Ch 53: Hidden

Ye Hua raised his arms to stretch out the kinks in his neck and shoulders. He’d been sorting through piles of debris with Zhe Yan for several hours now. The black dragon growled with unease and Ye Hua dropped his arms, tensing. He could no longer sense Bai Qian in the village. Where was she? She always told him where she was going to be when they were visiting Qing Qiu or spending time in the peach tree forest. 

His unease grew into worry as he hurried toward the potter’s cottage, the hem of his black linen robe whipping around his legs as he started to run when he didn’t see her there. Zhe Yan was right behind him.

“What’s wrong, Ye Hua?”

“I don’t know where Qian Qian is!” he called over his shoulder. 

He veered off the broken stone path leading to the potter’s and started running toward Qing Qiu’s forest, toward the woodcutter’s cottage sitting near the tree line. Maybe Xioali, Guangli, or Biyu knew where Bai Qian was. “My dragon can’t sense her anymore. Something’s wrong.”

Searing pain burned along his right forearm and Ye Hua slid to a halt; his heart stopped before it began racing with fear. It was the alarm signal from Bai Qian’s bracelet. 

“Qian Qian!” Within the blink of an eye, Ye Hua disappeared, jumping to the location in the forest where he had sensed his spell activate. Zhe Yan appeared seconds afterwards. 

Ye Hua glanced around him frantically, spotting Xiaoli sprawled on the ground. 

“Xiaoli!” Zhe Yan ran toward the young woman, sweeping past him.

The black dragon growled deeply when he scented Bai Qian’s fear. And the stench of demons.

Bai Qian’s fan and her brother’s dagger were tossed in the dirt, along with the bracelet he had given her, its clasp broken. He picked them up and tucked them away in his robe, continuing to look for her. These were items Bai Qian was never without but it was clear she was no longer here. His dragon couldn’t sense her either. 

The demons had taken her.

 Zhe Yan checked the wound near her temple before he gently shook Xiaoli’s shoulder. But he could not rouse her from unconsciousness and didn’t dare shake her harder for worry he could worsen her wound. “I can’t wake her. She can’t tell us what happened. I need to get her to safety.”

The knuckles of Ye Hua’s right hand blanched white as he clenched his fist. He summoned his sword and its scabbard. His whole body shook with restrained violence demanding to be unleashed. Black crept over the brown of his eyes as the dragon surged forward. Ye Hua couldn’t stop him nor did he try.

“Go,” Ye Hua ordered Zhe Yan, his voice more dragon growl than human. “Tell Mo Yuan.”        

Zhe Yan averted his eyes from the overwhelming force of the dragon’s rage. He nodded. “I will.”

Ye Hua said no more. The black dragon appeared in his place and soared upwards, a long, dark shadow snaking its way across the cloudless afternoon sky. A furious roar echoed through the atmosphere which was followed by a sudden silence as all the wildlife in the area froze with fear. The most fearsome of predators was hunting his prey. 

The black dragon ignored the silence he had created and turned in the direction of the Demon Realm. It was time to kill those who dared to threaten Bai Qian and his fox.


Bai Qian shivered as the Demon soldier magically restraining her led her down the dark passage of an icy cave. She didn’t dare try to use her magic even for warmth. It would be easier to take her captors by surprise if they continued to think her weak and helpless. The right time to fight back would come soon. She just had to wait.

A small cavern, illuminated by sconces lit with flickering demon fire, opened up off the passageway they were following and Weisheng welcomed Bai Qian inside with a gesture and pleased smile. Her gaze was drawn to the far wall where a space was set aside with bars of thick ice. She could see manacles connected to the stone wall within.

Panic welled up from her stomach with a churning sensation but she forced it back down, remembering her training. She needed to remain calm to keep a clear head. If she made a move of resistance now, she would be defeated. She was restrained and there were too many demons for her to fight by herself. And she would give up her advantage.  

“This prison was created just for you,” Weisheng explained. “A special cell for a special fox. What do you think?” 

Bai Qian said nothing. Her face remained impassive as she tried to assume Ye Hua’s expression when he had first started prowling through her forest. It was the expression he had used in the Heavens as well.  

“Lock her up,” Weisheng ordered with a frown.

With a jerk of her arm, the Demon soldier pushed Bai Qian toward the ice bars of her prison, a door appearing with a gesture from Weisheng. She hesitated at the threshold, refusing to step inside when she sensed demon magic emanating from the interior. 

Her fox howled wildly inside Bai Qian, protesting against being forced into a cage. They needed to fight back before they could be locked up. Not yet, Bai Qian insisted. It would take me too long to break the restraint. 

“Get in there,” the soldier ordered, shoving Bai Qian. She stumbled on the uneven rock and slid on a small patch of ice. She bit back a cry when she fell to her knees, landing awkwardly without the use of her hands. 

