Before you read this, I want to openly admit that I wrote the first chapter wrong. Nocte has no retainer. She has braces. I fixed this in the first chapter (unlike all the other mistakes that I had left alone).
I also like to take this time to say: Thank you for over 200 reviews. It's much appreciated.
Another thing, Confessions Of A Villain-In-The-Making is now over 400 pages…
Yeah, I kinda overwrote and over-fillered… ;P
So, prepare yourself for this chapter in which I wrote for days.
Thank you. :)
- - -
I grip the pen so hard that it snaps in two. Without batting an eye, I toss the broken one aside and pick up another one.
I now know how all the trouble started.
Me not running away properly.
Never a city – never.
It's the most obvious place for anyone to go to.
And if you go to a city, make sure it's a city that never sleeps so then you can hide among the crowds.
Pen over paper, no words come to me.
The pain feels so raw and her death still haunts me. It was a miracle that she came back and is breathing. I don't know what would have happened if I had lost her, and I'm ashamed to admit that Ramiro would have felt the brunt of my grief.
I would have killed her.
I knew I would have.
I stare at my right palm, tracing all the lines with my eyes, imagining they were running rivers because that's how it was like when I churned her life and death energy, an ever running flow that circled and circled. It followed where I led it, bent where I willed it and moved where I wanted it. It was like a fierce, yet gentle, animal that needed to be tamed, or befriended.
It reminded me of an unchecked chakra point.
Chaotic, but with a reason.
What scared me the most was that I wouldn't have been able to save her if it weren't for Delano. If it weren't for his control over life energy and me over death, Aman wouldn't have been able to live again.
And then there was Thanatos, the very personification of death itself. Why would he spend time reaping Aman's soul? Certainly he could have stopped us – me – from ensuring Aman's survival. I mean, if he took time from his busy schedule to see to Aman then he'd probably want her soul underneath all that life and death energy, right?
I sigh harshly, stabbing the papers with the pen.
I'm shaking, I can't help but shake.
The last three months of the school year was like hell.
Not literally, but you get the idea.
I smile at my own joke, no matter how poor it was, and breathed in deep with my eyes closed. I rubbed them – they were tiring really fast and stung slightly. Opening them, I went for it, pen to paper.
- - -
They never had the intention of speaking with me, but they had every intention of imprisoning me.
"Milady," Rat said, almost regretfully. "You are not to leave the grounds."
"The grounds" was the property of the Yin Manor. Ox and Rat had escorted me to my room and sat me down on my bed. Even as we were speaking, Ox was searching my room for any secret doors or compartments. Rat, even though he was very much paying attention to me, was also busy mentally mapping out the room and recording the distance from my bed to my door to my balcony and back to my bed.
Wordlessly, I stared at my comforter and traced the patterns in admission.
I was tired. It had taken so much chi and chakra to resurrect Aman and physical strength to stop Delano's assassination that the adrenaline was finally falling short. I felt like fainting, or better yet, sleeping. I wanted to collapse and never wake up to cope with all the damage in my wake.
"I am tired," I said quietly.
I felt Rat stiffen immediately, as if berating himself for not seeing it sooner.
"Of course," he said. "We will leave you now, milady."
He bowed, Ox huffed, they left and I fell to a dreamless sleep.
I woke to a knocking at my door, but I did not move, much less open my eyes, to get it. I lied there, looking at the darkness and hoping whomever it was to go away. All I wanted was to sink into the blackness and never have to face reality. I wanted to go away… far away – forever.
The knocking stopped, but that did not deter the person from coming in.
My eyes snapped open and I threw myself on my feet into a defensive stance, only to falter when I caught the concerned face of my mother.
Seeing her in my dark room, body a mere silhouette against my opened bedroom door; I felt something stick in my throat and my eyes well up. Her face was not that of one bearing good news, more of a pity face – a face of a mother who wished she could have done more.
It was over.
No more Hero.
No more Amaris, Drisana, Doctor, Morven, Kardos and Sterling.
No more Delano.
"M-Mom," I whimpered.
"Oh," she sighed, voice breaking. "Come here."
I fell into her open arms, bawling and sinking and trembling.
Her warmth did not stave off the cold, but I did not mind.
How can anyone fight against the coldness I felt inside?
I don't remember how long I had cried, but I do remember my mother brushing the hair from my face with her hands. It was soothing that she was comforting me. She hadn't done so for a very long time, what with us all older and her being busier. But I appreciated it, more than I thought I would.
With my head on her lap, I had to ask, "What's going to happen with Evil?"
Her hands did not stop combing my strands when she answered, "Your lessons and assignments will come by mail, daily."
"You will take them here," she said.
We remained statues for a while; time seemingly nothing as I fell asleep again. When I awoke late next morning, I saw my suitcases beside my walk-in closet, my computer assembled perfectly on my desk and several other possessions. My cellphone, charm bracelet and friendship necklace were on the nightstand, and when I went to the bathroom I saw my toothbrush and face towel placed neatly where they belonged.
It felt like I was home for the summer holidays.
I took a shower first, but I was too numb to feel the heat of the water. Then I brushed my teeth, too deadened to care. I was like a zombie, moving on autopilot, not really seeing, hearing or feeling things. And when servants came with breakfast, I actually felt too tired to eat.
Even as I chewed without tasting, a maid bowed and said, "Milady, Master and Mistress have gone to the Castle and then they plan on visiting Zhōng. They will not be back for a long time."
The Castle was where my great-grandparents lived and where all the Yin Council Meetings take place. From there, they'd be going to the royal city to preside over the Royal Council. "A long time" really meant "a long time". Perhaps weeks and maybe months. With all the rumours going around about the dieing Emperor, there would be competition over the throne. My parents could be away all summer.
I sat there with empty eyes as servants rushed to put all my clothes away. The maid was standing still, waiting for my dismissal, in which I gave with a limp wave of my hand. An hour later, food not even half eaten, I lugged my eyes from the window to my desk where my computer stared at me. Honestly, I did not feel like reading fan fiction or playing any first-person shooter games, but I forced myself up sluggishly.
