The ice-cold fingers of death tightened their firm grip on the Fox Den, slowly squeezing away all traces of life.
The air within the Fox Den was suffocating due to the stench of blood. The walls of the main cavern were awash with splatters of deep red.
Every harsh wet breath he struggled to inhale ignited new flames of fire and agony burning throughout his body.
Bai Zhi stared at the familiar granite ceiling above him. A cold numbness was beginning to deaden the throbbing pain that had been consuming his entire being. He could feel his life and cultivation steadily draining away. His end was drawing near. He reached out with one last bit of strength to feel for his wife and children. Regret and sorrow overwhelmed him when he felt no signs of life from his loved ones. They were all dead, brutally ripped away from their peaceful lives by violence and hate.
A pair of cruel green eyes moved into Bai Zhi’s line of sight, depriving him of any semblance of last-minute comfort or escape from reality as he felt himself fading into the nothingness.
A sneer twisted the sadistic features of the Demon King as he looked down at his prey, pressing the sharp blade of a silver dagger against Bai Zhi’s chest.
“You chose wrong, Bai Zhi.” The voice was cold and unfeeling. “But then…you always were a sentimental fool.”
Bai Zhi opened his mouth to respond but the deep cut running across his throat made speech impossible. The Demon King laughed, a high-pitched menacing sound that echoed throughout the cavern of the Fox Den.
“Where are your allies now?” The Demon King looked around mockingly before turning back to Bai Zhi. “They’re nowhere to be found. How typical.” He smiled, revealing sharp canines before leaning closer. “I will be sure to desecrate the bodies of your family before tearing them to shreds.”
A strangled cry of outrage gurgled out of Bai Zhi’s torn throat as he brought a hand up, the sharp claws of his fox extended, and lashed out at the man taunting him. Lines of crimson appeared across the Demon King’s cheek as blood seeped from the wound.
A booted foot slammed down on Bai Zhi’s hand, grinding it into the stone floor.
The Demon King looked up and beyond Bai Zhi. “Take his claws.” The green eyes turned back to Bai Zhi’s, grinning at the pain he saw swirling in the brown depths of his victim. The Demon King laughed again as Bai Zhi was unable to suppress a deep moan of pain as the claws were torn from the tips of his fingers.
“Any last words, Bai Zhi?” The Demon King leaned closer with a grin. The grin widened after a long moment filled with no noise other than Bai Zhi’s ragged breathing. “That’s right. You can’t speak. I forgot. How inconsiderate of me.”
The merciless green eyes narrowed at him dangerously right before Bai Zhi felt the blade of the dagger plunge into his chest.
A garbled sound escaped Bai Zhi as he felt every inch of the sharp silver slice through his flesh until it pierced his heart. The frosty chill of demon cultivation followed the heat of agonizing pain within his chest. Immediately, sight and sound began to fade from his mind as dark silence began to creep in along the edges of his consciousness. He struggled to find one last burst of awareness when he sensed a familiar, beloved presence racing towards him. A tear streamed from one of his eyes as he realized who it was.
No, Xiao Wu…no…
Bai Zhi’s last thought was one of anguish for his precious daughter.
A heavy, somber silence enveloped the small, sparsely decorated room located deep within the Celestial Palace, the private study of the Father of the Heavens. A low desk made from rich mahogany was placed on a dais, overlooking the secluded area. The only adornment in the room was an obsidian dragon whose long winding body and sharp talons appeared to crawl up the stone wall above the royal dais, head turned to dutifully guard the room with glinting sapphire eyes.
Heavenly Father, dressed in robes of regal red, his hair secured in a topknot with jade and ruby hairpins, was seated at his desk with Zhao Hui, the Phoenix King. Zhao Hui’s head was bowed slightly, his strong features facing the wooden table in front of him. He was wearing robes of burnt orange, the color reminiscent of the flames of fire the Phoenix God was so famous for. His brown hair was flowing loosely down his back, the sides pulled back away from his face and into an intricate knot.
The revered Dragon God’s normally stoic face and calm brown eyes held sorrow and regret as he struggled to process the dire news he had just received. Bai Zhi, the benevolent leader of Qing Qiu and powerful nine-tailed Fox God was dead. Bai Zhi, his friend and loyal ally, and the other members of the Bai family had been slaughtered like animals in their den some time during the night. The village of Baihu had been burned to the ground; nothing but the charred remains of the once peaceful village along with its carefree inhabitants had been found by Zhao Hui’s men.
“The entire family is truly gone?” Heavenly Father asked softly to clarify his understanding, hating the look of pain that crossed Zhao Hui’s face at the question. The Phoenix King had difficulty forming a response.
