Shan Ying Lang
(Photo Courtesy of Sina Weibo)
Ning City, Yue Kingdom
When Zhu Zhan Ye returned to the inn that morning, his eyes were dull and he walked as if he didn’t care who was in his way. Bao Lu tried to bring food to his master, but the young man shook his head. He spoke to no one, but sat there, staring at his hands. At sun set, he suddenly stood up and strode out, Bao Lu made to follow but Zhu Zhan Ye shook his head.
He seemed to wander aimlessly in the rushing crowd of people. He sat down at a small stall and barked at the server to get him a jug of their finest wine. One cup after another, fiery liquid splashed down his tongue until he tasted nothing.
A hand reached out to grab his wrist. He looked up and saw a girl shrouded in veils. “I don’t need company.” He growled, “If Bao Lu sent you. Tell him to mind his own business.” The hand didn’t release him. Zhu Zhan Ye raised an eyebrow, “I won’t tell you twice. You’re being rude.”
“You had no problem grabbing onto me when you were in my shop.” Yu Zhu lifted up her veils.
Zhu Zhan Ye looked at her for a moment and then grinned, “This is the first time you’ve come to me.”
Yu Zhu’s expression was between exasperation and amusement, “I was buying some silks and passed by here. Some people said a young man was trying to drown himself in drink, I was just curious.”
He challenged her, “Are you going to stop me?” He glanced at her slim fingers, there were faint scars on the soft white skin.
Yu Zhu smiled crookedly, “Lucky for you, I feel like drinking too” She beckoned the server to bring her a cup. He was beginning to feel the wine warm his blood, “You’ll ruin your reputation.”
She shrugged, “It won’t matter in a day or two.”
They drank like two good friends, talking and laughing about the places they’ve traveled and people they’ve met. Zhan Ye felt less and less like he was made of ice as the alcohol raged in his blood. Zhu Zhan Ye told her of fighting in battle and riding across the sea of sand. Yu Zhu told him of forests made of stone and far away travelers whose dark skin shown like bronze. They laughed and downed their wine until the’ve plowed through two jugs of wine.
Zhu Zhan Ye soon realized that Yu Zhu could hold her liquor better than anyone he’s met.
“You could probably drink sailors under the table.” He slurred. The little shop was nearly deserted. They were the last two.
Yu Zhu shrugged as she poured more, “I have, once. Lin Yu got very angry because we ended up steering the boat” She grinned mischievously, “She made me promise that I would never drink with sailors again.”
Zhu Zhan Ye tapped the tip of her nose “You shouldn’t smile too often”
Yu Zhu tilted her head in question. He shook his head, “You can scare a lot men away when you don’t smile.”
“I haven’t scared you away.”
He grinned and pounded his chest, “I’m made of tough stuff. That’s why I’ve survived when so many of my siblings died.” He grinned at her and said softly, “So don’t worry, I’ll be happy to be around you even on your worst days.”
She looked at him sadly, “I’m sorry about your family’s deaths.”
Zhu Zha Ye shrugged, “I only cried for my sister.” He poured himself another cup, “She died so that the rest could live.” He smiled bitterly, “She died in vain.”
He shook his head as if he was clearing the memory. Yu Zhu poured them more, while ignoring the glare of the server. It was getting late, but Zhu Zhan Ye was now too drunk to notice anything but the bowl in front of him.
He looked at Yu Zhu, “Are we friends?”
Yu Zhu smiled but didn’t answer the question.
He smiled too, “Of course. Under one mask is another. How could we be anything if we have more masks than pages in a book?”
“Isn’t it better this way?” Yu Zhu asked softly, “No one gets hurt.”
He grinned foolishly “Yes. You make a strong enough prison and no one can get to you. They don’t even try after a while.”
He wavered and then blundered on, “Tell me one thing about yourself that’s true. I just need one thing.”
Yu Zhu looked at him, her eyes seeing the hurt in his, “I thought the people around me loved me until I realized I was deceiving myself. I will never make that mistake again.”
