Chapter 46: Rivalry

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There were factions among us that wished to create the best of the best, the paragons of our Godless virtue that we could aspire to. There was no shame, no wrong, in ambition. But when our betterment was achieved at another's expense, that was when the good turned to evil.


Ten Years Ago


Po Shun felt his friend's labored breath, heard the ever so quiet grunts of pain. He could feel his friend stagger and limp, one leg too bruised to walk on. Every step that Laidu took was punctuated by a ragged breath. Po Shun's friend leaned against him.

"Don't worry," he said to Laidu. "We're almost home." Laidu didn't really answer, but Po Shun took the half-grunt, half-whimper as a response.

Laidu sagged to one side and sat down on a small boulder with a hiss of pain. Po Shun sat next to him, arm still around his friend's shoulders. "You think you can make it?" Po Shun asked. Laidu assented with a grunt. "Rest for a minute," Po Shun said. A trickle of blood dripped out of the corner of Laidu's mouth and traced a scarlet line down his chin.

About a minute later, Laidu was ready to get up. It was good timing too, as Po Shun noticed the snow was beginning to pick up, and the young man was starting to shiver. Po Shun stood, and lifted his friend up, and the two of them kept marching, as the snow picked up.

It took only a minute for the storm to pick up. Soon, the soft, heavy snowflakes had shed their fluff, and had turned into teeth, shards of ice cutting into Po Shun's face. Laidu didn't seem to mind it. Then again, he had worse pains to deal with.

The two boys, one weighed down by his limping friend, began to work their way through the snowed in living quarters of the mountaintop complex. Po Shun's boots crunched in snow that had been frosted with a parchment thin layer of ice, and every step punched another hole in it. Grimly, he noticed that Laidu left a similar trail, except with one difference; between the footprints were a few crimson drops that stained the ice red.

Po Shun kept them between houses, in the alleyways, using the old, grey timber walls as cover from the sudden blizzard. Most people had the sense to get indoors by this time. Then again, most of them weren't carrying around a friend who was bleeding.

Po Shun saw his house through a veil of howling wind and ice. "Almost there," he said. Immediately he regretted the decision. The frigid air stung into his teeth, and every breath he took made that ache ever so sharper. Laidu didn't seem to mind, but he was bleeding. Doubtless, other things occupied his mind.

Every step the two of them took encrusted Po Shun's cloak and Laidu's tunic with another layer of frost. What didn't sting their faces weighed them down.

He saw his home's door, only a few feet in front of him, but to Po Shun, it might have been eternity. He pulled Laidu through the snow and wind, before hammering on the door. The cold soaked into him, clawing its way into his flesh, slowing every movement he made. Laidu groaned in pain.

What happened next was dim. Po Shun remembered hands grabbing him, pulling him in. Hushed voices, words inaudible, cascaded over him. His cloak was taken off, and his body laid right next to the hearth. That felt good. That felt really good. The warmth soaked into his bones, banishing the cold like a demon of death fleeing from a righteous man's faith.

It may have been an hour, or a minute, or a few seconds, but Po Shun turned to see his mother and Wulan over Laidu. Wulan had the boy's head in her lap, supporting him, her hands dabbing an ointment on his eye. Po Shun didn't know how well that would help, seeing as Laidu didn't have skin. Suyin, his mother, had the large painted urn, wider than it was tall, that they stored bandages and medicines in, and was reaching in for bandages. "Get the shirt off, Wulan," she ordered. "I need to see the extent of the bruising."

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