Fanfic: A Cypress in Winter – Chapter 6 (Ice Fantasy - 幻城)


Chapter 6

Written By UnicornSlippers
Editing by SakiVI

Xing Jiu entered Mirage Hall thirty minutes later, taking the extra time to walk off the excitement of the evening’s activities with Lan Shang before his audience with the King.

“You’re late,” said Shi, not looking up from where he was sitting at a desk carved from pale, polished stone, the glassy surface riddled with ornate symbols. Shi fidgeted with a chess set, absentmindedly shifting the smooth pebbles around on the grid-lined board. “What were you doing?”

Xing Jiu, generally self-possessed, reddened and stammered, “I was… getting ready for bed, your Majesty.”

Shi laughed loudly, the sound so unusual coming from the young man that it caused Xing Jiu to take a step back. Shi stood up and walked towards his nervous adviser, a smile still on his face, but his cerulean eyes were harboring a calculating glint.

“Xing Jiu, how long has Lan Shang been staying at the palace in Snow Blade City?” Shi queried.

At the mention of her name, Xing Jiu flushed more deeply. “She has been here for ten years, your Highness.”

Shi nodded thoughtfully. “And how long has she been Queen of the Mermaid Tribe?”

“Ten years,” Xing Jiu responded quietly.

“Why do you think she stays here, in Snow Blade City, instead of at her palace on Seven Bay Island ruling her own people?” Shi asked, pacing in a slow circle around Xing Jiu, his hands clasped behind his back.

“She visits her people often, your Majesty! Her people are happy and prosperous!” Xing Jiu countered defensively, his anxiety growing at Shi’s line of questioning.

“Of course she does. I do not doubt her love for her people, but this doesn’t answer my question. Why does she live here instead of at the Mermaid Tribe palace?” Shi stopped pacing and waited patiently for Xing Jiu to grasp his meaning.

Xing Jiu paused for a long moment, his brow furrowed, and then understanding slowly dawned on his face.

“Ka Suo. She remains here for Ka Suo because she is in love with him, even after his death. She has always been in love with him and waits for his awakening.” Shi said gently. “Xing Jiu, when we find the Blood Red Lotus and turn back time to save Ka Suo, everything that has passed between you and Lan Shang will be erased. Do you think that she will care for you if Ka Suo is alive?”

Xing Jiu looked away from Shi, his jaw tightening as he struggled with conflicting emotions.

Shi sighed, wondering again why women were always the cause of so much trouble and why men often lost their wits because of them. His intention wasn’t to be cruel, but this affair between Xing Jiu and Lan Shang would ultimately interfere with his plans to save his brother, and Xing Jiu would get hurt terribly in the process. It was time to end this before it went any further.

Shi put his hand gently on Xing Jui’s shoulder. “Are you loyal to me, Xing Jiu? Are you still committed to helping me save Ka Suo? If so, whatever is between you and Lan Shang will not end well. There is no happy ending. Now that Song Bai has appeared, we may be staying in Snow Blade City longer than we originally planned. Perhaps it’s time that Lan Shang goes back to Seven Bay Island and lives among her own people.”

Xing Jiu opened his mouth to argue, eyes flashing with anger, but Shi put up his hand to silence him. “I know this is an uncomfortable subject for you. Think on it and we can discuss Lan Shang more tomorrow. Now, I would like to discuss Song Bai and the mark on her shoulder.”

Shi had described the flower shaped symbol on Song Bai to Xing Jiu and Granny back in Snow Fog Forest. Xing Jiu had been perplexed, having read nothing that would indicate how this could be connected to the Blood Red Lotus. Shi was certain that Granny had known more than she was letting on, however, but she had refused to answer Shi’s questions directly. He knew from experience that he wouldn’t get any more information out of her until she was ready to share it.

“You will go to the Imperial Library and search the ancient texts. Search for some mention of a woman, a birthmark, or another realm in connection with an ancient artifact. Try to find anything that can help us understand how Song Bai might be linked to the Blood Red Lotus.”

Xing Jiu inclined his head. “May I start in the morning, Highness? I am tired.”

“I realize you’ve been keeping my schedule for many years, Xing Jiu, but isn’t your natural inclination to sleep during the day and stay up at night? Perhaps you can get back to your own sleep schedule, starting tonight?” Shi raised one perfectly arched eyebrow, waiting for his adviser’s response.

“Of course, your Highness,” Xing Jiu responded, not bothering to mask the annoyance in his tone.

