The action switches in Lost You Forever from little Qing Shui Town to the vast Palace of the Gao Xing Kingdom, and with it Xiao Liu’s past as Xiao Yao finally catches up to her. By the time Lost You Forever rolls, around the Sheng Nong Kingdom has fallen and the world of the Gods has only the two remaining kingdoms Xuan Yuan and Gao Xing remaining. It’s a tentative truce between them, one that was bought at the price of Xiao Yao’s mother as the Xuan Yuan Princess marrying her father the Gao Xing Emperor. But in the world of power greater than individual need, the bonds of birth and marriage are tenuous at best. Xiao Yao can’t change her identity as the most powerful royal child in the God world, but perhaps her marriage can escape political alliances that her mother sacrificed her love for. She appears to have made her choice in Jing, promising to give him fifteen years so he can end his engagement and come back to her a man who has the right to love her back. Xiao Yao couldn’t have picked a better man than Jing, but sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants despite the mind telling you “this guy is better for you”. What makes her such an interesting leading lady is that she does think with her mind rather than all the grand passion that typically dooms romances to epic ups and downs. Life with Jing would be lovely, she knows it, we know it, but she’s got two other guys in her heart as well and how she balances all three men will be interesting to see. The irony of Xiao Yao’s life is that she might have the chance to love any guy she wants, because those around her desperately want her to be happy since she’s suffered so much, but she might end up being too scared to love without abandon. This chapter is amazingly poignant in finally releasing the dams of Xiao Yao’s heartbreak so that she can start moving forward after staying in place for so long.
Chapter 9 – Brow Furrowed, No Choice But Mutual Avoidance:
When the sun was setting, a retainer came to summon Xiao Liu that the Grand Emperor wanted to see her.
Seeing Xiao Liu’s leg injury, the retainer brought a pallet and Shi Qi put Xiao Liu on it. The servants carried Xiao Liu while Shi Qi followed behind, and after walking for some time they arrived at Cao Hui Court where the Grand Emperor handled all his daily affairs. The servants stopped outside and went in to announce.
When called inside, Shi Qi picked up Xiao Liu and the servants wanted to stop him but Zhuan Xu called out “Let him come in.”
Shi Qi carried Xiao Liu inside the expansive quiet interior where there was a pallet placed in the center. A man in white sat in the middle, his face was neither young nor old, he looked about 30 something, but there were a lot of white hairs in his head and he gave off an aura of weathered sadness.
Shi Qi gently set Xiao Liu down and bowed “Your majesty, I am Ye Shi Qi and this is Wen Xiao Liu. His legs are injured so will Your majesty please forgive.”
The Grand Emperor appeared not to have heard Shi Qi and instead stared intently only at Xiao Liu.
Before entering the court, Xiao Liu was very nervous and strangely solemn. But now she appeared totally at ease and smiled at the Grand Emperor and let him stare his fill. After some time, the Grand Emperor waved for Shi Qi to get up.
The Grand Emperor asked Xiao Liu “Who hurt you?”
Xiao Liu smiled and glanced briefly at Zhuan Xu but said nothing. Zhuan Xu turned “It was me. He tried to run away time and time again, so I ordered him punished.”
The Grand Emperor stared at Zhuan Xu and then asked Xiao Liu “Did you have dinner yet?”
The Grand Emperor ordered a servant to prepare dinner.
The group dined in the hall off the court, a small hall so everyone’s place settings was placed quite close. The Grand Emperor sat in the center, Zhuan Xu below him on the left, Xiao Liu below him on the right, and Shi Qi below Xiao Liu to help take care of her.
Contrary to what people thought, the Grand Emperor dined very simply, so simply it was like any ordinary wealthy family. The Grand Emperor didn’t eat a lot, and he didn’t drink wine, and his every gesture was immaculate. Shi Qi and Zhuan Xu were as well, the way they dined was like watching art in motion. From chewing, to drinking, to picking things up, there was no sound and every flow was impeccable.
In the entire hall, only Xiao Liu was making loud uncouth noises. Xiao Liu ate and drank like a beast, without any refinement, eschewing utensils and just grabbing things with her hands and letting the juices fly everywhere.
After she was done, she wiped her hands on her clothes. The servant behind her brought a bowl over with water and petals floating inside. Xiao Liu wiped her mouth with her sleeve and stared at the bowl, and then grabbed it and drank it with a gulp. The servant stared in shock but Xiao Liu smiled and shoved the bowl back with a thanks.
Thank god the servants had followed the Grand Emperor for a long time and was trained to deal with anything. The shock was momentary and then it was back to normal like nothing weird had just happened. The servant continued to serve Xiao Liu and brought the next dishes.
Zhuan Xu was either annoyed by Xiao Liu’s loud noises or full and frustrated, he put down his chopsticks and picked up his wine cup, drinking and staring at Xiao Liu. The Grand Emperor never reacted to anything Xiao Liu did.
Xiao Liu finished her meat and tackled the bones, sucking the marrow dry like she always did. A loud sucking and slurping noise wasn’t weird when a lot of people were eating together, but here in the silence of the imperial hall, where even the servants didn’t dare make any noise, Xiao Liu’s sucking was like a thunder loud.
The servants stood immobilized in fear but Shi Qi was silent and calm, continuing to eat his meal, while Zhuan Xu furrowed his brows in disgust.
The Grand Emperor finally looked at Xiao Liu and she sucked on a bone and looked around the hall at the odd mood. She spit the bone out and luckily a servant was quick thinking and grabbed it.
Xiao Liu smiled and apologized to the Grand Emperor “I’m just a country bumpkin and have never eaten something so delicious before. I don’t know any manners, so will Your majesty please forgive.”
The Grand Emperor stared for a long time at Xiao Liu then asked “What do you like to eat normally?”
“Me? Anything, but I love roasted lamb the most as the main dish.”
“Duck neck, chicken feet….” Xiao Liu licked her lips “And goose claws.”
“What kind of flavor? I’ll have the imperial kitchen make it for you. There is still enough time to have it ready for you to eat while listening to stories before bedtime.”
Xiao Liu was silent and stared at the Grand Emperor.
Zhuan Xu’s eyes were filled with confusion and doubt and his hands started shaking, causing the wine to slosh on him but he didn’t even notice and could only stare at Xiao Liu.
