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  1. -------------------- This was...nice. Really, really nice. Because with how busy the both of them were - and how often Feng threw himself headlong into danger in the defense and protection of their Empress - it wasn't very often that the two of them had a chance to simply be together, without work or obligations. With his injuries having forced some well deserved time off for the Watcher, she'd been able to see more of him on a daily basis. And that was...well. Nice. Really, really nice. "You shouldn't push yourself," Xiu cautioned for the third time since their leaving Huangjing, walking a path that took them through a nearby forest. Grove, would be the more accurate term, as it was hardly large enough to merit a name. There were an abundance of flowers near the center, however, which made it an excellent source to pick flowers and harvest herbs. "It's not hurting, is it?" the Qilin continued to fuss, shifting the basket looped around her foreleg in order to carefully brush a hoof over the bandages still wrapped around the Longma's wing. They held firm and tidy under her questioning hoof, but it wasn't enough to assuage the worry in her gaze. He really should be resting... "You'll let me know as soon as it starts hurting?" -------------------- Feng found it increasingly odd these days to be... well, not on duty. Loathe as he would be to admit it, he could not escape the legacy of his ancestors and their overdoing of things. Extra shifts volunteered, and extra work done in each, would have taken their toll eventually, it was just that the recent crash in the mountains had brought it to a head right here and now. Upshot of it was, he had been "rewarded" with full pay during a long period of recovery leave, of which he would need. He'd heal faster, if he could let himself lie still for a week. That he could not, but at least Xiu was here to keep him from trying to fly on his wings, and steady his pace to a gentle stroll. "I don't think so. I'd be hurting worse if I wasn't walking; I'd pick at the bandages from going stir-crazy!" He laughed, glad to be out in the open air with his friend. Honestly, the healer had by now fussed over him more than his own mother! Which was a subject he'd rather not breach right now, nope. Don't spoil a nice walk... -------------------- It was a near thing, but Xiu managed to bite down the protest that longed to worm its way from her lips. She'd already checked and double checked his bandages this morning alone, and he was recovering at a steady rate.. That didn't make her worry any less, however. Still...she knew Feng, and knew he was probably right. Chances are he most likely would have caused himself more harm tossing and shifting in boredom back in the infirmary. At least this way he got some careful exercise - nothing strenuous or harmful. Safe. "Sometimes I think you'd rather give up a leg than sit still for a day," Xiu sighed, but her tone was fond as she let the matter drop. She didn't want to sour his mood by coddling over him when he'd very clearly made his wishes known, because how often did she get time alone with her - with him? As long as she kept an eye on his wounds while they were out and about, he would be fine. Which is exactly when the shriek split the air. "What was that?!" Xiu gasped, startled, as another shriek followed the first. It sounded like some sort of bird, except not quite like anything she'd ever heard around Huangjing. And she would know, she frequented the surrounding areas often. "It sounds - it's in pain!" she asserted, as yet another shriek lit the air. Though this one was followed by voices - gruff, commanding, and thoroughly frustrated voices. -------------------- Feng flashed her another smile, one of those disarming smiles of the village troublemaker, skilled by practice in sweetening up the annoyed. "There are things I'd give up a leg for, but that's not quite it. I'm sure you'd dot he amputation wonderfully, though, should it ever come to that." He couldn't help but tease her; she would fuss over him so. Not quite so much as he, though, hearing the shriek of some one in distress. He jumped, almost on instinct flaring his wings, but the bandages still held. "Well? What are we waiting for then? Let's go!" Not even a pause for thought as he went off, though he did slow his pace after his body rebuked any attempt at running. Ye-owch, best walk... quickly, yes, but walk... -------------------- Even the sight of Feng's roguish smile, the one that would normally send her inner fires burning bright, weren't enough to distract her from the sounds - or from Feng as he charged headlong into the bush. "But you're in pain - !" Xiu cried out, and was ignored. Of course she was. Reckless, brave Feng who would never turn his back on the innocent in danger, be it a green-eyed Qilin believing she had what it took to make it in the world, or a creature in need of a helping hoof. Strong, brilliant Feng, with the resolve to change the fates of the world, even as his own body fought against him. With a helpless glance back towards the city just barely visible between the rows of trees, Xiu galloped to catch up to him. And abruptly came up short. It wasn't uncommon to see poachers in the area, not