Fanfic: A Cypress in Winter – Chapter 2 (Ice Fantasy - 幻城)

Chapter 2

written by: UnicornSlippers
Editing: Saki, Charistia
Consultation: Charistia

Shi crested the rim of a curved ledge and turned back to scan the broken landscape for any sign of Xing Jiu. The terrain was grey and colorless, covered in a fine, dusty gravel and dotted with pallid boulders. Shi sighed in exasperation, shifting his gaze back to the expansive horizon. A storm was forming in the distance, twisting and coiling as it marshaled power from the unstable atmosphere.

Several days ago, they had been approached in the mortal city of Hollow Lake by a man named Lai Yi. He told them that the fabled Blood Red Lotus was rumored to be located in the forsaken Northern Wilds. The Wilds were bleak and isolated; a harsh and unyielding environment that mortals avoided. Although suspicious of more unsubstantiated gossip, the Northern Wilds were largely unexplored, and this gave Shi renewed hope in their mission. It was possible that the relic had been so difficult to find because it was in an extremely secluded location; a location just like the Northern Wilds. Shi and Xing Jiu had immediately journeyed north and split up to investigate this new lead on the Blood Red Lotus.

Shi felt a familiar wave of shame wash over him. He had allowed his brother to suffer the loss of his wife, Li Luo, and upon finally reuniting with her, Ka Suo had died trying to help Shi regain his memories. Shi had sealed Ka Suo before his spirit had moved onto the next life, determined to find a way to resurrect him as had been done with Li Luo and the Veiled Lotus. At that time, Xing Jiu had told Shi that there might be a way to save Ka Suo. He had mentioned an ancient book in the library at Snow Blade City that described the Blood Red Lotus, a mystical object that could be used to move time backwards. The book did not indicate the location of the Blood Red Lotus, however, so Shi and Xing Jiu had been searching for it ever since.

Shi’s thoughts flickered briefly to Yan Da, spirited Princess of the Fire Tribe and his best friend. She had also needlessly sacrificed her life for him, and he had been unable to comfort her while she lay dying in his arms. It made him feel miserable and useless.

Shi blinked hard and shook himself, unwilling to allow the shadows of the past to suffocate him to the point of despondency and inaction. He could still save his brother and Yan Da. If he could find the Blood Red Lotus and compel it to bloom, he could use it to wind back time and prevent their deaths before they even occurred. He could still keep the promise he had made so many years ago to give his beloved brother Ka Suo his freedom and happiness.

“Highness! Over here!” Xing Jiu’s clear voice resonated over the rock-strewn terrain. Anxiety and excitement tangled in Shi’s stomach as he moved swiftly towards where Xing Jiu was standing. After so many desperate years of searching, they had succeeded! Xing Jiu must have found the Blood Red Lotus.

“What is it? What have you found?” Shi breathed eagerly as he abruptly appeared out of nothingness behind Xing Jiu.

“My apologies, Highness.” Xing Jiu turned and gave Shi a stiff bow. “I haven’t found anything, but Granny just contacted me through the Dream Cube. She says that Ice Tribe is in danger and you must come home immediately.”

Shi stared at Xing Jiu in silence for a long moment. “Xing Jiu…” he said, his voice soft but also filled with a tension that betrayed intense worry. “You have found nothing? No sign of the Blood Red Lotus?”

Xing Jiu shook his head. “I am sorry, Highness. Nothing.”

Shi stood perfectly still and closed his eyes, frustration welling up inside of him like a white hot geyser of ice and fire. It had been another dead end. More wasted effort. Another meaningless journey.

Finally, after several minutes of trying to regain control of his temper, he opened his eyes and regarded Xing Jiu coolly. “Ice Tribe doesn’t need my help. They can help themselves. We need to keep searching.”

“Highness, I think this is serious.” Xing Jiu persuaded. “This new leader of Fire Tribe, Mao Jiang, has been increasing his raids in the mortal realm to the south. Granny said that he has opened up some type of portal near Snow Fog forest. Perhaps it is time that we go home, for just a little while, and find out what this Mao Jiang is planning?”

Xing Jiu eyed Shi carefully, unsure of Shi’s response to his line of reasoning. Shi’s moods had been erratic lately, and Xing Jiu had no desire to be on the receiving end of one of his outbursts. He worried for the young Ice Tribe King. After Ka Suo’s death, it was as if Shi’s alter ego, the volatile Li Tian Jin, had merged with Ying Kong Shi’s gentle and calm disposition, resulting in a very unpredictable and often tempestuous young man.

Shi began pacing back and forth, his expression a mask of tranquility but his posture that of a caged animal. “Why does the Ice Tribe call on me now?” Shi asked, disapproval and the hazy undercurrent of regret in his tone. “They only call me their King when they need my help. Otherwise, I am nothing to them. Less than nothing.”

“Shi, ” Dreamer cajoled, placing his hand gently on his master’s shoulder. “Li Luo and Lan Shang are in Snow Blade City. Granny is in Snow Fog Forest. These are people that Kasuo loved. People that Ka Suo would want you to protect for him.”

Shi’s demeanor changed abruptly at the mention of Ka Suo’s name and Xing Jiu knew that he had won the argument.

“Fine.” sighed Shi. “We will go back home for a few days and find out what is going on, but we cannot stay. We must continue to look for the Blood Red Lotus.”

He met Xing Jiu’s gaze with a dangerous glint in his eyes that indicated he would tolerate no more discussion. “Of course, Highness.” said Xing Jiu, switching back to Shi’s formal title and inclining his head.

Shi placed his hand on Xing Jiu’s sleeve, a slight, impish smile lifting one corner of his perfectly shaped mouth. “Are you ready?” he asked, sapphire eyes shifting from their previous hardness to a playful gleam. Xing Jiu suddenly looked alarmed.

“Shi, no, not that that way!” he yelped, panic spreading across his features, but it was too late. Shi and Xing Jiu had disappeared and all that was left in the hushed vastness of the Northern Wilds that marked their presence was a sparkling contrail of crystalline snowflakes swirling in the cloudless sky.