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A note from Nameless32

Hey! I just wanted to say... thank you guys so much. I asked you to rate this story a couple days ago, and we've since blown past 60, 70, and even 80 ratings. I wanted to show you how much I appreciate that, so here's another chapter on top of our regular release! Another extra chap will go up if we somehow manage to hit 100 >.<

Also, super special shoutout to Landon Jordan, Sandro530, Orphiex, and Pukas O for going one step further and leaving encouraging reviews! You guys mean the world to me, so it's absolutely incredible to hear that you're enjoying this story. I almost cried reading your reviews! <3

Plus, thanks to DrAlt, Wisdomking, and Drakaos for the critiques! It's always nice to hear where I could improve, so your reviews gave me different perspectives on my story that I also appreciate ^.^

Lightning descended from hundreds of different points, striking in a single, blinding wave.

Kiro desperately closed his eyes, but the vision continued inside his eyelids. This was the foundation of the Huang Clan — mercenaries, set upon his ancestors by their own matriarch. 'Weeding out the weak', Hong Ma had called it. Hong Ma, the same matriarch that had ensured that he would be forbidden from using mana. The same matriarch that had, centuries ago, acquired the entire population of Paradise via torture.

Bile rose in his throat, and the instinctive reaction of his body snapped him from the scene. That woman, that monster he had seen, was the same matriarch that his clan followed. The same matriarch that thousands of unknowing captives worshipped. The same matriarch that he had worshipped.

He emptied the contents of his stomach onto the grass in front of him, clutching onto the silver tree for support. His clan, his family, everything he had ever known, were for a twisted experiment?

And Seira hadn't even told him.

He snatched the piece of jade in sweat-drenched palms, making sure to put the sleeve of his robe between the glowing runes and his skin. He felt like a leaf caught in a firestorm.

What would he do? What could he do?

Escape. He needed to escape. He forced his quivering legs into a run, sprinting back to the clan faster than he had ever run before. His foot caught an exposed root, crashing him face-first into the dirt, but he pushed himself back up in an instant. He needed advice.

* * *

Kiro crashed into the door to Meng’s house, knocking frantically. “Supervisor Meng!”

"Huh? Who's there?" A sleepy voice came from within, followed by shuffling steps.

"I apologise for bothering you so early, but… please, I need..."

"Kiro?" The steps quickened, and the supervisor opened the door, nightgown still on and concern etched on his face. "My boy, what happened? Please, come in. Come in. I'll make you some tea."

Kiro nodded, not trusting himself to speak. The two stepped inside, and Meng brought out a teakettle, shooting a wisp of fire into his stove.

“Calm, Kiro. Calm. Everything’s okay.”

For a few minutes, they just sat in silence, waiting for the water to come to a boil and for Kiro to stop shaking. An assortment of herbs went in, and with a spark of gratitude, he recognized that some of them were more than just tea leaves.

The old man handed him a cup, sitting across from him. "Now, what did you wish to talk to me about?"

Kiro took a grateful sip, cradling the hot liquid and letting the effects of the added alchemical herbs untie the knot in his throat. Did he know? What could he say?

A thousand different things popped into his mind, but in the end, he focused on the thing that tore him apart the most. Seira was planning on leaving without him, but after learning what the matriarch planned to do, could he blame her?

"Supervisor, what advice would you give to… a fish, who lives in a poisoned lake?"

The old man stroked his beard, bringing his own cup to his lips. "Well, I suppose I would tell this fish to grab those close to it and swim away. There is no benefit in staying trapped in such an environment."

Kiro swallowed. "And if there is no river to escape from?"

"Every lake's water must come from somewhere. The fish must simply wait for a path to present itself in the rain."

"And if this poisoned lake was guarded by a heron?"

Meng frowned, taking another sip of tea. "Why, every beast sleeps, and even the mighty heron must fear its big brother, the roc."

"I — I see. And where is the fish to go once it has escaped the poisoned lake?"

"Wherever it wishes. However, if I was this fish, I know where I would seek to go. The golden falls of heaven, where, by the power of the Saints, any fish who climbs to the peak becomes a mighty dragon."

That was exactly what Seira was doing. How did the supervisor know her so well? And if she followed this path, where did that leave him?

