Zi Lan & Yan Zhi: Jasmine's Fate Vol. 2 - Chapter 9
A drive like no other!
An automatic response which lacks planning or preparation. Action without thought for the future, or consequences that may ensue. The urge that could not be held back once desire reigned over one’s mind.
The desperation to break free from the chains that shackled her life, had become unbearable. She was tired of control. Of being in control while being controlled by others.
There was nothing freer than speeding down the luscious grassland with her stallion. Thanks to the alpha fight the day before, there were only seven suitors left. The competition today was no easy task, given that General Zhao had designed it himself. It would no easy task, especially since the man detested outsiders more than his relatives. Zhao Yan had slain a number of his kin since he rose to General status, a common theme among his kind. Still, the purpose of the race was to provide entertainment, and to find a way to draw out the talent among the Suitors, however the dangers that might still lurk.
Yan Zhi was still trailing behind a few well trained warriors. If only she had Qian Li Ma with her, she would have been ahead of the race easily. But that would have been an unfair advantage. Qian Li Ma would travel several thousand Li without breaking a sweat. Her overbearing Generals would never have allowed her to embarrass other clans in such a manner. Much to her irritation, they had grown tame in their old age.The more civilized they were, the more she wanted to escape their grasp.
When Yan Zhi left her throne to join the competition, she had acted on a whim. A spur-of-the-moment decision, when she had seen those men eyeing her like a prize to be won. What were they, really? Guests? Suitors? Her potential mate? How laughable for the Queen of the Realm! The Queen who had to hold herself back because her status demanded it. The Royal with no free will! Never was she given a choice, because there were no choices. Even now...
Enough was enough! This ride, this race! It wasn’t about running away. No! It was about moving forward.
On her terms!
Ziming Palace, Ghost Realm
The Ghost Queen was never one to fume. She was cold...yes! Indifferent...yes! There were very few things in life that would make her blood boil. She had always been accustomed to life’s trials. Having lost so much, there was hardly anything that would receive a negative reaction from the Ice Queen. Yan Zhi had almost forgotten what anger felt like.
Back at Ziming Palace, the atmosphere was smothered with a dark aura that couldn’t be contained; a considerable contrast to the morning’s enthusiasm and joyfulness among the warriors. The short lived merriment was lost. They needed the competition and celebration to ease the months of unprecedented horrors that they had witnessed. Who would have thought that the first event of the day would end in tragedy? Even more disconcerting, was that this might lead to increased tension among the clans, or even worse, a war.
Not to say that the Warriors of the Ghost realms were afraid of the battlefield. But who wanted to fight a war that they did not instigate? No one! There was no time to waste. She had to find the perpetrator fast. This was her home, her land. Who would dare to attack the visitors of the Ghost Tribe? Yan Zhi was halfway back to her palace when a hand grabbed her arm suddenly.
“Yan Zhi! Wait!” It was Lou Jun. It seemed as though he had called after her for quite some time. Too distracted by the current events, Yan Zhi must not have noticed his presence. It was not surprising that Lou Jun was out of breath. He had never been keen about riding horses. A weakness he had yet to admit. However, the race was over for quite some time. He must have rushed over as soon as he crossed the finish line.
Usually, Yan Zhi wouldn’t have been absent-minded to allow anyone to catch her off guard, but never had anyone dared to touch her in thousands of years. Even the soldiers nearby averted their gaze at the Disciple’s familiarity with their Queen. Yan Zhi tugged her arm from him, which he released immediately. “Lou Jun, I have to see my Generals immediately,” Yan Zhi said, as she took a conscious step back.
“I know, but are you hurt? Should I...,” Lou Jun lowered his voice, in case rumors would spread. Yan Zhi smiled at his cautious tone. Kunlun men never failed to place propriety above all else. Who could blame her for never being able to guess their feelings? All the Disciples of High God Mo Yuan were regarded as respectable Commanders, but their strength lay in their ability to withhold their desires. As though the High God himself had chosen specifically, the disciples who were closest to his demeanor. Except for one in particular, but the Seventeenth Disciple had turned out to be a female in disguise at the time.
“I’m unharmed. There’s no need for you to heal me,” Yan Zhi assured him before she advised, “Please return to your quarters, I will speak to you in the morning.”
“Lou Jun, if you were to remain here, you have to follow my terms. In the past, you participated in matters of my realm. But because you chose to compete for my hand, you are one of the suspects, as of today,” Yan Zhi replied softly but firmly, leaving no room for negotiation.
Lou Jun had already started the fight the night before at the welcoming banquet. If other clans were to look for a scapegoat, he would be the first on the list. With no major clan to back him up, he would be the target of others seeking revenge. That realization shot through her nerves. What’s more, they were no longer friends as they once were. When he declared his intention, their platonic friendship was reclassified. Even if the rice was not cooked, it was still soaked. They could never turn back.
