Trigger warning: Description of suicide, not super graphic, but just something to be warned about.
By the time I stepped outside, the leaves were on fire. All around me, my temple had gone up in flames.
However, we are not up to that part yet.
Let us start, as all lives start – with my birth.
My Mother, Lady Yin, was pregnant with me for three years and six months.
The night before I was born, she had a dream. There was a Taoist, he placed something in her bosom and told her it was a child she should take.
My Mother, probably half sick of this pregnant for three and half years nonsense just wanted me out as fast as possible. I’m sure that she was already cursing me because my two older brothers hadn’t been half as much trouble.
My oldest brother, Jinzha, is the disciple of Wenshu Guangfa Tianzun, and my second oldest brother, Muzha, is the disciple of Guanyin. So, I guess it makes sense for me to have been accepted as a student of Taiyi Zhenren – a Taoist visited my Mother after all.
Anyway, when my Mother finally went into labour and gave birth to me at Chentang Pass, she was not met with a screaming, crying child, but a giant ball of flesh shining with golden light.
A servant rushed to tell my Father, Li Jing.
And my Father, ever the stern and unforgiving general, seized his sword and charged into Lady Yin’s room. She had been pregnant for three and a half years, and instead of giving birth to a baby, she gave birth to a ball of flesh. All of that information, in my Father’s eyes, pointed towards a monster that must be killed.
My Mother tried to stop him, because she was my Mother who always told me that she would have loved me no matter what I turned out to be. But my Father, being the man of the house, was not going to listen to my Mother on this one.
He raised the sword, and with one fell strike, split the ball of flesh open.
From within, out I hopped – white and chubby – already the size of a child of three years. On my right arm was a golden ring – 乾坤圈, qian’kun’quan – the Universe Ring. And across my body was a sash made of red silk – 混天绫, hun’tian’ling – the Silk of Chaos. They were priceless objects of immeasurable power.
But I was a toddler, what did I know about them? I just looked to my left, and then to my right. With a swift motion, I leapt into my Mother’s arms, crying, “Mama!” My Mother held me, so warm and tight as a parent should.
Tears slid down her cheeks. “My sweet boy,” she said. “I love you so much.”
I became the student of Taiyi Zhenren, and he gave me the name, Nezha.
At the dawn of my seventh year, Chentang Pass sank into a drought. The people were starving, crops drying up. It was bad business all around. So the people prayed to the East Sea Dragon King, Ao Guang, for rain. They sacrificed their hard-earned food, hoping that the rain that Ao Guang could bring them would result in plenty more in return.
The dragon king, however, being greedy and selfish, rejected the food, and instead wanted a girl and a boy as sacrifice. So he sent out his trusty servant, Ye Cha, to capture them for him.
On that particular day, I happened to be playing in the sea with some other kids. The sun was sweltering. However, the waters washed away the sweat that gathered on our skin, and cooled us. I twirled my silk of chaos, making the waves bigger.
The children all laughed and squealed as the waves pushed them onto the shore. The sand stuck to their wet skin. They just leapt in once more, yelling, “Again, again!” I obliged, having the most fun I had had in years.
However, Ye Cha, of course, wanted to come and spoil all the fun. If he thought children were easy targets, he was wrong. At least he hadn’t met this particular child.
His skin was grey, hair white. His face seemed to be set into a permanent scowl, with brows so tightly knitted that they were almost touching. His jaw jutted out so far, and his back was so hunched that he just looked like a doddery old man.
He charged at one of the girls with his metal stick tipped with two prongs. The girl screamed, fighting the waves to the shore, as though that would stop her from being taken.
“You will not take her!” I yelled, leaping from the water.
Ye Cha turned to me. “I guess you will do fine as well,” he said, waving the prongs at me.
“How about you fight me?” I challenged. “If I lose, you can take me. But if I win, you will leave us alone. Deal?” The children all blinked at me owlishly, hiding behind one another.
Ye Cha just sneered, lunging. I dodged his first strike with ease, flipping through the air. My red silk caught onto the wind and I lashed it out like a whip. It tangled around Ye Cha’s neck. I pulled, he fell back onto the sand, kicking and thrashing at the air. His eyes were wide now, clawing at his neck where the silk only grew tighter.
“I win,” I said, loosening the silk. “You must leave now.”
