Ancient Times (when gods still walked the earth among humans)
The Northern Territory; Earth Realm
There was a dangerous and ancient forest that sat in the shadows of the great mountains of the East. The villagers who lived next to it would only ventured into it with caution and only when it was absolutely necessary. Stories where often told about the forest. From the young to the old, the villagers heard the warnings about the foolishness of folks who dared to entered the forest alone to only learn the error of their choice with their life. The ones who did not escape the forest before darkness fell. Survivors told of horrors that had stalked them in its darkness. Dark tales of evil spirits and ghosts who preyed on the visitors. Mystical creatures who craved for human blood. Stories of the forest itself causing its victims to lose their way within the endless maze of trees.
On this winter's night with the first snowfall, the villagers were all safely in their homes around warm fires. They did not see the lone woman in white traveling through the forest. She was not from the nearby village. Nor was she from another village that sat near the forest's edge. In fact, she wasn't from any village on earth as she was not human. In fact, she was the immortal goddess named Quan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy and Compassion. The goddess who was known to grant wishes of those who in trouble and comfort those in grief. With the falling snow, she was enjoying the beauty of the forest under the full moonlight.
Her long, black hair was pulled back into a braided hair bun that was held under an elaborate, silver headdress with tasseled bells that tinkled in the crisp, cold air. Her embroidered, white silk hanfu floated gently around her with white fur trim on the neckline and at the wrists. A fur-lined cloak sat on her shoulders, held together with a silver clip in a shape of a lotus flower. She floated across the frozen ground. The snow beneath her remained undisturbed. In front of her, two floating spheres of blue flames bounced around in the air. Both were her close companions and were warrior spirits who humbly served as her personal acolytes. Their blue glow lit the way as the goddess entered the clearing in the center of the forest.
“Wait! Do you hear that?” The goddess paused and tilted her head, trying to hear the faint sound that broke the silence that surround them.
The two blue orbs paused. The largest orb which was named Long Nue began to flicker as she tried to hear the faint sound.
“No, Mistress. I don’t hear anything." Being a female orb, Nue was more restraint and dignified of the two warrior spirits. She quickly moved to the side to avoid being hit by the younger orb who was not looking at where he was going.
“Nope. Nothing.” The male orb, Shang Tsai, was so excited that he could not stand still for more than a brief moment. He was bouncing back and forth, left and right like he was standing on a pair of legs. Tsai wanted to continue on. Quan Yin did not come to the human world often enough to please him. Like a toddler, Tsai found the human world fascinating but was limited to only being able to visit with Quan Yin, which was not often enough for him. He did not want to waste time in one place, especially over a some unknown sound.
“Listen!” Quan Yin raised her finger to her lips to signaled to them to be silent. Her head moved to the right. “There. Hear it? It is really low.”
She turned toward the faint sound that seemed to come from the edge of the trees to the far right. She followed it across the clearing. In front of her, a large fallen tree trunk laid across the ground. The sound grew steader as she drew closer to the trunk.
“Wait, Mistress!” shouted Nue. "Be careful! You don’t know what it might be.”
“Yes, please wait, Mistress!”
Quan Yi did not know what she would find but she knew there wasn’t any danger for herself. There wasn’t anything from the earth realm that harm her. As a goddess, she was safe from attacks of creatures, weapons and poisons. As long as it was not another god or magic, she was safe.
And it was not like she had a choice. The noise sounded too much like weeping. As the Goddess of Compassion, she was incapable of ignoring the sound of any creature's sorrow. The sound of sorrow caused a sharp pain to pierce her heart. The pain would grow until she stop the sorrow. Since the pain had already captured her heart, she was force to find the source. If not, her heart would literally be split in two from the pain and she could cease to exist.
Quan Yi reached the fallen tree trunk, quickly crouching down to look inside small crevice located at the bottom. She could not see deep enough, it was too dark. Whatever it was, she now knew the faint sound was broken whimpering.
“Nue, come here. I can’t see it.”
Nue came close to the trunk. Her blue glow revealed a hidden baby fox wrapped tightly within itself, weeping in its sleep. Ice and frost covered its fur and there was no sign of its family anywhere.
“Oh dear, it is a baby fox.” Quan Yin murmured as she reached in to pull the little one out from underneath the trunk. As her uncovered fingers touched the fox's body, the ice that covered the fur cut her skin with its chill.
“It is frozen." Quan Yin stated as she drew the white, baby fox out of the hole.
“It is not moving. I think it is about to die.” Nue observed the fox not reacting to being picked up. It was too still.
“How small. Too bad it will not survive.” Tsai did not think such a small creature could survive the bitter cold. Without any magic to keep it warm, this little fox was not going to survive. The temperature was too harsh for such a fragile creature.
Ignoring both of her companions, Quan Yin gazed at the fox in her hands. It was so small. It could fit within her one hand alone. Athough it had not move since she removed it from the trunk, it was still whimpered in its sleep. Tears had froze its eyes shut. She could feel the slight heat that still radiated from its body despite all the ice that covered it. There was still some hope, but not much. It did not have much time to live. If she did not want the angel of death taking this fox's life, she would have to act fast. She refuse to let fate have this little one. It had to live.
Quickly, she drew the fox close to her chest, wrapping her fur coat around the fox to cover it in the fold. She sat down on the fallen trunk, rubbing the melting ice from the fur.
“Nue, start a fire. One large enough to keep the cold away.”
In front of the fallen trunk, Nue twirled through the air in a magic fire dance. As she spun in the air, large tree branches floated through the air to stack themselves into a high pile on the ground. At the same time, various stones rolled along the ground to encircled the stacked wood.
“Oh, let me light it. Let me, please!” Tsai cried as he bounced to the newly created wood pile.
“Fine. You can light it.”
Nue floated back to the tree trunk. Her orb grew long, taking a human shape. With a bit of shimmering, she transformed into a teenage girl with a warrior outfit of beige silk and leather. She sat down next to Quan Yi, waiting to see if Tsai was finally going to be successful with his conjuring. She expected to see him screw this up like he usually did when given a task. While she practice daily with her magic as she did her fighting skills, the same could not be said of Tsai.
“Watch this, Mistress! I have been practicing. Here’s your fire.” Tsai's orb bounced to the top of the wood pile and then began to move in fast, tight spin.
