The brocade carp was stupefied. He tilted his head, wondering if he had misheard. But with a wave of his sleeves, Jing Lin had already begun to ascend the stairs. The mountain fog was an eyesore at this moment, obstructing the brocade carp’s view and causing Jing Lin’s back to nearly vanish from his sight.
The brocade carp returned to his senses and chased after Jing Lin. Hugging Jing Lin’s calf, he cried out, “Jing Lin!”
Jing Lin stopped moving and looked askance at him.
The brocade carp looked up. It was so cold that his body tensed. He said with urgency, “Jing Lin, don’t cast me away!”
“You originally weren’t mine.” Jing Lin flicked his sleeves and moved up the stairs.
“Jing Lin!” The brocade carp grasped the hem of his clothes and sobbed. “Jing Lin… the wild beasts in the mountains want to catch and eat me. I don’t want to be separated from you.”
Jing Lin remained silent.
The brocade carp refused to let go. Tears poured down his face as he looked up. Jing Lin’s entire image was reflected in his eyes. It was as if he always had Jing Lin in his heart, depending totally on him. Jing Lin stared back at him with unfeeling eyes.
“I want to be with you!” The brocade carp choked on his sobs and said emphatically, “You were the one I saw when I opened my eyes. I don’t want to go anywhere else.”
“You know who I am.” Jing Lin replied. “And you still dare to say that?”
“You are Jing Lin!” The brocade carp was dragged along the ground even as he remained in a kneeling position. He held on to the edge of Jing Lin’s garment as if this piece of cloth was his lifeline. His vocabulary was limited, so he could only repeat dejectedly, “You are Jing Lin… Jing Lin…” He sobbed, “Don’t throw me away.”
This time, the brocade carp’s tears were real. To him, this was like the dawn of civilization. Looking at the world was like looking at flowers through the fog. He knew nothing about human emotions, and his general knowledge of the world was undeveloped.
His only thought was to eat, but even if he wanted to eat Jing Lin, he had never wanted to leave Jing Lin. Wasn’t eating Jing Lin a kind of eternal companionship? This was what he had always thought, and he had never felt that there was anything wrong with this thinking. Many of his memories when he was a fish had long been forgotten. He only remembered Jing Lin, since he was always with Jing Lin. He had never been so sure that if he were to leave Jing Lin this very moment, he would perish, buried all alone in the boundless snow.
He could not let go of Jing Lin. At least, he could not let go of Jing Lin until he had devoured Jing Lin. This was the prey he had been coveting, the meal he had been yearning. His tightly clenched teeth revealed his resolution to persevere. So when Jing Lin pulled his sleeve away, the brocade carp suddenly threw himself on the steps. His forehead knocked heavily against the edge of the stairs, and he toppled over onto the ground. Then he felt warm, dark red blood flowing down his brows, stinging his left eye until it ached.
The brocade carp sprawled on the ground and sobbed silently. He managed with some difficulty to cover his left eye and looked up at Jing Lin. It was as if he had cast everything else aside, wanting nothing except for Jing Lin’s embrace. The redness of the young child’s frozen fingers could not conceal the blood. He trembled as he timidly called out, “Jing Lin…”
Jing Lin’s expression was cold as frost.
Isolated and helpless, the brocade carp crawled on his stomach. He ignored the blood as his hand clutched at the snow. His hand was so red it made one’s heart ached. He had sobbed until his breathing was uneven, but all he could see was the diminishing back view of Jing Lin as it receded in the distance. Each of his cries was heart-wrenching, and his childish voice had grown hoarse from all the crying.
“You can’t… Jing Lin!” The brocade carp feebly trembled all over. “I beg you… Don’t… Don’t throw me away.”
It was as if he could not maintain his balance on the stairs and tumbled back down. He laid in the snow, his vision blurred, as resentful sobs escaped through his clenched teeth. The blood stuck between his fingers as he clutched at the freezing snow and turned over to stand up. He stood where he was, wiping his eyes and smearing his hands with blood and tears. He could do nothing except to stand and look at Jing Lin’s departing back as he wailed like a mere mortal child.
The crying toppled the snow on the branches of the cedar trees by the side of the steps, and the powdered snow mingled with the dense fog to conceal Jing Lin’s silhouette completely from view. Only the sound of crying echoed in the mountains until the spirits and beasts stuck their heads out in curiosity. The brocade carp was tired of crying. Jing Lin was gone.
A wild boar emerged from a cluster of snow and sniffed its way towards the brocade carp. The wild boar was huge and it looked as if a mountain was moving around as it moved. It obviously had cultivated some spiritual energy for itself. Circling around the brocade carp, it asked in a low, muffled voice. “You want to follow him? You have no idea who he is.”
The brocade carp stopped crying. With red and swollen eyes, he retorted, “It’s none of your business.”
The wild boar snorted and pushed the brocade carp down with its snout. “This mountain belongs to me. Why must you pester him? He’s the most unfeeling. All the immortals are the same. Don’t stay with him. Isn’t it better for you to remain on this mountain with the other demons? You were originally a fish, anyway.”
