The Rise of Phoenixes (天盛长歌) - Chapter 17 (Fanfiction)

Chapter 17 - A Most Hideous Beauty

written by kakashi
edited by Bunny

“Gu Nanyi threw him out.”

“Out? What do you mean?”

“Out over the wall,” Ning Cheng smirked. “Braided hair flying, arms flailing. How disgraceful!”

Ning Yi kept his face straight even when his lips wanted to curve upwards into a satisfied smile. His little racoon knew how to defend herself so well. Besides, she was such an intelligent woman, how was it possible that man did not see he was no match for her?

“He wasn’t even able to solve the simplest riddle,” Ning Yi scoffed, putting the book he had been reading before Ning Cheng’s appearance down on the table. Ah, but maybe that was the problem... Prince Helian was too stupid, he did not realize he stood no chance. Would somebody need to tell him?

Only yesterday, Ning Yi had gone to Qingming himself - to deliver the Golden Box into Director Wei’s capable hands. Well, it had been his father’s order and Ziyan Xiong could nag all he wanted, how could Ning Yi have refused the Emperor? Even if bringing the Golden Box to Qingming had been an idea he himself had suggested to his father, strictly speaking, an order was still an order. It had only a very little to do with wanting to see how that woman fared.

Upon arrival, finding the Jinshi Prince standing close to Feng Zhiwei in the grand hall had dampened his mood considerably, but upon realizing he could belittle him with no effort, Ning Yi’s good spirits had returned. Three boxes, three men, one stone. Two lying, only one telling the truth. Prince Helian had professed to having no clue, when it took Ning Yi exactly ten seconds to determine who held the box with the stone. Ridiculous!

“And yet, the Prince keeps going back.” Ning Cheng continued his report, “it’s a tradition in Jinshi to steal brides, so I think he considers this a game. He actually seemed to enjoy it, judging by that smirk on his face. And I hear women like this kind of thing too?”

That killed the faint traces of a smile on Ning Yi’s face instantly. He scowled at his bodyguard, who, being on a roll, did not notice the danger he had maneuvered himself into.

“Chasing. They want to be chased,” he nodded knowingly, tapping a finger against his lips. “They will act coy as if they are not interested when in truth, they just want to prolong the torture.”

Huh? What utter nonsense!

“You’re quite the expert,” Ning Yi snapped at him. What a little liar. His guard was by his side all day and all night, how could he know anything about women?

“Yes,” Ning Cheng said, sounding very pleased, “women say one thing, but mean something else. Prince Helian is probably right not to give up too easily.”

“You seem to have much too much time on your hands,” Ning Yi said viciously, “how about I give Ning Qing and Ning Zhuo the week off and you take over their duties too?”

Ning Cheng’s face fell. “Your Highness… what have I done wr...”

But now that he looked at his Master’s dark expression, he realized his mouth had been babbling things it should not have babbled, so he shut it firmly and slinked back into the shadows that were pooling in the corners or the room, as if that would make Ning Yi forget his indiscretions.

With an angry snort, Ning Yi picked up his book again and began to flick the pages. It was just so typical of Ning Cheng to not even spare him on this of all days. When the bodyguard knew without a doubt that his mother’s death day was coming up and… Ning Yi ground his teeth.

“I brought you a more potent medicine,” Ning Cheng’s voice came from the shadows, “please take it, Your Highness. It is there on the table. It should ease the pain.”

Ning Yi pretended he hadn’t heard him. Insinuating Feng Zhiwei could like that Horse Prince’s advances! When she had seemed so genuinely glad to see him arrive instead so that he could show this Helian how easy the riddle was. Well, until he had conveyed his father’s decree and forced the golden box on her, that had not exactly pleased her.

The Prince of Chu put the book down again. Chasing? Women liked that kind of thing? That was the most stupid thing he had ever heard.

“Your Highness,” a gentle voice said. “I have something to report.”

