Shen Li woke up early in the morning the next day. In the dawning light, she spied that man lying in front of the pond, pulling off bits of steamed bread to feed the fishes. He was so engrossed with the pondful of fish that he didn’t mind that his sleeves were trailing in the water. The glow illuminating the profile of his face made him seem somewhat celestial.
Celestial? A human like him?
Her memories of being tormented by him reared their head. Shen Li blinked hard, banishing the illusion and returning to vigilance.
Perhaps her gaze had been too intent, because Xing Yun abruptly turned his head to glance at her. “I’m Xing Yun,” he said lazily, as if he was making a point. Shen Li balked as Xing Yun dusted off his robes and stood up. He kneaded a numb leg while muttering, “Ah, time to drink medicine.” Then he hobbled into the house so clumsily that it was comical.
Shen Li was certain that something was wrong with her eyes before. How could this man have seemed celestial, when he was clearly just…completely ordinary.
Shen Li didn’t bother thinking further about a mere mortal. She racked her head for ways to get to her feet. She’d thought she wouldn’t be able to rise, judging from her condition yesterday. Yet to her pleasant surprise and despite yesterday’s torment, she’d recovered much faster than ever before!
Shen Li didn’t waste time brooding and immediately sent a wisp of energy to probe her body. She sighed in disappointment. As expected, it was impossible to recover her magical energy so quickly… But this was just as well. Pursuers from the Demon Realm wouldn’t be able to track her with her energy signature. But with the Demon Emperor’s domineering manner, her discovery was inevitable. If her magical energy wasn’t recovered by then…
“Cluckity cluck, come.”
Shen Li suddenly heard a voice call behind her. She whirled around to see a man in blue robes over sitting on some bluestone steps. He held out some white steamed bread. “Come eat.”
Shen Li harrumphed coldly inside. She turned away, but then she suddenly remembered the reason that she’d suffered such a violation yesterday was because of “not eating”. She stiffened, agonizing over it for quite a while, then finally gritted her teeth and stuck out her neck, stalking over to him grudgingly.
Smelling a faint medicinal aroma from his body, Shen Li paused to study Xing Yun. There was a light black stain on his lips and shadows under his eyes. He looked unhealthy.
That’s great! Shen Li thought to herself. This human had seen her at her worst. But his life was short, and he would forget everything after entering reincarnation. She could still be the same splendid, stainless Azure Sky King. She felt much better now. She extended her neck and pecked up a beakful of steamed bread. The chewy, tender texture was an eye-opening experience. This…this steamed bun is impossibly delicious!
Shen Li didn’t wait for him to respond and opened her beak wide, snatching the steamed bun and putting on the clean bluestone step to devour.
Demon kind weren’t like those immortals from Heaven, who didn’t need to eat and drink to live. They needed food, just like humans. But Shen Li loved rich foods. She’d never touched such abstemious fare, so getting her to eat steamed bread was truly a feat.
Shen Li pecked the crumbs clean as well, before looking up at Xing Yun. He sat beside her, resting a chin on one hand and gazing at her with gentle eyes and not quite a smile. These were actually normal eyes when looking at pets, but Shen Li was caught off guard by this ordinary expression. Her heart skipped a beat. She turned away uncomfortably.
The officials of the Demon race feared and respected her as a general. And other men who came within three steps of her started trembling. No one had ever dared to gaze at her so. But her heart was only shaken for a moment. Shen Li was a King who undergone many hardships after all. She briskly weeded out the bud sprouting in her heart, obliterating it mercilessly. Then she brazenly slapped Xing Yun’s knee with a hairless wing, motioning with her beak to where she’d eaten her steamed bun.
“Eh? You want more?” Xing Yun laughed. “There’s no more. I only made so many today.”
Saying so, he rose to re-enter the house. Shen Li paused, then hastily followed him inside. How conceited of you to think you could overcome me with a single steamed bun! At the very least, you need two!
She chased after Xing Yun’s footsteps. But she was too weak right now, and just scaling the doorsill left her panting incessantly for breath. She could only watch agitatedly as Xing Yun slung a bag onto his back and walked through the front yard. He pushed open the gate. “Bawk bawk. Look after the house while I go sell my body,” he called back faintly.
Despicable! How dare he act like she was his watchdog! No…wait. She gaped as the door closed behind his figure. He just said to sell…what?
