Chapter 1: Prologue: The Ship-Sinking Black Water; The Water Master Meets an Old Friend
Present days, the Southern Sea
* * *
Shi Wudu halted at the borderline between the two waters. No point in going further on, he reckoned, looking over the blackness down there. The ship will obviously be pulled down by the curse. His Water Master fan was spread open in his hand, ready for either attack or defense, depending on the situation.
“Sure you don’t want me to come with you, ge?” Shi Qingxuan asked him before Shi Wudu left for his mission.
“It will probably be dangerous, so stay,” Shi Wudu retorted at that one, his heart somehow felt heavy about this particular task.
The mission came unexpectedly soon after the birth of the new Supreme, so this was not a simple one. Heavens did not know so far who the new demon king was and what was he capable of, but soon after Mount TongLu released the new Supreme, ships started to sink in the Southern Sea. Naturally, the Water Master went on to explore the cause of their sinking.
“At least take that old pervert with you?” Shi Qingxuan suggested, but Shi Wudu waved him off. Pei Ming is a martial god, this has nothing to do with any war, this is something entirely different.
Shi Wudu looked upon the blackness beyond this certain point and pondered over how to cross it. It was too obvious that flying might have been a trap, but then again, hardly there was another option, so he leapt into the air lightly, calling several currents of outer water to form a dolphin beneath him, so he could ride upon it.
As he moved forward, the black water splashing underneath, a sense of dread grew in his heart. He felt a movement on the side and dodged the strange creature charging at him by a thread.
“What the…” Shi Wudu muttered, seeing it was a fish skeleton with glowing eyes gliding through the air around him. Another splash came from below, and another fish snapped its teeth at Shi Wudu. He cursed silently – he did not want to actually start a fight between himself and the Supreme without knowing the latter’s abilities and anything at all about him.
He fought off both of the creatures easily, but surely, there were more lurking down in the depths. As he was preparing for another skeleton’s attack, the sea suddenly calmed. Just then, a distant silhouette riding huge water dragon skeleton slid into his view. Shi Wudu warily watched the creature gliding towards him, trying to make out the appearance of the man on top of that dragon.
“What business do heavens have to do with me?” A harsh voice came, as the dragon closed upon Shi Wudu.
“You are the new Supreme Demon King?” Shi Wudu held his fan ready, just in case, “I am the Water Master Wudu,” he introduced himself, “I was sent to investigate this sea, since ships started to sink here.”
“I claimed the Southern Sea as my territory, so my condolescences to those sailors,” the man was clad in black, his hair was long and dark, falling around his death-pale face. There were silver waves of ornaments upon his sleeves and collar, “Have them warned up there,” he shrugged, seemingly not caring, “If they don’t come, the water won’t sink them. It’s that simple.”
Shi Wudu’s face twisted in a grimace. Such arrogance in that tone – should he take it and let it pass? As he wanted to answer to that man, a lightning flashed from the clouds gathered around them, spreading just enough light for Shi Wudu to discern his features. His face dropped and paled, the Water Master fan trembled in his hand, for this face he would have recognized in any situation.
“What is it?” The man asked, clearly not understanding such a reaction. Grey eyes, deep brows, the way too familiar ever-grumpy expression and thin lips Shi Wudu knew all too well were capable of the warmest of smiles… No, heavens, please, no, how could he… Why would he… Why, in the name of heavens?!
“A-Sheng, is that you?” Shi Wudu whispered, “Is that… really you?”
The man seemed to be taken aback.
“I am Black Water Demon Xuan,” he stated, “How do you know of my former mortal name?”
Shi Wudu smirked bitterly, feeling his heart sinking in that black water until the very bottom to be buried down there forevermore, “You… don’t remember me?” He asked unexpectedly soft, “You don’t remember anything?”
Black Water Demon Xuan looked up suspiciously, “What are you talking about? Do I know you?”
“Yes,” Shi Wudu wanted to say, “All too well.”
“Not really,” Shi Wudu said instead, knowing he sounds too fake, but unable to utter the truth, “About the ships,” he said curtly, “I’ll let them know up there. I apologize for the intrusion,” with that, he turned around and left.
Fled was more like it.
Nobody would say it is that famous ‘Water Tyrant’ now, with the way he looked – shaken to the core, on the verge of breaking down.
“A-Sheng… A-Sheng…” the name again and again repeated itself in his mind, followed by all those images of them drinking together, taking on missions together, and… more than just that, “I’m so… sorry,” Shi Wudu mouthed, clutching Water Master’s fan to his chest.
As he left, he did not know that He Xuan – Black Water Demon once known under the name of Wind Master Sheng, his mortal name being He Sheng, - still stood there on his bony dragon floating in the midair for a long time, looking in the direction Shi Wudu came from.
“But why would a heaven official of such a high rank,” he asked slowly, “Be covering me – the Supreme? Do I know him? Did I know him?” Something stirred at the back of his half-ruined memory, somebody’s cocky laughter and the sound of a waterfall coming through the window, the echo of taste of the finest wine at the back of the tongue. He Xuan shook his head, his fingers pressed upon his temples.
“Water Master Wudu,” he quietly repeated, “I’ll remember your name,” with that, He Xuan commanded his dragon to return to the Black Water Island.
Chapter 2: Not Enough of Lanterns; Welcoming the New Wind Master
Still young and (relatively) naive and not yet smug Shi Wudu. <3
* * *
“I’m scared, ge. I’m so scared!”
Shi Wudu placed a gentle kiss upon Shi Qingxuan’s forehead, “I know. I know, and I am so sorry about it. Now that I have ascended, I will have more ways to protect you. We’ll manage somehow.”
“You’ll appoint me to the Middle Court?” Shi Qingxuan sniffled and bit his lip. He did not want to stay all alone down here! All his life he was with his brother and could not bear the thought of separation. Especially in his… circumstances.
“I will, of course,” Shi Wudu hesitated for a moment, “It will not solve our problem though,” he added.
Shi Qingxuan lowered his head, “I know.”
“But it will get better at least, because we will be stronger than now.”
The two brothers sat on the terrace of an inn, drinking wine and eating, yet the atmosphere was heavy. It has been several years of the futile war going on between the Shi brothers and the Reverend of Empty Words. So far, the Reverend won every round. It pained Shi Wudu’s heart to see his brother like this – yes, he was still smiling, he was still holding up that cheerful appearance. But Shi Wudu saw wariness in his every move, and the way his eyes always darted from side to side, as if he is expecting to hear that hateful creature on every occasion.
How long will it take Shi Qingxuan to break? How many more years will pass before he will succumb to the Reverend? There was still time, Shi Wudu felt, but question was, how much.
“I’ll get to go fulfilling prayers with ge?” Shi Qingxuan asked curiously.
Shi Wudu nodded, “And you’ll meet many good people too.”
Shi Qingxuan smiled weakly, “Water god is great. It’s so interesting! And people need water too, so there will surely be a lot of merits on your behalf!”
Shi Wudu rubbed his brow, “Hope you’re right!” He forced a smile. Yes, he has to collect as many merits as possible. And he has to become the strongest of gods, because only then he can protect Shi Qingxuan, and only that matters to him.
* * *
“Congratulations, ge!” Shi Qingxuan was clapping to him, smiling happily. It was the Mid Autumn Festival, and the Palace of the Water Master just counted three hundred and twenty three lanterns. Shi Wudu smiled at him, seeing his brother happy, but deep inside the first thought was, “Not enough.”
Yes, it was a good result with Shi Wudu being Water Master for only four years, but it will have to be better than that and significantly better too.
“Good job, Shui-shixiong!” Pei Ming called over his table, where he was sitting together with Ling Wen. Shi Wudu smiled at them politely – this year General Pei ranked the second after the Great Martial Palace.
“He is so annoying,” Shi Qingxuan flashed a fake smile at Pei Ming, addressing to Shi Wudu, “And too loud and full of himself.”
“Qingxuan, mind your mouth,” Shi Wudu shot a disapproving glance at him.
Pei Ming and Ling Wen somehow turned out to be the ones with whom Shi Wudu would mostly hang around. He did not actually mean it, but somehow it came naturally. Seeing that Pei Ming and Ling Wen were also the strongest of heavenly officials, this friendship might have become quite beneficial, so why not.
“But ge, it is really good, isn’t it?” Shi Qingxuan asked, letting go the matter of Pei Ming, his eyes bright.
“It is, but I will have to do better next year,” Shi Wudu poured them wine. The Great Martial Hall was, perhaps, one of the safest places for Shi Qingxuan – that thing simply would not dare to mess with all of these heavenly officials around. Middle Court is more risky, true, but even so Shi Wudu thought himself to be right at that one – after his ascension things became a bit easier. That does not mean he will lower his guard, but first things first.
“There were prayers coming couple of last days,” he said to Shi Qingxuan, “From the Venyan village, it’s on the east. Care to come along tomorrow to check it out? There seems to be a problem with their river.”
“Sure,” Shi Qingxuan brightened, “But ge, you still lack a spiritual device…”
“It’s alright. Will get one soon, the way things are. No rush,” it was going well in the Palace of Water Master – merits were going steady in numbers, so gradually Shi Wudu’s power also grew. He figured that soon he would get a spiritual weapon of his – unlikely the sword, something like… a fan, perhaps, would be more appropriate. Yes, a fan it will be. He is no martial god after all, so he does not need a sword. Besides, Shi Qingxuan will probably like the fan more too.
* * *
The Venyan village was located by the foot of a mountain, and the river that flowed through it went down the mountain slope, at first consisting of several merry streams, and then combining into one closer to the bottom. It looked like one of those streams has dried out or something – its waterbed was barely damp, the water by the size of a thread struggling to stream down it.
Shi Wudu walked up to the source of the stream, with Shi Qingxuan accompanying him behind. People were praying to the Water god to restore their river, afraid their good fortune might have dried out like this.
The stream led the two brothers up the almost dried waterfall and to the small cave entrance. Shi Wudu lit up a flame on his palm to light the way, and they entered the mountain.
“So beautiful,” Shi Qingxuan breathed, seeing the inside of the cave. There were glittering shards of crystals over the walls, and Shi Wudu’s flame reflected in them, making the cave look like a starry sky.
“It is,” he agreed, “Beautiful… and troublesome,” Shi Wudu pointed at the middle of the cave, “Here was a lake.” True, the ground was damp and there was mud and few puddles here and there.
“What happened?” Shi Qingxuan wondered.
“The stones collapsed,” Shi Wudu pointed at the far end of the cave, where there was supposed to be road ahead on, but it was blocked by large and small stones in a pile, “Probably some minor earthquake or just a landslide… Either way, this is what is blocking the stream.”
Shi Qingxuan hummed pensively, “But we would rather need an Earth Master for this…”
“Well, seeing as heavens have none at the moment, this Water Master will have to do,” Shi Wudu would not admit to Shi Qingxuan he regretted of not bringing Pei Ming along – that ol’ bastard would have slashed through the stones with his sword in a mere seconds. Nor he would admit that at this point he needed a spiritual device. Well, for heaven’s sake, he has just barely collected enough merits and money for making one – it takes time!
“Ge, you sure you will be okay?” Shi Qingxuan looked with a frown at how Shi Wudu studied the stones – he crouched down and touched a tiny water current coming from under the rocks.
“There is a great deal of water energy accumulated in there,” Shi Wudu gestured behind the stones, “I’ll just use it.”
“Will the cave hold?”
Shi Wudu looked around, his gaze haltering at the crystals, “It has to. In any case there is no other way to make it.” Without further ado, he formed a seal with his hands and called, “Water, come forth!” His face twisted with effort, and as Shi Qingxuan watched, those rocks actually started to shake!
There was a rumble behind them, growing in sound and power. Shi Wudu straightened the seal and raised his head proudly, as he called for the water once more. There were several streams and drops dripping between the stones, and then the rumbling sound grew, and at some point, the rocks blasted out of their place, carried away by a mighty current.
“Ge!” Shi Qingxuan jumped closer to the wall at the large rock by the lake’s shore to avoid both water and falling rocks. His voice was not concerned but rather in awe of his brother’s power – it was a remarkable sight! The current already threw those big rocks out of the cave, so there were only minor ones left easy to deal with, and now Shi Wudu was cleansing the water before pouring it back into the lake and adjusting its waterbed. As he stood there, watching his brother directing the water to his will and cleaning the stones out of the way, Shi Qingxuan heard a voice coming from the dark in the corner of the cave:
“You won’t get to enjoy this sight any longer, as you’ll fall this instant!”
Shi Wudu did not hear a thing, being surrounded by the splashing and busy with the lake and all the mess in the cave, but Shi Qingxuan whipped around, his face paled, and – of course! – he tripped over the wet spot on the rock and collapsed down into the freezing and bubbling lake.
He wanted to call out for his brother, but swallowed the muddy and cold water instead. His heart and mind already were a panicked mess, so Shi Qingxuan just flailed his arms randomly, trying to get something to hold on, before the current would pull him to the entrance and down the waterfall.
There was a splash next to his ears and a hand grabbed his wrist firmly, pulling him out of the lake.
“Ge…” Shi Qingxuan breathed weakly, his teeth clattering. Shi Wudu grimly finished dealing with the lake and rocks before they got out of hand again, exhaled in relief and turned to Shi Qingxuan.
“Are you hurt anywhere?”
Shi Qingxuan shook his head. Tears were mixing with the drops of water upon his face and hair, and he hoped Shi Wudu would not notice, “I’m okay. I’m sorry, I…”
“It was him,” Shi Wudu stated darkly.
Shi Qingxuan smirked bitterly, “It’s alright, ge,” he said softly, “I’m getting used to it.” He winced, when Shi Wudu pulled him into a tight embrace.
“Qingxuan,” Shi Wudu breathed in his ear, “Please, hold on, I’ll try my best to become the strongest and then I…”
“Ge…” Shi Qingxuan trembled and hugged him back, “Ge, don’t overdo it because of me, please, don’t overexert yourself, I wouldn’t bear it if something were to happen to you because of me…”
The water in the lake settled down, and the sound of waterfall from outside was coming once more, as strong as it has obviously been before those rocks blocked the path.
“Well then,” Shi Wudu said gently – Shi Qingxuan knew this kind of tone is for him only, his brother being rather harsh with the others, “These prayers were taken care of, so let’s go. You need to take a hot bath and change. Let ge help you with that.” Shi Wudu lifted Shi Qingxuan in his arms and carried him away, not listening to his protests, and only pressing him tighter to his chest as the most sacred of all the treasures.
* * *
The bell rang somehow lightly and joyfully, sounding more like chimes in the wind than an actual bell – Shi Wudu knew its sound and behavior is always different, somehow connected to the personality of the one ascended, but this time it was sounding so merrily it made his lips curl into a smile against his will.
“I wonder who is it now?” Pei Ming sent over a message in their private communication array, “Care to check it out?”
“I’ll join you,” Ling Wen’s voice jumped in, “Because it’s the new Wind Master, actually.”
“Whoa! Hear that, Shui-shixiong?”
“Yeah, I’m coming too,” Shi Wudu walked out of the palace to the Heavenly Capital street. The private communication net of the ‘Three Tumors’ was useful thing. Their nickname among the heavenly officials sounded just good to him too. Shi Wudu fanned himself with his Water Master fan, as he strolled down the street.
“Ge, it’s another elemental? Really?” Shi Qingxuan ran to his side, his hair disheveled and messy, as if he was sleeping just a moment ago.
“Really,” Shi Wudu fixed the collar of Shi Qingxuan’s outer robes and moved a strand of hair from his face, “Going too?”
“Sure, I wanna know, I wanna know!” He laughed.
Shi Wudu could not hold back his own smile looking at Shi Qingxuan like this. Ling Wen was already at the end of the street, explaining something to a tall longhaired man clad in simple white robes. As they approached, he turned around to greet them and Shi Wudu saw his face. Grey eyes curiously slid over Shi Wudu’s appearance and thin lips formed a small smile.
Shi Wudu bowed politely, “Water Master Wudu. This is my brother, Shi Qingxuan, of the Middle Court.”
The man returned the bow to the both, and ran a hand through his hair, “I’m your colleague, as it appears to be,” he smiled, “Wind Master Sheng, formerly He Sheng from the town of Fu Gu at your service.”
As he said his name, Shi Wudu could feel a light warm breeze twirling around them, playing with their hair and robes. It came unexpected, but was somehow so pleasant, Shi Wudu heard a sound of approval from Ling Wen, “Beautiful!”
“Ge, this is so cool!” Shi Qingxuan commented too, his face bright and joyful as he enjoyed the wind passing through his hair.
“You’re welcome,” He Sheng smiled briefly, and then turned to Ling Wen again, “Is there anything specific I need to know about this place? Some rules or something?”
As she was about to speak, Shi Wudu saw Pei Ming going their direction. He suddenly smirked widely and blurted in, “Keep away from that womanizer, he’s totally unsavory.”
Ling Wen let go a cold laughter, but has not objected to that one. Shi Qingxuan looked pleased too, as he commented, “Finally you understand it, ge!”
“I see it’s rather lively up here,” He Sheng said, “Well, then, care to show me around?”
All three of them (or four – Shi Wudu smirked at Pei Ming joining in) immediately accepted the offer.
“Fu Gu, you said?” Shi Wudu then remembered, “So we’re basically neighbors!”
“Is that so?” He Sheng shot a glance in his direction, “The world truly is a small place.”
“It would be interesting should the people start worship the two of you together because of that,” Shi Qingxuan then said, at the time having no idea his words were, in fact, the most accurate prediction.
Chapter 3: Covering for the Demon; Searching for Answers
Ming Yi - the king of friendzone -_-"
* * *
“Are you serious?” Pei Ming raised his eyebrows, looking at Shi Wudu, “You can’t be serious, Shui-shixiong?”
“I’m afraid I gotta agree with General Pei,” Shi Qingxuan hid the lower half of his face behind the Wind Master fan, “Ge, how this can even…”
“Be quiet, Qingxuan,” Shi Wudu snapped at him and turned to others, as Shi Qingxuan fell silent – more out of surprise than out of obedience, “Yes, I am serious – do not venture in the Southern Sea and have a word spread among the mortals, and things will be fine.”
“But he is a Supreme,” Ling Wen said, “So how can we just…”
“Do show me the one who is teaching Crimson Rain Sought Flowers good manners down in the Ghost City,” Shi Wudu then offered. He was at the Great Martial Hall, reporting about the Black Demon Xuan to Jun Wu and the others. Partially reporting, that is. He could not tell them who the new Demon King once was. He had no heart to.
“Crimson Rain Sought Flower, for all I know, is doing whatever he wants to and nobody even cares,” Shi Wudu continued, “And he brings more troubles our way than this Black Water, yet nobody does nothing about it. Not to mention the Green Goblin, who is but a Menace, and still has our hands occupied every now and then. So why should this be any different, seeing as Black Water himself said that he would not touch ships that aren’t in his territory?”
“But this is outrageous?” Pei Ming was apparently stunned by Shi Wudu’s stubbornness, “At least have him answer for all those he sank already?”
“Out of question,” Shi Wudu did not even look in his direction, “This matter is over and done with.”
“Water Master Wudu,” the quiet voice of Jun Wu came. Shi Wudu raised his head and calmly met the Emperor’s gaze, “Why are you covering for Black Water Demon Xuan?”
“No reason,” Shi Wudu shrugged expressionless, “Just thought about Crimson Rain Sought Flower and figured it would be better not to meddle with yet another Supreme – judging by his character, he will probably keep a low profile, so why stir up the trouble by ourselves? I think all of us have better things to do, that’s all.”
Jun Wu supported his head with his hand and fell into thoughts. The others just waited for his decision. Then, “Have it done like Water Master said,” Jun Wu ordered, “His words make sense, so for now we’ll just keep an eye out for the Southern Sea, but will not barge in directly unless there is some major trouble. But there shouldn’t be one?” He directed his question at Shi Wudu.
“I believe so. I’ll keep an eye in that direction as well.” Shi Wudu bowed to Jun Wu, and left the hall. After a brief consideration, Shi Qingxuan followed him.
Shi Wudu came to his bedchambers at the Palace of Wind and Water, and the moment he closed the door behind, his indifferent mask slipped away. His shoulders shook, as he stood by the mirror, hair covering his face.
“I should have never… what was I thinking… gods, what was I thinking…” He clutched at his temples, his hands trembling. He stared at his reflection in the mirror for a while, his eyes going mad with disgust over himself, and then suddenly slammed a fist into the glass, shattering it to pieces.
“Ge!” Shi Qingxuan opened the door, seemingly attracted by the sound, “What are you…”
“Qingxuan,” Shi Wudu squeezed out, “Please. Get out. Of here,” he could not face his brother in this moment. He could not look in his face nor see that sign of the wind upon his fan, “Please,” he repeated quietly. Few moments later, he heard Shi Qingxuan closing the door.
“A-Sheng,” Shi Wudu then whispered, “I…” He could not find the words to say, and just silently shook his head, his face twisted in agony.
I am sorry. It was all my fault, I should have never changed your fate. You died… because of me.
* * *
“He’s weird like that already for a few days,” Shi Qingxuan complained to the man clad in black with golden decorations following him, “I can’t even talk to him! He has never been like this before! Just what might have happened? Ming-xiong, Ming-xiong, what should I do?”
The Earth Master Ming Yi gently patted Shi Qingxuan on his head, not even trying to detach him from his elbow anymore – Shi Qingxuan was always grabbing him randomly whether on the sleeve, or on the elbow, or by the hand.
“Give him time?” He suggested, “After all, your brother loves you, being tyrannical towards anybody but you, so… he’ll come around and tell you what happened.”
“You think?” Shi Qingxuan now grabbed his sleeve, “Ming-xiong, you’re the best,” he smiled at him.
Ming Yi only sighed at that, as they were walking down the street in the Royal Capital, both taking on mortal appearances. It has been couple of centuries since he has ascended and became friends with Shi Qingxuan, so he was used to his impulsiveness, loudness and endless energy. In fact, Ming Yi long ago fell in love with Shi Qingxuan (because how could he not? how can anyone not love him once getting to know him?). The only problem was that Shi Qingxuan was blissfully ignorant to whatever hint Ming Yi might have given about it. He was afraid the whole Upper Court already knew, but Shi Qingxuan, and soon they both would become a laughing stock to the others. Oh, not to mention the Water Tyrant would tear Ming Yi’s head off at once and bury him with his own Crescent Moon Shovel, because when it came down to his brother, Shi Wudu was unbearable even more than usual.
“They’ll take up bets up there soon,” Ming Yi commented darkly in his thoughts, but then dismissed it. At least Shi Qingxuan would always get him to hang out with in the mortal realm, nobody but him – that was good enough.
“Not going to switch to a Lady Wind Master this time?” Ming Yi smirked at Shi Qingxuan. He knew the latter loved to change his appearance and enjoy woman’s features and clothes. He even had a whole bunch of expensive and beautiful dresses he would usually wear when becoming the Lady Wind Master.
“Would you like me to?” Shi Qingxuan’s eyes became sly, “But then you’ll have to as well!”
Ming Yi shuddered inwardly, “Not really,” he said.
“Nah,” Shi Qingxuan then waved off his fan, “Ming-xiong, let’s go get fresh mantou with meat? I’m hungry.”
The two of them were about to get close to the inn, when a youth dressed in black garments came from the opposite direction of the street. Shi Qingxuan somehow singled him out of the crowd – the youth was good looking, with his hair tied up in a high ponytail (just like Ming-xiong’s, Shi Qingxuan thought), strolling with hands behind his back, looking around. His eyes were sharp and smart, and he really stood out of the crowd of other people. When they came closer to each other, passing by, the youth’s gaze caught the Wind sign upon Shi Qingxuan’s fan. His calm expression changed, his eyes widened for a second, and he halted.
“Exquisitely done work,” he commented on the fan.
Shi Qingxuan playfully fanned himself with pride, “Thank you, fellow daozhang!” Because who else but a cultivator would understand the meaning of the fan? The youth nodded and continued on his way, and Shi Qingxuan cockily raised his head, but his smile faded upon seeing Ming Yi’s expression.
“Ming-xiong? What’s wrong?”
Ming Yi slowly shook his head, “He’s weird,” he stated, “Let’s go a bit further from here. I would not like to be seen by him again.”
Those eyes that youth had – dark grey, like the winter sea, - for some reason their expression gave Ming Yi uneasy feeling of trepidation.
* * *
He Xuan – and that youth was, of course, him – turned around the corner and stopped by an empty passage, closing his eyes, his hand flying up to his temple. That fan was the Wind Master fan – he was sure of it, he somehow knew it. But, but… That fan – not the same one but similarly looking – once belonged to… him?
Which would mean that, before he died, he was Lord Wind Master? No, no, should he be one he would not have died. Unless he was… banished?
The image of him gently fanning that fan with the leaves and blossoms flying around suddenly filled his inner gaze. There was sunlight through the leaves and somebody’s presence nearby.
“Do you like it?” He Xuan heard his own voice asking.
“Yes,” the faint reply sounded like an echo, “Beautifully done,” that voice, though…
“A-Sheng,” the voice of that Water Master whispered into his ear. Was it… him? Water Master knew him back then? That is why he was stunned to see He Xuan now in this demonic state? He Xuan tried to unravel the knot of his messed up memories, but it would take time, this was not easy at all. Not because the monster he devoured was particularly strong, but because there was something inside of him, some subconscious barrier that would not allow him to remember everything at once. As if… as if he did not really want to remember.
“Shi Wudu,” the name left his lips by itself, and He Xuan startled, his eyes snapped open. He was not supposed to know his full name, and yet… Just what in the world has happened between the two of them? Who was this new Wind Master? That appearance of his was probably not the real one, so He Xuan could not figure it out. Too many questions. Well, first he will go and eat something somewhere. All this thinking and walking made him hungry again.
Chapter 4: Land of Tender; The Two Gods Falling into a Trap, part one
I like the idea of He Xuan being the troll at the time and Shi Wudu coming under his bad, bad influence. ^_^
* * *
“…and that god marches up to me and goes like ‘Don’t even get near them! Those are the Three Tumors, the worst heaven’s nightmare! Such bad tempers it is horrible!’ with an expression that would turn a fresh milk to sour. So I gasp and cover my face, and say ‘Oh no, turns out I’m about to become the fourth one!’ and he nearly faints on the spot,” He Sheng fluttered his eyelashes naively, while Shi Wudu, Ling Wen and Pei Ming laughed heartily.
“This is too good, really,” Pei Ming wiped his tears, “Teasing the heavens like this – the best thing ever.”
“Your reputation is now ruined, He-xiong,” Ling Wen observed, still smiling.
“Along with ours that was bad from the start,” Shi Wudu added and drank his wine.
He Sheng smiled and played with his Wind Master fan, “I don’t mind,” he shrugged then, “You’re at least fun to be with.”
“Especially ol’ Pei,” Ling Wen smirked.
“Why always me?” Pei Ming objected.
“You’re the worst of us, womanizer general,” Ling Wen simply said.
The Water and Wind Masters identically sneered at him, exchanged looks, and suddenly transformed to female forms. Pei Ming spluttered all of his wine, as the two pale-skinned and dark-haired beauties in white dresses extended their arms towards him affectionately.
“Pei-ge,” they called in a seductive tone, “Which one would you choose? Would you like us both? Do not restrain yourself, Pei-ge! Let jie-jie and mei-mei take good care of you!”
“I can blow you away with the softest of the winds!”
“I can bask you in the finest of the waters!”
“OH MY GOD, SHUI-SHIXIONG, NOT YOU TOO?!” Pei Ming thought he was hallucinating for a moment.
Shi Wudu fanned himself and blew him a kiss. He Sheng sadly pouted, “Ah, it is all my horrible, horrible influence over him. I’m such a bad, bad girl you have to punish me, General Pei!”
“Alright, stop it, you two at once!” Pei Ming’s eye was twitching by now.
“We’re not beautiful enough for you, Pei-ge?” He Sheng’s high voice trembled, “Ah, what a pity!”
“His imagination is too good seems more like it,” Ling Wen coldly added, studying Pei Ming’s flushed face.
Shi Wudu and He Sheng both transformed back to male forms then. Ling Wen applauded to their act with approval, while Pei Ming covered his face with his hands.
“…I hate you all,” he grumbled.
It really was fun, Shi Wudu thought for himself – spending time like this, with the three of them. He Sheng brought a whiff of fresh air to heavens with him, and he was very smart and a bit sarcastic at times, so his fame quickly rose to match that of the ‘Three Tumors’.
And Shi Wudu caught himself thinking he likes when He Sheng is around. It was interesting talking to him, he was quick to learn, easy to catch every little detail. Not to mention that his Palace of the Wind Master was quite popular among the mortals, so the merits were flowing in good numbers.
He Sheng too did not seem to mind often hanging out with Shi Wudu, so the two of them got along well.
* * *
“A cursed boat?” He Sheng raised his brows curiously.
Shi Wudu nodded, “Recently people – men, that is, - went missing around the river in the east. They say it is some kind of cursed ship or something, which said to hold a treasure within, and so men would go look for it and then disappear. People are afraid to transport their goods along that river, and that is troublesome.”
He Sheng then tapped his chin with the Wind Master fan, “And you want me to tag along?”
Shi Wudu smirked, “Do not tell me you haven’t heard those prayers. People are actually raising temples of Wind and Water together, so…”
“Oh, that,” He Sheng chuckled, “Your brother turned out to be very right about that, my dear ‘husband’.”
Shi Wudu rolled his eyes. In the mortal realm seeing, as the Water and Wind Masters were neighbors, naturally the tales came flowing in about the love between the two, and the Wind Master quickly became the Wind Mistress who ascended after her beloved. Shi Qingxuan was so right about that one. So, so, so right it was unnerving.
“Well then, my beloved ‘wife’, would you keep me company on that perilous journey?” Shi Wudu teased back, bowing to He Sheng.
He Sheng smirked and tilted his head, “I thought you are usually taking your brother to go together with you.”
Shi Wudu’s smile faded. It was precisely like that, until recently. However, down in the mortal realm the last two times Shi Qingxuan almost got hurt badly. Both times Shi Wudu managed to jump in the last moment to come to the rescue, but… things were not looking good so far. That hellish Reverend of Empty Words… and every time Shi Wudu would catch a glimpse of the creature it would slip away before he could end it.
Sometimes he wondered is he strong enough to end it. It was easy being tyrannical and smug towards the others, it was too easy to maintain that image he needed in heavens. In truth, he was not that sure in himself yet. If this matter concerned him only, Shi Wudu would have managed somehow. But Qingxuan… Qingxuan was too fragile and too important to him. Years went by, and still Shi Wudu was not able to get that bastard off his little brother.
“Is something wrong?” He Sheng carefully wondered, seeing Shi Wudu’s changed expression and clenched fists.
“Nothing,” he snapped, “Coming or not?”
He Sheng’s heavy look slid over his face, “Fine,” he said then grumpily, “Let’s go.”
* * *
It was easy to find the ship – half-sunken it was stranded near the little island in the river. Waters became filthy around the place, implying there was some dark spiritual force at work.
“Should we examine the ship itself, or the island?” He Sheng smelled the air and twisted his face, and then he raised his fan and sent a string of refreshing wind their direction. That did not help much though.
“I think it’s something on the island,” Shi Wudu said, “It reeks of disgusting energy.”
“It just reeks,” He Sheng remarked dryly.
It stank of rotten and stagnant water, and it was truly despicable sight. The island was enveloped in mist, stony ground was slippery from the wet. Dead trees and bushes were lifeless, twisted in silent screams towards the skies, and grass was brown and moist.
“There is a cave in there,” He Sheng squinted, peering into the fog.
“Which means the source of this whole thing is probably there. Ugh,” Shi Wudu did not particularly enjoy caves, but duty called.
They lit up the flame over their palms to illuminate the way through the cave. The path was narrow and slippery, going in twists and turns, and there was muddy water on the sides. The inside of the cave smelled of blood, as He Sheng observed, and both of them were ready for anything.
Anything but what followed.
* * *
As they emerged into the small cavernous hall and the smell of blood and stagnant water became unbearable, there was suddenly laughter all around.
“Ah, there are two of them!”
“And so pretty too!”
Before Shi Wudu could look around, the air exploded in flower scent.
“…!” He heard He Sheng cursing near him, and then he grabbed Shi Wudu’s hand and yanked him out of that place as fast as he could, but… the cave entrance was blocked! He Sheng cursed again, while Shi Wudu felt the dizziness coming over.
“Ah, no, no, you must not run away!” The red flowers giggled, “We will bear our fruits soon, oh yes, very soon, you have to stay and play with us!”
“He-xiong,” Shi Wudu breathed, and then leaned against the wet wall with fatigue taking him over.
He Sheng snapped around, his eyes looking for another path frantically. He tsked in annoyance, then led Shi Wudu towards the fork in the path further on, and chose another direction. There was a small ‘side-chamber’ there, its ground almost completely dry. He Sheng examined it briefly, shoved Shi Wudu inside, and then slashed his wrist with a grim expression.
“What are you doing?” Shi Wudu asked arduously. His whole body was weak and hot, the first thoughts of lust creeping up his being. Flower demons! Land of Tender! How could they have fallen to the trap so easily! Such high-ranked divine beings, and… this was too shameful to even think about.
