Chapter 65

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written by Miniorchid with inserts by Chimera
edited by Chimera


Mortal Realm

"When you're done with the exams, we should start our family," Li Ying suggested while setting the table for lunch.

Die Feng looked up from his reading, bemused. "How many kids do you want to have?"

Her eyes lit up at his question. "Four? Eight?"

"That many?" he scowled. "Even with a government salary we can't support them all."

"What do you mean? Of course we can afford them."

"Eight daughters mean eight dowries in this era," Die Feng said, setting down his book. He proceeded to help himself to the food she had prepared.

Her eyes widened in astonishment. "You want them to be all daughters?"

"Of course, I grew up with all men," he told her with a shrug.

"Then let's have four daughters and four sons?" she suggested. "I'm sure we can afford four dowries."

He gave a heavy sigh, placing his chopsticks down and reaching back for the books. "I have to return to studying."

"What?! Why?" She scowled.

Die Feng looked up from his book, his gaze remaining serious. "I will need a higher office position to support our family of ten," he answered, as he flipped the page, ignoring her bewilderment.

****

When night fell, she was unable to sleep once again. The last couple of days, Li Ying had watched him in his slumber, marveling over the contours of his face. He knew, because he would wake up during the night, feeling her eyes on him. He would then try to soothe her back to sleep. However, tonight was different, neither could prepare for bed. He hadn't put down his studies for quite some time, while she laid on the chaise in the corner of the study room, observing him.

Die Feng set his scroll down and turned to look at her. "Li Ying, get some rest, you'll catch a cold laying there."

"You aren't getting any either," she countered. He eyed her warily, until he sat up and left the room, but he came back soon after, with a blanket in his hand. He scooted himself on the chaise with her, and covered them with the blanket, pulling her into his arms.

"You will be the death of me some day, worrying your husband once again," he chastised, as he warmed her cold body with his.

"Not true...because as the wife, I may die soon," she argued.

"Don't be silly," he chuckled at her logic.

"But that's how the play goes with the scholar's wife. She will die of sickness before he comes back to see her." Li Ying raised her head to meet his gaze, expression solemn as she continued. "He'll become the royal official, and he'll meet a beautiful princess whom he will take as his bride. And he will love his new wife."

"No, you're wrong." His head shook as he pressed her head back on his chest, caressing the side of her cheek. "The scholar will not love the princess. In his heart, he will always love the wife who did all she could to support him, encouraged him, and endured many hardships because she chose to be with him."

"Really?"

"Insignificant waters become,
When sailings to the oceans abound.
Misty clouds circle mount Wu around,
That's the best scenery I have ever found.
Many a flower I pass by,
Second looks I bother not to try,
For pilgrimages as a monk I vie,
Still remember the lover I once had."
"When did you start reading Yuan Zhen's love poems?" she giggled against his chest. "Battle tactics and reports are not the only readings I do." He placed a kiss on her forehead. "Now sleep; you need your rest.""But, I want to hear more poems," she told him with a pout. "I'll recite more poems, but you have to close your eyes."Li Ying nodded against his chest, her eyes closed, she listened to the caress of his words as he recited her favorite poems. She could hear the rustling of the large lotus leaves just outside the window, the gentle waves of the night, and the familiar sound of crickets in the distance, as her mind slipped into the comfort of darkness. ****Die Feng played the scholarly husband well. Though his role was only slightly different from who he was, carefree mortal life made a different side of him emerge. He was charming, attentive, witty; more so than when they had been at Kunlun. Though she had always sensed this side to him, she hadn't expected to find him even more intriguing now that they were away from the world's cares.Because of how things had been left between them, she had thought of a way for him to repay his debt, to lighten his heart, but she did not anticipate that the more they were together the more her heart would weigh. Soon all his charm, all his energy, and all his passion would be reserved for his bride.Li Ying paused before she entered the study, her hands clenching around the tea tray. Soon this would be no more. Today was the last day they could be in the mortal realm. Tomorrow he would be free to go back to his world as promised. She took a deep breath and composed herself before entering the room with her usual smile.

