(Photo Courtesy of Sina Weibo)
(Yu Zhu ) (Wei Yun)
The Yue Kingdom
The midnight thief was said to only appear at the darkest hour of the night. But tonight Yu Zhu needed her activities to be timed perfectly if her plan was to work. She was going to pull of the most daring of stunts tonight as the Midnight Theif.
Yu Zhu barely made any sound as she jumped from rooftop to rooftop, her feet lighter than butterfly wings grazing windblown leaves. Her dark clothes and mask melted into the midnight, the clouds obscuring her shadow and the wind the sound of her movements. She hid behind the gargantuan stone lion on top of the merchant’s roof.
Below her the house of the Merchant Han Yi was lit in celebration, the wealthy old man was marrying his seventh concubine.
Yu Zhu smiled beneath her mask, a wedding was the perfect cover, how could a thief miss an opportunity like this?
She silently ran along the dark side of the roof, flattening herself on the edge, waiting for the guards to get drunk enough. As the hours went by, sure enough the guards began to sneak drinks into their bellies, one more unsteadily than the other. Yu Zhu waited patiently, the main event was about to start.
The twinge of the tuning Pipa instrument turned the guests and ancient grooms’ attention to the center stage. While beautiful dancing girls had been circling the stage and entertaining the guests, this was the event everyone was waiting for. A guest stood and bowed to Han Pi, “Han Pi, you marvelous man, how did you get the legendary Lin Yu to come and perform? Did you line the road from the dance house to your house with gold?”
Another man, his eyes bright with anticipation said, “Lin Yu is the most beautiful woman of this city, maybe even the empire. Her dancing has the power to intoxicate men. You must’ve paid a mountain in gold.”
The old man grinned, his ancient face filled with glee, “I can’t tell you my secrets, or else you’ll all have her perform at celebrations. This is too special to be copied!”
“Perhaps you can have her as your next concubine!” Someone added, the drunken guests laughed heartily. Han Pi smiled lecherously, “When I’m bored of the new concubine, something can be arranged.”
Yu Zhu nearly let out a derisive snort, he would be begging for a quick death if Lin Yu ever heard of his plans. Never mind that demons killing mortals is the gravest of sins and all the priests would be after them in a heartbeat, Yu Zhu would help Lin Yu kill the bastard.
The sound of the drum reverberated in the wine scented air. Flower petals flew in the air like snow as a circle of girls began appear on the stage, each more beautiful than the next. The drums stopped and the sharp ring of Pipa heralded the arrival of the main dancer.
A girl in pale green seemingly floated down from the sky, spinning gracefully onto the stage. She seemed to glow brightly in the cloudy night, as if she had taken all the light and infused it into her skin. Every man was utterly powerless under her influence.
Word began to travel the Lin Yu was performing, and everyone clamored for a look. Lin Yu had only performed once before in the city, but it was said to be so unforgettable that she became instantly famous.
Yu Zhu counted the guards, all were looking at Lin Yu. She leapt from the highest rooftop and ran across the thin divider to the smaller court yard of the inner house. There she leaped onto a branch of oak and silently landed onto grassy enclave. Lin Yu thanked the stars that two weeks ago, Han Pi’s concubine had ordered her to come and embroider some clothes for her. She knew the place like the back of her hand.
Past the courtyard of the concubines, through the winter and summer pavilions she went, darting between shadows, and counting the beats of the music. It has to be timed perfectly, she had to be gone by the time Lin Yu finished.
Yu Zhu found the unguarded study, and looked around. No one was in sight. She crept up to the lock door and took out a pin, swiftly and deftly picking the lock. All those years running with the ragamuffins in the demons realms had taught her all sorts of useful tricks. The lock tumblers clicked, she was in.
Yu Zhu quickly closed the door behind her, and started looking behind the paintings. The highest ranking concubine of the house was a loudmouth and had complained to Yu Zhu that the Merchant Han Yi was filthy rich but wouldn’t buy her new jewels, even though he had thousands of gold bars hidden underneath his study.
Yu Zhu smiled as she saw looked at the copper statues on a shelf. All was dusty but one. It had the polished look of something that was moved around quite a lot. She turned it, a set of stairs appeared out of the floor. Yu Zhu walked into the room and smiled.
