Accompanying the Phoenix
Author: Jiu Lu Fei Xiang \\ 九鹭非香
Alternative Titles: 与凤行本王在此
Publication Date: 2013
Publisher Site (Official): JJWXC
Chapters: 80 + 3 extras (complete)
Translation Status: ongoing
Story Summary

Of the ancient gods, only one remained in the world. This god lived alone for thousands of years and no longer had any desires. Legend had it that during the great war between the worlds, he used his powers to turn the tide, managing to seal the cataclysmic rift and returning order to the three realms. Time flew and hundreds of years passed in the blink of an eye.

In this time, Shěn Lí was born into the Demon world. Known as the Azure Sky king, she was used to living a bright and dazzling life full of success. Little did she know that her 1000th birthday would bring misfortune to her doorstep – a politically arranged marriage with her name on it. The Azure Sky king would henceforth marry the thirty-third grandson of the Immortal emperor, Fú Róng. This arranged marriage was meant to unite the Immortal realm with the Demon Realm and bring the two together. Most would consider it good fortune to be related to the emperor.

Unfortunately Fú Róng was infamous throughout the two realms for his Casanova personality. As the king who called the shots in the Demonic Realm, she had the ability to quell uprisings and end wars with a swing of her silver spear – there was absolutely no way she would marry such a flirtatious fool. She had to escape from the marriage somehow, even if it meant death!

In her escape, Shěn Lí never expected to meet a man that didn’t belong to any of the three realms. This oddball was truly strange!

Summary Source: Novel Updates

~For chapters 1-3 please visit Potatoes Have Eyes But Cannot See Mt. Tai
~First version done by Kiki, with various editors @ MBC up to c26.
~Chapter 64 to end (extras included) from Sonrisa T.N.T

~Complete novel. Freewebnovel uses bots to take material from different translator sites. Chapters are posted after translation credits are stripped out. It's unkind of them to do that, and the chapters are a mishmash of different people's works, but at least the story is complete. Be aware, the formatting can be strange and some advertisments are malverts in disguise so use adblockers or have a good antirvirus on your computer or phone. There are many sites like these, so you can always find others if you don't like this one.

[Please note: there are character name variations between translators.]

There is also the WayBack Machine. It's a good place to go to for dead sites. As long as it's been archived, you'll find it there. I will try to archive this site every time I finish a story.

Prologue - c3

Prologue - c3

From Potatoes Have Eyes But Cannot See Mt Tai c/o Moonbunny Cafe Prologue - c3

c4: Fortune Telling

c4: Fortune Telling

Shěn Lí had nothing to show despite trying all night. She finally called it quits at daybreak and was just about to rest her aching head when a sound jolted her alert again. She hopped over to the front yard and caught sight of an empty handed Xíng Yún about to leave. That was strange. So she asked, “Oy, you’re not selling your ginseng today?”

“They’re not fully dried yet.” Xíng Yún bent down and patted Shěn Lí’s head as he spoke. I’m going out to buy some things, so watch the house while I’m gone.”

“Hey, wait! I’m coming with!” After saying so Shěn Lí made a quick beeline to the yard and came back with a stone in her beak. So what if she wasn’t successful last night with the moon? She’d just keep trying. Maybe she’d have better luck under the light of the sun. If she succeeded they would be able to buy some good things! “Alright let’s go,” she muffled with a beak full of stone.

Xíng Yún looked at the rock in her mouth but decided not to ask. He only smiled and said, “Are you sure you want to go with me? There are a lot of people at the market so it can get pretty hectic. What if you get lost and get cooked into a pot of soup? Maybe I should tie a leash around your throat so you don’t get lost.”

“You dare?!” Shěn Lí flitted about with her two bald wings in a fit of fury. “I had good intentions. I was going to do something nice for you. You should be thankful! So . . . hurry and pick me up!”

Xíng Yún looked at her flapping wings for a while before smirking and bending over to pick her up. She moved around a bit in his arms trying to settle into a good position. Once she found a comfortable spot she told him, “Alright, now just be careful and don’t move around too much.”

Xíng Yún laughed. “Yes, of course Boss Chicken.”

Shěn Lí kept her spell-casting up the entire trip. Xíng Yún didn’t know what silliness she was up to, but he figured he would just ignore it. Finally, they reached the market and the sounds of vendors hawking their wares filled the air. Listening to the butchers advertise their meat prices, Xíng Yún realized prices had gone up. This was no good. Prices had gone up by two whole coins! At this rate he wouldn’t be able to afford enough meat to fill Boss Chicken’s huge gullet. Not to mention he still didn’t understand her fixation with the stone in her mouth. Was it a full moon or something?

Just as he wondered what to do a voice sounded behind him. “Hey now! Count out ten coins.”

Eh? Xíng Yún turned around to find two men speaking. The older of the two said, “This cross pattern here shows you’re a blessed person.” He held a sign proclaiming his profession as a fortune teller in one hand while holding the young man’s hand in the other.

Xíng Yún impulsively stepped closer to the two and abruptly interrupted them. “Hey brother. Your house is going to burn down this afternoon. You should head back right now, otherwise you’re going to really regret it.”

Both the fortune teller and the young man were shocked into silence at this revelation. Even Shěn Lí looked up from his arms as if to ask, “What’s up with that?”

The fortune teller was the first to gather his wits and react. He harrumphed and fiercely scolded Xíng Yún. “What are you talking about? Don’t mess with this young man’s blessing. Spout your nonsense somewhere else!”

“It’s not nonsense.” Xíng Yún faced the young man and spoke. “You, go home and see. I’ll wait here for you until the afternoon.”

The young man was one who believed in this sort of thing, after all he did come to the market specifically to have his fortune read. Xíng Yún’s confident manner of speech threw his mind in turmoil and he hesitated for quite some time before pulling his hand out of the fortune teller’s grasp. Once he made up his mind, he turned around decisively and ran home.

Shěn Lí gently poked Xíng Yún’s arm and asked, “This . . . what is this about? Were you lying?”

“Shush.” Xíng Yún patted her head lightly as he spoke. “This is about us getting two ounces of meat.”

Xíng Yún barely finished speaking when the fortune teller angrily spoke up. “I say! What’s up with you! You trying to steal my business?”

Xíng Yún was unperturbed by the other’s anger. “I’m not stealing your business. I’m just speaking the truth. If you don’t believe me, just wait here till this afternoon. Let’s make a bet. If my words are proven true, then you need to pay me.”

“Ha! Alright, I see you and I speak the same language!” The fortune teller went on. “I’ve been in this line of work a long time and I don’t believe a word of what you say. So you want to wait? We’ll wait. If that boy doesn’t come back or if what you said wasn’t accurate then . . .” He paused and shot a meaningful look at Shěn Lí in Xíng Yún’s arms. “You have to give me that broiler chicken there!”

At these words Shěn Lí broke out in a featherless fury, flapping wildly in Xíng Yún’s arms.

“I’m here, don’t you worry. No one’s going to cook you.”

She didn’t know what strange powers his words held, but they made her feel oddly appeased and calm. Well fine, she’d choose to believe in him for now. He had a good track record of protecting and taking care of her. To be protected by such a weak mortal . . . it felt kind of nice.

The sun slowly made its way up in the sky. By afternoon there was still no shadow of the young man from earlier. Wang Banxian, our fortune teller, was already thinking about what to do with his broiler chicken. Who knew what Xíng Yún was thinking, but occasionally he would glance up at the meat shops intently listening to the prices. They hadn’t dropped at all since early morning. An hour later Wang Banxian felt it was time to call it. “Alright kid! Hand over that chicken.”

“Eh? Why should I do that?” Xíng Yún appeared carefree, completely unworried. “Isn’t that there the brother on his way back?”

Wang Banxian went to the side of the road to look. Not seeing anyone he proclaimed, “What nonsense! Where is the young man? I don’t see him!” Just as the words fell from his lips two people appeared. It was the young man from earlier. By his side was a small child. He immediately went to Xíng Yún. “Brother! Thank you! If you hadn’t convinced me to go back earlier this child here would have burned to death in the woodshed!” He turned to the child next to him. “Go on. Thank this uncle!”

The small child bit his fingers and quietly gave his thanks. “Thank you, uncle.”

The young man smiled at Xíng Yún. “I don’t have much, but please accept this as thanks. It’s bacon that my wife hung on the rafters to cure for the past two years.”

Xíng Yún noticed Shěn Lí’s eyes open wide at the sight of the bacon so he promptly accepted. He too was very interested in bacon!

After saying farewell and watching the father and son leave, Xíng Yún looked down to see Shěn Lí gazing at the meat shop. He turned to Wang Banxian and spoke up. “I won’t be polite. Ten coins please!”

Wang Banxian was truly stunned. He rubbed his forehead. “Aye . . . you really did the impossible. Your words were true.” He reached in his purse and pulled out ten coins to give to Xíng Yún. Before he left, he couldn’t help but turn and ask, “Can you give me a reading?”

Xíng Yún laughed and said, “Today you’ll have familial troubles.”

This scared Wang Banxian so he hurried home.

“You’re really good at foretelling the future.” Shěn Lí was quite surprised.

“Yeah, I know a little bit.”

Shěn Lí silently pondered that for a moment before speaking. “You know that’s forbidden. Heaven will punish those that divulge such knowledge.”

“I know, that’s why I’m suffering everyday eating medicine.”

He saw that Shěn Lí was still staring at him. This made him laugh and he said, “There is nothing wrong. Heaven will always create a balance.”

Although Shěn Lí didn’t fully understand what he meant by that exactly, she did understand that he was special. To be a mortal capable of peering into the secrets of Heaven was no ordinary feat. For him to be alive to the present day meant that he had to withstand and counter the Heavenly backlash. His sickly nature was probably due to this trauma. Xíng Yún was an enigma to her. The more she learned, the more unpredictable he became in her eyes.

From that day onwards, gossip spread like wildfire in the capital about a celestial being who told fortunes and imparted knowledge. It was because of this that Shěn Lí learned about Wang Banxian’s fate when he returned home that day.

His wife was really angry and had scolded him fiercely for not earning any money. She slapped his face so hard that it broke skin and left a permanent scar. The rumors circulating about the mysterious fortune teller grew more exaggerated as days passed. It didn’t matter to Xíng Yún though, he continued living his daily routine, guarding the yard, feeding the fish, and basking in the sun.

 . . .

One day a bored Shěn Lí looked at Xíng Yún and asked, “You have a knack for foretelling the future, why not make it your livelihood?” This skill that was akin to godliness would earn him quite a bit, certainly more than what he made selling ginseng. It would be easier too, even if he only worked one day a year, he’d still make enough to live ten times more luxuriously than he did now. He was just too laissez-faire about it. Other than the time with the bacon, she hadn’t really seen him use it.

”It’s not a good ability and using it can bring harm. I don’t need to rely on it to live a good life.”

Shěn Lí raised her eyebrows, surprised that he already understood this concept. Since he was so firm in his conviction, Shěn Lí decided to drop the matter. Instead, she asked him, “What do you eat every day? Do you use any ingredients that boost vitality? If you do let me see next time.”

Xíng Yún snorted at that. “Do you think I can afford that kind of thing?”

True. He couldn’t even afford meat, never mind expensive strengthening tonics. But then how did she recover so fast under his care? She noticed that her inner strength had stabilized enough that it would only be a matter of days before she could take human form again.

As they were talking, a series of loud raps came from the front door.

Xíng Yún slowly got up and went to answer it.

This was strange. The only visitor Shěn Lí saw since moving in was the girl who climbed over the wall to secretly clean for him. She moved to follow him, her curiosity piqued.

She felt an inexplicable charge in the air as soon as Xíng Yún started to open the door. Through the partial opening, she saw a dry withered hand snake out and grab onto Xíng Yún’s arm!

The person on the other side then forcibly made her way in, pushing Xíng Yún back, nearly making him step on Shěn Lí who was at his feet watching the show. With the door now completely opened Shěn Lí saw that the intruder was an old woman. In an excited and trance-like voice she grunted out, “Immortal immortal . . .are you the immortal that others say can understand the past and observe the future?”

Shěn Lí looked up and realized the strangeness in the air was coming from this person. Unfortunately, she hadn’t recovered enough magic to probe the old woman for the cause.

“Oh . . . I am the person you’re looking for,” Xíng Yún replied. “It’s just that-”

Before Xíng Yún finished his thoughts a loud shout rang from the alleyway interrupting him. “Sister!” A middle-aged man, perhaps in his forties, walked out from the alleyway. He pulled the woman to him and said, “Sister! Don’t make trouble! Come back with me!”

She paid him no heed, instead keeping her eyes fixed on Xíng Yún. She appeared to be in her fifties, with a face ravaged by a life of ill fortune. “Immortal help me! My husband enlisted in the army for fifteen years now, but I have had no word from him. Please I beseech you! Divine his whereabouts.”

“Oh sister! Haven’t you been deceived enough by those quacks and fakes? Desist in asking. It has been so many years already . . .“

The woman’s pain burst forth when she heard this sentence. She shouted fiercely, “I’ll keep asking! I’ll never give up. He’s my husband! Even if I can’t find him today, I’ll hope for tomorrow! Every day I’ll keep searching until I find him!”

It turned out she was the wife of a missing soldier. Shěn Lí shook her head. It was hard for those left behind. No matter how they searched, oftentimes they couldn’t even locate the bones for burial. It was something Shěn Lí keenly understood.

Xíng Yún gently pried open the woman’s grip on his arm. He smiled slightly as he spoke. “Ma’am, I’m unable to help you. Please leave.”

“Aren’t you an immortal? Why won’t you help me? I just want to know where he is . . . If you won’t find him then at least tell me if he’s dead or alive.”

Xíng Yún looked at the man. “I need to get breakfast ready.”

The man took the hint. “Sorry for the trouble brother.” He gave an apologetic nod and worked to pull the woman away.

Xíng Yún made a polite farewell gesture and closed the door before proceeding to the kitchen to cook as usual.

Shěn Lí hopped around at his feet. “You saw right? Why didn’t you tell the woman. Is her husband dead?”

“No. I didn’t see anything.”

“But . . . but . . .“ She wanted to say something but couldn’t find the right words. She understood that Xíng Yún was trying his best to not interfere with the lives of others with his gift, and she did admire him for it, but under these circumstances she felt stifled, like a heavy weight was on her.

If the soldiers she brought to battle died on the field she would do her best to notify their next of kin. She wouldn’t abandon them to linger in limbo!

Shěn Lí looked up at Xíng Yún before silently walking back to the yard. This child was willing to save someone for two ounces of meat, yet was unwilling to help another find closure. He could stand by indifferently as an old woman wept broken-heartedly. What an unusual person . . . so aloof and detached.

 . . .

That night, when all was quiet, Shěn Lí escaped through the unlocked gate. She used the bit of magic she regained from basking in the sun to locate the scent of the old woman from earlier. She rushed toward the alleyway.

Meanwhile, in the courtyard, a sigh blew out. “This chicken . . . such a busybody.”

c5: The Widow

c5: The Widow

Shěn Lí’s search led her to the door of a small courtyard. She was trying to figure out how to enter when a sudden and loud squeak sounded. Shěn Lí bustled out of the way trying to hide as the door pushed open from the other side. A man dressed in uniform walked out holding a lantern. It seemed to be the same man from earlier.

“I’m going to work. Watch out for your sister and make sure she doesn’t run off to find some quack again.”

“OK. Be careful,” spoke the woman. She closed the door after he left, leaving the courtyard dark again.

Shěn Lí was anxious about finding a way inside when the woman came out again, this time with a cloak. “Da Lang, your cloak! It’s cold outside, be careful lest you catch a cold.”

While the two people were distracted, Shěn Lí snuck into the yard hopping from shadow to shadow and found the old soldier’s wife sitting by a window sewing. Shěn Lí thought the silhouette cast on the window looked rather lonely. She detected the strange scent from before the moment she entered the cottage, and upon looking around, saw that the wife’s bedroom door was cracked open just enough for her to poke her head inside.

From her vantage point, she could see a young man dressed in a bedraggled uniform watching the wife as she mended the article in her hands. He looked at her with a gentle expression full of love. Shěn Lí couldn't see him earlier in the daylight because of the profusion of yang energy, but now with the risen moon, she could see his shape clearly. It was his spirit that gave the woman that strange atmosphere earlier. Shěn Lí sighed. The woman didn’t need to go search for her husband, he was right there beside her, it was just that he was no longer alive.

His dark eyes turned crimson at her sigh. He turned in her direction and expelled a large amount of yin energy at her as he rushed forward. It happened so fast Shěn Lí didn’t have time to react. She flapped about uselessly with her featherless wings yelling, “Stop! Wait!” in her mind.

He rolled through her causing her to tumble backwards away from the door. She fell like a legless chicken rolling around helplessly, and only managed to stop after colliding with several clay pots.

“Stop! Stop it . . . cough!” Shěn Lí tried to shout through a fit of coughing.

He refused to listen and only stared at her malevolently, readying himself to attack again.

“I’m here to help!”

He finally stopped, allowing Shěn Lí a chance to regain her breath. Just as she was about to speak, the front door was pulled wide open. It was the woman from the courtyard earlier. “How’d a bald chicken get in here?” The ruckus had alarmed her so she came over to investigate. She had only taken a couple of steps toward Shěn Lí when she was knocked out from behind. She fainted immediately and collapsed onto the floor.

“Why do you have to run around causing so much trouble?” - “How is it you’re here?” Both Xíng Yún and Shěn Lí spoke at the same time.

Xíng Yún tossed the stone in his hand to the side before answering. “I climbed the wall.” Then he stooped down to pick Shěn Lí up. “There’s a curfew at night you know. Let’s go back.”

“Wait!” Shěn Lí shook her wings in agitation. “Don’t you see him? He’s still there.”

Xíng Yún held her wings down, she was hitting him in the face with them and it was annoying. “See what?”

Shěn Lí gestured to the man. “He’s so big and you don’t see him?”

Xíng Yún frowned. “Do I look like a monk to you? I don’t have the ability to see ghosts. I’m a fortune teller. Hel-looo.” He tapped her lightly on the head.

Shěn Lí was surprised. Xíng Yún was so mysterious she that she couldn’t help but make assumptions about him. Thinking about the best way to explain, she said, “Earlier today I sensed something strange about the woman. At that time the sun was too strong and there was too much yang energy so I couldn’t really figure it out. But when I came tonight to investigate, I discovered the soldier’s ghost. He carried a strong obsession at the time of his death. He was rooted to the earth, unable to move forward and reincarnate because of this. He returned here, and has been watching over her ever since.”

Shěn Lí turned to the soldier and he nodded his head in confirmation. “You knew she would wait for you, that she wanted to find you right?” The man had a bitterly sad look on his face as he gazed at the faraway bedroom door. Shěn Lí prodded further. “Do you want her to know you’ve been here this whole time?”

The glimmer of hope in his eyes was unmistakable and his fierce stare seemed to ask if it was possible.

Shěn Lí nodded then pointed her chicken chin at Xíng Yún. “Xíng Yún, relay it.”

Xíng Yún sighed in frustration. “Huh? Stupid chicken. You want me to do some kind of communication dance with a ghost? What kind of language is that? Who would even believe it? Seriously, think it through here.” He put Shěn Lí down and then gathered up several stones, laying them in an array on the floor. With another sigh he said, “Since we’ve already intervened, we might as well do our best. Just don’t go regretting it afterwards.”

Shěn Lí waited quietly while Xíng Yún worked. He quickly withdrew from the array after using his finger to draw out a word in the center. “Tell him to float to the word in the center.”

The soldier did so and immediately the word lit up as if infused with light. The stones quickly followed suit, and soon the soldier’s body became the central focus. The man gained a clear silhouette not long after. Xíng Yún laughed and said, “Chicken, go get the ma’am and tell her that her husband is back.” He could now see the soldier’s form in the center.

Shěn Lí pecked relentlessly at the door of the bedroom where she had seen the old wife sitting. Frowning, the old wife got up and opened the door. “It’s so noisy tonight. I didn’t get much done with my sewing either . . .” Her voiced faded away as she looked up. A light shone in her eyes, it was a mixture of excitement, relief, and amazement. She staggered forward quietly whispering, “San Lang.”

The man was equally helpless, not daring to move. He could only watch her as she awkwardly clenched and unclenched her hands not knowing what to do with them. He opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out. She understood though. The words he wanted to say were “My Lady.” The last time she was called by this endearment was over fifteen years ago.

Her rheumy eyes filled with unshed tears as she spoke, “You . . . you’re finally back.” She was stunned with joy. Her wrinkled face broke out in a childish smile as she hurried the last few steps forward, but stopped just shy of touching him.

She trembled touching her hair then her face. “Here you are and I have nothing prepared for you, not even rice. It’s been so many years . . .” Her voice cracked as a sob wracked her body. “Where have you been all these years. Do you know how long I’ve waited for you? Do you know everyone thinks I’ve gone crazy? Even I thought I was crazy. I almost stopped waiting. I didn’t know if you were dead or alive. I couldn’t find a trace of you anywhere. I sewed clothes with nowhere to send. I wrote letters with no one to read. Where have you been hiding this whole time?!” She couldn’t stop her tears from falling and her voice from rising as she spoke.

The ray of light seemed to unwind time for them. Standing there the wrinkles on her face smoothened, a becoming flush rose to her cheeks, and the lines that marked a harsh life left her face, revealing a beautiful youthful woman. Her husband also looked like a young man in the prime of his life, about to set out on his first military engagement. It was as though the fifteen years apart never existed, as though he never died on the battlefield.

The man’s face showed a deep sadness. He reached out to touch her face.

On the side, Xíng Yún raised his finger to his lips and bit hard enough to draw blood. He held the blood over the array and let it drop. This action caused the array to surround the couple with a dazzling amount of light.

The hand that should not have been corporeal touched the woman’s face. The body that should not have had tangible form pulled the other close to him in an embrace. Shěn Lí was shocked as she watched. “This array . . . to be able to connect life and death, upturn Heaven, it is so powerful.” She gazed at Xíng Yún a bit awkwardly, unsure how he was able to accomplish such a feat.

“The array isn’t going to hold for long. Finish what you came to do quickly.”

Shěn Lí was surprised to hear this from Xíng Yún. It seemed he knew what she wanted to do. She had a vague guess that the woman was possessed by a ghost because of her obsession. She just hadn’t expected the soldier’s spirit to be so rooted as well. Since they were entwined for so long, it was inevitable that the woman’s life would be affected by his presence. This was dangerous in its own way.

She initially wanted the spirit to leave the woman, but now . . .

After waiting for Shěn Lí and seeing her not make a move, Xíng Yún spoke again, “Why don’t you let them decide.” Shěn Lí glanced at him. He continued with, “These two are just ordinary people without access to the Way. They don’t understand how an imbalance in the Tao can affect them.[notes] Since this has already happened, why not just tell them everything and let them decide where they want to go?”

Shěn Lí opened her mouth, but still couldn’t say anything. She wanted them to have more time together, even if only for a while. Xíng Yún sighed. This chicken! He addressed the couple standing in the array as he spoke. “The two of you are from different worlds, but you’ve stayed together for over a decade already. Brother, if you continue to stay with her like this you will siphon away her life force and she won’t have many more years left to live.”

The man turned to look at Xíng Yún. The woman clenched her fist and whispered, “You’ve been here with me this whole time? You . . .” She gazed at the man’s clothes and his appearance that hadn’t changed in years. She spoke as though mesmerized. “So that’s what happened . . .”

“If you continue to stay here, not only will you harm her physically, but you will also prevent her from ever finding peace.” Xíng Yún spoke in a quiet flat voice. “Brother, it is your decision whether to stay or leave, but eventually the two of you will be together, after all death comes for everyone.”

The man turned and looked at his wife. The light in the array was dimming and his figure was becoming transparent. She too was returning to her original appearance, with a haggard face lined with wrinkles, as though her previous youthful look was nothing but a mere illusion. She became slightly panicked when she could no longer feel his hand on her cheek. In the end the man nodded his head, showing his intention to leave.

It was a good result, but Shěn Lí’s heart felt restless.

Xíng Yún interrupted her thoughts, “I can purify his soul, but I don’t have enough energy to guide him on the path of reincarnation. Can you do that part?”

“Uh, yes. Of course.” Oftentimes after a battle with the enemy crushed and the uprising quelled, Shěn Lí would assist in guiding the spirits of those who fell. “There’s no need for a purification array though.” The method she wanted to use wouldn’t fail no matter how injured the caster was. It was a method she used often to send the brothers who fell in battle onwards.

“Take your coat off Xíng Yún.”

Although he didn’t know why she wanted him to do so, he obeyed without questioning. Shěn Lí walked into the coat and wore it around herself like an oversized magnificent robe. A golden light shone through her naked body and encompassed her completely underneath the coat. Xíng Yún closed his eyes for a brief moment against the glare. When he opened them again, he saw that she had taken human form and was now several steps closer to the array.

Xíng Yún’s coat was very big on her so she had to brace her feet wide apart to maintain her balance. It didn’t slow her down though. She stood straight and tall, slowly moving forward with a heroic air.

“By my name will I guide you to the river.” Shěn Lí drew several symbols in the air before waving her hand toward the man. The imprint of her palm could be seen on his forehead and the glow of light slowly spread. It grew to completely encompass him in its brilliance, blending and merging with his entity until the two became one. Then just as quickly, his light started to fade. His form lingered momentarily near his wife, before completely dissipating away like dust settling on the ground.

“Ah.. ah . . .” His wife whimpered. Her hands trembled as she reached out to him, but all she grasped was emptiness. It seemed his bond with her was finally broken.

The only sounds left was that of her sobbing. “Madam. He left so you would be at peace. Do you understand his intentions?” Shěn Lí held her hand as she spoke.

“I understand . . .” She was silent for a moment, lost in thought. “I do. I heard the song he used to sing when he would walk around the village too. It was a beautiful song.” She smiled reminiscing. “I know he wants me to be at peace.” Her tears kept falling like a steady stream as Shěn Lí slowly led her back to her room.

The woman was exhausted and fell asleep easily. Shěn Lí observed her for a while before leaving. Most of the qi she absorbed earlier in the day was nearly depleted, making her feel a little dizzy and unstable on her feet. Xíng Yún reached over and gathered her in his arms for support. It felt nice. But before she could thank him her heart thundered and her world grew larger before her eyes. Within the space of a few seconds her body shrank back to its original beast form.


Shěn Lí knew he was referring to the couple they just helped. “This result, since it involved a death, no ending is ever going to be satisfactory.” Shěn Lí shook her head.

“You seem to feel strongly about this.”

“I’ve watched too many souls die on the battlefield. I don’t know if I advised her correctly or wrongly, whether it was a good thing or a bad thing, but if it were me that passed on, I’d want my loved one to forget about me and carry on. Hope for a past that can never be is hope made in vain, only by moving forward can a life be properly lived.”

Xíng Yún glanced down with a complex look on his face. He laughed out loud, “Silly chicken. Living in the present is what living is all about.”

Shěn Lí blinked at that, then shifted to get into a more comfortable position. “You’re right. Let’s go back.”

“Mm right, let’s go back home.”

Xíng Yún pushed open the courtyard gates and began the walk home.

The two were tired and did not notice a caped silhouette move out from the shadows. This person walked into the cottage and knelt down by the lady who was hit by the rock earlier. She got up woozily muttering, “An immortal! A celestial being! They were definitely divine somehow!”

c6: Rude Visitors

c6: Rude Visitors

White smoke twirled above a lighted incense atop a sandalwood desk. The man who sat behind the desk looked forward and asked, “Is it really true?”

The one kneeling in front of him trembled but answered honestly, “Even with ten lives this small one would not dare deceive My Lord. My sister-in-law was insensible the first few days directly after. It was only recently that she regained her senses. Although my wife was unconscious at the time, the neighbors all say there was a bright light flowing out of my house. And also, there is the robe . . .the immortal turned the chicken by his side into a beauty, but he forgot the robe when he left.”

“How interesting.” His phoenix eyes raised in surprise. “Bring him here. I want to see his abilities.”

“Yes My Lord.”

 . . .

The leaves grew thick and dense on the vines in the courtyard with each passing day. Despite the sweltering summer heat, the days were idle and calm for Xíng Yún. He was lying indolently in the courtyard when a rocking chair suddenly hit him. He looked down to find Shěn Lí rolling on the ground.

“Ah! Why can’t I turn back?! I was definitely able to do it a few days ago for that couple.” Shěn Lí rolled around on the ground lamenting. “These past few days, my qi has definitely filled up again! So why can’t I turn back?!”

Xíng Yún quietly looked at her for a bit before saying, “Stop screaming. And also get some clothes on yourself first.” It wouldn’t be good if she transformed in her current state. His voice fell as he remembered her glorious body in the light that day.

Shěn Lí stopped rolling around to listen to him. “The array you made that day was really powerful. Can you consolidate the essence of the sun and moon in an array?”

“All arrays obey certain laws. What you ask is a violation of those laws.” Xíng Yún laughed. “You’ve been here so many days and you still haven’t noticed?”

Shěn Lí looked around, and it was only then that she realized the arrangements of the stones and grass were laid out in accordance to the laws of feng shui. This kind of layout must have taken a great deal of time to nurture, as even the trees were a part of the formation. It was hard to discern, but upon closer inspection it was clear that the grass grew all along the perimeter blurring the boundaries of the courtyard. Her confusion cleared. She understood it was the formation that allowed her to recover so quickly. The amount of qi it gathered had to be tremendous.

“Every time I learn something about you, you become more of a mystery.” She studied the courtyard carefully one more time before making her way over to him. “How do you know so much about array formations? How does a mere mortal like you have the ability to divine Heaven and foresee the future, and yet not have a shred of magical energy? Just who hell are you Xíng Yún?”

Xíng Yún smiled and nodded his head while saying, “I’m a good person.”

“Tch. You’re a weirdo.” Shěn Lí made a circle around him. “You have an odd temperament and you behave strangely. I mean, just look at me. I’m a bald talking chicken that can transform into a person. Yet you express no curiosity or fear of me, instead you chose to welcome me into your home and treat me like a member of your family. Unless . . . did you foresee something?”

“Just because I don’t like foretelling doesn’t mean I think it’s a bad skill to have. I didn’t question you because I didn’t want to pry. We only met recently. Just know that you and I are not inimical to one another.”

Shěn Lí was stupefied at his words so her tone was stern when she spoke. “You must be the most unlucky disciple under Heaven, only slightly better than that loser bald donkey in misfortune.”

Xíng Yún glared at her but didn’t say anything. He spent the rest of that afternoon eating the remainder of the bacon from the market. He refused to look at her after that, not even sparing her a glance despite her continuous pecks at the table legs. He knew she wanted some.

He only picked her up after he finished eating so he could show her the now mostly clean plate. Shěn Lí made a horrified face when she saw the complete absence of bacon. In fact, there were only two measly drops of bacon oil left on the plate! It was so clean . . .

Satisfied, Xíng Yún smiled and said, “I just wanted to prove a point. I’m definitely not the second most unlucky loser under Heaven . . .. That’s all I wanted to say.” He reached over and wiped up the two drops with his finger before carrying the plate away, leaving a frustrated Shěn Lí on the table to kick her legs and flap her wings in anger.

“Spit it out! Spit it out now you bastard!”

A knock resounded on the door just as he reached the courtyard. With the plate still in his hand, he turned around to answer it. Upon opening the door, he was greeted by the sight of three men in royal brocade uniforms. One was dressed in red while the other two were dressed in blue. Each carried a sword at his hip and a solemn expression on his face. They appeared to be guards of some rank.

The one in red said, “Young Master, My Lord wishes to see you.”

Xíng Yún smiled and said, “You have the wrong person.” He backed up a few steps after saying so, intending to close the door. The guard didn’t care what Xíng Yún thought. Instead, he reached over and roughly grabbed Xíng Yún’s arm, causing him to lose his grip on the plate and dropping it to the floor.

“We’ll be the judge of that.”

Xíng Yún lost his smile. “I dislike being forced.”

At this comment the red guard sucker punched Xíng Yún in the abdomen causing him to double over in pain on the floor.

“And I don’t like people who talk back to me.” He looked contemptuously down at Xíng Yún then told the other guards to grab him. They yanked him roughly to his feet with the intentions of pulling him out of the courtyard. As they did so, Xíng Yún knocked a stone over. It flipped on its side, changing the formation in the yard.

Suddenly a bright light flashed and a measured voice rang out, “Beat him up and drag him away!”

Xíng Yún laughed when he heard the voice.

“Who’s there?!” cried out the red uniformed guard.

A woman walked out while tying her hair up with a strip of cloth. The outfit she had on was smeared with dirt and quite bedraggled looking.

Although she spoke harshly earlier, she felt differently when saw Xíng Yún bent over in obvious pain and the rough way the guards were holding him. “Who are you? Are you tired of living? How dare you come in here and behave like thugs provoking this K . . . er . . . girl.”  

Back in the Demon realm, Shěn Lí had a reputation for being fiercely protective of her subordinates, not allowing anyone to punish or reprimand them. Although this was in part because she loved them like family, it was mostly because she had a reputation to uphold. How could she allow others to bully the subordinates of the mighty the Azure Sky king?! However, this didn’t mean she let her men do as they pleased. Anyone under her command caught committing misdeeds were swiftly punished by her, with some punishments being so severe the recipients were scared half to death. The Xíng Yún in front of her was obviously being bullied. How dare these mortals!

Upon hearing the voice the red guard frowned. Although the owner of the voice dressed like a pauper, her eyes were sharp and she gave off an air of authority. This made him pause as he knew there were many crouching tigers and hidden dragons in the city. He decided to act with caution and pulled forth the golden ID tablet at his waist to show her. “I act on behalf of his Royal Highness My Lord the Crown Prince, who has requested that the young master go to the palace for an audience. Does the young miss understand?”

“Eh . . . do I understand?” Even without the ability to cast magic, she knew her martial arts would be more than sufficient to handle the three in front of her. She reached over and grabbed the ID tablet from his hand, and with a twist easily broke it in two, tossing the broken token at his feet. She glared at him. “Why don’t you spell it out for me?” She then attacked each guard in quick succession.

The guards were caught completely by surprise, only feeling their world fade to black after experiencing a sharp pain on the back of their heads. By the time they regained their senses they were lying in a heap outside.

Shěn Lí stared at the trio with narrowed eyes. “I don’t care what kind of royalty your master is, if he wants to meet my people ,he can come over himself!” She promptly slammed the door closed in their faces after saying so.

The guards stood up, dusted themselves off and looked at one another. They were unsure what to do and were considering their options when two objects suddenly shot out at them. One more inch and they would have been injured severely. Looking carefully at it, they realized they were the broken pieces of the golden ID tablet. After a moment of silence, the trio quickly left.

Back in the courtyard Xíng Yún stood up, and while holding onto his abdomen looked over at Shěn Lí. With a smirk he asked, “So when did I become your “people”?

She ignored his question and instead asked one of her own. “What is that?” she said pointing to the stone that was overturned earlier.

“A stone.”

She gave him a hard look. “Do you want another beating?”

“Uh . . . well . . . that is to say, it’s a stone placed in the eye of the formation.”

“Why would you put a stone there?”

“ . . . to suppress the power of the formation.”

“Why would you want to suppress it?”

Xíng Yún looked at her and debated mentally for a moment before answering. “Because it would have given you enough energy to change form, which would have made it awkward to play with you. Plus, an unwed man and woman living together in the same house . . . that’s just not proper. So I put the stone there the second night you showed up.”

“ . . .what you mean to say is that by the third day you brought me back, I could have already regained my human form . . . When I ran out that day, if I could have done so as a person. I wouldn’t have been plucked by those mortals and nearly turned into stew!” She was mortified just remembering it.

“Yeah about that . . . I am sorry.” Xíng Yún gave a helpless sigh and said, “It has been difficult for me too. Another of my secrets has seen through by you.”

Huh? He had the nerve to apologize? The ordeal had been difficult for him? Come again? She was the one with the rights to be sad! With one rock this guy had managed to do so much damage to her dignity as the Azure Sky king. He must have done it on purpose, taking enjoyment from her struggles!

In her heart Shěn Lí had the strong urge to kill him, however she refrained and instead said through gritted teeth emphatically stressing out each syllable, “I . . . don’t . . . hate . . . you . . . e . . .nough . . . to . . . kill . . . you.” She looked at Xíng Yún only to find him on the ground clutching his stomach. “Eh? Don’t bother! It’s too late to grovel now.”

Xíng Yún grimaced and said, “No, just . . . cough!” Before he could finish his words he fell forward and fainted to the ground.

Shěn Lí immediately saw that Xíng Yún was pale and looked quite weak. She realized the beating he suffered from the guards earlier must have done quite a number on him. He already had a weak constitution to begin with. Seeing him like this took the wind go out of her sails, leaving her anger completely deflated. She reached for his pulse and saw that his face had lost all the blood in it, leaving him as pale as a ghost. His pulse was incredibly slow as well.

c7: Using the Prince’s Soldiers

c7: Using the Prince’s Soldiers

What should she do? Toss him into the yard? Prop him on the rocking chair? She felt there should be some payback for the jokes he’d played on her, but he looked so close to death she wasn’t sure he’d survive. She came to a decision and walked to the kitchen to prepare the medicine she usually saw him take. After it was finished, she brought it over and forced his jaw open. She was about to pour the piping hot liquid down his throat when a cry rang out.

“Stop!” Sensing the impending danger, Xíng Yún opened his eyes, and though still pale managed to cough a few times. He gently pushed the glass of medicine away. “I can do that myself.”

“Oh? Were you faking it?”

“No, no. I just had a momentary dizzy spell. I woke up just now, but was hoping to enjoy the ministrations of a fair maiden. Though it seems I was hoping for too much.”

“Tch! You used me for entertainment, dared eat all the bacon, and you still have the temerity to expect me to nurse you?!” Shěn Lí was extremely irritated. She was about to flip her clothes up and sit on the ground when she remembered she was not in her beast form, resulting in her posing in an awkward half up half down position.

The sight made Xíng Yún laugh. “Haha! See? It’s more comfortable being a chicken, right?”

Up close Xíng Yún’s facial features were really quite remarkable. If she wasn’t so angry it may have moved her heart. “Can you give me a reason to not kill you right now?”

Xíng Yún paid her words absolutely no mind at all, and instead changed the topic. “Don’t make a fuss. Just give me the medicine. There’s still some bacon left; I’ll make some good broth with it for you.”

Turned out there wasn’t a reason to kill him after all. Her heart no longer clenched painfully at the thought of bacon. At this she realized her thoughts and behavior were slowly moving farther and farther away from that of a king. Shěn Lí wondered if he had put some sort of strange array in the house, affecting her mood.

She also wondered when she should leave. Xíng Yún’s array was very effective in gathering qi and although she had recovered enough qi to change into human form, the amount she gathered was nowhere the amount she normally held. The longer she remained in place, the higher the likelihood she would be found by the Demon emperor. And if that happened then . . .

“Hey, the bacon piece is too high for me to reach. Come here and help me get it.”

Shěn Lí looked at Xíng Yún and sighed at his frail frame. Only one punch and he nearly died. How would he fare if the Demon realm were to pursue him? She sighed, shook her head and went inside.

She entered the kitchen and saw the bacon hanging by a string under one of the beams. Xíng Yún handed her a pole, but she rejected it. Instead, she picked up an empty plate and tossed it like a frisbee at the string, severing it easily. The plate curved after the strike and turned around to catch the bacon before flying back to land in Shěn Lí’s right hand.

Feeling quite proud of her self, Shěn Lí glanced at Xíng Yún to see his reaction. She expected to see admiration and maybe even awe from such a fine display. Instead of amazement, Xíng Yún passed her a bunch of dirty rags and said, “Since you have such a handy skill, use it to help me dust the beams. Make sure to give them a good cleaning.” What an unsatisfying reality!

Shěn Lí distorted her face in an ugly way. The rags in her left hand were so dirty that she couldn’t discern their original colors. In an even tone she asked, “Do you know who you’re talking to?”

“I never asked who you were . . . so how would I know?” The ugliness in Shěn Lí’s face only increased upon hearing his reply. Xíng Yún shook his head. “Okay okay, if you don’t want to dust then you don’t have to. Instead, if you can, can you help me by bringing in two buckets of water?”

Shěn Lí put down the plate of bacon and gritted her teeth. She went to leave, but because the kitchen was so narrow, she ended up bumping him on the way out. It was just a casual brush across the chest and not much should have resulted from it, however, because she was not used to wearing his overly large clothes, the bump caused the hem of the robe to catch on a burr in the door. This made what was supposed to be a haughty exit turn rather awkward for her.

“See? Didn’t I say it was inconvenient?” Xíng Yún stepped aside so she would have more space to maneuver.

“It’s not that inconvenient. Stop making a fuss.” Although she said this, inside she did somewhat agree with him. After pulling the fabric free she promptly left the kitchen and went to the well. She stood bent over the well for some time, but didn’t scoop any up any water. There was definitely something wrong with this courtyard! Looking at her own reflection in the water, Shěn Lí could clearly see two pink blotches on her face. In disbelief she reached out and poked at her reflection. Ugh! Still there! How did these blotches get there? Her, blushing at a mortal? Who dared paint them on her?!

Back in the kitchen, Xíng Yún leaned against the stove for support until the heat in his chest faded. Looking outside, he could see Shěn Lí standing by the well just staring off into space.

Xíng Yún tilted his head and rubbed his chest unconsciously. It didn’t look like he was going to get his water anytime soon. Might as well just fry the bacon then. Sometime later Xíng Yún hollered, “Cluck cluck! Chicken, time to eat.”

Shěn Lí, who was lost in thought, finally came to her senses. The flush on her cheeks vanished instantly replaced by her usual rancor. This . . . Shěn Lí was a girl ok?! Do not refer to her by an animal sound! She turned around ready to engage in battle and saw that Xíng Yún was standing by the door with a plate of vegetables in his hand. His frame cast a long shadow into the backyard as the sun set behind him. Shěn Lí wasn’t sure why, but she suddenly felt really embarrassed and so she ended up with a strange complicated look on her face.

After a moment Xíng Yún laughed and said, “Shěn Lí, time to eat.”

Shěn Lí was distracted and in her mind what she heard was, “My Lord, it’s dinnertime,” so she replied with, “OK I heard, I’m coming!” They were such ordinary words, but no one had ever spoken them to her in that combination before. To put her name and those words together . . . it made her unexpectedly feel like she had found a home.

Shěn Lí went over. “If you ruined the bacon, you’re going to have to replace it.”

“What if I cooked it deliciously? How will you pay me?”

“Well . . . hm . . . if it’s delicious then you can be my cook.”

Xíng Yún laughed at that. How could a person that could make even the most rubbish of vegetables tasty not be able to cook meat deliciously? Of course his food was wonderful!

After Shěn Lí had some, she had to admit his cooking was indeed great. As a result, the next day when Xíng Yún was about to set out for his daily ginseng foraging in the mountains, Shěn Lí ambushed him and refused to let him leave until she had her say. “Buy more meat!” She resolutely stuffed two gold coins into his pocket.

However he refused. How could he go to market and buy meat with two gold coins? He was afraid he’d get arrested for suspicious behavior! As he was trying to take the gold pieces out, a loud knock sounded on the door. Xíng Yún frowned. He tossed the pieces of gold to the ground. The moment they touched the ground, the gold lost all their luster and turned into stones.

“I’ll go.” She didn’t wait to hear what he would say, and instead stepped over and immediately answered the door. Standing outside were two guards in dark blue uniform each equipped with a large sword at the hip. They greeted her with a clasped fist salute before speaking. “Our family’s lord wishes to visit the two of you tonight. We ask that you remain at home so that you may receive him appropriately. In the meantime, we will remain here to prepare for his arrival . . .”

“Why does he need a reception if he wants to visit?” Shěn Lí frowned. “There’s no time today. Tell him he’ll have to keep waiting.” She closed the door after saying this.

The two guards had never been treated this way before! They reached out to force the door open only to find a strong pressure forcing them back. The woman from earlier looked like a lightweight so they were surprised. They turned to look at each other and seemed to come to a mutual agreement when suddenly the door opened again.

Xíng Yún kept Shěn Lí behind him as he opened the door. He had overheard the conversation so he knew what they wanted. With an air of cooperation he told them, “You want to arrange a few things. Sure, come in.” He took a step back to let them in. Although the abrupt change in attitude caused the guards to frown suspiciously, they still stepped inside. Xíng Yún led them to the kitchen and pointed to the beams. “Do you see those beams? They’re very dusty so make sure you give them a good cleaning. Here I’ll give this one to you.” He handed the rag in his hand to the guard closest and patted him on the shoulder saying, “Extra rags are under the stove if you need them.” He led the other guard to the hall. “This hall hasn’t been cleaned in a long time. Help me clean it up and I’ll receive your master in the evening with a good meal.”

He turned to Shěn Lí and said, “Shěn Lí, you supervise. I’m going to collect ginseng in the mountains.” He quickly gathered his materials and left. Shěn Lí stared at his retreating back, thinking he was too strange!

 . . .

Later that night, Xíng Yún surveyed the front courtyard while waiting for water to boil for tea. How satisfying! He got extra labor and everything looked clean. Just as he was thinking this, he heard heavy footsteps from outside. He could tell Shěn Lí heard it too as her face took on a long mournful appearance. “You’re going to meet this country’s crown prince. Why do you look like you’re going to cry?”

“Tch. Who’s crying?” Shěn Lí retorted. “Both sets of subordinates that came were rude and disrespectful. How can the master be any different?” Xíng Yún laughed but didn’t reply, only taking a sip of his tea. Shěn Lí walked into the house and opened the front door to take a look.

Outside a large sedan chair pulled up in front of the house. It was so large it literally took up all the space in the alley. A figure dressed in red and gold silk slowly descended from the sedan. He was so bright looking Shěn Lí had to blink a little from all the glare. After her eyesight adjusted, she saw he had a set of phoenix eyes and red rouge lips. That was normal, but what was with the rest of him? He was almost like a completely round ball.

The crown prince looked Shěn Lí up and down before moving his gaze to the entrance. He walked over to where she was. A green robed guard made a move to follow but was blocked by Shěn Lí. “There’s only one cup prepared. Only one person is invited.”

He immediately reached for his sword but was stopped by the prince.

“Wait outside.”

Shěn Lí was surprised at his action and her face took on a more amenable look.

c8: Meeting the Crown Prince

c8: Meeting the Crown Prince

Once the gates were closed the three were alone in the courtyard, however everyone present knew they weren’t really alone. The prince spoke as he took a seat on the stone bench, “You’re a difficult person to meet Young Master.”

“I am not as hard to meet as Your Highness,” was Xíng Yún’s reply.

Shěn Lí left for the kitchen to look for something to eat. She had been a military officer in the Demon realm for hundreds of years, and in all that time she met many officials and civil servants. The ones that annoyed her most were those who failed to recognize other people’s time. She didn’t appreciate the crown prince’s attitude and wasn’t interested in listening him mouth off.

“I hear that Young Master can communicate with the spirit world and foresee the future. This prince is very interested and is curious. Can Young Master divine using a trigram?”

“No.” Xíng Yún flat out refused. His decisive answer disappointed the prince and his face sank. Xíng Yún didn’t notice though and continued, “It’s not that I can’t, it’s just that I don’t like to. Divining is not a cheap and causal thing to do. If this is your wish, then please find someone else.”

“Oh.” The prince sneered. “So Young Master has a price tag. If you can read the affairs of my heart, then this prince will give you prestige and wealth. Once I ascend the throne, you can hold the prestige and not even need to perform the functions of the office.”

Xíng Yún still shook his head. “Not interested.”

“Young Master must not know how to appreciate favors, preferring vinegar over honey.” The prince gave the courtyard a cursory glance. “It would be an easy task for me to flatten this courtyard.”

Xíng Yún was confused by the prince’s words for a moment, however he soon understood. After taking a sip of his tea he smiled and spoke. “Your Highness came all this way to learn when your ascension will happen. It is not that I am unwilling, however the lifespan of the emperor is fated by Heaven and not something that should be calculated. Also, Your Highness is mistaken if you think you can crush this courtyard so easily. Although if you tried to flatten it by sitting on it . . . that’s a possibility.”

The crown prince rushed at Xíng Yún and shouted, “You have some guts!” This shout alerted the guards outside and they immediately rushed in. One came at Xíng Yún from behind and pressed a sword to his neck, forcing him to remain still. The prince was so angry that he picked the teapot on the table and splashed the hot liquid at him.

Shěn Lí heard the ruckus and turned to look only to hear Xíng Yún’s cry of pain. An intense anger welled up in her heart making her want to do someone bodily harm. Two guards stepped forward to block her path and pulled out their swords as they sneered at her. She aimed a fierce kick at one of the guards, knocking him into the one behind Xíng Yún. This caused the two to collapse sideways into each other. Another guard moved to take the place of the fallen, brandishing his sword in front. It was easy for Shěn Lí to reach over and grab the blade and grip it lightly between her finger and thumb. A cold shiver ran down the guard’s spine as he watched the blade crumble like paper in her bare hand.

Once done with the sword, she dropped it to the ground. Then ignoring the astonished guard, she flashed over to the well, scooped up a handful of water and flicked it at the crown prince. Although it was only water, the speed she used caused it to fly with the sharpness of an arrow. It was so strong that it knocked the crown prince off balance and forced him to quickly sit back down on the bench to regain his equilibrium.

“Ah! Ow!” The prince’s head was drenched causing his hair to plaster wetly to his forehead. Only a few seconds had passed from when the prince initially poured the boiled water on Xíng Yún to when Shěn Lí soaked the prince with water. No other guards in the courtyard approached her. It was as though they were all afraid.

She walked over, picked the crown prince up by the collar and looked him directly in the eyes. “Leave and live or stay and die? Choose.” Her eyes glowed terrifyingly red with the intensity of her emotions.

“You . . . you have big guts evildoer!” The prince tried to sound calm but it was obvious from his quivering body and trembling voice that he was quite frightened. Seeing her eyes turn a deeper shade of red at his words he immediately shouted, “Leave! I’ll Leave!”

Shěn Lí dragged him by the collar to the courtyard door, opened it, and tossed him out. Those outside caught him while the guards drew their swords and pointed them at Shěn Lí.

After getting his bearings the prince shouted, “It seems you want to die here!” He climbed into the sedan chair and spoke to the bearers ordering them to bring him back. “As for the rest of you, stay here and destroy this place!”

The guards promptly attacked, but Shěn Lí easily defended. This battle went on for some time in the dark night but eventually everything settled down and the courtyard returned to its former peacefulness. Shěn Lí closed the courtyard door satisfied. Her satisfaction left when she saw Xíng Yún standing in his wet clothes obviously shivering in the cold. Sighing she said, “Are you stupid? Normally you’re so unpredictable and haughty, how could you let them bully you so easily?”

Xíng Yún smiled gently. “I’m not as powerful you seem to think I am.” He - like any other mortal being - was not immune to injury and death. There really was no way for him to avoid the situation with the tea earlier.

Shěn Lí’s heart choked at the sight of his pale lips and the red burn mark on his face. She didn’t know what to say. It was true . . . he was an ordinary person, so of course he would be burned by hot liquids. At the time he was restrained from behind with a sword at his neck, so moving would have been dangerous. Although Xíng Yún must have known he would be injured by the water, he didn’t have the power to avoid it. Despite knowing all this, he still remained completely calm and unruffled.

Where did his confidence even come from, Shěn Lí wondered. She sighed and sat down on the stone bench. She sat silently for a long time lost in thought. Finally she asked, “Today . . . what I did . . . will it make more trouble for you?” Although she felt refreshed after exercising and beating up the guards, now that things had calmed down, she realized she may have created some problems.

“I was the one that dug the hole for myself, you just made it bigger.”

Shěn Lí was curious and so asked, “What did you say to him anyway?”

“Roughly speaking, he asked me to be his person. I didn’t want to serve under him so I said no. We went back and forth a few times. He got angry and threatened to destroy my courtyard. I didn’t really know what to do so I just smiled and told him that maybe if he used his body he could flatten the courtyard, but otherwise it wouldn’t be possible. Apparently, this really annoyed him and that’s probably when you saw him pour the water on me.” Xíng Yún shook his head helplessly, “I guess it’s a big taboo to talk about a person’s body.”

It’s not taboo, you just have a smart mouth . . .

Xíng Yún’s smile faded. “That man is cruel and arrogant, wishing his own father an early death. Leaving the country in the hands of such is person . . . I’m afraid the people will not have it easy.” He gazed at the stars for a long time. “The world will suffer under this new emperor.”

“I thought you didn’t like to divine the future.”

“This isn’t about divination, it’s about the fate of the nation. I can’t just stand still and not do anything.” Xíng Yún got up and went to the kitchen. His voice came from far away, “I see the quality of his character. As for the future . . . I can make it slowly develop in the direction I want.”

What the hell?! Shěn Lí grumbled to herself. She couldn’t figure out if Xíng Yún was really weak or really strong.

“Shěn Lí draw some water for me. I want to make an ointment. The mark will leave a scar if I don’t tend to it soon.”

“Ordering people around as though you’re their master! Why should I help you?” His tone rubbed her the wrong way. This guy was too overbearing. This was his business. Even the affair with the crown prince, that was all him. Why should she butt in? What she needed to be concerned about was when to leave! Suddenly two coughs in quick succession came from the kitchen. Shěn Lí’s angry expression faded somewhat at the sound. She went to the well and drew some water with a pail, brought it over and told him to go and lie down. Then she tried to edge him away from the stove saying, “I’ll take care of it.”

Xíng Yún heard, but refused to move. He watched as she pulled the medicine pot down and turned to ask him, “So how do I prepare it?”

Xíng Yún smiled, “Here I’ll do it.”

Shěn Lí could only back up to the side and watch quietly. It was a rare moment of tranquility between them - normally their bickering was nonstop. After seeing that the medicine was coming along just fine, Shěn Lí opened her mouth and asked, “What would you have done if I wasn’t here today? Obviously you can’t fight. For that matter, you can’t even fake them out by pretending to know how to fight.”

“If you weren’t here I would not have been so brazen.” He continued stirring the medicine. “But, you were here.” He spoke as though her presence was a given. It surprised her. He continued, “You’re so crazy that next to you I look easy-going. You have an impressive spirit. It makes you very beautiful.”

Beautiful . . .. Beautiful? What man had ever complimented her like this? She’d get so vicious when she became angry that even the devil would be hapless in front of her. Who would ever dare praise her like this?! She looked at Xíng Yún’s smiling face. The mark from earlier didn’t lessen the impact of his appearance at all. Her heart was definitely affected!

“ . . .hand me a piece of cloth for the pot. It’s too hot to handle directly.” Apparently Xíng Yún had been speaking for some time. Shěn Lí heard the words, but they made no sense in her confused state. She noticed he had stopped talking and was now looking expectantly at her and the pot. She turned away from his stare and reached for it. Before he could stop her, she had already gripped the handle and poured the entire contents into an empty bowl.

She only noticed a burning sensation spread on the palm of her hand after she placed the pot back on the stove. “OK it’s been poured.”

Xíng Yún watched as she hid her hand behind her back like a child. “Honestly, you’re a girl but you still try to act like such a tough guy.” He gently pulled her wrist from behind her back and examined her hand carefully in the light. If she had been a regular mortal her hand would have been scorched, but since it was Shěn Lí, there was only a bit of redness and swelling. “Stop acting like a man. Make sure you put some ointment on once I’m done.”

Shěn Lí’s wrist felt strange in his hand. It flustered her greatly. Not knowing what to do, she settled on a topic of conversation. “So yesterday I compared you to the bald donkey. Then to piss me off you pretended to eat all the bacon. After that you suffered two injuries from the crown prince. Aren’t you angry? Do you feel that I’m making you suffer and am bullying you?”

“How do you know I’m not angry?” Xíng Yún crushed the leftover bits of medicine with his other hand as he spoke. “There are just more urgent things to take care of right now, like clearing out scumbags by deposing a certain someone.”

Shěn Lí glanced at him. “You? Take care of the prince? The crown prince?”

Xíng Yún smiled shallowly. “I may not be able to do it, but I can sure try. Shěn Lí, tomorrow accompany me outside.”

“Wait. What? Why do I have to go with you?”

c9: Meeting Prince Ruì

c9: Meeting Prince Ruì


“I need you as a bodyguard of course. The prince isn’t going to let this slide. He’ll definitely send assassins after us, but since what he wanted to find out was of a blasphemous nature, he’ll have to keep it from the emperor and work in secret.” It was obvious to everyone yesterday, that between the two, Shěn Lí was the stronger adversary. Therefore, the best course of action would be to get rid of Xíng Yún first, then focus on Shěn Lí after. Whether or not they had the ability to take care of her was another story. Xíng Yún understood this, so of course he would drag her along with him!

 . . .

Shěn Lí read the placard sign in front of her, “Ruì Palace?” She creased her brow puzzled.

Xíng Yún nodded his head. “The emperor has seven sons, and although the crown prince is the first-born from the empress, he is not the oldest prince. That title belongs to Prince Ruì, whose mother is the current favored imperial concubine. The strength of his family is strong with many ties within the government and the imperial palace. Currently, he’s the only one with the potential to stand against the crown prince.

“You are surprisingly well-versed in the politics of the royal family.”

“I didn’t know anything before last night, but if I want to clear out a certain scumbag then I have to gather my information properly.” Xíng Yún stopped talking when he heard the sound of whips approaching. Soon a carriage appeared under heavy escort. Xíng Yún slowly approached and in a clear voice said, “Foreteller Xíng Yún seeks an audience with Prince Ruì!”

After a moment of silence a voice spoke out in a derogatory sneer, “Fortuneteller? You are bold to dare approach. The people consider tricksters that swindle and cheat others to be despicable. This king feels no different.”

“In that case Your Highness can think of me as a tactician instead. I know of a plan that would be beneficial to Your Highness. Would Your Highness be interested?”

“Why should this lord trust you?”

“Last night the crown prince came to me in search of a plan . . .” Xíng Yún trailed off purposefully. Then he laughed and said, “If Your Highness wishes to know more, may we speak privately inside?”

The curtain was pulled aside and a man in purple stepped out. He had a trim figure but his face had a terrible scar that ran from the top of his forehead to the corner of his mouth. Shěn Lí thought that the emperor must have done something grievous to elicit such a retribution from Heaven upon his son.

Prince Ruì gave Xíng Yún and Shěn Lí a once over before speaking in a husky voice. “Bring them to the inner courtyard.”

The palace was extremely large with many richly decorated pavilions and courtyards. There were numerous statues, acres of beautifully planted flowers and shimmering clear lakes throughout. Everywhere she looked screamed “Big! Beautiful! Rich!” It was nice and all, but Shěn Lí felt the display was deliberately ostentatious in order to cover up the atmosphere of death and repression that permeated throughout.

Back in the Demon realm, she lived at the base of the ruin. The air was filled with thick miasma that blocked the sunlight and created a dark sky all year round. Naturally, such greenery didn’t exist as plants weren’t able to take root in such inhospitable land. It wasn’t as beautiful as the palace but there was a sense of freedom that existed in the air. Even Xíng Yún’s courtyard, although tiny in comparison, was much lovelier than this palace.

The two were led to a center pavilion to wait for Prince Ruì. He appeared not long after in a different outfit. After the ceremonial greetings, Prince Ruì and Xíng Yún began to talk about court affairs. Shěn Lí decided to escape since their talk was boring and she needed to relieve herself. With her abilities, she easily evade the palace guards and eventually came upon a pond with a beautiful lotus flower floating in the center. It was so eye catching she decided to pluck it for herself. A voice rang out from behind just as she was reaching over.

“What are you doing! Don’t touch my flower!”

Shěn Lí turned to the side to see who was calling out to her. At the same moment that Shěn Lí moved, a figure dashed forward to where she was standing earlier. Unfortunately, without Shěn Lí there to act as a barrier, the person bulldozed forward and teetered on the edge of the pond. The short fence did nothing to keep her back. Shěn Lí reached for the girl and managed to grab her belt. She yanked hard enough to pull her back from the edge, but unfortunately, the pull was so hard, the girl’s belt tore and her pants loosened and was precariously close to slipping off. The girl quickly grabbed onto her clothes and squatted down hiding her head in her arms in shame and embarrassment.

Shěn Lí awkwardly looked at the torn bit of fabric in her hand. “Ah . . . sorry. I didn’t think your clothes would be so . . . fragile.”

The girl looked up and stared at Shěn Lí. “Are you a woman?”

Shěn Lí looked down at her own chest. “Isn’t it obvious?”

Without realizing it, Shěn Lí had recovered more qi in the days since regaining her human form. Her strength increased and she hadn’t reverted to her beast form since. She was too lazy to change clothes, so was wearing the same dirty robe from earlier. It wasn’t an issue for her since back on the battlefield her clothes would be ten times dirtier than this. Xíng Yún had tried to find some better clothes for her for the meeting with Prince Ruì, but he had no luck. He gave her one of his long coats to wear over top in the end.

The girl shook her head and spoke in a soft voice, “It’s obvious looking at you from the front but from behind . . .”

Hm. Yes, Shěn Lí thought, from behind I do look like a slender handsome young man, don’t I? She studied the girl in front of her. She had creamy pale skin and straight eyebrows above peach blossom shaped eyes.

It was such an enchanting combination that Shěn Lí unconsciously reached out to touch the girl’s face. The girl in question blushed even more deeply, and while still in her crouched position, crab walked to the side to avoid Shěn Lí. Shěn Lí thought it was really amusing, so tried twice more. The girl fed up, finally spoke, “Auntie . . . auntie . . . please stop playing. If you are kind, then please pass me something to use as belt. I can’t get up looking like this.”

Two family servants walked by and saw Shěn Lí and the girl crouched on the ground. “Thief! How dare you try to use Xiǎo Hé as a hostage!”

“Eh?-” The servants didn’t wait for Shěn Lí to finish speaking. One immediately ran away to call for backup. Shěn Lí felt a little sour in her heart. The girl looked up at Shěn Lí with a murderous glare as if to say, “This is all your fault!”

“Why don’t I get you out of here?”

Xiǎo Hé, who had broken out in a cold sweat the moment the servants showed up asked, “To where?”

Just then a group of guards showed up escalating Xiǎo Hé’s anxiety. She pulled the hem of her clothes around her nervously. “Ah! This is no good!”

As they were talking a husky voice rang out, “What’s the commotion?!”

Upon hearing the voice Xiǎo Hé’s face perked up, but it quickly dropped in nervousness upon remembering her predicament. She bit her lip and grabbed onto the hem of Shěn Lí’s coat to hide behind.

Shěn Lí looked out and saw the crowd gathering. Among them was Prince Ruì and Xíng Yún. She could already guess what he was thinking from the expression on his face.

Xíng Yún shook his head and sighed. How did she get into trouble already?

Prince Ruì first looked at Shěn Lí before glancing down and noticing Xiǎo Hé who was sitting on the ground obviously hiding behind her. His tone considerably softened at the sight. “What happened?”

Xiǎo Hé refused to speak. Shěn Lí looked down and sighed. “Tell your guards to retreat first.”

Xiǎo Hé poked her head out from behind Shěn Lí and nodded emphatically at this.

Prince Ruì waved his hand and the crowd quickly dispersed. Shěn Lí noticed Xiǎo Hé no longer had a death grip on her coat so she quickly took the opportunity to step aside. She cleared her throat about to speak when Prince Ruì bent down to Xiǎo Hé. After a few whispered words his face broke out into a smile that softened the scar on his face considerably. He took his outer robe off and placed it around Xiǎo Hé before picking her up. After taking a few steps, he turned around. “It will be better if the young master stays here.”

The two had only spoken for a short period of time, but from his polite manner of speech it was obvious he intended to offer Xíng Yún his protection.

Shěn Lí thought it would be fine for Xíng Yún to remain. As long as he stayed in the palace, she would be able to leave without any worries.

Xíng Yún shook his head. “I thank Prince Ruì for your kind intentions, however I only came today to present my plan. I fear my presence, should I remain, will only bring unnecessary trouble. Besides this, I also prefer to live in my own peaceful courtyard. So please allow me to say my farewell for today.”

Since Prince Ruì didn’t feel strongly about it and so didn’t insist. He nodded his head and gave Xíng Yún and Shěn Lí permission to leave the palace.

 . . .

“Hang on a minute.” Shěn Lí walked up to Xíng Yún frowning. She glanced back at the palace with a complicated expression.

“What’s the matter? Do you fancy the girl or something?”

“No, I was just wondering why a prince would raise a demon spirit.” She turned around to face Xíng Yún and waved her hand. “Ah forget it, not my business. But why did you not stay at the palace though?”

“Stop talking so much. Prince Ruì gave me some coins. I’ll buy a bit of meat today and we’ll have a nice dinner later.”

Shěn Lí opened her mouth then closed it. She did this once more before resolutely leaving it closed. Just just wait and see how it all blows over. If need be, she could stay a little longer to keep him safe.  

c10: Courtyard Battle

c10: Courtyard Battle


The room felt stifling with the windows firmly shut and talisman paper taped all over the walls. The lack of air circulation also served to intensify the smell of incense. The crown prince sat behind his desk with a cold expression on his face.

“Prince Ruì’s palace . . . to think they’d actually go to such a place.”

A sapphire bead shot out onto the table shaking the tea cup with its force, rippling the water inside. The black clad assassin by the table spoke up saying, “This time I won’t leave them any room to maneuver. Where are the hired warriors and spell-casters?”

“Your Highness, they have returned and are outside waiting your command.”

The crown prince nodded in satisfaction. “Good. We’ll see what abilities that evil enchantress has.” 

 . . .

Shěn Lí watched the grape leaves flutter in the wind and idly wondered if they were edible. The things Xíng Yún made were always delicious so the fruits of the trees he tended must also be wonderful and sweet. She didn’t think she would be around long enough to harvest the grapes though, thus her thoughts about the leaves.

Threat from the crown prince would be nullified if Xíng Yún stayed at the palace, however threat from the Demon realm . . . that was not something a mortal could contend with. No matter Xíng Yún’s condition, she had to leave soon; at most she could stay for three more days; any longer than that would just complicate things.

“Sha sha.” Shěn Lí looked over toward the sound and saw Xíng Yún moving a rock. He was apparently laboring very hard judging from the sweat dripping off his forehead. The combination of his serious expression and the somewhat muffled words from his lips gave him an air of seriousness that was unusual for him. She was used to his default idiotic smiling expression. Seeing him like this made her wish the marriage contract didn’t exist. Then she wouldn’t have to leave and feel so anxious. She could . . . she could . . .  

Shěn Lí was stunned at her train of thought. What could she do exactly? Her heart felt strange and conflicted with these unfamiliar desires.

“Shěn Lí.” His call from the front yard interrupted her thoughts. She walked over to find several stones arranged on the ground and Xíng Yún standing in front of a large water barrel that stood up to his waist in height. “Help me lift this up.”

Shěn Lí grinned. She walked over and easily lifted the barrel with one hand and asked, “Where do you want it?”

“Over there in the corner.”

Xíng Yún watched as Shěn Lí moved the barrel over. “OK I’ve rearranged the array so its strength is considerably increased, especially at night. The battle array is fierce and extremely powerful. Remember to not go out the front yard, and if you want to leave, make sure you leave with me.”

Shěn Lí knew Xíng Yún was talented when it came to arrays and building them in alignment with the sun and moon, but she had strong doubts about his battle array formation abilities. To call them fierce? Could they really rival those in the Demon realm? Shěn Lí didn’t really think so. She listened to what he had to say but didn’t take it seriously.

“How come you wanted to change the pattern of the array?”

“In case of attacks. This way you and I can sleep soundly.”

In fact that very night proved the sagacity of his words. It wasn’t long after the lights were extinguished that chanting reverberated in the small courtyard. Xíng Yún sighed and burrowed deeper under his quilt trying to cover his ears. “Ugh. I overestimated the crown prince. Seriously what a poor move on his part.” Suddenly a distinct sharp sound disrupted the chanting. Xíng Yún immediately got up and grabbed his robe, putting it on as he rushed out to the hall.

Normally he’d find Shěn Lí sleeping on the bench, using it as a makeshift bed. Despite no longer being a chicken, she still kept to the habit of sleeping outside, only now instead of being on the floor she slept on the bench. Whenever he wanted a drink in the night he’d get up and find her there. She’d awaken, glance at him, then go back to sleep. It reassured him and put his heart at ease.

So his heart clenched a little when he didn’t see her there now. He quickly turned to look in the courtyard. There he saw five people sprawled unconscious on the ground - three men dressed in black and two spell-casters. They looked pale and breathless. Shěn Lí stood above them like some crazed magnificent warrior, completely untouchable. It didn’t look like they had laid a hand on her.

Just as Xíng Yún sighed in relief, Shěn Lí closed her eyes and a trail of red tears flowed down her cheeks. She stood with her hands tightly fisted at her sides, her lips pressed firmly together in a grim line.

Although the array he made was a battle array, it wasn’t designed to physically harm people. What it would do instead was attack the psyche and bring their fears forward, ultimately crushing their will to fight. However, if a person were to struggle and resist, the array’s strength would continue to intensify until the person’s mind and sanity shattered. He didn’t expect Shěn Lí to resist so hard. If he kept watching . . . Following his impulse, he stepped forward into the array just in time to see her unclench her fist and fall down. He closed his eyes and adjusted his breathing as he moved forward one step at a time slowly and surely.

When he opened his eyes again, the world around him felt like a dream. He was witnessing her illusion. The Shěn Lí that stood in front of him had her fists to her sides and blood marked her face.

She was bound and unable to move. All she could do was watch as her brave and fierce soldiers disappeared into the crimson lava flow one by one, their hands outstretched to her pleading for help. From this distance, she could see the Demon emperor’s castle burning, crumbling, turning to dust. She wondered about the welfare of her lord and hoped he was safe. She suddenly felt a strong presence from behind; it was as though she conjured him by thinking about him. She turned her head to find him there dressed in a black robe and was the one binding her wrists. In a cold voice he said, “This place should not exist. Nor should you . . .”

Shěn Lí’s stomach dropped at the words. She opened her mouth to speak, but before she could, the other party bit into her neck and tore away the skin with his teeth. He was eating her alive.

No . . .

“Shěn Lí!” A shrill voice called out her name. It sounded like it was coming from a great distance away. “Wake up!” Who was calling her? She felt pain in her eyes as they were being forced open. A familiar face stood in front of her.

The person spoke, “It’s just an illusion. It’s not real.” The chaotic blood-filled scene and the sense of being bound gradually faded and was replaced with the small courtyard. Xíng Yún pressed his fingers against her eyelids to keep them open. “Hey! Wake up soon OK?!” He blew a breath into her open eyes.

Shěn Lí’s eyes felt really dry. She wanted to close them, and was finally able to do so after some difficulty. Xíng Yún saw she was still not lucid, so he pried her eyes open and took a deep breath, intending to blow harder this time. Shěn Lí woke up just as he was about to do so. “Stop. No more. You’re going to blind me.” She rubbed her eyes with her hands.

Xíng Yún laughed. “Didn’t it help to blow your nightmares away?” Grabbing her hand, he said, “Let’s get out of this array first.”

Shěn Lí followed behind him. Looking down she was surprised to find bloodstains on the back of her hand. She stumbled. Was the array really that powerful? Looking up at Xíng Yún’s back she asked, “Are you not affected by the array because you made it and it recognized you?”

“No it’s just a battle array. How could it recognize people?” His voice was faint as he continued speaking. “It’s an array that touches people’s fears. If I have no fears how can it harm me?”

Nothing to fear? It’s not so much that you have no fear, you’re just . . . too indifferent. Shěn Lí thought as she looked down at their clasped hands. Oddly enough despite this, he somehow put her at ease.

Xíng Yún didn’t bring up the vision in the array once they made it back into the hall.

“What should we do with them?” Shěn Lí pointed to the people lying in the array.

“Wait till dawn, then drag them out.”

“What about the ones chanting outside right now?”

The chanting stopped as he was thinking what to do. A loud voice from outside yelled. “Useless trash!” It was a young and cold sounding voice. “Just burn the whole place down!” Immediately a rain of flaming arrows shot into the courtyard, setting everything in contact aflame.

Shěn Lí frowned. “They would do this while their people are still here?!”

Xíng Yún didn’t answer. He was too busy looking at the backyard and the damage already done by the flames. Every object in the courtyard was a part of the array, so damage to one part would affect the whole. The fierce atmosphere around the house began to fade as damage around the yard compounded, in fact, he could already see the grapevine trellis sagging. The grim situation didn’t alarm Xíng Yún, in fact he was smiling.

The courtyards in the cul-de-sac were all connected to each other. Looking at the flames he knew they would quickly spread to his neighbors if not extinguished soon. It was beyond his expectations that the crown prince would endanger so many lives in order to get him. The disregard the royal family had for the lives of the common people was obvious. “I’ve been considerate of the people and their wishes all these years, but it would appear I didn’t plan well enough, and now I’m the one who’s brought harm to them.”

Shěn Lí glanced over at him. “You feel guilty?” The smile he had clearly didn’t reach his eyes, it was just a curve of the lips without any soul. She wiped at her face to clear away the bloodstains on her cheeks. She spoke with a heavy heart as she walked over. “I can help you one last time before leaving. I strongly recommend you go to Ruì Palace tomorrow. This courtyard . . . I don’t think it can be saved.”

This was the first time she spoke about leaving. Xíng Yún had a blank look on his face as he watched her walk to the gate. She waved her hand and a bright silvery light appeared. It started small but continued to condense until a flash erupted and a long incredibly cold looking spear appeared. It had a lustrous body with red tassels that burned like flames at each end, emitting a murderous aura.

Shěn Lí pushed off from her feet and jumped into the air landing on the roof. She used the spear to draw four arcs in the air creating a seal. After whispering into it, the walls collapsed and Xíng Yún’s courtyard was pulled away from the surrounding area by about two feet. Without wind the chances of nearby residences catching fire dropped significantly.

As soon as she finished, she dropped back down into the courtyard. She could clearly see her opponents outside now that the walls no longer acted as a barrier. The dozen guards beyond the courtyard held their bows in trembling hands, taking a few steps back upon seeing her. The only one unaffected was a young man who looked at her with cold eyes.  

Shěn Lí unceremoniously kicked the five unconscious people in the array out. “This king does not want to see bloodshed today. All of you retreat.”

c11: Xiǎo Hé’s Resentment

c11: Xiǎo Hé’s Resentment


The young man was about to speak when the guard next to him moved forward, “Be careful Lord Fú Shēng, this person . . .”

The crown prince was uneasy but his trusted aid, Fú Shēng, sneered at Shěn Lí. “The emperor only has seven sons. I know all the kings. How can you be a king, you demon?”

Shěn Lí’s smile was even colder than his. “I am a demon king!” She cut through the air with her silver spear. Those below felt a cool breeze as their belts fell down in unison. A slight panic ensued as they bent down to grab their pants. The only one not affected was the crown prince. His belt was different from the others, a strong and reinforced type. Shěn Lí was just enjoying herself and smiling when a pair of warm hands covered her eyes.

Xíng Yún said, “Don’t look. It’s inappropriate.”

Shěn Lí was momentarily stunned and didn’t think to pull his hand away. Despite the many things she’d done, he insisted on treating her like a regular person, like a woman whose eyes were innocent.

Everyone hurried to pick up their swords and pants before hurrying away. The belt around Fú Shēng’s waist seemed to be different than the others. Instead of being embarrassed, there was a thoughtful expression on his face as he looked at Shěn Lí. After looking at her for a moment, he turned and walked away from the burning courtyard. Shěn Lí retracted her spear but did not pry Xíng Yún’s hands away, she only said, “Come on I’ll bring you to Ruì palace.” After that, she would leave.

“Yeah OK,” Xíng Yún answered loudly, letting go of Shěn Lí as he did so. Glancing around he said, “But let’s wait for bit.”

Shěn Lí looked at Xíng Yún and saw the fire reflected in his eyes. Suddenly she remembered what he said yesterday at Ruì palace about wanting to stay in his little courtyard because it was his home. Now he had to watch as it all burned down. She could only imagine the sense of loss he felt.

Were it not for the fact she needed to conserve her energy in order to evade her pursuers, she would have settled the score with the crown prince once and for all. But recklessly using her energy in the situation would only complicate things and allow those chasing her to pinpoint her location. Her heart felt stifled as she looked at the small courtyard turning gray in places as the ashes settled down. She could not stay any longer.

“I don’t know how long the fire will burn for. I wonder if the fish in the pond will still be edible. It’s a shame after all the time I spent raising them.” Xíng Yún sighed thinking about his lost fish.

“You— that’s what you were thinking about?”

“Yeah. What else would I be thinking about?”

Shěn Lí glared at Xíng Yún before taking a deep breath and grabbing him roughly by the collar. In a silvery flash they reappeared in a quiet garden. Xíng Yún looked up at the moon and sighed. “Wow . . . a transporting spell sure is convenient. But why did you send us to this deserted garden?”

“You think I wanted to? I don’t know the exact location of Prince Ruì’s residence inside the palace.”

“Xíng Yún laughed. “Well we’re going to have to find it then.” He barely took two steps forward before Shěn Lí yanked at his wrist.

“Don’t move. Can’t you sense how strange it is here?”

“Strange? What's strange?” Xíng Yún couldn’t detect anything odd. The sounds and sights were all ordinary night time sounds found in any garden – the insects were chirping, the flowers were swaying in the breeze, the leaves were rustling. There was nothing strange here.

Shěn Lí waved her hand and grabbed at something in the air. “I didn’t see it before during the day, but this Prince Ruì, to raise so many unformed demon spirits . . .” She opened her palm to show some condensed light as tiny as fireflies.

Xíng Yún raised his eyebrows. He took advantage of Shěn Lí’s distraction to pull his wrist free. Before she could stop him, he had already walked several steps away from her. “There’s no maliciousness in the air. Even though I can’t see them I can feel them.” He opened his arms as if to demonstrate.

Xíng Yún couldn’t know that there were hundreds of shimmering spheres floating like tiny soap bubbles in the air. The full moon’s light reflecting on them created an ethereal effect. Nor did he know that in the moment he opened his arms wide, they gathered and sparkled all around him. It was dazzling; he was like a god embracing the world. The vision was so blinding Shěn Lí had to blink a few times adjust her vision and regain her senses.

This was the same man who had pulled her from her nightmare, the one who held an umbrella and shielded her from the rain, the one she saw under the grape trellis bathing in the sun. Despite being indisputably weak, he somehow gave off an air of reliability.

“Let’s go.” Xíng Yún extended his hand to Shěn Lí. “You can hold onto me if you’re afraid.”

He really was treating her like some weak woman . . . Shěn Lí grabbed his hand and yanked him up forcing him into her arms.

He looked up and asked, “What is it?”

“Do you know who’s standing in front of you?”

After a long pause Xíng Yún replied, “M. . .  yes King Shěn Lí I apologize for underestimating you.”

“You. Pay attention to what I’m about to say. I like you.” Shěn Lí stared intently at him as she spoke next. “Seems I’ve taken a fancy to you.”

Xíng Yún remained silent after that declaration letting the buzz of the insects in the garden fill the space between them. Then he grinned, “Oh, OK. Let’s go.”

Eh . . . was he toying with her? What was with that perfunctory reply? And that grin? What the hell?! Even ridicule would have been a better reply than this ambiguous one. Shěn Lí’s hand trembled for a moment. Fortunately for Xíng Yún, before she could unleash her anger, she detected a faint whiff of something in the air that distracted her and put her on alert. Although light, she could tell there was magic in the air. She released him and turned toward the sky, but the tiny spirit demons flying in the air blocked her vision. The scent disappeared before she could analyze it properly. The only thing she could tell was the direction of the magic - somewhere from the southeast. Shěn Lí furrowed her brow in thought. Although it was a magical scent it was not the same as those of the demon troops. Something was off . . .

The air changed dramatically without warning. Shěn Lí pulled Xíng Yún behind her, scattering the tiny demons. The demons spread apart and were no longer clustering together; their bodies buzzed and slowly took on a reddish hue. “What’s the matter?” Even Xíng Yún could feel the sudden hostility vibrating in the air.

“I don’t know, but it’s not good. Let’s find Prince Ruì first.” If something happened to Prince Ruì, then Xíng Yún would be out of luck with nowhere safe to go. She barely finished speaking when a terrifying scream filled with unrestrained anger and resentment cut through the air. It stimulated the flying demons and they twitched and buzzed even more fiercely. The sound, like a wailing baby, was sharp and penetrated to the bone.

“Let’s get out of here.” Xíng Yún also heard the wail.

Shěn Lí brought some qi up into her hand and used it to forcefully clear a path. She grabbed Xíng Yún and quickly walked into the clearing. As they continued farther in the palace, they heard more terrifying sounds. Screams of, “Monster!” and, “Help!” rang out. Once they passed the garden walls, they could see the whole palace was filled with bloody spirits.

Shěn Lí kept Xíng Yún behind her as they walked. Some of the lesser spirits morphed into malformed small children, a few even took the form of disfigured newborn babes and filled the air with their poisonous fumes. They squatted and crawled on the ground, latching onto anything they could get their chubby deformed hands on. Their acidic tears flowed unchecked and eroded everything in the way.

The guards and maids were in a panic, clearly in pain as their skin came in contact with the demonic fluids. It reminded Shěn Lí of the hell in her nightmare from earlier.

Shěn Lí muttered to herself, “We’ll have to find the lord of the demons here and defeat it if we want to clear this. Let’s find Prince Ruì as soon as possible.”

The odds of finding a sentient fully formed demon spirit amongst all the nascent souls was one in a hundred million. These were obviously very poor odds, but then the alternative wasn’t that great either. Even if a really talented person painstakingly cultivated a spirit and managed to help it develop a physical form, there was no guarantee it could reach the next evolutionary step and form a soul. It would most likely be an empty vessel that lacked any spiritual essence.

The only demon that could take physical form in Ruì Palace was Xiǎo Hé. Something big had to have happened for her to manifest such a strong sense of resentment against her lord and betray him.

“Shěn Lí.” Xíng Yún pointed to the distance.

Shěn Lí turned to look in the direction he was pointing. “That’s Prince Ruì’s residence.” There was a swarm of bloody malformed baby demons crawling all over it completely obscuring the building from view. All she could see was a pulsating blob of red as the babies moved around the exterior like worms underneath the skin. Her flesh crawled just looking at it. “Don’t stray more than three steps away from me,” she told Xíng Yún as she watched several babies crawl toward them. She originally planned to leave him here, but with so much danger all around, she couldn’t risk it.

Honestly, Xíng Yún didn’t want to be left behind either. He watched as several babies tried to make their way toward them. “How could I? Your grip is so fierce.” His vision turned dark for a moment as they transitioned from one location to another. Once they landed, he could see they were in the middle of a traditionally styled room, only this one had blood oozing over all the surface areas. A drop landed on his hand and burned his skin. Looking down, he saw blood quickly sizzle away at his flesh as it ate a hole in his hand. He didn’t make a sound so Shěn Lí didn’t know he was injured.

Shěn Lí led them to a bookshelf, the kind that screamed “I’m a secret door!” and pushed at it. Sure enough, it opened to reveal a hidden passageway. It was dark, so she formed a flame in her hand to light the way. They walked inside with Shěn Lí in the front taking each step carefully.


The scream shot like an arrow into Shěn Lí’s heart. If anything happened to Prince Ruì . . . They finally reached the end of the passageway. The only thing separating them from the room proper was a paper screen. Shěn Lí kicked it out of the way revealing a room lit with candles.

Floating in the air, with her hair scattered about like an incensed demon filled with static electriciy, was Xiǎo Hé. “Zhu Chengjin![notes] I’m going to kill you then kill her. You can both die together!” In front of her was a bloodied Prince Ruì. He was holding a sword facing her for all the world looking like he intended to protect the bed with his life. Aside from Prince Ruì, there was only one other occupant on the bed. A woman lay fully dressed, pale and beautiful, like a certain fairytale appearing as though she had been slumbering for years.

c12: Princess Ruì

c12: Princess Ruì

Shěn Lí and Xíng Yún's arrival surprised Xiǎo Hé. She turned to them with bloodshot eyes. “Dare to get in my way? You’re dead!” Qi rushed out of her mouth cutting with deadly intentions toward Shěn Lí and Xíng Yún.

Shěn Lí raised her hand and the force of the qi halted as though hitting an invisible wall. Although they were safe, the collision created a thick miasma in front of her. “I liked you better as the blushing shy maiden. Why don’t you change back? If you don’t, I’ll have to kill you.” It didn’t look like Xiǎo Hé was going to back down so she raised her hand and coalesced her spear intending to launch it in a killing strike. A cry interrupted her before she could.

“No! Don’t hurt her!” Prince Ruì interjected. Although his voice was extremely hoarse, his meaning was clear.

Shěn Lí began to wonder if he was Xiǎo Hé’s lover. Why else would he be so reluctant to hurt her given the situation at hand?

“Don’t hurt me?” Xiǎo Hé cried out. “Zhū Chéngjǐn  . . . Zhū Chéngjǐn! Are you being cruel or are you being merciful?” Her body trembled even more violently. “Fine! You can all just die together!”

The ground underneath shook and a loud crash came from outside. Shěn Lí guessed that the demon baby spirits must have overwhelmed the residence. The tremors caused rubble to dislodge and block their only exit out. This was good because it meant they would be safe from the babies, but it also meant they were effectively trapped inside. Eventually, they would run out of oxygen and suffocate, so they needed to get out.

“Since you want to guard her so much, you can just guard her forever then!” Xiǎo Hé’s figure began to fade as she said, “I’ll leave and destroy your entire palace.”

Shěn Lí knew the lesser demon spirits outside were affected by Xiǎo Hé’s mood fluctuations. If she killed Xiǎo Hé, then the rest of the palace would return to normal. Shěn Lí reached out to grab Xiǎo Hé, but forgot that Xíng Yún was still holding onto her hand. The extra weight hindered her and Xiǎo Hé disappeared before she could reach her. Shěn Lí turned to look at Xíng Yún in anger. It felt like he was pulling her arm back on purpose.

Xíng Yún smiled innocently. “You said to hold onto you tightly.”

She glared at him with fire in her eyes. She looked at Prince Ruì’s bleak expression and Xíng Yún’s stupid smiling one. “I’ll send you two out first. Come back later for the woman.”

“No.” The two men both spoke in unison. The surprised Prince Ruì looked over at Xíng Yún.

“There’s a soul anchoring array here. She’ll definitely die if you take her out.”

Hearing this made Shěn Lí really angry. She turned to Prince Ruì and demanded, “Speak! What are you really up to here?”

Prince Ruì struggled to sit upright. Despite her disrespectful tone he didn’t reprimand her, instead he stared at the woman on the bed. “This is my wife Princess Ruì. Three years ago, there was an assassination attempt on my life. I would have died had my wife not shielded me with her body. She used her last remaining strength to lead the assassins away; I managed to survive with just this scar on my face. When I went back to search for her, I found her at the end of a ravine. I brought her back here to wait for her to wake up.”

“If all you did was wait then why are there demon spirits in your residence. Explain Xiǎo Hé’s existence and her reason for turning on you.”

Prince Ruì was silent for several seconds before speaking. “Everyone said she was dead when I brought her back, that I just needed to grieve properly, but . . . Yè Shī  . . . a woman like her . . . can she really die so easily? I searched for a way to wake her up and finally found two methods . . .”

His voice trailed off but Shěn Lí didn’t need him to continue. She was very clear on the method he found because it explained Xiǎo Hé’s existence. That method was to feed the soul of an evolved demon spirit into the one to be revived. It was essentially exchanging one life for another. In the meantime, the body needed to be kept in stasis with a formation like the one here. This explained why Yè Shī, his princess, couldn’t be moved.

Shěn Lí couldn’t keep the derision out of her voice when she spoke. “Not only were you unable to protect your wife, you let her die for you. Instead of accepting her death you chose to oppose Heaven and tie her soul to this array for the last three years for your own selfishness? Then you raised a demon spirit with the intentions of sacrificing it to wake her back up? You’re a real piece of work you shit bag.”

Silence filled the room before Prince Ruì asked defiantly, “So, what about it? I’ll do whatever it takes to wake her up.”

Shěn Lí narrowed her eyes at him. If it weren’t for the fact that she needed him to keep Xíng Yún safe she would have left right then and there. She sighed. “So how did Xiǎo Hé turn out like this?”

Prince Ruì shook his head. “I come here every night to sit with my wife. Tonight, out of nowhere, Xiǎo Hé appeared in front of me. I don’t know where she got her information from or even how much she knows, but whatever it is, it made her really angry.”

Of course Xiǎo Hé would be angry! “She gave her heart to you, but you gave your heart to another. Not only that, you want to sacrifice her for that other person.” Shěn Lí didn’t expect to have to explain this, but apparently she did. “Of course she’d have issues with it. There’d be something wrong with her head if she didn’t resent it. Not to mention . . .” Did Xiǎo Hé even have a chance? It was obvious the only person in his heart was his princess.

The ground trembled reminding everyone of their predicament. Shěn Lí thought about what to do, then said to Prince Ruì, “I don’t care how you do it but the situation today needs to be resolved. If you can’t do it then I’ll do it my way. I’m going to find Xiǎo Hé. If she refuses to cooperate then I’m going to kill her. Just know this: If Xiǎo Hé dies and your princess suffers for it, it is I, Shěn Lí, who is responsible. No one else.”

She was aware Xíng Yún had turned his head to look at her when she said this, so she turned her gaze away avoiding his eyes. “The passageway is blocked so the baby demons won’t be able to come in, however, air supply is limited. You,” Shěn Lí said as she nodded to Xíng Yún, “come out with me and take care of the baby demons. Take those alive out of the palace. Once the palace is empty, we can search for Xiǎo Hé.”

Xíng Yún nodded in agreement. Shěn Lí hadn’t been sure if he would agree, so she was relieved when he nodded his head. With that settled, she grabbed his hand and teleported them to the front of the residence. Faint beginnings of dawn were already lightening up the sky. The few wan strips of pale blue in the sky had a strong effect on the baby demons. They became lethargic and less dangerous but the damage was already done – ruined bodies littered the ground with eroded bones and skin peeking through acidified clothing, while nearly all the pavilions were damaged with blood and fluids dripping everywhere. It was a gruesome and disgusting sight to behold.

Shěn Lí was used to seeing dead bodies, but the sight still made her scalp tingle. She brought out her spear and used some qi to sweep a path for them. She said to Xíng Yún, “Use the rising power of the sun to suppress the rest of the demons. After that help those that are still alive get out of the palace.”

“You think making an array is a simple matter? I don’t know the layout of the palace. I can’t help.”

Shěn Lí turned on him. Clearly aggravated she said, “Why didn’t you say that earlier? If I knew you couldn’t help, I would have found Xiǎo Hé myself. Why would I have brought you out with me otherwise?”

Xíng Yún coughed twice before saying, “I didn’t hear everything you said earlier. I just agreed out of habit.”

Didn’t hear my ass! If this was a battlefield and he was under her command he would have been dragged and whipped for being useless and a hindrance. What a stupid soldier!   

Originally, she’d planned on leaving Xíng Yún in the palace, but unexpected things kept happening and the whole ordeal kept dragging on. She ended up staying much longer than she should have. The longer she stayed, the higher the odds of being discovered by those sent to track her. The damage from such a battle would not be minor! At that moment it was as though her thoughts summoned them, for she smelled a faint magical scent on the wind. That it was a demonic scent made her stomach drop. She looked up in the direction and as it came closer her heart lightened. She was very familiar with this aura. There was only one person it could belong to.

“Mò Fāng!” It was one of her subordinates. A mass of black fog descended and landed in front of her. Mò Fāng’s figure gradually emerged. He knelt down on one knee and respectfully saluted her.

“Your Highness!”

Shěn Lí was grateful to him ever since he helped her escape. It wasn’t his fault that her escape caused her to go through the inhumane ordeal of being plucked and nearly stewed. She knew his loyalty was unquestionable. She patted him on the shoulder and told him to rise. However, Mò Fāng refused to get up and instead prostrated even further on the ground. “This subordinate wounded Your Highness several days ago. This subordinate deserves the death penalty!”

Seriously? Shěn Lí didn’t have time for this! “Get up! You know that what this king finds most insufferable are those that continually kneel and kowtow.”

Xíng Yún took a few steps back the moment Mò Fāng arrived and had been quietly watching. Shěn Lí noticed how alert he was so told him, “There’s no danger. He is my subordinate.”

Something big must have happened for Mò Fāng to come find her and reveal himself in front of Xíng Yún. It was dangerous for mortals to know about the ImMortal realms. Xíng Yún already had abilities and knowledge he shouldn’t have; knowing more would only be a burden to him. Heaven may even strike him down with lightning, so the less he knew the better.

Shěn Lí looked around, and after seeing that the baby demons were no longer an immediate threat told Xíng Yún to give her a moment with her subordinate. She handed him her spear, just in case. “Here take this. The spear has a strong demonic aura so the baby demons shouldn’t dare approach you.”  

Before Xíng Yún could say anything she had already shoved the spear into his arms. He didn’t think he needed it since the baby demons were already immobilized by sunlight.

Mò Fāng glared at him with a look that seemed to say “How dare you hold the king’s spear! You bastard!”

This look made Xíng Yún change his mind and he gripped the spear to his chest. He walked away leisurely several paces before turning around and giving Mò Fāng a self-satisfied smirk over his shoulder. Ha!

Mò Fāng gripped his hands into a tight fist and stood up. As he did, so Shěn Lí slapped him on his arm. “Good job! If it weren’t for you injuring me back then I would have surely been caught!” Since Mò Fāng was taller than her she had to tilt her head up a little to look at him. She could clearly see the scar on his neck from the cut she dealt with her spear. It was inevitable that a scar would form, it was a wound from her silver spear after all. Although Mò Fāng came from a clan of magic practitioners with strong healing abilities, he couldn’t completely heal the wound.

Shěn Lí sighed. “After the marriage contract is abolished, I will return and make sure to compensate you appropriately.”

Mò Fāng immediately cried out, “I wouldn’t dare!” Then he stopped wasting time and went straight to the point. “Yes! Last night Your Highness used magic to cast several seals. Those above noticed. Even as we speak an army is on its way to apprehend Your Highness. Your Highness! Please leave! I’m afraid the longer Your Highness lingers here the more difficult it will be to escape.”

Shěn Lí understood this as well as he did but the current situation was beyond her control. If she left now and Prince Ruì died then there would be no one to stand against the crown prince, which meant Xíng Yún would have no backer for protection. She couldn’t leave . . .

c13: Xiǎo Hé’s Poor Bottom

c13: Xiǎo Hé’s Poor Bottom


“I can’t.” She looked around at the baby demons and the devastation they wrought. “There’re still some things I have to do here.”

Seeing Shěn Lí struggle made Mò Fāng wrinkle his brow involuntarily. He didn’t want to push her, but this matter could not be delayed! He decided to prioritize the latter. Saluting with his fists in front of him and his head bowed he said, “Your Highness, the matter of leaving can no longer be delayed! If Your Highness is caught, another escape will not be possible. The Immortal realm has already prepared for the marriage ceremony . . .”

You didn’t have to tell her twice. Shěn Lí understood this matter better than anyone else. It was just that she really couldn’t leave! She looked to Xíng Yún and watched as he used her spear to poke at a baby demon’s bottom. He reacted with surprise when it dissipated before it even had a chance to cry out. He sighed and turned the tip of the spear towards his face studying it closely.

Shěn Lí turned to Mò Fāng. With a complicated expression on her face she rubbed the space between her brow. Sighing she said, “I know, but I can’t leave right now.”

“Your Highness?” Mò Fāng was really confused. He didn’t think the Azure Sky king had the word “can’t” in her vocabulary. It was either “do” or “don’t.” Where did “can’t” even come from? His brain couldnt compute what she said. He couldn’t help but continue to stare at her with a blank expression.

“After spending time here in the mortal world . . . I have fallen for someone.” She looked at Xíng Yún as she spoke.

Mò Fāng turned to follow her gaze. What he saw was a distracted looking man, disorderly attired, pale faced, weak looking, and very importantly – mortal. The vision only made him more confused. This guy?! He’s so . . . I don’t get it.

The two watched as Xíng Yún lost his grip and dropped the spear. It rolled on the ground and hit several baby demons, immediately causing them to dissipate on contact while a few others dissipated simply by proximity. Xíng Yún chased after the spear but the constant coughing that wracked his body would make him stumble and accidentally kick the spear, making it roll away again. It took him three tries before he finally grasped it.

Mò Fāng couldn’t help but wonder. This person captured the king’s heart?

Shěn Lí sighed watching him. “Yes, he is the one. I would never have expected either . . .” She shook her head. Looking up she saw Mò Fāng’s frown. “He is different from us. His body is worn out and will not be able to withstand many ordeals. As things stand, it is not safe for him here. I must put things in order for him first before leaving. Although I have taken a fancy to him, I know that as a demon I walk a different path than him. A mortal’s life is short and their memories do not carry forth from one life to the next.” Shěn Lí’s voice was gentle but firm. “I won’t stay with him, but I will give him a safe life.”

