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Chapter Eight: Recollections of the PhoenixEdit

"There will be friction between those of the
resistance and the Ohmikami. The prince and princess of and
not of shall begin the travel and the Phoenix will reveal
his past to one he trusts. His redemption will soon be at
hand." ~Unknown

"What... what's going on?" Ukyou asked. She drew her hands up, uncaring of the rough feeling her charred clothing was giving her and stared.

"How... did that happen?"

Cologne narrowed her eyes. "I don't know, child."

Shampoo lay on the ground, still unconscious.

"Ukyou? Are you all right?" Akane asked.

"A more fitting question would be whether the maiden from the mountains is unhurt," Tatewaki interrupted. "Would it not?"

Tofu slipped out of his trance and looked down towards Shampoo. He was immediately in action. He kneeled next to her, and gave a brief check for broken bones. Upon finishing the inspection, he stood up.

"I don't think there are any fractures. It should be safe to move her."

"No," Cologne said.

Tofu blinked. "What?"

"There is no need to move her."

Feng Bo nodded his agreement. "Indeed, Tofu."

"Why not?"

Cologne pointed. "She is waking up."

And she was. Shampoo opened one bleary eye. "Wh... what happen?"

Shampoo stumbled to her feet. She groggily staggered and leaned herself against a wall. Her clothing was visibly charred, but there was no physical damage.

"That's what I'd like to know," Ukyou muttered.

Shampoo looked towards Ukyou. "Y...you do this, chef girl. You do this to Shampoo!"

"Shampoo, I wouldn't suggest trying to attack her again," Cologne informed her great-grandaughter. "She may not be in control of the power, but to risk injury at this point would be foolish."

Shampoo staggered towards Ukyou. "No worry, Great- Grandmother. Shampoo no hurt chef girl. Yet."

Ukyou leaned herself against the wall as Shampoo continued towards her.

"Shampoo," Cologne said as she narrowed her eyes. "Stop."

"I must do this, Great-Grandmother."

Shampoo stopped in front of Ukyou and placed her hands on the cot. "You defeat Shampoo. You outsider." Shampoo said, and then leaned in towards her.

Ukyou blinked in confusion as Shampoo kissed Ukyou on the cheek.

"Chef girl remember that."

"Shampoo, stop." Cologne said. "You know as well as I that such a gesture is not valid outside of our land."

Akane blinked. "Wait. The kiss of death is invalid outside of your village?"

Cologne looked over towards Akane. "No, outside of our land." She looked back towards Ukyou. "Feel fortunate that this did not take place in the restaurant, child."

Shampoo smiled. "Shampoo know it not valid. Shampoo just tell chef girl what she think of her."

Ukyou looked into Shampoo's cold eyes, and then turned away.


"What is it?" Kima looked towards the old man as he entered the room. "I thought I asked not be disturbed."

The old man sighed. "Kima... there seems to be some... discomfort outside."

Saffron stopped flexing his wings long enough to speak.

"What's wrong with 'em?" he asked.

The old man kneeled down before him. "Lord Saffron, the people are arguing amongst themselves. Nothing that would require your divine hand."

Saffron blinked in confusion. "What?"

Kima laughed. "I don't think you would have to worry about this, L-- Saffron. I'll handle it." She got up from her seat at the edge of the bed and walked towards the doorway.

"What's the matter?" she asked the old man.

"They want revenge."

Kima blinked. "Revenge?"

"Yes. On the landlings who defeated Lord Saffron."

Kima shook her head. "Don't they know something more important is at hand right now?"

"No, I've not yet told them of Lord Saffron's growth."

Kima nodded. "Good, tell no one. But this must be taken care of." She sighed in thought. "Get Masara and Koruma. Tell them I need to speak with them."

"Yes, Lady Kima." The old man bowed over and walked out of the room, and flew from the platform outside of the door.

Kima turned towards her king. "How are the growing pains?"

Saffron shrugged with the body of an eight year old. "They're not bothering me that much anymore. I'd like a chance to spread my wings, though."

Kima smiled. "Yes, L--"

"Kima, please. Don't call me that."

Kima closed her eyes and bowed her head. "It's just, you are nearing the age you were at during your former... existence, but now you are not..."

"Not what?" Saffron asked.

Kima quickly shook her head. "Nothing. Forgive me for my--"

"Not a brat? Not spoiled rotten? You'd be surprised, Kima." Saffron smiled.

Kima sighed. "You speak like you would be in adulthood, Saffron."

Saffron shrugged. "I guess more memories are returning. I'm remembering my first existence."

Kima blinked. "Your... first?"

Saffron nodded. "Yeah. It's sort of... strange."

Kima sighed. "Can you... tell me about it?"

Saffron smiled. "Believe it or not, I was born mortal."

Kima gasped. "M...mortal? You weren't always like this?"

