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ARC 4 - Wei

“Nox.”

ZaiWin blinked and turned to see ZenTar sit on the old fallen tree beside him. They’d stopped for another brief rest near a small stream of fresh water, allowing their horses to quench their thirst and nibble on some tender grass.

“You’ve been awfully quiet. Not that you’re usually the talkative type, but still,” ZenTar carefully noted and followed ZaiWin’s gaze.

With the hood of his cloak covering his head, the brat was squatting near the stream bank, hands on his knees. He seemed to be looking intentively at something, what exactly ZenTar couldn’t tell. There was nothing there but grass, pebbles and dirt.

“He’s a rather strange kid, isn’t he?”

ZaiWin blinked again and frowned, finally averting his gaze, as if he’d just now noticed that he’d been staring at him.

“He’s a nuisance!”

“Can’t refute that. But still … What’s he doing, crouching like that? He’s been at it ever since we stopped.”

ZaiWin sighed, resting his head in one hand.

“Flowers.”

“What?” ZenTar demanded, turning to gaze at him.

“The freaking brat is looking at the flowers.”

“Flowers? What flowers?” ZenTar looked the boy again and at the grass at his feet. And, sure enough, there were small white flowers practically hidden amongst the green. How the kid had managed to notice them and why such small, simple flowers apparently held such interest, however, was beyond his understanding.

And then it hit him. The kid hadn’t been the only one noticing the small flowers. The one sitting at his side had noticed them as well, even though ZaiWin was hardly the type to take notice of such insignificant things. Not that he didn’t held enough sensibility to grasp such small details. It was just that life hadn’t molded him to be like that.

No. The only reason he had noticed them was because the boy had noticed them. And ZenTar couldn’t help feeling a bit concerned about his own conclusion. Ever since they’d left the Fortress ZenTar had caught him blankly staring at the boy more than once.

“How are you feeling?” he couldn’t help asking and, like always, ZaiWin scowled at his question.

“I’m fine.”

“No more strange unbalances?”

ZaiWin sighed.

“No.”

“So I can go ahead and pat the kid on the head?”

ZaiWin’s entire demeanor immediately tensed up, even though he did his best to disguise it. The only problem was that ZenTar knew him too well to be so easily deceived.

“You can do as you please,” he replied, his voice sounding as unconcerned as always, and ZenTar took a deep breath. But before he could say another word, MenTar happily strode towards the boy. He’d just finished filling their water flasks and distributed them by everyone’s traveling bags. And, like always, once he didn’t have anything else to do, he recklessly went to try and engage the boy in conversation.

Snow was a bit startled when a large shadow suddenly crouched beside him, and his expression immediately changed to one of open displeasure and suspicion. It was obvious that MenTar’s company wasn’t welcome but, even so, the other man kept acting as if he hadn’t noticed it.

The sudden movement at his side captured his attention, in time to see that ZaiWin stand up and silently walk away.

Looking at huge smile on his brother’s face and at the way the boy was frowning uncomfortably, ZenTar couldn’t help sighing. He’d traveled a lot in his life. But not even when he’d been on the run, with a small child on his arms and a bunch of blood thirsty assassins on his tail, had he ever felt so tense all the time. He really hoped he could reach Wei without first having to bury his own flesh and blood on the side of the road.

The following days went by in a bright blur.

After the first three or four days of travel, Snow’s body finally grew accustomed to the long riding hours, and his confidence that Black wouldn’t simply throw him off his back allowed him to relax and actually enjoy the view.

And what amazing views they were! Things he had never dreamed he’d be able to see. Things he didn’t even knew existed. And despite the fact they were all apparently small, insignificant things that didn’t seem to attract anyone’s attention but his, he still did his best to commit them all to memory, since he knew sooner or later his life under the bright blue sky would come to an end again.

The world that surrounded him was a beautiful, wonderful place. And even though he made his best to keep his present adverse situation in mind, he still couldn’t help smile every time he dipped his bare feet in a stream, or stop his heart from racing when a couple of hawks flew above his heads, spiraling and circling each other in their play, casting shadows of large wings on the world below. The wind, even when cold, always felt good, always tasted sweet, always made him close his eyes and take deep breaths just to feel it fill his chest. The grass felt amazing beneath his bare hands. And the night sky … the night sky always took his breath away, making him feel small but, at the same time, incredibly humble for being able to stare at the silvery bright stars that twinkled from such unknown, faraway places. Even the night sounds, that at first had stolen his sleep, were now like a gentle lullaby allowing him feel safe, the dirt beneath his blanket as welcoming as a warm embrace.

