Chapter 61

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written by kakashi
consulting by MiniOrchid and Panda


Cheng Yin had reserved one room in the one presentable inn for himself and Shao Wan, since they would have to spend several days in this mortal world and it was his conviction 'not to mingle with the soldiers beyond the necessary'. His renewed and brazen attempt to get to share a room - or rather a bed - with her was extremely vexing, and Shao Wan saw herself forced to threaten the terrified innkeeper since she had little desire to sleep on the stairs of the overbooked joint. She flashed her dagger and told him she'd murder a random customer for an additional room - or more preferably, the innkeeper himself. Clearly, the poor man had never seen a female general in his life, and he did not know whether to look away in horror or stare at her in rapture.

Cheng Yin's ways puzzled and alarmed Shao Wan - why he would want to create such a ruckus in this world by not changing their appearance and hiding their profession, Shao Wan did not know, but she knew in his case, nothing was for benign reasons. When she had first learned about his mortal-realm trick, she had felt impressed. Then, pretty quickly, she had felt horrified. He would sacrifice so many men just to one-up Mo Yuan? Cheng Yin's obsession with the Celestial was utterly fascinating and deeply disturbing. Yes, the God of War was the Enemy Personified for Demons, but Cheng Yin's hatred seemed too personal, when he had barely ever met the Celestial.

Shao Wan had seen the elixir chamber in her palace - empty, but completely remodeled by Cheng Yin. It was the only room he had laid hands on during her long absence and all those sound-proof, thick doors made her deeply uneasy. She had heard the rumors - how so many Demons had disappeared into the bowels of the Obsidian Palace, to never crawl out again. What had the Yellow King done to them? She feared she already knew, but a part of her did not want to believe it. In truth, part of her still stubbornly harbored some hope for this boy, despite everything he had done, everything he had become.

After seeing that room, she had started to personally watch Cheng Yin as much as possible, even if it meant spending more time with him. This way, she had found out that he took enhancement elixirs, from a black vial he kept close to him on a chain around his neck. This was not in itself noteworthy, most Demons took such elixirs, for sexual stamina, beauty, speed, relaxation - there was nothing there was no elixir for if you looked hard enough and paid enough money. But in Cheng Yin's case, it was the effect of the elixir that gave Shao Wan pause. He masked it well, but whenever he took a sip, there was a very brief yet distinct look of utmost agony on his face.

What discomforted her the most, though, was her inability to read this man. She had always had a knack for scanning the essence of immortals without apparent magick, a useful skill she had been born with. She could not get quite as deep as someone using proper soul-tracking magick, but she could fathom a lot about a person's physical state and even intentions by just looking at them. In Cheng Yin's case, she saw nothing. It was like he was already dead, a thoroughly empty shell with no life-force. Since he was very clearly alive, she had gathered he must be an expert at hiding things.

Going up blind against a man like him was a source of constant tension for Shao Wan. She had always been proud of her ability to follow her gut whenever she needed to and had won many a fight this way, but facing Cheng Yin, her gut only told her to kill him and be done with it. The way he looked at her, one moment with admiration, the next with fathomless hate, the way he lurked and creeped, even the way he groveled and bowed...it gave her goosebumps. She was certain he knew she did not trust him one bit just as she knew he was up to no good at all.

Are you careful enough, she wanted to ask Mo Yuan, or too arrogant again? Do you understand why I could not be tempted to rest beside you? But then, she remembered that she and the God of War would not talk again. And since it was not unlikely that one or both of them would end up dead in the upcoming war anyway, she was probably better advised to stop worrying about him entirely.

The bed in the room she had extorted from the innkeeper was very narrow (on top of looking thoroughly uncomfortable) and Shao Wan first considered ordering Yue to sleep on the floor, but she had picked up additional signs from Cheng Yin today that alarmed her, including his barely contained rage at her taking another room. She was almost certain the Yellow Demon King was doubting what she wanted him to believe and by the looks in his eyes, he was plotting something.

"Be alert," she told her guards. "Remember how much you cost me and don't die."

At nightfall, she took the boy to bed, like every night, since changing the routine now seemed ill advised. How he managed to hold on to his bedwarmer position this tenaciously and not yield it to any of his brothers even for a single night she did not know. Whatever the arrangement was between her guards, Yue behaved like an eager, jealous watchdog whenever she looked at the other eleven when evening came, and nobody challenged his right to be the one to stay close to her.

He had helped her undress, since she had no maids with her and the chain mail was heavy and ungainly, and he had gasped when he had seen the still unhealed, bloody gash on her arm. She had looked at the wound in annoyance. Why would it not heal?

