Fifty thousand years later:
Ye Hua walked with determined strides along the stone path that weaved through the divine lotus gardens of the Heavens. His formal black robes billowed around his legs with every step he took. The sides of his long, raven hair were pulled away from his face and into an intricate braided knot held together with hairpins made of the purest black jade. He wore a stern expression on his face.
He ignored the sweet scent of the lotus flowers permeating the air around him. He failed to see the brightly-colored blossoms that decorated the cool clear water for miles around him. The celestial lotus gardens were renowned throughout all the realms for their uniquely exquisite flowers, flowers that flourished under the perpetual bright skies and gentle wind of the Heavens. Visitors would travel for thousands of miles just to have the chance to gaze upon their beauty and experience their soothing fragrance. It was rumored that even the most troubled of minds could find peace and solace among the divine flowers that had been blessed by Heavenly Father himself. For Ye Hua, the lotus flowers were a part of everyday life and he rarely took the time to notice them anymore.
“Crown Prince Ye Hua.”
He acknowledged the respectful greeting but did not slow his pace, too intent on his final destination to stop and risk getting dragged into polite conversation. Even after ten years, Ye Hua was still not fully accustomed to the position of Crown Prince of the Heavens. He disliked the way everybody constantly wanted his attention just to have the chance to be seen having a discussion with him. Growing up as a prince of the Heavens, he had become tolerant of the constant scrutiny but had never had to deal with people vying for his notice like they did now.
It was a struggle for Ye Hua to find peace and quiet as everyone wanted the prestige that came along with claiming they were his friend or confidant. None of them were interested in who he was beyond his title. It was all insincere pretense to gain favor. He disliked the game and he tended to keep an unfriendly face on in public to make himself less approachable. He had never asked for the honor of inheriting his father’s throne. His brother, Mo Yuan, was always supposed to have been the next ruler of the Heavens.
Growing up, they had both assumed that Mo Yuan would inherit the throne from Heavenly Father. He was older than Ye Hua by exactly five hours and twelve minutes, a fact he had never let Ye Hua forget when they had been young boys. Ye Hua had always called his twin “Da Ge”. At first, because Mo Yuan had pestered him about addressing him correctly since he was technically the oldest. Then, when Mo Yuan had stopped making such an issue of their ages, Ye Hua had continued with the address because he had learned the oldest sibling was usually held responsible for any trouble that had been caused. It had worked to his advantage when they were being scolded except with Heavenly Father. Their father always had an uncanny ability to get to the truth when dealing with his sons, even when they both agreed to maintain silence in a show of solidarity.
The agreement was an important one between Ye Hua and his twin. No matter how angry they may be with each other, they always had each other’s backs in important situations. They didn’t have to be on speaking terms to support each other when it counted. The agreement had started when they had been very young and continued to this day. Just like the agreement that Mo Yuan would carry the responsibilities that came along with being the oldest child in the family despite the small age difference between them.
The system had worked well for both of them and had supported everybody’s belief that, when the time came for a successor to be announced, Mo Yuan would be the son chosen to follow in Heavenly Father’s footsteps.
That was not how it had happened.
As soon as both brothers had faced their individual trials and ascended to high god, their father had called them into his study. His decision was a surprise to both brothers. One of them would be Crown Prince and the other would be War God for the Celestials. The Crown Prince would train to rule the Heavens and the War God would take up residence on Kunlun Mountain to study the art of war strategy in preparation to lead soldiers into battle when needed. The decision who would end up in each position was entirely up to them.
Their father had decided the choice should be theirs to make to avoid hard feelings and resentment in the future. He trusted they could come to a resolution peacefully. The next ruler of the Heavens and War God should work to help each other and not against each other if the future strength of the Dragons was to be maintained.
After discussing the matter between themselves several times without making a decision, the brothers had realized there was only one way to resolve it: a friendly competition. This was the way they settled most of their disagreements. It was much less destructive than allowing their dragons to fight it out the way they had done when they were much younger.
Ye Hua and Mo Yuan had gotten along well growing up except for a few memorable exceptions, exceptions that had led to loud claps of thunder and violent strikes of lightning as the powerful black and golden dragons had fought for dominance. Most of the battles had ended in a draw when they eventually tired themselves out. It had been their friend Zhe Yan who had finally pointed out how futile their dragon battles were in sorting out their arguments. He had suggested they play a game and the winner won the disagreement. Period. No more fighting once it had been decided. The suggestion had stuck and the two hadn’t fought as dragons since.
It had been Mo Yuan’s turn to determine the terms of the competition when the decision of who would be Crown Prince was presented to them. He had chosen the game of Banqi, a game from the Mortal Realm neither of them had played before. There was a strategy to playing the game but only in the end. In the beginning, when the pieces were all placed facedown on the board, it was a game purely of chance. Zhe Yan had served as an impartial judge during the game as he so often did during such disputes between the brothers.
