Kingdom of Yue
“Your Majesty, the Emissaries from Shu Le are here.” A Eunuch bowed and two men, followed, walking down the great hall to the golden dais. Around them, rows of ministers looked curiously at the men of the mysterious kingdom. They were dressed in the rich furs that Shu Le, the high and eastern mountainous regions were well known for.
One of them stepped forward, “Majesty, I am Lord Jin and this is my brother, Lord Shan.”
The new emperor nodded, “My lords, welcome to Yue.”
Lord Jin made a slight bow, “We bring gifts in felicitations to the Emperor.” With a gesture, thirty large chests, filled with gold and jewels were brought into the room. The new Emperor’s eyes widened, it was unusual even for a large kingdom like Shu Le to show such generosity. Around the, rows of ministers murmured as they looked at the wonders in the chests.
Emperor Zhu Ming smiled, “Send this to my Queen. Tell her to take all that she likes.”
Lord Jin stepped forward, “We have prepared a special gift for the Queen.” He drew a box from his sleeve with a flourish, “This is a a thousand year snow lotus from the Shu Le kingdom, where it is said that the mountain which touches the roof of the world exists. This is the rarest of the rare medicinal flowers, and it grows on the top of that summit.”
Inside a delicate metal box was a layer of precious stones encased in ice. On top laid a flower the size of a fingernail. The moment the box was opened, the entire hall felt ten degrees cooler. The tiny flower’s fragrance soon filled the magnificent throne room. The hall went dead silent as every mouth fell open.
The Emperor’s eyes widened, “A-A-A thousand years.” The Xue Lian, or snow lotus was the most precious medicine in the land, on equal footing with the Ginseng. A hundred year one could feed a poor man and his family for three generations.
The Ministers whispered and shuffled forward, wanting to see the fabled flower that they’ve only heard of in fairy tales,
“I heard that it can cure all illnesses, even if you only have one breath left!” One minister whispered. The others murmured in agreement, their eyes green with envy. Jin’s smile became wider, “My lord, why don’t you come closer and see it for yourself?”
The emperor stood up, and though it was highly improper, he walked down the dais to receive the gift.
Lord Jin closed the lid before the Emperor’s hand could touch it, “Of course, such a rare and precious gift, I would like to personally give it to the queen.”
Zhu Ming frowned, his eyes on the taller man, “My queen is ill. She does not receive guests. I will give it to the queen.”
Lord Jin sighed and looked at Lord Shang, “A pity.” He put the box back into his sleeve. “There is a custom in my country that we must give the gift to the person who it is meant to be given to. I can not break with that tradition.”
He bowed and made to leave, “My lords, Your majesty.”
Zhu Ming opened his mouth, wanting to call his guards. But commons sense told him that Yue was not powerful enough to make an enemy of this lord from that powerful country. Not yet.
He gritted his teeth, “Wait.” He glared at the Eunuch. “Tell the queen that I am bringing guests to her pavillion.”
Lord Jin smiled.
The large palaces of the Emperor was famed for its maze of pavilions, the most beautiful of which was the residence of the queen. The visitors, led by the Emperor himself, entered a garden full of rioting roses and peonies, where lazy vines climbed grand willow trees. Small, man made streams fed into a babbling brook and a pond which housed a floating garden surround by blossoming lilies. Around the garden were open walkways where visitors could sit quietly and contemplate paradise.
Lord Jin whistled, “The Queen to be has beautiful taste.”
One of the accompanying ministers chuckled, “This was all of the Emperor’s doing, he brought the queen flowers of her homeland and redid this pavilion so that she would not miss home.”
Jin raised an eyebrow, looking at the emperor in the front. A corner of his mouth rose imperceptibly.
As the walked to the magnificent pavilion, a maid hurried out to meet them. She bowed to the party, “Your majesty, the queen said she will be waiting for you at the Gilded Pavilion.
They followed her until they reached a small pavilion, covered in sheer gold chiffon. A woman sat in the center of the pagoda, her figure obscured by the fluttering sheer cloth, giving her a dreamlike quality.
The Emperor approached his wife-to-be, “Hua er, I’d like to introduce you to the dignitaries from Shu Le.” The woman turned to face them.
