Fanfic: Mo Yuan and Shao Wan 2.0 - Chapter 12a (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 12a

written by kakashi
consulting/editing Ligaya and Panda

“And this… this is the site where the Demon Ancestor’s funeral pyre was erected,” Yu Dian said in his melodious voice that seemed perfect for singing tragic ballads. “It’s not far from here to the Obsidian Palace, you will be able to rest soon.”

The journey felt painfully long indeed, but not because of the substantive number of hours needed to ride from the Purple Queen’s Palace to Shao Wan’s former home. No, Mo Yuan’s desire for solitude and silence had grown exponentially in relation to the number of hours spent listening to Yu Dian’s explanations about the history of the Demon Realm and his smarmy monologues about the sights and landmarks they passed. It was not unlikely, Mo Yuan had thought during a particularly long digression that slowed them down to a snail pace, that this Demon Lord made up for his lack of cultivation and fighting skills with an ability to talk his opponents into a stupor.

Tian Gu, whose almost heart shaped eyes barely ever left the Demon Lord’s face, had started complaining to her Shifu about a worsening headache halfway through their trip. The power suppression seemed to affect her more physically than should be the case. Maybe because she was of the Horse Tribe? But he, too, felt the adverse effects of the Demon Realms’ strange powers batter against his own. At the same time, they seemed to call to him softly, like they wanted his undivided attention. It was rather unnerving.

Maybe he shouldn’t have insisted he needed no elixirs when Zhe Yan had last examined him. His pride… it hadn't served him well. Not recently and maybe never.

Upon hearing Tian Gu’s lament, the bearded Demon Lord had immediately rummaged through one of his saddle-bags and had pulled his hand out with a grand gesture, offering Tian Gu a small green vial. An old Demon remedy, he had called it with a wink, good for many ailments, especially headaches. Mo Yuan doubted that Yu Dian would want to poison his only remaining disciple, he seemed to be rather differently inclined, so he had nodded to give his consent when she had looked at him questioningly.

Looking upon the site where Shao Wan’s body had burnt to ash made Mo Yuan wish for some remedy too. Something to numb him and make him carry a silly smile on his face, one just like Tian Gu had after drinking the tincture. Yu Dian currently lectured about Demon burial rites, though he seemed a little distracted by her smiles. Bodies of Demon immortals were only burnt after a complicated, multi-step process to ensure their souls had scattered for good, he explained.

“Your body would have been burnt, Shifu, had you been a Demon,” Tian Gu remarked sadly. “I’m sure it seemed like you scattered for good.”

That was not unlikely.

“Ah,” Yu Dian said and moved a little closer, his curiosity making his eyes shine, “I have heard you spent 70,000 years in the Nothingness, High God Mo Yuan, while your body was preserved in a hidden cave by one of your disciples? What a tale, what a tale!”

Mo Yuan had not known the true story of his absence was now common knowledge even among the Demon Tribe. He scowled. Though overall, maybe the truth was preferable to Donghua’s version? At least it didn’t make him sound like a lusty scoundrel.

“Just like Demon Ancestor Shao Wan,” Yu Dian continued quietly. “You even spent time in the Nothingness together. Who knows, maybe pieces of your soul met there?”

Mo Yuan did not like to be reminded of his highly unpleasant time in the Nothingness. And he liked Yu Dian’s repeated probing into his affairs even less. His scowl deepened. Yu Dian, much more perceptive than his noisiness would suggest, backed off quietly.

He had not quite made up his mind about the young Demon. He was very polite and had a winning personality, but Mo Yuan knew he was one of those people who hid their shrewdness behind a facade of nonchalance. They were the most dangerous of all opponents. Since Yu Dian had become Yi Mei Niang’s main confidant in a relatively short time, he knew he had to be extra careful around him. It went without saying that he was tasked with sending back information about him to the current Overlord. But it was also possible Yu Dian had an antirely different agenda.

