Novel Martial Dawn (Slice of Life Romance set in a Cultivation Setting)

Discussion in 'Community Fictions' started by Nikushimi, Jun 23, 2022.

  1. Nikushimi

    Nikushimi New Member

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    Hey! This is my first time posting here so I hope this is the correct spot. I wanted to share a story I've been working on called Martial Dawn.

    It is, for all intents and purposes, a cultivation setting. However, it differs from the typical cultivation stories you may know. It takes on (hopefully) a more slice of life feel later on. It may be a bit slow for some readers and may not be as action packed. If that's why you're here it might not be for you.

    I'm not sure how much of it I will share or how often I'll post. Yet, I still wanted to share what I had so far and see what people thought. I hope you can forgive any grammar errors or misspelled words. I do my best but sometimes my fingers type faster than my brain thinks....

    Synopsis:
    A young boy adopted into the Li'Yu Family yet burdened with being called a curse and given the name "Aban" for he was abandoned. Abused and hated by the very people who adopted him. Unable to cultivate Mana properly his life has not been kind. Through a chance encounter his entire life is about to change. Will his curse finally be a blessing?

    Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Action, Adventure, Slice of Life
    A slight trigger warning: This contains trauma and dealing with that trauma from years of abuse and neglect. It's not the main focus of the story but it is there. Overall, this is a light-hearted story, but I felt like a slight warning may be required.

    Table of Contents
    Chapter One: Misplaced
    Chapter Two: Arrival
    Chapter Three: Encounter
    Chapter Four: Confrontation
    Chapter Five: Connection
    Chapter Six: A Name
    Chapter Seven: Leaving Home
    Chapter Eight: City of Grass
    Chapter Nine: Travel Companion
    Chapter Ten: Starlight City
    Chapter Eleven: Reunion
    Chapter Twelve: Mystic Star Academy
    Chapter Thirteen: A Surprise Reunion
    Chapter Fourteen: Settling In
    Chapter Fifteen: Sweet Dreams
    Chapter Sixteen: First Meal

    I hope people enjoy the story. I release chapters as they are finished.
    I'm just happy to share some of my writing. Thank you for reading.
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2022 at 8:11 AM
  2. Nikushimi

    Nikushimi New Member

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    Chapter One:
    Misplaced


    "Aban!" The angry voice of Lady Dan yelled from outside, "Get out here right now!"

    Aban. My name. Yet, the meaning of which wasn't lost on me. It was a constant reminder of who I was. What I was to them. Abandoned. Taken in by this family for as long as I could remember. It had been less than kind.

    "Aban!" Her shrill voice growing angrier, "I won't repeat myself!"

    Sighing to myself I rolled out of the small bit of straw they gave me as a bed. The cold stone floor would be better and more comfortable than it. Still, it was better than nothing. That's what I told myself anyways. Honestly speaking, nothing would be better.

    The door creaked open as I stepped out into the bright morning sun. My small shed of a home was hidden from the rest of the estate. Out of sight, out of mind. Squinting my eyes as I held my hand up to block the sun.

    As I did a hand grabbed my wrist and yanked me out. Stumbling, I fell to the ground. Dirt and grass grating against my skin. I winced slightly but knew better than to cry out. Gritting my teeth I tried to get up only to be kicked back down.

    "No one told you to get up!" A gruff voice, Guard Captain Mo'Fan, ordered.

    His hand gripped around my hair and yanked my head up. Squinting against the rays of the sun the people before my came into view. Lady Dan, a lithe, willowy woman. Her hazel eyes narrowed in on me with disgust.

    She held a fan before her face, covering most of her pale complexion but I could tell she was looking down on me. Her dress was beautiful and lush. Hues of reds and pinks. As per her station she was allowed such extravagance. After all, she was the Head Maid.

    The one holding my head by my hair was the head of the guards. Mo'Fan. His dark hair was cut short and unlike Lady Dan's dark hair, his had no gray in it. His cold, gray eyes sneered along with his face as he forced me to look up at Lady Dan and those with her.

    "My, my," Li'Yu Meixiu chided, "Don't be too rough with him...we have guests arriving soon."

    Li'Yu Meixiu. My "sister". Two years older than me she was the only daughter of the Li'Yu Family. The Li'Yu Family are those who adopted me. However, I was not allowed the Family name. She was acting kind but underneath was a snake like the rest of them.

    She held her hand to her mouth, the dress of her sleeve covering the lower half of her face. Beneath it I could see her smile. The look in her green eyes shown with a hidden malice. She was enjoying this.

    Her dark hair shown like silk in the sun. Tied neatly up and presentable with a hairpin through the bun. Her dress was a beautiful green with accents of white. A small woman she held herself to appear bigger. Of course, anyone would look big when you were looking up at them from the ground

    "Come now, sister," Li'Yu Gang, the Eldest son of the Family, spoke with mock concern, "We can't let thieves, even our own family, get away without punishment. As regrettable as it is..."

    I could almost laugh. Who exactly were they acting for? Their laughs could be seen and heard even if they hid it behind fans or a sleeve. The pressure I felt was crushing. I could only stare up at them with smoldering defiance.

    "Tch," Li'Yu Gang stepped forward, his fake persona crumbling, "Those eyes..."

    He knelt before me, face to face. He wasn't even trying to hide his disgust as he looked at me. His green eyes shown with hatred. I didn't know where it came from but it was there. His handsome face was framed by his dark hair.

    Long, neatly combed and tied back. The blue robes he wore were of the highest quality. Resting his arms on his knees as he squatted down before me.

    "I never liked them..." He snarled, the area felt like it was darkening around him, "You avert those damn eyes..."

    Clenching my teeth I found myself looking away only to look back. The moment I did my entire world spun. His hand slapping soundly across my face. I tried not to let out a sound but it hurt.

    "Ah!" I grunted, as I tried to regain my sense.

    "I said," Li'Yu Gang growled, "Avert...you're eyes."

    Mo'Fan shoved my head down. His hand gripping my hair was the only reason I didn't go sprawling across the yard like I normally would. I was only a child. Eight years old. Why did I have to go through this?

    "You cursed thing..." Li'Yu Gang snarled as he stood up, "You're lucky I can't use my mana properly. What a blight..."

    "Young Master," Lady Dan grabbed the young Li'Yu by the shoulders, "You shouldn't dirty your hands on that thing. Come, wash them off."

    Standing up they went over to another servant who looked away as they poured water over Li'Yu Gang's hands. This was my life. Sometimes I had days where nothing would happen but others there would be days like this. They'd seek me out just to make sure I knew where I stood.

    "I don't know why the gratious Li'Yu took you in," Mo'Fan growled in my ear, "But someone like you...who can't even cultivate properly. What were they thinking? Your mere presence is a curse. The Young Lady and the Young Masters can't even cultivate with your around."

    Cultivation. Mana. It was what this world ran on. Those who could cultivate would make something of themselves in this world. Those who could not would have to settle for mundane, simple lives. However, for me that was impossible.

    "You should be grateful they still allow you to stay," Mo'Fan pushed my face into the ground hard, "You should thank them. After all, you stole something from them."

    "I-I didn't steal anything!" I found myself shouting.

    Immediately, I knew it was a mistake. The hand upon my hair released as I felt a hard, sharp pain in my side. My body went sprawling across the lawn as Mo'Fan kicked me in the ribs. I coughed, blood coming up as I did.

    "You lying piece of-!"

    I could feel his anger and braced myself for another kick. I could barely breath. I truly didn't know what they were accusing me of. I had gone out only one in that past couple days to try and find some food. They barely fed me after all.

    "Mo'Fan!" A sharp tongued Lady Dan ordered, "That's enough! We don't have time for this. We have guests coming. Find the item already."

    Mo'Fan and his guards burst into my small home. I could hear them tearing the place apart before they came out emptyhanded.

    "Nothing," Mo'Fan grunted as he stomped over to me, "Where did you hide it?"

    "I-I didn't-" I couldn't get the words out before his hand grabbed me by the air again.

    "Don't lie to me," He seethed, "We know you took it. I'll pull out your golden hair if you don't-"

    "Mo'Fan," Lady Dan's voice cut through his words, "What did I say?"

    "S-Sorry, Lady Dan," He responded coyly as he dropped my head, "But this brat-"

    "Enough," She snapped, I could see her feet before me as I looked up towards her.

    Her eyes were looking down at me as if I was the filthiest thing she ever saw.

    "It would be best if you confess," She said, and to most it would seem like a kindness that she stopped Mo'Fan, but truth me told I was more terrified of her.

    "I-I really didn't..." I whimpered, trying to push myself into a more comfortable position.

    "The Young Ladies hairpin," Lady Dan continued, ignoring my struggles, "Was taken. We know you go into the city and sell whatever you can snatch."

    They weren't entirely wrong. I did sell things in the city. However, I never did so with anything stolen. Not from here anyways.

    With delicacy she knelt before me. Folding her fan she placed it under my chin. Tilting my head up I could see her full face now. I really was an insect to her. That was the look on her face. Something she would squash in but a moment.

    "That hairpin was important," She spoke calmly, but the menace in her voice made me quiver, "If it is not returned...then we'll have to take something from you."

    "B-But I really didn't-" Before I could finish the sentence her fan move quickly.

    I felt the blood trickle down the right side of my cheek. I was shaking tremendously.

    "I won't repeat myself," Lady Dan moved her fan to strike again.

    "Lady Dan!" A voice suddenly called out as I was just about to brace for another strike, "We found the hairpin!"

    Her arm, posed to strike, froze as she looked upon me. She was contemplating it. I could see it in her eyes. She wanted to strike me again just because. However, with reluctance she lowered her fan and handed it off to another young maid.

    "Make sure this is burned," She ordered as she stood, "It's contaminated."

    With that, they turned smoothly and began almost gliding away. Mo'Fan and the Li'Yu siblings followed closely behind but not before they shot a venemous look back at me. One by one everyone left except for one person.

    "...Are you alright?" Her voice was soft and kind, just like the hands which helped me up.

    She was Miss Su. A maid of the family. One of the few who was kind to me in this place. Brown hair, kind green eyes, and a shapely figure. She helped me back to my place. An already dilapidated shed now more in disarray from the guards rummaging.

    "How can they do this to a child?" She muttered as she helped me down on one of the only chairs in the room, "Wait here, okay?"

    I nodded. There wasn't much I could say. My side was hurting. I wasn't sure if anything was broken but it hurt to breath. Miss Su left the small building and a few moments later returned.

    Following behind her was a kindly old man. A long white beard and equally as long and white hair. It was neatly combed and tied to prevent it from falling in his face.

    "Tch," The old man clicked his tongue in a sad way, "Honestly...what do they gain?"

    "Can you help him, Lord Yi'Dao?" Miss Su asked the man with a soft voice.

    "I can bandage him," He spoke as he set down the bag he carried with him, "But as for medicines...."

    The room grew silent. These two were the ones who always cared for me. Whether I was sick, injured, or in need of food. There was one other as well. The Guard Xu. Xu was a senior guard here. Working for a few years.

    He always let me "slip by" when I had to go into the city. His superiors were none the wiser. Never knowing how I slipped out. I was very grateful to these three.

    "Are you sure you can't-" Miss Su began to ask but was cut off by the wave of Lord Yi'Dao.

    "You know that I can't," He sighed as he looked at me.

    Those eyes spoke of sadness. I knew they wanted to help me but I knew that they couldn't.

    "I-It's okay, Lord Yi'Dao," I smiled, grimacing against the pain in my side, "I know that medicines don't work on me like they should...It's...a waste, right?"

    They were quiet. The entire room was sullen. Suddenly, Lord Yi'Dao took a sharp breath and let it out.

    "Hmph, a waste..." He spoke with slight anger in his tone, "Who cares if it's a waste."

    He began to rummage through his bag. Miss Su looked on in confusion. Muttering to himself as he searched.

    "Ah! There it is," He turned towards me and knelt down, "I don't give two hoots if it's a waste or not. To make a child think that...Open."

    His hand gripped my mouth and forced it open. Though I didn't give much resistance. I felt something small and round enter my mouth from the bottle he placed up to it.

    "Swallow," He ordered as he brought up another bottle, "Drink and swallow."

    Without protest I did what he asked. The small, round pill went down my throat along with the water. It was a bit bitter but otherwise left no bad after taste.

    "Lord Yi'Dao...that was-" Miss Su held her hands to her mouth in shock.

    "I am aware," He huffed as he stood up, "See what they can do to me! I'm the head Alchemist! Treating a child like this. If only their ancestors could see them now..."

    I wasn't sure what was going on, but I was sure that they had just given me medicine.

    "A-Are you sure it will work?" I asked, feeling a bit of guilt, "Medicine is important...expensive...and a waste if it is used on someone like me.

    Lord Yi'Dao looked at me out of the corner of his eye. A look of measuring. Letting out a deep breath he seemed to relax.

    "Three of your ribs are broken," He spoke with a solemn tone, "It'll bruise. Heavily."

    "H-How do you know?" Miss Su asked, concern in her voice, "I know you're good, but...you haven't even examined him yet?"

    "Don't doubt these old eyes, Miss Su," He spoke, a slight smile to his lips, "This old man hasn't lost his touch yet."

    There was a slight glow to his soft brown eyes. He was a master after all. A cultivator. One who can gather Mana within their bodies and strengthen themselves. The path of a Mage. Some say Cultivators. Lord Yi'Dao was one of them. It was unfortunate that he worked for the Li'Yu Family.

    Him and Miss Su helped me to take off my shirt in order to apply some special ointment in the area. He was gentle yet the pain ran through my body. It was all I could do not to faint.

    "The medicine should help," He spoke softly, "Even with your...condition. It's strong."

    "Strong?" I asked, rather confused as he finished up.

    "Yes," He helped me put my shirt back on with Miss Su's help, "It should help speed up the process. Though don't expect this every time. I may be the Head of Alchemy but my power is waning."

    "....Okay," I muttered sadly, looking down at the ground, "I'm sorry..."

    "Little one," Miss Su spoke softly, "At times like this, you say thank you. Not sorry."

    "I..." Looking between them I nodded, speaking quietly, "T-Thank you..."

    They smiled at each other as Lord Yi'Dao gathered his things.

    "Avoid laying on your right side," He explained to me, "You'll want to avoid anything strenuous so...keep your head down for a bit, alright?"

    "O-Okay..." I responded, but then I remembered something, "Oh, they said we have guests?"

    "Ah...that's right," Lord Yi'Bao looked up and off into the distance as if in thought, "That was today...You may want to stay back here then."

    "Who are they?"

    "Important guests," He responded, sighing, "Please don't concern yourself with it. Rest up, small one."

    With that he took is leave. It was only me and Miss Su then. My side still hurt but breathing was a bit easier. The medicine he gave me I could feel spread throughout my body. Yet, like always it felt weak. As if it couldn't work properly.

    "Is it not working?" Miss Su asked, genuinely concerned as she saw the look on my face, "It was powerful medicine so I had hoped..."

    "Powerful?" I asked back, feeling even more guilty.

    "Yes," She smiled gently, "It was a Grade 5 Acolyte Pill."

    My eyes went wide at the words she just spoke. It was indeed a powerful medicine used for those in the Acolyte Stage. Anyone below would heal almost instantly, or they should. The medicine was expensive and they just gave it to me.

    Aban. Said to have been left on the steps of the Li'Yu Families door. Yet, in truth I was simply found somewhere in the woods. Abandoned. The Li'Yu Family took me in out of charity. However, they soon found out just what a curse I was.

    This world relied on cultivation. The flow of Mana. Also called Life Energy or Qi. Everyone, save for those with special constitutions, start with a baseline of Mana. Thus, the first stage for all living things was called "Base" or "Beginner".

    All life needed Mana to live. All things had Mana. Cultivation allows one to use this Mana to improve themselves. This is often done through meditation, martial arts training, consumption of special pills, and other methods. These were just the most basic.

    They would gather Mana into their bodies flow it along what was known as "Mana Veins". Mana Veins connected to Mana Points along the body of which there were Four Major Mana Points. There were numerous Minor Mana Points, but it was the major ones that mattered.

    The Head, Chest, Limbs, and Abdomen. These Major Mana points connected to all other Minor Mana Points and the other Major Mana Points through the Mana Veins. The first step for anyone who wants to Cultivate and become a Mage, otherwise known simply as a Cultivator, must first create a "Mana Circuit".

    However, before one can do that they have to open their Mana Points in order to begin moving Mana throughout their body. Without being able to do that many are stuck at the Base Stage. Those who can open their Mana Points enter what is known as the "Entry Stage".

    This is when people can truly begin cultivating by moving Mana throughout their bodies and strengthening themselves through various means. It wasn't uncommon for someone to remain in the Base Stage all their lives. However, that was only do to them not having a talent or just not trying.

    Almost everyone can enter the Entry Stage. Most children my age were in the Entry Stage. However, it was different for me. I couldn't enter the Entry Stage. Mana didn't flow properly around me. Anyone near me felt this as well.

    Mana seemed to waver and crumble around me. Yet, I had enough to live. Without Mana I would be dead. I was grateful for that. So, medicine made using Mana and for an Acolyte which was several stages away from me...it was useless.

    The Mana had to be extremely strong in order to work around me. As if any excess Mana would just push through whatever was happening. However, this made it difficult for those around me to cultivate. Thus, I was put out to this small shed.

    Away and out of sight I couldn't interrupt others cultivation. They still blamed me though. It was because of this they treated me horribly. Just because I was born like this. Was that the reason I was left in the woods? Just what was this cursed body of mine?

    "Just...why was I born?" I found myself muttering, whispering it to myself.

    I couldn't stop the warm tears from streaming down my face as Miss Su's gentle, warm embrace enveloped me. They called me cursed because I couldn't cultivate. Mana didn't work properly around me. Still, this woman stayed by my side.

    She didn't hate me. The same with Lord Yi'Dao and Guard Xu. They were kind. Did I even deserve it? Did they also not hate me for disrupting their Mana flow?

    In Miss Su's embrace it suddenly didn't matter. I clung to her rightly as she let me cry.

    -----
     
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2022
  3. Nikushimi

    Nikushimi New Member

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    Chapter Two:
    Arrival


    The Cultivation World. The Xiao'Wu Empire ruled over it all. Of course, they did this from behind the scenes. They remained neutral and allowed those with capability to govern the territories and city-states given to them. The only stipulations? Obey Imperial Law.

    Any who broke these rules found themselves quickly backed into a corner. Severe violators found themselves quickly disposed of. Often leaving entire Families extinct or changed forever in structure.

    The Xiao'Wu Family hold a highly respected position. One that the entire world knows. The title given to them and what their name takes after is proof of that.

    Family of the Martial Dawn.

    They earned this title from their ancestor and the story around them. Said to be the very first to reach the legendary state of Godhood. It is what all Cultivators, Mages, seek to acquire.

    With this blood in their veins and the legacy left behind to them the world over owes them respect and gives it. It is for this reason that they take a backseat in the ruling of the world. Though their presence is still felt. Their every watchful Eyes are everywhere.

    Mediators to make sure that disputes are handled fairly and most importantly that Imperial Law is upheld. The Eyes of God as they are often called. A term they aren't too fond of for its lofty implications.

    Yet, to the people this is not far from the truth. They are the Hand of the Emperor. The Eyes of her Majesty. That which strikes at the enemies of the Royal Imperial Family. The Eyes are everywhere. The Te'Wu.

    Simply they are called The Watchers. They are to act upon any injustices they see that they believe is not fit for the Empire. Regardless of the local law. Imperial Law trumps all. That includes anything that an official of the Empire deems appropriate.

    Their word is second only to the Royal Imperial Family. As such their word is law unless a member of the Royal Imperial Family say otherwise. Imperial Law, known as the Eight Edicts.

    The Eight Edicts
    1. The Royal Imperial Family is Law
    2. Do Not Impersonate Royalty
    3. Do Not Plot Treason
    4. Do Not Purposefully Neglect Your People
    5. Do Not Purposefully Incite War
    6. Do Not Sexually Assault Others
    7. Pay Your Tithe
    8. Do Not Assault Royalty
    These are the Eight Edicts of Imperial Law. As long as these are adhered to then all the territories and city-states may do as they please. Of course there are always those who will attempt to find loopholes within Imperial Law or attempt to hide their wrongdoings.

    Thus, it falls to The Watchers. Unfortunately, there are too few of them to cover every inch of the Xiao'Wu Empire. So cases like that with Aban happen all too frequently.

    Capable of hiding their wrongdoings by keeping him hidden. When he is in the public eye they often treat him as a servant. He is to keep his mouth shut and listen. Refusing means punishment.

    So, as he cried into the dress of Miss Su she couldn't help but think of how she could help. That if only a Watcher was around then maybe this child wouldn't suffer so. She held tight to his small, fragile frame. Resolving to herself to make sure he had something warm to eat that night.

    -----

    Her trip wasn't anything special. Another Family vying for prestige. A young girl with a mysterious condition. A cure that had to be found. Pain that never stopped. The one to cure her of this condition would surely be recognized.

    "We're almost there, Young Miss," The guard spoke, "We should arrive by lunch. Are you hungry?"

    Her eyes glanced over at the guard. She was young but professional. Guarding her for as long as she could remember. The precious daughter of the Zhu Family. Zhu Fan'Hua. The "Flowering Beauty" of the Zhu Family.

    Her guard, Suyin, was fit and athletic. Wearing simple clothing of pastel blues with some dark leather armor intermingled within. Her light brown skin was in stark contrast to the color of her clothing.

    Clear amethyst eyes scanned the outside of the carriage they were riding in. Her soft brown hair pulled back and tied into a neat, tight bun. The carriage rolled along as smoothly as possible. Fan'Hua's thoughts turned to her destination.

    At nine years old she had entered the Initiate Stage of Cultivation. Something near unheard of in this day and age. Only geniuses enetered the Initiate Stage at such a young age. Thus, many called her as such. The Genius Flower of the Zhu Family.

    It irritated her. They didn't know the pain she went through. The way the Mana forced itself into her Mana Points. It was all she could do to control it. Like thousands of tiny knives being driven into her body.

    "...Are you uncomfortable miss?" Suyin asked, concern in her voice.

