Ch.206: Nie
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Distracted, all of them only roughly reacted to it.

Nie felt weirdly nonexistent as he walked, as if they were looking at a mirage. He moved without any sound. An ivory mask without a face covered his head, and every inch of skin was hidden by cloth. The fabric fluttered a bit as he walked.

The tall man greeted them all with a nod and halted as he passed by Xie Yi.

His masked face lowered as if he looked towards Xie Yi’s sword and suddenly, he bowed low.

Xie Yi flinched but did not move, well aware that the courtesy was not intended towards him. As confusing as it was to see a deity show such politeness to his sword spirit, he did not have the mind to question it and anyway, Juxian was far beyond normal.

Nie’s voice was even and soft with an incredibly hypnotizing effect. Everyone flinched at the sudden sounds. “Is this your little one?”

No one dared to speak up. Both Xie Yi and Ying Hua moved to stand closely next to Shi Yue, who placed palms on both of their backs and watched Nie carefully.

Mingtian wandered around Nie in circles before stopping next to Xue Hua, their shoulders touching. Xiao Liang delightedly stretched a paw out. “Yes.”

Nie lifted his hand, taking the paw and rubbing a gloved finger over it. He was lowering himself a bit, stroking the cub’s head. “What is his name?”

“Su Liang”, Mingtian nervously babbled. “Like ‘unadorned’ and ‘clear’. Because he’s all white.”

Nie stopped unnaturally. His head tilted, then he reached out to pick up Xiao Liang.

The cub was beyond overjoyed. He began to howl, rubbing himself against Nie’s chest and burying his nose in the fur around the deity’s mask.

Everyone was silent. Xie Yi glanced at Shi Yue, whose worried expression was tense. Ying Hua leaned against his shoulder in comfort.

“Hmm”, Nie hummed lowly. “It appears that the dominance of his bloodlines is different than yours, child. He will not grow up like this. It is good that you called me.”

“What do you mean?”, Xue Hua blurted out, tense. His face was pale. The hand he held Mingtian’s with tightened.

Nie continued talking at his own pace without hurry. “It can be resolved by a special diet. I will see to it that he gets the correct food. I guess I will have to stay around… If he is supposed to grow up fully, he will need the energy from bellflower fruits.”

“He can’t”, Mingtian interjected, confusion written all over his face. “We can’t chew those.”

Nie’s featureless mask slowly turned to him. “I have just mentioned that the dominance of bloodlines is different. You cannot. He is different.”

Mingtian tensed.

Shi Yue’s eyes lowered slightly; he had long suspected that Mingtian somehow had blood of a deity inside him.

The most relaxed out of the whole bunch must have been Su Liang, who was beginning to bite at the fur around Nie’s mask and growl playfully.

Nie stopped all movement for a few seconds, as if he had turned into a doll. Then he slowly reached up and under his chin.

The fur rustled as he slowly pulled the mask off.

Su Liang yipped happily and licked the face below it, untroubled by everything around him.

The one with the greatest shock on his face was Mingtian.

The man under the mask had darker, honey-coloured skin and bright golden markings that pulsed with light movements. The dark golden eyes were lowered and the messy black hair fell over it.

If Mingtian had visibly animalistic features, then Nie was devoid of them. Yet, there was no denying that Mingtian was exactly like a younger version of the face before him.

Nie closed his eyes before moving them over to a gaping Mingtian.

His gloved fingers gripped the mask and held it out for Mingtian. “I have watched it all those years but by right, this would be yours to keep.”

The moment his fingers left the mask and it was fully within Mingtian’s grasp, a soft scent appeared on the white fur. It was both familiar and comforting, reminding Mingtian of what he had heard in the village when he was young.

Each species of spiritual beasts had their own rituals for mourning the dead. 

For the avian types, it was to burn their bodies and let the ashes drift off in the wind, every single feather.

The canine beasts, though, would keep part the fur of their loved ones. Usually it would be the ring of thick fur around their necks, often made into blankets or as an accessory on clothes. 1Callback on Xie Yi keeping Mingtian’s fur when he was killed the last timeline :<

“Your mother’s name was Xue Liang”, Nie breathed out softly. “You might not remember. It was written as ‘bright as snow’. You got the full mess of her bloodline; the demonic blood of her father and the spiritual one of her mother. It seems that Xiao Liang’s most dominant blood is mine… With Xue Hua’s and your grandmother’s following it.” 

Su Liang reacted to the scent of the fur and twisted his body to sniff at it.

“She was a Winter Wolf”, Nie continued to explain evenly, his incredibly long eyelashes covering his eyes as he lowered them. “Since Xue Hua is of the same element, it does not cause any trouble. My blood should have done the rest to ensure that the species could mix.”

“Xiao Liang is a deity?”, Shi Yue asked, shaking himself out of the trance that came with the absurdity of the whole situation.

“No. He is not a bellflower deity like I am”, Nie denied. “He will need the other plane’s energy to grow, but after that he will be alright. If compared to humans… You could say he is a Transcendent. Close to us, but not the same.”

“Wait”, Mingtian croaked, his throat blocked. “Just a second. Can we go please… please go back a second… You…”

His eyes were wide, his lips quivering.

Nie did not look up. The uncertainty of how Mingtian would react to the revelation was uncomfortably tearing at him but no matter how he would react, Nie would accept it.

