~Death’s Wings~ 2
A.N.: The “-----” mark signifies a time skip. The “~~~~~” mark signifies a switch in point of view.
_______________, as Yao had named her, was an odd thing. She seemed to be fond of zhongzi, sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves, and she ate it like a ravenous bird.
“I don’t understand how something like you will be able to protect me,” he sighed. “You’re too small and weak. You don’t look frightening or fast. Are you really going to prove your worth to me and lead my family to greatness?”
_______________ didn’t say anything. She merely sat in her spot and continued to eat. Even though she ate quickly, she was careful to swallow every grain of sticky rice with care. At least she had manners.
“I wish you could at least talk to me,” he muttered. “It’s not fun to have a companion who’s quiet all of the time.
Unsurprisingly, ______________ remained silent. Yao wondered if “they” were all like her, but his father had said that she was the very last of her kind due to the dangers she possessed. Whatever she was, she certainly was something else. He began to wonder how his siblings would react when they saw such a magnificent being in his care.
“_______________, after this, you are to accompany me around the estate,” he ordered her. In a sign of acknowledgement, _____________ silently bowed her head as if in understanding. Given the way she looked, it was hard to tell whether or not she truly understood what he had just said to her. Nevertheless, when his new companion had finished eating, she began to follow closely behind him like a loyal dog.
“I think we should show you to my little brother first,” Yao suggested. “He loves new things. He won’t be afraid of you.”
In response, ______________ nodded and continued to trail after him.
Yao had quite a few siblings in his family: Kiku, Yong Soo, Cheng, Leon, and Mei. Each and every one of his siblings had a distinct personality that set them apart from everyone else. No two were alike, and that was just fine with Yao. It made things interesting.
Yong Soo, while open to new things, had a tendency to get too enveloped in things. He could be too hyper sometimes, and that often caused problems with the other siblings. While the others studied, Yong Soo would run off to play. He was the adventurous type, never one to stay still for too long. Interestingly enough, while he rarely spent time with books, he was just as clever as his siblings. It was something no one could truly understand. Nevertheless, he would be a good first choice to show his new companion off to.
“Now, don’t be scared of my brother, okay?” he said to ____________. “He can be a bit loud, but he’s a nice person if you get to know him—most of the time. He should be in his room, I think.”
Because it was in the middle of the afternoon, there was plenty of sunlight, perfect lighting for reading and studying. The entire estate was quiet except for the occasional shuffling of maids and servants attending their daily duties. All of the children were occupied.
When Yao and ___________ finally arrived to their destination, they could hear what sounded like a sound of pain.
“That’s not good,” Yao thought aloud. “He sounds like he’s hurting somewhere.”
Without a moment to think, Yao slid open the doors and burst inside his brother’s room. In the middle of the straw mat, a young boy was rolling on the floor. However, it didn’t appear that there were any visible signs of pain on his face. Rather, he simply looked bored.
“Ah, aniki, have you come to rescue me?” the young boy who ____________ presumed to be Yong Soo asked.
Yao clicked his tongue and made a stern face. “Yong Soo, you’re supposed to be studying, not rolling around on the floor.”
Yong Soo made a pouty face. “But this stuff is so boring!” he whined. “Why should I care about what happened to some old dead guys, huh?”
“Because their experiences are worth remembering,” Yao answered. “But never mind that. How about you take a break so I can show you something?”
As soon as he suggested that, Yong Soo went from being a loose, bored lump on the floor to a stiff, alert upright twig.
“Ooh, what are you going to show me?” he excitedly asked looking behind his brother’s back. “Is it a new candy the cook made? Oh! Or maybe you have a new toy?”
“None of those things,” Yao said. “It’s a…friend.”
That wasn’t what Yong Soo wanted to hear.
“Oh, is that it?” he asked sounding bored again. “Did you pick up an urchin from the streets?”
Yao made a face. “Why would you ever think that I would bother to mingle with those outside? It’s not even a human. Look.” With that, he scooted away from his brother so he could see ___________ with his own two eyes.
When Yong Soo’s wide eyes fell on her, a large smile began to spread across his face.
“Oh!” he exclaimed. “It’s so cool! Can I touch it? Can I? Can I?”
“It’s a girl, Yong Soo,” Yao said. “But you can’t touch it. Father said I must never touch her. I don’t think you’re allowed to do the same.”
“Liar!” Yong Soo snapped. “You just want her all to yourself, don’t you? You always think you’re so special just because you’re the oldest.”
