Five zhang1 left, twelve zhang right... After a few more steps, she finally reached the inner main wall of the Celestial Palace. Cloud-jumping over the barrier, Xiu Tao landed neatly on the lush vegetation of the legendary Táo Huāyuán (桃花园, Peach Blossoms Garden). Rumor had it, that many eons ago, the stoic Celestial King, a true romantic under the guise of cold indifference, personally planted the peach trees as a tribute his beloved Queen.
Suddenly Xiu Tao was hit with an intoxicating fragrance, the sweet unique aroma permeating the divine orchard. Seeing the beige-clad servants marching by, she intensified the shield of her aura and retreated to the bushes on the other side of the garden. Mistress Nai Nai, the graceful Head of the Royal Celestial Maids was dressed in pure peach color, strolling alongside a sea of attendants.
Anticipation rushed through Xiu Tao, but she was patient. As an avid hunter, she understood the consequences and importance of every hunt --- the danger that lurked ahead and the thirst that needed to be quenched. Experience mattered most when a hunter knew their prey. At the first window of opportunity, one strike would suffice to reap the much-awaited reward.
As predicted, Xiu Tao’s target was too focused on her task to sense an intruder within her domain. She observed how Nai Nai performed her duties with utmost care, a trait Xiu Tao had always admired. The first of qualities to hooked Xiu Tao’s interest since day one: dutiful, devoted, with an acute awareness not found too far from the those who were born to serve. But most importantly…loyalty.
The most sacred unbreakable bond between a servant and one’s master.
A valuable prize indeed.
After their mistress gave her instructions for the morning chores, the maids bowed before departing to their individual stations. Their adornments of soft silk gave an appearance of swans dancing gracefully among the clouds that brightly lit the skies of the Nine Heavens. Mistress Nai Nai headed towards the entrance. Not missing the opportunity, Xiu Tao sprang forward and snatched her oblivious prey. The prey’s hands fluttered in a hapless struggle as Xiu Tao turned their bodies in unison and pressed Nai Nai against the wall behind the massive door frame. The predator’s leather strapped hand covered her prey’s mouth, muffling her cries, as bright dew eyes stared back.
Xiu Tao? The predator saw her prey’s eyes transform from shock, confusion and fear to recognition and... annoyance?
“Nai Nai,” Xiu Tao smiled, lifting her hand away from the maid’s mouth.
Still slightly bewildered but less annoyed, Nai Nai queried, “Xiu Tao, what are you doing here?”
Instead of answering, Xiu Tao tilted her head to the side and planted her lips against the nape of Nai Nai’s neck, hungrily breathing in the fragrance of morning breeze. While others may enjoy the strong perfume of peach blossoms, Xiu Tao had always preferred Nai Nai’s natural scent fore which she had grown addicted to. The intoxicating scent. So soothing, the intoxicating scent overwhelmed even the abundant floral ambience of the Nine Heavens.
What she would give to remain enveloped in her fragrance for all eternity.
“I thought we had another moon,” Nai Nai said under breath, the intensity of her excited emotions never escaping her mate.
“I wanted to surprise you,” Xiu Tao purred, her hands reached for the side collar of the white gown, her fingertips gliding over the edge, touching the softness of the exposed skin. Her mouth was salivating for a taste of the sweet forbidden nectar. “I miss you.”
“Xiu Tao, I still have my duties,” Nai Nai began to blush. Her hands reached between them, palms on her chest. Yet she did not push her away, only exerting a slight pressure to get her words across. “Did Her Majesty know you’re here?” she asked, reminding of Xiu Tao of her mission. It was so like her mate to focus on their duties.
“Yes, of course,” Xiu Tao assured. “She told me to deliver a message to your Celestial King. That’s why I am here. Our Queen found the missing beasts. At the moment, we’re transporting them back to our realm for their protection.”
“That’s wonderful news!” Nai Nai’s voice heightened with enthusiasm. “How did she manage to find them? Is she doing well?”
Her body froze, Xiu Tao pulled back without hiding her scowl. “Nai Nai, sometimes I feel you’re more concerned with Her Majesty than myself.”
It was no secret, Nai Nai has always had a soft spot towards the Ghost Queen. Nai Nai still went out of her way to accommodate the ruler’s needs. Xiu Tao knew that this little crush probably wouldn’t fade anytime soon. It took Xiu Tao over a century to win her beloved’s heart over her former idol. Moreover, it was not an easy task.
For one thing, unless their Queens are keeping each other company, it was hard for them to find private time together. Her pursuits was relentless, yet cautious. Xiu Tao never hid her intention from the fair maiden. Besides giving her gift and trinkets, she always made her presence known to Nai Nai. With each subtle glances to “accidental” touches, she wore her prey down, day by day. Until, the shy maiden grasped Xiu Tao’s sleeve on the morning of what might had been her 39th departure.
