The brocade carp was jolted awake. The cloth that had been covering the jar had already been removed. It swam swiftly to the wall of the jar, only to find an unfamiliar scenery in front of its eyes.
A-Yi was eating grapes as he cocked his chin and said haughtily, “There, look ahead. Do you know where this place is? Fool, I bet you don’t.” He smiled wickedly. “This is a pool on the coast of the Eastern Sea. It’s unfathomably deep, and an evil sea serpent lurks in its depths. It has not eaten for many years and is so hungry that it would eat anything, even humans. If I throw you in, you wouldn’t even be enough to fill the gap between its fangs.”
The brocade carp considered its figure and felt it was still possible for it to fill the gaps between the sea serpent’s fangs. But it was not born to fill gaps between fangs, so it did not want to become a filler even if it could. Thus, it looked at A-Yi expressionlessly, thinking if it were to become a human in the future, it would pluck out the feathers on this brat’s tail, hang his real form upside down, and make him wander around the world with his bare ass.
However, A-Yi could only see it staring blankly at himself, looking extraordinarily silly. He threw a grape at it and leaned forward to scrutinize it. “Although it is said that all the carps in the world look alike, I don’t believe that Jing Lin would simply just rear one at random. Are you from Heaven? If you are, then you must be a spy! At present, Lord Chengtian has drawn clear the boundaries between the Three Realms1 and established a strict hierarchy of ranks, boosting the Ninth Heaven until it almost exceeds Heaven. In passing, he even trampled over our land, Zhongdu, and set up a Demarcation Division to put Zhongdu under surveillance. Anyone who descends to the Mortal Realm at this point in time must be a mole. Are you or are you not?”
The brocade carp let out a snort. A-Yi smacked at it again.
“Why are you so dumb and silly? You’ve stayed by Jing Lin’s side for so long, and you can’t even speak. It’s obvious that you have no innate talents. You’re really a fool all right.”
You’re the one who’s the fool. All of your entire family are fools.
The brocade carp silently cursed him although it continued to put on a naïve and ignorant act as it cluelessly looked at A-Yi from the water. A-Yi found it boring. It would not fight back when hit or talk back when scolded; it was no fun at all. A-Yi sat cross-legged on the stone and waited and waited until he finally ran out of patience. He thought since it was already noon and Jing Lin had yet to come, he must not have cared. Thus, A-Yi jumped off the stone and raised a leg to push the jar to the edge of the pool.
“You hit me three times.” A-Yi touched his cheek. “I’ve never forgotten it. In the past, I only endured it on Jing Lin’s account, but it annoys me that you have seen him humiliating me. Now you have seen my sorry state, how can I allow you to continue living? Well, well, he doesn’t care, anyway. All I have to do is plead with Ah-jie later. He has to give me face even if he doesn’t want to.”
A-Yi gave the white porcelain jar a kick, and it toppled over towards the chilly pool. The brocade carp dropped into the water and sank.
A-Yi felt a little uneasy and muttered to himself with his hands clasped behind his back. “You can’t blame me for this. I gave Jing Lin time, but he was the one who didn’t come. Such is the fate of this fool.”
◈ ◈ ◈
The moment the brocade carp entered the water, it felt unusually cold. This pool was enclosed all around, and there was no way out. It tried to sink down a little more but was forced back up by the bottomless darkness. Having developed a little spirituality and intelligence, it could sniff out a massive creature looming underneath.
So much for this fucking fate.
The brocade carp remained motionless against the rock wall. It had not seen any vegetation where it had passed earlier. The pool was lifeless. But although the brocade carp remained fixed in position, it still had the impression that it was being watched. The area beneath it was all swallowed up by darkness, so it might not detect anything even if something swam up from the bottom. It had never been so unsettled ever since it had gained its own consciousness.
After about four hours, the spot the brocade carp was in dimmed. Its entire body of gold and red was covered up by the shadows, which put it a little more at ease. However, it could not stay here for long. The sea serpent’s aura was faintly oppressing the brocade carp, making it uneasy all over.
The brocade carp made a round trip along the rock wall. There were no other openings on all sides of the rock wall. It was evident that whoever had sealed away the sea serpent had put in effort in selecting the location. The brocade carp could not leave the water, so it could only wait for a chance to seek an escape route.