He Sheng in the meantime drew several barrier lines with his blood before the entrance, “Those demons won’t be able to come in this way,” he said, “I’m sorry I did not notice. It smelled of blood and bad water too much and I haven’t paid attention to the flowery scent. Should have known.”
Shi Wudu swallowed hard, “…you too?”
He Sheng shot him a glance, “Obviously,” his breathing was ragged and heavy, but Shi Wudu could tell he still held to his sanity and calm – what an amazing restraint and self-control! Just then, He Sheng started to undo his belt and take off his outer robes.
“The hell?..” Shi Wudu asked.
“We have both been poisoned by now,” He Sheng grunted displeasingly, “To be quite honest, I don’t have all day to be stuck in here. Right now in a few moments, we will not be able to think of anything but General Pei’s favorite hobby. So I suggest we just get it done and over with, as it’s the fastest way to get rid of the poison inside and reclaim clear minds. As long as the demons won’t get in here – and they won’t – it will be enough.”
Shi Wudu stared at him. Waves of desire were already coming over in tides, but… for real? He heard himself asking that aloud. He Sheng was clearly angered – Shi Wudu made a distant note to himself that his face expression was rather scary when he was mad.
“Any other idea?” He Sheng snapped impatiently, “Or you want to tell me your cultivation path requires purity of the body?”
“Nothing of the sort!” Shi Wudu snorted, “But…”
“I know you are proud and confident,” He Sheng said, “That’s why I am not suggesting for you to be claimed by me, but offering myself to you. Should I transform into the woman to make it easier?”
Shi Wudu’s nails scratched the wall, as his hand jerked, while he was looking at now completely bare He Sheng’s body. His skin was so pale, making contrast with his raven black hair falling to the lower of his back… Shi Wudu unconsciously stepped closer to him, desire taking over his mind.
“Don’t,” he whispered.
He Sheng: “…?”
Shi Wudu licked his lips and repeated in a husky voice, “Don’t transform.”
Chapter 5: Land of Tender; The Two Gods Falling into a Trap, part two
The papapa time! And Qi Rong's cameo appearance, BECAUSE.
* * *
Shi Wudu grabbed He Sheng by his wrists and pulled him closer, feeling the feverish hot of his body. Then he hurriedly wriggled out of the clothes and they lay down on their robes. He Sheng winced, as he felt the rough stone beneath his back through the thin fabric.
There were voices of flower demons coming from the cave – they were approaching, but Shi Wudu did not care, his mind covered by the red mist of lust and desire. He leaned down and sank his teeth into He Sheng’s neck, placing a mark, as He Sheng gasped from surprise, but the poison affected him too, and so he allowed that. Shi Wudu covered his body in bites and bruises, unable to hold back, letting himself over to the pure instincts.
His mind was screaming, “Mine!” And distantly Shi Wudu wondered if that was only the poison at work, or something deeper and darker than that – something coming from his own being, from the depths of his consciousness.
He Sheng’s skin was so soft to the touch, and his lips swollen from all the harsh kisses they shared. He was breathing fast, but not a single sound escaped his mouth, even though Shi Wudu saw his lips moving silently. Shi Wudu himself did not hold back, as he growled and snarled, thrusting deeper in He Sheng with his cock, going all the way in the broken rhythm, satisfying the need inside.
At some point, he saw through the haze those flower demon women gathered by the entrance – but they could not come in, stopped by He Sheng’s blood barrier. They were yelling all kinds of obscene and lewd comments, but Shi Wudu did not hear. He saw how He Sheng’s grey eyes snapped open, unexpectedly clear and sober, as he looked in the direction of those demons. He fetched his Wind Master fan and swung it towards them, sending them flying away, screaming in pain pierced by the wind’s arrows.
“Annoying,” he spoke in a deep voice, his gaze ice cold.
There was uneasiness in Shi Wudu’s heart at that moment, the feeling that line was directed at him and their situation rather than demons, and that… hurt for some reason.
He Sheng arched beneath him, “More,” he said then, and that deep voice of his held such a powerful command within, it was hard to disobey. Impossible, even. This man, Shi Wudu thought, he was equal to him in every way, and for the first time in his life that equality did not hurt his pride, but rather brought a tremendous feeling of satisfaction.
After the both of them came, they just lay in the ground for a while next to each other, catching their breath and calming their minds. As expected, the poison cleared with the semen, and Shi Wudu regained full control over his body and heart once more. He Sheng lay with his back turned to him and Shi Wudu saw the cuts from the sharp stones and traces of his own nails over his back. That image of He Sheng’s angry look still haunted Shi Wudu. He touched his throbbing lips and said quietly, “I’m sorry.”
He Sheng did not answer, instead he just shifted to his feet and started to put his dirtied and partially torn clothes on. Shi Wudu wanted to tell him something, but drew a blank, because… what could he say? “I’m sorry I actually liked doing this to you?” “I’m sorry I want to repeat it someday without those demons involved?” “I’m sorry you feel so fucking good inside it drives me crazy even without any demon flowers?”
Shi Wudu slammed his fist to the ground. He Sheng turned around and eyed him, “Save the strength for later,” he suggested expressionlessly, “There is something at the bottom of the cave, which might be dangerous, so we better get ready.”
* * *
Earlier, He Sheng’s attack blew flower demons away, but they still were there somewhere, so the two of them took precautious and covered their faces not to inhale that scent again.
“On the way back let’s burn them down,” He Sheng said.
“En,” Shi Wudu nodded.
Deeper in the cave the path became dry and widened, but then Shi Wudu halted, looking at the thing by his feet he noticed in the light from the flames on their palms. It was a separated human hand, two of the five fingers bones, the rest covered in rags of flesh and blood. Shi Wudu’s face twisted in disgust, as he noticed more of human limbs scattered around, some of them half-rotten, some just bones and leftovers. A despicable guess crossed his mind, and he exchanged looks with He Sheng.
He Sheng shook his head and took out his fan, “I suggest we don’t even talk with him, just drive him out of here for good and get back. This is just sickening.”
Shi Wudu readied his Water Master fan as well, as they have entered the big hall with greenish lights and fires dancing around. He Sheng swooshed the fan and blew them away so they do not get near.
“Just in case,” he said.
“WHAT THE FUCK, HEAVENLY OFFICIALS, GO BACK TO YOUR CLOUDS YOU JERKS, HOW DARE YOU DISTURB ME!” The voice roared from the stone throne in the further end of the hall.
“You polluted the river, idiot,” He Sheng did not even bother being polite, “Get lost before we spank you. I don’t care where to, but away from this river and water in general, please.”
Qi Rong laughed upon his throne and sneered at them, “HAHAHAHAHA AS IF ANY OF YOU WOULD AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!” He wailed in pain, as Shi Wudu swung his fan and a fist made of dirty water this place contained smacked Qi Rong into the wall.
“I thought we told you to get lost,” he smiled icily. Finally somebody to vent his rage on without holding back! After all, who would cry for the Night-Touring Green Lantern? Who would even care?
However, it seemed that Qi Rong understood that this time it was no joking around, and so after a brief fight with Wind and Water Masters clearly having the upper hand, he fled, cursing along the way. Shi Wudu lowered his fan, as He Sheng dispersed those green fires, and they both fell into silence again. There was no satisfaction from the fight or anything – only the lingering feeling of disgust and dirtiness.
“Well,” Shi Wudu said, “Let’s deal with those demons and I shall clean the river.”
“I’ll help,” He Sheng nodded and humphed, “Green Goblin. If I knew from the start… ew.”
“Yeah,” Shi Wudu shook his head, “Such a low class.”
“Absolutely no taste.”
“Think we should close up this cave or send someone to take care of cleaning it out?”
He Sheng tapped the fan against his thigh pensively. Then, “I’ll send some junior officials. It was not supposed to be a bad place, so…”
“Okay,” Shi Wudu felt a desperate need to talk to He Sheng not about this business but about other matters, but this was certainly not the right place. Well, it is okay too. Once they get back to the Heavenly Capital, he will catch him and…
“Let’s get going,” He Sheng snapped him out of the thoughts, “Keep the flame up – once I see those demons I’ll blow it high and strong into them, but your water will have to put the flames out when the flowers are burnt.”
“Got it,” there was something off in He Sheng’s appearance, something weird that Shi Wudu could not make out, but it gave him unsettling feeling.
* * *
News travel fast, gossips even faster. As Shi Wudu and He Sheng returned, Pei Ming intercepted them eyeing both suspiciously, “Shui-shixiong, you really ran into the Green Goblin down there?”
“Yes,” Shi Wudu shrugged, “But the river is cleansed now, it is alright. He was the one who would take all those men and eat them, so now that he is gone from that place it should be fine.”
“Good,” Pei Ming was still studying their appearances too closely.
“Is there something wrong?” He Sheng asked, his voice was cold and actually scary, but Pei Ming did not pay attention to it.
“I just heard you ran into the Land of Tender,” he played with his eyebrows, “So I wonder how that went?”
Shi Wudu and He Sheng answered instantly with impenetrable icy expressions:
“Burned to the crisp.”
“Not a single petal left.”
Then they proudly raised their heads and strolled past Pei Ming, who looked after them dubiously, “The hell is wrong with these two?” He asked aloud, “They could not just really, actually… COULD THEY?” He whipped around in time to see Ling Wen approach.
She sighed and patted his shoulder, “Ol’ Pei, let it go. It’s none of your business in any case, even if they did.”
“Besides,” she smiled sadly in the direction Shi Wudu and He Sheng went, “In case you didn’t know, Wind and Water are fated to be together.”
* * *
When they reached the Water Master Palace, Shi Wudu finally caught a trail of what was wrong. Too clean and smooth look of He Sheng’s appearance. He… changed his form, wore a mask, to cover up those bites and marks. For some reason it bothered Shi Wudu. He Sheng was about to go on to his palace, but Shi Wudu commanded, “Wait.”
He Sheng stopped, not turning around, “What is it?”
Shi Wudu took a step closer to him, “Why are you mad with me?”
He Sheng did not answer, but his hand twitched.
“Is it because of what happened down there?” Shi Wudu pressed.
He Sheng still kept his silence. Then, “I am not angry with you, but with myself,” he said. The air current circling around him was cold and sharp, and that was exactly what gave Shi Wudu hint there is something wrong. He already caught himself guessing He Sheng’s current mood by the air around him. If he was pleased, the breeze was soft and tender. If he was playful, the wind was teasing, messing up his hair and fluttering sleeves of his robes. And if he was enraged, it turned to an icy, piercing winter chill. Just like now.
“Why?” Shi Wudu quietly asked. And then he remembered – that clear, absolutely calm gaze of He Sheng when he swung his fan towards the demons. Shi Wudu drew a sharp breath, as he realized the truth, “You did not inhale the flower scent.”
He Sheng did not say a word, but a gust of wind suddenly passed by, making Shi Wudu’s skin pop up in goosebumps over the back of his hands. Shi Wudu was at loss of what to say for a while. They silently stood but a step apart, He Sheng with his back turned to Shi Wudu, looking stiff and rigid.
“Did you want it one-time only?” Shi Wudu asked.
“Then what is the problem?”
He Sheng finally turned to face him, and his look was gloomy and dark, “I used you.”
Shi Wudu nodded, “I figured as much.”
He Sheng: “I hurt your pride.”
“But didn’t I hurt you more?” Shi Wudu objected.
He Sheng’s hand unconsciously moved to touch his neck, and stopped mid-way.
“I’m angry with myself because I could not resist the temptation of the opportune moment. It was not your fault, it is entirely on me. I just…”
“But why this self-blaming?” Shi Wudu looked in his eyes, “Why don’t you just go ahead and ask if it’s mutual?”
“Because I don’t want to know the answer?” He Sheng offered with a bitter smirk.
Shi Wudu took a step closer, peering into He Sheng’s eyes, “You are so clever, yet such a fool,” he stated, and then pulled him into a kiss.
* * *
Shi Qingxuan saw his brother talking to He Sheng – he was about to go greet them, but then saw how Shi Wudu pulled He Sheng into embrace and kissed him. The first emotion Shi Qingxuan felt was an honest wonder, but then at the same time he thought that his brother never looked that pleased before. He smiled, thinking about that, and was going to greet them nonetheless, and congratulate, while at it, but…
“His happiness will fall apart because of you. You will be the cause of that man’s demise, and you will watch them suffer the worst of their nightmares come to life!”
Shi Qingxuan’s face dropped and paled, “No,” he breathed, “Not ge, no, not because of me, not ge!”
“His misfortune will be on you. As well as his eventual death,” the Reverend finished with glee.
Shi Qingxuan covered his ears with his palms and screamed.
Chapter 6: Land of Tender; The Two Gods Falling into a Trap, part three
A bit of reflection on the past of Shi Wudu and He Sheng.
* * *
Shi Wudu whipped around hearing Shi Qingxuan’s scream, “Qingxuan!” He called out and fled to his brother. He Sheng’s eyes widened and he flew past them, as swift as the wind, disappearing in the end of the street. Shi Wudu did not even notice – he crouched next to still screaming Shi Qingxuan and took his hands in his, “Look at me! Qingxuan, look at me!”
“No, get away, get away from me!” Shi Qingxuan cried and struggled free.
“Qingxuan, it’s ge ge!”
“I know it’s you!” Shi Qingxuan pushed Shi Wudu away and crawled further from him, shaking his head, “Just stay away, don’t get near me!” He could not bring himself to finish the sentence with “or you will die”, but Shi Wudu seemed to understand.
“Qingxuan!” Shi Wudu halted, as he saw his brother knelt and sobbed on the ground with his ears covered by his palms.
“I don’t wanna hear anymore, I don’t wanna know anything anymore, just kill me, I don’t want to… no more, no more… ” He suddenly spat a mouthful of blood. Shi Wudu was about to get closer, but Shi Qingxuan screamed again.
That moment Pei Ming came, “What is going on?”
Shi Qingxuan glanced up at him, and Shi Wudu used this moment to pull Qingxuan into his arms and make him swallow medicine from the bottle he swiftly shoved into his mouth. Shi Qingxuan fought and coughed, but Shi Wudu somehow managed to make him swallow the liquid.
“Get… away… before you…” Shi Qingxuan breathed, and then passed out, as Shi Wudu grimly put the bottle away. He picked Shi Qingxuan into his arms. Until now, Shi Wudu has never seen such a strong reaction from Shi Qingxuan to the words of that creature. There could be only one explanation – the Reverend threatened this time not Shi Qingxuan directly, but those close to him. An easy guess. A bad one too. Shi Wudu highly doubted it could get to him. Not now, that he is a god, and he had no other family. But Qingxuan still would worry and fear about him, and there was nothing Shi Wudu could do for that matter. What has his brother done to deserve such a fate? Why, of all the people?.. The question Shi Wudu asked for all these long years, and there was still no answer. His parents should have listened to that fortuneteller person, but they chose not to, and look at this mess now.
Pei Ming did not dare to come closer, but his brows knitted as he studied Shi Qingxuan’s face, “What is wrong with your brother?” He asked, seeing how dark Shi Wudu’s own expression was.
Shi Wudu lowered his gaze, looking at Shi Qingxuan, “Everything is wrong,” he said then tiredly, and was about to say more, but He Sheng returned. His face was even scarier than Shi Wudu’s, more like that one of a demon rather than heavenly official. Shi Wudu distantly noticed his clear appearance mask was gone, and he clutched the fabric of his robes beneath his neck instead, covering the bruises.
“What is that thing?” He demanded, almost hissing through his teeth. There were whirlwinds dancing around him uncontrollably. He Sheng took a long breath and calmed them one by one. He never looked this enraged before.
“You saw it?” Shi Wudu looked at him.
“It slipped away even though I did my best to catch it.”
Shi Wudu looked into Qingxuan’s pale face and then quietly said to both Pei Ming and He Sheng, “It’s the Reverend of Empty Words.”
Both of them drew a sharp breath. He Sheng frowned, “For how long?”
“Since his birth.”
The Wind Master fan quivered in his hand. Pei Ming clutched his fists, “Shui-shixiong…”
“I have to take care about Qingxuan,” Shi Wudu harshly said and turned to leave.
“Do you need help?” He Sheng asked.
“I’ll manage,” Shi Wudu said dryly and went away, carrying Shi Qingxuan.
* * *
“This is bad,” Pei Ming remarked.
“Really,” He Sheng was in a bad mood. Not only because of what happened in the mortal realm, but now this. The moment Shi Wudu turned around, so did He Sheng, and he saw – he noticed that thing standing right behind Shi Qingxuan, - but the moment he chased after it, it was gone. He tried, and he was fast – he was the wind, for heavens’ sake! – and still he failed.
Not only failed, but… About that one particular detail, He Sheng preferred not to think. However, Pei Ming suddenly demonstrated the miracles of perception and guessing.
“It said something to you.”
He Sheng turned to face Pei Ming, “It doesn’t matter,” he said, “I’m a god,” then he turned away and marched to his palace, the wind once again circling around him in icy gusts – he was furious to the point of boiling over.
Because he was a god, and that thing should not have meddled with him at all, yet it did. And what it said was not a pleasant thing. No, he was not afraid. He Sheng was never afraid, for that matter. He just could not understand it, and it was unnerving, exactly because he was a god and it should have been lie then, but… those creatures lie when spoken to, but not in their predictions.
If so… how could that be possible?
“He just wanted to fright you away,” the thought came, “So let it go.”
It’s just that it was a bit difficult to let go.
Wretched ending to a wretched soul.
What exactly did the Reverend mean? To whom exactly?..
* * *
He Sheng torn the clothes off himself and immersed into the water, closing his eyes. This could count as the worst day of his life by far. Regardless what he did in the cave, but even that… it was a staged performance after all, so nothing to be proud of, right? He Sheng knew he was a good actor, actually – it came natural to him, and he could be secretive, sly and cunning if he wanted to, in order to achieve his goals. But this, with flower demons… He acted on a whim, and… he was not so sure it was a good idea anymore.
When he was mortal, several decades ago, he had a fiancée. Miao-laopo, he would call her, being ‘Sheng-laogong’ in return. He loved her, as well as he loved his family. Father, mother, and little sister. She is not little anymore. Both father and mother died of old age about twenty years ago, and sister married long ago, her eldest son should be around… thirty of forty by now? He Sheng forgot. His fiancée married too, to another man, after He Sheng ascended. He told her himself she should, because they cannot be together, and for Miao to be alone all her life – he would not wanted that. They were friends since childhood, caring and protecting each other. He Sheng had a good life before ascension. Yes, they were poor back then, but happy, because they have all had each other.
Why was he thinking about his family now?
Probably because of Shi Wudu, He Sheng figured. Because of Shi Wudu’s face expression when he looked at Shi Qingxuan. And for another reason too.
He Sheng threw back his head, his long hair floating upon the water surface around him. The moon was shining outside the window, beautiful and round, illuminating the room in silverfish light. When exactly he caught himself thinking about Water Master in that way? Not so long ago, actually. He Sheng liked the idea of them being equal, somewhat competitive even. He also liked the idea of people raising the Wind and Water temples down there. It felt right for some reason he could not explain.
He wanted to be close to Shi Wudu. He wanted him, and oh, not in a friendly way. He Sheng splashed some water over his face tiredly, and then caught himself staring at the bruise upon his arm absent-mindedly. He Sheng listlessly dropped his hand back into the water and closed his eyes again.
* * *
Shi Wudu made Qingxuan drink more of the medicine once he got to his palace. Then he gently wiped all the blood and dirt away from his face and cleaned him up, before taking him to his bedchambers. The way he put Shi Qingxuan to sleep reminded Shi Wudu of how he used to do the same when Qingxuan was little.
He would come home late, and sometimes Shi Qingxuan would already be asleep – sometimes in his bed, but sometimes in the dining room, where he waited for Shi Wudu. In those days, Shi Wudu would take him to sleep just like this too, carrying him in his arms.
It was difficult back then, truly difficult to get by, but they did, because they had each other. And most of all Shi Wudu feared to lose Shi Qingxuan. He was determined to become a god from the start in order to protect Shi Qingxuan, there were no obstacles he would not overcome on his path.
Yet now that he was a god, and his power was rising, he still could not do a thing about the biggest of their problems. That feeling of helplessness drove him crazy. Shi Wudu considered all of the ways. He searched for all of the options. Even forbidden ones, it did not matter for the price to pay. So far, there still was no any solution.
Shi Wudu watched Shi Qingxuan sleep for a while – his face was peaceful and serene in the sleep, - and then got up and silently slipped away from the palace. That medicine would work for several days, so Shi Qingxuan would remain asleep to regain his strength. In addition, all the magic barriers around. Pei Ming was on guardian duty and Shi Wudu asked him to keep an eye over the Palace of the Water Master.
That is why… a moment of weakness, just a few hours… it would be fine, right? He could allow himself to do this, right? Shi Wudu halted at the stairs, looked back to his palace, and then stubbornly went forward.
Because that was yet another matter unresolved of today, and it was important to him too.
* * *
He Sheng startled, when somebody slid into his bed next to him. His eyes snapped open, and then widened in astonishment, “You do realize I could have attacked just now?”
Shi Wudu looked back at him, and then slowly shook his head, “You would not.”
There were dark circles under his eyes and he looked exhausted from both the worry and tiredness of this day, and his clothes was still unchanged, but he didn’t seem to care about that. He Sheng sighed.
“Idiot, what are you doing sneaking around other people’s palaces at night?”
“Not other people’s. Only yours.”
“How is that any diff…”
Shi Wudu put his palm over He Sheng’s mouth, “Don’t. Just this once,” he whispered, “Don’t talk, don’t say anything at all, and… just let me stay without asking anything. I’ll answer, I’ll tell, I’ll do whatever you want. But in the morning. Not now.”
He Sheng studied his face, and then wordlessly dropped his head back to the pillow, pulling Shi Wudu into a comforting embrace, and closed his eyes.
“Sleep,” He Sheng commanded to him quietly.
Shi Wudu shifted in his arms, assuming comfortable position, and closed his eyes as well, feeling the warmness of He Sheng’s body next to him. It was so unusual, that sensation, but so pleasant and soothing, so desirable at the time.
The soft night’s breeze lulled him to sleep, playing with He Sheng’s and his own hair intertwined together.
The Longevity Lock around Shi Wudu’s neck trembled once, but he was already asleep and did not notice.
Chapter 7: Gambling With Chengzhu; The Demon in White Speaks Some Clues, part one
This turned out to be creepier than I thought... or it's just because the White No-Face freaks me out. >_>
* * *
He wandered into the Ghost City by chance, driven by curiosity and distant hope he might find out something there – find out what exactly He Xuan did not know, he just went on a whim. Disguised same as the youth with his hair tied high, but this time he also put on a sad mask to merge with the crowd. There was nothing particularly interesting to him on the main street, save for prettiness of those red lanterns – He Xuan acknowledged the unique style of the Ghost City’s decorations, - but the large red building caught his attention. There were many ghosts going in and out of the building in continuous movement and lively excitement, so he decided to check it out as well.
“Gambler’s Den” the letters said it was. How interesting. He Xuan eyed the “HAHAHAHA” verse upon the horizontal column and smirked, thinking the mask was a good idea. He knew who was the Chost City’s big boss and could guess to whom this place also belonged. There were tons of rumors and all sorts of gossip about Hua Cheng in the underworld. He rose in power rapidly among the ghosts and as a Demon King, and was said to rule over the land single-handedly. Well, and now he has a fellow Demon King mastering over waters, so he better gets used to it. He Xuan smirked inwardly, as he entered the “Gambler’s Den”.
“Good evening, young master,” the attendant immediately greeted him by the entrance, “Care to join the game?”
“I’d watch at first, if that is permitted by house’s rules,” He Xuan answered.
The attendant nodded, and led him over to the long table in a large room. There were all kinds of ghosts, and even mortal men around. He Xuan looked carefully, but did not notice anybody familiar – the usual mob usually gathered at such places. There was the red screen curtain on the other end of the table with a silhouette of a man inside.
“Our lord is here to play tonight,” the attendant beamed, “You are very lucky to see it, young master. Participate, if you will, it will be interesting for sure!” She smiled at him, and then went away.
He Xuan glanced upon the red curtains. Did it seem to him, or has the silhouette inside stiffened once noticing him? He blinked and dismissed the thought. Even if so – it is Hua Cheng’s problems. He did not come to stir up any troubles, and there is nothing wrong in, say, paying a visit of respect to the Supreme colleague. After all, they were supposed to be equal in powers, so it’s unlikely that Hua Cheng would start something too – surely he was not that stupid, even at his own territory.
He Xuan joined the table, but haven’t played yet – just watched the game for a while, discerning the rules and learning the bets other were making. The game was interesting, sure enough. Also, absolutely ruthless.
“Mortal men are so greedy,” He Xuan observed to himself. He was hesitant to join in, more out of fun than actual wish to gain or lose something, when the red silhouette suddenly spoke in a deep, leisure voice, making all of the ghosts and people around fall into dead silence.
“Young master in black – will you not join the game?”
It took He Xuan a few moments to realize he was the one spoken to. He raised his gaze towards the curtains, “Beg pardon, sir,” he said in a flat tone, “I got too dragged in into observing.”
“Well, then,” the silhouette shifted, “Care to play a round with me?”
“Lord Chengzhu will play with this man?” Somebody wondered immediately.
“Who is that?” Another voice came from the other side of the table.
“Our lord is generous today!”
“Who is this mask-wearing young master?”
“Is it someone Chengzhu knows?”
The mob around broke into whispers and guesses. It’s not like He Xuan enjoyed drawing attention or being at the center of it, but this once he decided to play along, “Why not,” he said, “But I’m afraid it won’t be of any interest to you, as my luck was quite bad in my… late years.” That much he remembered – being unlucky, getting beaten up, starving and freezing in the streets. The cause of his misfortune was veiled with the mist of damaged memories though.
“But ‘was’ is a keyword to it, is it not?” Hua Cheng objected.
“Perhaps,” He Xuan shrugged, as he accepted the black gambling cup from the croupier.
“Smaller number is a loss; bigger number is a win,” the croupier announced, “Once the cup is open, there will be no going back.”
He Xuan was about to shake the cup, but Hua Cheng raised his hand, “Wait. You haven’t told me what you want if you win, and what I gain if you lose.”
He Xuan pondered over it. He heard all kinds of desires and payment tonight, so why not make it strange too? “Free food in the Ghost City, as much as I want,” he blurted. The crowd of ghosts fell silent, and then burst out laughing. Hua Cheng seemed to be amazed at that claim.
“For real?” He asked.
“This is a good one, we should remember!” Somebody laughed in the crowd.
“Why, a very practical desire!” Another voice approved too.
“‘Gains Over Shame’,” He Xuan cited the verse upon the entrance indifferently. The crowd cheered and roared.
“For tonight only?” Hua Cheng clarified, his voice sounded surprised, but somehow curious at the same time.
He Xuan shrugged, “Depends on how generous are you feeling.”
The mob fell silent at that insolence, not daring to breathe a word, all eyes seemed to be fixed upon Hua Cheng’s silhouette and He Xuan.
“I guess a month will be fine for starts then,” Hua Cheng said, regaining his casual tone, “If you lose though…”
He Xuan’s hand twitched, as he clutched his gambling cup, “The remnants of my memory,” he quietly said.
Hua Cheng’s posture stiffened, “Accepted,” he said dryly.
There was a dead silence around the table, as the two of them shook their cups. Hua Cheng opened his cup first, and the ghosts looked like they were going to faint – the dice were five and six. Hua Cheng’s brow knit as he looked up to the other side of the table at He Xuan. He Xuan opened his dice. The two sixes lied in the table for all to see.
The croupier paled and unintentionally took a step away from the place Hua Cheng sat at. He Xuan just looked at the dice, and then at Hua Cheng, “A month, huh? That’ll do.”
There was a silence at the other end. Then, “En.” He Xuan was about to stand up, but Hua Cheng stopped him, “One more round?”
Judging by the whispers around, this was not the usual case of this place. Well… “Same bets?” He Xuan asked.
“Different,” Hua Cheng demanded.
“I don’t know what to ask of, if I win,” He Xuan admitted openly, “But, to be honest, I don’t think that will be the case of this one, so it should be more interesting to you what will it be if I lose.”
The crowd was just speechless about what was going on right now. Even the croupier stood and stared at He Xuan, then at Hua Cheng’s silhouette behind the curtains, not daring to utter a word.
“Care to let me decide?” Hua Cheng asked.
He Xuan’s lips curled into an unseen smile behind his mask, “Do allow me to guess. Not to step onto your territory for a month or so – that is, until my free food period runs out.”
Hua Cheng chuckled softly, “What a daring assumption – tempting, too, - but alas, I have something else in mind.”
“And that would be?”
“A favor. In the future. Should I need one. No time restriction nor the nature of the favor.”
He Xuan considered his words for a while, “Alright,” he said then, “If it’s within my power – gladly.”
“Same rules about the dice,” Hua Cheng said and shook his cup.
He Xuan shook his. This time he opened first. A five and a six. He looked up at Hua Cheng and was not surprised to see the two sixes on his side. The mob dared not to cheer or to even move, fascinated by the events of this evening.
“A favor it is, then,” He Xuan said, “You’ll let me know?”
“Of course,” did he imagine it, or Hua Cheng looked somewhat relieved at this result?
“I’ll take my leave then,” He Xuan stood up and bowed politely to everybody, “Have a good time, and thank you for the game.”
“Hey,” Hua Cheng called him, and peeked out from the curtains – he was looking as a youth as well, with a ponytail, clad in red, with both eyes, though He Xuan heard a rumor his right eye was supposed to be missing.
“Come by any time you want for a chat or a game,” he offered, “You’re at least fun to play with.”
He Xuan blinked in surprise, for the umpteenth time this evening glad he had the mask on. Then, “Thank you. That’s really… generous of you. Also… you too,” he left then, still feeling the look of Hua Cheng locked upon his back.
Well, as the matter of fact, this went better than he expected. A whole month of free food sounded good. As for the favor – it’s even interesting, what could a fellow Demon King ask of him – there was no doubt Hua Cheng recognized who he was and took a good use of that knowledge in that game too. He Xuan did not mind – it was only natural to collaborate with another Demon King, so why not. He turned around the corner of the main street into the courtyard. There was a children playground there – which by itself was strange enough, - but there was nobody around. There was a pair of swings under a big rustling tree. He Xuan sat on the swing, looking up in the sky absent-mindedly.
“There is a funny thing about fate,” a voice suddenly came from the other swing.
He Xuan whipped around, alarmed, but the creature on that swing did not look his way. It was a man dressed in white with a mask on his face as well. He looked at the sky, as he was swinging, his white robes fluttering around him, along with his long dark hair.
“The fate can be changed so easily,” he continued, swinging on back and forth, “So easily robbed off another person fitting in the requirements…”
“What?” He Xuan’s eyes widened at those words.
The other man then abruptly stopped swinging, “Oh,” he proclaimed happily, “I seem to have caught your attention, good sir Black Water?” He turned to He Xuan, and the latter felt chill creeping up his spine at the sight of the man’s face: half of his mask was crying, and half smiling.
Chapter 8: Gambling With Chengzhu; The Demon in White Speaks Some Clues, part two
...and that's how HC and HX became the best buddies ever. <3
* * *
He Xuan heard of the White Calamity. But wasn’t he supposed to be dead? That is, completely eradicated from the world? Turns out, not quite. All of his instincts and senses were screaming at He Xuan to be cautious, and so, he was.
“What do you want with me?” He asked straightforwardly.
The White Calamity turned from him, leaving his smiling half of the face to look at, and began to swing again. The swing creaked a little, as he swung, “It is about what you want,” the White Calamity then remarked, “Before you died, I reckon, you had a close encounter with a memory-devouring monster, and it took a few good bites.”
“I devoured that creature long ago at the Mount TongLu,” He Xuan said expressionlessly, “Along with my memories, if that’s the case.” If this is a trap, he will be careful not to step in. Hua Cheng somehow felt sincere even in his slyness and arrogance. This creature though… it brought naught but a sense of dread along. The Ghost City was clearly overcrowded with the Supremes tonight. He Xuan wondered distantly how Hua Cheng would react to this.
“But still you dare not to remember!” The White demon exclaimed happily and swung higher, “Because it will hurt, oh, betrayals of the closest ones always hurt most, and so you block those memories, ha-ha-ha!”
He Xuan’s fingers upon the chains of the swing trembled, “How do you know about this whole thing?”
“Oh, I know, I know a lot, yes! But will I tell? Should I tell?” The creature laughed and giggled, clapping hands, “Should I tell you?” He asked in a suddenly deep and serious tone, changing in a moment, once again coming to a halt in his swinging and turning his crying part of the mask to He Xuan.
He Xuan was taken aback, his mind torn between the wariness and hunger for knowledge. The Wind mark upon the fan of that young man he met couple of days ago crossed his mind.
“Say what,” the White Calamity swung his legs like a mischievous child, “I’ll just tell you some facts you will be able to draw a pattern with, since I know you are a smart man, very smart, yes, a smart scholar from the town of Fu Gu you are, He Sheng.”