Die Feng sat at his desk. But the scroll before him lay blank, brushes and ink untouched. He was frowning. That's odd. What changed since last night?

"I brought your morning tea," Li Ying said cheerfully as she approached and placed the tray on the corner of study table. "Die Feng, are you alright?"

He didn't answer, but stared into space, a glimpse of darkness behind his eyes. She came around the table, concerned.

"Die Feng, talk to me."

Without turning to face her, he captured her wrist so quickly, it made her jump.

"What did you do to me?" he asked, in a tone she had never heard from him before.

Perplexed, she frowned. "What do you mean?"

Li Ying tried to pull away, but he held it even tighter, making her wince. He stood up, towering over her, imposing, making her quiver. His expression was dark, dangerous; gone was her gentle prince. "Did you cast an enchantment spell on me?" his tone sent chills down her spine.

"No! I would never," she gave a slight shake of her head, eyes widening. "Die Feng, let me go."

But he wasn't listening; his free hand came to the exposed line of her sensitive throat. For a heart wrenching moment, she thought he might choke her, but instead his touch was gentle as his thumb brushed at the hollow base, caressing the collarbone.

"Die Feng," she said faintly, her eyes half closed, because the intensity of his touch was more than she expected. But something wasn't right, this was not how she wanted things to be.

He must have taken her shivering response as a sign of distaste or fear. He lowered his head, his face so close, their noses almost touching. "Tell me the truth."

A pit opened in her stomach. He had never doubted her before. Was this the beginning of their fated enmity? "I didn't cast any spells on you, except to make us mortal," she answered in a hoarse whisper.

Either he didn't believe her or he wasn't listening because his expression didn't change. Instead, it now filled with resentment, anger, and something even more startling. Drowning in fear and desire, she tried to push his hand away from her throat, but his fingers delved into the back of her hair, his grip painful, making her whimper. He released her wrist, but captured her waist, pressing her against his body. His face close to hers, surrounded now by his masculinity, she closed her eyes instinctively, helplessly waiting for what was to come.

"You're lying," she heard him mutter under his breath. Her eyes snapped open at his accusation, but his attention was now transfixed over her mouth, engrossed by her parted lips. She started to feel his hand glide from her waist to the side of her ribs, her breath caught when his hand passed over her breast, lightly shaping the roundness. "Why would I feel this way? Why do I..." he didn't finish because he had captured her lips.

Mind in a haze, Li Ying couldn't think. His mouth moved over hers expertly, angling just the right way, intimately so, making her gasp. Her arms wrapped around his neck, he gathered her closer, into the hard wall of his body. His sea salt scent, so familiar, now became intoxicating as she inhaled the fragrance with each breath. He explored her slowly, his tongue stroking and tasting her, and she hungered for the pleasure he gave. His mouth traced down her quivering throat, and she writhed when she felt his tongue on her sensitive spots.

Die Feng pulled back, his eyes burning into hers. "You must have cast the spell the moment we met."

Again with the spell! Why did he keep insisting she had cast a spell on him? Why would she? Why now? This didn't make any sense. If they were not already mortal, she would have thought he'd been possessed.

"I didn't-" she began but he cut her off as his mouth laid siege to her again, and she melted against him, pulling him closer. His anger had switched to passion, and desire now eclipsed rationale. She tried to recall what it was she had tried to say, but she couldn't when he kissed her harder, more demanding, as his hands roamed her body. Li Ying felt her legs threaten to give out under his touch but he caught and lifted her with stunning ease, and placed her on the table, pressing closer between her thighs.

Breaking off the kiss once again, he cupped her face in his large hands. His breath was labored, and passionate eyes soon turned cold, with an underlying hint of apprehension.

