Chapter 94a

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written by Panda
edited by kakashi

Ye Hua was brimming with fury, his entire being vibrating from the sheer amount of terror and anger that ran through him. And yet, the object of his anger gazed at him dispassionately, detached, and without a shred of emotion. At most, there was a slightly annoyed look on the face he knew so well.

"Da-Ge, how could you do this without informing me?" He ground out through gritted teeth when he had finally got some of his control back.

Mo Yuan sat down, picked out a map and gazed at it intently without giving an answer.

"We are not just brothers, but more importantly, we are both commanders in this war. We both have men that are sacrificing their lives for our cause! It is vital that I be privy to pertinent information about what you are going to do next!" Ye Hua continued passionately.

"Crown Prince, I do not take orders from you," Mo Yuan replied without raising his head from what he was studying.

The words hit Ye Hua like a slap in the face but he made a valiant effort to disregard it - because this was not his Da-Ge.

Mo Yuan folded the map and placed it on the right side of his inkstand where it joined a small pile of others. His left hand picked up another when he looked up with a cursory glance at Ye Hua. "But if I deem it opportune, I will inform you of my plans in the future. Unless telling you will disadvantage me. Good day."

With disbelief, Ye Hua realized his brother had dismissed him as he turned all his attention to another blasted map on his table. He however still couldn't contain his emotions and he started pacing in the tent to the complete disinterest of the man sitting in front of him.

Ye Hua felt betrayed. And utterly helpless.

He had instinctively known something was wrong when Mo Yuan had used the Blue Demon King as bait. Yes, they had used the Purple Queen in similar ways before, but back then, his brother had calculated the risks and knew she would not be harmed. He had also given express orders that Ye Hua and the Horse princess rescued her before leaving the demon camp.

This was different. The Blue King had been seriously hurt in the skirmish with the soldiers from the Yellow King's army. And yet... When the God of War had heard the news, the only question he asked was how many men the Demon King had lost. He had looked completely unconcerned hearing about the injuries of their ally. Once he had obtained the information he sought, he rode off without a second glance and it had been Ye Hua who had to tell a messenger to head back to camp and get help for the the Blue King.

The disquiet that had started forming in Ye Hua had boiled over when he got to the site of the battle. Usually, his brother had mercy with the foot soldiers in battle and saved his true ire for people like Cheng Yin's generals - but this was different. Entire legions of the enemy lay to waste. His brother had spared no-one.

Feeling a chill creep up his spine, his eyes had caught Tian Gu's who was staring at him - and he could see a mixture of what looked like fear and resignation there. He knew instantly that whatever was wrong with his brother, she knew about it. When they had got back to their camp, he had called her for a meeting immediately. She had refused to tell him anything, but Ye Hua had insisted on getting at least something out of her, expressing his deep concern for his brother over and over, until she had profoundly apologized for being sworn to silence, and admitted she very much regretted she had not intervened. It was enough for Ye Hua to understand where he had to go to next.

Ye Hua stopped pacing and studied the bent head of his brother - no, he corrected himself, this was not his brother. He would find a way to get his brother back, but before that, he had to make sure this situation did not get out of hands. Most importantly, people needed to be punished. Martial law was strict and upholding it was paramount in an army camp.

"High God Mo Yuan, I am informing you I will take action against the Shaman of the horse tribe."

Mo Yuan shrugged.

"Using magic against a Commander of the Celestial forces is a very grave crime under Celestial law. I am informing you that I will make her leave camp," Ye Hua continued and waited for a reaction.

Mo Yuan made a dismissive gesture with his hand. "If I am not mistaken, the law calls for a death sentence. It is very lenient to only chase her away. I don't think it will prevent her tribe from revolting though, they are very attached. Make sure they do not leave with the horses. We need them."

So he was right: It had been that Shaman! "What about Princess Tian Gu?" Ye Hua had not quite reached the pinnacle of disbelief yet.

"That woman won't leave. She has bound herself to me," Mo Yuan remarked as he lifted his feather and started writing on the parchment. "Her magic is useful, I'll make use of it again soon."

Noting bitterly that his brother still didn't bother to lift his head throughout the conversation, a renewed surge of anger coursed through Ye Hua. But there was nothing else he could do here. Seething, he bowed, stalked out of the tent and headed directly to the Xì Mǎ Yú quarters after collecting a few soldiers.

