written by LigayCroft
edited by Kakashi
12’000 years ago
As much as Mei Lin’s presence back in the Obsidian Palace was needed right now, it made sense not to go. It might be seen as an indirect provocation to the Sky Kingdom.
So off to Qing Qiu they went.
Although allied with the Celestial clan, Qing Qiu remained independent of the Sky Kingdom’s rule throughout the years. Thus, the elders agreed that Qing Qiu would become Mei Lin’s safe sanctuary from the Sky Emperor’s edict. In turn, Mei Lin had sworn to lead the care of Zhe Yan. Like her own Father, the Old Phoenix still remained unconscious in Li’s 4th Uncle’s Palace.
It was also just like Qing Qiu to not be impressed by the entourage that had descended upon their valley. They were free to get on with their lives, and for Li, he had time to think about his next steps.
Bai Zhi was not a man of many words, just like Li’s own Father was. Still, one day, he eventually expressed his worries over the position that Li had taken.
“You are strong, but have never been in an actual war, A-Li,” he spoke one day as they enjoyed looking at the Ninth Sky moon rise past the tree line. Between them were six aventurine wine pots of Zhe Yan’s peach wine, which his Grandfather had worried will soon be in short supply. “I fear the one before you and your Father might be worse than any we have ever faced. There is nothing worse than a disease that festers from the inside and you taking a step toward the throne has probably made it worse.”
Crows cawed from the tree line above them. A soft breeze picked up some fallen petals on the ground ahead of them and moved them several feet away. The scent of something sweet and tart that it carried with it traveled all the way toward them, reminding Li of summers in Huicūn.
If he hadn’t met Huo Zheng, would he even have the audacity to take this step?
“I have walked the realms far longer than most gods have and I tell you now like I have told your Father, something has changed these past thousands of years. The air hangs increasingly heavy with it, something I have not felt since the day Füxi passed away. You are strong, A-Li, but I fear you need to get even stronger if you want to help protect an entire Kingdom, nay, the immortal worlds from ruin.”
They were words that validated the sum of all he had been feeling inside during the past few days.
The moon faded from the sky to be replaced by the sun. Soon, the contents of the wine pots disappeared until all had been turned to their side, fragrant yet empty.
His Grandfather’s words weighed heavily in his heart. Li could still remember how that Desert Prince’s body had exploded, how all-consuming it had been, and how it had almost killed him. Where had that power come from? Why was it sent to the Ninth Sky? He had been fortunate enough to stop one, but could he stop two? Ten? A hundred?
The sun was high up overhead when a messenger from the Sky Kingdom appeared, carrying a scroll with The Celestial Emperor’s edict.
A hundred years.
He had been given a hundred years to prepare for his official coronation. For that, he needed to train further so he could be stronger, faster. Lian Song had decided to open Wuji Island to host the training. Together with Cheng Yu and Yu Dian, the three began working together to create a schedule. Kunlun was quick to respond that it would send its disciples. Yu Dian also agreed to submit their best warriors.
With that, Li had one more thing to do, and that was to see his Shifu on the other side. Because of her, he had learned about Hùndùn, the Veil, and the balance between the Created and the Uncreated. She had also saved his life not once, but twice. He would be busy with training in the next hundred years, and then in his new role in the many years that would follow, that he might not be able to visit her for quite some time. He had to bid her a proper farewell to thank her for all she had done.
Unfortunately, in the days since waking up from his injuries, he had found it hard to cross through the Veil. Thus, with Migu following close behind, he went up to Fengyi Mountain to where Yanhua Cave was. He hoped that the high spiritual energy within the cave could better offer him assistance to cross over.
“Nobody is to be allowed in until I come out, Migu.”
The Earth God pointed his right thumb to his own self. “Don’t you worry, Tàizǐ . How long will you be gone again?”
Li looked at the cave’s mouth. Strange how he had a memory of being dragged inside a cave on a straw carrier… would that be around the time that Huo Zheng had tried to save him? His heart lurched. He had been too busy; he hadn’t been able to look for her.
