Fanfic: A Cypress in Winter – Chapter 10 (Ice Fantasy - 幻城)

Chapter 10 

Written By Drama Panda and UnicornSlippers
Consultation By Charistia

Xing Jiu looked around his room at the palace on Seven Bay Island and felt a great unease. He had left Snow Blade City in haste and had been highly infuriated. After Shi had practically commanded him to abandon Lan Shang, he had gone to her and tried to tell her in not as many words why they would have to be apart for a while. Contrary to the common belief among the palace residents, Lan Shang was no fool, and she had read between the lines. She had become furious with Xing Jiu and had gone off in a huff. When Wu Zan told him that she had slapped Shi he had immediately gone to search for her. The sight of her crying her eyes out made him feel like the lowest of the low and he resolved accompany her on her journey back to Seven Bay Island, where she would be out of Shi’s immediate reach and back among her own people.

The trip to the Mermaid Kingdom had been tense. They had left late in the evening and had ridden their horses at a brutal pace the entire night, stopping only to sleep the next day on their journey across the sea by boat to reach the Mermaid Kingdom. They had had little conversation between them during this time. Lan Shang had been very quiet, her eyes refusing to meet his the few times he had attempted to start up conversation. His mind had also been filled with the memories of his conversation with Shi and how the Ice King had indirectly accused him of disloyalty to Kasuo. Him! Disloyal! He had loved Kasuo like a brother and it had broken him when he had died. The only reason he put up with Shi and his mercurial moods were because he was Kasuo’s brother. It had made him feel small to be denigrated so.

A knock on the door broke him out of his reverie.

“Come in!” he shouted.

Lan Shang entered, looking slightly hesitant and fidgety.

“I apologize for shouting, I thought it was a maid.”

“No… it’s fine.”

Xing Jiu looked at Lan Shang and his heart grew heavy. She was wearing a powder blue gown with puffed sleeves, the bodice decorated with shimmering sequins reminiscent of fish scales flashing in the morning sunlight. Her hair, normally worn down in dark, indigo-tipped waves that spilled over shoulders, was swept up and gathered at the back of her head in mass of curls. She wore a stately crown decorated with of white pearls and polished paua shell. Right now, she looked very much like the Queen that she was.

He had known her even before Kasuo died but had never allowed any improper thoughts about her to cross his mind back then. After Kasuo’s death, he had been seeking solace to mourn in Snow Fog Forest one day and had come across her bawling her eyes out. He had initially wanted to turn back immediately without alerting her to his presence, but she had lifted her eyes and he had gone offer her some comfort. They had bonded over tales about Kasuo and had gradually discovered that they had a lot of things in common. Later, the attraction had set in. The first time they had accidentally kissed, he had seen her eyes grow wide in wonder and then she had pulled him back for more. Travelling the realms with Shi had mostly been bearable only because of his dream visits with her. Now everything was ruined.

“Lan Shang, please sit and let’s talk.”

He swore he had never seen anyone, man or woman, move as quickly as she did then. She practically backed off of him and started walking around the room, touching things and dropping them without even registering what they were.

He quickly caught up with her. "What are you're doing?"

"What does it look like I'm doing? I'm walking. I feel the need to stretch my legs."

"Give me your hand."


Sighing, he took her hand and drew her into a close embrace. He wondered what he could do to fix things but he knew the answer was definitely not going to be found at the Mermaid palace. He had to go back to Shi and help him live out his obsession with reviving Kasuo using the Blood Red Lotus. Things needed to be brought to a head once and for all. That was the only path that was sustainable in the long run.

“Lan Shang, I have to go back to Shi. You and I have never specifically discussed the mission to find the Blood Red Lotus and revive Kasuo, but I have to return and help him. I know it will have far reaching implications, especially for us.”

He could feel slight tremors wracking through her body and once again he felt like the lowest heel in the world.

