Fengyu and Long insist that the emperor rest. He doesn't like being treated as an invalid, but he had spent an entire year maintaining a kekkai during the war and he's still in the process of recovering. After Long leaves, the emperor leans against Fengyu and admits he has an unpleasant premonition. Lifang and Tuoren discuss what would happen if the rebels attacked in force, and Tuoren thinks it would push the emperor's soldiers to the limit. The emperor would likely erect a kekkai around the palace to stop the rebels from getting out to assault the populace, and since most of the warriors were still out scouring Chijoukai, few were left in the palace itself to defend it. Tuoren tells Lifang that when he comes across the object of his vengeance, he should speak up right away and not go running off to tackle him alone. Lifang can't bring himself to tell the truth.

Elsewhere in the palace, Jina reveals to Nasha that the doctor finally proposed to her. They're keeping it quiet for the time being, intending to celebrate once the war ends. Then the five team members, the royal guard, and Fengyu gather before the emperor. With the formal approval of the five royal guardsmen, he officially elevates Tuoren to the Upper Army. (Fengyu even cries a little with happiness.) They all figure it won't be long before Lifang is elevated also, impressing upon him how much they've looked forward to his arrival as the reincarnation of the first emperor. In preparation for upcoming battle, the royal guard as a unit gives him a bit of energy (which he will share with Tuoren later, since they can't transfer to him directly). Afterward, Jing gives some energy to Nasha, then heads off to recall the Chijoukai troops.

Lifang decides to leave Lyui with Jina, where it's safer. Suddenly Tuoren somehow senses Yanlang, but he doesn't know what it means. The emperor goes to his command center and relays to Fengyu telepathically that the warriors should get ready. The guards rush to the gateway, where sixty rebels pour through. The emperor throws up his kekkai while Huzhi goes to protect the weak who remain within the palace. Tuoren wants to get to Lifang in the infirmary, but Baos takes him on in combat. Fengyu advises Lifang to stay with him and defend the wounded, but Lifang can't leave the others to fight alone.

Out in the countryside, the villagers are warned to hide in case anything happens to the emperor's kekkai, but Xionglin's sisters will have none of that. They urge their neighbors to prepare to stick up for themselves, not run away when their soldier relatives are fighting for their lives. Xionglin, Hulei, and Nasha fight to free up Tuoren so he can join Lifang. Fire begins raging through the palace, but the emperor diverts some of his power and extinguishes it. Fengyu goes running to him to refill his energy. Lifang doesn't like the fact that his opponents aren't fighting him with intent to kill, the way they are for everyone else, because it means they're up to something.

Tuoren arrives at the infirmary to find Lifang already gone. He has an unsettling premonition, even stronger than when Lifang had been attacked by Wang. Lifang stops to help someone who's fallen, but it turns out to be Shun. Long senses Wang gathering energy to blast the emperor's command center, yet he's too late to stop it. It slips right past the guards, hitting Fengyu directly. The emperor can feel that something's happened to Fengyu, and his kekkai vanishes. Tuoren, in pursuit of Lifang, hears that Shun stole him away, leaving behind his staff and shattered rei.

Tuoren catches up to Shun, but Baos jumps him before he can get Lifang. As the soldiers from Chijoukai start returning at last, Shun, Baos, and Wang take Lifang back to Yanlang. Tuoren teleports after them. The rest of the warriors can't trace Lifang because he's no longer wearing a rei, so instead they have to follow Tuoren. The rebels spread out to the countryside, where the villagers prepare to meet them. Wang hadn't realized that Lyui was hanging on Lifang's leg when he teleported. He gives the creature to Shenwu to get rid of. Instead of killing him as intended, Shenwu sets him free, and he heads straight for Tuoren.

Yanlang reveals to his underlings that Lifang's value isn't for his own powers, but for his ability to increase others' strength. Wang recalls that when he had sucked Lifang's energy practically dry, he had recovered in the time it took Tuoren to fight. He's like an inexhaustible fount of power, capable of supporting any number of warriors. Li had been able to defeat Kai three thousand years before because he had the emperor's energy feeding him. With Lifang used to refill Yanlang, he can recover even more power than he had lost in the war.

When Lifang wakes up, he demands to know why Yanlang killed his father. He replies that it was simply kill or be killed, then drains Lifang back into unconsciousness. He orders Shun to wipe Lifang's memory, leaving him an empty vessel of pure energy. Shun uses his magic to hypnotize Lifang and implant his own commands. Nearby, Tuoren meets up with Lyui, who guides him toward the rebel lair. Yanlang tells Linghoa that he doesn't need her as a transfer partner anymore, so she's free to do as she pleases--as long as it doesn't involve betraying him. She goes to where Lifang is being kept and tells the others they can leave, she'll keep watch.

* * *

One day in Jusenkai... Lifang joins Tuoren and the others for lunch. They have already finished when he gets there, since he was delayed chatting with Long. He tells Tuoren that he's sorry, he didn't know, and promptly sits on Tuoren's lap and begins kissing him all over his face. The others stare, unable to believe what's happening right in front of them. He innocently asks, "But isn't this the way you show respect in Jusenkai?"

As soon as he admits Long told him, they all accept that's something he would say. When Xionglin asks what else Long said, he launches on quite the list: "Senkaijin men can bear children, there are meat-eating plants in the eastern mountains, if you eat a strand of the emperor's hair you'll live a hundred years, Kanma is five hundred years old and has grandchildren in Chijoukai, Long used to be a woman, no one has seen the emperor's true form because he's using a temporary one..." Xionglin storms off to give Long a talking-to, while Lifang apologizes to the blushing Tuoren for having been so gullible.

Outside, Fengyu strikes up a conversation with Long, remarking that he seems to have taken a liking to Lifang. What brings him to the subject is that Lifang had just come to him saying, "So, you and the emperor are really good friends, I take it? After all, you occasionally sleep together." (Followed up by, "That's how the emperor shows kindness.") He knows Long must have realized how quick Lifang is to trust people. Long explains it was just so interesting to see him believe everything, he couldn't help it. Fengyu orders him to take it all back immediately.

As Long is thinking, {Well, it wasn't *all* lies,} Lifang finds him. He laughs the whole thing off as a joke, adding that at least Tuoren didn't seem to mind the show of "respect," since he didn't get angry. Long has the irresistible urge to lie again and takes Lifang in his arms. "The real way to demonstrate respect is more like this..."

Then Xionglin finally catches up with him.

End Volume 9