Mountains of Ushitora
Present, 5th Year of Fangbei: Late Autumn, 1471
Dammit…when did I fall asleep…? Not good…
As far as Lord Mu was concerned, he should have been sitting right next to his daughter’s sick bed, not being blasted awake by a horrendous blizzard.
It had probably been a long time since Lord Mu had been called through the illusion realm to check on the seals in Shobu, so he was quite alarmed when he opened his eyes to find himself floating above the mountains of Ushitora in his night clothes. While he habitually made trips to check on the mountain, this time the alert spell had called him out unexpectedly.
From where he drifted, high over the uppermost peak of the Ushitora mountain range, projections of the seal formations floated up all over the mountain peaks, revealing the locations of their deeply buried counterparts and displaying the conditions of the actual seals hidden below. The projections glowed with dull light, rotating majestically like giant discs.
He frowned, noting that more than one looked like it was overlayed with cracked glass. Light flickered at his fingertips as he gestured at them.
“Go,” he commanded.
Reaching out with his hand, golden strands of power flowed through each line of the seal formation in front of him, searching out all the imperfections and repairing the spells where the ancient spell scripts had broken. It was long and exhausting work, but he would be trapped between waking and sleeping if he did not completely reseal the mountain…a real drawback to the alert spell that he had attached to subconscious more than two thousand years ago.
Smothering a frustrated groan, Mu Shan put all his thoughts aside and concentrated on his work.
At the very least, the storm is subsiding…
He sighed and rub his forehead, trying to relieve the dull pounding at the back of his eyes.
Feiyan had been unconscious for a long time and he had spent his most recent nights, pouring his energy into his very troublesome foster daughter. It had been more than a week now and even if he was a demi-god, there were very few divine sources from which he could draw energy to replenish himsel if his body felt exhausted. Since he was overworked, he was probably running at about half his normal ability. Thus, repairing the seals right now, was…challenging to say the least…
Lord Mu’s lips thinned.
Without his help, the child most certainly would have died. The water prison when flooded, would kill a normal person, but as someone who practiced martial arts, Feiyan had simply slowed her breath and heart, becoming inert. That skill had kept her from crossing the threshold between this world and the next, but Feiyan treated water like her mortal enemy and almost as if it had its own aversion to her, water definitely hated her.
I’ve always suspected that she was a fire attribute, but the flame mark has never appeared on her brow…even if she is a fire attribute, I shouldn’t confuse her with the person who is no longer here…
The mountain suddenly wobbled and warped as if the air was bending in on itself.
“Mu Shan?” queried a voice from behind him, and he turned and acknowledged the silver haired man who stepped out of a whorl in the air.
“Bai Xie An…long time no see,” he grunted, turning back to the seals, sweat beading on his forehead. “What are you doing here?”
An apprehensive zing went up Mu Shan’s spine. Though he knew that Bai Xie An meant him no harm, he could not stop his body from reacting defensively out of reflex.
“Oh me? Just passing by…It seems that after two thousand years, your powers aren’t what they used to be. You really shouldn’t push yourself so hard…” observed Bai Xie An in a conversational tone.
Just passing by my ass! Are you trying to provoke me?
“Well, since you’re here, shut up and help me,” Mu snapped with irritation. He’d already been hovering over the mountain peak for half the night and the sooner he returned to Feiyan’s side the better.
The silver-haired man only smirked in a maddening way, but he obliged, sending a streak of light out from his fingers. The small strand expanded itself into the form of a giant crane and swept its wings down over the seals at the other end of the mountain range, diving into the cracks and sealing the spell script.
Thus, they each worked in silence, eerily lighting the mountain with the soft glow of their divine power, but a few moments later Bai put his hand on Mu’s shoulder. Mu Shan flinched a little as he was gently nudged back.
“Go rest. I will take care of repairing the remaining seals,” said Bai, seeing that the lines around Mu’s mouth had deepened with strain.
“The mountain’s spirit is restless. The ones inside are beginning to make trouble,” muttered Mu Shan, leaning his head back while he rubbed his sore neck.
Bai Xie An shook his head.
“It’s been two thousand years. As Mistress said: nothing lasts forever. Akuma’s presence has been growing stronger, and the remnants of his horde are starting to gather in Shuto. Those within the mountain must be feeling it as well…Speaking of remnants: how is your little swallow?”
Mu sighed noisily. Deciding not to mention her illness, he said:
“Rebellious. Lonely. Beautiful…How that shard of spirit fire attached itself to her soul…even I don’t know how it got there.”
“You never found out why? What did you do with the feather?” asked Bai Xie An, brow creased. “Is it possible that she is the reincarnation of the Mistress?”
“I sealed the feather in the ancestral hall at the Firebird palace…and Mistress’s soul was shattered when she sealed Akuma. There’s no way…” Mu Shan snapped back tiredly. “Wait…Are you suspecting that I had something to do with the spirit shard?”
“No, I’m not…Well never mind…are you always in such a foul mood? How do your lovers stand you?” Bai asked, changing the subject.
Why are you acting like you have nothing to do with my foul mood…? Mu Shan thought, trying stay calm. And you know I haven’t had a lover in years.
“Why must you always go back to that? I’ve been here all night and it’s nearly dawn when you’ve only just arrived. If you have nothing good to say, then shut it.”
“Alright, alright. Don’t get angry. It’s bad for your health,” Bai Xie An chided mildly.
“As to that other thing you said…no matter how much I miss the Mistress, I would never make Xiao Feiyan into her substitute. She has always been her own person…nothing more and nothing less,” Mu grumbled.
