And Ensylfera, the famous storyteller from the capital, spoke:
"This is the tale of An Hei, the king of the snake tribe, who once promised a human girl to marry her when lying below the blossoms of a magnolia tree. It is also the tale of Ling Ling who waited ten years for the man she set her heart on and nearly had to marry another. It begins one warm night in spring high above the clouds where the gods and immortals live far from the eyes of humanity. And this is how the story is told."
On that very day, the immortals were celebrating the anniversary of their ruler’s enthronement. People of all the immortal tribes gathered together — be it the gods, the spirits, or even the demons. Among them was An Hei, the king of the snake tribe which was counted among the demon tribes.
With the dark robe he wore, An Hei seemed displaced among the gods in their colorful clothing but he did not care much for that. Truth be told, he did not even care for the emperor that was ruling the immortals. No, he had come to this place for one person alone: The Goddess Mei Huang that was said to be the most beautiful among the goddesses.
Needless to say, she had many suitors and An Hei’s chances of wooing her were not high. Still, he wanted to give it a try. His snake tribe was not held in high esteem by the current emperor as were many of the demons. As their king, he was naturally unwilling to watch things continue like this. He hoped that marrying a goddess like Mei Huang would better their standing among the immortals. And what else was he supposed to do?
Looking around he could see that while all demon tribes had been invited, only a handful of them had come. If things continued like this, then the gods and demons might soon stand on different sides. That was not what he wanted to see. Not for his own tribe and not in the grand scheme of things. Thus, he was willing to bet everything on this occasion.
Glancing toward the goddess that was accompanied by a flurry of maids, An Hei straightened up and slowly made his way over. It would be a lie to pretend that he was not worried. He was, very much so if he was honest with himself and not without reason. While marrying Mei Huang could change the situation for the better, failing to do so might make it even worse. But without risk, there could be no gain so he still persisted in walking toward her, only stopping a few steps away.
The people that had been talking in the vicinity all fell quiet, making this part of the hall where the celebration was being held fall into an eerie silence.
With things like this, it naturally didn’t take long for people further away to wonder what was going on as well. Even the emperor himself noticed that something was happening and questioned his servant about what was happening.
With all eyes on him, An Hei tensed but still forced himself to face Mei Huang. "Goddess Mei Huang, this might come as a surprise to you but I have long admired you. What are my chances that you would join me in marriage?"
The goddess slowly raised her brows, her expression far from one of ecstasy. Obviously, she didn’t think much of marrying a demon. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that she loathed the idea. "Snake king, you sure have guts to say something like this to me. A surprise it is certainly not. But as for your chances … there are none."
An Hei slightly furrowed his brows. While he had half expected that this might happen, he had thought that Mei Huang would at least save him a bit of face and reject him under some kind of pretense. But she hadn’t done so. On the contrary, she hadn’t even given him a reason. She had just outright put him down like that. For him and for his snake tribe, that was a harsh blow.
An Hei lowered his head, wondering what he could do to turn things around. He wasn’t willing to just accept making things worse. In the end, he looked back up, giving her a searching look. "Then, goddess Mei Huang, would you mind giving me a reason?"
Mei Huang’s brows slightly crinkled, her unhappiness at still being disturbed by this person obvious to all around. As such, the beautiful goddess did not need to say even a single word. Soon enough, somebody stepped out to chastise An Hei for his behavior.
"Snake king, what is the meaning of badgering the goddess Mei Huang like this? Since she said that you had no chance, then you should better accept that. Anyway, nothing will change about her decision even if you continue to bother her."
An Hei turned to look at the person that had come to disturb him, his expression not turning for the better. This person was somebody that he knew. His name was Gang Jie and he was none other than the king of the bird tribe. From ancient times until now, the bird and the snake tribe had never seen eye to eye. Having this person out of everyone step out to assist Mei Huang against him made things even worse for him.
Turning his head away, An Hei refused to let him gain the other upper hand. "Bird king, I’m afraid that this has nothing to do with you. I was speaking to the goddess Mei Huang." He gazed at her again, forcing himself to give a small smile. "If the goddess does not want to answer this question, then that is alright as well. I was merely asking."
Mei Huang raised her head, turning it sideways with a huff. While she had many suitors, she obviously still wasn’t happy with who some of them were. At the very least, somebody from the demons felt like a slap in the face to her. As a goddess, she wanted nothing to do with them.
Gang Jie laughed when he saw the exchange and raised his brows at An Hei in a taunt. "Snake king, you say that you’re just casually asking but can’t you see that you are making the goddess uncomfortable? Regardless of what or how often you ask, you still will not receive another answer. Are you unable to understand that?"
An Hei glanced at him, his eyes narrowing into slits. "Bird king, are you unable to understand that this matter does not concern you? Why are you still harping on?"
