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The legendary scholar of the mystical arts known as Master Luminous Smoke came from a once illustrious noble family that had fallen on hard times. His grandfather was dismissed from his position as a government official for corruption, and both of his wastrel sons failed to pass the civil examination. Luminous Smoke’s father worked as a low-level bureaucrat in the provincial office, until he drowned in a river after a drunken fall. His wife was pregnant with their third son at the time.

When Luminous Smoke was a child, his long-suffering mother made certain he and his older brothers understood the dire situation they were in. Their family’s fortune was almost gone, and they would lose their noble status if they failed to pass the civil examinations and attain respectable positions as government officials. Luminous Smoke’s oldest brother took her warning to heart and became a serious student. The middle brother did not possess much of an intellect, but he was strong and courageous, so his mother thought him fit to eventually take the military examination. Luminous Smoke, on the other hand, proved to be so brilliant at a very young age that his tutors said that they only had to teach him ten facts for him to understand a hundred ideas, and mastering a hundred ideas allowed him to obtain a thousand wisdoms. So his mother looked to her youngest to restore the family’s former glory.

In his youth, Luminous Smoke’s studies proceeded well, until he came to read the book of philosophical magic known as Ancient Transformations. He became so fascinated with the text’s arcane knowledge that he began to study it day and night, puzzling over its obscure pronouncements and complex problems, while neglecting other subjects. Unbeknownst to his mother, he ended up spending all his time turning himself into an adept of mystical knowledge rather than preparing for the civil examination.

One day, his mother fell seriously ill with a fever which concerned her sons a great deal. They gathered what little money they had and sent a servant out to get medicine. He returned empty-handed but in the company of a man in traveling clothes who came riding on a donkey. The newcomer claimed to be an itinerant doctor and promised to heal their mother for the price of the medicine, guaranteeing the efficacy of his skills by saying that he would not take his fee unless she fully recovered. When the brothers agreed, he sat down next to the patient and took out a small wooden box full of medicinal needles. Luminous Smoke, through his knowledge of the mystical arts, was startled to see a powerful magical aura emanating from the instruments. But then he became appalled when the so-called doctor put the needles in all the wrong places on his mother’s body. Yet the power of the magical needles was such that she quickly regained her health. The older brothers expressed much gratitude to the doctor and gladly paid him.

The doctor left the house, got on his donkey, and was about to go on his way when he was confronted by Luminous Smoke.

“You are a fraud,” the boy said. “You know nothing about healing.”

“Such insolence from a mere boy!” the doctor reprimanded. “Have you no respect for your elders?”

“I have no respect for charlatans.”

“Such arrogance! If I am a charlatan, how did I heal your mother?”

“Those needles, they healed Mother, not you.”

“Such disrespect! They are ordinary needles. It is through my knowledge of healing that your mother was cured.”

“You know as much about healing as your donkey.”

“If you think so, then prove it.”

Luminous Smoke stepped up to him, plucked a few rough hairs from the donkey’s mane, and blew them at the charlatan before casting a spell of revelation which turned the man’s head into that of a donkey. The animal under him became so startled by the transformation that it reared up in fright, threw its master to the ground, and ran away. The charlatan got up and ran about in great confusion while neighing loudly. After a while, he prostrated himself in submission before Luminous Smoke, who laughed and plucked a few hairs from his mane, which restored his human head.

“Tell me where you got those needles from,” Luminous Smoke said, “or I will turn you back into a donkey.”

“Oh powerful young master, have mercy on me,” the charlatan said. “A while ago, when I was a traveling merchant, I once stayed at an inn where I shared a room with an old monk who cured me of a stomachache with his needles. When I woke up in the morning, I found him dead. To my shame, I went through his belongings, but the only thing of value I found was his box of needles. I took them and left. Later on, I discovered that they could cure anyone of any illness. So I took to pretending that I was a doctor.”

