Xiuyang & Jamboi
A Needle in the Heart
For days, Xiuyang had been wandering to and fro on campus, going about her business as if in some kind of daze. Every once in a while, she would remember that, in a single day, her entire life had been turned upside-down. Her intelligence network was not her
intelligence network. Her mother's side of the family, at least, had been watched by ReTan since before she was born, and her family secrets were not secret to the Twin Emperors. Her and her father's business now seemed insignificant in the face of the revelation that giant sky cephalopods from hell were a thing, and were probably not very happy with her and her friends right now. Ordinarily, she'd skip town if someone came looking for her with murderous intent unannounced, but leaving Sipentia
seemed just a bit out of reach in the current year. Still, business goes on. I need a drink,
she thought irritably, taking a drink from her gourd.
In that exact moment, she didn't appear as herself; she was a regular, average-looking male student of Ersand'Enise, slumming around Mudville—and just then, she heard a very interesting rumor. Xiuyang sighed. It was a complicated sigh. She had been so caught up in her own misfortunes that she'd forgotten to worry about Ashon. It was a sigh of both relief and disappointment in herself. Still, she couldn't help but feel slightly elated, even if her heart was weighed down by a mountain of worries. Finally, Jamboi's group had returned home safe.
She wasted no time in crossing the entirety of Ersand'Enise to get to the north wall and enter into the foliage of Hedda's Lake, passing the conspicuous island and heading towards the gazebo next to the Ever Tree. As she passed through the less-traveled brush, she withdrew her mask from her bag and put it on herself as her face twisted in agony. She grit her teeth as her body slowly
shrunk in height, inch by excruciating inch, for several minutes. Transforming relatively quickly was becoming easier for her, but it would never be easy
in that respect. It would always be painful, from what she knew about Facemimicry—the Solari family's most well-kept secret.
Xiuyang jumped across the river and up the branches of the tree one by one using her kinetic boots and a bit of levitation magic. She was getting used to this climb after falling just once or twice or... well, she made it this time, and that's what counts. She entered the Ever Tree house: built using a blend of living wood, woven vines and enchanted crystals that softly illuminated the interior with a gentle, ethereal glow. The structure itself appeared as if it had organically grown from the tree, its walls curving and intertwining with the branches. Sunlight filtered through the leafy canopy of the Ever Tree, casting dappled patterns across the polished wooden floor of the common room, a sprawling circular space with an open-concept layout that seamlessly merged with the tree's interior. Plush rugs made from natural fibers in earthy tones softened the seating areas.
As the heart of the shared space, the common room served as both a place for study and relaxation. Lush cushions and woven hammocks were arranged in cozy corners, offering a comfortable space for the six Yasoi students to unwind, read, or converse. Standing enigmatic and somewhat out-of-place was a magnificent suit of armor standing atop an intricately carved wooden platform. The suit of armor stood at a lofty 7 feet, its metal gleaming softly with an otherworldly luminescence. Resting in the armor's hands was a grand claymore, its blade gleaming with hints of enchantment. Xiuyang eyed the conspicuous new set of armor that definitely
wasn't there before with no small amount of suspicion. Its magical-looking blade immediately drew her attention and her curiosity. Someone had just left
such a valuable-looking thing unattended?
No, she felt eyes on her—and the Ever Tree was always quieter than the rest of Ersand'Enise, but it was too damn quiet
today. She just wasn't sure from where the eyes were watching. Instinctively, she dipped behind a bookshelf and merged with the shadows, feeling a bit foolish but playing it safe as always. Seeing no one, she eventually approached the armor warily, dismissing her nerves as superstitious and admiring it. As it stood on the ornamental platform, she failed to notice that it was more or less precisely Ashon's height. "Rather dashing, I must say. Someone's very lucky to have you."
The suit of armour appeared to remain inanimate as she approached. And as she spoke, the temptation became too great. The voice that emerged was deep and reverberated from inside the armour. “Why, thank you. You are a beautiful young lass yourself.”
As if the suit of armour were being brought to life, it began to move, at first in an exaggerated manner, then it became more purposeful. Its titanic frame was imposing; it could easily appear as though it could swallow Ashon whole. “Young Maiden, I am an Armour Golem. I have come seeking a worthy challenger.”
Its hands lifted the heavy sword as if it were a weightless trinket. “I am known by many names: the Grand Gorilla, the Gleaming Goliath, the Gargantuan, and the Gleeful Guardian.”
The armoured helm peered down toward the staff attached to the girl’s back. “Do you come here to prove your worth?”
