written by Miniorchid
Edited by kakashi, Panda and Chimera
Was that even the right word to use under the circumstances?
4th Junior had been a ghost of himself when he had first come back from the Ghost Realm. Thereafter, Die Feng had been there to witness the anxiety eating away at Shang Ling day after day. And he had been present when 4th Junior had left again, with only a few words of assurance that he would return in a few days.
How had he failed to take action, to protect his Junior once again?
How many more would have to suffer for this endless war?
He tried to accept the harsh reality of their existence. He was a man who had lived through countless battles, and none had been easy.
But this time, it felt personal. This time, he was an integral part of this war. A catalyst, a pawn, yet an unwilling participant. No matter how much he wanted to rationalize, the unsettling guilt never subsided.
Leave it to Shang Ling to surprise them all with his actions. When they had received word of his dire condition, they couldn't comprehend how he got himself into such a predicament. 4th Junior had always been rational, calculative....strategic...he never ventured into any situation without backup. Who would have thought that without even a plan, Shang Ling would crash into the Ghost Realm to protect his disciple, without even a thought for his own well-being. It was almost like a deja vu for the Disciples of Kunlun, with the difference that Shang Ling could not even use his powers properly.
Shang Ling had always been different. He had grown up privileged, more privileged than most of the Disciples of Kunlun. He was arrogant, hardly attached himself to others. A man who barely acknowledged the existence of other immortals besides his brothers in arms, a few friends and family members. For him to be this reckless for a child from another tribe was beyond anything they could comprehend. But despite the consequences...they knew they would have done the same, though admittedly with better thought-out strategy.
With the back of his hand, Die Feng grazed over Shang Ling's cheek. His Junior had fallen fast asleep after tiring himself talking endlessly about how much he had failed them, apologizing for leaving abruptly, and for not involving his brothers in the dangerous mission.
Die Feng had assured him he had done nothing wrong, and that they would bring him to High God Zhe Yan for treatment as soon as his condition improved enough for them to move him. With the war still ongoing, Die Feng couldn't bring all of his Juniors to the Ghost Realm. While 8th Junior Mei Shu busied himself with an elixir, 5th Junior Zheng You, 4th's closest confidente, was also present assisting with bandage changes. Besides, Zheng You was here because unlike them, he could still use his magic in this Realm due to his mixed demon blood.
Zi Lan was absent when they first arrived. Thankfully, the resourceful 5th had already found out 16th's quarters were sealed by instruction of the Ghost Princess, right before she and her army had departed. Gods knew what Zi Lan had done for such treatment, but they had a feeling the Princess must have her reasons and 16th probably deserved it.
But they knew, they couldn't leave him to his own devices if she was still absent when they had to leave. The Ghost Princess might hold great powers, but there were still those who wished him harm. It took them more than a day to convince General Yang Jie, who never hid his distaste for their presence, to allow them to have a short visit with Zi Lan. Unexpectedly, Zi Lan looked perfectly content. But Die Feng knew better than to trust his Junior's calm demeanor.
Deception had always been his forte.
Zi Lan grinned brightly. He was dressed in dark blue, his hair was tied back with black ties, so unlike his usual Kunlun garb. Die Feng reflected that he had missed his Junior's energy from millenia ago. 16th looked like he fit into the Ghost Realm nicely, despite the fact that he was a prisoner now. Surprisingly, his energy came alive here, even without his cultivation. "Senior, I haven't seen you for a while. How did you become worse for wear?" 16th asked dryly.
Die Feng didn't suppress his chuckle at the bait, though his tone remained stern. "For someone who is now imprisoned, you have not lost your wits. Should I even be concerned?"
16th gave a hearty laugh before he addressed the two guards beside his door. "He can't break me out, I would like some private words with my Senior." The guards looked at each other and then accepted the reasoning without a word. They moved further down the stairs of the hut and stood a distance away, still within eyesight.
"How is 4th Senior?" Zi Lan asked as he settled comfortably on the floor. Taking the cue the conversation would not be short, Die Feng sat down at the entrance. Their relaxed posture would keep the guards at bay.
"We will move 4th to High God Zhe Yan's place tomorrow. 7th's prognosis for 4th was grim at best for the recovery rate. We hope the High God has better methods to speed up the healing process," Die Feng explained. But something still bothered him - something was not adding up, given Shang Ling's behavior. Eyes narrowed, Die Feng asked, "I want to know, why was 4th here during the attack?"