    "...Always," She sighed in response.

    Propping her elbow against the edge of her seat she rested her chin within her palm.

    "This is the fifth one," Zhu Fan'Hua muttered softly, "Just this month..."

    Suyin was quiet for a moment as she thought before answering, "It must be tiring, Young Miss."

    "More than tiring..." Zhu Fan'hua looked out at the passing streets.

    The windows were covered by curtains, but partially pulled back. People went about their business not paying any mind to the carriage. Moving out of the way and carrying on with their days. It was like she lived in this carriage.

    "We'll arrive soon," Suyin was trying to reassure her, "I'm sure they-"

    A single look from Zhu Fen'Hua silenced her. She understood the Young Miss and her struggles. Suyin had been her guard ever since she was born. Now in her early twenties she was accustomed to all the nuances of Zhu Fen'Hua.

    So when she saw the look of doubt upon her face she didn't press it anymore. Instead, they sat in silence until the carriage finally stopped. Pulling up to a splended estate of white stone walls and elegantly slanted roofs.

    Many trees could be seen from beyond the wall. Several of them plum trees. A representation of the family they came to see. The Li'Yu Family. The Family of the Healing Plum.

    -----

    "Young Lady Zhu Fen'Hua," The woman before her greeted her, "Welcome to our humble Li'Yu home."

    Zhu Fen'Hua took in those before her. Servants lined the walkway and bowed towards her. The woman who addressed her wore red robes with hues of pink. She deduced that she had to be someone of station. Still, she ignored her.

    "Y-Young La-" The woman spoke, her eyebrow twitching slightly.

    "The Young Miss," Suyin interrupted, her eyes boring into the woman, "Is not talkative right now. She is tired from her journey. Any inquiries you have can be directed at me. I will be her voice."

    "...Very well," The woman smiled, her acting was great, "I am Lady Dan. I greet you both on behalf of the Li'Yu Family."

    Zhu Fan'Hua watched the woman. She knew that it was an act and Suyin knew that she had no time to play games. Every step was pain. Every moment a waste of time.

    While only nine years old Zhu Fen'Hua was used to people posturing before her. Growing up as she did many sought the favor of the Zhu Family. They weren't a Major Family but their strength and connections were on par with one. It also helped that they were backed by none other than the Cao'Lu Family.

    An incredibly wealthy merchant family. The Family of the Southern Sea. They were the wealthiest among all the regular families. Their trade routes extending all across the land and sea. To curry favor with the Zhu Family was to curry favor with the Cao'Lu Family.

    Of course, since the Zhu Family wasn't quite a Major Family some saw this as an insult. They hated that they had to suck up to such a family. Yet, they knew just how strong the Zhu Family was and so avoided offending them at all costs.

    "An honor," Suyin spoke, though her tone was dry as she eyed Lady Dan, "My Lady Zhu Fen'Hua would like to rest. I assume you have quarters available?"

    "Of course," Lady Dan's smile was kind, but in her eyes shone a look Zhu Fen'Hua was all to familiar with, annoyance, "Right this way, I would be honored to show you arou-"

    "Just the quarters," Suyin interjected causing Lady Dan's eyebrow to twitch once more, "We thank you for the offer and will take you up on it after My Lady rests."

    "Very well," Lady Dan responded with a kind smile, "Right this way then."

    Suyin gave Zhu Fan'Hua a look that they both understood. Keep your guard up. The Li'Yu Family was said to be a kind, generous family loved by the people of the city. A family under the Wang Family, one of the Major Families, they weren't a small player.

    A family of Alchemists who create medicine for those who need it. They used this and the many techniques they have gathered to become one of the families under the Wang Family. Thus, they secured a position for themselves and now governed this small city. Plum City.

    However, because of this and the attitude that Lady Dan has shown it was obvious they would try anything to garner favor. Zhu Fan'Hua didn't think they would try anything harmful though. Still, it was always good to be on guard. Not share too much information.

    The estate of the Li'Yu Family was large. Filled with fragrant trees and flowers. The large, open areas that they walked were decorated with crystal clear pools and sand gardens. Pairs of guards walked the grounds. They bowed and moved when they walked through.

    Zhu Fan'Hua made note that they only seemed to bow towards Lady Dan. They gave a wary yet respectful look towards Suyin and Zhu Fan'Hua. Giving a look to Suyin that they both understood. Who was Lady Dan?

    "Forgive me," Suyin spoke up as they made their way through the estate, "You said you were Lady Dan, correct?"

    "Yes, that is correct," Lady Dan responded, her tone spoke of pride.

    "You also said you met us on behalf of the Li'Yu Family," Suyin's tone took on a bit of steel, "So, I would take it you are someone of importance then if the main family couldn't meet us."

    Suyin's words were meant to prod. Even provoke. The fact that the main family didn't greet them could be seen as a great insult. It was only Lady Dan and the servants to meet such important guests. Just who was she that she could fill in that position?

    "Y-Yes," Lady Dan stumbled over her words, flustered, "I am the Head Maid, in charge of the household and its daily activities. I make sure that everything runs smoothly and things are done according Head Li'Yu Wang's will."

    "So, you're a servant?" Suyin's tone took on an even icier chill, "One with a fancy title."

    Lady Dan flinched at her words. Zhu Fan'Hua reached out and lightly tugged on Suyin's clothing. Suyin understood the sign. She had gone a bit too far.

    "Forgive me," Suyin apologized, "I went too far."

    "No...You are correct," Lady Dan seemed to relax, "I am a servant of the Li'Yu Family, but I have also been granted a small title and a bit of land for myself. Our intent is not to insult the Zhu Family."

    It was as if her facade had dropped as she spoke. There was something in her eyes as she did. A glint of something that caught Zhu Fan'Hua's attention. Arrogance. Yet, there was also a hint of remorse.

    "I should be asking for forgiveness," Lady Dan continued, "I did not fully explain the situation."

    "What situation?" Suyin asked, her tone softer.

    "Earlier this morning there was...an incident," Lady Dan sighed, "A thief broke into our Young Misses room and stole something important. A gift for the Young Lady Zhu Fan'Hua."

    "A gift?" Suyin questioned, "What was it?"

    "Well," Lady Dan glanced back at them, "It would be rude of me to say. You'll see it when the Young Miss of the Li'Yu Family presents it. It is not my place."

    "Presents it?" Suyin was confused, "Did you not say a thief stole it?"

    "Yes," Lady Dan's tone grew hard, "But they were taken care of."

    Something in the way she said that drew Zhu Fan'Hua and even Suyin's attention.

    "But please," Lady Dan said as she stopped before a beautifully carved double wooden door, "Do not worry yourselves over it and rest. I'll have a servant come by later to attend to you."

    Lady Dan bowed, hands folded before her before she turned to leave.

    "Ah, before you go," Suyin asked after her, "Is the thief the reason that the main family couldn't greet us?"

    Lady Dan froze. Zhu Fan'Hua watched her as she slowly turned back. A smile on her face but it was to hide something. Nervousness.

    "N-Not quite," Lady Dan glanced away before she answered, "One of the Young Lords is currently trying to break through but is having difficulty."

    "Should they not be in seclusion?" Suyin asked, suspicion in her voice.

    "Normally," Lady Dan answered, nervousness evident now, "I cannot divulge family secrets. Even if it is to you, our esteemed guests."

    Suyin watched her and took her in. She was lying but a tug from Zhu Fan'Hua told her not to press it.

    "Very well," Suyin sighed and turned towards the door, "We will not press this. I hope they'll have an explanation later. You're dismissed."

    "Thank you, Esteemed Guests," Lady Dan bowed and quickly retreated.

    Stepping into the room and closing the double doors they were finally alone. Suyin let out a deep sigh.

    "Why didn't you let me press her?" Suyin asked.

    "There is no point," Zhu Fan'Hua answered as she took in the room, "We're here for one thing. Once they prove they can't help we'll leave. Prying into their matters is not for us."

    "...I suppose you're right," Suyin sighed, seeming conflicted.

    "I understand," Zhu Fan'Hua addressed her, "I'm annoyed as well. They're always like this. Yet, this is the first time the main family didn't greet us in person. I'm curious as well."

    "Would you like me to find out?" Suyin questioned, a bit of hope in her voice.

    Suyin was someone who couldn't just sit still. Zhu Fan'Hua was known to not talk very much except in the presence of those she was comfortable with. Suyin was one of those people. They knew each other very well.

    "...Fine," Zhu Fan'Hua sighed, "But do so quietly...I'd like to rest."

    Suyin's eyes lit up as she nodded, fist over her heart as she bowed, "As you command."

    With that, Suyin was gone. Like a mirage disappearing before Zhu Fan'Hua's eyes. She was confident she could trust Suyin with this. Being of the Awakened Stage she there weren't many who could sense her. Even if they did she was trained specifically for this.

    The room was large with two beds, a dining table, and a lounge area. Zhu Fan'Hua found herself falling onto one of the beds. Its softness was offset by the constant pain stabbing her body.

    "...Awakened Stage, huh?" Zhu Fan'Hua muttered to herself as she outstretched her hand.

    Zhu Fan'Hua herself was at the Initiate Stage due to her unique constitution that forced Mana into Mana Points. She had no choice but to cultivate and when she did she imporved by leaps and bounds. However, it was incredibly painful. Often, her body wasn't ready to advance.

    Sitting up she could feel the Mana pouring in around her. The knives stabbing into her. Sitting in the most comfortable position she decided to practice her cultivation. Taking several deep breaths she felt the Mana around her. As it assaulted her Mana Points she bore with it.

    Every life starts from the beginning. The Base Stage. From there one enters the Entry Stage and begins proper cultivation. After which they become intiated once they form their Mana Heart and thus they enter the Initiate Stage.

    Most don't reach the Initiate Stage until their teen years. Some never do. From there once learns and grows. Once they do their Mana Veins open more and they enter the Acolyte Stage. It is here that they begin to grow and improve more. Learning and utilizing all techniques to gather Mana within their Mana Heart.

    It is the goal to form and harden the Mana and creating a Mana Crystal. Once done one enters the Crystalized Stage. From there one extends their Mana within their Mana Heart and utilizing their Mana Crystal to expand a field. The Mana Field.

    When this happens one "awakens" and enters the Awakened Stage. It is here that the Mana Crystal begins to change. Gathering your Mana within it and giving it a sort of "life" or connection to you. It is when enough is gathered that the Mana Crystal "hatches" and a spirit is formed.

    This is called the Spirit Stage. With a spirit by your side, one created from you and the mana you've gathered it is now time to bind it completely. To do so one must "heal" or "repair" the now hatched Mana Crystal.

    Finishing this you attain a higher understand and connection to your spiritual self. You ascend and enter the Ascended Stage. From there ones goal is to increase your strength and enter your Mana Field spiritually. Do so allows your Spirit to evolve and grow stranger.

    You transcend yourself and thus enter the Transcended Stage. It is here that most can only dream of. Because from here ones goal is to broaden themselves. Succeeding means they have become enlightened and enter the Enlightened Stage.

    It is now the goal of all Enlightened Stage beings to become more than they are. Doing so enters them into the Avatar Stage and from there the Divine Avatar Stage. They attempt to bring their Mana Field into reality. A stage that is only heard of in legends.

    Someone who reaches this stage finds that age is nothing to them. Thus, they enter the Immortal Stage. From this stage there is only one more step to take. To step beyond this is to enter a state of being like a god. The Deific Stage.

    Though, those who enter the Avatar Stage are said to have attained godhood already. The Avatar Stage is far beyond what most can even dream of. These are the thoughts going through Zhu Fan'Hua's head.

    The Stages of Cultivation. Otherwise known as the Mage Ascension. It was a complicated system but simplified it was easy to understand. One stage follows the next.

    Base -> Entry -> Initiate -> Acolyte -> Crystalized -> Awakened -> Spirit -> Ascended -> Transcended -> Enlightened -> Avatar -> Divine Avatar -> Immortal -> Deific

    The state of progression seems straightforward but for some they may find themselves ahead of the curve without the foundation of the previous stages. One must improve oneself in order to properly maintain and not injure themselves upon breaking through to the next stage.

    Zhu Fan'Hua wasn't so lucky. She had jumped from Base to Initiate Stage before she could improve her foundation. Blood, muscles, bone, and body all must be strengthened in order to handle the increase in Mana and power.

    Thus, Zhu Fan'Hua trains every single day. There is not a single day that she misses. Doing so may cost her. After meditating upon her state of being she begins.

    With agile swiftness she leaps from the bed. A movement that most would consider dangerous. Landing with barely a sound she moves. One step after the other. A practiced rhythym.

    Each step like cold knives shooting into her yet with each step she feels the flow of mana progress. It moves around her. The breath in her lungs burns but as she moves it becomes freeing.

    So entranced in this training that she notices naught that the sun is setting. It is only upon Suyin's return that she realizes.

    "Young Miss, I have returned," Suyin announces, "Has your training gone well?"

    "Suyin?" Zhu Fan'Hua asks, her breathing calm and steady though the obvious effort of sweat beaded her face, "...Yes, I think so."

    The Mana around her assaulted her Mana Points but she felt stronger. Lighter.

    "Hmm," Suyin placed her hand to her chin in thought, "You've broken through gain."

    Zhu Fan'Hua was silent. She knew. She had moved up in the Initiate Stage. Every stage had five separate levels. She had been at Initiate Stage Two, but now...

    "Stage Five," Suyin muttered, "You're at the bottleneck."

    "Yeah..." Zhu Fan'Hua could feel it.

    The pressure that one often felt when about to break through. The pain of the Mana striking at her. She wasn't ready to enter the Acolyte Stage yet. Though she may not have a choice. It would be painful.

    "Let's hope they have an answer," Suyin sighed, "But for now, you need to bathe. The Li'Yu Family wish to have dinner with us."

    Zhu Fan'Hua nodded as she followed Suyin, "Did you find anything out?"

    "Very little," Suyin opened a sliding door to reveal a room with a bathtub in it, "The Young Lord Tao seemed to have gotten hurt. They're not sure how. Because of this his parents were tending to him."

    The tub was large enough for them both and situated into an elevator platform. Suyin began to run the water from the tubs faucet. It was a fancy tub inlaid with some jade and gold. They didn't spare any expense on this room.

    "And he's fine for dinner?" Zhu Fan'Hua asked though didn't care.

    "Apparently," Suyin ran her hand through the water to check the temperature, "It wasn't anything serious and with the help of their Head Alchemist, someone named Lord Yi'Dao, he was able to recover quickly."

    Zhu Fan'Hua was quiet. Soon the bath was done and both her and Suyin entered. Suyin helping to wash her back and Zhu Fan'Hua helping her as well. This was their dynamic.

    Zhu Fan'Hua and Suyin had always been close. Ever since she was a little girl Suyin had been her guard, friend, confidant, and maid. The closest of them all.

    "While I didn't learn much," Suyin spoke as they allowed themselves to relax, "I did notice that everyone seems to be acting strange. As if they're nervous."

    Zhu Fan'Hua merely listened. What would they have to be nervous about? Neither of them said anymore. It was just something to keep in mind as they got dressed and prepared for dinner.

    -----
     
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2022
  4. Nikushimi

    Nikushimi New Member

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    Chapter Three:
    Encounter


    "Remember," Miss Su spoke gently to me, "It's best not to leave here for the next couple of days."

    "....Yeah," I knew it was for my own good, but it still made me sad.

    There were important guests here. Which meant I wasn't allowed to leave this area without permission. If I did I would get in trouble. Miss Su's hand on my chin was tender and kind. It was understanding.

    "I know it isn't ideal," Miss Su soothed me, "I'll try to bring you some food later, alright?"

    I smiled sadly and nodded. It was all I could do. Besides that, my ribs were broken and I could barely move as it was. This was for the best.

    As soon as Miss Su left it was completely quiet. My small home, this shed, was situated in an isolated part of the estate. Far from the main house and even the servants homes. Surrounded by trees and bushes it was far from anything.

    The nearby walls were too large for me to climb. It was only on an off chance one day I found a small animal hole in the wall. I had used it so many times to escape. Even tried to run away but they found me and brought me back.

    I wasn't sure why they did that. Was I not a burden? A curse to them? Why did they bring me back just to torment me? Yet, they did every time.

    I even thought at one point I saw concern on their faces. That the family actually cared about me. I was proven wrong almost immediately. These broken ribs weren't the first time I've had a broken bone.

    Ever since they found that hole and patched it up. Just why were they keeping me here if they hated me so much? It would do to dwell on it and so I found myself getting as comfortable as I could upon the little bit of straw that I called a bed.

    Every breath was a sharp pain. Yet, nothing compared to my stomach. It had been two days since last I ate. A small piece of bread and some kind of porridge.

    There wasn't anything to do but wait. I hoped Miss Su kept her word. She usually did. It was for that reason, hours later as night began to fall that I began to wonder...where was Miss Su?

    Was she attending to the important guests? I could no longer sleep or lay down. The pain in my ribs and my stomach was too much. Looking out from the door of my home I could see the estate. I knew she asked me not to leave but I was worried.

    Why did I find myself so comepelled to leave at that time? If I did would what happen have happened? Would Miss Su still be here? Those are the questions I asked afterwards.

    The house was quiet save for the few guard patrols. I had to be even quieter. If I was caught I didn't know what would happen to me. I knew where I had to go. It was the first place I checked. Miss Su's quarters. Yet, she wasn't there.

    Thinking on the time I wondered if it was close to dinner. If so then perhaps she was in the kitchens? She normally would have been able to sneak away by now.

    As I got closer I could hear the bustling of everyone moving around. There was a crawlspace within the estate that I could use to get closer. It was a pain with my ribs as they were but I couldn't be seen.

    Gritting my teeth while I crawled around I made my way to the kitchens. People moved around all over as they prepared food. Whoever these guests were they weren't sparing any expense. My mouth salivated as I smelled the fragrant air. I did my best to control my stomach.

    Yet, even as it growled it wasn't heard over the sound of the kitchen. Still, Miss Su was nowhere to be found. This worried me. Just where was she?

    It wasn't until I got to the dining hall that I saw her. Knelt down and waiting with a few other servants. The places for eating were all set. Why was she here? She wasn't normally positioned here.

    I was only thankful that she was safe. Yet, something on her face told me she was worried. It was then that her eyes found me and her face went pale. Just what had happened? There was a look of regret and sadness.

    "Master Li'Yu Wang and Mistress Li'Yu Changying," Lady Dan's voice arose, "The guests, Zhu Fan'Hua and her attendant Miss Suyin have arrived."

    "Excellent!" Li'Yu Wang's voice, booming as ever echoed across the hall.

    He wasn't a large man. Slightly above average in height with long dark hair and green eyes. Currently his hair was tied back and neatly combed. Next to him was his wife. The Mistress Li'Yu Changying.

    A beauty by most standards yet I knew the coldness behind that fair face. Those light brown eyes hid a viciousness. I noticed that the entire family was there. Li'Yu Gang and Li'Yu Meixiu as well as their two young brothers Li'Yu Tao and Li'Yu Ning.

    Their dark hair and green eyes showed them to be part of the Li'Yu Family. Only Li'Yu Wang's wife, Changying, had different colored eyes. Opposite them the door to the hall opened.

    I watched as a woman with soft brown hair tied up in a tight bun walked in. She carried herself confidently. I looked curiously at her for it was the first time I saw someone with light brown skin and amethyst eyes.

    She wore formal robes of pastel blue and white. Next to her was a young girl. Dark orange, almost red hair. Her eyes an amber color yet unlike her companion she had a fair complexion. She wore simple yet elegant pastel blue robes as well. As I watched she suddenly stopped.

    The entire room was focused on her. She didn't speak but simply tugged on the sleeve of her companion. No words were exchanged as they looked at each other. As if something was understood that no one else knew.

    They proceeded to their designated seats and all seemed well.

    "Forgive us for not greeting you earlier," Li'Yu Wang spoke up, "I had business to attend to. Our son, Li'Yu Ning was injured. Luckily, it wasn't anything serious."

    "It is alright," The woman with amethyst eyes spoke, "We are glad that it was nothing serious. As he is here with us now."

    "Yes, Miss Suyin," Li'Yu Wang seemed relieved, "He is doing better with the help of Lord Yi'Dao. He's an excellent Alchemist and I'm sure-"

    "Lord Li'Yu Wang," The woman known as Suyin interrupted, "If we can, let us discuss these things after dinner?"

    "Ah! Of course, of course," Li'Yu Wang seemed to be anxious, which was unlike him, "Forgive me. I hope you enjoy the food! Bring it out, our guests are hungry!"

    As things began to move I wondered at what and who these guests were. They made Li'Yu Wang anxious. It was far from the image I knew of Li'Yu Wang. The strict, hardened man who looked upon me with uncaring eyes.

    Just now he was anxious. It was a look that I had never seen before on him....I liked it. I found myself smiling. That smile would soon fade as the food was brought out and I felt something...wrong.

    Miss Su made a motion for me to leave. I had never seen fear in her eyes before. Not like this. She served the guests and was preparing to return to her position when I saw it. The Amber eyes of the young girl. They were staring directly at me.

    How? I should be far enough away for anyone to notice me. In a panic I moved as quickly as I could but something gave way. The ceiling tiles buckled and I felt the ground before I even noticed I had fallen.

    The impact left me breathless as I groaned in pain from my ribs. The entire room was silent and as I looked around all eyes were on me. I found Miss Su's eyes first. They were full of concern and resignation.

    My heart sunk as I then found Li'Yu Wang's face. A look of fury so great that it was the first time in my life that I felt fear. True fear. I thought he would kill me. He might have if it wasn't for Miss Su and those guests.

    "Aban..." Li'Yu Wang's eyes glared at me, a thundering storm, "You're supposed to be resting...Why are you sneaking around?"

    I could only groan as I tried to move. I had no answer. I was worried for Miss Su who should have been back. Why was she attending to guests? She never did so before.

    "Li'Yu Wang," Suyin dropped the honorifics, "Who is this child and why did he fall through the ceiling?"

    I found my eyes looking towards them. Suyin wasn't paying attention to me yet the girl next to her was. Her amber eyes staring at me. No emotion on her face. I guess at the time it was better than disgust like from the Li'Yu siblings.

