The tower chamber slowly grew darker as the sun began to descend.
Zilan, still in the same position stared at the plain white ceiling, lost in deep thought.
He suddenly remembered something and almost unwillingly decided to get up. He walked towards where he threw the small book and after a short search, picked it up and with trembling hands, he stuffed it in his chest pocket.
He then took a deep breath before heading out of the chamber and leaving the tower.
As soon as he came out, the two guards were prepared to give him a magnificent thank you speech filled with overwhelming praise and admiration. However, once they saw the gloomy and almost detached expression on Zilan’s face, they both simultaneously looked the other way, not daring to even glance back from the corner of their eyes.
They feared the possibility of their words having the opposite effect, resulting in the amethyst coin being taken back and that was one thing they definitely could not allow to happen as they had already budgeted on how they were going to spend their newly acquired funds.
Zilan paid no attention to the guards’ actions, quickly passing them by, much to their relief. He then moved towards a small brothel in the market and purchased a large bottle of fine wine, placing it in his void sack.
Before he left though, Zilan took a look around and saw that hardly anyone was on the streets, with store owners closing shop.
“So the nightly auction has begun.” thought Zilan as he fastened his pace towards the Dual Winged Sparrow.
It didn’t take long for Zilan to arrive home, however, this time instead of heading in through the front entrance, he instead passed through the kitchen door, located at the back of the restaurant.
Once he entered, it was almost like he had stepped into another world. Loud yet soothing music played, reaching every corner of the fine establishment.
The sounds of cooks shouting, clouds of steam from boiling pots obstructing his view and best of all, the sweet aroma of rare delicacies forcing its way into his nostrils.
Zilan quickly ran into his room, closing the door behind him. He placed the bottle of fine wine on Solmo’s pillow and then jumped onto his own bed, immediately closing his eyes.
His breathing quickened and his body began to faintly jerk as he clutched his head, crying, “No, No!”
Images of two people, whose faces Zilan couldn’t make out appeared in his mind but from what he could tell one was male and the other female.
A third figure appeared running towards the two people screaming and laughing as he carried a small spear with him.
That person was someone Zilan knew very well. It was him as a child but for some unknown reason, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t make out the faces of the other two figures who he assumed were his parents.
The three of them were in a shallow stream, his mother washed clothes as she sang a weird melody,
Once came, once went
Too far he ran, Oh why can we not follow~
We strive and fight to catch all but a single drop,
The future is bright and we shall rise so rejoice the people of Zaum.
For some reason whenever he heard this tune, he would always feel a sudden urge to sleep and this time was no different. His father caught him dozing and threw him into the river before shouting,
We didn’t come here to play, now grab your spear, it’s time to earn your food.
Zilan’s mother giggled when she saw the two of them. However, she did not say anything.
Suddenly, Zilan’s body began to violently shake, the images of him and his parents grew distorted and blurry until it finally disappeared, only darkness remaining.
Come here, little one. There’s someone who really wants to meet you.
From the darkness, fiery flames that rose so high that even the sun was blocked out appeared. An outline of a face could be seen within the flames, a fiendish smile that spread from cheek to cheek, dark cold narrow eyes and a frightening laugh all combined to make it seem like the devil himself had appeared.
Zilan’s eyes abruptly opened, he slowly sat up as beads of sweat dripped down his face. He ground his teeth together and clenched his fists so hard that his fingernails were digging into the skin on his palm.
“That man, he did this to me….”
Just as Zilan was lost in thought, the door of the room suddenly opened.
“Zilan, it’s almost time to open….is something the matter!?”
Zilan’s uncle walked into the room shouting, however, once he saw him, he couldn’t help but be taken aback.
Zilan was lying face stuffed into his pillow as he quietly groaned.
“What do I do? What do I do?” causing his Uncle to be alarmed.
“Nephew, what’s wrong? Did something happen at the market?”
Zilan shook his head as he mumbled through the pillow,
“I promised to meet with Hula today but I ended up forgetting!”
His Uncle sighed as he moved closer towards Zilan,
“Don’t worry about that. Hula’s a good girl, I doubt she’ll think too much of it. Now dress up, customers will be arriving soon and I need you upstairs in the Lounge of Joy.”
Zilan nodded and his uncle left the room in a rather happy mood. However, once the door locked his face turned dark.
“Uncle, this is something I must never let you find out. Never!”
After the time it would take one to drink a cup of tea, Zilan came out of his room. He had changed into a pale blue changshan and his hair was now unbound, flowing all the way to his waist.
He then headed towards a certain corner in the kitchen where only three items were placed. A fairly large pot of custard, a bunch of bowls and a serving spoon.
