The first time Julan had to plead for her life was in Gansu when the village elder dragged both her and her mother to the village center. They chattered angrily about someone stealing their clan staff and how her mother had assisted the thief in some way. They surrounded Julan and her mother in a tight circle and refused to let them leave.
"A beauty such as she only brings bad luck to this town!" An elderly woman spat, her sunken eyes practically bulging from their sockets. "Because of this wench, we lost the Weather Ring of the Thunder God to her wretched husband. Now we won't have rain and we will starve!"
The rest of the mob agreed with her readily, all pointing pitchforks and axes at the two in the middle.
Julan had looked up to her mother, eyes wide with curiosity. She barely ever saw her father more than three times, much less remember who he was. What has he got to do with anything?
"You were entrusted with the guardianship of our sacred treasure!" A loud voice boomed everywhere and it reminded Julan of thunder. Squeezing her eyes shut, she grabbed onto her mother's dress and whimpered. "And now you will face the consequences of failing your task."
She felt the drop of her mother's form as the older woman was now on her knees saying something frantically.
"Please let my daughter live! I will do anything!"
Julan sniffled as she clung onto her mother in a tight embrace. It was cold and dark everywhere and she just wanted to go back to sleep. People were talking so loud and so fast, she couldn't understand a word. She saw a younger man leering down at her, a knife glinting under the moonlight. His twisted, scarred face searing into her memory
Someone roughly pulled her away by the collar of her shirt and she cried out in surprise. In an instant, the people were onto her mother, clawing, stabbing, shouting. Her mother's terrified screams echoed in her head. Horror dawned on the child as she began wailing as loud as ever, her chubby hands grabbing for anything but air.
Blood splattered everywhere as the strained hand of her mother sticking out from the mob finally fell to the ground. Julan felt dizzy from the stench of blood.
Julan was crying, snot covering her face and shirt. "Papa...please come help me!"
The now eerily silent crowd turned to the sobbing girl. The tension was deadly.
"She's just a child." A quiet voice came from behind. A nun stood not too far away from her, hand calmly at her sides.
Without thinking, Julan scurried over on all fours and slumped forward.
"Help my mama!" She cried. "Mama's bleeding so much! Please help my mama!"
The nun frowned, though not looking down at her. Julan felt a cold sweat breaking and begged once more until the nun turned her head and eyed her from the side.
"I'm sorry my child, I came late."
Her stomach couldn't have dropped even lower. Julan moved to turn her head to face the bloody pulp on the ground, but the nun's gentle hand stopped her.
"Then I guess this child is free property for us then!" The man from before bellowed. He towered over the quivering five-year-old. And the last thing Julan remembered was a butcher knife heading towards her face.
Only that the knife didn't make contact with her head as Julan bolted upright from her sheets. Her pulse was running a marathon in her sleep, and Julan feared that if it was any louder, then the master in the room down the hall would've caught hold of it and a barrage of questions would attack her the next morning.
Scanning her surroundings, Julan let out a breath she held for who knows how long. She was safe in her cozy room in Kamar Taj. And, most importantly, she was alive.
It was the same dream. Over and over again, memories would come back up in her sleep jolting her awake each time. The deafening screams of her mother still echoed off the walls of her room. Cringing at the memory, Julan buried her face in her hands. It was getting too vivid, and she could practically still smell the coppery scent of blood in the air as she took in deep breaths.
Julan swung herself off the bed and made her way to the other side of the room. It was five in the morning and she was sure the master was attending morning prayer. She groaned; she was getting behind with her relic studies. There was just another year before she was to either choose to be initiated into the Society of Magic or choose to live a layman's life. But she didn't want to think that far yet, when the criteria of getting enough rest was hardly met.
Julan's gaze went towards her bed and then to the door. There was no use falling asleep now when the annoying, fat rooster outside on the roof was doing its job of becoming the alarm clock.
One of these days, Julan swore than she would turn Mr. Pissy into a pecking duck. That ought to teach him.
Master was still out on the praying field by the time Julan had finished breakfast and made her way into her office. By the looks of it, the Master would probably be praying for another hour. She wasn't given her daily task yet, so she might as well find a good book or two that could help her recuperate her ability to sleep for the next few days.
Her little exploration of master's collection didn't go quite as planned when she heard faint footsteps padding towards the door.
In a dash, Julan leapt from the table and onto the ceiling. Her hands latched onto the suspended wooden planks casually as she held back a giggle. It was probably Anthu, the cleaning maid, and this was going to be the best start on her day yet. Julan briefly contemplated morphing into her master and dropping from the ceiling. It sounded pretty good in her head, until her eyes widened at the figure approaching the desk.
The Ancient One slowly made her way across the room and ran her hand through the disheveled books on the side. The small corner of her lips perked up. Julan internally sighed. This was going to end pretty badly.
"How long do you intend to hang up there, Chrysanth?" The Ancient One was definitely smiling now. "You do know that the purpose of a surprise is when it's done to an unsuspecting victim?"