Smoke rose around Tsai's blue orb, but no flames appeared. Nue rolled her eyes at his poor performance. Even more determine to get the fire started, Tsai began spinning faster. But still no flames. Instead, the faster he spun, more smoke there was. The small clearing filled with the dense gray smoke. It was hard to see anything. Tsai continued to spin. Still no flame, just thick gray smoke. Tsai was getting dizzy and struggled to stay on the wood pile. Nue just sat there shaking her head in disgust while Quan Yin murmured softly to the fox in her arms. Suddenly, Tsai flew off the top of the wood to land on the frozen ground, a few feet away. The fire was still unlit.
“Nue, be nice and light the fire.” Guan Yi murmured, never taking her eyes off the little fox.
Nue nodded her head, then snapped her fingers towards the wood pile.
"Boom!" Flames erupted and began offering them heat. Then waving her hand, Nue cleared the excess smoke away. The simple fire spell was easy do that even a child could master it. It was one of the first spells she learned to perform as infant, especially since her father was the Dragon King. The Dragon spirits' control of fire and water were the best.
Once she was done with her task, Nue looked at Tsai who was still laying on the ground where he had fallen. Her look was of distain and disgust. His lack of power was embarrassing for a warrior. He still had a long way to go before he could be called a full warrior, much less a good servant to the Mistress. He was never going to get any better with magic if he did not grow up and get serious. Instead of studying, he was often off playing. Nue had some serious doubts about whether he would ever good enough for his assigned role. Maybe one day he will get it together, but Nue wasn't sure she would live long enough to see it happen. Hopefully this humiliation taught him a lesson. He still had so much to learn.
Tsai was feeling stupid. He could not even do the basic conjuring of fire. His poor Mistress probably regretted having him as a servant. He was not even qualified to call himself a grown warrior. Feeling sorry for himself, Tsai quickly transformed himself into a teenage boy with a black warrior outfit and sat on the ground next to the tree trunk. He did not deserved to sit with his Mistress. He had failed and that was not acceptable.
“Tsai, can you make me some hot tea?” Quan Yin knew Tsai was beating himself up over his lack of magic.
Tsai looked at the fire and chanted a small spell while twirling his fingers towards it. A tea pot filled with tea appeared next to the fire. Seeing the tea pot, Tsai grinned in delight. He could at least provide hot tea for his Mistress. He was not a complete failure. He flashed a brilliant smile of delight towards Nue who ignored it.
“Well done, Tsai.” Quan Yin praised while Nue rolled her eyes at the simple magic used to provide the tea. Any basic spirit knew how to conjure tea. It was not a big task. It was not something to be bragging about. No true warrior took pride in the fact that they could create hot tea out of thin air. Any young spirit could successfully conjure hot tea. Oh well, at least Mistress had her to rely on when Tsai proved himself over and over again so helpless.
Quan Yin watched as the fox in her arms began to warm up. Fate had not won, the fox would not die tonight. Unfortunately, with the cold leaving the tiny body, the louder the whimpering became, causing the pain in her heart to hurt more.
Want to comfort it, she began petting the small head while softly telling it how everything was going to be alright. "Shhh, shhh. It is okay. Nothing will hurt you. You're okay. Shhhhh. No need to cry any more."
Time past slowly. The tea pot began to steam and yet no one moved to have a cup of tea. The baby fox began to feel the warmth of the cloak along with the heat coming from the person holding him. A gentle voice was telling him everything was going to be alright; to not cry anymore. It was a soothing voice despite not being the voice of his momma. He knew he would never hear her voice any more. She had hidden him under the fallen tree trunk when the hunters came. Once he was secure, she led the hunters away from him. He waited a long time there for her return. He did not make a sound, just like his momma told him to do. But she never returned for him.
When it became dark, he realized she must of be caught by the hunters. He realized he was alone in the world. No more momma. No more family. It was so cold. He was so hungry. He tried to be brave little fox, but the longer he laid in that hole, the bigger the fear of what would happen next grew. It was too hard to not cry. Once he started, he could not stop. He just cried himself to sleep. Allowing the cold to take him away in to a deep sleep.
With the warming of his body, he stopped his whimpering. Longing to stay wrapped in warmth, he fought long to not wake up. But he could no longer stay asleep. The world had to be faced. He opened his eyes and looked at his rescuer. She was a beautiful woman. Her skin was white as snow, her lips were red like berries and her hair was black as raven wings. Her eyes reminded him of the night sky. Looking deep into them, he could literally see stars shining within them. Her soft fingers brushed his fur on his back.
“Hello, little one.”
He opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out. It seemed he had cried his voice away. There was nothing left. Not one single word. Nothing. He closed his mouth and looked at her.
“Oh dear. You’ve lost your voice. You poor thing.” Quan Yin cooed at him. She gave him a gentle hug that felt nice and comforting. A hug that he needed. “Tsai! Bring me a cup of tea. Quickly. He is finally awake.”
The fox turned his head to see Tsai pour tea into a cup and bring it to the woman holding him. She took the cup from Tsai and held it to his mouth. The steam from the tea wrapped around his nose and he took a sip. It was delicious. It tasted of honey, spring and love.
“Drink it all. There is more where that comes from.” She continued to hold the cup to him. “I am the Goddess Quan Yin. I am also known as the Goddess of Mercy and of Compassion. These two are my dear servants and companions. The one sit next to us is Long Nue, the daughter of the Dragon King. And Shang Tsai is the one by the fire. He is the son of the King of Fortune."
The little fox nodded his head in greeting to the two servants. The warm tea felt great in his tummy. Its heat was spreading through his body, chasing away the last of the cold.
“Hmmm, it looks like he might be an orphan. His mother has not return and I do not see any other foxes nearby.” Nue whispered to Quan Yin who nodded in agreement. “What should we do with him? We can't leave him. He is too small to defend himself out here. Shall I go and see if I can find another female fox that can take him?”
Quan Yin looked down at the small creature drinking the tea. He was so small and precious. She had already grown attached to him. In fact, he reminded her so much of the 9-tail fox spirits that guarded the peach tree of immortality. She did not want to give him up. Often seen as a mother Goddess, Quan Yin longed to have a child of her own to love and hold. Since she had not been given the opportunity by fate, she secretly hid her longing away. Yet, here was fate giving her the opportunity to have her desire. Why couldn’t she be his mother? He was an orphan fox who be fated to die if she left him here. Could any other fox mother love him more than she could? She would make a better mother than any fox. Having decided her choice, she shook her head at Nue.