Mò Fāng silently looked down averting his gaze. After hearing the resolution in her voice, he knew she had made her decision. Once she set her mind there would be no swaying her so he said, “This subordinate will share in Your Highness’s worries, and will do as commanded.”

“Half a day.” Shěn Lí walked to Xíng Yún. “Stall them for half a day. I will finish this matter then.”

“As Your Highness commands. I will try my utmost to do so.”

“Thank you!”

With the decision made Mò Fāng didn’t linger. He disappeared like the wind, intent on his mission.

Shěn Lí took the spear from Xíng Yún’s hand. When she did so he told her, “Your spear is really powerful.”

“That you could hold onto it for so long is impressive. You are also quite powerful.” Her spear was obviously no ordinary spear. It had taken countless lives with an aura that was enough to intimidate and instill fear in most creatures. Just seeing it would make people’s emotions fluctuate. Xíng Yún appeared utterly unaffected by it, so in a sense he was also a master.

Shěn Lí changed the topic. Looking around in a circle she whispered, “Xiǎo Hé should not have gone far. Where could she be hiding?”

“Well just ask yourself, where would a child who is beaten and wounded go?” Xíng Yún smiled. “Where else but back home?”

“The lake!” Shěn Lí exclaimed. Xiǎo Hé’s true form was a lotus. Since she wasn’t out causing damage she had to be hiding there. Shěn Lí was very happy to have the mystery solved. She stepped forward about to head over when she realized something. She turned to Xíng Yún and suspiciously asked, “You wouldn’t have told me if I hadn’t asked, would you?”

“How could that be?” Xíng Yún smiled slightly. “You’re thinking too much of it. I just thought with your intelligence you would have already figured it out . . .”

Shěn Lí gave him a look but decided not to say anything. She had a strange feeling. Whether intentionally or not, it felt like Xíng Yún was hindering her progress and forcing her to stay longer than necessary.

She walked towards the lake with the lotus earlier. The unopened lotus tonight was no longer pink like yesterday. From stem to bloom, everything was dyed a deep red as if blood was flowing into it.

She picked up a nearby stone and flicked it into the lake. “Come out.” There was no response. “Alright then, don’t blame me for my actions.” With a murderous glint in her eyes she formed the silver spear in her hand. Just as she finished forming it, Xíng Yún grabbed her hand. She frowned and asked, “What are you doing?”

Xíng Yún whispered as he let go, “I didn’t expect you’d go directly to taking her life. If you look at it, she’s just an innocent. She’s just a child. If you kill her now, I’m afraid that when you look back on this you’ll regret it.”

“Oh? You suddenly have the heart of a Bodhisattva?” She stared at him. “I’m going to end this now. If she refuses to cooperate, I’ll just take the most direct approach.” She pushed past Xíng Yún. Her voice was cold as she spoke, “I’m not that kind-hearted. For the sake of my objective I will put my conscience to the side. Now get out of the way.”

Shěn Lí was always decisive when facing the enemy even if it meant being cruel and indifferent. She was never merciful or kind. They were traits a leader needed to have. Xíng Yún stopped trying to block her. He thought there were a lot of sides to her. She was interesting.


The surface of the water rippled as a shrill scream came out of the lotus flower. Xiǎo Hé slowly emerged, slowly taking human form. If it weren’t for the resentment dying her face red, she would have looked like a beautiful fairy transforming. “Why?! Why would you help him?!” She raged, her eyes bloodshot and senseless. Once fully transformed she rushed at Shěn Lí.

Great, saves me time, thought Shěn Lí. She grabbed Xiǎo Hé by the wrist and in one smooth motion pushed her out and twisted her arm behind her back. She dismissed the spear in her other hand and forced Xiǎo Hé’s neck down onto the fence, completely immobilizing her.

Xíng Yún watched fascinated by her speed. Then something completely unexpected happened. He watched as Shěn Lí smacked Xiǎo Hé’s bottom fiercely with her hand. Was Xiǎo Hé being spanked?

“Admit your wrongs!” Shěn Lí yelled.

“Me?! Wrong?! The one in the wrong is Zhū Chéngjǐn!”

Shěn Lí wasn’t in the mood to argue. Patah! Patah! The sounds of fierce bottom smacking repeatedly echoed in the courtyard. Xiǎo Hé screamed as she struggled wildly to escape. She was in so much pain her body kept twitching involuntarily, but Shěn Lí showed no mercy.

“ Zhū Chéngjǐn betrayed me! I will kill him and not leave him a burial place. I’ll destroy his entire palace!”

“Admit your wrongs!”

“Why is Heaven so heartless?!”

“Admit your wrongs!”

“I’m not wrong!” Although Xiǎo Hé was still adamant, it seemed she had at least returned to her senses and calmed down.

“Admit your wrongs!”

Finally with a whimper, “I admit. I admit. Please stop!” Xiǎo Hé finally succumbed.

“How are you wrong?” Shěn Lí halted her hand in midair. She didn’t pull any punches when she went at it so her palm was red and smarted quite a bit.

Xiǎo Hé’s clothing returned to their previous colors and the lotus flower in the lake also regained its pink tone. All the baby demons throughout the palace reverted back to their spirit form. They turned invisible and floated harmlessly in the air.

“I hurt others! I was wrong! I won’t do it anymore!” Xiǎo Hé slumped to the ground once Shěn Lí released her. She didn’t stay down for long though and ran quickly back to the lake in tears.

Xíng Yún was once again really surprised. “Wow. So spanking also work - a simple yet effective method.”

“Weren’t you the one that reminded me she was just a child?” Shěn Lí looked at the weeping Xiǎo Hé in the lake. “She has the temperament of a child, wanting revenge when wronged. But in the end, she didn’t really intend to kill Prince Ruì, just hurt him a little. Like in the room, she could have killed him at anytime, but all she did was block the exit.”

Shěn Lí sighed. “She ran back home the moment she got injured. If it weren’t for all the unformed demon spirits in the yard, she probably would have just hid in her lake and not caused any trouble. Of course a spanking would work on a child like that. Don’t get me wrong, if she hadn’t come out I would have destroyed her, completely and utterly without any mercy.”

Xíng Yún laughed. “Very militarily minded of you.”

Shěn Lí let Xiǎo Hé cry for awhile. Then she walked to her and patted her on the shoulder. “I understand where you’re coming from, but this is the end of the matter. Crying more isn’t going to do anything. You should leave here and go somewhere else. I’ll go back to Prince Ruì and tell him I killed you. There won’t be anything he can do about it.”

Xiǎo Hé was still sniffling but she stopped crying. She said, “I don’t . . . I still don’t believe it,” and fell to the ground as though all her strength evaporated. “He was so good to me. But he only saw me as a cure for her, as hope for her. In the end I wasn’t an alternative . . . just a temporary substitute to groom into medicine for her.”

Not knowing how to comfort the girl ,Shěn Lí could only remain silent and watch. Xíng Yún spoke up. “Well yes, you do smell like medicinal herb. There’s nothing wrong with stewing you.”

Shěn Lí slapped him for speaking.

Undeterred he continued with, “You’re still alive, not to mention you’re clever, so instead of being turned into medicine for someone else, why not leave?”

c14: Death for Love

c14: Death for Love

After thinking a bit, Xiǎo Hé finally replied. “From the moment I gained cognizance of the world to now, he has always been the most important person to me. If I leave, I won’t be able to see him again. Even though I’m nothing to him, I still want to see him.” Her eyes started tearing up from memories of the past. “I worked so hard to become a person, to speak, to learn the rules, so I could please him . . . only him . . . not so I’d be killed by him. Sob!”

Shěn Lí sighed and looked down at her. “My words may sound cruel but you have to listen to them. That Prince Ruì, he raised you with one goal in mind. And that was to use you for his wife’s resurrection. That is your only value to him. No matter what you do or how much you try, that won’t change. Do you understand?” Shěn Lí cupped Xiǎo Hé’s face in her hand and wiped the tears away with her thumb. “So be good to yourself and let’s leave here. Forget about him. There are so many other wonderful things out in the world for you to explore.”

Xíng Yún looked at Shěn Lí while Xiǎo Hé stared at them with a conflicted expression. She lowered her head in between her knees and spoke with her head down like that. “I want to see what kind of woman this Yè Shī is, that he would be willing to spend so much effort for. I want to know the difference between us.”

Shěn Lí looked up to Xíng Yún for help. He obliged with, “I guess sometimes reality has to smack you really hard before you can accept it.”

Shěn Lí’s heart was filled with things she wanted to say. She knew that even if Xiǎo Hé was a better woman than Yè Shī, Prince Ruì still wouldn’t choose her. It was as simple as that. But seeing Xiǎo Hé be so persistent, she swallowed the words in her heart. Instead she said, “Alright. We’ll go together, but you’ll hide in the passageway until I can get rid of Prince Ruì. Once I do, you can stare at Yè Shī as much as you like." It couldn’t do any harm since the woman was dead. "Xíng Yún, you keep an eye on her until then.” Shěn Lí figured this was the best course of action.

With that said, Shěn Lí teleported them back to the passageway. Shěn Lí made eye contact with Xíng Yún and nodded her head once they were inside. He picked up on her cue and used his body to block Xiǎo Hé, being sure to keep her behind him.

Shěn Lí walked into the room and announced, “I’ve killed Xiǎo Hé.”

Prince Ruì didn’t turn his head at her voice, instead he remained stiff and silent.

“The resentful spirits have also turned back to normal. Come. I’ll escort you out.”

Prince Ruì smiled coldly and only said, “Why go out?” He leaned over and kissed his wife’s forehead. “Yè Shī isn’t going to wake up, so what does it matter if I live or not?”

Xiǎo Hé fisted her hands when she heard him say this; the light in her eyes dimmed as she stood in the passageway.

“I, Zhū Chéngjǐn, was greedy and asked for too much, wanting both the throne and military power. I thought Yè Shī was just a woman, but who knew that she already worked her way into my heart. These last three years, all I’ve dreamt about is her waking up. But everyday I wake up disappointed. I had all my hopes pinned on Xiǎo Hé. With her gone I have nothing left.” Prince Ruì smiled. “You go, I’ll remain here and keep Yè Shī company.”

His words stunned Shěn Lí. His face looked empty and his eyes dead. To think someone could really die from a broken heart. But if he died, who would shelter Xíng Yún?

Before Shěn Lí could think any further, Xiǎo Hé rushed passed her and slapped Prince Ruì in the face. “I hate you!”

Prince Ruì stared blankly at her. Shěn Lí watched as Xiǎo Hé’s figure turned into a ball of white light and floated into Yè Shī’s body while the remnants of her tears fell on Prince Ruì’s hand. From the bed Ye Shi coughed lightly, getting everyone’s attention. Prince Ruì immediately lost his dazed look and flicked the tear droplets off his hand.

Shěn Lí sighed softly. That silly girl. She could still hear the sounds of Xiǎo Hé’s cries ringing in her ears, her questions asking, “Why me? If I never became a person, I would never have met him.” She was only a supporting character in Prince Ruì’s story. Why did she sacrifice herself for a man like that?

“Cough . . . cough . . .” Yè Shī coughed more violently. Prince Ruì’s eyes were bright and filled with joy. He kept saying, “Yè Shī. Yè Shī. Hang on, I’ll get you out of here.” He carefully picked her up and turned to Shěn Lí. “The exit is blocked. Will you unblock it for me?” It was only for this woman that Prince Ruì bowed his head and asked for help.

Shěn Lí grabbed his hand and whispered, “Xiǎo Hé worked so hard for you. You know she was devastated when she found out why you were raising her. She didn’t want to be killed by you, but in the end, she sacrificed herself for you anyway.”

Prince Ruì listened to her silently.

“Blame me for being careless. You raised her from the very beginning, how could you not detect her presence. Prince Ruì . . . you played your hand really well. It’s just that . . .” Although she didn’t finish her sentence, he could guess what she wanted to say.

Xiǎo Hé saw through him as well, but ultimately still chose to follow her heart. Her “hate” wasn’t just meant for him, but also for herself and her inability to escape from him. She was truly lovesick and a fool.

In the silence, Shěn Lí turned to Xíng Yún and said, “I’ll send them out first. Wait here for me.”

Xíng Yún hid his hand behind his back, leaned against a wall and nodded his head. Shěn Lí was so intent on wrapping things up she didn’t notice Xíng Yún’s odd behavior or the heavy shadows under his eyes. She grabbed Prince Ruì’s hand and teleported them outside.

There was an unnatural stillness in the palace. Prince Ruì saw the bodies of several guards and servants lying about on the ground and floating in the lake as he looked around. He turned to Shěn Lí intending to ask about the situation, but she disappeared before he could say anything. Yè Shī coughed harshly again. He looked down at her, then hurriedly walked across the bridge over the lake. As he did so, his gaze involuntarily went to the lotus in the center.

With its owner dead, the leaves and flowers were withered and shrunken, their color and vibrancy gone. The memory of a pink dressed girl came back to him. He had embraced her after she flew over to him. And though she was mute, her feelings were conveyed by the genuine smile on her lips and the radiance of her eyes. She alternated between pressing her cheeks against his chest and lifting her head up to gaze at his face. Finally she was able to stutter, “Zhu . . . Zhū, Hé [notes] likes. Zhū He likes?” He had replied without hesitation. “Yes.” The lie that rolled so easily off his tongue deceived the girl and captivated her heart. She smiled a devastatingly bright smile. It was so pure it made him realize how dark his own heart was. Liar. Big fat liar! That girl was gone forever now. Zhū Chéngjǐn hated himself, but he knew he had to keep moving forward.

Once Shěn Lí returned to the underground room, she walked to the stone bed and slammed her hand on top of it. The bed smashed to pieces and the soul anchoring array was destroyed. This created a lot of dust and made Xíng Yún cough several times in an effort to clear his throat.

“Why take it out on the bed?” Xíng Yún continued, “I was the one that suggested you bring her here. If you’re angry about it, just say so. You’ll feel better afterwards.”

Shěn Lí closed her eyes and gradually began to calm down. “If I were her, I’d kill that man for toying with my affections.” She continued on coldly, “A man like that is not worth dying for.”

“It’s not up to the observer to decide the value.” Xíng Yún said, “As long as she was willing, no one else is qualified to say whether the choice she made was good or bad.”

“That man didn’t know what he destroyed.”

“How could he not know? It’s just that for him, Xiǎo Hé wasn’t as important.”

“This kind of emotionally manipulative man is the most despicable type!” Shěn Lí yelled in anger. She remembered the rumors about her own betrothed, Fú Róng, and how he was a philanderer flitting around every which way. Thinking about it made her seriously annoyed. “Any man I like better have eyes only for me. I’ll crush every single bone in his body if he dares to engage other women.” She was so inflamed by the whole subject that her voice rose without her realizing it.

“My, such passion.”

Shěn Lí scratched her head self consciously. “Naturally this doesn’t include you. For although I said I liked you, I know we do not have a future together. Therefore, you are free to see and marry whoever you wish. “

Xíng Yún couldn’t help but laugh as he listened to her speak.

Shěn Lí did not take too well to that so she brusquely said, “I don’t have time to linger here. Come on, I’ll send you out.”

“OK.” Xíng Yún intended to reach out for her hand, but before he could, a wave of pain hit him so hard it forced him to crouch down and groan involuntarily. He grabbed his belly and vomited a large amount of black blood.

Shěn Lí was shocked. “What’s wrong?”

He wanted to answer her but his mouth kept filling up with bile and blood, forcing him to vomit again and again.

Shěn Lí hurriedly moved to support him. Once she had him leaning on her shoulder, she pulled his arm, intending to check his pulse. When she did so, she saw the burn hole in the palm of his hand. “When did you get this injury!?” Shěn Lí was furious. She recognized it for what it was, a burn made by the fluids from the demons earlier. “Why didn’t you tell me earlier!?”

The circumference of the wound had festered through the course of the night and gotten bigger. Demon babies were transformed by resentment, so their bodily fluids were not only corrosive, but extremely toxic as well. Even for ordinary people this type of wound would be considered serious. So for Xíng Yún who was already weak to begin with . . . how was he able to withstand it without saying anything for so long?

Shěn Lí had to refrain herself from beating him. She knew if she started, she could lose it and really kill him. Instead she could only gnash her teeth and teleport them out into the palace grounds. “Poisoned and vomiting blood! You must really want to kill me with worry huh?”

Xíng Yún truly looked terrible with black blood residue on his lips and his skin such a pale color he was nearly translucent. He smiled a tiny smile as he said, “I was trying to hold it back, but in the end I couldn’t.”

“Just shut up already! Showing off and trying to be a hero when you’re already so weak . . .”

“Uhn. . . ” Xíng Yún barely had the strength to mutter a reply but he still sighed and spoke. “I didn’t abandon you when you were down.”

c15: Local Land Gods

c15: Local Land Gods

Shěn Lí was afraid physical exertion would make the poison spread even faster, so she wasn’t too picky and chose the first room they came across to rest in. She laid Xíng Yún on the bed and looked around. There wasn’t a single soul in sight. She could only clench her teeth and do what she could to lessen his pain. Picking up his hand she quickly bit the back of it. “This will help to alleviate some of your pain. I don’t know how to heal you and the doctors around here won’t have the ability. I’ll have to leave the city and search in the outskirts of the wilderness to find one of the local land gods to heal you. It may take me some time, so just be patient and wait here for me. Don’t move or go anywhere.”

“Where would I go? Besides, look at me. It’s not like I can move anyway.”

Shěn Lí stood up and looked down at him silently. “I . . . I may not come back. But rest assured that the one I send will cure you.” She turned away before speaking again in a much more somber and grudging voice. “The distance between us . . .is as wide as the mountains and as deep as the lakes. It is doubtful we’ll ever meet again . . .Take care of yourself. For these past days . . . thank you for your care.”

And just like that Xíng Yún was left alone in the room. He was silent for some time. Then he smirked and spoke to himself, “Using that kind of voice to thank me. You sure are unwilling . . .” The cold air blew into the room despite the closed windows making the small hairs on his body stand up. He pressed his lips tightly together and sighed. “Woman, even after all this time . . . you still didn’t look properly at me.” Always making other people feel like they’re on the losing end.

 . . .

Originally Shěn Lí commanded Mò Fāng to stall her pursuers for half a day. She knew he would try his best, but she didn’t hold out much hope. He wouldn’t last long against the elites in the demon army. This was why she had to leave the palace as soon as possible. If the army found her in the palace, it would only bring trouble to Xíng Yún, then all the effort she put in would have been wasted. Although she was unlikely to escape from their pursuit, she could at least better her odds by fighting in the forest. She was going to give it her best, even if her strength was only 70-80% recovered.

Shěn Lí didn’t waste any time. She sped through the capital and the outskirts of the city and didn’t stop until she reached the wilderness. She found a mountain and perched on top of it to better survey the land. By this time, the sun was shining almost directly overhead and she could see the morning dew and fog had completely dissipated, giving her a clear view ahead. A quick glance around and she was able to find the place with the most spiritual energy. She leapt up, her robes fluttering with the speed of her movement. With her palms out she commanded, “Come!”

Light poured out of her outstretched palm spreading quickly around her entire body. The rocks shook and all the wildlife nearby, fled sensing danger. She landed easily in a clearing in the forest. In this clearing were many figures of different forms and genders, some human shaped, some not. They stood looking in fear at her waiting for the light to disperse.

Shěn Lí knew that the demonic aura she unleashed would scare them but she had no time to explain. Their fear was also useful so she put on a cold expression. “Who here knows how to heal?”

The local land gods looked at one another before a young man with antlers on his head finally stepped forward. “ . . .I . . .” The moment Shěn Lí’s eyes fell on him he immediately cowered, covering his face with his arms and screamed, “Ah! Don’t kill me!”

Shěn Lí’s lips quirked up on one side. She resumed speaking once she felt her facial expression was more neutral. “In the capital, in Prince Ruì’s palace, you will find a person lying in the westernmost room. His name is Xíng Yún, and he was injured by some demonic spirits filled with malicious grievances. His body is weak and he is currently dying. I’m here to find someone to save him.”

After this explanation everyone sighed in relief. So that was why. An old man with a white beard stepped forward. “I see. Hú Lù, you go with this person.”

Hú Lù quivered uncontrollably as he looked at Shěn Lí.

Shěn Lí said, “I can’t go. You’ll have to go and find this person alone.” She stared at Hú Lù coldly before continuing. “How long will it take to heal this type of wound?”

“A . . . about half an hour.“

“Good.” Shěn Lí waved her hand and her spear appeared. She raised it up then slammed it down with a thunderous bang, burying the hilt three inches deep into the ground.

Hú Lù couldn’t help but raise one leg up to his belly and wrap his arms around his chest before screaming again. A cold sweat broke out on his forehead and he became even more nervous. Sssss . . . scary!

“If you’re not back in half an hour I will use this spear to kill everyone here within a three hundred mile radius.”

Hú Lù’s legs went soft and he laid petrified on the ground.

Shěn Lí looked up at the sky. “Time starts now.”

The bearded old man angrily stepped forward and shook Hú Lù. “Still not leaving?!”

Hú Lù came to his senses and burrowed into the ground. Shěn Lí could see that the small gods were visibly afraid of her, but she was too lazy to bother with them right then. Her attention was on the dark clouds forming in the sky. They covered a large area and was clearly in the direction of the capital. If she was correct, the cloud represented the number of people sent to bring her back. Such a large number? The Demon emperor had to be hell bent on bringing her back.

She clenched her hands into fists really hating Fú Róng with all her heart. The Immortal emperor wasn’t exempt either. But the one she hated the most was that unknown idler who proposed the marriage alliance between the Immortal realm and the Demon realm. As if a marriage would really bring the two realms closer. Please. It was a joke she wished she wasn’t a part of. If those in the Immortal realm could make the lives of demons living in the Demon realm better, that would be great. But instead, what they had were immortals with too much free time on their hands playing matchmaker to consolidate a “friendship” between the two realms.

From her vantage point, she could see that the black clouds had reached the capital. It made her frown. She was afraid those pursuing her would hurt Xíng Yún. But then again, she was probably just thinking too much. They couldn’t know about her relationship with him. Besides she was here in the woods, and she had just used her powers to summon the land gods, so they had to be heading in her direction soon. All the same, she would stop worrying once they moved away from the capital.

The little god from earlier, Hú Lù, seemed like an honest type. She believed he would heal Xíng Yún without any issues. Then, she could finally stop worrying about Xíng Yún, and start figuring how to escape her own marriage instead.

As the minutes ticked by, she began to get a bad premonition. The clouds remained above the capital for too long. They should have moved toward her by now. Why hadn’t they?

Suddenly the ground shuddered and Hú Lù emerged from the ground his clothes in tatters, his eyes red with tears, and his nose dripping with snot. He went to Shěn Lí with his face in his hands. “Please don’t kill me! Please don’t kill everyone here! I tried. I really tried!” He sniffled. “But I was blocked by the people there. The guys in black were all strong and fierce. I was no match for them. They beat me up badly.”

Shěn Lí’s face changed slightly. “Speak clearly!”

Hú Lù thumped his butt on the ground and wiped the snot from his nose. “I went . . . I found the one you call Xíng Yún. He knew I was there to help him. He smiled at me and even said thank you.” Hú Lù looked at Shěn Lí. “I really wanted to save him!” He sniffled again. “I was about to start when a guy in black armor and another guy in a red robe showed up. He asked me why a local god like me was in the city. I answered them straight away . . . but as a result, they wouldn’t let me heal the man! The one in red told me to come back and tell you to go to them . . . otherwise . . . otherwise they will kill the one called Xíng Yún.”

Shěn Lí grimaced. A man in black armor and a man in a red robe huh? She had a good idea who they were. To have the black and green generals appear . . . The emperor had to be really angry. She hesitated now that she knew the generals were in the picture. In her current condition, she didn't think she could escape unscathed. Aside from the two, she wondered who else had been called in to capture her.

“What about the man, Xíng Yún?”

“He’s dying. I took his pulse and found that his body is naturally weak, combine this with the exhaustion he’s suffered the past few days and his ability to fight the poison . . . well it’s not good. The poison has already made its way into his internal organs. He will die soon if no one saves him.”

Shěn Lí looked in the direction of the capital, raised her arms and called for her spear. She jumped and her figure immediately disappeared in a blast of air.

The local gods started talking as soon as she left.

“This fella . . . so scary!”

“Must be a person of the Demon realm. So overbearing and mean. Are you hurt Hú Lù?”

“Uh . . .” Hú Lù wiped at his tears. “I’m OK.”

Someone noticed something on his elbow. “Hey. What’s that there on your elbow?”

“Eh. What?” Hú Lù kept turning around trying to see what was on his elbow.

“It says “escape.’ Who would use blood to write that on your elbow?”

Hú Lù scratched his head. “Uh! That man named Xíng Yún. He must have wanted the woman to leave but she didn’t see it.”

 . . .

Inside the palace Xíng Yún sat quietly on the bed letting the man in red look his fill at him. He didn’t appear angry and only smiled before saying, “You’re so calm. Aren’t you worried about the situation you’re in? For a guy who looks like he’s about to keel over any second, you don’t look too concerned.”

“Will worrying let me live longer?” Xíng Yún laughed. “If so, I’ll give it a try.”

This made Chì Róng laugh. “You are certainly someone the Azure Sky king would fancy.” He turned to the door and waved his hand to the person there. “Hey Qīng Yán! You have to come over here and chat with this guy. He’s pretty fun to tease.”

The one at the door didn’t move. He only spoke from the doorway. “You should stop molesting him. You know how the Azure Sky king is.”

Chì Róng was just about to tap Xíng Yún on the nose when his hand stopped mid-air at those words. He immediately took his hand back. “Thanks for the warning. That guy can be real vindictive.”

Xíng Yún looked at the scene without saying anything, just smiled his usual smile.

Suddenly the feeling in the air changed, making Qīng Yán turn his head up. There was a shimmering light in Chì Róng’s eyes as he spoke loudly into the sky. “The Demon emperor has declared that if the Azure Sky king, Shěn Lí, refuses to return to the palace, then we are authorized to use excessive force, to break your hands and feet, to cripple and break your bones, in order to tie you up and bring you back to the palace. I’ve always been soft hearted when it comes to dealing with good acquaintances. So to force your hand, my only recourse will be to kill this man . . .”

Before his voice even faded away the roof split and a red tasseled silver spear pierced into the ground near Chì Róng’s feet. The murderous aura emitted made him take a cautious step back. This was followed by the louder sound of the roof crashing in as Shěn Lí descended. She struck out with two strokes of her spear forcing the unarmed Chì Róng to further retreat.

She went to stand next to Xíng Yún. Lifting the dazzling spear up she demanded, “With this king here, who would dare?”

c16: Capture

c16: Capture

The atmosphere in the small room turned dangerously tense. Although Chì Róng still had a smile on his face, he had taken out his fan. Qīng Yán likewise had also drawn his sword from its scabbard. Even though they were brothers in arms, both sides knew that if a fight erupted it would be a fierce battle without mercy.

“Your Highness.” Chì Róng shook his fan and laughed. “You have given the emperor quite a bit of trouble. He is furious and has even called on all four generals to search for you.” He looked at Xíng Yún behind her. “Your Highness can keep yourself safe, but the one behind you is a different story. I hope that Your Highness can properly read the situation and cooperate with us.”

Shěn Lí ignored his words. Instead she glanced at Xíng Yún out of the corner of her eye. “You still alive?”

“Yeah.” Xíng Yún nodded his head and smiled slightly. “Not for long though.”

“You’re not allowed to die.” Shěn Lí switched the silver spear to her left hand and sliced her right palm with the blade.

Qīng Yán frowned. He was about to approach her when she scattered the blood in an arc on the ground. Qīng Yán stepped on the blood and felt like his body was encased in flames. He immediately used his power to scatter the heat and used his hand to protect his eyes before jumping back.

At the same time, Shěn Lí flipped her spear upside down and slammed the blade into the floor and let her blood run down into the ground. A golden light flashed and Shěn Lí and Xíng Yún were encased within the barrier, providing them with two feet of distance between the generals. Shěn Lí tore a strip of cloth off her garment and used it to wrap the cut on her hand. She looked at Xíng Yún. “You’re not allowed to die if I’m here.”

Despite the fierceness of the flames and the light all around them, Shěn Lí’s figure was the most dazzling sight in Xíng Yún’s vision. In fact, it was so mesmerizing he almost forgot himself. He was brought back to his senses when Shěn Lí lifted him up by the armpits, propped him up then lifted him onto her back. Her body heat radiated itself into him, warming up even his internal organs. He barely had enough energy to curve his lips in his characteristic smile. His dark ambiguous eyes didn’t reveal his thoughts.

“Highness!” Qīng Yán was shocked. “A blood sacrifice can injure the soul. Your wedding is so close at hand. Please consider your health.”

Shěn Lí sneered. “You two were going to break my limbs and deliver me tied up to the wedding. Compared to that, this is just a bit of soul injury. No big deal.” She couldn’t physically see outside the house but she could use her senses to explore the placement of the soldiers outside. She wanted to force her way out, so she needed to find the direction with the least surveillance. She also wanted to limit the amount of bloodshed.

Chì Róng and Qīng Yán were quick, and picked up on her plans instantly. They shared a look and reached the same conclusion: they could no longer delay. Both readied their weapons. Then they decisively cut an opening in the flames and charged forward. The collision of qi between the parties instantly turned the room into ash. Before the dust settled, countless arrow rays of light shot down from the sky. In the chaos, a figure in red and another in black jumped out.

Qīng Yán fell to one knee and had to brace his hands on the ground to keep from being pushed farther out. The armor on his shoulder cracked with a loud bang. Chì Róng, on the other hand, had slammed into the pillars supporting the bridge. He turned his palm into talons and grabbed onto a pillar to pull himself out. He wiped the blood off his face and smiled. “This is my first spar with Her Highness. Her power is truly formidable.”

A golden light flickered through the settling dust as though on the verge of extinguishing. It quickly regained its strength and glowed more brightly and magnificently than before. Shěn Lí stood in the light with Xíng Yún at her side, one hand holding onto her shoulder. He wasn’t injured, but the toxin invasion of his body had weakened him so much he could barely stand. In fact, he could barely even speak, having to whisper in Shěn Lí’s ear. “Why . . .”

His breath moved the tiny hairs on her temples and blew blood into her face. She wiped it away and said, “Cut it out and stop talking so much. I’m not going to let you die.” Her voice was because of her injury.

Xíng Yún grinned at that. “Shěn Lí . . . life and death are fated . . . It doesn’t matter what you say and it doesn’t matter what I say.” He sighed. “You . . .”

Before Xíng Yún could labor through the rest of his speech Qīng Yán attacked. Shěn Lí embraced Xíng Yún’s waist with one hand and used her other hand to swing her silver spear, sending a sharp blade of golden qi at Qīng Yán. He easily dodged it thinking that her attack was really too simple. Seriously? A full-on frontal attack? Where was the finesse? Who knew it would suddenly shift directions and slice through the sky? A feeling of foreboding gripped him. Not good! Not good! But it was too late for him to stop it. The qi force struck the black cloud overhead, forcing the soldiers there to scatter for cover, creating the exact opening Shěn Lí needed.

She grabbed her chance and flew to the opening with Xíng Yún in her arm. Qīng Yán sneered. “Highness thinks too little of us!” He disappeared only to reappear directly in front of her. “To attempt to outrun me even with a burden by your side?”

Qīng Yán wielded his sword in an arc and a powerful force slammed into Shěn Lí. Though she blocked it, she was forced to take several steps back. Suddenly, Xíng Yún’s grip on her shoulder loosened and his body began to slide down her side. She squeezed him tightly to keep him up. “Don’t add to the confusion.”

“That was unintentional. My back just really hurts.” Xíng Yún reluctantly squeezed out a reply.

Shěn Lí still had a lot of spiritual energy so it was no problem for her use one arm to hold him up by the waist. But without the ground for support she had to use more force to do so. The pressure was really killing him! There was no helping it though, she couldn’t very well put him down. She could only grit her teeth and tell him, “Bear with it.” With that she waved her spear, piercing it through the sky.

“Watch the west where the land gods are! She’ll want to head there!” shouted Chì Róng. Since she wanted to heal Xíng Yún, he was sure she would head in that direction.

The black clouds holding the soldiers quickly reassembled in the west.

Shěn Lí charged forward, the golden light encompassing her and Xíng Yún. The silver spear in her hand gave off a murderous aura with an oppressive amount of killing intent. “Out of my way or die!”

The soldiers in her way had blood in their eyes as they waited for her to attack. Suddenly a strange force came from the black cloud. It pushed her back several feet and it felt like she was being held in place.

Droplets of sweat formed on her forehead as she tried to press against the force binding her. “This power . . .ugh . . .” Her voice trailed off, her golden light shield shattered, and an invisible force hit her square in the face. Her body shot out, knocked back to the palace grounds and hit the stone floor with a strong impact. After the dust settled, she looked down to find Xíng Yún on top of her, unconscious, but otherwise uninjured from the fall. Shěn Lí dropped her bloody head back down on the ground. The dizziness overwhelmed her and she had to stay down. It was some time before she recovered.

Chì Róng and Qīng Yán made their way to the pit created by her fall. Next to them stood another man. Dressed in a robe of gold decorated with black trim, he stood with the sun at his back and letting the wind toy with his hair ribbon, causing them to flutter loosely in front of him.

“To dare lay hands on your comrades, you’ve grown bolder.” Chì Róng and Qīng Yán couldn’t help but kneel at the sound of his voice. The tone was a commanding and majestic one that demanded immediate obedience. From his voice the two knew he was very angry.

“Your Majesty we beseech you to calm your anger.” It appeared that the Demon emperor personally came to fetch Shěn Lí.

As for Shěn Lí, her focus was on Xíng Yún. His breathing was shallower and his body had considerably cooled. Her heart felt cold and a sense of powerlessness came over her. To have to fight such a power . . .

“Out.” The emperor ordered.

Shěn Lí wiped the blood from her lips, grasped Xíng Yún firmly, and leapt out of the pit. She laid him down gently and felt for his pulse. Weak, but still alive.

“Explain to me what you did wrong.” This time the voice that came through the silver mask the emperor wore was a little flat.

Shěn Lí looked at Xíng Yún. “I don’t know. I don’t know what is wrong with not wanting to marry someone I don’t love. I don’t know what is wrong with fighting back when forced. I don’t know what is wrong with not wanting to be confined to the Immortal realm. I don’t know what I’ve done wrong.” She looked at the eyes behind the silver mask defiantly.

“Your Majesty has submitted to the will of the Immortal realm for more than a thousand years. Those idle immortals while their days away in leisure, enjoying themselves in the Immortal realm while those in the Demon realm shoulder the burden of overseeing the spatial temporal rifts. The miasma that flow from the rift create a perpetual cloud of darkness destroying the vegetation, leaving the land lifeless and barren. It is a miserable life for those in the Demon realm. As royal aristocrats, are we not responsible for our own people? Why must we spend so much effort to guard the rifts in the Ruined Abyss and subjugate the malevolent beasts for them?” Shěn Lí sneered. “I have no respect for that kind of the Immortal realm. What’s wrong with not wanting to marry into it?”

Both Chì Róng and Qīng Yán were silent. The emperor was silent for a moment as well before speaking. “There is nothing wrong with you holding your view, however you violated my commandment.” With that the emperor waved his hand. “Bring her for her punishment.”

Qīng Yán moved to obey the command but Shěn Lí spoke out before he could. “This king will move of her own accord!” She stared at Xíng Yún. Perhaps her gaze was too fierce for it caused him to open his eyes.

Seeing her look at him he cracked his usual smile. “Shěn Lí, why are you looking at me like you want to start something?”

“Yeah just think of it as me teasing you.”

Ignoring everyone there, she leaned over and kissed Xíng Yún on the lips. Her hair piece had cracked from earlier, leaving her hair unbound to be scattered by the wind. The cool strands draped across his cheeks, a direct contrast to her hot lips on his. The sensation gave rise to a strange feeling inside him, making him dizzy almost to the point of blacking out. Shěn Lí didn’t have experience kissing, so her kiss was more of just a fierce pressing of her lips against his. The force she used was too strong it was a little unbearable for him.

While kissing him, she reached for his injured hand and placed her index finger just at the edge of the lacerated hole. Her fingertip glowed, and a bead gradually formed at the tip. It slowly seeped into his skin and merged with the hole until it was completely filled.

“I said, you weren’t going to die.” Shěn Lí said after pulling away from the kiss. “Although you may not live well, you will at least live peacefully.”

She didn’t have the skills to cure the poison in his body but she did have the ability to lessen the potency. The glow she infused into his body earlier was a portion of the magical essence she cultivated. By adding it into his body, there would be a natural counter to the toxin, preventing it from spreading further. He would live in pain for the rest of his life, but at least he would live.

She straightened her clothes, patted him on the shoulders and said, “When I said I fancied you, I meant it. It’s just that I am betrothed to another and can not stay with you. Take care.”

Shěn Lí turned and left without a backward glance, taking the other three with her. The dark clouds soon dispersed after their departure.

Xíng Yún laid on the ground feeling uncomfortable because of the conflict inside his body from Shěn Lí’s magical essence and the poison. Despite this, he was feeling much better than before with some color returning to his lips. He unconsciously looked up at the sky and touched his mouth. He smirked and whispered to himself. “You want to be with me . . . I also wish to be with you.” As he finished, a strand of hair landed on his face. He pinched it between his fingers but couldn’t quite find the wherewithal to laugh.  

He didn’t have the ability to be with her.

In time the clouds and mist passed by.

 . . .

“Why did you expend five hundred years of cultivation for him?” The emperor asked as he stepped onto a cloud. “An ordinary mortal . . . In a hundred years he’ll enter into the cycle of reincarnation and forget all about you.”

Chì Róng and Qīng Yán were surprised when they heard this. Although demons lived a long time, and it was possible to regain cultivation through training and study, five hundred years was still a lot. It was especially significant for Shěn Lí because she was a commander. For those who staked their lives in battle, where the distance between life and death was razor thin, five hundred years of cultivation strength was no small matter! However most shocking to them was the recipient.

Shěn Lí’s hand was bound by a chain and her hair was scattered loosely giving her an untidy and disheveled appearance. Her eyes, though, were full of conviction. “I wanted to.”

The emperor’s face under his mask resembled a sneer. “You’re just worried I’ll send someone to kill him.” He looked at her very coldly before continuing with his thoughts. “But really, why would I need to do something like that? In a year or two he’ll forget all about you, get married, have kids, and live a completely normal mortal life. Be at ease. I will not act against him.”

Shěn Lí was silent, but in her head, she was thinking that the scenario the emperor posed was not bad. She thought about the courtyard and the time she spent there. The feeling and the sound of the breeze as it blew through the trellis, the warmth of the sun and the smell of food wafting in the air. She remembered the first time she woke up there and the sight of Xíng Yún that greeted her that day. He was lounging in the rattan chair with his eyes closed and the sun on his body. They were peaceful days. She hoped Xíng Yún would continue like that. She hoped he would find someone to share it with, to accompany him through life, even if that person wasn’t her. Living in solitude would be too lonely.

She took a deep breath and gazed out into the distance, suddenly understanding how Xiǎo Hé must have felt. It wasn’t about whether something was worth it or not, but more so about whether you were willing or not.

c17: Release

c17: Release

The ice and cold made the doors stiff and hard to move. Once opened, a harsh blast of frigid air gushed out, revealing a cavernous room within. An ice stalagmite stood at each corner, reaching nearly ten feet high. Bound in the center was a spherical crystal ball of ice. It was completely clear, allowing for an unobstructed view of the woman who lay curled up inside. Her eyes were closed as though in deep slumber. She was clad in a dark robe while her hair lay unbound in loose waves around her.

The sound of footsteps in the room broke the frozen silence and the woman immediately opened her eyes. They were bright and clear with no hint of confusion.

The messenger knelt on one knee and kowtowed in salute. “Your Highness. Your confinement has been lifted.” He uncorked a small vial of blood and poured the liquid on the floor. This made the four ice stalagmites in the corner glow and the ice crystal in the center to gradually melt. After shrinking to half their original size, the crystal lost its suspension abilities and plunged down, disturbing the layers of ice and snow on the floor. Heavy gusts of white matter fluttered in the air.

Shěn Lí needed his help to get up because her limbs were stiff from being frozen for so long. After standing up she brushed off the large flakes of ice still clinging to her body. “They sealed me in the Cold Palace of Atonement and dare to only call it a confinement?”

Like the temporal rifts that created the Ruins, the Cold Palace was a forbidden place, however there were two major differences between the two. The strength of the seal over the Cold Palace was stronger than the one over the Ruins. But unlike the Ruins, which held countless entities sealed, the Cold Palace could only hold one entity at a time. This meant that demons too powerful for normal imprisonment were executed instead of imprisoned in the palace - the space was simply too precious. In fact, it had remained unoccupied until Shěn Lí’s confinement.

Shěn Lí never dreamed she would be confined to it. To think that an endowment of marriage would the cause. For the Demon emperor to seal her away in the highest confinement, he had to have been really worried about her running away again. It went to show just how important the marriage was.

“So, the emissaries from the Immortal realm are here? I have to leave now?”

He respectfully answered with, “Please be patient Your Highness. They will not arrive until next month.”

“How long was I confined?” She still remembered the day she was ordered into her confinement. Back then, she had not been told how long her punishment would last. While inside the Cold Palace, she had completely lost track of time, a day was the same as a year to her.

“His Majesty has a deep and benevolent heart. It is now January.”

January. . . so thirty days.

The gates slammed closed behind them. Shěn Lí looked around and saw a figure in dark uniform not far away. He came forward and bowed to her.

Mò Fāng.

He spoke to the one behind Shěn Lí. “I will escort Her Highness back. You may return to your normal duties.”

Mò Fāng knelt down on one knee after the other man left. “This subordinate was unable to help Your Highness escape. Please punish accordingly!”

Shěn Lí looked down at him, sighing just a little. She patted him on the shoulders, signaling him to look up. “I know you must have tried until you were completely exhausted. You kept them at bay for nearly half a day. That was enough. It was my lack of abilities that prevented me from escaping. I was unable to properly meet your expectations.”

“Your Highness. . . ”

“Let us return home.” Shěn Lí stretched her hands up to the sky. “I haven’t been home in such a long time.”

“Your Highness. . .  there is something else I must say.” Mò Fāng paused for a moment before finally saying, “The one in the Mortal realm. . .  he passed away.”

“Yes. I figured as much.”

One day here was the equivalent to one year there, so thirty years had passed. It was expected Xíng Yún would pass on. Besides, how else could the Demon emperor feel free enough to release her? The emperor who raised her knew her personality too well.

“Let’s go back home.” Shěn Lí walked only a few steps forward before she turned around. “Were you there when he died?”

Mò Fāng nodded. “He was calm and peaceful.”

“Of course he would be. . . he’s like that.” No matter the situation, he never seemed affected. “He’s probably somewhere laughing right now.”

Mò Fāng paused for a moment remembering Xíng Yún. The last time he saw him, the man had been calmly lying in bed. He had looked at Mò Fāng for a several seconds before speaking.

“You’re Shěn Lí’s subordinate.”

It was obvious he had very little energy, barely even able to speak. He took three more breaths before gasping out a question. “Shěn Lí, how is she?”

Mò Fāng didn’t answer him and Xíng Yún didn’t press further. Instead Xíng Yún looked at him with a smile before closing his eyes and resting. He was indeed the image of indifference. Still, he had kept Shěn Lí in his thoughts even after thirty years. Mò Fāng didn’t tell this to Shěn Lí though. He only asked, “Will you look for him?”

“No.” Without turning around Shěn Lí stepped onto a cloud. “I took a fancy to the Xíng Yún of 30 years ago. Any future reincarnations of him has nothing to do with me.”

Her residence was not far from the imperial city, so Shěn Lí would able to return home quickly. People on the ground looked up as she flew by. She was used to the onlookers watching, so paid them no mind. Once she reached home, she stepped off the cloud. Shěn Lí barely regained her footing on solid ground when a figure dashed so madly towards her that the sound of wind breaking could be heard. This person only paused momentarily to kneel in greeting before throwing herself onto the ground and grabbing onto Shěn Lí's legs and crying piteously.

“Your Highness! You’re finally back! Oh Your Highness!”

Seeing this sight made Shěn Lí rub her eyebrow. “Get up. Prepare water. I want to take a bath. Is Cook here? Have Cook prepare a meal too.”

The chubby, big-bottomed girl tearfully looked up at Shěn Lí, her eyes bright with hope.

“General Mò Fāng told us earlier that Your Highness would be returning home today. Water has already been drawn for a bath and Cook has some hot steamed rice ready as well.”

Shěn Lí was surprised Mò Fāng had the foresight to prepare for her arrival. She turned around and looked back at Mò Fāng.

“If there is nothing else Your Highness, this servant asks to be excused.”

“Yes. . .  That’s fine.” Shěn Lí walked into the inner courtyard with the girl, intending to go and rest.

Shěn Lí didn’t like having too many people around, so the residence was mostly empty with just a skeletal staff on hand. This was how she liked it. Mrs. Zhang handled all the housekeeping. She was a married woman with a reticent manner about her, rarely speaking much and instead preferred to hide and avoid others.

Ròu Yā, the noisy girl from earlier, acted as a personal maidservant and server to Shěn Lí.

Aside from these two, there was one other staff member who was in charge of the kitchen. Cook was an easygoing person with a very simple and straightforward personality; however, it was rare to see Cook leave the kitchen.

As for the final member of the household. . . 

“Squawk, Highness! Highness came back! Highness!” In the corner of the room was a large parrot perched inside a cage making a tremendous racket.

“Hey, shut it!” Shěn Lí looked at the bird with a fierce stare before walking behind a screen to take her clothes off. Then she got into the tub and made herself comfortable. She kept her head just above the water and was about to take a nap when from behind the screen Parrot started up again.

“Highness ran away! Highness got caught! Must marry! Squawk Highness! Sad! Sad! Highness? Highness?! HIGHNESS?!!”

Shěn Lí mouthed something while waving her hand. With a clang, the door of the bird cage opened. Then she formed her hand into a claw used some qi to pull the bird out. With this, Parrot was caught. She pinched its wing and lifted it to eye level.

“Say, I’ve never seen you without feathers before.”

This sounded like a threat. Parrot immediately became still before erupting again. “Eh?! What? No! Highness. . .  ah! Ah! MERCY! Spare me HIGHNESS!”

Ròu Yā, who was keeping watch outside, heard the commotion and wondered what was happening. Her Highness seemed to be having a good time playing together with Parrot.

She barely cracked the door open when a bird was flung out through the gap, its bottom scraped smoothed. It looked like Parrot was trying to dig a hole to bury itself in . .  It was a stupefying scene.

“Er? . . .  Parrot?”

In an indifferent tone, Shěn Lí said, “Don’t bother with it. It can’t fly anyways.” That last part was spoken with a smirk undertone shining through.

Ròu Yā felt that perhaps Her Highness had a rough time in the Mortal realm and that maybe her experience had distorted her personality a little bit . . .

 . . .

After her bath Shěn Lí sat down to have a meal. While in the middle of it, a messenger from the imperial palace came to deliver a message. The Demon emperor wanted her to come to the palace in order to select the style of her wedding dress later in the afternoon.

After hearing the command, Shěn Lí continued to pick at the dishes in front of her in a leisurely fashion. Once the messenger left, Ròu Yā, who was fanning her at the side, expressed her grievances.

“Pick what dress? Lord Fú Róng, that playboy! It’s his good fortune that Your Highness is willing to come back and marry him. Would you believe he tried to engage the Immortal emperor in a battle of wits, as if he could really win. He kept running back to the Immortal emperor to make a fuss about how he was unwilling to pledge his love and didn’t want to take a wife. Acting as though Your Highness would demand his affections. Tch!”

Shěn Lí heard this and shot a glance at Ròu Yā. “How many times did Lord Fú Róng complain to the Immortal emperor?”

Ròu Yā seriously considered the question then scratched her head and began to count on her fingers. “Ah. . .  a lot! While Highness was in the Mortal realm Lord Fú Róng visited the Immortal emperor so many times that this servant has lost count. This servant heard that the Immortal emperor wouldn’t allow him to go out and play.”

“Oh, seems I’m not the only one suffering. I feel better then.” Shěn Lí’s heart relaxed a bit knowing the other party was suffering too.

 . . .

“Completely shameful! Utterly disgraceful!” Fú Róng whipped his sleeves around angrily causing a square shaped mahogany plate to crash to the floor. The servants nearby immediately knelt on the ground in fear.

“Your Highness, please calm your anger.”

Fú Róng, resplendent in a white robe trimmed with gold, kicked the plate away. It didn’t ease his anger and he continued ranting. “Isn’t she supposed to be fleeing from the marriage? Why the hell is she here trying to pick out the sort of wedding gown she wants? I don’t want to see that kind of thing happening!”

The servant knelt down and whispered, “The Azure Sky king was brought back a month ago.”

“Isn’t she supposed to be really good at combat? Why is she so useless now?!” Fú Róng gritted his teeth. “No! I have to beg the emperor. I can’t marry that woman!” After saying so he rushed out intending to do just that.

“Ah! Your Highness you can’t go! You’ll anger the Immortal emperor again!”

Fú Róng refused to listen and instead hurried to the Heavenly Palace hall. Once there, he pushed past the attendant without allowing the man to properly announce his presence. He shoved the hall doors open with a "bang!" and stepped inside.

Once in, he threw himself on the ground and sobbed huge alligator tears, making quite a ruckus. “Grandfather, this grandson is very bitter!” Usually, he would be scolded immediately for making a scene. It felt odd that the emperor wasn’t saying anything. Not hearing a sound, he looked up in surprise to find a figure beside his grandfather. “Eh?!”

A man stood to left of the emperor. His hair was bound with a jade hairpin, but several strands escaped and fluttered lazily around his face. He stood as straight as a board and emanated a dense amount of qi. There wasn’t a speck of dust on his pure white robe.

Fú Róng felt impending danger. He stared blankly.

The Immortal emperor suppressed his anger and spoke from his seated position on the throne. “Are you just overly emotional because Lord Xíng Zhǐ is here?”

Fú Róng stared at a loss for words, although he was wanton and negligent of his duties, even he knew the name of the deity of the ancient past – the only deity still walking the realms, Lord Xíng Zhǐ.

 . . .

Author notes: The author has something to say: We’re finally going into the second part of the story! Let’s start talking about some theories! The male lead is indeed not Fú Róng. Hahahahah! Was that revealed too late?
otwentyfirst: This seemed like a pivotal point in the story so I added the author’s notes in.
c18: Lord Xíng Zhǐ Makes an Appearance

c18: Xíng Zhǐ Makes an Appearance

[July 25, 2018]
 . . .

Fú Róng hurriedly stood up and wiped the tears and snot off his face before brushing his robe down and making himself more presentable. He bowed properly to his grandfather then to Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ. “What an unexpectedly joyous occasion to have Lord Xíng Zhǐ here with us.”

Xíng Zhǐ lightly smiled and said, “Young people are so energetic.”

The Immortal emperor heaved a sigh out of helplessness. “This person behaved disgracefully.” He stopped talking and looked at Fú Róng with a solemn expression. “Well, what happened to make you come all the way here?”

“Grandfather. . . ” Fú Róng was so aggrieved he couldn’t keep his eyes from tearing up again. He tried to speak but felt deeply embarrassed with a stranger in the room. He thought twice before continuing, but upon reflection, he realized it would lower the likelihood of him being scolded. He glanced up then plowed ahead in a more formal tone.

“Imperial Grandfather, this grandson simply can not take the Demon realm’s Azure Sky king as a wife!” He cried bitterly before continuing. “Ah! This grandson is sick. It will adversely affect the relationship between the two realms.”

At this, the Immortal emperor slammed his hand down and stood up. He was livid with anger at his grandson. “You must take me for a joke. What kind of flimsy excuse is that!?” He pointed to Fú Róng. “Sickness indeed! Considering the way you behaved before. You. . . you . . .”

The Immortal emperor gritted his teeth and stopped himself from saying anything more in front of Xíng Zhǐ. Unable to vent, his anger only grew and his heart became stifled; so much so that he had to grip the edge of the table to remain still. Finally, unable to endure, he grabbed a book on the desk and threw it at Fú Róng.

“Disgraceful! The wedding date is already set. You dare try to interrupt it? You listen to my words. Even if you have to break a leg, you are going to get married, make a proper house with your wife and give me a great-grandchild. That’s final!”

“Imperial Grandfather!” Fú Róng cried out. “The Azure Sky king is also unwilling! You saw. She ran away to escape the marriage. If this grandson marries her, she will surely vent her anger on my person! This grandson won’t be able to take it!”

“You – !” The Immortal emperor felt like exploding! He hated that this grandson never seemed to live up to expectations!

“Immortal emperor.” Lord Xíng Zhǐ broke into their conversation. “This . . .”

The Immortal emperor laughed a bit nervously before saying, “Lord Xíng Zhǐ you were amusing yourself in the Mortal realm these last few days, so you’re probably not aware, but your proposal for the Demon realm and Immortal realm be joined by marriage . . . ah. . .  the two youngsters who are to wed . . . they have some resistance to the marriage. The younger generation, they’re frivolous. When difficulty arises, they tend to run away and create a disturbance for others. Both sides have already discussed and settled the matter. It’s definitely not a problem! Since it’s Lord Xíng Zhǐ's suggestion neither parties will dare renege. Both will live together and start a family. Naturally over time they will develop affection for one another.”

At these words, Fú Róng swore to himself that he would absolutely not have children with that tigress, the Azure Sky king; nor would he ever develop any affections for her. But wait! The marriage was Lord Xíng Zhǐ’s idea? He was the one who came up with it?

Fú Róng was stunned but it didn't stop his mind from whirling. Lord Xíng Zhǐ lived in solitude for so long, did he know who was who in the Immortal realm anymore? Never mind the Immortal realm. What did he even know about the residents of the Demon realm? Ah! What criteria did he use to choose the candidates?! This lord. . .  ah . . . His random proposal just ruined my life . . . But since it’s him, I can see why grandfather was angrier than usual. Probably just doesn’t want to offend Lord Xíng Zhǐ and go against his intentions. But since I know who’s behind it now . . . I can just beg him directly, right!?

Fú Róng gathered up his courage and bowed deeply to Xíng Zhǐ before saying, “Lord Xíng Zhǐ, I am incredibly honored that you personally chose to bestow a marriage to me, however, the Azure Sky king and I do not have fate together. I heard the silver spear the Azure Sky king carries is so powerful it’s aura will oppress your heroic spirit! I. . .  I’m afraid I’m not ready to marry this type of ferocious wife. ”     

“Impudent!” The Immortal emperor scolded. Fú Róng’s entire body trembled from head to toe when faced with his grandfather’s ire. He immediately stopped talking and knelt down.

Just then another voice lightly spoke up. “Would it be convenient to delay it then?”

Fú Róng glanced up at those words. He saw Xíng Zhǐ standing there with his lips slightly hooked up in a gentle smile. Fú Róng was stumped at this image and could only stare like an idiot. Xíng Zhǐ turned and spoke to the emperor.

“Immortal emperor, since the two are so resistant to the idea, why don’t we delay the marriage for a time and let them adjust. I’m afraid if we force this situation. . . ” his gaze dropped to Ru Fongjun and his smile grew wider, “ . . . there may be bloodshed and murder.”

Fú Róng’s body turned cold and his face paled dramatically at these words.

Blood. . .  murder? Fú Róng was scared to be caught by a woman like that. He could practically feel her cold spear piercing his flesh and turning him into a sieve! With tears in his eyes, he looked to the emperor.

This look put the emperor in a bind and made him feel rather complicated. With difficulty he said, “The date has already been agreed upon by both sides, to change it now would be inappropriate.”

Xíng Zhǐ laughed and said, “It can be said that it was my fault. I saw the registry and mistook the Azure Sky king for a man. The name Fú Róng was so feminine I mistook it for an immortal woman. The names, one soft and flexible the other hard and unyielding, seemed to make a good match. It seemed I misunderstood. Since the fault was mine please accept my request to give them more time to ease into marriage so as to understand each other better. Would the Immortal emperor be willing to accede to my request?”

How could the emperor not agree after hearing Xíng Zhǐ’s words? He turned to Fú Róng and in an annoyed tone asked, “What are you doing spacing out?! Pay your respects and leave!”

Fú Róng hurriedly said his salutations and withdrew. He intended to go and nap in the palace. Stepping down the stairs he met up with his attendant who immediately asked him, “My Lord, did it go well?”

Fú Róng scratched his head and muttered, “Yeah, it went well. It’s just . . . a little odd. Since he acknowledged fault, why not just nullify the engagement instead of letting it drag on?” He continued walking forward a few more steps. “Ssss. . .  back then, was he making fun of my name, suggesting it was effeminate?”

This baffled his attendant as well, as he couldn’t quite make out what Fú Róng said. “What was that My Lord?” 

Fú Róng flipped his hair and yawned. “Don’t worry about it. Anyways this lord has a few days free, so it’s time to go and play with the pretty ladies!”

”My Lord wait! Ah! The emperor will get angry!”

 . . .

Shěn Lí was at the castle holding a meeting with several high-ranking generals about the Ruined Abyss. The troops garrisoned there had noticed a slight fluctuation in the area. The seal had held for over a thousand years without a single fluctuation, so although minor, the anomaly was taken seriously and made all those present extremely concerned.

After deliberation everyone, agreed to send Mò Fāng and Zi Xià to the boundaries of the Ruined Abyss to investigate further. Should they detect an anomaly, one of them would immediately return to report while the other would stay behind to assist the troops stationed there.

An imperial edict from the Immortal realm arrived just as the meeting was winding down. The edict stated that the marriage between Shěn Lí and Fú Róng was to be postponed. Without exception, the faces of all the generals present turned dark.

“Huh? The whole marriage thing was their idea to begin with. Now they want to postpone it? Does the big boss up there know what he’s doing?”

Shěn Lí sat down to the side without saying anything, acting as though it had nothing to do with her. Feeling the mood in the room take a dive for the worst the Demon emperor waved his hand and said, “Never mind it, everyone is dismissed.”

The group heaved a collective sigh, but did as they were told and filed out one by one. Mò Fāng glanced at Shěn Lí, and upon seeing her look of indifference, wanted to go over. However, the Demon emperor beat him to it.

“Li-er, wait a moment.” The Demon emperor used this term of endearment to call out to her to show he wasn't angry and didn't intend to lecture her. Hearing the emperor’s tone, Mò Fāng lowered his eyes and left.

Once alone in the hall the emperor asked Shěn Lí, “What do you think of this Lord Fú Róng person.”

“Lord Fú Róng is the type of person who likes to spread his favor around indiscriminately.” Shěn Lí spoke with disdain in her voice. “Just the sound of the name alone tells me he’s the type to surround himself with female companions.”

The Demon emperor glanced at her surprised at the accuracy of her assessment. “I’m surprised that you have such an accurate insight into this character.”

“It’s not that insightful.” Although she feigned an air of indifference about the whole affair, Shěn Lí actually nursed a giant dissatisfaction in her heart. She rushed to reveal her thoughts on the matter. “Actually, it’s just that Fú Róng’s reputation is well known. The gossip about this type of person is incredibly prevalent and not at all hard to come by.”

“Li-er, do you resent me for forcing you into this marriage?”

Shěn Lí turned her head before saying, “I wouldn’t dare.”

Seeing her behave this way, he knew she had to resent the imperial edict. Although she didn’t show it in her expression or in her words, the emperor knew she had to be suffering the blow to her self-esteem in silence.

“Li-er, do you know who suggested the marriage?”

“You mean aside from the Immortal emperor and his entire family, who are apparently bored senseless from having too much free time on their hands? Who else could it be?”

In a heavy voice the Demon emperor said, “There is Lord Xíng Zhǐ. He is the ancient high deity who has been living in solitude for these past eons beyond the Immortal realm. Your marriage bestowment was his benevolence.”

This revelation surprised Shěn Lí. The stories of Xíng Zhǐ were well known throughout the three realms. At this point, the man was more myth than reality. Legend had it, he was the only ancient immortal high gods to survive the great calamity. A thousand years ago he held the calamity at bay and kept the demons and beasts in check by imprisoning them in the Ruins. In fact, he was the one who created the seal over the Ruins.

His strength was incredible. Compared to everyone alive in the modern day, his powers would be considered a monstrosity of epic proportions. No one had seen him in so long that his existence had passed into legend, making people wonder if he was truly a real person or just a fictional character from a story. Was there anyone who wanted to torture themselves enough to actually study it and try to find proof of his existence? Now, all of a sudden, the Demon emperor was telling her that he was a real person!

On top of that, he was responsible for her marriage? Shěn Lí sighed. “So, Lord Xíng Zhǐ is just as idle and free as the Immortal emperor. He must have been bored and needed something to kill time with.” Shěn Lí laughed before continuing. “Without knowing anything, he did what he wished and just picked two names at random didn’t he? Then that group of imbeciles in the Immortal realm took what he said seriously and treated it as a decree.” She paused for a second before saying, “So this delay must be his idea as well.” 

Those in the Immortal realm wouldn’t have changed the date on their own. Lord Xíng Zhǐ must have told them, maybe even in person, to change it. They venerated him so much, of course they would do it. There's no way they would have instigated a change without his approval first. When Shěn Lí realized that her fate relied on the whims of such a person, and that he could change her life with just a sentence, an intense anger rose in her heart. She slammed the table with her hand and stood up.

“He thinks that just because he sealed some animals away forever in the Ruins he can dictate my marriage? To alter it as he pleases and expect me to just comply! Does he think I’m a pushover?”

Seeing her become agitated, the Demon emperor calmly told her to sit down.

Even though she was unhappy, she did as told with her hands clenched at her sides.

“It is because of Lord Xíng Zhǐ’s kindness that the three realms still exist today. Those in the Immortal realm aren’t the only ones who respect him. I also have a great deal of respect and admiration for him.”

“Why?!” Shěn Lí was dissatisfied with this. “So he waved his hand at the Ruins and sealed it away? So what?! We’re the ones that have kept guard over it for the past thousand years. Now he’s back and he thinks he can just dictate my marriage and take me away from my people?!”

Voicing aloud her grievances made her more aware of just how much the Demon realm operated under the Immortal realm’s thumb. Her heart was full of fury. “Why do we need to defer to them?! Suffer their will and desires? Our people are brave and strong. We’re mighty warriors. Why do we have to bend to those in the Immortal realm as though we’re inferior? We should attack the Immortal realm and not let them know any peace!”

“Shut your mouth!” The Demon emperor severely rebuked her.

There was more that Shěn Lí wanted to say, but she stopped her words in the presence of the anger radiating from the emperor. She didn’t want to quarrel with him, so she tried to restrain herself and get a firm hold on her temper.

“Is it so easy to wage a war? You, who have never fought in a genuine war before, do not speak so lightly of this matter Shěn Lí.”

Although Shěn Lí fought numerous battles, all her experience had been against goblins, demons and other assorted monsters. In reality, her battles were more like large scale hunts. She had never actually gone into combat against another military army. It was true she didn’t have the qualifications to speak about a real war, however, she was unwilling to just sit there and take it. Even though she had overstepped her bounds she refused to change her opinion or acknowledge what the emperor said.          

After a moment of silence the emperor sighed and rubbed the top of Shěn Lí’s head with the palm of his hand. “Go back home and vent your anger there. I didn’t expect that you would feel so stifled about the whole matter, that you would feel even more provoked and sullen after learning all this.” The emperor’s voice had considerably softened.

The corner of Shěn Lí’s mouth turned down in a rare pout for having been wronged. “Master, I don’t want to marry.”

The Demon emperor silently continued to rub her head. “Go back home, OK?”

 . . .

At home Shěn Lí lashed her foot out at the sand dune in front of the foyer as she walked by it. The kick forced a small bare body to flip out of the dune. It landed face up in the middle of the scattered bits of sand, making Shěn Lí raise her eyebrow in surprise. It moved hurriedly to speak.

“Ah! How embarrassing to meet others with no feathers on. Highness! So shameful I could die. Ah Highness! It’s just disgraceful! Highness has such a ruthless heart! HIGHNESS!”

Shěn Lí lifted it up by its ankles then stood back up and asked, “You’re filthy,a ren’t you? Come to think of it ,I’ve never seen you bathe before. Ròu Yā! Prepare the water!”

“Ah! Spare me Highness! Consider, I’ll drown! Ahhhhhhh! Such a bad mood! Don’t vent your anger on Parrot! Ah! How unfortunate to be stripped of life!”

“Oh, but I want to see all the different sides of you.”

Ròu Yā was astonished to hear Shěn Lí’s words as she got the barrel ready. “Your Highness, what did you just say?”

Shěn Lí chuckled. “It was nothing important.”

Ròu Yā seriously began to wonder about Shěn Lí . . .  

c19: Deep Ruins

c19: Deep Ruins

[August 16th, 2018]
 . . .

The marriage delay was a hot topic of discussion in both realms. In fact, it had practically become a joke. But on the tenth day of postponement, a shocking event occurred. General Zi Xià, who had been sent to the border by the emperor, had desperately ridden back and relayed news that frightened everyone. The seal over the Ruins ruptured and many minor monster beasts escaped.

Fortunately, the only major monster to escape the rift was a barely formed scorpion-tailed fox. However even with just the one, the army barracks and troops garrisoned suffered serious damage and injuries. General Zi Xià’s condition was so bad that he couldn’t even make it into the palace. He took his final breaths seated on his mount after passing on the information.

General Mò Fāng remained behind to defend the border, refusing to allow any of the monsters entrance into the Demon realm. The situation was grave and urgently needed to be dealt with.

After being informed, the emperor immediately gave the order to properly bury General Zi Xià. He also dispatched a messenger to notify the Immortal realm.

Shěn Lí was in the palace discussing official business and naturally overhead everything. She slapped the table in anger while saying, “Why wait and inform the Immortal realm! Our troops will suffer while we wait for that useless group. Shěn Lí requests permission to take troops for reinforcements!”

The emperor remained silent, not saying anything.

In the hall were also three veteran generals. One with white hair weighed in on the matter saying, “Your Majesty, I understand your misgivings about sending Her Highness out, what with the impending marriage, however the situation is urgent. Although there are many generals who can fight, not many of them have experience fighting the monsters. Her Highness is one of the few who does. I would ask that Your Majesty agree to her request to bring troops to guard the boundary.”

The emperor tapped his finger on the tabletop. “Shěn Lí.”

Shěn Lí immediately knelt down and saluted. “Yes!”

“You are not allowed to set foot out of your residence for this month.”

Shěn Lí couldn’t believe what she just heard. She raised her head and glanced at the three old generals hoping they would intervene. They looked back at her but remained silent. Still unwilling, she said, “Your Majesty, the border!”

“Regarding the chaos at the border, General Shàng Běi will go and investigate, and if the monsters can not be subdued, then they will delay long enough for the Immortal realm’s dispatch to arrive. . . ”

“Argh! he Immortal realm this! The Immortal realm that! Does Your Majesty really want to be the Immortal realm’s puppet?!” Shěn Lí exclaimed indignantly. Then, she completely disregarded etiquette and slammed the door on her way out.

The hall remained in shocked silence until the emperor asked, “Three generals, do you think I made an error?”

“Your Majesty has misgivings,” sighed one of the old generals. “Her Highness is young and reckless and does not take the time to consider things thoroughly, but Your Majesty should rest assured that Her Highness will one day understand.”

“Hm.” The eyes behind the mask were exhausted. “One day.”

 . . .

Shěn Lí took the opportunity to look inside the still unsealed coffin of General Zi Xià’s. She saw blue greenish lines marking his face and black discoloration on his fingertips. The medical doctor said they were caused by the poison from the scorpion-tailed fox. With Zi Xià’s ability, it should not have been fatal, but because he refused to rest and had pushed his body to the brink in order to relay the information, the poison was able to reach his heart and turn fatal.

Shěn Lí clenched her teeth and listened to the analysis in silence. Her brother staked his life to bring the news back. He exchanged it in order to get their brothers at the boundary reinforcements, but instead of immediately setting out with help, the emperor wanted to wait for the Immortal realm! Zi Xià wouldn’t have wanted this! They needed to spend their energy subduing the ya shou! Informing the Immortal realm could come later! If their speed could save even one life it would be worth it.

Her hands clenched into tight fists as she looked at his stiff frozen lips. She understood how he must have felt and the relief of having completed the mission before dying on his mount. But the emperor. . .  Shěn Lí ground her teeth.

The person in charge of the mourning hall wanted to lift the coffin and move it to the center, but Shěn Lí held onto it from one side and it prevented him from doing so.

“Your Highness?”

Shěn Lí bit her finger until the skin broke and blood came out. Then she clapped her hand on top of the coffin leaving a heavy smeared bloody print on the outside of it. “Shěn Lí will fulfill your wish.” With that she turned and resolutely left.

Shěn Lí made a beeline for the birdcage the moment she entered her residence. She threw the door open and pulled Parrot roughly out, practically suffocating him. Ròu Yā was standing to the side when all this happened. Upon seeing it she braved death and grabbed Shěn Lí’s arm to stop her.

“Ah! Highness! Parrot will die!”

“The bird I raise wouldn’t be so useless as to die. Leave, close the door and keep watch.”

Ròu Yā looked at Shěn Lí oddly. She was frightened, but in the end did as commanded, exiting the room and standing guard by the door. Shortly after she saw a brilliant light peeking through the slits in the door frame, following which she heard Shěn Lí speak.

“I am going into seclusion starting today. It doesn’t matter who they are, refuse anyone who wants to meet with me. I will not be coming out early for anyone.”

Why the sudden desire to go into seclusion? Ròu Yā thought it was strange and she scratched her head puzzled. She somehow found the courage to push the door open, thinking that she would just take a quick peek inside. Suddenly she felt something squeeze by her foot! Looking down she saw that it was a featherless Parrot! It seemed much more spirited and was bouncing his way to the living area.

Eh?! Wasn’t Her Highness sorting out Parrot? She pushed the door farther and was about to step inside when she noticed Shěn Lí’s figure seated on the sofa in a meditative pose. She was indeed meditating in seclusion. Not wanting to disrupt her, Ròu Yā quickly retreated and closed the door. She looked around for Parrot, but couldn’t find him anywhere.

Ròu Yā didn’t know at that very moment Parrot was getting ready to meet the troops after ambushing a low-ranking soldier. Parrot changed his appearance to mimic the soldier after stealing his clothes and command token.

Concurrently, Chì Róng was at the Demon emperor’s castle giving his report. “Your Majesty, Her Highness has left the city walls. Qīng Yán is trailing her. Does Your Majesty want us to bring her back?”

The lips behind the silver mask were still for a moment before sighing and saying, “Just follow her.”

 . . .

Although the army’s pace was fast, it still took them two days before they reached the border. Despite only being a small crack in the seal, there was still enough miasma leaking out that the entire camp was shrouded in it. Those with weak qi vomited. They weren’t in any shape to go into combat, and though they felt guilty, were forced to stay behind.

Mò Fāng’s troops had kept the scorpion-tailed fox about three miles from the border by surrounding it and hindering its movements. Even those seasoned soldiers long accustomed to killing monsters became weak at the knees when they heard the howl of the scorpion-tailed fox for the first time.

The monsters sealed in the Ruined Abyss were indeed far more difficult to deal with.

Shěn Lí clenched her hands into fists as she remembered Zi Xià’s appearance in the coffin.

“Line up!” General Shàng Běi shouted. The recently arrived troops from the capital immediately lined up in formation. One soldier at the end of the line disobeyed and instead walked over to Shàng Běi. ”Failure to obey commands. Thirty lashings!”

Shěn Lí took off her helmet and looked up at the general. “General Shàng Běi, Shěn Lí requests permission to join the battle.”

“Your. . .  Your Highness?”

Her appearance immediately caused a commotion and an uproar went through the troops. Everyone knew the identity of Azure Sky king, Shěn Lí; it was a name synonymous with victory. The troop's morale immediately rose.

Although seeing this made General Shàng Běi happy, he knew Shěn Lí was currently engaged to be married. On top of that, everyone knew the emperor had emphatically refused to let her fight. This put Shàng Běi in a bind.

“Your Highness, the emperor did not give permission for Your Highness to enter battle. This servant does not dare. . . ”

Shěn Lí didn’t give him a chance to finish before interrupting with, “General Shàng Běi, I’m already here and I refuse to leave empty handed. In a few days the monsters’s skull shall be mine to grind into the ground.”

This speech stunned the troops into silence. For a moment, so was Shàng Běi. When he finally came to a decision, he reigned in his mount, raised his sword in the air and shouted, “To battle!”

Shěn Lí rode Shàng Běi’s side. “Many thanks to general for allowing me to join.”

“Your Highness, if this servant had not agreed, what would have happened?”

“I would have knocked you out and commandeered your troops to fight the monsters.”

Shàng Běi laughed bitterly. “As I thought . . .”

 . . .

As they got closer to the Ruins, the miasma became thicker and the roar of the monsters became clearer as it ripped through the air. Everyone was shocked. Once the troops came into line of sight of General Mò Fāng, they saw a gigantic fox like beast monster with a tail like a scorpion. The fox ya shou was in the middle of trying to inject Mò Fāng with poison from its tail when it saw the new troops appear. It hissed and roared. Drool dripped from its open mouth through jagged teeth, sizzling a hole through the sand and stones and corroding the earth underneath. An overpowering thick greasy smell lingered in the air.

The troops surrounding the scorpion-tailed fox were clearly exhausted and barely able to stand with their blood covered bodies. The only still mobile figure was Mò Fāng. He stood at the front taking the initiative to attack.

General Shàng Běi yelled, “To battle!”

Shěn Lí, with her spear already materialized, launched forward in the direction of the scorpion-tailed fox before it even opened his mouth.

Her aim was true and the spear embedded directly in the center of the fox’s forehead, jamming an immense amount of magical energy straight into its brain. In pain, it hissed up at the sky and whipped its tail toward Shěn Lí in a effort to stab her. Shěn Lí pulled the spear out and flipped over in midair and immediately used it to block the attack. After landing, she circled back around and stabbed the fox in the belly.

Its responding howl was so sharp and piercing it nearly broke the eardrums of those present.

Mò Fāng barely missed being squashed by its claws as it slammed it down in rage. Shěn Lí vaulted over and shoved Mò Fāng hard enough to send him nearly three feet away. She steadied her stance and crouched down in a half squat. Then with a roar she stabbed her spear through the fox’s foot, causing blood to spray out and dying her red.

In the confusion, the scorpion-tailed fox managed to retreat.

Mò Fāng stared dazededly at the scene with hope on his face. To Shěn Lí he said, “Your Highness.”

Shěn Lí tilted her head slightly and glanced over at him. She could see that his armor was completely destroyed and his entire upper body was encrusted in blood, yet he looked on with hope. Every soldier there had the same look in their eyes as well. Looking down, she could see the ground was littered with the cold dead bodies of her brothers in arms.

Shěn Lí clenched her teeth. She held her spear so tightly her knuckles were white. “I’m sorry. . .  I arrived late.”

This negative mood didn’t last long. Shěn Lí strode forward. With her silver spear in hand, she stood in the wind on the sandy ground silently for a moment before declaring, “To all you insignificant lesser demons who dared to intrude, this king will annihilate each and every one of you!”

c20: Fighting the Scorpion-tailed Fox

c20: Fighting the Scorpion-tailed Fox

[September 7th, 2018]
 . . .

The scorpion-tailed fox breathed deeply as it went through the process of healing its wounds. It watched Shěn Lí closely, following her every move. The feathers on its body bristled up and down as it breathed in and out, expanding itself almost to the brink of explosion before abruptly contracting and shrinking in again.

Shěn Lí was also eyeing it carefully. She had used her red tasseled silver spear to take the lives of countless monster beasts. A direct hit would normally take a considerable amount of time to heal. This one though. . . 

“Your Highness, be careful!” Mò Fāng yelled out from behind just as the scorpion-tailed fox whipped out its tail. Shěn Lí raised her spear and sliced the barb tip off, leaving behind the hardened the root. Focused, she rushed forward without stopping. She shouted out in surprise as her hand snatched at empty air. She had intended to grab the fox’s tail but it exploded before she could. The resulting spray of poisonous fluid shot out towards the troops. Shěn Lí reacted quickly and drew out a gale with a wave of her hand, pushing the spray back towards the fox.

“Hahaha!” The scorpion-tailed fox threw its head back and laughed up at the sky. The sound bearing a marked resemblance to a human voice. Shěn Lí wrinkled her brows. The closer a monster beasts resembled a human the more powerful and difficult it would be to deal with. This one could use poison and had incredibly strong healing powers. On top of that, the troops were fighting at a disadvantage in the miasma. The situation would only worsen with a prolonged battle.

The fox didn’t wait for Shěn Lí to come to terms with the situation. It interrupted her thoughts and said, “Didn’t expect the Demon realm to have such a good successor. Given time, you would surely become a force to be reckoned with. It’s a pity though you won’t get that chance.”

The fox stepped forward in Shěn Lí’s direction. The grievous gash cut into its paw just a moment ago had already healed with barely a scar left to discern the injury. It stuck its entire neck out and gave a ferocious roar before sucking in a deep mouthful of miasma. Before hissing sharply, it looked around with bloodshot eyes, as though it tasted something delicious. The soldiers behind Shěn Lí felt like their ear drums were being pierced. They cried out in pain as their legs trembled and they were forced to kneel down.

At the same time, a new sharper and firmer tip sprouted at the end of the fox's tail. Its body also underwent a change. With a whoosh, its gray feathers exploded outwards. The audible sounds of muscles and flesh expanding ripped through the air.

Its body completely transformed into a larger version of itself. Shěn Lí clenched her teeth, but smiled as Mò Fāng came up to her. “Your Highness, this monster beasts has strong regeneration abilities and is also very good at using poison. On top that it can also absorb magical attacks.”

His words shocked everyone. Did that mean the magical attack Shěn Lí used earlier was actually absorbed? Shěn Lí knit her brows and muttered. “You’re really an annoying beast.” Shěn Lí raised her spear overhead and yelled, “General Shàng Běi! Auxiliary attack!”

Shàng Běi looked over in shock and horror at the monster in the center. He quickly regained his senses and shouted, “Battle formations!” Those soldiers that could move reacted immediately.

The fox watched them with hungry bloodshot eyes. It didn’t watch long as its vision was almost immediately blocked when Shěn Lí leapt up and lashed her spear out. With a loud “ding!” the fox’s newly formed tail clashed against Shěn Lí’s spear. This time, because she used most of her magical reserves earlier, her attack was weaker and failed to sever the fox’s tail. She knew she wasn’t qualified to be its opponent, so right after crossing blows with it, she retreated. Her intent was only to stall and give the soldiers time to ready themselves.

With the time she bought them, they were able to get in position, ready their crossbows and surround it on three sides. Every arrow notched was barbed at the tip with a strong iron chain attached at the end. The moment Shěn Lí retreated, they let loose a volley of arrows that embedded sharply and deeply into the flesh of the fox’s back. Soldiers on all three sides simultaneously yanked the trailing chain hard, forcing the metal barb to pull flesh away from bone and rendering the fox immobile. The only thing left was to find a way to decapitate it  . . .

The scorpion-tailed fox sneered saying, “To think your formations haven’t changed even after a millennium.”

Shěn Lí had leapt up, but stopped mid-air when she heard this. The words made her uneasy. She watched as the monsters shook its body, risking everything to fling off its restraints. It forcefully tugged and pulled at the chains, exposing its pure white bone as its flesh pulled away. It howled and hissed in pain and swung its tail in every direction trying to hit a target.

The power of the restraint lay in the triangle formation. If any one point were to break then the monsters would be freed. Currently it was unbroken, but it would be difficult if any of the men holding the line were struck down. Shěn Lí tried desperately to think of a way to counter the problem.

While she was doing this, the fox swiped its barbed tail to the left side and sent some of the men there flying. Despite knowing that their bodies would be torn and their bones crushed, the men refused to let go and maintained their hold on the chain to keep the monsters contained.

Shěn Lí stepped forward, and in one swift motion, leveraged the spear between her body and her right arm to wrap the chain around the body of the shaft. She intended to use the spear as an anchor for the chain. Just as she was about to complete the action by driving the spear deep into the ground, the scorpion-tailed fox aimed its poisonous tail at her. She eyed it knowing its impact was inevitable, but she never felt the barb’s puncture. A figure had rushed out and pushed her out of the way. She ended up rolling out of the strike zone with the person on top of her.

“Mò Fāng?” Shěn Lí stared blankly at the man.

It was obvious Mò Fāng’s battered and bruised body had been pushed to the limit after so many days of fighting. He was exhausted beyond belief and was barely aware of his own wounds. The only thing he knew was that he needed to support Shěn Lí, so he had rushed in to protect her. Although there was a burning pain in his back, he was relieved to hear her voice and know she was safe.

He didn’t understand the shocked expression on her face until he saw the poisonous barbed tail in his back. It was embedded so deeply it nearly pierced through his shoulder blade. He hadn't even realized he was hit. Unable to endure anymore, his eyelids drooped and he promptly lost consciousness.

The image of Zi Xià’s discolored body lying in the coffin flashed through her mind and coldness gripped her heart. She turned her gaze to the sandy soil around her. Her eyes were greeted with the broken and mangled bodies of those already fallen. Every one of them had someone back home – a relative, a lover, a friend – waiting for their return. It was like that old lady in the Mortal realm, waiting day after day, year after year. But now none of them would return and the hope would be gone. So many deaths. . .  it was an unforgiveable crime! It was all because the Ruins opened, because of the beast in front of her.

Shěn Lí turned her gaze to the scorpion-tailed fox. She watched, as with a whoosh, it sprouted a new tail just as sharp as the one it stabbed into Mò Fāng. Its eyes were next to change after its tail, gradually shifting from pitch black to crimson red.

Shěn Lí gently pushed Mò Fāng’s body off her. “Withdraw the troops.” Her voice wasn’t loud but it was clear and carried across the field like a wave.

Shàng Běi yelled, “Withdraw!” without hesitating.

The troops immediately retreated. This made the scorpion-tailed fox laugh, a sound that came from deep within its belly. “To still serve that incompetent monarch, a puppet of the Immortal realm for over a millennium. Instead of being tamed by that slave, be good and fill my tummy up!”

In a sinisterly cold voice Shěn Lí said, “You’ve insulted my monarch. You’ve killed my men. You’ve ignited the fires of my fury.” Her words echoed across the battlefield.

In response, the scorpion-tailed fox flung its head up. The motion caused droplets of saliva to spray outward.

Without bothering to brace herself, Shěn Lí grabbed the chain and twisted it around the shaft of her spear. In the blink an eye she had raised the spear and rotated it above her head spinning it so fast it became a blur, effectively creating a barrier against the poisonous saliva. Then she held her hand palm out above her spear and a golden light erupted.

Shàng Běi frantically shouted in shock, “Your Highness! Stay calm! This monster can absorb magical attacks and use it for its own!”

Shěn Lí opened her mouth and said, “Yeah? That’s great.” In a flash she jumped onto the fox’s back. “Let’s see it take this!” She rammed her spear right into one of the holes left from the crossbows, and ruthlessly injected it with her qi. It screamed out in pain as a golden glow shone from its belly. The spear was sticking out of its back like a skewer, and Shěn Lí was shoving and pulling left and right as if to cleave the fox’s body in half.

Eventually, the intensity of the golden light began to wane until it completely faded. Just as before, the fox’s body underwent a change, expanding so much that its muscles and tendons popped before shrinking and collapsing. Standing on its back Shěn Lí could see its muscles already reknitting around her spear and closing up the gash from earlier.

The scorpion-tailed fox let out a loud, “Hahahaha! You’re a child who still stinks of breast milk, yet you have such audacity.” It turned around and spread its bloody mouth wide open, while at the same time whipping its tail at Shěn Lí, trying to attack her in two directions at once.

Shěn Lí, forced to retreat several steps, sensed something above her head. A rotten, putrid smell rushed up her nose. She turned around only to face rows of sharp jagged teeth dripping with blood and poisonous fluid. The fox’s opened jaw came at her, and before she knew it, she was engulfed in darkness.

“Your Highness!” Shàng Běi cried out in alarm. The ground troops were left in disarray at the sight, the same thoughts ringing through their minds – the Azure Sky king. . .  the invincible the Azure Sky king was just swallowed!

The scorpion-tailed fox’s body grew large again, and in an exceedingly smooth hiss, it began to speak in a tone that terrified the troops. “Hahaha! I will release my brothers and together we will shake up the Demon realm again! Hahaha!”

Suddenly it trembled from a violent pulse that erupted from within its body. Its stomach undulated in waves as the eruptions built up in crescendo. The soldiers were rooted to the ground as they watched with horror and panic in their eyes. The fox did not seem to have control over itself; its flesh continued to shake from internal tremors.

Shàng Běi’s gaze was drawn to the abnormal distention in the fox’s throat. It swung its claws angrily all around as if it was trying to get rid of some great pain.

Shěn Lí’s spear suddenly disappeared from its back and a thorn like protrusion appeared at its throat. A golden light radiated from the point, shining bright enough to illuminate the dulled eyes of the troops on the ground. The fox could not make a sound despite opening its mouth wide. It was struggling with the light inside it.

Finally the red tasseled spear jabbed through its throat, allowing a stream of intense golden light to escape untethered by flesh. This started a domino effect and a loud bang sounded. The fox’s head began lolling to one side. The spear punctured through severing muscle and tendon as it went, only stopping after achieving total decapitation. The scorpion-tailed fox's head fell to the ground with a "thump!"

Shěn Lí, with her clothes and body dyed red and her hair scattered loosely in the wind, stood standing through the hole in the fox’s neck. A murderous aura emanated from her as unknown fluids dripped from her skin. With a disdainful look on her face, she slowly made her way out of the fox’s body and over to its head. In the dense miasma fog, the red eyes were even more horrifying.

“Impossible. . . ” The fox could still speak.

“What? No one told you?” Shěn Lí stepped on its nose. “You should watch what you eat.” With that said she rammed her spear directly between its brows and watched impassively as its eyes reverted to its original color.

Its mouth trembled as it died. “ . . .a mere girl. . . ” It glanced at Shěn Lí’s red spear and finally understood. “Ah. . .  so that’s . . . how it is. . . ”

Unexpectedly it was because of that.

Once the fox’s eyes closed, Shěn Lí pulled her spear out. Raising it to the sky she yelled, “The monsters is slain!”

The short silence followed by her proclamation was broken by the sounds of cheering and shouts. “The Azure Sky king! The Azure Sky king!” the soldiers jubilantly yelled at the top of their lungs.

Despite the raucous noise, Shěn Lí’s world was very quiet as her vision dimmed and blurred. She slowly turned around with the intention of heading back to camp. As she did, she glimpsed a figure in white robe staring intently at her.

Xíng Yún. . . 

With great difficulty she walked forward to that figure in the fog. The skin on her cheeks had burned away from the venomous fluids and the bones in her left hand were broken from the battle. The grip that held her signature weapon loosened and her spear dropped to the ground without her realizing it. With every step she lost more awareness of her surroundings and the battleground around her faded away like an illusion. The only concrete thing in her world was the figure clad in snow white.

Xíng Yún. . . 

Finally reaching her destination, Shěn Lí strained to raise her hand to move her fingertips and touch the body in front of her. Her fingers grazed his fair cheeks and left a smudged bloody print behind. Was someone speaking to her? She heard a familiar voice. In her mind she saw a soft smile.

“Shěn Lí, time to eat.” Yes, that’s right.

She missed eating his food and she missed his company.

Her fingers slid down and she fell forward into a warm embrace. The medicinal smell wasn’t there, but it was still just as comforting.

c21: Celestial Realm, Still Water Pavilion, Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ

c21: Celestial Realm, Still Water Pavilion, Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ

[Oct. 28th, 2018]
 . . .

As she lost consciousness and began sliding down, he ignored the acid and filth on her body and wrapped his arms around her waist, holding her in a firm embrace. The hand Shěn Lí laid on his cheek dropped. He grabbed it mid-fall and pressed his fingertips to her pulse. Something about it made him frown and furrow his brow. "Where's your camp?"

General Shàng Běi jogged over. He knew Shěn Lí was engaged and soon to be married, so the sight of her held in a strange man's embrace put him in an awkward position. He wanted to demand her release, but the strong magical aura coming from stranger gave him pause. Perhaps he was the envoy from the Immortal realm? If so, then he could help bring her to the camp. It was just . . . did the Immortal realm only send one person to help with the seal?

"This distinguished gentleman, may I ask who you are?"

"Celestial realm, Still Water Pavilion, Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ."

The people of the Demon realm weren't familiar with those in the Immortal realm, never mind those Celestial realm or Water Pavilion whatever . . . But they were familiar with the ancient celestial being called Xíng Zhǐ who bestowed the marriage to Shěn Lí.

Shàng Běi’s face took on a respectful look. If the stranger’s words were true, then it made sense the Immortal realm only sent over one person.

"I apologize. I haven't spent much time in the Lower realms so became lost and only found my way here a moment ago."

Shàng Běi remained silent. It wouldn't do to criticize an ancient high god. He turned around and yelled out an order, "Clear out the battlegrounds and help the injured back to camp!" He walked to one side of Xíng Zhǐ and said, "Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ, I wouldn't want to trouble you. Please allow me to support Her Highness." He reached his hand out to Shěn Lí as he spoke.

"No." Xíng Zhǐ angled Shěn Lí's body away from Shàng Běi's reach. "It's no trouble. She came to me of her own accord, so I'll carry her." With that said, he ignored Shàng Běi, forcing the other man to follow behind. Both walked forward several paces, when suddenly Xíng Zhǐ turned his head and asked, "Oh that's right. Where is the camp located?"

A speechless Shàng Běi could only stare at Xíng Zhǐ thinking: this person . . . this person is indeed special . . .

 . . .

A cold breeze swayed the sunny world outside. Inside, the sweet smell of medicinal herbs hung in the air and entered Shěn Lí's nose as she slowly sat up. All was quiet except for the creaking noise of the rocking chair that rocked back and forth nearby. In it sat a man in white. Nearby was another person in black. At her movement the chair stopped and the man in it turned to look at her asking, "What? Hungry?"

"No." She sat up straight and forced a smile before saying, "Just . . . tired."

He lightly rubbed her forehead with the palm of his hand. "Then relax and rest."


She closed her eyes for a moment before opening them back up abruptly, completely awake. She grabbed at empty air. "Wait! Hold on!" The wounds on her body also woke up aching badly. Her left side, shoulders, fingers – everything ached. She clenched her teeth but a groan of pain still escaped.

"Your Highness . . . what is it?" The person in black nervously asked.

Shěn Lí looked at the foot soldier's obviously panic-stricken face before turning her head left and right looking at her surroundings. It was only the two of them in the tent and she was lying on a cot. Her body hurt all over. She didn't have to look down to know she had to be bandaged up like a plump, round glutinous rice ball. Her head was so confused and dizzy, she had no choice but to lie back down. Wasn't there another person here just now?

"Help me up."

The soldier waved his hands left and right frantically in front of him. "Your Highness you mustn't. That . . . that person said . . . you can't move yet."

Had to be those annoying doctors, making a fuss over every little thing. Although Shěn Lí was disdainful of them and their orders, she nevertheless stopped trying to move about and instead asked, "How many casualties did we have in battle? Have the rituals for the deceased been performed? What is General Mò Fāng's condition?"

The foot soldier was dumbfounded by her series of questions. Instead of answering, he got up and rushed out of the tent, yelling as he did so, "I'll call for the generals!"

Shěn Lí smashed her fist against the cot. "Geeze, it's not like I'm going to eat you. Sssss . . . that hurt."


A light breezy laugh came out of nowhere startling Shěn Lí. Her brows creased as she couldn't see anyone else in the tent with her. She was about to raise her voice and ask when the tent flap suddenly parted.

Mò Fāng, heavily bandaged and leaning on crutches, stepped inside. He made his way slowly towards Shěn Lí, his eyes on her the whole time. After releasing a long held breath in a sigh he asked, "Your Highness . . . is OK?"

Shěn Lí stared at him blankly for a moment before smiling and speaking, "Shouldn't I be asking you that?" He was obviously severely injured. She looked at his sorry figure and easily imagined the pain he had to be in.

"You know, I remember it was only a few days ago that I was arguing with the Demon emperor, trying to persuade him that the Celestial realm, Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ, was nothing amazing. Only sealing a few minor animals. It was us in the Demon realms that did all the heavy labor, guarding over the seals. Thinking about it now, after experiencing that battle, it really is amazing that he was able to seal away the countless thousands that he did. It was indeed fortunate he graced the three realms with his presence!"

Before Shěn Lí could finish her rueful monologue, Mò Fāng suddenly dropped his crutches and knelt down in front of her, causing his wounds to reopen dangerously. He bent his head down and said, "To allow Your Highness to be injured, Mò Fāng deserves death!"

Shěn Lí stared blankly, completely stumped for words at his actions. Her silence stretched on for some time before she finally spoke in a cold voice. "According to your reasoning I am just as deserving of death for failing to protect my brothers on the battlefield, for allowing them to fall in battle, for allowing the monsters to take their lives."

Mò Fāng raised his head and declared passionately, "Of course not Your Highness! Your Highness cut the head of the monsters. Such a meritorious thing, how could anyone hold Your Highness responsible . . .?"

Shěn Lí sighed. In a gentle voice she said, "Then you can't be blamed either. Now stand up."

Mò Fāng could feel his eyes heating up and filling with tears. He bit his lip to keep it in, tucking his head back down. He bent forward and pressed his forehead against the ground, remaining in that oddly bent position and refusing to raise his head. "Your Highness doesn't understand . . . I . . . this one can not forgive himself.”

Once he regained consciousness and found out how seriously injured Shěn Lí was, that she'd fallen into a coma, he became frantic with worry and rushed over immediately to see her. Her body was covered in blood and her life energy was so weak that he could barely detect it. In an incredibly small voice Mò Fāng said to her now, "This one can not forgive himself specifically because it was Your Highness that was injured."

Understanding finally dawned on Shěn Lí. She breathed the cold air in slowly as she stared at Mò Fāng. "Mò Fāng, you . . . you can't be . . ."

"Your Highness! Your Highness is the only one in my heart! Your Highness has been there for a long time now."

The declaration from Mò Fāng stunned her. She might as well have seen a ghost, she was so shocked. " . . .you . . . is your brain perhaps damaged? Your body, is it OK?!"

Shěn Lí stopped dressing femininely after she earned merit for her first successful campaign. She briefly had the desire to dress more femininely; but that desire died a quick death the one and only time she acted on it. A group of officials were so startled and shocked at the sight of her in an embroidered skirt that they had to give her the once over twice. She would never forget the horror on their faces. The thought of dressing femininely never entered her mind again after that. Considering how manly she normally behaved, she didn't think anyone would have romantic interests in her.

"This one is quite lucid." He looked like he wanted to cut his heart open so Shěn Lí could see. "I feel deeply for Your Highness. I like Shěn Lí."

Shěn Lí breathed in wrong and nearly choked herself at his words, stopping herself from vomiting only by a narrow margin. Looking at Mò Fāng and his lowered head, she didn't know what kind of expression to put on her face. She settled on a stern, respectful one. "That won't do."

Mò Fāng raised his head at her words, looking her square in the face and the grim expression there.

"This matter . . . it won't do. I have to ask you to purge these emotions. Destroy them completely. This is a military command." She enunciated each word of the last sentence clearly and slowly.

Mò Fāng silently kowtowed several times before declaring, "As commanded!"

Silence reigned inside the tent until it was broken by the sound of General Shàng Běi's voice. He was frantically shouting, "Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ! Please don't go in yet!"

"Why?" The person being addressed asked as he used his finger to lift the flap of the tent open.

Shěn Lí looked over and saw a man dressed in white outlined by the sun’s golden halo. His robe dragged on the dusty ground as he moved, giving the impression that it was excessively superfluous, but at the same time it was exactly this excessiveness that gave him an air of untouchable aloofness. He had his head turned back to address General Shàng Běi, so she couldn't see his face.

"This, this . . ." General Shàng Běi craned his neck around Xíng Zhǐ trying to see inside the tent. He could see Mò Fāng kneeling on the ground while Shěn Lí laid on top of the cot. He sighed in relief at the sight. "Ah . . . it's nothing. Nothing at all."

At that, Xíng Zhǐ stepped fully inside the tent.

Shěn Lí's mind was blown away the moment she got a good look at Xíng Zhǐ. A foolish expression replaced the stern look she had earlier as memories of the battle aftermath came back to her. She thought the white silhouette was just a dream, a hallucination. Unexpectedly it was real. She unconsciously spoke out the name on her mind, "Xíng Yún. You . . ."

General Shàng Běi rushed forward to Mò Fāng and lent his hand to support his friend up. He let out an exclamation of surprise when he felt how ice cold Mò Fāng's hand was. He turned to Shěn Lí. "Your Highness this is Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ. He came to reinforce the seal on the Ruins."

"Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ?" Shěn Lí struggled to sit up as she asked her question.

Xíng Zhǐ stepped forward and lightly pressed his finger on her shoulders to stop her. "Your wound will open."

