The bare tree branches lent a desolate feeling to the forest . It felt like late autumn .
Throughout their walk though Shen Li remained silent, she kept looking askance at Xing Zhi . He couldn’t help but finally laugh out loud . “So hesitant . This is not the Azure Sky King I know . ”
Unable to hide her curiosity once the silence was broken, Shen Li asked, “Heaven's matter I do not know much about . However this I do know . Today in heaven, there is only one G.o.d . But just now with Jing Qing?[notes] what was that?
“I am the only one now… however a long time ago there were other G.o.ds in the Heaven Beyond the Heavens other than myself . ” Xing Zhi’s eyes became distant . “For you, it would be considered the days of ancient antiquity . Even I, myself, can not to remember how long ago . ”
The smile on his lips became indifferent as he continued, “Yan was the previous generations Prince Rui . He was the beautiful G.o.d, Silver Hair Silver Eyes, Qing Ye . He was my close friend . ”
Shen Li gave him a sidelong glance . She had been giving him many as they walked, but this time she was appraising his appearance . His beauty was the kind that would elicit envy in others . Without thinking she blurted, “How does high G.o.d compare?”
Xing Zhi tilted his head to the side and shot her a glance . An enchanting smile played on his lips . He answered in a smug, boastful voice . “Naturally I am more beautiful . ”
Instead of offending her, his complacent tone only served to make her laugh . “I also agree . ”
Her frank agreement surprised Xing Zhi . He stared at her, but she was already focused on another topic “What happened? Why is your friend no longer a G.o.d?”
“He fell in love with a mortal . ” Xing Zhi’s eyes dimmed again . “He moved against the heavens and used his powers to save the person . His G.o.dhead was abolished because of it . ”
In surprise Shen Li asked, “Who… who could possibly punish a G.o.d?”Advertis.e.m.e.nt
“G.o.ds are subject to the laws of the Heavenly Dao at birth . These laws are meant to keep balance and order . The world would fall into chaos if the G.o.ds used their power for personal reasons . ” He turned to look at Shen Li . “The heavens are no different from the rest of the world . ” He continued walking as he spoke from the side . “Qing Ye was stripped of his G.o.dhead and sent to live in the mortal realm, to suffer through the wheel of reincarnation, to tragically fail in love . ”
Shen Li thought of Prince Rui and his plight, of how in the end he couldn’t be with either of the women he cared about . Now as Yan he also had two females by his side but . . . A sense of misgiving grew in her heart . “Who did the person he love reincarnate as?”
“He’s the only one who knows that . All I did was awaken his divinity and cleared the obstruction in his spiritual force . If he can find the one he’s been searching for then all will be well . ” Xing Zhi looked skyward . I only hope the Heavenly Dao will not be excessive and terminate everything . ”
Shen Li stopped at looked at Xing Zhi . “I do not believe the matter is as complicated as that . Qing Ye’s G.o.dhead is gone but it does not mean the heavens will negatively interfere with the course of his lives .
As Prince Rui, he and the princess shared a common fate . [notes] Naturally he was fond of the princess . But in this life he is Jing Yan . And in this life he grew up with Jing Xi . It’s obvious he cherishes her . The two generations are not related . His destiny is mainly in the hands of fate; however he still has free will . And that free will’s influence will impact his fate . ”
Xing Zhi also stopped, turning to look at her . “That is a novel idea . But no matter how you phrase it, all of Yan’s previous lives served to shape him into the person he is now . His feelings have evolved from that . Neither you nor I can influence the matter . We can only observe . ”
Shen Li silently mulled his words over . Changing topics she said, “Just now you said Qing Ye’s G.o.dhead was abolished, yet you chose to awaken it . Aren’t you afraid of incurring heaven’s wrath?”
“The offense Qing Ye committed was not a heinous one . So though heaven made him mortal as punishment, his body more or less still retains the same aura . I failed to notice it because it had dispersed so much .
It was when you asked if they were bound to repeat their fates that I became suspicious and began looking at the situation more closely . Though his aura was incredibly weak, I was able to draw it out . It is sufficient to purify the miasma in the people’s body . ”
He paused and smiled . “As for heaven’s wrath, escaping it is impossible . Judgement will be pa.s.sed for all offenses . ”
If any change at all incurred heaven’s wrath then why not make a great change and make it worthwhile? The words were on the tip of Shen Li’s tongue but she swallowed them back . Based on what Xing Zhi said, Qing Ye, because of his heart . . .
She remembered the night she returned drunk to the manor . Xing Zhi had smiled as he talked about G.o.ds not having emotions like affection or kindness . She realized what he said wasn’t true . It wasn’t that the G.o.ds didn’t have emotions, it was that they couldn’t show their emotions .
Xing Zhi hid the expression in his eyes and smiled at the silent Shen Li . “That’s enough for our walk . We should return . ”
The moon shone brightly in the clear night sky over Yangzhou . Lamps were lit along the city walls, and though not as glorious as in the past, they nevertheless brought the character of the city back to life .