“Now, was that so hard?” With that he wobbled before his head hit the table with a thunk. Yu Zhu sighed and took out a few coins, she beckoned the young server, “Go to the Thousand Waves Inn. Ask for Bao Lu, tell him his stupid master is drunk and lead him here. Tell him Mistress Yu sent you.”
Zhu Zhan Ye’s sleeping face was gently and untroubled. Yu Zhu touched his brow. “I’m sorry for all the trouble I caused.” Yu Zhu whispered, “It’s a good thing I’m leaving. You and I would get into all sorts of trouble if we got the chance. This night is my goodbye.”
She would wait until Zhan Ye’s faithful servant got here. With a sigh, she paid the bill and took out an embroidery kit. She had just finished the lotus pattern before she heard footsteps. Yu Zhu hurriedly lowered her veils until her face was covered.
Yu Zhu looked up. She could just make out Hua Er’s face, the other woman had lifted up her veil. Yu Zhu thanked the stars she had covered her face before Hua Er arrived.
Hua Er smiled and walked to the table, with her were a few of Zhu Zhan Ye’s guards. “Bao Lu is out searching for his master. I came instead. Are you the same Mistress Yu I met the other day?”
Not trusting her voice, Yu Zhu nodded.
Hua Er gestured to the table, “May I sit?”
Again, Yu Zhu nodded, she gripped her skirts to still her shaking hands.
“I want to apologize.” Hua Er began, “I seemed to have frightened you the other day. I didn’t mean to cause you any kind of stress.”
“You did nothing of the sort.” Yu Zhu’s voice was cold and distant, “I was unwell. I’m much better now.”
Hua Er seemed to be taken aback. This was the cultured tones of someone who had been raised on how to cut a person down with regal coldness. For a moment the two women said nothing.
Hua Er stood up with a polite nod. “I should go.”
“Wait!” Yu Zhu called out, what was she doing? But then, she had to know.
Hua Er turned, her face coldly polite, “Yes?”
“Are you happy? Hua Er. Are you really happy? Is marrying the prince of Yue what you really want?” Yu Zhu didn’t know what answer she was expecting. But if she was leaving this city, this empire, she could bear just a little more pain if it came from Hua Er.
Hua Er was taken aback. Who was this impertinent girl that could speak thus to royalty?
But there was something familiar too. A little girl, long ago, spoke Hua Er’s name with such warmth.
Hua Er swallowed, “Who are you?” She didn’t dare hope for the answer. The princess Yu Zhu had been sent somewhere far away, she shouldn’t even be in this realm, but what if, what if….?
Yu Zhu shook her head, “It doesn’t matter. I must go.” With a polite bow she left at a swift pace. Yu Zhu took several deep breathes as she ran through the night. Faster and faster she ran, until she left it all behind
In the torture chambers of the Magistrate’s Office, a woman begged and screamed for mercy. Her eyes were bloodshot and there were long, deep gouges on the sides of her face.
Madame Su sat there, screamed again and again. Her rich silks have been torn and soiled. Her shinning black hair was a a dull thick mess on the top of her head. She was shackled to the wall while someone burned her shoulder with a cherry red iron.
Magistrate Ke’s face was glistening with sweat. He was a nervous man by nature. But now, he sat there, waiting for the Madame to speak while gnawing his nails viciously.
Madame Su finally screamed, “Stop! I don’t know who took the ledger! I don’t remember!”
Magistrate Ke rasped in anger, “Kill her and dump her body in the slum district.”
She screamed, “Wait! Wait! I remember something!”
She huffed, “A few months ago, a young man. Zhu… Zhu Zhan… something came and asked me if I was good friends with you.” She whimpered, “I thought he was your friend, he paid me so well. So I told him a little bit about our business. But I swear, I thought he was your friend!”
Magistrate Ke’s face lost all of it’s color. If this was true, then Zhu Zhan Ye has the ledger, this meant death to not only him but his entire family. No wonder the young prince was so cocky the first time he had met Magistrate Ke, he’d been planning this all along. The old man gripped his chair, “Kill her and burn down her dance house.” Madame Su screamed for mercy until the thunk of the sword cut off her cries.