“A day… or two.” He answered. He would take a day to say goodbye to his Shifu and another to try to find Huo Zheng. If he could locate her, he could entrust looking over her to Mei Lin or Gun Gun, had Mei Lin not told him to get lost. He could quickly visit her between training sessions… He looked back at Migu. “Or maybe, three.”
A mortal year or two to watch her human self would not be too greedy, wouldn’t it?
With that, he sealed the entrance to the cave and went inside to meditate.
“He hasn’t come out yet?” Lian Song demanded, his fan blowing his face harder than usual. “But it has been a week!”
“Lian Song High God,” Migu asked, putting his body between Lian Song and the cave. “I have been given instructions not to allow anyone in… Oh, you’re already in. I am dead for disobeying the Crown Prince’s orders.”
The barrier was sturdy. It would have kept everyone out with its honeycomb design, except Lian Song was the one who had taught his students their barrier forms. Barriers were made for protection, but what if those who were inside needed help? Thus, his students’ creations were impervious to most gods, except for any member of their team. It was a precaution he had instilled in his three wards.
The inside of the cave shone as bright as day from the night pearls scattered all around. Yet, there was no Li to be found.
“It’s like I told you,” Mei Lin, who had followed in behind him remarked, sitting on a pallet that could have been Li’s meditation mat. “He’s gone. It’s not the first time he has done this to us.”
Lian Song sucked air inside his closed mouth before letting it hiss out between his teeth.
“So when will he be back?”
Mei Lin shook her head at Lian Song.
“I wish I knew. But I don’t.”
Li found his Shifu in a world that looked like it had shadows of landforms around shadows of great lakes that flowed into an ocean. As he appeared a few feet away from her, he noted how today, she looked different.
Her sad eyes were now hard... resolute. Her usually braided hair had been cut in an uneven bob that hung just below her ears. And instead of her usual flowing dresses, she wore a dark sleeveless tunic and pants.
“Shifu,” he greeted and bowed low on the ground that looked like soil but didn’t feel like soil— as was the state of the Uncreated.
“Get up. Tàizǐ, I see you are well now.” She held out her right hand, which grabbed the hilt of a sword that appeared from out of nowhere. “Take out your sword.”
He wasn’t given time to ask any further questions because she already lunged straight toward him, with bloodlust in her eyes.
A piece of rock fell on top of Li’s head. Something wet trickled down one side of his face.
He pushed himself away from the mountain that he had just crashed into. So much for the warm welcome that he had always expected to receive. The unmistakably tangy smell that crawled down his face told him that the violence he had just experienced was real.
He swiped the blood away from his left eye so he could see her better.
She stood a good distance away from him, ready to pounce. Thin bands wrapped around the circumference of her arms were drawn close together on her skin, making it look like she was wearing sleeves.
And her sword— it was magnificent. The blade was obsidian, but whenever it sliced, the sharp edge shone yellow.
“Your goal is to cut me. And my goal is to kill you until you do.”
His sword materialized in his hand just in time to deflect the first of her next flurry of strikes. He was doing well until his defense failed when her blade landed on his left shoulder and sliced through the flesh. Warm liquid started to flow down his chest. He was able to avoid the next blow by darting a couple of steps away.
“Weak!” She yelled. Without giving him any reprieve, she continued to strike at him. “How dare you assume the role of Crown Prince when you can’t even defend your life from the lowest level of my strength?”
Their swords clashed as they darted through mountains and valleys in this uncreated world. His Shifu was relentless in her pursuit of him, and everywhere she stepped on crumbled as if made of sand.
Once his feet hit the shifty ground of what looked like a desert, he stopped and faced her. Just as she landed, he used his earth power, pinning her feet to the ground and slowing her to a halt.
She looked at her feet, then at him, eyes wide.
Then she laughed.
It was the first time he heard her laugh. It pealed through the mountains, through the dark clouds. It made him feel so heady that he had to strike his sword on the ground for balance.