Saffron smiled more. He looked towards Kima. "I wasn't always winged, Kima."

Kima blinked. A heavy haze started to surround her as she started to stumble. Saffron jumped over to her and held her up in his arms. For the body of an eight year old, he was incredibly strong.

"Don't fall over now, Kima." He smiled.

Kima shook her head. "How... how?"

"We'll find out in a minute. First, let's deal with our company."

Kima blinked. "Company?"

The knock at the door came abruptly. Kima looked over towards Saffron and blinked. She then shook her head and opened the door.

Koruma and Masara stood there, blinking in confusion. "Captain?" Koruma asked, his quiver packed, as always, to the brim with freshly cut arrows.

Masara grunted. "What's the matter? You look... down or something."

Kima nodded. "It's nothing to be concerned with. What's going on with the people?"

Koruma shrugged. "They're being pretty reasonable if you ask me. I think we should all take care of that Saotome guy and his friends for what they did to Lord Saffron."

Kima shook her head. "Don't worry about the landling, we've got water and heat running through the mountain. That's our concern right now."

Masara narrowed his eyes. "But, that damn landling KILLED Saffron!"

"And he's been REBORN, Masara. Don't concern yourself with him."

Masara and Koruma looked at each other in confusion. Koruma decided to speak up. "What's wrong, Captain? It's like your dead-set against it. All we want to do is gather a small group together, and head over--"

"NO!" Kima yelled. "Nobody leaves the mountain yet!"

Koruma blinked. "Captain?"

"Kima, let them in. I've... I've got something to show all of you."

Masara paused. "Hey... isn't that... Lord Saffron's voice?"

Koruma peeked past the edge of the door and let his jaw drop at the very sight of him. "That's... It IS! Hey! How... How did it happen?!"

Saffron could only shake his head. There was something... something wrong.

"Saffron?" Kima asked, approaching him.

Saffron clenched his hands to his head. A moment later, he began to cry.

"Lord Saffron?" Masara asked, running over to him.

Saffron looked directly into Masara's eyes, his pupils turning a bright, bright white. Masara turns away as if in pain, and put his hands to his face.

And then Saffron fell to the ground in a heap.


"Hold on a second... Mount PHOENIX?!" Lime asked, his eyes wide open. "No offense, Herb. I still respect you and everything... but Mount Phoenix? Are you nuts?"

Herb chuckled. He was more on an equal standing with them since his banishment. Even with his reinstatement, Herb was still an equal. Albeit a royal equal. "No, and they'll be expecting us, too."

Lime coughed. "That's what I'm AFRAID of!"

Herb laughed again. "Afraid of a few flying men, Lime?"

Lime grumbled. "No way! I could take down half that mountain any day! It's just... Well, I've always heard stories about them."

Mint nodded. "Yeah. Don't they eat musk babies?"

Lime growled. "If I find any musk babies there, I'll--"

"Urban legends, friends. Don't worry about that, and trust me when I say there will be little, if any hostilities."

Lime narrowed his eyes. "What's going on, Herb? This isn't like you."

Herb smirked. "Since I was banished, I've never been like me, Lime. Whether or not the new me is likable is up to you two."

Mint sighed. "All right, Herb. I'm with you. I've always been with you."

Lime sighed in thought. "You know I'd follow you into hell if I had to, Herb. Count me in."

Herb smiled and brought his friends into a hug. As he turned away and walked towards the bush, Mint and Lime looked at each other in confusion.

"There's one more stop we've got to make, though," he said to them.

Mint blinked. "Where's that?"

"The women's encampment."

Lime and Mint fell over in shock.


Kima cradled the young Saffron in her arms, her talons lightly caressing his face. Saffron merely stirred, now with the body of a twelve year old.

Koruma and Masara could only stare in complete and total shock as their king, formerly an infant, grew at an amazing speed, OUTSIDE of the egg.

Four years in as many minutes. It was unheard of.

But then, coming back from the dead was too.

"What's going on, Captain?" Masara asked.

Kima merely sighed. "I can't say for sure, but it seems to prophecy is coming to pass."

Koruma jerked his head back in surprise. He knew the prophecy all too well. His father worked in the royal library, and he'd had many chances to read the Book of the Phoenix.

"The wind in the halls," Koruma began.

"The Phoenix will call," Kima continued.

Masara blinked, and began to pick up on it. "The Landlings shall rise."

"And heed the Phoenix cries," a fourth voice recited. Kima looked to her lap in surprise. Saffron groans as he tried to sit up.

"Lord Saffron!" Kima exclaimed. "Are you all right? What happened?!"

Saffron felt his forehead. "Her powers have been awakened."

Kima blinked. "Who? Whose powers?"

Saffron smirked. "Just an old acquaintance."

"Saffron--?"

"Koruma, Masara. I'll need you two for a particular cause. It seems things must be hurried quite a bit." He looked towards Kima. "First, there is something I've got to show you, Kima."