It was his servant Wu Ying, who had returned from the Palace to tell him everything he needed to know about what was going on there.

“Speak,” Ning Yi invited him. “Say, did you hear anything about my Father being ill?”

“No, Your Highness,” Wu Ying bowed a little lower, “I did not hear such a thing.”

“You should not have trained with the sword for an entire morning,” Ning Cheng nagged from the shadows, “I told you so, Your Highness! Everything in moderation, especially with this kind of weather.”

Wu Ying had lifted his head, surprised to hear the bodyguard’s voice, but Ning Cheng considered it wiser to remain out of sight. “May I be so bold as to ask why,” the eunuch then asked with concern, “Your Highness, are you not feeling well?”

It wasn’t an entirely new sensation to be in pain, but this time, it was considerably worse. Like every joint was stabbed with tiny blades, like shattered glass was piercing his skin. The sword practice had little to do with it, it had started several days ago.

“Just my old wound acting up,” Ning Yi mumbled, not wanting to be questioned.

Apparently, so he had learned from the now dead Zhanbi, his mother, who had been a sorceress of the Riluo Tribe, had given both her husband and her son a poison made from her own blood to link their lives and thus assure her son’s safety. They would live and die at the same time. But also, if one fell ill, the other would too. So if these pains he felt had nothing to do with his father’s aching body, what else was it? Or did the Emperor simply keep his health condition from everybody? That wasn’t unlikely, with his birthday banquet coming up so very soon.

“This is what I heard,” Wu Ying reported when Prince of Chu looked at him expectantly, “from one of the Princess Shaoning's servants. The Princess lobbied her father to invite Wei Zhi to His Majesty’s birthday banquet. I heard that His Majesty has agreed.”

“What!” Ning Cheng exclaimed and stepped forward hastily. “That means trouble. I heard that Prince Helian invited Feng Zhiwei to His Majesty's birthday banquet with the Emperor’s blessing.”

“Oh,” Wu Ying said, his eyes growing round.

It was not strange for Shaoning to invite Wei Zhi, since she was quite infatuated with the “young man” but… “Why would Prince Helian invite Feng Zhiwei?” Ning Yi blurted out.

Ning Cheng pressed his lips together as if to prevent them from forming words that could get him into even more trouble, but Wu Ying, a gentle, loyal man whom Ning Yi had never had to shout at so far, knew no such caution.

“It must be because Prince Helian wants to get the girl!” he exclaimed.

Ning Yi exhaled in disbelief. Now his eunuch, too, was an expert in these matters?

“Your Highness,” Ning Cheng said gravely, “this is a big, big problem. If she appeared as Feng Zhiwei, wouldn’t people recognize her face and realize she has been posing as Wei Zhi? Oh woe, Your Highness! Aren't you worried? Your little raccoon will become a dead raccoon!”

“I am not worried!” Ning Yi said, almost ripping a page out of the book when he started to turn its pages again. “Stop saying this. But I am curious, very curious to see how she gets out of this. I can't wait to watch it. Can’t wait.”

So curious was he that he went to the Palace very early the next day to look for Feng Zhiwei, who, he was certain, would come here to solve her “little” problem. Ning Yi had slept badly, not least because of violent dreams, which had included Feng Zhiwei killing him with an enchanted dagger so that she could marry Prince Helian in peace.

His mood was gloomy. Not only was he in constant pain, he also faced a test of his filial piety that brought him extreme emotional turmoil. He had found out that his mother’s death day fell on his Father’s birthday. He should fast from food and wine to mourn her for several days, but during the Emperor’s birthday, the whole country would be celebrating. He wished he could go back to Zhongzheng Temple to commemorate his mother in peace so he wouldn’t have to force himself to smile and indulge, but had he not left the prison to rid the world of evil?

When he finally found her, Wei Zhi was leaning against a pillar in one of the yards where Princess Shaoning was most likely to make an appearance. She seemed to have been waiting for a long time and Ning Yi thought that that served her right.

