Chapter 36 of Lost You Forever was a good place to take a breather, a real critical juncture in leading lady Xiao Yao’s life beyond worries over her romantic future. She’s became a drifter by life’s cruel realities but her personality and background would have led her down a different path had she not been separated from her parents. But that path would not have crossed with Jing or Xiang Liu, and perhaps I’m selfish because I think all the suffering made her a better person than all the rich nobles ladies around her and opened up a new path in life for her.
With Xiao Yao’s tearful reunion with her mom over with, she gained a real amazing daddy but lost an adopted equally awesome dad, an upheaval that is easier to deal with because she has Jing back beside her. Jing also got mommy’s approval and that’s gotta mean something, that even Xiao Yao’s mom totally approves of why Xiao Yao is so certain she wants Jing. Will Jing and Xiao Yao’s marital plans finally come to fruition now that danger and secrets have been overcome? This chapter takes the lovebirds into Jiu Li and unravels the true mysteries of the Lover’s Bug that binds Xiao Yao and Xiang Liu. It’s so romantic and bittersweet, just the way those two have always been with each other.
Chapter 37 – Love Will Grow Old Together with the Verdant Mountains:
Above Chi Sui, a Gao Xing merchant ship smoothly glided across the water.
Inside the ship’s hold, a full hair of white Grand Emperor rested on the pallet with Ru So and Jing standing beside him while Xiao Yao sat on the pallet to serve him medicine.
After he drank the medicine, he coolly said to Xiao Yao “I’ll help you extract the Face Forming Flower and then you two depart the ship.”
Xiao Yao got on her knees “Dad you were gravely injured because of me, I want to take care….”
The Grand Emperor cut her off and impatiently said “I said it had nothing to do with you. It’s what I owed Qing Yang, Chang Yi, and the Xuan Yuan Princess. It’s unrelated to Qi Yo, and even more unrelated to you! Come to think of it, Qi Yo once injured me seriously, I still have a bone to pick with him.”
Xiao Yao was brokenhearted, was all the love she received since she was born and the protection he gave her in the desert, that was all because he owed her uncles and her mom? Not one whit was because of her?
The Grand Emperor stared at the red peach blossom mark on Xiao Yao’s forehead and his heart was so conflicted. When Ah Heng tearfully sealed the Face Forming Flower before his eyes, he already knew it meant he was going to be separated from her forever. He waved his hand over Xiao Yao’s forehead and a flash of red streaked across before the peach blossom mark vanished leaving only a beautiful peach blossom branch in Xiao Yao’s hand.
The Grand Emperor closed his eyes and said to Ru So “Escort them out.”
Ru So courteously moved to escort them out so Xiao Yao bowed her head three times on the ground before leaving the cabin with Jing.
The three of them stood on the ship’s deck and Ru So checked to see they were alone before asking “Thousands of years ago His majesty was already renowned as the most powerful warrior in the entire vast wilderness. During his lifetime only Qi Yo was able to hurt him, but this time His majesty returned severely injured. I don’t mean to pry about what happened but need to ask if there is anything I need to guard against?”
Xiao Yao said “His majesty was not injured by a person but by…..that desert.”
Ru So knew that desert which he tried to enter when he was young and reckless with his friends and they almost burned up alive in there. He knew how dangerous it was, yet he could sense that since yesterday it started to rain there and the deadly heat had vanished. By next spring the desert would be sprouting bits of green and in no time it would be a verdant landscape once again.
Ru So didn’t know what happened but knew when to stop probing. If the Grand Emperor wasn’t injured by an individual then he could relax. Ru So smiled “It’s not that I don’t want to keep the two of you but……..” He shrugged “Let’s part now but when the two of you get married then I will arrive bearing a large wedding gift.”
Xiao Yao’s lingering sadness was washed away by his ribbing and she scoffed “So lofty in position now yet you still are so whatever!”
Jing’s white crane winged ride arrived and circled the ship. Jing bid farewell to Ru So and embraced Xiao Yao by the waist to jump on the crane before it called out and ascended into the clouds.
Jing asked Xiao Yao “Back to Sheng Nong Mountain or to the East Sea?”
Xiao Yao looked at the package on Jing’s back and said “To Jiu Li.” Her mom and dad’s only wish was to be an ordinary husband and wife and grow old together. But they controlled thousands of soldiers yet could never give themselves a home.