"This wound is poisoned," Yue said anxiously, "Ancestor, we need to find a healer."

"We cannot leave," Shao Wan shook her head, "and a mortal healer would just poison me more."

Yue had looked like he wanted to protest, but she had shot him one of her angriest looks and he had shut his mouth, though with a scowl. Shao Wan had used more energy than before to heal the gash and it looked like it finally closed, though it continued to throb and prickle even then.

She went to bed, leaving Yue the outside of the bed. He made himself as small as possible so as not to bother her, not an easy feat for someone as muscular as him. She fell asleep quickly, exhausted as she was. However, in contrast to all the other nights before this one, she woke up suddenly in the complete dark because their bodies touched - she realized she must have rolled over in her sleep and so had he - and the moment that happened, the boy's body went completely stiff. Everywhere. They boy held his breath - the silence was complete. But then, a helpless tremor started in his body as he was overcome by his obvious bodily needs.

Shao Wan had clearly told the Purple Queen she wanted guards that leaned the other way, but apparently, that did not prevent them from having bodies that reacted to the closeness of another body, male or female. Or maybe, she thought with a flash of anger, the Purple Queen had made sure to complicate her life.

"Get out," she said relatively calm, "right now."

Yue scrambled up and jumped out of bed, kowtowing repeatedly, almost hitting his pretty forehead on the floor, saying loudly and pleadingly: "Please, Ancestor, forgive me, forgive me."

Shao Wan cursed as she sat up. Immediately, four more guards stood in the room, weapons drawn. What a damn mess. She wanted to tell them to stand down and buzz out of her sight when her nose picked up the faintest of smells. She knew this smell.

"Gas," she whispered in alarm and jumped out of bed in her white undergarments. What an unexpected twist; it seemed she needed to thank a young man's bodily needs instead of cursing them.

Her guards smelled it too. Lightning quick, they whipped out masks for themselves and her and after tying the piece of cloth firmly around her mouth and nose, five of them took her in the middle, to shield her with their bodies. Despite the protection of the mask, the thickening smoke made her eyes water and her lungs spasm. It was hard to see much in the dark, but she felt the malicious presence of at least thirty ... Demons? Ghosts? She was not sure. And that could only mean one thing.

"Assassins", she coughed and felt an urge to push her guards aside to take care of them. Who dared to send assassins against the Demon Ancestor? It was outrageous.

They were upon them like a dark wave. The guards around her did not budge, but the other six whirled around the room to ward off the well-trained killers. Weapons sparked and men grunted. The assassins did not fight in ways familiar to her - it seemed like they were even hiding their guild association. She had left Taiyang back at the palace with Li Ying, a decision she quickly came to regret: The guards were used to fighting in specific formations, which meant their missing twelfth brother left an awkward gap in their defense. Vowing she would take it upon herself personally to teach them some more flexible and spontaneous formations when she had the time, she pushed Xing from behind and barked "go help!" at him. He hesitated briefly but obeyed.

The room was small and the assassins pressed forward in mass. Her guards fought well, but they were hugely disadvantaged - it was just a matter of time until the assassins would have cornered them completely.

"Let me out," she yelled at the four men building a wall of muscle around her, "or we'll soon lose all ability to move! Can't you see, you fools!"

It was Yue who turned to her, scowling and displeased, but seeing his face just made her angrier. "What are you looking at!" she hissed at him, "when will you learn to obey, you idiot!"

They all hesitated. It was the end of her patience. With a howl of fury, she pushed them with force from behind and jumped across their bodies as the stumbled forward, using Yue's back and her hand to turn neatly in the air and slam her legs full force into one of the assassins. They were good but no match for her. A solid wall of bodyguards behind her, she paved them a path towards the door and out into the corridor. She decided she would ask for her money back. This was just ridiculous.

As soon as she stepped outside, Cheng Yin conveniently made his appearance next to her. His presence gave her a brief moment of pause. Had he been waiting here? Why?

The handle of his whip slammed into an assassin's face with such force the man's jaw broke. He spit a fountain of blood towards Shao Wan. Cheng Yin followed the red droplets with his eyes - and then grabbed her arm forcefully, to pull her to the side. Her injured left arm. She yelped. The wound was in no way healed; horrible pain shot up her arm and into her heart at his touch.

"Are you injured, Wan Wan," Cheng Yin asked her, his voice honey-sweet and concerned - but his eyes...his eyes betrayed him. He sneered triumphantly. Shao Wan felt sick to the stomach. However he had managed, that person who had injured her in the pits had been his man? That also meant: this was his poison. She had fallen for his trap and it angered her so much she screamed in fury.

