The shrill cry of the snow incarnate made it difficult for Jing Lin to compose himself. He waved his hand, and Xue Mei1 was flung out into the snow. The coldness of the snow unexpectedly eased some of his pain. He was terrified of Jing Lin and did not dare to linger, so he endured the pain, transformed into powdery snow and beat a hasty retreat.
The brocade carp was still covering his face, wailing. Jing Lin felt a splitting headache coming on. He could not even raise his hand to lift the brocade carp away. He could only partially close his eyes and said:
“Why are you so heavy?”
The brocade carp looked up and saw Jing Lin’s pale face and the exhaustion between his brows. He looked even more sickly than last night. He did not know exactly where and how Jing Lin was injured, nor did he know why Jing Lin had turned so frail all of a sudden. His heart ached a little, and he raised his hand to hold Jing Lin’s cheeks.
“Jing Lin.” The brocade carp sobbed and murmured, “Don’t die.”
He was only a child at present. As he cupped Jing Lin’s face, the sadness welled up in him, and he began to sob again. But he was an adorable child, and the sight of him crying as large tears rolled off his cheeks was a sad sight for anyone to behold.
“I am but a dead man.” Jing Lin replied, his eyelids heavy.
“How can you be dead!” The brocade carp’s head knocked against Jing Lin’s chin, almost drowning him with his tears.
Jing Lin felt his collar getting soaked through as the tears slid across his neck and seeped into the pillow. He suddenly felt a little “alive”, as if these little scalding tears had stirred up ripples in a world that had been dead for a long time. It had been a very long time since he had been this close or had spoken this casually to anyone.
“Why do you have so much tears?” Jing Lin’s voice dropped gradually. “… Leave this place and explore the vast lands beyond. Like fledglings leaving the cage, you will come to understand that remaining here is no different from being a walking corpse. You don’t know the world, so this lease of life will be your awakening. It’s by a twist of fate that you could evolve. Your destiny isn’t here.”
“Can’t I just stay with you?” The brocade carp asked.
Looking at how naïve the brocade carp was, Jing Lin endured his fatigue and repeated the words he had said that morning in a slightly mocking tone. “You know who I am, and you still dare to say that?”
“Then, who am I?” The brocade carp looked up. “I don’t even have a name.”
Jing Lin looked like he was asleep. After a while, he said, “Let’s just call you Cang Ji.”
The brocade carp wanted to continue chatting with him, but Jing Lin’s breathing grew heavier as he fell asleep for real. Once Jing Lin was sleeping, it would be impossible to wake him up. If not for his chest that was still heaving, one would almost believe that he was truly dead.
The little stone figure suddenly stretched its arms and waist. It leaped up with vigor, entered the inner chamber, and climbed up the couch to look at the brocade carp. The expression on the brocade carp’s face changed. He dragged the small stone figure off the couch and pushed it aside.
“What you saw and heard just now doesn’t count for anything. I don’t know that demon, and I don’t know what he is here for. Don’t feed Jing Lin any nonsense.” He caught hold of the little stone figure to prevent it from running off, then said harshly, “If you dare to tell on me, I’ll throw you into the pond.”
The little stone figure nodded quickly. It was pinned to the edge of the small table, and its toes could barely reach the ground.
Satisfied, the brocade carp released his hand and said, “From now on, stop calling me ‘fish’. My name is Cang Ji.”
The little stone figure originally had no mouth. It just went along and nodded its head vigorously. Cang Ji felt good to be obeyed. He pulled up his sleeves and said, “I want to wash my hands and face.”
The little stone figure poured water for him. Cang Ji wiped the filth away with a handkerchief. The wound on his forehead felt cool and did not hurt. He looked at his reflection in the basin for a moment, then asked the little stone figure. “He really didn’t look back? I fell so hard. Did I not fall painfully enough?”
The little stone figure kicked him, and Cang Ji hissed and hopped on his leg.
“You didn’t look back either. You are exactly the same as Jing Lin!”
The little stone figure thought it was fun to see him hopping around in pain. Thus, it went around to the other side and kicked him again. Cang Ji wrapped his arms around its leg and tossed it down to the ground with all his strength before he saddled it. Tugging at the grass crown on the small stone figure’s head, Cang Ji said, “How dare you kick me? Now that I’ve become human, I’m much stronger than you. So I’m now your big brother.”
The little stone figure raised its head and thumped him so hard that Cang Ji felt dizzy. Venting his anger, Cang Ji messed up its grass crown. Both of them tumbled around on the ground wrestling each other, even knocking over the table. Finally, Cang Ji rolled over on his back, panting.