Kima blinked. "Show me?"

Saffron nodded, and the looked towards Masara and Koruma. Kima gestured them away.

They merely nodded and left without another word. They were too shocked for argument.

Saffron stood up and stretched his wings. He brought his talon up to his face and stretched it experimentally.

He closed his eyes.

*flash*

A simple shimmer of form, and the talon resembled a perfect human hand. He examined it closely, and then let the shimmer retake it's original talon form.

Kima gasped. "Saffron..? How?"

"I'll need you to trust me, Kima," he said.

Kima nodded. "Of course I trust you, L... Saffron, but I--"

"No Kima. Real trust. You would gladly give your life for me, and I know this. But you have got to trust me with your life. You have to... do something with me, knowing the end possibility may be death."

Kima nodded again. "Saffron, please. I trust you, just--"

"Climb on to the bed. Kneel and face me."

Kima blinked. "Saffron?"

"Please, Kima," he turned towards her, a pleading look on his face.

Kima did as he asked. She climbed onto the bed and faced him, kneeling.

Saffron swallowed. "Disrobe."

Kima did so, with a few moments of hesitation.

Saffron walked over to her, she could tell he was growing more rapidly now. He might even be in the stages of puberty. Could...

Could Saffron be moving through puberty so fast, that the hormones are overtaking him? Is it that he needs... release?

Kima would gladly give herself to him for that purpose, but there was something not right about it. Even so, she closed her eyes and let her muscles relax.

She could feel Saffron approach her, the warmth of his body nearly causing her to break out in a sweat.

Then she felt his hands. They started at the sides of her waist, and she felt a shiver run through her as he started to glide them up, around the curve of her breasts-- but not actually touching them.

They climbed up to her upper chest, and lightly gripped her neck.

And then it gripped harder. And harder still.

Kima's eyes opened in shock. Saffron was trying to... choke her.

He tightened his grip, a pleading look on his face.

Kima's vision began to falter. The image before her began to blur, and she felt a sharp pain strike her in the chest, between her breasts. It began to numb after a moment, but the feeling was there.

Her vision began to blur more, but they seemed to focus on a single point.

Saffron's eyes.

(Saffron.)

They were burning. It was as if his pupils held the light of entire stars, yet it didn't hurt to look.

Her eyes watered, and it didn't hurt. Kima slowly brought her arm up, to try and stroke his face.

It was hot. Oh, God it was hot to touch, but it didn't hurt. She might as well have been putting her hands into molten lava, but she felt no pain whatsoever.

(It will do you no good, Freak!)

There was something else happening. There was a... third party, if such a thing were possible.

His eyes began to grow, the light overtaking her field of vision.

(There's nowhere to run, Saffron!)

Larger, larger. She felt no pain any more. None of her senses felt anything, except heat, and the bright, bright light.

(I won't allow my daughter to wed you! What will the children look like, freak?!)

And it grew, and grew.

(I... love you Saffron... I'm sorry...)

And then it was all she could see.

And it shrunk back, just as quickly.

Kima stood in a large room, her clothes still absent. She looked around. Stalactite growths on the ceiling told her that she was in a cave of sorts. A light from the distance glowed with sunlight. Not as bright as what she had seen before, but her eyes were still adjusting.

Checking to see if she had enough space to take off, she began to unfold her wings.

She paused when she realized she couldn't feel them.

Kima lifted her hand up to her face and allowed her jaw to drop in shock. Her hand was human. Had her Jusenkyo curse been triggered? Was she the... girl, Akane?

Kima shook her head. No. She could feel the differences in her body if she was Akane. Kima ran her fingers through her hair, catching the white glint of it by the light from the edge of the cave.

"Strange feeling, isn't it?" a voice called.

Kima blinked. "What? Saffron, is... is that you?"

Saffron stepped into the light from out of the darkness of the cave, his long hair reflecting in the sunlight emanating from the mouth of the cave. "Thank you for trusting me, Kima," he said in a remarkably adult voice.

Kima gasped. "How... You've grown to maturity!"

Saffron chuckled. "Not quite Kima. Does this place look familiar?"

Kima looked around quizzically. "Is it supposed to?"

Saffron smirked. He pointed to the ceiling. "Imagine a golden perch, right up there." He pointed to the floor. "And a hollow in the floor, here." He pointed to the walls. "Maybe a Phoenix and Dragon tap on the sides."

Kima narrowed her eyes in confusion.

Wait. It was there. She could see it.

"This... is Mount Phoenix?" She asked, mouth agape.

"I've never told you about my human life yet, Kima. It's time you learn."

Saffron began to walk towards the mouth of the cave, gesturing Kima to follow.

"Saffron, what's going on?!" she called, trying to follow.

Saffron turned, and then smiled. "Welcome to my mind, Kima." And then he snapped his fingers.