really. All sorts of exotic creatures were found in Huangjing - some gifts for the Empress, meant to gain her favor. Others for show and spectacle, in the capital city itself. Rarely were those exotic creatures seen outside the city, but it did happen from time to time, and the dishonorable were always all too ready to pounce on an opportunity. What wasn't common, however, was a Fenghuang. Many of its brilliantly vivid feathers were bent and ruffled, but still it screeched and scuffled as two ponies attempted to corral it into an open cage. Both seemed frustrated at the struggling, apparently worn out from its fight, but it was clear they had somehow managed to wrangle the best of it. One of its wings was bent awkwardly close to its body, the other flapping uselessly on the ground as it hopped to and fro, attempting to circumvent the Earth Pony and Pegasus. Clearly, it could not fly away, if it ever could. All of this came secondary to Xiu, because that was a Fenguang in front of her. If it had been a wolf, or a tiger, or some sort of bird of prey, she might have simply whimpered and hung back. But that was a Fenguang, and these ponies clearly had to be insane. "What are you doing?!" the Qilin cried out, hardly registering the ponies as they jolted in surprise, momentarily forgetting the bird whose tail feathers the Pegasus was grasping onto. The few pieces of clothing they were wearing were not Long in style - they looked Neighponese, in fact - but that could have been a simple deterrent to make it seem that they were not Long Guo natives. "You - that is a Fenghuang! How, dare you!" -------------------- There was indeed no hesitation from Feng as he barreled- er, ambled forward. Once he saw the situation in front of him, however, he was caught up short. Poachers. Two of them. Technically, as a member of the Watch, he had the power of arrests, and were he in full and fighting shape, he would take the odds of his training and skill against their greed. But right now, the bandaged-swathed longma knew that he was not an imposing figure. One good punch would take him out, for sure. This would call for subtlety... "Indeed." He chimed in right behind, putting all the bass authorative tones he could into his speech. "A great curse comes upon those who dare to harm such. I scared one off from a bush once, and look what happened to me!" While he himself could not breathe fire, Feng's affinity was wind, which came with it's own breath magic. As he talked, he exhaled a cool scent of mint and herbs, relaxing the minds of all who smelled it, making them just a tad bit readier to believe what they heard... -------------------- Xiu was vaguely aware of her mouth flapping open and closed like a fish desperately heaving for water on dry land. She was...incensed, to put it lightly, a feeling that had quickly begun warring with fear at the sight of the weapons that had glinted from the sparse sunlight. Daggers, they looked like, barely visible beneath their coats. But they were clearly poachers, and Xiu could only assume that they had tracked and followed the Fenguang far from its home in the Valley...or perhaps had been in the midst of transporting it when it had escaped. Either or, Xiu couldn't help but start as Feng's voice suddenly broke into the clearing, speaking as clearly and confidently as if he'd had a hundred Watchers backing him up. The Qilin couldn't help breathe a soft sigh of relief that he hadn't just gone charging into a battle he most likely would have lost, but that did not ease the tension in her shoulders as the two ponies glanced at each, then back towards her and Feng. And spoke. They were speaking Neighponese. Not native, then. Xiu's brow furrowed, drawing on her scant Neighponese. They were saying something...about "not bird," and "mistake" and..."taking care" of something. Pah! Made a mistake in getting caught. Still, Xiu followed Feng's lead as she drew in a deep breath, as eager as her friend was to jump into a fight. ["Leave bird. Go fast. Call guards."] she tried in halting Neighponese, trying her best to sound impressive and confident. Their gazes immediately turned wary, but still they made no move, their eyes trailing from her to Feng. "They're not budging," Xiu hissed under her breath to the Longma, "do you have a weapon? Or something of the Watch? They might recognize the symbol?" -------------------- Neighponese. Feng recognized the language, from his trips with the Empress along with the Shogun. He'd picked up a few words and phrases, particularly guard-relevant ones, after spending some time with the Shogun's own guard, Sanda. Good thing, too, as he'd need as much as he could get! ["Leave the premises immediately! There are sacred grounds of royalty! Leave all unmolested! The Watch has you in its sight!"] He hoped the force of his words, the language, and the mind-softening smell of his breath would be enough to shock them out of their plans. It seemed so; at the mention of the Watch, they both jolted, not wanting to run afoul of the legendary agency. And shortly after jolting, they began bolting. Feng held his breath until the noise of their parting faded away. "Well! That went considerably better than it had any right to. Night to have a scary reputation, ain't it?" -------------------- Xiu