The general consensus in the Heavens was that because Ye Hua was the next ruler, he was the one who had won the game. That was not the case. He had lost and the final decision had been Mo Yuan’s to make. Mo Yuan had taken the position they had both wanted.
Mo Yuan was now living a private life on Kunlun Mountain away from the bustle and hassle of the Heavens. He didn’t have to deal with the constant scrutiny and judgement by others that Ye Hua faced on a daily basis as the Crown Prince. Did Ye Hua resent Mo Yuan for taking the role of War God and the quieter life that came with it? No. Mo Yuan had won the right to take it fair and square. Did he envy his brother’s secluded life on Kunlun Mountain? Yes. He had never wanted to rule the Heavens and take on all the responsibilities that came along with it. But he would do the best he could because he respected his father and wanted to live up to his expectations.
Ye Hua picked up his pace when his inner dragon growled inside, alerting him that Mo Yuan had just appeared outside the palace. He and his dragon were eager to see Mo Yuan. It had been more than a year since he had last seen his brother. Mo Yuan had been his constant friend and companion starting from the day they had been born, and Ye Hua was not ashamed to admit he missed him. His brother’s long absences from the Heavens had been the most difficult change to adjust to. He rarely had time in between attending meetings and studying to jump to Kunlun Mountain to visit him properly. And Mo Yuan never visited the Heavens because he was focused on establishing Kunlun’s reputation as a school of advanced learning for any students interested in war theory, martial arts, and weaponry. When Ye Hua needed his brother’s advice now, he often had to send a scroll instead. It was not the same.
Ye Hua found his brother waiting for him on the top landing of the marble stairway leading up to the great jade doors of the Celestial Palace. Their father’s throne room lay just beyond the entrance, a vast room bearing giant silver and jade dragons crawling along the walls. And beyond the royal throne room was the lengthy marble passage leading to the back of the palace and to their father’s private study, the location of the important meeting Heavenly Father had scheduled with his sons.
Ye Hua saw his brother smile as he turned and watched Ye Hua run up the stairs. Ye Hua skipped a few steps in his haste, forgetting for a moment he was supposed to be controlled and dignified at all times now. The faces of the guards stationed on either side of the entrance to the palace remained impassive as the brothers greeted each other.
The twins’ dress had changed from always wearing identical robes to confuse those around them to contrasting styles and colors. Mo Yuan’s casual robes of cerulean blue stood out brightly against Ye Hua’s formal black ones. Mo Yuan’s simple topknot and silver hairpin were the exact opposite of the elaborate hairstyle Ye Hua had eventually had to become accustomed to. The differences in hair and dress were evidence of the ways in which their lives had finally diverged away from one another and yet they were still as close as they had ever been.
“Da Ge,” Ye Hua repeated as he gave Mo Yuan a forceful hit on the back in greeting, trying to throw his brother off balance. Mo Yuan anticipated the move and stood firm, giving Ye Hua’s shoulder a painful squeeze in return.
Ye Hua squinted a little as he studied his brother’s appearance for a minute. Something was different. “What’s wrong with your face, Da Ge? Is that…?”
Mo Yuan gave him a confused look for a moment before his eyes lit up with understanding. He grinned as he rubbed the scruff on his chin, making a rasping sound. “Oh…you mean this? I’ve decided to grow a beard and moustache. I’m tired of people mistaking me for you all the time.”
“You only wish you were that lucky,” Ye Hua shot back with a laugh. He leaned in, squinting once again. “Is that all there is? That tiny little bit of stubble? How long have you been…”
“Let’s go before we’re late for our meeting with Father,” Mo Yuan interrupted with a growl in his voice, hitting Ye Hua’s shoulder roughly in irritation. He smirked when he managed to push Ye Hua off balance and forward a few steps towards the palace entrance. “We were late for the last meeting because of you. Remember?” Mo Yuan brushed passed Ye Hua and entered the empty throne room.
Ye Hua quickened his pace to catch up to his brother. “That wasn’t all my fault, Da Ge. How was I supposed to know that famous dressmaker’s daughter planned to offer herself to me like that?” He slowed when he finally caught up to Mo Yuan, his strides matching his brother’s perfectly as they turned down the hall leading to their father’s private study. “I tried to politely decline but she insisted. I lost track of time. Besides…we were only kissing.”
Mo Yuan grunted his disbelief before responding. “Really? That’s not how it looked to me.”