As soon as the armor showed signs of movement, Xiuyang instinctively backed away with a kinetically powered jump, surprise evident on her face. "If you're seeking a worthy opponent, you've certainly come to the right school. Me, though? Well, I'm just a sidekick, really,"
she scoffed, with a visible shrug and a definite note of self-deprecation. Even so, she took her new staff in hand and twirled it rather fabulously. She was experienced enough to know a few moves. "Seriously though, who are you? You didn't just waltz into Ersand'Enise without papers, looking like that. Even I could never pull that off."
Her face suddenly became serious as she considered, after the events in ReTan and the Forbidden Quarter, the possibility of something beyond the power of Arch-Zenos.
Then, she raised a brow, some of the figure's words only catching up to her after a pause. She had her suspicions about who was inside the armor. She had to be sure, though—so she reached out to sense what she could of her sudden opponent. She focused on matter and heat. Unless the suit or its occupant repelled her, she could recognize the man inside. Xiuyang never forgot a face, and she was also familiar with a few of the students' circulatory systems— "Land on your feet!"
The colossal figure of the golem suddenly bellowed, its voice resonating like thunder. Swiftly, it scooped up the girl, and with a powerful thrust, propelled her out of the tree house's window. Before Xiuyang could protest, she was swept off her feet and hurled through the air for the second time that week. All right, Shune, I get it. I need to learn more gods-damned kinetic magic,
she thought bitterly as she instinctively righted herself in the air and landed on her feet like a cat. The towering golem, an imposing sight in its massive suit of armour, then strode purposefully to the doorway, its gaze fixed on her. "Good, you think fast,"
it rumbled in a deep voice, its expression hidden behind the visage of its metal helmet. With a swift motion, it hurled a claymore before Xiuyang, the blade embedding itself firmly into the ground. In the next moment, it leapt gracefully from the tree house, as it landed on the sword, and with a flourish, it dismounted the pommel of the claymore, its armoured boots barely making a sound as they met the earth. "A side-kick? No, one must always aim to be the hero in the story,"
it declared with a mischievous tone, its gauntleted hand scratching its chin in mock contemplation. "And what a good protagonist requires is a brilliant antagonist. Someone preferably tall, menacing, and secretly handsome."
The metal helm turned, its eye slits conveying a playful expression as it regarded Xiuyang. "What do you say?"
it inquired, as if inviting her to partake in a grand adventure.
The "golem" had warned her beforehand, which only made sense if he understood the boots she wore. His teasing words and playful body language were very on-brand for Jamboi as well. Normally, she'd play along with his antics, but today... something snapped. Sure, her Yasoi friend had likely gotten a hold of some new armor, wanted to show it off, and decided to play a prank—but also, who could say some shady, vile creature with their eyes on Xiuyang hadn't damn well teleported this "armour golem" into the Ever Tree, and it didn't just fucking eat
Jamboi like some kind of body snatcher, absorbing his body, personality, soul, and all? If giant calamari demons were real, what else in the five hells was possible in this madhouse called Sipentia?
Before replying, Xiuyang uncorked her gourd and threw her head back, taking a long chug. "I say you've taken this joke far enough, Jambino, and you'd better take that fuckin' helmet off and show me your face, or I'll kick your ass so hard you'll have the taste of my foot in your mouth for a week."
A feisty response, and one that was typical of Xiuyang when she was moody. Something had definitely happened while he was away, and it wasn't good, whatever it was.
The armoured suit remained motionless, its gaze fixed on her. Its deep voice emerged in a deadpan manner, "Still got the aftertaste from the last pair of sandals you wore."
There was a pause, as if for mock contemplation. "It was that secretly handsome part that gave it away, wasn't it?"
Despite the hidden visage of the helm, a hidden smile seemed to lurk beneath its tone. "Calling me beautiful gave it away,"
Xiuyang responded with a sigh and notes of exasperation. "—but I had to be sure. ...Sorry. I didn't come here to yell at you, or hit you."
She averted her eyes, gazing out at the lake.
His attention shifted back to the tree, the expression on the helm retaining its stoic façade. "The tree house is going to be a lot quieter from now on."
A pause followed, and then he turned his attention back to her. "Mandelein was cruel to our suunei. Ismet has joined with the trees, Casii has departed, and Ymiico is damaged. Esmii is a Semprii; she will not take it well."
Xiuyang's face fell as Ashon gave her the news. She'd certainly thought it odd that no one else was in the Ever Tree when she'd arrived. Her instincts didn't lie; she knew it was too quiet. Now she knew why. She didn't know what to say, but her eyes said it all.