He left and beckoned to his captain’s guard, “Get me Te’le, drag him out of whatever drug den he’s in and tell him it’s urgent.” Zhu Zhan Ye had underestimated him, and now pushed him to the edge, now he would suffer.
Te’le sauntered into the magistrate’s house, “What do you want, uncle? I thought you said we should never meet face to face. Something about me being a shame to the family name.”
Magistrate Ke ignored this, “Someone has stolen the ledger from Merchant He Yi and I, hundreds will die. I need you to get it back.”
Te’le grinned, he was a massive man with a penchant for slowly torturing his victims, “Where is he?”
The magistrate took out a sheaf of paper, “I need him alive. And he’s not someone we can take easily. Too many people are guarding him. My spies tell me that he’s out drinking right now, and most of his guards are with him. However, some of his friends are staying at the inn with him. My sources tell me that the guards doubled when these people arrived a moth ago. Kidnap whoever’s his guest is. We’ll use that for leverage.”
Te’le grinned, “I can’t guarantee I’ll be too nice getting his guest here.”
The magistrate shrugged “We just need them alive.” He handed the man the paper, “This is the ransom note. Make it… memorable.”
Te’le grinned, he hadn’t been allowed to kill in a few weeks, his hands itched marvelously at the thought.
When Hua Er and her guards arrived back at the inn. She was exhausted. All she wanted to do was sleep and then tomorrow, ask Zhu Zhan Ye who Misstress Yu was. She instructed the guards to carrying the sleeping man to his room.
As she walked into hers, the guards began to yell at the top of their voices. Hua Er rushed out of her doors, her knives in hand.
She ran as fast as she could and rushed into Zhu Zhan Ye’s room.
In Zhu Zhan Ye’s room, Bao Lu’s head was on the table. The servant’s eyes were open and his mouth was agape in horror.
There were bodies of two guards, hacked into pieces on the floor. Bao Lu’s body was in pieces. Blood was everywhere. Hua Er quickly closed the doors, no one can see this.
The blood was dripping on the table. it had barely reached the note. Hua Er picked it up with trembling fingers.
“You stole something of ours. We have your guest, Doctor Li. Bring me the ledger tomorrow night, at midnight by the Jade Bone Lake. Or else he dies.”
She crumpled the note in her hands. “Take your master to my room. Get me some water, as icy as you can get” She snapped at the motionless guards, “Clean this up. Make sure no one knows of this.”
She followed the men as they took Zhu Zhan Ye into her room. She wasn’t going to lose another person she cared about. One way or another she’ll get to the bottom of this.
On the Borders of the Human and Demon Realms
The Canyon of the Lost was a cold grey place, the dusty road was said to be paved with the bones of soldiers from every war ever fought. Shan Ying Lang sighed and jumped off his horse, “Back into hell I go.” He smiled ruefully, “It’s a miracle I got out alive as a child.”
He began to whistle a sad little tune as he walked, the echo of the sharp notes seem like someone was answering him. Deeper and deeper he went, the bones of those long dead gleamed at him with an eerily glow. The farther he walked the more piles he saw, time had ravaged the bodies until nothing was left.
Miles and miles he went, until the piles of bones on the sides of the road began to pile higher and higher. He stopped to rest, sitting on a giant pile at least 30 feet high. Grinning he picked up a skull, “What unfortunate soul were you? Which king sent you into the canyon to die at the hands of demons?”
For over the centuries, kings and emperors had learned the location of the gates of the demon realms. Those greedy and foolish sought to steal demon powers. They sent vast armies into the depths to breach the barriers. Demons happily ate the offerings and feasted whenever a King was foolish enough to try. Soon some demons even ventured to the human world and wreaked havoc.
To protected humans, the Emperor of Heaven wiped the memory of the barrier from human minds. He separated the realms by creating a grey border that disables the magic of both humans and demons, the land between the two realms, also known as the Canyons of the lost souls.
Shan Ying Lang walked on, he walked until his feet were sore. It was two days before he saw the entrance of the cave that led to the River of Souls.
