By a God's Grace

Part 3

When Chenglei next awoke, it was to the familiar noises of birds chirping and the feeling of sun on his face.

His nose wrinkled and a groan escaped his lips; he’d been having such a good dream, too! Making love to a beautiful creature with eyes like rubies and skin like snow…

Golden eyes snapped open and the warrior sat bolt upright as he remembered: he had died.

He glanced down at himself, heart thundering in his chest only to see…


There were no wounds, no limbs broken and twisted at strange angles, not even any part of him bearing so much as a scar!

Surely, he had not imagined the battle with the soldiers, though, for his clothes were ripped and torn where he’d remembered swords and knives piercing his body, and he was stained all over with blood despite the fact that there were no wounds.

Chenglei stood slowly, inspecting his surroundings. He was in a forest, likely the one to the edge of the road he’d been ambushed on. The trees were thin where he stood, so it would make sense that the soldiers that had attacked him had simply kicked him into the woods.

Disrespectful bastards, the warrior growled to himself. They likely hadn’t even given him proper funeral rites!

Then and there the man vowed revenge upon Jingguo, the one who had invariably sent them. He would not allow such a thing to go unpunished now that he quite literally had a new lease on life.

Chenglei turned his head in the direction of where the path should be and winced as his neck cracked obnoxiously. Come to think of it, his entire body felt stiff and a bit uncomfortable; as if he’d never used it before.

That would not do: what if he were to be attacked again? He would be at quite the disadvantage were his movements not fluid and his body not limber.

The warrior sighed and stripped off his tattered and blood-stained top, allowing the upper garment to fall upon the grass where it may.

It wasn’t as if the clothing had any real value anymore, what with all the rips and tears and stains in it.

Regardless of this fact, Chenglei began moving in a series of controlled, elegant motions. The man led himself through several katas that allowed his body to loosen appropriately, exercising his stiff and unresponsive muscles until they responded quickly again; his each move coming out perfect or very close to it.

He was forced to pause at one point, feeling for certain that he was being watched. His other senses screamed differently: he could not hear anyone or anything nearby, could not see or sense anything but trees in the surrounding area. He did not even experience that tense feeling of eyes burning holes into the back of one’s head that came from being physically stared it.

Still, he was sure he was being watched.

After a moment of standing perfectly still, determining that, at the very least, there was no physical presence near him, he bent to the ground to retrieve his spear (funny how it was in one piece; he’d have sworn blind the soldiers had snapped it in two) before continuing in his exercise; this time by practice with his preferred weapon.

He handled the spear with perfect mastery as he did battle with imaginary foes; thrusting it through bodies, twirling it in a clean slice of decapitation, and batting away others with the wood instead of the blade.

The strange feeling of being watched was still there as he did so, continuing even as he smoothly came out of his final kata with a deep, calming breath.

His golden skin glistening with a faint sheen of sweat from his exertions and spear still in hand, Chenglei recalled that there was a stream nearby. Perhaps he should head there: he was thirsty, and it would give him an opportunity to clean what filth he could off of his clothing.

He gathered his shirt from the ground and walked what was at best a mile before he found the small river. A deer that’d been lapping at the water there glanced up at his arrival and fled post haste.

He ignored the animal and knelt at the riverbank, inspecting the water. It was a bit murkier than he would’ve liked, but his throat was parched and it was certainly better than nothing. The man cupped his palms and dipped them into the stream before bringing them up to his mouth, swallowing the cool and relatively clean water gratefully.

Even as his Adam’s apple bobbed in the motion of swallowing, the ‘watched’ feeling intensified ever so slightly.

Chenglei purposefully ignored it and turned his attention to the cloth in his hand. With no other tools present, he dipped his clothing into the stream and found an adequate stone with which to scour at the dirt and blood stains as best he could.

The Feeling was augmented as his biceps and triceps were worked and flexed in the motion of scrubbing.