"Have you ever gone to the Mortal realm?" Shěn Lí asked. "Do you know Xíng Yún?"

In an indifferent voice Xíng Zhǐ said, "No," as he pulled the quilt over Shěn Lí. After covering her properly, he reached for her wrist and spent a long time holding it to measure her pulse. "Better. Your internal flow is finally smooth again.”

Their eyes locked until Xíng Zhǐ broke the connection with a light laugh. "I heard the Azure Sky king was brave and excellent at fighting. Witnessing that bravery in the action, I must admit those words were accurate. Very admirable. However, no matter how good your physical foundation is, Your Highness must take care and not be so reckless."

This type of polite speech was really pleasant on the ears. Shěn Lí blinked her eyes as a sense of quiet calm came over her. With her eyes down she said, "Sorry to have troubled Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ."

He wasn't Xíng Yún. His facial features were sharper and he was taller. An aloof cold air exuded from his body; that was something Xíng Yún never had. Xíng Yún was indifferent to those around him, but he always behaved appropriately according to the norms. This man . . . this man on the other hand, based on his recent behavior, entering without invitation, acting as he wished, was definitely the kind accustomed to doing what he pleased – like a tyrant.

"I haven't been here in over a millennium so I'm no longer familiar with the landscape. I'll need to explore the topography to see if there are any irregularities before going into the Ruined Abyss to reinforce the seals. I will have to trouble Your Highness to guide me."

His words left everyone in the tent speechless. Shàng Běi was the first to recover saying, "Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ, if you need someone to guide you, there are others more familiar with the grounds around the Ruins. Right now Her Highness is too injured . . . I'm afraid she will need more time to rest."

"General need not be worried. Her Highness's body is healing fine. I will tend to her; in three days she should be able to move about normally. Acting as my guide will not interfere with her recuperation. In fact, moving around will be good for her body."

Mò Fāng wrinkled his brow. "Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ, I would like to humbly substitute for Her Highness and be your guide."

Xíng Zhǐ stared at Mò Fāng for the longest time before replying, "No, I will have her lead the way."

Mò Fāng clenched his fists at the words. The sight made a big smile break out on Xíng Zhǐ's face. Shěn Lí hurriedly rushed in with, "Then for the next three days I will have to trouble Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ."

"Then it's settled."

 . . .

Everyone left to let Shěn Lí rest. General Shàng Běi and Mò Fāng parted ways by the side of the tent, while Xíng Zhǐ wandered around camp on his own. Eventually he found himself in front of another tent. And as he stood there, he felt a presence behind him. He turned around to find a foot soldier staring at him with a panicked expression. The soldier abruptly made a u-turn and was about to flee, but was stopped almost immediately by Xíng Zhǐ's command of, "Stop."

The soldier stood still completely passive like a stone. Xíng Zhǐ walked over and patted him on the head lightly saying, "Forget," as he did so.

A new memory flashed through the soldier's mind. In it he had gone to Her Highness's tent to clear out some things, but when he got there, he found a man in white sitting beside her cot. He had witnessed:

"So tired . . ."

"Rest then." Xíng Zhǐ stroked Her Highness's forehead. "Everything is fine now.”

When the man in white noticed him, that man had turned around and placed a finger to his lips. "Shhhh." Then the man in white disappeared and Her Highness woke up and yelled out, "Wait!"

He blinked and stared. A man dressed in white walked in front of him. He had some vague images in his mind but he just couldn't remember anything clearly. This left him feeling strange as though something was weird, but he couldn't put his finger on it. He blinked a few times and scratched his head, unable to remember anything else other then the back of the other man as he walked away. It was only then that he remembered he was supposed to tidy up Her Highness's tent.

c22: Fixing the First Seal

c22: Fixing the First Seal

[Nov. 26th, 2018]
 . . .

Three days later . . .

Xíng Zhǐ undid Shěn Lí’s sling and dismantled her splint. Then he applied pressure above an acupuncture point and concentrated on treating her injury. Shěn Lí suddenly smiled and asked, “Earlier you said you left behind four items in the area around the two seals in the Ruins. But none of the soldiers on patrol have ever encountered them. Do you still remember where they are?”

“Mm. One is on a hill top, another is in a lake, another . . .hm,” Xíng Zhǐ replied as he released her hand. “Move your arm now.”

Shěn Lí sat up as she obediently moved her arm first bending it a bit before stretching and turning it several times in a circular motion. Her body was unexpectedly loose and pain-free. This kind of recovery speed was astonishing. An injury like this would normally take at least two weeks of rest.

Yet it only took Xíng Zhǐ three days to heal her.

“It seems like the issue is resolved,” he grabbed her hand and held it in his own, palm to palm.

Shěn Lí automatically pulled her hand back without thinking. Xíng Zhǐ looked at her confused. It was an awkward moment and Shěn Lí coughed before saying, “Yes? What is it?”

Xíng Zhǐ gave an easy chuckle. “The formidable the Azure Sky king is unexpectedly shy?” He grabbed her hand and entwined his fingers through hers. “Simply examining your joints. Try to grip my hand as hard as you can.”

This earned him a fierce stare from Shěn Lí but he didn’t notice, so she quickly glanced downwards. No pressure came. They were like that for some time until Xíng Zhǐ asked in confusion, “Are you hurting somewhere?”

“No . . .” Shěn Lí pulled her hand back and rubbed the space between her brows. “I was just worried I’d break your hand if I put pressure into my grip.”

Xíng Zhǐ gave her a blank stare. He laughed out loud after a second. “Your Highness can be at ease. Please feel free to grip my hand as hard as you want. I promise I won’t break.”

The words reminded her that the man in front of her was the Celestial realm's, Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ, a person with an immortal body. It wouldn’t be like gripping that mortal man’s hand. Despite knowing that the one in front of her wasn’t Xíng Yún she still hesitated, her heart remained uncertain. Their attitudes were so different but their faces were so similar. That laugh and that smile . . . Shěn Lí found it hard to control her emotions. She angrily grabbed Xíng Zhǐ’s hand, laced her fingers through his, and gripped hard.

The moment she did Xíng Zhǐ said, “Mm. Good. You’ve recovered well.” He pulled his hand back after saying so. “Your Highness is healed enough and should be able to guide me around the area later this afternoon.”

“This afternoon?”

“This evening would be fine as well.”

“No, this afternoon works.” He completely suppressed her. This Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ was seriously hard to deal with.

 . . .

“The only thing around here are the destroyed barracks and camp for the soldiers, but farther south is a high mountain. No matter what we do, we can’t get anything to grow near the base. Before, hundreds of years ago, miasma would flow around the borders, but the mountains blocked it from entering the land. We left a little late, so it’s too late for us to go to the lake. We’ll investigate the mountain first.” Shěn Lí took out a map one of the soldiers drew and seriously gave directions to Xíng Zhǐ.

Shěn Lí turned to find him slowly fidgeting with his robe. She was really annoyed and had to restrain her temper before speaking to him, “Immortal High God, we should go to the mountains now.”

“Mm,” was his reply. He was focused on the hem that trailed in the dirt. He grabbed it and seemed to weigh his options while swinging the hem in his hand. He fingered it briefly before tearing off a strip and tossing it toward the boundary of the miasma. The silky white fabric rode on the wind as it slowly drifted away from them. “Let’s go.”

Shěn Lí followed the fabric with a thoughtful gaze, momentarily unable to turn away. Even the Demon emperor couldn’t wear such fine material. To think he discarded something like that so easily. Shěn Lí turned around and studied Xíng Zhǐ’s clothes from behind. Even though he’d been in the Demon realm for several days, his clothing was pristine.

That day with the Scorpion-tailed fox, she remembered she had smeared blood all over him just before she fainted. It seemed he managed to launder it clean with just water.

In contrast, the men guarding the boundary were filthy; their entire bodies were covered in grime. Shěn Lí’s eyes hung down as a strong feeling of displeasure came over her. Such unfairness was really stifling.

“What?” asked Xíng Zhǐ in bafflement when he saw her standing still.

“It is nothing.” Shěn Lí shook her head and walked toward him without saying another word.

 . . .

It took them all afternoon to reach the mountain. By then, despite the daytime sun, a dense layer of fog and miasma settled all around. Because the fog was so thick, their visibility was limited to a perimeter of five paces. Shěn Lí led the way, holding the map in one hand while clearing vegetation away from in front with the other. The miasma already eroded and weakened the plants in the area, so the branches and twigs crumbled easily under her.

“Where we are, we’re still close to camp. The officers and soldiers don’t come by this way often, so the map only covers the lower portion of the mountain. And we can't fly because the miasma obscures everything. We’ll have to find our way up by foot.”

She felt uneasy when he didn’t reply to her, so she turned around. Dense fog covered her vision. She strained her eyes, but couldn’t find him. She had heard Immortal High God lost his way en route to the Demon realm. Was it possible he was lost again?

“Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ?” Shěn Lí called out as she retraced her steps. “Immortal High God!” A burst of cool breeze suddenly blew by, dispersing the heavy fog and clearing her vision. With the fog gone, she could easily see a celestial being in snow white robes slowly walking toward her. The miasma entrenched in the area dissipated with every step he took. It was as if a rainstorm came by and washed it away. Despite the lack of vegetation, the air felt fresh and clean.

Xíng Zhǐ’s robe reflected the sparse light in the demon realm as it fluttered gently in the breeze around him. The image imprinted in Shěn Lí’s mind as she stood mesmerized staring at him. The heaviness in her heart evaporated and her mind cleared.

. . . so this was an ancient high god!

To cleanse the air no matter how contaminated. . . clearly an ancient god was different from the demons whose only innate ability was to fight.

Xíng Zhǐ shook out his sleeves as he walked up, stopping two steps ahead of her. He turned around and faced her before saying, “Which way?”

Shěn Lí blinked, slowly coming back to her senses. As she raised the map up to take a look, something rammed fiercely into her foot and her grip on the map loosened. The wind picked up the dropped map and sent it flying away before Shěn Lí could react. She wanted to chase after it, but something circled around her legs, hindering her movements. Looking down she saw a four-eared wild boar biting her ankles. It wasn’t enough to actually injure her, but it was enough to block her from chasing after the map.

She angrily stooped down and picked the wild boar up by the tail. Then she gave it two firm slaps across its butt. “Getting in the way!”

The wild boar furiously wiggled trying to break free of her grasp. Xíng Zhǐ watched Shěn Lí closely as she shouted at the wild boar. He wrinkled his brow and said, “It’s been infected by the miasma. Put it down; I’ll burn it.”

“No need,” Shěn Lí said as she pitched her arm out and tossed the wild boar into the forest. The wild board screeched like it was about to die before disappearing into the woods. “The miasma has been infecting things in the Demon realm. Lower life forms will become aggressive and try to attack, but they’re weak, so their attacks are harmless. Even the common people can deal with them easily.”

Shěn Lí recalled enough of the map to bring them back to the trail. She climbed up the side and said, “Life here is hard enough. That wild boar didn’t do anything to deserve death. Until it does something bad, we shouldn’t punish it.”

Her words startled Xíng Zhǐ. “Ha. The Azure Sky king is unexpectedly so merciful,” he said after sizing her up from the back. His moodiness from earlier settled down. He talked to her as he followed behind. “If it were up to me, I’d nip it in the bud before it became an issue.” He paused again and stared at her from behind, his eyes thoughtful.

“If that’s the case. . . ” Shěn Lí shot a glance behind her, just missing the fleeting look in Xíng Zhǐ’s eyes. She gave an unrestrained confident smile. “then today must be really boring for you huh?”

After a short silence Xíng Zhǐ said, “It has been incredibly boring, yes.”

Shěn Lí became more unsure of their path the farther up they walked. She constantly glanced up at the sky feeling more jittery with each passing minute.

Xíng Zhǐ said, “It’s good that we have the moonlight.” He walked forward like he was walking in his own backyard, carefree and slow.

Shěn Lí knew better than to urge him to hurry. She could only accompany him as he slowly strolled passing by thickets of dead trees.

The two lost track of time and the sky darkened without Shěn Lí realizing it. Her eyes widened in amazement and her jaw dropped at the sight in the sky. The moon shone like a huge orb above her. How long had it been since this kind of clear moonlight shone in the Demon realm?

“We’ve reached the top.” Xíng Zhǐ came up from behind Shěn Lí and stood by a dead tree. The image of his silhouette outlined by the moonlight reflected in her eyes.

The tree he stood next to was different from the rest. Although it was withered like all the others, it had green leaf shoots at the tips. The baby leaves rustled in the wind as though they were going to fall.

Xíng Zhǐ stretched his hand out to the trunk of the tree. It trembled at his touch and made sounds like it was weeping and lamenting in grief.

This made Xíng Zhǐ furrow his brow. He sighed and in a placating voice said, “You must be exhausted.” White light rippled from the palm of his hand and into the trunk of the tree traveling all the way down to its roots in the soil.

Shěn Lí could almost make out the light as it spread over the scars of the ground underneath.

The ground shook as though the spirit of the mountain was coming to life, casting away the mist that enveloped everything. Shěn Lí stood looking over the edge of the hill and stared at the path they took up. It was lit up in the outline of a character, like an imprint of a word on the mountaintop.

As a matter of fact, everything from the moonlight, the dead trees, the path they took, it all linked together to join the earth and heavens, completely dispelling the miasma. He had calculated everything from their first steps.

They had drawn the character for the seal with their path up the hill, borrowed the strength of the moon to dispel the miasma, then finally activated the seal once they reached the top. Such a well thought out plan, yet he hadn’t tipped his hand at all.

This person. . . 

Xíng Zhǐ waved Shěn Lí over as he pulled down a tree branch. She cautiously approached as she watched him stand on tiptoes and pull a huge leaf off a branch. He held it out to her and smilingly said, “The foliage in the Demon realm grow so large.”

Shěn Lí took the leaf and stared at it blankly. Slowly she pressed it against her cheeks. Feeling its coldness, she marveled at its existence, a leaf that managed to grow in the Demon realm. She was astonished at its vitality. If the children could share in such a sight, how wonderful would it be?

Her gaze softened and the corners of her mouth rose up. She was so lost in caressing the leaf she missed the look of tenderness in Xíng Zhǐ’s eyes and the smile on his lips.

“Do you want to sit in the tree for a while?”

Shěn Lí looked at him stupidly as she asked, “Is that even possible?” She carefully fingered the trunk of the tree, barely daring to touch it. “Won’t it break?”

Xíng Zhǐ was amused. “I’ll take responsibility if it breaks.” He held Shěn Lí’s waist as he brought them both up onto a sturdy branch. The moonlight filtered through the leaves and shone down on them; it felt as though they were sitting in their own secret hiding place.

Shěn Lí’s eyes widened at the view. She sighed and spoke with a wistful tone in her voice, “It’s so beautiful. It’s like there’s music in the air.” She stared mesmerized at the new shoots springing from the branches.

Hearing this, Xíng Zhǐ pulled a single leaf to his lips and blew a melody. Shěn Lí was pleasantly surprised. How easy. All he did was blow at a leaf. She mimicked his actions, grabbing a leaf and blowing fiercely on it. The result was less than stellar. The leaf shot out of her hand like an arrow and jabbed into the ground below.

“Ha?!” The music in the trees stopped. Stunned, she turned to look at Xíng Zhǐ. “Immortal High God, are you laughing at me?” She narrowed her eyes about to get up.

“No I was just thinking,” Xíng Zhǐ laughed as he turned to look at the moon, “that the moonlight this evening is really nice.”

c23: The Second Seal in the Lake

c23: The Second Seal in the Lake

[Dec. 13th, 2018]
 . . .

A crisp refreshing wind blew down the hills into camp, cutting through the miasma and clearing the air, allowing the bright moon to shine gloriously down from the sky. Everyone in camp looked up in amazement at the sight. How long had it been since any of them enjoyed such a view?

Mò Fāng sat on the white stone training platform quietly gazing at the character imprinted on the hill. He was in a contemplative mood.

“Here.” Shàng Běi tossed a jug of wine at Mò Fāng. He jumped up on to the platform and made himself comfortable next to the other man. “Injured people shouldn’t drink liquor straight, so I cut it with some water. Hahaha!”

Mò Fāng shook the bottle. “No. Drinking leads to mistakes.”

“OK. Even if you won't drink it, just take it anyway.” Shàng Běi raised his head and poured a mouthful down his throat. Then he glanced at Mò Fāng and said, “Do you still think Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ was bullying Her Highness?” Silence met his question. “Hahaha!” he laughed at Mò Fāng’s refusal to answer. “Immortal High God’s personality is really strange, but if you look at his aura, it’s insanely pure. An aura of that magnitude, neither you nor I would have been able to withstand it. I’m sure our legs would have turned to jelly had either of us switched places with Her Highness.”

Mò Fāng nodded. Even if he didn’t understand it then, he did now. The moon’s glow, the fresh clean breeze, he could feel Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ’s consideration for them in these actions. It was just that. . . 

“Hey! The moon’s been out for so long. Shouldn’t they have finished what they were doing and be back already?”

Mò Fāng gripped the jug and uncorked it. He chugged down the wine trying to drown his sorrow. The first mouthful was immediately followed by a second, then a third, until his face blushed red.

Shàng Běi laughed mischievously at the sight. Shàng Běi understood; after all he had felt the same way a long time ago. He wanted to say something heartfelt and wise, but what came out was, “What about Her Highness do you like?” Such a direct question. He wanted to slap his mouth the moment it came out.

The drunken Mò Fāng looked at the moon in a daze. “What I like?” he whispered as if to himself. “Is there anything I don’t like?”

“Oh. . . ” Shàng Běi, stumped for words, scratched his head at the tricky dilemma. “You’ve got it bad.”

As if on cue, a light streaked across the night sky landing somewhere on the other side of camp. Mò Fāng got up, leaving Shàng Běi behind as he walked over weaving around the tents. He saw Xíng Zhǐ grab a leaf from above Shěn Lí’s head in front of one of the tents.

She snatched the leaf back. “Another day, I will blow a melody from this leaf for you to hear.”

Xíng Zhǐ smiled and said, “I will await that beautiful melody then,” before turning to leave.

Shěn Lí was intent on doing the same. She turned around and was about to enter her tent when she caught a glimpse of Mò Fāng out of the corner of her eye. She paused. “Mò Fāng,” she called out.

With his head hung low, Mò Fāng obediently walked over. Shěn Lí said, “The Demon emperor doesn’t know I’m here. Return and report my presence and the events that happened here to the emperor. Returning early, it will also be good for your recuperation.”

This. . .  was this her way of making him leave? Clenching his jaw, Mò Fāng knelt on one knee to accept the order. “As commanded.”

Shěn Lí smelled alcohol on his body when he came over. She wanted to remind him not to drink while his body was still recovering, but with things the way they were, she changed her mind part way through. It was better to not say. She turned around to head back into her tent. After she left, Mò Fāng didn’t get up, but remained kneeling like that for a long time.

 . . .

Shěn Lí saw Mò Fāng off the next day. Sighing, she thought about his confession. She had never met someone who had the courage to confess to her. Unfortunately, Mò Fāng had lousy timing.

She wanted to give the person she liked all of her, but the current her couldn’t do that. Even though Xíng Yún died, his presence still loomed large in her mind, preventing her from returning anyone’s affections. She didn’t know if things would change in the future, but she knew she didn’t have space for anyone right now. Not to mention there was her fiancé, Fú Róng. Just thinking about him gave her a headache.

She turned her head up to the sky and the clean air helped relax her heart. She would lead Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ to another of the seals later today. The continued improvement in air quality would uplift the soldiers’ mentality. She smiled. It had been a long time since she’d looked forward to doing something.

 . . .

It wasn’t until late in the evening that Xíng Zhǐ leisurely walked up.

Shěn Lí calmed herself before speaking. “Immortal High God, do you know what time it is?”

Ignoring her provocation, Xíng Zhǐ asked, “How’s the leaf blowing going?”

Shěn Lí’s face stiffened as she recalled her efforts with the leaf yesterday. She coughed, embarrassed. “We should take care of business first. Yesterday, you said there were several seals. The one on the high mountain, we already fixed. Let’s use today to go to the lake in the west. Thanks to the purification of the mountain yesterday, the air cleared a lot. We’ll be able to see the ground even if we fly high up.”


 . . .

Their trip over was smooth without any problems. Upon landing the appearance of the lake made Shěn Lí frown. The miasma had left its imprint leaving the lake looking more like an overgrown swamp than anything else.

Xíng Zhǐ was unphased by the filthy water. “Let’s go in.”

Shěn Lí was stunned. “Go in?” She shook her head immediately. “The foot soldiers never patrol this area and they’ve never gone into the lake. We don’t have a map of the region underneath. I won’t be able to assist you with the path. Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ will have to go in alone. I will wait here on the banks for your return.”

That made Xíng Zhǐ laugh. “Does Your Highness not know how to swim?”

Shěn Lí was born with a natural aversion to water. Her water magic was abysmal. Of course she didn’t know how to swim! She’d nearly drowned that day when Xíng Yún tossed her chicken form into the tiny pond in his backyard. Now Xíng Zhǐ wanted her to go into a lake so muddy that visibility was practically nonexistent. . .  yes! She was unwilling! She was loath to expose her weakness in front of him but without an alternative. . . “No.”

“What about water repellent spells?”


Xíng Zhǐ nodded. At that Shěn Lí retreated a few steps, however his next words froze her.

“That’s fine. I’ll lead you then.”

“Huh?” Had she heard correctly? “Wait, hold on. . . ” She was about to refuse, but before she could even open her mouth, Xíng Zhǐ had moved his fingers and a black sheet of darkness instantly covered her vision. Although her vision was obscured, she could hear vague “glu glu” sounds around her. She knew she was in the water and her heart tightened at the knowledge. Her body was rigid with tension, but she reached out and gripped Xíng Zhǐ’s hand like her life depended on it.

“Don’t be so nervous.” Xíng Zhǐ’s voice sounded faintly from nearby. “Down here you can breathe the same as up there. My water repellent spell isn’t so weak it would fail that easily.”

Shěn Lí breathed in hesitantly after Xíng Zhǐ spoke. The success encouraged her to take another deep breath in and then out. She really could breathe underwater! She was so relieved; however, the relief was quickly replaced by rising anger. “That was completely uncalled for!”

“The water repellent spell will stop working if you let go of my hand.”

His words put her on alert and she immediately became obedient. Though she tightened her hold on Xíng Zhǐ she was still resentful enough to yell at him. “It’s pitch black here. You dragging me with you, what’s the use? Let me go back up!”

“But I’d be afraid to go in alone.”

What a ridiculous sentence! How could he spout such nonsense?! Shěn Lí was practically choking on the curses threatening to erupt from the fire in her belly. Although she kept them from coming out, her thoughts were unkind: His respectful venerable self resided Celestial realm for how many years now? What hardships, what disturbances had he not faced?! To dare say he’d be afraid of a small lake. . .  he was just toying with her!

But remembering yesterday and the character outline on the hill, Shěn Lí reasoned he had to have a plan and a reason for dragging her along. She decided to play whatever role he had in mind for her. Just as she hardened her resolve, she was thrown for a loop by Xíng Zhǐ’s next words. “We’re here.”

Suddenly a beam of blue light flashing ahead caught her attention. Looking at it she saw it was coming from a strangely shaped stone statue. Xíng Zhǐ placed his hand on the topmost part of it, closed his eyes and chanted an incantation that Shěn Lí couldn’t understand. Whatever it was, it made the water around them ripple and vibrate.

A part of the statue crumbled away revealing a sparkling translucent disk that emitted a light bright enough to hurt Shěn Lí’s eyes. More parts of the statue crumbled and turned to dust, the speed ever increasing until its insides were completely revealed. A solid bright pillar of ice lay inside. Xíng Zhǐ poured his energy into it. A frigid cold invaded the area as the temperature dropped.

Water passed through the ice pillar in an unceasing flow and emerged on the other side free of murkiness, shining clear and crystalline. The once pitch-black lake turned translucent and sparkled gloriously.

Shěn Lí raised her head and stared at the top of the ice pillar as wave after wave of water rippled through it on its way into the lake, filling the bottom with water warmed by the sun. A hard to come by feeling of serenity blossomed in her chest. It was like water was rushing through her own heart and clearing away all the fear that had gathered over time, unwinding and relaxing her.

“Fish should be able to spawn in the lake now.”

“Naturally,” Xíng Zhǐ replied.

She turned around to look at him. “Aren’t there two more seals? Let’s find them quickly,” Shěn Lí excitedly said.

“Your Highness doesn’t have to worry about the other two seals.” Xíng Zhǐ patted the pillar of ice in a gesture that appeared placating. He pulled Shěn Lí along with him as he circled it. “There’s one located below the training platform back at camp. When we return, just tell everyone to stay away from the area while I mend the seal. After that will be the steel chains in front of the Ruined Abyss.”

Shěn Lí realized Xíng Zhǐ had always known the location of the seals. She thought out loud, “The mountaintop for wood, the lake for water, the camp for earth, the Ruins for metal. These are four of the five elements.” She frowned as she continued, “We’re missing fire. Where would that be? The seals won’t be as powerful if the five elements are not aligned."

Xíng Zhǐ smiled, “We’ll handle the next two seals together, but the fire one I’ll do alone. Your Highness doesn’t need to be worried. Since I, Xíng Zhǐ, am here the borders will be purified.” Xíng Zhǐ turned around to move back. Unexpectedly, his robe tangled up and caught on the ice pillar. He automatically reached down to fix it, letting go of Shěn Lí’s hand in the process. He caught Shěn Lí raising her eyebrows while looking at the hand he just released.

Xíng Zhǐ shook his head and laughed as he said, “Busted huh?” He raised his head to look at her, expecting her to give him a piece of her mind. But instead when their eyes met, she appeared distracted. Xíng Zhǐ took advantage of the situation. Smiling he said, “Let’s go back.”

c24: The Crack in the Ruins

c24: The Crack in the Ruins

[Feb. 19th, 2019]
 . . .

Based on Xíng Zhǐ’s words, of the two seals remaining, one was guarded by the stone statue below the training platform at camp. Once they returned, she ordered the troops to vacate the vicinity, leaving about a mile between them and camp. She turned to follow the troops out after giving her orders, but Xíng Zhǐ beckoned her over before she could run away.

“It will take some time to manage this seal. Stay and guard over me; ensure that I’m not disturbed.”

The troops already left the area. Which one of them would dare disturb him? The words were there, but Shěn Lí choked them back as she stood motionlessly watching Xíng Zhǐ.

He pressed his hand on top of the statue’s head. As with the previous seals, a gradual light spread out while the land underneath trembled. Shěn Lí focused solely on Xíng Zhǐ’s face, trying to size him up.

The once dry soil gradually darkened with moisture, and tiny green sprouts wiggled out of the dirt even between the nooks and crannies of the tents. The air cleared. Unlike with the previous seals, this time Shěn Lí’s heart didn’t feel light and free but was instead heavy and weighted down by the clean air.

The feeling was fleeting and she didn’t dwell on it. She sensed Xíng Zhǐ was almost finished, so she walked towards him while avoiding his eyes. “Once matters regarding the Ruins are complete, I will return to the palace to receive my punishment.” She turned and walked away after saying this.

Xíng Zhǐ’s eyes darkened following her receding back.

 . . .

[Some time later in front of the Ruins.]

The spot Shěn Lí battled the scorpion-tailed fox was some distance away from the Ruins, so this was her first time being so close to it. She was shocked at the dark crack in the air above the chain.

Dense black miasma seeped out of it, spreading all around. Very quickly the three seals activated and stopped the spread, roughly keeping the miasma contained, however, the miasma still managed to affect the emotional state of those nearby in the short time it flowed unchecked. It was fortunate the seals activated so quickly, else the impact of the cracked seal would have been devastating.

Unlike the Cold Palace of Atonement, which was created naturally through the forces of nature, the Ruins was an immense artificial space created by tearing out a piece of the world and isolating it in its own space. Xíng Zhǐ had created it as a cage to hold monsters hundreds of times more powerful than the single scorpion-tailed fox she fought against.

Shěn Lí’s eyes took on a grim light. She glanced to her side as Xíng Zhǐ stepped over to her. The miasma scraped against his clothes and hair, yet his expression remained calm and unworried.

This man. . .  he really was the same.

She came out of her daze when she noticed a furrow creeping up on his brow. “What is it?”

“This place is in worse condition than I thought.” Xíng Zhǐ took two steps forward after speaking. He raised his right hand and slowly curled his fingers closed in a fist as he said, “But it doesn’t matter,” while smiling. A rattling rumbling sound came from the ground as a bright beam of light shot out, fiercely slamming into Xíng Zhǐ’s fisted hand and wedging itself inside his grip.

Shěn Lí stood transfixed. It was a chain completely covered in rust. Xíng Zhǐ held one end while the other end lay anchored in the ground. He moved his wrist and recited something to cause the rust to fade away and the chain to become taut in his hand.

Shěn Lí heard an explosive rumble from deep underground. Chains rose on either side of the crack. They further blocked the miasma, thinning it out and preventing it from obscuring their vision. With a clear view she was able to see that the gash in the air was about two feet wide and slowly decreasing in width as the chains squeezed in on it.

An ear-piercing shriek shot out from the Ruins inside the crack. Shěn Lí summoned her spear to her hand, her mind on alert and her body tense.

Seeing this Xíng Zhǐ calmly said, “Do not worry. They can’t come out.”

He barely finished his sentence when another shrill scream rang out. Things crashed and the earth around the Ruins trembled unendingly. Shěn Lí could feel the powerful killing intent of those trapped inside. Caged for over a millennium, their hatred for Xíng Zhǐ was beyond the bounds of rationality; they wanted to kill him desperately.

Shěn Lí frowned and the hand gripping her spear whitened in a fierce grip. Xíng Zhǐ’s hand holding the chain shook. The monsters’s voices before were indistinct and fuzzy, as though they were coming from a great distance, but a new voice rang out powerfully distinct and clear.

Xíng Zhǐ mouthed something, making his entire body and the chains held in his hands radiate an intense light. The ground shook even more violently.

Shěn Lí’s heartbeat sped up in sync with the tremors in the ground.

“I will kill you god of gods! I will kill you!” screamed the one inside the Ruins. The sound was so clear it felt like the words were spoken directly in her ear.

The impact was strong, like a drawn bow on a string. It reverberated in her head after drilling into her ears. Try as she might to withstand it, she finally succumbed to the pain and closed her eyes. Shěn Lí pressed her hand against her forehead trying to alleviate the pressure.

Her eyes were a crimson red when she reopened them. A murderous urge to kill surged up from the bottom of her heart. She wanted to fight! She wanted bloodshed! The urge told her the confusion in her heart would clear if she became violent.

Xíng Zhǐ’s robe flipped as he dashed over to her. His expression remained unchanged as he finished the last verses of an incantation. He didn’t look behind as he did this. The chain slackened in his hand and an even more fierce blinding light burned into it as it dragged on the ground. The intensity of the lighted chains on either side of the gash spiked up at this. The monsters inside wailed and screeched before abruptly falling silent.

At the same time the crack shrank considerably. All that remained was an inch-long demarcation that was barely noticeable. So that’s the seal holding thousands of monster beasts at bay, thought Shěn Lí.

Suddenly a wave of qi slammed into Shěn Lí’s body. Unlike the seals’ cleansing wind, this was a rough and abrupt energy that knocked directly against her gut, against the urge to kill that had bloomed there.

Black blood, like boiling water, erupted from her mouth. The blood vaporized and disappeared upon contact with the ground.

A cool breeze blew into the quiet.

“This. . . ” Shěn Lí stared stupefied at the ground.

Xíng Zhǐ answered with, “Impurities made poisonous by the monsters,” as he pulled out a white cloth from his sleeve. He held the fabric out to her.

Shěn Lí stared in a daze at the pristine white cloth in his hand. Coming to her senses, she reached for it and pressed it to her lips, wiping the residual bloodstain away.

Xíng Zhǐ walked to the front of the Ruins while she did so. He stood in front of the chain and gently rubbed the crack it was guarding.

“You were soaked in the miasma inside the scorpion-tailed fox’s belly when it swallowed you. The Demon race is very susceptible to the effects of the miasma erosion. While I was mending the seals earlier, I was also purifying the miasma in your body.”

It suddenly dawned on Shěn Lí the reason he dragged her along. “That’s why you were so insistent that I lead the way.” Her eyes became thoughtful as she asked, “Was that the only reason?”


The answer gave her pause.

Xíng Zhǐ returned her gaze with a neutral expression on his face. Speaking in a light tone he said, “The fire seal is located inside the Ruins. The impurities have been purged from Your Highness’s body so there is no further need for Your Highness to follow me. Please return to camp and reorganize the troops. I will stay here and finish the job. Once done, I will return to the Immortal realm. Rest assured I will not inconvenience Your Highness any further.”

The wind blew between them catching the fabric in her hand and pulling it out of her loosened grip.

Shěn Lí gave him a fisted salute and in a flat voice said, “Many thanks to Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ for helping the Demon realm in this crisis.” Finished, she coolly tossed her hair back, turned and decisively walked away.

She didn’t turn back to look so she didn’t see that Xíng Zhǐ watched her till she was out of sight.

 . . .

That night the moon was bright and clear as Shěn Lí put her tent in order before preparing to turn in for the night. She saw a shadow pacing back and forth outside as she did so. She loudly called out, “Come in.”

Shàng Běi lifted the tent flap and stepped inside. He wanted to be tactful but what came out of his mouth was anything but. He gave a heavy sigh and said, “Your Highness! Why’d you let Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ go?”

Shěn Lí gave him a look before saying, “If Immortal High God wants to leave, who am I to stop him?”

“Aiii!” Shàng Běi uttered regretfully. “I knew I should have talked to him myself when I had the chance.”

“Huh?!” Shěn Lí spoke in nearly a shriek. “It was only a few days and you’re already infatuated with Immortal High God?” The words, as soon as they came out of her mouth, surprised her.

Shàng Běi stared blankly at her for a moment before getting his wits back from the shock. “Your Highness sure have a way with words. How could this one dare such a thing? It was just that, with the air being so clear and free of miasma these past few days, it’s been really wonderful. This one just thought, wouldn’t it be nice if Your Highness bumped into Immortal High God and decided to take a stroll around together, even if it had nothing to do with clearing the miasma, it would still help Your Highness feel better.” He shook his head and sighed again. “I. . .  was also. . .  kind of hoping. . .  that. . .  the air would stay clear long enough so those of my House could see the moon.”

That silenced Shěn Lí.

After Shàng Běi left, Shěn Lí became restless, no longer sleepy. Feeling confined, she got up and walked around camp. Tomorrow, she would lead them back to the capital. She watched as the soldiers chatted over drinks. She knew they were reluctant to leave and part with the clear sky and clean breeze. How great would it be if all the air in the Demon realm was this pure?

As Shěn Lí walked, Xíng Zhǐ somehow niggled his way into her thoughts. She thought about him leaving the Demon realm and an inexplicable urge to go to the Ruins came over her. She raised her head to look at the full moon surprised at herself. Before she knew it, her feet had taken her to the edges. Of course Xíng Zhǐ wasn’t here.

The crack above the chains had become so small it was practically invisible. The air was cleaner too. It seemed like the chains had been emitting faint light throughout the night. She reached out to touch them when a strange feeling came over her. She let out a self-deprecating smile at her own nervousness. She pulled her hand back intending to return to camp. A breeze from the crack brushed against her hair as she did so, startling her. A strange smell wafted its way to her nose. Frowning she raised her head to look at the moon, then the tiny dark crack. Another gust of wind burst out at her.

The scent. . .  was very familiar, reminding her of Immortal High God. Suddenly an eye appeared in the crack, shocking her. She wanted to retreat but her ankles felt like they were entangled by something. The eye looked happy.

Shěn Lí was no amateur in battle. After the initial surprise wore off, she quickly reacted and summoned her spear. It lay in her hand reflecting the moon. She immediately aimed it at the eye but instead of piercing through, it felt like she was plunging into quicksand. She couldn’t pull back her spear.

Shěn Lí gritted her teeth and tried to call forth her qi. Instead of escaping, she lost more ground as the force pulling her forward increased in strength. She let out a yelp before being completely pulled into the crack, which then promptly disappeared. The breeze blew by in the now deserted space.

c25: A Few Laps Around the Ruins

c25: A Few Laps Around the Ruins

[Feb. 24th, 2019]
 . . .

The clamor of broken voices kept assaulting Shěn Lí’s mind. She tried plugging her ears then shutting her senses, but nothing worked. The voices still dug through like a knife stabbing away at her sanity.

“Shut up! Shut up, shut up, shut. Up!” yelled Shěn Lí unable to take it any longer.

“Kill. . . ” It was just that one word ruthlessly repeated over and over again, its tone an alternation between sharp and muffled. Shěn Lí’s pupils turned a murky red, the color of dark blood. She rose forward, brandishing her weapon as though she was in a battlefield fighting an enemy in close combat.

Intense heat burned in her chest and rose to her eyes, and made them an even darker shade of red. Suddenly, a chill swept through her heart and invaded every limb and bone in her body, eventually extinguishing the heated flames. A palm gently stroked her hair, the warmth and heat were comforting like the rays of the sun on a cold day.

“Ai, how is it you’re so violent?”

Violent? Wasn’t she, when in the middle of that courtyard, already exercising a lot of restraint?

“Shěn Lí!” Xíng Zhǐ called out sharply trying to wake her up.

All she saw at first was darkness, but gradually Xíng Zhǐ’s snow white robe appeared in her vision. She looked at it confused for a moment before looking around and trying to regain her bearings. With knitted brow she asked, “This. . .  is this the Ruins?”

Xíng Zhǐ smiled and replied. “Your Highness is so sharp.”

“You. . .  Immortal High God, why are you still here? The seal?”

Xíng Zhǐ didn’t mince words. “It’s been restored, but mending all the seals recently took a lot of energy. I became careless and the monsters used the opportunity to break through my defenses. Somehow or other I ended up caught in one of their spells. I was unable to break away because the miasma has gotten so dense over the years of accumulation. Since I was unable to break away, I thought I’d take a stroll until I recovered enough to leave.”

Randomly stroll around a place as dangerous as this? A place filled with monster beasts? A place filled with miasma? Who randomly strolled around like that?!

Shěn Lí wanted to ask if he was wounded, but after his comment, she felt her worries were unfounded.

Xíng Zhǐ laughed lightly as he looked at Shěn Lí. “Is Your Highness also interested in a stroll?”

Shěn Lí smote her forehead at the ridiculousness of it. “No, I’m not. I – ,” she abruptly stopped. “I was patrolling the area with the troops. I was passing by here when a strange force dragged me in.”

“Oh?!” Xíng Zhǐ propped his chin on his hand thoughtfully. “How unexpected that they’d be able to pull Your Highness in. This group of monster beasts are more fascinating than expected!”

Fascinating?! This kind of thing was fascinating to him?!

Shěn Lí silently eyed Xíng Zhǐ before speaking. “Does Immortal High God have a way of getting out of here? Please share. I must return to the Imperial Palace tomorrow. If, by this morning I’m still missing, everyone will surely think. . . ” She sighed. “They will surely think I’m trying to escape from the marriage again. There will be some confusion.”

“I can’t leave right now.” Xíng Zhǐ turned his head in her direction as he spoke. He didn’t pause, but continued walking forward with complete confidence in the pitch darkness – a darkness where one couldn’t even discern up from down, never mind left from right.

Shěn Lí walked behind, anxiously following the sound of his footsteps. “Immortal High God, please stop joking. I’m serious. I don’t know how time flows here, or how many days have passed since I was pulled in, but we, both of us, need to leave. General Shàng Běi may have already withdrawn the troops. They may be marching back to the capital as we speak! And he will report that I fled the marriage – again! I will surely be punished!” Shěn Lí acknowledged that the circumstances looked bad, and that punishment was inevitable, but even the most accepting person would feel aggrieved!

Xíng Zhǐ turned around and sternly said, “Do you think I’m lying? Not taking this seriously?”

Shěn Lí, equally stern, replied. “It’s not called lying when a god does it, is it?”

Xíng Zhǐ’s expression grew somber. “I am serious when I say I can not leave.”

“Do you find it that amusing to provoke me?”

“Amusing?” The visibly bulging veins on Shěn Lí’s head made Xíng Zhǐ smile. He stopped walking and softly said, “Does Your Highness think I get amusement from deceiving Your Highness?”

“Don't you?!” Shěn Lí accused. “That you didn’t know the path up. That the water repellent spell would fail if I released your hand. Weren’t those all lies?!”

Xíng Zhǐ laughed but immediately replied with, “Well when put that way. . . But all those things, weren’t they to purify the miasma in your body? Honestly, helping Your Highness is quite a thankless job.”

Shěn Lí sucked in a deep breath to check the fire in her heart before saying, “Many thanks for Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ’s grace in saving this king. Now can we leave here?”

Xíng Zhǐ sighed. He just couldn’t convince this girl. He held his arm out and pulled the sleeve back, showing a severely mangled arm with numerous bite marks all over. Shěn Lí stared in horror as black tendrils of miasma seeped out of the wound. She stumbled back, barely able to catch her breath. She raised her eyes and looked at Xíng Zhǐ.

He shook his head as he hid his arm back under his sleeve. “See? I was trying not to frighten Your Highness.”

“This. . . this is. . . ”

“As I said, I was attacked while I was in the middle of restoring the fire seal. The monsters managed to get in a few bites while I was distracted. They think that weakening me will weaken the seal. What they don’t know is the seal is already complete. Even if I perish here, the seal won’t fade. Not for another millennium anyways.

There is a powerful seal in the Ruins, but just the one by itself, even if powered by a god like me, isn’t going to last forever. So, I made a second seal outside the Ruins, powered by the five elements, to supplement it. This second seal essentially acts as a redundancy. But for it to work, the two seals needed to be connected somehow. That’s why I placed the fire seal inside the Ruins. It acts as a conduit fusing my seal in the Ruins and the seal of the five elements together, essentially like a strong weave. It would take a lot of effort and time to break either seals, allowing those guarding it time to react, should something happen.”

Shěn Lí listened to the explanation, amazed at the complexity.

“Using a second seal that’s powered by the natural world is also more stable and enduring. But nature’s energy is not inexhaustible. After a millennium, even this kind of energy will need to be replenished. I returned to provide that support. This way the spiritual energy of the land will continue to strengthen the seals.

Nature’s power can be relied on again now that the fire seal has been restored. The strength of the ley lines will keep the miasma contained.” Xíng Yún gestured to his arm. “So, while this wound is healing, I can’t leave. Your Highness on the other hand . . .

The miasma in your body from before has been purified, but more gathered since your entry into the Ruins. The Demon race isn’t capable of purifying miasma, so it’s easy for your people to be contaminated by it. The seal won’t let Your Highness out because of the new miasma that’s clinging to your body now. And with this injury on my arm, I can’t forcefully expel it. So for now . . .”

Basically, they wouldn’t be able to leave until Xíng Zhǐ’s arm healed. Shěn Lí wrinkled her brow. “This injury . . . how long will it take to heal?”

“Soon, maybe two more laps around the Ruins.” He stopped talking and stared at Shěn Lí, a big smile on his face as he realized something. “Don’t worry. If we’re late in leaving I’ll go with you to see the Demon emperor, and we can set the record straight together. You won’t be wrongly accused of running away.” He tried to placate her and raised his hand as though to pat her on the head, but at the last second changed course, patting her on the shoulder instead.

Shěn Lí watched as he withdrew his hand and walked away. She tried to restrain herself, but in the end, she couldn’t stop from asking the question in her heart. “Immortal High God . . . is it possible. . .  that when an immortal high god sleeps for a day, that god incarnates and lives an entire lifetime as a mortal?”

Xíng Zhǐ stopped. “It’s possible.” He sensed she wasn’t following him anymore so he turned around. “Why?”

Shěn Lí gave him a hard stare before laughing at herself. It rang with self-mockery. “Nothing. Never mind. Sometimes the things Immortal High God does remind me of a friend I had.”

“Oh! Is that so?” Xíng Zhǐ turned around and resumed walking again, saying over his shoulder, “It’s incredibly rare for someone to resemble me.”

“Exactly! Right?!”

The silence after her words stretched out filling the space between them. Xíng Zhǐ continued walking like he didn’t intend to stop anytime soon. Finally he said, “Azure Sky king, It’s not good to be too persistent.”

Shěn Lí hung her head down. “Shěn Lí thanks Immortal High God for sharing this wisdom.” She fell back behind him and followed the sound of his footsteps, however, this proved an unwise move. With nothing around but monotonous darkness, her attention inevitably returned to Xíng Zhǐ’s movements in front of her. The only things serving as a distraction to the tedious walk were the way his hair bounced with every step he took and the way his robes swayed as he moved.

Out of the blue Xíng Zhǐ asked, “Your Highness fled the arranged marriage before. May I know why?”

The topic immediately made Shěn Lí wrinkle her brow and grimace in displeasure. “Immortal High God wants to know why I would try to escape marriage from a good-for-nothing philanderer? First, despite being the Immortal emperor’s 33rd grandson, he hasn’t achieved a single military merit deserving of mention. Second, in the thousand years he’s lived he hasn’t deigned to hold a single position in public office or participate in politics in any way. Third, the time he should spend learning, he spends chasing skirts! Someone like that only knows how to cause trouble! Had he been my grandson, I would have cut him down to size ages ago!”

Her fiery righteousness surprised Xíng Zhǐ so much he had to cover his mouth to hide his smile. “Lord Fú Róng is not that unbearable. Surely he’s capable of doing more than just pursuing female companionship . . .”

Shěn Lí’s rage burned even hotter at that. “Regardless of what he can or can not do, the point is he and I are strangers. Why is there any talk of marriage at all?! If it weren’t for Immortal High God’s attempt to play matchmaker, this king wouldn’t have to deal with this mess! That's right! This king must ask. Why did Immortal High God arrange such a marriage?!”

“Because . . .” Xíng Zhǐ could only helplessly say, “I thought it would be a good match. . .  haha.”

 . . .

“Ah . . .achoo!” A naked Fú Róng was luxuriating in a rose petal laden bath at the Heavenly Temple when he was hit by a fit of sneezing.

His attendant immediately handed him a towel and prostrated before asking “My Lord, is the water too cold?”

Fú Róng waved his hand. “Get me a snack.”

After prostrating on the ground, the attendant got up to leave and do as commanded. The door was unceremoniously slammed open from the other side just as he neared it, causing him to stumble back in surprise and those incoming to tumble forward in a ball of tangled arms and legs.

They quickly righted themselves and staggered forward breathlessly yelling, “My Lord! My Lord!”

Fú Róng instantly chided them. “Stop! Don’t bring your filthy unwashed bodies into my bath!”

The attendants were forced to prostrate on the ground outside the bathing area while giving their news. “My Lord! Word just came from the Ruins. The monsters that broke through has been decapitated by the Azure Sky king! They say Her Highness’s eyes were red. She used the spear, given by the Immortal emperor, to pierce straight through the humungous beast! And! And then afterwards she speared its flesh and ate its meat! She ate the entire body! And drank all the blood!”

Fú Róng’s own blood drained from his face. He quickly grabbed his clothes, dressed and stepped barefoot out from behind the screen. He reached down and grabbed an attendant by the collar and shrilly asked, “Seriously?!”

“Yes! Absolutely!”

“Pre – prepare preparations! This lord is unwilling! This lord will meet with the emperor!”

Fú Róng later ran to the emperor and bawled his eyes out for half a day, begging and pleading that he didn’t want to die. The emperor, unable to stand it anymore, ordered an attendant to drag Fú Róng back to his own residence.

Fú Róng tossed and turn the entire night. Finally fed up, he bolted upright and yanked the covers off. “I can't take it!” Muttering to himself he said, “I’m going to the Demon realm to take a look for myself! Otherwise. . .  otherwise on the night of our nuptials . . . unprepared . . . I’ll surely die a tragic death.”

c26: An Unwanted Visitor

c26: An Unwanted Visitor

[Feb. 26th, 2019]
 . . .

It was so dark that it was hard to tell time. Shěn Lí didn’t know the direction they were walking or what their goals were. On top of that, she wasn’t sure how Xíng Zhǐ measured “two laps.” Several times she wanted to ask how much longer they had to walk, but his steps ahead of her were so sure and steady she could only clamp her mouth shut before the words could spill out. As a king, she needed to appear calm and collected.

Nonetheless she sighed repeatedly as her patience wore thin. The situation felt increasingly hopeless, like they were taking two steps forward only to retreat three. It was frustrating he wouldn’t take the necessary steps to resolve the dilemma. . . 

A strong wind suddenly blew by her ear. The killing intent it brought with it was unmistakable. Shěn Lí’s face tightened. “Monster beasts.”

“Finally, I was becoming impatient,” was Xíng Zhǐ’s nonchalant reply.

Shěn Lí was shocked by his words. She was still wondering about them when a high shrill erupted nearby, making her unconsciously summon her spear. She moved forward ready for battle.

Xíng Zhǐ held is arm out stopping her. He tilted his head in her direction and asked, “Do you wish to see what the Ruins look like?”

See the Ruins? Shěn Lí looked at him uncertain. Her heart wasn’t prepared when a dazzling ball of light appeared. It danced on the palm of Xíng Zhǐ’s hand before rushing off and slamming directly into something not too far away.

Though the impact was loud, the shrill scream that accompanied it was even louder. An explosion of light followed, puncturing the darkness and illuminating the world around them.

Shěn Lí saw the remains of a monster beasts, its limbs torn away and smashed to pieces. Countless murderous eyes revealed themselves in the light.

The monsters huddled in packs, many displaying grotesquely wide grins full of sharp jagged teeth. Some had their tongues hanging out with spit and drool dripping from their open mouths. Others withdrew behind the fallen body, retreating, but still looking at Shěn Lí and Xíng Zhǐ with vicious eyes.

Shěn Lí was shocked. Even though the tiny hairs on her body rose up, she maintained an air of outward calm. The darkness gradually returned as the ball of light faded away. She asked, “This whole time we were walking. . .  you knew they were watching us?”

“Of course.”

His light tone made Shěn Lí ponder silently. It had cost so much for her to kill the single fox-tailed scorpion. The person in front of her was able to dispatch a monster beasts while chatting. He could stroll so casually while surrounded by so many. This kind of power was mind boggling.

“Azure Sky king.” Xíng Zhǐ abruptly stopped. Turning to look at her he asked, “Does the air here feel nerve-wracking, fearsome?”

“No. . . ”

“Is that so.” His expression was grim as he said, “Make sure no one approaches the Ruins after we leave.” He glanced at Shěn Lí briefly before grabbing her hand. Energy moved from his hand into hers.

She watched as dark miasma ejected out of Xíng Zhǐ’s injured arm, while she felt something forced out of her body at the same time. Both things happened in the blink of an eye.

“Hold your breath.”

Shěn Lí immediately did as told, sucking in a deep breath and holding it in.

Sensing something, the surrounding monster beasts shrieked and began moving, launching themselves forward as one.

Shěn Lí’s head throbbed at the deep piercing shrieks but the sounds quickly faded away. She looked around, dazzled by the bright moonlight shining overhead. She raised her head and saw Xíng Zhǐ’s face in profile gradually becoming more distinct. His breath was erratic and droplets of sweat clung to his forehead.

Shěn Lí was confused. “Didn’t you say two laps around?”

“Hm.” Xíng Zhǐ massaged his forehead with the hand not holding hers. “Your Highness is very clever to realize we hadn’t completed two laps around the Ruins.”

“Then were you lying to me earlier?”

“No. It’s true we couldn’t leave the Ruins with the miasma on us. But the circumstances changed. I feared we would not be able to leave if I did not forcefully evacuate us at that moment. I used a powerful spell to physically transport us out.” His breath was hitched as he spoke. “The spell requires a lot of energy and injures the caster, even an immortal high god caster such as myself. I just need to rest for a moment.”

He released her hand and took a couple of steps away from her, now massaging his temples with both his hands in an effort to alleviate his condition.

Shěn Lí stared at him. Her wrist felt cool as a breeze blew by, highlighting the dampness his touch left behind on her skin. She realized his hand had been soaked in a cold sweat. It seemed even the immortal high gods weren’t invincible.

Even before being injured by the monsters in the Ruins, Xíng Zhǐ had spent a considerable amount of energy reconstructing the seals. The injury itself was complicated enough that he couldn’t drive the miasma out; however, it didn’t distract him from the murderous group of monster beasts following them inside the Ruins. Left with no other recourse, he was forced to use a powerful spell to eject the miasma out and escape the Ruins.

Shěn Lí covered the area his grasp had been with her other hand. Even this awesome god could get injured and suffer discomfort. . .  Ha! He liked to front just like everyone else!

The two walked back to camp together. It was much smaller than before with far fewer tents pitched. The general left behind to manage the camp was stunned to see them. He stared dumbstruck with a torch in one hand as they approached. “Immortal High God, Your Highness. . .  this. . . this. . . ”

“What’s going on? Where is General Shàng Běi?” Shěn Lí asked.

“Your Highness! You disappeared for over five days! General Shàng Běi thought you ran away again. He tried searching for you, but failed! He had no choice but to return to the capital and report to the emperor to receive his due punishment!”

Shěn Lí sighed. Sure enough. . . 

Xíng Zhǐ asked, “When did General Shàng Běi leave?”

“General Shàng Běi left yesterday with the troops.”

“Such a large army will be slow even in normal circumstances. It will be even slower with the number of injured soldiers in the party. We may be able to overtake them and reach the capital first.”

Shěn Lí was quick in deciding. “We leave immediately.” Only after speaking did she look over at Xíng Zhǐ for confirmation.

Xíng Zhǐ smiled saying, “Your Highness need not worry. I will be able to keep up.”

Shěn Lí nodded in acknowledgment and immediately summoned a cloud over. Xíng Zhǐ followed closely behind on his own cloud.

The general below looked at their retreating figures. He wondered to the foot soldier next to him, “Tch. San Zi, am I oversensitive or was there something going on between them?”

“General. . .  If you’re overly sensitive then so am I. . . ”

 . . .

Shěn Lí and Xíng Zhǐ did indeed reach the capital before the army. From her perch above in the clouds, Shěn Lí saw a rare sight: the streets lined with flags and banners in celebration of the army’s triumphant return.

With obvious pride in her voice she said, “I love coming back from a successful military campaign and seeing this. The colorful flags, everyone’s happy faces, they make me realize what I’m fighting for.”

This certainly surprised Xíng Zhǐ. He looked up at her and the smile that lit up her face. The sight left a favorable impression of her on him, making him more inclined towards her. “Mm. Your Highness is likewise also inspirational.”

When Shěn Lí finally caught sight of her residence she said, “Immortal High God, can you continue forward to the palace on your own? It would be improper for me to meet the emperor as I am now. I will go home first and wash up before presenting myself.”

“I . . .” Xíng Zhǐ didn’t get to complete this sentence before a mournful female cry sounded below.

“You Highness! Your Highness! You’re finally back!”

Shěn Lí frowned as she moved toward the direction of the voice. There running towards her from the guest quarters was a weeping girl with a bucket in her arms. It was Ròu Yā. She prostrated below Shěn Lí, bitterly crying like no tomorrow.

At the sight, Shěn Lí jumped down from her cloud and walked over. “What’s wrong? Why are you so agitated?”

Ròu Yā looked up with eyes puffy from crying. Her expression was so foolish and disbelieving that Shěn Lí was prompted to ask, “What is it?” a frown on her face.

At that question, Ròu Yā tossed the bucket away and threw her arms around Shěn Lí’s waist, hugging the other like her life depended on it. Through tears she mumbled, “Wuu wuu! Your Highness! There’s a demonic beast that’s bullying me!”

Shěn Lí’s heart skipped a beat at the mention of a g beast. Before she could interrogate Ròu Yā further, the doors to the guest rooms opened with a loud bang.

A man, braving the weather with only a tiny cotton sheet around his waist, came out. The mist from the room behind him shrouded most of his body in wispy tendrils of white vapor. “Girl, you are dead!” He was practically spitting in anger. “You’ve scalded this lord! Look at this skin! It’s peeling!”

A burst of cold air blew by as he finished. The mist from the room dissipated and left him completely exposed, save for the minor cover of the cloth. He finally realized there were two other people in the courtyard. He stared.

Xíng Zhǐ stared back, somewhat surprised at the scene before him.

Shěn Lí looked at the slightly blanched red body of the man in front of her. She narrowed her eyes as she demanded, “And who are you?”

The one being questioned remained steadfastly silent. The only sound in the courtyard was Ròu Yā’s incessant weeping accompanied by her wretched cries of, “Your Highness. . .  Your Highness. . . ”

At those identifying words the man knew – he knew without a doubt – the identity of the new woman. His face turned green at the realization.

Xíng Zhǐ faintly smiled as he swiftly draped a white robe over Fú Róng, saying as he did so, “Lord Fú Róng, did the Immortal emperor not teach you it’s impolite to show up so poorly clothed in front of others? It’s important to be properly dressed when going out.”

Though the smile was there, Fú Róng felt no warmth from it, instead there was a distinct chill that made him shiver uncontrollably. He hurried back inside and closed the door behind him.

The courtyard became quiet with him gone.

Shěn Lí stiffly turned to Xíng Zhǐ. “That’s Lord Fú Róng? The Immortal emperor’s grandson?”

Xíng Zhǐ nodded in answer to her question.

Shěn Lí grimaced and looked down at Ròu Yā who was still hanging onto her waist. Shěn Lí picked her up by the collar and coldly asked, “Why was that thing allowed into this king’s residence?”

Ròu Yā renewed her crying. “I didn’t want to! But. . .  but it was the emperor’s command! I couldn’t disobey! Wuu wuu!”

Shěn Lí felt a headache coming on. She released Ròu Yā and massaged her temples while Ròu Yā continued tearfully explaining.

“You Highness said Your Highness was going into seclusion to meditate, but it was obviously to run away! After Your Highness left, a palace official came and caught Parrot lying on the bed mimicking Your Highness’s human form. The official shook Parrot a few times and forced Parrot to revert to his bird form. The official took Parrot away and he hasn’t been back since. I was so heartbroken. Wuu! Wuu!”

“Afterwards. . .  afterwards word got around that Lord Fú Róng came to the Demon realm. The emperor arranged lodgings for him here! I had to wait on him this entire time! He’s so high maintenance!”

“He’s a picky eater and he annoys Cook! He throws stuff and gives Mrs. Zhang[notes] endless work! I have to get his bath ready at a moment’s notice. The water’s always too hot or too cold with him! Wuu wuu! He’s so troublesome! Your Highness, you should just beat him to death!”

“Such impudence!” The door banged open with a fury as Fú Róng stepped over the doorway. “How dare a servant speak that way!”

Shěn Lí pushed Ròu Yā behind her as she coldly eyed Fú Róng before formally speaking to him. “My servant dares speak so. If Lord Fú Róng is dissatisfied, then speak. I, Shěn Lí, will listen.”

Fú Róng unconsciously gulped as he remembered the rumors about Shěn Lí eating the monsters. With fear clear in his eyes he said, “I was just expressing an opinion . . .”

“Your Lordship may have been offended when I descended to the Lower realms, however, I still expect an to answer my question. Why come to the Demon realm to purposefully seek discontentment when both comfort and happiness are readily available in the Immortal realm?”

She was blunt and to the point; her words were cold and did nothing to disguise her contempt. “Is it possible Your Lordship is unaware of my failed attempt to flee the marriage several days ago? Does Your Lordship not understand you're the last person this king wishes to see right now?”

c27: Reporting to the Emperor

c27: Reporting to the emperor

[April 30, 2019]
 . . .

A murderous aura prickling his flesh made Fú Róng stop talking and retreat a step. His forehead broke out in a cold sweat. This woman . . . I’m absolutely not bringing her home as wife! Any delusions he may have had about her instantly evaporated.

He cleared his throat and spoke, “This lord, this lord heard that the ya shou had escaped from the Ruins, that miasma was overflowing and contaminating the areas nearby. Therefore . . . out of kindness, this lord came to offer assistance in purifying the air. So therefore, Your Highness . . .” After trailing off he changed his tone and enthusiastically said, "there’s no need to stand on ceremony with one another!”

Shěn Lí narrowed her eyes and gave him a once over: Effeminate face, gaudy clothes, coiled mane bound with blindingly flashy hairpin made of gold and jade. With her assessment complete, Shěn Lí sneered. "Assist? Your Highness must be joking.”

Apart from his imperial grandfather, who often ignored him, few would dare treat him so dismissively. Anger roared in his heart.

“What do you mean by that?! Do you understand this lord?! Are you mocking this lord’s sincerity? No other immortal would dare say what you’ve said. Furthermore, with the exception of Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ, who else even bothered to come and offer assistance?!”

“Please stop making such a scene.” Xíng Zhǐ broke in with a look at Fú Róng. “Does the Immortal emperor know Your Lordship is here?”

Fú Róng glanced at Xíng Zhǐ. It was a tricky situation. He was normally treated with indifference, with an occasional smile here and there. It was just that whenever Xíng Zhǐ spoke to him, he would unconsciously tense up, feeling as though he needed to be on his best behavior. “Naturally. Imperial Grandfather gave permission. This lord is to stay and assist the people of the Demon realm.”

Of course that was just an excuse to get him and Shěn Lí together in the hopes they would get closer. Those present knew this, but didn’t bother revealing the truth.

Shěn Lí rubbed her forehead. To think a day like this would come. There was no other choice but to allow Fú Róng to continue staying under her roof.

Suddenly Xíng Zhǐ spoke from behind. “It so happens the day is still early and Your Lordship just finished bathing. Being refreshed from head to toe, Your Lordship is in excellent condition to help the people.” He pointed a finger at the courtyard gates. “Shouldn’t Your Lordship build on this moment and leave immediately?”

“Ah!” uttered Fú Róng with a blank look on his face.

Shěn Lí also turned a surprised gaze at Xíng Zhǐ. Everyone here was fully aware helping the common people was just an excuse. Immortal High God . . . was bullying Fú Róng!

“On my way here I noticed a dense patch of miasma in the southeast corner of the capital. Your Lordship, why not start by looking there?” Xíng Zhǐ pointed in the direction.

Fú Róng, unable to stop what he started, could only nod in resignation. “Of course, Immortal High God . . .”

Shěn Lí waited until Fú Róng left before asking, “Did he offend Immortal High God somehow?”

“Why would Your Highness ask such a thing?”

“It . . . seemed like Immortal High God was bullying him just now.”

Instead of answering, Xíng Zhǐ laughed at her question, making it awkward for her to ask again. She went back inside to take a bath after telling Ròu Yā to prepare some hot water.

Xíng Zhǐ stood alone in the yard rubbing the space between his brows muttering to himself. “Every time I look at him, I can’t help but want to bully him.” Xíng Zhǐ sighed, a smile on his lips. “I wonder why."

After properly bathing and cleaning herself, Shěn Lí left with Xíng Zhǐ for the Demon emperor’s palace.

 . . .

Incidentally, General Shàng Běi was using the fastest horses the army had to deliver a report to the emperor. That report now lay open on the emperor’s desk. The emperor had just finished reading and was about to summon Qīng Yán and Chì Róng[notes] when an attendant outside announced he had news.

“Your Majesty, the Azure Sky king and Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ are here.”

The announcement surprised the emperor. He folded the report and placed it to the side. After taking a moment to compose himself he called out, “Come in.” He rose to welcome Xíng Zhǐ as the doors opened. “Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ, what an honor. Please excuse the lack of welcome. I hope Immortal High God can forgive me.”

“Your Majesty is too polite.” Xíng Zhǐ laughed. “I do not wish to disturb Your Majesty. My only reason for descending to these realms was to mend the Ruins. It is just that the Azure Sky king needed a witness . . .” He turned to look at Shěn Lí who promptly stepped forward and explained.

“Your Majesty, I really did not flee the marriage! Leaving for the boundaries this time, it really was just to defeat the monsters. The plan was to return with General Shàng Běi, however something unexpected happened . . .”

The Demon emperor glanced over at Shěn Lí upon hearing this. “The person has already returned. What more needs to be said about the matter? Moreover, Mò Fāng has already spoken of your meritorious deeds. They are more than enough to make up for any earlier mistakes. No demerit will be issued, nor will there be further investigations regarding the matter.”

Shěn Lí was happy. Though she always behaved audaciously, even as a child, she revered the emperor and held him in high regard. She hung her head down in a rare display of smugness for having escaped punishment, like a child who got away with stealing cookies from the cookie jar.

Xíng Zhǐ couldn’t help but feel inclined towards her upon seeing her this way.

The emperor swept his gaze over the expressions of the two before him. “Immortal High God came from such a distance, why not stay in the Demon realm for a few days and enjoy our hospitality and friendship?”

“I will have to disturb Your Majesty then.”

The Demon emperor nodded and called forth an attendant. He was in the middle of issuing an order to have a guest residence prepared when Xíng Zhǐ interrupted.

“At the present time the only one I’m familiar with is the Azure Sky king. It would be better to stay at Her Highness’s residence, especially since Her Highness can be my escort and explain the local customs and practices.”

For a moment Shěn Lí was stunned but she quickly replied. “That is possible . . .”

The emperor stared at them with his discerning eyes for a moment before speaking from behind the silver mask. “We will leave it at that then. There are some family matters I wish to discuss with Shěn Lí. Will Immortal High God please excuse us and wait in the hall?”

Xíng Zhǐ nodded and an attendant immediately came over and bowed to him, intending to lead him out.

“How is your injury?”

“It won’t be a hinderance in any way.”

“Lord Fú Róng descended to the Demon realm. He is staying at your residence as well. With two more people . . . will you need extra servants to help?

“For that, no, but is it possible to return my parrot?”

“Take it, take it. A person can die from all the noise it makes.”

Xíng Zhǐ paused just at the door and inclined this head to the side to look at Shěn Lí as she conversed with the emperor. He saw her smile while scratching her head and saying, “He is a bit noisy.” She was relaxed and unguarded. Her eyes revealed the complete trust and confidence she had in the person in front of her and the reliance she had in their relationship.

A thought suddenly occurred to Xíng Zhǐ: This kind of treatment from Shěn Lí . . . was not bad.

Once the door closed and Xíng Zhǐ’s footsteps faded, the emperor abruptly turned away and asked, “Did you see inside to the Ruins?”

The question surprised Shěn Lí. Thinking about the Ruins and the darkness inside, about the monsters exposed by the beam of light, made her mood swiftly change. “Yes.” Not wanting to worry the emperor, she didn’t reveal that she had not only seen the Ruins, but had gone inside.

“Did the miasma actively obstruct you?”

Shěn Lí shook her head. “Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ had already cleared it away.”

The emperor nodded thoughtfully. He looked at Shěn Lí for a moment before coming to a decision. He abruptly turned around again and walked over to the couch. “Come, follow me.”

Together they walked to the side of his desk. Opening it revealed a dark wooden board, which he lightly pressed with a finger. This immediately caused heavy fog to spring from underfoot.

Shěn Lí stared. A magic spell was activating under them. In amazement, she raised her head to look at the emperor. She was only vaguely aware of the emperor waving his hand and dispersing the fog with a fierce wind. The scent of something strange managed to waft across the tip of her nose. It reminded her of the cold air in the forest, just like . . .

The Ruins!

She immediately tensed up on alert. Eventually though the sense of impending danger ceased and Shěn Lí turned her head left and right surveying her surroundings. It seemed they were inside a large hall. A path of snowy white jade steps led to the center of the room where an upraised altar stood. Above the altar on the shrine was a single box suspended in the air.

Shěn Lí asked, “Where are we?”

“Memorial Hall” The eway the emperor spoke, it was as though he was trying to minimize the import of his words.

Shěn Lí wasn’t aware the Demon realm even had a memorial hall like this, never mind what was worshiped or consecrated here. On top of all that, an array for the entrance was in the Demon emperor’s room . . .

The Demon emperor reached up and slowly lifted the mask off his face with one hand. Then he carefully and slowly placed it down. He looked unwell with pale skin and sickly green lips; it was as though he was suffering from a long illness. As if in direct contrast to this, his dark eyes were exceptional and lively. Most shocking however was the fact that the face revealed was that of a woman.

She whispered, “Li-er,” her voice already regaining its feminine pitch.

Apparently Shěn Lí was aware of this as she did not react with surprise. Instead, she stepped closer and glanced at the emperor before speaking. “Demon emperor, it has been so long since your mask was removed, I nearly forgot your face.”

The emperor shot Shěn Lí a look at the comment, not understanding it was a joke. She led Shěn Lí step by step to the top of the altar. Once there ,she reached for the box and opened it.

“This is yours.” The emperor showed her a sparkling and translucent ocean blue bead. “You were born with this, however for a child to bear the burden of something this powerful was simply too much to ask. Your mother begged me to remove it. By then it had already made changes to your inner qi. I also feared those with ill intent would target you for the bead so I took it out of you. It’s been stored here since then waiting for the day you would need it.”

Shěn Lí stared lost in thought at the bead, remembering. She knew she had been born with it, but thought it had been digested in her belly long ago. To think it had been stored in such a mysterious place was amazing.

The crystal-clear bead radiated heat as it lay in the box.

Shěn Lí whispered, “My mother . . . has she seen this?”

“Of course.”

Shěn Lí’s vision blurred as she remembered her parents. Both had passed a thousand years ago fighting in the great war against the monsters. She was born on the battlefield but was too young to remember her parents, so what she knew was all gained from the sparse words the emperor spoke about them.

Shěn Lí reached inside and pulled it from the box. She looked at it thoughtfully. It was one of the few things that connected her with her mother.

“Swallow it.”

“Hmm?” Shěn Lí was confused for a moment. “Swallow it?”

The emperor saw how reluctant she was to part with the bead. “Be at ease Shěn Lí. It will not be digested in your body. Once inside it will find a quiet place to rest.”

Shěn Lí nodded in understanding, but she was reluctant. “I know but . . .” She stared at the bead intently. “I don’t want to let this warmth go. It’s like my mother is here . . .”

The Demon emperor dropped her gaze; her eyes gloomy. “Indeed, your mother’s hands were always warm.”

 . . .

Xíng Zhǐ was strolling in the reception hall when he noticed something. A curtain? He went to look and saw a cage. Shut away inside was a strange featherless life form that resembled a parrot. Perhaps because its feathers were plucked some time ago, there were tiny new feathers sprouts peeking through its skin. The awkward growth phase made for an exceptionally ugly bird.

Parrot watched as Xíng Zhǐ circled its cage twice. Finally fed up, it squawked out in anger. “What are you looking at huh?! What are you looking at?! Leave already! Scram!”

A surprised Xíng Zhǐ stared in silence for a moment before bursting out in laughter, laughing so hard he even bent over at the waist. The muffled laughter was evident despite his efforts to cover his mouth with his hand.

Parrot was beside itself. “You have the smell of an immortal god! Immortal god! I hate you! Just die already!”

“You’re the Azure Sky king’s parrot?” Xíng Zhǐ could barely restrain his smiling expression as he asked his question. “You’re quite domineering.”

“You were making fun of me! I hate immortal gods!”

Xíng Zhǐ patted the birdcage and restrained his smile. After sighing out his last laugh he said, “I was the one who did you in."

Parrot nodded and swiftly called out, “You’ve hurt me! You’ve hurt me immortal god!”

Xíng Zhǐ didn’t originally intend to muffle Parrot’s outrage but at the sounds of Shěn Lí’s approaching footsteps he immediately hushed Parrot. “Shush! Stop being so loud or she’ll find out!”

“You hurt me! You were being rude to me!” Parrot did not pay attention to Xíng Zhǐ’s admonishment. He kept hopping around and making a ruckus in his cage.

Xíng Zhǐ smiled calculatingly at Parrot as Shěn Lí’s footsteps got closer. He harshly said, “Zip your lips!”

The squawking abruptly stopped. It was as if Parrot’s beaks were glued shut; it couldn’t speak no matter how hard it tried. It could only jump frantically around in the cage.

Shěn Lí pushed the curtain aside to see what was going on. Seeing only Xíng Zhǐ and Parrot she said, “Parrot, I heard you yelling all the way down the hall, but as soon as I come over, you’re as quiet as a mouse.”

Xíng Zhǐ laughed. “Maybe he’s tired.”

c28: The Kiss

c28: The Kiss

[May 5th, 2019]
 . . .

“How long does Immortal High God wish to remain in the Demon realm?” Shěn Lí asked Xíng Zhǐ on their way back to her residence. She carried Parrot in his cage in one hand as she walked. “I can arrange things better if I have a general idea.”

Xíng Zhǐ was silent as he thought about it for a moment. “Mm . . . that . . . I will return to the Immortal realm with Lord Fú Róng when His Lordship leaves.”

Hearing the name made Shěn Lí’s head ache. She muttered under her breath, “Tomorrow would be great.”

She barely finished speaking when a figure rushed out as they neared the residence. “You Highness! Your Highness! Lord Fú Róng is in trouble!”

Though she was unaware what the trouble was, it was aggravating hearing the name Shěn Lí said, “He left to conduct his own affairs! What happens to him is none of my concern!”

“Ah! Your Highness, it’s no good! Lord Fú Róng went to the tavern on the east side of town and made the bar girls accompany him in drink. He drank all their wine then refused to pay! He was disrespectful to the bar girls too! He smelled like someone from the Immortal realm, so everyone knew he was connected with Your Highness. Just now even, someone came by the residence asking us to get Lord Fú Róng.”

Shěn Lí ground her teeth. Fú Róng having a lousy reputation in the Immortal realm she could overlook, but now he was in the Demon realm dragging her down with him.

Shěn Lí mentally cursed him out. She tossed Parrot’s cage at Ròu Yā as she said, “Hold this while I go and get that scumbag. I will tear him to pieces!”

Ròu Yā’s face was white with fear. “Your Highness no! You mustn’t do that!” Just as she moved to intercept Shěn Lí, a white billowy sleeve obstructed her path.

“Do not fret. I will stop your master.” Xíng Zhǐ smiled as he spoke.

Ròu Yā had never met anyone in the Demon realm with such a beautiful smile; she was dumbstruck and stared at his back as he left. When she came to her senses she yelled, “Your Highness!” after their receding figures, but they were already out of earshot. “Ah! I forgot to tell Her Highness that General Mò Fāng was at the residence when that person came by about Lord Fú Róng. He already left to see to it.”

Naturally Shěn Lí, as fired up as she was, didn’t hear Ròu Yā, and so had no idea Mò Fāng would be there as well.

 . . .

When Mò Fāng got to the tavern he saw Fú Róng dead drunk at one of the tables. The barmaid wasn’t intimidated by Mò Fāng despite the sword at his waist and the armor on his body. She said, “I am a woman working in a tavern that serves alcohol, yes, but even as such I do not deserve to be disrespected! This guest’s demands are over the line! To be so salacious in broad daylight at someone’s workplace . . . it’s outrageous!”

Fú Róng lifted his head up and yelled out, “Miss with the tender soft pale skin! Another cup!”

Shěn Lí’s faced darkened and she clenched her fists. She was about to yell at Fú Róng for his behavior when another voice interrupted her.

“Enough!” Mò Fāng exploded as he dragged Fú Róng by the collar. His eyes were ice cold as he said, “What you do and how you ruin your reputation is none of my concern, however when your actions sully Her Highness’s reputation, that’s another matter altogether!”

The force of the words startled Shěn Lí so much she could only stare on at the scene blankly while her fisted hands loosened. A sense of powerlessness rose in her heart. She had already corrected Mò Fāng on this matter . . .

Shěn Lí wasn’t the only one shocked. Everyone else in the tavern was just as surprised by Mò Fāng’s outburst.

Fú Róng suddenly looked up and smiled at Mò Fāng. He raised his hand and laid it against Mò Fāng’s neck flirtatiously. “Mm . . . you are also very pleasing to look at. Such passionate eyes.” He pursed his lips after he finished speaking and suddenly pressed them against Mò Fāng’s, making a soft ‘mwuah’ sound.

The silence that followed the kiss was deafening. It lasted only a moment though, before audible gasps erupted from those witnessing the scene.

Shěn Lí was stunned. Her mouth hung open as she stared. She turned her neck stiffly to look at Xíng Zhǐ. “Lord Fú Róng doesn’t just defile ladies, he defiles men too!” She pointed a finger at her fiancé. “How does a place as pristine as the Immortal realm raise such a worthless scumbag predator as that?”

Xíng Zhǐ was also surprised. He only replied after sizing Fú Róng up for a time. “Your Highness asks me this question, but I also do not know the answer.”

Mò Fāng had a foolish blank expression on his face for the longest time. When he came to his senses, he gave the back of Fú Róng’s neck a hard hand chop, knocking the other man out. Then he calmly and firmly wiped his lips. He swept his eyes around the room and spoke. “Anyone who dares speak of this, I will cut out your tongue and feed it to the pigs.” As he finished speaking, he caught sight of Shěn Lí and Xíng Zhǐ standing just outside the tavern. He stiffened as rigid as a board when their eyes met.

Shěn Lí couldn’t pretend to not see no matter how much she wanted to. The best she could do was act naturally as she walked forward and acknowledged the scene. “Apologies for the trouble. I will take him back now.”

Mò Fāng kept his head down as he spoke. “No trouble. I only did what should have been done. Your Highness . . .” Though he looked calm, his heart was beating wildly in his chest. He wasn’t sure how to continue after having said so much. All he could do was turn his head away as he handed Fú Róng over to Shěn Lí. That done, he immediately left.

People started whispering the moment he was out of earshot. Shěn Lí’s face dropped at this. She looked around the tavern and spoke clearly one word. “Silence.” Her imposing aura was enough to make everyone obey. “No one is to gossip about what happened just now.”

People calmed down at the sound of her voice. As the Azure Sky king, Shěn Lí was well-known and highly respected in the Demon realm. She walked over to the barmaid. “You have suffered. Come, tell me your grievance.”

“No . . .” The barmaid shook her head. “Everything’s gone . . .”

“Don’t be afraid.” Shěn Lí reached for a stool to sit down on. “About that drunk, he addressed you inappropriately a moment ago. Tell me in detail everything that happened before that. I will seek justice for you.”

Fú Róng had humiliated her people and rampaged through the district. Word of it would reach news outlets in the Immortal realm, so even if she couldn’t strangle him herself, someone else would.

Shěn Lí folded the letter the barmaid had written and handed it to Xíng Zhǐ as they left the tavern. “How long is that ridiculously spoiled Lord Fú Róng going to stay? I really want him to leave already. I don’t want to report this to the Demon emperor but . . . if I don’t, more people could get hurt.”

The Immortal emperor was beyond her reach, so she couldn’t personally tell him of Fú Róng’s shameful behavior. Even if she could somehow get the Immortal emperor to visit, mhe knew the Demon emperor would just conceal Fú Róng’s matter.

“Therefore, I will have to inconvenient Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ to bring this letter in my place.”

Xíng Zhǐ silently accepted the letter. After a moment he spoke up. “Even if this letter is delivered to the Immortal emperor, it is improbable that Your Highness’s engagement will be cancelled. The marriage is inevitable. Why not let what happened go and accept the marriage instead?”

That made Shěn Lí laugh. “Cancel the engagement? Immortal High God thinks too much of it. I stopped having any delusions of canceling it the day the Demon emperor brought me back from the Mortal realm.” Shěn Lí turned away from him as they continued walking side by side. He couldn’t see her face as she spoke. “No, I simply wished to bring attention to the fact that Lord Fú Róng is not happy here.”

She didn’t like Fú Róng and didn’t think living together with him would be pleasant. The odds of them having a happy married life were nonexistent. At this point she just wanted to live an easy life and do as she pleased.

“Besides,” Shěn Lí stopped walking, and although her voice remained respectful, she refused to turn and look at him, “the Immortal emperor won’t cancel the engagement because he can’t.” She leaned her head towards Xíng Zhǐ finally looking at him. “Immortal High God, why won’t you release me?”

Xíng Zhǐ refused to reply to her question.

 . . .

That night Shěn Lí slept poorly because of a reaction to the bead. Her body was hot and her throat parched. Even the four pots of water Ròu Yā brought couldn’t sate her thirst.

Shěn Lí woke up the next morning clear-headed but still incredibly thirsty. Eventually a dull ache started in her head.

Ròu Yā was worried. “Your Highness, are you sick?”

“Have you ever seen me sick?”

This was true. Ròu Yā returned to waiting on Shěn Lí with a clear and unworried mind. She helped her master bathe and dress.

Once done, Shěn Lí opened the door to the courtyard. The sight that greeted her made her furrow her brow and frown in displeasure.

Fear shot through Fú Róng’s heart. He stood for some time in the courtyard building his courage to ask a question. “Your Highness . . . I was wondering . . . I was wondering if you knew who brought me back last night.”

The thought of yesterday made Shěn Lí’s heart nearly explode. “What?”

“Ah . . . he left this behind yesterday. I wanted to return it.”

Shěn Lí looked at the fair jade pendant Fú Róng held out, recognizing it immediately. It was the jade pendant Mò Fāng often wore around his waist. Why would Fú Róng have it? Yesterday . . .

Shěn Lí could feel her headache worsen. She kneaded her temples as she tried to figure out a reply. Ròu Yā, being a gossip, answered before she could.

“Oh! That belongs to General Mò Fāng. He lives three streets over. But the general is probably not at home. He normally does his morning exercise around the outskirts of camp . . .”

“Shut up!”

Shěn Lí’s abrupt shout scared Ròu Yā into silence. She was so startled she could only stare at Shěn Lí with grievance in her eyes. Pointing to herself Ròu Yā said, “Did this servant do something wrong . . .?”

Shěn Lí held her forehead in her hands while Fú Róng repeated the name ‘Mò Fāng’ to himself a few times.

“Clever girl!” Fú Róng winked at her. “This lord will be going out for a walk.”

“Hold it!” Now What? Shěn Lí wasn’t sure what to do after yelling for Fú Róng to stop. How was she supposed to warn Mò Fāng? Mò Fāng was absolutely not going to stand it. The only thing Shěn Lí could come up with after a moment of silence was, “The army camp is a secured location. Non-military personnel are not allowed access. If you give it to me, I’ll return the jade pendant to General Mò Fāng.”

Fú Róng glanced away from Shěn Lí, then back again. He suddenly screamed and pointed at something behind them. Both Shěn Lí and Ròu Yā turned around to look, but there was nothing there. By the time they turned back, Fú Róng had already made his escape.

Shěn Lí’s face paled as she stood rooted to the spot, her fists clenched. She actually fell for such a dumb trick! What a juvenile scamster!

“This Lord Fú Róng is so childish. Can he really take care of Your Highness?” Ròu Yā wondered aloud.

Him? Take care of me? The thought made Shěn Lí grit her teeth. She wanted to haul Fú Róng back, but her headache was too distracting. The only thing she wanted to do now was go back inside and play with Parrot. Mò Fāng was just going to have to fend for himself.

Unexpectedly, Parrot was not accommodating. He was energetic and jumped around in his cage but he didn’t make a peep. He was no fun at all. Disappointed, Shěn Lí reclined on the sofa and closed her eyes to rest.

She woke up from her nap around noon and called out to Ròu Yā for something to drink. A moment later she felt a cup of tea held near her. Shěn Lí didn’t feel like moving. She didn’t bother to open her eyes, but opened her lips instead and waited for the cup to come closer. When it did, she took one sip after another.

Something didn’t feel right after her nap, so she finally opened her eyes. Xíng Zhǐ was by her side, the cup on the table. When their eyes met, he asked, “More?”

The ambient light gave his face a slight glow. Mesmerized Shěn Lí could only nod and say a clipped, “More,” in reply.

Xíng Zhǐ picked up the cup and pressed it against her lips tilting it slightly for her to sip from again. All kinds of emotions swirled inside Shěn Lí. She reached for the cup. “I can hold it myself. Immortal High God does not need to bother.”

“Are you unwell?”

Shěn Lí shook her head. “No. It’s just all the rushing about these past few days caught up with me. Some rest is all I need.” She turned her head to the window and was surprised at how high the moon was in the sky. “Oh dinner! I’ll have Ròu Yā prepare something.”

“No need.” Xíng Zhǐ shook his head. “It’s fine to skip dinner.”

“Oh.” Xíng Zhǐ’s brightness in the moon’s glow had distracted her, making her mix Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ up with that wonderful mortal master cook.

 . . .
c29: Feeling Sour

c29: Feeling Sour

[June 2, 2019]
 . . .

Later that evening Shěn Lí burned with a high fever. Ròu Yā fed her water and tried to cool her down with a damp towel but it was to no avail. Shěn Lí refused to wake up. This had never happened before; no matter how serious the injury, Shěn Lí was always conscious and clear-headed. This unconscious Shěn Lí left Ròu Yā worried beyond belief.

She didn’t know what to do. There were two immortals in the residence she could ask for help. It was inappropriate to disturb Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ in the middle of the night, but Fú Róng was Shěn Lí’s fiancé. Ròu Yā reasoned it was appropriate to seek help from him considering their relationship.

She rushed over to his courtyard[notes] and banged on his door. It was no use though. Even after knocking for several minutes, no one came out. A now frantic Ròu Yā had no choice but to find Immortal High God.

 . . .

Xíng Zhǐ touched Shěn Lí’s cheeks. They were red and hot to the touch. He immediately sat down by her bedside and felt the pulse on her hand. The strange reading made his brows furrow.

“Immortal High God . . .will my master be OK?”

“It is but a fever.” Xíng Zhǐ released Shěn Lí’s hand. “Are there any medicinal compounds in the residence?”

Ròu Yā shook her head. “Master never gets sick. Us demon people rarely get sick. Medicinal plants don’t grow well here because the miasma is so dense, so they're rarely available at market.”

Xíng Zhǐ muttered some words under his breath as he placed a hand on Shěn Lí’s forehead. Immediately white light flashed between his palm and her skin. Even though Shěn Lí was still in a daze she appeared more comfortable.

He left his palm resting on her forehead and absentmindedly moved his fingers in her hair, slightly grazing the hairline, making a mess of it in one direction, then smoothing it back down in the other.

Ròu Yā stared closely for a moment. She only relaxed once she saw Shěn Lí breathing more evenly and her complexion improved. It was only then that the worry in Ròu Yā’s heart lightened.

Now that she felt better, she was in a mood to complain. “What kind of husband is my master getting? Almost married and he stays out all night. Not around when needed either. If Immortal High God hadn’t been here, who knows how bad master’s condition could have gotten?”

Xíng Zhǐ didn’t say anything but his hand fell from Shěn Lí’s forehead to her cheeks. He rubbed the slightly hot skin with his fingers.

“Yesterday he started so much trouble, ruining master’s good name. Then this morning he was trying to find General Mò Fāng about a jade pendant. Who knows if he’s looking for General Mò Fāng right now!”

Ròu Yā was really dissatisfied with Fú Róng, but afraid of overstepping her bounds, she didn’t dare voice it in front of Shěn Lí. In front of Xíng Zhǐ however, she felt free to complain to her heart’s content.

“Her Highness will have to go to the Immortal realm after marrying. She won’t have anyone to rely on up there. Who will defend her if she is wronged? Her Highness is so stubborn, she won’t complain to the Demon emperor. If something happens . . .”

The more Ròu Yā thought about it the sadder she became. Her eyes turned red and she began tearing up. “Who will be there to sympathize with her?”

“Hm.” Xíng Zhǐ whispered unconsciously. “Who would?” These words made him consider his actions and he couldn’t help but lower his eyes. Gazing at her sleeping face, he ran his fingertips over the bridge of her nose and the hollows of her cheeks, before pulling his hand back.

“It’s not a problem.” He pulled his fingers away and remained quietly by her bedside for some time before getting up.

Distressed, Ròu Yā looked at him with red-rimmed eyes. “Immortal High God is leaving?”

“I will not be far. I will be in the courtyard should you need me.” Xíng Zhǐ left without a backward glance.

Ròu Yā looked at Shěn Lí then at Xíng Zhǐ’s retreating back. She muttered herself. “How’s that for you? Her Highness hasn’t even woken up yet and Immortal High God leaves. He couldn’t stay a little longer? The immortals in the Immortal realm are so detached and heartless.”

Detached and heartless huh?

Xíng Zhǐ stood in the courtyard looking at his hand. He could still feel the residual heat from her body on his skin. The scorching heat burned its way to his heart. Xíng Zhǐ wanted to disperse it but there was nowhere to send it. Rays of light radiated from his fingertips with nowhere to go. The feeling of being burned remained.

How could he know . . .

Ròu Yā soaked a towel in water, then after wringing it out carefully placed it on Shěn Lí’s forehead. Ròu Yā muttered to herself as she attended to Shěn Lí. “Oh Your Highness! If you really can’t escape marriage, if you really must go to the Immortal realm, Your Highness must be careful of those immortal gods. Just look at those two here. Both are no good.”

“This lord knows.” Shěn Lí’s voice was hoarse but audible.

Ròu Yā was surprised. “Your Highness is awake? Is Your Highness uncomfortable anywhere?”

Shěn Lí slowly opened her eyes but her gaze was not fixed on Ròu Yā. She repeated the same three words, “This lord knows.”

The immortal gods were naturally heartless.

Shěn Lí woke up early the next morning completely refreshed. Her blood sang through her veins with a newfound power. Her body was lighter too. She realized her discomfort from the past few days must have been because her body was adapting to the bead.

The Demon emperor had explained that she would likely suffer discomfort adjusting, because although she was born with it, it had been out of her body for over a millennium.

Shěn Lí held out her hand and pushed herself up into a seated position. “Ròu Yā, bring my armor! I will go to the training camp to practice!” Shěn Lí rarely wore her armor. Her skin was as strong as leather, so when fighting the lesser monster beasts it made no difference whether she wore armor or not.

Training was different however. She was not a minor soldier but a high ranked general; it was proper to dress appropriately.

Once she finished dressing, Shěn Lí stepped out of her room. She came face to face with Xíng Zhǐ who had just come in from the courtyard.

The usually taciturn Xíng Zhǐ actually showed a blank expression. He eyed her up and down. What he saw made him speak up. “Where is Your Highness going?”

“Training,” was Shěn Lí’s curt reply. She gave a fisted salute. “Immortal High God can tour the city. If there are any places that require payment, just tell them Immortal High God is from my household. Shěn Lí bids Immortal High God farewell.”

She turned around and promptly walked away, leaving Xíng Zhǐ alone in the main hall. Xíng Zhǐ narrowed his eyes as he stared at her walking away.

 . . .

[Military training grounds]

Because of her fever last night, Shěn Lí had completely forgotten the matter with Fú Róng trying to find Mò Fāng. But it all came back to her when she walked into camp and saw Mò Fāng’s gaunt face. Shěn Lí was stumped for words because right behind him, gasping for breath, was none other than Fú Róng. Shěn Lí sighed upon remembering yesterday.

Fú Róng called out after Mò Fāng. “Hey! Jade pendant! Don’t run away. This lord is trying to return something. This lord admits fault for breaking the pendant’s rope yesterday. Honestly how can a general by so mean-spirited about something like this.”

Mò Fāng made a face and refused to acknowledge the man behind him. He kept moving at the same fast pace. But he abruptly stopped when he caught sight of Shěn Lí. He bowed his head and gave her a fisted salute.

From behind, Fú Róng also saw Shěn Lí. The expression on his face froze, and he unconsciously took several steps back.

Mò Fāng was radiating anger, the resentment and humiliation still fresh in his heart. He didn’t say a word more to Shěn Lí. Instead, he turned around and walked back to the center of camp.

Shěn Lí chased after him. “Slow down.”

Mò Fāng glanced distractedly at Shěn Lí as she grabbed his wrist. His heart was in a frazzle but his emotions barely twinkled alive in his eyes before they retreated into the black abyss.

Shěn Lí pulled her hand back once she got his attention. In a low voice she asked, “He . . . is he causing you trouble?”

“Yes.” Mò Fāng couldn’t help but knead his forehead in frustration.

“Do you want to listen to him?”

“Your Highness –, I have never hated anyone so much in my entire life. He –,” Mò Fāng ground his teeth. “I just want to beat him up.”

Shěn Lí nodded. “Return to camp. Leave it to me.”

Mò Fāng stared a bit dazedly. He wanted to ask some questions, but ultimately couldn’t disregard Shěn Lí’s orders, so he silently obeyed and made his way back. Just as he was entering the grounds, he saw a white billowy shape make its way slowly toward Shěn Lí.

Although Shěn Lí turned in the direction of the shape, it didn’t seem like she noticed it.

An older general saw Mò Fāng standing and staring off at nothing. He swiftly grabbed Mò Fāng as he scolded him. “You youngsters! Always goofing off!”

Mò Fāng had no choice but let himself be dragged back.

In the meantime Shěn Lí had turned around and was now facing Fú Róng. He had finally managed to catch up. She eyed him up and down.

Fú Róng stubbornly suppressed the quiver in his voice as he spoke. “Yes? Is there something this lord can assist you with?”

“Frankly speaking my subordinate does not have the time to idle as freely as Your Lordship. Kindly do not toy recklessly with him.”

Unconvinced, Fú Róng raised an eyebrow. “What makes you think this lord is toying with him?”

“Lord Fú Róng is being sincere?” Shěn Lí couldn’t help but laugh as she spoke the words. “You know where you are right? I don’t care about what happens in the Immortal realm or who you have affections for. I don’t even care about our engagement; but remember this. The Demon realm army exists to battle and defend. Anyone who wishes them harm will suffer the wraith of my spear. I don’t care who.”

Fú Róng was so shaken by Shěn Lí that his throat constricted involuntary when he spoke. In a shaking voice he said, “This is Mò Fāng’s business. What does it have to do with you?”

Fú Róng was annoying Shěn Lí. “Oh? You didn’t know? Mò Fāng is mine.”

Fú Róng’s expression froze and the blood drained from his face. Shěn Lí looked at him disdainfully. She knew he was afraid of her, so she was confident he wouldn’t dare harass Mò Fāng any further. Later on, she would find more ways to bully him. She was certain he would run back to the Immortal realm if she made his life unbearable.

Just as Shěn Lí relaxed, happy to have the situation under control, Xíng Zhǐ walked up. She turned to see he was a mere three paces away. Surprised, she stared blankly as he approached.

Xíng Zhǐ . . .

His face was cold and expressionless. Shěn Lí dropped her smile and similarly cleared her expression, neutrally asking, “Why is Immortal High God here?”

“Your Highness permitted me to stroll as I pleased. As it turns out I want to look at the military training grounds.” A smile appeared on his lips but it didn’t reach his eyes. In fact, they seemed even frostier. “I couldn’t help but overhear Your Highness’s conversation. Strange. Why is it different from what Your Highness said at the army barracks? I clearly remember Your Highness firmly rejecting General Mò Fāng.”

You. You came to quarrel didn’t you?!

Fú Róng’s face regained some of its former color after hearing this. “Refused?” He stared. In a low voice he enthusiastically said to himself, “Then this lord still has a chance!”

Shěn Lí didn’t refute Xíng Zhǐ’s words. She disdainfully addressed Fú Róng. “Think you have the ability to fight me for him? Then try!” Finished, Shěn Lí turned and headed to camp without a single glance at Xíng Zhǐ.

Xíng Zhǐ stared at her from behind, his lips pursed in a frown, his eyes still cold.

c30: Stuck

c30: Stuck

[June 9, 2019]
 . . .

Shěn Lí entered camp in a bad mood, but once she saw the familiar faces of her brothers her anger ebbed away. One by one everyone came to greet her. Shàng Běi hurriedly jogged over when he saw her.

“Your Highness left without saying anything! It was very troublesome for General Mò!”

Shěn Lí laughed and patted him on the arm. “This lord was at fault. Later just pick a tavern, it’ll be my treat. You can drink to your heart’s content.”

Another general to the side quickly chimed in. “Your Highness can’t play favorites!”

“Yeah! I know! Everyone should get a share!”

“Alright! You are all invited!” Shěn Lí saw the training platform and remembered her reason for coming. She raised her voice and said, “This king is in a good mood. I will practice with you all today! How about ten moves each! Then all the generals can go drinking!”

To fight and lose against the Azure Sky king was an honor for the soldiers. The atmosphere became boisterous and lively as the generals gathered up their recruits, selecting the most promising ones to spar against her.

The soldiers used every trick up their sleeve, trying their hardest to best Shěn Lí, but none could land a second hit. Ten people tried over the course of two hours, but none were able to reach the ten move marker.

There was a glistening sheen of sweat on Shěn Lí’s forehead, and she was warm all over. Her eyes were bright and lively from the exertion. The current soldier sparring was the best, able to get in five moves. She praised him. “You have potential.”

She immediately moved behind him after speaking. He was quick and sidestepped the attack but couldn’t avoid Shěn Lí’s next move. He lost his footing as she swept her leg under him. She grabbed him by the shoulder and pressed him against the platform floor.

He admitted defeat and quickly got off the training platform after Shěn Lí gave him some pointers on his defense.


A cool breeze burst through and Xíng Zhǐ appeared in their midst laughing. “I would like to request a battle.”

Those in the audience had no clue he was there until he spoke. It left everyone in an uproar. When he did arrive? To appear without anyone noticing showed how powerful he was.

Shěn Lí’s expression turned cold. She wiped at the sweat on her brow and looked at Xíng Zhǐ. “Pardon? What does Immortal High God wish to do?”

