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Blinded

Chapter Text

 

His energy was long spent during his run to escape vengeance. Lying among the bushes, surrounded by deadly scent of blood, he waited for Death to finally claim him. His body shivered in the cold, but the soft ray of the setting sun felt warm on his skin. He could only laugh at the irony as his mortal body – riddled with cuts, gashes, bruises and possibly broken bones – shook and his supposed laughter turned into fits of violent coughs that further strained his entire body with agony.

 

“Xue Yang ah, you’re going to die in the middle of nowhere,” he could hear himself cough as his consciousness flickered between the darkness and light, “Just like the filth you were born as.”

 

Voices muttered near him but he could no longer make out the words. Mustering the last of his mental vigour, he held onto the single thread of consciousness; his instinctive nature to be wary still strong in spite of his doomed end. His blurred sight caught glimpses of white robes while his nose caught whiffs of sandalwood coming from the stranger, who was carrying him on his strong back.

 

“Someone… saved me?” was the last thought he had as the sound of a bamboo pole tapping the ground followed behind.

 

Coughs violently shook his body, hauling his unconscious mind back into reality. Blood dripped down his chin after the last cough made him spurted blood. Almost immediately, Xue Yang felt a warm and large hand behind his shoulder, propping him up by the wall behind him. Fingers roamed his face, and stopped at his lips.

 

“Here, this is an elixir for healing. Swallow it,” he heard a male voice by his side as a round tablet was pushed into his mouth. Xue Yang was too weak to protest; so he swallowed it without resisting.

 

“Water’s here,” he heard a young girl’s voice and then the sound of water, “Dao Zhang, are you going to clean him up?”

 

“Mn,” was the other man’s reply.

 

Xue Yang could feel the warm water from the small piece of cloth the man was using. And his touch was gentle as he wiped the dried blood off his face.

 

“Can you help bandage him?” he heard the man said, and then shuffles of clothes.

 

In a split second moment of self-reflection, Xue Yang wondered if he was worth some kindness just before he passed into the other realm. But of course, he realized almost as quickly that he was unworthy of everything good in life. As the man gingerly removed his tattered and bloody clothes to clean the body, Xue Yang’s sense of self gradually returned and he tried to regain control of his weak body.

 

“Don’t move,” the words were directed at him, but Xue Yang was not about to put his already waning life into the hands of another if he could still muster another ounce of strength. His blurred vision began to form clear shapes and in front of him sat a tall man, clad in bloodied white robes accentuated with blue. Long black hair flowed from a neatly tied bun on the back of his head, and he had a strip of white bandage across his hollowed eyes, “…his eyes…”

 

“…you!” Xue Yang recognized the man before him; it was his nemesis, Xiao XingChen! But he looked different – thinner and paler than the one in his memories – and there was a faint tinge of red from behind the bandage on his eyes. Despite his weakness, Xue Yang pushed himself away from the man. Anger and hatred boiled within him, and with a hoarse voice, he seethed, “It’s you!?”

 

“You know Dao Zhang?” a young voice asked.

 

Xue Yang’s gaze shifted to the blind girl beside him. She looked frail and malnourished, but otherwise almost adorable with her messy twin hair buns and dressed in tattered green garb with a blue sash over a pair of ragged white pants; in her hand, was a shabby bamboo pole. He turned back to Xiao XingChen and he wanted to scream, “Know him? Oh, I have a long history with him and his best friend, who almost killed me!”

 

But Xiao XingChen’s voice was gentle, “Please don’t move, your wounds will reopen.” He gave Xue Yang a soft smile and continued, “Since you are aware of my identity, then please don’t be distressed. If I choose to rescue you, then I surely have no intention of harming you.”

 

Having heard those words, Xue Yang was immediately aware of the situation he was in. This obnoxiously virtuous man before him had no clue whom he had just blindly rescued; and it could work too well for Xue Yang’s wellbeing. He feigned a fit of weak coughs to mask his initial defensive recoil, he said feebly, “…you do look familiar, but I can’t recall. Who are you?”

 

“You have eyes, can’t you see?” the girl beside him blurted, “Just a roaming Taoist with a heart of gold.”

 

“Oh, how revolting!” Xue Yang almost retched in response.

 

The girl almost seemed to complain, “He painstakingly carried you all the way here to treat your wounds and saved your life, even fed you magical elixir. How can you still be so furious…?”

 

Xue Yang quickly sensed something amiss. Even though the girl had distinctive white pupils – something he had quickly dismissed to be a trait of the blind – she seemed to know he was behaving warily; it was as if she could see the murderous intent on his face, despite his evidently feeble voice. His guard was raised, and he wore the persona of a rude ingrate, “What’s wrong with your white pupils? …are you blind?”

 

“Are you looking down on the blind?” she retorted with an angry tap of her bamboo pole, “A blind rescued you! Otherwise nobody would’ve spared a glance at your rotting body by the dirt path!” The girl pouted as she lowered her head and muttered, “…so what if I’m blind, it’s not like I choose to be one… Dao Zhang, this person-”

 

“He was just speaking his mind, and meant no ill,” Xiao XingChen spoke up for him, “Ah Qing, don’t take his words to heart.”

 

Xue Yang was not at all surprised when the man he loathed with every fibre of his being came to his defence. It was his nature to do good and to speak kindly. But Xue Yang remained doubtful of the girl named Ah Qing; his mind had already begun to craft plans to test her. 

 

“Your wound still need bandaging,” Xiao XingChen told him as his hand reached for the bandages by the bed.

 

“…no need,” Xue Yang answered weakly. No matter how badly he needed the bandages to help stop his bleeding, Xue Yang could not risk any more physical contact with Xiao XingChen for fear that he might noticed the distinctive missing little finger on his left hand.

 

His loathed saviour reprimanded, “If we delay treatment any longer, your leg might become crippled.”

 

“That would be extremely inconvenient,” Xue Yang stared at his hideously bruised thigh; it must have dislocated when he fell off the cliff during his flight from a certain dark-clothed Dao Zhang. He quietly commended himself for being able to drag himself away since for days without food or rest with that leg, and still remained on the loose. Looking up at Xiao XingChen’s face, he could tell that his saviour was indeed worried for him; and Xue Yang decided to gamble with his life once again. He put on a smile and with utmost gratitude in his voice, he said, “Alright. Then, thank you, Dao Zhang.”

 

As generous as Xiao XingChen wanted to be, the blind travelling duo only carried so little bandages for emergency; it was not enough for all of Xue Yang’s wounds. After studying the various injuries on his body, both him and his saviour agreed that the deep stab in his abdomen and the long slash across his back were in the most dire need of dressing. As the two blind persons rolled the bandage around his torso, Xue Yang inconspicuously move his left hand away to avoid detection. When they tightened the bandage with a knot, Xue Yang muffled a wince at the back of his throat.

 

Xiao XingChen heard it and when he moved onto the next knot, he warned gently beforehand, “This may hurt, endure it for a while.”

 

Curiousity rose within Xue Yang, and he could not help but ask, “Dao Zhang, you won’t ask who am I? Or why am I so heavily wounded?”

 

“If you have no wish to tell us yourself, then I have no reason to question you,” Xiao XingChen answered, “I only happened upon you, and decided to offer aid. Once you’ve healed, we will part for our own separate ways. If I were in your place, I, too, would prefer not to have my past questioned.”

 

With that answer, Xue Yang managed to establish a mutual anonymity between them; except, he already knew who Xiao XingChen was. He sighed, relief washed over him for a brief moment, “Thank you, Dao Zhang.”

 

“It’s done. Best if you not move, or you may dislocate your bone again,” Xiao XingChen told him as he got up to his feet, “For now, get some rest in this room.”

 

Xue Yang watched his blinded enemy turned away to walk out of the room, and carefully closed the door behind him. His movement were smooth, as if he still possessed sight; his steps were steady, quite the opposite of the blind girl’s constant tapping and uncertain footsteps. Xue Yang could only surmised that Xiao XingChen’s senses had heightened since the day he gave his eyes away. His own hearing, on the other hand, was honed not due to a disability, but out of the need for survival. He was always on the alert to gather information that could potentially be useful to him, and now he caught onto the conversation outside the room.

 

The blind girl spoke ill of him, but was kindly assured by the naïve fool, who even allowed a complete stranger the only room in the house to recover. On the other hand, Xue Yang felt no compassion for his saviours, and would rather maintain some distance between them, lest his identity be exposed. He noted the pair’s relationship to be amiable, with the fool willing to offer his cloak to the younger girl; and her, stubbornly refusing the cloak because she knew he would need it while he explored the area outside the coffin house. 

 

He heard the wooden door shut and Xue Yang thought, “Without him around, now is the time I can test the girl again.” So he called out, “Little Blind, come here!”

 

“What do you want?!” came the rude retort from outside the room.

 

“I have a candy for you,” he said as he stared at a paper-wrapped candy in his right hand. His grin grew when the bamboo pole tapped closer, but it fell short and stopped completely.

 

“Don’t want it!” she said, “Not coming!”

 

“You really don’t want a candy?” Xue Yang was surprised at her stubbornness, but he was an expert at manipulating people to do as he pleased. He sneered, “Not coming? Or dare not come? Just because you won’t come, doesn’t mean I can’t go over there and find you…”

 

“As if I’m afraid of you!” the girl fell into his trap, and she tapped her way closer, her straw slippers shuffling as she came. As soon as she pushed the door open, Xue Yang flung the candy in her direction, hitting her square on the chest. He wanted to gauge her reflex; a normal person would have instinctively reacted to it, either to catch, or to avoid. But the girl only stood there stunned and gasped, “What did you throw at me!?”

 

“Candy. For you,” Xue Yang simply answered, his eyes peered suspiciously at the girl who passed his first test. He feigned dumbness, “Oh, I forgot you’re blind, so couldn’t catch it. There, it’s on the floor by your foot.”

 

He intentionally did not mention which foot and looked on as the blind girl sulked and squatted down to feel around both her feet with her palms and fingers. She soon picked up a round paper ball and hastily wiped it clean on her ragged clothes. Taking the round candy off the wrapper, she popped it into her mouth and sucked on it, with a satisfied smile on her face.

