Promises mean everything when you're little and the world is so big.
"What is it, dear?"
The little girl in front of her pointed of her shoulder, a shocked look on her face.
"Ling fainted again!"
Yin sighed. "It's 'Master', Ran Fan." The woman took some of the freshly baked bread with her and gave her daughter a reassuring smile.
"Where is he?"
It was midsummer in Xing and the whole nation seemed to sweat. The hot climate didn't just threat the farmer's work but also the tourism which sustained most of the country's people. The only ones unaffected by the high temperatures were the royal people. The palace's gardens almost exploded with flowers, the green spread like it was to cover the entire wall surrounding the estate. In the middle of the breathtaking park was a great fountain. Its marble statues all symbolized an ingredient of the perfect or golden being as the scientists called it. But the woman's concern was focused on the figure lying perfectly still behind it. Her five year old child ran toward the motionless prince. She theatrically threw her arms in the air as if there was a miracle from above to be expected. Yin muffled her laughter.
"Darling, the sky won't help his Highness. Wake him up and give him these." She handed Ran Fan the food. The girl nodded and took of her mask. Yin watched the children from some distance. They sure were good friends. It warmed her heart to see the prince living like a normal child, with a friend and family. She never worried about his education but she considered it a happy incident that she got pregnant the same time the empress did. In fact Yin shouldn't be worried about the young lord that way, the maternal way. She smiled as the little boy slowly came to his senses again. He gulped down the pastry while Ran Fan giggled. Then the two of them ran off playing the kind of games only children understood. Yin sat under an old tree; her gaze always following the playing kids.
"When I'm older I'll make you my wife, you know?"
Ling balanced on a branch above his playmate's head. The young girl looked up to him. She pulled her eyebrows together in confusion.
"Why?" she asked.
"So we can always stay together, of course." The boy flashed a winning smile at her and jumped off the tree.
"I don't wanna marry you!" Ran Fan complained.
The prince gave her a heart-breaking gaze. He pivoted so he could stand right in front of her.
"But I'm gonna be the emperor of Xing!" He pouted.
His friend chuckled and patted his black hair.
"Yes, but your eyes are way too creepy!" with these words she made her escape. She could hear Ling yelling in the distance.
"…not creepy! I was born like this! Get back here!!"
After a few minutes Ran Fan's flight from her master's wrath became a silly variety of hide-and-seek. Laughing and giggling the children damaged through the palace's garden.
Ling looked around. Suddenly Ran Fan was gone. He searched everywhere; at the pond where they used to feed the fish, on the huge terrace, near those roses his friend loved so much. Still she was nowhere to be found. A little lost he wandered over to his nursemaid.
"Yin!" he called out. "Have you seen Ran Fan?"
The gentle woman blinked and sat up. She obviously had been asleep till he came. She blushed the way her daughter did, wearing the same caught expression.
"I'm very sorry, Young Master." She bowed a little.
It was always funny to see the adults around him act like that. Though Ling didn't want Yin to behave that way. Yet he wouldn't point it out right now. There were bigger problems.
Still waiting for her answer the young boy looked around. Then he saw a little creature cuddled into the fabric of the woman's long sleeves. The colorful pattern that spread all over her dress hid the grey suit of the girl perfectly. Yin carefully stroked her sleeping daughter's black hair and smiled. Ling didn't know why, but he had never felt this lonesome before.
It was the middle of the night when steps in front of her door woke Ran Fan. She sat up in her bed. No one was allowed to wander around past midnight besides the bodyguards, but they usually never were to be heard. No, a guard wouldn't have made so much noise and wouldn't be here anyway. Before panic could freeze her in place she remembered her fighting lesson yesterday. Right! Never stand like tree on the battlefield, trees get felled. This wasn't the battlefield, it was the servant's quarters but the rule worked anyway. She jumped to her feet and grabbed the kunai underneath her bed. She was just learning how to fight with them but she was sure to be good enough to defeat whoever was out there. She tensed, put on her mask, resting next to small bed, and tied it fluidly. The door opened with a squealing, gut-freezing sound and filled her dark room with light. A small figure waited in the frame and rubbed his eyes.
The little girl almost fell off her bed when she recognized the voice.
"L… Young master! What is it? Why are you still up? And why aren't you in your quarters? It's dangerous to wander around all by yourself." She scolded him.
"I know, I know." came the cowed reply.
Ran Fan eyed her friend, worried. She untied her mask again and let the weapon disappear. He was covered in the usual clothing of the royals, though it didn't seem to fit. She chuckled a little when she saw the tiny blanket in his hand. She didn't know he still needed it to sleep.
"Ran Fan… Can I sleep in your room tonight?" he muttered and blushed.
"But… Why?" she blurted out, too puzzled to be polite.
The answer was almost not audible: "I'm lonely…"
The girl smiled at her prince and folded her blanket back.
Ling climbed on the mattress and looked at his friend. He poked her shoulder.
"Do you love your mama?" he whispered.
"Of course I do!" She answered, almost a little offended.
"Your mama loves you, you know?"
"Yes, I know."
"Do you think your mama loves me too?" Ling didn't look at her and pulled the bedspread up under his nose.
Ran Fan was silent. How should she reply to that question? She didn't know. But she could see how desperate her little master was so she answered: "Yes, I think she does. My mama loves everyone. Especially us."
"Really?" A hopeful sound rang through Ling's tiny voice.
"Yeah, I'm sure about that."
After that both of them were silent. Her eyes closed. It was very comfortable to feel someone's warmth beside you. She felt oddly protected, though soon it would be her turn to watch over her master. She drifted in and out of sleep while the hours passed by, yet she couldn't hold one state for long. It seemed like there was still something she had to say. She opened her mouth when Ling spoke.
"Ran Fan, please promise."
Ling looked at her; his eyes never had been so hard and determined before.
"Promise me to never ever leave me. "
The girl blinked. Suddenly she remembered her grandfather's words earlier this night- or last, by now.
'The real life will begin soon for you and the young master. Soon everything will change.'
She was afraid of that idea. She never wanted anything to change. It was perfect right now. There was no need for changes. Tears welled up in her eyes as she gazed at her best friend. Desperately she wrapped her arms around him.
" I promise! I will always be by your side! I refuse to let this change!"
Ling smiled and embraced her himself.
"All right. We will be together for all eternity. Whatever may come."
The children didn't let go of each other till the sun rose.
They would be together.
What a wonderful thought.
"Are you sure you want to do this?"
Ran Fan looks up. Her face tightens as the last bandage is taken off.
"Half a year… Girl, that's madness!"
"We are already on it, right? Do it now."
The mechanic shakes his head and prepares for the surgery. He tries to distract her from what will come by talking to her.
"Why are you so desperate anyway? Three years sure seem like a long time, but it's not like the whole world ends upside-down without you."
"I have to return to Central City as soon as possible. There is no other option. Someone is waiting for me."
Metal crashes against wood right next to her ear. The young woman flinches.
"Your boyfriend, hm?" the friendly man assumes.
"No… Someone more important than that."
"But why the hurry to get back to him?"
A cold, wet rag is placed over her eyes and something hot approaches her left shoulder.
"Because I promised."
Her flesh tears apart and she can't help but scream and cry and beg till she finally loses consciousness.
She meant it back then.
She wouldn't leave her master alone.
'Whatever may come.'
She couldn't have known.
Disclaimer: I don't own Ling, (Fuu) and Ran Fan. (Yin is a made-up character.)