let out a gust of breath without even realizing she'd been holding it, entirely relieved that Feng had gotten the poachers to leave on their own accord. It must have been the soothing quality to the Longma's breath magic - subtle, yet undoubtedly effective. "I'd rather not get set in a Watcher's sights, yes," Xiu agreed faintly, eyes moving from the receding noise up to Feng's face - before a feeble cry abruptly reminded her of what he'd actually accomplished with his posturing, breaking Xiu out her daze as she galloped towards the downed bird. "Certainly explains why they held no qualms in attempting to capture a Fenghuang," the Qilin noted, voice bitter as she gingerly scooped the bird into her hooves. What on earth had Neighponese poachers been doing so close to Huangjing? Probably something for Feng to alert his superiors over...but for now, this was something she could do. "Come on, let's get him back to the infirmary!" It was a fairly short trip - they received more than their fair share of askance glances at the burden she carried, but they reached the relatively empty infirmary in short notice, and Xiu wasted no time in casting a basic Healing breath. A moment or two passed as the Qilin concentrated, and it was only after the splayed out create was stabilized did Xiu abruptly remember the thoughts that had passed her mind in the grove. "That was...very well done," she commended, eyes softening as she tore her gaze from the injured Fenghuang to Feng. Ah, hah...Fenghuang to Feng. "I mean - getting them to leave without even lifting a hoof," Xiu extrapolated, eyes softening as she looked at the Longma. Some thought the Watchers solely as unthinking weapons to be directed and used at the will of the Emperess, but...well. Clearly, they never interacted with the right Watchers. -------------------- All the while Xiu had been prepping and carrying the Huangjing back to the Infirmary, Feng had been doing some serious thinking. That had been lucky, something of a fluke, but it would probably not work a second time. And if Neighponese poachers were daring to come this far into Long Guo... there might well be a second time. Definitely would send a note to the higher-ups, though what the Censor would say to a note from him-who-must-be-put-on-rest-leave was... hm, actually pretty entertaining to imagine. "Well, I couldn't very well bodily eject them, could I? You're too good at tying a stallion down!" He laughed as she commented after her first healing breath. "But yeah, I've always been pretty good at getting my way. Had to learn to be a fast talker to keep out of too much trouble back home.. Heh, the village never thought I'd make it as a member of the Watch, but I'd like to think my foalhood was the perfect preparation." -------------------- 'Fast talker,' indeed. Xiu tried not to flush at Feng's words, but still failed - unintentional though they were, it was all too easy to imagine the Longma meaning something entirely different than the actual literal implication. It was a skill she thought must be unique to Feng, the ability to say something so blithely and innocently, yet still send her heart fluttering. Sometimes she wondered if he even did it on purpose. But even still, Xiu couldn't help but perk up slightly as the Longma spoke. She didn't know much about Feng's foalhood - the subject wasn't something that had come up often between the two of them, more focused on the here and now - but she did know that he had been quite the troublemaker. She wondered how much of that had actually been tempered out of him by the Watch...how much of him had been changed. A charming smile, carefree laughter...maybe the Watch hadn't changed him so much as directed him. She sincerely hoped so. "Fate has a way of working things out, I think," Xiu finally said, after sending another wave of Wood breath towards the Fenghuang. It stirred slightly on its pillow. "Your foalhood led you here, to the Watch...and to, me," the Qilin continued, with only the slightest hitch of her breath. "I would have...died, that day, if you hadn't been a troublemaker." Xiu laughed softly, more at herself, but couldn't tear her eyes away from Feng's own. Ancestors...if he started talking about Yue right now, she was going to have to cook up a feast to relieve the stress. -------------------- "Huh, so it does... " Xiu's remark had set Feng musing, his own eyes drifting back to the Fenghuang. Such a pretty bird... he blinked. Why did it not look like a bird right then? Must be his imagination. Or maybe he was tired; that might be it. Recovering from injuries and all that. "You gotta wonder sometimes if there isn't really something behind it. Bringing a guard in right at the moment when a mare comes to need him. Oh, and getting you out of trouble too! Guess I must just be lucky." He blathered on, innocently revealing how Xiu was not at the top of him mind. Hoo boy, it was a good thing he couldn't see the expression on her face right now. "Trouble is... I mean, it's a lot of good fortune, but I feel, I don't know, that I'm unable to get the most I can out of it? Am I missing something, or just expecting things to move as fast as I tend to do?" -------------------- ...Yup. The kitchens were hers tonight. And she wasn't going to stop