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The Testament of Youth

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An ancient mountain dragon envied the souls who lived above his abode. For millennia of dormant slumber, they had one-sidedly told him countless tales about the earth’s beauty and reformations. How did it feel to stand among a peach blossom forest and stretch out his hands to catch the falling petals? Why would some claim that sunset made them sorrowful while the rest say it was calming? What was the truth behind the moon that constantly changed its shape every few days?

Sometimes, he wished he hadn’t understood their languages so he wouldn’t have known rage over his inability to perceive what they saw. Desperate spirit’s yearning, however, was stronger than the back scales that had sustained a considerable mound of rocks and dirt. He moved his shoulders, shaking the forests surrounding his body. He lifted his tail, scaring the birds that crossed the mountain peaks. Even in his helpless state, he still bore enough awareness that all his doings would only intimidate other beings.

What price must one pay for the power of sight and freedom? He couldn’t help but cry. He wondered if being rescued by someone was the most senseless dream a bound dragon could have, but he repeated those words over and over again—throughout the days and nights, for weeks that felt like it had consumed half of his lifetime. Then suddenly, two firm footsteps marched toward where his head had rested and stopped beside where his ear had molded with the ground.

“The Dragon King of Nantianmen,” a deep, gentle voice called him. “The power of sight and freedom can be exchanged with protecting my people instead of frightening them. Will you come to an agreement with the Lord of Geo himself?”

The Lord of Geo. The Lord of Rock. Morax. The ruler of those who have spoken about the enchanting four seasons that he longs to witness. He always imagined that this moment would eventually come, so he exhaled a breath that thrust the pebbles and dust away. “I will,” he decided.

With that, Morax shattered the ground and urged him to rise. He managed to follow his order, albeit unsteadily since it was his first time standing on his legs. All at once, the void became a burst of lights—or what others would call colors, but he didn’t know if they were blue, green, red, or a mix between them. A figure blocked his vision; the divinity who had granted him his never-ending prayer. He couldn’t describe the feature because he had never known anything else before. Was it how men should look like, or was the form designated only for gods?

“Do you have a name?” Morax asked.

“No,” he answered.

“Then, I shall give you one,” Morax paused for a while. “Azhdaha. In an epic tale from another world, the name means a magnificent dragon. It suits you.”

“Azhdaha,” he repeated, watching every little shift on Morax’s face to remember how a person must be when they were thinking and making up their mind. “Thank you very much, Lord.”

“You may call me Morax. After all, you must be thousands of years older than me,” Morax said before turning around. “Come with me.”

Morax led Azhdaha down the mountains, and Azhdaha sauntered slowly because he was too immersed in the landscape of the place that had trapped him for eternity. He could tell the sky and the ground from listening to others, but didn’t they have several colors? The sky would be blue if it was morning, darker if it was night, and deep amber if it was in between. He wasn’t sure which one was happening now. The ground would turn black if water touched it. From the sound and dryness, he was sure it wasn’t raining.

“Azhdaha. Take a look at yourself.” Morax stopped when they reached a wet surface that was almost as wide as his body. He went closer and gazed at it. There, he saw himself for the first time and got surprised by how different the two of them looked. He must be what they called a “dragon”, but he didn’t know where the title of “the Dragon King” had originated from. It was all very hazy for a being who couldn’t even remember how he had come into existence.

“How many dragons are out there besides me? Why did you call me ‘the Dragon King’?” Azhdaha asked.

“There are too many dragons to count, but I believe you’re the oldest and most brilliant one we have in this land, hence why I let you out. You’re our Dragon King who’s become my new ally,” Morax explained before glancing at Azhdaha. “This is a lake of pure spring water. It looks blue, but it’s actually colorless. It only absorbs the colors that touch it. Let’s not overthink and try to have some, Azhdaha.”

Azhdaha was thankful that Morax could grasp his lack of information without him uttering a thing, but such intuition should be anticipated from someone who held a noble position like the Lord of Geo. Once again, he obeyed the command and brought his face closer to the lake, smelling a scent that was milder than what he had back in the mountains. It must be an instinct that taught him how to stick out his tongue and drink the water that tasted considerably better than the rain that had kept him alive.

“Did you like it?” Morax asked after Azhdaha straightened up his back.

“Yes. Very much,” Azhdaha said.

“Good.” Azhdaha was curious if what crossed Morax’s face was what those people regarded as being delightful. “You must not know enough about this world. Let me tell you various things on our way to your new home.”

Throughout their journey, Morax pointed at everything he could possibly think about and spelled out their names. The sky is blue, and those are some white clouds. The weather is cool and pleasant. It’s a lovely morning to be out and about. We’re stepping on grey gravel roads. The trees are green. You’ll see plenty of them everywhere, and some might change colors depending on the season. A few times, he even patted Azhdaha’s skin and vividly elucidated him. Your arms are brown. Your horns are golden, almost the same color as my amber eyes.

“Amber? Are your eyes similar to the late afternoon sky?” Azhdaha interrupted. Morax raised his eyebrows and slightly opened his mouth—two things that Azhdaha could tell apart from examining the lord’s face and combining it with his own knowledge.

“You’ll figure it out by yourself in a few hours. Just be a bit more patient,” Morax replied. It was his first sentence that Azhdaha found to be quite hilarious because they weren’t running out of time like mortals.

“Right now… Is it spring or summer?” Azhdaha proceeded with another question.

“We’re entering the second month of spring.”

“Ah. A perfect time to watch the peach blossoms.”

Morax smiled—another expression that Azhdaha solely picked up from observing every emotion portrayed on Morax’s face, and he felt like he had done something right for his savior. Without responding any further, Morax continued to educate him; the types of birds they encountered by accident, the wildflowers and plants that herbalists would pick from time to time, the differences between heights and weights, and even the specific name for each of his finger.

Before long, they arrived at the end of the cliff, just under a giant tree that was finally taller than the dragon. Below their feet was a greener land which Morax had illustrated as “a bountiful region with thousands of stone houses and several paddy fields enough to feed everyone”. Azhdaha needed to be closer to those tiny people to make some accurate remarks about them, but even with the significant distance between them, he could still tell that they were shaped just like Morax.