The crane arrived in Jiu Li in half a day, a place with the reputation of being filled with deadly toxins and noxious gases, with vicious wild beasts and poisonous foliage. The only famous thing it ever produced was Qi Yo and voodoo, both of which had the worst reputation in the world.
This was the first time Xiao Yao visited but she heard her mom describe it so it felt familiar – Qi Yo’s fort, the white altar, the peach blossom forest, the green bamboo tower.
Jing visited Jiu Li before with the Tu Shan merchant group so he knew the various forts so he flew directly to Qi Yo’s fort. Xiao Yao saw the white altar immediately not because it was big but because in the entire fort of little bamboo huts it was made of pure white rock.
Xiao Yao vaulted down the winged ride and stared at the familiar yet foreign altar which was weathered with time. Hanging on all four sides were wind chimes made of animal bones, giving off a melodic sound that her parents listened to thousands of years ago.
A few voodoo masters walked out and stared tensely at Xiao Yao and Jing. An old voodoo master used very stiff Middle Plains language to say “Outsiders are not welcome here.”
Xiao Yao used very stiff Jiu Li language to answer back “My father was a Jiu Li person.”
The voodoo masters expressions grew less tense but likely they have been taken advantage of before so they were still wary. The old voodoo master asked “Where is your dad now?”
Xiao Yao looked at Jing who took the bag from his back and handed it to Xiao Yao. She clutched it in her arms “I brought him and my mom back so that they can return to here per their wishes.”
The voodoo masters stared in sadness at the bag in Xiao Yao’s arms. Because the people of Jiu Li were considered untouchables of the lowest class, the women were born into servitude and the men into slavery. Every twenty to thirty years, the young men and women of Jiu Li would be delivered to the outside world to become household slaves. Most of them would never be heard from again and never return to their homeland.
The voodoo master asked “Which fort does your dad belong to? We can sing a soul summoning song for him. You spread his ashes around his fort perimeter and he will be summoned home.”
“He belongs to the Qi Yo fort. I think……” Xiao Yao glanced around and saw the peach blossom forest beyond the altar “My parents home is over there.”
The voodoo masters expressions all changed and immediately moved to attack Xiao Yao but a very old man with a full head of white hair shouted “Cease!”
“Voodoo King.” The voodoo masters all respectfully took steps back.
The Voodoo King walked to Xiao Yao and looked at her carefully “Miss, you are certain your parents once lived there?”
“My mom said that their bamboo hut was not far from the altar and inside a peach blossom forest. In this area there is only the peach blossom forest on the hill over there.”
The Voodoo King began a long voodoo chant like a song that was from ancient times. Xiao Yao memorized the chant before but never knew it could be sung like this so she joined in as well.
The Voodoo King stared at Xiao Yao with tears in his eyes and the voodoo masters all gaped in shock and awe at her. This voodoo song was the work of the most powerful Voodoo King of all time and only the subsequent Voodoo Kings could sing the entire song.
Xiao Yao nodded to the Voodoo King and headed to the peach blossom forest.
The Voodoo King called out “Miss, do you know that hill is sacred ground in Jiu Li. We venerate Qi Yo there. In the past thousand years only Qi Yo and his wife the Xi Ling goddess lived there.”
Xiao Yao stopped in her steps. So here her mom’s only identity was as her dad’s wife. After a second she continued walking “I know now.”
“What does the young miss call yourself?”
“Xi Ling Jiu Yao.”
The news that Xiao Yao was Qi Yo’s daughter was well-known gossip in the vast wilderness but due to Jiu Li being so remote the news didn’t spread here. So the Voodoo King was trembling with excitement as he walked Xiao Yao and Jing enter the peach blossom forest. He ordered “Summon all the voodoo masters to prepare a large prayer ceremony.”
Before coming here Xiao Yao thought the residence would be run down so was surprised to see it intact and well kept. Even the foliage outside was tended to and a multitude of flowers grew around the residence. A bucket was placed next to the well as if the owner had just stepped aside and was planning to be right back.
Xiao Yao lightly pushed open the door and walked in.
A large portrait was hung in the main entrance chamber of Qi Yo wearing all red and standing on the back of his giant condor winged ride with an arrogant fearless look on his face.
Xiao Yao placed the bag on the table and stared at the portrait for a long time before smiling at Jing “This is my dad.”
Jing got on his knees and bowed three times before lighting three incense sticks.