Xiao Liu suddenly laughed “Whatever flavor is fine, country folks aren’t picky.”
The Grand Emperor said to a retainer “Make one of every flavor.”
Xiao Liut turned to Shi Qi “I’m full, I want to go back and rest.”
Shi Qi bowed to the Grand Emperor and he said to Shi Qi “You take Xiao Liu back.”
Shi Qi picked up Xiao Liu and walked out of the hall. That was when Zhuan Xu stood up and stared at Xiao Liu’s disappearing form and then he urgently turned to the Grand Emperor and asked “Master, who is he?”
The Grand Emperor asked back “Who do you think he is?”
“Master wanted me to bring him here and said maybe he was the child of someone close. I thought he could be a son of one of the deceased Five Princes, supposedly one of their wives was a poison master and tried to poison Master before. Xiao Liu is a poison expert, so I thought….. But Master, you just said for him to have a snack while listening to stories before bedtime. Xiao Yao, Xiao Yao……” Zhuan Xu was so scared and excited that his voice was shaking so hard he couldn’t continue “Little sister when she was small she would eat snacks before bedtime while listening to Auntie’s stories. Because she wanted to eat bedtime snacks she wouldn’t even eat her dinner properly. When Auntie chastised her, she would argue back that her Daddy let her eat snacks.”
Compared to Zhuan Xu’s shock, the Grand Emperor remained calm without a ripple “I cannot see through the magic so I don’t so I don’t know who he really is.””
Zhuan Xu sat down wearily on his knees “But Master must suspect?”
The Grand Emperor said nothing and Zhuan Xu bolted up and rushed to the door “I’m going to ask her. I’m going to ask her who she really is, and why she won’t reunite with me.”
The Grand Emperor’s icy cold voice caused Zhuan Xu to stop and he looked back in confusion “Doesn’t Master want to know? Xiao Yao is your daughter!”
The Grand Emperor’s right hand touched the white bone ring on his left finger and he slowly turned it “Who she is, is not for us to decide. She needs to decide.”
Zhuan Xu didn’t understand but he knew his Master was never wrong so he kneeled down and listened.
“In this world, it’s not only ill intent that causes harm, a lot of harm is caused by love. You want to know who she is, I want to know too. But don’t force her. Give her time to tell us who she is.”
Zhuan Xu shook his head “I don’t understand…..”
The Grand Emperor walked out “You will understand.”
Zhuan Xu sat there in a daze for a long time before walking out, stumbling like he was drunk as he returned to Hua Yin Court.
Shi Qi and Xiao Liu sat in the corridor leaning against a beam enjoying the cool breeze. Shi Qi had a crystal plate on his leg filled with various fruits and he was peeling it and handing it to Xiao Liu.
Seeing Zhuan Xu, Shi Qi politely stood up and bowed but Xiao Liu made no move other than to wave with a wide grin. Zhuan Xu walked over and sat down across from them. Images of all his interactions with Xiao Liu flashed before his eyes.
He ordered her tortured and they ought to hate each other, but she used her body to save his life. He thought she wanted him indebted to her and it was another plot. When Nine-lives Xiang Liu was chasing him, he lost the white fox tail satchel but later he discovered it wasn’t lost and was tucked into his robe.
He was shot in the chest by a Fang Feng family arrow and lured her over thinking that if needs be, he would shoot her as well so that she would go ask Tu Shan Jing for help. But she didn’t even hesitate and went to ask Tu Shan Jing for help and got him the ice crystals.
She planted a voodoo bug in him, supposedly just pain but no life threatening danger. But he didn’t believe her, especially when she made up all sorts of excuses not to remove the bug. He thought she clearly wanted to use the bug to control him. But when she sent word that she removed the bug, and he felt it was gone, he still didn’t really believe that she removed it.
Because Master wanted to see her, he thought she was the descendant of the traitorous Five Princes, that she approached him for nefarious purposes. He hurt her but she always only smiled back at him, without any anger in her smile, and instead there was comfort that he was now able to be so ruthless.
And their nights of drinking, time and time again….. Everything came back to him, and really the truth was so clearly before his eyes but his cold and suspicious heart chose not to see it.
Zhuan Xu looked at Xiao Liu’s legs wrapped up in wooden boards, so clumsy and painful. He reached out towards her legs and Shi Qi thought he wanted to hurt her again so his attack was swift. His finger was like a sword as it shot out but Zhuan Xu didn’t duck like Shi Qi thought he would, in fact Zhuan Xu let the finger blade pierce his arm and the blood came down.
Zhuan Xu’s hand touched Xiao Liu’s leg and he tenderly asked “Does it hurt?”
Xiao Liu turned her head and closed her eyes “No.”
Zhuan Xu had hundreds, thousands of words he wanted to say, tightly wound in his chest so he felt like exploding but he didn’t dare to open his mouth. In the three hundred years since, he was no longer the boy pushing her on the swing under the phoenix tree. Both his parents were dead, he was exiled and had to scrape by under others, he had worn his mask for too long and no longer knew how to feel genuine joy and genuine pain. He learned to manipulate others but forgot to to act with sincerity. He learned to use all sorts of strategy to achieve his goals but forgot how to converse candidly.
Zhuan Xu stood up and said to Shi Qi “Take good care of her.”
Zhuan Xu walked out the door, aimlessly strolling in the darkened night. The flowers in Cheng En Pavilion were in bloom and all sorts of incredible flora was present. The night wind gust blew the petals all around and sent the fragrance billowing. But in this distant land as far as the edge of the ocean, there was no red phoenix flower, the flower that bloomed like sunrise, the flower that looked like flames dancing when it fell.
Shi Qi saw Xiao Liu had her eyes tightly shut, and only after the sound of Zhuan Xu’s departing footsteps faded did the tears tumble down from the corner of her eyes. Shi Qi pulled Xiao Liu into his arms and Xiao Liu buried her face in his chest as her tears fell like the rain.
It’s been over three hundred years, and she was no longer the little girl on the swing under the phoenix tree.
She once roamed in the deep mountains, drinking blood like an animal; she was once locked in a cage, raised like a pet; she was once chased and she killed many; her life was a lie, it was blood, it was death, everyone lied to her so she didn’t know who to trust, she didn’t know who to be in front of everyone.
