Heavy was the musky fragrance of the strong incense that always burned in her front salon. It was deep, dense, and thick that one could taste patchouli and sandalwood’s notes if they breathed through their mouths.
“You must gain your father’s favor!” She screeched, and her voice hurt his ears. Sheer fear kept his nervous breathing short in panting inhales and exhales through his mouth. The taste of spices and humiliation was bitter on his tongue. Profound embarrassment paralyzed his tiny body keeping him still and in place, too afraid to move. His tight neck taut felt heavy and impossible to hold upright and straight. His bowed head allowed fresh giant tears to drop, landing then darkening one circular spot on the golden carpet under his nervously turned-in feet.
Yingpei inwardly wondered, why couldn’t his curse of invisibility happen when he needed it most?
“Useless moronic child!” His mother ridiculed him in front of many servants. She didn’t care who was near. Perhaps royal father would have been able to stop her tirades, but he never visited her residence. So he would have to endure her sharp-tongued speeches and punishment.
Yingpei knew without visual confirmation how her mother looked when enraged. She was always cross, disappointed with him, and screamed in her loudest voice even though he stood mere inches from her. He could envision her red painted lips twisted crocked contorted lines from her angry scowl, looking similar to the brand-new scorching lash marks on his open palms from her punishment rod.
“A-Li is the ONLY one your father adores!” She hissed, sounding like the leather straps whizzing in the air before striking his little throbbing hands. “Why can’t you remember any of your lessons! Why are you so slow!?” Painful blows upon blows spanking down on him from the swinging switch in her tight grasp punctuated her berating of him.
“Yingpei, you simple useless child! Nobody here, NOBODY recognizes you or sees any potential in you! Heavenly Lord, your royal father, shows more interest in those twin bitches there on Kunlun Mountain! If offered, he would choose them over you and reopen the punishment platform to throw you off!”
“I’m sorry, mother.” He hiccupped and hiccupped again from crying, “Yingpei will try harder. Forgive me. Please don’t let royal father throw me off the punishment platform.” He whimpered, but his apology merely made her temper rage, and now her open hand slapped his wet burning face cruelly while screaming, “That cunning bitch Bai Qian!”
Brutally grabbing his reddened face by the cheeks with one hand, she squeezed, digging her nails into his baby flesh, and jeered, “That Bai Qian set me up when teaching me her mirroring fox spell. I only used it once to get your father’s attention, but who knew you’d come out my womb looking like her!
Spittle, spit flew. Foamed saliva from her screaming, gaped mouth landed on his already drenched face. “Every time I look at you, I see that White Nine-tailed fox whore!” She fumed and raged on, “Because of Bai Qian’s spell, you resemble her more than A-Li since he takes after her human persona, SuSu!”
Like the one who suffered most, she threw herself back into the nook of the couch and complained in wailing sobs, “And of course, such ill-fate of mine! What have I done so wrong in my miserable life? Why can’t Ye Hua see I’m better for him than her, and why must I be punished to such depths that those twin brats are female versions of their father?”
“Damn her to an eternity miscarrying Mo Yuan’s children and endless tears due to unfulfilled longing for her mate while I create a harem of thousands for him to fuck instead of her! This mess is all Bai Qian’s fault!” Dongmei shrieked, springing up enough to push Yingpei to the ground forcibly.
Bai Qian. That name, Bai Qian. Her name triggered a flash of clarity. Consort Dongmei was dead and could never hurt or abuse him again. Yingpei had a new mother. Bai Qian was his Empress’s mother, who embraced, loved, and told him not to fear anything or anyone. Before leaving with father, Empress mother had woken him with soft peach-scented kisses on his cheek and promised, ‘Yingpei, when I return, I’ll tell you everything, my precious son. You and all your siblings are Ye Hua’s and my children made out of love.’
Remembering his Empress mother’s face made him aware that this frightening moment was only a nightmare, harmless. Nothing but a harmless flashback from his lonely past, which was fading with every passing day. He told himself to wake up, and he did, but calm morning silence wasn’t to what he awoke. Instead, coming from the private courtyard shared by his siblings, there was a heated argument in progress.
Yingpei jumped out of bed, running towards the entrance of his chamber when he overheard his jiejie, older sister Changying’s voice, “Dege, you shouldn’t have done it. He saved SuJin and kept her like some freaky pet hidden in the bogs. How could you do this something so wicked? Jiejie, A-Chang, our big brother, has been keeping secrets from us.”
