Chapter 14 - The Tide TurningPart 1
written by LalaLoop
edited by Kakashi
consulting by Bunny
“I don’t understand,” Bai Qian looked left and right, frantically scanning every inch of the isle they were standing on again and again. Still, she found nothing except the empty box in front of them. “Why is there nothing here? She… she jumped into the fire… There should be something here...”
There should be something. This was not right. Bai Qian stooped and looked for carvings on the stone dais, on the ground. Perhaps there were more instructions, another door to open, another cliff to cross, some stairs that led down further. Maybe this was a decoy, maybe the item was not here at all.
She found nothing. This was it, they had reached the end of the journey.
Yehua happened to be more absorbed in the golden patterns along the box’s panels than she was for some reason. But he too seemed to be at his wits’ end about the empty box.
Bai Qian picked the box up in her hand and began another thorough scan for hidden clues. That was when she realized something on the gold she hadn’t seen the first time - the familiar patterns, the ones she had seen around the mirror and… somewhere else she couldn’t remember. Fish scales.
But that didn’t matter now. The gold was only just gold - nothing about it could explain to them what had just happened or how they should proceed.
“Yehua, I don’t…” her voice broke. She fought back the urge to smash the box against the ground. “I don’t understand this.”
The Demon Queen was dead.
“I --” Yehua looked hopeless.
The isle suddenly shook. There was a deep rumble that came from somewhere within the earth.
Bai Qian clutched the box tighter. “What’s happening?”
Yehua peered down the dark cliff, alarm spreading on his face instantly. “It’s the fire, it’s rising again, we have to get out of here.”
True enough, the whole cave was being brightened by golden light again. Heat was rising fast. Not wasting another moment to even wonder why another incomprehensible thing was happening, they hopped on their swords.
The fire, as fast as water from a broken dam, was already only a few yards from reaching them, it was so hot that Bai Qian felt as though the metal blade was melting under her feet as she flew. The rocks were also dispersing fast and seemingly returning to their former positions.
Ten feet. Five feet.
The heat was burning her back. Bai Qian pushed forward with a thrust of speed and found herself on the other side just two seconds before the fire formed a sea of gold again.
Well, Bai Qian stared into the grey distance as she and Yehua stood at the cave entrance, at least it’s fresher than that inside the cave. The wind was still howling and the sky was as dark as before. How long had they been in that cave?
Before this trip, she had prepared to find nothing, had prepared to be betrayed and led into a trap. But neither had happened.
What would the other people say if they knew the Demon Queen was, once again, dead? What would Zhongyin do? What would Moyuan say?
“Do you think... that fire was reliable?” Yehua uttered.
Do you think the Demon Queen really sacrificed to give us a chance? That was what he was really asking. For a second, Bai Qian was appalled that there wasn’t as much sympathy on his face as there should be, but she quickly understood. Yehua hadn’t known the Demon Queen at all except through books and lectures about the terrible things she’d done. Maybe her own distraught expression now was appalling him. Maybe he was thinking the world was well rid of that woman; and if he was, Bai Qian couldn’t blame him.
“The fire --” she exhaled. “The fire protected the isle, not the item - I’m only sure of that. The rest of it… I don’t understand...”
“We talked about this before the trip,” he said to her. “We knew there was a great chance of not finding anything at all.”
“We didn’t talk about how the Demon Queen might die. What are we going to do? What are we going to tell Zhongyin?”
As those things came out of her mouth, Bai Qian wondered at herself - she didn’t know what she should be thinking, how she should be reacting. Was it even… appropriate for her to feel sad?
Yehua gently took the box she had brought out from the isle into his own hand. “Let’s go back,” he said.
On their swords, they made their way out of the Demons’ territory.
It was true - things weren’t half as bad now as they’d expected them to be before the trip; neither of them was injured; maybe Zhongyin would refuse point blank to help them when he heard the news, but the number of Demon troops Zhongyin had to offer was never going to make a significant difference, anyway.
And that Demon Queen...
How the world had hated her. Who would mourn for her now but Moyuan and Zhongyin? What difference did it make if she lived or died? What difference, indeed...
A tear rolled down Bai Qian’s cheek. For the woman she’d befriended in the mortal realm.
“Qianqian,” Yehua suddenly steered his sword close to her. His wary expression puzzled Bai Qian, but the next second, she understood why.
Something was going on below the clouds. Something sounded like…
They both descended with caution and hid among the branches of an impossibly high oak tree, which afforded them a view of a wide river.
Battle cries - that was what they’d heard.
A massive sea of black armors spread from the riverbank towards the edge of the forest in which Bai Qian and Yehua were hiding. The Demons were roaring and laughing among themselves in avidity, as though they were about to enter some sort of game.
