The road stretched out in front of Song Lan, leading him from one nighthunt to the next, with no particular care where he ended up. He only made sure to avoid bigger settlements and fellow cultivators. What need did he have for company? He had Fuxue and Shuanghua strapped to his back and the remaining fragments of Xiao Xingchen's soul resting against his heart. They were all he needed to fulfill his sacred vow.
He also had no need of either sustenance nor sleep - yet sometimes, when the phantom pain of Xiao Xingchen's presence by his side grew too great, Song Lan would find somewhere with a nice view and close his eyes, imagining his beloved friend next to him. As time went on, months turning into years, when he let his thoughts drift into the closest thing to slumber a fierce corpse could achieve, he began to feel as if he really wasn't alone.
Zichen... The wind would carry the sound of Xiao Xingchen's voice, his gentle laughter, but it was the sensation of sword-calloused fingers gently touching his cheek that tore Song Lan out of his reverie. Following a sudden impulse, he slipped his hand into the front of his hanfu, cradling the precious pouch with the utmost care.
Maybe he was still dreaming, but for a moment Song Lan thought the soul within felt warmer, more whole. Since he couldn't speak, he instead kissed it, a feather-light touch full of longing and the tiniest sliver of hope.