Han Pi, you stingy old bastard. She looked onto the room, rows and rows of gold piled high from ceiling to wall. A strong man could maybe move all of it away in a week, given that he had all the time in the world. But Yu Zhu was lucky, she could do magic.
Whatever Wei Yun had done, when he had taught her magic, had intensified Yu Zhu’s affinity for it, she could do a few transformative spells with some effort, it was quite handy in her new line of work. Lin Yu and Yu Zhu had discovered that while demon-catching priests were sensitive to demon made magic, they could not sense Yu Zhu’s magic. She closed her eyes and raised her hand, the gold began to shimmer and shake. Yu Zhu felt beads of sweat form on her head. This was still hard for her, she gritted her teeth and pushed her magic with her will, the pain in between her eyes stung until it was almost unbearable. In a burst, the gold transformed into a huge pile of feathers. Yu Zhu gasped and fell her knees, stuffing her arm in her mouth to keep quiet.
Shaking she got a bag out and began to collect the feathers. The spell might last an hour at the most before it became heavy gold again.
She listened. The music was ending soon. She bounded up the stairs and did a quick visual sweep. All was well. She silently closed the hidden staircase and smiled, tomorrow the old bastard would find a big enough surprise to give him a heart attack. She closed the door and the locked it, heading towards gardens.
Yu Zhu heard voices, some of the maids from the south part of the house was hurrying to catch the last glimpses of Lin Yu’s dance. She abruptly changed course and leapt into the first darkened room she saw.
The voices past and she straightened. Yu Zhu was about to go when she heard muffled squealing in the room, almost as if someone was screaming through cloth. She carefully approached the bed, on it was a diminutive figure dressed in bridal red. Yu Zhu looked around, this was the new concubine’s room. She removed the cloth from the shivering figure, and ice encased her heart.
The new bride of the Merchant was maybe 12 or 13, the girl flinched as the cloth covering her face fell away. Her eyes were puffy from crying and there was a bruise from her temple to her neck. Her mouth, hands and feet were bound with thick red cloth, and she was bleeding struggling against the binds on her wrists and legs. The girl’s muffled voice seemed to grow louder as she saw the masked and dark cloth Yu Zhu.
She’s been kidnapped and forcibly brought here, Yu Zhu was numb with anger, I’m going to make him pay for this
If Yu ZHu left the girl here, she would become the old man’s new plaything. Though she had no time for this, Yu Zhu knew there was no choice but to take the poor thing along.
“I can get you out of here. Nod if you understand.” The young girl quieted, and gave a frightened nod. Yu Zhu took out a dagger and quickly cut away the bonds, “Don’t make a noise.” The girl scrambled off the bed, trying to get away from it as far as possible. She fell to the floor, her legs numb from disuse. Yu Zhu bit her lip in frustration, this would slower her down monumentally. She grabbed the girl by the waist and hauled her up.
“Hang on to me” Yu Zhu whispered as she moved the limping girl carefully to the door, Yu Zhu tore down a curtain and hung it over the girl, covering her face in case anyone saw them. Yu Zhu glanced outside, still silent.
It was too quiet. The music had ended, it was the moment of awe and reverie after Lin Yu’s dance. She leapt onto the roof, shifting the girl on her back and ran for all she was worth. Soon she and the girl would be out of danger. A few roofs away, Yu Zhu halted, the blood drained from her face.
“Now who could you be, flying through rooftops at night?” Zhu Zhan Ye called out, he stood on a rooftop with a sword in hand, “I’m surprised you’ve added kidnapping in addition to thievery.” Yu Zhu cursed underneath her breathe, she had her hand full with the magicked gold and the girl, this was bad. She wasn’t sure how much time she had before the magic wore off.
“Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you too much.” Zhu Zhan Ye smirked and swung his sword up, “I want the Midnight Thief to walk up to the executioner’s block without any help.”
The Demon Realms
Huang Wu and his two remaining brothers stood beneath the dais where the Crow King sat in the palace of the Crow King, discussing the demon war. The Old Crow King’s face was a mask of grief and anger, his alignment with Wei Yun had taken a heavy toll on his family and kingdom.
