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The Testament of Youth

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War stories were bound to become legends, and those legends were altered and fabricated until not a single soul could tell which part of them was true. The once beloved mountain dragon’s sacrifices were rarely spoken about and what remained of him was as a warning of his contemptuous existence in the northern part of Nantianmen. A stone monolith was placed in front of the illuminated giant tree above the ground. Centuries ago, he was said to be corrupted and sealed underneath by Morax and his adepti.

On this site lies an evil dragon. Please do not disturb it. The brave historians who managed to reach the mystical land could easily read the tablet's inscription, but some wanted to know more about the dragon’s last thoughts before turning his back against his leader. Five hundred years after Liyue Harbor was built, a man who owned a famous tea shop in Chihu Rock claimed to have been the descendant of the maidservants who had served the dragon. His grandfather even kept the journal of one of the dragon’s last servants.

Most people raised their brows, especially when the man was so determined to preach the truth. He seemed like a child who was desperate for attention or a lunatic who was obsessed with the ancient lore, but the curious historians were impressed and try to gain access to the journal. It took them a lot of convincing and a hefty amount of mora to win the heirloom. It contains secrets kept for so many years, so the man kindly asked the historians to share their discovery with the world once they were ready.

The dragon’s name was Azhdaha. The journal was owned by Xiuying, a woman whose mother had worked for Azhdaha for more than forty years. She just turned sixteen when she followed her mother’s footsteps to become Azhdaha’s servant. Although he was the formidable Dragon King who had won many battles alongside the other gods and adepti, she wasn’t afraid of him because after her grandparents passed away, she used to play with him as her mother did her duty.

Today was my first day, but Lord Azhdaha didn’t remember my name or face. I wasn’t too surprised because my mother had told me that he’s suffering from memory loss. It still saddens me as I write this because he’s a nice person. I understand why my mother wants to take care of him for as long as she can. I should do the same because I only have fond memories of him, like when he held my hand and brought me to his backyard to show me his collections of yellow and red chrysanthemum flowers, Xiuying had written.

“Memory loss” was mentioned on almost every page of the thick book. The same thing happened to Morax who always visited Azhdaha in the evening, only missing it when he was too swamped with work. They often had dinner together, whether it was just the two of them or with other adepti and generals. Xiuying said it was widely known that Morax and Azdahaha were good friends who were inseparable for more than a millennium. It wasn’t rare for Morax to be lost in time and end up staying over at the guest room.

As the historians delved deeper, they found unexpected recollections that made them stare at one another in awe and confusion. I still can’t believe what happened this evening! Xiuying began. Today marked my first month of working for Lord Azhdaha. As usual, Lord Morax showed up at around seven o’clock. The kitchen staff entrusted me with serving two cups of tea in the living room, where they spend most of their time, but on my way, I heard some strange murmuring noises from the east wing of the first floor.

It sounded like two men bickering, so I headed to the smaller hallway to figure out what it was. The door to Lord Azhdaha’s bedroom wasn’t properly shut. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be there. I could get fired if the others found out that I went astray, but I couldn’t help myself. So, I stepped closer and peeked through the tiny space. I swear I saw Lord Azhdaha sitting on the bed with Lord Morax between his legs while circling his arms around Lord Morax’s waist. Are friends supposed to behave that way?

After leaving the tea in the living room, I ran back to the kitchen. My body was shaking a little. My mother scolded me for being loud, but I pulled her outside and told her about what I saw. She only smiled and said that everyone knows about it. Lord Azhdaha and Lord Morax might have been in love with each other since they were young, but for some reason, they don’t want to do anything about it. Some think it’s because the Geo Archon can’t just get married and start a family. My mother believes it’s because Lord Azhdaha will soon forget about his feelings.

Instead of talking about her work, Xiuying wrote more about the two immortals. They often played go on the patio. A few times, she found Azhdaha sleeping on Morax’s lap, and Morax would ask Xiuying to bring a blanket big enough to cover the two of them. One of Azhdaha’s habits was placing a hand on Morax’s back like he was afraid if Morax would trip and fall out of nowhere. No matter how Xiuying looked at them, they were definitely more than a pair of old friends.

It was indeed confirmed that Azhdaha lost his mind due to not remembering who he was or his promises. The best part about the journal was when Xiuying thoroughly described the downfall that occurred after Azhdaha’s sealing. People were mourning, but of course, it affected Morax the most. The servants were ordered to clean Azhdaha’s house and pack his belongings, and they all pitied Morax, who meandered through the garden like he had no destination or purpose.

I found a poem in Lord Azhdaha’s desk drawer. It has his handwriting, Xiuying revealed on one of her last pages. I don’t remember the exact lines, but it was about a star that appears in the wild and illuminates every corner of the world, whose brilliance is gracious and unparalleled. I knew it was a love poem meant for Lord Morax, so I gave it to him. He read it briefly, smiled, and left the house. I’m sure he had to do his best not to cry in front of us.

Less than a year later, the historians released the journal for public consumption without changing a word. The only thing they added was “true events” on the cover. People lined up at bookstores to get a copy, but everything was mostly received more as a fantasy novel that romanticized the friendship between Morax and Azhdaha. A few people even called it blasphemy against their god and shredded or burned their books in the town square as an act of protest.

“I understand about respecting the Geo Archon, but isn’t this movement a little too extreme?” asked a wealthy young man in a black coat, who sat on the balcony of a restaurant in Liyue Harbor’s main plaza. His soft amber eyes gazed down at the group of people who screamed and danced around the bonfire like they were being possessed by vengeful ghosts.

“It might be, but I agree with them. This so-called journal is romance fiction. The historians behind the publication must need quick mora to fund their research,” replied the old woman who sat beside him. She had the book on the table and lifted it. “For example, it’s written here that Lord Azhdaha used to hold Lord Morax’s hand and repeatedly wrote ‘I love you’ on his palm when Lord Morax was half asleep. The author said that Lord Morax personally told her on her last day cleaning Lord Azhdaha’s house. How can we trust something to shameless?”

The young man smiled. “But what makes you not trust it?”

“Because other more accurate accounts say that Lord Morax was a cold-hearted ruler. Even now, he only shows up once a year in the form of a celestial creature. I think gods are capable of being enamored with anyone and perhaps even experiencing the worst of human desires. Still, I just can’t imagine our Geo Archon being in that position,” the woman explained.

“So, it’s a matter of taste. Everything that you just stated was your opinion, but don’t worry. It’s valid,” the young man concluded before sipping his tea and looking away at the sea of people. Their voices were boisterous and sometimes hurtful, so he stood up, paid his order, and walked down the stairs. As soon as he got to the main street, he glanced at his right palm, remembering the ticklishness that he quietly endured every time a certain someone stroked three words against his skin. He did it because he didn’t want that person to stop.

“Morax, do you think they cut my hair a bit too short?” the well-built man called Azhdaha asked Morax as they inspected the unpaved road that didn’t have as many red maple trees as it was now. Liyue Harbor hadn’t become one of the busiest capitals in the world, and they were younger then but looked older. Obviously, being able to change forms anytime they wanted could be comical.

“No. You look fine,” Morax said with a smile. Although the question was trivial, it was heartbreaking because Azhdaha had asked it the week and month before. Even worse, Azhdaha hadn’t gotten a new haircut in a while, yet his brain perceived that he had recently had it.

Azhdaha frowned, fiddling with the strands of hair on his cheeks. “Really?”

Morax chuckled. “Have I ever lied to you?”

“Of course not.” Azhdaha grinned wider than Morax. The future generations would never know how handsome he looked every time he was happy, but Morax did, and that should be enough.