The dimming moon o'er mist-veiled town and water looms. The beauty in the orchid boat sings her dream. I oft remember our meeting on the silk-washing stream.
Now severed by three rivers long, in vain through clouds into the azure sky I gaze. Smiling, the beauty says, "Our hearts are like the lotus blooms: their roots may snap, yet their fibres join like my song."
The lotus gatherer and the lotus gathering song, orchids rowing over the willow, cares not for the destruction of a pair of lovers’ dreams.
Be it the night, a man sleeps alone in the pavilion. His heart cries in song: an old tune of the South, the many tears of Sima...
Liu Li gently leaned on the sandalwood carved chair as she listened to a soft tune. Half-asleep, her heart was pulled into a trance, and confusion filled her mind. In her dream, there was always someone in white robes floating around, but no matter how wide she kept her eyes open, she could never really see who it is.
There was a party at home and a lot of people were waiting to celebrate her 15th birthday, but she chose to sneak out. She didn't like that kind of environment. There was nothing more but a lot of bragging about, ass-kissing, hypocritical smiles that she had long been disgusted with, and the pair of cold eyes looking at her from a corner.
Working her way around the old streets and alleys at the root of the city wall, she ran into the old tea house to doze off and listen to the gentle tune. Such a quiet and leisurely moment was the life she wanted to live.
The sky in the old city was always so dark that it made her feel depressed to the point that she wanted to throw up. Liu Li didn’t like heavy and depressing things, so she always hated the sky here. She always felt that her heart was incomplete, as if a part of it had been lost in the long river of time, and she would never find it back. She could only exist in this world where she did not belong, looking for her missing piece.
She was always deliberately looking for something, but her eyes couldn't find a place to stay. She was far less lively and cheerful than her appearance. Her smiles were bright, but her heart was always cold. There was nothing she truly cared about. She knew that there was a possibility that she might not belong to this world at all.
After listening to the small tune in the tea house, she walked along the roots of the city wall and moved her hand gently against the wall. Such a sensation made her feel warm. There seemed to be such a feeling that the heavy wall tiles were absorbing her little by little. She felt her body floating lightly, as if she was about to melt into this silent and ancient city wall.
The Shiwan Market ahead was Liu Li’s favourite place. Ceramics, bronze vessels, jade, embroidery, and various handicrafts filled the long street. Liu Li loved antiques the most, and she liked to get close to the old and dusty years through those items.
She wandered from stall to stall in high spirits, greeting the familiar stall owners from time to time. Playing with all kinds of antiques one by one, she simply couldn’t put them down. Usually, she could always find a lot of treasures here.
Suddenly, she noticed that there was an extra small stall in a corner. There were not many goods. It might be a newly opened one and there were very few people there. She stood at the front of the stall with her hands behind her back, looking like an expert, but saw not even a shadow of a figure. After looking around for a long time, she found the owner sleeping behind a car.
Liu Li was too lazy to wake him up, so she looked around on her own. However, she was surprised to find that the antique jade articles on the stall were quite old. She picked up a jade bracelet casually. The color and texture were very good, the clear and distant green color made her want to sink into it.
She patted the owner a few times, wanting to chat with him and see what other good treasures he has. He woke up from his deep sleep, raised his head with a confused look, and smirked at Liu Li, as if he had mistakenly identified her as someone. Liu Li took a step back in surprise. She clearly saw that the person's eyes were green, but when she thought about it again she figured it was impossible. The man rubbed his eyes and proceeded to stare at Liu Li. Then, he turned his face, as if a little embarrassed, and yawned.
“You’re finally here. I've slept a long time waiting for you.”
“What?” Liu Li’s brain couldn’t register what he was saying.
“This is your azure stone. You have to take good care of it, okay?”
"What?" Liu Li suddenly made contact with the azure stone necklace that the man had stuffed into her hand. She was immediately shocked by it, as if static had struck her. She took a few steps back.
