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The Testament of Youth

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It was one rainy spring night when a group of unknown gods attacked Guili Plains. All the resting warriors were woken up, and Morax specifically ordered Azhdaha to climb the mountains and prevent any of the strangers from breaking through the city from the other side. This must be the war that Morax mentioned some time ago, Azhdaha thought as he carried on with his task, which wasn’t hard to accomplish when he was bigger and more powerful than the puny souls who dared to bother those he had grown to love.

High on the perimeters, he could see the disruption that was happening in the place he had called home for the past few years; the generals who did their best to defend the gates, the adepti who stood by Morax’s side on the front line just a few meters outside of the paddy fields. Even if it was only for a moment, Azhdaha’s heart beat faster when he could finally see how fearsome Morax was with the impenetrable shield that could protect those standing around him and his strength to split the grounds with his spear.

When the last enemy was killed, Azhdaha let some adepti care for the gods he had singlehandedly subdued, switched back to his human form, and stepped down the mountains. He had witnessed all shades of sky and lunar phases. He had familiarized himself with four seasons and their harsh weather. Guili Plains’ peach blossom forest had become his favorite place to have an afternoon tea with Guizhong. He had discovered hidden caves and showed them to the miners, yet it was his first time seeing Morax look so distressed.

“Morax.” He came to the person who just arrived back in the city, all alone despite being the head of the battle. Just like many others, they were drenched from the rain that hadn’t stopped for hours. “Did we lose anyone?”

“Thankfully, we did not,” Morax softly answered.

“Now, will you kindly tell me the reason your fellow gods tried to ruin Guili Plains? Is it because they want our territory?” Azhdaha continued.

“It’s a battle of thrones for the earthly gods.” Morax patted Azhdaha’s shoulder that soon turned into a grip. “Rest for now. I’ll summon everyone in the morning.”

“Are you injured somewhere?” Azhdaha asked right after Morax dropped his hand. Other people might not see anything through Morax’s stern demeanor, but Azhdaha could tell that he was a little muddled. What they would face in the future wouldn’t be a child’s play, and Azhdaha didn’t want Morax to feel anything other than courageous.

“You’ll be the first person who knows if I ever get hurt,” Morax said. With a smile, Morax walked away, staggering Azhdaha who knew that he wasn’t supposed to be this delighted after the violence.

The next day, one of Morax’s servants went to Azhdaha’s house and led him to the lord’s meeting hall. Despite living alongside the leaders and being regarded as their friend, Azhdaha still thought of himself as no more than their subordinate. The closest thing he could compare his position with was the adepti who followed everything told to them without inquiring about the intentions. Even then, he never refused the adepti who needed his help as long as it didn’t interrupt his priorities.

Once he arrived, however, Morax told him to sit to his left, a place that he clearly didn’t deserve since Guizhong had taken a spot to his right. He wasn’t concerned with the jealous stares that might come from the adepti and generals who scattered in front of him—such a thing never occurred among them because they only ever focused on doing their best to protect their city. He was the one feeling small beside Morax and Guizhong, so the best he could do was pretend like he wasn’t agitated at all.

Morax explained the matter concisely. About a decade ago, Celestia, the mysterious floating island on the sky where the greater gods resided, had decided to divide Teyvat into seven nations with seven absolute rulers. Guili Plains wasn’t affected for so long because the kindhearted gods who lived around didn’t care for the titles. Without a doubt, those who ambushed them last night had traveled from faraway lands, and they wouldn’t be the last of their kind.

“We must not actively join the war. We shall stay and protect Guili Plains until the seven new rulers are chosen, whenever that will be,” Morax announced, receiving nods from Guizhong, most of adepti, and all of the generals. Guili Plains had always been a peaceful city. Only the narrow-minded people would want to destroy the reputation that they had built for centuries.

Morax then dismissed the gathering, but when Azhdaha was about to rise, Morax told him to stay in a whisper as if nobody could hear it in a middle-sized room that fit less than twenty people. Guizhong giggled, covering her mouth with her flowy sleeve. Azhdaha had spent enough time with Guizhong to know that the lady could be a huge tease, but she didn’t do more than let out those stifled laughs until the last person left the room, leaving only the three of them inside.

“The Dragon King of Nantianmen has seven days in a week. He gives six and a half to the Lord of Geo, so the rest needs to fight for the last half,” Guizhong began as she stood up and stepped aside from the table, still beaming like she was entertained by her own words.

“What? Huh?” Azhdaha blinked his eyes a few times, feeling bewildered at the bold assumption. He stole a glimpse at Morax, who seemed unaffected as always. Noticing the growing tension, Guizhong only laughed harder.

“Come on, it isn’t a bad thing! I’ve just been hearing that from the townsfolk, especially the blacksmiths who wish to see you more, Azhdaha!” Guizhong said, clasping her hands together. “Don’t you worry about it! I always remind them that Morax has released our Dragon King from thousands of years of misery and solitude, so it isn’t strange at all if our Dragon King cherishes him the most.”

