“She’s been waiting for you.” A male voice sounded from behind her.
Zhuo Hao stood with his hands behind his back, looking at the tall, mysterious woman in front of him. She did not turn around to face him, only nodded slightly.
There were so many questions he wanted to ask. Where did she go in these months? How did she learn to kill like that? But he held his tongue. Yu Zhu was not the same as the young girl who died.
He opened his mouth, but did not know where to start. After a brief moment he said instead, “Hua Er is to be married to my brother, Zhu Ming, the new Emperor in two weeks.”
Yu Zhu did not respond, the only movement was the rustling of her moonglow robes over the dark green grass.
“Zhu Zhan Ye is dead.” Zhuo Hao continued, a slight bitterness in his tone. “He was the only good brother I had in this world.”
Yu Zhu looked down at her own hands, “I am sorry for your loss.”
Zhuo Hao frowned a little, “My loss? He was your friend too. He lo—”
Yu Zhu turned around, her face showing no hint of emotion, “From what I remember, he was a good man.”
Zhuo Hao’s eyes flashed, “That’s it?” He felt his anger rising. “If he didn’t wait for you all those months here, maybe he could have gone back to the capital. He might have fought for the crown. Maybe he would have been king and lived.”
Yu Zhu’s eyes bore into his, “Really?”
Zhuo Hao was defiant, “Why not?”
Yu Zhu plucked a green, vibrant bamboo leaf off her shoulder, “The good are always the first to die in the struggle for power. To survive, he must become ruthless.” She let the leaf flutter to the ground, “He was not ruthless.”
Her voice was as cold as steal, “Only the powerful gets to decide the will of the world.” She looked at him, “It’s why you’re still alive. Even if you’re too weak to protect those you love.”
Zhuo Hao’s eyes narrowed, he said nothing.
Yu Zhu cocked her head slightly, studying him, “So, Zhuo Hao, what will you do? Continue to live a life in the shadows? Die like Zhu Zhan Ye? Or take the throne?”
Zhuo Hao looked away from the unflinching gaze, “Are those my only options?”
“Has the Emperor given you any other?” Yu Zhu asked, “You want to be left alone? No one will give you that option. You’re weak.”
His eyes snapped up to stare at hers, “How dare you!”
“Lin Yu almost died.” Yu Zhu interrupted, “What would have happened if I didn’t come when I did?”
Zhuo Hao said nothing, his hands clenching into fists as Yu Zhu continued, “You’re only a chess piece, not a player. If I chose, tomorrow I can offer you to the new Emperor. And you could do nothing about it. You have nothing to offer me right now for me to consider otherwise.”
She was right. He was too weak. It wasn’t Yu Zhu that had killed Zhu Zhan Ye. It was him and his weakness.
She looked at them moon, “Tomorrow I leave for the Yue capital. Chose wisely.”
A weak, soft voice floated from behind them. Lin Yu stood, her body leaning against the frame of the door.
Yu Zhu looked at the girl who was like a sister, “Yes.”
Lin Yu walked slowly to them. Zhuo Hao rushed to her side to support her but she shook her head. She smiled at him, “I want to talk to my sister alone.”
Zhuo Hao held her by the arm and muttered to Lin Yu, “She’s not the girl you know anymore.” Lin Yu looked at him, “She’s still my sister.” Zhuo Hao paused, nodded, and left.
Yu Zhu stood where she was, her face impassive.
Lin Yu studied the woman before her, “Do you still remember me?”
“What do you remember?”
There was a pause, only the whispers of the leaves could be heard.
Lin Yu waited and studied the new Yu Zhu. Everything looked the same but was not the same.
Lin Yu closed her eyes, “What happened? Where did you go for six months.”
Yu Zhu looked up at the moon, “I was dead and then brought back to life. I lived in a place that was neither living or dead for sixty thousand years.”
Lin Yu felt the breath catch in her throat, “Are you really Yu Zhu?”
Yu Zhu looked at her hands, “I was… and then I wasn’t. So many memories have faded.”
Lin Yu grabbed onto the girl for a fierce hug, “You’re home now. And even if you’ve forgotten I will make you remember.”
Yu Zhu froze for a minute, she had not been held like this for almost sixty thousand years. The warmth of touch was just a distant memory. It shocked her. A flurry of images came to her, the two of them, playing together in the one realm, fighting monsters in the next. Lin Yu by her side, the sister that always protected her. It was not complete by any means, but it felt as if someone had placed a candle next to her icy heart.
A single tear dropped onto the grass. “Lin Yu. I’m sorry.” Yu Zhu said softly.
Lin Yu smiled and cried at the same time, “You’re home. Everything will be fine.”
Yu Zhu wiped Lin Yu’s tears away, “I have a lot to do now that I’m back.”
Lin Yu nodded, “I’ll be there every step of the way.”
Yu Zhu shook her head, “It’s too dangerous. I am going to war against the Emperor of Heaven. I’m going to take back everything that is mine.”
Lin Yu blinked, “What?”
Yu Zhu looked up into the sky, “I am tired of hiding. Of being moved from place to place. If heaven wants me dead. Then I will destroy them first.”