Many hours later, Wen Kexing found himself outside of Zhou Zishu’s room to get some fresh air. He had watched over Ah Xu as his face had relaxed slowly into deep slumber, seeming surprisingly young and vulnerable as he slept. So unlike the ruthless leader of Tian Chuang and the life he had tried to escape. Wen Kexing lifted his wooden recorder to his lips and begun playing, hoping the music would further sooth Ah Xu’s pain and also ease his growing anxiety about Ah Xu’s health. Time was running out...
He heard a noise beside him and turned to see Ye Baiyi standing next to him.
Wen Kexing stopped playing. “Ah Xu is dying. You promised me you would find a way to save him.”
“I didn’t plan on that fool removing his nails.” Ye Baiyi said simply.
Wen Kexing closed his eyes and took a deep breath as overwhelming guilt and regret washed over him once again. He opened his eyes and stared Ye Baiyi in the eyes.
“Is there no other way? I will do anything to save him.”
There was a long pause and Ye Baiyi seemed deep in thought. Wen Kexing wondered if the old monster was deliberately adding to his apprehension. “Yes, there is a way but nothing in life comes without a cost. It requires you to make a sacrifice in exchange for his life.”
Wen Kexing did not hesitate. “Yes. I can do it.”
“Don’t agree so quickly. Here are the terms. I can transfer and teach you Liu He Shen Gong. This method will heal Zhou Zishu but it is likely that you, as the furnace, will suffer severe consequences, death is likely as your meridians will be destroyed. You must take him Chang Ming Mountain and there you must stay. If you are fortunate, both of you will live as immortals, only drinking ice as water and snow as food until the day you decide you are ready to leave this mortal world. If luck is not on your side, upon your death, Zhou Zishu will be alone forever...”
“If that’s my only option, I will take it.” Ah Xu can bear the pain that he, Wen Kexing could not.
As the sun rose above the clouds that day, Wen Kexing bundled Zhou Zishu into the horse drawn carriage. Wen Kexing had helped him wash up that morning, dressed in his lavender garment from Si Ji Manor and with his hair pin tugged safely in his hair. Wen Kexing had told him of Ye Baiyi’s plan to heal him.
“Are you willing to live the rest of your life with me that way? Just the two of us on a snow capped mountain?” Of course, Wen Kexing did not disclose the finer details of his pact with Ye Baiyi.
Zhou Zishu had agreed without hesitation. He had felt a flutter of hope in his heart. He wanted to try his best, to give life with Wen Kexing another chance.
“There is talk in Jiang Hu that Lord Jin is planning an attack on the two of you. You must make haste.” Da Wu told Wen Kexing. To Zhou Zishu he said “Please Zishu, no physical exertion from you, it will only expedite your death.”
Zhou Zishu nodded and Wen Kexing raised his hand to help him into the carriage. “I can still walk, Lao Wen. Let me do it myself.” He sat down at the back of the carriage with a frown on his face. The news of Lord Jin had worried him. He felt his fingers move to touch the blade of Bai Yi sword, tugged securely around his hips.
“I’ll kill them all, Ah Xu. Let your mind rest.” Wen Kexing said as he sat down beside him. The door to the horse carriage closed and the horses started the journey towards Chang Ming Mountain and the Armory that exist at it's peak.
For two nights and two days, the horse drawn carriage traveled swiftly along the countryside. Wen Kexing had plenty of wine and nuts for Ah Xu who secretly enjoyed the extra attention that Wen Kexing was giving him. Wen Kexing reminded him to rest often, placing warm blankets over him as the world around them began to turn into a winter landscape. It was at the peak of Kun Lun Mountain, the last peak before arriving at Chang Ming Mountain that Ah Xu asked for the horse carriage to be stopped.
Wen Kexing furrowed his brows. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“It’s ok, Lao Wen. Just a little while to look at the sunset. Chang Ming Mountain is only half a day’s ride away.”
Wen Kexing’s frown broke into a wide smile. Two days of uninterrupted journey had put his mind to ease. They were very close to Chang Ming Mountain now and he felt they could afford a short break.
“Alright Ah Xu.”
Zhou Zishu felt a wave of dizziness hit him as he exited the horse drawn carriage. He closed his eyes for a moment, hesitating briefly to regain his composure. He opened his eyes to find Wen Kexing looking anxiously at him.
“I’m fine Lao Wen. Let’s sit down over there.” He pointed at a large rock towards the edge of a splendid cliff.
Wen Kexing didn’t let him go after that. He wrapped his arm around his waist and arms as they sat down in unison, the sunset was magnificent and in full view.
‘I would have no regrets if I die like this Lao Wen.” Zhou Zishu said with a sigh. He looked over at Wen Kexing. “If our plan doesn’t work, I need to know that you’re going to be ok.”
“I’m not going to be ok without you. Not a chance. So just shut up and stay alive.”
Zhou Zishu chuckled. “I’ll try my very best philanthropist Wen.”
Silence as they both admired the sunset.
“How many years should we live for?”
“As immortals. If by some miracle, this plan works, we could be stuck with each other for a very long time. I say we give ourselves 100 years. Then when we’re sick of eating snow and drinking ice, we will descend Chang Ming Mountain and eat all the best food and drink the best wine the world has to offer before dying happily as old white haired men.”
Wen Kexing smiled, although his heart felt a twinge of pain at the hopefulness in Ah Xu’s voice. He couldn’t bring himself to imagine Ah Xu’s reaction when he realizes that he, Wen Kexing would soon leave this world. He hoped the memory of him alone would sustain Ah Xu to live a long and contented existence.