Xiao Yao leaned against the window and stared out at the peach blossom forest “When I pushed open the door, for a split second I thought my mom and dad would answer me if I called out to them.”
Jing walked up behind Xiao Yao and embraced her “Tired?”
Xiao Yao closed her eyes “A bit. I’m not as strong as I act like. All of the insults, the derision, the hatred….I felt it.”
Jing said “It’s been over seventy years now but when I see the scars on my body I still can feel the pain and the shame. It’s normal to feel and only by feeling the pain can we also feel the happiness. It proves that our heart is still beating.”
“That’s true but I still wish I can be stronger.”
“Crying when sad, avoiding when hurting, that’s all normal reaction. A moment of weakness does not mean cowardly, it’s to let the wound heal and conserve strength for the future.”
Xiao Yao smiled “So be it! With your explanation and encouragement I’ll just let myself be weak all I want now then!”
Jing smiled back and clasped her hand.
A choral singing reached them from the altar and Xiao Yao asked “They are singing, what for?”
“A prayer ceremony. I think they are welcoming your mom and dad home. The Jiu Li people do not see death the same way as the Middle Plains. They think life comes from nature and death is not the end but is instead a return.” The song comforted the soul and led it back, a plaintive ballad that wasn’t sorrowful.
Xiao Yao was silent for awhile before she picked up the bag from the table – inside was dirt she collected from the desert north of Chi Sui.
“Jing, can I borrow your winged ride?”
The white crane flew over and Xiao Yao got on its back.
The crane rose into the air and flew over the altar where Xiao Yao saw over twenty voodoo masters dressed in ceremonial prayer robes singing and dancing. They saw Xiao Yao and paid no heed and continued their singing and dancing.
The crane flew over the rivers and hills and Xiao Yao opened her bag to look at the dirt from the peach blossom forest. Because it contained hundreds of years of fallen petals the dirt was red-tinted in color.
Xiao Yao picked up handfuls of it and opened her palms to let the wind carry it away.
The red dirt flew in the air like droplets of blood and disappeared into the rivers and hills.
The Voodoo King led his voodoo masters in praying and singing.
Many years later in the Jiu Li mountains there would grow maple trees with leaves as red as blood. A Voodoo King explained it as the red maple being formed from the blood of Qi Yo so generations of Jiu Li people would venerate the maple as their sacred tree.
When Xiao Yao woke up it was almost noon.
She asked in shock “I slept that long? And you didn’t wake me?”
Jing set the table “It’s rare you slept so well, of course I was going to let you sleep as much as you want.” In the past year even when Xiao Yao smiled there was hidden sadness in her eyes. Now she finally got closure and slept soundly, of course Jing didn’t have the heart to wake her.
Xiao Yao sat down at the table and buried her head in the food.
After eating, the two of them strolled in the hills and Xiao Yao felt that every place looked familiar. She shared her mom and dad’s story with Jing.
The two arrived at the white altar and saw the Voodoo King sitting under a tree drinking tea.
Xiao Yao stopped and said to Jing “You go back first, I have something I need to talk with the Voodoo King privately.”
Jing didn’t leave “Are you planning to ask him about the voodoo bug in your body and in Xiang Liu’s body?”
Xiao Yao sheepishly admitted “I wasn’t trying to keep it from you, I just didn’t want to worry you.”
Jing said “Keeping it from me is what will worry me. Let me stay with you, okay?”
Xiao Yao nodded.
Seeing Jing and Xiao Yao, the Voodoo King invited them to join him for tea.
Xiao Yao sipped her tea and said “I have a friend named Se Mai Er and wanted to ask the Voodoo King what fort she belongs to?”
The Voodoo King replied “So you’re the person who knows voodoo and helped Se Mai Er. She’s dead now but she was my mom’s older sister. Years ago it was actually my mom who was to be sent to the outside but she already had a beloved and was carrying me so my aunt went in my mom’s place to be a slave. Thank you for helping her come home safely.”
Xiao Yao silently poured her tea on the ground for Se Mai Er’s passing.
The Voodoo King continued “Se Mai Er mentioned that you wanted to know how to break the Lover’s Bug voodoo spell?”
Xiao Yao quickly glanced at Jing and acted nonchalant “When I placed the voodoo bug I didn’t know it had such a weird name.”
Jing smiled “It’s just a name, why are you in a rush to explain?”
Xiao Yao quickly said “Yes, yes! It’s just a name.”
