Chapter 70

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written by kakashi


Shao Wan was on her way to visit Fong Hung when all of a sudden, the God of War appeared before her in a wisp of silver smoke. Dropping the camellias she had collected for her toad's dinner, she almost cried out in shock, but managed to muffle her outcry so that only a tiny, almost inaudible squeak left her mouth. "What in Pangu's name are you doing here?" she hissed at him.

"I need to speak to you. It's urgent," the God of War said levelly, as if it were no big deal he had come to the Demon Realm, no big deal he had come to see her, even though they were not exactly on speaking terms. Or were they? She was confused.

"This is my territory, Celestial, get lost immediately! I cannot be seen with you."

"Why not?"

"Because you're every Demon's enemy, don't tell me that's news to you?"

"If somebody sees us, just claim you've taken me prisoner," he suggested and took a step towards her. His expression was guarded, but his eyes burned with a special intensity. He wore a golden headpiece and a brown robe with dark red trimmings, one that must be new - she had never seen him in it. But then, she thought, she hardly knew him anyway. Maybe he had hundred of robes hidden away somewhere.

"You are insane," she said exasperated and put up her hands, ready to push him or blast him or hit him, depending on the opportunity that next presented itself. "I should have known much earlier, but it took meeting your true form for it to sink in. You hide it well."

Mo Yuan scowled, an all-too familiar expression on him, though Shao Wan was quite certain she had seen a glimpse of embarrassment on his face before he moulded it expertly back into a displeased-haughty expression. That gave her satisfaction. At least he knew how to feel shame when it was due.

"How did you even find me?"

"I looked through the clouds," he said with a shrug, as if this too were the most normal thing in the world. "I can see your aura from far away. I waited until you came out of your Palace."

Dammit. Did he have nothing better to do? She would have to mask her aura better if she wanted to stay hidden from sneaky Celestials' keen senses in the future.

"Demon Queen, I have come to ask you about the peaches."

Had he just said peaches? "Excuse me?"

"The peaches. Did you eat the peaches?"

"Yes, I ate the peaches."

"All of them?"

"Yes!"

"And?"

"And...they were exactly how I like them, soft, juicy and sweet. You can thank Zhe Yan from me. I see why you would come to the Demon realm to ask me this, it's indeed a matter of great urgency."

"Did they have an effect?" he asked in an excited whisper and stepped closer again.

"Stay where you are," she commanded, "you are behaving very strangely. Have you been drugged? Bewitched? Or has somebody taken your face to fool me?"

"Who would dare to pose as me?" Mo Yuan asked with a frown.

"Your brother for example?"

"Why would my brother come to see you?"

Shao Wan wanted to scream. „Why indeed! Why would any of you come! Is your new plan to aggravate me until my head explodes?"

"I don't wish to aggravate you," Mo Yuan said with a sigh.

"Then get lost," she snapped, "because you're most definitely aggravating me."

"I already said I'm sorry, several times in fact," Mo Yuan grumbled. "I just need to know you are well and the peaches helped against the poison. Did they?"

She narrowed her eyes at him. "Did I not tell you I got the antidote already? What are you trying to achieve?"

"I do not believe your lies," Mo Yuan said quietly. "You might have good reasons for pushing me away. But he poisoned you. And I know you well enough. You would never, never bend to the will of any man. You are the bravest and most headstrong woman I know, you cannot fool me with this act. I won't ask what Cheng Yin wants from you for the antidote. I...don't want to know. Whatever game you're playing here, I will not interfere. But please, Shao Wan: I need to know about the poison."

Here it was again, his sincerity. It was time she admitted to herself that she had failed to disentangle herself from him - not because she had not tried hard enough, but because he would not let her. And because she knew all too well how stubborn he was, she was certain he would not leave before she answered his questions, unless she was ready to fight with him, which she was not. "Fine. Yes," she said, "the peaches helped. Has Zhe Yan found the antidote? I wanted to go see him..."

"Someone is coming," Mo Yuan said in alarm and before he was finished speaking, he had already grabbed her by the arm, jumped behind a rock and put an invisibility spell on both of them.

"I thought you didn't care to be seen," she whispered, trying to calm her fast beating heart. He was much too close.