Before Lou Jun could contest her statement, General Yang had arrived. “Your Majesty, we’re ready,” General Yang bowed. The man who was always punctual to a fault.
With a firm nod, wordlessly, she left Lou Jun at the steps of Ziming Palace. Over the years, the Palace had expanded, the ambience no longer as dark as it once was, when Ghost Tribe was closed off to the outside world. However, the tension today had shifted the welcoming atmosphere. The storm was coming, whether they desired it or not.
After the Ghost Queen settled on her throne, Yan Zhi addressed her dozen faithful Generals. “Who was it?” the Ghost Queen asked authoritatively, her eyes piercing through her audience. The Generals quivered, as they came down on their knees.
“Second Prince of the Weasel Clan,” General Zhao answered, “His Highness was found not far from the finish line. His...his paws were removed.”
“Yes, his paws!”
Though Yan Zhi was silent, her rage was another matter. The Ghost Queen rose to her feet. Releasing her powers from the palm of her hand, she blasted through the wall, leaving a clear sign of her wrath. All the Generals kowtowed at the sight. The silence was deafening, none dared to lift their heads. Rarely would she have reacted as such. To the seasoned Generals who knew their Queen well, there must be another situation, besides the murder, that caused her to respond with more than her usual detachment.
“Inform his Clan of the situation,” the Ghost Queen ordered. Only after a short pause, did the Generals dare to gaze up at their Queen. Her shrewd eyes weighed their situation before she spoke again, “Tell the guests that they will remain here in the meantime.”
General Yang’s colors immediately drained. “Your Majesty, are you accusing the suitors…,”
“We invited Prince Han Shen to our land. He died here. Mutilated here! Under my watch! I have to speak to the family of the victim. I will hold all the suspects in custody, including my people, until I know who killed Prince Han. That’s the only way to clear the Ghost Tribe’s reputation,” Yan Zhi snapped. Her attention then turned to Hu Wan, the most Senior member among his ranks. “General Hu, I trust you can convince them that it would only benefit them to remain here.”
“Your Majesty, please leave the suitors to me. I will not fail you.”
“I doubt you will,” Yan Zhi regarded her General Hu with a tilt of her head, before her eyes darkened. “Place a shield! No one is allowed to leave Ghost Realm until we find the culprit. You’re all dismissed.”
As the Ghost Queen stood up to depart, she was intercepted by her ever overly devoted General Yang. “Your Majesty! The last suitor has arrived today,” Yang Jie informed nervously, which was an odd sight. He was usually not this nervous when it came to outsiders.
“Another one? And he’s late?” Yan Zhi arched in disapproval. Who dared to arrive late? Not that she would care, but because punctuality was ingrained training for all warriors. But in this case, it was for her hand. He must not have wanted to be here in the first place. A great tactic if one wished to avoid an inevitable fate.
“You see, his health is not well. He took several days to journey here... and…”
“I’ll greet him tomorrow,” Yan Zhi interjected as she walked past her endless rows of Generals. “Show him to his quarters.”
“But, Your Majesty…” Yang Jie blocked her path again. “I believe that you should meet this guest.”
“If he’s as ill as you said, he should rest first,” the Ghost Queen snarled at her General, losing all patience. “We have a killer among our midst. Or, do you believe that a suitor is more important than our situation?”
“No-No…,” the man stammered with a bow. “Your Majesty, I will take care of the guest.”
The private bath chamber of the Ghost Queen was one of the rare places where she could be alone. Yan Zhi even refused to have servants to serve her during this precious private moment. The circular marble bath was covered by a straw roof only, and was surrounded by tropical greeneries. No one dared to venture here if they valued their lives. The serenity of being alone was much cherished, especially when one who was under constant surveillance. Being surrounded by generals, warriors and servants in every moment of her life, Yan Zhi was surprised that she could even take a breath, unobserved. The luxury of being at peace with one’s mind was short-lived. However, who knew that her most precious moment would be interrupted?
There was none, other than Him.
“Do you like what you see?” the Queen of the Ghost Tribe asked. Neither loud nor soft, her words echoed softly against the marble bath. A figure appeared behind the translucent mist. Cloaked in white silk, from head to toe, only his dark eyes were visible. Ghost-like in appearance… almost a lucid dream, if one were to blink too long.
“Are you hurt?” he asked, his eyes averted. Interesting…
Unbeknownst to others, even her most loyal bodyguard did not know what had happened during the race. After her many incidents in the past few months, she could not let others know about her close calls with death. Another nagging session would ensue if her Generals had found out that she was also among the participants who were attacked.
“Thanks to you, I barely got a scratch,” Yan Zhi answered, with a slight hint of irritability at the man before her. Even though the Queen of the Ghost Tribe could easily have subdued those assassins herself. She wouldn’t have left, if not for her White-Clad Savior, who had placed a spell on her stallion to carry her away. Before Yan Zhi knew it, she was already back at the finish line. Damn the man and his mysterious powers!