Chapter 63

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written by kakashi


"Mo Yuan, a word," Father Immortal said after one of the philosophy classes.

Mo Yuan bowed and stayed back, waiting. After everybody had left the classroom, Father Immortal beckoned his son to step closer.

"You are unhappy about the arrangement?" he asked.

Mo Yuan immediately knew what arrangement his father was referring to, since there was indeed something he was quite decidedly unhappy about.

"It is my failing, Father," he replied and bowed, "I will try harder. It's just..."

"It is a great honor for this school to have the Demon Ancestor study here. The Demons are the key to peace among all the tribes. I want you to be on good terms with her."

"I understand, Father," Mo Yuan said and bowed again. Yet, he couldn't help but feel...annoyance. This was unfair. He was trying very hard to be on good terms with her, but she just wouldn't let him. Just yesterday, she had prodded and teased him again until he had lost his composure and had snapped at her. Pompously calling it a great insult to the Demon Clan, she had challenged him to yet another duel "in the name of her people". As so often, it had ended with both of them in a bloody mess. Why lying in a pool of blood with him always made her so happy, he simply did not understand. Of late, he often could not find sleep because he was so angry with her. And when he did find sleep, he often...

"You want to say something?"

"I...no, Father."

"You have permission to speak your mind, Mo Yuan."

"I... Father...," he broke off again. What should he say? Father, she is lazy, she breaks the rules all the time, she makes me angry, I lose my composure around her? No, he could not say it. If he admitted to this, it was simply going to be taken as proof he hadn't worked hard enough. And much less could he say: Father, she makes me dream dreams that I should not have, I feel the Dragon stirring in agitation when she prods long enough.

"I fear you have misplaced your trust in me," Mo Yuan said instead, hanging his head, "I do not have enough patience and stability. Please assign somebody else to study with the Demon Goddess."

To Mo Yuan's mortification, Father Immortal began to chuckle and wouldn't stop. In fact, the chuckle became laughter and wouldn't stop. Mo Yuan caught himself staring at his father with his mouth open and quickly bowed his head, to hide the deep blush that made his face and his ears grow hot.

"My son," Father Immortal said after his amusement had subsided somewhat. "Demon Queen Shao Wan is the exact opposite of you in every possible aspect. If you cannot find peace with her, you cannot find peace with yourself. Do you understand?"

Mo Yuan had bowed again, swallowing hard. He did understand. Shao Wan would continue to torture him gleefully and his father was of the opinion that this was exactly what his son needed. He would have to try harder then to please his Father. Much harder.

****

When Mo Yuan woke up, his head felt like it was going to split open any second. He immediately knew what was causing this pain, even though he had not felt it for a while. It was payback from his stubborn Dragon mind, for not letting it roam as freely as it wanted to roam. Why he of all people had been born with the strongest beast inside of him was easily explained: he was Father Immortal's true-born son, coming into the world with enough cultivation to subdue such a beast even as a newborn.

And yet, Mo Yuan had never liked his Dragon personality. It is a great honor, his Father had scolded him when he had cried about it when he was little, but he had never felt particularly blessed. His beast form was sneaky and mean and would try to gain full control whenever he transformed, to make Mo Yuan bend to its will, not the other way around. To find some kind of peace with his true form, Mo Yuan had learned how to give it just enough freedom to satisfy it without it being unacceptable. It had been a long, painful process and was by no means concluded.

You do not like me? I do not like you either, the Dragon said viciously. Dragon Son. Liar.

Mo Yuan's stomach lurched. It would take days to quiet the Dragon down again. He felt entirely spent already.

Mo Yuan tried to move. His whole body hurt like every bone had been broken and reassembled. Which it had, given he had transformed into his true form and back. There seemed to be other injuries too, but recently healed, hurting only faintly. I have been in a fight, he concluded. In time, he would remember the details. It always took a while, it could be days.

There was someone next to him, he then realized. The someone was lying close and was holding onto his left hand, very tightly. The hand was hot, almost burning. Feeling confused, he tried to take his hand away, but the somebody just held onto it even tighter. Why can I not see anything? Mo Yuan wondered, my eyes are open, are they not?

Before his body could react with panic, he quickly conjured a light on his right palm. Yes. It was just very dark, his eyes were fine, though even such a feeble light made the headache worsen. He seemed to be in some kind of hut... it was familiar, but he could not quite place it. He was wearing clean, white clothes... school clothes, he recognized them as. But what part of Shuǐ Zhǎozé was this? This bed was completely unfamiliar. Had somebody played a prank on him?

