The sound of horse hoofs thudded against the ground rhythmically, causing little puffs of cloud to rise along the country road. Wide swaths of ripening rice paddies flashed by as the riders tried to squeeze several days of riding into one.
“How far to the capital?” Lin Yu called out as they stopped to water the horse.
“Ten days, give or take. We need six days to cross the Great Plains.” Zhuo Hao said, he pointed to the gentle slope “You can see it from there. It’s rumored to be as wide as the seas, and even richer with life.” Zhuo Hao looked at Lin Yu with a tender smile, “When this is over I will take you through here again so you can see it in its true glory.”
Lin Yu blushed and looked down, Zhuo Hao and turned to walk up the ridge. She didn’t see the slight trace of worry in his eyes.
He stood there, his back to Lin Yu and Yu Zhu. A minute passed, then two, but he didn’t turn around.
“What are you looking at?” Lin Yu called up to him.
Zhuo Hao said nothing, his back to them, frozen.
“What?” Lin Yu finally asked, she too climbed the hill. Her mouth fell open.
The great plains, once filled with waves of golden grass looked as if all life had been sucked out of it.
Yu Zhu walked onto the dead earth, knelt and pressed her fingers to the ground, “It’s all dead.”
“That’s easy to see.” Zhuo Hao said absently, still staring at the dark expanse.
Lin Yu looked at Yu Zhu and whispered “I can’t feel any sign of…”
“Nothing will ever grow here again. ” Yu Zhu said calmly, brushing the ash from her fingers. The dust swirled away from them on the dry, hot wind.
“What happened?” Zhuo Hao croaked after a moment, his pale face looking at the smudge of dust that lingered on her finger.
Lin Yu looked at Yu Zhu, “Can you guess?”
Yu Zhu shook her head, “Only the birth of a great god…or demon could do this”
Zhuo Ha0 looked at Yu Zhu, “Is it still around? We don’t have the time to deal with it. My people can only delay Zhu Ming’s wedding for so long.”
Yu Zhu’s brow furrowed, “Whatever it is, it’s hidden itself too well.”
Zhuo Hao opened his mouth but Lin Yu grabbed his arm, “She can’t do more right now. Magic is outlawed in the human realms, a big enough spell, it could bring more trouble than we’re ready for. Heaven can’t know of Yu Zhu, not yet.”
Suddenly Yu Zhu looked up, “We have a visitor.”
The other two looked up confused into the clear sky. It was only after a few moments did they see a small black dot.
Giant black wings soared above a field as black as death, his shadow melting into the dead land as he dropped from the sky. The grey robes fluttered as stood.
“What is he doing here?” Lin Yu asked confused. Her brow snapped together as she looked at the newcomer.
His wings seemed larger that what she remembered, blacker and glossier.
Lin Yu stalked over to him, “You’ve been gone for months. Where where you?”
Huang Wu stared at her, “Are you fully healed?”
Lin Yu raised an eyebrow, “Fully healed? How did you know I was injured?”
Huang Wu’s brows snapped together, his lips pressing into a thin line. Instead he looked at Yu Zhu, “I heard that you died.”
Yu Zhu nodded, “It’s a long story”
Huang Wu looked her over, she was decidedly different even if she looked the same. Her half-smile and her eyes reminded him more of the ancient gods, the ones who have seen everything and are no longer affected by it.
“Where have you been all these months?” Lin Yu asked as she studied him with a frown, “Why haven’t you come and see us?”
Huang Wu’s lips were pressed into a thin line, he looked away, “It’s not important.”
“I heard that there was some kind of chaos in demon realms.” Yu Zhu said suddenly. Huang Wu’s eyes snapped up to meet hers, she continued, “Heaven has blocked the news of whatever happened, only the Emperor knows the truth.”
Lin Yu blinked and turned back to Huang Wu worriedly, “What’s wrong? Is grandpa and older brother okay?”
“There was some problems in the Demon realms.” Huang Wu said after a brief moment, “your family is fine.” They didn’t see his hands clenched into fists.
Yu Zhu studied him, “I heard that Wei Yun has been imprisoned. Was he involved?”
Huang Wu’s face paled slightly, “He…he was trying to help us.” They mistook the pain on his face for the loss of his friend.
Yu Zhu sighed, “When I am done in the human realms I’ll go find him, wherever he is.” Huang Wu only nodded.
“Huang Wu, you’ll stay for a while won’t you?” Lin Yu asked her eyes brightening. Zhuo Hao frowned.
Huang Wu lowered his eyes hiding his emotions, “Yes. I’m here to help.”
Lin Yu grinned “You don’t have to worry about Yu Zhu, I’ll protect her. Maybe you’ll even learn a few things from me while you’re here.” Huang Wu did not meet her eyes.
Lin Yu wanted to say more, but felt a warm hand cover hers. She looked up into Zhuo Hao’s smiling eyes. Zhuo Hao’s hand squeezed hers and Lin Yu closed her mouth, blushing a little. Gently, she pulled her hand away.
