By a God's Grace

Part 4

It had taken a bit of time, but Chenglei had at last arrived at the small village of Shanqing, hungry, tired, and in desperate need of new clothing.

Of course, it wasn’t long until he began drawing attention; aside from the fact that he was quite handsome and could always draw the eyes of females, he was a famed warrior made legend across the land of China for his skill.

It was natural to receive attention.

Once a small group of women had bravely come up to him and ascertained the fact that he was, indeed, Chenglei Long, word spread quick through the tiny settlement which had never dared to dream that it would be subject to a visit from someone as famed as he.

The warrior had very little trouble getting what he wanted anyways, but the inhabitants of Shanqing were a kind and munificent people. As blessed as they felt with his presence, they allowed him access to whatever he asked despite the fact that he had no money to his name (likely, Jingguo had instructed his men to take back the reward he’d given, for Chenglei had awakened with it gone).

He was allowed to replace his tattered and dirty clothing, given a free meal, promised a room at the local inn for the night at no cost, and was currently relaxing in the company of at least a dozen lovely women as he sipped an equally lovely, delicate wine in a tavern.

Chenglei could honestly say he was enjoying himself despite the mindless chatter of the hostelry.

The wine was good, which was an immediate plus, and he was steadily becoming drunk. Not sloppy drunk, no: the warrior could not afford to be sloppy drunk and so had developed the ability to hold his liquor. Currently, though he had ingested enough alcohol to make a lesser man quite tipsy, Chenglei was only experiencing a slight, pleasant buzz.

Aside from the wine, the women surrounding him were quite beautiful and a few of them even had brains in their heads, making conversation with them as enjoyable as the alcohol.

This calm revelry was really quite nice in comparison to the pain and blood the man had been put through lately.

This thinking, of course, only reminded him of those events and, looking at the pretty females doing their very best to chat him up and win the privilege of a night in his bed, Chenglei felt…dissatisfied.

Certainly, they were lovely young women, some of them fairly intelligent. Silky-looking dark hair, eyes of varying shades of cocoa, and flawless complexions without so much as a single blemish.

They simply weren’t what the warrior wanted.

Good gods, did Chenglei hope none of them asked his reasons when, at the end of the night, he refused to lie with any of them. He simply could not say that he would rather be bedding a god in their stead; a god of reds and whites who went by the name of Jianyu.

In the god’s own words, they would think him a complete loon.

So, the warrior did his best to put it out of his mind by swallowing another mouthful of wine and inquiring of the girl named Qiuyue at his left when her father had established this tavern in the first place.

Distracted as he was, the man did not notice the emerald eyes staring at him in shock from across the room.

Wuya, the untrusting wench she was, had secretly followed the band of soldiers sent to murder the warrior that had shunned her. She had watched with her very own eyes as the battle took place and she had seen the man fall prey to his wounds and die. Satisfied with her knowledge of Long’s death (there had been blood everywhere, after all, and his form had not been moving when tossed into the forest for wild animals to pick at), she had delayed her return to the palace in favor of a small retreat to Shanqing.

The place was known for the high quality of its clothing if not the most up-to-date styles, and she had been looking for something more comfortable to sleep in.

Imagine her surprise to be minding her own business on her third day here and then hear rumors of Chenglei Long, a man she had seen killed on her indirect orders not days before, drinking with several young ladies at the local hostelry!

She had naturally assumed it was an imposter, someone pretending to be the late warrior in order to receive the perks that came with being a living legend. Still…one could never be too careful. Wuya dutifully headed to the tavern to investigate the rumors.

It was an even greater surprise than the first to find that it wasn’t some imposter and truly was Chenglei Long, in the flesh.

No one could impersonate those sun-like eyes so perfectly.

What was truly shocking about his being alive, at least to Wuya, was that he seemed healthy! He sat perfectly upright, as if his spine had not been cracked. He held his wine in large, long-fingered hands not broken and mangled. And most notably, his face: the strong set of his jaw, the perfectly-straight nose, the full smile of straight white teeth…all were present and undamaged when the Emperor’s favorite had seen them all ruined.

Even if he had somehow managed to live through the trauma of his wounds and the immense loss of blood, there was no way that the warrior could be up and walking around uncrippled and with a face like his a mere three days after being so thoroughly beaten.

Wuya smelled something fishy about all this, and she didn’t like it.

She left the tavern quickly and quietly (thankfully not yet having been seen). This would not do…no, no, no, this would not do at all.

Chenglei was not a stupid man: surely he knew that Emperor Jingguo had sent those men to kill him. She did not know or care just how it was that the man was alive, but she knew that he was and what he would surely do because of that fact: he would go after Jingguo for revenge.