Until it was dark into the night, after Shi Qi and Xiao Liu had long gone to bed, and still Zhuan Xu did not return.
When Xiao Liu woke up the next morning, Zhuan Xu was no longer there. He didn’t return to Hua Yin Court until dusk and Xiao Liu was the same, greeting him with a smile and a wave. Zhuan Xu had a cool expression without a smile, but other than being cold to Xiao Liu, nothing else was different.
Zhuan Xu said to Shi Qi “If you’re bored during the day, have the servants take you guys to Qi Qing Garden, there is a lake to go boating, a creek to soak your feet, filled with exotic plants and strange animals, perfect for spending time.”
Shi Qi said “Fine.”
Zhuan Xu went back to his room and ate all his meals there. The doctor said Xiao Liu would heal fastest in one month, but really in ten or so days she was already moving around on crutches.
The doctor was shocked at her recovery speed and admonished “You can move around now more and gradually you will be back to normal.”
Xiao Liu was very obedient and walked around everywhere.
The Grand Emperor didn’t summon Xiao Liu often, once every three or four days, and each time he said very little. “What do you like to drink?” “What color do you like?” “What plants?” ‘What…..”
Within Hua Yin Court, his dictates were everywhere, whatever Xiao Liu said she liked it would appear immediately. One time he asked what she liked and she shamelessly said “I like money, it’s even better if I have a mountain of money where I can roll around in.”
The next day when Xiao Liu got up, there was a mountain of money in the courtyard. It wasn’t jewels, it wasn’t jade, it was actually a mound of cold hard coins stacked as high as a mountain.
Seeing this glittering money mountain, Xiao Liu’s face darkened but Zhuan Xu who hadn’t so much as cracked a smile in the last two weeks suddenly burst out laughing. Even the reticent Shi Qi couldn’t help but laugh as well as he said very earnestly to Xiao Liu “Even I’ve never seen this much money before.”
Hearing Zhuan Xu’s laughter, Xiao Liu tossed her crutches aside and flopped on the money mountain and rolled around a few times.
Shi Qi asked “Happy?”
“No, it really hurts.” Xiao Liu laid on top of the money mountain and stubbornly persisted “But at least now I know what it feels like to roll around on a money mountain.”
Zhuan Xu and Shi Qi both laughed.
The servants from then on would always need to walk around the money mountain, and when Shi Qi and Xiao Liu were relaxing in the yard from any angle they could see the money mountain glittering shiny bright.
On a particular moon lit night, Xiao Liu was in the mood and wanted to see the moon, but when she opened the window all she saw was the shiny money mountain. In front of the money mountain, no beauty or beautiful sight could compare. Xiao Liu finally couldn’t take it anymore and said to a servant “Take it away.”
The servant explained “This is His majesty’s order, if young master wants it removed, you need to ask His majesty.”
The next time the Grand Emperor summoned Xiao Liu, it was the first time she spoke first to him “I don’t like the money mountain anymore.”
The Grand Emperor had no expression and slightly nodded his head. Only the very familiar Zhuan Xu could see the twinkle of mirth in the Grand Emperor’s eyes.
After that, Xiao Liu no longer dared to bullshit when the Grand Emperor asked what she liked. She answered honestly, because having something she didn’t like in front of her every day was such a pain.
Xiao Liu’s legs got better and didn’t need the two crutches anymore. She used one crutch and could walk slowly by herself. She couldn’t sit still so she got bored of just wandering Hua Yin Court. She liked walking at sunset until she was covered in sweat and then she would stop.
Shi Qi would slowly follow behind her.
Xiao Liu nattered “Men love a beauty who doesn’t sweat, but that’s a bad idea to marry one. Life has so many annoyances that upset people and to keep it all inside is bad. To walk around in the sun and sweat it all out, that way a woman can feel relieved and not be so petty. Look at me, lately I’ve been so upset but after walking like this I feel much better.”
Shi Qi looked at Xiao Liu with a smile but said nothing.
Suddenly there was a sound of a bird calling from above and a large swallow zoomed down from above and landed right next to Xiao Liu. Its body was inching forward and its head was bowed as if it was bowing to Xiao Liu and inviting Xiao Liu to pet its head.
Xiao Liu stepped back and dropped her crutch, her body stumbling.
Shi Qi wanted to go assist her but the Grand Emperor and Zhuan Xu arrived and the Grand Emperor raised his hand and a giant force blocked Shi Qi’s path. Shi Qi could see the swallow didn’t want to hurt Xiao Liu so he didn’t resist and quietly watched.
The swallow saw that Xiao Liu was ignoring it so it cocked its head quizzically and walked towards Xiao Liu.
Xiao Liu backed away faster and faster and it walked forward faster and faster. Xiao Liu fell on the ground and the swallow thought Xiao Liu wanted to play with it so it happily called out and started rolling on the ground a few times. It then stretched its neck out and curled up next to Xiao Liu.
Xiao Liu stared at it and the swallow was heartbroken and cried out pitifully. It put its head under Xiao Liu’s hand and whined, clearly it wasn’t going to stop complaining until Xiao Liu paid it attention. Xiao Liu finally reached out her hand and stroked its head.
The swallow flapped its wings and cried out happily in song, its joy evident to everyone watching.
Xiao Liu held the swallow’s body and slowly got up “You thing, how’d you get so fat?” She then raised her head and saw the Grand Emperor and Zhuan Xu staring at her.
Xiao Liu laughed and pointed at the swallow “This fat bird seems to like me a lot, likely it’s a female.”
The Grand Emperor said “I selected this swallow as the winged ride for my eldest daughter Xiao Yao. Xiao Yao slept with it every night when it was still an egg. When it hatched, the first thing it saw was Xiao Yao. She named it Yuan Yuan and every day she would ask when she could ride Yuan Yuan in the skies. I always answered “When both of you are all grown up”. Now Yuan Yuan is all grown up, but Xiao Yao still has not returned.”
Xiao Liu bowed apologetically “I didn’t know it was the Princess’s winged ride, if I insulted it then will Your majesty please forgive.”
The Grand Emperor stared at Xiao Liu and then left with Zhuan Xu without saying a word.
Xiao Liu saw them leave and then walked to rest on a rock with Shi Qi’s assistance. The swallow came over and Xiao Liu patted it “Don’t bother me, you go play by yourself.” The swallow Yuan Yuan crouched pitifully near Xiao Liu for a bit and then flew off.