“Wei Zhi!” Ning Yi called out. She turned her face and scowled, showing nothing but annoyance.

“Aren't you going to pay me courtesy?” he snapped, vexed by her lack of happiness to see him and vexed because he had been sure she would do the smart thing and seek to cancel the other engagement, not the one with his sister.

“I pay respect to Prince of Chu,” Feng Zhiwei bowed dutifully thought with enough reluctance to make it insulting. “Is there anything you want me to do?”

“Nothing at all,” Ning Yi replied with a wolfish grin, “I'm just here to watch.”

“Your Highness,” she retorted completely unafraid, “have you been possessed by a black-hearted demon? Or is the Wumei Poison left in your body by the former Crown Prince making your personality erratic? If not, why are you always making my life difficult?”

“Ah, you noticed,” he nodded. “I really have a very big, black heart. How else could I have lived until now?”

“You do not,” she frowned, “but it seems you take a lot of care to pretend you have.”

Why was it that lately, people around him thought they had a right to question him? Ning Yi frowned at her in turn. He kept being fooled about her character, thinking she was gentle and kind, when in truth… could it be she was toying with the Prince of Jinshi in front of his eyes just to teach him, her savior, a lesson?

“Maybe you should try not to bully her,” Ning Cheng had suggested unbidden only this morning when he and Wu Ying had returned to the topic of their previous conversation. “That will not secure you any affections.”

He really should have thrown him out the first time the little jerk opened his mouth to give unwanted advice to his Master, Ning Yi thought angrily.

“Maybe I can think of a way to help you get out of your little problem,” he said to her in some attempt to appear generous.

“Your Highness, you don't need to worry. I have my ways,” she rudely brushed aside his offer. “You should worry more about yourself. You might hurt yourself while trying to hurt others.”

Where had she learnt to smile so sweetly, turning up her eyes in such an innocent way? It was very effective.

Feng Zhiwei threw a nervous look over his shoulder. The rustling of fabric hitting his ear gave away what was happening: Shaoning and her tross of servants was arriving. A pill appeared in Feng Zhiwei’s hand.

“What's this? Where is it from?” he asked and grabbed her hand. She closed it into a protective fist and tried to pull it away from him.

“It's from Nanyi,” she confessed. “It can make me vomit blood.”

“Oh?” he scoffed. He knew these. A very stupid plan, they were much too unreliable and often only worked after a considerable delay.

“Why should I have to tell you anyway? Let go,” she hissed, struggling against his tightening grip. But he pried open her hand forcefully and when the pill was out in the open again, hit his hand against hers with such force, the little pill was catapulted into the air and disappeared from view.

“Oups,” he smiled. “It’s gone.”

“You… lousy…,” Feng Zhiwei seemed to have trouble breathing from rage and he peered at her reddened face fondly. He did like it best when it was full of emotions, wasn’t that strange.

“I told you before,” he told her sternly, “don't stand out. Why won’t you understand?”

“Your Highness really likes to speak irresponsibly,” she snapped. “Didn't I end up this way because of you?”

“Oh, but didn’t I tell you? I'm here to help. If you stopped resisting me every step of the way, you would not constantly force me to come help you. Do you think I have nothing better to do?”

The light but quickened steps of the women behind him were already very close and coming closer and… behind them. The Prince of Chu lifted his leg and kicked a pressure point at the back of Feng Zhiwei’s leg with enough force to make her go down with a yelp of pain.

“Now, you have a valid reason to stay in Qingming Academy,” he informed her. “No need to thank me.”

She only scrunched up her face in pain, grasping the leg he had wounded with an arrow not too long ago and shot him a murderous look.

“Ning Yi!” Shaoning cried. “Why are you bullying Wei Zhi?”

“Because I like it,” he replied grimly and walked away without a backward glance. What fault of his was it that he was always forced to do things like this?