 

“Is it tasty, Little Blind?” Xue Yang was now quite convinced that she was blind, but he knew not to let his guard down just yet.

 

“I have a name,” she answered him freely, with a pout, “Not Little Blind.”

 

He wanted to make conversation, and so he replied, “But you never told me your name. So of course I can only call you that.”

 

She pouted, “Listen here, my name is Ah Qing! Don’t ever call me ‘Little Blind’ ‘Little Blind’ again!” She walked back to the door, but she stopped and turned to Xue Yang, “You’re so weird. Your body is all covered in blood and wounds, but you still carry a candy on you.”

 

Xue Yang chuckled at her blunt honesty, and answered, “I’ve loved candy ever since I was little, but never got the chance to eat them. I could only watch others savoured them. So I decided then, that someday when I have the money, I’d carry so much candy with me that I can never finish them.”

 

The blind Ah Qing hesitated, “Then, do you have some more?”

 

Xue Yang laughed at the chance that presented itself to him, “Of course I have. Come closer, and I’ll give it to you.”

 

Ah Qing tapped her way towards his bed with a thrilled look on her face. On the other hand, Xue Yang removed his hand from his sleeve, but instead of a candy, he brandished his sword, JiangZai. He pointed the tip at the blind girl, and scrutinized her unchanging facial expression with every step she took. There was not a shred of fear in her blind eyes, and she seemed completely oblivious to the danger she was about to walk into. Right before Ah Qing’s chest could touch the tip of his sword, Xue Yang sheathed it back into his sleeve, and took out another candy.

 

“Here!” Xue Yang slapped the candy onto her outstretched hand. He asked, “Ah Qing, where did that Dao Zhang of yours went off to in the middle of the night?”

 

Ah Qing sucked onto her second candy, as if she was deep in her thoughts, and then answered, “I think he went out hunting.”

 

“Hunting? More like night-hunting?” Xue Yang corrected almost too quickly.

 

The girl seemed ignorant, “Really? The two words sound the same to me. What’s the difference anyway? He goes out to help villager fight off ghosts and demons, and never taking any payment.”

 

“That blind fool might have been able to get along fine in life as an ordinary person,” Xue Yang thought, “But as a cultivator?” He almost could not hide the mockery in his voice when he asked next, “He’s blind. How can he go night-hunting?”

 

“There you go again,” Ah Qing frowned at his way, “So what if he’s blind? Dao Zhang is still powerful even for a blind. His sword goes whoosh whoosh whoosh whoosh whoosh! One word: FAST!”

 

This tiny leak in her story made Xue Yang’s suspicion rose again, “You can’t even see. How do you know if his swordsmanship is fast?”

 

“When I said fast, it means he’s fast! Dao Zhang’s swordsmanship is definitely fast! Even if I can’t see it, I can still hear it!” Ah Qing argued adamantly, “And you, what do you mean by that? Are you looking down on us blind people?”

 

“No such thing,” Xue Yang brushed it aside, and brought up a passing fact, “Just that, I’ve heard of people born with white pupils, but they are not actually blind.” He continued to stare at Ah Qing, who looked fairly disappointed; as if she wished she was not born blind. Satisfied with the way she passed all his tests, Xue Yang sighed, “Unfortunately, you clearly aren’t one of those.”

 

Hiding the disappointment of her own disability, Ah Qing muttered, “What are you talking about? A blind is a blind! No matter what you say, you are just looking down on the blind.” She crossed her arm angrily, “When Dao Zhang comes back, I’ll make him chase you away!”

 

Xue Yang chuckled, “Off you go now. I have no more candy for you.”

 

Ah Qing stuck her tongue out at him rudely, and mocked, “As if I care!”

 

Xue Yang scoffed at her idle childishness and watched as the blind girl made her exit through the door. Even though he managed to confirm that no harm could come from this blind Ah Qing, the tension in his body never left him. There was – quite literally – no rest for the wicked, only death. His body screamed for rest, but he would not allow his eyes to close, lest that foolish Xiao XingChen came back with his darker counterpart, Song Lan. Xue Yang knew that bloodthirsty Dao Zhang was still out there, perhaps still searching for him; to take his life.

 

“Tch, and I was having such a merry time with Jin GuangYao!” XueYang cursed under his breath.

 

They were celebrating the last day of mourning Jin GuangShan’s death in XueYang’s study when the young sect leader of the MoLing Su Sect, Su She, burst into the room and shouted, “Young Master Xue! Run!”

 

“What’s the matter?” Jin GuangYao was on his feet, alarmed at the panic on the young man’s pale face.

 

As the sound of swords clashing outside the room drew nearer, Su She answered shakily, “It’s Song Dao Zhang!”

 

But Xue Yang was not in the slightest panic. He even laughed, “How can a blind be a threat to me?”

 

Jin GuangYao grabbed the younger boy by the shoulders, and whispered firmly, “Head towards ShuDong region. There is a city among the fog, hide there until I come for you.”

 

“Don’t be ridi-” Xue Yang stopped when he saw a man, clad in black robes, at the door; Song Lan – Song ZiChen – the distant snow and cold frost. But the man was now a picture of fiery rage as he glared at him with seeing eyes and his knuckles were turning white from gripping his sword. Xue Yang instantly recognized the danger he was in; this Song Lan held no lesser desire to see his head roll than the dead Nie MingJue. But Xue Yang could not look away from the oddity that was Song Lan’s eyes, “Those aren’t his eyes.”

 

Jin GuangYao stepped between them, “Song Dao Zhang, please have a heart.”

 

“Step aside!” Song Lan’s voice was firm with rage, “My business is with him.”

 

“Run!” Su She rushed forward to shove the frozen Xue Yang but it only caused Song Lan to instinctively launch his sword directly at Xue Yang’s direction before the rogue even had time to react. The cold steel pierced into the side of his abdomen, narrowly avoiding his organs, before flying back to its bearer.

 

“Ah Yang!” Jin GuangYao shouted, but even in such a troubled situation, he understood that he could not raise his sword at a renowned Taoist. But he could stall him, “Please, Song DaoZhang. Can’t we discuss this? He is just a boy.”

 

“He is no boy! He’s the demon who massacred every last person in my temple!” Song Lan raged and turned to face Jin GuangYao, “Young Master Jin, if you continue to shelter this murderer, then I must question your true nature!”

 

“I…” Jin GuangYao was at a loss, and it was not an act. There was no obvious evidence linking Xue Yang to the massacre at BaiXue Temple, and thus the case was closed and dropped; but now the only survivor from that massacre stormed into Golden Koi Tower for revenge. The truth can no longer be denied. Jin GuangYao glanced at the many Jin Sect cultivators and soldiers that had gathered around Xue Yang’s residence and he quickly realize just how fragile his newfound throne was; these simple-minded men had already looked to him as their new sect leader and expected him to uphold the virtues of a sect leader. He turned back to the only person who understood just how terrible his true nature was, but still chose not to betray him.

 

Song Lan rushed past the young Chief Cultivator for his target, who was already on his sword. He shouted, “There’s no escape, you vile murderer!”

 

“Catch me if you can, you damned preacher!” Xue Yang spat and gave Jin GuangYao one last look before he took off into the air on his sword. He thought the proud man seemed smaller and looked almost forlorn when their eyes met; but there was no time for wilful thoughts.

 

The dark Dao Zhang was hot on his tail, but Xue Yang could only flee. He was no match for Song Lan in a direct confrontation; his skills with the swords were below that of the trained Taoist whose cultivation level was high enough to dispel any of his demonic spells. Xue Yang only stood a chance against him using sneak attacks. So he flew down into the forest to use the cover of darkness and the trees to his advantage. But even that proved to be useless when the man – who was guided by blind rage for revenge – slashed at everything that moved in the thick forest.

 

It was only after he fell off a cliff on both his weary legs that he lost sight of the dark Taoist cultivator… and woke up to the light Taoist.

 

“Ah… I want to see his face twisted in pain and agony. Let’s have some fun, Xiao XingChen Dao Zhang,” Xue Yang sneered, even in his sleep.

 

Chapter Text

 

His blurred world slowly morphed into clarity, and he could feel some strength returned to his hands. Xue Yang wondered hazily, “I’m alive?”

 

“…shit! I fell asleep!” Xue Yang cursed at himself and his eyes snapped open. A painful wince became stuck in his throat when he tried sit upright again after slumping onto his side during his sleep. Biting down on his lip, Xue Yang slowly raised his body and straightened his body; he found that he could flex his hands and stretch his limbs almost too easily with an injured body. Xue Yang was amazed that his body had already begun to heal overnight. He wondered, “Was it that elixir?”

 

Just then, his ears caught onto whispers outside the room. That blind girl Ah Qing was badmouthing him to another person, most probably Xiao XingChen. The young villain smirked as he took a deep breath to erase traces of his evil self, and put on the pretence of an injured anonymous young man. He got onto his feet and trudged out of the room.

 

As soon as he stepped out, he could hear Xiao XingChen say, “…he will leave when his wounds have healed. Moreover, there can be no one willing to live in a coffin house with us.”

 

His eyes fell on all the eerie coffins lying outside the room, and Xue Yang almost wanted to agree with Xiao XingChen. This abandoned haunted shack was in a deplorable state – almost unfit for living – especially with that giant hole in the roof. If it had rained the night before, the house probably would have been flooded and he would most certainly contract an infection and die soon after. But the dry and dusty house felt warm, not because of the temperature; but because Xue Yang was shown sincere kindness for the first time in his life in this place, and it felt almost a shame to be chased out. Xue Yang joined the conversation, skilfully hiding his feelings, “Were you talking about me?”

 

“Who’s talking about you?!” Ah Qing retorted, pinching her nose after catching a whiff of him, “Stinky!”

 

Xue Yang glared at the girl, but he also took a sniff at his own body. His face scrunched up and turned pale at the pungent odour of blood, sweat and dirt; but at least he was far from smelling like a rotting corpse.

 

Meanwhile, Xiao XingChen was more worried for his body than his smell, “Your wounds have not healed, and yet you insist on getting up and moving about. How are you ever going to recover?”