Xiao Liu rested for a bit and then said to Shi Qi with a smile “Let’s go back.”
Xiao Liu was soon able to walk without crutches and she walked all over the court but never to the yard anymore. One day, a very hot and muggy Summer day, Shi Qi followed Xiao Liu to Qi Qing Garden and was resting under a tree when Xiao Liu said “This would be a perfect time for an iced melon.”
Shi Qi stood up “I saw some maids icing melons, I’ll go bring some.”
Xiao Liu laughed “I was just mentioning it, let’s wait until we go back.”
“I’ll be back quickly.” Shi Qi took off quickly and Xiao Liu sat down to wait for the iced melon.
Xiao Liu remembered when she was small, she loved playing in the water and often when it was hot out she stayed in the water and refused to come out. Her mom would lure her out with a big plate of iced melon, eating it on land and indicating that she would finish it all if her daughter didn’t come out. She would quickly climb out and run to her mom’s side and open her mouth wide waiting for her mom to feed her a bite.
A group of people walked into the garden and Xiao Liu glanced over and didn’t see any familiar faces so continued to sit there.
A beautiful young girl rushed over fairly bursting with rage “You. You. What are you doing here?”
Xiao Liu looked at the girl carefully, the face was unfamiliar but her personality seemed familiar. Looking at her attire, Xiao Liu knew who she was now. So Ah Nian’s real face was so beautiful, a true beauty through and through. Xiao Liu laughed “I. I. Why can’t I be here?”
Ah Nian was about to burst a blood vessel in her brain she was so angry “This is my house! You lowlife, of course you can’t be here! Guards, grab him!”
Hai Tang and another servant grabbed Xiao Liu and dragged him up and took him back to her quarters. Xiao Liu didn’t resist and got dragged along. Once they arrived at Ah Nian’s quarters Han Zhang Court, she acted like a judge interrogating a prisoner “Do you admit your crimes?”
Xiao Liu didn’t have a care and instead look around with a smile. Hai Tang was also angry at Xiao Liu so seeing she didn’t seem to care, kicked her knees in so she was kneeling in front of Ah Nian.
Ah Nian looked down on her “Ha! There comes the day you are in my hands. Zhuan Xu gege said you saved his life so I won’t kill you but you’re going to suffer today. That day you…..you…..to me……I have to get justice!”
Ah Nian remembered Xiao Liu feeling her up all over that day and tears came to her eyes again. Zhuan Xu asked her many times but she never had the guts to tell him. After she came back to Five Gods Mountain, she told her mom through tears but her mom just held her and patted her on the back.
Ah Nian yelled “Give me his hands!”
Two servants held up Xiao Liu’s hands, but since Ah Nian was so protected and knew nothing about true torture, all she could think of was to hit Xiao Liu’s hands.
Hai Tang grabbed a thick bat and struck Xiao Liu’s handed hard. Xiao Liu smiled and purposely egged her on “Your back was so soft and fragrant, even if you break my hands It’s still worth it to feel you up. After I felt you up, I’ve been dreaming…..”
Ah Nian’s body was stiff and her face turning purple as her tears came streaming down.
Gao Xing was a very conservative society with an emphasis on etiquette and manners. The body of the Princess……the servants were all stunned and Hai Tang shoved a shoe in Xiao Liu’s mouth to keep her from saying anymore.
Hai Tang said to Ah Nian “Princess, this bastard is purposely angering you, don’t fall for his tricks. You have your reputation and manners to uphold.”
The other servants said otherwise “Prince Zhuan Xu is the Xuan Yuan Kingdom prince, not a Gao Xing prince. He only lives here and is alive by the grace of His majesty. Why does Princess need to care what he thinks? Just kill him and then explain to the Emperor, he won’t blame you.”
Ah Nian was beyond furious “Hit him, hit him in the mouth then hands, and if he dies then I’ll take responsibility!”
The two servants grabbed sticks and started hitting.
Xiao Liu couldn’t laugh anymore because all she could think of was what the servants just said. Zhuan Xu was sent here by the Yellow Emperor when he was very young, everyone knew he was pretty much a royal hostage. He was the token of the Yellow Emperor’s promise not to attack Gao Xing. In over two hundred years, he never once went back to Xuan Yuan. In everyone’s eyes, he appeared like the lofty Xuan Yuan prince, but in truth he was just a discarded son living under someone else’s grace.
When Shi Qi came back with the iced melons and couldn’t find Xiao Liu, he followed the trail to here but was kept outside by the guards. He could heard the sounds of striking from within and wanted to rush inside but couldn’t when even more guards arrived.
Because Ah Nian was the Grand Emperor’s only daughter now, everyone was very careful so news was immediately passed to Consort Jing An, Ah Nian’s mother, as well as the Grand Emperor. Consort Jing An’s residence was close so she got there first.
She rushed inside and was relieved to see Ah Nian looking fine albeit spitting mad. Ah Nian saw her mom and immediately forced a smile and asked “Mom, why are you here?”
Xiao Liu kept her head lowered to let the servants hit her, but when she heard what Ah Nian said, her body shook and she wanted to look up but didn’t dare. This woman might not be the Empress, but she was the only woman now in the Grand Emperor’s life. Almost no one in the entire world had ever seen her before, rumors were that the Grand Emperor kept her hidden because she was so beautiful.
Consort Jing An said nothing but Ah Nian called out “Stop!”
Xiao Liu slowly raised her head and in the split second when she saw Consort Jing An’s face, her entire body spasmed with pain and her heart was shattered. She cried out through the muffled shoe in her mouth “Mom, mom……” Her cries was unintelligible but she desperately tried to crawl over and violently struggled to escape the hands of the servants holding her. She desperately reached for the woman wearing blue standing there.
Xiao Liu’s hands were bloody and bruised and the woman was startled and took a step back. Ah Nian quickly held her mother and screamed “Hold on to that lowlife!”
The servants were afraid that Xiao Liu would hurt the Consort and violently pushed her down on the ground but Xiao Liu appeared to be possessed and her strength was shockingly great as she struggled with all her might to grab the Consort.
“Mom, mom…….” Xiao Liu’s mouth was stuffed up and she couldn’t make a sound.