"Reflex," Mo Yuan whispered back. Was it reflex too that he kept holding her arm? She freed it resolutely and he hastily put his hand away.

Further down the slope, a familiar figure approached between the rocks. Shao Wan cursed under her breath.

"That's one of your bodyguards," Mo Yuan remarked with a frown. "You should get different ones. What's the point of a guard walking half a mile behind you?"

"The point is that he is no longer my guard. I dismissed him."

Turning his head from side to side, eyes scanning the surroundings of the mountain, Yue carefully and quietly walked up the narrow path.

Mo Yuan's body tensed. "Don't you hurt him," Shao Wan hissed.

"Whom is he spying for?" Mo Yuan asked, not listening to her at all.

"I bought them from Yi Mei Niang," Shao Wan explained, "but they were an annoyance."

Mo Yuan made a "hmmm" sound.

"Still, don't hurt him," Shao Wan said again. "You are good friends with the Purple Queen, you have nothing to fear from him."

"I thought you were good friends with her? She knows a lot of things about you."

"Hm, well... yes. We are in a business relationship."

Yue was almost in front of them now. "Don't..." Shao Wan said again, but before she could stop him, Mo Yuan had stepped out from behind the rock and slammed the young guard with enough power to topple him over onto his face.

"I said not to hurt him!" Shao Wan shouted. "When will you listen to me?"

"He'll be fine after some time," Mo Yuan said completely unmoved and looked down at the young man with a slight frown. "Are they really guards?"

"What else do you think they are?"

Mo Yuan turned his head to look at her, his lips a thin line of displeasure, but he didn't answer.

"I indeed hope they have some additional skills, because guarding me was not one of them," Shao Wan remarked and smiled a little at the memory, "I had to ask for a refund! I only kept a few of them for show. A Demon Queen needs guards and they are very handsome, they look very good when they stand behind me, all tall and muscly."

Mo Yuan still said nothing and continued to look displeased. That gave her pause. So Yi Mei Niang was right, Shao Wan marvelled. The God of War was indeed jealous! So he was not immune to that typical male reflex that made them envy other males for obscure reasons?

"We were talking about Zhe Yan's antidote, Celestial," she reminded him. "Have you come to see me about that? Why has he not come himself?"

"Because..." Mo Yuan took a step towards her. "Let me take you to the Peach Blossom grove."

"I'd prefer to go alone," she said.

"You...cannot," Mo Yuan insisted. "You need me."

Shao Wan felt anger rise inside of her. His arrogance had always ticked her off and that had certainly not changed through the millennia. "I do not need you, never have and never will," she snapped at him. "Do not believe in your limitless self-importance that there is anything I still want from you apart from you staying as far away from me as possible."

Did he really look hurt now? Shao Wan shook her head in disbelief. "Certain things are unforgivable, Celestial. That's why I'm amazed that we are standing here in the Demon Realm, talking to each other. I would never have thought that possible."

"I said I am sor..."

"Sorry? Yes, I heard you. But you do not need to be sorry for fighting against me, Celestial, after all, I asked you to promise me that you will try to kill me if killing me was necessary to win the war."

"I remember every single word you said," Mo Yuan said bitterly.

"Good. Nothing has changed, Celestial. Nothing at all. You almost succeeded to kill me in the mortal realms, but only because I was weakened. The next time, I will be the one to show no mercy, God of War."

"Very well," Mo Yuan said quietly. "We have little time, so I will not quarrel with you. I do not want to go to war against you, but if I must, so be it. But if you want to have your full strength for further battles against me, you should now follow me to Zhe Yan's."

He stepped towards her again and extended his hand. Shao Wan looked at it and sighed deeply. Since she had run out of peaches and he insisted so much... fine. Fine, she would go to see Zhe Yan together with him. Or rather, next to him, because she would most certainly not cloud jump with him.

***

They landed at the peach grove almost at the same time - the journey had quickly turned into another race between them. Shao Wan wasn't even sure whether it was him or her who had started the competitions between them so long ago, she just knew it was important to her that she beat him from time to time. And indeed, her foot touched the ground a few moments before his foot and she shot Mo Yuan a triumphant look that he chose to ignore.