“No need. I have decided I will be his mother.”
“…” Both Tsai and Nue looked at Quan Yin in disbelief. Who had heard of the Goddess of Mercy being a mother fox? It did not make sense. As a mortal creature, it had to stay on the earth realm. Were they going to live here in the forest from now on? No, it did not make sense what she was saying.
“Little one, I am naming you Xiao Bo and you shall call me Mother Yin.” Quan Yin stated to the fox in her arms. “Nue, I need a dried peach seed from the tree of immortality. Go get me one.”
Nue nodded her head in acceptance. She chanted the proper spell and with a flick of her hand, a dried peach seed appeared in her palm. She handed it to Quan Yin who offered it to the fox.
"Would you like me to be your new mother? You would be my son. If you so, you need to eat this to go with me. It is from the fruit of immortality and will change you into mystical creature, a 9-tail fox spirit. No longer mortal but a spirit like my servants are. I promise you will never be an orphan again.”
The fox looked up at Quan Yin and thought for a moment. He pondered her offer; to be a part of a family again. How could he say no, especially if it meant this goddess was going to be his mother? besides becoming a mystical creature might be a good thing. He turned to the seed and ate it in one gulp. Quan Yin smiled.
As the seed traveled down to the fox’s stomach, its magic began to transform the fox. His white fur on his body disappeared with pink skin appeared to replace it. His paws turned into pudgy fingers and wiggling toes. His snout shrunk to a button nose with a cupid bow lips. The top of his head changed from short fur into long white hair that fell down into his face, covering his wide, crystal blue cat eyes. His fox tail split into 9 tails, all swinging about in delight. His fox ears grew to fit his new size but stayed as fox ears. By the time the seed became planted at the bottom of his stomach, the little fox was no more. Instead he looked like a small human toddler who had fox ears with 9 tails. He was now a mystic creature; an infant 9-tail fox.
He looked at his savior, the one who was his new mother.
“Mother Yin." He said with his returned voice and laid his head on her shoulder. Closing his eyes, he fell fast to sleep again. The nightmares from earlier in the day were now long gone.
“Xiao Bo, my son.”Warmth spread through Quan Yin’s heart. She was finally a mother. This precious one was now hers. No one could say anything against it. Not the Jade King or the Heavens. This was her child and she was going to do what was best for him. Unfortunately, She needed to decide where to take him. She could not take him to her palace in the City of Gods. Only immortals and Gods were allowed there. Xiao Bo was not immortal nor a god. As a 9-tail fox, he was only a spirit and could not enter the City of Gods. She needed a place to raise him until he gained immortality.
Wait! She knew exactly where he could live. As the son of the Goddess of Mercy, it would be the perfect place for him to live. Quan Yin smiled with delight. She was sure the Jade King was going to blow up over this, but she decided when she went against fate to be a mother that nothing on Heaven or Earth or even, Underworld would stop her. Let him and everyone else rage all they want. She was finally a real mother.
Turning to Nue and Tsai while holding the sleeping Xiao Bo, Quan Yin motioned them to come closer. They were the only one she could trust with her child. They would both lay their lives for him if she asked them to.
“Nue and Tsai, I am charging you with Xiao Bo. He is now your master and responsibility. Do you understand?”
They both nodded. They knew there was no choice. Whatever the goddess said, you did. No questions asked.
“Nue, clean everything up. We must be on our way. I need to go to Diyu and speak with King Yan Luo.” Quan Yin ignored the stares of her two servants as she stood up and started to walk out of the clearing with Xiao Bo in her arms.
Nue and Tsai looked at each other in dismay. What did they have need with him? King Yan Luo was the ultimate ruler of the underworld of Diyu, the place of judgement where all the mortal dead souls had to past through before going on with their afterlife. He was not known for being a nice guy. Indeed, he was bit of a tyrant and a brute. No one went to see King Yan Luo willingly. He had too many ways to torture anyone, including spirits, when he was made angry. Only his wife, Meng Po could get away with angering King Yan Lou and not fear punishment beyond belief. Since there were 18 levels underground chambers of horror that he could send you to be tortured for eternity under the City of Souls, it was not wise to piss him off. None of those were pleasant places to vacation in. Go to Diyu to see him without an invitation was asking for trouble.
Nue quickly made everything they conjured up that was still in the clearing disappeared. She changed herself back into the floating orb. Tsai stood in dismay as he debated whether it would be wiser to stay in human form to see King Yan Lou or go as an orb. Would he be less likely be cursed to a chamber if he was in human form? Or would a spirit orb be more welcomed? Nue's orb hit his head hard at his lack of movement. Quan Yin and Xiao Bo had already disappeared into the forest. They needed to catch up. Tsai decided Nue probably knew best and transformed himself back into an orb. Quickly, they both floated after the determined goddess in her quest to find a new home for her child.
100 years later
City of Innocent Deaths, The Palace of Shadows; Underworld Realm
Servant Tsai bowed to the imposing figure of Prince Xiao Bo who sat behind the large writing desk in middle of the room. The orphan fox that Goddess Quan Yin had transformed that one winter night into a 9-tail fox child had grown into a handsome, adult 9-tail fox that now ruled the crowded City of Innocent Death from the Palace of Shadows. As such a ruler, Prince Bo was responsible with keeping King Yan Lou, the ruler of all of the Underworld realm aka Diyu, up to date about the souls who dwelled within the city's gates. It was a task he did not take lightly. Prince Bo knew he only had his position because King Yan Lou's close friendship with his adopted mother. After all she had done for him, there was no way he was going to bring shame to her name. Without acknowledging his faithful servant, Prince Bo wrote the daily status report to King Yan Luo. He wrote down the latest headcount within the city along with the number of souls that had found their resolution to move on, and finally, about of the disturbance at the local bath house that happened earlier in the day when a newly arrived guest covered in tar had caused a huge commotion with the giant mess that was left from their visit, much to the dismay of the owner. It was finally resolved after Prince Bo had intervene in the matter and forced the guest to clean the entire bathhouse from floor to ceiling. Such trivials matters like the bathhouse incident did not matter much King Yan Lou, but were proof that the trust given to Prince Bo by the King Yan Lou and his mother were not misplaced. Finished writing, Prince placed his brush down and picked up the ornate stone seal at the top of the desk. With the pressing of his official, stone-carved seal to sign the scroll, he completed his report. He quietly placed the seal back on the desk and looked up at servant Tsai who served him for so many years.
