Fanfic: A Cypress in Winter – Chapter 19 (Ice Fantasy - 幻城)


Chapter 19

Written By Unicorn Slippers and DramaPanda

Shi led Song Bai through the darkened streets of the village, his insistent tug on her hand and occasional shy smiles pulling her along like fish on a hook. Although the streets were nearly abandoned, they kept to the shadows, walking quietly along the alleyways between buildings. The villagers had all but disappeared; They had either gone home or had gathered in the local tavern. The building was marked by wide splash of light spilling from the doorway and the familiar hum of music drifting in a lazy cloud above the red tiled roof. The quiet sound of mortals speaking could be heard filtering through the melody, with an occasional bark of laughter punctuating the otherwise steady drone of voices.

Song Bai was exhausted and confused, but she was determined to gather her wits and think reasonably about her current dilemma. Certainly the young man holding her hand was unlike Ying Kong Shi from Snow Blade City, both in appearance and temperament, but she knew that it was just an illusion. Shi’s alteration spell and her own biological imperative were working against her. She needed to set aside her body’s fickle desires and focus on her own objective: finding Xun Ru and her father.

She slowed her pace and gently removed her hand from Shi’s grasp. He turned and gave her a puzzled look.

“Shi,” she said, her voice sounding thin and weary. “Where are we going? Can’t you take me to the gate so we can wait for Xun Ru and my father?”

Shi’s expression went from mild curiosity to cool distaste at her mention of the Earth Tribe Captain.

“There isn’t any reason to wait in the cold and snow, Song Bai. Zhanshi has orders to communicate with Xing Jiu as soon as they find your father, and the information will be immediately relayed to me. If he’s injured or needs assistance, I can transport us there instantly.”

Song Bai noticed that he hadn’t mentioned Xun Ru. “You would do that? Take me there instantly if my father needs our help?” she asked.

“Of course.”

“And if Xun Ru needs our help?”

Shi grimaced and ground his his teeth.

“Yes,” he said tightly.

Song Bai nodded with satisfaction and hugged herself, glancing nervously down the murky path winding through the center of town.

“I’m not comfortable here,” she muttered. “Not after what happened, and I’m unarmed. We left my sword in Li Luo’s tent. Why are we staying in this village instead of going back to the palace?”

Shi stepped closer and put a hand on each of her arms, his thumbs stroking the skin lightly as he responded. He certainly was more confident in this form, Song Bai thought tartly.

“If we go back to the palace, you’ll drive yourself crazy waiting for word from Zhanshi,” Shi cajoled. “I thought you might welcome some distraction. Further down the valley, there is a forest filled with trees bursting with life. There also is a river with lotus blossoms and bamboo growing on the banks. Kasuo taught me how to fish there when I was young.”

Song Bai’s eyes grew wide at Shi’s colorful description and she felt a jolt of excitement momentarily chase away her fatigue.

He leaned in, pressing his forehead against hers. “I thought you would like to go there with me tomorrow.”

Dazzled, she stared up at him, transfixed by the proximity of his handsome face. What was happening? Why was Shi suddenly so self assured, and why was he being so forward?

As she stood gazing into his warm, amber-brown eyes, she felt an almost imperceptible tightening of his fingers on her arms. Captivated, but also unnerved at the abruptness of his amorous attentions, she gently splayed one hand against his chest to push him back. She felt his heart beating hard in his chest, the pace so rapid it would have rivaled a hummingbird’s.

Well, maybe not quite so self assured, she thought with amusement.

“Shi”, Song Bai crooned as she slowly backed out of his grasp. “I appreciate your invitation, but I fear I am too worried about my father to be pleasant company for anyone right now. Can you transport us to palace tonight? I’m sure I can find something to keep myself occupied until we hear from Xun Ru and Zhanshi. We can send someone to collect my horse and sword tomorrow.”