"Love enchantment is forbidden in my realm, but not yours. Tell me you cast it, please," he begged with a ragged whisper.

Their gaze locked, their breath caught, she wondered if either of them breathed as they fought what was inevitable. What was so obvious, yet denied by the man in front of her. Why wouldn't he see the truth? Die Feng continued to stare at her, with barely suppressed wrath that threatened to burst out at any moment.

"No, I would never do such a thing," she choked out, refusing to comply, to give him the answer he tried to coerce her into saying. She was losing his trust and it was terrifying how her insides felt like they were ripping apart. How could a man she would barely ever see again have the power to make her feel this way? "I hold no power over you," she said desperately.

But instead of accepting, his face hardened as rage took hold once again.

Li Ying knew the exact moment his sanity slipped. Before she could attempt to flee, she found herself pinned down on the desk covered by dark masculine weight that threatened to shake her soul. She tried to protest, but he growled and smothered her cries with his mouth. His kiss was savage, no longer gentle as it was before, she tried to fight back, but he captured her wrists and held them above her head. It felt like a dream, but also a nightmare, her senses told her that this was reality, because his scent and heat engulfed her; like a prey she couldn't escape from the large predator above her. He pressed himself against her body, making her gasp from the lack of air, she turned away, but he angled his head to the side, capturing her lips again, drugging her with kisses. Infused with pleasure, Li Ying could only answer helplessly, as her body betrayed her. He must have felt her diminished resistance, because he released his hold of her wrists.

His hands traveled down her body, loosening her robes, sliding inside the opening, touching her bare burning flesh. Her breasts grew further inflamed by his caress, her nipples peaked under his wicked strokes, her body tightened and arched against his palms. She would had been lost completely if her mind hadn't called out to her. He was angry, he was enraged; this wasn't how she wanted him. This was passion but...passion was not enough. Her hands grasped his head, pulled him closer, kissing him desperately, hoping her sanity would slip away once again. But it didn't, and grappling with her own mind, she forced him to break the kiss and stared squarely into the depth of his burning eyes. Desire indeed filled them, but she also saw shadows of uncertainty, fear...doubt.

She didn't know when her feelings had become like this but she wouldn't have him on these terms. She would not have him without trust, only to find a stranger in her bed the next morning. Not Die Feng. Despite being in the body of a weak mortal, despite being half his size, she couldn't allow this to continue. So, Li Ying did the only thing she could think of. She pulled his head back and slammed her forehead against his. The impact was enough for his body to jerk back, giving her enough time to scramble off the table. She rushed to the other side of the room, but he caught her upper arm in a tight grip, allowing no chance for her to escape.

"No! Let me go!" she burst out, as she tried to pull away from him, but he yanked her into his embrace.

"Li Ying!"

Fighting against his hold, furious, she continued to slam her fists against his chest. "I didn't cast any enchantment spell on you! Why won't you believe me?"

Despite her continued struggles he wouldn't budge. "I'm sorry, I didn't believe you," she heard him apologize, but her rage didn't cease.

He pulled her closer against his hard body, forcing her to face him. "Li Ying, look at me," she heard him order, like the stern Kunlun 1st Disciple she once knew. She stopped struggling, and stared back at the man, who moments before had been a stranger.

"Why?" she asked, her voice trembling with despair. "Why did you...why would...why won't you trust me?"

For a brief time, she closed her burning eyes and listened to their breathing, the quickening of their hearts, the softness of his touch, and forgot everything. Forgot that he continued to doubt her. Forgot their reality that will soon set upon them. Forgot the role that they must play when they soon part. But what she couldn't forget, was the man who held her, who hurt her.

"Li Ying...forgive me..."

*****

Day of the Royal Wedding, West Sea Kingdom

He watched, and he wondered as the servants came and went, again and again. The arrangements in preparation for the big day seemed never-ending. The Crystal Palace felt different, empty; cold...this had always been his home, a place he belonged to, to return to, no matter how long he was away. But now, he wanted to flee, to escape from the existence he had resigned himself to only days before. Today was the day to complete his mission and render the alliance complete.

