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Trophy Husband 《大宝》

Chapter Text

It was another beautiful and sunny day in ĀnZhàn (安战). Children were playing by the riverbank with their varying colored kites in their little hands, letting the wind take them where they should be. High pitched laughter echoing throughout the area; Tiny squeals from the little girls whenever they were chosen to be the it. Oh, sweet innocent childhood. The one last serene atmosphere Yien will ever get see before it happens—it never failed to plaster a smile on his face. They all look so peaceful and happy. He wished them all the blessed happiness their childhood innocence can offer.

Since the "hunting" season is coming, the children in the village would go out and make the best out of the day because when the season begins, they'll be forbidden to venture outside for obvious safety reasons. Things could get really messy, if not bloody, in these events. So far, there hasn't been any cases where someone actually got killed or got brutally injured, but that's still not one to be ignored. Things could happen, and every passing year, suitors would improve (in terms of brutality) in hopes of getting a wife or husband for the past years if they were unsuccessful the last time. It's scary because they never know what the pursuers are going to do and more often than not they would resort to using cheap tricks to win.

To someone unfamiliar with their tradition, they’d be forgiven to think ill of the unjust nature of the event. You see, to earn the hand in marriage for any available male/female in the small village of ĀnZhàn, a pursuer must fight other suitors off to eliminate competition. After that, they'll face the final challenge by engaging in a physical battle with the mate of their choice to prove their worthiness and capability to protect their future family.

One can be considered eligible to be pursued once they've reached the young age of 16, which is the age of maturity. They will be then no longer hidden away like the rest of the children in the village, but they are to be set out in the battlefield to challenge potential mates. They either manage to fend off the pursuers or get conquered. Usually after that, they will be introduced to the parents and immediately start with the marriage ceremony. Albeit, some wait for about a week or two for the ceremony.

It was an uncanny tradition of theirs, if Yien were to say. But tradition is tradition. He can't do anything to stop it from ever stopping. In their village, that's just the way it is. He hated it though. He never liked the practice of behaving like animals in relationships and kinship. It made him feel like a savage. A feral, if not. They were humans, but are expected to act like animals in the wild.

The locals were to be treated as one would in the wild. Yien, for a lack of better term, hated it. ĀnZhàn is no different from the wild; ĀnZhàn is as joke to civilization.

Because of this tradition, he spent most of his childhood training—learning how to attack and fend off unwanted pursuers. Yien didn't want to be seen as a prize so he did everything he could to not end up as some random person's husband.

Duan Yien is renowned for being the most sought after male in the entire village. Men and women from other neighboring and far away villages come to ĀnZhàn in hopes of making him their husband. However, it's no easy task for Duan Yien is known for his impeccable combat skills, making him the most difficult-to-attain suitor in all of ĀnZhàn.

He has seen most of his friends lose and marry strangers so many times, he had turned to loathe the practice (more than he already does). If only he couldn't participate, he wouldn't. However, the absence in participation would bring great shame to the family, dubbing it "a cowardly act"—a deviance. So that leaves Yien with the only option of winning the battles so no one could have his hand. He has managed to remained untouched for over 4 years now, and he plans on making this years his 5th.

Strangely enough, his lack of enthusiasm in the battles gained him more popularity. He is the village's "Unrivaled Prince". Even his family took pride in his resistance and winning streak. They've been very supportive of his choice, though his mother is silently wishing for his son to finally settle with someone even just as close for his standards. Her son was getting older and, as much as his title grooms his dignity, participants are beginning to prey on the younger ones. (Yes, it does sound that disturbing).

His father, however, was more that glad to help his beloved son train for the season since it gave them opportunity to spend some quality father and son time together by engaging in spars and dabbling in martial arts—something his father has been very vehement about since he was young. Somehow deep within him, he knew that he didn’t want to lose his prized son to someone random.

To add insult to injury (for Yien, that is), his beauty has done more bad than good. Because of his mature and youthful look, many have turned their attention to him. Added with the thrill of chasing someone who hasn't been touched, raised more unwanted interest from desperate and cocky men and women alike.

It was tiresome.

"Yien!"

A voice interrupted his attention to the playing children. The said male turned to look for the source of the voice only to find his cousin—Tzuyu (子瑜). She gave him a tired smile before plopping down beside on the grassy field. "You aren't going to train for tomorrow? You know that you’re still the number one target. Even after these years… Can you believe that?" She mumbled the last one, but Yien was able to hear it.

He smiled, "I did train. I wanted to take a breath so I went out. A breath of fresh air doesn't hurt."

Tzuyu nodded, "Well, your papa asked me to tell you that you should be finishing your training soon so we could all have dinner by 7. That means everyone will have enough time to rest for the evening. That way, you'll have all the energy you need for tomorrow's event. After all, you don't want to be sluggish on the first day."

Yien chuckled at his cousin’s bluntness before doing as told. He did a few more practices using his favorite dagger, embowed in a distinct style to signify his ownership, wrapped in red tinted leather for good luck.

When night came, Yien glanced at the window adjacent to his bed. The august glow of the moon notified the time for the event to begin. The gods and goddesses will be watching them, picking their fates with little effort. All he could do was hope that everything will go the way it should.

This is Yien's fifth year participating, yet he still gets nervous for the day to begin. The event lasts for up to 3 days and there's no telling who are involved. It'll all come to light tomorrow. But that still doesn't give him any ease.

The windchime by his window sang him a lullaby. It was the last song he heard before eventually letting sleep take over.

 

****

 

With one final roundhouse kick, the man came flying across in a distance. It took him a while to stand back up again, indicating that he has lost the battle already. Yien let out a deep breath as he mentally cheered on himself. That was his 9th guy today, not counting the 2 other women who tried, and already he was disappointed in this year's event so far.

Sure he hated the objective of it, but getting to beat random people with a good reason and not having to face consequences was always the best part. However, this year wasn't really much of a challenge for him. Everyone was so predictable and often attacked him purely on impulse.

Times when he wasn't a target, he would jump on roofs to get an overview of the entire village and see who were worthy to be challenged. If he was going to participate, at least give him a good one.

"That's him. It's Duan Yien!"

He looked behind him to see 2 pairs of eyes fixated on him. Whenever someone got close to Yien, they always had the same expression—thrilled and anxious. They were no different. One of the two looked at his friend before nodding. He charged at Yien with impressive speed, wielding two knives.

Yien quickly jumped to the nearest roof to prepare himself then he followed. It tool him a while to lose him, but Yien was able to slash the man's thigh, inflicting immense pain on the chaser. It wasn't over though. His friend who was patiently waiting for his turn, automatically jumped in as the next challenger. He was just as good as his friend, but they did both have something in common—they weren't good enough.

The town bell roared through the entire village, making the end of today's event.

Yien gave the men a grim expression before jumping off the roof to go retreat to his family. As he walked pass the participants, he could make out a few familiar faces who had been conquered, some were his old classmates, some were his neighbors, and some were his previous pursuers. The ones who were able to defeat their chosen mates were tending to the wounds they had inflicted on them and vice versa. Looks like some really did put up a fight.

Those who saw Yien gave him a mix of expressions. Some were amazed, some with a knowing look, and some even envy.

"Again?!"

"He must be really good."

"He should really settle down now that he's in his 20's"

"Isn't it his 5th year now? He should really let someone win if he wants to have a family."

"Lower your standards a bit, would you?"

"At this point, everyone should just stop going after him."

"Yeah, there are plenty of other girls in this village anyway."

"Makes you really wonder what his wife or husband is going to look like."

"This is getting annoying."

"Just how strong is he?"

