Chapter Twenty Two
The palace was in an uproar. The bannermen lined every possible space with their spears and pikes. Cannon men stood stiff like sentinels, bearing their dragon-headed weapons. They had them aimed at the approaching menace.
The eunuchs ushered all the women to a safe corner of the palace and had guards stationed to watch over them. They even barricaded the wooden doors with iron bars from the outside. There were crying and weeping amongst the women, the wails of infants and toddlers, and the servants nervously tittering away.
They actually laid out food and drink for the women. Xiao Xiao tried to stay as far away as she could from the cluster of gowned and powdered women. She stood next to the window, where at least she could see through the oiled paper.
She needed to get out of the chamber.
She needed to...
She needed to find Ming Zhu.
They all felt distant rumbling as if cannons had been fired. Some of the women screamed.
"Let us out," Xiao Xiao shouted at the guards. "Let us out!"
The guards remained unmoved, stoically facing away from the door.
The booming grew closer and closer.
There was a loud crash, of pillars falling down, before something monstrous and dark cast its shadow on the window. It was so vast that the chamber was instantly plunged into darkness, lit only by the candles and braziers.
A large paw, the claw tips shining wickedly, crushed the door as if it was paper. Women screamed louder and Mother shepherded them to the back of the chamber. She held her own jian, protecting herself and the women.
The paw clawed around, as if searching for prey.
"What are you doing?" Mother screamed as Xiao Xiao dashed out.
"I am going to save all of you."
She ducked out, evading the Nian's claw as it came swishing down at her like a scythe. The two guards were knocked out cold. Blood pooled beneath one of their heads. Xiao Xiao gritted her teeth and ran for her life.
The Nian lumbered after her, causing more destruction in its wake. Tiles fell. Pillars cracked. Its body and claws tore up the gardens, uprooting the cherry trees.
She gulped down the pearl... and became a dragon.
The dragon flung herself into the skies. The Nian roared and roared, swiping at her. Then she heard soft hissing, like falling rain.
They were firing at her, at the Nian.
An arrow flew too closely and sliced her shoulder. She faltered in her flight. She had to find Ming Zhu.
Ming Zhu, I need your help!
Another dragon exploded out of the sea.
Father, I need your help!
Daughter, where are you? The monster almost destroyed our land!
My sister... friend... needs my help. The Nian is destroying her land. Her palace!
Should we even be involved with the lives of mortals?
Stop, you might endanger yourself!
I am going, Father, I am going.
A sad sigh preceded his answer.
You are the only link to your mother. I cannot lose you.
Father, please believe me.
Chapter Twenty Three
The Sage From The Mountain
Thank you for reading Part 11 of Pearl of the Palace by Joyce Chng!
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