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Mockingbird, mockingbird

Chapter Text

Pulling free of the ground should not have taken that much out of him. Shen Wei coughed dirt and dust from his lungs, eyes streaming against the too white light and the throb of his ears as his ability forced the debris away. Against the harshness of the light were two men dressed in odd uniforms, pointing long weapons of an unknown quality at him. He coughed out more dust, his ears giving a final pop and sounds finally filled the world.

“-ung ubyr evtug abj!”

“I don't..?”

His power reached out, a disused ability awakening before unraveling the tangled nonsense into sounds and words, their accents sounding wrong even as the ability made sense to their words. Shen Wei reached up to rub away centuries of mud from his hair, eyes streaming from the too bright light and froze as one of the men jabbed his weapon at him. Long, metal and wood, and again they were talking but this time he could make out what they were saying.

“I repeat: get out of the ground, now!”

Shen Wei huffed and flicked his hand. Dark energy flowed and the two men froze, their weapons still pointed at him though one had turned to a device clipped to his belt, fingers almost touching it. Shen Wei frowned and pushed his way from the dirt until he was standing on shaky legs. Another flick of dark energy and the dirt fell back to the ground, refilling the hole he left behind. A third flick and the two men woke up looking around before going to poke at the disturbed dirt, ignoring him.

“Grave robbers. Again,” said one, switching to a different language and looking over at his partner. “Call it in. We might actually get lucky and beat them to the riches.”

Slipping away from them as they talked, Shen Wei looked around at the changed landscape, trying to figure out what happened. He had been chasing the Hallows, the artifacts were somehow triggered, Kunlun had disappeared into the sky, Ye Zun was sucked into the ground and he tried to grab him and then… what now? Those men didn't look right, the language they spoke was like a mangled version of Haixing but they also spoke something else and he couldn't see anything familiar about his surroundings.

Panicking was not going to answer any of his questions. He took a deep breath, exhaled slowly and felt something scrape along his senses. He twisted, his sword coming into his hand as he turned, barely missing the slim black-clad figure sneaking up behind him. The man grimaced as he bowed but Shen Wei was already relaxing his stance; he saw the clan trait of extra long fingers on the man’s right hand.

“It's not safe here, Hei Pao Shi,” he whispered and ducked under a stand of bushes. Shen Wei stared at the bushes and huffed to himself before following him. Some undignified wiggling later and he was in an underground cavern large enough for a man to stand upright, four other people crouched against a wall shored up with old brick work. The youngest of them rolled his eyes at Shen Wei’s appearance, turned his head and spat brown juice at the floor.

“I ain't gonna start but you assholes really need to check your sense of priorities. Grabbin' a lost lamb ain't that difficult, now inn't?”

Another Zhang member gave the youth a flat look before ducking into a crawl space made by two leaning stones. The man that led Shen Wei into the cavern poked the teen with his long fingers, and dodged back as a tiny dog erupted from his sleeve and snapped at the fingers.

“Gonna lose ‘em iffin you ain't careful,” he said, the dog yipping in agreement. “M'dog likes finger food!”

The Zhang rolled his eyes and glanced at Shen Wei, studying his expression before turning back to watch the passage for his companion’s return. Shen Wei used the time to close his eyes and stretch out his senses, feeling the dark energy skim across his skin as it removed the years of being trapped in dirt by the Hallows’ power. Soon the other Zhang appeared, giving a nod before looking over at the dog’s master. He grinned.

‘What? You’d think I'd lied ‘bout my own territory? Don't give me that look, I'll play fair as long as you do the same.”

The Zhangs frowned, the youngest one glancing at Shen Wei then looking away. The one that had led him here - who Shen Wei had assumed was the Zhang leader - sighed softy.

“We always play fair, as you know,” the youngest said, his voice a deep, soft murmur of sound.

“Can’t help feeling like there’s more to this,” the teen muttered, and then shook his head. “But yeah, I get it. I’ll be keeping my mouth shut, and you’ll be giving me the reward you promised.”

“Once we manage to reach the end, as agreed.”

The teen turned, spat something brown to the ground and nodded once. “Then you keep your fancy prize there close an’ we’ll get movin’, eh?”

“I’m no…”

“Hei Pao Shi,” the Zhang leader said softly, glancing over at the dog-holding teen. “Please. There’s much we need to do, and it is best we do them when we are in a secure location from prying eyes.”

