1: The Curse of Tu Bei Tu (推背图)
“Before we proceed, is there something I need to know?
“殺雞儆猴。 Kill a chicken to scare the monkey.”
A thousand years ago, Emperor Yang of the Sui Dynasty incurred the wrath of Olympus for wiping out the Lui half-blood village. While the clan was favored, the hubris of some members caused Zeus to permit their destruction. However, in honor of the virtuous souls, Zeus, through the sons of Apollo and of Mnemosyne, commissioned the “Tu Bei Tu,” a book of 60 prophecies - a better name for curses. As the introductory poem declared, each page was to be fulfilled by a half-blood until the end of China. Thus, every century, the Fates would select a tribute for the soul of the prophecy carrier.
Page 36: the tree of life is stabbed with a white flag. its leaves are dark, dying.
The next curse must be a child of a keres, or a goddess of violent death, and of all the fucked-up candidates, the Fates chose Yi-Xiang, son of Akhlys.
2: Noble Consort Xiao
“Can you tell me about your parents?
“士为知己者死，女为悦己者容。Soldiers die for their confidants. Women dress for their lovers. Life is laid for those who appreciate you.”
The Forbidden City is a jungle, and only the cunning and the powerful survive. Abandoned at birth, Consort Xiao was neither. Instead, she was akin to a jasmine flower — fragrant, pale, and elegant. Moreover, as the hidden spawn of Hades and Persephone’s favorite flower nymph, Xiao was left on the steps of a Buddhist temple. There, she was adopted by an imperial guard, and taken into the outer palace. At the right age, she was to return as another imperial maid.
Yet, as Xiao grew, so did her beauty and reputation. Rumors and praises spread across the outer palace. Some claimed her innocent, content demeanor caused other flowers to turn away in shame. She was, others claimed, the reincarnation of Yang Gui-Fei, one of the 4 legendary beauties of China. Naturally, the 14-year old was scouted into the imperial harem.
As tradition, a painter was to draw the woman’s likeness and submit the portrait to the emperor, where he will then rank the future consorts of the harem. Being of low birth, Xiao was unable to bribe the painter like her competition. Thus, she was drawn as the ugliest. Two years passed, and Xiao was unable to win the emperor’s favor.
One Spring night, her fate changed. Xiao, like the rest of the imperial wives, wrote her wishes in a paper lantern and sent it floating into the pond. The DaoGuang Emperor, who was returning to rest, asked a eunuch to pick up the boats. He, however, failed to pick up Xiao’s. Instead, the goddess Akhlys, who was in China to spread the 1817 - 1824 cholera pandemic, flew across the pond and peeked at a few lantern wishes. While most answers were generic, such as hoping to win the emperor’s favor, Xiao’s lantern wrote nothing but her name — an act that bewildered the goddess.
That same night, Xiao could not sleep. She felt oddly dark, queasy, and depressed. To clear her mind, she headed towards the royal gardens. Akhlys then appeared to her as a princess and mentioned Xiao’s blank lantern. In reply, Xiao explained about her contentment in life. The goddess bluffed. All mortals were greedy. Xiao again insisted, but the goddess pushed. In a stalemate, Xiao confessed: “If ever, it is my parents who have to be recognized.”
Such an answer sent the goddess in disbelief. How could a consort carry so much pureness and filial piety? It must be fake - like all the women in the king’s harem. Frustrated, the goddess devised a plan. No one sat well with power, so let it be so.
Once the goddess left Xiao, she unclothed herself and teasingly danced across the sleepless emperor’s path. The emperor, smitten by the sight of a naked woman, followed Akhlys into the royal gardens, where all his lust disappeared at the sound of Xiao playing the Chinese zither (古箏). Slowly but surely, he laid on a nearby platform and fell asleep to the beautiful tune.
The next day, Xiao was summoned into the emperor’s night chamber. He was 26 years her senior. The emperor was star-struck by her beauty. It was heavens far from her ugly portrait. He must punish the painter, but the man’s decapitation order could wait until day break. Hastily, the emperor sought to bed Xiao, and he did. Every night, Xiao visited him, told him stories of the poor, and played her zither. She became his favorite consort for the next five years and bore him three daughters. From a meek guiren, she was promoted to noble consort, the third highest rank in the imperial harem, and given the palace of Eternal Spring as her own.