“As per our agreement, what lies ahead is Guili Plains, my city, and the people who you must protect with all your might,” Morax reminded Azhdaha. “Remember this well. If you break your oath, I won’t think twice to bury you back under the mountains.”

“Of course, Morax. I’ll never forget,” Azhdaha solemnly said.

“Stay here. I’ll send people to provide you with food and water.”

“You’re leaving?”

“Yes. There are important things that I must do. I’ll come to see you again in two days or less.”

Azhdaha wanted Morax to promise him, but it would be too many demands in a day. He was well aware that he was serving the man, not the other way around. After muttering “take care” and “thank you”, he slumped down under the enormous tree to shield himself from the growing heat. His eyes never left Morax, who headed to the edge of the cliff and jumped down, back into those who needed the leader more than a dragon who had hundreds of things to amuse his new sense.

Barely thirty minutes later, three ladies and two guys visited him while carrying several baskets in their hands. They didn’t seem terrified by his presence as they placed everything they had in front of him. It was only then when he realized that Morax looked finer than them. Morax’s skin was cleaner, his eyes were sharper, his nose and jaw were more defined, his lips were redder—everything that Morax had, these five people had them less. Right at the moment, he knew the best word to describe Morax was “majestic”.

“Hold on. Who are you? Did Morax tell you to come?” he asked when the people finished their job,

“We’re just the Lord of Geo’s servants. Yes, he ordered us to bring you some food and drinks,” one of the ladies answered on everyone’s behalf, but none of them dared to meet his eyes. Did he make them feel uneasy? Was it because they knew that he was the Dragon King? What had Morax told them about him?”

“Did he say something else?” he added.

“Yes. We’ll come again in the evening. If there’s something that you like, please tell us so we can send you more.”

“Is there anything else?”

“No…” The lady shook her head. “I’m afraid not.”

“Is he taking care of another dragon, or something similar to me, in Guili Plains?”

The lady fell silent before shaking her head again. “No. You’re the first one that our Lord has brought back home.”

The tightness in Azhdaha’s chest dissipated. Unlike Morax’s appearance, Azhdaha couldn’t find the right way to express what he was feeling. Was it happiness? Appreciativeness? Once everyone left him alone, he checked the basket full of something quite soft and pale red. They smelled awful, but Morax wouldn’t hurt him on purpose, so he tried them. They weren’t bad, but they weren’t as good as the basket of sweet juicy yellow orbs. He only knew flavors because people had accidentally spilled all kinds of liquids on his mountains.

Everything was boring without Morax’s explanation about what just got into his mouth. Quickly, he stood up and went back to the forests behind him to enjoy the scenery, being very careful not to do anything dangerous and cause turmoil. The small animals entertained him until he was stopped when the sky started losing its blue tint. He waited and waited, and his heart thumped with excitement when the color amber appeared and, indeed, resembled Morax’s eyes.

“Beautiful,” he declared, wondering if his strength and loyalty were enough to repay someone who had shown him the world.

Chapter Text

Azhdaha hadn’t thought about the stars as much as the seasons and sun, perhaps because humans rarely appeared in his place when it was dark. Now he wondered if Morax would have come by if he had asked him to be there when he saw the night sky for the first time. Standing on the ground where Morax had last stepped on, Azhdaha could do nothing but split his focus between a million white sparks above his head and the brilliant yellow lights that pervaded Guili Plains below. Wouldn’t it have been better if Morax had been here to unfold the happenings around him?

Shortly after he gave up trying to count the stars and went back to sit under his tree, the servants from before visited him with different kinds of food. He hadn’t forgotten the message about telling them what he liked so they would bring him more of those, so he brought up the yellow fruits as soon as they dropped their new baskets. It might be unnecessary to say it because the servants should be able to tell from how only the yellow fruits were entirely devoured while the others were almost untouched.

“I didn’t expect the Dragon King to be fond of fruits instead of meats!” one of the men stated with a laugh.

“Meat?” Azhdaha asked.

“Yes. This is wild boar meat.” The man lifted the basket of the soft pale stuff that Azhdaha couldn’t bring himself to sniff again. “We thought you might enjoy this the most, but please don’t worry. We’ve acknowledged your preference.”

Much to Azhdaha’s merriment, the servant proceeded to explain that the yellow fruits were local golden berries that were abundant in the wild. He was happy because it meant he could have them when he was out of the city. As the rest of them left with the leftover baskets, two female servants stayed to peel round fruits they called persimmons for him. They were ten times bigger than the golden berries, and their color was deeper. A little touch of brown would make them akin to Morax’s eyes, but anything had reminded him of the lord.

Over the past few hours of playing with animals, Azhdaha had missed meeting new people he could talk to. He should be grateful for having two lovely companions by his side before the day ended. He should be excited listening to their explanation about apples and grapes and how silly it was for dragons not to choose meat, but he didn’t have as much fun as what happened when Morax was there with him. The women lacked enthusiasm and emphases—two things that made it difficult for him to look away from Morax.

“I like the persimmons more than the golden berries,” Azhdaha finally spoke, even though it was unrelated to their lecture about dried fruits.

“Oh. All right. I’ll keep that in mind,” responded the woman who sat the closest to him.

“Persimmons are our Geo Lord’s favorite as well,” added the other woman. She was the braver one for daring to glance up directly at him.

“Really?” At last, there was a matter that caught Azhdaha’s interest. “Can you also tell me what Morax does every day?”

“One night won’t be sufficient to go through what the Lord of Geo must do in a day. He meets with people, signs many papers, commands the adepti or human generals who work alongside him, and more. Even with the help from our other ruler, Lady Guizhong, the Goddess of Dust, he still doesn’t have enough free time to relax.”

Azhdaha had heard about the army of mythical beings called adepti, who were devoted to Morax, while Guizhong was a god who held the same position as him in the eyes of their people. Other than their titles, he didn’t know much. The people who went to his mountains didn’t speak a lot about them and tended to worry more about reaching the summit or heading down the tricky slopes. It was a good sign because he would have things to discuss with Morax the next time they met.

“What does Morax do during his free time?” Azhdaha asked.

“He loves reading literature and watching opera,” the servant answered concisely.

Reading and watching. Half a day hadn’t passed since Azhdaha could see, so those two terms were still outlandish for him. “How long will it take to learn how to read?” Funnily enough, he was persistent about it.