My steps were heavy – burdened – and dragged across the room over to the desk. It was nearing 12 in the afternoon, lunch was to be served soon. I plopped myself down on the chair and stared at the black screen, tilting my head as if to see it better. I stayed like that, eyes glazed, hearing the second hand of my clock tick away, until there was a knock at my door.
I blinked slowly – expressionless – while servants came in and replaced my cold breakfast with a hot lunch. Quietly, they left me unbothered, still looking into the abyss of the screen. Again, the clock echoed in my skull – endlessly. Tilting further, I began to fall to the ground.
I was left to lie there, staring at legs of the desk.
I supposed that I was depressed, as if I had nothing to live for anymore, so I remained on the floor until six o'clock rolled around. Again, the servants came and replaced my cold lunch with a hot dinner.
But instead of placing my dinner on my nightstand, as they had done with my breakfast and lunch, they placed the bowl of rice, five side dishes and soup on my desk. Silently, they left my room, careful to not disturb me, as was their duty. To never speak unless spoken to – that they were invisible unless regarded by.
By then, I was hungry. Hungry and tired.
Slothfully, I pushed myself up with the help of my desk and chair. Once I was eye-level with the food, I stared at it listlessly. It was like it wasn't really there, like it was a figment of my imagination. But the smell, a very important sense, told me that the food did exist.
My hand slowly crept over to the chopsticks. I was hungry, but I did not feel like eating. Gnawing the rice and swallowing it just takes so much energy that I couldn't bear to do. Besides…
"What's the point?" I murmured.
My hand fell on the desk, mere centimetres from the pair of chopsticks, and landed on a book. Jerking back, I squinted to read the title.
"Dark Moon Sect…" I read out loud, voice hoarse and dry.
It was the manuscript for the Dark Moon sword technique.
"You better learn the kung fu I gave you. You most likely will need it in the… near… future."
I blinked hard and really looked at the manuscript for the very first time. Since Gash had given it to me, I had only opened it and practiced momentarily 6-9 times?
"And the martial world?"
"They are taking sides as well."
It was like I finally woke up from a dream that had been blanketing me the whole day. I could suddenly feel again. I could suddenly see and take in the time and hear my own breathing. I may be hated by my friends, and I may be exiled from my clan, but that did not mean I couldn't fight.
It didn't mean I couldn't be strong.
I snapped up the manuscript and headed out to the grounds, the sound of my feet incredibly loud against the grass. The sun was beginning to set, my shadow a pale black that followed me along the dim daylight. Opening the book, I was thankful that Gash had translated the book into English. Unlike my siblings, I never had time to learn. I had spent my time perfecting the Death Glare and my immune system by testing poisons.
Setting the book beside me, I fell into the offensive position the book was showing me. With my right hand, I formed it as if I were holding a sword. Quick and true I struck forward, twisted, back flipped, sliced, spun, ran, jumped and pounced and my shadow followed me, the wind flowing with me instead of around me.
I eased my shoulders as I swayed the sword in a low arch, effectively flipping the page over just by air movement. I twisted in the air, eyes catching the pages, and fluidly moved to the next stance, power channelling through my nerves. My muscles stretched as I strained forward, jumped back and striking the air with my palm. Swiftly, I cut the invisible enemy, stabbed back and coiled down to the ground.
Rolling back, turning the page, I leapt to my feet with the imaginary sword thrown out in defiance. Dancing to a beat only I could hear and heart pumping to a rushed staccato, sweat rolled down my face.
I came to a crashing halt when I fell in exhaustion, my breath coming out hard and harsh. My hair, long by now, was all over the place, and my shadow just as unsteady as my arms as I eased myself up. Brushing my hair back, I picked up the manuscript and strode back inside in which I found a hot dinner waiting for me on my desk.
The next day, after a deep slumber, I saw that on my desk was a pile of textbooks, lecture notes and assignments. Mumbling under my breath at the distraction, I got ready, ate breakfast and dug deep into my textbooks. I was irritated at the homework, but I was more than satisfied with books and learning.
It's different when you want to learn and being forced to learn.
Getting out a pen with a glazed expression, I looked over the lecture notes before lifting my pen and answering the questions, no hint of smile or any emotion. I was able enough to teach myself, which I had always done, but I always liked having professors give me visuals.
Once it was lunch, servants came with food.
Without looking up from my writing, I spoke, "I need books on the following materials: Necromancy, Grim Reapers, Clerical, Life Force, Death Force, Demonology and Thanatos."
The servants bowed and left me to my food, in which I ate with careful bites, eyes not leaving the pages. When I was done, they came to take away my dishes and set the books on the floor beside my desk. I ignored them as I finished my homework before picking up the books.
I read for a long time, focusing mainly on Thanatos. I sunk deep into the writings, saving as much information as possible in my head, constantly flipping the pages. Several times my eyes began to water, something I've been noticing a lot lately from reading on the computer and leisurely. Sometimes… I even had trouble looking at the chalkboard.
By the time six rolled around, I got up, grabbed the manuscript and went outside to practice. The moment I took a step onto the grass, a servant was already waiting with a jiàn in which I took, hardly looking at them. Opening the manuscript with a small flourish of the sword, I fell into the steps of the Dark Moon sword technique, the sword cutting the wind with a reverberation that hung in the air.
I practised for two hours, the knowledge seeping into me like the rain seeping into the earth. The instructions swept around me, forever imprinted in my mind, and the light swings of the sword felt heavy and reassuring in my grip. I twirled and swept throughout the yard.
Once it was 9 o'clock, I sheathed the sword and went back to my room, wiping the sweat off my forehead. The moment I entered my room, I immediately noticed the food on my desk that sent my stomach growling. Prompting the sword against the wall, I sat and dug in, relishing in the taste and how it filled me.
Afterwards, I took a shower and took a moment to brush the knots out of my hair. It was growing quite long, bangs starting to get in my eyes, and the knots were not welcome. I then brushed my teeth and headed for bed, my bones and muscles aching, but I knew the next day it would ache more than that night. I was prepared to work hard – it stopped me from thinking.
