I, Song Yao Yuanjun, disliked owing a debt of gratitude to others the most. Especially a debt owed to Tian Shu who I didn’t get along with afterwards.
Many years ago when I had just been promoted to be Guangxu Yuanjun, there was a time when Heng Wen went to the western paradise buddhist realm for a Dharma gathering. I was bored in heaven, so I headed to Bihua Lingjun’s dwelling to have tea and see the celestial beasts he keeps to relieve my boredom. As it so happens, there was a single-horned dragon who encountered a fork in its cultivation and subsequently became crazed and ran amok. This yuanjun wielded a sword to face it, but unfortunately, the beast breathed smoke at my face. It swept over with his tail and I was flown several zhang away, completely unbecoming of a god, I even got seriously injured.
As luck would have it, Tian Shu Xingjun was also there at the Lingjun’s abode. He was usually an indifferent deity, but back then, he surprisingly helped to treat my injury. From then on I owed him a debt of gratitude.
Even several hundreds of years later, when I was confronted by Tian Shu Xingjun’s accusation in the Ling Xiao hall, it felt like an illusory dream to me. Tian Shu Xingjun who once saved me — he, who was noble and aloof from the world — forced a baseless accusation onto me, and would have me fall back to the mortal world, never again to step into heaven.
Heng Wen said, “Back then, Tian Shu said there was some evidence to back the accusation, and that it was definitely not a wrong charge on you. But I also can’t figure out why he would do that. Based on his character he would never do such a thing, and yet he did. There must be a reason why.”
“I don’t feel like digging into the why. In any case, I will return the debt I owed him and I will also do what Jade Emperor ordered. The accusation he put on me back then fell through, so I will treat it as if it never happened, and when he is back in heaven I will give him a smile if we do meet. He’s still my fellow immortal.”
I, Song Yao Yuanjun, am a magnanimous deity.
The next day, I woke up at first light in order to tell the innkeeper to cook a bowl of lingzhi and have Mu Ruoyan drink the concoction. When I went downstairs together with Heng Wen, a number of servants were gathered around a basket, rolling up their sleeves and getting ready to work.
One of them beckoned to us ecstatically, “Last night, us servants caught a rare animal, does daoist and gentleman want to come take a look?”
I cheerfully said yes, walked up, and leaned forward.
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Inside the basket.. was an old acquaintance.
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The servants were very excited.
“A wild cat and a weasel had been going hard at it lately, so we set up a rope under the roof hoping that we can trap them that way, we didn’t expect to catch this one. Daoist you’ve encountered many things and are very knowledgeable. This fox has an uncommon coat, it must be very valuable, right? If we skin it alive, perhaps it could be sold for ten liangs of silver.”
This immortal lord clasped my hands together and recited a daoist chant, then replied, “Sinful, sinful. Although it is an animal, to be skinned alive is too cruel. Fates have let its life end at this place, but for this poor cleric’s sake, let it first die before it is skinned.”
All of a sudden, the fox’s head tilted up and he grimly looked at me. He then turned his head to look piteously at Heng Wen and finally lowered his head back down.
I saw a bloodstain on his right front paw, it looked like a rather serious injury.
Sure enough, Heng Wen spoke up. “This lowly one will give you ten liangs of gold, sell this fox to me.”
The gold ingots were placed on the table and the servants’ smiles bloomed like sunflowers, turning into a very dazzling cluster.
One of them spoke thoughtfully, “This servant will immediately skin the fox fur for the gentleman.”
“I think it looks very uncommon, I’ll keep it alive for now.” Heng Wen said.
“Benefactor, do you not fear the fox’s wanton smell?” I asked.
The fox glared at me again.
Heng Wen opened the basket and took the fox out and into his arms. “I didn’t smell anything in particular, let’s raise it.”
The fox burrowed his head further into Heng Wen’s embrace and rubbed his head against Heng Wen’s bosom.
We returned upstairs to my room. After we are inside, the fox stooped to Heng Wen’s knees and coiled around into a ball of fur, looking like he enjoyed this very much.
I leaned against the table. “Furball, last time this immortal saw you, you have developed pectorals and seemed like a strong man, but now, you seem delicate.”
The fox promptly hopped down from Heng Wen’s knees and rolled, turning into a human. In order to show his dignity, he said coldly, “This lowly one is Xuan Li, the immortal lord should know of this.” His ears flickered, and he didn’t look at me, fixing his infatuated gaze on Heng Wen. “Thank you very much, Qingjun, for saving my life.”
Heng Wen’s tone of voice is gentle (of course, Heng Wen had always had a good temper and treated anyone and anything warmly). “You’ve been seriously hurt. Jinluo Lingzhi belongs to immortals, you can’t take it, and if you take it you will appear as your original self… Why must you brave this danger?”
“For Qingjun, even losing this life is worth it, I am willing.”
This immortal lord’s teeth ached.
Heng Wen’s hand stretched out to give him a pill. “Take this pill first, there might be some benefits for you.”
The fox took the proffered pill while his eyes still locked onto Heng Wen. His gaze was one that’d definitely make one tense up. Only after a long stretch of time had passed did he put the pill in his mouth and swallow.
This immortal lord can’t keep from sighing. “The injury on your arm looks very strange, how were you injured?”
At first, the fox regarded me as air itself, but then Heng Wen also glanced toward him so he said mutedly, “It’s from a mortal man’s attack.”
I was shocked. The furball had several thousand years of cultivation at least, what sort of mortal was so fierce that they could injure him?
Heng Wen also thought the same. “What are the origins of this man, that he could actually injure you?”
The fox answered insipidly, “Don’t know where he came from. He was going to steal the Lingzhi mushrooms at the front of my cave. I tried to teach him a lesson but in a moment’s carelessness, I was the one wounded. Afterwards, I trapped that man inside my cave. It seems like he was surnamed Shan.”
Translator: Padam | Editor: Mims
Sunflower photo taken by Brigitte Tohm