The Voodoo King coughed once and solemnly explained “Lover’s Bug, like its name indicates is a pair of male-female voodoo bugs. The couple who has the bug successfully planted will have their life and emotions connected. If one hurts then the other will hurt. If one is injured then the other will also be injured.”
Xiao Yao said “This I know already. What else?”
“To outsiders voodoo is considered mysterious and bad, but really its a craft and magic that the Jiu Li tribe has passed down through generations to protect and heal us. Jiu Li has lots of deadly insects, deadly plants, deadly gasses, to live here our ancestors had to learn to understand it and control it. Voodoo is seen as a harmful power but we actually mostly use it here to save lives. The Lover’s Bug keeps two people’s lives connected, which means when one is injured as long as the other is healthy then then injured person will survive. This is a very good thing. Even if the Lover’s Bug is notoriously hard to grow, it ought to still be relatively prevalent since many people will try to grow it. So why it is so rare to see?”
Xiao Yao asked “Why?”
“All living things that have a benefit must also carry a harm. The greater the benefit then the greater the potential for harm. The Lover’s Bug is exactly that. It can lead two people to be connected in life and emotions but it is just like a pair of lovers in love with each other. It is tempermental and hard to control. If the Lover’s Bug turns on each other then both people will die. Which is why the Lover’s Bug also has another name, the Heartbreak Bug.”
Jing stared in dismay at Xiao Yao who quickly said “It can’t be as scary as he makes it out to be. It’s been over seventy years and I’m still just fine.”
The Voodoo King’s expression changed as he stared at Jing “You’re not the man the other bug is planted in?”
The Voodoo King stared in shock at Xiao Yao “Can I feel the bug in you?”
Xiao Yao nodded
The Voodoo King didn’t move so he was likely using a bug inside of himself to sense. He furrowed his brows and murmured “It really is a Lover’s Bug! But how is this possible? ‘Lovers who raise the bug produce the Lover’s Bug, Not Lovers who raise the bug produce the Heartbreak Bug.’ The Lover’s Bug is different then other voodoo bugs and absolutely requires the couple to willingly accept the bug for it to be successfully planted. If the man you successfully planted the other bug in is not your lover, then how did you plant it in him?”
Xiao Yao said “You might not know as much as your ancestors, the bug could be more multi-facted and evolving in ways beyond your understanding.”
The Voodoo King was still perplexed. But it was clear that the young man sitting beside Xiao Yao was clearly her beloved so the rest of what he wanted to say wasn’t suitable for discussing at this time. He smoothed things over “Miss you are likely right, the bug inside of you is different than other bugs. Likely Miss and the other man have very unique bodily compositions.”
Xiao Yao inwardly sighed in relief “He is very unique!” Since the bug was planted, only Xiang Liu could sense her but she could never sense him.
Jing anxiously asked “How to break the spell?”
The Voodoo King’s face scrunched up “The Lover’s Bug – either live in love or die in heartbreak. Once the Lover’s Bug has been planted there is no way to break the spell. It is impossible. This is what I was trying to say earlier for why so few people raise it despite the great benefit. Only very determined girls would raise the bug but even if they successfully raise it, it’s near impossible to find a man willing to accept the other bug to be planted in him.”
Jing was stunned and after a moment of silence he slowly asked “What happens if one person who has the Lover’s Bug dies? What happens to the other person?”
The Voodoo King sighed “Our Jiu Li folk ballad sings ‘The twisted roots of the parasol tree entwine on land, the doves do not fly alone in the sky, the pair of mandarin ducks in the water always die together.'”
Jing stared at Xiao Yao and tightly grabbed her hand.
Xiao Yao smiled at him and made a joke face “Don’t worry! We don’t need to believe everything the Voodoo King says. Don’t forget, he said that only a pair of lovers in love could the bug be successfully planted. But I don’t have any relationship with Xiang Liu but we still successfully planted the bug. The Voodoo King also said the spell couldn’t be broken once the bug was planted but don’t forget that I planted the bug first in Zhuan Xu before Xiang Liu helped me break the spell and move the bug to himself.”
Jing let out a sigh of relief “Yes! The bug was moved from Zhuan Xu!”
Xiao Yao shook Jing’s hand “Don’t worry, there is no absolutes in this world. If no one has broken the spell before then let me be the first.” She said to the Voodoo King “Once I break it I’ll pass on the knowledge to you as gratitude for your ancestor teaching me voodoo.”