 

“Ah,” he paused, unused to the concern aimed at him, and replied quite honestly, “It’ll heal faster if I keep moving. Injuries such as these are nothing, I grew up being beaten by others.”

 

Xiao XingChen seemed shocked at the revelation, and could manage an awkward, “…oh.”

 

Trying to switch the subject of the conversation, Xue Yang noticed the items by Xiao XingChen’s feet. He asked, “Dao Zhang, I see you’ve brought some wood and dried grass back, are they for repairing the roof?”

 

“Mn,” Xiao XingChen nodded, and told him, “I intend to stay here temporarily. With the roof broken, this place won’t be beneficial to Ah Qing or be of any help to your healing.”

 

“Do you need my help?” the words left Xue Yang’s lips almost too quickly, and he was surprised at how his own voice sounded warm when speaking to the blind senior.

 

“Thank you,” the older man said firmly, “There’s no need to trouble you.”

 

“He’s so stubborn,” Xue Yang thought, but he asked again anyway, “Dao Zhang, do you even know how to…?”

 

Xiao XingChen laughed bitterly and shook his head, “Unfortunately, I’ve… never done this.”

 

The delinquent almost laughed in disbelief, but stopped to correct himself. Deciding that a proper roof would benefit himself anyway, Xue Yang offered again, “I know a bit about roofs. How about this? I’ll direct, and you’ll fix. The two of us can fix the roof together.”

 

Xiao XingChen laughed, merrily, “Then I’ll accept the help.”

 

“Not a problem,” Xue Yang said, “Could you remove the broken pieces of wood first? Then lay the dried grasses flat.”

 

“Alright,” Xiao XingChen nodded and jumped up through the hole and found firm footing on the unspoiled area of the roof. Before he could take another step though, the injured young man cautioned him.

 

“The roof looks fragile, be careful up there,” Xue Yang said, and then with a hint of playfulness, he added, “Otherwise, you’d break the entire roof before fixing anything!”

 

Xiao XingChen laughed, “Alright. Thank you for the guidance.”

 

Xue Yang looked on as he directed Xiao XingChen from under the roof. Somehow, the more his enemy laughed light-heartedly, the more Xue Yang wanted to speak to keep him laughing. He wondered, “Has he always laughed this much?”

 

He never knew Xiao XingChen to be such a carefree person. His formidable reputation preceded him, and Xiao XingChen was known to be a stern man of absolute justice; just like the other foul-looking partner of his. Even when this police of righteousness arrested him for the murder of YueYang Chang Clan, Xue Yang never once saw Xiao XingChen smiled; although he would now admit that all their conversations were never light, and always full of contempt and disgust.

 

But now, there were also plenty of times when both Xue Yang and Ah Qing would get mad at Xiao XingChen even though it was never the kind Dao Zhang’s fault. Whenever he came back from the market, his basket would almost always contain something spoiled; sometimes there was less meat than the amount paid for, sometimes a rotten fruit would be hidden among the good ones, or sometimes a peddler would blatantly sell the blind Dao Zhang the wrong food item. Whenever the two youngsters complained about it, Xiao XingChen would only smiled and said, “It was my fault.”

 

It was never his fault; the others were clearly taking advantage of him.

 

Returning from the market with Ah Qing was more fruitful, in a sense; mostly because Ah Qing would touch and feel each item before buying or ranted at the sellers again and again until they finally gave a discount, which was not actually a discount as they had overcharged them since the beginning. On the other hand, Xue Yang itched to teach the people in Yi City a lesson; not for bullying his saviour – which he was quite gleeful about initially – but because of his stomach. With only the preacher as their sole breadwinner, who never charged payment for his services, the three of them were piss-poor. What little money they had would go to buying food but with the townspeople trying to starve them by not giving enough, or giving spoiled food, there was never enough to feed three mouths.

 

As soon as Xue Yang was confident his leg could endure the long walk to the market and back, he quickly offered to go to the market with Xiao XingChen. When his healer gently reprimanded him, Xue Yang easily answered, “But I’ve never been to the market.”

 

“Hey! Look!” a villager pointed at the trio as they walked past a pavilion by the side of the road. His two other friends, who were munching on melon seeds and sipping tea, turned at their direction. Instantly, they all burst into laughter, “A blind man, a blind kid, and a limp! What a group of trash! HAHAHAHA!!”

 

Indeed they were a pitiful sight, and the disabled three knew it. Xiao XingChen paid the villagers no heed but spoke gently to the other two with a smile, “Don’t mind them.”

 

This time, even Ah Qing grumbled as she stabbed her bamboo pole into the dirt road with every step, “Dao Zhang!”

 

“Be kind, Ah Qing,” Xiao XingChen advised, “Even our friend here is putting up with it.”

 

If only the two blind ones could see how Xue Yang’s face was contorted by anger, and the death glares that he threw at those villagers who mocked them. But such a harmless threat from a weakling only earned him more laughter and sneers. If he had not needed to use this makeshift crutch that Xiao XingChen had crudely made for him to walk, Xue Yang would have impaled those men on it. He committed the three faces to memory, and his mind began to concoct plans to torture them. Even though they were not the only ones who threw jeers at them, they were the first; and Xue Yang’s grudges always ran deep.   

 

As soon as they stepped onto paved streets, the townspeople were each too busy minding their own business to jeer at the three of them. Ah Qing and Xiao XingChen made their way towards the market street and approached a vegetable seller by the side of the road. Xue Yang quietly lagged behind them.

 

“Good morning. One cabbage, please,” Xiao XingChen asked as he handed their woven basket over to the seller.

 

Ah Qing quickly added, “And give us the good one!”

 

“Of course, of course!” said the seller cheerfully, “When have I ever lied to my favourite customer?”

 

“Favourite customer?” Xue Yang scoffed as he came to a stop behind the shorter blind girl, “Every time Dao Zhang came back from the market with vegetables, we had to throw half of them away because they were spoiled. Is he your favourite customer because you always scammed him?”

 

The vegetable seller began to sweat profusely under Xue Yang’s death glare, and the stares from other customers. He stuttered as he grabbed the largest cabbage from his stock and put it inside the basket, “W-W-Well I have always been an honest man. M-Maybe someone else swapped his basket or m-maybe he dropped the basket, or something? T-T-That’s why the vegetables got spoiled.”

 

Xiao XingChen smiled and lied, “Indeed, I can be clumsy that way.”

 

“Dao Zhang!” Ah Qing grumbled, knowing it was a blatant lie. Even Xue Yang was in disbelief that Xiao XingChen would lie to save the reputation of a dishonest stranger.

 

The three of them turned to walk further down the market street, and Ah Qing exclaimed happily as she felt the cabbage in their basket, “Dao Zhang! We got a huge cabbage today! It feels really fresh too! Looks like this cabbage is enough for two days’ worth of meals!”

 

“Don’t go eating them all by evening, you glutton!” Xue Yang could not help but poke fun at her.

 

Sticking her rebellious tongue out at him, Ah Qing scoffed and turned back onto the road. Xiao XingChen smiled at their antics, “Ah Qing, the ground is uneven, be careful. You too, my friend. It would do you no good to fall and break another bone.”

 

But there was no reply.

 

“Friend?” Xiao XingChen called out again, “Are you there? Are you alright?”

 

“Huh? Y-Yes!” Xue Yang stuttered and recomposed himself. He turned his gaze away from a figure in a dark alley and back towards a very concerned preacher in white. For a moment, Xue Yang thought Xiao XingChen was glowing bright with his kindness.

 

“Did you see something you like?” Xiao XingChen asked. He thought this nameless stranger had his attention caught by a trinket at the market. Feeling for his near-weightless coin pouch, he figured he still had the money to pay for it if it wasn’t too costly.

 

“No,” Xue Yang answered honestly and added, “But I did see someone interesting.”

 

“Oh!” Ah Qing got excited, “Is someone busking? Can he break giant boulders on his chest?”

 

Xue Yang chuckled, “No. I saw someone I can rob.”

 

“Ugh!” Ah Qing grumbled and stomped ahead in anger.

 

Meanwhile, Xiao XingChen looked troubled. He said, “I hope that was a joke.”

 

Xue Yang laughed, “Of course it is!

 

“I see,” Xiao XingChen breathed in relief.

 

“But he does look rich,” the delinquent told him and turned his face away, “Maybe he can employ me to work for him.”

 

Xiao XingChen quickly reached out to hold onto Xue Yang’s arm before the younger boy could run off but his hand was immediately shoved away by a slap. Xiao XingChen quickly apologized, “Forgive me. It was rude of me.”

 

Xue Yang tried to disguise his shock when his left arm was almost grabbed by his enemy, “W-What were you going to do?”

 

“I… I wanted to stop you,” Xiao XingChen admitted, “You haven’t healed. It’s best to heal first before deciding on straining your body.” He hesitated, “I know I have not been providing well. In such a case, I should ask the gentleman for work. Where is he? Will you take me to him?”

 

“DaoZhang,” Xue Yang’s mind tried to churn out excuses. He needed to shake this persistent preacher off if he wanted to tail that stranger in the alley. He said, “If anything, you saved my life. The least I could do is to look for some work and lighten your burden.”

 

From his words, Xiao XingChen understood that he was not wanted, but he tried again, “Are you sure?”

 

“I can manage,” Xue Yang assured him, “I know my way now. I’ll see you back at the coffin house.”

 

Xiao XingChen relented with a nod, “Be careful.”

 

Trudging away on his crutch, Xue Yang’s eyes never left Xiao XingChen; that Taoist preacher dressed in white robes never stopped listening for him. But he did make good on his promise. Xiao XingChen did not follow him, and only stopped listening for him when Ah Qing called out on the street. Safe from his enemy’s earshot, Xue Yang walked further down the road, and took a turn into a desolate alley. He froze in his tracks. He was sure he saw the man walked this way, but there was nothing except a wooden door swaying in the wind. Trusting his experience with this person, Xue Yang walked through the backdoor and into the small courtyard of an abandoned house.

 

A voice echoed from a nearby window, “In here.”