“Halt! Who dares enter the border of the Human and Demon realms?” The canyons shook as two guardian spirits made of rocks split themselves from the Canyon Walls. They were as tall as the canyons, with giant boulders for arms and legs “What puny mortal dares to enter?”
“Not human. Not demon.” Shan Ying Lang stood up and dusted his pants. “I’m just here to meet my old man. My father, the Wolf Chief.”
The two giants gazed at him, “A half breed.”
Shan Ying Lang shrugged, “No. A royal bastard. I am the son of the Wolf Chief of the Dog Tribe. You can smell the blood of the zodiac in me. I’m royal, I’m allowed to pass.”
The two looked at each other, “Why should we let, mutt?” One of them asked. “Half of you is still human”
“Look. I have important business that I have to attend to. For one thing, I would like to take a long bath after all this dust” Shan Ying Lang was impatient, “Move before I kick you back into the canyon walls permanently.”
The giants guffawed, “You can not kill us. We are not demons. We do not die.”
Shan Ying Lang’s eyes were pure ice “I may be a half-breed, but I have the blood of the Wolf Chief flowing in me.”
He drew out his sword and sliced his own hand. The blood covered the sword and the metal glowed as if it was made of molten lava, “This blood sword was made specially for my half-breed abilities. In a magically protected place like this where neither human nor demon magic work, mine still will.” He grinned as the giants looked at each other with their boulder eyes, “The best part is, since this place is neither human nor demon, no one will sense my magic. So no one will come after me for using it.” With that he ran towards the feet of the giant.
One tried to step on him. Shan Ying Lang leaped onto the side of the cliff and flipped, he twisted and with a mighty swipe, cut the feet off the giant. He landed lightly on the rock giant and the other one swung to kick. He easily jumped onto the other demon in the narrow canyon as it destroyed the other giant’s legs. The legless giant fell to the floor helplessly.
Shan Ying Lang leapt higher and higher on the rock giant, the giant trying to swat him like an annoying bug. He smiled as the giant took huge chunks out of itself, though the flying rock hurt like arrows.
With a swift blow, Shan Ying Lang struck the thing in it’s black boulder eye. The rock giant flailed and with a mighty step, smashed his fallen companion’s head with his feet. The headless giant’s arms shot up, flailing to get up. Shan Ying Lang grinned and dug his sword in harder, steering the giant to fall onto the other one, impaling itself on its companion.
When the great cloud of dust settled Shan Ying Lang looked down, his clothes, hair and face was covered in dust. He grumbled in disgust, “If I ever see that old man, I’m making him pay for all of this. He better left me with a giant pile of money by the River of Souls.”
One of the giants groaned and the rocks began to shift, it was trying to put itself together again. Shan Ying Lang raised his eyebrows, “If you’re trying to stop me, shall we go for round two? Maybe I can try making you into dust.”
The Rock Giant mumbled, “Go away.” And closed its eyes while it tried to reassemble itself.
“Tsh” Shan Ying Lang called back as he walked towards the entrance of the River of Souls, “you need to work on your manners.”
Shan Ying Lang entered the cave that lead to the River of Souls. Once came out, he smiled. It was as beautiful as he remembered. The green grass waved lazily beneath the forever flowering peach blossoms. The flute sound in his ear lead him to one of the trees.
Beneath it was a sleeping youth of twenty five or so. He looked close to Ying Lang’s age.
Shan Ying Lang sniffed, his eyes widdened, “You’re a human. What are you doing in a place like this?”
The young man slept on, not saying a word. On his chest was the flute. Shan Ying Lang picked it up. No doubt about it. This was his fathers. The meaning was clear, his father wanted Ying Lang to take the human away.
“Money would have been nice.” Shan Ying Lang grumbled as he picked up the man and hoisted him over his shoulder, “Other parents give their children money. Or an explanation. I can do with an explanation.”
He sighed and trotted to the entrance, “Must be nice to have a father that doesn’t call you hundreds of miles away to rescue a stranger out of the blue.” He muttered as he returned to the canyon.