"The atmosphere is so lively and boisterous I wanted to join in and be a part of it. I’ve lived in solitude for so long, it’s rare for me to see such a crowd. Don’t tell me Your Highness is unwilling to bear competition?”

“I dare not put Immortal High God’s body at risk . . . ”

As soon as she finished speaking Xíng Zhǐ flashed over to her on the training platform. He used the same technique she used on the foot soldier earlier, limiting her mobility by grabbing her shoulder. Shěn Lí shifted his hold by pushing against his hand with qi. Then she made an about face and slammed her lower palm into his face. But she missed. Xíng Zhǐ had already turned his cheek away avoiding the hit. He took advantage of her forward moment and turned it against her, grabbing her wrist and twisting her arm behind her back, trapping her.

Xíng Zhǐ grinned. “Your Highness was saying something about not daring to injure me?”

Shěn Lí was angry. She braced her feet and bent forward at the waist, raising her free arm up to grab his shoulder. With a yell she attempted to summersault him off her back. But her hand grabbed only air. Xíng Zhǐ had already disappeared.

Shěn Lí heard soft footfall behind her. She swiftly turned around and forcefully jabbed her elbow at Xíng Zhǐ’s abdomen. The hit landed but it felt like she was hitting fluff. The strength of her attack had been completely dispersed.

Their fight was reminiscent of her conversations with him. Every word she used to corner him would be deflected. She couldn’t pin him down.

The more she thought about it the more stifled she felt, and the more reckless her attacks became. The more reckless her attacks became, the easier it was for Xíng Zhǐ to handle her.

She realized he was playing her like a fiddle in the palm of his hand. Along with this realization came another, she didn’t have to play along. There was no reason for her to spar with him. She stood still and stopped attacking. Xíng Zhǐ also stopped.

He hadn’t attacked once since that first back hold. All along he had been defending, parrying everything she threw at him. He was just toying with her and she had played along, orchestrating a one man show the entire time.

As if on cue, Xíng Zhǐ stared at her as he closed the distance between them. He cradled the nape of her neck with one hand while grabbing her wrist with the other.

She looked up at him expectantly at this.

“We passed ten moves some time ago Your Highness.”

Shěn Lí yanked her wrist out of his grip and retreated a few steps. “What does Immortal High God wish?”

“Earlier I heard Your Highness say anyone who lasted ten moves would be invited for drinks with you and the generals, however I have no interest in drinking, so I would like to make a request of Your Highness instead.”

Shěn Lí’s face was cold, but because of the situation she acquiesced. “Immortal High God did defeat me, whatever god wishes, simply state it so.”

“I wish to ask Your Highness three questions.” Xíng Zhǐ swept his gaze at the crowd around the training platform. He saw Mò Fāng with Fú Róng on one side. He smirked. “My first question to Your Highness is, who is General Shàng Běi to you?”

It was a shock to be called out by name. Shàng Běi could only stare blankly as those near him looked at him suspiciously, sizing him up. Shàng Běi broke out in a nervous sweat. “Immortal High God! I’m a happily married man! Please don’t ask such misleading questions!”

Shěn Lí frowned. “We are comrades.”

“And who is this general to you?” Xíng Zhǐ pointed at an older white haired general in the crowd.

“Also a comrade.”

“And lastly, who is General Mò Fāng to you?

Shěn Lí was silent. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Mò Fāng and a little away farther away, Fú Róng. Then it hit her.

Xíng Zhǐ was trying to expose her words from earlier. Mò Fāng had confessed to her but she had firmly and clearly rejected his feelings, denying any possibility of reciprocation.

What she said to Fú Róng, about Mò Fāng being hers, was just a lie to intimidate Fú Róng so he would stop harassing Mò Fāng. But if she repeated the lie now it would give Mò Fāng false hope. Not to mention all the soldiers and officers present . . .

Her softly spoken, “Also a comrade,” made Xíng Zhǐ smile in satisfaction.

The crowd was confused. The nature of the questions left them scratching their respective heads. None understood the strange riddle in front of them. Fú Róng put one hand on his hip and laughed.

You sure have a lot of guts immortal god!

“Today’s practice session is over.” Shěn Lí shot a mean glance at Xíng Zhǐ. She turned around and hopped off the platform, then headed over to Mò Fāng. “If Lord Fú Róng bothers you again, I will properly reprimand him. I’ll be sure to give him a beating he won’t forget.”

Mò Fāng stared. He whispered, “Was Your Highness trying to help me earlier?”

Shěn Lí’s face darkened. She glanced at him, then quickly away, not sure what to say. In no time at, the other generals surrounded her to ask about the drinks she promised. They saw no reason to ponder on the display earlier and was dropping it in favor of some good alcohol. Mò Fāng stayed where he stood and watched as the group pulled her away. He whispered, “Thank you for your regard Your Highness,” without realizing the words had passed his lips.

A fierce gust blew by ,and Mò Fāng shivered as he came back to his senses. Someone yelled, “Mò Fāng, come on!”

Those in the crowd waved him over.

“Go on ahead.” Mò Fāng shook his head. “I’m going to stay behind.”

Shěn Lí kept walking but gave an order over her shoulder. “Go grab him.”

Two generals walked back, and planking either side of Mò Fāng, dragged him along with them. The boisterous group made their way out of camp leaving the soldiers behind to practice.

Fú Róng ran over to the training platform. He didn’t dare be too rash but he simply couldn’t cover up his joy. Bowing to Xíng Zhǐ he said, “Many thanks to Immortal High God for revealing the truth!”

“I did not do it to help you.” Xíng Zhǐ shot Fú Róng a glance. “I . . . merely thought it would be amusing.” It went exactly as he expected, so why wasn’t he happy?

He had wanted to break through her indifference and see a livelier her.

Fú Róng looked up to see an unsmiling Xíng Zhǐ. It was on the tip of his tongue to say, "Immortal High God . . . do you like messing with other people’s feelings?" But he refrained in time. He tactfully said farewell instead. “In that case this lord will take his leave.”

He finished what he wanted to say and was turning to chase after Shěn Lí’s trail. He didn’t even take his first step when Xíng Zhǐ indifferently put a damper on his mood.

“You are behaving quite presumptuously in this realm.”

Fú Róng’s skin crawled for a second. He stiffly turned back to look at Xíng Zhǐ to find the other now wore a slight smile.

“But how could I reproach the Immortal emperor’s grandson?”

Fú Róng relaxed at those words.

“I sent a letter to the Immortal emperor yesterday. He will naturally be the one to do so.” And with that last parting remark Xíng Zhǐ turned around and left, leaving a nervous Fú Róng alone on the training platform.

Fú Róng broke out in a cold sweat. He could a practically hear the Immortal emperor slamming the table and yelling out in anger . . .

Meanwhile Shěn Lí and the generals were drinking and having a great time till the wee hours of the morning. A tipsy Mò Fāng walked Shěn Lí back to her residence. They bade each other farewell at the front gates and Mò Fāng circled back to his own house.

Shěn Lí opened the gates but avoided the front entrance, instead she detoured around the side wall. Despite doing this, she still ended up running into Xíng Zhǐ. He was standing in the courtyard in his signature white robe and gazing at the full moon. Their eyes met but she quickly turned her head away without a word of greeting. She was looking for Ròu Yā.

“Your Highness is an engaged woman. Engaged to a man of the Immortal realm no less. Coming home with another man so late is inappropriate.”

Shěn Lí paused. The lanterns in the courtyard lit her face and gave it sculptured appearance. Her eyes were dim though. “Oh? Inappropriate? Is that what High God thinks?” Shěn Lí sneered. “You’re the one who gave me this marriage. Now you’re trying to bring my subordinate into it? High God sure is prone to meddling.”

Xíng Zhǐ frowned. It was rare to hear Shěn Lí speak in such a tone. “You’ve drunk too much.”

“I’m quite sober thank you.” Shěn Lí’s eyes burned with resentment and anger. Her emotions were all over the place. “Let’s talk some more about what is appropriate and good. It would have been good today if I had successfully fooled Fú Róng. To help my subordinate so that mess of a man would stop bothering him. But instead, Immortal High God embarrassed me.

Shěn Lí laughed at herself. “So I concede. Are you satisfied Immortal High God?” Smirking she continued. “Do you even know what you’re doing? You act as though you’re jealous. Do you like me or something?

Xíng Zhǐ was silent for a moment. He looked away from her and said, “From whence would these feelings arise? Your Highness is inebriated.”

A high god like Xíng Zhǐ didn’t seek or desire anything, least of all another person. Shěn Lí should have known that.

“Is that so?” Shěn Lí turned and walked away back towards the interior of the main manor. Her words floated coolly behind her. “Then in the future, no matter who I chose to protect, no matter how I protect them, I’d appreciate if Immortal High God will hold his tongue. Kindly leave me a way out.”

The wind blew around Xíng Zhǐ making his hair flutter. He turned his head up to look at the dusky sky. It was a long time before he spoke. Talking to himself he said, “Hm . . . I will give it a try.”

c31: Visiting the Mortal Realm

c31: Visiting the Mortal Realm

[June 16, 2019]
 . . .

Shěn Lí was called to the Demon emperor’s palace early the next morning.

Upon entering the meeting hall she saw the emperor seated in his usual spot. Mò Fāng stood to his side while many other soldiers lined up in the hall.

The Demon emperor dismissed the soldiers with a wave of his hand and quickly got to the point. “Last night Lord Fú Róng ran to the Mortal realm using the Demon realm entrance.”

Shěn Lí glanced in surprise at Mò Fāng. He swiftly bowed his head and knelt on his knee.

“This is all my fault. I shall bear the full responsibility of bringing Lord Fú Róng back. Once back, I will accept whatever punishment is necessary.”

“Why did he suddenly run away?” Shěn Lí asked. There was a distinct silence in the hall. “Did you beat him up?”

She wasn’t serious about the question so was surprised when Mò Fāng nodded.

“I was drunk last night.” He rubbed at the space between his brows helplessly as though he had a headache. “I wasn’t paying attention and . . . I kicked him . . . a few times.”

Mò Fāng hadn’t changed out of the clothes he wore last night. The black steel boots he wore were specially made to handle harsh environments; they were incredibly tough and sturdy.

Shěn Lí thought about Fú Róng’s baby soft, tender skin and realized the silly immortal must have really felt it. “So, he was beat up a little.” Shěn Lí continued disdainfully. “What is he? A baby? He was beat a little and he ran away? Who does he think he’s threatening with this silly ploy? There’s nothing in the Mortal realm that can harm him. Just let him come back when he feels like it.”

“That won’t do.” The emperor handed Shěn Lí a letter. “Because of an urgent matter, the Immortal emperor has decreed that Lord Fú Róng must return to the Immortal realm in three days.”

Shěn Lí thought of the letter from the bar maid a few days ago and her stomach did a somersault. She had asked Xíng Zhǐ to send it to the Immortal emperor on her behalf, but he had been so unenthusiastic about it she thought it would take some time to see any results. Xíng Zhǐ must have sent the letter right away. Not only that, he must have added something else to it. Why else would the Immortal emperor react so quickly?

Shěn Lí cast her eyes down. She wasn’t sure what this feeling in her heart was.

“Lord Fú Róng must be found within the next three days,” repeated the emperor. “Fortunately, we have time on our side. Time in the mortal world is faster so three days here is the equivalent to many years there.”

Shěn Lí nodded. She looked at the remorseful Mò Fāng then at the emperor and said, “So you want me to find him?”

“Your Majesty! This is my fault. Please don’t involve Her Highness.”

The Demon emperor waved his hand at Mò Fāng’s outcry. “This delegation isn’t just to bring Lord Fú Róng back, but also to give the children time to get to know each other. Remember time proceeds faster in the mortal world. Li-er, do you understand?”

There was no way to avoid the marriage so of course she understood. She needed to consider his feelings more.

“I will get everything in order and set out immediately.”

Mò Fāng wanted to argue, but the emperor’s words echoed in his ears. He felt like a fishbone was stuck in his throat. Although he wanted to say something, he couldn’t.

“As for General Mò’s punishment for offending a superior . . .”

“Don’t punish him. I told him he could beat Lord Fú Róng. If anyone is to blame it would be me. I shall accept punishment once I return with Lord Fú Róng.” Shěn Lí saluted, turned, and left the hall immediately after saying this.

Mò Fāng, still kneeling on the ground, clenched his fist.

 . . .

The only person Shěn Lí spoke to regarding her departure was Ròu Yā. Since the matter had nothing to do with Xíng Zhǐ, she saw no reason to inform him of her actions.

When Shěn Lí entered the Mortal realm, the skies were a clear blue and the breeze gentle. She drifted through the capital towards her tiny nook of the world on her cloud.

She took a deep breath of the clean air and stretched out. She suddenly wanted to find some shade under the grape trellis that a certain guy planted. It would be nice to fall asleep to the creaking sound of the rocking chair.

She exhaled and opened her eyes. In front of her was a strange alley. Everything looked different.

Although she was told Fú Róng had run in the direction of Yáng Zhōu, she hadn’t made it her destination, instead she steered her cloud to the capital. She wanted to stretch and enjoy herself first.

The last time she was here, she had been busy running from the emperor’s men and had no time to play tourist, so this time around she wanted to take it leisurely. She went to the market and meandered between the stalls. Nostalgia hit her, and she made her way to Xíng Yún’s courtyard.

Everything had changed. The alley way that led to his house was different. The house he lived in, that burned down, had been rebuilt in a slightly different style. It was inevitable, so many decades had passed since she left.

She stood there in front of the gates for a while, watching the children run around. They were playing and laughing, making a general ruckus and disturbing the peace. This was certainly not a scene she would have ever seen in his courtyard. He had always preferred peace and quiet.

So much had changed.

Next stop, Ruì palace.

It was opulent and majestic with more pavilions and such, but otherwise it was the same palace. The only difference was the change in ownership.

Shěn Lí felt the sudden urge to see the lotus plant and the pond; she wanted to know what happened to Prince Ruì and his consort.

She teleported there with a twirl of her fingers. The pond had been filled in and a house was built on top. Oh. It’s gone. Shěn Lí silently studied her surroundings. The décor had changed to suit the new owners, and there were no traces of Prince Ruì left.

Things and people fade with time, but Shěn Lí was unwilling to accept it. There was nothing left of what she remembered. For her, everything had only happened months ago. It felt like she was being abandoned as the world moved on. What was more, there was no Xíng Yún in this world. He felt like an illusion. It was a frightening feeling, so she sought to confirm his existence.

With a twirl of her fingers, she appeared inside the imperial records building.

Reading through the records, she saw that Prince Ruì successfully assassinated his brother and took the throne. But his princess refused to accept the empress title, and instead chose to follow the solitary path of Buddhism. King Ruì knew she wouldn’t accept the title.

There was nothing else written about him. Perhaps because there was nothing distinguishing about his rule for the scholars to record.

Shěn Lí stared at the ink strokes on the pages. There was no record of Xiǎo Hé.[notes] It was like she never existed. Perhaps the king had forgotten about her, after all, many people died for him, what was one silly demon girl.

Shěn Lí slid her fingers across the words until they stopped at the title, National Teacher, Xíng Yún.

Xíng Yún had guided King Ruì, becoming his most trusted advisor, and yet he had no official title or rank. It was only after his death that Prince Ruì conferred the title of National Teacher upon him.

The two words were the only traces left of him in the world. Flipping to the next page didn’t give her anymore information as it was about those that came after.

Shěn Lí laughed. What was she even looking for? Even if the whole world forgot, what did it have to do with her?

She only knew him because he was a part of her life, a part of her memories. Whether others remembered him, whether he really existed, didn’t matter because he was gone now. It wasn’t like she could get the past back.

Shěn Lí touched her forehead, then shook her head and laughed. How could she have lost her head like that? Such an action was unworthy of the Azure Sky king.

Shěn Lí left the palace and headed to Gong Cheng. After a few steps she paused and did an about face. She walked to the market and picked up two bottles of wine and leisurely walked out of the capital.

She stopped at the outskirts by a river and sat down. “How long does Immortal High God intend on following me?”

A person clad in white billowy robes emerged from behind a tree. In embarrassment, he sat down next to Shěn Lí. “How long have you known?”

“If I wasn’t aware of my surroundings, I would have been struck down ages ago on the battlefield.” Shěn Lí held the other bottle out to him.

Xíng Zhǐ laughed and took the offered wine.

The silence between was broken when they both spoke.

”Yesterday --” - “High god --”

Xíng Zhǐ laughed at that. “I wanted to apologize about yesterday, but you had already left for the Mortal realm by the time I woke up this morning, so I followed you here.”

The river they were sitting by was a rapid one with white bubbles and foam. It twinkled and sparkled under the light of the sun. He looked at it and sighed. In a tone he was unaccustomed to using he said. “I am sorry.” He wasn’t one to apologize, so it came out a little rusty.

Shěn Lí had always been more susceptible to coaxing than coercion, so Xíng Zhǐ’s apology took her by surprise. After a moment of stunned silence she said, “It is fine. I was bullying Lord Fú Róng too much; it was fair he got angry. The emperor reprimanded me about I, and I know I was also in the wrong.”

This time the silence between them wasn’t so awkward.

Shěn Lí suddenly pointed to a spot in front of them. She spoke with renewed determination. “See that spot? Once, not long ago, I was sprawled over there completely helpless in my demon form. I was exhausted and couldn't move a single muscle. I have never been in a more difficult or embarrassing situation in my life.”

Despite her words, Shěn Lí’s tyes shined with happiness. She turned to Xíng Zhǐ and her heart turned a little sour.

“I never told anyone this, but when I was taken back to the Demon realm, I felt like I was renewed, like I had met a legendary hero. How about that? The first hero I meet turned out to be an ordinary mortal that I could have easily choked and killed. That was probably when I set my heart on him.”

It was the first time she had been so calm and clear-headed in front of him. She waited for him to say something, but when he didn’t she continued. “Immortal High God, Xíng Yún, I’m not stupid.”

For a while the only sounds between them was the gurgle of the river as it rushed downstream. The stalemate was broken with Xíng Zhǐ’s laughter.

“So you saw through it hm?”

c32: A Rescued Hú Lù

c32: A Rescued Hú Lù

[June 23, 2019]
 . . .

The day was getting late, and the setting sun cast a brilliant glow on the water's surface.

Such a gorgeous view was rarely seen in the Demon realm. Shěn Lí drank her wine as she gazed at the reflection.

“I have suspected it for a while, but I couldn’t figure out why you would want to go the Lower realms, and as a mortal at that.”

“Hm.” Xíng Zhǐ shook his head. “You get bored when you live as long as I have. And when you’re bored you do strange things. I went to the Lower realm with the desire to incarnate as a mortal and experience the ordinary life of a commoner.” Xíng Zhǐ gave a helpless laugh. “I drank from the river and I gained an ordinary body but my god knowledge could not be erased.”

Shěn Lí looked at Xíng Yún in surprise. She had not expected him to drink from the water of forgetfulness. Unfortunately, one bowl was not enough to wash his memories away. That was why he knew so many arrays and was able to see the spirits of the dead even though he had no magical aura.

“No mortal body can bear the burden of a god. No wonder you were so sickly.” Shěn Lí understood now. “But since you remembered, why did you pretend not to know me?”

Xíng Zhǐ glanced at Shěn Lí out of the corner of his eye. “The same reason you left for the Demon realm with Mò Fāng and the Demon emperor.”

He hadn’t wanted to delay her on his behalf. Besides that, as Xíng Yún, he hadn’t replied to her declaration before she returned to the Demon realm. It was only more awkward after returning and meeting her again as Xíng Zhǐ.

Shěn Lí understood he couldn’t reciprocate her feelings, so had pretended they were strangers in order to douse any lingering affections. She looked down.

Sever all ties of affections huh?

Shěn Lí laughed then sighed. “So, what you were trying to do was make me not like you? You know, your behavior was the complete opposite. You were acting like a man trying to seduce someone!" Was he really that unaware of himself?

“Were you seduced?”

Asking a question like that when he was trying to cut off relations . . . this man was too reckless.

Shěn Lí spoke into her wine bottle. “How is that even possible? High God is thinking too much of it. How can I, the Azure Sky king, behave so inappropriately? That time in the Mortal realm, I met and fell for an ordinary mortal name Xíng Yún. That was in the past. Now you are an ancient high god. How could I possibly feel the same way about you?”

Xíng Yún retained an aloof smile but his hand had tightened into loose fists.

Shěn Lí continued. “Your current identity is too troublesome. Like the prince who had to kill his brothers to gain the throne. Prince Ruì loved his princess, but ultimately, in order to produce an heir, he had to accept an imperial concubine. He didn’t do anything wrong; it was simply something required of him because of his identity. If one day we were to meet on the battle field, I wouldn’t just be Shěn Lí, I would be Azure Sky king, Shěn Lí."

Xíng Zhǐ stared at Shěn Lí with a fixed gaze as she continued. “The marriage to unite the Demon realm and the Immortal realm should be happening soon. What I want to say today is just this. You are unwilling to be Xíng Yún so Xíng Yún doesn’t exist for me anymore. As far as I am concerned, Xíng Yún died in the Mortal realm long ago. The you facing me now is the Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ, so there is no need for further subterfuge on your part.”

“Shěn Lí, from the start, both identities have always been mine.” Xíng Yún was simply the mortal him in the Mortal realm. His body changed but he was still the same person, with the same memories. He didn’t want Shěn Lí to see him as two separate individuals.

Shěn Lí resisted this idea. Shaking her head, she said, “As far as I’m concerned, you are two different and distinct individuals. Xíng Zhǐ, you and I do not share a fate, nor do we have anything to do with each other, so you need not be concerned about any lingering feelings on my end.” Shěn Lí held her wine bottle up next to his as she solemnly spoke. “Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ, as the Azure Sky king, I will obey the royal edict and marry Lord Fú Róng.”

She tapped her bottle against his with a clang.

It was a crisp sharp sound that echoed all the way to the pit of his stomach before finding its way to his heart and bleeding into a thread of pain. It left him silent for a moment, then with a with a slight smile he said, “Indeed Your Highness, that would be good.”

The sun had set, but the afterglow still colored the sky. Shěn Lí finished her wine bottle and threw it into the river. It made a crack sound as it broke to pieces. The sound was like a resounding firm punctuation for their conversation.

Shěn Lí stood up and dusted herself off as she said, “The gates should be closed but I have no desire to return to the capital. My plan is to head to Yáng Zhōu to search for Lord Fú Róng. What does Immortal High God plan to do from here?”

Xíng Zhǐ didn’t answer, so it was silent between them for a couple of seconds. The silence was broken by the sounds of footsteps from behind. They knew it couldn’t be mortal footsteps from the feel and heaviness of the sound.

Shěn Lí surveyed the land. The waters were shallow, but the grass was high. Combined with the dimming sky, it would be easy to stay hidden.

One look at her face and Xíng Zhǐ could tell what she was thinking. “Why hide?”

Shěn Lí glanced at him. “Don’t you feel it?” She focused on the dam farther down the river. “The air just turned strange. It’s not something good.”

Dusk was a time when evil manifested in the Mortal realm, so Shěn Lí was more alert.

She had yanked Xíng Zhǐ over and hid in the grass.

“Still, did you really have to pull me along to hide with you? I don’t think I need to hide.” He looked bemusedly at her hand holding his on top of the grass.

Ah! How could she have forgotten? Even when he was the weakling Xíng Yún, he was ridiculous enough to tease the crown prince about his weight. No matter how benign his expression, he was still the same impudent person!

Shěn Lí coughed lightly and pulled her hand back. She talked big earlier, but her action just now was that of a person protecting another. She had unconsciously reacted to the situation like he was that same sickly, weak-bodied mortal she used to know, instead of an incomparable high god who everyone in the three realms would bow to.

The sound startled the group of four people walking along the river bank, one of whom had his wrists tied behind his back. His head was covered in a huge scarf. The shape seemed to suggest antlers. Remembering where she was, she called out, “Hú Lù?”[notes]

The person did not reply, but the tremble that shook his entire body at her call confirmed her suspicions.

Though Hú Lù did not have the Immortal realm’s mandate, he was an immortal earth spirit, a minor land god.

The group holding him captive were clearly not soldiers of the Immortal realm, so who were they to dare capture him? They were dressed entirely in black from head to toe, even their faces were covered. Shěn Lí furrowed her brows and approached to query.

Their leader pulled his sword and attacked before she had could ask.

Shěn Lí didn’t have a chance to show off her spear’s fearsome abilities, when from over her shoulder a column of water rushed past. It slammed into the attacking man and drenched him in water with a crash. Sudden cold air sprang from the ground. He was rooted to the spot as ice crystals formed from the combination of chilly air and condensed water.

The other two decided to flee when they saw this. Xíng Zhǐ waved his hand before they could take a single step, and they, like their leader were also rooted in place.

Shěn Lí raised her brows. “Ice spell?”

“No, it's a stop water spell.”

Shěn Lí wasn’t familiar with all the different types of water spells nor was she impressed by any of them. They all sounded the same to her. She strode over to Hú Lù and pulled the fabric covering his head.

A trail of light wound around his antlers, much of his head, mouth, and neck like a collar.

Shěn Lí frowned. “What kind of spell is this?”

Xíng Zhǐ looked down in thought. “An immortal binding spell.” He formed a ball of light on his fingertips and pressed it lightly against Hú Lù’s bindings, breaking the seal.

Freed, Hú Lù bent over at the waist and took a great big gulp of air. Tears streamed down his cheeks as he looked at the two people in front of him. “Thank you! Thank you great immortals for saving my life! I thought for sure I would die! Wuu! Wuu!”

Shěn Lí’s lip quirked at the corner. This big crybaby hadn’t changed one bit.

She and Xíng Zhǐ waited for him to finish crying.

Hú Lù wiped his face with his arm after the flood of tears stopped. He gasped once he got a good look at his saviors, specifically at Shěn Lí. “You . . . you’re . . .”

Shěn Lí nodded. “Yes I am. But don’t worry, this time I’m not here to coerce you into doing anything.” She pointed a finger at the three men. “What’s going on with them?”

“Wuu wuu! It’s a long story! It all started when someone from an immortal sect came and started trouble!” Hú Lù sighed. “There is a sect of some renown in the martial world called Fúshēng Mén. We didn’t care who they were, but they set up a banquet and invited all the local land gods to attend. A bunch went, but none came back. Another banquet invitation arrived and another group went. They never came back either! By then, we were all leery of them. No one accepted the third invitation. Who would have guessed when we said no, they would forcefully kidnap us?”

Xíng Yún narrowed his eyes. “What you describe is a serious crime. Why have you not reported it to the Immortal realm?”

Hú Lù cried out in grief, “We wanted to! The first messenger we sent was found dead in the woods. The next was also found dead. There were never many of us to begin with, so between that and the banquet, there was barely anyone left. Everyone scattered.” Hú Lù got teary-eyed just thinking about it.

“The woods around the capital aren’t that big. I was afraid I’d be caught if I stayed so I went and hid in the city. I was able to stay hidden until today. That’s when they caught me. If it weren’t for you two . . . wuu wuu! Who knows what would have happened to me?!”

Shěn Lí was confused. “You’re a land god with an immortal body. Your magic isn’t strong, but it shouldn’t be that weak. Why are you such a pushover? Why is everyone able to do what they please with you?”

Hú Lù gave Shěn Lí an aggrieved look. “It’s not that I didn’t resist . . . there were other immortals with strong magic who tried to resist too. But the other side has some magic that specifically deals with immortal beings like us. We can struggle as much as we like, but we can’t break free. I heard from other immortals that the magic this sect uses doesn’t resemble normal immortal magic . . .“

He looked at Shěn Lí and hesitated for a moment before continuing. “It was like a demon technique . . .”

c33: Infiltration

c33: Infiltration

 . . .

Demon technique? Shěn Lí wrinkled her brow.

The Demon realm had been under the Immortal realm’s jurisdiction since the end of the war a thousand years ago. The boundary dictated by the Immortal realm was firmly enforced by the Demon emperor, so even if the demon people didn’t like it, they couldn’t disobey. Despite this, there were those in the Immortal realm who suspected the demon people had evil intentions and were simply biding their time, waiting for a chance to strike back. But because the Demon emperor took great pains to enforce the boundaries, there were no issues between the two realms and nothing for the Immortal realm to complain about or use as evidence.

This would change if immortal beings were being kidnapped. If a link, no matter how dubious, could be drawn to the demon people, the already suspicious people of the Immortal realm would jump to conclusions and pass a guilty judgment.

The reputation of the Demon emperor and his people would be tarnished and the already tenuous peaceful relationship between the two realms would crumble.

Shěn Lí thought it would be great if the feigned friendship between the two realms fell apart and they could stop pretending to be nice to each other, however she had an issue with being used.

“Undo the limiting spell,” Shěn Lí said to Xíng Zhǐ as she walked to the group of men clad in black. She said this, but before he could do as she asked, she had already broken through the ice, grabbed one of the men by the scruff of his neck and punched him to the ground.

He lay in a fetal position clutching his belly. She promptly kicked his legs out and sat on his stomach, then she forced his mouth open to keep him from committing suicide.

“I’m going to ask each question once and only once. Refuse to answer and I will cut your finger and force you to eat it, so take stock of how many fingers you have.”

Xíng Zhǐ knew from the coldness in her eyes she was serious. She was a king of the Demon realm after all, so he didn't doubt her ferocity.

The man under her trembled, wanting to escape, but Shěn Lí was like an immovable thousand-pound weight.

“Who is your master?”

The veins on his face bulged and he looked like he was choking. Since he refused to answer Shěn Lí moved her hand to his waist and reached for the dagger sheathed there. She slid it out and pressed the blade to a finger, ready to slice it off. The man squeezed out the words, “Sect Master. . . 

Before Shěn Lí could ask the next question his face turned a ghastly purple. The already bulging veins on his face expanded and pulsated like worms. Their movement grew in intensity until his eyes bulged out. A whinny sound of pain escaped his throat before a loud “pop” erupted from his head.

The brunt of the blood splatter landed on Shěn Lí’s hands, but some still managed to make it to her face. She glanced down at the body underneath her before tossing the dagger away and standing up.

Bones and flesh disintegrated into sand and spilled out of his clothes like an overfilled bag.

“What a malicious death curse. Answering questions will blow you up.”

With a grave expression, Xíng Zhǐ turned to the other men in black to find their eyes closed in suicide. Apparently, they didn’t want to die the same horrible death their comrade suffered.

Shěn Lí turned to follow his gaze. With a frown she said, “We lost our only lead.”

“I . . . I once overheard about a lake.” Hú Lù hesitated but pushed forward. “The immortals being kidnapped are being held in a cave near a cliff that’s covered with green vines. It’s by a huge waterfall. The only place that fits that description is Qingya cave.”

Shěn Lí was quick to reply. “Let’s go. We’ll rescue any immortals we find and figure out our next steps afterwards.”

Xíng Zhǐ muttered some things to himself before speaking out. “We should disguise ourselves first. Let’s change clothes so it’ll be easier to approach the cave.”

“When the time comes, Xíng Zhǐ, you take care of them with your spells and I’ll take care of them with my fists.”

Xíng Zhǐ nearly laughed at her words. He picked up a stick and tapped her forehead lightly with it. “What is wrong with your brain? Always so violent.”

Shěn Lí distractedly touched the spot he tapped and turned away without saying a word.

Xíng Zhǐ had been careful how he behaved around her, but all that care went to waste with that single action that made his personality shine through. The way he touched her, the way he spoke, they were identical to the other jerk! The mortal him rejected her but the immortal him was seducing her. What was with him? She wanted to beat him up for unsettling her heart so much!

Shěn Lí was still stewing when she felt her clothes morph into the same black outfit the men wore. Xíng Zhǐ had changed both his appearance and his clothes to resemble the leader as well. Now he gave off a competent heroic air, instead of that of a lazy loafer.

“Ahem, let’s go,” said Shěn Lí after clearing her throat.

Hú Lù led the way. The idea of passing through the waterfall made Shěn Lí’s scalp prickle with discomfort, but she swallowed any complaints and followed behind Hú Lù. She was expecting to get wet but not a drop of water landed on her. She looked up to find a golden barrier above their heads. She turned to Xíng Zhǐ, but he was staring intently ahead into the darkness.

He stepped inside and she followed behind like nothing happened.

They continued down the dark path until they reached a vermilion door. Earlier, Hú Lù had told them about the monster that lived in the area. Because of its easy temper, it easily co-existed with the other immortals in the area. Both sides minded their own business, so there were no problems. No one expected the cave would become a prison for the immortals.

Shěn Lí’s group didn’t stand in front of the door long before a slit opened and a voice from within asked. “Password?” It was a cold and unwelcoming voice.

The three of them had come disguised in the right clothes but they didn’t know the password. Xíng Zhǐ could tell Shěn Lí wanted to kick the door down, so he immediately gripped her hand and shook his head.

Xíng Zhǐ was disguised as the leader of the group and he had brought his stick with him. He limped closer to the door making the person guarding it on the other side nervous.

The guard cautiously asked, “What?”

“Sect master . . .” Xíng Zhǐ imitated the dead man’s voice perfectly.

The one behind the door visibly relaxed and opened the door for them.

Xíng Zhǐ looked to Shěn Lí and said, “Now,” letting her do what she had been itching to do all along.

She shifted inside and knocked out the guard and his companion with a swift chop to the neck.

Xíng Zhǐ turned to Hú Lù and said, “Return to the woods. We will release the other immortals imprisoned here.”

Hú Lù wasn’t so sure about the plan. “They’re really powerful . . .will you guys really be OK? I can stay with you and help . . .”

The offer made Xíng Zhǐ smiled but Shěn Lí was openly disdainful of it. “You should worry about the other party.”

Xíng Zhǐ placed the stick in Hú Lù’s hand. “It’s all right. We’ll be fine. Take this stick for protection. You’re welcome.”

Hú Lù stared at the stick in his hand. “How am I supposed to defend myself with this tiny stick?”

Shěn Lí stared at it. “For an ancient god, he sure is stingy with his gifts.”

“As long as he doesn’t lose the stick, no one within a hundred miles will be able to touch him.” Xíng Zhǐ gave it as thanks for the useful clues and as thanks for what happened in the human world before when Hú Lù had tried to save the mortal him, even if it was an unsuccessful attempt. . . 

They left Hú Lù behind and continued onwards. Eventually they reached the end of the passageway and entered a cavern. It was a huge space with ten floors embedded into the walls. The water on the floor cast a green light that lit the entire cavern up.

Immortals were held in individual iron cages all along the wall straight down in a line. Light, like the one that imprisoned Hú Lù when they found him, encased each cage.

A guard was patrolling the area unaware of their presence.

Shěn Lí wrinkled her brows. “How do we save them?”

Xíng Zhǐ laughed. “Like you said, I’ll handle magic. You handle brute force.” He waved his hand as he said this, and a golden light snaked forward to the cages weaving in between the restricting white light.

“Break,” he said in a low voice that still somehow resounded throughout the cavern. The light responded to his voice and the spell binding the cages broke.

Taking that as her cue, Shěn Lí formed her spear and flew to the cages, destroying each lock quickly and easily, releasing the immortals inside.

Alerted, the guards rushed over to attack, but they were no match for Shěn Lí, and she dispatched them in no time.

The immortals all bowed their heads in gratitude.

“It’s not safe to stay here. “Xíng Zhǐ said. “Let’s leave first and talk later.”

Upon reaching the outside and seeing the light again, many immortals wept in joy. They thanked Xíng Zhǐ again for rescuing them.

Strangely enough no one approached or thanked Shěn Lí, not that she noticed.

They would have continued to ignore her had she not asked, “Do you know where the first immortals were caught?”

This question made them turn to her. No one answered for the longest time. Finally, a young man pointed at her and heatedly said, “You demon! You dare have the audacity to ask?!”

The person next to him immediately grabbed the hem of his robe and tried to pull him away. “She also saved us! Come on, don’t act that way!”

Shěn Lí frowned. “I will only say this once. The matter with immortals being kidnapped has nothing to do with my people. I only incidentally learned about it today.”

“Like hell you did!” Now that the joy of being freed wore off, he gave vent to his anger at being kidnapped and imprisoned. “You demon people are barbaric, evil villains! This time you captured us in the Mortal realm. What next? Do you plan to go to the Immortal realm and kidnap those immortals too?! Every single one of you are disgusting criminals! And that includes your stinking Demon emperor-”

Shěn Lí lifted him up by the collar before he got through his sentence. “Such impudence! I, the Azure Sky king, will cut you to pieces!”

c34: Shěn Lí Wants to Hit Somebody

c34: Shěn Lí Wants to Harm Someone

[July 7, 2019]
 . . .

The man in Shěn Lí’s grasp was so scared by the sight of her red eyes that he almost fainted. The immortal next to him was like-wise really frightened. He quickly apologized to Shěn Lí, urging her to release his friend, however, Shěn Lí was too angry to hear his pleas.

Instead, the guy she was holding turned blue as her grip tightened.

This was not good, so Xíng Zhǐ called out to her.

Shěn Lí glanced at Xíng Zhǐ. Although she didn’t release her grip, she did loosen it enough for the man to breathe.

“Cruel . . . bar . . .baric . . . savage . . .” As soon as he got some air, he commenced talking again.

Shěn Lí turned to him and gave him a cold smile. “I wasn’t going to kill you, but since you’ve worked so hard to convince me, I’ll do you the favor. Aren’t you lucky?”

Shěn Lí tightened her grip further causing his color to change from blue to purple as he foamed at the mouth. Out of fright, the other immortals cried out in alarm, some even had tears in their eyes.

Xíng Zhǐ reached out to her and touched her hand but he didn’t force her to let go. All he said was, “Hurting him will make things more difficult for the people of the Demon realm.”

Shěn Lí gnashed her teeth. “This person is full of venom, spewing slander against my people and insulting my emperor. Now I can’t even maim or kill him. It’s hard for me to settle the anger in my heart.”

“Shěn Lí . . .” Xíng Zhǐ sighed helplessly.

Shěn Lí didn’t understand why it was bad to give vent to her anger by hurting the immortal in front of her. He and his kind constantly bad-mouthed her people with malicious gossip. It was frustrating to constantly be told to endure.

She roughly tossed the immortal to the ground then walked away, kicking the shrubs in her path as she did so.

The other immortals rushed to aide their fallen comrade. He was dizzy and slightly bruised, but otherwise unhurt. They still felt the need to complain.

“He only said a few words, such uncalled for anger. The Demon people really have no empathy, so unforgiving!”

Shěn Lí was amazed at the irony of the words coming from the group of immortals. “Empathy?” She laughed a laughter filled with qi. The force shocked the immortals and shook their hearts, forcing them to cover their ears from the power. “Isn't it because I empathized with you that I came and rescued you?”

In a fit of anger, she had continued speaking with qi in her voice and she would have continued some more had a hand not swiftly covered her mouth. All the qi was pushed back inside, making her take a step back in surprise and bumped into Xíng Zhǐ.

His chest was warm and his aura wrapped all around her. It was like a cool breeze had blown in and dispersed her resentment. All that remained was a stuffed up feeling in her chest that left her feeling flustered.

“My friends, just because those who captured you used demon magic doesn’t mean someone from the Demon race is involved. This could be a deliberate attempt to undermine the relationship between the two realms. I hope you do not listen to idle gossip and assist the villain inadvertently.”

Shěn Lí felt the vibrations in Xíng Zhǐ’s chest as he talked. It had a lulling effect on her and she zoned out without realizing it, but her annoyance came back upon seeing the immortals in front of her nodding along to what he was saying. She pushed his hand away from her mouth and struggled out of his embrace. Once successful, she turned around and gave him a glare before walking away and kicking the rocks and grass underfoot like an angry child.

Xíng Zhǐ shook his head lightly and smiled as he watched her walk away. He continued, “I won’t keep you all in the dark. I stayed in the Demon realm with the Demon people for several days not too long ago. They are not a bloodthirsty race. The people are straightforward and direct. If the act of kidnapping immortals in the Mortal realm was meant to start a war, then they would have prepared for it with the appropriate military preparations. I saw no evidence of this at their military camps while I was there.”

The gathered immortals mulled over what he said. A white-haired old man of the group touched his beard and spoke. ”As far as I know, the only immortal who visited the Demon realm recently was the Immortal emperor’s grandson, Lord Fú Róng, who is wedded to a person in the demon world. Could it be the woman who just now proclaimed herself to be the Azure Sky king is Lord Fú Róng’s wife, from that rumored married couple?”

Xíng Zhǐ’s brow twitched slightly and he glanced over at Shěn Lí.

Shěn Lí had not heard the old immortal. She was some distance away from them, leaning against a tree and looking at the waterfall. The corner of Xíng Zhǐ’s mouth arched up slightly. He didn’t deny the relationship but he did say, “Lord Fú Róng and the Azure Sky king are not yet wed.”

“If immortal lord says so, then it must be the case.”

“Azure Sky king is deeply dedicated to the Demon people and can not stand anyone speaking poorly of them. What happened just now was because of her short temper. I hope everyone can forgive her.” Xíng Zhǐ smiled as he continued. “She is a very direct and honest person with a righteous nature who approaches matters with a sincere heart. That kind of conviction and morality . . . even I can not beat.”

The old immortal tugged at his beard. “Lord immortal is very good to the king . . . unlike in the rumors . . . hahaha.” His sentence trailed off in awkward laughter.[notes]

Xíng Zhǐ’s smile drooped a little and his voice was restrained. “She is worth it.”

Xíng Zhǐ asked the group of immortals some more questions about their kidnapping before letting them disperse and return to their respective territories. It was unlikely their kidnappers would appear again so soon, so they wanted to use the opportunity to report to the Immortal realm.

Xíng Zhǐ walked to Shěn Lí after everyone left. He didn’t have to say anything; she knew he was there.

She glanced quickly over at him and asked, “Are they gone?”

Xíng Zhǐ nodded. “It seems like there is still another group that needs to be rescued. I don’t know the specific location, but it should be somewhere in the south.”

“This is your business. It doesn’t have anything to do with me. Go and save your people by yourself. I’m going to Yáng Zhōu .” Immediately after saying her piece, she walked away.

Xíng Zhǐ trailed behind her.

“Stop following me.”

Xíng Zhǐ gave a helpless smile and shrugged. “Yáng Zhōu is also in the south. We’re heading in the same direction.”

Shěn Lí was silent for a moment, but eventually resumed her walking. There was still lingering resentment in her heart, but her pace wasn’t as fast as before. The distance between them kept getting shorter and shorter until they eventually walked side by side.

Xíng Zhǐ shot a glance at her. “Hungry?”

Shěn Lí was reluctant to admit it, instead she said, “No,” just before her belly betrayed her with a low rumble. It made her frown, and Xíng Zhǐ smirk. Now she was even more annoyed!

She called forth a cloud to ride away, but he grabbed her wrist and interrupted her.

“There’s a small family run restaurant down the mountain. Why don’t we go there? It’s been a while since I’ve had any of the five grains. I miss them.” Perhaps Xíng Zhǐ’s mortal life as Xíng Yún influenced his immortal preferences.

Shěn Lí eyed him dubiously. “You do?”

“I do.” Xíng Zhǐ nodded with a smile.

“Alright, let’s go then.”

The restaurant was actually just a stall by the side of the mountain. The sign in front read, “Tea.” It was a good resting place for travelers; there were even a few tables and stools outside for people to sit and enjoy a drink.

Shěn Lí barely sat down when a middle-aged woman approached.

“Would the two of you like tea? Please sit, sit.”

“Auntie, we’ve had a long journey and we’re hungry. Can we borrow your kitchen to make something to eat?”

The woman blinked, a bit taken aback. “What do you want to eat? I’ll make it for you.”

Xíng Zhǐ laughed. “This sister here has really picky tastes. It’s difficult to please her. We’ll pay you for the use of course.”

The lady silently thought it over for a moment before replying. “Let me clean up a little first. Here, in the meantime, have some tea.” She poured them both a cup before hurrying back inside.

“This is a suspicious shop.” Shěn Lí stroked the cup as she said this.

“Is Your Highness afraid?”

Shěn Lí raised her head and drank the tea in one gulp. “Personally I don’t think “私以为,他们还是黑不过神君的。” 行止浅笑:“王爷抬举。”

Upon returning, the woman was surprised to find her new customers still sitting upright in their chairs. She pushed the flicker of hesitation that went through her mind aside and put a smile on her face as she approached them. “Everything is in order young master. Please, this way.” She picked up the teapot and was shocked at how light it was. It had to be at least half empty. She looked at Shěn Lí and Xíng Zhǐ in astonishment.

This made Shěn Lí ask her if something was wrong.

“Nothing, nothing. I was just surprised you weren’t tired after walking around the mountain. You must have a lot of stamina.”

“It’s not bad. I’ve killed hundreds of monsters.”

Something flickered in the woman’s dark green eyes. “My goodness, young miss enjoys joking a lot I see.”

Shěn Lí wasn’t as patient or as calm as Xíng Zhǐ. She reached over the table and grabbed the woman by the neck. “I don’t joke.” She reached for the tea pot with her other hand and poured the liquid into the woman’s mouth.

The woman struggled but only ended up with swallowing more lquide in her efforts to break free.

Shěn Lí was relentless. She raised the woman higher and shook her harder until her limbs shortened and a tail sprouted from her back. It dragged to the ground as her skin smoothed into a different kind of flesh and the woman resembled a python.

Shěn Lí tossed her to the ground and shouted in a cold voice, “All of you come out at once, otherwise I will kill her.”

A girl crawled frantically from out of a haystack as soon as Shěn Lí said this.

“I’m coming! I’m coming! Please don’t kill her!” yelled the girl in a fuzzy voice. Her lower half kept transforming, alternating between a snake tail and human legs. It made her gait unsteady and she kept falling and smashing her face into the dirt.

Xíng Zhǐ smiled. He was about to speak when Shěn Lí stepped forward and helped the girl up. She patted the girl’s dirty cheeks, not at all minding the dust. In a happy voice she said, “Xiǎo Hé!”[notes]

The girl looked at Shěn Lí confused. Her voice shook, and she stuttered because she was so afraid. “I’m . . . n – n – not Xiǎo Hé. I’m . . . I’m sorry.”

Immortal = anything to do with the higher realms and their associates. The immortals living in the Mortal realm are connected to those in the Immortal realm, so everyone from the Immortal emperor to Hú Lù is an immortal.

This was why Xíng Zhǐ wondered why Hú Lù didn’t report the kidnappings to the Immortal realm.

Those from the Demon realm are not immortals though they are long-lived.

c35: Reminiscent of the Past

c35: Reminiscent of the Past

[July 14, 2019]

 . . .

The girl was shaking like a leaf. Shěn Lí thought it best to just release her.

In her happiness, Shěn Lí forgot Xiǎo Hé had sacrificed herself for the one she loved, that even if she looked like Xiǎo Hé in her reincarnated form, she would have no memory of her previous life. Unlike Xíng Zhǐ who retained his memories, she would have lost hers. Without that memory, she was freed from the past. In this life, she didn’t know Prince Ruì or the heartbreak of that love.

Shěn Lí was silent for a moment, then she took a step toward the girl and asked, “Your abilities aren’t even that great, yet you dare set up a stall like this to harm others? How brazen. Aren’t you afraid the mountain god will punish you?”

With her head lowered to her chest the girl whispered that the mountain god was gone, captured some time ago.

Xíng Zhǐ and Shěn Lí shared a glance.

“When? Did you see who did it?” Shěn Lí probed. Her voice came out unintentionally sterner than she meant it to.

It scared the girl, and though her lips trembled, she refused to say more.

“Really? I didn’t even beat you this time . . .” Shěn Lí sighed in disappointment. From her side, Xíng Zhǐ laughed.

The sigh made the older woman exert a great amount of effort to look up from the ground. In a hoarse voice she asked, “Great immortals, you are sparing our lives?” Shěn Lí had only shaken her twice, but it was enough for her to understand the disparity in their strength, so she was very respectful when she spoke.

“Neither my child nor I wish to engage in such a malicious trade, but we were forced to do so because we had no other choice. We’ve only robbed passersby of their money. We take what we can, but we’ve never physically harmed anyone!”

“When did you put up the stall? And why were you compelled to do so?” Shěn Lí asked.

Thinking about it made the greened eyed python sigh. “This child’s father is a mortal. Together as a family we used to live in the forest surrounding Yáng Zhōu . It was a hard life, but we got by on the food he grew and the game I brought back from the mountain. Then three months ago something strange happened. The trees started withering away and the grass stopped growing. Thick miasma spread everywhere and nothing grew. I’m sure it’s related to the mountain god’s disappearance.”

It clearly made her anxious just remembering. “The mountain god disappeared . . . The other supernatural beings said the god was taken away by some guys from a group called Fúshēng Mén.”

Shěn Lí wrinkled her brows, that name again. Although it was a small immortal sect, it was a rising power capable of not just kidnapping immortals around the capital, but also using demon magic. Even Shěn Lí began to doubt her conviction. Did someone from the Demon realm really break through the barrier and enter the Mortal realm?

“I had to take this child and hide here. There wasn’t anything to eat. Out of desperation we came upon the idea of robbing passersby of their money and any food they had with them.

“What about your husband?” Xíng Zhǐ asked quietly, not concerned about Fúshēng Mén. “He’s not here with you so how is he getting by?”

“He . . .” The woman hesitated for a moment before fording forward honestly. “He was a Taoist priest before we married. Things were peaceful and we lived together without incident, but he never laid down his duties. When the miasma spread down the mountain, he had me and our daughter leave the area while he and his disciple went to Yáng Zhōu . He said the miasma would be difficult to deal with and would affect the city.”

Shěn Lí was speechless at the revelation. This woman was in a relationship with a Taoist priest and they had a daughter together. Their identities were so different. It must have been incredibly difficult for them to remain together. She couldn’t help but admire the green snake.

Xíng Zhǐ spoke up in Shěn Lí’s silence. “Since that’s the case, why don’t we go to Yáng Zhōu ? I’ll treat you to a meal another day.” He smiled slightly at Shěn Lí as he spoke.

The intimate tone of his voice made Shěn Lí stare at him. She turned away and coughed.

“Great . . . great immortal!” The daughter suddenly spoke up. “Won’t you take me along as well?! I miss Dad and I miss Brother Yán!” Her cheeks blushed out of embarrassment when she said this.

A girl so young wouldn’t handle the miasma well. Xíng Zhǐ was about to refuse, but Shěn Lí spoke up first.

“OK, let’s go.” She turned around and glanced at Xíng Zhǐ. “Can you give her a talisman ward?” Though it was phrased as a question, it was clear she wasn’t interested in discussing the matter.

Xíng Zhǐ looked at Shěn Lí in surprise before laughing out loud. He walked in front of the girl and drew several letters on her forehead. Finished, he said, “Let me know if you feel unwell once we enter the city.”

The girl nodded gratefully. She crawled into Shěn Lí's sleeve after transforming into a tiny snake. She peeked her head out and looked up at Shěn Lí.

With a laugh Shěn Lí said, “OK then, let’s go!”

Though the sun was setting as they reached Yáng Zhōu , there was no beautiful sunset to behold. Black miasma fog shrouded the entire city. Shěn Lí felt like she was stepping into the Demon realm.

According to the girl snake, Jǐng Xī, all the immortals around the city had been kidnapped. Miasma flowed out from the forest surrounding the mountains and settled in the city, leaving it in its current shrouded state.

The once vibrant city was a dead shell of its former self. Sickness pervaded, affecting both old and young. There were only a few hardy individuals able to walk the streets.

Shěn Lí frowned. “Those in the Demon realm have adapted to the miasma but for ordinary mortals, it would be unbearable.”

The girl in Shěn Lí’s sleeve trembled in fear.

Shěn Lí stroked the snake’s head. “Don’t worry. We’ll find your family.”

After walking along the streets for a bit Shěn Lí asked, “Is there a way to get rid of the miasma?”

“Yes, however the miasma comes from the mountain. Clearing it here would only address the symptom, not the root of the problem –.” Xíng Zhǐ was interrupted before he could finish.

“Fix the symptom first, take care of the cause later,” Shěn Lí cut in. “Slowing it down is better than nothing.”

Shěn Lí barely finished talking when a person rushed out to her. His hair was poofy like he’d been electrocuted, while his entire body, from his clothes to his skin, were completely ashen.

“Finally! Someone came!” He was practically crying tears of joy. “Someone came at last!”

“Who are you?” asked Shěn Lí.

He wiped his face with one hand, nearly in tears again. “Ah?! I’m Lord Fú Róng!” He used his filthy clothes to wipe his grimy face. It didn’t help. He only smeared the grime around more. He pointed to his face. “I’m Lord Fú Róng.”

Shěn Lí frowned in disgust. “Go away. I don’t have time for you.”

Fú Róng looked around and saw Xíng Zhǐ so he didn’t over do it, only saying, “That’s over the line! How can you treat this lord like that?” Fú Róng patted his chest. “This lord risked his life to save the city. If it weren’t for this lord hurrying to Yáng Zhōu , everyone here would have fallen to the miasma! This lord did what he could to control the situation and purify the city. How can you treat this lord like so?!”

Xíng Zhǐ looked up at the sky. “There are traces of purification in the air.”

The confirmation dissipated Fú Róng’s anger, but he still felt wronged. In a sad voice he said, “This lord encountered such a thing while strolling. How could this lord not help? This lord tried to purify the miasma to the best of his abilities, but it wasn’t enough. In less than a day, the miasma returned and pervaded the city again. Then at the same time, a great number of people fell seriously ill. It was too much to manage the miasma and the sudden eruption of sickness. Those not seriously ill, this lord gathered and brought to the temple in the northside of the city. This lord set up a boundary circle to keep the miasma out, but lately the miasma has been so dense this lord has reached his limit.”

“You could have reported this to the Immortal realm. The only reason you didn’t was because you were afraid they would take you back, so you figured you would just try to clean the miasma here on your own. But now that it’s beyond your abilities you’re trying to shove the responsibility onto someone else?” She shot him a glance after laying his motivation bare. “The nerve. To claim you saved the city.”

Fú Róng nearly choked at her words. He was slightly embarrassed at having been called out.

There was a flash of green and a girl suddenly appeared in front of him. Her unstable legs caused her to stumble into Fú Róng’s arms. She hastily pulled back and asked. “Great immortal, inside the city, did you see a Taoist priest and his disciple?”

Such a soft, sweet voice. Even if his eyes were filled with dust and the city dark and dimly lit, Fú Róng could recognize a beauty when he encountered one. He gave her a quick once over to confirm.

“Of course. This lord set up the boundary inside the city after all.”

“Can you bring me over to them please?”

“Of course.” Fú Róng extended his hand toward her. “But the miasma is a hindrance. Take care where you step; it’s hard to see here.”

Shěn Lí picked Jǐng Xī up by the waist and tossed the girl over her shoulder. “Lead the way,” she said to Fú Róng.

Fú Róng resentfully glared at Shěn Lí’s cut, but he turned around and did as told.

 . . .

Shěn Lí thought Fú Róng was just a useless skirt-chasing fool, so she was surprised at the extent of the boundary he created. It was large enough to protect several hundred people. Those inside the boundary welcomed Fú Róng with big grateful smiles on their faces.

Fú Róng turned around proudly to look at Shěn Lí as if seeking affirmation of his accomplishment and virtuosity.

She turned her head away, refusing to indulge him.

Jǐng Xī looked around the encampment distracted as other people came over and bombarded Fú Róng with praise. “Great immortal is amazing! Great immortal is a such a good person!”

It made Fú Róng laugh in happiness with his hands on his hip.

Jǐng Xī spotted two people in the corner of the temple. Running over she yelled, “Dad! Brother Yán!”

Shěn Lí looked over in their direction and was stumped at what she saw. Jǐng Xī’s father was indeed an ordinary Taoist priest, but Brother Yán bore an uncanny resemblance to King Ruì.[notes] Laying prone beside him, was a sick woman asleep; she looked remarkably like King Ruì’s wife. They appeared to be the same people from the previous century.

Jǐng Xī rushed excitedly over to them.

“Why are you so loud? Can’t you see people are sleeping?” Jǐng Yán reprimanded her.

Jǐng Xī stared in silence, feeling like she’d been wronged. She shifted from foot to foot before walking over to her father’s side, lightly tugging at his clothes.

The interaction between the three made Shěn Lí ask if their fates were bound to repeat.

Xíng Zhǐ shook his head. “It’s just a coincidence.”

The aggrieved look on Jǐng Xī’s face reminded Shěn Lí too much of Xiǎo Hé. She couldn’t help but speak out. “I’m sure Prince Ruì had many people in his life after he took the throne. What were the chances of him remembering a sharp-tongued woman who sacrificed everything to help him gain his desire?”

“Let me think.” Xíng Zhǐ thought it over before answering. “After he became king and assigned an empress, he planted lotus flowers all over the royal garden.”

Shěn Lí gave him a quick glance in surprise. She didn’t expect him to answer. It made her sigh. “It’s useless now, but I’m sure Xiǎo Hé would have been happy if she knew.”

c36: Reunion

c36: Reunion

[July 22, 2019]

 . . .

Jǐng Xī’s father looked sternly at Jǐng Xī. “What happened to your mother? Why are you here by yourself?”

Jǐng Xī pinched her dad’s sleeve. She felt really wronged. “Mother suffered a minor injury. She was worried about the miasma affecting her so she didn’t dare come with me.”

“How willful of you!” He yanked his sleeve away from her grasp. “No fear of the miasma at all! Leave here immediately!”

Jǐng Xī had overstepped. She looked at Brother Yán and saw he wasn’t paying attention to her at all. Her throat tightened and she couldn’t speak.

Unexpectedly it was Fú Róng who interrupted the silence. He walked to Jǐng Xī and stuck one hand out between them, creating a space for himself to step in.

Like a skilled diplomat he said, “The enchantment circle will protect all those inside from the miasma. There is no need to drive your daughter away so soon. Taoist priest, please do not blame her. She was simply worried about your well-being and was eager to see you.”

Fú Róng turned around and looked at Jǐng Xī after he finished speaking. The bright shining way she gazed at him melted his heart. His eyes softened and he unconsciously smiled. The warmth showed through despite his ash smeared face. Jǐng Xī was grateful to have someone on her side.

Jǐng Xī’s father didn’t say anything else after Fú Róng spoke.

Shěn Lí crouched in front of the sleeping girl and studied her face. Her lips were nearly black and there were distinct glowing bluish-green lines crisscrossing under her fair skin. They pulsed and gave the impression there were bugs underneath.

“Was the epidemic caused by the miasma?”

Jǐng Yán glanced at Shěn Lí, unhappy she would disturb the woman’s sleep.

In a rude tone she continued. “What? You don’t know? What are you doing with her then? Let someone else who knows what they’re doing take care of things.” She turned to Xíng Zhǐ. “I’ll have to trouble Immortal High God.”

Xíng Zhǐ sighed at her behavior. He understood it was her way of getting justice for Jǐng Xī. No matter the situation, Shěn Lí would always be Shěn Lí. She couldn’t bear to see someone suffering unfairly and not do something about it. Regardless of the situation, her preferences would always rise to the surface and show in her behavior.

With these thoughts in his heart, Xíng Zhǐ walked over to the sleeping woman. After observing her carefully, he read her pulse. “I will see the other patients now.”

His expression was heavy. He circled around the temple checking on everyone before returning. With knitted brow he turned to Fú Róng and asked, “Your Highness has been here several days now. Can you tell me which direction has the greatest miasma density?”

Fú Róng thought about it before replying. “The west side of the city. The southwest is particularly lethal.”

Xíng Zhǐ muttered something to himself. “If I’m not wrong, the miasma isn’t flowing into the city from outside, but rather is flowing out of the city to the surrounding area, and has been doing so for quite some time.”

This surprised everyone within earshot. The Taoist was the first to disagree. “That’s impossible. I live a secluded life in the mountains but do come to the city to buy supplies. I was here last month and noticed the miasma clinging to the outside of the city walls. There was no miasma beyond the walls and inside the city then.”

“The sickness here isn’t an epidemic caused by disease, but the result of blood flow crossing the wrong way. It’s symptomatic of too much miasma inhalation.” He pulled his sleeve up and showed his arm. Faint bluish-green marks were visible. “I was careless several days ago and allowed the miasma to enter my body. Once inside it will remain for some time. These are the marks of its presence.”

Shěn Lí recognized they were the wounds from the time he was ambushed by the monsters in the Ruins. Xíng Zhǐ hadn’t said anything about them so she hadn’t realized his wounds weren’t healed.

“This kind of mark, aside from being injured by beings that emit miasma, can also be found in those who inhale the miasma all year long. Physical symptoms appear once it reaches a certain concentration level in the bloodstream.”

Xíng Zhǐ pulled his sleeve back down. “The disappearance of immortal beings, the mysterious immortal sect, the profusion of miasma, the answer to all of this may lay in the western part of the city.”

Shěn Lí’s main concern was the Demon realm. It was possible the cause could implicate her people, so she wanted to resolve everything as soon as possible. “Let’s going to the west side.” To Fú Róng she said, “Guard this place well.”

 . . .

The miasma grew increasingly heavy and toxic as she approached the west side of the city. Shěn Lí could barely move despite taking precautions. She spoke to Xíng Zhǐ beside her. “If the culprit is from the Demon realm, then I will ask you to allow me to deal with the person.”

Xíng Zhǐ was silent as he considered her request.

She didn’t think there would be an issue with it so his reply was unexpected.

“That won’t be possible. This matter involves too many land gods. The Immortal realm will want to investigate.”

Shěn Lí nearly missed a step at his words. She turned around and looked at him. He still had the same faint smile he usually wore, but is eyes were resolute. In that moment, Shěn Lí saw the real Xíng Zhǐ. He was normally carefree, but when it came to matters with the Immortal realm, he was impossible to budge.

“That’s fine.” Shěn Lí nodded. “It can be a joint investigation,” was her compromise.

To that, Xíng Zhǐ did not reply. By then they had reached the area and the miasma was intense. Breathing was nearly impossible. Even Shěn Lí, as accustomed as she was from living in the Demon realm, felt unwell, never mind ordinary mortals in the mortal world.

She scanned the city wall but couldn’t see where the miasma could have originated. All she felt was the overpowering heaviness from it. “We’ve reached the west walls, but there’s nothing here.”

Xíng Zhǐ reached over and pulled a strand of her hair. Although it didn’t hurt, it was a strange thing for him to do. “What?” she asked.

He smiled at her question as he nimbly shaped her hair into a butterfly. “I’ll show you the trick.” Xíng Zhǐ released her hair and it fluttered lazily through the air, having changed into a white butterfly. It soared through the miasma, cleaving a trail of clear air in its wake.

A red door, much like the one they encountered when rescuing the immortals held captive in the cave on the outskirts of the city, emerged from the wall.

“See? Now it’s here.”

Shěn Lí shot him a side glance. “Next time pull your own hair.” She materialized her spear as she stepped to the door. There was no doubt in her mind it would lead to Fúshēng Mén’s headquarters. She wasn’t the least hesitant or polite, intending to open it with one swift kick.

Though the panels shook, it remained firmly closed. Shěn Lí was about to try again, this time with qi in her kick, but before she could, a loud “Thwomp!” sounded and the double doors opened wide. The miasma that released hit her square in the face.

White butterflies, matching the one from earlier, shot past her ear. No longer erratic, they flew with intent and great speed through the door. Like before, they dissipated the miasma in their wake.

Shěn Lí stepped into a grand hall. It was hard to believe the door hidden behind magic camouflage could lead to such a beautiful place. The hall was befitting of a grand palace.

There wasn’t much time to admire, as the moment she stepped through, black clad figures emerged from the walls like ravenous monsters intent on killing their prey. Shěn Lí cut every one of them down with her spear, severing their heads cleanly and easily. Her face was a blank mask as she fought, not heeding the blood splattering around or the drops dripping from her spear.

She would not forgive anyone who slandered or dishonored the Demon realm.

She mercilessly killed everyone in her path. When she couldn’t continue straight anymore and faced a fork in the hall, she grabbed one of the men and indifferently hit his chest hard, aggressively ramming qi into his body and rupturing his internal organs.

In a voice that sounded like it came from hell she demanded, “Where is your master?”

The man was truly frightened and was shaking all over. “Right . . . right.”

“Where does the left go?”

“The land gods.”

Shěn Lí released him, but before he could even turn to run away, she grabbed his hair and threw him against the wall like a rag doll. His life was snuffed out instantly.

Xíng Zhǐ came up behind Shěn Lí just as she did this. His brow furrowed. “Killing with such bloodthirst is not good, even if the other is an enemy.”

The blood that ran down her spear had already stained her hands red. She coldly looked at Xíng Zhǐ. “Don’t bother preaching. The left path leads to the imprisoned immortals. High god will have to go down that path alone. I intend to capture the culprit behind this. I only hope that High God is willing to accept a joint investigation of the matter. The Demon realm is innocent. Please do not let immortals run away with unjustified speculation.”

This made Xíng Zhǐ wrinkle his brow. Shěn Lí turned and took the rightward path.

He stared at the path she took for some time before turning and taking the left path.

 . . .

The frequency of attacks increased dramatically as Shěn Lí neared the final room. Once there, she forced it open with her spear. Light poured out of what appeared be to the main hall of a temple.

She looked around from the doorway before entering. Though it seemed empty, she still proceeded inside cautiously.

It was silent without a single guard in sight. The ground shook, breaking the silence, and Shěn Lí had to readjust her footing.

She looked upwards to find three massively, brawny temple men drop out of thin air from above. She stared, assessing them as they surrounded her in a triangle formation.

They looked sinister with sharp wolf-like fangs and red eyes that lent them an air of savagery, making them resemble animals more than men.

They roared, covering her with spittle and a raw metallic smell.

Shěn Lí was outwardly calm, but her heart shook. It was her first time facing such opponents; they were like men transformed into beasts.

They stared at each other in a stalemate with neither party making a move. Finally, one of the men rushed forward. Shěn Lí lifted her spear and pointed it directly at his eye. Instead of avoiding her attack, he continued forward and grabbed the blade. He used brute force to pull the spear out of Shěn Lí’s grasp. His hand was sliced open and gushing blood, yet he didn’t seem to notice. He roared and tried to bite her neck.

Shěn Lí stared in shock. She liked fighting, but even she had never seen someone use so much brute force. She successfully defended against the bite but her back was left open. Taking advantage of the opening, another man attacked. The blow landed hard and forced to her into a roll. She barely had time to catch her breath and summon her spear back to her hand.

She was effectively trapped inside with the three temple men between her and the door now that the formation was broken. They were proving difficult to handle. . . 

c37: The Person in Green

c37: The Person in Green

[July 28, 2019]

 . . .

Shěn Lí coolly eyed her adversaries. The men exuded murderous intent with their open mouths and fang-like teeth. Pooled saliva trailed down their lips and left wet spots on the floor.

Shěn Lí glanced at the man that grabbed the blade of her spear earlier. The gash on his hand was already healed to the point the wound was no longer visible. He was monstrous, like the scorpion-tailed fox she beheaded near the Ruins.

Shěn Lí knew the men would attack soon when she sensed the change in the air. Her red-tasseled silver spear shook and suddenly flew and attacked the man in the middle.

He gave a cry of alarm, but it was no use; the attack was impossible to dodge and he was stabbed square in the face. He reached up to grab the spear.

Shěn Lí wasn’t about to let him grab it like before. She was mentally prepared this time, so when he reached for it, she immediately somersaulted forward and twisted her body around to slam into him. This caught him off guard and allowed her to easily attack. She grabbed her spear and thrust it forward intending to chop his legs out from under him.

Although she used all her strength to strike, she failed to slice through his legs. All she heard was a solid metallic dhoom as her spear vibrated from the impact. The vibrations were so strong it nearly broke the skin on her hand.

It was unimaginable to Shěn Lí that, despite using all her strength, her spear failed to cut through. It had accompanied her through scores of battles, across oceans and lands, and never failed before. In shock, she flipped backwards, retreating a safe distance with the spear in front covering half her face.

To be fair, the spear was originally made for stabbing, and not so much for cutting and slicing, however, Shěn Lí had used it for so long that it had become imbued with her qi and become freakishly strong, capable of more than just stabbing. In fact, the shaft of the spear could even be used in place of the blade to behead a person.

But now she could see a see a small nick at the edge of the blade.

The other two didn’t wait for Shěn Lí to get her thoughts together. They flanked her on both sides before rushing her like ravenous wild dogs.

She wanted to buy some time to think of a strategy to defeat the men, so she jumped up and perched on a beam out of their reach. She hadn’t thought of a plan yet when a silhouette jumped up even higher. He had his hand out to hit her head, but she dodged it with a minor tilt of her neck. She grabbed his hand and poured qi into her grip. A loud cracking sound came from his hand as every bone broke.

He raised his head and gave a loud shout, leaving his center unguarded. Shěn Lí grabbed the opening and thrust her spear into his gut, but hard muscle prevented her from stabbing deeply. At this, Shěn Lí shouted as well and rays of light glowed from her spear. It increased in intensity, until with a crack and a ploosh, her opponent’s chest exploded and rained flesh and blood down onto the floor.

She shoved the rest of his body down, yanking her spear out as she did so. He fell like a boulder, crashing into the wall before falling to the floor and leaving a crater in his wake, finally dead.

Shěn Lí was gasping for air, but she had managed to take one man out. Before she could catch her breath, the two men below jumped up to her perch, with one on either side. She raised her spear in time to block an attack from one, but was smacked by the other. The force behind the hit was so powerful that she was knocked off the beam and into the dead man’s crater below.

The two jumped down and landed with a thud on the ground, raising a tremendous amount of dust and debris into the air. They couldn’t see Shěn Lí since her body was completely obscured, so they had to walk to the side to peer in.

Red light flashed through the rubble. Before either man could react, Shěn Lí’s spear pierced one through the eye. He stood dead with the blade protruding out from the back of his skull. Shěn Lí sliced his head in half when she swept her spear to one side to free it.

Dust scattered as his ruined body fell to the ground. There were no visible injuries on Shěn Lí’s body, but there were strands of blood on her lips that trailed down the front of her. Her eyes were cold and bloodshot. She wiped the blood from her lips with one arm, whispering to herself as she did so. “That really hurt.”

It was only one blow, but her entire body ached like her joints were broken. Even breathing was difficult. It was hard to believe three unknown men could force her into such a terrible position.

She stepped forward and glared at the final man left standing. Through the metallic taste of blood in her mouth she said, “Since you want to fight, be prepared to fight to your last breath.”

He let out a roar that echoed through the hall. Everything shook, even the brick in the walls crumbled. The muscles on his body rippled as they expanded. He stepped over his dead comrade and dashed at Shěn Lí.

Shěn Lí didn’t try to dodge, having already predicted his movement, instead she jumped up and aimed the tip of her spear at his head, intending to pierce him from above, however, he made an unexpected move in blocking the spear with his arm and letting it sink into flesh. The attack didn’t seem to hurt him at all.

He smashed his unencumbered hand into Shěn Lí’s face, but she moved out of the way just in time. She coalesced qi in her hand and forced it into the downward thrust. The wind resulting from their two opposing forces rattled the temple and shook the bricks.

Shěn Lí dropped to the ground with her hand supporting her body and swung her leg up into the air like a scissor. She wrapped it around his neck and twisted him to the side, slamming him into the wall. The stone masonry crumbled away from the impact revealing a hidden room behind.

A person, dressed entirely in green with a strange aura around him, stood behind the wall looking down at the scene of Shěn Lí’s battle.

The temple man shook his head before standing up. The newcomer in green gave him a kick, knocking him back down.

Shěn Lí looked at the face of the person in green coldly. “You are the one pulling the strings. You’re the one framing the Demon realm. Why are you doing this?”

“Framing?” The man in green said as he moved in the shadows. Shěn Lí couldn’t see him clearly but his voice sounded familiar. “You can’t really call this me framing anyone.”

Shěn Lí frowned. She was about to go after him and demand answers when the man, who was knocked down earlier, finally got up. He roared as he shook the debris off his body. This really was indeed “fighting to one’s last breath.”

“A troublesome person is about to arrive so forgive me for not staying to watch the Azure Sky king’s heroic fight.”

Shěn Lí stared at the play of light and shadow on his face as he turned away. He reminded her of someone, and she suddenly thought of the person leading the attack that night at Xíng Yún’s courtyard. What was his name?

Fú Shēng!

Fú Shēng. Fúshēng Mén . . . But how was that possible? He was obviously and ordinary person! How could he have lived so long?!

Shěn Lí was anxious to chase after him, but the fallen man from earlier blocked her path. His eyes were full of cold malice as he roared, “Prepare to die!”

He only spoke those three words before Shěn Lí sliced his eyes with her spear. She hurriedly leapt away from him towards Fú Shēng; she wanted to capture him no matter what. Unperturbed, Fú Shēng calmly waved his sleeve in her direction.

Shěn Lí didn’t notice anything amiss at first, but a few seconds later her vision turned black and her body froze up. She toppled over.

The last temple man jumped over to Shěn Lí and proceeded to pummel her abdomen with both fists, as if he was trying to shatter her internal organs. Done with that he lifted her up by the neck, trying to choke her to death.

Shěn Lí stared after Fú Shēng’s back as he gradually disappeared from sight. A sense of powerlessness came over her as she endured the attack. Despite her high tolerance for pain, blood gurgled out of her mouth and poured down the front of her, dying the hands of her attacker red.

“This . . .what’s going on here?” An extremely cold voice sounded from the hall’s entrance.

The temple man turned and saw a figure in white standing by the entrance. He roared and used Shěn Lí as a weapon, hurling her at him.

Shěn Lí had no control over her body, but she suffered no injuries despite the throw. It was as if a hand was supporting her back, twisting the momentum away from her as she spun towards the entrance. By the time she could see clearly again, she had already settled into Xíng Zhǐ's embrace.

Shěn Lí had a strange thought when she saw Xíng Zhǐ’s bloodstained clothes. She was constantly staining his clothes wasn’t she? Fortunately, she wouldn’t have to help wash them this time. Wasn't it more troublesome than slaughtering the monsters?

“How many injuries did you receive?” His tone was low, filled with an anger Shěn Lí had never heard before.

Shěn Lí shook her head. “The man behind it . . . escaped.”

Xíng Zhǐ persisted. “How many injuries?”

Shěn Lí didn’t answer, not because she didn’t want to, but because she couldn’t. She wanted to tell him her injury wasn’t life threatening, that it was more important he not miss this opportunity to chase after the mastermind. The reputation of the Demon realm and the Demon emperor rested on this. She didn’t want her home to be maligned.

Xíng Zhǐ held her wrist to read her pulse.

As if to proclaim his presence, the temple man roared while rushing to them. The added noise from his large body trampling over the ground only made it harder for Xíng Zhǐ to read Shěn Lí’s weak pulse. Xíng Zhǐ glanced over at the temple man, and with an expression as cold as ice yelled, “Be still!”

Everything froze. The once fluttering dust particles stopped moving and dangled in place. Meanwhile the temple man stopped, locked in mid-stride. It was like time had stopped in ice.

Witnessing the power of the words nearly made Shěn Lí pass out. She stared distractedly at the high god in front of her. She understood now how powerful a spell when uttered from Xíng Zhǐ’s lips could be.

He went back to listening to her pulse. It was so quiet that Shěn Lí could hear her own weak but accelerating heartbeat, however she chose to ignore both it and Xíng Zhǐ, not giving voice to the subtle change.

Xíng Zhǐ failed to pick up on it. All he could tell was that something was wrong with her body. Frowning he said, “You’ve been poisoned.”

Shěn Lí could see her reflection in his eyes. Her mouth was severely bruised and her face was deathly pale. In a weak voice she said, “Poison can’t hurt me. The mastermind . . .”

Shěn Lí barely finished speaking when the sounds of chanting rang out in the room. It started softly but then rose in pitch. The volume made Shěn Lí’s head ache and she involuntarily clenched her teeth.

Xíng Zhǐ could see something was wrong from her expression. He asked anxiously “What is it?”


Xíng Zhǐ’s expression turned cold. It was obvious whatever it was, it was only targeting Shěn Lí.

Suddenly a noise came from behind them. Turning around, Xíng Zhǐ saw a man with a partially sliced head crawl out from the rubble of bricks. A second man, the one Shěn Lí had smashed to death, fell from the crater in the wall. Both men were covered in blood. They ignored Xíng Zhǐ’s presence and acted as though he wasn’t there. It was like the were under someone’s command.

Shěn Lí’s fingers tightened, flexing unconsciously, when she saw them. She attempted to get up but was held in place by Xíng Zhǐ. Pressing her down by the shoulders, he spoke in a cold and severe voice. “Do you no longer wish to live?”

Shěn Lí twisted her mouth at his words. “It’s because I wish to live that I must rise and fight.”

Xíng Zhǐ pursed his lips. A feeling he couldn’t keep in check floated up from the bottom-most part of his heart. He didn’t bother turning his head, but instead simply drew a five-point configuration. A loud sound, like the roar of early morning erupted. The previously smoggy air cleared up as extremely clean, pure air flowed from Xíng Zhǐ’s body. Bright light shot out and burned everything around them to ashes.

“I will keep you alive.”

A muddled-headed and confused Shěn Lí felt a murmur rise in her heart. She couldn’t resist muttering before passing out, “Before . . . Xíng Zhǐ there wasn't anyone.”

Xíng Zhǐ’s grip on Shěn Lí’s shoulders tightened as he gazed at her. It was hard to gauge his mood from his dark eyes.

c38: Hm . . .

c38: Hm . . .

[August 4, 2019]

 . . .

He understood the importance of apprehending the mastermind, and he knew Shěn Lí wanted him to give chase as it would help prove the Demon realm’s innocence, and yet . . .

He couldn’t walk away.

His grip unconsciously tightened as he stared at the pale face of the woman in his arms. She never painted her lips red or lived her life like other women. She was strong and never hid behind anyone’s back. She was much like the red-tasseled silver spear she wielded, forceful and unyielding.

As she said, there was no Xíng Zhǐ before, no one who could protect her. She was used to relying only on herself, to fighting alone, to guarding and bearing the burden of the Demon realm.

To see such a formidable woman in such a weakened state was both strange and distressing. She was like a cat that liked to reach out and lazily scratch at his heart with her claws. By the time he noticed her lazy scratches, it was too late, and the scratches had become painful and itchy. The feeling was hard to describe.

“This person . . . so troublesome.” The four words drifted from his lips into the empty room. He remained where he was, cradling Shěn Lí against is chest.

 . . .

Jǐng Xī carried the unused medicine box as she followed Fú Róng around the exterior of the temple. He had allowed her to be his personal attendant.

Jǐng Xī’s martial art skills were not great, so it took a lot of effort for her to keep her tail hidden. She quietly called out to Fú Róng.

At her call, he turned around with a bright smile on his face. He asked, “Tired sweetie? Want to rest?”

Jǐng Xī wanted to hand the medicine box to Fú Róng. “Great immortal, I very much want to help, but I’m afraid I might accidentally change into my true form . . .”

“That won’t happen.” Fú Róng replied, still beaming as he circled around her. “This lord’s power has imprinted on your body! It is absolutely impossible for your form to shift.”

Saying as much he opened up a broken fan and teasingly toyed with Jǐng Xī by puffing a bit of wind at her legs. It was an ambiguously playful motion that was suggestively flirty.

Jǐng Xī blushed in embarrassment and took two steps back.

Fú Róng wore a carefree smile as he advanced one step toward his target, his fan still open.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, Jǐng Yán wedged himself in between them with a black sword pointed at Fú Róng’s chest. This made Fú Róng take two steps back.

“Great Immortal Lord Fú Róng, please conduct yourself appropriately.” Jǐng Yán only said the single sentence before grabbing the medicine box in Jǐng Xī’s hand and hurling it to the ground. Then he grabbed her wrist and pulled her back into the temple.

Fú Róng’s face turned green. “Ah! So you would let your lover touch you like that ha?”

The words stunned Jǐng Xī. She looked at Jǐng Yán only to see him barely turn his head to the side. In a cold voice he said, “I and Little Jǐng Xī have no such feelings for one another. I ask that Great Immortal not slander Little Jǐng Xī’s good name.” He tugged at Jǐng Xī’s hand to pull her back, but she refused to move. He was incredibly annoyed as he looked at her. “What are you still standing there for? Do you want to stay here and be taken advantage of?”

Jǐng Xī tucked her head down, feeling the reprimand was unfair. “You’re being too fierce.”

Jǐng Yán furrowed his brow. He was about to speak when a clamor by the temple gates caught his attention. He saw a white billowy figure hurriedly carrying a bloody figure into the temple. The man’s voice was low but it resonated loud and clear. “Where is Lord Fú Róng?”

Fú Róng also noticed the scene. He immediately became respectful and hurriedly followed behind Xíng Zhǐ into the temple. “What happened?”

Jǐng Xī was also curious. She craned her neck to see what was going on.

Jǐng Yán watched as Jǐng Xī followed Fú Róng with her eyes. It made him unhappy so he moved his body in front of her to block her view. “Do you want others to take advantage of you?”

“Great Immortal Lord Fú Róng is a good person . . .”

Jǐng Yán’s face turned extremely ugly. “Shut up.”

Jǐng Xī mumbled to herself, “I didn’t do anything wrong . . . why are you so unhappy? You’re being so hard on me for no good reason. You should just go back and take care of that other person.”

Jǐng Yán shot Jǐng Xī an uncomfortable glance. “Little Jǐng Xī . . . I do have my reasons.”

Jǐng Xī turned her head away. “Whatever Brother Yán does is right. There’s always a reason, and I’m always wrong.” She quickly walked away after saying her piece, leaving Jǐng Yán to stare blankly after her.

Meanwhile inside the temple, Fú Róng was staring at the blood covered Shěn Lí in shock. “How? How can she be so injured?”

Instead of answering, Xíng Zhǐ carefully laid Shěn Lí on the ground. Then he held her right wrist, listening to her pulse. “Hold her left wrist and perform the divine purification spell.”

Fú Róng didn’t dare be slow. He immediately complied and held Shěn Lí’s left hand. He was shocked the moment he touched her skin. Her body temperature was perilously low. On top of that there was something indescribable rushing around inside her body mixing with her blood. He couldn’t tell if it was poison or some kind of spell. He muttered apprehensively, “It was only a while ago that you left. How did this happen? It may be better to wait and confer with someone better versed in this matter.”

“She doesn’t trust your people.” Xíng Zhǐ spoke softly. He knew Shěn Lí wouldn’t trust Fú Róng or anyone from the Immortal realm. Had her injury not been so severe, he knew she would have chased after the mastermind with a tenacious stubbornness.

Fú Róng ground his teeth. Even though the divine purification spell was already initiated, he couldn’t help but grumble. “This guy is not the least bit feminine. She’s not loveable. I have no sweet feelings for her at all. Is there anyone who would dare marry and take such a crazed warrior woman home?!”

Xíng Zhǐ glanced up at Fú Róng. His words left a sour mark in Xíng Zhǐ’s heart. He had bestowed the marriage as a gift after all. He curled his lips as he tilted his head down to look at Shěn Lí.

In the quiet of the temple Fú Róng thought he heard someone softly say, “There is.” He stared up at Xíng Zhǐ confused, but Xíng Zhǐ’s expression was the same benign one he always wore. The other didn’t dodge his gaze so Fú Róng wondered if he misheard, after all, Xíng Zhǐ was an unfeeling god that even his sister, Luò Tiān, couldn’t tempt. How could someone like that have any feelings of tenderness toward a woman as masculine as Shěn Lí?

Shěn Lí’s injury was more serious than Fú Róng initially thought. It took them all afternoon just to stop the bleeding and bring some color back to her skin so she wouldn’t look like she was knocking on death’s door.

Fú Róng relaxed as things improved. He asked, “High God, what kind of monster had the ability to injure the Azure Sky king like this?” as he directed the qi in Shěn Lí’s body.

Fú Róng’s impression of the king was that of a bloody monstrous general that no one could take down. It really shocked him to see her in such a vulnerable state.

“This matter with the immortals may be more complicated than expected . . .” Xíng Zhǐ muttered. “The mastermind behind it all is still loose. Furthermore, I don’t know if there are any other conspiracies. Shěn Lí is severely poisoned. It’s not a good idea for her to return to the Demon realm in her current condition. The best course of action is to rest for tonight. Early tomorrow morning you should go to the Demon realm and tell the emperor about the situation so he can mentally prepare himself. After that, you must return to the Immortal realm. This is a grave matter so you should not delay.”

Fú Róng blinked. “Me? Go?” He was somewhat unwilling. “It was with great difficulty that we resolved the matter with Yáng Zhōu . But . . . I didn’t have any time to play . . .”

Xíng Zhǐ looked Fú Róng in the eyes. With a smile he said, “Your Lordship wishes to have some fun? Would you like me to call forth two divine creatures for you to play with?”

Divine creatures from beyond the Celestial realm were not to be trifled with; people – even immortals – couldn’t handle them, much less survive “playing” with them.

Fú Róng quickly nodded his head. “I will leave tomorrow, however there are still many in Yáng Zhōu who have inhaled the miasma. What should be done about them?”

“I have already cut off the miasma’s origin. The four cardinal seals have also been restored to their proper state.[notes] The miasma will eventually peter out on its own. As for those sick patients, I have a solution.” Xíng Zhǐ checked on Shěn Lí’s complexion before continuing. “There is no other issue here to resolve. Go and prepare to leave early tomorrow morning.”

Fú Róng curled his lips unhappily. He turned away and left looking for Jǐng Xī. The sound of his voice drifted inside as he called for her.

 . . .

“Catch,” Shěn Lí whispered. She opened her eyes with difficulty. She was awake and coherent.

Xíng Zhǐ raised her up and held her against his shoulder so she would be more comfortable. “Are you hurting anywhere?”

Shěn Lí tugged at Xíng Zhǐ’s clothes. “Fú Shēng, did you capture him?”

“Fú Shēng?”

“The one that burned Xíng Yún’s yard that year.” Shěn Lí clenched her teeth. “I hadn’t noticed anything amiss at the time, but the events of that night were too well orchestrated. That time we went to Prince Ruì’s manor and Xiǎo Hé[notes] found out about the secret he was keeping from her, there was demonic aura in the air, but I had ignored it. It never occurred to me . . .”

At the time, Shěn Lí had felt a faint demonic aura, but dismissed it thinking that it was coming from those sent by the emperor to retrieve her.

“Now he’s even kidnapped the land gods and turned them into strange beasts. Just shameful! I don’t know how a nobody bastard like him got the audacity to use magic to commit such evil deeds, but when I catch him . . .”

Xíng Zhǐ looked thoughtful. He didn’t know what he was feeling. He patted her back and said, “First heal your wound. Everything comes later.”

Shěn Lí slowly let out a breath. It was an automatic reaction to being held by his side. The realization that she was so relaxed in his presence made her uneasy so she tried to twist her body away. “It’s better if I lie down.”

Xíng Zhǐ acted like he didn’t hear and instead moved cold air from his hand into her body. Shěn Lí assumed he was healing her so she obediently remained in his embrace and stopped trying to twist away.

“Is the poison in my body hard to purge?”

“It is somewhat difficult.” Although his words were worrisome, his voice was light and relaxed, so Shěn Lí wasn’t worried, instead she asked. “When can we return to the Demon realm?”

“In time,” Xíng Zhǐ answered absentmindedly. His voice was faint as he spoke. “Wait until I reduce the miasma concentration further and after I teach the people here how to dispel the residue.”

 . . .

That night, Fú Róng dismantled the barrier around the temple after the miasma stopped flowing. He took Jǐng Xī to sit on the rooftop. “Do you want to see the stars?”

Jǐng Xī blinked her large, hopeful eyes at him. “Is that possible?”

Fú Róng smiled. “If you want to see them, I can show you.” So saying he waved his hand, and a cool breeze blew across the sky. The sheet of miasma hanging above Jǐng Xī’s head disappeared to reveal a clean crisp sky dotted with stars.

Jǐng Xī gasped in admiration. “They really appeared! How pretty!”

Fú Róng gazed at Jǐng Xī affectionately. “In my eyes, you are as beautiful as the stars.”

Jǐng Xī turned to stare blankly at Fú Róng. He held her gaze as his lips slowly descended on hers.

“Jǐng Xī!” A loud voice clearly filled with anger yelled out Jǐng Xī’s name nearly breaking her ear drums.

Jǐng Xī turned to the source of the voice at once. She could see Jǐng Yán standing below them. Fú Róng shouted angrily down to Jǐng Yán before she could say anything.

“You again?!”

Jǐng Yán’s eyes were like sharp arrows stabbing straight into Fú Róng’s body. Fú Róng was the kind of person who took advantage of the weak but was afraid of those stronger than himself. He knew Jǐng Yán could kill him, but he also knew Jǐng Yán couldn’t act on that desire. In the current situation all Jǐng Yán could do was try to kill Fú Róng with his fierce glare.

“He’s always like that. Don’t pay him any mind.” Fú Róng said as he took Jǐng Xī’s hand in his.

Jǐng Xī drew back and pulled her hand out of his grasp. “I . . . I should go down.”

Fú Róng moved closer and whispered in her ear. “I know you like him, but right now he has another woman. How terrible is that? If you don’t let him be a little jealous, a little nervous, you’re going to always be in the palm of his hands.” Fú Róng smiled at Jǐng Xī with a twinkle in his eyes. “Isn’t this lord a master of love? Believe in me.”

Jǐng Xī stared like a hopeful fool at Fú Róng. “Great immortal is helping me?”

“Of course! But payment is required. You must reward this lord with a kiss.”

Jǐng Xī’s face turned beet red. Waving her hand she immediately said, “I can’t. I can’t.”

Fú Róng burst out in laughter. “You are so fun to tease.” He reached for her waist and pulled her against him in an embrace. He turned them around so even their shadows were out of sight.

Jǐng Yán was stunned as he stood below the roof looking up at them. A myriad of emotions washed over him one after the other. Astonishment was quickly replaced by anger only to by shoved aside by a growing sense of panic. It tore at his heart. This girl that had grown up beside him, that had always belonged to him, was being stolen by this guy! He couldn’t contain his panic.

c39: Qīng Yè

c39: Qīng Yè

[August 28, 2019]
 . . .

Shěn Lí’s recovery was exceptionally fast; her body had mostly healed by the next morning. When she opened her eyes and looked around, she saw that Shī Luó, the sleeping woman Jǐng Yán had been caring for, was awake and sitting quietly in a corner. Upon noticing her gaze, Shī Luó waved. Shěn Lí returned the greeting.

Turning in the other direction Shěn Lí saw Xíng Zhǐ leaning against a pillar with his eyes closed. A ray of sunshine shone through the torn window paper onto his face. He looked at leisure and idle. In a daze, it reminded Shěn Lí of the tiny courtyard and the man who habitually sat in his rocking chair under the grape trellis.

Shěn Lí closed her eyes and calmed her thoughts to clear her mind. When she opened them again, she found Xíng Zhǐ staring at her.

"How is your body?”

“Good . . .” Shěn Lí purposefully blinked twice before swiftly standing up and opening the temple door. Morning light streamed in, bathing her in a warm glow. Even without any wind, the miasma had dissipated overnight and the air was considerably cleaner. Shěn Lí sucked in a deep breath. Her face was still pale but her eyes were bright and clear. With a slight smile she said, “We didn’t catch the mastermind, but to experience this kind of peace is also good.”

Xíng Zhǐ’s shoulders were stiff from sleeping against the pillar all night. He kneaded his arm. “In my opinion it’s because Your Highness lacks wisdom and doesn’t have nearly enough life experience.” His words came out husky from having just woken up.

Shěn Lí raised her eyebrows at this. “It’s strange, but before meeting Immortal High God, whether it was on the battlefield or in a personal fight, I have never been injured like this. Suddenly after meeting Immortal High God every fight hurt and every injury is serious.” She continued in a semi-mocking tone. “Can’t say for sure, but if this continues, I might even die. If that happens High God better be ready to make proper compensation.”

Xíng Zhǐ laughed. “Utter nonsense.”

Shěn Lí turned her head to look at him. Now joking she said, “I hate to say this Immortal High God, but my body is very precious."

Xíng Zhǐ stood up and patted his clothes, arranging the fabric carelessly to one side before speaking. “Should that day come, then I, Xíng Zhǐ, will compensate you for the loss.”

Shěn Lí didn’t expect him to say such a thing. She stared blankly at him for a moment before smiling and shaking her head. What could she say to that?

“Ah!” an alarmed cry came from outside the temple. Shěn Lí recognized Jǐng Xī’s voice immediately. Shī Luó was still sitting quietly in her corner when the cry rang out. She leaned forward to look outside.

With her brows still wrinkled, Shěn Lí stepped through the doors. She hadn’t reached the source of the noise when a clamor broke out. Many people were standing in a circle and whispering as they watched.

Jǐng Xī stood inside the circle. Her voice sounded anxious as she cried out. “Brother Yán! What are you doing?!”

Shěn Lí broke through the crowd just in time to see Fú Róng thrown to the ground.

Instead of looking embarrassed, he looked pleased with himself, as though he’d just gotten away with something wicked. Standing next to him was Jǐng Yán. Though he looked sallow, his body was emitting a great aura of murderous intent. It was as though he was trying to kill Fú Róng with the power of his gaze alone.

Jǐng Xī moved to stand in front of Fú Róng, blocking him from view. She resentfully said, “Brother Yán! That’s too much!”

Jǐng Yán’s face was cold. “Get out of the way. Today is the last straw!”

Fú Róng coolly said, “Your good senior brother is very violent Little Jǐng Xī!”

Shěn Lí didn’t have to think about it; she could tell what was happening immediately. Her expression was cold as she stepped forward and kicked Fú Róng in the butt. “What is this? Stand up and stop harassing people.”

Angry, Fú Róng turned around to see who kicked him. His anger turned into surprise when he saw it was Shěn Lí. He said, “Tough guy! That was a fast recovery!”

Xíng Zhǐ slowly walked over.

Seeing this, Fú Róng gasped and energetically sprang up into a proper standing position. He waved his hand, shooing away the people who were watching. “That’s enough. There’s nothing more to see here. Return home.”

The crowd dispersed but one person remained behind. When Jǐng Xī caught sight of who it was, her expression froze and she dropped her head in silence.

Jǐng Yán watched as Jǐng Xī lowered her head, he turned to find Shī Luó standing there, her face getting paler by the second as she looked at them. He stared in surprise at her. Though the angry expression on his face softened, his hands curled into fists.

Xíng Zhǐ had a slight smile playing on his lips as he reached the group. “Lord Fú Róng, this play ended so quickly I didn’t get to see it.”

Fú Róng’s lips twitched. “High God Xíng Zhǐ, yesterday you commanded me to leave for the Immortal realm post haste. I, Lord Fú Róng, wouldn’t dare delay even a little bit.”

“Oh? Now you want to leave?” Hearing this made Jǐng Yán’s heart boil with rage. He pulled his sword out of its scabbard and aimed it at Fú Róng’s belly.

Ignoring the danger, Jǐng Xī hurriedly interposed herself between the two. “What are you doing?!”

Jǐng Yán curved the sword mid-air and threw it to the ground.

The loud clang of the sword surprised both Jǐng Xī and Shī Luó. Jǐng Xī stared in stunned silence at the normally calm and reserved Jǐng Yán. It seemed he could no longer restrain himself. In an angry voice he yelled, “Why don’t you tell me what you were doing! Staying out all night with some strange guy!”

Jǐng Xī stared blinking at Jǐng Yán for some time before replying. “Lord immortal showed me the sky . . .”

Jǐng Yán’s face turned green. Shěn Lí glanced doubtfully at Fú Róng as she asked, “Seriously?”

Fú Róng brought two fingers up in a gesture of an oath. “Of course, yes.” He glanced at Jǐng Yán. “Little Jǐng Xī’s senior brother is full of fire isn’t he? Was jealousy nibbling at his bones when he couldn’t find her the entire night?”

Jǐng Xī looked at Jǐng Yán with bright, hopeful eyes. Jǐng Yán’s own eyes were dark and hard to read. He shot a glance at Shī Luó but otherwise didn’t say anything. The hopeful light in Jǐng Xī’s eyes dimmed considerably. She had the sudden urge to ask him why he cared so much about Shī Luó . He had told her there was a reason, but hadn’t told her what it was.

Xíng Zhǐ spoke up, breaking the silence. What he said stunned everyone. “All this flirting is quite dizzying. The ladies must be tired. Young Master Jǐng Yán will you take a walk with me?” All eyes turned to him. Laughing he said, “Please do not misunderstand. I simply wish to take a walk.”

There were no people, wildlife, or immortal beings in the woods outside the temple. Together, the two walked in silence, their steps taking them farther and farther away from the building.

Finally, Xíng Zhǐ spoke. “Young Master Jǐng Yán is studying under the Dao to learn magic correct?”

Jǐng Yán hesitated but answered frankly. “Honestly speaking, I’m ashamed of myself. I have followed my master since I was a child, but I haven’t learned the slightest bit of magic. My master says I don’t have an affinity for it so I can only learn some martial arts.”

Xíng Zhǐ silently walked two more steps before speaking. “If Young Master Jǐng Yán wishes, there is a spell I can teach. This spell can force poisonous miasma out of the body. Is Young Master Jǐng Yán interested?”

