him to finish. Upon closer inspection, it was indeed filled with all kinds of magic arts: the art of invisibility, the art of passing through walls, the art of person within the painting… and on the last page, the art of resurrection.
“…How can it be?” Ning Ning blanked out after looking at the art of resurrection, the book fell to the sandy ground from her hand.
The Taoist Priest leapt towards the book and picked it up. He murmured, “I’ve long told him it wouldn’t work, but he wouldn’t listen. Sigh, I told him a list of hard to get ingredients so he would give up, who knew he would actually collect all of them…”
A sword pierced his chest and blocked his unfinished words from leaving his throat. Ning Ning pulled the sword out of his back, turned over and looked at Shi Zhong Tang who was on the ground.
She slowly walked over then bent over and caressed his face.
It was strange. She used to feel annoyed whenever she saw this face, but now tears flowed down her cheeks and fell on it.
Ning Ning wiped the tears on her face. She looked down at the sword in her hand and slowly lifted the sword up like a demon. She placed it horizontally across her neck, then closed her eyes and slashed across forcefully—
The sword fell to the ground and kicked up some of the sand.
Ning Ning touched her bleeding neck with both hands and said with a trembling voice, “How can this be?”
A gust of wind blew past, the sound of the pages of a book flipping could be heard. She turned around and saw that the book of magic arts which was lying in the puddle of blood had been blown open by the wind, it was coincidentally opened at the last page. It seemed that because the book had been steeped in blood, words slowly appeared on the previously empty page.
Ning Ning could not help but laugh as she saw those words, but her laughter soon turned into tears.
The words that appeared under the art of resurrection was—
“If one were to desire immortality, discard the body and enter a painting.”
“…Wait for a bit, Li Lang.” Ning Ning coaxed Shi Zhong Tang, “I will paint you right now, I will revive you right now…”
But with a turn of her head, she saw another line appeared in the book.
“Upon attaining immortality, one shall request nothing else from the world.”
As the poem finished, the book burst into flames by itself.
“No!” Ning Ning leapt towards the book. She desperately tossed sand on the book, she even started using her hands in an attempt to put out the fire after panicking. But the book burned even faster, nothing was left but ash before her hands could feel hot.
The ashes were floating in front of her. Ning Ning knees buckled as she knelt on the floor and started crying in pain.
The book was gone, the priest was dead, no one else in the world knew about the art of the person within the painting. There was not even a person who knew how to kill her. She would live forever, she would be alone forever.
Ning Ning could not help but shiver after the thought set in.
A wave of unprecedented loneliness came over her.
She could not help but feel cold. She turned around and crawled towards Shi Zhong Tang, she cried as she seeked warmth from him by bringing him into her embrace.
“Li Lang, I’m scared.” She cried, “I’m not scared of death, I’m scared of living…”
Her cries echoed in the desert, as no one responded.
Her parents, her siblings, and now even Shi Zhong Tang had left her. She was the only person in the entire world who didn’t want to live, but she would live forever.
“Passed!” Director Shi clapped his hands. “I hereby announce that the filming for <<The Person Within the Painting>> has officially ended!”
The cameramen tossed their hats skywards, the entire crew burst into joy.
The end of filming. This weighed on Ning Ning’s mind, it made her feel unusually heavy.
“How are you going to celebrate tonight?” Shi Zhong Tang opened his eyes and asked her within her embrace as he smiled.
By waiting for your death. That was what Ning Ning was thinking, but she ended up asking him, “What are your plans?”
“Don’t even try to celebrate alone.” Director Shi walked over and told them, “Tonight we will have an end-of-filming banquet together!”
Director Shi was someone who constantly looked for an excuse to eat, how could he miss out on using the end of filming (celebration) as an excuse? Mountains of food and beverages were served. Director Shi was happily biting down on a pig’s head, Wen Yu was beside him feeding him vegetables while constantly tugging on him.
Quite a number of people approached and clinked glasses with Ning Ning. Ning Ning smiled as she sipped on her drink. She dared not let herself get drunk, all her attention was on Shi Zhong Tang.
He was the same old Shi Zhong Tang, skipping and jumping about. He was displaying no signs of suicidal tendencies.
Even the little accident that happened didn’t affect his mood.
A fan had mixed into the banquet and jumped onto him while screaming, “I love you, Tang Tang! I love you!”
Everyone was stupefied as they pulled her off him and shouted for security.
“You love me?” Shi Zhong Tang looked down. He looked at the female fan who was holding his waist tightly, unwilling to let go with a weird smile.
“Yes! Yes!” The fan looked up at him, her eyes full of infatuation.
