널 구원해줄게 with my light
(달달 무슨 달
다 집어삼킬 Monster)
달이 태양을 가릴 때
환한 빛으로 널 가득 채워줄
별이 되어 널 비출게
- Eclipse by Moonbyul -
The problem with being a ranged fighter, Zhao Yunlan muses, is that he doesn't do well in close quarters. Compared to other long range weapons, his dark energy gun is still effective relatively close up, as long as he has space to aim and fire point blank. Their archers are protected by the formation of their army, their flanks covered by footsoldiers and ideally using the terrain to their advantage.
However, Zhao Yunlan can't be stationed with the archers, the retort of his pistol would give their position away.
They don’t have enough manpower just to provide him with a guard, either, and it would cut down on his effectiveness — Zhao Yunlan serves best as a mobile fighter staying out of range of their enemies’ powers, using rocks and trees for cover and moving on before they can get a lock on him. Too many guards would hinder both his movements and give him away before he can shoot.
Shen Wei doesn’t like it. He insists on sending some of his men to protect General Kunlun, but Zhao Yunlan refuses on the principle that they might get caught in the crossfire. At least with Haixingren, if they get shot with one of his bullets, nothing will happen.
A compromise is reached: Ma Gui orders two of the younger sword-fighters who lack experience to guard General Kunlun. It’s a valid strategy in Zhao Yunlan’s opinion, the young men aren’t ready to join the melee yet, would be more of a hindrance at this point, but to gain experience they need to get involved in battlefields. At Zhao Yunlan’s side, they’re relatively safe since he can pick off any approaching Dixingren before they get too close, and even if they engage the enemy in a swordfight, Zhao Yunlan can fire without having to worry about accidentally hitting an ally.
In hindsight, maybe he should have let Shen Wei have his way.
They’re in the middle of retreating, Zhao Yunlan laying down cover fire alongside the archers as the soldiers help their wounded comrades and hurry back. Shen Wei is at the front, wielding his glaive, always the last to leave to give his men a better chance at survival. Zhao Yunlan sets his jaw and takes aim, he’s not going to back away until he knows Shen Wei will make it out safely.
That’s when everything goes wrong.
His first clue is the snap of a twig, followed by the cut-off cry of his guard. Zhao Yunlan whirls around, taking aim, and the first ambusher falls to his gun. His second guard is panicking, sword arm trembling too much to be of use, and already they're surrounded by enemies. The first guard is bleeding out at Zhao Yunlan's feet, and they're cut off from their allies, already too far in their retreat to notice the commotion.
Zhao Yunlan fires his gun, again and again, dread rising because no matter how many rebels he takes down, more take their place. His second guard falls, and Zhao Yunlan can do nothing but dodge and shoot, dodge and shoot, trying to back away into the underbrush. Too late he realizes they're herding him, that this was planned.
Something hard and heavy hits him in the head, and Zhao Yunlan knows no more.
"General Kunlun," a loud voice booms, and Zhao Yunlan winces. His head throbs. "We meet at last!"
He opens his eyes to dim darkness, squinting, and then the blindfold is ripped off, leaving Zhao Yunlan to blink bright spots of colour out of his vision.
A glance around shows they're in some sort of clearing, a cave and mountain wall at his back, rows of trees lining the camp. There's no tents, but a campfire over a large pit set up to roast game. He's surrounded by hostiles, swords and spears pointed at him despite his hands being bound with rope in front of him. Zhao Yunlan tugs experimentally, testing the knot. It holds.
Before him stands a man covered in a patchwork of furs topped by a fuzzy sort of cap, sneering down at him. Gloating.
Zhao Yunlan cocks his head.
"I'm sorry," he drawls, lounging as best as his position allows, "but who are you, again?"
Anger flashes across that face, knocking the arrogance right off. The man stares at him in disbelief, baring his teeth in a smile, huffing a laugh, then forcing another bark of laughter, slapping his knee.
“Very funny, General.” The man sneers and spreads his arms. “No need to pretend now. My men have captured you, you are at my mercy, Kunlun-jun.”
Since he’s been captured by rebels… this could only be their leader, then. Zhao Yunlan shrugs his shoulders, using the motion to check for his weapons. His holster is still in place but the weight of the pistol is missing, they’ve taken the knife from his boot and his belt, too. Not much to work with, and yet… Zhao Yunlan isn’t a man to wait around for a rescue. The least he can do is stall, maybe gather some intel.