Alas, beauty and the emperor’s favor were curses in the harem. In those five years, Xiao received many tribulations. The empress, saturated in jealousy, coated the threads of her gift for Xiao in arsenic, causing the miscarriage of her first son. No one dared to speak up. Moreover, ministers of the palace vetoed the idea of elevating Xiao to imperial consort - the rank next to empress. She bore him no sons in five years. The disappointment then forced the emperor to bed other women - such as his empress. The emperor, however, did keep Xiao close as his musician and bedded her twice a year on the night of the full moon, the most sacred night for child bearing.
In early 1823, Ahklys completed her mission and decided to visit her little toy. Shocked about Xiao’s never-ending benevolence, Ahklys secretly fell in love with her. Xiao triggered Akhlys to protect her for the rest of her short life. She visited Xiao nightly in her dreams, becoming such a habit that the consort was deemed as “the over-sleeping flower.” In the place where only they knew, the two travelled around the world, which was only a wish for a king’s woman, and basked in each other's different philosophies.
A year passed, and the goddess confessed her love for Xiao. The consort, despite pressures from her Confucian beliefs, reciprocated. After all, Akhlys was the only one who truly loved Xiao. For her, the consort was ready to lay her life. Thrilled, Akhlys blessed Xiao with their child on the night of the full moon and introduced her to the Greek world. The consort, being protected by the goddess and her half-blood father, was struck by the revelation - but in a good way. She promised to be stronger in preparation for their beloved son, learning to fight and read Western books. The couple became life-long lovers.
However, carrying the next emperor was not easy. In her late trimester, Xiao was again the target of the empress’ jealousy. With a son, Xiao could potentially usurp her position. Thus, a maid was hired to slip hemlock into Xiao’s food. Xiao’s throat burned, and she vomited her meal. Luckily, her unborn son, upon the touch of his mother’s womb, was able to absorb all the toxins and save his mother’s life (supplementary #2). Since Xiao and Xiang were medically normal, no scribe could prove such happenings. However, tired of her schemes, Akhlys would end up poisoning the wretched empress in 1833.
On the bright side, ever since that day, the goddess became grateful to Xiang's existence. Both mothers knew their son would be the greatest gift a mother could receive: a reminder of their love.
3: A Mother's Love
“How was your childhood?
“世上只有妈妈好。In the world, only mother is good.”
In 1824, a baby boy was born. Years after no male heirs, such was a momentous event for the DaoGuang emperor. He quickly bestowed his son with the title: Crown Prince “奕香 (Yi-Xiang),” or abundant & fragrant, of the first Rank. The emperor would also gift Xiang with golden rings containing the imperial seal, which Akhlys would then modify to contain Xiang’s swords.
Born with a silver spoon, the son of Akhlys grew up in luxury and awareness of the Greek world. His mother received many gifts from traders in the flourishing Qing dynasty. Thus, Xiang had early access to Western books and trinkets. The family would mainly bond in their dreams. Sometimes, by the request of Akhlys, other curious gods would even be special guests, especially Mnemosyne and Eris. Despite his royal status, Xiang was instructed to avoid people from other palaces. He was to remain hidden behind the walls of the Eternal Spring Palace, while his father left them alone so as to not stir unwanted jealousy.
Throughout his childhood, the boy was asleep more than he was awake. Yet, whenever his teachers would scold him, he could cite the Confucian anelects so perfectly that it baffled the scribes. Out of the six Confucian arts (六藝), he excelled in philosophy, charioteering, and eventually, archery. He was not as interested in calligraphy, music, and mathematics. If anything, Xiang was shrewd. Prior to excelling in archery, he would coat his arrow heads in poison, which allowed him to maneuver it towards the bullseye. With his skill combination hailed as the promise of Qing, Xiang easily became his father’s favorite child.
