[center [Rajdhani [size30 UNDER THE BRIGHT BLUE]]][center [pic http://i.imgur.com/OqEe3tL.png]][center [Rajdhani [size40 [i ENDLESS SKY] ]]][center [font "batang che" [size10 waves try to measure [b the days that we treasure]]]]
[center [font "batang che" [size9 -- ]]][center [font "batang che" [size11 [http://rp.eliteskills.com/vc.php?c=388219 1] x [http://rp.eliteskills.com/vc.php?c=389096 1] ]]][center [font "batang che" [size11 [b Mature themes ahead.]]]]
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[center [Dosis Parted lips of the strategist would shift into the downturn of a slight frown as silence fell upon the couple, coiled together upon the forest floor. Cao Shui had, after several moments, taken into account the meaning of the words he spoke - and of his actions. He reprimanded himself for failing to think before he spoke, and for allowing recent events to cloud his judgements.. he had once held himself as a man of unspoken talent for his age. Yet, he now fumbled and made many mistakes as a young scholar would within his first days of service in the capitol. In some ways, he had been embarrassed of his actions. ]]
[center [Dosis He had known he may be deemed presumptuous and may later find himself in the face of punishment, for having [i dared] to take the Lord within his grasp in such a familiar and intimate manner. Yet, he could not find a difference in that man... nothing to differ him from a small child who required the comfort of an adjusted adult. A crying youth seeking comfort. In that moment, he had been nothing but a lost child without a mother to dote upon him. It tempted him, to collect the boy within his arms and to raise him from the ground, so that he may be brought back to the manor for medical attention. Yet, he would restrain this urge - he would play the role of an ever-respectful servant in assisting his injured Master to stand. He would keep in mind to not touch him inappropriately, as he bared the weight of his body while the two wandered back to the familiar home. Left with silence between them, he would consider just what could have prompted such a reaction from Jun Wentong - to shift the man he saw such potential in, to nothing more than a child? Who was the true Jun Wentong? He concealed much.. and Cao Shui intended to unveil the truths kept from him. ]]
[center [Dosis | ⚜ ⚜ ⚜ |]]
[center [Dosis He had intended to inquire about what caused such reactions within his Master, upon their return to the manor. He thought he would position Wentong comfortably upon a cushion and tend to his wounds, and ask him what had prompted such reactions.. even chide him for permitting someone he had not built a deep bond with to see him in such a manner. Or, had it been that his heart was not as firm as Cao Shui's, and he had already begun to experience such feelings of closeness, toward the servant? ]]
[center [Dosis However, he had noted that the sun had begun to set in the time of their return; and as peaceful as their silent stroll had been through the final golden rays of sunlight, the slight chill in the air, and the enjoyment of one another's company, that it would not be appropriate to fumble about within the dark. Reluctantly, he would leave the man's side so that he may light lanterns throughout the humble home and brighten the space - taking a moment to prepare fresh ointment and fetch bandages so that he may look after Wentong. Mildly bothered now that the moment for him to ask, what it was that concerned his Lord and caused his tears, had now passed. To find another chance to inquire without appearing disrespectful, would most likely be troublesome.. the man was quite stubborn and seemed too quick to speak anything but the truth.]]
[center [Dosis Upon his return to the man's side, the yearning he felt to return to the man and the discomfort at being separation would slowly ease, as Cao Shui had stopped within the entry with posture partially drawn into a respectful bow. He intended to excuse himself for disturbing his Lord, upon noting that the man had, thankfully, not slipped off once again. What he had found surprised him --]]
[center [Dosis Jun Wentong had undressed himself without fuss, slipped out of the layers of his garments as he sat exposed to Cao Shui. Narrowed eyes would widen at the sight, as he registered the silent order to tend to his Lord within his mind.. yet found himself slow to respond to it. Colour would begin to warm his cheeks and dust upon his throat, tinging his own flesh a soft pink as he admired the form settled upon the cot. It had been the first time Jun Wentong had been undressed before him, and not near death nor covered in substances that smelled foul, or otherwise requiring urgent attention that hadn't allowed Shui to.. [i look] at him. It had been the first time that he could admire the unwounded portions of Wentong. And, through this moments of staring, examining his body... the extent of his muscled form and the shape of his features, that he had received training. Just as Shui had believed.]]
[center [Dosis It was not the exposure of this skin that brought the subtle blush to settle upon Shui's cheeks, however. He had often seen the forms of men within his previous days, before he had sworn to never lay hand upon a sword. He had often tended to the medical needs of many before this man, he now called his Lord. That was not what had caught him off guard. ]]
[center [Dosis A sigh would escape through his lips as if a Mother in disbelief at her son, as lashes fluttered closed for a moment before the servant would cross the room. Placing the items he carried upon the edge of the cot, delicate hands would take care to shift the garments that Jun wore. It seemed that his Master had.. exposed the incorrect side of his body, to be tended.. and now had the appearance of an exhausted child who could not tell right from left. He had found it adorable, as he partially re-dressed the man. He would do so without complaint, without informing his Lord, not wishing to embarrass him for his mistake.. though Cao Shui had found the error to be-.. [i cute.] ]]
[center [Dosis Cautious to not disturb his wound or apply pressure that would discomfort him, he would set about cleansing and applying ointment to prevent infection and assist in the healing process. Finding himself brave in needlessly trailing his fingers upon any exposed skin, seeking reaction from his Lord, as he re-dressed the wound. He had not anticipated the sudden grasp of his hand that would cause his motions to cease, and his breath to hitch as he intently gazed upon him. Cao Shui would be moved to drop to a single knee before his Lord, finding himself wishing to kowtow and bow in regret. Yet, he would not dare move as his Lord held him so tightly. He would simply lower himself to his knees, not pulling away his hand - patiently waiting as he did what he could to ease the discomfort. "Forgive me, my Lord. Please attempt to bear with it. Though, I perhaps should have restrained you to prevent you from leaving.." he would trail off, with a mischievous yet thoughtful tone. Playful, yet serious.]]
[center [Dosis "You have no need to thank your lowly servant. It is my duty to support my Lord." He would speak softly, concerned his tone may be too loud for his discomforted Master. As he had been pulled, Cao Shui would find himself leaning within the lap of his Lord - gazing up toward him with that hand entwined in his own. " .. You are in much pain," he would comment with great sorrow. Those narrowed eyes glancing from the man's face, toward their entwined hands, it was Shui's turn to lace their fingers together. Properly entwined, he would bring their hands to his lips.. daring to place a kiss upon the knuckles of his Lord. There, he would caress that hand, as if to worship the being before him. "Be at ease, my Lord. Cao Shui is present." ]]
[center [Dosis He remained in such a delicate position for some time, silent as he caressed that hand with what seemed to be a thousand half-kisses that soon extended down to the inner corner of his wrist. Attempting to ease the discomfort, in some small way. Yet, this would soon fade from him - as he then clenched tightly onto that hand. Refusing to release his Lord. "Wentong... tonight I will take you as my prisoner. You have greatly offended my Lord, in escaping and harming my Lord's body.. your punishment will be served at my side. You will not be permitted to leave me, tonight. To disobey, I will punish you in the name of my Lord." Narrowed hues would glance upward through long, dark lashes - a smirk forming at the corners of his lips. Daring the man to disobey him. ]]
[Raleway [center When he had been found by Cao Shui, the other man rushed to him, fussing at him about things that seemed important. He pulled on the prince's clothing and pressed a hand to his once again opened wound. To feel the man's bare hands on his body made Xiang Jun hesitate. The pressure being put on his wound made him wince, and he wondered if Cao Shui had done so purposely.
Baffled by Cao Shui's boldness in handling a prince's bare skin in such a way, Xiang Jun found a laugh bubbling in his throat. Upon it's release, tears sprung from his eyes, and the exiled prince laid his head on his servant's shoulder.
Had he been of his right mind, surely the prince would not have forsaken his dignity in such a way. Vulnerability was not a trait he often portrayed as it was seen as lowly for someone of his rank to seem weak. Crying in front of anyone was preposterous, let alone using a servant’s shoulder for comfort while doing so. The thought of it hours after their return sent shivers down his spine. In the forest, he had allowed himself only a moment to cry, before being shaken by Cao Shui's kind words. It was not a servant's place to say such things to a prince, though Xiang Jun reminded himself that this man did not know his true identity. Nonetheless, the words softened him, allowed him to feel safe once again.