Zhe Yan, who sat outside fishing in the evening sun, looked very surprised to see them.

"How unexpected," he said, getting up and eyeing them curiously.

"He insisted on accompanying me," Shao Wan quickly explained. "I had planned to visit you earlier, but it was hard to find an opportunity."

"You look surprisingly well, Mei Mei," Zhe Yan remarked, continuing to look at her with curiosity. "Were my seals this successful?"

Seals? "Did you put seals into peaches?" she marvelled. "They were really well hidden."

"Into peaches?" Zhe Yan asked. "Why would I? No, I put seals into your arm to slow the poison. I wanted you to come see me so that I can check on them and renew them in time."

Her arm? She looked at it and probed it for something not belonging there. Indeed. Very faintly, she sensed them. Masterfully done.

"But the peaches you sent me through Mo Yuan...?"

"Peaches I sent through Mo Yuan? Hmmm..." Zhe Yan looked at Mo Yuan and lightly shook his head. "I did not send you anything through Mo Yuan."

Shao Wan turned her head to look at her enemy. The God of War looked smug but at the same time, a bit embarrassed. Like a boy who was eagerly waiting for praise, but knew that wanting praise was very bad form. How very adorable, Shao Wan thought.

"Out with it," Zhe Yan said to Mo Yuan. "What peach... oh. Very clever. Very clever."

"What did he feed me?" Shao Wan demanded to know, feeling left out of the "oh so clever" party.

"I did wonder why both of you healed so fast," Zhe Yan nodded excitedly. "But I did not think of that!"

"What, what, what?" Shao Wan asked agitated.

"Calm yourself, Little Sister," Zhe Yan said. "He will explain. Sit down together and wait... I will prepare everything we need."

And he hurried away, in the direction of his hut.

Shao Wan turned to Mo Yuan and narrowed her eyes at him. "Is this some trickery again? Did you bring me here to insult me? To humiliate me? What?"

"I never... I...," he paused and something seemed to dawn on him, "is this what you are so angry about?"

Was she? She took a deep breath, trying to sort through her anger. "I hate nothing more than people deliberately misinterpreting my actions. I am certainly no saint, but I have my honor," she finally said. It was more complicated than that, but it would do as an explanation.

Mo Yuan let his head hang. "I know. I did wrong. wish I could make it unsaid, I wish..."

"I absolutely hate it when you go sentimental on me, Celestial. I prefer you when you're the stick-in-the-mud, rule-obeying, always-displeased, hateful bastard from our youth."

"I see," said Mo Yuan and gone was the adorable expression from his face. "Would you care to sit down, Demon Queen? I will not speak to you if you do not wish me to."

She quickly walked to the nearby stone table and sat down. Here they were again: Of course, there was peach wine on the table, but with just one cup. She pulled the bottle towards herself and filled the cup. Was it Zhe Yan's? It was a very fine cup. The God of War followed her more slowly and sat down as well, folding his long legs into the lotus position without thinking.

"Do you plan to sit here long?" she snapped at him.

"As long as it is necessary," he answered softly.

She downed a cup of wine. Then another. So delicious. She had missed Zhe Yan's brew a lot. Interesting how different it was to Mo Yuan's wines. Both beverages would probably make a lot of money in the Demon Realm.

"I thought you cannot drink," Mo Yuan observed.

"How is that your business," she replied angrily.

"You feared I would...?"

"No, absolutely not," she said. "You do not tempt me in the least anymore. I did not drink that day because the Demon Realm is a bit more dangerous than your stupid mountain with its 'beneficial divine energy'. I cannot return to the Palace full of spiked wine, because someone might take the opportunity to murder me in my sleep. Understand now?"

"I am so sorry for your hardship, Shao Wan," he said with eyes so soft and tender she had to swallow hard. Not long ago, she had thought this man was dead and the prospect of not seeing him ever again had been terrifying, so terrifying she had not even let herself think about it. Now that he was in front of her so unexpectedly, she felt like she did not know what to do. Well, running away seemed the best option, but she needed the antidote.

She quickly thought of what she had to achieve, but it did not have the desired effect anymore. She still felt strangely lost, strangely without a firm ground to stand on.

