In Chapter 9, Wang Huan really starts to come into her own in the Heavenly Realms. And, Xi Yang decides that instead of incinerating all the heavenly trees, perhaps he should incinerate something else......
Chapter 9: Challenge
Yao Feng had been sent to the Heavenly Empress' palace by Crown Prince Sun to deliver a present - a box of Blue Hydrangea tea leaves Xi Yang had gotten from the Mortal Realms. Xi Yang had informed the Jade Emperor upon his return that after eliminating the wild beasts from the Eastern Regions, he had made a short stop in the Mortal Realms before returning to the Heavenly Realms.
Xi Yang had actually wanted to visit his mother and personally pass the gift himself, but the Heavenly Empress had sent a messenger to Crown Prince Sun's palace upon his return and informed him that he was not allowed to go to her palace because she had heard how his bad temper was causing the heavenly trees to incinerate to ashes. Xi Yang knew his mother, being a camellia flower sprite, had a strong affinity with plants, and did not question such a strange order.
Little did Xi Yang know that his mother did not want him coming to her palace because she did not want him to meet the Royal Princess Wang Huan. And, little did the Heavenly Empress know, Xi Yang's trusty lieutenant, Yao Feng, would pass the group of goddesses exiting the Heavenly Empress' palace while he was leaving and heard them gleefully discuss how Yi Mei would give the Royal Princess Wang Huan her "just desserts".
So, by a strange confluence of coincidences, Yao Feng had met Wang Huan. And, she was now before him, her eyes looking straight into Yao Feng, her heart beating furiously in her chest, "Do you know Ri?"
It was only then that it hit Yao Feng that Xi Yang must have had a reason for not revealing his real name to Wang Huan. So, Yao Feng smiled, "Yes, I do. I belong to Crown Prince Sun's personal elite army, and so does Ri."
Yao Feng watched curiously as Wang Huan's face fell slightly, as if it confirmed something that she rather not know.
Yao Feng heard footsteps from afar and decided that he had best made his exit since it was not proper for a male god to stay at the Heavenly Empress' palace without the Heavenly Empress' permission.
"You can find me at Crown Prince Sun's palace," Yao Feng said hastily as he made a swift exit.
So, that was how the Heavenly Empress found Wang Huan when she returned. Sitting alone in the room, in the midst of her own deep thoughts.
"Wang Huan?" The Heavenly Empress asked concernedly and her question jotted Wang Huan's consciousness back.
The Heavenly Empress signalled for her personal maidservants to leave the room and they closed the door behind them. The Heavenly Empress sat down next to Wang Huan and smiled kindly, "I hope the goddesses were not too much of a rude shock."
Wang Huan shook her head, "I understand your Highness' intentions. Yi Mei has also explained it to me."
"It is the burden of the Crown," The Heavenly Empress pressed her hand onto Wang Huan's palm.
Wang Huan liked the Heavenly Empress the moment she met her, it was hard not to - the Heavenly Empress had a natural soft comforting presence like the warm clean aroma of a bright summer's day. She could not help wanting to be liked by the Heavenly Empress too, but a part of her couldn't help thinking that the Heavenly Empress was misplacing her hopes and expectations in the wrong girl. A girl who had no intentions of loving the Crown Prince.
"I'm afraid I will disappoint your Highness," Wang Huan bowed her head down, "If I could be quite frank, I have no talents. I am just a princess in name who lives at the edge of the Dark Realms."
The Heavenly Empress laughed, "When I was young, Wang Huan, I was but a mere camellia flower, so low, so low, that anyone could stomp on me."
"Wang Huan, our titles are what people call us, but they are not what we are," The Heavenly Empress gave a reassuring squeeze to Wang Huan's hand.
Before Wang Huan could respond, a maidservant knocked on the door. The Heavenly Empress voiced her approval for the maidservant to enter.
"Your Highness, bad news! Bad news! I heard from the guards that the Prosperity God has gone to complain to the Jade Emperor claiming the Royal Princess Wang Huan had practised dark magic on his daughter, Jin Mei!"
The Heavenly Empress' eyes had a faint ripple. This time, Wang Huan gently gripped the Heavenly Empress' hand, "If this is what I must bear, then let me face it head on."
As Yao Feng returned to Crown Prince Sun's palace, he could not help smiling to himself. He imagined how Xi Yang would react when he told Xi Yang the news about the Royal Princess Wang Huan. Yao Feng momentarily paused as he thought, could Xi Yang's recent dark mood be caused by Princess Wang Huan's sudden disappearance from the Mortal Realms? Yao Feng started to laugh.
