Editor: Lan, Tina
“What do you see?”
“Blood and carnage.”
“Why have you come?”
“Jinglin,” the True Buddha lowered his gaze in compassion, “turn back, and salvation is at hand.”
With cold, detached eyes, Jinglin looked up at the staircase before him, long hair cascading loosely over his body. Crimson soaked the ends of his clothes, and the tip of his sword dragged through the boundless sanguine sea that surrounded him, while countless deities loomed overhead.
“It’s too late,” Jinglin murmured. As he set foot upon the stairs, the Celestial Warriors retreated in unison, falling back a step for each one he took.
Everyone remained silent, filled with trepidation in his presence. He was clearly an individual, yet his fellow deities behaved as though they stood against a formidable foe. He sauntered on as if this were an everyday occurrence, as if he were the same old Lord Linsong they knew.
Spear in hand, Lirong, the commander of the Celestial Warriors, knelt facing the Buddha’s lotus pond that had turned murky from the dripping blood.
“Jinglin,” he cried out hoarsely, eyes bloodshot, “why must you go this far? Once this deed is done, there will be no place for you in this world. How much hatred and resentment do you harbour?! Even if he was at fault, he should be handed over to the Court of Immortality for punishment. Why won’t you speak? Why won’t you ever say anything? You’re always so hell-bent on going your own way until you end up isolated and forsaken by kith and kin alike. Jinglin!”
Trembling, Lirong coughed up blood as he choked on his words. “Don’t you want to live anymore?”
Jinglin had already reached the last step. All that was warm and tender had been extracted from him, leaving only a penetrating chill behind.
The Buddha faced Jinglin with a flower in his hand as an assembly of monks behind him chanted sutras in unison. There were so many deities present so as to blot out the sun, but none stood with Jinglin.
The blade of his sword hit the ground. He finally halted in his tracks.
A large golden coffin without a lid rested horizontally before the Buddha, inside which lay a man sealed under threefold chains formed with Brahmic script, eyes closed and expression serene as if in deep repose.
“You’ve committed a grave sin, yet you persist in your stubbornness.” The compassionate Buddha gazed at Jinglin. “The Supreme Father is before you, but still, you are unwilling to lay down your blade. Will you desist only once you’ve gone as far as slain your father and friends, destroying the virtuous merits you’ve accumulated throughout your life?”
Jinglin seemed deaf to his words, however. Reversing his grip on Weeping Spring, he swept the sword across in a horizontal arc. A glow of azure bloomed forth, and the chanting came to an abrupt halt. Immediately, a violent gale roared forth from the azure arc. For a moment, the masses shielded their faces as their bodies faltered in the wind. Only the Buddha stood firm.
“Jinglin, bow and submit to the Enlightened Ones. Repent, and you will be absolved of your sins,” the merciful Buddha urged.
Lotus flowers bloomed all around him as the Buddha’s light illuminated every corner, and the chanting of sutras resumed. The Celestial Warriors bellowed in unison and charged forward. Far in the distance, the bell on the Terrace of Immortality tolled, and Shengyue the Divine Lady appeared to be weeping.
Still, Jinglin did not back down. He lunged forward, and a slash of azure merged into the expanse of clanging silver armour. Dark red blood splattered everywhere, painting the clouds crimson as Weeping Spring flashed past like flowing mercury.
Unsettled by the stench of blood, some deities retreated, covering their noses and mouths. They gazed at Jinglin in shock and fear, perplexed as to how Lord Linsong, with whom they had seldom associated, would have turned into a god of carnage out of nowhere.
Blood trickled down the steps wherever Jinglin passed. He could not hear the words of dissuasion from the bystanders. The only thing occupying his thoughts was the golden coffin.
The Buddha sighed, but to Jinglin, it sounded so very far away. When he walked past Lirong, the latter raised his arm to stop him, but the commander’s fingertips only brushed the skirt of Jinglin’s robes. At that very moment, the golden glow of the coffin and the crimson clouds intersected, marking the rupture of the two deities’ bond.
“Jinglin!” Grief welled up in Lirong’s heart. Scrambling up, he reached out to give chase, but his wounded body was weighed down by heavy armour. He could only watch as Jinglin left him behind, disappearing into the golden light.
The Buddha lowered a finger as the azure light from Weeping Spring burst forth.
As violent winds rampaged, the sword pierced through the chains to decapitate the man in the coffin. The next moment, a boundless sea of blood billowed forth. Together, the four lords of the Court cast a seal, and the realm shook so violently that the horizon rippled.
Starlight gathered, and Brahmic letters spun around as the golden light formed a hurricane. The chanting of the monks quickened, encircling Jinglin. Having fulfilled his wish, he threw the severed head down the stairs and slowly turned to look back.
Lirong’s face was awash with tears. Finally, he received Jinglin’s reply.
