1 The Demon King, betrayed

Demon King Yanlin had been betrayed.

"Your Majesty--" Xiao Yao's eyes went wide but he didn't give her the chance to finish before cleaving her head off her shoulders. It rolled the ground with wet noise, her body thudding as it fell over. A red stain pooled below her.

Why did he ever trust her? King Yanlin stared vacantly at Xiao Yao's headless body and sighed. Why did he trust anyone at all?

Xiao Yao wasn't his favorite consort but he did have a soft spot for her. Even now there was pity in his heart. And now that emotion was accompanied by a scorching gnaw in his blood.

Perhaps it was a good time to be lamenting his emotional weaknesses. But King Yanlin didn't have it in him to feel sadness or even anger. Only the blaring sting of disappointment.

The demon king sucked in a sharp breath and climbed to his feet, leaving behind the tea set Xiao Yao had prepared for him. The poison was sharp and corroding his body and even his cultivation. Not enough to kill him, but enough to weaken him to a startling extent.

He was certain it wasn't only Xiao Yao part of the plan. Gritting back the dizziness, he walked out of his private chambers. The hallways were empty. His guards had fled, abandoning him.

In the end, no matter how much King Yanlin tried to remain loyal to those close to him, they did not share even a sliver of those feelings.

Was it because they were demons? Yu Yanlin was tired and didn't feel like dwelling on it too much. He was already at the end of his line with no one remaining at his side. The only emotion he allowed to bubble past the pain was curiosity toward his would-be killer.

Yu Yanlin's room was a little far from the main hall and each step that he took allowed the poison to fester even deeper in his veins, his vision blurred at the edges.

The tall ceiling seemed to sway and red pillars against black and gold decor. It was hurting his eyes but he bit back the pain and continued.

The main hall was quiet in its greetings and the lofty black throne seemed too high and too far for him to drag his feet to. But even with mind-numbing pain eating through his body, King Yanlin retained his refined posture, tall and noble in death as he was in life.

He endured the knifing poison in his veins and ascended the steps to his throne.

Ah, this felt right.

Even if it was for the very last time. He closed his eyes to savor the moment, fingers curling over golden armrests.

Another set of footsteps echoed through the hall. When his eyes peeled open he saw a familiar face saunter through the entrance.

Somehow, King Yanlin wasn't surprised. He quelled the trembling said with a low and regal tone, "So it was you, Immortal of a Thousand Blossoms."

The Immortal of a Thousand Blossoms was always an interesting character to King Yanlin. His martial skills were decent as was his cultivation but his power was not nearly enough to even pose a threat to someone as terrifying as the demon king.

And yet, here he was.

Many have said that the sole striking feature of the Immortal of a Thousand Blossoms was his appearance.

Yu Yanlin wouldn't fault them for this assumption.

The Immortal of a Thousand Blossoms was tall in stature and had phoenix eyes with fanning lashes. No one would mistake him for a woman, for he was built strong with wide shoulders and lean muscles. His jawline was sharp and his fingers long and slender. But it wouldn't be wrong to call him beautiful either. The sole mar on his features would be the one mole that dotted the left corner of his lips. Though, this mole was probably King Yanlin's favorite feature on this immortal's face.

The beautiful immortal gave a gentle smile and bowed with clasped hands, "I'm super flattered you know about me, Your Majesty."

"Hm," the demon king hummed, "you have bested me to such an extent. It seems that all my generals and officials have turned their backs on me because of you. There is no need to be humble."

The Immortal of a Thousand Blossoms blinked, clearly a little taken aback by King Yanlin's calm demeanor. The demon king drank in his reaction as amusement. But the cultivator quickly composed himself and threw a casual shrug, "Maybe I just got lucky."

King Yanlin nodded in acknowledgment, "Perhaps." But he was also extremely impressed. After all, this Immortal of a Thousand Blossoms had no holy weapon and sacred power. He could barely fight on equal footings with one of the king's generals much less the king himself. "Either way, I commend you. You are bold, and cunning." His words were without even a sliver of sarcasm.