    If anything I could swear there was a look of curiosity. The pain must have been causing me to see things. The audible gasps from the other servants and the movement of guards could be here when I fell.

    "He...Aban," Li'Yu Wang growled, yet calmed himself, "Is..."

    Li'Yu Wang sighed and calmed himself down more before continuing.

    "He's a child under our protection," Li'Yu Wang informed them, "We've brought him in but it seems he's being ungrateful....breaking in to steal again?"

    "Steal?" Suyin asked as her eyes finally went to me, "Is this the thief from before? I heard your daughter lost something. Yet, it was found?"

    "...Yes," Li'Yu Wang nodded, "He was the thief. Luckily, we caught him before he could get away."

    "D-Didn't...steal..." I could barely get the words out from the pain in my lungs.

    Coughing, some blood came out as I tried to breath. Suyin's eyes never left me.

    "You dare lie!" Li'Yu Wang was up before I could react.

    His foot was coming at me and I couldn't stop it. I braced myself for impact but it never came. Instead, I saw Miss Su fall before me. She had taken the blow.

    I could only look on in horror and shock, "M-Miss Su!"

    I barely got the words out as I reached towards her. As she struggled to get up her arms outstretched in a protective stance. She was interposing herself between me and Li'Yu Wang.

    "S-Sir...please," She begged, "He's just a child...he didn't steal it...We found it elsewhere, misplaced."

    "You...Miss Su, correct?" Li'Yu Wang was fuming, his eyes like thunderclouds, "Even if he did not steal...it is a fact that he has now interrupted this important dinner. He should take responsibility. Child or not."

    "Please...Sir," Miss Su continued, "He most likely...came to find me."

    "You?" Li'Yu Wang asked, but it wasn't quite a question, "Why would he come to find you?"

    "You remember..." Miss Su took a breath, "I was placed in charge of his care...I was to bring him food, but then I-"

    "That's enough!" Lady Dan spoke up, angry, "Miss Su...you are disrupting the Master from punishing his child. Where are your manners!"

    "My manners?" Miss Su tossed back, "He's only eight! With three broken ribs how can he be this harsh on an already injured child?"

    "Broken ribs?" Suyin spoke up, causing everyone to freeze, "...I see that you've forgotten you have guests."

    The entire room grew still. They had indeed forgotten in the situation that there were guests. Li'Yu Wang looked visibly shaken.

    "I do not mean to interfere with personal family matters," Suyin continued as she took a sip of the tea which had been prepared before I fell, "But perhaps...it is a bit too harsh to punish an already injured child. I won't ask how he got injured, but I will say this..."

    The entire room was quiet save for the small sound of her drinking her tea. The young girl next to her took her eyes off of me to look at Li'Yu Wang. For the first time I heard her voice.

    "Li'Yu Wang," Her tone was soft, clear, and held authority, "Let's not ruin this dinner anymore than it has. A simple mistake should not be punished like this."

    It was as if her voice calmed everyone down.

    "...Of course, Lady Zhu Fan'Hua," Li'Yu Wang spoke, his voice calmer now, "Forgive me for such an unsightly scene. However..."

    Li'Yu Wang looked towards Miss Su and it was in that moment my heart dropped. I knew what was coming. If I had not left my designated place. If I had not gone searching for Miss Su out of worry...

    "Su," His words were like ice, cold and uncaring, her name with no title associated to it, "You are no longer welcome in this home. You may pack your things and leave by tomorrow morning. If you do not...guards will forcibly remove you from the premises. Your services are no longer needed."

    Something in me reacted. She couldn't lose her job. No...I couldn't lose her. With what energy I had I flung myself towards Li'Yu Wang, my hand around his ankle.

    "P-Please...punish me instead...it's not her fault...please..." My words only fell on deaf ears.

    His uncaring eyes as he shook my feeble hand off of him.

    "Then blame yourself," Li'Yu Wang responded, "Because of you she raised her hand against the master of this house. That is often punishable by a more severe penalty."

    Everyone was silent as he turned to walk away.

    "Su," He addressed her, "See him to his room. This is the last order you'll receive."

    "...Yes, Lord Li'Yu Wang," She spoke with a resigned voice.

    Yet, despite that I felt no anger in it. As she helped me up to walk away I looked back at the mess before me. Pieces of the ceiling tile everywhere. The Li'Yu Family were sullen and throwing hidden glares towards me.

    Suyin was whispering to the young girl, Zhu Fan'Hua, who watched as I left. Her amber eyes were the last I saw before the cool night air met me.

    "Miss Su, I-" My words were sad, but the gentle finger to my lips quieted me.

    "Hush now," She spoke gently as she helped me onto the only chair in my room, "I'm not longer a servant here."

    "You're still Miss Su to me," I muttered, looking down at the ground.

    "...Thank you," Her soft hand on my cheek brought me to look up into her eyes, "Listen, forget what he said. You did nothing wrong. This isn't your fault."

    "But I-" Again, as I went to speak her thumb covered my mouth.

    "No," She spoke firmly, yet kind, "You were worried, weren't you?"

    "...Yes," I nodded, "You usually aren't this late..."

    "I know," It was as she said this that her eyes took on an anger that I'd never seen before, "That bit-ahem, woman Dan. She put me on attendant duty to the guests. Though...I guess I don't have to now."

    Her anger turned to a smile. She caught herself swearing but I knew what she wanted to say. Lady Dan was not a kind woman. She knew that Miss Su was helping me. She wanted to keep her away and now she did. She got her wish.

    Yet, I didn't want Miss Su to leave. How could I let her leave? Without her...what would happen to me? It was because of that I found myself clinging to her again. It seemed like my tears from earlier weren't yet dried up.

    She soothed me that night. Holding me as best she could. It was an embrace I would never forget. It was the only kindness I ever had from all the people of the estate. By morning I felt a coldness as I watched Miss Su leave the estate from my hidden spot.

    She knew I was there. As she turned to say farewell to everyone I knew that her smile was meant for me. Her eyes directly looking in my direction. As she left I turned and ran. Ignoring the pain in my lungs.

    This was my fault. If I had just been more patient. If I had just waited then perhaps she would not have been fired. Perhaps she'd still be here.

    -----

    Suyin was out for a walk that morning. To stretch her legs as well as to think over last nights events. She knew that this morning was the morning that Su Ming, Miss Su's full name, was leaving. Yet, her and the Young Miss, Zhu Fan'Hua, would not attend.

    It was not something to do with them despite them being present. It was a Li'Yu Family matter. Still, it bothered Suyin. Li'Yu wang had left a bad taste in her mouth with his reaction. The rest of the Li'Yu family weren't any better.

    The way they looked at the child who fell was concerning. As if the dirtiest thing was before them. How quickly Li'Yu Wang was to attack the child who was already injured. Still, it was impressive that the child could even move.

    "He must really care for her..." She thought to herself.

    The woman had protected him when everyone else simply watched on. It didn't escape Suyin's notice how the other servants turned their eyes. What also didn't escape her notice is how the Young Miss had spoken up.

    It was rare indeed for her to speak so publicly. It wasn't that she couldn't but that she chose not to. A habit, perhaps, from the life she's lived. Which is why it often fell to Suyin to get across her wishes. So, the fact she spoke up stuck with her. Not only that but something she said later that night stuck with her.

    The Young Miss had informed her with a tug of the sleeve as to alert her to the child. Something that she had already noticed. Yet, it was something else that caught the Young Misses attention.

    "The mana...was calm."

    Those were the words the Young Miss spoke to her when she was alone. Just what was the reason for that? It coincided with the appearance of that child. Yet, could it have been something else in that room? Suyin planned to investigate.

    Before that, however, she was hoping to find that child. It was as if the heavens opened up to answer her. For as she rounded the corner of the walkway that very same child ran headlong into her.

    Lost in thought she had not noticed right away. However, as they collided she was able to react quickly enough so that he did not fall. Grabbing him quickly by the arm to hold him up.

    "Woah there," Suyin exclaimed, "Are you alright?"

    He was shaking like a leaf in her grasp. This child, now that she got a better look at him, was filthy. His clothes were in tatters. The once vibrant, deep blue now a faded, dirt stained remnant of its past self.

    His hair, a golden light brown was unkempt and haphazardly cut. His pale complexion seemed drained of all color. Signs of malnurishment were evident. He hid his head, looking down.

    He was struggling to free himself. However, with his strength Suyin barely had to hold him. He was extremely weak. Part of her heart ached at the sight of this boy. However, she steeled it. It was not her responsibility. Still, she couldn't just leave it.

    "Hey, relax..." Suyin soothed, "I'm not going to harm you."

    He stopped struggling as she spoke, freezing in place yet still shaking. Slowly, he looked towards her. It was as he did that the steel around her heart shattered.

    His eyes, a vibrant blue green, were tear filled. Fear was evident on his face. The words he spoke to her then hit hard.

    "Maybe not you..." His voice was soft, quiet, and trembling, "But if I'm seen..."

    She instantly let go of his arm and scanned the area. No one was near and she was pretty sure no one was approaching. So it was another shock when the sound of footsteps could be heard from the way he came.

    Chalking it up to being in shock by his words she dismissed her failed senses. Quickly, she moved to put him in front of her and walk the other way.

    "Quickly then," She wasted no time to usher him along, "This way."

    He didn't protest and was surprisingly quick on the uptake. Following at her direction until she found a room that was empty. Ushering him inside she looked around one last time and expanded her senses.

    As she did her head felt like it was splitting. The world around her swayed and she had to let go of her concentration. As soon as she did the world came back into focus. Confused she wondered at what just happened.

    Someone had to have blocked her senses but she was pretty sure no one in the Li'Yu Family could do so. She was confident that she was stronger than any of them. Unless they had a special array or defensive measure that they set up it should be impossible.

    Especially after yesterday when she did recon. Nothing like that was set up as far as she could tell. The only difference was...the child. Her eyes went directly to him as she entered the room quickly. Closing the door behind her she focused her attention on him.

    "...Aban, right?" She asked, remembering what seemed like a name Li'Yu Wang used last night.

    He flinched as she spoke, but nodded. Taking a breath she calmed herself to address the situation. She had simply acted without thought. His words still echoed in her head. If he were to be caught then he would be harmed?

    Just what sort of family was this? Were they not supposed to be kind and generous? Compassionate, even? At least that's what was said about them. On top of that they deal in medicine. Something that most would consider a noble cause.

    "Alright then, Aban," She addressed him and saw part of his eye twitch, "Is everything alright?"

    He was trying to dry his tears but they just kept building. His sleeve was wet from the tears. Mixed with the dirt it looked muddied. He was supposed to be adopted by this family yet looked like this. Was it by choice?

    "Have you taken a bath lately?" She asked in a soft voice.

    He shook his head slightly.

    "Are you...given baths?" She prodded for more information.

    He paused for a moment before nodding slightly. It was a relief to her yet the hesitation was concerning.

    "How often do you bath?" Suyin focused on his reactions.

    He shrugged and looked away. As she watched him it was hard to tell the last time he took a bath. His clothes were completely dirty and his hair unkempt. His face was dirty and it looked like he rolled around in the dust or scrapped parts of himself on something.

    She waited for his answer and as he was about to she felt the presence of someone behind her. As if instinctively she leapt from the door and turned. Her curved sword being drawn in one motion towards the door. A shadow of a figure on the other side.

    "...Relax," An older voice called from the other side, "Young one...are you in there?"

    "L-Lord Yi'Dao!" The tiny voice behind her exclaimed.

    Suyin relaxed a bit as he seemed to know the figure on the other side. The name was familiar to her and she remembered it was the Head Alchemist of the Li'Yu Family. The door to the room slowly opening.

    As Lord Yi'Dao walked through she saw him for who he was. An older man with clean, neatly cared for white hair and beard. He wore robes of deep blue and white. The material seeming of good quality.

    The child rushed to Lord Yi'Dao who embraced him in what seemed like a warm, familiar way. Lord Yi'Dao smiled at the child softly which relaxed Suyin even more.

    "Aban, you know Lord Yi'Dao?" She asked as he seemed to know and trust him.

    The words were barely out of her mouth when there was an intense pressure in the room. The man known as Lord Yi'Dao was glaring at her. His brown eyes were aflame were anger.

    "Don't use that name," Lord Yi'Dao's words were so heavy that she unconsciously took a step back.

    "I-I'm sorry? Is that not his name?" Suyin asked in confusion.

    "It-" Lord Yi'Dao began to answer but stopped as Aban pulled away and shook his head.

    "It's okay...I think..." He paused and looked towards Suyin before smiled softly, "I think she's a good person...don't be mean to her. I already made-"

    It was Lord Yi'Dao would interrupted this time, "You're not at fault, child."

    His words were firm yet kind.

    "Su Ming did what she had to," Lord Yi'Dao cupped the boys cheek, "Blast this family...Ah, forgive me. You're here on business with them, are you not?"

    "Y-Yes," Suyin was beginning to unravel the uncertainty in her heart, "More specifically...it would be business with you. You are the Head Alchemist, are you not?"

    "I am," He spoke with a bit of pride, "You are the attendant to that girl, yes?"

    "Yes, Young Lady Zhu Fan'Hua," Suyin matched the pride in his voice with her own.

    "Very well," Lord Yi'Dao looked down at Aban, "Alright, child. It seems I will have to take care of you for now."

    He eyes Suyin and there was an uncertainty to them. As if he was weighing her.

    "I must bathe this child now," Lord Yi'Dao told her, "You asked that, did you not?"

    Suyin nodded to which he let out a short breath.

    "Well," He turned to guide Aban out of the room, "He will have one. As for you and your ward...I'll speak to you later."

    With that Lord Yi'Dao left her with her thoughts. Just who was this man to make even Suyin back away? How did he sneak up on her? Was he stronger than her? Was he the reason her senses didn't work properly?

    All this and more went through her mind as she headed back to the Young Miss. She had enough stretching of her legs. Now she had to think on several things. Just what was going on in this family?

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  5. Nikushimi

    Nikushimi New Member

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    Chapter Four:
    Confrontation


    Lord Yi'Dao had come to find me. He had seen me enter the room with the lady named Suyin. Lord Yi'Dao told me that she was one of the important guests. I had already figured that out when I saw them the previous night.

    He had a serious look on his face as he took me away. I could sense that something was going on. I wasn't quite sure what it was but there was a feeling in my gut. It was tight and heavy.

    The place Lord Yi'Dao brought me wasn't back to my home but rather his own room. I didn't say a word as I just stood there looking around confused. I was nervous. Why was I in his room?

    Lord Yi'Dao was a very important member of the family. He was the sole reason that the Li'Yu Family was so well known for their medicinal arts. The Li'Yu relied on him when their skills were lacking. So then why was I here in such an important persons room?

    Herbs hung from the wall and ceiling to dry. Bottles of many medicines lined shelves along with many books. Lord Yi'Dao had an entire section of the estate to himself. Separated just a bit from the rest of the estate to give him his own privacy.

    A light breeze blew in from outside as I watched him go around the room. He was searching for something. Going through chest after chest and drawer after drawer. I wasn't quite sure what he was after until he pulled from one of the chests a towel.

    Following that he pulled out what looked like fresh clothes. Yet, they were too small to be his. Was this for one of the Young Masters of the house? Did he bring me here to help him?

    "Child," Lord Yi'Dao spoke suddenly, "Follow me."

    Without a word I did. Through a couple rooms of his small home we came to a room with tiled flooring. In the center of this room was a raised platform that had a dip in it. As if the beautiful green and gold stone was carved hollow.

    "Sit," Lord Yi'Dao pointed to the edge of the hollowed out stone.

    It was larged enough to hold many people. Was this how he made medicine? Walking over to the side of the stone where what looked like a metal hand with several knobs were he turned two of them and water began to pour out. A sudden flash of my memory from when I was younger appeared in my head.

    "A...bathtub?" My thoughts were confused.

    The memory I had was from when I was younger. Miss Su had given me a bath a few times. Though it was in a smaller tub than this. That's when I realized just what was going on. Lord Yi'Dao had meant his words. He was going to give me a bath.

    I had never seen a tub this beautiful or extravagant. Nor had I ever taken a bath in a tub after the times Miss Su gave me a bath. I was never allowed. Whenever I did wash up it was always in a nearby stream outside of the estate.

    "Lord Yi'Dao..." I spoke softly, "Isn't this...your tub?"

    "That's right," He stood proudly, hands on his hips, "What of it?"

    "W-Well..." I looked away from him feeling like I stepped out of line, "It's just...are you sure it's alright?"

    There was silence between us and I was sure I said something wrong. However, Lord Yi'Dao simply walked over in front of me. His hand reached out and lifted my chin to look at him.

    "What are you talking about, child?" He had a gentle face and his words were kind, "You need a bath. No more washing in a stream. No more sneaking around. It's over."

    "W-What do you-" I was asking in confusion but was interrupted as Lord Yi'Dao held up his hand.

    "No," He shook his head, "No questions. Right now you will take a bath."

    He motioned to the clothes and towel he set on a nearby counter. Then motioned to what looked like a trash can.

    "Throw your old clothes in there," He said and walked toward the door to the room, "I have something I need to take care of. In the meantime, you take a bath and get changed into those clothes. The soap and other things are there for you to use."

    He motioned to what looked like bottles of some kind and a light blue bar. He also one more motioned to the clean clothes but there was no way I could wear something so nice. I would get in trouble for it.

    "Child," Lord Yi'Dao's gentle voice called my attention to him, "Do not give that sort of look...That Su Ming, she made those for you. She gave them to me to protect. So...Don't let them go to waste."

    With that he left me with a dumbfounded expression upon my face. Miss Su made those for me? My eyes went to the clean, fresh clothing. They were a dark blue and lined with a beautiful white. They looked so pristine and clean.

    My eyes became blurry as tears built up in them. The mere thought of her caused me to miss her already. Yet, the fact she did something as make me new clothes was too much. I smiled as I began to do as I was told.

    My old clothes went into the trash before I slipped into the tub. The warm water instantly soothed my body. The right side of my chest completely black and blue from my ribs being broken. Yet, the water felt nice to the touch.

    Following what I saw Lord Yi'Dao do with the knobs of the tub I was able to turn the water off. I soaked in the water for I don't know how long. The dirt and grime on my body seemed to wash away.

    Slowly, cautiously, I grabbed the bar of light blue. It felt solid despite looking so fragile. Smelling it I noticed it had a light smell. I couldn't quite place what kind of smell it was but it was...nice. The bar looked like it had never been used before.

    Did Lord Yi'Dao not use this? He had to have taken baths, right? That's when I noticed another bar. A light yellow bar that seemed to have been worn down a bit. It must be the bar that he used.

    Not wanting to use his bar I used the bar he pointed out. Memories of Miss Su using something similar popped into my head. Using those memories as base I began to scrub my body with it. I knew how to wash myself but the use of soap and other cleaning materials just weren't available for me.

    I recalled the name of the bar as I continued scrubbing. Soap. I watched as the dirt and sweat dispersed with the soap. The water was getting dirty now and I was feeling bad. Finding the way to drain the tub I was able to refill it with clean water as I looked at the bottles Lord Yi'Dao pointed out.

    They had words on them but I had no idea what they said. I knew of only one thing. They were for my hair. The memory of Miss Su using similar bottles came to mind. I smiled, grateful that I had these memories.

    Doing my best I washed my hair which was a hassle with how knotted it was. Despite that I somehow managed and finished my bath. Drying off with the towel that Lord Yi'Dao provided me. The moment I touched it my eyes lit up. The towel was incredibly soft.

    It felt too good for me yet I didn't want to upset Lord Yi'Dao. Using the towel I was dried off and looking at the clothes Miss Su made for me. One piece at a time I put them on. They were soft and comfortable. More than I deserved.

    Lord Yi'Dao wasn't back yet and I was standing in the bathroom. Unsure what to do I found myself wandering back the way I came. What I heard as I came to the door to the main room caused me to pause. Something told me I should run. I should have run.

    "You're making a mistake!" The voice of Lord Yi'Dao sounded from beyond the the other side.

    "Lord Yi'Dao..." Li'Yu Wang's voice could be heard as well, it sounded tired, "He is under my Family. What we do with him is our business."

    "He is a child!" Lord Yi'Dao shot back, "This is beneath you! What happened to the Li'Yu Family? It used to mean something! Now you're abusing a child...for what?"

    "That child is cursed," Li'Yu Wang answered, "He is a burden on this family."

    "Then why keep him?" Lord Yi'Dao was angry, "Let me take care of him then. You should have never treated him like this."

    "Lord Yi'Dao..." Li'Yu Wang was getting angry, "You cross the line. What I do with my family is not your business."

    There was silence for a while before Lord Yi'Dao spoke up again.

    "So..." Lord Yi'Dao spoke quietly, "You won't listen to me then?"

    "No," Li'Yu Wang answered immediately, "That child, Aban, is my responsibility and I will do with him as I please. Need I remind you...You work for me."

    "No, I remember," Lord Yi'Dao was unnaturally calm, "So, what will you do if I care for that child regardless? Would you raise your hand at me? Will you kick me out like you did Su Ming?"

    "Lord Yi'Dao, that's-" Li'Yu Wang seemed genuinely taken aback.

    "The truth," Lord Yi'Dao interrupted, "Will you kill me?"

    "Lord Yi'Dao!" Another voice, that of Captain Mo'Fan, "Do you really think we'd-"

    There was silence as something cut off his words.

    "Lord Li'Yu Wang," Lord Yi'Dao addressed him, "You have a choice to make. Treat that child better...or I walk."

    "You're being unreasonable," Li'Yu Wang's voice sounded annoyed, but then he sighed as if he resigned, "...Fine, but on several conditions."

    I sat down in the hallway outside the door listening in. My knees to my chest as I hugged them to me. Why was Lord Yi'Dao going this far? I didn't want to lose him too.

    "First," Li'Yu Wang continued, "He will not live in the estate anymore."

    "That's...!" Lord Yi'Dao seemed angry, "You kept him locked up here all this time and now you're kicking him out?"

    "Let me finish," Li'Yu Wang took a breath and continued, "The forest behind the estate. He often escapes there, does he not?"

    With no answer, Li'Yu Wang continued.

