To the south, the north, the west, I traveled freely. All the things I’d heard from the lost hikers, I got to experience. My sorrow over separating from my brother was great, but getting to see the world helped distract me.
What a wonderful world! The animals, the plants, the people, the places! So many things existed that I’d never seen, never heard. I loved every moment.
But eventually I came to the ocean. I’d never seen such a vast body of water and for a time I thought it was amazing. Until I tried crossing it. The moment I attempted it, I felt weak and ill, as if my power was draining from me. I’d never felt that way before, so I rushed back to the land.
Apparently my spirit was tied to the land, not just the mountain. If I left the land, I lost all power, and I’d die. Or at least that was my theory. I had no intention of testing it. I had a strong desire to live, after all.
After traveling every which way, I realized I was surrounded by ocean. I could not leave the land to explore other places. I knew the world was so much bigger than this, but I had no way to see it. I was trapped. Just like the mountain had trapped me, the ocean trapped me. I could never leave.
I sulked for quite a while when I realized I couldn’t travel the world like I’d hoped. While I was sulking, I settled in a large city. It was the biggest city humans had made yet, affluent and well connected. If I couldn’t travel, I could at least find a place that would let me experience the world vicariously. Human commerce was a wonderful thing.
By then, I’d gotten used to the evil in humanity. I still found evil repulsive, but the urge to destroy it had lessened significantly. I think this was partially because of my separation from the mountains but also my inability to stop the never ending evil that flowed from humanity’s heart. I became numb to it with time, which I still find very sad to this day.
Which is why I could live in that city. If you recall that army we repelled all those years ago? The ruler had created the very city I was in, though he’d long since died. He conquered many smaller tribes and countries around him, in his thirst for power, creating an Empire that spanned throughout the ages.
No one in that city could see me, and even the children struggled to see my fairies. I mourned most for the children. The evil infection was deep if it stripped even children of their innocence.
Even if I was numb to evil, I still helped good flourish where I could. A family here, a person there, where ever I was able, I encouraged people to do well, to treat each other kindly, to seek redemption. I did not think much of what I was doing, as they were only very small things and didn’t seem very impactful.
But I lived in that city a very long time. And as I said once before, good is more powerful than evil. Part of how evil survives is by lying about its strength and appeal. When people have experienced nothing but evil and then taste the pureness of good for the first time, the pull toward good is amplified significantly. My influence on the city was therefore amplified many times beyond what I’d ever anticipated.
Good began to return to that city. Children saw my fairies again. I was surprised by the shift, overjoyed. But when good comes in, evil fights back. There is no change without sacrifice. Evil makes sure of it.
During this time of moral upheaval, I met a little boy. He was very average in appearance, black hair and eyes, sharp eyebrows. But to my utter astonishment he could see me.
The story of this little boy is thus: his family was related to the Emperor. His father was the younger half-brother of the Crown Prince. A power struggle broke out among the princes and his father sided with the wrong person. The entire family was wiped out. It was cleverly done, a mixture of assassinations, poisoning, and a house fire that burned down their estate, leaving no evidence. To the outside world, it was simply a tragic series of events.
The little boy was called Fu Jing, meaning rich and quiet. Perhaps his parents hoped he’d be wealthy in quiet contemplation, which they probably needed since he was the youngest boy out of five rowdy brothers. I simply called him Jing, meaning spirit. After all, he could see me, a spirit.
Jing escaped death by living up to his name: he was a quiet little boy who sought quiet places. He’d been in a distant part of the estate, where few people bothered with, when the slaughter started. And, having explored every nook and cranny of the place, he’d squeezed through a crack in the estate walls to escape being murdered.
By the time I’d met him, he’d already been homeless for quite some time. Even he had forgotten how long. He was skinny, sickly, and surviving off garbage. He never stole food, or pick-pocketed money, or bullied other orphans for what they’d found. I thought it was a shame his family was dead, for they must have been good people to raise a child such as this.
Naturally I became very good friends with Jing.