Prince Helian might be putting on his nonchalant face for his two bodyguards who were leaning against the open gate behind him, but truth be told, he was feeling all kinds of excited. Almost like when he had gotten a new horse for his fourteenth birthday. No, he corrected himself, this was different. Maybe he had never felt like this before. He had even taken extra care to dress today and had braided parts of his hair anew. Somehow, he thought that Feng Zhiwei would not care too much about looks, but he did not want to look out of place by her side either. Would she be pleased to hear he had told everyone he was going to attend with his fiancée?

“I heard that Director Wei's old wound is acting up,” his female guard observed. “That's why he can't attend the banquet with the Princess.”

“Looks like Feng Zhiwei has deep affections for you,” his male guard grinned. “She's thinking of ways to be with you.”

Helian nodded happily. It could very well be. Feeling a bit desperate, he had threatened her he would expose her double identity if she did not come with him to the feast, when it had become clear she was trying to get out of it. He had regretted it almost immediately. He would never do anything to hurt her, of course, and she must know this too.

“But where is she?” his guard continued. “We have been waiting for quite a while! Did you not agree on a time?”

“You know girls,” the female guard retorted. “She has to dress up carefully since she's attending the banquet with her love. The longer it takes, the more she likes His Highness!”

Helian wasn’t sure she would know about such things, since he had not once seen her in woman’s garb in all the years they had spent together. Born a warrior, dying a warrior, that was the motto she lived by. And yet, he smiled at her fondly, thinking he was a very lucky guy to be surrounded by loyal guards, waiting for the woman who gave him sleepless nights.

“Look!” the female guard observed that very moment. “Isn’t that her?”

His heart was starting to beat faster, Prince Helian looked at the approaching figure dressed in a light blue dress with artful embroidery and white ribbons, sauntering towards him in a most seductive, yet elegant way. She was holding a paper umbrella in front of her to protect herself from the light rain that had started to fall this morning. An auspicious sign, people on the streets had said, blessing the Emperor’s life and by extension, Tiansheng Kingdom.

Helian’s smile broadened in anticipation. To see her beautiful face again! The figure came to halt in front of him and the umbrella was slowly moved upwards to reveal…

…everything kind of froze in the most confusing way. It was… that was… how… one of his guard made a gagging sound. Feng Zhiwei - or what once had been Feng Zhiwei - smiled sweetly and waved her hand.

“I pay respect to Prince Helian,” she said and curtsied. “But what's the matter? Based on the look on your face, I guess you don't like the way I'm dressed! Then I just won't go. I won't give you a hard time!” and she turned around as if to leave again.

What? No, no, no! Quickly, Prince Helian rushed to bar her way.

“You misunderstand!” he pressed out. Yes, her disfigured face had temporarily confused him. Brown, as if she had worked on a field for weeks, cracked lips, spots and warts and a most… unusual swelling of the cheeks. But he knew her true appearance, and he knew what kind of gesture this was. It touched his heart.

“I understand now,” he said, resisting an urge to take her hand and press it to his chest. “You have deep affections for me. You're not afraid of danger.”

“Huh?” she said, sounding puzzled.

“You'd rather look this way and be misunderstood to attend the banquet with me,” he said with sincerity. “I, Helian Zheng, really am so lucky. Therefore,” and he raised his voice to express his overflowing feelings, “the way you look now really is the most beautiful in the world!”


Everything was much worse than Feng Zhiwei could ever have imagined. First, Prince Helian had showered her with admiration when she had been sure he would turn away from her in disgust after she had put on her most hideous disguise. How did he not feel embarrassed to be seen as her companion? It was quite puzzling how everything she did was only met by more fervor on his part.

Second, upon arrival at the Palace, all the women had been called upon to pay their respects to the Noble Consort Chang, head of the Imperial harem.

Feng Zhiwei had no practice being among women of this kind, apart from the spoilt Qiu Yuluo and the now deceased Madame Yuhua. Harems had always seemed like the epitome of emotional terror to her and now that she was behind the walls of the inner court, she found it worse than anything she had ever been able to imagine. A panicky, irrational part of her made her check for the best escape routes, as if there was a chance she would never be let out again.

