Chapter 14 – The Tide Turning
written by LalaLoop
edited by Kakashi
consulting by Bunny
“I’m sorry,” she gestured awkwardly at Tianshu’s bleeding nose, but the general didn’t seem to care much about his injury.
“What are you… erm… what are you doing here? Bai Qian said to no one in particular, hoping either Tianshu, Lady Lexu, or Prince Yangcuo would explain to her quickly of the plan they seemed to be executing.
“General Wenzhang is waiting for us at the Eastern Gate, he was able to place some of our men at the guarding posts. Before the next shift, they will let us pass through the gate.”
“You chose a good time, Luoji isn’t here.”
“But… why are you here, Queen of Qingqiu?”
Bai Qian took a deep breath. “The battle at the Crystal Palace. I was among those Luoji captured…”
“Have you contacted our Crown Prince through the mirror?”
“I tried to, but he hasn’t responded. He was at the Crystal Palace with me and was underwater when I was cloud-jumped back here.”
A small gasp filled the space. Yehua’s parents were both speechless.
“Let’s go,” Bai Qian urged Tianshu. She might not have to use that maid’s pendant after all.
They strode on, quietly, cautiously. As lucky as she was feeling to gain some company, Bai Qian also began to grasp the dire nature of their situation. Tianshu and Yehua’s parents must flee the Nine Heavens unseen today. If they were caught again, not only would Tianshu be shown no mercy, but General Wenzhang would also be neck-deep in trouble.
Her life, Luoji might spare due to her association with the one person he was attempting to provoke. But Tianshu and the others…
At this time, a shadow shot out from a corner and slammed straight into them.
Prince Yangcuo dragged his wife to one side. Bai Qian flicked her fan open while Tianshu lunged toward the man. But they both stopped the second they recognized that face and the item he was holding in his right hand.
“Lord Puhua’s son?” Tianshu said through his teeth.
The young man’s eyes darted between them. “You… You’re one of the Crown Prince’s lieutenants…”
“You found your lightning rod?” Bai Qian pointed at the thing that looked like a short staff the God of Lighting’s son was holding close to his body.
“Queen of Qingqiu?” the man said. “Yes… I did… Listen, you… all of you, you need to…”
“THIS WAY!” a voice boomed from a corner not far away. “Don’t let him escape!”
“Run –” Puhua’s son finished, face stricken with panic.
“Eastern Gate,” Tianshu said and, along with Yehua’s parents, bolted ahead.
“Use your weapon!” Bai Qian yelled as she ran alongside the four of them. “Use that lightning rod!”
“I can’t!” Puhua’s son yelled back in frustration. “The High Scholars have locked its power within the metal with multiple enchantments, I have to let my father look at it first!”
Bai Qian grunted — this was just the luck they needed. Soldiers were now pouring out from all corners, closing in on them. Out of options, she began to fight back as spell were flying at them, aiming specifically at Lady Lexu and Prince Yangcuo.
By the time the Eastern Gate appeared, they were outnumbered at least twenty to one. General Wenzhang, Bai Qian recognized from a distance, was caught in a battle himself at the gate.
Not a problem, Bai Qian thought to herself. She could handle these soldiers as long as…
But the worst came before Bai Qian was prepared for it. A growl echoed in the distance and she spotted Sufeng sprinting towards them.
“Get out of here,” she said to Tianshu.
There wasn’t another choice. Bai Qian raced the other way to meet Sufeng and countered his attack. The impact felt like she had just smashed headfirst into a stone wall. But there was no time to consider the pain and the dizziness, she reached into her sleeve and pulled out the Shield Stone, caught Sufeng’s collar as he was about to leap toward the gate to drag him back, and cast the stone in the air.
With a spell, the thing expanded into what looked like a large air bubble, encircling them both within seconds.
Realizing that he had been trapped, Sufeng’s face was red with fury, looking like a half-crazed beast whose dinner had been snatched away.
“Are you going to kill me?” She exhaled. “Kill me then, and see what Luoji will do to you?”
Sufeng roared and tore at the shield’s surface. It shimmered, ruffled, but did not break under the attacks of his hooked claws. For a second, Bai Qian thought he was going to sink those claws into her face and rip her apart.
A formidable force slammed against the shield from the outside, followed by blinding light, throwing her off balance. Luoji was standing opposite of them. The magic that emanated from him was of a magnitude that, Bai Qian believed, could have shattered both her and Sufeng’s bones had it not been for this shield.
She could only hope Tianshu and the others had gotten away.
After what felt like several minutes, CRACK — like glass, the shield broke into thousands of pieces and dissipated.