    "A small house will be built there for him," Li'Yu Wang explained, "If he is caught in the estate again...I will kill him."

    "Lord Li'Yu Wang," Lord Yi'Dao's voice grew dark, "You say such things so casually."

    "If you intefere," Li'Yu Wang matched his tone, "Even though you are Lord Yi'Dao...I will not let it slide."

    "I'd like to see you try," Lord Yi'Dao threatened, "This family has fallen so low. To go to such lengths over a child. I, Lord Yi'Dao Sheng Xian, will not have it."

    "Then...that is your decision?" Li'Yu Wang's voice was scary.

    "You have made it so," Lord Yi'Dao was calm, yet an underlying anger tinged his voice.

    Silence was followed shortly after. It felt like forever. My heart was beating heavily in my chest. It was then that I heard it. The sound of a thud followed metal on metal. My eyes grew wide and I acted before I thought.

    Opening the door to the room I saw them. Lord Yi'Dao and Mo'Fan clashed with Li'Yu Wang on the ground clutching his chest. He was glaring up at Lord Yi'Dao. The moment the door opened all their eyes went to me.

    "You!" Li'Yu Wang raged, "This is your fault!"

    I stood there frozen. Mo'Fan glared towards me and it looked like Lord Yi'Dao was struggling a bit. The fear running through me was intense. I couldn't move.

    "Child," Lord Yi'Dao addressed me, a bit strained, "How was your bath?"

    "Ha...are you really asking that?" I asked him, my voice full of worry, "Now?"

    "Heh, if not now, then when?" He smiled as if he was enjoying himself, "These fools can't touch me. If they do, well..."

    It was in that moment that Mo'Fan saw an opportunity. Knocking him off balance there was a sudden force which was instantly dispersed. Mo'Fan glared at me for he knew. He had just tried to use Mana but it didn't work.

    I was there, after all. However, it also meant that Lord Yi'Dao couldn't properly use it either. He was losing. My feet were frozen and I couldn't move.

    Even as Mo'Fan overpowered Lord Yi'Dao and knocked him down. A slice across his cheek as he held his sword to Lord Yi'Dao. I didn't get to tell him I enjoyed the bath. The towel and the clothes.

    Just how...how could I tell him? He was about to die in front of me. He was...I found my feet moving and before I knew it I was before the sword of Mo'Fan. My heart beating wildly.

    "I-I did enjoy it," I found myself saying, "It was...so nice. So please...don't get hurt over me. Stop this...Now!"

    I yelled the words as strong as I could. So loud was I that everyone stared in shock. I was a small child who never raised his voice. Who rarely talked back. Yet, here I was yelling directly face to face with Li'Yu Wang and Mo'Fan.

    "What is all this?" A familiar voice spoke up.

    The voice came from Suyin who was standing by the open door of the room behind Li'Yu Wang. The door which led out to the courtyard of Lord Yi'Dao's small home. Beside her was the girl from last night. She was watching as always. Her impassive face and eyes taking everything in.

    "Is this how the Li'Yu Family treats its people?" Suyin asked, a menacing aura around her, "My Young Lady wished to go for a walk...and possibly meet with Lord Yi'Dao. Yet, here you all are...aiming a sword at a child."

    "I..." Li'Yu Wang went to speak up but faltered, "This...Mo'Fan, back off."

    "But My Lord!" He protested, but the look from Li'Yu Wang quieted him as he sheathed his sword and backed up.

    Lord Yi'Dao stood up, hand on my shoulder as he looked to Li'Yu Wang. Walking past me he knelt before him. With quick movements he hit his chest in several points and it was like Li'Yu Wang could breath again.

    The both of them stood and distanced themselves from one another. Suyin and the young girl, Zhu Fan'Hua from what I recalled, watched on.

    "Lord Li'Yu Wang," Lord Yi'Dao broke the silence between everyone, "I refuse to be a part of this family any longer."

    "Lord Yi'Dao!" Li'Yu Wang exclaimed, "Come now! What about our guests?"

    Lord Yi'Dao looked to the guests, then back at me. I could tell that this was, once again, my fault. Lord Yi'Dao sighed and walked to me. A gentle hand on my shoulder.

    "It is not your fault," He spoke softly, a kind smile on his face, "I know that look. You deserve better but it seems...I am not able to give that to you. Without the families permission I can't do anything..."

    He looked towards the two guests. His eyes were strong and clear.

    "You two," He addressed them, "I will remain for as long as you are here. I will finish my work with you. I gave my word I'd try my best for the Young Miss. After that, however..."

    His eyes wandered to Li'Yu Wang who seemed to almost flinch at his gaze.

    "To think," He spoke calmly, "That this is how the Li'Yu Family falls. I hope you think carefully these next few days. The Yi'Dao Family won't let this slide."

    He turned his attention back towards me, a gentle hand cupping my cheek.

    "Child," He smiled at me, "When I'm gone...you have to be strong, alright? This place here...It is owned by me, not the family. I give it to you."

    "Lord Yi'Dao! That's not your decision!" Mo'Fan shouted angrily, "That's-"

    A resounding smack was sounded as Li'Yu Wang slapped Mo'Fan.

    "Who gave you permission to speak?" Li'Yu Wang was angry but as he turned his attention to Lord Yi'Dao his tone softened, "Is this...your wish?"

    "It is," Lord Yi'Dao looked towards him, "You can do this much, can't you?"

    "...Yes," Li'Yu Wang sighed, nodding, "I give you my word as the Head of the Li'Yu Family. This place will be his."

    "...And?" Lord Yi'Dao asked as he stared at Li'Yu Wang.

    "And...none will take it from him," Li'Yu Wang looked like it hurt to say that, "This place was Lord Yi'Dao's. It shall not come to harm and Aban-"

    "Lord Li'Yu Wang," Lord Yi'Dao's tone darkened, "The words you speak...I will hold you to that upon your name. I'll even forgive Mo'Fan from injuring me. So long as you give your word that no more harm will come to this child."

    "I...give you my word, Lord Yi'Dao," Li'Yu Wang gritted his teeth as he glared towards me, "For as long as he remains in your residence no harm shall come to him."

    "...I am aware of your words," Lord Yi'Dao answered causing Li'Yu Wang to flinch.

    "It is all I can promise," Li'Yu Wang answered curtly.

    The silence between everyone returned as they stared at each other. It was only Suyin clearing her throat that brought everyones attention back to reality.

    "It seems we keep interrupting family matters," She adjusted herself as she spoke, "Forgive us for being rude. We shall return at a better time."

    "Nonsense," Lord Yi'Dao spoke up, "Lord Li'Yu Wang was just about to leave...after signing this."

    With a flourish of his hand a scroll of parchment appeared before him. A slight glow to it. I was astonished. Something mystical was working around me.

    Clearing a spot on a circular table in the room Lord Yi'Dao motioned for Li'Yu Wang to approach. He did so cautiously. Reading what was on it his face grew dark before lightening with a resigned sigh.

    Quickly Li'Yu Wang signed the scroll followed by Lord Yi'Dao. Satisfied with the signing Lord Yi'Dao rolled the scroll up and as soon as it appeared it had disappeared. With that being done Li'Yu Wang and Mo'Fan left.

    "Now then," Lord Yi'Dao smiled as he turned towards the two guests, "Please, come in and make yourselves comfortable. Ah, child..."

    He turned towards me and knelt down to whisper to me.

    "How about you..." He whispered to me directions to his own, private kitchen.

    I was surprised he had such a thing here. His small house was bigger than I had ever thought. Perhaps it's because I lived in a small room all my life. Yet, I was happy to hear him out. I had helped Miss Su on a few occasions make some food.

    It was one of the only things I was ever taught to do. In the moment I was more than happy to help make some quick snacks for Lord Yi'Dao and the two guests. Miss Suyin had helped me before to avoid being seen. Finally, I could be useful.
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  6. Nikushimi

    Nikushimi New Member

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    Chapter Five:
    Connection


    "Lord Yi'Dao," Suyin spoke up when the child left.

    "Yes?" He asked as he turned towards his guests.

    Motioning to the chairs around the table they each took a seat with Suyin and Zhu Fan'Hua next to each other.

    "That child, Aban," She looked towards the direction he went, "What is his story?"

    There was a cold silence between them as Lord Yi'Dao looked upon Suyin. There was tension in the air before Lord Yi'Dao took a breath. As he did it was as if all tension disappeared. His shoulders relaxing as he began to pour some tea.

    "I would hope you don't use that name," Lord Yi'Dao sounded saddened, "You asked for his story? Well, it's in that name."

    He said the word "name" with such vehement mocking that it caught even Zhu Fan'Hua off guard.

    "It is not a name, but rather...an insult disguised as a name," Lord Yi'Dao finished pouring the tea and offered it to them both, "In truth, that child does not have a name. They may call it a name, but..."

    "If it is not a name, then...what?" Suyin asked as she took the tea.

    "You haven't figured it out?" Lord Yi'Dao raised an eyebrow in shock, "I had thought that-"

    "...Abandoned," The small, tender voice of Zhu Fan'Hua spoke up.

    It was barely a whisper but Suyin heard it and everything clicked in her head. A sudden anger arose in her as Lord Yi'Dao smiled a sad smile.

    "They call a child that!" Suyin found herself exclaiming before lowering her tone at the look of both Lord Yi'Dao and Zhu Fan'Hua.

    "Yes, they do," Lord Yi'Dao leaned back and took a sip of his tea, "That child was found abandoned in the forest behind the estate. No one knows who left him there."

    His gaze turned towards the outside. Gazing at the courtyard as he thought back to that time.

    "They took him in and cared for him," A small smile across his lips as he took a sip of his tea, "They treated him well back then. Until..."

    His smile faded as he glanced at his guests.

    "This isn't exactly a story for you to concern yourselves with," Lord Yi'Dao looked between them, "Unless..."

    Zhu Fan'Hua sighed and nodded. There was a look of wariness upon her otherwise impassive face. It was then that Lord Yi'Dao smiled.

    "Don't worry," He said as he leaned forward, "I'll keep your secret."

    "Honestly," Suyin let out a long breath, "To think that the alchemist we heard about was one of the Yi'Dao Family...."

    "Ha! Well, be that as it may I'll keep your secret," Lord Yi'Dao leaned forward, lowering his voice, "Now as for the story...he shouldn't be too much longer so I'll abbreviate it. He can't cultivate."

    Suyin tilted her head at this information. Even Zhu Fan'Hua raised an eyebrow.

    "He can't...cultivate?" Suyin asked in a rather credulous voice, "I mean, most people can't make it past base stage. That's nothing to-"

    "No," Lord Yi'Dao interrupted, "He can't."

    The word hit like a dagger sinking in to the flesh. Slow, but soon they realized its presence.

    "That's...how?" Suyin asked with curiosity and confusion, "That's...unheard of."

    "Right," Lord Yi'Dao leaned back and smiled a fond smile, "Still, he's a kind, timid child. Mana simply just...doesn't flow right with him. As for those around him, well..."

    Zhu Fan'Hua's eyes widened. Lord Yi'Dao didn't miss it. A small, ever so slight smile curled his lips.

    "Young Miss," Lord Yi'Dao looked to her, "You seemed to have notice something."

    She nodded ever so slightly as her face relaxed once more.

    "He will...be around while I treat you," Lord Yi'Dao explained, "But after that...he will be alone here at this family. It will be rough for him. Perhaps...a little less after today, but still rough."

    Zhu Fan'Hua seemed like she was about to speak but the opening of a door stopped her. Walking in was the child from before.

    "Ah, there you are, child," Lord Yi'Dao smiled warmly, "Did you have any trouble?"

    "N-No," He spoke up as he carried the tray with snacks upon it, "I...can't do this much at least."

    As he made his way over with the tray it seemed like he would fall over at any moment. Yet, somehow he made it and placed the tray upon the table. Lord Yi'Dao was unsurprised but Suyin's eyes widened and Zhu Fan'Hua tilted her head with intrigue.

    Upon the tray was a myriad of different types of snacks. Rice rolls and rice balls. Peaches and plums cut up in easy to eat pieces. Some dried jerky as well as some noodles and a type of soup. When tasted it turned out to be a nice chicken broth.

    "You...made all this?" Suyin asked as she looked at the child.

    He nodded as he looked a bit sheepish. His eyes dancing around before looking at the floor.

    "N-Not all of it," He answered, an anxious smile on his face, "The...Jerky was already made."

    Lord Yi'Dao placed a hand upon his head.

    "Good job, child," He praised him with a warm smile, "You did well."

    He noticed that the childs hair was clean now yet was still full of knots and had to be cut. Looking towards his guests he could see that they were also impressed. Still just a child yet was able to prepare such a tray of food.

    While they were simple foods it was done in such a way that none of it was messy. It was all presentable and refined. Miss Su had taught him well. He was extremely proud and acted sheepish, but Lord Yi'Dao could tell he was happy to have helped.

    "Well, what are we waiting for?" He asked as he motioned to the food, "Please, don't just try the soup. You as well, child."

    "M-Me? But that's-" He began to protest but in one motion Lord Yi'Dao lifted him and set him in a chair.

    "Eat, child," He smiled and motioned to the food before them, "And then go rest. You've had a long day and I'd like time alone with our guests."

    "O-Okay!" He seemed excited as he began to eat the food that he made as well.

    He didn't take very much but Lord Yi'Dao didn't push it. He was just happy to see the child eat. Afterwards he was sleepy just like Lord Yi'Dao expected. Lord Yi'Dao's home wasn't as large as the main house of the family but it held several rooms.

    It was in one of these rooms that he brought the child to rest before returning to his guests. He consulted on Zhu Fan'Hua's condition and concluded that she somehow drew an intenst amount of Mana towards her. This, of course, was already known.

    "I have some ideas of how to alleviate the symptoms," He mused as he looked at the list of symptoms, "But...since this is an inherent part of yourself...there is no cure."

    "No cure?" Suyin asked rather confused, "That's...not possible."

    "Well," Lord Yi'Dao looked over the paper at her, "That's why I'm the Alchemist and you're not. If there is a cure then I don't know it. This is a part of her. It's not a poison. It's not a disease. She was born this way, right?"

    "...Yes," Suyin admitted.

    "It must have been hard for everyone," Lord Yi'Dao comforted them, "A baby in constant pain...it must have taken a lot of attention."

    "It did," Suyin nodded and Zhu Fan'Hua seemed slightly uncomfortable.

    "Right, so here's what I can do," Setting down the paper he began to explain the course of treatment, "There are a few pills which can limit your Mana. Before you say anything, this is a poison so if you go this route you must be careful. It's not deadly, but will severely hamper your Mana Veins and numbs the mana points."

    Lord Yi'Dao watched them for their reactions but the seriousness in their faces said they were willing to learn more.

    "The poison may not work, however," He continued as he looked back to the list of symptoms, "It could simply just numb the mana points and thin the Mana Veins. In so doing it could become more painful if the Mana forces itself in. So I will rule that out since that is what you state happens."

    They looked disappointed but motioned for him to continue.

    "I can also prescribe a strong pain reliever," He stroked his beard as he thought, "It isn't ideal as the Mana will still be forcing itself inside. Yet, you shouldn't feel the pain. However, that might hamper your ability to feel the Mana as well. Making cultivation more difficult and possibly damaging."

    "So...that's out as well then?" Suyin asked as she looked towards Zhu Fan'Hua, "Is there really nothing we can do?"

    "Well, that's why you're here," He smiled as reassuringly as he could, "With your permission I will test out these methods. If none of them work then..."

    "We understand," Suyin immediately responded, "We'll try."

    Zhu Fan'Hua nodded and so the days began where they would come over every single day for the next month. Every day they would try a different treatment. Some helped, but others did not.

    Meanwhile, the child spent his days nearby. Often, Zhu Fan'Hua would approach him. They would sit out by the pond of Lord Yi'Dao's home and talk. Though it was motly the child that spoke. Yet, when Zhu Fan'Hua did speak it was to teach him things.

    Suyin made note of this along with Lord Yi'Dao. The Young Miss apparently didn't like to talk much yet she explained many things to him. From the name of plants to the methods and levels of cultivation. Something that he wasn't completely aware of.

    It was through this that Lord Yi'Dao saw something form. For it was in these moments that he noticed something rather crucial. Zhu Fan'Hua, whenever she was around the child, was not in pain. It was when the child had looked away from her and he saw a smile upon her face that he knew. Things would change for that child in the future.

    It was with that he could leave the Li'Yu Family after a month with a lighter heart. The child would have to endure for just a little more, but he was sure of it. The child with no name...abandoned as a baby, would soon find that there was more to this world.
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  7. Nikushimi

    Nikushimi New Member

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    Chapter Six:
    A Name


    Lord Yi'Dao left the Li'Yu Family a month later after the guests Zhu Fan'Hua and her attendant Suyin left. Their treatment made very little progress and they had to return to Zhu Fan'Hua's family. Yet, they found a pill that alleviated the pain enough for her to at least sleep.

    I was happy for her. She was the first person to spend time with me. Most people despised being around me. Yet, she didn't seem to mind. Even teaching me things I never knew. Telling me a lot about the outside world.

    They also helped me, along with Lord Yi'Dao and Suyin, to read. If only the basics. That month made me feel like a real child. It was nice.

    However, it didn't last. My days of relaxation and feeling like a normal child were over. The moment Lord Yi'Dao and the guests left everything began to change. I was given Lord Yi'Dao's home and everyone began to treat me with a more quiet disdain.

    They blamed me for them losing their best Alchemist. However, it was their fault for pushing him that far. It still didn't stop them from looking upon me with hatred. The Li'Yu Family never missed a chance to mess with me after that.

    Though their physical abuse lessened the verbal, mental, and emotional abuse continued. It got so bad to the point that I couldn't leave Lord Yi'Dao's home. The few times they entered his home there was a pressure that appeared over everyone.

    It didn't take long for them to realize that an array had been set up. Strong enough that my presence didn't affect it. In here, I was protected. It was more than I deserved. Yet, it was a fact that I was now alone within the Li'Yu Family.

    People began to avoid me. I had to fend for myself. No more did anyone feed me. They practically ignored me. While they left me alone I was able to fend for myself. Lord Yi'Dao left enough food stores for a while and I was able to find some seeds to begin growing food.

    It wasn't much but it was enough for me to get by. Before he left Lord Yi'Dao trimmed and cut my hair. He made it normal. Every day I made sure to take care of it from then on. As I grew I did my best to train.

    There were some manuals left behind by Lord Yi'Dao on acupunture points and medicine. While I couldn't learn all the techniques due to my lack of reading ability and cultivation I was able to learn enough to injure Li'Yu Gang, the Eldest Son. It was a lucky blow but it was effective enough for him to drop me.

    He had cornered me and accused me of stealing from the family as always. Yet, I knew it wasn't me. Lady Dan and Mo'Fan had long since been stealing from the family and blaming it on me. They were just blind to it.

    We were out in the city and far from Lord Yi'Dao's home. So I was unable to get away. His hand around my throat I thought I was going to die. It was in that moment I mustered what strength I could and struck out at his neck.

    He choked and fell. As he was gasping for air I ran. I ran as fast and as hard as I could back to Lord Yi'Dao's home. It was where I would stay for the next several months as they starved me. I had very little food, but if I left they would find me.

    After everything settled down I had to be more careful. I wasn't strong. Average at best. No matter how hard I trained I couldn't pass Base Stage 5. Even after years of trying different medicines that Lord Yi'Dao left behind. Nothing worked.

    So often I cursed myself for being such a burden. Not only did I cause Miss Su to leave but Lord Yi'Dao as well. All the other servants avoided me and the Li'Yu Family acted as if I didn't exist.

    With these changes to my life eight years went by. I lived in Lord Yi'Dao's home and did my best to avoid the Li'Yu Family. They would come to pick fights but would never enter. They'd chase me through the city and beat me up when I wasn't at home. They made sure not give me another lucky shot.

    Still, they made sure not to go too far anymore. It was extremely rare for me to have a broken bone after that. Mainly it was just bruises and a hurt pride. Yet, I endured. I lived and learned what I could.

    I was now sixteen years old. An adult by most standards. That's when things really changed for me. I watched from my typical hiding place as several people glad in black robes and long capes entered the home.

    They all wore bamboo hates that covered their faces. There was one thing that stood out to me. Emblazoned on the back of their capes was the symbol of an Eye. Something felt familiar about it but it wasn't something I could remember at the time. I only knew that shortly after they left I was called to meet with Li'Yu Wang, the head of the family.

    "Aban..." He spoke with a low tone as he looked at the sheet of paper in his hand.

    I didn't say anything. I knew better than that. I clenched by teeth as I knew he wasn't happy. The way he looked at the sheet of paper and the pressure in the room was obvious.

    "You've spent sixteen years under our care," He continued when I didn't say anything.

    I almost scoffed at his words. To say he "cared" for me was such a stretch of the word it might as well not exist. He seemed to catch my reaction but chose to ignore it.

    "However," He tapped his finger upon his desk, "You are now an adult. Most of my children have already left the Family...and it seems you'll be one of them."

    He slid an envelope across the desk towards me.

    "Take it," He ordered, his eyes piercing me.

    When I didn't move he sighed and stood up. Walking around the desk he grabbed the envelope and presented it to me himself.

    "I said," He put the envelope before me, "Take it."

    "Why?" I asked one question.

    It was all I wanted to know. What was this envelope? Why now of all times? I knew what he was saying. Leave. He wanted me gone.

    "Why?" His face darkened as he stared down at me, "You...Look, Aban, you've put me in a tough spot all these years. You-"

    "You still refer to me as that..." I scoffed and took the envelope from him, turning to leave, but looked back to say one last thing,"I'll leave, but it's funny...You say you cared for me all these years...I can't help but laugh. The fact you even think that is-"

    I flinched as I saw his hand raised to hit me but no contact came. Looking at him he was angry. Yet, through clenched teeth he lowered his hand and walked back around to his desk.

    "You're right," He sat down and clasped his hands before him, "I never cared for you. You were and are a curse to this family. We lost Lord Yi'Dao because of you."

    "No," I shot back, "You lost him."

    He glared at me but continued while ignoring my comment.

