Fanfiction: Mo Yuan and Shao Wan - Chapter 77 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 77

written by kakashi
edited by Panda

“Ancestor, there is a Celestial messenger here to see you,” announced her guard.

Shao Wan’s heart began to beat faster. Finally. She had been increasingly worried his damn pondering and agonizing slowness would jeopardize everything.

“Lead him in!” she commanded and straightened her dress, her hair and then her back. The light in her throne room was gloomy, more so than usual. There was a thick layer of clouds in the sky today and she had not lit many candles previously, cherishing the shadows as a means to brood in peace. Now, she lit all of them with a wave of her hand. Her gold-red armor in the corner sparkled unexpectedly bright as the light from over a thousand candles hit it, forcing her to momentarily close her eyes.

It was Star Lord Si Ming who appeared before her shortly after, walking swiftly and determinedly. He bowed. “Demon Ancestor,” he said with a firm, even voice, “I bring you a Declaration of War from the Supreme Commander of the Celestial armies, High God Mo Yuan, Master of Kunlun Mountains, the God of War, co-signed by the Heavenly Emperor, Ruler of the Celestial Realms and the Thirty-Six Heavens, Tianjun.”

He bowed again and stepped closer to the throne, presenting a bamboo scroll to her with outstretched arms.

“Took him long enough,” Shao Wan said and snatched up the scroll. Mo Yuan’s handwriting was familiar to her, but the brush strokes in this official declaration were far neater, formal and deliberate than what she had ever seen before. There was one face the God of War showed to the world, and it was the one conveyed through this message. In their brief time together, he had allowed her to see his other faces... an intimacy that clearly belonged to the past.

“My thanks,” she said, rolling the scroll up again, “We are ready. I hope he is too.”

Si Ming’s upturned face was devoid of the usual joyousness as he regarded her. “Nothing will be the same after this War,” he said with a sigh. “Yet, why does it feel so familiar? It’s like I stood here just yesterday, bringing you the same message.”

She shook her head. “Familiar? Everything is different, Star Lord. I could not finish what I started last time - things must change. It is not enough to simply cut the poisonous plant, it is necessary to dig it out completely, including the entirety of its root system. My heart aches for all the dead we will have to mourn, but I know, ultimately, it will be a better future for those who survive.”

He looked puzzled, but nodded slowly after a short reflection. “I hope you are right,” he said. “The God of War also said this is not about old grudges. ‘If she wants this war, I will give her this war’, he said in council. With a very grim expression, I might add.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Shao Wan said with a nod. So much depended on Mo Yuan, did he even realize that? “If you write the war chronicles, Star Lord Si Ming,” Shao Wan added with a smile, “be sure not to portray me as a one-sided villain. Or at very least, praise my wisdom more than my beauty this time.”

Si Ming found enough joy in this thought to produce his characteristic grin. “I shall try my very best, Demon Ancestor. Though it is hard not to be bedazzled by your breathtaking looks.”

As soon as Si Ming had been escorted out of her Palace after a few more pleasantries, Shao Wan jumped off her throne with a burst of energy and grabbed her heavy cape on the way out.

“You are going out again?” said Lin with a worried frown.

“Yes I am. Alone,” she answered. “If I see anyone follow me, I will blast him.”

All her guards looked chagrined; they knew Yue was still lurking outside, camping in the wild. Sometimes, the light from his fire was visible from one of the upper windows at night. After Shao Wan had dismissed him, the silly boy had taken it upon himself to continue to guard her, even without her consent. Him landing in a ditch again was the least of her worries - if he continued his stubborn ways, him turning up dead was rather more likely. He didn’t make her life easier, that much was clear - but in trying to avoid him, she at least was double certain nobody followed her when she went to visit Fong Hung.