The Horse tribe members looked excited to see him but that sentiment quickly changed to anger when he went to where the Shaman was, huddled between some horses, and ordered her immediately expelled from camp. It didn't happen fast enough so he gave a sharp nod to the soldiers he had brought and they took her by her arms. Gently, for the moment. But he wanted her gone. If necessary by force.

One of the Horse Generals stepped forward, his face deeply troubled. "Crown Prince, we protest such ill treatment of a respected member of our tribe!"

"Noted."

"She is our spiritual..."

Ye Hua cut him off impatiently. "She broke the law. She needs to leave."

Many warriors had gathered around them by now. "What has she done?" the General asked with big eyes.

"I am not at liberty to say," Ye Hua said, pressing his lips together.

"I am afraid we will also have to leave if you persist in throwing her out!"

Ye Hua checked his boiling anger before he could do something he would regret - no need to turn this into a diplomatic incident of far greater proportions. "If you leave the horses, we won't call it treason. If you do, expect Celestial wrath to come your way," he said in a voice full of authority.

The General turned back to his tribe and Ye Hua heard lots of arguments and curses ensue. He half hoped some of them would be foolish enough to attack him as he itched for a fight to dispel some of the helpless rage that filled him. They disregarded him, however, and he turned his attention to the Shaman, who stood shaking between his soldiers. She looked very old and very frail in the grey light of this dreary day and Ye Hua's natural impulse was to reconsider his decision, given her age. But when he got a good look of her eyes, he knew that his decision was the only right one. This woman was dangerous.

She said something, pointing a long bony finger at him, but he shook his head ... he did not understand her language and nobody bothered to translate. Around them, horse people started to pack and take down tents. Many. Too many ... Dread started to take the place of anger when Ye Hua realized that their chances of winning against the Demons were melting away around him. Yet, he could not move. Held by the Shaman's burning gaze, he stood frozen in time.

"You...," she whispered, "brother. His burden. Alone."

Ye Hua shuddered. Her voice sounded raspy, yet powerful. Suddenly, Tian Gu appeared next to him, breathing heavily. "Wuwu!" she cried, "what is happening?"

"She broke Celestial law," Ye Hua repeated, not letting the Shaman out of his sight, "she must leave immediately or face graver consequences."

The Shaman said something to Tian Gu, who nodded. "Crown Prince of the Celestial Heavens," she then said, "my Wuwu has asked me to translate for you. Since she sees you know."

Know? He knew nothing. "This is something that is his burden to bear alone. It is ordained by the Fates. Your bond of Brotherhood rings true and shines strongly, remember this in the coming stormy days."

"What...," but the Shaman had already turned away, with a sad smile. Dumbstruck, Ye Hua watched as the camp emptied of almost all the Horse tribe people. The remaining members bowed to him, but he saw the anger in their eyes. Tian Gu returned after a while, looking like she had cried. Of course, Mo Yuan had been right. She wouldn't leave.

He surveyed the now almost bare field and a deep weariness crept into his bones. Suddenly exhausted, he walked slowly back to his tent. What a mess.

****

Bai Qian stood halfway hidden behind a rock, waiting for Ye Hua to come out of Shifu's tent. She hadn't joined the last foray because she was still despondent over the report of Zi Lan's death. She hardly had any energy to get out of bed these days and tears often came, unbidden and at inconvenient times. Ye Hua had been extremely distressed after returning from the battlefield, hardly able to speak to her. She had been dearly afraid somebody close to her had been injured, or worse, killed, but Ye Hua had shaken his head vehemently at her fear. However, he was not ready or able to tell her more, making her anxiety flare. After Ye Hua had left their tent again without changing out of his armor or washing the stench of the battlefield off, she went in search of her seniors, many of which had ridden out as well, to pry more information.

In 3rd Senior Lin Liang's tent, she quickly learned that Ye Hua's distress must have been caused by Shifu. She had stifled an outcry at the mentioning of his name, but apparently, he was fine, as they had immediately assured her. However...fine did not exactly apply, 3rd had said, looking troubled. No-one knew what had happened to Shifu but clearly, something had happened. She decided to go ask him directly and all her Seniors enthusiastically supported that idea.

"He will certainly talk to you," Lin Liang had said, nodding resolutely. She wasn't so sure, because the last time she had wanted to speak to him after the news of Zi Lan's death, he had refused to even acknowledge her. They had grown very distant over the years, she thought. She couldn't even remember the last time they had shared a quiet moment together. She missed him.

She had just stepped up to the Command tent when she had heard Ye Hua's voice inside. She had briefly pondered simply going in and joining him, but had decided she wanted to speak to Shifu alone.