"He probably thinks he's better than us."

"I wish he trained us with him."

"Lucky, bastard."

There were all kinds of whispers and murmurs coming from every direction but he paid them no mind. He knew better than to drown in the words of people with little to no significance to him.

Another successful day for Yien.

 

****

 

"This guy's really no joke," she mumbled to herself as she blocked another one of Yien's offense. She was a skilled fighter just like the man before her so she didn't easily backed away like the rest did. It never bothered to her of the words circulating around the village. All she knew was that Duan Yien was this event's most notable prize out of all and she wanted to be the first to defeat this prominent figure and be just as famous.

Tough luck.

There were four guys approaching them. It looked like they wanted to attack Yien while he was busy. He was able to sense them coming and instead threw one of the men to the girl, knocking her momentarily as he took care of the three charging at him at once. He did so by backflipping over a stone fence and into a little moat in someone's garden.

The five pursuers were back on his tail, attacking all out once like before. Yien made use of water surrounding them by throwing whoever he could grab unto the vegetated part of the moat so that they would have a hard time breaking free from the untamed water lilies and other aquatic plants he didn't know the names of.

This wasn't the first time someone pulled off the same tactic so Yien wasn't looking forward to losing this round. Though he will admit that this day did pick up its pace.

Yien was distracted with the man he was punching that he didn't notice someone creeping his way from behind. He grabbed a hold of him by the neck and pulled them both down. Yien gasped as he water started entering his lungs, he elbowed the man holding him but he didn't let go. He instead tightened his grip on him, cutting off his oxygen supply. By now Yien was panicking. He didn't want to lose in this way. No. He trashed his limbs around, hoping that it would tire the man. His eyes and chest were stinging as he involuntarily coughed under water.

He was able to resurface when the man finally let go of him. He violently coughed out the remaining water in him and gasped for air, seeing that the woman was to be thanked for saving him since she was the one who pulled them both up. Though Yien knew that she only saved him because she wanted to be the one to beat him.

Yien had to regain his vision back by taking deep breaths. As he did so he noticed that his pursuers resorted to attacking each other since one of them nearly killed him. He took that as an opportunity to jump back over to the other side to tend to his own aching lungs. He knew that it was too risky to be out on the open in a weak state so he did what he had to do to protect himself. He hid in the nearest house he could find away from the one he was just at. He found an empty outdoor kitchen area and took shelter there. It was a bit cowardly, he knew. But his violent coughs and aching lungs needed to calm down in order for him to survive.

After recovering, he walked out of the kitchen only to hear the bell ring. Yien sighed in relief, knowing very well that he barely got out of this one alive, let alone single. He chuckled to himself as he walked back to the direction of his house with the same kind of stares being thrown at him from yesterday. Tough some were impressed and shocked seeing that someone probably almost manged to conquer him given his disheveled look.

This was a reminder to everyone that some people really do take this event seriously and all for what? Sex? Marriage? A family?

It's more brutal here in the real world for the civilians in ĀnZhàn.

"One more day," Yien encouraged himself. "It'll be over for now."

Chapter Text

The clouds felt closer. It was just in their reach and they knew. It lulled them—the song of the KueiShen’s—enough to take a break from their journey. Away from society was where they found comfort. Such nobility and honor these men had brought their names upon. Hardly, anyone else can’t tell they bore little to no difference from the rest who walked on the same land they did. Not a saint, nor a monster, but something in between. Blades of art and skills for livelihood hold no meaning to their tainted souls.

“So this is LǜTiān (绿天) province’s famous ĀnZhàn village.” Zaifan gave his friend a lopsided grin before averting his eyes back to the mountains, majestic in all its might. “I thought it’d be a lot bigger from what I’ve heard.” Zaifan traced the gravel path beneath them, taking notes of their surrounding path later on. “You’d think that a village that hosts these kind of traditions would be more… surprising. How many people do you think even live here? Less than the people who come here annually, perhaps?”

His friend kept his gaze on the village, eyes narrowed and brows furrowed. “Don’t be too critical. I heard that they’re good fighters. They’ve been doing this for years so it’s understandable that they know who they might be up against or, at the very least, have an idea. With the event going on, it’s hard telling who’s who. Remember, most of the country’s most skilled fighters and fearless warriors come together for this sex-driven event. And I’m just here to find who’s the best one.”

Zaifan snickered, “Keep telling yourself that. I know you just want what everyone’s after. Duan Yien was his name, wasn’t it? Such a promising sounding name, I hope he’ll be worth our time. It wasn’t a leisurely boat ride of a journey traveling all the way here. Might I remind you that LǜTiān is 7 provinces away from ours: 4 days and 3 nights.”

“Well if you were unsure yourself, why did you even bother coming along with me?” He retorted, giving him a nonthreatening glare.

Zaifan shook his head, “Wang Jiaer, my friend,” he placed hand on the said male’s shoulder, “We both know that when it comes to judgement, you’re the worse between the two of us. Even if your objective is to boost your ego by doing what no one has yet to achieve, no matter how hard you try to deny it, I’ll still be the one idiot who didn’t stop you. And that’s the best type of love I can ever give you. Don’t waste it.” He pointed at his friend, who in return gave him a halfhearted laugh.

Instead of coming up with a failed attempt of a witty remark from Jiaer, he let the moment sink in for the two friends, backed up by the serene beauty before them. Listening to the screams of the river as it flowed from a distance. The younger version of him would’ve definitely fought back and did exactly what Zaifan suspected, but that’s not him anymore. “No more childish games”, he would convince himself. But Jiaer had this bad habit of concealing his insecurities through acts to which he forces the message of honor and pride. No one further pushed to question him since. After all, who would’ve thought a man from a family whose character tinted with blood more shameful than a coward’s act differently from his father?

“I think the event had just begun,” Zaifan commented, breaking the comfortable silence they just shared after noticing the sudden change of ambience the mountains gave. “Should we be going?” Jiaer agreed and soon the two friends were on their way to the village.

Just what exactly was this infamous event?

 

****

 

After inquiring on the 5th lodge, the friends were beginning to question their luck. Not a single place to stay was available for the week since apparently everyone in the entire country was gathered in this one village, wanting to get a taste of their own rights for a mate. Even the cheap leech that Zaifan is was more than willing to stay in the most expensive ones just to give his butt a place to rest, praying on an actual mat and not a tree this time even if it was for a night. They underestimated just exactly how popular this event was. Challengers had booked their rooms weeks prior to the actual event, just to make sure they got a place for the season.

Nai, are you sure there isn’t at least one room available?” Zaifan tried his very best not to lash out his frustrations on the nearest plant he can find as he listened to the old woman’s response.

“Well, there would be if the people participating would just leave after failing or winning. But you know how it goes here. Young kids these days really know the value of persistence goes.” The old woman looked at the distressed men in front of her with a sympathetic smile. “One of my residents told me that she won’t leave until she finds herself a wife. That kid was really a tough one, I could tell. On her first day, she wasn’t able to but then luckily for her, she won over a smart looking woman just about her age on the second day. The guy staying on the room across her was livid when he discovered that she beat him on the record. Now he’s only got a few more hours left before he’s too late.”

Jiaer and Zaifan unknowingly gave her the same confused look before Jiaer asked, “What do you mean by that?”

The woman waved her hand dismissively, “Aiya! No wonder you two have trouble getting by here. You know nothing about the event, do you?”

“We know about what it’s for,” Zaifan filled in.

It wasn’t loud enough, but the two were able to catch the old woman mutter under her breath, “Ah, newbies.”