“What else does he know?” He Xuan wondered in his thoughts. This was going beyond weird, and that manner of speaking was freaking him out, but he would stay and listen, because… there was something hidden, something emerging from the darkness of his memory.
“Fact number one,” the White Calamity happily announced, “There is a man upstairs,” he gestured towards the heavens obviously, “That goes under the name of Water Master Wudu – he is a very powerful deity with a long history. More so – he was once your very best friend. How’s that?”
He Xuan remained silent. He would have assumed the demon is lying, but… “A-Sheng, is that really you?” And that look upon Shi Wudu’s face. The trace of… guilt, and the reaction to his appearance. This fact… matched to those bits of information He Xuan had. Therefore, he listened on.
“Fact number two,” the White Calamity continued then, “Water Master Wudu has a cute little brother who currently goes by the title of the Wind Master Qingxuan. And fact number three,” his face (was there even a face underneath?) was unseen, but somehow He Xuan was sure he was sneering at him right now, “Is the most interesting to you.”
He clearly expected some reaction. He Xuan parted his lips, “Go on.”
The White Calamity chuckled and threw his head back looking at the stars, “The Wind Master Qingxuan, his birth name, by the way, being Xuan, sadly had no ability to ascend on his own,” he announced ruefully, “What a pity – he was but a mere mortal, just appointed to the Middle Court, and though he wanted, there was nothing the Water Master Wudu could do about it,” he raised his index finger excitedly, “Unless…”
He Xuan froze.
Unless one would take another’s fate and switch it over with the one he would choose. Unless that particular fate was already the one of a… god?
“The Water Master was my… friend?” He Xuan’s hand unconsciously flew to massage his temple.
“The very best! The one to forever be by your side, the way he swore! But blood is thicker than water, isn’t it? After all, you were and remained a stranger, and a brother is a brother!” The White Calamity laughed again. The wind whooshed by them, rustling with the tree’s leaves, “And so,” the demon got serious again, “What do you make out of this? Some interesting conclusions, huh? Some interesting things coming to one’s mind, huh? Oh well, that already is beyond me,” the White Calamity jumped off the swing lightly and the next moment appeared right in front of He Xuan, “I didn’t lie to you, you know,” he said, peering into He Xuan’s face, “I was the utmost sincere with you just now. Just wanted to help, seeing you tortured, looking for all the answers, while, in truth, it’s just that simple. Bye!” With just that, he disappeared from the sight at once, leaving He Xuan completely shocked and frozen at the swing, staring blindly in front of himself.
* * *
He Xuan did not know how much time passed, but when he came to, he found himself standing in the end of a lively street, leaning upon the wall of a stall. He Xuan straightened and looked around, but, of course, not a sign of the demon in white was seen.
“Young master,” He Xuan snapped around and found himself facing a tall man clad in black with a woefully smiling mask on. The man bowed slightly, “Would you follow me, please? Lord Chengzhu wants to see you.”
“XiaXianYue Officer!” He Xuan heard ghosts around them mutter under their breaths. He nodded curtly and followed the man.
As they went through the crowd, He Xuan’s gaze fell upon the man’s hands. There was a black circle around the youth’s wrist. A cursed shackle?! He Xuan’s pupils shrank behind his mask, as he lifted his own right hand in front of his eyes. The image of the bony, skinny wrist with the black circle around came to the memory.
He Xuan’s hand trembled and he hurriedly dropped it back down. In the meantime, he noticed the man already fixed his sleeve, hiding the shackle away.
“This way, please,” there was a cozy lit up pavilion on the left, near the pond where little will-o’-the-wisps danced and played, its insides hidden by the red curtains all around. The XiaXianYue Officer stood by the entrance and bowed again, making a gesture for He Xuan to enter.
Hua Cheng was sitting on the sofa, drinking wine lazily, looking over the water of the pond. There were plates with fruits, meat and cheese over the table. He Xuan’s stomach growled at the sight, but he did not allow himself fall for it, remaining calm and collected. He clearly had an overdose of talking to the Supremes tonight, and was not pleased about it.
“I thought we’ve been through with our business,” He Xuan observed, sitting himself on a sofa on the other side of the table.
Hua Cheng shifted his gaze to him, still looking as the youth from the “Gambler’s Den”, “I thought so too, but then I felt something malevolent going on in my city. That is, much more malevolent in strength than usual. Care to explain?”
The laughter of the White Calamity rang through He Xuan’s ears, and he shuddered unintentionally, “Not my doing,” hesitating for a moment, he took his mask off and faced Hua Cheng openly, “I only came to get to know the fellow Supreme and introduce myself as well. However, it turns out yet another Supreme sought for greeting me too.”
Hua Cheng’s polite fake smile dropped, “What?”
He Xuan originally did not intend to spill beans to Hua Cheng, but seeing his expression, he changed his mind. It is not that he considered Hua Cheng friendly or whatsoever, but he was better than the other one as an ally. Much, much better, in He Xuan’s opinion, “There was a playground around some street of yours. There by the swings I was greeted by the White Demon.”
“There are no children playgrounds in the Ghost City,” Hua Cheng’s voice was barely audible, his eyes widely opened, “That thing… had a mask on?”
“…smiling, half crying,” He Xuan confirmed.
Hua Cheng’s eyes flashed wildly, he snapped around, seemingly giving orders to someone through the spiritual communication array. Then, “Are you sure?”
He Xuan nodded, “But wasn’t the White Calamity supposed to be destroyed?” He added. Hua Cheng looked quite shaken and enraged, and that did not look good. Did he also have a close encounter with that being before?
“He was,” Hua Cheng answered, absently rubbing at his right eye, “Dammit, Black Water, you made my city a mess stuffed with the Supremes.”
“I figured. That was not my intention.”
The XiaXianYue Officer entered the pavilion and bowed to Hua Cheng, “Not a trace,” he said.
Hua Cheng tsked, his fist clenched. Then, “Double the guard. Cover all the entrances. In the meantime keep searching just in case.”
The Officer nodded and left.
“I don’t think he’d show up again,” He Xuan remarked.
“Yes, but… I wish you were wrong and it’s somebody else,” Hua Cheng suddenly said.
He Xuan blinked, “Why?”
“Because if it’s him, I want that thing’s head served on a plate with nails driven into his eyes and his rotten tongue cut out,” Hua Cheng then replied dryly, “What did it want from you?”
He Xuan shook his head slowly, “Just said some things… nothing to do with your business or with you personally.”
“I see. I suppose there is no need of me to warn you for that thing.”
“I’ve already understood it’s a fiend,” He Xuan frowned. He did not want to ask this one, but had to, “Is he stronger than us?”
Hua Cheng’s lips twitched, “Not sure so far,” he admitted, “But I hope not. Hearing this question from you,” he looked He Xuan in his eyes, “I can assume you have chosen my side in the possible future conflict?”
He Xuan returned the look, “Obviously.” No matter what business he had with Shi Wudu and the White Calamity, He Xuan put his bet on Hua Cheng in this one.
Hua Cheng studied his face and nodded to himself, “Alright.” He laid back on the sofa then and sighed, “Well. At least one good thing from your coming here tonight.”
“I know the bastard is still around and I am warned beforehand. So, the Ship-Sinking Black Water,” Hua Cheng eyed him, “From what I heard, your territory is the Southern Sea?”
Hua Cheng passed the hand through his hair, playing with the red coral bead in his braid, and then smirked, “Why aren’t you eating? I brought all of this not for myself, you know,” he gestured towards the plates, “You’ve got a month, so get down to it, you sneaky fish-bastard?”
He Xuan guessed the serious talk was over.
At least, for now.
Chapter 9: Thinking of the Impossible; The Wind Master’s Mortal Bonds
Qingxuan, you poor little thing, don't give up ;_;
* * *
Shi Wudu woke up and could not understand the first seconds where he was. Then he heard a sigh, turned around and saw He Sheng nuzzling his face into his shoulder sleepily.
“Don’t get up yet,” he muttered. Shi Wudu turned over to face him – the bruises and scratches all faded over the night, healing fast at the body of a god, so He Sheng looked like usual, only really sleepy. Shi Wudu’s lips curled up into a smile uncontrollably.
“Not an early bird, are you?”
“Not at all,” He Sheng opened his eyes and squinted at Shi Wudu, “How are you?”
“Better,” Shi Wudu honestly said, “Thanks to you.”
He Sheng yawned and shook his head, trying to wake up properly, but obviously failing, “Oh god,” he groaned, “Why do I feel like I’m having a horrible hangover?”
Shi Wudu humphed softly, and crawled out of bed, much to He Sheng’s dismay, “I have to check upon Qingxuan,” he explained.
“Have you thought of the way?”
Shi Wudu’s hair fell around his face, hiding expression, “I have been trying for all of these years. I’ve searched everything, including the forbidden ways. Anything. You saw the result yesterday. That is, the lack of one. I’m… a failure in protecting Qingxuan,” Shi Wudu clenched his fists. Perhaps He Sheng was the only person in the three realms he could admit his weakness to, “All of the Reverend’s victims eventually fell to suicide,” Shi Wudu added then, “And I am horribly, terribly afraid that…” He stopped, unable to finish, but it was clear anyway.
He Sheng was silent – for a moment Shi Wudu thought he fell back to sleep. Then, “What is his date and time of birth?” He asked. Shi Wudu was stressed and distracted, and so he answered without any second thoughts, however, He Sheng inquired more, “Judging by his name… could I assume his birth name would be ‘Xuan’?”
Shi Wudu halted while fixing his robes and turned around, “Why?” His voice was sharp.
He Sheng fell back onto the pillows, his face expressionless, “Just thinking here. I’ll try to look for the solutions too,” he said simply.
Shi Wudu hesitated for a moment, then bent down, placed a quick and light kiss upon his lips, and left. He Sheng’s smile faded the moment Shi Wudu went away.
“‘Xuan’ as in ‘black’,” He Sheng said to himself, “That would be… same as mine…” His eyes were distant and thoughtful, “Same as mine…” he repeated and covered his face with his palms, “No, no, it’s crazy. Even if… he would never… this is just stupid. I’m being ridiculously stupid.”
The wind blew into the room, fluttering the curtains, unexpectedly cold and harsh.
* * *
When Shi Wudu arrived to his palace, Shi Qingxuan was surprisingly awake, but lying in his bed, listless, his eyes sad and dim.
“Qingxuan,” Shi Wudu sat by his side, “How are you feeling?”
Shi Qingxuan parted his lips, “I want to die,” he said.
Shi Wudu jerked, “Don’t say that,” he quietly said, “You are my little brother. How am I supposed to even think of going on without you?”
A tear slid down Shi Qingxuan’s cheek, as he shook his head, “And if I live, you’ll be in grave danger. Perhaps Feng-ge will too, because he is dear to you. Anyone I’m ever close to. I’m… tired of this, ge. It’s no use. Just let me…”
“No,” Shi Wudu has never felt so helpless and angry with himself in his life, “No, don’t be like this. It’s going to be alright. I am a god – you do not worry about me, ever. Nor about A-Sheng, he is a god too, and a powerful one, so we both will be just fine,” only saying it at once, did Shi Wudu realize just how he called He Sheng.
Shi Qingxuan looked up to him in surprise, “Ge?” He was still sad, but there was that untamable curiosity of his in his voice now too, so Shi Wudu decided to catch a tail of that.
He exhaled softly, “Your foolish ge ge fell for the Wind Master,” he admitted. If not Qingxuan, whom else could he tell this to? Surely not Pei Ming! “And, well, I… it’s just like that.”
Shi Qingxuan smiled weakly, “Feng-ge is the only one ge looks truly happy with.”
“I do?” Shi Wudu blurted.
Shi Wudu groaned, “But I am supposed to be the bad and arrogant ‘Water Tyrant’…”
“And you are,” Shi Qingxuan’s smile was less sad now, “But not with him. You’re different with him around, in a good way.”
“Oh dear,” Shi Wudu hid his face behind his fan and heard Shi Qingxuan giggle lightly. Was the danger over for the time being, he wondered. Could he say Qingxuan came to his senses, or was this whole conversation just an act from the both sides?
Shi Wudu did not know, but one thing: the time was running out and oh, too fast.
* * *
Shi Wudu caught He Sheng just as the latter was going down the Martial Deity Avenue, clearly hurrying somewhere.
“Where are you going on the day of the Mid Autumn Festival?” He demanded, “And for the – I’ve even lost count – what year in a row?”
He Sheng stopped and shot a disapproving glance his direction. However, Shi Wudu did not buy it, as the breeze around was warm and calm, slightly messing with their hair.
He Sheng averted his gaze aside, “There is a place I have to visit, that’s all,” he hesitated, and then suddenly said, “Why don’t you and Qingxuan join me? It’s… well, it’s nothing bad, actually. I just will have a bowl of yuanxiao at the particular place. So, if you are feeling that curious… and it won’t be long too, we will return before the battle of lanterns. Just…” He Sheng frowned, “Don’t ask questions as of where and why.”
Shi Wudu was genuinely surprised with the offer, “You really won’t mind us tagging along?”
“As long as it remains between the three of us,” He Sheng’s eyes were dark.
Shi Wudu nodded, “Hold on then, I’ll call Qingxuan.”
When the three gathered near the heavenly staircase that led to the mortal realm, He Sheng smiled guiltily, “Would you mind turning into the female forms, please?” He asked softly, “It is because I always go undercover, so it would be more convenient if the three of us were of the same gender,” he transformed into a lady, gently fanning herself.
Shi Wudu exchanged looks with Shi Qingxuan, sighed, and transformed as well. Shi Qingxuan looked rather cute in greenish dress with wavy messy hair, while Shi Wudu was like a porcelain delicate doll in white with blue.
“Ge’s female form is very attractive,” Shi Qingxuan chuckled, “But it’s only with Feng-ge that ge transforms willingly,” he added then, and pouted.
“Qingxuan,” Shi Wudu covered his face with his fan, “Honestly…”
“What? You’re really pretty like this! Say, Feng-ge, isn’t he?”
“Very much so,” He Sheng confirmed.
Shi Wudu jumped down first.
They descended at the skirts of some town. It was lively in the streets, people all were excited and smiling, hurrying to their homes, to spend the yuanxiao with the family and loved ones. He Sheng stopped by the shop with decorations. He carefully chose the three combs encrusted with jewels.
He gave the two of them – with sapphires and emeralds – to Shi Wudu and Shi Qingxuan (who was delighted at that and immediately tucked it into his hair to show off), while keeping the one with rubies, “You’ll see,” he answered to the questioning looks of the brothers. Then he led them through the city to the stall by the side of the street. “Heji Xiaoshi” read the sign that Shi Wudu looked up to see. An elderly woman with smiling face filled with wrinkles gasped at the sight of them and rushed out to greet.
“My lady! You’ve brought guests along this time!”
He Sheng smiled, as he took that old woman’s hands in his, “Jie-jie, will you have a bowl of yuanxiao for all of us?”
“Of course! Have a sit, have a sit!”
“Who is this?” Shi Qingxuan whispered to Shi Wudu, while looking at He Sheng chatting warmly with that woman.
“I have a thought,” Shi Wudu said, “But it’s not for certain.” But if he was right, it was… not all that bad, but bad. Because that would mean He Sheng has been screwing the rules for years now. He Sheng seemed to catch Shi Wudu’s look. His eyes darkened and grew cold, and he purposely turned away, helping the old woman to settle down the plates and everything.
“Ah, mei-mei is always so nice,” that woman smiled at them, “I’m so glad she brought this time her friends for me to see.”
“Ge, be nice,” Shi Qingxuan elbowed Shi Wudu, and picked up the conversation easily, gently speaking with both the woman and He Sheng.
Shi Wudu tasted his yuanxiao. It was… unexpectedly tasty. Like something long forgotten, something from the childhood memories. He glanced at He Sheng. He handled his female form so easily and naturally, using his fan and playful smirks, clearly aware of his beauty and knowing how to handle it. At some point, He Sheng presented the last comb to the woman. She drew a sharp breath, accepting the gift with shaky hands.
“Of course I did,” He Sheng smiled happily, then looked at the sky through the window, and his face saddened a little, “I have to get going,” he said softly, “Thank you for the meal, it was as great as always.”
The three of them exchanged farewells with the woman and left the stall, but just as they were about to turn to the main street, the woman rushed out of the stall.
“Sheng-lao!” She called in a suddenly clear voice, “Thank you for always watching over us, your humble sister will always remember that!”
He Sheng froze. He turned around, his eyes round and big, “You knew all along?”
The woman smiled, tears of happiness falling from her eyes, “How can I forget my big brother? And I cannot be happier he has not forgotten us!”
He Sheng then eyed the street and seeing no one around transformed into his male form. He stepped closer to the woman and hugged her, “I love you, sister,” he whispered, “Thank you for making the best yuanxiao in the three realms for us.”
The woman looked so happy Shi Wudu did not dare to say anything, though he knew this was oh, so forbidden!
“You take care of my brother well, hear me?” The woman addressed to him and Shi Qingxuan then.
Shi Wudu bowed deeply in affirmation.
“Take care,” He Sheng kissed her brow and they left.
“If anyone knows, you’ll get in a huge trouble,” Shi Wudu remarked dryly, once the three of them returned to Heavenly Capital and transformed back to male forms.
“But you won’t be saying, will you, ge?” Shi Qingxuan exclaimed and knit his brows, “That lady was so nice to us!”
“It’s my little sister,” He Sheng ruffled Shi Qingxuan’s hair, and the latter laughed joyfully, “I… miss her. And I keep an eye over her, yes. So what?”
“Nothing,” Shi Wudu’s face was dark, “Let’s go to the Festival here before we are missed.”
…This year the Palace of the Water Master counted five hundred and seventy two lanterns, and the Palace of the Wind Master – five hundred and fifty seven lanterns.
As they were greeted and congratulated by the others, Shi Wudu noticed the pensive, almost unnerving gaze coming their direction from Jun Wu, even though he was also clapping and maintaining a polite smile upon his face.
Shi Wudu never feared a thing, yet that look gave him an uneasy feeling of something ominous heading their way.
Chapter 10: The Morning After Never Be the Same; The Most Difficult Choice
Well, shit. :( Poor everybody - and it's only the beginning...
* * *
Blissful moments are usually those to pass the fastest, and the first ones to fall into oblivion, when things get tough. Or, in other cases, moments like those are the most treasured and one clings to them in times of darkness and despair.
The day Shi Wudu would consider the most blissful day of his life (that is, until ‘the talk’ came up) started like any other day – with the morning.
Except for it was not the usual morning, as he woke up in the bed not of his Water Master Palace, but in the luxurious inn by the hot springs in green mountains, and next to him was He Sheng, his face calm and serene in the sleep.
Shi Wudu let himself enjoy these few moments of happiness and quiet of the morning. There was only a sound of the waterfall coming through the window from the springs, and chirping of birds. Sensing his movement, He Sheng opened his eyes too and smiled at Shi Wudu. Then a mischievous spark caught in his gaze, and the next moment Shi Wudu found himself pressed down with He Sheng’s weight on top of him. Shi Wudu sneered, his look proud and stern as ever. He Sheng’s lips drew into a smile.
“Still untamed,” he commented, “But not for long.”
“We’ll see about that,” Shi Wudu met his look shamelessly, undoing his robes, with He Sheng doing the same sitting atop of his thighs.
This would be the first time Shi Wudu would give himself willingly to another man, letting He Sheng do whatever he wanted. It was strange, that feeling inside of him – the feeling of… trust. Because before He Sheng ascended into his life so suddenly, Shi Wudu had no one but Shi Qingxuan to trust to. He Sheng changed that, becoming the second most important person for Shi Wudu. The second person in his life he trusted to with his everything, and the second person who would accept Shi Wudu wholeheartedly along with his peculiar character and pride. Did He Sheng… love him? Shi Wudu would answer affirmatively to that one, probably. Although he would never say a word, it was all written in He Sheng’s eyes and in the wind always twirling by his side. It was all there, all one had to do was look and see.
Did Shi Wudu love him back, he asked himself, while He Sheng’s cock filled him from the inside. Shi Wudu arched in that sweet agony of desire and lust, succumbing to the slow rhythm and the immense pleasure.
Did he love him back?
Well… perhaps. Most likely, actually. Because how else would he name that feeling, that longing to be near, to be close and together?
Sometimes Shi Wudu wondered if there were mortal people to blame for them ending up together – with their prayers and belief the Water and Wind Masters being husband and wife. Sometimes… he was grateful to the believers for creating that beautiful fairy tale that came true.
He Sheng was thrusting inside of him, and Shi Wudu put his hands on his shoulders and leaned closer to his ear.
“But I tamed you first,” he caught a chance to whisper, and bit He Sheng’s earlobe lightly.
Those dark grey eyes flashed with inner power and possession. He moved deeper, and Shi Wudu hissed, the pleasure balancing on the verge of pain. But he’d never give in, he’d never admit his defeat. And so, he sneered again in He Sheng’s face, his look cocky and challenging, never giving off any weakness, not for a second.
He Sheng matched his expression and oh, he was a fine rival, that equality and stubbornness drove Shi Wudu crazy with the desire. He closed his eyes and let go a moan, as He Sheng fastened his movement, pressing him down to the bed.
“A-Sheng,” he mouthed, his breathing ragged, “I’m going to…”
“You did tame me first,” He Sheng exhaled into his neck then, as he came inside of Shi Wudu, purposely placing a mark, while Shi Wudu was coming too, “But in the end you still belong to me.”
Shi Wudu would not object to that.
* * *
It was in the springs, after yet another route of making love in the water that He Sheng came up with what Shi Wudu would later refer to as ‘the talk’ and could not think about it without shuddering, regret and remorse.
“There is something about me I want you to know,” He Sheng said, throwing back his head and looking at the distant snowy mountain peaks. The scenery was gorgeous in this area, this place already for a while being the two gods favorite one to come relax too. The hot springs, the mountains and the greenery. He Sheng would always make the trees rustle in the breeze, while Shi Wudu personally blessed those springs to last if not eternally, then for several thousand years for sure.
“Mmm?” Shi Wudu reacted lazily, and splashed the water towards He Sheng, forming a little water dragon. He Sheng skillfully directed that water dragon stream back to Shi Wudu with the wind, but his eyes were dark, not playful at all.
“I’ve been thinking for a while now whether I should tell you and how exactly,” he said, “And I’ve come to the conclusion you have the right to know.”
“What is it?” Shi Wudu got serious, his face beautiful in that pride of his. He Sheng really… adored him. How stupidly sentimental, isn’t it? And how painful, now that he knew what he had to do, and what would come after that.
He Sheng seemed to hesitate. Then, “My birth date and time matches those of Qingxuan’s,” he said quietly, “Our birth names are matching as well. I am also ‘Xuan’. You should know what that means, since you searched for the forbidden ways too.”
The hot springs were warm enough, but Shi Wudu suddenly felt as if he dove down an icy well, his skin popping up into goosebumps all over, “So what?” He squeezed out, feeling his insides twisting. He Sheng could not mean what he meant. He could not be suggesting what he was suggesting. Could he? Shi Wudu looked up and met his gaze. He paled and shook his head vigorously, “Hell no,” he said then, “Just fucking NO, and shut up about it.”
“It might have been your only option left,” He Sheng remarked dryly. He sat there in the water, leaning back to the stones, and his look was as calm as ever. As if he had already accepted that fate, as if it had already been decided and done. Shi Wudu threw his hands in the air in front of himself defensively.
“How can you talk about it so nonchalantly and carelessly?! How can you even… do you realize what are you saying, A-Sheng?!” Shi Wudu was shaking with his whole body by now. Just imagining the consequences threw him into the state of sheer horror.
He Sheng did not move a muscle though, “I do,” he simply said, “The key difference here is that your brother is afraid and vulnerable. I am not afraid nor shall I be. Besides, I’ve seen the bastard already – I might have caught it and, who knows, end it.”
“If – hypothetically – I was to do it, most likely you will lose your divinity, and then you will be just as vulnerable as anyone,” Shi Wudu shook his head again, “No.”
“I’m not stupid,” He Sheng passed his hand through his wet hair, drops of water falling around, sparkling in the sunlight, “You cannot live happily with your brother continuously balancing on the verge of falling to his vile fate. And how can I be happy then too? I am a god – at least at the moment – I have weighed and measured my chances, and I think it might just…”
“SHUT UP!” Shi Wudu jolted up to his feet, and the wave from his side splashed violently at the surroundings, “I don’t want to hear no more of this nonsense! I refuse, so forget it!” He turned around and left for the inn first, trying to forget the words He Sheng called after him:
“What if this was your one and only choice, and one and only way to save Qingxuan?”
It could not be the only one option left! It could not!
* * *
He Sheng soon came back into the room as well. He sat next to Shi Wudu at the bed, and kissed his shoulder from the back, moving the wet strands of hair aside.
“Don’t be mad with me,” his kisses came closer to the neck. Shi Wudu exhaled, holding back the moan and not moving, though he wanted to expose his neck to He Sheng for more bites and kisses. But no, he would not lose to him this easily.
“You cheater,” Shi Wudu breathed, “You’ll make me hard again.”
He Sheng sucked at his earring playfully, “Am I?”
Shi Wudu shook his head, “I am boiling over with rage right now. The hell I’ll let you have me.”
He Sheng put his chin upon his shoulder, “Look, seriously, don’t be so mad about it. I merely suggested…”
Shi Wudu whipped around and looked He Sheng into his eyes, “I cannot possibly choose either of you,” he said, enunciating each word, “And I’m surprised you do not understand that yourself.”
He Sheng tilted his head and smiled faintly, “But that would be a lie, Shui-ge. For you, the choice is very much obvious,” he quietly remarked.
“Stop spewing nonsense or I’ll leave. I don’t want to discuss it anymore!” Shi Wudu nervously clutched at the Water Master fan in his hand. He really wanted to smack He Sheng over his head with it, to snap out of it.
He Sheng sighed and fell backwards to the bed, letting go of Shi Wudu, “Fine.” He closed his eyes, saying no more. Shi Wudu watched him, his gaze travelling over He Sheng’s body slowly, savoring the sight. But his heart was heavy, and his mind in disarray.
Because what He Sheng said… Was it not tempting? Could Shi Wudu truly say now, that he has heard it, he does not think of it? Could he let it go and pretend it was never uttered and that option does not exist?
Shi Wudu cussed mentally and covered his face with his hands.
Just then, to add to the trouble, Pei Ming’s voice came through the spiritual communication array, “Shui-shixiong, you’d better come back. Your brother has gone missing, and I think something might have happened to him down in the mortal realm.”
Chapter 11: The White Calamity Sneaks to Heavens; The Wind Master is in Doubt
Ming Yi, I feel for you, man. xD
* * *
Shi Wudu has been meditating for several days already. For the first time in his life, it was difficult to focus, and he needed to maintain clear mind as well as heart. He knew that Shi Qingxuan also craved for explanation of his covering up for the Black Water Demon Xuan, but here he was at loss of just what to say.
“Well, see, it’s your favorite uncle Sheng, actually, who sacrificed his fate for yours and – ha-ha – died because of that later on. We did not really have it in our plan that he would become the Supreme, but ouch, shit happens. And ah, he also does not remember anything, so might as well be rather unfriendly towards us, so keep away, just in case. And don’t forget not to tell anyone, because not a soul knows about the fate switching, save for A-Sheng and myself, so in case the affair leaks out, your ge ge will at least get banished, if nothing worse, and I cannot even know what will happen to you. Thank you, love you, ge ge is off to mind his business.”
Yes, that would sound splendid.
Shi Wudu opened his eyes and let go a sigh of defeat. There was no way in heaven or hell that he could say anything at all to Shi Qingxuan, and that was bad enough. Moreover… what to do with A-Sheng, that is, He Xuan? Should he… go to him and tell him the way things are? Should he go to him at all? It would be awfully dangerous and reckless, but Shi Wudu could not say he completely resented that idea.
He had been thinking hard, cutting off all of the communication arrays and everything for these past days, but had not come to any conclusions. The thing is – he wanted to go to He Xuan, really, really badly wanted to go. He knew he should not, because of the danger of their crime being exposed to heavens.
“If only A-Sheng remembered…” But he did not, and Shi Wudu could not know what exactly was done to his memory, what damage it took and from whom. It obviously took place before he died, but just how? Shi Wudu found him too late that time, when it was all over, so he could not ask. Perhaps the damage could be fixed with the time, perhaps not – he could not tell, lacking crucial bits of information. With the way things were, he was unable to just march into the Southern Sea and stop by to have a cup of tea and cozy chat.
Shi Wudu suddenly gasped, as he remembered yet another thing. The thing of the utmost importance right now. He got up and headed for the hidden room in his palace. Down the stairs, through the magical barrier, and into the dark of the hall in there. There was an altar at the far end of the room with a simple urn over it, the single faded with time Blessing Lantern, and… the broken in two former Wind Master’s fan. Shi Wudu glanced at those, but right now, he was interested in urn only. Because when He Sheng died, Shi Wudu took his body with him, and his ashes were here all the while. Should heavens discover the identity of Black Water… Shi Wudu would not let himself be the cause of the second death of He Sheng. What to do though… to make the ashes into the ring or bracelet? It is not as if any of these were the safest place in the world, but at least he would have some control over it, before giving it back to He Sheng? Also, wouldn’t that be a great excuse to actually visit him – to give him ashes? With that thought, Shi Wudu carefully removed the urn’s lid.
His pupils shrank to the smallest, and hand holding the lid trembled.
The urn was empty.
“I believe you are looking for this?”
Shi Wudu whipped around, snapping open his Water Master fan. There was a man… at the wall of the room. Halfway up to the ceiling, in an unnatural pose while clutching to the wall, wearing half-smiling and half-crying mask. He held out the little spirit-trapping pouch, and it was all too easy to guess what was inside.
“Give it back!” Shi Wudu snarled, raging like an ocean storm. How did the bastard pass through the barrier? How did he know where to look and what exactly to look for? Why did he come, wasn’t he supposed to be destroyed?! Shi Wudu raised his fan, the three lines on its side growing bigger, but the creature did not seem to care, or rather, found it amusing.
“Are you sure you want to attack me, Water Tyrant?” He wondered thoughtfully, “I might have lose control and – ah! – fall onto this pouch, or squeeze it too tight somehow, or something else…” He chuckled, while Shi Wudu froze on the spot with his fan raised in one hand, panting, the anger storming inside of him, twirling in currents of his energy.
“Give it back,” he repeated in a low, threatening voice, it was only that Bai Wuxiang would not care, would he?
“No,” he said simply, sneering at Shi Wudu, “I’ll prefer to play with it for a while, you know? It will be my insurance policy. Just in case. For you to behave well. For your amnesiac boyfriend to behave well. You are a bad boy in heavens, but you cannot be one in hell, Water Tyrant,” he tossed the pouch in the air and caught it again, his smiling half of the face turned to Shi Wudu, “I don’t like you. But right now… it would be no fun in killing you – any of the three of you – just yet. I’d see the show first,” Bai Wuxiang laughed crazily, and suddenly jumped off the wall and fled through the door.
Shi Wudu chased after him, but the demon was already long gone.
Gone, together with He Xuan’s ashes – with He Xuan’s demonic life – in his filthy hands. Shi Wudu clenched his fists, the rage inside choking him. He wished he could vent it out over something, somebody right now. All of this just had to happen at the perfect timing too – with his third Heavenly Calamity approaching any of the following days within next month or so.
What to do now, Shi Wudu wondered – to actually go over to He Xuan, admit the loss of his ashes and tell him of the situation in general? But will he believe him, from his point of view? What does he know but a fact Shi Wudu is a heavenly official, and thus – an enemy? On the other hand, what is there else to do? He could not tell a thing to any of other heavenly official about this – even about the return of the White Calamity. Because those circumstances would raise all the suspicious questions, and that would affect Shi Qingxuan too. Shi Wudu could not afford that…
The thought trailed off, as Bai Wuxiang’s words suddenly came up in his mind: “It would be no fun in killing you – any of the three of you.”
Any of the three.
Gods… Shi Wudu felt the hair on the back of his head moving, as the horror filled him from within – not for himself, and not even for He Xuan.
“Qingxuan…” He breathed, and fled to search for his brother. He needed to see if he was safe. Even if only for the time being.
* * *
“But why not? Ming-xio-o-ong!” Shi Qingxuan pouted and fluttered eyelashes. Ming Yi rolled his eyes at the sight.
“I’m resistant to your female form charms, so don’t even bother,” he snorted, and Shi Qingxuan transformed into the male form in a flash. His clothes shifted a little because of the change, and a thin, almost invisible, but quite long scar upon his neck was revealed – Ming Yi has long ago noticed, but never asked, because Shi Qingxuan would usually cover it up, so apparently it was not a pleasant matter for discuss.
“And to the charms of this one?” He asked and clutched Ming Yi’s arm, “Ming-xio-o-ong!”
“We. Are not. Barging into the Southern Sea. To ‘just say hi’,” Ming Yi stated darkly, “Absolutely no way.”
