“Wei Yun” Yu Zhu called out softly as she stood softly on the wall, she tried not to make too much noise as she squinted in the dark spring night. A silvery figure appeared beneath the willows, a handsome young man in looked up at the purple robed girl. She grinned impishly. “You promised to show me how to make snow.”
Wei Yun raised a hand and instantly the sky began to fill with snow. Yu Zhu’s eyes sparkled with pleasure as she twirled down to the ground. Wei Yun drank in the sight as if there was nothing else in the world.
She turned, a beauty in the snow, a pale rose flush graced her cheeks. Yu Zhu was more stunning than a purple blossom against the icy background. Wei Yun felt the years melt and time flow backwards as he remembered, in the peach tree gardens, another girl danced joyously through the falling pedals as he and the Jade Rabbit played the Gu Qin and the flute. His brother, Wei Tian was there too, laughing and teasing the girl, but silently wishing to be closer to her graceful figure. How long has it been since Mei Yan floated under the peach blossoms? How long has it been since he thought of those people?
Yu Zhu came closer, the magical snow clinging to her hair like tiny butterflies, reluctant to let go of their resting place. He gently brushed the snow from her hair, marveling at the midnight black strands loosened by her movements.
Yu Zhu tried to smooth down her ahir, “It seems I’m always showing you my wild side.”
Wei Yun smiled, “You are showing me your best side.”
He gestured to the stream, “Come, I’ll show you how to make snow.”
Silvery light appeared at the tip of his fingers, “As a human, magic does not come to you naturally. But since you have lived in the demon realms for so long, you’ve become better at it than most.” His voice appeared inside her head as he laid his hand on hers, a spark of power flowed from him to her. Concentrate.
She closed her eyes, envisioning the water rising from the stream. She looked. A single droplet rose from the stream, it slowly came closer and closer to her. She grinned, delighted. She raised her hand, the water droplet froze and exploded into snow. Wei Yun quietly stepped away, reveling in her delight yet keeping his distance from her. All he could do was protect her and make her happy, he did not dare ask for her heart.
When Yu Zhu had appeared on the little hill, telling him her secrets, joys, and fears, he silently allowed her to release her pain. Slowly, as the years went by, he found himself listening to her, smiling inwardly with her when she was happy, wanting to hold her when she was sad. His heart thundered when she appeared and he wanted to freeze time before she left.
He found himself counting the days, waiting for her to come back and at the same time hoping she wouldn’t be back, it would only intensify the silence when she left. He knew he wasn’t worthy of her, and he did not want to scare her away by revealing his true form. But when he knew she was in danger, he violated all the rules to make sure she was safe.
Yu Zhu looked up at his handsome face, a corner of her mouth lifted in a small but shy smile. In many ways she still was a properly bred noble woman, she did not always know how to express it when she liked someone. Wei Yun clapped, and the willow leaves glowed softly, it looked like a thousand fireflies lit the way to the quiet stream. They sat down to watch the stream flow lazily past them.
“Why were you living in the oak tree?” Yu Zhu asked hesitantly, she wanted to hear the answer from his lips.
Wei Yun looked at the moon, “It was punishment from the Emperor of Heaven.”
“I have something he wants.” Wei Yun answered, “Something I’m not willing to give.” Yu Zhu wanted to ask more but the tone of his voice suggested that this was not something he wanted to talk about.
“How long did you live as an oak?” Yu Zhu asked instead.
“A few hundred thousand years. I’ve been here since the trees were saplings.”
Yu Zhu’s eyes widened, the trees of the forest were so large that ten men could not wrap their arms around a single one.
“What was it like, living all those years by yourself?” There were so many questions, but Yu Zhu didn’t want to push Wei Yun.
“Silent.” He glanced at her, there was a gentle teasing smile on his face, “until you came along.”
Yu Zhu stretched her legs on the soft grass, “I like to think I made your life better.”
Wei Yun threw his head back and laughed, Yu Zhu liked the full throated sound. She had never heard Wei Yun laugh.
After a few moments he said, “You made me remember how it felt to worry about someone. After all these years, I’d forgotten how sweet relief felt like. I’d forgotten so many things.”
Yu Zhu looked at the sky, “Even if you didn’t talk to me, sitting underneath the oak tree made me happy. It made feel like me again.” Her voice caught in her throat as he hands knotted in her skirt, there were so many bitter memories that bit into her heart.
Wei Yun wanted to take her hand and kiss away the sadness in her eyes. He wanted envelop those slim shoulders and keep her safe. But there was a line he could not cross. If he touched her now, he would be more than just her protector. He had a promise to keep, he could never be anything more to her than just an oak tree. He would always be there to protect her, but he couldn’t be her equal.
The wind shift, and Wei Yun sensed something was not right, a god was coming. He smiled at Yu Zhu, “Yu Zhu, it’s late. Go back inside and rest.”
Yu Zhu looked at him worriedly, “Now that I have my pendant back. Will you go back to the forest?”