Mo Yuan’s network of spies had returned with surprisingly little information about him. The Green Kingdom was small and very remote, bordering the great desert area to the East. Yu Dian’s father, the previous Green Lord, had fallen seriously ill just before the latest Demon War and the Green Kingdom had not taken part in the fighting as a result. Yu Dian, who had no brothers but only sisters, had ruled at interim until the old king had died and the crown had passed to him without a challenge. Now that he had left his palace to serve in Yi Mei Niang’s council, one of his sisters was ruling in his stead. On her also, there was basically no information.

“What… what if she’s trying to come back too?” Tian Gu suddenly stammered and grabbed Mo Yuan’s sleeve. “And they burnt her body? Will she be an èguǐ (餓鬼, hungry ghost)? Oh, Shifu, how sad!”

“As I was saying,” Yu Dian continued his lecture as Mo Yuan gently removed Tian Gu’s hand from his robe, “our physicians make absolutely sure no traces of the soul essence are left in all the known realms. I hear the Celestials possess a device that helps to gather pieces of a scattered soul? We Demons possess a similar artifact, a mirror. So, sadly, Demon Ancestor Shao Wan is gone for good... what a horrible loss. The amount of tears shed at her burial by all her people was unparalleled. She was so greatly admired. Do you see that little creek over there? It swelled up to four times its’ size during the rites.”

He had shed no real tears at all, Mo Yuan realized. It was because he didn't know how to cry, even when the pain in his chest made him choke at night. Shao Wan, my Shao Wan, he thought, why did you have to leave me? Why is it that others find eternal happiness, but I find eternal pain? When will it be enough?

They continued the journey in silence afterwards. Both Yu Dian and Tian Gu threw Mo Yuan little worried glances from time to time. He no longer hid the pain he was feeling. It seemed inappropriate after standing where her body had burnt and he was too tired of keeping up appearances. What point was there in Celestial propriety when the land and the people around him had almost nothing in common with it? What point was there in hiding the heart shattering grief he felt when everybody knew what she had been to him?

Demons hid no feelings. They wore them proudly on their faces, the young just like the old. They were so much more alive than anyone he knew in the Thirty Six Heavens. It had struck him that Demons lived their immortal lives much more like mortals lived theirs… they were passionate, emotional, dramatic. They charged ahead and regretted nothing. They were incredibly brave. When they had ridden through a town earlier, little children had gaped and then shouted challenges at him until their parents had come running to see what the commotion was.

“It is the God of War, he has really come to the Demon Realm,” someone had whispered and everybody who could walk had soon gathered to take a good look at the Man every Demon Longed to Kill.

He had expected to be met with hate, but that was not what he saw on their faces. These peasants had looked at him with curiosity, awe… and excitement. Whatever they had in their hands, they gripped it harder and for a moment, it looked like they might rush forward to challenge him, people with no training whatsoever, yet eager to prove themselves.

“Can I fight him? Oh, please, Bàba, can I fight him? Please!” a little girl had insisted and had struggled ferociously against her father’s grip on her arms.

Yu Dian had laughed and waved, and the people of this small town had bowed upon seeing their Overlord’s emblem on his coat. The tension dissolved. Yet, Mo Yuan had felt eyes on his back and an ominous prickling at his neck and he knew, the Demon Realm and its people would be a challenge.

The kind of challenge that he liked. A challenge that needed resolve, finesse and careful planning.

He had lost his heart to someone who would do anything to see these people happy. If Shao Wan had deemed them worthy of her sacrifices, they were. Would they let him get to know them for a bit? He wanted to do them justice when he wrote his book, to make the Realms see what he had seen in her.

“You wouldn’t believe how excited everybody was when they heard you were gracing us with a visit,” Yu Dian had explained. “To see such a legend with one’s own eyes! I must admit, I was very excited myself.”

“Oh, imagine how excited I was when I found out he would teach me!” Tian Gu had exclaimed. “Though… he actually isn’t teaching me at all. Shifu, when will you start?”

“Mindfulness,” Mo Yuan had lectured, “is not asking a teacher when he will start teaching but watching and learning, always.”

Yu Dian had laughed at this remark, which made Tian Gu pout. They were so young, Mo Yuan thought, feeling a brush of nostalgia, so young and carefree. He had never been like this.