She sighed, looking between the friends. “Even though it’s considered a season, it doesn’t actually last very long. Things can get really messy when the participants get too desperate so the chief shortened the duration to 3 days. It proved to also be beneficial for the locals since they can get badly injured, slimming their chances of winning. If it had continued as it was before, a riot would’ve erupted. It’s not ideal to make this place the heart of the bachelors and bachelorettes’ or their mates, if you would. There’s more to them, you know? They’re people too.”

“Three days? How long has it been since?”

“Oh, today’s the last day. So you two better hurry up and find your own mates before the last echo of the bell, that’s the sign that the event’s over."

“That’s a bit stressful,” Jiaer looked at the woman, eyes grim and tired.

“If it weren’t, would there still be a challenge?” The woman shrugged.

After thanking Nainai for her patience with them, Jiaer and Zaifan walked out of the lodge and immediately they scanned the field for potential challenges.

“Wang Jiaer,” Zaifan grinned, a hint of playfulness in his tone.

“Hmm?”

“Our luck hasn’t been too kind for us. Maybe these are the gods’ signs telling you not to participate.”

Jiaer chuckled, “Didn’t you heard what Nainai said? Persistence is the key,” he winked. He took a mental note of everything the old lady had to share after feeling slightly embarrassed that she kinda scolded them for not knowing their traditions. Luckily for him, having a good memory would play a huge part in his journey.

Zaifan ignored the gesture, continuing, “How are you going to find the legendary Duan Yien at this point? We don’t even know what he looks like. And I believe there’s no point asking anyone, considering that he’s like the grand prize of this event, there are probably snitches lurking around here.”

“I’ll see what my sins have paid for.” Jiaer nonchalantly replied.

A life’s worth of credit should balance its debit, if not, then where’s the art in that? Every Yin has its Yang and he wants his piece of it. The ashes of what’s left of his mirrors cemented his comprehension on how things should be. He learned the hard way of the reality that justice can do little for prejudice. There is fairness in this world and he has yet to find his.

A mere play for his own shame?

 

It was faint, the result of distance taking its part in volume. Zaifan knew Jiaer heard it as well. Gargled and distraught. A feeling all to familiar to the friends. It was it, wasn’t it? Their tired minds surely couldn’t have made a fool out of them.

Silence…

The eerie sound of death looming the corner of the village. But no, it wasn’t death. The lack of presence was what caused it.

It was too quiet.

Then there it was again. Loud and clear.

“DUAN YIEN!”

The name they’ve only heard come out from strangers giving praises. This time, it was different.

Zaifan was about to say something but Jiaer had already knew what he was going to. No need for words. He ran to where the sound was, replacing the dead atmosphere with heavy thumps. With a sharp turn in a corner would they be blessed with the sight of the male they have been searching for. At least, according to what the defeated male had addressed him as.

Graceful and elegant? His bloodied hand laughs at it. It may or may not be his. Who knows? It might be a little bit of both of his and the previous guy. A visible scowl written on his face, potentially wrinkling the youthful beauty people seem to attach to him. He wasn’t like what the legends tell. He’s no god, nor was he an invincible warrior. Just the sight alone made Jiaer realize—they’ve both been wronged. Fairy tales aren’t meant for locals like him. There was no hero, no moral, no story. In this little village in the LǜTiān province called ĀnZhàn, there was only survival.

“Does sex really scare you that much, huh?” The man, practically beaten up, spat at the male who was walking away from him after implying his victory. Despite his pathetic efforts in taunting him, made little to no impact, let alone importance for Duan Yien to stop. Nonetheless, he continued, “You love the attention everyone gives, don’t you? Admit it, you love the attention! Acting all arrogant and mighty. You’re not that significant at all.”

He knows.

“Fine! Go ahead. Call me weak, desperate, and a failure. You’re not any different anyway. All these people. Men… Women… It doesn’t matter. The great and almighty Duan Yien isn’t who everyone thinks he is. I know that now that I’ve breathed the same air in the soil he walked. Fine! Stay a virgin for all I care. There’s nothi-”

The abrupt stop, a jab, and a moan made Yien turn around, confused. The man he had just defeated was silenced with a kick straight to the face, knocking him (and a few teeth) out.

“What are you doing?” Yien’s brows furrowed.

The man looked up at him, he responded, “Is this not how it’s suppose to work?”

Yien’s face contorted into an expression which could only be defined as confuse. Jiaer gave him the benefit of the doubt, “Eliminate competition before going after you, right?”

Yien perked up at his nonchalant response and alerted himself, readying for his next (and probably last fight). “You are correct. But in case you haven’t noticed it’s nearing sundown, so be a dear for me and make this match the worth the effort. I really look forward for next year’s event.” Sarcasm poisoning the last part.

Jiaer didn’t know what Zaifan was talking about earlier. There definitely was a surprise waiting for him in ĀnZhàn and his name was Duan Yien.

Jiaer grinned, his hand traveled to his sword, waiting to see the light of day before darkness consumes the sky. Yien took notice of his subtle actions, further pushing his level of comprehension of the situation unfolding before him. It was only a guess, but it appears to Yien that his next and final challenger had a different taste in his matches, though not entirely impossible, just unlikely. It was usually the typical punch, (attempt to) knock out, and drag kind-of situation for him. Yien had the occasional sword fights, however, based on his previous encounters, no one was disciplined enough to try.

Because of the lack of creativity, he had his dagger as his main weapon. Of course, he did bring his sword as well. Mostly acting as for extra measures. Though as experience had taught him, a quick slice across any limb was enough to scare them away.

“In the rules, it never explicitly stated that the challenger cannot decide what type of match they want, nor did it prohibit the pursued of accepting it.” Jiaer pulled out his sword—a Jian*—and pointed the tip towards Yien’s direction.

Yien narrowed his eyes on the latter, flickering his attention to him and the weapon he held, "Are you even taking this match seriously?"

Jiaer saw him glace at his sword and props to him for immediately noticing. Even in a fairly farther distance, the latter was able to tell what kind of sword he was using. "Why do you ask? Does my choice offend you? I don’t think the sword determines the winner in every match. Plus, I figured it’d be more fitting for the occasion. With the whole kinship and all."

“You seem to know more than what you look,” Yien teased, crossing his arms against his chest.

“Am I suppose to be offended by that?” Jiaer played along.

“Very well then,” Yien drew out his own sword, getting into position. “Two against one?” he nodded towards Ziafan’s direction, who was obediently witnessing the entire ordeal from a good distance.

“It only takes two to tango,” Jiaer boldly proclaimed as he came dashing towards him with high speed that even Yien was momentarily taken aback. Their blades clashed as soon as Yien blocked his attack. He pushed him off him so that he could regain composure. With that single strike he could tell that though he came off as lofty, the man before him knew exactly what he was doing. It wasn’t like Yien didn’t have any confidence in himself, however his opponent did seem to be on the same page as him.

His thoughts narrowed down to the precision of his challenger’s swings. They were of a man who valued dignity. It wasn’t any swordsmanship he knew of and it was honestly quite refreshing for Yien. Men and women came from beyond the mountain borders but had failed to impress him. There were a few honorable mentions, albeit not enough for him to even remember what they looked like.

Jiaer managed to come close to Yien, their swords scratching from both pressure coming from opposing sides. “I’ve heard a lot about you Duan Yien.”

Yien huffed, “You think you’re the first to say that?” He turned to release the pressure on his sword then swung it to Jiaer’s blind spot.

The latter was quicker, blocking his offense then leaned closer to say, “Oh, then let me be the first to say that it’s getting quite repetitive and it’s honestly quite bland for a man like you. I want to hear something new, like… something that I could be the first to know.”