Ye Hua sighed. “Fine. We were a little beyond kissing but I wouldn’t have let things go much further.” Mo Yuan remained silent and Ye Hua frowned at his brother’s unspoken judgement. “You’re one to talk. Do you remember the time I covered for you with Father when you and Zhe Yan were determined to go and see that exotic dancer at the Crystal Palace in the West Sea? You spent two whole days with her!”
Mo Yuan grinned at the fond memory. “And what an exhausting two days they were.” He laughed when Ye Hua growled at him. “The circumstances were completely different, Dìdi.”
“Don’t call me that, Mo Yuan,” Ye Hua responded automatically, calling his brother by name out of irritation. He had always disliked being called “little brother” and Mo Yuan knew that. “And you still owe me for covering for you. Father never found out about it.”
“I never told Father about your activities with the dressmaker’s daughter, Ye Hua.” Mo Yuan put much more emphasis on his brother’s name than he typically would. “I think that makes us even.”
Ye Hua scoffed before stepping in front of Mo Yuan, bringing his brother to an abrupt halt and earning a glare and a frown for his maneuver. “Two days, Da Ge.” He held up two fingers to emphasize his point. “I spent two days making up stupid excuses for you. You still owe me.”
Mo Yuan gave an exaggerated sigh as he pretended to consider Ye Hua’s argument. “Alright. I still owe you.” He smirked. “The next time you need to sneak away to take care of business I’ll cover for you and make sure Father doesn’t find out.” He paused before holding one finger up. “But only once. After that, you’re on your own.”
“Thank you, Da Ge.” Ye Hua grinned with triumph when Mo Yuan grunted in response before stepping around him to continue down the passageway.
Ye Hua followed behind Mo Yuan thoughtfully as he started making plans. Once he had taken the opportunity to call in the favor Mo Yuan now owed him, he would just have to point out how unfair it was that he was stuck in the Heavens all the time while Mo Yuan was now free to come and go from Kunlun Mountain whenever the urge struck him. Ye Hua knew he would eventually be able to convince Mo Yuan to cover for him periodically when he needed a break from his duties or time to release some built-up tension. Mo Yuan understood the constant scrutiny and stress of life in the Heavens better than anyone else. His brother would help him out.
As Ye Hua and Mo Yuan approached their father’s study, the two soldiers standing sentry on either side of the wooden doors bowed low in greeting to them. Mo Yuan and Ye Hua exchanged a surprised look as they stepped back to wait for the doors to open and for their father to allow them into the room. The guards were a signal they should not enter the room until that time. Heavenly Father only stationed guards outside his study if he was meeting with an important leader or a visitor he didn’t trust fully. Ye Hua was puzzled by the sight of the guards. Heavenly Father had not mentioned having any other meetings today. Ye Hua wondered who was in the room with his father right now. There were only a few possible names that came to his mind.
“Have you made progress on the list?”
Ye Hua’s shoulders slumped and he sighed as his brother’s softly-spoken question interrupted his thoughts and brought them around to a subject he dreaded discussing. Ye Hua despised everything about the list. His father had given it to him soon after he had officially been named Crown Prince. It was a list of all the immortal women in the realms who were around his age and who came from families that were appropriate for the future ruler of the Heavens to bind his hand to in marriage. His father had asked him to choose the woman from the list he felt he would get along with best so an engagement could be negotiated.
“A little,” Ye Hua finally answered with another sigh.
“May I see it?”
“I guess,” Ye Hua murmured unenthusiastically before the hated scroll suddenly appeared in his hand. He muttered his irritation under his breath as he handed the scroll over to Mo Yuan. Tense silence followed as Mo Yuan opened the scroll and studied the list of names.
Ye Hua fidgeted slightly as the silence in the hall lingered. He knew very well what Mo Yuan was seeing as he looked over the list; a multitude of names crossed off and eliminated from consideration. Ye Hua felt a little defensive when Mo Yuan eventually looked over at him with a knowing expression.
“You’ve met and spoken with all of these women you’ve crossed off?”
“No. Only seven of them.”
“I don’t need to meet every single woman on that list to know I won’t like them, Da Ge,” Ye Hua interrupted with impatience coloring his voice. “There are plenty of stories out there about all of them. I sent Jia Yun and Tian Shu to talk to their servants in order to find out which ones would be worth meeting. You and I both know the best way to find out the true nature of a person is to speak with the people serving them. A face to face meeting tells me very little. Some of the things I learned were appalling. Many of the women on that list are greedy, selfish, and manipulative. I don’t want to marry a woman like that.”
Mo Yuan nodded his agreement before pointing at a name with a question mark written in red ink next to it. “And this one?” Ye Hua didn’t need to see the name his brother was pointing at. It was Huiling. She was the only woman he was seriously considering.
