A jade green snake glid quietly along the banks of a sleepy creek, silently targeting a brown little rabbit that was too busy eating grass to notice. The little jade snake coiled and sprang only to to have the rabbit turn around and aim a kick at it. The little snake narrowly avoided the rabbit’s powerful kick, turned around and glared at it balefully before trying to slither away. The rabbit shook its head.
“Lin Yu, you 900 year old little snake demon. Stop playing your tricks.” The snake puffed angrily and stuck it tongue out at the rabbit. The rabbit barely concealed a glimmer of amusement in his eyes as he called after her, “As a thousand year old rabbit spirit, I taste as good as the bark on a tree. ” The rabbit spoke like an older brother. Lin Yu’s snake eyes narrowed in annoyance as she tried to slither farther away from the snake.
“Lin Yu, stay close, Grandfather said we have to wait here.” The snake turned around and before she could speak, a whirlwind appeared on the bank, a girl in lilac silk floated gently to the ground.
The two stared at each other. The rabbit approached the sleeping girl and sniffed. His ears perked up and he said seriously. “Be on guard here. I have to get grandfather.” With that he sprinted towards the direction of the town. The jade snake slowly inched towards the girl. Lin Yu was curious, she had never seen a human before, she had grown up with demons and spirits who taught her how to take human form. But here she was, a real live human. A human girl. Lin Yu felt anxious excitement grow in her, she transformed into her human form and knelt beside the sleeping figure. She grabbed a stem of a dandelion and started poking the girl.
Yu Zhu felt a gentle prick on her arm and opened her eyes. She stared at the star filled sky and stared at in wonder. Having lived in the palace her whole life she’d never seen such blackness, nor such beauty. There was a soft jab on her arm. Yu Zhu turned around and saw a stunning girl, about sixteen years old in light green robes studiously poking Yu Zhu’s arm, her beauty reminded of Yu Zhu of a wild flower, unrestrained and carefree.
The girl’s eyes met Yu Zhus and Yu Zhu gasped. Instead of round black pupils, the girl’s eyes were slits, with bright yellow pupils. Yu Zhu blinked and the girl’s eyes became normal, large almond eyes. This is a dream, Yu Zhu decided tiredly, she couldn’t put enough effort to feel anything any more.
The beautiful girl smiled. Yu Zhu kept on staring. The girl put propped her head on one hand and said, “Are humans tasty?”
Yu Zhu swallowed hard, “I don’t know, never tried it.” She answered honestly.
The girl leaned in, “My name is Lin Yu and I haven’t tried it either.”
“I don’t think you should start with me.” Yu Zhu muttered, her head spun and she leaned back onto the soft grass.
Yu Zhu’s lips curled into a sad smile, “I would probably taste very bitter.”
Lin Yu had been holding in her excitement and didn’t notice Yu Zhu’s melancholy, “Grandfather said that someone was coming to live with us. I’ve never had a friend before. Elder Brother Tu Suo just nags at me all day and he doesn’t count. So don’t worry, I would never eat you. I just wanted to make you laugh”
Yu Zhu didn’t answer. She was too exhausted and was asleep on the sweet grassy banks. She didn’t notice when two figures , an elderly man and rabbit who transformed into a young man came up to Lin Yu. She didn’t wake up when the young man gently lifted her up and carried her into the small thatched roof cottage on the edge of town.
Yu Zhu woke up on a bamboo leaves mat, something prickled her nose. A light green leaf danced above her nose. Yu Zhu stared at it and realized that someone was tickling her. A pair of large almond eyes stared at her. The girl was very pretty, with flowing black hair and a small pale face. Lin Yu smiled at her excitedly, “Oh good. you’re awake.” She hopped up and down on the small bed and called out, “Grandfather. The guest woke up!”
An old man slowly walked in, leaning heavily on a walking stick, “You probably helped her” He sat beside Yu Zhu and felt her pulse. Yu Zhu looked at him curiously, “Where am I?”
The old man smiled warmly at her, his round cheeks moved up on his white bearded face, “This is called Bu Hui Town.”
Yu Zhu looked around at the clean but sparse room, “I’ve never heard of it before.”
“You wouldn’t. It’s not really in the human realms.” Lin Yu piped up helpfully. “Only demons and animal spirits whose lived long enough or are powerful enough to transform themselves into humans can live here.”
“All in due time.” The old man admonished to Lin Yu and spoke to Yu Zhu”Your brother asked us to take care of you. You can live with us.”
Yu Zhu suddenly remembered why she was here and curled up into a ball. She mumbled thanks and tightly closed her eyes. Lin Yu reached out a hand to prod Yu Zhu, she wanted Yu Zhu to play with her and tell her how humans lived. But Grandfather stopped her with a shake of his head. “Let her be.”