Eight immortal days ago…

Ever since Li Ying had returned to the Palace, Shao Wan had been afraid she would alert her brother, even if not by malicious design, that Fong Hung was still alive. Although there was no indication that Cheng Yin was aware of it, Shao Wan knew better than to let her guard down. The longer it took for the Celestials to declare war, the more nervous she got. She had sent her disguised maid to Cheng Yin’s bed twice after the first time, for the antidote she no longer needed, but it was so very risky and she knew it was just a matter of time until he realized how she had misled him.

Manipulating Li Ying gave her no joy, but it was a necessity. Ever since her return, the child was distressed and Shao Wan knew exactly what she hungered for… a friend, a confidante. Very carefully, she started positioning herself as the older sister, someone who listened, someone Li Ying could trust and rely on. And when the opportune time came, she gently pushed - and received. She knew that someone who betrayed once would betray again - and Shao Wan was by far not done needing betrayal.

As Shao Wan had planned, Li Ying came running back to her that evening after dinner with her brother. That Cheng Yin was so ready to spill his secrets to his sister made her wary, it smelled too much like a setup, yet she saw no other option than to run with it. The existence of a murder weapon that clearly identified the Yellow King as the culprit of a murder...a great opportunity to get what she needed quicker. The feather - it was no surprise at this point, though a welcome confirmation and a warning. The means by which Cheng Yin had gotten the feather to Kunlun revealed skills Shao Wan had not known the Yellow King possessed, warranting even closer observation.

The real surprise was to hear what scroll he had used to trick his sister. The Golden Dragon and His 24 Maidens was the most searched after play in the mortal realms, a true legend. Immediately understanding that Li Ying would thrown caution to the winds and accepted it from a suspicious stranger, Shao Wan shouted: "Show me this scroll! Millennia have I spent searching for it!" Looking relieved that she understood the allure, Li Ying pulled it from her sleeve - indeed, no connoisseur would leave such a valuable piece of writing lie around unguarded - and eagerly offered it to her to read. Sipping a lot of wine to calm herself, Shao Wan soon found herself engrossed in and slightly aroused by the colorfully illustrated story she had heard so much about for half her life.

At one stage, she started laughing. “He’d be so mortified,” she chuckled.

“Who?”

“Mo Y…,” she choked on the words and could not finish.

It was like a dam broke at the utterance of his name. It was the memory of his adorable mortification when hearing about the stories of a certain Golden Dragon’s prowess, the memory of how that mortification had turned into the kind of determination typical for the God of War, the resolve to be the best at everything, which in turn had led to fervent lovemaking that had lasted until their mutual exhaustion had made them go to sleep intimately and closely intertwined... it made the walls she must have erected unknowingly crumble to dust. It was like the world darkened by several degrees, like the sky before a Celestial lightning trial. And just like a bolt of fire, a feeling of great loss hit her.

Even though she made no sound, Li Ying must have seen her turmoil reflected on her face, because hers switched from curious to fearful instantly. “Forgive me, please forgive me for bringing you pain,” the young Princess whimpered and fell to her knees, naturally fearing she would unleash her wrath on her.

But anger was not what Shao Wan was feeling. No, she was… sad. She missed him. She missed him so much her chest hurt, so much she wanted to wail in misery. She must have felt this way for a long time, without acknowledging it - she could not explain this massive, sudden onslaught of emotions any other way. She had known back on Mount Kunlun that the feelings she had developed in the safeness of that space were going to be a dangerous temptation, and now she had the confirmation.

“This one is on me,” she said to Li Ying with great bitterness, “me alone. You are in no way to blame for my own decisions.”

She had fought all her existence to live without being dominated by others. She had to be stronger, more cunning and more ruthless than all of them to establish, to hold her position. A moment of weakness, any vulnerability was exploited instantly by the competitors around her. Only with Mo Yuan, for the very first time in her life, after meeting him again, she had felt that maybe, potentially, it was possible to trust someone her equal.

It frightened her beyond words to feel this way. If she was wrong, she would lose everything. If the safeness she felt in his arm was just a lie, she would be destroyed. She, one of the bravest people she knew, had to admit that she simply did not have the courage to take that one, last, crucial step towards him. Now, it became clear to her that this cowardice had cost her far more than she had realized was at stake.