“What harm have I caused? What’s the fuss about? Would you please stop behaving like such a hyper-sensitive female? Sorry to tell you this, but you would fit in perfectly in father’s harem with that attitude.” Big Brother A-Li’s lacked his usual relaxed manner of speech. It had a defensive bite to it, snippy and highly condescending.
Changchang urged, “Dege, take it back! Calling our meimei harem material is crossing the line!”
Yingpei peeked out to see his siblings standing in a triangular form with space between them. “Jiejie, SuJin is alive and currently with everyone during their trial. Qingqui Nana told me everything. A-Li has been keeping her alive all these years. He gave her the eyes from a bullfrog, but now she has Dong…” second sister Changying’s words stopped abruptly as her glance darted towards Yingpei’s hiding spot, seeing him and beckoned him out with her hand.
Yingpei stepped out of hiding shyly and stood across from ChangChang, so their triangle became a square with an equal distance between them. It felt natural to create order and balance within the disorder, showing he wasn’t siding with one or the other, and it also felt like acceptance from his half-siblings.
Older sister asked confusedly, “Big brother is all this true? Have you done these terrible things, as Ying’er states?” ChangChang’s fluxing manner of speaking went up and down like rolling mountains like Empress’s mother’s full of emotions. His twin sisters had the same voices, but Changying spoke more matter of factly, smooth without inflections like their royal father.
Brother A-Li shrugged his broad shoulders aloofly, “So what? I don’t see why you two are upset over something so minor and trivial? Why are you two being so damn moody?” His cocky tone was superior and full of arrogance.
They both gasped, outraged. “What?! Moody!?” His sisters’ offended responses in unison echoed each other as if planned prior.
ChangChang gasped in horror and disbelief, “Trivial?!” Her eyes rolled dramatically, then huffed out a long, extended exhale in utter disbelief, “Big brother, you did these terrible things! You’ve saved and nurtured an abomination. That wicked being helped the demon queen torture our mother when she was pregnant with us. How could you taint their trials by putting SuJin into it? Don’t you understand, your careless actions could indeed alter the outcome! One ripple is all it takes to change everything. You should have spoken to us first.”
Before A-Li could answer, Changying cut in, “I love you, Dege A-Li. I would have followed you to the end, but your activities have been sinister and go against Celestial laws. You’re the Crown Prince of Nine Heavens. Grandson, direct descendent of the great one, our grandfather who created the world. Forgive me but I, your meimei,” side to side, she shook her head to show her disapproval, “Ying’er, at this moment find you unworthy of your title, and you’ve disgraced our bloodline.”
“I’m reporting your heinous crimes to the Elder Council. You’re the future emperor, a role model, so please start behaving as such. Take responsibility for your unwise behaviors and endure whatever consequences you must repay for the poor choices you’ve made.” Changying advised firmly, and her tone didn’t reveal her grief, but her eyes were full of unshed tears, glistening, and her full bottom lip quivered from holding back her need to cry.
She sighed defeatedly and turned to leave when Yingpei beheld brother A-Li losing his infamous temper for the first time personally. His long arms had been crossed but opened and extended as he called upon his Dragon magic. A lightning bolt sizzled as it grew between his outstretched hands, and he mocked.
He sneered, “What I do with SuJin is my choice! You weren’t there for our father’s trial, but I was. My face burned still from the wrath I felt from that terrible period of my life! Celestial Law? Ha! Is that what you learned on Kunlun Mountain while kissing uncle Mo Yuan’s ass like a begging mutt? He’s the bad guy, the jerk who stole our mother and then pretended to be your father! Since you’re so keen on learning, here’s a lesson for you, Ying’er. I, A-LI, AM THE CELESTIAL LAWMAKER!”
White Dragon magic zoomed, causing the golden locket around his neck that held mother’s tail to glow when A-Li’s powerful lightning bolt launched, and ChangChang screamed in absolute horror, “No, A-Li! NOOOOOOOO! You’re going to hurt Ying’er!”
Young Yingpei had yet to start any form of training or use magic formally. He had seen A-Li with his Shifu once or twice, but today his arms and body began to move on their own, intuitively. Heat, a sudden charge of energy and magic stemming from an unknown place, sprung forth to live, imploding like magma, the crusty molten rock holding it back what had been waiting, his untapped magic, then it flowed, firey jetting lava-like magic coursed through his veins.