“You think you can stop me with this puny trick?”
A trick? Li felt a coldness in his stomach even as he did his best to pin her in place. They had tested this spell so many times in Wuji Island. Even High Gods like Lian Song and Cheng Yu couldn’t move unless he allowed them to.
What went wrong? What did I miss?
“I told you this was the lowest level of my power.” She let go of her sword, and with a pinched expression, her right hand moved in increments toward her left forearm. “I have completely forgotten how annoying this spell is.”
Annoying? Lian Song had assured him this was something he hadn’t seen before, so how— “You have seen this spell before?”
“I have and did you realize your mistake?” she grunted until her finger met the skin by her wrist. She ran it slowly across the dark bands until she stopped about a third of the way from her wrist to the end of her forearm. What her finger had passed through disappeared in a wisp of dark smoke.
The energy that was released from her body formed a vortex of pressure with her in the center. Like tails, it whipped round and round. While it passed through Li, it disturbed everything else in this world. The sand-like particles beneath his feet rose and hung in the air, trembling. From a distance, parts of the mountains around them also caved and eroded.
Li realized that the bands were shackles restraining his Shifu’s power— which was concerning because just how many did she still have left on both her arms?
Free from his restraint, she launched toward him, this time with stronger blows.
“Did you realize your mistake, Tàizǐ?” She asked, eyes glowing. “You should have cut me down when you had the chance! Have you always been this soft?”
Her blows began to make his muscles ache, and his proximity to her unleashed power made him quiver to the bone. This power she exuded was much unlike in scale to Father’s or his Uncle’s. It gnawed at him, making him want to fall on the ground from its sheer intensity.
Li wanted the assault to end, and yet he couldn’t attack with her on a rampage.
A wave of helplessness rammed at him as he continued to avert her blows. He needed some distance. With a massive effort, he detached from her until he stood about a thousand paces away. His clothes were now wet and tattered in spots from the thousands of cuts she had given him. Meanwhile, she remained unscathed.
Where had his maternal Shifu gone? The one who taught him about the source of magick and balance? Where did this goddess of war come from?
“War Goddess. I haven’t heard that in a while, Tàizǐ. That title belonged to someone else. How do you think you will match up to someone like that when you couldn’t even stand up to me?”
His feet shuffled back a step or two.
“You can hear my thoughts?”
“In this state I can.”
He could feel his hands grow cold. At this level, he couldn’t catch up with his Shifu, and yet there was someone even stronger?
His grasp on his sword tightened.
“Who are you?”
She smiled, although it didn’t reach her eyes. “You should have asked me that a long time ago. If you cut me, maybe you’ll know. That is, if you live that long—“
She picked up her bloodied sword and tunneled toward him, the blade a pike on its way to impale him.
If you cut me…
With how things were going, Li knew he would die without succeeding. So if the main ending in any imaginable scenario was going to be the same, he figured he should at least go for the smaller win.
He, too, raised his sword and raced toward her. Then at the moment that it should have taken to turn aside from her strike, he threw his sword, grabbed her blade close to the stem with both of his hands, and pulled it toward his body.
“What—?” She looked down to where her blade had disappeared in his body, the flames in her eyes gone. Instead, they looked like limpid pools, as if she had just regained her humanity for the first time.
“Chun Jun,” he called out his sword’s name, and let go of his hold on her blade to wrap his arms around her. “Now!”
She let out a sharp gasp as his obedient sword flew and pierced through her all the way through him.
Li looked down on his Shifu, whose top of the head only reached his chin.
“Who are you, Shifu?” he asked in between pants, determined to know her name now if it was the last thing he would be able to do before he passed out.
She was silent but her hands went up to cup his face. Then she tilted her head, her eyes filled with tears.
“You foolish, foolish boy. You should have known me by now. I am Nüwa.”
* * *
 (太子) Crown Prince, literally “Supreme Son”
#三生三世十里桃花 #Fanfic #Fanfiction3:A-Li'sThreeLives #Fanfiction #310Fanfic3