“Xunzhua’s magic seems to be as formidable as they all say,” Luoji commented. Bai Qian caught sight of something in the center of his palm, like a piece of armor, but instantly it vanished as he began to fix his robe.
He didn’t need to ask a single question, several soldiers knelt and bowed and one of them reported right away.
“Lexu and Yangcuo have escaped. We have sent riders after them.”
“And –” another man’s voice shook as he spoke. “Puhua’s lightning rod has been taken…”
Absolute silence blanketed the entire area for a minute. Every man present seemed to be wondering if his life was going to end today.
“Come here,” Luoji commanded.
When Bai Qian didn’t respond, he gave a swift wave. First, her silk fan, then herself flew towards him.
“Your recovery from the poison was surprisingly speedy,” he said, then addressed his men. “The Medicine King and those assistants of his, it seems their usefulness has expired.”
“No…” They — all of them were innocent. Horror seized Bai Qian’s head, but before she could protest, she found herself bound within an enchantment and hauled upward, through the clouds.
How long the cloud-jump was, Bai Qian didn’t know. When they finally landed, she slammed against an icy cold surface. Brushing hair out of her face, she shot up and glanced around. It was indeed nothing but aquamarine ice that surrounded her. Raging winds stung her eyes and made it hard to even stand straight.
Arctic Land again? Small puffs of smoke formed in the air as she breathed out.
The surface a few feet away shattered, small chunks of ice now floated on top of a ruffling pool.
“You seem to have a certain affinity toward the Celestials.” The Dark Immortal’s voice made her whip back. “Constantly aiding them at the expense of your own safety.”
The next instant, the scarred face was one inch apart from hers and his cold hand took hold of her jaw.
“Shall I remind you how ruthless those bastards can be?”
He let go and flicked his hand, she was blasted straight into the water, making a loud splash at the impact.
The merciless cold bit into her skin, seized every inch of her body, and it wasn’t long until Bai Qian felt as though her lungs, her brain, her bones were freezing solid. She kicked and kicked. But everytime she was close to the surface, an invisible force pushed her back down. She thrashed and fought back with all she had, but besides exhausting the air that was left in her lungs, the attempt did her no good. She tried to swim away, tried to summon her fan — all in vain. Her limbs were becoming rigid and her eyes seemed to be turning into ice chips inside her sockets.
Suddenly she was yanked out of the water and hurled toward Luoji. Without much effort, he kept her in place with one hand.
Bai Qian gasped for air, choking between words. “Let me go, you…”
Luoji cloud-jumped again before she could finish, and the next second, she was dropped on another surface that wasn’t as cold, but equally harsh. A familiar smell of dampness rushed into her nose.
She scrambled up, felt a solid rock wall behind and gathered herself toward it while trembling violently. She was inside an Arctic Prison cell. Clothes dripping wet, hair turning rigid, she trembled uncontrollably.
“Let me be clear –” the Dark Immortal got down on one knee and commanded her attention. “You stay here for the next three days, you do not attempt to escape or sabotage the guards. Behave yourself from now until the banquet and if I feel generous, I might let you go.”
Bai Qian swallowed. “What banquet…”
“A celebration of my victory at the Crystal Palace. Kings and queens across the realms will grace that dull Celestial Palace with their presence and listen to a few words I have to say. If you are lucky, your future husband will be one of them too.”
She stayed silent and stared at him wide-eyed, not out of shock, but the realization of her powerlessness in this scheme.
“Good,” he nodded, as if to an obedient pet.
For a second, Bai Qian nearly slipped out that she knew what he wanted to do, whom he was targeting, but held her tongue.
“That’s it,” Luoji nodded again in amusement. “You have learned to control your urge to prove your cleverness. I have taught you a valuable lesson, have I not?”
Bai Qian wanted to curse, her teeth chattered and sobs escaped from her throat involuntarily. “You th-think you’re better than th-the Celestials… But you’re just a cr-creature of the dark…”
The black eyes slightly narrowed. “Once you have sat in the dark long enough, Bai Qian, you will find that it protects you better than any shield can.”
He held her glare firmly for another long minute. Then, seemingly having feasted enough on her fear and defeat, he slowly rose and turned around.
The door slammed shut as soon as he vanished.
Bai Qian’s chest hurt as she breathed in. The very air that entered her lungs — cold and piercing — was draining her power.
When there was nothing but silence and the dim light of the candle somewhere over her head, Bai Qian said quietly. “Little sprite, are you there?”
The creature fluttered into view, shuddering as much as she was.
“Go…” she lay down on the damp floor, febbly summoning her healing power. “Find somewhere warm and hide.”
It uttered a small sound of protest, but Bai Qian shook her head, she felt awfully sleepy. Her body had given up trying. “I won’t die.”