The Silver Chalice
Daiyu Xifeng (Black Jade Flourishing Phoenix)
Quick turn to the left.
Limbs moving in perfect concert, each movement graceful with not a single motion wasted. Color sparking along the length of the finest steel as it is thrust and swung in perfect arcs around and against an imaginary foe. Every breath controlled as a violet gaze darts for openings and opportunities against said foe. Magic, heavy in the air like a tangible force, is weaved and channeled through the sword, a masterpiece smithed by the finest artisans of the clan in the clouds above the mountains. The dance goes on for a while, quiet feet sliding across the floor, until it suddenly ends, the blade sheathed in one swift action. She fingered the carved black jade hilt reverently, giving silent thanks to its partnership with her. A slender-fingered hand reaches up to brush away tendrils of silvery-white hair away from a brow creased in thought. The willowy female paced towards the balcony of the practice room, lifting herself up and off the support in a smooth motion, one hand immediately finding purchase in a groove of rock as familiar to her as her own reflection. She climbed up quickly, lithely rising among the jagged stone until she found what she sought. Exhaling a soft sigh, she laid back on the roof of the building, relaxing under the soft light of the cloudy sky. As far as the eye could see, clouds wreathed the multiple stony spires of her beloved mountains. Dotted here and there were ornate rooftops that safeguarded the many buildings of her clan, each one separate and yet part of the mountains that housed them. Intricate carvings of dragons and phoenixes in flight flowed across the rooftops and down the multiple columns of each building, each one a work of art that even the Emperor would have been envious of.
A wry smile crossed her lips at the thought of the Emperor. While her clan was known for aiding the Emperors during many of the previous dynasties, Emperor Song Jian had never personally called upon them during his reign. However, their first audience had not been with the esteemed Emperor but his daughter, the Imperial Princess Oracle Song Meng instead. At first glance, the Oracle seemed soft, pampered, maybe even a bit spoiled though not in personality but more in surroundings. Their meeting with her had been shocking…and troubling. While she had her doubts, Lei-Hai had seemed to confirm the revelation Song Meng had given. ‘If it is so, then Chang-E must have given her insight into this matter. And since she has, I will dutifully follow the instructions of the princess.’ Her thoughts turned to the supplies needed for their journey and the route they would take. Part of her was excited and anxious for she had never left the borders of her beloved country before. ‘To see Sedarg, the City of Lights, so far away from my home…I am looking forward to it, but I wonder how long it will be before I will be able to come home to Hanzhou?’ She idly traced the outline of a passing cloud with an ebony fingertip, her gaze thoughtful. ‘I am surprised the clan has allowed Lei-Hai to leave. To have Chang-E’s chosen out in the open and unprotected…No, she is not unprotected. I will be there. No harm shall come to her, the other half of my soul. Surely, Chang-E has taken our bond into account.’ Even as she tried to reassure herself that everything would be fine, she could not help the frisson of trepidation that traveled down her spine. Sitting up, she took a long last look at the misty clouds, the mountains of the home she had known for all 70 years of her life, committing each detail to memory for the long days ahead. She smoothed a hand down her charcoal velvet cheongsam, the smooth silver threads of the embroidered phoenixes that chased across a comforting feel under her fingertips before standing up and making her way back down to the balcony below. She had a lot of packing to do for her journey and she needed to make sure her younger twin, Lei-Hai had also prepared. There was to be a banquet that night, a fitting send-off for the two sisters who would be journeying at the behest of the Imperial Princess, and then a final blessing from the Matriarch before they could sleep and journey forth the next day.
She entered her private rooms moments later, smiling at the comfortable atmosphere she had made for herself. She could hear the sounds of soft pattering feet in the adjoining suite of rooms, signifying Lei-Hai’s own preparations for their journey and was reassured at her sister’s dedication. Going towards her own pack, she began to place items into it carefully, situating clothing for fighting and for more social situations into it before placing items of necessity for the journey on top, including maps, a bundle of rope, a whetstone for her sword, Sheng-Li Feng (Victorious Phoenix), a bottle of oil and other items. Finally, casting her eyes around her room, she made her way to her dressing table and opened the ornately carved platinum box that sat prominently in the middle. Nestled in the folds of rich silk were myriad pieces of jewelry and hair ornaments, many of them in platinum, silver, black jade and pearl. Biting her lip, she chose several small pieces, her hands lingering on the delicate workmanship wistfully of those she replaced back into the box. She packed the chosen pieces into a large square of lush velvet, wrapping them protectively before laying her eyes on several bottles of carved ivory, jade, and crystal, each stoppered with a delicate flower carved from precious gems. She chose two bottles, again packing each into a square of velvet before turning from the table and placing the bundles into her pack. She smiled ruefully at having to leave her treasures behind, each one special to her and of the highest craftsmanship and artistry. Her sister laughingly called her a magpie, one who was attracted to beautiful things, though her attraction could be towards a singularly perfect bloom or the pure laugh of a child. She sat on her bed, removing the pins and combs from her hair to let the silvery mass fall, the locks tumbling to past her knees. Absently combing her fingers through it, she went over her mental checklist once more to make sure she had not forgotten anything of importance. The Imperial Princess had made it very clear that they were looking into something of vital importance to the Empire.
She felt honored to have been chosen, maybe almost as honored as she had felt when Chang-E had charged her with Lei-Hai’s safety. She smiled at the thought of her twin. Her sister bore her burden and responsibility strongly upon her shoulders. They were only 1 minute apart, but it had been enough to separate their birth days from the last day of fall to the first day of winter and the full moon no less. And Chang-E’s favor had become very apparent when the twins were cleaned off, each visage a perfect mirror copy of the others except for the iridescent blue tinge of Lei-Hai’s skin. The newest witch had been born. And she, Xifeng, had been chosen as her guardian, not a seasoned warrior or famed wizard, but her, a mere adolescent just at the beginning of her training. But Chang-E knew the bond between the twins was such that no other would protect Lei-Hai like Xifeng, no other would support her like her jie-jie (older sister), and no one else would want her to succeed as much as she would. Smiling wryly, she concluded that maybe this was exactly what was needed to test them on their worthiness. She looked forward to the challenge after all.