Shen Wei huffed slightly but nodded all the same, feeling that he was a little less stiff at least now. Taking it as a sign, the Zhang leader glanced over at the teen, who rolled his eyes before slithering through the hole in the wall. Next went the Zhang youth and then Shen Wei was motioned to follow them. It was hardly the dignified way to go anywhere but given how they were acting and the armed men above, Shen Wei knew that his teleporting ability would not be useful to him now. He needed to know his destination in order to use it without causing serious harm.

They wiggled through spaces made by rough tools and shored with old wood, walked upright in halls built in old stone that smelled of the dust, time and the dead. There were twisted roots of plants and the scurrying of bugs, the trickle of water sometimes growing into the thunder of rushing waves before subsiding again. Shen Wei could taste the dirt and dust, his eyes no doubt filled with the dark energy of his kind in the pressing gloom, and he’d once caught the startled expression of their guide’s face when he turned to whisper at them about a fissure ahead. It surprised him that a Haixing - a normal human wasn’t too uncomfortable with the press of the world above, the Zhang he knew would always carry the Dixing blood no matter how far removed they were from their roots.

After what felt like months but mostly likely were only a few days, they were walking through a tomb with well-tended floors and walls having entered it through a trick wall built over a cave sitting above an underground pond. Their guide stopped at the doors leading out and turned around to face the Zhangs and Shen Wei, the dirt of his face only making his grin look inhuman. The youngest Zhang glanced at the leader before pulling out a bag from under his jacket and handing it over. He balanced it in his hands, then laughed, giving them a bow before sliding out the doors.

“What an unpleasant creature,’ one of the guarding Zhang muttered, glancing over at the leader.

“Nevertheless, Wu Laoguo has his uses,” the leader replied. “No doubt he will go far in these times once the Wu Family settles down again.”

“We need to move while we can, Fo Ye,” the other said, looking out of the crack between the doors. “It’s still pre-dawn.”

“Go.”

They slipped out into a cluster of family tombs, each one built in the recent years and marked with the clan that made them. They weaved around several smaller ones and through a stand of older trees down a slope that ended behind a couple storage sheds. The Zhang youth slid around the side and then came back.

“There's transportation as promised.”

“Clothing?”

He nodded and Fo Ye looked at their group. “Lieutenant Zhang and I will continue to escort Hei Pao Shi. You two go back to finish your tasks and await my orders.”

The one guard bowed while the youth gave Shen Wei a dark, almost assessing look before turning and running off. His companion hissed a curse and chased after him. Fo Ye watched them go and then looked at Shen Wei.

“Can you shift your appearance to match us, Hei Pao Shi?”

“Yes,” Shen Wei replied, watching as the lieutenant came back with a bundle. The two men stripped off their muddy nondescript clothing for some kind of military uniforms. Shen Wei studied the cut of the uniforms then closed his eyes to shape the dark energy around him.

“I would suggest that you not have the same rank insignia as me, Hei Pao Shi.”

Shen Wei cracked his eyes open and gave Fo Ye a flat look. He inclined his head towards the lieutenant and the difference in decorations on his jacket and sleeves. Snorting, Shen Wei adjusted his clothing to look more like the lieutenant’s and then altered his hair to match, getting an approving nod at the results.

“I think I understand Zhang Qiling's reaction now,” the lieutenant said, gathering their discarded clothing into a sack and tying it closed.

“It is a touchy subject, even when it has no bearing on the moment,” Fo Ye said, combing his hair back and then folded his hands behind his back. “Let's head out.”

“Sir.”

Shen Wei waited for a moment and then realized they were waiting on him. Feeling his cheeks heat up, he cleared his throat and walked around the building and came to a stop. The lieutenant almost ran into him before giving him a pat on the shoulder. It was a friendly pat, but he still flinched at it, months around the exuberant Kunlun not easing his dislike of being touched by others.

“I'll drive, sir.”

“Very well.”

The two moved towards the strange contraption sitting there. Shen Wei was reminded of a carriage but it was lower on the ground and lacked traces for horses. In fact he had seen any horses nearby or sensed them through the swirling energy around them.

“Lieutenant Hei?”

It took him a moment to realize they were talking to him. Shen Wei cleared his throat and attempted a tight lip smile and a muttered ‘sir’ and followed them. The lieutenant opened the back door for Fo Ye and stopped him from joining Fo Ye by grabbing his arm.