Fleetingly, days and weeks passed by monotonously, every now and then interrupted by tests, reports and essays. I'd wake up, do homework, eat lunch, read, practise kung fu, eat dinner and sleep. Wake up, homework, lunch, read, practice, dinner, sleep. Wake up, homework, lunch, read, practice, dinner, sleep. Wake up, homework, lunch, read, practice, dinner, sleep.
For two months, it was a routine the servants and I had grown accustomed to, and time didn't matter. They still brought dinner at six, even though I ate two hours later. I'd like to say I lost a lot of weight, but the more exercise I did, the more hungry I got. Faustine had questioned me on more than one occasion of whether I was the pig or her.
Then one day, just before June, a servant came in and quietly placed a book on my desk. I was reading up on purgatory when he came in and left so silently that I wondered if he had been there at all. Leaning cautiously over to inspect it, I almost fell over when I read the title.
Fog Mountain Sect Martial Arts Manuscript.
For Mountain, at the north-eastern part of Xon, was a sect that specialized in hand-to-hand combat. They rivalled the Wanderer Mountain sect in their martial arts, and unlike the other evil sects, they were more passive. Consisting of monks, they were always deep in meditation and ate nothing but rice, water, tea and vegetables - shū lì.
I lowered the purgatory book and picked up the manuscript. Ten minutes later I was in the yard, under a warm sun, practising the different fist movements, palm positions and kick manoeuvres that seemed awkward and clumsy.
I fell many times, not able to fid stability and the silent song to dance to. Hours later, and frustrated, I flung the manuscript across the room and grabbed the Dark Moon sect manuscript. But even as I made the steel of the sword sing, my heart was too angry to move fluently.
The next day I tried the techniques of the Fog Mountain again. Again I came up with shit. My movement were jagged. You need to crouch for most of the time and when you think you got the energy flowing, it stops.
I needed a professional – a shī fu.
Days later, I was still angry. My heart twisted at my own pathetic attempts and I couldn't sleep because of it. Before sunrise, I kicked out of bed, tore the Fog Mountain manuscript off the desk and went outside.
June nights, or early mornings, were warm. There was dew on the grass and since I didn't wear shoes, I could feel the clumps of dirt beneath my feet and in-between my toes.
And there was fog.
I opened the manuscript and crouched into the first stance. I moved into the enxt and jerked back like the pages told me to do. Suddenly, I could feel the earth jerk with me, the suspended water droplets against my skin. Effectively, I back flipped, halted, spun, paused and made abrupt, short moves that had to pattern or flow.
It became clear to me at that moment. The kung fu worked with the fog and earth, hence Fog Mountain. The only difference being the dirt was much softer than rock. It was a technique that concealed you (using the fog) and made you unpredictable (like life in the mountains).
It was beautiful and ugly at the same itme.
Rapid movements, sporadic jerks and abrupt stops. Its song just as crazy and chaotic – yet it made sense.
In a way, it was the opposite of the Dark Moon kung fu, where every transition from move to move was fluid. Fog Mountain was awkward, bold and erratic, like that of a water current hitting rocks along a stream to make rapids.
I decided then to practise Mountain Fog kung fu early in the morning and Dark Moon kung fu at night. Continuing on that decision, day after day I was enshrouded in fog and wet grass in the morning and immerged in the sunset and glowing moon at night.
A new pattern, accepted just a monotonously as the pervious one – lifeless and numb.
BAM, BAM, BAM!
I jolted awake in the middle of the night among my books. Exams were in two weeks. I had been studying. I yawned; eyes watering just as the door shook again, demanding entrance. I had locked it, of course, just in case.
I wasn't stupid.
It was time.
My cellphone I got from Witley was quickly switched with the one my father gave me for Christmas under the bed. I tossed Deadwood's Friendship Ball into the tank of the toilet and hid Aman's Friendship Necklace under a loose and magicked tile in my closet.
"Sorry," I mumbled, placing my hand over the tile and bowed my head in apology.
In a snap moment, I placed the Dark Moon Manuscript in a vault behind a painting and the Fog Mountain Manuscript up in the ceiling with the light fixtures.
BAM, BAM, BAM!
I slid my desk out and opened a secret compartment that had runes sketched inside and spelled to enforce its hiding ability from thieves. I put my new cellphone, charm bracelet and copies of the kung fu manuscripts inside. With a drop of my blood, it was perfectly foolproof.
BAM, BAM, BAM!
I rolled my eyes as I pushed my desk back into place, a tad regretful of my computer, and opened the door. "Yes?"
I sounded deadpanned, not amused.
The guards sent by my grandparents flooded my room, pushing me aside. My back hit the wall and I watched them expressionlessly as they tore my room apart. My bed was overturned, sliced opened and ripped to shreds.
The cellphone was found.
In the bathroom I could hear the smooth marble of the toilet smatter to pieces and the marble tiles in my closet upturned. In fact, they were prying the tiles everywhere.
They found the Friendship Ball and Necklace.
"I'm sorry, Aman," I thought, ashamed.
The painting and the chandelier fell, and the manuscripts were found.
I stood aside as they reached for the desk. I barely paid attention when my computer broke open when it hit the floor. Instead, I focused on how the brutes were smashing my beautiful marble walls with hammers, tearing my silken curtains and breaking my windows.
I felt like crying – I had put so much work and fight into making the room perfect – but I steadied myself and jutted out my chin in defiance.
They never found the compartment behind my desk. There was a moment where I had felt something grip my throat when they passed by the little enclave, but I was a Yin.
I did not make mistakes when it counts.
I stood in the middle of my wrecked room, hugging myself close. My once four-poster bed was toppled over, the wood split in the middle, and my once warm rugs were frayed and dirtied. All the lights were broken and so were the windows.
Early that morning, in the dim room with a draft swirling in the room, I was surprised that the wind wasn't cold. In fact, it was more warming than anything else, and as I looked outside to see the sunrise, I never felt so calm and strong.