*flash*

The light died, and Kima stood in the centre of a crowded village. A Landling village.

She located Saffron quickly, and began to question him again.

"Saffron, what is happening? What do you mean your mind?"

Saffron didn't answer, he merely stared.

"Saffron, please--" Kima began, and then realized what he was staring at.

A group of small children, playing.

"Come on, Kwai! It's my turn!"

The boy--Kwai, Kima realized, was playing with a rounded rock, kicking it back and forth between another child. A third child, a girl, was trying to join in on the fun.

"Go 'way, Pao! Girls can't play this! It's a boys game!"

The girl--Pao, obviously, let her shoulders sink as she moved away. The two boys merely laughed.

"It was so long ago," Saffron said.

Kima just looked up at Saffron. "Is this... Your past?"

Saffron just pointed to the far end of the crowded town centre. The Landlings standing between them and what he was pointing at seemed to disappear, and the white noise of human voice seemed to quiet.

"Are you coming, boy?" A heavyset man asked a child. The child seemed to be trying his best to follow, carrying what appeared to be a very heavy box.

The man was empty-handed, besides a pouch that he held at his side.

"Watch, Kima," Saffron instructed her.

The boy moved along as best he could. It was obvious that the boy was in pain, struggling to keep what he held in his arms. Just by looking, Kima could almost feel his pain.

But there was something else. The child looked strangely familiar, and something... different.

Then she noticed it. The child's back was somewhat hunched. Not like a lump, but two separate nubs extruding from the boys clothing.

She gasped. Wing nubs.

The boy moved along as the man stopped at a shop. Hovering around the man, the boy started to put the box down, to give his arms a rest. The man noticed it and frowned.

"You dirty that box, boy, and it'll come out of your hide. I'm taking enough of a risk letting YOUR filthy hands touch it."

The boy nodded, and kept the box in his hands. He leaned against the side of the shop, trying to get anything for a rest.

The man pulled several gold pieces from his pouch, and dropped them on the counter. In return, a shopkeeper gave him a piece of pottery. A rather large water vase.

Oh no, Kima thought.

The man took the vase and placed it on top of the box, not bothering to fasten it in any way.

The boy merely moved, and the vase toppled over. It hit the ground with a sickening crash.

The man turned and struck the boy with his hand. "You filthy little FREAK!" he yelled. "How DARE you? You know how much that cost me? You're miserable LIFE isn't worth the price of that vase!"

The boy dropped the box on the ground and put his hand up to cover his face.

"I've had it with your utter STUPIDITY, Saffron!"

Kima gasped. Saffron?

"I'm selling you for the meat, that's it."

Meat? What kind of monster WAS this?"

"Miserable little... THING! You should be lucky I thought to take you in in the first place! Worst mistake of my life!"

Kima began to intervene, she had to do SOMETHING. She was about to speak, when she felt an arm block her progress. She turned.

Saffron stood there, tears streaming from his eyes. "Leave it, just watch," he said.

"Sir," a woman stepped up to the man. "I will purchase the boy from you."

The man turned to her and leered. The woman had long, flowing black hair.

"Simple woman," he smirked. "And what would you be willing to... pay?"

"I am Zhang Ping. My father is Gwai Ping. You would do wise not to insult me in such a manner."

The man's leer dropped. "I will treat you as I see fit, wench! The only price I put on this THING is your.... personal favour." His wicked smile grew again, and his hand reached out to touch her.

"It would also be wise to keep your hands to yourself," the woman reached into her robe.

"Or what will you do, wench? You only have one thing I want."

"And that, you shall never have."

The man ignored her, and continued to reach out.

A flash of movement, nothing more, and the woman walked past the stunned man, towards the child.

The man exploded into a fine mist of blood, his limbs severed cleanly, and his head decapitated from his body.

The woman leaned over. "It is all right," she whispered to the boy. "He cannot hurt you any longer."

The young Saffron slowly turned towards Zhang Ping and looked into her eyes. Ever so slowly, he moved towards her.

Zhang Ping brought the child into a hug.

Kima could only watch, dumbfounded.

*flash*

"Saffron!" a man called. "It is late, child! Time to come in!"

Kima blinked in surprise. The change of scene had happened abruptly. She hadn't seen it.

"What...?" She began to ask. She looked over to Saffron, who merely watched, his face a cold mask of no emotion.

"Zhang, child," the man began, turning towards the woman seated at the table, sipping a cup of tea.

"Father, I will not have it. It is my choice."

Gwai Ping closed his eyes. "I will agree with any decision you will make concerning the child, Zhang, but the villagers--"

"I do not care what the villagers say of him."

"Not just of him, child. Of you. Of us. The rumours are already floating around that you... are having relations with the 'freak child'. The local children are vandalizing our land."

"They will grow out of it. Saffron has harmed no one."