He paused once again, before addressing her initial request. "This thing weighs like half a tonne. We might want to head back up there before I remove it. Need a lift?"
With that, he crouched down, extending his hands to offer her a step up, facilitating her return to the tree house. Instead of stepping onto his hands, though, she sat,
putting an arm around his shoulders. "Don't, throw me again,"
she insisted, jabbing his new helm on its forehead with a finger before holding on. "...I'm glad you're safe,"
Xiuyang finally said. It was a weary, raspy voice that very few had ever heard. It was Xiuyang's true voice, muffled by the mask she wore. She only used it with her closest friends, at times like this, when expressing utmost sincerity was of paramount importance to her.
Ashon's curiosity was evident in his gaze as she cradled him within her arms. He reciprocated her embrace, holding her securely with one hand while he reached for the claymore with the other. "I'm glad you're safe too,"
the metallic timbre of his words echoed from within the armour, though he meant them sincerely. His attention shifted towards the Tree House, his eyes hidden behind the visor, but a mischievous smirk played on his lips. "Then hold on, beautiful,"
he declared, his tone teasing as he crouched down and then propelled himself upwards, carrying her effortlessly into the tree house.
Neither could see the other's face, but there was no need. Xiuyang's eyes betrayed a smile and she could hear the grin on Ashon's face as he spoke. Though these signs wouldn't be so obvious to others, the two knew them well. She scoffed at being called "beautiful" again, her mask spitting out a stream of cumulated dust out the side as she subtly rolled her eyes. She held on, not as tightly as the first time he brought her to the Ever Tree, but close. It was a somewhat nostalgic feeling, being lifted up as Ashon took to the air, though the armor did get in the way a little. Xiuyang snickered a bit as she remembered how much convincing it took to let him carry her the first time. She'd supposed she would be glad when she learned enough kinetic to ascend the branches herself, but the eventual reality was disappointment.
Yeah. She missed this feeling.
With a swift and graceful motion, they landed at the entrance. He released her gently, allowing her to settle on her feet, and then he followed her inside. In the confines of the tree house, Ashon found a comfortable spot. He started to remove the components of the armor, one piece at a time. As the heavy metal parts came off, his frame seemed visibly relieved of the burden. The top half of the suit was discarded, revealing his bared form. He grinned warmly at her, his chest exposed. "Just a couple of nicks and scars, but you should see the other guy,"
he quipped, his playful demeanour evident even without the armour. "I'm glad you finally got something decent, but, you sure it's not too heavy?"
she teased. Shrugging, she approached him, inspecting his new trophies—and the armor. "You 'liberate' these new toys from that guy? Truthfully, I'd rather hear about your exploits than recount my own this time around. Also... what happened,"
she added wistfully, referring to Ismet, Casii, and Ymiico. Xiuyang wasn't close with all
of the Yasoi'riimel, but she did care for them. Looking over his newest scars, she traced one with her finger. "Any you want to keep?"
He paused theatrically, his voice carrying the undertones of a bard spinning a tale. "Ah, these humble trinkets?"
His fingers fluttered in a dismissive motion. "Mere relics from an ancient armoury concealed beneath the shroud of a crypt, hardly worth mention."
Xiuyang worked on healing Ashon's scars more permanently, grinning as he went into his story mode. Robbing the grave were we?
she thought but didn't say, unwilling to interrupt. He was trying to soften the blow, she knew. It probably wasn't going to help much, but... let the man give it a shot.
Ashon was acutely aware that the Yanii girl harboured an aversion to scars, a peculiar quirk he had memorized. She made certain that any remnants of such marks were diligently erased. He flexed his muscles with a dramatic flair, a performance to mask the residual twinge of pain from the healing process, as if flicking away discomfort like a pesky insect. "but listen closely, for our saga takes a dark turn,"
he continued. "We were cast into the wilderness, ambushed by brigands hungry for trouble. A town, who saw us as a foe, we strove to save from the clutches of its smuggling scourge."
Snap! His fingers conjured a vivid memory. "Ah! I, the Monkey King, was challenged by an Alpha Gorilla, a clash of titans in a dance of destiny. Triumph was mine, and with my rescued simian brothers rallied behind, we surged forth into the fray."
So, the town they had been trying to help saw them as a nuisance. It reminded her of ReTan. Truly, no good deed goes unpunished, Xiuyang thought cynically, letting out a little inaudible scoff as Ashon made a complete footnote of his duel with a challenger whose name she'd forgotten just as quickly as he glossed over it.