Zhao Hui’s family had been very close to the Bai family. The two gods had been friends ever since Bai Zhi had given Zhao Hui ten miles of blossoming peach trees as a gift to finalize an alliance between their lands. Heavenly Father was devastated by the news, but he knew immense guilt must be eating away inside Zhao Hui. Zhao Hui had been the one to eventually convince Bai Zhi to go against his pacifist beliefs and publicly break Qing Qiu’s official stance of neutrality. The Fox God had agreed to provide financial support to the Celestial military in order to help Heavenly Father and the Heavens strike down the demon uprising once and for all in hopes of finally ending this terrible time of war. Bai Zhi had openly declared his support for the dragons over the demons just a few days ago, a declaration that now felt like it had taken place five thousand years in the past.
Zhao Hui cleared his throat before nodding. “Yes. I viewed the destruction left in the Fox Den and the remains with my own eyes. Bai Zhi, his wife, and their four boys were tortured and killed. Bai Zhi’s youngest child, his daughter, was the only member of the family unaccounted for. The demons must have…” Zhao Hui’s voice cracked and he was unable to continue his thought.
“Bai Qian’s remains were not found?”
“No,” Zhao Hui whispered, looking down again, brow furrowed with profound loss.
Heavenly Father nodded his understanding solemnly. There were many depraved and obscene reasons a group of men might choose to drag a young, innocent girl away from her home before murdering her at a later time. The reasons were difficult for him to even consider and he offered a silent prayer in hopes her soul had moved beyond her terrifying ordeal and was able to rest easy now. No girl or woman should have to experience such horrors before death.
As silence descended over the two men once again, Heavenly Father couldn’t help but picture Bai Zhi’s young daughter, remembering the one and only time he had met and spoken with her. Bai Qian had accompanied her father during one of his rare visits to the Heavens. She had been a cheerful and beautiful young girl, her long ebony hair barely tamed into two unkempt braids, her dress an assorted collection of odd and contrasting colors and fabrics. The look should have clashed horribly, and yet it had fit Bai Qian’s curious and mischievous nature perfectly. He remembered her flitting about the palace and gardens as she had explored, stopping to chat incessantly to anybody who would listen to her. Even some of the guards had been hard-pressed to keep up their stern, no-nonsense demeanors in the face of her steady stream of endless questions and observations.
Heavenly Father smiled fondly to himself as he remembered the way she had eventually wandered out of sight of the palace and his private gardens. Bai Zhi had been both annoyed with her and worried when he had noticed her disappearance, and he had frantically started searching for his little girl. Heavenly Father had been the one to eventually find her by the blessed lotus gardens, far removed from the immediate palace grounds, loudly arguing with his twin sons. Bai Qian had accused them both of being unreasonable and rude to her when she had meant no harm.
If he remembered correctly, Bai Qian had been distracted by the lotus flowers and had not been paying attention to where she was going. So, when she accidentally tripped on the uneven hem of her bright patchwork skirt, she had fallen into Ye Hua while he had been painting. Red paint had spilled all over his lotus blossom painting. Ye Hua had gotten very angry with her and had yanked one of her braids in retaliation for his ruined art. She had, in turn, kicked him in the shin to get back at him for yelling at her and pulling her hair when it had all been an accident. Heavenly Father was unsure how Mo Yuan had gotten dragged into the bickering between the two of them but he suspected his older son had tried to act as mediator at first. Then, when things had gone downhill and the argument heated up, he had taken Ye Hua’s side and defended his brother.
Bai Zhi had been the one to break up the argument, lecturing Bai Qian on the dangers of wandering off on her own while Heavenly Father had scolded Ye Hua for not remembering his manners when speaking with a guest to the Heavens and with a girl in particular. Then, there had been the begrudging apologies, Bai Qian stubbornly refusing to apologize until Ye Hua said he was sorry first. There had been a standoff and glaring contest between the two until Ye Hua had reluctantly given in and bowed with a mumbled, “Forgive me for pulling your hair, Princess Bai Qian”. Bai Qian had grinned triumphantly at him before giving an even less sincere apology of her own. Heavenly Father smiled again as he remembered Ye Hua’s irritation with the Fox Princess. He didn’t think anyone had treated one of his sons with so much disrespect before Bai Qian came along.
His smile quickly faded away as he realized with a heavy heart that the spirited young fox girl was likely gone from this life forever. She would never again wander off absentmindedly to explore the world around her, talking cheerfully to everyone she encountered and picking fights with Dragon Princes as she did. He imagined she would have grown into a strong, vibrant young woman. Her death was a tremendous loss. Losing the entire Bai family was a tremendous loss. There would no longer be nine-tailed foxes living in the world.