“You must still be drunk,” the lieutenant said and Shen Wei almost opened his mouth to protest but he noticed they did have company - a couple farmers hauling wood in a wheelbarrow coming up the lane, stopping to gape at the three men. He flushed and ducked his head, going to the indicated door and sliding into the seat. The vehicle dipped slightly as the lieutenant got in and Shen We jumped when the thing made a sudden explosion of sound and started moving.

“Now,” Fo Ye said, leaning forward as the countryside whipped past at a speed he'd never seen before. “We can talk.”

“Ah?” he started and tried not to flinch as they moved over a patch of bushes and around a tree, startling the men with the wheelbarrow as they took to the road behind them.

“I don’t think he’s ready for that, sir.”

“Given how you drive, I doubt he will be in any shape for a discussion when we reach headquarters, and we are pressed for time.”

They swerved around an ox-driven cart, the wheels jerking as they hit rocks and then fully returned to the dirt lane. Shen Wei’s knuckles were white from his grip on the dash, his other hand cupping a swirl of dark energy at the ready. The lieutenant snorted and the speed of their contraption was reduced.

“Still won't make any difference. Sir.”

Shen Wei knew they were talking about him but he couldn't seem to respond, his attention on the fast moving vehicle and the certainty that he was very far from home. He knew of powers that could allow a person to run at such speeds but this seemed to be nothing more than a kind of propulsion from a burning liquid in a kind of chamber. He slotted his eyes, adjusted his grip and reached out with his dark energy…

Fo Ye jabbed his shoulder harshly breaking his concentration. “Don't.”

He jerked and the vehicle sputtered before the engine smoothed out again.

“That was close. Hei Pao Shi, I understand your wish to know but not while we are moving. You may blow us up.”

“However if we run into any Japanese on the road feel free to study their cars to your heart’s content.”

“Lieutenant.”

“What? You're thinking it as much as I am.”

Fo Ye seemed to sigh at that with a muttered comment under his breath. Shen Wei recognized that sigh. It was that of a leader who was surrounded by people who were good at their jobs but also serious troublemakers whenever they were at rest. He often had sighed like that, especially around Kunlun though he also had held a terrible fondness beyond that of friendship for him.

The vehicle skidded over a few more ruts in the road as it was turned off the dirt and onto a smoother expanse of material. Feeling less unsettled by the feel of pavement if not the speed, he relaxed his grip - wincing slightly at the indentations left by his fingers in the material and leaned back.

“What is it that you wished to speak to me about that couldn't wait until after I returned to Dixing?”

“Dixing’s ruling body has been compromised by the Wang Family.”

“Wang Family?”

“Yes. They have also managed to take your twin into their care.”

He curled his hands into fists, remembering the final fight between him and Ye Zun as he had been styling himself at that time. He remembered the way he grinned, the crawling feel of his powers against his own, the sharp taste of anger and sadness. He wasn’t sure what happened between the Hallows’ awakening and now, but it couldn’t have been good for his brother, not with the madness he saw in his twin’s eyes.

“I don’t know what the Wang Family is nor why they would have my… Ye Zun in their care. “

“You do have a tendency to start in the middle of a story, sir,” the lieutenant said, easing the vehicle around a wagon filled with some local women with baskets. “If not start at the end and expect everyone else to understand what happened during the first half of the book.”

“I can always have you removed.”

“Of course you can, sir, but then you will need to work with Zhang Qiling and the last time you attempted that, he had disappeared for four years with your sword. We never did figure out what happened to it when he came back without it.”

Fo Ye made a tsking sound and then took a deep breath. “My apologies, Hei Pao Shi. I’ve forgotten that a lot of what we did, you have little idea since you were in situations we could not safely access. The Wang Family are Haixing that know enough about the Gate that they wish to control it and have been working on controlling our Zhang Family to do so. They also managed to find a piece of the Hallows which allowed them to… break Ye Zun from his prison. They also promised something to the Throne’s Regent and found a way to cause some corruption in the Dijun Throne itself.”

Shen Wei sucked in his breath, turning to look at Fo Ye. His face was grave and eyes were steady as he returned his gaze and then bowed. “I’m sorry, my lord, we failed our family’s duty as given to us by your grandfather. We could not protect the last of his line, and we were unable to keep the Gate free from Haixing hands.”