"Let them come," I said to myself. "Let them come."
"Milady." A servant was at the door – or, should I write, door-less entryway.
"Speak to no one of this," I said.
"Hai," she obeyed, bowing. Once she stood straight again, several other servants came, bowed and went about to clean the room, stepping over the innards of my once orgasmic computer.
I closed my eyes and drew breath.
The servant said, "We have arranged another room for you on the second floor in the south wing, milady."
"My things are in the compartment," I said as the sun bleed through my eyelids and into my eyes. "I expect them there as soon as possible."
"Hai," she said and bowed again.
Taking one last glance at the room, I turned on my heel and left. I was more than glad that the servants of the Yin Manor were loyal and only loyal to the First Family, and therefore trustworthy with secrets.
I sat myself down in front of the mirror, looked into my own eyes and said, "This is it. The end of the road. It's now or never. It's time to fight back. It's time to be a Yin."
Ever since that day, I practiced endlessly and studied ferociously. Books kept coming, piling into countless hills in my new, and smaller, room. I woke up early in the morning and slept late at night. I had a thirst of knowledge and power that I couldn't seem to quench, no matter how much a read or how many punches I packed. It just wasn't enough when the memory of Aman's necklace being taken and my computer being broken.
A week after the room-wreaking incident, Dragon and Phoenix came to me.
"You are under house arrest," Dragon said.
I had my back to them because I was simultaneously reading a tome on necromancy and an ancient scripture on healing. Just to tick them off, I held the scripture above my head and waved it around to show that I was busy and had no time for Yin servants.
I felt them frown but I ignored them and went back to reading. They had stayed a moment longer and then left, not sure if they got through to me.
The Elders did not send spies into the Yin Manor, to do so was an insult to my father, the Yin Head. So they never did know that the servants had kept it quiet about me going out to practise martial arts. They never knew that, just because I felt like it, I went outside to read sometimes.
Exams came and went, done nonchalantly and with ease. I had never felt so confidant about exams before. Perhaps it was because I had other things to worry about.
And no sooner were the exams done did Occult come home, barging through the door of my replacement room. My other room was still being renovated, but I did not care. In fact, when Occult burst in, I was pretty much at home reading on my bed with a calm face.
My sister paused for a moment, taken aback by my tranquility when there was obvious chaos afoot. Breathing heavily until she calmed, she put an impassive look on and said, "I came as soon as they let me."
"Who?" I asked, not taking my eyes off of the book.
She bristled in impatience for a bit before answering, "The Elders."
"And you let them keep you?" I mocked. "For shame."
"Nocte!" she burst, for once loosing control. "What did you think you were doing? Falling in love with a Yang!"
"I wasn't in love," I said to the book. "It was a crush."
"Does it matter?" my sister spat. "The Elders are discussing your fate!"
"Do you think I care?" I inquired, flipping to the next page.
A second later and the book slipped through my fingers and flew across the room, hitting the wall and crumpling onto the ground lifeless.
Occult's eyes were glowing with anger and I merely folded my hands in my lap and regarded her with a cold stone expression.
"Yes?" I asked casually.
"Take. Me. Seriously," she hissed.
"Occult," I said, leaning back. "Do you think I care?"
"You should," she insisted. "You may very well be exiled."
"I just successfully resurrected a person back from the dead," I said, unperturbed. "Again, I ask you, do you think I care?"
I waited while she fought back the shock that suddenly consumed her. I blinked when she came to, shaking her head.
"If you do not mind," I said. "I have some reading to get to."
She looked bewildered as I gently pushed her to the door and locked it behind her. Picking the book up from the floor, I continued reading as if I hadn't been interrupted. Three days passed with me locked inside my room and Occult pounding on it, wanting in. I shrugged her off until Gash broke it open.
I quirked an eyebrow at him as if to say, "What do you want?"
He was huffing, catching his breath from exertion (I had spelled it strong), and waved the others back. He wanted to talk to me – alone. Ebony, Occult, Siyamak and Ohanzee stepped back as Gash placed the door back.
I closed the book and placed it aside. "Where's Dire?"
"Busy," he answered, not caught off guard by my passiveness to the situation. "I heard you've resurrected someone."
I smiled, but my eyes did not, and I replied, "Yes."
"How were your exams?" he asked.
"Good," I said. "Although, Demonology was a bit harder since father and mother decided to move me up a grade. I was with people who were older than me and I didn't know any of them."
"There was a reason for that," he said, finally sitting down.
"To make me stronger."
"I think I'm quite strong enough, don't you?" I inquired.
"Not yet," he said, smiling humourlessly. "You still have a ways to go."
"Especially with the Elders breathing down my back," I laughed.
His expression turned severe and he asked, quite grimly, "Nocte, do you know what's going to happen to you?"
"Disowned," I said.
"Maybe worse," he said, closing his eyes at the thought. "You had no reason to fall in love."
"Love?" I said, more to myself than to him. "Why do people keep assuming it's love when I know nothing of it? At least, not that kind of love. What I know is this: it's not love, it's a crush – a strong one. A crush that, given better situations, may have been something-"
"Stop!" he hollered. "Why aren't you taking this seriously?"
"Then act like it!" he shouted. "Be scared!"
"Gash, look at me." I paused and he hesitantly regarded me closely. "Do you see fear?"
Ten seconds of complete silence and-
"No," he conceded, falling back and shaking his head.
"Do you know why?"
"No," he admitted with another shake of his head.
"Because there is nothing to fear," I said. "Let them come. I am ready."
"Are you?" he asked, chuckling painfully.
"I am a Yin, aren't I?"
His silence was answer enough.
"Then there is nothing to fear."
- - -
The next day, I packaged my charm bracelet and cellphone into a box. I wrote a letter of instructions, addressed it and sent it off with a servant. My orders were clear and I felt no fear when they came that afternoon and handcuffed my wrists together. They were respectful enough to cuff me in front, not behind. Otherwise, I would have looked ridiculous.