What was this guy doing? Words are hardly ever exchanged during matches, and yet this vain guy comes waltzing to his village and start saying such.

“Shouldn’t that answer be reserved for when you actually win?” Yien kicked the man on his shin, successfully adding injury.

Jiaer managed to compose himself then he stepped back a bit to dodge Yien’s following attacks. Yien was definitely swift in his posture, ending his every swing with such violence only to be replaced with fluid transitions to the next. His momentum was consistent throughout. A proud observation Jiaer made, given the fact that Yien had been engaging in battles prior to him. Needless to say, his endurance was also a defining feature.

 

**

 

Zaifan had never seen his friend fight like the one he’s currently in. Jiaer and Yien both looked so violent with their attacks but every approach lingered with gentleness. He could tell that they were evenly matched. Everything did. From the swordsmanship, to the way they dealt with their own blades. Like puzzle pieces, they were. Different in every single way, yet they’ve managed to fill the missing gaps of their own reflection that they see in in their perfection. Or perhaps one of them was holding back and he just couldn’t tell.

They used various techniques, ranging from too violent swings to flying over the other in attempt to dodge the other's attacks. Though Jiaer could do the same thing Yien could, it appeared to be that the latter was more on the aerial type of fighter while Jiaer preferred physical contact.

Their blades were both a prop and the star of their fight. With one glance, anyone can tell they were skilled with holding a blade. The fact that they had different ones, yet still managing to use the same exact force, bewilders Zaifan. It was often up to the blades to tell which was the victor. In their case—it wasn't.

Yien was visibly tiring. He didn’t want to give up. He kept blocking and dodging Jiaer’s attacks and when he had the chance, he’d strike. If this keeps up, he might be able to save himself. But if he can’t, then his pursuer would come out as the victor.

Somehow in the midst of their match a crowd had began to form. Even Yien’s parents and relatives were watching the match. Scared and nervous. All rightfully amazed of the scene before them. They’ve never seen a challenger come this close to potentially winning, nor have they seen Yien fight someone for this long. What also was new to them was this challenger’s way of flirting with Yien. At least, that’s how Jiaer presents it to be.

He’d randomly throw in a few questions answerable by facts relating to Yien or it would lead to innocent jokes that honestly were so pathetic. Yien actually ‘unironically’ chuckled to one. Their match, which started off as the pursued protecting his own vision for dignity, has now turned into a playful spar by two people that looked like they’ve known each other for years added with flirtatious banter (mostly from Jiaer though).

“And he said he wanted to act mature,” Zaifan half mumbled-half sighed as he couldn’t help but wait for the match to end.

“He better hurry quick if he wants to woo our Yien. His time’s almost up,” a random bystander commented, eyeing the males in their seemingly never ending match.

 

**

 

“You’re still not quitting?” Yien huffed after successfully elbowing the other from behind. Jiaer shrugged the stinging sensation off, then grabbed Yien by his elbow, the same one he used just now, and manhandled him to the ground. Yien was forced to drop his sword from the impact, groaning at the pain.

Jiaer was definitely more muscular compared to him and that gave the latter the disadvantage. Then again, Yien was more swift and agile between them. Putting their situation in a tight line.

He was quick to see Jiaer’s actions so he pulled out his trusty dagger that was hidden on the leather wrapped around his thigh and used it to slash Jiaer on his arm, causing him to hiss.

Yien used the opportunity to stand back up again. He glared Jiaer through his lashes, unable to act immediately, feeling a little bit exhausted. Actually, they both were. They’ve been fighting for quite a while that it took a toll on their stamina. Each were their own weakness. It wasn’t like they fought for hours, but since they’re attacks required equal force to counter, it quickly drained them more than their previous fights would.

“Game’s over,” Yien exhaled deeply, voice harsh from his exhaustion. Though it wasn’t quite loud, Jiaer was able to hear it.

“What are you talking about?”

Just then, the familiar sound of the bell to Yien ripped through the halls of the village, drowning the groans of disappointment and proud cheers from people in variation. Jiaer watched as Yien took a deep breath, lifted one finger up, and spoke, “I win.” He wore a victorious grin as he began to walk to the distance of the cheering crowd, particularly to the side where his family was gathered.

He didn’t know how it happened. He wasn’t stupid. He wasn’t a fool. So how didn’t he see it coming? Or better yet, hear it?

Maybe it was a mixture of laughs, praises, and the bell. The bell…

The smiles on the crowd’s faces were now replaced with horrified and confused expressions. Sharp gasps, wide eyes, deadly silence.

The bell had just ceased.

At that moment, the only thing Yien could understand was that his back was on the dirt, face dangerously close to his opponent. He saw him grin.

He leaned down, lips brushing his ear as he whispered,

 

“I think, I won.”

 

Find your own mates before the last echo of the bell, that’s the sign that the event’s over.

Chapter Text

Yien was in complete denial. He looked like a deer caught in the headlights as the words of defeat echoed throughout his dazed state of mind. The silent sharp gasps and judgement of the crowd is as loud as daylight to him. The final echo of the bell, long forgotten.

All he could see was a mop of mahogany brown locks rising to reveal his insulting proud smirk. Yien roughly pushed the male on top of him off, stumbling to rise up. His eyes drifted to the crowd behind him, all in utter shock like he is. Ashamed, he turned away from their censorious glares, scurrying his way back to the mansion.

“Duan Yien!”

He ignored the calls of the man, who is now his mate apparently, as he let his clouded mind bring him wherever he wants to be. And in Yien’s case, his room doesn’t seem like a bad idea.

However, Wang Jiaer didn’t get the message. He rushed up to Yien, grabbed him by the shoulder to get him to face him. That ended up backfiring as Yien snapped and threw a hard punch straight to his face. Yien continued to trudge his way back to the mansion, unaware of the snickering crowd behind him. Jiaer groaned, a scowl written on his face. He mentally cursed at the nosy bystanders murmuring to each other, hands clasp over their mouths to conceal their wicked grins.

Zaifan quickly rushed to his friend who was checking for blood dripping from his nose or mouth. “Are you okay?” Zaifan patted Jiaer’s back, shaking his head to answer Jiaer’s unspoken question if he was bleeding. Albeit, a bruise was to come for certain.

His friend groaned, wiping the pain off with his arm. “I’m fine.”

The sound of dirt drew their attention. They turn to see a young woman approach them. She came off as apologetic, even giving a sympathetic smile to Jiaer. “I apologize on behalf of my cousin… He’s not very enthusiastic to this event. So please don’t go blaming yourself for his behavior.”

The two friends looked at each other, not knowing what to do. Being familiar with the shock, the woman invited them over to their home after retrieving her cousin’s abandoned sword in order to clear a few things. And by few things, she means the marriage.

Jiaer and Zaifan were told to present themselves in the mansion’s grand hall, where the patriarch and his wife were situated. The woman accompanying them was visibly hesitant, bearing a conflicted look on her face. This, understandably, made the couple agitated for what she was about to say.

“Tzuyu, who are these men?” The woman asked.

“Uncle, auntie… this is Yien Ge’s* new fiancé,” the said woman motioned over to Jiaer, who bowed upon addressed.

The couple before them drastically changed in demeanor. Both giving varied reactions of the news with Beishan showing to be more shaken in contrast to his wife, Meilin*, who seemed to be a little bit relieved. “Tzuyu, are you saying that…” The patriarch was cut short when the said woman nodded her head.

Yien lost?

“This isn’t a joke right?”

Tzuyu slowly shook her head, face contorted into uncertainty (ironically). “He won fair and square, uncle. Yien Ge couldn’t believe it himself.” She held up Yien’s sword. That was all the proof they needed to confirm their grievance.

