Everyone present turned and directed their attention towards Mo Yuan, right after Bai Zhi’s impromptu and unexplained departure. It was understandable, feasible for them to automatically assume and believe he knew more than the others. When in reality, it was he who was most concerned.
It was Mo Yuan who was most troubled by his old friend’s speedy silent exit, but he had a clue why Bai Zhi suddenly went and disappeared. He suspected and if his assumption was correct, he had successfully located his daughter, Bai Qian, in the mortal realm. And Mo Yuan knew Bai Zhi well enough to understand; he’d gone to end his daughter’s heavenly trial early, therefore, bringing her home. Much sooner than anticipated.
If this scenario were the case, he had mixed feelings about her early return since Mo Yuan had yet to disclose or explain any of his acts, deeds or conduct to Bai Zhi. He still hadn’t revealed how, where and why he’d become so intimately involved with Bai Qian during her trial. More importantly, Mo Yuan never described how and why he’d become her Shifu then her husband.
Mo Yuan had wed Bai Zhi’s only daughter, Bai Qian, without his prior permission or knowledge. Therefore it was more than appropriate, fitting and expected for him to feel profoundly offended, angry and surely insulted by Mo Yuan’s lack of following proper protocol of marriage rites.
But even with all the complicated issues looming around him, his most urgent need was to return to Lifen immediately. Fifteen long days had passed in the mortal realm during his hour on Kunlun Mountain, which was considerably much longer than the three days he’d promised before leaving her alone.
During his entire time on Kunlun Mountain, he’d been counting the torturous minutes. Mo Yuan’s undivided thoughts were of her and his determined desire to go back to her. Now considering Bai Zhi was gone. Nothing was resolvable without him, Mo Yuan quickly turned to leave when a faint voice called to him.
It was Donghua Dijun, who was usually indifferent to everything and everyone but casually asked, “Mo Yuan? Where are you going?”
Donghua Dijun asked in his usual nonchalant tone, but there was a little underlying hint of hidden interest in his calm voice, and Mo Yuan knew his friend well enough to recognize it instantly.
His best poker face, Mo Yuan donned and just replied mono-toned, “I’m returning to seclusion since I’m not needed here anymore.”
Zhe Yan’s ears perked up and now joined Donghua Dijun before loudly declaring, “We can’t leave things like this! What will we do the next time when Bai Zhi challenges Si Ming? And we all fully aware there will be a next time! This problematic issue is far from being resolved. Mo Yuan, say something profound and insightful as you usually do. After all, solving problems are customarily your specialty and forte.”
“How can we determine anything for Bai Qian if her father isn’t present? Who are we to speak for Bai Zhi and her or make any decisions without them? It’s not our place and there isn’t any need to continue today. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m resuming to my retreat and won’t be seeing anyone out.”
Mo Yuan replied and casually turned to leave when Donghua Dijun offhandedly asked, “Mo Yuan, were you by the West Sea but on the mortal side earlier today?”
It was true. There was a brief moment when Mo Yuan forgets to conceal his magical activity with Lifen. It was just for a second or two at the most when they cloud jumped and somehow out of everyone, it was Donghua who noticed his mistake.
“How peculiar, High God Mo Yuan. Mortal Bai Qian was also in that area for a short time today, which is unusual because it’s quite far from her home.” Si Ming declared puzzled by sheer coincidence of their proximity and possibly being in the same area, but then his mystified smile slowly turned into a suspicious smirk.
Mo Yuan said nothing to defend himself, because he knew Zhe Yan would dispute the silly idea of Mo Yuan being amidst mortals.
Zhe Yan was most amused as Mo Yuan expected and swiftly countered, “What would Mo Yuan be doing in the mortal realm?! You’re confused, Donghua! He hasn’t gone into the mortal world for at least two hundred thousand years. I know, I’ve begged him a million times but he always says no because of the crowds!”
“It’s true. You’ve never before shown any interest in mortals, I also know this fact. However, I recognized what I saw and I’m convinced without a doubt earlier it was your magic. Granted, it was only for a few seconds at the most but it was your spell, Mo Yuan.” Donghua Dijun stated with unwavering resolve.