“Reading? Hmm… Our language is hard to master. I suppose it depends on how fast you are to learn, so it may require months to years. I’m sorry, but I really can’t tell,” the servant said.

Feeling despondent, Azhdaha stopped blabbering and finished his persimmons. When it was his turn to sleep, he couldn’t bring his mind to peace. At first, the servant’s words didn’t bother him, but when the environment was tranquil and the crickets didn’t even create any sound, he began recalling everything the servant had said Morax. He still doesn’t have enough free time to relax. Surely, finding an anxious dragon was also part of his job because he had to leave for two days. Azhdaha should present himself to be smarter than a great dragon if he wanted to spend more time with Morax.

For an immortal who had been dormant for thousands of years, he was very impatient during his wait. Morax didn’t say if it would be two days or two afternoons, and none of the servants could answer his question. As usual, Azhdaha distracted himself by walking around the forest, a little further every time, but he knew of the lake he mustn’t cross in case some unkind gods would steal him away from Morax’s side. He was aware of his giant figure that could be seen from miles away.

One more lap would be fine, he told himself as he strolled along the lake bank after his second dinner. Just like what he did with Morax yesterday morning, he watched his reflection on the water before slumping down on the damp ground. The coldness was pleasant, but it felt very lonely doing this alone. He looked up to watch the stars that seemed to have increased in numbers. Would Morax come to see him the following day? There were too many questions that he wanted to ask.

“Azhdaha.”

Azhdaha squinted when opening his eyes because the sunlight was too piercing. It took him a few seconds and blinks before he saw Morax standing in front of his face. He stood up with a squeak, legs trembling from ascending too quickly when he needed some time to gain his composure and consciousness. Although it was too sudden, he couldn’t ask for a better second meeting; between Morax and the blue sky that seemed endless behind him, Azhdaha couldn’t decide which one was more prepossessing.

“Azhdaha,” Morax called Azhdaha’s name again. What a lovely tune it was for the dragon’s ears. “Why did you sleep out there? There are many unkind things that could hurt you. I’m sure you can protect yourself, but it’s better to be careful, don’t you think?”

“Morax, I’m sorry. I must have been too exhausted. Please forgive me.” Azhdaha sounded remorseful because he genuinely was. The last thing he wanted was to disappoint the god.

“Your apology is unnecessary. You haven’t done anything wrong,” Morax said before heading toward one of the fruit trees nearby. They grew everywhere, but Azhdaha never knew their name. Morax raised both hands and plucked two of the reddish fruits. He went back to the lake and washed them before thrusting them to Azhdaha’s face.

“Yes?” Azhdaha was confused. He had no clue what he was meant to do.

“We don’t have time to walk back and ask the servants to feed you. Have these sunsettias for now,” Morax said, unintentionally giving away the fruits’ name.

“Are we going somewhere so early, Morax? Where will you bring—” Azhdaha couldn’t finish his sentence when Morax threw the fruits inside his mouth, silencing him completely.

“The servants told me that you adore sweet and tangy fruits. Who would have thought of that?” Morax chuckled. “Your taste buds are peculiar, but that makes you even more special.”

He is special? Azhdaha had a hard time swallowing the sunsettias, and it wasn’t because there were some pits that he spitted out on the opposite side of Morax so as not to dirty him. “They’re okay, but I like persimmons more,” he remarked afterward. Why was he feeling so strange about this whole interaction? Was it supposed to happen because he had been dreaming of seeing Morax again?

“I like persimmons too.” Morax smiled gently, folding his hands and heading to the left, away from the lake. “Did you sleep well, Azhdaha?”

“Yes. How about you?” Azhdaha asked back, obediently trailing behind Morax.

“Gods don’t require sleep. Since you were born a dragon, your body must be working differently than us.” Morax went quiet for a moment. “Now I wonder if it would be the same if you took a human form.”

“Having a human form? Is that possible for me?”

Morax looked over his shoulder to meet Azhdaha’s eyes and nodded. “Of course.”

Can you make me as one? I, too, am curious about how I should be if I were to look like you and those kind servants, Azhdaha was about to say but once again thought it was too much when it had only been two days after receiving his sight. Morax was wise, so he should be the one to decide if Azhdaha was ready for the next step of living with his people. With the solid agreement between them, Azhdaha trusted Morax completely, so he must not ask for more than what he needed.

“Morax, if our destination is far, then do you want to ride on my back?” Instead, Azhdaha talked about something else to lighten up his mood.

“Hmm?” Morax turned around, dropping the long hair that rested on his left shoulder. “That’s a nice idea that’ll save us a lot of time. Sadly, doing so will hurt me. You have plenty of spikes on your back.”

“Oh?” Azhdaha was dumbfounded and slightly ashamed. He didn’t know what was going on behind there because the water couldn’t show it to him.

“Don’t worry too much. I’m not fragile,” Morax, who always seemed to know what Azhdaha was thinking, said. “We’re going to the other side of the mountains. I’ll explain everything to you once we’re there.”

“All right.”

As expected by Azhdaha, their journey was filled with Morax’s storytelling—one thing that Azhdaha was dying to experience again. Azhdaha hadn’t brought up the other gods, adepti, and Guizhong when Morax told him that he had informed them about gaining a new force to guard Guili Plains. Soon, Morax would bring Azhdaha to meet with everyone or the other way around, but his people were a bit busy, and he wanted to give Azhdaha his first task before handling something less important.

Most of the time, Morax asked about what Azhdaha had been doing for the last two days. It wasn’t fair when he didn’t give a clear answer when Azhdaha gave him the same question, but of course, Azhdaha didn’t try pushing Morax’s boundaries for his own pleasure. To think of it, Azhdaha had only openly lived for two days, compared to Morax’s thousands of years of affairs. It was understandable if Morax’s mind always looked for every outcome of sharing secrets with the dragon he just met.

“Azhdaha, a war has broken out for a couple of years now. I’m not sure when it will hit us, but it eventually will,” Morax said once they stood on a ridge, looking out over the iron mountains that didn’t have as many greens as the other areas in the land. “What you see right now is a place full of valuable minerals that belong to you. They’re your mountains. You need to protect your body from two things; humans’ greed and the impending war. Can you do that for your own sake?”