Shi’s mild expression vanished and for just an instant, Song Bai saw panic blossom in his eyes. He recovered himself quickly, clasping his hands behind his back and affecting a roguish smile meant to charm her and put her at ease. Song Bai was on to him now. The impatient, awkward young man was still lurking beneath the surface. He was up to something, and no matter how tempting he was in his mortal guise, she was too tired to play games.

“You aren’t well enough to travel by transport spell tonight,” Shi said a little too quickly, as if the thought had just come to him. “You need a hot meal and some rest to fully recover.”

“I am recovered!” Song Bai complained. “You healed me at the guardian camp!”

“My healing spells are adequate but this is not one of my talents. Your body needs to do the rest.”

Song Bai narrowed her eyes at him, annoyed and suspicious. “I feel fine. I don’t want to stay here, Shi. Why did you drag me away from the guardian’s camp if you were going to make me stay in this village?”

Shi’s smile dropped and his face folded into a mask of exasperation. Cracks were beginning to form in his charming facade, and as Song Bai watched him struggle to remain pleasant, she knew that she was trying his patience with her arguing. He was used to being obeyed without question.

Finally, he managed, “I don’t trust the male guardians.”

Song Bai stared at him in disbelief. “You don’t trust the guardians? Isn’t their whole purpose to protect immortals, and in particular, you?”

“You said yourself that you are releasing essence. Those male guardians are mortal, just like the villagers. If you are with me, I can protect you, but I’d rather protect you from the men in that tavern than a group of extremely skilled warriors.”

“That makes no sense,” Song Bai huffed. “The male villagers attacked me. The male guardians did not. They were... polite.”

Shi raised an eyebrow. “Were they? Did you talk to one of them? Did any of them get close to you?”

Song Bai frowned and shook her head.

“The immortal guardians are highly disciplined, trained from the time they can walk to be warriors and protectors. I suspect that was the only reason they didn’t attack you as well, but it was only a matter of time.”

Shi’s voice had slipped into his more familiar, arrogant tone, and Song Bai thought he sounded like he was instructing a particularly stupid child who couldn’t grasp an easy school lesson.

It was exceptionally irritating.

She turned away from him unhappily and leaned against the peeling, rough wood of the building that sheltered them in a pool of dim shadow. Taking several deep breaths, she sought inner calmness and the patience not to turn around punch Ying Kong Shi in his gorgeous, condescending nose. She was bone weary, and she simply didn’t have the energy or the temper to keep quarreling with the erratic young Ice King.

Shi was silent for a long moment, perhaps sensing her dangerous mood. She finally felt the weight of a cool hand drop down on her shoulder. His voice was soft in her ear, once again coaxing and full of concern.

“Song Bai, please trust me. I know you are anxious and weary, but I promise I won’t let anyone harm you. We’ll rest at the tavern tonight and we can discuss going where you want to go tomorrow.”

“Fine,” Song Bai said resignedly. She was nearly dead on her feet and wanted nothing more than to fall into a soft bed and let sleep claim her until morning.

They made their way to the tavern and slipped quietly inside. Song Bai’s senses were immediately assaulted with light and noise and the smell of roast meat and sour ale.

She suddenly grew alarmed, remembering how her presence had roused the villagers earlier in the day. She gripped Shi’s arm tightly.

“Shi,” she murmured. “My essence… won’t it cause more trouble here?”

Shi smiled down at her, unconcerned. “I put a dampening spell on your magic when I altered your appearance. We should have no trouble now.”

Song Bai thought for a moment. “But, if you cast that spell on me at the camp, why couldn’t I have just stayed…”

Shi yanked her forward, interrupting her question by dragging her into the chaos of mortals enjoying their revelry. He was definitely up to something, she thought and eyed him skeptically. He avoided her gaze, looking over her head into the assembled crowd.

Several of the patrons seemed to recognize him, drunkenly calling out his mortal name, Yun Fei, and waving at him with friendly gestures. A plain-looking man raised his mug in toast, the pale, foaming beer sloshing over the sides and splattering the man’s threadbare tunic. While Song Bai’s presence did attract some male attention, to her relief the end result was merely a few whistles and appreciative winks.