“Gui—” The goddess didn’t let Azhdaha finish calling her out when she dashed out of the door. Truthfully, Azhdaha felt grateful for it because he didn’t know what more to say besides pronouncing her name, hoping that she would take the hint of embarrassment on his face and respected that.

“How cheerful,” Morax remarked after a moment of silence.

“Yes. She truly is too cheerful,” Azhdaha agreed before taking a deep breath. “Why do you need me to stay, Morax?”

“I need to talk to you about the upcoming war. It’ll be your first time,” Morax said, meeting Azhdaha’s gaze. “I’ve won many of them before. What you experienced last night was nothing. I’ve heard the news from other nations. We will lose many of our allies. Today might be the last time we breathe, so prepare yourself, Azhdaha.”

“You won’t die,” Azhdaha made sure.

Morax shook his head. “That isn’t for us to decide. I’m immortal, but I’m not indestructible. Neither are you and those we just met a minute ago.”

The idea of not seeing Morax again upset Azhdaha, so he frowned and gritted his teeth in anger. “Use me to keep you alive. Let the adepti take charge of the mountains and hills. Please allow me to stay near you. You won’t die. I won’t let it happen.”

When Morax looked down at the carpeted floor, Azhdaha regained his composure and believed that Morax would reprimand him for disobeying his command. Instead, Morax held his tongue and stayed put. It was as if he was disappointed and had given up to convince Azhdaha without even trying first. Seeing the despondency, Azhdaha straightened his back and readied himself to kowtow and give the sincerest apology Morax had ever received.

“You’re one of the most excellent fighters we have. Don’t choose me over the people of Guili Plains.” Before Azhdaha could proceed, Morax had spoken first, being too gentle for somebody who looked discontented with their conversation.

“I do love your people. I’ve memorized their names and stories. It’ll haunt me to death if I fail them, but I can’t put anyone else above you,” Azhdaha blurted out. His body started to burn, especially when Morax looked up, watching his face again.

“I know that about you. That’s why I’m asking you to stop.”

The revelation caused Azhdaha to open his mouth and gasp. Morax knew? The excitement and longing that struck him every time he read those romantic poems and thought about their relationship? He blushed. Of course, Morax would be aware since he was all-knowing. After so many years of being together, Azhdaha wouldn’t be subtle anymore. That being said, Azhdaha couldn’t help feeling hurt when Morax could be so casual as if this conversation was no different than their discussion about what to have for lunch.

“You know…” Azhdaha muttered. “…yet, you’re asking me to change my mind. Are you ashamed of me?”

Instead of answering, Morax grabbed Azhdaha’s hand and squeezed it, their eyes staring into one another. “Soon, our happy days will be gone. We don’t know if it will take weeks, months, or even decades. Protect our people. They aren’t just mine or Guizhong’s. They’re ours. If you treasure me, you must treasure them more. That’s your duty.”

Azhdaha let his desire took control of him as Morax’s speech escaped his mind. Quickly, he pulled the smaller man off his chair. “You aren’t ashamed of me. You let me do this,” Azhdaha desperately said as he brought Morax to sit on his lap and nestle in his arms. “Morax. My Lord, how do you feel about me?”

“You haven’t seen much outside of Guili Plains.” Morax’s breath was warm against Azhdaha’s ear, and it only urged the latter to be brave enough to place a hand on his lower back. “Azhdaha, once the war is over, we should go on a vacation. We’ll read books from foreign writers and learn more about their cultures.”

“Just the two of us?” Azhdaha asked. He wanted to bring up the fact that Morax had ignored his two questions, but he remembered that Morax wasn’t someone who would profess his affection aloud.

“I don’t mind—”

“No, we can’t. We should bring Guizhong with us. She’ll get mad if we don’t. We can invite the adepti and generals too. Let’s all have fun together,” Azhdaha corrected himself. It must sound silly since he was the one who wondered about having somebody else with them.

“Yes. I don’t mind,” Morax repeated his decision, easing himself in Azhdaha’s embrace for a few more seconds before letting go and fixing his long straight hair that got slightly tangled. The way he pulled his hair aside with one hand and displayed how thin his waist actually was, was a beautiful sight that Azhdaha swore to never forget.

“Morax, I don’t understand much about this. I just wish to give you everything that you want,” Azhdaha added before leaping toward Morax and holding the skinnier arms from behind, leaving a space before their bodies touched. None of this was enough. He wanted to feel Morax more, but he was clueless as to what he must do that would be right for both of them.

“Let’s talk about this in the future, okay?” Morax looked over his shoulder and smiled, preventing Azhdaha from crossing the line and perhaps humiliating himself.

It was their first and only intimate moment because not even a week later, Guili Plains suffered another onslaught. They could no longer stay inside and wait for the threats to come, so they spread their patrols throughout the region, helping smaller cities and villages that didn’t have sufficient guards. Six months after the war began, about forty adepti lost their lives, including Guizhong, whose chest was punctured by a sword in front of Azhdaha, Morax, and her other dear friends.