At age 9, Xiang encountered his first monster attack. After his charioteering class, the young prince wanted to reward his horse in the stables. Suddenly, the shed beside his horse started to rattle. Fire leaked out, causing panic amongst the other horses and burning a significant section of the stables. With his quick thinking, Xiang mounted his horse and gave the monster a chase. He, being aware of the palace’s terrain, guided the fire-breathing horse towards the Golden Water river and shot a needle of upas-coated celestial bronze. The poisoned needle pierced through the horse and disintegrated it. Ever since then, Xiang never visited the stables alone - in fear of all horses apart from his own.
At age 11, the boy was challenged to a test of wits. Every last of Spring, the imperial family was to gather in the Eastern Palace. Hearing about his son’s academic progress, the Daoguang emperor wanted to test Xiang in the audience of the harem. Imitating a test in the Zhou dynasty, the Daoguang emperor asked Xiang to pick the most beautiful tree in the garden. The chosen tree would hang their wish plaques.
Prideful and determined, the boy forgot his mothers’ teachings and sought to win. Initially, Xiang wanted to burn the other trees to secure his victory, but he found his match, a tall but twisted Chinese wisteria. Upon sight of the old tree, a consort scoffed, “How can that be the most beautiful tree of the garden? Look! Its leaves are bitten by caterpillars! It’s trunk is infested with holes from woodpeckers. You might as well school a horse, at least it could pull carriages.”
Angered, the emperor demanded Xiang to disclose his reasons. To which, Xiang calmly replied, “Your highness, the most beautiful is one that blooms in adversity, because it represents the most human of virtues. This wisteria has served in the imperial garden for hundreds of years. It has given shelter to birds, pollen to bees, and food to caterpillars. This tree represents the foundation of the great Qing - those that sacrifice themselves for a greater good: the soldiers, the eunuchs, the mothers, the healers, and also your majesty. Working tirelessly, this selfless foundation is what your majesty sought to protect day and night. Thus, if this is not the most beautiful of them all, then why does his majesty still lose sleep?”
The garden was left in silence. Immediately, the proud emperor summoned a eunuch to make a declaration. From here on forth, his name was to be changed from Xiang 香 (fragrant) to Xiang 翔 (soar). Such an act reignited animosity, and all of the harem wanted the heads of Xiang and Imperial Consort Xiao. A year later, they would have their chance - when Xiang was forced to accompany the emperor in the outskirts of Beijing.
Back in the imperial palace, the new Empress Xiaoquancheng’s three sons were contenders to the throne. With her health also depleting, she wanted to secure the throne. Thus, the empress summoned Xiao into her chambers with a proposal and bowl of arsenic in front of her. The empress’ family was powerful, and she threatened to send Xiao’s elderly father into war and murder Xiang for the throne. If Xiao were to accept her fate, her family would be sheltered against the empress’ wrath.
Safety was more important than truth, or so Xiao thought. The goddess Akhlys had done enough for them, and the humble Xiao wanted to accept her fate and pass on. Trauma, as the Chinese twistedly believed, made children stronger. Her spirit wished for nothing more than peace. Thus, for the sake of her parents and child, Xiao drank the bowl in the comforts of her palace. With the last of her strength, she held her lover’s hand and smiled into her eyes. She whispered, “You and Xiang are the best blessings heaven can ever offer... Let us meet again… in my next life.”
Minutes later, a gruesome wail was heard throughout the night. Anyone who heard her song was struck with indescribable grief. In history, Xiao became another consort who committed suicide from loneliness. She was given a spot in the Mu Mausoleum, where the emperor would also be buried, and 10 days of mourning. Little did she know, she would inspire Xiang, being one that sacrificed her life for another.
“What were the turning points in your life?
4: The Gift of the Gods
“塞翁失马。Not all bad comes to cause harm.”
In the summer of 1836, the emperor began to feel the presence of British poison. The emperor received letters from Lin ZeXu, the virtuous statesman of Themis from Fuzhou. The reports included the British agenda in hiring smugglers to poison the people of China. Throwing away their conscience, these men sold their country for a quick bag of gold. Afterwards, they built underground networks and opium dens, while corrupt officials turned a blind eye once bribed.