"What do you even want from me," she pressed out.

He looked thoughtful, almost like he himself had not considered that question. "To...talk to you. Just talk, like this."

"I thought we're done talking?"

"I realized we are not."

"I did steal all your military secrets, you were right. You really let everything lie around, for anyone to see. Did you want to test me? I know you never trusted me."

"I...no. I did not want to test you. But it's true I still need to learn how to trust you. I...want to."

"Don't bother, Celestial," she managed a grin. "It's good we are sitting here once more. Here, have a drink too! The truth is, I was hoping this would be possible. I hoped we would laugh about our silliness together over a drink, and go our separate ways afterwards, with no lingering feelings. It is how I prefer it to be."

Haltingly, Mo Yuan took the cup from the table that she had filled up again and pushed in his direction. He looked down at it... and slowly rotated it in his hand before closing his eyes and putting it to his lips where her lips had been. The gesture made her heart race. He downed the entire content in one go and opened his sad eyes to look at her when he put the cup back down on the table.

"So, what's up with the peaches?" she quickly said because she felt quite incapable of dealing with a silent, sad-eyed Mo Yuan.

"Do you remember? That time we fell down a cliff with our powers sealed?"

It took her a moment, but then, she did. She had got him good that time, for being such a bastard.

"When you wouldn't even thank me that I saved your life? Yes, I remember," she said. She hoped he would get angry at her taunt, just so she'd get that heartbroken look off his face, but he only sighed.

"I realize that even back then...I did everything wrong."

"No, no," she quickly replied, "not at all. I absolutely loved to beat you up. But what about that time we fell down the cliff?"

"You eventually used our blood to break the seal."

"True! I did. That was quite interesting."

"I read up on Dragon-Phoenix blood and its properties afterwards. It's a very powerful ingredient, because when mixed correctly, it perfectly balances yin and yang and is extremely beneficial for rebalancing energy flows. That is what I remembered when I thought about an antidote for you. It was a long shot, but your reaction to the peaches confirms it."

"I am sure you will now tell me how the peaches are connected to Dragon-Phoenix blood."

Mo Yuan nodded. "My brother brought us here in our true forms. We were heavily wounded. We bled profoundly. The earth soaked up our blood eagerly and so did the roots."

Oh. Oh! "So...the properties of our blood ended up in some of Zhe Yan's peaches? You really are clever!" Shao Wan exclaimed. Then, more eagerly: "And if I eat more of them, I will be healed?"

Mo Yuan shook his head. "Their healing power is too weak. But not if you drink undiluted Dragon-Phoenix blood. I think... I expect it will rid you of the poison for good."

"I am ready!" Zhe Yan said from behind them.

Mo Yuan unfolded his legs and stood up. "I assume we should transform for the procedure?" he said quietly.

Zhe Yan nodded slowly. "I am not sure about all the details, but I would assume the effects are even stronger if the blood is harvested from our true forms. Let's go where Ye Hua dropped you off the last time. There is no need to destroy more of my trees."

***

Shao Wan walked after Zhe Yan and Mo Yuan, deeper into the grove. Zhe Yan was magically dragging along two large wooden buckets behind him. She felt light-headed, but didn't think it was the wine. No, it was helplessness... and fear. She had lost control over her situation completely. She needed somebody's help to survive. She had always skirted being dependent on others, she wanted no debts. But now that it had become unavoidable, she was somewhat relieved she would owe her debt to Father Immortal's true-born son, a man she knew to be honorable, and to someone who was like a brother for her.

"Here we are," Zhe Yan said and set the buckets down. "How much did you have to drink?" he asked Mo Yuan with a sudden frown.

"Do not worry," Mo Yuan answered quietly. "I can control him."

Zhe Yan turned to Shao Wan. "You will have to assist me," he said. "Once Mo Yuan transforms, he'll be in Dragon form for a while. Once I have transformed, you'll have to be the one to cut me." He conjured a long pointy dagger from his sleeve. "You need to cut close to the heart."

"Why you?" she asked him.

"Because your blood is tainted."

"I am very grateful," whispered Shao Wan, "to...both of you. I will repay my debt."