“Bu…but the bell? Did it not rang just now?” The patriarch run a hand through his long hair, visibly agitated. “Where is he now?” he asked, completely ignoring his first question.

Tzuyu shrugged, “I don’t know, but he did retreat back here so he’s probably in his room.”

Beishan* pressed his lips in a thin line before averting his gaze to the butlers standing by the side, waiting to be needed. “Get Yien to come here.” They nodded before quickly walking to their young master’s room.

“Heck, I knew this day would come but I didn’t think it’d be today. What do we do?” Beishan looked over to his wife, searching for her response to this news.

Meilin manged to compose herself, saying, “I suppose we should proceed to the arrangements.” She nodded, looking at her husband.

“We should,” he acknowledge, dispirited. “But what are we going to do with Yien? You know he’s going to put up a struggle for this.”

“He’ll have to give in eventually,” she stated. “The chief won’t excuse him. Nobody has ever been excused, as a matter of fact. So why should he do so to our son?”

“I know that he should, but you know him. He’s been very vocal of this. I highly doubt he’ll even let anyone see him right now. So how are we going to convince him to come to the ceremony hall, let alone at least tolerate this man.” Beishan looked at the man, apologized for his ignorance but Jiaer took no offense.

“Jiaer,” he introduced. “And with me is my friend—Lin Zaifan.” He gestured to his friend, who bowed when mention. “Let me take this opportunity to introduce ourselves. We came from the province of XúnCāng (燖沧). I am the second son of Ruiji and Zhou Ping from the Wang clan.”

“Wait, a Wang from XúnCāng?” Now taking an interest on the said male, Beishan studied the male who, according to Tzuyu, had won the right’s to have his son’s hand in marriage. “I’ve heard about your family.”

“Good things, I hope,” Jiaer followed with a lighthearted chuckle.

“A few things, here and there.” Beishan narrowed his eyes.

“Why?” Meilin interjected. “What about their clan?”

“Barely good things are ever talked about for a military commander, let alone a politician,” Beishan gave his wife a knowing look. “Not many treat us too kindly.” He then turned back to Jiaer. “However, in Ruiji’s records… he’s gotten himself in quite a lot of trouble. I’ve heard about him before. You’re mother is a well-known doctor, is she not?”

Meilin’s head pivoted so quickly at the mention of this. Impressed, she repeated, “You’re mother is a doctor?”

Jiaer nodded, “She’s the daughter of Zhou Yongchang, you might have heard about him.”

Meilin looked at the male, the grandson of the ever so famous Zhou Yongchang, in awe. Of course, with a promising title, it’s easy to gain the blessing from the parents. Given the fact that he literally won their son over already, there was already an implication of security and strength, so they no longer have to worry about the balance needed for the ‘couple’. Too much intelligence isn’t enough; Too much brute isn’t enough. It’s the Yin and Yang they were looking for.

Beishan and Meilin knew that despite the unwanted title Jiaer was unfortunately tinted with, he is blessed with a good heart. As far as they can tell, he’s just as promising as he’s expected to be. Then again, a diamond with a flaw is worth more than a pebble without imperfections so who were they to make assumptions based on this man’s reflection? All he ever did was abide by the rules, and look where that got him.

“If I may ask,” Jiaer interrupted the couple, gaining their attention. “Can I bring Duan Yien back to XúnCāng with me?”

 

**

 

“Young master, please come out. Your father summons you to the grand hall.”

Yien rolled his eyes at the repeating pleas of the servants. He’s heard of the same sentences over and over again. It was beginning to drive him crazy.

“For the last time—I’m not coming out. I will not listen, the tortoise is chanting sutras*.”

“But you are to meet with your fiancé. He’s here to see you, young master.”

“He’s not my fiancé. The bell rung when he toppled me down. It doesn’t count!”

After fighting with the servants for about 40 minutes or so, he heard new voices but it was faint so it was hard to tell whose. Yien presumed it was either of his siblings asking what was all the commotion all about. But it wasn’t actually that. There were screaming and cursing. Those voices were definitely not from any of his siblings, nor any of their servants. The sound of something hard crashing with something brittle tore through his room followed by more screams.

Was that Chi just now?

Yien yanked his door open only to be greeted by the sight of a man from before being chased by Chi who was also being chased by their servants, yelling for him to stop.

“Get this chicken off me!”

“Jiaer, stop!”

“Sir, please don’t hurt the young master’s Chi.”

Jiaer blindly flailed his arms around, cursing at the bird sitting on top of him. “Its claws are digging into my skin. Get him off!”

“We will until you stop and let us,” Zaifan grabbed his friend by the arm, forcing him to stop in that spot.

“What are you doing here?” Yien appeared before them, a scowl plastered on his face.

They all came to an abrupt stop, holding in their breaths as if they were caught guilty of something.

The servants came to Yien, frantically pushing one another to tell him, “Young master, Chi attacked-”

“Ahh! Zaifan, be a little gentle, would you?”

Yien averted his attention to the two friends. One was struggling to get a hold of the rooster on his friend’s head, while the other cursed and clenched his fists in order to restrain himself.

“Stop moving, goddammit!”

Chi clucked as if mocking the male before beginning to peck him. “Hurry up and get this chicken off me.” Jiaer made more violent gestures, in hopes of scaring the animal but to no avail.

Yien rushed to their side, pushing Zaifan away from further stressing the animal. “Stop! You’re not doing any better.” He gently grabbed Chi off of Jiaer’s now disheveled hair. “You scared him.” Yien glared at the two, placing Chi safely in his arms.

“We scared him?” Jiaer retorted as he brushed his hair with hi hand. “Your chicken jumped on us and attacked me.”

“He’s not a chicken; He’s a rooster.” Yien corrected, backing away from the two as he pulled Chi closer to him. “It’s your faults anyway for trespassing. He doesn’t react kindly to strangers. Which brings me to my question—what are you two doing in my quarter?”

Jiaer straightened himself before pulling out something from his pocket. “Now that we’re getting married, I thought I’d give you my gift.” He pulled out a red pouch embroidered with golden patterns. Jiaer walked closer to Yien. Too close for Yien’s liking that is. The latter glared at him, turning Chi away from the approaching male. “Can you give me your hand?”

Yien looked at Chi then back to Jiaer. “Can’t,” he shrugged, obviously teasing him.

“Well, put the chicken down first.” Jiaer bickered.

“Rooster,” Yien said through gritted teeth.

“Fine,” he huffed. “Put your rooster down, please.”

“Why should I?” Yien pressed, scowl never leaving his face.

“Because I need your hand,” Jiaer glared at Yien’s occupied arms with the chicken, looking at him with a blank stare. The audacity of this bird. After scratching his scalp and denting his manly dignity, remorse was not even in his eyes. Those dead stupid dotted eyes “For me to put on your present.”

Of all the things that has happened today, Yien was disgusted. Did this guy honestly think he was really going to marry him? “We’re not getting married,” Yien coldly rejected. Eyes cold as his tone. The servants behind him looked at each other, pitying the male frozen in front of their young master. “I’m not going to accept your proposal. Not even the most expensive gifts you can ever present to me can change my mind. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that can change my mind.”

“There is no need for a proposal, Yien.” A voice interrupted. They all turned to see Lady Meilin approaching them with her husband close behind. “You can’t turn him down. He earned his rights to marry you. He will be your husband and you can’t do anything about it.”

“The bell rang, Ma.” Yien argued.