"We did warn Senior Shang Ling to stay away, given the unpredictable Civil War, but he didn't, " Zi Lan answered, with a slight hint of hidden meaning. He was talking in half truths, as usual. Die Feng debated how far he should try to push his stubborn Junior.
"Kunlun men are a stubborn lot," 16th continued with a heavy sigh. "Danger may call out our name, but we're the ones who choose to jump into the flames." Without fail, he switched topics. "Of course you are aware of that, given your recent experience."
This time, he couldn't ignore the jibe. Die Feng glanced inside the quarters before he countered. "This is more comfortable than the Arctic Dungeon of the Ghost Realm. What have you done for the Ghost Princess to seal and place you under guard? "
"Nothing yet," Zi Lan rolled his eyes at his own situation, "it's to prevent me from doing anything in the near future. You may have heard she had a hard time tying me down."
"I'm surprised your Ghost Princess really did lock you up this time, and that you allowed it without a fight," Die Feng resumed his attack.
"Didn't your Demon Princess try to keep you in the mortal realm as well? I heard you didn't put up much of a fight either," 16th countered easily.
"I thought you were too busy to notice," Die Feng responded darkly.
"I was, but 5th Senior complained about his lost bet the last time I came by," he answered with a gleam of mischief. "You should seek her out as soon as you can," 16th suggested. It sounded like a challenge.
"You're giving me advice from behind the magic seal?" Die Feng asked with astonishment, perplexed by the unrelenting confidence of his imprisoned Junior.
"She only sealed me to keep me safe, given what happened with 4th Senior. Yan Zhi...," Zi Lan paused momentarily, his eyes briefly closing, finally showing a hint of anxiety before he continued, "...is not herself right now. And given my past behavior, she won't take any chances with me going rogue without her knowledge."
"Between you and 17th, I don't know who I should be worried about more."
"Definitely 17th, given her condition at the moment and the powers she possesses," Zi Lan answered jokingly.
"I will have to agree with that statement," Die Feng laughed at the thought of the High Goddess' lack of restraint, then his eyes softened as a thought occurred. "When do you want me to send word to 17th?" he whispered.
"There won't be a need."
"Keep my imprisonment from Si Yin's ears and especially from other Celestials, the gossipy lot. Or do you want 17th to bring an entire army to break me out of the Ghost Realm?" Zi Lan asked with amusement.
Die Feng's head shook, his gaze turned half serious. "Knowing her, Si Yin does not do anything by half measures," he admitted. "I doubt the Crown Prince could hold her back.'"
"We do not need additional tension between the tribes right now. Besides, I can get myself out when the time comes," 16th concluded with confidence.
"You will endure anything from the Princess, won't you?" The obvious words came out before Die Feng could take them back.
"Wouldn't you, for her?" Zi Lan asked bluntly with a chuckle, of course 16th caught the true meaning. His attack was relentless. "Could you say no to that Yellow Demon Princess of yours?"
Die Feng flinched at the question. His silence was answer enough.
No, he couldn't. It was because he couldn't that he had pushed her away. He had failed her in every regard of their relationship. Now things were too late, as the war had reached the point of no return. Their affair had been impossible from the beginning. When he had seen 4th's injuries, inflicted by Li Ying's own blood brother, guilt consumed him.
"Senior, when did you last see her?" Zi Lan asked softly, interrupting Die Feng's self-tormenting thoughts, his body tense.
"A few days before the Demon War started," Die Feng answered uncomfortably, "but she wants nothing to do with me anymore after what I did. I can no longer approach her...our tribes...even Shifu and Shimu...and now 4th..."
"Why should that stop you?" Zi Lan cut him off, blocking his attempt to justify their separation.
With an expression of confusion, Die Feng said: "Didn't I just say-"
"I heard you, but Senior, she is not her brother, even if the same blood runs through their veins. If she was, you wouldn't have agreed to stay with her in the mortal realm before your cursed wedding."
"I know she's not her brother," his head shook profusely at the knowledge he had accepted long ago, "nor is she responsible for his sins."
"But you have not sought her out again," 16th accused with a note of disappointment.
"It's too late...and I have no right," Die Feng ground out the words that were harder to say than he would have thought. A familiar ache began to grow within his chest, his breath caught at her image. She had refused to forgive his actions, and he couldn't blame her. Li Ying had left him, her parting words would forever haunt his dreams...his conscience.
"He who seeks is a fool for a moment, but he who does not try will be a fool forever."
His head snapped up at the words from his Junior, who stared directly at him. Die Feng saw something within the depth of Zi Lan's eyes. How can a man look so lost when his words were so wise?