The Voodoo King smiled “Jiu Li people are the lowest untouchables and we have limited ability. But to protect the Miss we would do everything in our power. Please Miss never mention repaying any gratitude.”
This was the first time Xiao Yao was being treated with respect and offered kindness because of her real daddy. Xiao Yao’s heart clenched and she didn’t have the heart to decline “Thank you.”
Xiao Yao glanced at the peach tree forest and Jing asked “Want to spend another night?”
Xiao Yao shook her head “Everything is done that needed to be taken care of, let’s go home! By now Xiao Xiao will have discovered that the Xiao Yao on the ship is a fake.”
Xiao Yao bid farewell to the Voodoo King “Right now the Xuan Yuan ruler is the Black Emperor. He’s different than other rulers and in his eyes there are no class differences. Please give him some time and he will lift Jiu Li’s slave tribe designation.”
The Voodoo King didn’t know if that could ever happen but he bowed low to Xiao Yao “Miss, please take care!”
Xiao Yao and Jing returned to the bamboo hut and tidied it up before Xiao Yao said “Let’s go now.”
Jing was waiting outside on the crane allowing Xiao Yao some alone time to say farewell to her parents.
Xiao Yao stood before Qi Yo’s portrait for some time before softly saying “Daddy, Mom, I’m leaving now. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be just fine.”
She turned and ran outside to greet Jing with a big smile and cheerfully said “Back to the East Sea to look for Xiao Xiao and Miao Pu.”
When they returned to the Tu Shan ship, Xiao Xiao as expected figured out that the Xiao Yao on the ship was a clone but she didn’t know where Xiao Yao went so she could only wait on the ship in the East Sea.
Seeing them return, Maio Pu was so happy she could cry while Xiao Xiao remained as placid as usual as she greeted Xiao Yao.
Xiao Yao scooted over with a grin “Don’t worry, if Gege gets mad I’ll take all the blame.”
Xiao Xiao didn’t say thanks or no need, she just calmly asked “Does my lady want to return to Sheng Nong Mountain now?”
Xiao Yao stared at the sea and didn’t respond. Moments later she said “I want to stay one night on the sea.”
That night the waves rocked the ship and Xiao Yao couldn’t sleep. She climbed off her pallet and draped a robe over herself and walked out on the deck.
A slight ocean breeze, a bright round moon hanging in the sky reflecting the glittering light on the waves. It was beautifully silent.
Under this big ocean she laid inside a giant white clam shell for thirty-seven years. No one knew how Xiang Liu managed to save her life, or that her body had changed. Every time Zhuan Xu would ask she would claim to have slept the entire time and remembered nothing. But in her heart everything was crystal clear to her. His blood flowed inside her body. Even now her body clamored for the ocean. In the past she loved water but that feeling was nothing like what she felt now. Back then the ocean was the ocean and she was herself. Now she was a daughter of the sea, she could swim with the fishes and listen to the merpeople’s song. She could dive into the deepest part of the ocean like a demon fish and could swim faster than a dolphin.
With just one vault she could jump into the ocean and swim happily. But Xiao Yao refused, she tightly clenched her fist and warred with herself.
The merpeople’s song reached her from the depths of the ocean and Xiao Yao’s heart lurched and she ran to the ship’s bow to stare out into the distance. Under the silver moonlight a white haired white robed man was walking on the waves towards her.
He said nothing and Xiao Yao didn’t speak either. The two of them, one on the ship and the other on the water, they listened together to the song of the merpeople. The song spread out on the water’s surface, melodic and pure, touching deep into the soul like a passionate entreaty in darkness, like a longing sigh that shatters the heart, it made the soul rise and fall with the song.
When the song ended Xiao Yao softly said “So beautiful!”
Xiang Liu softly concurred “Yes.”
The merpeople’s song was in a pitch that very few people on earth could hear so in that split second Xiao Yao felt that her heart was intimately close to Xiang Liu and there was nothing she couldn’t share with him. She said “My daddy is Qi Yo.”
Xiang Liu’s eyes showed his amusement. Saying “My daddy is Qi Yo” is very different than saying “I am Qi Yo’s daughter.” The latter stated a truth complete with anger, the former was warm and loving about the relationship.
“When I first met you, back then you called yourself Wen Xiao Liu. Later your name was Gao Xing Jiu Yao. Now you are called Xi Ling Jiu Yao. If you ever get a fourth name, likely no one will be able to keep track.”