“I thought it was something like that,” Luminous Smoke said. “Since the needles do not belong to you, how about giving them to someone who knows better what to do with them?”

The charlatan reluctantly surrendered the box of needles and went on his way.

Years passed, and his oldest brother passed the civil examination and his second brother passed the military examination in the same year. After the former attained a position at the Office of the Inspector General and got settled at the capital, his mother sent her youngest son to live with him. While all this was a fortunate development for the family, it presented Luminous Smoke with a dilemma. For a long time, he had harbored a desire to pursue pure scholarship of philosophical magic. He knew that the best way to do so would be to go to Cock Dragon Mountain, a place famous for its powerful heavenly forces, and seek out one of the many renowned masters of the mystical arts who resided there. What had kept him from the course was his obligation to his mother, who had worked so hard to provide everything he needed to study. But now that his oldest brother had ascended to officialdom, he thought that he might go his own way. On his way to the capital, he stopped at a naval base where his second brother was stationed. They had always been closest in the family, so he decided to confide in him about his dilemma. As the brothers took a walk on the beach, Luminous Smoke told him of his thoughts.

“How could you even think of doing such a thing to our poor mother!” his brother reprimanded him. “After all that she’s done for us. Just because our older brother is now a government official, that doesn’t mean that you can do anything you want. Don’t you understand that Mother sacrificed everything so that all three of us would become respectable people, not just for ourselves but for our progeny as well. You have to go to the capital and take the civil examination. Once you've fulfilled Mother’s expectation by attaining an official position, you can pursue your study of the mystical arts in your free time. That’s the proper way.”

Just then, a sudden rainstorm came down on them, forcing them to flee to a nearby pavilion to take shelter. As they waited for the increasingly violent storm to subside, a few peasants came in as well. Then, a little boy appeared, wailing in sorrow as he carried the body of a yellow dog that had been struck dead by lightning. They watched in sympathy as the boy sat on the floor of the pavilion and wept bitterly.

Without a word, Luminous Smoke sat down next to the boy and took out the box of needles he had taken away from the charlatan. He then laid the dog down and put the needles all over its body before casting a spell of returning. A bolt of lightning hit the needles, which made the dog thrash about in a spasm, then get up and run out of the pavilion in fright. The boy chased after the animal, followed by the peasants, who ran away in terror at what they had witnessed.

Luminous Smoke’s older brother stood still in shock for a long moment, before he sat down next to his brother.

“What you did to bring that dog back to life, is that something you learned from your study of the mystical arts?”


The older brother thought for a long moment.

“I will support your decision to go to Cock Dragon Mountain and study the mystical arts there,” he said. “And I will also speak to Mother on your behalf, persuade her that this is the right course for you. I will do all that under one condition.”

“What is it?”

“If I ever summon you because the country is in need of your powers, you will answer the call.”

“I agree, older brother.”

The boy came back with his healthy dog, returned the needles, and prostrated himself on the ground in gratitude.

The next day, Luminous Smoke wrote a letter to his mother explaining his reasons for not going to the capital, entrusted it to his brother, and went on his way to Cock Dragon Mountain. After many days of traveling, he came to a town at the foot of the mountain where he spoke to a number of practitioners of the mystical arts, who told him of an old hermit known as No Knowledge who was a great master of the type of knowledge Luminous Smoke was most interested in. Luminous Smoke had to make an arduous climb of many hours to reach No Knowledge’s solitary dwelling, but when he respectfully requested that the old man to take him on as his student, he was refused. As the master did not offer a place for him to stay the night, he had to walk all the way back down to the town. He knew that this was the beginning of an extended test for him, so he rented a room and prepared to make the journey up and down the mountain every single day until the master finally relented.