The cultivator's smile appeared a little strained. "Seriously, it's nothing special…" He added an awkward chuckle and scratched the back of his neck.

Really, this man was amusing. Anyone else would have been eager to mock him or spiral into a long self-boosting monologue. King Yanlin had grown tired of such personalities and he found the Immortal of a Thousand Blossoms to be like a breath of fresh air.

Even if he was about to be killed by this man.

But the demon king did not fear death. He had no anger nor sadness either. And even when he was suffering from pain gnawing away at his organs, he knew how to be a little playful, "Then defeating me is nothing special? I see."

"I meant no offense," the cultivator answered a little hastily before coughing, "But your subordinates were…well, you know." He seemed a little uncomfortable with continuing and eyed the demon king, observing his reaction.

Yu Yanlin was no fool and he understood the words unsaid. Really, he shouldn't be surprised that he was betrayed. He wasn't even that upset…or so he told himself. But he was going to die so he did not feel like fretting over annoying details. He should just relax now.

King Yanlin sighed, feeling the way the poison ate at his innards, cold sweat dripped down his brows.

The pain was white-hot.

"Say no more," but he still kept his voice calm. "I understand that I've been defeated and you are the victor here. But please, allow this pathetic king to beg for one final favor."

He almost expected the cultivator to refuse. But he counted himself as lucky when the Immortal of a Thousand Blossoms agreed, "Okay, but just this once."

A funny response. Of course, there would only ever be this once.

"Then I will ask for one final battle. Let my heart taste the thrill one last time."

There wasn't a moment of hesitance, "Sure, I can do that."

Below the biting agony there was a surge of excitement. A simple happiness bloomed that King Yanlin clung onto. It was all he had left.

It was the final spark that gave him life.

He sucked in a breath and rose from his throne, hand curling around his obsidian whip. Heiyushu crackled with power beneath his palm, black lightning flickering without control.

The Immortal of a Thousand Blossoms was known for his skill with a bow but here he drew a sparkling blade that King Yanlin had yet to see before. The silver glow of steel shined upon his face like moonlight's caress.

There were worse things to set eyes upon at death's door, King Yanlin thought absently. He flicked his wrist. Heiyushu roared and struck out like a viper as it met the cultivator's silver blade.

Battle thundered as their weapons clashed. Spells tore through the majestic main hall, scorching and tearing scars into murals. Heiyushu tore into the immortal's arm, his white robes dirtied with cuts and speckled blood.

And that shining blade scorched King Yanlin's flesh until his muscles twitched and faltered from pain and fatigue.

Their dance continued into the night until stars faded with twilight as dawn approached.

Fighting only made the poison worse, circulating it through each tiny vein, from King Yanlin's brain to the very tips of his toes. But he did not want the night to end. Did not want the humming excitement of battle to simmer and disappear.

But he was at his limit and his lungs stuttered to take in a breath. His body was so littered with cuts and injuries, he left a sorry mess of blood with each step. And with each moment that passed, the Immortal of a Thousand Blossom had an easier and easier time overtaking him.

It was frustrating. But fun.

An orange glow slipped through the east-facing windows. Dawn broke when King Yanlin sank to his knees, his body no longer able to summon the strength to stand. The pain was so bright and agony so wretched, his mind struggled to remain conscious.

The Immortal of a Thousand Blossoms stood in front of him, breath heaving and brows glistening with sweat. King Yanlin felt the cold edge of a sword at his neck.

He looked up, his vision was unfortunately blurry and he lamented how he couldn't see the immortal's face one last time. With the last of his strength he said, "It was a good fight."

The Immortal of a Thousand Blossoms flinched, but there was no way for King Yanlin to know that. His awareness was fast slipping. He only felt how the sword was raised and the dropping glow of its edge coming down.

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