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An Invitation to Mr Liu

Green lees of beer that's newly brewed,
A little stove of red clay burns.
As evening comes, the sky's about to snow,
Can you drink one cup with me?

Bai Juyi

緑 螘 新 醅 酒 ,
红 泥 小 火 炉 。
晚 来 天 欲 雪 ,
能 饮 一 杯 无 。
白 居 易

After years of silence the Emperor invited the Dragon King over for a banquet. To honour their old promises, but also to rekindle their friendship. The two sovereigns and sworn brothers had drifted apart over the years due to their differences, however, years had worn them both and filled their hearts with longing.

The Dragon King had long forgotten about the squabble that had separated the two of them and was eager to respond in agreement. However, he was alone in that excitement. The Emperor had grown suspicious of all over the years, afraid that everyone was out for his throne and his empire. Greed had consumed him. Fearing that a greater power would come along he was looking for something to prepare himself. A power not meant for humans...

Once the Dragon King stepped inside of the palace he was tricked and frozen inside of a lake of quicksilver. Betrayed and enraged the Dragon King tried to fight until he couldn’t move his limbs, and his curses didn’t reach his old friend anymore. All the while the Emperor watched over his sworn brother drowning, turning his back at the promise of loyalty they had made to each other when they were young. Both cried over the loss over a friendship that was meant to last a lifetime.

With his best friend out of the way the Emperor marched for the Dragon Court, straight for its treasures he knew it held. Besieging the Dragon Court by surprise the Emperor slipped into the chaos towards the Relics he had set his eyes upon. It were the Heavenly relics that bound the heavens together and was the source of power within the Dragon Court. Eager the Emperor reached out to one of them, not expecting the imbalance it would bring.

After rain

The forest is sleek after rain,
Between the pines, the moon startles my heart,
I smile and think of home,
A foreign guest in a foreign land.

Yuefu [Chinese folksong]

雨 后 树 林 润 ,
松 间 月 惊 心 。
笑 而 思 故 园 ,
异 客 在 异 乡 。
乐 府

A decade has passed since the Emperor stole the relics. A decade since the country has fallen apart and been torn into a war. New kingdoms and states rise up and go as everyone is fighting over the possession of the relics. Rulers are being betrayed, officers backstabbed, all for the greed of power. New weapons are created on a rapid speed, each one deadlier than the predecessor, proving the pure power and the limits that the relics emit and break.

However, with the relics gone from their respective places the heaven is thrown out of balance. Natural disasters plague the people, flood claiming homes and lives, while droughts are causing famine. As the world is crumbling apart wars are still fought, taxing the already waning economy. The Dragon Court has scattered itself across humanity, disguising themselves as part of the crowd, others hiding, while some attempt to bring Heaven together again by gathering the relics.

One of these in hiding is a young dragonling female. Having hid away from the world for a decade she had no intention of turning any attention to the problems of the world. However, she is soon forced to face reality as a human stumbles into her life.

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For ten long years, the dragon princess sought refuge in the forest. Day and night seemed to blend into each other, and before she knew it, the years went by in a blur. She spent her days in quiet solitude, seeking companion in the animals and trees of the forest, tucked away into this safe little corner of the world. A bed of petals underneath an oak tree made for her sleeping chambers. The birds and their chirping made for a magnificent orchestra. Fruits and greens were her usual meals. And entire forest was her kingdom.

With each passing moment, however, she could feel parts of herself slipping away; her identity, her past, who she was meant to be in this world. Even the faces of her parents and siblings became nothing more than vague images of the past--memories holding on by a mere string. Her only connection to the outside world, it seemed, was her obsession with fried chicken. A delicacy that could only be found in the human world.

But she had seen enough of the terror and chaos that ensued beyond the realm of the forest to dare to step into it. Even as she would desire to see the skies again, her home, she knew that nothing was the same anymore. Nothing could ever be the same anymore, and her courage would falter at the thought every time.

Outside, there was only hell.

Amidst the chirping of the birds, the applause of the leaves, the waves lapping against the rocks in the river, there was the sound of undeniable fear and violence. There was the faint but frightening music of warriors screaming at the top of their lungs, of horns signaling war, of hooves meeting the ground, of the clinking of armory.