The Consort looked at her like she was a crazed dog and Xiao Liu could only cry and cry and reach her hand towards her. She just wanted to hold her mom, to not let her leave again “Mom, mom….don’t abandon me….”
She wanted to ask why her mom abandoned her so many years ago. You promised to come pick me up, but you left and never returned. Did I do something wrong? No matter what I did wrong, if you tell me then I’ll change! As long as you don’t leave me! Am I really a cursed spawn who should have never been born? Mom, you tell me, why don’t you want me?
When the Grand Emperor and Zhuan Xu rushed over, all they saw was a bloody Xiao Liu being pressed to the ground by servants as she struggled with all her might staring at Consort Jing An, her face streaked with tears, her hands outstretched, begging her not to leave “Mom, mom…..”
The Grand Emperor’s entire body shook and he appeared to be unsteady on his feet.
Zhuan Xu felt his entire head burst open in that very second and he rushed forward like a crazed person. He pushed everyone aside and grabbed Xiao Liu as he cried “Xiao Yao, Xiao Yao, she’s not! She’s not Auntie!”
Zhuan Xu pulled the shoe out of his mouth and crumbled it into ashes. Xiao Liu’s entire body was shaking like a dried leaf “Mom, she’s mom. Gege, I want to ask her why she didn’t want me anymore. Was it because I was being bad? I will be good, I promise I will be good, I will be good…..”
Zhuan Xu’s entire face was buried in Xiao Liu’s shoulder as his tears came down “She’s not Auntie, Auntie already died on the battlefield. She is Consort Jing An, she just looks a lot like Auntie.”
Xiao Liu’s entire body shook and she howled through her tears like a wounded wolf “She said she would come pick me up, she said she would come pick me up. I waited for her for over 70 years! She never came, she didn’t want me anymore! I don’t blame her but I just want to know why…..:
Zhuan Xu tightly embraced her, just like when they were small, when his father died, his mother committed suicide, in those endless dark nights he held her tightly.
Xiao Liu’s cries gradually subsided but her body continued to shake and spasm. She could feel Gege’s tears silently soaking the collar of her robe. He was still like when they were kids, no matter how hurt, he would never let anyone see him cry. Only her. Xiao Liu’s hands slowly reached out and encircled his back and she tightly hugged him back.
The two of them said nothing, just tightly holding each other. They were each other’s comfort, each other’s strength.
Ah Nian stared at them in shock and she called out “Zhuan Xu gege.”
Zhuan Xu was like a rock statue, unmoving with his head buried in Xiao Liu’s shoulder, no one could see his expression.
Ah Nian called out “Father, they….they….”
Her father appeared to have aged another hundred years as he wearily said to the servants “Take the Consort and Princess back to rest.”
The servants bowed and half assisted half carried the Consort and Ah Nian out of the room. Ah Nian felt frightened, this premonition that her world was about to change but she didn’t know how, so she kept turning to look back at Zhuan Xu.
The room quickly emptied out leaving only Shi Qi and the Grand Emperor. After a long time, Zhuan Xu slowly raised his head and stared at Xiao Liu, his eyes clear without a hint of tears.
This became yet another secret just between the two of them. Xiao Liu’s heart quickened and she nervously turned her head to avoid Zhuan Xu’s stare but he said “You already called me Gege, no use trying to deny it now.”
Xiao Liu wanted to laugh but couldn’t. Zhuan Xu softly called “Xiao Yao.”
It had been so long since she heard this name that she felt scared and unsure. Zhuan Xu called again “Xiao Yao, I am Zhuan Xu, your cousin, you call me Gege.”
Xiao Liu remembered the first time they met when they were kids. Mom and Auntie were still alive back then. Mom smiled “Xiao Yao, you have to listen to your older brother from now on.” Auntie smiled and said “Zhuan Xu, you have to watch out for your little sister.” The two of them glared at each other like enemy crows. Then Auntie committed suicide, and then Mom died on the battlefield….and they were the only ones left.
Xiao Liu said in a soft voice “Gege, I’ve come back.”
Zhuan Xu wanted to smile but couldn’t as his lips quivered. Shi Qi walked over and said “Xiao Liu’s hands are injured.”
Zhuan Xu hurriedly called for medicine. The Grand Emperor’s personal retainer had the medicine ready and was waiting outside and rushed in with everything when he heard Zhuan Xu calling. Xiao Liu’s hands were treated and bandaged quickly.
The doctor reported to the Grand Emperor “It’s just an external injury, no bones or nerves were injured. It will heal in a few days.”
The Grand Emperor nodded and the retainers all disappeared quietly.
Zhuan Xu helped Xiao Liu up but Xiao Liu’s head was down and she refused to move. Zhuan Xu shoved her forward until she was standing in front of the Grand Emperor. He then back up until he was standing with Shi Qi in the back.
Xiao Liu kept her head down, staring at her hands and saying nothing.
The Grand Emperor spoke first “You purposely upset Ah Nian so that she would hurt you, wasn’t that just to get me to show up. I’m here so why are you not speaking?”
Xiao Liu purposely upset Ah Nian so she would fly into a rage and cause a ruckus so the Grand Emperor would come and see. Xiao Liu’s conflicted feelings made her want to see what he would do, how he would see. She was even ready to mock everything, but the appearance of Consort Jing An disrupted her plans.
That person, who once caused Xiao Liu to be so sad she couldn’t even eat, she thought many times of what made her better than Mom. But she never expected that she would look so much like Mom. Plus she was wearing blue so at first sight she was exactly like Mom. All those angry feelings were washed away and all she felt was regret and uncertainty.
Xiao Liu knelt down and the words came right up to her lips but she shouldn’t say it, so she bowed her head to the ground, she then bowed again, and then a third time….
The Grand Emperor knelt down and stopped her. Xiao Liu bit her lips and still couldn’t say the words.
The Grand Emperor said “These past two hundred years, there is likely a lot of people who said all sorts of things to you. I once had a lot of things I wanted to say to you. I kept thinking of what I wanted to say when I found you. In the beginning, I wanted to tell you stories to make you happy. Then later how to comfort you. Then later I wanted to hear what you had to say, how you have changed. Then later I kept remembering when you were small and called me Daddy, Daddy. Then finally I thought nothing mattered as long as you are alive. Xiao Yao…..” The Grand Emperor waved his hand and a water spirit formed eagle appeared and zoomed towards Xiao Liu, then suddenly changed into a tiger leaping.
