“Your sacrifice today is but one of body!”
Qing Cang’s words boomed throughout the smoky vastness of the cavernous hall. Ranks of battle-armed demon soldiers stood at attention before him; swords, spears, and axe blades catching the flicker of the torches along the walls.
“We shall claim our rightful place as overseers of this realm! Your deaths will be your rebirths!” With a resounding clang, Qing Cang struck the tip of his halberd upon the stone dais. “Take as many Celestial lives as you can! As for the inhabitants of Qing Qiu… cull the weak… for only the strong deserve to live as our slaves!”
In one snapping motion, the demon soldiers thrust their weapons high in silent salute to their Emperor.
Diao Wu stood to the side of the dais, a shiver of excitement running down his spine. This was a sight that never failed to move him. How many demons had been sent to their honourable deaths in order for the power and might of the Demon Tribe to rise to its rightful place of rule?
The Shaman had spent the night finishing the incantations upon this last group of demon soldiers to mount an attack; their souls now linked and chained to the inner sanctum. Once killed, the souls would flood back and undergo the final transformation… To be reborn, yes, in a sense.
The number of soldiers for this final assault had not required as many as in previous attacks. Qing Qiu had no standing army of its own. Until Kunlun’s generals and the Celestial army arrived, it would indeed be a culling first and foremost. Nonetheless, it was a precise number of 729 demon soldiers who stood at the ready before them, so as to achieve a power of nine. Souls were always to be rendered this way for the ancient cabal of black wizards whom Diao Wu had come to worship but could only admire from afar.
Black eyes narrowed with jealousy. Bai Qian would be granted the privilege he never could; to be able to approach the Nine and share in their essence, albeit briefly. The blind fox had no idea how great an honour her sacrifice of death would be.
Diao Wu waited for Qing Cang’s signal to send the soldiers off. He took in the magnificent figure of the Demon Emperor. Qing Cang in his full armour radiated such force and menace!
Once the Celestials were defeated and the so-called high gods destroyed, a new world order led by Qing Cang and himself would proceed. What changes would Qing Cang make to the palace of the Ninth Sky? Perhaps his Overlord would want Tianjun’s head for his own use as he had Mo Yuan’s spy whose head Diao Wu held in his hands.
Mo Yuan… the Shaman doubted he could do the same with the God of War, recalling the blowback of energy when he worked his spell upon the dead disciple. Best to destroy the Gold Dragon entirely and raze Kunlun to the ground. Diao Wu would have this demonic temple unearthed instead and serve as the centre for a new demon shamanic order which he would train and lead.
When Qing Cang’s glowing red eyes fell upon him, Diao Wu whisked the demon soldiers away to the edge of the forest of Qing Qiu with a jerk of his chin, his hands otherwise occupied.
Sending the disciple’s head to the gates of Kunlun was child’s play. Diao Wu made sure to strike the shield of the Mountain as he did. Qing Cang had wanted him to ‘knock on the door in a way the worm and his pretty boys would amusingly rush to answer.’
Diao Wu left the Demon Emperor in the hall with a blood crystal mirror he could use to talk through the head of the disciple.
Before making his way cloaked to Qing Qiu to witness the attacks, Diao Wu went to collect what items he may need for his own attack this day. The wizard had no intention of staying in the shadows as per Qing Cang’s standing orders. No, today the Demon Shaman had his own agenda to fulfill.
“Today is when we will meet face to face, Zhe Yan the Phoenix.”
Qing Cang’s roaring laughter cut off when Zhong Yi’s head disintegrated in a flash of green flame.
A troop of Celestial soldiers materialized by the gate, the tolling of the Kunlun Bell having been heard throughout the Immortal Realm.
“Die Feng!!” Mo Yuan thrust his sword skyward. The lightning bolts that erupted from its blade caused the atmosphere to darken as they shot through the firmament to form the characters for Qing Qiu upon the sky, alerting all Celestial forces to where they needed to go. “Take the men along with this first wave of soldiers to Qing Qiu now!”
“With me!!” Die Feng shouted. Together, the 14 remaining disciples of the God of War vanished along with the troop of Celestials.
“Zhe Yan!!” Frantic, Bai Qian tried pulling him along but the Phoenix wouldn’t budge. His grip on her hand was like iron. “Zhe Yan! We need to get to Qing Qiu now! Hurry, cloud-jump us there!”
Zhe Yan watched Mo Yuan’s men vanish, yet the God of War remained where he was, the Dragon’s piercing eyes locked directly upon his. “Mo Yuan!” Bai Qian cried, knowing he was still there. The Dragon’s flaring essence was overpowering. She tugged against Zhe Yan’s hold but the Phoenix wouldn’t let go.
The Dragon and the Phoenix stared at each other.
Is this a trap for Bai Qian? Zhe Yan thought. Qing Cang had goaded Bai Qian on purpose, chosen Qing Qiu on purpose. Why? Need he ask? The black magic used on Ying Yue, Bai Qian’s blindness; there was a connection to Qing Cang. Of course, who else would have the power and daring to go forth with such foulness and perversity. The realization made Zhe Yan’s heart ache. Oh, Qian Qian…
Mo Yuan could tell that the Phoenix was worried for Bai Qian. Bai Qian was the Queen of Qing Qiu, responsible for her people, yet she had to stay here. And it was not about keeping her safe while her people were not, but keeping her from the clutches of Qing Cang who could only be interested in her if she were something he could use as a weapon against the Celestials. Qing Cang wanted Bai Qian. Zhong Yi’s note had proven to be a warning of such in the end.
Never, ever for a single moment he’d known her had Mo Yuan ever thought of Bai Qian’s blindness as something to be taken advantage of. But to protect the Realm… to protect her… the God of War would consider and do whatever he must.