"Master, your mother is here.”
“What?” Prince Bo jumped up quickly from his desk in shock. His adopted mom rarely came to his palace unannounced and never without reason. For her to do so was shocking and even a bit dismaying. Just when he was about to become 100 and be old enough to seek out his soul mate, she shows up to throw wrench in his plans. No, he must have heard it wrong. There was no way the Goddess Quan Yin was here. He must be hearing wrong.
“Your mother is here. Goddess Quan Yin. She just arrived.” Tsai stated again as he watched emotions of dismay and disbelief run across Prince Bo's face. It had been over a year since she had last visited her son and the Palace of Shadows. No one had been expecting her to show up today, especially the Prince.
“Why did you not tell me sooner?” Prince Bo barked at poor Tsai. Just what he did not need right now. With his mother, came trouble and chaos which Prince Bo disliked with a passion. He preferred order and peace in his life which seemed to be in small supply. “Is her room prepared? Has the cook been told? Did you hide the wine? Oh hell, why now? Why couldn’t she wait until after the New Year.”
Tsai nodded his head in agreement to Prince Bo. Yes, her room was being prepared. Yes, the cook had been notified. Yes, all the wine in the palace was hidden. One drunk goddess was one drunk too many. Goddess Quan Yin became a scary monster when she was drunk, especially for males. As a kissing monster, no one was safe from her lips, be them a god or a spirit. Everyone in Diyu and in the City of Gods knew to keep wine from her. As for the rest of the questions asked, Tsai did not know the answer.
“Oh, never mind. I will go ask her myself.” Prince Bo said as he shook his head in dismay and left the room.
“Baby Bo, I am here!”
Prince Bo looked at the beautiful goddess who claimed to be his mother as she pranced onto the walkway with no regard to the chaos her presence brought to those around her. While Xiao Bo loved his mother, she was high maintenance and no one was good at predicting what she would do next. He had enough problems in his life. He really did not need her bring more trouble to his door at the moment.
This year's birthday was a huge milestone in Prince Bo's life. He had finally reached his 100 years which meant he was a full fledge 9-tail fox spirit. He was no longer a freak of spirit nature. His original animal form was fully transformed into the mystical creature he had become. As such, he was no longer banned from entering the realm where all the other 9-tail foxes lived. He was free to mingle with those who was similar to himself. No longer a creature that other mystic animals despised, he was now able to search freely the soulmate who would be his sole partner for life. He was looking forward to being with other similar to himself. To finally being accept. To finally belonging somewhere and no longer being alone in the Palace. Except for his two loyal servants Nue and Tsai, he had no true friends. The souls who were his servants did not like getting close to him as he held their afterlife fates in his hands. A 100 years of just having ghosts as companions was not a fun filled life. Even his adopted mother rarely dropped by to visit. It was usually just her one annual visit every year. Sick of the loneliness, Prince Bo had been counting the days until he could finally go visit the 9-tail foxes that live in the village that guards the Tree of Immortality.
Unfortunately, Mother Yin had arrived, putting his plans for his future life filled with friends and love on hold. No way he wanted her messing with his personal life, especially his love life. Knowing her mischievous ways, he could only guess what strange and crazy mate she would pick for him. He had enough crazies with the lost souls that surrounded around him. He did not need her bring another one for him to live with. Nope, hunting for his soulmate would have to wait until after his mother left.
“Hello, Mother.” Prince Bo replied as he watched two of shadow servants behind her bump straight into each other. A pile of clean bedding went flying into air in a cloud of color as the fresh cut flowers for the dining table raining down on the tangle of arms, legs and bodies. The servants fell to the ground in a messy, soggy pile. Neither of the servants moved, having knocked each other out when their heads bumped together in the tussle. Prince Bo figured the guest bedroom would not be available soon anytime soon and dinner would be served without flowers. If he was lucky, no more disasters would happen. Hopefully.
Goddess Quan Yi ignored the commotion that played out behind her. Her eyes were only for her baby pup.
“Darling, I have come to see how you are doing and to wish you a happy birthday. I brought a special gift for you.”
Quan Yin raised her arms up as she watched Prince Bo walk towards her. She missed seeing her precious son this past year. With all the suffering taking place on the earth realm with the new season of war amongst the humans, her workload as the Goddess of Mery had been non-stop. There had not been time to visit her son. The Jade King had made it very clear that he would only allow her to keep Xiao Bo as her child on the promise that she would not allow the small 9-tail pup to interfer with her responsibilities as a Goddess. Many times she had to sacrifice time with her son to finish the task the Jade King had given to her, despite knowing her son needed her. She hated not being there for him and knew how lonely the Palace of Shadows was for the young pup. Fortunately, Prince Bo had grown up to be a fine figure of a 9-tail fox. There did not seem to be any lasting damage done to him from being left alone so much with only the servants to play with. Still, she knew her absents made for a lonely childhood. No, she was fully aware of what he suffered in silence but she was going to make it up to him this year for all those years of neglect with this gift she brought. It was a gift made by the Jade King himself and a most valuable gift to have. She had guilted the Jade King to allow her this one gift. A gift that would change her son's life beyond anything he could ever dreamed of it being.
She was proud of her son. The young fox of 9-tails had become a handsome man that any female, be them mystical or human, would want him their own. He was polite, responsible and respectful. Add he was eye-catching with his pale skin and strong, warrior figure. Many would describe him as being gorgeous. He had grown to be tall over the years that the top of her head reaching the only the bottom of his chin. His 9-tails were fluffy and a point of pride with how lush each one was with its white fur and gray tips. His elegant blue robe covered a firm chest that was hard with muscles. His white, long hair that Guan Yin loved to brush when he was a child was pulled back into bun with a silver clip and fell long, down his broad back to his trim waist. A small grin of welcome lifted his well-shaped lips and his ice blue eyes underneath his thick brows were lit with love for her. Prince Bo quickly wrapped his arms around the Goddess he called mother in a welcoming hug.
“Mother Yin, you know you don’t need to give me any gifts. You visiting me is more than enough.”
“Hahaha.” She laughed with delight in his arms. “Little liar. You are wishing me anywhere but here. But too bad, I am not leaving. It is your 100th birthday. I am going to celebrate it with you. I have not always been able to be with you, much to my grief. But this year I am, so let me do this. Please.”