As Xing Jiu left, Shi began to pace again, thinking about Song Bai and the Blood Red Lotus, trying to piece together how the two might be related. He knew very little about this woman, and he hadn’t made an effort to talk to her during their ride from Snow Fog Forest. Maybe he could gather some clues if he was more friendly with her and won her trust. Then he could interrogate her about her realm and the lore of her people. One thing he wanted to avoid was questioning her openly about her birthmark, as he didn’t want to give her any reason to suspect that he might want to possess the Blood Red Lotus for himself.

Shi assumed that Song Bai had bathed by now and was likely enjoying a meal in the room that had been assigned to her in Mirage Hall. He left his room and called for Servant Master Wu Zan to take him to where Song Bai had been settled. As they walked, Shi questioned Wu Zan about the Earth Tribe princess.

“Wu Zan, does the princess seem content with her accommodations?”

“Yes, your Highness. She and her sisters have bathed and were given clean clothing. A meal has been prepared for them and they should be dining now in Song Bai’s room,” Wu Zan replied.

“Excellent. I am pleased to hear it. Stay close to Song Bai and make sure she doesn’t leave the palace. I want to know what she is discussing with her sisters, and especially any conversations she has with that lout, Xu Run. Gain her confidence.” Shi leveled a somber gaze at Wu Zan.

Wu Zan bowed deeply, a knowing smile fixed on his generous lips. “As you wish, your Highness. I will do my best.”

Wu Zan had been at the palace in Snow Blade City for many years, well before Shi had been crowned King. An immortal from the Healer Tribe who had chosen to serve Ice Tribe as a youth, he had excellent curative skills and was organized and efficient. He was also quite good-looking and charismatic, which made him an superb choice for Servant Master. The women in the palace only needed to be graced with one of his charming smiles and they would do anything he asked without hesitation. It often worked on men as well. Shi was certain that Wu Zan would have no trouble enchanting Song Bai and her sisters.

They stopped in front of a large vaulted door flanked by two stern-looking Ice Tribe guards. Shi dismissed the Servant Master, but after a moment’s hesitation, turned and called to him.

“Wu Zan, go to Lan Shang and inform her that she is to travel back to her palace at Seven Bay Island tomorrow, where she will remain. Have her belongings packed and ready to transport in the morning. Tell her that I will send word to her if anything changes with Ka Suo.”

Wu Zan inclined his head, acknowledging Shi’s command and quietly exited Mirage Hall.

Shi entered Song Bai’s room, expecting to be greeted by three women enjoying a table laden with a lavish meal, but the room was empty and silent. Shi panicked, wondering where Song Bai had gone, but then he caught sight of her. She was standing near a high domed window, gazing out at the gentle fall of crystal-like snowflakes peppering the darkening sky. Luminous beams of moonlight streamed through the sparkling panes of glass and illuminated her lithe form. She was clearly dressed for bed, clothed in a transparent sleeping garment of silver gauze, her dark brown copper-streaked hair tumbling to her waist. He could see her breasts pressing against the material and her narrow waist flared to round hips that ascended to long, athletic legs.

Shi’s heart hammered in his chest as his eyes glued themselves to her supple shape. He found himself unable to speak or move, paralyzed by a yearning that was wholly unfamiliar and a little frightening to him. His thoughts wandered, and he envisioned coming up behind her and smoothing his hands over her flat stomach, nuzzling the small flower on her shoulder as he caressed her small, firm breasts, her nipples hardening against his palms...

Shi shook his head in confusion and shifted uncomfortably, feeling his body respond to the sensual pictures invading his mind. He backed away, softly creeping out of the room before Song Bai saw him watching her.

Outside of Song Bai’s room, Shi struggled to regain his composure, disturbed that he had been so moved by the sight of the Earth Tribe princess. He had seen women unclothed before and he knew what went on between men and women in bed. His own mother was a concubine, after all. It was just that he had never had a woman affect him in such a way, and he wondered again as he had in Snow Fog Forest if she was using some sort of spell to ensnare him. He would have to be more careful in the future. Song Bai must command a powerful magic that he was unfamiliar with and thus had been unable to guard himself against it.

As Shi was mulling over his reaction to Song Bai, he heard the soft pad of footsteps come up behind him and he froze. He turned quickly to see who was approaching and a hand connected with his face, the slap so hard and unexpected that it rocked his head back and caused him to see stars.

Lan Shang stood in front of him, tears streaming down her exquisite face. “You bastard!” she screamed, and she turned to flee in a cloud of swirling turquoise silk and glittering jewels. Shi stared in absolute shock, his ice-blue eyes wide and his hand pressed against his assaulted cheek as he watched her disappear sobbing down the corridor.

After a few minutes, he removed his hand from his injured face and growled in frustration, stomping back towards his room. “Women! So annoying!”