“But ge’s weird behavior began after his mission there! Therefore, it has everything to do with that Black Water Demon Xuan! So…”
“So you suggest we go and suicide against that demon,” Ming Yi snorted again and picked up his glass of wine, “NO.” They were at the Earth Master’s Palace in Heavenly Capital, drinking and discussing Shi Qingxuan’s crazy ideas. This idea was definitely not of the fun ones.
“I will go alo…”
“You won’t,” Ming Yi’s tone grew cold. Sometimes Shi Qingxuan was unbearable! Does he think that venturing into the Supreme’s territory is but an afternoon stroll? For heavens’ sake!
“Because,” Ming Yi hated to use this trump card, but sometimes there was no other option, “I’ll tell your brother.”
Shi Qingxuan looked outraged, “Ming-xiong! That is… such a sucker punch from you! I would have never expected you to backstab me! My best friend!”
Ming Yi smirked, “And what happened to all the ‘This Wind Master never fears the Water Tyrant?’” He copied Shi Qingxuan’s tone, and the latter smacked him with his fan over the head, but Ming Yi saw his expression and was glad he had used the name of the Water Master. Because…
“Well. Suppose you are right,” Shi Qingxuan said displeased, but in an obedient tone, “But I’ll just go for it and ask ge, what is going on straightforwardly. I am tired of not seeing him for days already! Why would he go into a secluded meditation all of sudden? This is not like him at all. I mean, I know his third Heavenly Calamity is approaching, but still…”
“Qingxuan! Are you there?”
Both Ming Yi and Shi Qingxuan jerked at that shout coming from outside.
“Speaking of the Tyrant…” Ming Yi mused and suppressed the urge to cover his face with his palm. He knew Shi Wudu thought little of him, considering him an average and non-suitable company for Shi Qingxuan. It only saved the situation that Ming Yi’s reputation was good, and Shi Wudu could not forbid Shi Qingxuan to hang around with him – there simply was no reason to. Besides, Shi Qingxuan could all too easily tell his brother off for meddling with Pei Ming and Ling Wen instead.
“Ge?” Shi Qingxuan in the meantime already ran out to the street. After a brief consideration, Ming Yi followed.
Shi Wudu looked quite shaken, and Ming Yi frowned – what could possibly tickle the Water Tyrant off that much? He watched as Shi Wudu hugged Shi Qingxuan tightly, and then inspected his appearance closely, “Are you okay here, Qingxuan? Is everything fine?”
Shi Qingxuan blinked at the question, dumbfounded, but answered, “Of course, ge! I’ve been playing around with Ming-xiong, that’s all,” Shi Wudu’s heavy gaze brushed off at Ming Yi’s side, and the Earth Master sighed inwardly. Water Tyrant was not the one easily spoken to, that ever arrogant attitude of his…
“You haven’t seen anyone strange or anything unusual lately, have you?” Shi Wudu kept on inquiring. Now that already raised Ming Yi’s own suspicions, as he suddenly recalled that black-clad youth they met the other day in the mortal realm. The sudden thought gave him goosebumps over his arms – what if that lad was… Ming Yi took a mental note never to wear their real appearances in the mortal realm. Last time was a good thing they looked just like couple of youths, they better keep that up down there.
“No,” Shi Qingxuan said in the meantime, “Ge, what is wrong? You are making me worry, you have been acting weird the last days. Please, tell your brother, what happened?” He stroked Shi Wudu’s cheek gently. For a moment, Ming Yi wished he was his brother at least.
Shi Wudu briefly leaned against Shi Qingxuan’s palm and closed his eyes, “Alright,” he said then softly, “It’s okay, Qingxuan. Your ge ge is just worried about you too,” and then his cold gaze shifted to Ming Yi again, “You,” he said, his tone completely different from the one he talked with Shi Qingxuan.
Ming Yi raised his eyebrows, “Me?”
“Don’t bully Ming-xiong!” Shi Qingxuan immediately demanded, swinging the Wind Master’s fan from side to side in warning.
Shi Wudu snorted, “Wasn’t going to,” he humphed and focused at Ming Yi, actually coming to his side and looking into his eyes, “Do not leave Qingxuan for a moment,” he accentuated that word, “If you two go down to the mortal realm. Not even for a second let your sight off him. Understand?”
Ming Yi was taken aback, but also grew anxious immediately, “Is there any direct threat to Qingxuan?”
Shi Wudu’s frown deepened, “I am not entirely sure, but… do not leave his side. If anything at all is strange, or you notice something, tell me directly,” Shi Wudu seemed to hesitate, but in the end he grunted, “My password is ‘Playful wind over the gentle water’.”
Ming Yi was blown away by that, but somehow managed to keep his straight face on. Shi Qingxuan, however, was looking rather upset.
Shi Wudu nodded to Ming Yi, and then came back to Shi Qingxuan. He put a hand on his shoulder and whispered something into his ear. Shi Qingxuan looked doubtful and reluctant, but then nodded and bowed in obedience.
“What was that?” Ming Yi asked bluntly, after Water Tyrant left.
Shi Qingxuan slowly shook his head, fanning himself, “Not sure,” he said, “But this time we better take ge’s words seriously.”
Ming Yi cocked an eyebrow, “So we’re not saying ‘hi’ to the Southern Sea, huh?”
“Argh!” Shi Qingxuan swung the fan towards Ming Yi, and the wind threw several leaves from the trees in his face. Ming Yi only laughed to that.
Chapter 12: Fate is a Funny Thing; The Wind and Water Masters’ Sin, part one
Let's all give a warm welcome to the ultimate angst and pain and everything bad.
* * *
Shi Wudu was a god, and the oceans and rivers raged and calmed at his will.
Shi Wudu was a god, and the tides obeyed his command, and streams would change their flow at but a move of his hand.
Shi Wudu was a god, and he controlled the ships and boats transferring goods and turned them over or let them pass at his whim.
Shi Wudu was a god, and never in his life he had been more terrified than now that he walked towards Pei Ming in the mortal realm’s little town in the north.
“He went down to answer one of your prayers,” Pei Ming explained briefly, “As he usually does, so I did not stop him anyhow. But few moments ago he reached for me and cried for help. I came down right away, but I cannot find him and he does not answer in the spiritual communication array.”
Shi Wudu already tried the array as well, so he knew Pei Ming spoke the truth. However, “Why would he call you and not me?”
Pei Ming glanced at He Sheng by Shi Wudu’s side darkly, “Because he figured you two would be somewhere doing it on together and didn’t want to disturb?”
“Unlikely,” Shi Wudu brushed his words off, “He doesn’t stand you. There must be another reason.”
“And we know too well which one,” He Sheng quietly said, “He didn’t want you to know and worry again because of that thing. Qingxuan said he’s here in this town?”
Pei Ming nodded.
“Then we better separate and look for him,” He Sheng suggested, “The one who finds – tells us via communication array. Shui-ge, the Longevity Lock?..” He suddenly remembered.
Shi Wudu took it out, and it was trembling, but for some reason never showing the direction. Shi Wudu paled.
“Did it break?” Pei Ming asked.
Shi Wudu shook his head, “Impossible!”
“More likely that someone or something is meddling with it in order not to allow us find Qingxuan,” He Sheng clutched his Wind Master fan, his face threatening, “Or he might have lost it by chance. It might be the Reverend of Empty Words, he could be powerful enough for this. Let’s go and be quick, this is bad.”
The three gods each moved in the chosen direction, invisible to the common people, searching for Shi Qingxuan.
* * *
He Sheng did not know was it good luck or bad luck that he was the first one to find out Shi Qingxuan’s whereabouts.
Good luck was in the fact he found him, true enough.
Bad luck was everything else.
There was a house, rather big, probably of some wealthy merchant or so, to the side of the street. He Sheng was passing by, as he heard muffled screams coming from inside. He recognized Shi Qingxuan’s voice and barged in directly, accompanied by the gusts of wind at his side. What he saw made him freeze dead on the spot, the wind abruptly coming to a still – the kind of still that came before a devastating storm.
They did not even bother to go inside the house. There was inner yard there, and bunch of men – obviously either the owner of the place or his son with his pals or someone of the sort – was holding Shi Qingxuan to the ground, as one of them was doing it on.
“Ah, he’s so fine inside!” That man smirked with mock in his voice, as Shi Qingxuan was screaming, his mouth closed with another man’s palm, tears streaming down his cheeks. His clothes was ripped and torn, his body revealed for all to see and sneer over it. Shi Qingxuan’s eyes were twirling wildly in their sockets, he was horrified and helpless against those men in his state of sheer petrifying panic. How did it even come to this? He Sheng was not sure he wanted to know.
“The delicate little whore, oh yeah!” Another one leered.
“Come on, already, I want him too,” the third growled.
There were about twelve or so, He Sheng did not bother to count properly. Trash is a trash regardless of quantity.
He Sheng did not think. Distantly he knew this was his end, and there will no going back after what he is about to do, because gods do not kill common people no matter for their crimes. It is forbidden for gods to meddle and judge, otherwise there would be just chaos everywhere. Gods are fulfilling prayers – they do not harm people. Nevertheless, He Sheng did not hesitate. He could just knock them out for a while and that would do no harm to anyone, ha-ha.
But he would not.
The wind turned to sharp and piercing arrows of compressed air. Each arrow found its target with a stunning precision.
The men collapsed all at once with holes at their hearts. That fucker still with his cock aroused. The next gust of wind swept the bodies into a pile away from Shi Qingxuan, damaging them further in a process, cutting through the flesh to the bones, severing their manhood at once.
Suddenly, the yard was quiet again, save for Shi Qingxuan’s messed up sobs and ragged breathing.
He Sheng forced himself to approach Shi Qingxuan. He kneeled next to him and took a brief examination of his state. There was blood and… traces of another liquid at Shi Qingxuan’s thighs, a few cuts and bruises over his body. His Longevity Lock was missing – perhaps that was the reason Shi Wudu could not find him.
Shi Qingxuan’s eyes were wide and empty, clearly he was in a state of shock. When he saw He Sheng, the latter doubted he recognized him.
“Save me,” Shi Qingxuan breathed, and then at last mercifully lost his consciousness.
He Sheng took off his outer robes and wrapped Shi Qingxuan’s body in those, as he called for Shi Wudu via their private array. He did not raise his head, his hair falling around his face covering his expression, when he heard Shi Wudu’s light footsteps coming closer, and his gasp.
“What…” Shi Wudu’s voice sounded dead and broken – he grasped the picture clearly at the first glance, “No… no, no…”
“Do it,” He Sheng said, his voice deep and filled with inner helpless rage that was tearing him apart. He knew he was being stupid. He knew what would happen to him after this perhaps much better than Shi Wudu could have imagined. But… how could he not try? His family is dead, if nothing else, at least it is only he who will be in danger. Wretched ending to a wretched soul. Serves him right for all the arrogance and mocking, huh?
“What?” Shi Wudu took a step backwards, the Water Master fan shaking in his hand, his eyes darting from Shi Qingxuan to He Sheng and back.
He Sheng looked up from the ground he was still kneeling at, “Do it,” he repeated steely.
Shi Wudu’s gaze filled with terror, “No!”
“Are you blind or stupid?” He Sheng squeezed through his teeth, “He’ll fucking die if you don’t!”
Shi Wudu choked on his breath, unable to bring himself to come closer to his brother or his lover, unable to snap out of this nightmare.
“Do it before I do it myself!” He Sheng then roared at him, his eyes flashing wildly, “There is no time anymore, nor other option!”
Shi Wudu looked him into his eyes. He Sheng looked back.
Slowly, as if not believing himself, as if he was stuck inside a dream or some wicked illusion, Shi Wudu brought his hands together and formed a seal.
* * *
When Pei Ming finally came to the yard, Shi Wudu was sitting on the ground, cradling his brother in his arms while trying to feed him medicine. Shi Qingxuan’s eyes seemed to be opened, but he was not responding to anything, staring blankly in front of himself, obviously not even recognizing his brother. He Sheng was on his knees on the ground a bit away from them, clutching as his chest, panting heavily.
“What happened?” Pei Ming paled when seeing the dead bodies of the men, “My god, who did this?”
“I did,” He Sheng looked up with a visible effort. His face was deadly pale, as if he was in pain, “Serves them well.”
Shi Wudu did not spare Pei Ming as much as glance, occupied with Shi Qingxuan. He did not seem to care about anything else at all.
“He-xiong…” Pei Ming began and trailed off, seeing He Sheng’s wild eyes.
Swaying from side to side, he climbed to his feet and sneered in Pei Ming’s face, baring his teeth, “This is none of your business. I did what I was ought to.”
In the normal situation, Pei Ming would not let the offense pass easily. However, seeing the Shi brothers in such a state, he did not say anything more – he simply did not know what to say at all. This has gone too far, beyond any of them could imagine.
That moment Shi Wudu finally raised his head, and Pei Ming felt chill creeping up his spine – the Water Master’s look was absolutely dead and blank, almost matching that of his brother.
“Don’t worry,” He Sheng suddenly added and laughed – the kind of crazy laugh that made Pei Ming shiver, “I’ll take the full responsibility upstairs. For everything,” he laughed again, like a mad man, his face twisting in pain, as he suddenly spat blood.
Shi Wudu’s dead gaze shifted over to He Sheng, and Pei Ming could have sworn that behind the veil of lifelessness there was a deep immense agony. Perhaps if he was alone, Shi Wudu would have been screaming right now at the top of his lungs. Pei Ming stumbled backwards in horror.
Just… what in the world… has happened?
Chapter 13: Fate is a Funny Thing; The Wind and Water Masters’ Sin, part two
* * *
Once they have reached Heavenly Capital, all went to the Water Master’s Palace. It was a good thing nobody came by, Pei Ming thought, because He Sheng still had that look and abnormal sneer on his face, and Shi Wudu still did not utter a word at all, holding Shi Qingxuan to his chest. Shi Wudu’s gaze at least stopped being blank, now overwhelming with hatred and agony, while Shi Qingxuan still was unresponsive to anything. This was the first time in his long life that Pei Ming witnessed his friends in a state of the complete breakdown – all the three of them, that is, each suffering differently.
Pei Ming silently helped Shi Wudu to settle Shi Qingxuan in the bed. They wanted to clean him up and dress in fresh garments, but the moment they touched the robes He Sheng wrapped him into, Shi Qingxuan began to scream, and would not stop until Shi Wudu forced him down a medicine to make him fall into slumber. Only then, they managed to undress Shi Qingxuan’s limp body. When Shi Wudu saw all those marks and traces of violence, his face grew so ominous and dark, Pei Ming for the first time was afraid of the Water Tyrant.
“If I was there first, I’d kill them even more viciously,” Shi Wudu remarked, his voice laced with rage and torment.
“Me too,” Pei Ming then said, and he was not lying. Yes, he was aware of Shi Qingxuan’s attitude towards him, but not a once he thought Shi Qingxuan deserved something like this. Nobody deserved something like this.
“Too bad your opinions don’t justify me anyhow,” He Sheng gave off a chuckle. His unnatural paleness caught the eye, and Pei Ming noticed that the air was still around He Sheng – not a trace of the wind or any sign of the breeze usually accompanying him.
Shi Qingxuan groaned in his sleep, and Shi Wudu immediately fled to his side, stroking his hair gently and whispering something soothing until Shi Qingxuan calmed and his breath evened.
“Pei-xiong,” Shi Wudu croaked, “Could you do me a favor?”
“Could you stay with my brother, while A-Sheng and I report the issue to the Emperor?”
“Of course. But… right now?”
Shi Wudu smirked bitterly, “I do not wish for the fake rumors to flood heavens. I want for this to stay as secretive as possible in order to keep Qingxuan from more harm.”
“I understand,” Pei Ming nodded, “If I can help regarding the Emperor or anything else…”
“Yes,” Shi Wudu mechanically bowed to him, “Thank you. I won’t be long.”
Pei Ming watched Shi Wudu and He Sheng go, and could not forfeit the premonition this was the last time he sees them like this – together.
* * *
“You don’t have to go with me. Qingxuan needs you more,” He Sheng said, when they stepped outside in the street.
Shi Wudu looked at him, and He Sheng shut up. Then, “Does it hurt?” Shi Wudu asked barely audible.
He Sheng shot him a glance, “No more than Qingxuan.”
Shi Wudu knew he lied, but did not press further – he had no strength nor will to. He has never felt so exhausted both physically and mentally.
“I’m sorry,” he choked out after a while. He Sheng did not answer to that.
“Will you give me a few minutes?” he asked instead, stopping by the Wind Master’s Palace.
Shi Wudu lowered his head and waited, as He Sheng climbed up the stairs. He felt numb and empty.
He failed in all the ways.
He did not save Qingxuan nor A-Sheng in the end. He blew it all. The cocky and mighty Water Tyrant. What a joke.
Now it is all over, and his hands are tainted with red. Red strings of fate he ripped off He Sheng and attached to his brother. And those of Shi Qingxuan, that were now bound to He Sheng in an undoable knots.
Those were crimson like blood, and He Sheng’s fate would now be drenched in blood and misery, for the demon will not stay low, he will come and strike out soon, and the first blow is at hand – He Sheng will be banished, stripped off his divinity. That much Shi Wudu could guess right away, and the fact that He Sheng obviously knew what was about to come scared him most of all.
“It is my doing,” Shi Wudu thought, “My doing. I did it to him. To the both of them. The sin I will never atone for.”
He raised his gaze, feeling the other’s presence, and saw He Sheng at the top of the stairs. He was dressed in pure white, the Wind Master fan in his hand, his face proud and resolute, and his eyes clear and stern. Shi Wudu watched him descending and thought that never before he had seen the (almost) fallen deity of such dignity and beauty.
That moment he wanted to kneel down and worship He Sheng like a common believer. Such a foolish impulse. Shi Wudu would regret later that he did not kneel that time.
The breath caught in his throat. Shi Wudu opened his mouth, but no words came out. He Sheng watched him, and smiled bitterly, “It’s alright,” he said, “I knew what I was doing.”
“I wasn’t,” Shi Wudu wanted to say, but could not. Judging by He Sheng’s look, he understood nevertheless.
* * *
He Sheng fought the urge to rub his chest again – that burning foul sensation of his fate ripped from his core still lingered, and it hurt. The pain was coming in waves, pulsating underneath his skin. Perhaps later on it would subside. Perhaps not. He had better get ready for the worst now that he has done it.
Stupid, reckless idiot. Who needed his sacrifice? He Sheng smirked inwardly. He… did not regret it. He will not regret it. It is just as it was. For Shi Wudu, he would do it again. He saw his beloved suffering through all the years they have spent together, so… No, He Sheng was not afraid of what was to come. He was surprisingly calm about it.
“And we’ll pray that there’s no gods to punish us and make a fuss,” the line came up in his mind, from a book read long, long ago. He Sheng smiled softly, walking towards his demise with his head held high and proud.
The only thing he hated about it all was that apology. That helpless, miserable “I’m sorry” Shi Wudu said. It was disgusting to hear, because it was not his fault, nothing to be sorry for.
Well… their last talk thus was rather dumb. Oh well.
He Sheng was still glad Shi Wudu came with him, even though he was supposed to be with Shi Qingxuan right now.
The throbbing sensation in his chest rose again, but He Sheng kept straight face, as he entered Jun Wu’s palace. Not a soul must know about the fate-switching affair, otherwise, it will all be in vain. Therefore, he will endure all of it somehow.
Just make it fast, please?
* * *
Shi Wudu thought of a million words while they were walking towards the Great Martial Hall, but none of them fit the situation. All he wanted to say seemed shallow and empty – utterly useless and unnecessarily. He Sheng was scarily smart and he perfectly knew everything Shi Wudu could say anyhow, so… At least Shi Wudu would be by his side. Even if this was their last time together as the two gods.
Jun Wu sat upon his throne, the Great Martial Hall empty. His face was somber, as he looked up upon the two elementals entering.
“Your Majesty,” He Sheng bowed politely, “I am sorry to disturb your peace, but I would assume you already know.”
Jun Wu studied their faces, the frown between his brows deepening.
“The information about the incident in that town just came in. I am sorry for what you brother had to endure,” he addressed to Shi Wudu, “Is he any better?”
“He has not come to his conscious yet to judge,” Shi Wudu answered, carefully choosing words.
Jun Wu shifted his gaze over to He Sheng, “Even though I can understand the rage you were in, there are certain rules over handling the mortals, Lord Wind Master.”
“I know I’ve crossed the line,” He Sheng shrugged and tilted his head aside, looking carefree. If Shi Wudu did not know the truth, he would have never guessed just how shaken and distracted He Sheng really was. In the meantime, He Sheng continued, “I have killed those people, true. I admit my guilt over that and beg the Great Lord not to hesitate in carrying out my punishment.”
In other words, ‘just get it done and over with’. Shi Wudu’s hand twitched. Jun Wu hummed and then said, “If I may assume – you know the weight of the punishment already?”
“Permanent banishment,” He Sheng simply said, “Am I right?”
Jun Wu’s black eyes crossed with He Sheng’s grey. Shi Wudu despised himself for not saying anything, but if he would utter but a word, that would lead to more questions. Those questions might have exposed their crime, and then Qingxuan would get involved again and would again have to suffer. Unacceptable.
“Lord Water Master,” Jun Wu called.
Shi Wudu stepped forward, “Yes, Your Majesty?”
“Was it all like Lord Wind Master said? Have you anything else to add?”
Shi Wudu looked at He Sheng. He Sheng’s thin lips curved into a small smile, “It’s okay,” he mouthed, “It’s okay.”
Shi Wudu licked his lips and turned to Jun Wu, “No,” his voice sounded impassive, his face expressionless, even though from the inside, he was screaming the whole time.
Jun Wu leaned back on his throne, “Then… permanent banishment it is. I am sorry, Lord Wind Master.”
Here it comes, Shi Wudu thought. The first fruits of their foul deed. The first fruits of the ruined fate. He snapped out of his thoughts to the cracking sound, and his eyes widened at the sight of He Sheng snapping his Wind Master fan in two. He threw the shreds aside, and then stepped closer to the throne, extending his right arm towards Jun Wu, his face never changing for a second. Jun Wu understood his wish and acknowledged his right to go in peace, having it done himself and not in public, and so, without further ado, he closed the cursed shackle around He Sheng’s right wrist, sealing away his spiritual powers, and striping off his divine core. He Sheng did not utter a sound, his face the same indifferent expression.
Shi Wudu had never thought he is that good actor.
Jun Wu’s look grew sad then, even though Shi Wudu for some reason did not trust to that expression, “Good luck in the mortal realm, He Sheng,” Jun Wu said, “You are a man worthy of admiration.”
“May I see him off?” Shi Wudu asked.
Jun Wu nodded.
They bowed to him and left. Shi Wudu halted in the hall for a moment, picked the shredded Wind Master fan and tucked it away into his sleeve.
Chapter 14: Fate is a Funny Thing; The Wind and Water Masters’ Sin, part three
A-Sheng, you'll be missed. ;_;
* * *
“Well, that went better than expected,” He Sheng smiled, strolling down the street to the stairs to mortal realm, “At least fast enough and without spectators – I would not stand those.”
Shi Wudu hated that smile.
“Stop it,” he begged, “I cannot bear this fakeness, I just…”
He Sheng turned to him and went backwards with his hands behind his back, hiding the cursed shackle from Shi Wudu’s sight, “What do you want me to do? Cry a river? It will be a waste of energy. Calm down,” He Sheng suddenly said in a serious voice, “Get a grip of yourself. From now on, your brother depends on you and your strength. I assume that as of this day he also possesses the ability to ascend, so make use of it.”
“What will you do?” Shi Wudu asked when they stopped by the stairs.
He Sheng shrugged, “Wander, I suppose. Make use of myself by trying to wipe the Reverend out of the picture. I doubt that will work, but one can dream, huh.”
Shi Wudu knew that since the moment he touched He Sheng’s strings of fate, he had no right to – but he could not restrain himself. He pulled He Sheng into embrace and kissed him, pouring all the love and despair he had into that kiss. He was sure He Sheng would push him away – after all, he must have hated him now. But He Sheng stroked Shi Wudu’s hair, burying his fingers in it, and returned the kiss with the passion of a hurricane.
“I will try to hear your voice,” Shi Wudu breathed, when they parted lips, “In ten thousands of prayers, I’ll hear yours. So… do not think you are alone and do not think I’ll ever forget. I will absolutely never forget you.”
He Sheng leaned his brow against Shi Wudu’s and this time his smile was sincere, “I know,” he reassured.
Shi Wudu did not offer him money nor goods, knowing that He Sheng would refuse, as well as that it might do no good anyhow – should the Reverend of Empty Words strike again, the gold would be stolen (and lucky if He Sheng not accused for stealing it first!), the food lost, and so on.
He Sheng closed his lips to Shi Wudu’s ear then, “Watch out for heavens,” he whispered to him, “Especially for the Emperor. He did not like us a bit, I’ve noticed since the Mid Autumn Festival few years ago,” he stepped away from Shi Wudu, “Well then,” he said softly, “Off I go.”
With that, Wind Master Sheng was gone from heavens.
* * *
When Pei Ming agreed to stay with Shi Qingxuan, little did he know what would come out of it. He was sure Shi Qingxuan was in deep sleep and would not wake up until the next day at least. However, soon after Shi Wudu left with He Sheng, Shi Qingxuan’s eyes fluttered open.
Pei Ming was drowsy by then, sitting on the sofa, dozing off, the dagger he was carrying that day with him on a little table by the bedside.
Shi Qingxuan’s gaze was empty and unfocused, as he raised his shaky arm, reached for and grabbed Pei Ming’s long dagger.
Shi Qingxuan could not comprehend what exactly happened in the mortal realm today. He was just answering one of ge’s prayers, doing nothing bad, and then the Reverend of Empty Words spoke.
“You’ll have a good time today, the fun of the adult!” And he laughed, knowing Shi Qingxuan would be confused and would not understand the meaning of those words, but would be afraid nonetheless, because – naturally – it would mean nothing good.
He unsheathed the dagger. Pei Ming did not move.
After that, Shi Qingxuan remembered he ran into the group of drunk men while running away from the Reverend, that is, from the sheer terror he’s somewhere around him again. He wanted to call for his brother, but then he thought of all the worry he brought him as it was, and decided to let that womanizer know of his whereabouts instead – as reluctant as Shi Qingxuan was in admitting the fact that Pei Ming was Shi Wudu’s best friend, he still saw the way things were.
Shi Qingxuan pressed the blade onto his own throat.
Then he remembered the pain inside, a dreadful sense of humiliation and helplessness, and the wish to die already. To get it finished for good. To suffer no more.
The steel was cold and thirsty for blood.
He would take no more. No more of the Reverend, no more of his brother worrying for him, no more of the fear he had been living with for so many years.
Shi Qingxuan decided to give the blade what it wanted.
Please, no more. Please, go away and leave me alone at least when I die.
The blade smoothly slashed through the flesh, spilling the noble blood onto the sheets.
* * *
Being the martial god, Pei Ming all too well knew the smell of blood. He snapped out of his drowse to that smell and the sound of blade hitting the ground, falling from the limp fingers, and looked around, searching for the source. His eyes widened, as he froze at the sight.
“Shui-shixiong will end me,” was his first thought.
Then he rushed to Shi Qingxuan’s side. The long wound on his neck was bleeding heavily, but Shi Qingxuan was still alive, though he lost his consciousness. Pei Ming frantically reached into his robes, searching for the medicine, for anything!
“LING WEN, HEALING MEDICINE TO THE WATER MASTER PALACE, THIS SECOND!” He roared via Ling Wen’s private spiritual communication array in despair.
Thanks heavens, Ling Wen was fast and efficient, and she appeared almost right away, while Pei Ming was pressing his own outer shirt to Shi Qingxuan’s wound to lessen the blood loss. Ling Wen’s eyes grew wide, but she did not say a word, taking out a few bottles. She moved Pei Ming’s hands aside and poured the contents of the bottle over Shi Qingxuan’s gash. The wound stopped bleeding and gradually closed up. Ling Wen then examined Shi Qingxuan’s pulse and added more medicine to the wound. Only then, when she made sure he would make it, she turned to Pei Ming.
“I was careless,” Pei Ming wheezed, “I left the weapon there…”
“That much I see. But why would he?..”
“Because of today’s incident below. You should already know.”
Ling Wen lowered her head, “I do. It was horrible. But I would have never thought that… Where is Shi Wudu?”
Pei Ming averted his gaze, “Seeing He-xiong off.”
Ling Wen closed her eyes, “I’m at a loss of what to say,” she admitted. Then she took out bandages and carefully wrapped Shi Qingxuan’s neck in the clean white. Pei Ming could not thank her enough for that, because, in truth, he really panicked for a moment and lost himself.
“It’s been a long and completely fucked up day,” Pei Ming said dryly, “As for the rest… just cut all of the possible gossips around regarding this whole thing,” he sighed, “Shui-shixiong had it bad enough as it is. Not to mention Shi Qingxuan.”
“You’re dead, by the way,” Ling Wen remarked, checking over Shi Qingxuan again, and nodding to herself, “He will recover,” she concluded and waved her hand – bloodstains over the sheets disappeared, “Physically,” she added darkly.
Pei Ming lifted the blood-smeared dagger and tucked it away, “Good. As for me being a future corpse – I know,” he said grimly, “And Shui-shixiong will have all the right while doing me in.”
* * *
Shi Wudu felt he just could take no more of this day’s misfortunes. And yet the blow came again, out of nowhere. He listened to Pei Ming’s story and muffled apologies, and wanted to drop dead on the spot. Then revive and kill somebody responsible for all of this – that is, himself, - and die again.
The white bandages against the white skin. Shi Qingxuan’s face was pale from the loss of blood. His breathing was even and steady, thanks to Ling Wen’s medicines.
The dull pain was throbbing in Shi Wudu’s head, threatening to split it in two.
“I’ll kill you tomorrow,” he promised Pei Ming, “Now – just leave. The both of you. I need to take care of Qingxuan.”
Ling Wen and Pei Ming fully understood him, so none of them objected nor said anything regarding his harshness, as they left.
Shi Wudu sat at the edge of the bed and looked into Shi Qingxuan’s face. He never thought that Qingxuan would be capable of committing suicide. Even with the Reverend of Empty Words – Shi Wudu did not think he would finish like its other victims. Hell, he would make sure to guard Shi Qingxuan, and… he failed.
In the most important thing of his life, Shi Wudu failed, being useless. If not for He Sheng’s sacrifice… his eyes suddenly widened in realization. If not for He Sheng’s sacrifice of his fate – Shi Qingxuan would have succeeded.
Pei Ming would not wake up, Ling Wen would come in too late, the blade would cut deeper… In He Sheng’s case, the first sign of the changed fate was his banishment and loss of divinity. In Shi Qingxuan’s case, the first sign of the improvement was that suicide failed.
Shi Wudu covered his face with his hands. This was unbearable in so many ways, but was not He Sheng right after all? Was there another choice?
Even so… it was still an unforgivable atrocious deed.
Shi Wudu knew all too well that someday he would have to pay the full price with interest for doing it.
Chapter 15: Wrong Conclusions Lead to Wrong Deeds; The Earth Master in Danger, part one
You wish, Ming-xiong... YOU WISH. xD
* * *
From what he remembered, it was hunger that led He Xuan to the Mount TongLu. When he was still but a ghost fire, he was starving, he felt the insatiable hunger tearing his soul apart. Therefore, he went to TongLu, because of so many ghosts gathered there. It was a feast of power and satiation. He lost the count of how many ghosts and demons he devoured, until there were no more, until he was left as the strongest one.
The former god stripped of his glory and plundered of his divinity, he feasted on those lesser ghosts, he made his way through the city of dead ashes to the Kiln and broke free from it as the Supreme. It took him twelve years to free himself out of the TongLu, but only because most of the time he was in slumber, digesting those he devoured. At the other time, he felt curious, so he explored that place, finding nothing in particular to his personal interest. After feeling hungry again, he left the TongLu Mount and made his way into the Southern Sea and to the place he would later turn into the Black Water Island.
He remembered that among those TongLu ghosts and demons there was the Reverend of Empty Words. That creature He Xuan unfortunately remembered too well. As well as the fact, it was all because of the Reverend that his life after banishment was a misery. But the jinx demons of such a rank would not come out of nowhere, which meant… if the White Calamity spoke the truth, then the Water Tyrant switched his fate with the fate of his brother. The Water Tyrant attached the Reverend onto him, thus deeming him to misfortunes and death.
He Xuan shuddered and snapped his eyes open. ‘Water Tyrant’. He was not supposed to remember that nickname, was he? He Xuan did not need to breath anymore, but he still let go a long sigh, and then breathed the salty air in, and out. It helped to concentrate.
He sat on the sand over the beach, and the waves were coming to the shore in tides, black and dark, cursed by their master to drown, to pull down, down to the depths and never find rest there. Only the dead were allowed to leave. Only the dead had the right to leave.
He Xuan hated that he was dead too. It was unfair.
So, the ‘Water Tyrant’. And his brother… something-Xuan, right? His birth name had to be ‘Xuan’ – otherwise it would not work. You can switch fates with just about anyone if you know the way, but in order to confuse the Reverend of Empty Words, there had to be more requirements.