"You are to remain silent and compliant," the head guard said.
I nodded, head high.
Guards flanked me all around and I followed them out of my room. I refused to leave as a prisoner, but as a mere Yin travelling with bodyguards. Occult was standing in the hallway, watching them take me. I did not look at her – one look may have crushed her completely. No doubt she had looked so small with the Domino Guards behind her as she watched me leave. Nor did I look at Ebony once I was outside. Gash, I gave a nod who nodded back.
I entered the carriage and off I went with a procession of fifty soldiers – flags, armours, weapons, horses and everything. If an outsider was to see our little parade they would have thought that an important Yin was passing by – not a prisoner.
I sat in the middle of the seat, the windows were drawn closed with curtains so no light could sneak in (neither could looks). Rat, Ox, Dragon, Phoenix and Snake was in the carriage with me. Although Ox was softly snoring in the corner, I knew that he was wide awake, ready to tackle me if I so much as made a peep. Snake had the sedatives, probably more concentrated than the first ones she gave me back in summer.
I was quiet all along the ride and quiet when they led me into the Yin Palace. It was in the style of pagodas, with barricades, towers bearing flags and a moat housing crocodiles. It was large and magnificent, a true piece of priceless art that could only be found in one other place: the Royal Palace of Zhōng.
Along the dark marbled hallways, our steps echoed eerie in the massive hallways. The place where the Great-Grand Elders resided was so large that it literally took us fifteen minutes to get to the giant double doors that led to the council room.
Rat was the one brave enough to step forward and knock.
Slowly it swung open with an audible creak and Rat took me inside, Ox, Dragon, Phoenix and Snake staying outside. I followed Rat to the centre of the dark, circular room where the Yin Council were waiting. The seating was in three layers. The seating nearest to the floor was for my father's siblings and their spouses. The second layer was for my grandparents and my grandfather's siblings. The risen seating was for my great-grandparents, my great-grandfather's siblings and my father in the very middle looking down upon the one to be judged.
In this case, it was me.
My mother was not present.
"Leave us," Great-Aunt Nox said, voice flickering the candles spread sparsely around the room.
Rat bowed and departed.
I closed my eyes, breathed in deep and swallowed.
"Here we go," I said. "I'm ready."
"Nocte Yin, it has been known to the council that you have fallen in love with the Yang Heir, Delano," Granduncle Ignatius said, eyes mere slivers. "Do you deny this?"
"Yes," I answer truthfully. "I do not love him, but I do feel for him… for us."
A circle beneath my person glowed blow – a spell to detect whether the confessor was telling the truth or a lie.
"She lies!" Grandmother Achlys spat.
"No, you lie," I thought to myself.
"Then there should be no doubt!" Uncle Hadrian. "She must be exiled!"
"She shows promise," Great-Aunt Nox said. "The Death Glare, the immunity system – the resurrection."
"She may show promise, but it may be the promise of our deaths," Aunt Melanctha scorned at me.
"Indeed," Great-Uncle Hamish said wisely. "Although I for one do not want those gifts to be lost to us, they can not be gifts if they are liabilities."
Great-Uncle Channing said, "But we can not let those gifts fall to enemy hands."
"Which is why I suggest," Grandfather Nihar said, "we do not."
There was such a finality in his tone that I couldn't stop myself from shivering even if I had tried.
My father was sitting at the top. He was saying nothing. His expression was saying nothing. There was nothing to say apparently because even as they were discussing offing me once and for all, he sat there quietly with a face that showed not even a trace of love for me.
Grandaunt Cassandra sucked her breath in sharply and the council quieted as she placed her delicate bony fingers to her forehead. Closing her eyes in deep concentration we waited patiently. I could feel a drop of ice trail down my spine when her eyes suddenly snapped open.
"I had a vision," she said and I felt a tad queasy at how well she could control herself. "This girl," and she pointed at me, "will bring our family doom."
I saw something flicker in my father's eyes and I felt just a little bit uncertain.
Everyone was quiet as they mulled over her words.
It was a crippling silence where-
"Can you clarify?" Great-Grandmother Lian asked.
Everyone looked shocked save for my great-grandfather and my father. Great-Grandmother Lian never spoke, and when she did, it was always this amazing thing. She's always the silent, obedient wife and only spoke when spoken to. So whenever she does speak, everyone listens intently because her words are never wasted.
I saw Grandaunt Cassandra gulp gracefully and answered, "I saw a massive undead army in the yard of our grand palace… I know that it was her who raised them."
An undead army? Massive? Me?
I couldn't process the thought.
"Perhaps she did not raise them to defeat us but to help us," my great-grandmother said. "She loves, does she not?"
"Enough," her husband, my great-grandfather, said evenly and she bent her head in submission.
I felt a curl of injustice at the pit of my stomach.
My great-grandmother was powerful – extremely. I remember a time when mom was going through labour with Dire and I had been out in the forest feeling jealous (I am not ashamed to admit that). I had been exploring the forest, not keeping to the trails, when I had fallen into the path of a dragon. I had ran for my life, knowing that I wasn't powerful enough to face it. I had tripped and it roared in victory when, all of a sudden, it bowed its head to a shadowed figure, whimpering. It bobbed its head twice and left me alone. I had wiped away my tears to see Great-Grandmother Lian smiling at me – smiling.
"What is wrong, great-grand daughter?" she had asked patiently. "Were you afraid?"
I had shook my head stubbornly.
"Not of the dragon, but perhaps…" she had said, wiping my tears away tenderly, "of death?"
She had been so nice – strong.
I looked up at her from where she was sitting and couldn't imagine how my tyrant of a great-grandfather could crush her spirit so thoroughly. How could she just take that?
"We've been at this for some time," Grandfather Nihar said. "Perhaps we should rest and tackle this again tomorrow."
"We shall," my father finally spoke, and no one dared to go against him.
I looked at him with a brace face as guards led me off to the dungeons and locked me up. Manacles bound my wrists, which connected to a chain that gave me little leeway in moving around my cell. It was cold, damp and hard, with rats scurrying around bones, but I wasn't disturbed.