She was outed once more. Julan resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "Are you serious, Master? You can at least pretend to have fun."
The Ancient One turned up towards the hanging youth from the ceiling. "Oh my! An intruder! And you happen to look just like my little disciple!"
Julan visibly cringed. For someone as progressive as the Ancient One, she sure had a lot to catch up to do in terms of twenty-first century mannerism.
"Would you like to try again, now?" Her master asked, the smile never leaving her face. With a huff of annoyance, Julan allowed herself from her hideout and landed smoothly in front of the sitting sorceress.
She sighed in defeat. "I'm ready to give up on ever catching you off guard."
The Ancient One shrugged and went back to whatever she was previously doing. "Well you can start by putting things back from where you found them. Not only is it courteous of you to do so, but it also erases a lot of hints for the receiving party."
Julan pinched the bridge of her nose; she had totally forgotten about the mess she had created.
"My bad." She grumbled.
Her master glanced at her briefly. "And you probably need to improve your light skills, Chrysanth. I could hear you jumping before I even walked to the door."
"Well no one else can hear me." Julan muttered, scowling even harder. "And I'm not little."
"There's always room for improvement!" The Ancient One sounded a little too chirpy this morning. "Regardless of what you were doing before, was there a reason why you decided to ambush me today, hm?"
The younger sorceress lolled her head to the side and tried to remember what exactly pushed her into this situation. Ah, yes. Sleeping problems.
Julan cleared her throat. "I keep getting nightmares recently. And I think sleep deprivation is one of the reasons why I can't ambush you properly." She canted her hips to the side, donning a fake pensive look.
The Ancient One nodded. "Ah, I see you've finally decided to ask for help. Your training has been lacking for days."
The revelation caught the young apprentice off guard and Julan gawked at her. "You knew I was having nightmares?"
Her master only gave her the trademark twitch of the lips.
Julan huffed ."Then why didn't you say anything? I thought you were starting to go soft on me in the fields. Or are you?" The last word was said with deliberate haughtiness.
"I do not plan on 'going soft' on you," The Ancient One said, "I was simply testing you to see if you knew your own limits. And it seems that you are doing quite well."
"Was it really necessary to give me flashbacks as training?" Julan said through gritted teeth. Her gaze suddenly hardened at the older woman seated in front of her.
The Ancient One snapped her head up to meet her student's accusation. "I do not quite catch on. What flashbacks?" Oh. So she didn't know.
Julan let out a deep sigh and shook her head in exasperation. She could hear the screams again inside her.
"Nothing much." She replied a little too quickly. That obviously didn't fly over her master's head as the latter stared her down suspiciously. "Just some bad memories from before."
"Just some bad memories?" The Ancient One pressed on. "You sure this is not about something else?"
"Yes." Julan felt her ears warming up against the sudden intrusion of questions. Suddenly embarrassed under the pensive gaze of her elder, she twirled her thumbs and averted her eyes. She pondered on whether or not she should just tell the truth. But it's not like she could hide anything from her master for very long. From experience, something would always catch the old sorceress' eyes and all would just unravel from there (like Julan's stealing rum cakes from the temple bakery).
"It's about my mother, actually." Julan said. She had meant to seem nonchalant about it, but her voice came out in a hoarse whisper.
The movement in the Ancient One's hand stopped, and Julan thought she saw something flash in those blue eyes. The sorceress' brows pinched slightly inwards, and she straightened herself up on her seat.
"What about your mother?" The question came on slowly, as if she was wary of its nature.
"I don't really remember too much." Julan admitted. "I can't even recall her face or anyone's. Just that she was mobbed to death and then this scarred face man went all up on me and-"
"How are you feeling?" The Ancient One suddenly interrupted. Miffed about being cut off, Julan just gave her a look.
"What do you mean?" Julan asked. "Aren't we talking about my dreams?"
The Ancient One hummed. "We are. I just wanted to know how you felt towards this...situation inside your slumber."
The apprentice couldn't have been more annoyed. There it was again, questions about her feelings and emotions. As if there wasn't anything better to ask.
The Ancient One leaned in. "You're frustrated."
"Of course I am!" Julan exclaimed. "Here I was, asking about how to get rid of this thing, and then you are asking about my feelings! Like how does that fix me?"
"We're not fixing you," the sorceress said, "what I'm trying to see is if your daily emotions could have had anything to do with the recurrence of them."
Julan raised a brow. "I think I'm perfectly ok excluding the nightmares."
"Not just now, you weren't". The sorceress retorted. "You were quite easily riled up."
The conversation was going nowhere and Julan could feel her headache rising. This was useless. She was beginning to suspect that this was another one of her "tests" to see if she had "evolved" enough to take the next step of training.
"Why don't you just tell me why my feelings are so important to you?" Julan said. "It's obvious I can do my tasks perfectly if it weren't for those meddling nights."
The Ancient One sighed. "You want revenge, do you not?"
