Yu Zhu and Lin Yu knelt in the garden, holding their swords above their heads. Though their arms were sore, neither of them complained. They had held their swords since the sun was high in the sky and now the sun was sinking into the green valley. Grandfather hobbled into the dusty yard, and elder brother Tu Suo came in as well. Grandfather sat down and looked at the two girls, their faces were red with perspiration, both of them stubbornly remained silent. Lin Yu’s hand bled down her arm sluggishly, she bit her lips to stop from crying. Even though grandfather said if they apologized and promised to never go back to the forest, they could put down the swords, Lin Yu and Yu Zhu refused.
Grandfather sighed, “Put down the swords.”
For a moment the girls looked at him, slowly, they arms lowered. The swords clattered to the ground as their numb arms fell to their sides. Tu Suo ran to Lin Yu’s side and began to dress her wound.
Grandfather’s hands curled around his gnarled stick, “What you did was dangerous. Even if you do not acknowledge you were wrong, I would like you to promise me that you will never go back.”
Lin Yu looked at Yu Zhu, who swallowed, “Our friends were kidnapped. I would go again without thinking twice.”
Silence hung between the girl and the old man. He sighed and said, “No, next time this happens, you come to me. I will go.”
Lin Yu’s eyebrows shot up in surprise, “But grandfather… you’re so old. The crow demon we met was really powerful, what if he tears you to pieces?”
The old man decided not to take offense to the girl’s words, he looked into Yu Zhu’s eyes. “Promise me that you come to me before you do something so foolish again.” There was iron and ancient strength in his eyes. Yu Zhu finally nodded.
“Good. Now, go get some rest. Tomorrow you both are to go into town and get some mugwort for Lin Yu’s wounds” The girls got up slowly, wincing and hobbled off their rooms.
“You punished them severely.” Tu Suo said as he helped grandfather up. The old man leaned heavily on the young rabbit demon as he replied, “I wanted them to be more cautious. Soon their journey will begin and I will not be able to protect them. Their lives will be hard and they need to be strong.”
Tu Suo looked at the old man curiously, “If you can know the future, why not change it?”
The old man smiled sadly, “You can not change the course of the winds no matter how hard you try. The more I keep them from their destinies, the more harm I will bring them. I would rather teach them how to survive, than to shelter them from every challenge.”
Tu Suo shook his head, “Lin Yu has already had a very hard life. I hope whatever the future holds for her, she will have some happiness.”
Grandfather motioned Tu Suo to help him to his room, ” A long, long, time ago, I wished the same thing for Lin Yu’s mother, but fate is cruel.” Master and disciple went inside as the night sank into silent reverie.
“Stop running!” Ho Pa Lai hollered after two girls in green and purple robes. The girls zoomed down the grey cobblestones and wooden houses, Ho Pa Lai and his friends chasing after them.
“Why do you and your men keep saying that? Can you be even more stupid than you look?” Lin Yu yelled back as she jumped onto the roof of a stall. “I didn’t think that was so possible since you’re already an ugly pig demon!”
Yu Zhu made a motion with her hands as they headed into a dark alley. Five of Ho Pa Lai’s lackeys ran into it without thinking. A gaggle of little beggars held ropes one either side of the alleyway pulled a long thin string. The boys tripped and went down with a sickening crunch. Yu Zhu smiled and motioned for the little beggar boys to disappear, she would give them steamed buns after.
“You would think that they would stop and see this as a trap, we’ve been running circles around them for five years.” Lin Yu murmured as Ho Pa Lai and his five remaining lackeys hopped over their fallen comrades to get to the girls.
“You overestimate their intelligence.” Yu Zhu muttered back. She looked up and saw beggar kids smile at them on rooftops, in their hands were pails filled with dung. At Yu Zhu’s command, they would drop it on Ho Pa Lai.
“I…said…stop…” Ho Pa Lai huffed and puffed as he got closer, “I.. need to tell Lin Yu something.”
The girls looked at each other as Ho Pa Lai’s lackeys looked at their big boss in surprise. Usually when he talked to the Lin Yu or Yu Zhu it was “I’m going to kill you!” or “I’ll sell you to the pleasure houses if I catch you”, occasionally it was to beg the girls to “don’t punch me in the face I can’t lose any more teeth, just punch the gut!” He’s never asked to talk to them.
