Days turned into nights, and spring gave way to summer.
In the blink of an eye, more than three years had gone by.
In a beautiful courtyard, purple-robed Xia Liuli sat before a stone table. Head resting in her hands, she admired the enchanting scenery, yet her expression was tinged with anxiety.
“Big sister, I’ve taken on human form!”
Suddenly, youthful laughter emanated from the courtyard. Xia Liuli turned to see a barefoot young woman clad in purple robes just like hers. The girl ran up to her, face overflowing with undisguised joy.
Seeing her, Xia Liuli smiled as well. “Little fox, you finally took on human shape.”
The young woman was the very same fox Xia Liuli had saved back then. In these past three years, the fox had always been by her side. Given her innate constitution, taking on human form should’ve been harder than ascending the heavens, but with techniques and pills of the dragon race supporting her, she’d managed to reach this step.
“Thank you so much for giving me this new life.” The young woman suddenly knelt to the ground in gratitude.
Xia Liuli helped her up with a laugh, then tousled her hair, saying, “This is your own accomplishment. It actually didn’t have much to do with me.”
“No, if it weren’t for you, I might’ve long since become some wealthy merchant’s pet,” she shook her head, heart filled with gratitude. If not for Xia Liuli… she didn’t even dare imagine what her future might’ve been like.
Xia Liuli smiled but didn’t speak. The former fox sat by her side and blinked.
Seeing Xia Liuli’s anxious expression, she couldn’t help but ask, “Big sister, is something the matter?”
Three years in the mortal realm had made Xia Liuli much more reserved. As the fox saw it, since arriving at King Zhou’s palace, her smiles had become increasingly infrequent.
“Are you worried about King Zhou?”
Xia Liuli nodded noncommittally. In accordance with her initial plans, she’d spent the past three years observing King Zhou, the so-called muddle-headed despot, to find out what he was really up to.
But after accompanying him for so long, she’d realized….
He was nothing like the rumors.
He had sufficient talent to govern the country well and had lofty aspirations and ideals. However, what did that matter in an area of chaos and political factions, where sycophants held real power? He alone wasn’t enough and had no way of displaying his talents.
In these past few years, King Zhou had come to her courtyard to vent on numerous occasions. She gradually understood his pain and deep-rooted bitterness.
Over time, he grew more and more discouraged. He started drinking and had become more distant and muddle-headed.
He increasingly gave power to his teachers, and sunk further and further into depravity.
When she thought of all this, Xia Liuli’s expression grew haggard. She wanted to help him fix everything, but she didn’t know where to start.
“Big sister,” whispered the fox, then laughed, eyes sparkling. “Big sister, can you think of a name for me? Can I be surnamed ‘Xia’ like you?”
“Oh yeah! You’ve taken on human form, but you don’t have a name yet,” she looked intently at the fox. “You don’t need to share my surname, though. Did any of your clan-ancestors have a surname?”
“Oh.” The young woman touched her lips thoughtfully, then said, “I seem to recall an elder telling me that our ancestor was surnamed ‘Xuan.’”
“Xuan?” Xia Liuli squinted thoughtfully. “Then let’s call you Xuan Ji! Xuan Ji sounds just like the word ‘providence.’ You have a knack for discerning fate’s mysteries, so I think this name suits you.”
“Great, then let’s go with that!” The young woman giggled in response.
Thump thump thump.
The sound of footsteps echoed through the courtyard, and before long a graceful woman with a perfect figure entered the courtyard, her gaze enchanting.
Seeing her, Xia Liuli bowed in respect, but the woman reached out and lifted her back up, saying, “The two of us are like sisters, there’s no need for such politeness.”
“Then, why has big sister come here….
“I’ve come to tell you to hurry and leave the imperial palace,” said Daji, expression anxious. “King Wu of Zhou has fought his way the imperial city. King Zhou sent me to tell you to hurry up and flee.”
“Then you and King Zhou……”
“King Zhou is unwilling to flee. He’s decided that his fate shall end here. As for me, I shall naturally stay beside him,” said Daji without the slightest hint of hesitation as she continued calmly. “I recognised him as my king, and so I shall accompany him for the rest of his life. If he is to die, I’ll naturally accompany him to the grave.”
Xia Liuli was stunned, but Daji took her hand and said, “I know you have feelings for him, and that he has feelings for you, too. But do you know why he’s never formally recognized them or granted you official status? It’s because he knew he was destined to die here and didn’t want to drag you under as well. Now hurry, take your little sister and flee this place. If you wait much longer, it might be too late.”
“Big Sister,” Xuan Ji walked over as well
Xia Liuli looked over Xuan Ji and bit her lip, then turned to Daji and said, “then… I’ll leave now.”
“Mm,” smiled Daji.
Xia Liuli reached out and took Xuan Ji’s hand, then transformed into a golden dragon and flew from the palace with a great roar.
King Zhou sat before the place, motionless. When he saw the golden dragon, he smiled briefly, then his face darkened again. He gripped his throne, gaze fierce, and watched the situation unfold.
The golden dragon landed before a wooden hut. Its courtyard was full of vibrant green bamboo.
Xuan Ji blinked, then examined her surroundings and said curiously, “Big sister, isn’t this where we...:”
“Right, this where we met for the first time. Back then, I’d actually been living here,” Xia Liuli said with a laugh, then took a circlet of bells from her wrist and tied it around Xuan Ji’s arm.
“You’ll live here from now on. The surrounding area has abundant natural resources, so you won’t want for food. These bells have accompanied me since birth, and contain my draconic energy and imposing might. If you wear them, beasts won’t dare attack you, and the draconic energy will slowly transform your constitution.”
Xia Liuli gave detailed instructions, almost as if making arrangements for a funeral.
“Big Sister,” said Xuan Ji, frowning and grabbing her arm. “Are you leaving? If you’re going to go look for King Zhou, I’ll come with you.”
“Silly girl, have you forgotten your dream? Didn’t you want to grow big and strong and protect your clan? You’ve already taken on human form, and with help from my draconic energy will soon grow even stronger. As long as you don’t do anything rash, you’ll easily reach the immortal level. At that time, no one will dare bully your clan anymore. You know that, right?”
“But you gave me everything I have. I want to follow you. Even if I die, I want to follow you.”
“Good girl,” she reached out and tapped her head. “Don’t say such depressing things. Your big sister is a dragon, a divine beast, and an immortal at that. I just want to go save King Zhou and Daji, how could I possibly let myself die?
“Go to sleep,” said Xia Liuli. She waved her hands, and Xuan Ji fell to the ground, fast asleep.
Xia Liuli sighed, then carried her inside and laid her onto the bed. She reached out, pinched her cheeks, then placed a barrier around the hut.
Once she’d double-checked and confirmed that there were no gaps in the seal, she let out a long breath, then looked toward the Shang Dynasty’s capital city.
“Wait for me, my poor, dear king!”