"Looks like I'm at your disposal. What can this humble servant do for such an esteemed personage?"
"That's right, you have no choice but to cooperate." The chieftain leers at him with a creepy amount of glee. He turns to gesture a rebel up, the motion impatient. A masked man clad in white stumbles forward, carrying his dark energy pistol on a tray. He falls to his knees at the chieftain's feet, holding the tray up, head bowed. The chieftain takes his time to inspect the gun, picking it up carefully. "Let's start with this heavenly tool, the bane of Dixing. If it wasn't for this artifact, you would be little more than an insignificant bug crushed under my boot."
Zhao Yunlan arches an eyebrow. "You want me to teach you how to use it?"
The rebel chieftain hesitates, and Zhao Yunlan snorts. Much good it will do them—seeing as Zhao Yunlan is the only Haixingren in the clearing, they can only harm one another. Tilting his head, Zhao Yunlan gives the chieftain a calculating look. He can use this to his advantage, but he must be careful. Can't let on that they're holding one of the few weapons capable of hurting Heipaoshi.
“Ah. Never let it be said that General Kunlun isn’t a generous gentleman.” Zhao Yunlan lounges back insouciantly, propping his elbow on his knee, drawing everyone’s attention to his bound wrists. “Give it here and I’ll show you.”
The chieftain throws his head back and roars in laughter, his rebels following suit. The masked servant’s lips barely twitch, Zhao Yunlan notes, his brow furrowed in thought. Curious.
“Kunlun-jun, you can’t seriously think I’m that stupid.”
“Well, it’s not a difficult tool to use. If you can’t even figure it out by yourself I’m not sure what that says about your intelligence…”
Zhao Yunlan offers him a wry smile, and the chieftain glares at him. He turns the pistol around in his hand, the barrel pointing at his chest as he tries to press down the trigger. Zhao Yunlan has trouble keeping his expression blank. Sadly, the safety is still on.
Apparently, he doesn’t do a convincing enough job of it.
The masked servant bows to his leader. “Master, if you would allow this unworthy one, I think I’ve figured it out.”
“Have you, Ye-zun?” the chieftain asks mockingly, threat clear in his voice. The servant flinches, bowing his head lower. “You think you’re so clever, don’t you, Ye-zun? Cleverer than your master, is that it?”
“O-of course not, Master. Just—”
He doesn’t get to finish his sentence, the chieftain’s face a thunder cloud, anger mounting with every stuttered word until he backhands his servant.
He hits Ye-zun with enough force to knock his head around, dark mask flying off to land at Zhao Yunlan's feet. It’s an ugly design—rough bars of dark metal carved on dark grey, not even properly dyed black. So unlike Shen Wei’s with its golden lines and glitter in this ancient time or the one with its delicate silver swirls in the future. Almost like this mask isn’t the bearer’s choice, but rather forced upon them. The thought hasn't even finished forming when Zhao Yunlan looks up to meet Shen Wei's stunned eyes.
His breathing hitches, heart skipping a beat.
Then reality comes crashing back in. The face is identical, the same wide, startled eyes, certainly, but the look of pure, helpless fury isn't one Zhao Yunlan has seen on either version of Shen Wei before. Hidden safely behind his curtain of hair, this one glares at the dirt, arms coming up reflexively to protect his head when the rebel leader kicks at him. Instinctive. His expression doesn't twitch as the chieftain keeps hurling insults at him. Used to the abuse.
Zhao Yunlan reels back, realization slapping him in the face.
Twins. They're twins.
Shen Wei has spoken of the brother he’s lost, of course. Somehow, Zhao Yunlan has always assumed lost means dead. And yet, here he is, staring at that familiar face, mind reeling as he tries to connect the dots.
This changes everything.
Zhao Yunlan clears his throat, pulling the chieftain’s attention away from Shen Wei’s little brother. Stalling is no longer an option, he needs a plan that will get both of them out of here safely. It’s a gamble, but if there’s one thing Zhao Yunlan is good at, it’s betting on what a person will do in any given circumstance. And the rebel leader has proven himself both arrogant and with an easily bruised ego.