“Huiling likes art,” Ye Hua answered, his tone losing some of the heavy cynicism that had been there previously. “She seemed genuinely interested in seeing some of my paintings.” He hesitated before continuing, anticipating Mo Yuan’s negative reaction to his next words. Ye Hua glanced at the soldiers before quickly erecting a sound barrier around him and Mo Yuan with his cultivation. What he had to say next needed to remain strictly between him and his brother.
“And she’s in love with the captain of her father’s guard,” he added quickly, his tone intentionally quiet and difficult to understand. Mo Yuan heard him anyway. Ye Hua grimaced when he caught his brother’s frown and exasperated look. “They’ve been secret lovers for thousands of years. She told me that to my face so I think I might marry her.”
“Because you want to marry a woman who will run from your bed to go crawl into bed with another man?!” Mo Yuan’s voice was incredulous as he continued to frown and look at Ye Hua like he had lost his mind.
“No.” Ye Hua’s tone was firm and defensive now. “Because she was honest with me, Da Ge.” He roughly snatched the open scroll from Mo Yuan’s hand and rolled it up. It disappeared from sight. “The other women I met and spoke with…they only told me what they thought I wanted to hear. It was all a big act to impress me. Nothing they said was reflected in their eyes or expressions. They won’t be any more faithful to me than Huiling will be but they will pretend that they adore me. At least Huiling told me the truth of her feelings immediately and was very clear about what our marriage would mean to her.”
Ye Hua took a deep breath to calm his anger down as understanding and sympathy fell over Mo Yuan’s face. “I don’t care if there is love or affection in my marriage, Da Ge. There is no need for love in a political marriage. But I do want there to be honesty. I want to trust that my wife tells me the truth.” He paused as he planned his next words carefully, trying to find a way to make Mo Yuan understand. His brother had always been there to support him in the past. He wasn’t sure what he would do if Mo Yuan stood against him on this issue. Ye Hua never liked having a disagreement with his brother.
“I think the marriage could work, Da Ge. Huiliing assured me she would be very careful and maintain public appearance at all times. She could continue seeing the man she loves as time allowed and nobody would be the wiser. She has already kept the relationship a secret for thousands of years. The arrangement works to her advantage. She can’t marry the captain. Her father would never allow it. And most husbands would not allow her to continue seeing him. She would have to constantly sneak around to see him if she married somebody other than me. There is no reason for her not to keep up her end of the bargain. And…and I think we could at least be friends.”
“What about children, Ye Hua?” Mo Yuan’s tone was serious as he gave Ye Hua a very worried look. “The Empress of the Heavens cannot give birth to the children of another man. They need to be yours because one of them will inherit the throne from you.”
“I know that, Da Ge,” Ye Hua responded, tone defensive once again. “We would have to work out some of those details but there are plenty of ways to ensure any children Huiling bears belong only to me. The need for all the children to be mine would be non-negotiable. I will discuss that with her the next time we meet.” Ye Hua was silent, waiting to hear Mo Yuan’s opinion.
“What do you think, Da Ge?” he asked after several minutes of uncomfortable silence.
“I think it’s risky,” Mo Yuan finally responded honestly. “If Father ever finds out you knew your wife had a serious lover before you married her he will be furious with you. And if others outside our family find out, it will give them grounds to question the legitimacy of your chosen heir. You don’t want one of your children having to fight off challenges to their right to rule the Heavens, do you? That will only lead to unrest and instability. You should reconsider this plan.”
“I have thought of that possibility already. It doesn’t change my mind. It only encourages me to be more cautious when planning the details of the arrangement. There are no guarantees all of the children will be mine if I marry any of the others, Da Ge. Women take lovers frequently these days. You know that. An affair I knew nothing about would still be grounds to question the legitimacy of an heir. At least with Huiling the issue of the children being mine can be discussed openly and planned for.”
“I still don’t like it, Ye Hua,” Mo Yuan stated seriously. “There are too many things left to chance with your plan. I think you need to take more time to really think about the possible consequences that may arise if you marry her.”
“I haven’t made any final decisions yet. But I would like to have your support in this no matter my choice, Da Ge. I don’t want to be at odds with you.”
Mo Yuan sighed before reaching over to squeeze Ye Hua’s shoulder in solidarity. “You always have my support in all things, Ye Hua. You know that.” He grinned. “Even when you make stupid decisions that make absolutely no sense.”
“Thank you, Da Ge,” Ye Hua said with relief before lowering the sound barrier he had put in place for privacy.
Mo Yuan nodded his acknowledgement quietly before changing the subject. “Have you had a chance to finish painting your idea for the seal representing Kunlun Mountain? I want to display the finished symbol in the main gathering hall and I need to find a blacksmith to make armor and weapons bearing the seal.”