He growled and raised his two-pronged weapon, thrusting it at my chest. I reached forward, snatching it from him rather easily, shoving it straight into his shoulder. I tore it out, throwing the bloody weapon onto the sand.
Ye Cha whimpered and crawled back into the ocean.
“Well,” I said to the kids. “You want to keep playing?” You should have seen how fast they ran away, clutching onto each other, tripping over their own feet to get out of there.
I didn’t understand why.
I shrugged, picking up Ye Cha’s weapon and wading back into the ocean. I just stood there, letting the waves push against me. The chaos silk hung from my neck and the universe ring circled my arm. Ye Cha’s weapon was in my hand.
And that was the first time I wondered who I was.
My Mother always told me I was special. Taiyi Zhenren liked to be cryptic, as all Taoists were. I was seven, what did I know about… anything to be honest. I just knew that I had to stop Ye Cha from taking that little girl. I saved her life, and she had fled from me as though I was the monster.
However, I didn’t have much time to ponder such deep questions when the waves began to stir. I backed away. Out from the water shot a dragon. A lo and behold, the third son of the East Sea Dragon King, Ao Bing.
He was ferocious, snapping his sharp teeth at me. “A child dares to cause chaos in my Father’s kingdom. You will pay.”
He lashed his tail at me.
Once again, no fear crossed my mind. I wasn’t afraid of some prince of the dragon king – it was his third son as well – he couldn’t even bother sending the eldest. Not that I’m discrediting myself as the third son; I doubt that Jinzha could have pulled off what I did.
I jumped into the air.
I was a child after all; fast and agile compared to a great dragon. To be fair, at the time, I did not know that he was the son of the dragon king.
I just threw my chaos silk into the sky, and thousands of balls of fire shone onto Ao Bing.
Lunging forwards with the universe ring, I struck him.
And with that one strike… I killed him.
He fell still, sinking back into the waves. Before he disappeared though, I snatched one of his tendons. I don’t know why, I just wanted to.
Obviously, Ao Guang was not very happy about his son’s death. He went charging to Chentang Pass, yelling at my Father for my wrongdoing. I didn’t understand what was so wrong about it. I was protecting those children. I was protecting myself.
If it was I that was killed, my Father, as tough as he was, would not have had the nerve to go storming into Ao Guang’s kingdom, demanding the dragon’s king’s son’s life as payment for mine.
Because that was what Ao Guang demanded. After all, my Father was just a mortal man, and I was just his lowly child.
But I had killed the dragon prince.
“Your son killed my third prince, and took his tendon. You will offer up his life as payment.”
My Father, ever the nobleman, rushed to explain. “You must have gotten it wrong. My oldest sons are in the mountains, training to become the disciples. My youngest is only seven.”
I heard that entire conversation, because I happened to return home a moment beforehand. I took Ao Bing’s tendon and began waving it around, playing and dancing with it, giggling and laughing as though nothing had happened.
That was how my Father and the dragon king found me. You should have seen the look of disgrace in my Father’s eyes. His fists were balled at his sides. He had never hit me a day in my life, but I knew then that he would have. He was the angriest I had ever seen him.
“孽子!” Li Jing yelled. Nie’zi. It meant evil son. I was right. In the end, that was all he would see me as. “Get on your knees and beg for forgiveness.”
I was calm. I handed Ao Guang his son’s tendon. I got down on my knees, I looked him right in the eyes. “I apologise for your son’s death,” I said. “And beg for your forgiveness.”
“I will report you and your whole family to the Jade Emperor,” the dragon king said. “I will send floods to Chentang Pass until it is no more!”
I looked at my Father. Tears were glistening in his eyes. And I felt something hit me right in the heart. This was my fault. I was going to bring the wrath of the four dragon kings and the Jade Emperor on my family and the innocent people at Chentang Pass.
That night, I watched my Mother weep and my Father yell.
“I should have killed that bastard when he was born!”
“He is just a kid,” my Mother said.
“You have made excuses for him his whole life! It is time he owned up to his wrongs.”
A tear came down my cheek.
I wasn’t going to drag my family down with me. My stern Father, my loving Mother. And my two brothers who would be heartbroken to return home, only to find that it was no more. If they knew that it was I who caused that. They would hunt me to ends of the earth.
So I made a decision.
I wasn’t going to burden my family.
I wasn’t special.