Shi spoke quietly with the tavern owner, a tall, lean man with bleary eyes and a sheen of moisture dotting his exposed skin, presumably from working all night in the kitchen. With a quick motion and a few short words, he indicated that the rooms were upstairs and that dinner would be delivered in thirty minutes.

“Where are you going to sleep?” Song Bai whispered as Shi dropped several silver coins into the proprietor’s sweaty hand.

“In your room,” Shi responded as he released her hand and bounded up the stairs, a mischievous grin lighting his face up like a beacon as he looked down at her from the loft.

By the Gods’ seven dim-witted, ugly stepsisters, thought Song Bai grimly. She was going to be in serious trouble if he kept looking at her like that.


Xun Ru froze, his mind racing as he saw the woman walking towards them. He could feel that Tao Min had also grown tense beside him. He fought against the irrational thought to flee, but he knew he had to remain as inconspicuous as possible. Xun Ru was still unclear about who this woman actually was, so he decided the best course of action was to feign ignorance. He turned to Tao Min to indicate that they should leave and they started to make their way through the crowd. The Fire Tribe female reached them and and stood firmly in their path.

Her eyes are amazing up-close….was the first illogical thought that popped into his head.

“I knew my instincts were correct. You are an Ice Tribe soldier,” she drawled out slowly, her sharp eyes studying Tao Min’s disguise with interest.

She turned her attention to Xun Ru and her brow furrowed in confusion. “You aren’t Ice Tribe, but you also aren’t of my Tribe,” she said and gestured contemptuously to the Fire Tribe men milling around them. “What are you?”

“Pardon me lady, but you seem to have mistaken us for someone else,” Xun Ru replied, his words clipped and threatening. He was alarmed that she had so easily seen through their ruse, and it was imperative that they escape before she alerted her brethren. He turned to Tao Min and jerked his head in a rough gesture, but the young man seemed frozen, transfixed as he stared at the woman with a look of wonder on his face.

“Tao Min, we should GO,” he bit out, reaching out to grasp the boy and bodily drag him out of the tavern if necessary. Yan Da took another step and blocked him again.

“You aren’t Ice or Fire Tribe, and you certainly aren’t mortal,” she said, boldly eyeing Xun Ru’s muscular physique with appreciation. “You must be one of the Earth Tribe immortals from this realm.”

Xun Ru felt uncomfortable under the weight of her lascivious gaze, and he concluded that she must be from the brothel as he originally suspected. Perhaps if he gave her some money, she would keep her mouth shut about their true identity. He reached into the pouch at his belt and drew out a few copper coins, offering them to the woman.

“I don’t know what you’re speaking about and I don’t have time for nonsense. Here is something for your trouble. Now, move,” Xun Ru said through clenched teeth as he pushed the money towards Yan Da. He had tarried enough and they were at risk for capture if they continued to interact with the Fire Tribe woman. He was determined to leave, with or without Tao Min.

Yan Da ignored the proffered coins and smirked. “If you insist upon being rude and not answering my questions, I can ask some of these nice Fire Tribe soldiers if they know you.” Her metallic eyes flashed with malice and she threw back her head, laughing with delight at Tao Min’s stricken expression. She was about to turn when the young man finally shook himself and reached out to grasp her hand.

“Your Highness, Princess Yan Da” he said, his voice trembling. “I cannot believe you are alive! We are on a mission from the His Majesty, King Ying Kong Shi…”

“Keep quiet, you fool!” Xun Ru hissed, wishing with all his power that he could take the boy somewhere private and shake him until his teeth rattled in his brainless head. He glanced at the woman before him whose eyes now held a triumphant gleam. So Tao Min wasn’t telling ghost stories after all. This was the Fire Tribe Princess, Yan Da.