Shan Ying Lang, or Lord Shan in his magical disguise could not hide his dismay. The vibrant and youthful woman seemed to have wasted away until she was a shadow of her former self. Had it only been months since they talked? Why did she look so weak?
She coughed, the hint of blood on her lips giving her a look of sickly beauty, “My lords, you’ll have to forgive me for not getting up. I am not feeling well today.”
Lord Jin smiled and bowed, “No matter, it is a pleasure to meet one of the most beautiful woman in this realm.”
Hua er did not smile, nor show any hint of interest. She merely nodded and turned to the Emperor, “My lord, what do you need me for?” Her voice was as cool to him as it was to the strangers.
“They bring a gift, one that can make you better.” The Emperor knelt in front of his queen to be, “Accept it and get well, we have many years to look forward to, you and I.” He sounded as if he was begging her. Hua Er looked down. Zhu Ming sighed and got up, he looked meaningfully at Lord Jin.
Lord Jin smiled, “Yes, I have something that the Empress may be very, very interested in. If your majesty permits, I would like to have a few minutes alone with the Queen.”
The Eunuch beside the emperor frowned, “That is highly improper, Lord Jin.”
Lord Jin bowed, “Forgive me, my lord, but this is the rarest of all medicines. And the proper way to use it has been passed down my family from father to son. When we give this gift, we can only reveal how to use it to one person. And they must be sworn to secrecy.”
The Emperor stared at him hard, and then he turned to Hua Er, whose face seemed to waste away faster every day. He gritted his teeth, “Very well. We will wait for you across the pavillion, where we can see you, but not hear this secret.”
Lord Jin bowed, “The emperor is too kind.”
Emperor Zhu Ming huffed, turning sharply and walking away.
Jin smiled as they left. He cleared his throat, “Little mortals and their games.” With a flick of his finger, his power flew to the six corners of the pavilion, an invisible barrier grew between them and the outside world.
On the invisible barrier, it showed an image of Lord Jin talking respectfully to Hua, but inside the barrier, Jin had shed his human disguise. Long hair, untied, hung to his waste. His handsome yet devilish face showed a hint of a smile. His eyes turned back to that of the trademark gold of the immortals.
Hua Er watched all of this silently, she placed a hand under her chin and pour tea with the other. “So, Lord Jin, are you a demon or a god?”
Jin smiled, “A little bit of both, actually.” He frowned at her, “You don’t seem surprised.”
Hua Er smiled, “I’ve seen a demon before. Now, It takes a lot to surprised me.” She gestured to the seat opposite of her, “Please sit. It seems you have business with me.”
Jin eyed her suspiciously, “Aren’t you even slightly in awe of my perfect face?” He touched his face, “I was once called the most handsome man in heaven and hell. Girls fell over themselves trying to get a glimpse of me.”
Hua Er looked at him for a long time, with a slight frown of someone trying hard to remember something
Jin smiled, “Yes mortal, gaze at my beauty in awe, my presence is a gift that keeps on giv—“
“You talk a lot. ” Hua Er interrupted him, and then her eyes turned sad, “I had a friend who looked a little like you, but he’s gone.”
Jin felt as if he was talking to a wall, he muttered under his breath “Perhaps her illness had made her blind and insane.”
He cleared his throat, “Little mortal, I am here to offer you a gift.”
Hua Er shook her head as if to forget the memory, she looked at him once again, “And what do you want in return?”
Jin took a seat beside her, “Who says I want anything from you? Maybe I am a benevolent being who was touched by your suffering and wanted to offer your a path to immortality as my queen?”
Hua er smiled, “If I was an idiot, I might fall to the ground in ecstatic awe of your favor.” She shrugged, ” But I am not one for kneeling. The ground is too cold for me.”
“What if I say that I can save your beloved king.” Jin asked as he looked at the lovely woman, “Would you beg me then?”
Hua er took another sip, “No. Whatever quarrel you have with the Emperor, take it up with him.”
Jin scoffed, “And I was told that you cared deeply for Xu Long Hui.”
The delicate jade cup fell from her numb fingers, Hua Er slowly turned the immortal, “What did you say?”