How strange – that of all the people, He Xuan happened to have the fate of the god and matched that Water Master Wudu’s brother in name and birth date. Well… no wonder Shi Wudu used that chance, then. How could he not?
He Xuan eyed the skeletons of water dragons splashing in the distance of Black Water part of the Southern Sea. His guardians as well as, well, pets? They were fine, he guessed. There were thousands of dead fishes and ghosts under water here. They were all his to command. Ghost servants of the Black Water Island too. Yet still He Xuan felt he is alone here.
It was funny that he remembered bad things mostly. That memory-devouring demon, he took all of the good ones away. They were now somewhere inside of him, hidden deep, deep at the core of his being, locked up so hard it was impossible to get to them at once. Just like those ships that drowned in his waters together with their goods and treasures. So much gold and money is probably down there in the depths. He Xuan never counted, never bothered to. All he took from those ships was food. Maybe he should take a trip down to the bottom of the sea and fetch some treasures too? Crimson Rain Sought Flower already thinks of him lowly, perhaps, so at least He Xuan could get some face like this.
Back to his memories, though… they were harder to reach than the underwater treasure. Because… once again, the White Calamity was right, and he did not want to remember.
“Because it will hurt, oh, betrayals of the closest ones always hurt most, and so you block those memories,” the voice of the demon echoed through He Xuan’s mind.
He would not remember the light wind over the river’s surface, he would not remember a night’s breeze rippling the lake that reflected heavenly stars in. He remembered being beaten after his release from the prison, and he remembered said prison almost in every detail. One meal every three days, mostly swills and pathetic leftovers. And the feeling of hunger, of his insides twisting in pain, his desperate thoughts of food and food only. He was never the same after that prison, his health went bad too, and so he died soon afterwards. He died badly too – out in the streets, freezing, starving, attacked by the memory-devouring demon, and then just succumbing to the exhaustion and fatigue.
There was something else he vaguely remembered at the edge of his death – that somebody was calling for him from the distance, as if searching for him, but He Xuan could not discern that voice nor his owner.
But the thing that most of all confirmed that He Xuan guessed this right was that overwhelming guilt written across the Water Master’s face, when the latter recognized him. If not for that, perhaps, He Xuan would doubt White Calamity’s words. However, it all matched too well.
He Xuan climbed to his feet and looked over the sea. His quiet and solitary domain, undisturbed by anyone and anything. So, the Water Master truly did warn the heavens about his territory. How considerable of him.
He Xuan thought of that youth with the Wind Master fan he saw in Royal Capital. If that person was Shi Wudu’s brother, then he could reach Shi Wudu through him.
Well. Why not try? He Xuan had the feeling he would encounter that person again, if he willed – and oh, he willed.
Because, if Shi Wudu did betray him like that once upon a time, then He Xuan will avenge his miserable fate at once. Perhaps this was the real reason he became the Supreme for – all of the demons have some goal. It might be that his was exactly this one.
* * *
Shi Wudu did warn Shi Qingxuan to be more careful in the mortal realm, but he did not forbid to go straightforwardly, so technically speaking, he did not break Shi Wudu’s order, when he still went to the Royal Capital for a drink, right? Besides, Ming Yi was with him. Shi Qingxuan pouted and touched his lips with the fan.
“Ming-xiong, why won’t you join me?”
“‘No’ is a ‘no’,” Ming Yi retorted dryly, throwing a glance to Shi Qingxuan’s rather big chest – did he just make it bigger for his female form this time? Honestly…
“Well, maybe this is even better,” Shi Qingxuan laughed lightly and took his arm, “It’s like we are husband and a wife in the eyes of the others, right?”
Ming Yi winced. HE WISHED. And the worst part is that Shi Qingxuan did not even meant it all as mock or anything bad, he just, well, was himself, that’s all, ignorant to all the romantic things, just having fun with his ‘best friend’.
In the meantime, Shi Qingxuan was going down the street merrily, picking the place they would drink at today. His eyes were bright and cheerful, and he was beautiful in his female form, even thought Ming Yi preferred his male one.
Shi Qingxuan suddenly stopped by the flower shop and smiled, “Remember, we came here the first time we went down together?”
Ming Yi remembered. He also remembered how Shi Qingxuan befriended him, when he ascended, and would always stay with him, but refusing to go to the mortal realm every time for a long, long while. Yet one day he would agree, and Ming Yi led him here and bought him flowers and they had a good time, even though at some moments Ming Yi would catch Shi Qingxuan’s wary gaze darting from side to side, and his breathing was somehow uneven, as if panicked back then.
And when they returned, Shi Wudu almost killed Ming Yi with a mere glare, as he demanded from Shi Qingxuan where he was, and what was he doing.
“Are you okay with going there again?” Ming Yi remembered the strange question Shi Wudu asked his brother.
“If it is with Ming-xiong, then it is fine,” Shi Qingxuan said back then, clutching at his hand, “I believe Ming-xiong to protect me from anything!” And he would go to the mortal realm only with Ming Yi ever since, never alone or in another’s company.
“If but a strand of hair falls off my brother’s head, I’ll chop yours off,” the Water Tyrant hissed to Ming Yi back then. Ming Yi was stunned, but somehow managed to reassure Shi Wudu that Shi Qingxuan’s safety is his top priority, so no need to be that rude, thank you? The Water Tyrant did not look convinced though.
He did drop a clue to Ming Yi that before Shi Qingxuan ascended, something really bad happened to him in the mortal realm, so that Ming Yi was ever careful and watched over Shi Qingxuan. As they were having fun like this, with Shi Qingxuan, for many decades already, Shi Wudu would gradually calm down about it.
That is why exactly the warning the other day seemed so off coming from Shi Wudu. It is like… they have already been through it? So why would the Water Tyrant be so harsh again? True, Ming Yi is used to the threats of being buried with his own shovel, but man!
“Do not leave Qingxuan for a moment, if you two go down to the mortal realm. Not even for a second let your sight off him,” Shi Wudu’s cold voice echoed in Ming Yi’s ears. He would not say something like this out of nothing, would he? Ming Yi clutched Shi Qingxuan’s hand in his inadvertedly.
“Ming-xiong?” Shi Qingxuan looked up at him (he was so delicate and lower than Ming Yi in his female form it was adorable) with a smile.
Ming Yi was about to answer, but then someone bumped into them. It was a child, dressed in once black but now faded to grey rags, thin as a twig, with big grey eyes and disheveled hair.
“Jie-jie,” the boy addressed to Shi Qingxuan, “Jie-jie, do you have some food to spare?”
Ming Yi did not like the child a bit, but Shi Qingxuan – naturally – melted at once.
“Aw, you poor thing,” he snapped his fan open and covered the lower half of his face, “Here, let the big sister treat you a decent meal!”
“Don’t…” Ming Yi wanted to tell Shi Qingxuan via their private communication array, but froze on the spot, when noticing the boy’s look fixed upon the Wind Master fan.
That very same ‘winter-sea’ piercing look, now laced with something very, very close to loath.
Chapter 16: Wrong Conclusions Lead to Wrong Deeds; The Earth Master in Danger, part two
Ouch, Ming Yi :(
* * *
Before Ming Yi managed to blink, the boy’s expression changed to the one of pure delight and a wide smile appeared on his lips, “Jie-jie, you’re so nice!”
“Don’t call me jie-jie, I feel too old,” Shi Qingxuan laughed then and fanned himself, “Young Mistress is okay! Now come!”
“Qingxuan…” Ming Yi sighed inwardly and just followed, never letting his sight off the boy.
They came into the tavern and ordered all kinds of food for the three of them. The boy curiously looked around and smiled timidly, “Jie… Young Mistress is so kind and beautiful,” he remarked, “I knew right away she would be nice.”
“Really?” Shi Qingxuan beamed, “But of course this Wind… Young Mistress is always nice!”
It did not slip Ming Yi’s attention that boy’s eyes flashed at the mistake Shi Qingxuan made. He wanted to point it out, but before he could, the boy spoke himself.
“Wind?” His eyes widened in awe, “Young Mistress?”
Shi Qingxuan fanned himself again, going faster and laughed awkwardly. He blabbered some nonsense like he usually did when confused by something.
“What is your name?” Ming Yi suddenly asked, still cautious and wary.
“An Hei,” the boy answered without hesitation.
“Xiao-Hei then,” Shi Qingxuan proclaimed happily, while trepidation in Ming Yi’s heart grew. Black. Could it be a mere coincidence or could it be that?.. Boy’s grey eyes met Ming Yi’s golden, and there was no smile in that cold and sharp gaze.
Black. Black Water. He did not even try to conceal himself, spilling out the clues purposely! Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. What does he want, why is he here, why is he targeting Shi Qingxuan for the second time already? They did not go for the Southern Sea so it came to them instead?
“Water Tyrant will kill me and he’ll have the right in doing so,” for a moment there, Ming Yi thought of actually addressing Shi Wudu via his private communication array, but… What would he say? “Oh, hi there, I know you don’t really stand me, but oh well. See, it happened that your brother and I are dining here with that new Supreme of yours, and he clearly has something against Qingxuan, and frankly, I have no idea should the fight take place, even if I give it my everything, how long would I last before he kills me, so… Yup, other than that we’re having a good time, as usual.” Ha-ha. Ming Yi covered his face with his palms.
“Xiao-Hei, here,” the waiter brought the food, and Shi Qingxuan pushed the plates to the boy lightly, “Eat to your heart’s and stomach’s full content!” Shi Qingxuan laughed and poured himself some wine, “Ming-xiong, eat too! You’re grumpy when hungry!”
Ming Yi hardly could swallow a bite, but he stuffed something at his plate, not even looking what exactly. In the meantime, the boy gulped down his soup in one long swallow, and reached for the seconds. As he ate, Ming Yi’s brows flew up. This… that is… one cannot act that well, can he? That boy… demon… whoever he was – he looked like he was really starving, the way he was piling up the food on his plate.
“Where is your family?” Shi Qingxuan asked the boy, and the latter shook his head.
“I have no family anymore,” he stated in unexpectedly mild voice, once again deceiving Ming Yi with that (fake?) softness and humbleness. This… with the food and this phrase of his – they did not seem false, but, but… how? Why? Who is that Black Water, dammit?
“Does Young Mistress have one?” The boy wondered curiously.
“Don’t tell him!” Ming Yi wanted to yell at Shi Qingxuan, but too late.
“Yes, I have a brother,” Shi Qingxuan smiled happily, and Ming Yi wanted to fall with his face down the table and just drop dead on the spot.
“Is he as kind as Young Mistress?” the boy slurped the rest of the food from his plate and eyed the sweets and pastries. Just how much can he eat?!
Shi Qingxuan scratched the back of his head with the fan and chuckled at that question, “Well… ha-ha… um… I guess?” He said, and Ming Yi choked on his wine, “But also very strict and proud, so this Young Mistress tends to be obedient, ha-ha-ha!”
The boy did not show any ill intention so far, but those grey eyes were too smart for a mere child. Ming Yi did not buy it all for a second, as their meal went on, and Shi Qingxuan casually chatted with ‘An Hei’. After they finished, the three of them went out to the street again. It was there that Shi Qingxuan has made a grave mistake out of his kindness again.
“Do you want me to walk you home? Where do you live?”
“NO!” Ming Yi cried in his mind.
“That would be great!” The boy exclaimed eagerly, “It’s not too far, it’s just beyond this…”
“Qingxuan, you should not!” Ming Yi addressed him in the private array after all.
“But why not?” Shi Qingxuan raised his eyebrows, “He is just a poor thing and…”
“Your brother said…”
“Ming-xiong, stop it, please. Ge is sometimes paranoid about me, that’s all,” with that, Shi Qingxuan took the boy by his hand and led him to where he was pointing.
With a heavy heart, Ming Yi followed.
* * *
The boy looked somehow familiar to Shi Qingxuan – perhaps, that was the reason he took a liking to him. As if… he did not know, but the boy looked so painfully thin and poor, Shi Qingxuan just wanted to take care of him, even if for a short while. Besides, he was really clever and polite, it was pleasant talking to him.
The little palm in his hand was warm, as the boy led Shi Qingxuan with Ming Yi following close behind somewhere deeper in the streets and through passages. It only later dawned upon Shi Qingxuan they were going to the riverside.
“What is it?” He gently asked the boy, as they came to a stop by the water, “Where is your home?” He glanced upon some ramshackle poor houses on the shore, and a bunch of beggars nearby. Such a place… does he live here somewhere? Poor soul.
“My home…” the boy repeated then thoughtfully, “Well, right now it is actually… in the Southern Sea,” he took his hand from Shi Qingxuan’s and turned around with a dark smile upon his face.
“Qingxuan!” Ming Yi yanked his arm and pushed Shi Qingxuan behind himself. The boy tilted his head aside, looking at them pensively.
“Ming-xiong?” Shi Qingxuan did not quite comprehend what was going on, but suddenly was aware that something is wrong.
Ming Yi shook his head, “He’s no good! His name, for heaven’s sake! Can’t you tell yourself?”
Shi Qingxuan froze. He looked at the boy again, whose smile was not gentle anymore, but more like a chilling one, the one of a hunter after catching his prey.
“Young Master sure is smart and perceptive,” his voice sounded deeper now, not child-like at all, and… did he just grow a bit? Shi Qingxuan blinked in confusion, but the image remained – the boy now looked more like a teen than like a child, “But this should be none of your concern. I don’t particularly care about you.”
“The hell it’s not my concern,” Ming Yi protectively stood before Shi Qingxuan.
“You are… Black Water Demon Xuan?” Shi Qingxuan asked bluntly, with his eyes wide and scared.
The boy snorted and cocked his head, “And if I am? This is getting nowhere though, so do forgive me for rushing things up,” he snapped his fingers. Several fish skeletons emerged from the river behind him and charged for Ming Yi! Shi Qingxuan heard somebody’s horrified scream from the other side of the river, apparently some people saw them, but Black Water did not seem to care.
“Ming-xiong!” Shi Qingxuan opened his fan, but the skeletons already wrapped themselves around Ming Yi, restricting his movement, and bared their teeth at his face and neck. Ming Yi was going to struggle free, but…
“They are poisonous,” Black Water remarked expressionlessly, “So behave yourself, Lord Wind Master. Same goes for you, Lord Earth Master.”
“What do you want from us?” Ming Yi shouted angrily.
“Not from you – from him only,” Black Water smirked to Ming Yi and turned to enraged Shi Qingxuan, “I want to speak with your brother about, say, a personal matter. So, we do it like this – you tell Water Master Wudu I’m waiting for him at the Southern Sea – he knows the place. As for you…” He glanced at Ming Yi, humphed, and looked at Shi Qingxuan again, “I’m taking your buddy with me as a token you will do as I say. I might return him later if things go well, because why not – he is not of any interest or value to me anyway.”
With that, Black Water snapped his fingers again, and the skeletons dove down the river along with Ming Yi!
“Ming-xiong!” Shi Qingxuan cried in despair, taking a step forward.
“Oh, and thank you for the meal,” Black Water actually bowed to him politely, and then fell backwards then into the river, being gone from the sight within seconds along with Earth Master Yi!
* * *
Shi Qingxuan ran to the water, searching for Black Water and Ming Yi with his gaze, but they both were gone.
“What the hell is going on?”
“Who is that woman?”
“Who are they? Are they crazy?”
There were voices of those beggars and people around.
And it was then that Shi Qingxuan realized yet another horrible thing: for the first time in long years, since that time, he was left all alone down in the mortal realm, among the common people.
Panic rose in his heart too rapidly for him to control it. He stepped back from the mob looking at him, his lips trembled and fan shook in his hand. He was mortified with fear, gasping for air in ragged breaths.
“I… I… I…” he stammered and whimpered.
It was a miracle he remembered that he could call for help using his spiritual powers.
“GE, HELP ME, GE!!!” He did not even think, he just reached for Shi Wudu in sheer horror of realization that he is alone.
“GE, SAVE ME, PLEASE, SAVE ME!” Shi Qingxuan forgot he was no longer mortal but a god, he forgot just about everything, curling up by the riverside, his eyes twirling in their sockets frantically, as he was sure that now those people will come his way, and… and…
Half-unconsciously, he prepared to swing his fan. Just then, somebody caught his wrist in mid-air. Shi Qingxuan screamed and yelped, struggling free.
“QINGXUAN, IT’S ME!” Shi Qingxuan turned around and choked on breath, seeing Shi Wudu behind.
“Ge is here,” Shi Wudu repeated, keeping his tone calm and soothing, “Qingxuan, it’s alright, ge has come.”
Shi Qingxuan clutched at his robes, shaking uncontrollably, “Ge… ge!”
“It’s okay, it’s okay, let’s go now,” Shi Wudu carefully led Shi Qingxuan away from that place, “Qingxuan, what happened? Where is that useless friend of yours?”
“Ming-xiong…” Shi Qingxuan muttered, and then stopped, drawing a sharp breath, “Ming-xiong!” He cried and clutched at Shi Wudu again, “Ge, he’s taken Ming-xiong, he’s going to hurt him! Ge, what should I do, what should I do?”
“Who has taken Earth Master?” Shi Wudu asked, frowning. His face paled, when he heard Shi Qingxuan’s panicked answer:
“The Black Water Demon Xuan took him away!”
Chapter 17: The New Beginning; Stolen Moment of Happiness, part one
...and the past again.
* * *
Waking up hurt. Not physically, but in his heart. He did not want to wake up anymore. He hoped to never wake again, and yet here he was. Who saved him? Why, what for? To prolong his torment?
Shi Qingxuan slowly opened his eyes. Shi Wudu was curled up in the corner of his bed, asleep. Shi Qingxuan had no idea what to say to him. How to apologize for everything. How to tell this was in vain and sooner or later he would succumb to the Reverend of Empty Words anyway, so what was the point in saving him.
“Ge?” His voice was weak and hoarse, his throat throbbed in the place of the wound. Shi Qingxuan felt the bandages around his neck and winced. He swallowed the saliva and pulled himself up, propping against the head of his bed.
Shi Wudu shifted at the movement, blinking sleepily. Seeing Shi Qingxuan awake, he sat up with a start. The wave of guilt washed over Shi Qingxuan, seeing brother’s tired face with dark circles under his eyes, his hair messy and robes crumpled – a sight the ‘Water Tyrant’ never allowed for others to see.
“Qingxuan!” Shi Wudu’s voice was raspy after the sleep. He clumsily crawled closer, his gaze filled with worry, “How are you feeling?”
Shi Qingxuan licked his dried lips and clutched at the blanket with his fingers.
“Why did you save me? What for?”
Shi Wudu froze at the question. Then, “What are you saying?”
Shi Qingxuan shook his head, “I wanted for this to end. I don’t want to take any more of it. I don’t want to, ge. I’ll just do it again.”
“Qingxuan, it’s over,” Shi Wudu’s look was numb and sad. He was not even yelling at Shi Qingxuan as he would usually do, if angry at the disobedience. He spoke quietly and half-absently somehow.
Shi Qingxuan frowned, “What is over?”
“Everything,” Shi Wudu rubbed his eyes, “A-Sheng and I dealt with the Reverend. That thing will never bother you again.”
Shi Qingxuan slowly raised his head and looked at Shi Wudu. His brother… would not lie to him about this. He absolutely would not, because he knew how important it was. But… but…
“Ge?” His voice trembled.
Shi Wudu climbed out of the bed, and (what is he doing?!) kneeled down. Shi Qingxuan watched with his eyes widely opened, how Shi Wudu actually kowtowed before him.
“I’m sorry I did not do it before you were hurt. I’m so, so sorry for everything you had to endure,” he said never rising his head.
“Ge, please, get up, what are you doing, ge?” Shi Qingxuan whispered in horror. His ever proud, ever glorious brother to be in such a shameful state! Shi Qingxuan’s hands were shaking, he could not bear this sight.
“I’m sorry,” Shi Wudu’s fists clenched so hard his knuckles were white.
Shi Qingxuan crawled out of the bed and threw himself onto the floor next to his brother, “Ge!” He cried and clutched at Shi Wudu’s robes, forcing him to straighten up, “Ge, please, don’t! You… I… nothing was your fault, so…”
“I failed to protect you,” a single crystal clear tear fell at the back of Shi Qingxuan’s hand.
“Ge, don’t cry… you never ever…” His voice broke off, as his own tears suddenly poured from his eyes, “Ge!” Shi Qingxuan buried his face in Shi Wudu’s chest and finally let his pain out, sobbing and wailing to his heart’s content.
Shi Wudu held him, as the two of them sat on the floor, clutching to each other and crying – one weeping loudly and openly, another one silently, trying to comfort the other somehow.
Shi Qingxuan had no idea how long has it passed, before the both of them somewhat calmed down, and their sobs quieted.
“Ge,” Shi Qingxuan then said.
“I’m here,” Shi Wudu stroked his hair.
“Were you serious?”
“Yes,” Shi Wudu’s voice was laced with pain though.
Shi Qingxuan looked up. His brother’s eyes were reddened.
“All you have to know is that it’s over for good.”
“If so, where is Feng-ge?”
Shi Wudu closed his eyes for a moment, “A-Sheng was hurt in the process, so he’s resting.”
“Ge, I hear it when you lie,” Shi Qingxuan accused.
Shi Wudu was silent for a long time. Then, “He killed those men,” he looked Shi Qingxuan in his eyes, “Viciously. None of us regret that deed, but…”
Shi Qingxuan’s face dropped, “He… was… punished?”
Shi Wudu nodded.
“Ge, just answer me!”
Shi Qingxuan gasped and panted, as the sudden memory came.
His happiness will fall apart because of you. You will be the cause of that man’s demise.
It was truth then. It is because of him that his brother is this sad right now. It is because of him that good and just person as Lord Wind Master is no more… all is because of him. He did not notice he said the last lines aloud, until Shi Wudu shook his head.
“No, no. If anyone is to blame, then it is me,” he said, “Because it was my failure to begin with. So…”
They both fell silent for a while, still sitting on the floor, holding each other. Shi Wudu lifted Shi Qingxuan’s head by his chin, forcing him to look into his eyes.
“Promise me you won’t do this again.”
Shi Qingxuan was still doubtful about everything and, to be honest, still half in shock. However, he knew – he trusted that his brother would never lie about the important things. The way Shi Qingxuan sensed, perhaps there was something more to the matter, but Shi Wudu would not say that creature is gone unless it would truly be gone. Could Shi Qingxuan allow himself to hope? How long will he have to wait to stop recoiling from shadows and stop expecting to hear another dark precognition?
“Qingxuan, you are all I have left,” Shi Wudu said, “My most precious little brother. Do not leave me. Because… then all A-Sheng has done for us would be in vain. And he has done so much more than even I did.”
“Is there a way for me to help him? Is there anything I can do at all?”
Shi Wudu shook his head, “I’m afraid not. Regarding that, I am trying to keep an eye at things down there. He wanted you to live on and walk forward fearlessly. Qingxuan. Answer me seriously – you won’t attempt this again, will you?”
“…I won’t, ge. Promise.”
“Ge ge loves you,” Shi Wudu hugged him again, cradling him to his chest.
“I love you too, ge.”
Shi Qingxuan could say so many things. About those men, about his fear and helplessness, about the Reverend and his insecurity now… Shi Qingxuan thought of his brother’s smile whenever he would see He Sheng somewhere near, and about that now that will be no more. But… if He Sheng really did all that for him, then… it would be utterly stupid and unfair from his side to just neglect it, let it go and march to his demise, right? Would not it be better if Shi Qingxuan gets a grip of himself and, well, sort of starts anew?
“Ge,” he asked then.
“Let’s start training again? I mean, together, if you don’t mind? I want to become stronger. And I want to stop being scared.”
Shi Wudu nodded.
“What is it?”
“Can I,” Shi Qingxuan hesitated for a moment, but then finished, “Can I not go to the mortal realm for some time, please? I… I don’t think I can. At least now.”
Shi Wudu’s hands twitched, as he buried his face in Shi Qingxuan’s hair.
“Of course,” he said then, “Anything you wish, Qingxuan. As long as you are safe.”
A-Sheng. Thank you.
Chapter 18: The New Beginning; Stolen Moment of Happiness, part two
A-Sheng is love. <3
* * *
Pei Ming did not know why exactly he wanted to go back to that city. To confirm what exactly? He was not sure, but descended there nonetheless. People were walking the streets, buying food and goods, chatting, living their usual lives. Nothing changed here. However, it is because of here that everything changed up there. Shi Wudu, as Pei Ming noticed, stopped smiling at all. Now it was just either sneer or mocking smirk, but not once did he smile as he used to with He Sheng.
Pei Ming kicked the pebble aside grimly. He did not like it like this. He preferred the happy and cocky Shi Wudu rather than closed in himself, silently suffering Shi Wudu. He had a hunch that it was not all about what happened to Shi Qingxuan and the banishment. There ought to be something more that was bothering Shi Wudu to this extent. But what?
Pei Ming followed the pebble with his gaze and noticed the flash of gold in the tall grass by the side of the road. His hand trembled, as he picked that glimmering thing up. Shi Qingxuan’s Longevity Lock. Pei Ming stared at the thing for a long time, before tucking it in his robes to return to its owner later.
He could not say he was very curious and meddling into other’s affairs, but this one he was unwilling to let go before he understood fully what was going on.
Pei Ming went through the main street of the city again, and then, finding nothing more to his interest, he went back to heavens.
He entered the Water Master Palace to find it empty, save for some junior officials running around and attending to prayers and stuff. Shi Qingxuan showed up then from the room and humphed upon seeing Pei Ming.
“Ge went to Ling Wen,” he said.
Pei Ming nodded.
“Anything else?” It was funny that even after all the things they have been through, Shi Qingxuan still did not grow to like him. Pei Ming smiled sourly.
“This is yours,” he held out the Longevity Lock.
Shi Qingxuan’s calm expression dropped somewhat, and his hand flew to the scar upon his neck. He forced it down, and then took the Lock from Pei Ming.
“Thanks,” he did not look at him, avoiding meeting Pei Ming’s eyes on purpose.
Shi Qingxuan nodded, turned around and left for the training hall in the palace. Pei Ming looked in the direction he went for a while, and then boldly went to Shi Wudu’s chambers to wait for him. Yes, this was shameless of him, but he needed to talk to him. After all… Shi Wudu was his best friend, right?
* * *
“What the hell are you doing in my room?” Shi Wudu sounded threatening. His face was dark and arrogant. In the past few weeks, his character seemed to have changed for the worse. He did not care. Nothing mattered anymore, because everything changed without the option to unroll it back.
Pei Ming stood up from the sofa he was waiting at, and apparently decided to jump into the well at once, without beating about the bush.
“Shui-shixiong,” Pei Ming peered into his face, “I know you would not tell me, but I still want to ask. Down there, at that day… WHAT did you and He-xiong do? You know I’m not talking about those men.”
Shi Wudu’s face darkened even more, “That’s…”
“None of my business,” Pei Ming nodded, “I’m aware.”
“Why the hell asking then?”
“Because I think of you as my friend and I want to help.”
“Nobody can help here,” Shi Wudu retorted, “Everything has been taken care of.”
“So you say, but while your brother can take it for granted, because he’s been traumatized enough and is avoiding thinking about it, I won’t. You killed the Reverend? Bullshit. If you could, you would have done it decades ago. But ever since that day he is no longer around Shi Qingxuan, is he? And if so… what did you do?”
Shi Wudu came to the window and stared at the garden with blank eyes. What did he do? Nothing much, really, ol’ Pei. Just ruined one life in other’s stead. Just chose one person over the other, even though both were equally precious to him, and it hurt just about the same. Nothing more, ol’ Pei, just that. Nothing to see here, go back to drinking and fucking women. Ha-ha.
But Pei Ming was his best friend, while they’re at it. Shi Wudu also knew that Pei Ming knew what loyalty and secret meant, words that are rare among heavenly officials. He closed his eyes and threw his head back.
“Their fates,” Shi Wudu said unwillingly.
Shi Wudu slowly turned around and looked Pei Ming in his eyes, “I have switched He Sheng’s fate with Qingxuan’s.”
Pei Ming drew a sharp breath, “Fuck.”
“You are my friend,” Shi Wudu said then, “True enough. But if you say but a word to anybody about this – Ling Wen included – I’ll kill you and I’m not joking. If it’s about Qingxuan’s safety – I’m dead serious about it.”
Pei Ming considered his words. Then, “Was it all your doing or…”
“A-Sheng did it willingly. He was the one to suggest it in the first place – I did not know his birth name matched Qingxuan’s. Qingxuan does not know,” Shi Wudu added, “So don’t you fucking DARE. He had enough of bad things in his life.”
Pei Ming stood there, swinging back and forth from toes to heels, his bangs covering his eyes.
“Do not worry, Shui-shixiong,” he said eventually, “I ain’t telling no-one. If that was He-xiong’s wish, then… He’s got more courage than any martial god me included.”
Shi Wudu closed his eyes, “He does,” he said quietly, “He does.”
Pei Ming stepped closer and put his hand on Shi Wudu’s shoulder. The latter jerked, by did not brush it off.
“I won’t tell,” Pei Ming repeated steadily.
* * *
The first time Shi Wudu descended to the mortal realm was few weeks from He Sheng’s banishment. So far, things were still more or less alright – He Sheng’s presence still was quite strong, so Shi Wudu found him easily – in the Royal Capital, by a construction site. It appears that He Sheng found some work there.
Shi Wudu came in the middle of the day, but did not show himself until it was a nightfall. The whole time like a crazy stalker, he watched from the shadows He Sheng working. When his shift was over, He Sheng headed somewhere – probably, to the place he stayed.
Some thugs nearby were looking like robbers to Shi Wudu. He Sheng had to pass through that place, and Shi Wudu grew wary. As they went on – one mortal, and one god hidden with invisibility to common people, - Shi Wudu’s suspicions grew. Thugs let He Sheng pass through, but followed shortly after.
Shi Wudu stopped and turned around. He swung his fan lightly. The water from nearby’s puddle splashed into those men with such a force they went rolling and sprawling down the street. Shi Wudu made himself visible, albeit in a mortal form, and looked at them.
“Scram,” he said in deep and dark voice.
They fled, cursing along the way, not turning back.
“Shui-ge,” a soft voice came from behind.
Shi Wudu turned around.
“My guardian god,” He Sheng smiled to him lightly.
“I wish I was,” Shi Wudu lowered his fan and tucked it beneath his belt.
“How long?” He Sheng raised his brows, a mild mockery in his tone.
“Pervert stalker,” He Sheng chuckled and brushed the strands of his hair from his face. The cursed shackle, unnoticeable to mortals but all too clear to gods, demons and junior officials encircled his right wrist.
Shi Wudu licked his lips, “I…”
“So,” He Sheng’s voice was carefree again, “If you’re stalking me whole day long, it means you’re free. Care to, say,” he lowered his lashes, as if teasing Shi Wudu, “Spend the night at some inn? Your treat, of course. I’m but a humble worker here with a little income.”
Shi Wudu nodded stiffly, “If you’ll have me.”
He still could not accept the fact that He Sheng does not hate him after all. He still could not bring himself to look in his eyes like before.
“Honestly, Water Tyrant,” He Sheng said, seeing his state, “Is that really even you?”
Shi Wudu let go a sigh and raised his head, “I know the inn not that far from here. It’s pretty decent.”
“Good,” He Sheng shrugged, “Then, lead the way?”
* * *
The supper was lavish, Shi Wudu made sure He Sheng was eating properly. He was not able to swallow a bite though. He watched He Sheng eat and felt his heart tightening in his chest. So far, everything looked alright, but… He did not know what was He Sheng doing these weeks, did he? And he was afraid to ask.
He Sheng let go a sigh of relief, as he pushed the plate away, “Wow. This was quite a lot.”
“Are you eating well?” Shi Wudu inquired.
He Sheng nodded, “I’m doing alright,” he said calmly, “Don’t worry. How is your brother?”
Shi Wudu’s grip around his wine cup tightened, “Better. Still scared and he has closed up a bit, but… better. He tried to suicide.”
He Sheng shuddered, “What?!”
“But he was saved in time,” Shi Wudu smiled wryly, “He promised not to do it again and he has started training.”
They fell silent for a while. Then He Sheng stood up and pulled Shi Wudu up as well. Shi Wudu let himself be guided to the bath, and later – to the bed.
They dimmed all the lights, as they lay in the bed. He Sheng let Shi Wudu sit upon his thighs and explore his now mortal body with the touch. They did not bother to dress after a bath so both were already naked and ready.
“Are you okay with me doing this?”
He Sheng’s lips curled up into a small smile, “If not you, I don’t want anybody else, my guardian god.”
Shi Wudu winced, “Don’t call me that. I’m nothing of the sort.”
He Sheng was thinner than in heavens, but otherwise he looked good. Even better, than on the day of his banishment.
“Are you… feeling okay?”
“It ceased hurting a while ago, yes,” He Sheng put his palm at Shi Wudu’s cheek, “Stop blaming yourself. And stop thinking and worrying this much. You know, I still want you.”
Shi Wudu caught his fingers and kissed the back of his palm, “Because you’re crazy fool.”
Shi Wudu leaned down and kissed him. He Sheng put his hands on his shoulders. Shi Wudu hated the cold feeling of the cursed shackle, but did not show it.
