As Tuoren and Lifang head for their appointment at the palace, they meet up with Xionglin, who is being surrounded by women asking him to make perfume for them, since one of his talents is scent magic. At first the women are frightened of Tuoren, but when they take a closer look, they realize he's not as scary as they had expected--in fact, he's rather appealing. Long (ever the flirt) awakens Fengyu (who was getting caught up on the sleep he missed while working late) at their arrival. Fengyu informs them that they're to have a special meeting with the emperor himself. (Xionglin: "If I'd known that, I wouldn't have worn such ordinary clothes!")

The five warriors, along with Long and Fengyu, enter the emperor's quarters with various degrees of anxiety and anticipation. It feels familiar to Lifang, so he asks whether his mother had ever been there, and he's told that she had. Nasha goes on to explain that his mother had traveled to Chijoukai on occasion to learn more about plants, which was how she met Lifang's father, Lifong. The emperor and Fengyu had kept her reason for leaving a secret until after her death, because they didn't want anyone looking for her to interfere with the love she had found there. (She had already turned down proposals from a number of Senkaijin men, including Long.)

When they finally meet the emperor, Lifang introduces himself with flawless etiquette, though he admits it's the only formal speech his father ever taught him. The emperor bluntly asks Tuoren what Lifang means to him, and Tuoren replies, "He is absolutely necessary to me to sustain my heart." The emperor is relieved, saying that if Tuoren had wanted to continue his mission alone, he would have been confined to the palace for his own protection. The previously scattered rebels have begun gathering, and it's too dangerous for anyone without ample backup.

The emperor has decided that too many of his warriors have been slaughtered, so he's sending them out in groups rather than pairs. The five of them are to work together as a team. Their new orders are to protect themselves at all costs, even if that means killing the rebels instead of capturing them alive. (Then he forces Fengyu to take a day off...) Nasha apologizes to Tuoren for her earlier behavior. Tuoren and Lifang are invited to Xionglin's place for supper, Tuoren slowly thawing around other people.

The next day, Fengyu gives Lifang a rei of his own, then the group sets off together, heading back into battle. Lifang is impressed by the strength of the three Upper Army members of the group. He notices one of the rebels trying to hide and gives chase, catching the man just as he accidentally falls from a cliff. The man turns out to be a doctor named Liu. He begs not to be sent back to Jusenkai, saying he'll do whatever he can to make up for his betrayal. A human woman, Mei, comes up and starts pelting them with stones to get them to let him go. It turns out he had intended to leave the rebels, but they had dragged him from the village in which he was living. They all start back to the village, Tuoren sensing something but unable to locate the Upper Army rebel concealed in the trees.

Xionglin is particularly furious with Liu, knowing that the reason he doesn't want to go back is that he doesn't want to face Jina, his younger sister. When Liu hears that Jina has gone blind, Nasha explains how it happened. During the war, the doctors pushed themselves to continue helping the wounded, and Yui (the head doctor) crossed his limits. When he collapsed in serious condition, Jina fed him her own power, though she was exhausted herself. Fengyu tried to intervene, but his energy had to be conserved for the emperor, plus the doctor's body wouldn't accept anyone other than Jina anyway. She saved his life, but by using too much power he lost the sight in his left eye. Jina went completely blind, and her power never returned.

Liu is horrified, since he had joined the rebels because they had promised him that his sister wouldn't be harmed. He felt it was the only way he could protect her. Xionglin slaps him for making excuses and leaves, Hulei following to comfort him. He's really upset at himself for something in his past. (Inspired by their ability to understand each others' feelings, Lifang tells Tuoren that if he ever needs to cry, he should let it out when they're together rather than trying to hold it all in.) Lifang has a talk with Xionglin and hears the story of how one of his younger sisters fell in love with a rebel named Shun and went with him. Shun was the one who had taught Xionglin to use his magic. He hadn't cared about Xionglin's sister, but she went with him anyway and wound up getting killed in the war.

The five warriors continue on their way in the morning. However, Tuoren senses something, and they all run back to the village, which is beset by a gang of bandits. Mei protects Liu until the warriors show up to help. Liu makes up his mind to go back to Jusenkai and accept whatever punishment he deserves, then return to the village to be with her. The bandits attack him a second time, and Xionglin saves him. Xionglin apologizes for being rude before, and when he hears the doctor's decision, he's sure that Jina will be happy to be with him again. However, just as the bandits are sent packing, Liu is blasted from behind by a powerful magic attack. It's Shun, who had been sent to eliminate the deserter. Xionglin is petrified, unable to move. When Hulei and Tuoren show up, Shun teleports back to the rebel hideout.

The warriors bid farewell to Mei, promising that they'll tell those in Jusenkai about how brave Liu was and that he had intended to turn himself in. Xionglin hates that he always freezes in Shun's presence, unable to fight back, but Hulei tells him not to blame himself. Lifang muses that with loved ones either dying or becoming enemies, it's an extremely sad war.

What follows is an adventure in which Lyui meets up with a forest creature invisible to the others. He thinks it's trying to eat him, but really it's doing its best to help when they're threatened by a flood. The experience reaffirms that each member of the team comes through in a pinch, and they all rely on each other.

* * *

When Hulei first met Xionglin, he was unsettled by a boy who spoke and acted like a woman. His impression quickly changed to respect when he saw how hard Xionglin worked to improve his magic. When Hulei lost his first partner in the war and abandoned all desire to continue, Xionglin yelled at him not to give up...then began weeping. What Hulei hadn't known was that Xionglin's sister had just died. He was too embarrassed to cry around other people, but he let his guard down in front of Hulei.

At the time that orders were given for the warriors to travel to Chijoukai, Xionglin picked Hulei as his partner because he could feel free to cry with him. Hulei couldn't possibly refuse. He liked seeing Xionglin's expression when he was angry or laughing, but most of all when he was truly thrilled--and being able to evoke such a response with a single word made Hulei happy. They may bicker a lot, but every once in a while Hulei will catch sight of Xionglin and it will hit him in an instant, //*That's* why we're partners. Forever.//

End Volume 4