"Perhaps not, but that is beside the point. The Ping family have upheld duty and honour for hundreds of years. I... I do not wish to have it crash down because of some boy."

Zhang sighed. "Duty and honour demand that we treat the boy with the respect he is entitled to."

Gwai nodded. "You and I may understand that. But duty in the public eye lays on how well we agree with their beliefs."

"Father, I do not care what the local fools are saying. I do not care how the town elders feel of it. I do not believe the child to be spawn of evil."

"He will only bring our family bad luck, Zhang Ping... But I will respect your decision."

Zhang Ping placed her tea on the table. "Thank you... Father."

*flash*

"It happened so quickly," Saffron said, looking directly at Kima. "One minute I found myself becoming happy. The next... This happens."

Kima blinked, looking around the new area.

It was a graveyard.

More importantly, they stood in front of a marked grave. Looking closer, Kima read, 'Gwai Ping'.

She gasped.

*flash*

Zhang reached down, stroking the blood on her fathers lip. His eyes hung open, staring into oblivion. Zhang spun around, drew her sword, and screamed.

*flash*

"Freak!" one child teased.

The little Saffron backed himself into a corner. "Go away! Leave me alone!"

The other child merely laughed. "It will do you no good, freak!" he taunted. "Is it true? Are you and Zhang Ping really having relations?"

"Shut up!" Saffron cried. "You don't know anything!"

"Oh, so you're saying a little FREAK like you is smarter than me?!"

"Kwai, stop it. He never did anythin--", a young girl began. She stepped between them, trying to separate Saffron from the approaching gang.

"Get outta the way, Pao! This trash doesn't deserve protection!"

"Kwai, STOP!"

Kwai pushed his way past and began to strike. He hit little Saffron on the head, and the others piled on top of him.

*flash*

Little Saffron staggered into the front gates of the compound, coughing weakly. Zhang Ping quickly ran to him.

"T... Teach me to fight," he pleaded, before collapsing on the ground.

*flash*

"Why must I do this?" Little Saffron asked, trying desperately to catch the buzzing fly with his bare hands.

"Trust me, Saffron. This is only basic," Zhang Ping said, then she stepped back and drew her sword.

A quick flash later, and the fly dropped in two clean pieces into the palm of Saffron's hand.

Saffron only stared in disbelief.

*flash*

Older now, Saffron seemed around the age of ten. He attacked a practice dummy with a sword.

Kima could see a form watching, smiling from over the ledge of the wall. It was Pao.

*flash*

"Faster, Saffron," Zhang Ping taunted. "Too slow to catch me!"

Saffron desperately tried to get a grasp of the piece of cloth that Zhang Ping swung around in front of him. It was rather long in length, but the speed at which Zhang was moving it made it difficult to grasp.

Zhang Ping danced happily while Saffron tried to grasp it through a series of complex manoeuvres.

Finally, Saffron grasped it. He was so overcome with joy that he never noticed Zhang Ping wrap the cloth around his arm and flip it over her shoulder. Saffron joined post haste.

Landing on his back, Saffron groaned.

*flash*

"Hi," a girl greeted. Kima realized it was Pao, now approximately sixteen.

Saffron blushed. "Uh... Hi," he replied rather shyly.

Pao smiled. "I've been watching you, you know," she mentioned. "You're quite good."

Saffron smiled. "Yeah, I've still got a long way to go, though."

"Come on, Pao! We're meeting them by the pond!" a girl called from the distance.

"Just a minute!" she called. "Listen, I've gotta go. I'll come by and see you again, all right?"

Saffron blinked. "a... all right."

*flash*

"Bye, Saffron," Pao said, kissing him on the cheek. "I'll see you tomorrow!"

As she ran out of the compound, another form came up behind Saffron.

Zhang Ping's eyes shot open. "Well, if I hadn't seen it, I never would have believed it."

Saffron blushed, trying to hide his embarrassment. "I... uhh..."

"Don't worry about it, Saffron," Zhang smiled. "It's about time she introduced herself to you, though. She's been watching you since you were a kid."

Saffron blinked. "What?"

"Oh, don't tell me you never noticed. Those fine- tuned martial artist senses that I helped to hone!"

Saffron blushed a deeper red.

Zhang merely laughed, "Come on in, we'll discuss it over some tea."

*flash*

"Pao," an old man began. "I've been hearing things lately... Kwai's been telling me of your... visits to the Ping lands."

Pao blinked. "Yes, so?"

"He says you've been seeing the freak child."

"Father!" Pao exclaimed. "Saffron is NOT a freak!"

Pao's father sighed. "I forbid you to see him."

Pao gasped. "Father.... you can't do that!"

"Child, I know what's best for you. You are nearly seventeen, and I believe you should marry--"

"Father, no..." Pao gasped.

