Yu Zhu shuffled backwards, her legs shaking as her eyes widdened with disbelief. Her brother the Crown Prince Xu Long Hui, was pointing a shining sword directly at her neck.
“Long Hui Gege…I” Words failed her as Yu Zhu felt the sharp cold rocks at her back. She was trapped. Long Hui’s brows furrowed in pain, sweat dripped from his beautiful features onto the black silk robes. Behind him, floating like a translucent shadow, was the demoness. She was cackling delightfully, “Hurry, my Long Hui. How much longer do you want to be my slave. To carry me in your heart, always?”
“No.” Xu Long Hui gritted his teeth and tightened his hand on his sword until his knuckles cracked. He turned around in a fluid motion and grabbed the glowing red string that connected his heart to the Demoness. “If you threaten Yu Zhu, I will cut this string.”
She hissed in anger, her fangs seemed to grow longer and longer, “You fool. I will torture you day and night. I will cause you pain unending. I will–”
“You will die, if I cut this string. Disintegrate into ash. If I die now, you’ll never gain your true form. Is that what you want?” Long Hui was breathing heavily but he held his sword straight and true.
The demoness’s chest heaved in anger, but as Long Hui’s sword got closer to the thread and she screamed in frustration and dove into Long Hui’s chest, returning with the red string straight into his heart.
The sword clattered to the ground as Long Hui fell, slamming his knees on the ground. His tortured gasping filled the ice cold air. Yu Zhu hesitantly reached out a hand.
“No!” he cried, “Stay… stay away. She’s still awake.” He looked up at her. Yu Zhu backed away involuntarily, Long Hui’s eyes glowed blood red. “Run. Zhu Er. Run.”
Yu Zhu flew like the wind down the winding palace roads, tore through the garden of serenity and dove into her bed. She shut her eyes as she huddled under the thick comforters breathing in the scent of gardenias of her room, “it’s all a dream,” She whispered, her breathe warming her frozen lips, “it’s all a dream. Please, let it be a nightmare.” She clutched the silk covers like they were a shield between her and the utter despair she saw in her brothers eyes tonight.
Sunlight filtered like living gold through the silken windows. Hua Er opened the elegant redwood panel doors and gently parted the chiffon drapes. She gentle patted the little girl, “Princess, your brother is here to see you.” Yu Zhu jerked awake. Hua Er was startled and sat down next to the young girl, “Yu Zhu, did you have a bad dream?” She asked as she wiped away the tears on the girl’s face. “Tell me, what’s wrong?”
Yu Zhu frowned as she sat up, “I dreamt that Long Hui had a demoness living in his heart. And it’s hurting him for fun.” Yu Zhu’s eyes filled with tears, “I felt so bad that I couldn’t help him. But I ran away because I was scared.”
Hua Er hugged Yu Zhu, “Silly girl, you had a bad dream that’s all.” She smoothed down the girl’s locks, “Now, get dressed, you said that you wanted to give your gift to Long Hui, but you didn’t get a chance. He’s here now and he wants to talk to you.”
Yu Zhu smiled, reassured, “Okay.” She twirled on her bed and frowned, “I thought I put his gift on the table, I don’t see it.” She shifted and looked for the silk bag that was lying on her dresser last night.
Hua Er smiled, “Never you mind, let’s get you dressed. The Crown Prince has to address the royal assembly today, he’s taken this time especially for you” Yu Zhu jumped up and smiled as Hua Er held out her favorite light rose pink robe.
“Royal Gege! Royal Gege!” Yu Zhu yelled as she ran into her main pavillion. She halted once she saw him and took a step back in fear. He was holding the gift that she wanted to give him. The silk gift she had dropped last night in the garden.
No, that’s not possible she realized with horrible sinking feeling.
Long Hui looked around and spoke to the maids, “Please, I would like to speak to my sister alone.”
“No..no..” Yu Zhu whispered as the maids bowed and backed out of the elegant room quietly. She clutched Hua Er’s hand. Hua Er smiled, “Don’t be shy, Princess, you’ve been waiting to speak to him for a long time. Get to know your brother a little.” She said as she too bowed and left the room.
Yu Zhu turned around to face her brother, shaking violently as she realized that she was alone with him. The bright morning seemed to fade, and the beautiful room felt ominous, even the gardenia scent felt stifling. Xu Long Hui looked at her without an ounce of emotion on his face. He paced around and examined the delicate chiffon curtains and intricate paintings. He touched the subtle flower arrangements before he spoke.