I had quite a few connections in the city by then, even if the people I was connected to didn’t realize it. To feed him, cloth him, give him a roof over his head, were all very simple things for me to accomplish. To give him an advantage, I personally taught him. Not just in the general sense of educating a child, but also the secrets of the city that no one was supposed to know.
Knowledge is power, make no mistake. And Jing was a very clever little boy.
Though revenge was a common and accepted concept in his culture, Jing did not seek revenge. Rather, he sought justice. What he wanted was for what happened to him, to never happen again. He wanted rule of law to mean something, even to the Imperial Family.
Jing used my connections and secrets to grow very wealthy, very quickly.
The next thing he did was thoroughly absorb my teachings from the Blue Flower Mountain Sect, even improving upon them. Before he was twenty, he managed to be one of the richest, most physically powerful people in the city. Even I was amazed by how he turned his life around. Those with fairy-sight were, indeed, a type set apart from the rest.
But before all of that, at seventeen he joined the army. His intention was to rise through the ranks. It was the fastest way to get the Emperor’s attention and be taken seriously.
I could not follow him. Much of the fighting done on the Emperor’s behalf was nonsense, stemming from greed and pride. The evil in the army was particularly strong, even I couldn’t tolerate its stench.
Despite our many years as friends, he did not understand my objections. In the end, I told him that if he was going into the army, at least do me the favor of reforming it into something respectable. I might actually come by and visit if he did.
As with his commercial ventures, his success in the army was just as stunning. As a low ranking soldier, he cut a path of destruction. As he was given more responsibility, he lead the army to greater and greater victories. By the age of 22, he’d become a general.
He took my suggestion of reformation seriously. Everyone under his command was required to follow his “warrior code”. There was no more raping, pillaging, and selling off war victims into slavery. Meaningless torture and destruction of property was forbidden. They were there to win, not indulge in the most bestial desires of mankind.
Towns faced with invasion prayed that it was General Jing who came with the sword, for his style of conquering was counted as merciful. If a town surrendered and swore allegiance to the Emperor, he would let even the leadership live. All he required is they hand over their wealth, which he gave to the Emperor directly as proof of the town’s loyalty. If they chose to fight, he killed without hesitation, but it was swift and clean. Those who didn’t fight, children and women and the elderly, were allowed to live. By the time he was a General, towns were more likely to surrender than to fight.
As General Jing grew more and more famous, the Emperor grew more and more impressed. The money offered as tribute by the towns, which he never skimmed off of, was given back to him as a reward. Or at least a portion of it. By his third successful campaign at 26 years old the Emperor named him Commander of the Northern Fleet. He was the youngest soldier to ever be conferred such an honor.
Between his business success and his Commander’s wage, he became the richest man in the country outside the Imperial family. This allowed him to reward soldiers from his own wages when needed. When a soldier died, he covered the funeral cost personally and even made sure the widows and their children were well taken care of. Every commoner family in the Empire knew that serving under Commander Jing was almost guaranteed financial success. On top of that, because he promoted on merit rather than family and political ties, anyone could gain honor and be renown under him by simply working hard and showing their excellence.
The Emperor favored Commander Jing. Despite all his success and popularity, Commander Jing was a very straightforward person. He never lied, he never schemed, and if he disliked something he said so, even to the Emperor. Everyone knew where he stood on any given issue, and if they didn’t, all they had to do was ask.
Many found this highly disrespectful, but the Emperor was relieved. In his lifetime, whether it was his court, sons, or the military, he’d always had to deal with sly, ill intentioned people. It was a vicious, cold hearted world he’d lived in. Commander Jing was a breath of fresh air. The Emperor was reminded of his son, who’d died all those years ago. Commander Jing was much like him, and sometimes the Emperor even fancied that Commander Jing looked like him too.
Even though many years had passed, the Emperor still mourned the death of Jing’s father. He never discovered who’d murdered his son and his son’s family. He was not an ignorant ruler, he knew foul play had been involved. But none of his sons were willing to come forward, the most likely culprits, and his investigations lead to dead ends, or dead investigators. He’d been forced to put his search for the criminal on hold.