For any royal, state affairs came first. Instead of travelling with his sons to the palace in Jilin, where falconry was best practiced, the emperor headed towards Tainjin and told his sons - except Xiang - to return to the Forbidden City. At this point, Xiang remained unaware of his mother’s demise, and his mother Akhlys did not want to ruin his first and only trip with his father.
In the carriage, the emperor revealed his worries about the drug reeking into the country. Tainjin, being close to the emperor’s ports, was one of the areas heavily affected. He wanted to see for himself the situation. Suddenly, a cart passed by the palanquin, and Xiang felt a surge of power (passive #3). He ordered the guards to halt and inspect the passing cart. Lo and behold, under the pounds of hay were twenty alcohol jars filled with poppy seeds. Mahjong, the emperor may have yelled.
Naturally, the smugglers were tortured, and the emperor was amazed with his son’s divine gift. Yes, the prince’s otherworldly skill is a gift, while an ordinary man’s was considered witchcraft. Like a child with his new toy, the emperor went into the town and asked his son to point out unlikely spots for opium trade. Within the span of two weeks, a hundred smugglers were detained and beheaded. Xiang felt remorse for these men. On one hand, they ought to make a living, yet on another, they take a life to benefit their own. The moral debate bothered him for the next few years.
Upon returning to the palace, however, Xiang was devastated at the news of his mother’s death. His grief-stricken godly mother explained the situation - how Xiao was threatened and how she loved her enough to respect her choices. Thus, Xiang was further enraged when ministers suggested he become the adopted son of the empress. This prompted him to lock himself in his mother’s palace, refusing anyone’s comfort but his godly mother’s. His protest continued for the next eight months.
The emperor could not bear his son’s grief. No father could. After reading Xiao’s secret letter to him, part of him blamed himself for taking the child away from his mother, even if it was momentarily. Yet, Xiang proved himself to be useful, so the emperor could not have regrets. Xiao’s final humble wish was simple: an ordinary, peaceful life for the boy. For the soul of his deceased wife, he sent Xiang away to his favorite prime minister Lin ZeXu and commanded them to expel opium from the country. In 1838, fourteen-year-old Xiang’s crown prince status was retracted, and he was allowed to leave the palace as an official-in-training.
The duo initially did not get along. Xiang was angered about having his crown prince status retracted from him, so he was an emotional mess. Moreover, his mother Akhlys stopped her dream visits, as Xiang reminded her too much of her deceased lover. Meanwhile, Lin also had many demands on discipline and morality. Being a prince, the latter never knew the terms of hard labor and rules. Xiang operated on conscience, not a strict code. However, Lin found a way to gain the boy’s respect.
Three months in Hubei, the duo were invited to Lin’s home court of Fuzhou to judge a child and his crimes. The child, who came from a rich family, was notorious for bullying and beating up other children. When presented into court, the father would spare the rod and bribe the aggrieved, showing no remorse. It was customary in Confucian culture to leave a parent or master to discipline a minor, so no proper justice could be given to the victims. This angered Xiang. Even so, Lin continued to allow the rich man to continue in paying the aggrieved party.
Out of righteous anger, Xiang ran into the child bullying his classmate again and personally taught the spoiled child a lesson. The next day, the father and son came into court to complain. However, they were merely given compensation. Xiang was, after all, the son of the great DaoGuang emperor. Only the emperor and his family were above the law.
When asked why he was not punished, Lin replied: “Child, the law is neither good or bad. It is beneficial to the educated. However, if a man were to take the law into his own hands, we, as judges, must support them in the most lawful way without showing our biases. Their burden is our burden, for it is our laws that have failed them.”
Every since then, Xiang found new respect for Lin’s wisdom. Once that respect was established, the duo travelled around China and eradicated opium dens in a swifter manner for the next four years. Being a son of Themis, Lin could test if dealers were lying, but with Xiang, the process was cut to locating and confiscating opium warehouses. Their most famous was the dunking of 1,400 tons of opium into the sea. Of course, Lin wrote a letter of apology to Poseidon, who didn’t seem to mind using the drugs for his Atlantis parties. Under Lin, Xiang was also able to learn arts banned in the palace, such as toxicology and the usage of the poison technique Gu 蠱. Their success brought the emperor, who corresponded with his son, pride and joy.