That night she debated going to Kunlun to speak to him. Maybe this time, he would talk, she thought. He had been willing the last time they had met before he had bled for her. And she was willing to listen and to ask if she did not understand again what he was saying.

It sounded so simple.

But she did not end up going to Kunlun. There were a thousand excuses preventing her from doing it, but deep inside, she knew: she had been too craven to trust him and now she was too craven to hear him say he wanted nothing to do with her ever again. She cloud jumped to the highest peak in the Demon Realm in the morning instead. Mount Kunlun on the horizon was majestic and towering, the pillar of the sky. She squinted through the moisture pooling in her eyes and then she saw it: the golden shimmer.

Legends were legends and reality was reality. The God of War was a legend just as she was one. They both had obligations that went far beyond individual needs, a role to fulfill that had only little to do with choice. Tribes demanded a special loyalty, as did positions of power. Her heart ached in longing for the man behind the legend, but she understood very well that the man was who he was because of the role he played in the order of things. One did not exist without the other. She and him existed on opposite sides of the universe for a reason and it would never change.

Present day

“Ance-tor!” Fong Hung screamed and jumped into her arms, clinging to her with his thin, long arms and just as thin and long legs.

She hugged him close and planted a dry kiss on the top of his hairless round head.

“We’re going to war, Fong Hung,” she whispered, “I’ve come to take you with me.”

Fong Hung nodded eagerly. He let go of her and scrambled up one of his favorite boulders. “Me ready,” he said, looking determined.

She had fed him one dragon-phoenix blood pill a day ever since Zhe Yan had given them to her and it had led to the impossible: four days ago, she had found Fong Hung jumping up and down at her appearance making high-pitched, excited noises, looking like a cross-over between a toad and male child, with green-golden skin, huge bulging eyes, but legs to stand on and hands to hug her with. For modesty sake, she had brought him clothes, little children’s pants to cover his nakedness and a shirt to keep him warm.

“Show me again, Fong Hung,” Shao Wan said and crouched down in front of him, “how you can make yourself invisible.”

The frog-child immediately complied by disappearing before her eyes. One moment there, the next he was gone … not a trace of him at all, not even when she used her own powers to prod for him.

“Very well done,” she said proudly, “you can show yourself again.”

Fong Hung appeared again before her, smiling broadly with his huge mouth. However he did it, she did not know, but when he was in invisible form, he weighed nothing, as if he were not even there. She extended her hand to him and he grabbed it, jumping off the boulder with a shout of joy.

“No more cave,” he said all satisfied and looked up to her expectantly.

“No more cave,” she agreed, “you come to the palace with me now.”

“I be with you in war,” Fong Hung declared resolutely. “Keep you out of trouble.”

Shao Wan laughed, though not with a lot of merriment. “I already am in a lot of trouble, my friend. How much I have longed for your council! I need someone to tell me I’m doing the right thing.”

Fong Hung wrinkled his green forehead. “No, you stupid,” he said simply. “Told you High God Mo Yuan will protect you! Why you not listen!”

Shao Wan laughed again, this time until her tears started to flow. “I have pushed him away again and again, Fong Hung, I thought I had to, I still think.... I never considered to tell him about my plans, because how could I? He is the leader of the enemy troops. We’re going to war against each other again and I cannot lose this time. I am very much afraid.”

Fong Hung slung his arms around her hips and hugged her with considerable strength. “We make it right. We make it right, together!” he assured her.

She hugged her oldest friend back fiercely until he complained about lack of air. She picked him up into her arms then and carried him out of the cave and towards the Obsidian Palace. His excited chatter made her smile. Sometimes, the wheel of destiny needed a kick to start turning, but once it was, there only was one direction to go and it was forward.