Fu Rongjun had obediently returned to the Demon realm to relay the message from Xing Zhi . But he only left after making sure Yan drank a good amount of vinegar . In his own way Fu Rongjun was sincerely trying to help Xi with her romance but considering his lecherous nature Shen Li knew it wasn’t the only reason . She was sure he had enjoyed taking advantage of Xi in the process .
Xi was sad to see him leave . She had taken his efforts to a.s.sist her seriously . It wasn’t just Xi, many of the other girls in the temple also wore glum expressions and were sighing sadly .
The sight only made Shen Li indignant . Fu Rongjun had failed to start anything with Mo Fang when he was in the Demon realm . Once in the Mortal realm he switched targets and fooled around with every girl he could find . He was the epitome of a fickle, insincere person!
“Such a lecherous, unfaithful person! He won’t change no matter where he goes . ” Shen Li's disdain showed easily in her words .
Xing Zhi was just getting up after driving the miasma out of the body of a middle-aged man when he heard Shen Li cursing Fu Rongjun . He turned and saw several women . They were wearing white cloth that he recognized were made by the Heavenly Temple’s craftsmen . The fabric had to be left behind by Fu Rongjun .
“He left the place a mess . ” Shen Li thought about the pain the girls would go through . “Clearly that idiot didn’t have anything to do with clearing the miasma in the city!”
“Is Your Highness mad Fu Rongjun got credit for it?”
“The Demon realm isn’t free and unfettered like the Heavenly realm . There are constantly campaigns to be fought, and because of this our system for reward and punishment is very clear cut . Meritorious deeds are appropriately credited to those who contribute . ”
Shen Li was good but she was also very vain . The thing she enjoyed most was the feeling of crus.h.i.+ng her enemies underfoot, followed closely by the adoration and cheers of the people . The fact that she didn’t get either on this mission rubbed her the wrong way, so of course she was unhappy .
“I worked hard to settle an affair for the Heavenly realm, even getting injured and poisoned in the process . But do I get any credit for it? No . Not one bit . Those in heaven really are generous!”**[sarcasm]
Xing Zhi laughed in spite of himself . “Your Highness’s contributions have been firmly etched in my memory . I will be sure to relate them to the Heavenly Emperor upon my return so he can properly reward you . ”
Shen Li glanced at Xing Zhi . “I would be happy to eschew any rewards if my marriage to Fu Rongjun would be abolished and I would be glad to slay any number of demonic beasts to make up for any loss . ”
Xing Zhi did not give her a reply . In the silence the sky lit up with a mult.i.tude of bright colors . The city walls shook with the resounding boom that immediately followed the lights . Xing Zhi smiled . “Shen Li, look . Yangzhou is putting on a fireworks display . ”
Shen Li turned to find several people at the end of the street lighting fireworks . The fireworks flew into the air and burst out in a glorious display of colors . The atmosphere was lively and festive, much like at new year’s . The doors on every house were flung open and people were streaming out of their homes and filling the streets . The city, once dead, was alive again .
The man Xing Zhi had healed coughed . “It’s a new day . Yangzhou is finally alive again . ”
The fireworks made the crowd cheer and the air became celebratory . Shen Li was touched by the display . Whether it was the human world or the demon world, the people looked forward to a bright tomorrow in the same way; their hearts harbored the same simple wishes and desires .
“Let’s go,” Xing Zhi said . “We should get closer to the celebration, cast off this suffocating air . ”
Shen Li didn’t move, instead she said, “Fireworks are just explosions in the sky . How does it have the power to move people? To make a place come alive?”
As she was wondering this Xing Zhi grabbed her wrist with his own warm hand, and pulled her forward without explanation . She was forced to move in order to keep up .
“They’re celebrating life and giving thanks . Why not celebrate with them? It’s not often we get to take part in the mortal realm’s celebrations, so while we’re here why not enjoy it?”
Xing Zhi pulled Shen Li through the noisy crowd before she could finish her reply . The fireworks burst deafeningly in the sky, popping in fast succession, their tempo increasing after each one . Those in the crowd stared up in wonder and awe, their faces reflecting all the bright colors of the sparks . They cheered exuberantly at each firework, the joy clear in their expressions .
Xing Zhi looked like he was enjoying it too, like he was sharing in their joys as well . His robe reflected a rainbow of colors as he dragged her behind him . It was unreal . He didn’t seem real .
They were in the middle of the crowd when she stopped abruptly and yanked her hand out of his . “You’re too beautiful! Don’t walk ahead of me!”
He was too distracting . She couldn’t focus on anything else around her .
Xing Zhi stopped and focused his attention on her . “Shen Li,” he said, but the crowd and the noise drowned out his voice .
She leaned in toward him . “What?! I can’t hear you!” She gave him a puzzled look, unable to make out what he was saying .
Xing Zhi didn’t want to repeat himself again, instead he smiled slightly as he stroked her head . Turning around he continued to walk in front of her .
Shen Li imitated the shape he made with his mouth, thinking carefully about each word, so focused that the world around went quiet . She thought what he said was Perhaps it was her imagination but she thought he said: I can protect you .