Chapter 63 – Ink Brush of Virtue (18)
First Published on Wattpad, Reposted on Ainushi
The fairy market is usually organised in different units, one unit per district, like the village markets in the past. Normally, they are organised annually, and some units are more crowded than others.
The roads in Dragon City form an elaborate network of transportation, so congested with traffic that citizens get into roadside quarrels every day. The hustling and bustling crowds of pedestrians in the city are also the largest. And yet, the size of the fairy market is basically the smallest in the area.
Though the big city is densely populated, mixed with myriad kinds of good and evil, and there is even the saying that “legends lurk in the cities”, it is in fact not an ideal place for cultivation. Unless with ties to the living, or having come all the way here to complete karma, otherwise most fairies would not reside here, for their own sake.
Once Zhao’s SIU was established in Dragon City, countless fairies have been his stool pigeons, and many more whom he calls brothers. And yet, he has never been to the fairy market… this is basically the year-end reunion dinner of the fairy tribes, it wouldn’t be appropriate for an outsider like him to join, no matter how close they are usually.
Come to think of it, this is the first time he has ever been invited to the fairies’ night festival.
Zhao sits inside the steady carriage, and his lips suddenly curve up into an unconcealable, eerie smile.
Shen asks, “What is it?”
Zhao pinches Shen’s hand, which has been holding on to him the whole time. Amidst the whirs of the wheels, he lowers his voice, “I think our relationship is developing quite traditionally. First we introduce ourselves and get to know each other, then we begin by holding hands, and now we’re going out on dates. I feel like if we develop further, we’ll soon get to the ‘endgame’.”
Shen hastily glances outside the carriage door; he knows foxes have sharp ears. He lowers his voice and says to Zhao, “You can say these things when we’re back home tonight, but not now.”
Zhao says, “What do I say it with?”
Zhao is met with silence.
He continues with an operatic tone and a multitude of expressions, “My good big brother, I miss you so much, I can’t stand it anymore, become mine.”
Shen flicks his hand away. After a while, he sees Zhao’s hand wandering in mid-air, grabbing at everything. He hesitates, and secretly holds his hand again.
Nobody knows if the fox heard them, but the carriage has been steady throughout. Around a quarter of an hour later, the carriage stops; the fox lifts up the curtains, and invites the two outside. Chilling breeze rushes in. From neither afar nor nearby, the rough duet of guqin and xiao can be heard; the tune is melancholic, and yet the players embarassingly try to create a joyous atmosphere with it, the resulting music is rather freakish.
At the entrance stand two doormen, with horse heads and human bodies. Not far away, there is a man standing with a snake tail… this is one of the unspoken rules of the fairy market: all fairies must reveal a part of themselves besides their human bodies, so that the less experienced newcomers could recognise everyone, lest unhappy misunderstandings occur.
The snake man smiles towards Zhao, “The Guardian is here.”
It’s freezing cold during Winter, and by their nature, snake fairies tend not to go outside once it’s cold. They usually avoid the festivity, and only send one or two members to represent all of them.
This snake fairy was clearly waiting for Zhao at the door.
Zhao listens attentively, and says politely, “My eyes are not working today. I hope I didn’t hear wrong, it must be Uncle Four?”
The snake man nods, “What a surprise that the Guardian still remembers. Come in, Zhu Hong told me everything. If you need anything, just tell me.”
Shen hands the lacquer box to the horse doorman, and helps Zhao get inside.
Once they are inside, it’s like walking in a pedestrian zone. The street is some one hundred metres long, paved with flagstones on both sides, and divided with a long and narrow river in the middle. A small stone bridge hangs across the river, with tall tables already set on the bridge. Both sides of the street are incredibly crowded, brightly lit with lanterns and decorated with pompoms and ribbons. Yet, the pedestrians are mostly half-beast and half-human. Some fairies have set up stalls selling products to other fellow fairies.
Uncle Four the snake walks ahead, leading the two all the way to the stone bridge.
The cold stone bridge still has a thin layer of snowfall, but the small stone pillar at one end of the bridge has already been wrapped in flowering vines, sprouting small yellow flowers scantily.