"Kwai is very well off, Pao. His family has a strong lineage, and you will bear him strong children."

"Father, no! You CAN'T!"

"I know what's best for you, Pao. I have arranged it already, and gained his parents approval. Kwai himself seems rather excited of the proposal as well."

"Father, I can't!"

"Why not? He is wealthy, strong. Quite skilled in the art, from what I hear."

"I don't *LOVE* him!"

"Oh, and you love the freak child? Is that it? Child, love will grow. You will not succumb to some irresponsible puppy love."

Pao gasped again. "Father... It's.... It's NOT puppy-love!" She cried as she ran away.

*flash*

"What do you want?" the old woman asked, narrowing her eyes.

"I'm hear to speak with the father of Pao Ling. I have urgent business to discuss."

The woman's eyes narrowed more, and then she spoke. "Just a moment."

Within a few moments, Pao's father arrived at the door.

"What do YOU want?" he asked.

Saffron sighed, and knelt over onto one knee. "Chang Ling, I, Saffron, heir to the Ping family holdings wish to wed your daughter, Pao Ling--"

"No."

Saffron didn't stop. "I am sure the holdings of the Ping family are substantially greater than that of the Kaun family. Your daughter does not love Kwai Kaun, yet she--"

"Can you hear me, freak-child? I said no. I forbid it!"

"Sir, I urge you to reconsider," Saffron said, looking into Chang Ling's eyes.

"I won't allow my daughter to wed you! What will the children look like, freak?!"

Saffron sighed and stood up. "It seems I cannot convince you. Very well then. I shall challenge Kwai Kaun. To the victor, go the hand of Pao Ling. Honour demands that Kwai not turn down the challenge, and that you agree to the reward."

Chang Ling's eyes narrowed.

"I will return in one week to issue the challenge. You have until then to reconsider."

*flash*

"I don't think it's wise, Saffron," Zhang warned him. "Ling and Kaun, both of the families are extremely cunning. You may have skill and cunning, but it is two families, against one."

Saffron sighed. "I know. But... I've got to do it. It's my only chance of getting... of marrying Pao."

Zhang nodded. "I see how it is the only way, short of running off with her, which I imagine would work if not for Kwai keeping his eye on her twenty-four hours a day."

"Zhang, I--"

"Don't worry, Saffron. You've learned almost all I can teach you." She smiled. "Go, and come out victorious."

*flash*

"I, Saffron, heir to the Ping family holding, issue a challenge to you, Kwai Kaun of the Kaun family."

Kwai sized Saffron up skeptically. "You think you can beat me, freak-boy?" He smirked. "Very well. The spoils?"

Saffron sighed and looked off to the side of the field they stood upon. He smiled at Pao, who smiled back, with sad eyes.

He turned back to Kwai. "The hand of Pao Ling. Should I be victorious, I retain the right to wed her."

Kwai smirked. "Very well."

The fight began.

*flash*

"You killed her."

*flash*

Saffron brought his sword up in a wide arc, trying his best to break through Kwai's defence. Kwai just smiled and blocked the sword with his own, at the same time lashing out to kick Saffron.

Saffron took the moment in imbalance and used it against Kwai, knocking him in the side with the flat on his sword, sending him to the ground.

"You'll pay for that, freak-boy," Kwai said as he got up.

*flash*

"You... you killed her," Kwai said, his face pale.

*flash*

Kwai was losing. He was trying everything he could just to stay on his feet.

Saffron's heart was soaring. He was so close to defeating him; it would soon be over, and he would soon be wed to Pao.

*flash*

"You... MONSTER! How DARE you?! You said you LOVED her? Liar!" Kwai yelled.

"I... I didn't... She..."

*flash*

"This isn't good," Chang Ling said.

"Father, maybe now you'll listen, Saffron really isn't--"

"I forbid you to marry him, Pao," he said, and then reached into his pouch, pulling out a small dagger.

"Father, NO!"

*flash*

"Give up, Kwai?" Saffron said, standing over his opponent. "Do you admit defeat?"

Kwai sneered. "Never!" He got up, and drew his sword.

"Father, NO!"

Saffron spun around to find out what happened. That second was all Kwai needed. He brought it forth in a stabbing motion towards Saffron and--

*flash*

"No... Kwai!" Pao ran out into the field.

"Pao, come back here!" her father yelling, running after her.

"Stop, Kwai! Don't hurt him!"

*flash*

"Pao?" Saffron asked. Feeling something not quite right, he quickly spun to his side, narrowly missing the pointy end of a sword. He spun around and defended himself.

*flash*

Chang Ling growled. Now was his chance. He had to. It was now or never.

He took the knife, and readied it.

And then he threw.

*flash*

"STOP!" Pao cried, wedging herself between the two fighters.

"Pao, I--" Saffron began.

Kwai shook it off and spun around Pao, trying to strike him with his sword. Saffron once again narrowly dodged.