“What kind of war is it?” Azhdaha must ask for the most crucial subject among them all.

“That… even I’m not too sure,” Morax muttered before sighing. “This is your task, Azhdaha. I’ve advised people to mine somewhere else, so if they still come to this area, don’t be afraid to chase them out.”

“Is that it, Morax? My first task is to protect my own mountains? To protect myself and not you or your people?” Azhdaha asked again.

“Yes. At least for now,” Morax said. “All right. I have to go back. Do you want to stay here?”

The strange feeling hit Azhdaha again, so he looked down at Morax, someone who appeared as tiny as his limb but had a presence that was bigger than the world itself. “I’ll do anything for you, Morax. I don’t mind starting my duty right at this moment, but when will I see you again?”

“I can’t promise you. Probably tomorrow?” Morax estimated, bringing one hand up to stroke his chin. “If you intend to stay here, please come back to the cliff at noon and before sunset to have your meal. I’ll make sure that you don’t lack accommodation. If you need anything, don’t feel bad to tell the servants or me.”

“Anything?”

“Yes. Anything.”

“I want to learn how to read and write.”

Morax lifted his brows, seemingly surprised by the request. “You want to learn how to read and write?”

“Yes. At least for now,” Azhdaha copied Morax’s previous response, causing the god to snicker.

“I can arrange that.” Morax smiled widely, and Azhdaha knew that it must be what people considered as being proud of someone else’s achievement. Morax was proud of him, and the inexplicable sensation resurfaced within him.

Chapter Text

“Hello! You must be Azhdaha!”

On their next meeting three days later, Morax brought a lady who was more beautiful than any of the servants. Her voice was older than her look, but it was very soothing and had enough accentuation to attract Azhdaha’s full attention. The color of her hair that went down her thin waist resembled the dust surrounding the hill. Her smile was something that no one had ever shown him before; it was wide, gentle, and overwhelming for making him feel like the most important figure around when he clearly wasn’t.

“I’m Guizhong. Nice to meet you,” the lady introduced herself, and Azhdaha immediately stood up to signify his regard. He hadn’t forgotten what was told to him a few days before. Even if Guizhong wasn’t the person who had gone out to rescue him, she was still someone who held the same authority as Morax. Disrespecting her should be the same as doing it to Morax.

“Nice to meet you,” Azhdaha replied. Since Morax had said that everyone was busy, Azhdaha didn’t expect Guizhong to visit him very soon. He thought it would take her at least one more week.

“I heard that you want to learn how to read and write,” Guizhong said. “It’s difficult to do both if you’re a big dragon because how can you hold a book and quill? So, without wasting more time, will you let us help you change to your human form?”

“What—”

“All right! Let’s begin!” Before Azhdaha could respond or even process the proposition, Guizhong beckoned to the servants. Only then did he realize that many of them carried a wooden board of several clothes each. Morax, who stood among them, also walked toward Guizhong.

Azhdaha was confused and slightly terrified when Guizhong ordered the servants to surround him with black fabrics. The humans’ hands could only reach his chest, so what was the purpose of covering the lower part of his body? Could it be a necessity to the ritual of awakening his human form? If Morax could give him sight without touching, then why would this need to happen? Nevertheless, he didn’t dare to question the divinities’ decisions because they should always know better than him.

“Close your eyes,” Morax ordered, and Azhdaha trusted him, like always. Right afterward, his entire body became ticklish. It was hard to describe the sensation because he hadn’t experienced much in this life, but his body trembled, and he could feel himself shrinking as the ground began to hurt his skin. He was aware that he was changing.

“Wow, you’re very handsome!” Guizhong excitedly said. “Azhdaha, you may open your eyes now.”

So Azhdaha did. The first difference he noticed was Guizhong looking down at him instead of the other way around. Her pretty smile never left her face as she hugged the clothes that the servants previously held. Morax was gone, and he could no longer see the people who hid behind the black wall. He raised his hands, almost wanting to scream when finding two arms that were way bigger than Guizhong’s. He got ashamed when he saw his bare folded legs, realizing that he didn’t wear a thing and Guizhong could see everything.

“It’s fine, Azhdaha. Don’t be embarrassed,” Guizhong kindly shushed him, holding one of his arms in an attempt to calm him down. “Trust me, all right?”

He was petrified and could only nod. The next thing he knew, Guizhong handed him the clothes that were apparently meant for him from the beginning. After following yet another instinct to wear the attire, he felt a little lightheaded when Guizhong tied his robe, combed his long hair with her skinny fingers, and even kneeled to assist him with his flat shoes. Being born from nothing, he had never had a parental figure, so he wasn’t sure if it was acceptable for him to be this elated.

“I think you’ll look better with shorter hair. I’ll ask someone to cut it when we’re in the town. You might need some time to get used to standing on your two feet. Can you try to walk?” she continued after bringing her hands down to grip his wrists. It was his first time being held by anyone, but he didn’t hate it at all. The closeness also made him realize two more things about her; the fresh apple scent and how her skin was the fairest among everyone he had met so far.

“I suppose I’m fine,” he said after stepping forward a few times, closing the distance between them. “Are you bringing me back to Guili Plains?”

“We should have brought you there earlier, but we hadn’t had the right accommodation for you. He’ll be embarrassed if you say this to him, but…” She lowered her voice. “…Morax actually spent days preparing a house for you. It’s on the outskirts with a massive front yard, so you can switch to your dragon form anytime you like without scaring anyone.”

Azhdaha didn’t know the trick to change back to his original body, but undoubtedly, Morax would teach him later. What was more noteworthy was Guizhong’s testimony about Morax’s effort. Wasn’t it quite funny? Morax could have told him his plan back in the mountains instead of making a lonely dragon wait indeterminately. If Guizhong’s kindness was visible because of how vocal and affectionate she was, then Morax must be impossible to read by even his closest aides because of his reticence.

“Is Morax a shy person?” Azhdaha asked.

“Hmm… I don’t think he’s shy. It’s more like he isn’t good at expressing himself, and he doesn’t really mind if people misunderstand him,” Guizhong explained.

“I see.” Azhdaha didn’t know what else to say.