Something ticked inside Julan, and she knew without a doubt, that this was the million-dollar, loaded question. She chortled. "You want the diplomatic answer or the real one?"
Her master didn't respond, just eyeing her calmly. Julan twirled the lock of hair in her fingers and chewed her lip.
"You know the answer, Master." She said. "And you know that it's been on my mind since the day that happened."
The Ancient One stared beyond where Julan was, eyes almost looking into the horizon. It was a good few minutes of awkward silence before she broke it.
"You won't know peace if that is what you're aiming for, Chrysanth." The sorceress stated. "And it seems that the pain that comes with it is starting to catch up to you."
Julan scoffed. "That sounds very reassuring. Does having nightmares disqualify me from joining the Sorceress Society of Magic?" She crossed her arms, trying her best to hide the growing panic rising underneath her skin.
Her master suddenly took an interest in the papyrus scroll laying next to her. The tension in the air did not go away.
"I'm glad you came to me for help." The sorceress quipped. "And help you I shall. But first…" She held up a finger. "I need to tell you your task for the day."
Julan narrowed her eyes at the sharp turn of events. The Ancient One was acting very carefree, as if the previous discussion about murder was just thrown out the window. "Okay…? And who is the run-off-the-mill angry creature I have to fetch for you this time?" She asked.
"No, no!" Her master popped up from behind a shelf across the room, the chair in front of the desk suddenly empty. It made Julan jump. She hated it when the Ancient One did that. "That's not what I had in mind, my child."
The older sorceress pulled out quite a beaten up paper and cheerfully held it out to her. Julan looked at it suspiciously before gingerly taking it. It was a map.
"Is this a joke?" Julan sputtered. "I didn't take you as a petty person."
The Ancient One smiled. "I do not joke. This is a map to Lanzhou...Actually I was joking about the map part. You can take a plane and a GPS." With that said, she hummed happily to herself. It almost looked like the sorceress was impressed by her own sense of humor.
Julan gaped at her mentor. She didn't need a plane, did the Sorcerer Supreme literally just forget who they were?
"So who's the angry wizard I have to go get?" She asked.
The Ancient One shook her head. "No, none of that this time. You are going to take some time off and assist in the relief of the flood victims in Lanzhou."
Julan was this close to choking on her own spit. Seriously? Community service? Didn't society have governments to take care of natural disasters?
"I'm not going." Julan said. "This is stupid. And why would I even need a plane?"
"Oh, because it's your time off." The Ancient one replied as if it was obvious. "Do some sightseeing, meet new magicians, help out a friend in need. I suggest you utilize your time to your best interest."
Her master was definitely trying to push her buttons at this point. And Julan didn't know whether or not she should laugh at this monstrosity of an idea.
She smirked. "Yeah, and I'll utilize my time to my best interest by figuring out how to sleep better."
"Hm." The Ancient One frowned. "I'm afraid I already bought tickets for you. And might I add that they are not refundable."
Julan laughed. "Sucks to be your bank account then. I'm gonna hop on out and help myself if you're this unwilling."
Now it was the older magician's turn to laugh. "Oh, my child. I think what you should be saying is 'Sucks to be my bank account'."
The youth's jaw dropped. "You didn't!"
The Ancient One only smiled wider. "Oh but I have! Last night, actually. I got it for a good price, too. So you should be thanking me for only taking 60 percent off your allowance."
"60 percent?!" Julan cried. "I was saving that to get the next brand name boots!"
That didn't help her case, as her master only resolved to pour herself a cup of tea. "Well, I could make the arrangement such that if you do well this time, I will personally raise the amount of allowance for the next month."
"How does this even help me get over my problems?!" Julan protested. She was beginning to sound like a sulking child.
"Have I ever led you astray?" The Ancient One said.
Julan rolled her eyes. "Yes, when you led me into a muddy trench back when you told me to go fetch your cooking talisman."
"Other than that. But those were good times."
"Then trust me on this." The older woman said. "And in the meantime, practice those meditation forms I taught you. You'll be just fine."
Julan grumbled. "But why a plane? It's going to take so long to go to China."
"Oh, I bet you've never been on a plane before." The Ancient One chirped. "It's quite an exhilarating experience. Even I am impressed. Go take a look, it's your money after all."
Julan was about to open her mouth to retort some more when her master simply just vanished behind the walls.
Damn that old woman. The young mage gritted her teeth and stomped out the room, returning empty handed. The Ancient One was pulling her leg, again, and she wasn't going to find out why.
I thought about the ways how the Ancient One would be towards more intimate students and I settled with this version. She appears to be a little snarky at times, but for the most part she balances it rather well with the message she's trying to convey.
For those who are just hoping onto Marvel's Phase Four, The Real Mandarin is after ten rings, each with its own set of capabilities. He stole the thunder ring from one of the villages in China, thus adding another one to his growing collection.
Chrysanth/Julan have the same meaning in Mandarin as both point to the plant.