“Before it was officially over, he won. Tzuyu confirmed to us.” Meilin got between the new couple, looking quite sullen and infuriated at the same time. “She also told us probably half of the village saw the whole ordeal. If the chief gets a word of your behavior, he’ll personally have you to answer for your actions. Not only that, karma will come bite you back.”

Yien hung his head low, avoiding his mother’s intimidating glare. He knew she was right. He knew that this was unavoidable. The one thing he had sworn to deprive himself of was coming fast and he didn’t like the feeling of it, not even one bit. For a lack of a better term, it felt unreal. Excuse his temperament, but he is the one being wronged. How different will he ever be from an untamed creature if he conform to these norms.

Beishan turned to Jiaer, eyeing the packet in his hand, “Young man, you wanted to give Yien something?”

The said male nodded, “Duan Yien, will you please give me your hand?” He held out his hand for Yien to place his but the latter was hesitant. He gave his mother a conflicted expression before reluctantly looking back at Jiaer with the same sour look from before then placing his hand on top of Jiaer’s, balancing Chi in one of his arms.

Jiaer took out the item in the packet—a detailed gold bracelet. Etched with novel curves and geometric patterns, it was unlike any other he’d seen in his before. Not even coming close to any of the works of the craftsmen in his village. The patterns were definitely something he doesn’t recognize as it was of a foreign art style. But the one thing that radiated the most were the tiny detailed jade stones lined on the rim of the bracelet, dominating the gold more than it should.

Yien watched as Jiaer lightly held his hand so he could put the accessory. Jiaer took the opportunity to take in Yien’s features while he observed the details of the bracelet. His brows were furrowed, lips slightly pouted, eyes fixed on the object, and head titled to the right a little. He looked absolutely stunning, if it weren't for the brainless chicken in his arm starring at him with a dead look in its eye. Jiaer watched as Yien’s lips struggled to put out a coherent critique of the beauty. Until he recognized what the gold was molded into, wrapping the entire circumference of the accessory.

Yien lifted his gaze from, facial expression contorted into confusion. “A phoenix? Do I look like a girl to you?*”

“Lofty precision for patience and dedication. I think it’s a beautiful symbol for it, quite fitting actually.”

Meilin and Beishan took a good look on the bracelet. Impressed, they praised, “That’s quite an intricate gift you have there.” Beishan awed.

“I’m glad you think so,” Jiaer beamed. “It’s patterns are native to XúnCāng.”

“XúnCāng?” Yien repeated.

“Jiaer, why don’t you introduce yourself to our Yien,” Meilin suggested. “He was absent during your introduction.”

“Of course,” Jiaer nodded, smiling. “It would be my pleasure.”

 

****

 

“Well, that was quite the presentation,” Zaifan broke off the silence in his and Jiaer’s shared room. After letting everything simmer for the night, the two guests were catered and offered a place for the time being. That is until Jiaer’s request. “Do you think you made any progress for that?”

“It’s the first day,” Jiaer hissed after Zaifan pressed too hard on his growing and reddening bruise that he was trying to tame with ointments. It’ll look bad for the next two to four days, Jiaer just knows it. “Give him a little time. It’s his initial shock acting up. Undoubtedly, it’ll take time. I’ll make sure he feels comfortable with me before we take him back to XúnCāng.”

“He’s quite persistent, is he not?”

“His temperament leans towards the bad side for us.”

Zaifan leaned back to take in his friend’s condition. Jiaer had the top of his clothes peeled down to expose his wounds and bruises while Zaifan offered to help treat them.

“This fiancé of yours is more than what you had initially thought, isn’t he?”

“He’s skilled, I’ll give him that,” Jiaer proudly pointed out. “I admit, I’m impressed. Maybe that would be the one thing we’d have in common. After all, he is going to be my husband.”

Zaifan’s expression turned earnest as he placed the towel down. “We’ve come this far, Jiaer. I want to ask you this now, as my Childe and as my friend—I care about you and your decisions.” Jiaer listened intently of his words, also bearing the same serious expresstion. “Are you sure you want to continue with this plan?”

The lingering torment of his tinted past clouds this serene moment. His aching bruise could be his testament for that.

“Like you said—we’ve come this far,” Jiaer’s voice was low, dark even. “It’d be difficult for us to go back now.”

“But still, you shouldn’t burden the ignorant,” Zaifan frowned. “Duan Yien appears to be a strong willed individual. It won’t be easy to break him.”

“I can tell he won’t be. That’s why he’ll make the perfect fit for this.”

As the two friends shared their woes and concerns, in another separate room, one further east from theirs, was Yien lying stomach down on his bed. He was counting the seconds of Chi’s running dream. Chi was settled comfortably on his pillow near his bed, already drifted to wherever his thoughts bring him by night.

Oh, how he envied him. Animals live a life without worry, nor do they have the conscience of concepts of integrity and deprivation. Albeit, he loathed the comparison between animals and humans in his culture. In the concept of kinship, that is. That goes to show that equality is not that far different from a catch 22.

The simple yet expensive token of endearment, some words of comfort and doubt, an insult to his pet, and a snobby man to make him want to do something else. He could blame it all on his curiosity, but he’d never admit it. Then suddenly the gold band wrapped around his wrist became hot, tingling with idiosyncrasy. There was an absence of the coldness the metal was equipped to.

Just who was this man?

“A fool,” Yien rolled his eyes despite earning no reaction. He rolled on his back, lifted his hand to observe Jiaer’s gift.

Chapter Text

There exist a village in the North. Protected by the widely loved Black Warrior*, praised for its divine gifts. Its residents define the conventional image affixed to their region. Beyond the mountain range and pass the icy lake is the gradual vegetation of the spring ambience, straight through this little place called ĀnZhàn (安战).

Outsiders tell a tale of the peculiar practices of that village. Opinions differ from the other. They note that they were as of a wild animal on a certain week of the year, acting up to fulfill their lustrous desires. Vile, treacherous, inhumane, vicious, and all the disgusting words existing in the human diction. Those were what they used to describe the event, barely. At least, to some.

Greed, lust, and hunger for value and self-worth. Humanity has come to lose its dignity.

 

“Good morning, master EnEn.” Yien’s personal servant, Xiaohan*, greeted him. With her is his breakfast tray, complete with his favorite meal; (soy) bean broth, sorghum, dimsums, and his morning tea (talk about rich and skinny). “How was your sleep?” She smiled, placing the tray on his bed before turning to his windows to let the sun in for it to illuminate his room.

“Please tell me yesterday was all just a bad dream,” Yien groggily whined. He sat up to stretch his sleepiness away before rubbing his eyes. Indifferent to Chi’s loud morning greeting.

Xiaohan chuckled at her young master’s antics. “Sir Jiaer actually has a gift for you,” she cheerfully announced as she revealed a small bundle of plum blossom twigs in her hands, decorated with bright yellow flowers that she had hid from him. Xiaohan set Yien’s gift down on the tray, just beside his food.

Yien looked down on his wrist to see that, unfortunately, everything wasn’t just a bad dream and that his pride had been tarnished by some random creep with the most insulting grin he’d seen in his entire life. The golden band on him mocked at his woes, caring little of his own misery.

“Whose garden did that creep get these from?” Yien grimaced, swatting the gift away. The twigs fell off his bed, missing some of the followers from the impact.

“Master, if I may, you shouldn’t be too harsh on your fiancé. He really made an effort to give you these, you know,” she pouted. Xiaohan picked up the mess Yien had made. “He even told me to give these to you since he thinks you’re going to punch him again. He said that he might not be able to even get a word out before you’d react so he asked me to do it instead.” She placed what was left of Jiaer’s simple, yet endearing gift on Yien shelf this time, beyond his reach and from further destruction.

