"Since what's happening here can have such a huge impact on the rest of the Empire, how come no one has done anything to stop it?" Snow couldn't help questioning, a heavy critical tone on his voice.
"Isn't that a good question," ZaiWin agreed, sarcastically. "Even if some members of the Imperial Court don't know about what's going on here, the fact that that's even possible given the gravity of the situation, only goes to confirm that some are definitely aware of it, the same ones that are apparently doing their best to keep such huge operation in secret. Because of YunZen's portals, I can't be completely sure of how far we've traveled. But, from what we've seen these last few days, there is already a lot of land completely contaminated, the soil barren, the trees and vegetation dead."
"It's the whole Province," Snow declared, lowering his gaze, a sorrowful expression on his face. "I told you before. This entire Province is like a huge dark stain. I just never thought it would actually be this bad, when I pointed it on the map. You were right all along. There's no way I can cleanse it ... Me being here makes no difference at all."
ZaiWin gently ruffled Snow's hair and gave him a smile when he finally glanced up at him.
"Of course one single person will never be able to cleanse an entire Province. If things were that easy the feimao would have been eradicated from the land a long time ago. Besides, the corruption of the land is a direct consequence of the incompetence of their rulers. Even if you were to cleanse the entire Empire, as long as the people in charge refuse to change their ways, sooner or later, things would go back to being how they used to be."
Obviously feeling defeated, Snow sighed.
"I really thought that if I tried hard enough, I'd be able to do something about it. But the truth is that, in the end, I can't even help two small children. Keeping myself safe is already more than I can handle. I'm surprisingly very useless, for someone who's supposed to be some kind of heavenly being," he added with an ironic smile. "And to think that everyone holds the Tien'Elhar in such high regard."
"Celestials are supposed to bless the land. They're not Gods or miracle workers. They're the reward the people of Wen get for a job well done. They're not here to do the job for the people, much less work for them."
Snow couldn't help chuckling, peering up at him.
"And to think that the day would come when I would actually hear you speak up for the Tien'Elhar like that," Snow snickered and ZaiWin frowned threateningly.
"Are you mocking me?, you damn brat!"
"No! Not at all! I would never dare!" Snow immediately replied, raising both hands in the air, even though he apparently hadn't been able to get rid of his smile in order to make his declarations sound a little more believable. "I was just ... a bit happy ..." he ended up confessing, and ZaiWin sighed. It was a shame he had to ruin his short moment of happiness.
"Snow. Now that we've come this far, I think we may as well try and learn as much as we can about this InnArg's plans. About what he intends to do with you."
Snow nodded, his expression immediately serious again.
"We should try and find out if there's any more of these ... Blessed, as they call themselves. If we can learn about what their markings can do all the better. I have the feeling that like RimJan with her insights, YunZen with those impossible portals, and MaoHan with his ability to control dark energy, the rest of them will probably also have very unorthodox and dangerous abilities."
Snow nodded again, his pale eyes now completely focused on ZaiWin, as if he intended to absorb every single word out of his mouth.
"And then we have to get out of here. The four months' period during which RimMyu is allowed to rule over Nox is almost over. If I don't get back in time the El'Dur will not lose this opportunity to take over my lands. And I can't allow that to happen. Not now, when the people of Nox are finally getting back on their feet."
Snow's eyes widened at those words, and he nodded even more vehemently. He had completely forgotten about that! And he would never be able to forgive himself, if something were to happen to the people of Nox because he had caused for ZaiWin to be delayed.
"That being said, knowing you did all this to protect them from me, I need to ask you. Can I kill them?"
Snow was completely taken by surprise, his heart drumming painfully against his chest. The blue eyes staring fixedly at him were as hard and cold as uncut precious stones, clearly telling him that ZaiWin was being completely serious.
"You're ... asking me ...?" he finally managed to mumble back and, to his surprise, ZaiWin nodded shortly.
"I am. And I'm fully aware that I'm being terribly unfair. Because no matter what I say, I know that you still see them as Celestials, as your equals. And that's exactly why I'm asking you this. I'm not willing to lose any more of your trust because of them."