He wished he could ride on Black’s back for the rest of his life, just traveling down the road, watching the world unfold before his eyes, smelling the flowers and stealing fresh fruits from the trees. And so it was with a heavy sense of dread that he saw the large city nestled against the mountain slope appear in the horizon.

Seen from afar it looked like no more than a grayish spot, breaking the green ocean that covered most of the land in sight. But taking into account the distance they still had to travel it was clear that the small spot was actually a very large complex of houses and streets.

“We’ll make camp here for the night,” the monster decided, sliding off his horse and, as it had become usual, reached up to help him down, gently lowering him to the ground.

And that was it, Snow knew, as far as their interaction went. The monster rarely talked to him, unless it was something really necessary. And even though the monster was always close by, it wasn’t as if he cared for him, or worried about him, or payed him any attention. He was more like a silent guard, making sure his treasure didn’t get stolen or worse, decided to run away. As long as he was there, alive and reasonably healthy, he seemed content and simply left him to his wanderings.

ZenTar, on the other hand, was an entire different story.

Even though he felt that the monster was much scarier than ZenTar in a way he couldn’t really explain, he still didn’t feel as if his life was in eminent danger when they were together. ZenTar was the complete opposite. With his fake smiles and pleasant expressions, he always watched him carefully, his green eyes cold and sharp as if he was ready to cut him down where he stood at the first sign that he was about to do something wrong. Behind his gentle mask, ZenTar was a cold, dangerous man.

The other two men of their small group always kept their distance, clearly uncomfortable in his presence, probably too aware of the number of people that Snow had killed in a split second. They didn’t trust him, rarely spoke to him, and didn’t hide the fact that they would have preferred to simply have him killed and buried in some unknown place.

And so, the only one who actually talked to him, the only one who treated him the same way he treated everyone else, was MenTar, with his wide smile and frequently stupid jokes.

MenTar would always invite him to go with him whenever he was given a task outside the camp, and they would always take their time exploring the surrounding areas and finding new things that Snow had never seen or known about.

MenTar had taught him to distinguish between edible wild berries and poisonous ones, and had told him about which types of wood were better to burn at their fire. He’d taught him how to assemble traps to hunt for rabbits and other small animals, and had showed him the best way to climb a tree without falling to his death. He had also taught him a lot about horses, about how to take care of them, about their needs, about how to read their mood and improve it with a back rub or by feeding them some delicious apples. Snow really enjoyed taking care of them, and the animals seemed to have taken a liking to him as well, automatically surrounding him whenever he approached them to free them from their saddles and allow them some time to wander around.

Though his words of reply to MenTar’s endless chatting were few and scarce, he quickly became the person with whom he had spoken more his entire life. Unlike the other two men, who glared at him in fear whenever he opened his mouth, and unlike ZenTar who immediately tensed up, his hand half-reaching for the sword he always carried on his back, MenTar simply didn’t seem to care, almost as if … he trusted him to do the right thing.

“We’ll be arriving in Weiin tomorrow afternoon,” the monster announced while they were eating, that evening.

They had managed to capture some fresh fish from a close by river that they could still hear sing from where they sat, around the fire.

The mere smell of it as it baked was enough to leave a sickening expression on Snow’s face. But by now everyone already knew, including himself, that he could not stomach neither meat or fish, no matter what kind. In fact MenTar had even gone to the trouble to offer him the seat most upwind, so that the smell wouldn’t be so strong. Before they had reached the conclusion that the kind of food he ate was actually a real problem, he had been sick, throwing up and feverish a few times as a result of forcing himself to eat like everyone else. Finally the monster had had enough and had severely scolded him for constantly delaying the rest of the group just because he was stubborn.

“If you can’t eat it, don’t eat it!” he’d told him, his blue eyes flashing in anger. “Stop wasting our time and stop wasting our food!”

And even though his words had been as harsh as all the other words he’d directed to him so far, Snow had actually felt grateful and relieved to hear them.

“Once in Wei don’t forget to proceed as we have talked,” the monster went on. “Avoid drawing attention as you go about your business. Try not to get into trouble. If you feel that you’re being followed don’t return to our inn. Taking into account that we’ll be arriving tomorrow afternoon, I expect to have taken care of everything and be on my way by the third day.”