****

Tomorrow, it would start. In the end, time had been very short, but he had managed to put all his affairs in order. Even if he never returned to Mount Kunlun, the school’s secrets and the treasure of knowledge were in very good hands. If worst came to worst, Changshan had all the information he needed to continue teaching in the tradition of the most famous Taoist school in all the realms. What Mo Yuan never wanted to see happen again was the school emptying out for millennia, the glory of Kunlun disappearing under a coat of dust, the memories of its greatness all but lost.

After cleaning and oiling all the parts of his armor, Mo Yuan walked through the dark, empty halls, the echo of his footsteps the only sound in the once so lively school. It was a selfish wish, but he was hoping that despite the mobilization of troops in the entire Celestial realm, and the beginning of the campaign tomorrow, Ye Hua would come to see him tonight, like he had come on previous nights.

He needed his brother, now more than ever. The ghosts of the past were haunting him, what had been and what was going to be was blurring in his mind again, making his grasp on reality feel brittle and dream-like. Everything eerily reminded him of the first time he had prepared for war against the Demons. He hoped that seeing Ye Hua would be sufficient proof that now was not then, that things would be different, that choices could still be made without certain calamity following after.

This time, he had a brother, whom he cherished more than life itself. He had his disciples, who waited for him in the military camp with their Senior Die Feng, now the Crown Prince of his kingdom. He had a sister-in-law, who had once moved his heart he had previously thought unmovable. He had a nephew, whose very sight filled his heart with joy. And he had memories of living to the fullest, even if only for a very short time, with life itself gracing his lonely existence with her presence.

The situation now might feel very similar, but it wasn’t going to be, he told himself. He had to believe it.

Earlier that night, he had looked at the scrolls in the library, placing this with that, establishing an even more perfect order than Die Feng had made. When he pulled out The Art of Music to blow the dust off, a scroll that had been stuffed into the shelf beside it had fallen to the floor. It clearly did not belong here, for it was much newer than the rest of the inventory. He had conjured it up into his hand and unrolled it.

He had started reading. “Narrator: Mr. Mo, a mighty god living disguised as a general in the mortal realm…”

Pressing his lips together, he had stuffed the scroll back into the shelf and walked away. There was no room for regret. The play she had written, it too was nothing but proof that this time, things were different.

Mo Yuan was about to leave the Hall to visit one of the darker corners of Mount Kunlun as was his ritual before going to war when Ye Hua appeared in front of him in a puff of silver smoke.

“Brother,” Mo Yuan said and felt moved to hug his twin, a gesture he knew would have startled his little brother too much.

“Da-Ge,” Ye Hua bowed, “I hope I am not disturbing your preparations, but I felt…,” he pulled a couple of bottles from his sleeve.

“What are those,” Mo Yuan smiled, “Zhe Yan’s?”

“I took them from Qian Qian’s stock,” Ye Hua’s voice dropped to a conspiratory whisper, “without asking. She seems to know what’s good?”

Mo Yuan continued to smile, not seeing any need to mould his face into the usually impassive mask he used around most people. “Please follow me,” he said to his brother and started walking.

Ha had erected his parents’ memorial tablets in the cave in which according to legend, Fuxi and Nüwa had set up two separated piles of fire, and the fire had eventually become one. Under the fire, they had decided to become husband and wife and the Heavens had blessed their union.

As soon as Ye Hua saw the burning incense and the tablets, he stopped walking. Mo Yuan, fully aware he could not expect his brother, who had grown up with his own parents, to follow his example, performed three sets of three kowtows. After he was done, he stayed down, pressing his forehead against the cold stone, praying for guidance, for strength and resolve, forcing himself to be calm as still waters.

“How did your … how did mother die?” Ye Hua asked quietly after Mo Yuan got up and faced him.

Mo Yuan took a deep breath. “Father never once talked about it. But I am certain she died when she gave birth to me. When you… when you perished. The battle between the deities Gonggong and Zhuanxu broke the four pillars of the heavens, and Mother worked unceasingly to repair the damage, which caused her to have a miscarriage.”