Not long after leaving the area of her ritual burning, the Obsidian Palace first appeared in their view.

“Oh!” Tian Gu gasped.

It was a sight to behold indeed. They were still a fair distance away, an almost bare rocky plain between them and the structures that nestled against black rock of impressive height, but even from the distance is was clear that the Obsidian Palace was very special. Awe-inspiring. The seat of a Queen whose powers had been legendary.

“When she was still very young, Demon Ancestor Shao Wan found this place through divine will. Legend has it she was tracking a Jiangshi, who had been terrorizing the people in this region together with its kin, and it had lured her to its tribe, which lived in the caves in these black mountains. Rather than falling into its trap, the Demon Ancestor killed the Jiangshi and its family and took possession of their habitat. What you see is only partially manmade - about half of it is a natural formation.” Yu Dian threw Mo Yuan one of his looks. “But you have been inside already, High God Mo Yuan, have you not? So you probably know more than I do.”

“He let himself be captured deliberately,” Tian Gu blustered unbidden.

Yu Dian blinked his eyes. “Oh, I meant no disrespect. I just heard about…”

“I saw the dungeons and some secret passage, but that wasn’t very memorable,” Mo Yuan said drily.

Yu Dian grinned.

“There are many secret passages, are there not?” Mo Yuan asked their guide.

“Yes,” the young man nodded, “I am afraid that the only person who knew them all and the traps they contain is now dead. But you should have time to explore the palace, High God Mo Yuan, and I would be very honored to assist you. There is a library, where I hope we can find records of the building and its grounds.”

“Thank you,” Mo Yuan said. “I will gladly accept your assistance.”

If anything, it would assure that he could keep an eye on Yu Dian and learn more about his motives.

As they got closer, he could see that what had looked like a multi-level building was structures hewn into the face of the mountain, a natural cave system turned into living quarters. What had appeared dull black soon revealed itself to be glimmering in metallic colors, as if millions of fireflies were flitting over the surface.

“It’s beautiful,” Tian Gu breathed.

“Yes,” Yu Dian agreed, “it makes me want to cry every time I see it.”

The entire household waited for them at the Gates and bowed to the ground as they rode by. “The Overlord hand-picked each and every maid, servant, guard, cook, and stable boy,” Yu Dian proudly announced, “and I helped her. These two,” they stopped in front of the entrance and dismounted as he indicated two people bowing, “are the head of guards, La Zhu, and the head of maids, Mi Mai.” His voice dropped. “She used to be intimate with the Yellow King at the Demon Ancestor’s behest. The current Overlord pardoned her for her services instead of sentencing her to death for collaborating with him.”

“I want Tian Gu to be the one the household staff talks to,” Mo Yuan said after receiving their greeting. “And I need no maids. My disciple will do the necessary cleaning in my room.”

Mi Mai’s head came up. She looked offended. That had not been his intention, but he wanted no servants near him, not least because they were the Purple Queen’s spies.

“My Shifu has lived the life of an ascetic for thousands of years,” Tian Gu saw another need to defend him, “he needs no such attention.”

“Thank you, Tian Gu,” Mo Yuan said.

“But he is the son of our Maker,” Mi Mai said defiantly, “he deserves the comfortable life of a King.”

“No maids, understood,” Yu Dian said with a pointed look at the head maid, who bowed her head again, though reluctantly. “I have prepared the following rooms for you, High God Mo Yuan: sleeping chambers. A study. A room to entertain guests. A dining room. What else do you need?”

“A place to meditate,” Mo Yuan said, “but I will pick it myself. I guess we can practice martial arts in the courtyard?”

“Will you train us?” La Zhu eagerly said and then remembered good form, “ apologies, High God, but I am always eager to learn. And your skills are legendary. Please teach us.”

“You and your men are free to join,” Mo Yuan nodded. “Training starts two hours before sunrise. No late comers welcome.”

“Are you serious?” Tian Gu gasped.

“Eighteenth,” Mo Yuan sternly said, “if you drop the honorifics one more time, I will give the maids time to visit their families and will have you clean the entire palace.”