Cheng Yin moved away from her and his whip caught Lei across the face and Shan across the back. Her guards went down. His whip also hurt three assassins, but not as badly. it was deliberate, a show of force.

"You bastard," Shao Wan said bitterly and summoned power into her arms. Feeling deep despair, she ceased to care: she would end him now. She had been such a fool to believe even for a second she could outsmart someone like him. She was too soft, too...humane. Cheng Yin smiled lovingly at her, showing his perfectly shaped teeth, and stepped very close. Putting his lips next to her ear, he said: "You cannot escape me. You will die unless you ask me for the antidote. You are well aware of the price. Just ask."

Shao Wan howled again - and unleashed her power on the assassins instead of the man she hated with the power of a thousand suns. Twenty of them - dead in an instance. The rest, Cheng Yin took care of. When the dust settled, the entire upper storey of the inn was in ruins. Dying, bleeding men were all around her and she felt so much hatred and so much despair. Why. Why had she chosen this life? When would it end?

***

Killing instinct took over completely as Mo Yuan transformed into his true form. His eighty-one yang and thirty-six yin scales shimmered golden in the sun as he took flight. Mo Yuan the Golden Dragon summoned clouds and they started forming above and around him, ominous, black, towering like bizarre castles in the skies. Celestial Power was gathering in them, ready to discharge, waiting for his command.

Meticulously, he positioned them over his enemies. Some of them transformed now, but it was futile, almost pitiful to see them scramble and run on four short legs, earthbound captives. His lightning struck thousands of them dead. The rain he made afterwards drowned several thousands more. The torrential flood flushed them away, be they in man or in beast form, it made no difference. He swept the more resistant ones up in his claws and threw them across the world, so that they would never stand up again. Law-breakers, all of them, doomed.

But two were among the enemy that were special.

Both were powerful, but one was hard to see - he knew how to hide himself in the fabric of worlds and because he greatly annoyed and angered him, Golden Dragon preferred to look at the other. It was another ancient life form just like him, but a yin fire-being, burning bright like the sun. He set aside his battle rage for a moment and ventured closer to take a look, cautiously, yet immensely curious. Did he know this life form? It felt so familiar and he felt strongly drawn to it. He saw from above it was a woman, though that was not her true form.

He touched down in front of her to take an even closer look.

"Why did you come here alone, you fool," the woman life-form yelled, glaring at him with huge, shining eyes. "It's a trap, don't you see? He wanted to lure you here! Fly away!"

"You are Shao Wan," said Golden Dragon to the woman, remembering a wonderful feeling that made him shudder in ecstasy - and then the exact opposite. "I know you well," he added, "you gave me so much pleasure and so much pain."

Carefully, Golden Dragon extended his claws to touch her. Maybe he could capture her? His higher form would be very pleased.

"Will you transform?" he asked, "I want to fight with you."

Shao Wan extended her slightly trembling hand, very slowly - and touched and stroked his claws, ever five of them, one after the other. She looked at him intently, stepped closer and whispered: "You are so magnificent."

Golden Dragon felt pleasure at her touch and her words. He laughed. The woman flinched at the roaring sound and quickly withdrew her hand.

"No, stay," he said in alarm, "I really like you. Show me your true form."

But the woman backed further away from him, shaking her head. Golden Dragon felt anger at being denied such a simple wish, before he remembered that she couldn't understand him in her current form. He pondered what to do next about this when the other powerful being came out of hiding sneakily to hurt him with a vicious spell.

Golden Dragon roared his displeasure and several thousand more lesser beings died from the energy he unleashed in his defense. Again, he was hit by a forceful spell, underneath his left front leg, where it hurt the most. He lashed out in pain, blindly, and when he was trying to catch the huge, ugly, yellow wolf, he accidentally hit the woman with his tail. Her body was flung across the field, turning slowly in the air. Golden Dragon sprang forward to catch her, but the wolf got there first, maybe it had been his plan all along. Transforming back into human form, he caught her in his arms.

When he saw the two humans embrace, Golden Dragon remembered the details of his pain with searing clarity.

Killing both of them was what he had to do.

He took flight again and gathered clouds together once more, many more than before. Killing these powerful beings would not be easy. He built up Celestial energy, though he was hampered by the effects of the spell, and pushed it into his creations until they shimmered blue. The air around him crackled as small flashes sought their way out. He pushed them back in and blew his cold dragon breath on the energy to contain it.