Now, more than ever before, she could hear their song. It was calling out to her, threatening to find her and take her away from her safe haven.

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“Catch her!”

Harsh voices broke the peace within the woods as hurried steps trampled over the vegetation, and swords slayed twigs out of the way. Birds flew up into the safety of the heavens while the animals on the ground fled.

Amongst these beings that were trying to escape the rampage one stood out in particular. A young female dressed in the clothes of a scholar. Her breath was erratic and she could feel her legs burning, but she didn’t dare to stop or to look over her shoulder to see how the soldiers were catching up. She had to escape their hands, she had to flee, and thus she prayed in the hopes that by some miracle she would find herself in safety.

The many layers of an aristocrat’s wardrobe were delaying her, however. The fabrics draped around her heavily, and obstructed her movements. It caused the female to stumble, as she tripped over the hem, but she always managed to catch herself and leap forward. Despite that she had not been caught yet, which was her luck at work. Perhaps there was a heaven where the gods watched over her?

Or perhaps not…

Halting herself just at the edge of the cliff the female looked down in horror at the wild waters. Was this how far her freedom would go? Her lungs screamed for air, and her limbs trembled, begging for rest, but she refused to sit down. It was sheer determination that was holding her up. Behind she could hear the men closing in, panic rising up as she weighed down her options. Jump to death, or live her life in humiliation?

It was a decision easily made as the female traced back her steps. Allowing herself one peek over her shoulders she saw her chasers emerge from the trees. They wouldn’t be able to catch her, at least; not alive.

Taking a leap the female jumped off the cliff, eyes lifted up towards the sky and begging for death to be swift and painless. She could hear the men scream behind her, curse as they could only watch her fall. Waving her arms around she could feel her hair and clothes brushing up against her, blowing up as she plummeted down, gravity pulling her towards the spiky rocks and the cold water that waited below.

She wondered if this is what it felt like to be the wind.

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It was only a matter of time before they would find her. As she scrambled towards a hiding place, the female tripped over her own feet, scraping her pale leg on a sharp rock that had been jutting from the ground. Yet, she pushed on, shaking and with eyes wide like an animal entrapped, as the sound of pursuers grew. A decade of isolation had made her weak, both in flesh and in heart. Though she had not been asleep, it was as if she had been dreaming up until this moment, and the faint, disturbing orchestra of war was a wake-up call that pained her ears to hear.

The voices grew closer, a low trombone of men grunting and cursing as they closed in on her home. Heart threatening to jump out of her chest, she slithered behind a tree, praying to her stars that not a soul would notice her faint presence, and that whomever dared to disturb her peaceful home would leave immediately. But no matter how hard she squeezed her eyes or how long she waited, she knew it would never truly disappear.

Nails digging into the rough bark of the tree she had been hiding behind, the girl stole a glance at the commotion and sighted yet another girl, seemingly escaping the wrath of a group of men. She wore scholarly clothes, loose and elegant and flowing with the wind. In her heart, Shaung felt she had to do something. But at the same time, a nagging voice at the back of her head told her to stop; that it was dangerous, and it was best not to meddle in the affairs of mortals.

It was only belatedly that she realised that the girl had been running towards the cliff. With little warning, the girl leapt into a river hundreds of feet below. Nobody, not even the bravest of all, could survive such a long fall. And yet, she leapt so elegantly that, for a brief second, it almost seemed as if she had become one with the wind.

The was little hesitation in Shuang now as she ran after her. As she jumped off the cliff, her form warped and shifted, slithering down and racing against the sharp-as-stone, cold embrace of death. So swift were her movements that, in mortal eyes perhaps, she would seem like nothing more than a brief flash of color.

If she had been a second later, the rocks would have been soaked in the girl’s blood, a murky red spilling onto the clear river. Briefly surprised at her rediscovered strength and swiftness, Shuang carried the girl on her back to a cool, shaded area in the forest. It was far enough that the men from earlier would not find her here, yet near enough to civilisation that the girl could easily find a way out of the forest if she so wanted.