 

Following the voice, Xue Yang limped towards a servant’s quarter that was crudely built beside a dusty kitchen. Upon entering through the door, he scoffed at the figure standing in front of him, “Took you long enough, Yao-ge.”

 

“You were the one who went missing,” Jin GuangYao replied as he closed the door behind the younger teen.

 

“The word is ‘bedridden’,” Xue Yang corrected him as he stepped closer to the table in the middle of the quarter, “No thanks to that damned black preacher!”

 

“Can anyone even keep you off your feet?” Jin GuangYao commented. He knew this delinquent well enough to know he would never be an obedient patient, “We looked everywhere for you.”

 

Xue Yang sat down by the table and scowled, “You didn’t look into that coffin house outside the edge of the town.”

 

“Pardon my lack of hindsight, I didn’t think I should be looking for an unclaimed corpse,” Jin GuangYao coughed to hide his chuckle, “How has Xiao XingChen DaoZhang been treating you?”

 

Xue Yang answered with a half-truth, “He had me on house arrest.”

 

Jin GuangYao nodded, “Rightfully so. You would have ended up dead if it wasn’t for him.”

 

“What do you know?” Xue Yang grumbled, and asked, “He told you?”

 

Jin Guangyao nodded, “I had quite a scare when Song DaoZhang came back to the Golden Koi Tower, furious. He said he lost sight of you after you fell off the cliff.”

 

It was a question, Xue Yang realized. So he answered, “The transportation talisman.”

 

“So that’s why Song Lan could not find you,” Jin GuangYao was surprised, but he turned grim, “That spell takes a heavy toll on your already injured body.”

 

Xue Yang became annoyed, “It was a die or die scenario. I rather die in a ditch than die in his dirty hands.”

 

“Of course,” Jin GuangYao agreed, and smiled faintly, “I’m glad you’re alive.”

 

“Really?” Xue Yang asked sarcastically.

 

“Truly,” Jin GuangYao nodded solemnly, “I have been worried.”  

 

“Right,” Xue Yang felt his hair stand when this scheming mastermind appeared genuinely sincere. He changed the subject, “What’s next?”

 

Jin GuangYao sighed, “You wouldn’t like to hear.”

 

“I’ll kill you right here if you want me dead for real,” Xue Yang threatened.

 

Jin GuangYao finally joined him at the table, “Of course not. You’re much too valuable to be rid of.”

 

“But?” the teenager pressed on, and Jin Guangyao smiled at him. Xue Yang immediately thought, “Fuck, this isn’t going to be good!”

 

Jin Guangyao told him, “I’ve already announced your death.”

 

Chapter Text

“…and so, as the owner of this magnificent store, this matter is of utmost importance to me and I hope it can be resolved at the soonest possibility to safeguard my employees’ lives and goods,” said the man without even the slightest sign of a bow, “Surely Dao Zhang would be willing to lend me his expertise?”

 

“What mockery is this to show no respect when asking for a favour!?” Xue Yang glared at the fat merchant sitting across them with disdain. His heavy and dark green robes were embroidered with golden threads and there were more than one ring sitting on each of his plump fingers; most were made of gold and adorned with gemstones, while the rest were rings carved out of jade. The young delinquent did not hide his obvious disgust, “And he hasn’t even spoken about payment! Dao Zhang, you’d better-”

 

“If we can help save lives, then of course,” Xiao XingChen answered the merchant.

 

“Excellent! You have my utmost gratitude, Dao Zhang!” the merchant smiled gleefully and clapped his hands, “You may leave at your immediate convenience! I await your good news!”

 

“Why can’t I murder Xiao XingChen?” Xue Yang asked himself as he stared at the smiling blind Dao Zhang, “Oh, right. I haven’t had enough fun with him yet BUT WHY IS HE MAKING ME SOOOOOOOOOOO MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAD ALL THE DAMN TIME!?!? NOT TAKING PAYMENT AGAIN!? HOW ARE WE GOING TO BUY FOOD?! NO!!! NOT ON MY WATCH!”

 

Putting on a decently polite smile, Xue Yang slammed his hand on the merchant’s prized desk, and demanded, “What about our payment?”

 

“Payment?” the flamboyant merchant looked puzzled for a moment before he turned angry, “Boy! How dare you speak for your master?! He never takes payment to solve cases such as these! You swindler!”

 

Before Xiao XingChen could say anything else, an arm had already reached out to grab those rich velvety green lapels, and tugged hard enough to pull the larger man onto the desk. Xue Yang replied, “Firstly, I’m not his servant or disciple. Secondly, how else are we going to pay for our expenses if we don’t take payment?! Did you think a smile or a threat can pay for everything?!”

 

The merchant shrieked. That little intimidation was enough to scare him into pulling off a pouch from his waist. His hand shakily dropped it onto the desk and quivered, “I-I-Is this enough?”

 

Without releasing his hold, Xue Yang grabbed the worn green silk pouch with his other hand and his face turned sour at its weight. He undid the strings securing the pouch’s content and poured out the coins. He shouted, “Ten silver coins?! This is hardly enough to cover for a day’s journey! And you want us to travel to the border of the country over a ghost that spooked your men?! That’ll take us at least a week’s journey by horse or a month on foot!! I demand two hundred silver pieces upfront!”

 

“T-Two hundred?!” the merchant paled.

 

Xiao XingChen never meant to take payment for the case and he wanted to reason with his anonymous partner but before another word could escape him, he felt a light kick on his foot; a sign for the blind priest to keep his mouth shut while the seeing youngster negotiated on their behalf.

 

“Three hundred!” Xue Yang raised the pay when the miserly merchant hesitated.

 

“TWO HUNDRED SILVER COINS THEN!” he quickly relented before Xue Yang could raise the price again.

 

Xue Yang smirked and looked to the accountant standing beside the merchant, “You heard him. Get us the money.”

 

The meek accountant quickly bowed and left the room in a hurry. Xue Yang turned back to the merchant and scoffed, “Two hundred silver coins is too cheap a price to pay for opening a new trading route to the West.”

 

“I-I-I have horses!” the merchant shivered, “You can have two!”

 

“And a carriage!” Xue Yang added.

 

Xiao XingChen quickly promised, “We’ll return them to you.”

 

Only the merchant was fully aware of the deadly glare that was staring into the depths of his greedy soul, and he was shaking in fear for his life. He dared not deny this gangster’s request, “Of course, of course! Anything you need!”

 

Xue Yang finally released the merchant from his iron grip, and exclaimed with a grin, “Good!”

 

The self-proclaimed richest merchant in town was more than happy to see the two rogue cultivators off the moment his servants had completed the preparation for the carriage, and loaded a small wooden chest containing two hundred pieces of silver coins. Xue Yang made sure to dig into the chest, to make sure none of the coins were fake while the ever-so-polite Dao Zhang thanked the merchant repeatedly. When he finally turned back to Xue Yang, the younger one seemed to be engrossed in checking out the carriage. He knocked along its side and stopped at the platform where a passenger would need to climb up to get onto the carriage; and tapped twice.

 

Many people often deemed this nameless young man extremely rude for examining items offered to them with such scrutiny; but to Xiao XingChen, he was a constant blessing. The young man never said anything about helping him “see”, but he was always hanging around him whether he was needed or not.

 

“Dao Zhang!” he called out to him, and then his voice sounded lower, as if he was bowing, “After you.”

 

“Thank you,” a light smile graced Xiao XingChen’s lips as he hopped accurately onto the carriage and stooped low to take a seat inside. Xiao XingChen noted that it took five steps for him to reach the back of the carriage where an unusually large cushion seat was placed. He sat cross-legged and thanked the merchant again in his heart for being generous enough to lend them one of their delivery carriages with enough space to store their traveling needs.

 

Seeing his Dao Zhang had comfortably settled on his rear, Xue Yang tugged onto the reins and clicked his tongue. The horses obeyed and trotted down the street, pulling the carriage along. The delinquent could not hide his smirk as they rolled through the city in that merchant’s expensive custom-made personal carriage. From the outside, it looked like any ordinary carriage – apart from its larger than usual size – but its interior was not made for storing goods. Xue Yang decided that he would only tell his naïve Dao Zhang about that folded blue silk mattress he sat on when asked. He wondered what expression the inexperienced Dao Zhang would make when he finally realized that the carriage was commissioned to carry that fat pervert and whichever woman he fancied for a journey to nowhere. But he would not complain about the filthy carriage; at least, it was thoroughly cleaned and maintained, unlike those worn out and dusty delivery carriages that looked like they were about to fall apart anytime soon.

 

“Two hundred silver coins is quite the hefty payment,” Xiao XingChen came to sit behind Xue Yang, “We should return the money we haven’t spent at the end of the case.”

 

The younger man grimaced, “Dao Zhang, your maths is terrible!”

 

“But…” the older man tried to argue.

 

“Look here,” Xue Yang began to explain, “The journey to the Western Village will take more than a week, and a similar amount of time to come back. Add the time we’ll waste finding and exorcising that ghost, then we are looking at about a month’s worth of expenses to complete the case. We can’t be bringing Little Blind with us for this case, so she’ll have to stay back in Yi City. Three person’s basic allowance for a month will run up to ninety silver coins. So ninety is the bare minimum pay we need to charge. Not to mention, we haven’t allocated money to buy long-distance travelling necessities or set some aside for emergencies. Besides, knowing the crooks out there, they’ll definitely overcharge us at the inns or when we buy food at towns and cities we stop at.”

 

Xiao XingChen was confused, “But we rarely spend more than one silver coin a day for the three of us. Besides, the horses and this carriage has been provided for, so there must be a lot of money left.”

 

“Then we’ll save them for rainy days,” Xue Yang answered bluntly. He was getting too frustrated from talking money sense into this naïve Dao Zhang. Xue Yang added, “Or we could use the money to fix our home.”

 

Xiao XingChen suppressed his smile as he tried to reprimand his partner, “You overcharged the poor merchant on purpose, didn’t you?” 

 

“Poor?! Dao Zhang!” Xue Yang retaliated, “Greed was clearly written all over his face! And if he could afford it, he would have painted his manor in gold! Don’t pity that fat fuckface!”

