Chapter 47.5

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written by MiniOrchid
edited by kakashi

Chang Shan had finally found her, his unfortunate, accident-prone swan. How she had gotten herself into yet another predicament he did not know, but he was very grateful she was back. After carefully treating the injury on her foot, he placed her back on her makeshift bed in the large woven basket. Due to her current state, it was unlikely she would get herself into more trouble - at least not right away. He sighed with relief that he had found her safe despite her injuries, and that there had been no hawk around to exploit her weakness. She was very lucky indeed.

At first, with Shifu's permission, he had placed her with Fong Hung to recuperate, but had soon learnt that Fong Hung didn't want to share the pond with another occupant. She had flown back to him that very same day, shaking with fear in his arms. When he went back to the pond with her, Fong Hung had looked at them like he was going to gobble her up if she dared enter his territory again. Fearing Shimu's wrath if he scolded the toad, Chang Shan had resigned to having the swan stay in his room, and had made a bed for her near his own. She was quiet, didn't make much of a fuss, and was content under his care. He had never had such a lovely agreeable creature whose head always perked up at his appearance.

From that day on, he had hurried to complete his chores and had delegated additional tasks to his juniors so he could spend more time with his swan. He even allowed 3rd junior to oversee all tasks at Kunlun for the first time. It made Chang Shan realize something he had overlooked until now: It was good, even necessary for him to take a step back, allowing his juniors to excel at their skills without his constant interference. Like when he had told 7th to stock up on elixirs. 7th junior had not only completed his task dutifully, but had also collected additional rare ingredients from the realms thanks to his special connections, allowing Kunlun to produce elixirs at a rapider pace in the future. When he had inspected the inventory with 4th, he had found out that 4th had reorganized their supply room and had created a better and more efficient system to keep track of their reserves. He had also allowed 14th to become even more creative with weapons production - much to the chagrin of others, because a few explosion had occurred since 14th had started experimenting with new weapon making techniques. His efforts did pay off, however: 14th had eventually created new lighter metals, which were likely to have great benefits for their realm.

They were more prepared than ever, but tensions were high at Kunlun nonetheless. His swan had always sensed when he was stressed and her presence had brought him comfort. He had soon learned she was fascinated when he read to her, an activity that calmed him down and brought him joy. On some days, she would even hop on his thigh and nestle herself in his lap, while observing the scroll as he read. No matter what subject it was, she was engrossed. Other times he had brought her along when he did his chores. His patient swan would look on from the corner of the room, never causing trouble, waiting for him to finish his tasks. She was his lucky charm, because since the day he'd taken her in, his bad luck had disappeared. She was his comfortable shadow, a companion he had grown to care for deeply, because she made him forgot his everyday worries.

Then one day...she had been gone.

Chang Shan had been frantic when he had first found out she was missing. He wasn't just upset or distressed, but afraid. Dread consumed him as he searched every corner of Kunlun for her repeatedly and he could not find any trace of her. The thought of her being alone out there, unprotected, still not fully healed - he had feared for the worst. Why had she left when she was not yet recovered? The longer she was gone, the less he could concentrate on his duties. He made more mistakes, distracted by the thoughts of and his fears for her. Now that she had returned, he could finally resume his duties with the same careful efficiency as before.

Although they did not speak about it, the Kunlun Disciples knew that a period of relative calm was coming to an end with the arrival of the Ghost Generals seeking an audience with their Ghost Princess. The changes were especially going to affect Zi Lan, who kept disappearing for long stretches of time and had lost his smile altogether. Chang Shan was worried about what 16th was going to do. His independence had always been a great quality, but his unpredictability was the most worrisome character trait. 16th was known to take actions without consulting anyone, creating nerve-racking situations for his seniors.

Chang Shan sighed heavily as he looked at his swan. She was also unpredictable and that worried him. Abstractedly, his hand caressed a folded soft, fragrant, red silk-ribbon that lay on the table in front of him.

"How did you end up there?" he asked his swan curiously.

"Was she the one who took care of you the past few days?" he continued to probe as he extended his hand to caress the side of the swan's neck.

"Do you know where she's gone?"

But his swan only stared back, her eyes unreadable. She had her scent, the unique lemony fragrance of magnolia. There was no doubt they had been together. Why had she lied?

******

Last Night

Chang Shan was unsure if he should listen to Qiao Er, but since there were no other options, he guessed it didn't hurt to try. He waited close to midnight as instructed before he ventured to the bottom of Kunlun Mountain. He must be desperate to listen to a child, but 4th junior had assured him it would pay off to take her advice seriously, as ridiculous as it sounded. Dancing, she said? It was only a half moon tonight, and although his vision was excellent in the dark for a bird who was not nocturnal, the moonlight that made it's way through the dense forest was limited.

As he traveled further away from Kunlun, he could hear the sound of rippling water. Living at Kunlun where the sound of waterfalls was common, his interest was captured by the splashing water. There was a rhythm to it, quite similar to water droplet music he had heard before. Following the water music to its source, he strolled through the dark forest. The closer he got, the more intrigued he became. It was hypnotizing.

As he reached the clearing, he could see a pond glistening in the moonlight. Glowing white lotus flowers were scattered on its edges, bouncing from the ripples of the waves. In the center, the most stunning object of all was...a fairy, dressed all in white. Crimson red silk was wrapped around her arms, extending outwards as she whipped the silk ribbons like swordplay. She glided, spun, jumped....the ends of the red ribbons splashed on the surface of the pond. The layers of her white silk dress fluttered gracefully in the breeze of the night. Her bare feet slid lightly and fluidly back and forth over the surface of the water as she pivoted and kicked. When she retreated backward, the pair of red ribbons swirled in front of her. She jumped and arched, the ribbons whirled behind her, and as she landed, only the surface of the water was touched by her toes.