In 1839, the British took advantage of Lin and Xiang’s efforts. Apart from burning Lin’s ethically praiseworthy letter to Queen Elizabeth, the merchants complained to their queen in court about savages who did not know the rules of trade. From the burning in Canton, they were 21 million pounds in debt. Moreover, Lin and Xiang demanded the trial of two British sailors for the death of a Chinese man, but such a story was twisted to the Queen of England as an act of self-defense. In a blind attempt to rein China back into her knees, a war began.
The British retaliation attacks in Jiangsu and Zhejiang infuriated the palace. Once praised, the two were now condemned. By decree of the emperor, Lin ZeXu was exiled into Xinjiang in 1840, and Xiang was to continue under the government of Fuzhou and await further imperial orders. In the next two years, sixteen-year-old Xiang was confined to judging menial court decisions in Fuzhou - cheating wives, sales of impotent cattle, murder of masters, and among other petty cases.
By early 1842, Hong Kong’s seizure was rumored, and Xiang was officially banished from the royal family. To the Chinese, an empty legacy was worse than death. His now failure as a royal forever to be erased, but so will his successful feats. Unknown to all, the emperor had his reasons. The precious life of a skilled man was better than his death. This act became the emperor’s last gift to his son, fulfilling the deceased Consort Xiao’s wish of a humble life for ‘their’ son.
Still, Xiang felt wronged by his government. He and Lin reformed provincial courts, destroyed opium dens, revived the economy, and promoted Chinese nationalism - only for one to be tossed into jail and the other to be stripped off royalty? Someone had to be fucking with him. Where was justice, the Confucian teachings, and the rewards of the good? Was it his fate that led his deeds to the loss of China’s property? No word could describe his rage.
With bitterness in his heart, he was sent to Ching Shih, the infamous female pirate who ironically helped her friend Lin ZeXu defend the ports of China from opium, and was momentarily whisked away to the gambling houses in Macau, Hong Kong.
This, however, was not the end of Xiang’s story.
5: Hope & Her Betrayal
“Do you resent the gods?
“鱼与熊掌，不可得兼。活而無悔。Fish or bear paw - I cannot have both. Yet, I live with no resentment.”
In 1845, the First Opium War ended, and the emperor forgave Lin ZeXu. Lin was reinstated to his previous rank of governor general in ShanXi and tasked to keep a watchful eye on Xiang. Thus, the son of Akhlys returned to mainland China. In 1848, Lin was promoted to Guizhou, and Xiang followed. Wherever they went, the formidable duo eradicated banned opium dens, created opportunities for victim rehabilitation, and stabilized trust towards the emperor.
Eventually, as China opened its ports, more Westerners came into the mainland. Like Lin, Xiang had a distaste for them. They were hypocritical, devious, and arrogant. When China traded silver, tea, fireworks, and other useful items, the West repaid her kindness by creating artillery and sending poison to her people. The West also sold opium to China, while it remained a contraband in their own soil. Their merchants crippled the economy and created orphans of China who were sold or left by their drug addicted parents. They also forced themselves to be entitled “the most favorable nation.” Such was a “century of humiliation.” As a patriot, Xiang felt enraged.
However, all these thoughts lessened when Xiang met Maria Acker, an English doctor’s daughter. In fall of 1848, a family of English healers was being rumored around Guizhou to be kind and lovely - far from the white man stereotype. Initially, Xiang was suspicious, so he occasionally peeked at the infirmary during his rounds around the city. Day after another, he saw the kind hearted maiden treating and conversing with an old man, a child, a woman, and a cripple like her own family - as if they were of the same race.
One fateful day, his new horse decided to play matchmaker and drop him near the infirmary (not purposely, of course). Being injured, he was given the chance to talk to Maria. Slowly, he fell in love with the maiden. She became brighter than the sun and more elegant than the golden pheasant. He also discovered Maria was a daughter of Apollo and her mortal father - much like the unbounded love between his mothers. Yet best of all, she taught Xiang that no matter the ethnicity, someone had the choice to do good or bad with their life. Therefore, he should not be a racist bigot.