“It’s really not that difficult, once you’ve flipped the switch,” he drawls, rolling his eyes. Ye-zun throws him a narrow-eyed look, clearly picking up that this is a trap, but he doesn’t warn his master. Zhao Yunlan very pointedly doesn’t look at him as he raises an eyebrow and grins at the chieftain. Holding up his hands, he mimes cocking a gun. “If you can’t even manage that easy step, perhaps you should just give up while you’re ahead…”
Face drawn into a thunderous snarl, the rebel leader stomps up to Zhao Yunlan, grabbing him by the lapels and shaking him.
“I will wipe that stupid grin of your face,” he roars, spittle flying and landing on Zhao Yunlan’s face. He closes his eyes with a grimace. Then he’s thrown onto his back with a strong shove. Zhao Yunlan takes the opportunity to wipe the saliva off his face, before blinking his eyes open to stare down the barrel of his own gun. The chieftain seems to have found the safety switch, pulling at it until he finds the right direction. The click echoes loudly through the silent clearing, no one daring to speak up with their leader so angry.
“What are you gonna do, shoot me?” Zhao Yunlan quips, and a dark grin spreads over the chieftain’s face.
“Truly, you deserve no less. The great General Kunlun, felled by his very own weapon!” He spits on the ground next to Zhao Yunlan’s feet and pulls the trigger.
The ringing shot startles several birds from the trees, crying out at the disturbance. Smoke rises from the gun, black powder covering the chieftain’s hand. With a yelp, he drops the pistol before viciously kicking it aside. Clearly he hasn’t expected the retort.
Zhao Yunlan throws his head back and laughs, loud and mocking.
“Fool! Did you truly think a spiritual weapon would not recognize its master?” He catches Ye-zun’s eyes for a split second, nodding towards his gun before turning a disdainful look on the chieftain. “Boom Boom Thunder bites anyone who has not mastered” —Zhao Yunlan glances towards Ye-zun, who has crawled forward and cautiously picked up the gun. At Zhao Yunlan’s emphasis, his gaze snaps up to meet Zhao Yunlan’s, then darts to the rebels’ leader. Zhao Yunlan inclines his head slightly, barely pausing in his speech— “or been given permission by its master.”
His little brother is just as quick on the uptake as Shen Wei, Zhao Yunlan thinks fondly. Ye-zun barely hesitates before lifting the gun, pointed squarely at the chieftain’s back.
“It is not enough to simply pull the trigger,” Zhao Yunlan continues to bullshit, trying to keep the focus on him, away from Ye-zun, while simultaneously instructing Shen Wei’s brother in its use. “If you do not have hate in your heart. Only point this spiritual tool at people you intend to kill.”
Ye-zun’s face twists with determination, his aim steadying, and then there’s a second gunshot.
The chieftain lurches forward, taking one unsteady step, another, before buckling right in front of Zhao Yunlan. His eyes are wide, trembling hands lifting to his chest, blood blossoming on his robe. Coughing, the chieftain spits blood, some of it dribbling down his chin as he meets Zhao Yunlan’s smug look.
“A weapon may not betray its master,” he declares, reaching out to turn the rebel leader’s head to look at Ye-zun, to realize exactly who attacked him. “If one treats their weapon well.”
Anger flashes across the rebel leader’s face. “K-kill—”
A second shot, and the chieftain crumbles.
Silence reigns in the clearing. Zhao Yunlan watches Shen Wei’s twin, follows the flashes of emotion distorting that familiar face. Anger, guilt, hope, regret, fear, determination—swallowed by all-encompassing fury as Ye-zun raises the gun again, arms shaking, to aim at another rebel.
The third shot rips everyone out of their shock. Pandemonium ensues.
The rebels, as one, grab their weapons, shouting, trying to reach Ye-zun in an uncoordinated mob, the only thing giving Shen Wei’s brother a chance to fend them off. One rebel drops after the other, bleeding from legs, stomach, chest, their armour no match for futuristic dark energy bullets.
Zhao Yunlan wastes no time, searching the chieftain—still breathing, if shallowly, but rapidly bleeding out—for anything of use. He finds a knife strapped to his belt and starts on the task of sawing off the ropes binding his wrists. Glancing up, he sees the rebels have Ye-zun surrounded now, and the gun is clicking empty.
A shadow falls over him just as he shears through the last of the rope. Cursing, Zhao Yunlan rolls sideways to avoid the sword slash aiming straight for his chest. Instead, the sword pierces the rebel leader, who arches up, gurgling, before stilling with a final gasp.
As if on cue, all of the rebels groan, reaching for their heads. Some of them drop their weapons, others are unlucky enough to injure themselves.