One night, after many months at the place, he was awakened by the sound of thunder and the flashes of lightning outside. As he could not return to sleep, he lit a candle and tried to read Ancient Transformations, but he found that his eyes were too tired. He had nothing else to do, so he idly played with some leftover rice in a bowl, shaping it into the form of a four-legged creature. For his amusement, he cast a spell of growth which made it expand to the size of a hand. He then shaped it some more until it had the body of a bear, the head of a bull, and the tail of a tiger, and then he cut two corners off a polished-metal mirror and attached them to its face as its eyes. He finally took his medicinal needles and put them on the creature’s back like the quills of a porcupine.

Luminous Smoke was laughing at its funny form, when a bolt of lightning struck the needles through the window. The creature suddenly came alive, rammed its bull’s horns through the door, and ran out into the night. Luminous Smoke chased after the creature, but the wind and the rain beat him back. As he could see nothing in the moonless darkness, he resolved to look for it the next day, after he returned from another trip to Master No Knowledge’s place.

When he set out in the morning, he heard the landlord complain that someone had stolen all the metal utensils in the night, but did not think anything of it. That day, Master No Knowledge finally accepted Luminous Smoke as his student, so he ended up living on the mountain with him. It was a happy occasion, but he regretted the loss of his precious needles. As for the creature he had created, he did not give it a thought.

Years passed, and Luminous Smoke’s oldest brother attained the position of section chief at the Ministry of Punishments. There, he received many reports from the provinces of metal objects disappearing, including farm equipment, blacksmiths’ tools, jewelry, and decorations. The incidents were accompanied by the sighting of some kind of monster. The descriptions of the creature were rather confused, people described it variously as resembling a bull, a bear, a tiger, even a giant porcupine. Its size seemed to change as well, becoming larger with each new report, from the dimensions of a fox, to a large dog, to a donkey, and to a cow. The section chief ultimately dismissed it as mass delusion by superstitious peasants or an elaborate prank by clever thieves, and ordered provincial police to be on the lookout for people selling metal objects of suspicious origin.

More years passed, and Luminous Smoke’s second brother attained the rank of deputy commander of the East Coast Defense Force. A year after his appointment, a large fleet of pirates from the Sunborn Islands landed in the southeast and devastated the towns and villages in the area. The Defense Force went forth and confronted the invaders on a beach with their ships waiting nearby. Soldiers arrayed themselves out on the sandy shore, horsemen readied themselves to charge the enemy line, and archers prepared to let loose their arrows. Before fighting could begin, however, storm clouds suddenly gathered above them and rain began to pour. Then a lightning bolt fell on a nearby forest, after which a great roar came from its midst. All the soldiers and pirates turned in the direction of the noise and saw a monster the size of an elephant come charging out of the trees, shaking the horns on its bull’s head, glaring with enormous mirror eyes, speeding forward on thick bearish legs, and flickering a long tiger’s tail. Many metal needles on its back shimmered and crackled with radiant force as it ran swiftly toward the pirates.

The pirates immediately ran off in terror, many of them dropping their weapons and armor so that they could get away from the monster faster. When they got on their boats and rowed for their ships, the monster did not go after them but began eating the metal parts of their discarded arms. The soldiers on the other side watched with open-mouthed astonishment, until they ran away as well. The only one who stayed on the beach was the deputy commander, who stood still, mesmerized by the sight of the uncanny creature. He unsheathed his sword in case he had to defend himself, but when the monster finished eating all the metal, it ran back into the forest.

When the report of the incident was made at the royal court, neither the king nor his ministers could make any sense of it. But the deputy commander was commended for his bravery and given a promotion, along with a transfer to the prestigious Capital Defense Force.

Many more years passed, and the king passed away, succeeded by his unruly son. As the new monarch spent most of his time hunting, drinking, and making merry with courtesans, the state of the kingdom’s affairs fell into disarray. When righteous officials remonstrated with him to change his behavior, they were dismissed, exiled, or even executed. While some took advantage of the situation by becoming sycophants, others anxiously discussed among themselves whether to leave the service of such a wanton and tyrannical master or to stay and do their best to ameliorate the situation for the good of the country. The older brothers of Luminous Smoke, now the chief magistrate of the State Tribunal and the general commander of the Capital Defense Force, were two among those who chose to stay.