 

“Pfftthahahaa!” Xiao XingChen burst out laughing, “That’s not a nice thing to say about our paying client.”

 

“I will never have anything nice to say about him,” the younger man scoffed again. But as his eyes turned away from the upright Dao Zhang for the road, he mentally added another stroke to the counter in his mind; he made Xiao XingChen laughed out loud again.

 

When they finally returned to that shabby coffin house they called “home” an hour later, Ah Qing was already standing outside its door with a cautious look on her face at the unfamiliar sound of a carriage approaching. She looked ready to pick a fight with whoever that drove the carriage with her trusty bamboo stick.

 

“Little Blind!” Xue Yang called out from afar, “It’s us!”

 

The blind girl’s expression darkened at first but quickly lightened again as she smiled in their direction, “Dao Zhang! You’re back!”

 

Xue Yang rolled his eyes at the usual blatant disregard to his existence, “Tch! This damned brat! Dao Zhang, can we not give her any allowance to spend while we’re away?”

 

The Dao Zhang chuckled, “Don’t take it to heart. I know both you and Ah Qing get along very well.”

 

Xue Yang grumbled, “How blind can you be, Dao Zhang? We’ve only ever argued all the time.”

 

To that, Xiao XingChen replied, “My eyes may not see it, but my ears hear it. You naturally included her allowance in your earlier calculations and you always shared your sweets with her.”

 

“Hey! She snatched those from me!” Xue Yang disagreed.

 

Xiao XingChen smiled, “But you still let her.”

 

He groaned in response and pulled the horses to a stop in front of the coffin house. Xue Yang could not deny it, but he reasoned in his own mind that he only let the brat take his share of pastries when he felt especially generous, or when he knew they would go bad before he could finish them all in time. He never had room in his heart to care for anyone else; that much he was sure. Otherwise, he would have offered to trade places with Xiao XingChen so he could pamper the crying Ah Qing after she was told that the two of them would be away for a month. In his reality, the scene was nauseating to the core, so he turned away to catch some sleep before they set out at dawn.

 

“You’d better take care of Dao Zhang, you hear me?!” Ah Qing warned him just before they set out, “You’d better bring him back without a scratch on him or I’ll cook you in a stew!”

 

“Alright already, how many times must you threaten me?” Xue Yang rolled his eyes and dropped a pouch on her small head, “Fifty silver coins. Keep them safe and don’t go buying anything unnecessary.”

 

“Fifty silver coins?! I’ve never had so much money before!” Ah Qing was shocked at the heaviness on her small palms.

 

Xiao XingChen added, “They should be more than enough to last at least two months, in case we take longer than expected to return.”

 

“I can live a year on these!” Ah Qing’s white eyes almost swelled with tears, “Dao Zhang, you are coming back, right?”

 

“Of course,” Xiao XingChen assured her, “We’ll come back as soon as we’ve completed the case.”

 

Ah Qing sniffled, “I’ll be waiting for you.”

 

“What about me?” Xue Yang asked out of a whim.

 

Ah Qing stuck out her tongue, “Don’t come back!”

 

“Alright. Then I’ll take Dao Zhang away with me!” Xue Yang laughed, “Off we go, Dao Zhang!”

 

As the carriage pulled forth at dawn, Xiao XingChen noted that it did not sound as empty as before. His seat remained untouched at the back of the carriage but when he reached out to both sides, there were bundles of cloth-wrapped items on top of stacks of hay. Before he could ask, Xue Yang answered, “Dried edibles for the journey. And other necessities.”

 

Xiao XingChen came to sit behind the driver again, “Did you asked for a carriage because of these?”

 

“Not really,” he answered, “Without the horses, we could keep most items in our qian-kun pouches but then it wouldn’t be convenient for us to travel on swords over a long distance. Besides, we’ll need shelter. This sturdy carriage is perfect for stormy weather when we can’t camp on dry grounds.”

 

Xiao XingChen said, “I often slept in the rain, or in caves.”

 

“And how many times have you fallen ill because of that?” Xue Yang asked, “Or be chased out of a cave by wolves or bears?”

 

“…many times,” the older man admitted softly, and said, “Thank you. You’re too kind to me.”

 

“Mn,” Xue Yang nodded stiffly, still not used to such praise from his Dao Zhang. He clicked his tongue and lightly flicked the reins to urge the two brown horses to speed up to a trot.

 

On their journey westward, Xue Yang always made conversations and added witty jokes to make Xiao XingChen break into fits of laughter; without anyone seeing, Xue Yang did not suppress the way his expression softened whenever he heard his Dao Zhang’s laughs. Xiao XingChen too, would often try to make jokes, but they always turned out to be extremely lame and Xue Yang could not help but guffawed at how terrible he was at making jokes.

 

As they head further west, whenever they found themselves still traveling under the sky as the sun began to set, they would stop to make camp by the side of the road, and took turns to watch the night as the horses rested and fed on hay. If they managed to reach a village or a town before sunset, they would then take the opportunity to replenish their supplies and rested at an inn for the night. Eight days after they set out from home, the two of them finally reached the Western Village.

 

There was not even a gate, nor a sign that indicated that the tiny village consisting of only a handful of wooden houses was indeed the Western Village; in fact, the village probably did not even have a name. Everyone else just called it as such because it was the only village near the western border. Its villagers looked quite astonished when Xue Yang and Xiao XingChen’s carriage rolled towards the centre of the village, where a ring of fire burned even in the afternoon. The duo stood by their carriage, surrounded by a few dozens of curious villagers.

 

Xue Yang was wary of the villagers, who looked evidently different from them. His hand was on the hilt of his sword and his mind was already plotting their demise if they dare made the slightest move that could put them in danger. The blind Dao Zhang, however, was oblivious; or perhaps, he was perceptive enough to sense that the villagers meant no harm. He asked, “Excuse me, where might we find an inn?”

 

The villagers murmured amongst themselves; and one bald old man stepped forward to reply, “There ain’t no inn here, lads. Travellers rarely ever come by here. But if yer don’t mind, yer can set up camp by the fire.”

 

“Huh?” Xue Yang balked, “They speak… differently?”

 

Xiao XingChen bowed, “Thank you. We apologize for taking up your precious space.”

 

Still wary of their generous hospitality, Xue Yang chose a spot away from the fire but still close enough for warmth. That evening, the two of them were invited to join the villagers by the ring of fire for dinner, where the men and women worked together to cook enough food to feed the entire village, and their two guests. Xiao XingChen and XueYang sat with the old man from before; whom everyone called Lao Shi1, or “teacher”. As the evening dragged on, they concluded that his role was more like the chief of a village than a teacher; he was indeed old and wise enough to lead the villagers’ quiet lives.

 

“Yer lookin’ for a rampagin’ ghost lady?” Lao Shi repeated and pinched his thinning moustache.

 

“Yes,” Xiao XingChen confirmed, “We received a report that she’s been causing trouble to travellers trying to cross the border. Have you seen her?”

 

“Nah!” the chieftain exclaimed, “There ain’t no ghost lady around here, except ‘im.”

 

Xue Yang blinked, “Him?”

 

“Yeh,” he nodded, “Name was Feng XinZi2.”

 

“Has he ever caused trouble?” Xiao XingChen asked.

 

“Noh! Neva’,” Lao Shi shook his head and laughed, “What lies yer been told?”

 

Xiao XingChen looked troubled but he answered, “There was a merchant. His men were almost chased off a cliff, along with his goods.”

 

Lao Shi paused, and scratched his moustache, “Ah yeh, he does stop yer to ask things. Sometimes, he can be a lil’… pushy.”

 

“That’s why we’re here to exorcise him,” Xue Yang told him.

 

“Exorcise!?” Lao Shi shouted and waved his arms, “NOH!”

 

“Lao Shi, we are here to investigate,” Xiao XingChen tried to soothe the shocked old man, “Even if that ghost has never troubled your village, a ghost that is fettered to a place for too long may gather resentment and turn evil. If this has become the case, then we will need to exorcise him.”

 

Hearing that, Lao Shi seemed to understand the Dao Zhang’s reasoning, but he insisted, “He mean no harm, ya’ see? He’s just waitin’. Everyone here knows ’im. We’ve been taught by our ancestors, if ya ever seen ‘im, just tell ‘im ya dunno and move along.”

 

“That’s just so troublesome!” Xue Yang groaned, “Why didn’t someone exorcise him before?”

 

Xiao XingChen nudged him to be quiet, and asked, “What is he waiting for?”

 

“’is lover,” the old man answered and recalled, “Came from the West, went home, said he’d be back but never came back again. So Feng XinZi been waitin’ ever since. Been so for six generations already.”

 

“So he stops people to ask about his lover?” Xiao XingChen concluded.

 

“Yeh,” old Lao Shi nodded, “No one knows why he ne’er came back and we ain’t gonna break Feng XinZi’s heart.”

 

“Where do we find him?” Xiao XingChen asked.

 

“Up the mountain path, around the bend,” he answered and pointed towards the darkened forest.

 

Xiao XingChen thanked him, “Thank you, Lao Shi. We will try to talk to Feng XinZi tomorrow.”

 

That night, rain fell for the first time since their journey began and the two adults found themselves sharing their only shelter. With more than half of their inventory depleted during their journey, there was now more than enough room for both Xiao XingChen and Xue Yang to lie comfortably on the mattress inside the carriage. Knowing what the carriage was used for, the mischievous delinquent pretended to toss and turn in his sleep until he snuggled against his Dao Zhang’s arm. But he never expected Xiao XingChen – who usually slept as stiff as a log on his back – turned onto his side and gently put an arm over him in a warm embrace.

 

“May you have pleasant dreams,” he heard his Dao Zhang whispered by his ear.

 

“This feels nice,” Xue Yang thought as he relished in his Dao Zhang’s warmth. He almost felt guilty for tricking him but as his mind drifted into sleep, he realized, “This is the closest we’ve ever touched… and the longest…”

 

“Dao Zhang,” Xue Yang called out to the older man as the two of them hiked up the desolate mountain path in the morning, “Did you know that the villagers looked different?”