Gang Jie just continued to laugh. "Maybe this has more to do with me than you think. But whether it has or hasn’t, how could I just stand by when I see you harass a poor goddess like this? As a man of honor, I have to step up."
An Hei’s brows furrowed and he turned back to him before his gaze slipped toward the emperor. Sitting on his throne at the far end of the hall, the emperor was watching everything without saying a word. Obviously, this man that was supposed to be the ruler of all the people gathered in this hall on this day had no intention to help the snake king out of his predicament.
An Hei lowered his gaze when he finally understood just how much the current emperor actually loathed his race. Knowing this, it seemed he was fighting a battle that was already lost before it even began. There was nothing he could do. Even if he managed to convince the goddess Mei Huang by some stroke of luck, it would not change anything.
"Very well. If the goddess Mei Huang finds that I have overstepped, then I will apologize for that." An Hei didn’t say anything else and just turned away, wanting to return to his own seat.
Unfortunately, the king of the bird tribe was not willing to let matters go just like this. "Is that all, snake king? You intend to just leave like this? What kind of man are you?"
An Hei stopped in his tracks, considering what to do. It was more than obvious that this Gang Jie was just trying to provoke him. First, he told him to step back because he was harassing the goddess and now, he told him that he was a coward for doing precisely that. Regardless of what he did, Gang Jie would always find a way to mock him.
Well, if that was the case, he might as well ignore him. An Hei felt himself to be above this kind of ridiculous scuffle. While he did not like Gang Jie, he also wouldn’t sink so low as to argue with him just because of that. To just leave and not have to look at his face was certainly the best way to go.
With that thought, the snake king still turned to leave. Anyway, what he had come to do had already been done even though he hadn’t been able to accomplish what he had wanted to do. Since the gods did not like his presence, he might as well leave.
The king of the bird tribe became angry when he saw that he was ignored. "An Hei! Stop right there! How dare you ignore me!"
An Hei lightly shook his head and continued to leave despite the disrespectful words. Anyway, why should he listen to that person? It wasn’t like the emperor himself had spoken. If it was like that, then he would give this god some face. But since it was somebody who was just of equal status, he might as well ignore him. Anyway, they had never gotten along. Their relationship couldn’t worsen.
Just because the snake king wanted to ignore him, the king of the bird tribe would not step back. Instead, he rushed forward, stepping into An Hei’s path. "Snake king, the slighting me like that … Do you think I will just let that go? I challenge you to a fight!"
An Hei raised his brows, unhappy with how things were turning out. "Today is the celebration of the emperor’s enthronement and we are in his hall. How could we fight here?"
Gang Jie turned to look at the man on the throne who nodded in turn.
"I’ll make an exception and allow it."
An Hei clenched his hands, rage boiling inside him. These gods … What was he trying to do? Even though he was a demon, they were still all immortals. This emperor was their emperor as well. Things shouldn’t be like this.
In the end, he just exhaled lightly and then nodded. "If that is what you want, then I guess I can only oblige." He turned to glance at the people of his own tribe that were looking quite scared. He definitely had to make sure that nothing would happen to them. If he just started this fight now, then he was afraid that irrespective of how that fight would turn out, they would not be safe.
Thinking of that, he once again turned to Gang Jie. "I suggest having that fight outside though. I wouldn’t want to be responsible if something happened inside." He didn’t wait for him to answer and just moved toward the door, motioning for his people to follow suit.
Since he was the first to move, they stepped out before the others had reacted. An Hei glanced at them and then hurriedly whispered his instructions to them: "When everybody is distracted by the fight, you have to leave this place and return to our tribe’s territory."
"Your Majesty, you —"
An Hei shook his head, interrupting them. "Don’t come looking for me even if I need longer to return than expected. Obviously, the gods have no interest in being civil with us any longer. If they dare to threaten you later on and I haven’t made it back, then go to the demon king and ask for his assistance. I’m afraid a complete falling out between our races can’t be delayed much longer."
His subjects looked rather troubled but still nodded in the end and stepped to the side, making sure that they wouldn’t get in the way and were able to do as they had been told. They wanted to help their king but they did not have the strength to fight against the king of the bird tribe in his stead and their number was not large enough to contend against all the other immortals gathered here. If they didn’t want to burden their king even further, they just had no other choice. Now, they could only pray that things would turn out well against their expectations.
An Hei moved further back and then turned around to face Gang Jie who had just come out of the hall, the other gods trailing behind.
This fight … It didn’t matter whether the snake king won or not. At the end of the day, he knew that things weren’t looking good for him. If he lost, then it would be because he had been too weak and Gang Jie managed to injure him severely. After all, that man definitely wouldn’t hold back. On the other hand, if he won and injured Gang Jie, then he had no doubt that the emperor would fault him for that and he might still lose his life. If he wanted to escape here, then it seemed he only had one chance: Using a ruse and pretending to lose. But that in itself was dangerous and he could not guarantee the outcome.