Chapter 1: Country and Home Are Lost
Western Que, the royal palace.
Soldiers and weapons clashed fiercely as danger crept in on all sides.
“Royal mother, I’m not going! I want to be with you and royal father! I’m not going!” Jun Huang’s tears trickled down her face like pearls from a broken necklace. The palace gates had been broken through and Western Que was facing its doom. Far more than the cursed invaders, the one she hated the most was herself. Her helplessness. That she would be forced to cling to survival in the shadows.
“I’m not going either!” Six year old Jun Hao didn’t understand much of the world yet, but he too maintained a death grip on the hem of his mother’s clothes.
“Hao’er, be good. Go with your sister.” Tears sparkled in their mother’s eyes as she picked up Jun Hao’s little hand to place it in Jun Huang’s. “Huang’er, Hao’er is still young. If not for yourself, you must leave for him. You must make it out.”
“Royal mother! Royal mother!” Jun Huang shook her head fiercely, her throat constricting in grief. She couldn’t squeeze any more words out.
“My love, take Huang’er and Hao’er and quickly leave through the hidden tunnel!” A man who exuded killing aura strode into the room. He was the emperor of Western Que, Jun Hongmo. Even the blood that matted his face couldn’t conceal the weariness between his brows, but his tone brooked no opposition. “Yinyun!” he roared out in stern command. “Protect the empress, prince, and princess in their escape!”
“Understood!” Yinyun growled, voice as hard as flint.
“Huang’er, you will always be a princess of Western Que.” Her mother kissed Jun Huang’s forehead, sorrow suffusing her gentle eyes. “Go! Live!”
“Royal mother!” Jun Huang clenched her fists tightly, her nails biting deep into her flesh and carving out trails of blood. Bam! She dropped to the floor and kowtowed heavily thrice towards her mother and Jun Hongmo. She enunciated each word with painstaking clarity, as if swearing a vow, “Royal father, royal mother, Huang’er will protect her little brother well!”
Jun Hongmo turned the dragon throne around to reveal a concealed passage, a flicker of emotion rippling across his resolute face. A final word escaped his lips, just loud enough for her to hear. “Live!”
Jun Huang grasped Jun Hao’s hand tightly and walked into the tunnel without another glance back. She couldn’t look back; she had to stay alive with Jun Hao.
Clang! She heard the doors to the hall being smashed open. The armies of Eastern Wu had arrived, but her mother and father were still inside the hall! She whipped her head back, only to see in the last moment before the door closed, her fifth royal brother Jun Yu leering as he plucked out the tendons in her father’s hands and feet. She also saw her mother draw a longsword and take her life in front of the throne, her blood drawing a long arc through the air.
“Father! Mother!” She screamed her life out in the tunnel, her tears reddening with blood. Father and mother are dead, Western Que has fallen.
“Your Highness, the Eastern Wu armies will soon be upon us. We must flee!” Yinyun had to hold Jun Huang back with all his might. Right, she had to make it out! She had to live! It was the only way she could make those people who’d destroyed her family and home pay in blood!
The tunnel made for the mountains in the back and was designed with various traps and mechanisms. Although the traps were sophisticated enough to momentarily trip up the enemy, they still weren’t capable of completely halting the pursuit. Jun Huang fled in a panic through the tunnel with Jun Hao in tow. They exited the tunnel and stopped at a crossroads, but didn’t even have a chance to catch their breath before they heard the sounds of pursuit growing closer. “This won’t do. At this rate, we’ll be caught sooner or later,” Jun Huang grit her teeth. “Yinyun, take Hao’er away with you. I’ll go divert them!”
“Your Highness! Then you—”
“Hao’er is Western Que’s only royal bloodline, he has to live!” Jun Huang stooped down and lightly caressed Jun Hao’s small face. “Hao’er, you must live, okay? You have to live!!” Her voice trembled slightly.
“Big sister, big sister!” Jun Hao seemed to have realized something. He threw his little arms around Jun Huang and started to bawl.