She certainly didn’t act like royalty, Xun Ru thought sourly. He took stock of their surroundings and could see that they had started to attract exactly what they didn’t need: attention.

“Come with me,” he spat, and stalked off to a corner table without looking back to see if they followed. Yan Da sauntered over, taking her time to purposely irritate him, or at least that’s what Xun Ru imagined. Tao Min trailed her, bowing and muttering like some deranged slave. The young man politely pulled a seat out for Yan Da, making sure that she was comfortably settled before quickly seating himself. Xun Ru rolled his eyes.

He had no idea why a supposedly deceased Fire Tribe Princess was traipsing around a tavern in Earth realm, or why she hadn't alerted the soldiers to their true identity, but he was tired of of this charade.

“So,” he said with a curt nod. “What do you want?”

She put her whip on the table and fixed her gaze on him. “I want passage out of this place to the Ice Kingdom. I want you to take me to see Ying Kong Shi.”

”Since our young friend has filled you in on who we are…” he said bitterly, and the boy at least had the good sense to look guilty. Tao Min fixed his eyes on the table as if mesmerized by the bowls and mugs scattered across the surface.

“... you are aware that we are on a mission from the Ice King. I will therefore have to decline.” Xun Ru put his hands on the table and pushed upwards as if to stand.

“I was not asking, but rather telling you,” She said, one hand stroking her whip as she stared at him unflinchingly.

Xun Ru tried and failed to get his rising anger under control. “You are telling me?! Do you know who you are talking to? I don’t take my orders from you, lady,” Xun Ru seethed, deliberately using informal speech with the Fire Tribe Princess. “And I don’t care if you make a scene. I see about 20 soldiers in here and I assure you I can take them all if it comes to that.”

He fixed her with his most deadly glare, “And if it comes to that, I promise to kill you first.”

She leaned forward at that, looked intensely into his eyes and burst into laughter. “Calm down, soldier. I am not going to cause a scene. I know Ying Kong Shi, and if he sent you two into enemy occupied territory, it was to gather information for some grand plan, not to start a war. His methods are never so straightforward.”

Xun Ru continued to eye her caustically, unimpressed with her speech.

“If you are looking for information, I have it. Promise me safe passage to the Ice Kingdom to speak with Ying Kong Shi, and I’ll give you what you need,” she said.

Tao Min lifted his head and excitedly blurted out, “Is the Earth Tribe King still alive?”

Xun Ru groaned and whirled on Tao Min, furious. “You stupid, incoherent, reckless, idiotic... “

“Well, will you help me?” asked Yan Da, interrupting his tirade.

“I make no promises,” Xun Ru said finally after a few minutes had passed. Tao Min had withered into his seat, avoiding the Earth Tribe Captain’s glower as he fidgeted with a chopstick.

“Your King is alive.”

Xun Ru struggled to keep his eyes expressionless at her words, though every fiber of his being longed to shout a million questions at her. “How do you know that? How do I know I can trust you?” He asked as impassively as he could manage.

Tao Min rustled in his chair as though in protest, and Xun Run shot another angry glare at him. This time the boy stood his ground and spoke.

“If her Highness can give us information on the Earth Tribe King, we won’t have to sneak into the Palace. It would be much safer this way for everyone, including your King.”

Xun Ru shook his head resolutely. No matter what Tao Min said, she was Fire Tribe and they were the enemy. It could be some sort of trap, designed to get Yan Da close to Song Bai and her sisters so that she could assassinate the remaining members of the royal family.

“I tell you, your King is alive and well enough, considering he is a prisoner of ...” Yan Da’s voice trailed off and she looked away, shuddering.

Xun Ru noted her reaction with interest. So, not all Fire Tribe worshipped their great General Mao Jiang after all? He wondered again what a royal Princess was doing skulking around a tavern with commoners instead of residing in the palace at Mao Jiang’s side. He rubbed at his temples, feeling a headache coming on. They would have to change their plans if he chose to believe this woman, which he still did not.