"Please take advice from a man who waited too long," Zi Lan advised, his gaze transfixed at past memories. His voice began to quiver, yet the tone remained strong. "No matter how short the time may seem to an immortal, even one day feels like an eternity. I am sure you feel the same at this very moment as you sit before me."
Despite his better judgement, Die Feng nodded reluctantly. But that small action alone lightened his burden. He knew he had to see her again.
"Fate may not be kind to the men at Kunlun, but it does not mean we should fall back from the challenge."
"Is it still possible?" Die Feng found himself asking, with the vulnerability of a man who had hurt the woman who had stolen his heart.
"Senior, it's never too late," Zi Lan said softly. "Despite my current situation, I did get Yan Zhi back."
"Thank you," Die Feng said softly, understanding the depth of Zi Lan's efforts to ease his guilt.
"Any day my dear Senior," 16th smiled broadly, knowing his words had gotten through. His expression changed again, this time his tone serious. "However, I do need a small favor."
"Have your changed your mind about your imprisonment?" Die Feng teased, though he already knew the answer.
"I already requested for better tea, so I will stay here for a while longer to enjoy it," he countered, his eyes lighting up again. "But since I am still locked up here, I need you to speak with 8th Senior on my behalf, and only you alone."
"What are you scheming this time?" Die Feng asked suspiciously.
Zi Lan's broad smile did not ease his worries. Die Feng inwardly groaned at the prospect of the errand. Even locked up, he was sure 16th could still cause trouble with no less effort than 17th.
They were two sides of the same coin.
Countless arrows covered the heavy thick forest of tall trees of Qīngtái sēnlín (Moss Forest, 青苔森林). The fiery arrows came relentlessly, from all directions, lighting up the dark moss covered ancient forest. The lit arrows shone light onto the lush bright green blanket from the tip of the tree branches to the forest floor. With dark blue fiery flames at their tips, they flew like bright shooting stars, lustrous sparkles of the night. They were beautiful, magnificent - if only they were not aimed at her, she could have admired them more.
No...this was not the time to praise others when they wished to cause her harm, she kept telling herself, as she flung herself backwards to avoid more arrows. One had sliced the side of her shoulder, blue flames burning her flesh until she had put it out with magic. Myriad thoughts crossed her mind as she continued to dodge scores of arrows coming at her from all directions.
She remembered their friendly sparring days at Kunlun. They had tried their best to make the Demon Ancestor proud. But there was a difference between battling at Kunlun and the thick moss forest at the Demon and Ghost Realm borders. Their powers were no longer suppressed. Li Ying knew the few weeks at Kunlun had increased her cultivation exponentially. Her feet were lighter, her body moved quicker, even her strength had increased.
This had enabled her to sneak into the camp of her enemies unnoticed. Li Ying needed the practice, she had rationalized, but the real reason was that she no longer wanted to live in someone's shadow. She had to learn, she had to know the world that was collapsing around her.
The difference between friends and foes was just a thin line in times of war: Proven by the scene before her, as the dark clad heavy armored opponent flew from above with her sword ready to cut her down.
Li Ying turned her glowing chain whip into a sword to cross blades just in time, but not fast enough as she stumbled back, with one knee on the lush covered moss floor.
"Wait! We need to talk!" Li Ying shouted, trying to balance herself to stand up once more, but the heavy weight from above was relentless.
Yan Zhi pressed downward, her red killing aura comparable to any Demon Immortal in the battle arena. "I don't feel like talking," Yan Zhi sneered, cold ruthless eyes staring back at her. An eerie expression Li Ying could never have imagined on her friend's face.
Li Ying admitted that she was not great with tactical plans, a subject matter she had yet to delve into. Nor had she anticipated she would meet such hostility. Well...that was a lie, she had known she would be met with hostility, but she had thought she would have the chance to slow her down with a few words. She had planned to meet with Yan Zhi one on one to alleviate any hostility from her people. However she had not taken into account the changes in Yan Zhi.
"Yan Zhi, please! I'm here because I want to help!" Li Ying pleaded, but her friend refused to listen. With no other recourse, she used her magic to blast her away.
The bright yellow light forced Yan Zhi to retreat momentarily. Li Ying flew higher up, spun, and landed right next to Yan Zhi's side. She swung her sword and clashed it with hers. Their blades continued to clank, with Yan Zhi kicking and punching, fast and hard, while Li Ying could only dodge and defend against the continuous assault.
