An apple bumped and curved along the cobblestone path, dodging and weaving between heavy footsteps of the busy townsfolk before coming to a stop at the feet of a young boy, quickly snatching it up and stowing it inside his dirty sleeve. He peered around for onlookers or an owner seeking his lost goods, anxious to slip away unnoticed.
The youngster, thin, and tall in height, quickly withdrew into a narrow alley, but not before first making sure that there was no one following him. Feeling safe in the shadows, he leaned his bony back against a stone wall and sighed in relief. Finally.
“Did you bring something back?” A voice of a child, even younger than the boy in his early years of puberty, asked. The youngster turned towards the source of the voice, a little girl wearing a dirty and ripped brown dress and long messy hair, and a smug smile flashed on his face.
“I got us some food.”
Upon hearing these words, the girl’s eyes started to shine hopefully. “Food? I really hope its bread or potatoes! Or maybe even corn! I would really like to have a taste of corn one day. It looks so good.” Drool started to form at the corners of her mouth as she kept imagining various goods.
“I got something even better, Mucheng.” Su Muqiu smiled and pulled out an apple from his sleeve, giving it to his younger sister.
Su Mucheng’s eyes brightened even more. “An apple! You remembered my wish!” When she had caught a serious plague and nearly died, the young girl had made a wish to her brother. She had wished to have a taste of an apple, even if only one time, before her death. Su Muqiu had vowed to the heavens and the earth to fulfill the wish of his little sister.
Su Muqiu knelt down and caressed Su Mucheng’s cheek. “You do know that I’m here to fulfill all of your wishes, right? I’d do anything for you, Mucheng.”
“Then be with me, forever.” Su Mucheng replied, her expression serious and stoic, her eyes glowing with a maturity unlike her age. This was, however, followed by such an angelic smile that Su Muqiu convinced himself that he must’ve seen wrong.
“I will,” he smiled warmly, “Now, have a bite of the apple before I snatch it away from you.”
Despite saying this, Su Muqiu would never do anything to make his sister cry and Su Mucheng knew this too. She giggled lightly as a reply and then proceed to take a bite from the apple. She let out a cry of happiness, completely enjoying her first time tasting this godly fruit.
Su Muqiu couldn’t hold back his smile watching his sister enjoy her food so much. It seemed that his stomach also couldn’t hold back and let out a low and loud grumble. A blush crept down Su Muqiu’s face. He hadn’t eaten anything proper for a week, and it seems his stomach had met its limit.
Catching such a savory scent, it just had to make itself heard.
As Su Muqiu was cursing his stomach and telling it to stop, he suddenly saw something red before his eyes. The youngster looked up and realized that Su Mucheng was reaching the apple towards him. It was half eaten and her expression showed she wanted more, but Su Mucheng won the battle against her desires.
“Mucheng… You don’t need to. It’s yours.” Su Muqiu said, but was cut off by his little sister.
“Su loves forever. Su never betrays. And Su shares everything with their loved one. Isn’t that what you told me?” The young girl smiled happily. Su Muqiu was brought to tears by the words of his sister, but the loud grumble Su Mucheng’s stomach made just as she had finished her words, made it less convincing that she wanted to share the apple.
“… Thank you…” Su Muqiu hesitated to take the apple but started devouring it as soon as it was in his hands. Only now did he realize how hungry he actually was. He finished the apple with in seconds, nearly choking on it at one point.
“Muche-“ the youngster started, only to realize something terrible. It had been only a couple seconds. He was distracted for just a moment, and still it had happened.
Su Mucheng was gone.
Su Muqiu panicked. He looked right and left, hoping to see a glimpse of his little sister but all in vain. He even went as far as running to the other end of the alley, couldn’t find her.
Su Muqiu gulped. The girl couldn’t have gotten far, but he still couldn’t find he. This meant there was only one place she could’ve went. She walked into the marketplace, that one location in this whole city she shouldn’t have stepped foot in.
The boy gulped, hoping this was all just a bad dream. That she wasn’t there and instead had just wandered off deeper into the alleyways. He made it closer to the entrance of the alley and peeked out, hoping to, but at the same time wishing not to see a silhouette of his younger sister.
There she was.
It didn’t take long for Su Muqiu to find his sister. She was in the middle of the marketplace, kneeling down while trying to pick something up. Su Muqiu could feel a wave of relief pass through his body, however it was too soon. He then realized who approaching his little sister.
Su Muqiu didn’t hesitate for even a second. He dashed straight towards Su Mucheng.
“Seize her!” A command, sharp and majestic, echoed in the marketplace. Multiple guards proceed to follow this command, circling around the young girl, their spears and swords at her neck.
Su Muqiu’s heart skipped a beat. What were they doing to her!? Su Mucheng fell on the ground, tightly holding onto a small piece of bread as she tried her best to withstand the urge to cry.
“I believe you have something of mine.” The person who had yelled out the command approached Su Mucheng. He was but a young boy, not older than Su Muqiu, but the way he carried himself proved he had been raised in a completely different environment from the siblings.