    "This letter," He motioned to the paper he was reading, "States that you were enrolled in the Mystic Star Academy."

    "What?" I exclaimed, turning back towards him, "Why?"

    "I don't know either," He answered, his brow furrowing as he grew angrier, "It makes no sense that you're enrolled in such a prestigous academy. You're an absolute waste who can't cultivate and destroy others efforts when you're around. You're a curse."

    I rolled my eyes and took a breath. It wasn't the first time I heard such a thing. Yet, he was right. The Mystic Star Academy was well known. Even to me who was unaware of most of the outside world.

    It was an academy dedicated to nurturing and improving the younger generation of cultivators. It was one of many but stood above the rest. It had produced many important Mages in previous years. Almost anyone of importance went to the Mystic Star Academy. So for me to go there didn't make any sense.

    "What you need to know is apparently in that envelope," He pointed to it and then turned away from me, "Now, get what you need and leave. Don't expect any help from us."

    "Ha...you never helped me all these years," I responded as I turned to leave, "Why should I expect anything else after all this time?"

    With that I left the room and returned to Lord Yi'Dao's home. It made no sense. Just why did this letter come for me? Just what exactly was going on?

    Opening it I was left me confused. A thin, black card with a red jewel in the center fell out. The jewel itself was also thin and even with the card yet shown brilliantly. Along with the card was a letter. Reading it left me in shock.

    Child,

    I hope you are well. You are hearby enrolled in the Mystic Star Academy. The black card with the red jewel is yours to use. Do not be concerned about it. Us it for any purchase you make.

    I know this is sudden or perhaps it's not sudden enough. There's a lot I'd like to say but can't. However, there is one thing I can say in this letter. One thing that is extremely important.

    I bet that old bastard never gave you a proper name. Then, if you would allow it...There's a name that I and others think fits you quite well: An'Shen.

    In time you'll come to understand. I hope you find the name acceptable. An'Shen, be safe on the road. Don't flaunt that card around too much. You're a smart kid so I'm sure you'll not be fooled.


    -Lord Yi'Dao

    The tears welled up in my eyes before I even finished reading the letter. My eyes reading the one word over and over again. An'Shen. It was...my name.
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  8. Nikushimi

    Nikushimi New Member

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    Chapter Seven:
    Leaving Home


    It was my first time leaving Plum City and the influence of the Li'Yu Family. The only thing to my name were a few bottles of medicine, some acupuncture needles, and what little clothes I had. I had grown a lot since I was younger but was still average of height.

    Finding clothes was difficult with very little money. Luckily, Lord Yi'Dao had left behind some money for me to survive on for a bit. When that ran out I had to fend for myself. It was enough.

    Now, with this strange card I was able to purchase a carriage ride to the next city over. The moment I shown the card it was as if their eyes lit up. They were cordial and polite to the extent that it was concerning. After all, these were the same people who often looked down up on me in the city.

    As the carriage went along I didn't think much of it. My priority was finding my way to the Mystic Star Academy. I at least understood now why Lord Yi'Dao said not to flash the card. I was grateful that they taught me how to read, if only the basics.

    It was difficult for me to understand most of the letter as I had to read it several times, but...An'Shen. I smiled softly at the name. It was my name. I knew enough to understand that.

    "Hey kid," A gruff voice spoke up, "You alright?"

    "H-Huh?" I found myself looking towards a rather large man with his arms crossed, "Yeah...Why?"

    "Oh, leave the child be, Lai," An older lady next to him nudged him.

    "Sorry, Grandma..." He spoke shyly and a bit sheepishly at her urging.

    The old woman had greying hair tied in a neat bun. She wore basic robes and appeared slightly plump with a kind face. Her fair complexion only broken by slight crows feet around her closed eyes. She was possibly even smaller than I was in height.

    In comparison to her grandson who was at least a head or two taller than me. His dark hair was also tied in a tight bun. His fair complexion weathered by the sun and his muscles barely fighting his plain robes. He was a strong man. His grey blue eyes were strong.

    "It's alright," I smiled, "It's just...my first time out of Plum City."

    "Oh my!" The old lady exclaimed, "That must be exciting!"

    "...Yes," My smile turned to one of melancholy, "Yet, also a bit scary."

    "Well of course!" She continued, "You're leaving for the first time. We've been traveling a while now. Where are you heading? We're heading to Heron City in the south."

    "Ah," I wondered if I should tell them, but they seemed nice enough, "I'm...heading to Starlight City."

    "Starlight City!" They both seemed surprised and the old lady continued, "That's a long journey to make."

    "...Yes," I smiled shyly, "It'll be a long journey."

    "Are you going to the Academy there?" Lai, the grandson, asked.

    "I...don't know," I furrowed my brow at the thought, "I was told I was enrolled, but..."

    "You were enrolled and you don't know?" He asked incredulously, "That's a rather prestigious academy. To say you were enrolled but you don't know...that's a bit arrogant of you."

    "What!? No!" I exclaimed before shrinking back a bit, "I just...don't know if it was a mistake."

    "Why would it be a mistake?" The old lady asked.

    "Ah, well..." I rubbed the back of my neck as it was a bit embarrassing to say and I knew everyones reactions when they would find out, "I'm...not strong enough."

    They both looked at each other and then back at me.

    "Child," The old lady spoke up, as she her eyes opened to reveal hazy grey blue eyes, "Don't worry so much. An Academy is where you go to learn."

    "I...I know, it's just..." I couldn't admit to them that I was only Base Stage 5.

    It was the highest I could go. Entering the Entry Stage 1 was impossible for me. Unless some miracle happened I would be stuck forever where I was.

    "Child," She spoke again a slight shimmer to her eyes, "Don't worry so much. Life is all a journey. Just try to enjoy it."

    "R-Right...thank you," I nodded.

    Lai, her grandson also nodded as if he understood his grandmothers words as well. Closing her eyes again she rested and the journey became a lot more quiet. We barely spoke a word until we reached the next city over.

    The village wasn't large but it was decent enough to have a name. Autumn Pass. It was a village where the Western Edge and the Central Plains met. A nice, forested area where the leaves shown a vibrant orange. It was a beautiful area with a cool temperature.

    "Young man," The old woman called out as they all got out of the carriage, "May I ask your next destination? Is it the City of Grass in the Central Plains?"

    "Ah, yes," I nodded as I got out of the carriage, "At least, that's the directions I was given...I think?"

    "You...think?" Lai furrowed his brow a bit as he helped his grandma down from the carriage.

    "Yes...It's a bit embarrassing but I can't read that well," I felt like I shrunk down a bit in embarrassment.

    "Oh! I'm...sorry," He suddenly apologized, "Do you have the directions?"

    "Ah, yes..." I reached into the pockets of my robe and pulled out another piece of paper that came with the letter, "It's here, but..."

    "May I see it?" He asked as he held out his hand.

    "Uhm...yeah," I cautiously handed him the piece of paper.

    He took it and opened it. I could trust them, right? They didn't seem like a bad person and why would they target a lone traveler? Perhaps I was an easy mark.

    I was possibly being too cautious. I heard stories of people being fooled on their travels. I recalled Zhu Fan'Hua telling me about how someone had tried to trick her and Suyin when they were traveling around. Thinking of them brought a sudden loneliness to my heart.

    I hoped they were doing well. It had been so long since I last saw or heard from them. Did they even remember me like I remembered them?

    "Ahem," Lai's clearing of his throat brought me to attention, "You read this right, but uhm..."

    I noticed suddenly that he was holding two pieces of paper when I had only handed him one. An intense embarrassment came over me then. Lord Yi'Dao, knowing I may have trouble reading had also sent a map.

    "That's...Oh..." I could only hide my face with a hand as I sheepishly took the two pieces of paper back, "I...didn't even notice."

    "Ha! It's alright," He heartily patted me on the back, "Don't be ashamed. Mistakes can be made. I'm just glad I was able to help you...by the way, I never got your name. I'm Lai. My grandmother there is Lu."

    "It's a pleasure, Child," She smiled and nodded, "Most call me Old Lu or Miss Lu."

    "Ah, it's a pleasure, Miss Lu. Mister Lai," I nodded and slightly bowed to both of them, "My name is Aba-"

    I caught myself as I was about to say the name the Li'Yu Family gave me. They seemed to have noticed my hesitation but chose to ignore it.

    "Sorry," I cleared my throat and took a breath, "An'Shen. My name is An'Shen."

    "An'Shen..." Miss Lu thought to herself before nodding, "That's a good name. Wear it well."

    "Th-Thank you, I will," I nodded, feeling myself grow embarrassed.

    "Well, we are going to find an inn to stay at," Lai informed me as they began to move away, "Oh, also...no need to be so formal with me. Just Lai with do."

    "O-Okay, Lai," I nodded and they walked away.

    I was left alone now in Autumn Pass. My stomach was growling. It was time to get some food. As I walked through the town so many smells wafted towards my nose but one place in particular caught my attention.

    A nice wooden building with open doors. The food smelled good and I was drawn towards it. The inside was large with many tables and several people sitting around them. Dumplings, noodles, pork, chicken, rice, and more was being served.

    My mouth was watering when a young woman in a serving uniform came by.

    "Ah! A newcomer," She spoke in a cheery voice, her hair hidden under a handkerchief, "Please, sit wherever you like. I'll get right to you!"

    I nodded and went to the most out of way table. It was out of habit but I didn't like to be around too many people. Being the center of attention wasn't for me.

    Sitting down there was a menu to look at on the table. Flipping through it my heart began to sink. It was all expensive.

    "Hey, you alright?" The bright, cheery voice asked as the serving woman appeared by me.

    "Ah! Yeah, I'm..." I looked at the menu again and took a breath, "Everything here is..."

    I could see out of the corner of my eye her expression change. From a smile to a frown.

    "If you can't afford it then-" She began, her tone changing to annoyance.

    "That's not-" I began but was interrupted.

    "Sir," A large man walked up behind the server woman, "Is anything wrong? Mei'Gui doesn't have make a fuss."

    "He can't afford the food," She spoke up with disgust in her tone.

    "That's not-" I again tried to explain.

    "Oh?" He interrupted and stepped forward, "Then sir, I'm going to have to ask you to-"

    "Oh for fucks sake," I muttered angrily as I pulled the black card up for him to see.

    "-Please come up to the VIP section," His tone immediately changed as he continued his sentence with a completely different town, "I am so sorry for the inconvenience, sir."

    "Boss?" Mei'Gui tried peaking around him to see what was going on, "What do you mean VIP? He has no money to-"

    "Mei'Gui," He turned around and softly spoke to her, "We can't always judge people like that. You know it's not nice."

    "What?" She protested as he moved her along.

    "Sir, this way please," He called but I refused.

    "No, just get me some dumplings and noodles..." I sighed as I looked at the menu, "As well as some of this juice here."

    "Ah! Very well, a humble man indeed to eat down here," He smiled back and called back, "Mei'Gui will happily bring that for you quickly. Won't you, Mei'Gui?"

    "Huh? W-well...yeah..." She was confused and they continued muttering back and forth as they moved away.

    The reaction of the big man once again made me wonder at the card Lord Yi'Dao gave me. He said to use it for any expenses but the prices here were at least two times the prices back in Plum City. Was it really okay for me to spend that?

    On top of that they wanted to treat me like a VIP? Just what was this card? It sunk in even more that I shouldn't flash it around. I hoped I hadn't made a mistake in showing that man. Luckily, my concerns were unfounded as the food was brought to me quickly and with a completely different attitude from Mei'Gui.

    "Please, Young Master, enjoy your food," She beamed like the sun, "If this Mei'Gui can get you anything else you only need call! I'll do anything for you."

    The way she said that made my skin crawl as I dismissed her to eat. The dumplings were soft and delicious. The meat inside was warm and perfect. The noodles as well were amazingly delicious. Washing it down with the juice they gave me was refreshing.

    I quickly paid my due and left. They beamed at me from behind as I left and hoped that I would come again. I would not if I could help it. The two faces of people coming to light was a bad sign. I didn't want to associate with people like that.

    It had been several days since I left Plum City. On the carriage ride over we had to stop and camp out a few times. There were roadside campsights that most travelers used. I was hoping to find a bed.

    There were several inns in this village most likely cause travelers came through a lot. It made me wonder if that's why prices were so high. The inn I found was a three story building set near the edge of town. It was quiet and looked clean.

    There was no problem getting my single room which was on the third floor. Getting up to it was a relief as I closed and locked the door behind me. The room was well taken care of and clean. The bed was soft and a window was there to look out at the village before me.

    Setting my bag down I walked over to the window and looked out. A cool breeze blew in as I watched the scenery before me. It was just setting in that I had left Plum City. Just what more would await me?
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    Last edited: Jun 28, 2022 at 5:36 AM
  9. Nikushimi

    Nikushimi New Member

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    Chapter Eight:
    City of Grass


    Leaving Autumn Pass behind I traveled in another carriage into the Central Plains. Forests gave way to tall grass and sweeping hills. The journey was slow but uneventful. Everytime I got farther and farther away from Plum City I felt this sense of anxiety.

    I had grown up in Plum City my entire life. So every step outside of it I felt more and more unfamiliar. An uncomfortable anxiety. As if I wasn't where I should be. Yet, I knew going back wasn't an option.

    By now they probably scoured Lord Yi'Dao's home and took whatever they wanted. I would be surprised if they didn't. The vast grasslands soon became dotted with forests and flowers of all kinds.

    The other travelers said that this was the Gladeview Territory of the Central Plains. It was the Sima Family which ruled this part of the Central Plains. From what everyone said they were a kind family. I couldn't quite believe that. After all, the Li'Yu Family was also supposed to be kind and generous.

    Still, I kept my opinions to myself. I didn't know the Sima Family and it was unfair to say otherwise just because of the Li'Yu Family. However, what was different is that they called the Sima Family one of the "Major Families". So they were more powerful than the Li'Yu Family.

    Soon, the City of Grass came into view. The carriage coming over the hills revealed a large city. Larger than Plum City by far. In fact, it was at least two to three times bigger than Plum City.

    A large wall surrounded this city situated among the hills. A river ran through it and distant forests dotted the landscape. Stone buildings and some tall buildings could be seen even from this distance. It was an incredible sight.

    Plum City had a wall as well, but not nearly this size. The carriage rolled along until the gate to the city. After showing a pass to the guards we entered the city and soon departed from the carriage. Everyone going their own ways.

    I knew I looked ridiculous. Everyone was much bigger and vast than Plum City. I always thought it was a large city but this made it pale in comparison. Just how many cities like this were out there?

    "Hey kid! Don't block the road!" One of the guards shouted at me which got me moving, "Damn country bumpkins..."

    They muttered as I hurried away. They didn't have to be so rude yet it was true. Compared to this place I come from the country. Making sure I stuck to the side of the road I hurried along. I had no idea where I was going.

    I had no idea that the City of Grass was going to be so large. I felt incredibly out of place and like someone was watching me. Yet, I couldn't quite place it. Hopefully it was just my imagination. It was something I would come to regret hoping for.

    "Hey, kid," The deep voice of the man before me leaned close, "You seem a bit lost. If you want...we can help you. For a fee, of course."

    I was silently cursing myself. Lord Yi'Dao said not to flash the card around yet it was the only money I had. I was hungry and decided to get some food from a vendor on the streets. As I was walking and eating these men pulled me into an alley and cornered me.

    My back was against the wall and I was incredibly nervous. There were about four of them and all were of varying sizes. The one who had me against the wall wasn't the biggest but his muscles were well-defined.

    His breath stunk as he spoke to me. Turning my head away I tried to figure out how to get out of this. I was far from home and barely knew how to defend myself.

    "I...I don't have any money," I stuttered, trying to find a way out, "Honestly, I just used the last of it for this food...I-"

    "Don't...lie to me," He slammed the wall by my head and I heard the stone crack a bit, "I saw you...a jeweled card like that. You have money. So why don't you just pay us to show you around."

    "I...don't need to be shown around, so," I smiled awkwardly as I tried to inch my way from him, only for him to place his other arm to block me.

    "Then," He snickered, "A small fee for wasting our time then."

    "Come on man..." I looked around and saw no way out, yet I couldn't give them the card Lord Yi'Dao sent me.

    "No, you come on," He spoke as the others snickered, "We are just trying to be good samaritans. Does that not deserve a little compensation?"

    He looked back towards his friends and it was in that moment out of despeartion I tried something. I knew a bit about acupuncture points and it worked on Li'Yu Gang. In a moment I brought two fingers up to the point in his neck hoping to get him coughing so I could run.

    Yet, as my fingers came to his neck they had no effect. It was as solid as stone. Gulping I cursed myself yet again. It was years since I did this to Li'Yu Gang. He was weaker and unprepared for me to fight back. These guys...were on another level. Always ready.

    "Oh?" He smirked as he turned back towards me, "Thought I'd let me guard down? You seem to know some interesting stuff. Yet..."

    I didn't even see it coming. My head rung from the slap I received from him as I went flying down the alley. I went flying so far that even they were surprised.

    "...So weak," They tilted their head, "I didn't expect you to be that weak. What the hell..."

    I could taste blood in my mouth and sure enough as I spit out on the ground it was completely red. However, now I was away from them. I could run. I had to run.

    Pushing myself up I moved as quickly as I could. However, it wasn't enough because as soon as I took off there was someone in front of me. It was one of the four who hadn't spoke. A lanky man with a wild look in his eyes.

    "Now, now little lamb," He taunted, "That's not very nice. We're just trying to help you."

    I paused in my tracks as I realized that these men were on another level than what I was used to. They were coordinated. They were fast and strong. They weren't like the typical bullies I dealt with. They were practiced criminals. I was in trouble.

    "Help?" A soft, feminine voice called out, "Do you help people by attacking them?"

    Everyones heads turned to behind the lanky man. A woman standing at the front of several people in armor. She had a relaxed aura around her. Brown hair tied in a half ponytail. Her fair complexion sunkissed with sharp features.

    She wore exquisite robes of beige and brown. A whip wrapped in her hand. A young man stepped up next to her who wore the same colored robes. His hair was brown just like hers and tied back in a similar fashion. He was shorter than her by at least a head yet had the same fair sunkissed complexion.

    Their eyes drew my attention as well. A piercing yellowish green. Chartreuse. They both appeared calm. The young man also had a whip in his hands.

    "I agree, Sister Ai'Li," He smiled up at her, "That seems a bit counterproductive to help, but if that's how you help someone...perhaps we should help them?"

    "That is an excellent idea, Young Brother chen," She smiled and before I could blink her whip came out and wrapped itself around the lanky mans neck.

    "Ack!" He struggled as he held his hands up to the whip.

    "S-Sima Family!" The men behind me yelled as they began to disperse.

    The Sima Family? What were they doing here? I wasn't going to complain as they had just saved my life. As they others began to disperse the young man, Chen, began to move.

    "Now, now! We just came to help you," He laughed as he ran and kicked off the wall of the nearby building.

    He moved quickly and in a single motion his whip lashed out at one of the men fleeing. Hooking his leg the man fell flat on his face.

    "Come on! Go help them!" He called out to what I could only assume were guards.

    They moved as if flying as they stepped through the air. Making their way over me and towards the other two fleeing men. Looking back towards the lanky man I found him to be unconscious before the woman named Ai'Li.

    Her foot around his neck along with the whip. A slight smile on her lips before she looked up towards me. Her smile became a bit kinder as she looked towards me.

    "Are you alright?" She asked sweetly.

    It was in such stark contrast to the way she pulled on the whip around the mans neck. How can someone choke someone out while looking so...sweet?

    "Y-Yeah, I am now," I laughed nervously.

    "I see, that's good," She nodded and looked past me, "Young Chen, stop playing around already."

    Looking back I noticed that he was in what could only be described as a one sided, horrible game of tag. The man he had latched was trying to grab and attack him but he deftly moved out of the way. Often using his whip to trip, hit, or otherwise humiliate him.

    "Aw, alright, very well Sister Ai'Li," He smiled.

    In one fluid motion as he jumped over the man his whip wrapped around their neck and as he landed, slammed the man down into the ground. The man was knocked unconscious near immediately. I was breathing heavily as this was on some other level.

    The other two men who had ran away were also apprehended by the guards which went after them. I wasn't sure how I got so lucky, but for now...I was safe.

    "Hey," Ai'Li's voice sounded next to me.

    As I went to turn I found her face mere inches from mine. She was leaning down towards me as if examining me. My heart skipped several beats as I felt my cheeks grow warm. Startled, I backed up quickly only to stumble and fall with a thud.

    "Heh, sorry about that," She laughed lightly and walked towards me, "I was just checking your face. They hit you pretty hard. Just what stage are you?"

    "Ah, uhm...Well..." I got nervous suddenly as I looked around, "I'm not...I'm just Base Stage 5..."

    Her eyes widened in surprise but then nodded in understanding.

    "That would explain it," She motioned to the men who had attacked me, "They're all Entry Stage 5. Though the leader is Initiate Stage 3."

    "You...know them?" I asked as I tried to slow my heartbeat.

    "Unfortunately..." She sighed, hands on her hips as she looked at them, "They are repeat offenders. Taking advantage of travelers or those who are new to the city. Where are you from?"

    "...Plum City," I muttered, still feeling a bit sheepish.

    "Ah, then you've traveled a long way," She smiled and offered me a hand, "Come on. Let's get you up."

    I nodded and took her hand. To my surprise it was soft and gentle. It took barely any effort to help me up. Just how strong were they to handle these men like this? They were as strong if not stronger than the Li'Yu children. Li'Yu Gang, last I heard, had entered Entry Stage 5 recently.

    "I'm Sima Ai'Li," She introduced herself after she helped me up, "That kid there is my younger brother, Sima Chen."

    "Nice to meet you!" He waved excitedly from where he had downed the man before.

    He was gathering his whip and checking them for any weapons.

    "Ah...I, I'm uh..." I found myself suddenly shy, "An'Shen, my name is An'Shen."

    "It's nice to meet you, An'Shen," Sima Ai'Li looked around and then back at me, "I hope you'll be more careful. Just where are you heading?"

    "Me?" I asked, confused, "I mean...Starlight City."