Eventually, the shirt was brought to a state of cleanliness that was somewhat decent. The stains were still largely present in it, but should he scrub at the cloth any longer or with any more force, the fabric would tear, and there were certainly enough rips in it already.

The warrior pulled his shirt from the stream and set the stone back upon the riverbank. Having worked in the sun for a good deal of time and after having gone through a series of exercises, he was understandably hot.

He tipped his head back and raised the soaked clothing above his head, deftly squeezing the water from it in one decisive twist of his hands. The cool liquid spilled down onto his face; drizzling across his broad, muscular shoulders and the occasional drop catching at his collarbone before sliding down his chest.

The ‘watched’ feeling spiked abruptly and seemingly from nowhere, a voice spoke.

Long, it said, practically whimpering, you’re killing me.

Instinctively, Chenglei’s head shot back upright, his eyes darting to and fro to find who’d spoken.

There was absolutely no one around.

Don’t bother looking, the voice said, sounding very familiar now that the man listened harder. I’m not physically here. But…jeez, you are killing me up here.

He recognized the speaker now. “You…” he began, “you are the god…the one that saved me.”

That’d be me, it agreed. I decided to check up on you; make sure wolves wouldn’t find and eat you before you woke up. I wasn’t expecting the show.

Chenglei knew precisely what the unseen god meant by ‘show’ and he grinned sharply. “I was unaware you were watching,” he said. “Had I known you were, I’d have been far more interesting for you, O Gracious One.”

The voice chuckled, amused by the warrior’s coy comment. Don’t tempt me, the god nonetheless warned. Sex with a god can kill you.

“I have been dead once,” the warrior protested, “and you were kind enough to offer me your favor and your kiss. I would not mind dying a second time to have one so beautiful.”

Beautiful? the deity wondered. How can you call me beautiful? You’ve never seen my face. For all you know, I’m a bird-god with a beaked face.

“That you used that as an example tells me otherwise,” Chenglei pointed out. “And there is more to beauty than the physical. Must I see your face to think you beautiful? Can I not find your power or your grace beautiful? Even if you are ugly in the physical sense, you were still benevolent enough to return my life to me without leaving me crippled or disfigured; for that, I find you beautiful.”

…That’s…an insightful answer, the god conceded. Still…now that I know you’re safe, I won’t be checking up on you anymore. You have a life to live, and you can’t exactly do that if you know I’m watching you.

Golden eyes widened. “Stop checking up on…you mean, you never intend to speak with me again?”

Nothing personal, the voice promised sincerely, but it wouldn’t be very good for you to have me talking to you all the time. People would think you were talking to yourself, and the classic, ‘I’m convening with a god’ excuse wouldn’t work: no one even knows I exist. They’d think you were a complete loon.

Chenglei unwillingly saw the logic in such a statement, and besides, he had never before heard tell of heavenly deities interfering in mortal affairs to such an extent: it just didn’t seem to be done. “Wait,” he protested, a resigned note in his voice, “if you must cease contact with me…at least tell me your name.”

The god chuckled softly, and when he stopped, he said, I already told you. The voice and the mystical presence he’d felt watching him were then quite abruptly gone.

The warrior knelt by the side of the stream for a good while, wracking his brain for information.

Had the god told him his name? If so, when? Certainly not during this particular encounter. When the deity was healing him, perhaps? He didn’t think he’d been told anything of that sort, but it was conceivable that the god had said it when he was deafened by pain in being repaired. If so, that was a particularly cruel thing of the god to do.

And then Chenglei recalled the dream he’d had just before regaining consciousness.

He had been making love to someone…he could not recall their face or their body any longer, but he remembered quite clearly that their eyes had been red and their skin had been white, colors he remembered from the very tiny peek he had gotten at the god when his blinded eye had been given back sight. In his dream…he had asked his partner their name…

Golden eyes wide as he remembered, Chenglei whispered to no one, “Jianyu…”

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