Chapter 96.5

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written by kakashi
edited by Panda


Year 81,357 after the Creation of the Realms

(Shao Wan has just recently celebrated her 40'000 egg-escape day. This is ~28'000 years before Father Immortal's school is opened and ~29'000 years before Shao Wan will first set eyes on pretty boy Mo Yuan at the school gates)

"Be careful!" Fong Hung shrieked but it was already too late - another series of booming explosions rocked the cave in Zhang Mei Mountain. Everything shook and trembled and with horrible finality, the ceiling started to cave in on them. We're too young to die! Fong Hung's last thought was, and he felt much sadness that of all possible sentiments, regret would be his last. But it seemed Fate had something else for them in store - the rockslide subsided, the dust settled, and after a few moments of dreadful silence, Shao Wan scrambled out from underneath the debris, brushed off dirt from her skirts, and checked her body for injuries.

"I definitely used too much power, ha!" she declared lightly. Yet, her voice quivered ever so slightly, betraying her nonchalance as a lie. When she turned her head to look for him, his heart swelled because of the worry on her face. He made a small sound and her eyes found him, cowering in a niche to the side, quaking.

"Why have you reverted back to toad form?" she wiggled her finger at him as laughter bubbled out of her, "that'll just make it more likely you'll get squashed! Toad splatter!"

He had not done it consciously, but when in high distress, Fong Hung instinctively switched back to his true form; it had caused him many a moment of embarrassment already. But now was a time of such high distress that staying in his true form until it was over seemed like a very good option.

"Please, Mylady," he begged after transforming back anyway, "stop your experiments, you will get yourself killed."

But his mistress did not listen to him. With a look of utter concentration on her dirt-smudged face, she blasted away the rocks and the dirt and focused her attention back on the black leather whip on the cracked stone table in front of her. "It cannot be that difficult to transfer parts of the soul," she murmured. "Why won't it work?"

Fong Hung whimpered. "Souls are not supposed to be transferred," he moaned, "it is dark, evil magic!"

"Says who?" Shao Wan challenged him with an angry pout and the stab of a finger in his direction, "if I want to use part of my soul for my own weapon, I should be allowed to! It's my soul. I don't live by Celestial rules!"

Fong Hung shook his head in despair, but he knew from experience: there was no reasoning with his mistress once she put her mind to something. Just like her plan to reunite all the demon clans under her rule: against all better judgment, she would go through with it. It gave Fong Hung heart palpitations to think of what lay ahead. She was growing up tall, his mistress, and she had proven that she possessed enough strength and powers to best most men, but still, he would have preferred a quiet life, one far from the rivalries and bloodshed that came with demon politics. A good husband to make her happy and keep her recklessness in check, a few lively Demon children for him to take care of, that was all he ever wished for.

But: "Look at their potential!" she would say dreamily, a special smile brightening up her face, "my beautiful people. All they need is a wise leader to guide them and they will become the most prosperous of all tribes."

Fong Hung considered that unlikely, but he did not voice his doubts in front of her. He liked that she dreamed of something she found worth smiling for, but the Demons were an unruly lot, far too hot headed, always letting their emotions guide their actions instead of carefully calculating their options and then choosing. Compared to the elegant and refined Celestials, Demons behaved like a bunch of lowly hoodlums. The most prosperous of all tribes? He would reincarnate as a dragonfly before that ever happened.

"What if I use my feather...," Shao Wan mused, wrinkling her forehead and shaking back her unruly hair. "I could tie it on with some special string, what to you think? About here?"

Fong Hung gasped. "No, Mylady, you cannot do that. You should never remove it from your birth cave! The consequences could be horrendous for you. If it gets into the wrong hands..."

Shao Wan made a drawn out "pfffffffffff" sound and walked around the stone table once before she rolled her shoulder and cracked her knuckles.

She had declared to Fong Hung five days ago that she needed to make a special weapon before she could begin her quest to unite the tribes. Apparently, it was "standard practice"; all great leaders had weapons with special powers. Where she had gotten that notion from, Fong Hung did not know, though he strongly suspected it came from that handsome good-for-nothing his mistress had started associating with. She was coming of age, he knew and he saw, but he would have preferred if she had chosen someone... different. Someone more worthy of her. Someone more like her. Someone...who probably didn't exist.

"That's it! Celestial lightning!" his mistress declared at this point, her voice almost a squeal from sudden excitement.

Fong Hung gaped.

"Where can we find some, Fong Hung? You know such things," she urged him with flushed cheeks, impatience shining from her eyes.

"The...the Celestial Realm?" he stammered, "but Mylady! What do you need Celestial lightning for? It's dangerou..."

"Stop being such a nagging spoilsport," she interrupted him with a frown and started rummaging for her waterskin and travelling coat. "I am sure if I let myself be hit by extremely strong fire, a fraction of my soul will split off."

"But your powers will be suppressed there! The consequences could be..."

"If those delicate Celestial can take it, I can take it a thousand times better," Shao Wan cut him off again with a wave of her hand. "Are you coming? If we hurry, we can be there in a few days."