“I’m hungry. Jing Lin can’t be eaten in his present state. I have to find something else. “Cang Ji kicked the small stone figure and climbed to his feet. “Come with me to the mountains.”
On the other side, A-Yi was unable to turn back into his human form and could only remain as a five-colored bird as he searched for food in the mountains. He was accustomed to luxuries and had no interest in eating insects. Thus, he forcefully took over nests among pine trees and even tyrannically appropriated food others had stocked up for hibernation, driving them away.
A-Yi despised the other birds. He thought they were dull-looking and dumb. When he had slept enough, he would even kick the baby chicks in the nest that were crying out in hunger before he flew off the branch to look for water.
Cang Ji was bundled up again in fur clothes as he followed the little stone figure to pick mushrooms. And because Cang Ji wanted to eat meat, they went through the forest and dug through the snow to search for small animals.
Cang Ji pulled the shrubs apart and poked his head out to look around. From a distance, he saw a bright, colorful bird drinking water by the stream with its tail sticking out. Cang Ji felt that this bird looked very familiar to him.
“Isn’t that A-Yi?” Cang Ji pressed down on the small stone figure until it was buried in the snow. It struggled desperately. Cang Ji motioned for it to keep quiet and continued to stare at A-Yi for a moment. He saw the bird combing its wings from time to time, looking all arrogant and condescending.
“It must be him.” Cang Ji bared his teeth and said to the little stone figure, “You wait. I’ll hold him down. Come out when I call you.”
Then he removed his fur clothes, folded it, and placed it aside before he crawled over.
A-Yi was fondly admiring himself near the water. He felt that his color was so gorgeous and unique that not even a phoenix could match it. The more he looked at himself, the more absorbed he became. He was unaware of who was crawling towards him from behind. Unable to control himself, A-Yi hung his head closer to the water to take a clearer look at himself.
Before he had finished praising himself, someone kicked him in the ass. A-Yi was caught off guard and fell into the water. The stream was not deep, but it was cold. It also wet his wings, causing him to flail about wildly in the stream.
“Ignorant fool! How dare…”
Water splashed around as A-Yi was grabbed by the foot. Cang Ji’s strength was much greater than that of a bird, and he dragged A-Yi onto the snow. A-Yi flapped his wings and tried to escape, but Cang Ji sat on him to pin him down.
“What are you doing? You fool! What the hell are you doing?!“ A-Yi fumed in anger.
Once Cang Ji was settled down, he told the little stone figure to come out and shove A-Yi’s bird head into the snow. The little stone figure was more than happy to comply. Once it was done, it even rode on A-Yi’s long neck. A-Yi could not break free and could only cuss, “How dare you?! I’ll kill you!”
Cang Ji was facing A-Yi’s tail as he counted the feathers on his tail. He tugged at one and snorted heavily. “What did you say? Speak louder.”
“How dare you pluck my feather?! I’ll kill you!” A-Yi lashed out at him.
“Easy.” Cang Ji’s heart stirred. “If you don’t want me to pluck them, then you must tell me your sister’s history with Jing Lin.”
“Bah! Are you even worthy of asking about my Ah Jie?!“ A-Yi spat back. “Don’t even think about it!”
Cang Ji pulled out a feather and waved it in his hand. It was so bright it hurt his eyes. A-Yi cried out in pain, not expecting him to really have the guts to pluck it out.
“Just you wait!” A-Yi said ferociously. “I’ll scrape off all your scales and make you…”
Cang Ji pulled off another one. “Are you telling me or not?”
A-Yi choked in anger. But he braced himself and pushed on, “I won’t tell you! If you kill me, my Ah Jie will not let you off…”
“You are so strange. You’ve already evolved and amassed spiritual energy, but you still cry for your sister all day long. You cry until you are all a mess. You don’t look like a male bird at all.” Cang Ji perplexedly yanked out the feather on A-Yi’s tail. “Are you actually female?”
A-Yi was red-eyed with rage.
Cang Ji thought for a moment and said, “I’m not curious about your Ah Jie. You just need to tell me about Jing Lin.”
“I don’t know!” A-Yi rebuffed him.
“How was the taste of being in the water just now?” Cang Ji hardened his voice, “If you don’t tell me, I’ll pluck out all your feathers and let you soak in it for a few days. We’ll see how you can face your Ah Jie. Without this body of feathers, you will be nothing but a bald chicken. Do you think your Ah Jie will still recognize you?”
