Flight of the Phoenix

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Nabi, Jul 6, 2013.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. The winter that year was long and cold; the snow came down from the mountains earlier and heavier than most years, and it overstayed its welcome by more than a month. Reports of starvation came from the north, and the south worked itself to the bone making up for the deficit, planting crops as soon as the snow melted and sending any excess to help. Even more serious, to the minds of the court, was the sudden illness of the emperor, which had appeared just as suddenly as the snows, but showed no sign of thawing. The physicians were frantic, and within the machinations of the court, factions were emerging and plans were forming.

    Such were the troubles on the mind of Alyeong, twenty as of the last new year, illegitimate child of the Marshal of the South with a lady-in-waiting, and bodyguard to the Princess since birth, the product of being reared by the more mundane parts of the Imperial Household. To his mind, the current situation might be likened to skating on rotten ice, unaware of the pitfalls beneath one's feet. Of course, his job was to find pitfalls and steer the princess away from them.

    He raised a flask, plain copper unlike his father's jeweled silver, to his lips, sipping the wine absentmindedly as he leaned against the wooden screen door to the princess' apartments. It was reasonable to assume that no one would poison an insignificant attendant such as himself. No, any danger in the court generally came late at night, when even guards slept, or at larger occasions, when it was near to impossible to pinpoint the man or woman who slipped poison into a cup. The first was his current concern. Though a pretense of friendliness was still apparent, his instincts had told him that court tensions were rising. The only question he had was who would attack first.

    He tensed suddenly, startled back to awareness, as a sound reached his ears, the soft and unmistakable click of a sword being drawn, followed by a loud clashing of steel on steel. He dropped the flask, wine spilling everywhere-- should have chosen the black clothes instead of these green ones--, and fumbled for his sword, his mind working furiously. The fight was only about a hundred meters away from him, from a rough estimate, and as the emperor's apartments were on the other side of the palace, the attack could only be meant for one of the heirs. And one guard wasn't nearly enough to fend off multiple assassins and ensure the safety of an imperial heir.

    No time to think. Alyeong acted on instinct, turning to open the door to the princess' inner apartments. "Your Imperial Highness!" he hissed, speaking as loudly as he dared, sparing a moment to worry about how she would respond to seeing an unfamiliar guard holding a bared shortsword, as well as what her response would be to the impropriety. Hopefully she had already awoken. There just wasn't time for any greater delicacy; he'd estimate that it would take about a minute for assassins to arrive. "Your Imperial Highness, your life is in danger-- we need to leave now!"
  2. The gravest curse in this culture, reserved solely for mortal enemies, didn't contain a single profanity; it was a mere phrase, almost innocuous in its simplicity. "May you live in interesting times." Coincidence or awkward wording? No, not really; anyone who had lived through periods that could be classified as "interesting" would tell you it actually contained rather lethal doses of malice. And Fei Yen, second born daughter of Heavenly sovereign, was about to expand the number of those people... Assuming she would survive to talk about the experience.

    Dead of the night as well as her peaceful slumber were disturbed by creaking of the door; the princess had always been a light sleeper and the unpleasant sound pulled her away violently from the dream's embrace. Disoriented and still half-asleep, Fei Yen suppressed the yawn - the education to be a proper lady ran deep - sat up and her almond eyes tried to pierce through the darkness, to see the cause of the sudden disarray. Vague feeling of danger grew in her chest despite the general confusion; nobody dared to invade the sanctity of her private chambers without a good reason. Bothering the descendants of the divine ruler wasn't a customary behavior; that much she understood even few seconds after the awakening. W-what is happening?