Another variable Li Ying had not anticipated were Yan Zhi's renewed abilities. She fought differently than she had at Kunlun. Had she gained a new Shifu back in the Ghost Realm? But it was not just the martial arts that was different. In the past, Yan Zhi had fought only to defend, and hardly attacked, much to the chagrin of the Demon Ancestor who had often bemoaned Yan Zhi's lack of killing aura. If only the Ancestor could see Yan Zhi now, she would probably be proud.
However, at the rate they were going, Li Ying knew she couldn't go on defending forever, especially against an opponent inflamed with wrath and grief. Such opponents were the most dangerous. Fighting with sheer rage to end others' lives, their emotions eclipsed their standard abilities.
Li Ying had miscalculated...or actually, she had not calculated at all.
Desperate, she blasted fire magic at Yan Zhi, who somersaulted away from the assault. This gave her an opening to jump to a nearby tree, land on the large tree branch thick with covered green moss, and put a distance between them. "I was the one who gave your people the intel about Diushi Mogui Ta (Lost Devil Tower). At least, hear me out!"
Yan Zhi raised her sword. Bright blue light turned the blade to a bow once more, with three arrows magically appearing in her hands. She pulled back the strings, blue flames appeared on their ends, aiming at Li Ying's direction from below the tree.
With a voice like steel, her cold expression never changed. "Your brother took my daughter, I have nothing to say to you," she said as she released the arrows.
Li Ying whipped out her chain whip, swung it in circular motions, blocking the arrows. But too late, she realized they were just decoys when Yan Zhi appeared next to her, with a dagger at Li Ying's throat. "Give me a reason why I shouldn't kill you right now!" Yan Zhi hissed.
Cold beads of sweat began to form on her forehead, shuddering fear grew the more she stared into her eyes dark with hatred...gone was the maternal comfort Li Ying had once known. Her friend who had dressed her wounds, sewn her torn clothes, and helped her do her hair, was now ready to do her harm without remorse. This was no longer the Yan Zhi she had known, her shy gentle friend...her sparring companion at Kunlun. This was Yan Zhi, a warrior, a leader of her tribe, most importantly of all: a grieving mother who would do anything to get her child back.
"There are a several good reasons, but let's start with I'm worth more to you alive than dead," Li Ying answered, her voice more shaky than she liked.
"That I have to agree with." Yan Zhi turned her wrist, the dagger arched like a halfmoon crescent over her shoulder. Pressing the blade upward, the sharp edge grazed the delicate skin under her chin. Yan Zhi pressed her back against the tree.
How had it come to this?
Li Ying stared back, she tried not to swallow too hard or the blade would surely cut her flesh. "But not as your hostage," she argued, stubbornly.
Yan Zhi smiled, but there was no warmth, only coldness. "Everyone knows you are the most beloved sister of the Demon King, I can trade you for..."
Yan Zhi's sentence was cut off, when the chain whip glowed brightly. Li Ying had stabbed herself with the tip of the chain whip blade, distracting Yan Zhi enough for Li Ying to grab her arm with the dagger. Straightening their arms outward, Li Ying kicked, her foot made contact with Yan Zhi's grip, the dagger dropped to the ground below them. Her chain whip blade rose to attack, but was blocked by Yan Zhi, who backhanded her across the face. The forceful blow made Li Ying slip on the wet moss and she fell to the ground below, the moss there thankfully cushioning her fall.
Before she could gather her senses from the painful impact, the crow-like figure descended from above with a shiny object she knew so well. Crisscrossing her chain whip, the double chains spread across her chest to block the blade. Her gaze turned to fury at her old friend before she swung her knee to force her back.
With the chain whip in one hand, the other pressed to the moss floor. Li Ying propelled her lower body upward, her hand anchoring from the ground. The chain whip swung out in a circular motion, forcing Yan Zhi to retreat. Flipping backward, Li Ying landed on her knees and foot, with the glowing whip in her hand. She had managed to hit her at last.
"It won't work even if you want me as a hostage! He won't believe you, nor would he take you seriously. He doesn't take anyone seriously," Li Ying shouted.
"I can always send pieces of you to the Demon King, then he will know I'm serious," Yan Zhi suggested impassively as she sent more arrows in her direction. Swinging the chain whip to the branch above, Li Ying backflipped while pulling at her chain, and landed her feet softly on the heavy branch.
"I would advise against that course of action. My brother, the Demon King will just send pieces of Qiao Er back. Would you risk that chance?" She asked from above, unperturbed by her threats. She noted that Yan Zhi was talking despite her hostility.
"I'll risk anything to get Qiao Er back," Yan Zhi snapped.