Jun Huang used all the strength in her body to push him away. She didn’t dare look at her brother again, for fear of losing her resolve. Her voice came out as a rasp, “Take him away!”
“Yes!” Yinyun couldn’t bear to look at her as he scooped Jun Hao up in his arms. He bounded into the shrubbery by the side of the road, disappearing in a few moments. Jun Huang looked deeply in the direction that Jun Hao had disappeared in, then turned and ran in another direction.
The enemy was drawing closer. Jun Huang could almost hear the jingling of weapons and armor. She skidded to a halt as she stared at the sight in front of her. A deep abyss confronted her, so deep that she couldn’t see its bottom. It seemed like the entrance to hell. With the enemy so close on her heels, she couldn’t go back. It seemed this would be the end of her road. She closed her eyes, and opened them, her eyes hard and determined.
“Come at me then!” She unsheathed her long sword, cold light glinting off the blade and onto her face. Her blood-dyed robes fluttered even in the absence of any wind.
The enemy troops arrived in full battle gear. It was quite a scene; one diminutive girl standing surrounded by layers upon layers of soldiers. Two luxuriously clad men emerged from their ranks. “All the birds of the sky sang in unison seventeen years ago. Even as natural phenomena danced across the earth and sky, they heralded and welcomed the birth of the ‘blood phoenix’.” The emperor of Eastern Wu sized up Jun Huang with a calculating eye. “It’s said that whoever possesses the blood phoenix would also possess the world. Surrender to Eastern Wu, and you have Our personal guarantee of a life of untold wealth and fortune.”
“Indeed, sixth sister! His Majesty is mighty and wise beyond measure, destined to conquer the four lands. He will surely treat you well if you defect to Eastern Wu!” From just behind the emperor, the second man, Jun Yu, made sure to bring his two cents of flattery.
“Animal! Traitor who colluded with the enemy and unfilial bastard who committed patricide, where is your heart?!” Jun Huang glared at Jun Yu, her eyes bloodshot from anger and hate. Her own brother had incited civil unrest in Western Que, colluded with Eastern Wu to destroy Western Que, personally killed their father and forced her mother to take her own life! Now he wanted her to defect to the enemy?!
“Die!” Jun Huang threw caution to the winds as she let loose a battlecry and charged at Jun Yu. Her sword flickered through the air, seeking the taste of his blood. The civil unrest that Jun Yu had carefully cultivated had come to a head the previous night. In a display of impeccable timing, Eastern Wu’s armies also descended upon their kingdom the same night. Faced with external pressure and internal troubles, the kingdom could only hold on for a single night before Easternn Wu had overwhelmed the palace gates. The culprit behind all of it, the one who had started this cascade of dominoes, was none other than her own brother—Jun Yu!
“Sixth sister, Western Que is no more. Why don’t you submit to Eastern Wu? You won’t be treated any worse than how you were as a princess of Western Que!” Jun Yu parried her blows desperately, but somehow found the breath to keep up a steady stream of persuasive words.
“Piss off!” Jun Huang was half crazed with bloodlust, and it began to show itself in her swordplay as her skillful strikes gave way to unstoppable swings that battered away at Jun Yu’s guard. One last blow broke his stance and guard, and she swung her sword down, aiming for his throat. Far too off balance to recover, her brother’s eyes widened. He could only watch as the longsword approached with the finality of an executioner’s blade.
“Guh!” Half an inch away from Jun Yu’s throat, the longsword faltered and missed. Jun Huang clutched her chest and staggered back, falling to her knees. A dark red stain appeared around her fingers, and blood began to flow freely. She raised her head to glare at the emperor of Eastern Wu, “Despicable, petty villain!”
“The poison from that concealed weapon has only one antidote, and it is in Our hands.” Emperor Zhou Xiaotian raised a hand to stop the first line of troops from charging forward. He looked down at her from his lofty position, “You will receive the antidote, lands, and a title of king if you defect to Eastern Wu. Well?”