But Yao Feng choked back on his laughter when he saw the extremely ominous expression on Xi Yang's face when Yao Feng reported to Xi Yang's study. Yao Feng saw that Xi Yang had just finished the report he prepared on the Spider Demon Tribe. Yao Feng guessed that Xi Yang was not pleased to learn that Yan Zun (严尊 - yan means stern and zun means top) , the son of the Leader of the Spider Demon Tribe, was said to be the Royal Princess Wang Huan's childhood love.
Seeing Xi Yang's stern expression, Yao Feng did not dare to make his usual teasing jibes.
Xi Yang cleared his throat and ordered, "Yao Feng, follow me." With that, Xi Yang stormed out of his room and Yao Feng could only confusedly follow him.
When the Heavenly Empress and Wang Huan arrived at the official hall of the Jade Emperor, there were several important gods and goddesses already present. Everyone bowed towards the Heavenly Empress when she arrived and she signalled for Wang Huan to follow behind her.
The Heavenly Empress naturally went up the raised podium and sat at the accompanying throne next to the Jade Emperor. She ordered for a special chair to be placed for Wang Huan at her side.
Wang Huan's heart was in her mouth the whole time but she tried her best to hide any nervousness and to only show a dignified expression. When she sat down, the Jade Emperor's eyes flickered towards her and Wang Huan thought she saw a sympathetic expression.
But quickly, that look of sympathy disappeared and was replaced with an austere mask with commanding eyes. In that moment, Wang Huan thought that the Heavenly Emperor's expression looked familiar but she could not explain why.
Wang Huan saw Jin Mei, sobbed next to her father, a white-haired plump god dressed in ruby red robes with gold trimmings, "Justice, your Highness, I only ask for justice."
The Prosperity God patted his daughter's head lovingly and Wang Huan was reminded of the fact that she was here in the Heavenly Realms - alone.
The Jade Emperor turned to Wang Huan, "The Prosperity God has reported a complaint that you have practised dark magic on his daughter, Jin Mei. Is this true?"
Wang Huan's eyes fell on Jin Mei's face - the slap had left red markings on her cheek which was turning bluish-black. She nodded calmly, "It is true."
There was a shock murmur reverberating in the gods and goddesses below.
Jin Mei lifted up her eyes at that moment, a victorious look glinted quickly in her eyes.
"Do you have any explanation for it?" The Jade Emperor asked in a cool serious tone.
"She deserved it," Wang Huan answered. "She insulted my mother."
The Prosperity God huffed, "Barbaric!"
"If you call me barbaric, I can easily call the Heavenly Realms barbaric too - is this the way to welcome your guests? To insult them at first sight?" Wang Huan said calmly. She had never felt so calm - as if she was finally released from her bonds.
The Prosperity God was about to snark back when the Jade Emperor raised his hand. "Both parties are in the wrong. Let them each apologise for what they did and that will be the end of this matter."
Jin Mei gave a startled look to the Jade Emperor and the words flew out of her mouth before the Prosperity God could stop her, "But, she is not deserving to be the Crown Prince's fiancee!"
Wang Huan got up from her chair and bowed down towards the Jade Emperor, "I will not apologise for punishing her for speaking ill of my mother. But, as to whether I deserve to be the Crown Prince's fiancee, I ask to resolve this, your Highness."
"You may speak what you have in mind," The Jade Emperor nodded.
"Only one person can rightfully decide whether I am deserving or not," Wang Huan said, "And that is Crown Prince Sun himself. Your Highness, I have no talent. Honestly, I am not interested in training myself in the fine arts of the Heavenly Realms - even if I want to learn, I want to learn for pleasure and not for any kind of mastery so as to become the Heavenly Empress. I can only be myself. From birth to now, my one passion is food. You can call me a glutton, I am from the Greed Tribe afterall. If I should rise or fall, let it be through my one chosen skill. Let all the goddesses who are interested in Crown Prince Sun take part - we shall all cook a dish, and whose dish the Crown Prince chooses can marry him."
Wang Huan could hear the goddesses exchange excited whispers.
The Heavenly Empress gave a surprised look at Wang Huan, and Wang Huan returned with a confident smile. In that moment, the Heavenly Empress thought Wang Huan was an amazing cook, but in truth, Wang Huan could care less whether Crown Prince Sun chose her or not. In her mind, this was an ideal exit to a difficult situation.
The Heavenly Empress smiled at the Jade Emperor, "Perhaps this is best."
The Jade Emperor paused for a moment then nodded, "A royal engagement is a royal engagement. Wang Huan should not lose her status as the royal fiancee so simply. But, whoever wins the challenge, will win the right to challenge Wang Huan directly for her position."
His eyes swept the crowd below coolly, "But, only the person who wins. All else will no longer have a right to dispute Wang Huan's status."
While all the goddesses in the Heavenly Realms were excitedly planning on how to win Crown Prince Sun's heart through his stomach, this very prince was exasperatedly finding a certain lost Princess in the Dark Realms.
