A brocade carp was lounging inside a porcelain jar.
It seemed as if it was bored to death, not wanting to even move. The window in the inner chamber was open, and three or four specks of snowflakes drifted in from outside. It swished its tail and swam around in a circle, then touched the snowflake with its mouth. Stunned by the cold, it suddenly sank into the water, shaking its head in surprise. It played alone for a while, but it was still lonely, so it floated up again and looked up at the man on the wooden couch who was sleeping with his clothes on.
This brocade carp had never seen another person, so it did not know how to appraise the beauty and ugliness of this world. But it often gazed upon this person in fascination, as if its entire day of fun was all concentrated on this moment. With a wanton gaze, it sized up the man’s eyebrows, eyes, mouth, and nose, catching a glimpse of sentimentality and tenderness among those facial features. Yet when this person woke up, his face would take on a very different kind of frostiness, becoming extremely estranged and distant like looking at a handful of tantalizing blossoms submerged under a layer of ice. Fortunately, the man seemed to be injured and spent most of his day sleeping.
The brocade carp watched him for a while before it saw that the snow was getting heavier outside and much of the snow was leaking in through the window. This man was still oblivious as a snowflake laid down upon his forehead and gradually melted.
The brocade carp watched and felt crossed. It had been with this person for so many months, and it had never gotten this close to him. Yet today, this audacious snowflake had beaten the brocade carp to it. On what grounds?!
The brocade carp swatted at the porcelain wall loudly, stirred up the water, and leaped in and out, splashing water everywhere. The din it created made the man frowned lightly before he opened his eyes. After a slight moment of delay, the man’s gaze turned towards the white porcelain jar. Right at that exact moment, the brocade carp “plopped” into the water, splashing a puddle of water onto the small table.
It thought the man should get up to comfort it now, but who would expect that he would only look askance at it, then raised a finger and pointed at it before he closed his eyes again to sleep. That one move fixed the brocade carp in position; it did not even have the time to flick its tail and could only float stiffly on the water. It opened its mouth, wanting to call out, but it could only blow bubbles. It grew angry and thought, I’m going to ignore him these few days; no matter how he is going to coax and persuade me, I’m going to ignore him!
The man slept until the next morning. When he got up to get dressed, he still looked tired and exhausted. The brocade carp had been stuck in the same position for the whole night, and its “I’m going to ignore him” had become “farewell, once and for all; from now on, we are strangers”. Unfortunately, the man could neither hear nor understand it. He placed some food in his palm. The brocade carp felt its body lightened, and it began to move again. As soon as it could move, it forgot everything it had just thought and chased after the food to gobble it up. When it was done, it even rubbed itself against the man’s fingertip and pretended to be docile.
The man’s complexion was fair. When the brocade carp circled around his fingertip, it felt as if the man would melt at a touch. That was because the man looked as if his heart was not in the moment, but then again, he seemed like he had no “heart” in the first place. It was like he might never wake up from his sleep one of these days. The brocade carp was afraid that he would really melt, so it nibbled on his fingertip with its mouth, wanting to feel him. Unexpectedly, his flesh was cold to the touch, and yet he also felt soft and moist. The brocade carp was astounded and nibbled a few more times until the man returned to his senses by the slight itch on his fingertip and looked down.
He stirred the water a little and asked, “Haven’t you eaten enough?”
As soon as he spoke, the north wind on the veranda came to a momentary rest.
The brocade carp swam around his fingertip, rolled over, and looked at him expectantly. The man understood and turned to look out of the window. It was snowing heavily at the moment, and it was not suitable for him to venture outdoors, but instead of conforming to common sense, he stepped out.
A small pile of snow sitting below the steps suddenly shook apart to reveal a little stone figure. Using both its legs and hands, the little stone figure climbed over the threshold of the door, carried the white porcelain jar on the top of its head, then staggered out to chase after the man. The man had already stepped onto the snow. With the porcelain jar on its head, the little stone figure followed behind the man. The snow dancing all over the sky avoided falling upon them as if they had some misgivings.
The brocade carp was initially depressed when it saw that the man did not personally carry it in his arms. But at the sight of the sky covered in flying snow and the garden grounds blanketed in a sea of white, it cast that bit of dejection away and floated up and down excitedly.
