Taking a shaky breath, Lux skirted around the corner of the water fountain that stood pretentiously at the centre of Demacia and briskly walked to the entrance to Chinatown. Tucking a wispy strand of her hair behind her ear, Lux gazed in awe at the decorated archway with its intricate patterns that weaved over and under the gold tiles. A stone-carved lion stood on either side, guarding fiercely.
“Lux! I’m so glad you could make it!”
Lux tore her eyes away from the lions and met the warm smile of Xin Zhao. Xin’s black hair was pulled tightly back in a blue clasp, his signature bandana peeking out from his parted fringe. Lux felt her cheeks redden at the sight of Xin and she looked away hastily before he noticed.
“So, what are we doing here?” Lux asked, fiddling with her golden staff that glinted in the sunlight at certain angles.
Xin grinned and grabbed Lux’s hand, intertwining his slender fingers with hers, pulling her into the bustling street. The lamp posts had red lanterns dangling down, the small bulbs of light pulsating at each step that Lux took. The aroma of steamed dumplings and dim sum wafted around the street, the occasional exchanging of Chinese New Year greetings to Xin which Lux bowed awkwardly in response.
“Are you hungry? I want you to try some Chinese food. I think you’ll like it!” Xin turned to Lux and winked, tugging her into a small restaurant.
“This is my Dad’s restaurant. He’s the best at making handmade noodles in this town. You’ve got to try it Lux,” Xin motioned at a vacant table in the corner of the restaurant and slid into the rickety chair.
Lux stared at the table, scrutinising the two wooden sticks, or what she presumed were sticks lined perfectly next to a glass bowl. Xin noticed and smiled to himself, watching Lux prod them curiously.
“They’re chopsticks. You eat with them. I suppose you’ve never used them before?” Xin teased, mimicking Lux’s cautious pokes at the chopsticks.
Lux blushed and picked them up, twirling them around with her fingers. She felt her heart skip a beat and her ears burn with embarrassment. Xin reached over the table and maneuvered Lux’s fingers to hold the chopsticks properly. The moment Xin made contact with Lux, her skin tingled at his gentle touch.
Xin’s hand brushed against Lux’s before he leant back, spreading warmth through Lux’s entire body. Purposefully? Teasingly? Lux could not fathom. After ordering, the food was delivered on red plates, steaming hot with freshness. The range of tastes amazed Lux; from the sweet and sour pork to the vinegary, plump dumplings that bursted with broth in her mouth. Every now and then, Lux would take a glimpse at Xin Zhao, with a throbbing heart that seemed to yearn for the touch of him.
“Isn’t it so tasty? I haven’t had homemade food in ages,” Xin commented, shoveling a spoonful of rice into his mouth. “Oh, you’ve got sauce on your cheek, hold on,”
Before Lux could realise, Xin wiped the sauce off her cheek with his thumb before dusting his hands off with a tissue.
“I…I need to go bathroom. I’ll be back,” Lux stammered.
Feeling flustered, she staggered to her feet numbly and shuffled to the ladies restroom. Splashing her face with cold water, Lux looked at the mirror and exhaled deeply. Lux couldn’t deny her uncontrollable feelings towards Xin and his audacious actions were only fueling the fire that slowly devoured her sensitive heartstrings. The sound of a toilet flushing and the screech of the cubicle door opening interrupted Lux’s chain of wild thoughts. Out stepped, a woman clothed in a silky, red dress, gold embroidery stitched across her chest. She was the epitome of grace, of elegance, of beauty.
“Excuse me,” Her voice was laced with honey, soft and sweet.
Lux stumbled to the wall, her eyes etched on this mysterious woman. A guzheng was strapped on her shoulder.
“You’re so pretty…who are you?” Lux asked, edging closer to the woman who was delicately drying her hands.
“I’m Sona, maven of the strings. You must be Lux, the lady of luminosity. You can cut out your little innocent act. I see right through you,”
“W-what? I’m not acting?” Lux gulped uneasily.
Eyeing Lux condescendingly, Sona smirked.
“I don’t know what he sees in you, honestly. He’s always fawning over you. It’s so irritating. But now that you’re here, I can end things once and for all,” Sona growled, adjusting her guzheng.
“Who is ‘he’? I don’t mean no harm, Sona. I…I don’t want any trouble,” Lux choked on her words.
“Xin of course. I’m his fiancé. And you’re just standing in our way like a little brat,”
Sona lunged forward at Lux, plucking the strings of her guzheng to create a harmony. A flare of blue light shot towards Lux, knocking her against the wall. Grimacing in pain, Lux’s eyes widened in horror as several rays of different colours hurtle in her direction. Rolling to the side, she dodged and threw her staff out.
A golden, prismatic shield enclosed around her and Lux aimed her staff at Sona, binding her to the spot. Once the root faded, Sona ran towards Lux, blinded by rage, a purple aura surrounding her. Shooting her ultimate chord, Lux was stunned, and Sona took the opportunity to slam Lux onto the ground. The bathroom door opened aggressively, and a panicked Xin Zhao charged in.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING SONA?”
Before Sona could defend herself, Xin thrusted his spear at her, unleashing a whirlwind to protect him from any damage. Lux’s head was in excruciating pain as she crawled to grasp her staff that was discarded on the side. Mustering all her remaining strength, Lux fired her final spark of light at Sona.
Lux collapsed, all energy draining out of her. Sona’s guzheng clattered onto the ground with a clink, the sound of a discordant melody recognising her defeat. Xin rushed to Lux, cradling her in his arms like she was a piece of glass, that could shatter in any moment.
“I’m so sorry, Lux. I should have told you…I’m so sorry,” he whispered, regretful tears staining his pale cheeks.
Weakly opening her eyes, Lux swallowed. Xin lowered his head and tenderly pressed a chaste kiss on her cheek.
“Can you stand up?” Xin extended a hand to Lux who gripped it tightly and wobbled to a standing position. “The lion dance should be starting soon. You need to see it!”
Together, Lux and Xin exited the restaurant, Lux limping with the support of Xin. They weaved their way to the front of the dense crowd that was forming in the middle of Chinatown. Loud, banging drums began, accompanied by clashing cymbals. Rhythmic beats swelled in the air as a fluffy, orange lion danced lightly on wooden poles, quick and agile, leaping from pole to pole. The crowd cooed in awe and delight, clapping every now and then with an encouraging cheer.
The lion was reaching for a whole lettuce that was tied by a red string on the ceiling of a Chinese grocery store. The drums began a crescendo. The lion swished back and forth to the tempo, its mouth opening up. The leaves of the lettuce fluttered to the ground as the lion retrieved a red envelope.
“What’s that?” Lux nudged Xin on the shoulder and pointed at the red packet.
Xin grinned and wrapped his arm around Lux.
“Just you wait,”
The lion headed to Lux and bowed its head, dropping the red envelope at her feet. A bang. A crack. An explosion of colour. The light from the fireworks exploding in the sky, glimmered in every eye. Lux smiled softly as she raised her head to stare at the illuminated sky, wisps of grey smoke trailing after the fireworks.
“Kung hei fat choy, Lux!” Xin Zhao embraced Lux affectionately, reeling her into his chest. “Open the red pocket. It’s for you,”
Lux felt dizzy when Xin pulled away, his fresh scent of pine needles still lingering. Carefully opening the crisp red packet, she retrieved a small, piece of paper. In cursive writing were the words “Will you be my girlfriend?”. Lux swiveled to face Xin who was waiting for her response. With a small nod, she satisfied her heart’s desire as fiery sparks ignited the sky, bursting through the night, vivacious inks of light on a canvas of stars.