The young male dancer on his lap writhed and moaned with pleasure as Qing Cang dug his beefy fingers into the flesh of the lithe demon’s defined backside, grinding him down harder against the swollen mound of his spread crotch. The harem woman’s tongue running along the horned ridges of Qing Cang’s brow was not as stimulating, but the Demon Emperor did enjoy the sight of her lush breasts bouncing below his face; breasts that bled from where his teeth had bitten into them… just as on the dancer’s neck.
A murky haze pervaded the cavernous hall from smoldering urns of dark herbs, the flaming torches on the walls adding a haunted aura to the clouded gloom.
The slave musician playing the bone flute at the base of the dais picked up the tempo as the intensity of groans and movement above increased. The musician knew well not to break the rhythm of the seduction song lest the dancer awaken and realize what was going on.
But then gruff shouts and the clanking of chains being dragged along the ground distracted the musician, causing him to drop a note.
A sharp hiss from above told him he would be tasting the end of a whip again today… if he were lucky. Yet it wasn’t the Demon Emperor’s anger that struck cold fear in the musician just now, but rather the sight of the reed thin man clad in white robes who materialized from a mist of black at the hall entrance.
A contingent of ghost soldiers followed in his wake as the Shaman calmly strode into the hall and straight to the dais. The soldiers were dragging with them what appeared to be a guard, bloodied and bruised, struggling fiercely against the chains binding him.
The musician, who’d stopped playing altogether, cowered while shaking his head. There was no way to break free from the Shaman’s spellbindings. Whatever this guard had done to warrant being beaten and hauled before the Emperor… well, he was but a dead man now.
The Shaman stopped before the dais.
Qing Cang scraped his teeth across the woman’s breasts one last time. “Get out,” he told her, not raising his head. She rose without hesitation and swiftly left the hall, never once glancing at the soldiers or the man on the ground between them.
The demon dancer had passed out the moment the seduction song ceased. Qing Cang shoved him off to crumple in a heap upon the dais. Reaching for the goblet of blood wine beside him, the Demon Emperor gulped down half its contents in a single swallow.
An amused-looking Shaman stood waiting.
“Well, Diao Wu?” Qing Cang set the goblet down. “What have you brought that warrants interrupting my pleasure?”
“Ah, my Lord Emperor, this humble servant brings something of even greater pleasure for you.” The Shaman’s hand flicked up.
The chains binding the beaten guard sparked as they flew forward with the man, forcing him onto his knees before the dais.
Qing Cang’s eyes narrowed.
“It would appear we have–” Diao Wu smirked. “Forgive me, had a spy in our midst.”
“A spy?” Qing Cang’s eyes took on a red glow.
“I felt the high magic of a Celestial spell not long ago. Tracing the path back to its source led me to this guard who seemed most anxious to remove himself from my presence when I confronted him.”
Though gagged, the man’s scream was audible when the Shaman magically snapped the chains tighter and hoisted him into the air to hover before the dais. The bound guard had taken quite the beating; gashed forehead, crushed nose, blackened eyes nearly swollen shut. The blood dripping from his nostrils soaked the gag.
Qing Cang leaned forward and ripped the cloth from the man’s mouth. “Who are you?” he growled.
The man’s only reply was to struggle harder against the chains.
“Celestial magic?” Qing Cang glanced back at Diao Wu.
The Shaman gave a nod.
“Are you one of Mo Yuan’s men?” An unmistakable flash of hatred was directed at Qing Cang through slitted bulging eyelids.
“We won’t get any answers this way, my Lord. He has been able to resist my attempts to extract information up till now.”
Yes, one of Mo Yuan’s men.
“We’ll have to conduct a more in-depth interrogation then.” Qing Cang finished off his wine. “Bring him to my private chamber, Diao Wu, and wait for me there. I have something to finish here first.”
The Shaman glanced at the sprawled dancer who’d begun to move. With another smirk, Diao Wu turned to leave.
The bound man’s unimpeded scream filled the hall as the chains now ignited in flame, yanking him through the air backwards towards the entrance. The contingent of soldiers fell into step behind the Shaman once more as they all exited.
Rage was slow to boil inside Qing Cang.
Mo Yuan… You dare… I will teach you the hard way to stay out of my affairs.
The slave musician still cowered at the base of the dais. “There’s no longer a point to you being here now, is there. Unless you care to join?” The slave gulped then scurried out of the hall, followed by the stationed guards who’d already guessed their Emperor’s intention.
“Where… where am I?” The frightened dancer tried to stand.
Qing Cang’s eyes went from red to a depthless black as he began to untie his belt. Yes, the hard way it will be.
“Well? Have you loosened his tongue yet?” Qing Cang walked into his private chamber, wiping a smear of blood from his lips with the back of his hand.
Diao Wu rose from the chair he’d been seated on. The chained man lay curled on his side on the floor, a pool of blood beneath his head where he continued to bleed out his mouth and nose. No longer did he appear as a demon guard, albeit still wearing a guardsman’s uniform. Gone were the horns and the black irises. The man was finally revealed as a Celestial.
“I waited as per your instructions, my Lord,” the Shaman gestured to the prisoner. “However, I did break his spell of disguise as you can see. Perhaps I may have taken the opportunity to try and jar his memory a little… but had to stop since a dead man can’t talk, can he?”
