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The Testament of Youth

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It would take at least ten years for Liyue Harbor to become habitable and probably a hundred more before it could flourish like Guili Plains what was once. The laborers never stopped pouring their sweat and blood from the moment they woke up until sunset. The adepti often lent their hands when they weren’t too busy eliminating the remains of corrupted gods and infectious monsters from the Archon War. Although people were still recovering from their losses, the ancient city seemed peaceful under Morax’s leadership.

Azhdaha had been spending most of his time in the Chasm. When he was tired of guarding the escarpments, he would go outside and watch the birds that he could no longer remember the name of. When he was hungry, he would eat the fruits that he picked by himself. Sometimes, he didn’t go home for weeks until some people went to find him first. It was always the generous blacksmith, the overly-caring servant, the boisterous children, the elders who made sure that he ate well, but never Morax, the one he desired the most.

There were desperate days when he would slowly walk past Morax’s office, hoping that by the help of some divine force, Morax would come out, smile at him, and invite him for tea. He used to be one of the few people who could meet Morax without a prior arrangement, but for the past few years, there had been guards standing in front of Morax’s door. Azhdaha couldn’t handle being refused every time, so he just stopped trying. He was never not disappointed with “Lord Morax is unavailable to receive a guest”, so he simply gave up.

The Chasm was quiet during daylight and freezing at night. A long time ago, Morax would make sure that Azhdaha wasn’t lonely, that he would always have a blanket over his body and fresh spring water if the river was too far from his resting place, but what had become of them? Every time he thought that Morax must have seen him as a capable dragon who had grasped how the world worked, he was reminded again of the probability that Morax didn’t regard him as dearly as before.

“The Dragon King is sad,” remarked a little girl who was visiting the Chasm with her miner father. Azhdaha was sitting down on the ground near the entrance where he always greeted everyone, so the girl could stand on her tiptoes and cupped his cheeks.

“Why do you say that?”  he asked, glancing at the father, who was busy observing the deeper ends of the mountains before looking back at the girl in front of him.

“You weren’t smiling like before,” she explained. “Is there anything that I can do to cheer you up?”

He only patted the girl’s head because he couldn’t bring himself to verbally answer the question. He wanted to say that he was fine, but the lie would probably make him cry, and he didn’t want to show that side of him in front of anyone. The Dragon King of Nantianmen was strong and beloved in many ways. In his original form, he blocked a thousand arrows that could kill Liyuen soldiers. In his human form, he gently carried weeping kids on his broad shoulders so they could save their kites from getting tangled in the trees.

They would laugh if they knew that their Dragon King was helplessly devoted to the Lord of Geo and lived each day remembering the promised vacation made decades ago. They would pity him if they found out that he was miserable because the only time he could be in the same room with Morax was during gatherings with twenty other people. Even worse, they might get upset if they believed he prioritized himself more. Everyone knew that the Dragon King had sworn to serve and protect Morax’s people.

One day, Azhdaha had had enough of staying in the Chasm and wanted to see the peach blossoms in Mount Aocang. Unexpectedly, he heard a group of people giggling while sharing drinks between the falling pink petals like they were having the best time of their lives. He peeked at them through the crevice of the cliffs, finding out that Morax was one of the seven figures sitting on where they used to enjoy afternoon cakes with their old friends. They were the archons, so Azhdaha thought he wasn’t needed because he didn’t bear the same title.

You’re my best friend. I’m thankful that it’s you. It seemed like it was only yesterday when Morax said those words to him and made him feel like the luckiest man in the world. He began to question if Morax would say that to anyone closest to him, but then he was ashamed of thinking that way because he knew Morax’s sincerity better than the god himself. The two of them were just too swamped with work. Once Liyue Harbor became the great capital that Morax had long envisioned, their relationship would return to normal.

In the winter of the same year, the snowfall was the heaviest ever recorded in a while. Azhdaha wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but he sat on the porch of Morax’s house. Nobody else was around because the guards were advised to take shelter after the sky darkened. It could have been the white liquor he had consumed after dinner, but something had urged him to be bolder and confront Morax. He knocked on the front door before slumping back down again, feeling lightheaded but still aware enough of his surroundings.

“Azhdaha. Didn’t I tell you that there would be a snowstorm today?” The voice was angry but firm and lovely as always. Barely in his best shape, Azhdaha could feel himself being dragged inside the house. The next thing he knew, he was in a heated living room. It was one of Guizhong’s early inventions, so he suddenly missed her and wished she could tell him a way to approach Morax better. But then again, it was unlikely for her to know it more than him.