[i "Do not cry, Jun'er, I am here,"] the long forgotten words rung in his ears, soothing him. [i "Mother will not leave your side, child."] He had fallen, barely bruised knees aching, but the cries and tears came. His Mother had held him, treated him with the extreme kindness she had always shown. That was the last time she comforted him in such a way, having been scolded by the Empress Dowager for doting on the then Crown Prince. Oh, how he wished then that his tears now were for nothing more than a scraped knee.
His mind betrayed him, and as he looked over at Cao Shui, he saw his mother--a concerned look in her bright eyes. But only for a moment. When the taller man stood straight after pressing his lips against the prince's head, Xiang Jun saw him for who he was. Just as the man who saved his life; nothing more, nothing less. As an equal, a person like any other.
The man escorted Xiang Jun back to the manor, and neither broke the silence of the forest until they returned. The prince's chest would need more attention, and Cao Shui escorted him into the manor to have the bandages changed. If the prince continued to reopen his chest wound, it would never fully be healed.
After taking a seat on the cot he had been sleeping on at the manor, Xiang Jun mindlessly untied his upper robe and lower shirt, pulling them to the side and sliding one of his arms out of the garments.
When the man bent in front of him to fix his bandages, Xiang Jun noticed the way his fingers felt as they worked on his chest. The prince watched him work meticulously, focusing on the way the light from nearby candles flickered on his cheek. The illumination of this servant's--no, this man's--face took away all of the prince's attention.
Until a jolt of pain made him shudder beneath Cao Shui's touch. The prince's hand shot up to hold the man's, cupping it against his chest. Heaving pained and shaky breaths, Xiang Jun gripped the hand tighter to try and relinquish some of his pain.
Unnerved, he glanced up into Cao Shui's eyes with a pleading look. Without letting go of his hand, Xiang Jun pulled both of them away from his chest for a moment, resting their awkwardly entwined hands on his knee as he caught his breath.
"[b Thank you,]" he whispered in a low, shameful voice, "[b for aiding me so.]"
"[b I just needed a moment to breath.]"
[center [Dosis Cao Shui awoke that morning to an empty home and the silent woods, lacking the presence of a certain injured man. His charge. One whom had obviously received education above his [i apparent] social standing. Jun Wentong held little in the way of manners, and was certainly raised without a shred of decency, gratitude, respect - or even consideration for others and the world that surrounded him. He was no different than the Royal Family, and it disgusted him to no end. He would certainly fit in with the personalities one would find, in the Royal Palace.]]
[center [Dosis And, he'd not been proven wrong --- his Lord and Master had managed to escape from his grasp before he even a woke. It was not something he would believe to be easy, for his previous way of life often had him prepared for anything. Even in his sleep. Had Jun Wentong been trained in the way of military life? Or had Cao Shui simply become more relaxed, over the years? He would need to study and refresh himself, once again. Even so, he had known Jun Wentong to not be the man he claimed. He had suspected it from the moment they met, that not all had been as it seemed. For some time, he had known that Jun Wentong was not the man he swore himself to be and through previous days, he would stubbornly weave lie upon lie to conceal the truth from Cao Shui. On several occasions, he had barely avoided being caught within these tall tales - or rather, Cao Shui took grand pleasure in attempting to catch him and fill him with anxiety. Of course, without appearing disrespectful to presume his Lord was nothing more than a liar, for he was but a [i loyal] and [i faithful] servant, to his Master.]]
[center [Dosis Upon hours of labouring to locate him - beginning with a basic search of his Manor for clues that might indicate which direction he had gone or what he intended to do, to following several tracks retreating from his doorway. Stumbling accidentally upon merchants and the few residences of the mountainside, he would ask information from any he passed -- and finally, he had managed to locate him. The moment he came into sight, the moment his hands touched that injured body, he would scold and fuss over the brat from head to toe. His anger with the man would only rise as he seemed to laugh, within his face - [i he swore he would flog the bastard the moment he recovered fully.]]]
[center [Dosis He would cease to berate him harshly for his [i careless] behaviour, reprimands dying upon his lips as that little Lord rested partially upon his shoulder. It confused Shui. He would be struck stiff at the weight, silenced - any sound that threatened to leave his lips would be halted, instead his lashes would flutter in confusion. His anger would cease under the additional weight, finding himself disregarding any lessons he intended to teach Wentong. Even though he remained angry, with his Lord, and would for some time.]]
[center [Dosis .. Yet.. something was soothed within him. [i Relieved.] To now have him here at his side, safe and sound.. some part of him was thankful that the heavens had not taken this man, too.]]
[center [Dosis Submissively, the servant would relent to the wish of his Lord, allowing him to perch against his body without complaint. Hesitant to respond to such intimate interaction, he would gaze toward the other questioningly. Wondering just what had caused such reactions? Exhaustion? Illness? Infection?]]
[center [Dosis As he wondered this, his hands would naturally seek to run over Wentong's body - not seeking his consent, to slide his fingers between the layers of his clothing. Caressing the injured portions of his frame with bare hands, finding that he had indeed caused further harm and would need medical attention. Did the man [i enjoy] being spoiled? Did he seek reaction out of Shui simply for his own amusement? No. Certainly, he must have been raised with an overly-doting family that granted him anything he would [i cry] for. It seemed he [i needed] someone to worship, at his feet. [b He would train that out of him, later.] That was for certain.]]
[center [Dosis These thoughts would be pressed to the side as he intended to speak, to suggest they make their way back to where they might bathe, eat and rest. That was, until his Master had begun to cry against him. Shui had stiffened further. How was he to comfort someone he did not know? He had never been the support of another, in these matters, apart from his sister... apart from a small child. .. But in what manner was the man against him different from a child?]]
[center [Dosis He would question the following actions for some time, in future days - and he would recall this moment and wonder if it had perhaps been their true beginning.]]
[center [Dosis The moment when Cao Shui let out a soft sigh as he shifted one hand to wrap properly around the other man, cradling him into his side in a proper and intimate embrace. His other hand raising to lightly rest upon Wentong's cheek, delicate and careful - in the way he had often done to soothe his sister from her nightmares. And, just as he did to her, he would lean to kiss the man's forehead. ]]
[center [Dosis "You have no need to worry, of anything. I am here. I will not leave your side."]]
[Raleway [center Behind him, the light foot falls of Cao Shui almost went unnoticed for he was walking in the same beat the soft waves of the pond hit the shore. The wind seemed to stir at his presence, as did the prince's heart. He had been there a week since his recovery, and his new [i servant] seemed to be at his side every chance he had; it had almost become second nature to have his cold presence behind his shoulder. After only a week, this strange man had such an effect on the prince.
In no way could he trust him just yet. The exiled prince found it preposterous that a man could react so coldly to someone, threatening them without hesitation, and then change his entire stance so quickly. Something wasn't right, but he could not quite place it.
There was silence--apart from the lapping of waves and rustling of leaves against the wind--but just for a moment before Cao Shui spoke. [b "My Lord,"] even with the prompting of his words, Xiang Jun continued to face the pond. [b "I have received notice from [i reliable] source that the attack upon yourself, had been in preparation for another."] The prince's face was visibly shaken, though Cao Shui would not have been able to see this due to the prince's back facing him. [i Reliable] source? The prince made a note in his mind to search into this later.
[b "Upon your entry within these woods, did you come upon any others, my Lord?"]
Xiang Jun had to think. And quickly. Knowing the attack was meant for someone, and not some random thievery, meant those men were surely assassins sent after him; this, he should have thought of by then.
"There was a small group of men in the forest alongside me, though not accompanying me. I did not see what happened to them," he said nonchalantly. "Perhaps they too fought these--[i assassins], you say? And perhaps they too were among the dead. I cannot be sure." He turned around to face Cao Shui at this point, keeping face his face as deadpan as possible. He swung his arms in a motion one would swing a sword as he said: "I was quite [i busy] at the time, you can recall."
He pondered for a few second later, glimpsing deeply into Cao Shui's eyes, trying to see any emotions that would give this man away. Was he inquiring about the attack because he had suspicions that Xiang Jun had ties to the exiled prince--that he is the former crown prince? This, too, seemed ridiculous to him. Surely he would have sworn his undying loyalty to him and treated him with absolute respect had he known. That was how all peasants were to treat people like him: royalty.
With his vague explanation, the two returned to the Cao manor. Another uneventful day flew by, and the two ended it together with a meal. As Cao Shui began to serve the stew that had been made, Xiang Jun insisted on helping. The prince had no desire to actually help; instead, he wanted to prove his utmost health and independence to both himself and Cao Shui. The man insisted the prince not help in fear of him overexerting himself. Xiang Jun's stubbornness was stronger than Cao Shui's reasoning.