This was Xiao Liu’s favorite game when she was small. Every day she would wait outside court before the session ended, with her neck outstretched, waiting for her Daddy. When she saw a tired weary form emerge, she would jump up and loudly call “Daddy, daddy” and rush into his arms. Her daddy would laugh and pick her up with one hand and use the other to conjure all sorts of spirit creatures.
Xiao Liu rushed into the Grand Emperor’s arms as her tears spilled forth.
The Grand Emperor held his daughter, after three hundred years, after her laughter turned into tears, his daughter was finally home. Xiao Liu said “They say you….you don’t want me anymore. Why didn’t you come to Jade Mountain to pick me up?”
The Grand Emperor patted her on the back “Back then I didn’t pick you up because your five uncles revolted and there was battles to the West and assassinations in the Palace. I was worried I couldn’t handle it alone and you would be injured. So I wanted the Royal Mother to take care of you in Jade Mountain. Wait until I finished ending the revolt then I would pick you up. Who knew you would sneak off the mountain. If I knew this would happen, I would have kept you by my side no matter the danger.”
Xiao Liu asked “Are you really my father?”
The Grand Emperor raised her face and looked directly into her eyes and said with absolute certainty “I am your father! Even if you don’t call me dad, I am always your father!”
Xiao Liu suddenly felt like a dam burst and she was laughing and crying “Daddy…..daddy.”
The Grand Emperor smiled and helped Xiao Liu up and handed her a white handkerchief. She wiped her face but her eyes felt so heavy like she wanted to keep crying, like the tears she had been holding back for hundreds of years needed to come out.
Zhuan Xu was all smiles as he walked over with Shi Qi following behind.
Xiao Liu looked at Shi Qi and felt so guilty “I….I…” wanting to explain but not sure how to say anything.
The Grand Emperor shook his head “He’s a member of the Tu Shan clan of foxes. He’s way smarter than you. Even if initially he didn’t know, he likely long since figured it out.”
Xiao Liu smiled wanly. He’s right, neither the Grand Emperor nor Zhuan Xu were easy going people. For them to endure and be patient for so long, there were very few people in the world that would merit such treatment.
Shi Qi bowed to the Grand Emperor who asked “Tu Shan Jing?”
Shi Qi respectfully answer “It is I.”
The Grand Emperor said very leisurely “I remember you are engaged to the youngest daughter of the Fang Feng family. Or am I mistaken?”
Jing started to sweat and he answered very stiffly “No.”
“No, you aren’t engaged? Or no, I am not mistaken?”
“Yes, Your majesty is not mistaken.”
Xiao Liu couldn’t watch this anymore and said “Dad!”
The Grand Emperor looked at Shi Qi for a long time and then said to Xiao Liu “I made a residence in the court where your mother used to stay. If you want to move there, It can be arranged. I moved back to my old residence. If you like any court then pick one, there are plenty sitting empty.”
“No, I want to stay in Hua Yin Court so I can talk with Gege.”
Zhuan Xu was happy but worried and shot a glance at the Grand Emperor “I want to live with you, too, but once you become a girl again and live in the same residence as me, that won’t be proper.”
“I…..” Xiao Liu wanted to say something but she looked at the Grand Emperor and Zhuan Xu and swallowed it. She can discuss it later.
The Grand Emperor said “Just stay there for now. When I make the official announcement of your return, then you can move.”
Zhuan Xu happily bowed “Thank you, Master.”
The Grand Emperor wanted to spend more time with her but knew she needed time so he made an excuse to leave. After he left, Xiao Liu’s tightly wound body relaxed. She knew he was one of her closest, and remembered how much her dad loved her when she was small, but with the hundreds of years apart, she wanted to get close to him but felt nervous and awkward, plus some trepidation.
Zhuan Xu took Shi Qi and Xiao Liu back to Hua Yin Court and Shi Qi was silent the entire way. Zhuan Xu had the maids help Xiao Liu wash up and change and dinner was ready by them.
Xiao Liu’s hands were injured so couldn’t hold a chopstick. Shi Qi wanted to feed her and was about to reach out his hand when Zhuan Xu took it first “It’s my little sister, you’ll have to wait your turn.”
Shi Qi silently said down with no anger but seemingly with a lot on his mind.
Zhuan Xu fed Xiao Liu and he did it so well and at ease she asked “When did you take care of people with hand injuries?”
Zhuan Xu explained “I once disguised myself and joined the army for ten plus years. In the army, there is no one to serve you. When soldiers are injured. everyone helps each other. I fed soldiers, and soldiers fed me.”
Xiao Liu said “No wonder you…..your earthy aura is so strong. You must’ve done a lot of different things.”
Zhuan Xu said “Grandfather and Master both said to experience more. Since I can’t do anything serious, might as well try stuff out.”
After dinner and washing up, the maid brought a bowl of water to wash hands. Zhuan Xu laughed and grabbed it and shoved it under Xiao Liu’s lips “Don’t you want to drink it? If it’s not enough, you can drink mine as well.”
Xiao Liu ducked and started laughing, as did Shi Qi. Zhuan Xu used his finger to poke Xiao Liu “You! Thank god Master has the patience.”
Even after three hundred years apart, perhaps it’s because their blood was connected, and because each tucked the other person away deep inside the heart, the two of them had no awkwardness and could joke with each other without reservation.
It got dark and the maids lit the sconces in the hall. The three leaned on jade pillows and started drinking on the pallet. Shi Qi was silent and Xiao Liu would sneak peeks at him.
Zhuan Xu put down his wine and went to change, but then didn’t return for a long time, clearly to give Xiao Liu and Shi Qi time to talk privately.
Xiao Liu knew Shi Qi guessed her real identity, but seeing with his own eyes is still very different. She knew Shi Qi didn’t want her to be the Grand Emperor’s daughter, the granddaughter of the Yellow Emperor. Just like she didn’t want him to be the son of the Tu Shan clan. But the only thing a person cannot choose is birth.
Xiao Liu said “Whatever you want to ask or say, go right ahead.”
Shi Qi said “Actually, I don’t care who you are. You are just you. Except things have become more and more complicated.”
Xiao Liu raised an eyebrow “What? You scared now?”