Wei Yun smiled sadly, “Now that you have your protection, do you really need me by your side?”
“Yes.” She blurted without thinking, and blushed.
Wei Yun helped her up, “I will be here, as long as you need me.” He watched her go inside. He raised the protections around the house and made sure the inhabitants could not hear what happened outside.
Wei Yun’s face hardened as he called out, “If you are here to tell me to heel, you should leave before I rip your head off.”
“It’s been a while, Wei Yun.” A man sat on a branch of willow, he leaned back casually as he said, “How long has it since we last met? Since Mei Yan died?”
Wei Yun turned around and threw fire at the man, it consumed the tree. The man leapt off, “Nice warning shot. Strange though, it was always your brother Wei Tian that was the hot headed one. You were always so cold and calm.”
The man looked at the cottage, “And now look at you, falling in love with some little demon or whatever that thing was.” He sighed, “I don’t see the appeal of demons, they’re nothing but filthy spirits, not worth licking our boots” He grinned, “But I didn’t really even see that one’s face, she must be pretty to ensnare you.”
“Do you have business here, Yi Nong?” Wei Yun said his voice colder than ice.
Yi Nong took an involuntary step back, despite his jokes, there were very, very few gods that could stand up to Wei Yun, and he wasn’t one of them. Yi Nong cleared his throat, “Very Well.” A sword appeared in his hand, he pointed it at Wei Yun, “Wei Yun, fallen God, You have stepped out of the confines of the Demon Forest without the Emperor of Heaven’s permission. Return to the Oak in three days time or the Pact between you and the Emperor will be broken.” The gold gleam faded, Yi Nong smirked, “Looks like the Emperor still has a soft spot for you, he even gave three days before you have to crawl back to you hidey hole.” Yi Nong continued, “How is life without Wei Tian? I can’t imagine how boring it must be, not being near your brother, you were so close.”
Wei Yun smiled and Yi Nong’s cockiness faltered. Wei Yun’s expression was almost inhuman, “At least I am not the emperor’s dog.”
For a moment Yi Nong remembered the Wei Yun who stood covered in blood on the battlefield, fire in one hand, sword in the other. Beneath him was the countless bodies of Gods who dared to oppose him after Mei Yan’s death. There was nothing but rage and hatred on Wei Yun’s face, it was an image that burned into everyone who saw it. Yi Nong stepped farther away.
Wei Yun opened his palm, white fire appeared, “I’m not killing you for old times sake. Scamper, pup, before I burn your eyes out.” Yi Nong wasn’t a brave god to began with, he swallowed nervously. “3 days. If you disobey, the Emperor of Heaven will destroy the last thing you care about.” With that Yi Nong disappeared into the clouds. The door to the cottage creaked open. The old grandfather stood watching Wei Yun speculatively.
“So. God of Demons.” Grandfather hobbled out. “Will you go back to your prison?”
Wei Yun put a hand on the barrier and it melted into the ground. The old man stood beside the young god, both of them remembered the times they had been through, though neither could admit that they once had been friends.
The old man spoke, his raspy voice was rougher than sand stone, “I am perhaps one of the last people in this world who know what you hid from the Emperor and the heavy price you paid for that secret. If you chose, you could give the Old Emperor in Heaven what he wants. Then you can rejoin the ranks of Gods, live a life of eternal happiness and enjoy all the pleasures of the world in the kingdom of gods. Why do you torture yourself here?”
Wei Yun looked at the spot Yi Nong had stood, “I am here because the sacrifices of those I love, what they endured, was far greater than the punishment I serve now. I can still see Mei Yan’s dying eyes as she begged me with her last breath. I remember watching their bodies disintegrate into a thousand floating leaves.” Wei Yun’s voice was far away, “I watched them all die and I can never forget.”
The old man sighed, “I now understand why Jade Rabbit and you were such good friends. Still so loyal to those who are long dead.”
Wei Yun smiled, “You are the same. You watched your family die so as to keep the last heir of the Jade Rabbit alive. Tu Suo would not be here without you.”
Grandfather smiled, “He wouldn’t be here without you either. In a way, you saved him too, ten thousand years ago.”
“I only kept my promise to the Jade Rabbit.” Wei Yun was ambivalent, “It worked in my favor, now I need Tu Suo for my plans as well, he will help me keep it hidden from the Emperor of Heaven.”
“Keep what hidden?” Tu Suo had come out too, his eyes glinting in the moonlight. Neither Wei Yun nor Grandfather spoke. Tu Suo frowned, his arms folded across his chest, “If you want my help, then you need to tell me the truth. No more lies, no more hints. I need you to tell me everything.”
Grandfather sighed and patted the young man’s shoulder, Wei Yun knew that Tu Suo had been listening. Perhaps this was Wei Yun’s way of trusting the young man. Besides, Tu Suo needed to understand the past in order to fight for his future. “We have hidden many, many things away to keep you safe. But you are a grown man now,it is time that you decide your own fate.” Grandfather looked at Wei Yun, “This is your story to tell.”