His tone shifted, a dramatic pause to emphasize the shift to graver events. "Yet, tragedy did ensue. Casii, driven to the brink, dabbled in forbidden blood magic, crafting a golem of flesh and bone, shattering the ship we sought to commandeer."
She paused as Ashon mentioned blood magic, as if expecting a lecture that never came. He knew of her curiosity regarding the potential of using blood magic to augment her abilities as a healer. However, she'd never dared to use it after the first time, done once in secret with horrible results and never again—but finally an opportunity had come for her to partner with Trypano on the matter. Did she dare tell him?
...No. Not yet. "On the homeward journey, grim tidings awaited,"
he intoned solemnly, his voice laden with the weight of the narrative. "The town, once inhospitable, now swarmed with Corrupted Wolf Wildbloods – a ravenous pack of six hundred. We were marked as their next feast, a desperate fight for survival our only recourse. Even the very priest, once the beacon of faith, transfigured into a monstrous abomination to silence our tale."
A fleeting smile played on his lips. "But our tenacity prevailed, with young Kaspar's aid, I felled the monstrosity." "But alas,"
he said, the tone of his recitation turning sombre, "Isii and Manfred encountered the smugglers' cunning leader, a rogue girl hailing from my own realm, christened 'The Mad Avatar' by some. Yet her title belies the truth, for she's naught but a wayward soul."
As the narrative neared its conclusion, his expression grew serious. "I have been far from my homeland too long..."
wildbloods later—yet again glossed over as if it were no special thing—the news finally came. The Mad Avatar—one more colorful character to add to Sipentia's cast of unfathomable, despicable beings. How many more would line themselves up in her path and hack away at every leg she had to stand on?
Mere days ago, she'd felt on top of the world.
Now, she felt so, so small.
Slowly, quietly, she wept—for Ismet, in spite of herself. She had been a nuisance, but also an amusing one. Each antic of hers was another hilarious story she'd hear from an animated Jamboi. She encouraged Xiuyang to be herself, even if it was in her own inappropriate way. It was perhaps because of her that she became a real friend to the Yasoi'riimel. Her old self would have kept them at arm's length, like she did her fellow humans. "And Casii? Ymiico?"
she asked after a pause. "As the battle's curtains fell, both Casii and Ymiico found themselves laid low,"
he recounted, his voice tinged with both gravity and melancholy. "While Casii's revival was a relatively straightforward affair, the news of Isii's passing wrought a silent departure from her. My hunch places her in the embrace of Tarlon.”
He wondered how she would fare in the woods and if she would achieve the solace she sought.
His tone turned sombre as he shifted focus to Ymiico's ordeal. "As for Ymiico, she emerged from Eschiran's clutches, yet the ordeal shattered something within her,"
he explained, tapping his temple lightly. "A wound unseen, but deeply felt. She remains changed."
With a gentleness that belied his lively demeanour, he affectionately patted Xiuyang's head. "And now, it is your turn. Ready to unburden yourself?"
Xiuyang dried her tears. Tarlon.
Just how much should she tell him? Ashon deserved an answer in kind, yet she knew she was in a very delicate situation. It wouldn't do to have him on bad terms with her new business partners. He didn't need to know all the minutiae of it. The fact that they knew she was coming, and laced her ceremonial garb with plushtail oil, or how they threatened the Tarlonese Yasoi if she didn't cooperate. That was a settled matter.
Perhaps it was an excuse. Maybe she feared Ashon's disappointment or rejection, if he did not agree with her decision. It was something that couldn't have crossed her mind when her life was on the line, along with so many others, but now it stuck like a needle in the heart. "Well, I finally visited ReTan, like I always wanted,"
she began with a positive note. "Met the Twin Emperors. One of them is nice, the other is un cazzo. One of their Black Guard is so very much like me. You'd like him, I think."
She remembered Mountain Spring fondly, and considered showing Jamboi the gourd, but thought better of it. She had no way of knowing how strong the alcohol was, or what kind of effect it would have on the Yasoi. It certainly wasn't ordinary alcohol, that much was certain. Letting him drink it might be bad for him. "There was a rebellion there, and I only arrived in time for the final battle. It was a bloodbath, with the sanguinaires on one side, and dragons and ogauraq on the other. It was decided that we would all choose who to side with. In a remarkable show of unity, we all chose to support the Twin Emperors,"
she said, omitting Trypano's indecisiveness, or that she'd be working with her more in future. "The dragons didn't like that. Neither did the knowers, apparently. It was my first time seeing one. Eye as big as a mountain, tendrils the size of fucking rivers..."