“I want to learn but . . . I . . .”

“If Young Master Jǐng Yán wishes to learn, then it will surely be a success.” Xíng Zhǐ stopped moving and raised an arm up to lightly touched Jǐng Yán’s forehead. Bright light flowed forward. It encompassed all of Jǐng Yán’s vision and engulfed his body.

Jǐng Yán’s eyes turned an awe inspiring, bright, lively silver. Though the smile on Xíng Zhǐ’s face was slight, it was obviously a happy one. “Qīng Yè, it’s been a while.”

“My old friend Xíng Zhǐ.” Qīng Yè (Jǐng Yán) sighed. “I didn’t think we would ever meet again.”[notes]

“Had it not been for the young ladies of the past generation intersecting, I would never have known your reincarnated form.” Xíng Zhǐ shook his head.” The forces of the Heavenly Dao are powerful. It’s only because I am a god that I am here now. But even as a god I am unable to peer in or deviate from the path set. To be able to find you is already truly fated.”

Qīng Yè laughed a small bitter laugh. “Before I was naïve and behaved frivolously, but with each passing generation, I understand how binding the Heavenly Dao is. All of us, you and I, without exception are just grains of dust and sand. Fortune and strength are all bestowed by Heaven. It will give and it will take. No matter who you are, it is fruitless to resist.” He sighed. “My friend Xíng Zhǐ, the Heavenly Dao will not like you rousing my godhead. It is surely not good idea!”

“I won’t do anything unnecessary beyond this, but will you allow your present incarnation to use your meridians to learn a miasma dispelling technique?” Xíng Zhǐ paused before continuing with, “Also open your immortal eye and look through your previous lives. Find the one you have been seeking. This way your red thread won’t continue to be wrongly entangled.”[notes]

Qīng Yè laughed. “Contrary to popular belief, you quite like to meddle, don’t you? This matter won’t be looked upon favorably by Heaven.”

That made Xíng Zhǐ laugh. “There’s one more thing I want to ask you. Do you remember a person named Fú Shēng?”

Qīng Yè muttered to himself. “A little bit. In the early days back before I was king and the crown prince was scheming various murders, I heard there was an advisor by that name. This Fú Shēng person played a crucial role in the fight for the throne between myself and the crown prince. I remember he was executed.”

“Is there a person in this generation that resembles him?”

“This . . .” He thought for some time before replying. “Oh. There really is a person. In this life, I was orphaned at a young age after my parents suffered some misfortune. I survived two years of hardship before meeting a young lady. With her help I was able to escape the misfortune following me. Then I chanced to meet Jǐng Xī’s parents but at the same time, the young lady who helped me passed away. Thinking about things now, the person who harmed my parents really did resemble Fú Shēng.”

Xíng Zhǐ was silent. A cold light had settled in his eyes as he thought over Qīng Yè’s words. As he did this Qīng Yè’s silvery light eyes began to fade. With a small smile Qīng Yè said, “Your spiritual powers can only hold me here for so long. It is time for me to bid you farewell. I do not know when we will meet again. Take care of yourself my friend.”

Xíng Zhǐ’s eyes darkened but he laughed nonetheless. “And you as well.”

The brilliant light faded and Jǐng Yán fell to his knees. Xíng Zhǐ supported him. “Try touching the ground.”

Jǐng Yán’s body was so weak he didn’t really have much choice but to brace his hands on the ground. He noticed his palms were warm. Upon looking down he saw the ground directly under his touch was purified. “This . . . this is?”

“Purification technique,” Xíng Zhǐ said. “Your ability just woke up so you’ll suffer some discomfort. Go back and rest. You’ll be able to eliminate the poison from the others in a few days.”

Jǐng Yán was amazed. He jogged back to the temple as soon as he was able to stand up.

After watching Jǐng Yán’s figure disappear, Xíng Zhǐ picked up a stone and threw it at a tree behind him. "How long does Your Highness intend to stand there?”

Shěn Lí slowly came out from behind the tree. She cleared her throat before speaking. “I was just out on a casual stroll.”

Xíng Zhǐ laughed. “Is that so? Then why not accompany me on my walk?”

c40: Qīng Yè's Godhead

c40: Qīng Yè's Godhead

[September 8, 2019]
 . . .

The bare tree branches lent a desolate feeling to the forest. It felt like late autumn.

Throughout their walk though Shěn Lí remained silent, but she kept looking askance at Xíng Zhǐ. He couldn’t help but finally laugh out loud. “So hesitant. This is not the Azure Sky king I know.”

Unable to hide her curiosity once the silence was broken, Shěn Lí asked, “Matters of the upper realms I do not know much about, however this I do know. In all the realms, there is only one god. But just now with Jǐng Yán, what was that?

“I am the only one now . . . however, a long time ago, there were other gods in the beyond other than myself.” Xíng Zhǐ’s eyes became distant. “For you, it would be considered the days of ancient antiquity. Even I, myself, can not remember how long ago.”

The smile on his lips became indifferent as he continued, “Jǐng Yán was the previous generations Prince Ruì. He was the beautiful god, Silver Hair Silver Eyes, Qīng Yè, my close friend.”

Shěn Lí gave him a sidelong glance. She had been giving him many as they walked, but this time she was appraising his appearance. His beauty was the kind that would elicit envy in others. Without thinking she blurted, “How does Immortal High God compare?”

Xíng Zhǐ tilted his head to the side and shot her a glance. An enchanting smile played on his lips. He answered in a smug, boastful voice. “Naturally I am more beautiful.”

Instead of offending her, his complacent tone only served to make her laugh. “I also agree.”

Her frank agreement surprised Xíng Zhǐ. He stared at her, but she was already focused on another topic “What happened? Why is your friend no longer a god?”

“He fell in love with a mortal.” Xíng Zhǐ’s eyes dimmed again. “He moved against Heavenly law and used his powers to save the person. His godhead was abolished because of it.”

In surprise, Shěn Lí asked, “Who . . . who could possibly punish a god?”

“Gods are subject to the laws of the Heavenly Dao at birth. These laws are meant to keep balance and order. The world would fall into chaos if gods used their power for personal reasons.” He turned to look at Shěn Lí. “The Celestial realm are no different from the rest of the world.” He continued walking as he spoke from the side. “Qīng Yè was stripped of his godhead and sent to live in the Mortal realm, to suffer through the wheel of reincarnation, to tragically fail in love.”

Shěn Lí thought of Prince Ruì and his plight, of how in the end he couldn’t be with either of the women he cared about. Now as Jǐng Yán, he also had two females by his side but . . . A sense of misgiving grew in her heart. “Who did the person he love reincarnate as?”

“He’s the only one who knows that. All I did was awaken his divinity and clear the obstruction in his spiritual force. If he can find the one he’s been searching for, then all will be well.” Xíng Zhǐ looked skyward. “I only hope the Heavenly Dao will not be excessive and terminate everything.”

Shěn Lí stopped at looked at Xíng Zhǐ. “I do not believe the matter is as complicated as that. Qīng Yè’s godhead is gone but it does not mean Heaven will negatively interfere with the course of his lives.

As Prince Ruì, he and the princess shared a common fate.[notes] Naturally he was fond of the princess. But in this life, he is Jǐng Yán. And in this life, he grew up with Jing Jǐng Xī. It’s obvious he cherishes her. The two generations are not related. His destiny is mainly in the hands of fate; however he still has free will. And that free will’s influence will impact his fate.”

Xíng Zhǐ also stopped, turning to look at her. “That is a novel idea. But no matter how you phrase it, all of Jǐng Yán’s previous lives served to shape him into the person he is now. His feelings have evolved from that. Neither you nor I can influence the matter. We can only observe.”

Shěn Lí silently mulled his words over. Changing topic she said, “Just now you said Qīng Yè’s godhead was abolished, yet you chose to awaken it. Aren’t you afraid of incurring Heaven’s wrath?”

“The offense Qīng Yè committed was not a heinous one. So though Heaven made him mortal as punishment, his body more or less still retains the same aura. I failed to notice it because it had dispersed so much.

It was when you asked if they were bound to repeat their fates that I became suspicious and began looking at the situation more closely. Though his aura was incredibly weak, I was able to draw it out. It is sufficient to purify the miasma in those here.”

He paused and smiled. “As for Heaven’s wrath, escaping it is impossible. Judgement will be passed for all offenses.”

If any change at all incurred Heaven’s wrath, then why not make a great change and make it worthwhile? The words were on the tip of Shěn Lí’s tongue but she swallowed them back. Based on what Xíng Zhǐ said, Qīng Yè, because of his heart . . .

She remembered the night she returned drunk to the manor. Xíng Zhǐ had smiled as he talked about gods not having emotions like affection or kindness. She realized what he said wasn’t true. It wasn’t that the gods didn’t have emotions, it was that they couldn’t act on their emotions.

Xíng Zhǐ hid the expression in his eyes and smiled at the silent Shěn Lí. “That’s enough for our walk. We should return.”

The moon shone brightly in the clear night sky over Yáng Zhōu . Lamps were lit along the city walls, and though not as glorious as in the past, they nevertheless brought the city back to life.

Fú Róng had obediently returned to the Demon realm to relay the message from Xíng Zhǐ. But he only left after making sure Jǐng Yán drank a good amount of vinegar. In his own way Fú Róng was sincerely trying to help Jǐng Xī with her romance, but considering his lecherous nature, Shěn Lí knew it wasn’t the only reason. She was sure he had enjoyed taking advantage of Jǐng Xī in the process.

Jǐng Xī was sad to see him leave. She had taken his efforts to assist her seriously. It wasn’t just Jǐng Xī, many of the other girls in the temple also wore glum expressions and were sighing sadly.

The sight only made Shěn Lí indignant. Fú Róng had failed to start anything with Mò Fāng when he was in the Demon realm. Once in the Mortal realm, he switched targets and fooled around with every girl he could find. What an a fickle, insincere person!

“Such a lecherous, unfaithful person! He won’t change no matter where he goes.” Shěn Lí's disdain showed easily in her words.

Xíng Zhǐ was just getting up after driving the miasma out of the body of a middle-aged man when he heard Shěn Lí cursing Fú Róng. He turned and saw several women. They were wearing white cloth that he recognized were made by the craftsmen of the immortal temple. The fabric had to be left behind by Fú Róng.

“He left the place a mess.” Shěn Lí thought about the pain the girls would go through. “Clearly that idiot didn’t have anything to do with clearing the miasma in the city!”

“Is Your Highness mad Lord Fú Róng got credit for it?”

“The Demon realm isn’t free and unfettered like the Immortal realm. There are constantly campaigns to be fought, and because of this, our system for reward and punishment is very clear cut. Meritorious deeds are appropriately credited to those who contribute.”

Shěn Lí was good but she was also very vain. The thing she enjoyed most was the feeling of crushing her enemies underfoot, followed closely by the adoration and cheers of the people. The fact that she didn’t get either on this mission rubbed her the wrong way, so of course she was unhappy.

“I worked hard to settle an affair for the Immortal realm, even getting injured and poisoned in the process. But do I get any credit for it? No. Not one bit. Those in the Immortal realm really are generous!”

Xíng Zhǐ laughed in spite of himself. “Your Highness’s contributions have been firmly etched in my memory. I will be sure to relate them to the Immortal emperor upon my return so he can properly reward you.”

Shěn Lí glanced at Xíng Zhǐ. “I would be happy to eschew any rewards if my marriage to Fú Róng would be abolished and I would be glad to slay any number of demonic beasts to make up for any loss.”

Xíng Zhǐ did not give her a reply. In the silence the sky lit up with a multitude of bright colors. The city walls shook with the resounding boom that immediately followed the lights. Xíng Zhǐ smiled. “Shěn Lí, look. Yáng Zhōu is putting on a fireworks display.”

Shěn Lí turned to find several people at the end of the street lighting fireworks. The fireworks flew into the air and burst out in a glorious display of colors. The atmosphere was lively and festive, much like during a new year celebration. Every house had its doors flung open and people were streaming out of their homes and filling the streets. The city, once dead, was alive again.

The man Xíng Zhǐ had healed coughed. “It’s a new day. Yáng Zhōu is finally alive again.”

The fireworks made the crowd cheer and the air became celebratory. Shěn Lí was touched by the display. Whether it was the human world or the demon world, the people looked forward to a bright tomorrow in the same way; their hearts harbored the same simple wishes and desires.

“Let’s go,” Xíng Zhǐ said. “We should get closer to the celebration, cast off this suffocating air.”

Shěn Lí didn’t move, instead she said, “Fireworks are just explosions in the sky. How does it have the power to move people? To make a place come alive?”

As she was wondering this, Xíng Zhǐ grabbed her wrist with his warm hand, and pulled her forward without explanation. She was forced to move in order to keep up.

“They’re celebrating life and giving thanks. Why not celebrate with them? It’s not often we get to take part in the Mortal realm’s celebrations, so while we’re here, why not enjoy it?”

“Wait . . .”

Xíng Zhǐ pulled Shěn Lí through the noisy crowd before she could finish her reply. The fireworks burst deafeningly in the sky, popping in fast succession, their tempo increasing after each one. Those in the crowd stared up in wonder and awe; their faces reflecting all the bright colors of the sparks. They cheered exuberantly at each firework with expressions full of joy.

Xíng Zhǐ looked like he was enjoying it too, as though he was sharing in their joys as well. His robe reflected a rainbow of colors as he dragged her behind him. It felt unreal.

They were in the middle of the crowd when she stopped abruptly and yanked her hand out of his. “You’re too beautiful! Don’t walk ahead of me!”

He was too distracting. She couldn’t focus on anything else around her.

Xíng Zhǐ stopped and focused his attention on her. “Shěn Lí,” he said, but the crowd and the noise drowned out his voice.

She leaned in toward him. “What?! I can’t hear you!” She gave him a puzzled look, unable to make out what he was saying.

Xíng Zhǐ didn’t want to repeat himself again, instead he smiled slightly as he stroked her head. Turning around he continued to walk in front of her.

Shěn Lí imitated the shape he made with his mouth, thinking carefully about each word, so focused was she that the world around her went quiet. Perhaps it was her imagination but she thought he said: I can protect you.

c41: Reporting to the Emperor

c41: Reporting to the Emperor

[February 6, 2020]

 . . .

Shěn Lí had almost healed completely. Though physically she was fine, remnants of the poison still remained. Xíng Zhǐ wanted her to stay in the Mortal realm a few more days until it was fully purged, but Shěn Lí could barely restrain herself and remain. She knew the Demon emperor would need all hands available.

Ultimately left without a better option, Xíng Zhǐ allowed Shěn Lí to return early.

Fú Róng was still in the Demon realm and sticking to Mò Fāng like glue. He walked with the general everywhere and got in the way of Mò Fāng’s work. Shěn Lí ground her teeth in anger at the news; she couldn’t wait to teach that good-for-nothing playboy what was what!

Fú Róng wasn’t the only immortal in the Demon realm, there was another - the Divine Maiden, Goddess Luò Tiān.

The title was just a courtesy one given by the Immortal realm; she wasn’t actually a goddess. She was in fact Fú Róng’s older sister, another of the Immortal emperor’s grandchildren.

And she happened to really like Xíng Zhǐ.

This final bit of information wasn’t something Shěn Lí heard, but more something she inferred. The goddess was in the hall when she and Xíng Zhǐ walked in to discuss matters with the Demon emperor. It was obvious from a glance that the goddess was quite smitten with Xíng Zhǐ.

“This is the Azure Sky king, Shěn Lí,” the Demon emperor said by way of introduction.

The goddess didn’t wait for Shěn Lí to finish nodding her head in greeting before turning to Xíng Zhǐ and bowing to him. She asked bluntly, “How is it that Immortal High God ended up travelling together with the Azure Sky king?”

Shěn Lí looked to Xíng Zhǐ to see how he'd reply. She wasn’t so foolish as to answer the question herself.

Xíng Zhǐ lightly smiled. “It is only returning together. What is so strange about that?”

The goddess’s face turned serious. “Azure Sky king is currently engaged by to my younger brother by royal decree. Immortal High God . . . it is inappropriate for the two of you to travel together.”

Xíng Zhǐ didn’t see it as a problem. “Had I not encountered miasma in Yáng Zhōu city, it was unlikely our paths would have crossed. I had originally planned to go sight-seeing before returning to the Immortal realm, but the miasma caught my attention. I was curious and so went to investigate. Incidentally the Azure Sky king was also there searching for Fú Róng, and thus did we meet by happenstance.

Miasma is an issue of grave importance, so naturally the Azure Sky king and I jointly investigated the matter. What happened afterwards, Fú Róng should have already explained.

Because the Azure Sky king was poisoned, it was imprudent for her to return, so I requested His Lordship return to the Demon realm and relay the news to His Majesty, meanwhile I would stay behind to help the Azure Sky king purge the poison. This is what caused our delay.”

He spoke in half-truths, completely unworried that Shěn Lí would contradict him. His smile, as he looked at the goddess, was soft and benign, but his eyes were unreadable.

“Does Goddess Luò Tiān still think it improper?”

The goddess blushed and she quickly looked away. “High God’s actions were above reproach; May High God can forgive Yōu Lán.”

Well . . . feminine charm was certainly effective.

Shěn Lí sighed, disdaining the whole situation. She wasn’t going to even bother. She turned her head to the side and snorted.

Xíng Zhǐ looked at Shěn Lí. He smiled and to the goddess asked, “What brings Goddess Luò Tiān here?”

“I’m here at Grandmother’s behest to deliver a feast invitation to the Demon emperor. The Hundred Flower feast is only thrown once every 300 years and the current one is set for the 18th of this month,” answered the Yōu Lán.

Xíng Zhǐ nodded. “I would have forgotten the matter had you not mentioned it.”

Yōu Lán [notes] smiled. “It is not a problem if High God forgets. I will return to the Immortal realm in a few days and properly send High God an invitation.”

“Your Majesty.” Shěn Lí’s voice was cold and it quickly broke the heartwarming atmosphere. “I beseech you, can we finish speaking of personal matters another time? I would like to report on the situation with the miasma in Yáng Zhōu city of the Mortal realm.”

Shěn Lí’s gaze was on the emperor as she spoke but her words pierced Yōu Lán, and made the goddess look at her askance.

Yōu Lán gave a deep bow as she spoke. “Is that so? Then Yōu Lán I will take her leave.” She quickly retreated but paused at the door to gaze sweetly at Xíng Zhǐ.

As the hall quieted, Shěn Lí turned toward Xíng Zhǐ. “Is High God not leaving? Does High God wish to pry into my Demon realm politics?”

There was a faint smile in Xíng Zhǐ’s eyes as he raised a brow at that. He could tell she was annoyed, but was restraining herself.

“I will not be leaving. As I said before, the situation with Yáng Zhōu ’s miasma is deeply concerning. Naturally, I will want to listen to this.”

It didn’t matter, Shěn Lí still wanted him to leave.

The Demon emperor waved his hand. “I wouldn’t dare conceal this matter from High God. Shěn Lí, speak.”

Shěn Lí bit back anger and adjusted her tone to properly address the Demon emperor.

“I’m afraid Lord Fú Róng may not have given a full report. In fact, before we ever uncovered the hideout for the mastermind behind the miasma, we discovered that land gods in the region were disappearing, kidnapped by the same villain for reasons unknown.

The gods suspect the kidnappers were from the Demon realm because of the demonic aura they all exuded.

When I was fighting against the villain, I felt he exuded demon aura as well. I know his given name is Fú Shēng. Your Majesty, are you aware of anyone in the Demon realm who goes by that name?”

The Demon emperor muttered the name to himself. “Fú Shēng  . . .” He was quiet, lost in thought for some time. “I’ve never heard that name before. How strong was his magic? To injure you this grievously, he can't be ordinary.”

Shěn Lí shook her head. “Fú Shēng wasn’t the one who injured me. My injuries were from the monsters he raised. They resembled human form, but were monsters like the ya shou. There were three of them, and though they lacked intelligence, they were able to coordinate their attacks. Their strength was incredible. They can even reanimate after death in order to obey commands.”

Shěn Lí furrowed her forehead just thinking about it.

She continued. “A few of these monsters existing isn’t bad, but any more than that would be catastrophic.”

The Demon emperor was surprised by Shěn Lí’s wording. “Raised?” He tapped his fingers on the tabletop. “Raised . . .”

Xíng Zhǐ looked at the emperor. “Did Your Majesty think of something? Please do not hesitate to share your thoughts.”

The emperor stared blankly for a moment before replying with, “No . . . it is nothing.” He paused before continuing. “Is there anything else?”

“Not much more, just these few points. But we should be on guard based on these points alone.”

The Demon emperor nodded. “I will send someone to the Mortal realm to investigate this matter.” In a more relaxed tone he said, “You and High God must be weary from your journey. Go and rest. Resting is also a matter of great importance.” He rubbed Shěn Lí’s head. “Rest your body. You’ve been running around non-stop lately.”

She obediently let the emperor pat her head for a few seconds. “Your Majesty worries too much. I'll make the villain cry for daring to target the Demon realm.”

This made the emperor laugh. He shook his head and said, “Go back home.”

 . . .

Xíng Zhǐ and Shěn Lí were walking along the promenade after leaving the hall when he turned to look at her. Her hair was still a mess from earlier because of the Demon emperor.

He spoke in a neutral tone. “It’s clear how dearly His Majesty loves you, and just as clear how much you respect him.”

“He raised me. He treats me like his own child.” Shěn Lí continued more quietly. “He is my master and my father and my most trusted confidante. In court, there is no one I respect more than him. My keeping the Demon realm safe isn’t just for my sake, but also for His Majesty’s sake.”

Shěn Lí made it her purpose in life to guard the Demon realm. This purpose was what drove her to be so dedicated.

Xíng Zhǐ glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, but otherwise remained silent.

The Demon emperor sat silently as in front of him Qīng Yán and Chì Róng’s[notes] silhouettes appeared. They knelt with their heads to the floor.

The Demon emperor spoke. “Just now the Azure Sky king mentioned Fú Shēng’s matter. Why was I not informed of this?”

Qīng Yán and Chì Róng glanced at each other.

“Your Majesty, begging your forgiveness, this matter was not reported by anyone.”

“Catching this immortal and hiding it from the outside world will not be an easy feat.” His slender fingers tapped the table. “I want the two of you to investigate this matter personally.”

A firm, cold light shone in his eyes. “When you catch him, don’t bother bringing him back. Just execute him on the spot. Be sure to maintain secrecy. Understood?”

This shocked both men. Chì Róng raised his head. “But what about the Immortal realm . . .?”

“I will find a justification for it.” The Demon emperor waved his hand. “Dismissed.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.” Both replied and promptly disappeared.

The Demon emperor leaned back in his chair after they left. His eyes behind the mask were grim and cold.

 . . .

Shěn Lí bumped into a few generals on her way out of the palace. They were heading in while she was heading out. Xíng Zhǐ excused himself while she chatted with them.

Shěn Lí asked about the situation at the Ruined Abyss.

“The air is cleaner than at the capital so these rascals,” he said referring to the young recruits,” really look forward to patrolling there.

Hearing this made Shěn Lí happy. It also reminded her of a certain somebody, so she asked, “Where is General Mò Fāng?”

The last time she saw him, he had kicked Fú Róng. As a result, he was punished by the Demon emperor. She hadn’t seen him at all since she returned, so she wondered if the punishment had been particularly harsh. She was worried.

At her question, the generals looked at each other and laughed. “We don’t know what they talk about, but Goddess Luò Tiān summons him to the garden every day.”

Shěn Lí’s face blanked out at that. The goddess called for Mò Fāng? She bade the men goodbye and reversed course, heading for the garden instead of home. The goddess seeking out Mò Fāng couldn’t be a good thing.

 . . .

“I admire General’s heroic spirit. I heard my younger brother has been quite an inconvenience to you recently.”

Shěn Lí hadn’t entered the garden proper when she heard the goddess’s voice through the thicket of bushes.

“I will bear the burden of this crime with you,” continued the goddess.

Following two steps behind her was Mò Fāng. “Goddess is too polite.” He cupped his fists in a salute. “There is no need for Goddess to do so. I will be grateful if Goddess can persuade Fú Róng to return to the Immortal realm as soon as possible.

Yōu Lán stopped to turn and glance back at Mò Fāng. “Of course. My younger brother is normally attracted to the opposite gender. Occasionally he will pursue men as well, however he will not pursue without reason. I hope General will remember to behave with decorum and not permit my brother to . . .”

“I applaud Goddess. Your younger brother is a lecher and like a mosquito that bites and nips at people. When he sees someone he likes, he nips at them relentlessly. There’s no escape,” said Shěn Lí as she stepped forward.

Mò Fāng’s eyes lit up when he saw Shěn Lí. He was about to salute but Shěn Lí pulled him behind her. She sneered at the goddess.

“Goddess came to persuade the wrong person. If you want to persuade anyone, it should be your brother.”

The goddess glanced at Shěn Lí. “Azure Sky king has a way with words. But regarding this matter, there would be no fire without smoke . . .”

“I have seen Lord Fú Róng become excited all on his own without anyone’s help. He can create his own smoke and fire.”

To Mò Fāng, Shěn Lí said, “Go on, don’t let that mosquito bite you later.”

“Stop!” Yōu Lán was aghast at Shěn Lí’s attitude. Agitated she said, “Is this what Demon realm hospitality amounts to?”

“This is my hospitality, respectable people, treat respectfully, cute people, treat lovingly, hateful people, why would I want them to stay? Goddess shouldn’t make presumptuous requests. I have a bad temper.” Shěn Lí didn’t bother to look at the goddess. She just grabbed Mò Fāng’s arm and dragged him with her as she did an about face and made to leave the garden.

“You!” She was the Immortal emperor’s granddaughter. No one treated her this way. On impulse, Yōu Lán grabbed Shěn Lí’s sleeve. “Who said you could walk away!?”

Shěn Lí turned to look at her. “Let go.”

Now Yōu Lán really was angry. “No! Not letting go!”

Shěn Lí narrowed her eyes and smiled. “Fine then.” She twisted the delicate hand holding onto her sleeve with just enough force to hurt but not injure.

“Let go! Let go of me you!” screamed out an aggrieved Yōu Lán. She felt angry and wronged, but then remembering the rumors about the Azure Sky king, she immediately paled and wondered if her hand was going to break. Her eyes filled with tears as she realized how barbaric the Demon realm was. “Let go of me right now! It hurts!”

Mò Fāng thought the situation was inappropriate. “Your Highness, stop twisting . . .”

Shěn Lí looked at the unexpectedly tearstained goddess. The image reminded her when her own people had been bullied.[notes] As she thought about letting the goddess go, a slight ache radiated from the back of her hand and she immediately released her grip.

A cool breeze blew by and Yōu Lán took three steps back. Xíng Zhǐ, clad in white, inspected Yōu Lán’s hand. His brow wrinkled in disapproval. He turned to Shěn Lí but saw she was holding onto Mò Fāng’s wrist. His brows stayed knitted. “How can you use your martial arts to take advantage of someone like that?”

Shěn Lí stared at Yōu Lán for a moment.

The goddess gripped Xíng Zhǐ’s robe with one hand as she hid behind him with her tearstained face. Quite the picture of a damsel in distress.

Shěn Lí: Oh . . . the hero saves the beauty, how nice. Only why was I shoved into the bad guy role?

c42: On the Rooftop

c42: On the Rooftop

[February 29, 2020]
 . . .

Mò Fāng stepped forward pushing Shěn Lí behind him. With a cupped fist salute he said, “Her Highness did not mean to offend Goddess.”

Xíng Zhǐ narrowed his eyes. His tone was slightly raised when he spoke. “Oh, General Mò Fāng knows Her Highness’s mind? That is indeed rare.”

Hearing the ill-will in Xíng Zhǐ’s tone made Mò Fāng frown. He was about to reply, but Shěn Lí beat him to it.

“Why bother making things more difficult for yourself Mò Fāng?” Shěn Lí dragged Mò Fāng back by the wrist. She gave him a quick look of dissatisfaction. Mò Fāng stared blankly back for a moment, not understanding, however he dropped his eyes like an obedient child and quickly situated himself behind Shěn Lí.

“Goddess Lou spoke rudely to my general. I couldn’t bear it. How exactly did I bully her?” Shěn Lí looked at Xíng Zhǐ before continuing. “High God, it looks like you’re only here to criticize and help her bully me.”

Xíng Zhǐ’s voice became even more strange. "Is Your Highness angry for your general? You treat your men like they’re little children.”

“Better than High God who plays at being the hero for the damsel.” Shěn Lí didn’t hold back. She countered in a bitingly, cold tone. She expected him to get angry at her outburst, but he didn’t. Instead she could see an ever so slight upward quirk of his lips. With gloomy eyes, she retreated a step.

Xíng Zhǐ’s expression was unexpectedly cheery. It instantly reminded her of the past and anger burst in her chest. It was like before; he was playing her in the palm of his hand again. It was a two-man show with her being the puppet.

Damn it! Fine! She narrowed her eyes refusing to bite farther onto the bait he extended. This fish was going to swim away even if it meant tearing a bloody hole in her cheek to escape.

How treacherous! To harm herself just to get away. Xíng Zhǐ thought he had nailed her securely to the hook only to watch her escape.

Shěn Lí’s face cooled. “If High God wishes to avenge the goddess, then please report the wrong to the Demon emperor. I will accept whatever punish is called for. Now if you’ll excuse me, I will be leaving.” Shěn Lí dragged Mò Fāng away with her without waiting for Xíng Zhǐ to reply.

Yōu Lán, still feeling thoroughly wronged, stared at Shěn Lí’s retreating figure then at Xíng Zhǐ’s enigmatic expression as he too, looked at Shěn Lí leaving.

“The people of the Demon realm don’t know how to behave according to proper etiquette. For the Azure Sky king to treat a person from the Immortal realm this way . . . The allegiance she pledged is surely insincere. It will cause disaster one day.”

Xíng Zhǐ turned to her and nodded his head. Then he said, “That is the way she is. It may be bad, but she might squeeze your neck the next time you provoke her.” There was a chilly undertone to his voice. “Who knows, you may not even have an intact corpse."

Yōu Lán felt a sudden chill on her neck. She looked at Xíng Zhǐ weakly. “If that happens, will High God oversee justice for me?”

Xíng Zhǐ gave Yōu Lán a kind smile as he spoke but his voice was firm. “That is unlikely. The Demon emperor is very fond of the Azure Sky king and will likely defend her. It is also unlikely the Immortal realm will go to war, after all, maintaining a peaceful relationship between the two realms is very important, however, Goddess Luò Tiān may rest in peace; I will be sure to place some fruit as tribute for you.”

Yōu Lán remained standing in the garden. In a daze, she watched the fluttering movements of Xíng Zhǐ’s white robe as he walked away.

 . . .

Shěn Lí’s pace was fast as she walked out of the palace. It wasn’t until Mò Fāng whispered, “Your Highness . . .” that she slowed down. He shot her a glance before asking, “Why are you angry all of a sudden?”

“Angry?” Shěn Lí abruptly stopped. Unable to react in time, Mò Fāng collided into her back. The force made her stagger and nearly fall down, which in turn caused Mò Fāng to frantically grab for her waist.

Shěn Lí was preoccupied and didn’t notice his actions. Mò Fāng on the other hand was quite red-faced. He quickly released her and took two steps back once she was steady on her feet again.

With a thud, he knelt on both knees and with another thud executed a fierce kowtow. “Your Highness, please forgive me!” He looked like he’d been caught committing a grievous crime.

Shěn Lí glanced at him. It wasn’t a big deal and she didn’t take it to heart, but Mò Fāng’s reaction made her feel embarrassed. She coughed twice. “There was no harm done. Stand.”

Mò Fāng rose slowly but kept his chin tucked to his chest. Shěn Lí couldn’t see his face but she could see how red his ears were. She turned her head away pretending to not notice.

In a low voice she said, “I just finished straightening out the goddess, but High God Xíng Zhǐ came by and ruined it. Why wouldn’t I be annoyed?”

Mò Fāng had wanted to say something, but he lost his train of thought. Instead he said, “So it is then.”

“Besides even if High God Xíng Zhǐ is incredibly powerful, he wouldn’t dare do anything excessive to me here.” Shěn Lí paused as she tried to find a reason. “It’s just that there wasn’t anyone else around and High God Xíng Zhǐ is really hard to pin down. I could only suffer in silence, so I was trying to get away as fast as I could.”

“Of course.”

Shěn Lí resumed walking as she continued. “That goddess spoke so rudely to you. If I hadn’t been there, would you have just accepted the humiliation?”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

“Ha?! Why should my men yield to those in the Immortal realm? They’re arrogant and willful about everything. They ride rough-shod over people and bully the weaker immortals. It’s clearly a problem with their house, but they try to shift the blame onto others.

Listen, if either of them give you trouble in the future, whether it’s Lord Fú Róng or his sister, you let me know and I will be glad to use martial law to punish them. Troubling our generals like this, it’s shameful! They’re slapping us in the face!”

“Your Highness says this but . . .” Mò Fāng raised his head. “I’m afraid it would be inappropriate.”

Both Fú Róng and Goddess were the Immortal emperor’s grandchildren. Plus Fú Róng was Shěn Lí’s fiancé. If they forced the issue, he was afraid Shěn Lí would have a hard time later.

“There’s nothing wrong with it. We can’t let outsiders think our generals are easy to bully.” Shěn Lí waved her hand. “Come on.”

“Your Highness, wait.”

Shěn Lí turned around at Mò Fāng’s call. Feeling that his gaze was not properly respectful, he dropped his head down and looked at the floor.

“I heard Your Highness was injured in the Mortal realm . . .”

“Oh, that. It was nothing, just killing a couple of ya shou.”

Mò Fāng knelt on one knee. ”My impulsiveness caused Your Highness to be punished and sent to the Mortal realm to search for Lord Fú Róng. And now Your Highness is injured. I deserve severe punishment!”

Demon generals didn’t have the best personalities, particularly Mò Fāng; he was very short-tempered. Back then Fú Róng had been so annoying that Mò Fāng impulsively kicked him. This led to an angry Fú Róng running away to the Mortal realm, which of course led to the Demon emperor sending Shěn Lí down to retrieve him.

Shěn Lí had been confused why Mò Fāng hadn’t gotten angry with the goddess. It turned out he was holding himself back because of the aftermath with Fú Róng. He hadn’t wanted his actions to affect her.

Unexpectedly, Mò Fāng still felt guilty about the whole affair.

She sighed then she said, “Rise.”

He didn’t get up, so she stepped forward and forcefully yanked him up.

“OK, it’s your fault. You made the Demon realm lose face today. As punishment you must drink. Do you accept?”

Mò Fāng stared intensely at Shěn Lí’s hands holding his shoulders. She dropped her hands when she noticed.

Mò Fāng nod. “I will do as Your Highness commands.”

“Great. Better to do so now than later.” Shěn Lí waved her hand. “All right, let’s walk back to the barracks. You can tell me the names of everyone not on duty and we can all drink together.”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

 . . .

Mò Fāng looked at Shěn Lí as she listened to the soldier names be called out. His gaze was soft. A flash of white caught his eye as he turned his head. Though that person’s expression was unchanged, his eyes were definitely lonely looking. Seeing the eye-catching figure made his lips quirked upward slightly at the sight.

Turns out bullying someone . . . felt pretty nice.

Everyone was a mess that night after three rounds of drinks. The servants had to support their respective generals home.

The tavern sent notice to Ròu Yā to pick Shěn Lí up, but when she got there, a drunken Shěn Lí refused and used the excuse of not wanting her drunkenness to disturb High God Xíng Zhǐ. After saying so she turned away dismissively.

There was no way Ròu Yā would be able to move Shěn Lí. She could only look to Mò Fāng and ask, “General what should we do?”

“If Your Highness does not wish to return home, then how about spending the night at my residence?” Mò Fāng said after a moment of silence.

Shěn Lí nodded. “OK.”

With that decided, Ròu Yā returned home, and Mò Fāng helped Shěn Lí walk back to his home. The streets were deserted, and the lights were just bright enough to illuminate the pathway. It was silent but for the sounds of footsteps, one stumbling, the other sure and steady.

He glanced at Shěn Lí who had nearly fallen asleep. Her Highness guarded her heart fiercely, but allowed others to see her unguarded tipsy self, even letting him take her to his home. She trusted him . . . had complete confidence in the Demon realm. It really was too much . . .

Mò Fāng looked at the road in front of them. “Your Highness, I don't want this walk to end,” he said softly.

Shěn Lí wasn’t completely lucid and misheard. “Ah, yes the stars are nice. Let’s go to the roof and look at the stars.”

The sentence, so out of the blue, made Mò Fāng laugh. “Yes, let us gaze at the stars from my rooftop.”

 . . .

Ròu Yā was just closing the gates of the estate when, out of nowhere, a figure in white surprised her. With her hand to her chest she asked, “High God is still up? Standing there, nearly scared me witless.”

“Mm. There was a nice breeze so I came out to enjoy it. Your master has not returned yet?”

Ròu Yā smiled. “Oh, it turned out High God was waiting for Her Highness. No Her Highness was a little drunk, so she’s staying at General Mò Fāng’s place. If there is something on High God’s mind, there’s no harm in waiting until tomorrow when Her Highness comes back to discuss it.”

“Mm.” Xíng Zhǐ nodded. “I’ll go out and enjoy the breeze.” He materialized through the wall, not waiting for Ròu Yā to open the gate.

“This High God . . . sure acts like a ghost.”

 . . .

Shěn Lí reclined comfortably once she climbed up onto the roof. A realization struck her heart as the cool night air sobered her. Gazing at the stars on top of a roof alone with her subordinate, this situation . . . if anyone saw, it would be too ambiguous.

But she just got there. To leave so soon would be awkward. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Mò Fāng silently sit down next to her. Shěn Lí was stuck so she decided to stay put for the time being.

Who knew how long they sat there silently looking at the sky when Mò Fāng finally broke the silence. “Did Your Highness see any stars?”

Shěn Lí shook her head. “There’s too much miasma. I couldn’t see any.”

Mò Fāng turned to look at her directly. ”I saw.”

Shěn Lí wasn’t dense. She looked Mò Fāng in the eyes. Under normal circumstances she would have ordered him to look away and wipe those thoughts from his mind. But for some reason she couldn’t do it today. She opened her mouth but nothing came out. Maybe she was too drunk, maybe the cool breeze was doing things to her, or maybe something happened to her heart today . . .

“Why?” She raised an arm up and looked at the back of her hand. “This hand is covered in blood, have only held a spear, never touched a sewing needle. The owner of such hands . . . what makes me worthy of your attentions in this way?”

The question surprised Mò Fāng. How was she not worthy? He stared in silence at her for a moment before speaking. “There are differences between Your Highness and ordinary women, but there are similarities as well. The way I see it, your red-tasseled spear is your needle and the Demon realm the fabric with which you embroider the beautiful mountains and lakes on.”

Shěn Lí stared hard at Mò Fāng. Her face was a comical half smile, as she sighed. “Mò Fāng . . . you always say the silliest things. Also, you shouldn’t spill your secrets so easily.”

”I didn’t misspeak. Nor was I using empty flattery. You really are someone worthy of me admiring and loving.”

“That won’t work.” Shěn Lí finally said after being silent for a long time. She dropped her arm. “It won’t do.”

He knew it was impossible. He looked down hiding his eyes. ”I know our statuses are different. I know I should not dare, but I wanted to let Your Highness know how I felt.

Status wasn’t the issue. It was because she couldn’t let go . . .

“Azure Sky king! So it was you! You’re trying to steal my man?!”

The sudden scolding came from below. Shěn Lí moved over and saw an excessively frilly dressed Fú Róng looking up at the them with an angry face. He pointed at her. “This is too much!”

The two reacted differently, Shěn Lí raised an eyebrow, while Mò Fāng’s face sank. He did not get angry though.

“Your Highness, it will be better if you return home and stay away for a bit.”

“Ha!? Stay away? Have you forgotten what I just said earlier? I will punish you with martial law later!”

Shěn Lí teleported to Fú Róng. “It seems like your memory is really bad.” She raised her fist wanting to beat him.

Fú Róng raised his arms protectively in front of his face as he shouted. “High God! Do you see how she treats me?! How can you force me to marry her?!”

Shěn Lí’s arm stiffened. She turned her head and saw Xíng Zhǐ leaning against the wall underneath the eaves. Had he been there since she got on the roof with Mò Fāng? Had he been listening to them talk? How . . . ill-mannered!

Xíng Zhǐ could see her eyes were as cool as ever, but the smile she had on her face didn’t reach her eyes.

c43p1: Farewell

c43p1: Farewell

[May 24, 2020]
 . . .

“Is it customary for people of the Celestial realm to eavesdrop on others?” Shěn Lí sneered, “to show up unannounced in the middle of the night?”

Xíng Zhǐ’s eyes dimmed but he didn’t say anything.

Fú Róng wasn’t as silent. “You – you. A man and a woman alone on a roof in the middle of the night . . . is this considered proper?! What looking at the sky?! A person would have to be blind to believe that!”

Shěn Lí didn’t say a word, instead she reached over as if to jab Fú Róng in the eyes.

He stared and used one hand as if to block. “What?! Trying to kill now?!”

“Since you’re not using your eyes, why not let me dig them out and give it to someone who will.”

“High God, look! Look! This is abominable!” Fú Róng said as he dashed to Xíng Zhǐ.

However, when Fú Róng did so, Xíng Zhǐ moved to the side, not letting Fú Róng near him. He stared fixedly at Shěn Lí as he spoke. “Your Highness, there is no need to refuse General Mò Fāng’s tender feelings. If it is your wish, then I, Xíng Zhǐ, will assist.”

His words were met with surprise, both men pleasantly so, Shěn Lí disbelievingly so. For whatever inexplicable reason, he’d denied her when she asked him to dissolve the edict previously. Based on what she knew of him, she could only assume he was speaking now out of anger.

It didn’t make sense. What could he be angry about? He was the one who pushed her away. He was the one who decided on the marriage. But now all of a sudden, he was angry? What? Because other people appreciated the toy he’d tossed aside so now he was miffed?

How childish.

She smiled. “How could I dare refuse? Wasn’t the marriage only because of High God’s edict? If High God wishes to revoke it, the only thing I can do is accept it.” Shěn Lí raised her hand in a respectful gesture. “I look forward to High God fulfilling his promises.”

The smile on Xíng Zhǐ’s face wilted and his eyes turned cold. Neither of them said a word as both tried to stare the other down.

He finally dropped his gaze. “Your Highness is so serious. Your marriage was decided by the Immortal emperor and his royal cabinet. How could I have any say over the matter? If Your Highness is fond of General Mò Fāng, considering Lord Fú Róng’s nature, it’s not impossible to undo.”

“Why is High God slandering my name so?” Fú Róng couldn’t help but interject.

Shěn Lí let out a cool laugh. Her voice came out hoarse when she spoke. “Many thanks to High God for pointing that out.”

She’d been played again. Turned out she was the only one taking anything seriously. She looked to the roof towards Mò Fāng. He stared back. What he felt was openly clear in his gaze.

Shěn Lí felt horrible. Her words earlier were extremely misleading. She’d used the engagement as an excuse to reject him so how could he not be hopeful now that the situation was like this? How could she have spoken so irresponsibly? She was just as childish as that guy.

“Well then that is the end of the matter. Tomorrow Fú Róng, Yōu Lán and I will return to the Immortal realm. We’ve spent far too long here.” Xíng Zhǐ gave a faint smile. “Your Highness, General Mò Fāng, I bid you farewell. It is unlikely we will ever meet again. Please, take care of yourselves.”

They’d fixed the seals and properly reported on the matter about the disappearing land gods. There was no reason for such a personage as him to remain in the Demon realm. For that matter, it was unlikely he’d stay in the Immortal realm either. Most likely he’d return to the Celestial realm. He’d sit and dispassionately observe the stars for another ten thousand years while time slipped away.

And she’d never see him again.

Shěn Lí looked down. The anger she felt was doused by a new sense of helplessness that rose in her heart. “Why did High God come here?”

Xíng Zhǐ wasn’t sure where to look so he turned his gaze to the horizon. “I came to find Lord Fú Róng. He has caused you trouble – a failure of the Immortal realm in his education. Rest assured I will report what I’ve witnessed here to the Immortal emperor.” He hesitated then said, “If Your Highness does marry into the Immortal realm, Lord Fú Róng will not dare behave as he has now.”

“High God mustn’t do that!"

Xíng Zhǐ waved a finger and Fú Róng was immediately reduced to a silent mime. Xíng Zhǐ continued. “There is still residual poison left in Your Highness’s body. Please remember to rest.”

“High God need not worry.”

She almost reached out to him.

Xíng Zhǐ turned away. He reached for Fú Róng and the two disappeared. A cool breeze blew in and swept away the miasma to reveal a sky twinkling with stars.

It was a dazzling farewell gift.

But stars cast shadows. Shěn Lí stared at her shadow lost in thought. This was good too. Nothing voiced, nothing grieved. If it was never acknowledged then what was there to be sad about? Xíng Yún, Xíng Zhǐ. She thought she’d clearly differentiated them in her heart, but now she wasn’t so sure.

But it was OK, because either way, he was gone now.

She’d forget about him sooner or later. It was just a matter of time.

“Your Highness.” Mò Fāng called out from the roof. “The sky High God left behind is beautiful. Do you wish to see it?”

“No.” Shěn Lí kept staring at her shadow. “If I don’t know how beautiful it is then I won’t miss it later. I’ve disturbed you long enough. I will return home now.”

This made Mò Fāng pause. After a silent moment he said, “I’ll see Your Highness out.”

c43p2: Farewell [cont]

43p2: Farewell

[February 3, 2021]
 . . .

The street was bustling with activity. The demon lord and nearly all the officials were there to personally see the trio off, but Shěn Lí used her hangover as an excuse to not go. She was holed up in her room looking at Parrot.

“How long has it not opened his mouth and eaten anything?” Shěn Lí looked at the emaciated bird in distress. “Is it dying?”

Ròu Yā was distracted by all the hullabaloo outside on the street when she answered, “It hasn’t opened it’s mouth since it came back from the palace. Jaw is so tight I can’t budge it.”

Shěn Lí raised an eyebrow. She tentatively pressed her finger over Parrot’s beak. Its mouth immediately popped open with a loud "gack!" The voice that streamed out was as loud as ever, even if its body was just skin and bones. “God hurt me! God is bad! Bad Your Highness!”

“Oh? How did he hurt you?”

“He pulled my feathers! He cast a spell on me! He’s a bastard Your Highness!”

Parrot’s feather? Oh. So he hadn’t forgotten. He’d remembered everything from the beginning but had kept it a secret from her. He even cast a spell on Parrot and nearly starved it to death. She ought to be angry, but she wasn’t, instead she found herself laughing out loud.

“Bullying a shrew bird is something only someone as despicable as High God Xíng Zhǐ would do.”

The street noise grew so loud that Shěn Lí couldn’t help but look outside. Through the door she saw a flash of golden light as the noise outside reached its climax. Soon, all was quiet again.

He was finally gone.

Shěn Lí suddenly realized they’d gone through many things together, side by side. His absence nudged uncomfortably at her. That was OK, life would go on.

 . . .

She continued going to court and stayed up to date on current events. Border news wasn’t as spotty as it used to be. The soldiers were doing well, in fact even better than those in the capital. It reminded Shěn Lí of when she and Xíng Zhǐ repaired the seals, the mountain, the Ruins, just the two of them . . .

“Shěn Lí.” The emperor called out to her.

Shěn Lí came back to her senses. She coughed. With all eyes on her she said, “What is it Your Majesty?”

“The people of the North Sea have been behaving strangely. Each general will nominate someone to go and investigate. It will be a good opportunity for up and coming commanders to sharpen their skills since there shouldn’t be any fighting.”

Shěn Lí had done this a few times, essentially chaperoning new commanders to hone their skills and gain experience on the front lines. She thought for a moment before deciding. “Since it’s a reconnaissance mission we should send someone who is careful.” She looked around the room and settled her gaze on Mò Fāng.

After what happened that day, she had been uncomfortable having him by her side. She had wanted to apologize but didn’t want to say the wrong thing, so whether consciously or not, she had been avoiding him since.

“General Mò Fāng is careful and a good strategist. He would be the best choice to lead the mission.”

Even if her motive was selfish, it didn’t change the fact that the was the best man for the job.

The emperor nodded. “Does anyone object?”

No one did.

“Since no one objects, let us end the meeting here.” He turned his head to Shěn Lí. “Shěn Lí, stay.”

Shěn Lí was anxious, thinking she was going to be scolded. She accompanied the emperor as they walked across the stone walkway to the pavilion. He sat down at a table across the lake. Picking up a chess piece he said, “Play a few rounds with me.”

The emperor was the clear victor after just half an hour of play.

“You weren’t thinking clearly and became disoriented after seeing your attacks fail. Your troops were left in disarray. This is not your usual style Shěn Lí.”

Shěn Lí lowered her head without saying anything.

The emperor tapped a finger against the stone table. “You’ve been distracted since Lord Fú Róng left.”

Shěn Lí was shocked. Just thinking about that guy’s personality made her mouth twitch. “Your Majesty misunderstands.”

The emperor silently collected the chess pieces off the board. With a sudden smile he said, “Be it as it may, I have been tired recently and have not had the will to move around much. For the Hundred Flower banquet, you go on my behalf. You will be married into the Immortal realm soon, so it will be good for you to familiarize yourself with the order of things in that realm.”

In shock, Shěn Lí could only say, “Your Majesty . . .”

The emperor stood up and patted her head. “This is an order. You can’t refuse.”

c44: Shěn Lí’s First Visit to the Immortal Realm is Problematic

44: Shěn Lí’s First Visit to the Immortal Realm is Problematic

[February 5, 2021]
 . . .

Nine days later.

The Immortal emperor was shaking his head and sighing profusely inside the immortal palace when a slight knock sounded and an attendant whispered, “Your Majesty, High God Xíng Zhǐ is here.”

“Please come in.” The emperor stood up to greet Xíng Zhǐ, clasping his fists in a salute and bowing as he did so. “High God has been away for some time.”

Xíng Zhǐ smiled slightly then returned the greeting. “I could hear Your Majesty sighing even through the doors. What could have upset Your Majesty so much?”

The emperor smiled. “The Immortal realm is safe and comfortable. The only issue of concern are the recent events in the Lower realm, which we will of course keep an eye on.”

The emperor led the way inside. He pointed to several jade pieces on a table. “No, I was sighing over a jade cup I saw the other day while visiting His Highness, Lord Tiān Yuán. I was so happy; to think I would find such a cup. I wanted to trade him for it, but alas, he was also quite fond of it and would not agree to my offer.” The emperor heaved another sad sigh.

Xíng Zhǐ smiled but did not say anything. Compared to the Demon realm, the Immortal realm was an incredibly easy place to live.

“I don’t care for many things; however I do love jade. But now I can’t get the piece I want. It would be unbecoming of me as an emperor to take it from Lord Tiān Yuán. So regrettable; I truly am distressed.”

“If Your Majesty can’t get it, then it’s only natural to let it go. It is not good for Your Majesty to obsess over an object.” Xíng Zhǐ intended to comfort the emperor, but upon hearing his own words spoken out loud, an uncontrollable smirk rose on his lips. It was a coolly self-deprecating smile. “It is out of your hands.”

The emperor smiled and shook his head. “Living as long as I have, I’ve always reminded myself to keep a clear heart. But to encounter something like this, I find it difficult to rein in my emotions. What a hopeless situation.”

Xíng Zhǐ became distracted, lost in thought. “Yes. Ruthlessly cutting away those feelings of attachment with an unwilling heart. Knowing you cannot have it, but still unable to let it go. The purer the emotion . . . the more difficult it is.” Xíng Zhǐ shook his head and his smile faded away. “Your Majesty’s feelings, Xíng Zhǐ understands.”

The emperor looked at Xíng Zhǐ. “This . . . what could High God have seen in the Lower realm to understand so?” Xíng Zhǐ’s smile earlier made the emperor hurry on. “This can’t be. If High God has these feelings, it will be the end of all three realms!”

“Your Majesty is overly worried.”

The emperor was relieved to hear this. “Truly I did overthink it; needless to say, the purity of ancient gods is incomparable to modern day immortals.”

Xíng Zhǐ smiled before changing the subject. “I came today to tell Your Majesty something.”

The emperor’s face became blue as he listened to Xíng Zhǐ tell him about Fú Róng’s behavior in the Demon realm. He immediately ordered someone to bring his grandson over.

Xíng Zhǐ knew he couldn’t stay much longer so he said his farewell, but before he could leave the emperor called out, “The Hundred Flower banquet is soon. If High God does not have anything pressing to do in the Celestial realm, why not stay in the Nine Heavens for a while?”

Xíng Zhǐ thought about it for a moment then nodded before speaking, “Alright. It’s been some time since I visited my old friends.”

 . . .

Fú Róng was forced to kneel as punishment.

He knelt for nine days and nine nights in front of the palace. The steps were cool jade and the air refreshingly chilled with wispy clouds. Though it was beautiful to look at, it was horrible to endure. Fú Róng passed in and out of consciousness. He called out, admitting his mistakes to the point his voice became hoarse, so now he was kneeling mutely.

The emperor relented a little after Fú Róng’s parents and siblings pled for leniency on his behalf. Fú Róng was finally allowed to return home.

Once home Fú Róng fumed about Xíng Zhǐ. He couldn’t hope for vengeance since the gap between them was impossible to bridge. Gnashing his teeth hatefully was the best he could do.

Fú Róng hadn’t even fully recovered when he heard news about Shěn Lí attending the banquet on the Demon emperor’s behalf. Both emperors had the same idea – get the two to bond by keeping them close to each other. But what could they bond over?! He’d be lucky if she didn’t kill him.

The thought kept him awake at night, and he sighed endlessly during the day. The people around him weren’t happy either.

But no matter how unhappy they were, it wouldn’t change Shěn Lí’s arrival.

 . . .

Shěn Lí showed up alone at the south gates. When the gatekeeper saw her, he knew right away who she was. He rushed to inform the emperor of her arrival; as a result, Shěn Lí was forced to wait alone until an escort was procured. Once an escort finally arrived, she was led to the emperor’s palace. She and the emperor exchanged the usual pleasantries before she was later escorted to Fú Róng’s residence.

It was Shěn Lí’s first time in the Immortal realm. Although she had heard about the Immortal realm’s beauty, she had not expected it to be so beautiful. Ethereal wispy clouds floated high up and floral fragrance accented the air, sometimes auspicious white cranes flew overhead, zither melodies played by immortals at leisure even floated to her occasionally.

Shěn Lí followed her escort brushing up against other immortals along the way. There was no wind, but their silks still danced fleetingly against her skin, leaving a lingering sweet fragrance behind. Her heart sank as she thought about the common people. The contrast was too big. She didn’t say anything as they walked.

A servant immediately came out to greet her once they reached Fú Róng’s residence. “Welcome, Your Highness. Please excuse my master for not coming in person to welcome you. He was punished recently and is still recuperating.”

Xíng Zhǐ. It was easy for Shěn Lí to guess what must have happened. “It is fine. Let Lord Fú Róng rest.” Him not showing up was even better. Saved her mood from souring at the sight of him.

Shěn Lí’s speech surprised the servant. Emboldened, he looked up. He expected to see a fierce, crazy, dominant woman but was unexpectedly surprised at the sight that greeted him. She was just a girl dressed like a man. He gazed confused before blinking a few times and collecting his thoughts.

“Your Highness, this way please. A place in the residence has already been prepared for your use.”

Shěn Lí nodded. As she followed the servant inside, the maid arranged to serve her spied on her from the side. She was a shy and pleasant looking clever maid.

But Shěn Lí was an experienced fighter, so how could she not detect the disguised ill-will aimed at her? She wasn’t fooled but she didn’t take it to heart either. She had been getting weird looks since she passed through the Immortal realm’s gate. Their expressions clearly showed either jealousy, disdain, or disgust. She knew it wasn’t aimed at her specifically, but at her race.

Just thinking of the Demon emperor being subjected to this kind of attitude made her immensely angry, so she was glad she attended instead.

She Li assumed the maid who came to serve her would be no different from the other immortals who disliked demons. Who would have expected the girl to have the guts to use poison?

The big-eyed maid was waiting by her side as she took a bite of her meal. She swallowed and took another bite before casually saying, “Does the Immortal realm sell inferior drugs?” She chewed some more then spoke in a flat voice. “It’s time to find the seller and demand a refund.”

Startled, the girl’s face blanched. She turned to run away, but before she could step out the door, a silver spear shot and stabbed into the floor right in front of her.

“Is that all the courage you have?” Shěn Lí kept eating her meal leisurely. “The Immortal realm raise some stupid children.”

The maid turned around, her face an image of fierce hate. “Who do you think you are?! You despicable demon; you aren’t worthy of His Lordship.”

Well there went Shěn Lí’s appetite. She put her chopsticks down and laughed angrily; she laughed for a long time. There were so many things wrong with that statement, she didn’t know where to start. In the end she only said, “Since you like him so much, why don’t go to the emperor and clarify the matter with him? Let the emperor give you the marriage since you are so much more worthy.”

The maid was startled when Shěn Lí got up and started walking toward her. She was hyperventilating when she noticed a strange scent in the air. It made her dizzy.

Shěn Lí also noticed the scent. The poison from earlier hadn’t affected her but the combination now made her eyes blur and her body heavy. She frowned and turned then caught a needle midair. A puff of air sounded somewhere nearby. Shěn Lí tried to reach and catch it, but she missed and a sharp jab pierced her finger instead.

Poison instantly spread from her finger to the rest of her body. Two women appeared. One went to help the maid up. Together all three glared at Shěn Lí like they were staring at a mutual enemy. “Someone like you doesn’t deserve to monopolize His Lordship.”

Shěn Lí’s mouth twitched at that statement. She pulled out the needle from her finger then massaged her temples. These immortal maids were asking for it. She rolled up her sleeves and approached them.

The three paled in fright. “So much poison, impossible! How can you still move?!”

With a cold smile Shěn Lí said, “You've been poisoned that effeminate sissy for so long, allow me to show you what a real man is."

Nearly everyone in the realm heard the women’s screams and cries that night. Fú Róng was no exception. He woke up with a start and called for his servant.

“What in the world is that?! A demon she-ghost?”

The servant opened Fú Róng’s door and answered. “My Lord, it sounds like it’s coming from the Azure Sky king’s courtyard.” He was trembling all over.

Fú Róng was surprised. He immediately ordered people to carry him over. When they got there, they saw that the door to Shěn Lí’s courtyard was open. Through it they could see three immortal ladies hanging from the beams in the ceiling. A vigorously burning brazier stood below them. All three were all crying horrendously.

Shěn Lí sat nearby and would from time to time poke at the embers to encourage them to burn more. “Go ahead, keep crying. Let’s see you put the flames out with your tears.”

Fú Róng couldn’t stand to see any beauty suffer. He was aghast at Shěn Lí’s behavior. “Shěn Lí! What are you doing!?”

Shěn Lí looked at him askance. “These three were willing to die for you for Your Lordship. This king is simply obliging them.”

“Your Highness! Save us! Save us!” The three cried out.

Fú Róng’s knees hurt too much for him to stand so he slapped a nearby servant on the head and cursed. “What are you just standing there for? Save them for this lord!”

Shěn Lí formed her spear and banged the tip against the floor, cracking the bricks and stones underfoot. The silver spear flashed when Shěn Lí spoke. “Who dares?”

They were shaken.

“Fight with this king.” Her glance around the courtyard frightened everyone. They trembled in fear and horror. Neither parties moved in the stand-off because no one in Fú Róng’s party dared.

The crying from the three women became sharper. The many immortals loitering outside the residence all wanted to know what was going on. In the end, even the emperor showed up.

Upon seeing the debacle, he scolded everyone. Then had Shěn Lí put out the fire and cut the ladies down.

After this was all done Shěn Lí finally spoke up. [notes]“Shěn Lí remembers when High God and Lord Fú Róng were in the Demon realm, though my Demon realm was not excessive, we were appropriately hospitable and treated our guests with due courtesy. Yet here Shěn Lí stands, my first evening and the Immortal realm has already tried to poison my meal. The food is still on the table, the scent still lingers, and the needle is there for all to see. Shěn Lí received such interesting gifts my first night here. Shěn Lí must ask Your Majesty, is this the Immortal realm’s idea of hospitality?”

The emperor was shocked at the revelation. Of course, he immediately sent someone to investigate. Upon hearing it was exactly as Shěn Lí said, the emperor got so angry his face turned purple. For the longest time he was at a loss for words, he just stood silently pointing at Fú Róng. At last he let out a sigh, “Azure Sky king has suffered because of my negligence. The three immortals are to be confined for a hundred years.”

“Shěn Lí thanks Your Majesty for this justice, however, Shěn Lí feels that more incidents will happen if Shěn Lí were to stay in Lord Fú Róng’s residence.”

The tricks the girls played wouldn’t hurt her, but who knew how many more Fú Róng lovestruck fools she would have to deal with. In just one night there was already three, even if she didn’t die, she’d be exhausted. She bowed as she spoke. “Shěn Lí hopes Your Majesty will find another quiet place for Shěn Lí to rest.”

She didn’t have to say her reasoning out loud for the emperor to understand.

The emperor thought about the problem, muttering to himself as he did so. A servant by his side whispered something, to which the emperor nodded his head.

“There is a quiet courtyard in the western sky but it’s somewhat inconveniently placed and the interior is also very simple. I wonder if the Azure Sky king will be offended by it?”

She used clouds to travel. What did distance matter? Considering how fancy the Immortal realm was, their idea of simplicity would no doubt be fine. She didn’t mind. “As long as it is quiet, Shěn Lí will move tomorrow.”

The emperor nodded. “That should work out. You have already made High God’s acquaintance earlier in the Demon realm so it shouldn’t be awkward living with each other.”

This Immortal realm . . . who else would they consider a high god other than that one guy. If it was that guy, why didn’t they say so earlier! She wanted to refuse but it was too late!

It would definitely be awkward to live together! Very awkward!

45: Koi!

45: Koi!

[February 13, 2021]
 . . .

It was the second day and Shěn Lí did not look forward to moving, instead she procrastinated and took a stroll around the Immortal realm. The people who met her were guarded and cautiously curious. One or two looking at her that way wouldn’t have been noticeable, but every pair of eyes looked at her in the same way. It was stifling. She would have preferred if they drew their swords and tried to cut her down; then they could have a proper fight.

After awhile Shěn Lí gave up. She may as well just face the awkwardness head on and go see Xíng Zhǐ.

 . . .

To her surprise, the residence had the same layout as Xíng Yún’s in the Mortal realm. The building was bigger with more wings, but was essentially the same. The front yard was grassy with rocks and trees as well as a stone table and some chairs. The back yard had vines and a pond under it. How long ago had it been built? It didn’t look new, but it didn’t look old either.

Compared to Xíng Yún’s old home, it was quite an upgrade, but compared to standards in the Immortal realm, where tiles were made of luminous glass and houses were made from precious wood, this house was extraordinarily plain.

No one was there and the entire place had a quiet deserted atmosphere. Shěn Lí unconsciously dropped her guard and began to relax.

She assumed he kept his memories after being born as a mortal and his mortal courtyard had been modeled after the one here. Thinking about it, Shěn Lí remembered that the formation array in the mortal realm gathered energy from both Heaven and earth. If they were the same arrays then staying here would help clear out the poison in her body.

It wasn’t the poison from the immortal ladies earlier, but was from the battle with the creatures in the temple while she was in the Mortal realm.[notes] It was a difficult and insidious poison. Despite her normally fast healing abilities, vestiges of the poison still lingered in her system.

As she strolled around the residence, Shěn Lí couldn’t help but think about a certain someone in white who liked to leisurely sit under the vines while basking in the sun. Perhaps he could only be so laidback and easy-going while bound by mortal coil in the mortal world.

Shěn Lí didn’t understand the high god version of Xíng Yún.

-sigh- It was amazing how much influence a person's identity had on their personality.

Shěn Lí heard the sound of water and realized she had wandered to the pond. Looking at it she saw a fat koi swimming. She raised an eyebrow. “A fish no one feeds can grow so big? The water in the Immortal realm must be amazing.”

She sat down by the pond and flicked at the water with her finger. Out of nowhere a smooth hand reached out from the water and grabbed her wrist. Surprised, she looked up to find a pair of clear eyes looking at her. Silver light flashed and suddenly many more pairs stared at her.

These koi . . . were children.

She was still dazed when one of the children giggled and said, “Big Sister, will you play with us?”

Shěn Lí, still hearing the sound of water, unconsciously shook her head, but hands where already pulling her in.

“Sister, come play!” Their crisp voices were like magnetic charms.

Shěn Lí was pulled to the bottom of the pond before she realized what happened. The pond was bigger than it appeared from the outside. The only light source came from above. Her surroundings got darker as they went deeper.

Shěn Lí had a near innate fear of water, so her heart filled with dread at the sound of water gurgling in her ears. She didn’t panic and tried to swim back up. But the children were playing around her legs, and the motion kept dragging her ankles down. Shěn Lí lost it. The children, with their white teeth and cute faces, looked like ghosts from hell.

Breathing wasn’t a problem – she could hold her breath for half an hour - the problem was that she was under water. She frantically tried to scold the children but water rushed down her throat every time she opened her mouth. Every time she coughed or spat, more would gush in.

The water was sweet, but she couldn’t drink anymore!

She kicked and flailed like a maniac at the children, trying to go up to the light above.It was an unsightly image, but she did manage to finally break the surface. Unfortunately her timing was bad. A child leapt out of the water, twirled in midair and re-entered just as she did. Before she could gulp in a breath of air, she was pushed back down by his tail on the way in.

Shěn Lí was so angry. Once she got back on dry land, she was going to start a fire and boil the water. She was going to cook these kids then pull them out one by one!

It was fortunate things didn’t get that far.

Shěn Lí felt the current below her grow stronger. Before she could react, a force had pulled her out of the pond. She coughed so hard her face turned red. Several of the children came out as well. They flopped on the ground as their tails gradually transformed into human legs.

A white cloth dropped on her face. She puffed out an angry breath, grabbed it and tossed it to the ground angrily. She pointed at Xíng Zhǐ while sputtering, “Twice! Twice!”

Xíng Zhǐ understood what she meant. He smiled as he said, “I didn’t mean it this time.” He pulled a strip of thin vine from the trellis, walked to the children, then lightly flicked it across their butts as he shooed them. “Go inside the house.”

The children got up while holding their bare bottoms. They pouted but did as told and staggered into the house.

Xíng Zhǐ looked at Shěn Lí and said, “I’ll get you an explanation in a moment,” as he followed the children into the house, leaving Shěn Lí alone in the courtyard.

She was breathing a sigh of relief when she heard whimpers come from the house. Were the children crying? Shěn Lí thought about the vine in Xíng Zhǐ’s hand and wondered if he was putting it to use. Ha . . .Well I hope he gives them a good whipping!

She was going to take a look. Once she got inside, she saw Xíng Zhǐ lounging on the settee with his head propped on top of one hand. He held the vine in the other hand and was lazily swishing it around.

The children’s eyes were red as they stood naked in front of him.

Xíng Zhǐ glanced at Shěn Lí as she came in. To the children he said, “Apologize.”

The child at the end of the line wiped at his eyes and snotty nose before murmuring, “I’m sorry Sister. I didn’t know you couldn’t . . . wuuu swim. I won’t play like that -hiccup- wuu . . . anymore.” His voice gradually dropped toward the end.

Another child picked up the cue and continued.“-sniffle- I’m sorry wuu . . . We really wanted to play. Wuu . . .” A chorus of apologies filled with sniffles and sobs followed down the line.

It was a mess. A bunch of bare-bottomed half-pints were sniffling and crying through their apologies. Shěn Lí could barely make out what they were saying. She finally covered her face with one hand and waved the other at the children. “It’s OK. It’s not a big deal. You can all go now.”

The children choked on their sobs when Shěn Lí said that. They looked over at Xíng Zhǐ hopefully. The moment he nodded, they rushed out like their feet were on fire.

It became quiet after they left. Xíng Zhǐ sat up. “Since when did the Azure Sky king become so magnanimous?”

“A group of little kids crying and sniffling naked as the day they were born, what am I? Some old witch trying to steal yang essence from young boys? Only a god would be indifferent to such a scene.”[notes]

“No, not indifferent.” He played with the vine in his hand. “I thought their snot-nosed, sniffly expressions were funny to look at.”

Shěn Lí rubbed her temples. She had expected things to be awkward between her and Xíng Zhǐ so she had come to the residence mentally prepared. But apparently, she had thought too much. There was no awkwardness between them at all.

She looked at him tiredly. “Immortal emperor arranged a room for me? I would like to rest in peace.”

“You can pick any from the west wing.”

And that was how the first day living with Xíng Zhǐ went.

Nothing happened after that. Although they shared the same residence, they didn’t see each other. Shěn Lí never saw Xíng Zhǐ enter or leave, so she assumed he was in closed door meditation. It turned out all her mental preparations weren’t needed after all. This would work. If things continued as they were, then she wouldn’t have to see him until the Hundred Flower banquet. And unless he showed up at her wedding banquet, she wouldn't ever see him again . . .

 . . .

At the prickle of pain in her scalp, Shěn Lí glanced at the mirror at the child koi spirit behind her. But the little koi didn’t notice and continued to tug at Shěn Lí’s hair, still combing and happily oblivious.

“Your Highness’s hair is really nice but it’s too thick and straight, not like a lady’s at all.”

Shěn Lí didn’t reply.

The little koi children were originally attendants for the residence, but Xíng Zhǐ had ordered them to wait on Shěn Lí alone, however the more they served her the more chaotic things became . . .

Bang! A small koi knocked over a basin of water and now both her and the koi combing her hair were wet from the splatter. The small koi looked up in panic at Shěn Lí. He had made a mistake!

The other koi combing her hair yelled out, “What are you doing!?” He stomped his feet and smacked his hand down angrily. He was still holding the comb when he did, so he ended up yanking Shěn Lí’s head back with the motion and pulled her hair along with the comb.

Shěn Lí cradled her head in her hands. She took a deep breath, but in the end she couldn’t hold back. She stood up, grabbed the children and shook them until they reverted to their koi form. Shěn Lí kicked the door open while holding them to her chest. Each time she saw another of the children, she would grab them and shake them till they changed. Then she tossed all of them into the pond!

“You are not allowed to come out. I will steam you if you do,” threatened Shěn Lí.

All the children koi had red eyes. One spoke up. “But High God said Your Highness is different from other immortals. Your Highness has to eat, so we have to serve you. Otherwise, Your Highness will starve to death!”

She Li replied, “I am not hungry.” Then she turned and walked away. Two steps later she turned around and warned them again. “Do not come out.”

The koi stared at her with glistening eyes but didn’t say anything.

Shěn Lí grabbed her hair, intending to tie it in her usual style, when she saw Xíng Zhǐ lounging against the door frame looking as beautiful as ever with the sunlight reflecting in his smiling eyes.

“What are you doing so early in the morning?”

Shěn Lí had been nursing a grudge in her belly for a while. “They were here on your orders to annoy me right?”

Xíng Zhǐ raised an eyebrow. “I never ordered anything like that.”

The little koi felt thoroughly wronged. “We were really trying our best to serve Your Highness . . .”

Shěn Lí rubbed her head and blurted out, “Is this called serving?!” To Xíng Zhǐ she said, “If you really wanted to help, then why weren’t you the one serving me?” She was only speaking out of anger; she didn’t really mean it.

But unexpectedly Xíng Zhǐ answered with a simple, “OK.”

It got so quiet you could hear a pin drop. It wasn’t just Shěn Lí, but the little koi children were surprised too.

The sound of rolling fruit broke the silence.

Shěn Lí turned around and saw Goddess Luò Tiān standing in a daze at the backyard gate. By her feet were a bunch of fruits.

Xíng Zhǐ turned to look at her. “Why are you here Yōu Lán?”

Yōu Lán hurriedly bent down to pick up the fallen fruit after coming back to her senses. “The Immortal emperor asked me to inform the Azure Sky king that today is the day to bathe in the essence pool. I remembered the Azure Sky king and High God shared a residence, so I thought I’d bring some fruit for High God as well. The courtyard door was open so I came in . . .”

Her voice trailed off. Even without saying it, everyone knew she had heard it all.

Xíng Zhǐ was calm and only nodded.

Shěn Lí coughed, turned around and began walking as she spoke. “Since it is the Immortal emperor’s orders, let us not delay; we’ll leave immediately.”

The Demon realm was filled with miasma, and since Shěn Lí lived there, she was in turn polluted by it as well, so she had to cleanse herself before participating in the Hundred Flower banquet. Shěn Lí knew about the need for purification before she came.

Yōu Lán looked at Shěn Lí’s quickly retreating figure. She finally looked at Xíng Zhǐ and bowed, then left the fruit in the house before leaving with Shěn Lí.

 . . .

Yōu Lán had debated mentally for a while before she finally decided to give voice to her thoughts. They had moved some distance from the residence already when she called out, “Your Highness, I went to the Demon realm some days ago. Although my stay was short and my exploration superficial, I am aware people of the Demon realm are dissatisfied with the Immortal realm.”

Shěn Lí stopped and turned to look at Yōu Lán. “If Goddess has something to say, say it clearly.”

Yōu Lán spoke seriously. “Whether it be feelings of discontentment or resentment, I hope Your Highness and the people of the Demon realm will behave accordingly.” She stared hard at Shěn Lí, her voice incredibly grave. “There is only one high god left in all the realms. None of us can shoulder the burden of his loss. The cost is simply too high.”

Shěn Lí suddenly remembered Qīng Yè[notes] was stripped of his godhead because he went against the Heavenly Dao. So . . . was Yōu Lán trying to insinuate that the Demon realm was trying to use Shěn Lí to seduce High God in order to chip away at his godhead so they could get back at The Immortal realm?

Shěn Lí smiled at the absurdity. “Goddess, whether or not I am as capable as you think I am, if High God loses his godhead, so what? If he can’t hang onto it himself then that’s his problem. What are you telling me all this for?”

Shěn Lí turned around and decisively left. Yōu Lán stood alone, her gaze cold.

beh . . .
Thank goodness it got easier to translate. But sadly the more I read this the more I dislike Shěn Lí, but she’s the main character so there’s no way to avoid her. I know, unpopular opinion. I wonder what Yōu Lán meant about Xíng Zhǐ’s loss being too high. Is it because he’s awesome something fierce? I mean he is but . . .
46: Little Disaster

46: Little Disaster

[February 22, 2021]
 . . .

The water was full of immortal essence so it wasn’t good for Shěn Lí. Sure the strong essence washed away the miasma on her, but it also served to diminish her demon powers. Just bathing for an hour exhausted her as much as if she had participated in a big battle. She would have to wait until after the banquet if she wanted to restore her powers.

A cold smile appeared on her face. She knew what they were trying to do. By weakening her, she would be less a of threat to them. Hypocritical immortals . . . they were always on guard even though the Demon realm already surrendered.

A loud bang came from outside the hall. It was followed by a roar so loud it felt as though the pillars would crack.

Shěn Lí raised a brow. There were monsters in the Immortal realm too? She dressed and tied her hair up. Once done, she opened the door into the hall in anticipation of a fun show.

A huge white lion stood atop an equally huge rosy cloud.

It rushed at Yōu Lán in a mad frenzy. The hall attendant, though pale faced with fright, covered Yōu Lán while Yōu Lán looked frantically for an escape. But the lion managed to force Yōu Lán into a corner anyway. There was nothing more the attendant could do, so she rolled under the lion’s belly and fled in fear. Left alone, Yōu Lán trembled fearfully. Her lips were pale as she stared blankly at the lion.

The lion roared and raised its claws to strike Yōu Lán.

Shěn Lí frowned. She flashed in front of Yōu Lán and blocked its paw with one arm. She didn’t have the strength to push the lion back because her qi foundation was unstable, so all she could do was block the attack.

The essence water had weakened her too much.

She and the lion were at a stalemate.

Yōu Lán suddenly spoke up from behind her. “I do not require the assistance of someone from the Demon realm.”

“OK.” Shěn Lí lowered her arm.

Yōu Lán was immediately greeted with the lion’s murderous claw. She hadn’t expected Shěn Lí to drop her arm like that. She gasped in fright. The claw stopped abruptly within a hair’s width of her cheek.

“If you want to keep your face, say please.” Help doesn’t come cheap. Ask for it appropriately.

Yōu Lán didn’t dare turn her head. She reached blindly out to grab at Shěn Lí’s clothes. Her voice was filled with fear and reluctance. “Please . . . please I beg of you . . .”

This goddess . . . Shěn Lí really didn't know what kind of attitude would satisfy her.

She laughed to herself a little. Then with a low grunt of effort pushed the lion’s arm away while simultaneously grabbing Yōu Lán by the waist and pulling her tight against her side. Then she jumped over the lion’s head and landed some distance behind it.

Shěn Lí looked down at Yōu Lán who was limp in her embrace. “Originally if you hadn’t asked me, I wouldn’t have saved you. But we came to the hall together. It would have been too much of a coincidence if something happened. People would have gossiped and I didn't want that.”

Yōu Lán, who had just escaped catastrophe, couldn’t be bothered to verbally spar with Shěn Lí. She was busy staring at something behind Shěn Lí. Whatever she saw made her face look even worse.

Shěn Lí turned around. The white lion had already crossed the distance and was about to greet them with its giant claws. Shěn Lí could have dodged it easily if she wasn’t burdened with carrying Yōu Lán. If the attack connected, Shěn Lí guessed she would suffer pain for a few days. Yōu Lán, on the other hand, probably wouldn’t make it.

There was no time to think. Shěn Lí hugged Yōu Lán against her chest and braced for impact from behind.

The lion’s claw shredded Shěn Lí’s back, letting fly flesh and blood against the columns. Yōu Lán screamed in fright. It was the first time she’d witnessed anything so gory.

The white lion paused as it got ready to swipe a second time. In the break, Shěn Lí tightened her grip on Yōu Lán and rolled out of range just in time to escape the second strike.

Yōu Lán’s hand came away bloody after accidentally touching Shěn Lí’s back. Her lips trembled as she spoke. “Are . . .are you OK?”

Shěn Lí didn’t even grimace. It was just a flesh wound. When she saw how the white lion stared at Yōu Lán as it got ready to pounce again, she knew something was up. “What did you do? Why is it so mad at you?"

Yōu Lán didn’t answer. She was staring mesmerized at the blood on her hand.

Shěn Lí knew she couldn’t fight the lion, not after bathing in the water. From her experience fighting animals, she knew they normally retreated if they couldn’t win for certain. Her intentions weren’t to kill the white lion, just push it back. She would win if she could out bluff it.

Yōu Lán, who was behind Shěn Lí, suddenly felt hot. She looked up in a daze. The glow of light on Shěn Lí’s profile was so enchanting that Yōu Lán momentarily forgot the other person was a woman.

Shěn Lí’s eyes flashed red and the air shifted. Yōu Lán thought she heard a phoenix’s cry loud and clear across the horizon. The air suddenly felt hot, scorching her body.

Not to be outdone, the white lion roared fiercely back. Both kings were vying for dominion.

Any of the other immortals who were around had already been pushed back by the hot air. Yōu Lán was the only one who saw the red light engulf Shěn Lí’s eyes completely.

There was another extremely loud, clear cry. The waves of heat battered the white lion until with a sudden whoop, its body started shrinking. It shrank and shrank until it was just a ball of white fur curled shivering in the now all-too-big cloud.

The volatile atmosphere dissipated. Shěn Lí only managed to take one step forward before a hand grabbed her clothes. She turned to look at Yōu Lán.

“It’s dangerous. Don’t go. Wait for the generals to come. “

Shěn Lí raised a brow at this. Unexpectedly this goddess knew to be gracious and thoughtful. Shěn Lí grabbed Yōu Lán’s hand and said, “It’s not a big deal.” She turned away so she missed Yōu Lán’s expression.

Yōu Lán touched her hand again. Her gaze as she stared after Shěn Lí’s back was complicated. [notes]

Shěn Lí walked to the white furball, leaned over and picked it up. It whimpered as it looked at her with pitiful eyes shimmering with tears.

Shěn Lí did not show mercy. She shook it hard. “Speak! What kind of villain monster are you?”

The furball trembled even harder.

“Your Highness! Your Highness, please be merciful!” A white-bearded, grandfatherly immortal holding a duster ran towards Shěn Lí. He gave a fisted salute once he reached her. “This is Little Disaster, a divine beast raised in the Celestial realm, Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ. It is definitely not a monster!”

Xíng Zhǐ’s pet? Shěn Lí tossed the dog to the old immortal to hold. “Is High God trying to be a divine farmer now? Does he need to try his hand at everything?”

“My goodness. From Your Highness’s voice, it sounds like Your Highness blames me for this?”

All the immortals bent down and saluted at the sound of the voice. The bearded grandfather hastily put Little Disaster on the ground. Then he leaned down and saluted as well. “It was this insignificant immortal’s fault.”

Xíng Zhǐ stopped to help the grandfather up. Then his gaze shifted to Shěn Lí. “Are you injured?”

Shěn Lí fisted her hand and bowed in greeting. “Thanks to the blessing of the gods it is merely a flesh wound.”

Though Xíng Zhǐ managed to keep his emotions in check, he couldn’t quite keep his fingers from twitching. He leaned down and picked up Little Disaster then patted its head. In turn it rubbed its head against Xíng Zhǐ like it had been wronged.

“What’s going on?” Xíng Zhǐ asked softly.

Grandfather white beard answered. “Following High God's orders, I brought Little Disaster to the western sky from the Celestial realm. But as soon as we arrived here, Little Disaster began to behave strangely. I could not keep hold of Little Disaster and he hurt Her Highness and Goddess Luò Tiān, so I am to blame for this incident.”

Xíng Zhǐ silently looked to Yōu Lán for a moment before speaking. “Little Disaster’s sudden madness was not your fault. Send Her Highness back to the western sky and have someone look at her wounds.” He walked to Yōu Lán and helped her up. “Follow me.”

Yōu Lán nodded. Her face was still very pale.

 . . .

Shěn Lí didn’t wait for an immortal doctor to dress her wounds. Not trusting anyone in the Immortal realm, she wrapped her wound and changed her clothes herself.

She saw that the bearded grandfather was outside in the back courtyard. He was about to put Little Disaster on a tether. She stopped him by saying, “Leave him be.”

He hesitated. “But if he hurts Your Highness again . . .”

“It’s useless to tie him down when he’s behaving. And the rope won’t hold him if he misbehaves. So just save the rope and everyone’s time.” Besides Shěn Lí was no fool. How could a divine beast go mad without reason? Since Xíng Zhǐ went out of his way to speak privately with Yōu Lán, Shěn Lí was reasonably sure it had something to do with the goddess. Yōu Lán was probably at fault somehow.

Shěn Lí sighed. It had only been a few days since she arrived, but so much already happened. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, she had been attacked several times. Perhaps her eight characters[notes] were fated to be inauspicious with the Immortal realm.

Bearded grandfather thought about it for a moment. He was not particularly keen on the idea of tying Little Disaster up. “That is fine. If Your Highness wishes, please feel free to play with Little Disaster. High God originally brought him over to keep Your Highness company.”

Shěn Lí stiffened upon hearing this. She pushed the door open and went back inside.

He acted familiar but remained distant. He was considerate, but was unconcerned. Such a contradiction. Shěn Lí sat in her room thinking about it for nearly half a day trying to understand the man.

She felt like she and that doggy furball were alike. Fun to tease when remembered. Fun to pass the time with when together.

 . . .

A light knock sounded on her door later that evening. Shěn Lí opened it to find a hot meal on the floor. She picked it up and brought it back inside her room. She wasn’t shy about eating and dug right in. She smiled. Apparently his cooking skills had not rusted.

A hint of bitterness wove itself inside the nostalgia that crept into her heart. Though things were the same, the people had changed.

Shěn Lí gathered the dinnerware and opened her door to place it outside. This time when she did, she saw Xíng Zhǐ come out of the room across from hers. It wasn’t his bedroom, but she often saw him go in and out of it.

Shěn Lí didn’t say anything, but she did give him a nod before closing her door.

The “Was the food good?” stuck in his throat. Xíng Zhǐ stared at the closed door. The smile that suddenly came to his face was sardonic. There were a bunch of things he wanted to ask, like,

“Did you like the meal?”

“How is your wound? “

“If you get bored, you can play with Little Disaster. He won’t hurt you now . . .”

There were so many things he wanted to say but the other party didn’t give him a chance.

Was this what it felt like to win some, lose some? Advance then retreat?

 . . .

Shěn Lí couldn’t sleep that night so she went out and walked around the courtyard. The moon was a magnificently bright orb shining its light on the world below, brightening up the night air with its reflection.

Shěn Lí noticed a sliver of light peeking under the door opposite her room. It was the room Xíng Zhǐ often used. It wasn’t his bedroom, but he went there often. What was inside? Rare treasures? She glanced at Xíng Zhǐ’s bedroom. His door was closed. Curiosity got the best of her and she walked quietly to the room opposite hers.

She opened the door, then stepped inside before carefully closing it behind her again. In the room was a privacy screen. It wasn’t decorated with the usual scenes of nature, instead it depicted a dark blue sky graced with a canopy of stars that seemed to move and shift with an iridescent light.

How magical. Were there treasures hidden behind it?

She walked around to the other side of the screen and stepped into what felt like another world. There was no floor beneath her feet, no ceiling above her head. She felt like she had walked inside the painting, into an otherworldly sea of stars and clouds.

The stars, it looked like there were words engraved on them. Shěn Lí squinted.

She was shocked.

“God Guān Yuè, God Luò Xīng, God Qīng Yè . . .”

This . . . this was a shrine for the gods!

“It’s best to not be in here.”

Xíng Zhǐ’s voice was soft, but it was enough to scare Shěn Lí. She turned around to look at him. Her expression, her humongous eyes, Xíng Zhǐ couldn't help but smile.

“Didn’t I tell you before?”

The Immortal realm subjugated the Demon realm right?
So how is the current the Immortal realm so weak?
But this was a fun chapter though. There was a lot of finessing involved. Some of these descriptions, they're simple but difficult for me to convey clearly. Very pleased with how it turned out in the end. So pleased that I made an audio of the chapter. Please check it out and tell me what you think. Although please be gentle.

All in all things, are looking up. I don't dislike Shěn Lí as much.
47: Remember Me

47: Remember Me

[March 1, 2021]
 . . .

Shěn Lí stared blankly at Xíng Zhǐ. The spiritual shrine for the ancient gods was an sacred place that shouldn’t be easily accessible. Was it really OK to put it so casually in a room like this? People in the Immortal realm lived so peacefully that they felt this was acceptable? There wasn’t even a barrier at the entrance . . .

“Have I come too far? Is it too late for me to turn back?”

As a member of the demon race, even though Shěn Lí disliked the modern immortal people, she still respected the ancient gods.

Xíng Zhǐ lowered his head and smiled. “It is too late.” Then he tilted his head up to look at the shimmering tablets in the sky. “But it is alright. Since we are here, let us pay our respects. They have not had visitors in a long time.”

Since he said it was OK, Shěn Lí decided to remain. She looked up at the sky full of stars.

The tablets seemed to have a will of their own. They shifted, moving to gradually encircle Shěn Lí and Xíng Zhǐ. It was like the stars were a group of people looking at them.

Xíng Zhǐ smiled. “This place is designed to look like the Celestial realm. The constellations are fixed in the order they would normally appear in the sky. They do not move, but today they are excited to have a visitor, so in their happiness they came over.”

Shěn Lí glanced at him. The smile on his face was soft, but genuine, an unusual departure from his usual smiles. A certain kind of joy exuded from him – he was genuinely happy.

Sorrow suddenly filled Shěn Lí’s heart as she gazed at the spiritual tablets.

The names were just words for her, but for him, they were more than that. They were old friends who would never return. He watched the world as the years passed by without anyone to accompany him, living a life in solitude amongst a sea of stars.

No one knew how long he had lived. They only knew him as a high god of the three realms, one to be deeply respected and revered, someone beyond their reach.

“Do you . . . feel lonely?” The words unconsciously rolled out of Shěn Lí’s mouth.

Xíng Zhǐ turned to look at her. He was silent for a moment before asking, “Why do you ask?”

“I don’t know. But if it was me and I lost the Demon emperor, Ròu Yā, my generals and subordinates . . . if everyone turned into silent spiritual tablets, if I had to live in an empty Demon realm in solitude, ” Shěn Lí paused, “I wouldn’t be able to bear it.”

Xíng Zhǐ lost his smile. “One becomes accustomed to it – the responsibility that must be borne. You speak of loneliness, but my time, from life to death, is beyond my control.”

“But . . . doesn’t High God have the world in the palm of your hand?”

“To a certain extent.” Xíng Zhǐ paused. “The exception is myself. As you know the gods are too powerful to allow personal desires to sway them. As such my time, while alive to the moment I die, is beyond my control. Only when my life force is dispersed to Heaven and earth, settled into the mountains and lakes, can I truly die.”

Shěn Lí was shocked. “Gods can die?”

“Of course. All living things perish eventually. Even gods cannot escape that fate. Although I have lived for a long time, eventually I too will die. When that day comes, I will follow the natural law of the world; my life force will turn into a ray of energy that will disperse between Heaven and earth. That energy will become a part of the natural world again. Although my physical divine form will no longer exist, my divine power will always be here to guard the world and stars for eternity."

Shěn Lí was stunned. “So, then all gods who have passed on, they also turned into a ray of energy that now shines down on the world?”

Xíng Zhǐ shook his head. “No . . . about a third of them lived to the end of their natural lives, but the others had a change of heart and went against the laws of Heaven. They were stripped of their godhead and are now in an eternal cycle of reincarnation, forced to taste all the suffering the Mortal realm has to offer. They are completely destroyed, their divine powers gone, and with that, so too all their divine spells.[notes]

Cliffs notes version:

Xíng Zhǐ: My life and death are not dictated by me.

Shěn Lí: How can that be? Aren’t you the boss of everything?

Xíng Zhǐ: No, not really. I’m the boss of a lot of stuff, but I’m not the boss of my own life. Not even my own death. I can only really die in one very specific way.

Shěn Lí: Wait?! What? Back up, gods die? Talk!

Xíng Zhǐ: Well, yeah. Duh. All life dies. Gods are no exception. Eventually my body will fail and my physical form won’t exist anymore, but my essence will always exist. So in a sense, that aspect of me will always be in the world, shining down as a ray of energy between Heaven and earth.

Shěn Lí: So then all the gods who died from old age, are they all rays of energy shining on the world too?

Xíng Zhǐ: No . . . only a third made it through, the others  . . . they fell to one temptation or another . . . The ones who fell were kicked out and stripped of all their powers and regalia . . . They exist as mortals in the Mortal realm, trapped in an endless cycle of life and death. A little piece fades every reincarnation, until eventually there will be nothing left of them in the world.

He looked up at the tablets. “These spiritual tablets can be considered Heaven’s kindness. So that those left behind can have something to remember them by.”

He had watched those around him leave one by one, the tablets increase one by one, until finally he was the only one left.

“That is to say, those gods who have lived according to Heaven’s law will leave behind a legacy, while those who violated Heaven’s law will not.”

Shěn Lí was reeling from her newfound knowledge, when a terrible thought crossed her mind. “High God, if your godhead is destroyed, then the spell around the Ruins . . .”

Xíng Zhǐ nodded his head. “The Ruins is a temporal dimensional space I tore out from the world. The spell that holds it in place will unravel if my godhead is abolished.”

“Thousands of monsters like the fox-tailed scorpion will escape?” Shěn Lí was horrified.

“No.” Xíng Zhǐ smiled slightly. “They will disappear with the Ruins. But when that happens the Demon realm will be sucked in as well.”


“Creating a space as enormous as the Ruins is difficult to do, even for a god.” Xíng Zhǐ held out his palm and a light flashed across it. “Even if one is created, it’s a fleeting one. It’s necessary to rely on the additional powers of the natural world to create something as immense and stable as the Ruins. I incorporated the five elemental powers in the Demon realm with my own divine powers to create it. In doing so, the Demon realm and the Ruins were joined together; the two are bound in life and death.”

Shěn Lí stared in disbelief at Xíng Zhǐ. She angrily said, “You actually did such a thing, disregarded all the descendants that would live there?!” Connecting the two together, wouldn’t that mean the Demon realm would be the first to suffer if there was any disturbance in the Ruins?!

“At that time opening a space was the quickest way to resolve the war.” His expression was cold. He didn’t regret his decision. “Had I not done so, the Demon realm wouldn’t exist today.”

Shěn Lí gritted her teeth. Sacrifices had to be made in battle sometimes. She knew this but the sacrifice this time . . .

Shěn Lí spoke through gritted teeth. “Your heart cannot waver, not even a little. I intend to live to a ripe old age. Do you understand?”

Xíng Zhǐ smiled. “Naturally. I am the only god who resides in the Celestial realm. The entire realm is held together by my divine power. Should I waver, it would crumble and fall to the Immortal realm. The Immortal realm would then collapse and endanger the rest of the world.”

The words were easy to speak, but the weight was heavy to bear. It pressed on Shěn Lí’s heart as she remembered Yōu Lán’s words that day on the way to the bath. The goddess was right. None of them could afford to lose Xíng Zhǐ.

It was just that . . . such a heavy burden, it made one unwilling . . .

“So,” Xíng Zhǐ spoke, his voice lighthearted, but full of meaning. “I cannot like you, Shěn Lí.”

Shěn Lí felt like his eyes were as bright as the stars when he spoke. The meaning was obvious, but she wasn’t sure if the warning was for him and for her.

Her heart twitched and she turned her head. “High God is surely jesting, how could I, Shěn Lí, dare have illusions about High God. Shěn Lí only requests High God refrain from teasing.”

“I’m afraid that too is beyond my control.” He interrupted her. He smiled while speaking such irresponsible words. “I can’t resist teasing you.”

This guy . . .

Shěn Lí clenched her fists, trying her best to reign in her anger. She stared straight at him and disrespectfully asked. “What do you mean by that?” He just talked about his heavy responsibility, about how he couldn’t afford to be emotionally attached to others, but the way he spoke just now, wasn’t he binding her to him?

He was pushing her away with one hand while holding onto her with the other. Shěn Lí wasn’t going to take it. “There’s something wrong with you!”

Xíng Zhǐ nodded. “I’ve always been me. Is there something wrong with being me?”

What kind of admission was this?

Shěn Lí stared at him. She was swamped by so many emotions in that moment, and yet she couldn’t say a word. The room fell silent; even the spiritual tablets returned to their original positions.

It took a moment for Shěn Lí to sort out her thoughts and react. This guy was so mean! Using such ambiguous language to describe something so honestly. His feelings . . . they couldn’t be allowed to exist.

But he said he couldn’t do it, so . . . it was up to her. She nodded decisively. “Since that’s the case,” Shěn Lí took a deep breath, suppressed the feelings in her chest and in a loud clear voice stated, “this king will resolve the problem for High God.”

It wasn’t really something she could do alone, but what else could she say? The one, who bore the responsibility for everything in the world, chose this moment to act willfully in front of her.

Then so be it. There was nothing under Heaven she couldn’t sever.[notes]

A slow smile formed on Xíng Zhǐ’s face. “Thank you, Your Highness.” He looked at her pitch-dark eyes reflecting the stars, and for a moment lost himself. He turned away and blinked. “I hope Your Highness treats not only the symptoms, but the root cause as well.”

Shěn Lí sneered. “I will definitely live up to your expectations.” She turned to leave but was stopped by a, “Your Highness,” from Xíng Zhǐ.

Shěn Lí waited for him to speak.

“There is one request I wish to make.” Xíng Zhǐ continued on without waiting for Shěn Lí’s agreement. “I do not know how long I will live for or when exactly I my life will end, but if one day my divine form disappears and my divine presence is absorbed into the natural world again, I hope, Your Highness, that in your free time, you will come and visit and sweep this place where my memorial will one day lay.[notes]

Despite Shěn Lí’s determination, she couldn’t help but turn around. “Why me?”

“Because I like seeing you.”

He understood better than anyone how quickly memories faded. Physical reminders helped prolong those memories, so that was why he wanted her to visit his memorial. But he knew even those memories would also fade.

The day she no longer remembered him . . . he would be so lonely.

cliffs notes
I try to normalize my translations, but in this instance it would have taken too much effort to normalize it while keeping the formal tone. I didn't want to bother, so even though it is awkward as hell, I'm just leaving it be. The cliffs notes are an extremely casual interpretation I envision them having if they were just chatting for fun.
48: Are You Really?

48: Are You Really?

[March 6, 2021]
 . . .

Tomorrow would be the Hundred Flower banquet.

It wasn’t difficult for two people with magical abilities to avoid one another, so Shěn Lí and Xíng Zhǐ hadn’t seen each other since the day with the tablets.

Xíng Zhǐ cooked Shěn Lí tasty meals and left them by her door for the first two days after that, but he stopped when he saw she hadn’t touched her food.