The Horse Princess gasped and looked around for someone to take her side. Nobody did.

They entered the Palace and found themselves in a huge hall, from which two large flight of stairs led to the upper level. Yu Dian led them up and into a long corridor. Several objects of power were exhibited here. A golden dragon scale - Mo Yuan recognized it as belonging to his father. A Spirit Stone. A jade pendant in the form of a turtle. The tip of a Moon Tooth Spade. A Qilin Core.

Fragments of a life he had been part of, yet far too briefly. Behind that thought lay a deep pit of pain, so he stepped away from it.

They walked for a while and Yu Dian showed them several rooms, of which the Red Throne Room stood out the most. It was a room Shao Wan would have liked - the energies were very strong, even wild there. Mo Yuan also appreciated that in most rooms, there was a natural source of light. That story about the Jiangshi and its nest was probably true; from what he knew, these sort of caves were favored by them.

“This will be your room,” Yu Dian finally said, “if you so please.”

Of course, these had been Shao Wan’s bedchambers. Her scent was in the air, very faint but unmistakable, and even though there were no objects lying around, the feng shui of the room was clearly matched to her energy.

It was likely Yi Mei Niang meant to punish him for treating her the way he had during the War by putting him in this room, but he would not give her the pleasure of showing any weakness. If he tried hard enough, he could make himself believe that Shao Wan had just left to fetch something outside and would be back in a moment.

“I want Eighteenth close by for her education,” he ordered and nodded his thanks towards the servant who was bringing in his few bags.

“Did you lose some luggage on the way, Sir?” the man asked sympathetically.

“My Shifu travels lightly!” Tian Gu exclaimed, “he doesn’t need to show who he is by bringing wagon loads of things. He doesn’t even possess wagon loads of things! He…”

“Thank you, Eighteenth,” Mo Yuan said and suppressed a smile. His eyes met Yu Dian’s who seemed to relax when he saw the High God’s amusement.

“Would you like a bath, High God Mo Yuan?” he asked. “I can tell the servants to prepare one.”

“He doesn’t take warm…”

“That’s enough, Eighteenth,” Mo Yuan said more sharply, “I can speak for myself. I thank you, Green Lord, but I am used to shower underneath the waterfalls of Kunlun or use one of the hot springs if it is too cold. Is there something similar around here?”

Yu Dian seemed to think. “No waterfalls. But we do have hot springs here somewhere. I will inquire. Very well, then I shall show the Lady to her chambers and we will all meet later for dinner?”

“Be aware that my Shifu does not eat meat, he only…”

“Tian Gu,” Mo Yuan said even more sharply.

“I am sorry, Shifu,” she bowed, “I will try not to speak up too quickly in the future. But did you see how these maids eyed you? Outrageous! You did well to refuse their services!”

“You do not need to guard my virtues,” Mo Yuan sighed, “I am old enough to know what I am doing. I hope you are too.”

Tian Gu blushed and quickly turned her head to look at Yu Dian who was waiting at the entrance. The young man innocently raised his eyebrows. “Are you coming, Milady?”

The horse Princess hurried out of the room without looking at anyone, promptly bumping into one of the guards outside who yelped in shock.

“If you will excuse me,” Yu Dian said and left after her.

Quietness descended all around him. Alone… finally alone.

He changed into a more comfortable robe and opened his hair. He would rest a little on the bed before dinner. It was softer and more comfortable than what he was used to, so comfortable he found himself drifting off to sleep almost instantly.

Right at the edge of waking and dreaming, he became aware of an object.

It was near and it tried very hard not to be seen.

Mo Yuan got up and went over to the dressing table. He opened one of the drawers and there it was: a knife.

It was a very fine knife and it didn’t look like it was of Celestial making.

His knife.

His knife?… how… it had once belonged to him, but why did he not remember anything about it?

“A memory token,” he whispered. They were used to lock away erased memories. There weren't many people alive who knew how to perform this spell.

His heart beating faster, he slowly reached for the blade. As soon as his fingers touched it, memories flooded him.

His memories.

Chapter 12b