“Prepare to cloud-jump!” shouted a coarse and annoyed voice among them.
“HOLD IT!” Another raised.
Bai Qian squinted. “What’s going on here?”
“That’s Fuze,” Yehua said in a whisper, gesturing at the man with the stature of a giant and all sorts of markings on his face and a spear in his hand. He was mounting a large Kirin while the rest of the Demons began dividing themselves into groups around him. “He’s one of the Demon Lords. It looks like he’s dispatching his troops, but… to where…”
That question was answered almost immediately.
“I swear I do not care if any of you dies in this battle,” Fuze thundered above his soldiers, his hawk eyes glaring around. Surprisingly, the Demon soldiers didn’t seem to be bothered by his bizarre remark. They even looked excited by it. “Especially if you die from stupidity. But again, I am warning you - the sea creatures are formidable underwater,” he rolled his eyes. “Obviously. So unless you are eager to have saltwater run up your noses and into your lungs and die one of the most uncomfortable deaths ever, keep the battle on dry land and cooperate with the Dark Immortal’s troops!”
Bai Qian’s jaw fell. “What?”
“The Four Seas?” Yehua uttered.
In the distance, Fuze went on with his odd speech. “All being said, the first one of you to capture the Dragon Prince alive will be generously rewarded.”
The Demons roared in laughter.
“Yes, yes,” Fuze waved, then pointed his spear in a random direction. “As if that’s possible. Now, disappear!”
Group by group, the Demon soldiers vanished, and lastly, Fuze and his lieutenant.
“The Dragon Prince,” Bai Qian was mortified. “My Senior!”
“Or my uncle,” Yehua’s face darkened. “We have to cloud-jump there, now.”
“To the Crystal Palace first,” Bai Qian specified, trying to calm herself and recalling the necessary information. “They have been resisting Luoji most intensely since he took over the Nine Heavens. Luoji doesn’t care about the kingdoms that have already bowed to him, the Crystal Palace is the first of the Four Seas he would want to conquer.”
“All right,” Yehua nodded and seized her wrist.
The next second, both of them were hurling through clouds.
It was chaos.
Thunders split the sky, rain pouring down endlessly, rogue waves rising as high as the clouds and smashing everything on their paths.
People were screaming and running in all directions at the seaside, some emerging from the water and cloud-jumping away immediately, children crying and yelling for their parents.
Bai Qian got on her sword and headed for the palace in the middle of the ocean she had once visited to help Zheyan heal Prince Dieyong’s illness.
But that Crystal Palace, now half smashed, no longer looked like the pride of the Four Seas.
Demons and soldiers in white raided the place, fighting against other forces. It was impossible for Bai Qian to decide which group of men were protecting the Crystal Palace and which group belonged to Luoji. The ones in Celestial uniforms, though, she was quite sure weren’t here to aid her Senior.
Right above the highest roof, Diefeng was mounting a giant armoured seahorse, sword in hand, and -- Bai Qian’s eyes opened wide despite the storm -- he was… bending water. It was something that no Land Immortal could dream of doing. She had seen him perform this magic many times at Kunlun, but never to this extent. The ocean waves obeyed his every command, launching at the enemies, keeping them at bay, drowning them, throwing them back to land mercilessly. Diefeng was defending what was left of the Crystal Palace. Around him were at least ten other Water Benders and their troops, they all seemed to be doing the same thing - keeping as many enemy soldiers from diving as possible. Just when Bai Qian was still wondering how Diefeng’s seahorse could fly, she realized that it had wings. Clear, fragile looking wings that shouldn’t be able to carry the weight of their owner and the rider, but they were, and quite effectively.
Bai Qian was nearly thrown off her sword by a wave of water had she not dodged in time. Blasting several Demons and their mounts out of the sky, she called out. “Senior!”
Diefeng whipped in their direction. Astonished, he steered his begrudged looking seahorse toward the palace.
Upon landing, Yehua struck several times. All the men whom Bai Qian recognized as Demons by their black armors were either knocked out or blasted into the water. The soldiers in white, however, were disarmed, but still standing.
“Crown Prince…” One of them stammered.
“Leave immediately,” Yehua thundered to the confused soldiers whose lives he’d spared, the sheer volume of his voice startled Bai Qian, she had never seen him to be so unrelenting in his manner. “Because you belong to the Dragon Clan, I will not take your lives today. Leave. This is the last time I will show mercy to traitors.”
They scattered without a word.
“Seventeenth! What are you doing here?” jumping off the seahorse, Diefeng was all out of breath, his armors dented and he was wet from head to toe. But Bai Qian was aware that, in complete contrast to Land Immortals like herself, a Sea Dragon’s power was only strengthened the more time he spent in water.