No words were needed; the prize was hers.
It was well worth the wait. Yet, the same habits lingered, which could never be stifled. Because, the Universe likes to play games with one’s heart, especially among immortals.
“Don’t be silly,” Nai Nai argued with her usual soft-spoken voice. “Your Queen had been considerate towards us, and--”
Her words were ubruptly cut short, smothered by the long overdue kiss that was applied with a bit more force than Xiu Tao had intended. She was not normally a jealous person, but the thought of another being the focus of Nai Nai’s affections, suddenly forced a possessive reaction from her. This was so different than anything had ever felt before. She was different. Xiu Tao had lost all patience. Her body acted on its own, as she pressed against the feminine curves, entrapping her prey. Xiu Tao was drawn into her sweet warmth. And then the softness of Nai Nai’s body melded to her own completely.
The world vanished.
Xiu Tao’s lips traveled to the arch of her neck, tracing down to the smooth lining of the exposed flesh. Nai Nai’s whimpers only set her blood ablaze. It wasn’t enough; Xiu Tao wanted to feel more. Hands on the edge of the silk collar, with a final tug, she exposed her lover’s creamy shoulders. Xiu Tao’s tongue lathed the dip of Nai Nai’s cleavage, tracing back to the vulnerable pulse, inflaming the swirl of the tip of her tongue. Xiu Tao could hear the soft cry, mingled with her groan of pleasure.
“Xiu Tao!” Nai Nai gasped, struggling weakly against the lips sucking above her breast. “We have to stop. You still haven’t delivered the news to His Majesty.”
“Just a moment longer…,” Xiu Tao gasped heavily, as her exploring hand continued to kneel and squeeze Nai Nai’s most sensitive spots. A shudder shook Nai Nai’s body. “His Majesty is not going anywhere.”
“Oh please don’t leave a mark like last time,” Nai Nai begged, as she continued to quiver while struggling to gather her thoughts.
“Why?” Xiu Tao murmured with a wicked smile against the heated flesh. No doubt her face had colored a few shades more.
“I can’t use the bathhouses,” Nai Nai admitted, her hands grasp tightly. “You must stop!”
“Then I’ll take you to the hot springs when no one’s around,” Xiu Tao suggested slyly.
“Don’t joke!” Nai Nai begged. “Please stop, we have no time for this! Let me go--” Suddenly, she went still. Her eyes grew wide in horror.
Xiu Tao barely comprehends the sudden change, when a force of the magic wind sent her body hurling backwards. She was flung so fast across the garden, the wall broke her path and her back. Her body collapsed on the hard surface, her head ringing with thundering noise from the impact.
“Your Majesty!” she heard Nai Nai squeaked.
Gathering her wits before pain overwhelmed her senses, Xiu Tao struggled to her feet in a battle stance against her opponent, but another wave of magic wind attacked went straight through her chest. Her back hit the wall with no escape. One hand pressed back on the wall for support while her other palm pressed her injured chest.The rush of blood traveled to her mouth, forcing her to spit out blood.
“How dare you accost my servant!” the Queen of the Celestial Realm accused.
“Your Majesty! Please stop!” Nai Nai grabbed Her Majesty’s arm back before she could deliver another attack.
“Nai Nai, don’t be afraid of this Ghost Soldier, the Ghost Queen will not allow her men to molest servants under my protection.”
“Your Majesty! It’s a misunderstanding!” Nai Nai tried to explain. “I was not molested…well, I sorta was...but it was consensual...”
“Consensual? Nai Nai, you’re half dressed!” Bai Qian barked, which made Nai Nai flinched.
Nai Nai by now had turned white. Shuffling to her knees, she bowed to her Queen. “I-I apologized for my indecent state. Your Majesty, please, look at who you just attacked,” Nai Nai begged.
“Xiu Tao?” the Celestial Queen froze.
A female soldier in the personal bodyguard of the Ghost Queen, was probably the last person she had expected to face under the circumstance.
“Your Majesty,” Xiu Tao kowtowed formally, despite her internal injury from the legendary Jade Fan. The Celestial Queen’s wrath and powers are known throughout the realm. However, experiencing it first hand was never on Xiu Tao’s list of things to experience. Yet she was prepared to take any battle rewards given. Such was the nature of the Ghost Tribe’s tenacity.
“It’s you who accosted my Nai Nai?” Bai Qian blurted after a short-lived paused.
Her head raised to meet the Queen’s gaze. With all the intent of her training, she did not blink as she addressed the Celestial Queen. “Your Majesty, please forgive us, Nai Nai and I haven’t seen each other for four moons. I’ll admit I was overly amorous. Please accept my apology.” Xiu Tao kowtowed again, with Nai Nai following suit.