Her fox was forced deep inside her to a place Bai Qian could just barely sense her. The suppression grew stronger when the manacles were locked in place around her wrists with a key. She could no longer feel her fox or her magic running through her. The loss of both left her bereft and scared. Her stomach churned with panic once again. 

Closing her eyes for a moment, she took two long breaths, reaching for the calm state of mind she could find through meditation. The queasiness subsided. With her outward composure regained, her thoughts raced with ideas on how to escape. 

The soldier had removed the magic restraint spell when he had locked the manacles and Bai Qian used her hands to regain her feet. She turned and looked at Weisheng through the bars, sparing a glance from the corner of her eye at the key to the manacles the soldier held. 

She didn’t speak nor did she look away from Weisheng. The triumph on his face faded into a frown as his cold green eyes stared back at her. Was her composure confusing him? Good. Let it. Though fear filled her, she would never let him see it. She was not the same woman he had terrorized in the Heavens.    

“I wonder if Ye Hua has noticed you missing yet,” Weisheng said, breaking the silence hanging between them. Bai Qian didn’t miss the way he casually used Ye Hua’s name. “He’ll never find you, you know. He’ll foolishly search the dungeons in the Demon Palace and waste time doing so. We’re nowhere near the palace.”

He waited for Bai Qian to respond but she said nothing.

“His dragon won’t be able to sense you either. I’m sure you’ve noticed that your prison and restraints are warded with a special spell to suppress your magic and your fox. He could search for an eternity and never find you here.”

Still Bai Qian said nothing. She knew Ye Hua and the black dragon would find her if given enough time. It didn’t matter what tricks Weisheng and the traitor used to stop them. But she didn’t plan to stay here waiting if she could help it. She didn’t know how she was going to escape without the use of her magic but she would find a way. Mo Yuan and Meixiu had both taught her to use whatever means she had available to her.  

Weisheng frowned again. “Do you even understand what I’m saying? Or are you too simple to comprehend the hopeless situation you are in?”

Bai Qian didn’t rise to the insult. He wanted a reaction from her but she wouldn’t give him one. Let it throw him off further.

A sword appeared in Weisheng’s hand. Bai Qian tensed. It looked like no sword she had ever seen before and it radiated strength. Even the soldier was staring at it with curious wonder like he had never seen the weapon before.

“This is a dragon talon sword.” Weisheng stepped away and lifted the blade until it faced straight toward the ceiling. Then he swung it toward a stalactite and the weapon cut cleanly through the ice covered stone without a sound. He turned back toward Bai Qian. “The blade is coated with enough poison to kill hundreds of men.”

“My lord,” the soldier said. “Where did you get that sword?”

“Silence,” Weisheng ordered the soldier.

Bai Qian stared at the weapon, unnerved by what it had just done and the consequences of Weisheng having it in his possession. A dragon talon sword? The black dragon’s scales would provide no protection against such a weapon. His scales were his best defense and this sword would leave him and Ye Hua more vulnerable to harm from the blade and the demon poison.

Some of Bai Qian’s fear for Ye Hua and the black dragon must have shown on her face because Weisheng’s triumphant expression was back in place.

“I see you understand what this means for any who try to stop me. Good. Maybe now you will understand how serious your situation is. Ye Hua will die. Mo Yuan will die. They will all perish.”

Bai Qian rushed toward him with a fierce yell but the restraints held fast, the metal digging into the skin of her wrists. She struggled to erase the anger and fear from her expression. Her composure was shaken now and Weisheng knew it. He grinned.   

“Why are you doing this?” Bai Qian asked, breaking her determined silence. “What do you want?”

“I want to rule the Heavens and all the Realms.” Weisheng moved closer to the ice bars, the sword disappearing from sight. A clay jar appeared in his hands. “And you’re going to help me.”


The walls of the demons’ mountain fortress trembled with the black dragon’s furious roar. Dark grey storm clouds rolled in behind him as the dragon slashed through the sky towards the fortress entrance. Strong gusts of wind blew the guards off their feet. He circled back around and crashed his way through the great stone doors, turning them into nothing more than rubble. He snaked his way through the dark corridors to the subterranean dungeon. 

The dragon destroyed everything in his path. His only thought was of finding Bai Qian and his fox and obliterating whoever had taken her. 

He swooped by the cells of the dungeon, roaring his frustration when Bai Qian and her fox were nowhere to be found. Ye Hua gained partial control when they came upon a demon guard huddling behind a stack of wooden crates. He shifted and grabbed the man by the front of his armor, lifting him up until his legs dangled helplessly. Ye Hua wrapped magic around the man until he couldn’t move.

“Where is she?” he growled, the rumble filling the room.