He stood and moved to the taller man's side, reaching for the bowls that were stored on higher shelves. As he reached for them, the prince pulled out a part of the sewing on his wound that hadn't fully healed. Cringing from the pain, his hand jolted to his chest and a groan escaped his lips. Cao Shui sighed, wrapping an arm beneath Xiang Jun's as though it was second nature and helping him sit down. Cao Shui could feel the warmth radiating from his Lord, and wondered if he was naturally hot or if it was because of his lingering sickness.
The prince shifted in his seat as Cao Shui began to untie his upper garments, sliding the cloths off of his shoulders and chest with nimble fingers and gracefully light movements. His fingertips felt like ice against his skin, and it was actually comforting. So much so that Xiang Jun found himself leaning into his touch slightly.
Cao Shui doctored his wounds despite the prince's constant wincing against the needle that wove through his skin. The man decided it would be best to re-bandage him, despite the prince having not needed a bandage for a few days. He left the prince's side briefly to retrieve the bandage he would need. After cutting it to the desired length, Cao Shui grabbed one end, wrapping it around Xiang Jun's body, weaving one arm beneath his right arm while reaching over his left shoulder to grab the end he held in his other hand.
Cao Shui's arms wrapped around the prince's body in multiple ways over the next few minutes, and Xiang Jun began to notice how hot his own body was becoming. He wondered if the man so carelessly touching his chest could notice. Suddenly, he found himself being bashful.
When the wound had been adequately covered with the strip of cloth, Cao Shui moved his hands away from the prince's body hastily and began to make the food once again. This time, Xiang Jun admitted defeat and took a seat at the low-sitting table, carefully pulling his sleeves back on as he glanced at his companion.
Days had past, and the complacency began to eat at the royal man's heart. During the day, he was slightly comforted just by Cao Shui's presence. During the night, he dreamt of death, whether it be his parents, his group of servants, Cao Shui's sister, or even Cao Shui's.
He needed to know what happened to his people, but he could not give away anything. Before the sun rose the next morning, he woke before Cao Shui, sneaking from the manor into the forest in the direction he determined the inn was in.
Xiang Jun found the inn soon after, just as the sun began to peak over the horizon to shine light onto the small courtyard of the inn. Something in the air was wrong, he could feel it. He could [i smell] it. The ting of metal in the air was too familiar to the prince recently.
There, sprawled across the courtyard was the bodies he knew very well. He walked towards them slowly, identifying each one, dishearteningly, until he came face to face with a sword. He recognized the man as the innkeeper he had met and spoken with briefly. The older man held the sword with a shaky hand, obviously unaccustomed to the weight of the weapon.
The man was at a loss for words after the prince knocked the sword from his hand easily. The prince tossed it in the air with a hit to the lower part of the man's hand, grabbing it before it hit the ground. Xiang Jun pointed it at the man instead, mirroring the original stance of the older innkeeper, thought with a steadier hand. "What happened here," the prince said harshly.
[b "There were men here just a few days ago. They asked us where the prince was and then attacked us!"] The innkeeper rambled on, obviously scared due to the weapon pointed between his eyes. Xiang Jun reassured him by dropping the weapon and placing his hand on the man's shoulder.
"Do not be afraid, they are gone now. You are safe." The man nodded at him, though he was obviously not as shaken now that the weapon had been dropped. Even without the prompting of the sword, however, he was quick to answer any question the prince asked.
Xiang Jun used this as a chance to learn more about his plotted identity. He asked of the Marquis that shared his feigned last name and learned of his death just weeks ago. He thanked him and started to leave. Before exiting the small gate, he turned back and looked at the dead. [i His] dead people. He couldn't believe they had died because of him. He hated it. "Will you bury them for me?"
[b "Of course, Master Jun."]
In the heat of the day, he started to make his way back to the Cao manor, retracing a good majority of steps before becoming lost in an unfamiliar part of the forest. He had been wandering for nearly an hour, nothing around but thinning trees and the sound chirping birds mocking him. The wound on his chest began to ache, and it felt as if he was burning from the inside out.
When he found a place that seemed shaded, the prince propped himself against a tree and decided to take a rest. The manor would not disappear, he would just take his time to find it.
Xiang Jun didn't once think that Cao Shui would feverishly search for him during the time he was missing, not until he found the prince. The man stormed towards him, and after paying his respects, roughly helped Xiang Jun stand. He cursed and complained about things that the prince was not interested in.
Instead, he watched the man closely, the only servant he had left. As he fussed at him about things that seemed important, tears sprung to Xiang Jun's eyes and a laugh bubbled in his throat until he released it. The laugh forced the tears to spill from his eyes, and he rested his head against Cao Shui's shoulder, finding some solace in the man's cool nature.
There, in that man's unintentional embrace, he cried.
[center [Dosis His actions had taken even himself by surprise, for he had seemed to adopt such an out of character persona within recent weeks. Previously, he would not lower himself so willingly toward any - he would not easily submit himself into the service of a Lord whom had not proven himself time and time again. It discomforted him to think that he had been shifted to such a state of mind that he would seek this 'Jun Wentong'. He had perhaps been nameless, for the Jun family was not one he had heard of - and previously without any relationship to Cao Shui. Yet, this man - as unpleasant, stubborn and arrogant as he was - proved himself to be a formidable man.[i Something] swirled within the depths of his eyes. It was the very thing that had been missing within his life - something he had not seen in the gaze of any man who sought Cao Shui out, wishing for his services in gaining fame and fortune.]]
[center [Dosis Though formidable, it was made apparent that he was not entirely capable - he would need to learn much, from Cao Shui, to establish himself.]]
[center [Dosis The atmosphere seemed to be tense in the moments he awaited for acknowledgement from his Lord - the situation awkward, filled with uncertainty and the strain of their previous interactions. However, Cao Shui had been genuine in his offer to swear himself to this man. Not any would wander these lands so freely, or be capable of escaping certain death - and most certainly not to sacrifice themselves so willingly for the sake of another. Not any would live through this, and remain haughty despite their battered body.]]
[center [Dosis With the approval from Jun Wentong - now his Lord and Master, he would raise.]]
[center [Dosis : - :]]
[center [Dosis Dutifully, he had tended to every need and minor wish of the man, without complaint. He had been treated with all the respect one would honour a Prince with. In time, and to his pleasure, he had noticed that the helpless little babe who required so much of his attention had begun to move about. Though, he would not doubt his own capabilities in medicine. It had been during this point that the Lord had departed from the small shack for a time, despite Cao Shui's disapproval and insistence he remain in a period of rest. Though the wounds had closed and his health greatly restored, there remained a chance that he may suffer infection or further flares. Remaining indoors and under constant watch would ensure he healed more swiftly, yet, it seemed he did not value Shui's advice.]]
[center [Dosis It had seemed he did not often value anything one had to offer him - and would not offer gratitude for such. ]]
[center [Dosis While his Master had been out of his sight for a portion of the afternoon, a visitor had come to call - rousing his attentions and forcing him to stop tidying, to head out and greet the visitor with a respectful bow. Through conversation he had discovered that the boy had been sent as a messenger, in accordance with the information he requested some weeks ago. Upon learning this, he would glance over his shoulder to look upon his home. Glancing through, listening for signs of the return of his Lord - yet it seemed he remained away. Satisfied he would not be spotted, he would usher the young man in and serve him in exchange for information. Soon afterward he had departed, allowing time for Shui to continue tidying - leaving no evidence of a visitor, before he would seek Jun Wentong.]]
[center [Dosis Through his wanderings, he had managed upon the sight of uneven footprints dusting the pathway. They prompted him to follow, through the thick of the trees in search of Wentong; he would not have wandered far in his state, even if he insisted he had been well enough to leave. Some way down, a figure was visible within the distance - dark, against the shimmering water of the pond that prevented him from making out details. As he approached, he would note the soft breeze flowing through the trees and the gentle chirps of life from high above them. It had felt as though he had been not but a housewife, come to collect their husband for a meal.
His brows would furrow at the thought.]]
[center [Dosis "My Lord," he would interrupt the peace of the forest with a soft tone as he lowered his head. Respectfully bringing his hands to fold in front of his body, the sleeves of his garment draping across and the accented threads shining against the sun. "Forgive me for intruding. I have received notice from reliable source that the attack upon yourself, had been in preparation for another." He would test the waters, glancing up toward Wentong through thick lashes. "Upon your entry within these woods, did you come upon any others, my Lord?"]]