“You have every right to fear me, Zhu Er.” Xu Long Hui sat down and poured himself tea into a light green tea cup. He smiled without humor. “I am every bit the monster that you imagine me to be.”
He touched his heart, “And yet, the Demoness in here is harmless during the day time, for now. She can only come out at night. She is still too weak to control me completely.”
Yu Zhu cautiously examined her brother, he looked exhausted. The palace maids had gossiped about how beautiful the crown prince was, with his ancient coal black eyes and imposing figure. Yet Yu Zhu realized that his fight with the demoness was costing him a great deal of strength.
“Are you here to kill me?” Yu Zhu asked in a very small voice. She clutched her skirts, feeling for the little dagger she always carried with her.
“No.” The Crown Prince replied, “I’m here to give you a choice.”
“What do you mean?” Yu Zhu asked.
“The demoness in my heart will gain strength in the next few years. Once she is strong enough, she will kill me and you. We are the only living royal descendants of the Xi Yang tribe. We have magic in our blood that attracts immortals and demons alike, it gives them power, prolongs their lives.”
Long Hui looked at Yu Zhu, “The Demoness saw you last night and know that you exist. She will not stop until she eats your flesh.”
Yu Zhu wouldn’t have believed this if she hadn’t seen it herself last night, “But she hasn’t killed you. Why?”
Long Hui smiled bitterly, “She uses me to survive. And in return, I live too. There are costs of this…life, but there are benefits too” Long Hui stared hard at his sister, “I have lived long enough with her to have access to her magic.”
“Magic?” Yu Zhu’s eyes widened, “What magic?” Every breathe Yu Zhu took seemed to be deeper and deeper, she felt as if the ground under her feet was falling away from her.
Long Hui smiled, ” Every time she comes out to the world, I get to share her power. When she goes to sleep back in my body, I still have access to that power but only for a little while. I have enough magic to send you to a safe place. Where she can never reach you. I can save your life. If you promise me that you will never return.”
Yu Zhu shook her head furiously, “No! I have to stay here, I don’t want to go away. What will happen to Papa and Hua Er?”
“The Demoness doesn’t want them.” Long Hui shrugged, ” If you leave, I can protect them from her.”
“I can’t leave my home.” Yu Zhu felt angry tears fall down her face, there was a breathless sense of panic, ” I can’t leave Papa and Hua er, I don’t want to go.”
“They won’t be harmed, once with you gone.” Long Hui remarked coldy, he looked at the girl with something like distain “The Demoness is cunning, and I am not always able to stand up to her. And when she is strong enough to leave my body, you will die. And she’ll do anything to get to you, including having me kill those you love.”
He was emotionless, as emotionless as the day he killed those assassins. ” If you stay, the Emperor will die. Hua Er, she will die protecting you, your friends, your maids. Hong Yan Su will most certainly die. Without you here, everything will be easier. Everyone will be safer. By staying here, you are signing their death warrants.”
“But they will be sad if I leave. Everyone I love will be sad”
Long Hui smiled cruelly, “You’ve been nothing but a burden the last few years. The Emperor has me now, he has no need of you. Hua Er has been chasing you for years, she’s tired of you. As for the others, they all laugh behind your back for being a silly little thing. Even your precious Hong Yan Su, he’s just humoring you because you were the heir to the throne. You no longer have a place here. You are not wanted. Now that I am back”
It was everything Yu Zhu had feared, but never said aloud. The ghost of Shan Ying Lang laughing about her the night of the festival all those months ago ran through her mind. She shook her head, “You’re lying. I don’t believe you.”
Long Hui spoke mercilessly, “Go and ask Hua Er. She’ll tell you if I’m lying or not.”
Long Hui stood up and straightened his robes, “You can decide whether to stay or go. I will give you until sunset to decide, my powers will fade if we wait any longer. But know this, if you stay, you will be nothing but a burden.”
Yu Zhu glared at her brother, “No, they’re not going to die because of me! They don’t hate me! You’re lying! You evil beast, I hate you. I wish you never returned” She couldn’t breathe, she needed to run. With a look of deep hatred at her brother, she pushed the heavy doors open and leapt out, nearly blinded by the hot tears coursing down her face.
As she ran she heard him call to her, “Choose by by sunset.” She covered her ears and ran through the thousand columned corridor.
Xu Long Hui looked at the disappearing figure of his sister. He wondered what it would be like to feel sadness. But but try as he might, he was empty. There was no remorse, no sorrow.
All he knew was that he had to protect his sister, it was a promise he had given to his mother long ago.
He closed his eyes and sighed, “I’m doing this to save your life.”