Is this how you felt, Da-ge? Is that why you left? If this was what it had been like Die Feng couldn't resent his brother anymore. Of the two of them, at least one was happy and that was one consolation.

Each step had been excruciating, piercing, his feet heavy as his heart when he walked away from the lake house of the dream that could have been. The sweet but wretched short moments that were forever engraved within his memories. How could seven days bring so much happiness yet so much sorrow? The debt she had asked to collect was his time, but she took what he never thought could be taken.

Why was it so easy to trust her? He shouldn't and that was the problem. He shouldn't trust her, and there was no future for them, but how easy it was to slip into the role of the caring husband! To hold her and to kiss her and to get used to her presence as if she had always been there. On the last day the intensity of his desire to stop time scared him. It didn't make any sense. How could she have power over his spirit like that? The power to make him laugh one moment and dread their separation the next?

The thought drove him, Die Feng, 2nd Prince of the West Sea, commander of armies, in charge of Kunlun's disciples, responsible, self contained leader, insane. The only explanation could be that something beyond his control had happened, because his own mind couldn't have willingly betrayed him like that. If he couldn't be in command of himself, whom could he command? The fear of losing control had almost driven him over the edge. Could he make her feel what he felt?

But his inner turmoil was no excuse for his behavior and Die Feng knew it. Many times previously, he had dealt with muddled feelings by talking them through with the people close to him. Isolated in that hut with no one to talk to apart from Li Ying and being unable to let himself fully trust her, paranoia had taken hold. But forming connections with other people was always scary, requiring leaps of faith, bringing one's vulnerabilities to the surface.

And there had been no one more vulnerable in that room than Li Ying. While he had been terrified, how much faith would it have taken on her part to seal her powers and don the body of a mortal woman, where she had the disadvantages of strength and size? She had braved sickness and mortality, secure in her belief that he would never let her be hurt. Demons were supposed to be cutthroat, vying for power, never letting their underbellies show, and here she had been, not caring if she was weak.

And what had he done? By doubting her, by trying to use his strength to gain power over her the way she had power over his emotions, he had betrayed her. Li Ying had fled soon after he released her from his arms. He tried to find her, desperately so, but she was nowhere in sight. He waited by the lake house through the night for her to return but she never did. By the next morning, his powers were back. But he couldn't leave, not when there was the slightest chance she would come back and could properly apologize for his behavior. He waited another seven days, but she didn't return, so he reluctantly returned to the West Sea Kingdom.

Die Feng felt sickened with himself. He had hurt her and here he was still thinking of her on the day of his wedding to another woman. He was with his family, people whose loyalty he relied upon and yet the only person he wanted to speak to was the woman he shouldn't trust. It was a complete mess, and all he could do today was act as directed. Get dressed, walk, bow, sit still, wait.

Dressed in wedding attire, Die Feng and the guests waited for the bride, Princess Miao Qing of the Eastern Sea, to arrive. The King and Queen of West Sea, his parents, were seated at the throne, looking grim. Yes, this was not exactly the type of wedding they had envisioned for Da-ge, or even Die Feng himself, but what choice did they have than to appease the Eastern King, who was late, while the guests grew restless? The day may not be auspicious, given the situation, but the auspicious time was still important.

Die Feng had been so lost in thoughts, that he didn't notice the passing of time, until the guests started to whisper. Then suddenly, all hell broke loose as the Eastern King stormed into the room, power collecting at his fingertips.

"Did you have my sister murdered?!" Donghai Shuijun roared, his eyes red with fury as he headed straight for Die Feng.

Die Feng froze, while the assembly held its breath in deadly silence. Murder? "Princess Miao Qing?"

"She's dead!" bellowed Donghai Shuijun. "My beloved sister is gone!"

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