“I… I… do… don’t know wh… who you are talking about,” the guard stuttered with a whimper. “Honest, I don’t.”

Ye Hua snarled when he detected no deceit in the demon’s scent. Bai Qian wasn’t here. 

The demon trembled, refusing to meet Ye Hua’s black eyes, eyes filled with the wrath of his dragon. He hurled the demon against the stone wall and shifted back into his beast. His roar echoed through the corridors as he burst his way through walls to the outside, leaving destruction behind. A volley of arrows welcomed him but the projectiles bounced uselessly against his scales, falling down to the snow below. 

The black dragon circled, thunder rumbling as the angry storm built around him. He would find Bai Qian and his fox even if he had to search every centimeter of the Demon Realm to do so. Nobody could stop him.


“Help you?” Bai Qian eyed the clay jar in Weisheng’s hands with trepidation, a sick feeling she couldn’t explain rising through her. “You’re crazy. I’ll never help you.”

He scowled at her. “If you don’t help me, I’ll seal the cave and leave you here. Without food, air, or light. Who knows how long it will take for you to be found. Or what will be left of you.”

Bai Qian didn’t answer. Perhaps pretending to cooperate with him would buy her some time to come up with a plan. Maybe she could even turn his plans against him in some way. She needed to try it despite the risk.

“I’m glad you understand,” Weisheng said when she remained silent. Bai Qian wanted to rip the sudden smirk off his face with her claws. And she would if given the chance.

He brought the jar closer to the bars. Bai Qian took a step back from it, giving way without meaning to. “This jar contains something very special and very powerful. I believe it’s the key to the success of my plan. But its magic evades me.” Demon magic flared in the air and a gap opened in the bars. Weisheng placed the jar on the ground before Bai Qian. He pulled back and the bars sealed closed again. “You are going to help me use its power. You are the only one who can release its magic.”

“I don’t understand,” Bai Qian told him, refusing to look at the jar. Something about it felt wrong to her. “I don’t know anything about using magical artifacts. I can’t help you.”    

“You will understand once you look inside.” Weisheng growled when she made no move toward it. “Do it. Now.”

Remembering her decision to pretend to cooperate, Bai Qian lowered her gaze and stared at the jar. The sick feeling inside her grew stronger when she took a step closer. She glanced at Weisheng. He watched her with an eager glint in his cold eyes. 

“Go on,” he hissed. “Look.”

Crouching before it, Bai Qian reached for the lid with trembling fingers. She hesitated a moment longer before lifting the lid. The stench of blood and death assailed her as she stared in horror at the fleshy organ in the jar. Then the long ago familiar feel of her father’s heart magic enveloped her.     

“No, no, no,” she whimpered, crumpling to the ground as her strength evaporated. “Please no.” Bai Qian dragged the jar toward her, hating it but refusing to let go now that she knew what it contained. His heart. Her father’s heart. It had been in demon hands this whole time… in the hands of his murderers. It was the ultimate desecration of his body, soul, and memory. How could he rest in peace with his heart separated from his family and lands?

“How could you?” she wailed, her shoulders shaking as she sobbed. Tears streamed down her face, freezing on the icy rock underneath her. “How could you do this to him?”

Images of her father’s mutilated body flashed through Bai Qian’s mind. Terrible memories gripped her thoughts in a violent assault. She tried but failed to stop them. She could once again hear the eerie quiet in the Fox Den and smell the blood of her family all around her. She gagged. The cave prison faded and then disappeared. She was a young fox kit again, curled up next to the cold lifeless body of her father… scared, helpless, and uncertain what to do. 

“Father.” Her hoarse voice was no more than a whisper as she remained trapped inside her memory of that night. “Please don’t leave me, Father.” Bai Qian thought she heard her fox howl in agony from a great distance. “Father.”

The memories of the night her family was butchered tightened their grip. The Dragon entered the Den. She skittered into a hiding place, holding her breath as her heart raced with terror. He searched her father’s body. Then he started ripping through the furniture. Her whole body trembled as he stopped and looked toward her. He knew she was there. He took a step in her direction. She shook more violently. His scent washed over her. He’s going to kill me. I’m trapped. 

He moved closer and Bai Qian detected his scent again, stronger than before. She had spent so many meditation sessions trying to remember this one detail that it penetrated through her panic and gave her something she could focus on. She recognized it this time. The Dragon smelled the same way her father’s clothes had smelled when he had returned after having been in the Mortal Realm to help a village through the devastating effects of a months-long drought. The Dragon smelled like dust and decay… like the heat of a summer that had never carried the fragrance of life-giving water.   

Then the distant howling of her spirit animal reached her. Her fox was deep inside Bai Qian when she should be close by to offer support. Something wasn’t right. She wasn’t in the Fox Den on that night. 