Prince Bo looked down at her with another smile. He could never resist the plead in her eyes when she ask him for anything. After all she had done for him, he couldn't say no to her. No matter what it was, he would eventually say yes. Everyone did. It just her way. And anyways, it was easier to just give in and say yes. She was going to get her way. There was no point in delaying it.
“You know you are always welcomed here. I am more that happy to celebrate with you. You are my favorite Goddess of all." With a quick kiss on the top of her head, Prince Bo released her and stepped back."You look wonderful. I see the Jade King has not worked you too much. With the recent outbreak of battles, my workload has increase as I am sure yours has."
"You can say that again. I have been busy non-stop lately, but I had already warned the Jade King that I would be celebrating your 100 birthday with you, no matter what happens on Earth. I am due time off too, even if I am a goddess. Work and no play makes any Goddess an Angry Bitch that no one wants. Even the Jade King agrees with that. So I am free to visit and no Bitchy Goddess unleashed upon the world."
Prince Bo chuckled at the thought of his mom becoming a bitchy Goddess unleashed on the Jade King. Now wouldn't that be a sight. Prince Bo would love to see the Jade King's face as the bitchy Goddess Quan Yin unleashed her raging tongue upon him. It would be hilarious. The poor Jade King would barely come out alive. "So, glad the world and the Jade King are safe from danger."
Flashing a sly smile, Goddess Quan Yin replied smugly. "Safe for now. I make no promises about later."
Prince Bo laughed as he offered his arm to her to take and ushered her to chamber next to his bed chamber. He guide her to sit on a low bench near to the small waterfall in the middle of the chamber that fell from the ceiling into at small pond that had various colored koi fish swimming underneath the lotus flowers. A shadow servant placed a jade tea set on the table that sat in front of the bench.
“Have some fresh tea to wash the dust of the travel from your mouth, Mother." Prince Bo announced as he poured a cup of tea and offered it to her.
“Thank you." She lifted the cup and took a sip of the fragrant tea. It was a jasmine infused green tea whose fragrance reminded her of the flowers in her own palace garden.
“How long are you planning to stay? Until the New Year?” Prince Bo asked as he watched her daintily drink the tea. “If so, I know King Yan Luo would welcome you to the celebration. I don’t think you have ever been here when we celebrate it before.”
“No, I can’t stay long. I have only a fortnight and then I must return. I have a task that needs my urgent attention and I really must get back to it.”
“I am sorry to hear that. I would have enjoyed celebrating the New Year with you.”
“Maybe next year we can do it. I would love to spend New Year's with you. Let see what my workload is like this new year. If there is no huge war, I am sure I can arrange time off to visit. Oh, wait, before I forget, I let me give you your gift.” Quan Yin set the tea cup back down on the table. She stuck her fisted right hand out with the palm facing up. She slowly opened her closed fist while chanting a retrieval spell.
“Snap!” A gold, silk-wrapped box that was long and narrow appeared in her open palm. She presented it to Prince Bo who unwrapped the silk cloth to find sandalwood box inside.
Taking off the lid, Prince Bo was bewildered at what was inside. He did not know what he expected but a woman’s hairpin was definitely not gift he thought he would see. It was an exquisitely jeweled hairpin that was carved from precious white jade, with gold inlaid that was shaped as long stems along with sparkling red gem stones arranged as the flowers' petals. At the very end of the hair pin was a carved fox with 9 tails on a cloud that had two pearl flower buds hanging down as tassels. Prince Bo looked at his mother in confusion. He did not understand why she gave it to him. It was not an accessory he as a male would attempt to wear. He hoped she was not expecting him to change into a female. No, thanks. He was quite happy being a male and had no desire to switch sexes, even to make her happy.
“Um, thank you.” He said as he lifted up the hairpin. It sparked in the light and the small tassels jingled softy.
“Silly, this is not for you to wear." Quan Yin giggled at the thought of her pup wearing a hairstyle popular with the females and the hairpin hanging from his head. “It is for your mate. Your soulmate. This is a special gift reserved only for your future soulmate, your future bride. When you marry her, you must give her this hair pin. It will mark her as yours. I had this specially made and it is enchanted with a spell that will keep her safe.”
Prince Bo looked at the hairpin in his hand and tried to imagine the female who wear the hairpin he held. Would she be a spirit or mystical creature? Maybe a 9-tail fox lady? Or maybe she would be a human? He could not imagine who she would be.
Quan Yin closed Prince’s hands around the hairpin. The jeweled flowers cut into his flesh yet he squeezed it even tighter so it would not slip from his hand.
“Keep it safe, Son. Don’t let it get lost or stolen by anyone. Promise me.”
“I promise, Mother. I will keep it safe. It will be given to the woman I love.”
“I know you will.” Quan Yin gave him a quick peck on the cheek. She watched him place the hair pin carefully back in the sandalwood box and place it on the table. The hairpin was now in the hands of fate. There was nothing more she could do here for her precious son. She smiled brightly at Prince Bo as he turned his attention back to her. She began entertaining him with news of the mischief that some of the Gods had gotten into during the last six months before dinner was served. This was going to be a great year of change for her son. And she was going to make sure fates delivered only the best for him, even if she had stack the cards in his favor.
A Month Later
City of Dreams, Palace of Illusion; Underworld Realm
King Ku Wei (King of Bitterness) looked at the mystical creature bowed before him. He never thought to see Hong Hui, the leader of the 9-tail foxes in his palace.
“Lord Hong Hui, rise.” King Ku Wei motioned Hong Hui to stand up. What did this creature want from him?
“My Majesty Ku Wei. I humbly ask you to hear my petition.” Hong Hui keep his head tilted to the ground while looking up at the figure sitting on the gold throne. He needed this king to take up his cause.
King Ku nodded his head while he began rubbing his upper lip in thought. Being the ruler of the small City of Dreams, he did not often get request from others. It was enough to beat the boredom that had started to invade his life.
“Sir, an interloper has invaded our kingdom and we need to have him banished.”
“An interloper? In the 9-tail foxes kingdom?”
“Yes, sir. The one who is called Prince Xiao Bo. He is not a true 9-tail fox! He is a fraud! An insult to those of us who are true blooded 9-Tail foxes!” Lord Hong Hui had straightened up and looked at King Ku proudly.