Morax brushed away the snow covering Azhdaha’s body, wrapped a blanket around him, and put a cup of tea next to his folded legs. Morax did everything smoothly like he was experienced caring for someone, which was never his style. Instead of being flattered, Azhdaha wondered if Morax had treated somebody else with the same level of compassion recently. Had an archon come over and stayed in this house? Azhdaha must have voiced his question loudly because Morax, who kneeled beside him, widened his eyes in surprise.

“Azhdaha, I’ve been neglecting you, haven’t I?” Morax asked, knitting his brows while gazing down. “I hope you can forgive me.”

Azhdaha was always weakened by Morax’s beauty and elegance. Just one sad look would make him trade his life for Morax’s happiness and destroy those who have wronged him, but when they were finally alone like this, it felt as if they were back to the time when he could touch him. When they were a bit younger, they would press their bodies against one another and laugh until it became too difficult to breathe. So, with the last bit of his fortitude, Azhdaha shot a glare at Morax.

Perhaps he was heavily influenced by the alcohol, but what hit him the most was years of pent-up anger and disaffection. He wanted to say that Morax wasn’t really sorry. He was dying to know if he was still Morax’s favorite companion. There were many hours in a day, so why couldn’t Morax spare five minutes to see him? So many things filled Azhdaha’s mind, yet none of them could come out. The last time he did this, Morax shushed him down and gave him more empty vows. What could be so different now?

“Your eyes are stunning,” Azhdaha began, far from what he was planning to do. After all, he could never be mad at the one he cherished the most. “They’re amber like the afternoon sky. Did they change color after you became an archon?” he continued.

Morax chuckled before changing it to a pained smile. “My eyes have always been this way. You adore them so much. Have you forgotten about them too?”

Azhdaha blinked a few times, feeling a tad lost there. Morax’s eyes were never amber. They were brown, almost resembled his but slightly lighter. Had he forgotten about them too? What did Morax talk about? Why did Morax speak as if he had failed to remember certain things? His head suddenly throbbed, causing him to grip it harshly. Didn’t Morax also say that he had informed him about the snowstorm? But that never happened. Morax claimed it himself; he had been absent. They hadn’t seen each other in a while.

But before Azhdaha could process his thoughts any further, Morax rose and pulled him up by his arms. Morax ushered him to a room where he used to stay whenever they talked until midnight and it became too late for him to be seen stepping outside of the lord’s house. He was taken aback to see some of his missing books on the nightstand. He swore he misplaced them in his own house and spent hours looking for them this morning, so what were they doing here?

“Did I visit your house yesterday?” He faced Morax, feeling quite mortified because he couldn’t remember a thing.

“Not yesterday.” Morax sat on the edge of the bed. “You did last weekend. We cooked bamboo soup and played go together.”

“What?” Azhdaha’s heart thumped harder. “Really? Then why—Morax, are you joking around? Why didn’t I remember it? It’s been forever since we played go together.”

“Rest, Azhdaha. I’ll be with you.” Ignoring the protest, Morax patted the empty spot beside him. Still unsure of the truth, Azhdaha climbed into the bed and laid next to Morax.

“Morax, is there something you’re hiding from me?” Azhdaha didn’t wait for too long before raising the matter again. He remembered all the time he was denied an entrance to Morax’s office. He didn’t remember meeting Morax last week or any time before that. Outside the meetings with the generals and adepti, tonight was the first time they discreetly saw each other in years. He was sure of it.

“Let’s not talk about it. I’ll wake you up in the morning,” Morax said as he brought himself close to Azhdaha, almost as if he wanted to embrace him. Being somewhat inexpressive, he ended up placing his head next to Azhdaha’s chest and didn’t do more.

I wish you would have died during that war, Morax. I wish you’ve never become an archon. As Azhdaha stared the ceiling, he vaguely recalled a memory that seemed too spiteful to be true, but it did feel like it occurred at one point. He couldn’t tell when it was. They were outside in what looked like a barren land. Was it the Chasm? But Morax was there, begging him to stop saying hurtful things that he didn’t mean before saying that he understood. This erosion is meant to happen, Azhdaha. I just never thought that it would come this fast.

“Morax,” Azhdaha gasped when he realized something. He snapped his head sideways and froze at the sight of the kindest soul he had ever known. “Did I start to—”

“Azhdaha, I don’t want to talk about it!” Morax snarled. He placed a hand on Azhdaha’s forehead in one swift motion and used his power to quiet him down. The erosion that was meant to happen. Before everything went dark, Azhdaha knew that he would also forget this moment.