    It was as if the name silenced even the crickets. There was a quiet between everyone as they looked towards me. Did I say something wrong? Was Starlight City not on friendly terms with them?

    As I began to panic I felt a firm hand on my shoulder. Looking, I found that it was Sima Ai'Li. She was beaming at me with a kind, gentle face.

    "Wow! You still have a long ways to go," She laughed and motioned towards her brother, "Young Chen is also heading that way! The Mystic Star Academy, yes?"

    My eyes widened as I nodded, "H-How did you know?"

    "Well, there are only a few reasons one would go there," She let go of my shoulder and turned her attention to the returning guards, but continued talking, "You're not a merchant nor from a large family as you don't have a family name. So, you either have family up that way or you're going for the Academy."

    She glanced back at me and her face grew a bit somber.

    "And not meaning to be rude," She sighed and relaxed a bit, "But you don't seem like you would have family up there if you came from Plum City."

    "W-Why's that? I could have?" The words out of my mouth felt hollow.

    I knew I had no family. The closest I ever came to any true family was Miss Su and Lord Yi'Dao.

    "Plum City is...far away," She spoke as if trying to choose her words carefully, "To have family in Starlight City I'd imagine that you'd be traveling with other family members. Yet, you are alone."

    "Well...they could have only afforded to send me?" I laughed awkwardly.

    "Yes, they could have," She smiled gently, almost as if she understood, "But it's not, is it?"

    "...No," I sighed and leaned against the wall of the alley, "I'm on my own."

    There was a silence between us as she ordered the guards to take the four men away. Turning her attention back to me, Sima Chen walked up next to her.

    "I didn't mean to bring up anything painful," She said apologetically, "Just be more careful, alright? You still have a long way to go."

    "Yeah...Oh!" I exclaimed as I was curious about this situation, "You said you're Sima Family, right? Isn't that the family in charge of this town? Why were here? I mean..."

    "Ha, it's alright. Don't be nervous about asking," Her laugh was hearty as she motioned to the city beyond the alley, "This is our home. As part of the Sima Family it is our duty to protect it and those within it. We aren't so proud that we won't walk among the people. As for why or how we were here...it was honestly pure chance."

    She explained how they were on patrol when they happened to pass the alley we were in. They heard noises and decided to investigate. As they got there they saw me get slapped and sent flying. It was embarrassing to be reminded of it yet they didn't seem to look down on me for being at Base Stage 5.

    After she explained all this both her and her brother said goodbye to me. I smiled to myself as I was glad that they were indeed kind people. I counted my blessings for being so lucky that they passed by during my time of need.

    It didn't take me long to find an inn to stay at and unwind from the day. My face was hurting but with a cold cloth compressed on it I was able to deal with it.

    "...City of Grass...What a welcome," I laughed to myself as I thought on the days events.
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  10. Nikushimi

    Nikushimi New Member

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    Chapter Nine:
    Travel Companion


    The next few days I spent wandering the City of Grass. It was far larger than I thought but I was getting used to the various ins and outs of the city. The carriage to the next city before Starlight City wouldn't leave for a couple days and so I took the moment to explore.

    Various places in the city were busy with many people. The streets were clean and everyone seemed happy. I got better at moving around and soon was able to arrive exactly where I wanted to. All those years making my way through Plum City helped.

    I always had to be careful and use many pathways through the city so as not to get caught. Now that I was in the City of Grass those skills came in useful. Especially after my first encounter on the day I arrived. Since then I had my guard up.

    The Sima Family I learned were warriors and merchants. Highly regarded as the "Guardians of the Plains". Their horsemanship was impressive as was their martial prowess. The whips they use are the signature weapon of their family.

    Part of me hoped to run into them again as I never got the chance to actually thank them. I thought on this as I made my way to the carriage location. It was leaving soon so I had to pay for my passage quickly or I would have to wait another few days.

    Everyone was moving around busy as can be. The sound of the city was something I couldn't get used to. There were way more people here than back home. The sounds, smells, and atmosphere was entirely different. It made me wonder what Starlight City would be like.

    "Out of the way!" A voice called from behind.

    I heard the sound of hooves and wheels. Everyone moved aside as a carriage, a soft beige in color, rolled on by. The driver seemed to be dressed well and two guards flanked the carriage on horses. A banner flown on the top of the carriage.

    As I looked the symbol of a horse in gallop within a curled up whip was seen upon it. The Sima Family. It was then that I remembered something that Sima Ai'Li had said. Her brother, Sima Chen was also heading to the Mystic Star Academy. It was no wonder then that this carriage was moving this direction.

    I found myself moving quicker. I had to hurry or I would miss my own carriage. It must be nice to have their own carriage but I had no time to think about that. As I hurried along I found myself keeping pace with the carriage.

    "No...wait," I thought to myself as I realized that the carriage had completely stopped.

    "An'Shen!" A voice called from the carriage.

    Looking back I saw Sima Chen leaning out of the carriage window and waving at me.

    "I thought that was you!" He smiled and leapt out of the carriage, "Are you on your way then?"

    "Y-Yeah," I smiled nervously as I realized everyone was paying attention to us, "I was hurrying because the next carriage leaves at noon."

    "Noon?" Sima Chen tilted his eyes and thought for a moment, "Hey, you were a driver for the carriage company before. Do carriage often leave at noon?"

    The driver gave a start at the sudden question.

    "Uhm, well..." He scratched his cheek and thought for a moment, "If I'm not mistaken an old friend of mine told me that he was driving a carriage to Brook Village this morning."

    "Brook Village? That's on the way to Starlight City, right?" Sima Chen asked him to which he nodded.

    My heart suddenly sunk as I began to wonder at something. Quickly rummaging through my pockets I pulled out the time schedule for the carriages. Immediately, my heart sank.

    "Y-Young Lord Sima Chen..." I looked up at him, dejected and embarrassed, "Can you...tell me what time this says?"

    "What? Can you not..." He saw my face and suddenly got the hint as he cleared his throat, "Ah, n-no worries. I'll take a look...But, please. Just Sima Chen or Chen is fine."

    He took the schedule from me and immediately his eyes told me all I needed to know.

    "It's wrong...isn't it?" I asked as I sighed deeply, "When does it say?"

    "Ah, well....this here," He walked over to me and showed the schedule, "This says Broken Bridge....This is Brook Village."

    Sure enough right before me were two different locations. Broken Bridge carriage leaves at noon today. Brook Village carriage left early morning around 9am. I was almost three hours late.

    "...Thank you," I said as I took back the schedule and put it back in my pocket, "I guess...I'll have to wait a few more days. Ah! That's right."

    I looked up suddenly at him and held my hands before me to bow.

    "I wanted to thank you and your sister for before," I postured myself, "So thank you...I wish I could say it to your sister as well, but-"

    "Oh? And why can't you?" A familiar voice spoke from behind Sima Chen.

    Looking up I noticed Sima Ai'Li's smiling face from the carriage.

    "It's good to see you again, An'Shen," She laughed lightly, "And no need for your thanks. We just did what we had to."

    "Oh! I didn't know that you were traveling together," I was surprised and looked between them both.

    "It's not like I wanted to..." Sima Chen rolled his eyes but his tone was sarcastic, "No, it's fine. We were traveling together because she is actually a part of the Academy! She was just home on a visit."

    "I didn't know that..." I looked down at the ground as I mulled over my options, "Well, I hope you two have a safe journey there. Maybe we will see each other there!"

    I looked up and smiled as best as I could before turning to walk away. Yet, I didn't get far as a firm hand placed itself on my shoulder.

    "See you there?" It was Sima Chen, "What do you mean?"

    Looking back I noticed the mischievous smile on his face. These people were definitely different from any others that I have yet to meet. For somehow I found myself sitting in their carriage with them across from me. Sitting awkwardly as I felt out of place.

    "Uhm, excuse me, but..." I looked between them nervously, "Why...am I here?"

    "What do you mean?" Sima Chen asked, "You needed a ride. So we offered you one. What's the big deal?"

    "Well...you're...the Sima Family, right?" I asked and they nodded, "So why are you giving me a ride?"

    "Why not? What rule says we can't?" Sima Chen smiled and laughed lightly, "Besides...I'm a bit...intrigued with you."

    "Intrigued?" I was quite confused by this and felt uneasy.

    "Yes, I agree with Young Chen here," Sima Ai'Li leaned on one elbow as she watched me, "The other day...we all felt it. Something was off when we arrived."

    "W-What do you mean?" I asked as I silently cursed myself.

    Did they feel weird around me as well? I had thought that over the years my curse had gotten better. Often, when anyone used Mana around me or the power of their cultivation it was often difficult to do so. It didn't make it impossible but it was harder depending on their strength.

    "You seem nervous," Sima Ai'Li stared at me with those piercing chartruese eyes, "Don't worry, we aren't going to harm you. We're just...curious and wanted to test it."

    "Well, not just that, Sister Ai'Li," Sima Chen spoke up, almost offended, "He also needed help with travel."

    "That is true," Sima Ai'Li laughed.

    "What is it you want to test?" I was sure they felt it then.

    They both looked at each other and nodded before looking at me.

    "Our cultivation..." Sima Ai'Li started to say.

    "Was off that day," Sima Chen continued for her.

    "It usually wouldn't have taken that long," Sima Ai'Li leaned more into her hand as she smiled at me, "It was curious and the only differing variable was you."

    "Ah...yeah," I laughed nervously, trying to shrink down as best as I could.

    "Even our guards claimed that the Air Walk was a lot harder to concentrate on," Sima Chen informed me, "So we were wondering if it was indeed because of you."

    "...I'm sorry..." I felt ashamed and horrible.

    Once again I was a burden to someone. A curse. To make it hard on the people who saved me no less.

    "I'm...a curse, so..." I muttered glumly.

    "What? Who said that?" Sima Ai'Li exclaimed, surprised, "It definitely wasn't us."

    "No, but-" I began but Sima Chen interrupted.

    "We didn't mean that at all," He furrowed his brow seriously, "We were honestly intrigued. It doesn't bother us. Everyone has their own circumstances. Take my sister here, she's-ow!"

    Sima Ai'Li elbowed her brother and seemed to blush.

    "He doesn't need to know that," She huffed and looked back towards me, "But no, we aren't calling you that and you shouldn't call yourself that. Though, it is rather interesting."

    I smiled slightly at their words. It made me feel a lot more relaxed with them. They weren't calling me a curse nor were they kicking me out of the carriage. They asked me many questions though of what exactly it was.

    "I honestly don't know," I sighed as I looked out the carriage window, "I've been like this since a child. I was kept away from everyone because of it. If I'm around, people can't cultivate. They can't gather mana. Their abilities tend to falter and in some cases fizzle out."

    "Kept you away from others?" Sima Chen asked and even Sima Ai'Li seemed angry for me, "That's ridiculous."

    "Yeah, well...it's fine now," I smiled as I thought to those who I was close to back then, "It wasn't all bad."

    They watched me quietly before they didn't push anymore about my past. Instead, they turned their questions to this strange ability of mine. Even testing it.

    Both of them held their hands before them, palms roughly a hand apart from the other. They concentrated and began to gather mana between them. As they did they found it a lot harder to concentrate and when they did the mana was unstable and soon fizzled out.

    "That...wow," Sima Chen was out of breath, "That was much harder."

    "Yes," Sima Ai'Li agreed though she was less out of breath than her brother, "It's an interesting ability. Useful against cultivators, that's for sure."

    "I'm...sorry," I looked down at the floor of the carriage, "If it bothers you I can find another carriage or sleep further away when we stop. And I can-"

    "Stop," Sima Ai'Li held up her hand and shook her head, "No one said you had to do that. We're traveling companions. Besides...you seem like a nice enough kid. I hope you and my brother can get along."

    "S-Shut up!" Sima Chen spouted as he nudged his sister.

    They laughed as I smiled but my thoughts were on what they said. Traveling companions...this was much better than traveling with strangers. At the very least, their physical capabilities weren't hampered by my curse. It seemed that only mana and cultivation was hampered.

    Sighing with relief I enjoyed the rest of my trip with Sima Ai'Li and Sima Chen.
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  11. Nikushimi

    Nikushimi New Member

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    Chapter Ten:
    Starlight City


    Starlight City. Said to be a shining beacon to all who wish to learn cultivation and increase their skills. Home to the Mystic Star Academy. It is one of the most prestigious schools across the land. I still couldn't believe I was attending it.

    The journey to Starlight City went smoothly thanks to Sima Ai'Li and Sima Chen. We stopped in Brook Village on the way which was a beautiful town situated on where a river met a lake. It was small yet hospitable.

    We spent the night there and the next morning continued on our way. Starlight City was situated on a large island within a lake. The entire lake was surrounded by mountains and even the island that the city was on had small mountains on it.

    The area was said to have been created by a star that fell in the area. That, along with how the city looks at night, is how it got its name. Sima Ai'Li explained this on our way there. The island was forested as was the land around it.

    Still, it was nothing compared to what I saw as we arrived. The waters were even more blue than she had described, and the island was massive. I had imagined the city took up the entire island, but it was only a fraction of it.

    Built into and up the small mountain range. A wall protected the outer edge of the city while the mountain range protected the rest. Buildings that went up several stories could be seen and overall it looked extremely pretty. A lush forest covered most of the rest of the island.

    As I looked out at the city Sima Ai'Li pointed out another set of walls within the city. It was situated further back and slightly isolated from the rest of the city. It was the Mystic Star Academy.

    My eyes took in the greenery surrounding the city. The waters around Starlight City were even more blue than Sima Ai'Li had described. Even Sima Chen was captivated by the landscape.

    A large bridge wide enough for several carriages side by side led to the city gates. The city itself was busy with many people moving in the streets. They made way as the carriage went through the streets but otherwise paid no mind.

    "Do you want to go straight to the Academy?" Sima Ai'Li asked as we came into the city, "It's your first time here so..."

    "I'm not sure..." I responded as I watched the outside world, "I...guess I should before looking around."

    "Yeah! I think we should register first," Sima Chen agreed though I could see his excitement.

    Smiling, Sima Ai'Li nodded and the carriage carried on. Making its way through the streets until eventually the city proper was behind us. A forested path led us up to the gates of the academy. A large sign outside the gates dictated just what the academy was.

    MYSTIC STAR ACADEMY

    The words were carved into a large wooden sign above the entrance and was rather foreboding. As we passed the gates we entered into a large courtyard with a building before us. My heart was beating fast. Was this really it?

    I had travelled a long way and for many days to get here. I didn't know what to expect. Was someone going to meet me here? Was Lord Yi'Dao here? He was the one who sent me the letter. Was I really on my own?

    It began to sink in that I had no idea or clue what I was doing here. I couldn't cultivate. I couldn't fight. I could barely even read. Just what did he expect me to do here?

    My breathing quickened and I began to panic. My vision narrowed as I couldn't bring myself to move. It was only when a kind hand upon my shoulder got my attention that I was able to somewhat calm down. Sima Ai'Li gave me a small smile as she squeezed my shoulder.

    "It's alright to be nervous," She reassured, "Just take some slow, deep breaths."

    I did as she asked and after a while my breathing calmed down and my vision returned to normal. I could see that even Sima Chen was a bit nervous.

    "Sorry...I just..." I looked out at the courtyard as she let go of my shoulder, "My...condition. I don't know what I am supposed to do here. I honestly have no idea why I was enrolled let alone accepted..."

    "You know...I never did ask why you applied," She brought her finger to her chin in thought, "You don't have to answer of course. I am only curious."

    "Ah, right...no, it's fine," I leaned back against the carriage seat, "I didn't enroll. My cultivation...as you know I'm just Base Stage 5. I got a letter one day from someone I know...it said I was enrolled and accepted. I was to come here, but..."

    They listened to me as I explained how nervous I was. They gave a sympathetic ear and gave me some reassuring words.

    "I understand," Sima Chen nodded, "I'm nervous as well, but...I have people I know here. Though, I guess you do now too!"

    I gave a quizzical look to them before I realized. Them. I knew them. I felt the tension in my chest release a bit as I found that I had two people I knew here. That was a relief.

    "Yeah...I suppose you're right," I smiled and laughed lightly, "I guess I'm just worried...I'm not sure what I'll do about my cultivation, but..."

    They didn't say anything but I knew they understood. Soon, the carriage doors opened and we stepped out into the courtyard before the large building. It was the gateway to the school. A large sign above it said "Admissions".

    It was then that I noticed other people walking towards the building. Others getting out of carriages with family symbols and many traveling in groups and chatting.

    "Alright, you two," Sima Ai'Li spoke up, "Follow me. We'll get you sorted, alright?"

    "Y-Yeah..." I nodded along with Sima chen.

    Together we made our way towards the doors of the Admissions building. Something in the pit of my stomach yelled at me. The closer I got the more foreboding it felt. The tension I had previously released returning.

    As soon as I got into the building I knew why. They were testing everyone's cultivation level.
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  12. Nikushimi

    Nikushimi New Member

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    Chapter Eleven:
    Reunion


    My heart instant jumped into my throat as I felt the pressure and anxiety take root. Immediately both Sima Ai'Li and Sima Chen noticed and went to calm me down. However, Sima Ai'Li was frowning and seemed even confused.

    Leaving me with Sima Chen she walked over to the Admissions desks in the building. After a few quick words she stormed back over. A dark cloud over her head.

    "Those bastards..." She seethed as she arrived back to us.

    "What's wrong, Sister?" Sima Chen asked as he attempted to calm me down.

    "A new rule," She glared back at the admissions table, "They say it's a way to properly assess the needs of the students, but..."

    "But what?" Sima Chen pressed for more information.

    "I know it's their doing," She continued and when she noticed we had no idea what she meant she sighed and calmed down to explain, "In life there will always be people who look down on others because of their background, cultivation, or both. Unfortunately, it's no different here. There's a group with influence here...they care about background and cultivation."

    "What are they called?" Sima Chen asked his sister as I listened silently.

    "They call themselves the Righteous Sword," Her words dripped with disgust and sarcasm, "Yet, they're anything but. They discriminate and goad people to attack them just so they can beat them down."

    Sighing, she placed a reassuring hand on my shoulder as her brother patted my back.

    "Don't worry, if you have any trouble just let us know, alright?" She smiled and I nodded, "You can often notice them for a bright red tie around the hilts of their weapons. It's difficult to tell since some weapons have a red tassel. This isn't a tassel."

    I nodded as we began to walk forward.

    "They most likely proposed this to further separate others," She could only sigh in frustration, "Honestly, I'm not sure what the masters are thinking letting this happen."

    The line slowly moved. Everyone seemed around my age or younger. The closer I got the harder my heartbeat. Everyone ahead of me were all in the Entry Stage or higher. The highest in the Initiate Stage.

    They were met with awe and wonder. Receiving praise for their cultivation. I noted a few of them seemed to be from some kind of Family. To calculate our levels they had a crystal that floated above a metallic stand of some kind.

    It was rugged but had a flat surface upon which to place your hand. Its red color was a bit foreboding. I tried to take some breaths as I watched Sima Chen go ahead of me. It was no surprise when he had a rather high rating. Initiate Stage 1.

    Now, it was my turn.

    "Next," The lady at the desk called.

    As I stepped forward they looked up at me through their glasses. Several others who looked like officials stood behind the desk near the crystal.

    "Name?" They asked as tried to breath evenly.

    "U-Uh...Aba-" I caught myself once again as the nerves got the best of me, "A-An'Shen."

    "An'Shen..." They sighed as they looked at their paperwork, raising an eyebrow as they did.

    Looking up from the paper they double checked the name before motioning to the crystal.

    "Place your hand upon the surface..." They intoned with a tired voice.

    Whatever it was on the paper they saw it wasn't important enough to say anything further. Stepping up to the crystal I hesitated. Looking around I saw Sima Chen and Sima Ai'Li looking. Giving me encouraging smiles I took a deep breath and placed my hand upon the crystal.

    Almost immediately the crystal began to wobble. All the officials' eyes shifted to the crystal and then to me. Narrowing their eyes they watched carefully. I could tell that the crystal was acting up due to my condition.

    My hand felt a bit tingly as I held it to the crystal. The people began to mutter as it was taking longer for the crystal to tell my level. They began to wonder if I was really strong. My heart sunk as I heard the whispers. I knew they'd only be disappointed.

    Sure enough after what seemed like forever the crystal finally gave my result. Base Stage 5. There were a lot of disappointed sighs. Sneers and jeers. Even some complaints as they wondered what someone who wasn't even in the Entry Stage was doing there.

    "Wasting our time!"

    "Go back home!"

    "What a waste!"

    "Such a shame."

    "Why is he even here?"

    "I thought he was someone special..."

    "Get out of here!"

    "You're a disgrace to the academy!"

    "How dare someone like him apply here!"

    "How did he get accepted? Probably has connections..."

    The words they spoke echoed in my ears as I walked towards Sima Ai'Li and Sima Chen quickly. They were giving the crowd an angry look as they swiftly swept me along my way. All newcomers would go through the doors to either side of the admissions desk.

    "Don't listen to them," Sima Ai'Li said as we walked through the archway, "There's too many like that...I'm sorry you had to go through that."

    "It's...okay," I smiled and shrugged, "I'm used to it. Honestly, it could have been worse."

    I laughed lightly but I could tell that they knew I wasn't okay. Though the truth was it didn't matter. Their words hurt, yes, but whatever they said I went through worse. I just had to get through this.

    The archway we went through led us to a long hall before giving way to another courtyard outside. There were many students and people around. So much that it was overwhelming. They milled about talking about their results while having various conversations.

    To the right of this courtyard was a large stone staircase with pillars along the side. From what I could tell it led up to the rest of the academy. Across the courtyard was some kind of post board. A lot of people were gathered around it as they looked at it.

    "What's that?" I asked motioning towards it.

    "Ah, that..." Sima Ai'Li squinted her eyes to get a better look, "...They're joking."

    She sighed as she just shook her head.

    "It's a board with the list of all the new students," She scratched the top of her head, annoyed, "It also lists the stage they're at..."

    I felt a bit more of the tension build in me. Was this all really necessary? Why were they showing everyone's stage? It was bad enough they did so at the admissions desk but now even here?

    "By the way," I changed the subject as I no longer wanted to talk about it, "Why is everyone just gathered here?"