She shivered. The knower titan had shaken her.
Ashon's smile remained fixed as he listened to her explanation, though some of the terminologies such as "Ogauraq" or "Knowers" eluded his understanding. However, his imaginative mind painted vivid mental images, conjuring scenes of epic battles between the fearsome Sanguinaires and formidable Dragons. The mention of a colossal kraken surfacing in those waters seemed logical; Ashon was familiar with tales attributing tsunamis to such massive sea creatures along the shores of ReTan and Nikan. The hyperbolic depiction of the kraken's size, likened to that of a mountain, clearly left a terrifying impact on her. "Ah, so it seems Calamari might be best left for another day, then?"
Xiuyang scoffed, delivering a light punch to his abdomen, but grinned stupidly anyway. It was enough to get her mind off of that terrifying image, at least, imagining this tower of a man looming over a much smaller cephalopod on a plate. However, she remembered something else—a burden she was carrying alone at the moment.
She sat down on the raised platform Jamboi had been standing on before. "There's someone I'm avoiding at the moment, so I might start coming here more often when he's in town. Dapper Revidian gentleman, with black hair, goatee,"
she described Mr. Solari. "Calls himself my dad, y'know. Weirdo. He pissed me off, so we're not really on speaking terms right now."
He settled into a chair, propping his feet up on the table in front of him. "Well, if you've got some Dad issues to work out, you're in the right company here,"
he quipped with a grin. "Join the club, right?"
His expression widened into a playful smile as he continued, "During every Victendes, we trade stories about our respective family quirks. Like Casii's tales of her grandmother keeping the family in line, or how I went through a phase thinking my name was 'Dii' (No) for a good stretch."
His thoughts briefly wandered, wondering what kind of extravagance old man Revan'cecil'loiyang was indulging in up in his lavish tree house. "But hey, if you prefer, we can always pretend it's Victendes,"
he added, a hint of jest in his voice.
Xiuyang was silent for a long moment as she considered whether or not to say more. In her heart of hearts, she knew that Ashon would always be a friend, but a small part of her had always hoped that the stars might align such that they could be more. However, contrary to her given nickname, she was most certainly not "beautiful." Her marriage prospects were dubious at best and only grew smaller with each year that passed. Her one and only redeeming feature, her business acumen, would be drawn into question if she were to reveal what was about to happen to her—not that it mattered that much, she supposed. Maura would likely hear the news first, and it would surely spread from there.
In the end, Xiuyang's anxiety led to impatience.
She needed clarity and reassurance like she needed her next breath. If she couldn't trust Jamboi, then who? If he wouldn't stick by her when the storm flattened everything she was, then who? "My father will be removing me from his company soon. ...Just as the draft ends. Once I'm safe from the war for the time being... that's—that's it,"
she said weakly. Admitting it to Jamboi, in some way felt a bit like giving up, which brought a tear to her eye when she thought none were left. "Seems silly to cry about it when there's so many more worse things, but I..."
She barely held back a sob. "If I could have kept living the merchant life with my dad instead of going to Ersand'Enise, I would have! This was what I wanted! Why couldn't he see that?! This was—I gave up everything for this life—I have to hide my face now!"
she blurted out unthinkingly amidst the torrent of emotion. She covered her eyes with her elbow. She felt many things in this moment, shame most of all.
He tilted his head to the side, his expression both sympathetic to her and disapproving of her father as he listened to Xiuyang. It was clear that this wasn't his area of expertise, and it seemed like she was seeking comfort more than advice. With a gentle movement, he brought his feet down from the table and drew closer to her, wrapping his arms around her in a comforting hug. He shushed her soothingly and held her close for a moment, offering silent support. "So, are we going to be playing pranks on a Dapper Revidian when he drops into town?"
He flashed her a mischievous grin as he pulled away slightly, trying to lighten the mood. "But you always have us, Suunei. As the Yanii saying goes, it's about the family you choose, not the one you get stuck with." Suunei.
Never before had Xiuyang imagined a single word could be so soothing—but, never before had she been brought so low. As she dried her tears, she considered Ashon's words, as well as Ten-Re's. Of course, she didn't "hate" her father. Did she want to get back at him? Not really—well, maybe just a little. She hadn't exactly asked her father why he was doing this, as she wasn't supposed to know he was doing it in the first place. No... it was because she was terrified of the answer. Better to assume that Ten-Re was right; he was a wise elder sanguinaire, after all, and also a father. Still, it meant that her father thought her weak, when she knew—what she believed to be true—she was stronger than him. "I know what I need to do—no, not what I need to do, precisely—what I should have done already."