Tripping over his words now, he hurriedly continued. “I know how you felt about him and I just …”

Suddenly, she shoved him back violently.

“You idiot!” she spat out, her beautiful sable brown eyes blazing with anger.

“” he stammered, realizing he might have committed a huge blunder in reading the situation. Her body heaved with emotion and he realized the tremors he had felt were not tears but her shaking with fury.

“You insufferable, smug idiot! You have been too wrapped up in your poor memories to notice me and how I feel!”

He continued staring at her, still lost and uncomprehending.

She narrowed her eyes at him and continued. “Everything is about you, isn't it? Shi told you to break things off with me and that I should leave and you couldn't stand up to him. You couldn't defend me! Not once have you thought about my feelings. You instead sulked and felt pity for only yourself.”

“But Lan Shang, you were the one giving me the cold shoulder…”

“With those few pitiful attempts at conversation? Anyone could see your heart wasn’t in it. You men, so wise making decisions for me. Shi thinking that I would be willing and waiting for Kasuo if he came back and you, YOU…”

Suddenly her eyes filled with unshed tears.

“I can’t believe you also thought so low of me that you assumed that I didn’t know my own heart. Did you think I was so fickle? That I would let you do the things you have done to me if I had had the shadow of another man in my heart? Shi might have hurt my pride but you, you hurt my heart.”

He moved near to her and pulled her close once again. She briefly resisted and then settled stiffly in his embrace, her arms by her side.

“Lan Shang, I am sorry. I really am an idiot. I admit I have been too wrapped up in self-pity and have no excuse. I didn’t mean to hurt you in any way. I foolishly felt some doubt and insecurity after my conversation with Shi and allowed that to affect my interactions with you. I am so sorry.”

He pulled back from the embrace and gently tilted her head up. When he saw that she offered no resistance, he moved his hands to her waist, and he pulled her even closer as his mouth settled possessively on top of hers. She was tense against him, almost rigid, but he wasn't in any hurry. After lazily exploring her mouth for long minutes without rushing or making any other demands, he felt her relax in his arms. He wanted to woo her with sweet, loving words so that she would know how much she meant to him, but he knew the timing was oh so wrong. With a soft sigh, her mouth opened for his tongue and her hands cupped his face to hold him still as their tongues mated . He deepened his kiss and started roaming his hands all over her body, caressing her curves and was about to take one of her breasts in his palm when she gave him sharp, painful bite.

He dazedly lifted his head and saw her all pink from desire. He sought to reignite the kiss, but she shook her head firmly.

“No, I'm still mad at you, Xing Jiu. I think what's best is for you to go complete your quest with Shi. I also need some time alone to think. Please let my maid know if you need any supplies and safe travels.”

He watched immobile and more than a little aroused as she strode away from him, and then finally closed the door with a soft click. He would have to think of ways to pacify her and make her forgive his transgressions on his way back to Snow Blade City. One thing was crystal clear though, he was going to kill Shi for making such a mess of things.

Wu Zan patiently waited outside of Song Bai’s door, a pleased smile quirking his mouth as he thought about his most recent encounter with Shi. He had known the young man since childhood. As an adolescent, Shi had been bullied relentlessly by other children and his siblings because of his lack of magical ability and his parentage. As a result, he grew up unusually quiet, fading silently into the background where he hoped to go unnoticed and avoid further harassment. Wu Zan had always felt a bit sorry for the young Prince; a pitiful child unloved and ignored by his father, with no one to show him kindness except for his brother, Kasuo. Magic had eventually come to Shi with a frightening force, but the damage had already been done.

One of the outcomes of Shi’s traumatic childhood was that he had grown extremely skilled at hiding his emotions. Wu Zan found this disconcerting at times, unable to accurately assess Shi’s moods and adjust accordingly. Regardless of Shi’s temper, he was perpetually in control and utterly guileful. It was because of this consistent emotional restraint that Wu Zan knew Shi’s behavior over the past few days had been drastically of character. The poor boy had completely twisted himself up in knots over the pretty Earth Tribe Princess.