She flung herself onto the same branch, her bow vibrant with bright blue fire as it turned to a sword once more. Prowling like a predator, the sword spinning gracefully in her hand, she took steady unhurried steps towards her prey.
With slow measured backward steps, Li Ying faced her opponent. "Hurting me is her death sentence. My brother has a temper when it comes to his possessions," Li Ying continued to warn, voice controlled, ignoring the pounding heart in her chest.
Undeterred, Yan Zhi rushed forward to attack, the blade and whip clanged and clashed until Li Ying could retreat no further. The branch they were standing on got thinner as they moved closer to the edge. Whipping her chain forward, the tip of the blade wrapped around Yan Zhi's sword.
"You need my help to get Qiao Er back! I'm your only chance to get inside Diushi Mogui Ta, an asylum where we keep our most dangerous Demon Immortals," Li Ying informed, as they both pulled on their weapons, immobilized by each other's strengths.
"I don't need your help!" Yan Zhi growled with a mix of pride and fury.
"But you do and you know it!" Li Ying snarled. "Or you wouldn't be talking to me right now. If you had wanted to kill me you would have done it the moment I arrived. You need me and I'm here to help you save Qiao Er."
"Why should I trust you?"
"Because you know me. We're friends, fellow disciples of the Demon Ancestor at Kunlun," Li Ying said exasperated. "That has never changed. If that is not enough of a reason, did you forget the the first time we met it was I who saved you and Qiao Er?"
"From your brother's assassins!" Yan Zhi accused her, making Li Ying flinch, her argument had backfired. Taking advantage of the response, Yan Zhi grabbed the chain with her other hand, and yanked Li Ying towards her. The blade wrapped in chain turned against her throat.
Face to face, Li Ying did not retaliate. They were talking, and that was all that mattered. "I know that now, I know all that he did. I'm firmly against what my brother stands for. I don't want anymore bloodshed," she said.
"Li Ying," Yan Zhi called her name for the first time since their battle, her voice unexpectedly soft, making Li Ying's chest ache. "You can't stop bloodshed when your brother is out to destroy the realms and its people." Surprisingly Yan Zhi fell back.
Ignoring the danger, Li Ying approached, grasping the opportunity that was given. "But it doesn't stop me from trying. I may not be able to save everyone, but I can save the ones I can. And I want to save Qiao Er," she pleaded.
Suddenly, without warning, Yan Zhi turned around, with the tip of the blade at her throat once more. "You're willing to go against him, your own brother?" she asked challengingly. But Li Ying stood her ground, refusing to stagger back, as she felt the blade touch her skin.
She now understood, resistance would only be met with hostility.
Calm and collected, with unyielding eyes, Li Ying answered, "I am the only insider of my Realm you can trust. My Ge-Ge will not be suspicious of me, he thinks I am an airhead at most. I can provide you with a map to Lost Devil Tower and information on how you can pass the threshold without hurting your forces."
"How do I know this is not a trap?" Yan Zhi asked, her gaze of mistrust remaining, even as her voice began to waver.
"I know it's hard to believe when I have the same blood as Ge-Ge. But the crime of our kin is not ours! It was you who told me that before you left Kunlun. I didn't understand then, but I do now. You tried to warn me that day, now I understand the true meaning of your parting words."
"I was wrong."
"No, you were not," her head shook profusely. "I won't let my father or brother's crimes define me, and neither should you."
For a moment, Yan Zhi didn't respond, the tip of the sword remained steady at her throat. Each second felt like an eternity as Li Ying held her breath. Then to her horror, Yan Zhi lifted her sword, Li Ying instinctively closed her eyes assuming the worst. Her heart beat wildly, her palms began to sweat. She flinched when the brush of air from the sword went past her head, but the blade never hit her flesh. The sword hit something else. Her eyes fluttered open, her head turned to see the vibrating blade was embedded in the tree behind her.
With a bewildered expression, she turned to look at Yan Zhi.
"Start talking," she ordered.
Li Ying couldn't believe her ears, her luck, her chance. She closed their distance, grabbing Yan Zhi's arm. "You believe me?" Li Ying asked breathlessly.
Yan Zhi snatched her arm away, her anger remained, though the hostility had somewhat subsided. "If you lie, or betray us..."
"I will not," Li Ying answered with conviction, finally able to breath with relief.
"May your words be true...because there will be no realm you can hide in if any harm comes to Qiao Er."
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Mo Yuan and Shao Wan (三生三世十里桃花) - Vol. 1 [COMPLETED]Fanfiction
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