If he did that, one of two scenarios could happen. One, Chenglei would kill the Emperor and one of his sons would take over in his place. None of Jingguo’s sons had ever truly favored the redheaded concubine, and she would be forced to leave the palace and live a normal life.

That was unacceptable: Wuya could not live outside of luxury.

The other scenario was decidedly more unpleasant than the first, and Long would still kill the Emperor, but the ruler would try to foist the blame onto her, as she was the one who had coaxed him to send the soldiers in the first place. Not only would her source of money and jewelry and material things be gone, Wuya would be next on the warrior’s list of people to kill!

No…no, she would have to end this before it began.

Wuya resolved to personally end Chenglei Long’s life again before the night was done.

Unbeknownst to many, the Emperor’s favorite was a practitioner of dark witchcraft. It was because of this that she was the Emperor’s favorite: she cast spells to steal luck from unsuspecting people and transfer it to him; hex his enemies to be accident-prone, anything within the limits of her minuscule bit of mystic power.

She would call upon it now to cast an illusion over herself, becoming a woman which Chenglei Long would desire upon sight.

As the magic worked its way through her, she found herself becoming younger, a beautiful girl in her prime: her wrinkles smoothed away, her breasts perked from where they sagged, and the bit of flab about her waist due to her age disappeared. Her dusky, brown skin bleached unexpectedly, and with wide eyes she watched the flesh of her hand become a silvery white akin to death.

The magic stopped its transformation, and the witch moved to the nearest reflective surface, a puddle on the ground, to see precisely what had been done to her. Her eyes were still green, as they were before; eyes were the window to the soul, after all, and no magic could change them. Hair, on the other hand, could be changed, and yet hers had not: it was still long and red, just as it’d been before. Her skin was, as she’d expected, that pristine shade of white all over; not simply her hands, and proved an odd contrast to her bright hair.

Not all that concerned with it, the woman simply shrugged it off as the warrior having extremely odd tastes and strutting out from the alleyway from whence she had cast her spell.

She had much to strut about: though her coloring was strange and, in her opinion, ugly, she was a beautiful young woman again with a beautiful young body.

Wuya was already dressed in fine clothing more befitting of girls younger than she had been before her enchantment and so had no need to search for a new wardrobe with which to make her look better.

She was already looking positively enchanting if the several dozen heads she turned simply on the way to the tavern were any indication.

This time entering the hostelry, she was not so much as initially ignored: all heads shot to her the moment she stepped inside, her gait dainty and feminine and her face, body, and beguiling grin all radiating beauty.

Chenglei took immediate notice of her.

She was admittedly female, but her coloring… Reds and whites, like the god he had been internally lusting over all night, Jianyu…

Was this woman a gift from him? A physical and human replacement for the unattainable, celestial form he wanted? The god had sent him that dream, so it was conceivable.

Whether it was a god-send or not, her skin and hair were the right color; her eyes were a strange green, but certainly the warrior was intoxicated enough to pretend they were the blood-red he wanted to see and tolerate it.

Without a word, Chenglei gestured for the two girls at his right to leave, giving a hot, inviting stare to the pale new-comer.

Wuya smiled demurely and approached, sitting beside the man in the place offered her even as she cackled darkly in her mind. “Thank you for the seat,” she spoke sweetly.

“Think not of it,” the man dismissed, looking her supple, young body up and down appreciatively. “It is merely a matter of courtesy for a lovely young lady such as yourself.”

Wuya giggled coyly, crossing one newly-shapely leg over the other. “My name is Yan,” she easily lied.

The warrior offered her a winning smile, the type that he knew firsthand to make females wet in moments. “Voluptuous…” he hummed upon hearing the name. “It fits you.”

The witch smiled back, laying a hand upon the man’s muscular chest. “You are the famed Chenglei Long, are you not?” she inquired, already knowing the answer.

“I am,” Chenglei confirmed. “Clearly, you have heard of me…?”

“Who hasn’t?” she wondered, leaning into the warrior’s body and causing her full, perky breasts to lay heavily upon his arm. “You are a legend for both your power and your beauty…it would do a woman honor to share a bed with you.”

“Would you like to?” the man wondered, heat in his tone and lust in his gorgeous, golden eyes.

Wuya practically purred: not only would she have the opportunity to end his life for scorning her, but the opportunity to show him how wrong he’d been in doing so for shunning her in the first place! Not to mention she would get a taste of the warrior’s  rumoredly magnificent phallus…

“I would love to,” she assured and offered no protest as she was led from the tavern by a strong arm in her own, the other women giving unheeded pleas to stay with them and drink a bit more.

Chenglei led ‘Yan’ to the local inn where he had been promised a night’s stay, entirely unaware of the dark intentions his soon-to-be partner had for him.