“Are you talking about Prince Bo who rules the City of Innocent Deaths?” King Ku asked. The City of Innocent Deaths was the city that King Ku wanted to rule. Not the City of Dreams. Who wanted to be responsible with the job of manipulating the dreams of the humans? There was no fun after first 10,000 years. Talk about same old, same old. These days, the creating of deadly nightmares were the only thing keeping him interested in his job. Hell, the City of Innocent Deaths was to be ruled by a King but instead it was given to an unproven Prince; a mystical royal spirit child and not a full grown demi-god like himself. Talk about the insult.
“Yes, sir. It is him. This fraudster is not a mystical creature. He was a dirty fox orphan that was given the seed of immorality by Goddess Quan Yin.”
A frown appeared on King Hu’s face at hearing the certai goddess' name. He had at one time tried to woo the Goddess Quan Yin to be his own wife. Yet, she had refused him. Him, a demi-god whose handsome features would bind most women to his side with just one look. Who in the hell was she that he was not good enough for her? He was more than willing to father any children she wanted. There was no need for her adopt some mutt orphan. Truly, it was unacceptable. His anger began to grow but only the tightening of his lips was it shown.
“The Prince Bo has just turned 100. He is now able to enter our kingdom and find himself a soulmate from our females. This is unacceptable to us elders. His blood is tainted. He is not a pure-blood 9-tail fox. We want him to be banished or destroyed before he becomes a part of us. We will never accept him as one of ours.” Lord Hong Hui finished and bowed his head again.
The silence that followed was deafening. King Ku sat there pondering the issue. Was this an opportunity to take out his rival? Maybe, a chance to get the Goddess for himself? What were the risks…?
Lord Hong Hui couldn’t take the silence any longer and raised his head only to discover King Ku looking off into space.
“Sir, if we do not stop him now, we risk him gaining immortality. Once he has that, we are screwed.”
That caught King Ku’s attention. He looked back at the mystical creature in front of him. It was tempting to kill the bugger for reminding him of the fact that this Prince was going to gaining immorality. But he really did not need a war with the 9-tail foxes. The real enemy was that snot-nose Prince Bo, not this minor creature.
King Ku got up from his throne and walked towards Lord Hong Hui. Chills began to build on Lord Hong Hui as King Ku drew closer. Once he reached the side of the 9-tail fox, he leaned close to the Lord Hong Hui's pointed ear and whispered softly to him. "Fine, I will help you.”
“Thank you, sir!”Lord Hong Hui swung toward Ku who walked pass him.
“I think I have a way to solve this for both of us.” King Ku stated as he walked to the Cauldron of Dreams; a bronzed, two handled pot that allows him to view the earth realm including the dreams of humans.
Lord Hong Hui followed behind him to it. Standing in front of the Cauldron of Dreams, King Ku waved his left hand over the cauldron. The milky waters within began to bubble and a scene on the earth realm appeared on the surface of the water. A quaint, two-story house appeared. In front of it, a group of people gathered around a man on a horse preparing for a travel. Behind him was a large caravan that was loaded with a variety of boxes. Servants were running to and fro, adding additional items to the wagons.
Lord Hong Hui could not understand what the King Ku was trying to show him. How was this going to solve their problem? These were humans. He looked up at King Ku bewildered as how these humans had anything to do with getting rid of their enemy.
“This will solve our problem."King Ku announced with a smirk. "They will be prefect."
King Ku knew this family well. He had visited the dreams of everyone in this household and knew their secret desires. They were perfect for his use. The older man was a rich silk merchant who had a successful business in trade with foreign countries. A merchant whose wife was plotting to gain a higher status in their city with the marriage of their beautiful daughter. Their greed and lust of power would make them perfect for his use.
“You just watch and see." King Ku told Lord Hong Hui. "We will not need do too much to make everything fall in place.”
“Yes, sir. May the Heavens bless our success.”
Lord Hong Hui bowed once more. He decided he did not need to know how King Ku was going to get rid of the Prince Bo. Just that he did it before the mutt prince found himself a soulmate amongst the 9-tail foxes. Never would the bastard be welcomed as one of their own. He was mix-blood. A filthy animal that did not deserve to be one of them.
King Ku smiled to himself and looked at the merchant about to depart for the coast. Yes, he would be perfect. Just perfect.
Hungry Ghost Month
Ancient Forest; Earth Realm/Palace of Shadows; Underworld Realm
“Is anyone here?”
There was no response. Silk merchant Lao Fu entered the palace’s outer courtyard. The fierce storm did not seem to penetrate the walls that surrounded the palace. In fact, the outer court yard was free of any rain and the temperature was warm instead of being the cold temperatures that Lao had been fighting since he left the public house that morning. It was unusual. Shivers ran up Lao’s skin. The silence was eerie and added to his nerves. This palace seemed too strange. Maybe it was safer to stay in the storm than here?
Unfortunately, he did not have much of a choice. His horse was too weary from an injury to keep travelling. His horse injuring its leg earlier in the day. It cause the horse to limp and made it hard for the mare to travel fast. It could not keep up with the caravan and quickly got left behind on the road.
Then it began to rain hard. Before, it had only been falling lightly when they left that morning, but by mid-afternoon, the wind had picked up along with falling rain. The bridge to cross the large river had been wiped out by flooding. Not seeing another way to cross it, Lao Fu was force to leave the road that safely cut through the forest in an attempt to find some other way to cross the river. The driving rain and darkness falling made it too dangerous for him to move forward. Safer to stop and wait out the storm for the night than risk worse pressing forward. Besides, since leaving the road, he had no clue as to where he was as the storm clouds blocked out the stars in the sky to help him navigate his way. Better to wait until daylight. He could then figure out where exactly he was and how to get back home.
He spotted the brightly colored gate doors that framed the Palace’s entrance as he was looking for a place to rest. Thank the gods. It was better than a cave that he hoping for. Definitely a blessing. It was truly a miracle. His faithful mare could not go any farther and the storm was not about to stop. They both were soaked to the bone. The temperature was dropping fast. The palace in the middle of the forest was a life saver. Hopefully he could find some dry clothes and food to eat.
Unfortunately, it seemed the palace was abandoned. Tugging on the leather reins, Lao brought the mare across the courtyard and to the animal stalls at the corner of the courtyard. As he got closer, he found evidence that the palace was not abandoned. A large sow was sleeping contently in the first stall while the middle stall had an ox chewing on some cut grass. The hay was fresh and clean in the stalls. The animals were well taken care of. Someone had to be tending them. Unfortunately, it did not seem that person was around to meet him.
