Su Su cautiously made her way forward. Her hands clutched the stone railing tightly, as she placed her foot on yet another step.
‘One foot in front of another’, she repeated it like a mantra.
Soon she would go back to where she should have been. Her thoughts drifted back to moments in the past. It was only a few short years, somehow it seemed like a lifetime ago.
Her heart clenched painfully when images from days long passed came to the front of her mind. She still remembered how she met her husband for the first time.
He stumbled into her home, bloody and injured. His horrible state should have made her wary of him; frightened and suspicious even. For all she knew, he could be a bandit-in-disguise, out to ransack her meager belonging and sully her innocence. And yet for some puzzling reasons, she welcomed him instead of driving him away, as any sane person should have done. She knew without any reassurance that he would not harm her and felt compelled to lend a hand.
She took care of him while he recuperating from his injuries. After his wounds were healed; she merely jested that he should repay her kindness. Somehow, instead of offering a bag of coins or pieces of jewelry, he offered himself. To be her companion. Up until that moment, she did not even fancy him in a romantic way; despite his appealing feature. And yet again she accepted him. Two people could accomplish a lot of things together, she reasoned. He was the better cook anyway.
As their life became more intertwined; her heart warmed up to him little by little. Till it became a habit to have him by her side. The first time he left her behind, she thought it would be alright. She had been living alone long before they met and she managed just fine. But each night, as she laid down on her bed, she found herself missing his warmth and his presence.
The second time he disappeared without any warning; she was beyond anxious. Doubting that he got another family waiting for him somewhere and already forgot her. Worrying that he had fallen prey to another ambush. And fearing that he would never come to see her again.
Then one day he appeared before her once again. She was so overjoyed to have him once again. She never bothered to ask him why he had abandoned her for all these years. That night they made love again and again until day broke. She told herself, him being with her was more than enough.
Then she was taken away from her only home and thrown into his desolate manor. She told herself once again it did not matter if he treated her coldly at time. She was still his wife and was bearing him the fruit of their love. She pushed away from her uncertainty of being in a strange and unknown place. She tried to stay strong even when her husband, the only one she could place her trust in, was sent away to the very frontline where battles raged. It seemed he never returned home again.
She bore the hostility of those around her with patience and perseverance. Everything would be better once he came back, she kept reminding herself. It did get better, at first. He was almost as caring and gentle with her the way he once was. Then like a house of cards; bit by bit things began to crumble between them and around them. His family and that woman had tried so hard to come between them; as they did many times before. Yet until that moment, she still believed they would never succeed. Her husband knew her. He still cared for her, protected her and their unborn child as best as he could.
But when the hands that once held her so lovingly finally turned on her. The trust, he unfailingly placed on her, once upon a time, wavered. And by that pair of hands, her eyes were robbed. Her freedom was gone forever. Lady Su Jin was right about one thing; she did not belong here anymore. Not when she no longer felt that love or warmth she once associated with being with him. Not when she was a mere nuisance in his eternal and grander life.
Now all he represented were terror, disappointment, and emptiness. How they came to this ending? She had asked herself more than once. Not that it mattered anymore. She was leaving him and everything behind. Her only regret was her son, Ali. She wished she could have him with her. But they would never allow a lowly mortal such as her to raise their prince.
To them, her station was far beneath a palace maid. Having her as his mother would only shame her son’s honor. She would not be a shameful blight on his glorious path. If letting him go would ensure he would have a bright future and good fortune ahead; she was more than willing to sacrifice her happiness as a mother. She would not be able to watch him growing up and become the man that she would be proud to call ‘her son’. And yet this was definitely the one and only thing she can do for him.
The strong wind blowing from beneath her feet hit her in the face and roused her from her stupor. Su Su realized she finally made it to her only chance of salvation. Although, she had decided to let go of everything - be it love or bitterness - and settled to never looked back to those miserable years again. She still wished to bid him her final farewell. It was such a befitting closure of their ill-fortunate meeting. He stumbled into her life, she out of his life.
Su Su retrieved the bronze mirror from her sleeve and fiddled with it the way he taught her. Once she was certain a connection was made between him and her. She said her part.
"Ye Hua, you let me go. So, I will let you go as well. From now on, neither one of us owes another anything."
There, she did it. She hoped he understood what she implied. She set both of them free. She did not wish to hold any animosity toward him. Bitterness was such a tiring emotion. It ate up everything inside her and left her hallowed. She did not want to feel it anymore.
She tossed the mirror to the ground and let herself go into free fall. The wind blew away the white stripe cloth that covered her scarred eyes.
"If I could change the past, I wish we never met. Any destiny we have left, I wish no more. Let this lifetime be the last ……....”
Even before she finished her sentence, the vortex of energy under the Zhuxian Terrace already seized her in its merciless hold. It whipped at her, slashed her flesh open and burned her alive. Instead of devouring her soul and destroying her frail mortal body; its powerful onslaught shattered the Ghost Seal Qing Cang had forced upon her two hundred years ago. A retaliation since she tried to shut him back inside the Bell of the Eastern Emperor.
Her suppressed immortal essence leaked out, as the mortal shell began to crack apart. Such was the way the nine-tailed fox queen, Qing Qui's Bai Qian returned. The unraveled essence of the newly-elevated Goddess rippled outward in short, powerful bursts. The revived Fox Queen shifted her head restlessly and tried to shy away from memories of her previous life. Only to be flooded and overwhelmed. There was nowhere to escape. Darkness came and she knew no more.
A day later. Her family’s old friend and confidente found her unconscious and gravely wounded-self in his Peachtree Woods. With High God Zhe Yan’s skillful practices in medicine; her exterior wounds healed at an accelerated rate. Yet it was the wound inside her heart that still festered.
Bai Qian withdrew completely into herself. She refused to say where she had been for the past three hundred years. Not even her favorite fourth brother succeed in his attempt to pry the truth out of her.
Zhe Yan spoke of how everyone at home searched tirelessly for her but always came up empty-handed. Yet the goddess remained steadfast in keeping her silence. She mentioned briefly that it was just a love trial and did not worth mentioning. Seeing how utterly broken she looked, Zhe Yan chose to let the matter dropped,
Another day passed by. Bai Qian decided she no longer wish to be haunted by Su Su and Ye Hua’s painful memories. After all, it already came to an end. She did not need a constant reminder of her own fall to disgrace.
The Goddess asked Zhe Yan for his special potion, made of the water from the River of Oblivion. Once drank, it granted that person a privilege to forget certain memory. It was high time for her to move on with her life. What would be better than starting from a clean slate?