Even if she wasn’t eating his home cooked meals, Shěn Lí wasn’t going to starve herself. She didn’t like immortals in the Immortal realm, but she had to go out every day to find something to eat. She wandered over to the banquet venue intending to pilfer some fruits.

She picked up a couple peaches and was in the middle of turning around when from behind her who did appear and stare at her but Goddess Luò Tiānherself.

Shěn Lí coughed. “The peaches in the Immortal realm are quite big,” she said before putting the peaches back.

“They are not big in comparison to others. Those peaches came from a tree that began fruiting a hundred years ago. They’re nothing special. Taste it, then taste the other plate of peaches over here. These came from a tree that fruited 500 years ago. Judge the quality after you’ve tried both.”

Shěn Lí blinked. This . . . was this letting her eat whatever she wanted?

Yōu Lán made a weird face before turning her head awkwardly. She walked closer and picked up three peaches along with a jug of wine. She shoved them into Shěn Lí’s arms before walking away shaking her head.

Shěn Lí stared at the food in her arms, not sure how to react. What was that? Was she trying to choke her to death with immortal peaches? Frame her for theft?

Shěn Lí turned to the maid, who was bustling about preparing things, and asked, “Your goddess handed these to me. It’s not counted as stealing if I take them, right?”

The maid was surprised. “Your Highness must be jesting. Goddess Luò Tiāngave them to you; it is certainly not stealing.”

Shěn Lí raised an eyebrow before biting into a peach enthusiastically.

She walked leisurely back to the residence with wine and peaches in hand, munching as she did. Once she reached her room, she realized something was not right. Her energy was so low she barely made it into bed. She buried herself under the covers muttering as she did so. “I knew this place was no good for me . . .”[notes]

 . . .

Shěn Lí slept soundly and would not have woken had the bells not tolled to signal the start of the banquet. It rang through the nine levels of the Immortal realm 81 times.[notes]

She stretched under the blanket before peeking out from underneath it. The color of the sky jolted her completely awake. She was attending on behalf of the Demon realm. Being late would be incredibly unseemly! She got up, then quickly tied her hair before pushing open her door to exit her room.

Xíng Zhǐ was nowhere in sight.

That guy! He hadn’t even bothered to call her awake. But she quickly doused the anger that rose in her heart, after all it wasn’t like they were housemates who were on good terms. She was about to call a cloud to ride over when a red light streaked across the sky.

She frowned thinking it was a fireworks display, but instead of blowing up it kept getting closer. She was wondering whether to block it or not when it accelerated towards the main hall. Then with a loud boom, it crashed into the roof. The ground shook while a part of the structure collapsed in flames. Hot air rose up and engulfed the area. The flames spread upwards and tinted the sky a smoky, bloody, red.

Was the Immortal realm under attack?

Shěn Lí raised her head and looked into the distance as the thought flashed through her mind. She watched as another fireball came barreling toward the residence. It smashed into the wing with the spiritual memorial tablets.

The memory of Xíng Zhǐ’s smile jabbed at her heart. She immediately flew over without hesitation.

She groaned as she pulled up a semi-circular barrier around the residence. She hadn’t recovered her full strength after cleansing in the water, so she expected to have some difficulties, but the force of the fireball was beyond her expectations.

It was incredibly hot with a powerful amount of forward thrust. She would have already burnt to a crisp if it weren’t for the phoenix fire inside her.[notes]

The roof tiles beneath her feet gave a cracking sound as they disintegrated under intense pressure. Shěn Lí growled through gritted teeth. Golden light formed around her as magic coalesced in the air. She released the overwhelming power in a direct wave at the fireball. It shattered from within. The only remnants were the tiny sparks fluttering around the wing.

Shěn Lí stood on the roof with blood dripping from her hands. The wound on her back from Little Disaster had reopened, but there was no time to rest. Another fireball was coming.

Shěn Lí’s face was grave, but her eyes were filled with fierce determination. She would not hide nor would she retreat.

 . . .

After the 81st bell tolled, the Immortal emperor bowed to Xíng Zhǐ. “High God please, your seat.”

The emperor couldn’t sit in the most esteemed position with Xíng Zhǐ there. Of course that spot belonged to the high god. It was a shame no one knew how much Xíng Zhǐ disliked the seat though. Cold, hard, white jade, stone . . . it was the most uncomfortable.

A sudden red light streaking across the sky got everyone’s attention.

“Whose house does that light belong to? So beautiful -,” murmured one immortal.

Before he could finish speaking, a loud bang sounded and the western sky turned bright red. It made the cloud tops tremble and the tableware rattle. Cups and bowls fell in disarray. No one knew how to react, so the initial cries of surprise gave way to silence.

Unease rose in Xíng Zhǐ’s heart as he watched several more balls of fire chase after the initial red light.

“Report!” The guard’s sharp voice was particularly harsh in the silence.

An imperial bodyguard ran in to report. His armor, though cumbersome, made a pleasant sound as he moved. As well as being music to the ears, it was also quite beautiful to look at. But unfortunately none present were in the frame of mind to admire it.

The guard shouted in panic. “The west . . . the western sky courtyard is under attack!”

The immortals were visibly shocked.

The guard continued in a trembling, hoarse voice. “The western sky is burning!”

No one saw when Xíng Zhǐ left, they just felt the breeze of his movement. By the time they turned to look, he was already gone. Only then did the emperor recover. He hurriedly called the generals and assigned a task to everyone. As for the western sky, he personally led a group to go over.

The Azure Sky king came to the Immortal realm on the Demon emperor’s behalf, but she never showed up at the banquet. It was safe to assume she was still in the western sky. If she was attacked . . . it would be difficult to explain. Moreover, the spiritual tablets were also enshrined there. The emperor knew how important the tablets were to High God. He couldn’t allow any of them to be lost. If the Immortal realm failed to guard them appropriately, and High God became angry . . .

 . . .

The roof tiles under Shěn Lí’s feet had all shattered under the onslaught. Shěn Lí cursed the idiots in the Immortal realm. Such an important place and not a single enchantment! It had been so long, yet no one had shown up to help. Did none of them have eyes? How were they missing such an explosively glaring attack? How could no one have already taken down the culprit yet?

The Immortal realm had lived too long in peace. Their brains were mush! If the Demon realm attacked, the Immortal realm would be conquered in no time at all. The bunch of good-for-nothing, party-drinkers would surrender within a day.

Another fireball came her way. This one was heavier and fiercer than the ones before. Shěn Lí heard the roof beams creaking under her. The roof wouldn’t hold out for too much longer, but the attacks didn’t show signs of stopping.

Shěn Lí gritted her teeth. So unfair! She liked to fight fast and hard so her offense was good but her defense was lousy. But this entire time she was forced to hold up a protective spell. It would have felt better being slashed by the enemy!

The wound on her back had been oozing blood since it reopened, so her clothes were soaked red and she was woozy from blood loss and qi depletion. She felt like she was running on empty.

Fireballs kept bombarding her enchantment and she was forced into a crouch. The most troubling thing was the tiny flames. Without enough qi to exert a complete shield around her body, they were able to pierce through her thin barrier and singe her skin.

Her cheeks bore red marks from the flames. The superficial wounds didn’t concern her, but she was worried about the flames getting to her eyes. In that moment a flame did come near her eyes. Shěn Lí unconsciously closed them and turned her head to avoid the flames.

Another fireball hit just as she was distracted. The impact made her legs go soft and her one knee buckled under pressure. She hit the roof hard. With a tremendous crack, the beam failed and the space Shěn Lí stood collapsed inward.

Her breathing hitched at the sudden blow, causing her blood vessels to dilate. She tried to suppress it but blood spilled out of the corners of her mouth anyway.

A burst of cool air wrapped around her and alleviated the pain. Was she hallucinating?

Shěn Lí didn’t have time to think it through. This was the first time she was forced into such an abysmal condition without even the chance to see the enemy. Really unacceptable!

She was met with a giant fireball when she raised her head back up. That this was bad flashed through her mind. A severe cold suddenly seized her body and the pressure she felt disappeared. White fabric came into view and the outline of someone’s back appeared in front of her.

He wore his bun in a more ornate style for the banquet. The hot air made his clothes and hair flutter mesmerizingly in the wind, but he never lost his lazy air.

Shěn Lí raised a hand to her chest feeling her heart. The violent beating from before had calmed. His body had sufficiently blocked the heat and pressure for her.

That back of his really gave her a strong sense of security – a rare thing for her to feel.

The oncoming fireball brought a surge of heat with it. The intense pressure felt like it would vaporize everything, but he was unphased and stood calmly waiting for it. He only needed to gently probe forward to make the ball stop. It couldn't move an inch. It was like arresting a vicious dog with a tight leash.

“Go!” Xíng Zhǐ shouted as he waved his sleeve to send it back to wherever it came from.

Just like that . . . it was tossed back. He made it look so easy.

Shěn Lí finally understood why the gods weren’t allowed to follow their personal desires. Just one wave, and there was so much power. To allow them to act willfully, to follow their heart’s desires . . . with that kind of power . . . wouldn’t it wreak havoc in world?

The spot the ball returned to lit up in flames. The attacks stopped.

Shěn Lí was amused thinking how flustered he had to look. With the tension gone, she was finally able to relax. All that blood loss was too much and she fell back, rolling off the roof.

Xíng Zhǐ naturally grabbed her before she hit the ground, but surprisingly, he did more than just hold her.

A warm hand pressed against her drenched back. A cool hand lightly caressed her burned cheeks.

Shěn Lí felt like Xíng Zhǐ’s face was magnifying before her eyes. She could read his eyes even if she was too weak to gauge anything else around her.

Xíng Zhǐ was angry. “Shěn Lí, do you not want live anymore?”

“I wouldn’t have died.” Her voice was tired and small. “Just tired.”

“You injured yourself so much for this place?” It was obvious how much will it took for him to control his emotion. “You . . . do you have no heart?”

“I couldn’t . . .” Shěn Lí couldn’t keep her eyelids from drooping. Her tired muscles could barely support her head. She finally just pressed her forehead against his shoulders. Her voice came out small and fuzzy. “I couldn’t . . . let you regret losing it.”

That day, the image of Xíng Zhǐ’s bright eyes and warm smile had engraved itself in her heart. It was only a quick glance, but she would never forget it.

His fingers shook as if he was struggling with something. He wrapped one arm around her body while cradling the back of her head with the other. He held her fiercely against him, sometimes tightly, sometimes loosely. It was as though he couldn’t modulate his strength.

For there to be someone like her in the world . . . he was completely weak in front of her.

He touched her hair with a finger and bent close to her ear. His expression was a mix of helplessness and bitterness, but mostly bitterness. “Your Highness, are you genuinely trying to help me control my emotions?”

The emperor and his guards finally arrived. The residence was completely destroyed and burned to ashes. The only thing still standing was the wing Shěn Lí tried so hard to protect. High God was holding the Azure Sky king in front of the rubble with his back to them. They couldn’t see his face.

The scene startled the emperor. “Immortal High God . . .”

“Do not come any closer.” Xíng Zhǐ’s voice was light. “I’m helping the Azure Sky king heal her wounds right now. No one is allowed to approach.”

Of course no one dared disobey.

Xíng Zhǐ continued to embrace Shěn Lí in front of everyone. It was a surprising image to witness. The mighty and impressive the Azure Sky king, when compared to High God, was actually rather petite.

Right, the king was a woman so it was normal for her to be slender and petite . . .

49: Feint

49: Feint

[March 13, 2021]
 . . .

Three days after the emperor ordered a thorough investigation into the attack, the fireball thrown by Xíng Zhǐ was discovered in the northern most part of the Immortal realm. The area was utterly destroyed. Bodies of the dead were scattered about, as though they were purposefully left there to be investigated. There wasn’t a single living soul found. Ultimately, even after searching for so long, the Immortal soldiers had nothing substantial to show for their efforts. The rate of the investigation greatly concerned the wiser immortals. The most worrisome thing of all was the culprit . . .

It wasn’t an attack from monster beasts or citizens of the Demon realm, but rather an attack from the Northern Sea clan.[notes] They were a peaceful group who hadn’t provoked a war in thousands of years, and yet they had attacked the Immortal realm so ferociously.

Considering what they dared in the Immortal realm . . . what atrocities could they have dared in the Lower realms?

The emperor was furious. He immediately sent people northward to find out. However, before news returned, the emperor’s face paled upon reading an urgent missive from the Demon realm. It was dated five days ago.

 . . .

With the western sky residence no longer habitable, Shěn Lí had to return to Fú Róng’s. He placed a powerful enchantment around her rooms to prevent anyone from taking advantage of her in her weakened state.

Xíng Zhǐ followed along and moved in as well.

Fú Róng was left feeling incredibly stifled. With two such illustrious people under his roof, he had to be on his best behavior.

He had called an acquaintance over to play but the other party only laughed at him. “You, look at this. The Azure Sky king suffered so much that even the emperor is angry about it and High God is personally treating her injuries. You’re not even married, and yet both the emperor and High God supports her so much. Apparently, her reputation in the Demon realm is also very strong. In the future, Lord Fú Róng you . . . hahaha.”

Fú Róng’s face turned green at the words. He angrily swept the game pieces off the table, flinging them to the ground. “If you’re just here to be sarcastic and give me a hard time then you can get lost! Scram!”

The visiting party wasn’t offended in the least. Instead, the whole thing made him laugh, which of course only served to make Fú Róng even angrier.

A burst of footsteps, fast and urgent sounded, preceding Yōu Lán’s entrance into the garden. She frowned at the scene and in a cold voice asked Fú Róng, “Where is Azure Sky king, Shěn Lí?”

Startled, Fú Róng rubbed his forehead in distress. “I say Imperial Sister, please refrain from adding more to the chaos. The Azure Sky king has High God protecting her. You can’t do as you please. Just calmly, calmly go back OK?”

Yōu Lán gave Fú Róng a cold stare. She repeated her question. “Where is Azure Sky king, Shěn Lí?”

Fú Róng finally realized something was wrong. “In – in the back wing. I set a barrier so she could heal without interruption.”

“Escort me.” She took a couple of steps forward but turned back to glare sharply at him when she noticed he wasn’t following behind.

The look made him tremble in fear and he hastily walked forward. As he led her over he asked, “What happened?” however, she ignored him.

Fú Róng suddenly stopped in front of the door to the courtyard. “I’ll open the barrier. You can go in but I’m not going any farther. High God scares me . . .”

Yōu Lán stepped into the courtyard without hesitating. The enchantment closed up behind her. Apparently Fú Róng had put some thought toward Shěn Lí’s recuperation. The winding path was peaceful, separated from the bustle of the rest of the residence, and was dotted with fragrant trees and plants.

Though Yōu Lán increased her pace as she walked, she stopped short of exiting the pathway. She could just make out Shěn Lí and High God’s outlines through the trees. It looked like they were arguing and Shěn Lí wasn’t happy.

“Why nurse a skin wound for so long! It’s a waste of time!” Shěn Lí stood inside the doorway while Xíng Zhǐ stood just outside of it with his hands on the frame, clearly blocking her path. He was calm; however, it was clear Shěn Lí was anxious.

“Let me leave!”

“You can’t leave until your injuries are fully healed.” Xíng Zhǐ spoke softly.

“They are healed. Those fireballs weren’t as strong as you think . . .”

“If it weren’t for the abundance of spiritual energy in the room and my friends protecting you with their power, do you really think you can talk so energetically right now?”

Shěn Lí was surprised. She recalled the cool breeze at her back. So . . . it turned out they had used their spiritual energy to help her. The ancient gods really were amazing. Even in tablet form, they were able to help others. “In that case, I must ask High God to thank the ancient gods on my behalf the next time you go to pay your respects. Since they protected me, my injury was light and I am completely healed, so please let me leave already.”

“Absolutely not.”

“Why do you insist on keeping me here?!”

“Why do you insist on leaving so much?”

Shěn Lí smiled. “It has been five days, and yet the Immortal realm still failed to capture the mastermind. Even if the ones sent to investigate only left the day before yesterday, they should have returned by now. The trip doesn’t take that long. In all the time they have been gone, I could have made ten round trips already. Clearly, they got lost along the way!” Shěn Lí scornfully said. “They’re so efficient!”

Xíng Zhǐ smiled. “Those who should be in a hurry, aren’t. But the one that shouldn’t be, is.”

“I’m practically dying, being cooped up in here!” Shěn Lí gritted her teeth and muttered to herself. “In the old days, I would have taken my spear and hunted those bastards down already.”

“You resent having been beaten before so you want to return the favor.” Xíng Zhǐ smiled as he revealed her true motivations.

Shěn Lí’s eyes widened. Anger made her lips quirk just the tiniest bit. It was barely discernable, but Xíng Zhǐ saw it.

From his vantage point looking down at her, he could see a faint bump on her cheeks. The burn had left patches of uneven skin. This guy . . . He remembered how she fell into his arms that day. He wanted to test the injury by rubbing his thumb across it, but he didn’t.

Whether they be internal or external, Shěn Lí’s exceptional healing abilities meant her injuries normally healed quickly. After only five days and the skin on her abdomen was already healed enough that the only thing visible was a minor skin discoloration.

“I will help you.”

Shěn Lí looked up in shock at Xíng Zhǐ’s gentle tone. Then she slapped his hands away with a pop. She stared at him; her eyes cold.

Several fingerprints marked Xíng Zhǐ’s wrist. He stared back at Shěn Lí for a moment before lowering his hand and hiding them back inside his sleeve. He smiled, not knowing what to say.

“High God.” Yōu Lán spoke up from the pathway. She walked forward and bowed. “High God, Your Highness.”

Shěn Lí and Xíng Zhǐ looked at Yōu Lán. She spoke up before they could say anything. “Your Highness, His Majesty requests your presence in Líng Xiāo hall. There is a matter of utmost importance.”

Yōu Lán’s solemn tone made Shěn Lí frown. She said, “Lead the way.”

Xíng Zhǐ raised a brow. “Why not send a messenger to deliver the message?”

“High God, this is too important.” Yōu Lán said after a bit of thought.

“Then let us go together.” Xíng Zhǐ nodded.

 . . .

Civil servants and military personnel stood in two rows on opposite sides of each other in Líng Xiāo hall. The Immortal emperor’s expression was serious as he sat on the throne. His brows wrinkled visibly at the sight of Shěn Lí and Xíng Zhǐ approaching. “Azure Sky king, this is a letter from the Demon realm. Please take a look.”

Shěn Lí took the letter presented by the attendant. Her face paled as she read through it. “When did this letter arrive?”

“Five days ago.” The emperor sighed. “Everyone had been busy with the fire and the attack, so this letter was forgotten. It was only today that someone presented it to me.”

Shěn Lí’s face was cold as she asked, “Your Majesty, what happened?”

“The Northern Sea clan attacked your capital. The emperor is in a coma and several generals have perished. It is an extremely precarious situation.”

Shěn Lí’s face tightened more at every sentence spoken. This report was from five days ago, things could have only gotten worse since then.

The Immortal realm’s efficiency . . . Shěn Lí had no words, besides, complaining about an ally wasn’t productive. Time was of the essence; she needed to keep calm and think clearly. She closed her eyes and calmed the emotions roiling in her heart. It didn’t take long before she spoke. “This feint was used as a distraction to divert our attention while the real target was attacked.”

They would not have focused on such a secluded area if they were genuinely intent on attacking the Immortal realm, nor for that matter, would they have launched the attack from such a strange location. It was only meant to distract those in the Immortal realm, making officials and soldiers run around and neglect their normal duties. A distraction meant to create havoc so the Immortal realm would be too distracted to assist the Demon realm. The enemy used the opportunity to attack their main target. The Demon emperor lay in a coma and several generals were dead.

The generals, they were all elite soldiers, every single one of them. The Demon realm shouldn’t have suffered such heavy casualties.

“Requesting Your Majesty’s permission to return to the Demon realm.”

“Of course, that is only natural.” The emperor waved his hand and an attendant brought forward several boxes with pills. “Azure Sky king, give these pills to the Demon emperor. For His Majesty to be in coma, the injuries cannot be light. We have already ordered the formation of a troop to be sent to assist the Demon realm. The culprit will be captured quickly.”

“Many thanks for Your Majesty’s kindness.” Shěn Lí accepted the boxes and promptly turned to leave.

After he watched Shěn Lí’s figure disappear, the emperor turned to Xíng Zhǐ and asked, “High God, what are your thoughts on the matter.”

“It is not a coincidence that the Demon realm was attacked while the Immortal realm was distracted. It is clear to see a power struggle is happening just by using simple common sense. The evidence pointing to the Northern Sea clan may be another ruse as well."

The emperor nodded. “High God is of the same mind as myself. The Demon realm has been under the Immortal realm’s jurisdiction for a long time now. There are many who are dissatisfied and seek to wreak havoc in the shadows. They wish to overthrow the current Demon emperor and place a usurper on the throne. This new emperor will surely be troublesome for the Immortal realm.”

Officials and military personnel began whispering amongst themselves so the hall grew a little noisy.

The emperor turned toward Xíng Zhǐ. “These recent events . . . High God must be tired from rushing around. On top of that, the banquet was a failure. I am truly incompetent.”

Under normal circumstances Xíng Zhǐ would have made a polite comment of disagreement, but this time he remained silent, which suggested he agreed with the sentiment.

Those in the hall followed the emperor’s lead and became silent.

The emperor coughed twice in embarrassment before speaking. “The Celestial realm is the source of the world’s vitality. High God has been away for some time now and the world is filling with polluted energy . . . it has become heavy . . . High God . . .”

“I will return to Celestial realm tomorrow.” Xíng Zhǐ uttered before walking away.

His sudden departure left the hall in silence.

“It is clear for all to see. This incidence has exposed many of the Immortal realm’s shortcomings. Such a minor event and the entirety of the Immortal realm is in chaos. We have lived comfortably in peace for too long. It is time to investigate and reorganize,” declared the emperor.

 . . .

Shěn Lí was walking towards the southern gates, when for some inexplicable reason, she stopped and looked back. She saw Xíng Zhǐ staring calmly at her from not too far away. She clasped her fists and gave a deep bow. “My thanks to High God for your hospitality these past few days. I bid you farewell.”

Xíng Zhǐ’s lips moved. He lowered his head and seemed to whisper something. “I will restrain myself properly this time.”

It wasn’t clear if Shěn Lí heard, but she left without hesitation, her unbound hair drawing an arc in the air as she swiftly turned around and exited through the gate.

Xíng Zhǐ would come to think about that day more than once, wondering why he didn’t call out to her, why he willingly let her go so easily.

After all, there was more he had wanted to say . . .

50: Fú Shēng Reappears

50: Fú Shēng Reappears

[March 20, 2021]

Shěn Lí could tell the air had worsened considerably the moment she stepped in the Demon realm. It was far worse than the usual miasma. A powerful sense of ruthless maliciousness permeated the atmosphere, which was three times more polluted than before. Even those in the capital were anxious.

Shěn Lí had a calm expression on her face as she walked from the center boulevard to the royal palace. It was clear from the scope of damage how much turmoil the Demon realm had been in. The buildings were blown to pieces, the once snow-white banners now lay in a heap, neglected to the side, while the streets themselves were cold, empty and lifeless. The city resembled a ghost town more than it did a capital.

The guard in front of the palace gate had a strip of white mourning cloth tied around his forehead. His expression was not the usual calm expression expected from a guard. It looked like it took everything he had to affect an imposing air. The guard on the left saw someone approaching, but couldn’t tell who it was. He raised his spear and shouted, “Halt!”

Shěn Lí frowned. “Why are you so flustered?!” The guards were stunned at the harshness of her voice. Upon seeing who it was, one of the guards curled his mouth in an expression that was difficult to read. Was he laughing or crying?

“Your Highness . . . Your Highness is back.” His legs went soft and he crumbled to the ground. He fiercely knocked his head twice against the ground. “Your Highness has returned! Your Highness has returned!”

The other guard stared silently at Shěn Lí as he wiped at the tears in his eyes. Shěn Lí clenched her fists.

“How shameful! To let your king witness this level of emotion.” She continued in a dignified voice. “For this king, no matter what happens afterwards, you are all generals and shouldn't be crying like so. If this king sees you crying again, then chop with you!"

The two guards kowtowed to the ground.

This appeased Shěn Lí. Calmer she asked, “Where is the emperor?”

“Replying to Your Highness, the emperor is recuperating in his room in the palace.”

“He has not awakened yet?”

“No, not yet.”

Shěn Lí’s heart burned. The demon emperor was an excellent strategist and a powerful force to be reckoned with. Not to mention Qīng Yán and Chì Róng were always by his side guarding him.[notes] It would have been extremely difficult to injure him. But now for him to be so gravely injured . . .

Shěn Lí practically dashed to the Demon emperor’s room. She saw maidservants move to and fro before she even got close. They carried basins in their arms. Whatever liquid they emptied out stained the ground red.

Could the emperor’s injuries be worsening? Anxious, Shěn Lí rushed into the chamber. The various officials greeted her as she entered, but she didn’t have the mind to respond and directly walked around the screen instead. The doctor there couldn’t stop her from lifting the curtain around the bed dais.

They had not changed the emperor’s clothes and blood was still dripping from his neck. The cloth that the medical officer pressed to the wound soon became soaked and a new one was replaced by a maidservant as the used cloth was taken away to be washed.

The blood on his lapel, how many times had it been dried only to become soaked again? They only removed the jaw part of his mask feed him. The color of his exposed lips showed how bad his condition was.

His lips . . . they were blue.

Shěn Lí took the boxes out and announced. “These pills are from the Immortal emperor. See if they are of any use.”

The officials did not bother with etiquette and promptly took the box. They poured the pills out one by one. After carefully identifying them, one was placed in the emperor’s mouth. Soon the blue in his lips faded and the blood flow at his neck stopped.

“The pill works! The pill works!” The ecstatic medical officers bowed to Shěn Lí “It is truly the Demon realm’s good fortune to have Your Highness.”

“Enough with the flattery. Tell me about the wound the Demon emperor suffered.”

They looked at each other for a moment until finally and older medical officer replied. “Your Highness, the demon emperor suffered a sword wound to the neck. It was not a heavy wound, just a minor cut, however, because of the poison, the Demon emperor lost consciousness.

Shěn Lí frowned. “What kind of poison?”

“A miasma-type poison. It takes away a person’s rationality before making them lose consciousness. They will not awake afterwards. The poison also affects the body’s ability to heal, so the cut won’t close. This type of miasma poison is different from other types of poisons. It doesn’t harm other living beings, but does tremendous damage to us demons. It’s as though it was designed specifically against the demon race.”

Miasma . . . Shěn Lí couldn’t help but think about Yáng Zhōu city and the poison Fú Shēng had created. The poison hadn’t been that powerful[notes] and was easily disbursed by Xing Zhi. Were the two poisons related?

Shěn Lí stayed by the demon emperor’s side for a while. She Li could imagine how pale his face was underneath the mask. The blue had receded and now they were a pale white color. Her fists clenched on their own as she quietly looked at him. “Where were Qīng Yán and Chì Róng?”

“They were not here when the battle happened.”

Shěn Lí’s face sank. The coincidence was too much; it was like everything had been calculated. She was silent for a moment before asking, “The generals . . . where are the generals who perished?”

“They are still in camp beyond the city. It will be a few days before they can be buried.”


The guard’s voice dropped significantly. “In accordance with military protocol, generals can only be buried after all soldiers have been buried.”

Shěn Lí turned and looked at him blankly. “Five days have passed and the soldiers have not been buried yet?”

The guard bowed his head.

Shěn Lí’s mind went blank. She stood up, then took a slow full breath and closed her eyes to calm her emotions. “Guard the Demon emperor carefully. Make sure he wakes up as soon as possible.” Shěn Lí disregarded proper etiquette and immediately left the chamber after speaking. She called forth a cloud and went outside the city to the military camp.

Even from a distance, Shěn Lí could smell the powerful stench of decay blowing in the wind. She could make out the sounds of people crying as she got closer. They were hoarse, mournful wails of anguish. Shěn Lí quickly flew by the area then swooped down into the army barracks. The soldiers were busy and didn’t see her. She had to drag one over and ask where the generals were.

His gaze was dull. He looked at Shěn Lí for a long time before light slowly shone in them. “Your Highness . . .” He called out in disbelief. He became excited when he saw she didn’t disappear. Grabbing her hand he said, “Your Highness . . . Your Highness is back . . .” His face flushed and he yelled out to everyone, “Her Highness is back!”

Everyone stopped working and looked over at them. They were overjoyed to see Shěn Lí, but their joy only made her heart heavy.

The Demon realm was an organized place with rules and standards. These soldiers shouldn’t behave as though she was their savior. They should behave according to structured protocol and follow whatever plans were laid out, regardless what may have happened prior.[notes] They wouldn’t behave this way normally, even after losing a campaign. And yet now . . .

The situation was more dire than expected.

Two generals appeared in front of Shěn Lí as she was thinking this. She immediately greeted them. “General Dāo Mù, General Shǐ Fāng  . . .” She had only started her greeting when both generals knelt to the ground, and smacked their foreheads against the hard ground in a deep kowtow with a resounding thump.

“This general is incompetent!”

“This general is guilty!”

Their foreheads hit the ground fiercely with a tremendous amount of force, embodying their unreconciled anger and regret.

“Generals . . .” No matter how much she reminded herself to be calm and to remain composed, Shěn Lí couldn’t help but be moved. How big the blow must have been to depress their spirits to such an extent. She reached out to support them up. “Tell me what happened so I can understand properly.”

The generals slowly got up. They led Shěn Lí to the rear barracks as they explained. “Five days ago, a group of men on horseback attacked from the south.” They had only started explaining and the expression on General Dāo Mù’s face was already depressed. Shěn Lí found it strange. In the end, General Shǐ Fāng had to take over. “The other party was only two-hundred strong . . .”

Shěn Lí was shocked. “How many?!”

“Two Hundred.”

Shěn Lí suddenly understood why the soldiers were so demoralized. There were over 100,000 soldiers and 200 generals in the capital, yet they were trampled to such an extent?

“What was the other party’s background?” Shěn Lí’s voice was soft. Even if she hadn't participated in the fight, the numbers hit her hard.

“They flew the flag of the Northern Sea’s clan. Their soldiers were big and wore no armor. They were shirtless and carried no weapons. They fought with their bare hands, breaking necks, and beating everyone to death with brute strength. They ripped people apart, limb from limb.” Shǐ Fāng’s voice was well-modulated and calm, but the words were still shocking to hear. “Their skin was different from ordinary people. The soldiers couldn’t pierce through with swords or spears. The generals with Taoist training were only able to hurt one or two by pouring qi into their weapons.”

“Do we have any remains?”

The two generals glanced at each other. “No, their corpses were taken back by the enemy, but we are certain at least 30 were decapitated. The emperor killed eight or nine by blasting them to pieces.”

Shěn Lí thought for a moment. The description made her think of the three temple men she fought in the mortal realm. If it were them, and there were two hundred of them . . . indeed their strength couldn’t be underestimated. Remembering the mysterious Fú Shēng, Shěn Lí asked, “Did they have a leader?”

“A young man. He looked no different from an ordinary person, except his swordsmanship was strange. He was the one who injured the emperor.”

Fú Shēng’s figure immediately appeared in Shěn Lí’s mind. It made sense once she thought about it that way. The big guys were his subordinates and the poison miasma was his thing. But how was he a member of the Northern Sea clan? He was in the mortal realm capturing land gods before, then just a while ago he feigned an attack on the Immortal realm only to turn around and attack the Demon realm . . .

“He attacked the Demon realm . . . why?”

General Dāo Mù heard her muttering to herself. His hands clenched. “He took the emperor’s golden seal.”

The golden seal represented the ruling authority in the Demon realm. Shěn Lí’s brow furrowed as she thought about the riots happening all over the Demon realm. Was this really about seizing power? What kind of rights could they seize with the seal?

While thinking all this, Shěn Lí reached the funeral hall where the bodies of the fallen generals were stored while they awaited proper burial. Her face was grave. Everyone yielded to Shěn Lí as she entered.

A row of coffins – dozens of bodies. Shěn Lí knew all their names, but some of them, she couldn’t recognize their faces. They were unrecognizable – their bodies weren’t even whole anymore. Shěn Lí stopped in front of a coffin. Only a sword and some broken pieces of armor lay inside. It was covered in a thick layer of blood.

“Who is this?” Shěn Lí asked.

“It is General Mò Fāng.” A general from behind replied. “He was on the battlefield and desperately beheading three of the enemy when he was surrounded all sides. He was swallowed alive . . .”

Mò Fāng  . . . was swallowed by the enemy?


51: Putting the Dead to Rest

c 51

[July 9, 2023]

--See notes at end.--

Shěn Lí shook her head. “Without a body, I won’t believe it.”

The generals remained silent as they bowed their heads. The hall was quiet for a long time until a voice cut through. “I saw it with my own eyes . . .” The general looked defeated. “They ate General Mò Fāng.”

Shěn Lí held onto the coffin as she stared at the broken sword and armor inside. An overwhelming sense of helplessness overtook her and she couldn’t find the ability within her to move.

“I also saw it with my own eyes.” Someone whispered. More and more voices rose to confirm the fact. Shěn Lí had no choice but to believe Mò Fāng was dead. She gripped the coffin so fiercely her fingertips turned white. Kachak, a hand imprint broke into the thick solid wood coffin.

“I understand.” Her small voice sounded like a broken string. It was heart-wrenching. “This king understands . . .”

She lowered her head in silence. The emotions on her face weren’t visible but her posture lacked strength. The woman who always stood straight was at that moment like a hedgehog whose quills had been yanked out.

The emperor lay in his room defeated while the generals suffered a horrific death. If she had been here . . . if she had been here . . . would things have turned out as badly?

After clenching her teeth for a while, Shěn Lí rose and moved away from Mò Fāng’s coffin. Her steps were firm and calm as she slowly walked out of the funeral hall after reading all the names of the fallen.

Shěn Lí knew better than anyone no one ever returned from death. Regret was useless. The best she could do was keep living and move forward.

The air outside the funeral hall was pungent with decay. Shěn Lí stepped onto the training platform and placed one hand on her chest while pointing the other directly at the sky. A white brilliance shone from her body as she chanted. The light spread outward and rose in a brilliant beam toward the sky.

“By my name do I draw the Forgotten river.” The words resounded, deep and full in the air. As her words fell, small bursts of light fluttered from the ground up to the sky like fireflies covering a desolate sky.

Beautiful and sad all at the same time.

From a distance, Shěn Lí could see many people crying as they chased after the drifting lights outside the barracks where the soldiers were buried. Their shrill cries were heartbreaking to hear. It was as though they couldn’t bear to part with the lights.

Shěn Lí dropped her hands and clenched her fists tightly. “I, the Azure Sky king, Shěn Lí, swear on my life this atrocity shall be avenged.” Her voice wasn’t loud, but all the generals below the platform heard her. The wind shifted and lifted strands of her hair up. Countless shining lights floated in front of her, as if her soldiers were using their last ounce of strength to echo her oath.

It was getting late and the moon’s position shifted.

A young man wearing a dark crimson cloak stood quietly by a small river on the grass under a tree. “Oh? Has the Azure Sky king, Shěn Lí returned to the Demon realm?”

“Yes, this subordinate received news Shěn Lí returned to the Demon realm this afternoon.” A masked man in black knelt down and replied respectfully. “She also brought back medicine from the Immortal realm, which was used to heal the Demon emperor. After that, she used soul magic to send off the thousands of lingering souls in the capital.”

“She looks like a savior. No wonder the mediocrities in the Demon realm worship her.” The young man lightly touched the rough bark with his fingertips. “I searched the entire palace but failed to find even a trace of the Phoenix Fire pearl. That guy, Shěn Mùyuè, must have given it to her. It looks like we’ll have to deal with her. . . ”

“General Fú Shēng, we lost fifty-eight men in the last battle, and not all the corpses have been stitched back together, so it will be difficult to fight again anytime soon.”

“It doesn’t matter how powerful Shěn Lí is; she is only one person.” After thinking about it for a moment and muttering to himself, Fú Shēng said, “Take four or five men with you to the Ruins and be sure to make a lot of commotion along the way. We’ll lure her out like this. Then I’ll personally kill her and take the bead myself.”

“Yes.” The man in black agreed but hesitated. “General, what about the young master. . . ?”

Fú Shēng’s eyes turned cold. “Do not let the young master learn of this matter until it is done. The young master’s heart is too soft when it comes to matters regarding Shěn Lí. I will kill Shěn Lí and take the Phoenix Fire bead. Doing this will eliminate any future problems. Even if the young master has objections, there won’t be much he can do if Shěn Lí is already dead.” A puff of black smoke rose from Fú Shēng’s fingertips and hung around the tree. In seconds, it completely enveloped the tree and eventually all the leaves withered and turned black. A small black bead of qi condensed and landed in the palm of Fú Shēng’s hand. He swallowed it in one gulp. “Before you go, find me a few healthy people I can use to adjust my internal energy.”

“This subordinate will do so!”

The wind blew and the withered leaves fell to the ground.

On the second day, after she finished arranging military affairs, Shěn Lí took some time and returned home. Ròu Yā was scared but still in good spirits. Parrot was there too; its feathers had grown back and it was looking much better. The two of them chatted her ears off the moment she stepped through the door, telling her all about the chaos and panic that day. Shěn Lí listened quietly until Ròu Yā paused to take a breath. Shěn Lí patted her head and said, “This king is back, so I won’t let anyone bully you again.”

Ròu Yā, stunned into silence, turned to look at Shěn Lí with red eyes. All she could say was, “Wow.”

She was really scared.

After resting at home for a while, Shěn Lí changed out her clothes for light armor, and was about to return to the palace when Ròu Yā called out to her. She hemmed and hawed for a while before finally saying, “Your Highness, you must take care! Ròu Yā and Parrot will be waiting for you to return!”

Shěn Lí smiled. “It will be fine. I’m just going to the palace; I’ll be back later tonight.”

Ròu Yā nodded, but an inexplicable sense of dread filled her heart as she watched Shěn Lí walk out without a backyard glance. It was as if. . .  as if her master would never return. “Your Highness, take care!” she shouted again.

Shěn Lí waved without turning around. “Got it.”

Although the Demon emperor’s poison was dealt with, he was still in a coma from severe blood loss. His responsibilities were temporarily taken over by the three elders who were now seated in the hall. The civil servants were anxious, but there was nothing they could do. Shěn Lí sat on the left side of the room quietly listening to the officials report on the situation following the chaos and the riots that erupted.

When the attack on the capital occurred, minor revolts sprang up all over the place and troops had been trying to contain the fighting since. Fortunately, things calmed down after a few days. Shěn Lí frowned upon hearing the news. It explained. . . 

“There’s a traitor,” said one of the elders quietly. “Not only because of the amount of violence and chaos, but this old man has been studying the enemy’s retreat for the past few days, and it’s clear they must have had detailed information about the layout of the capital, otherwise they would never have been able to retreat so quickly.”

What was worse was how chaos erupted simultaneously everywhere else. It wasn't just one or two; there had to be traitors throughout the realm.

“Check.” Shěn Lí threw the word coldly. “Not only are these traitors familiar with the local area, they’re also familiar with the structure of the military. They must be members of the army. Arrest anyone who’s been missing and anyone who’s made strange movements in the last battle. Capture them one by one and try them all.”

Shěn Lí wasn’t a soft-hearted person; she gave her orders decisively without hesitation.

“Reporting!” A hurried voice came from outside the hall just before the messenger broke inside. He knelt and clasped his fists in a salute before saying, “My Lords! The. . .  the men with impenetrable bodies have appeared again!”

This shocked everyone. Shěn Lí stood up immediately, her eyes as cold as ice. “Where? How many?”

“There are four or five and they are heading towards the Ruins!”

A commotion broke out in the assembly hall. They all knew there were thousands of monsters in sealed inside the Ruins. If the enemy broke the seal and let loose what was inside, then a catastrophe would be unstoppable.

“The seal around the Ruins will not be broken.” Shěn Lí said, “Everyone, stay calm and don’t be impatient.” She asked the messenger, “Apart from their movement toward the Ruins, have they done anything else?”

“Yes. . .  they’ve burned and killed along the way. . .  wherever they passed, none are left alive. . . ”

Unable to take it anymore, one the of the generals slapped the table and stood up. "Bastards! Destroying everything! Do they take the Demon realm as a joke? Think it’s uninhabited?!" He clenched his fists and knelt to the ground. “This general request permission to go into battle!”

Two other generals immediately followed suit. “This general also asks permission to fight!”

This caused an uproar and some of the civil servants advised, “Those in the capital didn’t have a way to fight them, but is there a way now? Let’s solve the mystery of their bodies first, then we can find a way to win!”

“What? And let them run rampant while we wait?! Even if I have to risk my life, I will –.”

“Shut up!” Shěn Lí scolded coldly. “Are the demon generals here allowed to die so easily? That’s unacceptable.”

The hall fell silent.

Shěn Lí’s armor made a rustling sound as she stood up. “This time I will go out and meet the enemy.”

It's been awhile. Hopefully this story will be done by the end of the year. I corrected a few translation errors and edited some grammatical mistakes. The biggest changes are the accent marks for the names. They help with pronounciation. And because Chinese is tonal, the pronounciation influences the meaning of a word. I think that's important, so I'm keeping them in the translations as best as I can. Eventually, I'll go back and put in my own translation for chapters 1 and 2 as well. That's all. Thanks for reading!
c52: Meeting Again

c52: Meeting Again

[July 18, 2023]

Shěn Lí had experience fighting the beastly men, but she didn’t know if they had gotten stronger since her battle with them. Just in case, Shěn Lí brought three generals with her. All three had fought against the enemy during the invasion of the capital and were more experienced and powerful than the other generals.

“The purpose of this trip is not to kill the enemy, but to capture them alive. It will be beneficial if we can study and learn their weak points, so even if we only capture and bring one back to the capital, it will be good. We can prevent the catastrophic attack from a few days ago from happening again in the future.” Before setting off she said one last thing, “Don’t act recklessly.”

General Dāo Mù smiled. “Does Your Highness think we are fresh recruits? The most important thing on the battlefield is to not be impulsive; we know that.”

“Generals, you are all elites in the army. We must not lose a single person.” Shěn Lí said.

Shěn Lí sighed. She was already wearing her armor and didn’t need to return home to change. Equipped and ready to set out, the four left.

They made good time traveling on clouds as a small group unencumbered by a large army. They were in a hurry, so even though they saw glimpses of destruction left behind by the enemy, they didn’t stop to investigate. Soon, a fire could be seen burning fiercely just north of the Ruins. They rushed forward intent on stopping the enemy from advancing any farther.

Shěn Lí had sharp eyes and saw one of the monstrously strong men gripping a child with both hands. The man’s mouth was open wide, as if he wanted to tear the child up and feast. The child, paralyzed with fear, could only stare at the bloody mouth.

Like a flash of lightning, a silver spear suddenly cut through from the right. And like the blade of a knife, it sliced the man’s hand clean off. Shěn Lí knew how strong their bodies were, so she didn’t hold back when she shot her spear out. The blade hit the ground with a ferocious thud that made the surrounding vegetation tremble and the ground hum with vibrations. The man raised his head and screamed as blood gushed from his arm. The child raised his head, now splashed with blood, in a daze, to look at Shěn Lí’s back. It was as though it hadn’t yet sunk in that he was saved.

Shěn Lí had no time to talk to the child. She picked him up and directly tossed him to the grass behind her. Then, without giving the man time to react, she stepped forward with her spear raised and stabbed him through the heart. The tip of her spear was covered with sharp qi when she did.

Shěn Lí knew it wouldn’t be enough to kill him, but that wasn’t her intention. What she wanted to do was to immobilize him. Before she could pull her spear out, a shout of, “Be careful Your Highness!” came from above her.

A sharp wind was aimed at her back. Shěn Lí dodged the blow, yanked her spear out and swept it across behind her in one smooth motion. She managed to slice into the neck of the man attacking her from behind. The blood from his wound gushed out and instantly stained her red.

Sounds of fighting echoed in the air. Shěn Lí looked up and saw the generals were fighting the enemy. She was surprised. When did these guys learn to fly on clouds? Were they really getting more powerful? Suddenly, she felt a strange movement behind her.

“Azure Sky king, I trust you have been well since we last met?”

Shěn Lí didn’t even bother turning around to look. She clenched her spear tightly in her hand and swept it back with intent to kill. But her spear failed to cut through anything. It felt like she was slicing through cotton; there was no momentum or force. Shěn Lí pulled back and darted ten feet away.

Once she had some distance, she turned around to look at who was behind her. The person was dressed differently, now in green, but the face remained the same. “Fú Shēng?” Shěn Lí called out coldly.

“Hm. Truly a blessing to be remembered by the Azure Sky king.”

His words were polite, but Shěn Lí knew Fú Shēng was a deep schemer. There had to be some kind of conspiracy if he was here in person. Shěn Lí’s brows sank. She could hear the battle between the generals and the enemy still going on. There was no need to confront him head on and create needless casualties. Just as she was thinking of retreating, Fú Shēng spoke.

He said, “To be honest, I came to see the Azure Sky king in person because there’s something I want to request from you.” At this, Shěn Lí sneered, but before she could say anything, Fú Shēng continued. “However, I do not believe you will agree. . . ”

Killing intent suddenly thickened around him and his eyes became cold. “I will have to trouble Your Highness to leave your life behind here.”

“Dream on.” Shěn Lí’s eyes turned even colder in the face of such naked provocation.

Neither made a move, but the temperature around them gradually dropped until it was bitingly cold. The vegetation between them was torn silently to shreds then crumbled to ashes. As their auras expanded farther outward, the trees became affected. Branches swayed and leaves trembled left and right, left and right. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before all the leaves scattered and the branches became bare. Then, with a violent pop, the tree trunks exploded.

“Ah!” The child hiding behind a tree screamed in pain and was shot two feet away by the explosion.

Things couldn’t continue on like this!

The child’s cry was like a switch that ignited Shěn Lí’s nerves. She held her spear in her hand as she kicked forward with her toes and shot forward like an arrow. Fú Shēng didn’t dodge to avoid her, instead he waited for her attack.

A strong aura pressed down toward the ground forcing Shěn Lí’s spearhead to go off course a little. Fú Shēng sidestepped, and with his hands turned into claws, reached out for Shěn Lí’s heart. But it was like Shěn Lí had eyes in the back of her head; she pulled her spear back and slammed the butt end into Fú Shēng’s hand. It didn’t look like a hard hit, but it burned his skin on contact and left behind a charred mark.

Shěn Lí had made her spear extremely hot with a fire spell sometime earlier.

The child looked at Shěn Lí with bright eyes with worship and admiration. And when she waved her hand at him, he was clever enough to understand her meaning and obediently ran away.

Shěn Lí turned around, then jumped ten paces away from Fú Shēng. Her spear glinted. “A present for you.” She still remembered being burned from the attack in the Immortal realm.

Fú Shēng raised his head up and laughed after looking at his scorched hand. “Interesting! Interesting! You are indeed worthy to be my opponent.” He didn’t even pause; as soon as he finished speaking, he was on the move and was ten times faster than before. He rushed forward and fought Shěn Lí without a blade or sword, but empty handed with just his claws.

Their figures blended together, sometimes they were like the wind struggling in the sky, sometimes they were like twinkling lights trailing away before fading out.

It only took Shěn Lí an instant to use over a hundred moves on him. The longer she fought, the stranger she felt. Fú Shēng’s movements were similar to her own. The subtle differences were only discernible upon closer inspection. The opening moves, the closing moves, they should have been resolute and clear, but when he used them, they were devious and treacherous and quite hard to guard against.

“Azure Sky king, are you taking this seriously?”

The two stood apart on opposite sides. Fú Shēng smiled strangely, “I think your subordinates are working harder than you.”

Shěn Lí looked down when she heard this. Below, she saw the three generals fighting. Initially it was three against three, but now it was three against four. The man whose neck she sliced earlier had joined in the fight below. The generals were already struggling when it was an even fight, but now with the odds against them, their position was even more perilous. Two were injured enough that they couldn’t fight well. Shěn Lí saw how critical the situation was.

Panicked, she made to rush down. But was Fú Shēng going to let her? Of course not. He followed closely behind and hindered her movements.

“Get out of the way!” Shěn Lí was furious.

“Forgive me, but I can not obey that command.” Fú Shēng stretched his hand forward and his nails grew longer. He closed his fingers together and used them like a knife cutting in front of Shěn Lí. “Your Highness will be my opponent.”

As he was speaking, one of the men below hit General Dāo Mù in the abdomen. Shěn Lí grew even more anxious when she saw the general spit out a mouthful of blood. Red light surged deep in her eyes as demon aura surged around her body.

“I said, go away!” She waved her spear, and Fú Shēng raised his hand to block. Fú Shēng’s nails were harder than Shěn Lí imagined, and Shěn Lí’s spear was tougher than Fú Shēng expected. They fought fiercely in close combat. Both were shaken by the other’s strength and forced several feet apart. Shěn Lí grabbed the chance and rushed toward the generals without hesitation, while Fú Shēng stood still looking at his nails; his eyes flickered. Then he chased after Shěn Lí again.

Shěn Lí let out a low guttural shout before using the blade of her spear to cut the head off one enemy. It created an opening for the generals, and they fell to the ground. Shěn Lí’s spear embedded into the ground and red flames surrounded them, acting as a protective barrier.

“Earth Escape Technique! I’ll take the rear!”

Before the generals could say anything, five sharp nails penetrated the flame barrier and tore it open. Shěn Lí clenched her teeth and the red light in her eyes shone more intensely. Where ever she moved her spear, heat waves followed. She managed to force Fú Shēng back several steps. In the pause, she shouted, “Retreat!”

This way she could find a way to escape without having to worry about the generals.

The generals understood the situation. The most troublesome factor was the young stranger in green and not the men they were fighting earlier. The generals were already injured; delaying any longer would only drag Her Highness down. They looked at each other, then began chanting the escape spell. Suddenly a roar interrupted the spell. Two more enemies rushed out of the bushes toward them.

The two generals stood in front of the injured General Dāo Mù to protect him. They were in front and no one noticed another enemy come from behind. It was the same man Shěn Lí had earlier cut a hand off and stabbed through the heart. Unexpectedly, he had been laying low the entire time. Now he climbed up and bit General Dāo Mù’s calf. General Dāo Mù clamped down on his teeth to endure the severe pain. He raised his blade and slashed downward, cutting off the attacker’s head entirely. He didn’t want to risk not completing the job.

The enemies they were fighting in the sky earlier dropped down and surrounded the generals. It was too late. The two generals couldn’t protect General Dāo Mù. They only heard the scream in time to watch as General Dāo Mù was dragged away and torn apart. Blood splattered on the ground. Bite after bite, his flesh tumbled into the enemies' bellies.

Shěn Lí, who was leading Fú Shēng away, ignored the screams and only caught a glimpse of the scene from out of the corner of her eye. She was so dazed by the sight, she didn’t even feel Fú Shēng’s five fingers slash across her back.

It turned out. . .  they did eat people.

It turned out. . .  the generals of her world were killed in a bloody field like this.

Fú Shēng laughed wildly. “This scene, isn’t it beautiful? My lovelies can eat their fill in these battles!”

The generals she valued so much, the people who fought with her to protect the land, they became food. . . 

Shěn Lí lowered her head and gritted out, “You bastard. . . ” She gripped her spear so hard her fingertips turned white. “You absolute bastard.” She was about to step toward the generals when Fú Shēng reached out to stop her.

“You are not allowed to save anyone before we finish our fight. . . ”

Fú Shēng was startled when Shěn Lí raised her head sharply at his words. Blood trailed down from Shěn Lí’s eyes, coloring the white of her eyes and her pupils nearly crimson. Bright red liquid built up like a sticky pool before sliding out the corners of her eyes and down her cheeks and eventually dripping to the ground. And in an instant, the air became turbulent, like a hurricane swirling and sweeping in. Shěn Lí’s golden headband broke and her hair scattered about in the powerful wind. Her hair slowly turned red, as if magma was coming out of the roots to the tips.

Shěn Lí felt an extremely hot qi surge in her abdomen, slowly boiling her blood and burning dry her rationality. Her spear rose from the white mist and the turbulent air around her abruptly stilled. She moved suddenly, and in the blink of an eye, disappeared from her spot by Fú Shēng and appeared amid the men. She didn’t use her spear, but instead used her palm to slap one of them on the head.

The man’s head instantly erupted in flames.

His scream was harsh enough to pierce eardrums, but it was as if Shěn Lí didn’t even hear it. She turned and slapped another one in the chest, and he also ignited.

It took her less than three moves to touch all enemy men. Each burned. And when they became cinders, she turned to a general and waved her palm as though to hit him as well. But her palm stopped just three inches shy of her target.

Shěn Lí bowed a little and shook her head confused, as if she was trying her best to regain her senses. Finally, she turned and glared at Fú Shēng with bloodshot eyes. It only took an instant for her to land in front of him. “Damn you, die!” The words came out with difficulty. As soon as she finished, she swung her claws at him.

Fú Shēng tried blocking with his hand, but his nails, which were as hard as iron before, were suddenly soft. As a result, there was nothing to stop Shěn Lí from slapping his cheeks. The sound was extremely loud. Fú Shēng retreated several feet away and immediately used an ice technique. He held his hand to the cheek Shěn Lí hit and the ice and fire clashed. He didn’t show discomfort from the pain, but his eyes were even colder.

“Truly worthy to be called. . .  Phoenix.”

His words were mumbled and vague. Before he could heal his injured cheek, Shěn Lí charged forward again. Her spear gave off a dazzling light and was unstoppable as it came forward with thunderous momentum. Fú Shēng was dumbstruck. He was being suppressed completely. Forced to retreat, he found an opening and summoned a cloud, then turned around and fled.

Shěn Lí chased after him.

A general shouted up to her from the ground, “Your Highness! Don’t give chase! It’s probably a trap!”

Shěn Lí didn’t hear his words, and she disappeared as she chased after Fú Shēng’s vanishing figure.

The two went all the way to the Human world where Fú Shēng escapted to the sea. Shěn Lí was struck by how heavy the moist air was. Fú Shēng took advantage of her distraction and sent a signal to the sky. A short moment later, several men in black appeared beside him.

When Shěn Lí turned and swept her spear through the air, sending billowing flames toward them. Two of the men in black didn’t have time to react and were instantly burned to ashes. The others dodged and split up in four directions, chanting a spell in perfect unison as they did so.

The humid air instantly turned icy cold and solidified into sharp tiny slivers. They clung to Shěn Lí’s body as if to envelop her inside. Shěn Lí smirked and the heat in her abdomen became even hotter. Steam came from her body and rose to the sky. Heat circulated and formed clusters of flames on her skin that burned away all the moisture on her body.

Shocked, the men in black said, “My Lord, the Water-Stop technique has no effect on her!”


The familiar term pierced Shěn Lí’s eardrums and conjured the image of a figure in white. In her chaotic mind, she seemed to hear him sigh softly saying, “You put yourself in an awkward situation again.”

How could these guys know a god spell? It was clearly a god spell. . . Shěn Lí was dazed. Fú Shēng saw it and took advantage of it, shouting, “Call all the men here!”

With the one order, a man in black took out a strange musical instrument and blew into it a few times. A roaring hiss responded from a distance. Fú Shēng waved his hand and threw arrows of ice made from the water waves at Shěn Lí.

The approaching murderous aura brought Shěn Lí back to her senses. She didn’t dodge or hide and the flames on her body expanded up and burned all the ice arrows instantly. Fú Shēng missed her movements completely. By the time he felt anything, Shěn Lí was already there and had a hold of his shirt. “You scoundrels, tell me, how did you learn the art of Water-Stop.”

Fú Shēng smiled. “Your Highness seems to be very concerned about god’s affairs.”

Shěn Lí stared at him coldly, then she put her hand on his chest over his heart. It would only take a little effort to burn his heart completely.

Between the lightning and fire, a thunderbolt fell from the sky. Shěn Lí tossed Fú Shēng aside and darted back several feet. The young man with raven hair and dressed all in black couldn’t have been more familiar to her.

“Mò. . . Fāng. . . ”

53: Battle Over the East Sea

c53 story found on

[July 25, 2023]

Mò Fāng looked at Shěn Lí for a long time before lowering his eyes slightly. He turned to Fú Shēng behind him and when he spoke, his voice was cold. “Who gave permission to do this?”

“This subordinate is at fault.” Fú Shēng didn’t plan on denying it. “The Azure Sky king carries something in her body that we need. We must have it. It’s just that, I was afraid Young Master would think of the past and be merciful. So, I went ahead with the plan and hid the matter from Young Master. It would be better for me to eliminate the problem first so there will be less issues in the future.”

“Who gave permission to do this?” Mò Fāng’s voice was stern and the dignified expression on his face was one he never showed in front of Shěn Lí.

Fú Shēng was silent before speaking. “This subordinate chose to make the decision himself.” He looked submissive, but there was disapproval in his eyes. “The Azure Sky king must die today. . . ”

“Leave.” Mò Fāng said the word lightly.

Dissatisfied, Fú Shēng looked at Mò Fāng before repeating, “The Azure Sky king must die.”

Mò Fāng closed his eyes as if he was trying his best to endure. “I said go, that is an order.”

“So be it.” Fú Shēng backed up several paces. “Please forgive this subordinate for disobeying orders then.”

Mò Fāng was furious. He was just about to move when he heard Shěn Lí’s startled voice. “Young Master?”

Mò Fāng clenched his fists involuntarily and turned to look at Shěn Lí. Her eyes were red, and her usually well-groomed hair was scattered in a mess, which only added to her disheveled appearance. The red color of her hair was spreading from her roots. Mò Fāng’s lips moved and an involuntary, “Your Highness,” came out.

“Young Master. . . ” Shěn Lí stared at him blankly, as if she couldn’t understand why the title was there. She sized the two of them up, then scanned the circle of men surrounding her in all directions. Fragments of memories filled her mind: torn armor, broken swords, bodies, military spies familiar with the Demon realm. . . 

It suddenly dawned on her. “It’s turns out. . . it was you.”

Mò Fāng lowered his eyes but didn’t answer.

Shěn Lí stood quietly; her voice came out weak. “Thinking about it, I remember it was I who appointed you to be general in the capital. I’ve known you for three hundred years, and we have fought side by side through so many battles. We have been friends through life and death. I trusted you and treated you as a brother. . . ” Shěn Lí paused. Her breath was slight, and her tone gradually rose. “I ask you, did I not treat you well? Did the Demon emperor not treat you well? Did the Demon realm not treat you well? None has ever harmed you, and yet you’ve killed my people, my generals, and harmed my sovereign! You are a traitor, a rebel, a treasonous general!” Shěn Lí raised her spear and pointed it at Mò Fāng.

“You, speak. Tell me why I shouldn’t kill you.”

Mò Fāng was silent, but Fú Shēng behind him laughed out loud. “If one never joined the army, how can one be a rebel? If one was never a citizen of a country, how can one commit treason against it?!” Fú Shēng raised his voice and continued. “My young master is so precious, if it weren’t for the situation being as it is, do you think he would condescend to lurk in the current Demon realm?! You want to talk about treason and traitors, why don’t we talk about your current Demon emperor that you’re so loyal to right now? That one is the biggest traitor! A thief who stole the country!”

“Shut your mouth!” Mò Fang shouted in a whisper. He looked to Shěn Lí. “My king, I am at fault for deceiving you. I know my wrongs are grievous and unforgiveable. . . ”

“Since you plead guilty, what right do you have to address me as your king?” Shěn Lí’s voice was extremely low. She held the red-tasseled spear tightly in her hand.

“Young Master, you must not humble yourself. What crimes have you committed? It was the foolish loyal to that traitor who don’t have eyes.” Fú Shēng paused and cupped his fists to plead with Mò Fāng. “Young Master, we took great pains to enter the capital for the Phoenix Fire pearl. My subordinates have confirmed it is inside the Azure Sky king’s body. It is the only pearl of its kind in the world. If we don’t take it now, I’m afraid a hundred years of planning will go to waste. Young Master, please do not get emotional; bear in mind, the big picture.”

Mò Fāng clenched his fists tightly and once again spat out, “Go,” with great difficulty.

As if making up his mind, Fú Shēng’s expression turned cold. He stopped trying to persuade Mò Fāng and discretely winked to the side. One of the men in black who saw it nodded his head. He was about to make a move when he felt heat in his chest. He didn’t know when it happened, but Shěn Lí’s spear had pierced through him.

Shěn Lí waved her hand, and her spear flew back to her carrying the man with it. Then with a snap of her fingers, the man burned to ashes. The whites of Shěn Lí’s eyes were brighter red than before. They were so big they nearly swallowed her irises completely.

“If you want to take something from this king, you better leave your life behind first.”

Fú Shēng frowned, then waved his hand and gave a loud order. “Go!”

Before Mò Fāng could speak, Fú Shēng gripped his wrist fiercely, and in a strange and eerie tone said, “Young Master must keep the big picture in mind.”

Mò Fāng was so startled he forgot to speak. The delay was enough for the monstrous men who received orders to rush forward.

Shěn Lí was ten times stronger than before, but even with that added strength she was hard pressed to handle so many. They men were single mindedly focused on obeying their master’s orders. They would obey even if they were crushed to pieces.

There were intense flames burning all over Shěn Lí’s body, but the monstrous men ignored the pain and used their bodies as shields. There were four of them and each one grabbed one of Shěn Lí’s limbs and completely immobilized her. She was losing strength as she churned through mana. Exhausted, and in a moment of carelessness, she allowed the enemies to drag her into the sea and sink her below the surface.

Fú Shēng grabbed the opportunity. He formed a seal with his hands, whispered a mantra, then pointed his hands downwards. This created a white mist on the surface of the water. After Shěn Lí sank, the seawater immediately condensed into ice. Fú Shēng didn’t care about the monstrous men clinging to Shěn Lí.

Mò Fāng clenched his fists tightly as he stared at the freezing sea water.

Fú Shēng shot him a glance. “Once Shěn Lí’s life force disappears, I will take the pearl from her body and leave the corpse as a souvenir for Young Master.”

Mò Fāng was silent for a long time as if he was trying to make a great decision. Finally, he said, “Let her go,” in a dignified voice.

“Forgive me, but I can not comply. We are so close to success. How can I give up now?”

“If I say to let her go, then you let her go.” Mò Fāng wasn’t asking. At this point he was threatening.

Fú Shēng looked silently at Mò Fāng for a long time. “Then do so over my dead body.” A loud crunch coming from the ice startled him before he could finish speaking. “Impossible. . . ”

A heat wave broke through the ice and Shěn Lí’s red-tasseled spear shot out. It barreled forward with an unstoppable momentum and shot straight for Fú Shēng, stabbing him in the chest. Shěn Lí’s hair was completely red and her eyes were darker than blood. She looked like the evil asuras depicted in ancient murals intent on killing.

“Today, this king will trample over your corpse,” Shěn Lí declared before pulling her spear out. The blood-stained spear was more sinister than usual and the heat it gave off made Mò Fāng uncomfortable.

Shěn Lí let Fú Shēng gasp for half a breath before sweeping her spear upward and aiming it at his head. Seeing this, Mò Fāng was forced to intercept and block Shěn Lí from the side.

Fú Shēng took the split-second pause to extricate himself, then a man in black rushed over to support him.

Shěn Lí turned to look at Mò Fāng, and without letting him speak, reached out and slapped his chest with the palm of her hand. Fire ignited from his heart, burning its way to his lungs. Mò Fāng hurriedly meditated and roughly suppressed the heat. He managed to take one deep breath before Shěn Lí appeared in front of him, ready to attack again.

“You need to pay for the demon generals with your life.”

Mò Fāng dodged, and the corners of his lips twitched bitterly. “If I can die, that would be fine. . . ”

Shěn Lí didn’t bother listening to his words, she kept trying to stab him with her spear. Mò Fāng defended but didn’t attack; in a short time, he managed to lead Shěn Lí away with his constant dodging.

Black air poured out of Fú Shēng’s palm. He pressed down on the wound and looked at Mò Fāng and Shěn Lí fighting. His eyes were cold and his voice was eerie when he said, “Young Master wants to lure Shěn Lí away. We cannot let her escape. You guys block Young Master’s escape and use the other demons to lure Shěn Lí. After a little rest, I will kill her myself.”

After the men in black accepted the orders and left, Fú Shēng summoned a demon to his side and laid his hand on the demon’s chest. “Good boy. If I was not in the situation I am in, I would not treat you this way. Just consider it as being loyal to your master.”

As soon as Fú Shēng finished talking, the demon’s eyes popped out and he let out a muffled moan. He turned stiffly to see Fú Shēng’s fingers, now transformed into claws, pierce through his breastbone. He beating heart was gripped and an indescribable pain seared his body.

Fú Shēng yanked deftly yanked the heart out and shoved the demon’s body away. The demon fell like a discarded toy and disappeared under the waves. Fú Shēng bit off the bloody heart and swallowed the parts whole without bothering to chew. It took him a while to finish the whole heart, but once he was done, he wiped the blood off his lips, looked up to the sky and breathed a sigh of relief. He was very happy. The wound around his chest from Shěn Lí was visibly healing itself.

Black air gushed from the wound, but once fully healed, the air moved upward along his chest and turned around his neck before climbing up his cheeks and penetrating his eyes. The whites of his eyes instantly turned pitch black, like the eyes of an animal. He stared at Shěn Lí with a chill.

Shěn Lí’s belly was burning to the point she felt pain. But the pain was a source of continuous energy; it was like her body was a furnace that kept pouring out energy, enough energy to burn the mountains and rivers. The longer she fought, the harder it was for her to remember why she was fighting. Her sanity was gradually eroded by the urge to kill.

Someone attacked her from behind, but it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter how grievously injured she was, the only thing she knew to do was to keep fighting. She kept attacking Mò Fāng, every move designed to be fatal.

Mò Fāng was struggling with Shěn Lí, but when he saw a demon attacking her from behind, he was startled to see Shěn Lí not react to it. He was anxious and subconsciously wanted to block the attack for her. Shěn Lí used the moment he was distracted to mercilessly go for his throat. He dodged her spear but still managed to get nicked by the blade. Mò Fāng stared at Shěn Lí dazedly through the blood. Shěn Lí. . . 

She really meant to kill him.

As far as she was concerned, how could she not kill him for the hateful things he did?

But in that moment, Mò Fāng felt her blade was too cold and he couldn’t accept it. . . 

The demon behind Shěn Lí was taken down, but Shěn Lí didn’t even turn her head to look. Heat waves surged from her body and pushed the man away several feet. Mò Fāng was pushed back as well. Shěn Lí want after Mò Fāng again instantly, trying to stab him with her spear, aiming directly for the heart. Mò Fāng gritted his teeth. A purple light flashed in his hand and a sword appeared.

Ding! He just barely blocked Shěn Lí’s spear with his sword.

Had it been an ordinary weapon, it would have been split, but his purple sword was not only not damaged, but its brilliance was even greater. Shěn Lí didn’t care what magic weapon he wielded, she just wanted to cut him through. She raised her spear vertical, intending to split Mò Fāng’s head. Mò Fāng kept blocking. The force of their fight caused the air to roll like ripples of a wave.

Then with a crisp click, the shaft of Shěn Lí’s red-tasseled spear cracked where it met with Mò Fāng’s sword. Shěn Lí’s eyes moved slightly. It felt like her spear was a lot lighter all of a sudden. In the next instant, the spear that had accompanied her for hundreds of years, broke in half.

Without the spear in the way, Mò Fāng’s purple sword cut straight through and came perilously close to Shěn Lí’s neck. Mò Fāng had no time to apologize. “Your Highness, there are no guards in the southeast.

Shěn Lí lowered her hands, stunned. The two parts of the spear sank into the sea. “After what happened today, how can I believe you?”

Mò Fāng clenched his teeth. “If you don’t believe me, then please forgive me for the disrespect.”

Without caring about the scorching flames on her body, he grabbed her wrist and pulled at her as if to lead her away. Shěn Lí was taken aback by his grip, when she suddenly felt a chill go down her spine. Looking down, she saw five fingers protruding from her chest.

Mò Fāng turned his head in astonishment. His pupils dilated upon seeing Fú Shēng behind Shěn Lí.

Blood gushed out of Shěn Lí’s mouth. Her chest didn’t hurt; what hurt was the increasingly uncontrollable temperature building in her abdomen.

Fú Shēng laughed wildly from behind Shěn Lí. “The Phoenix Fire pearl is finally in my hands! The plan is about to come to fruition!” He withdrew his hand, but Shěn Lí suddenly reached down and grabbed his nails.

“I said. . . ” She gently closed her bloodshot eyes, “if you want to grab something from this king, you had better leave your life behind first.”

She stopped suppressing the scorching heat in her abdomen and let it spread out with her blood to circulate to her limbs and bones. She could feel the blood evaporating inch by inch, and she knew she was slowly being burned alive by the fire inside her body. But. . . 

Fú Shēng began to scream. “Impossible! Impossible! Why doesn’t the Water-Stop technique work?! It. . . ah! The plan failed! I’m unwilling!”

From around them, the men in black yelled mournfully. They were not spared from her fire either.

The corners of Shěn Lí’s mouth quirked up slightly. She didn’t know what was going on, or what Fú Shēng and Mò Fāng were planning, but since both masterminds were present, then odds were high their subordinates were also dispatched nearby. Whatever conspiracy they intended would never come to fruition if she just killed them all. This way, whether it was the Demon realm, the Demon people, the Demon emperor or even. . .  the Immortal realm. . .  everything would be all right.

Shěn Lí couldn’t help but curl up from the fire burning in her belly. Behind her, Fú Shēng didn’t make a sound. To the side of her, she could no longer feel Mò Fāng’s aura. She couldn’t help but let out a painful grunt. “Ah, it hurts.”

She had never dared show a trace of weakness until now, but in this uninhabited place under Heaven, no one would know right?

The Azure Sky king, Shěn Lí would leave behind a heroic image even in death. Who would have thought in her last moments before death that she would be like any other woman who felt fear and couldn’t help but miss. . . 

Ashes fell into the sea and were pushed away by the rolling waves. The sea breeze blew up, as if into the clouds, and the only remaining breath in the air drifted off to nowhere.

In the ninth level of the outer heavens, a white fur ball rolled around on the edges of a white robe. Xíng Zhǐ was playing go alone. In a moment of contemplation, he picked up his teacup and was just about to take a nice sip when a cool breeze suddenly flittered across his face. He raised his eyebrows inadvertently and murmured, “It’s windy outside today.”

He put his teacup down only to hear a kah sound. The cup had shattered from the bottom up and was leaking tea and creating a dripping mess on the game board.

54: Mourning

54: Mourning []

[July 30, 2023]

“The Azure Sky king, Shěn Lí, of the Demon realm has wiped out those who attacked the Demon and Immortal realms.”

The messenger from the Demon realm was dressed in a plain robe. His head was lowered to the floor as he quietly reported to the Immortal emperor. “The Demon emperor especially requested this messenger report the news to Your Majesty. Hopefully Your Majesty will be at ease now.”

The Immortal emperor nodded. “Very good. Very good. I did not expect the Azure Sky king to be so capable. Dare I ask, how the king is doing? Her achievements in suppressing the enemy forces are great; I would like to reward her.”

“Thank you Your Majesty for your kindness, but. . .  there is no need.” The Demon messenger clenched his fist on the floor. He was silent for a long time. When he finally got his emotions under control he spoke in a business-like manner, “The king died in battle.”

The Immortal emperor was stunned. Before he could react, a squeak came from the entrance, and someone pushed the doors to the Heavenly Deliberation hall open without announcement. In the backlight, a man in a white robe stood, unmoving for along time. Those in the room couldn’t see the expression on his face clearly, only that he seemed distracted and in a daze. Once he stepped through the entrance, his expression changed, and was the usual one he always wore.

“Why has High God come?” The Immortal emperor stood up to greet Xíng Zhǐ, but Xíng Zhǐ acted like he didn’t hear.

Xíng Zhǐ stared at the Demon messenger and asked, “Who were you talking about just now?”

Upon seeing him, the messenger gave the proper bow and politely replied. “Answering High God’s question, The Azure Sky king, Shěn Lí, of the Demon realm, died in battle somewhere over the East sea yesterday.”

After a long silence, Xíng Zhǐ said, “That’s ridiculous. How can such news be reported without verification?”

His words not only stunned the Demon messenger, it also stunned the Immortal emperor; after all, communication between the two worlds could only be reported after thorough vetting. How could High God not know this? The messenger kowtowed to the floor.

“If it is not true, may I be struck by five thunderbolts. . . ”

Xíng Zhǐ looked cold. “Don’t make an oath before a god. It will come true.”

The messenger’s fists were still clenched tightly and now his joints were white. He couldn’t keep the hoarseness out of his voice. “High God does not know, but this lowly one would gladly suffer the tribulation to make the news false.”

Silence fell in the hall. Sounds of thin breathing came from those around the hall, but not a sound came from Xíng Zhǐ. It was like his heart wasn’t beating.

Xíng Zhǐ finally believed. He asked, “Where is the corpse?”

“The king died along with the enemy in the East sea. Her Highness’s body could not be recovered and the general who made it to the scene at the time was only able to gather the pieces of a broken spear.”

“The East sea. . .  where in the East sea?”

“The East sea is so vast. The general was unable to locate the area again after returning. . . ” The messenger looked like he was getting emotional over the situation. “No one knows were the king’s body is now.”

Pain shot like a bleeding wound through his heart. What was this feeling? An invisible force gripped the wound roughly and staunched the bleeding.

From the outside, Xíng Zhǐ carried the same emotionless expression he always carried. To the Immortal emperor he said, “Yesterday I noticed a change in the air flow in the outer heavens. It seems something happened in the lower realms. And now I’ve learned that the Azure Sky king was killed in the human world. Her Highness must have fought fiercely. The Azure Sky king is powerful, I’m afraid the force of the battle may jeopardize the Human realm. I would like to go down to the lower realms and investigate. What does the Immortal emperor think?”

How could the Immortal emperor refuse after all that? He nodded. “That should be fine. Does High God need me to assign anyone to help?”

“No, they’ll only get in the way.”

In the past, although Xíng Zhǐ would say things that embarrassed the Immortal emperor, he was never this blunt. The emperor coughed twice. “So be it. High God’s body is precious under Heaven and belongs to the world, please take care.”

Xíng Zhǐ was turning to leave when the Demon messenger called out to him. “High God, one moment please. The general who was present at the time said he heard the enemy use the Water-Stop technique. As far as I know, under Heaven, the only one who knows that technique is High God Xíng Zhǐ. I do not doubt High God, but. . . ”

“Water-Stop? Xíng Zhǐ glanced sideways at the Demon messenger. “They could not have been using Water-Stop.” Xíng Zhǐ turned around and left without further explanation.

On the way to the lower realm, Xíng Zhǐ was thinking to himself that it wasn’t long ago he felt Shěn Lí would be troublesome, that it would be best if she disappeared. But he never thought she would really disappear, and certainly never this easily, let alone that he would feel so empty at the thought of her absence.

It took an instant for Xíng Zhǐ to use a cloud to ride down to the Human realm. The Immortal emperor was right, he was a god and his body belonged to the world. His life was not his own and he needed to protect the people of the three realms. He had to look at the situation at hand and remember the things he was not allowed. There were so many “could not’s, would not’s and must not’s” though.

The clouds hung low above the sea and the wind pressed the waves up and down; a storm was coming.

Xíng Zhǐ stood above the sea quietly watching the huge waves roll below his feet and listening to the roar of thunder above his head. Though the world was loud, it felt very quiet to him.

“Shěn Lí.” He called out softly. The wound in his heart tore open and the piercing cold wind poured in. He looked around, trying to find her figure, but in such a vast sea and in such an expansive sky, he didn’t know where to start.

A bolt of thunder flashed, and the rain poured down. Xíng Zhǐ was the only thing between the sea and sky. Thunder clapped above and lightning struck his body, but he was a god and had no fear of lightning. In the transition between light and shadow, he thought he saw a figure struggle in the waves. Her hand reached out to him. “Xíng. . . Xíng Zhǐ. . . ”

The waves shoved her head down.

Xíng Zhǐ’s pupils dilated. He didn’t think but acted on instinct. He stretched his hands out to grab the person, but his fingers came away wet with water and seaweed.

An illusion. . . 

A huge wave came from behind but he only stood staring blankly at it. Eventually it hit and buried him in water. Under the waves, he couldn’t hear the thunder, but every flash of lightning was like a sharp knife that split time and space, cutting bloody memory bits of Shěn Lí out of his mind. All the angry and happy moments turned into daggers that tormented him, repeatedly carving holes in his heart.

No matter how much he tried to staunch the blood from dripping, no matter how he tried to cover up, blood kept creeping through the nooks and crannies. Then, like the broken teacup yesterday, it broke and emotions overwhelmed him. How was he supposed to handle this?

Shěn Lí, Shěn Lí. . .  you are really something.

He suddenly remembered it wasn’t that long ago that she teased him, saying since she’d met him, she’d been seriously injured and that sooner or later, he would be the death of her. How did he answer again? He seemed to have said something along the lines of... if that happened, then he would compensate her for the loss. Shěn Lí would want him to keep his promise.

Even though Xíng Zhǐ was drenched after the wave passed, there was a slight smile on his lips. He raised his arms and touched the water lightly with his fingertips. A white light flashed and the thunderclouds in the sky suddenly dropped as the temperature dramatically lowered. He murmured softly a single word: expand. Frigid light swept across the air and sea, and within a matter of moments, the vast expanse around him froze. Thousands of miles of water turned to ice.

The sea Xíng Zhǐ stood on top of became an unmoving bluestone slab of ice.

Waves still had their peaks and crests, but they no longer flowed. Rain fell as hail before thunderclouds scattered away.

Silence reverberated between the sea and sky.

Xíng Zhǐ walked on the ice, and with every step he took, a golden light flashed and the waves swayed. He was focused on his feet as if he was looking for something.

Even if Shěn Lí was reduced to ashes, he would find every grain. He moved forward one step at a time, intent and focused on a sea that seemed to go on forever. He lost track of time and the days, but no matter how far he walked, all he saw was frozen sea.

“High God.”

Someone stood in front of him blocking his path, so he looked up. “What is it?”

Yōu Lán knelt down quietly on the ice. “I hope High God understands the sufferings of the people. The East sea has been frozen for ten days and ten nights. The creatures of the East sea are suffering unspeakably. High God. . . ” Yōu Lán saw that his eyes were red and his lips pale. He hadn’t rested in a long time. Yōu Lán looked down and spoke softly, “High God is mourning.”

Some things weren’t meant to be spoken. Emotions and gods, they were two things that weren’t meant to be together. But without emotion, without sorrow, how could there be grief?

Xíng Zhǐ looked off into the distance at the endless sea and smiled. “Is it obvious?”

Yōu Lán bowed her head, not daring to answer.

Xíng Zhǐ took another two steps forward. “I never felt the immensity of the three realms before. As a god, it didn’t matter the location, I only needed to think it and I would be there. But now I know the realms are vast, so big I can’t find a single person in a sea.“ He smiled. “This is Heaven’s will.”

Then he waved his hand and withdrew the Water-Stop spell. The atmosphere changed dramatically as the ice slowly melted.

With the spell withdrawn, Xíng Zhǐ felt a deep pain in his chest. Freezing the sea had gone against Heaven and he was suffering the backlash. . . 

A mouthful of blood burped out of his mouth, shocking Yōu Lán. She rushed forward to support him. “Is High God all right?”

Xíng Zhǐ shook his head and wanted to say, “I am fine,” but when he opened his mouth, another mouthful of hot blood rolled out and landed on the thawing ice. He grinned and wiped the blood away. To think he’d end up in such a sorry state. What a mess!

So, this was the power of the Heavenly Dao’s backlash. He had been so careful, dodged it so well, but in the end, he still got hit. If he had known, he would have treated Shěn Lí better; at least he would have been able to protect her from all those serious injuries. . . 

He was. . .  He really liked her.

A pity, he would never be able to say it to her, and she would never be able to hear it.

55: Imprisonment

55: Imprisonment Read at

[August 10, 2023]

The fire in the corner was the only light in the room and it cast a distorted shadow of the woman against the wall. She was shackled to heavy chains that were anchored to the wall above her head. But instead of being connected to the chains with cuffs, she was connected to them with thick basalt posts that pierced the bones of her wrists and ankles. Any kind of movement caused pain to stab directly into her heart. Even when she tried not to move, the sheer weight of her body was enough to make the pain in her wrists throb unbearably. Her joints were swollen, and her wounds were black and festering. It was difficult to look at her.

The woman looked dead, without a single breath left in her body. But the person opposite her knew better. The chained woman had a surprisingly strong vitality. Given a little time, she would wake up again.

“Cough. . . cough! Cough!”

Just as the person was thinking this, the chained woman coughed suddenly and violently, as if she was trying to cough up her all her organs.

The sound alarmed the guards outside and they yelled out, “Hey, that Azure Sky king woke up again. Go tell the lord!”

“No way. The lord’s resurrection took longer than usual, and he’s been in a bad mood these past couple days. I went twice in a row already. And the last time, I nearly lost my head. It’s your turn to go now.”

“Tsk! Fine, fine. Watch the door.”

Outside got quiet.

He looked at the woman across the cell and muttered, “Is there anything you can’t provoke? You get beat every day; don’t you hurt? It makes me sick just watching.”

“I’m relieved to know those suffering with me are also unhappy.”

The woman spoke lightly but her voice came out hoarse. Běi Xiǎoyán’s mouth twitch; he was so dissatisfied. “Azure Sky king, today, you’re not deaf and your voice is even good. It’s not often your day begins so nicely. Can’t you be more gentle with your words?”

Shěn Lí lowered her head and sneered. “In this kind of forsaken place, any beginning is a bad beginning. Besides, I wish every day that I could lose my five senses.”

Běi Xiǎoyán bent down and snuck a peek at Shěn Lí’s eyes that were blocked by fallen hair. “It’s OK, doesn’t look like you can see today. What about your sense of smell? Touch? As long as touch is gone, you’ll get through the day.”

“Thanks but three of my five senses have recovered today. It just so happens touch is one of them.”

Běi Xiǎoyán shivered, hugged his knees to his chest and scooted to the corner. “Then try to hold it in. I don’t want to hear your screams. Just the blood and flesh flying everywhere is already scaring me to death.”

Shěn Lí smiled but didn’t say anything else.

She couldn’t tell how much time passed since the battle at sea that day, but she guessed from the bits she heard from Běi Xiǎoyán that it was about three months ago. March, it would be fine if they were in the Human realm, but if they were in a corner of the Heavenly or Demon realm. . .  she was afraid the outside world would have changed too much.

The Demon realm probably thought she was dead. She didn’t know how the Demon emperor was doing; if he was still recovering from his injuries. She didn’t know if the capital would return to normal or whether Ròu Yā and Parrot cried when they heard news of her death. Would the indifferent High God feel a little sad?

She suddenly had a wicked desire to see his face. What kind of expression would he have once the indifference was wiped away? But it was only a passing thought.

Xíng Zhǐ couldn’t lose his shield of indifference with all the burdens he had to bear. The three realms could be sad, but he couldn’t, even for a minute. It was only right for a god to be unmoved.

Shěn Lí stopped her messy train of thought and calmed down.

She didn’t know when she was imprisoned. Her last recollection was of the flames that day. By the time she woke up, she was already a prisoner. On top of that, her body seemed to have changed. She was like a mortal who never practiced; there was no magic power whatsoever inside her body. She couldn't summon any up no matter what she did. In contrast to that, her physical body was much stronger and so hot it was scalding, though she didn’t feel it herself. When Běi Xiǎoyán had nothing to do, he would toss clumps of dirt at her and watch as they roasted and crumbled into gravel.

That was why the extremely cold black basalt was used to chain her. It was the only material that could suppress her burning qi.

But Shěn Lí wouldn’t be able to escape just relying on her physical body; without magic, she wouldn’t be able to take a single step.

More troublesome were her vocal cords and five senses; they disappeared and reappeared inexplicably. One day she wouldn’t be able to see, the next she wouldn’t be able to hear or speak. Take today for example, two senses were gone but three came back. It annoyed her that it changed daily.

But since she couldn’t move left or right, her senses weren’t really that important. Shěn Lí got used to it after a few days. It was fortunate she lost her sense of touch on the days when she was being questioned and tortured. She couldn’t feel pain and her skin was thick; those were easy days.

Watching as the other party used all their strength to torture her while she just stared at them with cold eyes not feeling anything was great. How could she not feel a sense of superiority at that?

Shěn Lí was just thinking about it when a creak sounded. A man in a green robe slowly walked inside, led by another in black. The flickering flames reflected off the face of the new green robed visitor. The interlaced light and shadow highlighted the crevices and valleys of the wrinkles on his burned skin, making him more horrifying than normal.

Luckily today, Shěn Lí wouldn’t have to look at his disgusting face.

“How is Your Highness today?” The voice came out hoarse. Shěn Lí heard him, but she chose to ignore the question.

It was Fú Shēng. He was the one keeping her imprisoned, and lately, he had been coming to torture her daily. Shěn Lí felt like she was a phoenix unafraid of fire. But this guy, incredibly never died, which was honestly a little unbelievable.

Had that day been a dream? Shěn Lí used to wonder if perhaps Mò Fāng being a spy was just her imagination, that the battle with Fú Shēng never happened, that she hadn’t burned herself to death over the sea. But the past few days, the times when she had her hearing and could listen in on the guards’ conversations and the mutterings from Běi Xiǎoyán, she knew she hadn’t imagined it. She really had been on fire, Mò Fāng was a spy, and Fú Shēng really was. . .  immortal.

He had the resurrection ability and could resurrect himself over and over again without negative effects on his body.

It was at this point that Shěn Lí realized Fú Shēng’s name meant resurrection.

He was a difficult guy to deal with, but fortunately he was burned to such a crisp his powers were considerably lower than before. She had burned nearly all the demons nearby; even Mò Fāng was burnt away. It was a heavy loss on their side. They wouldn’t be able to mount an attack any time soon. The Demon realm could recover and establish a stronger connection with the Immortal realm. And even the soldiers from the Immortal realm were useless, the combat powers of the Demon realm soldiers would improve ten times over with the help of Heavenly weapons. And if she returned. . . 

A shot of pain from her wrist and ankles interrupted her thoughts. Shěn Lí could bear it but not without grimacing. The larger vibrations weren’t so bad, but the smaller vibrations that moved the basalt chains were horrible. They agitated the posts in her bones and were like a vicious itch that couldn’t be scratched. It was debilitating.

If she could go back. . . 

Shěn Lí gritted her teeth, enduring. She thought about returning, but she knew she would not be able to. She hoped Fú Shēng would torment her harder so she would die faster and be rid of the pain once and for all.

Someone suddenly shone a light in her eyes then blasted a firecracker beside her ear.

Shěn Lí subconsciously turned to the side. This made Fú Shēng smile. “I think your sense of hearing and touch recovered a bit today. The vocal cords should be good as well. Does Your Highness still refuse to hand the Phoenix Fire pearl?”

Here we go again.

Shěn Lí hated Fú Shēng to the bone and refused to answer normally, but regarding this question, she genuinely was helpless. “I ate it already,” was her reply.

She knew the Phoenix Fire pearl they were referring to was probably the Bìhǎi Cāng bead the Demon emperor gave her that day. According to the emperor, it was hers to begin with. She had followed the emperor’s instructions and ate it. But now Fú Shēng wanted her to hand it over. How was she supposed to do that; it was digested long ago. Shěn Lí smiled mockingly. “Come and get it.”

Fú Shēng gritted his teeth and raised a hand to slap Shěn Lí, but the hand he raised was scarred with burn marks. He forced his anger back. “Since the Azure Sky king refuses to cooperate, I’m afraid you will suffer more pain today.”

After saying that, he raised his hand and the attendant next to him brought a prepared black basalt whip. Fú Shēng covered his mouth and coughed twice before retreating to the side to let his attendant whip Shěn Lí. A flogging ensued.

Shěn Lí bowed her head while Běi Xiǎoyán on the other side of the cell paled considerably. Watching Shěn Lí be punished, it was like Běi Xiǎoyán could see himself in her shoes. Despite huddling in the corner and being as inconspicuous as he possible, Fú Shēng still turned to look at him curled up in the corner.

“Third Prince, do not be afraid. You cooperated with us and shared information without withholding anything. We will not treat you badly.”

Běi Xiǎoyán nodded, too scared to even take a breath.

Shěn Lí’s punishment lasted until Fú Shēng got tired.

Fú Shēng waved his hand and waved then left the dungeon with his attendant. The cell door locked behind them and only the torch was left.

Běi Xiǎoyán was alone with Shěn Lí again in the cell. Seeing her covered in blood made him hesitant to talk, so the cell was quiet for a long time.

Finally, Shěn Lí broke the silence. “Does Third Prince feel no guilt at giving them the information they needed to seize control of the North Sea monarchy and turning the monarchy into their puppets?”

“I. . . ” Běi Xiǎoyán shrank back. “Of course I feel guilty. . .  but I can’t help it. I’m not you; I can’t bear that kind of pain. And besides, my mother’s imperial concubine is guilty. I’ve been discriminated against since I was little, so quite frankly, I have no affection for the royal family. Betraying them. . . was something I did because I had no alternative.”

Shěn Lí’s voice was hoarse when she spoke. “Everyone has their problems, but betrayal is not something easy to forgive.”

Běi Xiǎoyán was silent for a bit before speaking, “People blame Heaven for the things that happen to them. Why are you so tough? Things are the way they are; why be so unbending? Just give him what he wants.”

Despite her horrible situation, Shěn Lí still managed to laugh out loud. “I really did eat it though. . . ”

Běi Xiǎoyán looked at her like she was a monster.

“Third Prince, don’t worry. This king is invincible. . . ”

Běi Xiǎoyán lowered his head and muttered, “I really don’t understand you. You can still laugh even in this kind of situation.”

Of course she could laugh; she was trained.

After sitting for a while, Běi Xiǎoyán fell asleep. He was just drifting into dreams when sharp sounds startled him fully awake. He opened his eyes to find a man in black standing in front of Shěn Lí. The visitor clenched and unclenched one fist several times, raising one hand then lowering it again repeatedly, as if he wanted to touch her but didn’t dare.

He called out, “Your Highness. . . ” his voice sad and extremely hoarse. Then suddenly a sword appeared in his hand after a flash of purple light. He cut off the black chains that held Shěn Lí and hugged her unconscious form in his arms. “I will take you out.” The words came out hoarse and resolute, without room for disagreement from anyone.

56: By the Sea

56: By the Sea [read at]

[August 13, 2023]

Shěn Lí awoke amidst the jolting, and when she saw the scene in front of her, could smell the grass and the wind on the tip of her nose, she didn’t marvel at having regained her sense of touch and smell, but wondered what Fú Shēng was up to. Was this another kind of torture? The illusion in front of her was like the outside world, so fresh and free that she couldn’t help but yearn for it.

It had been a short imprisonment, but to Shěn Lí, the scenes were like things from a lifetime ago. She moved her fingertips, wanting to stretch out her hand and feel the passing wind slip through her fingers.

Suddenly all movement stopped, and Shěn Lí saw she was in a forest. A face, tense and suppressing surprise appeared in front her – Mò Fāng. It turned out it wasn’t an illusion, but Mò Fāng saving her. Why? After betraying the Demon realm, was he now betraying Fú Shēng?

The corners of his lips moved as if he was saying something, but Shěn Lí couldn’t hear, nor could she speak. She shook her head and pushed Mò Fāng away lightly. The black basalt chains on her wrists had not been cut away, and the slight motion made her nearly pass out. She didn’t feel the pain but her body still convulsed on its own.

Mò Fāng hastily put her down and let her sit against a tree before kneeling down on both knees in front of her with his head bowed, as if confessing and apologizing.

Shěn Lí closed her eyes and pretended not to see anything.

Her reaction would be the same even if she could speak because she had nothing to say to Mò Fāng. The coffins filled with dead generals, his own coffin with his broken sword, he had drawn a clear line between them a long time ago. In Shěn Lí’s heart, the brother she marched and fought with died together with the other generals; it was something he destroyed of his own initiative, and this was the result he chose. Shěn Lí respected that.

The person kneeling in front of her now was an enemy who invaded Demon territory and killed the soldiers and citizens there.

If she had her spear, they would have been fighting right now.

Mò Fāng knelt for a long time. He hadn't planned on getting up unless Shěn Lí gave him permission, but the small vibrations in the ground turned his face serious. He knew he couldn’t delay any longer. If he didn’t leave immediately, it would be next to impossible to help Shěn Lí escape. Coming to a decision, he kowtowed fiercely then said, “Your Highness, I have offended you.” He stood up, pulled Shěn Lí to him in a hug, then walked forward.

He walked them through the grove, and as they passed through the last row of trees, a white stone beach came into view. Mò Fāng placed Shěn Lí against two boulders for her to lean against for support. Maybe he had more things to say, but the increased vibrations in the ground made him grit his teeth. He picked up a stone, twisted it and turned it into a copy of Shěn Lí. He held the fake in his arms as he ran away without looking back.

Shěn Lí opened her eyes after he left. She didn’t look in the direction he went, but stared out at the clouds in the sky being blown by the wind from sea. Her eyes were dark.

The sky gradually grew dimmer, and the last rays of daylight sat on the horizon between the sea and sky like something from a dream. Shěn Lí narrowed her eyes slightly as she began to doze off.

She sat motionless, falling deeper asleep as the stars eventually gave way to the morning sun.

Sand squeaked with slow footsteps as a silhouette reached the boulders. The rising sun drew out a shadow and made it long as it passed by where Shěn Lí rested. The person continued walking several more steps out toward the sea, when he suddenly paused, turned around and looked at the figure of Shěn Lí resting against the boulders.

Xíng Zhǐ stood staring blankly at Shěn Lí, unable to move, afraid that if he did, she would disappear.

It wasn’t until Shěn Lí coughed twice in her sleep, swaying the air enough that he felt the movement, that Xíng Zhǐ realized he wasn’t staring at an illusion, but at a living breathing woman.

He stepped forward so hurriedly he nearly tripped on the hem of his robe, only slowing down as he got closer. Half-kneeling in front of her he whispered her name. “Shěn Lí.” He stretched out his hand and touched her cheek lightly with his fingertips. Her skin was so hot, it actually burned him a little. The pain went from the tip of his finger all the way to his heart. He didn’t let go and instead cradled her cheek in the palm of his hand as he rubbed his thumb lightly against her skin. “Shěn Lí.” He called out softly to her as if he’d forgotten every word but her name.

This was Shěn Lí, the king of the Demon realm who was declared “dead in battle”, the woman who never came back – she was alive.

Xíng Zhǐ delighted in the pain as it spread outward, becoming short of breath as he pressed his forehead lightly against hers. He laughed like a delirious man holding his forehead against hers, the heat scalding him.

“You. . .  you’ve saved my life.” He whispered softly in her ear.

Shěn Lí remained asleep, her breathing very weak. Xíng Zhǐ let go of her slightly and considered taking her pulse when his eyes fell on her wrist. The metal post was still pierced through her bone. Stunned, Xíng Zhǐ stared at it for a moment unsure what it was. He glanced at her arms and legs and his breathing hitched once he understood. “You. . .  how are you taking care of yourself?”

He lowered his head and looked at Shěn Lí’s hand again, a little afraid to touch it now. But he wouldn’t understand her injuries if he didn’t.

Xíng Zhǐ lowered his eyes and lightly ran his fingertips across the palm of her limp hand that lay on the ground. Even with that light touch, Shěn Lí unconsciously twitched, which caused her bones to pull at the post. She let out a muffled moan; her teeth clenched and deep furrows appeared on her brow. Xíng Zhǐ’s heart tightened at the clear show of pain. He condensed cold in the palm of his hand and circled it around Shěn Lí’s wrist. The painful expression on her face softened considerably.

Shěn Lí rarely ever cried out pain in front of other people. If she wasn’t unconscious, Xíng Zhǐ doubted she would have shown any signs.

He was angry and really wanted to give her a stern lecture. This Azure Sky king, always trying so hard to look brave. But when he saw her sleeping soundly after so much pain, he just couldn’t utter the words. He felt his heart constrict and pain shot through his limbs, making him sick. For a moment he couldn’t control the tremors in his hand.

She must have been so sad. No one was there to protect her, so she had no choice but to put on a brave front.

“. . . I will protect you.” Xíng Zhǐ stroked Shěn Lí’s cheek gently with great care but his voice was firm when he said, “I will keep you safe in the future, even if the outer heavens collapses and the three realms are destroyed. . . ”

Just as he finished speaking, Xíng Zhǐ felt Shěn Lí breathing heavily.

Shěn Lí turned her head and woke up. It was pitch black and dead silent. She couldn’t see or hear, but her sense of touch told her there was someone in front of her and her sense of smell told her the person smelled strongly of the sea. “I can walk on my own.” Shěn Lí spoke in a cold voice. “You and I are strangers. If we meet on the battlefield again, I, Shěn Lí, won’t show any mercy. You can either kill me today or leave now.”