When there was nothing more to discuss between them, Guizhong told everyone to put the shield down and ran back to Morax, who had been waiting on the edge of the cliff like the first day when Azhdaha had just arrived on this place. The two rulers chatted for a while, displaying Guizhong’s delightfulness that contrasted with Morax’s placidness. Once Azhdaha revealed himself among the servants, Guizhong pointed toward him and used her other hand to repeatedly tug at Morax’s arm as if saying, “Look at him”.

“He looks terrific, doesn’t he?” Guizhong gushed before grinning toward Azhdaha. “We’ll pass by a pooled water, so you can see it yourself.”

Morax was silent, but his gaze lingered longer than usual and somehow gave a sense that he was judging Azhdaha’s new appearance. Still without uttering a word, he turned around and walked down the hills with half of the servants. If Azhdaha hadn’t been enlightened about Morax’s difficulty to put his emotions into words, he would have thought that Guizhong was lying about his good looks. For now, Azhdaha could only believe that Morax saw him the same way—if not better—than the goddess.

At the foot of the mountain, there was a shallow lake with a long wooden bridge they must cross. Following Guizhong’s advice, Azhdaha went to check himself on the water. He hadn’t encountered enough humans to determine what was ugly and not, but he did look nice. His face was slightly wider than Morax. Both of their jaws were sharp, but Morax’s was rounder, and his was squarer. His eyebrows and lips were thicker. It might not be right to compare what he had to Morax, but he didn’t have a better example of how beauty should look.

Guizhong was standing by Azhdaha’s side on their way to Guili Plains as Morax was a few steps ahead of them. Of course, Azhdaha hoped Morax would be the one closest to him. They hadn’t been with each other for days. He wanted to hear more stories about what was happening out there, but he thought it was okay as long as Morax didn’t disappear from his sight. Guizhong wasn’t a bad narrator with her enjoyment of describing the things that Azhdaha would soon find in Guili Plains.

Buildings with bamboo lanterns hanging on their roofs, rivers that flew across paddy fields, children who hugged their gods’ without feeling afraid—Guizhong’s details about the city quickly came true once they walked through the unguarded gate. By only seeing, Azhdaha could tell that Morax seemed a little uncomfortable when those kids touched him, but his silence must be the reason they didn’t stop doing it. Guizhong, on the other hand, gently patted their heads and told them to be careful before they ran elsewhere.

Azhdaha’s house was surrounded by walls and situated in the forest on the northern side of the city, a place that Guizhong claimed to be secluded from human interaction. He didn’t know how a house should be, but Guizhong listed all the rooms for him; the bedroom and bathroom that he might rarely use if he preferred to stay outside as a dragon, the kitchen where the servants could teach him to make fruit salad, and the living room where he could welcome his guests.

“Haha. The yard is twice the size of the house itself. It’s impressive that you managed to finish this in under a week,” Guizhong pointed out when they gathered outside, enjoying the pleasant spring breeze that moved the tree leaves covering almost a quarter of the grassy area.

“I need to go now. I have work to do.” Instead of responding to Guizhong, Morax stared at Azhdaha. “You don’t need to guard the mountains today. Pick one or two servants to show you around the city. I’ll see you again tonight, so make sure that you’re at home.”

“Morax, hold on,” Azhdaha said when Morax was about to walk away. “I’m incredibly indebted to you. Thank you. Really.”

“This is nothing—”

“No, Morax. I only asked you to let me out. I would be fine sleeping in the mountains and feed myself with the stuff that I could find outside, but you gave me all of these. How could you say that this is nothing?”

“This is nothing because you’re one of us now,” was the only thing that Morax said before he left the house with Guizhong. Azhdaha would spend the next hour mulling over what Morax actually meant, but he couldn’t play around when people were waiting for him. He picked two female servants who had peeled the most fruits for him just because the three of them had spent the most time together.

Being introduced to vendors and laborers marked Azhdaha’s first time not having Morax in his mind. He didn’t wonder what Morax might be doing when the blacksmiths got ecstatic after hearing that he was the Dragon King from the mountains. They asked him to assess their cor lapis chunks, and he somehow could tell which pieces were loaded with the expensive crystals only by touching and looking. If people kept appreciating his skills, he couldn’t imagine what life would be without his sight.

Just as said, Morax visited his house that night, and he talked a little too much about his long day; from the antique shops he entered, the sweet desserts he tried, and even his experience counting copper coins that were used to exchange goods. The servants said that Morax had given them a heavy pouch that was enough to buy the entire street market, which was another thing that Azhdaha couldn’t stop thanking Morax for. Even though he wanted Morax to be by his side, he wasn’t too worried when he knew that Morax cared about him.  

“You only smile when there are just the two of us. Why is that?” Azhdaha asked, noting how Morax couldn’t stop beaming with joy after he finished each story. Once in a while, Morax even laughed at things that he thought weren’t funny at all.

“Is that so? I don’t even notice it.” Morax put down the cup of tea that one of the servants had made for him on the wooden table between them. “I must be having fun around you.”

Azhdaha was stunned by Morax’s reason, and the strangeness that he felt days before came again. His chest tightened, and he wasn’t sure if he liked it or not. He wanted to place his hand there, just to make sure it wasn’t his bone that was throbbing. Both Guizhong and Morax taught him more about communication and relation, but the latter was the one he wanted to spend more time with. They were equally wise and benevolent, yet Azhdaha knew that he adored Morax more.

“If you had saved some other mountain dragon instead of me, would you have treated them the same way?” Azhdaha asked. His frankness might not sit well with Morax or anyone, but he was relieved when the first thing he got was another smile.

“What’s the purpose of asking that? Fate brought us together. Why are you worrying about something that doesn’t exist?” Morax didn’t sound upset at all. He always had the correct answer, so it could be why Azhdaha liked him the most.

The night ended well with Morax’s promise to see Azhdaha again. The next day, the servants said that a renowned teacher would tutor Azhdaha soon. In the evening, an old guy with long white hair knocked on his door and began the study right away. What shocked him was the fact that he needed to learn two languages at the same time. One was what the people in Guili Plains used and he understood. Then, there was Teyvatian, the universal language that he had to master if he wanted to speak with foreigners and survive in this world.