And then a sickening thump was heard.

*flash*

"Pao?" Saffron moved towards the body lying on the ground. "Pao? Talk to me!"

Pao groaned, moving her head. "S... Saffron..."

He took Pao in his arms and cradled her. "It's okay, Pao. I can take to knife out and--"

He was cut off by a pair of lips pressing themselves against his. Pao kissed him deep, long and hard.

"Pao?" he asked.

"I... love you Saffron... I'm sorry..." she uttered, barely managing to keep the blood down.

"What do you mean?" he asked. "You're fine. You'll be fine!"

There was no reply.

"Pao?"

No answer.

"Pao? Answer me, Pao!"

"You killed her," Kwai said.

*flash*

"Run, Saffron."

*flash*

"You... you killed her," he said again.

*flash*

"Run now, before I kill you where you stand."

*flash*

Saffron ran. He didn't know where. He didn't care where. He dropped his sword, leaving it in the thick brush. The tears flowed from his eyes endlessly and he ran.

He ran for hours. Maybe even days, he didn't really pay attention to time.

He ran until he could run no more.

He ran into a cave.

He dropped to his knees.

"No more," he said. No. He pleaded.

"No more... I don't want ANY more of this!" he cried.

"WHAT?!" he called out to anyone who would listen. "WHAT did I DO to deserve this?!"

No reply.

"TELL ME!"

No reply.

He dropped to his knees.

"I want to die," he said. "I don't want to live."

"Saffron," a voice called from the mouth of the cave.

"Zhang Ping," Saffron laughed. "You heard?"

Zhang Ping nodded. "I did."

"How did you know where to find me?"

"I followed your ki, Saffron."

Saffron laughed. "It must be easy to spot its dark stain upon the blue sky."

Zhang Ping shook her head. "It is not dark, Saffron."

Saffron turned back. "I KILLED her."

"No. Kwai Kaun killed her. Chang Ling killed her. You did not."

Saffron shook his head. "I've lost her. The only... the only reason I had."

Zhang Ping shook her head. "What did you say to me that day ten years ago?"

Saffron sighed.

"What did you say to me? You said, 'teach me to fight'."

Saffron remained silent.

"Has that changed? You still wish to know how to fight, do you not?"

"I can't go back."

"I'm not asking that, Saffron. I'm asking if you still want to know how to fight."

Saffron shrugged. "What does it matter? Pao's dead. I never knew what I was fighting FOR until her. And now... now she's gone."

"No, Saffron. She's not."

"She's dead. She died in my arms."

"And she'll remain in your heart. For now, and all of eternity."

Saffron sighed again. "What good are memories? I'll never be able to touch her. To smell her hair, to hear her voice. I'll never taste her lips or see her beauty."

"And what would you trade those memories for?"

Saffron sighed. "Not for anything..."

"There is a sword, Saffron," Zhang Ping stepped further towards him.

"There are many swords."

"This one in particular. It is an... heirloom of the Ping family."

"So what? I have no more need of swords."

"My father kept it hidden from me until after his death, Saffron."

"..."

"And I'm giving it to you, after my death."

"What do you mean, Zhang Ping?" he got up and turned.

And then stopped dead in his tracks.

"P...Pao?"

Zhang Ping nodded. Pao walked from behind her. "Hello, Saffron."

"What... What... How?"

"The sword, Saffron," Pao began. "Zhang Ping wished it for you."

Saffron shook his head in confusion. "Sword?"

"It will grant you wishes. It will make anything you wish into a reality."

"But how--"

"I wished for you to understand, Saffron. I wished for one final chance for you."

"You're... You're dead?"

Zhang Ping nodded. "I am, but with my dying wish, I wished for this."

"How?"

"They came for me and tried me for their own crimes. They needed someone to blame, and I was the only one available."

Saffron shook his head. "But--"

"Time is short, Saffron. We must rest now. Here," she said, and threw a wrapped bundle towards him.

"What...?"

"It is the sword. Choose your wishes very carefully, Saffron."

Zhang Ping turned to walk away. Pao stood a few moment longer, and blew a kiss to Saffron.

"I love you, Saffron," she said, and then too turned away.

"Wait," he called. "Where are you going?"

"We must rest now, Saffron."

"Wait, I can wish you back!"

"No. You cannot do that, Saffron," Pao closed her eyes. "We must rest. Our time has come, and we've severely bent the rules by allowing this."

"But--"

"Choose your wishes carefully, my love," Pao said.

Saffron just swallowed, and watched the two of them disappear to the mouth of the cave.

"Goodbye, Saffron," Zhang Ping said.

Pao smiled. "I will await you, Saffron."

And then they left. Saffron dropped to his knees, holding the sword in his lap.

And he remained that way for hours.

Finally, he slumped off into a deep sleep.