Don’t you want to live anymore?
Now that it has come to this, what need is there for me to live?
In a flash, Lirong saw Jinglin outflanked and annihilated along with the azure glow. Lord Linsong was no more. His past scattered to the winds, eventually fading away into nothingness…
A gold and red carp lounged inside a porcelain jar, appearing extremely bored, unwilling to even move.
When a few flakes of snow drifted in through the window of the bedchamber, however, it swished around in a circle before touching a snowflake with its mouth. The cool sensation took it by surprise, and it sank into the water, shaking its head in confoundment. It played on its own for a while, but it still felt lonesome, so it floated up again to gaze at the individual who was sleeping fully clothed on the wooden bed.
The fish had never seen another being besides Jinglin, so it did not know of the beauty standards of this world. Nevertheless, it often watched Jinglin in fascination, the fun of the day condensed into one moment. Its eyes were wanton as they examined his face, glimpsing the romantic charm that coloured his features. Yet, when Jinglin was awake, his face would take on a completely contrasting degree of frostiness, giving off a sense of alienation not unlike fragrant blossoms cased in ice. Fortunately, Jinglin seemed to be injured and spent most of his days asleep.
The carp observed him until he noticed that the snowfall was growing heavier. More snow was coming in through the window, but the sleeping beauty was still oblivious as a snowflake landed and gradually melted on his forehead.
The carp felt crossed as it watched this unfold. It had accompanied Jinglin for so many months but had never gotten close to him, yet today, it had been beaten by an audacious snowflake.
On what grounds?!
The carp swatted at the porcelain loudly, stirring up the water, and leapt above the surface, splashing water out of the jar.
The din caused Jinglin to open his eyes, brows slightly knit. After a moment, he turned towards the porcelain jar, just in time to see the fish flop back in, sending another splash of water out and leaving more puddles on the table.
It thought Jinglin should get up and pacify it now, but the latter merely looked askance and pointed a finger at it before closing his eyes again to sleep. That one move fixed the fish in place, denying it even a flick of its tail and leaving it floating stiffly near the surface. It opened its mouth, wanting to cry out, but only bubbles would emerge. Growing cross, it made up its mind to ignore Jinglin for the next few days. No matter how much Jinglin tried to engage, it would not pay him any mind!
Jinglin slept until the next morning. After he got dressed, he still looked exhausted.
The fish, on the other hand, had been stuck in the same position for the entire night. “I’m going to ignore him” soon turned into “farewell, once and for all, for we are strangers from this point onward”.
Unfortunately, Jinglin could neither hear nor understand it. When he poured out some feed into his palm, the fish could move anew. Immediately, it tossed aside its earlier thoughts and chased after the food and gobbled it up. Then it even rubbed itself against the man’s fingertips, acting docile.
Jinglin had such a fair complexion that the fish feared he might melt at the touch like snow, a thought further spurred by his listless expression. He did not seem to have his heart in the moment, but then again, he might not have had a heart to begin with, that he could fall asleep any time and not awaken again. Worried that he might actually melt, it nibbled on his fingertip, curious to feel him. The fish was surprised to find that the flesh was cold to the touch and also extremely soft and smooth. So astounded it was that it nibbled him a few more times until Jinglin was brought back to his senses by the tickle on his extremities.
Looking down, he stirred the water a little. “Still hungry?”
As soon as he spoke, the wintry winds in the walkway came to a momentary rest.
The fish swam around his fingertips, rolled over, and gazed expectantly at him. Jinglin understood and turned his gaze to the window. The snow was falling so heavily that it was inadvisable to venture outdoors, yet rather than conform to common sense, he stepped outside. A pile of snow at the bottom of the steps shook apart, revealing a small stone figure. On all fours, the figure clambered over the threshold, hoisted the porcelain jar over its head, and staggered out in pursuit of Jinglin, who had walked into the snow. Jar balanced on its head, the figure followed in his wake, and as if wary, the snow dancing all over the sky avoided landing on either of them.
The fish was initially in low spirits because the man once again chose not to carry it in his arms, but at the sight of the sky grey with flurries and the courtyard grounds blanketed in white, it cast that petty dejection away and bobbed about in excitement.
Having stayed in the bedchamber all this while, the fish rarely saw the scenery outside. Only when Jinglin was in a very good mood would they venture out. This was the first time it had seen snow outside, and its enthusiasm was palpable. It got carried away, leaping about so much that the jar wobbled precariously.
The stone figure staggered, struggling for balance in the snow, and eventually fell along with the jar. Fortunately, the jar remained intact after slipping over the ground, but the carp went flying. Its red and gold body traced an arc mid-air and plunged headlong into the snow. Only its tail could be seen flapping violently against the snow in panic, but only for a moment until it was picked up by its tail.