“He’s damn right to think so,” Yien grumbled, digging into his meal. “And don’t call him my fiancé. Even though he technically is that, according to the rules that is, but I will never see him as a lover, nor an ally, but a creep—just like everybody else who participated in the event.” Yien scooped a handful of his sorghum, giving them to Chi who immediately began pecking his share of the meal.

“Ohh…” she caressed her chin, dramatically indicating that she just thought of something funny. Quite witty, actually. “If I can’t call him your fiancé, then should I start addressing him as one of our masters? After all, he will be our third young master’s husband.”

Yien chocked on one of his dimsums, coughing violently to get it out. “God forbid the day he becomes a part of this family.”

“We’ll see about that, master EnEn,” Xiaohan laughed. “Today’s actually going to be a productive day, so I’ve heard.”

Yien shot her a confused glare, “Why? What’s going to happen?”

True to her words, today was going to be a productive day. However, it certainly wasn’t what everyone, but Yien, had in mind for being “productive”. As expected, Jiaer would begin to shower Yien with all the courteous gestures that exist in the book with the vain hopes of getting Yien to open up to him. The surprise flower gift during breakfast wasn’t even the icing of the cake. No. Wang Jiaer was going all out.

After finishing his meal and getting dressed, Yien was greeted with an ever so (annoyingly) energetic Wang Jiaer with cheesy romantic lines from famous poems the moment he set foot outside his quarters. Then during his study sessions, Jiaer had the audacity to follow him around and proclaim to everyone that he would start acting as his “special personal servant” for him (his words, not Yien’s). After that, when Yien was hiding from him in his training room, Jiaer had managed to find him and even dared to challenge him to a duel. A duel! Inside his most sacred place in the household, right after his own room. The man showed an obvious lack of integrity in him.

That leads them to the last straw for Yien. Though it had only been merely a day Jiaer had stayed under his family’s hospitality, Yien had come to a definite conclusion of reasons why he really shouldn’t marry this guy. That being, his perverted remarks on both their bodies after Jiaer had taken a glimpse of Yien’s naked upper half. Yien had just finished his daily drills and was changing into a new set of clothes when Jiaer had to make a sex joke.

Being the ever so persistent Duan Yien, he had to give equal amounts of effort to counter Jiaer’s advances. In simpler words, Yien has been embarrassed in his own home, in front of his family, relatives, and to all the household servants without having to do anything. Wang Jiaer is a shameless guy and Yien had to learn that the hard way. He could bring down the mountain and the heavens, for all Yien cares, and yet he’d still refuse to submit to Jiaer. So he’ll give him exactly what he deserves.

“Young master, can you please stop throwing knives at sir Jiaer.”

The servants watched in terror as their precious young master, who was usually calm and reserved, had now turned into this bloodthirsty maniac, eyes narrowed down to his supposed fiancé.

“This man needs to know that this is what he’s signing up for,” Yien coldly replied as he traced the edge of the knife in his hand along his fingertips.

“Oh come on Yien, where’s your sense of humor?” Jiaer pouted, placing his hands on his waist. The poor man was breaking a sweat from dodging and blocking all the knives, swords, axes, and spears Yien had thrown at him from the second storey while he was down in the courtyard like a bunny being hunted.

“This pervert,” Yien tisked, gripping on the weapon in his hand tightly.

“Master EnEn, please,” Xiaohan, who was behind him, watching the entire ordeal, begged. “You’ll hurt him.”

“That’s the point,” Yien grinned before throwing the knife towards Jiaer’s direction. Everyone’s breath hitched as they watched the weapon swiftly pierce through the open air in high speed, faster than the sound of the thunder racing against the lighting.

Just like the previous ones, Jiaer easily blocked the attack with his sword. However, what Jiaer wasn’t able to see was the second knife just a millisecond late from the one he just blocked, closing in. Thankfully, for the onlookers and Jiaer, Zaifan arrived just in time to block it for his friend.

Brows knitted, gaze sharp, he looked up to Yien. “Master Yien, don’t you think you’ve gotten too far? I know that my childe can be a bit too much, but your behavior is not an acceptable atonement for the sins he has cost you.”

“Like I care!” Yien shouted, jaws clenched, voice reaching a lower pitch, making him appear daunting. “Let him take in my vexation.”

“Can’t you see he’s still injured? You’re taking advantage of my childe’s condition for your own entertainment. Doesn’t that seem unfair to you?” Zaifan glared at Yien, taking a firm step forward.

“Unfair?” Yien raised his brow, teeth gritting. “I handled over ten men and women a day for the past three days—sometimes even four at the same time—without having anyone to help me with. Let me be clear with you; You ‘won’ because you played with the rules, not by the rules,” he snarled. “Lin Zaifan, you dare accuse me of being unfair to your childe with a mere bruise on his cheek? Do you defend him for his cowardice because you think little of him?”

“You-”

“Zaifan,” Jaier placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder, stopping him. He turned back to Yien before flashing him a smile, “Please forgive him. He seldom speaks on my behalf and I apologize for his impulsiveness.” He gave his friend a reassuring nod then went back to Yien. “But you do have a point. He was wrong to pin you with fraught claims without having to regard of your personal troubles.”

Yien tried so hard not to roll his eyes at the two. Zaifan might have come forth as this person who think he knows what’s better whereas two-faced Wang Jiaer comes presenting himself as a saint for his friend only to stroke his own ego.

“Although, I would like to take your words to an understatement.” Jiaer’s playful demeanor now hinted, masked underneath his cockiness. “Dishonoring Zaifan, and dubbing me a cheat in the process certainly won’t be ignored. I can prove to you right now that I had rightfully won. If you think that I had the upper hand yesterday, then I’ll give you your chance.” He opened his arms, declaring, “Right here, right now.”

“Are you implying that you want to fight me?” Yien rested his hands on the railings, chin raised.

Jiaer nodded, giving Yien his signature smug smile, “No bell, no other challengers. I’ll prove to you that I can beat you no matter what the circumstances are. With everyone in this place, Lin Zaifan, you, and myself included as the witnesses.”

Yien disregarded the servants please to ignore Jiaer’s words. More than anything, he seemed to be ecstatic on Jiaer’s proposal even bearing a grim smile. “Alright.” Yien jumped over the railing, falling down to where Jiaer and Zaifan were. The servants breaths hitched, not being able to do anything but watch their young master land deftly on the ground floor. Like a cat, Yien’s feet touched the hard ground unscathed. His eyes spelled out the words of determination. “What fight is this going to be?”

“I leave the decision to you,” Jiaer replied.

Yien thought for a while. His eyes scanning the ground where various weapons he had thrown at Jiaer previously laid before deciding on a Dao sword. “First one to get a cut—loses. Scrapes and scratches from avoiding the attacks won’t count. It has to be a clear injury from any of the blades available.” Jiaer’s eyes gave him a silent affirmation. He nodded for Zaifan to stay back, to which the latter reluctantly complied.

Both men took their positions. The air drawing a thick and tense ambience around them. It was like their first confrontation, but more serious. The servants on the second storey asked themselves what they could possibly do to stop them, despite knowing too well that they can’t. The determination in their sharp, threatening gazes says so. Zaifan, too, was silently thinking of ways to stop them without further pushing Yien’s boundaries.

A breeze went pass between Yien and Jiaer, threading through their hair, blowing away a few specks here and there. It was silent, contrasting their earlier confrontation. Jiaer wore an expression Yien had trouble interpreting. Nonetheless, he turned his focus on the blade fast approaching him, immediately countering Jiaer’s attacks.