*flash*

He dreamt of birds. Of wings sprouting from his back and soaring through the clouds like a hawk.

He dreamt of ashes, and falling, and then rising again.

And he dreamt of Zhang Ping and Pao.

And, while he dreamt, he knew what his wishes would be.

*flash*

Saffron stood at the mouth of the mouth and held the sword in his hand. He wasn't sure if there was a ceremony, so he simply spoke out loud.

"Sword," he began, "I am not worthy of Pao's comfort. I do not wish to die until I believe myself worthy of her. I wish, that every time I die, I shall rise again, and rest only when I've been proven."

The sword glowed a bright blue. It rose out of his hands and hovered before him.

And then it spoke.

"For years shall you live, and years more after you die shall you be reborn. Until the day you prove yourself worthy and can return to Pao in the afterlife."

Saffron felt an energy surge through him. It felt tingly at first, and then it hurt.

And then he felt something else. The clothing he wore around his upper body seemed to get tighter.

And then the wings burst from his back, and the tail grew from his lower back. His hands and feet began to wrench and become twisted, clawed up.

Saffron fell over, eyes wide open.

"What... is this?"

"Like the Phoenix, you shall rise again. And like the Phoenix, you shall be envisioned of."

*flash*

The dream. The dream said it all.

Saffron could fly. He could stretch his wings and fly across great expanses.

And yet, he felt alone.

He stood perched upon the mountain he had come to call home. Holding the sword, he hefted it above him.

"Sword," he began, thinking of the perfect wish. "I am lonely. I wish... companions who would share my situation. I wish for friends to call me own, of no prejudice and like-minded of myself."

It glowed again, bright blue. It hovered again before him.

"You are the winged, so the winged shall be your companions. Look to the skies of your mountain home, for your companions will join you in short."

Saffron sighed. He looked up and saw a flock of birds.

And after another moment, the flock of birds had become part human.

Saffron had just created his people.

*flash*

"S...Saffron," one of the birdmen began.

"Paichung?" Saffron asked, looking towards him.

"Landlings hunt us. They hurt us and sell us. Four dead, three ca...ca...captured."

Saffron's eyes narrowed. He looked to his sword at his side and frowned.

Sighing, he looked towards the sword.

"Sword," he began, "I wish for one final wish."

"Speak it, and it shall be done."

He sighed. "My people and I need a weapon. We need... protection from the... Landlings."

"The Landlings shall hunt your kind no more. Look to me, for the weapons you seek with be wrought forth from myself."

Saffron blinked in surprise. "From yourself?"

There was a blinding flash, and Saffron managed to cover his eyes to prevent damage.

A moment later, two weapons lay on the ground.

Saffron's eyes went wide in shock. He picked the first one up.

"Kinjakan..." he muttered, not knowing at all where he got the name from.

He looked to the floor and picked the other weapon up.

"Gekkaja," he named it.

*flash*

"Your oath, Saffron," the man said.

*flash*

"Make sure the Landling is cared for. When he is better, release him with the threat of death should he ever reveal our existence to the outside world."

*flash*

"Saffron, I will help you. Help them in five thousand years and... and I will help make you worthy to see Pao again."

*flash*

"Hey, thanks kid. Make sure you're careful on your way home!"

Kima blinked in surprise as she noticed the Saotome Landling walk into the main entrance of Mount Phoenix.

Saffron stood silently for a moment, smirking, and then pounded the Kinjakan into the ground, causing it to rumble.

*flash*

Kima was in a dark room, standing with Saffron.

"Saffron, what...?"

"You've just seen my story, Kima. You know now."

Kima nodded. "I... I think I understand, but--"

"Pao is waiting for me, Kima. Will you help me get to her?"

Kima closed her eyes and nodded. "I will."

Saffron smiled. "Thank you."

*flash*

The darkness started to fade. It moved into a bright white light, and then that began to fade.

She became conscious of some pain around her neck. There would be bruising, but she suddenly felt the pressure leave her neck.

And then her vision began to swim back into focus.

And she saw Saffron standing before her.

And he was young again. A boy of twelve or thirteen.

Kima massaged her neck and looked towards Saffron. "I will help you."

Saffron nodded. "Thank you, Kima. I... I had to show you. I had to show someone."

Kima closed her eyes and bowed her head. "I understand."

"There were things that happened... after that point. When I first learned of my... responsibility. My... fate. It's not easy knowing that as a leader, all you are required to do for these people is to... warm them up."

Kima looked to the floor. "Saffron, I... We all know your responsibility. It... It doesn't make you seem any lesser of a man."

Saffron nodded, and the dropped to the floor, kneeling. "We have work to do."

Kima nodded in agreement. "Shall I go to the Musk?"

"Yes. Bring Masara and Koruma."

Kima began to put her clothes back on.

"Oh, and Kima?"

"Yes?"

"Bring them here."

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