Uncle Four stands still and says to the flowers, “Miss Yingchun, the Guardian is here. Please come out to meet him.”
As he says this, the lone shoot of winter jasmine suddenly bulks up and instantaneously spreads across this side of the bridge, covering the deck with a flower rug. Countless tiny and young blossoms bloom across the floor. Then, a young girl springs up from the vines; her upper body is that of a human, but her lower body is still connected to and virtually indistinguishable from the lush vegetation.
From her looks, she appears to be around fifteen. With a double bun hairstyle, long and narrow eyes, she looks like a young girl. She looks at Zhao, and then at Shen.
For some reason, Yingchun seems to be rather frightened of Shen. She only glances at him, and quickly looks back at Zhao, and giggles, “Uncle Black Cat said Guardian is a great handsome, why are you covering your face with such big sunglasses?”
Zhao takes off the sunglasses and hangs them at his collar, “To attract sympathy… little girl, when you see a handsome guy like me, but find out I’m blind, you might want to give me more honey.”
Yingchun laughs, and then looks at his eyes closely. She frowns, and asks Uncle Four, “What’s with the black ravens? Why are they hurting humans for no reason?”
Uncle Four pats her on the head, looks down, and says nothing.
Yingchun glances around, “The Raven Tribe didn’t send anyone this year?”
“Not only here, but all night festivals in other areas too.” Uncle Four says, “You don’t need to bother with this, focus on your cultivation, and bloom some beautiful blossoms when Spring comes.”
Yingchun murmurs; a little upset. She takes out a small bottle, and puts it on Zhao’s palm, “Our leader told me to give this to you. He even said that if Guardian needs anything in the future, just tell him, we’re all willing to listen to your commands.”
Zhao is stunned, “My commands? No, no, no, your leader is way too kind…”
His voice is interrupted, and a small monkey jumps on to the tables on the bridge out of nowhere, and heavily clangs with copper gongs in its hands.
The fairies immediately quiet down, and many stone tables emerge along the street. Yingchun goes “oh”, and says, “The dinner is going to start, I have to perform. Big brother Guardian, that’s all I can say for now, please excuse me. Take care!”
Before Zhao can continue, Yingchun transforms into a sweep of flowering vines, and swiftly covers all the tables on the stone bridge. Each and every post of the fences are wrapped completely in vines, and the small platform on the stone bridge is quickly brightened up and replete with exuberance.
Zhao has yet to retrieve his hand from his pocket. In his pocket is a small linen pouch, given to him by Da Qing, who claims that it’s from the former Guardian… and so it seems it must be a treasure from his former life, or the former life of his former life and so on… it’s a small jade cup with patterns of moonflowers engraved on it; indescribably intricate and enchanting. It is said that the cup can preserve moonlight; for the cultivation of flower fairies, that would be a priceless item.
Zhao intended to exchange this with the Thousand Flower honey, but he never would have thought the fairy would just hand him the honey without a price, like an offering to a deity.
The flower fairies’ attitude towards him, coupled with the black ravens who attacked him, seem to have unthinkable implications. Zhao ponders, and turns around to ask Shen to leave. And yet as he does he bumps into a corner of a stone table.
Shen holds on to his waist, embracing him, and blocking the sneaky glances of several fairies who are peeking towards them curiously. He says to Uncle Four, “We’ve got what we came here for, since this is the fairy tribes’ dinner gathering after all, us outsiders will see ourselves out. We wouldn’t want to bother you, would we?”
Uncle Four catches a glimpse of his possessive gestures, and says stately, “They’ve already set tables for you; we treat you as our most honourable guests. Please stay for a few drinks before you leave, do you mind?”
Uncle Four says, “Next year is our tribe’s year… the Year of the Snake. I will be hosting tonight’s activities, please excuse me.”
Before Shen can reject, he steadily mounts the small platform with his long snake tail trailing behind and long sleeves almost sweeping the floor. Music begins again, but not an eerie duet anymore; this time they are playing ritual songs from ancient times.
From afar, a bright female voice sings, “Lives of Heav’n and Earth, born from Mount Buzhou.”
