Oct 28, 2021 10:44 AM
witch queen hua cheng
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When Hong'er was a little girl, she fell off a wall, trying to get a better view of a festival. (Viewing the festival had not been her plan when first she climbed. But it was by the time she fell.)

The Crown Princess, Taizi Dianxia Xie Lian, wasn't even a 神女 yet, but she nearly flew across the square to catch a falling child, scruffy and irrelevant and homely and unworthy though she was. Dianxia waved off her attendants to make sure that nothing of a little girl was all right.

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A royal cousin unfit to even look at, let alone be related to, dianxia - joins the endless parade of abusers, and there again to play the rescuer is Xie Lian, gentle white magic soothing all Hong'er's hurts. It's worth the beating. It would be even if dianxia didn't take her up the hill to where she practices sword forms -

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- where she's promptly kicked out again, but that's not dianxia's fault.

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Hong'er's not welcome at home - well, even less welcome, she's never been especially welcome - and anyway she feels safer, better, curled up behind a statue of Taizi Dianxia Xie Lian, holding her flower and her sword, wrists wrapped in her magical ribbons, smiling beatifically out at the world while sheltering a little Hong'er behind her.

She won't eat the offerings. They're for dianxia, and Hong'er's not going to steal dianxia's things.

The parade of bullies picks up again, this time invading the peace of the shrine, and the statue can't do anything but look on -

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- but the real thing can.

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The assailants are whisked away, pulled off Hong'er aglow with white light, and she scolds them and sends them running, and kneels beside Hong'er - she shouldn't kneel, she's the princess -

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"- dianxia, this one is not worth such attention," murmurs Hong'er.

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"Don't be silly. You're hurt, and I can heal you. - you look hungry -" She pulls a bowl of fruit from the offerings, holds it out to Hong'er. There's a red umbrella in it, too, and paper money and incense.

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"- those are your offerings, dianxia!"

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"I don't need them. You do. If they're mine, I can give them to you." She presses the fruit bowl into Hong'er's lap. Runs her hands over bloodied lips and bruised ribs, healing as she goes. "If you don't eat, how will you live?"

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"Dianxia, is it so important that this one live? What for? I have - I have nothing and no one and I wish over and over for the strength to end it, every day is misery - what should I live for?"

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"If you have nothing else, live for me," says Xie Lian. "If you don't have anything else, I will be your reason. Will you live for me?"

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"As taizi dianxia wishes," murmurs Hong'er, and she eats the fruit, and Xie Lian leaves.

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War comes. Hong'er is thirteen years old and a girl, but thirteen year old girls are a force to be reckoned with. If you put them on the battlefield sometimes they pop up after an injury with enough power to wipe out a legion. They give her a sword and send her to fight Yong'an. Yong'an, which is pathetically ungrateful for everything dianxia has been working so hard to do for everyone. Dianxia is trying so hard, they say she never sleeps, and these assholes dump more problems in her lap? Hong'er is happy to kill them.

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All that and dianxia still has to hunt. Witches are attracted to battlefields, but fighting them still takes time away from the field, and they can't have her commanding them all the time.

Hong'er can see the entrances that dianxia goes through.

When she takes longer than usual to come out of one -

- Hong'er goes in.

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Hong'er has never been in a witch before but she's heard about them. This one is a jungle, hot and dense; fruits burst at the least provocation, dripping sickly-sweet juice, and flowers bend in phantom wind to turn their faces to Hong'er's while she bushwhacks through the understory. It stinks of a hundred perfumes. Her sword is soon sticky and encrusted with the guts of bug familiars - giant beetles, centipedes, ants and flies and wasps - and with sap and nectar and fruit sugar, dripping and dripping and dripping.

She has the umbrella dianxia gave her, and it's catching what tries to fall on her skin while she fights off the bugs one handed.

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Xie Lian, it transpires, went in without an umbrella.

She doesn't look too badly injured, but she's crumpled on the forest floor, shaking, while a flower, belled in a suggestive shape, like a woman's, leans over her.

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Hong'er runs over, beats the flower back with her sword. "Dianxia, dianxia are you all right -"

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"I, I, I, you should get out -" Her ribbon is snaking around her, scrubbing at her skin where witch juice has splattered her, but it doesn't seem to be helping. "Dangerous - you're not magical -"

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"Dianxia -" The flower monster approaches again and Hua Cheng flies at it. She kills more familiars while she's at it. They can't touch dianxia.

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"You should - you should leave. I'm - the sap -"

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"No! You could die here!" The witch is hard to keep up with, but she can do it. But if dianxia doesn't get up and hightail it out of the barrier soon Hong'er might run out of stamina and fail her. "You need to get out!"

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"I'm not sure I -" Xie Lian almost reaches for Hong'er. Does reach for her, then snatches her hand back. "- you could go get Feng Xin, tell her where I am -" Feng Xin's weapon is a bow, she'll be better able to navigate the dangers of the forest without getting anything on her.

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"You aren't able to stand! If I go for help you won't be here when it arrives!"

The flower is still circling them, going in for the kill and having to be swatted back. It's not that hard for a nonmagical thirteen year old with a sword, it must rely almost entirely on the poison - what is it doing to dianxia -

"Can you come out with me, if you lean on me -"

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"I don't think I'd better try.

Will you do me a favor?"

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"Anything."

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