With the Tuhan's camp resting in the northern mountains, the temperature dropped, becoming colder and colder. Rin wrapped her body around her thick cloak to stay warm, yet the northern winds and chill air denied her of any warmth.
Her fingers clutching tightly to her cloak and face became numb.
A frail wheeze escaped her pale, colorless lips and her eyes looked up at the darkening, snowy sky. They had been traveling for the entire day, not once seeking to rest as the Tuhan walked down the mountainous, snow path.
None of the men spared a glance or spoke to Rin, acting as if she were invisible. Even with her violent coughs and wheezes - they ignored it.
She didn't know how much farther the Tuhan's camp was, nor did she try to think as her body slowly became weaker and unfeeling.
But through it all, she didn't complain. When she felt numb, she didn't ask for a spare cloak. When she was beyond exhausted and could hardly open her eyes, she did not ask for them to slow down.
All she could do was endure.
When she was little, living in the Bai residence during the winters her body always became vulnerable. Bai Han and Uncle Guo, not accustomed to taking care of a small little girl, panicked when Rin passed out in the snow one day.
After everything had gone dark, she woke up to feel something damp and warm resting on her forehead. Feeling frail and drowsy, she turned to the side to see her grandfather sitting beside her with arms crossed and his head drooped.
Upon a closer look, could she see the dark circles under his eyes as if he hadn't slept a wink the entire night. Diligently guarding her while she slept.
She didn't know why seeing such a side of him made her heart soften.
Even if she were to cough until she became exhausted, all of it would be worth it as long as she had her grandfather and uncle to dote on her.
But now…none of that was possible anymore.
Never did Rin think there'd be a day where she may never see them again. Never did she think that she'd feel so empty without her family's warmth. The warmth of another human being.
At the sound of An Sun's cold, deep voice, Rin glanced up from her hands and her large, silent eyes took in the sight in front of her. The ground was covered in a thick layer of snow, making the outline of pens and tens noticeably visible.
She could identify the figures of hundreds of Tuhan soldiers walking around the camp, some sorting through large chests and barrels sent by Northern provinces.
Staring at the scene before her, Rin's dry lips remained stiff while her eyes dully stared ahead.
An Sun shot a glance in Rin's direction. The indifference and coldness in his gray eyes remained, but a slight look of amusement lit up his eyes.
"Welcome to our camp, Bai Lan."
A Tuhan soldier, ordered by An Sun, guided Rin to a pen and roughly dropped a mat and pillow onto the floor.
"You'll stay here. Don't leave unless Lord An summons you."
He hardly spared Rin a glance or chance to speak before leaving the tent. Left alone, Rin silently stared down at the thrown mat and pillow on the floor – her large cloak wrapped securely around her small figure.
Rin's eyes lifted to stare at the tall rounded ceiling and shifts toward the unlit brazier on the side.
This…this was her new fate.
Kneeling down to fold out the mat on the floor, Rin lays the mat out neatly and prompts the pillow to the side. Staring at the mat for a few seconds to collect herself, she glances toward the unlit brazier.
That's right. She needed a fire to stay warm.
Coughing, Rin looks around the pen to look for essential materials. Her eyes lit upon seeing a round pot resting on a table; laced around it was a sturdy piece of string.
Forcibly standing up, Rin walks toward the pot and loosens the string from the pot.
Glancing around, she notices in the corner of the pen, near a broad chest, was a wooden staff.
Walking over, Rin grabs the staff, thoroughly examining it with silent eyes before walking toward the brazier.
She reaches into her pockets to take out a wooden baseboard the size of her hand and a medium-sized stone. Uncle Guo once informed her when she was younger to always travel with such objects in case one needed to build a fire when they needed one.
Smiling at the memory of the cold yet shy general, Rin's eyelids lowered. Snapping out of her thoughts, Rin examines the materials she collected and starts to place them together.
Shuffling a pile of tinder from the pen's ground into a small pile, Rin takes the wooden staff and with trembling hands, snaps the staff in half.
"This is a lot harder than it used to be." Rin couldn't help but bitterly laugh under her breath.
Rin grasped one half of the staff and fastened the thick string from the pot around it on each side until it gave the appearance of a bow.
Satisfied, Rin placed the wooden board on the ground beneath the pile of tinder – the stone beneath a narrow hole in the board.
Breaking the other half of the staff into small pieces, she grabs a part and props it into her palm.
With everything ready, Rin wrapped the bow-shaped stick and smaller half of the staff together against the boards' hole.
With as much strength as she could muster, Rin drilled the two pieces together as fast as she could.
Only a few seconds passed before she dropped the sticks, Rin slowly felt her vision start to become hazy and weak.
Yet, recalling her task that needed to be completed, Rin picked the broken staff back up and with trembling hands, drilled even faster.
After a few tries, the sight of delicate smoke coming from the board was seen. Without hesitation, Rin tilted the embers from the board onto the shredded timber and gently began blowing onto it until smoke was created.
Rin delicately picked up the smoking timber pile and transferred it toward the brazier where flames quickly sparked. Only after seeing the red fluttering flames, did Rin's worries ease.
A sudden wave of dizziness overtakes her and directs itself toward her throat.
Coughing her mouth, Rin panted for breath after she coughed but it proved futile as she broke out into another coughing fit.
With the draining journey and the energy it took to start the fire - her body had finally reached its limit as she collapsed on the floor limply.
Squinting her eyes, Rin feebly wheezed onto the floor.
She couldn't move…Her body felt so exhausted.
Mustering up some of the strength left in her body, Rin turns to the side and attempts to get up. Yet after a few seconds, a heavyweight expanded through Rin's body causing her to fall back on the floor.
She never felt like this. Did this mean she was going to die?
Slowly closing her eyes, Rin's body goes limp. The sound of the brazier's embers crackling buzzed faintly through her ears - the pen gradually becoming warmer.
She felt so…peaceful.
The sound of horse's hooves treading against the cold snow hummed numbly through Rin's ears. Flakes of light feathered snow fell from the sky and pressed itself onto the wagons and horses' soft coats.