All fairies are solemnly silenced. Uncle Four flicks his sleeves, looks down, and stands still. He begins with a deep voice, “The old fades, the new nears. ‘Tis year-end, all fairies bow to the Three Saints. Bow to the Primordial God of the Mountains. Bow to our Great Ancestors…”
The fairies all stand up, and silently bow towards the northwest.
The female voice continues to chant with elongated tones.
“Lands of primal times, hills in form unjoined. Peaks abreast of clouds, pillars of the skies. Son of God of Fire, King of all the Seas. Touch with dragons called, stars shall turn the time…”
Zhao raises his eyebrows in astonishment, and whispers to Shen, “Who is she singing about? Sounds like Gonggong the God of Water.”
Shen is still frowning, and his face darkens further by the minute. He hears his question, and nods, replying succinctly, “Uh, it’s him.”
Zhao continues, “Is it the part where Gonggong knocked down Mount Buzhou?”
Shen replies incredibly briefly once again.
Zhao asks again, “But isn’t Gonggong the God of Water? Who is this Primordial God of the Mountains? The mountain god of Mount Buzhou?”
This time, Shen is silent for a while, and then replies vaguely, “Uh… perhaps? I’m not too sure what happened back then.”
Zhao seems to have heard something from his tone of voice, and he stops asking questions. With his finger to his palm, he taps to the rhythm of the song.
The fairies’ song is long-winded, and tells of the battle between Zhuanxu and Gonggong, how Gonggong made Mount Buzhou collapse out of rage.
Legend says because of how inconsiderate Gonggong was, the world began to have the order of the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. This story seems to be greatly connected with how the fairies came to being, and yet what exactly is the connection, the lyrics do not tell explicitly.
Many tales of history are incomplete, and all that can be deduced from bits and pieces of information is “this is more than meets the eye”. Not to mention these are stories from the dawn of time, telling of far-from-accurate legends and myths of gods. Zhao knows that he really shouldn’t get bogged down in some age-old lyrics, and yet he can’t help himself. It’s as if a voice in his heart is telling him that these stories which appear petty and unrelated, in fact hold some profound meaning.
It is unheard of that primeval deities would take two jobs at the same time. If Gonggong is already the God of Water, then he cannot be the “Primordial God of the Mountains” that the fairies worship right after the Three Saints.
Which chief of which mountain village made it in history as a godly figure?
Zhao’s fingers twitch. He suddenly recalls what the raven fairy said. A word emerges in his mind… Kunlun.
After a very long time, the fairies finish their worshipping. Beautiful female fairies rush back and forth, pouring tea, wine, and bringing dishes. The fairies’ reunion dinner officially begins.
Shen uses driving as an excuse to reject the wine. He watches Zhao drink a cup, and urges, “Should we leave.”
Zhao nods, and is about to stand up.
He hears a commotion from within the crowds of fairies.
Zhao listens intently, “What’s wrong?”
Shen looks at the high platform, “The snake pushed a half-fairy on stage. The thing is oozing black smoke and reeking of blood. Probably did a lot of terrible things. To avoid punishment from the Heavens affecting innocent fairies, they will execute him first. It’s an old tradition.”
If Guo were here, he would recognise that this is the same guy he ran into accidentally.
Zhao listens, and realises that it’s the fairies’ family matters, and so he loses interest. Amidst Uncle Four’s reciting the many counts of sin, he has Shen hold on to his arm, and help him walk outside.
As they are about to leave, Uncle Four is done with the charges. He announces, “Half-fairy of the Raven Tribe, who had steered from the righteous path. Many people he had harmed, and the Laws of the Heavens he had breached. This is a shame for our kind. Now I shall rid our kind of outlaws, and exercise justice for the Heavens…”
“Raven Tribe” has Zhao and Shen stopped at their feet.
Simultaneously, a voice interrupts Uncle Four, “Wait!”
The voice is incredibly coarse, with a hint of unspeakable ill omen.
Shen shoves Zhao behind him, and his gaze freezes with icicles… at the entrance of the fairy market stand a row of black and hideous figures, all laden with pitch-black feathers and wearing wings.
It’s the Raven Tribe.