"Ah," Zhe Yan said with a laugh, "I will make sure to collect it from you when the time comes."

Mo Yuan said nothing but only looked at her with his sad, sad eyes again. He seemed to think about what she had said and she dreaded his answer with gut-shriveling nervousness.

"I will use your debt to wipe clean the slate," he finally said. "Our fates are entangled in complicated ways that I fail to comprehend. I have realized that it is a great burden to you. Let this be the debt that removes all the stones from the field. The Weiqi board is empty."

Shao Wan stared at him helplessly. Could he even do that? What did it mean to wipe the slate clean? She nodded in agreement, but she was not convinced. She had tried to cut the ties between them, she had failed. Could he do it in her stead? Did she want him to?

Mo Yuan walked away from them and sat down in lotus position in the middle of the clearing, closing his eyes. Zhe Yan lifted his arm and performed a spell - a huge golden dome spread out from his fingers and enclosed them. "No need to alert the Dragon Family," he explained to her.

"Ready," he said to Mo Yuan.

The God of War nodded. His face took on a look of deep concentration. His contours started to dissolve and a wave of immense energy rippled outwards and hit the walls of Zhe Yan's dome as he transformed into his true form.

Shao Wan had taken a step backwards when the energy hit her, but now, she took several hasty ones forward until she thought to stop herself. The Golden Dragon looked even more magnificent than the first time she had seen him, maybe because his powers were more palpable here than in the mortal realms. His golden shimmer lit up the grove and his energy made her hair dance.

The Dragon slowly turned his head in her direction. His huge, black eyes looked just as sad as Mo Yuan's had. Her heart ached in reponse.

"Come on," Zhe Yan said and took her hand. Was she mistaken or did he sound a bit afraid too? He took one of the buckets in his hand and pressed the dagger into hers. They walked towards Mo Yuan the Golden Dragon's large coiled form. Since she knew how deadly he was, she felt deep fear underneath her awe. If he attacked her at such close proximity, she would not have time to transform.

"Since I do not know how much is needed, I will have to experiment for a bit. Meaning we need to collect enough the first time," Zhe Yan said. "He can't transform back and forth quickly."

Shao Wan did not fully understand what that meant, but she nodded. He heart was beating so fast now she had to take a couple of deep breaths to collect her wits. "Where do I cut?" she whispered and lifted her shaking hand with the dagger.

Mo Yuan the Dragon made a small sound that almost made her jump backwards. But he did not move towards her, he only slowly lifted one of his front legs. As if compelled to do the same, she extended her hand until they touched. Very carefully, she stroked his claws, all five of them, one after the other. The Golden Dragon's breast heaved and a huge sigh ruffled her hair like the storm wind. She looked up at him. Water started pooling in his dark eyes as he looked down at her.

"Don't cry, Golden Dragon," she whispered almost inaudible, "please, you are so strong. Please keep him safe."

Just one large tear formed, clinging to the Dragon's long, elegant lashes for support, quivering and reluctant to fall. But fall it did. She followed its inevitable descent with her eyes, feeling overwhelmed by everything.

Suddenly, the claws slightly retracted, only to swoosh forward and tighten around her body with formidable strength. She gasped as she was lifted into the air.

"Mo Yuan," Zhe Yan said sharply.

Golden Dragon turned his head to look at him, as if he were surprised that somebody else was here. Zhe Yan glared at the Dragon and lifted his hand as if to perform a spell. It helped. Slowly and carefully, Golden Dragon set her down and opened his claws to let her free. Moving a bit backwards, he lay down and bared his belly to them.

"Cut him," Zhe Yan ordered.

"I can't," Shao Wan said, because her hand was shaking so much she feared she would hurt him.

"Let's do it together," Zhe Yan said and guided her forward until they stood right in front of the golden wall of shimmering dragon scales. Zhe Yan measured the distance from the left leg with his hand. "About here," he then said, "cut here."

She took one deep breath and plunged the dagger into Golden Dragon's body. Blood welled out almost instantly after she pulled it out and Zhe Yan quickly lifted the bucket to collect it. His face looked strained, reflecting the seriousness of the situation. When the large bucket was filled, he performed a spell to close the wound. They carried the bucket to the edge of the dome together, careful not to spill any.

