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The Testament of Youth

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The last sword hit the ground, and the sound of horns split the sky. Two centuries after Morax departed from Guili Plains, he stood as the only sane god in the cold marsh of Minlin, surrounded by dying duckweeds and reeds that had been stomped incessantly. Ten thousand of his remaining soldiers cheered, but none of them was too surprised since the premonition of the Geo Lord’s bright future had been avowed since the mothers of their great-grandparents were still maidens.

Sitting side by side on a boulder situated on top of Qingyun Peak, Azhdaha couldn’t stop stealing glances at Morax, which had always been one of his favorite things to do when they were alone. Green leaves and yellow wildflowers had fully bloomed by the second month of spring, but this viewing spot was particularly enchanting. In front of them was Jueyun Karst, the magical abode of the adepti. Behind, they would find Huaguang Stone Forest between Mount Hulao and Mount Aocang. The latter was where peach blossoms grew abundantly.

“There.” After quietly enjoying the scenery for a while, Morax pointed toward the south. “I want to build our new city by the coast.”

“Why?” Azhdaha asked, gazing at the pale amber horizon. He had been to the ocean a handful of times whenever Morax took him to an afternoon walk that wasn’t in the mountains. He remembered the peaceful part of the continent that used to be guarded by one of their old allies.

“To make it easy for everyone to travel around the world,” Morax said. He didn’t use “our people”, so Azhdaha knew that Morax wanted to provide a place where his followers and foreigners could have some fun and learn about each other. After being confined for so long by Celestia, Morax must have dreamed of freedom. It was what Azhdaha had before gaining his sight and what he also felt before the recent war was over.

“I’ll follow you everywhere you go. Forever,” Azhdaha stated.

Morax smiled, looking gently into Azhdaha’s eyes. “You don’t have to say it. I know your kindness because you’re my best friend. I’m thankful that it’s you.”

Azhdaha’s heart was warmed. They used to only be friends, but Morax had given Azhdaha the honorable position in his life for the past few decades, especially after losing more and more people like they were sand slipping through his fingers. If their men had averted their eyes elsewhere, Azhdaha would have held Morax closer, and Morax wouldn’t refuse. He understood it well; best friends didn’t embrace under the starry sky and listen to each other’s heartbeat. Regardless of the uncertainty, he was happy.

On their way back to Guili Plains, Azhdaha made a promise to himself. Once the timing was right, he would tell Morax everything. Books and other people’s life experiences had made him smarter than two hundred years ago, so he was aware of how much Morax meant to him. Of course, he hadn’t forgotten that he couldn’t have the future leader of a nation for himself. All he wanted was to sleep next to Morax and kiss his lips without having to be embarrassed and doubt if it was appropriate.

Guili Plains was nothing like how it was before. Despite having new faces, there were fewer inhabitants. Nobody had to explain the reason. Those who were outside lost their lives on the battlefields, while those left behind couldn’t survive famine and harsh weather. From the look on Morax’s face, anyone could tell that he was deeply saddened by it, but he chose not to bring it up. Quickly, he announced his plan to the generals and asked them to tell everyone to prepare to build the new city in a week.

The ocean wasn’t far from where they were. It could be reached within an hour by foot, so people constructed many stone houses while still had their meals and rested in Guili Plains. Azhdaha had expected Morax to give him the task of transporting the goods and materials needed using his dragon form, even to supervise the work. After all, he was the one who was beloved by blacksmiths, miners, and now also builders. The different circumstances also marked the moment he started to see Morax less.

At first, Azhdaha found it harder to encounter Morax in Guili Plains. Before the war, they used to have breakfast together with Guizhong before he headed to the mountains. During the war, they spent every meal together with their soldiers. After the war, it only lasted for a month before Morax’s noticeable change. That day, Morax’s only reason was that he got summoned by some Celestia gods and had to meet them in secret. Then it happened more times until Azhdaha had to learn how painful it was to miss someone else.

“You disappeared for three days and only told the generals that you had to go. Even then, you didn’t mention the exact destination and purpose. Where were you?” Azhdaha asked after he got to Morax’s office and sat on the long couch situated on the right side of the small room. He disliked the way Morax focused on the papers on his desk instead of the only companion he had around, but he didn’t bother complaining about it. Six months had passed since their relationship began to crumble, so he wanted to get right to the point.

“I had a meeting with the other archons,” Morax nonchalantly answered.

Azhdaha lifted a brow. “Archons?”

Morax glanced at Azhdaha for two seconds before going back to his business. “That’s how the Celestia gods decide to call us. An archon of a nation. Soon, I’ll call everyone and make an official announcement to address the matter.”

“And? What more did you do?”

“We had a few drinks and talked about things.”

That took you three days?”

