It was precisely five years to the day after their first encounter at the lake. Towards the end of their second year of meeting in secrecy, Lifen was now twenty-one years old and more beautiful than ever. If her mortal life followed accordingly to the original timeline of her written heavenly trial, she should have been in the brothel at her current age. She was fated to enter the bordello when she was nineteen years old.
Conceivably, in the beginning, Mo Yuan believed his endeavor was primarily to save his friend, Bai Qian from prostitution. However, there were many changes since he was now personally invested in her romantically. Although it wasn’t his position, he decided that he couldn’t endure the idea of her suffering. He silently determined to end her trial early rather than subject her to the horrors, and miseries written by Si Ming.
Never had he been one for romance but Mo Yuan planned to get down on one knee and propose after her return to immortality. However, until then it was imperative that he practice prudence, so nobody in Celestial Heavens would see or hear them together. Notably careful and purposely avoiding the use of his magic, he and Lifen stayed under the radar as nobody suspected a thing.
His calculated discretion and the keen sense of insight would have prevailed, but a startlingly urgent demand for his magic arose quite abruptly. The requirement for a spell that was so compelling, Mo Yuan’s grave concerns about being recognized converted secondary, no, they became entirely insignificant.
It happened during one of their weekly lessons when an impromptu downpour appeared very suddenly. Big drops of falling rain caused Lifen to glance up, swiftly gather all their supplies and grab Mo Yuan by the hand. For reasons unknown to him, she led him towards an overgrown jungle field with wild vines, thick shrubbery, and trees. Socked away in the green lushness of the orchard was a little hut hidden somewhat quaintly. She guided him inside.
The interior was pitch black, and the pop-like sounds of the pelting rain on the roof made it somewhat difficult to hear anything. In the total darkness, Mo Yuan stood unsurely and slightly disorientated by the new unknown surroundings. Lifen quickly lit a fire in a little hearth set in the furthest corner of what appeared, to be a small kitchen. It looked like an adult size dollhouse. Her well-practiced behaviors were too rehearsed, so instinctive as if she’d done it routinely. She also lit the many candles in the home.
Now Mo Yuan could see the inside most clearly. The shelter wasn’t big but sturdy looking completely dry within and somewhat charming. It was a single room. Maybe the size of his chamber with a bed and in addition a tiny kitchen located in the back of the home. It surprised him to see so many useful things in the little space. Inside there were blankets folded neatly on the bed and candles everywhere. Arranged quite tidy included were some of Lifen’s clothing, and proudly mounted on one wall was the paper he wrote out his and her names during their first lesson. By the fire a teapot, teacups and small dining utensils.
Casually she grabbed a pitcher of water by the fireplace, put it on the stove and said, “Shifu, I’ll make some tea to warm you up but first let me get you a towel.”
“What is this place? Why is it here? It seems like you live here.” Mo Yuan curiously asked as he sat cross-legged and felt the warmth quickly spread in the intimate space. It was small but roomy enough, so one didn’t feel stifled and closed-in entirely due to its two windows set up-high.
Lifen’s back was still towards him when she explained cheerfully, “My grandfather built it for my grandmother. It was their newlywed home or at least that’s what my aunt told me but she didn’t even know the location. She mentioned it in passing and I stumbled on it by chance. Nobody even knows it’s here. Now it’s my special place and I come here to get away from things.”
His careful gaze scrutinized the space. At closer inspection, it was immaculate and had everything one would need to survive. Mo Yuan noticed the provisions instantly, yet it struck him odd as to why she would come to this secluded place when her home was nearby.
Mo Yuan inquired inquisitively but his tone sounded more as if he were prying, because he didn’t understand why she’d use this place, “You live very near so why would you come here and leave the comfort of your home?”
Respectfully with her usual radiant smile, Lifen handed him a towel, stoked the fire and merrily responded, “Sometimes, a girl likes to be alone without reason. This hut is my secret safe place. It’s my home away from home.”
He smiled at her playful reply. It was just like Lifen to be such a silly little creature. Mo Yuan pondered if this dollhouse-like shelter was similar to a tree-house or fort for children. Another blatant reminder she was still a carefree child down to the wet petals stuck all over her head, shoulders, and back. A soft, amused chuckle came to his lips before he reached out and briskly brushed her back clean. His firm touch caused her to abruptly stagger forward, lurch up to the point that her back arched sharply, and a hiss of discomfort came from between clenched teeth. She jerked and pulled away as if she was hurt.