    Once the princess got used to the darkness, she distinguished a silhouette of some man standing by the door, unconcealed weapon in his hand. Nothing could possibly dispel her stupor faster; this was more than eloquent confirmation of her instinctive worries. Fei Yen discarded the silken blanket in a manner unsuitable for the member of the imperial family and jumped out of the bed; she didn't recognize the voice warning her about the imminent threat to her life, yet that meant nothing. The royal palace was brimming over with lesser nobility, guards, various servants and even their families in some cases. Remembering their faces, let alone names, would be a task too difficult even for the omnipotent gods themselves. Yes, the unknown guard could be planning to harm her, but as far as she knew, waking the victim before murdering her wasn't a favorite assassination method... And the urgency in his tone prompted her to trust him.

    "Leave? Where?" the princess whispered in answer, fear apparent in her voice. It made sense in its own, twisted way that they wanted to dispose of her; while Fei Yen wasn't the first in the line of succession to the throne, blood of her father was still flowing in her veins. Father struck by mysterious disease who presumably wouldn't live to witness this year's long awaited spring... Dancing between treacherous ropes of court politics certainly was not her hobby, but she knew her death would benefit respectable amount of people, be it directly or indirectly. The adrenaline spreading through her body blocked out any inappropriateness derived from her clothing; Fei Yen couldn't care less that nobody should see her in the nightgown only. Her also face bore no traces of traditional white makeup - another offense to the protocol - and her long, black hair was unkempt from the sleep, but the beauty didn't belong to her top concerns right now. "Where should we go?"

    Quiet footsteps echoed in the hallway, though the sound was almost deafening in the silence of the night. Fei Yen's heart skipped a beat; could it be the assassin?
  3. Alyeong hadn't actually thought too much about where they had to go, and the sight of the princess' tousled hair and bare face, when they had never met directly before, was distracting. At a moment of crisis, his mind didn't function spectacularly, and all he managed was, "Away. Specifics can-" He spun again at the sound of footsteps in the hall. Only a single pair, though. His mind cleared and the fog of surprise, sleep, and uncertainty lifted. This was something that he'd trained for; this was something that he knew how to do. Holding the sword at a slight angle and outwards, and extending one arm backwards to advise that the princess stay back, he advanced slowly towards the door. In this situation-- with both of them knowing exactly where the other was-- the only way to win a fight was to surprise the other man, and do it before he thought of a way to kill you.

    He kicked the door in the direction of the approaching man, pinpointing his location with the surprised yell. The downward stroke of his sword around the door was partially deflected, barely drawing blood, by an instinctive upper movement of the man's weapon, a longer sword, only to be used by nobles. His eyes narrowed-- how had an heir persuaded a member of the upper class to attack other members of the Imperial family-- and he pushed the door aside, aiming a thrust at the man's ribs. With a shorter sword, he would have the advantage in close-quarters and indoor fighting. But the man was already in motion, retreating rapidly back the way he came and clutching his cut shoulder, appearing to almost drop his sword. What, he can't fight anyone stronger than an unarmed princess? What a damn coward. He didn't spare the time to spit after him, though, and just wiped his sword clean on his tunic. "Your Highness, we must hurry. Bring only what you need; for now, anywhere out of the palace is safer than here." If they left by the servants' entrance, they might not run into any pursuit. A gamble, but less of a gamble than remaining here to face the odds. "There are likely more men headed this way, so please, Your Highness, trust me."

    He stepped out of the room, checking in both directions carefully, but a little impatiently despite himself. Almost as an afterthought, he re-sheathed his sword, keeping it loose in case of an emergency. His mind invented all kinds of phantom noises; he twitched at the slightest noise, imagining armies of assassins. And it's not as though I don't look suspicious; I could get cut down by allies. This wine looks an awful lot like blood, and there's that spot of actual blood too.