Zhao Yunlan scrambles to his feet, knife still in hand and casts a quick glance around the clearing. Everyone seems affected by… whatever this is, Ye-zun included. Zhao Yunlan only hesitates for a moment before stuffing the knife into his belt, pushing through the knot of moaning rebels to reach Shen Wei’s brother. He pries his gun free from Ye-zun’s tight grip, storing it in its holster, then grabbing Ye-zun’s arm and dragging the twin away from the rebels’ base.
Ye-zun’s face is a grimace of pain, and he’s clutching his head, but he follows Zhao Yunlan with stumbling steps. Whatever is affecting him and the other rebels doesn’t seem to work on Haixingren, so Zhao Yunlan figures they can count themselves lucky. It’s as good an opportunity to escape and leave the rebels to clean up later.
All Zhao Yunlan has to do now is to get the two of them out of here, and help the twins reunite.
Easy enough. Hopefully.
"That's a powerful spiritual weapon," one of the soldiers assigned to his scouting party says, awe clear in his voice, and Zhao Yunlan preens. "What's it called?"
"Ah?" Zhao Yunlan scrambles, trying to think of a good name. Guns don’t exist, not yet, but it sort of sounds like… "Of course it's called Boom... Boom... Thunder?"
As a kid, he used to call all guns ‘boom boom’. It’s one of the few memories he has of his father laughing, his mother teasing him. Adding thunder on the end at least makes it sound a little more epic, like a real weapon.
Shen Wei’s brow knits under his mask, mouthing the name under his breath.
“Boom boom… thunder?” he asks, nose wrinkling adorably.
Zhao Yunlan laughs weakly, sweat gathering at the back of his neck.
“It’s…” A memory strikes—Shen Wei, the one he met in the future, present—telling one of his more awkward lies, saying that guns were called such in Dixing. Zhao Yunlan has always wondered why that lie sounded particularly terrible, when it could easily be a truth. “It’s what these kinds of tools are called where I came from…?”
Shen Wei doesn’t look convinced, but the soldiers with them at least nod as if they know what he’s talking about, starstruck as they are to be working with both General Kunlun and Heipaoshi.
“I’ve never heard of or seen a similar weapon before,” Shen Wei points out, and where someone else might hear wonder, Zhao Yunlan hears his suspicion. “There are more in the mountains?”
Luckily, before Zhao Yunlan has to think of a suitable lie that won’t explode in his face—literally—Da Qing shows up, nothing more but a black shadow in the dark of night.
“I found where the rebels are camping,” he reports, and the conversation is rapidly forgotten.
Shen Wei’s brother remains insensible for the better part of the hour. Zhao Yunlan hopes this also means the other rebels are faring similarly and does his best to cover their tracks. He stops at a river, leaving Ye-zun propped up against a tree nearby as he fills his waterskin. He hasn’t the faintest clue where they are, although he thinks heading north-east is his best bet to run into an Allied patrol, they have been searching for the rebel’s base south of their own. Considering the base turned up at the foot of a mountain, there’s only so many possibilities remaining, and Zhao Yunlan had to join enough strategy meetings to be at least aware of the most likely options.
Zhao Yunlan drinks his fill, then returns to Ye-Zun. His pulse is steady under Zhao Yunlan’s fingers, his breathing even. The pained grimace slowly eases from his face, a sure sign that whatever hurt him is slowly abating. Sure enough, Ye-zun’s eyelashes flutter, and Zhao Yunlan sits back, allowing Shen Wei’s brother to take stock of the situation in peace.
The first thing Ye-zun does upon regaining consciousness is searching for his mask. The panicked expression on his face when he can’t find it tugs at Zhao Yunlan’s heartstrings, turning to worry when Ye-zun averts his gaze and lets his hair fall in a curtain to hide behind.
“Hey,” Zhao Yunlan murmurs, reaching out to tip his face up. Ye-zun flinches, so Zhao Yunlan redirects to squeeze his shoulder instead, smoothly enough as if that has been his intention in the first place. “Relax. I’m not going to hurt you, xiao-Shen.”
Ye-zun’s head snaps up, his eyes wide and wild. “What did you call me?”
Getting a sense of deja vu, Zhao Yunlan arches his eyebrow. “What would you prefer I call you?”
Shen Wei’s brother squints at him, eyes narrowed and suspicious, a stark contrast to Shen Wei’s wide and open ones. Even in the future, with all those secrets he hides behind them, Shen Wei has never looked this closed off. His brother, however, has none of that innate trust in Zhao Yunlan.