He turned his head to the left to look at who held onto his hand. Shao Wan? he immediately recognized the Demon Goddess and she, too, was dressed in school clothes. But why would she lie next to him on a bed like this and hold his hand? Rather embarrassed and suddenly feeling a bit shy, he tried to disengage from her again, more forcefully, but like before, she just held on tighter. So...he had succeeded to fulfill his father's wish?

When he looked again, wondering, he realized she looked extremely pale, almost translucent. You damn fool! The dragon roared in his head and Mo Yuan gasped from the onslaught of anger. "Am I to blame for his?" he whispered, feeling shocked and horrified. He lifted himself up on an elbow, to look at her more closely.

She was breathing, but her beautiful features were showing pain. There was sweat on her forehead and it even looked like she had cried - there were wet streaks on her cheeks. That a woman like her would cry alarmed Mo Yuan and his heart contracted in empathy. For all her insults and all her hate towards him, seeing her hurt and in pain had never brought him joy, quite the opposite. He flicked his wrist to light the candles that he suspected had to be somewhere (they were) and fully sat up on the low bed when their soft light filled the room.

Bending over her, he carefully dried her face with the sleeve of his white robe. She did not even stir. What is wrong with her? Mo Yuan thought, feeling great concern. He examined her body with the meager healing abilities he possessed. He did not understand what he saw - like there were different powers within her, battling against each other? He tried to use soul-searching magic to probe deeper, but his head wanted to split again from the immense pain that immediately followed.

Mo Yuan groaned and put his head down on the pillow until the worst was over and his stomach felt stable again. They had probably fought, like so often, he concluded. It was not for the first time they ended up severely hurt, needing some patching up by their friends.

Friends...now he remembered where he was. This was Zhe Yan's hut. This was the Peach Blossoms grove. But something was wrong about that. As was the fact that he had transformed. He would never transform just to spar with Shao Wan. He would never do anything that could severely hurt her.

Would you not? The Dragon growled, good. I will make your life miserable if you hurt her more.

"But she is the one who always challenges me to fights," Mo Yuan said. "I do not wish to fight with her at all, I just want... I want..."

Mo Yuan felt extremely confused all of a sudden. "We're no longer at school, are we?" he asked himself, but there was no answer. But of course, they could not be. Zhe Yan had only started to plant Peach Trees after his father's death and after they had all left school.

He sat up and looked at Shao Wan again. He searched his brain for a memory of what had transpired between them. How many years had passed? He looked at the white knuckles of her hand that still held his and would not let go. Why would she do that? She had never liked him. This thought lit up a new sort of pain in his body: His heart ached with a sudden intensity that brought tears to his eyes.

I love this woman, he knew without any doubt. Whatever happened, I love her.

He blinked and swallowed down the lump in his throat. Gently, he brushed a few strands of hair out of Shao Wan's face. He wanted to kiss her. But she does not love me back, he continued to put the pieces together. That is why it hurts so much.

Still, he continued to look at her still face, since he could, drinking in every single aspect of what gave him such pain. He could not help himself, he lifted his hand, the one she was not holding, to trace her features with his fingers. Her stubborn forehead. Her arched brows. Her pointy nose. Her eyelashes. Her cheekbones. Her chin. And finally, her lips.

"Forgive me," he whispered, overcome by a need so great he could not stop himself, "just once. Just once."

And he bent down and kissed her, very tenderly.

He did not want to stop, he realized. He wanted to continue kissing. He wanted ... much more. He drew back in alarm. The Dragon was very pleased and some of the pressure in his head ceased, but it was wrong. It was all wrong. His confusion grew and his heartbeat increased, as did the speed of his breathing.

"Zhe Yan?" he asked loudly, "can you come here quickly and enlighten me what is going on?"

In a puff of smoke, Zhe Yan materialized inside the hut.

"So you are finally awake," he said and nodded grimly.

"I am not quite feeling myself, Zhe Yan," Mo Yuan said, "I need you to tell me exactly what happened."

Zhe Yan nodded again. He was of course familiar with Mo Yuan's temporary confusion after transforming, no further explanation was necessary.

"Ye Hua brought you two here, unconscious and bloody. He had to flatten several of my peach trees."

Mo Yuan's head did not feel up to Zhe Yan's usual way of cryptic talking. But he also felt much too weak to be angry with him. Instead, he let his head sink against his free hand and calmed down his breathing.

"You two were in your true forms, that is why. There is no space big enough in the Peach Grove to put two such large beasts since I planted more trees a few years ago. At least, I expect your blood to be a good fertilizer for the new batch."

"I do not remember anything, you need to start... start with what year it is."

Zhe Yan sighed dramatically. "I do hope you get your memories back quickly, Mo Yuan, because we are in great trouble. Donghua says you came across an army of demons in the mortal realm and took it upon yourself to go up against them alone."

That sounded rather foolish. But it explained his transformation at least.