Su Muqiu knew that very well, because he also knew who this person was. Only a fool wouldn’t recognize him.
It was the crown prince, Ye Xiu.
As the prince got closer to Su Mucheng, the girl started shaking her head desperately. She tried to say something, but only weird mumbles mixed with loud sobs could be heard. But one thing was obvious; she wasn’t going to let go of the bread.
“That bread is something I bought and threw away. Now return to me what’s mine.” Ye Xiu commanded, a playful smirk on his face as he watched the terror on the girl’s face grow every passing second.
“Get away from my sister!” Su Muqiu yelled from the crowd, slowly approaching the crown prince and his guards.
The young prince moved his eyes towards the source of the voice, only slightly acknowledging Su Muqiu’s presence. The guards on the other hand tightened their stances around Su Mucheng. The little girl was weeping openly, unable to handle having swords pointed at her, but holding tighter onto the bread.
“I said get away from my sister.” Su Muqiu repeated, this time more anger his voice.
Ye Xiu chuckled and faced Su Muqiu. “Get away from my sister, he says. Who are you to command my people like that?”
“If you don’t want your men to get hurt, I would suggest ordering them to leave my sister alone.” Su Muqiu demanded, his voice now calmer but eyes burning with the protective passion every brother has towards their younger sister.
“I’d like to see you do something about it then.” Ye Xiu replied, not even caring about the words of the pauper boy. What could a mere boy from the street do to his trained soldiers?
This boy was all bark, no bite.
Su Muqiu realized that all of his warnings had been futile. The young crown prince didn’t believe him and would never order his men to move away from Su Mucheng. Su Muqiu glanced at his little sister, sorrow filling his eyes.
`Don’t worry Mucheng, I will definitely save you. Just hang on for a little longer. `
Since words didn’t seem to work, Su Muqiu needed to find another way to save Su Mucheng.
While Su Muqiu was in the middle of thinking, something unexpected happened.
One of the guards turned towards the young prince. “Your Highness, what do we do with her?” As he did this, he accidentally nicked Su Mucheng’s cheek with his sword. The girl cried in pain.
The moment Su Muqiu saw blood dripping from Su Mucheng’s cheek, he lost it. “I will never forgive you for hurting my sister.” He roared.
Su Muqiu dashed forward and the guards immediately noticed him. Some of them moved away from Su Mucheng, into a defensive stance against him. A couple guards went off to protect the young prince. Ye Xiu watched as the young boy charged at his soldiers.
This boy was a big fool.
Su Muqiu was closing towards the spearmen who were more than prepared to face him. He had no weapon, not even a small rock he could use to hit his opponents. But Su Muqiu didn’t need one. His mouth was moving slightly as he whispered chants and his arms moved up slightly.
All of a sudden, a strong whirlwind surrounded the men and threw their weapons away. Their vision blurred for a second and the men were in chaos – in this moment protecting the crown prince was the most important thing.
Su Muqiu used this chance to get to Su Mucheng.
“Are you alright?” He asked worriedly as he pulled the girl into a strong hug. Su Mucheng was trembling and her sobs soaked his chest, but slowly her breathing calmed down. She kept nodding softly as Su Muqiu caressed her head.
“That was a nice trick there, mage boy.” Su Muqiu suddenly heard a voice say. He turned around and saw Ye Xiu standing before him. The crown prince’s guards were trying to stop their young master from approaching the two siblings, but he didn’t care. “I saw something amazing today. To think that there were still mages alive in this world. And I found one in the streets of my very own city.”
Su Muqiu kept glaring at the boy.
“Say, mage boy. How about we sign a contract?” Ye Xiu suggested.
“What?” Su Muqiu couldn’t believe his ears.
“Sign a contract with me! It’s an order.”
“And that is the story of how I first met His Majesty. It’s not a fancy one, but real stories usually aren’t.” Su Muqiu explained to his student sitting across the table.
“More.” Zhou Zekai said.
“You want to hear the story of how His Majesty was kidnapped?” Su Muqiu asked. He was surprised by this sudden interest the boy showed towards his past.
Zhou Zekai nodded.
“KAIKAI! QIUQIU!” A chirpy yell echoed in the room.
“Your Highness!” Su Muqiu let out a surprised cry.
A young kid ran as fast as they could, right into the arms of Zhou Zekai. The young mage lifted up the small child and smiled kindly. The child let out a vivid laugh.
“Highness.” Zhou Zekai said, staring into the eyes of his ruler.
“KAIKAI!” The child cried happily.
Su Muqiu smiled proudly.
Zhou Zekai was a young mage with tremendous potential, never seen before. It was a miracle Su Muqiu found him in the first place. The older mage was sure that if trained the right way, Zhou Zekai would one day surpass him.
One day, Zhou Zekai would sign a contract with the young highness, and they would fight the world together.
Just like Ye Xiu and him.