Once, in a small town in China, there was a great river that wound its way through valleys and mountains, canyons and flat towns. It was called the Snow river, because the rice it helped grow was as white as freshly fallen snow. The river was longer than any other, and it was said that if any fish could swim the whole thing in their lifetime, they would become a mighty dragon in their next life. This river was said to belong to the emperor of all China, Yin Han, and the water was said to run directly into his garden.
The emperor Yin Han had a spectacular garden behind the innermost wall of his palace, and at night the trees were said to glitter like gemstones. In the middle of the garden, under a gray stone bridge cracked with time and bowing to the elements, there was a koi pond. The water ran as clear as ice, and delicate pink lotus blossoms hovered on the tops of lily pads. In the pond, there were five tiny fish, each more spectacular than the next. The first fish had pure white scales and fiery orange fins that glowed like dying embers in the dark of night. The second fish was all orange, and he seemed to be a streaking flame in a pool of glass. The third fish was bluish gray and seemed to be a piece of the moon itself. The fourth fish had brilliant cream colored scales that radiated a pearly light unlike anything on this earth, and the fifth and most beautiful of them all had long whiskers like a catfish and black and gold scales so vibrant is was said anyone who looked at them would become ten years younger. However, these fish were in danger.
The meat of a koi fish was rumored to have the touch of the gods, and any who ate it would become only equal to the gods. Late one night, as the fish gazed at the sky that looked like spilled salt on dark seaweed, a man who was not the emperor or one of his workers came and sat by the pond, in which he could see five beautifully glowing fish. The stranger plunged his hand into the cold water, and pulled out the golden and black fish. Upon gazing at it, the lines on his faced smoothed and his cheeks plumped as he became youthful once more. The golden fish, writhing and twisting, was stuffed into a small jar with warm, murky water unlike the cool depths in the pond. The stranger leapt over the inner wall that no man had ever passed and ran out of the palace, the koi fish stranded in his bag.
For 13 nights and 13 days, the little fish sat in his jar, silently observing the events of this world so unknown and unbidden to him. And every day, the stranger clothed in garments of liquid shadow fed the fish more and more, polluting the blood that had run pure for so many years.
And then on the 13th night the stranger took the fish, squirming and wriggling out of the water and onto a hot pan below, calling upon the great and mighty gods as he savored the meat he had longed for for so long.
And slowly, his face began to smooth. The harsh lines of age and stress lessened and lessened, until the man was glowing with youth and seemingly surrounded by a halo of health. The man felt the very rhythm of his heart grow stronger, his very existence become more pronounced. He felt his breath warm and his memories, once hidden under so many buried thoughts, were redefined and renewed. But he also felt something else. Deep down, in the depths of his heart, there was guilt. A dark grain of regret which he had built the pearl of his consciousness around, as if it were a grain of sand.
The man watched the years tick by and his closest companions fade into the fabric of time, and that small black seed of guilt began to grow. And so it grew and grew, sprouting into a mighty tree. And the man watched as Yin Han looked everywhere for his fish. And he watched as Yin Han got sicker and sicker without his companion, eventually fading away into a sickly man who could never leave his bed. The man watched.
Finally the day came when the man felt that he must tell the emperor what he had done, and only then would he be granted that which he so longed for: death. So he donned his finest silk and walked to the palace, the place the Yin Han had not left for over 20 years.
And the man told Yin Han everything. He told him of the fishes death, the immortality that was such a burden on him, and that his greatest with was to be granted peace.
And for the first time in 20 years, Yin Han stood. And he walked with the man to his pond, where four brilliant fish were swimming, searching. And the Emperor spoke.
"Young man, look at these fish. Do you see how they circle each other like that?" The man nodded, silent in shame. "They are like the universe. Constantly moving. Ever changing. Each time an act of evil is bestowed, they balance it with an act of good. Every action has its equal and opposite reaction. Every thing we do, good or bad, is never unseen or unfixed. Every action has a consequence. We may not see it, or feel it, but someone will. Do you see the fish searching? They are looking for the brother you rid them of. Young man, remember always that your actions affect more than you. "
And so, to this day, if you look into a pond, you see a reminder of yourself staring back at you, always reminding you who you are. And maybe, just maybe, you'll see four little fish looking at you too.