Suddenly Zhe Yan chimed more, elbowed Donghua and teased, “Mo Yuan, have you been hanging around the mortals without me? Sex with a mortal still counts as sex! Does the chaste High God Mo Yuan have a mortal wife in the mortal realm? Do you have any half mortal children we don’t know about?”
Mo Yuan began to reply in his calm voice, “Don’t be ridiculous. Why in the world would I be…”
When Ye Hua suddenly threw himself into the middle of their conversation, and spoke shyly in his softest whisper-like voice, “Donghua Dijun, that was me you saw in the West Sea… I was curious what mortal women looked like undressed, so I used an invisibility spell to peep at them secretly.”
“Mine and my brother, Mo Yuan’s, magic is near identical and very often difficult to distinguish. Forgive my youthful curiosity. It got the better of me so please excuse me for being rude, juvenile and inappropriate.” Ye Hua promptly rounded his arms, and falsely bowed an apology for his self-proclaimed lustful discrepancy.
Zhe Yan lost it and declared aloud, “HA! HA! HA! It’s definitely in their blood and genetic. Both Heavenly Father’s sons are perverts! Ye Hua, don’t feel too bad or embarrassed by your curiosity. It is more than natural and expected at your age. Your brother did much worst! Trust me, you’re a virginal saint and pale in comparison. Had that been Mo Yuan stealing a peek at beautiful bare and unclothed women frolicking in the water, I know for a fact he would have done much more than watch!”
Mo Yuan lightly cleared his throat and held his hands behind his back, while giving Zhe Yan the expression to stop talking. But as usual, he wasn’t going allow anyone to prevent him from speaking his mind.
Zhe Yan shouted boisterously and went on most clamorous, “At 50,000 years of age, Mo Yuan was much more brazen, fearless and scandalous than you. Therefore, Ye Hua, you can stalk, seduce, play Peeking Tom to your heart’s content and you’ll still be an angel compared to Mo Yuan!”
“Donghua, you’ve become overly suspicious at your old age and need to relax! That makes perfect sense! The magic you saw was Ye Hua, who was merely doing what we used to do when we were his age. Remember?” Zhe Yan roughly elbowed Donghua DiJun who suddenly appeared slightly annoyed.
He casually crossed his arms over his chest, shifted his weight to this right leg so he leaned ever so slightly, before staring at Mo Yuan with new interest and Zhe Yan asked curiously, “Mo Yuan, are you feeling alright? Now that I take a good look at you…you seem to have lost some weight. I see signs of fatigue. I understand why you’ve been in seclusion. Any new activities? Or new physical maneuvers or training? Have you been doing any exercises more demanding or strenuous than usual?”
Aloud Ye Hua snorted and burst out laughing, before composing himself since everyone was now staring at him. He knew why his brother appeared so tired after all it was still his honeymoon. He cleared his throat and dropped his gaze, but Mo Yuan saw Ye Hua’s shoulders ever so slightly still shaking due to his silent laughter.
“Well, I guess even Tuzi gets tired. Donghua, would you like to come to my peach orchard and drink like the old days? Maybe we should go peeping on some mortals? Or better yet, how about a young fox with a unique marking on her head?” Zhe Yan asked playfully.
Donghua Dijun didn’t even bother to look at or answer but just vanished with Si Ming on his heel, as Zhe Yan smirked, shrugged his shoulder and left next. Mo Yuan finally returned to Lifen in a rush but the moment he arrived at their home, instantly he knew something wasn’t right due to the lack of noise coming from inside the cottage, and he didn’t sense her anywhere.
Inside their home, it was utterly dark, cold and just slightly dusty as if the residence was unused during his absence. On the table, there was a massive serving of rock hard, moldy moon cakes but nothing else. Not a single note or message that stated where she’d gone or when she’d be back.
His heart immediately filled with anxiety, as he marched directly towards the many homes on the other side of the peach farm. Mo Yuan didn’t know which belonged to Lifen’s father but he went to every door, and the answer was the same. Everyone refused to talk to him and denying knowing her at all. They shut their doors in his face and said no more.