“Ye-zun,” he finally says, tone clipped. Zhao Yunlan snorts a laugh.
“Very well then, little night lord,” he drawls, pulling out his recently filled waterskin and holding it out to Shen Wei’s twin. “Here. You must be thirsty.”
Ye-zun takes it warily, as if afraid the offer would be rescinded or turn out to be some form of trap. Zhao Yunlan raises a pointed eyebrow as he relinquishes his hold on the waterskin without further issue. He can guess that this twin didn’t have an easy time growing up either. A part of him wishes the chieftain died a slower, more agonizing death, but at least Ye-zun got to take the shot. Hopefully that will bring him some sense of closure.
After having stilled his thirst, Ye-zun wipes his mouth on his white sleeve, using the gesture to hide the way his eyes dart around, checking out their surroundings. Zhao Yunlan waits patiently, pulling up a knee to prop his elbow on.
“...where are we?” Ye-zun finally asks, the neck of the waterskin clutched in a tight grip. Like he’s considering its use as a potential weapon.
“North of the base.” Zhao Yunlan meets his wary gaze calmly. “We should cross the river and head further east. If we’re lucky, we’ll run into Alliance soldiers before nightfall.”
Ye-zun stiffens visibly at mentions of the Alliance. “This humble servant has nothing of value to offer General Kunlun nor the Alliance. I am but a mere slave.”
“Not anymore, you’re not,” Zhao Yunlan scoffs, feeling his expression darken. “Besides, the chieftain is dead, and the Rebellion in shambles. What need do we have for your intel?”
Dark eyes narrowed into a glare. “Then why did you save me?”
Zhao Yunlan eyes him contemplatively. He can make an educated guess of what Ye-zun expects to hear, from how guarded he acts. Everything from how he's the visibly weakest of the rebels to his closeness to the former chief, the reasons flashing through Ye-zun's calculating gaze. If he didn’t have as much experience reading Shen Wei, Zhao Yunlan doubts he would've been able to decipher Ye-zun's expressions as easily.
"To reunite you with your big brother," he says mildly and watches Ye-zun freeze. Shock, anger, and denial cross his face in quick order. Arching his brow at the unexpected reaction, Zhao Yunlan adds, "He misses you a lot, you know."
“Lies,” Ye-zun hisses, his fingers digging hard enough into the waterskin to spill water all over his robes. He doesn’t even seem to notice. “Gege sold me to my master.”
“Ah?” Zhao Yunlan can feel his brow knit into a frown. That doesn’t sound like Shen Wei at all. “Why would he do that?”
“Why wouldn’t he?” Ye-zun returns bitterly, tossing the waterskin at Zhao Yunlan’s feet and hugging himself. “What other use could he have for someone like me? I was nothing more but dead weight for Gege to get rid of.”
"That doesn't sound like something he'd say," Zhao Yunlan points out, mind whirring, trying to make sense of this new information. No matter how he turns it, it refuses to fit.
"He didn't have to," Ye-zun snaps back, curling in on himself. "Actions speak louder than words."
"And he… left you with the chieftain?" Zhao Yunlan frowns, puzzled. Perhaps Shen Wei intended to come back for his twin, but something stopped him? Except Shen Wei told him—he fights for the brother he lost. Lost, not left.
"I woke up and Gege was gone," Ye-zun confirms, shooting him a glare from behind his curtain of hair. "He never came back. Why would he? I'm worse than useless, just dragging him down. He was happy to abandon me."
Eyebrows flying up into his hairline, Zhao Yunlan tilts his head.
“Is that what you think,” he starts, leaning forward, trying to catch Ye-zun’s gaze, “or what your master told you?”
Ye-zun’s head snaps up, and he bares his teeth in a snarl. “It’s a basic fact.”
“And it’s common knowledge amongst Allied soldiers that Heipaoshi gathered like-minded Dixingren because the rebel chieftain stole from him that which he held most dear.” A bit of an exaggeration, maybe, since it’s more of a rumour with a kernel of truth, but it gets his point across. Zhao Yunlan fetches the waterskin and pushes to his feet. “So make of that what you will.”