He spoke harshly, but he also meant what he said. He knew nothing about human relations; he only understood that he should do whatever he wanted to do. Even if you told him that the Jade Emperor did not allow such acts, he would challenge back with, Who is this Emperor? Who is he to Cang Ji? Who does he think he is? Whatever Cang Ji wanted to do, nobody could stop him!
A-Yi was dragged to the edge of the water. He was trapped in the snow. Gritting his teeth in fear, he said, “I’ll tell you! Stop it! I’m just afraid you don’t dare to hear me out even if I dared to say it!”
“Cut the crap.” Cang Ji kicked him and said impatiently.
“You promise me first. If I tell you, you will let me go and scram!” A-Yi struggled with his wings.
“I promise you.” Cang Ji sat on A-Yi’s back with his back facing him. He propped his cheeks in his hands and said, “I always keep my word.”
A-Yi calmed himself down before he continued, “My Ah Jie treated him differently – with respect and fear. She didn’t tell me anything except to call him ‘Jiu Ge’. But I knew there must be a reason, so I made a special trip to the central section where the Registry for the Doctrine of Gods was displayed to check it out. In Heaven and Earth, there was only one person who dared to call himself Jing Lin. Who do you think he was? He was Lord Linsong, the man who killed the sovereign five hundred years ago!”
He deliberately paused for a moment after finishing, obviously pleased with himself. He wanted Cang Ji to admit that he was “scared”. It did not matter if he was not familiar with the name “Jing Lin”, but “Lord Linsong” was well known. Five hundred years ago, the turmoil he stirred up had caused instability in the Three Realms for countless years. The Three Thousand Armored Warriors of Heaven were nearly wiped out. Lord Shage of Ninth Heaven, Li Rong, sank into a deep sleep because of this incident. If Lord Chengtian had not sought help from the True Buddha of the Brahma Altar, no one would not have been able to take down Lord Linsong.
It was a pity Cang Ji was not acquainted with all the well-known characters in Heaven and on Earth, and so he was not afraid at all. He simply kicked A-Yi again to prompt him to continue.
A-Yi fumed, “I’ve already told you! Why kick me again?!”
“That’s all?” Cang Ji frowned. “That’s all you know?”
“This was enough to make the gods of Zhongdu lose their heads. You are so stupid! Jing Lin killed his sovereign father. Among all the gods of Ninth Heaven, who can condone him? He clearly died, and yet he’s still alive. Humph, he can’t hide the truth from me. My guess is that he achieved the Great Accomplishment Stage that day. Do you know what that is? Jing Lin was previously ranked as a Lord, but there were only six in the universe who could be addressed as ‘Lord’. No more than six. He killed Lord Jiutian, the sovereign who established the Ninth Heaven Realm. Lord Jiutian was both his father and his king! Since then, six lords were reduced to four lords. Now, the only one who can be considered to have achieved the Great Accomplishment Stage is Lord Shage, Li Rong. If Jing Lin had reached that stage too, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he didn’t die.”
“Why?” Cang Ji asked.
“Because those who have cultivated until the Great Accomplishment Stage can never die or be destroyed. They will live as long as Heaven lives.” A-Yi’s voice deepened as he spoke. “… but I think he is faking it because he is not even the least powerful! There is so much hype about him outside but look at him. His expanse of spiritual energy is empty, and he looks like he has reached his limits. After hanging on for so long, he is still an invalid. He is weak and cowardly, not even daring to descend the mountains after so many years! What’s the point of living like this? He might as well die.”
He had yet to finish talking when his head was smacked a few times, the force of it nearly sending him into the snow. The little stone figure stepped on his head, then continued to stomp on him several times as if it was venting its hatred.
A-Yi was furious, but he dared not speak. He could only continue, “My Ah Jie was originally a five-colored bird under Lord Linsong, so it’s not strange for her to know him! I’m done talking. Now scram!”
Unexpectedly, Cang Ji looked back and said sinisterly, “Scram? You think it’s so easy? You’re unrepentant and almost fed me to a snake. If I let you off this easily, wouldn’t I be on the losing end?”
A-Yi spat out hatefully. “You deceived me?! Don’t you dare touch me! You! You… Ah Jie! Jing Lin! Save me—”
Credits: Many thanks to saed (@saedee_) for the correction and to Cheshire (@ivory_and_horn) for pointing out the inconsistency in the naming of stages!
- 雪魅 (pinyin: xuě mèi). A snow incarnate or a snow demon. I’ll be using “Xue Mei” from now on because it’s easier to type than “the snow incarnate” ._. I’ll continue to use “snow incarnate” if referring to snow demons in general, while “Xue Mei” will be used to refer to this particular snow incarnate.