Ye Hua said nothing. Mo Yuan was a bit surprised about his brother’s complete lack of reaction, but of course, to him, the tales about Fuxi and Nüwa were just that, tales… for someone as young as Ye Hua, the days of foundation were a time of legend, inhabited by people long gone.

“I never knew Mother,” he added as a sudden afterthought. “I wish you had been there with me. It was so very lonely.”

As soon as he had said it, he felt ashamed for being unfilial, for burdening his younger brother with his worries of the past. He turned his face away, embarrassed, and watched the light of the candles dance on the cave walls, until he had found his composure again.

“Let us go somewhere else,” he quietly said. But where? A place he was not reminded of her. A place where he could enjoy wine with his brother without feeling the weight of the past.

“Let’s drink outside,” Ye Hua said, as if he could read his thoughts, “it should be one of the last nights warm enough.”

A million stars twinkling above them, they settled down to drink near his favorite waterfall, a clearing with a natural though slightly slanted stone table and grass to sit on. Summer was over, the nights were getting longer, and there was a chill in the air again that spoke of the frost to come, but they had wine to keep themselves warm and soon, the effects of the alcohol made his head buzz.

“Your heart is heavy,” Ye Hua remarked, eyeing him from the side. His cheeks were flushed after the fifth cup of wine, mirroring Mo Yuan’s own state of increasing lightheadedness. It was an offer to unburden himself, an offer he knew he should take, but did not know how to accept. Talking to someone about himself...Mo Yuan had never learned how.

“When I lost Su Su,” Ye Hua said quietly, “I wanted to die. I would have, if Lian Song had not been there to knock some sense into me. He reminded me that A-Li needed me. It was not much, but it made me hold on.” Ye Hua paused and regarded his cup. “You have no uncle to talk sense into you, Da-Ge. But I think you need one.”

Mo Yuan snickered. “It took me a while to get you to call me Da-Ge, are you tired of it already?”

Ye Hua almost hiccuped when he hurried to set this straight. “I have been thinking about this,” he declared. “My soul feels very old, and Qian Qian says it too. It is very well possible that I would have been the older one.”

Briefly, Mo Yuan wondered whether he should take the cup from his brother’s hand and tell him to return to the Heavens to get a good night’s sleep - it was highly insensible of them to get drunk before the start of the military campaign - but Ye Hua was obviously serious and, he had to admit, not wrong. Had Ye Hua lived, he might have been the elder. He might have been the one chosen to rule the Heavens after their father’s demise. He might have been the one to deserve to live, not Mo Yuan.

“What now,” Ye Hua sighed after a look into his face. “Can you not stop worrying? I have come to lighten your mood, not to further darken it.”

Stop worrying? No. He could not stop. “It is my given duty to defend the realms,” Mo Yuan began, “I cannot…”

His brother held up a hand and interrupted him. “Stop. You are not allowed to say ‘duty’ or ‘responsibility’ tonight.” Mo Yuan lifted his eyebrows, but Ye Hua was stubbornly undeterred. “You are also not allowed to brood in silence. Da-Ge, unless you speak, people will not know what you are thinking.”

Ye Hua filled his cup again, to the rim, probably hoping this would be the one to finally loosen his tongue. Mo Yuan turned it between his fingers, downed its content and held it up for another refill.

“You are still in love with her, are you not,” Ye Hua declared, his face glowing softly in the dark, his eyes full of determination to break his brother’s silence.

“I wonder who you mean,” Mo Yuan replied a bit deviously, laughing inwardly at his brother’s instant confused alarm.

“Qian Qian does not like at all that you have taken in a female disciple,” Ye Hua said, “why do you think that is?”

“Bai Qian is a Queen of her own people, Ye Hua,” Mo Yuan explained, “and she is likely bored in the everbright heavens, where there is nothing to do for her. Maybe she hoped that Kunlun at least would never change.”

“Your Demon Goddess will be furious too when she hears about this,” Ye Hua added.