In a week, Azhdaha could memorize twenty-six Teyvatian letters. In a month, he could do the same to twenty local characters that were slightly harder to comprehend. Every time Morax came over, he would ask Azhdaha to sit beside him as he held a book and went over Azhdaha’s lesson for at least thirty minutes before they spoke about the things that occurred when they were apart. In two months, Azhdaha could perfectly write and read simple phrases in both languages—things such as greetings, praises, and apologies.

“It only took you less than six months to be familiar with more than a hundred characters. You’re a genius. Is it because you’re the Dragon King?” Morax asked after Azhdaha proved that he wasn’t kidding around with his wishes. It was another night of them being alone in Azhdaha’s living room and the collection of poems that Morax had more romantic contents than usual.

Azhdaha glanced down to Morax’s fingers that were resting on the pages. “I just want to relate more to you and everyone else, but especially you.”

“That’s very nice of you to say. I, too, am grateful to have you as a friend. I wouldn’t change a thing about how we met,” Morax stated. It was his first time ever calling Azhdaha his “friend” instead of his “ally”, so Azhdaha’s face heated up. His hair had been cut shoulder-length, and he didn’t wear any thick clothing. Could it be summer’s fault?

After Morax left, Azhdaha read the rest of the book while sitting on his bed. My oath to you is eternal. My devotion is unconditional. He stroked the words of one poem that wrung his heart more than the others. Give me your hand to hold. Love me until I’m old. He stopped when he reached one of his early learned characters. Love. He had heard many conceptions about it from the youngsters in the city, but he never thought that he would wonder if it was also what he felt toward Morax.

“Heaven and earth shall not separate us,” he whispered the last line of the poem on the next page before closing the book and keeping it on the nightstand. Love, he thought. If he does love Morax, will Morax love him back? Is it okay to dream of having the people’s king for himself?

Protecting the mountains for Morax, learning more about arts and literature to impress Morax, looking forward to the new dawn because Morax would be there for him—he let his feelings grew quietly yet wildly. In a year, he attempted to compose a poem that Morax might remember for the rest of their lives. Would it be too much to compare those amber eyes to the sun? Unfortunately, all the papers were crumpled and thrown away because he couldn’t find the right phrases to describe how meaningful Morax was to him.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

The war had made Morax miserable, and only Azhdaha could see that. Five years after it began, people started to cheer and believe that Morax would come out as one of the seven victors. They witnessed the strength of his character; the excellent dominions over his armies and the fairness that gained him more support from other weaker gods and adepti. He always pushed the notion aside by telling them not to lower their guards because the conflict was still ongoing. All the admirations, yet they failed to notice the heaviness in his heart.

In the first few months, Guizhong wasn’t the only companion that Morax had lost. Some friends turned their backs against him, some couldn’t fight their immoralities and succumbed to evil, while some fled the continent and weren’t heard anymore. Nevertheless, Morax wore his white cape, wielded his golden spear, and led every battle like he wasn’t affected by anyone’s demises. As somebody who had always laid his eyes on Morax, Azhdaha knew how hard the ever kind god pretended to be strong so his people wouldn’t be frightened.

“Morax, you do know that I’m still here, don’t you?” The night after their hundredth battle, Azhdaha walked toward Morax, who sat alone on a high mound overlooking the land where thousands of their men had set their camps. They hadn’t been home in a while, and the only news they had from across the ocean was delivered by a group of winged adepti tasked as messengers.

“Who else do I see if it isn’t you?” Morax asked.

Azhdaha chuckled and slumped down beside Morax. They glanced up to watch the stars, but Azhdaha was the first one who couldn’t help looking back at the person beside him. Even during a period of devastation, he still thought of Morax as the most beautiful being in this world. One day, he would be sick of the colorful landscapes and resplendent lights in the sky, but he swore there would never come a day when he wouldn’t want to take another glimpse at his savior’s face. Morax was the only brilliant thing left in this catastrophe.

But Morax didn’t speak much. Too many times, Azhdaha questioned if everything was all right or if he was needed for anything at all. Morax always shushed him down and gave him simple answers like an older soul trapped for centuries was too young to understand what suffering meant. There was always an inexplicable sadness in Morax’s eyes—a clear indication that he was exhausted and wanted to scream out his problems but remembered his position as a leader and thought it wasn’t reasonable to do.

You’ll be the first person who knows if I ever get hurt. The words that Morax had said a long time ago often ringed in Azhdaha’s head, but during lonely moments like this, he wondered if it was the whole truth. He gently twirled the long brown hair that touched the grass beneath them around his calloused fingers. When Morax didn’t react much, Azhdaha dared to brush the back of his hand against Morax’s chin and the thick eyelashes hiding the amber eyes. It had been forever since he could freely touch his favorite person.

After their first passionate exchange in the meeting hall, they hadn’t had another time to be alone. Morax never slept, but the war didn’t care for daylights or nights. He was always surrounded by the adepti and generals who sought his guidance. The only moment of solitude he could afford was when he had to bathe, but even then, people always lined up outside with their maps and letters. For five years, Azhdaha had to be satisfied with their hands that coincidentally brushed each other and nothing more. Tonight was rare.

“Morax,” Azhdaha called. “When I started to learn to live among humans, I found it amusing when everything caused them to cry. From getting surprised to losing an object that they could get again, I thought immortals like us would never understand it. But then it also happened to me. I cried when I laughed too hard and cried when children used their savings to buy me a present just because they liked playing with me. I think I’m so more attached to my emotions than you. Have you never shed a tear in your life?”

“I can’t remember,” Morax answered. Azhdaha didn’t frown because it was an expected answer. Lately, Morax’s favorite phrases had been “it’s okay”, “don’t think too much”, or any ambiguous variations that would make the other person stop probing into his deepest thoughts.

“Morax,” Azhdaha continued. “My chest tightens every time I see you like this.”

Morax turned his head sideways. “What do you see?”

“Like…” Azhdaha stared at their resting warriors below—the flickering lights of their oil lanterns and the swaying of the red tattered battle flags surrounding them—before meeting Morax’s eyes again. “…you wish you could do more.”