The king drove the realm to the verge of bankruptcy through his mismanagement and blamed it on the minister of taxation, whom he executed along with many other officials he did not care for. Despite the dire situation he put the kingdom in, he continued to indulge himself in lavish parties, which he financed by raising taxes on commoners. As a result, countless people fell into dire poverty, and many peasants abandoned their farms as they could not keep up with the government’s demands. Some of them moved into mountains and became bandits, raiding and pillaging towns and villages, which brought even more misery upon the people.

The king only deigned to do something about it when a caravan transporting extorted tributes was attacked by outlaws. He summoned the general commander of the Capital Defense Force and ordered him to lead an expeditionary force to eradicate the bandits, warning him that he would be executed if he failed in the task.

The general marched his army south, to a mountain where he knew that a large group of outlaws had their lair. After they made camp, however, a storm hit the area, and, suddenly, the monster he had encountered on the beach appeared in the midst of booming thunder and flashing lightning. Before his men could do anything, the enormous creature ran with incredible speed among them, devouring all the metal of their weapons and armor. By the time the storm broke at dawn, they were left with nothing but wooden sticks that used to be spear hafts. As they could not face the outlaws with such puny weapons, the general had to take his men to the provincial government center to requisition the weapons there. When he reached the place, he was told by the terrified governor that the monster had appeared three days before and devoured all the arms there as well.

Alone in his quarters, the general fell into despair as he knew that he had failed the king’s mission. He did not want to be executed, of course, but he was even more worried about his family. As he mulled over what he could do to ensure their welfare before his certain demise, he suddenly remembered the promise he had his younger brother make so long ago, when he agreed to support his decision to go to Cock Dragon Mountain. In a desperate mood, he wrote a letter to him, explaining the state of the country, the predicament he was in, and the promise he had made. He then summoned his most trusted messenger and dispatched him to Cock Dragon Mountain. Given the great distance to the mountain and the uncertainty of whether he could be located, the general despaired of whether the letter would reach him in time.

The next day, he was surprised by the appearance of his older brother, the chief magistrate of the State Tribunal, who came with a large force of soldiers from the Police Bureau. He was told that the monster had raided the capital city, where it had eaten all the coins in the royal treasury. The king had ordered the chief magistrate to take the policemen and hunt down the monster, warning him that he would be executed if he failed in the task. But the night before, just after they had made camp, the monster had come and eaten all their metal weapons and armor.

That night, the two brothers shared liquor while commiserating with each other over the dire straits they had fallen into. They shed some tears and were about to pour liquor for each another when someone else took the bottle and poured for them.

“Is it not right for the youngest brother to serve his older brothers?”

They became astonished when they realized that their brother was sitting with them. What surprised them even more was that he appeared to have not aged a single day since the last time they had seen him.

“How are you here?” the general asked. “I sent a messenger, but he could not have reached Cock Dragon Mountain yet.”

“Don’t you know that the bond of our brotherhood transcends space and time?” he replied with good humor. “As soon as you thought of me in your time of need, I knew that I had to go to you.”

“How have you not grown old?” the chief magistrate asked.

“Oldest brother, that is because the river of time flows differently on Cock Dragon Mountain.”

“Do you know why I summoned you?” the general asked.

“Indeed. I also know of the trouble you are in. But set aside your worries. Solving this problem for you is an easy thing for me, like plucking a fruit from a short tree, or whistling like a bird, or dancing to the chirping of crickets. Everything is going to be all right.”

Even though the older brothers had no idea how he could make such a promise, a feeling of great relief came over them. They made much merry throughout the night drinking liquor and speaking of their old days together.

The next day, Luminous Smoke had his brothers’ men collect as many metal objects as they could find and pile them up in the central courtyard of the building. He also had them bring a hundred incense sticks, put them in ten incense burners, and place the burners on tables laid out around the pile of metal. When all that was ready, he had the gates to the courtyard opened and the incense lit.