Once she had gently placed her down, Shuang left as quickly as she could before the girl would notice her presence. Yet, curiosity had it so that she still hovered nearby in mortal form, unaware that her earlier injury had left a trail of blood on the mossy forest floor.

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She had imagined a splintering pain of bones breaking and flesh being torn apart with her landing, but it never came. The wind kept on soaring in her ears, pulling her to the side on her journey to death, as if breezing her away like the leaves in autumn. It was as if the gods had finally decided to show mercy by ordering the winds to carry her instead. Away from the cold waters streaming down below that would have drowned her if it weren’t the stones tearing at her. Death was surprisingly gentle, if she had died at all. With the wind breezing in her hair and smelling slightly of roasted chicken.

Pinching her eyes close the female refused to see what the journey to the afterlife was like, or to regret her decision if she was still falling. There had been so much she had wanted from her mortal life. So much she had wished for. Food to eat, places to see, people to meet, to work for peace, peace… She regretted not praying for peace harder, sooner, that she was born as a powerless girl with nothing to her name but hope. That she had not and could not contribute to peace at all.

If only she could be given a new chance. She would grab hold of the opportunity. Try her hardest to change her own misfortune into something more useful before departing from the world.

The soaring of the wind died out in her ears and so did the cool breeze past her skin. Feeling herself gently meeting the ground she wondered if she had arrived. Was this the afterlife? Carefully opening her eyes the girl sat up, surprised at how similar the trees of heaven were to the forest she grew up with. She had imagined something grander, more majestic, more… heavenly like. Not as mundane as the greenery she used to play within as a child. However, she also realised that despite all her thoughts she didn’t know what ‘heaven’ really looked like. It had all been her speculation.

The trail of blood broke her from her musings. She hadn’t expected that there was still blood spilling in the afterlife. Then again, she didn’t know either that dying went so gently either. Nothing had gone in the way she thought it would go, and thus she didn’t question any of it. Answers would come later. She had enough time anyway, as someone who had just died.

Realising that the blood wasn’t her own the female went to find the source. In a time where wars were as common as the sun rising she had grown used to find wounded all over. Eyes squinting ahead she (ironically) tried to look for a sign of life. However, her weak eyes could only see a blur behind the trees. One thing that the afterlife didn’t seem to fix for her, it seemed. Neither did it come with new clothes as she was still wearing the failed disguise from her past life.

“Hey…” she approached the figure slowly, sticking close to the ground as if afraid to frighten the other. Long dark hair and white robes was all she could make out. As she got closer and could make out more features she realised that her company was a female of her age. It made her wonder what the story behind her death was. “You’re wounded,” she pointed out the obvious, looking down at the hem of the leg that was soaked in blood. “Let me help.” It seemed to be the logical thing to do as they only had each other in this strange place.

“I’m Du Dayin, I have just arrived as well,” she continued, hoping that by introducing herself she could ease the other. She didn’t dare to say that they had ‘died’, however, feeling that the word was too harsh and fearing that it would startle the other. Stopping just a few steps away from the other the female sat down on the ground, eyes set on her only company as if asking permission to come closer. "Or rather, I was..." she sternly corrected herself, realising that there was little sense in keeping a mortal identity in the afterlife.

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"Hey," the intruder approached with caution. Shuang, despite years of isolation that had rendered her weak to the bones, was no fool, and an ounce of pride still remained within her, no matter how small. She eyed the mortal with frightful suspicion but did not waver from her hiding place, remaining still as though she had been turned to stone. Only her eyes shifted as she followed the intruder's movements.

"You're wounded," the intruder's eyes fell onto Shuang's leg. The stillness was broken as Shuang found herself tugging at her dress to hide the wound, but it was no use. The blood had seeped onto her clothing. "Let me help."

She did not respond, unsure how to react to this strange mortal being whom the gods had suddenly forced into her life, after so many years of seclusion. Though she wanted to say something--perhaps a loud and resonating objection to the girl's offer--her mouth seemed to have forgotten how to move itself.

"I'm Du Dayin, I have just arrived as well," the girl continued, still prompting her to speak. Shuang wondered what the girl meant by her statement. "Or rather, I was..."