“No, that’s not it. I’m just keeping a promise I made to Father.”
“Yeah? And what promise was that?”
“That I must never touch ______________.”
“That’s the name I gave her.”
“Hey, Father didn’t mention me in your promise, did he?”
Yao caught himself. “Well, no, but— ”
“Then I can touch her!”
“Wait, Yong Soo, don’t!”
All Yao could remember was an explosion of feathers flying from torn pillows and wooden splinters shattering as Yong Soo broke through the door and pursued after ______________.
“Come back!” he cried as he ran.
“Yong Soo, get back here!” Yao shouted to his brother. “Don’t touch her!”
But however much he shouted, Yong Soo wouldn’t listen. Not only that, but he had upset __________ who was now fleeing as best she could. Yao remember his father saying something about how she was still young. Her physical abilities had not peaked yet, and if not careful, Yong Soo would surely catch her.
I have to stop him! Yao thought. If I don’t…
Suddenly, he heard what sounded like a scream, but not just any scream—a woman’s scream.
“What…?” Not even stopping to think, Yao continued to run. When he reached the source of the noise, he noticed there was already a small crowd of maids and servants gathered together in a circle.
“Out of the way!” he demanded, shoving them to the side and squeezing past others. When he reached the middle, what he saw nearly sent him into shock.
You had no idea what had happened. One moment, you were struggling to run away from the child’s grasp, and in the next, he was lying, bleeding on the rocks.
He didn’t even touch me, you thought, horrified. Could it be that I bring death simply by my presence?
Frightened, you tried to remember what had happened. You thought Yong Soo was a nice person: young and energetic but good at heart. He didn’t deserve to die—especially not in a painful death like this.
You froze. That was your master’s voice. His face was completely white as a sheet. There was nothing but fear on his face, as though he had been the one who had caused his brother to die.
Will I be blamed for this? you wondered. He never touched me, but still…
But you dropped the thought.
It’s better if I die, you thought. All I can do is bring about death. Even if that is my purpose, it was never a good one. I’m sure Master’s father will bring justice to this situation.
And when the time came to judge, he judged accordingly.
Yao’s tears had long dried up by the time the news was delivered to his father that his third son had died.
“It was an accident. Yong Soo died from losing his footing on the rocks and hitting his head.”
Yao tightened his fists. “But that’s only because he was going after ____________,” he said. “If you didn’t give me that…that thing, none of this would have happened!”
“Know your place!” Yao’s father barked causing his son to flinch. “I presented you with this gift for a reason: so that you may succeed. The road to success is long and hard. It won’t be as easy as studying and knowing the right answers. The real world doesn’t work like that.”
“Then what have I been living in this entire time?” Yao mumbled, his head hung low.
“You have been living a sheltered life as the next head of the Wangs,” his father replied. “Think of this as a new perspective in life, Yao. When the two of you grew up, Yong Soo might have wanted to take control. He was strong, but he was also smart. There can only be one head of the Wangs. Having him dead takes one less opponent out of the picture.”
“Having him dead!” Yao exclaimed, horrified. “Father, he was your son! He was my brother! Does that not mean anything to you?!”
“He was an insurance policy. Nothing more.”
The cold words rung drilled into Yao’s head. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Just an “insurance policy?” What was he, then?
“You would do well to remember the same towards your other siblings,” his father continued. “Remember: keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer.”
Yao shook his head. Kiku, Cheng, Leon, Mei, Yong Soo…they were all his siblings. They played together, studied together, joked together…They weren’t his enemies. They were his family just like his father was. He wasn’t just some fancy doll that could be told what to do.
“No,” he said. “Father, I don’t believe it. My brothers and sister are my family, and they always will be. I won’t bring myself to believe that they’ll kill me.” He threw a defiant look into his father’s eyes. “And if you really think any of us would do something like that, then you can keep your stupid gift! I don’t want it anymore!”
Then, without another word, he stormed out of the room. It didn’t matter where he went or how loudly his father yelled for him to return. He just wanted to get away from the estate, away from his father, away from this maddening life.
You could hear Yao’s father exhale. From your perch, you had heard everything. It didn’t surprise you that your master had rejected you so quickly. Anything that was capable of bringing death such as you was bound to live a life in solitude.
“______________—that’s what Yao called you, correct? Come down for a minute.”
With no reason to refuse, you obeyed and presented yourself to the feet of your master’s father.
