Family Planning
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To marry, to rear his daughters, these things were on the surface good. But to have had the long years in his power, to have controlled their lives, to have warped their natures even, these might be evil things. Perhaps, beguiled by custom and order, one's sense of evil went numb.
-Kawabata Yasunari.

Great King Yama, I apologize for eluding your guardians for so long. Even as a powerless shade I could not leave the world of the living until I was certain that my children would be safe. I will not plead for my soul but I respectfully present my statement for your court of justice.

I was born in the savage Eastern Isles, one of the ten demon daughters of the ogress Kishimojin. In my early days, I was known as Muensoku, the Insatiable. Mother relied on my sisters and me to capture young children to feed her countless sons. It was a simple and pleasant life until Mother went crazy with religion. A holy man decided to teach her empathy by hiding her smallest child until she went half mad searching for him. Her anguish turned to remorse when she finally understood the pain she had caused to other parents.

Unlike my sisters, I was not impressed with her new choice of life style. There would have been no problem to start with if my empty-headed mother had not made so many children. I obeyed her command not to feed on little mortals, but that was as much as I could take. I broke ties with my family and survived on my own. I kept my heritage secret from people until the name Muensoku was all but forgotten, except in legends and nightmares.

I adapted to the civilization of mortals and gradually tamed myself. For many generations I lived under various identities. I outlived a considerable number of dedicated and generous lovers, amassing wealth, knowledge and titles. People loved me and people despised me: I was no longer an outcast. Yet I still felt alone and I came to desire a family of my own. Like many women, I swore that I would do better than my own mother.

I wanted ALL the best for my future children. I traveled to the mainland where I finally became Emperor Weng’s concubine; one talented and ruthless enough to achieve rapidly the rank of Guifei. There are those who accused me of bewitching the Emperor. It is amusing that mortals only suspected my dark powers based on my perfectly natural talents. In the words of the Empress, I was nothing more than a foreign mule. But I had powers that this desiccated scarecrow did not possess: true love to enslave the Emperor’s soul and a womb where his efforts would not be wasted. The Emperor promised secretly that he would feed me the heart of the Empress and make me his first wife after I gave him an heir.

I bore two sons; two babies of exceptional vitality, each in their own way. Ku was a toddler of terrible temper. Glaring in silence at all his surrounding or bawling at the slightest provocation. His cries were never mistaken for sadness or pain. Rage was the only emotion he knew. Sweet milk couldn’t satisfy his hunger and, after teething, he would often bite me hard enough to draw blood. A boy after my own heart… Du was calm, gentle and he had a larger repertoire. His cries, coos and mewls could at turn instill joy and sorrow in a wide array of nuances. Servants and warriors alike would gather and fawn over him, commenting and debating the meaning of every little gurgle. Even before he could talk, his voice had the power to warp people's heart.

I thought I had a secure grasp on the Emperor’s heart, but it was more fragile than I expected. It crumbled between my fingers like sandy clay. The Imperial Council resented the power I had over the Emperor and they poured poisoned words into his ear. Mistrust tarnished our love. I had fulfilled my part of our bargain, yet his Highness could not muster the courage to fulfill his own promise. Meanwhile, the Empress was plotting to have my babies assassinated. She was crafty and shrewd. Faced with a normal concubine, she could have easily removed the two heirs without anyone suspecting anything. I am not so easily defeated, but I would not have been able to protect my children until they could survive on their own. Without the Emperor's support, doing anything against her would have severe repercussions.

Helpless and desperate mothers pray to Kishimojin, my compassionate Mother. They make offerings for fertility, safe delivery and beg her to safeguard their children. Despicable, cowardly women, unwilling to take responsibility for the well-being of their own progeny. My children were born of my own blood and pain and it was my own blood and pain that would keep them safe.

For a moment, I envisioned seizing control for myself by open warfare. After years in the Imperial court, I realized the Empire was a rotten fruit that would readily crack and split. I had enough influence and power to lead a successful rebellion… and my children would waste their lives rebuilding a broken empire. I had been so focused on my recent path that I had lost track of my goal. Better leave the rotting fruit intact; a safe and nutritious shelter where my progeny could thrive in secret.

One night, when the palace was sleeping, I ordered my ladies-in-waiting to hang themselves from the rafters of my apartment. I had chosen my two most loyal retainers, honorable and wise warriors from my homeland. They disposed quietly of the other guards and servants in my pavilion. One flayed me alive with his sword, while the other played tunes from my childhood on a flute, to cover my muffled screams and to soothe my departing spirit. Sealed with my dying curse, my love and torment was bound to that sword and to my flayed skin. I had instructed each of my retainers to smuggle one of my children out of the Forbidden City and to take them to opposite sides of the Empire. As much as it pained me, my boys had to remain ignorant of their origin and of each other’s existence. My servants nurtured their potential until such day as they could make their own destiny.

Ku received the simple blade that killed me and his anger found a purpose. He traveled the Empire, walking in darkness: an assassin and a mercenary. His sword sustained dozens of rebellions of dissident warlords. Nobles or villains it mattered not; it always ended in disaster for all. His blade turned a blood-red so deep it appears completely black, except when the sun shines on it in just the right way. But it hasn't seen sunlight in a long time. Ku has transcended his humanity. He doesn’t need mundane reasons anymore to destroy small lives. Children frighten each other with his shadow. ''Tonight, He will come for you in the dark and skin you alive''. In their minds, his blade shines like an invisible sunray, burning black in the night.

Du received a prayer mat woven from strips of my tanned hide, and his wisdom found a purpose. He traveled the Empire, walking in sunshine. He patronized numerous temples and colleges, both as a student and a teacher. He can appreciate the beauty in everything he sees and he leaves his ugly mark on anything he touches. His voice is a powerful current that erode reality into fantastic shapes, like the scholar stones you see in gardens. Du has transcended his humanity. His wisdom doesn’t need sanity anymore. Students who follow him create elegant artifacts of diseased magic. Pregnant women who listen to his words bear monstrosities.

I had imagined that my sons would rule in harmony under my loving care. And so they do. Which one is the mightiest, the sword or the word? When the sword gives strength to the word and when the word gives purpose to the sword, each is invincible. The enchantment I weaved into my son’s heirlooms makes it so. Every torment inflicted by Ku's blade bolsters the power of Du's words. Every tear of joy or sorrow drawn by Du's miracles sharpens the edge of Ku's blade. So long as they follow their heart, they keep each other safe.

My death remained a mystery. Like the dreaded Muensoku of so long ago, the alluring Guifei is all but forgotten. There remains only the ancient statue in the Imperial Garden, a fossil of my legendary beauty. Of the two imperial heirs, nothing is remembered. To let them live according to their nature was my final gift to my sons.

You can punish me as you see fit. My boys are safe and my mother's heart is at peace.

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