“Will you love me in the future? Will you love me when I’m old? Will you love me when I grow a beer belly? Will you still love me after my hairline recedes? Will…” Shi Zhong Tang bombarded her with question after question, causing the fan to not know how to react.
The fan seemed to be shocked by his questions and would not even come back to her senses even as the security came to escort her out.
It was not just her, the others were also shocked by his reaction. They felt that it was too overbearing.
But most of the people did not take this incident too seriously, because he quickly reverted back to normal, talking and laughing with everyone else. He also toasted everyone. No one dared to turn him down because of his position in the crew…no one but Ning Ning.
So when most of the people were drunk beyond measure, she was still sober. As such, she quietly followed Shi Zhong Tang as he walked out the door with his coat.
Shi Zhong Tang stopped in his tracks along the way and turned his face around as if he noticed her.
After Ning Ning hid behind a telephone pole, she looked at her high heels with furrowed brows. She thought that she would have already been found out, but he only paused for a while before continuing along his way.
She hesitated for a moment before following him again.
She followed him all the way to the entrance of Life Theater.
Shi Zhong Tang stopped in his tracks again. This time, he did not just turn his head, he walked towards Ning Ning’s hiding spot. He caught her just as she was about to come out from behind the telephone pole and run, pulling and tugging her to the entrance of Life Theater.
“What do you want?” Ning Ning struggled in his embrace.
“I like you, especially after I knew you entered Life Theater for the sake of acting.” He whispered in her ear, “Because I am the same.”
Ning Ning was so shocked that she forgot to struggle. She looked up at him, “You? You find it useful?”
He was so talented, why would he need to enter Life Theater?
“I like acting, but I can’t act forever. I cannot act as a young character when I’m old, I cannot act as a handsome character when I grow a beer belly, but I will definitely grow old and turn ugly one day.” Shi Zhong Tang said with a smile, “You too.”
“…It’s the same for everyone.” Ning Ning answered, “When that day comes, you can just retire.”
“No.” Shi Zhong Tang said without thinking. He rejected this plain and boring conclusion, his fiery gaze fell upon Life Theater. “If I had not met you, if I had not known about Life Theater, maybe I would have accepted that kind of ending, but now…”
Shi Zhong Tang turned around and looked behind him, he laughed. “I have a deal with him.”
Ning Ning slowly turned back and immediately shivered.
A man in a smiling mask had appeared behind them out of nowhere and was now silently looking at them.
“…How did you two know each other?” Ning Ning suddenly remembered something after asking the question, her face turned a little pale. She looked up and stared at Shi Zhong Tang, “The ticket you had, don’t tell me…”
“Yes, he gave it to me.” Shi Zhong Tang admitted calmly.
“I warned you, you cannot accept a ticket from a staff member.” Ning Ning’s face turned dark.
“I accepted it, I changed the main character’s fate.” Shi Zhong Tang said without a care, “Twice.”
As he said that, Smiling Mask walked over and raised his hands. His pale white palms were filled with tickets. Not only were there ordinary tickets, even-numbered designated tickets, and odd-numbered designated tickets, there were also a few tickets which Ning Ning had not seen before mixed in.
Shi Zhong Tang’s eyes lit up. He let go of Ning Ning and took the tickets, then he presented the tickets to Ning Ning like a lover presenting flowers. He smiled childishly and said, “He would give me tickets after I help him change the fate of two main characters. With these tickets, we can act as different people every night, in different space and time, doing different things…”
Eventually, his expression turned gentle and serious. “Then fall in love with each other.”
Ning Ning looked at the tickets in his hands, then slowly looked up towards him.
The passion and apprehension in his eyes washed into Ning Ning’s eyes like waves.
This was the scariest and most moving way Ning Ning had ever seen someone profess their love.
Both Ning Ning and Shi Zhong Tang turned around and realised that it was Smiling Mask who laughed. As he was quietly laughing, the mask on his face suddenly cracked.
Who was in pain?
Ning Ning turned back and saw that Shi Zhong Tang was touching his face. He furrowed his brows before slowly putting his hands down, he looked at Ning Ning with uncertainty. “What’s wrong?”
Ning Ning looked at him and felt that it was difficult to breathe.
Because on his face was a small piece of a mask.
Shi Zhong Tang had felt the mask. He looked even more surprised than Ning Ning. He turned towards the Smiling Mask and shouted at him, “What’s going on? What’s this? This is completely different from what we agreed upon!”
“I’m sorry.” As another piece of the mask cracked and fell, Smiling Mask revealed a frivolous mouth. He apologised insincerely, slyly smiling. “I lied to you.”
1This is the name of a pass of the Great Wall located west of Dunhuang in today’s Gansu Province of China. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yumen_Pass