"Now I can finally go home and sleep soundly without feeding the mosquitoes."
As he spoke, he started to put away his stall.
Liu Li felt confused as she held that string of azure stone necklace in her hand.
“S-Sir? I think you got the wrong person. I didn't order an azure stone necklace from you.”
That man stopped packing.
“Your name is Liu Li, right?”
“Yes… How did you know this, sir?”
“You just turned 15 today?”
“Yes. So you’re someone who knows me?”
“No, I don’t know you.” That man shook his head. He continued to load his stock into the car.
“But this isn’t mine. Please take it back!” Liu Li handed the necklace to him.
That man shot her a mysterious smile.
"This is your fate, not mine. Keep it, this is a good thing! It can make your dreams come true."
"What? Is this like Aladdin's magic lamp?" Liu Li's eyes lit up as she started to get excited.
The man chuckled. “You’ll know once you take it home.”
Liu Li rubbed her hands, her face full of excitement. “Sir, who are you? Are you a deity?”
“Me? I merely specialize in collecting scraps!"
“Well, not exactly scraps. Did you know that there are so many unowned things in the world because their owners have lost their memories of them? My job is to collect these things that are still very useful and valuable, and return them to their owners."
“You mean this azure stone originally belongs to me?”
Liu Li raised the necklace in her hand. “But what would I use it for?”
“Well, only by using this can you find your marriage which is predestined by fate.”
“My marriage which is predestined by fate?”
"Yes. Do you believe in the idea that everyone in this world has someone they are destined to be with? You should know that the world is so vast, and that time and space are an endless abyss. It is a rather difficult feat to bump into someone and fall in love at the same time, moreover at the same place. Maybe you are at this end of the world, but they are at the other end of the world and you will never see each other; you may have met, but it was at the wrong time; you may have just been born, but they waited all their life and are already on their deathbed; it may be the right time and the right place, but you are not the gender they fancy; or you might be a relative, so you can only suffer for a lifetime. Not only are you and your lover in the wrong time, you are also in the wrong dimension. Even if you spend your whole life trying, you will never be able to find him. This azure stone can take you to where he is. But in this life, whether you can love each other or not depends on you…”
As the man spoke about this, he pushed the trolley and hummed a little opera tune. He slowly disappeared into the sunset. Liu Li stood on the moat and leaned against the willow, faintly relishing in this slightly inexplicable yet joyful feeling. She chuckled. Although this was a little bit cliché, usually according to the dramas on TV, unexpected things should happen next.
She was full of anticipation.
She went home very late, and was inevitably scolded by her mother. However, that man always spoiled her too much. He wished her happy birthday in a gentle way, and then gave her a white jade butterfly buckle which was in excellent condition. It should be very expensive! She lowered her head to say thank you with extreme reluctance.
Liu Li couldn’t stop thinking about the azure stone necklace. In the middle of the night, when they were all asleep, she sat alone by the swimming pool to enjoy the cool air. While eating the iced watermelon, she took out the necklace and looked at it carefully.
Liu Li has always loved precious stones and studied them since she was a child. She was even more familiar with azure stones as they had the same name as her.*
*Liu Li is the Mandarin term for azure stone.
The term ‘Liu Li’ originated from an ancient Indian language and spread to the east along with Buddhist culture. Its original representative color actually refers to blue. It was known as the first of the five famous artifacts (gold and silver, jade, colored glaze, ceramics, bronze), one of the seven treasures of the Buddhist family. ‘Liu Li’ was a kind of ancient material and a very precious kind of ornament. It had a history of more than 2,000 years. It has been used exclusively by the royal family since ancient times. It has extremely strict requirements for users, so it was rarely seen by the common people. By the Ming Dynasty, it was basically lost. However, even the very incomplete craftsmanship of the Ming Dynasty was still protected by grades. At that time, ‘Liu Li’ was already very impenetrable, so it was called the medicinal jade. The book ‘Ming Zhi’ stated this: ‘The ornament given by the emperor to the best scholar was a medicinal jade which was originally only available for officers in Grade 4 and above.’
