Zhu Zhan Ye Huang Wu
(Photos Courtesy of Sina Weibo)
“You’re leaving food for her again?” Lin Yu asked as Yu Zhu placed a tray in front of Lu Xi’s door. Lin Yu sighed, “It’s been ten days and still she hasn’t come out. I don’t get why she’s so scared of us”
Yu Zhu shook her head as she added tea to a cup and placed it on the tiled floor “She’s not afraid. She’s hurting.”
Lin Yu’s only experience with human emotions was mainly with Yu Zhu, she was confused, “I don’t understand.”
Yu Zhu stood up and came to sit with Lin Yu, picking up her chopsticks, “Children raised in war zones do not remain children for long. They learn to live with fear, they learn how to survive above all else. Right now she knows, instinctively that we don’t mean her harm, so she’ll watch and wait. She’s had plenty of chances to go to Zhu Zhan Ye while we were out these past few days.”
“So what has she been doing?”
Yu Zhu looked sad for a moment, “Lu Xi was sold by the ones who were suppose to love her. She’s feeling lost.”
She sighed at Lin Yu who still looked confused and explained, “You are a snake demon, you’ve lived thousands of years but you still have trouble understanding why we grieve.”
Lin Yu nodded as Yu Zhu continued, “We humans are like fireflies to you. We live brightly for a few fragile moments and then peter out to nothingness. Our emotions are intense and fleeting. The bonds between mortals, between a man and a woman, a child and her parents, between friends, it makes us who we are. It defines us. And when those are cut, we mourn bitterly.”
Yu Zhu gestured to Lu Xi’s door, “All her bonds were severed. She’s lost everyone she loves. The feeling is…terrifying”
“Love is such a strange thing.” Lin Yu said as she she supported her head on her hand, “Gods and demons rarely love. And even when they do, it may last for a few hundred years if they’re lucky. But eternity? We get bored. For us, the only constant is change. We try not to feel everything.”
Her eyes darkened, “I once asked Auntie White Snake why she fell for the human Xu Xian. Their being together caused her so much pain. I remembered the day he died, I asked her why she was crying and smiling as they carried him away from her tower.”
“What did she say?” Yu ZHu asked.
Lin Yu shook her head, “she patted my head and said that without true loss, there was no true happiness. And she wanted to feel all of it, even if her heart was irreparably shattered.”
Yu Zhu held her tea cup, “What a woman.”
Lin Yu picked at the wood on the table, “The heavens punished her harshly, she’s buried beneath all that rubble of the Lei Feng tower, destined to be imprisoned until Xi Hu Lake dries and the tower falls. An heavenly edict that basically means she will never be freed.”
“So demons do know what we humans feel.” Yu Zhu mused, “It just has be all or nothing.
Lin Yu nodded, “That’s the curse of being a demon or a god. You either experience an emotion so completely that it consumes you and everything you do or you don’t really experience it at all. Why do you think those who fall for mortals end so tragically? They can’t let go.”
Yu Zhu though of Wei Yun living in a tree for hundreds of thousands of milennias, and quickly flicked away a tear as she hid her face from Lin Yu.
“I can see why Lu Xi feels sad now. I don’t ever want to think about anything happening to you.” Lin Yu said seriously, “And it won’t because I’m here.”
Yu Zhu couldn’t help but smile and flick Lin Yu’s forehead, “You won’t need me if you ever fall in love. Romantic love”
“Not true.” Lin Yu shook her head firmly, “I like flirting and everything, but i don’t ever want love. Not after everything that’s happened to mother and auntie White Snake. I hope I never fall in love.”
Zhu Zhan Ye came to Yu Zhu’s shop at midday , he smiled warmly as he saw her carefully stitching a silver lotus onto a delicate blue scarf. His soft silk boots made no noise in the small colorful shop.
“You make beautiful things.” He said as he reached for the scarf, the watery material shimmered at the joy of being touched. Yu Zhu looked up, startled by the compliment. She looked into his eyes as his hand brushed her fingertips.
“You’re too close.” She said evenly as she gently tugged the fabric, trying to free it from his grasp. Zhu Zhan Ye’s smiled widened a smidge as their faces were inches from each other, daring the other to look away. He felt as if he could drown in those brown eyes with hints of gold.
Bao Lu stood in the door way and coughed loudly. Zhu Zhan Ye and Yu Zhu looked at the servant and back at each other, their crooked smiles mirroring each other. Zhu Zhan Ye let go.
“How’s Lu Xi?” Zhan Ye asked, he had regular updates from his spies, but he wanted to hear from Yu Zhu herself.
Yu Zhu thought carefully, “She’s still in her room a lot but she’s eating more. It’s slow, but I believe given time, she will be back to normal.”
Zhan Ye sighed, “What’s normal for a child like her?”
Yu Zhu knew what he meant, “We all have monsters in our past. It’s something that we all learn to live with and fight against. She’s very bright, she’ll learn to adapt.” She picked up the scarf and gently folded it into a square.
