Yu Zhu looked up to see an angry bunch of adults charging at them. She grabbed Lin Yu’s sleeve and pointed. Ho Pa Lai’s grimy face lit up as he lifted his head, two large black eyes were starting to form. The rest of the boys lay in the alley, moaning and sniffling. Ho Pa Lai gloated, “My family servants are coming, when they catch you they’re gonna sell to the pleasure houses.”
Lin Yu glared at him before giving him a punch in the mouth, “They would have to dig your body out of the ground first.” She grabbed Yu Zhu’s hand and said, “Run!” The two girls ran for their lives out the ally, a bunch of massive men chased after them yelling for them to stop. Lin Yu laughed and mocked, “You must be as stupid as your master if you think we’re going to stop running because you told us to!” Yu Zhu didn’t bother with talking, she was human and couldn’t run as fast as Lin Yu, who, though looked like sixteen, was a jade snake demon with 900 years of magical power. They flew through winding roads and ducked through markets. Yu Zhu felt her hand slip away from Lin Yu.
She was alone again, no one wanted her. The pit of hot fear licked her belly as she looked around the strange town. She heard the angry men behind her and ran for the nearest gate she could find, she needed to get back to the little cottage. They chased her outside of the town and into the peach groves. Yu Zhu twisted and slipped through the groves as men blundered behind her. She kept running and saw the edge of a vast and dark forest. She ran until she couldn’t breathe and felt her heart beat against her chest angrily.
The men halted as soon as they saw the little girl dive into the demon forests. One of the younger men tried to follow. The leader grabbed him by the collar, “Leave the brat, she’s heading towards hallowed ground. No man, demon, or god has ever walked out of there. Let’s go.”
Yu Zhu struggled in the loamy earth and fought against the gnarled branches, there was fear, excitement, addrenaline rushing through her veins. For a brief moment the sadness that occupied her dissipated, as if expelled through her labored breathing.
She ran until she could run no more. Just then, the trees thinned and she found herself at the edge of a little hill in the middle of a grassy clearing. On top of the gentle hill was the most magnificent oak she had ever seen. The elegant branches reached towards the heavens as with unabashed pride. Yu Zhu looked at the tree with silent admiration, the oak was the king of the vast forest.
The sky was turning dark as the first stars winked into existence. Yu Zhu knew it was not wise to try and go back to the town now. I’ll just rest under the tree for the night, Yu Zhu thought as she parted the long brown grass and trudged towards the little hill. She sat down and leaned her head against the tree. A smile tugged at her lips and she started to chuckle. Once the laughter started it was hard to stop. With the laughter came tears, Yu Zhu had been holding everything in since she had arrived at the town.
She cried and cried, as if all the tears bottled up in her the last few months finally came out. Bitter droplets splashed on the ground, on the tree, on her plain cotton cloths. When it stopped, Yu Zhu took a deep breath and tasted sweetness in the air, she felt as if her mouth was no longer covered by a heavy cloth.
The tree waved, annoyed by her antics. Yu Zhu glared, her eyes still sparkling at the tree, “I’m only borrowing you for a night, don’t be so stingy.” She said as if she was berating a naughty child. She sat up straighter and wiped her nose, putting on her most royal air, “Besides, you should be grateful for my august presence.” An acorn dropped on her head and Yu Zhu yelped in surprise. She glared at the tree, “Do that again, and I’ll make you into chopsticks!”
She smiled, even though she knew a tree was just a tree, she hadn’t talked like this for a long time. She settled down and started talking in earnest. Yu Zhu may not trust another person in the world, but now she wanted to talk.
“When I was little I use to ask my father if trees were good listeners, he sighed and told me he wished his ministers were half as good. You’ll have to listen because you can’t run away.” Yu Zhu cackled to her self. She began talking like she did to Hua Er and Papa, rambling away in the clear darkeness. She felt as if someone had stopped stepping on her chest. With an exhausted smile, she fell asleep against the great trunk of the tree.
As she slept, leaves began to gently flutter down until they covered the girl, keeping her warm throughout the night.
Yu Zhu was deep asleep when, from the depths of the tree, a young man who shone with the muted brightness of the moon seemed to step out of the trunk. He was strangely handsome, with sharp grey eyes, straight nose, and a visage that seemed to be bored of the world. There was an ethereal quality to him, as if his beauty came from the strength of his spirit and his iron will rather than his looks. The glowing youth floated gently above the ground to the edge of the clearing. His grey blue robes fluttered even in the breezeless night. Two night demons, guards of the clearing separated themselves from the trees and knelt before the youth.
“Master, My Lord Wei Yun. We allowed her in because you said women and children were not to be harmed if they entered this forest. We never thought she would be able to wake you from your slumber” Though the night creature had a face the stuff of nightmares and one of the strongest demons in the world, in front of this careless youth, he was shaking with fear.
The man waved a hand without saying anything, his stormy grey eyes seemed to say that nothing in this would could truly perturb him. The two demons retreated quickly, glad to have been spared. The man floated down to the tall grass and walked next to the sleeping girl. He waved his hand and more leaves covered her. In his long lifetime few shared secrets with him, only the brave or the foolish. There was glimmer of curiosity in his eyes as he disappeared back into the oak.