It usually lived in the inner chamber and hardly ever saw the scenery outside. it was only when the man was in a good mood that they would venture outdoors. It was the first time today it went out to see the snow; its excitement was palpable. For a moment, it forgot itself and bobbed about so much that the porcelain jar wobbled dangerously. The little stone figure staggered and struggled to maintain its balance in the snow, but in the end, it still ended up falling over onto the ground, and the porcelain jar slid along the snow. Fortunately, the jar was not smashed and remained intact, but unfortunately, the brocade carp was sent flying out.
The brocade carp broke into a golden red arch in mid-air and plunged head-on into the snow, leaving only its tail flapping violently and slapping at the snow in panic. Less than a moment later, someone picked it up by its tail. It originally meant to put on a meek and aggrieved act, but when a young and handsome face entered its field of vision, it immediately began to struggle in indignation.
A-Yi revealed a mouthful of sharp teeth. “Jing Lin! Can I have this fish? It’s so fat it will be delectable whether it’s stewed or braised.”
Jing Lin had already stopped in his tracks to look back. He said, “Give it back to me.”
The little stone figure climbed to its feet. Holding on to the grass crown that had been bent out of shape on its head, it chased after A-Yi, wanting to get the brocade carp back. A-Yi deliberately lifted the brocade carp and swung it in mid-air, laughing, “Take it if you can reach it. Jing Lin, you are really boring. You only know how to sleep all day long. Why don’t you descend the mountains and play with me? The lands of Zhongdu are vast and so much more fun. It is entirely different from Heaven. I guarantee that it will dazzle you and make you forget yourself.”
If there was a person the brocade carp hated the most, that honor would go to this A-Yi. He was originally a five-colored bird1 of the Canli Tree and often transformed into a human to play in the garden. Every time he came, he was sure to drool over the brocade carp and make all sorts of friendly overtures towards Jing Lin. Being swung around in the air only made the brocade carp dizzy, and now it heard A-Yi trying to lure Jing Lin down the mountain again. It flew into a rage, but it was powerless to do anything to A-Yi.
The little stone figure kicked A-Yi in the calf. A-Yi hugged his leg in pain, and the brocade carp seized the chance to break free. The little stone figure caught hold of it and turned to run. But this brocade carp was so plump that the little stone figure could only move half of it, leaving the remaining half in the snow as it ran like mad. The head of the brocade carp was dragged along in the snow, with accumulated snow hitting it all over its face. It could not even blow bubbles now, and it was knocked around so much that it near about blacked out.
Jing Lin picked it up, but it was still paralyzed and looked particularly pitiful. Jing Lin looked at it for a moment. When it feebly opened its mouth, Jing Lin sent it into his sleeve. As soon as it entered the sleeve, it was instantly full of life and vigor. There was naturally a Qiankun2 – a universe – in Jing Lin’s sleeves. Immersed in it, the brocade carp could finally catch its breath with all the abundance of spiritual energy brimming in its surroundings. It stuck close to Jing Lin, feeling indescribably at ease.
This was why it must rely on, cling on to, and dominate Jing Lin. As long as it stayed close to Jing Lin, Jing Lin’s spiritual energy would nourish it. Although it still did not understand what this implied, it was nonetheless especially enamored with the feeling of being nourished. It felt that this spiritual energy was much more delicious than bait food, and it was always greedy for more. It did not even have its fill; how would it allow others to even get a glimpse of it? Thus, it would automatically classify anyone who got close to Jing Lin as those who were here to steal his spiritual energy, thereby earning them its deep hostility.
As the brocade carp devoured the spiritual energy, it listened to the conversation between A-Yi and Jing Lin.
“Can’t we leave the mountain? You are always sticking around here. Whether it’s for one hundred years or five hundred years, it’s still all the same. It’s too lonely.” With his hands behind his head, A-Yi kicked at the snow and asked, “Are you like this too in Heaven?”
It’s none of your business.
The brocade carp thought coldly.
Jing Lin’s sash fluttered in the wind. He simply asked, “What do you want from me?”
“Can’t I come without reason? Aren’t you a bit too callous? In your heart, am I that kind of person?” A-Yi asked in disdain.
“One never goes to a temple for no reason—there’s always a motive.” Jing Lin’s voice was colder than the wind.
A-Yi could not bear this iciness and wrapped his outer cloak tightly around him like a loser. He buried his chin in the fur, revealing only a pair of dark eyes; it gave him an androgynous appearance. He turned his eyes to gaze at Jing Lin, saying softly, “Jing Lin-gege, there is a demon in the east who bullied me, but I can’t win him in a fight. Go down and teach him a lesson. There is no need to kill him, just break his arms and legs and make him listen to my orders from now on. Okay?”