For a mortal being to understand why their father would not be at their side and abandon them like this… No deity would question it, but a mortal would certainly not accept it.

Mingtian was frozen in place.

Frowning, Xie Yi walked over, right past Xue Hua and Nie. Gripping Mingtian’s shoulder, he pushed him forward. “What are you waiting for? He is your father. Are you going to be mad at him for being unable to understand his reasons that are beyond our comprehension?”

Mingtian stumbled half a step forward.

All maturity, all lines of two lifetimes had fallen of his face, leaving nothing but an insecure little child, shakily raising his hand but not daring to reach out.

Nie’s eyes flickered over.

He held Su Liang with one arm and held the other out to Mingtian. “I’m sorry that I was not with you the last time.”

Mingtian took the hand silently. His head lowered and his hair covered his face.

Slowly, Nie tugged him over until he could pull Mingtian’s head to lean on his shoulders, his fingers slowly brushing through the other’s hair.

Xue Hua began to cry in relief. Shocked, Su Liang got nervous, so Xie Yi took him out of Nie’s arms.

Ying Hua and Shi Yue both walked over to calm the crying bird.

Su Liang whimpered in confusion, looking up at Xie Yi. The man smiled. “Don’t worry, everyone is just very happy.”

Although, wow, this really was a mess.

So rather than Mingtian’s father and mother being spiritual and demonic beasts, his mother was the crossbreed. His father was a deity.

Mingtian’s mother was dead as they had expected, but he now had a memory of her… and his father was still alive.

Xie Yi could not understand the feeling of finding out about that.

Still, he felt happy at seeing Mingtian so touched.

“Look, MingMing”, he laughed. “Your family is pretty large after all. You have a father, a mate, a little brother and a son. That’s pretty nice, isn’t it?”

Xiao Liang yipped.

Sad family reunion scene :<
Nie's story, including more about Mingtian's mother, is definitely on my to-do-list. Winter Wolves are not a Chinese lore species but once again one of my own. If you want to read the part of Nie's story that talks about her already, it's written already and under the spoiler:

Spoiler

"His short-time lover had been a Winter Wolf.

Every flake that fell on the mask’s fur would let shivers go through the hairs, giving off a pale blueish-white light. The fur itself had turned into an artwork of finely connected snow crystals.

Winter Wolves would always follow the winter and vanish over summer to somewhere else. They were pure beings, honest to a fault.

Although she had demonic beast blood mixed into hers, her heritage had completely dominated it. Even if her white horns were not common for her race, it made her all the more beautiful.

They were never strongly attached.

It was a love of comfort and companionship.

She would come in winter and dance in the snow around him, laughing brightly like bells ringing. At night she’d sleep beside him, not at all intimidated by his aura.

She had told him that they had a son. She had sung and howled for hours, overjoyed. Told him again and again what a most darling child he was.

Nie had warned her that his blood would affect him and that it might cause his demonic beast blood to go out of control.

She had chastised him jokingly. She would always watch over him and make sure that no bad thing would befall him.

She’d grow him into a king.

Proud and noble he’d be, travelling the world freely, not bound to winter.

She had flushed in excitement as she described him. He was not a crossbreed, she had said.

He was just as special as he deserved to be.

Nie had smiled whenever she talked to him about it. Although she was not his wife, the child would be his son.

The next time he would go back home, he would ask a Lord if they’d give a name to the child.

She had clapped her hands at the idea, happy. Until then, she simply called him darling. Next winter she would bring him along to the tree where Nie stayed at. Then he would finally meet his son.

He had looked forward to it. Closed his eyes in peace, waited full with expectations.

But she came back in summer.

Her white fur was dried-out yellow and she dragged herself over the ground. He only noticed her when she touched his face.

“I am dying”, she had lamented.

He had tried to heal her but to no avail. You could not save a Winter Wolf that had been exposed to summer for too long. Any good hunter would know, but the men who had caught her had not cared.

She only needed to survive for a single weekend, a single show of invited nobility, displayed for their enjoyment.

“They said he is dead”, she had whispered. Her eyes had turned hard, her lips drawing into a sneer. “But he is not. I will not believe it. I don’t ask of you to go search for him  - I know you can’t. But if he ever finds you, please be kind to him.”

Nie had hesitated. He truly could not go, it was too dangerous for him to leave the tree. She knew, that was why her wish had been only that.

“I will”, he vowed, kissing her forehead.

She pulled herself to lie in his arms and wrapped them around his neck.

“He is my most beloved”, she had hummed tiredly. “He will grow up and be happy. He is strong, I know it. Say, would you do me a favor? Don’t throw me away. I want to be around for him… and greet him when he comes to this place one day.”

“Leave it to me. You will see him again”, Nie responded, holding her close.

She smiled happily and closed her eyes.

Minutes passed.

When her body began to shift, Nie laid her down. The huge wolf had regained her icy colour in death.

Nie looked at her for a while, then raised his hand to touch her.

The body fell together. All that was left was a white fur and a shining crystal. Decisively, Nie swallowed it.

To be judged by others, but knowing that she was a soul beautiful enough to gain a deity’s affection. To be treated especially gently and not be forced to reincarnate, but left alone and asleep until she could meet her son again.

The fur he would keep.

As was tradition, he would keep her around, and when he finally met his son, he would give it to him."

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