    "Ah, that's because the teachers will soon arrive," Sima Ai'Li motioned to a raised platform I didn't notice before, "They'll welcome you to the academy before you are then assigned your dorm."

    "But...there seem to be actual students here?" I asked, rather confused as I saw people in uniform.

    There were students, some young but mostly older in a uniform of some kind. They wore robes of martial design of varying colors. Yet all of them had a star symbol on the left side of their uniform on the chest.

    "Yes," Sima Ai'Li nodded and explained, "The students often come here to meet the new students. Some because their family. Others because their curious. Though there are also a few who look to recruit some of the students into their groups."

    I nodded as I understood. I could tell that some of the students were really close with others and must be family. Others were trying to persuade other students, and even more were just watching. I couldn't help but think that it would be nice if someone was there for me.

    I was just happy that Sima Ai'Li and Sima Chen were with me. As I was thinking this a commotion began in the crowd. Murmurs and people swooning met my ears.

    "Isn't that the Princess of Mystic Star?"

    "The Jade Star...."

    "The Flower of the Academy."

    Many other things were being said as well. However, it was what Sima Ai'Li said that caught my attention. She seemed more surprised than anything.

    "Why is she here?" She muttered to herself, "She rarely bothers with any of this..."

    "Who?" Sima Chen asked his sister.

    "The Flower of the Zhu Family," Her words pricked my ears, "Zhu Fan'Hua."

    The moment she said her name my head swiveled towards the sound of commotion. Was it true? Was she here? Zhu Fan'Hua.

    Memories of the past flooding into my mind. The days I spent out by the pond in Lord Yi'Dao's home. The way she patiently explained words to me whenever my reading lessons with Lord Yi'Dao happened. How she would listen to me talk and not berate me.

    "Where is she?" I asked, almost a bit too excited.

    "...You seem interested," Sima Ai'Li teased me but pointed in a direction, "She's over there...though...it looks like she's looking for something."

    My eyes followed Sima Ai'Li's hand to where the crowd was thickest. Yet, I saw no sign of that dark orange, almost red hair. No, instead I saw something else that captivated me. A young woman roughly my age.

    Her dark hair tied back in a half ponytail. In the sunlight it shown like a dark midnight blue. Her fair complexion untainted and in stark contrast to the black robes she wore. Piercing, icy blue eyes with a light violet undertone.

    Her head was slowly scanning the crowd. Just like Sima Ai'Li said it looked like she was looking for something. Yet, that couldn't be her. She looked nothing like the Zhu Fan'Hua that I knew. Still, there was something familiar about her.

    The way her face remained impassive and distant from her surroundings. As if no one around her existed.

    "Are you sure that's her?" I asked in slight confusion and disbelief, "I don't think that's-"

    My words were cut short as it was in that moment her eyes met mine. They were focused in and before I knew what was happening she was moving towards me. Quickly.

    My heart began beating in my chest. My eyes focused solely on her. It was the first time I honestly realized just how beautiful this woman was. Swallowing hard I noticed no one except her and before I knew it she was before me.

    We stared at each other and I noticed she was almost a head taller than me. She was lithe, yet athletic as she tilted her head. I could swear I saw a slight curve of her lips. I didn't know why my heart was beating so quickly.

    Then...she spoke. When she did it was light and strong with a deepness that spoke of confidence.

    "It's nice to see you again," She spoke in a familiar tone, "...An'Shen."

    My breath was caught in my throat. Was this really Zhu Fan'Hua? She knew my name. The way she spoke was incredibly like Zhu Fan'Hua. Yet, I couldn't shake the eyes of everyone staring at me.

    "Z-Zhu...Fan'hua?" I asked, my voice trembling, "Is this...really you?"

    She tilted her head and looked at me as if the question was a bit silly. Nonetheless she nodded her head in response. I'm not sure what came over me in that moment. My mind could think of only one thing. I had missed her.

    Before I knew it my arms were wrapped around her in a hug. There were audible gasps from the crowd and I could almost feel eyes boring holes through me. After a moment I realized just what I had done and went to move away.

    However, as I did a hand stopped me. Placed upon my head as I was prevented from moving. It was Zhu Fan'Hua. Her hand felt comforting. Felt familiar. Like the first time Lord Yi'Dao had cut my hair. She had touched it just like this. Soft and gentle.

    "...I think that's the first time I've seen her smile," Sima Ai'Li muttered, half to herself and sounding almost concerned.
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    Last edited: Jun 29, 2022 at 6:30 PM
  13. Nikushimi

    Nikushimi New Member

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    Chapter Twelve:
    Mystic Star Academy


    I still couldn't believe that this girl before me was the Zhu Fan'Hua I knew. After I had impulsively hugged her she held me for a moment before letting go. Now I found myself in a rather awkward situation.

    She held my face by the chin and was examining me. Her impassive face proving no hints as to what was going on. Side to side, up and down. She looked my face over several times before moving on to the rest of my body.

    Lifting up my arms and walking around me as if she was checking for something. I felt rather embarrassed as she did but I couldn't say anything. Everyone else was shocked as well. They simply stared with both surprise and confusion.

    Finding herself back in front of me I couldn't help but feel a bit nervous and self-conscious. Yet, despite her neutral face I could somehow tell she was pleased. Both her hands found themselves on my shoulders as she nodded.

    "Z-Zhu Fan'Hua..." I looked around nervously to see many of the students and new students staring at me, almost glaring, "What...is this about?"

    Seeing my gaze she followed it and looked towards the crowd. Immediately the tone shifted as everyone looked away and went on with their business. It was then that I realized something. Dark orange, almost red hair. Their sunkissed complexion and amber eyes drawing my attention.

    They flanked Zhu Fan'Hua with confident, relaxed expressions. They were keeping the crowd at bay and making a small pocket for us to exist int. They all held short spears upon their backs.

    Her eyes went from the crowd to those behind me. Sima Ai'Li and Sima Chen.

    "G-Greetings, Zhu Fan'Hua," Sima Ai'Li held her hands before in greeting, "What brings the flower of the academy here?"

    "....An'Shen," Zhu Fan'Hua looked towards me, "Do you know them?"

    "Them?" I looked back at Sima Ai'Li and Sima Chen, before nodding, "Yes, they helped me get here when I missed my carriage...I read the schedule wrong..."

    Her eyes shifted up to them and back to me.

    "Were they the ones who hit you?" She asked, one of her hands going the left side of my face.

    I immediately looked at her in surprise. How did she know I was hit? It had been days since that happened and barely a trace of it remained.

    "N-No..." I shook my head and smiled awkwardly, "Some thugs...they did it. Luckily, those two saved me."

    Her eyes once again scanned Sima Ai'Li and Sima Chen. The tension in the air was high. I could feel some kind of pressure but as soon as I told her the truth I felt the pressure release. She nodded as she looked towards Sima Ai'Li and Sima Chen.

    "You have my thanks, then," She spoke impassively, "...Sima Family, right? I'll remember this."

    "It's no problem, Sister Zhu Fan'Hua," Sima Ai'Li addressed respectively, "It was the least we could do...he's a friend after all."

    "...Friend?" She asked as if she was confused by the word but nodded.

    Looking up at Zhu Fan'Hua I found myself growing a bit more nervous and embarrassed. Was this really the Zhu Fan'Hua that I knew? Her hair wasn't dark orange nor were her eyes amber. Did she dye her hair or perhaps something else? What about her eyes?

    Yet, the distinct personality and the ways he handled others was exactly like the Zhu Fan'Hua I knew. Impassive and almost cold. Yet, her hand upon my shoulder and cheek felt warm. Perhaps....I was just extremely conscious of them and it was me who was warm.

    "Zhu Fan'Hua..."I spoke up again, "This is...you, right? I mean, you look so...different."

    Her eyes seemed almost amused as she looked towards me. Before she could answer however there was another commotion and upon the raised stage appeared five individuals. All having different colored robes.

    The one in the center, an old woman with white robes, stepped forward. To her left was a man with dark green robes and a woman with dark orange robes. To her right was a woman with black robes and a man with dark blue.

    "Attention!" The old womans voice carried across the crowd, yet she did not yell, "I am the Headmaster of the Mystic Star Academy, Guaiming. I welcome you to our academy."

    She looked over the crowd. Her eyes were a clear sky blue. Her pure white hair was tied neatly in a bun. Upon closer inspection I realized she had no wrinkles upon her face. Not even crows feet. Yet, I could tell she was much older than I knew.

    "Along with me there are four others you should know," Guaiming motioned both to her left and to her right, "These four are masters of the academy. They oversee the individual areas of the academy."

    Duyao, Ning'Dao, Shenhua, and Jiexin in order. Duyao, a man with dark hair tied in a bun, brown eyes, and a pale complexion stepped forward in dark green robes. He bowed and introduced himself as the medicine department head.

    Ning'Dao, a strong yet beautiful looking woman in middle age stepped forward and bowed as well. She introduced herself as one of the martial masters of the school. She oversees part of the disciplinary force of the academy. Her brown hair was tied back in a half ponytail. An warm, olive complexion with eyes like a meadow.

    Shenhua, the mystics instructor and cultivation expert among the masters. She is soft spoken and aloof. A beautiful young woman with long dark, almost deep purple hair also tied in a half ponytail. A fair complexion and a gentle looking, relaxed face. Her eyes were like topaz as they scanned the crowd before stepping back.

    Jiexin, a young-looking man with dark hair and a relaxed expression. His fair complexion seemed tanned by the sun. Eyes like the forest he introduced himself as the other half of the disciplinary forces and also a martial master.

    With their introductions done Guaiming stepped forward once more.

    "These four will be overseeing most of your daily needs," She intoned to make sure everyone understood, "There are, of course, other teachers and courses for you to partake in here. Above all, this is a place of learning. Your path is yours and yours alone. I hope you may find it here at the Mystic Star Academy."

    There was a pause as she made sure she was heard.

    "Your schedule is your own," She continued to explain, "What you learn and how far your go is up to your own merits. It is your time that is wasted. Your dorms will be assigned to you shortly. Feel free to wander the academy to get a feel for everything. I hope you all find your way."

    With that, she took off as if she was never there. The other four masters took their leave as well in a similar fashion. As if vanishing into thin air. I felt a bit of relief at her words. I wouldn't be forced to learn and thus be humiliated. I could go at my own pace.

    "...An'Shen," A familiar voice called to me, it was Zhu Fan'Hua.

    She was watching me closely as I realized something. All this time she was calling me An'Shen. Every time she did it was like my heart skipped a beat. The way she said it sounded so natural that I didn't even question it.

    As if the tone she used for it was different than anyone else. Though, perhaps that was just my imagination. She had the same impassive face and expression. I just never questioned it. As if her calling my name was normal.

    Even Sima Ai'Li and Sima Chen saying my name felt...strange. Yet, hearing Zhu Fan'Hua say it felt like it belonged. I wasn't sure why yet it came to me in that moment.

    "Y-Yes?" I asked, wondering if I had done something wrong.

    Her eyes looked toward Sima Ai'Li and Sima Chen.

    "I'll be taking it from here," She spoke to them as she turned me from them, "Follow me...An'Shen."

    I nodded as I waved goodbye to a very confused Sima Ai'Li and Sima Chen, but they seemed to be happy as they also walked away together. With Zhu Fan'Hua guiding me from behind I felt a little awkward. I wasn't being forced yet I felt like I should follow.

    Before we reached the stairway to the academy she stopped me. Confused, I looked back and my heart skipped several beats. Zhu Fan'Hua's often impassive face was completely relaxed as a soft smile curled her lips.

    "Ah," She spoke with sincerity as she looked down at me, "I'm glad you made it. Welcome to the Mystic Star Academy...An'Shen."'

    She was beautiful. I quickly hid my face in embarrassment as I felt it heat up. My heart was beating furiously. Just what was going on? I didn't know yet...I felt happy.
    -----
     
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2022 at 6:29 PM
  14. Nikushimi

    Nikushimi New Member

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    Chapter Thirteen:
    A Surprise Reunion


    I couldn't help but be nervous in their presence. Zhu Fan'Hua had grown up into a beautiful young woman. I, on the other hand, was completely average. I couldn't even cultivate properly. Still, she didn't treat me badly.

    Leading me through the academy as she explained what everything was. From the infirmary to the training grounds. It reminded me a lot of the time back at Lord Yi'Dao's. She would often patiently explain things to me whenever I asked them while we sat by the pond.

    Those with the dark orange hair followed behind yet at a distance. I was told that they were her siblings. The Zhu Family. They were all extraordinary. Tall, strong, and beautiful in their own ways. People often moved out of the way as we walked through.

    Some muttering about me being with the "Flower of the Zhu". Though those whispers were soon quieted by a single look from the Zhu Siblings. Zhu Fan'Hua herself simply ignored them as she showed me around.

    I couldn't help but be nervous. All of this was so sudden. After not seeing each other for 8 years it was incredible just how much she had changed. I found myself simply going along with her and her siblings.

    "An'Shen...Are you, uncomfortable?" She asked, whispering it in my ear.

    I jumped as her words hit my ear and felt my cheeks burn a bit as I shook my head.

    "N-No...just...confused," I smiled awkwardly as I looked around, "All of this...the reason why I'm here. How and why you've changed appearances...it's all a bit...much."

    There was silence between us and I thought I had said something wrong. We were in a secluded courtyard that overlooked Starlight City from the academy. I was a bit nauseous from the heights and my legs were weak.

    "Sit down," She finally spoke as she motioned to a bench a little bit from the edge, "...You don't do well with heights."

    "No, I...don't," I looked at her in confusion, "Wait, how did you know that?"

    She looked at me before looking out towards the city.

    "Lord Yi'Dao told me," She spoke softly, "He thought you would have trouble here because of it."

    I smiled slightly at his consideration. Yet, that brought another question to mind.

    "You've...talked with Lord Yi'Dao?" I asked, wondering why I had not heard from him except for the message about the academy.

    "...Yes," She answered but didn't elaborate.

    I didn't press as I felt like I shouldn't. We simply stayed there in silence for a while. I was sitting upon the bench and she was standing nearby. A breeze blew by and I closed my eyes. Enjoying the cool breeze across my face and through my hair.

    As I opened my eyes I was startled to find her face close to mine.

    "You grew your hair out," She said, mere inches from my face.

    Her eyes were observing me. Looking away I nodded.

    "Yeah, it...got difficult cutting my hair by myself," I laughed lightly, awkwardly, "So I just...let it grow."

    "...I see," Her impassive tone made it hard to know if she was annoyed or not.

    As she stood up she looked away again. I could only follow her with my eyes. The sunlight hitting her made it seem as if she glowed. Her dark blue, almost black hair shining in the sun.

    "...I'm not great at this," She finally spoke, sighing, "Interactions...It is good to see you again. It must be a lot for you."

    "I...yeah," I was surprised at her words but glad for them as well, "I'm not either...I still can't believe all this."

    Glancing back at me she took me by the hand and pulled me up.

    "You said you wanted to know why I look different?" She looked around and pulled me along, "I can't show you here."

    Being pulled along we eventually made our way to what looked like a small manor. Looking around she quickly pulled me inside. It was as if we were avoiding all attention. It felt...secretive. A bit of nervousness coursed through me.

    Her siblings followed after but I barely noticed them. It was just her that I was focused on. The way her impassive face seemed so focus despite showing nothing. Up several stairs and before we knew it I was in what looked like a sitting room of sorts.

    Once entered she let go of my hand and took a breath. Turning around she made it clear to me she wanted me to pay attention. As I did her raven blue hair began to shift and shimmer. Slowly, her hair began to change.

    The raven blue gave way to a dark orange. Her icy blue violet eyes changed into amber. My heart near caught in my throat. Standing before me was exactly what I thought Zhu Fan'Hua would look like when she was older. I was suddenly transported back to those days.

    "It...really is you," I felt all the tension in me fall away.

    As it did I felt the tears well up in my eyes. I must have been holding it in for so long. I had missed her so much. Suyin, Lord Yi'Dao, Miss Su, and...Zhu Fan'Hua. The only people to have ever shown me kindness.

    I must have been holding back because she just didn't look like Zhu Fan'Hua, but in that moment I knew. I knew and I couldn't stop myself from feeling so relieved and happy.

    "I'm so glad...it's really you," I laughed lightly as I found myself shaking.

    All the tension in my body had released and now I was paying the toll. It was only because of Zhu Fan'Hua's steady hand that I didn't fall. It was her gentle hand that wipe my tears away. I found myself feeling quite pathetic. Still, no one said a single thing. That was until a door slammed open.

    "Young Miss..." A rather angry, annoyed tone, "I see you're back..."

    The voice was familiar. One I hadn't heard in over 8 years. At the sound of it Zhu Fan'Hua seemed to flinch, her impassive face seeming slightly sheepish but soon faded as she looked towards the sound.

    "...Suyin," She spoke nonchalantly, "I-"

    "You just ran off!" The familiar voice I knew then, Suyin, "Without saying a single word! I know you're strong, but you can't just...wait."

    With my tears finally drying I looked towards the source of the voice. Sure enough, it was Suyin. Her light brown skin and amethyst eyes were extremely familiar to me. Her soft brown hair tied in a tight bun.

    "A-An'Shen?" She spoke my name as if she couldn't believe it, "Is that...really you?"

    Before I could even think Suyin had moved across the room and I found myself in her embrace. It reminded me of how I reacted when I first saw Zhu Fan'Hua. I felt myself relax as I embraced her back.

    "Yes...it's me," I smiled into her shoulder as I buried my face there, "It's been a while..."

    "Yes, too long..." She sounded relieved.

    I closed my eyes as I simply enjoyed this moment. I couldn't believe I was here. I couldn't believe that I was being embraced so warmly. Yet, there was something else I couldn't believe.

    "Young Miss, I heard you returned so I brought you-" The sound of a tray being dropped on the floor caught my attention.

    Opening my eyes I saw her. Brown hair tied in a bun and kind green eyes. With her hands over her mouth I recognized her immediately.

    "...Miss Su," My words were barely audible as my eyes widened, "Miss Su!"

    "Child, you...you're..." Tears were welling up in her eyes.

    Immediately I pulled myself away from Suyin and she didn't stop me. I found myself moving quickly as my arms wrapped around her. She was safe. She was alive. She was here.

    How? How was it possible? This day had been one thing after another. The way her arms wrapped around me brought me back to being a child. Her embrace was the same, kind, warm embrace I remembered.

    Miss Su was crying softly, yet happily. I found my own eyes growing wet again as I couldn't contain the 8 years of pent-up emotions. I didn't know what she was doing here but I didn't care. She was and I was happy.

    After everything settled down it was explained to me that after Miss Su was fired they went to find her after they left the Li'Yu Family. They hired her immediately and gave her a job as Zhu Fan'Hua's personal maid. Ever since she had been spending her time serving Zhu Fan'Hua.

    They had kept it secret that I was coming here. I couldn't have felt happier than in that moment at that time. They reunited me with someone I deeply cared for. The only one who ever seemed to truly care aside from Lord Yi'Dao.

    Not only that but they had taken care of her. Given her a job and a place to be. She wasn't just out on the streets. I couldn't thank them enough after that.
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    Last edited: Jun 29, 2022 at 6:28 PM
  15. Nikushimi

    Nikushimi New Member

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    Chapter Fourteen:
    Settling In


    Zhu Fan'Hua watched as the child she once knew ran into the arms of the waiting Miss Su. It had been a long 8 years since they last saw each other. In all that time she never stopped feeling the pain of mana attacking her system. Forcing its way into her mana points.

    It was only in his presence that it was ever calm. It was for that reason she couldn't stop thinking about him this entire time. Waiting for the day that they would be reunited. Not only that but he was the first friend she ever made.

    Because of her constant state of pain she concentrated all of her effort into handling it. This made her less sociable than others. On top of all the intrigue within politics that happened all the time. So it was an easy decision to hire Miss Su after she was fired.

    The Li'Yu Family treated him horribly yet there was nothing she could do at the time. Politics were the most annoying thing in the world. There was nothing she wanted to do more than take him from them at the time. Yet, to do so would incite conflict.

    To purposefully do so would be against Imperial Edict. It was why Lord Yi'Dao had not done anything either. It was also what kept the Li'Yu Family at bay while the kid stayed in his home. Making sure that Miss Su was taken care of became her priority instead.

    She wasn't heartless like others would believe. She felt a sense of relief and happiness to reunite those two together. Still, perhaps a bit of those rumors were true. She could care less for a lot of people. They used their families names and power to step on others. It disgusted her.

    They often tried to suck up to others whose families were higher in rank than them. A way to get ahead in life. It wasn't that she didn't understand the want to advance in life. It was that they did so with no shame or conern for others. What was the point of power if you couldn't use it to better the life of those around you?

    Too often she saw people posture before her and her family. They offered goodwishes and kindess. Gifts of pretty words and offerings. Yet, it was all a facade. Underneath was a vile greed that ate away at not only themselves but those around them. To take advantage of those they thought gullible enough.

    It was part of why she was like she was. Still, she didn't enjoy wasting words. It was with him that she was able to truly talk without feeling any sense of animosity or a hidden agenda. She sensed a kinship in him back then.

    He went through so much as a child. In truth she had been worried about him ever sense. Thinking back to when she met him at the academy entrance she was filled with embarrasment. Just why had she checked him over like that?

    She had been concerned he had been beaten again or had other broken bones. That the Li'Yu Family hadn't kept their word. So it angered her when she sensed that he had been hit. It was recovering but she could feel the muscle of his cheek was sore.

    Just like back then the mana around her flowed smoothly. Whenever he was around she had some peace of mind. She was able to relax. It was good to see he hadn't changed at all. Still the kind child he was back then.

    He was still timid and unsure of himself but that didn't matter. He was her friend. It was the reason she had Lord Yi'Dao help get him enrolled in the Mystic Star Academy. A way to get him away from the Li'Yu Family. They had sent letters before but all had been ignored.

    "I didn't want to reach out to them, but-" She thought to herself but was interrupted by Suyin.

    "Young Miss..." Her tone was sweet but she could tell the anger underlying it, "The child...he arrived today?"