Lao placed the mare into the final stall that was empty. Still no one came to greet him. Removing his saddle and bags from the mare, he made his way up the stairs and into the palace.
“Hello?” He asked as he opened the front door. The hall was dark and none of the hanging lanterns had been lit. The stone floor beneath him echo with each step.
“I mean no disrespect. My horse is injured and I need a place to stay for the night.”
“WHOOSH!” The lanterns beside him suddenly lit. Lao jumped back. He was not expecting them to just light up. He looked carefully but did not see anyone lighting them. The hair on his neck began to stick up. What was this place?
“Please, reveal yourself.” He asked as he began walking forward again. Still no answer.
“The storm is too severe for me to continue to travel in...”
“WHOOSH!” The next set of lanterns flared to life. Lao paused. The only sound was his own breathing and the dripping of rain water from his clothes on to the stone floor. While he could not see anyone with him, he noticed the shadows moving about the floor and walls. Shadows that were in shape of humans but there were no humans making them.
As he walked close to the next set of lanterns, shadows raced across the floor toward them.
“WHOOSH!” Flames flared within the lanterns. And just as quickly as the lanterns were lit, the shadows would retreat from them and hide back into the darkness that edge the room.
Lao did not know what to do. This was no ordinary palace. It seemed the occupants were shadows. Were they ghosts or even, demons? Yet so far, they had not harmed him. He mentally named them shadow servants.
“I swear on my family name that I mean you no harm. I only plan to stay one night. Until the storm passes and then I will be gone.”
No one spoke back. Instead, the door at the back of the hall opened. Walking through it, Lao found himself in the inner court yard where there was a beautiful garden with a large pond in the center of it.
“Thank you for your hospitality.” Lao announced to the air. He had no clue who these shadows were. Exhausted as he was, he did not want to look into it too deeply.
As he started forwarded, the lanterns lining a stone path through the garden began to light one by one. Always waiting until Lao Fu got to the lantern before the next one in the way he was to go lit. Eventually, the path ended at another building. The red wooden doors swung open as he approached. The smell of hot food floated to him. His stomach growled in response. Quickly he entered the room.
The room was elaborate bedroom with a sitting area. In the center of the sitting area was a round table filled with every food he could imagined to eat. His mouth began to water with all the food he saw. A large shadow detached itself from the darkness on the side of the room and approached Lao. He could see it held a stack of dry clothes.
“Ah, thank you! I appreciate your generosity.” Lao stated as he removed the clothing from the shadow servant.
He quickly removed his wet clothing which was quickly retrieved by the shadow servants. Looking at the fine silk garments that were lined with the finest furs, Lao knew these were items made for nobility. A merchant like himself would never get the chance to wear items so fine as these in his lifetime. Too bad he could not take these with him when he left. Wearing silk was illegal for a merchant such as he but since he sold silk as his livelihood, he knew the finest quality when he sees it. He could get some serious money from selling it to a noble or foreign merchant. It was not illegal for him to sell. Hmmmm…
Lao sat down at the table. He raised the steamed bun to his lips to take bite but stopped. What if it was poisoned? What if this entire palace was a trap? Maybe it was safer to not eat…But the smell was too good to resist. If the shadows servants wanted to kill him, they could have already done it. There was no need to feed him.
Taking a bite of the barbeque pork, Lao’s mouth cheered with delight. It was better tasting than any steam bun he had eaten before. It literally melted in his mouth. It was crazy, but each bite was better than the first one. He grabbed another and another one.
He plowed through the steam buns, then moved on to the soup. It was like liquid honey. It just coated his tongue with flavors. After finishing the soup, Lao began eating the rest of the dishes. Each one better than the next. It was a meal fit for the emperor himself.
Finally done with eating, Lao Fu placed the sandalwood chopsticks down and went to lay down on the large bed. As he approached it, the covers pulled back on their own.
“Thank you,” he remarked as he laid himself on the bed. “The food was delicious. May the gods bless you.”
The covers pulled over him and laid under his chin. He turned his head to look at the table. All the dirty dishes were floating off the table and flying out of the opened door. It continued until the final dish had left and the table was cleared.
“Bam!” The door slammed shut.
“Snuff!” The lights went out.
Lao Fu closed his eye. He did not know who was the owner of the palace but was grateful this was the place he ended up at. This bed was a lot better than being stuck sleeping on the wet, cold ground.
No one is going to believe him about this place when he got home. Who had ever heard of shadows that could be independent beings that were able move things on their own. Definitely not a normal place. No telling what might happen tomorrow. Maybe this is all a dream. Maybe I dying without knowing it in the storm and this is just my imagination? If so, this is not a horrible way to die.
Finally, sleep overtook Lao Fu. He did not see the creature who stood over him, watching him sleep with eyes that glowed bright blue in the darkness. Not human eyes, but eyes that belonged to a mystical animal.
Dreams soon came and with them was images of his daughter in the finest red silk bridal outfit with embroidered flowers all over it. Her long black hair pulled up into two long loops at the top of her head. He watched as she lifted hand to remove a white jade hair pin that had two pearl blossoms hanging from the end of them that was in her hair. Suddenly, a man’s hand covered her hand and assisted her with removing the pin. Her hair came tumbling down to her waist. The man leaned over to kiss her on the cheek. It was the governor’s eldest son, not the new young magistrate who had been romancing his daughter for last two months. Both wore the jade marriage rings on their middle fingers. So, his daughter had married the governor’s son. As the midst of dreams began to erased the vision of the couple, the jeweled hair pin started to glow until it was the last thing seen. Far away, a voice softly chuckled until the dream faded away and reality began to intrude into Lao’s consciousness.
The smell of fresh abalone porridge and fried bread woke Lao Fu at the breaking of dawn. The dreams of the night before had fade and he was finally ready to face the challenges of the day. He quickly ate the delicious meal that the shadow servants had left while he was sleeping. Scrapping the spoon against the bowl to captured the last drop of porridge, Lao Fu realized that since awaking, none of shadow servants had entered the room. His outfit from yesterday was dried and laid folded on a bench next to the bed. Wiping his lips, Lao Fu changed his clothes. He was tempted to take the items he had been given to wear last night, but decided it was not worth the risk. He still did not know who the master of this palace was. It would disrespectful to take those clothes without asking.