    Soon, he heard the actual sound of footsteps, sounding far too close for comfort. With a curse, he shut the door tightly. "I would recommend that we leave by the servant's entrance, Your Imperial Highness. I do not think they would have blocked that way out." Though of course he didn't know anything about where attackers would be, in a narrow passageway it would be easier to fend off an attacker. He slid open the side door; the passageway was silent for now, with steeply down-sloping stairs. How it hadn't been removed as a security risk was far beyond him; it had always been a pain to keep track of. It should be guarded, but it would be far too easy for assassins to disguise themselves as servants, in his opinion. But in this case, it was convenient. He headed down the passageway, holding the door open for the princess. If she turned out to be someone who screamed at spiders, this would be trouble.
  4. It didn't take much persuasion to make her listen to the voice of reason and fall back; the princess was no fighter. Sure, hand-to-hand combat was deemed a noble skill for the member of imperial family to master as it enriched both spirit and body, but the doctrine also spoke quite uncompromisingly about women's role in martial arts; spectators at best. There were other sublime disciplines for the females to immerse in; too bad that caligraphy or perfect knowledge of tea ceremony couldn't save her life right now. Fei Yen drew in a deep breath, inaudibly pleading the providence for a drop of much needed luck, and watched the ensuing swordplay with substantial horror. The helplessness was a brand new feeling in her world; one she didn't particularly adore. Her honor, her very life - it all depended on a single faithful guard. The princess closed her eyes; the stress prevailed, forcing her to escape the reality for a while. She didn't want to imagine what would happen if he failed in his mission...

    Fortunately, the murderer evidently lacked the courage to face someone trained in the way of the sword; she opened her eyes just in the right moment to see the disappearing dark figure briefly. So it IS true. They really wanted her dead, for the exclusive crime of being born earlier than them thus being more likely to inherit the throne. Which one of her younger siblings had orchestrated this assassination attempt? Was it someone she knew personally? The emperor used to be a vigorous individual in his better days, man capable of catering to the needs of numerous wives; he had fathered many children... And Fei Yen was still leaving the illegitimate offspring of concubines out of the equation. Yes, they held next to none political power, but that could be all the more of a reason to try and grasp the reins of power. It wouldn't be unheard of. "Yes, that I have noticed," the princess nodded. "Give me a few seconds to gather my things." Under the right set of circumstances, Fei Yen could be surprisingly practical; as much as she would love to pack her entire bookcase, she only slipped into the pair of wooden sandals and reached after tiny cloth bag resting on the bedside table. Leaving behind the physical evidence of her slightly forbidden escapades wouldn't occur to her even in her wildest dreams; that would have been more than a little suicidal. Certain misconducts simply couldn't be forgiven, not even to the princesses.

    Fei Yen thought the sheer shock from the effort to end her life had settled at least a bit, but yet another sound of approaching footsteps freed her from the falsehood; nervous butterflies in her stomach definitely weren't the result of joyful anticipation. "Good idea." She followed his lead, minding each step carefully; the princess had been raised to walk on such a high heels with a confidence, but there was a difference between a peaceful stroll through the sunlit garden and descent to the pitch-black darkness on very dubious stairs. Broken neck would be an inglorious conclusion to her life story.

    The corridor was gloomy, for the lack of a better word; the stale air irritated Fei Yen's nose, compelling her to sneeze, and whole chronicles of spider clans inhabitating this passageway could be published, at least judging from the layers of webs on the walls. The princess clenched her teeth; she wasn't afraid of the insects, but that didn't mean she felt an excessive love towards those creatures and filth associated with them was not something she tolerated lightly. Fei Yen valued organization and order above all; exact opposite of this messy chaos. Thought it could be worse, considering that the traitor would be driving his sword through her heart by now if it wasn't for her savior. "Thank you. Let me assure you that Heavenly sovereign will hear about your loyalty and he's not the one to leave excellent service unrewarded." That is, if the physicians ever find out the cure to whatever he is suffering from. Poor father. A suspicion emerged inside of her mind; could it be possible for some power hungry man to poison the emperor? Perhaps, perhaps not. Thinking about it was futile anyway. "What is your name?" she asked, not slowing down in her pace. Her sight was roaming around the room, looking for any signs of threat; nothing suggested further trouble, but the situation could change as easily as summer weather. Finally, after few minutes that dragget out like an eternity, they arrived to the door leading outside...