Shen Li sprawled on the floor, giving the house a once over. This man might not well-to-do, but he wasn’t impoverished either. A hale and hearty fellow with perfectly good hands and feet like him should not want of work. But instead, he…ah, no, what if he prefers such work, Shen Li realized suddenly. But she couldn’t help but wrinkle her brows. Still, is it really okay to do such business in broad daylight… Whatever, as long as he likes it. She was only staying here for a couple days to recuperate, she could care less about him.
Shen Li propped her head on the doorsill to the backyard. The angle of the sunlight shining in the yard gradually shifted until it was overhead. The sound of the grapevines’ newly sprouted leaves rustling in the breeze traveled to her ear. Shen Li hadn’t experienced such tranquility in a long time, and surprisingly, immersed herself in it. The numerous things that plagued her seemed to fade away. Just as she was about to doze off, she heard a small noise.
Her instincts were honed in battle; Shen Li opened her eyes immediately. She glanced towards the origin of the sound with her refreshed eyes and saw a plain-looking girl stick her head over the courtyard wall. She looked left and right, then clumsily climbed up the wall. But she couldn’t get down after climbing to the top, and at last simply dropped down like a rock.
Falling down takes durability. Shen Li thought to herself, What a stupid thief. You’ll kill yourself before managing to steal anything.
The young woman rubbed her butt, then stood and walked straight into the house. Shen Li hid herself stealthily. Meanwhile, the plain girl found a broom and a rag, and began silently but efficiently cleaning the house. After tidying most of it, she began wiping the table. As she wiped the table, tears began to fall, until she just laid on the table, weeping loudly.
Shen Li strained until she could vaguely hear the girl sobbing “Never seen him again” and so on. This girl must be in love with Xing Yun. Shen Li mused. When the girl finished sobbing, she took the rag and wiped off the tears that had fallen on the table, then turned to leave.
Shen Li was so engrossed in eavesdropping that she couldn’t hide in time. The two met face-to-face and looked at each other for quite some time. Shen Li had thought that there wouldn’t be any needless misunderstandings since she was stuck in her true form, but who’d have thought that the girl would come straight at her, muttering, “Really, Brother Xing Yun. Why is a plucked chicken still loose? You’re supposed to cook it right away.” She wiped away her tears. “I’ll make you a farewell dinner then.”
Make your ass! Who needs your meddling! Shen Li was horrified. She had no magical energy left. She was well-done for if she was stewed right now! She whirled around and ran out the house. The girl didn’t back down either and scrambled after her. “Aiya! It’ll be troublesome if you get dirty running!”
Right now, Shen Li wanted nothing more than to roll manure. She’d rather die of filth!
Luckily, the girl was clumsy, so even though Shen Li was weakened, she still managed to escape the Hands of Destruction multiple times with some combat techniques. But in the end, chicken feet can’t beat human feet. The girl chasing behind her became annoyed and came at her for real. Shen Li flapped her featherless wings, trying to fly, but it didn’t accomplish anything besides making running even harder! She was even desperate enough to dive through a dog hole, but the construction of Xing Yun’s courtyard was too goddamn good. Never mind a hole, there wasn’t so much as a seam in the wall!
She’d never felt so much shame, misery, and despair. She swore! With her blood! If today, she were made into chicken soup, she would return as an evil spirit, slaughter through the nineteen layers of Heaven, and spray the Celestial Emperor with blood! If it weren’t for that arranged marriage, she would never have fallen to this level!
She hadn’t even finished thinking when she felt pain from her wings. The plain girl triumphantly lifted Shen Li up. She’d pinned both wings with her hands, leaving Shen Li only able to flail her legs uselessly.
“Hmph! You crazy chicken, I’ll show you.” The girl carried Shen Li towards the kitchen.
Shen Li struggled bone-breakingly. She had a sudden revelation as she was mashed against the cutting board. This must be how her enemies in battle felt when she took out her silver spear. If…she’d known that it was this kind of feeling…
“Hey. What are you doing?”
A man’s flat voice sounded.
Shen Li turned her head desperately. In the moment between life and death, a man in blue and white robes had appeared. He leaned in the doorway, the light from his back encasing him in a saintly halo. The cleaver entered the chopping board before Shen Li’s eyes, cutting off her line of sight.