He placed the bowls and the serving spoon on top of the pot and then carried all three with him up the spiraling stairs and into the Lounge of Joy.
Zilan placed the items in the middle of the room and proceeded to sit at the absolute back of the room with his back against the wall, closing his eyes to rest.
A few moments later, faint knocking sounds came from the lounge door.
Zilan rubbed his eyes and smacked his face a few times before saying,
As soon as he said that, the door opened and in walked a rather old man with a huge well-groomed beard, dark brown hair, blue eyes and wearing clothes that were only fit for nobility. Behind him, a beautiful young maiden with deep blue eyes, wearing a loose top and a rather long skirt that only served to showcase her slender, svelte figure.
Zilan stared wide-eyed at the pair and couldn’t help but stand up,
“Mr. Laus, Miss Hula…Why have you come here today so suddenly?”
Hearing this, Hula’s brow slightly twitched while Mr. Laus simply chuckled as he stroked his beard,
“How many times must I say to call me Uncle, who is this Mr. You keep referring to…hmmm? As for why we’re here, is this not a business that thrives on its ability to attract PAYING customers, or am I somehow mistaken?”
Zilan quickly regained his composure as he gestured to the two of them to take a seat.
“How many bowls would you like?” asked Zilan in the politest tone he was capable of.
“Just one, I’ll be leaving soon anyway,” replied Mr. Laus as he raised one finger up.
Zilan filled a single bowl with custard and passed it to Mr. Laus who quickly placed it in his void sack, stood up and left the room.
“I’ll leave you two to talk!”
Haa~…Just how did this all happen.
A few years ago, Zilan and Hula were really close friends. They would run around the market causing mischief together and for some reason were always together.
However, once they grew a bit older, reality finally struck. Zilan was the nephew of a small-time merchant who owned a small noodle stall by the side of the road while Hula was the daughter of a noble who also happened to be of royal blood, which really didn’t mean much.
After all, who could count the number of small town nobles the royals had played around with throughout their lives but nevertheless that did not change the fact that they were still of Royal blood and as such were of a different class.
Time came for Hula to attend lessons on etiquette and manners which as expected caused a drastic change to happen within her. She was no longer the wild, free-spirited Hula that Zilan knew, replacing her was the typical noble lady, nose held high, perfect posture, classy speech. Basically, the old Hula was gone or so Zilan had thought.
More time passed and Hula began to open up to Zilan about life and how boring it had become, and with that their old relationship had been rekindled. However, Hula’s father caught wind of Hula’s strange behavior whenever she was around Zilan and so using various means found a way to keep the two apart.
This was also around the time that the Dual-Winged Sparrow was swiftly rising to popularity.
Surprisingly something unexpected happened, Laus came up to Zilan one day and was extremely nice to him. Showering him with praises and in the end, even proposed an engagement between Hula and him.
Zilan didn’t know how something like this happened and no matter how hard he thought about it, the answers continued to elude him.
Unable to come to an understanding of the situation, Zilan just shrugged it off, assuming that the sudden rise of the Dual-Winged Sparrow was the cause of this.
He turned down the engagement proposal of course, despite Laus’s advances with the excuse of not being worthy enough for Hula and that the two were merely close friends.
Zilan and Hula sat silently within the room, no sound whatsoever being made.
A few minutes passed and still no one said anything but then suddenly a loud yet sweet sounding sigh sounded out,
“Ahh~ Why do you always have to be like this? Am I really that bad?” pouted Hula as she stared at Zilan unblinkingly.
“It’s not that I don’t care for you but right now, I cannot be bothered with any matters that will distract me from my duties,” replied Zilan as he smiled.
“You always say that…duties, duties… What duties are these that are so important?” Hula began moving closer to Zilan, crawling on all fours as her deep blue eyes focused on Zilan.
Zilan didn’t reply.
Just as her face was only a finger’s length away from Zilan’s, Hula’s movements stopped. She then sat down and pulled out a small golden card from her void sack, placing it on Zilan’s lap.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“It’s an invitation to tomorrows nightly auction, Father insisted that I invite you. So there….”
Zilan picked the golden card up and immediately passed it back to Hula,
“I’m sorry but I’ll have to decline!”
Hula rolled her eyes as if expecting this, she then grabbed hold of Zilan’s hand, placing it on her cheek,
“Are you really going to leave poor Hula alone with those boring old men?” gasped Hula in a manner that caused even Zilan’s face to flush red.
My God, is this what all noble girls are taught?
“Fine, I’ll accompany you.”
Hearing this, a rather innocent smile graced Hula’s small face.
“I’ll go tell Father!”