“Lifen, did you hurt yourself? Are you in pain?” Mo Yuan’s eagle eyes directly narrowed on the light colored thin material of her wet clothes. Presently stuck fast on her back from the moisture, and noticed a small rust-like colored mark on the upper backside of her dress. A tense chill came to his body because it looked like a reddish blur. Like a water-wet blood stain. Immediately he rose to his knees and inspected the spot closely with his probing gaze.
The way she instantly hid her back was too swift, forced and nervous. Lifen smiled but he could see the ever growing anxiety and fear in her anxious eyes. Verbally she reassured him that it was nothing and readily stated that she was okay, but her lips quivered slightly. She was faking and he knew it.
Instinctively Mo Yuan sharply recognized something was off. Very wrong. He knew better than anyone else the strained movements and posture of an injured person. His deep, dark, bottomless eyes silently urged and implored her to tell him the truth. Lifen’s too happy, too bright of a smile gradually faded and she hesitantly, reluctantly turned her back towards him again.
In soundless distressed, only a deep exhaled sigh came from her lips, she slumped her shoulders weakly and dropped her head down as if she were ashamed. Lifen said nothing but undid the top of her dress. It rapidly fell and draped around her slender waist. She was so thin and her body didn’t appear like a girl who ate meat with every meal. She was waif-like.
The slimness of her shape worried him but what he saw next caused him to gasp in horror, and Mo Yuan could barely breathe. On her fair, beautiful skin, there were so many angry red lashes as if flogged with a leather whip meant for animals. Her lean back covered with various marks that were a combination of fresh, new torn skin still slightly oozing blood. Some scabbed over in the process of healing with multiple old scars. Too many to count.
He could scarcely get out the words. Mo Yuan’s voice shook with explosive ferocity, “Lifen? Who did this to you?!”
Crying silently as large tears fell to the floor while Lifen stared blankly at the ground and wouldn’t speak a word.
The immeasurable, raging fury caused his mighty hands to clench into tight fists as Mo Yuan demanded in a low, hushed voice, “Lifen, is your father responsible for this?! You said he treated you like gold so who did this to you? Tell me!”
She was utterly reluctant and hesitated to answer him. Her soft voice quivered from her crying and Lifen faintly confessed, “He does treat me like gold until he drinks. My father gets mad when he’s drunk and I do things that upset him. So it’s not his fault and I’m to blame.”
Lifen whimpered pitifully, “I’m the reason that he becomes so enraged. It’s because I killed my mother and now he gets me confused with her when he drinks so I deserve it.”
Mo Yuan was seething, felt as if he was going to erupt from his swiftly accelerating fury, wrath and agonizing heartache. Standing fast to his feet, he commanded with clenched teeth, “Take me to your father!”
“I can’t! If my father knew about you, he’d send me away or drown me in the lake! I don’t want to be separated away from you! Please, Shifu. I won’t be able to live without you!” Woefully Lifen sobbed in her open hands in pure desperation.
Comparatively to a hurricane with a distinct rotation of an eye, his mind spun uncontrollably and both sides of his temples throbbed wildly. All he wanted to do was kill Lifen’s father. He trembled with rage and it took him quite a long time to stop shaking. Mo Yuan’s eyesight was affected. His vision wholly clouded and all he could see was red.
Focusing on calming himself for her sake, Mo Yuan took a couple of deliberate breathes. How could anyone do such a wicked deed to his love? Gingerly he lightly placed his forehead on her bare shoulder and fought back the angry, hot tears that blurred, glistened and shone in his eyes.
The only thing that came into his sight was the skin-splitting lashes, and cuts on her beautiful cream-colored skin. Mo Yuan used a spell to put her to sleep, carefully carried and laid her down on the bed most gingerly. A ray of warm glowing immortal healing energy flowed from the tip of his index finger, as he began to treat her without delay, a second thought or hesitation. At that very moment, all Mo Yuan’s many worries and anxieties about being found with Bai Qian during her heavenly trial failed to matter. Not even in the slightest, and he didn’t care if anyone saw or recognized his magic in Nine Heavens.
Many hours later, when Mo Yuan’s sleeping spell finally wore off, Lifen abruptly awoke. She speedily sat up and looked around astonished to see him sitting beside her in bed. He assumed she would ask about her miraculously, healed wounds or why she’d suddenly fallen asleep without warning, half-dressed but the only thing she said was, “Mo Gēge, it’s raining!”
Deliberately she closed her eyes, fully puckered, and pursed out her full lips in eager anticipation after questioning, “Mo Yuan Oppa, would you like to kiss me now?”
A subtle tilt of his head ‘yes’ was Mo Yuan’s soundless but sincere reply. Before he gently held her beautiful face with both hands and tenderly pressed his lips to her forehead. He barely fought the urge to chuckle, when he heard her grumble and complain about the location of his first kiss.
To be continued…..