The requirements of the manufacturing process were very complicated in the early stage of mold making, and the requirements on the mold were also extremely demanding: the expensive colored crystal is gradually cooled after being fired in the mold and needs to stay in the furnace for at least a few days. The flow of the melted liquid colored crystals is difficult to control. But it was precisely because of this that a number of ‘Liu Li’ works with different shapes but with a uniform style appeared. Due to the production characteristics of ‘Liu Li’, it was impossible for two identical colored glazes to exist in the entire world, and that’s what made it precious and unique.
There was also a legend about the origin of ‘Liu Li’ which made Liu L’s heart beat with longing each time she heard it, hence why she loved it even more.
According to legend, the ‘Liu Li’ was discovered when Fan Li was supervising the creation of the sword of the king in 493 BC. Fan Li thought that this substance was the ultimate combination of the good fortune of heaven and earth, so he dedicated it along with the sword to the king of Yue. The king of Yue was grateful for his sword-making skills, so the original was returned to him, and he named this magical substance ‘Li’. After that, Fan Li visited many skilled craftsmen and turned the ‘Li’ into an exquisite piece of jewelry, which he gave to Xi Shi as a token of love. According to legend, this was one of the first colored glazes in the world. It was at that same year when war struck Yue and they were defeated. Xi Shi was forced to marry into the Wu state, and before she left, she returned the ‘Li’ to Fan Li. Apparently, Xi Shi's tears fell on this ‘Li’, and the world was moved by this. Xi Shi's tears can still be seen flowing in it. After that, people began to call it ‘Liu Li’*, and today's ‘Liu Li’ evolved from this name.
*The ‘Liu’ used here is 流 which means flow, commonly used to describe the flow of water substances e.g rivers and tears. Meanwhile, the ‘Liu’ used in Liu Li’s name or the Mandarin equivalent of azure stone is 琉, which has no meaning on its own.
However, the real ancient ‘Liu Li’ can no longer be found. Liu Li always wanted to find one to add on to her collection so as to live up to her name. However, most of the collections in her house are water azure stones made of transparent resin glue. The resin products made by adding pigments are only used for decoration. They lack the sparkle of lead crystal glass, are prone to ageing, and are obviously much lighter than the pendant in her hands. Even the few ancient azure stones that she managed to find were lacking in its properties. As for the piece of azure stone in her hand, its pattern flowed down like a tear. Ambilight, clear, translucent, dignified, tender, gentle and beautiful. The colors seem to be constantly flowing in the azure stone, as if it was mysterious and unpredictable. Sure enough, as Yuan Zhen described in ‘Yong Liu Li’: ‘The color is the same as ice, and there is nothing to separate the dust from the fiber’, it was absolutely beautiful.
Liu Li played with it carefully. She simply couldn't put it down. She wondered, in this life, can I be like Xi Shi and find a lover like Fan Li?
While she was in a trance, a black cat jumped out of nowhere. Its green eyes looked at Liu Li coldly. Liu Li was so shocked that her hands shook, and the necklace fell into the swimming pool.
"Oh no, the necklace!" As if the necklace was her soul, Liu Li didn't think any further and plunged into the water despite the fact that she couldn’t swim. Fortunately, the water was not deep and the bottom was clear. Nonetheless, the azure stone necklace slowly sunk to the bottom of the pool, faintly lit with a colorful yet chilling light. Liu Li stretched out her hand, and just as she was about to reach the necklace, she discovered a gaping black hole which she was certain had never been there before. She opened her mouth, but before she could scream, a stream of water swept her into the black hole.
ray’s note: welcome to ray's new project! as a note, the image i have in my head of the necklace is simply a single azure stone with a string through it, or at least that’s what i got based on how the author described it. hope this was an okay first chapter!