Things were going according to plan, thought Wu Zan as he knocked again on the heavy wooden door and smiled more broadly. It was time to maneuver another chess piece into position.

The door finally swung open and Wu Zan was greeted with a disheveled mass of chestnut curls and two jade colored eyes blinking blearily at him. Song Bai had clearly been asleep, as was evidenced by the wrinkled white sleeping gown she wore under a heavy, dark blue robe she had hastily thrown on. She had forgotten to tie the belt and one shoulder had slipped off, drooping somewhere in the general vicinity of her right elbow. Wu Zan eyed her skeptically. This wasn’t going to be easy, he thought as he sighed inwardly, and then finally remembered his manners. He bowed respectfully and began to speak.

“Princess Song Bai, my apologies for disturbing you. The King has requested that you join him for dinner on the West Terrace this evening.”

Song Bai yawned and rubbed her eyes. “Will my sisters be joining as well?” she asked.

“No, your Highness. His Majesty has requested your presence alone. He also suggested that you wear the gown he had delivered to your room this morning.”

Song Bai raised an eyebrow at this. “Did he?” she asked peevishly. “Thank you, Wu Zan. Please tell him that I will join him for dinner as requested.”

“Of course, your Highness,” replied Wu Zan. “May I send some maids to your room to help you get dressed and… attend to your hair?” He critically eyed Song Bai and the tangled mess perched atop her head.

“No, Wu Zan,” said Song Bai dryly. “I will take care of it myself. Please send someone to fetch me at the appropriate time and show me to the West Terrace.”

“Certainly, your Highness. I will do as you wish,” Wu Zan affirmed and bowed again.

Song Bai gently closed the door and shuffled back to her bed, still groggy from being pulled out of sleep so abruptly. She took a large, rounded brush from a nearby table and sat down on the soft mattress, thinking about what Wu Zan had said as she worked the snags out of her hair. Why had Shi wanted to have dinner with her alone? What was the purpose of not inviting her sisters? She briefly wondered if she should have refused him unless he agreed to include the them, but her curiosity was too great. She would meet with the Ice Tribe King if only to learn more about his unusual magical powers.

Song Bai suddenly stopped combing her hair and groaned. She hoped he wasn’t going to question her again about Xun Ru and what had happened in the barracks. She had no interest in revisiting that conversation. She knew she would eventually have to broach the subject of Xun Ru and his future in Ice Tribe with Shi, but tonight was not the proper time.

She set the brush aside and stood, walking over to where a sparkling mound of pale purple fluff rested in a corner where she had left it earlier. She picked the dress up and shook it out, smiling with amusement as she remembered Xun Ru’s horrified reaction to it. The ostentatious gown was truly was something to behold.

Song Bai suddenly got an idea and her face lit up in a delighted, mischievous expression. If Shi wanted her to wear the dress he had sent to her room this morning, she would wear it, but it would be with her own personal touch.

She walked to her bed and lay the dress out, smoothing the ruffles and folds as she considered the changes she wanted to make. Once decided, she began to move her hands in an intricate pattern, a luminescent green light emanating from her fingertips and bathing the gown in a soft glow. She drew upon the energy of Snow Fog Forest, gathering an infinitesimal amount of life force from trees at the edge of the woodland. She had to reach quite far to draw power to her, as the trees grew far beyond the outer gates of Snow Blade City, but the task was simple enough for someone with her magical skill.

She smiled as the reimagined dress began to take shape, and she decided to weave more complex details into the skirt and up the front of the bodice. Shi apparently liked elaborate dresses, so she would give him an elaborate dress. As the gown began to reflect familiar elements from her realm, she felt a slight pang of homesickness, but she quickly pushed it aside. She would try to stop worrying about her father and Earth Tribe for one evening and enjoy herself.