Mo Yuan had never witnessed Bai Qian cloud-jump alone. Because she can’t see where she’d land. That was why she always came and went with the Phoenix.
If they left her here she could not go anywhere.
Forgive me, Qian Qian.
“Bai Qian.” Mo Yuan’s voice was fierce with no tinge of regret, yet his eyes on Zhe Yan held an impassioned plea for the Phoenix to understand the meaning behind his next words. “Bai Qian, you will remain here.”
“WHAT?! Mo Yuan! The demons are attacking Qing Qiu!” Bai Qian cried. “I need to get there now! Zhe Yan?!! What are you waiting for?!”
The Phoenix looked to Bai Qian’s panicked expression then back to Mo Yuan’s hardened one. Sadness and regret washed over him as he gave his nod of acquiescence to the Dragon.
Mo Yuan vanished.
“Qian Qian, stay here,” Zhe Yan whispered to her. “Go back inside the temple. Mo Yuan and I will take care of it.”
Steeling his shoulders with a sharp inhale, Zhe Yan cloud-jumped away, leaving a stricken Bai Qian standing there alone.
He’d waited well past the hour of the Rat, almost till dawn even. The Grey Wolf couldn’t understand. Why hadn’t Diao Wu come last night? There had to have been a reason.
Could it be the Shaman had decided to toy with him, enjoying the thought of the Wolf sitting there waiting like an obedient dog?
The Wolf kept his growl to himself so as not to draw attention from the Boar and the Deer.
Or… could the wizard have discovered somehow that Mo Yuan had come to Qing Qiu the day before?
No. He’d be dead by now, the Wolf knew, if Diao Wu had discovered he’d lied to him.
Disappointed not to have been able to reveal his news and perhaps spur the Shaman’s plans into action faster, the Wolf grudgingly emptied his carry basket with today’s fish to cook onto a platter. Perhaps he should drop by the Fox Den this evening after Bai Qian had left to try and get more information from Migu?
The first screams came as he set his pots to boil upon his cookstove.
They left me behind.
Shaken and incredulous, Bai Qian balled her trembling fists at her sides.
Zhe Yan, why? How could you?
Her people, her home, under attack… Fear gave way to anger.
You cannot keep me away. I will not be left stranded here! Bai Qian raised her face in the direction of the crackling sizzles sounding high above. What had Mo Yuan done to the sky? Was it lightning? No matter, she needn’t cloud-jump straight overhead to get back.
It had never been for lack of ability that Bai Qian did not cloud-jump. It was her blindness that made it treacherous since she could never be sure of her landing place. A slight shift of the wind could alter her trajectory, bringing her to an obstacle, a person even, that could be in her way. She wouldn’t be able to tell until a split-second too late.
But one need not be able to sight their actual path to travel along it. Following an energy trail worked too. And she’d jumped back and forth between the Fox Den and the gates of Kunlun with Zhe Yan often enough recently that their path should be easily traceable. As to where she would land… Bai Qian clenched her jaw. It was a risk she had to take. What danger would she not face when her people were imperilled?
Reaching out her hands, she felt the air where Zhe Yan had been standing. Yes, there. Bai Qian felt the energy trail. Forcing herself to breathe in and out steadily, she paused. Perhaps there was a way she could minimize the risk of injuring herself.
In a heartbeat, a white nine-tailed fox stood with her tails sparkling.
And though it served no purpose to do so, she closed her eyes as she vanished off Kunlun.
The demon soldier staggered backwards, holding his head between his hands as his face erupted with all manner of fungi which clogged his eyes, nose and mouth.
Bleeding from the gashes on her forehead, an enraged Mushroom Fairy stood her ground against the other demon soldier advancing upon her with his sword raised. Her little sprites barricaded behind her overturned table screamed as she lunged with the pitchfork she held, trying at the same time to muster enough of her magic to blast the second demon as she had his companion.
But she was running out of energy, trying to shield what small part of the market she could with her magic as well as protect her sprites huddled behind her.
Fenfang tried to block out the screams. The first demons left a bloodbath in their wake as they’d run through the Market’s main alley before branching off onto the secondary paths.
Where was Gu Gu?! Where was Zhe Yan?! Was there no one to help?!
The pitchfork went flying from her hands when the advancing demon struck it with a swing of his sword. Fenfang slowly backed up. Her sprites were crying now. “Get to the forest and the Peach Grove if you can,” the Fairy hissed over her shoulder at them. “Go! Now!” and with that she threw herself forward upon the demon, flinging what spores she could into his face.
Her throat grabbed in a crushing grip, Fenfang was flung into the air to land on her back. Choking on the blood that flooded her mouth, she turned her head to see her sprites dashing between stacks of baskets and away. The glint of a blade above her head drew her gaze back.
“You needn’t have been culled,” the now mushroom-browed demon sneered. “You could have made a strong slave.”
“Never,” the Mushroom Fairy swore as her eyes followed the descent of the blade towards her head.
A gust of wind blew past a moment before she materialized at what she was expecting to be the opening of the Fox Den. Bai Qian felt bones crack in her tails as she crashed into stiff, rough lengths that sent the smell of leaves and peaches into her face. A peach tree! She’d crashed into the crown of a peach tree! Zhe Yan’s Grove!
With a whimper of pain, she found she could still move all her tails. None were broken. Bruised and scratched, Bai Qian used her tails to safely clamber out of the tree. Once on the ground, her ears pivoted towards the screams and clang of weapons coming from behind.
Spinning about, she whipped her tails low to the ground ahead of her. It would slow her down but until she could determine exactly where in the Grove she was, she had no choice.
Lips drawing back in a snarl, the Fox raced off as fast as her legs could carry her towards the battle.
⇛ Next part: 30(第三十章) The Clarions of Heaven
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