Shi Qi smiled “I’ve always been scared. To desire comes worry, to love comes fear. It would be strange not to be scared.”
The Shi Qi under the lamp was so warm, so calm, so peaceful, even Xiao Liu felt her heart warm. She laughed “I don’t understand.”
Shi Qi played with his wine and smiled “What shall I call you from now on? When do I see your real face?”
“My father is the Grand Emperor. My mother is the daughter of the Yellow Emperor, she is the Xuan Yuan Princess. My full name is Gao Xing Jiu Yao. Because my forehead has the birthmark of a peach blossom, my parents gave me the nickname Xiao Yao, from the poem about how the peach blossom is blooming. But for now, you can still call me Xiao Liu.”
Xiao Liu only answered his first question and for the longest time never answered the second.
Zhuan Xu came back and said “Xiao Yao, now there is only the three of us, I want to see your real face.”
Xiao Liu leaned back and looked at the sky, and then she spoke “These past things I’ll only say once. If later on Dad and Grandfather ask about it, then Gege you go tell them!”
Zhuan Xu sat down next to her “Fine!”
Xiao Liu’s voice started “During the final battle between the Xuan Yuan Yellow Emperor and Sheng Nong’s General Qi Yo, my mother died during battle. Before she went to battle, she left me with the Royal Mother in Jade Mountain. I wanted to go home, but year after year I waited and Dad never came to get me. I was very immature then, and the Royal Mother rarely spoke and never smiled, every day forcing me to practice my spiritual powers. I hated her, and one time when Dad had a servant bring a present for me, I hid in the undercarriage and escaped down the mountain. Initially I wanted to hide in the carriage all the way home to Five Gods Mountain, to scare Dad and ask why he didn’t bring me home. I wanted him to tell me that Mom wasn’t dead. On the way home, the two servants were gossiping about me. They said a lot of bad things about my mom and me. They called me a bastard spawn. They said I was so pathetic, wanting to go back to Five Gods Mountain, but my dad would never bring me back. It was his grace that he didn’t have me killed. That was when I learned that my mom actually divorced my dad! She wasn’t my dad’s wife anymore!”
Xiao Liu’s voice became so dark and even Shi Qi and Zhuan Xu knew that she was only sharing some of what she heard because the rest was too horrible to even discuss again. How could she have felt when she heard it all and was still so young.
“I don’t remember exactly how I felt – despair, disappointment, rage, disbelief – I hated my mom, hated my dad…..my entire head was spinning. When the servants stopped to rest, I snuck away and didn’t know where to go but knew I couldn’t go back to Five Gods Mountain. But that was the only home I knew, I didn’t know where else to go. I followed the way to Yi Zhou because I heard that was where my mom died. I didn’t know what to do and just walked on. Probably because I was so cute, people were nice to me and fed me. One time an uncle let me ride in his carriage and said he was headed the same way. I sat down and he took me to his residence. He was nice to me, told me stories and made me laugh. I felt like Dad didn’t want me anymore so I thought he could be my dad. But one day he tried to take my clothes off, and even though I didn’t understand what was happening, I remembered the Royal Mother saying that a girl cannot take her clothes off randomly. I wasn’t willing so he hit me and I accidentally killed him. I was……” Xiao Liu gestured to the height of an eight year old human girl “Just this tall. I couldn’t believe a person could have so much blood, my clothes were soaked in his blood.”
Zhuan Xu knew now why Master couldn’t find Xiao Yao, she had been hidden away by a human in his residence.
Xiao Liu was cold but didn’t want to move and only curled up to keep telling her past. Shi Qi got up and opened a blanket, lightly covering her with it. He wanted to sit back down but Xiao Liu grabbed his sleeve and Shi Qi sat down next to her.
“Dad and Grandfather made a proclamation to the world looking for me. Many people started looking for me. Some wanted to bring me in for the reward, others wanted to kill me. I saw a little girl my age get killed. Some demons wanted to eat me because rumor was that I was bathed in the holy Yang Valley water when I was born, and live in Jade Mountain for 70 years. The Royal Mother was very harsh with my training but generous with her bounty and I ate whatever treasures were there willy nilly. So rumor was that eating me would increase their power multiple folds. I was afraid and started running and hiding. One time I hid with beggars but the people chasing me had us cornered. I was so scared and dreamed that if I could change my looks, if I was covered with the pox, my eyes crooked, my nose flat, my forehead without the birthmark, then they wouldn’t recognize me. They checked all the kids and when they got to me, I thought I was a goner but they looked at my face and let me go. I didn’t know why until I got to the river and discovered that I changed my face. I transformed into exactly the face I was thinking of. And after trying it time and again, I learned that I not only could change my face, I could change my gender as well. After learning I had this ability, I was rarely in danger.”
Zhuan Xu had so many questions but he didn’t ask and only listened.
Xiao Liu looked at the sky and calmly continued.
“In the beginning I was so excited and changed my face every few days. After a year the people chasing me gradually decreased and I felt safe. I changed my face all the time and traveled the vast wilderness. One day I looked in the mirror and discovered that I forgot what my real face looked like. I desperately tried to remember and reassemble it but nothing looked it. Initially I tried not to be nervous, I knew magic transformation could never destroy the true face. I tried to learn the magic to transform back and discovered that there was no transformation ability quite like mine. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find my real face anymore.”
Xiao Liu closed her eyes “Those days were like an nightmare, my face changing all the time. I walked on the street and a girl walked towards me and if her eyes were pretty and I thought about it, my eyes would become hers. I was so nervous every day, and at night I would worry about it and my face would change even in my dreams so I woke up with a new face. I was constantly changing and every face was a false one. I was too scared to look in the mirror or see anyone. One day I was eating at a restaurant when I heard a girl call grandmother and remembered my grandmother and my face changed and everyone saw it and screamed. I rushed out the restaurant and ran and ran until I ran into the mountains. I hid there seeing no one. I had no mirror and when I washed my face in the river I closed my eyes. If I didn’t look at myself, it didn’t matter what my face turned into because I was still me.”
Shi Qi and Zhuan Xu were both very distressed. They knew Xiao Yao had experienced very bad things, but they never would have imagined that she would lose her face. Everyone envied the Gods for having spiritual powers and could change their forms, but to lose oneself is the biggest nightmare of all.