Just as Zaifan remembered, Yien’s advances were ever so violent—powerful enough for him to tell without having to be close to experience it himself. It was the same intensity as yesterday, and it was the same type of wonder in the onlookers’ eyes. Their battle was truly a sight to behold for enthusiasts alike. Their movements were remarkably complementary to the other. It was hard telling who would come out as the victor.

The huge array of weaponry within their reaches gave their match much entertainment. Hardly anyone was bored of looking since they really couldn’t tell what was going to happen and what weapon they were going to pick. One minute Yien has a sword in his hand, then have a Qiāng* in the next. Albeit, Jiaer seemed to narrow down his choices with swords—double-edged straight swords and single-blade sabers with the exception of a Gùn*. Aerial cartwheels, butterfly kicks, blunt jabs, and dodges. There was not a second, not even a millisecond, of dead air in between exchanges.

Yien received a kick to the chest, resulting in him flying to the ground. Jiaer wasted no time in drawing his arm back, leveraging for a swing. A Chángdǎo in hand, he targeted for Yien’s arm. The latter, however, was quick and grabbed a Jǐ*, and used its handle as a form of sheild. Still refusing to give up, Yien took the opening and sweep kicked Jiaer to the ground, giving himself the time to get back on his feet.

 

`~`

[*Qiāng (枪) - a kind of spear with a long staff and a steel mounted tip
*Gùn (棍) - a short, thick stick used as a weapon; a bludgeon
*Chángdǎo Xiàn/Zhǎngdǎo Xiàn (长岛县) - a two-handed, single-edged Chinese sword
*Jǐ (戟) - a two-handed pole weapon with a curved blade attached to the top and a sharp metal tip]

`~`

 

With the Jǐ still in his hands, Yien swung the end where the blade was to Jiaer. The latter rolled to the side, barely missing the curved blade. Yien then spun the weapon to catch Jiaer off guard with the metal tip. Jiaer managed to lift himself off, doing a backroll. He utilized his lifted leg up by kicking the weapon away from him before composing himself.

Yien’s grip on the Jǐ tightened. He drew one foot back to whirl the weapon in hand in a continuous circle, creating a deadly move Jiaer would have trouble countering. One wrong move and he’d get cut. So he opted to disrupt Yien’s movement by piercing his sword in the middle, sending the Jǐ flying to the other side. The loss actually hurt Yien. He glared Jiaer through his lashes as he momentarily mended his numb wrist.

Jiaer charged, sword pointed forward. Yien, knowing he can’t block this one, quickly decided to do a backflip.

“What’s going on here?” A voice interrupted everyone’s attention. Jiaer’s head turned to the source so fast, he might have gotten whiplash. It was because of this, with Yien just landing from his flip, he tripped and had to grab unto something he could grab. That being Yien. Needless to say, the two fell, leaving them in an awkward position with the latter’s back on the ground and Yien on top of him, his weapon falling out of his grip, just barely missing Jiaer by an inch.

“Yien!” Meilin scolded, seeing her son in such a provocative situation. Yien’s ears turned red. He quickly got off Jiaer, backing away from him.

“I…i-it’s not that!” He stammered, huffing out and breathing in deeply. He then turned to Jiaer, who still was on the ground, elbows propped up. “You really are a disgusting pervert,” he bellowed.

“Yien, Jiaer, what are you two doing?” Beishan asked, looking between them. Zaifan rushed to Jiaer’s aid, offering his hand to help him up.

“We…we were just.” Yien bit his lower lip to prevent himself from spilling nonsense to his parents and the chief (?). The chief?!. “Elder Chen, what are you doing here?”

The long bearded old man chuckled, “I’m here to see who had taken the Unrivaled Prince’s title away from him of course.” He walked towards Jiaer, observing him overall. Despite literally looking ragged and sweaty, he could tell. “Quite the handsome man, you are. You’ve got yourself a good deal here.” Chen gave Yien a genuinely proud smile, to which the latter felt revolted. “So when’s the wedding?”

“Soon.”

“Never.”

Beishan and Meilin sighed, exchanging a look. Meilin replied for the couple sending daggers to each other, “We hoped they could settle on a date after the Butterfly Festival.” Yien gave his mother a betrayed look, while Jiaer looked at her confused. Whereas Elder Chen found this idea to be grand.

“That’s great! I believe it’ll be a good time for the new couple to get to know each other.” He looked at the two, hopeful of the thought alone.

“Agreed, but let’s get to that later,” Beishan nodded. He would have to be a fool to not notice the scattered weaponry all over the ground, his son’s and Jiaer’s mien, and the cowering servants on the second storey. “Yien.” he began, but his son already knew what was coming.

“It’d be rude not to cater to our guest, Pa,” he retorted.

“What do you mean?”

Jiaer came forth, standing beside Yien, hand raised. “It was my idea. I challenged Yien to a duel, and he simply participated.”

“You two seem to have a lot in common,” the chief commented, smiling widely. “Young Duan Yien has always been known to take his father’s traits. Always attracting trouble to him. Looks like our Unrivaled Prince has met his match.”

Yien bit the inside of his cheek. God knows how much he is trying to restrain himself from throwing a petty fit in font of his parents because deep down he knew that it’d be like a dog chasing its tail to do so. Elder Chen literally could not care for his burdens. The old man has far more important things to deal with.

“Oh, before I forget. I wanted to invite the new couple to come watch this year’s play. You two are the talk of the village, and so it’d be the performers’ pleasure to have you two in the front row. They’re offering you a free show. How about that?”

“What?” Yien exclaimed.

Indifferent, Elder Chen continued. “Your parents told me that this young man here is from XúnCāng. I figured he’d love to see the festival while he’s here. New place, new faces, new memories! This is your first time here right?”

“Yes and I’d love to go!” Jiaer beamed.

“Wait, what? Why are we being talked around the village?” Yien got in between Jiaer and Elder Chen. Confused, he said, “Other people participated in the event too so why is he getting a special treatment?”

“Because you’ve always been the best fighter in ĀnZhàn, arguably in the entire LǜTiān province. Everybody is dying to know who the prince’s fiancé looks like. The person who has finally beaten you. The news of his victory in winning Duan Yien spread even reached neighboring provinces.” The chief said.

Yien’s robes were long enough for him to hide his clenched fists, unknowing of it whitening from the pressure. “Elder Chen, I would highly appreciate it if you stop referring me as if I were an object.”

The chief looked confused but then brushed it off by laughing. “Okay, okay. Duan Yien is still in shock, no?” He continued to laugh. Not in a mocking way, but more of a ignorant manner. Inconsiderate to the said male’s hinted irritation.

Meilin did see it though. Being his mother, she knew without having to be told. “Yien, you’ll of course accompany Jiaer around the village. He’ll be needing someone to show him around,” his mother added, speaking in a solemn tone. Not wanting to further push her own son to his limits, albeit he might be already close.

Duan Yien could do nothing but to look down on the ground and be obedient. His heart was pounding loudly. The mantra of his racing thoughts falling deaf. He nodded, “Yes, Ma.”

Delighted, Elder Chen patted Yien on the shoulder before continuing his conversation with Meilin and Beishan as they walked to the direction away from the three. Zaifan nodded to Yien, who still had his head hung low, silently commanding Jiaer to do something.

Jiaer carefully approached him, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Yien-”

The said male roughly pulled away from his touch, taking three steps back from him. He looked at Jiaer with the most revolted expression in his eyes he has ever seen. Yien said nothing then sharply turned his back against them before bolting to a different direction. The two friends were left alone in the courtyard, not knowing what to do next.