“The treasury is depleted, there is rebellion in the eastern skies. Our armies are stretched thin. How many more have to die for the Jade Rabbit’s son to inherit a throne? When will Wei Yun be satisfied?” Huang Wu’s brother Huang Er asked bitterly, “Elder Brother’s and Third Brother’s death could’ve been prevented if we stayed out of this.”
“What should we do?” Huang Si, the fourth prince asked, “As messengers of the sky, if we tell the Gods what’s going on, perhaps the will come.”
“They would force Wei Yun back into the forest. He’ll know it’s us.” Huang Wu observed.
The Old Crow King sighed, “Back when he helped me gain my kingdom, I promised him I would help him. There is nothing more I regret than that promise.”
“Wei Yun will never understand this betrayal.” Huang Wu said, his eyes hollow, “He has no mercy, and would decimate our dynasty.”
“But it would save our people.” The Old Crow King decided, “And that’s the best we can hope for right now.”
“You’re wrong, if you went to the Gods. I would kill every last one in your land.” A cold voice pierced the throne room as the doors were thrown open. Wei Yu stood there, a sword in one hand and a head of a crow soldier in the other. Behind him was a long trail of soldiers’ blood and bodies, leading to the front gates of the Black Crow Palace.
Wei Yun’s coldly graceful visage was impassive as he thew the head of the crow soldier onto the gilded floor. Huang Wu and his brothers rose and drew their swords. Wei Yun’s appearance had caught them off guard, the Crow King had expressly forbidden him from entering or interfering in their kingdom.
Wei Yun’s eyes flicked to Huang Wu sadly, “I am doing this so we can all live in a world where we have to fear no one. Why must you fight me?”
“You are creating a world where we fear only you.” The Old Crow King stood up to face the handsome god, “You’ve changed. I no longer know who you are. “
Wei Yun’s brows furrowed, “I am doing what I know is best. Old friend, I protected your kingdom, and this is how you repay me?”
“My sons are dead. My people are dying. I owe you nothing.” The words were laced with bitterness and loss.
The Crow King stood and roared, “What’s clouded your eyes so that you can’t see the souls leaving the bodies of the slain? What has covered your ears so you can’t hear the screams of the children burning in their homes? What as numbed you so that you don’t feel the grief of the living?”
The old king’s breath became labored, he sat down, the anger and grief draining him of his energy.
Wei Yun sighed, “These are but a few, and they have died to further my cause. The cost of victory is high.” With that he darted past Huang Wu and his brothers in the blink of an eye to stand before the Crow King.
Wei Yun’s sword bit deep into the Crow King’s heart. “I’m sorry old friend,” Wei Yun whispered, “But if the heavens know that I am about, the Gods would come. They might discover her accidentally and I can’t have that. She needs to be safe. This is all for her.”
The Crow King gasped once as blood gushed out of his chest, he couldn’t scream as the blood began pouring out of his mouth, choking him to death. His eyes looked at the face of each of his beloved sons, their horror reflecting his own.
Wei Yun drew the sword out of the old man’s body and turned around. The three princes were too stunned to move. Wei Yun’s face showed no emotion as he pointed the sword dripping with the old crow’s blood towards the second prince Huang Er, “Long Live the New Crow King.”
Huang Wu was the first to break out of his shock, he rushed at Wei Yun with his sword raised.
“I’ve been nothing but a friend. We helped you without fail. How.. How?” His scream was feral, there was wild disbelief on his youthful face. Tears began to fall as he ran towards the god, he wanted to hurt Wei Yun. To tear into his flesh. This wasn’t real. His father, the man who had lovingly raised him, was dead.
The man he had thought was his best friend had killed his father.
Wei Yun opened his hand and a bright ball appeared, it engulfed Huang Wu in white cage, trapping him in power. The white ball returned into Wei Yun’s hand. He closed his fingers and it disappeared.
“The same will happen to you if you try to reach the God Realms for help, I will easily kill you and put the Huang Si on the throne.” Wei Yun warned Huang Er calmly as he strode out of the palace, the steps flowing with the blood of the old king. “Remember today. Let it burn into your memories.”