Writers (in order): Maggie Zhang, Irene Tsen, Lee Nguyen, Maya Whiteman, Rishav Mitra, Lyra Thompson, M.S., Raisa T, Uluferirem, Langston Wu, Eileen Hung. Editor: Ms. Ja.
As they ruthlessly cut down the branches in their way while making their return to camp, my brother shuddered. The smoldering flames popped and crackled. All it took was one careless attempt, and everything was ruined.
Though the leaves prevented us from seeing clearly, my brother and I still watched attentively as the two tall figures made their way to the fire. We had the plan down in our heads: wait until the two travelers fell asleep, sneak into the tent where they held the famed scrolls, and find and take them before without them noticing. It was simple, precise—but all too costly if we made a mistake, for it had taken us years to finally find the two travelers and track their location to these deserted woods at the edge of the world.
Minutes ticked by. We watched as the travelers skinned the rabbits they had hunted, dug out the entrails, and roasted them over the fire. The flesh turned golden brown and the aroma of cooked meat wafted over the camp. One traveler—the taller one with a curious pudginess about his cheeks, a slight limp, and eyes that smiled secretively—disappeared inside the tent and came back out with a jug of wine. They feasted, hands made greasy and mouth colored red with merry and wine. My brother and I shared a glance at that—if they were drunk, that would make our job that much easier. Finally, as the embers died down and more smoke than heat rose out of the fire-pit, the travelers rose and, with a last glance around their camp, trooped inside the tent.
A couple minutes went by. The waiting got on our nerves, to the point where my brother could be readying himself to make a run for it, had it not been for my hands holding him back. We could wait for an hour more if needed to, since we had come so far to get this close to the travelers. Haste makes waste, apparently.
Slowly, both of us emerged from the bushes. Our minds were firmly focused on one purpose only: get the scrolls. The tree branches and leaves had somehow turned into a trap; one wrong move could make a faint yet loud-enough noise to make the travelers wake. We managed to approach the tent.
“I’ll wait here, we should not get into their tent all at once…,” my brother whispered, “Stealth is your gig, after all.”
“Then I’ll give you the scrolls when I find them.”
He handed me a pocket knife, sharp enough to smoothly slice the tent open. The travelers were sleeping as dead as logs. Their breaths reeked of alcohol that made me gag every time they snored. But now a new challenge came up: my vision was blocked by the pitch-black darkness, the faint beam of moonlight shining through the cut on the tent not making anything better.
I placed one foot in front of the other and walked through the tent, feeling out the floor before I took each step. I could vaguely make out the travelers’ duffel bags in the back of the tent, crammed against the wall and right above their snoring, wine-scented heads. I shimmied my way across the tent, and as my foot hit something hard on the ground I stifled a gasp—but it proved to be nothing more than a bottle of booze.
This was the key. This was the key to knowing what had really happened to our parents on that ill-fated 24th of October. How they had died. That scroll had all the answers we needed.
I slowly made my way to where the scrolls were kept. They were kept in a black bag right inside the tent. Taking the bag out, I carefully opened it to peer in.
My brother signaled to me to come back with the bag itself, but I sat there. I sat there mortified at what I saw.
There in the bag, was the same flower I had given to my mother before they went for their voyage. I was only five at the time. That same yellow chrysanthemum lay in the bag.
So, the travelers knew what happened to our parents. They were not strangers who happened to find the scroll with our prophecies—they might have been the very people responsible for the death of our parents.
My brother, two years younger than I, remembered even less of our parents. To him, they were only a faint wisp of a memory, like grade school friends you vaguely recall in adulthood. He didn’t remember our mother’s warm embraces and soft hands on our foreheads when we were sick. He didn’t remember the way our father would pick us up with his strong arms and place us atop his shoulders, letting us see the world in a whole new way. My brother had agreed to come on this mission with me because he loved me and loved adventure, but he didn’t realize how important this quest truly was.
I worked for an international organization. Our goal was to restore every stolen and lost artifact to their rightful country. What my brother didn't know was that the scrolls had been lost for decades—stolen from our homeland. I had known the risks of this journey when I swore my oath to the organization, but I hadn’t expected to have my brother come along with me. There was only so much I was allowed to tell him, but it could have been more, as I was finding out new information about our parents every single day.
Could my parents have been members of the same organization? So who killed them?
I promise you I wanted to get the answers to all my questions right that second so badly. But I didn’t. Instead, I took the scroll out of the bag with the speed of a sloth. Before I left, I took that yellow chrysanthemum with me.