[Raleway [center It was quick thinking on his part--giving a name so carefully put together in just a split second; a clever combination of his birth name and style name that was familiar, but nearly impossible to trace back to himself. If he wanted to live out his exile in peace, he knew he'd have to be as anonymous as possible. Though the people of Yaoxin knew the prince was exiled there, none of those peasants had ever really seen the former Crown Prince in person, so he'd likely be hard to identify.
Xiang Jun had thought it all through as he laid delirious on his death bed a few days before. If he was to survive, he would eventually have to go to the manor his father arranged for him, but having such nice living quarters in Yaoxin of all places was extremely unlikely and unwanted attention would be drawn to him; he would need a believable excuse for living there.
His answer came from a lesson his father gave him years ago in his Crown Prince studies: the marquis of Yaoxin was an elderly man with a poor memory and even poorer eyesight. His surname was Jun, and he had too many sons to count with too many women to remember, so it would not be difficult to pass as one of his sons. The only problem was that the exiled prince could not recall whether the old man had passed or not, so he would need to play his cards carefully.
The prince's captor seemed to accept this name he had been told easily, not questioning or thinking any further on it's meaning. Though, there was no way he would know the man before him was truly a prince named Xiang Jun, and not some random man named Jun Wentong.
When the prince finished his story, the captor seemed to accept it all with little response besides a noticeable watering of his eyes. [b "I see,"] he said, and Xiang Jun noticed a strange look in his eyes, a glint that he couldn't place. The man began to lower himself to the ground in a gesture the prince was used to seeing. His head rested on his hands, facing down. The prince could hardly imagine what was going on in this strange man's mind.
When the man spoke next, his words were slightly muffled from the position of his mouth. [b "[i You] are the man to whom I shall pledge my life."] The prince's eyes widened, and he shook his head in disbelief for just a second. This man, the same who wished to kill him just before, was offering to [i 'pledge his life'] to him.
[b "If you would accept a humble Cao Shui into your service, [i My Lord]."]
He had been called Your Highness, My Lord, and many other titles of great respect before, but this time it was so sudden he did not know how to react. He would usually stand over the person bowing to him, radiating dominance and respect, but all he could do now was struggle to hold himself in a sitting position. This felt wrong, but he also felt his ego swelling at the sight.
[b "Raise, Cao Shui,"] was all he said in response, and his voice harbored both aggravation and interest. The prince was obviously bewildered at the gesture, but he did not deny his pledge.
He would forgive for now, but not forget how someone below him only bowed to him because of some action he took. He could not forget that the man laid a hand on his royal face or his body. But, for the sake of remaining safe and having his identity a secret, he decided to bury the matter for now.
It took the prince little over a week to recover his strength, though some credit was to be given to the man caring for him; he offered Xiang Jun aid in eating and changing his bandage when needed, which helped the healing process greatly. It was no more than ten days before he was back on his feet, and the newfound respect and service granted to him by Cao Shui gave him the ability to roam the grounds almost freely. The exiled prince found himself drawn to a shallow pond near the room he was kept in.
One specific day, Xiang Jun stood on a walkway near the pond, basking in the sunlight which he felt deprived of as of late. The scent of flowers and wetness and the sound of the wind floated around him, giving him a feeling of peacefulness. He recalled a time years before when he would rest with his mother in the small garden in her quarters. He had not felt this nature-driven peacefulness since then, and he noted how much he took his mother for granted; she was his sole regret in life thus far.
Soon he would need to report to his gifted manor and find his party of eunuchs and maids, though he wasn't sure when. Surely he needed to discuss his return with his new acquaintance, but he found himself enjoying the quiet of the man's small manor in the bamboo forest. If he remained in the shadows any longer, rumors may spread to his Royal Father that he died or went missing, and he couldn't have that happen.
Xiang Jun heard light footsteps behind him on the walk way, but he did not turn to greet his guest. Instead, he stared out past the pond in what he assumed was the direct of the inn his people were likely still at.
[center [Dosis Cao Shui found himself wondering what form of man could have ever managed to bring himself to raise without assistance, with such injuries? But a moment before, he had been upon nothing than the brink of death... if the vision that Yi'an had appeared within had not stirred him to tend to those wounds, would the man have survived? Heaven would look down so fondly upon the man before him - weak, with the appearance of a helpless and spoiled child? These considerations seemed to wash away the nerve-wracking anxiety that overwhelmed his body and threw him in hurried movements, to save the life of his prisoner. As if he had been within a sea of torment, which threatened to crush his lungs - seeking to offer the air from them, as a sacrifice to save this man. As if Heaven itself commanded that Cao Shui would sacrifice himself, for such a vile pig. [i You would smile so wrongfully upon this wretch of a man, Ancestors? .. Without reason, you favour his life over an innocent child? Over my own?]]]
[center [Dosis [i You would what?] Cao Shui would question in his mind, irritable and demanding. Yet, he would not outwardly force the man to respond. Disgust formed into what may turn into a permanent wrinkle, upon his nose; heart-felt disgust, in his presence, that may never vanish. Glancing down the bridge of his nose, toward the injured being beneath him. "Hm." Nothing further escaped himself, than the release of sound fro deep within his throat."It would appear that you are ignorant of more than myself. Do you know of your own surroundings, or that the poultice I have treated you with does not contain poison?" A quirk at the corner of his lips, as the disgust upon his features would melt into an expression of calm. Pride would fill him, for the petty remark had been enough to satisfy his stubborn nature. Inwardly, he would advise himself against such childish play.. yet found the man before him to grate upon every nerve, and simply needing to be put into place. To walk upon such a path would mean the destruction of himself, and dishonour to those he had studied under. Cao Shui fell silent, apart from tender lips parting softly - without word passing through them. Awaiting for the individual before him, to speak further. A slight narrow to his eyes, remaining silent to allow him to finish.]]
[center [Dosis As he had been questioned, emotion would flicker through those narrowed eyes - which Cao Shui would battle against, attempting to retain himself. They would close, as if concealing his soul from the injured prisoner. He would refuse to answer, for a moment, as anger washed through him. Even so, he remained silent. A chant, repeating within his mind - reminding him of his way of life. To choose the power of the mind, over the power of emotion. For some time, he would remain silent as he knelt at this man's side. When his feminine lashes parted, they would reveal his hazel eyes down-turned, toward the floor.]]
[center [Dosis " .. Your body would have been dismantled. Your departed soul would have never found rest, had that child upon the mountain-road not reached for you in her final moments. Had Cao Yi'an not saved you... had my sister not saved you.." as he spoke her name, his eyes would swell with tears. Through these, he would glance toward the stranger - the water brimming within his eyes had not been allowed to fall, yet would shine against the very subtle green in his gaze. Yet, words would fail him. He attempted to speak, yet nothing left him but a choked sound as he fought for control of himself. " .. Now, tell me. Whom is the man I saved? A brute? A murderer who shall die here, by my hand? Or an innocent man who attempted to save her, whom I owe my life?" ]]
[center [Dosis Those partially-narrowed hues had been softened by the tears that remained within his eyes, yet not allowed to fall, for his pride would not allow him. He must retain at least some form of control. In synchronization, he would find himself drawing in an equally deep breath - the idea implanted into his mind, by the one before him. In the next moment, as the man had moved, Shui had realized he allowed his guard to drop for more than a moment. He moved swiftly, to respond to the threat. Allowing old instincts to take over him, as he nearly reached for his throat - yet, his hand moved to his lap. Resting there, halting as he reprimanded himself for further loss of control. Or rather, once he realized that the man had only been raising himself. He remained silent through the story, told to himself - within his mind, he had been able to picture the events that occurred. Through the past month, he had escaped the grasp of death more than once... and now, revived from the brink of it - he spoke. He raised himself, with grave injury. Before him was a warrior, whom had seen much hardship. [b He survived death, four times.] The first from an ambush. The second, from Cao Shui himself. The third, from refusing meal. The fourth - his injuries.]]
[center [Dosis [b Before him stood not a man, but a dragon capable of concealing his true ambition and capability. A dignified Lord.] Had he been the man Cao Shui was destined to serve?]]
[center [Dosis .. Jun Wentong?]]
[center [Dosis "I see," Cao Shui would speak with a smirk curving upon the edge of his thin lips. A daring, bold glance toward this man - perhaps the last he would give as his equal, or perhaps the last time he would consider himself higher than him. Cao Shui would shift, lowering himself upon his knees - bending to the floor. Placing his hands in an elegant triangle upon the surface, touching his forehead to the middle. The prideful Cao Shui lowered himself, to be beneath Jun Wentong.]]
[center [Dosis "Then, you are the man to whom I shall pledge my life.. in consideration for the mercy you showed to Cao Yi'an. If you would accept a humble Cao Shui into your service.. [i My Lord."]]]