“It’s almost ready,” Ye Hua responded, his entire demeanor brightening as the topic of conversation turned to his favorite subject. Art, and painting in particular, was the one thing Ye Hua felt truly passionate about and painting was a talent he shared with his father. Despite having very little free time to himself these days, he had managed to work on designing and painting his idea for the seal for his brother’s temple. It had been an honor for him to design the symbol of the newly-appointed War God and had given him a chance to focus on something other than his never-ending duties as Crown Prince. He gathered power around his hand to summon the sheet of paper. “Would you like to see what I have so far?”
The doors to the study opened before Ye Hua had the chance to call the paper to his hand. He and Mo Yuan both turned to face the study entrance as a man wearing robes of emerald green exited the room, robes that matched the color of his cold and unfeeling eyes perfectly. Ye Hua now understood the reason for the guards posted outside his father’s study.
Ye Hua’s eyes narrowed suspiciously as he faced Weisheng, the young king of the demons. Weisheng had inherited the position after his father had been executed here in the Heavens by Heavenly Father himself. Ye Hua didn’t like the man and he certainly didn’t trust him. The demon was too much like his notoriously cruel father to ever be trusted. Ye Hua could see the terrible thoughts the other man held in his heart just by looking at him. Still, the demons were now allies of the Heavens. They had been ever since surrendering to Heavenly Father at the end of the war. So Ye Hua and Mo Yuan had no choice but to treat the demon with the respect his position demanded.
“Crown Prince Ye Hua,” Weisheng said, tone mildly mocking even as he bowed a respectful greeting to the brothers. “War God Mo Yuan. How nice to see the two of you again.”
“King Weisheng,” the brothers responded, returning the demon’s greeting with stony expressions.
Weisheng grinned and chuckled at their unfriendly faces before disappearing from sight, ignoring palace protocol that forbade jumping to and from the Celestial Palace directly. Ye Hua clenched a fist in irritation at the man’s blatant disrespect for Heavenly Father’s rules.
He knew the demon’s disregard for the rules of the Heavens angered his father, yet Heavenly Father was always cautioning Ye Hua and Mo Yuan to choose their battles wisely. There were some things not worth fighting over. As long as Weisheng followed the agreements put in place by the peace treaty between the demons and the dragons, Heavenly Father was willing to ignore other things. And Heavenly Father had once assured Ye Hua that allowing Weisheng to bend small rules led the demon to lower his guard which gave them an advantage over him. Ye Hua knew his father watched Weisheng closely all the time because the demon did not have Heavenly Father’s trust.
Ye Hua and Mo Yuan entered the hushed study, walking through the icy feel of demon cultivation left behind from Weisheng’s departure. They both knelt on the ground in front of Heavenly Father, who was seated on his dais under the watchful eyes of the obsidian dragon. Both brothers bowed low to the ground in unison.
“Father.” They greeted the powerful Dragon God as one.
“Mo Yuan. Ye Hua.” Heavenly Father’s commanding voice immediately took charge of the room. Despite the ever-growing strength of his sons, there was no question who was leading the conversation. “It’s nice to have both my sons together again in the palace for a change. I would like both of you to join your mother and me for supper this evening. You know how much your mother enjoys private family meals and it has been too long since she has had the chance to have a meal with the two of you together. She deserves to have some time to hover and fuss over you both.” He looked at Ye Hua. “Mo Yuan can also tell us how things are going on Kunlun Mountain and you can let your brother know about any important events here in the Heavens that he needs to be made aware of.”
“Yes, Father.” Again the brothers spoke as one, allowing their father to set the tone and pace of the meeting.
“But those are topics for later,” Heavenly Father continued. “The reason I wanted to speak with you both here in my study is for one very important reason, a reason that I would like to remain as quiet as possible for the time being. An interesting rumor has been brought to my attention this week, a rumor overheard by one of Zhao Hui’s scouts. There is a man who likes to hunt near the forest of blossoming peach trees. This hunter swears he spotted a very unusual fox on the outskirts of the forest.” Heavenly Father paused for a moment as if still needing time himself to process the information he had learned. “A fox with pure-white fur and more than one tail. He was only able to catch a quick look so he did not have the chance to count the number of tails, but he strongly believes the fox had nine of them.”
Mo Yuan and Ye Hua exchanged a knowing look, all that was needed for a silent conversation to take place between them. This was not the first time such rumors had circulated through the realms. Nothing had ever come from the stories in the past and they both knew there was no truth to this one either.
“Father,” Mo Yuan said after clearing his throat. “The Bai family is dead. There are no white nine-tailed foxes alive in the realms anymore. There are no nine-tailed foxes of any color left in the world. There haven’t been for a long time now, not since the war. You’ve told us the story many times. The demons killed Bai Zhi and his entire family in retaliation for supporting us during the war.”