Soon, they were on their way again, the horse drawn carriage galloping the last expanse of wilderness towards Chang Ming Mountain. They were very close to the foot hills of Chang Ming Mountain when Wen Kexing and Zhou Zishu both sensed danger in the air. They turned sharply to each other, Wen Kexing opened his fan, ready to fight and protect Ah Xu from their enemies. Zhou Zishu’s hand went to his sword but Wen Kexing shook his head. “No, Ah Xu. You must not exert yourself.”
Suddenly, pandemonium as several swords pierced the exterior of their horse drawn carriage and the interior was suddenly ripped to a thousand pieces. Wen Kexing and Zhou Zishu, anticipating this, jumped out and found themselves surrounded by at least a hundred Tian Chuang members.
Duan Pengju stepped forward “By order of Prince Jin, we are here to end the travesty of Zhou Zishu and Ghost Valley’s Wen Kexing. I have bought over a hundred members of Tian Chuang’s most elite. Put down your weapons and I will allow both of you a dignified death.”
Wen Kexing laughed. “You ran away like a scared mouse once Duan Pengju. I will make sure you do the same today.” With that said, his fan flew forward with fatal accuracy and thus the fight begun. Zhou Zishu stepped to the side as fear grew inside him. Wen Kexing was very powerful but Tian Chuang’s most elite were here and in great numbers. Even the best fighter will fatigue and make mistakes with time. It may come to a point when he will have no choice but to draw his own sword.
As the enemies fell around them, Zhou Zishu could also see that more were gaining an upper hand as the sheer number of enemies begun to show its toll on Wen Kexing.
His eyes made contact with Wen Kexing as his own hand went to reach for Bai Yi sword.
“Don’t do it Ah Xu. Don’t you dare!” Wen Kexing screamed desperately at him. But the swords came fast, slashing into Wen Kexing’s shoulders and all that Zhou Zishu could see was his blood.
“What’s the point if I live and you die?” Zhou Zishu shouted. Bai Yi sword appears from behind him as he charges at enemies approaching Wen Kexing from behind. He’s sword slashed the enemies throat. It felt good to have protected the person he loves, even if this might be his last battle.
The battle ended with the last enemy falling at Wen Kexing’s feet. Across the sea of bodies, Wen Kexing’s attention went immediately to Zhou Zishu. He was by his side in a flash. Zhou Zishu was on his knees, hunched over his sword as blood spilled from his lips.
“Ah Xu! Are you hurt?” Wen Kexing asked panicked. He gently turns Zhou Zishu around so he could get a good look at him. Zhou Zishu met his gaze and smiled weakly. He patted his hand so as to assure Wen Kexing.
“That was quite a battle. I think you would have been in trouble without me Lao Wen.” Zhou Zishu tried to laugh but what came out was a weak cough and more blood flowed from his mouth.
Wen Kexing’s hand went immediately to Zhou Zishu’s wrist to check his pulse. His eyes widened with horror at what he felt.
“I’ll be honest with you Lao Wen. I’m not feeling the best.” Zhou Zishu said. He coughed again, this time, a coughing fit that lasted several minutes until he was almost out of breath and he shivered against Wen Kexing.
Somehow, Wen Kexing managed to help Zhou Zishu onto the back of their horse before jumping on himself. He wrapped his arms tightly around Zhou Zishu and the rein, giving the horse a kick as it set off towards the last stretch of path towards Chang Ming Mountain.
“Hang in there Ah Xu. We are close to the Armory. We are going to make it.”
“Ok. I trust you.”
There was silence except for the sound of galloping hooves and Wen Kexing’s heavy breathing as they raced towards the peak of the mountain.
Zhou Zishu found himself relax against Wen Kexing’s body. He would try his best to hold on even as all his strength seems to be leaving his body. He looked down at Wen Kexing’s hands, one gripped tightly to the rein and one arm around him, holding him steady as they made the last dash up the mountain. He was in the safest, warmest place in the world.
“Ah Xu? Are you still conscious? Ah Xu?? Ah Xu?” Wen Kexing’s voice was calling him but it took Zhou Zishu all his might to open his eyes and acknowledge Wen Kexing’s calls.
“Lao Wen, are we far?”
“Not far Ah Xu. Not far.” Zhou Zishu felt Wen Kexing’s hands shaking his body. “Stay awake. You must stay awake.”
“I’ll try Lao Wen.” Zhou Zishu said, his voice a raspy whisper. He looked at the Chang Ming Mountain ahead, so close and yet not close enough. His vision darkened, the air around them felt increasingly hard to breathe.
“Lao Wen? If I die...look after Chenglin...”
“Don’t be stupid. You’re not going to die and Chenglin will be just fine.”
“What about you?”
“I need to know that you will be ok without me.”
Wen Kexing didn’t answer yet again. Instead, the tears prickled his eyes and for some moments, he couldn't see the path in front of him. His hand found Zhou Zishu’s and he gripped it tightly.
“I love you Ah Xu.”
He felt Ah Xu’s head fall back against his shoulders and more blood escaped his lips, staining the fine fabric of Wen Kexing's garment. There was a long silence before Zhou Zishu took a long shaky breath and whispered into his ears. “I love you too, Lao Wen.”
The entrance to the Armory was getting closer. It was within reach now even as Zhou Zishu’s grip on Wen Kexing relaxed and his hands fell limp to his side, his body falling forward as he became totally unconscious.
A scream pierced the air and Wen Kexing realized with horror that it was his own voice. “No! Ah Xu!”
To be continued...