To calm herself, she had meticulously studied her surroundings. The interior of Noble Consort Chang’s palace was simply breathtaking, much more so than his Majesty’s palace, where simplicity ruled despite the lavish display of wealth. Here, on the other hand, there were masses of ornaments and trinkets hanging from every possible place. The air smelled like a thousand flowers had been tortured and then slaughtered just for the occasion. And the other women… the most beautiful, most accomplished women of Tiansheng Kingdom, doing nothing else but be beautiful all day and wait for their families to match them up with some nobleman so that they could continue sitting around afterwards, just in another place. Grand Secretary Yao's daughter, Yao Yangci was here. The daughter of Grand Master Xu Tianze, Xu Rumeng. Furthermore, Hu Shengshan's granddaughter, Minister Zhou Shichang's daughter, Chunyu Hong's niece and also the sharp looking Hua Gongmei, daughter of Assistant minister Hua, a man she was much wary of. Oh, and, Feng Zhiwei pulled a face, Qiu Yuluo, being her old, hateful self. She knew she had to be particularly careful around her, because Yuluo had a pronounced mean streak and knew too much about her.

To her surprise, Noble Consort Chang had been amused by Feng Zhiwei and her horrid looks and had even given her a small ingot of gold - she would later drop it into the outstretched hands of one of the beggars who were gathering outside the palace, hoping to be blessed even a little bit on this festive day. The other ladies had only mean giggles and condescending looks for her, but that was exactly what she had hoped. “Don’t stand out,” Ning Yi had said in his domineering way - and she had deliberately chosen to do the exact opposite, in order to be considered someone nobody wanted to talk to.

After the ordeal of being introduced, the women had all left the Inner Palace in order to mingle in the gardens and talk about clothes, make-up, hair, and, behind raised hands and in hushed tones, the men they fancied. Just now, she had overheard the Lady Hua bribing one of Guifei Chang’s maids. Apparently, the Lady Hua had her eyes set on the Prince of Chu, and had requested to be seated as near as possible to Ning Yi at the banquet tonight. The other women had been impressed by her scheming. Given the strict rules they had to live by, interactions between unmarried men and women were so limited, any chance of an extra conversation had to be grasped with both hands and feet.

Feng Zhiwei chuckled in amusement as she stole away, because this was going to be a spectacle she did not want to miss. Ning Yi could be a very mean person but she did not mind at all if others got to experience that side of him. Lady Hua would be slaughtered, Zhiwei was sure of it, because if she knew one thing with certainty about the Prince of Chu, then it was that despite his somewhat questionable reputation, he was not interested in these kind of women.

Looking over her shoulder to see if anybody had followed her repeatedly, happily imagining tears and snot later, she almost bumped into another solitary person walking in her direction.

“Presumptuous!” a man barked and only then bothered to look up.

Feng Zhiwei rolled her eyes and sighed. One really could get the impression something or someone was pulling on strings to constantly make them run into each other.

“It’s you!” the Prince of Chu exclaimed after a few seconds of stunned silence and staring. “You... look... hideous.”

He sounded impressed. And he in turn looked… absolutely stunning. His eyes shone cold yet clear like priceless jewels in a face so beautiful it could be considered scary. His hairpiece was sitting on the top of his head like a crown, his festive clothes were of the finest quality and… matching hers, subtly. The ornaments on his silver-grey robe were like echoes of the ones on her light blue overcoat and what she could see of his inner layer was repeated on the seam of hers. The realization made her blink, but there was probably nothing to it, she had put on the dress he had gifted her and why would he not wear his own clothes himself?

“How did you think of such an idea?” he said, taking another step towards her, almost as if he were drawn to her ugliness. “Don't you feel humiliated?”