"Good," Zhe Yan said. "That went well."

Shao Wan watched as Golden Dragon got up and started to frantically lick his wound. Was he in pain from it?

"When will he transform back?" she whispered, not sure she wanted Zhe Yan to transform as long as Mo Yuan was in Dragon form.

"When he can," Zhe Yan said, throwing the Dragon a look. "Mo Yuan's true form is a handful to handle. Now listen. You know where a Phoenix's heart is - cut me just as deeply and use the other bucket to collect my blood. Can you do it?"

Shao Wan nodded. Zhe Yan put her hands on her shoulders. "Little Sister. It pains me to see your struggles. Why do you need to walk your path alone?"

Why indeed? "Zhe Yan," she said, "I have always walked it alone. I do not know how to do it any other way."

"Mo Yuan feels very deeply for you," Zhe Yan said, "I think you know. Don't be afraid to let him into your life."

"But I am," she whispered.

But Zhe Yan had already transformed. She smiled at the splendid Phoenix, her brother, whose beauty made her heart respond with joy. Golden Dragon lifted his head abruptly when Zhe Yan's feathers sparkled in dazzling colors. Shao Wan quickly hid behind Zhe Yan's wings, but Golden Dragon soon went back to licking his wound.

Zhe Yan the Phoenix settled down so that she could reach the heart region and closed his eyes. Pressing her lips together, she lifted the dagger and cut him too. Once the second bucket was full, she lugged it over to the other bucket. When she turned, Zhe Yan had already transformed back and quickly took care of his own wound.

"Let's go," he said and took her hand.

"What about him?" she asked and looked at Golden Dragon, who had stopped licking his belly and was sitting in front of the shimmering wall of the dome instead, breathing against it and intently watching golden colors dance in reaction.

"We will have to leave him," said Zhe Yan, "the properties of the blood are strongest when it's fresh. I will use the rest we don't need now to make elixirs later. I already got word to Kunlun to fire up the cauldron."

Zhe Yan opened a small gate in the dome and she followed him out, the two buckets flying steadily behind them.

"Please wait outside until I'm ready," Zhe Yan said when they reached the vicinity of the hut.

Shao Wan sat down at the stone table again. She took the abandoned cup into her hand and turned it and turned it restlessly between her fingers, her innards in a knot, her thoughts in turmoil, until Zhe Yan softly called her from the stairs.

"Please lie down," he said once she was inside, "I think it will hurt."

She nodded solemnly as she sat down on the low bed. "Is he going to be alright?" she asked.

"Oh yes. You don't need to worry about him," Zhe Yan said. "He can handle his beast form quite well. Most of the time."

"Will you thank him again from me, please?" she implored him.

"Sure," Zhe Yan replied. "I will. Or thank him yourself."

Shao Wan settled down, her head propped up on some cushions so that she could drink the blood without choking or spilling it. It was a large goblet that Zhe Yan had prepared for her. The liquid shimmered golden, but it smelled like blood.

"All of it?" she asked with a shudder.

"Yes, all of it."

There was only one way with medicine, however reluctant one was: drink it. So drink she did. The liquid was sweet on her tongue, flowed easily down her throat, and then burned like hellfire in her stomach.

"Be brave," Zhe Yan said.

She might have screamed, but she did not remember the details afterwards. The poison in her body reacted to the blood by seeking out her organs, trying to take root there. Dying in her own fire had been very painful, but this was much worse. She lost consciousness in between, she wanted to rip her skin off, she thought her head would explode, she sweated so much she felt like she flooded Zhe Yan's hut. She vaguely remembered Mo Yuan entering, his face very white and drawn. She wanted him to come closer, she wanted to hold his hand to anchor herself against the pain, but she could not speak.

Much later, she woke up, feeling weak, but full of healing energies.

"Where is Mo Yuan," she whispered, scrambling up to look for him.

"He has left, Little Sister," Zhe Yan said. "But sleep. Sleep. It was successful, you are no longer poisoned. That is what matters the most right now."

Mo Yuan and Shao Wan (三生三世十里桃花) - Vol. 1 [COMPLETED]Read this story for FREE!