I was more disturbed with Grandaunt Cassandra's vision of the future. She was a well-known prophetess, so there was no reason to doubt what she had seen, but I would never, ever massacre my clan… unless… they hurt my family.
I leaned against the solid, stoned wall and remained that way for hours until dinner came in the form of soggy rice, overcooked choy, rotten pork and cold tea. I wanted to gag at the horrible smell of the gross food mixing with the rusted metal and dead bodies in the dungeon.
I left the food uneaten.
I drank the tea.
I awaited my fate, but as days went by, hearing the drip, drip of water in the distance, I was beginning to think they've decided to starve me to death.
Because it would be death.
I know it.
But I wasn't going to let that happen without a fight.
Hungry, fatigued and close to loosing my mind.
That was how my siblings found me.
"Nocte!" Dire loosed his cry, torn.
I pried my eyes open with all my remaining energy to look at them.
They looked blurry – I was so loosing my vision. That, or my sanity.
"Hey," I mumbled, my voice weak and hoarse. I tried to smile reassuringly, but my lips were dry and they cracked.
"Open this now," Ebony ordered the guard.
"I apologise-" the guard said, but was cut off.
"Open the door," my mother, standing as glorious as ever at the door, commanded, eyes hard and forbidding.
The guard was trembling and so were the keys in his hands as he opened the cell door. Before he could get out of the way, my siblings came in and looked me over. Occult looking unfamiliarly ragged.
"Nocte," mom said brokenly and my sibling shuffled out of the way for her. "Look at you…"
"I'm fine," I said, finally finding the strength in my voice.
She looked like she wanted to cry, and I felt so rotten for being the reason for it.
Mom had brought a basket full of eatable food in which she fed me. Ebony and Occult went off to get water and they washed my hair and face. Dire had brought healing potions and, with shaking hands, fed them to me. Gash, silent, remained off to the side, watching me with a concerned and relieved face.
"What's wrong?" I croaked to him, spooning congee into my mouth slowly.
My brother looked at our siblings before falling on our mother.
My mother nodded, giving her consent.
"Great-Grandfather Tao orders for your death," he said, looking at the ground in shame. "I am doing all I can to save you."
"What?" Dire sounded, aghast.
"When was this?" Ebony demanded.
Apparently our siblings did not know of this.
"Don't worry, Nocte," mom said, a tear streaking down her face. "I won't let them kill you."
I smiled, my lips all better, and said, quite confidently too, "I won't either."
- - -
I was to die.
I knew it the moment I was in the council room in front of all the Yin Council Members' scrutinizing eyes.
In front of my father's blank eyes.
I was to die by a gun to my head.
A clean shot.
I supposed it was my father's way of saying that he loved me – giving me a quick painless death.
I supposed it was my clan's way of saying that they were humiliated of me – it was to be a suicide.
I supposed I didn't care – because I didn't.
"I am not afraid," I told Rat when he came to get me.
"I'm sorry," he said truthfully, eyes saddened. "I want you to know…"
I smiled wanly, dressed in the white Chinese garb of the condemned.
"That I admire your honesty," he said. "I admire the way that you are unafraid, that you are able to live and portray yourself as a successful Yin, even to this day. I am proud to be a Yin servant."
"Thank you," I said.
He and several other henchmen guided me outside to the courtyard crowded by the necessary Yin Clan members – my cousins included. There was a podium erected. At the middle of the podium was a small table and laid there, on a red velvet pillow, was a silver gun that shone in the setting sun.
My last meal had been a feast fit for a king. Barbequed duck, pork, lobster, shrimp, choy of all kinds, at least three kinds of soups and several bowls of rice. The girl who delivered me the food was one I recognized. Blonde hair, tiny, still frail as ever but at least two years older.
If I remembered correctly, her name was Lukina, a girl who lived in Gash's village.
I had saved the girl's life.
She had looked at me, about to cry as she said, "Mi-Milady… I n-never th-thank you for s-saving my life."
"It's okay," I had told her.
"I h-hope th-this m-meal helps," she said, emphasising on "helps".
It did help.
Because underneath all those bowls of rice, wrapped up neatly in coarse woven cloth, were my charm bracelet and my cellphone. At the back of the cellphone was a deep scratch.
He had received my message and I had felt relief.
Using the Invisibility Charm on the bracelet, I hid the cellphone and the bracelet itself. I wore the bracelet and strapped the cellphone by the waist of my pants.
"We don't have all day," cousin Jetta sneered at me as I paused at the foot of the podium.
There was a ward around the podium that prevented the use of magic and I cursed. How was Ebony's charm bracelet going to work if the ward stopped all magic?
Breathing in as Rat unlocked the manacles around my wrist, I readied myself. Rubbing my wrists, I had to stall for time.
"Now," Great-Aunt Nox ordered.
A gun was placed to my head and the safety was turned off.
They were using force.
I nodded to myself, refusing to look at my parents and siblings, and stepped onto the podium. Slowly, step by step, I approached the gun and when I was finally upon it, I stopped to stare. The glare of the sun reflected off the metal and into my eyes, burning my retinas.
"Now," Great-Grandfather Tao commanded.
The Yin henchmen surrounding the podium all turned to me with guns raised, ready to take my life if I couldn't do it myself.
That would be another dishonour in our name.
By suicide I would be openly admitting that I was wrong and that to right the wrong, I was willing to kill myself for it.
I reached out and grabbed the gun. I lifted it and felt the weight heavy in my puny hands. I raised it in front of me, expressionless when I saw Melissa's reflection on the roof.
"Perfect," I thought.
I clicked off the safety.
She jumped down.
I shot the gun from the hands of the guard in front of me and ducked as several guards shot at me. From the corner of my eye I could see Janelle taking down three others. Quickly, I ran off the podium and out of the ward. Tearing the Smoke Charm off, the whole courtyard burst and visibility was hindered.
I made for the front gates, having a bit of trouble breathing. Coughing for a moment while running, I squinted at the smoke.