Finally, Shuang's voice croaked out a mere, "Was..." it wasn't so much a statement, but a question. Startled that her thoughts somehow managed to form themselves into actual speech, Shuang jumped back ever so slightly. Then, after a pause of consideration, she shifted back to her original posture, relaxing a little bit now in the presence of whom she had just a moment ago considered a dangerous trespasser. However, her eyes were still heavy with scrutiny and caution, endlessly wondering what this mortal might want from her.

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“Was,” the female finally responded. Dayin smiled bitterly, shoulders slumping down as she nodded. “Yes, was,” she repeated in a whisper, eyes lowered to the ground. The stranger relaxed a little, seemingly deciding that she wasn’t dangerous, but still to be treated with caution. It was a beginning and the female couldn’t blame her. She was, after all, dressed in drag.

Letting go of a deep sigh Dayin folded her hands in her lap as she sat down. “I jumped off a cliff,” she continued, deciding to keep the conversation going. It almost felt therapeutic; to speak of the events leading up to her death and her entry into the spirit world. Perhaps this was why she was paired up with a stranger, so that they wouldn’t be lost in this new world.

“It almost felt like flying,” Dayin mused, remembering the feeling of the wind carrying her. The whole experience had been so unlike everything she had imagined. There was no pain, no darkness, no sadness. Just a rush of adrenaline and then peace. Letting go of a breath she laughed at herself. “Yes, as if I could fly.”

Recovering her thoughts Dayin returned her attention to the stranger. Blinking away a few tears she pointed at the wounds the other had. “Are these from your previous life?” It was a miracle that she had no visible injuries on her body. She was so sure that there were rocks down the river, that she would be ripped apart by them piece by piece. Yet, here she sat in perfect condition, but confident that she could never have survived that fall.

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It took little time for Shuang to realize that this strange young woman was terribly mistaken over her fate. Tears threatening to fall onto her cheeks, the girl spoke of a previous life as if she were dead. She pointed at Shuang's wounds, wondering if the dragon herself had come into this supposed afterlife in such a state.

An answer would not leave Shuang's lips, however. As much as she wanted to say something, anything, her mouth simply would not open. And so, she decided she would show the truth instead.

With her lips still pursed, she trudged along the mossy grass with a slight limp, paying no heed to her bleeding leg. The village was not far from here—that much, she knew—and soon enough, she proved herself to be right. The sound of war grew closer. Louder. And so did the drumming of her heart. She stopped as soon as she reached the tree nearest to the source, clutching it as though she were holding onto dear life. She glimpsed at the unfolding mayhem, which proved to be a mistake, as she immediately began to quiver. Even her hands shook as she gestured towards the village before she slowly retreated into the depths of the forest once more.

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Once more the girl ignored her questions, this time moving away with a limp. Dayin wondered if she had said anything wrong, done anything to sleight the female. Why wasn't she answering, why wouldn't she let Dayin help?

Scrambling after the stranger the sounds of war came back to her once more. Was it a memory, or did she not die after all? Gulping she stepped closer, fearing for the worst.

Not too far away was the village Dayin had escaped, just in the way she had left it. Tables were overthrown, houses smoking, the little noodleshop of Li had soup seeping out over the ground and smashed bowls outside. Everything was in the same state of mess.

Some wailed, others tried to salvage whatever was left, most sat dejected. The sight of it was repulsive, bringing back the same tenseness in Dayin's chest that she had been feeling for years.

She really had gotten off easy, it seemed.

"Hey," Dayin hissed as she quickly moved after her company. The female was limping away again, seemingly eager to escape, but Dayin wouldn't let that happen so easily.

Chasing after the other she grabbed the stranger by the arm, pulling her to an halt. "Where do you think you're going?" she questioned, eyeing the bleeding leg again. "You found a village, it is messy, but you should get patched up," the female continued.

Sliding her arm into the arm of the stranger Dayin gently guided her into the direction of civilisation. Whatever the female's problem was with people, or Dayin in particular would be figured out, so the merchant's daughter determined.

"Afterwards you can leave, if you despise me so much," Dayin pouted, keeping her chin pridefully up in the air. "At least give me your name, though" Dayin followed, a little dejected. She really couldn't force the other to stick around her, could she? If the stranger hated her company so much...
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