After a seeming eternity when her patience had been stretched to the limit, Ye Hua finally emerged from the tent. His movements were jerky and a quick glance at him showed clearly that the talk had not gone well. Her husband looked furious - not something she often got to see. He didn't notice her as he moved with quick strides towards the camp below.

She waited until he was fully out of sight. Then, Bai Qian gathered her mud caked gown around her and entered Mo Yuan's tent.

"Shifu, I have come to-," she stopped on entry as her eyes adjusted to the tent's muted lighting and she saw that he was dressing a wound on his shoulder.

"Shifu, you are injured!" she cried out and instantly moved towards him. From what she could see, it was a rather deep gash, seemingly too deep to heal in one go, and he surely needed help with the bandages.

He, however, held up a hand before she could get any closer. "Crown Princess, please step back," he said sharply.

He sounded...displeased. She frowned and looked at him more closely. Yes, very displeased. There was no trace of a smile or usual warmth on his face.

"Shifu please let me help you, the wound is placed on an awkward spot on your shoulder, your hands will not do a good job. Remember, your Seventeenth is adept at dressing scrapes from all of my escapades back at Kunlun." She chuckled lightly and took another step towards him.

"Did you not hear what I said? Step back. Or even better, leave. I have no time for any more visitors today."

Stunned, Bai Qian stepped back stammering words of apology, her hands mid-air before she dropped them after gazing at them confusedly. "Shifu," she bowed, "I am sorry if I...if I barged in. I was just worried, I wanted to...," her voice faltered. He was paying her no attention at all, but was continuing to attend to his wound and once he was satisfied, he pulled up the robes he had shrugged out of. She looked at him for signs of his mood, but for the first time since she could remember, she couldn't read him. He was a completely blank slate.

"It is astounding," he remarked, "how much impropriety you possess. Though I remember that has always been a trait of yours."

Reeling from yet another blow, Bai Qian could only manage a whisper "Impropriety? Shifu?"

"I am not your Shifu anymore, Crown Princess. And even if I were, the future Heavenly Empress - the pregnant future Heavenly Empress - should not visit a man who is not her husband alone in his tent. Even a Fox should know that."

Furiously blinking back tears, Bai Qian shook her head stubbornly. "Once a Shifu, always a Shifu. I will always be your disciple, Shifu. You know that." She knelt down in front of him and looked at him searchingly. "Shifu, I heard from the others that you...you acted strangely on the battlefield...what happened? Why are you...different?"

"Different?" he repeated the word in a flat voice. "No. I do not understand why everyone thinks they have a right to question me. You are wasting my time. Farewell."

"But, Shifu...," tears now flowing down her face, she looked at him in utter shock.

"Your display of emotions does not move me in the slightest. A shame it used to."

Emotions...he had gotten rid of his emotions? Horrified, Bai Qian scrambled up. "Why would you do that, Shifu!"

"To prevent something like this from happening again, of course," he said gesturing to her.

Bai Qian was really confused. "Me?" she said pointing at herself.

His eyes were cold...no, worse than that. Now she understood: they were entirely devoid of feelings. She shuddered.

"You made me return from the Nothingness and it has been nothing but a calamity ever since," he continued. "Emotions have no place on the battlefield. I can afford no distractions. Nor from her, not from anyone else."

"I made you do nothing!" she said, suddenly feeling defiant, "you told us to wait for you, and I knew you would keep your word!"

He lifted his eyebrows. That was such a typical gesture for him that Bai Qian suddenly felt compelled to smile - but that smile died on her face instantly when he continued. "Such a foolish and blind woman," he said icily, "I did it for you, because I thought you knew, but when I finally came back after millennia of agony, you had chosen to marry my likeness."

Bai Qian felt a sudden dizziness, a feeling of the strongest bewilderment as she tried to process what he had just told her. Her Shifu had...he had...

A man. It had been a while since she had realized, that day he had hugged her fiercely in front of his meditation cave, when his heart had been hurt by the Demon Ancestor. She had not seen a venerated teacher, she had seen a man who tried very hard to appear like he was not struggling with feelings that overwhelmed him. A man... he had always been a man before being a God or being a Teacher. A man who had know she was a woman. A man who had let her hug him and let her put her head into his lap, but a man who had hidden his feelings, had hidden them so well she had had no clue...

"I could have used a spell like this back then," he ended. "Not that it matters now."

Bai Qian could no longer stand to be in his vicinity. Eyes streaming with tears, she fled his tent in desperate haste and went in search for a sanctuary.

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