Morax opened his mouth and quickly closed it. Azhdaha waited, thinking that Morax would eventually be honest if given enough time to arrange the right words. Much to Azhdaha’s dismay, Morax smiled and looked off into the distance again, wordlessly stating that he didn’t want to confirm nor deny Azhdaha’s speculation. It made Azhdaha think if something had broken between them, perhaps caused by a mistake that he had accidentally done in the past but didn’t consider it wrong when it happened.

“I haven’t known you for that long, but after everyone left, have I not become your most trusted confidant?” Azhdaha cooed. “Morax, please…”

“You are my most trusted confidant, but our relationship has nothing to do with this war,” Morax said. “If I begin, I’m afraid that I’ll never stop. I don’t want to be that kind of ruler.”

“…please share your pain with me. Am I not good enough to be your listener?” Azhdaha’s voice almost broke.

Perhaps Azhdaha’s sincerity was what changed Morax’s mind because Morax suddenly leaned in toward Azhdaha and rested his forehead on the bigger man’s shoulder as if he wanted to cover the mournful face he was about to make. “I don’t care about winning this war,” Morax whispered. “But if we end up winning, I want to build a better place for our people. I’ll be righteous and make sure that their grandchildren won’t have to know what war feels like. I want them to live in peace and order.”

Azhdaha smiled, placing a hand on the back of Morax’s head and caressed him like a baby. “That sounds like something you’ll do.”

“And I’m tired,” Morax added.

“I know.”

“Celestia’s method doesn’t make any sense. They could have picked any seven gods or sent their own without having us fight each other. I don’t want to lose more innocent people.”

“Of course.”

Morax took a deep breath. “May you live long, Azhdaha.”

“I won’t die in anyone else’s hands but yours. You’ve given me this life. You’re the only one who can take it,” Azhdaha blurted out, tightening the grip he had. “Or, perhaps not. The future is unfathomable, but from the bottom of my heart, I don’t want to die before you, Morax. My greatest fear is leaving you alone in this world. Please trust me.”

Morax let out a stifled laugh. “I’ll try to.”

“No. You must trust me,” Azhdaha insisted.

“I’m not sure. It’s becoming tougher to do,” Morax whimpered. “Don’t you realize? Everyone I trusted has either died or left my side.”

Perhaps Morax’s despair was what gave Azhdaha the courage to push him into the green field. Nobody cared about dust dirtying their clothes because there were more days when they had to march through sandstorms than days when they could sit by a lake and enjoy the spring water. A little clumsily, Azhdaha placed both of his hands next to Morax’s head and remembered how humans would press their lips together to show their deepest affection. He had imagined himself doing it to Morax probably every second of the day.

“How many times have you embraced me like this? You’ve been so brave in approaching me first,” Morax remarked after a fleeting silence.

“Because you never pushed me away,” Azhdaha grunted before collapsing on top of Morax, erasing the space between them and putting his arms under the graceful figure beneath him. He could feel the warmth of his own breath against Morax’s cheek. “I thought only lovers could do this, so who am I to you, Morax? Why don’t you tell me for once?”

It seemed like the only circumstance in which Morax would rather die than answer, so his silence didn’t hurt Azhdaha at all. Azhdaha had wondered about it as many times as he worried about Morax’s state of mind. Most days, his hands were tainted with strangers’ blood. The screams of anguish would prevent him from thinking about adoring another person, but he kept telling himself that it was different now. Not a single soul knew they were here, so he must relish in the secrecy that might not come again soon.

“How very bold of you.” Morax placed a hand on Azhdaha’s chest. “Your heart beats really fast.”

Azhdaha shivered, but he pulled away with the help of one arm and stared into Morax’s loving eyes. “Do you think it’s bad?”

“How am I supposed to know?”

“You made it like this.”

“So it’s my fault now?”

Azhdaha bit his lower lip, trying to suppress his joy. “Can I feel yours too?”

Morax nodded. “Of course.”

With his free hand that didn’t support his weight, Azhdaha touched Morax’s chest. He had never done it to anyone before, but based on his own condition, he could tell that Morax’s heartbeat was thumping heavily too. This wasn’t enough. He recalled a famous adult book that his language teacher had lent him years ago. He strips me off my robe, and I can’t stop the increasing spark inside me. I want my beloved to touch every part of my bare skin. From this moment, I believe the universe was created for us to unite, the author had written.

Azhdaha’s body tensed up when he thought of crossing the line and made the scene happen between him and Morax. Not a single man would come to bother them in the dead of night, so he shouldn’t think twice to remove their clothes. Following the description in the book, he would start by kissing Morax’s arms, shoulders, and face. Then, he would go lower and lower and force Morax to melt from his heat and cry out his name. Finally, his fingers would draw lines between the scars accumulated on Morax’s back until they both forgot about the cruelty of earth.

“Can I just hug you like this?” Instead, Azhdaha demanded something else. He yearned for more, but he knew that if he were to repeat what those fictional characters do, someone as reticent as Morax most likely would punch and kick him. One undesirable choice could destroy their magical moment, and he didn’t want to risk it. If only Morax would be the one taking the lead.

“After all this time, you’re asking for permission?” Morax teased. “You can, Azhdaha, and only because it’s you.”

Azhdaha smiled and buried his face in Morax’s neck. Time was infinite yet unforeseeable. If he was destined for tragedy, he wanted Morax to scatter his ashes around their new city. He wished to watch over Morax and his people, to remind them that the vow created between the Lord of Geo and the Dragon King of Nantianmen on that sunny spring morning was eternal. However, just like the poem that he never finished composing, he couldn’t bring himself to be forthright about his endearments.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

In Azhdaha’s living room, there was a portrait of a handsome man in red armor. The man’s straight brown hair was tied up, but it was still long enough to touch his waist. His eyes were similar to cor lapis and rich with wisdom like they had witnessed countless revolutions. On the bottom edge of the painting, “Morax, the First Geo Archon” and the year it presumably was made were written in white ink. The servants who lived with him would talk about Morax, how he was the kind ruler of Liyue Harbor, the city by the ocean where they resided.

Morax would often visit Azhdaha’s house in the evening. Sometimes while they had dinner together or took a stroll in his front yard full of golden sandbearer trees, he would recall several things about them, such as the battles they had won, the moments he kneeled in front of the god to clean the dust staining his boots, and the affectionate words he thought every time they laughed with each other. Some other days, he was clueless as to why Morax would hold his hand or lay his head on his chest like they were lovers.