For the next few months, the couple dated in trysts, due to judgemental eyes that carried Xiang’s former beliefs. However, for one of the most eligible bachelors to choose an Englishwoman, the people eventually understood his reasons and accepted Maria as one of the locals. She was, after all, a formidable healer.
Hope started to pour into Xiang's life. In 1850, the two wed, and their daughter Sophia was born. Xiang became a loving husband and father, often spoiling them with the gifts of the East. He would also take Sophia to the tribune, where Lin, for the last time, would be amazed at the beauty of the half-child. Due to their concentrated scents, monsters appeared more often, but if given a choice, Xiang could never think of a better life than those treasured seven years.
Sadly, whenever Xiang had touched into politics, his toxicity somehow seeped into it. In early 1856, Xiang was summoned by local magistrate Zhang MingFeng to co-judge a missionary accussed of stirring civil unrest and raping Chinese brides. Thus, Xiang forwarded the death sentence of the missionary and his unwavering supporters. His supporters were to be jailed, and Chapleine was to be decapitated and hung from a tree in town, as a reminder to the whole province that justice was fair regardless of race. The death of Chapleine, a saint out of many, would eventually be - somehow, someway through greed and exaggeration - the French’s reason for joining the second opium war. This would also be the reignition of Xiang’s turbulent life.
Soon, the second opium war commenced. The British, who wanted to expand trade ports further, used the excuse of Chinese officials arresting Chinese crew members in the British ship Arrow parked in Canton ports. Canton was then ransacked, bombed, and forced to change their local governor to a complacent incumbent. Thus, in such times of war, the new emperor trusted no one but the eyes of certain virtuous men like his ‘half-brother’ Xiang.
Ordered to visit the war-torn province of Canton in late 1856, Xiang changed his perspective on drugs. His heart sank. Badly injured soldiers, grieving wives, starving orphaned children all found momentary pleasure in opium during their last days. They all had their reasons, and he respected them. Being in the frontlines, Xiang’s sense of nationalism was reignited. However, in the process of comforting the aggrieved, Xiang’s previous princely status was found by the British. Thus, he was exiled to Hong Kong.
There, Chinese nationalists plotted against the British living in the area. The plan involved poisoning the bakery of Governor Bowring. They wanted the British to taste the same poison they used to destroy the empire. Aware of Xiang’s abilities, the Chinese half-bloods insisted he lend them aid. However, as a man with principles, he could not bear himself to kill the lives of the innocent. For months, he avoided Ah-Lum, the owner of the bakery, and wrote about the situation to his brother in secret, bypassing mail censorship through clever ways.
Meanwhile, the civil unrest caused most members of the Guizhou community to despise Western blood, including Maria and Sophia. With her Chinese husband in Hong Kong, the mother and daughter duo were left open to hate crime. In January 1857, their house was surrounded by a group of Chinese radicalists, and they were cornered. Lin was dead. Their supporters died trying. No official could stand up in fear of treason charges. Maria and Sophia’s survival looked dim.
“If a man were so desperate to take the law into his hands, then we, as judges, must bear their sins, for it is our laws that failed them.”
Duty was more important than happiness. Xiang received one last Iris Message from his family. He then remembered the words of Lin and his responsibilities as a former prince. Thus, Xiang clenched his fists and sacrificed his morals. He gave his patriots bottles of arsenic trioxide to Ah Lum. His tears hidden by the walls of the Ah Lum Bakery. This was his last contribution to the wars.
6: House of the Broken
“What kept you alive?
“天生我材必有用。Heaven made me, so I must be of use.”
Xiang never intended to kill the innocent. Just a taste of their pain would do.The poison affected 300 and killed three, who died from its long-term effects. A victim included Governor Bowring’s wife. Years later, the emperor’s YuanMing Garden was burned, and China again raised its white flag in surrender.
The deaths of his family and failures of the war caused Xiang to flee quietly to Macau, the gambling capital of the East. Confined into the opium dens, the son of Akhlys wasted his days in the very drugs he sought to destroy. He could no longer see the world, as it was too bright for his soul. The sight saddened his mother, Akhlys. If he were to be sad, might as well be useful.