As for me, Jing never asked me to join him on his army missions after that first time. He realized as a foot soldier that, even if he could reform the military, war was cruel and ugly. He’d over-glorified being a warrior and a soldier and the reality was crushing. He would not let me be crushed under it. To him, I was a beautiful innocent flower to be protected.
I rather liked his image of me. So I never told him I’d slaughtered his ancestor’s army and soaked up the blood of his people in my soil without even a trace of remorse. I suspect even if I told him, he wouldn’t believe I’d done such a thing anyway.
As to the death of his family, I had not let that slide. It was difficult work, because the person ultimately behind it all was clever in hiding himself, but I dug out the truth in the end. The hardest part was finding proof. A lot of time had passed between then and now, so much of the evidence was either destroyed or long gone.
The murderer was the Crown Prince.
Just thinking about that man sends a chill down my back even to this day. There was not a spot of good left in him, he’d surrendered to evil. I will not even describe the kinds of things he did in private. There was no way I’d allow Jing to serve under someone like that. Absolutely no way.
When General Jing turned 29, the Emperor honored him with the title of First Prince. This was the highest title you could get in the nation without being a blood relation to the Imperial Family. And with it, the Emperor gave Jing several of the towns and a city he’d conquered in the Emperor’s name to govern. Jing ended up being more princely than most Imperial Princes, for they did not directly govern any lands. Instead the Imperial Princes, including that wretched Crown Prince, ruled through the Court.
The Emperor also tried to bestow a bride upon Jing through Imperial Edict, a daughter of one of his lower ranked concubines. This was actually a great honor, as she was still considered a Princess despite being concubine-born, but Jing flat out refused.
When the Imperial Edict got to that part, Jing actually ran over and covered the announcer’s mouth, preventing him from finishing. As long as Jing didn’t hear the entire thing, the Edict had not been delivered and could therefore be rescinded. (That was the law concerning Imperial Edicts at the time: once they were delivered, they were considered law and could not be overturned.)
Jing stole the Imperial Edict, the announcement having been first delivered to his house before going public, and broke into the palace to personally argue with the Emperor over it. The Emperor, thinking the Commander did not want a concubine’s daughter, he suggested other eligible single ladies.
The Emperor had been absolutely flummoxed when the Commander stubbornly refused them all. Seeing how angry Jing was getting by his insistence, the Emperor decided to just put the matter aside for now. After all, he was just trying to do something nice for Jing, a young man he viewed with fatherly affection. He then rescinded the original Edict and made the changes needed to suit his willful Commander.
Commander Jing did not marry that day, or any time soon after that. It should have been very obvious to me why at the time, but I really did not understand.
I understood the Concubine’s daughter, as Jing and her were basically family and marrying would be extremely awkward. But with the other women he did not have that excuse (for I’d followed him and listened to his conversation to the Emperor). I actually knew some of the women the Emperor was suggesting and they were sweet, gentle girls. They’d have made good wives for Jing.
When the rewritten Imperial Edict was made public, the Crown Prince was furious. His father had not bothered to get his opinion on the matter and had announced it without informing anyone in the Palace, not even the Empress. Everyone was shocked.
The favor he gave the Commander wasn’t just generous, it was borderline dangerous to the Crown Prince. The Emperor hadn’t officially declared anyone his suitable heir, and the Crown Prince only got the title by virtue of being the eldest son of the Empress. Things were still very uncertain. If a better candidate came along, the Crown Prince wholeheartedly believed his Imperial Father would name that person Crown Prince instead.
He immediately set out to kill the newly minted “First Prince” Jing. But he didn’t know I was there, my fairies and I spying on his every move. No matter what he or his assassins tried, they could not kill Jing. In fact, the Crown Prince’s personal stable of assassins took quite the hit, as Jing had no qualms about killing those who tried to kill him first.
Every failed attempt left evidence, and this evidence was sent to the Emperor on the sly. The Crown Prince became careless in his anger at the constant failures, making it more and more obvious he was directly involved. Even the Emperor could not deny it. And what’s more, the Emperor could see how the Crown Prince operated, and that many accidental or seemingly natural deaths in the past were likely caused by his own son.