He would strike them with heavenly wrath and when they were weakened and disoriented, he would rip them apart, Golden Dragon decided.

He peered through the clouds. The man had disappeared again but Shao Wan was still standing there in woman-form. Waiting? For him?

Golden Dragon carefully positioned the furious clouds above her. Somewhere, hidden away in his mind, there was a thought and it wanted to be heard. It began to echo in his skull, human thought, human emotion, becoming louder. I will not kill you! Never! Shao Wan, you mean too much to me, you mean the world to me, without you, there is nothing, only the prospect of spending immortality missing you with every breath, with every thought, with every fiber of my body.

Golden Dragon hesitated in confusion. He thought about this briefly and then decided that killing the enemy was always the right thing to do, but since his higher form had gotten himself entangled with this old life form in complicated ways, killing her was not the right thing at this moment.

Carefully, he poked his head through the clouds. The field underneath him was littered with the dead bodies of thousands upon thousands of soldiers. The rest must have fled. Only she remained standing, a lonely, bright figure in red and gold, head upturned. She had lost her helmet and her midnight blue hair was whipping behind her in the strong winds like the flag of the victor on the battlefield.

Golden Dragon let himself fall, streaking from the skies like a golden arrow, heading straight for her.

Her hand went to her sword instinctively, a pointless gesture, but she had herself under control, she did not draw it. Her eyes were glued on him, large, beautiful, full of awe. If she was afraid, she did not show it. He was impressed with this woman and he was glad he would not have to kill her.

Right before he could crash into her or sweep her up in his claws, she transformed.

"Fenghuang", Golden Dragon laughed with great joy at seeing the Phoenix, "finally. Fight with me!"

She had the head of a golden pheasant, the body of a mandarin duck, the tail of a peacock, the legs of a crane, the mouth of a parrot, and the wings of a swallow. Her head was the sky, the eyes were the sun, the back was the moon, the wings were the wind, the feet were the earth, and the tail was the planets. She was immensely graceful, and Golden Dragon felt great awe at her sight - and something else he did not quite understand.

Paying him no heed, Fenghuang took flight, heading straight for his artful clouds and started to tear them apart with the wind from her wings. All the Celestial energy he had stored in them with such great effort was destroyed just like that. Some of it went into her, flashes of bright blue, but it did not hurt her, because she harbored all the energies of the universe inside of her already. Intrigued, Golden Dragon followed her into the sky. The sun broke through the clouds, illuminating her splendid, shimmering colors: black, white, red, green, and yellow.

"You are so beautiful!" Golden Dragon shouted through the air, "stay still, let me have a look at you!"

She looked at him briefly with her round eyes before turning her back at him, pretending he was not even there. Golden Dragon felt anger again at being treated with so little respect, but he understood that Fenghuang had vexed him deliberately. His memory of her woman-form was full of desire, of anger, of anger-desire. It was a sort of game she liked to play with him and dragons liked games.

He flew after her, increasing his speed. When he reached her, he tried to encircle her with his dragon body, but she hacked at him with her beak and went for his eyes with her sharp talons. He roared at her and attacked again. This time, her beak got him. It went right through his strongest scales and blood welled up. Golden Dragon hissed angrily. His blood fell down onto a mortal world, three drops, a heavily blessing of the highest order.

"Stay back," she said sharply, "it's a warning."

"I only wanted to play with you," Golden Dragon said sullenly. The wound throbbed. Not sure of her intentions, he stayed at a safe distance, observing her.

"Play?" Fenghuang laughed, "what are you, drunk?"

Golden Dragon did not mind the insult. The Phoenix was talking to him and that meant he could look at her all he wanted. But now that he could look, he realized he wanted more than just look. He narrowed his eyes. Was it possible to mate with her?

"What have you done to Mo Yuan," she laughed again, scrutinizing him with her head cocked to the side, "have you eaten him?"

Fenghuang confused Golden Dragon, it was mainly her laugh that sounded like a thousand bells in his head and made him feel dizzy, so he quickly hid among the clouds, making himself invisible to further ponder this situation. She looked around for a bit, but soon left, already losing interest in him.

He did not want her to leave. Or to lose interest.

As quick as the wind, he followed after her, invisible until he went for her slender neck. He nipped her, playfully, and she cried out, scratching him with her talons across his scaled back.

"What are you doing," she yelled at him, and Golden Dragon saw she was seriously displeased, "stop playing with me!"