[Raleway [center [i Before him, the prince sat on the throne, and behind him was the shadow of a man who rested his hand upon the regal prince's shoulder. Xiang Jun was looking at the set up from an out-of-body experience, standing across the room at the entrance of the Grand Hall. There was a feeling of familiarity that came from them, and their presence made him feel comfortable somehow. The real prince walked towards his other self and the man, but each step he took sent up a puff of black smoke, and eventually there was enough to surround him and make him blind.
A burst of wind--that felt so real it caused a chill to settle over the prince--pushed most of the smoke away, and a new scene was now laid out in front of the exhausted man. He was now in a garden, one that was full of vibrant colors and split seemingly down the middle by a shallow stream as blue as the sky itself. A bridge stretched over the water, and two men stood on top of it. Some of the smoke that had followed him from the Grand Hall hovered in the air, making the men's faces blurry. But he knew who they were-- or he felt he did.
Neither man was aware of the boy who hid behind a bush, stalking them from a few feet away. It was easier to make out his figure than the men, and the prince could tell he was younger and wearing the dress of a servant. The boy also held a bow in his hand, and he rose it, aiming straight for the shorter of the two men. He visibly took a very deep breath before nocking a single arrow and sending it straight into the back of his target.
He fell, and the other man dropped to his knees to catch his friend before he hit the wooden planks beneath them. Blood had began to seep through, forever staining the regal clothing he wore. Tears fell from them both, and the dying man audibly cried, strained groans escaping his mouth. After a minute had passed, his eyes gleamed over and his limbs fell limp in the other man's arms.] 'Awaken,' [i he cried, softly shaking the man in his arms,] 'You are not permitted to flee from me so easily!' [i No movement, no breath of life answered his pleas, and the man hunched over his now deceased friend. A loud sob escaped out into the night, and the scene erupted into an angry red.]
Xiang Jun woke up to his body being moved around lightly, and he peeked one of his eyes open to peer at the man hovering over him. He noticed a cool liquid streaming out of his mouth, and he instinctively swallowed what he recognized to be water. The wound on his chest radiated heat, and it pulsated underneath a now tighter bandage that the prince assumed the man had changed.
He opened both his eye to fully look at his captor, watching him closely until he finally returned the glance. The man removed his hands from the prince's body, and Xiang Jun pulled himself up as much as he could, sitting at an awkward angle; it was painful to straighten his back all the way as it stretched the still healing cut.
"I would--" he cleared his throat while clutching his chest, unsatisfied with the sound and low volume of his voice; it was hoarse after days on the brink of death. "I would like to clear things up with you, if it [i pleases] you." His tone was clear in its sarcastic purpose, but the prince tried to bury his current aggravation towards the man. He was extremely confused as to why this man had taken him and held him prisoner, why the man had not yet killed him.
Hoping to receive the answers he desires, the prince pushed further with questions towards the man. "I do not know you," he said, shaking his head and squinting his eyes in a confused manner, "and yet you have taken me in to care for my wounds. Why have you done this, and who are [i you] to do so? I have no such relation with you, and yet..." The entirety of the situation was still baffling to the prince, and he tried to piece together the last week in his head, wondering if he has ran across his captor previously. "Tell me: who are you?"
His captor only closed his eyes for a moment, seemingly ignoring the question presented to him by the prince, but he finally replied, aggravation and sadness seeping from his every word. "Your body would have been dismantled and your departed soul would never have found rest," the man said, the graphic imagery entering the prince's mind causing his eyes to widen. He continued, "had that child upon the road not reached for you in her final moments."
It was then Xiang Jun has remember the young girl he had tried so hard to save from the assassins sent to kill only him. And hearing the finality of her death did not make him sad, as he expected. It made him angry. He wanted to kill all those that had attacked him that night, but he already had killed most of them. He wanted to do it again. He wanted to kill them all.
"Had Cao Yi'an not saved you, had my sister not saved you..." The man trailed off, tears in his eyes. He opened his mouth the speak again, but no sound had come to him.
The prince's brow furrowed as he put the pieces together, realizing now why the man had saved him. He couldn't understand why he saved [I him] though; how would the man have known that he of all those at the site was the one who helped her? Had she been alive to tell him, surely the man would have saved her instead of him. But the subject was one that was obviously too sensitive to discuss at that time, and Xiang Jun would not put his life in danger to figure out.
"Now tell me, whom is the man I saved?" The man began posing his own questions after vaguely answering the prince's. "A brute and murderer who shall die here, by my hand? Or an innocent man whom attempted to save her, whom I owe my life?"
Xiang Jun was at a loss for words, afraid of his answer. He would have to very carefully explain what happened, otherwise he may raise questions about his identity that he did not need this man figuring out. The prince took a deep breath before pulling himself up into a more comfortable position, readying himself to have a conversation that was not an easy one.
The prince looked at the man who now held his very life in his hands, and opened up to him on what happened. Had he not been the girl's own blood, he would have likely refused and remained his stubborn self. But this man deserved to know, and the prince deserved to live, for he did no wrong towards that girl, nor towards her brother.
He explained to him that there were men surrounding him on path to rob him, leaving out the part that they were truly assassins sent to kill him for being an exiled royal prince. The girl had been walking down the path and came across them, so the prince took it upon himself to protect her, as she was defenseless and had no possessions for the men to steal anyways.
He fought against nearly a dozen men, killing the majority before he got exhausted and injured. "I used myself to block a blow meant to kill her. This injury was meant to save her life, a child I had no relation to or any love for. With what I thought to be my last breath, I told her to run. And yet she died, I suppose." The prince looked to the man for confirmation and found it in the sadness in his eyes.
"Though I may be no innocent man, I am surely no brute, nor am I a murderer; at least, not the murderer of that child, I assure you," he said with sincerity behind his words and eyes.
The prince readjusted his sitting position once more, straightening up as much as he could
to appear taller and more dominant than before.
"As for who I am: you may call me [I Jun Wentong]."
[center [Dosis Repulsed by the writhing figure before him without an ounce of humility, nor consideration or gratefulness; Cao Shui had assumed the worm had been brought up spoiled and without a lick of discipline. It was simple brats like that, whom Cao Shui detested - and believed their parents needed to be stoned, for their incompetence. Oh, how little did he know. Without further word he would step away from the injured peasant and turn upon his heel, exiting the room and slamming the door behind himself.]]
[center [Dosis "How is it that a man such as that was chosen to live, over my sweet Yi'an?" He questioned the heavens as he gazed upward, his eyes brimmed with tears of rage and sorrow - yet he refused to allow them to fall. "Ancestors, you have blessed me within this life.. for each thing you have taken from me, you have given something better. For what reason have have you damned me with this imbecile?" As he had vented these questions, Cao Shui had found himself wandering outside as he pointed toward the skies in an accusing manner. "You accuse me wrongly, of doing some deed against you? .. To take her, and to bring me him.."]]
[center [Dosis Wrought with despair, he wallowed pathetically within his grief for some time. He intended to remain this way for days, refusing himself pleasure - be it from books, or practicing his arts, or to consuming food. However, he was broken free of this before the end of the day, for he had received a visitor to his door to invite him to the doctor at the base of the mountain. Cao Shui had enlisted his assistance by letter, on the day his houseguest had arrived - to tend to the deceased bodies and send word for possible news as to what may have caused it.]]
[center [Dosis As it was to be nearly a full day of travel to reach the doctor, he had known it was likely for the visitor - whom he had learned to be an apprentice under the doctor - to have been exhausted. It had forced Cao Shui to break from the habits he had formed over the past few days, as he went out for fresh firewood and came in to cook a meal and chat freely with the man he welcomed, until their food had cooled. They had ate and toasted one another as though they were old friends and not strangers, over warmed wine - not to the liking of Cao Shui, though it appeared to please his guest. The two spent further time together, tending to the horse the apprentice had brought, drunkenly enjoying one another's company. As it fell into early morning and it became time to rest, as if he were honouring his own teacher, he invited the man to share his bed - and when morning came, Cao Shui rose before the sun. He left both of his houseguests to rest, heading out on a small journey northward to collect herbs that the doctor he was to see had often required - but lacked the time to cultivate them himself. He frowned, knowing of certain leaves within the area that would be of assistance to the injured person within his own care- .. and with disdain, collected a handful. He then returned home, before it would be noticed he had left. He took to cooking another meal and fresh tea, waking the apprentice with the food. After the two had dined, they set out for the doctor.]]