Diao Wu edged closer to Qing Cang.
“He has to be of Kunlun,” the Shaman continued. “None but Mo Yuan’s men would have the knowledge and ability to put up such a resistance to the magic I wield.”
“What was he doing here?” Qing Cang kept staring at the chained man.
“I must commend his ability to blend in. No doubt why Mo Yuan chose this one. He was stationed as one of the guards in the inner tunnels.”
“The inner tunnels…” Qing Cang repeated.
Qing Cang stormed forward. Grabbing fistfuls of chain, he hoisted the man clean off the floor and tossed him onto the room’s stone table where he leaned over and pulled the man’s face to his.
“What’s this now, man of Kunlun? Sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong on your cowardly God of War’s behalf? If Mo Yuan wanted to know my affairs so badly, why didn’t he come to me himself? Oh wait, that’s right. He can’t find me.” Qing Cang broke into a roar of laughter.
Diao Wu approached the bloodied man as well. “There’s no way. The black spell that surrounds this sacred temple buried in the Demon Lands keeps us invisible both within and without. This one may have been able to send a message but he’d have no clue as to his whereabouts. The guards we bring in are transported here directly by me in a cloak spell so they can never know exactly where they’ve come to.”
The Shaman drew a deep breath. “However, since he was stationed near the inner tunnels, who knows what he may have overheard. Obviously something he deemed important enough to risk detection with a spell of high magic.”
Qing Cang violently shook the man’s chains. “You don’t look so good at the moment, man of Kunlun,” the Demon Emperor snarled. “I know Mo Yuan only collects pretty Celestial boys to surround himself with for those cold mountain nights. Guess he’ll have no more use for you, given the state of your face. Perhaps you have something to say now?”
Hatred flashed once again in the man’s swollen eyes only this time it was followed by a lurch as he spat in Qing Cang’s face.
There was dead silence in the chamber.
The Demon broke into a slow smile. “You will tell us what you told that yellow-scaled worm of a god of yours before you die your useless death, which won’t be for a while yet, since I prefer taking my time with… certain things.”
“Hmm, perhaps my Lord, his eventual death need not be so useless after all?” Diao Wu said in a detached voice.
Qing Cang took in the Shaman’s calculating expression. Understanding dawned as he turned back to Mo Yuan’s man.
“Indeed,” Qing Cang replied with another smile as he let the man drop back onto the table.
“Remove the chains, Diao Wu…
…and all his clothing.”
“Qian Qian! Qian Qian! OUCH!!”
Zhe Yan hopped on one leg, clutching the shin of the other where he’d just slammed it against who knows what in the total pitch darkness of the Fox Den.
It was the middle of the night yet not a single candle was lit. Stupid bird… I forgot. Her father is away again.
Pulsing some magic out through a cupped palm, Zhe Yan produced a glowing orb which cast a faint light around his immediate surroundings. He gave what turned out to be a chair he’d run into a swift kick before continuing, a little more slowly, through the Den.
The aroma of cooking led him to the kitchen.
Coming to a standstill in its entryway, the Phoenix broke into a grin.
Bai Qian stood in the darkness, deftly chopping vegetables at the counter in her nightdress with its sleeves rolled up; no doubt to add to the large simmering pot of her famous fish soup he could smell on the cookstove.
Zhe Yan’s mouth watered. Though he loved to tease her about it, Bai Qian’s cooking skills were beyond compare. And her fish soup? The best in all the lands.
One of her tails snatched a carrot from a crate by the pantry and flipped it into the air. It landed directly onto her cutting board where she proceeded to finely dice it with the cleaver she held.
“If you’re finished abusing my furniture,” Bai Qian said without lifting her head up from her chopping, “are you going to keep standing there staring at me or are you coming in? Want a bowl of fish soup? It’ll be ready in a bit.”
“You know, Qian Qian, most people who can’t sleep at night count dragons or drink bamboo leaf tea. You must be the only being in the Immortal Realm who goes to the kitchen to cook dishes.”
Zhe Yan cocked his head to the side as he gazed at his dear friend’s face. It wasn’t often he got to see her without her silk band around her head. Her closed eyelids were tipped by the most delicate, long black lashes.
“Sorry the candles weren’t lit, Zhe Yan. Father’s on one of his trips and I wasn’t expecting any visitors in the middle of the night.” Bai Qian waved her hand in the air, lighting all the beeswax candles in the Den at once.
Closing his palm, Zhe Yan snuffed out his glowing orb then squinted at Bai Qian’s face.
“Qian Qian, you’ve got flour on your nose.”
“Thanks for racing here in the night to let me know that, Zhe Yan. But I think your visit rather has to do with the scroll you have in your hand.”
The corner of Zhe Yan’s mouth rose. Of course she’d heard the rattling of the open scroll’s bamboo slats hanging from his other hand.
“Indeed it does. Better get ready to give that pot of soup to Migu later because guess where you and I are heading in the morning!”
“Shifu, the Phoenix god and the Blin–, the Nine-Tailed Fox Queen have arrived. Chang Shan is serving them tea.”
“I’ll be there shortly, Die Feng,” Mo Yuan replied without looking up from the papers on his table.
刁 巫 (Diāo Wū) wicked wizard
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