Heavenly Father quickly chased the distressing thought from his mind as he turned his attention back to Zhao Hui, needing all the details of the disturbing story. If the demons were responsible, he would make them pay dearly for the wrong they had committed against Qing Qiu, Bai Zhi, and the Bai family. Bai Zhi had been a peaceful man who never resorted to violence as a solution for his problems. He had only let go of his pacifist beliefs enough to help the Celestials because he had hoped to end the war between them and the demons quickly before it grew more vicious than it had already become. And the demons’ cruel ways stood in stark contrast to the values Bai Zhi held dear. Despite his open support for the dragons, Bai Zhi had not deserved the violence that had been brought upon him and his family.
“You have proof the Bai family was killed by the demons?” Heavenly Father asked Zhao Hui. Knowing the truth in his gut was different than having the evidence needed to support a formal accusation.
A silver dagger bearing the Demon King’s personal seal on the hilt suddenly appeared in Zhao Hui’s outstretched hand. He placed the weapon on the desktop in front of Heavenly Father. The nauseating, metallic stench of stale blood filled the room as both men examined the dagger. Its razor-sharp blade was covered in dried blood that carried the distinctive scent and magic signature of the powerful blood that could only be found within the heart of a nine-tailed fox. The icy cold feel of the Demon King’s cultivation trickled out of the blade and intermingled with the lingering traces of Bai Zhi’s cultivation.
“This dagger was found buried in the chest of Bai Zhi’s remains,” Zhao Hui explained, giving a very brief description of the wounds that had been inflicted on his friend. “His claws were ripped from his fingers, evidence he may have eventually tried to fight back at the very end, probably when he realized they were also going to hurt his family. I believe his injuries were too great to overcome by that point. His hair was torn away down to his scalp. There were shallow cuts covering his body with one very deep cut running across his neck. And his heart…it…it’s missing. It was removed from his chest.”
Heavenly Father grimaced at the awful scene Zhao Hui was describing before his eyes darkened with rage. His hand waved over the dagger, preserving it with a barrier for safe keeping. Here was the proof he needed to demonstrate the guilt of the demons to the people of the Heavens. He would make sure the Demon King faced a brutal punishment prior to his execution once the war had ended. And with the resources Bai Zhi and Qing Qiu had provided, the war would not carry on much longer. He owed it to his deceased friend to end the conflict as quickly as possible.
“The Demon King killed Bai Zhi in retaliation for helping me,” Heavenly Father stated after he sent the dagger to his personal chambers to be safely stored away for future use. “There was no other reason for him to order an attack on Bai Zhi and his family or to order the destruction of Baihu Village.”
“Yes.” Zhao Hui paused, looking down at the table where his fist was clenched tightly. He looked back up at Heavenly Father. “This was my fault. I never should have pressured Bai Zhi to get involved in the war in the first place. He always hated violence of any sort.”
“No, Zhao Hui. Don’t blame yourself. You only asked Bai Zhi at my request. I ultimately bear the responsibility for his death and I will see that justice is served.”
“What do you propose we do next?”
Heavenly Father did not immediately respond. Instead he stood from his desk slowly, feeling as though he were suddenly carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders as he walked over to the large window and looked outside with a heavy sigh. He began carefully planning in his head as he gazed out over the trees and flowers of his family’s private garden. Stone benches were placed along a pebble pathway that led through a maze of neatly manicured shrubs and flowering trees. Beds of brightly blossoming wildflowers were arranged on both sides of the path. His wife had designed the gardens for their family’s enjoyment and she carefully maintained a close eye on the health of the plant life and the upkeep of the garden.
He could see his sons sparring against each other with wooden practice swords on a patch of soft, thick grass. The two were identical in appearance and almost impossible to tell apart dressed in matching green robes. Their choice of dress was most likely a strategy used to confuse the servants watching over them. He noticed their friend Zhe Yan, Zhao Hui’s son, watching from the sidelines. A disagreement abruptly broke out between Mo Yuan and Ye Hua. Zhe Yan jumped up to join in the heated discussion, voicing his opinion on which brother had used an unfair strike on the other. After several minutes of what looked like intense debate, the three boys started laughing and the twins went right back to being friends once again.
At thirty thousand years old, his sons were beginning to look less like boys and more like the powerful men they were destined to become. Providing them the chance to remain carefree and happy in a safe place as they matured and learned the ways of the world, providing that same chance to all the children of the realms, was a big part of why he was fighting the war with the demons. He was waging war against the darkness of the demons now in an attempt to give peace to the world permanently, to pass on a peaceful world to whichever of his sons was destined to rule the Heavens after him.
Yet, Heavenly Father had never expected to pay such a terrible price in his quest to find the peace he was desperately seeking. The Bai children had lost their chance to grow up and experience everything life had held in store for them. They would never again play and laugh like his sons and Zhe Yan were doing right now. He had failed in his attempt to provide them a carefree and happy place to grow up in. He had brought death and destruction upon them instead. And he knew Bai Zhi’s last thoughts must have been focused on the safety of his wife and children and the horror that came with not being able to protect them. This final realization saddened Heavenly Father and yet it hardened his resolve. He would not allow the loss of the Bai family to be in vain. He would end this war now.