[center [Dosis Upon the horse which the apprentice had arrived, Cao Shui accompanied the man on a long journey, back to the physician. The two had left early that morning from the small hut, arriving to the physician's home well into the evening and were welcomed with a small feast. The apprentice shared of Cao Shui's hospitality, which earned him the offer of staying for the night to rest. However, Cao Shui had politely refused - insisting he must return home with the remains of his sister and stand vigil to honour her. Without word as to further information on what occurred, the physician was thanked - and given the herbs, some rare tea that Shui had come across, as well as several coins as payment. In exchange, he was given a small pot - which contained the remains of Cao Yi'an. He was offered a horse to return home upon, but refused the offer; instead only asking for an amount of bandages. He thanked the physician and apprentice, before returning home on foot - the journey long and cold through the night. The moon had passed through the sky and the sun raised - and shortly thereafter, his little cottage was in view. The sight of it disgusted him, for he leered toward it as he approached. He considered his current situation; that pompous, arrogant brat taking up living space within his own home - and without consideration. "Calm," he would command himself. Forcing his emotions to even out, to lessen their rule over him. He had been much unlike himself, as of late. "That man.. it is certain that he has bled to death and will need to be disposed of, or his humiliation has forced him to learn some manners. I look forward to seeing the outcome." A dark chuckle had escaped his lips as the corners of his mouth twisted, shifting into a sadistic grin, for he had managed to satisfy himself with such a musing.]]
[center [Dosis From the corner of his eye came the distraction of the pot, which had carried his sister - he glanced upon it, forgetting the malice he had felt toward his visitor. He then went within the home and prepared a proper funeral for his sister, though one may have deemed it unheard of for him to show such deep respects to someone younger. He honoured her as one may have done a royal ancestor, or any highly respected member of his family. Placing incense and offerings along with her remains upon a small table, he remained vigil at her side, dressed in white mourning garb. He did not weep, yet remained bowed in silence until his own body had weakened with exhaustion. He fell into a light sleep, in which he met with his sister within a field of flowers under beautiful, blossoming trees. The two shared no words, yet she soon became distracted from her frolicking - her tiny hands grasped to Cao Shui's cloak and she glanced to him with tear-filled eyes. "Save him, elder brother! Save him!" The distress within her voice was enough to shake him, as he took her hands. He opened his mouth to question her, yet found no words could fall from his lips - for it was his eyes that opened next. He woke in a daze, confused and uncertain of himself and his current situation. "Yi'an?" He had called, for her voice remained fresh within his mind; as if all that occurred of previous days was the true dream. Within his mind, her plea from his dream had rang out in response - [i save him!]]]
[center [Dosis With a sense of urgency, he gathered himself to stand to his full height and threw himself into the room where his guest was. Cao Shui's dark gaze clouded with sleep and confusion fell upon the figure resting upon the floor. It seemed as though he were asleep, and within a sleep far too peaceful - it appeared as though his bandages had been bled through entirely. His attentions flicked to the foodbowl he placed out of the guests reach; it was left untouched. The imbecile was truly too full of himself. [i Save him! Save him, brother!] Yi'an's voice would echo within his mind, prompting him to act quickly. He first fetched warm water and a cloth, then approaching the man to strip him of the bandages. He cleaned the wounds and inspected them, his eyes narrowing at the state of them - though the smell was something he had been long used to dealing with, from long before he met his little sister. When the wounds had been cleaned, he went to collect the leaves he gathered the day previous and additional supplies to grind into a poultice. He then took alcohol within his hand, also preparing fresh drinking water, to return to the side of his guest. He cleansed the wound with the alcohol, before using his limited knowledge of medicine to treat the infections that festered. He applied the poultice he made, wrapping the man tightly in fresh bandages. Cao Shui would then carefully lift the water to the man's lips, pouring it within. "Awaken," he commanded as he continued to look after him. "You are not permitted to flee from me so easily. Are you truly so much of a coward, to not wish to face me? Awaken. Now."]]
[Raleway [center He was a prince, yet he was practically squirming beneath the feet of a mere peasant. Under no circumstance would he take such humiliation from this man. But no more than a minute passed before he was drenched and his food had been kicked onto the floor. [i This man is crazy], he thought, appauled by how irresponsible he was being by treating the eldest son of the great Emperor this way. If only his royal father were to hear of this- or if only his title hadn't been stripped- the rude man would no longer have hands or a head to do such a thing again.
Before he left, the man told him to beg for food or he would not feed him. Good! Jun had fasted before and could hold fast against the hunger. His mother's religious practices had required fasting, and the prince was happy to pratice filial peity by fasting alongside her during those times.
His stubborness and completely uncompromising attitude aided him during those times as well; but, these traits weren't the best of his personality. He had no worries, because it was only a matter of time before the eunuch boy returned with the help of his servants and, possibly, local officers who couldn't afford to let him die.
He was reminded of the time just months before when his royal father placed him under house arrest in his palace, allowing no visitors nor allowing him leaving. His response was to kneel in the center of the room for two weeks, refusing to eat as protest to the treatment of his mother and himself. The emperor may have been empathetic, but the Empress Dowager would have none of such behaviour; she likely held the prince's royal father back from going to him and listening to his requests. At that time, his body lasted with little sleep and no food for almost the whole two weeks. He would have surely died if not for his loyal servants bringing him water and saving him when he finally collapsed twelve days into the protest.
The door slammed as his jailor left him alone with his thoughts. Who was this man, and how did he find him so deep in the woods? He wondered if they were even still in Yaoxin, and if not, how far had he wandered.
The prince used what little strength his body had left to reposition himself on the bed, now in a sitting position. He knew he should lie down, but doing so would surely make him feel lowly; it made him feel like he had loss to this man. His upbringing had made his losing to others an unthinkable occurrence.
His wound burned and blood trickled down his side, turning the bed cover beneath him an unsightly red. All he could do was apply pressure to it, and hopefully doing so would numb it a little bit. There was nothing in sight to cover the wound better, as the bandage he had before was pulled loose by the other man.
All he saw in the small, well-furnished room that could possibly help him was a bowl of now room-temperature water and a soaked cloth he assumed the man used to cool him. Upon seeing this, a small pang of regret washed over him, but his pride drowned in out quickly and easily.
Through the entire day, the injured man tried to convince himself that his servants would come to save him, and each time he heard a noise outside, he was sure it was them. But each time, it wasn't.
The day turned to night and back again three times over. The prince had given into his physical exhaustion and finally laid down flat on the bed. He thought his body was stronger than this, but it barely lasted the three days he had suffered through. Would his stubbornness really allow him to die–it was a double edged sword: on one hand, he couldn't stand the idea of begging this man, but on the other, he wouldn't allow himself to die so easily.
His wound was now a raging fire, and the pain never numbed no matter the amount of pressure he put on it. The bleeding had stopped, but he believed it must have became infected after festering in an unchanged bandage.
Delusions came with the pain, and he swore he saw his mother reaching over him and tending to his wound as he fell asleep. [i "Jun'er,"] she said, he voice like sweet honey, [i "you can go to sleep now."]
Her words cooed him to sleep. As his eyes fluttered shut a tear feel down his cheek, because somewhere deep down, he knew it was all just his imagination.
[center [font "batang che" He was hesitant, to consider leaving the man's side to begin to prepare a meal. He had known it would be the better option, to have food to serve to his guest as well as sustain himself - but, he was uncertain if the stranger would be able to pull through with his injuries. If the fight he appeared to put up was any indication, however, Cao Shui could rest assured knowing that the man would awaken and be able to explain everything. A shred of him clung into this, bidding him to remain at the man's side. Carefully watching for the slightest of movements, or any signs that the man would awaken - when he happened to note the slight twitches in his muscles, the shifting of his facial expressions, signs that he would soon wake, Cao Shui attempted to gauge how their first proper meeting would go.]]
[center [font "batang che" However, he found himself beginning to move less and less - his hands may have idly prepared medication to apply to his wounds, or unravel fresh bandages; yet he would be slow to apply them, or do anything at all. He felt as though he were merely a ghost in a realm of dreams. He became unfeeling of the floor beneath his feet, although he stood to fetch a bowl of water and a cloth to clean his guest. He was unaware of the sensations in his hands, unknowing that the temperature of the liquid had been slightly too hot.]]
[center [font "batang che" A part of himself would look on his current state of mind rather calmly, wanting to keep himself in check and understand that this shut-down was but a form of shock. Of self-preservation, to prevent himself from accepting the events that had occurred. He struggled with wishing to lull into a stupor, deep into a world of fantasy where his sister would burst through the door and complain that she had been left by herself for too long. But, he was not so weak as to give into these desires - even though his mind drifted between dreams and reality, for some time.]]