He’d always known his son was a calculative person. The Emperor had never counted that against him, as being clever and sly was required to survive in the Court’s political climate. What he did not expect was that his son would be actively undermining his own authority. Because the people his son killed were not enemies of the Emperor; they were his friends, his loyal servants, those who supported him.
And, at the very end, he unearthed the worst truth of all: the Crown Prince had grown impatient with his father’s long life. Rather than risk having his title of ‘Crown Prince’ taken away, he’d decided to take matters into his own hands. He’d been slowly feeding the Emperor poison for over a year, in an attempt to weaken his body so that he’d catch an illness. The illness would then kill him, not the poison. It was ingenious, no one would know it was an unnatural death.
Everything else, the Emperor would have forgiven or glossed over. But his son seeking his own life, he could not forgive. He wept when he realized how he’d failed as a Father and a Ruler, that his own son would try to kill him.
The Emperor called First Prince Jing, all his sons, and the highest ranked Court officials together. No one knew, except for Commander Jing, why they’d been gathered on such short notice.
The Emperor announced the crimes of the Crown Prince, leaving nothing out, and stripped his son of his title and wealth. He’d intended on simply imprisoning his disgraced son, loving him even then, but after the Emperor told the Crown Prince that he’d lost his title, the former Prince went mad and actually tried to kill the Emperor right then and there. Royalty or not, such behavior was grounds for instant execution.
And that’s exactly what First Prince Jing did. He’d been standing at the base of the throne where the Emperor sat the entire time, his sword at his side, knowing perfectly well that the former Crown Prince would not tolerate such an outcome.
When the enraged man had come at the Emperor, Jing had stepped forward and pierced him right in the heart, killing him almost instantly. It was so fast, people were confused for a moment as to why or how there was blood on the disgraced Prince’s shirt.
Jing then turned to the stunned, grieving Emperor, and said: “Your Imperial Majesty may have forgotten me, but I have not forgotten you. I’m Shu Fu Jing, youngest son of Prince Shu Yu Rong, son of your Royal Highness. Today the killer of the Shu family, and many others, has been brought to justice. For not revealing this truth sooner, I can only beg your forgiveness and mercy.”
He then got on his hands and knees and bowed until his forehead touched the floor.
At that point, I felt sorry for the Emperor. He’d not only lost his son’s heart, he also lost his life. And while discovering his grandson was alive, the news couldn’t have come at a worse time. The old man could not organize his thoughts. It was clear he was in shock. In the end, he kept to his original announcement and then said he’d deal with First Prince Jing some other day.
Indeed, he dealt with Jing. He was not a stupid man, simply soft hearted in the wrong areas. Where his son used assassins and poison to get his way, Jing worked out in the open. If diplomacy did not work, he’d resort to brute force. But at least it was very easy to tell where you stood with him.
And yet despite being such a forthright personality, he easily dealt with the trickery of the Crown Prince. This meant he would deal honestly with people while at the same time being able to avoid schemes and traps of his enemies. None of his other sons were that strong, mentally or physically.
The Emperor did something unheard of at the time: He skipped over his own sons and made Fu Jing the Crown Prince. Announcing right after that, within five years time, he would be transitioning the throne to Fu Jing and then retiring.
This all happened within a week, rocking the nation.
The Emperor’s other sons did not like the news, but didn’t dare do anything about it. If Fu Jing could so handedly deal with the slyest, cruelest of them, what hope did the rest of them have? They did not want to lose their positions, so they sensibly decided that currying favor was the wiser option.
Crown Prince Fu Jing wasn’t moved by the honor he’d received. Even as a Commander, he’d always been a little uncomfortable having the lives of so many depend on him. He would have preferred to be a businessman, and leave the bigger things to someone else. But since he sought justice, not vengeance, he would accept the job graciously.
When he ruled, there would be no more nonsense like what had led to the demise of his family. He would make sure of it.