Zhuo Hao looked at Huang Wu and extended his hand, “I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Prince Zhu Zhuo Hao of Yue.” He was met with a cold shoulder.
Huang Wu turned to Yu Zhu “Where are we going?”
Yu Zhu looked towards the Yue Capital, “To repay a debt that I owe.”
“It’ll never work.” Shan Ying Lang looked down at the scene below. He sat next to a man who was lazily shaping clouds in various creatures, his fiery red robes a stark contrast against the blue and white of the sky. However to the world, they were invisible.
Jin yawned, “That’s the spirit wolf-pup.”
Shan Ying Lang shook his head, “Don’t you even want to see what’s happening below? What if Huang Wu fails?”
Jin shrugged, “He won’t fail if he wants revenge for his family. He’ll gain her trust.”
Shan Ying Lang sighed, “Are you sure she will lead us to the Artifacts?”
Jin grinned, “A goddess who has to overthrow heaven? She needs all the power she can get. The only things on this earth that still has any value are the blood of the 4 Mythical Creatures. If she is who I think she is, then she’ll know where they are.”
“And when you’ve used her to find what you want?” Shan Ying Lang asked, his voice low, “What do you plan to do with her?”
Jin began shaping a miniature horse with the clouds, “I’ll play it by ear.”
Shan Ying Lang looked at the lazy youth, “What do you get out of all of this?”
Shan Ying Lang shook his head and sighed.
Jin closed his eyes, “Let’s go to the capital first. You said that Yu Zhu would only go there for one person, Hua Er? Is that what she’s called?”
Shan Ying Lang’s eyes narrowed, “She’s a friend. And innocent. Besides, Yu Zhu’s trip is to help Hua Er, not look for Artifacts.”
Jin began making a pig out of clouds, “It doesn’t matter, I’m following her until she leads me to the Artifacts.”
“What will you do to Hua Er then?” Shan Ying Lang asked, his voice low, “She is innocent in all of this. A mere mortal”
Jin looked at Shan Ying Lang, “How much innocent blood has Wei Yun split? Will you let them go unavenged?”
Shan Ying Lang remained silent, as Jin continued, “You may be an outcast and a mongrel, but you know where your allegiances lies. Blood is blood.”
He snapped his fingers and the cloud that carried them began to move towards the capital with a faster pace.
“How are you able to use so much magic? Don’t you worry that Heaven will find you?” Shan Ying Lang wanted to know.
Jin smiled, “I’m too important.”
In the blink of an eye, they arrived at the capital of Yue. Jin snapped his fingers and they landed lightly in the secluded corner of a small house.
Two brothers ran out, their mouths agape, “Who are you?” In seeing Jin’s stunning features and the way they had appeared out of thin air, they fell to the earth, “Immortal Lords! Spare us!”
Jin smiled, “No.”
He lifted a finger and their spines snapped in half. Their hearts were ripped out their chests by an invisible force and flew to Jin’s hands. The hearts changed in shape and size as they flew towards the powerful being, becoming small, smoothing glowing balls the size of Jin’s fingernail.
“Swallow this.” Jin flicked one to Shan Ying Lang before throwing the other one in his mouth, “They’re best when fresh.”
Jin snapped his fingers, his and Shan Ying Lang’s clothes changed to that of wealthy noblemen. With another wave of his hand, the once small house now became a huge complex of pagodas and houses, swallowing the area around it, crushing the unlucky inhabitants who lived in the area. Anyone who passed by here and saw the change only shook their head, their memories instantly changed to make them think that the grand residence had always been there.
“From now on I am known as Lord Jin, a recently arrived noblemen from a foreign country. You are Lord Shan, my brother.” Jin said as he looked at his clothes with satisfaction. With a wave of his hand, his and Shan Ying Lang’s appearance changed as well, they now looked liked the deceased pair of youths.
Shan Ying Lang felt the bones of his face shift slightly, “We could have changed into their shapes, there was no need to kill them and everyone here.”
Jin ignored him and sauntered into the grand residence, “What would we have done with them? How can a wolf be so soft-hearted.”
Jin waved his hand, and the fan shaped leaves of the ginko tree fluttered down. Once they fell, they became forty beautiful serving maids in yellow silk dresses. Forty blades of grass rose and became tall guards dressed in dark green uniforms. However, none of the newly made people seemed to have any life in their eyes.
Jin looked at them, “Go.” With a flick of his fingers, bright lights flew into their mouths. Suddenly they looked around in wonderment and knelt in front of their creator. Then they stood and left the two men.
“Not bad for a man who hasn’t done housekeeping.” Jin said, satisfied with himself. He grinned at Shan, “I head that the Emperor is about to marry his new empress. There is a banquet in the palace tonight, why don’t we visit the couple before their pending nuptials?”
With a wave his hand, the two of them disappeared.