Jing Lin paused in his steps and cast a sidelong glance at A-Yi.
A-Yi took a step back under that stare, feeling as if he was not facing a man but a slinking behemoth. He sweated out of fear and could barely maintain his composure, so he gave a light snort and kicked at the snow again as he braced himself to ask, “Will you help me or not?!”
Jing Lin looked at him with indifference for a while and asked, “You want to break others’ arms and legs that much?”
There was a chill in A-Yi’s heart as fear inexplicably seized hold of him. He clenched his cloak tightly and did not dare to answer. Jing Lin paid him no more attention and continued to move forward.
A-Yi remained where he was and gnashed his teeth. He could not understand which of his words had displeased this man. It was not as if he wanted the other party’s life. He only wanted to break the other person’s arms and legs. So what did it matter? What had riled him up so much that he would not even give him face?!
A-Yi had been spoiled and pampered since young. His sister, the deity of Canli Tree who was in charge of the growth of the vegetation in Zhongdu, doted on him very much. He always got his way, and he was used to running amok in Zhongdu, so where in the world would he know what the word “well-behaved” meant? Now that he was ‘bullied’, he stopped chasing after Jing Lin to plead with him and simply metamorphosed back into a five-colored bird and flew away through the heavy snow.
◈ ◈ ◈
It was night, and Jing Lin was asleep while the brocade carp remained motionless against the porcelain wall. There was no light in the inner chamber, and the garden was completely dark. Making just a soft sound, A-Yi flew into the inner chamber and changed into his human form. He grabbed the porcelain jar and crept out the door with it.
Once out in the garden, A-Yi started to break into a run. The brocade carp was startled awake by the churning of water. On seeing the oppressive darkness of the night and the incessant gale of snow all around it, it knew that it was in trouble.
“He has always treasured you. I only have to throw you down the mountain, and he will surely follow after you!” A-Yi pulled at his clothes to cover up the porcelain jar and snorted, “It’s fine even if he doesn’t come. You have slapped me on the cheek more than once with your tail. Since he doesn’t want you, I’ll throw you into the river and feed you to demons!”
The brocade carp’s blood was boiling with anger when it heard A-Yi speak again.
“Don’t pretend you don’t understand me. Do you think I don’t know? You rely on Jing Lin every day just for the sake of his spiritual energy. You want to swallow him up to enhance your cultivation so you can evolve3 early.” A-Yi leaped up, turned his arms into wings, and soared through the clouds. “Do you think Jing Lin doesn’t know? Fool! I’ll see if he comes or not.”
The brocade carp leaped with all its might, but its escape path was completely blocked off by A-Yi’s clothes. It sensed itself getting farther and farther away from Jing Lin. All it could hear was the sound of the wind howling; A-Yi had actually flown for the entire night.
The brocade carp gradually calmed down in the cold wind. It buried itself in the water, blowing bubbles as it thought.
It’s always hard to wake Jing Lin up once he sleeps. It’s like he’s half-dead. Who knows when he would wake up? What if this time he sleeps until spring, won’t I be an utter goner by then?
It pondered to itself; it had to find a chance to escape.
◈ ◈ ◈
But although Jing Lin was still in a deep sleep, the little stone figure that was leaning against the snow shook its head and woke up. It rubbed its tiny black bean-like eyes and yawned as it started to run. In a moment of inattention while it was descending the stairs, it slipped and skidded down the steps towards the bottom of the mountain with a “bam, bam, bam” until it finally fell flat on its back. A carp kip-up4 got it back on its feet, and it adjusted its grass crown before pulling over a withered branch to use as a wooden crutch, limping as it chased after them in the direction where A-Yi had flown off.
- 五色鸟 – technically, the words would translate to a barbet bird. But here, it refers to a mythical creature in Chinese mythology. (A-Yi’s real identity will be revealed later in the chapters. For now, I’ll stick to the original text and label it a ‘five-colored bird’).
- 乾坤 Qiankun means Heaven and Earth, or a universe. Refers to an interspatial ‘universe’ in Jing Lin’s sleeve, which would be like a different world in there or an interspatial inventory Jing Lin could use as.
- When demons and ghosts cultivated enough to transform their appearance and shape. The most common form is usually the human form when they evolve.
鲤鱼打挺 carp kip-up, a martial arts move where one leaps from a supine position into a standing position.