Bai Qian concentrated on nothing more than the faint sound of her fox and remembering the scent of the Dragon traitor. She broke the unrelenting grip of her memories and found herself back in her prison in the Demon Realm. She clutched the jar containing her father’s heart to her chest, protecting it from Weisheng should he make a move to take it from her. Her father’s heart belonged in Qing Qiu. 

Breathing deeply to regain some of her composure, Bai Qian tensed. She breathed in again. There it was, underneath the icy stench of demon… dust and decay. Heat without water. She wasn’t mistaken. She could still smell the scent of the Dragon who had searched the Fox Den the night her family was killed. How was that possible? Had he joined Weisheng in the cave?

Fury ignited in Bai Qian, giving her renewed strength. She sat up and gained her feet. She kept her father’s heart close to her as she looked for the Dragon who had betrayed her father, her family, and all of Qing Qiu. 

The only people in the cave with her were Weisheng and the demon soldier. She frowned and scented the air again. The stench of drought was still there, hidden underneath Weisheng’s demon scent. What did it mean? 

Her red and swollen eyes met Weisheng’s gaze… no, Jinjing’s gaze and held it until he blinked and glanced away. He growled and stepped up to the bars, his body posture that of intimidation. Bai Qian didn’t back away, not this time. She didn’t know how it was possible for Jinjing to look exactly like Weisheng and wield demon magic but she was sure that was the explanation for why she could smell the traitor Dragon’s scent.  

“Now you understand why you must be the one to help me,” Jinjing said, his voice harsh. “As his daughter, only you can release the magic contained in Bai Zhi’s heart.” He tossed a small jade object into the cell. “When you do, you will transfer the magic into that special urn. It will collect the magic and reserve it for my use alone. The wards placed on the cell will suppress your father’s magic so the only thing you can do with it is extract it for me. Then the magic will be mine.” 

Bai Qian continued to stare at him without saying a word.

“You will transfer the magic of Bai Zhi’s heart to me. If you don’t, I will leave you here to die a slow, painful death.”

Fury flared hot in Bai Qian but she did not lose her composure again. How dare he speak of using her father’s heart magic for his own purposes. The atrocities the Demons and Jinjing had committed against her father must be answered for. She would find justice for him, her family, and the people of Qing Qiu.

“You will help me,” he ordered. “You have no choice.”   

“What were you looking for?” Bai Qian asked, ignoring his words. Her calm voice hid the depths of her anger.

Jinjing looked confused. 

“That night in the Fox Den,” she clarified. “What were you looking for?”

His eyes widened. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Now Jinjing’s composure was the one faltering.

Bai Qian smiled but there was no humor in her eyes. “But you do know.” He shook his head in response, backing away from her cell. She kept pressing him. “You know because you’re not Weisheng.”

“How did you…” He stopped, glancing at the demon soldier who was watching the exchange intently.

“I can smell you. The real you. I know who you are.”

“That’s not possible,” Jinjing snarled. “You’re mistaken.” He looked at the soldier again. “The simple Fox has lost her mind. It’s broken. I’ve always heard foxes were weak. She has no idea what she’s talking about.” He turned back to Bai Qian. “You’re mistaken.”

“No,” Bai Qian murmured. “I don’t think I am. What did you do with Weisheng? Where is he?”

“I’m right here, you stupid Fox! Are you blind?”

Bai Qian narrowed her eyes, prodding him on. “Did you betray him? That’s all you know how to do, isn’t it? Is that why you have no allies?”

“I don’t need allies. I have the entire Demon Realm under my control. Nobody can stop me. Least of all you!”

With his fist raised, Jinjing opened the cell door with his magic just as Bai Qian had hoped he would. Still clutching the jar holding her father’s heart, she prepared for the hit, ready to take her chance and move against him with a well placed kick when he got close enough to strike her. But the blow never came. A furious roar echoed from the surrounding mountains. The cave shook with the sound, halting Jinjing in his tracks. 

Bai Qian’s heart skipped a beat with both joy and worry. Ye Hua and her dragon were here but they didn’t know the danger Jinjing posed to them with his weapon.

Jinjing grinned. “It’s time to kill the black dragon and Ye Hua now,” he declared with glee. “He arrived this far north sooner than I expected but don’t worry. I’m ready to face him. He’ll die without ever realizing how close he came to finding you.” He exited the cell and put the bars back into place. Bai Qian cursed under her breath.  

“If you ever want free of this place, you will work on releasing the magic from your father’s heart.” Jinjing turned to the soldier. “Watch her. Make sure she does as I ordered. And make sure she stays put. You will regret it if you don’t.”

With one last glare her way, Jinjing stormed across the cavern and disappeared back into the passageway. 

⇚ Previous part: Ch 52: Out of Time

⇛ Next part: Ch 54: A Stalemate

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