Ye Hua was reminded of Weisheng’s emotionless green eyes as he listened to Mo Yuan’s words. Those were the eyes of someone who was capable of committing such a massacre at any time. The potential for senseless cruelty ran freely in the blood of the demon royal family. Thankfully, it was not a trait that could be found running rampant among Weisheng’s people. Most demons Ye Hua had spoken with seemed to be reasonable about accepting their place in the realms after the war and content with the peace between them and the dragons. He suspected the only reason Weisheng had not acted against the Heavens was because there was no support for it in the Demon Realm. As long as that fact held true, there should continue to be peace among the immortals.
“Bai Qian’s body was never found,” Ye Hua spoke up, pushing his troubling thoughts of Weisheng away and joining the conversation. He looked at Mo Yuan. “Father also told us that Bai Qian’s remains were never accounted for.” Ye Hua turned back to face his father. “You think the rumor confirms Bai Qian is still alive.”
“Yes,” Heavenly Father agreed, looking at both his sons in turn. “I think the rumor is a credible one. I have always thought Bai Qian managed to escape the fate that took her family. It is the only way to explain why no trace of her has ever been found. If she were dead, her remains should have eventually been located.”
“I don’t think a young girl could escape such a violent assault,” Mo Yuan argued. “She would not have had the training or strength needed to fight back. And how has she remained hidden all this time? How did she survive thousands of years living all alone while she was still so young? We were only thirty thousand years old at the time and she was younger than us. I don’t think it’s possible. The demons must have taken the time to hide her body well.”
Mo Yuan hesitated only for a moment before speaking his next words decisively. Heavenly Father had always encouraged both his sons to speak freely about all topics during private family discussions. It was only in public he asked his sons to guard their words.
“I think Bai Qian should be declared dead and Qing Qiu brought under Celestial rule permanently, Father. There’s no point in dragging this issue out endlessly. All it does is continue to bring the past back out to be examined when it doesn’t need to be.”
Heavenly Father frowned at Mo Yuan, disappointed in his older son’s words but not surprised by them. Mo Yuan had always been the more practical one of his twins. He liked to know exact facts and figures before making any decision. Ye Hua spent more time with his imagination; he was the twin more likely to consider the improbable as a possibility.
“I’m not going to declare Bai Qian dead, Mo Yuan. Not yet. Bai Zhi sacrificed everything to help me during the war. I owe him a great debt that can never be fully repaid. And I made a vow to see Bai Qian properly taken care of. You know how important it is that my word mean something. I will never stop looking for her, not until my vow has been fulfilled or my life ends. Until that time, Qing Qiu remains under my protection only until Bai Qian can take her rightful place as queen. After my death, the decision on whether to keep looking or to declare her dead will be Ye Hua’s to make.”
“Yes, Father,” Mo Yuan answered respectfully, knowing there was no point in arguing the matter. He had given his opinion but Heavenly Father’s word was law.
“I want one of you to search the peach tree forest and look for her,” Heavenly Father continued. “I want it searched thoroughly. If there is any truth to the rumor, I want Bai Qian found. If Bai Qian is not found, I want a full explanation on why this hunter is so certain he saw a white nine-tailed fox. What was it he actually saw if not her? There are no indications he is intentionally lying. If it is found to be otherwise, I want to know why he is telling such a tale. I want the matter investigated extensively.”
“But, Father,…” Ye Hua spoke up in protest. He didn’t have time to chase down an unsubstantiated rumor and neither did Mo Yuan.
“No arguments,” Heavenly Father interrupted. “This matter is too important for me to leave in the hands of soldiers. I trust only my sons to treat this with the same amount of care I would myself. The two of you represent me in all things that I cannot handle myself. This search for Bai Qian is no different. You are to search for her as if it were me searching for her. There is no better way for me to honor my friend’s loyalty and sacrifice than to send one of my sons in my place to search for his daughter. Sorting out the truth of this rumor takes precedence over everything else right now. And I want you to go about this search quietly. No one needs to know beyond the three of us and Zhao Hui’s family. That is especially true when it comes to Weisheng and the demons.”
“Yes, Father.” The brothers spoke in unison with much less enthusiasm in their voices than had been there earlier.
“Good. Zhao Hui has recently given the ten miles of peach trees to Zhe Yan, I believe. Your friend will have no problem with one of you searching his land. And I would speak with him about Bai Qian. Zhe Yan was very close to Bai Zhen, the youngest son in the family, and probably knows more about Bai Qian than anybody else living today.”