Jin waved his hand, the shattered cup became whole again and flew into his hand “Isn’t that the name of the King of Dian? Did I stutter?” He brought a small jade bottle, “If you want to save him, I have a way.” He began to put it away, “But if you don’t care” He started closing the box.
“What do you mean by that?” Hua Er asked sharply, the dismissive tone in her voice was now gone. She gave him her full attention, “How?”
Jin smiled and held up the jade bottle, inside was a black, inky substance that moved by itself. “This is the Essence of the Earth Serpent, do you know what the Earth serpent loves to eat?” He leaned in closer, “They love parasites. Like the one that is sucking the life out of Xu Long Hui.”
Hua Er felt like she had been struck by thunder, and she began to believe Jin. He continued, “You’ve seen it, haven’t you? The demoness that’s connected to his heart. The thing that’s been killing him for years.”
The immortal smiled, “So, you know about that too. The demoness that is killing Xu Long Hui.” Hua Er nodded, “Years ago, when we sent the princess away.” Her voice wavered but she continued, “Xu Long Hui borrowed the demoness’s power. It made the bond between them stronger. Doctor Li says that there is no cure in the world that can save him now.”
Jin shook his head, “Wrong. Ignorant human.” He chuckled, “This is what happens when you don’t live for hundreds of thousands of years.” He placed the bottle on the table, “This comes from the Origin God Fu Xi’s personal store house, and possible the last Earth Serpent in this world. It’s the perfect remedy.”
He grinned, “Have you heard of the term, using poison to destroy poison?” He waved the little bottle, “Then this is your cure.”
Hua Er frowned, “But if that’s a poison, then wouldn’t it cause harm?”
Jin scoffed, “Of course, but not to your precious Xu Long Hui.” He smiled at her confusion, “If you drink this, then the Earth Serpent will live in your body, it will come out and kill the demoness when it senses her. But of course, you have to be close enough to Xu Long Hui for it to find the Demoness.”
Hua Er looked at the little bottle, “And then it kills me?”
“No, no.” Jin corrected her, ” it wants something more valuable than your earthly body.” He waited for his words to sink in before continuing, “It’ll try to take your soul.”
“My soul?” Hua Er echoed, not quite understanding.
“You humans, always dying and reincarnating. It’s quite a bother. The serpent will try to devour your soul once its eaten the demoness. But, I will take pity on you.” His eyes held hers.
“If you promise me your soul now, I will make sure that my serpent doesn’t eat it once it’s saved Xu Long Hui. In fact,” Jin put on his most winning smile, “This is my bargain. Your soul for the cure. How about that?” He held out his hand, “A drop of your blood to seal the contract.”
“My soul for his life.” Hua Er said softly and then smiled, “I don’t care about my soul. Do what you want with it.” She bit her finger, a drop of blood emerged, it fell onto Jin’s open palm. The blood glowed gold and became a ruby when it fell into Jin’s hand.
Jin chuckled holding the little ruby in his palm, “Eager little human, have you thought about what the consequences of your decision could mean for your future?”
Hua Er looked at the little jewel, glinting int the sunlight, “Do I have a future? I’ve killed the one person I was supposed to protect. If I can save him, then that will be worth any future I would want.”
Jin shrugged, “Sure.” He tossed her the bottle, “Drink this. And go to your Xu Long Hui” Hua Er looked confused, “What do I need to do when I meet him?”
Jin sighed, “Do I need to explain to you what happens when a man loves a woman?” Hua Er blushed and Jin laughed, “Just give him a deep kiss on a night of the full moon. Draw out the demoness, and the serpent will do his work. When it’s done, I will come for you.”
Jin then placed the box containing the snow lotus on the table, “That serpent will do a lot of damage to your body. Eat this once the serpent has killed the demoness.” With a wave of his hand, the magic barrier disappeared, he smiled and bowed, “I hope to hear the good knew of Xu Long Hui’s recovery.”
Hua Er watched as the immortal left. She opened the bottle and tipped the contents into her mouth, “Xu Long Hui, I am coming for you.” She said softly and stood up, purpose in her eyes, “Hold on.”