Xiao Yao laughed out loud and immediately clasped her hand over her mouth and glanced back. Only after confirming she didn’t alert anyone did she sass right back “Just three names. In the future even if there is a fourth name, you have nine heads so use a brain to remember half a name and you can remember it all and still have room.”
Xiang Liu coldly stared at Xiao Yao.
Xiao Yao wasn’t scared in the least “If you dare raise a hand, then I dare to yell for help!”
Xiang Liu laughed “Why do I need to do anything? Your dad is Qi Yo, there are plenty of people who will make your life difficult.”
Xiao Yao laughed back “I just came back from a trip to Jiu Li. The Voodoo King told me all the specifics about the bug inside our bodies. I don’t remember any of the specifics of what he said but the one thing I do remember clearly is that the two bugs live and die together. Which means our lives are connected. If I’m in trouble then you’re not going to get off scot free!”
Xiang Liu smiled at Xiao Yao and didn’t seem surprised at all.
Xiao Yao was shocked and asked “You’ve known all along since the beginning what kind of bug this was, right?”
“What if I did?”
“The Voodoo King said ‘the doves don’t fly alone in the sky, the pair of mandarin ducks in the water die together’. If I die then how can you live?”
“Why don’t you ask the question in reverse – if I die, then how can you live?”
Xiao Yao tried to stay calm and plead with him “I don’t know who dies and who lives so that’s why I’m asking you. Tell me!”
Xiang Liu’s expression was sly and acted really nonchalant “How would I know? You’re the one who learned some voodoo. This is the first time I played with a bug. But no need to fret, when either you or I die then we’ll know what happens, right?”
Xiao Yao was so frustrated by him she was nearly hopping up and down in fury “You broke the spell on Zhuan Xu so how could you not want to how to break the spell between us?”
Xiang Liu smiled until his eyes were slits “I don’t want to know!”
Xiao Yao wearily asked “What do you want then?”
Xiang Liu’s body was slowly sinking into the water “Other than checking on how my wares are doing in your body, what else do you think I want?”
“Hey! Don’t go!”
Xiao Yao flipped over the railing ready to dive into the water to chase after Xiang Liu but a pair of hands grabbed her hard and pulled her back on deck.
“Let me go…….” Xiao Yao struggled and then turned around to see Jing. She meekly allowed him to keep her on deck.
Xiao Yao tentatively asked “When did you get up?”
Jing said “I’ve been up for awhile.” Actually, he couldn’t sleep either so he knew from the moment Xiao Yao went on deck. But it was clear she wanted to be alone so he didn’t go disturb her.
From the very beginning Xiang Liu knew Jing was there on deck so Xiang Liu cast a spell that blocked anyone from hearing what he was discussing with Xiao Yao, except he allowed Jing to listen in.
Seeing Xiao Yao going to chase after Xiang Liu, Jing couldn’t explain the feeling but he rushed forward instinctively and grabbed Xiao Yao as if afraid she would vanish from his life.
Xiao Yao said “Xiang Liu was just by and I asked him how to break the bug spell but he wouldn’t tell me.”
Jing’s worry dissipated.
Xiao Yao said sadly “I’m not as glib as him, powers are not as high as him, all my poisons he eats like candy, every time I see him he is totally mean to me.”
Jing smiled “Do you want me to help you?”
Xiao Yao cocked her head “No, you two are business transactions, what’s between him and me is purely personal. No need to mix it.”
Jing nodded “If my mom were alive she could compliment her daughter-in-law on being a good merchant.”
Xiao Yao teased back “Who said I was going to be your wife?”
Jing jerked Xiao Yao into his arms and tightly embraced her “You’re not allowed to be anyone else’s wife!”
Xiao Yao was startled and then quietly stayed in his arms.
Jing stared at the ocean before softly saying “Xiao Yao, let’s leave here tomorrow.”
“Where do you want to go?”
“Back to Sheng Nong Mountain then!”
Xiao Yao purposely picked early morning to return to Sheng Nong Mountain. Zhuan Xu was in court in the morning and wouldn’t have time to berate her.
The Yellow Emperor was working the fields when he saw Xiao Yao and Jing. He put his hoe down and walked over.
Jing bowed courteously “Your majesty, Xiao Yao and I have returned.”
The Yellow Emperor said “It was summer when you left and it’s fall now that you’ve returned. You two must have visited many places and did many things.”
