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The sun cowers behind the lush, green peaks as morning settles over the Nan mountain range. The air awakens to the murmurings of civets and the buzzing of pale dragonflies flitting between the bamboo forest and the tea leaf fields. It is late summer, and the nunnery sits in the curve of the valley, swathed in tranquility.

Ying does not smile as she takes in the view from her humble, third story quarters, a room she shares with her sisters. Her face, usually smooth as alabaster, is furrowed with anxiety today. She wets her pinky and extends her hand out the window. Yes, there is something wrong in the air today. Her shoulders curl with apprehension as she tries to shake this inexplicable tension off.

The sky is blue streaked with the remnants of dawn, not a cloud in sight. There will be no storm today. Yet why are the morning birds not singing?

The gong sounds, breaking Ying’s reverie. She abandons her post by the window, resolving to push all unsettling notions to the back of her head. The sisters of the Shan Gu nunnery file silently down the halls to begin their prayers. The only sound is the rustling of unembroidered saffron robes, and the gentle clinking of wooden beads.

Ying finds herself beside Kailin during prayers. The other girl smiles at her, and seems perfectly at ease. The temple descends into absolute silence as the two hundred and eighty girls place their foreheads on the floor. Burning incense fills the air.

Try as she might, Ying cannot focus today. After morning prayers, the crowd disperses. The younger girls are led off by gray-haired fifty-year old grandmas to visit the Hong Hua Lake and head east towards the rice fields. At the ripe old age of ten and nine, Ying has recently entered the ranks of scholars, and ascends the stairs to the second floor where she resigns herself to copying the texts of great poets. Others meditate, clean, or paint.
“Jing!” Ying whispers, sliding into her usual place beside her friend.

“Zao,” the older girl bids her good morning.
Ying places her inkpot and writing stick on the roughly hewn table. “Do you feel anything strange today?”

“Today? No, I haven’t. The weather is lovely.”
Ying frowns, and unfurls a piece of fresh, blank bamboo paper. “Oh, I see. It’s just-” Her words leave her mouth as she stares at the paper.
There are garish, red words scrawled sloppily in some sort of strange ink.
I am coming. The four characters send chills up her spine.

“Are you all right, Ying?”
Ying quickly snaps the scroll shut. Her fingers tremble. “Nothing,” she reassures her friend, trying on a smile. “I’m sure it’s…something I ate yesterday.”
Jing does not look like she believes Ying, but she shrugs all the same, knowing better than to push. Ying pulls out another piece of paper. The two of them work silently together, side by side. The scroll with the threatening words stays tucked in the folds of Ying’s robe.
The sisters convene during the third hour of the afternoon to eat their solitary meal. Ying gives her unappetizing bowl of eel and mushroom broth to one of the young ones, and runs outside. Under the blazing sun and clear skies at last, she hurries into the grove of persimmon trees that are scattered near the building, desperate for some time alone.
Veiled by sturdy trunks and shadows, Ying fishes the scroll out from her robes. Her heart is hammering. She examines the writing once more, running her eyes hungrily over the script.
Ying recognizes the writing. It belongs to a man from another life, a man with liquid eyes and a sharp wit that crept into her window and kissed her in the utter darkness. A man whose love was furious and passionate but would die out like an extinguished flame once he tired of her. A man whom Ying had given herself over to, and who had left her in the end.
She had only found out how two-faced he was after they had done the deed. She had caught him with another woman, and she had fled, mortified beyond words.
Then Ying discovered she was with child.
He had chased her; oh how he’d begged her to come back, especially when she’d told him about their child. He wanted to reconcile, marry and have a family. She would have gladly gutted him for a clipped copper coin. No way in the seven hells would Ying allow him to ever touch her baby son.
She had found a sanctuary in the Shan Gu nunnery, where she had remained hidden for three years, and given birth. Her son was far away now, in a safe place with hot food and a set of foster parents he would call ba and ma.
A perfect, pristine tear rolled down Ying’s cheek. She stared at the scroll.
He knew where she was now. And once he found her, he would do anything to discover the whereabouts of his son.

Ying tightens her fist around the fragile paper, crumpling it.
She will do her duty as a mother. She will keep her little prince safe.
No one will be able to coerce information from her if she is gone.

~

The sun cowers behind the lush, green peaks as morning settles over the Nan mountain range. The air awakens to the murmurings of civets and the buzz of pale dragonflies flitting between the bamboo forest and the tea leaf fields. It is late summer, and the nunnery sits in the curve of the valley. Usually quiet and tranquil, the red and gold building is bustling with activity today.

Tai reins his mountain pony in with the rest of the law enforcement team. They were sent to the nunnery from the city Dongcheng, to investigate a suicide.

The squad, half a dozen strong and decked out in their full uniform, strides downs the yawning halls of the temples. Tai is sweltering in the humidity, but tries not to show it. He is excited- this is the first real investigation he’s been on since passing the test, and he is intent on impressing the lieutenant.

They arrive at the scene of the crime in a few short moments. There is a body, clad in the orange-yellow all nuns wear, at the foot of a set of spiral stairs. Her neck is bent at an unnatural angle, and her ebony hair is splayed out on the ground.
Tai’s stomach lurches, but he forces his face to remain impassive.

“What is her name?” Lieutenant begins his interrogation on the nearest girl, who is hovering around the body with red-rimmed eyes.

“Ying, sir,” she whispers, lowering her gaze.

Ying? The name is common in the southeast. However, it is also strangely familiar. Tai frowns and racks his brains. He swears he has heard of an important lady named Ying before…
“How old is she?”

“N-nineteen.”
“When did she arrive at the nunnery?”
“Three years ago, sir.”
Tai’s eyes widen.
Ying. Nineteen years old. Arrived at the nunnery three years back. Could it be?

Tai edges closer to the girl’s body, and peers at her face. She has pale, pale skin, probably from staying inside a palace all her life. Her nose is aristocratic, and the shape of her face is so, so familiar. No wonder. Her image has been plastered on WANTED posters for the past three years.

“Lieutenant,” Tai gasps.

The older man turns and fixes the younger with an annoyed gaze. “I’m interviewing somebody right now, Tai-”

“Lieutenant, listen. This girl- I’m certain of it- she is the Emperor’s daughter. Princess Yinghua, heiress to the Orient, first in line to the Nanying Throne. The girl who caused a scandal a few years ago by running off with her lover. Do you remember?”

The room is utterly silent as the Lieutenant freezes. He bends down and brushes away the diaphanous fabric that obscures the lower half of Ying’s face. The other nuns stare at Tai as is he is a newly discovered species of lizard that sings battle hymns.

After a few moments that seem like years, the Lieutenant straightens up.

“We had better notify the Emperor,” he says hoarsely.



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GypseyThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
Jul. 31 at 11:36 am:
Interesting. I like the element of mystery in it.
 
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kelly99 said...
Jul. 24 at 1:14 am:
what a peacefull way of describe setting!
 
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