“I lived like a beast and thanks to the Royal Mother’s harsh training I had pretty decent powers and the normal beasts were no match for me. It was free in the mountains but there was no one to talk to and I was very lonely. But I didn’t dare leave so I started talking to myself. Later I talked to a snake demon in training but it didn’t want to talk to me. I stole its egg so it would chase me every day to kill me. I would run and talk to it. It understood what I was saying but hadn’t developed the ability to talk yet so I would talk for it and converse with myself. My talkative habit was formed there. Day after day, year after year, I didn’t know how much time passed, and it was only later I learned 20 years had passed.”
Zhuan Xu held her hand tightly, as if wanting to give that frightened lonely girl some companionship. He asked with a raspy voice “How did you maintain your face?”
“One day I met a man and he candidly admitted he was a demon and was gravely injured and was seeking medicines. He talked to me so I talked to you. Initially I was very wary so I sat far from him and ran away after a few words. After a long time and I kept testing him, he never expressed any ulterior motive towards me. So I talked more to him and he wasn’t afraid of my changing face. He changed his face and I changed my face and we had a competition and had a great laugh about it. In front of him I didn’t feel like a monster, I didn’t feel scared so I gradually trusted him. One night he caught me and wanted to take me away. The snake demon got mad and wanted to stop him but he killed it. He took me to a far off Southern place where the mountains was tall and perilous. He hid me in a remote cave where he built a nest and a cage to raise me in. He said he was the Nine-tailed fox, a hundred years ago my mother’s………friend cut one of his tails off. He was greatly injured and his powers were severely diminished. Because of my special body, he wanted to raise me for tens of years to become the best medicine.”
Zhuan Xu’s face changed and he pulled out his satchel with the furry white fox tail “Is this his?”
Xiao Liu nodded her head and Zhuan Xu wanted to destroy the white fox tail but Xiao Liu snatched it away and wrapped it around her wrist and continued talking.
“That bastard fox demon hated my mom, and not just because my mom’s………friend injured him. It was also because my mom killed my ninth uncle and he was best friends with my ninth uncle. Whenever he thought of my ninth uncle, he would curse my mom with the most vicious loathsome insults. But mom was dead so he could only torture me. I was raised by him for 30 years, tortured by him for 30 years. One night he said that in two more full moon nights then he could eat me. He sang a sad song and got drunk and didn’t shut the cage completely. I had been devising how to run away for 30 years so I opened the cage and came out and secretly poisoned his drink then snuck back in the cage. He didn’t sense anything odd and the second day I tried to get him drunk by purposely mentioning my ninth uncle. He beat me up and started drinking again and ingested the poison that I developed from all the weird things he had been feeding me. He collapsed on the floor and returned to his true fox form. I climbed out the cage and he opened his eyes and looked at me. I picked up a knife and cut off each of his tails. After I cut off a tail, I would show it to him. His entire fox mouth was covered in blood but in his eyes was the sense of release. He closed his eyes and I lit a fire and burned the entire cave down.”
Xiao Liu picked up the fox tail “He locked me in a cage for 30 years, cursing and torturing me, stripping all my powers developed on Jade Mountain and turned me into a useless person. But he taught me many things. In the mountain it was just the two of us. When he wasn’t having a crazy fit, he explained the various transformation powers to me and gave me a priceless treasure. It was the mirror made from the soul of a mystic gorilla beast that could record the past. He told me to use the mirror to record my face so that if it changed the next day I could use the mirror to change back. Gradually I learned to hold my face and when he took me out occasionally he would teach me how to differentiate between the plants and told me all the various demons and beasts he had killed. He told me all the weaknesses of the various types. In the end when I killed him, when I cut off each of his remaining 8 tails, then he and I ended our vengeance at that time. I’ve long stopped hating him so just keep this tail!”
Xiao Liu handed the tail to Zhuan Xu “The Nine-tailed fox is as rare a beast as the phoenix. I can transform myself so this tail has no use for me. You keep it, in the future you can use it to help you transform and break through mystic enchantments.”
Zhuan Xu tossed it on the ground in disgust “I don’t want it.”
Xiao Liu knew Zhuan Xu was furious right now so pointed to Shi Qi to pick it up. She said to him “That night in the inn when you asked me to show you my true form, I declined not because I was planning to abandon you and disappear forever. It’s because I couldn’t show you my true form. That fox dummy mocked me correctly, if I don’t know what I really look like, how can she transform into me.”
Zhuan Xu was so angry that the anger even rubbed off on Shi Qi who carried the Nine-tailed fox lineage “They say the Nine-tailed fox is adept at transformation, what problem does Xiao Yao have that she can’t return to her true form?”
Shi Qi thought and realized that Xiao Yao’s childhood face was probably already a false one. If she had a false face from the moment she was born, that meant the Grand Emperor and the Xuan Yuan Princess must have used an incredibly powerful magic or the assistance of a magical object to transform the face of an newborn infant who had no powers yet. And do so in a way not to be seen through by others. But why? This inexplicable action must be hiding a huge secret, but one done so they could protect Xiao Yao. Shi Qi slowly said “I don’t know either. You should go ask the Grand Emperor, perhaps he will know why.”
Zhuan Xu was very perplexed and turned to Xiao Liu “I can’t see your true form so I feel like you’re hiding in a shell. I’m scared that if I open the shell, you’ll run away again.”
Xiao Liu teased him “What do you want me to look like? I’ll transform into her for you. You can have whatever little sister you want.”
Zhuan Xu was exasperated and raised his fist “Are you itching for a fight?”
Xiao Liu laughed “I can’t beat you in a fight anymore” then turned to Shi Qi “When we were kids, he could never beat me in a fight.”
Zhuan Xu remembered how all Xiao Yao’s powers were forcibly stripped from her, and the pain she must have endured, and how she would never be able to develop her powers ever again. All his tamped down rage bubbled forth and he couldn’t pretend to be unaffected anymore. He stood up abruptly and rushed towards his room “I’m going to rest.”
Xiao Liu looked at his departing back and murmured “It’s all in the past now.”
Xiao Liu stood up and said to Shi Qi “I’m off to rest as well.”
Shi Qi said to Xiao Liu “Don’t worry, you’ll find your true form.”
Xiao Liu laughed. They all wanted to see what she looked like but the person who most wanted to know what she looked like in this world was herself.