“Prince Diefeng,” Yehua rushed over.
“Celestial Crown Prince? What are you...”
“Is my Second Uncle here?”
“He was, Crown Prince,” Diefeng caught his breath. “He and the Northern Sea Queen have been helping us take our people to safety since the beginning of the battle. They have just cloud-jumped with a large group of our citizens.”
“Senior, where is Luoji?” Bai Qian asked.
“He’s coming,” Diefeng replied then looked back at Bai Qian. “Zilan was here a few days ago, he warned us about the attack -- told me to relocate my troops. We knew we couldn’t fight back, but it took a while to convince my father to evacuate the city, and we were too late in our preparation.”
“And where are the troops you were told to relocate?” Yehua asked.
“Safe. But the same can’t be said for everyone else.”
“What do you mean?” Bai Qian raised her voice over the rain. “Are there still a lot of people down there?”
“The defenceless -- children among them; they’re trapped within the city. My brother is down there helping the rest of them flee, I’m holding the fort to give them time. We’re trying to prevent as many of Luoji’s men from entering the water as possible. The majority of them can’t breathe underwater for long, but they can still cause damage and kill many before they die, that mad tribe...”
“Children…?” Yehua’s face went white. “What do you mean they’re trapped?”
“A large number of Luoji’s army of Sea Dragons and other dark creatures have surrounded the underwater city. There is currently no way out for those who are still inside.”
“Can’t we surrender to Luoji?” Bai Qian shouted. “This is not the time to fight to the death. If Luoji wants the Crystal Palace then give it to him, he won’t harm the innocent unless they stand in his way!”
“Tell that to my father and his court!” responded Diefeng, looking like he was trying hard not to curse. “We pleaded to him to act quickly but he was the one with the army seal and his court chose to fight. Once the battle started, those monsters Luoji released didn’t hold back! Until Luoji gets here to negotiate, we have to get as many people away as possible or they will be killed on sight.”
“I will help your brother,” Yehua declared.
“Hang on!” Bai Qian said. “How deep is the underwater city? At the very bottom?”
“Of course, where do you think it is, Seventeenth? It’s directly beneath the Crystal Palace,” Diefeng said impatiently, turning to Yehua. “Celestial Crown Prince, I would be grateful for any help, but are you sure? Underwater is a completely different battlefield.”
But Yehua seemed to have made up his mind.
“I would take your place here,” he said. “But your Water Benders are looking to you for order, a change of commander would only confuse them. Besides, my powers don’t allow me to direct water the way you do.”
“Yehua,” Bai Qian knew they had no other choice, but she had to remind him. “Celestial dragons can’t breathe underwater for longer than an incense’s time, the pressure will also weaken your magic, and there’s a battle going on down there.”
“I know. But there are children down there, I have to try.” He turned to Diefeng. “I will cloud-jump them to shore, is that what Prince Dieyong is doing?”
“Yes, Crown Prince,” Diefeng replied. “Some of those children have been made orphans today, I’m afraid. We will also have to cloud-jump them to a safe location.”
“Oh, god…” Bai Qian gasped. How could so much have happened in such little time?
“I will try my best,” Yehua said
“Please be careful, Yehua,” Bai Qian pleaded.
He nodded. “If this gets out of hand, leave. Don’t wait for me.”
“If you’ll do the same,” Bai Qian said, so that he could hear the ridiculousness in his own request. “Yehua, I’m not going to just leave! I will do what’s necessary according to what happens at the --”
“Just... “ Yehua sighed helplessly. “Take care not to fall into the water.”
“Go save them,” she urged.
Without wasting another second, he strode to the edge and dived.
Diefeng mounted the seahorse, who was looking impatient to get back to the fight, and shouted back to her. “Be careful, Seventeenth, and stay on land!”
“Wait…” Bai Qian ran after him. “Get me a seahorse… ughhh --”
He took off before she could finish and was once again immersed in the chaos.
That was it, then. She would have to do what she could from here.
At this moment, something that looked like a giant snake emerged from the water and slashed down, throwing several Water Benders off their mounts. Bai Qian had an idea what that was - an octopus. And if one of its limbs was that size, she didn’t dare to think about how big the rest of its body was.
“You’d better stay in one place, Little Sprite,” she warned the little creature when it yanked on her hair.
Bai Qian squinted to get a better understanding of the men’s uniforms, as some of them were neither Demons nor Celestials, and raised her fan, aiming at the first enemy soldier she could spot, and blasted him away from Diefeng. From where she stood, Bai Qian continued to conjure shields, shoot her best spells at the incoming Demons to prevent them from entering the water and aiding their comrades.