Chang Shan was transfixed by the water fairy. Her enchanting silk dance made him move to the edge of the pond unconsciously. Suddenly, her eyes caught his - and she tripped over her own feet in shock. He swiftly jumped to catch her and transported her safely to the edge of the pond. His body was bent over hers still, like when he had caught her waist mid-fall. Their gaze locked and her heart-shaped face blushed deeply from the intimate contact. Finding himself blushing violently in return, Chang Shan released her instantly, making her fall to the ground with a yelp.

"My apologies! I didn't mean to drop you. Miss...let me help you," he apologized profusely at his callous actions. Gingerly, Chang Shan helped her up, and led her rest on a rock on the edge of the pond.

"Miss...ar-are you alright?" he asked with concern, still hovering over her.

The white fairy nodded nervously, her cheeks now scarlet, and she soon averted her eyes. Realizing his hands still held her arms, Chang Shan released his hold. He quickly retreated a few steps back, and turned his gaze to the pond, not wanting to frighten her further. But his heart continued to hammer uncontrollably. They were alone here in the night, which was highly inappropriate.

The silence became more deafening as time passed. Never had he been alone with a woman at such an advanced hour of the night and his mind tried to come up with the best course of actions for such an uncomfortable situation, but he came up with a blank. Chang Shan took a deep breath and gathered his courage to break the awkward tension.

"I didn't mean to startle you. Are you hurt?"

"I'm alright...," came a soft sweet voice. She sounded young, but elegant.

"I apologize again for interrupting your dance. I didn't expect there would be anyone here at this hour."

"Why are you here so late then?" she asked, her tone more vibrant than before.

"Actually, I'm here on a mission in search of my injured swan," he answered sheepishly.

"Swan?"

He turned to look at her. "Yes, have you seen her?" his voice turned anxious. "She has a red strip of feathers on one side of her wing."

She shook her head. "Unfortunately, I haven't seen a swan that matches your description. But there are many swans in the forest, you can easily take your pick," she suggested.

Chang Shan shook his head at the thought. "No, it can't be any swan. It has to be her."

The fairy arched her head and looked at him curiously, a single dimple appearing on her left cheek. "Why is this one special to you?" she asked.

"I don't know how to explain...," his hand rubbed his neck. "But I do need to have her back," he explained. "The thought of her out here, unprotected...alone...brings me much fear."

Her eyes lit up at his response, her red lips curled into a smile. "You care for her that much?"

"I do..." he whispered. Yes, his swan was beautiful, but it wasn't just her beauty, but her attentiveness, which had brought comfort to his lonely heart. "She has become a piece of me. I feel lost without her." Chang Shan had to chuckle at his own words as soon as they left his lips. His hand covered his eyes at his own silliness. "You must think I am a fool."

"No...," came the unexpected response that made him look at her again. Her soft eyes held his as she continued. "Only a wise man is willing to look foolish for the one he cherishes."
The fairy smiled even brighter than before, making him ponder her reaction in bafflement. But it wasn't just that, there was something peculiar about her that reminded him so much of what he had lost. What was it?, he wondered. He looked at her again, clearly now, taking in her youthful beauty. Her hair was up in two buns held by red ribbons, her skin was white as pearl, the eyes were bright yet dark to match her elegant heart shaped face, and she had a single dimple, uniquely alluring when she smiled. This was the first time they met, wasn't it?

"Could you do me a favor?" her change of subject pulled him from his observation.

She had averted her eyes again. Aware that he was being rude for staring at her, he turned his gaze back to the water. "Yes, Miss, what do you need?"

"I dropped my red silk in the water earlier, could you retrieve it for me?"

"I can do that," he answered quickly, anything to avoid embarrassing himself further in her presence. "I'll be right back."

Chang Shan jumped into the dark pond, allowing himself to submerge into the cold depth of the water. He conjured a ball of light in front of him to light his surroundings. It didn't take him long to find the red silk ribbon floating in the water and he soon resurfaced with the lost item in his hand.

"Miss?"

But she was gone.

****

Present...

Chang Shan had found his swan soon after the white fairy had disappeared. He wondered if he had scared her. He had tried to look for her again to apologize, but there was no trace of her except for the faint scent of magnolia that still lingered in the air. The moment was so magical and dreamy, he would have thought he had hallucinated if not for the red silk ribbon, still in his possession. Who was she? He never got her name.

"She knew you were there, and didn't tell me. I wonder why?" still his swan gave no response. Is she protecting her?, he wondered.

"You're lucky Qiao Er told me where you were, I've been looking for you everyday since you've gone missing."

The swan's eyes lit up.

"You remember Qiao Er? She's leaving soon, but she was worried about you. She made sure I found you again. The poor child, who only thinks of others."

Chang Shan touched the side of her wings. "She loves your red feathers, she always talks about them," his whispered, aching at the thought of what the child may have to endure in the future.

She must have caught his anguished tone. Despite her wobbly injured foot, the swan jumped out of her basket. Her beak reached into her wing, and she pulled out a feather, her body flinching at her actions.

"What are you doing? Don't pluck your own feather!" Chang Shan stood up in shock.

She placed a red feather in front of him.

Perplexed, he asked, "for me?" But his swan shook her head and pointed her beak outside.

"Qiao Er?" he guessed, and she nodded in response. "Really?"

Chang Shan sat down again, his hand caressed the the side of her wing. "Did it hurt?" he asked with concern, but her eyes only sparkled. What a kind, gentle swan...his swan. Who still consoled him, when she herself was the one needing comfort.

"How foolish of you to cherish me so...," he smiled at her, and on impulse, he placed a peck on her head. "Thank you."

Her eyes widened in shock, she quickly backed away from him...and promptly fainted.

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