He was curious as he picked up the neatly folded scarf and shook it out, a mischievous grin on his face, “and what about you Mistress Yu? How many monsters have you fought?”
Yu Zhu’s face was cold as she snatched the scarf back, “Not many. Unless you count boorish customers who come to my store without buying anything.”
Zhu Zhan Ye held up his hands in defeat, “I never seem to be able to say the right thing in front of you.”
“Then speak as little as possible.” Yu Zhu was angry with herself. She had let her guard down and Zhu Zhan Ye took the opening.
She looked anywhere but Zhu Zhan Ye, “Would you like to buy any of the new merchandise?”
Zhu Zhan Ye had been staring at the girl with intense curiosity at her sudden coldness. He snapped out of it and said, “Yes. I have a friend who has been ordered to give a gift to a high ranking Princess of the Kingdom of Dian and I want to give them the finest scarf money can buy. Only your work will do. Something that can please a member of the royal family. Can you do it?”
Yu Zhu nodded cooly, “I will have it to you by sun down.”
Zhu Zhan Ye smiled and bowed, “Thank you, Mistress Yu.”
“Your royal highness. May I present Princess Xue Lan Hua of the Dian Kingdom.” Shan Ying Lang said elegantly as Hua Er came forward and bowed to Zhu Zhan Ye. She was in the plain clothes of a commoner and wore a veiled hat that covered her face and figure, but every move was filed with lightness and grace.
Zhu Zhan Ye bowed low, “I know that the Princess is tired and this journey has been taxing. I am sorry that our kingdom has been so lacking in hospitality. However, for your safety, my father has ordered that you stay in this city with me, until we find the culprits who dare harm a bride of the empire. My guards and I will protect you.”
Hua Er straightened, “The hearts of those who wish to destroy the friendship and alliance between our nations are twisted. The Kingdom of Yue has done everything to ensure that I arrive safely in this kingdom and I am grateful. I understand the Emperor’s wishes and obey them without question.”
Zhu Zhan Ye smiled, so this was the fabled princess Hua Er. She was said to be beautiful, deadly, and sharper than the finest blade. No wonder they made it to the city with just three people. He glanced at the other two, a warrior and a doctor. He smiled, “I’ve prepared rooms on the floor above mine for you and have guards on both the left and right rooms. Your guards will be on the same level as well.”
He presented a the scarf Yu Zhu made for him, “this was made by the finest sewing mistress in the city. I wanted to give a gift worth of a princess. It represent the alliance between our two countries and families.”
Hua Er bowed and took the package, “Thank you. Perhaps we will talk more once my men and i have rested” Without another word, she swept out.
It wasn’t before Hua Er washed and ate before she opened the package. It was a beautiful blue scarf embroidered with the twin silvery dragon pattern in the style of Dian. Hua Er frowned, the pattern was oddly familiar. The dragons encircled a beautiful silk circle. It was a style that noble ladies often liked, having seen the Emperor wearing it on his robes. But it was the stitching and shape that caught Hua Er’s eye.
Hua Er set it down with a frown. She felt as if she had been asked a very important question while not paying attention. She sat there, staring at the pattern, deep into the night.
The Minister’s House, Ning City.
“That little brat princeling.” The ancient Minister Ke, governor of the city, with his large liquid eyes stared resentfully into his wineglass. Across the table, the Merchant Han Yi hissed in sympathy, “We have to keep the Midnight thief at bay and the Prince Zhu Zhan Ye from finding out about our schemes. This is impossible.” He glanced slyly at the Minister who downed another cup of wine.
The minister cursed, “I know. The damned brat Zhu Zhan Ye has been keeping a close eye on my operations. How will we survive if he keeps this up?”
The Merchant Han Yi spat too. “He came around, just the other day to ask about my missing concubine. So much for hiding true identity. He behaved as if he owned the place. He showed no respect for me. And I’m the most powerful merchant in town.”
Minister Ke pounded the table, “I wish we can beat that young upstart into a pulp. He went through all my accounts without permission and asked where the money went. How dare he?”
The merchant paused an looked around before softly whispering, “Have you asked his brother, the eldest prince? Surely he would know how to handle this little shit.”
“He’s on the battlefield.” Minister Ke shuddered, “He told me that if the boy gets too troublesome, I should just kill him.” The man put his hands on his placid face, “But I can’t! It would mean the death of my family if I touch the hair on Zhu Zhan Ye precious head.”
“And if we don’t act, he might find evidence of our embezzling scheme.” The old Merchant Han Yi shrugged coldly, “We shouldn’t wait until he snoops around and finds something. He may be a prince, we shouldn’t let him use the little power he has.”
The other man looked confused, “what do you mean?”
The Merchant Han Yi smiled, “Zhu Zhan Ye is the sixth living child of the Emperor. Born from a disgraced concubine. He has no friend in power and very little support in court. The emperor would not blink if he were to dissapear.”
“But you remember his sister…” Minister Ke said in hushed tones.