“He’s going to come back,” he said. “He has to. He will have to realize that there will come a time when he’ll have to grow up—fast.” He let out another sigh. “I feel that it’s also my fault. When their mother died, they didn’t want to forget about their childhood. I became too lenient on them, and now look what has happened.
“_____________, if Yao does not grow up and take responsibility soon, then the Wangs will be finished. Not just me, but my children and all of the land and people we govern. It has to be done.”
You turned your head to one side. He wasn’t really implying that you do that, was he?
“Well, what are you waiting for? Aren’t you going to do what you do best?”
The head of the Wang family was exposing himself to you with open arms. Under this man’s orders, hundreds were brutally murdered, and several others had perished from the deadly chain reaction. He was a cold man, one who governed without fear or hesitation, both feared and respected. It was hard to believe someone who had escaped death and lived to see many others die in his place would suddenly accept you with open arms.
This is it? you wondered. No parting words? No farewells or apologies? One son has already died. This will be a tragic day in the Wang history.
“Not a tragic day. It’s the mark of a new beginning, the beginning of something powerful. You have made your promise to protect my son. You will be his sword. That is your purpose.”
If you could smile, you would.
And that purpose I will serve.
The sun was setting. Yao couldn’t remember which roads he had taken, but he was certain of one thing: he wasn’t going back.
I’ll find some work in the edge of the city, he thought. They told me it would be hard, but I won’t complain, not if I had to live another blasted day at that place. I’m not going back. I can’t.
But as much as he wanted to convince himself of these things, Yao found himself constantly looking back. His family’s estate was large as it overlooked a sloped hill, and it was still there in the far distance. It had taken a great deal to bypass the commoners back at the town because of his clothes, but he had managed to get this far. There were times when he thought of the siblings he would leave behind. His brothers would be fine, but he had a feeling Mei would cry as soon as she found out he had left her. And what about Yong Soo? How would everyone react when they would find out their brother had died?
Hopefully not in the same way as Father, he thought. May the heavens forbid they ever think that way. And if I leave, they can grow up in my place. Kiku is calm, mature, and wise. He will know what to do in my place.
With every step he took, however, Yao became weary. He didn’t know if this was the right thing to do. Perhaps his father was right. Maybe he was too immature. What good would it suddenly do for him to take off without anything but the clothes on his back? What about food? His stomach was getting hungry just about now. He knew he shouldn’t have fed his zhongzi to ____________.
What is she? he wondered. I’ve never seen anything like her before.
As Yao asked himself more questions to distract himself from his hunger, the sun continue to disappear behind the mountains. Even as the sun went down, his hunger did not. Within a matter of minutes, his hunger had become too unbearable. He had not experienced the misfortune of going hungry for very long. There was always money and food to be had at home. If Yao had some light, he was sure that his clothes were a mess. This wasn’t a life he was used to.
Exhausted, he decided to take a rest beside a tree. At this point, his stomach had become so hungry that he could even hear it growling. It sounded like a growling dog.
“This was a bad idea…” he muttered. By now, he could hear gurgling and thumping. “My stomach is so hungry it’s starting to sound like a horse.”
As he closed his eyes, the growling noise grew louder. In fact, it even started to sound like a rhythm.
Gr-groowl grrr-grooowl grr-groowwl…
Yao furrowed his eyebrows. He had never gotten this hungry before, but he was sure that this wasn’t what a stomach sounded like. Curious, he opened his eyes.
As soon as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he saw what appeared to be someone on horseback, but not just anyone.
“Kiku!” he exclaimed. His second brother was riding on one his family’s horses.
Did he come all the way out here to look for me? he wondered. His question was soon answered as his brother spotted him and dismounted.
“Yao, I’ve been looking all over for you,” he said in an exhausted voice. His forehead was drenched with sweat as though he had run here on foot. Even in the darkness, Yao was able to make out how pale his brother’s face was. He looked like he had seen a ghost.
“Kiku, what are you doing out here?” he asked.
“It’s…” Kiku panted. “It’s Father.”
Yao’s expression darkened to match the pitch-black night. “So he sent you to take me home. I should have known. He didn’t think you were good enough to take over.”
However, his assumption was proved wrong when he saw the blank look on Kiku’s face.
“What are you talking about?” he responded. “I came here on my own accord.”
“Then what is it?”
Kiku tore his gaze away and took a deep breath. He had always been a calm and composed individual even among the direst of situations. Seeing him so uneasy made Yao worry just by looking at him. Whatever news Kiku had to deliver, it couldn't have been good.
“Yao, Father is dead.”