He placed two copper coins on the table as payment for the shelter and food. He picked up his bags and went to the door. As he was about to walk out of the room, a simple sandalwood box sitting on a shelf next to the door caught his eye.
Curious, he opened the lid to see inside. A beautifully carved jade hairpin before laid on black silk. Its sparkling jeweled flowers winked at him with their reflected lights. It was best piece of craftsmanship he had ever seen. It was fit for royalty. A hairpin worthy only of the most beautiful woman of the world. In fact, it reminded him of his dream the night before of his daughter's wedding night. It was same hair pin that she used to hold her hair.
The more he looked at it, the more he had to have it for himself. It was fate. It was meant to be his. That is why it was in his dream. He was meant to have it. Only the most beautiful woman in the world should wear such jeweled accessory and that was easily his daughter Li Yuan.
His daughter Lin Yuan was the reigning beauty not just of their village but for the entire providence. Men would travel from far away for a single look of her. Only she could rival the beauty of the hair pin. On any other woman, the hair pin would be put to shame. Her radiance matched the radiance of the pin. It would be perfect for Governor’s future daughter-in-law. The gods sent him here just for this. It was truly fate.
In fact, it was a piece made to be worn as part of the bridal outfit. Wouldn’t Li Yuan be delighted him if brought this to her? Oh, she would be the envy of all the women in town. None would have a piece as nice as this. And if the dream he had was true, as the future wife of the governor’s son, she should be the owner it.
Lao’s fingers tightened on the hairpin. Yes, this was the perfect gift for Li Yuan. There was no one to stop him. No one would know he had took it. It was just a small hairpin. The room was filled with so many other valuable items. Surely the master of the palace had other jewels and accessories. He would not miss this one little hair pin. Plus, unless someone looked inside of the box, no one would know that it was missing. By the time they had, he would be long gone. By then it would too late for them catch him. And if he left payment, it was not really stealing, he decided. Yes, it was right for him to take this. It was fated.
Lao Fu closed the lid on the sandalwood box and place the hairpin into the pouched tied to his waist. He also removed a golden ingot from his purse and placed it on the table next to the two copper coins. That should be more than enough to cover the hair pin.
He quickly raced to the animal stall in the outer court yard. The day was bright and there were no shadows servants around. It did not bother him too much that he had not seen any since the night before. Maybe they could not exist in sunlight.
He saddled his horse, got on top and rode out of the front gate of the palace walls, making sure to closed the outer doors of the gate. The forest was a few yards ahead. The sky was clear and crisp. The mare’s injured leg was gone. Feeling a sense of danger growing and time running out, Lao Fu nudge his horse to trot faster. Once he got deep into the forest and could no longer see the palace’s gate, the safer he would feel. He was no longer interested in meeting the master of the palace.
A morning mist began to hover over the wet ground and to thicken around him. Clouds began to gather out of no where in the sky and darken. Sweat beaded on Lao’s brow. The mare did not seem to be in any hurry to get going. Kicking the mare to move faster, Lao looked back at the palace. The front gate doors swung open with a loud bang that echoed in the forest and a mystical creature that he had only seen in his nightmares appeared in the center of it with its red eyes stare straight at him.
“Crack!” Lightening flashed across the blackened sky and lit the creature. It was a giant white fox whose tail was really 9 tails. Its mouth was curled into a vicious snarl that revealed its sharp teeth. Lao watched it crouched back and leaped forward with a deafening roar. Fearing what the creature would do to him, Lao turned forward and urged the mare to go faster. He had to reach the forest or else!
“Boom!” The creature landed behind Lao Fu on the horse. The sudden weight on its back startled the mare who reared back and caused both Lao Fu and the creature to fall from its back. Hitting the hard ground stole Lao’s voice and he could not scream as the creature rolled both of them on the ground until Lao laid trapped under the creature. A blade of a sharp knife was cutting held to Lao’s neck. Fear kept him from moving. The rage in the creature’s eyes told him that his life was hanging by a thread.
The creature snarled, “Thief!”
The knife pressed deeper in his neck and Lao knew his blood was beginning to form on the edge of it. The creature was larger than himself and definitely stronger. He could not escape with his life if he could not reason with it for his life.
“Thief! I gave you shelter and you repaid me with evil! I should kill you right now!” the creature hissed in rage.
“Please Master! I beg you,” Lao found his voice, stammering, ”I did not mean to wrong you. I wanted to buy it. Did you not see the gold? I swear I did not repay you evil.”
“Grrrrr!” The creature leaned closer to Lao’s face. He growled, “Not for sale! There is no gold that could pay for it, Thief! You will pay with your blood. With your life!”
With the knife pressing his neck, Lao blindly opened the pouch at his waist and pulled the hairpin out. He showed it in front of the creature’s face.
“Here! Here! Here! Take it!” Lao offered the hairpin to the creature, “I meant no evil. I only wanted it for my daughter as a bridal gift. I only wanted to give her this to show my love. I am so sorry! Please Master, spare my life!”
The knife at his neck eased slightly enough that Lao did not have worry about ending his life with a deep breath as the creature snagged the hair pin in its fist.
“Please Master. I have given you back your hair pin.” Lao whimpered. He just wanted to be set free, “I don’t need the hair pin. It was a foolish dream. I am fine with her marrying the magistrate. She doesn’t not need to marry the governor son…”
The creature did not seem to be listening. He was examining the hair pin to see that there was no damage to it. Lao watched him grip the pin tighter in his fist and murmur foreign words as a chant.
“Poof!” The hair pin disappeared. The creature looked back at Lao Fu. His heart began to beat faster. Was he going die now?
“You must pay for your crime. After I was generous and gave you shelter, you had the audacity to steal from me. Well,” the Fox leaned closer, “now you will pay for that insult with a life…”
Lao’s eyes grew in dismay, “Please, Master. No! I beg you!”
With a dark sneer, the creature growled, “The life of your daughter!”
It was too much. Lao Fu had expected to pay with his life, not his daughter’s. He could not do it. It was too much.
The creature watched as the man’s eyes rolled up. The fool fainted beneath him, laying lifeless. He grabbed the theif and transported both of them back into the palace’s throne room. He needed to explain to the thief what his punishment entailed. There would be no husband in his daughter’s future. Instead of becoming a bride, she would face a future as a slave in the Palace of Shadows for eternity. She would pay for her father’s sins with her freedom and life. No mercy would she find once she entered the palace, none at all. It was what she deserved since she inspired her father to be a thief.