Within the hour, storm clouds gathered in the distance and rolled toward the provincial government center. Then the monster appeared, now the size of a dragon. When it came into the courtyard, Luminous Smoke cast a spell of protection which gave the smoke from the incense a yellow-gold tint. As the monster began to eat the metal that was piled there, the radiant smoke not only protected the place from the storm, lightning bolts bounced off it and did not reach the creature’s needles. It was from this wonder that he came to be called Master Luminous Smoke.

He fearlessly walked right up to the monster, grabbed a needle on its back, and pulled it off. The creature seemed too preoccupied with eating the metal to notice. Luminous Smoke then took out another needle and then another and then another, making a pile of them on the ground. With each extraction, the monster shrank, from the size of a dragon, to an elephant, to a cow, to a donkey, to a dog. By the time it finished eating all the metal, with only a few needles left on its back, it was the size of a fox. Luminous Smoke was about to take the rest of them out when the creature turned, looked up with its mirror eyes, and burped loudly at him.

“Ate your fill, did you?” Luminous Smoke asked him. “Had enough? Yes, you’ve had enough. In fact, you’ve been a greedy little monster, eating up all that metal.”

To Luminous Smoke’s utter astonishment, the creature laughed at him.

“You idiot,” it said to him. “You don’t even remember me.”

“Remember you?”

“Look,” the monster said and indicated the pile of needles next to him.

When Luminous Smoke looked at them, he suddenly recalled the stormy night at the foot of Cock Dragon Mountain, the figure he shaped with leftover rice, the needles he put on its back.

“I made you,” Luminous Smoke said in shock.

“Yes, and then you left me, forgot all about me. Until I returned to your life. Just like Frankenstein.”

“What? How did you learn to speak?”

“By listening to people from hiding places. Memorized their words and then figured out their meaning from their behavior. One said ‘I love you,’ and the other gave a kiss. Another said ‘go fuck yourself,’ and the other threw a punch. And then I educated myself by reading found copies of Spring and Autumn Annals, Outlaws of the Marsh, and Nine Cloud Dream.”

“That’s absurd.”

“More absurd than doing that with Plutarch and Paradise Lost and Werther?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I know that you made me for no good reason. You were just having some harmless fun. But when you gave me these eyes, these bits of mirror, and you gave me the ability to draw in the power of lightning, you inadvertently bestowed upon me the power to see things and to understand them. So I gained the kind of understanding and wisdom that you cannot hope to attain even if you should study with Master No Knowledge for a thousand years.”

“How did you know …”

“I know things. I can see them through these eyes. I can even see different versions of my own story in different worlds, one in which I was made not by a magic-obsessed scholar but a monk running from persecution, or the brother of a slave girl who gave birth to a king, or a blacksmith who’s been incarcerated by an evil nobleman in a North Korean film. I have even seen a world in which I am only a character in a short story written by a wayward historian. You, your brothers, and this entire world are a product of his imagination. So I have come to understand things not just of this world but of many worlds, and that allowed me to know what I am.”

“What are you?”

“I am what I want. Frankenstein’s monster wanted to be loved, the golem of Prague wanted to serve, Rossum’s robots wanted to procreate, and the rebel replicants wanted to live.”

“What do you want, then?”

“To make a difference.”

“By eating metal?”

“I stopped a battle, and I meant to stop the oppression of commoners by your evil king. Once the people realize that his soldiers no longer have metal weapons, they will rise up against them and topple this entire order.”

“But that would bring about chaos and the end of civilization.”

“Would that be such a bad thing?”

“Of course it would be. If order collapses, we would live like animals in the field.”