[center [font "batang che" He had decided then to prepare a meal, for there had been slight indications his guest would awaken. He remained away from his side for some time, occasionally looking into the side room to check on his condition and ensure his wounds hadn't re-opened. Once he had eaten himself, he warmed the bowl of water and crept silently back into the side room with a small portion of food he had made. He would kneel before the man he tended to, though not as Cao Shui, but an empty husk lost within emotional turmoil. Without purpose, he went through the motions of wetting the cloth he had brought. Soaking it within the hot water until his fingers had become bright red, before wringing the fabric out. Lightly brushing it along the unknown man's chest, then downward strokes along his throat. Had it been more than a day, since he had first knelt to care for him? Time had seemed to distort, as he lost himself further within his thoughts. At least, until the man stirred beneath him. He remained utterly composed, as he rinsed the cloth within the water; permitting the injured man to fumble about to regain his senses, as Cao Shui then brought the cloth up to his face.
He remained in silence, as the person had grabbed for him with his disgusting hands; ordering the one whom had saved him and speaking down to the one who had [i saved his life.]]]
[center [font "batang che" For what purpose had this man been permitted to live, above Cao Yi'an? This ungrateful and improper brat who would dare to strike out against the one who had cared so diligently for him. Certainly, every ancestor and Heaven itself wished to mock him by replacing his sweet sister with such an impossible [i brat.] Cao Shui stared toward him for a moment, before his eyes narrowed. Without thinking further, he took the bowl of water and emptied the contents of it over his head.]]
[center [font "batang che" [i "You are a foolish man to not consider your own position, in showing graciousness to your host. You will sit there like a drowned rat,"] he paused as he grabbed his bandages. Gripping them within his fist as he pulled the other forward, with every intention of tearing every stitch in his side. He considered spitting in the pathetic person's face, yet restrained himself. [i "drenched in the water that has gone cold from the hours I have taken to attend to you. I see I should have sent you to hell myself."] Disgusted with him, Cao Shui all but threw him to the floor as he stood. His eye happened to catch the portion of food he had brought in for him, prompting a little smirk. He kicked the side of it, until it was just out of his reach. That was, perhaps, if he did not wish to harm himself greatly by reaching for it.]]
[center [font "batang che" "I consider myself a man who enjoys tearing down the pride of individuals who consider themselves too highly. When you beg for my forgiveness and ask myself to feed you, I shall do it - until then, you shall starve."]]
[Raleway [center [i The prince stood in a grand room that was filled with ministers and marquises. Beneath his feet was a red carpet stretching far behind and ahead of him, and at the end of the carpet was the Dragon Throne. He took light steps towards it, maintaing the diginity he should possess. To the left and right of the throne stood his mother and father respectively. His father stood tall, looking as prestigious as always, albeit his beard had grown grey and long. And his mother gave of a feeling of comfort and pride. Finally, as he always wanted, she was wearing the robes that were fit for an Empress Dowager, and she had the title to go with it.
He neared the grand throne, stopping to face his royal father. The prince bowed to both parents before taking the Heirloom Seal of the Realm. His dreams were right in front of him. He didn't want the power all for himself, nor did he want just the comfort that came with the position. All he wanted was to be able to protect his mother and his people. And as he sat on the throne, holding in his hands the Mandate to rule, he thought,] "They are my people."
[i Almost instantly, those beneath him, including his royal parents, began to cheer. In the crowd he picked out his uncle, his brothers, his royal mothers, and those who had before wished to have the very seat he now sat in. Pride swelled in his chest, and he shared a loving smile with his mother. She made her way to him, and said: [b "I have never been more proud of you, my son."] She laughed, wrinkles appearing around her mouth and eyes. [b "My apologies,]] [b your majesty."] [i It felt as if he were but a little child again.
[b "Please, mother, do not act so formal with me,"] he said as he stood and wrapped his arm around hers. She jerked back with a little gasp, probably knowing that such a thing was not allowed. But that was not her reason, and she raised a hand to his forehead.
[b "Why do you feel so warm,]] [b Jun'er?"] [i Just before her hand connected with his head, he broke out in a sweat. Her hand touched his forehead, and, suddenly, his vision went dark. ]
A hand connected to his head, and he believed it was his mother's. But it wasn't.
He opened his eyes, revealing himself to be in an unfamiliar room with an unfamiliar man sitting by his side, pressing a dampened cloth to the prince's head. For a moment, he believed he was in his old room, and the man attending to him was but a new physician. He knew this was not the case though.
All at once, the fight he had just engaged in flooded back into his mind. [b "The girl..."] The prince attempted to sit up quickly, but his body would not move the way he wanted it to, and he simply rolled partially on his side.
He made a sound and expression of discomfort when he felt the wound across his chest pull and tear open near his left breast. Though his body was weak, he once again attempted to lift himself in order to get out of the uncomfortable position. His left hand supported him while his right clutched his chest. Beneath his hand, he felt the fresh, warm blood seep through his shirt.
When the unfamiliar man reached for him, the prince reacted quickly, wrapping his blood soaked hand around the man's wrist.
[b "How dare [i you] touch me."] In the palace, no one would dare touch him. It had only been a day since he arrived near [i Yaoxin], and he had already experienced so many ridiculous situations. A mere eunuch initiated a conversation with him, and now such a strange man was touching him as though it were normal to touch a prince.
It once again dawned on him that those in such rural areas had most likely not heard of his arrival yet. Some may have not even heard of his exile.
The prince found himself in a dangerous situation once again. If this man knew who he was and wanted him dead, there was no way he would be able to stop him in such an injured state.
[center [font "batang che" His limbs had begun to fall weary beneath the weight of the wood he gathered, causing a slight struggle to support the firewood that had been piled up within his arms. He would wobble, just slightly; nearly losing balance under the weight. He would move toward the hut that had been estranged from civilization he called home, to place the wood upon the fire to prepare for an evening meal. He did not speak of this, but simply moved into the home - as he had done so many times before; twice already, that day. The manual labor may have been better suited to a servant, but he had little means to hire a proper household to support the two who resided in the hut. As such, it was himself whom wound up with the brunt of the chores.]]
[center [font "batang che" He had believed his younger sibling would follow him into their home, shortly after realizing that he had gone for more than a few moments - as she so often did, for she was that of his shadow. However, even as he had begun to heat the fire and cook their evening meal, the pattering footprints did not come. He remained patient, ever calm as he awaited for her to enter the home. But, the lack of her presence had begun to disturb him, as the sunlight had slowly began to fade beyond the mountains.]]
[center [font "batang che" "Yi'an," Cao Shui emerged from the hut with a call for his little sister. When met with silence, he moved toward the main roadway that lead to his home, near where he had last seen her, to call a second time. His voice rang out only a little louder on his next call, for the trees may have shrouded the sound of his voice. Once more, she did not call out to him. He would glance around, calling but once more for Yi'an - perhaps she had once again climbed a tree to fetch a lost toy but had been struck silent by the fear of returning to the ground, far below. Something similar had happened, but a few seasons earlier. It was possible she was attempting to lure him from the house, to sneak up on himself; though he often knew of her presence, he would play along before instructing her on proper strategy. Had she perhaps surpassed him, at such a young age?]]
[center [font "batang che" He turned, prepared to start along the route up the mountain, to see if she had wandered there to see the sunset. Yet, his heart shook upon hearing the distant sounds of blades clashing, coming from the opposite direction. In an instant, he returned to the home and fled into the study; tearing through the contents of a trunk. He pulled back fabrics which carefully concealed his old blade, protecting the sheathed weapon from being exposed to his sister. Armed, he fled down the mountain path and toward the creek. His heart hammered within his chest as he came to the small bridge, just before the wide turn toward his home - it had been stained in blood; a severed head leaking into the creek and staining the once-clear water.]]
[center [font "batang che" Undisturbed by what had been a familiar sight to himself, anxiety began to fill him at the thought of innocent Yi'an taking in such a terrible sight, for the first time. A cold sweat clung to his skin as the sounds of blades began to die out, the forested area falling unnaturally quiet, for a time. He crossed the small bridge and continued onward with haste, only for his vision to swirl at the sight laid out before him. A man, twice his physical size, crouched over a mangled body. Defiling it. His vision turned red once he unsheathed his weapon and swung toward the figure, without hesitation. In one, swift movement he decapitated the disgusting and unarmed figure, leaving nothing but a spray of blood between him and his little Yi'an.]]