***

Fong Hung had hoped that Shao Wan would get bored waiting for a storm that wouldn't come and would set her mind on something else. From what he had heard, Celestial lightning storms only gathered for ascension trials. And since there was no Celestial anywhere near them, here in the unchartered no man's land between the Ghost and the Celestial Realm, he was confident they wouldn't see a single storm in their lifetimes. But, alas, she wasn't bored at all; her determination both awed and frightened him. She had chosen an elevated grassy plateau devoid of trees for their camp, checked the skies and the winds hourly with extreme diligence, and tried out spell after spell to call a storm in their direction.

On the eighth day, Fong Hung noticed clouds of a darker shade gather on the horizon. Shao Wan jumped up with a shout of joy and hurried forward to the edge of the plateau to see better. The wind was blowing steadily in their direction, now gathering speed. Soon, they heard the thunder. The clouds grew taller and taller as they rolled towards them and the air changed, subtly at first, then acquiring a quality of liquid energy. All of Fong Hung's hair stood on end and his teeth started chattering. He did not want to be fried as a toad, that seemed too humiliating, so he held on to his human form against his instincts, his hands on his head for protection, though he knew full well that was completely pointless.

His mistress looked the most beautiful and awe inspiring he had ever seen her, her face glowing in the rapidly fading light, her long hair billowing behind her like a dark cloud of its own.

He knew then with sudden clarity, she would accomplish great things in her lifetime. If he wanted to stay beside her to guard her back, he needed to shake off his fears. He needed to be the rock for her to stand on. The throne for her to sit on. The pillow for her to rest her head on. He had to work harder. So much harder.

Shao Wan lifted her whip up high with a shout and the thong shot upwards, curling and twisting like a dragon taking flight, disappearing into the gathering darkness. Around her, the air started to glow violet. The skies starting howling, shouting their challenge at her with deafening fury. But Shao Wan showed no fear at all. She only screamed back in defiance, and when her voice got sucked up by the maelstrom, she just screamed louder.

The first lightning bolt shot through the whip with a furious hiss. The weapon glowed bright as the sun for a moment and her body shook violently upon impact. Her eyes grew huge and round and her mouth opened wide as she staggered, but she only took a tiny step backwards and otherwise held her ground.

She was better prepared for the second bolt, managing to cast a spell just as it hit. Her whole body was ripped upwards, for a moment it looked like the storm would carry her away, but she forced her feet back to the ground and held on to her weapon tighter. Wild glee spread over her face when her whip lit up again, this time stronger and lasting.

She turned her head to Fong Hung and wanted to shout something when the third bolt hit. It did not descend through the whip like the previous two, but hit her straight in the head.

Energy surged, so strong and wild that Fong Hung was thrown off his feet and a distance away like a rag doll. Completely disoriented, he screamed in anguish. "I need to save her! I need to save her!" he whimpered over and over, until he found enough strength to push himself up, stand and rush forward. The light was so bright his eyes streamed water. He could barely see anything. The closer he got, the hotter it became. He knew he would ignite soon, but he did not care.

The light changed again as the clouds above them formed a vortex, turning in a circle at ever greater speed, sucking up a pillar of energy from where Shao Wan must be. Gritting his teeth, Fong Hung ran forwards, his head down, his eyes narrowed to slits.

Shao Wan stood in the middle of the firestorm, her arms raised up high, her face upturned at the skies. The powers of the universe streamed into her and out of her again through the top of her head. She stood there unscathed, naked like the day she had crawled out of her egg, shouting: "It worked! Fong Hung, it worked! I did it!"

Fong Hung fell to his knees, shaking and crying. Soon, the clouds dissipated and the sun broke through, bathing the landscape in a warm, red light. The sky power flickered, once, twice, and went out. He felt immense relief ... and bone chilling dread. He knew, to be given such powers was a barbed gift. The Universe demanded balance. How would it make her pay for it?

"Ah," she sighed, and fell to her knees with a soft thud. Her eyes closed and slowly, gracefully she tiled over. She slept for six days and nights, her body sprawled on the singed grass, a triumphant smile edged on her face as she clutched her whip to her heart.

***

"I want you to meet Demon Tongue," Shao Wan proudly said to Yáng Bōlí and conjured her Whip from its secret resting place. He, who had draped his arm around her shoulder after the kissing and was now sneaking his hand towards her right breast, nodded dutifully and uttered something that sounded like "very nice". From the corner of her eye, Shao Wan saw Fong Hung's displeased face disappear behind a boulder.

"And now, I will go look for a good place to build my palace," she declared and brushed his hand away.

"A palace?" Yáng Bōlí sounded surprised. "Right now?"

"Yes, do you think I will rule my people from a cave?" she said with a frown. He annoyed her today. Instead of showing proper interest in her achievements and plans, he only wanted to lie down with her. They had not met for about three weeks and it seemed like men went rather stupid with single minded desire when they could not spill their seed for that long.

"I'm sure that can wait?" he said. "It's great you got a special weapon, but now..."

"Let's fight!" she interrupted him and jumped up. She really wanted to try out Demon Tongue in combat.

Yáng Bōlí sighed. "I had something else in mind..."