"Crap," I whispered. "Damn you Ebony and your over-the-top charms!"
A hand grabbed my wrist and I was about to pull away when the person dragged me out of the smoke and into clear air.
"Noir!?" I exclaimed.
He grinned, showing ferocious teeth. "I can't believe you didn't invite to your suicide party!"
I tore my wrist from his hand and swatted his arm, scoffing.
"Milady," Ivy said. "The carriage is waiting at the eastern wall."
"Let's go," I said gruffly and we ran for it.
Not soon after we were met with the tall, stonewall in which we halted.
"I'll jump over and check," Ivy said. "I'll come back if it's safe."
"Sounds good," Noir said.
"You!" I said furiously. "No talkie!"
Ivy jumped over the wall, rolling her eyes at our antics.
"You know," Noir said, making not-necessary conversation. "I missed you the pass three months."
"I'm sure," I said sarcastically.
"No seriously!" he said, holding his hands up in surrender. "It's no fun being with Savvy if you're not there to be bothered by it."
I gave him a warning look.
"If it makes you feel better," he continued. "I broke it off – she cried and everything. It was kinda funny."
I resisted the urge to punch him, but only because my Great-Aunt Nox showed up, panting and not as immaculate as she usually was.
Noir sobered up them, taking out his sais.
I fingered my charm bracelet, trying to remember what all the charms were.
"You have disgraced me for the very last time," Great-Aunt Nox hissed dangerously.
"I have disgraced no one," I said solemnly.
Her eyes pulsed. "You have no idea how long I have waited for another necromancer in our family to surface – and for it to be you nearly killed me. I worked so hard for you to redeem me. I gave you a golden opportunity at the Hero Powerhouses!"
"Redeem you?" I spat. "For falling in love with Zenos Ramiro?"
"Do not say his name!!!" she shrieked irrationally, summoning a Hell Dragon immediately.
"Shit," Noir cursed from beside me.
Redeem her… she only put so much work and effort into me and Hero and crap in hopes that I would become a glorious protégé, to follow her footsteps in gaining wealth and prestige for the Yin Clan. Well, I did. I had followed her footsteps and fell in love with the enemy.
"Delano…" I whispered, feeling tears.
"You insolent bitch!" Great-Aunt Nox shouted.
"Do something," Noir said insistently.
"I will," I said harshly, wiping away the tears. "Summon: Hell Dragon!"
Two Hell Dragons, red, black and deafening, roared and snapped at each other. The sky, grey and sinister, clouded over and created the perfect scene of the last fight. Never had I poured so much chakra into a summon. Never had I felt so used. Never had I felt so much anger.
"Love has made you soft!" Great-Aunt Nox said, summoning two other dragons.
"Delano…" I kept thinking of him and felt a rush of rage. "Just because you never had it, didn't mean I couldn't have!"
My dragon ripped her dragon's throat off, blood of lava washing the ground. Blindly it snapped at her second dragon just as her third came from behind.
I was ready to summon another dragon – more than ready – but I didn't need to because, suddenly, another Hell Dragon came out of nowhere and shattered the spine of the third just as mine ripped out the coal heart of the second.
"Yes, Necrosis!" Noir cheered.
I spun around to see Paine sitting casually on the roof of the wall, expression as cold as usual.
"Hey!" I yelled. "Back off! Hell Dragons are my thing!"
"A Paine?!" Great-Aunt Nox screeched. "You disgrace us even further! I have never been so disappointed in my life."
How? How could she say such a thing when I never meant to make her proud in the first place? It sounded like I owed her my life.
I may be a necromancer.
But I am not her.
"I bet you were more disappointed," I said, so cool and calm that Noir took a cautious step back from me. "that Axelia Ramiro didn't kill me."
She narrowed her eyes at me. "You dare mention that girl in front of me?"
"Imagine my disappointment, Great-Aunt Nox," I said, eyes pounding, "when I heard of what you had done in the fit of jealousy."
"You waste of Yin blood!!!" she screamed.
Five Hell Dragons broke through the ground, darkening the sky further, and I could feel Paine slowly stand up to access the battle calmly. Five pairs of glowing eyes glowered down at me, but I was not afraid.
"I am not afraid," I said, channelling my chi and chakra to my eyes.
It was her fault.
Erratic, Great-Aunt Nox pushed the five dragons forward just as I activated the Death Glare.
It was her fault I had been at Hero.
I unsummoned my dragon while Paine summoned another, and channelled all my anger – all my hurt – into my glare.
It was her fault that Delano hated me.
I breathed in evenly, my face passive as she met my eyes.
It was her fault that I had hoped for friends.
One second – not even – and she convulsed.
It was her fault that Aman had died.
Her legs gave and she fell to her knees, her Hell Dragons instantly unsummoning. She shook, the vein at her throat pounding, wanting to take in air – wanting for the blood to circulate. But as long as she looked into my eyes, there was no saving her-
I ripped my eyes away from her and she fell onto the ground unconscious. Breathing harshly, I looked up to see the damage I had done and saw my father standing behind her, a syringe in hand.
And it made me question.
"Let's go," Noir said, taking my wrist and pulled me over the wall.
Had it been me…
"Inside the carriage," Noir instructed, pushing me in.
Or had it been him?
"Are you all right?" Theron Opal asked the moment I sat down.
As if waking from a deep sleep, I blinked and watched him signal for the carriage to go. I looked to my left to see Noir sitting there and Ivy, Christine and Janelle riding on horses outside. I then looked to my right to see Paine and outside on horses were Melissa and Kara.
I snapped my head at Theron and said, "I gave you precise instructions, not one of them seeking help from Paine and Noir."
"I apologise," he said, looking worn out by the crazy event. "It was necessary."
"What?" I asked. "It's never necessary to seek his help."
I jabbed my thumb at Noir.
"What?!" Noir burst out. "What about him?"
He pointed to Paine.
"He's okay," I said.
"What?!" the redhead burst again.
I rolled my eyes before swerving around so that my back faced him and regarded Paine.