Xiao Yao could tell the Yellow Emperor had more in what he was saying but she couldn’t tell if he was angry or not “Grandfather, it’s not Jing’s doing. I…..”
Jing said “Xiao Yao, let me explain to His majesty.” He knew that Zhuan Xu didn’t want Xiao Yao to have any further connection with the Grand Emperor and he would object if asked to bring her to see him. That’s why he used the sightseeing trip was an excuse so that Xiao Yao could see the Grand Emperor but it was lying to the two Emperors. It was a huge transgression but to help Xiao Yao break through there was nothing Jing couldn’t do, even if it meant incurring the wrath of two Emperors!
Xiao Yao didn’t know the extent of Jing’s risk in planning this trip but knew he lied to the Yellow Emperor so she said “This is our family matter! I will tell Grandfather and Gege!”
The Yellow Emperor said “Xiao Yao is right, this is our family affair. Jing, you go home first!”
Xiao Yao smiled at Jing to assure him she’ll be fine and he could leave. Jing bowed farewell to the Yellow Emperor and left.
The Yellow Emperor washed his hands and sat down in the corridor with a half cooled cup of tea.
Xiao Yao sat down across from him and felt all sorts of emotions that she didn’t know where to start. “I…..I went to the desert north of Chi Sui. I saw my mom.”
The cup of tea in the Yellow Emperor’s hand shattered and for a long time he said nothing before finally asked “Was it painful for her when she passed?”
Xiao Yao’s eyes teared up “For Mom, living was what was painful.”
The Yellow Emperor sadly lowered his head and after a long time asked “Xiao Yao, do you hate me?”
“What you want to ask is whether my mom hated you? She didn’t say but I think after all these years she has come to accept that Xuan Yuan taking over for Sheng Nong was going to happen no matter what. My mom and my dad’s fated life was destined from the moment they met. Only if they didn’t fall in love with each other, because once they fell in love then it was the beginning of the end for them. Zhuan Xu described you like the sun shining down to bring life and warmth to the world. But those who got to close to you burned up and perished.”
“Do you hate me?”
Xiao Yao sighed “I don’t know. If I didn’t sneak off Jade Mountain and grew up in the palace, I would definitely hate you. But I lived an ordinary hard-scrabble life out in the common world as just a citizen living under the rule of the Yellow Emperor. I felt your warmth so I can’t ever fully hate you. Zhuan Xu once hated Zhu Rong who caused him to lose his parents but in the end for the people he accepted Little Zhu Rong. Just like Zhuan Xu once said, some men are born to take care of one family, others destined to take care of an entire clan. And you and Zhuan Xu live for people of the world, for millions of ordinary lives…….you guys must sever personal feelings for the greater good. Grandfather, you don’t need to ask if I hate you because whether I hate you or not everything has happened already.”
Xiao Yao stood up “I’m going to wash and change. Oh right, if Zhuan Xu is angry with me then you need to be on my side. You can explain to him why the desert is now raining! My mom is his auntie so he ought to know the truth!” That painful memory she didn’t want to relive it again in explaining so she handed it off to the Yellow Emperor.
His voice reached Xiao Yao from behind her so she stopped.
“Back then, I forced your mom to pick up arms and go into battle. All I wanted was for her to wear down Qi Yo’s army and its willpower. After the soldiers will was low then I would arrive with reinforcements and attack. I never could have imagined that your mom would summon the sun power within her body, or that the sun power would be that deadly and uncontrollable. When I saw your mom turning into a demon I was filled with deep regret but it was too late. Xiao Yao, I have used countless people in my life but I never intended to sacrifice my daughter’s life for my ambition.”
Xiao Yao wiped her tears away “I believe you. I also know Zhuan Xu would understand as well.”
That night when Zhuan Xu arrived on Xiao Yue Peak, Xiao Yao was sitting on the swing under the phoenix tree softly swaying.
Zhuan Xu’s expression was dark and he glared at Xiao Yao.
Xiao Yao acted clueless and made a face at him “Grandfather has something to say to you!”
Zhuan Xu didn’t leave and checked out Xiao Yao carefully. He suddenly rushed over and lifted her chin and brushed her hair aside on her forehead “Where is the red peach blossom mark here?”
Xiao Yao pointed to the peach blossom hair pin in her hair “It’s here.”
“How did that happen? Did Master break the spell for you?”