 

Xiao XingChen paused in his tracks, “But they sound human.”

 

“No, I don’t mean that they’re corpses,” he quickly explained, “It’s just… their skin are fairer, and they have brown hair. I even saw a child with blue eyes.”

 

“Brown hair? Blue eyes?” Xiao XingChen repeated and said, “I’ve… never seen eyes lighter than the darkest shade of brown.”

 

“Maybe they married people from the West?” Xue Yang kicked a rock out of the path so his blind Dao Zhang would not stumble upon it. A gasp suddenly echoed in the eerily dark and silent forest. The two cultivators immediately drew their swords on alert as they surveyed their surroundings.

 

“…excuse me,” a voice seemed to call out to them from amongst the trees, “Have you seen my husband?”

 

“Might you be… Young Master Feng XinZi?” Xiao XingChen returned in a gentle voice.

 

“Yes! I am!” a figure faded into existence before them. Dressed neatly in robes of pale blue, Feng XinZi possessed the features of a beautiful young man in his early twenties, with distinctive platinum hair that hung loose down to his waist, and eyes as dark as night. Feng XinZi asked again, “Have you seen my husband?”

 

The ghost flinched when Xue Yang pointed his sword, JiangZai, at him before he told him, “No, we haven’t.”

 

“…oh,” Feng XinZi turned away sadly to look down the path towards the West again, “Then I’ll continue to wait for him here.”

 

Sheathing his white sword, ShuangHua, Xiao XingChen nodded at his nameless partner to do the same. He decided that performing a forced exorcism on this lonely fettered ghost would be too cruel; perhaps they could at least try to talk him into moving on. So he turned back to Feng XinZi, and told him, “Waiting… might be futile.”

 

Feng XinZi was silent and still, as if he did not hear Xiao XingChen; but his shoulders quivered and a tear made its way down his cheek. He admitted in a soft trembling voice, “I know he cannot be alive anymore, but I promised to wait, however long he may take.”

 

“The longer you linger, the weaker you become against temptation from the darkness,” Xiao XingChen warned him, “Someday, you might turn into something else entirely, and lose control of yourself.”

 

“I will not leave!” Feng XinZi shouted as wind began to stir around him.

 

“Dao Zhang!” Xue Yang sensed danger, and immediately pulled Xiao XingChen behind him. With JiangZai in his hand, he slashed at the whips of dark wind that came at them.

 

“I promised!” Feng XinZi clutched at his head as strands of darkness gathered around him, “I promised!”

 

“The talisman for exorcism!” Xue Yang shouted at Xiao XingChen behind him, “Do it, now!”

 

“No! We should retreat!” Xiao XingChen insisted, even as he gripped the hilt of his sheathed sword in defence. Xue Yang sighed exasperatedly but still turned around to follow behind the Dao Zhang down the dirt path they came from.

 

Behind them, Feng XinZi’s screams continued to echo, “I promised! I promised! I promised! I PROMISED! I PROMISED! I PROMISED! I PROMISED! I PROMISED! I PROMISED!!!

 

His cries drew all the villagers out of their homes to gather around the ceaselessly burning ring of fire. They stared at the forest with fear in their eyes, and murmured amongst themselves in worry as they threw occasional glances at the two strangers, who were panting for breaths.

 

“Didn’ I tell yer two to tell ‘im ya dunno?” Lao Shi stepped out from the crowd, “Just leave ‘im alone, and he’ll leave us alone. Been that way since me grandpa’s days.”

 

“But he’s being gradually consumed by resentment energy,” Xiao XingChen informed him.

 

Lao Shi was stunned, “Resent-what?”

 

“Dark energy,” Xiao XingChen explained, “If Feng XinZi continues to linger, he will someday turn into a ferocious ghost and attack anyone who passes by. You will all be in danger.”

 

“In short, he needs to be exorcised,” Xue Yang added.

 

Murmurs of ‘what’ and ‘what are we going to do?’ began to spread amongst the villagers and they all look to their leader, Lao Shi. Somehow, Xiao XingChen read the ensuing silence in the air, and spoke up, “Lao Shi, you knew, didn’t you?”

 

“Er…” the old man hesitated, “…he ‘as been a wee bit on the angry side lately.”

 

Xiao XingChen pondered the senior’s words carefully, and then nodded, “We will take care of him.”

 

With that promise, the villagers dispersed in relief to continue on their preparation for lunch. Meanwhile Xiao XingChen and Xue Yang rested by their carriage. The old teacher came by to invite them for lunch again but the Dao Zhang felt uncomfortable to allow themselves be treated as guests again. Just as he turned to his anonymous partner, a boy walked up to them. Xue Yang could immediately tell that it would not be good at all, especially after Lao Shi patted the boy’s back and left.

 

“Everybuddy be wonderin’, wouldya be good at huntin’?” the boy rubbed his hands in anticipation, “Ya see, we all haven’t had good meat in awhile. Jus’ pheasants, rabbits and small things. Ya any good at huntin’ big ones?”

 

“Why don’t you go? I’ll help in some other way,” Xiao XingChen smiled.

 

Xue Yang sighed and grumbled, “Fine, fine! One big, fat deer coming right up.”

 

Xiao XingChen Dao Zhang chuckled as a grumpy Xue Yang dove into the carriage for a bow and some arrows. Before the young hunter left, Xiao XingChen held onto his arm, and said, “Be careful out there.”

 

“Yes, mother,” Xue Yang responded with annoyed smugness, and made his way out of the village again to an area where he had seen a few deer grazing the day before.

 

The blind Dao Zhang smiled and walked up to one of the villagers and offered his help with the vegetables. When Xue Yang returned with a large deer slung over his shoulder, he was greeted with a hero’s welcome. The men cheered and the ladies swooned over him and the meat he brought back. They pulled the deer off him and worked quickly to prepare the deer for roasting over the fire. Xue Yang silently escaped the excited crowd and found Xiao XingChen resting on the driver’s seat of their carriage with a cup of tea in his hands, and strolled over to him.

 

“That was a loud welcome,” Xiao XingChen said as he heard familiar footsteps approached. Xue Yang said nothing as he plopped on the ground by his feet. The older man gasped, “Are you… embarrassed?”

 

Xue Yang pouted, “…never been welcomed like that before.”

 

Xiao XingChen laughed merrily, “Then this is a day to remember!”

 

“Dao Zhang!” Xue Yang groaned, but the man could barely hold his laughter or his hands steady as he turned aside to pour him a cup of tea. Even though Xue Yang was sulking, he still accepted that cup of tea that was offered to him by his still-giggling Dao Zhang.

 

“He’s still laughing at me! Oh, fine! I made him laughed, even though it was at my own expense. Fine, fine! Just this once!” Xue Yang sipped angrily on his tea and paused. He looked down at the brown tea in his hand, “Huh… I never knew bland tea could taste so sweet?”

 

After Xiao XingChen had calmed down, Xue Yang was finally able to ask the question that nagged at him since this morning, “You could have exorcised him back then, why didn’t you?”

 

“Because he hasn’t fallen, yet,” Xiao XingChen answered.

 

“But exorcising him later wouldn’t mean anything different!” Xue Yang argued.

 

Xiao XingChen turned to him, “I don’t mean to exorcise him.”

 

“How else are we going to get rid of him?” the younger one asked.

 

The blind preacher answered, “There must be something we can do for him to help him move on. A final wish, or something.”

 

“Huh?! For real?!” Xue Yang messed his head in frustration, “How nice can you get? Can’t we just exorcise him and be on our way home?!”

 

“I know you are worried about Ah Qing,” Xiao XingChen smiled, “I’m sure she is fine. Besides, I believe Young Master Feng XinZi deserves our help.”

 

Xue Yang relented. By now, he was already used to Xiao XingChen’s generous nature even though it always brought them more trouble in the end. He sighed and tried to look at the bright side of his current predicament. He said, “Since we’re already all the way out here. We might as well spend a few more days together, just the two of us, on a merry adventure.”

 

Lunch was a feast; but soon after, the two cultivators head out of the village again. Even with the sun shining right above their heads, the forest seemed darker than the morning with millions of leaves sprouting from the branches of large trees blocking out most of the sunlight from reaching the ground. Even the path they trod on was only brightened by spots of sunlight that managed to peek down.

 

“Ah! It’s you!” Feng XinZi floated down from the trees. He bowed at them, “I apologize for what happened earlier. I… didn’t mean to hurt anyone.”

 

“It’s alright,” Xiao XingChen smiled, “We were unharmed.”

 

Xue Yang unsheathed his black sword. Hearing that, Xiao XingChen quickly placed a firm hand on his sword, and said gently, “Let me talk to him.”

 

“I don’t trust him,” Xue Yang said to the Dao Zhang, his eyes were trained onto Feng XinZi’s dark eyes.

 

Feng XinZi bowed in apology, “I have no desire to bring harm unto your Dao Zhang. However, if I do lose control of myself again… then do what you must.”

 

With JiangZai ready in his hand, Xue Yang stayed close to the human and ghost, who both shared similar preference for white and blue colours in their clothes. He listened in as they walked deeper into the mountain, towards the western border. Xiao XingChen Dao Zhang asked, “How long has it been since you become affected by resentment?”

 

“I never noticed it myself,” Feng XinZi answered honestly, “Perhaps the darkness seep into me when I become emotionally disturbed. Just a month ago, a merchant’s carriage stopped to camp in this area. They pretended to take pity on me and fed me lies about my husband. I believed them. When they laughed at my stupidity, I flew into a rage and when I came back to my senses, I was about to throw them off the cliff.”

 

“So that’s why that fatso wants someone to exorcise him,” Xue Yang thought, “They should have all died then!”

 

“Why do you linger on?” Xiao XingChen raised the question again, “You already know he cannot be alive. What if he awaits you on the other side?”

 

“We made a promise,” Feng XinZi said again, “Before he left, he promised me he would come home to me, no matter what happens. In return, I promised to wait for him, even in death.”

 

“But you are slowly losing yourself,” Xiao XingChen reminded him, “Very soon you will haunt this place as a ferocious ghost, not knowing why you are here, or remember anything about your husband.”