"First we fight, then we sleep together...but only if you try hard enough to beat me," she said, feeling generous.

"A--alright," he agreed reluctantly and got up, the tent in his trousers slowly disappearing as he adjusted to the new situation. If he did well, she would reward him. He was a good enough fighter for her not to grow bored with and besides, was very pleasing to look at. He always took off his shirts when they spared and the bulky muscles of his arms, shoulder and back was a sight she would not easily grow tired of.

This day, too, he undressed down to his pants and got into a fighting stance, letting his muscles ripple. Shao Wan unfurled Demon Tongue and the weapon starting humming in her hand, drawing a smile from her. It was very excited to taste blood and give it to her.

"Let's find out what you can do," she whispered.

Fighting with her new weapon was beyond anything she had ever experienced. Rather than her wielding the weapon, the weapon wielded her. It knew exactly what her adversary was going to do in advance. It made her more more brave, more ruthless, and altogether more proficient. Knowing she should not let the weapon be too powerful, she established control over it until they were in perfect harmony. Her arm, her weapon, one and the same.

Yáng Bōlí was soon bleeding and breathing hard, pleading her with his eyes for his reward.

Not yet, Shao Wan thought. What if I try to combine the whip with one of those soul-befuddlement spells I designed?

She cast the spell when she next hit him. There was a loud boom, a cry, a horrible pain in her chest...and Yáng Bōlí was nowhere to be seen anymore.

"Mylady!" Fong Hung shouted and rushed towards her. He had watched their fight from the cave entrance and must be alarmed about her clutching her heart.

"It's no matter," she murmured, but that was a lie...the whip had sucked primal soul essence out of her, a rather big amount of it. She felt horrible.

"Where...where is he?" she stammered, turning her head in all directions.

"Who cares," Fong Hung mumbled, "vain, horny peacock. Let him stay away and never come back."

"Fong Hung," she chided him, "he is my friend! Something happened to him because of me. I need to find him! You must use the whip on me. I will teach you the spell I used. Hurry."

"Mylady," Fong Hung said alarmed, "I could never hurt you."

"The whip won't hurt me, you silly toad," she said, "it cannot do that to its creator."

"But how...how..."

"Oh, stop asking so many questions. This is the spell... will you watch and learn? If I'm not back by...by....ah, I don't know. If I don't come back, think of something else to do."

***

Despite his usual crying and trembling, Fong Hung was a very capable immortal. He copied the spell reasonably quickly and after many attempts, he moved Demon Tongue with enough speed for him to try to use both whip and spell together. It took quite a while longer, but the moment he got it right, she felt searing pain - she cried out and then fell down at breakneck speed, everything a blur around her, until she crashed into some water and sank down like a stone.

She was quickly out of air and struggled to get back to the surface...only, there was no surface anymore. She swam to this side, to that side, up, down ... but there was no up, there was no down. Only water, water, all around her. Ice cold terror gripped her heart. What place was this?

"Let me out!" she screamed, but no sound came out, only water in. It filled her lungs and it hurt, it hurt so much...am I dying? she asked herself incredulously as she felt her mind fading, that isn't possible! I made you! she raged, you are part of me! But soon, coherent thought became impossible. Only terror filled her being, a fear so great it crushed everything else. Every memory, every possibility, everything that ever had been, everything that ever would be. Dying was a blessing.

But she did not die.

When it had become so unbearable she only wanted one thing - for it to stop - everything did stop...and started again. She fell into the water...and she drowned anew, feeling the most horrible terror over and over. I get it, she formed a coherent thought between moments of desperation, this is my biggest fear. Drowning. I nearly drowned in the river when I was very little. But I didn't. This isn't real. Let me out now?

A bubble formed around her, a bubble of air and she drifted in a vast ocean with no beginning and no end. She cried like a baby, but her tears started to fill up her bubble, so she forced herself to stop. Where is Yáng Bōlí? she asked the ocean. I did not know. I did not know what you are capable of. Let me find him? I will feed you my blood for 100 years to make up for it. 200?

Her bubble drifted in the vast ocean forever. Time slowed down so much it almost stopped, drawing out her suffering to infinity. A while ago, was it eons? she had given up fighting: This place sucked all the energy she had once possessed out of her.

Yet, after several lifetimes in this place of no time and no hope, another bubble appeared in the vastness before her. It was much smaller than hers and in it sat a tiny Yáng Bōlí, as white as a sheet, trembling uncontrollably. Her bubble hit his bubble, merged with it - and she grabbed him, took him into her hand protectively ...

... and they were back.

She held the trembling and sobbing Yáng Bōlí in her arms, trembling and sobbing herself, welcoming the sky, Fong Hung, the rocks around her, and all she wanted to do for a long time was just breathe, breathe, breathe.

She had only been gone for a few moments, a chagrined Fong Hung told her.

It was the last she ever saw of Yáng Bōlí.

She did not ask what he had seen in that place of ultimate desperation before he staggered away from the cave because she knew he was barely holding on to his sanity. But she swore to herself she would never use that spell again.

Unless ... unless she would meet a person that deserved nothing but eternal terror without death for a reprieve.

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