"Why did you help me?" I asked in all seriousness.
He slowly turned his head from the window to me, his glasses seemingly multiplying the vivid pale blue of his eyes, and he said, "Because you are stupid."
"What?" I asked numbly, not sure I heard right.
Noir, from behind, ruptured into laughter.
"You are stupid," he repeated clearly. "And stupid people are always useful."
"I thought you said I was worthless," I pointed out.
"That was before you became stupid."
I snorted and said sarcastically, "Thanks."
Noir kept on laughing.
- - -
I drop the pen and stand up to look at all the pages, all 400 of them – give or take – scattered all around the desk. Some have fallen to the floor and there were several I had precariously set on the bed. But still, it's all there. My memories as clear as I could get them.
I can't quite believe I had written it all down - and in a week too!
I smile and then fall back down on the chair in exhaustion.
Who knew that writing was so tiring?
I close my eyes and let the feeling of misery and fatigue wash over me like a warm, welcome current.
It's hard for me to swallow it all, and so abrupt. It's amazing how I had survived what with all those Yins in the courtyard. Surely they're powerful enough to take me, Melissa, Noir and Paine.
What held them up?
I open my eyes and say, "Come in."
A maid enters to say, "Lady Nocte, Lord Yin is here to see you."
My father's here to see me?
The same father who sat quietly at council with no difference to me?
The same father who did not defend me from the vile mouths of our clan?
The same father who watched me walk up the podium and raise the gun?
I fist my hands together and say with a growl, "If he wishes to see me then he will come here."
"Yes, milady. I will convey your message," the maid said and curtseyed.
I wait for her to close the door before jumping up and gathering the papers. I'm not planning for him to read my thoughts, nor was I planning for anyone else to either. Writing the past events was just a way to vent – a therapy of sorts. Now I have to get rid of it all before anyone knows of how I had felt.
Desperately, I flung all the papers into the fireplace and watched the flames singe the edges. I feel a weight lift from me as the fire licks across my scrawl and my bored doodles. I feel like I was setting myself free, that this year, although hard and depressing, does not stop me from going on. I'm pushing aside the previous hardships to ready myself for the future hardships.
"I am ready," I say to myself while the last word vanishes…
The door sounds again and I invite them in.
My father comes in with my back to him, my eyes set on the burning fireplace.
The door closes.
"Father," I greeted crisply, turning to give him a curt nod.
"I apologise that I did not come earlier, Nocte," he says, glasses glowing from the fire.
"That's all right, I hardly noticed," I say.
I sit on the bed and he remains standing.
"I am impressed with the instructions you had sent to Theron," my father says. "You had thought ahead."
"Someone had to save me," I say, meeting his eyes. "I figured it had to be myself."
We stare at each other, no one saying a word.
"You are upset," he finally observes in a neutral tone.
"You did not stop them," I say, mimicking him.
"No," he admits. "But I did all I could to save you."
"Paine?" I spit acidly. "Really?"
"There was no other choice," he says. "No other clan or sect would dare."
"And yet the thought of you saving me from the council's wrath never occurred to you?" I ask with an easy smile that does not reach my eyes.
He's quiet – nothing to say.
My heart breaks and so does my voice when I say, "So the respect you have for the council does not measure up to the love you hold for me? Or can you even love?"
His eyes flash and he says, "If the Paine had sent more people, I would not have had to step in."
I breath in with my nose to help the information sink.
"You fought," I say.
"Yes," he says.
My throat grows tight. "Against the Elders?"
I swallow, painfully digesting his answer, and say, "You love me?"
"You are my daughter," he says and my eyes water. "Was there any doubt?"
Ashamed, I sob, "Y-Yes."
I bow my head and cry tears of guilt.
I should never question the love of my family or the love I hold for them. To do so always results in tears of agony.
My shoulders shake on their own accord, and I tense when I feel his arms around me. I look up with blurry eyes to see him with his ever even expression and with a sob I lean in and cry on his shoulder.
"He's hugging me," I thought tearfully. "He's really hugging me."
It's been so long since he held me and rubbed my back.
It's been so long since he's been my father.
And just like that, every wrong he had done to me just completely wipes out and washes away. I can never stay angry at anyone for long, especially not with my family.
"This… is my dad… at last."
I sniff as I get a hold of myself. I push back to see him and say, "Th-Theron… he t-told you?"
"He did not. I just knew," my dad says. "You are my daughter, I know you best."
I smile, for real.
"Your plan was well enough, I only modified it," he says.
"But he told you everything when you asked?" I say.
"I am his future father-in-law, you are only his future sister-in-law," he points out teasingly.
I wince in exaggeration and ask him, "You know what?"
"What?" he humors me.
"I think he'll do just fine," I surmise.
He hugs me close and whispers, "I think so too."
I run my tongue across my braces as I smile.
"I also think I need to replace these braces with a retainer," I say.
"Of course," he says.
For a while we just sit there, hearing the crack of the firewood and feeling each other's heart beat. They're strong, like our bond, and unbreakable as long as our family is there to catch us.
And with friends like Aman, willing to sacrifice her life for mine, there really is nothing to fear.
"What did you learn this year?" my dad asks, masking his hesitation skilfully.
"There is no such thing as love."
We both know it's a lie, but even so, he squeezes me closer, as if to afraid to let me go.
"Eventually, dad," I whisper. "You won't be ableto save me."
Bleakly, he says, "I know."
And so do I.
- - -
Yes, it is the end… for this one anyway.
I do have plans for a sequel (I'm sure you saw that one coming), but I don't plan on writing it for some time. Perhaps when summer gets around cause I'm swamped with homework.
Over 400 pages and over 200 reviews… I can not be more happy about this, believe me.
I want to thank the reviewers:
all the things in life
Yukata Mizu Yosei
rock or pebble
moon eclipse shadows
You guys are the best!
I'll try to write the fourth instalment as soon as possible – check my livejournal for updates about that.
Until next time (and there will be a next time) – ttyl! ;)
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