“That is if the old fox agrees to let you leave so soon,” ZenTar pointed out and the monster sighed.

“No matter what, we much convince him to let us go. It’s been three weeks since we’ve left the Fortress. From our counts and from LaoTar’s messages, they should be arriving at Tei’s border in another week or so. Once in Tei they’ll be able to send messengers ahead to inform the Palace about what happened. They will confirm that we’re not among the men and they will most probably send message to all the Provinces that I should be returned to Wenin. I do not want to be in Wei when that happens. I’m sure that, by then, RimMyu will also rather have me as far away from his lands as possible.”

ZenTar sighed but didn’t counter him.

After they had finished eating and repacking their things, they quickly spread their blankets around the fire, ready to sleep. It had been a long day and they had plans to wake-up before sunrise the next morning, so that they could reach Weiin as soon as possible.

Grabbing his blankets, Snow looked around until he saw him, sitting not far from the others, a black mass leaning against a tree.

Without a second thought and following the routine that had been established since their second day on the road, Snow crossed the camp and spread his blanket at his side, silently lying down and curling up beneath his second blanket.

No one gave them strange looks anymore. In fact no one seemed to care, on the contrary. HawkEye and BigMountain seemed actually relieved by the fact that Snow always slept a bit farther away from them, and that he had the monster watching over him, probably convinced that he’d keep him in line, making sure he didn’t do anything to hurt them in any way.

It didn’t take long until a large, warm hand landed on his head, amongst his hair that had finally grown to a normal length.

Snow took a deep breath and closed his eyes, allowing the sounds around him to fill his brain, picking them apart. There was the sound of birds’ calling, the crickets on the tree behind them, the frogs by the river bank, the crackling of the flames, the slithering of some unknown animal amongst the grass, the whispering of the wind brushing against the highest leaves. He had never felt more at ease, more relaxed, lying down to sleep than he felt there, beneath the open sky.

“Sleep, damn brat! Or I swear I’ll let you fall on your ass the next time you fall asleep while riding! My arm is all stiff from having to hold you the entire morning! Or do you need me to knock you over the head and be done with it?”

A smile touched Snow’s lips when he recalled the monster’s harsh words, all those days ago.

Back then he’d been really afraid. Afraid of the dark night, but even more afraid that the monster would actually make good on his threats. He’d shut his eyes, if nothing else to pretend that he was asleep, but his heart had kept beating too fast, the scary sounds around him sounding even louder, droplets of sweat sliding down his back.

When something heavy landed on his head he had almost jumped out of his blanket. He would have probably done so, if whatever had landed on him hadn’t immediately pressed his head down, stopping him from sitting up. Only then he’d realized what it was, and his mind had immediately gone completely blank, something much deeper than mere fear taking over his entire body.

Terrified, hardly breathing, he’d waited for the worst, he’d expected pain and cruelty. But pain hadn’t come. The heavy hand had simply stayed there, warming his head. And no matter how long he waited, or how many times he wondered what the monster wanted from him, nothing else had happened, until he’d eventually fallen asleep. The same way he’d fallen asleep all the nights after that.


Here it is! Arc 4! 😁

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A note from Sophia Carpersanti

Language:

Nox: Literally nox (night). Where Nox is the name of the Clan, also the name of a Province.

Weiin: Literally wei (crystal / precious stone) + suffix in (center), meaning the center of the Province of Wei, in other words, Wei’s Capital. All Capitals of all Provinces are named as such.

Tei: Literally tei (metal). Where Tei is the name of the Clan, also the name of a Province.

Wenin: Literally wen (sun) + suffix in (center), meaning the center of the Province of Wen, in other words, Wen’s Capital. Since Wen is the Capital Province of the Empire of Wen, Wenin is the most important city, where the Imperial Family lives. All Capitals of all Provinces are named as such.


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About the author

Sophia Carpersanti

Bio: Sophia CarPerSanti was born with her mind lost in another world. Not too strangely, writing is her only passion since childhood, and so there's not much one can do to correct what was weird right from the start. Once deprived of writing total mental breakdown follows and yeah, nothing good comes out of it. And so there are a lot of books and manuscripts inside boxes and drawers just waiting for an opportunity to see the light of day. I hope you enjoy my beloved ones as much as I enjoyed creating them ♥

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