I should never have been born.
I took my Father’s sword and walked all way out to sea. In the waves, I stood. I pressed the sword against my neck, and dragged it across my flesh like a red, red smile.
Then, I fell into the waves.
I killed the dragon prince, your son.
Here is my body as payment.
And you promise that you will not hurt my family.
When they saw my body. The four dragon kings were finally satisfied. The punishment had been carried out.
However, that was when my master, Taiyi Zhenren came. He took my bones and my two treasures back to his godly cave.
My spirit followed him.
I went to my Mother in her dreams, just as the Taoist had. The one who told her to take me, to raise me, to love me.
“Nezha,” my Mother said, touching my cheek. “Is it really you?”
“It is me, Mama,” I replied.
She wiped at the tears in her eyes, taking me into her arms like she had the day I was born. “Why did you do that? You didn’t have to die, my sweet boy, we could have figured out a way.”
“Everyone would have died because of me,” I said. “I had to.” I swallowed. “If you want to honour me, build me a temple, so my spirit can rest.”
My Mother built the temple in secret. Because there was not a chance my Father would let her ‘honour’ the son who had brought shame upon the family. He was too proud, always had his head held high, knowing his sons were well-disciplined.
However, now, he couldn’t hold his head high.
The temple flourished. People prayed to me. And I granted miracle cures to the sick and crippled. However, it wasn’t long before my Father found out. He was still so angry at me. It never occurred to me that maybe he wasn’t angry because I had killed the dragon prince and caused all that trouble.
Maybe he was angry because I took my own life. Maybe he did love me. Maybe he was just outraged and confused because he hadn’t been there to protect me.
Nonetheless, he took that frustration and turned it into fire. He burned my temple right to the ground. And oh, did that make me mad. I decided in the moment that my temple disappeared in that last wisp of smoke, that I wanted my Father dead.
Taiyi Zhenren made me a new body out of lotus roots and leaves.
He placed my disembodied spirits amongst the petals.
And I was reborn.
My master gifted me with two more treasures. The fire-tipped spear and the wheels of wind and fire. And it was with those weapons that I fought countless battles against my Father. When he realised that his mortal body was no match for mine made from divinity.
When he met my second brother, Muzha, begging him to protect him. I came, waging battles against my brother.
Our weapons met for the hundredth time. “Nezha, stop this,” Muzha said through gritted teeth. “You do not get to be angry at our Father.”
“He burned down my temple!” I screamed. “That is how much he hates me, he always has!”
“That is not true,” Muzha said. He was always calm and collected like water. While my weapons were that of fire. “Di’di, little brother, please stop this.”
I defeated him.
And I almost drove my Father to suicide.
That was the son I was.
The one who had died for his family. Only to come back and hurt them all again.
Wenshu Guangfa Tianzun stopped my Father, and I was finally contained. Then I was forced to submit to him by Randeng Daoren.
I sat there, completely powerless. Wheels lying limp on the ground, spear almost broken. I was still so angry, but I didn’t have the energy to lash out anymore.
My Father approached me, battered and old now. But he still carried with him the spirit of the general he had always been.
I saw him. Properly. And I burst into tears. I was no longer a child, even though I still held the appearance of one – that was what I would remain in the people’s eyes. But in that moment, when I lunged forwards into my Father’s arms, I truly was a child again.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” I extricated myself from him. I knelt on the cold, cold ground. I dropped onto all fours, bringing my forehead to the ground. “父亲，请原谅孩儿。孩儿知错了。。。知错了”. Fu’qin, qing yuan’liang hai’er. Hai’er’zhi’cuo’le… zhi’cuo’le. Father, please forgive me. I know my wrongs… I know my wrongs.
Li Jing shook his head, and pulled me into his arms once more. “不管怎么样，我们怎么打打杀杀，你永远是我的儿”. Bu’guan zen’me’yang, wo’men zen’me da’da’sha’sha, ni yong’yuan shi wo’de’er. No matter what happens, how we fight and kill, you will always be my son.
In the end, my Father became known as 托塔李天王 – tuo’ta li’tian’wang, the Pagoda-Wielding Heavenly King. And I was 莲花三太子 – lian’hua san’tai’zi, the Third Lotus Prince.
Together, we were part of the heavenly soldiers.
Keeping peace in the world, always by each other’s sides.