The brocade carp looked up at the stars reflected upon the water and grew colder. Only now did it realize the advantage of staying indoors. It was never this cold even though Jing Lin liked to open the window. Its stomach was empty, and it was unbearably hungry. Even waiting had become extremely difficult to bear.
It kept thinking Jing Lin was still not awake. But if Jing Lin woke up, would he really come for it? Jing Lin had never smiled at it, nor had he hugged it to bed. He had only got up occasionally during his naps to play with it. It felt that the small stone figure was probably worth more than itself in Jing Lin’s heart.
But it still wanted to remain by Jing Lin’s side.
Because it wanted to devour Jing Lin.
It always saw Jing Lin frowning and sweating in his sleep. It had also always seen Jing Lin sitting all alone on an empty veranda. It did not know if there was anyone else in this world who was as lonely as Jing Lin. However, it understood that Jing Lin had not recovered from his serious injuries, and he was only using sleep as a cover. As long as it could devour Jing Lin, it could skip those hundred years of painstaking cultivation. It had already developed its own consciousness; thus it was no longer satisfied with remaining in the water. Its desires continually grew as its spiritual energy increased. It wanted to go ashore. It wanted to lean over and gnawed apart that exquisite neck of Jing Lin one of these nights. Possess him. Proclaim itself king. Dominate him.
The brocade carp was so lost in thought it did not notice the silent approach of the shadow beneath it. When it turned around to swim, it was confronted with a pair of golden pupils the size of copper bells staring at it. Its body that was covered in azurite blue scales were only partially showing on the water surface like the tip of the iceberg. The water rippled as those scales glided by slowly, stretching endlessly into the darkness. Trying to guess how long this creature was based on its exposed length was no different from peeping at a leopard through a narrow tube2; it was hard to get the measure of it.
The winter night was still, and the surroundings, silent.
The brocade carp was tightly wound up with tension. Fear crushed down on it when it was confronted with this massive body coiling in the water, and yet the fear also aroused a sense of excitement in it. Amidst the tremors in the water, it was unexpectedly tempted by the sea serpent’s boundless expense of spiritual energy. Lumps of flesh were protruding from the sea serpent’s forehead. It was obviously going to evolve into a jiao. The brocade carp greedily and conceitedly thought:
If I devour it…
The sea serpent was so hungry that it abruptly widened its jaw. It did not even have the mood to tease its prey. The sea serpent had been subdued and suppressed in this place. Other than that bird which was here recently to create a disturbance, it had never seen any other living creature. So the moment it had seen the brocade carp with wisps of spiritual energy emanating from it, the only thought it had was to gulp that carp down into its stomach.
Realizing that it was in danger, the brocade carp turned and fled. Making use of its size, it swiftly swam between the sea serpent’s body. It was agile and nimble. There was a loud bang as something collided with the rock wall. The sea serpent was trapped in this pool with a magic seal pressing down on it from above to restrain it; thus its movements were severely limited. This was also the crucial period of its evolution into a jiao, and so it could not shrink its size as it pleased. It could only let its body violently steamrolled the wall as it slithered past. Cracks appeared at the bottom of the wall with a violent swing of its tail.
The brocade carp dodged the falling rocks and fled for its life. The sea serpent’s bulky body was taking up much of the surrounding space, which narrowed down the amount of space the brocade carp could hide. The water current shoved it towards a narrow gap, and the snake serpent curled its body up to trap the brocade carp in between. The instant the sea serpent opened its jaws, the brocade carp darted through the sharp edges of its fangs and dashed towards the surface of the water.
Some scales on the back of the brocade carp were scraped off by the sea serpent’s fangs, but it did not look back. It could only go all out and swim its way up. The water current beneath it stirred as the sea serpent catapulted itself forward and caught up with it in a blink of an eye.
The massive jaws spread wide open and sucked pool water in. Everything surged back wildly towards those jaws. The brocade carp swam against the flow with difficulty. The surface was close at hand, but it was swiftly being sucked back into the jaws.
I’m going to be eaten!
The brocade carp had already been sucked into the mouth when it saw the sea serpent shutting its jaws. With a burst of energy, it desperately strove towards the closing gap.
Ahead, a hand with pale joints suddenly plunged into the jaws of the sea serpent and brutally wrenched it open, revealing the brocade carp inside. The brocade carp crashed right into Jing Lin’s bosom, slipped down his loosened collar, and clung close to his skin, refusing to show its head again.