“The two of you are dismissed,” Heavenly Father said, ignoring the reluctance and hint of irritation he heard in his sons’ voices. Ye Hua and Mo Yuan may not like the task he had just given them, but he knew they would follow his orders anyway. They had always been respectful of him and his wishes and they would treat this with the care it deserved even if they grumbled about it while they did. “I have other business to take care of. Don’t forget about supper tonight. Your mother and I will see both of you there.”
Ye Hua and Mo Yuan bowed low to the ground once again in farewell before standing and quietly exiting the room. They walked silently next to each other, waiting until they had reached the empty throne room before speaking.
Ye Hua clapped his brother on the back cheerfully. “Have fun searching for the ghost of the dead Fox Princess, Da Ge,” he declared with a laugh. He ignored Mo Yuan’s threatening glare as he turned toward the entrance to the palace and started walking away quickly. If he could just make it out the doors of the palace he could jump to Xiwu Palace, instruct Jia Yun and Tian Shu to keep everybody out, and leave the task to his brother. There would be no time for Mo Yuan to argue the point during their meal with their parents. It was the perfect plan. He just had to make it to the…
“Not so fast, Ye Hua. Where do you think you’re going?” Mo Yuan’s voice was filled with irritation as he stepped in Ye Hua’s path. “This matter isn’t settled. I don’t have the time to chase down some crazy rumor that you and I both know isn’t true. Father will continue this search because he feels guilty about what happened to his friend not because he actually believes Bai Qian is still alive. It’s a waste of time, time I don’t have. You should be the one to search for her.”
“I can’t do it,” Ye Hua protested. “I’m busy with meetings at Xiwu Palace and studying how to rule the Heavens.”
Mo Yuan smirked at him. “Nice try. You’re studying how to rule for when Father steps down two hundred thousand years from now, Ye Hua. You have the time to spend looking for the dead Fox Princess. There will still be plenty of time for you to continue your studies once you are done with the search. Father and the Heavens aren’t going anywhere. I am still trying to get Kunlun temple and school up and running. There is nobody else to take over for me right now. You have more time for this than I do.”
“Father has three high-ranking generals that are all perfectly capable of training your disciples for a few weeks, Da Ge. You don’t really think Father will never call on you to negotiate terms for certain military alliances on his behalf, do you? Someone will have to fill in for you during those times.”
“I would need to meet with Father’s generals beforehand to go over what my disciples are studying,” Mo Yuan countered. “It would be very last minute and a big inconvenience.”
“I have important meetings that are already scheduled and trade negotiations I am in the middle of,” Ye Hua argued back. “It will be difficult for me…”
“Father and his assistants can handle everything here for you until you return. You heard Father. He said searching for Bai Qian takes priority over everything else and needs to remain quiet. It’s more practical for him to handle business here in the Heavens and cover for you than it is ordering one of the generals to Kunlun Mountain to cover for me without some kind of explanation. Besides…you’re the one always saying how much you could use a break from life here in the Heavens. This is your chance.”
“I didn’t mean I wanted to spend my time wandering through a bunch of peach trees, searching for a fox who died thousands of years ago. That’s not what I meant, Da Ge. I don’t want to chase down a false rumor. I want a real break.”
Tense silence descended over Mo Yuan and Ye Hua as they found themselves unable to come to an agreement. They stared each other down for a few minutes before Mo Yuan sighed as he studied the stubborn expression on his brother’s face. Ye Hua obviously wasn’t going to back down and neither was he. There was only one way to settle this.
“Fine,” Mo Yuan said, breaking the standoff. “We’ll compete to decide. The loser searches for the dead Fox Princess.”
Ye Hua grinned. It was his turn to choose how they competed. “Fine. I choose swords.” Mo Yuan and he were equally matched when it came to sparring with swords but Ye Hua had a new form he had just recently mastered. It would give him the advantage this time as Mo Yuan had never seen the skill used before. He would also enjoy the chance to go up against somebody who could and would challenge him for a change. It had been a while since he had had the chance to spar with his brother.
“It’s not your turn to choose, Ye Hua,” Mo Yuan argued with a laugh, patting Ye Hua’s back roughly before giving him a painful squeeze on the shoulder. “You chose last time. The drinking game. Remember? The first person to pass out lost. That was your choice. It’s not my fault you passed out for a day and then had to be the one to drink tea with the ancient matriarch of the Mermaids while hungover and suffering from a raging headache.”
Ye Hua groaned at the unwanted reminder. Drinking tea with the hateful woman had truly been one of the worst moments of his life. Her cackling laugh had sent sharp pain shooting through his temples every minute or two. He had tried to erase the whole thing from his memory.
“The drinking game thing was supposed to be a joke,” Ye Hua pointed out with a grimace, already knowing this was an argument he was going to lose.