“What do you care?” The brocade carp ran a few steps ahead and climbed the steps with difficulty. He thought for a moment, then threw away the cloak that had been wrapped around him that morning, even tearing apart his outer coat until it was all a mess. He shivered uncontrollably in the freezing wind, inhaled deeply, then followed after Jing Lin’s footsteps.
“Why did he strip?” A goshawk stuck its head out and uncertainly asked the wild boar beneath it. “Isn’t he afraid of the cold?”
“When you become human, you become eccentric too.” The wild boar tugged at the cloak with its mouth. “It’s bizarre.”
As the spirits and wild beasts around chimed in, the brocade carp had already climbed his way into the mountain. He could not walk fast. It had begun to snow, and his legs trudged slowly in the snow, feeling as if his toes had become stones.
Ice was hanging off the cedar trees, and the creek flowed briskly. The more the snow fell, the thicker the fog became.
The brocade carp could not walk that far. He thought, How could Jing Lin be so cruel? He was like a man without a heart. He also thought of leaving for good so that Jing Lin would regret his decision. But no matter what he thought, he never walked away. Soon, he did not even dare to breathe through his mouth, because the wind was so strong and the cold was so cutting that even his mouth and tongue felt like they would freeze. He could also no longer express his emotions as freely as before; a depressed expression had been frozen on his face by the wind and freezing cold, like a carved mask. His limbs were so stiff that he could not even bend his fingers.
After a period of time, there was a sudden, gentle puff of wind in the brocade carp’s ear. The brocade carp slowly turned his eyes and saw a face floating in the snow. The silver hair of the other party fluttered in the wind, with the ends of his hair gradually turning into snow.
“Where are you heading to?” The other party offered patiently. “You can’t enter Zhenchan Garden like this. Jing Lin had hidden the garden in a subtle corner between Heaven and Earth.” He whispered softly in the brocade carp’s ear. “You will never, never find it.”
“It’s none of your business.” The brocade carp could sense an evil aura. His eyelashes and hair were all covered with frost and snow, revealing his feral nature.
Xue Mei1 let out a mocking chuckle in the snowstorm. His limbs were virtually transparent; his cultivation was inadequate, and so he could not maintain a human appearance. He lay comfortably in the wind as he followed the brocade carp around.
“You have been abandoned by Jing Lin at the foot of the mountain. Are you aware that he had abandoned many fishes before?” Xue Mei whispered. “Do you know who he is? I know all about him. I’ll tell you.”
Unexpectedly, the brocade carp ignored the last part of his words as he swiftly raised his head. “Did he have that many fishes before? That’s not right. You lied to me. I’m clearly the only one he has!”
Xue Mei laughed and spun around in a circle. “You don’t believe it? Do you truly think you’re the only one? You see, he looks cold and distant, terminally ill and bedridden. There is no one else in that garden but himself. Wouldn’t he feel lonely? He would surely be afraid of being alone.”
“…… I don’t believe you.” The brocade carp’s footsteps slowed down. He shook his head vigorously. “I’m the only one Jing Lin has.”
“If you are the only one he has, why would he forsake you?” Xue Mei said sorrowfully. “He discarded you, and never even looked back once. How can he be so heartless? Does he not have a heart? You were companions in the past. Even if you were a fish, does he not even miss you a little? Yet the more fickle and ungrateful he is…” Xue Mei’s tone changed, and he started to laugh devilishly. “The more you want to swallow him, tear him apart, devour him, and stuff him all into your stomach. You little demon, greedy and cunning.”
Xue Mei was right on the money, and the brocade carp flew into a rage out of shame. “It has nothing to do with you!”
Xue Mei drifted over to the other side of the brocade carp. “What are you afraid of? You must have not dared to let Jing Lin know, because you are afraid he would think that you are just a common demon, and being insatiably avaricious is in your nature.” He chuckled and whispered, “You shouldn’t be afraid. You have no idea how much more ruthless and heartless he is than any other demons in this world. A long time ago, he killed his own sovereign father. He also killed many other people and started a bloodbath in the Ninth Heaven. Have you ever seen a Heaven and Earth awash in red, with burning crimson clouds? That was the sight of the Ninth Heaven Realm when Jing Lin slaughtered those people. He also butchered hundreds of thousands of demons. His sword contains both the bones of demons and the blood of immortals. He is a bloodthirsty immortal whom everyone spurns, hates, and fears…”
But the brocade carp rubbed his frozen cheeks with no traces of surprise or fear. He said impatiently, “You’re making so much noise that I can’t tell the direction. Don’t remain here, go elsewhere.”
Xue Mei floated around the brocade carp. “Aren’t you afraid of him?” Understanding dawned on him right after his question. He continued, “You must have been deceived by his skin. This skin of his is deadlier than any other guise in the world.”
“You think he is good-looking too, huh?” The brocade carp said.
Xue Mei said grudgingly, “… I want to peel his skin off and put it over my face.” He said as he stroked his face with the wind. “If I had his skin, there will be no place I can’t go in the Three Realms.” He abruptly turned sinister. “How hateful of him to imprison me here, leaving me stuck here for hundreds of years, unable to leave this place! He’s afraid that I would spread the word that he’s still alive. He’s afraid that… Well, he’s no big deal either! Little demon, if you really want to eat him, I’ll lend you a hand.”