Zhao Yunlan turns his back on Shen Wei’s little brother as he refills the waterskin, letting him stew in his thoughts for a bit. Ye-zun remains silent for a good stretch, quietly following Zhao Yunlan across the river and further north-east without complaint or attempting to escape. Not that Zhao Yunlan is actually holding him captive in any way or form, but Ye-zun is probably just as leery of the rebels’ retaliation since he killed their leader.
And maybe, just maybe, he too wants to reunite with his brother, all bitterness aside.
While Zhao Yunlan isn’t nearly as fit as most soldiers when it comes to fighting, at least he’s spent a lot of his teen years hiking with Da Qing and thus has built up some stamina when it comes to traveling on foot. Ye-zun, however, starts lagging behind not two hours into their silent journey. He doesn’t say anything, struggling to keep up with Zhao Yunlan, but his breathing starts coming in shorter bursts, sweat pearling on his brow.
When Zhao Yunlan notices, he slows his pace and keeps an eye out for a good spot to stop.
They’re still close to the foot of the mountain, yet Zhao Yunlan isn’t sure how to tell if a cave is unoccupied, and without Shen Wei at his side he really doesn’t want to chance another bear encounter. They make do with a trio of ancient trees, instead, their crowns thick enough to stop rain and keep the ground around their roots dry. The rebels didn't empty his pockets aside from taking his weapons, and Zhao Yunlan shares what little rations he has freely. Ye-zun eats like someone who's been starved, who's used to having their portion stolen if he doesn't eat fast enough.
Zhao Yunlan doesn't comment, and inch by inch, Ye-zun's shoulders come down from his ears. He keeps shooting Zhao Yunlan glances from the corner of his eyes, suspicion warring with curiosity, until finally, he breaks the silence.
“Gege…” Ye-zun starts, pauses, tries again. “Heipaoshi—what… You know who Heipaoshi is under that mask?”
“Ah? Of course! How else would I have recognized you?” Zhao Yunlan lounges against a large root, openly observing the Dixingren. "You look like his mirror image, you know."
"I know," Ye-zun agrees snappily, shoulders creeping back up. He tugs the hood of his white cloak over his head as if trying to hide. Trying to hide his face, and that makes Zhao Yunlan pause.
"Is that why you wear that ugly mask? To hide your pretty face?"
Ye-zun’s head snaps up, and he stares at Zhao Yunlan with wide eyes reminiscent of his older brother, a flush crawling up his neck and covering his ears. “What?”
“What?” Zhao Yunlan echoes, somewhat defensively. “Xiao-Wei is pretty enough to rival the four great beauties, and you have the same face, of course it’s pretty.”
Ye-zun’s wide eyes narrow rapidly in suspicion. “You’re trying to soften me up.”
Zhao Yunlan’s eyebrows fly up into his hairline. “Whatever for?”
“You want me to come back to the Alliance with you,” Ye-zun accuses, curling over the remains of his portion of the food. “You’re trying to trick me like—like you tricked my master.”
Zhao Yunlan scoffs, unable to help himself. “As if you would be so easily fooled.” Eyeing Ye-zun curiously, Zhao Yunlan leans back against the tree. “Alright. Let’s say you’re right, I’m trying to trick you to come back with me. What for? You said yourself that you have no useful intelligence for the Alliance, and I doubt the rebels would care if we took you hostage at this point.”
Ye-zun glares at him, shifting his feet under himself so he can easily spring up and run. Zhao Yunlan takes silent note, but doesn’t move to intercept him.
“For Gege,” he spits, anger and triumph flashing over his face. “You said so yourself.”
Zhao Yunlan cocks his head… and smirks.
“Ah? I thought your brother wanted nothing to do with you. Didn’t he get rid of you?”
Ye-zun blinks, his furious expression melting away in confusion, leaving behind the lost young man he truly is under all that bristling and barking. Zhao Yunlan’s chest aches, but he twists the knife in regardless, voice gentle.
“Unless he’d be happy to see you. It wouldn’t make sense otherwise.”
“But…” Ye-zun starts and stops, ducking his head so his hair covers the look on his face. Zhao Yunlan sighs, draping an arm over his pulled up knee and rolling his head back to stare at the sky of old oak leaves.
“But if he’s happy to see you, why did he sell you?” Zhao Yunlan huffs, careful to hide how he’s watching Ye-zun from the corners of his eyes. “What reason do I have to lie to you, unless I want to trick you into returning to the Alliance with me?”
Ye-zun glances up at him, eyes wide and red-rimmed. Zhao Yunlan tilts his head, offers him a crooked smile.