The silence that followed was unnerving... And uncomfortable. Especially to the Celestial Queen. So, they remained in their formal pose far longer than expected. Curiously, the Celestial Queen, who was not easily offended, still had yet to respond. Xiu Tao turned slightly to peak at Nai Nai, whose gaze remained downcast. Cautiously, Xiu Tao raised her head.
The Celestial Queen was gone!
That’s one way to defuse an awkward situation, Xiu Tao thought with amusement, while exchanging glances with her beloved.
Brothers-in-arms will stand by each other. No matter the hardship nor the sacrifice. Even when times are not so kind, their memories remain.
Their story started at the doorstep of Kunlun Mountain. Unbeknownst to them, their first glance, their first thoughts, would tether them in an unbreakable bond of friendship that would transcend time. At first, they were rivals for the senior position of the prestigious High God, Mo Yuan. He was just like her: cunning, deceptive, and competitive to a fault. No wonder their paths continued to cross. Shifu at the time, no doubt had other plans when he accepted two questionable disciples with fabricated backgrounds. He was, after all, a man who had lived through heaven and hell without a backward glance.
Who would have thought they would have become inseparable partners, bringing havoc to the unlucky few who crossed their path. Her kindred soul. Her other half. But, this was not about romance or love of one’s mate. No, it went beyond any ordinary relationship, which often required spoken vows of acknowledgment. An eternal bond of trust and loyalty - without trade, without profit.
Never to be severed. Even when binding words were never uttered.
Since they attended Kunlun Mountain concurrently, they had shared everything. From magic studies and martial arts, to chores and meals, there was nothing they didn’t do together. Even their first punishment, handed to them by the God of War himself, was served in unison. She still remembered that day from so long ago. It was a warm summer month, and they both had stayed up late due to the hot humid night. They had failed to remain awake during one of Shifu's many lectures. As punishment, they had to stay in mǎbù (馬步, Horse Stance) for seven incenses under the waterfall of Kunlun.
She had forgotten who broke the first smile. But once the chuckle started, the shield was gone. Then came the waves of laughter that couldn’t be stifled by the sound of the rippling waterfall from above. It was a piercing cold liquid that could break anyone’s spirit, but not these two perverse cohorts. No, nothing could break their rebellious nature. Their rivalry ceased once the laughter ended - when they realized they had found their true partners in crime.
From that moment on, they continued to laugh, smile, and chuckle through their well-earned punishment. The amusement never ceased. From their shared mischiefs in mortal and immortal realms the pranks on their unsuspicious seniors, or any unfortunate soul that happened to cross their path, their joyful laughter resounded after each their punishment from their Master.
Bai Qian could never forget the knowing smile from her other half, even through the passing of time. There were times she dreamt of those moments. Moments that existed within the unreachable past, bringing her joy of what they had once shared.
Today however, the laughter was not shared. This voice, his voice continued to ring through the magic shield sitting room, with no other soul in sight, except for the two of them. Endlessly gasping of for air, her youngest Senior continued to hold his stomach while his other hand held onto the table’s edge to prevent himself from falling off his chair. Her fiery eyes narrowed at the laughter that made her blood boil.
This was not one of those moments she wished to share. The only laughter; from her rival, her senior, her soulmate, was now at her expense.
“Are you done?” Bai Qian finally snapped. But her response only caused another round of unbearable noise from 16th Senior. “Stop laughing!”
“I can’t...can’t believe you are still this dense…” His head continued to shake as his forehead pressed against the table. “It's worse than your sense of direction.”
“How would I know they’re in a relationship!” Bai Qian demanded, standing up, her palms flat on the table, quivering from rage, still having a hard time comprehending how, at her age and in this position, she could still be mocked by her Senior.
Zi Lan finally managed to control his breathing, yet still gasping heavily. He leaned back, his head arching to the side with a huff. “We seduced mortal women all those years….how could you not notice?”
“You seduced women!!” Bai Qian countered abruptly. “I was only pretending so that I could keep my gender hidden.”
“That’s no excuse!” His hand gestured in a fan-like flutter. “Nai Nai had been with you all these years, and you still don’t know her preference?”
“Nai Nai is my servant! She doesn’t tell me who she’s into….or what she likes…,” Bai Qian stammered before her eyes lit up. “And why were you there!?”
“I was checking in.” He shrugged. “I need the intel you promised me. I didn’t expect to see such a show. You attacked Nai Nai’s lover…” he commented with a smile, “but you never disappoint, 17th. You are one to always jump to conclusions without a thought.”
“Only if you give me what I need,” he dared to bargain.