This Chinese demon-world story is just as exciting as the title! Written by the amazing Joyce Chng, who’s stories have appeared now in all 4 Insignia Series anthologies.
‘I Found Love in an Urn Full of Ashes’ by Joyce Chng
The entire cave kingdom gathered for the wedding ceremony. The bats escorted the foxes, the deer, the spiders, the snakes and even the lowest toads to the Great Hall, chittering away as they flew above the heads of the guests, guiding and scolding them at the same time. The snake women hid their smiles behind their long sleeves, their eyes shining with speculation. The spider women clustered together, weaving their silk idly. I had already received their tribute of the best-spun spider silk robes, a wedding gift for my bride. The foxes readied their cymbals and pipes to greet my bride when she appeared.
Fu Xi even procured a Taoist priest spirit for the wedding. He would prevent my bride from fleeing. Ideally, the matchmaker should be here, but she had already fled the kingdom. Humans are such fragile creatures, easily frightened and unaccustomed to our ways. My new bride would be human too, albeit now in spirit form. I hoped she would not frighten so easily.
At the right moment, when the stars aligned and the moon crossed the aegis, the Taoist priest broke the seal of the urn and whispered the words that would free the spirit within, the spirit of my bride.
Wisps of white smoke swirled out of the broken urn, forming the shape of a slender human figure. At first, the figure seemed to be kneeling, before unfolding like a cloth puppet. Features sharpened. The watching animals gasped.
I stared. The eyes of the white figure opened. They were luminous. Beside me, Fu Xi shrank a little.
The spirit of the young scholar shook his head and looked around, bemusedly. “Where the hell am I?”
“You are now married,” intoned the Taoist priest who then dissipated because his job was done. The words lingered in the suddenly cold air of the Great Hall. Some of the snake women turned pale, as if they were about to faint. The band of fox musicians started playing a wedding song. With a glare from Fu Xi, they stopped, the song tapering into a few discordant notes. Someone blew an out-of-tune pipe and descended immediately into an embarrassed silence.
“I—” I looked at my right wrist and baulked. Red thread glowed between it and the young scholar’s hand. He looked at me in amazement.
The young man, his eyes like a phoenix’s, his lips full and mobile, began to laugh merrily. “Looks like I am now married to you, lord.” He wasn’t afraid of me.
He wasn’t afraid of me.
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