“What reason did your old master have to lie to you?”
Ye-zun’s jaw clenches and he averts his gaze, glaring at the dirt instead. Nodding, Zhao Yunlan takes one more sip from his waterskin, wiping his mouth with his sleeve and recapping it before he pushes to his feet.
“Well, enough rest. I’m going.” He pauses next to where Ye-zun crouches, fingers grazing over his shoulder featherlight. “You’re welcome to follow.”
He’s not surprised when Ye-zun does, keeping several feet of distance between them and a wary eye out. It’s not long before the sun will set, which makes it easy to spot the flickering lights on the horizon another hour into their journey. Zhao Yunlan raises a hand to stop Ye-zun, crouching down behind a boulder. After a heartbeat of hesitation, Ye-zun siddles up next to him, peering over Zhao Yunlan’s shoulder.
In the distance, the lights sway in the breeze, heading in their direction.
Under his breath, Zhao Yunlan whispers, “Stay here, I’ll let you know once it’s safe to come out.”
“But—” Ye-zun starts to protest, however, Zhao Yunlan is already moving to intercept. It’s a patrol, although their allegiances are hard to tell by the clothing, and Zhao Yunlan doesn’t recognize any of them. While he is dithering on how to proceed, a twig snaps behind him. Zhao Yunlan turns his head to glare at Ye-zun, who sets his jaw stubbornly, daring Zhao Yunlan to scold him. The whole patrol tenses and shifts into a familiar formation, much to Zhao Yunlan’s relief.
“Who’s there!?” one of them shouts, and Zhao Yunlan steps out from behind the tree hiding him, hand up in the air and waving to catch their attention, beckoning Ye-zun to follow close behind him since the brat won’t sit still.
“General Kunlun?” another asks as they approach, a crow yashou judging by the black feathers braided into their hair. “It’s General Kunlun! Kunlun-jun has returned!”
The cry passes down the line, one soldier turning heel and hurrying back with the message. The rest of the patrol gathers around Zhao Yunlan, exclaiming and talking over one another, asking where he’s been, how he got out, and a thousand more things.
Zhao Yunlan laughs, throwing them a couple bones without actually answering any of their questions. He ruffles someone’s hair here, teases another there, and soon he has maneuvered Ye-zun and himself to the edge of the camp, keeping their escort distracted. Fu You is waiting for him with her own guard, a surprise considering last he heard the Alliance council was setting up further to the south.
“General Kunlun, welcome back. We’re glad that you made it out safely.” Her smile is genuine, but her eyes are sharp as her gaze flickers to Ye-zun. “Who is your companion, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Zhao Yunlan grins, wide and smug, as he throws an arm around Ye-zun’s shoulders. It earns him a glare, which he blithely ignores.
“Surprise gift for Heipaoshi,” he announces, a murmur going through the crowd. “Figured since I took an unplanned vacation, I might as well come back with a souvenir.”
“You’re talking nonsense again, General,” Fu You scolds him gently, a reminder to keep his words period-appropriate. Zhao Yunlan shrugs.
“Where is he anyway? Kinda expected him to be part of the welcoming committee,” Zhao Yunlan admits. It is strange for Shen Wei to miss an opportunity to check him over for injury after another wild escapade.
“Out looking for you.” Fu You arches a pointed eyebrow. “He should be back soon.”
As if talking about him summoned Heipaoshi—and many soldiers would argue it does—a familiar black-cloaked silhouette steps out from the treeline, the setting sun throwing him into dramatic colours. He stops, hooded head turning in their direction. A pause, then the glaive vanishes in a swirl of dark energy.
“Kunlun?” he calls out, and Ye-zun freezes under Zhao Yunlan’s arm. Zhao Yunlan, on the other hand, can feel his mouth stretch wide across his face as he turns to face Shen Wei, forcing Ye-zun to turn with him.
“There you are! I was looking for you!” he yells back cheerfully. Within a heartbeat, Shen Wei suddenly stands before him, his cloak billowing from the power he used to move fast.
“Looking for me?” Shen Wei mutters grumpily, his eyes scanning Zhao Yunlan for injuries. “I’ve been looking for you.”
Zhao Yunlan’s smile softens at the genuine worry he can hear in Shen Wei’s voice. Then it turns into a teasing smirk. “Well, you’ve found me!” He spreads his arms wide, accidentally not-so-accidentally pushing Ye-zun a step forward. “And look! I even got you something.”