Morax glanced at Azhdaha again but with a surprise. “Why did you shout at me?”

Azhdaha didn’t realize that he had raised his voice higher than how an amicable conversation should be. His heart used to pound because of how joyful Morax made him feel. Right now, it did the same thing because he was bothered by Morax’s weak reaction to his presence. He had imagined that Morax would have smiled or spoken more when they saw each other again. After his first week of joining the society, they had never been separated for more than three days, yet Morax didn’t seem to mind it at all.

“Can’t you personally tell me where you’ll go next?” The old Azhdaha would have given up and apologized, but back then, Morax didn’t allow his waist to be caressed either. Azhdaha knew it wasn’t rude if he demanded more. Morax admitted it himself that they weren’t just friends. It had always been evident that Morax didn’t treat him like those generals and adepti.

“Azhdaha, you didn’t answer my question. Why did you shout at me?” Morax insisted.

Azhdaha took a deep breath, stood up, and walked closer to Morax. Their eyes never stopped looking at each other. “I couldn’t stand not seeing you for that long,” he breathily confessed. “I thought you felt the same way about me. Am I wrong?”

“What do you want me to do about it? I can’t help it now that I have more duties to handle,” Morax said. His tough face and tone were unchanging.

“Morax, you didn’t answer my question,” Azhdaha repeated Morax’s own protest. “Your people are your priority, I understand, but I thought I was your most important person. Am I wrong? Have you found a better listener among those archons?”

“I can’t believe that there would come a day when you would misjudge me, Azhdaha.” Morax put his quill in the inkpot. “I have to be gone a lot, often when you aren’t around, because I’m not given another choice. I told the generals because most of them worked nearby. I’ve entrusted the foundation of Liyue Harbor to you, something that’s very crucial to everyone. Why can’t you see that?”

Azhdaha flinched. “You’ve named our new city?”

“Liyue.” Morax’s voice softened. “After weeks of contemplation, I’ve chosen Liyue to be the name for our nation. Thus, I want the new city to be called Liyue Harbor because it’s located by the coast. I’ve asked the generals to find someone who can draw our territory.”

Archons. Liyue Harbor. Their nation’s map. For every news, Morax used to share it first with Azhdaha. For every idea, he used to consult with Azhdaha before somebody else. Their schedules might have clashed, but Azhdaha was always in his house after eight, yet Morax never visited him anymore. Azhdaha could be his first option again if he stayed near Morax’s office like those generals, but Morax had put him far at the coast. Azhdaha tried to make sense of their situation—why it felt suffocating and what could be fixed—but he couldn’t find the solution.

Azhdaha clenched his fists. “Have you forgotten your promise? You said we would go on a vacation after the war—or I suppose, it’s called the Archon War now?”

Morax sighed as if he became too tired to have Azhdaha around him. “I’ll always remember it, but I also said that I wanted to build a better place for our people. Guili Plains is partially destroyed. It’s no longer suitable for future generations, so establishing a new city is our prime concern. Moreover, it’s only been half a year. Let’s not rush. We’ll eventually get there.”

“I know. I just want to make sure that you haven’t forgotten your own words or chosen to go with someone else. Have a wonderful evening, Morax,” Azhdaha said before leaving the office. The talk left a bad taste in his mouth. They could have laughed and reminisced about the old days with a bottle of wine. He could have played with Morax’s hair and smelled his woody scent, but he mustn’t bother the archon from finishing his paperwork.

It was hard to admit at first, but Azhdaha began to feel uncomfortable with their new life. When he got back from the coast, Morax would lock himself inside his room, not wanting to be disturbed by anyone except for the servants who delivered his tea and food. The only time Morax purposely showed his face to Azhdaha was when he went to check Liyue Harbor’s progress. They spoke about how this and that would be excellent for the city before Morax had to leave again. Even if they weren’t surrounded by laborers, Azhdaha was hesitant to squeeze Morax’s hand like before.

A year after he became an archon, Morax finally called Azhdaha alone to his house. On his way, Azhdaha couldn’t stop beaming like a child who was lured in by a box of sweets. Alas, his wish for a rendezvous was destroyed when all Morax did was order him to move back to the Chasm. It was a new name for the part of the mountains that, once again, Azhdaha had no clue about. Azhdaha wanted to object and ask if he didn’t get to choose how he wanted to call his own house—his body for many millennia, but he bit his tongue.

“Is that it?” Azhdaha asked.

“Yes. You’re excused,” Morax said, not even looking at the person standing in front of his desk. The stack of reports on his table must have become his whole life.

“All right. Good luck, Morax.” The name that Azhdaha used to call passionately suddenly felt bitter. When Azhdaha turned around and walked away, he had hopes that Morax would stop him, but of course, it didn’t happen.