She shook her head, laughing, moving the two nuts she used to puff up her cheeks a little with her tongue. Ugliness was a weapon just as much as beauty was. Ugliness made you invisible after it drew and captured the eyes of the beholder once, making them blind to other things. It seemed to work on the Prince of Chu too! Quite extraordinary.

“You are wearing my dress,” he breathed, letting his eyes drift down and over her body. A small shudder shot up her spine and she remembered that she had to be very careful around him. She knew that his eyes had a strange sort of power when they looked at her in a specific way and they were doing it again.

“I confess to be a little curious as to how Helian Zheng reacted when he saw you,” the Prince of Chu said next. She was just wondering about his expression when he followed it with an abrupt question: “What is in your mouth?”

She spat out the walnuts and held them up to his face, making him step back with an exclamation of disgust. Good. She felt a little discomforted when he stood too close, or rather, flustered and not so sure of herself.

“Who told him to keep bothering me?” she began her rant. “Nobody in the palace knows

Feng Zhiwei anyway. Helian Zheng should be the one humiliated by my looks! But I guess Jinshi people are a little different.”

“You said I sought revenge for small grievances,” Ning Yi chuckled. “But you're no different. He's the great Prince of Jinshi who admires you, and this is how you treat him?”

Pah! Feng Zhiwei turned up her eyes at such a thought. “Who would want to be admired

by someone who looks like him?” she said on impulse, though thinking that it was a mean thing to say as soon as the words had left her mouth. Prince Helian did not look bad at all. Just different.

But the Prince of Chu could not know what went on in her head. Looking strangely pleased, he stepped closer again and leaned in when he demanded to know: “How shall one look like to deserve this beauty I see in your face?”

He could not possibly be hoping for her to say ‘like you’, could he? A little helpless, Feng Zhiwei snapped her yellowed teeth at him, her forward movement bringing their faces really close. His eyes gleamed with a strange kind of… admiration? That was impossible, she thought staring at his handsome face questioningly. When he was mean and a bully, she could deal with him quite well. When he was like this… not so much.

“Hua Gongmei pays respect to Prince of Chu,” a high voice behind his back startled her considerably.

Ning Yi, who seemed to not have heard them approach either, blinked in annoyance while Feng Zhiwei quickly put the nuts back into her mouth, as of now still shielded from their view by his back.

“Qiu Yuluo pays respect to Prince of Chu,” a second voice followed suit.

A bit alarmed, Feng Zhiwei put a finger to her mouth and then put some distance between herself and Ning Yi, not wanting to inconvenience him. They were standing much too close, it was not proper.

“What was Your Highness talking about?” Lady Hua piped in her most elegant voice. “You look happy.”

Rudely, Ning Yi kept his back to the newcomers as he followed after Zhiwei, closing the distance between them. “What's your answer?” he challenged her without even a word of greeting to the other women. He smirked at her, as if he wanted to say how can you get out of this one?

A challenge for her? Fine. He would get his challenge.

“Lady Hua,” Feng Zhiwei said after taking a few steps forward, coming to stand next to Ning Yi so that their shoulders almost touched. “Prince of Chu and I are comparing looks. I believe that Prince of Chu is not only more beautiful than me, but actually more beautiful than most women. Do you agree with me, ladies?”

If she had believed that would shut him up and make him behave, she was mistaken. Once more, he circled her to stand between her and the other women.

“You're hideous,” he said intimately, “but you know how to talk. It's music to the ears. As for your looks...” Here, he paused to look her over once more, “you're hideous, but you're still much prettier than those other women in the palace.”

And with that, he turned around and walked away, not gracing the other women even with one sideway glance.

All lies of course, and yet… she held her head high as she walked away in the other direction, not able to hide the smile that his words had put on her face. She felt warm inside and was thinking that after all, this could be a good day, even if the sky had turned a most ominous color and she had probably misplaced her umbrella in Noble Consort Chang’s Palace - a place she hoped never to return to again.

Chapter 18