“I think you may need to explain to me more…” the vehicle hit a bumpy patch of road, and Shen Wei grabbed the dashboard again, the material cracking from the force of his grip. “And help me get acquainted with the world as it is now.”

“We will, Hei Pao Shi,” the lieutenant said, speeding up. “Just… don’t break the car until after we get to headquarters, okay?”

The lieutenant, he decided, had a very odd sense of humor, but he did release the dash and tried to sit back. Fo Ye muttered something he probably wasn’t supposed to hear, and then took a deep breath.

“You have to understand I am condensing the actions of people that have occurred in over several thousand years into as brief of a report as possible. We don’t have the time to fully present all the facts given that soon they will be able to feel your affect on the flow of the energies and attempt to contact you soon.”

“Thank the gods that they are still stuck in the early seventeenth century when it comes to moving vehicles, otherwise we would have already seen a smoke messenger.”

“Mm, yes. They are woefully behind in technology thanks to no small part to their draconian attitude concerning Haixing.”

“And the need to control the smuggling lines to those that pay them the outrageous fees they ask for.”

“Yes, lieutenant, I am well aware of that.” The lieutenant gave a complicated eye-roll at those words as if he was saying that he knew but he was spelling it out for their audience, gaining another sigh for his troubles.

Shen Wei looked between the two, frowning at the implications. “But… we won. Against a rebel force that wished to destroy all sides that did not accept their leader’s rules. There should be no need for Dixing being treated like an enemy nation when we were part of the Alliance with the humans.”

Fo Ye sighed softly, looking out the window instead of meeting his gaze. “As I said, we failed.”

Closing his eyes, Shen Wei breathed deeply, held his breath, and then exhaled slowly. Behind him, Fo Ye stayed silent, letting him process the information while the lieutenant drove to an unknown destination, the wheels moving smoothly on the paved road. It was not the Zhang Clan’s fault, nor was it his since he had always been a general and never a politician. He had trusted that the combined heads of the humans and Yashou tribes would have worked out something that would keep the Dixingians that were harmed and displaced by the war safe, but this sounded like they were the ones that bore blamed for the disastrous war after all.

“I should go,” he said, already reaching for dark energy. Fo Ye moved first, his long fingers jabbing at his elbow, disrupting him. He tried jerking his arm back and Fo Ye wrapped his hand around his arm, stopping him from moving any more. Shen Wei could feel a surge of panic; the Zhang had always held the ability to cancel the abilities of the Shen. That was why they always guarded any twins in his family until their powers matured. “I have to fix this.”

“If you go now, they will bind you entirely to the Treaty and we will not be able to free you from it without serious consequences.”

“But…”

“My lord, please listen to me. We will explain what we can and we will make sure you are not crippled by the Treaty as it has been made to do to those of your family,” Fo Ye said, his voice low, serious even as his hand was still wrapped around his upper arm. Shen Wei raised his head watching as the road opened onto a city with old fashioned gates repainted in garnish colors. “Don’t act on this expecting that sacrificing yourself in any way will fix it. Trust me.”

“The last person I trusted completely disappeared in front of me,” Shen Wei replied tartly. He couldn’t grab at the dash, so he instead grabbed onto the door handle, hearing the metal creak from his grip. “I doubt you could promise not to do the same thing.”

“We are mortal,” the lieutenant pointed out, swerving around carts and people as if it was normal. Maybe it was but that quick glance made Shen Wei feel like his stomach was going to rebel even if he hadn’t had any food for a long while. “There’s very few clans left with the longevity thing.”

He was going to protest some more but then the vehicle came to a stop outside of what was probably an official building, people dressed similar to Fo Ye and the lieutenant or dressed similar to the men that he first saw walking around the grounds. Fo Ye loosened his grip, settling back into his seat as the lieutenant turned the motor off and got out of the car.

After a moment, Shen Wei followed suit. Fine. He will listen to what they have to say and then he will find a way around this Treaty and figure out how to save his brother. Oh, and possibly repair Dixing to what it was supposed to be and not an enemy state under siege or whatever it was being treated as. He straightened his jacket and waited as Fo Ye got out of the vehicle and the two men started for a door, falling into step behind them like a guard. He will get his answers, and then he will make his plans, with or without help from the Zhang.

He had been a general. He knew how sometimes the best action to take was to stay low and wait for the perfect moment. Even if it would take centuries to reach that moment.