Heavenly Father turned from the window after making his final plans and looked toward Zhao Hui who had been watching him silently this whole time. Heavenly Father’s expression was grim, his eyes steely with fury and determination, as he returned to his desk atop the dais. He took his seat across from his friend once more. Heavenly Father remained silent as he called a scroll to his hand and opened it on top of the desk. It was a map of the Demon Realm. He pointed to a place marked on the map with a black ink spot, the location of the Demon Fortress that had remained hidden within the tall snow-covered mountains surrounding it for thousands of years. His Celestial scouts had finally discovered its whereabouts.
“Gather all your reserve soldiers and send them to the Demon Realm, Zhao Hui. We’re going to surround the fortress and attack from all sides. And we’re going to do it quickly while the demons are celebrating their destruction of Qing Qiu and Bai Zhi’s death. They will expect us to declare a mourning period and a temporary ceasefire, so we can catch them unaware if we strike quickly.”
The hard glint in the Dragon God’s eyes intensified as his look became dark and dangerous. “Every demon will surrender completely or they will all die. Give the order to show no mercy. But the Demon King must not be executed on the field of battle. I want him brought to me alive. He will answer for his sins and the brutal violence he used against the Bai family. I will not allow him to escape punishment with an easy death. He will experience the pain Bai Zhi and his family did before he begs me to kill him.”
“We will mourn Bai Zhi once the battle is over and we have declared victory,” Heavenly Father continued, his tone losing some of its dangerous edge. “Nobody can know of Bai Zhi’s death until then. We will formally announce it and mourn his loss properly after the war has ended.”
“I will send my soldiers to the Demon Realm right away,” Zhao Hui agreed in a firm voice with a nod.
Heavenly Father rolled up the map of the Demon Realm and it disappeared from his hand. “After the battle is won, I want you to send a group of your best men to search for Bai Zhi’s daughter. Have them search the Demon Realm as well as Qing Qiu and the Mortal Realm. I will send out soldiers of my own to look for her. Leave no stone unturned.” He hesitated, quickly thinking over his plan once more, a new expression of concern and urgency lighting his eyes. “Don’t wait. Send out any available men and women not needed for the battle now. They can start searching Qing Qiu immediately. The additional soldiers can join them later. Bai Qian must be found.”
There was a long pause before Zhao Hui responded. “But she’s dead.”
“Her body was not found. We don’t know that for sure.”
Zhao Hui frowned angrily as his thoughts took a dark turn and he finally voiced what neither man had wanted to say earlier. “Bai Qian was young, only twenty thousand years old. There is no way she would have had the strength or skills needed to defend herself against such a vicious attack by a group of demons. We both know they likely dragged her away from the Fox Den to…to rape her before killing her. Defiling Bai Zhi’s innocent young daughter would have been seen as the ultimate form of revenge.”
“That may be, but I won’t declare her dead until I know for sure,” Heavenly Father responded with a determined voice, the steely glint sparking in his eyes once again. If there was the slightest chance she was still alive, he wanted to help take care of her as a way to repay a part of the debt he owed Bai Zhi for his loyalty and sacrifice. “As of this moment, Bai Qian is under my personal protection. And so is Qing Qiu. Her father’s land rightfully belongs to her now and I will see that it is given to her if she is found alive.” His voice softened with sadness as he continued, understanding he needed to consider all possible outcomes of the search for the missing Fox Princess.
“If she is dead, bring her remains home to Qing Qiu so she can rest peacefully with her family. She belongs with them, not abandoned somewhere unfamiliar to spend eternity in a lonely, unmarked grave. Either way, I want her found. We owe it to Bai Zhi to take care of his daughter properly. Both in life and in death.”
“Yes,” Zhao Hui whispered softly. “I owe my friend that and so much more.”
“We will find Bai Qian. I will make sure of it.”
⇛ Next part: Ch 1: A Quiet Rumor
September 9, 2021 Remained saddened and fearful for Bai Qian’s well being at young aged. Always had rivulets running down my face Everytime I reread Haven along the way. Reality or fanfiction, a young girl like BQ, shouldn’t go through with this kind of pained, sorrow, tragic loss of her whole family with those evil doers right through her own very eyes and frantically run away from the demons to catch and intent to kill her too. If she’s alive but frightened living alone wasn’t a good life to have.😭😭😭😭😭😭
BQ losing her family the way she did was a true tragedy and a traumatic experience. I’m sure that living alone and in constant fear was very difficult for her. I always tried to keep that in mind when I was writing the early chapters in the story.
Thanks for reading the story on the website!