“Why do I have so many memories about you?” Azhdaha asked Morax when they sat on his bed, relishing in the summer breeze passing through the unclosed window. He wasn’t sure if they were indeed their shared history or whether he was only dreaming. Morax was a beauty that never left his side. Even when he hadn’t been feeling like himself for a while, Azhdaha wouldn’t be too surprised if there was a point in his life where he had almost sacrificed his life for the man beside him.

“What kind of memories? Can you be more specific?” Morax, who held a romance book in his hands, glanced at Azhdaha and reluctantly pulled both corners of his mouth, forming a lopsided grin.

“I don’t know how to describe them well, but we were always together,” Azhdaha said.

Morax chuckled. “Aren’t we also together now?”

“Yes, but those memories were…” Azhdaha stroked his right temple with his forefinger. “…extraordinary, I suppose.”

“We went to Inazuma three months ago. It was just the two of us for a whole week, and we had so much fun,” Morax quickly changed the topic. “You ate raw fish every day and got sick for three after we came back. Do you remember that?”

“Inazuma?” Azhdaha frowned. “Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t—”

“It’s fine.” Morax didn’t lose the softness in his face, but it was apparent that he was hurt by Azhdaha’s lack of awareness. He spoke no more about the situation and proceeded to discuss taking another trip in a month or two.

Everyone did claim that Azhdaha had a brain disease that made him forget certain things. It wasn’t life-threatening, but he had to be guarded all the time. What he couldn’t tell any of them was that he kept hearing the mountains calling for him. So, one night after everyone was asleep, he left his house and followed the noises. The signs he read on the road said that he was in the Chasm, but despite the eerie name, the area felt warmer than other places that he had gone to. He didn’t want to go anywhere else because he belonged there.

Sometime later, a woman he had never seen before came to his place and asked if he would ever get back to Guili Plains. She seemed sad when he told her that he didn’t know who she was. She said that she had been taking care of him since she was a teenager, confusing him even further. Then, a man with long brown hair and amber eyes walked past the archway of the cave and stopped her from blabbering any further. She called the man “Lord Morax” and acted as if the gentle-looking man was a terrifying dictator.

“Don’t worry, Azhdaha. Everything is all right,” Morax would always tell Azhdaha as if he required some empty words of assurance to survive the day.

Just like their faces, Azhdaha couldn’t remember the exact date when his body began to ache like it was pierced by hundreds of poisonous arrows. His every muscle went taut, and his hands balled into fists. He roared and sought help from anyone who might be able to hear him, asking why he must be tormented when he hadn’t done anything wrong. The person named Morax would bring people to alleviate his pain. They would give him pale murky waters that would make him sleep faster. He would always wake up feeling a bit better.

“You’ve lost some weight. You used to only want persimmons, so try them out,” Morax loved to remind Azhdaha every time his people came with woven baskets of food. Their offerings tasted good, but he didn’t remember being addicted to the round orange fruits because bitterness and desolation overtook his other senses. He was surrounded by people, but he still felt empty and lonely.

After hundreds of years, the remedies didn’t work anymore. Azhdaha constantly wailed and condemned the cycle of suffering that had struck him, and people seemed to get tired of him. Moving his legs without twisting his spine was impossible. His human form couldn’t bear the overwhelming agony, even though all that he wanted was to hold a pair of chopsticks. Before long, irritation became the only thing that filled his mind. He couldn’t think of anything other than eliminating the source of his misery.

There had been noises coming from the west, so he went there after dawn and found many humans mining ores and loading them into their carts. Every time their pickaxes hit the earth, it sent a painful jolt through his body, and his head felt like it would split in two. They weren’t there before, but he knew that they were also responsible for his restless nights. Without saying a word, he winced and walked closer to them—each of his footsteps shook the ground and warned them of his presence.

“Is the Dragon King here?” Almost all of them turned around. “We’re here because—”

Their voices disgusted him, so he didn’t let them reach the end of their excuses and tore the gathering apart. They were no more than puny two-legged creatures, standing far beneath the dragon who owned the mountains and stones they stole without permission. Having blood between his mighty claws didn’t affect his authority—it was what they deserved for crossing the line. They shouldn’t dare to disrespect and wound the one forged by the divinity.

A few survivors who managed to retreat looked like insects that slowly crawled around him when he tried to nap. The only difference was their ability to shriek in terror and perhaps also realize their mistakes. Still, that didn’t make them irreplaceable and worth as much as him. He shouldn’t have let them go. He should have stomped on them like he did to get rid of those useless animals. How could he stoop so low and choose to live alongside them for centuries? His heart must have been manipulated back then.

“Azhdaha, you broke your promise.” The strange man appeared before his eyes again, barehanded as if his lean wrists had the power to destroy a dragon’s back scales. “Look at me, Azhdaha. I’m Morax. Do you not remember?”

“Why should I know you?” Azhdaha asked, gazing down at the man. He could have killed him as well, but Morax—or whoever he introduced himself as—bit his lower lip and looked like he was about to cry. It weirded Azhdaha out, so he would be considerate enough to listen before he raised his feet and took one more life.

“The dreaded day has come, hasn’t it? Starting from now, I can no longer speak to you nor touch you,” Morax said before turning around and leaving the mountains, faster than Azhdaha could catch his shadow. A sturdy barrier was created around the perimeter and sealed him inside. He could break it if he tried for hours, but he didn’t bother himself because Morax would show up again soon.

It was another sleepless night, but for the first time, the burning sensation in his chest was worse than the cracking of his bones. Morax’s face haunted his mind as if among everyone he could diminish, he wasn’t supposed to do that to this one person. When he started sobbing, he didn’t know if it was because of his exhaustion or something greater. The land belonged to him, so the truth didn’t really matter, but since Morax had worsened his soreness, he swore he would cut him to pieces.

However, none of his plans succeeded. The following morning, Morax brought some allies with him. He mocked Morax for needing so many people to hold him back, but he thought too highly of himself. His enemies’ power combined could puncture his horns and sedate his rage. The words he screamed before he was dropped underground were cruel wishes; one day, he would get his revenge and destroy everything they had built and loved. Hearing them, Morax only coldly stared at him.

Chapter Text

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.