“The Princess Zhu Ming Yong was the favorite child, the Emperor love her more than life itself. The same could not be said of Zhu Zhan Ye.” The merchant’s tone was dismissive, “When he was injured on the battlefield it showed the Emperor that was not his strongest son, and therefore when the battle of succession does occur, I’m sure one of the other princes will kill him first.”
The minister sighed, “The Emperor had fourteen sons. He’s killed six himself. Three, including the Eldest prince are on the battle field. One has been banished to god knows where. Three are living in the palace. Only Zhu Zhan Ye provides to be the hindrance.”
” The Emperor would probably not notice if we killed the highly insignificant Zhu Zhan Ye. ” the merchant said softly as he poured more wine into the man’s cup , “You would be doing the Eldest Prince a favor. Perhaps when he becomes Emperor he will grant you a position of high honor.”
The wine soaked minister’s eyes glinted as he wondered aloud, “Perhaps even Minister of the Interior. Or even prime minister.”
The merchant smiled, “I have a good idea.”
The Demon Realms
The Guardians of the Icy Caverns were elemental beings of high demonic power. But the Wolf Chieftain wielded the Sorrow’s Sword and hadn’t become the chieftain by napping. It took him a few days but he cleared up the path to the Cursed Peak, but he did it all the same. It was said to be the birthplace of Wei Yun. The cold storm roared as he entered.
The screaming was fainter now, almost a whisper that could be barely heard. The Wolf Chieftain walked into the cold cavern, his breath came as a white cloud. He shook the ice from his hair and beard. The cave was so enormous that he couldn’t even see the ceiling. He gripped his sword and came to a curious pillar.
All the other giant columns of crystals were smooth, ancient, and dark. But this one glowed icy blue. Someone was trapped inside it.
“You won’t be able to open it with just force.” A voice echoed in the cavern. The Wolf Chieftain whirled around and frowned.
A glowing light, the spirit of a demon had spoken. It was the voice of an ancient man.
“It is a Crystal of Enslavement. To break it you need to spill your blood and the souls of a hundred demon warriors.” A bottle appeared out of thin air and landed in the Wolf Chieftain’s hands, “Lucky for you. I have it prepared.”
“Who are you?” The wolf Chieftain asked.
“A friend.” Was the cautious reply. “I am here only in spirit, because it is the most undetectable form I have. No one must know what has happened here. We have watched you for days. There are powerful beings who have been shielding your actions for days. But you must hurry.”
The wolf chieftain sighed and made a shallow cut on his hand, “Thanks, whoever you are.”
He took his blood and smeared it on the sword. With a grunt he threw the vial of souls at the crystal, and smashed his sword on it.
The magic blasted him but he gritted his teeth and bore down. His sword shattered at the impact but so did the crystal prison.
A young man swayed, and toppled forward. The wolf Chieftain ran forward and caught Huang Wu. He pulled him out and laid him down on the icy ground.
“What is the young prince of the crow kingdom doing here?” He breathed.
Huang Wu opened his eyes, he gasped for breath and tried to speak. Nothing would come out. He had screamed so much that he had lost his voice. His eyes shuttled back and forth, slowly, painfully, he moved his frozen fingers. Everything felt numb.
“He’s gravely injured.” The Wolf Chieftain cursed, “I don’t feel any of his power. Can you hear me? What happened to you?”
Huang Wu swallowed and tried to whisper, his throat was on fire. He made a a small jerk of the head.
“Huang Wu. Listen well.” The bright light of the spirit had transformed into a translucent specter, a image of his physical form, it was Grandfather. The Wolf Chieftain frowned, “You.. aren’t you that Rabbit King’s advisor?” He gripped his broken sword, “Tell me why I shouldn’t shatter your soul right now.”
Grandfather bowed, “Because we have a common enemy. We underestimated Wei Yun’s ambition, the realms will fall if we don’t stop him.”
The Wolf Chieftain laughed bitterly, “You mean you didn’t care as long as that young rabbit took the throne.”
Grandfather didn’t deny it. Perhaps deep down he always knew what the price could be, but that was not the main problem now.
He continued, “Wei Yun’s consuming the souls of warriors so he can attack the heavens. Once that happens, there will be no end to war. We will all be affected by his actions. All of demon lives may be consumed in the process.” He gestured to Huang Wu, “There however, is one weakness we know he has. Control that weakness, and we can control him.”
Huang Wu looked up, realized what the old man meant.
The grandfather nodded, “No one knows about your release. Wei Yun’s too busy fighting and you have a chance to go to the human realms. Even if you don’t have any magic you need to find a way to bring her back to us as soon as you are able.”
Huang Wu was still immobilized on the cold floor. He closed his eyes and gave the slightest nod. Grandfather’s specter disappeared without another word.
The wolf chieftain crouched low and picked the weak youth up and hoisted him over his shoulders. “Sleep. I know where the closest border is. I can get you over. We’ll discuss conditions later.” With that the wolf chieftain ran out of the cave, and disappeared into the icy storm outside.