After what felt like an eternity – but I knew to be only another three minutes and thirty-three seconds – the fog cleared. From out the shadows of my family’s teahouse stepped a woman.
To call her beautiful would be a pathetic error. She was the very definition of ethereality, her black hair flowing past her waist, the hue of her skin that of burnt chestnuts, the lilt of her eyes hypnotic. To look at her was to fall in love. She was reminiscent of a poem I’d once studied by a famed Chinese poet. In lauding the beauty of his own sister to the emperor, he wrote:
A rare beauty in the north,
One of a kind, she stands alone.
One look from her will fell a city,
A second look will leave the country in ruins.
It is better not to know if a city or country will fall,
But know that such a beauty is hard to find.
In that moment, I felt that she embodied the beauty of the poem. She was so perfect, she ensured destruction. I, myself, loved her desperately as soon as she stepped within the circle of the teacups and reached for me. If only I were to reach back and take her hand, I was sure she would bring me to pleasures that I’d never seen before.
Instead, I said, “I am your master, I am the conjurer.”
She nodded, her hair gleaming in the low candlelight as she said, “What is it you command?”
I crooked a smile and said, “Alessandra Winters.”
She smiled in return and I knew that she understood.
At that, I stood up, gazing at her from eye-level, wondering if I would be strong enough for what was to come. I could feel a hint of bitterness in my voice as I spoke, though I was desperate to conceal it.
“Perfect. Then, you will be my Xi Shi.”