Once every several minutes, she saw a silver light bolting out from the depth and heading for shore. Knowing that Yehua was at least cloud-jumping some of those children out of danger, she went on fighting with heightened confidence.
But she was not so foolish as to assume that they had a chance to win against the number of troops that were pouring in from all sides. They might not even be able to rescue all the people stuck in the city before they had to save themselves.
A blinding light suddenly crashed into what remained of the Crystal Palace, throwing Bai Qian off her feet and straight into the water.
Her eyes bulged and she let out a scream, bubbles escaped from her mouth and saltwater rushed into her throat.
It was a sight she would never forget. There was that monster octopus she’d seen earlier floating not too far below the surface, its impossibly long limbs were destroying all battle formations with whips so furious that Bai Qian had no idea which side it was on.
Some yards below, sea creatures were engaged in a battle like nothing Bai Qian had seen before. ‘Powerless’ was the only word she could use to describe herself and the rest of the immortals on land as she witnessed this scene.
Sharks, swordfish, and all kinds of creatures with incredible speed she’d only heard about in lectures were slaughtering one another, zooming back and forth with spiked tails that looked like they could easily shatter whole buildings. The jellyfish were unusually fast and the sea stars weren’t pretty at all. It was as if the whole ocean had awakened, even the corals. Warriors on seahorses clashed weapons; some fought hand to hand; several were carrying out the fight in their true forms; magic jets were being thrown in all directions. She didn’t want to think about what went on at a deeper level and the state the underwater city must be in right now.
Running out of breath, Bai Qian kicked and headed for the surface, dodging the jets of light that were flying back and forth.
Taking in the view as she stood on the palace’s ground again, however, Bai Qian gasped in terror - Diefeng was nowhere to be seen, his mount was shrieking in desperation in the distance and circling above what looked to be a maelstrom.
She couldn’t see any of the Water Benders earlier, Luoji’s men - whose number seemed to have increased significantly - were in complete control of the battle. Hanging right above the smashed roof of the palace was Fuze on his mount.
What about Yehua? She peered into the ocean. Had he gotten out?
Leave, she decided. There was no other choice but to head for shore first. Yehua was not reckless -- well, not as much as he’d used to be -- he knew A-li was waiting for him…
“Where is he?” A sharp voice raised behind Bai Qian.
She wheeled around and found herself not twenty feet away from a pair of glaring amber eyes and a face with cheekbones so sharp they looked like they could cut into skin.
“Where is he?” Sufeng repeated.
Bai Qian wasted no time in summoning her powers and getting ready to cloud-jump, but even so, she was no match in speed for this man. Faster than an arrow being shot forth, he appeared in front of her and caught her upper arm, sinking his fingers into her flesh.
“Where. Is. He.”
“Who?” Bai Qian fought back, but he soon had both of her arms in his grip.
“The King of Xunzhua. He’s here, isn’t he?”
“Are you --” he glanced around. “Sure?”
Then, yanking her closer with a force that nearly severed her arm, he sniffed, looking more like a cat than ever.
“I see. It’s coming from you,” his mouth twisted into a savage smile. “That explains a great deal.”
Wincing in pain and not having the slightest idea what this man was talking about, Bai Qian thrashed again and, with a strength that was unexpected even to him, she swung her foot upward and struck him across the face. The shock caused him to let go.
Bai Qian knew she had angered Sufeng. And, having angered the only man to have broken out of the Arctic Prison with no help whatsoever, she knew she had only one choice: run.
Again, Bai Qian summoned her magic while putting a considerable distance between her and the enraged man.
But before she could vanish, a violent migraine hit her, as if invisible claws were piercing through her temples. Bai Qian grabbed either side of her head - her capacity to perform cloud-jumping, or any spell, was being thwarted by this sudden arrest. She grunted, feeling utterly nauseous as her vision began to blur.
Someone was attacking her from the back, without touching her.
As Bai Qian turned around, her blood froze.
“Well.” The ruthless face of the Dark Immortal stretched into a silken smile, his eyes - though as cold as the cutting edge of a knife - gleamed with a sudden thrill. “I would be lying if I said I hadn’t hoped to see you again. Just when I was getting bored with this battle.”
He was just as the last time Bai Qian had seen him - loose robe, loose hair, no armor, ease and lethality laced his every movement.
Bai Qian lunged upward in an attempt to fly but collapsed on her knees as he struck once more, without lifting a finger, without uttering a single spell. The inside of her skull burned and she could hardly think.
“Do not force me to hurt you again,” he said, eyes boring into hers as he gave the order to his lieutenant. “It is time to end this.”
Chapter 14, Part 2
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