Ho Pa Lai’s face seemed to go from red to purple to white as he brought his hands together. He looked at Lin Yu and took the piece of Liu Li jade on his belt off. He raised it in his hand as if offering it to her. “Do you like it? I had the master craftsman in town make it, I hoped that when you beat me up next time you would like it enough to take it.” He paused and swallowed, “You seemed to only take Liu li and none of the other decorations I wear. So I made this one especially for you. But I couldn’t wait.”
Lin Yu was speechless. She looked at Yu Zhu as if saying, what the hell is he doing right now. Yu Zhu shook her head. She didn’t know either.
Ho Pa Lai scuffed a silk shod foot on the pavement and took a deep breath, “If you accept it, then think of it as a gift…from your future husband.” He continued before the stunned audience, “I don’t even care that you’re the daughter of the Green Snake. And when you’re married to me, no one will dare talk about you mother or your aunt in the whole town. I can erase all of the shame your mother brought to your name.”
No one spoke at the moment. The lackeys looked at their leader as if he had gone insane. Yu Zhu’s mouth dropped open. Lin Yu went cold, her eyes seemed to be glaring daggers at Ho Pa Lai as she said quietly, “Shame?”
Ho Pa Lai had never really learned how to read women, he didn’t understand that he was on dangerously thin ice, he nodded, “Well, it’s common knowledge that your aunt was imprisoned by the gods for drowning an entire city for her human lover. Your mother’s no better. That’s why the gods punished them isn’t it?”
He smiled at her indulgently, as if he was some savior coming to rescue her from her sordid family history, “Of course, you’ll have to be a my main concubine, since your family can’t match mine.” He looked at Yu Zhu and said, “Yu Zhu, you’re quite pretty, you can be a side concubine and serve me too.” He scratched his head, as if he thought of a problem, “I wish you could be a wife. But I can’t imagine my family agreeing for someone like to you to such an important position. What do you say?”
Lin Yu couldn’t take any more and ran at him.
Ho Pa Lai’s eyes brightened, he thought this was Lin Yu was coming to kiss him. He smiled and opened his arms as if in welcome. He didn’t even see her fast punch to his nose until he felt the bone crack. Blood spurted from his nose in two thick streams.
Lin Yu had put all her rage into that punch and Ho Pa Lai went flying.Yu Zhu followed with a kick to his gut. Ho Pa Lai tried to grab something for support. His hand fell on Yu Zhu’s belt sash. Yu Zhu didn’t feel her pendant falling out, it was the dragon jade with the midnight pearl that Xu Long Hui had given to Yu Zhu long ago.
No one seemed to notice, they were too focused on the two girls beating the life out of the pig demon boy.
A young lackey was about to run and help his leader when someone grabbed his collar. Another lackey shook his head, “Let the young master suffer a bit. If they can’t teach him the stupidity of his ways, then no one will. This marriage idea needs to be nipped in the bud one way or another. Do you think Ho Pai Lai’s mother would ever let snake scum into the house?” With that Ho Pa Lai’s lackeys melted into the background, simply making sure that the two girls didn’t kill their idiot master.
Finally, the beating stopped and Lin Yu pressed a boot on the side of Ho Pa Lai’s face. She said it quietly, but everyone could hear her, “Ho Pa Lai, listen to me well. Because this is only time I talk to you. The next time I see you, I will kill you and make pork porridge out of you.” Her voice was clear and cold. “I will never marry someone like you, even if the gods ordain it. I would rather burn in the pits of hell” She pressed down with her boot, he squirmed as she continued, “My mother and my aunt were good people and if the gods punished them for their sins, I am not the bearer of that burden. You ever mention my mother’s name again, and I will end you.”
She took her boot off and walked away. Yu Zhu walked out of the alley and signaled the beggar boys. As the lackeys ran towards their leader, pails of manure and excrement fell on them, covering them with days old filth. Yu Zhu smiled as the howls of rage followed after them.
In the dark forest.
Wei Yun awoke, his heart pounded and there was dread in his mind. He spread his power to the town and frowned. Something was not right. When he realized what it was, there was fear in his heart. For the first time in two hundred thousand years, he felt an emotion that he had long since thought he’d forgotten.The girl who had come to tell him stories and made him forget his isolated existence was going to be in danger. He needed to leave the forest and find her.
For the second time in ten thousand years, a silver figure more majestic than the moon stepped out of the ancient oak. Wei Yun leapt into the air, heading towards the little cottage where she lived.