“I love you.”
He Sheng’s eyes flashed with wonder, “It took you to wait for my banishment to utter those words aloud,” he chuckled, “Shui-ge, who really is the fool here?”
Shi Wudu purposely thrust roughly inside of him, and He Sheng hissed, driving his nails into Shi Wudu’s shoulders.
“Shut up. I mean it.”
They made love that night – the cursed mortal and the almighty god entwined together until the dawn.
As the sun rose up, He Sheng knew that this night of happiness would provoke the Reverend to actions, and most likely, big ones.
But… how could he reject this moment? How could he brush Shi Wudu aside? Even if what follows would be bad… at least they had this night.
One blissful night. It was enough.
Chapter 19: Heavenly Calamity at Hand; The Two Waters, part one
IDK, I wanna write fix-it, but angst just comes and strikes at me. Oh well.
* * *
“What should I do?” Shi Qingxuan was still crying, when they returned to the Heavenly Capital.
“Calm down and tell me exactly what happened,” Shi Wudu demanded, settling Shi Qingxuan upon the sofa in their palace of Wind and Water. He poured him the drink and made Shi Qingxuan take few gulps, “Calm down, hear me?” He repeated, “You’re here now, and whatever happened, it is going to be alright, ge ge will take care of everything.”
Shi Qingxuan sniffled, changed to his male form (finally, as Shi Wudu disliked his female one excessively) and reported today’s events to Shi Wudu.
As he listened, Shi Wudu’s heart dropped. This was… bad. Not that bad, since Shi Qingxuan was here and safe for the time being, but… that stupid useless Earth Master! What, Shi Wudu really would have to go save him? What the hell, honestly. Can’t Shi Qingxuan just find anybody else to hang out with instead?
Of course, Shi Wudu did not mean it seriously. Through the years he watched Ming Yi too closely for the latter’s liking, but came to conclusion he is, if nothing else, reliable and truly cares for Shi Qingxuan. Otherwise, Shi Wudu would have never let them go to the mortal realm together.
“Ge, he said he wanted to talk to you, but…” Shi Qingxuan came to a halt, and Shi Wudu could tell easily what was he thinking: if Shi Wudu goes, he will be in danger, if he does not go, ‘Ming-xiong’ will end up getting hurt, even though Earth Master out of all the people has nothing to do at all with the whole thing. Either way, it is one of Shi Qingxuan’s closest and dearest people, so the choice is impossible. Shi Wudu wanted to suppress the pathetic laughter – are they both doomed choosing between their loved ones? Well, even if so, in Shi Qingxuan’s case Shi Wudu will make sure he will not have to make that choice for real.
“It’s okay,” Shi Wudu heard himself saying, “Because I know who Black Water is. I’ll go to him.”
Shi Wudu shook his head, “Otherwise your ‘Ming-xiong’ will not return. It’s not that I particularly care about him, but you do, so…”
“Shi Wudu,” suddenly Ling Wen’s voice came through the spiritual communication array.
“It’s not a good time right now,” he snapped rather harshly.
“Well… it’ll have to be, because there is a huge storm gathering at the southern part of the Eastern Sea right now. I believe it’s your Third one, Water Tyrant.”
Shi Wudu’s face paled. He knew his Heavenly Calamity was supposed to come soon, but… right now? Of all the times, right now? He chuckled bitterly. Of course, it had to be now.
“Ge?” Shi Qingxuan noticed his face expression.
Shi Wudu licked his lips. Thoughts were rapidly going through his head.
“Alright. So. Qingxuan. First and foremost – you stay here. Be in Pei Ming’s sight, do not go anywhere at all. Second – don’t worry about that useless Earth Master. If A-Sh… Black Water took him as a hostage only, he will not kill him for at least several days.”
“Where are you going, ge?” Shi Qingxuan sounded frightened, “Not to the Southern Sea, are you?”
Shi Wudu shot him a helpless look, “To the Eastern one,” he answered honestly, “I’m afraid my Heavenly Calamity is starting.”
“Now?!” Shi Qingxuan exclaimed.
Shi Wudu spread his hands guiltily, “It’s not like I’m delighted too, you know.”
Shi Qingxuan drew a sharp breath, “Ge! Will you be alright?”
“As long as I know you’re here and safe – yes, I’ll manage.”
Shi Qingxuan clutched at his Wind Master fan, “Ming-xiong…”
“I guarantee you that Black Water will not harm him before getting to me.”
“Why are you this sure, ge? What do you know about him?”
Shi Wudu looked in his eyes, “I know who exactly Black Water is.”
Shi Qingxuan: “…Who?”
Shi Wudu: “Do forgive me, but for the time being I cannot tell not even to you.”
Shi Qingxuan stood up to walk Shi Wudu out of the palace, “I’ll… stay here,” he promised unwillingly, “I’ll wait. But when you’re done… please, take me along if… when you go.”
Shi Wudu hesitated, but nodded in the end.
“Wish your ge ge good luck,” he planted a light kiss upon Shi Qingxuan’s brow, “I’ll need it.”
* * *
Ming Yi came to in some chamber, chained to the wall. His left leg was throbbing painfully – he tried to break free from the fishes in the water, and one bit him. Black Water was not lying – they were poisonous. He was not going to die of it, but it was painful enough, not to mention the whole situation was quite humiliating. Ming Yi moved, and the chains clattered against the wall.
Black robes with silver waves ornament came to his view. Black Water looked at him, as Ming Yi was studying his true (at least he thought so?) form. He did not know the former Wind Master Sheng, so he did not recognized him anyhow, but acknowledged the thin figure and somber and gloomy expression.
“How long do you know the Wind and Water Masters?” Black Water asked.
“Long enough,” Ming Yi spat, glaring at him.
Black Water studied him, expressionlessly, and extended his palm towards him, “Your shovel, please.”
“Your shovel,” Black Water repeated patiently, “I am not taking the risk of you digging your way out of here, Lord Earth Master.”
Ming Yi pursed his lips, but what could he do? Hesitantly, he took the Crescent Moon Shovel out and tossed it to Black Water. The demon caught it and hid away. Only then, Ming Yi suddenly noticed several arowana fish skeletons gliding through the air were accompanying him, wiggling their tails.
“You’re well informed about everything,” he remarked.
Black Water shrugged indifferently, “I have to be, don’t I?” He raised his head suddenly and looked into the distance, as if sensing something. His face showed the surprised expression.
“Oh,” Black Water said, “It appeared sooner than expected. Beg pardon, but you’ll have to stick with my fishes for a while, I have the Heavenly Calamity to take care of,” with that, he went out, leaving the arowanas to bare their teeth at Ming Yi.
Ming Yi cursed and leaned his head against the wall. Truly stupid situation, but he could not break free. He wondered how Shi Qingxuan was – was he alright? Ming Yi already tried spiritual communication array, but it seemed that this place was blocking any spiritual powers. Ming Yi eyed the fishes – at least they were not openly hostile towards him, now just posing as guards, - and pulled himself up in a meditation pose. He had better saved his strength – he had a feeling he would need it soon, because of what that demon said. Heavenly Calamity – it was too easy to guess whose exactly. The Water Tyrant clearly will not have it his way this time. As much as Ming Yi disliked him, he felt sorry for him right now. Well, at least he hoped Shi Qingxuan was safe – Shi Wudu would never let anything happen to his brother.
* * *
Pei Ming entered the heavenly spiritual communication array and was deafened by the comments and shouts from all around.
“My, look at that one, it’s huge!”
“That stance though – will the Water Tyrant make it?”
“What a storm!”
“Oh my god, there are more coming!”
What the hell! Why neither Ling Wen nor Shui-shixiong told him about the Third Heavenly Calamity? Judging by the array, everybody but him already knew, and all of the eyes were fixed upon the Eastern Sea.
Pei Ming looked in that direction as well. Piercing through the distance with a godly gaze, he discerned the water dragons charging at Shi Wudu, whilst the Water Master hung in midair, his hands locked in the battle seal. So far, he seemed to be doing alright, even though he wore a deep frown.
Pei Ming watched the battle for a while, disconnecting himself from the heavenly spiritual communication array – he did not want to hear all those comments, some were rude and evil. The Water Tyrant was not loved but feared, true enough, but Pei Ming would not have Shi Wudu any other way.
It looked like the first wave of Heavenly Calamity passed, and Shi Wudu was going to get rest for a while, when suddenly from the depths a bone dragon shot up with a figure clad in black upon it.
Pei Ming watched, as Shi Wudu’s eyes snapped open. He watched as Shi Wudu froze and his face distorted, when the black clad figure seemed to ask him a question.
“What are you doing?!” Pei Ming exclaimed inwardly, when Shi Wudu, instead of charging or doing something at least… lowered his fan and hung his head, nodding affirmatively.
“Shui-shixiong!” Pei Ming screamed from inside, when, after that, the bone dragon charged forward, and Shi Wudu was not even defending himself.
Pei Ming cursed and fled to the stairs leading to the mortal realm.
* * *
Shi Wudu expected He Xuan to show up. He knew the moment was chosen with the former Wind Master’s usual precision, it was only alike him to come at a time like this. He was not wrong. Just as he calmed the sea and there was a brief moment of relief ahead, before the second wave of the Calamity, the water below parted, letting the bony dragon and its lone rider out from the deep.
“Water Tyrant,” He Xuan called, stopping near Shi Wudu, “Was it you who changed my fate when I was still a god? Was it you whom I owe my demise to?”
Oh. He had come to that conclusion even with the damaged memory. Then again, He Xuan has always been scarily clever, hasn’t he? Shi Wudu knew he was supposed to say something smart and coherent. At least do something like self-defense or whatever.
He could not bring himself to any of that. He slowly put the Water Master fan away, as his limbs went hanging listlessly. He had no heart nor will to fight his beloved.
“Yes,” he said then, unable to look into He Xuan’s eyes, still overwhelmed with that old guilt and remorse, and the image of a skinny dead body in rags he found too late.
The next moment he saw the dragon charging onto him, as He Xuan raised his arms, his spiritual power flooding the area.
Then everything went black.
Chapter 20: Heavenly Calamity at Hand; The Two Waters, part two
I think I'm in love with Shi Wudu.
* * *
Shi Qingxuan listened to the spiritual communication array for a while, but then exited it. He could not bear some of those gods, also, it just made him more nervous. He sat back down to the sofa and silently prayed for Shi Wudu to get through the Calamity safely, as well as for Ming-xiong to just be okay and wait.
As he calmed down from all the events bit by bit, Shi Qingxuan thought about his talk with Shi Wudu, trying to think of some clues about the Black Water Demon Xuan. From what he could tell, he was very smart to say the least. A great actor too, since that child was portrayed nicely. What else, what else… Ah, of course, Shi Wudu knew him… but when? Probably long ago, but when exactly… Shi Qingxuan paled, his pupils shrinking, as he remembered the one possibility.
“If A-Sh… Black Water took him as a hostage only…”
“I know who exactly Black Water is.”
“I cannot tell not even to you.”
Shi Qingxuan’s choked on his breath, clutching at the side of the sofa, “‘A-Sh…’ as in… ‘A-Sheng’?” He spoke aloud, his voice shaking, “Which means… FENG-GE? FENG-GE IS BLACK WATER DEMON XUAN? NO WAY!”
Shi Qingxuan wanted to go immediately, but then another piece of puzzle clicked into its place, making him freeze in horror.
Black Water Demon Xuan. XUAN. He Sheng… He Xuan. The very same ‘Xuan’ as in ‘Qingxuan’.
Shi Qingxuan knew from all the time they spent together with Shi Wudu and He Sheng, that He Sheng’s birth date matched his. Shi Qingxuan did not know about the exact time, but… what if?
That day down below he never wanted to remember, but was unable to forget.
That day, because of which he cannot reciprocate Ming-xiong’s feelings, because he is too scared and panicked whenever thinking about as much as a plain kiss. Yes, Shi Qingxuan knew perfectly well that Ming Yi liked him a lot in not just a friendly way. It was easier to play pretend ignorant and happy-go-lucky with his ‘best friend’ than explain to Ming Yi everything. Shi Qingxuan doubted he could do it, and he was actually grateful that Ming-xiong was not pressing the matter and behaved nicely towards him. It was important, as well as the feeling of safety when Shi Qingxuan was with him in the mortal realm. He would never go there alone after that day.
Back to the topic, though…
That day, if he saw it clearly, Feng-ge came first. And then ge. They… did something, did not they? That was a blur, the most of it was a blur, but… there must have been something.
Shi Qingxuan has never heard of the Reverend ever since, and so he did not doubt his brother’s words. But… what if they… That is, even before, long, long, long time ago, did not ge say that Shi Qingxuan could not ascend, and that’s why they could not deal with the Reverend of Empty Words?
BUT IF HE COULD NOT ASCEND, WHAT IS HE DOING IN WIND MASTER’S SHOES RIGHT NOW?
Shi Qingxuan stood up and began to pace around the room, clutching at his head. The wind swooshed alongside him, and for the first time in a long while, it felt like a stranger to Shi Qingxuan rather than friend.
“No. No, they didn’t. Dear gods, please, they didn’t… they couldn’t…” Shi Qingxuan looked at the Wind sign upon his fan, and his hand shook. He let go an incoherent yelp and tossed the fan across the room.
He wanted to tear that fan to pieces and burn it away right now, at this very moment.
His misfortune will be on you. As well as his eventual death.
Shi Qingxuan silently fell to his knees and his gaze went blank. Everything that creature said to him then, all of it came true. It was his fault that ge lost his most precious person, and it was his fault that Feng-ge suffered and died. Shi Qingxuan took Feng-ge’s place. It was because of him that Feng-ge was banished, not because of those men. Then Feng-ge… died. Because of HIM.
Because Shi Wudu and He Sheng did something down there together, that cost them too much later. One lost his life, and another one lost his love. Because of Shi Qingxuan.
Or, the thought made Shi Qingxuan’s heart stop beating for a moment, they did not do it together upon a mutual agreement.
“Ge, but you wouldn’t…” He whispered, “Would you? WOULD YOU?”
If so then… then Feng-ge died because of both Shi brothers. Because… Shi Qingxuan was supposed to die, it was fated that way. Until his fate was changed, and he ascended instead.
Shi Qingxuan looked at the fan again, forced himself to take it along with him, and fled outside. He did not want to go down alone, he was terrified of the mere thought, but there were too many lives (and deaths) of his dear ones at stake.
He bumped into Pei Ming by the staircase to the mortal realm.
“The hell?..” Both of them looked at each other.
“I was going to help Shui-shixiong against that demon,” Pei Ming explained.
“What?” Shi Qingxuan looked at him blankly, “He is battling the Heavenly Calamity now, no?”
“Don’t you know?” Pei Ming tsked, “Shui-shixiong was taken away by that Black Water, and his Heavenly Calamity is not even over! The communication with him is lost, the Southern Sea is a blank page as well – we cannot reach Shui-shixiong anyhow.”
Shi Qingxuan closed his eyes for a moment. Is it a good thing or a bad one? If they were at that together – maybe a good one. If Shi Wudu did that alone, then… Feng-ge might want to take revenge. He would be in his rights too, but… but…
“Ge…” Shi Qingxuan licked his lips, “Where was ge taken to?”
“The hell I know, but the Southern Sea seems obvious, it’s that demon’s territory after all.”
“Ming-xiong must be there too then.”
“The Earth Master? Say what?”
Shi Qingxuan smirked bitterly, “Black Water Demon Xuan took him too earlier. General Pei, do you know who that demon is?”
“Can’t this wait until after I deal with him?” Pei Ming rushed.
Shi Qingxuan shrugged, “Suit yourself,” he said dryly, “But just so you know, if you hurt that person, ge will slaughter you instead and certainly will not be pleased.”
Pei Ming was taken aback, “What? Why would…”
Shi Qingxuan looked into his eyes, “Because it is Feng-ge we are talking about,” he said simply, “The former Wind Master Sheng, that is. And his demonic state is my fault. So forget about ‘I deal with him’. It’s ‘we’, because I am going too. There is a lot I have to tell to both him and ge.”
* * *
The moment black water covered his sides, Shi Wudu clasped his palms together in a seal. Clear waters rose from the Eastern Sea and pushed the black away. He did not want to fight, not with He Xuan, but Eastern Sea was inhabitable, there were people there, so… he needed to lead He Xuan away. Shi Wudu grimly headed in the southern direction, with He Xuan following him upon that bony dragon. At any other time Shi Wudu would have told him that it is rather cute and could he pet it or take a ride as well. What a ridiculous thought… Shi Wudu’s heart was heavy with guilt and tremendous responsibility for Qingxuan’s safety, for the Third Heavenly Calamity, for everything.
As he was closing to the Southern Sea, a lightning struck from the sky nearby yet again, gathering storm. Shi Wudu’s face twisted in a grimace. The second wave of Calamity… almost in the Southern Sea by now. He let go a long exhale and forced himself to concentrate. He could do this. It’s alright, he could do this somehow.
The bone dragons he had seen before charged from the black water below along with the water pillar dragons of Heavenly Calamity. Shi Wudu snapped his fan open. The spiritual power erupted around him, pushing all of those aside. He stubbornly kept flying deeper into the Black Water Demon territory, pursued by both his bone beasts and the Calamity’s storm wrath, not to mention He Xuan himself.
Shi Wudu turned around – He Xuan was gliding steadily in his direction, seemingly unconcerned by the storm around.
His face was still beautiful. And he was still dead.
It was Shi Wudu’s fault.
Shi Wudu managed to avoid several attacks of dragons by a hair’s breadth, but then He Xuan raised his hand and snapped his fingers. There was a strange clattering noise from below, and the next moment a swarm of arowana skeletons emerged from the blackened depths, going at Shi Wudu all at once.
Shi Wudu swung his fan, but there were too many, and also, those water pillars… He let go an involuntary cry, when one of the fishes dug its teeth into his side. The white robes colored red.
Shi Wudu hissed and threw the fish away, but he was hurt nonetheless. The proud and godly blood dripped down to the water. Shi Wudu glanced at He Xuan – he was slowly closing in, his dragon’s glimmering green eyes fixed upon Shi Wudu’s form.
Shi Wudu used another strike of his spiritual powers to get rid of the skeleton swarms, but the water dragons of Calamity were going at him directly now – Heavenly Calamity knew no mercy, once started.
He could do this, Shi Wudu thought to himself once again. For Qingxuan, for He Xuan, he had to do this. Shi Wudu’s grip upon the fan tightened.
Chapter 21: Heavenly Calamity at Hand; The Two Waters, part three
* * *
“Can’t this thing go any faster?” Shi Qingxuan was restlessly walking across the deck of the ship.
Pei Ming snorted, “You give it a try, since you’re all that high and mighty.”
Shi Qingxuan eyed his fan, but… pursed his lips and tucked it away. Should the need arise he would use it. For example, to protect Shi Wudu and Ming Yi. Just for anything else – no. It is not his, in truth, it has never been his, so…
Pei Ming looked at him with a frown. He knew perfectly well that Shi Qingxuan never missed a chance to show off with his skills and loved his spiritual device dearly, “What’s wrong?” Then he looked at the Wind Master fan and Shi Qingxuan’s face, “Oh,” he said mildly, “So you figured it out.”
Shi Qingxuan stopped in his tracks and whipped around, “YOU KNEW?” He gripped Pei Ming by his collar, “YOU KNEW ALL ALONG?”
Pei Ming winced, but did not fight him back, “I asked Shui-shixiong what happened down there,” he admitted, “And he told me.”
“About the fates?” Shi Qingxuan’s voice went hoarse.
“Was it…” Shi Qingxuan peered into Pei Ming’s face and inhaled deeply, “Ge did it?”
“…Yes. However,” Pei Ming added, “It was He-xiong’s request.”
Shi Qingxuan let him go and stumbled a few steps back, “Why would he…”
“Only Shui-shixiong, He-xiong and I know,” Pei Ming then said, “Nobody else, not even Ling Wen. Qingxuan, are you positive that this Black Water Demon is He-xiong?”
Shi Qingxuan bit his lip and looked away, “Think of ge’s reaction from the start,” he said then, “Think of him trying to cover for Black Water and his behavior ever since. Why else would he be shaken so thoroughly?”
“But he died so long ago… then again, Mount TongLu…” Pei Ming mused aloud, “If it’s him, though, no wonder Shui-shixiong is like this. Hell, I cannot accept it, and I was just his friend… It’s hard to imagine what your brother even feels right now.”
Shi Qingxuan lowered his head, looking both angered and sad.
“He-xiong wanted for you to ascend,” Pei Ming remarked, nodding towards his Wind Master fan, “I believe he would not like you to forfeit doing what you do.”
“It was not mine to begin with. I myself am unworthy.”
“So what?” Pei Ming shrugged, “Whatever it is, you’re being ungrateful like this. They both sacrificed a lot for you to get where you are. You might as well put that to use. The way things are – it is unlikely He-xiong will return from the dead and to heavens. So keep being the Wind Master, because, for one, we have none other, and two – I’ll repeat myself, - it will be a waste of what the both of them did for you. If you don’t trust me, then ask He-xiong, once we get to him.”
“I hate you preaching me. I really can’t stand you.”
Pei Ming humphed, “I hate trying to get some sense through to you as well, but right now there is nobody else to pose as brother figure for you.”
Shi Qingxuan slowly pulled out his fan. He opened it and looked upon the Wind mark for a while. He closed his eyes then, a single tear sliding down his cheek, as he swung the fan, calling for the wind to make the ship go faster.
The wind responded and obeyed his command, as it always did.
* * *
Shi Wudu was panting heavily. He was soaked to the bone, hanging in midair, left side of his robes torn and bloodied. Heavenly Calamity seemed to back away after he fended off the storm, but question was, for how long. It was his Third one, therefore, it would last for a week at least. It was roughly a day only, and he was already wounded and very, very tired.
“I didn’t think I’d be so unlucky this time,” Shi Wudu thought with a bitter smirk.
Giving no time to catch his breath, He Xuan came onto him upon his dragon. Shi Wudu managed to avoid the strike, but he was getting slower. His wound throbbed with pain and he felt the poison gradually spreading throughout his body. At this rate, he had to admit to himself that… he would not pass the Heavenly Calamity, unless the miracle would happen. Which was unlikely.
“I don’t wish to fight you,” he breathed into the dragon’s greenish eyes, unable to bring himself to look in He Xuan’s.
“And why is so, Water Tyrant? Feeling remorse?”
Shi Wudu gritted his teeth. He Xuan said it to kick where it hurt, and it worked. Should he be a nobody, a name on the list, a stranger, Shi Wudu could not care less for the miserable destiny. He would not care as long as it worked and Qingxuan would be alright. The problem here was that He Xuan was never a nobody to Shi Wudu. All of their missions together, all of those prayers fulfilled, all of those nights in the springs and at each other’s palaces in each other’s embrace. All that stolen snippets of time after his banishment, those bittersweet few moments laced with pain of the fated outcome, yet still desirable.
He wanted to say it to He Xuan, to express his feelings with words – once upon a time it was so easy! But he could not.
He Xuan’s cold lifeless eyes were so much unlike those sparkling with mischief when he was alive. But they were so much alike those he had down in the mortal realm – not in the first weeks, but after, when serious misfortunes began to come one after another.
The dragon shot forward, and Shi Wudu’s exhaustion caught up with him, of course, in the most inappropriate moment. He was unable to change his course and shield himself in time. Dragon’s teeth snapped next to Shi Wudu, mossy and poisoned, and too sharp. The water sphere Shi Wudu created around himself dripped down into the sea in raindrops, as it shattered. The Water Master fan for the first time since Shi Wudu had ascended left his hands not by his will.
Shi Wudu was thrown down into the black water with the blow, spitting out blood, while He Xuan caught the fan that dragon passed to him, and torn it in two with ease, his expression unchanged. The black water welcomed Shi Wudu at once, immediately dragging him down, as he gasped for air, trying to stay above the surface.
The big shadow fell upon him, and Shi Wudu’s eyes widened. He silently cursed, as the wave of black water came crashing down on him, burying him in blackness and carrying away.
* * *
“THE SHIP IS SINKING!”
“WHAT DO WE DO?”
“STOP FUSSING AROUND AT ONCE AND COME HERE!”
Pei Ming caught the panicked Shi Qingxuan by his arm and dragged closer to himself. Naturally, once they have reached the Black Water Demon Lair, Pei Ming’s ship began to sink. Pei Ming did not like it a bit, as well as the dark shadows he noticed lurking around below the surface. Water ghouls? Most likely. Or something worse.
“Come here,” he repeated, and stepped onto his sword.
“Ge mentioned that flying in Black Water Demon Lair will attract things,” still, Shi Qingxuan obediently stood beside Pei Ming, clutching at his belt with one hand, firmly holding his fan with another.
“It’s not like there is a choice,” Pei Ming flew up, unsheathing the second sword he took along, “Hold on tight, okay?”
“Okay,” Shi Qingxuan grumpily muttered, “Watch out!” He suddenly yelled, and sent a gust of wind to their left.
Several fish skeletons were blown away. Pei Ming sent a strike to the right, cutting through the large bone dragon emerging from below.
“This ain’t gonna be easy,” he remarked.
“I figured as much,” Shi Qingxuan was looking around warily, ready for another attack, “Dammit, if they were not hostile, I’d say they are rather cute,” he pouted.
Pei Ming almost fell off the sword.
“We need to reach the Black Water Island,” he said, “So get ready to fight our way through.”
“You’re the martial god,” Shi Qingxuan retorted, but Pei Ming could not be deceived – the hand upon his belt was quivering, “So make yourself useful.”
Pei Ming humphed, but straightened up and readied his blade. More of those dragons were coming in his direction, and there were smaller skeletons underneath the sea surface. He wondered distantly if Shi Wudu had to battle those as well. If so, together with Heavenly Calamity pursuing him… Pei Ming paled and made the sword fly faster.
“Shui-shixiong, hang on in there.”
* * *
Ming Yi opened his eyes. It was quiet around, but the arowanas were still there, gliding through the air by the entrance. Good. Far enough.
After the meditation his strength returned somewhat, and leg pained less now, so it was worth trying. Shovel or not, he still was the Earth Master, therefore, rocks and stones would obey.
“You lack spiritual powers, idiot,” he mentally reminded himself. But he only needed a bit of it, really, and for that he had a thing. Just… Ming Yi eyed the fishes. They seemed calm so far. He exhaled softly, and carefully, inch by inch, started to wriggle free his arm. These shackles were big, and Ming Yi had quite dexterous limbs. Patience was also one of his virtues, and it paid off this time as well. The fishes did not react to his free arm, and Ming Yi carefully reached into his robes. Spiritual power enhancing pill was something, well, stupid in a way, considered as weak, temporary and unreliable stuff, but he would still carry it around occasionally. Finally, it came in handy.
Ming Yi swallowed the pill. He knew it would last a few moments only, but few moments were all he needed.
His eyes flashed golden, as he snapped his fingers pointing at the fishes – the first and most obvious threat.
Several smaller blocks flew out of the wall and collided with the skeletons, shattering them against the opposite wall. The bones clattered to the ground, but Ming Yi buried them hurriedly further into the floor. He let go a sigh of relief. Average or not, he does have some skills after all. Eat this, Water Tyrant.
Taking care of the remaining shackles was a matter of time.
Ming Yi climbed to his feet and hopped for the door, trying not to burden his wounded leg too much. He considered drawing the Distance Shortening Array, but shook his head. That will drain all the powers, and most likely, it will not even be enough.
Well, then, only one option remained.
The door came out with a blast, slamming into the wall of the hall. After the dust settled, Ming Yi suddenly found himself staring into the big and round bright eyes filled with astonishment.
“Ming-xiong?” Shi Qingxuan muttered. He was dripping with water, his robes dirty and wet, looking like a drowned kitten rather than the Wind Master at this moment.
“Lord Earth Master, you almost killed us here!” Pei Ming, drenched and dripping as well, looked at him cautiously.
“Um… Sorry?” Ming Yi grinned sheepishly. Well, this encounter could officially be proclaimed as the stupidest one in his life. Good job, ‘Ming-xiong’, in wooing Shi Qingxuan.
For a moment, Ming Yi considered burying himself into the ground with the remaining spiritual power.
* * *
Shi Wudu came to his senses in the dungeon. This was what they called the Nether Water Manor, huh? Probably so. That wave apparently carried him to the Black Water Island, right into the core of He Xuan’s territory.
Shi Wudu was not tied or restrained anyhow, but it no longer mattered, because he already felt that it was over. He failed the Heavenly Calamity, he lost his Water Master fan. His strength right now was so insignificant, any god would do him in with ease, even that of lower ranks.
A joke worthy of Upper Court, Ling Wen would have appreciated it.
He Xuan crouched next to him and put a hand onto his throat. His fingers were icy cold as he lifted Shi Wudu up.
Shi Wudu did not fight back. He looked into He Xuan’s face, that dear, familiar face he loved to kiss, and all he felt was the endless sadness that it came to this. Then again, perhaps, this is right. He knew he would have to pay, did he not?
“You made me into this,” He Xuan stated, staring into his eyes.
“So I have,” Shi Wudu wheezed out, his face still wearing his proud and arrogant expression he would involuntary wear in dire times, “That I won’t deny.”
He Xuan studied his face for a while, and then smirked, “Well then, I guess you won’t be surprised of the outcome,” with that, he gripped Shi Wudu’s hair with the other hand.
There was no fear, nor did he feel pain in his wounds anymore. He somehow just calmed at once. Maybe, because it was He Xuan – his A-Sheng – doing this. Shi Wudu’s lips parted, “It’s alright,” he mouthed and managed to smile, “As in the end, I still belong to you.”
Chapter 22: The Single Blessing Lantern; Water Master Comes Too Late
"What's the worst thing I can say?
Things are better if I stay
So long, and goodnight,
So long, and goodnight"
* * *
Shi Qingxuan stared blindly at the Longevity Lock that Pei Ming returned to him. He hesitantly put it on around his neck again and closed his eyes. Pei Ming was down there. What for? Shi Qingxuan could only assume he just went to see the, eh, crime scene? Was there something more to it? Ever since Feng-ge was gone, both he and Shi Wudu changed considerably. Shi Qingxuan as well. Despite the Reverend of Empty Words, he knew he was always so pampered by his brother, and spoiled rotten – Shi Wudu would answer and attend to his slightest whim, always. But what happened down there made Shi Qingxuan… perhaps, mature a bit. At least he did not feel like an old self any longer, but grew to be more cautious and wary. And… less trusting to anyone, save for his brother.
Regarding He Sheng, Shi Qingxuan felt awfully guilty as it was, but Shi Wudu told him to stop and focus on his training.
“He wanted for you to make it now that you’re free of that thing,” Shi Wudu said, “To honor him… just go for it, and don’t look back.”
He followed that order.
It worked, too. Shi Qingxuan could feel his strength growing, his spiritual powers improving, and he never heard the Reverend again, so day after day, that shadow in his heart has faded away.
It is just that… he would be happier with Shi Wudu smiling as he used to again.
Shi Qingxuan would never, ever, say anything about that to his brother aloud, let alone mention it anyhow. Because, no matter what, that feeling of guilt still lingered at the corner of his soul, and there was nothing he could do about it.
* * *
Shi Wudu tried to visit He Sheng as often as he could afford without raising unnecessarily questions in heavens. It was not easy, but the first months it still was fine. Their meetings would not occur every single day, not even once per week. It was once in four weeks at the best, sometimes even rarer than that. None of them complained though, both knowing the circumstances of the other.
They would spend their nights at inns, or in He Sheng’s place – little room in the old household, - it was not important to them, while they were together.
He Sheng would not say a thing, but at some point, he lost the job in the construction site.
“They thought I was stealing some materials so I walked away peacefully,” he said about it to Shi Wudu. The latter did not buy a word, but knew He Sheng would not speak more, and so, he did not ask of details.
They both were terribly stubborn, after all.
Then… meeting after meeting, Shi Wudu would notice the small changes in He Sheng. For once, he stopped smiling as much as he used to. His look also changed from the mischievous and light to the somber and often dark and cold. Never frightened though – never like that of Shi Qingxuan’s.
However, the changes were there, and with the time, it was becoming worse. They both knew it, they both saw it, and they both never spoke of it deliberately, even though they both were aware that the end of the story might have come at any moment. He Sheng did say he would try to get rid of the Reverend of Empty Words, but Shi Wudu knew that for a mortal it was impossible. He only wished for one thing – to be there when needed, to try to protect somehow the one of the two people most important to him.
Yet… he missed that chance, and not even once.
One day Shi Wudu could not find He Sheng anymore.
He waited in their usual place, watched and listened, but not a word was uttered from anyone around that area of He Sheng’s whereabouts. Being in the delicate position, Shi Wudu could not ask or directly conduct the search without risk of exposing everything. Hell, their every meeting was a huge risk as it was…
That is when it truly began.
The real misfortunes, the real Reverend’s doing.
Shi Wudu could not find nor heard a thing about He Sheng for two the longest years of his life. He still attended to his duties as god, he still held the Water Tyrant image and composure. But in truth he was agonizing from the inside, being unable to even confirm his worst suspicions – was He Sheng even alive?..