Within moments of being given a room, the warrior pounced upon the woman, loosening his trousers and hiking up her skirts instead of undressing her so as to slake his lust as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Despite the visual similarity, this Yan was no Jianyu and Chenglei would not spend any further minute in her presence after he had finished with her.

Soon, the pair was fully engrossed in the dirty, animalistic motions of sex; thrusting, panting, groaning, and sweating as the both of them strived for orgasm.

Wuya, of course, was enjoying herself immensely: every last rumor of Long’s sexual prowess was true and it was a joy not to have to fake her noises of pleasure for once. Besides that, the soft, nearly inaudible moans coming from the man surely indicated his pleasure; how foolish he would feel had he known what he had been missing when he rejected her first offer!

Chenglei thought himself particularly lucky that, after as much time as they had spent in coitus, his partner had not yet come as he had thought she would’ve; it was taking him much longer than usual to reach his peak, even with Yan’s beauty. She was not very good at this, the warrior realized, but he simply ignored it and closed his eyes, blocking out the woman’s green ones. He pretended he was making love to someone who wasn’t terrible in sexual matters; someone with red eyes and a male body that felt unendingly perfect…

“Chenglei…” ‘Yan’ softly moaned.

The warrior visibly flinched, his eyes opening to stare down the woman whose body he currently made use of. Her very female voice was ruining his fantasy and, annoyed, he demanded, “What?”

The redhead curled her arms about her partner, her silken sleeves ruining themselves against sweat-drenched flesh. She brought painted lips to the man’s ear and murmured, “You should be dead right now.”

This was a red flag if Chenglei had ever heard one. Though he kept thrusting inside of the woman, he warily inquired, “And why is that?”

‘Yan’ tightened her hold on the warrior. “Because I told Jingguo to have you killed…” she whispered.

The man’s entire body tensed and he went to throw the woman off of him, but it was too late: a concealed knife was deftly slipped out of her sleeve and forcefully thrust into his back.

Chenglei grunted in pain at the stab and this time did manage to shove the female away.

As he did so, her mystical disguise began to melt away, revealing dark skin and the body of a middle-aged woman: the Emperor’s favorite, Wuya.

The warrior’s golden eyes grew wide as he saw her true face, even as pain shuddered through his body and his blood seeped out of him from the dagger embedded in his back. “You…” he growled, fury in his voice.

“Yes, me,” Wuya cackled at him. “I don’t know how you managed to live through the first attack, but you won’t be getting out of this one, Long: you will die for refusing me!”

“That is what this is about?!” he roared. “You kill me because I’ve no interest in you?!”

“All I wanted was one night with you,” she tartly retorted, “and you wouldn’t even give that, you bastard! If I can’t enjoy you, no one will.” She grinned cruelly, informing, “I’m selfish like that.”

Chenglei merely seethed at her, his knees going weak and causing him to collapse into a subservient kneel before the witch.

The Emperor’s favorite laughed at him. “How the mighty have fallen,” she mocked. “Oh, and so you know, after you die this time, I’ll see to it that your corpse gets plenty of use.” For a moment, the man was unsure of what she meant by such a statement, and then she added, “After all, I haven’t come yet…”

This was nothing short of an outrage to the warrior and he growled, low and menacing in his throat. “Traitorous bitch,” he snarled, “brazen whore!”

To Wuya’s shock, Chenglei managed to force himself to his feet, launching at her with a near inhuman scream of rage.

She had not been prepared with a second concealed dagger for any retaliation.

In one swift and practiced motion, the man caught her by the head and gave a sharp twist, deftly cracking her neck and killing her.

Chenglei watched with a dark scowl as her lifeless body fell to the floor with a thud, head twisted at a very wrong angle.

His vision darkened at the edges and, looking behind him, he saw a good deal of blood upon the floor; blood he knew to be his.

There was far too much for him to be able to survive this.

At the very least, he did not want to die with the treacherous harlot in the room with him and so he bent, lifting her body over his shoulder and hefting it to the window, where he dropped her three stories to hit the ground with a satisfying crack.

If she hadn’t been dead before, the warrior took comfort in the fact that she was now.

His breathing growing labored, Chenglei internally cursed himself for falling right into the witch’s trap.

The man’s vision blurred again, and as he reached behind him and at last plucked the knife from his back, the world spun and he found himself on the floor; the blade slipping out of his hand and clattering down obnoxiously loud to his ears.

Acutely aware of the slowing beats of his heart pumping more and more blood out of his body, the nonsensical thought that Jianyu’s efforts in resurrecting him were all for naught passed through his mind.

He let out one shuddering and slightly blood-choked breath which he did not inhale again and for the second time in his life, Chenglei Long died.

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