    Zhu Fan'Hua's eyes slowly moved to glance at Suyin. Her expressions were muted but for those who knew her knew that she was a bit nervous right now. She had promised Suyin to inform her when he arrived so they could both go and greet him. However, they weren't sure he would arrive today.

    Everyone knew the welcoming ceremony was today but they weren't sure he would arrive on time. It was his first time out by himself and anything could happen on the road. She wasn't able to track him effectively because of his special condition. The tracker placed upon the card he received was distorted and only told her the general area.

    It was why she had to look around to find him at the entrance. Yet, she had not told Suyin he had arrived. Instead she had rushed without thinking. Perhaps she was too excited to see him after all this time.

    He had grown quite a bit since then but she did as well. He was shorter than her by almost a head but that didn't bother her. What did was how skinny he looked. It must have been hard for him to get food after they all left.

    Lord Yi'Dao made sure to leave some money for him to use for food and whatever was left in his kitchen. Yet, it would not last for years. She'd have to figure out if he was eating properly or if the Li'Yu Family hampered it at all.

    "...Fine," Suyin sighed under her look, "I know you were excited but...so was I."

    Suyin almost seemed to pout as she frowned at her. Her expression softened though as she looked on towards him and Miss Su.

    "Still, it's good to see him," Her expression was gentle as Zhu Fan'Hua looked back towards them, "He grew his hair out and is taller. Yet..."

    "He's malnourished," Zhu Fan'Hua muttered quietly, "Yet, he looks well otherwise."

    She knew the look that Suyin was giving her but chose to ignore it. For now, what mattered was getting him settled in.

    "An'Shen," Miss Su spoke his name, "That's...your name right? You got the letter? You read it well? It must have been so hard for you. I'm really proud of you though. You made it all the way here!"

    "Heh, yeah...I somehow got by," He smiled haphazardly as he looked down sheepishly, "I had some help though...Sima Ai'Li and Sima Chen saved me and even gave me a ride here."

    "They sound like good people," Miss Su smiled brightly as she held him at arm's length to look at him, "I hope they make good friends."

    Something twitched and triggered in Zhu Fan'Hua when Miss Su said "friends". She wasn't quite sure what it was but it wasn't the first time this happened. Back when Sima Ai'Li had said that they were friends it happened then as well. Just what exactly was that feeling?

    "Yeah...they are, but..." He looked around and his eyes found Zhu Fan'Hua's, "To see my very first friend again...I couldn't be any happier."

    He smiled such a bright smile and something pulled at her heart. He was definitely the same as he was before. For those who knew her could see the small smile curl at the edges of her lips.

    "It is quite the surprise!" Miss Su continued, "I had no idea you were coming at all! They said they sent a letter but...oh! I just didn't think they'd let you. That cranky bastard..."

    Miss Su seethed at the thought of Li'Yu Wang. Something that Zhu Fan'Hua could understand. Her mood quickly changed as she walked swiftly towards them.

    "Miss Su," She addressed coolly, "Perhaps you should see An'Shen to his room. Help him get settled in."

    "That's an excellent idea!" Miss Su beamed.

    "Room?" He asked, a bit confused, "In the dorm?"

    "What? Nonsense!" Miss Su shook her head, "You're not sleeping in some dorm."

    "Then...where?" He asked as a certain look came over him.

    She could see it. His mind going somewhere that wasn't here. He had lived for so long in that small shed until they came. Until Lord Yi'Dao gave him his home he had been living in such horrible conditions.

    It was easy to tell that his thoughts were on that. Even though he had lived in Lord Yi'Dao's home for the last 8 years the scars of the previous years were far from gone. She was quick to alleviate those worries.

    "Here," Zhu Fan'Hua answered, "A room has been prepared for you here. You won't be living in some shed or away from anyone."

    He looked at her as if he didn't quite believe it. She saw, however, that his distant look was coming back to reality as he asked a simple question.

    "Really? I'm not?" He asked in such a soft, almost pleading voice that her heart once again felt a twinge.

    "Really," She answer almost immediately, "This home is now yours as well."

    He smiled in relief and tears began to form in his eyes again. Instinctively she brought her hand up to his face to wipe the tears away before they started. Honestly, he was such a crier, yet she didn't mind that. A small smile curled upon her lips.
    -----

    My room was more than I could have imagined. A large bed capable of fitting two of me with a soft mattress and comfortable pillows. A table to with several chairs off to one side. A desk with a chair to study at. It even had some sort crystal set onto it with a flat crystalline surface before it.

    I had never seen something like it but I had heard about what it might be. The Mage Wide Web. A way that those around the world connected with each other. They used the frequency of mana and some other tech to allow access to certain functions.

    I didn't know if it would work with me considering mana just didn't work properly around me. Still, to see something like that in my room was amazing. There was also a small, flat oval red crystal on my table.

    "That's a tablet connection crystal," Suyin explained, "It should still work for you."

    Picking it up it felt comfortable in my hand. Suyin, Zhu Fan'Hua, and Miss Su had followed me to my room. The Zhu Siblings were all waiting elsewhere.

    "Are you sure...you know that I..." I frowned as I looked to the ground.

    I shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth. I knew I should be grateful but if it didn't work then would it not go to waste?

    "It'll work," Zhu Fan'Hua said confidently, "It doesn't just use mana. It connects via crystal frequency. It does use mana but even if it doesn't work then it's fine."

    I smiled at her words. She was confident it would work for me and I figured I should trust her. She even said that even if it doesn't then it's fine. With their guidance I was able to learn how to activate it.

    It worked via thumbprint. The crystal lit up with a screen that projected out from it a bit. Hovering just above the crystal itself. The screen flickered several times. My heart was beginning to sink before it stabilized.

    "Yes!" I exclaimed out loud much to my embarrassment, "I-I mean..."

    "It's alright, An'Shen," Miss Su reassured, "If you're excited you should show it."

    "O-Okay..." I answered, hiding my smile as I took in the crystal.

    The screen held several icons for its functions. Call, Message, Video, MWW. The MWW standing for the Mage Wide Web. It was such a relief that this worked around me. I felt like I was finally able to breath.

    As I watched the crystal it was taken away from me by Zhu Fan'Hua. Looking at her in surprise and confusion I saw her take out her own crystal. It was a dark purple. Touching them together and pressing on the hovering screen a couple times before she handed it back to me.

    "My frequency," She stated as she held up her crystal, "So you can contact me."

    I smiled and felt my heart grow warm. I couldn't blush like others but my smile always gave me away.

    "Th-Thank you..." I could only hold the crystal close to my chest.

    "Ah! We should all do so, yes?" Miss Su spoke up and Suyin agreed.

    Before I knew it I had all three of them now connected to my crystal. I felt myself hiding a yawn before looking around the room again. There were drawers for clothes and shelves for various other things.

    "You should rest," Zhu Fan'Hua's voice spoke up.

    It was straight and to the point. Perhaps she had seen me yawn. Regardless, it was the truth. I was tired. Nodding to her they all began to leave. Zhu Fan'Hua stopped before closing the door.

    "...Rest well, An'Shen," She said in her calm, nonchalant way yet there was a warmth to it.

    The clore then closed and I was left alone. Setting the one bag I had down on a nearby chair I sat upon the bed. Was this really my room? I couldn't stop myself from smiling.

    Falling back on the bed I realized just how comfortable it is. I didn't realize just how tired I was until I found myself falling asleep in that position.
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  16. Nikushimi

    Nikushimi New Member

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    Chapter Fifteen:
    Sweet Dreams


    "When are you going to tell him?" Suyin asked as they sat in the sitting room.

    Zhu Fan'Hua looked at Suyin without saying a word. As always she knew exactly what she conveyed. The way her eyebrow slightly raised told Suyin she didn't know what she meant. However, Suyin knew better.

    "You know exactly what I mean," Suyin sighed, "About the reason he's here. You know how he feels about...about his cultivation."

    Zhu Fan'Hua knew exactly how he felt about his cultivation but couldn't give an answer. Suyin knew this but it still had to be addressed. Zhu Fan'Hua's condition was not getting better. Lord Yi'Dao could only do so much.

    It was An'Shen that could alleviate it. His peculiar condition allowed the Mana to flow smoothly for Zhu Fan'Hua despite it disrupting everyone else. One of the main reasons why he was here. To help Zhu Fan'Hua cultivate.

    "Does he need to know?" Zhu Fan'Hua finally asked, leaning against her hand, "He'll just think I'm using him."

    "Aren't you?" Suyin retorted before sighing again, "I know you wanted to see him as well. We all did. Not a day has gone by when I haven't thought of him and how he was doing back at the Li'Yu Family."

    Suyin had constantly thought about the young child she met back then. How broken and battered he was. She could see the bruises and marks fading despite whatever cover up they tried. On top of his ribs being broken he was still a bright kid.

    He was always eager to help and learned the best he could whenever they taught him to read. However, there was a memory that stayed with her. They had stayed there for a month before they left. During that month they were often at Lord Yi'Dao's home till late at night.

    He would often fall asleep and every time Suyin would carry him to his bed. Each time he subconsciously clung to her. He constantly muttered in his sleep.

    "Don't leave me alone...no, please don't hit me."

    It tore at her heart. He was just a child yet had such dreams. He held it in well whenever he was awake but the subconscious had a way of coming out. Thrashing and flinching in his sleep. It was heart-wrenching.

    "Well," Suyin continued as she cleared her head of those memories, "He's at least among better people now. I'm sure he won't mind but you shouldn't keep it from him for too long."

    Zhu Fan'Hua only stared out of the window of the sitting room. Suyin could tell she was thinking. There was a lot on her mind and Suyin could only guess at some of it.

    "...I'm going for a walk," She stated as she stood up, "Don't follow me."

    Suyin nodded and watched as she left the room. Leaning back in her chair Suyin couldn't help but take a deep breath. Even being her closest attendant and friend Suyin often had a hard time reading Zhu Fan'Hua.

    Chuckling to herself she could only shake her head as she herself decided to take a walk around the manor. As part of the Zhu Family as well as being one of the top disciples of the Mystic Star Academy she was allowed her own home.

    The others of the Zhu Family had their own place as well separate from this one. For the longest time it had just been Zhu Fan'Hua, Suyin, and Miss Su within this house. Now, An'Shen had joined them. It was Zhu Fan'Hua who suggested it as well.

    It was this thought that caused her to check in on him. See if he was resting well or not. It had been a while since he laid down so it wouldn't hurt to check. As she approached the door to his room she noticed it slightly ajar.

    Immediately she went into high alert mode. Moving quickly and quietly to the door she peered in. What she saw brought a sly smile to her face. He was laid back on the bed with his feet hanging off the edge. Standing over him was Zhu Fan'Hua.

    She watched as the Young Miss watched him. Her face was impassive as she took in his sleeping form. As she watched Zhu Fan'Hua lifted him gently and adjusted him properly in the bed. She watched as she brushed the hair out of his face. Walking into the room she wouldn't miss a chance to tease her master and friend.

    "I thought you were going for a walk," Suyin whispered teasingly.

    "...And I thought I asked you not to follow me," She whispered back as she stood up.

    "I didn't," She answered quietly, "I came to check on him and saw you here."

    Zhu Fan'Hua didn't say anything in return as she began to walk past Suyin. As she did An'Shen stirred. His face scrunched up as he shifted around. It looked like he was in pain as he let out some noises.

    "D-Don't...Please..." He was talking in his sleep and sounded distressed, "...I'm so alone...Don't leave...Leave them alone..."

    They looked at the sleeping form of An'Shen as he had a nightmare. Suyin's heart aching as she could only guess at the nightmare he was having. All these years he's been alone. Everyone had left. It must have been really lonely.

    Even though he was reunited with everyone it must have been stressful. He must still fear it. Even if he doesn't show it.

    "N-No...please...don't go...I...I can't..." He whimpered lightly as he tossed and turned.

    Suyin felt a pull to go to him. Yet, as she moved it was Zhu Fan'Hua who moved swiftly past her before she had the chance. Kneeling down by his side she placed a gentle hand upon his head.

    "...Easy," She spoke softly, "You're not alone...It's alright."

    She was quiet and her tone was still typical of her, yet there was soothing nature to it. Suyin could only smile as Zhu Fan'Hua lightly caressed his forehead and hair. He shifted, tossing and turning under her touch.

    However, he soon began to grow calmer. A small smile appearing across his face. She went to remove her hand but found it unable to return to her. He had almost instinctively reached out and grabbed it with one of his hands.

    Turning on his side to face the hand he had grabbed as he continued to sleep. Zhu Fan'Hua simply stared at him and then at his hand. Suyin was sure she would yank her hand away just on pure instinct. Instead, she simply looked at him and then at her hand.

    "...Such a handful," Zhu Fan'Hua muttered.

    Despite her complaints she knelt down once more and gently pried her hand from his. Placing it comfortably next to him she then brough the blanket up over him. Satisfied with her work she stood and turned towards Suyin.

    Immediately she noticed the expression Suyin had. A rather mischievous, knowing smile.

    "...Not a word," She whispered to Suyin as she walked by.

    Suyin didn't need to say a single word. She knew what Suyin was thinking. The slight pink on Zhu Fan'Hua's cheeks was all she needed. She didn't have to say anything and Zhu Fan'Hua knew it. Making sure to close the door quietly they left him to rest and both took a walk for some fresh air.
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  17. Nikushimi

    Nikushimi New Member

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    Chapter Sixteen:
    First Meal


    Opening my eyes, I found myself in a strange room. It took me a moment to realize where I was. The Mystic Star Academy. I had remembered lay back on the bed but not falling asleep. Noticing the blanket on me I wondered how it got there.

    I had not fallen asleep with a blanket as far as I remembered. Not really thinking much more on it I got up and stretched. My entire body was aching. Most likely because of my long journey here and then finally sleeping in comfortable bed.

    My body was finally relaxing. Still, I couldn't shake my head of the strange dream I had. It was more of a nightmare really. Yet, near the end it got better.

    I was back at the Li'Yu Estate. Everyone was leaving and I was being beat. I remember the sense of pleading with them. Begging them to stop. Yet, no matter how hard I tried it didn't matter.

    I remember I was curled up on the ground when a warm presence touched my forehead. It was Zhu Fan'Hua. Though hazy I distinctly remember part of the dream. It felt so real.

    So real, in fact, that even now I could still remember how it felt. I found myself touching my forehead before feeling embarrassed and blushing in my own way. Unsure what to do I simply looked around the room. There was a door that I never noticed before.

    It didn't lead out into the hall so I thought perhaps it was a closet. Opening the door I found that it was not a closet but a bathroom. Sectioned off into two different areas. One for using the toilet and another for bathing.

    I found that there was stuff prepared for my personal hygiene and so I took the liberty to do so. Feeling refreshing I decided to leave the room and walk around the place. No one was around and it felt rather...empty.

    It was still difficult to believe I was even here. The memories from earlier flashing through my head. How I arrived and those that I met. Especially Zhu Fan'Hua. She was so different from what I remembered yet also not.

    I couldn't seem to stop thinking about her and before I knew it found myself before the sitting room door. Unsure of what I was meant to find here I didn't question it. Opening the door, I saw her. Dark midnight blue, almost black hair.

    It cascaded halfway down her back, just below her shoulder blades. It was tied back in a half ponytail as it was when I saw her earlier today. She was looking out of the window while leaning on the windowsill. A cool breeze blew into the room.

    She wore something more casual instead of the black uniform from earlier. Pastel blue robes sinched at the waist with a large cloth. Loose, comfortable looking pants of a similar shade with comfortable clothe shoes.

    I couldn't take my eyes off her as I made my way in. Trying to be as quiet as I could so as not to disturb her. As I got closer, I realized that the view from this window was gorgeous.

    "...Did you sleep well?" She suddenly asked, causing me to jump.

    "Ah...yeah," I answered, a bit sheepish now that she knew I was there, "I hope I'm not disturbing you."

    The light of the day was winding down. A warm reddish orange light being cast on everything.

    "No, you didn't," She replied coolly.

    Looking towards me I found my breath caught in my throat. The landscape was beautiful as was the sunset. Yet, I was once again reminded of just how beautiful she was. The light hitting her cast a soft glow around her. The way her impassive face seemed to be relaxed as her eyes took me in.

    Shaking my head free of these thoughts I found myself ashamed. This wasn't the first time today I thought such a thing. I began to understand how she received her nickname as the Flower of the Zhu Family as well as the Flower of the Academy. I felt out of place suddenly.

    "...Are you hungry?" The question she asked felt out of nowhere.

    "I...yeah," I nodded as I felt my stomach growl, "I could eat."

    Without a single word she turned on her heel and began smoothly walking away. I simply watched after her, confused. Did I say something wrong? Should I have said no to being hungry?

    I often got in trouble for eating too much. Even if it was food I bought with my own money or that which I grew myself. I had to say something. I had to let her know I wasn't hungry so she wouldn't-

    "Are you coming?" Her voice broke me out of my thoughts, "Or did you want to eat here?"

    She was waiting by the open door, looking at me with no expression. Still, she waited. As I found my legs moving on their own, she waited. She didn't berate me. She didn't tell me to hurry up. She simply waited.

    I wasn't sure why my heart was beating so heavily. I had only met her for the first time in 8 years today. Was it simply nerves? If this was a dream...I didn't want to wake up.

    For the first time in 8 years I was spending time with others. My first friend I ever made, Zhu Fan'Hua, was finally before me again. Perhaps I was just excited. I hoped I didn't make any mistakes and lose them again.

    Same with Miss Su and Lord Yi'Dao, whenever I met him again of course. I wondered if I ever would. He did give me that card and also my name. I had to thank him when I saw him next.

    Zhu Fan'Hua led me to a decent sized room with a table in the center. Several chairs sat around the table and I realized this was a dining room. There were eight chairs. Three on either side and one on the ends.

    Zhu Fan'Hua sat down at one end of the table. Not wanting to be too forward I sat a couple chairs down. There was a silence between as before I heard the movement of a chair. Looking up I noticed that she was sitting across from me.

    "U-Uhm...is everything alright?" I asked as it was hard to tell what she was thinking.

    "Yes," She answered shortly.

    Her eyes watched me as I fidgeted under their gaze.

    "An'Shen..." She addressed me, sighing.

    I flinched as I thought she was annoyed with me.

    "You don't need to sit so far away," Her words hit me hard.

    I had not intended to sit so far away and offend her. Just to give her space. Yet she was telling me it was fine. Was that why she moved? She said so few words yet the words she spoke held importance.

    I found myself smiling and if I could blush, I would have.

    "O-Okay..." I nodded as I waited.

    It wasn't long before I could smell food cooking. When did food get started? I didn't even see any servants. Come to think of it I hadn't seen anyone besides Miss Su and Suyin.

    "Uhm...where's Suyin and Miss Su?" I found myself asking and looking around, "Is it just you three here, or?"

    She nodded in response as she waited patiently. I felt a little awkward.

    "So...it's just you three?" I asked some more, "No other servants? You're from a large family, the Zhu Family, right? What about your siblings?"

    She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Swallowing hard I realized I may have asked too many questions.

    "S-Sorry, I shouldn't ask too-" I began to apologize.

    "My siblings live elsewhere," She answered me softly, opening her eyes halfway, "There's no other servants because it's cumbersome. Suyin and Miss Su see to my needs. They will see to yours as well. Please, don't concern yourself over it."

    Her eyes fully opened as she looked towards me, tilting her head slightly. It was then I realized she had been thinking of what to say.

    "You don't ask too many questions," She continued, addressing my half-finished apology, "If you need more servants then I can-"

    "N-No! Uh, I mean...no," I found myself exclaiming loudly before toning it down and sinking into my seat, "That's alright...honestly, this is more than enough. More than I deserve...but, doesn't that mean it's just...me and then you three living here?"

    I found myself grow extremely self-conscious and shy in that moment. I was finally living in a house with others. Yet, those other people were women. Was that okay?

    "Yes, that's correct," She answered, looking slightly away as if lost in thought.

    I found myself watching her as she traced her finger along the surface of the table. She was waiting but there was something more to it. I couldn't quite place it but she seemed...relaxed. Perhaps it was just my imagination.

    "Miss Fan'Hua, An'Shen," Miss Su's voice cut my thoughts short as she entered the room.

    She was pushing along cart with the food on it. The smell hit my nose almost immediately. My stomach growled and I felt my mouth salivating. I must have been obvious because Zhu Fan'Hua spoke up.

    "Eat as much as you want," She told me as the dishes were set before us.

    "Are you sure?" I asked uncertainly.

    I didn't need an answer. She simply gave me a look and placed food before me. Smiling to myself I nodded and began to take bits and pieces from the dishes that Miss Su had prepared.

    Dumplings and rice. Chicken in some kind of creamy sauce and sauteed vegetables. For drink there was fresh water, milk, and some sort of mixed berry juice. It was incredibly delicious.

    I found myself eating as much as I wanted just like Zhu Fan'Hua told me to. I was focused on eating so when I felt something brush my cheek I jumped. It was Zhu Fan'Hua. She had reached over with a napkin and wiped away some food residue.

    I immediately felt embarrassed and ashamed of myself. I quickly withdrew into my seat as I took my own napkin and wiped the rest of my mouth. All the while she simply stared at me with no expression. She didn't seem angry or annoyed. Yet, she also didn't seem happy.

    "S-Sorry, I-" I began but she just shook her head.

    "It's fine," She placed her napkin back where it belonged, "Just take it slow. The food isn't going anywhere."

    I realized that I had been eating quickly. It was instilled in me since I was young. I had to eat quickly or at any moment it would be taken from me. If I was caught eating without permission I would be punished.

    Once I moved into Lord Yi'Dao's home I had a bit more freedom but often I still had the same problems. Whenever I was found eating outside of the house, I found the Li'Yu children ruining it. If not them then the servants. They despised me.

    I had to eat quickly or it would be taken away. Yet, here I was. Nowhere near the Li'Yu Family. I was eating with a friend. Why did I have to hurry?

    "Right..." I nodded and looked at the food, a smile coming over my face, "...Thank you."

    She didn't say anything back but after that I began to learn to eat a bit slower. Savoring the food before me. It was even better because after 8 long years it was our first meal together. After all that time I should make sure to slow down and enjoy it.
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