"It is the Year 260'000 after your Father's death. You have been extremely unbalanced lately," Zhe Yan continued. "How blunt do you want me to be?"

"As blunt as you need."

"Good. Before you get it into your head again that you hate her, let me tell you this: You finally admitted to yourself that you love Shao Wan, like you could have realized way back in school already. And then she left you. That did not go down well with you."

Mo Yuan looked at her still face again. Hate? He did not hate her. How could he.

"She left you over that old misunderstanding, her feather." Here, Zhe Yan made a pause, but Mo Yuan did not understand why. "That was only two weeks ago. And now, our two Clans are about to go to war against each other again," the Old Phoenix continued when he did not react. "The Demons have not protested your slaughter, well, likely because they broke the laws by keeping soldiers in the mortal realm. Still...we've crossed the point of no return."

Mo Yuan looked at Zhe Yan, trying to understand what he was not saying - and failing. Realizing it probably did not matter. War. War...

"She will command the Demon armies," Mo Yuan said and looked at Shao Wan again, with ice-cold dread in his heart. He did remember something else now and that was how she had burned. She had died in front of his eyes once already. This was not the first war and not the first time they would stand on opposite sides. He felt very much afraid now. Like he was standing on a very thin branch of an old tree, with a fathomless abyss at his feet.

"But if she hates me, why would she...", he looked at her hand again. He suddenly realized he feared the moment she would withdraw it from his, would cut the contact and would be gone.

Zhe Yan slowly shook his head. "She probably does not hate you as much as you have convinced yourself she hates you. For a man with your intelligence, I do sometimes wonder why you choose to deceive yourself so thoroughly in some matters."

Mo Yuan groaned. Of course, it would be her that made him a fool, once again. And of course, they were not on good terms at all.

"Why have you put us both in school clothes?" he demanded to know, feeling defiant and quite a bit angry now, seeing how Zhe Yan shamelessly used this opportunity to scold him like a boy and was enjoying himself doing it. "Quite clearly, many millennia have passed since we were last at Shuǐ Zhǎozé."

Zhe Yan smirked. "Oh, did you think you two were still in school? Interesting. I see why you would be confused... though we did bet...," Mo Yuan shot him an angry look and Ze Yan shrugged. "Well, I could not very well put you two here naked, could I? It took a while for you to transform back and once you had, I conjured the first type of clothes for you that came to my mind. I'm not that creative, hence the white. Maybe it expresses my wish for our affairs to become simple again, like they were back then. Learning, sleeping, a bit of fighting. Glorious days."

Mo Yuan pressed his lips together. He did remember something else clearly and that was never to trust Zhe Yan.

"You got rid of all your scars, I saw," the Old Phoenix continued. "I did not leave any this time either, I hope that is to your liking. Ah, but there is one scar you will never get rid of, am I right?"

Mo Yuan nodded. Yes, one was permanent, for reasons unclear to everyone.

"I made you some elixirs, you should be healed soon enough. You two lost a lot of blood, but surprisingly, you did not lose as much cultivation as you should have. Her, on the other hand..."

"What is wrong with her?" Mo Yuan asked with sudden urgency.

Zhe Yan threw him a look. "Why exactly did you try to rip her apart in Dragon form again? At school, you at least had some sense, now you seem to have lost all of it. Be thankful you failed to kill her, you idiot. Shao Wan is very strong, to be able to keep a Dragon at bay."

The Dragon uncurled and wanted to say something, but Mo Yuan quieted him forcefully. She had been there, with the Demons, and she had stopped him from killing more of them. And then, they had fought... and the fight had been the most glorious they had ever had. He had seen her true form. He would never forget that sight. Yes, he had failed... but no, he had not. He simply could not do it.

"You are not to blame fully for her state, which I think you might be glad about," Zhe Yan continued after watching him quietly. "She has been poisoned."

"Poisoned?" Mo Yuan echoed and his hand came up again to stroke her hot cheek in a helpless gesture.

At the feeling of her soft skin against his fingers, he remembered everything. It was like a floodgate had been opened as his head filled with a thousand images and a thousand emotions. He felt like roaring out his displeasure, but just gritted his teeth instead. Cheng Yin. Cheng Yin!

"Good," said Zhe Yan, "we are almost back, I see. Yes, Cheng Yin. It must have been him. He is the only one capable of knowing a poison I have never seen or heard of before. I was able to slow it down, but that is all I can do for now."

"Where?" Mo Yuan pressed out.

"Her other arm."

Carefully, Mo Yuan moved up the sleeve of her left arm with his free hand. An angry, red wound became visible. "I embedded invisible talismans all around it," Zhe Yan explained. "I will keep looking for an antidote. It is not impossible that I will find one."