The plain girl’s earlier ferocity vanished. She twiddled with her hands behind her back, blushing shyly. “Brother Xing Yun…I, oh, I just wanted to see you. This chicken’s already plucked. If you don’t eat it now, it’ll die, and then it won’t be good to eat anymore.”
Shen Li didn’t even have the strength to twitch. She laid on the chopping board as if she was dead.
“This chicken isn’t for eating.” Shen Li was held in a warm embrace. The faint fragrance of medicine filled her nose. She realized now how wonderful this scent was.
“Ah…uuh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know. I just wanted to leave something for you…” The plain girl wrung her hands behind her back. Her eyes reddened. “I’ll be following my father south tomorrow. I-I might never return. And never see Brother Xing Yun again…”
“Oh. But I haven’t seen you before.” Xing Yun’s voice was level. Tears brimmed in the girl’s eyes and her cheeks reddened as well. “No! I’ve seen you every day! I’m always looking at you every day, in secret…” Her voice trembled. Even Shen Li felt pity. She was only a silly little girl.
“Aiya, such a shame then. Because I’ve never, ever seen you before.”
Shen Li opened her beak aghastly. She was dumbstruck. This is not what man should say in this situation, and especially not emphasize. What do you have against her?
The girl became white as a sheet. Xing Yun smiled like always, “Are you here for a farewell gift? Uh, I don’t have much to give, so if you don’t mind…”
“No need.” The girl managed. “There’s no need.” She held her heart agonizingly. She stumbled out.
Xing Yun waved his hand. “Take care.” He turned around indifferently. He tossed Shen Li to the side and rolled up his sleeves, banging the pots and pans. “Time to cook,” he said.
Shen Li laid on the ground, watching as the girl walked to the doorway and looked back brokenheartedly. At last, she wiped her nose and left with her head hanging. Shen Li sighed. This girl might be silly and clingy, but she is also sincere. What a shame the man she loves is insensitive and in the business of prostitution.
The clattering of pots and pans stopped. “Uh? Business of what?”
Of course, from selling your body, like what you just came back from.
Shen Li replied mentally. Wait, there’s something wrong here. She twisted her head to look at Xing Yun. He raised an eyebrow at her. Shen Li was gobsmacked. W-was he talking to her?
“Aiya,” Xing Yun paused and shook his head hastily, smiling, “I was careless and got seen through immediately.” He crouched down and looked at Shen Li in the eye. “So what was that about selling my body?”
Shen Li wasn’t in the mood to retort. She was stunned. He really was talking to her! Shen Li shook in shock. Had this guy been able to hear her thoughts from the very start? No, had he known all along that she wasn’t a chicken? Then, he must have been playing her…
“That’s right,” Xing Yun smiled with his eyes, “I was playing with you.”
Shen Li was petrified by his calm confession.
“Also, I am Xing Yun. Call me by my name properly. And what’s wrong with selling my body?”
Wh-what was wrong with selling his body? What’s wrong is playing with her! Where is this guy’s chastity and integrity! This abominable scoundrel!
“I was only joking about selling myself. Is that such a terrible crime?” Xing Yun said soothingly. “Okay, okay, next time I won’t let you catch me at it.” He lightly flicked Shen Li’s head and then stood up and continued cooking.
Shen Li crawled out of the kitchen. This man was too dangerous. She needed to find somewhere else to recuperate. If things continued like this, she’d dieee!
But Shen Li practically had no strength. She spent ages crawling, but only managed to reach the front yard before exhausting herself. The front gate was before her beak, but she simply couldn’t reach it. The last rays of the setting sun spilled over her featherless back. She heard Xing Yun calling, “Time to eat.” Then she was picked up and brought to the back garden and sat before a bowl of food.
Whatever… She’d first eat.
The moonlight was bright that night. Shen Li dreamed she had returned to her human form. She laid under the grapevine trellises and the cold moonlight melted onto her naked skin. She hugged herself. Then as if by magical, a blanket appeared and was draped on her body. The warmth and the faint medicinal aroma made her smile. She snuggled against the blanket and entered a deeper sleep.
“Mhm.” Xing Yun covered Shen Li in a blanket, then sat by her side. He reached out and ran a hand through the black scattered on the ground. He laughed, “Well, at least she has a healthy head of hair.” He looked further down, at her face, and judged, “Her features are rather striking. Not a bad-looking girl.”