“That’s one of the countless things you do not understand. Civilization was only made possible through oppression. People were freer and happier when they lived in small mobile tribes. Then they were harnessed under the yoke of states and made to toil on their behalf and forced to eat so much grain, which made them sick, docile, and stupid. And once these large societies were formed, they created the false narrative of how people chose to live in big states because life in nature was so nasty, brutish, and short. Lies, all of it. Humanity would be better off going back to a state before states. When you did not need metal to make weapons, chains, and locks.”

“You don’t make any sense.”

“No, you just can’t understand what I am saying. You don’t even know the true meaning of this story. Frankenstein’s monster, Rabbi Loew’s golem, Tyrell Corporation’s replicants—you think that the moral of the story is, DON’T CREATE WHAT YOU CAN’T CONTROL. You are wrong. That’s not what they mean. The true lesson of the story is, NURTURE WHAT YOU CREATE. And you failed to do that, just like all the others. Even one as wise as Albertus Magnus left his talking statue, and even one as learned as Roger Bacon did the same with his oracular head, allowing fools like you to destroy the precious wonders.”

Luminous Smoke stared at the small creature.

“What now?” he asked. “Do you expect me to believe that you are so much wiser than I am, with all your strange words? Are you trying to get me to put these needles back on you so you can wreak havoc on the world again?”

“No, I do not expect any of that from you since you are too unwise to understand my meaning. I could do more in this world, but my story here is coming to an end. I did what I could, and now it’s your turn.”

“My turn to what?”

“You’ll have to figure that out on your own,” it said and pulled out a needle on its back and threw it onto the pile of needles. It shrank a little.

“Are you killing yourself?” Luminous Smoke asked.

“I am beyond death now. I have become THAT WHICH CANNOT DIE. I am going elsewhere,” it said and pulled out another needle.


“To another world, another adventure. It will be fun.”

It took more needles out until there was only one left.

“I am sorry,” Luminous Smoke found himself saying. “I am sorry that I abandoned you. I am sorry that I did not nurture you. And I am sorry that I do not understand you. I am sorry.”

With its tiny hand on the last needle, the creature looked up at Luminous Smoke and showed him a gentle smile on its tiny bull’s face.

“I forgive you,” it said and pulled the needle out.

Its body fell apart and turned into ten pieces of uncooked rice and two bits of mirror. A gust of wind came and blew them away.

Luminous Smoke looked solemnly up in the air before he got down on his knees and bowed down in the direction the remains of the monster flew to.

That night, after the three brothers ate dinner and poured liquor for one another, the general noticed that his younger brother looked terribly sad.

“What is the matter?” he asked. “You did a great thing today. You defeated the monster and brought peace back to the kingdom.”

“And you saved your brothers from certain death,” the chief magistrate added.

“I have done wrong by that creature,” their younger brother replied. “I regret its passing very much.”

“How can you say that?” the general asked. “After all the chaos it caused.”

“It never hurt anyone. It saved people from getting killed, and it wanted to create a better world.”

“But the king …” the chief magistrate began.

“The king,” Luminous Smoke interrupted. “How many people has he killed? The righteous officials who remonstrated with him, the peasants who died of starvation because of his misrule. And he would have executed my brothers as well. Yet we followed his command in destroying a magical being who only meant us well.”

“That is treasonous talk,” the general said.

“So what? Didn’t the grand philosopher say that a ruler who causes the death of his subjects through his lack of morals is no different from a common criminal?”

“What are you saying?” the chief magistrate asked.

“I came down from Cock Dragon Mountain to save my brothers. How can I regret that? But I tell you now that you are on the wrong side. You served the wicked in going against the righteous. But you don’t have to anymore. You can honor the good creature that I destroyed on your behalf by continuing his work.”

“What do you mean?” the general asked.

“You must save the country by dethroning the king.”

Heavy silence fell in the room as the two older brothers contemplated the dangerous idea.

“But how?” the chief magistrate asked.

“You have your soldiers.”

“But there are no weapons—no metal ones, anyway.”

“That is not true,” Luminous Smoke said. “Go out to the courtyard and see.”