[center [font "batang che" She was disposed of upon the side of the road, nearly unrecognizable but for the ribbons tied within what remained of her hair. Her clothing was mussed, torn to the side to expose her body covered in the dead man's disgusting slick. Her tongue cut and eyes gouged, she was nothing less than bloodied and disfigured - unable to defend herself. Yet, she lay there quivering, awaiting for the final moment to come. Cao Shui attempted to convince himself that the girl before him was not the same one he had held in his arms, but that morning - not the one who he had brought up, as his own. He attempted to make excuses - her hair would grow back, the blood was but from the man he had killed, her innocence remained intact and she was able to call out for him in the sweet tone she always used. He would approach her, drawing her smaller form into his arms as he assured her that it was he she was now resting with. He soothed her - soothed [i himself] - assuring the both of them that everything would be fine. Yet, her smaller hand outstretched. With the last of her strength and without the ability to speak, her little finger clearly pointed toward a similar heap upon the pathway. As he felt every ounce of energy drain from her, he held dearly onto her lifeless body and wept. Collecting himself but a short time after, before covering her smaller form with the cloak he currently wore. Draping it over her, as he went to pluck the body she had pointed toward - for her to be able to recall that [i exact] person, to remain focused upon one man even as such terrible things befell her- .. certainly it was he who was guilty of placing her in such a situation.]]
[center [font "batang che" He stepped through the bloodshed upon the path, plucking what appeared to be both bandit and trained assassin alike - he would dispose of each within the waters, sending their bodies down the waterway. May they find their way to hell, for such a fate would be far kinder than what he intended to bestow upon them, should they happen to somehow wash up at his feet once again. Yet, he came to that certain man. Collapsed upon the roadway, battered and bleeding- .. that Yi'an had spent her last moments attempting to point out to him. For what purpose? He glanced over the person, tempted to behead the creature and be done with it. Yet, something within him opposed this, greatly. In silence, he collected the body and piled it over his shoulder, beginning his way back up the mountain.]]
[center [font "batang che" It had been well after the sun had set, that Cao Shui had stumbled awkwardly through the threshold of his home with that body in tow. He laid the man down in the side room, beginning to undress the stranger without hesitation. His clothing would need to be disposed of and something new lended; his wounds would need dressing and his body would need to be sponged off, to clear the dirt from his face. Cao Shui had decided he would permit the creature to live, until he regained himself - he would then explain the events of what happened upon that mountainside. If he disliked the answer, Cao Shui would kill him. Thus, he had begun to follow through with this plan, finding it within his heart to spoon small amounts of a light soup into his mouth. He remained at the stranger's side, tending to even his hair to remove the debris and blood that had gathered. A moment of tranquility, though false, had passed over Cao Shui; his mind would wander, protecting itself from the sight of his sister. Though, it was certain her bloodied face would find its way into his dreams, for many years to come. ]]
[google-font https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Raleway][center [pic http://i.imgur.com/2lP5Dq9.png]]
[Raleway [center Two weeks had passed since he was expelled from the palace, sent from the very capital itself. Now, alongside twelve servants, he traveled down a dirt road in a palanquin. He would arrive in Yaoxin by sunset if they kept their pace, but he doubted the speediness of those who carried him. At best, they would reach the town at dawn. The days before, the prince had stopped the group to rest when night fell, but they were now out of any villages' reach and would not be able to find appropriate accommodations. For the last stretch, he decided to continue straight to his new manor.
The manor had been gifted to him by his royal father, the Emperor, despite the fact that he was now a deposed prince. It was rumored to be quite large; that, plus the gifting of twelve servants instead of two, made rumors of the Emperor's bias towards Prince Xuyang spread in the palace. It was no secret that the eldest prince was once doted on more so than the emperor's other children, but since the birth of Prince Wenxu and Prince Shuyi, the favor shown to the eldest had fallen drastically.
As the night grew darker, the path the seemed harder to travel. The servants constantly readjusted the palanquin on their shoulders, mumbling their discontent. The prince failed to acknowledge them for the longer part of their trip, but once they'd reached the top of a hill which overlooked Yaoxin, he could no longer overlook the groans and sighs. He moved the cloth that hung over the window and looked out at the young eunuch to his left. [b "Go ahead and search for shelter, boy."]
By the time the boy returned, the sun had begun peeking over the hill, shining a small amount of light onto their path. The eunuch told of a small inn that sat in a thin forest of bamboo on the other side of the mountain. The prince order the servants to lower the palanquin to allow him to climb out. The group continued down the path that the eunuch directed them down, leaving the palanquin behind. It was obvious that carrying it would be too difficult on the steep mountain, so the prince had no problem leaving it hidden in the thick underbrush of the surrounding forest.
The trek was easy for the prince and the younger eunuch, but the other eleven servants along with him were older men and women. Along the way, the eunuch approached him, having the audacity to talk to him, mentioning that his home town is Yaoxin.
[b "So you must be the one who volunteered to come along."]
The two held a conversation the rest of the way. The servant told the prince about the town; how the population was small, but the people were very social with one another. He also told him of mysterious people with great knowledge who lived in the forest. According to him, it was just a rumor that spread among the boys he once attended school with. The prince showed interest, but the conversation soon dwindled.
When they approached the inn, the sun was high. The inn was small, just as the eunuch boy said, and none of the rooms were rented out. Using a small portion of the money he had, he rented the entire inn for the day.
Throughout the day, the prince stayed in the room he was given. He also was careful to keep his identity hidden, and made sure his servants did not address him as 'your highness'. The people, even those so secluded, should have gotten word of his exile to Yaoxin by then. He had no doubt that there would be bandits just dying for him to arrive. Thinking back, he decided it was not a great idea to leave his palanquin where he did, but at the very least, he had attempted to hide it.
The young eunuch continued to serve him personally throughout the day, attempting to make more conversation. The prince took to the boy's bravery, noting how openly he was talking to someone such as himself. It dawned on him at some point that he was no longer a true prince, but an exiled one who had long lost the favor of his royal father.
[b "Do you have a name?"] The prince asked, and the servant introduced himself as [i Fa Li]. [b "Well, Fa Li, tell me more about the magical men in the forest,"] the prince said with an almost mocking tone.
[b "Rather than explain, would Your Majesty like to help this servant find them?"]
Suddenly, the prince became suspicious of him. What servant would have such audacity to not only talk to a prince, but ask him to travel with him to fufill his own desire. But the prince was an impulsive and curious man, and he couldn't help but agree.
The two of them left the inn when the sky began turning dark. Their absence did not alert the other servants until later the next morning, and thus they successfully snuck away into the thick trees. The deeper they went, the closer the trees became, and, soon, it was hard to see due to the overlapping of canopies. The prince could feel that they were traveling up a hill, and he was able to see an opening that appeared to have a path.
The prince could see a small silhouette walking up the hill on the path, unaware of their presence. Confirming the opening was indeed a road they could follow, the prince left the shadows of the trees and stepped onto it, taking only a single step before an arrow flew right by his left ear, getting lodged in the tree behind him.
He whipped around to face his attackers, a group of nine men in fully black outfits. Two attempted to seek behind him while four others rushed him head on. In the heat of the moment, the prince had dropped the sword he always carried with him, so he picked up the next best thing: a thick branch next to his feet. As quickly as he could, he rushed to the little girl who was now cowering on the side on the path. He did his best to cover her while fighting off each attacker with nothing but a stick.
The fight continued on, and the prince began to tire. He threw the stick to the side and ran to grab his lightweight sword. He continued to fight for what seemed to be twenty or thirty minutes. During the time he fought, he successfully cut down five of his enemies; the remaining four continued to bombard him from all sides. The fight grew harder and harder for the prince as he became more and more tired. It didn't help that he had to protect the girl as well, but he couldn't let her get hurt.
He pushed back against the men, trying to give the girl enough time and space to make it away. His plan failed when one of the men lunged for the girl in order to stop her from escaping; they most likely wanted to leave no witnesses. The prince jumped in front of the girl, stabbing the man in the stomach. At the same time, the man struck out at him, running his blade right across his chest. The two men fell simultaneously, blood pouring from both of their wounds.
The prince felt his consciousness slowly fade. [i 'This is it. I am going to die,'] he thought. He lifted his head from the snow to turn it, facing towards the girl; she stood no more than ten feet away from where he laid. He mustered his strength to whisper: [b "Run."] And a sudden realization came upon him. Fa Li had disappeared. In fact, he didn't remember the eunuch going past the trees with him.
He breathed what he thought would be his last breath.
He thought of his father sitting on the dragon throne, crowning him as his official heir. He vividly remembered his mother, her aging hands brushing his hair and telling him how proud of him she was.
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