“No, Ye Hua,” Mo Yuan said calmly though sadly, “she has made it very clear through words and actions that she wants nothing to do with me anymore beyond me being her oldest enemy.”

Ye Hua looked thoughtful. “Qian Qian too was very cold and said hurtful things to me when I confessed my love. And then...I thought I had lost her to...to...you.”

Mo Yuan cleared his throat.

“And still, I pursued her when I saw an opening,” Ye Hua quickly added, seemingly terrified of his own courage suddenly, “and now she is my wife and our lives are blessed. Are you certain the Demon Queen means what she is saying, Da-Ge, do her words and her actions align?”

“She wants this war,” Mo Yuan mused, “for revenge, for status amongst her people. I have no place in her life, beyond the fact that she needs me to get what she wants.”

And yet, it was true that he allowed himself to wonder, in moments of weakness. Her face had said something different when he had last seen her. Her lips had said things to his Dragon Form that he could not forget. There was a part of his heavy heart that foolishly hoped, despite everything.

“If I imagine having to fight against Qian Qian in a war...I could never do it,” Ye Hua said.

“It is indeed what I am most afraid of,” Mo Yuan whispered. “What will I do, Ye Hua, when I have to make a choice between harming the woman I love and failing my du…, my tribe?”

Here it was, his fear, out in the open. Gathering courage, Mo Yuan continued. “Selfishly, I want her. I also want to take her prisoner and lock her away in the deepest cave of Mount Kunlun until the war is over, even if that forever sets her against me. I have seen her burn once, Ye Hua, I...I cannot forget. I don’t want to see her die again.”

It is different now than it was then, Mo Yuan told himself quickly, his current mantra. But why did it all feel so ominous?

“The answer is simple,” Ye Hua said, “if you have to make a choice, you must choose love or you will forever suffer. I know you are much stronger than I am in your resolve, but I also know, there is no remedy against the loss of one’s true love. You will spend an eternity in living hell - nobody in his right mind will willingly choose this. And I’d rather serve a Demon Overlord for the next 100,000 years than see that happen to you.”

Mo Yuan chuckled mirthlessly. Old soul, young mind. The vigor of youth... if only life were this simple. If only his choices were not connected to the lives of thousands.

“I forgot to tell you that ‘fate’ is also a word you are not allowed to use tonight,” Ye Hua said resolutely, guessing his thoughts.

“You do not know what I have done, Ye Hua,” Mo Yuan sighed. “It was my fault 190,000 years ago, I went against the Will of the Heavens. I meddled even though I knew I was not allowed to and I did not feel sorry at all for it. And I was punished for it - someone I cared for was taken from me. It feels exactly the same this time. The balance is upset, Ye Hua. I… should not have come back from the Nothingness.”

He saw understanding dawning in his brothers eyes, what he meant to say. “How do you know this with such certainty, Da-Ge,” Ye Hua whispered.

“Fate does not want two of us around, it upsets the balance of the universe! Why do you think you had to suffer for so many millennia, Ye Hua! Why do you think you were born the moment I died?”

Ye Hua remained quiet for a bit, furrowing his brow while thinking. “Your reasoning is unconvincing and I reject it,” he then said. “Da-Ge, if you believe Fate rules your entire life, then you can do whatever you think is right and in the end, it is still Fate’s Will. The balance is upset? I do not think so. Since you have returned, my life has never been happier. Since you have returned, the Demon Ancestor has come back from the dead as well. You two are very closely connected, brother, undeniably so. Has she not brought you immense joy? Give yourself a chance to believe this is Fate’s will too.”

It surely was the alcohol flowing in his veins that made him care nothing about decorum anymore. Mo Yuan got up, walked around the slab of stone, pulled up Ye Hua by the hand and embraced him fiercely. “Thank you, Ye Hua,” he whispered.

I don’t need to walk my life alone, Mo Yuan thought, his heart swelling. However short or long it might be from now on, I am not alone.

End of the Demon War Preparation Arc

Chapter 78