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    Kong Wen Hui
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The Spirit of the Plum Blossom Tree (TSPBT) - 9. Chapter 9

Mild Language.

“Jiujiu, I’m confused,” Lian said as I paused to get a glass of water. “Who saved Hongye when he fell with the branch?”

Youya looked at her sister in surprise. “Wasn’t it obvious? Boli did.”

“No no no, you are wrong!” Scooting off the chair, she went down on all fours on the floor, her knees and palms braced against the polished wood. “Hongye fell holding onto the branch like this, on the top of it.” Scrambling up, she stood, reaching her arms up to the ceiling. “Boli would have been like this.”

Understanding dawned upon Youya as she grasped onto the concept. “There was no way for Boli to pull Hongye off the branch from above if he was standing below.”

“Exactly!” Lian climbed back onto the chair, fixing her vibrant eyes upon me. “So who saved him?”

I returned to the table, sliding back into my seat as I took a sip from the glass in my hand. “Who knows?” Feigning ignorance, I placed it gently down upon the table as both girls exclaimed in exasperation.

When I held up a hand, they went silent, listening in anticipation. “You must be patient, nu hai. All of your questions will be answered in time.”

Grumbling, they sat back in their chairs, allowing me to continue.

 

⭑・゚゚・*:༅。.。༅:*゚:*:✼✿  ✿✼:*゚:༅。.。༅:*・゚゚・⭑

 

On the morning of Guan Hongye’s birthday, the halls of the South Palace were filled with servants bustling around, carrying stacks of silk and platters of food. The time passed quickly, and for the most part Hong Shen was ignored, as the morning continued on into the afternoon and the movement began to slow, the preparations for whatever was being done just about finished.

After finishing his stroll outside to get out of the way, Hong Shen attempted to retreat down to his room and brood some more on the strange events of the day before. Unfortunately, Guan Shuilian caught him sneaking away, snatching the back of his black hanfu and pulling him towards her.

“Si di, where are you going?” Her voice was cheerful compared to the last time he had heard it, and he had to refrain from snorting.

“Let go,” Hong Shen hissed, spinning around to glare at her. She had changed from her usual blue and white changpao into celebratory white robes trimmed in gold. Her dark hair, normally done with elaborate hairpins and jewelry, was tied back in a simple fishtail braid. Golden paint adorned the center of her forehead, in the shape of a moving flame.

Guan Shuilian frowned, the flame distorting with the motion as she reached out once more, grasping his arm and dragging him down the hall. “Don’t be petty, you haven’t even dressed in the ceremonial robes yet.”

“Ceremonial robes? What the hell?!”

Her grip was like iron, preventing him from escaping. Stumbling behind her, Hong Shen realized they were heading down the stairs, returning to his own room. His wish was being granted, at least, but with more company than he had wanted.

“Yes, yes, the ceremonial robes. Did you look at the silks Father sent you yesterday?”

At Hong Shen’s silence, she sighed in exasperation. No, he hadn’t bothered to look, figuring it was just some early birthday present the Emperor had given out of necessity to seem like a caring father.

“He gifted you the official Suan Ni robe. Now that it has been altered and finished appropriately, you must wear it during the contract ceremony tonight.”

The Suan Ni robe…?

Ah, now he remembered. That was the robe Guan Shuilian had given him when he had first met her, though it had mysteriously disappeared after he had taken it off, and he never spared it much thought.

Come to think of it, that was right after that violent creature had attacked him. Hong Shen shivered, remembering the agony the being had inflicted just before vanishing with a parting statement about his birthday. What did he say again? Surely he wouldn’t return?

A cold feeling settled in the pit of his stomach, but he could dwell on it no longer as Guan Shuilian tugged him into his room, shutting the door behind them.

Laid out upon the sleeping pallet were layers of dark silk, done by some servant while he had been away. The sleeves were long and wide, extending more than half the length of the Emperor’s own sleeves. Red and gold thread were embroidered upon the back, forming the familiar image of a red dragon with a head like a lion, golden smoke curling from the fireballs within its curving claws. Only now, several symbols he didn’t recognize were also stitched into the fabric, giving the whole piece a sort of shimmering, transparent sheen. Along the upper right sleeve, the characters for Suan Ni shone in white thread, and on the upper left sleeve, the characters for Guan Hongye reflected similarly.