She nervously clawed at the side of her mask with a fingernail. "...I haven't earned that title. Suunei. I've never been an open supporter of the Yasoi. I've kept it to myself and those I know will listen and take it well. I've taken no risks, hiding who I am as if it were something shameful."
There was a glint of anger at herself forming in her eyes. "No more hiding. I've done it because 'it's the Solari way,' but that's just an excuse to be a coward like my father."
She found herself thinking back to Ten-Jiu's words, now—about how she'd been wasting her potential. Perhaps it was the fear of being rejected by her father that kept her from any bold moves that could make a difference. Now, she was filled with the spirit of having nothing left to lose. Of course, the Twin Emperors had just finished praising her for being discreet, so they would probably not approve—but what kind of person takes advice from elder sanguinaires over their conscience, anyhow? "If it pisses him off, I'll consider that a bonus. I just hope I have the courage."
Ashon simply listened and waited as Xiuyang continued her discussion, observing as she debated with that inner voice and expressed her thoughts out loud. He tilted his head and then smiled. "If you're open to some advice, I have some,"
he offered. Xiuyang glanced back at Ashon, expectantly and anxiously. It wasn't clear what she hoped or dreaded to hear, but as usual, Ashon cleanly dodged her expectations. Shifting into a posture that conveyed wisdom and sagely guidance, he brought his hand to his chin. "What do you wish for?"
He tapped his head. "The first thing that comes to mind, without judgments or overthinking like a yanii. Focus on what you want."
He nodded encouragingly. "Now, go and pursue it."
Surprisingly, he asked her much the same question as Sage-Emperor Ten-Re—yet he also added something that caused her to scoff in amusement; indeed, her way of overthinking and overanalyzing was as much a curse as it was a blessing. He made it sound so easy, just tossing aside the judgments of others. "You'd laugh if I told you,"
she said. Then, quickly realizing she'd missed the point of the exercise, she went on. "I want to travel. Put a pin in every country on the map, experience every culture, have stories to tell about each one. It just... seems so childish, now, so backwards. Only important people with something unique to offer, or rich people with the means get to travel like that. Those are life goals; traveling is just a perk. My dream is to travel, preferably with friends or family. The reason why doesn't really matter. ...Like I said, backwards."
Ashon's grin widened as he listened to her answer. "Travelling is a wonderful idea! Unlike those Yanii, you don't need a lavish budget or a meticulously planned itinerary. You just throw on your trusty boots and follow the whims of the wind. That's how I ended up here,"
he explained with a playful tap to his own nose, as if sharing some profound secret of the universe.
Just... travel? Like that? Put on her Sea Legs and go? It seemed so fanciful, like a fairy tale; or a privateer's tale, she supposed. Not a well thought out plan, at any rate, which simply wasn't her style. She felt she needed a "why" and "how," not just a "when" and "where." In a pinch, though, perhaps just a "who" would do—indeed, there was something else she wanted, too: to one day be able to take off her mask—but that would require her to reach heights of talent she could scarcely imagine herself reaching alone. Yet, reach it alone she must, or else she would pay the price. Realizing that she looked as if she had something else on her mind, she continued speaking. "...Your homeland. If you're itching to go... I'd love to get to see it with you,"
His expression shifted to one of concern. "But, Xiuyang, something's not right back there. Something's gone terribly wrong, and it desperately needs to be set right,"
he said sombrely. He sat up and stretched, his features settling into a more serious tone. "Normally, I'd say no and insist you stay right here, safe and sound. But the truth is, I'll need all the help I can get to clean up this mess. So, if you're truly eager to volunteer, I won't stand in your way."
With a contemplative look, Ashon moved towards the window, gazing out at the sprawling cityscape below. "There are a few people we should meet here first. After that, what do you say? Will you join me on this journey to make things right?" "Well, you didn't think I was planning a vacation, did you?"
she said as she rose, dusting off her legs, staff in hand. "Could tell from the way you said it that it wouldn't be a social visit."
Walking over to Ashon, she placed a hand on his arm. "You're strong, and not alone. We'll make it right, Jamboi."
Resolve in her eyes, Xiuyang stood quietly next to her friend. She had no idea that the chance to prove her convictions was just around the corner. A path was chosen for her; her course was set, her upcoming decision inevitable.
It was fait accompli.