He would not. Displeasing her was pleasing him. He bit her again, this time drawing some blood too. Her blood tasted marvelous, though there was a strange, ungood aftertaste. Poison? She hacked at him. He dodged fluidly and came up underneath her. He pushed her hard with his snout and laughed as she tumbled across the skies. He followed suit. Cleverly, she was already waiting for him over in the next world, attacking him with fury. He had to pay real attention now, she was serious and she drew more blood.

Back and forth they went, hacking and biting and scratching. Golden Dragon finally managed to encircle her. His loins ached. But how could a Dragon mate with a Phoenix? He grabbed onto her back, thinking to mount her this way, but she struggled so hard, he almost lost his balance. He bit her neck again to hold on, trying to get on top again. Her head arched to look at him... and when their eyes met the most dreamy, soft feeling came over him.

Golden Dragon forgot time. Fenghuang was what he needed. She was everything he was not, which made her perfect. How had he ever existed without her and how could he exist without her in the future?

Forgetting time when you were battling a serious enemy was a grave mistake and it cost him his advantage: the wind from her wings hit him at full force. He lost control and tumbled across the sky. Up and down became a matter of dizzying complexity and he began to fear he might crash and perish somewhere.

Fenghuang was upon him like a fury, benefitting from his confused state. He roared when she ripped a deep wound into his belly and the thunder caused a landslide in the world below. He quickly withdrew, found a cloud to sit on and started to lick his wound. He was shaking from this fight, and not all of it was excitement. She was strong, this Phoenix, and very vicious. How could he subdue her?

When he had stopped the bleeding, he bent forward to look for her again. Was she gone?

No. She sat perched on the top of a mountain, carelessly preening herself. Golden Dragon flew closer and watched for a while, how she put her head underneath her wings, how she cleaned the feathers on her belly, her back, her tail, taking them into her beak one by one, making them shimmer in unearthly light. It was a deliberate insult again, her nonchalance, when she knew he must be watching. He growled a warning. Immediately, her head shot up. She scanned the sky and he made himself visible to her on his cloud out of courtesy.

She did not flinch, though he drifted closer. "Call him out," she ordered him instead. "I want to talk to the real Mo Yuan, I don't want to spend my time battling a mindless beast, he really has insulted me enough already."

He felt strangely little anger at the renewed affront. Clearly, that was Fenghuang's fault, she must possess a kind of magic that made him weak-willed and docile and got him fantasizing about curling up somewhere warm and soft with her, a heavenly cave or a very large cloud. He would blow his dragon breath on her feathers to make them dance. He would lick her all over and nuzzle her neck with his snout. He would please and pleasure her. It would be a very happy time.

Realizing that this was definitely not how you thought about enemies, Golden Dragon asked himself, how do I deal with Fenghuang? I feel strangely defenseless with her around. I tried to talk to her, but she hurt me. I have failed, I think.

You should have killed her, you should have killed all of them, the answer came.

Golden Dragon was confused. But you do not want to kill her. You want to have her. Your desire is very strong, why are you lying? You can't lie to yourself.

For reasons he preferred not to think about, Mo Yuan did not like to be present too much when the urgency of the Dragon dominated his body, therefore, he always opted to withdraw as far as possible into the background when the need to transform arose. Conveniently, he had also realized that his animal form did things far more efficiently if he let it roam as freely as he could. It was a delicate balance between maintaining the necessary control over his lesser form, while giving it the freedom it needed to unleash its sheer battle power without any inhibition.

This time, however, his animal form had not done what he had wanted it to do. Shao Wan as Fenghuang had managed to bedazzle his Dragon mind completely and made it necessary that he took full control now.

Fusing his human mind fully with the dragon mind made Mo Yuan shudder. The animal's raw and urgent desire for the bird was intense - seeing her in her true splendor for the first time threatened to undo his will to hate her. But the amount of rage inside of him saved him from falling into the same trap twice. He brought it all the the surface, no longer having any need to hide or suppress it and his dragon body was so well suited to amplify these kind of feelings.

She must have seen the change in his demeanor because her whole body tensed, making the feather of her tail dance in dazzling, blinding colors for a moment.

"Glad you're finally joining the party," Shao Wan the Bird said and spread her wings, "without your intelligence, you are quite unbearable. Why would you even let that dumb beast take over? Don't you usually like to be in control? You are such a strange man."

He had promised her there would be no talking the next time they met. He liked to keep his promises.

"Let's do this, Mo Yuan," Shao Wan said firmly. "I regret that it has to come to this, but I see it is inevitable."

With a deafening roar, he sprang forward. He just hoped it would be easier to kill her when he was in dragon form and she did not look like Shao Wan - the woman who made having to spend immortality without her feel like a curse worse than death.

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