He should have been afraid of this new ability, terrified, but he wasn’t because his jiejie, Ying’er, was under attacked. And from his peripheral vision, he noted, jiejie ChangChang and his movements were in synch, mirroring one another as if one. Both summoned a barrier spell to protect Changying from the lightning rod that would indeed crash into her.
Grumbles, the ground trembled, and a loud deafening boom sounded filling the air when A-Li’s concentrated electricity spike rushed before slamming into Yingpei and ChangChang’s invisible protective barrier. The magical discharge, the aftershock, knocked all the children off their feet and thrust them back several feet.
Changying was up first, scrambled to her feet with deeply furrowed brows. Her sparkling green eyes squinted as the rounded pupils dilated before narrowing and turning into furious vertical slits. Her Dragon’s gaze darkened full of resentment and hatred. She raised both hands, palms upward at her side, slender fingers splayed, commanding the air and atmosphere around her to shift. Tempest winds blew wildly, causing everyone’s clothing and hair to whip around violently. The pink skies above dulled and began to dim.
Changying audibly taunted, “You’re NOT the law or even the most powerful here! HA! If you only knew! Big brother ALL-ME, you’re a JOKE!”
Rings with her hands. Spheres motions in the air, clockwise, then reversing building volume and adding force to A-Li’s original spell. Her arms’ movements gracefully quicken as her left foot planted firmly. At the same time, the right glided in a round rotation behind, bending her knees to widen her stance as she called upon the winds, and they came to her as her arms abruptly straightened then aimed to return A-Li’s lightning bolt with an added blast of air. The tornado-fueled thunderstrike whizzed towards A-Li at an unseeable speed, but the ground trembled to the point Yingpei nearly lost his balance.
Without words, Yingpei and ChangChang automatically repeated their protective barrier spell to shield their brother, who looked remorseful. He didn’t defend himself even though he was fully aware that she was returning his spell but with more vigor fueled by her rage and hurt. ChangYing’s counterattack encountered the same protective barrier, and like previously, the rebound ejected the children back but much further.
“Stop it! Everyone STOP FIGHTING!” Her balled-fisted hands shook in the air repeatedly, ChangChang with a deeply scraped bleeding chin, yelled at the top of her lungs.” Our Yingpei is bleeding! AYA! You two jerks made his little nose bled! I’m informing both of you! Mother and father are going to be sooo ANGRY! I’m going to tell Lord Donghui, and you’ll be in HUGE MASSIVE trouble!”
Yingpei wiped his nose on the sleeve of his robe and whispered while pointing to her scuffed chin, “JieJie, you’re bleeding more…. and your favorite dress is ruined.”
ChangChang carefully used her fingertips to search for injuries touching her face, and when she got to her sore chin, she winced and went off like a highly pressured geyser, “Oh, NO!” She swallowed, “Not my beautiful face!” Her narrowed eyes side-shifted to A-Li, then Changying before swiftly darted down to examine her clothing, and what she saw made her face bunch up and reddened dark maroon like a beet. She seethed with clenched teeth, “I-loved-this-dress!”
Overcome with pure vexation, she threw her arms up in the air and shrieked, “It was one of my very favorites from Qingqiu Nana’s closet. It’s an older fashion, over 300,000 years old. It’s vintage and irreplaceable!!” Now her nose flared as her percolating temper rose, losing control so that her white Dragon’s tail started to expand out of the back of her ruined dress, “That’s it! I was kidding before, but now I’m definitely going straight to Lord Donghui!”
“No need to waste your energy, Princess ChangChang. I, Donghui, am aware of the situation. You, children, were quite loud; hence EVERYONE heard and were forced to endure the aftershocks. Many palaces have cracks, and there’s damage everywhere. “Said Lord Donghui as the Celestial guards took A-Li, away but not before A-Li glanced back over his shoulder wistfully. Tears ran down his face when he mouthed, “I’m sorry, Ying’er. I didn’t mean it. Forgive me.”
The remaining imperial children rushed to Donghui and kneeled in a huddle at his feet, pleading for their brother, “Please, Lord Donghui, don’t punish our Dege A-Li. We’re sorry.” How they regretted and cried.
What a quandary?
Donghui’s pure white left eyebrow raised at this strange commotion occurring around him. He had experienced much over the years being the white-haired immortal who once commanded all realms, yet this was somewhat overwhelming. He would keep his thoughts to himself when Donghui deemed it best if Ye Hua and Bai Qian didn’t have any more children.
To be continued…