He sighed. "Thank you, honored supervisor. One last thing…"

"Yes?"

"If the fish no longer valued those closest to it?”

Meng frowned, patting Kiro’s shoulder. "My boy, is this about your sister?"

He choked, his throat tensing up despite the tea. "Yes, honored Torch."

"Ah…" The old man stood, looking out the window towards the rising sun. "Kiro, if you truly believe that she has intentionally hurt you, I see no reason to keep your ties with her. However, from what I've seen, your sister's heart is good. Through the lens of shock, even an incomplete portrait can seem whole, and it is only with a complete portrayal that you may see one's true self. I urge you to find the missing pieces before passing judgement — you may find that your sister is facing much more than you know."

Kiro stood, bowing. "Thank you, Supervisor Meng. You have given me much to think about. But what about you? If I can—"

"No, my dear boy." The supervisor bowed back, rising to look at him with a chuckle. "This lake's poison has already infected me. This old fish simply wishes to keep guiding those who have the potential to become dragons. Now go. I can tell you have somewhere to be."

* * *

Kiro broke through the thin paper lining Seira's window, throwing himself inside as quietly as his shaking arms would allow.

"Seira?"

She wasn't in her room.

"Seira!"

As soon as the servants discovered the broken window, his cover would be ruined. What could he do? He needed to talk to Seira, now. He needed answers about… everything. Memories of the slaughter brought themselves back into his mind, and he nearly doubled over.

"Kiro?"

The door opened, and Seira shoved her way through a crowd of servants.

"Seira…"

A Hearth-ranked manager gaped at him, his eyes wide in indignity. "Young Brave! What is your brother doing in this household? You know that your mother —"

She pushed the man out of the room, slamming the door with a huff. "I command you, as Brave and heir to the Tang family, to leave me alone!"

There was a moment silence, and then the man cursed, whispering to the rest of the crowd.

Seira punched the door once more, causing the servants to scramble away. "He'll be gone now. I swear, every time I try and get an ounce of privacy!"

She looked back at him, and he could see that her eyes were still red. "But Kiro! What are you doing here?"

Despite the effects of the tea, his heart pounded in his chest, and he forced himself to take a deep breath. He was here. She was here. Everything was fine. He just needed to stay calm.

"Seira… can we talk?"

"Of course! I, uh, actually wanted to talk to you too." The tiniest trace of guilt flashed on her face, too brief for anyone but him to notice. "Is there anything specific you wanted to talk to me about?"

"... No." His throat caught, and he let out a cough before continuing. "I just wanted to talk to you."

"Oh! Ah, alright." A pained expression contorted her features, and she walked over to him. "Kiro, I'll miss — uh, I mean, I've missed you"

She gave him a hug to cover for her slip-up, but he could feel a quiver in her arms as she pulled away.

"I've missed you too, Seira." It had only been a day since they'd last seen each other, but if this was going to be their final goodbye, he wanted to make it a good one. He turned away from her, blinking rapidly. He needed to stay calm.

“Umm... I heard about your plans to sell your new elixir. Is there anything I could do to help?”

“The elixir." The knot in his throat tightened. That had felt like a lifetime ago. And even as she prepared to leave this society forever, she was still looking out for him.

After a couple seconds of desperate swallowing, he managed to choke out a response. "N-nothing mother wouldn’t be furious about."

He winced at how forced his speech had sounded, but Seira didn't seem to have noticed. She was too busy trying to steady her trembling lip.

After a couple more seconds, she managed to compose herself again. “Hey... if I were to give you half of my spirit stones, would that help?”

“You wouldn’t be able to. Not without mother finding out.” He gritted his teeth, reaching into his robe's pocket. This was selfish of him, but he couldn't bear it any longer.

Then, Seira looked him in the eyes, scratching her Brave mark. “Um, Kiro? I… I have something I need to tell you.”

Relief and regret flushed through him in equal amounts, and he gave a shaky chuckle, holding up his palm. “... Me too.”

"What? What do you —"

She stared at his sleeve, where the piece of jade rested.

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About the author

Nameless32

  • Well-Hydrated

Bio: Instead of a bio, here's a reminder to make sure that you're taking care of yourself! :)

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