Yao Feng cast a worried look at Xi Yang's extremely dark expression at the empty courtyard. Yao Feng's heart had sunk when he realised that Xi Yang was heading to the Royal Princess Wang Huan's courtyard in the Dark Realms. He did not know if he should tell Xi Yang that the Royal Princess Wang Huan was no longer in the dark realms......
There was no sign of anyone living in the courtyard for quite a while. Yao Feng silently gulped to himself, then a thought struck him, why not let someone else be the bearer of the bad news. Before Xi Yang could cause any destruction from his hostile aura, Yao Feng tentatively voiced a suggestion, "Your Highness, how about we find the Royal Princess Wang Huan's brother, Prince An Hun, to ascertain her whereabouts?"
"Do you know where Prince An Hun lives?" Xi Yang cast an examining glance at Yao Feng.
Yao Feng nodded eagerly, "I know the Dark Realms very well after all the research. Your Highness, please follow me."
When An Hun heard that he had visitors from the Heavenly Realms, the tips of his mouth unconsciously rose up. Could it be Crown Prince Sun?
An Hun paused in the midst of his practice with a spear and informed the servant to bring the vistors in.
The moment An Hun's eyes fell upon the tall regal figure in dark grey robes with a royal yellow sash, he knew that this was Crown Prince Sun.
"What gives me the honour of having Crown Prince Sun call on me?" An Hun asked, a playful smile on his lips.
If Xi Yang was surprised that An Hun recognised him, his face did not reveal it. He nodded formally, "Prince An Hun, I pay a visit to seek an audience with your sister, Royal Princess Wang Huan."
An Hun's hid a chuckle, so he doesn't know that Wang Huan is in the Heavenly Realms?
"Sure, but beat me first," An Hun said casually as he threw a spear towards Xi Yang.
Xi Yang caught the spear in his grip easily.
An Hun grinned, "I can't let someone weak marry my sister." An Hun gave several vicious thrusts towards Xi Yang, who easily fended them off.
"Then, I ask for your forgiveness in advance," Xi Yang said and returned a swift strong attack.
After ten lightning quick exchanges, An Hun assessed that Xi Yang was of similar capability as him with the spear. So, there was only one way.
An Hun asked, "Why do you want to see my sister?"
Xi Yang responded, "Nothing that you would be interested in."
An Hun sighed, "Well, that is a waste considering my sister is in a critical state of unconsciousness."
In that moment of distraction when Xi Yang was startled, An Hun quickly forced the edge of his spear to Xi Yang's throat, "Checkmate."
"You have a weakness," An Hun announced boldly to Xi Yang, then he smiled, "But I like your weakness."
An Hun stepped back and put down his spear, "My sister isn't injured or sick, but she isn't at the Dark Realms. She is currently in the Heavenly Realms at the invitation of the Heavenly Empress."
At this, Xi Yang also placed his spear down and gave a formal nod to An Hun, "Thank you for this information. I shall now make my leave."
Xi Yang quickly left An Hun's palace. When Xi Yang and Yao Feng were on the traveling cloud back to the Heavenly Realms, Xi Yang calmly said to Yao Feng, "You knew Wang Huan was already in the Heavenly Realms, didn't you?"
Yao Feng shrank back in shock, "What do you mean, your Highness?"
Xi Yang waved his hand, "You don't need to pretend. I did find it slightly strange when I did not hear any of your usual glib comments on the way..."
Xi Yang turned his eyes away, "Arrange for Wang Huan to meet me tonight... as Ri."
In the last few days, Yue's words had been ringing in his head, "Pleasant or otherwise, the fact that your heart feels troubled is because she is already in your heart."
Xi Yang decided that if there is anything in his heart, he will root it out once and for all.
He wanted to meet her. He wanted to talk to her.
Comments: Whew! *Wipes sweat off brow* I don't actually enjoy writing about palace politics and I don't think writing about such politics is my strong point either haha. But, I have written my own take on it. I like Wang Huan's attitude - she sees little point in being re-made into the ideal Heavenly Empress with Yi Mei's help. It is not that she is not appreciative of the Heavenly Empress' efforts, but I think she realises that the burden of the Crown is only worthwhile if there is a counterveiling desire for the Crown. I can see Wang Huan slowly coming into her own - gaining confidence in her own strengths and personality. She could care less whether Crown Prince Sun chooses her dish, but she would rather fight the battle on a platform of her own choosing.
In the other corner, we have Xi Yang being frustrated that things are not going his own way, people are running out of his own control. I can see him fighting to death any admission that he could possibly be interested in Wang Huan, but I think slowly but surely he is trying to figure out what exactly is the problem of Wang Huan to him.