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169 Death & Promises

\"Caw! Caw!\"

A bird with grievous eyes and ink-stained wings flew above the forest with the swift movement of its wings. It landed on the branch and cawed once again. The emotionless black crow stared down, its dark pupils reflecting the raging flames below.

The once silent night was overcome by the anguishing and deafening sounds of human screams. The flames danced and sprang in the air, reaching hungrily for anything that they can consume to fuel their wrath.

Aiguo ran and finally reached the mountain pathway to his home, his heart pounding out of his chest. When he overheard the voices of the bandits nearby his feet ran even faster.

As he approached the pathway to his home, he stopped. He raised his head and sniffed the air.

It was the overpowering smell of blood.

An ominous premonition swirled in his heart. Without a moment's hesitation, he ran in the direction of his home with the sound of his heart pounding in his ears, numbing the sounds of screams behind him.

When he arrived in front of his home, he stopped, his chest rising and falling with rapid breaths.

The door to his home was wide open.

\"J..Jia…\" His voice trembled.

The scent of blood was even stronger. Gritting his teeth, he ran to the door.

\"Jia!\"

The sight before him caused his throat to tighten and his world turned into a blur. He couldn't believe his eyes. He didn't want to. The adrenaline flew over his veins, but he couldn't move a single muscle, not even to scream.

He opens his mouth, but not a sound comes out, his head violently quivering as if there is a drill to the back of his skull. His eyes see nothing; they have lost all sight of what is, and what could have been.

His sister lay there, still in the center of the room, covered in blood. In the bright moonlight, it was indecently red, as red as any flower in bloom, but for Aiguo that moment would be forever grey.

\"Jia!\" He broke himself from his trance and rushed over to his sister. \"Jia, what happened to you?!\"

He kneeled with trembling, bloody hands. Her hair tumbled over her face, and so he swept it back, feeling the coldness of her skin.

\"Jia, please wake up!\" He shook her body. \"Jia! Jia!\"

\"Ngh…\"

At that moment, he heard a slight noise come from below him. In shock, he looked down at his sister's brows furrowed. A burst of hope erupted within his chest.

\"Jia! Jia! Was that you? Come on get up, we need to leave!\" He reached for his sister's cold, bloody hand.

\"G..Go…\"

\"W-What?\" Aiguo stilled, his expression turning blank.

\"Go…find Rin and leave…me.\" Jia voiced in a feeble tone that Aiguo could barely hear.

He was stunned by his sister's words and violently shook his head, clasping his sister's hand into his.

\"Why?!\" He screamed. \"I'm not leaving you! Jia…just hold on!\"

\"Aiguo,\" Jia slowly opened her eyes to look at her brother, tears brimming the corners of her eyes. \"You…You have to live a long life. L-Longer than father, mother, and I. It's a manly promise, all right?\"

Aiguo's hands clutching her own trembled.

\"I-I promise.\" He choked.

Jia smiled, tears running down her pale cheek. With the last bit of strength she had, she gripped his small hand. \"Mm, that...that's good. Go...and find Rin.\"

\"I love you…Aiguo.\"

The light had left her eyes as the color from her rosy cheeks vanished. Her hand gripping tightly to his went limp.

Aiguo refused to look away, even as his lips trembled and his shoulders heaved with emotion, unwilling to back down. His dark lashes brimmed heavy with tears; his hands clenched into shaking fists, in a desperate battle against the grief.

A lone tear traced down his cheek, and just like that, the floodgates opened. He wept, tears streaming from his deep, dark eyes, loud, heaving sobs tearing from his throat, and still, he did not look away from his sister's body.

Not until the sobs drove him to crumble, did his determined gaze fall.

\"No, I don't want this…Jia…Jia…\" He tried to pull up her limp body toward him. \"I love you too! So, don't leave me behind, Jia!\"

In the dark of night, the sound of cries echoed from all around. A bone-piercing cold wind entered the small home, wrapping itself around the boy and the limp figure in his arms. In the distance, the sound of approaching footsteps stepped closer, until they suddenly came to a halt.

Aiguo shifted his head and looked at the figure standing by the door.

\"Rin…\" He whispered hoarsely. \"Save her…save Jia!\"

Rin was silent as she stared at the boy. After a moment of silence, she walked up to Aiguo slowly and pulled him close to her, wrapping her arms around him. Her embrace was warm, and the small but strong arms seemed very protective when wrapped around the boy's frail body.

\"I'm sorry…\" Rin whispered. \"I'm so sorry.\"

The boy's sobs were stifled at first as he attempted to suppress his grief, then overcome by the wave of his emotions he broke down entirely, all his defenses washed away in his tears.

\"Auughhhh!\" He cried out with all his might and pulled his sister closer to his chest while Rin wrapped her arms around him.

Her hold tightened as she lowered her eyes. Jia's dark hair was scattered in multiple places, stained with red blood. Her round black eyes were wide open, but her irises held a sudden sadness.

She started to remember. Her smile. Her voice. Memories flooding back into her head. The lively girl that entered and saved her life. The beautiful girl that took her heart and made her feel safe again...was dead.

Rin's chin quivered as she extended a trembling hand to close the girl's eyes. A single tear ran down her cheek as she closed her eyes.

\"I'm sorry.\"

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