Guan Shuilian released him, stepping forwards to touch the cloth. However, as soon as her hand came within an inch of the robes, it was forced to an abrupt stop, unable to continue further as the sheen trembled around it.

“Oh, that’s right,” she said as she withdrew her hand. “Now that it has been imbued with protective spells, only you can touch it. Come on, put it on, we don’t have all day.”

It did not take long for Hong Shen to grow annoyed at her constant nagging, and he finally snapped at her, sweeping up the robes and slipping them over his shoulders. “Shut up! Are you happy now?”

She scowled at him, whipping out the same boar’s hair brush from who knows where and making him sit on the pallet, speaking as she worked. “The Suan Ni robe will only be worn at imperial ceremonies like this one or important events, so you won’t have to wear it often. Instead, after tonight you will wear the Dragon Guard’s hanfu, which should be delivered in the morning. Ah, but I forgot to tell you - at the ceremony tonight, you must always keep your back straight, and you can never speak. Remember that, unless you wish to die once more.” Tittering, she tugged none too gently on his hair.

In a few moments she had finished, his long white hair now gathered up into a sort of hair crown that felt like it weighed a few pounds. He had seen a glimpse of it when Guan Shuilian took it out, an elaborate palm sized piece of gold that resembled a circlet of crossed swords.

Tucking the brush away, she tapped his shoulder. “Were you listening to me, si di?”

“Yeah, stand straight and don’t talk. What kind of messed up ceremony is this?” Hong Shen stood, stretching his back while he adjusted to the weight on his head, pondering her words. Though it was rather strange that she would be warning him when just days ago she looked like she wanted to throttle him.

This older sister of Guan Hongye’s didn’t make sense at all. Sometimes, she appeared to be a cold white lotus hiding her malice behind a smile, while other times she seemed to genuinely care about what happened to him.

Why did all these ancient Chinese people have to be so damn complicated?

“What? You don’t remember?” Her blue eyes were unreadable as she turned to stare at him. “It is your contract ceremony tonight, that will be finished now that you have turned 18. You are to become one of the Nine Dragon Guards.”

Dragon Guards? The fuck?

He stood still, struck by this new information that sounded incredibly familiar, stirring up some more of Guan Hongye’s memories. But before he could focus on them, Guan Shuilian shoved him out of the room, and up towards the ceremony.

 

⭑・゚゚・*:༅。.。༅:*゚:*:✼✿  ✿✼:*゚:༅。.。༅:*・゚゚・⭑

 

Behind him stood hundreds of civilians, nobles and beggars alike. Apparently, the completion of a contract ceremony was one of the only times everyone, regardless of status, was allowed into the Imperial Complex, and they all gathered before the place the Central Palace once stood.

Guan Hongye’s siblings stood in each of the cardinal directions along the inside of the bare grounds; Er-Ge to the north, Guan Shuilian to the south, Guan Yesheng to the east and Guan Shixin to the west. All were dressed in the same white robes, with the golden flames dancing upon their foreheads. Only Guan Xiaotang wore something different, a white changpao and veil to cover the fading bruise upon her face, standing outside the grounds amid the circle of monks. All had their heads bowed respectfully, chanting in low murmurs as their hands formed a variety of signs and symbols, the siblings before them remaining still.

And within the center of the gathering stood Hong Shen, the Emperor, and Master Long, the highest ranked Elder of the Sheng Temple, all facing the west. He was an old man, bald with a silver beard that extended down to his waist, but his face was weathered and strong, though he couldn’t escape the wrinkles of time etched across his skin.

His eyes were currently closed as he muttered words in a language Hong Shen didn’t understand, his arms raised up to the setting sun as it reflected through the trees from the west, washing his plain sky blue robes in red and orange. Beside him stood the Emperor, dressed in a handsome yellow and black dragon robe, his face impassive with his trademark aura of sadness.

Hong Shen shifted slightly, uncomfortable in his heavy clothes. It felt like this ceremony had gone on forever already, though in reality it had only been about ten minutes. Would it ever end? He still had a trial to complete.