The person in front of her didn’t answer. Then again, even if there was an answer, it wasn’t like she could hear anyway. Shěn Lí could feel the other person hadn’t moved.

Cold fingers lightly touching her eyes made her frown. She dodged sideways, but that made the hand pinch her ears relentlessly. Angry, Shěn Lí raised her hand, but when she did, piercing pain shot through her body. Her face paled and she gritted her teeth, enduring the wave. The hand holding her finally released. Shěn Lí spoke with restraint, “Mò Fāng, if you still remember even a trace of the mutual affection and friendship we shared, then just leave.”

Shěn Lí had a strong sense of self-esteem. Letting Mò Fāng go was partly because of their position but it was mostly because of her pride.

Her five senses were swapping around again. Moving was impossible and she couldn’t do so without help. It was embarrassing and she didn’t want to be seen in such a wretched condition.

Shěn Lí was startled when, after a long silence, the person reached out to wrap an arm around her back and neck. Before she realized it, another arm wrapped around her knees and she was picked up and hugged against the person’s chest. As the other party began walking, Shěn Lí could feel the metal rubbing against her bones, but that wasn’t as distressing as the posture she found herself in.

She and Mò Fāng had been together on the battlefield many times, and there were occasions when she was injured and Mò Fāng had to help her move. He either supported her, carried her on his back or over his shoulders, but he never carried her in this kind of position. Such a position. . .  She’d only ever seen it when a certain general had carried his wife into the bridal chambers for consummation!

Because of this, the position made her very uncomfortable. It was like she was about to be someone’s wife. She was furious and shouted with the last bit of energy she could muster. “How bold! Let me go this instant!”

The person ignored her and it was at this point that she realized something was wrong. When did Mò Fāng dare behave this way with her? Even after the betrayal, he came and saved her and treated her respectfully, kowtowing to her before saluting and leaving yesterday. How could he become so shameless in just a single day?!

An ominous thought crept into her mind and distress filled her heart. The place Mò Fāng placed her was by the sea. It wasn’t inconceivable human villages and towns could be nearby. The person touching and hugging her today was probably a native of the area. The person who picked her up was probably some yokel mountain village fisherman!

Shěn Lí sniffed the strong ocean smell coming from the person’s body and became even more convinced of the case. Her expression became ugly. From the way the guy was hugging her, did he plan on following through with what husbands did to their wives?!

The more Shěn Lí thought, the more anxious she became. She tried her best to raise her elbow and hit the fisherman in the throat.

The other party stopped and Shěn Lí struggled to escape from his arms, but before she could, pain shot through her limbs, causing her to convulse all over. Though she could mentally bear it, her body was overloaded and could not take it. She kept trembling. Suddenly, she felt the fisherman change his position. It seemed he’d found a place to sit and was positioning her in a seated position on his lap. He hugged her waist with one hand and patted her back gently with the other.

The pity came through the caress, as if telling her it was OK, he intended no harm, and was only there to protect her.

But the way his fingers were trembling. . .  she got the impression he was restraining himself a great deal.

57: Wishful Thinking

57: Wishful Thinking [read at]

[August 20, 2023]

Shěn Lí’s sight still hadn’t returned three days later. She was imprisoned before and couldn’t move, so her vision and other senses weren’t important, but now she was outside again and in a strange place. She needed her vision urgently to understand her surroundings. Where was she and how safe was it? How far from the Demon realm was she and how far was it from the place she escaped?

Most importantly, she wanted to know who saved her.

She didn’t have any magic powers and couldn’t discern the depths of the other party. All she knew were scattered bits of information gleaned from touch. For example, she knew the person had to be a fisherman who didn’t like to talk. Her hearing had recovered in the past three days, but she hadn’t heard him speak. As far as she could tell, he was harmless, but that didn’t mean she was letting down her guard with someone she hadn’t properly met “face to face” yet. More puzzling still, why had he saved her?

From her perspective, this was the most suspicious thing: not seeking profit or physical gratification but doing so without expectations.

Shěn Lí opened her eyes at the sound of footsteps outside. Her vision was still black and the metal in her hands and feet made it difficult for her to move. In that moment, she really was a useless person who had to lie in bed and be served by others. The entire thing left her feeling depressed. She even thought about silencing the fisherman afterwards to keep the entire thing a secret.

Subtle sounds came through to her ears. Whoever the other party was, his movements were very light and unlike those of a rough man living in the mountains. Shěn Lí smelled food, so it had to be time to eat. “I can’t tell if it’s midday or evening. . . ” she muttered unconsciously. She didn’t expect a reply, but the sounds of tinkering stopped, and a slightly hoarse male voice said, “Midday.”

Shěn Lí was momentarily stunned by the unfamiliar, tense voice. Just in time because her hearing and speech worked today. She continued to ask, “Where is this place?”

“The seashore.” The other party paused and added some more information. “By the East sea.”

Mò Fāng actually left her along the East sea? Could he have been counting on someone picking her up. . .  But both of them were aware of Demon realm protocols. Once confirmed, there would be no further search. It would be an unrealistic fantasy to think she was still alive after being missing for so long. The Demon emperor had to believe she was dead. How could he send anyone to search for her? As for the Immortal realm. . .  well no one from there would search for her, but Shěn Lí couldn’t help but think of Xíng Zhǐ. . . 

Since meeting him, though it seemed like she was constantly getting injured, he was always there to save her. This time. . . 

A spoonful of porridge came near her mouth. Smelling the fragrance suddenly made her extremely hungry. It wasn’t as good as Xíng Zhǐ’s handiwork, but for a mortal it was quite good. Shěn Lí moved her fingers up and said, “I’ll do it myself.” But when she moved her shoulders to push herself up to a seated position, her body convulsed. Her limbs failed her, and she fell back onto the bed and couldn’t move again. She didn’t feel any pain since her sense of touch was missing today, but an overwhelming sense of powerlessness and failure rose from the bottom of her heart.

Shěn Lí wondered when she had ever been in such a predicament.

The other person sighed and fed her the porridge without saying a word.

Fed by the other party, Shěn Lí quietly finished drinking the bowl of porridge one spoonful at a time.

“Do you want more?”

Shěn Lí was silent for a long time before answering the wrong question.

“These four metal posts were formed by fitting the inner core to the outer casing. The outer casing wraps around the inner core. First, the inner core is passed through the flesh and bone, then pulled out to the other side. Then it’s attached to the outer shell before finally being tightened. In this way, it’s impossible for me to break free.”

Shěn Lí spoke in an indifferent tone without inflection as if it had nothing to do with her.

“The turbulence from the past few days knocked the knobs loose. I want you to help me unscrew the four black iron posts. The whole process may be a bit ugly, but if it works, this king will reward you with a wish.”

The other party didn’t respond for a long time. Shěn Lí couldn’t see the person’s expression in the dark and didn’t know what response she would get; so the wait felt really long.

“Okay.” He responded with just a single word, but the word seemed to take a lot of effort from him.

“If so, then twist it out for me while I don’t feel any pain today.”

The other party gathered several items, including a basin of hot water, which he placed beside Shěn Lí’s bed. Then he placed his hand on her wrist.

Shěn Lí smiled. “I didn’t expect you to be so meticulous in your efforts. Do you have any thoughts about cultivating? If you want to become an immortal, I can help find a path for you after I recover from my injury.”

The man laughed lightly. “But I think immortality isn’t as good as what I have now.”

Shěn Lí had some feelings about that. “The immortals are extremely comfortable. I’m afraid if there is anyone uncomfortable in the Immortal realm. . .  it would only be that one person.”

The fingertips on Shěn Lí’s wrists trembled slightly, but the man remained silent. He held the protruding metal at both ends and twisted. It was loose enough now that even an ordinary mortal could unscrew it with a little bit of effort.

Beads of sweat formed on Shěn Lí’s forehead from the small motions. She closed her eyes and adjusted her breathing. “As quickly as possible.” She didn’t feel pain, but her body had a limit.

The other person finally loosened the black outer shell from the inner core. A few drops of blood began oozing from Shěn Lí’s bluish-white wrist. If she left it for any longer, her hands and feet would have probably suffered permanent damage and most likely become lame.

One of the black bars hit the ground with a thunk and sizzle after being pulled out. Steam spread around it for a short moment before quickly cooling down. The man seemed unaffected by the extremely hot bar and proceeded to use his bare hands to methodically unscrew it from Shěn Lí’s other wrist.

Shěn Lí was too busy convulsing uncontrollably to pay attention to the details.

All she knew was the roar of blood rushing through her body. The hard hammering of her heartbeat drummed and thudded so strongly it felt like her heart was going to explode. Her lungs couldn’t pull in air fast enough and her mind became chaotic. Jumbled images appeared in her already dark world.

She saw her younger self being taught marksmanship and spells by the Demon emperor. A gloomy eye watched from the side. Shěn Lí, inexplicably flustered, took two steps back. An urge to run came over her. But when she turned, she saw Mò Fāng standing. Behind him floated a one-eyed ghost, and together they stared coldly at her. She didn’t know when, but Mò Fāng’s eyes changed and became colder and colder.

Shěn Lí’s heart tightened, and she turned to run in a different direction. An endless dark road lay ahead of her. Behind her, treacherous laughter sounded, as if to chase her into a corner. Shěn Lí, nearly out of breath, stopped and waved a hand to summon her spear, but what came to her were a couple of loud clangs. Her spear fell to the ground in two pieces in front of her. She was momentarily stunned while the laughter behind drew closer. She gritted her teeth, turned her head, and waited to see what monster was chasing.

But the laughter stopped suddenly, and her surroundings became quiet, as if nothing was there. Then a crack appeared in front of her, and from it came a gentle breeze.

Shěn Lí looked up slowly and realized it was the same gateway to the Ruins she saw when she was out on her own that one night, only this time there was no miasma leaking out.

An eye suddenly dashed out toward her from the crack. Shěn Lí was so horrified that she gasped.

“I will kill the gods. . . ” It spoke gloomily. “I will kill the gods!”

As the voice got louder and louder, Shěn Lí’s mind became uneasy. “Shut up.” It was difficult, but she managed to squeeze out the two words. The sight of black ooze leaking from the crack forced Shěn Lí to retreat several steps. She shouted, “Shut up!” as the voice grew louder. Her eyes turned red and hot flames sprang from her body, as if readying to burn everything up.

“Shěn Lí.” A different voice whispered to her from the other side. She looked and saw a familiar courtyard with grape trellis. The man in the bamboo rocking chair held out his hand to her. He was wearing a bluish green robe.

“Come, let’s bask in the sunshine together.” He spoke casually, as if he didn’t see the chaos surrounding her.

Shěn Lí stared blankly at him; then she stared at the flames around her body and shook her head. “I will kill you if I do.”

He withdrew his hand, but his smile didn’t falter.

Shěn Lí lowered her head in silence.

Amidst the flames burning from her body, a coolness traced a path that covered her from head to toe. She looked up dazed, but the man had changed into a white robe and was walking up to her. He smiled and pulled her into his arms in a hug. He patted her on the back gently, comforting her like a child. “I’m fine. See?”

The red in Shěn Lí’s eyes gradually faded. She knew their respective responsibilities would force them to drift farther apart, that she should pull away from his embrace, but. . .  may the gods be merciful and forgive her for not being able to.

Just let her. . .  just let her finish the dream. . . 

She relaxed and melted into Xíng Zhǐ’s embrace, allowing herself to fall into a pitch-black oblivion.

Shěn Lí opened her eyes to dazzling sunlight and the sight of a man asleep on a chair by the table. He had one hand propping up his head and a jade hairpin loosely holding his hair up. A few strands worked loose and lay against his cheek. The white robe he wore was so long it dragged on the floor and draped in a pool by his feet. Lit from behind the sun, he looked unbelievably beautiful.

What fisherman could look so tragically good looking?

Shěn Lí was moved. She didn’t know what expression to make. In the end, she just stared at him in a daze with a grin on her face. Xíng Zhǐ, she was picked up by him again.

God was too unkind to give them such an ill-fated relationship!

The metal bolts in her limbs had been removed and her wounds were now wrapped in strips of white cloth. It wasn’t a cloth of the mortal world, so it had to have been torn from his robe. Her wounds felt cool, so he had to have treated her as well.

Shěn Lí turned away, closed her eyes and stopped looking at him. How could she not know his thoughts? He had to know she would have refused his help and asked him to leave if she knew he was the one taking care of her. She would have been as decisive as he had been that day when he revealed his hand and severed their relationship.

They were aware of each other’s responsibilities and could easily guess what the other person would do.

But. . . 

Xíng Zhǐ never expected the Azure Sky king, Shěn Lí, wasn’t a heartless person, that she could be weak and want to indulge in a bit of warmth.

Shěn Lí opened her eyes again and pretended she was still dreaming, that the gods were merciful and would forgive her for shirking her responsibilities this once.

Was it possible, that before her injury healed, Shěn Lí could just be Shěn Lí, and not the Azure Sky king? That she was picked up from the beach by a fisherman with a hoarse voice who was usually silent? That they could live a few ordinary and peaceful mortal days together?

58: Warm and Secure

58: Warm and Secure [read at]

[August 29, 2023]

Shěn Lí listened to Xíng Zhǐ’s slow footsteps as he went to boil water outside the house. When she estimated the water was about to come to a boil, she said, “I can see today. I didn’t realize you were a fisherman. You have a really nice home.”

The white fabric that was peeking through the door flashed away as the figure hid to the side. Shěn Lí heard a burst of rattling and clanging, like someone was in a panic and had knocked some things over, like a pot. She was sure it had to be a mess outside.

Shěn Lí waited for a long time, but it remained silent. She could imagine Xíng Zhǐ’s furrowed brows and his wry smile as he shook his head.

It was. . .  comforting.

Shěn Lí turned her head to the side and smirked. She hadn’t enjoyed herself enough when she saw a dark-headed young man in course linen clothes enter. He looked so much like a fisherman who worked in the water all year round that Shěn Lí blinked. He spoke in the hoarse voice she had grown used to in the last few days.

“Miss’s eyes are better now?”

Shěn Lí looked him up and down carefully. “My five senses are sometimes good, sometimes bad. Today, my sense of taste, smell, and touch are useless. But I can speak, hear and see, so it’s a good day today.”

The young man frowned. “Why is that?”

“I don’t know and I can’t figure it out, so let’s just make do.” Shěn Lí stared into his eyes and said, “Thank you, sir, for taking the black metal from my limbs. I am sorry to have troubled you. I won’t trouble you for much longer, it’s just that right now I’m afraid I will have to ask you to take care of me for a few more days.”

The young man gave an understated, “Hm,” before sitting down and picking up a cup of tea. He was about to drink from it when he stopped his hand midair, realizing that maybe things like this shouldn’t be a matter of course. He thought about it for a moment before clearing his throat and speaking. “I have to go to sea every day to work. Miss’s injury is so serious that I have lost a lot of time every day taking care you. I can no longer delay.”

Shěn Lí’s lips twitched. “I will compensate you for the loss funds.”

“It’s not about lost money; it’s about lost time. You’ve delayed my life.”

Shěn Lí nearly choked and began thinking that maybe she shouldn’t take him too seriously. In the end she remained silent.

“How about this, miss promised to grant me a wish earlier. Things should be done in pairs, so why not grant me another wish?”

“What would you like?”

“If I say it now, I’m afraid miss won’t be able to do it, so let’s hold off on it. This way I can help heal your wounds wholeheartedly.”

Shěn Lí glanced sideways at him for several beats. “You, sir, talk a lot.”

“Well, miss was in a precarious position before when the metals bars where still embedded in your limbs. It looked like you could die of anger with just a few words. I didn’t dare say much. But now. . . ” He paused, and finally drank the tea in his hand. The rim of the cup hid the smile on his lips. “Isn’t this all because miss promised to grant me a wish?”

Even if Shěn Lí refused, it wasn’t like he’d throw her out. On that, Shěn Lí was clear. But she still looked at his profile and responded. “All right, I am willing to grant you two wishes. As long as it is something I, Shěn Lí, can do, then I shall do so.”

The smile on Xíng Zhǐ’s lips was still there after he put the teacup down. He turned his head away from Shěn Lí a little, pursed his lips, and adjusted his smile. “I cooked fish soup today. Would you like to try some?”

Shěn Lí nodded even though eating fish soup would be no different from drinking water since her sense of taste was gone.

She had been living in the house for a while, but her body was too badly injured, so her recovery was slower than usual. Her five senses were also still behaving strangely. She told herself not to rush, but every time she had to be fed, she was reminded of her hatred for Fú Shēng. More importantly. . . 

“I have to relieve myself. . . ” Shěn Lí said the words in a firm voice.

They had done this many times before when Shěn Lí thought Xíng Zhǐ was just a random fisherman. Originally, she had planned on killing the guy, but obviously everything was different now and she certainly wouldn’t be able to silence Xíng Zhǐ.

One, because she couldn’t kill him. Two, because she was shy. . .  And three, because Xíng Zhǐ was a god and should have been worshipped, not to be doing this kind of thing for people. . . 

While Shěn Lí was struggling with her thoughts, Xíng Zhǐ had already taken out the chamber pot and placed it beside her in the usual corner. He’d even changed it to make it more convenient for her condition. Xíng Zhǐ reached for her through the quilt, loosened her belt and pulled her pants down. Shěn Lí’s clothes were long, so he had to arrange them under the quilt first before pulling her out. He held her horizontally as he placed her on the chamber pot to allow her space to sit down, before letting her go. His expression never changed throughout the entire process.

It took Shěn Lí some time to adjust her emotions and relax after sitting down. Once she was done, there was the cleanup to contend with, but even if it meant dying, she wouldn’t let Xíng Zhǐ do it. She faced the pain from her opening her wounds and cleaned herself up. Then once finished, she shouted, “All done!”

Xíng Zhǐ came in from outside and followed the routine again, only this time in reverse. He saw blood oozing from her wrist when he was covering her back up with the quilt. It made him frown, but he ultimately chose to remain silent.

Shěn Lí felt awkward every time. After Xíng Zhǐ arranged her under the covers and went outside, she had nothing to do but stare around the room in a daze.

It took some time, but after a while she finally tried walking. Though she was eager to start running, she would fall over only after a couple of steps. Days without touch weren’t bad. Because it didn’t hurt, she would get up and try again right after. But on the days when her sense of touch returned, the pain was so raw and powerful she had to grit her teeth and lay recovering on the ground for a long time before she could stand back up.

She always picked times Xíng Zhǐ was out of the house. Her situation was already embarrassing enough without her making it worse for herself. She didn’t want to look bad, especially not in front of Xíng Zhǐ. . . 

Xíng Zhǐ stayed away for longer stretches of time, often disappearing completely after breakfast. Shěn Lí worked on her arms and legs every day nonstop, but she couldn’t change the speed it took for her muscles and joints to recover.

On this particular day, Shěn Lí’s vision was missing. She walked around the table, tired after working out, and wanted to pour herself a drink of water. She touched the teapot, but discovered her fingers wouldn’t cooperate. She wanted to hold the handle, but couldn’t force her fingers to move the right way.

Fine motor control, like finger movements, were much harder to recover. The small muscles and tendons weren’t fully healed, so holding a teacup or pair of chopsticks was a hundred times harder than walking or running.

Shěn Lí was obsessed and desperately wanted to hold the teapot handle. . .  but she couldn’t. If things were like this. . .  if they remained this way, how was she going to hold her spear and protect the people in the future? Her arm brushed against a teacup and it fell off the table. The break was discordant and sharp.

Hurried footsteps rushed over.

Shěn Lí was so angry at herself. She waved her arms across the table and swiped everything to the floor in rage. “Get out!”

Xíng Zhǐ opened the door the same time a teacup flew against the door frame. The shattered pieces nicked him on the brow and drew blood, but he didn’t react. It took him two steps to reach Shěn Lí. He grabbed her just as she was about to fall, then helped her to the sit on the bed. Two drops of blood fell on Shěn Lí’s hand when he lowered his head.

Shěn Lí couldn’t see, but her sense of smell was more sensitive than usual. She reached out and grabbed Xíng Zhǐ’s hand as he turned away to clean up the mess.

He looked back at her inquisitively.

Shěn Lí’s mouth moved but nothing came out. She gripped his hand tighter, refusing to let go.

Xíng Zhǐ squatted down in front of her and asked, “What’s wrong?”

Shěn Lí was silent for a long time before lowering her head. “I. . . I hurt you. . . I’m sorry.”

He knew she couldn’t see so only smiled softly and said, “It’s OK.”

Shěn Lí still refused to let him go. “For physical reasons. . . I’ve been a little impatient recently.”


Who knew how long the silence hung between them? Shěn Lí released his hand so she could reach out and touch his face. Stretching out her index finger, she poked at his cheek. “Was it here that was cut?”

Xíng Zhǐ let her finger roam around face but didn’t point her to the correct spot, just replying with a, “No,” and a smile.




“Try again.”

Sensing that he was toying with her, Shěn Lí became annoyed and poked hard. “Here?!” The wet on her fingertip was accompanied by a yelp. Shěn Lí immediately withdrew her hand. “I’m sorry. I poked your eye. . . ”

Xíng Zhǐ sighed. He gently took her hand and laid her finger over the brow that was cut. “Here.”

It felt like there was a lot of blood. “Does it hurt?”

Xíng Zhǐ was silent as if considering; then he nodded. “It hurts.” It was like being cut with a sharp knife. The cold pain was followed by a burning pain, just like the feeling in his heart.

“I will try my best to control my temper.”

“There’s no need.” Xíng Zhǐ repeated softly, “As long as we’re here, there’s no need.” He would let her do whatever she wanted.

After losing her temper, Shěn Lí calmed down and thought about it more rationally. It was useless to force things, so though she would continue to practice every day, she wouldn’t be as eager for quick results.

Practicing this way was better; her body recovered faster even though her five senses had their ups and downs. On bad days without touch, she focused on sight and sound. When she lost sound, smell became sharper. Eventually all five senses improved, and when all was said and done, it was a blessing in disguise.

Shěn Lí was walking reliably on her own without aid from a chair or table one day when the thought of going outside struck her. She pushed open the door and looked around. She didn’t know what to expect.

What she saw was Xíng Zhǐ standing in the yard. He wasn’t doing anything, just standing in the sunshine like a young man of the sea. He turned and their gazes met.

He had been here the entire time, accompanying her silently through the days.

“I’m hungry.” Shěn Lí said.

“I made fish soup.”

It was an ordinary conversation that warmed the heart.

From then on, Shěn Lí was left to take care of herself and Xíng Zhǐ really did leave when he walked out in the mornings. He laid breakfast out on the table for Shěn Lí to eat in the mornings then he packed up and went fishing with the local fishermen, only returning at noon with his catch, which he then cooked over an open fire for Shěn Lí’s lunch.

Whenever Shěn Lí’s sense of smell appeared, she would always smell the brininess of the sea on his body. But this smell was different from when they met on the beach. Back then, his body smelled of the sea breeze as though he had been at sea for many months. Now he smelled so much more complicated. There was the brininess of the fish from the sea, there was the salt, and the blood. . . 

He was serious about being a fisherman. . .  just like the time he reincarnated as a mortal. Though he had memories from the Immortal realm, he focused solely on how a mortal person would live their life.

Shěn Lí had to admire his adaptable and easy-going mentality.

Recently, Shěn Lí was idle and bored. After Xíng Zhǐ left in the mornings, she did two circuits around the yard, but even that was getting old, so she stepped out beyond the yard, curious to see how the local fishermen worked. Her slow pace meant that by the time she reached the nearest fishing village, the group of people who went out fishing in the morning were already returning. Unlike the fishermen unloading their haul, Xíng Zhǐ was rubbing the center of his brows like he had a headache as he stood on the boat looking out to the sea.

Curious, Shěn Lí walked onto the pier and asked. “You didn’t catch any fish?”

She glanced down as she spoke and saw the contents of his boat. There were pearlescent shells and exotic treasures galore, but absolutely no fish. Shěn Lí couldn’t hold back the amused, “Poof,” from escaping her lips.

Shěn Lí’s magic hadn’t recovered yet, so she couldn’t detect Xíng Zhǐ’s divine aura. But the Sea king was no fool. Knowing a high god cast a net into his waters, the Sea king naturally took the opportunity to send out presents. Presumably, the Sea king had exchanged the fish originally in the net for the exotic things there now.

Xíng Zhǐ wasn’t happy, but upon seeing Shěn Lí smile, a smile reached his eyes as well. “Why are you here?”

“I wanted to see how the fish were caught.” Shěn Lí pointed to his boat empty of edible fish and said, “But it seems you didn’t catch any today.”

Xíng Zhǐ nodded. “Yes, I decided to collect these things instead.”

This man. . .  he didn’t miss a beat when lying.

Shěn Lí sat down on the pier. “Let’s see. There are so many treasures. Why not sell them for money?”

Xíng Zhǐ shook his head, picking up a few pearl oysters. “It’s useless to take too many. I’ll toss them back to the sea later.”

“Don’t!” Shěn Lí yelled. “Let me choose a few first!”

When Xíng Zhǐ saw her hurrying to get onto the boat, he went over to help her. But with the fishermen rushing back and forth on the pier, someone was clumsy and knocked into her, forcing her to fall head first toward Xíng Zhǐ. She landed solidly in his embrace, chest to chest. They were so close; she could feel their heartbeats beating.

The embrace was just like in her dream; warm and secure.

59: Nothingness

59: Nothingness [read at]

[September 3, 2023]

The hug was too realistic and the heartbeat too powerful. Shěn Lí was shocked by her own frenzied, racing heart. She pushed Xíng Zhǐ away and nearly tripped over the fishing net in the process. Xíng Zhǐ grabbed her and sighed. “So reckless. If you fall into the water, who do you think is going to rescue you?”

Xíng Zhǐ was surprised the words came out of his mouth. He turned to the side and coughed awkwardly twice, but Shěn Lí didn’t seem to have noticed. She was looking down at the treasures in the boat and said, “Well I won’t be polite and just take the one I want then.”

Xíng Zhǐ looked at Shěn Lí’s profile in surprise and his gaze softened. “If you like them, you can keep all of them. I won’t return them to the sea.”

Shěn Lí paused her search for the perfect shell. Although she had only stayed in the Immortal realm for a short time, she knew Xíng Zhǐ didn’t accept gifts without reason. He could accept one or two things from the Sea king to give him face, but keeping everything would carry a different meaning.

Shěn Lí didn’t reply but kept searching amongst the boatful of treasures silently. Finally, a white round stone that resembled jade caught her eye. Shěn Lí picked it up even though it was a little plain. “This is pleasing to my eyes. I want it; everything else is up to you.”

Xíng Zhǐ nodded. “Let me exchange the shells for some fish first, then we can go home for dinner.”

They climbed onto the pier and Xíng Zhǐ began looking for someone to exchange shells for fish. He found an honest fisherman and was just negotiating when an unfamiliar voice came from beside him.

“I see this brother caught some nice clamshells again.” He stepped forward and gave the other fisherman a meaningful glare. The fisherman was just about to hand over his fish to Xíng Zhǐ, but when faced with such a vicious look, he pulled the fish back weakly.

The newcomer shoved the fisherman away. “Go, go, go. Unimportant people shouldn’t block Lǎozǐ’s[notes] way.

The fisherman hurriedly put away his fish before glancing apologetically at Xíng Zhǐ and hurrying away.

Only then did Xíng Zhǐ deign to look at the newcomer. He smiled calmly as he watched the self-proclaimed Lǎozǐ pull up the belt of his pants. “I’m afraid you don’t know me; I’m Wáng Bǎo, the eldest son of the village chief. I see little brother trading clamshells for fish every day. I think you must not like clamshells much. It just so happens I have a lot of fish I can trade with you. The ones you have in your hand and the ones you have on your boat, I’ll take all of them.”

“No trade.” Xíng Zhǐ said. “I want to toss them back to the sea.”

It was the truth, but Wáng Bǎo interpreted it differently. He raised his voice slightly. “Audacious! I am the eldest son of the village chief! You would insist on throwing away those treasures instead of giving them to me?! Do you have a problem with me? Remember, if you have a problem with me, it’s the same as having a problem with the village chief! Be careful, you won’t be able to bear the consequences!”

Shěn Lí narrowed her eyes. She couldn’t stand people who used their position to bully others. She was about to speak out, but Xíng Zhǐ acted like the guy was invisible and pulled her hand to lead her away.

Wáng Bǎo, furious, rushed to stop Xíng Zhǐ. “Stop! Didn’t you hear me talking to you?!” As he finished speaking, Shěn Lí caught his eye. She was wearing a cotton and linen dress Xíng Zhǐ brought for her, and because of her injuries, her face was wan and delicate from the lack of vitality.

Wáng Bǎo’s face lit up and he eyed Shěn Lí from top to bottom. “You have a really nice-looking lady for someone who has no manners.”

Shěn Lí sneered. She would have already beat the guy up if not for her injuries.

“Your eyes aren’t bad.” Xíng Zhǐ said faintly.

Shěn Lí noticed his voice was chillier than usual, which was odd, because based on her understanding of Xíng Zhǐ, he was a god that rarely revealed his true feelings about things. And even then, it was only because he chose to do so. But in that moment, Shěn Lí was keenly aware he wasn’t controlling himself.

“You should be thankful you have such good eyes.” Before Xíng Zhǐ finished the last word, he’d already reached forward and punched Wáng Bǎo in the face, knocking him out.

A bruise slowly formed on Wáng Bǎo’s face as he lay unconscious on the ground.

Xíng Zhǐ’s expression didn’t change as he stepped over Wáng Bǎo’s body. He didn’t even bother to look down at him.

Shěn Lí, completely stunned, stood with a shocked expression as she gaped at Xíng Zhǐ. The expression remained on her face as Xíng Zhǐ dragged her back to the yard.

“Is my face also swollen? Why are you looking at me like that?”

Shěn Lí blinked a few times. In a daze she said, “No, I just. . .  didn’t expect you to use such a direct method.”

Xíng Zhǐ. . .  wasn’t he the kind of person who favored using trickery?

After a pause, a complicated expression flashed across Xíng Zhǐ’s eyes. He endured for a moment before speaking, “He was disrespectful towards you.”

“Uh. . .  well. . .  that. . . ” The answer startled Shěn Lí, so she was a bit dazed.

“If it were you, how would you handle it?”

“Knock him out. . . ”

“So, I did exactly what you would do.” He turned his head and coughed, as if to show he felt unappreciated. He muttered, “I thought you would be happier this way.”

Shěn Lí looked at him in a daze. After reflecting on the meaning behind his words, her cheeks flushed. Was he trying to please her? “Yes, happy. Very happy.” She lowered her eyes and looked at the ground. Her normally cool eyes softened. Emotions roiled her heart like waves, surging up and down, and soaking her through before fading away.

Shěn Lí knew that perhaps Xíng Zhǐ could only treat her like this when he was dressed in the identity he was now. If he wanted her to be reckless, then why not do as he wished?

That night, Shěn Lí was trying to sleep when her ears perked up. Her hearing had been sharper the past few days and she could easily make out four pairs of footsteps in the yard. Based on their footfall, she could tell they were not cultivators, so she ignored them and went back to sleep.

It was impossible for Xíng Zhǐ to not have measures in place. . . .

Sure enough, before the four intruders could make their way into the hallway entry, two muffled groans sounded, as if two of them had fallen down. Shěn Lí sighed. The other two, panicked and short of breath, ran off. One rushed into Xíng Zhǐ’s room, while the other rushed toward her room.

Shěn Lí didn’t bother opening her eyes when her door was pulled open. From his scent, she guessed it was the Wáng Bǎo bully from earlier in the day.

He was frightened and breathing hard, but after a while, seemed to see Shěn Lí in bed. He approached slowly and gulped audibly once he got close enough to Shěn Li’s side. Sickened by this, Shěn Lí opened her eyes and her murderous gaze reflected the moonlight.

Wáng Bǎo backed away unconsciously because he was so startled. Once he came to his senses, he whispered fiercely, “Don’t cry out little beauty!” He was relieved when Shěn Lí remained quiet. “You guys sleep in separate rooms?” Understanding dawned on him. “I. . .  I am the eldest son of the village chief and I’m many times better than that fisherman guy. So why don’t you come with me tonight little beauty?”

“How can you compare yourself with him?” Shěn Lí sat up as she spoke, her voice light and delicate. “That’s like comparing the sky to mud.”

Wáng Bǎo stared at Shěn Lí in stunned silence. He listened as she said, “This king has lived for a thousand years, but this is my first time experience being molested this way. It’s a pity you’re so unsightly that this king has no heart to pity you.”

“What thousand years?” Wáng Bǎo was confused.

Shěn Lí was too lazy to explain. She stood up, waved her hand and slapped him. She wasn’t fully recovered, so her strength wasn’t at one hundred percent, but it was still enough. Between being hit by Xíng Zhǐ earlier in the day, and now Shěn Lí’s slap, Wáng Bǎo’s swollen face was at its limit. He let out a wail and stepped back, but how could Shěn Lí let him go that easily? She reached over, intending to grab him, but missed her mark and grabbed his waistband instead. Wáng Bǎo twirled around twice before losing his pants around his ankles and exposing his legs.

It wasn’t what Shěn Lí intended, but Wáng Bǎo exclaimed, “Why is beauty so impatient?!”

Shěn Lí’s lips twitched. Her vision suddenly turned dark as a cool palm covered her eyes. The man behind her said, “Indecent, don’t look.”

Shěn Lí relaxed and let herself fall back into the body behind her. Once Xíng Zhǐ lowered his hand, Shěn Lí could tell the intruder left in a panic because of the wide-open door. She looked back at Xíng Zhǐ. “I could have handled that myself. There was no need for you to intervene.”

Xíng Zhǐ smiled. “I know. But you can choose not to deal with it.”

Because he would help her.

Shěn Lí lowered her head and remained silent. In fact. . .  her body had already made that decision for her.

The next day, Xíng Zhǐ got up early as usual and went fishing while Shěn Lí slept in. She woke up naturally, and upon opening her eyes, immediately felt something was wrong. She couldn’t smell, couldn’t see, couldn’t hear. She tried to open her mouth to speak, but her throat was so constricted she knew she wouldn’t be able to make a sound. Taste was questionable because she had no way to test it.

It felt like she had fallen into an empty abyss. Maybe she was dead; she wasn’t sure.

Shěn Lí got a grip on her emotions and allowed herself to just float in the darkness. Thinking she would be fine once the day was over kept the panic at bay. But she had no way to track time, so in the end, she had no idea how long she waited. She didn’t know how Xíng Zhǐ would react when he saw her condition.

It felt like she was the only person in the world, wandering around a nothingness she couldn’t escape.

Fear bloomed in her heart. What would she do if she never got better? What if she was like this for the rest of her life? There were still things she wanted to do, to say. She was unwilling! How could she spend the rest of her days like this?

She ran nonstop, trying to escape, but in the endless darkness, she wasn’t sure if she was even moving. Was she running? She couldn’t see what direction she was going in; she couldn’t see the roads she was on; she couldn’t even see her own body. Was she even alive?

Time was both slow and fast. She couldn’t tell how long she was in the dark when a soft voice called out to her. “Shěn Lí, don’t be afraid. I’m here. Don’t be afraid.” The speaker suppressed his emotions, but Shěn Lí could still clearly hear the distress. There was such an overpowering amount of distress, it felt like she would be overwhelmed by it.

She could smell the outside world on the tip of her nose, the fishy smell of the sea coming off his body, and the faint fragrance unique to Xíng Zhǐ, and she was reassured.

Gradually, the feeling in her limbs returned and she could feel Xíng Zhǐ hugging her. It was a tight hug, filled with the desire to protect and the need for reliance. It took a lot of effort, but she managed to hug him and raise her arms to stroke his back to comfort him.

“Have you been here the whole time?” Her voice came out hoarse, as if she was too tired to say another word.

The hug got tighter and Shěn Lí felt like her bones were being squeezed to death. But it was a welcome pain that made her feel comforted and alive.

“I’ve always been here.” He swore. “I will always be here.”

Shěn Lí smiled. “Then next time I won’t be so afraid.”

Xíng Zhǐ choked up and couldn’t say anything for a moment.

60: Discovered!

60: Discovered [read at]

[September 10, 2023]

From then onwards, before Xíng Zhǐ went out, he would always wake Shěn Lí to confirm how she perceived the outside world. Shěn Lí was cooperative the first two days, but she quickly became impatient; so today, as soon as Xíng Zhǐ called out to check on her, she yelled out, “I can see and hear, but touch is gone. It’s not a problem. You can go!”

Xíng Zhǐ’s outstretched hand paused midair. He listened to her even breathing and didn’t know if he should laugh or cry. Seeing her today, who would have believed that just days ago she had been so frightened her whole body trembled. Her face had been pale, and her hands and feet were chilled to the touch. Perhaps she only revealed that part of herself unconsciously. He was sure that if she was in her right mind, she would never have shown such a vulnerable appearance.

“There aren’t any ingredients at home, so I didn’t make breakfast. I’m going to market to buy some things now. I’ll be back soon, so if you’re hungry, just fill your stomach with some water.”

Two muffled replies came from under the quilt.

Xíng Zhǐ shook his head and left out the door.

Not long after that, Shěn Lí woke up fully and threw off her quilt. She lay in bed thinking how the current her was developing far too much affection for Xíng Zhǐ. It was almost out of control. What she wanted was to take all her emotions and stuff them away once this moment in their lives was finished. But. . .  could she really do it successfully?

It was the first time she relied so much on anyone. It felt like she was playing with fire. A sense of impending danger came over her. . . 

She sighed, and unable to get back to sleep, simply got out of bed intending to wash up. She was walking to the yard to fetch water when she heard slight movements. Her eyes hardened. She knew this latest batch of intruders weren’t like the useless riffraff from a few days ago. She furrowed her brows. “Who’s there?”

The susurrus stopped and five men in black stepped into view. “Your Highness certainly didn’t make it easy for us to find you.”

The person who spoke received a death stare from Shěn Lí. He shivered before winking at the man beside him. The rest of the group gulped when they saw the signal.

Shěn Lí had burned Fú Shēng severely and killed dozens of demons sent after her. They had all heard about it and had seen the extent of her injuries in the dungeon afterwards, yet here she was standing fit and hale in front of them. It was inevitable they’d be frightened. None of them dared step forward and make a move.

The man in the lead gritted his teeth. “What are you lot afraid of? Lord Fú Shēng said she shouldn’t have recovered her magic yet; she’s just a waste right now. How can we not capture her after finding her? Do you all want to go back and be tortured?!”

The last sentence seemed to strike enough fear in their hearts to motivate them. The men glanced at each other and were on the verge of making a move when Shěn Lí sneered. “Didn’t your master teach you not to rush off and act rashly when the situation is unclear?”

The men were already feeling uncertain, so Shěn Lí’s words only made them more hesitant. The leader shouted, “She’s bluffing! Just move!”

Whatever! The men steeled their determination and raised their hands to chant. A stream of white air flowed from their fingertips and slowly condensed in front of them. They stopped, and the condensed air suddenly formed into arrows, stacked in a dense array pointed at Shěn Lí, ready to pierce her through.

Shěn Lí knew she couldn’t dodge, so she stood still and waited. But between the flickering light, a barrier suddenly spread open in front of her, and a white robe blew on Shěn Lí ‘s face by the wind generated from the impact.

After the dust settled, Xíng Zhǐ stood in front of Shěn Lí with a cold expression on his face.

The intruders were stunned.

“Impossible. . .  He blocked the Water-Stop technique with just a flick of his hand. . . ”

“Water-Stop technique?” Xíng Zhǐ smiled. “Is this the technique you’re talking about?” Xíng Zhǐ flicked his sleeve, and an invisible, extremely cold wave of air came out.

The leader didn’t even get a chance to make a sound before he froze into a block of ice.

“Villains are trying to practice techniques of the gods; how unexpected.” There was a chill to Xíng Zhǐ’s usually indifferent voice. “Go back and tell Fú Shēng that High God Xíng Zhǐ will pay him a visit someday.”

“High God. . .  Xíng Zhǐ. . . ” One person was so frightened that his legs gave out under him, and he fell straight to the ground. The other three were so frightened that they ran away in a hurry. The fallen one was about to get up and run away as well when Xíng Zhǐ stopped him in his tracks.


“Ah. . . ah. . . ” The man’s legs were shaking uncontrollably, and his pants were wet from urine.

“Get this thing out of here.” Xíng Zhǐ pointed to the ice sculpture, and the man in black nodded hurriedly, as he went and carried the leader and limped away awkwardly.

Shěn Lí stared, dumbfounded at Xíng Zhǐ. “I have fought in battles for so many years, but never knew a name could be so effective at scaring the enemy. Your title is truly something awesome.”

“What awesome? Before, when it should have done something, it didn’t. I didn’t have enough time and you ended up injured. . . ” Xíng Zhǐ said indifferently with a hint of self-loathing. He swallowed the second part of the sentence before it could come out of his mouth. Shěn Lí had spoken in jest, but her words incited something unexpected.

She was stunned and vaguely felt that since her injury, Xing Zhi’s behavior seemed to be different from usual. Before, in this kind of situation, Xíng Zhǐ would have just not said anything.

The yard was silent. Finally, Xíng Zhǐ asked, “You knew my identity. . .  the whole time, didn’t you?”

Shěn Lí, taken aback, replied with a question of her own. “Didn’t you know that I knew?”

Xíng Zhǐ remained silent. It was one thing for them to know it, but it was another for them to openly acknowledge it.

Xíng Zhǐ couldn’t play the fisherman anymore, and Shěn Lí couldn’t be Shěn Lí living in a fisherman’s house anymore either. One was Xíng Zhǐ, High God of the outer heavens, burdened with keeping the three realms safe; while the other was Shěn Lí, Azure Sky king, of the Demon realm, responsible for protecting the people of the Demon realm. It was time to wake up from their idyllic dream and face reality. Now that Fú Shēng knew her whereabouts, more pursuers would come.

“My body is almost recovered, but my magic is nowhere near better. Staying in the Human realm isn’t an option. I will have to trouble High God to send me back to the Demon realm.”

Xíng Zhǐ refused without looking at Shěn Lí. “Not sending you off.”

Shěn Lí stared at him blankly. “Why?”

“I don’t want to see you off; if Your Highness is capable, then please go back yourself.” Xíng Zhǐ said as he walked back into the house like a rascal.

“How can you let me go back on my own power?” As she was, she couldn’t even detect the entrance to the Demon realm, let alone call forth a cloud to travel through the gap between the realms. “You’re putting my in a difficult position!”

Xíng Zhǐ smiled. “Your Highness understands.”

Shěn Lí silently took a deep breath before speaking. “I want to return to the Demon realm because things are so chaotic. Even discounting the internal and external concerns plaguing the Demon realm, I have to return just because of the tense atmosphere in the Immortal realm right now. It is the time to strengthen ties between our realms. My marriage edict to Lord Fú Róng is still in place, and although I can’t do anything useful with my body as is, I can still marry Lord Fú Róng. It’s a good thing. Having a wedding at this time will help ease tension and bridge the rift between the realms.

Second, there might be a way for me to regain my magic and restore my senses there. It’s better than wasting time here. . . ”

“The first point is moot.” Xíng Zhǐ said as he poured a cup of tea. “The engagement between the Azure Sky king and Lord Fú Róng was rescinded.”

Shěn Lí was stunned. “What. . .  wait a minute. Why?!” When she tried to escape from the marriage, they were bound together by fate; but when she finally accepted it and tried to use it, Xíng Zhǐ actually revealed it was. . .  rescinded?

“Everyone in the three realms knows the Azure Sky king died in battle.” Xíng Zhǐ said indifferently. “How can the grandson of the Immortal emperor marry a dead person? Naturally your marriage edict was rescinded. It was approved by both the Heavenly and Demon emperors.”

Shěn Lí froze for a moment. For some reason her first coherent thought was, “Lord Fú Róng must have laughed his head off.”

Xíng Zhǐ sipped his tea before shaking his head. “No, he was so heartbroken when he heard Mò Fāng died that he refused to eat for several days. Then, when he heard Mò Fāng was a traitor, he was even more hurt and almost cried.”

Shěn Lí’s brows sank at the mention of Mò Fāng’s name, but Xíng Zhǐ didn’t give her time to think about it too much before saying, “Your second point, I have a method to restore your magic and five senses. And it’s here in the Human realm. I had planned on telling you once your health was better, but since you’re so impatient, it doesn’t matter if I tell you now.”

“Really?!” Shěn Lí was overjoyed. Although she hadn’t complained about losing her magic or her five senses, she did hope they would recover quickly. After all, the Azure Sky king’s identity and pride were bound to magic power and military strength. Shěn Lí wouldn’t be Shěn Lí without them.

“There is a snow-capped mountain surrounded by a tundra plain north of here beyond the North sea. A great demon lives there, and this demon buys and sells many rare things, maybe even more than what is found in the Immortal realm. There might be something there that can heal you.”

Shěn Lí’s eyes lit up at his words. “If that’s the case, then maybe I can find a good spear!”

Startled, Xíng Zhǐ coughed twice, as if he’d just thought of something. Somewhat awkwardly, he said, “You don’t need to buy a new one; I fixed your old one for you already and left it in the outer heavens. Once you’re better, I’ll bring you over to get it.”

Did Xíng Zhǐ pick up her broken spear?

It didn’t sound strange at first, but once she thought about it carefully, she realized how strange it actually was. She was the king of the Demon realm; logically speaking, shouldn’t her belongings have been handed to the Demon realm for safekeeping? Why did he keep her spear in the outer heavens after collecting the pieces and repairing it? She had used her spear to kill many people, so it was heavy and laden with demonic energy. The overwhelming evil spirit in it should have clashed with Xíng Zhǐ’s divine aura. Wouldn’t the spear greatly damage his body? Even if she ignored this last point, there was the Demon emperor to consider. Would the Demon emperor have allowed Xíng Zhǐ to keep her spear in the outer heavens?

Outsiders didn’t know this, but Shěn Lí was clear in her heart. Officially she was the Azure Sky king, but privately, she was the Demon emperor’s disciple and was like a daughter to him. How could the Demon emperor give away her child’s “legacy” so easily?

Shěn Lí frowned and looked suspiciously at Xíng Zhǐ. Xíng Zhǐ turned his head away and said, “I’ll take you north after two days rest.” After saying so, he got up and tried to leave.

“Wait a moment.” Shěn Lí called out. “Is there. . .  are you injured anywhere?”

Xíng Zhǐ turned his head and smiled. “How could I be hurt?”

True, he was such a powerful god; how could he get hurt. . . 


The person standing quietly in the dark room had on an oversized robe that covered most of his face. “High God Xíng Zhǐ. . . ” He murmured softly, “He appeared too soon; the plan is not yet complete.” The man turned his head and looked coldly at the young man in black beside him. “Young Master, is this the result you wanted?”

Mò Fāng replied coldly, “Everything else is fine, but Shěn Lí is off the table.”

Fú Shēng laughed mockingly. “Young Master, where was this kindness when you were escaping from the capital? I clearly remember how you secretly killed the general who tried to “save” you from one of the demons. Why weren’t you so kind back then?!”

Mò Fāng closed his eyes as Fú Shēng continued. “We can’t move against Shěn Lí, but you know that the Phoenix Fire pearl is the most indispensable part of the plan; but you still let her go! Young Master, Young Master, this springtime love affair, has it really blinded you so?! The hard work we’ve put in for the past several hundred years, will it really be ruined by someone like Shěn Lí? If the master knew about this, he would be extremely pained.”

“I will find an alternative.” After a long pause, Mò Fāng said, “This time, I want you to go north to the Golden Snake demon’s territory. I heard it has many treasures. Look for it and see if you can find anything to replace the Phoenix Fire pearl. Do not move against Shěn Lí again.”

Fú Shēng sneered. “If I can find something, I won’t move on Shěn Lí again.”

Mò Fāng squared his jaw, turned and left.

Fú Shēng was sitting quietly when someone suddenly came in to report. “My Lord, among the one hundred captured humans, ninety-five died after taking the pill. Three transformed into complete demons. Two fell into a coma.”

Fú Shēng waved his hand and said, “Defective. Kill them.” He thought for a moment then added, “Feed the pills to those who escaped from Xíng Zhǐ. They know magic. If they successfully transform, they should be even more powerful.”

“Yes, My Lord. There is one more thing. The Third Prince of the North Sea has no more secrets to share.”

Fú Shēng nodded. “Is that so? In that case, take out his golden core and keep it with the other two things for safekeeping.”

61: Lady Jīn

61: Lady Jīn [read at]

[September 17, 2023]

The cold wind howled as people milled about in front of a huge stone gate embedded directly into the valley. As they waited, some people were resting their minds with their eyes closed, while others were talking softly in groups of twos and threes.


“What do you think?” Shěn Lí took off the fox fur coat Xíng Zhǐ put on her and returned it to him. “You can wear it yourself. I think the temperature is just right.”

Her words caught some attention. Those who came to Dàxuě mountain to do business had plenty of cultivation including domineering monsters and sect masters. Their bodies were naturally hundreds of times stronger than ordinary people, but the cold here wasn’t your normal cold. The wind and snow blew with mana and pierced to the bone. Even magic barriers couldn’t block it. To not use anything to protect against the cold was too conspicuous.

Xíng Zhǐ took the fox fur and draped it over himself nonchalantly, but Shěn Lí was getting impatient as she stared at the stone gate. “Didn’t you say the door would open once it got dark? The sun set ages ago; why are we all still stuck here?”

Xíng Zhǐ looked up at the sky. “The master. . .  may have forgotten?”

As soon as he finished speaking, the torches in the gate lit and the doors slowly squeaked open inward. Beyond the doors of the gate were steps that reached up and up. Torches on both sides came to life on their own. The crowd walked in slowly.

Shěn Lí raised her brow at the mountain road that appeared to go on forever. “What’s the story behind the Golden Snake Demon of Dàxuě mountain? Why haven’t I heard of the demon before even though it’s so mighty?”

Xíng Zhǐ smiled. “It only goes to show that you don’t care about buying or selling treasures. This demon may even be older than I am.”

Shěn Lí was surprised. “Even older than you? Then it must be a demon from ancient times!”

The four little words froze Xíng Zhǐ in his tracks. He turned his head a little and frowned slightly as he stared at her back for a long time.

Shěn Lí suddenly got goosebumps up and down her body. She looked back to confirm he was staring at her. Yes, he was. Before she could ask if something was wrong, it suddenly hit her that she may have said something she shouldn’t have. . . 

“Uh. . . ” Shěn Lí thought for a moment before consoling him. “I feel that no one can look as good as you at your age.” It was true. She was great at offending people with her words, but comforting them was new to her. Shěn Lí scratched her head. “I mean. . .  at your age. . .  if you don’t share how old you are. . .  who would know?”

Upon seeing Xíng Zhǐ’s brow furrow deeper, Shěn Lí sighed. “I’m sorry. I said something inappropriate.” She was not suited to consoling!

“Do you mind?” Xíng Zhǐ asked after staring at her for a long time.

Shěn Lí hurriedly waved her hands. “I don’t mind! Of course, I don’t mind.” She raised her head up and met Xíng Zhǐ’s eyes. The smile she found there was vivid and bright like fire, and it made her heart quake and her heartbeat became disorderly.

Xíng Zhǐ stopped dwelling on the topic. “The mountain road is too long, and with your injury, it’s really not good for you to climb. I’ll carry you up.”

He stretched out his hand to Shěn Lí. She stared bewildered for a long time before finally coming back to her senses. She stumbled backwards a tiny step. “This, how can it work? I will walk up myself.”

As if expecting her to refuse, Xíng Zhǐ moved his hand forward a little farther. “Then I’ll pull you up.” Without waiting for her to shake her head no, he very naturally grabbed her hand and laid it in the palm of his.

Shěn Lí went from being distracted to being stunned. How was she going to pull her hand back? Their hands clasped together, palm to palm, was like an unbreakable spell. All she could do was stare at his back and follow behind him as he went up one step at a time. As his swaying hair brushed her cheeks, she was reminded of how much his behavior had changed.

How was she to draw a clear line between them if he kept acting this way?

The wind and snow were even worse at the top of the mountain. The crowd followed the trail of torches and entered a magnificent open atrium befitting a palace. Shěn Lí would have followed the tide of people, but Xíng Zhǐ squeezed her hand and pointed to a side path overgrown with wild weeds. He said, “Let’s go this way.”

Sure enough, Xíng Zhǐ knew what he was doing. They had only taken two steps when the scenery in front of them changed, and a shimmering lake appeared on the top of the ice and snow in the hall. In the center of the lake stood a beautiful building that looked like it came from ancient times, very still and unmoving. It was like something from a fantasy world, especially with the peach blossom tree beside it.

Plop, plop. Shěn Lí looked down to the source of the sound and saw a little girl struggling to crawl out from the ground. Once out, she stood tall and patted debris from her body. A tiny tail swished back and forth behind her. “Ahead is the master’s residence. No trespassing allowed!”

“I will have to trouble you to inform your master High God Xíng Zhǐ is here to pay a visit.”

The little girl gave him a hard stare before suddenly freezing up. Her eyes glowed blue and her voice changed. In a seductive tone she said, “Oh, what wind is this that brings High God Xíng Zhǐ here?”

The child’s change startled Shěn Lí and she went on guard. Xíng Zhǐ turned and reassured her, saying, “Don’t worry; it’s just a spirit technique; nothing more.”

“Aiya! High God actually brought a pretty girl along? Quickly come in, come in.” After saying that, the little girl waved her hand, and a glowing blue passage extended to the building.

Shěn Lí was surprised enough to ask, “This powerful Golden Snake demon is actually a woman?” The surroundings changed as soon as she stepped inside the passage and she was instantly transported to the center of the lake. It felt like the moment passed in the blink of an eye.

“Why can’t it be a woman?” A soft woman’s voice sounded in Shěn Lí’s ears. Startled, Shěn Lí turned her head to find a coquettish woman in a gorgeous red skirt holding a round fan standing close behind her. She was looking at Shěn Lí with a smile. “Your humble servant, Lady Jīn, at your service.”

Shěn Lí took a step back, not wanting to be so close to someone she just met. Lady Jīn smiled and drifted over to Xíng Zhǐ. “The girl High God brought is guarded.”

“Who would dare relax in front of Lady Jīn?” Xíng Zhǐ replied with a smile.

“High God is so bad. How could High God say such a thing about this humble servant? It’s cold out here. Let’s go and talk about things properly inside.”

Lady Jīn turned around and went inside. Xíng Zhǐ was about to follow behind, but Shěn Lí tugged at this hand. “Are there really no problems with this person?”

Xíng Zhǐ thought about the meaning behind Shěn Lí’s words then asked with a smile. “What kind of problem do you mean?”

Shěn Lí was serious. “Does she know spells that charm. . . ”

Xíng Zhǐ lowered his head and laughed a little, as if he couldn’t quite control his joy. He patted Shěn Lí’s head and said, “Don’t worry; I won’t be enchanted.” The words were too intimate and it made Shěn Lí blush. Xíng Zhǐ grabbed a few strands of Shěn Lí’s hair and twisted them around his finger as he whispered softly. “But. . .  if she did, I’m afraid I’m the one who would have to worry. . . ”

Despite the lack of a wood brazier, the difference in temperature between the outside and the interior of the building was like night and day. Xíng Zhǐ took the fox fur out and asked the little servant girl to take it away. Lady Jīn was already seated at a table with game of chess. She beckoned Shěn Lí over saying, “Girl, will you accompany this humble servant in a game of chess?”

“I am sorry, but I do not wish to make a fool of myself with my meager chess skills.”

Lady Jīn pouted but didn’t insist. “That’s fine, that’s fine. High God, come.”

Xíng Zhǐ smiled but didn’t move so Lady Jīn finally put her chess piece down. “High God would not be here without a reason. Tell this humble one, what problem exists that even High God can not resolve and must come here for assistance.”

“Lady Jīn, is there a way to heal her?”

“The pretty girl is sick?” Lady Jīn looked Shěn Lí up and down as she slowly walked to Shěn Lí. “Well her complexion is sallow, probably from a recent serious injury. She is recovering well, so there shouldn’t be any issues. What does High God want cured?”

“She has not regained her magic abilities and her senses will disappear from time to time.”

“Oh, that is strange indeed.” Lady Jīn smiled. “Come girl, stretch out your hand and let this humble servant feel your pulse.”

Lady Jīn rolled up Shěn Lí’s sleeve and the hideous scar she saw on Shěn Lí’s wrist surprised her. “This. . .  this must have hurt!” She grazed her fingers slightly over the wrinkled scars, but pulled back as soon as their skin touched. “Girl, your skin is very hot.”

Was her skin. . . hot?

She hadn’t noticed a change in Xíng Zhǐ’s expression even though they had a lot of contact recently. Her body was a little hotter than usual, but she didn’t think it was as hot as it was before. To think she was still hot enough to burn. . .  then Xíng Zhǐ. . . 

As Shěn Lí was thinking this, Lady Jīn condensed a ball of white energy in her hand and touched it to Shěn Lí’s wrist. “Foo. . .  foo. There, now it won’t hurt anymore.” It was clear she was coaxing a child.

This witch. . .  was teasing her!

The corner of Shěn Lí’s mouth twitched. “Thank you. It doesn’t hurt anymore.”

Only then did Lady Jīn take Shěn Lí’s pulse seriously. Shěn Lí felt very fine air enter her body through her wrist. It meandered slowly through her body along her meridians. Working didn’t keep Lady Jīn from complaining. “High God, I haven’t seen you in so long, and somehow you’re even more useless than before, can’t even protect your own people. Your girl is hurt like this, and yet you’re not distressed at all. You’re just mean and heartless.”

Xíng Zhǐ lowered his head and didn’t say anything, but a smile was on his lips. Since Xíng Zhǐ was ignoring her, Lady Jin focused on Shěn Lí. “Girl, you must be unhappy following him. Why don’t you leave him and come under my house instead? I’m a woman too, so I would be much more considerate.”

Shěn Lí silently sweated. She suddenly understood the meaning behind Xíng Zhǐ’s whispered words from earlier. This Golden Snake demon was more interested in woman than men!

“Hm, so that’s how it is.” Lady Jīn muttered to herself suddenly.

Shěn Lí looked to Lady Jīn in question.

“Girl, you have a phoenix body. In my humble opinion, you must have formed it recently. It stands to reason that both your physical and spiritual powers will have improved greatly since. The problem is, something powerful in your body was incinerated and fused into your blood. So now this powerful thing is colliding with the original spiritual power inside you. Your qi is lost and your five senses are scattered because the two forces are clashing. The situation will only worsen with time, and eventually girl may even become a waste.

Shěn Lí’s heart darkened when she remembered the panic of losing all five senses that one day.

“The only way to properly be reborn with your new body is to have the two forces in your body merge and clear out your meridians.”

Shěn Lí’s eyes lit up. “Lady Jīn, is there a way? If Mistress is willing to help, I will repay you in the future.”

Lady Jīn covered her lips and smiled. “My house does have a way, but as for repayment. . . will girl agree to repay. . .  with her body?”

“This. . . ” Shěn Lí choked, but Xíng Zhǐ was ready with a reply. “The stars in the outer heavens have been brighter than usual in recent years. If Lady Jīn is willing to cure Shěn Lí, then Xíng Zhǐ is willing to pluck a star for Lady Jīn in compensation.”

Lady Jīn’s eyes lit up. “Aiyo, aiyo, aiyo! Thousands of years ago High God refused this humble servant’s request for the stars from the Celestial realm, but now High God is willing to agree so easily?” She rolled her eyes. Her smile was wide enough to turn her them to crescent slits. “Please count it as my misunderstanding earlier. High God thinks so highly of this girl! Why not show it earlier? Otherwise this humble one wouldn’t have dared proposition her so openly.”

Shěn Lí looked askance at Xíng Zhǐ. She opened her mouth wanting to ask if the stars should be casually plucked like that? Would he be OK if he took one?

Xíng Zhǐ looked at Shěn Lí and shook his head with a smile. All her questions were swallowed up in that one glance. He didn’t let her ask, as if he was afraid of the accountability.

“A deal then. This humble one’s house is willing to help treat the girl’s illness. But it is getting late now, and you must be tired from climbing the mountain. Go to sleep and we’ll discuss this more tomorrow.” Lady Jīn took two steps back, as if something just occurred to her. She turned toward Shěn Lí and said, “I nearly forgot to mention, girl must receive treatment every day for nine days once we start. Miss any, and all our previous efforts will be wasted and girl may even die.”

Shěn Lí cupped her fists in salute. “I will have to inconvenience Lady Jīn.”

62: First Treatment

62: First Treatment [read at]

[September 28, 2023]

It was windy and snowy the next day. Lady Jīn led Shěn Lí and Xíng Zhǐ through the deserted main trading hall. It could be assumed from this it was only open to the public at night. Shěn Lí’s constant turning to look around at the rare treasures on display made Lady Jīn smile. “The items here are all items my house will be selling. If girl likes any, then this humble one can have the house sell less and give the items to girl instead. If girl is willing to kiss this humble one. . .  that would be good too.”

The corner’s of Shěn Lí’s mouth twitched. Xíng Zhǐ twisted her head and kept her looking straight ahead. “Let’s go.”

Lady Jīn smiled. “This humble servant is only joking. High God is so jealous. Truly petty.”

Xíng Zhǐ ignored Lady Jīn and kept pushing Shěn Lí forward.

Once they passed through the main hall and walked through a patch of snow, they came to a cave. Lady Jīn turned around and spoke to Xíng Zhǐ. “High God must remain out here. The girl will be healed inside, and this humble servant hopes High God can guard outside the cave and keep anyone from entering.”

“I can guard from inside.”

“That will not work.” Lady Jīn formed white qi on her hand and reached out to hold Shěn Lí. “This servant will have to undress the girl later. How can a woman’s skin be seen by men at will? High God is a divine being, so the suggestion will not work. If High God insists on coming in, then High God can treat the girl’s injuries instead, and this servant will guard and guide from here. However, please know there must be skin to skin contact during treatment. High God. . . ” A teasing light shone in Lady Jīn’s eyes. “Is High God OK with that?”

The smile on Xíng Zhǐ’s face didn’t falter. “In that case, I will keep watch outside.”

Shěn Lí was surprised at how submissive Xíng Zhǐ was being in the face of Lady Jīn’s provocations. However, Xíng Zhǐ continued with, “But I hope that Lady Jīn will keep propriety in mind and not do anything unnecessary. Refrain from crossing any lines.”

Shěn Lí felt the chill around him get worse as soon as he finished speaking, but Lady Jīn smiled and said, “Come girl. Let us go inside,” to Shěn Lí before leading her into the cave.

Shěn Lí abruptly stopped once they were fully inside. She couldn’t hear anything because the thick stone walls blocked out exterior noise. She couldn’t see anything because there was no light, and she couldn’t smell anything because no scent reached her nose. It was like she was trapped without her senses again. The only difference this time was her hand being held by Lady Jīn.

“Girl?” Lady Jīn asked softly.

“Wait a moment. . . ” Shěn Lí closed her eyes and tried hard to adjust her mental state. Once she opened them again, the vulnerability there earlier was gone. “Let’s go.” Because the person holding her hand wasn’t Xíng Zhǐ, she had to arm herself as the invincible Azure Sky king.

Lady Jīn’s golden eyes lit up in the darkness. She smiled softly and said, “I really like your temperament girl.”

Shěn Lí saw a glimmer of light as they continued forward. It was coming from a simple stone room that had a stone bed covered in straw. Behind the bed was a large, bottomless hole. Lady Jīn led Shěn Lí to the stone bed and asked her to sit down. Smiling, Lady Jīn said, “This is where my house usually practices and meditates.”

Shěn Lí looked around strangely at the dark hole extending downward. “Where does that lead to?”

“Where?” Although Lady Jīn was still smiling, her words came out with a warning. “That’s not a place living creatures should go. Girl knows that this humble servant is a demon, and inevitably, evil thoughts will be born. That hole is filled with all the evil thoughts and desires this humble one was severed over the many years. If girl cherishes living, then girl must not go in and girl must not be curious about it.”

Shěn Lí nodded. “I was the one who took the liberty of asking.”

Lady Jīn smiled. “It does not matter. It was something that needed to be shared in any case. Now then girl, if you can undress.”

Shěn Lí put her hands on her belt, and suddenly thought of something. She paused then said, “Do you want. . .  me to strip completely?”

Lady Jīn smiled happily. “You can take everything off if you want; I don’t mind.”

As soon as Lady Jīn finished speaking, a sharp light penetrated the cave and pierced directly at Lady Jīn’s feet. Shěn Lí stared intently. It was an ice arrow.

It had to be from Xíng Zhǐ. . . 

“Oh, High God is angry.” Lady Jīn chuckled. “I almost forgot. With High God’s abilities, it would be easy to eavesdrop through the magic barrier. Well that’s enough then. Girl, you only need to take off your top.”

Xíng Zhǐ was eavesdropping? For some reason, when she thought of this, Shěn Lí found it difficult to move her hand and keep undressing. But it wasn’t the time to hesitate and be embarrassed. She gritted her teeth and tore off her top. When she turned around again, Lady Jīn was gone. Stunned, Shěn Lí called out, “Lady Jīn?”

“This humble servant is here.” A golden snake head emerged from the straw bed after some rustling. Lady Jīn settled on Shěn Lí’s shoulder after climbing up her leg and twisting around her waist. “Girl’s temperature is just right for my current body. Nice and warm.”

Shěn Lí felt the body of the snake rubbing against her bare skin, alternating between tightening and loosening its grip. She was naked on top. No matter how many times she told herself to calm down, it was impossible to not feel embarrassed. “How will Lady Jīn treat me?”

“It’s easy. It’s just injecting my spiritual power into your body to help clear your blood vessels and balance the two forces inside girl.” Lady Jīn paused before continuing with, “Oh, there are a lot of wounds on your back. It’s distressing to look at. But this humble servant also likes them, so bloody and handsome. Ah, no, no, no. This humble servant doesn’t want a star from the Celestial realm anymore; this servant wants girl.”

So saying, Lady Jīn swept her tongue across Shěn Lí’s chin.

Shěn Lí silently pushed her away. Fortunately Lady Jīn was in snake form, otherwise. . .  she may not be able to resist beating her.

Whoosh! A sound broke through the air and countless ice crystals stabbed into the cave. Lady Jīn waved her tail and blocked all of them. She giggled into Shěn Lí’s ears as she spoke, “Girl, do you see how dear High God holds you?”

Shěn Lí was patient. “Treat the injury.”

“It was just a joke. Girl and High God have no sense of humor.” Lady Jīn raised her head slightly. “The process will hurt, but bear with it.”

Shěn Lí felt a stinging pain at her neck as Lady Jīn tightened around her body. She imagined sharp teeth piercing her flesh as cold qi rushed in and flooded her blood. Though it was cold, it was also smooth as it travelled through her limbs. After a full circuit, it stopped in her abdomen and drew out hot qi. She had no mana in her body, but after the burning qi appeared, she suddenly felt that the long-sleeping mana in her body was revived. It immediately clashed with the burning qi, as if they wanted to devour each other. Sweat dripped from Shěn Lí’s forehead, and her abdomen burned hot enough to be painful. It was like the heat she used to burn up that day when she was bathed in fire. . . 

Lady Jīn wrapped her serpentine body around Shěn Lí’s belly and shot out cold air. It suppressed the burning pain there and wrapped the two conflicting forces in Shěn Lí’s body together, forcing them to fuse and eventually become one entity. It was something Shěn Lí had never felt before hidden inside her.

The cold air continued to move forward and dealt with four or five other spots of entanglement in the same manner, only returning to Lady Jīn about an hour later. Lady Jīn sighed and relaxed. The bite she made on Shěn Lí’s shoulder immediately began healing. Lady Jīn said, “Today is the first day, so this humble servant will stop here. After becoming acclimated to it, tomorrow this humble servant will integrate a few more places. Does girl feel unwell anywhere?”

Shěn Lí clenched and unclenched her fists. “No. . . it’s just feels like there is something strange in my body.”

“How so?”

“I can’t explain it, but I do feel refreshed.”

“Is that so? That’s good.” Light flashed in Lady Jīn’s body and she took her human form again. “Then put on your clothes, and this humble servant will bring girl out.”

“Lady Jīn, I have a question.” Shěn Lí thought for a long time before asking. “Someone said that the Bìhǎi Cāng[notes]bead, that is the burning source in my body, which originally belonged to me and I was born with, why is it only clashing with my spiritual force now?”

“Born with a bead?” Lady Jīn tilted her head and thought for a moment. “Oh, it turns out girl is the famous Azure Sky king. This power was something Your Highness was born with and in this humble servant’s opinion, it must be because the spiritual technique Your Highness practiced later in life are incompatible with your innate power, and that's why the two powers can't merge.”

Acquired spiritual powers. . .  everything she learned, she had learned from the Demon emperor, even the Bìhǎi Cāng bead was given to her by the emperor. He had to have known the spiritual techniques he taught her would clash with the innate powers in her body. So then why did he spend so many years teaching it to her?

The next five days saw Shěn Lí in the cave with Lady Jīn. She was teased every day by Lady Jīn, and though she was not used to it at first, she quickly adjusted and grew inured to it. Lady Jīn knew how to behave and wouldn’t do anything excessive, and in fact even chatted with Shěn Lí to distract her during treatments. Her anecdotes were definitely interesting.

She revealed a few things about Xíng Zhǐ’s past too. Like how when he was born, he’d been so beautiful that the gods sent him flowers to tease him. And then there was the time he lost a beauty contest to Qīng Yè[notes] by one vote. He refused to leave his room for a hundred years over that. In the end, Qīng Yè had to use fine wine to coax him out.

Shěn Lí thought it was amusing. Turned out Xíng Zhǐ was this kind of person before. But as the gods disappeared one by one, the Celestial realm lost its vibrancy and became empty. His best friend, Qīng Yè, was punished by Heaven and forced to reincarnate until annihilation. Xíng Zhǐ was left to observe the changes in the mountains and rivers alone as he supported the three realms.

After so much loss, how could he not be indifferent?

Shěn Lí’s relationship with Lady Jīn improved through these anecdotes. Xíng Zhǐ had stood outside the cave as they talked inside. When he heard Lady Jīn talking about his past, he held his head in his hand. He didn’t want to remember any of that. “This snake demon has quite a tongue.”

It took five days, but Xíng Zhǐ stopped using his magic to spy on them. He kept to waiting outside the cave for Shěn Lí to come out.

Once she was better acquainted with Shěn Lí, Lady Jīn was more informal and direct in her speech. Their session for today was just ending when she suddenly said, “Little sister, older sister has been thinking about this for several days now, and I feel I should tell you about it.”

Shěn Lí looked at Lady Jīn. “I wonder if you can feel it. The scorching power in your body isn’t purely demonic or celestial. Before, you told me the source of this power was the Bìhǎi Cāng bead. But let this older sister make a bold guess. Your Bìhǎi Cāng is more like a demon’s golden core.”


Lady Jīn nodded. She rummaged through the dry straw on the bed and took out a dusty bead. Wiping the dust off she said, “Look, this is my golden core.” The object suddenly glowed.

Shěn Lí’s mouth twitched. “You just toss your golden core around like that? If I remember correctly, without it won’t a demon die?!”

Lady Jīn smiled. “This older sister is no longer an ordinary demon. Don’t judge me using common sense.” She frowned slightly. “But let me ask you seriously, don’t you feel your life is a bit strange?”

63: Falling In

63: Falling In [read at]

[October 2, 2023]

Shěn Lí frowned. “I only know that my parents were both members of the military, and that I was born in the battlefield. The Demon emperor raised me as his own. I don’t feel like my life experiences are anything strange. No one has ever questioned my identity.”

Lady Jīn was silent for a moment. “Perhaps your Demon emperor is hiding something from you. After your recovery, it would behoove you to ask him about it. Maybe you’ll get some new information.” She reached out to help Shěn Lí fasten her belt. “There are still two more sessions we need to complete, after which, I will not be able to touch you like this anymore. I’m reluctant to let you go.”

Shěn Lí smiled. “Lady Jīn has been kind to me. After I take care of my affairs, I will return to drink tea and play chess with madam to keep madam company.”

Lady Jīn covered her smile with her hand. “In that case, I will be waiting for you.” Before she finished her eyes suddenly sharpened with murderous intent. “Oh, what is a strange day. There are some fellows behaving atrociously in this humble servant’s home.”

Shěn Lí looked serious. “Will they be difficult to deal with?”

“Probably a little bit, but don’t be afraid, little sister. No matter how difficult, no hands that touch me or High God will remain intact. Just wait here for older sister to take care of them. I will come and bring you out after they’ve been taken cared off.”

Shěn Lí frowned. “I’ll go to.”

Lady Jīn pressed her down. “How much of your mana has been restored? Haven’t you lost your sense of touch today? What about your weapon? Do you intend to go barehanded into battle?”

Lady Jīn’s words stunned Shěn Lí.

Lady Jīn touched Shěn Lí’s head. “Be good. Until you’re completely healed, rest easy and let someone else take care of things. I will go.”

Shěn Lí sat staring at her hands in the silent cave after Lady Jīn left. Being so powerless was unacceptable to her. She wasn’t used to being on the other end of someone’s shield, sitting and waiting for news of victory. She should. . . 

She heard the faint sound of wind, but in an almost enclosed cave, there shouldn’t have been any. Her brows darkened and her eyes suddenly fell on a corner of the cave. The tiny sound awakened her already sensitive hearing. She should. . . 


Shěn Lí abruptly raised her head as a sharp blade flew past her head, taking a few strands along with it. Her gaze immediately shifted to the direction it came from, but she was too slow and something flickered just out of view. “Who is it?”

It stood to reason, with both Lady Jīn and Xíng Zhǐ guarding outside, even a mosquito couldn’t fly in. So how did this person . . 

The intruder stepped out, revealing a familiar face. Shěn Lí remembered he was with the group who attacked her that day and Xíng Zhǐ had made him carry the frozen leader away. But the way he was now was different from before. . . 

He crouched hunched over with a ferocious expression, his teeth was bared and specks of spit smeared all over the corner of his mouth. If it weren’t for his human form, Shěn Lí would have thought he was a beast.

Why was he. . .  how did he become this way?

Before Shěn Lí could come up with possible answers, the man roared and rushed forward. Shěn Lí ducked to the side and narrowly avoided him. He was nimble though, and quickly reacted, stretching out five sharp fingers at Shěn Lí’s waist. Her opponent was fighting at a higher level than from just a few days ago!

Shěn Lí gritted her teeth and summoned the little mana she worked so hard to regain and used it for form a magic barrier.

It would be impossible for her to fight him head on, so she looked around and noticed the dark hole behind the stone bed. That gave her an idea. She dodged and retreated back to the bed. As she stumbled onto it, she deliberately yelped to make it look like she was trapped. The man did as expected, and rushed toward her. She got into position and laid flat on the bed, then as he was about to reach her, she raised both feet up against him and used his momentum to swing him straight into the hole behind the bed.

She sighed in relief as she watched him fall into the hole in the wall.

“Shěn Lí!” Suddenly she heard Xíng Zhǐ calling out her name. Turning around, she saw him running in.

“How is it going outside. . . ” Before she could finish her sentence, something tugged at her clothes from behind. She turned her head and was shocked to see the man trying to crawl out of the hole like some ghost escaping hell. Behind him were pair of scarlet eyes that seemed to be staring directly at her. Before she could clearly make it out, a sense of weightlessness came over her and a strong force yanked at her. She had nothing to grab onto and was dragged into the abyss.

The moment she fell, she felt that her hand, which had been cooled by the wind, was being held firmly in a warm grasp.

In spite of everything, someone was accompanying her in her fall into the abyss.

Shěn Lí opened her eyes as cold water dripped on her race. She saw a deep darkness all around. Had she fallen into such a place or had she lost her five senses again? Shěn Lí pinched her face. Feeling the pain reassured her and she knew she hadn’t lost all five senses again. Since touch was restored, it had to have been some time since her fall. She didn’t know if it was time for her treatment with Lady Jīn again or not. If she missed the treatment, she was afraid things would not turn out well for her.

Shěn Lí stood up and touched the hard stone wall with her fingers. The place should be a cave at the bottom of the hole. Her current magic wouldn’t be enough to fly out with. Would she. . .  have to use her hands and legs to physically climb up?

Just as she was feeling helpless, she heard footsteps coming from the other end of the cave. The footfalls were light and steady – they had to be Xíng Zhǐ. Happy, she called out, “Xíng Zhǐ.”

The pace quickened and he reached her before long. “You’re awake.” Then after a pause he said, “Are you blind today?”

Shěn Lí was stunned. “Is there light in here?”

“Not originally, no. But the stone you picked out from the sea turned out to be luminous. Its light is just enough to see by. “

Shěn Lí nodded. “Just now I was thinking about how I couldn’t fly out. But things are better with you here. Let’s fly out together.”

Xíng Zhǐ thought for a moment. “I’m afraid it’s not that easy to get out. I walked around this place several times before you woke up. It looks like an ordinary cave with eight passages, but the thing is, the passages are all sealed. They’re dead ends. I can’t get out and I can’t find the passage we fell down from above either. I think there is a seal there.”

“Hmm. . . Lady Jīn did say something about this place being where she sealed her evil thoughts and desires.”

“So, that’s it. She’s chosen a good place. It’s a sealed place between Heaven and earth, easy to enter, but difficult to exit. Coupled with her strength, she can indeed seal monsters here. It’s a good place, but. . . ” Xíng Zhǐ smiled wryly. “Because it’s so good, it’s quite bad for us.”

“This. . .  could it be even High God doesn’t have a way out?”

“There is a way, but it would take time you don’t have.” Xíng Zhǐ’s voice was gloomy. “There’s only three hours until your next treatment, and that’s not enough time for me to do anything.”

“Then we can wait. Maybe Lady Jīn will have a way to rescue us.”

Xíng Zhǐ sighed. “It’s our only option for now.”

The cave had been silent for a while when Xíng Zhǐ asked, “Cold?”

As Shěn Lí shook her head, she heard Xíng Zhǐ say, “I am a little cold.”

“High God has a delicate body.” After that she followed the sounds of Xíng Zhǐ’s breathing and stood next to him. “Lady Jīn said I was like a furnace. Do you feel better standing together like this?”

“Hm. . .  a little closer.”

Shěn Lí took another small step.

The corners of Xíng Zhǐ’s mouth quirked a little. “Come closer.”

“I’m standing right next to you!”

Xíng Zhǐ laughed, and because of how close they were, his breath blew behind Shěn Lí’s ears and her cheeks burned.

Shěn Lí lowered her head and didn’t say anything for awhile before suddenly asking, “Lady Jīn said the power clashing with my spiritual power inside my body may be demon power.” The rest of her sentence came out muffled. “Since she can see that, High God and I, we’ve been in contact for so long, High God should be able to tell that too.”

Xíng Zhǐ just said, “Hm. . . ” without further explanation.

Shěn Lí opened her mouth wanting to ask, “Why didn’t you mention it earlier?” But she didn’t dare. People had their own reasons for things, so why bring it up?

Time slowly crept closer to Shěn Lí’s deadline, but there was no movement from above. Xíng Zhǐ suddenly said, “How did Lady Jīn treat you?”

Shěn Lí knew what he was thinking as soon as he asked the question because she was thinking it too. Regarding the meridians, Xíng Zhǐ would certainly be able to do it, but the problem was. . . 

Shěn Lí quieted her emotions and calmly said, “She bit the skin on my neck, then injected me with her spiritual energy through there. Afterwards, she used her energy to clear the qi in my body.” Shěn Lí left a lot out because she thought Lady Jīn asking her to take off her top was just so it would be easier for Lady Jīn to cool her body off.

They should be able to do something similar enough with her clothes on.

Xíng Zhǐ frowned. “Is that all?”

Shěn Lí confirmed. “That’s all.”

Xíng Zhǐ was silent before speaking. He knew the deadline was approaching. “This time I will be helping you.” He lifted Shěn Lí’s hair and gently pulled the fabric around her neck aside, exposing the faint outline of her collarbone. He thought back to the cool night when he was the mortal Xíng Yún and had stumbled upon the naked Shěn Lí. Back then, he had draped a blanket over her without even skipping a beat, but now. . . 

Now just a little collarbone was distracting him.

How hopeless.

Shěn Lí waited a long time, feeling Xing Zhi’s breath falling on her skin. Then she wondered if perhaps her neck was dirty, so she reached out to rub it. “Is my neck dirty?”

Xíng Zhǐ sighed and grabbed her hand saying, “It’s clean,” in a slightly hoarse voice. He bit her neck firmly but Shěn Lí’s skin was sturdy and his teeth weren’t as sharp as Lady Jīn’s teeth in snake form. As a result, the bite hurt, but didn’t break skin.

Shěn Lí gasped a little angrily. “Are you toying with me? Can’t you be more serious?”

Xíng Zhǐ wanted to hold his forehead.

Finally, he imbued magic to his teeth and bit. In one bite her skin broke and the coppery smell of blood flooded his mouth. He sent magic to slowly course through her blood, however, he didn’t expect he would encounter more skirmishes the farther he went. Shěn Lí’s temperature increased every time he resolved a battle. They hadn’t completed one entire circuit and Shěn Lí’s forehead was already covered in sweat. The head in her body had increased dramatically in just that short period.

Xíng Zhǐ knew Shěn Lí was hiding something from him. He immediately condensed cold air in his hands and sent it through Shěn Lí, but the speed of the cold air failed to keep up with the rising heat. His heart sank. He reached over and slid his hand down in front of Shěn Lí and untied her belt. Shěn Lí was delirious from the heat and offered no resistance when he took off her belt and clothes.

However, when Xíng Zhǐ put his palms on her, he discovered that his own clothes were acting as a barrier against the transmission of cold air. He froze when he realized what needed to be done. The spiritual aura he poured into her body stagnated and Shěn Lí became unwell almost immediately. Xíng Zhǐ came back to his senses and closed his eyes. Focusing, he lowered his robe and hugged a naked Shěn Lí in his arms.

64: Being Together

64: Being Together [read at]

[October 26, 2023 ]
NSFW - cuddly scenes ahead, some skin.

Xíng Zhǐ reached from behind and clasped one hand on Shěn Lí’s shoulder then wrapped the other around her waist. Shěn Lí sighed unconsciously when their skins touched as the heat in her body cooled a little at the contact. Xíng Zhǐ arched his back a bit to bite her neck and this caused Shěn Lí to lose some of their contact. She wiggled, trying to press herself deeper against him.

Xíng Zhǐ noticed what she was trying to do, so he gently lifted her up at the waist to get them better aligned. His heartbeat stopped for a moment when their skin touched there.

Shěn Lí. . . 

Xíng Zhǐ held Shěn Lí’s exposed breasts wrapped in his arms. He saw them as soon as he opened his eyes. The two peaks, a different color from the rest of her skin, were like the buds of an enticing flower. He itched to touch them.

Concentrate! He told himself.

He was keenly aware evil thoughts and desires discarded by Lady Jin were gathering around them. Though the evil had no form, it had been gathering for thousands of years, and could easily ensnare victims, exaggerating and amplifying emotions once it entered the heart. He couldn’t afford to be interrupted or make any mistakes while treating Shěn Lí!

He closed his eyes and calmed his mind, trying to let his spiritual power circulate in Shěn Lí’s body. One by the, the conflicts in her body resolved.

The heat in Shěn Lí’s body gradually tempered with Xíng Zhǐ’s spiritual power flowing in her. Soon enough, she regained her senses. She couldn’t see, but her touch was extremely sensitive. She was wrapped up in someone’s arms, and she could feel her back pressed tight against a strong, cool body. It was obvious who was holding her.

Shěn Lí had to admit her mind went blank. After a moment, her rationality returned, and she recognized that Xíng Zhǐ was treating her, but. . . 

Xíng Zhǐ’s head was really close to her ear and he was biting her neck. It was a dangerous position. He would only need to exert a little force to tear her neck and kill her. But the sense of danger and his spiritual power circulating inside her made her more keenly aware of him, and she knew they were. . . 

Stuck together in an undeniably intimate fashion. She could feel the beating of his heart, his breath on her shoulders as he breathed in and out, the slight moisture of his lips as it laid against her neck, and the occasional movement of his Adams apple as he swallowed. Everything became so clear and real. Even though Shěn Lí couldn’t see, she still squeezed her eyes tightly shut and gritted her teeth, hoping to feel less and calm her beating heart, hoping the unfamiliar impulses in her would slowly fade. . . 

But the lewd thoughts persisted!

Why was her dark world filled with the sounds of him? His heartbeat, his breathing, the friction of arms moving against her skin. All of it made her think of. . . 

She couldn’t control herself.

She moved uncomfortably, which made Xíng Zhǐ behind her take a heavy breath in. He gripped her hand tightly, as if warning her not to move; they would be done soon.

Shěn Lí could feel the spiritual forces had already made two complete circuits around her body, only one more circuit and he could stop.

Shěn Lí forced herself to calm down. How could her mind randomly wander off at a time like this? She gently took a deep breath that expanded her chest. And as if he was afraid of squishing her, Xíng Zhǐ loosened his grip for a moment, but when he went back to hold her again, his arms brushed against her nipple.

Shěn Lí felt like an electric shock went through her body. She stiffened and nearly stopped breathing.

She didn’t know what Xíng Zhǐ was thinking, but she knew she would go crazy if they touched like that again. But how could she afford to go crazy now? Even if she did lose control, she couldn’t harm Xíng Zhǐ.

“Why not?”

The sudden voice in her head was like an evil version of herself speaking from a dark corner. “Appetite and lust are a natural part of living. If the two are considered harmful, then aren't all born under Heaven born to harm?”

No, that wasn’t true. Xíng Zhǐ was born a god responsible for the world. He could not allow personal motives to influence him. Shěn Lí tried to argue with herself.

“Why do you have to suppress yourself just because he can’t act? It’s his problem he can’t be moved. What does it have to do with you? You are Shěn Lí; no one said your feelings aren’t allowed to move you. He needs to restrain himself, but isn’t it fine if you force him? This way he won’t be violating any Laws of the Heavenly Dao, and you can satisfy your own selfish desires. . . ”

Shěn Lí was shocked.

“There’s no one in this cave but the two of you.” She heard the tempting voice in her head. “Who in the world would know? You have always repressed your emotions and exercised self control. Of those under the Immortal realm; of those in the Demon realm, which of them are really sincere? While you’re here in this place, just give in. Who would know. . . 

The Laws of the Heavenly Dao will not find fault with Xíng Zhǐ. It is you, Shěn Lí, in your moment of weakness who couldn’t control yourself.”

The voice faded away only to be replaced by a heightened sense of touch. Maybe she was imagining it, but it felt like Xíng Zhǐ’s arms were trembling. The spiritual aura he passed through her completed its final circuit and returned to him.

They should have pulled apart at this point, but Xíng Zhǐ didn’t release her. He pulled his teeth back but kept his lips pressed against Shěn Lí’s skin. He kept it there without speaking or moving, like he was kissing the pulse on her neck. It was an ambiguous position rife with danger.

“Xíng Zhǐ. . . ” Shěn Lí rarely called him by name this way.

“Hm?” Xíng Zhǐ’s voice came out hoarse and incredibly alluring. It shook Shěn Lí’s already precarious heartstrings. She reached down and used one hand to stroke Xíng Zhǐ’s hand that was hugging her waist, then she used her other hand to gently cradle his head and press it against her, encouraging him. She listened to her own hoarse voice that came out. “Don’t move. . .  just stay like this. Don’t move.”

Xíng Zhǐ obeyed and kept his lips pressed firmly against her neck, feeling her blood pulse against his skin. Because Shěn Lí had moved a bit, blood was seeping from the bite wound. His eyes darkened, and whether intentional or not, he licked at the blood with the tip of his tongue.

The warmth and gentle movement of his tongue undid Shěn Lí. While keeping the grip on his head, she turned around in his arms and gripped his back as she eagerly kissed him.

The smell of coppery blood flowed between their connected lips.

“Xíng Zhǐ,” Shěn Lí’s voice was uncertain, but her next words were firm and sure. “I’m going to force you.”

The lips kissing her quirked upwards, and after a long time a hoarse voice finally replied, “Hm.”

Upon hearing Xíng Zhǐ’s response, Shěn Lí pulled away and fumbled around his neck until she found a spot she liked. She sucked fiercely and left an angry red mark on his skin. “This imprint shows I forced you.” She reiterated it. “I forced you.”

Xíng Zhǐ suddenly spoke up. “Shěn Lí, has no one told you that it’s annoying when a woman repeats herself?” He put one hand around the back of her head and pulled her to him, then without giving her a chance to reply, he kissed her.

Shěn Lí let him kiss her. As they kissed, she reached over and grabbed the hand he had around her waist and placed it on her chest, pressing it against her breasts. She froze for a moment when the palm of his hand touched her, but she adjusted and quickly wrapped her arms around his neck and used all her skills to tease his tongue and lips.

Xíng Zhǐ fondled Shěn Lí’s chest until she was dizzy, then he clumsily touched her nipple. When he saw her freeze up, he touched her again, boldly rubbing the nipple between his fingers. Shěn Lí melted and barely suppressed a moan. Xíng Zhǐ wrapped his arms around her before she collapsed.

“Shěn Lí, I really hope you won’t regret this.”

“If there’s anyone who’ll regret this. . .  it should be you.” Shěn Lí reached down to pull the rest of her clothes out of the way, and in her fumbling, touched something hot. Xíng Zhǐ suddenly straightened up. At this, she abruptly raised her head and kissed him on the lips.

The unexpected kiss caused Xíng Zhǐ to lean back and tumble to the ground. Shěn Lí threw herself down after him. She carefully stroked his bare chest and abs with one hand, eventually stopping at one of his nipples. “You’re not allowed to stop me,” she murmured as she gently leaned down and took the nipple in her mouth. “You won’t be able to,” and with that she softly bit down on the nub.

Xíng Zhǐ frowned at the slight tingling sensation.

“Shěn Lí.”

She heard him call her name but chose to ignore him because one of her hands had already reached the last covered place between them.

If the Laws of the Heavenly Dao really existed, then she hoped it would blame her. She chose to indulge in a moment of lust and pleasure because she couldn’t deny the desires raging in her heart. It was because she wanted to know how the person she admired so much would feel inside her.

If the Laws of the Heavenly Dao really existed, then let it blame her.

Shěn Lí straddled Xíng Zhǐ and calmly buried him in her body. The tearing pain almost stopped her, but it was the kind of pain that only happened once, so even if it tore her apart, she knew she had to continue.

She wanted to be with Xíng Zhǐ so much. She wanted to be together with him always.

The moment she guided him completely inside, her strength deserted her. Panting, she crawled to his chest and laid her head down to listen to his rapid heartbeat; it was beating as hard as hers. She felt him gently touching her and heard the distress in his voice when he asked, “Does it hurt?”

Her eyes instantly became moist. Her voice was hoarse and trembled. “It hurts.” She said, “It hurts Xíng Zhǐ.”

It hurts to leave you, and it hurts to be with you. She was so overwhelmed; she didn’t know what expression to make.

Xíng Zhǐ, who had been caressing her head gently, sat up with them still joined below. He pressed her head into the crook of his neck as he tenderly patted her back. “I am here, and I will always be here. No matter if the world falls apart. Shěn Lí, I will always be by your side.”

Shěn Lí trembled uncontrollably, and unable to suppress the pain any longer, bit his shoulder. In a situation where every touch was acutely felt, Xíng Zhǐ’s muscles jumped and the part of him inside her twitched.

Shěn Lí went limp, and Xíng Zhǐ had to support her.

“Don’t cry, Shěn Lí.” Xíng Zhǐ said as he wrapped his arms around her waist.

Shěn Lí wasn’t actually crying. She didn’t believe tears would change anything and felt they were only for the weak, but upon hearing Xíng Zhǐ’s words, a sense of powerlessness at being defeated by weakness overcame her. The tears erupted and flowed down her cheeks, soaking his shoulders.[notes]

Xíng Zhǐ sighed softly and spoke as if admitting defeat. “It hurts me too.”

She could feel Xíng Zhǐ’s pulse beating inside her. It was too tight and she felt numb, sore, and bloated. Upon thinking about it. . . being strangled like that would make him feel uncomfortable. Shěn Lí hugged him and laughed. The laughter brought tears as well, but she just wiped them away and didn’t stop laughing. “The two of us. . . ” Shěn Lí continued, “are really something.”

65: Acting on Impulse

65: Acting on Impulse

[November 12, 2023]
NSFW - cuddly scenes ahead, some skin.

“Yes, we are.” Xíng Zhǐ responded softly, his lips gently rubbed against Shěn Lí’s neck, slowly heading down on their way to bury themselves in the mounds on her chest. He tugged at a nipple with his mouth, teasing her the same way she had teased him earlier, licking the bud with his tongue and arousing her further with his hands.

Shěn Lí’s already tense body became even more tense.

“Xíng Zhǐ.” Shěn Lí hugged his head to her chest where her senses were concentrated. It felt less painful down below; and emboldened, she moved her waist just a bit. There was only a bit of friction where they were joined, but it was enough to make Xíng Zhǐ tense and let out an extremely ambiguous moan.

Xíng Zhǐ chuckled against Shěn Lí’s skin. He was a god, but it turned out gods were nothing special after all. He had tried so hard to restrain himself, but it only took a single movement from Shěn Lí for his defenses to crumble.

Fortunately, Shěn Lí didn’t move any more after that. The single motion had brought enough pain to make her tremble all over. There wasn’t a shred of pleasure to be found.

“I don’t understand. . . ” Shěn Lí’s breath came out haggard. “Why. . . why would anyone be keen on doing this?”

It was worse than being cut with a sword.

They gradually calmed down as their breaths intermingled. Eventually Xíng Zhǐ spoke up, “If it’s so painful, we can stop.”

Shěn Lí gritted her teeth. “Fancy you saying that.” She breathed heavily and her lower abdomen tightened. After the pain passed, a numb tingling spread where they were joined. She gripped Xíng Zhǐ’s back tightly enough for the tips to be white, then bit his shoulder. “Even if this pain kills me, me I will not give up!”

It was their first chance, perhaps the only and last one they had, to surrender completely to each other. Shěn Lí gritted her teeth and used all her will to put the burdens of the three realms out of her heart. All the responsibilities that came with her identity, she tossed them out as far away as she could, just to steal this one moment with Xíng Zhǐ.

She wanted Xíng Zhǐ. Even if she tore herself apart, even if she burned to ashes, even if she fell to the lowest level of hell, she would still want him.

For this one moment, she chose to be just Shěn Lí, surrendering wholeheartedly to the person in her arms, melting together as one. She wouldn’t ask for too much, nor would she dare, but this one moment was enough.

She gyrated up and down, her body trembling as she did so. The movement was extremely painful for her, but it was wonderous for Xíng Zhǐ.

Xíng Zhǐ’s face turned red instantly, and his breathing became uncontrolled and heavy when he saw Shěn Lí’s blood seep out and stain where their bodies were joined. Hugging her, he could feel the tremors of pain shake her body and hear the moans of pain she couldn’t suppress.

The physical pleasure became a crushing pain in his heart. He could feel Shěn Lí’s despair, and it wasn’t hard for him to guess what she was thinking. It was precisely because he understood her so well and could read her mind so easily that he couldn’t control his feelings for her.

She was so feisty and loved to show off how brave she was. How was it that he lost control and ended up falling in love with someone like her?

“Shěn Lí” He called out her name hoarsely. “I will be with you.” And as if swearing an oath said, “Always.”

Shěn Lí’s movements became fiercer, and Xíng Zhǐ could tell she was unhappy. He controlled his arousal and hugged her so tightly she couldn’t move. Patting her back gently he said, “So, don’t be afraid, don’t be scared.”

Shěn Lí sat on him as if she was out of strength and slowly calmed down. She reached forward to touch his face and smiled suddenly. “It’s strange, you’re holding me so tightly; we’re so close together, and yet, somehow, I feel. . .  terrified.”

Xíng Zhǐ placed a kiss on her neck and breathed lightly. “Shěn Lí, please believe in me.”

Shěn Lí didn’t know how to do that, so she didn’t think about it. Instead, she turned her unease into action and lowered her head for a fierce kiss. She would just do what she wanted for now, and deal with the consequences afterwards.

She wanted to take the initiative again, but never expected something below would suddenly move. The unexpected loss of control was unusual for her, but everything was hurting, so she didn’t force it, and instead relied in Xíng Zhǐ to lead.

His movements were extremely relaxed and gentle. Shěn Lí knew this was unusual based on the conversations she overheard from the men in the army when they talked about this kind of thing. Xíng Zhǐ’s body under her was filled with heat, and his breathing was laboriously controlled. Shěn Lí knew Xíng Zhǐ couldn’t possibly be “enjoying himself to the fullest extent”. Despite the situation, he was still exercising consideration for her.

Her heart skipped a beat. Things were already at this point; shouldn’t one of them be having a good time? She reached her arms around Xíng Zhǐ’s back while her lips and tongue worked ruthlessly sucking on the pulse of his neck. She heard him swallow uncontrollably, and though the speed of his movement increased, they were still restrained. Shěn Lí bit his ear, softly saying, “It’s OK. You can hurry up.”