    Massive door that was locked.
  5. Alyeong's eyes narrowed, and he was glad for his good night vision as he navigated the twisting corridor. I can't even imagine how the servants tolerate this. Why is it never cleaned? Perhaps he should have brought a lantern, but judging from the fact that the princess had not yet missed a step, as well as the stale and fetid air, that could just as easily have been unnecessary or even caused a disaster. One error in a precarious situation such as this could result in disgrace, death, and an afterlife as a wandering ghost. Though at least I wouldn't be charged with the crime of attacking those who share the blood of the son of Heaven.

    He turned at her words, smiling. "I am glad to hear it, Your Imperial Highness." Of course, that would only happen if the Emperor survived or the Princess's faction won out. For the moment, it would be best not to worry about awards; men who entered the field hungering for honors often received the sharp end of a sword instead. "And this humble servant's name is Bai Alyeong." He pronounced it oddly, he was aware, with three syllables in place of two: A-li-young. And with a bastard's surname, it could hardly impress anyone. Not to mention that he didn't exactly look like nobility. He had a peasant's murky green eyes, a peasant's olive skin. Not waiting for a reaction, a cynical smile playing around his lips, he turned forwards again. It was only a few minutes to the door.

    He reached out slowly to open the door, turning the handle. Or, at least, he would have opened it if it hadn't been locked. His eyes widening, he leaned towards the hinges, opening his mouth to breathe silently and listening. The sounds of quiet respiration entered his ears-- The guard is sleeping. Thank Heaven. That widened his options somewhat; he didn't have to worry as much about making sound, and it would give him a slight advantage. He knelt down to look into the lock, squinting. While his training had included picking locks, it was a dodgy art at best. At least this lock was crude and older, so he'd have a chance of opening it. "It may be a few minutes, Your Imperial Highness; I would also recommend moving a little farther down the passageway, as I may have to fight."

    He slid the smallest dagger he had out of its sheath, edging it between the locked door and the wall, then sliding it downwards, angled in. It took him a few tries to catch the bolt, but he managed it. If I'm not quick, I'll die. Fueled by that knowledge, he opened the door quickly inwards, sword unsheathed in his left hand. As the guard, leaning against the door as expected, fell, he drove his sword firmly downwards, pinning the man to the ground like a beetle. He won't be getting up, he thought with a kind of sick surety. "Sorry," he whispered, pulling the sword back as the man fell, hands scrabbling. There was no time to check whether he was an ally or an enemy-- and sword wounds weren't always fatal. He pushed the man to one side against weak resistance and held the door open, the still-brisk air blowing in, thick forests visible at the bottom of a slope, mountains towering to every side. "Princess, we must hurry." Perhaps he shouldn't have stabbed a man in front of her after insisting that she needed to trust him, he realized, but done was done, and it would have taken too long to incapacitate the guard.
  6. Fei Yen pondered over the name he had said to her; not only it revealed some rather juicy information about his parentage but it also sounded strange, almost foreign to her due to abnormal number of syllables. Children out of wedlock were rumored to bring bad luck and many people even accused them of invoking the gods' wrath. Well, since this concrete bastard had saved her life mere minutes ago, she decided not to comment on this lovely bit of prejudice tightly embedded in their culture. The princess didn't exactly have allies to spare right now; no sane individual would insist of giving Alyeong a piece of his mind. Instead, she smiled - maybe a little forcibly, but it was still a smile - and simply nodded in acknowledgement.

    Yet another obstacle was thrown in their way, this time in the form of locked door, and she had to curse internally. Can't the gods be more solidary with their relative? The princess would never stain her lips with such a blasphemous remark for she lived in an environment where even the walls had ears, but in the privacy of her mind, she could be shockingly skeptical for someone with divine roots. It was generally a good thing that no device for reading thoughts had been invented so far. Fei Yen took his advice again; as picking locks wasn't a part of her curriculum either, she would have been nothing but a hindrance anyway. And when it came to the question of her safety, she believed Alyeong. Sure, he could be tangled in some weirdly convoluted scheme to gain her trust through chasing away the fake assassins with the intent to kidnap her comfortably later, but... That seemed too absurd even for court intrigues. Moreover, plan like that would be just a senseless labor; it wasn't like she could put up tremendous resistance if someone tried to abduct her.