In the spring of 1859, Akhlys visited her son. She was beautiful as ever: slender with sleek black hair up to her shoulders and an aquiline nose highlighting her soft face. It was easy for Xiang to recognize the woman who taught him in his dreams. Years after the death of her lover Xiao, Akhlys returned to her treacherous self, enjoying others succumbing to her poisons. She wanted to see the anguish of mortals and demigods alike. However, she always had a special place for Xiang. Knowing her son had a kind heart, she offered to send him to her own rehabilitation center, the Lotus Hotel. Xiang, who did not have an alternative purpose in life, agreed.
Upon arrival, the lotus eaters greeted the mother and son duo with open arms. After all, the goddess of poison was their occasional supplier of narcotics. The eaters allowed Xiang to become one their casino hosts. He was to travel the world, recruit more members, and manage their clientele. After all, apart from the mindless growth of their cult, the death eaters had no other concern. They simply wanted to trap more and more people, and Xiang seemed charming enough for the part. As for his mother, he was to help share her poison to others and deliver narcotics to the death eaters. Once agreed, Akhlys, with the potion of youth, brought his appearance down to the mid-20s and immortalized him.
For the next 100 years, Xiang lived in luxury and worldly success. Private gambling parties with Chinese elites, bonggacious smoke sessions with the major American rappers, and high sky dining with the wealthy Singaporeans - name the theme, and he has probably done it and supplied it. Xiang would also be the key to the flourishing casinos in Macau and the Lotus Casino. He sent worse cases of addiction to the Lotus Hotel. Luckily, the Lotus Eaters were satisfied enough with recruitment skills and the potency of his narcotics to let him play them by the side.
However, despite being a casino host, he kept his principles. Xiang only scouted for three types of people. First, he gave the broken a second chance at life to be happy in the company of games, champagne, and women. He allowed fathers with unfilial sons to squander all their money until their death. Second, he supplied to mega-rich individuals who used vices as recreation and could afford rehabilitation. Last, Xiang also took also corrupt or incompetent officials and locked them away in the Lotus Hotel - never again to hurt the lives of the innocent. To be frank, the son of Akhlys also considered trapping a certain orange clown president in the casino - perhaps, he might after the pandemic.
History was written for the victors, so no one remembered Yi-Xiang and his acts of sacrifice. In the end, Prince Xiang fulfilled his prophecy. He, the rightful heir of the throne, was the tree of the Qing dynasty. His leaves represented all the treasures he sacrificed: his countrymen, his family, his morals, and his forty years of life. A white flagged arrow symbolizing the emotional baggage of China's unforgettable century of humiliation, remained stuck on him. Nonetheless, he, a living reminder of history, remained a successful tribute to Olympus' wrath.
7: Resurrection / Present Day
“With all that you’ve shown me, what then brings you to New Athens?
Clad in a grey power suit, a daughter of Themis sat opposite to Xiang, who laid flat on the couch. The woman pushed her glasses backward and reclined on her leather office chair. The two were in a sound-proof room that sealed itself away from the outside world called New Athens. However, such a feature was not necessary. After all, the two were incomprehensible to non-Mandarin speakers. Six questions, six proverbial answers, or so the video played out so far. Through a memory projector, the rest of his answers were flashed only in the interviewer's mind. His memory became hers. This was the recording of Xiang’s Themis test.
Three minutes left. The two, of course, continued their discussion.
“Her.” Xiang replied. His face blushed like a child caught stealing from the cookie jar. “Aphrodite has informed me that her soul has been reincarnated for nearly two decades. This time, I will keep my promise. I will protect her.”
“That might be problematic. What if she rejects you, or is not what you ought her to be?”
“It is okay. Even if the thunder sounds in winter, the snow falls in summer, and the heavens and earth merge, I will never stop trying. I can’t. She is worth all the risks.” He then paused. “Change is inevitable. Everyone evolves as circumstances change, but what matters most is... regardless of that change, you stay and guard their happiness. That is love.”
“Well then, Mr. Yan, I have good news for you.” She smiled back, approaching her interviewee and taking off the memory crown from his head. Her face painted red from the cheesy lines. “Welcome to New Athens.”