One thing was certain, she thought with determination as she worked; The Ice Tribe King would be very surprised the next time he laid his mysterious eyes on her.

At dusk, Shi followed Wu Zan through the palace, heading towards the West Terrace to meet Song Bai for dinner.

“What did she say when you delivered my invitation to dinner?” Shi asked, sounding more interested than his cool expression would indicate.

“She graciously accepted your request, your Majesty,” replied Wu Zan.

“But, did she say anything else?” Shi asked anxiously.

Wu Zan smirked. “No, your Highness… she seemed preoccupied with some other task.”

Shi furrowed his brow. “What other task?” he wondered.

Wu Zan glanced over at the King and shrugged. “I am unsure, but from her appearance, it seemed to be something fairly strenuous.”

Shi looked shocked and then suspicious. “Where was Xun Ru today?” he demanded, his tone quickly shifting from curiosity to outright anger.

Wu Zan turned his face away from Shi and snickered, amused at the King’s obvious jealousy of the Earth Tribe guard. “He was in the practice yard all day, your Highness. As a matter of fact, he sent a few of our Ice Tribe soldiers to the infirmary after sparring. I am told that he is quite skilled at swordplay.”

At hearing that Xun Ru had been nowhere near Song Bai’s room, Shi relaxed. He wondered what Wu Zan had meant about her appearance, but his musings were cut short as they reached the staircase to the West Terrace. Wu Zan halted and bowed.

“I have arranged for dinner to be served after sunset, your Highness. This will give you some time with the Princess undisturbed. You may want to take her on a tour of this section of the palace or even play a friendly game of chess.” Wu Zan gave Shi a conspiratorial look.

Shi rolled his eyes. “You may withdraw, Wu Zan.” He watched Wu Zan depart, shaking his head at the retreating back of the Servant Master. He couldn’t decide if he should punish him for his insolence or promote him for his resourcefulness.

Shi turned and climbed the stairs, walking out onto the West Terrace and into the amber glow of the fading sunlight. He carefully appraised the table that had been set for their meal. A large vase of white Lilies and a chilled bottle of Ice Wine had been placed in the center of the table with blush colored rose petals strewn about. There were two places set with plates and wine glasses crafted from rare Infinity Ocean bubble glass. The servants had also hung softly glowing paper lanterns around the table, adding to the intimate atmosphere of the setting.

Shi began to panic, thinking that this looked entirely too romantic, and he silently cursed Wu Zan for his meddling. Song Bai would surely get the wrong idea and think him desperate. He turned to go find a servant to remove the rose petals and lanterns, but froze as he saw Song Bai come up the last few stairs of the staircase and walk out onto the Terrace.

He gaped as she stepped into the light, looking both exotic and elegant in a forest green dress studded with iridescent feathers. This wasn’t the dress that he had provided for her earlier in the day...or was it? It had the same shape and cut, but it was entirely different. Shi closed his mouth and struggled to regain his composure as he slowly walked over to Song Bai and took her hand.

The bodice of her gown was made from a rich, green velvet material, embroidered with golden thread in an abstract pattern of intricate whorls. The dress flared out from her small waist into a full skirt, a swirl of shimmering peacock feathers in hues of green, blue, gold and red splashed across the front. She had worn her hair in a simple style, a single loosely braided plait draped over one shoulder. She wore a wooden comb in her hair, the polished surface displaying the image of a peacock inlay with blue-green pearl.

As Shi held her hand, he was at a loss for words. Song Bai looked like something wild and beautiful that had just emerged from the forest, and Shi felt his heart hammer in his chest as he battled the confusing emotions spilling over him. She beamed happily at him, looking rather pleased with herself and squeezed his hand reassuringly.

“Shall we?” she asked softly.

Shi nodded, still struck dumb and unable to form a coherent sentence as he led Song Bai towards the table where rose petals and Ice Wine awaited.