    The princess watched him work on the lock, silently wondering what other talents he harbored aside from waving around the sword. As it quickly turned out, he was also good at ambushing and finishing off unsuspecting guards. Fei Yen had to frown at the ease with which Alyeong murdered a living, breathing being; possibly even brother in arms since they didn't know anything about the dead man's allegiance. Fending off a thug who demonstrably tried to assassinate her was a completely different matter from mercilessly slaying a sleeping man. Metallic scent of spilled blood made her nauseous; disapproval appeared in her eyes. The logical, rational part of her personality understood very well that leaving the guard alive would have been more of a security risk than they could take, but there was the emotional side to her as well... And frankly, Fei Yen felt somewhat repulsed. This was the fist time she had seen a human die. "I am no scholar in the field of medicine, but I doubt an apology will suffice to heal his wounds," the princess uttered.

    Despite her protest, she agreed to flee quickly; the castle was probably still full of traitors thirsting after her blood. "Let's borrow a horse from our stables." There wasn't a hint of irony in her voice; after all, those animals belonged to her family. Taking one or two of them couldn't be considered as theft, especially in a life or death situation. The princess shivered slightly; her silky nightgown wasn't really designed with outdoor adventures in mind.
  7. Alyeong winced at her clear disapproval. Perhaps it is unfortunate that I was taught to kill first and ask questions later, but I can't undo my lessons. All of the guards are instructed to make the royal family our only priority. It is the best I can do. Shaking his head at this ridiculous feeling of guilt-- what more could he do-- and swallowing his unsaid excuses, he began to move. There was no time to waste on emotional involvement.

    "A good idea, Your Imperial Highness," he responded. All of the imperial heirs were given instruction in horseback riding; the princesses were usually taught to ride geldings or mares sidesaddle, the princes to ride stallions into combat. Or, at least, as generals. So he would have to find two mares or geldings. He preferred a calmer horse, and in any case, bastards were not permitted to so much as touch the royal family's prized sires, for fear of the taint of bad luck. The stables were nearby, so he altered his course somewhat, heading towards the squat, sprawling black wood building near the bottom of the hill. With a little luck, he'd be able to bluff his way past the guard, rather than killing him. Uncomfortably, he shot a glance at the princess-- she'd probably not seen much blood before tonight, and it wasn't a good time for mental injury.

    Noticing that she was shivering, he took his jade-green jacket off, putting it over her shoulders. "Be careful, Your Imperial Highness; many sicknesses ride the late winter winds." Then, carefully obscuring the parts of his tunic and pants that were bloodstained with crossed arms, he walked towards the stable door, head raised haughtily, and stared the guard down.

    "Her Imperial Highness wishes to ride to the Snow Maiden Spring," he improvised, gesturing to the east. Heaven forgive me this disrespect. I'll visit the spring with gifts once Her Highness is safe. "Please bring two well-rested horses." The man, sleepy-eyed, didn't doubt him. Shortly, Alyeong grasped the bridles of two mares, one bay and one black with an odd white sock. With a word of thanks, he flipped the man a coin, which the other accepted with a yawn and shut the door.

    He offered the princess the bay. "Your Highness, allow me to help you to mount." Though black was a less visible color, one white sock was said to bring ill luck. Given that I've already offended Fortune, I'll accept that. A wry smile curved his mouth upwards. He'd told the man that they were going east, so naturally they would head west. One of the easier passes was due to open a week from now, and thus should be in that narrow window where caravans were not entering or exiting, but a well-trained horse could.
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.