“Lady, can I have a moment with him?” he jerked his face towards Tao Min.

Yan Da shot him a dangerous look in response to his offensive tone, but she finally nodded and stood up. “Don’t take too much time. We are beginning to attract more attention.”

As soon as she was out of sight, he hauled Tao Min to his side.

“Tell me all you know about that woman and leave out the resurrection bit. Quickly!” he growled.

“I already told you! She is the Fire Princess, Yan Da.”

“What else? I remember there was more. I wasn’t listening to you the first time you told me,” Xun Ru said impatiently.

Tao Min looked wounded, but continued. “As I told you before, she is the daughter of the former Fire Tribe King and she fought in the last great war against Ice Tribe ten years ago. She was allegedly killed in battle against Ying Kong Shi, but there are some that say otherwise. There were rumors that she and Shi were lovers…

“Lovers?” Xun Ru interrupted Tao Min’s ramblings.

“Yes, lovers. Before the war, they were often seen together, and some accused him of conspiring with her against Ice Tribe, which was later proven to be false. Nonetheless, the rumors had done their work, and it sowed seeds of mistrust between him and the royal family. The Ice Tribe Court loves to gossip, and according to my father, it was widely discussed that Princess Yan Da harbored a deep desire for Ying Kong Shi.”

“Your father?” Xun Ru broke in. “Is he a member of the Court?”

Tao Min looked suddenly abashed, closing his eyes as a few soft curses escaped his lips. He opened his eyes, and sighed.

“I wasn’t supposed to tell you. Zhanshi is my father.”

Xun Ru stared at him, slack jawed as surprise and fresh outrage began to mix together like a noxious potion in his gut.

“By the God’s seven hairy balls, Tao Min! Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” Xun Ru shouted, and several Fire Tribe soldiers turned to glance in their direction. Tao Min’s eyes widened with alarm and Xun Ru took several deep breaths, trying to calm himself before he strangled the boy in front of the entire Fire Tribe army.

So, he had been saddled with Zhanshi’s snot-nosed, inexperienced spawn? The Ice Tribe Captain was no doubt was trying to give his son the opportunity to earn favor with Ying Kong Shi, but it was at Xun Ru’s, and possibly the Earth Tribe King’s expense. It made him furious. He resolved to settle this with Zhanshi the next time they met, but for now, there was nothing he could do about it.

As he saw the few men who had looked their way finally lose interest, he spoke through clenched teeth to Tao Min. “Finish. Your. Story.”

Tao Min stuttered for a moment, clearly rattled by the brief but intense attentiveness that Xun Ru’s shouting had called down upon them, but he finally managed to speak.

“Uhhh… Well, anyway, Yan Da was undoubtedly in love with Ying Kong Shi, but nobody knew if he ever returned her affection. His personality is… unusual. You’ve probably noticed that he is hard to read. But, certainly, even when they fought in the war on opposite sides, he always protected her and made sure she was unharmed. I think he cared for her very deeply.”

The Earth Tribe Captain listened to Tao Min discuss Ying Kong Shi with ill-disguised animosity, remembering how the young King had looked at Song Bai and how she had taken his arm and walked away with him the last time Xun Ru had seen her. A new plan began to crystallize in his head and his angry scowl transformed into a fearsome grin. Perhaps he could use this Fire Tribe Princess to save his King as well as tear Ying Kong Shi away from Song Bai’s side. If he was the one to bring Song Bai’s father back to her, and the distraction of the Ice Tribe King was removed, he was certain that she would finally see that he was worthy of her love.

As soon as he saw Yan Da heading back towards them, he stood up and walked halfway to meet her. She approached him warily. He gave her a friendly smile and saw that his change in attitude had made her look even more wary. Good.

“Princess,” he said sticking out his hand. “You have a deal, however, you will need to prove to me that you are trustworthy before I can agree to take you with us back to Snow Blade City.”

Yan Da looked at his extended hand for a moment and then asked, “What do you want me to do?”

Chapter 20