Xíng Zhǐ suddenly smiled, and when he spoke, his voice was hoarse. “Don’t be anxious. You’ll hurt otherwise.”

“I’m fine; I can bear it.” Shěn Lí hugged him.

Xíng Zhǐ stopped moving and sighed. “Why do you still not understand?” He raised his head and bit Shěn Lí’s chin as though to scold her. “I just want to make you. . .  happy.”

Apparently, they were both trying to make each other happy.

Shěn Lí held back the pain and took the initiative to move. “Xíng Zhǐ, you don’t understand; I am happy enough as is.” She moved, and in so doing, caused Xíng Zhǐ to lose his restraint. He pulled her clothes to the side to use as padding before turning over and smoothly flipping Shěn Lí under him, switching their positions.

Though Shěn Lí left countless scratches on his back, she didn’t utter a single cry of pain. Occasionally, his name would rip from her throat, as if he was the only person who existed for her, and they were the only two people in the world lingering on.

“Xíng Zhǐ.” her voice broke as she continued, “You don’t know how much I want to be with you.”

“Then let’s be together.” He leaned down and gently kissed her lips. His breaths came in hard fast bursts and his movements became more urgent. Shěn Lí gritted her teeth as her body convulsed.

The scorching heat dissipated, and their breathing became ragged.

“That’s impossiblenbsp;. . ”

Shěn Lí’s voice was hitched, and she was wheezing, but her words came out crisp and cold. “We can’t.”

Exhausted, Shěn Lí closed her eyes and fell asleep.

Her vison returned when she woke up, and she began looking around the cave. So, this was what it looked like. Her nudity combined with the stagnant air left a lingering ambiguous aura around her and Xíng Zhǐ, whose clothes were being used as a blanket over them. It was like they were sleeping in the same bed. The thought made Shěn Lí smile.

She sat up and reached to tug at her clothes being pinned under Xíng Zhǐ, but Xíng Zhǐ refused to budge. She frowned after pulling for a long time with no luck.

Xíng Zhǐ sighed, then with his eyes still closed he said, “I was waiting for you to call out my name.” When he did open his eyes, they were clear and wide awake.

Shěn Lí stayed silent for a moment before speaking. “Now that you’re awake, let me get my clothes.”

But Xíng Zhǐ still refused to budge. “You’ll need treatment again in another four or five hours.”

Shěn Lí was slow in reacting to his words, but once it hit her, her face became stiff. It was true. She would need treatment again in another few hours! Well, so what? Did he intend to be forced again? Did he want them to sit around naked until then? And, in such a situation, shouldn’t he at least blush at saying such words?

Shěn Lí was silent for a long time, then she yanked hard at her clothes and finally freed them out from under Xíng Zhǐ.

“We’ll deal with it when the time comes.”

She threw Xíng Zhǐ’s robe off, then in a natural and relaxed manner, changed into her own clothes in front of him. By the time she turned around, Xíng Zhǐ was also fully dressed.

“Your Highness is so polite; how could I be rude?”

Shěn Lí nodded, sat down, then with a solemn expression said, “Everything that happened today was my fault. There is no need for High God to take any of the blame.”

Xíng Zhǐ was stunned as he watched her speak so earnestly, but then he shook his head and smiled. “A few things. First, I never blamed myself. Second, what is it that’s your fault exactly? Third, Shěn Lí, how did you force me? And finally. . . ” Xíng Zhǐ abruptly stood up and went to Shěn Lí. He knelt on one knee, and leaned over before lifting her chin. When she didn’t react, he sealed her lips with a kiss, grinding his lips against hers for a few seconds before releasing her.

He stared her in the eyes and smiled a little helplessly. “I know what I’m doing; I’ve been clearheaded the entire time.”

Shěn Lí froze and didn’t know how to react. When she did make a move, it was to shove Xíng Zhǐ away; however, he didn’t move and she was the one who ended up losing her balance and falling to the ground. Covering her lips, she looked at him and said, “You’re crazy.”

Xíng Zhǐ chuckled. “That’s right. I haven’t been sane since you were purportedly buried in the Eastern sea.”

“No.” Shěn Lí looked grave. “No! I can be crazy; other people can be crazy, and even the three realms can go crazy, but you can’t. Their lives are in your hands! You can’t go crazy!”

“Then what can I do? I’ve stepped into an abyss, and though I struggled and denied it, in the end, Heaven refused to let me go. Shěn Lí, what can I do?”

Xíng Zhǐ looked at Shěn Lí, who was silent, for a long time before continuing. “If it was just passion without defiance, then it’s unlikely there will be a Heavenly backlash. Shěn Lí, if you are willing to believe in me. . . ” He smiled. “If you are willing, then let’s be together. We can stay forever in the Celestial realm; there won’t be anyone to bother us there.”

Shěn Lí shook her head as she said, “I can’t do that.”

There were still so many unresolved things. With Fú Shēng around, the Demon realm would always be under threat. On top of that, her own past was becoming impossible to unravel. The Celestial realm would be stable and safe, but stability wasn’t what she wanted. She could pretend to just be Shěn Lí while inside the cave, but once out, she would have to return to being the Azure Sky king. She had a home in the Demon realm and so many subordinates under her command.

Xíng Zhǐ was unrestrained and dared to declare he wouldn’t violate the laws of the Heavenly Dao because of his personal feelings, but Shěn Lí couldn’t let go of her responsibilities.

Besides, even if they were to seriously retire to Celestial realm, with her by his side, who knew what kind of trouble could arise? Would the Immortal realm really tolerate such a precarious Celestial realm? One that could fall down upon their heads at any time?

It was peaceful in there now, but it wouldn’t stay peaceful for long.

Xíng Zhǐ smiled and spoke after a long silent. “Well, all right, whatever we talk about here is influenced anyway; let’s talk after we get out.”

66: How the Monster Beast Demons Were Created

66: How the Monster Beast Demons Were Created

[November 25, 2023]

The cave had been silent for a long time when Shěn Lí suddenly remembered something and asked. “I almost forgot, but there was a man in black serving under Fú Shēng who fell along with us. What happened to him?”

Startled, Xíng Zhǐ shook his head and spoke with a smile. “Shěn Lí, despite living for so long, this is my first time meeting a woman who can turn around and talk business right after making love. And you’re so direct about it.”

Shěn Lí coughed awkwardly at his teasing.

Xíng Zhǐ had a good long laugh before straightening his expression. “The man disappeared to ashes and smoke when he fell. It was as if he’d used all his strength.” He frowned upon recalling it. “The scene reminded me of something from the past.”

Something from the past that could make Xíng Zhǐ frown? Shěn Lí was curious. She could see something deep fluttering in his eyes when she met his gaze.

Xíng Zhǐ was silent for a moment before speaking. “You should know of the monsters that created chaos in the Demon realm.”

Shěn Lí nodded silently; she knew about this. A thousand years ago, when the monsters wrecked havoc in the Demon realm, Xíng Zhǐ had torn open a rift in space and sealed all of them inside.

Xíng Zhǐ curled his lips. “I’m afraid you don’t know the full story. Thousands of monster beasts appeared in the Demon realm, but it wasn’t like they appeared out of nowhere. The previous Demon emperor, Liù Míng, refined them using the forbidden arts. At that time, Liù Míng was dissatisfied with the Immortal realm’s incompetence and wasn’t willing to be subservient. He wanted to take the Immortal emperor’s throne; however, the ministers in court strongly opposed the idea, because although the Immortal realm had no merits to call its own, it didn’t have any hostility either. Sending troops out could potentially jeopardize the lives of those in the Demon realm.

Unwilling, the Demon emperor secretly refined thousands of monster beasts with the intention of attacking the Immortal realm; however, he lost control and the monsters ran loose. They wreaked havoc in the Demon realm until the Demon emperor finally sent a message to the Immortal realm. The Immortal emperor came to me, which then led to me sealing the monsters away.”

Shěn Lí was stunned. She remembered clearly the battle with the scorpion-tailed fox. A monster that hadn’t even fully recovered its power had her and her soldiers in a horrible position. It went to show just how powerful the monsters were. To think, such monsters had been refined by a single person. . .  it was truly formidable. But it wasn’t strength that made him so formidable, but greed. His desire for more led to the creation of thousands of monsters without any restraint. Had there been no Xíng Zhǐ, his greed would have harmed everyone, including himself.

“Coming to the Demon realm, that was the first time I fought the monsters. I didn’t know what they were. I fought for three days and three nights before discovering they were extremely hard to kill with swords and spells. And even if I killed one, the dead would turn into black smoke and get sucked into the belly of its companions. This only served to enhance the powers of those remaining.”

If so. . .  then sealing was indeed the fastest way to resolve the situation. Shěn Lí couldn’t help but sigh at how decisive and clever Xíng Zhǐ’s tactics were. She was embarrassed when she remembered how she had questioned his actions before.

“Have you thought of it yet?” Xíng Zhǐ suddenly asked Shěn Lí.

Startled, Shěn Lí thought about what he just said, and upon considering it, her face blanched. “Those monster beasts and the man in black, they were the same things?”

Xíng Zhǐ nodded. “They may not have been perfectly formed when we first encountered them in Yáng Zhōu, but after this meeting, I feel that whoever made them is very skilled.”

Shěn Lí gritted her teeth. “It must be that devious Fú Shēng. But how does he know the monster beast refining method? And then there’s your Water-Stop technique. Just what are they trying to do exactly. . . ”

Xíng Zhǐ touched her head and said, “You’re not good at being devious, so it’s difficult for you to understand these kinds of schemes.”

Shěn Lí narrowed her eyes in dissatisfaction, which made Xíng Zhǐ smile like he was teasing a cat. He said, “To answer your first question, it’s my opinion that Fú Shēng may not really know how to refine monster beasts, otherwise he would have refined them directly. Why go to the effort of creating half finished products? He probably knows part of the process, but for some reason, doesn’t know the entirety of it. What I wonder is where his part of the knowledge came from. I remember having beheaded Liù Míng. Aside from him, there shouldn’t be anyone else who knows the refining technique. . . ”

Xíng Zhǐ pondered it over for a moment before putting his doubts aside. “The second and third questions may be answered together. First of all, their “Water-Stop” technique is just a child’s ice trick. How can you manipulate divine magic without divine power? Secondly, do you still remember Prince Ruì?”

“I remember.”

“He was the reincarnation of the god Qīng Yè, who was sentenced to eternally remain on the wheel of reincarnation. Now the Water-stop technique is my spell, but Qīng Yè is a dear friend of mine, and I did teach him some of my techniques. If you remember Prince Ruì’s life,then you’ll remember Fú Shēng appeared in that lifetime too. He may have spied on Qīng Yè’s godhood memories and learned a little bit about the Water-Stop technique that way.”

A realization hit Shěn Lí. “Now that I think about it, he may have secretly manipulated many things in the past, such as when the Crown Prince found you living as Xíng Yún, and when he burned down your small courtyard and forced us to seek refuge with King Ruì. I remember feeling a demonic aura when we were at Prince Ruì’s palace. . .  it turned out it was him.”

Xíng Zhǐ nodded. “You do remember it clearly. Can you keep guessing? What did he hope to achieve by doing all those things?”

Shěn Lí rolled her eyes. “I was forced to leave you, and then was captured by the Demon emperor and brought back to marry Lord Fú Róng. . .  He wants me to marry Lord Fú Róng?” Shěn Lí was surprised. “What good would that do him?”

“The benefit wasn’t you marrying, but that you would have to live in the Immortal realm after marriage. He wanted you to leave the Demon realm.”

Shěn Lí suddenly understood. But this understanding only brought more questions.

Xíng Zhǐ smiled as he watched Shěn Lí frown. He continued guiding her. “At that time, if I hadn’t extended the deadline for your marriage, you would have already married Lord Fú Róng. What happened to the Demon realm around this time?”

Shěn Lí abruptly stood up, her face pale, as she remembered. “The Ruins. . . . their goal was the Ruins!”

At the time, the monster beasts had escaped the Ruins and seriously injured the soldiers guarding the border. The Demon emperor sent two generals, Mò Fāng and Zi Xià to support them. Later, Zi Xia died of exhaustion after using all his energy to ride back as fast as he could to report to the Demon emperor. Mò Fāng. . .  Mò Fāng was seriously injured at the time as well. But Mò Fāng was one of theirs, so how could he die?

Soon after, Xíng Zhǐ came to the Demon realm to reshape the seals, and not long after that, the immortal mountain gods of the human world were kidnapped one after another. Although they didn’t know the reason behind the kidnappings, it had to be related to Fú Shēng’s creation of half-finished monster demons! At that time, she was still fighting the three monster demons in the temple.

“So, the method they obtained to refined the monster demons came from the Ruins. . . ”

Shěn Lí rubbed her brows, her mind a confused jumble. So many things that seemed natural and normal on the surface, once inspected, were in actuality manipulated to reach a specific outcome.

Shěn Lí asked, “These things, you knew them this morning?”

Xíng Zhǐ shook his head. “It was only after there were more clues that I was able to slowly connect the dots.”

Shěn Lí held her head. “We have to get out of here as soon as possible. I must report this to the emperor so we can take countermeasures.”

Xíng Zhǐ lowered his eyes. “I don’t want to say this, but I must advise you to be weary of the current Demon emperor.”

His words startled Shěn Lí and she looked at him blankly. His express was cool as he looked at her. “My strength was greatly diminished after sealing the demon beasts away a thousand years ago, and I did not have the strength to manage the affairs in the Demon realm. A new monarch needed to be appointed; however, within the Demon realm, there were those who agreed with Liù Míng and resented being subservient to the Immortal realm. At that time, the Demon realm was in chaos, and everyone was eager to choose someone talented and capable of taking on the heavy responsibilities of governing, so the candidate’s standing on the matter wasn’t considered. I, myself am not sure what kind of person the current Demon emperor is, but I am certain he is hiding something from you.”

Shěn Lí didn’t even frown, directly saying, “The Demon emperor will deceive me and hide things from me, but he will never harm me. I trust him completely.”

Her decisive and firm answer startled Xíng Zhǐ. He lowered his eyes as he spoke, “It would be great if you could trust me like that.”

His voice was soft, but how could Shěn Lí not hear? She turned her head and said, “This is different. The Demon emperor is both my teacher and. . .  my father. Without him, I wouldn’t have managed to stay alive to this day. He saved me countless times. And right now, even if I knew that he has been lying to me and wanted my life, I would not argue.”

Xíng Zhǐ looked at her quietly. He lowered his eyes again and murmured in an extremely low voice, “How could I let you give your life to him? Now that things have become like this and you’ve let me. . .  how can I be willing to give you up?”

Silence hung in the cave. Shěn Lí turned away and changed the topic. “Speaking of which, how did Fú Shēng and the others know we’re here? With your skills, how could anyone trail you?”

Xíng Zhǐ shook his head. “If my guess is correct, they aren’t here to find us. . . ”

Shěn Lí was shocked. Had they come to the snowy mountain for treasures? But that couldn’t be right. If they were seeking treasure, why come to this remote cave? The only possible explanation was if they were targeting Lady Jīn. Shěn Lí frowned. “When you came down, you left Lady Jīn alone to defend against Fú Shēng. Will she be OK?”

“There’s no need to worry about her. If nothing else, her ability to escape is second to none.”

“Oh, this humble servant thought to come down and assist, but to hear High God say such a thing, this humble servant is saddened.” A charming voice sounded above their heads. Shěn Lí looked up and saw that the opening was still sealed, but the voice was clear as though they were only separated by a thin film of paper. “High God must apologize to this humble servant, otherwise this humble servant will not assist! Hmph!”

Xíng Zhǐ thought about it for a moment. “In that case, I will not apologize. Return by yourself.”

Shěn Lí was stunned, but Lady Jīn laughed. “Ha, actually High God just wants to stay in there with Little Sister longer. I won’t go along with that.”

Immediately after, a hole opened above Shěn Lí’s head and a tunnel appeared leading upwards.

“Come out quickly.” Lady Jīn spoke urgently.

Xíng Zhǐ knew what to do and with a flash had grabbed Shěn Lí around the waist and flew up the passage. Above them, in the stone room, Lady Jīn was standing beside the bed. Immediately after Xíng Zhǐ and Shěn Lí jumped out, Lady Jīn made a seal with her hands, and a golden light sealed the entrance of the cave. She slid down against the stone wall. Countless screams and shouts bashed against the golden light as whatever was inside tried to get out. Golden light burst out and the sounds disappeared.

Lady Jīn wiped the seat from her brow and sighed. “Finally, those guys are sealed.” She turned around and gave Xíng Zhǐ and Shěn Lí with an ambiguous look. “You were down there; you weren’t bullied were you?”

Shěn Lí coughed, pushed aside the hand that was still holding her waist, and said with a straight face, “High God is pure and upright, so those evil thoughts did not cause any trouble.”

Lady Jīn’s eyebrows drooped upon hearing this. “No. . . ” Her tone was extremely disappointed.

After all, she was looking forward to hearing about how her evil thoughts had tormented them while they were down there.

Shěn Lí silently wiped a cold sweat.

Suddenly, as though she just thought of something, Lady Jīn’s eyes lit up. “How did you get treatment yesterday. . . ” She started to speak, but was interrupted by Xíng Zhǐ’s deep shout of “Look out!”

Lady Jīn turned her head just as a shrill scream sounded behind her. It rang so harshly in her ears that she fell down in surprise. A mass of black energy rushed out from the cave opening and passed through Lady Jīn’s side, leaving behind a trail of shrill female laughter in its wake.

“This is terrible. . . ” Lady Jīn covered her ears and slumped down against the stone bed.

Shěn Lí hurried over to help her up. Lady Jīn whispered, “This is impossible. How did it get enough power to break through the seal. . . ?”

Xíng Zhǐ was silent for a moment before speaking. “Perhaps it absorbed the emotions and desires in our hearts.”

Lady Jīn raised her head and looked at Xíng Zhǐ. “High God, I dare ask, just how formidable are these desires?! This is causing great harm to his humble one!”

67: Faced with the Hope and Expectations of Others


[December 11, 2023]

Since it’s my fault, I’ll help you recover it.”

As soon as Xíng Zhǐ finished speaking, Lady Jīn hurriedly said, “No! It’s better for this humble servant do it. You will be in trouble if you fail to understand its character and fall into its trap again!”

Shěn Lí frowned. “What was that thing just now? Its sound seems to have hurt you.”

“This humble one has tossed ten thousand years worth of unwanted desires into that hole. After such a long time, it condensed and took shape similar to my own shadow. It was a part of me, so naturally it will know my weaknesses.”

“In that case, you can’t fight against it.” Shěn Lí said. “I caused this trouble, and so I should take care of it up.”

Lady Jīn turned her head and gently touched Shěn Lí’s face with weak boneless hands. Her eyes were watery when she spoke. “Good sister, how can you be so responsible? It really makes my heart pitter patter.” She pouted after saying this and moved closer toward Shěn Lí’s face, but before she could touch contact, Xíng Zhǐ pulled Shěn Lí away. Lady Jīn missed her target.

Xíng Zhǐ raised his lips in a smile when he spoke, “Speak properly.”

Lady Jīn curled her lips and said, “It understands me, but I understand it even better. It’s just something I threw away. Do you really think this humble servant can’t handle?” She straightened her clothes and got off the stone bed. “But the thing can confuse people’s hearts, inciting lust and evil desires, strengthening itself from these emotions. Weren’t the two of you tricked by it when you were down there?” She looked at the two of them ambiguously. Her eyes narrowed with laughter when she saw Shěn Lí turning away and coughing awkwardly with a flushed face.

“In this aspect, it is an extremely troublesome thing. This humble servant must capture it as soon as possible to keep it from harming anyone else.” She waved farewell saying, “This humble one bid you both farewell. Take care of yourselves!” and flashed out of the cave.

But even before Shěn Lí could say, “Wait a moment,” a golden light appeared and Lady Jīn was back.

“Ah, this humble servant forgot to mention, the time for the final treatment is coming soon and since High God did the last treatment, this humble servant will have to trouble High God to do the final one as well.

After the treatment is complete, little sister may fall sleep, but upon waking up again, all your senses should be restored. As for qi, that will depend on daily meditation and breathing exercises to slowly recover.” She winked at Shěn Lí before saying, “One final chance, don’t waste it.”

A gust of wind blew.

Shěn Lí’s mouth twitched as she looked at the spot where Lady Jīn used to be. It didn’t look like Lady Jīn’s evil thoughts and desires had been stripped away at all! She was blatantly hinting; then to run off after saying such an ambiguous thing, she was clearly not taking responsibility!

Shěn Lí turned to Xíng Zhǐ, intending to talk about serious matters, but when she did, she saw him holding his chin with a stern expression on his face.

“Speaking of which, the last treatment should start soon. Shall we do it on the stone?”

“You can’t be serious?!” Shěn Lí scolded in a deep voice. Her ears were red, but Xíng Zhǐ only smiled.

“May I ask Your Highness which of my words were not serious?”

Shěn Lí fell silent. Just when she felt overwhelmed by embarrassment, another golden light flashed in the cave. She lashed out like a frightened bird, “What else do you want!”

Lady Jīn was hurt. “Hey now, I was only gone for a second. Little sister, how could you treat this humble servant like that?” Her eyes glistened, and Shěn Lí held her forehead.

“No, I lost my temper for a moment. I apologize.”

“I wanted to say that it might take some effort for me to catch my evil thoughts. The troublemaker from earlier, the one you call Fú Shēng, you are going to settle your score with him later right? If you find him, remember to bring my golden core back.” Lady Jīn aggrievedly said, “The day you fell, this humble servant was so anxious that she did not check. Fú Shēng’s people found my golden core and stole it away. Although this humble servant does not need it, the thought of giving it away for free is just. . . ”

“Fú Shēng took your golden core?” Shěn Lí interrupted Lady Jīn and murmured, “Why does he want your golden core?”

“This humble servant does not know either.” Lady Jīn waved her hand. “I really won’t say anything more on the matter. That thing will escape if I’m late.” Lady Jīn hurried away.

After what Xíng Zhǐ told her, Shěn Lí knew Fú Shēng had a reason for the things he did; so then what did he want with Lady Jīn’s golden core? How did it relate to everything that was already happening?

Xíng Zhǐ reached out with a finger to massage Shěn Lí’s brow upon seeing her frown deepen. “Even if we can’t understand these things now, we will once we look back on them. Our highest priority right now is healing your body.”

Shěn Lí stiffened slightly, but the treatment had to be done. She nodded, then turned her back and slowly stripped. Though Xíng Zhǐ had already seen her nude body, they were in a different place; and the change in location combined with the lack of barriers between them made her feel ashamed. She didn’t dare turn around after taking off her clothes; instead she covered her breasts and turned her head slightly to speak to him over her shoulder. “We can start. . . ”

Xíng Zhǐ, still fully clothed, looked coldly at what could only be the representation of her military achievements. It was as if time froze; he did nothing but stare at the scars on her back.

Shěn Lí frowned and turned back to look at him curiously. “What?”

Xíng Zhǐ shook his head and gave a helpless smile. “I feel distressed.”

His words surprised Shěn Lí. Her mouth twitched, but in the end, she just turned her head away and said, “It is nothing. The pain faded a long time ago.”

Xíng Zhǐ remained motionless.

After a moment of silence, Shěn Lí said, “High God, did you know human memories are deceptive, especially about the wounds that are made, about the pain that accompanies them? Because remembering the pain clearly would mean not being able to move forward. After so many years of training my mind and body, I’ve developed the practical skill of selective forgetfulness.” She turned to look at Xíng Zhǐ. “I’ve forgotten about the pain of yesterdays gone by. These injuries stopped hurting so long ago I’ve forgotten they’re even there.”

Xíng Zhǐ hugged her from behind in a cool embrace with his chilly arms. Their skin touched again, and like yesterday, she could feel his heartbeat clearly. “Shěn Lí,” he whispered from behind her, “I want to protect you and give you a lifetime of peace and security. Tell me, are you willing?”

Shěn Lí was silent for a long time, her only reply was a sigh. “Let’s heal the injury first. Just this one time. . .  please don’t. . .  I won’t be able to forgive myself.”

Xíng Zhǐ chuckled in her ear. “Who do you think I am? I’m not going to force you if you are unwilling. Besides that. . .  you were so brave yesterday, you should still be suffering some discomfort.”

Shěn Lí’s cheeks burned. She knew she shouldn’t, but a strange feeling invaded her heart.

In time, their treatment was completed.

When the power that helped Shěn Lí dredge her meridians returned to Xíng Zhǐ’s mouth, Shěn Lí felt a powerful slumber steal over her body. Her eyelids were so heavy, she could barely lift them. Before losing consciousness, Shěn Lí managed to utter a few words. “I should. . .  return to the Demon realm.”

Xíng Zhǐ hugged her and stood silently for a moment before laying her down on the stone bed and dressing her. He touched her head as he spoke. “I know you will be angry, but I refuse to let you return to the Demon realm.”

When Shěn Lí woke up again, she felt peaceful winds and auspicious clouds surrounding her. She rubbed her eyes, and she could see her vision was back. She could hear the sound of wind with her ears, feel her body in an embrace, smell the faint fragrance of the person near her. Her hearing, touch, and smell had returned. She raised her hand and bit the webbing between her thumb and index finger. The slight coppery taste of blood touched her tongue; and she knew her sense of taste had returned as well.

All five sense were present. She had fully recovered!

“Xíng Zhǐ.” She shouted out his name jubilantly, the joy clear in her voice.

Xíng Zhǐ hummed softly in response.

“I have finally recovered all my senses.” Shěn Lí smiled happily.

Infected by her happiness, Xíng Zhǐ also smiled.

“Now I just need to meditate to recover my magic. Then I can collect Fú Shēng’s debt on behalf of the Demon realm and myself!”

The curve of Xíng Zhǐ’s smile narrowed slightly after Shěn Lí finished speaking. “Can I collect it for you?”

Shěn Lí was stunned, but she shook her head. “He schemed to harm me and the Demon realm. I need to do it personally.”

Xíng Zhǐ argued. “His intentions target the Ruins, and he is a concern I left unsettled; so I should take care of him.”

Shěn Lí was surprised. “This isn’t a conflict. We’re dealing with the same enemy. It’s not that I am rejecting help, it’s simply that I wish to collect my debt personally. If you want to go; we can join forces.”

“I mean to say, I will be the only one going," said Xing Zhi.

Only then did Shěn Lí feel something was off. She frowned then asked. “Go where?”

“We are almost to the southern gates of the Immortal realm.”

Shěn Lí’s frown didn’t go away. “What did you bring me here for? Didn’t I say I wanted to return to the Demon realm?” As she spoke, she struggled to get out of Xíng Zhǐ’s embrace, but her body felt stiff, and she couldn’t move. Furious, she yelled out, “What the hell are you trying to do?!”

“The Celestial realm has its own barrier. Intruders can not enter. Wait there for me and I will let you out once I’ve settled everything.”

Shěn Lí’s voice was sharp. “You want to put me under house arrest?”

Xíng Zhǐ glanced at her then said, “If you want to call it that, then yes, I am putting you under house arrest.”

“That’s absurd! You’re crazy!”

Xíng Zhǐ stopped talking once they entered the Southern gate.

The guards were about to kneel down in salute after spotting Xíng Zhǐ, but when they saw the person Xíng Zhǐ was carrying, they were momentarily stunned. The two guards hurriedly stepped forward to stop him. “High God! High God! Isn’t this. . .  isn’t this the Azure Sky king? She. . .  she is. . . ”

Shěn Lí shouted in fury. “I am the king; now hurry up and knock some sense in to your god and have him put me down!” Well that was what she wanted to say, but the words refused to leave her throat. She couldn’t even open her mouth!


One guard murmured to himself, as if he was stunned. “I really discovered it. . . ”

His companion glared at him. Immediately understanding, he turned around and ran towards the Immortal emperor’s palace, while the other guard stopped Xíng Zhǐ. “High God, will High God be returning to the Celestial realm now?”

Xíng Zhǐ ignored him and walked away.

The guard hurriedly called out, “High God, please stay! A few days ago. . .  because High God was in the lower realm. . .  erk. . .  acting in the Eastern sea, the Celestial realm shifted. The skies are unstable. If High God returns to the Celestial realm now, I’m afraid things will turn bad. . . ”

The skies were unstable?

The instability must have been because the only remaining god had been sanctioned by the Heavenly Dao. Shěn Lí stared in astonishment at Xíng Zhǐ. What did he do in the Eastern sea? It turned out his injuries before were from the backlash.

Xíng Zhǐ paused. “Was anyone hurt?”

“Tiles fell sporadically, but no one was hurt. It’s just that the stone tiles from the Celestial realm are very heavy, and they smashed through all nine levels of the Immortal realm before falling to the lower realm. Fortunately, only the mountains were hit and no one in the lower realm was hurt.”

Just a few pieces of tiles and stone could be that dangerous to people. . . 

Shěn Lí gritted her teeth secretly. Faced with this reality, she knew it would be too selfish to indulge in her own desires.

“I will discuss this with the emperor afterwards. You can return to guarding the gate.” Xíng Zhǐ spoke calmly, then turned to leave. Just as the guard moved to stop him again, a loud shout rang from the horizon.

“High God, please stay! High God, please stay!” The Immortal emperor had not used the imperial carriage, but directly took a cloud over. He was in such a hurry to step off that he almost stumbled. The emperor exclaimed in surprise when he saw Xíng Zhǐ carrying Shěn Lí. “High God! High God,. . .  why should. . . ?!”

Xíng Zhǐ didn’t answer.

Meanwhile, behind the emperor, hundreds of civil and military officials arrived and began crowding in front of the gate. They stared at Shěn Lí in Xíng Zhǐ’s arms. Then they looked at each other, then back again at the picture in front of them. Everyone was sighing and the expression on their faces were obvious. Who knew how many convoluted conclusions they had; but it was certain they were scolding Shěn Lí thoroughly in their hearts.

How could she not understand their expressions? Had their positions been switched, she was sure she would have despised them as well. Two people, a young man and a young woman together in a love affair. How could their feelings be weighed against the lives of everyone else?

But even in this kind of atmosphere, Xíng Zhǐ smiled and whispered to Shěn Lí. “Shěn Lí, did you ever think you would play the role of the ‘enchantress who brings calamity’?”

Shěn Lí was startled. All she wanted to do was sigh. To still make a joke in this kind of situation, he really was. . .  special.

The crowd’s expression became solemn when they heard his words and a grave silence descended. As the leader, the Immortal emperor stepped forward with hands clasped in a fisted salutation. He spoke from a bowed position. “May High God have pity for those suffering in the three realms. Life is hard for the common people.”

Behind the emperor, all the officials knelt and kowtowed in unison.

The sound was like a wave to Xíng Zhǐ’s ears.

“May High God have pity for those suffering in the three realms. Life is hard for the common people!”

Shěn Lí couldn’t move or speak amidst the denunciation. Xíng Zhǐ was also silent and unmoving.

As Shěn Lí looked at the officials kneeling and the emperor bowing, she thought about how much pride the immortals had, and yet here they were willing to beg. They had to be at their wits end. She didn’t know what Xíng Zhǐ felt faced with the scene, but it made her smile bitterly. They weren’t going to get anyone’s blessings for being together.

She wondered if Xing Zhi would still take the risk despite knowing this.

68: Xíng Zhǐ Being Overbearing

68: Xíng Zhǐ Being Overbearing

[December 2, 2023]

Some name changes:
Heavenly realm: Immortal realm (They aren’t gods nor do they live in heaven, but they are immortals who live in a higher realm. Higher ranked than the immortal land gods who live on earth.)
Heavenly emperor: Immortal emperor
Heavens Beyond: Celestial realm (This is basically the space beyond earth, so outer space and the stars.)

A solemn atmosphere hung over the gate. The immortals were kneeling in unison in front of Xíng Zhǐ, but Xíng Zhǐ did not ask them to stand up. Instead, he continued to hold Shěn Lí in his arms and said with a smile, “I understand the sufferings of the realms, and that life is hard for the common people, but I fail to see how I have harmed them. It is inappropriate for everyone here to judge my sins based on speculation.”

An impatient immortal raised his head and said in anger, “A few days ago, High God used the Water-stop spell to freeze the East sea in the lower realms for ten days and ten nights. This violated the laws of the Heavenly Dao and High God’s divine body was injured because of it. The Celestial realm[notes] became unstable and rocks fell down through the nine levels of the sky and onto the lower realm. Although no one was harmed, thousands of hectares of mountains and forests were destroyed! The fires in the lower realm burned for half a month! It took hundreds of land and mountain gods working together for days to extinguish the fire with their magic. I dare ask High God, is this matter not fit to be considered a crime?!”

The East sea was frozen for ten days and ten nights! Shěn Lí was stunned. Xíng Zhǐ had really lost his mind!

After a moment of silence, Xíng Zhǐ finally answered. “Regarding this matter, I am at fault, and I am guilty.”

The immortal spoke up again. “I believe High God is not always in control of his emotions. This time High God was reasonable and persuaded, but what about next time? High God searched for the Azure Sky king and now High God is taking her away. Isn’t this a disaster just hanging over the three realms?! I must ask High God, how can the common people be at ease like this?!”

Xíng Zhǐ’s gaze on the crowd turned cool. Seeing this, the Immortal emperor[notes] hurriedly said, “High God, please don’t take it too much to heart. Immortal Lord Wu Yuán has a fiery temper and speaks too impulsively. We hope High God will not be angry. It is just that what Lord Wu Yuán said isn’t without merit. We hope that High God will think deeply upon the matter.”

Shen Li turned to look at Xíng Zhǐ along with everyone else.

Xíng Zhǐ turned to the crowd and in a distinctly cold voice said, “This matter is my fault and has nothing to do with Shěn Lí, the Azure Sky king. I hope immortals will refrain from indiscriminate criticism. Moreover, my actions were wrong, but it was only wrong in that I used my powers and went against the way of the Heavenly Dao. It was not wrong to have my heart set on one person.”

As soon as he said this, the immortals immediately broke out in a clamor. With words like these, it was clear Xíng Zhǐ intended to get his way!

Sure enough, Xíng Zhǐ ignored everything they said. He stared at the Immortal emperor and decisively said, “I will remedy the instability of the Celestial realm later, and I will also take responsibility for the fires of the mountains and forests in the human realm; however, I will not compromise on Shěn Lí.” He lowered his eyes and gazed at Shěn Lí who was staring blankly at him. His eyes softened involuntarily for a moment.

“Neither you nor she can say no.”

This was just being overbearing and unreasonable!

“If anyone is dissatisfied,” Xíng Zhǐ glanced back up at the crowd, “as the Azure Sky king is want to say, feel free to fight me.”

Stunned silence fell.

Xíng Zhǐ took Shěn Lí back to the Celestial realm while everyone looked on in astonishment. Naturally, no one dared stop him.

The home of the gods was filled with stars and had a solemnity and tranquility that would last for thousands of years.

Xíng Zhǐ laid Shěn Lí down on his bed and covered her with a quilt. He looked at her and complained with a wry smile on his lips. “They’re always using the people of the three realms to coerce me. I wonder, who in the three realms is as burdened and shackled as I am?”

Shěn Lí stared at him intently and he seemed to understand her intentions. Her throat relaxed immediately after a slight movement of his fingertips. She said, “You stand at the highest place, are loved by all, and have the power of Heaven. Who is more worshipped than you? And who is cheap enough to take advantage of it?”

Xíng Zhǐ smiled. “I only complained a little and you’re already lecturing me?”

Shěn Lí looked at him for a while, then sternly said, “In the Demon realm, I have never done rough work or heavy labor. The food I eat, the clothes I wear, they are all provided to me by others. I have no skills, only my military prowess. I can only use my might to give a peaceful life those who provide for me.” Shěn Lí paused. “High God Xíng Zhǐ, perhaps everyone has something they were born to do, a responsibility, a mission.”

Xíng Zhǐ looked at her, and while the curve of his smile didn’t change, his eyes lost some of their luster. “Don’t you know that I already know that?”

Shěn Lí closed her eyes and cleared her emotions away. “I like you and want to be with you more than anyone else. I like sitting under the grapevines in the courtyard, basking in the sun, enjoying the breeze. I like you so much, I wish I could be a part of you. I wish I could breath you in every minute. Xíng Zhǐ, you don’t know. Sometimes I waver because of you. I’m not even sure I recognize myself anymore.” She said every word seriously, but they were stripped of all emotion. “I know I will never be able to love anyone else as deeply, but I also know that these feelings aren’t my only reason for living.

I have things I must do, and you have responsibilities you must bear, so please behave properly. . . ”

“I don’t have to be your only reason to live,” Xíng Zhǐ interrupted Shěn Lí. He smiled and touched her head. “Just being one of them is enough for me.”

He stood up to leave because he didn’t want to listen to Shěn Lí anymore. “I will shoulder my responsibilities, and if I have to do something, I will do it for you. So, you don’t have to think about battles and responsibilities anymore. I will help you with whatever you want.”

“If you do everything for me, then what’s left for me to do?” Shěn Lí was a little angry.

Xíng Zhǐ’s voice was a little cold. “Your magic isn’t recovered, and you can’t do anything yet. Just stay here obediently, take care of yourself, and we’ll discuss everything else later.”

“When my magic is restored, will you return my spear and let me go back to the Demon realm?”

There was silence to her question. “No.”

“That’s unreasonable!” Shěn Lí exploded. She was normally weak to coaxing but stubborn against coercion. Such tyrannical behavior was too much and she became furious. “Why do I need your consent to do anything. . . ”

“I’ll feel really distressed.” Xíng Zhǐ blurted out. “I’ll be deeply distressed.”

Shěn Lí was surprised and her hackles settled down.

“Let me take care of all the dangerous things. Just stay here and be safe.”

Shěn Lí’s expression softened. “Xíng Zhǐ, I’m not a bird to be played with. I can’t be imprisoned in a cage.”

Xíng Zhǐ paused and glanced back at Shěn Lí. “If you say so. . . ” He waved his hand and dozens of icicles emerged from the floor and slammed straight into the roof, transforming the bed into a cage that imprisoned Shěn Lí. Xíng Zhǐ smiled as he looked at her stunned face. “You’re angry, but this will make me feel more at ease.” He moved his fingers again and Shěn Lí was able to move freely again. “I will send food later.”

Seriously?! That bastard. He had intended to do things his way from the beginning! Ultimately Shěn Lí was imprisoned for three days. Xíng Zhǐ brought her meals every day, but he was busy the rest of the time and didn’t stop to talk. He would bring in her food and immediately turn to leave. Shěn Lí knew he was patrolling the Celestial realm checking for instability.

Shěn Lí spent her time meditating without worrying. The abundance of spiritual energy in the Celestial realm was an unexpected boon for her healing. She recovered around 70% of her magic, moreover the amount recovered was much purer than before. She was happy with this, but being stuck inside a cage not being able to use her power was frustrating.

She sighed thinking about the situation in the Demon realm the last time she was there. She didn’t know how things were now, whether the Demon emperor’s injuries were healed, whether the broken defense barriers in the capital had been repaired, and how Parrot and Ròu Yā were doing. They must have been extremely sad when they heard about her “death”. But news of her being found by Xíng Zhǐ should have spread to the Demon realm so it should have put them at ease. Still, until they saw each other face to face, there would always be lingering worry. Shěn Lí sighed.

Just then, she heard hasty footsteps walking in her direction, and it wasn’t Xíng Zhǐ’s. Xíng Zhǐ’s steps were always slow and steady. Shěn Lí frowned and was immediately alert.

The graceful figure of a woman burst into view. Shěn Lí frowned as she looked at Yōu Lán. “What are you doing here?” Yōu Lán walked in out of breath, but was happy to see Shěn Lí. She paled at the sight of the icicles however.

Yōu Lán stepped forward and said, “The emperor wants to make a move against you. I’m here to take you away.”

Shěn Lí frowned, thinking it was odd. Seeing this, Yōu Lán walked forward a couple of steps and said, “Yesterday, I happened to pass by the emperor’s chambers when I heard him discussing with several military generals. He plans on leading High God to the lower realm and then having people enter the Celestial realm to feed you the Heart pill.”

“What is that?”

“This medicine will destroy the soul but leave behind an intact body. This way the body can be possessed and commanded by someone else. The emperor wants to kill you then turn your body into a puppet.” Yōu Lán said anxiously. “Calculating the time, they should be here soon. But this. . .  what should I do about these icicles?!”

Shěn Lí was silent, then she said, “I have two questions. One, isn’t there a barrier in the Celestial realm? How did you get in here? And two, why should I believe you?”

“The gods in ancient times promised that descendants of the Immortal emperor would have the qualifications to enter the Celestial realm. Many of our generals are my uncles with the same immortal blood as mine, so they will be able to enter as well. As for trusting me. . . ” Yōu Lán paused and lowered her eyes, then continued. “Your Highness, if you had seen how High God looked, you would perish the idea he would be fine without you. I just. . .  don’t want to make the situation worse. . . ”

Shěn Lí was silent for a moment. “Where you the one who persuaded him?”

Yōu Lán’s eyes were a little red. “High God. . .  his heart was shattered.” She sighed softly and closed her eyes, as though she couldn’t bear it. “But despite this, he wandered the East sea all day long, hopelessly searching. The closest person to Heaven, and yet, he looked like he’d been completely abandoned. Fortunately. . . ”

She raised her head and looked at Shěn Lí. A myriad of emotions flickered in her eyes. “Fortunately, Your Highness is healthy.”

Shěn Lí lowered her eyes and remembered the emotions she felt when she and Xíng Zhǐ reunited that day on the beach. She was afraid she would never fully understand it. Taking a deep breath, she said, “Step back.”

Yōu Lán stepped back obediently. Shěn Lí held one of the icicles in her hand. A line of flames suddenly burst out from her palm and swirled around the icicle. However, only a few drops of water fell after the flames extinguished. The water droplets dripped down but stopped melting. Shěn Lí frowned and Yōu Lán spoke up. “This must have been created by High God using the Water-stop technique. Ordinary flames will not do anything to it.”

Shěn Lí snorted. “Who said this was an ordinary flame.” Her palm holding the icicle turned red, and she let out a deep shout. The icicle gave off some white smoke before becoming limp enough for Shěn Lí to kick in half. It created a gap big enough for her to squeeze through.

Shěn Lí gazed at the cold air coming off her palm. She waved her hand and said, “This Water-stop spell is something though.” It was so difficult breaking through something Xíng Zhǐ created with just a wave of his hand. If he was serious, wouldn’t that mean she’d be locked up all the time?

“Let’s go,” said Shěn Lí. “It’s a trivial matter if we bump into an immortal general, but if Xíng Zhǐ comes back, we really won’t be able to escape.”

69: Shěn Lí’s Return to the Demon Realm

69: Shěn Lí’s Return to the Demon Realm

[December 31, 2023]

Shěn Lí’s nose twitched as she walked into the main hall with Yōu Lán. She looked sideways and stopped in her tracks.

Yōu Lán, upon not hearing Shěn Lí’s footsteps following behind her as she led the way, looked back to see Shěn Lí walking absentmindedly towards the middle of the hall. In front was a red-tasseled silver spear. Yōu Lán had seen it before; it was the Azure Sky king’s spear, but. . .  wasn’t the spear broken? She heard High God had forcefully taken it from the Demon emperor; but she never expected he would actually repair it and keep it displayed in the main hall.

Shěn Lí and the spear seemed to have a connection. It buzzed in excitement the closer Shěn Lí came to it, as if it was greeting its master.

Shěn Lí stood in front of the spear and stared at it for a while before suddenly smiling and reaching out for it. She held the spear in her hand like she had thousands of times in battle, turning it around and around. Murderous aura stirred the quiet air. With a clang, she slammed the spear into the slab ground, causing a such a surge of upward air that Yōu Lán’s hair and robe fluttered outside the hall.

Yōu Lán stared blankly at Shěn Lí with the silver spear in hand. It was like the blade was humming joyously as it glowed with cold light. The aura around Shěn Lí was so dazzling that it was hard to look at her, but it was also what made her so beautiful. This was Shěn Lí.

With a firm grip on her spear and a straight back, Shěn Lí looked like she could hold up the sky even if it was collapsing.

“Partner, I never thought I’d be able to fight side by side with you again.” Shěn Lí stroked the red tassel of the spear, but her emotion only appeared for a moment before disappearing. “I will have to trouble you in the future.” The spear turned into a ray of light and disappeared into the palm of her hand.

Shěn Lí stepped toward Yōu Lán with more determination in her steps than ever before. “Let’s leave quickly. I don’t want to fight with immortals at this time.”

Yōu Lán was stunned but quickly led the way. After walking a short distance, she felt a restlessness stirring in the air. Someone from the Immortal realm had arrived. She turned to look at Shěn Li; was it just her imagination, or was Shěn Lí sharper than before?

Shěn Lí and Yōu Lán held their breaths to avoid the generals, then they stepped through the exit and into the Immortal realm.

Though security in the Immortal realm was much tighter since the last attack, the current guards stationed were not good enough to detect Shěn Lí and Yōu Lán. The two women went straight to the South gate. Shěn Lí looked down as they passed by a place and asked, “Was there another attack on the Immortal realm?”

Yōu Lán followed Shěn Lí’s gaze, and upon looking down, understood her question. “Your Highness, don’t you remember? That is Lord Fú Róng’s residence.”

Shěn Lí was a little surprised. “Lord Fú Róng? How did his residence become like this?” She could see the yard had been bombarded by something, and there was a big hole in the ground. The red flowers and green grass in the yard were pale, as if they had been washed by something.

Yōu Lán sighed thinking about Fú Róng’s failure to meet expectations. “My incompetent brother has never done anything worthy of the family’s pride since he was a child. This time, after learning of the Demon realms’s General Mò Fāng. . .  oh, he can’t be called a general anymore. That person, my brother went crazy after learning about that person’s demise. His spiritual power exploded and blew up the yard. His power is so pure that he actually destroyed the flowers and plants. Everything was purified. He fainted and passed out for a long time after that. Once he woke up and learned about Mò Fāng’s rebellion, he refused to speak and wouldn’t let anyone take care of the yard. That’s why it looks the way it does now.”

That flirtations lord was actually capable of being hurt? And. . .  his magic power was so pure. It turned out he wasn’t just bragging when he boasted about his abilities before.

Shěn Lí didn’t think much more about it. She only took a glance then continued moving forward. Once they made it to the South gate, Yōu Lán and Shěn Lí hid in the dark.

Yōu Lán said, “High God should be preoccupied in the Mortal realm right now. If you want to find him, go east.”

Shěn Lí shook her head. “I want to go back to the Demon realm.”

Yōu Lán was startled at first, but then she understood. Her eyes dimmed. “I don’t understand your insistence, but if it’s possible, I hope you can face it together.” Shěn Lí was silent and Yōu Lán saluted her. “I will go and lure the guards away first. When Your Highness finds an opportunity to leave, please do so.”

Yōu Lán stepped out after speaking. She said something to the guards and led them away. Shěn Lí’s figure was like the wind, and she jumped down through the South gate in the blink of an eye, disappearing somewhere into the sea of clouds.

Yōu Lán knew Shěn Lí had left, but she didn’t turn around. She looked high and far away. “It seems like I was mistaken about the movement there. It was just a mirage.”

Shěn Lí stepped through the gap between the realms and immediately frowned as soon as she inhaled.

After the seal was repaired, the miasma stopped leaking out of the Ruins and the atmosphere became cleaner and clearer. But today, when she sniffed the air, she could feel the air was more turbid than before. Thinking about it, bricks and tile fell from the Celestial realm when Xíng Zhǐ suffered a heavenly backlash. Since the Ruins was something he created, it stood to reason it would have been affected also. The seal was likely compromised.

The Demon emperor had to have his hands full. . . 

Shěn Lí remembered what Xíng Zhǐ told her about Fú Shēng’s purpose. The guy had wanted to break the seal around the Ruins and release the demon monsters. Wouldn’t this be a great opportunity?

Upon realizing this, Shěn Lí knew she couldn’t delay, so she used the cloud to ride to the Demon palace, but she paused before entering as Xíng Zhǐ’s words came unbidden to mind. The Demon emperor had given her the Bìhǎi Cāng bead and taught her how to counteract it in her body. He was hiding something from her. . .  No matter strong Shěn Lí’s conviction was, in the face of all that happened, it was inevitable doubts would creep into her heart.

But as she stood hesitating, an exclamation of, “Your Highness!” rang out.

The soldiers in the Demon realm were more vigilant than those in the Immortal realm. It was impossible for someone to loiter around without being noticed. Shěn Lí looked down and saw General Yì Shèng. Everyone raised their heads at his shout and thus saw Shěn Lí. The crowd became boisterous for a moment. In the end, no one knew who the person that took the initiative was, but he knelt down and bowed his head. It was a sign of the highest respect given in the Demon realm. The rest of the soldiers laid down their weapons and followed suit, kneeling down and bowing their heads, then exclaiming loudly, “Greetings to king on your triumphant return!”

“Greetings to Azure Sky king on your triumphant return!”

In fact, Shen Li had not won. In her previous battle with Fú Shēng, it could be said she suffered a disastrous defeat. She lost a general and was captured by the enemy. If not for Mò Fāng saving her and Xíng Zhǐ wandering the East sea, she would have been dead long ago. She understood they weren’t just referring to her when they said “triumphant”, but for the officers and soldiers sent to the border. In their hearts, she was a king who always prevailed in battle, a presence like a flag that never fell. It wasn’t just the strength of the Demon army that would suffer if she died, but the morale of the army as well.

Her return was a great joy for the Demon realm. She was safe; therefore, it was a victory.

Once Shěn Lí landed on the ground, she patted Yì Shèng on the shoulder and asked him to stand.

They had a lot of expectations of her, and it was because of this that she had to remain in the Demon realm no matter what.

“Everyone, stand!” She shouted loudly. “Return to your duties and perform them meticulously!”

They shouted a deep resounding “Yes!” to the sky upon receiving her orders.

Shěn Lí couldn’t help but smile. She turned around to help Yì Shèng up. She looked him up and down then asked, “How is the army?”

Yì Shèng’s normally stoic face held a hint of excitement. “Your Highness, everything is fine. It is just that everyone has been waiting for your return.”

Shěn Lí nodded. “I am back.”

Yì Shèng knelt down again with a plop, startling Shěn Lí.


Yì Shèng was silent for a long time before replying. “Previously, there was news Your Highness was killed in battle. This subordinate reported it to the Immortal realm. At that time, Lord Xíng Zhǐ happened to present. I swore in front of him that Your Highness definitely died in battle, otherwise may lightning striking me. . . ” He sat on the ground, as if losing his strength and looked up at Shěn Lí dumfounded. “Your Highness, you have harmed this subordinate!”

Shěn Lí burst out laughing when she heard this. “If Xíng Zhǐ really wants to send lightning to you, then I will stand in for you!”

Yì Shèng hurriedly said, “Your Highness just returned and needs to rest! I will bear the lightning! I will bear them. If a few lightning bolts are enough to bring the Azure Sky king back, then I, Yì Shèng, will be happy to bear strikes every day!”

Shěn Lí suppressed the smile about to form on her lips, and instead patted his shoulder solemnly. “Go and handle your affairs. I have something important to discuss with the Demon emperor, so I will leave first.”

Regardless what the Demon emperor planned, or his intentions for her all these years, he had governed an army everyone was willing to invest in. How could such a person be detrimental to the Demon realm? How could such a person harm the child he raised with his own hands?

Shěn Lí waited quietly outside for a while after knocking on the Demon emperor’s bed chamber doors. She heard two coughs come from inside then the question, “What is it?”

She had listened to this voice since she was a child, but today, there was so much tiredness in the hoarse voice that it couldn’t be hidden. At that moment, Shěn Lí cast aside any suspicions she had and opened the door. She entered, crossed the screen, then walked to the settee, where the Demon emperor lay. The sight in front of her pained her. “Why is the injury not healed?”

The Demon emperor sat up immediately upon seeing Shěn Lí. He coughed twice in his excitement.

Shěn Lí sat down beside him and patted his back gently. The Demon emperor reached out and grabbed her wrist, squeezing it tightly, as if afraid she would run away. “A-Li,**The emperor affectionately calling Shěn Lí, similar to Li-er in usage.** I knew you weren’t that easy to kill.” He coughed and continued. “Master has always believed you were still alive.”

Shěn Lí’s eyes turned red. “Master. . . this disciple is unfilial. . . ”

The Demon emperor shook his head. “You’ve returned. . .  cough! Just returning is good!”

70: Shěn Lí Learning About Her Parents

70: Shěn Lí Learning About Her Parents

[January 03, 2023]

He coughed another violent cough, as though his internal organs were about to erupt out. Shěn Lí patted his back gently as she asked, “Why hasn’t your injury from last time healed?”

The Demon emperor shook his head. “I’ve just been tired these past few days. . . ” Before he could finish, his hand holding Shěn Lí’s wrist stiffened suddenly. He pushed up Shěn Lí’s sleeve and held her pulse. After a while, he sighed. The emotion in his voice was hard to identify. “You’ve. . .  finally absorbed the bead fully.”

The hand Shěn Lí used to pat his back stopped for a moment, and she thought about how to word her question. In a low voice, she asked, “Master, I have something I want to ask you. In this crisis, A-li was fortunate to have the help of Immortal High God Xíng Zhǐ help and one other person. Then I had another fortuitous encounter with a master. That master helped me heal my injuries and told me the Bìhǎi Cāng**the bead she swallowed.** is more like a demon’s golden core, and that the magic and spiritual techniques Master taught me restrained it. Master. . . ”

“Since things have come to this point, and you know so much already, I won’t hide it from you anymore.” The Demon emperor suppressed his cough in order to speak. “Help me to the desk, and we’ll go somewhere else to talk.”

It was the same teleportation array they had used when the Demon emperor gave her the bead. Like before, it sent them to the same silent, tomb-like memorial hall. The bead enshrined on the high platform was gone.

The Demon emperor pushed Shěn Lí away, refusing to be supported. He stepped forward slowly as he took off his mask and reverted back into her original body.**The mask transforms the emperor into a guy.**

The emperor stood silently in front of the high platform for a while before speaking. “It happened a long time ago, so long ago that I can barely remember the details. However, I will always remember how your mother looked when she and I would come here to pay our respects to our master.”

“My. . . mother?”

“Your mother began her training and formally became our master’s disciple three months after I did. She was an easy-going person and was loved by Master, so she often served him personally. We shared the same room and went to pay our respects to our master every day.

Master loved refining substances, and he would occasionally teach your mother how to refine substances and create new things. Your mother was gifted with an innate talent, and in three years of training learned the most from Master. This was originally a good thing, but. . . ” Here, the Demon emperor paused and lowered her eyes. “First of all, Master still had other ideas in mind. The higher his refining techniques became, the less satisfied he was with the status quo. Ultimately, he created something akin to a monster, a monster you have already engaged with.”

Shěn Lí spoke in a heavy voice. “Are they the monsters in the Abyss Ruins?”

“Yes, our master was none other than the former Demon emperor, Liù Míng.”

The Demon emperor stepped onto the high platform and wiped the dust off the alter where the bead used to lay.

“As his disciples, we were all happy and excited when the first monster was successfully created. We knew the kind of impact it would have on the Demon army; it was essentially a great killing tool. But Liù Míng was unrestrained and kept creating more and more monsters, until eventually, the situation got out of control. Occasionally when oversight was lacking, the monsters would tear apart and eat our fellow disciples. There were also monsters that escaped and attacked the citizens.

“Protests in court were getting louder, but Liù Míng insisted on doing things his way and continued to create more monsters. It looked like he really planned on creating a troop of monsters to attack the Immortal realm and yank the immortals down from their lofty perch, force them to bow their heads to the Demon realm and show respect to the demon race.”

Shěn Lí shook her head. “Generals are the brains of an army and soldiers are the swords. When soldiers became the masters and generals become useless, the army loses its brain and will become just a bunch of killing machines. I’m afraid the monsters were no longer controlled by the previous emperor, and at that time the Demon realm must have been a place of misery.”

The Demon emperor nodded. “Back then, there were voices in both the court and the sect that opposed the situation, but your mother strongly supported Liù Míng. . . ”

This stunned Shěn Lí.

The Demon lord sighed. “They saw how harmful the monster beasts were, and how Liù Míng’s magic wasn’t strong enough to control so many at once. Liù Míng devoted all his energy to creating the ultimate monster, the King of Monster Beasts, one that would be many times stronger than all the ones he’d created. Unlike all the other monster beasts, the King of Monster Beasts was a child when it was born. It was just like any other child. Liù Míng named it Fèng Lái. Your mother cared for it, so it absorbed the world’s spiritual aura and grew tall and strong. Compared to other monster beasts that were haphazardly created, Fèng Lái was more like a natural monster, so his power was purer and more natural.

Fèng Lái grew very fast, and within three months was like an ordinary young man. No one expected a monster beast would fall in love with the person caring for it.” The Demon emperor frowned. “Nor did anyone expect the one caring for it to fall in love with it as well.”

Shěn Lí lowered her head in shock, as if she couldn’t comprehend the Demon emperor’s words. She looked at the palm of her hand, and her voice trembled slightly as she spoke. “I am. . .  the child of a monster? I am. . . ” She thought about the appearance of the scorpion-tailed fox that escaped the Ruins and immediately frowned. “The child of such a monster. . . ”

The Demon emperor continued speaking after a moment of silence. “Soon after the ministers of court secretly reported the disaster with the monster beasts to the Immortal realm. The immortals were shocked and immediately sent troops, however, thousands of monster beasts had already been created. The Immortal troops were defeated and the Immortal emperor was forced to invite High God Xíng Zhǐ to come to the lower realm. High God Xíng Zhǐ fought alone against thousands of monster beasts before finally cutting down Liù Míng and capturing Fèng Lái. After that, he joined forces with the Immortal soldiers and forced the monster beasts to the border where he created the Abyss Ruins and sealed all the monsters away. This severely damaged his vitality, so High God Xíng Zhǐ immediately returned to the Celestial realm. The Immortal army did not remain and also left quickly soon after. Although the Liù Míng was dead and the monster beasts all sealed away, things were still chaotic in the Demon realm.

One faction claimed to support Liù Míng’s offspring still in his concubine’s womb, while another was determined to abandon Liù Míng’s ideology and establish an entirely new leader. The two factions were constantly fighting, and war broke out for several months. I was familiar with those who supported Liù Míng’s ideals, and I knew they would make a comeback unless they were all eradicated. Within that faction were those who supported the idea of using the monster beasts to overthrow the Immortal realm. I had achieved military merit unintentionally and was recommended by several elders to ascend the throne and become the Demon emperor. The last time I saw your mother. . . .

We were at the border and about to defeat Liù Míng’s supporters, when tried to break through the Abyss Ruins and flee inside. Your mother was with them and close to giving birth. I secretly pulled her away from the battlefield then searched for a place amongst the greenery for her to go into labor. It was then that I found out your mother knew Fèng Lái was sealed inside the Abyss Ruins and that was why she made it all the way there on her own while carrying you. But once she got there, she wasn’t allowed to enter the Abyss Ruins. At this point, she discovered out what Liù Míng’s supporters were trying to do. She only joined them because she wanted to see your father.”

Shěn Lí bit her lip, clenched her fists, and held back from saying anything.

“Your mother kept bleeding after delivering you; the monster energy in your body was too strong. She knew she wouldn’t survive, so to make sure you wouldn’t be hunted down by the Immortal and Demon realms, she used her last bit of strength to extract your monster core and transformed it into the Bìhǎi Cāng bead. She died from exhaustion after giving it to me. Her last wish was that you could travel the blue seas and skies unfettered by your identity, unlike your father who is still to this day suffering from imprisonment. Now that I think about it, your mother was the one who gave you the title Azure Sky king.”

To think there was someone who sacrificed their life for her, but she never knew anything knew anything about it, and by the time she did, it was too late.

Shěn Lí felt extremely weak. Her voice was hoarse when she asked, “Her. . .  where are her bones now?”

“She said she wanted to stay with your father, but she didn’t want me to put up a tombstone for fear someone would harm you through her. I buried her near the Abyss Ruins, but I’m afraid her grave is impossible to find now.”

“There’s nothing beside the Ruins.” Shěn Lí had fought there and her voice was dark. “Nothing. . .  at all.”

The Demon emperor sat down on the platform steps and patted the seat next to her, motioning for Shěn Lí to come over. Shěn Lí lowered her head and walked over to sit down. The Demon emperor touched her head. “You’ve been practicing magic and martial arts with me since you were a child. All the spells I taught you were meant to suppress the power of the monster beast inside you. Your mother and I were both afraid. Would outsiders hate you if they discovered your identity? But you grew up day by day living so wonderfully. I was thinking you deserved to know your lineage. When the scorpion-tailed fox escaped from the Abyss Ruins, I was torn. I didn't want you to go and wanted you to go at the same time. Then I learned you weren’t contaminated when you went to the point were the miasma leaked from the Abyss Ruins. I thought to myself, you had excellent self-control. It was time I returned the Bìhǎi Cāng bead to you. But I was anxious; what should I do if you became someone I didn't recognize. . . ”

“Master. . . ” Shěn Lí said, “Letting me be born was a grace. Raising me was a grace. How is it possible for me to disavow your years of nurturing me overnight? Regardless how I came to be, I am me regardless what my identity is.”

The Demon emperor touched her head and sat quietly for a while before speaking again. “Fú Shēng and the others are probably the remnants of Liù Míng’s supporters. They have been recovering their strength for thousands of years, and now they’ve made a comeback. I heard about Mò Fāng. If I’m correct, he must be Liù Míng’s child from his concubine. I know you were on good terms, but since he defected, we can not show mercy when we meet on the battlefield.”

Shěn Lí thought of the day Mò Fāng rescued her, but the hesitation only lasted a moment. She nodded and said, “A-li knows.”

“Also. . .  High God Xíng Zhǐ and you. . . ” The Demon emperor paused and noticed Shěn Lí stiffening. She sighed. “For thousands of years, I have been grateful to High God Xíng Zhǐ for saving the Demon realm in those dark times. I didn’t know his agenda when he first proposed you and Lord Fú Róng marry, but then news Lord Fú Róng’s power exploded reached the Demon realm. All the plants in his resident were purified from the explosion. I didn’t know he had such an ability. Had you married him, being near him would have purified you daily, until eventually all your monster beast powers would have dissipated. High God Xíng Zhǐ must have been aware of your power even if he didn’t know your family lineage.

He is a divine god and his responsibilities are heavy. If one day he knew your identity, I am afraid he would kill you for the sake of the people.”

Shěn Lí looked down at the ground quietly at the Demon emperor’s serious tone. “I think. . . he might have already known about it long ago.”

The Demon emperor was stunned.

Shěn Lí continued. “The Xíng Yún I fell in love with in the mortal realm was the reincarnation of High God Xíng Zhǐ. When he drank the Soup of Forgetfulness for reincarnation, his cultivation was washed away, but his memory as a god remained. In that life, before I followed Master back to the Demon realm, I spent five hundred years of cultivation to save his life.” Shěn Lí smiled. “No matter how much the powers from my monster beast side was drained, there would have been residue left behind. He should have known it then.”

He had taken her with him when he was repairing the seals. He may have had the idea of killing her then, but ultimately, he didn’t go through with it. . . 

It suddenly struck Shěn Lí that Xíng Zhǐ wasn’t the same Xíng Zhǐ he was before. He wasn’t an indifferent divine god who only cared about the common people. He had kept his distance, being neither too familiar nor too aloof.

At that time, wasn't Xíng Zhǐ already wavering?!

71: Fú Shēng Arrives on a Dragon

71: Fú Shēng Arrives on a Dragon

[January 14, 2024]

The ground trembled suddenly, and the Demon emperor’s face became serious. She replaced her mask and morphed back into the black clad indifferent king. “There must be something going on outside if the vibrations can be felt all the way down here.” With Shěn Lí in hand, the Demon emperor formed a magic circle and returned them his chambers instantly.

Shěn Lí could feel the thick miasma in the air before even pushing the door open. She frowned, but saw that the Demon emperor had already opened the door and exited.

Despite the many battles Shěn Lí witnessed, she was still shocked by the sight in front of her. The once majestic palace was now filled with rubble and ash from collapsed pavilions and buildings. Corpses lay scattered everywhere, and everything was stained with blood. Close by, a big, green dragon roared upwards; it felt like the deafening sound penetrated the sky itself. The Demon emperor murmured in disbelief. “The Abyss Ruins. . .  this monster,” he gritted his teeth, “actually escaped.”

Shěn Lí was shocked to the core. This. . .  was a monster from the Ruins?! It made it from the border all the way to the capital?! Moreover, if one escaped, there would surely be others. Shěn Lí pulled out her silver spear and stood in front of the emperor. Just as she did, she saw a person standing high above the dragon’s head. Shěn Lí clenched her fists at the sight of him, and in a voice from hell said, “Fú Shēng!”

This mess was his doing! The lives lost. . .  it was all because of him again! Hatred, old and new, welled up in her heart. Shěn Lí’s eyes suddenly turned red, and her nails suddenly grew long. She didn’t hear the Demon emperor trying to stop her, and had in an instant moved like silent lightning behind Fú Shēng. She raised her silver spear and stabbed it directly into Fú Shēng’s neck.

For a moment, blood spurted out of Fú Shēng’s torn jugular, splattering red everywhere. But Shěn Lí didn’t stop. And when she saw Fú Shēng’s figure gradually disappearing with the wind, she spun around and swept her spear across. The tip brushed passed the hair on Fú Shēng’s sideburn, forcing him to leap back two steps to the edge of the dragon’s arched spine. Fine strands of hair scattered down like silk threads. He smiled gloomily as he said, “Your Highness, your skills have improved quite a bit.”

Shěn Lí didn’t wait to collect her breath before she spun her spear like a flashing blossom. A loud, deep shout rang out, and the spear pierced through the dragon’s skull with the power of a sledge hammer. The savageness of it smashed the dragon’s head down with a loud “Boom!”. Dust and debris flew everywhere. And for a while, the dragon’s tail thrashed wildly about before finally settling down limply on the ground. The blow had knocked it unconscious.

Shěn Lí stood on the dragon’s head with her silver spear as the dust settled around her. Her bright red eyes fell on Fú Shēng like a cold sword. The eyes that had been filled with irrationality before was now exuding extreme violence and deep calculation. It was enough to pierce one’s gut cold.

Shěn Lí pulled the spear out of the dragon’s head and pointed it at Fú Shēng. “Come here and die!” The words reverberated loudly, and the surging mana that accompanied it made Fú Shēng tremble. But the more he trembled the more maniacal his smile became until laughter erupted from his gut.

“Hahaha! Okay! Okay! Azure Sky king has become so powerful. Truly a great blessing for my generation!” It looked like he had fully recovered from his burn injuries before; there wasn’t a trace of scarring on his face. He curled his lips coldly. “I came today to lure you back to the Demon realm, but you were already here. Things couldn’t have worked out better . . ”

Shěn Lí frowned hearing this. What was Fú Shēng up to? She glanced at the monster beneath her feet, then asked, “What happened to the barrier around the Ruins?”

“Oh, it was High God Xíng Zhǐ’s fault that the seal became unstable. This can’t be blamed on me, can it?” Fú Shēng narrowed his eyes and smiled. “Oh, yes, why was it again that High God Xíng Zhǐ made a mistake? It’s really beyond me. Your Highness is unfairly accusing me here.” He smiled ambiguously. “I’m the last person who wants the seal to break. Though it would be a trivial matter if the Demon realm was destroyed, I’d have a tremendous headache if all the demon beasts were buried along with it.”

The seal around the Ruins was powerful. When he first created it, Xíng Zhǐ had to rely on the power of nature and use the five elements to connect the Ruins to the Demon realm. For thousands of years now, because of this, the Ruins had been a part of the Demon realm. If it disappeared, all the monsters inside it would be destroyed, and the Demon realm would be buried along with them.

Shěn Lí knew this, but when Fú Shēng said it, it made it seem like something even more sinister was afoot.

Shěn Lí moved again and slashed at Fú Shēng’s head, screaming, “What are you planning?!”

With a sudden smile, Fú Shēng swung his sword and blocked. “This time, I am here to invite Your Highness to talk about something serious.” He raised his sword and took the initiative to attack. The clang of their weapons connecting echoed as he talked. “Your Highness is an integral part of the plan!”

“How could I, a king, do as you wish?!” As soon as Shěn Lí finished talking, flames enveloped her spear, and she aimed it for his head. Fú Shēng raised his sword horizontally to block, but before the two weapons connected, his sword began to go limp, as if it was melting. Shěn Lí slashed at Fú Shēng’s throat.

Out of desperation, Fú Shēng leaned back and rolled to the ground. He was in a tough situation and barely dodged the blade. He touched his hand to his neck and felt the burning heat come off his skin. A wild expression split his face. “Yes. . .  that is how it should be!” He stared at Shěn Lí crazily then turned his eyes to the sky and laughed. “Azure Sky king, I will take you with me today! Fulfill my long cherished thousand-year dream!”

He pulled a piccolo out of nowhere and blew out a crisp melody. Suddenly, a dark cloud appeared, and above it were thousands of monster beasts!

Shěn Lí’s brow darkened as she remembered the scene she witnessed when she returned to the Demon realm from the Immortal realm: corpses of generals stored in tents, and flags hanging in front of thousands of homes. She clenched her spear and spoke as if she was uttering an oath. “Not again! This time, I won’t let you act so recklessly!”

But just as Shěn Lí was preparing herself, a gust of wind passed in front of her and a black figure appeared between her and Fú Shēng.

The Demon emperor said, “Retreat.”

Stunned, Shěn Lí asked in surprise. “Master?”

The Demon emperor turned his head and glanced quickly at her. “Leave here and go to the Immortal realm.”

“Master. . . why?”

Before the Demon emperor could answer, Fú Shēng laughed out loud. “Shěn Mùyuè, Shěn Mùyuè, even after so long your senses are still so keen, truly worthy of being the Master’s disciple.”

Fú Shēng laughed when Shěn Mùyuè remained silent. “Shěn Lí, don’t you want to save the Demon realm? I have a way that can separate the Demon realm from the Abyss Ruins. If you’re willing to help me, the Demon realm won’t be shackled to the Abyss Ruins anymore.”

Shěn Lí frowned at his words.

The Demon emperor interrupted Fú Shēng to say, “Shěn Lí, don’t be enticed by his words.”

“Whether or not she will be enticed is up to her.” Fú Shēng said. “Xíng Zhǐ uses the five elements in the Demon realm to connect the Abyss Ruins to the Demon realm. Therefore, once the elements are cut off, the Demon realm will be freed. Of the five elements used, I have found four substitutes and am only lacking one more – fire. The Demon relam won’t have anything more to do with the Abyss Ruins as long as all five elemental seals are replaced.” Fú Shēng smiled coldly. “Your Highness, would you like to help me?”

Shěn Lí frowned. “You want me to replace the fire seal?”

The smile on Fú Shēng’s face was a little crazy, and the Demon emperor’s voice turned cold. “Don’t listen to anymore of his nonsense. The seal will decline in time. There are few things in this world that can compare to the power of the Heavenly Dao. So even if he finds other objects to substitute with, they will only hold the Abyss Ruins temporarily. He just wants to release the monsters inside the Abyss Ruins before it is destroyed.”

Fú Shēng grinned. “The mountain god is wood, the earth immortal is earth, the third prince of Běihǎi is water, and the golden snake’s core is gold. Your Highness, you should understand what I am trying to say.”

Shěn Lí was stunned.

“I will help you release the Demon realm from the Ruins, and you will help me release the monster beasts inside. This way, when the Ruins collapse, the Demon realm won’t be harmed.”

Shěn Lí’s stunned expression didn’t last long. She frowned and said, “So what? Thousands of monster beasts loose in the Demon realm is just as bad. Since it’s still destruction, I’m afraid I can’t let you have your way.”

Fú Shēng smirked. “In that case, don’t blame me for being cruel.”

The piccolo sounded again and sounds of fighting came from the air above. When the cloud capsized and monster demons spilled out, the Demon emperor covered Shěn Lí. He shouted, “Their target is you! Go and hide in the Immortal realm, and make sure they don’t catch you!”

Shěn Lí gritted her teeth. “How can I run away by myself at a time like this?!”

“If they get you and change the seal, then the Abyss Ruins will open and all the monsters inside will escape. The chaos will be unimaginably hard to control.” The Demon emperor’s voice was fierce. “This is your emperor’s order! Leave immediately!” The Demon emperor pushed Shěn Lí out and stepped forward, a silver sword appearing in his hand.

The Demon emperor pulled off his mask, and his body morphed into its female form. She shouted up and waved her sword, forming a magic array that spread out and blocked the monster demons from moving forward.

This was the same long sword Shěn Lí’s master used to teach her martial arts since she was a child, from simple barriers to complex moves, from the time when she couldn’t hold a branch firmly in her hands to when she could carry a spear and go out on the battlefield alone. For Shěn Lí, her master wasn’t just someone who taught her martial arts, but was someone who accompanied her through all the changes in her life. She studied spells and practiced martial arts so diligently in order to give her master and the people of the demon realm a peaceful life.

But now. . .  now her master would have to fight desperately for her, and the demon realm was also suffering because of her. On top of that, she was even told to leave behind all the things she wanted to protect more than anything else. Wasn’t this. . .  backwards?!

How could she leave?!

Fú Shēng smiled like a crazed lunatic. “Shěn Mùyuè! You’re cocky and overestimating your abilities! Let me see how you plan to stop thousands of my monster demons with that broken body of yours!”

Shěn Mùyuè smiled and with an extremely contemptuous look on her face said, “You dare talk about others when you’re just a defective product yourself?” It was the same expression Shěn Lí would make, or more accurately, she had deeply influenced Shěn Lí’s persona and had always been Shěn Lí’s role model.

Shěn Mùyuè’s words cut straight to Fú Shēng’s heart. His face changed, twisting with hatred. “Even at death’s door, you still have a smart mouth.”

The piccolo chirped. Monster demons broke through the barrier and landed on the ground. Dozens swarmed around Shěn Mùyuè, as if to bury her under them.

Shěn Mùyuè’s eyes were cold and so was the aura of the sword’s metal. Sword qi rose and dozens of monsters were pierced through the throat, but were not killed. They collapsed and squirmed on the ground for two revolutions then got back up again. The monsters were still a problem, and there were dozens of them. Fú Shēng laughed like a maniac.

Shěn Mùyuè twisted her wrist and looked left and right, as if trying to find an opportunity to attack. But in that moment, a sharp pain stabbed inside her chest, and she suddenly vomited black blood. The injury from before was acting up and the pain made her arch her back.

The monsters seized the opportunity and swarmed her, burying her under their bodies as if to eat her alive. But in that instant, a raging flame surrounded the demons, burning them from the center outward. Their skin scorched and their flesh rotted away. The fire spread and caught easily, jumping from one body to another as long as a monster was within reach. Howling in pain, the monsters dispersed.

Shěn Lí stood in front of Shěn Mùyuè holding a silver spear. Shěn Mùyuè covered her chest and gritted her teeth. “Why didn’t you leave?!”

Shěn Lí stared at Fú Shēng coldly. “Why does Your Majesty only think about Shěn Lí being kidnapped, but not about how Shěn Lí can defeat them?”

The smile on Fú Shēng’s face became stranger as he stared at the fire burning from Shěn Lí’s body.

“You can show off your schemes in hell!” Shěn Lí yelled out.

72: Monsters

72: Monsters

[January 28, 2024]

The fight started with thousands of monsters surrounding Shěn Lí and the Demon emperor. Fú Shēng looked down coldly as he floated above watching Shěn Lí spraying blood everywhere with her red-tasseled silver spear.

Her spear was searing hot. So much so that after it pierced a monster, the monster would burn and spread the fire amongst the others, until all the monsters were burned to ashes. Fú Shēng wasn’t in a hurry though. He could wait until Shěn Lí, who hadn’t fully recovered her qi, to exhaust herself.

A flame technique like hers consumed a lot of energy and was physically exhausting. Within fifteen minutes, her face was pale, but the monsters still rushed forward in never ending waves.

Seeing this, Shěn Mùyuè wiped the blood from the corner of her mouth and formed an array on the ground. The brutal power blocked the monsters from entering the array. She coughed hard and spoke in a deep voice, blood spraying out as she did so. “Kill Fú Shēng!” Since she couldn’t convince Shěn Lí to leave, she changed tactics and gave Shěn Lí a fighting directive instead. “The monsters have no self awareness; kill Fú Shēng and they’ll be useless.”

Shěn Lí looked up to see Fú Shēng looking down on them from high up. She glanced back at the Demon emperor and gritted her teeth. “Master, please hold on.” The magic array gave Shěn Lí some breathing room. She jumped up and left Shěn Mùyuè behind.

Fú Shēng raised his sword to block the silver spear just as he felt a flash in front of him. He wasn’t weak, but Shěn Lí’s reaction was sharper and faster than before, plus they were fighting in close combat. It took less than four moves for Shěn Lí to pierce his chest with her spear. But his eyes didn’t show any pain, instead, they were frenzied and expectant.

It was strange. Just as Shěn Lí was about to yank her spear back, the light behind her dimmed.

The Demon emperor yelled, “Be careful!” But the words failed to reach Shěn Lí in time. When she turned around, she was faced with a bloody mouth gaping open at her. The dragon had awoken and was about to devour her whole. Her senses filled with the dragon’s blood and Fú Shēng’s maniacal laughter. Her pupils constricted, and a sudden gust of wind blew in. It felt like time froze as a familiar embrace engulfed her, and a barely detectable fragrance magically washed away the stench.

Xíng Zhǐ held her tightly at the waist against his body. He formed cold air in the palm of one hand then used it to freeze the dragon’s bloody mouth, enclosing its entire head in ice. He uttered the word, “Break,” and countless cracks formed on the dragon’s head just as a loud sound erupted and its head completely exploded. Undiminished, Xíng Zhǐ’s divine power ran through the length of the dragon and tore it to pieces. Blood and flesh scattered everywhere. It wasn’t until everything was settled that everyone came back to their senses.

Fú Shēng gritted his teeth, and ignoring the spear still in his chest, jumped backwards. Blood gushed out from the wound, but instead of being red, it was a blue so dark it was nearly black. He stood in the distance with his hand to his chest injecting qi into the wound while he waited for the injury to heal. He looked up to gauge the situation and see what his opponent was doing. Xíng Zhǐ wasn’t even looking at him, and was instead gazing at Shěn Lí with a frown.

Shěn Lí wanted to chase after Fú Shēng when she saw him retreating, but the hand on her waist held her tightly and kept her from moving. Her back stiffened involuntarily when she looked up and saw Xíng Zhǐ’s cold expression. It was a bit like a child who had done something naughty.

Seeing this, a huge fire burned in Xíng Zhǐ’s chest. He sighed and smiled bitterly. “Even the Water-Stop icicles were melted. You’ve become quite skillful.”

Shěn Lí coughed loudly. “High God is praising wrongly.” Shěn Lí was uncomfortable being held so intimately in public. She twisted around trying to get out of his embrace, but Xíng Zhǐ only held her tighter. He lifted her chin with his other hand and forced her to look up at him.

“Shěn Lí, I didn’t try my best to save your life just so you could throw it away.”

Stunned, Shěn Lí looked away awkwardly. “I can protect myself. I’m not as precious as you think I am.”

Xíng Zhǐ’s smile faded and he interrupted Shěn Lí. “You are far more precious than you realize.” Her stunned expression made him pause and he smiled helplessly as he patted her head. “When it's time to hide and let others protect you, can you at least cooperate and give me a chance?”

Shěn Lí, who had been patted on the head repeatedly by him, inadvertently saw that the Demon emperor’s array was shrinking. Her heart tightened and she said, “Not now though.” She called her spear back. Xíng Zhǐ let her go, but he pushed her behind him.

“Starting now.” He smiled leisurely when his eyes fell on Fú Shēng. “I don’t like people who pester, and I don’t like constant complications. Regardless what your intentions are, let’s settle things today.” He smiled and said lightheartedly. “Either you kill yourself, or I can kill you.”

Fú Shēng’s wound had recovered so quickly not a trace was left behind. He laughed. “Who in the three realms doesn’t know of High God’s power. How would I dare move against High God?” He looked at Xíng Zhǐ. “It’s just that High God wants me to kill myself. . .  I am unwilling.” The words barely left his lips before the piccolo sounded again. The monster demon horde below looked up and changed their target.

The array broke. The Demon emperor couldn't support the array any longer and she collapsed and fell forward.

Shěn Lí was shocked. “Protect her! Take her to the Celestial realm. I will join you after I take care of matters here.” Shěn Lí gritted her teeth. Although her heart resisted the idea of leaving the Demon realm and its people behind, she had no other choice.

She flashed away, leaving Xíng Zhǐ’s side and approached the Demon emperor. Fú Shēng grinned upon seeing this. “High God, you care so much about Shěn Lí, did you think I wouldn’t expect you to show up?”

An ominous thought flashed in Xíng Zhǐ’s mind. He looked down and saw a black shadow stealthily approaching Shěn Lí from behind. The moment when Shěn Lí was about to help the Demon emperor up, the black shadow reached out and covered her mouth and nose with something. Whatever it was kept Shěn Lí from struggling, and she collapsed unconscious.

Fú Shēng laughed. “Take her away!”

After the black shadow dragged Shěn Lí away and disappeared, Fú Shēng looked up to the sky and laughed even more manically. “My thousand-year wish, my thousand-year wish is finally coming true! Hahaha!” His frenzied appearance was like madness transformed into joy. But just as his laughter reached its peak, he stopped abruptly. Looking down, he saw a sharp blade of ice piercing through his chest to his heart. At some point, he didn’t know when, Xíng Zhǐ had moved and was now standing in front of him with an expressionless face. In a voice like ice, he said, “Where did he take Shěn Lí?”

Black blood gushed out of Fú Shēng’s mouth and landed on the clear ice. He looked at Xíng Zhǐ and grinned. “With High God’s abilities, how could you not guess?” He continued in a hoarse voice. “I want her to replace the fire seal, and I want her to be the funeral pyre when the ruins collapse! How does it feel to watch as the woman you love die in the seal you made?! Hahaha!”

Xíng Zhǐ’s eyes were cold, and several icicles as thin as silver needles pierced through Fú Shēng’s body.

Fú Shēng twitched uncontrollably, but the corners of his mouth still quirked in a crazed smile. Xing Zhi turned around, intending to leave. With his speed, he’d be able to reach the Ruins before the black shadow. But something held him back. The demonic energy around Fú Shēng overflowed and wrapped around his ankles. “I won’t let you go. You won’t be able to reach Shěn Lí before she turns into a seal.” The monster demons surrounded Xíng Zhǐ and attacked him in wheel formation.

Murderous intent flashed in Xíng Zhǐ’s eyes. His wrath made the heaven and earth wail in sorrow. The wind howled, blowing his voice forward as if coming from hell. “Asking for death.”

The Water-Stop technique swept across and cleared the field.

Shěn Lí was unaware what was happening in the Demon palace, all she knew was that the poison currently spreading through her body was the same one Fú Shēng used on her in Yángzhōu. Back then, Xíng Zhǐ had healed her. . .  but the poison had been refined and was now even more potent.

She gritted her teeth and glanced at the person holding her out of the corner of her eye. His pace was fast and his eyes were blank. Red stripes lined his entire face and his canine teeth protruded far out, almost like a beast’s. Despite this, Shěn Lí still recognized him. . . 

“Mò Fāng. . . ” She squeezed out his name from her lips, and his figure slowed down a moment before speeding back up. He carried Shěn Lí to the Ruins without an expression on his face. It was just like the other monster demons who had no self awareness and only lived to follow orders.

Shěn Lí was sad when she thought about the last time Mò Fāng carried her out of the dungeon. “Why did you willingly become like this?”

His red eyes moved and glanced down at Shěn Lí, but he didn’t stop. Their speed was so fast, Shěn Lí could hardly believe it. His power increased after becoming a monster demon. . . 

“Your Highness. . . ” Mò Fāng’s lips moved with difficulty, as though he had a hard time controlling his mouth. “Bloodletting. . .  and escape.”

Shěn Lí was stunned for a moment, unsure how to describe the feeling in her heart. This person, who had betrayed her and the Demon realm, was still trying to help her. Shěn Lí’s world was very simple: there were friends, enemies, and unimportant people. But now, she wasn’t sure where to place Mò Fāng. Perhaps the human heart was too complicated, and it couldn’t distinguish between these simple things.

Shěn Lí bit her lip and exerted force internally. Blood overflowed from the cut, and sure enough, the strength in her body returned a little after letting some blood out.

But Mò Fāng was moving too fast, and Shěn Lí could already make out the mountain range that made the boundary between the Demon realm and the Ruins. She exerted more force and bit her lip harder. As blood flowed out, strength poured to her limbs. She jumped up abruptly and pushed Mò Fāng away. Then she spun around and landed on the ground.

They had reached the gates of the Ruins, and miasma filled the air even more thickly then when the Scorpion-tailed fox escaped.

Mò Fāng’s red eyes as he stood on the other side of the miasma were incredibly striking. But when he saw Shěn Lí escaping, he rushed forward as if he had no self-awareness. He didn’t draw his sword, and instead fought Shěn Lí barehanded with clenched teeth, as though he was trying hard to control something. “Go. . . ” He squeezed out two more words. “Go quickly!”

A long sword appeared in his hand after he said that. He held the hilt backhanded and stabbed the blade directly into his stomach.

Shěn Lí was stunned as she watched Mò Fāng vomit a mouthful of black blood. He knelt down and the red tint in this yes faded a little. He spoke with difficulty. “Your Highness, leave quickly. I can’t control it for long. . . ”

“Why. . . ”

Mò Fāng closed his eyes tightly. “Fate gave me no choice but to betray you, but then these feelings formed, and I unexpectedly could not harm you.”

The corners of Shěn Lí’s mouth moved just as Mò Fāng suddenly opened his eyes and shouted sternly, “Go! Quickly!” But before he could finish what he wanted to say, a strange laughter erupted from the Ruins.

“My son is unfilial.” The voice was carried out by the miasma.

Shěn Lí was shocked by the voice. It. . .  it was the same voice she heard the last time she was in the Ruins. At that time it had shouted, “I will kill god!” crazily, and now. . . 

Shěn Lí was still thinking about it when something like a sticky lizard tongue shot out from the Ruins trying to snag her. Mò Fāng bolted in front of her and sliced it in half. The black blood from his stomach continued to ooze out. He turned slightly and glanced at her, just like he had in the Demon realm. The look he gave her was the same secret look he would have on his face when he watched her from behind. Only when Shěn Lí wasn’t looking would he dare let his emotions show on his face. Being able to look at her openly like this now. . .  nothing could be better.

73: Liù Míng

73:Liù Míng

[February 11, 2024]

Shěn Lí was stunned when her eyes met his. Emotions filled her heart, but before she could sort them out, a smaller tongue shot out from the middle of the split tongue. The tip was like a sharp sword and it “dinged” when Mò Fāng blocked it with his blade. However, the blade cracked and gave way. Mo Fang was skewered straight through then tossed aside like a rag doll.

Behind him, hot blood splashed Shěn Lí’s face. She opened her eyes wide, feeling as though she was watching the scene in slow motion. Images of scattered scenes flashed through her mind when she watched Mò Fāng being tossed out so casually. She saw them fighting together, returning triumphantly together, raising a glass and laughing together, singing and dancing together. She even remembered when he’d injured her so severely she reverted to her demon form back when she ran away to escape the marriage decree. His act had allowed her to escape to the human world and hide.

Reflecting on it now, Fú Shēng must have hoped she would marry into the Immortal realm so they would have an easier time with the Ruins. Mò Fāng letting her get away was surely an act of disobedience and went against Fú Shēng’s plans.

This man. . . even though he harmed the Demon realm, he had never harmed her.

Such a person. . . 

A sharp roar came from the Ruins, and the tongue shot out again, trying to wrap around Shěn Lí. Murderous aura suddenly rose around her, and her eyes turned red. Before the tongue could reach her, she threw her silver spear and nailed the tip to the ground. Screams came from the inside the Ruins. She didn’t care; she ran straight to Mò Fāng and watched as his black blood soaked the ground surrounding him. Shěn Lí squatted down, her eyes dark. She reached her hand out, but hesitated, unsure whether to touch him or not.

“I’m no longer torn between two things.” He said hoarsely, looking at Shěn Lí with his eyes completely at peace; there was no sorrow or joy. “Your Highness, please forgive me. . . ”

Shěn Lí’s lips trembled. “I won’t. Get up. When this is over, you will have to atone for your betrayal.”

Mò Fāng curled his lips. “I’m afraid I won’t be able to do that.”

Shěn Lí immediately interrupted him. “Get up! Even the phoenix fire couldn’t burn you to death. This is just a minor injury! Get up! Don’t try to fool me for sympathy!” She clenched her fists unwillingly. She had seen too many deaths and could clearly see the signs.

“I have had a heart condition since I was a child, and I shouldn’t have lived for long. But every day for three hundred years, Fú Shēng nourished me with this blood, so I’m like him and can resurrect from death. But no power in this world is inexhaustible. Fú Shēng’s power is almost depleted, and I. . . I can not live for much longer.”

Shěn Lí gritted her teeth. Her throat tightened and she couldn’t say anything.

“I have lived my life with hate, living because of other people’s agendas, and not allowed to even die. Only now can my wish be fulfilled. . . ” The redness in his eyes disappeared, and his black eyes became crystal clear, like the waves of light in a pool of water reflecting everything back up. “Your Highness. . .  I like it best. . . when you have your hair tied, and it’s dancing with the wind like a battle flag that will never fall. . . ”

He said, “Don’t lose. . . ” Then his light dimmed and silence fell.

Shěn Lí’s clenched fists were balled so tight that her hand trembled.

The tongue, having recovered, began squirming again before snaking its way toward Shěn Lí.

Shěn Lí stood up quietly and loosened her fists, calling forth her red-tasseled spear.

“Why. . . ” The bangs on her forehead blocked her eyes. “Isn’t he your young master?” With a wave of her spear, she hit the tongue and swept it away. Shěn Lí’s body filled with killing intent as she spoke. “To not spare even your own people, truly insane and heartless!”

“Hehehe.” The strange laughter came from the Ruins. “My son is unfilial and has time and time again delayed important events because of personal affairs. It’s only right I should take his life.”

After hearing this, Shěn Lí frowned. “Liù Míng. . . ”

“I haven’t heard my name in such a long time, it feels so foreign.” The voice inside laughed strangely. “Hurry up little girl, High God Xíng Zhǐ will be here soon.”

The moment he finished speaking, a figure in white appeared not more than three steps away from Shěn Lí. The person reached out his hand to pull her back, but tendrils of black energy sneaking out beat him to her. It wrapped its tendrils around her waist and dragged her toward the Ruins.

As the flames around Shěn Lí burned, a shrill scream rang out from the black tendrils. It sounded a lot like Fú Shēng. Shěn Lí increased the intensity of her flames until all the tendrils burned away. Just then, the sharp tongue jumped out again, and though it was afraid of having its skin and body burned by the fire, it had orders it needed to obey. And so it engaged Shěn Lí and tried its best to drag her into the Ruins.

The anger on Xíng Zhǐ’s face was obvious. A blue ice sword materialized in his hand, but he didn’t dare swing it carelessly because of the seal surrounding the Ruins. He went to catch up, but a sudden surge in miasma erupted, and dozens of monster demons escaped! They surrounded him, holding him back for just a moment. That minor delay was enough for the tongue to drag Shěn Lí into the Ruins.

Shěn Lí felt her surroundings go dark, and the tongue that was wrapped around her withdrew immediately. The flames around her body illuminated the darkness and showed the countless monsters floating around as they stared at her with their chilly gazes. She looked behind her, wanting to escape, but all she saw was darkness. The entrance was nowhere in sight.

Suddenly a ball of dark fire floated before her; its shape slowing morphing into an eyeball. Shěn Lí looked at it coldly and asked, “Liù Míng?”

It laughed slyly. “Little girl, we meet again.”

Shěn Lí frowned. “How are you still even alive?” Liù Míng had to be dead, after having been decapitated by High God. And yet this eyeball. . . 

The eyeball narrowed itself slightly, as if it was smiling. “Little girl, you can stop guessing. I am indeed dead. This is but a wisp of my soul.”

A loud noise came from outside the Ruins as soon as he finished speaking. Shěn Lí knew it had to be Xíng Zhǐ doing something. The monster beasts around her shifted, and their eyes disappeared, apparently having run out to intercept Xíng Zhǐ.

“Little girl, we can’t hold the one outside off for long. My plan is about to finally come to fruition. Come with me quickly.”

“Ha.” Shěn Lí sneered, and flames erupted even more fiercely around her. The sheer power of it forced Liù Míng to move away from her. “Why should I obey your orders? Today is the day we all. . . ” Shěn Lí trailed off. Just as she was about to finish her sentence, she remembered what Xíng Zhǐ had once said to her, and her brows darkened, her gaze becoming firm. “No matter what scheme you have planned, Xíng Zhǐ will not let it succeed.”

She believed in him with every fiber of her being.

“Little girl, do you really thing the gods are omnipotent?” Liù Míng sneered. “Why have they been disappearing for the last thousand years? Why has the Heavenly Dao not given birth to a new god in so long?” He smiled strangely, making Shěn Lí’s heart feel strange. “A power capable of contending with the Heavenly Dao is indeed formidable and arrogant. In the early days of ancient times, when the heavens and earth were in disarray, perhaps they were necessary to establish a pure and clear space for all things. However, in the present, there is no need for such godly interventions. Having served their purpose, they can only be revered or restrained. They will fade in time now that their reason for existence is gone.”

Liù Míng’s sneer remained firmly in place as he continued. “You know, they’ve become the abandoned children of Heaven. High God Xíng Zhǐ is just the proof that the gods are barely hanging on.”

A chill invaded Shěn Lí’s heart, and Xíng Zhǐ’s apathetic smile came to mind. She became incredibly distressed all of a sudden.

“He opened the Abyss Ruins thousands of years ago by borrowing the power of the five elements anchored in the Demon realm. His divine power has only faded more with time. Do you think he has the energy to open another Abyss Ruins?”

Liù Míng continued as he watched the intensity of Shěn Lí’s flames fluctuate in time with her emotions. “The trash Celestial realm relied on High God Xíng Zhǐ’s backing to run rampant all over the three realms. Otherwise, by themselves, how could those weaklings stand up to me, the top echelon of the Demon realm? I would have torn them apart. . . ”

Shěn Lí closed her eyes and quieted her mind. “It’s true that the Celestial realm is weak and that the Demon realm have suffered injustice, but your approach isn’t right. Creating monster demons and inflicting harm to yourself before even hurting your own enemies is foolish. Why should the common demon folk die in vain for the whims of those in power?” Shěn Lí stared at him with a fire in her eyes. “I refuse to help you.”

Liù Míng was silent for a moment, then he said, “Are you unwilling to help your father?” Before Shěn Lí could react, he added, “Besides, you don’t have a say in the matter.” He called out softly, “Fú Shēng,” and a ball of black energy surrounded Liù Míng. “My subordinate is here. He can’t take physical form, so he can only appear like this. . . ”

“How long can you last?”

Fú Shēng was silent, then finally replied respectfully, “I can hold on for half an hour.”

“That will be sufficient.” Liù Míng spoke in a cold voice. “Go.”

The black energy seemed to bow its head down as it spoke. “As my lord bids.”

Shěn Lí frowned as she watched black gas rushing towards her. It wrapped itself around her body of flames like a black cloth. She was startled and used all her power to push out at it. The Ruins trembled, but the black gas did not dissipate. Fú Shēng was using all his strength to suppress her flame, until he finally managed to completely wrap the flames inside the black gas.

Shěn Lí struggled unsuccessfully to move it. Through gritted teeth she said, “He killed Mò Fāng, and now he’s using you like this! He’s never looked at you as a person!”

Without the flames acting as a shroud of protection around her, the claw of a monster demon beast was able to reach out and grab Shěn Lí, easily whisking her away.

Shěn Lí was furious. “You are too foolishly loyal!”

But Fú Shēng, who had turned in black energy, remained silent.

Liù Míng’s laughter was wild and filled with joy. “This is why I created them; more loyal than dogs, they will never betray me.”

Shěn Lí gritted her teeth in hatred while Liù Míng suddenly changed his tone. “Little girl, do you feel it?” As soon as he finished asking the question, Shěn Lí felt a wave of heat come their way. The heat. . . Shěn Lí was stared stunned toward its direction.

The ball of light restrained by iron chains was particularly dazzling in the darkness. Inside was a huge phoenix, a beautiful figure whose gorgeous feathers were bathed flames. Such a pose, it was easy to feel the power emanating from its sleeping form.

The faint aura from it was oddly familiar to Shěn Lí – a bloodline connection that pierced through space. Shěn Lí couldn’t take her eyes off it.

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(Sat) December 9, 2023
ATP will update quicker.
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Links / Schedule
ATP: one chapter a week.
Rebirth: hiatus, after ATP
DLIC: Will pick up Daily Life of an Immortal Cat in the Human World