cooking until she'd made up a feast worthy of the Empress herself. Because cooking had a way of keeping her calm and focused, ingredients and recipes all requiring her concentration and attention. It had a way of making her forget herself for a while, or forgetting other things...like Feng thinking of the Empress yet again when the two of them were alone together. Luckily for her, Feng's attention on the Fenghuang caused him to miss the pinched expression that passed over her face, before she forcibly smoothed it out with a deep inhale, and exhale. All the traits she so admired in the Longma that caused him to focus so intently on the Empress...would she feel the same if he didn't have those traits? Of course not. She couldn't love them without loving the result of them. She just...wished they had had a different result. "Maybe," Xiu started hesitantly, then paused, head ducking downwards for a moment. She valiantly attempted to fight off the flush that threatened to take hold of her face, but once again, failed. In turn, Xiu hid her face by scooting closer to Feng, occupying herself with pretending to check up on the bandages across his wings once again. "Maybe, what you seek is not what you need? Perhaps you're missing things because...because you're looking down a road that differs from where your fortunes would lead you. Lead you somewhere else...or to...someone else." -------------------- Single-minded pursuit of a goal was a tricky trait to have. On the one hand, it gave strength to the pursuer, but left him with blinders on his peripheral vision. Feng's ancestors had fallen to disaster through this, and it was not yet out of the question that he himself might do so too. "Hm?" His gaze pulled back up as Xiu came closer, seeming to check on his bandages again. "I guess... I mean, it really is kind of presumptuous of me to suppose I know ahead of time what destiny has laid out for me. I suppose the best I can do is to pursue the duty and desires I know I have, and let the fates do what they may." -------------------- What was that expression her father used to have? About blinders? And even then, they hadn't been wiling to do anything other than stick to the course they had thought was best for her. And them. It made sense, in an odd sort of way, though. Wasn't she doing the very same thing, in her own way? One could not control fate, so the only thing one could do was chase after one's own wishes and dreams. Playing the cards that fate dealt was the trick, though, rather than throwing out the cards to continue playing empty-hoofed. "Perhaps," Xiu conceded, and made one final tug on the wrappings. "But...well. I don't think you should...blind yourself to everything but your wants. You never know...you'll miss the fortunes the fates favor you with." So said, and with herself back under control, Xiu paused again - before darting forward with the strength of all her nerves, planting a quick and chaste kiss to the Longma's cheek. ...Which she had planned to follow up with a flowing remark on the blessings right in front of his face, but no sooner had she drawn in a breath when a burst of color had her flinching to the side, mouth falling open. The Fenghuang was...awash in rainbow colored flames, yet held no evidence of pain or burns. Instead the bird suddenly flew upwards from its pillow, soared once around the room, before coming to hover right in front of her face, and - Breathe. Its head pressed against her snout, and for one moment in time, her breath was that of the Fenghuang's. Quite abruptly, the bird reared backwards and soared around the room again, only to swoop down and repeat the same thing with the Longma at her side. So doing, the Fenghuang seemed to give a sort of satisfied chirp, before it returned to its pillow, its flames extinguishing as the creature curled its head under one wing. A very empathic posture for sleeping. "I," Xiu murmured, quite at a loss for words, because that was an ancestors-blessed Fenghuang. What little rules she knew of wildlife were, quite obviously, thrown out the window. "I suppose he's feeling better, then," the Qilin finally said, and this time, didn't bother fighting the smile that pulled at her lips. Words weren't always needed, after all. -------------------- Of course, there were only so many things a set of blinders could, well, blind one too. Typhoons, for one thing, had their way of making themselves known to the most determined traveler, blowing them right back through their own front doors. Passions of the heart, as well, could derail the very tides of history from their course. And, naturally, the sudden coming of a pheonix to life, swirling around the room and seeming to give a kind of magical bond to all present. Finding himself hit with two out of three, Feng was dazed, blinking in the force of events. Is this what others felt like when he went up against them? He looked to the mare that had just planted a quick kiss on him, back to the Fenghuang, back to Xiu again. "I..." He swayed on his hooves, feeling woozy. "I think I need to go back to bed and rest." It had been a busy day after all, despite Xiu's best efforts. It at least gave his brain something to chew on. -------------------- [[ End ]]
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