“I don’t care about that. I just wish you were less obvious about your dislike of me,” said Bai softly. “It’s been almost nine years. I know I can’t change what happened, but since you’ve always been like this, I’m assuming that I was the only one whose heart was moved back at the beginning.”
“Bai Xie An, you have a short memory, but let’s not talk about these things right now.”
“I know that that time shouldn’t be forgiven…but I miss you a lot, Mu Shan.”
Mu Shan refused to respond to that. There were plenty of good reasons why they had separated, not the least of which had to do with their duties…and the inadvertent part Mu Shan had played in the death of Bai’s only son. They had loved and hated each other for centuries now.
Even though you didn’t blame me…I still don’t know how to face you…and then there was that terrible incident after Moon… thought Mu Shan, as another shiver rose up over his spine.
Bai Xie An sighed. Seeing the shuttered look on Mu Shan’s face, he decided not press the man any further. After all, he’d never handled their relationship well either.
“Attaching the warning spell to your spirit body steals a lot of energy. Take it easy when you get back to Moutan,” said Bai Xie An, after the awkward silence. “Don’t make me worry about you.”
“You don’t have to bother yourself…” Mu Shan muttered, turning his face to the side, and flushing a bit.
“Then take better care of your body,” snorted Bai derisively, completing the repair on the last of the seals. “Don’t you dare think of dying on your own. When you die, I want to die with you.”
Leaving Mu Shan with a mouth open in shock, Bai Xie An gave no further farewell as he walked towards the edge of the peak and then over it. Before he could fall any great distance, the crane had already swept its huge body under its master and Bai rode away, one hand behind his back, looking as cool and distant as the winter moon.
“Haaaaaaa…!” Mu Shan groaned, rubbing his hand over his aching eyes.
You bastard! Forget it…the seals are fine now and I should return.
Chanting the words of an incantation under his breath, Mu Shan once again found himself sitting at Feiyan’s bed side. In reality, his physical body had never left the manor, but if Bai Xie An hadn’t come to assist him, his physical body might have rotted in place.
Feiyan still appeared to be sleeping, but her brow was furrowed as if plagued by bad dreams.
Bending forward, he carefully smoothed his hand over his foster child’s forehead, grateful that she was still here, but his heart slowly filled with guilt as well.
I only have this child left…all the other people that I loved are long dead.
Bai Xie An’s only son, Bai Yu*, had been the product of him being bamboozled by a bird fairy in his youth, and she’d very unfortunately died giving birth to the boy. Born as a lesser existence than his father, Yu’er couldn’t even count as a half-deity, but he had been a bright mischievous child, kind-hearted, loyal, and much loved in the Firebird palace. The goddess, Hong Yi, had especially doted on him.
In the chaos of the thousand-year war between the demons and the guardian gods, Bai Yu had been killed because Mu Shan had held back intelligence in order to lure the demons deeper into their battle formation. He’d chosen to sacrifice a particular unit to pull the enemy deep into the net. Only, he hadn’t known that Bai Yu, who flew about acting as a messenger, had just joined the unit to pass on instructions. When Mu Shan’s forces had closed their pincer movement, Bai Yu had been trying to fly out with some of the soldiers and then was caught in a rain of fire called down by Hong Yi. When they found him, the demons had torn the wings from his body and he’d been mutilated. Hong Yi had cried for three days, while Bai had silently taken the boy’s body and returned him to his maternal clan to be interred with the rest of his ancestors. When Bai Xie An returned to the Firebird Palace, he had locked himself in his rooms and then didn’t come out for seven days.
“Even if he’s forgiven me for Yu’er’s death, I still don’t have anything to say,” Mu Shan said to himself, returning his attention to his daughter, who was muttering in her sleep.
I can’t change the past…but I can try to protect this child.
Mu’s lips quirked up at the corners as he recalled how a small Feiyan used to wake from nightmares and then climb into his bed in the middle of the night. She would curl up in his arms, sometimes between himself and Moon, and press her little feet against his stomach. Moon, of course, would be mildly horrified because they both preferred to sleep naked, but Feiyan never questioned that the two men raising her shared a bed.
The jagged emotions left by Mu Shan’s encounter with Bai Xie An gradually filled with all the warmth and affection that he felt for the person in front of him and for the people who were no longer with him.
She’s still a little hot, but her fever is better than it was.
Mu Shan dipped his fingers into the basin next to her bed and found that it was still cool. Slowly wringing a cloth, he carefully patted Feiyan down, wiping her heated skin. Hearing him shift in the room, the servant just outside the door, stirred:
“Master shall I bring more water?”
“No need,” he answered, dropping the cloth back into the basin.
The feverish girl squirmed further down into sheets, knees pulled up, looking very much like she did as a child. As Mu Shan gazed down at her, a red string briefly appeared on her littlest finger, trailing off the bed and disappearing in the direction of the northeast. His heart clenched as it once again faded out of sight.
“Xiao Yan…I don’t know why Yue Lao would bestow you this particular thousand mile fate*, but I knew it from the moment you were born that your heart was tied to the seal in Shuto.”
He sighed with worry.
My beloved daughter…there will be many hardships from this point on because the thing trapped beneath the heart seal is finally stirring.
* 玉- Yu as in ‘Jade’
* 月老 - Yue Lao (the old man in the moon) is the Chinese god of marriages. When Mu Shan mentions Feiyan’s thousand mile fate, he is referring to “千里姻缘一线牵” which is translated as “a fated match across a thousand miles drawn by a thread.”