He listened to the prayers but did not distinguish He Sheng’s voice either. He did not say a word about anything in heavens, but kept catching Shi Qingxuan’s and Pei Ming’s weird looks upon him every now and then, as he grew more and more dark and somber, hiding behind his mask of arrogance and pride, becoming also the god of Wealth at the time.
It happened during yet another Mid Autumn Festival and the battle of lanterns.
“The Palace of Water Master – six hundred and nine lanterns!”
As the sky exploded with lights, and Shi Wudu for the first time in his life broke the six hundred barrier, scoring the second after the Great Martial Palace, his gaze caught onto one of those lanterns.
In theory, any god could track the particular sender of the particular lantern down. All they needed was to concentrate a bit, and they would see the person, and even would hear their particular wish or prayer. They just never bothered to, because why would anyone bother? Believers were believers, what more was there to it?
Shi Wudu looked at that one lantern, and a lump caught in his throat. As if inside a dream, he stood up and, not caring about the perplexed looks of everyone around, or about Shi Qingxuan’s call, he fled for the mortal realm. As he jumped down, he caught that one lantern along his way and pressed it to his chest.
* * *
He Sheng was looking in the sky, a barely visible smile playing on his lips for the first time in more than two years. He did not want to speak of those two years or remember that time. He was in prison all the while, and he only recently got out. Barely alive, starved and ill, he had only just gotten slightly better.
Still, the little money he had, he chose to spend for that lantern rather than food. Well… because.
It was rather symbolic somehow – for the former Wind Master to worship the Water Master. The common people would call that romantic, probably. He Sheng just thought it was something he should do, while there still was time. He was not a fool and he knew that with the current state of his health, it would not be long before the end. The Reverend would win, albeit not like he has got used to win. He Sheng was not planning to end his life with his own hands, for that matter.
The Water Master temple in the Royal Capital overcrowded with people, and it was a good thing, because nobody cared for the lone skinny figure clad in black rags by the corner. He Sheng looked at the lanterns and their light reflected in his eyes.
He shuddered, and turned around. Shi Wudu in his mortal form, carrying that single lantern He Sheng sent was running towards him, not seeing anyone else. His face twisted in pain, as he held back so many feelings – the side of Water Tyrant only He Sheng knew and was allowed to see.
“Shui-ge,” he smiled, “Ah, but I never thought that you’d know it was me…” He Sheng gasped, when Shi Wudu hugged him, burying his face in his neck.
“I didn’t… I could not find you… No matter how well I searched, watched and listened, I… You were nowhere, nowhere… I thought that you…”
“I was in jail,” He Sheng sighed. Shi Wudu’s eyes filled with agonizing guilt and He Sheng shook his head, “Don’t,” he said mildly, “Even if it’s you, you could not do anything about it.”
“That’s why you would not pray to me?”
He Sheng averted his gaze. Then, “There was nothing you could do. How did you know?” He eyed the lantern.
“How wouldn’t I know if it’s you?” Shi Wudu’s hand twitched, “I’ll treasure this lantern forever.”
“That is too sentimental of you.”
“I don’t care. You,” Shi Wudu’s gaze haltered at his rags and thin figure, “Please, tell me if there is anything I can do for you?”
He Sheng smirked tiredly, “A decent meal would be nice,” he admitted, “But what about the battle of lanterns?”
Shi Wudu winced and waved off his hand, “Already passed.”
“Wow,” He Sheng’s brows flew up, “Sooner than I thought.”
“A-Sheng, how did you?..”
“Let’s not,” He Sheng’s tone was calm, but firm. He saw the flash of worry and trepidation across Shi Wudu’s face, “Just get me something to eat,” he smirked guiltily, “I’m really starving.”
* * *
The next time Shi Wudu saw him He Sheng was dead.
He searched for him, feeling in his heart that the time was up, that something happened, but he was too late.
All he found was wounded and tortured skinny body in those black rags by the side of the road that led through the forest.
He Sheng was dead already when Shi Wudu found him.
He came too late.
He took the body in his arms and screamed, and screamed, and screamed, letting all the pain he felt out.
That day all of the rivers and lakes in that area over flooded and many boats overturned, some even sank.
That day Shi Wudu lost his war to the Reverend of Empty Words.
* * *
…That day Shi Qingxuan ascended as the new Wind Master in heavens.
Chapter 23: Breaking the Dam; Peaceful Evening at Rain Master’s Place, part one
Yes, He Xuan remembered, but the major threat is still ahead.
* * *
“What are you two doing here?” Ming Yi was equally astonished, looking at Shi Qingxuan and Pei Ming.
Shi Qingxuan laughed awkwardly, fanning himself with wet fan. There was a small puddle collected by his feet by now, “Well, that is to say, we were doing pretty good, actually, but…”
“The closer we were to the island, the lesser out spiritual powers grew,” Pei Ming tsked and clenched his fists, “Until we collapsed into the water and waves washed us upon the land.”
“There were vicious things in the forest,” Shi Qingxuan shuddered involuntary, “And General Pei lost one of his swords into the sea, so we were at disadvantage…”
“Are you hurt?” Ming Yi interrupted immediately, studying Shi Qingxuan’s appearance.
Shi Qingxuan shook his head, “No, no, we were okay, we managed. Thanks to General Pei,” he added unwillingly, “Ming-xiong, your leg though…”
Pei Ming silently handed a small bottle to Ming Yi, “Drink and let’s hurry and find Shui-shixiong. We have searched through the Manor, the upper floors are empty, he must be in one of the dungeons.”
“If he’s even here…” Shi Qingxuan added. He looked worried and sad, but there was something else in his look, something Ming Yi has never seen before and could not identify.
Ming Yi emptied the bottle and felt the wound on his leg closing and sense of poison gradually fading away, “Thanks,” he nodded to Pei Ming. This was much better than having to limp, hop and hobble all over the place.
“How comes you have spiritual powers?” Pei Ming was looking at him suspiciously.
“Had the pill,” Ming Yi said and smiled guiltily, “Its effect has worn out though, so we’re all equally useless right now.”
That moment Shi Qingxuan suddenly drew a sharp breath.
“What is it?” Pei Ming demanded.
Shi Qingxuan reached into his robes around the neck and pulled out the Longevity Lock. It was trembling strongly, “Ge…” Shi Qingxuan’s hand shook, “Ge is close by and hurt!” He cried and ran in the direction the Lock was pointing at.
“Qingxuan, wait!” Pei Ming called after him, but Shi Qingxuan did not listen. Pei Ming cursed under his breath, “Come on! And stay on your guard!” He followed Shi Qingxuan together with Ming Yi.
* * *
Shi Wudu’s lips parted, “It’s alright,” he mouthed and managed to smile, “As in the end, I still belong to you.”
It was like breaking a dam.
He Xuan froze on the spot, with one hand upon Shi Wudu’s neck and another buried in Shi Wudu’s hair.
Those simple honest words – they broke the entire mental defense He Xuan might have built unconsciously around his blocked memories.
The swarm of all those things he thought he’d lost forever came flooding into his mind all at once.
“Still untamed, but not for long.”
“We’ll see about that.”
“You did tame me first, but in the end you still belong to me.”
He Xuan’s pale hand upon Shi Wudu’s neck quivered.
“My birth date and time matches those of Qingxuan’s. Our birth names are matching as well. I am also ‘Xuan’.”
“Hell no. Forget about it.”
“It might have been your only option left.”
“Stop spewing nonsense! I refuse!”
“But for you, the choice should be obvious.”
He… suggested it… he was the one to… He Xuan’s eyes widened. He was the one to…
“Do it, or he’ll die!”
The mental picture of He Xuan sitting beside the unconscious Shi Qingxuan, looking at Shi Wudu from the ground came to his mind. Shi Wudu’s face was terrified and twisted in torture of the choice he could not make.
“…It’s alright. I knew what I was doing.”
“I will try to hear your voice. In ten thousands of prayers, I’ll hear yours. Never think you are alone.”
He Xuan’s grip upon Shi Wudu’s neck loosened.
“…I love you.”
His pupils shrank to the smallest, as he let Shi Wudu go and stumbled away until he hit the opposite wall with his back.
“I’ll treasure this lantern forever.”
“That is too sentimental of you.”
“I don’t care.”
He Xuan was staring at Shi Wudu unblinking.
“A-Sheng! A-Sheng, where are you?”
He came… too late, but he came… and he still… he still…
“Shui… ge?” He Xuan asked, and slid down the wall, clutching at his head with both hands. He wanted to scream.
* * *
Shi Wudu collapsed onto his knees, coughing and gasping for air. He heard He Xuan saying his name. He understood that he remembered, and even came to the right conclusion which words and why gave a nudge to He Xuan’s memories.
He could not bring himself to raise his head and look into He Xuan’s face. Because it hurt too much – still hurt too much.
“Why… did you not stop me?” He heard the barely audible question.
Shi Wudu slowly shook his head that miraculously was still upon his shoulders after everything that happened.
“You have every right to hate me. And to claim my life,” he answered.
He winced upon the sound of He Xuan’s fist hitting and leaving the dent upon the wall.
“You… idiot… I could have killed you for real!”
“And you had the right to,” Shi Wudu stubbornly repeated.
He Xuan buried his face into his knees, curling in the corner of the room, “You are such an idiot,” he was shaking.
Shi Wudu did not answer. He felt empty and oh, so horribly tired. The blood stopped flowing from his wounds, but he was weak and exhausted anyway.
“Mere moments before I died I was bitten by the memory-eating monster,” He Xuan said, equally not raising his head from his knees, not daring to look at Shi Wudu, “I swallowed him later… much later, in the Mount TongLu, but… I did not…” He stumbled upon words, unable to bring himself to say it at once, “I did not want to remember,” he admitted then.
“Still you figured out your death was my fault.”
“I’ve never blamed you.”
Shi Wudu smirked bitterly, “But I blamed myself, because in truth, I messed up. I failed in protecting Qingxuan. Then I failed in protecting you. I failed in pretty much everything.”
“The only thing you failed in is Heavenly Calamity,” He Xuan objected, “And that’s because of me. Your current state is my doing…”
“Screw the Heavenly Calamity,” Shi Wudu closed his eyes. It was funny that he really did not care anymore. Failing the Calamity was bad, but it was not banishment or anything of the sort – his strength would drop considerably, as well as reputation ‘upstairs’, and he would lose a good amount of merits, but with the time he would rise again. Therefore, it was not that big of a problem… It was, actually, but to hell with it. He deserved it, after all. He deserved every bit of what happened now.
“I’ve never blamed you,” He Xuan repeated nonetheless, “And I never feared that creature, like I said I would not.”
For the first time in so many years, Shi Wudu felt the dampness upon his cheek. He raised his hand and wiped the tear away.
“I know you didn’t,” he said hoarsely. He was dizzy and lightheaded, perhaps of the blood loss, perhaps of all the stress survived, “I’m… so sorry.”
There was a long silence. Then, “Me too.”
“Don’t… don’t dissipate,” Shi Wudu suddenly pleaded. He did not know why he even said it, but since all the demons clung to their lives for some reason, some goal, if He Xuan would assume his goal is fulfilled or whatever… Shi Wudu was afraid he would decide that better gone, than living on like this.
He Xuan’s head jerked up, looking at Shi Wudu in astonishment, “Why would I?”
Shi Wudu gathered his wits and looked up as well. Now He Xuan’s face bore the familiar expression of mild curiosity, but his eyes were too sad, and, and… and Shi Wudu wanted to tell him so much. He wanted to come over to him, to hug him, to kiss him, to bury his fingers in his hair and never, ever let He Xuan go again. Never separate again like this.
“Don’t know. If you disappear on me again, I will go insane,” with that, Shi Wudu fell to the floor, losing his consciousness at last.
Chapter 24: Breaking the Dam; Peaceful Evening at Rain Master’s Place, part two
Poor clueless Earth Master. -_-"
* * *
He Xuan’s body reacted on its own. He did not mean to, he was afraid he would harm more, but the moment Shi Wudu fell, he just reached forward and caught him in his arms. It came so naturally. He Xuan’s mind was still a bit of a mess, but he remembered now, remembered everything that happened in his life and death.
And oh, it hurt.
“Shui-ge,” he whispered, and hugged Shi Wudu’s body, unable to hold back the emotions overwhelming from the inside.
To think he had almost killed Shi Wudu, to think he had almost done the irreversible thing… Should he remember later, surely He Xuan would just dissipate on the spot out of grief. He gripped Shi Wudu’s bloodied robes tighter, burying his face in his chest.
At this moment he did not care he was dead, he was even grateful for being a demon – at least… at least he could, just maybe, coexist like this alongside Shi Wudu. Just to be close again, even if only for a while. Just to see him again, just to hold him again. It was enough.
“I’ve missed you,” he would never say that to Shi Wudu openly in a conversation, but, since he was unconscious, He Xuan let himself blabber all that stupid cheesy nonsense, “And I’m truly sorry about everything. I did not mean to. I did not know. Heavens, I’m so sorry. Shui-ge, I’m so sorry.”
Shi Wudu was pale almost like He Xuan himself, the bluish shadows under his eyes, but He Xuan knew he would not die of these wounds – he just succumbed to the exhaustion of the failed Calamity, as well as the collected both physical and mental fatigue. He just needed a good rest.
He Xuan was going to carry him to the place he had in mind, when the door to the chamber flew open.
“GE!” He Xuan’s eyes widened when he saw Shi Qingxuan in a doorway, looking at him with wild eyes. There was a moment of silence, and then Shi Qingxuan’s eyes flashed with recognition, and… guilt and sadness, “Ge…” he repeated, seeing the lifeless form of Shi Wudu at He Xuan’s hands. He Xuan finally realized how it must have looked from the side and shook his head promptly.
“No, no, he is alive, he is alright! That is, wounded, but he will be okay! He just passed out!”
Shi Qingxuan looked visibly relieved at those words. It struck He Xuan just how easily he believed him, just upon seeing who he was – he could have said anything, and Shi Qingxuan would go along with it, because it was He Xuan speaking. They both… believed in him, both of the Shi brothers. That thought hurt as well for some reason.
Shi Qingxuan took a step closer then, not paying attention to the other two people showing up behind him. He was breathing deep, his hand that clutched the Wind Master fan twitched.
Then his face twisted, and he lunged forward for He Xuan, throwing himself around his neck and hugging him tightly.
* * *
Ming Yi expected anything. For Shi Qingxuan and Pei Ming to blindly attack that demon, for them to curse and cuss him – well, honestly, anything of the sort! What he had never expected to see was Shi Qingxuan first freezing when seeing Black Water’s face, and then… throwing himself around his neck for a hug!
Pei Ming looked stunned too, but there was understanding in his eyes. Just… what was going on? Ming Yi watched in shock, how Black Water hugs Shi Qingxuan back with his free hand, and how Shi Qingxuan freely and openly hits him with his fan, crying and yelling at him.
“You stupid, stupid Feng-ge! Just what have you done? You could have killed ge, and then what would I do?”
“What have I done right now, or you mean back then?” Black Water clarified, obviously not even thinking of what is he saying, his face flabbergasted at Shi Qingxuan’s sudden angry outburst.
Ming Yi just could not comprehend what was going on. ‘Feng-ge’? WHAT?
Also… why is this demon now looking completely different than just a while ago? That is, his face? His eyes and his expression – it was all far from cold and distant like it was, right now it was more like just pained and guilty, and… Ming Yi was at loss of what to think, so he just watched, not meddling in.
Shi Qingxuan hit Black Water again and clutched at his robes.
“Why did you sacrifice yourself for me? Why did you attack us now?” Ming Yi thought distantly that Shi Qingxuan never, ever allowed himself such close contacts with any other man save for Shi Wudu. Yes, he would grab Ming Yi’s hands every now and then, and occasionally would hug him when overexcited, but never… like this. Never with such emotions, such compassion and eagerness. Never so naturally.
JUST WHO WAS THIS BLOODY DEMON, WOULD ANYBODY TELL, PLEASE?
“I’ve lost memories when I died,” Black Water’s gaze moved to Pei Ming, and he smiled weakly, “Oh, hi, Pei-xiong. I am the Supreme now and I have devoured the Reverend of Empty Words. Good for me.”
“Congratulations,” Pei Ming squeezed out, looking like he had seen a ghost. He shook his head silently, watching Black Water’s face.
They all… knew him? Who was he? Judging by everybody’s reaction, obviously someone… dear to them all? Ming Yi had no idea things would turn out as weird as this. Also… Reverend of Empty Words? The jinx demon? What did he have to do with anything? Ming Yi’s head was going to burst with so many questions.
“You lost memories?” Shi Qingxuan let go of Black Water and was studying Shi Wudu’s face. He gasped at the sight of the wound, but Black Water reassured him that it was not fatal. The two of them looked so naturally together, so close, like a family. How was it even possible?
“Yes, but they have returned now. Qingxuan, I’m sorry.”
Ming Yi expected anything. Like “And you should be!” or more fan smacking. Anything. Not the…
“It is me who should be apologizing,” Shi Qingxuan said in a broken voice, “Ge and me,” he touched Shi Wudu’s hand, trying to discern his state, “Feng-ge, will he really be okay? You did not do anything to him, right?”
Black Water looked uncomfortable, “First of all, Qingxuan, since you somehow figured the truth, you must know that it was my idea. Mine only. Shui-ge was totally against it. I have suggested it and eventually made him do it.”
“That day?” Shi Qingxuan asked hoarsely, and Black Water nodded, lowering his gaze.
What are they talking about? Pei Ming’s look also became strange upon these words. What day? What happened? When? Ming Yi watched their gloomy faces and could clearly see they have shared some secret. Why is he even here, he wondered. He was not supposed to know, he was not supposed to be together with them… Qingxuan did not need him. He was just an outsider to them.
“Therefore, none of you two is to blame. I will explain everything, but right now we have to treat Shui-ge’s wounds,” Black Water looked up at Pei Ming, and his face grew dark, “Pei-xiong…”
“I’m glad to see you again,” Pei Ming blurted out, making Ming Yi completely lose the sense of reality again, “Even like this… I am still glad. He thought of you every single day,” he nodded towards Shi Wudu, “Also, I know about the whole thing with the three of you, I made him tell me back then.”
Black Water closed his eyes for a moment, “Is that so…” A bitter smirk appeared upon his lips.
Shi Qingxuan jumped to his feet, wiping tears from the corner of his eyes, “Feng-ge, we…”
“Just call me He Xuan,” Black Water winced, “I’m no longer Wind Master, so…”
Ming Yi’s eyes widened. The Wind Master? There was a Wind Master in heavens before Shi Qingxuan? And… WHAT?!
* * *
He Xuan did not even care how more idiotic their reunion would look like. For the first time in long, long years, he felt the warmness filling his chest once more. When he looked at Shi Qingxuan and Pei Ming, and saw how they looked back… there was no hatred in their eyes, no repulsion. They were both… glad to see him. That brought the sense of tremendous relief, because He Xuan feared at first they would reject him, as he was the demon, and because of all he has done.
He Xuan climbed to his feet, holding Shi Wudu in his arms, “There is a movement on the borders of my territory,” he remarked absently, receiving information from his ghost-fishes and guards, “Your heavenly reinforcements are on the way.”
“They must have noticed the failed Heavenly Calamity and our disappearance,” Shi Qingxuan bit his lip, “General Pei…”
Pei Ming’s face immediately dropped, “We must not let them know who you are,” he said, addressing to He Xuan, “If they see, then yours and Shui-shixiong’s doing will be exposed.”
Shi Qingxuan frowned and yanked He Xuan’s sleeve, “Fe… Xuan-ge,” he called, “Are you… are you sure that I should… stay the Wind Master?” It obviously took a lot of courage of him to ask that.
He Xuan extended his hand from under Shi Wudu’s body, and managed to ruffle Shi Qingxuan’s hair, “Qingxuan, I wouldn’t have you any other way. Don’t be ridiculous – if not you, then why do you think I initiated the whole thing in the first place?”
Shi Qingxuan closed his eyes for a moment, and then breathed out, “Okay,” he said then, his voice gradually becoming firm again, “Okay,” he repeated and looked around, “But then we…”
“Gotta flee,” Pei Ming said darkly, “I’ll come up with something later, some bullshit explanation, whatever, I don’t care. Right now there really are more urgent matters to take care of,” he turned to Ming Yi then, who was standing silently by their side all this time, “Lord Earth Master, I will have to ask you to come with us.”
“As a prisoner?” Ming Yi asked gloomy, clearly figuring out they knew something he did not, and it was not something pleasant too. He also purposely avoided looking at He Xuan, probably hating his guts right now. He Xuan found it rather amusing. Shi Qingxuan’s close friend or more than that? He Xuan took a mental note to ask Qingxuan later on about that.
“No!” Shi Qingxuan looked stunned, “Why would you say such a thing, Ming-xiong? Besides, there is no time right now, but… just… let me explain everything to you, but a bit later, okay?”
Ming Yi studied his face, and then nodded curtly.
“Xuan-ge, where do you plan to go?”
He Xuan’s lips drew a small smile, “To an old friend who absolutely won’t give us away. Lord Earth Master,” he addressed to Ming Yi, “I will lift the curse over the island – with the spiritual powers back, would you be so kind to draw the Distance Shortening Array for us?”
Ming Yi turned his glaring golden gaze to meet He Xuan’s calm grey one.
“Ming-xiong?” Shi Qingxuan asked carefully, sensing his foul mood.
Ming Yi humphed, “Alright,” he said coldly, “If you’d be so kind to return my shovel first, demon.”
Chapter 25: Breaking the Dam; Peaceful Evening at Rain Master’s Place, part three
The Rain Master deserved all the love of the three realms. *O*
* * *
“Right now?” He Xuan clarified, cocking his eyebrow.
This was rather comical, really. Jealousy? Heavens, seriously? My, my, what a drama. He Xuan tried hard not to laugh aloud. He glanced upon Shi Qingxuan, but the latter was clearly ignorant of the ways of the world, looking worriedly at Shi Wudu. He Xuan shook his head, and put that aside for now. He clumsily shook the Crescent Moon Shovel out of his sleeve, still occupied by holding Shi Wudu.
Ming Yi picked the shovel and closed the door, ready to draw the array, “Where to?” He asked unkindly.
“Mount YuLong,” He Xuan said, silently sending commands over his domain. The curse of the black water lifted – temporarily – and spiritual powers of Pei Ming, Shi Qingxuan and Ming Yi restored.
Pei Ming coughed violently, “But, but, but…” He stuttered.
“If you’re uncomfortable with that, then you can stay here or go back to heavens,” He Xuan smiled to him guiltily, “But I can’t think of the better place. The Rain Master was my good friend when I was alive, I trust her not to tell us in to anyone. It’s either that or the Ghost City, but I am not sure Crimson Rain Sought Flower will help me in this situation and, to be honest, I’d prefer not to deal with him right now – he’ll require payment for his services, and not a small one too.”
Pei Ming exhaled and turned to Ming Yi, “YuShi country it is,” he confirmed darkly. Ming Yi set to drawing.
“Xuan-ge, you’re good with Crimson Rain Sought Flower?” Shi Qingxuan’s eyes widened in awe.
He Xuan chuckled awkwardly, “Not really,” he admitted, “We’re neutral with each other. Yes, I know him – we’re both the Supremes after all, - but we don’t meddle in each other’s business.”
Shi Qingxuan smiled slightly, “You’re still as cool as back in the old days,” he stated matter-of-factly, “In a different way, but damn cool.”
“Done,” Ming Yi interrupted from the door. Should the look kill, He Xuan would dissipate several times already. He did not care, really, but Lord Earth Master was too amusing.
“Thank you,” He Xuan said calmly anyway, and the five of them stepped out the door into the greenery of the YuShi country.
It was as peaceful and blissful as He Xuan remembered. He loved this place, actually, and often was coming here long, long ago. There were even couple of missions he took together with Rain Master, and he just visited over sometimes, because, well, it was good here. Quiet green mountains with clean waters and lush fields of rice – a beautiful sight. He Xuan used to be more cheerful in the past, of course, and he formed a good friendly bond with Rain Master, that now came in handy.
“Huang-jie,” He Xuan called, upon seeing the small delicate form at the cottage, “Huang-jie, save your humble di di!” Pei Ming, Shi Qingxuan and Ming Yi stared at him, but He Xuan did not pay them attention. He knew what he was doing.
The Rain Master looked up from the table she was sorting some vegetables at, and blinked upon the group of men that barged into her house out of the blue sky.
“Sheng-di?” Her face looked surprised.
“I’m sorry for the intrusion,” He Xuan smiled to her shyly, “But can we stay here for several hours and can you not tell anybody at all that we are here? Hi, Ox-xiong!” He waved at the ox that was resting by the field from the door. The ox mooed in response and huffed, seemingly in good mood.
Yushi Huang studied them all, her gaze haltering upon Shi Wudu’s bloodied figure and Pei Ming. The latter flushed, but bowed politely to her. Shi Qingxuan and Ming Yi greeted her as well, both feeling extremely timid and out of place for disturbing Rain Master’s solitude and seclusion.
“I was going to deliver rain to some places tonight,” Yushi Huang said calmly, “So you may stay. I have but one bed though.”
“It’s fine,” He Xuan said, “We don’t need but one, just for the Water Master.”
She looked at He Xuan, “Sheng-di, you are a demon now? Is that why you haven’t been visiting lately?” The others looked blown away by those questions, but He Xuan seemingly did not mind a bit. He knew Rain Master for a long time, and the two of them got along well, so these questions came as natural to him.
He Xuan smirked bitterly, “Am I still your favorite elemental, jie-jie?” At this point, before, he would usually hide his face behind the fan. It is not that he missed his fan. He really liked his bone fishes now, no matter how odd that sounded.
Yushi Huang smiled to him, “My favorite demon definitely. You remember where the medicines he might need are, and fresh clothes? The size might be too big – I have only Ox’s size, I hope you won’t mind,” She nodded towards Shi Wudu, grasping the situation in an instant. That was why He Xuan loved her – she was rational and practical, and easy to deal with, if one knew how. Luckily, he knew.
“Then help yourselves to whatever you need,” the Rain Master bowed to them, “And, Sheng-di?”
“Come by for a meal some time?”
He Xuan smiled honestly, “Gladly, jie-jie.”
…Since a while ago, he would never refuse the (free) food. He Xuan honestly despised and hated that lingering feeling of hunger inside, but he knew there was nothing he could do to make it go away. Not with the way he died, so the best thing was to accept it and coexist with it somehow.
Yushi Huang nodded, waved her hand at them, and left, riding her ox.
“Since when are you this good with her?” Pei Ming inquired immediately, “And she doesn’t even care you’re a demon?”
“Since always,” He Xuan snorted, “We, elementals, used to work together closely, actually. She was like a big sister to me, so we are the ‘jie’ and ‘di’ to each other, yes. She’s good,” he smirked to Pei Ming, “Now, if you excuse me,” he turned and headed for the other room, “Make yourselves at home,” he added, “If you want to eat – eat, if you need a bath – go ahead. Rain Master will not mind, she is okay with us. I’ll take care of Shui-ge.”
“You are so right,” Pei Ming said to Shi Qingxuan, “He is still damn cool.”
“Of course!” Shi Qingxuan beamed.
Ming Yi wanted to hit everybody with his shovel by now.
* * *
He Xuan fed several medicine to Shi Wudu and carefully cleaned and bandaged his side and lesser wounds. Shi Wudu came to in the middle of the process, slowly blinking at He Xuan.
“A-Sheng,” he whispered.
He Xuan finished treating his wounds and let go a sigh of relief, “This should do it,” he said, “How are you?”
“Like in a dream,” Shi Wudu was looking at him, his gaze filled with longing and disbelief, “I still… I can’t believe you are here. With me – again. Even if like this.”
“We’re at the Rain Master’s place now,” He Xuan explained, “Pei-xiong and Qingxuan are here too – they, um, actually came to the Nether Water Manor to your rescue.”
“They aren’t hurt, right?!” Shi Wudu knit his brows.
“Of course not,” He Xuan answered, “That Earth Master is also here. Who is he to Qingxuan?”
Shi Wudu snorted, “A useless friend, overly devoted. They usually go to the mortal realm together.”
“Oh,” He Xuan’s face darkened, “Qingxuan doesn’t go alone, does he?”
Shi Wudu shook his head, “Not since. He is falling into the sheer panic if he is alone, so… Earth Master is okay to him.”
“But not to you?” He Xuan smirked, hearing that familiar arrogant displeasure in Shi Wudu’s tone.
“He is just… average. I don’t think much of him,” Shi Wudu admitted, “But he cares about Qingxuan earnestly.”
“Good enough. Qingxuan knows, by the way,” He Xuan sighed, “He figured it out, the whole swapping fates thing.”
Shi Wudu bit his lip, “He…”
“I told him it’s alright. He seemed to calm down about it. At least I hope so. Dammit, you two, stop blaming yourselves for my death. I am the Supreme Demon King here, for a moment! I’ll manage, you know?”
“‘A-Xuan’. I’m no longer the person I used to be,” He Xuan’s look was bitter.
“A-Xuan,” Shi Wudu repeated obediently, “Are you not mad with me?”
“No?” He Xuan blinked, not understanding, “Why would I be? You got hurt here, and because of me too. You should have told me. You should have stopped me – I would have listened to you!”
Shi Wudu closed his eyes tiredly, “I was ever so afraid you would hate me. I could not bring myself to look you in the eye.”
“But Shui-ge, I love you and always had,” He Xuan said simply, “For that matter, nothing changed.”
Shi Wudu’s eyes snapped open, “…it took you to die to say that out loud,” he mirrored their conversation from long ago.
He Xuan understood that fully, and laughed in return. Then he leaned down and kissed Shi Wudu on his lips, giving him spiritual powers in the process. The benefits of being the Supreme.
A demon that loved god, and a god that loved demon. It would be ridiculous if it wasn’t actually sad.
“What for?” Shi Wudu asked, when they parted.
“You’ll heal faster,” He Xuan said. True, Shi Wudu looked better now, but he still was exhausted and feverish from the poison. It would get better, but he needed at least couple of hours to sleep.
“Your lips feel cold,” Shi Wudu remarked, “And your hands.”
“Want me to change form?” He Xuan knew his true form’s body was cold and was not offended. He was surprised at himself for a sudden calmness. So many things happened at once, but he felt at ease. Perhaps, because Shi Wudu was right here within the reach of his hand again. He Xuan pondered over it and concluded that this was alright. As long as Shi Wudu would have him, it was alright.
“No!” Shi Wudu caught his fingers and pressed He Xuan’s palm to his cheek, “Stay with me.”
He Xuan caressed his cheek with his thumb and lowered his lashes in agreement, “Get some sleep. You need to regain your strength. I’ll be by your side.”
“You won’t disappear like an illusion?”
Shi Wudu relaxed and closed his eyes, “Then… I shall rest for a bit. Tell Qingxuan that ge’s fine,” he muttered, as he drifted off to sleep.
* * *
Ming Yi silently watched how Shi Qingxuan rushed around, fetching them food and drinks. Pei Ming sat at the table, not daring to move – he clearly felt uncomfortable here. When Shi Qingxuan finally sat down as well, Ming Yi asked gloomily, “So, will anybody finally tell me, what is going on between you all and that demon?”
Shi Qingxuan laughed nervously, as he always did, and scratched his head. His hair curled with moisture, and he looked messy and disheveled, so unlike his usual graceful appearance, “Yes, about that… To put a long story short…” The smile was still upon his face, but Ming Yi somehow felt that it was difficult for him to speak.
“You don’t have to force yourself,” he wanted to say, but stopped himself. He needed to know, he was sick and tired of this wandering in the dark.
“I had the Reverend of Empty Words stuck at me since my birth,” Shi Qingxuan said quietly. Ming Yi shuddered, his eyes widening. Shi Qingxuan smiled guiltily, seeing his reaction, “Yeah, it was not pleasant. When ge ascended, he appointed me to the Middle Court, but that did not solve the problem. Xuan-ge ascended as the Wind Master shortly after. He was great, really fun, and ge loved him,” Shi Qingxuan spoke of that so naturally, Ming Yi was at loss of words. Shi Qingxuan’s face darkened. He took a deep breath, “I… It was going okay for a while. Ge and I got by. But one day I… I…” His hand clutched the Wind Master fan so hard his knuckles have gone white, “I was attacked and… raped by several men down in the mortal realm,” he forced himself say. Pei Ming put a hand upon Shi Qingxuan’s shoulder in silent support, while Ming Yi froze with the shock, “Xuan-ge killed those men, but I was already…” Shi Qingxuan trembled and shook his head.
This was the reason Shi Qingxuan would never go back down alone. This was the reason he would not treat Ming Yi more than a friend. Of course, if it was like that, after such a trauma… Ming Yi drew a blank on what to say to both himself and Shi Qingxuan. In the meantime, Shi Qingxuan continued.
“I can only assume, since I still have it all blurry, and prefer not to remember, that it was that day,” he turned to Pei Ming.