Shen Wei reluctantly tears his gaze away from Zhao Yunlan, who feels familiar fondness suffuse his chest, knowing that he is—and will be—the center of Shen Wei's world. As soon as Shen Wei's eyes land on Ye-zun, they widen, a silent gasp escaping his lips. He reaches out, hand faltering before he can touch, drawing back hesitantly.
Ye-zun is staring back at Shen Wei, a multitude of emotions flashing over his face. Swallowing, he whispers hoarsely, "Ge?"
“Surprise!” Zhao Yunlan exclaims cheerfully. Neither twin pays him much mind, staring at each other as their worlds turn upside down.
“I thought” —Shen Wei swallows, his eyes wet— “I thought I’d lost you forever. I couldn’t find you anywhere.”
“Laoban… My master…” Ye-zun starts, then stops, his jaw set in determination. “The traitorous rebel chief, he told me you—you gave me to him.”
“Di,” Shen Wei whispers, tears streaming down his cheeks, eyes flaring with inner fire. “I would never.”
“I—” Ye-zun trembles, reaching out. Shen Wei mirrors him, their fingers almost touching. Finally, Ye-zun bridges the gap, grasping the sleeve of Shen Wei’s black robe tightly. “I know. I think.”
Zhao Yunlan smiles softly as the brothers reunite, watching over them even as Fu You shoos everyone else away, to give them some privacy. If nothing else comes out of this trip to the past, Zhao Yunlan can at least be satisfied that he managed to fix this.
I’ll save you with my light
(Moon, moon, what kind of moon?
A monster who will swallow all)
When the moon covers the sun
I’ll fill you with a bright light
I’ll be a star and shine on you
“I see you’ve brought the mighty Boom Boom Thunder,” Shen Wei drawls, like the troll he is. Zhao Yunlan shoots him an unimpressed look.
“Brought… what?” Lin Jing asks, pausing to look up from his tablet, brow furrowing.
“Boom Boom Thunder,” Shen Wei repeats with a serious expression. Zhao Yunlan narrows his eyes at him, holding up a finger threateningly. Mischief flashes over Shen Wei’s face before he turns to the rest of the SID with all of his gravitas. “A legendary, spiritual weapon, once used by the mighty General Kunlun.”
"That rings a bell," Da Qing murmurs, brow furrowing in concentration.
"It was a weapon unlike any other at the time," Shen Wei continues gravely. "It made quite the impact. Indeed, it was crucial in turning the tides of the war. Just as mighty as its name."
"I hate you," Zhao Yunlan groans, dropping his head on his arms, resting on the conference table.
"Boom Boom Thunder?" Zhu Hong repeats, wrinkling her nose and crossing her arms. "That sounds… no offense, but that's a rather silly name."
“Sounds like it would be right at home in a video game,” Lin Jing chimes up in agreement.
“Only the cleverest mind could come up with such a name for an important weapon,” Shen Wei fakes chiding them, and if the ground opens up and swallows Zhao Yunlan, right now would be a good time.
“W-who did name the— G-general Kunlun’s w-weapon?” Sang Zan asks, the sincere curiosity in his tone the only thing saving him from Zhao Yunlan’s wrath. Everyone else would get their bonus reduced, Professor Shen included.
“Why, no one else than your very own Chief Zhao, of course,” Shen Wei declares, blinking his wide eyes innocently at Zhao Yunlan, who peeks up from the safety of his arms to glare at him. He raises a finger to point at his boyfriend.
“Thin. Ice.” He puts his thumb and pointer finger half an inch apart, to show just how thin. Shen Wei simply huffs in amused tolerance, not threatened at all.
“And this is why I question your taste in men, Ge,” Shen Ye drawls, arms crossed and eyebrows raised in clear amusement.
“Glasshouses, little night lord,” Zhao Yunlan warns his boyfriend’s twin, wagging his finger. Shen Ye sticks out his tongue at him in a mature response.
“That’s right!” Da Qing snaps his fingers, sitting up straight suddenly. “I remember now. Didn’t you say it’s a common name for such weapons up in the mountains?”
Zhao Yunlan groans, dropping his head back in his arms, resigned to his team’s continued heckling. Somehow, he’ll have to get Shen Wei back for this. Later. Surely Ye-zun will be up for any prank to be pulled on his brother, truly the only blessing to come from his trip to the past.