Jing Lin’s face was pale as he pointed a finger between the sea serpent’s eyes. The sea serpent was startled for a moment, then put on a fearful front as it let Jing Lin turned around. But the moment Jing Lin turned his back, it showed its true colors and pounced on him for a bite. Jing Lin’s spiritual energy was only skin-deep. It was just a pretense that could be used to intimidate ordinary spirits, but it was useless in the face of a sea serpent that was going to evolve into a jiao.
Jing Lin had expected this reaction, so he pushed a foot against the wall to spin himself around. The sea serpent flung its tail up to obstruct him, but Jing Lin dodged it and used the momentum of that tail fling to kick and propel himself out of the water. The sea serpent followed him partially out of the water, its thickset body savage and hideous as it chased and snapped its jaws after him. The seal on the pool glowed and suddenly bore down on the sea serpent, forcing it back into the water. Water splashed all around as Jing Lin came ashore and threw the brocade carp at the little stone figure waiting at the side.
The little stone figure looked up and ran. It caught the brocade carp and tumbled into the snow with it. The brocade carp waited for it to get up, but there was no movement for a long time so it looked askance at it. The small stone figure was covered in frost, and its movements were sluggish.
Jing Lin had not even tied up his hair and his drenched ivory-white clothes stuck to his body. He grabbed and wrapped a dark blue wide-sleeved robe over his upper body and loosely tied the sash around his waist. The water droplets on his white neck dripped slowly down his collarbone and merged with the color of his skin.
Jing Lin covered his mouth and coughed a few times. His body was thin and frail, and he looked even more feeble in the harsh and frozen landscape.
He murmured, “Go.”
He felt something off when he turned around so he looked back again. There was no brocade carp. Only a fair and plump little boy sitting in the snow!
The brocade fish lowered its head and turned pale with fright when it saw arms like lotus roots. Without thinking, it ran right at Jing Lin and threw itself into Jing Lin’s arms. It tightened its arms around Jing Lin’s neck and glued its face to Jing Lin’s cheek as it said with imprecise enunciation, “Ji…… Ji Li!”
Jing Lin had not been in contact with anyone for hundreds of years, and he instantly retreated. For a moment, he was at a loss. The brocade carp latched on to Jing Li’s neck, its tears pouring down in torrents as it looked at Jing Lin miserably and helplessly. Jing Lin felt a throb in his temples and the headache he had not had for a long time returned.
The brocade carp took advantage of this opportunity to innocently cling on to Jing Lin again. Jing Lin’s neck was cold, and so the brocade carp was reluctant to release its hold on Jing Lin.
It was actually so frightened by this encounter that it had evolved and changed its form!3
Its — His psyche had yet to fully develop; therefore, he had only learned to more or less imitate an innocent expression. He leaned on Jing Lin like a warm mass melting against Jing Lin’s chest, and that sensation pierced through Jing Lin as if this had been a thing a lifetime ago.
Jing Lin tilted his head and frowned. The brocade carp blinked and tried to figure out his expression. He said softly, “Ji Li… Fat… Home.”4
He could not articulate clearly, and it was tough for him to speak. He was obviously clumsily imitating “humans”. Jing Lin could allow a fish to be with him, but he could not allow a human to be with him. This was because his emotions and worldly desires had been wholly cut off hundreds of years ago. To this day, he had not loved anyone and did not desire to learn how to love someone. “Human” relationships had once tormented him greatly, and he had paid a heavy price for it. If there was an emotion he had ever understood, then that emotion might be “hate”.
For “hate”, he had not hesitated to take up a blade and start a bloodbath.
Therefore, he could not help but shudder with fear in the face of this vivacious and warm child’s dependency on him.
Credits: Many thanks to saed (@saedee_) for the correction! ♥
- 三界 Three Realms refer to the Heavenly Realm, Mortal Realm and the Netherworld. For more details on the realms, please refer to Realms Glossary.
- 管中窥豹 looking at a leopard through a narrow tube; have a limited view of something.
- 化形 to evolve or change form. E.g., when demons and ghosts cultivated enough to transform their appearance and shape. The most common form is usually the human form when they evolve.
- Supposedly, he was trying to say “Jing Lin, let’s go home.”