“Grandfather is waiting for you and he’ll tell you what happened.”
“Wait here for me!” Zhuan Xu rushed into the house.
It wasn’t until late into the night did Zhuan Xu come back out. Xiao Yao was still sitting on the swing and playing with an incense ball on a string in her hand to tease the fireflies.
Zhuan Xu walked over and sat down on the grass. Xiao Yao tossed the incense ball to him and he tossed it back, together the two of them played with the fireflies as if creating a milky way of firefly light.
Xiao Yao laughed out loud and Zhuan Xu joined in.
Zhuan Xu quieted down and said “I’m so sorry, I never imagined Auntie was still alive…..I should have gone with you.” From Auntie’s death until being found alive and then really dying, Xiao Yao’s pain was impossible to fathom. Every time he was in pain she was always beside him, but when she was in pain he was never beside her.
Xiao Yao played with the incense ball and the fireflies circled her “No one could have imagined that. Even Grandfather and the Grand Emperor wasn’t sure my mom was still alive. Don’t worry about me, I’m really going to be fine. In the past I hated my mom for abandoning me so that whenever I missed her I felt empty inside. Now I know that both my mom and dad really loved and cherished me. Even though they are gone but now when I think of them my heart feels full.”
Zhuan Xu still couldn’t forgive himself. When Xiao Yao was running for her life he wasn’t beside her; when she was captured by the nine-tailed fox he wasn’t beside her; when she went to see Auntie he wasn’t beside her. Zhuan Xu seriously wanted to beat himself up.
Xiao Yao cocked her head and stared at Zhuan Xu “You’re not mad at me anymore, right?”
“No, I’m mad at myself. Forget about the past….but at least now I ought to have been with you.”
“You’re the Black Emperor and have too many things you need to do. You can’t travel the world with me! I appreciate that you have the heart though!”
Zhuan Xu was silent and gradually the sorrowful rage in his heart expanded. He controlled the world now but he couldn’t travel the world with Xiao Yao!
“Zhuan Xu?” Xiao Yao tossed the incense ball as the fireflies flew towards him.
In the light she could see his expression filled with utter desolation. Zhuan Xu said “I really wish I could accompany you like Jing, to tour the mountains and vistas, to ease your worries, to go see Auntie with you.”
“Zhuan Xu, it’s really no big deal! I’m fine!”
Zhuan Xu looked up at the sky and suddenly asked “What if my mom and dad didn’t die, what would we be like now? What would I be like now?”
Xiao Yao was taken aback and thought about it but didn’t have a clue “I don’t know. Maybe like now, one of us sitting on the swing and the other sitting on the grass, both of us playing with fireflies. What do you think?”
Zhuan Xu tossed the incense ball back to Xiao Yao “I would be like my dad, in my entire life I would only love one woman. I will play the flute for her. I will build a swing for her. I will darken her brow for her. I will make cosmetics for her. I will take her back to Ruo Sui and marry her under the sacred Ruo Sui tree and be with her forever and always. No matter what, I would always be by her side.”
Even though this was a somber topic but Xiao Yao couldn’t hold it in anymore and burst out laughing. She quickly apologized “I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I don’t want to laugh but I…..I…..can’t imagine…..if you really were like that then what will happen to all those women in Zhi Jin Palace. Who will they marry?”
Zhuan Xu guffawed.
Xiao Yao couldn’t see his expression but could sense sadness in his laughter. She quickly tossed the incense ball back “Zhuan Xu?”
Zhuan Xu caught the incense ball and in the light of the fireflies his expression was absolutely normal and filled with laughter. It appeared he found amusement in what he said as well so Xiao Yao relaxed.
Zhuan Xu stood up “I’m heading back. You hurry up and go to sleep.”
Xiao Yao jumped down from the swing and carefully asked “Gege, you won’t be mad at Jing, right? He only did it to help me.”
Zhuan Xu played with the incense ball and said “I didn’t take care of you properly so what does that have to do with him?”
“Will you punish Xiao Xiao and Miao Pu?”
“Since you asked it means you don’t want them punished so I won’t punish them.”
“I just knew you wouldn’t be mad!” Xiao Yao smiled sweetly and walked towards her room “I’m going to bed, see you tomorrow.”
Xiao Yao turned around and smiled at Zhuan Xu.
Zhuan Xu stared at her and smiled before tossing the incense ball at her “See you tomorrow.”