How had the Yellow Bastard gotten to her? Why had she not been more careful? Why had he ever let her go back? Mo Yuan gritted his teeth again. That was the wrong question, but he wished he had locked her up in the deepest depth of Kunlun Mountain. Stubborn woman. Stubborn, foolish, proud, hurtful, infuriating. Being on good terms with her was simply impossible and Mo Yuan was suddenly sure his father had known this all along.

"A good time to tell you that there are strange substances in your body too," Zhe Yan continued with a frown. "First of all, you must have drunk her blood. That should be of no lasting matter, your Dragon body can deal with poisons fairly well and you digested quite a bit of it before you transformed back. But...there is something else inside of you."

Zhe Yan stepped closer to the bed. "And I want you to listen to me carefully, Mo Yuan. I will tell you again once you're at your full capacity. And again. And again, until you believe it and act accordingly. I think we are up against the biggest evil the realms have ever seen. Our dear Ghost Lord Qingcang may be child's play against Cheng Yin. At least, he fought with visible weapons, on the battlefield. But Cheng Yin uses the most underhanded means you can imagine: poison."

"He did hit me a few times when I was in Dragon form," Mo Yuan remembered. But that had just been spells? He hated Cheng Yin with a passion that made his Dragon proud. He would rip his head off, slowly, to cause maximum pain. He would put it back on with magic and do it again. And again.

"I am not sure," Zhe Yan said, "how it got into you, but it was not there the last time I checked on you. I am also not sure what it does. I just know I do not know how to remove it."

"Is it deadly?" Mo Yuan asked.

"Hers - I'm pretty sure it is. Yours? I have no indication it is."

Mo Yuan saw it fit to lay back down for a bit after this. He closed his eyes to think. The Dragon was quiet, thankfully, and he pressed Shao Wan's hand, wanting to show her even in her unconscious state that he wished her well.

"Why would he poison her," he then said, slowly and with some delay, since his brain was still muddled.

"Why indeed," Zhe Yan said. "And why would she warn us to look again for the demon troops."

"To lure me there?" No, he immediately knew that could not be it after he had said it. Why did you come here alone, you fool, she had said, It's a trap, don't you see? He wanted to lure you here! Fly away!

"He probably wants to control her," Mo Yuan said bitterly. And at that thought, hope flooded him, hope so strong he forgot to breath for a moment. Maybe... maybe...

"High God Zhe Yan, we come in peace," a voice outside said and both Zhe Yan and Mo Yuan stiffened.

"Demons," Zhe Yan said, "interesting."

"We have come to take back our Queen," the voice said. "Donghua Dijun sent someone for us. He gave us a jade emblem for identification. We are her guards."

"No," Mo Yuan softly said to Zhe Yan, "I cannot let her go."

"You must," Zhe Yan replied sternly. "You have kept her on Kunlun for weeks and it weakened her status among her people way too much. She cannot stay here any longer. She is in danger otherwise. In even more danger."

"But she is..."

"She will live," Zhe Yan said, "at least for quite a bit longer. There is still time. I will find a way. And next time, use your brains before and not after."

Reluctantly, Mo Yuan sat up again. Zhe Yan was right. Slowly, finger by finger, he loosened her hand from his. Shao Wan sighed when he put it down on the bed next to her. After looking at her for as long as he could without the envoys becoming nervous, Mo Yuan carefully picked her up into his arms. She felt too light and his heart ached again, because holding her so close just reminded him very strongly of what he had lost, foolishly.

The God of War carried the Demon Queen outside, where twelve demon soldiers were waiting in formation. Several of them showed signs of a recent battle and all of them quite visibly flinched when they saw him come down the stairs. Had they been in the mortal world when he had transformed? He had no recollection of seeing them there.

Mo Yuan pressed his lips together and scowled. Were they even properly trained? He looked them up and down. They had the bulk of good soldiers and their alertness spoke of quick reflexes, but they were altogether too young and therefore not much experienced.

"I hope you are up to the task," he growled as he put her limp body into the arms of the one standing in the front. He wanted to take her back immediately, but forced himself to step away before he would do something untoward like snatch away the Demon Ancestor.

The young man who was probably their leader looked into his eyes for a brief, unguarded moment, eyes that showed a mixture of hate and fear, then quickly down. "We have sworn to protect her with our lives," he said defiantly, "and we will... High God."

The young soldier looked at Shao Wan in his arms with so many emotions flitting across his face that Mo Yuan felt somewhat assured, despite himself. At least they cared.

Then they all bowed and quickly left. Soon, all was quiet again. In the dark, Mo Yuan kept standing in front of Zhe Yan's hut for a long time, breathing slowly in and out, wondering how it had happened that he had gotten himself into a situation where he would have to fight and win a war against someone he loved.


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