As expected, he saw the brocade carp’s eyes lit up, even as he carefully suppressed it and pretended not to give a damn.
Xue Mei gloated, “You have to agree even if you don’t want to. I have already disclosed Jing Lin’s past to you. Since you have heard it, then you are bound to me. If you want to live, you must do as I say.”
The color drained from the brocade carp’s face as he said, “You’re so devious!”
Xue Mei continued. “You will not suffer if you obey me. And you can even get Jing Lin’s spiritual energy for free. Don’t you want it? As long as you eat him, there is no way he can ever discard you.”
The brocade carp hesitated for a moment and said, “Is what you say true? I don’t want to be bound to you.”
“Unless I die, no one can extricate you from this bond. You have to do whatever I tell you to. Although I can’t kill you, I can freeze you in the snow until you’re half-dead, never to walk out from it.” Xue Mei coldly scrutinized the brocade carp. When he saw that the brocade carp was slightly scared, he laughed. “Be good, and I will show you the way back.”
Zhenchan Garden had been blanketed by the dense snow fog. The brocade carp saw the familiar garden from a distance away. The wound on his forehead had been so frozen by the cold that it had stopped hurting.
Xue Mei crouched on the brocade carp’s back and whispered, “You must hide the grass I gave you. The pain it causes would be so unbearable that even an immortal would be immobilized if he swallowed it. You don’t know how fearsome Jing Lin is. Even if he can’t move, we still cannot let our guards down. Once he has swallowed it, I’ll teach you what to do.”
The brocade carp looked ahead and exhaled. He suddenly asked, “Does it works on demons too?”
Xue Mei rolled his eyes, and the wind tightened its grip around the brocade carp’s neck. He said, “Don’t try anything funny. That grass doesn’t work on me. If it can harm me, do you think I would give it to you?”
The brocade carp’s neck turned red from the freezing cold. He snorted coldly and trotted a few steps ahead to ascend the last step.
The small stone figure was sitting under the eaves shaking its legs and ringing the copper bell when its gaze fell upon the brocade carp who was standing at the entrance looking all battered and exhausted. Stunned, it jumped up and ran over to him, circling around him as if it was looking at some rare object.
The brocade carp kicked it and sent it staggering. He said resentfully, “Don’t you recognize me? You and your master have hearts of stone!”
The little stone figure rolled over and sat in the snow as it dug out a snowball and threw it at the brocade carp. The brocade carp did not dodge or evade it. His eyes were red and swollen, and he looked miserable.
The brocade carp said to Xue Mei, “Are you going in with me? Jing Lin must be sleeping at this time.”
Xue Mei was sizing up the small stone figure as if he could not figure it out. When he heard the brocade carp, he urged him on. “This is a rare opportunity! Take me in quickly!”
The little stone figure tossed the snowball up and down as it watched the brocade carp walk past him. However, it did not block the brocade carp’s way or pick itself up from the ground. Xue Mei had found the little stone figure unusual when he approached the garden. From the looks of it, the little stone figure did not seem to be a gatekeeper either. Then, it dawned on him and he cried out in alarm. “It’s—”
The brocade carp tripped against the threshold and fell headlong onto the ground. The wooden planks in the inner chamber seemed to be affixed with a layer of a spiritual barrier. There was a sizzling sound when Xue Mei neared it. Xue Mei harshly ordered, “Fool! Carry me up quickly!”
Who would have expected the brocade carp to trip over a small table again and fall on Xue Mei’s semi-solid body? Xue Mei realized something was wrong when he saw the brocade carp struggling to raise his hands to pin him down on the floor. The ground was so scalding hot that Xue Mei wanted to scream, but a clump of grass was forcefully stuffed into his mouth.
Xue Mei could not spit or vomit it out and could only swallow it. His mouth was covered, and he was burning up so much he was about to melt. The pain in his stomach was unbearable. Before he boiled, he heard the brocade carp whispering in his ear:
The brocade carp retreated in panic and frantically climbed up the couch. He threw himself into Jing Lin’s arms, choking with sobs as his entire body trembled. “Jing Lin, Jing Lin, I’m scared!”
The insides of Xue Mei were churning violently. He crashed into the threshold, having almost evaporated. His expression was savage as he howled dismally, “You—”
You deceitful demon!
Jing Lin had just woken up. He raised his eyebrows as he saw the brocade carp shivering as he nestled against Jing Lin.
His clothes were mostly gone, and he was only wearing a small robe and an inner coat. It was clear that it had not been easy for the brocade carp to follow him all the way back here. The abrasion on his forehead had been frozen, and he had yet to wipe away the blood on his face. Jing Lin’s image was still reflected in those pair of clear, innocent eyes. On seeing that Jing Lin had woken up, the brocade carp drew his hands back in fear and aggrievement.
“Jing Lin…” His eyes danced with tears. “Jing Lin.”
There was a “plop” as the little stone figure squashed the snowball in its hands, dumbfounded by the scene unfolding before it.
- 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.