Chapter no 8

Heart of the Sun Warrior

Our morning meal was a quiet affair with no guests to entertain. The sisters from the Golden Desert had left,

perhaps sensing our unease or having heard rumblings of the emperor’s displeasure. I was glad, in no mood for idle conversation. My mother placed a bowl of congee before

me, the rice cooked to a silken texture, dotted with crimson wolfberries, tendrils of ginseng, and tender pieces of

chicken. Salted egg slices with vermilion yolks adorned the surface, along with a handful of roasted peanuts and shavings of spring onion.

As I lifted the porcelain spoon to my mouth, the wards pulsed in warning through my mind. I stiffened, turning to my mother and Liwei. “We have visitors.”

Liwei set his bowl aside. “How many?”

I pressed a hand to my temple, trying to discern the new arrivals. “A dozen or more.”

“We will make our excuses,” my mother said tersely. “After that fraud ‘Master Gang,’ we will shelter none beneath our roof.”

I had told her of his true identity, and how he had maligned us to the Celestial Court. I did not want her to be

caught unaware by his trickery again.

Footsteps thudded along the corridor, growing louder, their stride measured and unhurried. How dare they enter our home uninvited? They either felt entitled to, or did not fear the consequences—my gut twisting at the thought.

The doors were thrown open. Celestial soldiers marched into the room, their swords strapped to their sides. At the sight of them in my home, a coldness descended upon me, of old dread merged with new terrors.

A wiry immortal with a pointed jaw strode forward—

Minister Ruibing, a high-ranking Celestial courtier. His pupils were ringed with brown like watermelon seeds, his lips thin and wide. Dark-red brocade robes swished around his shoes, an oblong piece of flat jade gleaming from his ceremonial hat.

My mother’s face paled as she bowed in greeting. “Minister Ruibing, to what do we owe this honor?”

The minister sniffed as he surveyed her through narrowed eyes. My fingers curled at his lack of civility, even as

foreboding plunged through me at the sight of the imperial yellow brocade scroll cradled in his palms. A pattern of twin dragons circling the sun was embroidered across it, the

design favored by the Celestial Emperor.

He brandished the scroll with an exaggerated flourish. “I bear an edict from His Celestial Majesty, the Supreme

Emperor of the Celestial Kingdom, Protector of the Mortal Realm, Lord over the Sun, Moon, and Stars. May he govern us for another ten thousand years.”

As was customary, we sank to our knees upon the ground, pressing our palms and foreheads to the floor. Minister Ruibing took an inordinately long time to unravel the scroll, likely savoring the sight of us kneeling before him. He

possessed the pompous air of one who relished the authority ceded to him.

“All present, hear and obey,” he recited in ringing tones. “The goddess Chang’e is hereby removed from her

guardianship of the moon for the shameful neglect of her

duties and the grave insult to His Celestial Majesty. She, and all the moon’s inhabitants, will await their punishment here.

None of them are permitted to leave its grounds. Defiance of these commands will be considered an act of hostility

against the Celestial Kingdom.”

His gaze slid toward Liwei, thinned with malice. “Your

Highness, if I found you here, I was instructed to convey a message to you. His Celestial Majesty commands that you return to the Jade Palace without delay to await his judgment on your conduct.”

A void gaped in my chest, my protest spilling from my lips. “He did nothing wrong, nor did my mother. She meant no harm; this was her first lapse in all these decades. I request an audience with His Celestial Majesty. Let me explain—”

“Thank you, Minister Ruibing,” Liwei interjected as he rose to his feet. “I will leave with you in a moment.”

Liwei drew me to the far end of the hall. He stood before me, his body blocking out the rest of the room, including the minister’s odious presence. “Don’t do this. My father will not grant you an audience. Your demand would be seen as a

challenge to his authority and will only infuriate him more. He is already angry enough to imprison all of you without hope of release.”

I swallowed hard, hating this weight of impending

disaster, this numbing futility. I did not want Liwei to go, yet the moon was no longer a haven but the most dangerous

place in the realm. I bit down hard on my tongue, relishing the sting. Blood was preferable to tears in moments as these.

“Don’t return with the minister.” Rash words, ringed in selfishness.

He shook his head. “A refusal would be an admission of guilt. I must learn what venom has been poured into my father’s ears. I must defend my name from the vile

accusations flung my way.” He smiled, speaking with

assurance. “All will be well. I know the workings of the court, my allies from enemies.”

I wanted to go with him yet was unwilling to leave my mother. Moreover, my presence would likely do more harm than good; we had been commanded to remain here, and neither the emperor nor his court held me in high regard.

Liwei’s expression was grave as he brushed his knuckles across my cheek. “I will put an end to it. I will make it safe for you and your family.”

“You must keep yourself safe,” I told him, hating the quiver in my voice. This was Liwei’s choice, and he was

skilled in the maneuverings of the Celestial Court. “If you

don’t return, I will come for you.” This was no hollow claim, nor soft words to ease a lover’s parting.

“You must not. The palace will be warded against you soon; you will no longer be able to enter freely as before,” he cautioned. “Do nothing to draw attention to yourself.”

“Warded?” I repeated slowly. “Why?”

“It is common practice for those deemed a threat, those convicted of any offense against the kingdom.”

“Nothing has been proven,” I protested.

“Not yet,” Liwei said. “But for my father to send the minister with this harsh proclamation is just a formality. His official judgment will follow in a day or two, to give the semblance of this matter being weighed at court. None will gainsay him.”

Turmoil raged through my mind, quenching my remaining doubts about Tao’s plan. Once we were sentenced, it would be impossible to enter the Jade Palace undetected—even if I could escape whatever terrible punishment the emperor

envisioned for us. The elixir would remain forever out of reach. My father would die. Which meant tonight was my only chance, and I would not squander it.

Minister Ruibing scowled as we approached, his hands clasped behind his back. “Make haste, Your Highness,” he snapped.

As anger seared me at the minister’s disrespect, Liwei raised his chin with the regal arrogance he possessed.

“Minister Ruibing, remember your place. I am my father’s loyal subject and will obey his command.” His words served as a pointed reminder that despite his current disfavor, he was the emperor’s son—for whom the tides might swing

back in his favor as easily as the wind changed its direction. “Of course, Your Highness.” A brief pause, as Minister

Ruibing hastily bowed. He had expected a chastened son crawling back to earn his father’s favor rather than the unflinching royal before him—but like any skillful courtier, he adjusted to the situation with repellent ease.

As the minster gestured to the soldiers, eight detached themselves from the rest, moving toward us. I started to recognize Feimao among them, the archer I had fought

alongside during my first assignment with the Celestial Army. Relief flickered, abruptly doused by his grim


“These soldiers will remain here,” Minister Ruibing said. “Are we prisoners?” my mother asked coldly.

The minister’s lips curled into a smirk. “If you prefer, you can think of them as guarding your safety. These orders

came directly from General Wu, and you may raise the matter with him when he arrives.”

“Where is the general?” I had thought he would be here; he would have taken pleasure in this.

The minister’s gaze flicked toward Liwei before sliding

back to me. “General Wu is currently occupied with urgent matters at court.”

Undoubtedly the general was one who found much

opportunity in Liwei’s predicament. A bitterness coated the inside of my mouth as the soldiers surrounded Liwei like he was a villain, instead of the finest immortal in the kingdom. I stared after them until they had gone, fighting the urge to follow, my heart clouded with fear. And despite the sunlight

streaming through the windows, it had never seemed so bleak.

You'll Also Like