 

Feng XinZi stopped walking abruptly, he muttered, “Remember… about him…”

 

“Young Master Feng?” Xiao XingChen turned to him.

 

Xue Yang noticed the way frail ghost’s shoulders shook even as he held himself and said softly with a sob, “Dao Zhang, I… I’ve already forgotten his name.”

 

Strands of darkness slithered around Feng XinZi again; Xue Yang quickly stepped in front of Xiao XingChen protectively. But this time, the ghost did not lash out, merely dropped to his knees in a deep bow. He cried, “Dao Zhang, please help me! I only wish to find him and be reunited again before I lose myself …but I am shackled to this place by my promise.”

 

Xiao XingChen looked grim, but stepped out of Xue Yang’s protection. He asked, “What if I can take you away?”

 

“Then take me to him! To the West!” he begged the Dao Zhang, “Take me as far West as you can, until I find him… or until… I turn into a ferocious ghost. …When that happens, will you make sure I can never hurt anyone?”

 

Xiao XingChen nodded his promise; but Xue Yang objected, “Dao Zhang!!”

 

“We can do this much for him,” the kind preacher said and took out a sky-blue Spirit-Trapping Pouch from his sleeve. He offered it on his palm to Feng XinZi, “If you stay inside this pouch, I can take you away from here, and protect your soul from contamination by resentment.”

 

“Thank you, Dao Zhang! Thank you!” Feng Xinzi repeatedly bowed to the ground again.

 

It took a while for Feng XinZi’s grateful soul to calm down enough for the ever-respectful Xiao XingChen to begin the short ritual. With Feng XinZi’s soul safely absorbed into the Spirit-Trapping Pouch, Xiao XingChen carefully stored it between the lapels of his robes. He turned to face Xue Yang, whom he felt was emanating a deadly aura. Xiao XingChen asked, “Am I about to be lectured?”

 

“We don’t know the routes out there in the West!” Xue Yang began, “Or how long the journey will take! The silver coins we have will not last us for much longer! Dao Zhang! You’re too kind for your own good!”

 

“But we will set out tomorrow, yes?” Xiao XingChen asked.

 

“Yes!” the younger man confirmed, but he had yet to finish making his points. Xiao XingChen tried to hide his smile as he listened to his junior preached about the goods and evils of the world, and its price while their feet carried them back to the village again.

 

The villagers were pleasantly surprised that the two cultivators made it back alive from the dark forest, and they quickly gathered around the blind Dao Zhang and his partner. Xiao XingChen explained to Lao Shi and the curious villagers about Feng XinZi, and their second journey westward. Standing beside him, Xue Yang could tell from everyone’s faces that they were relieved; not for the fact that they would be safe from danger, but relieved that Feng XinZi may finally be reunited with his husband. So grateful were they that they offered everything they could to supply the traveling duo; from mending their torn clothes and broken items, to stocking up their carriage with preserved edibles for the journey. Xiao XingChen offered them double their worth in silver coins as payment, but everyone declined his generous offer with the reason that they had no use for money this far away from towns and cities. With that in mind, Xiao XingChen sent Xue Yang off again to hunt for a bigger game as payment.

 

When night fell, the two partners crawled into their carriage to rest for the journey ahead. However, with the amount of items packed and already stowed away into the carriage by Xiao XingChen earlier the day, now there was only a narrow passage left in the middle of the carriage for two adults to lay; but neither said anything about the tight squeeze.

 

As the night dragged on, Xiao XingChen felt something amiss when his nameless partner’s breathings were not close by his chest. It could only mean the younger man’s back was facing him. He asked, “Are you still sulking about that hunt I sent you out on?”

 

A heavy breath answered him; it was a yes. Xiao XingChen gently patted on his head until the irritated young man sternly told him off, “I’m not a little boy anymore.”

 

“But you are sulking like one,” Xiao XingChen said to him, but apologized gently, “I’m sorry I always put you in danger.”

 

“Hunting is easy,” Xue Yang told him and turned to face his senior, “It’s the fact that you keep helping others that bothers me! This case won’t even be the last! Dao Zhang, you’re too kind. Someday, someone will definitely lead you to your death!”

 

Xiao XingChen continued to smile, “Then I hope the help I will render is worth my death.”

 

“You!” Xue Yang exclaimed immediately. His heart clenched at those words and his hands grasped at Xiao XingChen’s white robes. He could not understand the anxiety that was bubbling in him, but his mind stressed, “…I’m the only one who can kill you!”

 

Xiao XingChen was oblivious to the whirlwind of emotions clearly visible on Xue Yang’s face, but he could only feel the shivering grip on his robes that he thought was fear. He said, “Don’t worry. I’m sure I will not die that easily.”

 

“Dao Zhang... you cannot die,” Xue Yang forcibly loosened his grip as his mind spun a desperate response to chain this silly Dao Zhang to him, “You must… keep me by your side. I can protect you! Will you trust me to protect you?”

 

The soft smile on Xiao XingChen’s innocent face widened, and he nodded, “With my life.”

 

“Mn,” the anxiety that weighed down on Xue Yang’s heart seemed to have lifted but he still clutched at the older man as he drifted to sleep listening to the steady heartbeats of his teacher. He muttered softly in his sleep, “Dao Zhang... no one will ever hurt you… I’ll… make sure of it… you’re mine…”

 

“Mn,” Xiao XingChen understood those words to be mere mumbles of a sleepy child but he could also hear the intense selfishness in his younger partner’s voice that made him want to take those words seriously; because it made his heart blossomed to feel protected again.   

 

When the sun rose next morning, the two cultivators bid their farewell to the village and urged their horses onwards. As the days rolled on, their carriage slowly travelled westward. Xue Yang was most watchful of their food stock as they almost never come by any villages or towns to replenish. Whenever there were rabbits or fowls around, he would stop to make an early camp so they could have roasted fresh meat for dinner. Often, Xiao XingChen would sit beside Xue Yang holding the light blue Spirit-Trapping Pouch in his hands, and listened to the younger man described to him their not-so-familiar surroundings.

 

One day, Xue Yang poked at the still pouch, and out came a grumpy noise.

 

“Don’t tease him,” Xiao XingChen warned playfully.

 

Xue Yang answered, “He’s being too quiet.”

 

Indeed, Feng XinZi had stayed silent ever since he went inside the pouch. Xiao XingChen asked, “Are you alright?”

 

A soft “mn” answered him radiated from the pouch, and Feng XinZi said, “I’m just… nervous.”

 

“…huh? Why?” the ignorant Xue Yang asked.

 

“In life, I’ve waited for fifty years,” Feng XinZi said, “In death, I’ve waited another hundred years. Now that we’re days or months away from meeting him… I… I don’t even know what to say to him when we meet. There’s so much to tell him. So much more to ask.”

 

Xue Yang looked away, “There’s also the bigger possibility that we don’t find him.”

 

“…I know,” the ghost replied, “But being able to get even a little bit closer to him… it’s more than I could have hoped for back at the village.”

 

“Have you never gone to the West yourself?” Xiao XingChen asked.

 

“No,” Feng XinZi answered sadly, “He did offer to take me with him, but I was too scared to leave the village.”

 

Xiao XingChen asked, “What was he like, your husband?”

 

Feng XinZi brighten again at that question. He answered enthusiastically, “He had hair like the sun! And eyes like the lake… or the ocean. He said ‘ocean’ but I’ve never actually seen one. He said it is more than a thousand times bigger than the largest lake.”

 

“He must have travelled a lot,” Xue Yang commented. Even during his richer days as the guest disciple of LanLing Jin Sect, Xue Yang never got the chance to travel far.

 

“He did!” Feng XinZi answered, “He travelled all the way East from a kingdom in the West called Greece. He was a cartographer, and his mission was to draw a map that he would present to his emperor. That’s why… he couldn’t stay. He had to go back… he said, it might take him ten years to come back… but he never did.”

 

Xue Yang hummed, “Or… he could be lying to you.”

 

“Don’t feed his fear,” Xiao XingChen quickly warned, fearful that Feng XinZi might lose himself to anger and grief again.

 

But Feng XinZi seemed unaffected. He merely shook his head, “I choose to believe him.”

 

“Why do you have so much faith in him?!” Xue Yang muttered, “He was a stranger from the West! He could have been an enemy!”

 

“Maybe he was,” Feng XinZi replied, “But I couldn’t stand by and not lend a hand to a dying stranger. So I brought him home and nursed him back to health. During those days, I learned that I could trust him because of his earnest desire to repay me for saving his life but he was so poor that he had nothing valuable on him to repay me. Instead, he shared with me his knowledge. Every day, he taught me how to read the stars for navigation, and even taught me his language.”

 

Recalling the first day Feng XinZi learned of his husband’s name, he added, “He taught me that his name… means the sun. And I told him that mine was the name of a flower that no longer grows in my village. I showed him a drawing of that flower, and he recognized it. He said… the Sun God made that flower out of the blood of his dead lover in his grief. He said… they grow abundant where he lived… He said… he will bring the flowers back. So we can plant them in the gardens of our home.”

 

“These flowers… what do they look like?” Xiao XingChen asked.

 

“Blue,” Feng XinZi began to describe, “Like blue bells hanging from a green stalk.”

 

Xue Yang abruptly pulled on the reins to halt their carriage. He asked in astonishment, “Are they small? …and grow easily?”

 

“Well, yes,” Feng XinZi answered uncertainly, “He did mention that they could grow on the floor of forests, covering everything in its blue hue.”

 

“…then might these be…?” Xue Yang pointed at the sea of violet-blue bell-shaped flowers that carpeted the ground, as far as his eyes could see. Their carriage had just began to traverse across this field of flowers not too long ago, but Xue Yang paid no heed to these flowers that spread as vast as grasses until Feng XinZi’s description seemed to fit it.

 

“…hm? Here?” Xiao XingChen was confused. His nose now noticed something, “The air smells sweet.”