Days passed on end and Yu Zhu did not seem to want to get up from bed. Lin Yu slowly realized that Yu Zhu was eating less and less. Lin Yu was mad. All the good food that she had prepared for Yu Zhu was going to waste. Grandfather only shook his head at her and told her to leave Yu Zhu be. Lin Yu couldn’t get mad at Yu Zhu, so she vented her anger on her brother Tu Suo by trying to catch him and bit him a couple of times.
One still night, a sleepless Yu Zhu saw the bright moon outside and slowly walked to the courtyard. Was father and Hua Er looking at the moon with her? She wondered. Her heart suddenly ached with pain she had buried deep inside of her. But the tears would not come. In the span of a few days Yu Zhu had learned that tears could not rbing back the things that she lost.
“When you are ready, find a place, child. A place you trust and let it go.” Grandfather had walked outside quietly, “You’ve been hurt. It would not do to let the wound fester.” Yu Zhu stared at him mutely. Grandfather sighed as he looked at the frail little girl in front of him. “There are groves of peach trees where people rarely visit, on the edge of the forests here. Tell them what you can not share with us. Let the thing that is killing you go.” With that he walked back into the house. Yu Zhu looked back at the moon and drank in the soft light. She too, walked back into the house.
“Yu Zhu! Yu Zhu!” Lin Yu called happily as she pulled the younger, silent girl along in the busy market, “I’m going to make you spicy green beans tonight. So you have to eat it!” Yu Zhu felt like Lin Yu was going to pull her arm off but followed silently. Lin Yu had enough of Yu Zhu’s moping and had dragged her out today. Lin Yu pushed and shoved demons in people form away from them.
“This is a relatively small town compared to some of the other ones.” She called back to Yu Zhu carelessly. “It takes spirits hundreds of years practice in magic to become demons and then hundreds of years of practice in magic for demons to gather enough power to make a human form. And if you work hard for tens of thousands of years, you can become a god. Unless you come from a powerful demonic lineage, it might shave off a couple hundred years.”
“Why become human?” Yu Zhu was curious. Lin Yu shrugged as she examined a big cabbages from a motherly woman, “I think it’s because you’re closer to gods and yet still have so much freedom.” Lin Yu turned to the vegetable seller, “Mother Hedgehog, how much for this cabbage?”
Yu Zhu looked around at the crowd. Though the people looked human, some were still a bit off. A tail waved lazily there, bat ears on someone’s head there. Suddenly Yu Zhu spied a group of boys kicking something viciously in the ally. She walked towards the sound of wails.
“You stupid little piece of filth!” The biggest boy aimed a kick at the a beggar boy’s stomach. “You touched my robe. My mom just bought it for me today. I’m going to kill you.” He laughed viciously with the other well dressed little boys and beckoned them to join him. He kicked the curled figure repeatedly with each word, “No. One. Will. Help. Yell. Louder. If. You. Want!” The laughter reminded Yu Zhu of Hua Er and the maids in the garden so many months ago. Yu Zhu clapped her hands over her ears but couldn’t drown out the sound.
Before she knew what she was doing, Yu Zhu had grabbed the the biggest boy’s topknot, whipped him around and punched him in the face. He was unprepared for attack was knocked onto the ground, stunned.
Yu Zhu had trained with the best martial artists her father could find. A boy threw himself at her, she used her knuckles and hit the boys pressure points. He went down gasping. Two boys came at her and grabbed her hair. She stomped on one of the boys feet while punching the other one underneath the ribs. Both of them let go and she looked at the beggar boy, “get out of here.” The boy scrambled away.
“Yu Zhu!” Lin Yu dropped her basket and grinned excitedly, “You know how to fight? Let’s play together!” And rushed into the fray. She stuck fast and hard with punches that were barely visible to the eyes. The biggest boy stood up and roared at them, “How dare you hit me. Don’t you know who I am?”
Yu Zhu didn’t know and didn’t care. Lin Yu rolled her eyes at the huffing boy, “this slob called Ho Lai Pa is the precious son of the richest merchant in town.” She grinned at Yu Zhu, “Can you guess what kind of demon he is?” Yu Zhu looked at him, “He looks like a pig.” The boys all glared at her, even the ones on the ground. Ho Lai Pai was breathless with rage as Lin Yu’s laugher rang in the alley, “Exactly! He’s a pig demon’s son.” She stopped laughing and an evil glint appeared in her eyes.
“I change my mind. Let’s have pork for dinner tonight.” Lin Yu sang happily as Ho Lai Pa and his boys charged at them.