Pei Ming nodded, “I came later, when it was already done, but I demanded an explanation from Shui-shixiong, when the things settled down a little. He changed Shi Qingxuan’s fate with He Sheng’s – that is, He Xuan’s,” Pei Ming said to Ming Yi, “So that the Reverend of Empty Words would lose the trace of Shi Qingxuan, and so that Shi Qingxuan would gain the ability to ascend. On the contrary, He Xuan would get the Reverend bastard and misfortunes in his stead.”
“And so I ascended eventually,” Shi Qingxuan eyed the Wind Master fan darkly, “As the Wind Master. While Xuan-ge was banished, lost his divinity, and died in the mortal realm. Ge lost him because of me.”
“Shui-ge lost me because of myself,” all of them jerked up at the voice – He Xuan stood in the doorway, hands crossed at his chest, looking at them, “Qingxuan, STOP taking on the blame,” he said dryly, “Same goes for your brother. I did not regret what I have done. But, truth to be told, I wanted to spank you for your suicidal try since the moment I found out about it,” he arched his eyebrow.
“GE TOLD YOU THAT TOO?!” Shi Qingxuan’s hand flew to cover his scar upon the neck, while Ming Yi just stared at them, completely stunned.
He could never imagine Shi Qingxuan had a past like that. He was ever so cheerful, bright and laughing, he made friends so easily. To think that behind all that was… Ming Yi hopelessly looked at Shi Qingxuan. Well, no wonder he never went down to the mortal realm alone – and to think that Ming Yi was pressing him on about it initially. How did the Water Tyrant not kill him back then? No wonder he was that harsh towards Ming Yi, considering Shi Qingxuan’s well-being! And no wonder Ming Yi will never become anybody more than a friend to Shi Qingxuan. After such revelations, Ming Yi himself will not dare to mention anything to Shi Qingxuan ever again.
He Xuan snorted, “Of course, he did,” he came to Shi Qingxuan’s side and gently ruffled his hair again, “Cheer up,” he said, “It’s okay now. Shui-ge asked me to tell you he will be fine. He is sleeping.”
“Okay,” Ming Yi was amazed at how blindly Shi Qingxuan trusted that man. Just because he told so. Heavens! Okay, Qingxuan might be naïve at times, but Pei Ming too! Former friend or not, this still was the Supreme Demon King!
“Lord Earth Master,” Ming Yi almost jumped upon his chair, hearing He Xuan addressing him, “I apologize for taking you away earlier on,” he bowed lightly to him, “There happened to be a major misunderstanding.”
Ming Yi pursed his lips, but nodded curtly in response. Shi Qingxuan glanced at him worriedly, but said nothing.
“He-xiong,” Pei Ming frowned, “Let’s figure out what to say to heavenly officials, while we’re at it.”
“That’s easy,” He Xuan shrugged and grabbed the closest piece of food from the table, “The high and mighty four of you had destroyed the evil Black Water Demon Xuan that dared to mess up the Water Master’s Third Heavenly Calamity,” he said, munching on the mantou, “Qingxuan, is there more? Your favorite Xuan-ge is starving.”
Chapter 26: Until Death Do Us Part; The White Calamity Knows No Mercy, part one
MING YI, AFTER CENTURIES OF UST, MAN! <3
* * *
“Um, He-xiong, but, you don’t think we’d really…” Pei Ming stared at him.
He Xuan chewed away the mantou and reached for more from the plate Shi Qingxuan gave him, “No? Pei-xiong, I can take on the mortal appearance and play pretend as anyone at all. Even as one of Huang-jie’s farmers – by the way, she would allow me to – so I really see no problems here.”
“But you’re demon,” Ming Yi squinted at him suspiciously.
“So? Crimson Rain Sought Flower is the flashy bastard – he loves attention and all that glamour. I don’t, and I can be very low-key. You know, being the Demon King doesn’t mean you have to, say, kill a bunch of men every couple of days to maintain the status. For once, nobody cares,” He Xuan said indifferently.
“Ming-xiong,” Shi Qingxuan looked at Ming Yi seriously, “Please, do not tell anybody about everything you heard tonight. I do not ask you that on my behalf, but for ge. I absolutely would not have him banished because of me.”
Ming Yi returned the look, “Of course I won’t say a word,” he said dryly, and stood up, “Excuse me,” with that, he went outside.
Shi Qingxuan bit his lip, hesitant of what to do, and He Xuan pushed him towards the door lightly, “Go on,” he said, “You two obviously need to talk.”
Shi Qingxuan shot him a hopeless look and sighed, “You are right, Xuan-ge,” he hugged him briefly, “I’m glad to have you back.”
He Xuan patted him over his back, “I’m glad to see you’re doing alright too,” he said honestly.
Pei Ming was suddenly glad he went together with them. He missed He Xuan too, all this time.
* * *
Shi Qingxuan found Ming Yi standing a bit further from the cottage, looking at the night sky over the fields. Gentle breeze was rustling through the greenery, it smelled of water and grass.
“I’m sorry,” Shi Qingxuan quietly said, “For not telling you earlier about everything.”
Ming Yi did not turn around, but his back stiffened.
Shi Qingxuan shifted from foot to foot, “Ming-xiong…”
“I looked like a total idiot,” Ming Yi said harshly, “To all of them, as well as to you. Well,” he smirked bitterly, “At least thank you for not pointing it out, how stupid I must have been this whole time.”
“You weren’t,” Shi Qingxuan lowered his head.
“The whole Upper Court knew I’m in love with you.”
Shi Qingxuan shuddered. Long time ago he imagined how would it be like if someone was to confess love for him. It never sounded as cold as this.
“Don’t apologize,” Ming Yi wrapped his arms around himself, as if he was cold, “It’s not your fault, I’m angry with myself for continuously thinking that it was just the way you were, and maybe eventually that you would…”
“…at least start seeing me more than… What did you say?” Ming Yi turned to Shi Qingxuan.
“I knew you had feelings for me,” Shi Qingxuan suddenly bowed to him, “And I apologize for making you think I was ignorant. I feared anything of the sort, I could not react in other way.”
Ming Yi’s hand twitched, as he clutched his fists, “Even better,” he concluded, “You too considered me an idiot.”
“You’re wrong,” Shi Qingxuan objected, “Not even once.”
“It’s whatever now.”
Ming Yi looked at Shi Qingxuan unwillingly. Shi Qingxuan took a step closer to him. His feet were shaky, and he was panting a bit panicky, but so far, he managed to control himself. This is Ming-xiong, after all, Shi Qingxuan soothed himself. Ming-xiong would never hurt him, it was Shi Qingxuan who hurt Ming-xiong’s feelings, while in truth… in truth… Shi Qingxuan closed his eyes, and before his courage left him, he kissed Ming Yi on the lips. It was but a light touch, and he jerked away the next moment, but it did the thing. Ming Yi stared at him now, his golden eyes wide and filled with shock.
“Qingxuan?” He called hoarsely.
Shi Qingxuan struggled to keep his breath even, feeling the cold sweat breaking upon his brow, “I, I, I…” He stammered, “I’m sorry, I…”
“Calm down,” something changed in Ming Yi’s expression at once – the snow melted, replaced by an honest worry and endless warmth of the summer ground, “Qingxuan, it’s alright. I absolutely will not touch you unless you want me to, do you hear me? I will never do anything against your will.”
Shi Qingxuan’s lips quivered, “Ming-xiong!” He cried and threw himself into Ming Yi’s embrace, burying his face against his chest, “Ming-xiong!” he sobbed, unable to utter anything more.
Ming Yi hugged him, protectively placing his arms around him. At this moment, he would do anything to protect Shi Qingxuan, and there were no enemies he would not obliterate for that purpose.
* * *
He Xuan was ravaging the plates and Pei Ming was drowsing in the corner, when, after a while, Shi Wudu showed up from his room, dressed in too big for him inner shirt, swaying a little from side to side. Bandages on his body were as white as his skin, but he looked better than in the Nether Water Manor.
“You should not get up,” He Xuan immediately went to his side and led him over to the table. Shi Wudu eyed the spare chair, and then nonchalantly sat in He Xuan’s lap, nuzzling his face in his chest.
“I shouldn’t,” he agreed, and then leaned against the stunned He Xuan and closed his eyes, “But you were not there.”
“I was hungry! I would have come!”
Pei Ming smirked with understanding, “Shui-shixiong, how are you?”
“I’ll be fine,” Shi Wudu put a hand upon He Xuan’s shoulder, making himself comfortable, “You asshole broke my fan,” he said, addressing to He Xuan, not opening his eyes.
He Xuan bit back a smile, “Once upon a time I also broke mine. Does that count?”
“That’s a very strange hobby, He-xiong,” Pei Ming chuckled from his seat.
“True, that,” He Xuan looked at the remnants of food longingly, but Shi Wudu was more important. He supported Shi Wudu’s back with one hand and touched his wrist with another, studying his meridians and pulse, “The medicine is working,” he reassured Pei Ming, who was watching worriedly.
He Xuan let go a sigh, “I’m sorry that you failed the Heavenly Calamity, Shui-ge.”
“I told you already it doesn’t matter. I’ll make it through and level up again with time,” Shi Wudu grumped, “I’ll just lose some merits and believers – oh, what a shame. They will return eventually,” he inhaled deeply, gathering his wits, “A-Xuan, Pei-xiong. There is something I screwed more than Heavenly Calamity,” he admitted.
He Xuan looked at him questioningly, as well as Pei Ming. Shi Wudu forced himself to look up in their eyes.
“I blew up considerably. I… This whole time I had your ashes at my place,” He Xuan froze. Shi Wudu clenched his fists, “It was… taken away by the White Calamity, Bai Wuxiang. I could not stop him.”
He Xuan’s face dropped, “The White Calamity?” Shi Wudu nodded. He Xuan raised his head by his chin and looked into his face, “Shui-ge,” he said, “Do you know who was it that spilled me clues on my fate being altered by you?”
Shi Wudu’s eyes narrowed, “Don’t tell me…” He Xuan nodded as well. Shi Wudu cursed, “What is he playing at? What does he want?”
“Excuse me,” Pei Ming was clearly alarmed, “First of all – you sure it was that thing? Second – Shui-shixiong, what the hell? You did not say anything?”
Shi Wudu shook his head, “I could not say. I was too afraid of A-Xuan’s identity being exposed. What do you think they would do if they knew who the new Supreme was? I doubt nobody knew that I kept his body – it would be too risky.”
“Right,” Pei Ming suddenly remembered how Shi Wudu was convincing everybody to leave the Southern Sea alone. Now he perfectly understood why, “But that demon, then… He was supposed to be…”
“Destroyed,” He Xuan finished, “I thought so to.”
“As did I,” Shi Wudu knit his brows, “I don’t understand what does this mean though.”
“Let us worry about it later,” He Xuan hesitated, but reached for the table after all, and fetched himself another piece of melon.
“But your life is in his hands,” Shi Wudu said, barely audible.
He Xuan kissed his brow, “It is okay. We will think of something. We are together – that is more important,” but there was a trace of uncertainty in his eyes, as well as hint of dread.
* * *
As the dawn was breaking across the rice fields, the five of them prepared to leave the Rain Master’s place. Shi Wudu recovered somewhat, but He Xuan still was supporting him, just in case. Shi Qingxuan stuck by Ming Yi’s side – and Earth Master obviously was in considerably better mood than yesterday, he did not even glare at He Xuan anymore.
“Forgot my sword, I’ll be in a moment,” Pei Ming turned from the door, while the other four stepped outside, humming their agreement.
The door creaked shut behind them.
The next moment the three gods and one demon froze in their track, their faces growing dark.
“What the?..” Ming Yi said.
Shi Qingxuan whipped around and yanked the door of the building behind them open, but it was just some shabby house inside covered in dust and dirt, “Ming-xiong? Ge?” His voice shook.
“I can’t reach Pei-xiong,” Shi Wudu said, pressing the two fingers upon his temple.
He Xuan looked around and his insides twisted and screamed with wariness and danger.
“All of you,” he commanded, “Do not separate for a second. And do not – I repeat – do NOT leave my side, and stay on your guard. Keep the defenses up.”
“Why? Where are we?” Ming Yi demanded.
Shi Wudu’s eyes, however, flashed with understanding, “Fuck.”
He Xuan turned to face them, “This is Mount TongLu,” he said, “The city of dead and ashes. And I have a very, very bad feeling about just who might have transported us here and why.”
Chapter 27: Until Death Do Us Part; The White Calamity Knows No Mercy, part two
* * *
Pei Ming sensed the dark energy, but it was for a split second. He whipped around, but the door already shut, and the next moment he opened it – nobody was in sight. They were gone – all the four of them.
“Ling Wen,” Pei Ming addressed her directly, “Fill me up with the current situation up there.”
“…Do you even realize what havoc you all caused?” The response was fast and harsh, “All the four of you blocked communication, nobody could reach you, and now you just show up and…”
“Noble Jie, dammit!” Pei Ming snapped, “We were battling the Black Water Demon,” he sent a mental apology to He Xuan, hoping he will not mind this story after all, “And after we were done we went to YuShi country.”
“You. At the Rain Master’s place. Really?” Ling Wen’s voice sounded sarcastic.
“Shui-shixiong is severely wounded,” Pei Ming retorted, “Since the Wind Master had good relationship with the Rain Master, we thought that quiet place would do for a while – Shui-shixiong needed the urgent help,” well, he did not even lie about that, if one takes into consideration that He Xuan once was the Wind Master…
“It’s that serious?” Ling Wen’s tone got somewhat worried.
“What, you finally remembered he is your friend too?” Pei Ming snorted.
“They are gone,” Pei Ming said simply, “We were going to return to heavens, but our notorious elementals have disappeared in the broad daylight.”
“They are not in heavens. Hold on,” Ling Wen’s voice muted for the few moments, and then came again, “The group that was sent to investigate the Southern Sea has not seen them either. Ol’ Pei, what the hell is going on?”
“Keep in touch,” Pei Ming said dryly and disconnected. He slumped into the chair and closed his face with his palms. He had already tried to reach all of them, He Xuan included, but the spiritual communication was dead silent.
Pei Ming pondered over it for a while, but then decided to go back to heavens first. Maybe there he will be able to find out more, than just sit here and worry. Pei Ming looked around Rain Master’s house, the feeling of longing for another cozy and peaceful evening here lingering in his heart, and then he stood up and hurried back to heavens.
* * *
“WAIT, WHAT? MOUNT TONGLU?” Shi Qingxuan paled.
He Xuan eyed his fan, “Keep it opened, but don’t raise unnecessarily wind around,” he advised, “These ashes are everywhere, there are fragile corpses around too… I don’t want to get dirty or, in your cases, breathe that in more than needed.”
Shi Qingxuan nodded meekly, his eyes widely opened. Ming Yi went back to the house they came from. He drew the Distance Shortening Array upon the door and swung it open.
He Xuan: “…”
Ming Yi glanced at him darkly, “Was worth of trying,” he tsked upon the same dusty insides of the house and left the door alone.
“But we have our powers,” Shi Wudu said, “The communication and exit are locked, but the spiritual powers are intact.”
“Yeah, but there’s no water here,” Ming Yi frowned.
Shi Wudu winced, “You want me to admit I’m currently useless for all to hear?” He snapped, “Fine – I’m currently the most useless one. Happy?”
“Ge, don’t,” Shi Qingxuan touched his hand lightly, “It is scary here, ge, let’s look for way out. Xuan-ge?”
“You’ve been here,” Shi Wudu quietly said, looking at He Xuan.
“For twelve years,” He Xuan took the lead, going towards the main street of the dead city. Silence ruled the place – the dead, eerie kind of silence. If He Xuan was alive, he would be scared, because those corpses he knew were around – all of them died horrible death. The city reeked of agony and foul energy. To him it was alright, but the others… At least it was day, and the gloomy sunlight through the ashen clouds shone down, providing enough light.
“TongLu supposed to be locked now. The Kiln is not open, there are no ghosts around that would be attracted to it. Meaning, there is something else – someone else – here at work.”
“How do you know?” Shi Qingxuan wondered curiously.
“I would feel,” He Xuan said, “When TongLu opens, it affects all of the demons. I don’t know how Crimson Rain Sought Flower deals with aggravation, but I would probably try hibernation at the Southern Sea or something of the sort.”
There was a squealing sound at the corner of one of the buildings. The three gods immediately assumed battle stances. He Xuan shook his head, “Rats,” he explained, “There are many, many rats here. Beware of them, but whilst they are not attacking directly, avoid.”
“Um… should we avoid this too?” Ming Yi pointed at the end of the street.
Shi Qingxuan yelped in fear and disgust, Shi Wudu silently gritted his teeth, regretting the loss of his fan and powers now. Ming Yi shielded Shi Qingxuan, prepared for anything.
Swarms of rats, hundreds of them, were racing in their direction. He Xuan took a step forward. Shi Wudu grabbed his sleeve.
“It’s okay,” He Xuan said calmly, “I dealt with them before. Also… it is a taboo upstairs but I’m a demon, so I no longer care for the rules, right?” With that, he raised his arms, and spiritual powers erupted around.
The rats’ squealing turned into screams of pain. Shi Qingxuan covered his ears with his palms, shaking behind Ming Yi. The other two watched with their eyes widely opened, how rats are twisting upon the ground, exploding with blood, turning their insides out. There were many, so it lasted quite long. A single muscle did not flinch upon He Xuan’s face, while he killed them.
“A human or animal body consists of water,” He Xuan stated, after the last rat collapsed dead almost by his feet, “Therefore, I can control it. Namely, the blood flow. As I told – it is taboo for any god, because in theory, Shui-ge can do this too, as well as Rain Master – anybody who has control over the water. But… well, it’s a very bad thing, so yeah. Gods don’t do it, demons do.”
Ming Yi carefully wrapped his arm around Shi Qingxuan’s shoulders, “It is okay,” he reassured him, “Calm down.”
“I’m trying,” Shi Qingxuan smiled, but it was an empty, scared smile.
“Are you alright?” He Xuan whispered to Shi Wudu, “You’re awfully pale.”
“I hate being the weak one,” Shi Wudu admitted, “Other than that, I’ll manage. Not in my top form, as you can see, but I can stand and walk at least.”
“This humble Ghost King will do his best to protect you,” He Xuan stated, trying to make the atmosphere easier, “Let’s go,” he told to everyone, “Be careful where you step. Everything is dangerous here, ground included.”
Ming Yi nodded to that, “I’ll try to sense the possible perils beforehand.”
* * *
Aside from those rats, they did not come across anybody in the city. After couple of hours of wandering, they even checked several buildings, but found nothing but corpses and ruins.
“This place is atrocious,” Ming Yi stated darkly, “I’ve never felt so much resentful energy around. What happened here?”
He Xuan shrugged, “I can only assume – volcanic eruption that killed off everybody. When exactly, I have no idea. As well as what exactly is this place.”
“Oh, but that would be easy,” the voice came from above. The four of them looked up. There was a man sitting upon the roof of the building, his clothes white, his face hidden behind the half-smiling, half-crying mask, “This is my home, you know?” He continued, not paying attention at their immediate alert, “So rude of you to kill off my pets like that, Xuan-di,” he said mockingly, “I’ve only sent them to play with you! Is that a way to treat your generous host?”
“The White Calamity,” Shi Qingxuan breathed, clutching at Ming Yi’s arm, “Oh, gods…”
“Stay by my side,” Ming Yi whispered back to him, at this moment desperately wishing he was stronger.
Shi Wudu and He Xuan looked at Bai Wuxiang, equally infuriated.
“Why did you bring us here? What do you want?”
Bai Wuxiang swung his feet carefree, and then tilted his head aside.
“Well. About that,” he sighed loudly, “You know what I hate most about those I’m forced to deal with? My entire life – that is quite long, by the way, - I have to finish others’ people work. Even now, look at you two,” he jumped down to the ground, the white robes fluttering around him. Mesmerizing in its repulsion sight.
“Look at you,” he repeated, gesturing for He Xuan and Shi Wudu, “You could not even cancel each other out! I made such a gorgeous stage for your showdown, there were the whole heavens watching! And you just gave up killing each other!” Bai Wuxiang shook his head ruefully, “I hate love,” he admitted, “It always gets in the way. But then again!” He raised his index finger, “It is also a very powerful weapon for or against a particular person.”
“He’s fucking sick in the head,” Ming Yi could not hold himself back.
“Unfortunately, that doesn’t make him less dangerous. Ming-xiong…” Shi Qingxuan’s hands were trembling upon his arm, “What do we do? We have to protect ge, he cannot right now…”
In the meantime, Bai Wuxiang took a few steps forward to He Xuan and Shi Wudu. He raised his hand and pointed at each of them, reciting as he went, “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe. Who will be the first to go?” His finger stopped at Shi Qingxuan and Ming Yi, “Then again,” he mused aloud, “You two are really unnecessary here, you’re of no interest to me. You, on the other hand…” the pale finger now was pointing at Shi Wudu, “Ugh. I cannot stand you. An arrogant and smug bitch. However, you would have been fun to kill before, but now you are just plain pathetic. You are out of picture for several centuries until you rise up again. So fuck you,” his gaze moved to He Xuan, “You, though. Such an ungrateful creature. I told you the truth and here is how you thank me? Choosing the one who doomed you to a pitiful ghostly existence over the one who could give you oh, so much more?”
“What can the likes of you give me?” He Xuan sneered at Bai Wuxiang, baring his teeth, “Back off and leave us alone, you bastard.”
“Apologies, but I must refuse,” Bai Wuxiang bowed mockingly, “You see, you really have become a menace here. I don’t need the Supreme at his side as a supporting devoted group,” he nodded towards Shi Wudu, “So, we do like this,” Bai Wuxiang snapped his fingers, and suddenly Ming Yi and Shi Qingxuan were trapped inside a barrier, unable to break free.
“Qingxuan!” Shi Wudu shouted.
“Oh, shut it. That nauseating sickening brotherly love,” Bai Wuxiang ordered, “I don’t need them to meddle in, that’s all. Now, my dear Xuan-di. The choice is as follows,” with that, Bai Wuxiang with a lightning speed shot forward, and the next moment grabbed Shi Wudu by his throat, raising him from the ground. He Xuan wanted to interfere, but Bai Wuxiang wiggled his finger at him, “No, no, no, not yet, not yet! I haven’t yet presented you the main dish!” Bai Wuxiang held out the all too familiar to Shi Wudu spirit-trapping pouch.
“Let go of it!” Shi Wudu hissed, struggling free, but Bai Wuxiang tightened his grip upon his throat, and Shi Wudu choked.
“These are your ashes, Xuan-di,” Bai Wuxiang’s tone turned cold and impassive, “So, the choice is yours – it’s either I kill the both of you right now – that would be easy, but no fun, to be honest. Or! You dissipate willingly right here on the spot for all of us to watch. Then maybe – just maybe, if I will be in a good mood, - I will let your darling precious ‘Shui-ge’ go. Oh and better think fast,” Bai Wuxiang nodded towards the barrier, “Their cage is shrinking and might soon crush our sweet lovebirds inside. Well, Ship-Sinking Black Water. Which option will it be?”
Chapter 28: Until Death Do Us Part; The White Calamity Knows No Mercy, part three
Bai Wuxiang, you sick fuck...
* * *
Everybody froze upon hearing Bai Wuxiang’s words. Even Shi Qingxuan stopped hitting the wall of their cage with his fists, and fell silent, staring at the White Calamity in horror and disbelief. This was too ruthless, too evil for him to imagine, let alone understand. The Wind Master fan slumped to the ground, falling from his hand, but Shi Qingxuan did not seem to notice.
He Xuan’s hand twitched.
“How do I know you will not kill them anyway?” He asked in a low voice, “What guarantees can you provide me with?”
“Feng-ge, no,” Shi Qingxuan whispered, “No, no, don’t…” Is he serious? How can he think of… dissipating for real? But, but, but… Shi Qingxuan turned his gaze to Shi Wudu’s face. His look was… indescribable, “Ge…”
Ming Yi drew a sharp breath and quietly cursed behind Shi Qingxuan. Shi Wudu gripped Bai Wuxiang’s hand with both of his, but the demon was stronger, and he could not free himself.
“Don’t,” Shi Wudu wheezed, squinting at He Xuan, “Don’t you dare! A-Xuan!”
“No guarantees,” Bai Wuxiang was clearly smirking and mocking them, “Mayhap yes, mayhap no,” he shrugged. On the side, the barrier-cage lit up with white and shrank a few inches. Shi Qingxuan jerked away from the wall, but then stuck at it again, watching. The fan lay on the ground, completely forgotten. Bai Wuxiang tossed the spirit-trapping pouch up and caught it again, “But like this all the four of you die. If you are a good demon-boy though, it will be just you, and you are dead already, aren’t you? It should be whatever.”
“You bastard,” Shi Wudu tried his spiritual powers as well, but it was no use. He had too few at the moment, and his injuries… Shi Qingxuan saw his brother in such a state for the first time in their lives, and it hurt him more than any wound, any stab would hurt. His Longevity Lock was silent, but Shi Qingxuan could feel with his skin the tension and storm of emotions collected in his brother’s heart.
The cage shrank again. Shi Qingxuan did not pay attention to it, staring at the scene in front of his eyes, unable to look aside, unable to move. Ming Yi was in equal shock, not comprehending this level of cruelty. This was too much.
“Tick-tock,” Bai Wuxiang said, and let go an eerie laugh, convincing Shi Qingxuan of his insanity, as the barrier became smaller yet again, the ceiling of it already touching Shi Qingxuan’s head.
“Ming-xiong, what should I do?” Shi Qingxuan shot a desperate look at Ming Yi, “What should we do?”
The latter slowly shook his head, “We cannot do anything, Qingxuan,” he said softly, “We cannot do a thing.”
Shi Qingxuan noticed he was clenching his fists in a hopeless rage. The barrier was below them as well, otherwise Ming Yi would have tried his shovel, but like this, it would do no good either.
Was everything… truly going to end… like this?
Shi Qingxuan squeezed his eyes shut, clenched his fists, and cried at the top of his lungs, “FENG-GE, DON’T DO IT, PLEASE, DON’T DO IT! DON’T WORRY ABOUT US, PLEASE, JUST ABSOLUTELY DO NOT DISSIPATE!”
The only answer to his outburst was Bai Wuxiang’s cold and ruthless laughter.
* * *
He Xuan lowered his head, black hair falling over his face. It was so bitterly funny, such a twisted turn of fate. He would expect anything but this. To be driven in corner so easily, and it was a dead end, no matter how you looked at it.
Was the White Calamity stronger than they were? He Xuan remembered his question to Hua Cheng. Apparently the answer was right before his eyes – yes, he was. In oh, so many ways. Well, Crimson Rain Sought Flower, good luck dealing with him. And apologies for not being able to return that favor He Xuan owed him from the game. Will Hua Cheng sense the fellow Supreme’s disappearance? Probably so, after all, there were but the three of them in the world. Oh well.
How odd – He Xuan wanted to laugh, despite the situation. Perhaps he has gone crazy too, after all. Or maybe he simply did not like to cry or be sad at goodbyes. Why is he always forced to be the one saying goodbyes? So unfair…
No, he did not trust the White Calamity with anything – not with a word, not with a single syllable. But… once again… could he not try? He had no right to drag the three people down with him, and those three – they were all his friends and more. If this was for him, staged for him from the beginning; if He Xuan was the target of it all, and there was but a ghostly chance of the others coming out unharmed…
He Xuan looked at Shi Wudu. Bai Wuxiang was purposely not choking him so far, just holding firmly, letting in barely enough air for him to stay conscious. There were so many unspoken words and emotions in Shi Wudu’s eyes. So much longing, yearning and despair. They have spent so little time together. Yes, that was a shame. The only thing He Xuan would truly regret.
“Not again,” He Xuan could almost hear Shi Wudu’s thought. But…
“No,” Shi Wudu caught his gaze and managed to shake his head, “No, no, NO, DON’T, ABSOLUTELY DON’T!” He screamed, so much alike his brother.
It’s just that He Xuan has already made his decision. Like that time so long ago. He shot Shi Wudu the brightest of smiles, as the latter stopped struggling, coming to the harsh and terrifying realization.
“No,” Shi Wudu mouthed, “Please, no…”
“Feng-ge,” Shi Qingxuan equally called from his cage, “Don’t…”
He Xuan closed his eyes for a moment, and then raised his head and looked at them all with an honest smile.
“Well then,” he said softly, “Off I go.”
In the next moment, his form broke into the thousands of raindrops falling upon the dried and ashen ground, as He Xuan disappeared from this world.
…Shi Qingxuan has never heard his brother screaming in such agony.
* * *
Something snapped in Shi Wudu’s mind, when he felt the raindrops falling upon his face. He screamed, as he lunged forward, reaching for Bai Wuxiang’s throat? Heart? Whatever? He wanted to kill, to crush, to erase his foul existence.
But he could not.
Bai Wuxiang simply threw him away from himself, like a sack of garbage. Shi Wudu collapsed onto the ground, coughing and gasping for air, but he jumped to his feet and hopelessly attacked again, gritting his teeth, his eyes shining with wild and uncontrollable pain and fury.
He thought he heard Shi Qingxuan yelling something, calling for him, but he would not care right now.
Bai Wuxiang smirked, “Oh, you’re still barking?” He asked impassively, and kicked Shi Wudu precisely in his wounded side, sending him once again to the ground. Shi Wudu’s vision blurred, as the pain exploded through his body.
“GE!!!” Shi Qingxuan kneeled next to him, “GE!”
“Let me… kill him…”
“Ge, stop! Stop, you’ll hurt yourself, ge!” It was only then that it dawned upon Shi Wudu the cage was gone, and Shi Qingxuan was right beside him, his face wet with tears flowing freely from his eyes, “Ge, stop,” Shi Wudu felt the throbbing on his side, as the bandages colored red again – his wound opened and bled heavily. Obviously, the White Calamity did something more than just a punch.
“Disgusting,” Bai Wuxiang said indifferently from the side, “But amusing, if only a little. I will keep an eye on you, Water Tyrant. Therefore, you better behave nice. Oh, almost forgot, there, have your prize for being relatively good boy. See ya all,” Bai Wuxiang bowed to them, teasing, and left, as the spirit-trapping pouch landed by Shi Wudu’s face.
He stared at it blindly. The only thing that was left from He Xuan. His ashes. The only thing that was left.
How. Why. What.
A-Xuan, A-Xuan, A-Xuan…
“Ge?” Shi Qingxuan shook him by his shoulders, “Ge, please, say something! Ge!”
Shi Wudu did not answer, as he kept on staring blankly in front of himself, clinging onto the pouch with both of his hands.
* * *
Ming Yi touched Shi Qingxuan’s forearm. He whipped around, “Ge is not talking, Ming-xiong,” he stated, sounding completely lost, with child-like tone and big eyes, “Ming-xiong, what’s wrong with him? How do I make ge talk to me?”
Ming Yi crouched next to them and examined Shi Wudu’s pulse. He frowned, “Qingxuan, we have to get out of here and back to heavens. He needs to be treated there, his condition is not good.”
Shi Qingxuan sobbed, as he looked up at Ming Yi, “How do we get there from here?” He asked hoarsely. Thanks goodness, at least he was coming to his senses, Ming Yi thought. The almost gone insane Shi Wudu was enough to deal with, to have Shi Qingxuan losing his mind as well.
“That maniac is gone,” Ming Yi said, “And he achieved what he wanted. Perhaps, he will let us out now – he has no need for keeping us here anymore. I’ll try the Distance Shortening Array for any place outside. Let’s go to the nearest building, okay?”
Shi Qingxuan climbed to his feet, and then pulled Shi Wudu up as well. He supported him and guided him along with them. Shi Wudu did not utter a sound, his gaze was blank, his step unsteady. He moved his feet and held the pouch, but otherwise was unresponsive to anything. It was… a bitter sight to see. Ming Yi bit his lip. He could not imagine what must have the Water Tyrant felt inside. But that demon… that He Xuan… Ming Yi could not but feel the pure awe for that courage and determination. No wonder the both Shi brothers loved and admired He Xuan that much. Hell… he deserved every bit of it.
“Qingxuan, where is your fan?” Ming Yi suddenly noticed that it was missing.
Shi Qingxuan stopped in his tracks, his face showed a trace of wonder, “Oh… I do not know. I have dropped it somewhere? Ha-ha…” He had that weird lost look again that Ming Yi did not like a bit.
“Wait here and don’t move,” Ming Yi commanded, and then returned to where they were in the cage.
The Wind Master fan was there, lying in the ashes. Ming Yi gently lifted it from the ground. He was going to give it to Shi Qingxuan, but upon seeing his face, he just tucked it away in his robes to give to him later.
Ming Yi studied the door into the building, and hurried drawing the array. Shi Wudu was having a hard time standing straight, and they had to hurry.
Ming Yi finished the drawing and opened the door, half expecting nothing, or the trap, but there were none. The usual town, the empty streets and green hills in the distance. Thanks heavens.
“Let’s go,” Ming Yi said, and the three of them stepped once again into the land of living from the dead city of ashes of the Mount TongLu. Unnoticed by any of them, Bai Wuxiang vigorously waved at them from the roof of the building.
“Bye-bye! It was fun playing with you all!”
Ming Yi whipped around, but the door already closed behind them, cutting the White Calamity off their vision.