It was strange behavior considering she’d spent her entire life living amongst them, and it was ultimately at the far most remote house he finally heard what happened. A young maiden perhaps Lifen’s age opened the door and stared at him guardedly, while glancing around nervously to make sure nobody was watching their exchange.
Mo Yuan asked, “I’m looking for Lifen? Do you know where she’s gone?”
The young woman looked around tensely and pulled Mo Yuan into the small courtyard, before asking in a whisper, “Are you Lifen’s husband, Mo Yuan?”
“Yes! I am! Where has she gone?” Mo Yuan swiftly responded.
The woman frowned and somberly spoke in a murmur, “There was a terrible accident and Lifen’s father died. She was in absolute shock and incoherent, rambling when she came running to my house. She was covered in blood hysterically screaming that she’d killed him.”
“However, her clothes were all torn and ripped. I heard my mother whispering to my father later that night; her father had been trying to sexually violate her for years when he drank which was often. Poor Lifen. She resisted and fought her father so he beat her regularly.” The girl’s eyes filled with tears.
Mo Yuan’s cheeks grew red and his eyes burned with rage, but the girl’s tale only became more disturbing when she explained, “Lifen’s father was terribly in debt and owed the gambling hall a large sum of money.”
“He used Lifen’s life as collateral so they appeared and took her away. My mother says she’s now in a brothel and working as a courtesan to pay off her father’s debts.”
“Which brothel!? Where?!” Mo Yuan demanded with clenched fists while growing more furious with every passing second. He was enraged at himself for leaving her and now worried to death for Lifen’s safety.
The young maiden shrugged her shoulders and sadly explained, “Nobody knows. The farmers have known her since she was a baby. She and I grew up like sisters. The night after they took her away all the farm families decided, and gathered their money and savings to buy back her freedom. But unfortunately, it was already too late because by the time they got there the slave traders were long gone and so was she. But Lifen pleaded with me to return something to you before they hauled her away.”
Anxiously Mo Yuan watched as the woman speedily ran into her home, and came out with an item he recognized. She placed in his palm, and it was Lifen’s cherished hairpin he’d given her on their wedding night but now covered in dried blood.
“Lifen said she would wait for you forever. That was all she could say before the men carried her off. That’s all I can tell you and you must go! My parents told me not to talk about her or her father’s death to anyone!” The girl speedily ran from Mo Yuan and left him standing with the bloodied hairpin in his shaking hand.
Tightly Mo Yuan gripped and squeezed the jeweled hair ornament she treasured immensely in his palm, causing it to snap into tiny pieces. Despite all his efforts, precautions and altering of her life, she still ended up in the horrid place written by Si Ming. Mo Yuan turned towards town to find his missing wife, Lifen, when he felt a firm hand grab him. It was Ye Hua in ordinary everyday clothing with a couple of his men behind him.
“Brother, it dangerous for you to be here. Someone is watching you and your every movements. Return to Kunlun Mountain and my men will check the surrounding bordellos. Star Lord Si Ming acts flippant outwardly but he’s quite in-tuned and he sensed something earlier from you.”
Ye Hua’s expression was earnest and pleading, “Revert to your old routine and I’ll send word as soon as we find her. Don’t worry, Mo Yuan. They expect immature and curious me to visit brothels but not you. If Si Ming senses you’ve tampered with Bai Qian’s fate, who knows what alternative horrors he’ll write for her. Trust me. We’ll find her, bring her to safety and send word to you.”
He couldn’t take a single step away but Ye Hua forcibly pushed him to go and warned in a hushed voice, “Mo Yuan, it’s for her safety. You shouldn’t be here! We’ll find her! I have my most trusted men all out searching. Go! I’ll send word immediately.”
Mo Yuan begrudgingly returned to Kunlun Mountain and counted the seconds while waiting for correspondence. It took Ye Hua’s men twelve immortal hours. Six mortal months to find Lifen who was at a brothel located 2,400 kilometers away from her hometown called The Forever Blooming Hibiscus.
To be continued…..