(Continued from The Demon of Thất Diệu Mountain)
Kim Điền was taken to the court wizard, a frail old man of wizened stature, but with eyes that pierced through one’s soul. She had only met him once before, but she knew who he was—the Royal High Wizard Cao Sơn. He looked at Kim Điền, and without saying a word, indicated with one finger. The soldiers pushed and shoved her into what turned out to be a large room with a tiny courtyard.
Scared and crying Kim Điền had no idea what was going to happen to her, but she could see it was not going to end well. Within a matter of minutes, her entire retinue of handmaidens had joined her in that room, and there they stayed.
Every day, wizard Cao Sơn would have two of his men come by and take one girl from the room. She did not know what happened to them because they never came back. Eight days later, eight girls had disappeared. On the ninth night, the old wizard himself came to the room.
Old man! What have you done to all my hand-maidens? Kim Điền cried.
The old wizard narrowed his eyes. I do what is demanded of me. No more. No less.
Lies! You are an evil man! She shrieked, throwing her silk fan at him. It bounced off his chest harmlessly. You are coming this time for me, aren’t you? I demand you take me to my handmaidens! She screamed. Her fear was palpable, but her anger was more intense. The maidens were more than just her personal servants. They were her allies and closest confidantes. They were like sisters to her, and she had no idea what had happened to them.
As you wish. The old wizard sighed. Closing his eyes, he snapped a finger. Immediately, two soldiers appeared from behind the wizard and quickly made their way towards the princess. Throwing her head back in defiance, Kim Điền snarled.
Don’t you dare touch me. I am a princess. I will come willingly. She snatched up the hems of her dress and marched with them, out of the room.
Within the courtyard, there was a carriage waiting patiently. Kim Điền got in without protest and off they went. After what seemed like hours, they stopped to give her something to eat and drink, and then they continued again.
She did not know where they were, but she could see that they were in the foothills. The path was rough, so it was slow going. Eventually, the way became so steep, they could go no further by carriage. She was made to continue on horseback, with the old man leading the way and the two soldiers following behind.
The day was growing longer as they headed into summer, but they had been traveling for the better part of the day. Dusk was starting to collect around the crags and vales of the mountain, transforming the mountain into a darker indigo. Still they continued the forced march up the mountain.
There was a quarter moon which gave enough light so that even though the mountain pass was dark, the horses were surefooted and needed no light to see. They continued until they reached an area where the road widened, she could see the large maw of a cavern.
They dismounted and the old wizard headed straight for the cave without looking back to see if she would follow. The two soldiers stood mutely, choosing to remain outside with the horses. She could tell they did not want to enter the cave, but she had no choice.
Kim Điền glanced at Cao Sơn‘s disappearing back and quickly moved towards the cave. If she did not hurry, she would lose sight of him. The mouth of the cave was coming closer. It was opening up to swallow her whole. Bolstering up all the courage she had, Kim Điền stepped into the darkness.
The cave was dark, but eventually, Kim Điền could see enough to know that it was a rather large cave. The wind rustled through the trees within the cavern, bringing with it a stench that she was all too familiar with. The stench of death.
The wizard lit a torch and the dancing lights bounced off the uneven sides of the cavern, causing shadows to dance around like mad. Kim Điền’s eyes grew large as she stared in disbelief at her surroundings. The cave was so large that trees grew high, reaching for an opening above, where she could see stars twinkling through. The night sky was chilled, but not cold. Within the cave, it was even quite warm. She turned back to the old wizard.
I smell blood. Where are my handmaidens?
Cao Sơn stared at her without saying a word.
Did you kill my handmaidens? She exhaled sharply.
The old wizard turned his back to her and repeated what he had said before. I do what is demanded of me. No more. No less.
Tell me what happened to my handmaidens. Kim Điền insisted, this time with quiet intensity.
He turned back to face her. They have been turned into protectors of the realm.
What? Her eyes grew round as saucers. What do you mean? How? Why???
The old wizard sighed. You need to know what happened within the last eight days you have been kept in isolation.
You imprisoned me. She snarled.
I kept you safe. There was a raid the day you and the others were placed in my care. The emperor has been slain.
No. You lie. She whispered.
He raised his hand. Allow me to show you. And reaching out with two fingers, he rested them gently at her temple.
Instantly, Kim Điền saw a scene unfolding around her. She saw men clashing against each other, hacking and fighting each other. Blood and gore was everywhere. She could hear the cries of the wounded, the gasps of the dying. She could smell the stench of torn guts and gaping wounds.
Her stomach revolted and she gagged, but old Cao Sơn was unrelenting. He kept his fingers on her forehead until she could no longer bear the sight of so much death. She saw her father, valiantly fighting till the end. When he died, she tried to shut her eyes, but still, the vision thundered on, unimpeded by such mortal things as eyelids.
She howled like a wounded animal, doubled over with pain. It was only then that Cao Sơn released his hold on her and her vision retracted, leaving her gasping for air.
Who do you see? Old Cao Sơn asked with quiet finality.
I see the person who killed my father. Who is he? Kim Điền snarled. She was beyond tears. There was nothing inside her but the burning hot desire for revenge.
He is Lord An Dương Vương. You are the only royal member left who can seek revenge—if you wish to.
Tell me what I must do. She said with finality.
Cao Sơn nodded. I want you to focus all your energy on the moment your father died. Focus on Lord An Dương Vương‘s face. You will need to remember who he is so that you may seek revenge.
Instantly, the hot searing pain came thundering back into her mind and she cried out, her anguish so intense she almost passed out.
Before she had a chance to say anything, Cao Sơn had grabbed her.
Kim Điền struggled. She could not breathe. He was suffocating her.
She struggled with all her might. But he was too strong.
Kim Điền saw spots before her eyes. She could not breathe…
And suddenly, she was free. Free and floating above her lifeless body…
(to be continued)