All of a sudden, Master Long dropped his arms, his deep voice rising to a shout with the action. An indescribably itchy sensation began on his back, and Hong Shen wanted nothing more than to drop to the ground and scratch it until it stopped, but Guan Shuilian’s warnings echoed in his head. ‘You must always keep your back straight.’

Clenching his jaw, the great Hong Shen endured the feeling. He had faced far worse pains, anyway.

Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted someone twitch in the front of the crowd of people. Turning his head slightly, he saw Zi Sheng Shou in his usual robes, reaching an arm behind to his back. Hong Shen watched him for a moment, and met the man’s beautiful eyes just as he remembered.

That was right! Now that they shared a heart, all the physical sensations they felt would be shared with each other. He narrowed his eyes as the corner of his lip curled, and Zi Sheng Shou’s nostrils flared as he looked away sharply, clearly annoyed. This was perfect revenge for all those petty cuts and scratches he had given himself throughout the week!

Master Long cleared his throat, and Hong Shen returned his attention to the old man, who was gazing at him with something akin to pity in his eyes. Pity? Was there something about this wacked ceremony that no one was telling him?

“Fourth Prince Guan Hongye,” he rumbled. “Call out to your contracted dragon.”

Hong Shen wanted to punch the elder. How the hell was he supposed to know who his contracted dragon was?

At the man’s stare, however, he grudgingly began searching through his memories. Now would be a perfect time for one of Guan Hongye’s flashbacks, to tell him who his contracted dragon was.

Instead, it was Guan Shuilian’s words that rang in his head once more. ‘He gifted you the official Suan Ni robe’; her voice was sharp in his mind. She had been the one to give him the original robe before it had been modified, as well. Could it be…

Just as he opened his mouth to say the name, he caught Guan Shuilian’s eye as she shook her head slightly from her position in the south, before she turned back to the outside to continue the chant.

Closing his lips, Hong Shen gulped. ‘-and you can never speak.’ He had narrowly avoided death once again. But how was he supposed to call out to his contracted dragon if he couldn’t speak?

Suan Ni? He thought, feeling ridiculous and internally shaming himself. Why the hell was he playing along with this stupid ceremony in the first place?

After a moment, the wind suddenly picked up, increasing until it drowned out the monotone voices. Cloth snapped as robes fluttered, and Hong Shen felt the hair that wasn’t tied up in the crown whip around him, stinging his cheeks.

As the last rays of the sun vanished into the dusk, he felt the back of his ceremonial Suan Ni robe burn as though it was on fire, the itchy feeling reaching an unimaginable high as he bit his tongue to keep from crying out or moving. Zi Sheng Shou was likely reacting similarly, but at least he had the freedom to do something about it.

The space before Hong Shen’s eyes went black even as he blinked furiously, until his ears popped with a crack, the pressure released as his vision returned. The burning on the back of his robe diminished along with the itching sensation, and as he looked up, he discovered why.

Barely a foot away from his face, deep red scales covered a long snout, twin tendrils of smoke rising from nostrils the size of his hand. Thin whisker-like appendages flowed gracefully in the slowing breeze from either side of the snout, which curved up to a large head framed by a furry ruff reminiscent of a lion’s mane, with two long, wicked horns curving back along the top.

Golden pools of liquid fire pinned Hong Shen in place, stealing his breath away from the heat he could feel against his face.

You called for me?

⭑・゚゚・*:༅。.。༅:*゚:*:✼✿ Author's Translations ✿✼:*゚:༅。.。༅:*・゚゚・⭑

Lóng (龙) - dragon

Shèng (圣) - saint

Who do you think saved Hongye? (^▽ ^)

Copyright © 2020 Kong Wen Hui; All Rights Reserved.
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39 minutes ago, drpaladin said:

Hong Shen's trial grows more complicated by each day. So he's now bound to this dragon?

Ha Ha! Supposedly, but we shall see!

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6 hours ago, Ang3l said:

Love it so vivd, and poetic.

And exciting

Just read all the chapters in one go ! 

I'm glad you enjoyed it! Thank you for the support!

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