Snow immediately opened his mouth to contest, but ZaiWin pressed a finger against his lips, successfully silencing him.
"I cannot say if you were right or not, not to trust me. Maybe you're right, and I would never have allowed you to meet them. And maybe I would have killed them all, for what they did to you."
Snow frowned in clear contestation.
"Fine. For what they suggested you should do," ZaiWin obediently corrected. "But maybe I might have actually listened to you, hear you out, tried to understand your point of view, and be willing to accompany you to that house. And maybe, no matter what you might have chosen back then, our present situation might have still been exactly the same. All these suppositions and many more, it's no use thinking about them, since it's impossible to know if the outcome would ever be different. Besides, they are all in the past. Things that cannot be changed. So I will focus my attention on the present, and try to plan and anticipate the future as best as I can. Keeping that in mind, right now, I'm more than certain that I don't want to see you getting hurt because I happened to spill some of their blood."
Snow lowered his gaze, his throat feeling suddenly constricted. What was he saying? What was this idiot trying to say?!
Holding ZaiWin's warm hand, Snow easily pushed back that silencing finger.
"And if I say no ...?"
"Then I won't kill them," ZaiWin immediately replied, no hesitation at all, which immediately angered Snow more than he could bear.
"And what?! You're willing to die instead?!" he demanded, raising his voice, holding on to the collar of ZaiWin's tunic as if that could hammer some sense into that idiotic head.
But ZaiWin didn't even flinch, coldly facing his angry gaze, completely undisturbed.
"I will take that risk."
"You're definitely an idiot!" Snow shouted back and ZaiWin actually smiled. Smiled!! He dared smile!
"Aren't you the one who made me one?"
"What?!" Snow demanded with an angry frown, but ZaiWin fisted a handful of his silver hair, pulling him closer, successfully interrupting his furious outburst.
"If I'm an idiot then that's because you made an idiot. Which means that it's all your fault," he openly declared, as if explaining something very hard to understand, and Snow couldn't help staring at him in complete disbelief.
What? What was he talking about now? How come it was all his fault?!
"Anyway, you don't have to worry about my reasons. You only need to answer my question," ZaiWin declared, leaning forward, his face so close to Snow's now that he could feel his warm breath on his lips.
"Can I kill them?" he repeated, one word at the time, and Snow couldn't help averting his gaze. Those blue eyes had suddenly become very scary, like they used to be when he looked at him, back when they'd first met.
Even though it pained him, there was only one answer he could give him.
Snow nodded. But then he forced himself to be braver than that, and to actually face him. Because no matter what ZaiWin did, no matter what he might do, Snow had no doubts that he did so to keep him, and the people of Nox, safe.
"You can kill them," he openly declared.
For a moment, those blue eyes still stared fixedly at him, as if he were trying to see inside his head, trying to ascertain the truth of his words. Only then he seemed to relax, almost as if a huge burden had been lifted off his shoulders.
For what?, Snow couldn't help wondering, watching how all that cold hardness melted away from his face, leaving a very sad, very lonely expression in its place. In the end, the one getting hurt would always be him, Snow knew, watching as the sadness also disappeared, giving way to a deep resignation. Over and over again. since he'd been a child. The life of the man in front of him had been paved with blood and death. Never-ending. All consuming. As ZaiWin tried his best not to lose too many pieces of himself along the way.
Still afraid he might reject him, Snow pulled both arms around his neck and simply hugged him. To his relief, ZaiWin didn't recoil from his touch, on the contrary. He gently leaned his head on Snow's shoulder. Its comfortable familiar weight, the silky touch of his hair on his fingers, left a small smile of contentment on Snow's lips. Taking a deep breath, Snow softly caressed his head.
ZaiWin didn't have to worry about him. Not on that account, Snow decided. If needed be, if they decided to stand on ZaiWin's way, if they tried to hurt him in any way, he would kill them all himself.
A/N: And I don't doubt he would 😔. Our dear Snow is kind of unpredictable and dangerous like that 😅.
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