“It doesn’t matter,” Mo Yuan answered right back. “It still counts, so it’s my turn to choose.”
Ye Hua sighed as he nodded reluctantly. He had a bad feeling about this.
“Bows,” Mo Yuan declared with a satisfied smile, his longbow and a quiver of arrows appearing in his hands. “First person to miss the center of the target loses.”
“Damn,” Ye Hua muttered under his breath as he watched his brother exit the palace and head in the direction of the practice range with long, confident strides. Mo Yuan was making it clear he didn’t want to be the one to search for Bai Qian. He only ever chose bows when he was serious about wanting to avoid a task. Unfortunately for Ye Hua, there was no competition between them when it came to archery and bow hunting. Ye Hua was competent with a bow and could hunt successfully with one but his skills didn’t come anywhere close to his brother’s. Mo Yuan excelled at archery and always won the bow contests easily.
Ye Hua summoned his own longbow and followed behind Mo Yuan at a much slower pace, knowing he was only delaying the inevitable. He started forming a methodical plan for the search of Zhe Yan’s forest of peach trees as he walked.
Heavenly Father’s form silently appeared at the palace entrance. He watched his sons walk away, bows in hand, with a small pleased smile on his face. He had suspected Mo Yuan would find a way out of the task he had given them; he had suspected and hoped. It was not because Mo Yuan wouldn’t do a thorough search for Bai Qian. Mo Yuan would. Both of his sons always strived to do their best in any assignment he presented to them and they both accomplished great things more often than not. But practical Mo Yuan was not the twin best-suited for chasing down a rumor that would very likely turn out to be false.
He thought the best person to conduct the search was Ye Hua with his active imagination, an imagination Heavenly Father had noticed was becoming stifled in recent years. He had watched the expression on Ye Hua’s face become more and more stern and unfriendly every year since accepting the position of Crown Prince.
Heavenly Father’s hope was that even if nothing came of this latest rumor, his youngest son would find a way to lose some of the tension building up inside him due to the stress of continuous meetings and negotiations and from following the strict protocols now expected of him. He had no doubts that Ye Hua would make a great leader and would embrace the role one day but, right now, Heavenly Father knew his son was unhappy and needed a break. If he made a suggestion or ordered Ye Hua to rest, his son would think he was disappointing him in some way and would dig in his heels and work harder to show he could handle it. So the rumor had been brought to his attention at an opportune moment. Not only did it allow him another chance to try and fulfill the debt he still owed a dear friend but it also provided him the chance to get Ye Hua out of the Heavens without being obvious about it. It was a win-win situation as the mortals were so fond of saying.
Heavenly Father chuckled lightly as he continued watching Ye Hua walk toward the practice range with plodding steps of quiet complaint. It was very different from the way Ye Hua had been quickly stalking through the Heavens of late. He finally turned to head back to his study, grinning briefly as he realized Ye Hua would likely still be annoyed with his brother at their family meal tonight. It would be like old times when the twins were younger and the thought amused him.
Weisheng: greatness is born
Huiling: wise jade tinkling
⇛ Next part: Ch 2: A Forgotten Land
⇚ Previous part: Prologue
September 10, 2021 @Marie Bisset (lemjo61), amazingly written with humor between the twins dragons. Looking back while rereading every chapter from the beginning chuckled me lol, both brothers had an amazing closed bond relationship along with Zhe Yan. Secrets, do tell… 😔. I’m glad that Heavenly Father was happy to acknowledge Ye Hua needed to get out Heaven for awhile, and was the one looking for isolated Bai Qian. Hopefully he’ll find a clue and key where is BQ hiding place and favorite place to be especially growing up and what she looks like and everything to know about her. Maybe, ZY can elaborate on that if he ask him about BQ. Will his inner beast will guide YH, to this new adventure to look for BQ, his future lover.😉☺️🤩🤣 Thank goodness Mo Yuan isn’t happy his choice to selected Huiling. Can his dragon spirit got a say about that? Time will tell what’s the prognosis of all his findings about Fox Clans History and Secrets. Can’t wait this new adventure of mind in here rereading your absolutely delightful and brilliant story of my favorite couple of all time in Cdrama now in fanfiction. Still had to address my problems continuing reading in Wattpad of one of your awesome story, BLOOD MAGIC. Best and incredible after ETERNAL LOVE SERIES in Fanfiction 😘😘💕💕💕💕
Thank you! I’m always trying to have some fun with YH and MY’s relationship when I can, lol. I had a chance to do that in this chapter. And I think parents often know what is best for their children even if their children don’t want to admit it. HM and HF are no different than regular parents in that regard. Which works out nicely for both YH and BQ when it’s all said and done.