 

In panicked excitement, Feng XinZi struggled to break out of the pouch; the cultivator Xiao XingChen quickly released him. As soon as Feng XinZi’s soul took on his physical form again, his eyes stared at the flowers that looked exactly as the drawing he saw. With tears in his eyes, he whispered, “…it’s him. He’s here…”

 

“XinZi?” a voice called out from amongst the flowers, “Is that you?”

 

Feng XinZi gasped, “Where are you?”

 

“Here I am!” a figure emerged to hover above the blue flowers, not too far from the carriage. He was a tall and muscular man in his early thirties, donning the leather armor from the west, with a broadsword by his waist. Just as Feng XinZi remembered, he had short hair that glinted gold as the sun and eyes blue as the lake.

 

Finally reunited with his beloved, Feng XinZi smiled widely as the darkness that whirled around his astral body began to disperse and fade away. He ran onwards, and on his lips was his husband’s name, “Helios!”

 

“XinZi! How I’ve missed you!” Helios smiled as he reached forth to embrace his husband tightly. Parting with a kiss to Feng XinZi’s forehead, his fingers brush through Feng XinZi’s platinum locks; he remembered those raven locks that was in his youth. Helios asked, “Did you wait for me… your whole life?”

 

Feng XinZi nodded, “I’ve waited for you since the day you left. But you never came back…”

 

“Forgive me, I truly mean to come home,” Helios admitted as he gently held his lover’s hands, “I’ve… made you wait, for so long.”

 

Feng XinZi asked tearfully, “What happened?”

 

“Some time after I left Greece, I was chased by a pack of hungry wolves in the dead of winter,” he explained, “I dropped everything to jump into a ravine to escape them. But then I fell ill and I… passed. All I had by my heart was a bag of hyacinths seeds.”

 

Helios reached down to pick a stalk of those blue flowers and presented it to Feng XinZi, “…where I came from, we call these flowers as ‘hyacinths’; after the name of the Sun God Apollo’s lover. XinZi, my regret for not fulfilling my promise to come home to you was so deep that my soul became fettered to these seeds that used my body as nourishment. But I can only travel as far as they grow. So I have been nurturing them to grow eastward, towards home …to you.”

 

He told him, “These bluebells have bloomed for a hundred and forty four springs. To come home again… they would need another fifty springs.”

 

“…another fifty years. By then, I would have fallen into darkness… When that happens…” Feng XinZi trailed off as he quickly realized how his lifelong wait would have otherwise ended. He turned and bowed to the two cultivators, “Feng XinZi is forever indebted to the two Dao Zhangs. If you had been unwilling to help me, then our eventual reunion would have become an eternal separation.”

 

Helios, too, bowed to them, “Thank you, for bringing XinZi to me.”

 

“No need to thank us,” Xiao XingChen smiled at their direction. Behind him, Xue Yang stood by the carriage with a darkened expression and looked away from the happy lovers. Xiao XingChen asked them, “What do you intend to do next?”

 

“I want to see the ocean, and your home!” Feng XinZi exclaimed excitedly.

 

Helios smiled, “It will be my greatest pleasure to grant that wish.”

 

“Then we bid you farewell,” Xiao XingChen bowed slightly, “May happiness always find you.”

 

Feng XinZi’s heart squeezed with the knowledge that the blind Dao Zhang could not see how truly happy he was. Taking light steps forward, he planted a soft kiss on Xiao XingChen’s cheek and said softly in his ear, “Dao Zhang, thank you for giving me the happiness I’ve waited for over a hundred years. I wish someday you will find yours.”

 

“I will,” the preacher nodded with a smile, “Thank you.”

 

Feng XinZi turned to the silent ruffian, who stood a few feet away with his back turned towards them. He returned the poke earlier on Xue Yang’s back, and said, “He hears more than words. But your words are deceitful, yet your heart isn’t. Why haven’t you acted on it?”

 

Xue Yang failed to answer, nor did he want to.

 

Despite not knowing the relationship between these two benefactors, Helios understood Feng XinZi’s intention when he spoke to the young man. He told them, “These bluebells carry the meaning of ‘everlasting love’ in my country. It’s symbol of eternal love. We hope you can find the meaning in them too.”

 

Feng XinZi returned to join his husband. With a final bow, they transformed into two wisps of violet-blue lights and fluttered away; with clear twinkling sound of bells echoing behind them.

 

For a long while, neither Xiao XingChen nor Xue Yang spoke a word to each other; merely gazed westward. Surrounded by the sweet scent of bluebells, Xiao XingChen finally knelt on one knee and reached out to touch a single stalk of bluebells. His finger gingerly felt along each tiny petals to draw its shape in his mind. He smiled, “They truly do shaped like bells.”

 

Xue Yang watched his blind senior smiled wider the further his hands reached for the violet flowers around him. He only replied, “Mn.”

 

“What shade of blue are they?” Xiao XingChen asked curiously, “Blue… like the afternoon sky? Or dark blue… like the midnight sky?”

 

Xue Yang came to crouch by Xiao XingChen’s side. He hummed as he said, “Let’s see… it’s not a colour we often see. But I suppose… its colour is as rich as the finest blue silk with a tinge of violet.”

 

“Beautiful, indeed,” the older man nodded, and smiled as he looked west again.

 

 “Your words are deceitful, yet your heart isn’t. Why haven’t you acted on it?” Xue Yang could still hear that question in his mind. If he had not stopped himself, his heart would have answered, “Because I can never trust myself again.”

 

A warm hand reached out for him, “Are you happy where you are?”

 

That question was vague, as was all their conversation about their hearts and minds. Xue Yang could have easily lie his way out of the topic as usual but at this moment, he let his heart won, “Even if I can never trust myself again… just as long as he trusts me.”

 

He closed the distance between their lips in a soft and chaste kiss. When they parted, Xue Yang whispered, “Dao Zhang, can’t we find our happiness right here?”

 

Xiao XingChen smiled at his junior, and circled his arms behind his neck to draw him in for another kiss, “…here is fine.”

Chapter Text

Lying on the sea of violet-blue flowers, the two lovers kissed feverishly; both unwilling to release the other from their own grasp. As they kissed, Xue Yang’s hands roamed lower to undo the knot securing his Dao Zhang’s sash. With the sash loosened, his white robes quickly became undone, exposing Xiao XingChen’s lean and naked upper body. Xue Yang’s lips kissed its way down to nibble at those pink nipples, eliciting quick gasps and erotic moans that he had never heard coming from Xiao XingChen before. His hands pulled those white pants away and stroked his Dao Zhang’s erection. Xiao XingChen writhed and moaned as Xue Yang toyed with him; his hands frantically tugged onto Xue Yang’s dark robes into a loose mess.

 

“Dao Zhang…” Xue Yang whispered seductively into his ear, “Will you come for me?”

 

“Ah!” Xiao XingChen shamelessly came in his junior’s hand. He quickly apologized between his breaths, “I’m so sorry! You suddenly spoke in my ear, I- ah! – wait – where… ahn~ ah! Mph…!”

 

Xue Yang sealed Xiao XingChen’s lips shut with a kiss as his tainted fingers delved into his Dao Zhang’s entrance; gently massaged his way in and out, made him moaned into their kissed, and his body trembled with pleasure. Pulling his hands away from his heart’s deepest desire, Xue Yang quickly removed his own robes and pants, then lowered himself to lay on Xiao XingChen’s warm body and captured his lips in a kiss again.

 

“Dao… Zhang…” Xue Yang called for him as he slowly entered Xiao XingChen.

 

“…here- ah! I’m –ah, here-” his lover beneath him panted for breaths. 

 

Xue Yang moaned, “…so tight…!”

 

“…AH!” Xiao XingChen gasped when he felt a wave of pure ecstasy coursed through him.

 

“…so it’s here…” Xue Yang managed to smirk, despite trying his hardest not to ejaculate when he felt his Dao Zhang clenched down on him. He gently eased out, and moved in; hitting that spot again.

 

“AH!” Xiao XingChen screamed as he squirmed, “…don’t– there!”

 

“But you like it, don’t you?” Xue Yang licked his lips, and he continued to thrust over and over again; going deeper and grazing over that spot ever so slowly every time.

 

“…don’t!” Xiao XingChen managed to say between moans and gasps of pleasure, “…I…’ll…”

 

Xue Yang disobeyed and only thrust harder and faster until both of them reached the pinnacle of sexual ecstasy. He climaxed inside Xiao XingChen, marking the older man as his while his own body was marked by the scratches Xiao XingChen made in his frenzied pleasure. Looking down at his lover – whose pale skin now shimmered with sweat, and his raven-black hair splayed behind him in a mess – Xue Yang placed a gentle kiss on Xiao XingChen’s forehead.

 

“Dao Zhang, I…” Xue Yang could not continue. If his words were lies then he thought he should let his heart say it; so he gently kissed his lips again, “…love you.”

 

“What is it?” Xiao XingChen asked as he circled his arms around his younger lover, pulling his robes over both their naked bodies.

 

Xue Yang pondered, “…can we… keep heading onwards to the West? We can go to a place where no one knows us. We can even go to the ocean, build a hut by the shore, and live there… just the two of us.”

 

Xiao XingChen smiled at the thought, but he replied, “We have to go home. We’re needed back there.”

 

“Tch,” Xue Yang clicked his tongue as he pouted and rested his head on the crook of Xiao XingChen’s neck, “Then let me stay here, just a while longer.”

 

In the aftermath of their sweet-scented lovemaking, Xiao XingChen welcomed the rest; because when they returned to Yi City, they might never again indulge themselves in such an act. But the fact remained that he had developed feelings for this naughty young man in his arms who had grown so protective of him, and cared so much for him even though the man himself would definitely deny it when asked. Gently patting his young lover to sleep, Xiao XingChen wondered if anyone else could see that underneath the layers of mischievousness, this young man desperately sought to receive and to give love in return.

 

Xiao XingChen kissed the side of Xue Yang’s head, “If no one would give him love, then I will give him all of mine.”

 

“Dao Zhang,” Xue Yang called out to him sleepily.

 

He hummed in response, “Hm?”

 

“When we die… will we meet again?” he asked.

 

“Of course we will,” Xiao XingChen answered.

 

Falling asleep, Xue Yang smiled, and whispered, “…it’s a promise.”