The fish had originally planned to put on a meek and aggrieved act in order to garner sympathy, but when it recognised the young, handsome face of A-Yi, it immediately began to struggle in indignation.
A-Yi revealed a mouthful of sharp teeth. “Jinglin! Can I have this plump fish? I’m sure it’ll make a delicious meal, stewed or braised.”
Jinglin stopped in his tracks and looked back. “Give it back.”
The stone figure climbed to its feet. Holding onto the crushed grass crown on its head, it chased after A-Yi to get the carp back.
A-Yi swung the fish by its tail in mid-air on purpose, laughing. “Come take it if you can. You’re so dull, Jinglin. Always sleeping. Why don’t you come down the mountain and join me for some fun? The Middle Realm is vast and so much more fun. It’s completely different from Heaven. I guarantee that you’ll be dazzled and lose yourself in the moment.”
If there was someone the carp hated the most, that honour would go to A-Yi, a five-coloured bird spirit of the Canli Tree who often shapeshifted into a human to play in Jinglin’s courtyard. Every time he came, he would be sure to drool over the carp and make all sorts of friendly overtures towards Jinglin.
Being swung around in the air made the carp dizzy, but it flew into a rage when it heard A-Yi attempting to lure Jinglin down the mountain again, though it was powerless against the bird spirit.
The stone figure kicked A-Yi in the calf, causing the bird to clutch at his leg in pain. The carp seized the chance to break free. The stone figure caught hold of the fish and turned tail, but this carp was so plump that the figure could only carry half of it, leaving the remaining half trailing in the snow as it dashed away.
Head dragged along the ground, the fish was getting smothered by the snow. Not even bubbles were coming out from its mouth now that it was being knocked around so much it could not see straight.
When Jinglin picked it up, the fish was still limp and looking pitiful. Jinglin watched it until it opened its mouth feebly, and he sent it into the interspatial dimension in his sleeve. The carp immediately brimmed with life now that it could catch its breath, surrounded by an abundance of spiritual energy. It nestled close to Jinglin, feeling indescribably at ease.
This was why it must rely on, cling to, and monopolise Jinglin. As long as it remained close to him, Jinglin’s spiritual energy would sustain it. Although it still did not understand the implications, it was addicted to the feeling of being nourished. The spiritual energy was much more delicious than the feed it was given, leaving it voracious for more. It could not even have its fill, so how could it allow anyone else to catch even a whiff of it? Thus, it classified anyone who approached Jinglin as a potential thief here to steal his food source, thereby earning them its deep hostility.
As the carp feasted, it listened in on the conversation between A-Yi and Jinglin.
“Can’t we leave the mountain? You keep hanging around here. One century, five centuries—it’s still all the same. You must be lonely.” Hands pillowed behind his head, A-Yi kicked at the snow. “Are you like this too in Heaven?”
What’s it to you? The carp thought derisively.
Belt sash fluttering in the wind, Jinglin returned a question. “Why have you come?”
“Do I need a reason to visit you? Is that how you think of me?” A-Yi retorted. “How hurtful.”
“He who has no wish visits not the temple.” Jinglin’s voice was colder than the wind.
A-Yi could not bear the iciness and hurriedly pulled his overcoat closer around himself. He buried his chin in the fur, revealing only his rather androgynous eyes. When he looked up at Jinglin again, he went for a softer tone. “Jinglin-gege, there’s a spirit residing in the east who bullied me, but I couldn’t beat him in a fight. Can you teach him a lesson for me? There’s no need to kill him, just break his limbs so that he’ll listen to my orders from now on. Please?”
Jinglin paused in his steps and cast a sidelong stare at A-Yi.
The bird spirit backed up under the weight of the gaze, feeling as if he was not facing a man-sized individual but a slinking behemoth. He sweated nervously and could barely maintain his composure, but he gave a light grunt and kicked at the snow again, bracing himself. “Will you help me or not?!”
Jinglin eyed him coolly. “Does breaking someone’s limbs please you so?”
There was a chill in A-Yi’s heart as fear inexplicably seized him. He clutched his cloak tightly, too scared to answer. Jinglin ignored him and walked away.
A-Yi remained where he was and gnashed his teeth, not understanding how he had offended Jinglin. He did not even want that spirit dead. He merely wanted to break its limbs, so what did it matter? What about it offended Jinglin so much that he would not even do him this favour?!
A-Yi had been spoiled and pampered since he was a chick. His elder sister was the Guardian of the Canli Tree, who was in charge of the vegetation in the Middle Realm, and she doted on him very much. He always got his way and was accustomed to running amok in the Middle Realm, so how could he have ever learnt to behave? Now that he was denied what he wanted, he stopped pleading with Jinglin and simply shapeshifted into his bird form and flew away through the snowy air.