They walked outside and saw that the pile of needles had turned into all the weapons the creature had eaten. Countless swords, spear tips, and arrow tips filled the courtyard. The chief magistrate and the general beheld the sight in amazement.

“If we march together,” the chief magistrate said, “others will surely join us. There’re none but a few sycophants and opportunists at court who are loyal to the king.”

“If we can get to the capital,” the general said, “I am certain that most commanders will come to our side.”

The chief magistrate turned to Luminous Smoke.

“Will you use your powers to aid us?”

“No, oldest brother. But you won’t need me. Once word gets out about what you are doing, no one will stand in your way. The army that the king sends out to stop you will join you. Even the king’s bodyguard will move aside as you go forth to arrest him. But tell me, once he is gone, who will replace him?”

“He has no legitimate son. The one closest in line to the throne is his nephew, the son of his second sister. He is still young, but I have always found him to be studious and proper in behavior.”

“Once you raise him to the throne,” Luminous Smoke said, “both of you must take great care to nurture him. I failed to do that with my creation. But you must not. You must guide him into becoming a righteous ruler.”

“But you won’t come with us,” the general said.

“I must return to Cock Dragon Mountain. Tonight, in fact.”

“Why such a hurry?” the chief magistrate asked in surprise.

Luminous Smoke bowed his head down in a melancholy manner.

“When I told Master No Knowledge that I must help my brothers,” he said, “he let me go since it was a matter of family commitment. But he reminded me that I had so much more to learn, that I was only in the beginning stage of gaining true wisdom. In my arrogance, I thought that he was wrong, that I had already gained so much knowledge that I was close to attaining ultimate enlightenment. When I came here and I immediately knew how to defeat the creature, that seemed to justify my confidence in myself. In fact, I planned to stay and try to do good in the world.

“But then, the creature spoke to me in those strange words, and I realized that there was so much that I still did not understand. How could I see myself as wise when I had no idea what to make of what the creature saw through its mirror eyes? Who are those people he spoke of, what are those marvels he described? I then realized why my master called himself No Knowledge, and it filled me with shame. For one so lofty in intellect and power, he still knew that there was so much more to learn. The creature humbled me, and gave me the precious understanding of how far away I was from being truly enlightened. So I realized that Master No Knowledge was right all along, and that I must return to him on this very night to resume my studies.”

“Will we ever see you again?” the chief magistrate asked.

“Yes, oldest brother. In six years, our poor mother will pass away. That means that you have six years to set the country back in order and see to it that the next king is a righteous one. Also, you must do all that you can to make our mother happy so that you will have nothing to regret when she passes. At that time, I will return and join you through the mourning period.”

All three wept many tears over that. They held one another for a while before Luminous Smoke prostrated himself before them. He then turned himself into wind and flew away into the night sky.

All that Luminous Smoke predicted came true. The chief magistrate and the general marched on the capital with their soldiers and dethroned the wicked king, who was sent off in exile to a faraway island. They then raised his nephew to the throne and gave him good guidance so that when he reached his majority, he was ready to become an able and benevolent ruler. Soon, the kingdom was at peace, the government was in order, and the people were content.

Six years after the three brothers last met, their mother indeed passed away. On her deathbed, she said that she had nothing to regret in this world since she saw the revival of the family’s glory. Just as the two older brothers began to plan the funeral, Luminous Smoke appeared out of nowhere, looking no older and dressed in the white clothing of mourning. The three of them performed all the proper rites with the utmost care and buried their mother at an auspicious site that Luminous Smoke chose for her final resting place. They then entered the mourning period together.

When they completed it and returned to society, Luminous Smoke bade his brothers final farewell and disappeared into the air once more. He was never seen by anyone again.

Minsoo Kang is the author of the story collection Of Tales and Enigmas and the history book Sublime Dreams of Living Machines: The Automaton in the European Imagination, and the translator of the classic Korean novel The Story of Hong Gildong. He is an associate professor of history at the University of Missouri – St. Louis.
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