“Ugh,” Zhao Yunlan said feelingly. When no one responded, he said it again, louder. “Ugh!”
Still no response, not even from Shen Wei.
“I hate daylight savings,” he huffed, slumping back further into the couch. “You have to reset all of your clocks and your sleep gets all messed up and everyone is meant to be okay with it, for what? So we can ‘maximise daylight’? It’s not like we rely on candles any more that we need to conserve! And we’re not even in a part of the world that has different time zones to keep track of!”
He could see Chu Shuzhi and Zhu Hong mockingly mouthing along to his complaints out of the corner of his eye, but chose to ignore it in favour of sprawling across the couch, long limbs akimbo and head hanging off the side of the seat, his face scrunched up in what was definitely not a pout no matter what Da Qing said.
Shen Wei patted his ankle indulgently, but otherwise didn’t look away from his papers.
“Your sleep is messed up by default, what are you complaining about?” Da Qing sniffed, jumping onto Zhao Yunlan’s stomach and knocking the breath out of him.
Zhao Yunlan opened his mouth to respond, but before he could say anything he was cut off by a loud electrical whine and a bright flash of light. Blinking away the the afterimages, Zhao Yunlan pushed himself to a seat and turned to see a small collection of people standing in the middle of the main hall.
He swung a look over to Lin Jing, who raised his hands defensively, his brows furrowed in confusion. Zhao Yunlan jerked his head in the direction of the lab, and Lin Jing obediently scurried off, already tapping away at his phone.
He turned his attention back to the group, raising an eyebrow as he looked over them assessingly. They were quite short, the tallest of them being about the same height Zhao Yunlan had been at fifteen, with short curly hair, angular features, and oddly pointed ears. Their clothes were a mixture of a strangely coloured leather and brightly patterned cotton, with scraps of the cotton tied to their belts like decoration. They held no visible weapons, but Zhao Yunlan could see that they were trained and ready to use force if needed.
One of them stepped forward. He was about middling height for the group, with sallow skin and gaunt features, his dark hair flecked with grey, and his heavy, dark eyebrows sat low over bulging eyes that were a blue so light they almost looked colourless.
“Greetings,” he said. His voice was slightly nasally and unpleasant, and just loud enough that Zhao Yunlan had to work to repress a wince. “We demand that the representatives of your… planet meet us three days hence, at exactly midnight in the centre of the largest park in this town.”
“Good friends, could we not meet with you now? I can organise for the other representatives to meet us here, and we can discuss how we can both help each other,” Zhao Yunlan said genially, pushing himself to his feet and opening his arms in a broad gesture. He could sense Shen Wei standing close behind him, poised to summon his glaive at the first sign of trouble.
The leader sneered at him, his upper lip curling with disgust. “Three days hence,” he repeated. “You will be on time.”
And with that, there was another loud electrical whine and a flash, and the group vanished.
“We’re going to have to be very punctual,” Shen Wei said as Zhao Yunlan rubbed his eyes. “I’ve heard stories about them before, they get very upset with anyone who arrives too late, or too early.”
Zhao Yunlan hummed, turning and running a soothing hand over Shen Wei’s shoulders. “It’ll be fine, baby, don’t worry about it.”
Shen Wei just gave him a look, his mouth still pursed slightly with concern.
“Shen jiaoshou, what do you know about these people?” Guo Changcheng asked. His notebook was open in front of him, its pages already filled with what was no doubt a meticulous recording of what just occurred.
“This is somewhat speculation, but based on what I have heard about them and my observations of them just now, I believe they come from the same planet the Yashou and Dixingren did.”
Zhu Hong’s head snapped up, eyes wide with shock as she scrambled to her feet. “They do? How? Who are they?”
Shen Wei pushed his glasses up his nose, squinting slightly as he tried to recall.
“This is mostly my understanding based on what I heard from my own family members before — well, before, and what Fu You told me during the rebellion,” he said slowly. “They were stories that were passed down by our families. There had been three spaceships that had left the planet the Yashou and the Dixingren came from, though the name of the planet was long since forgotten by the time I was told these tales. One spaceship held what we now all know as Yashou, one held the Dixingren, and one held them. Neither Fu You nor Nainai could ever explain what happened to the third ship — the common belief was that it had gotten lost, that they had perished in space before they were able to return to the rest of us.”
Zhao Yunlan reached out and squeezed Shen Wei’s elbow. Shen Wei shot him a grateful look, before continuing.
“The Yashou and Dixingren were similar before they arrived on Haixing, but still different enough that it was natural for the divisions to form, hence why Dixingren went below ground to begin with. Between the meteor strikes and time, it was natural for divergent evolution to occur, for the differences to deepen until we have ended up where we are now. From what Fu You told me, I believe the beings we just saw were closer to the Yashou, if not the same species, but we are once again seeing divergent evolution in action.”
“Do you know what they’re called?” Zhao Yunlan asked, his hand sliding to Shen Wei’s waist.
Shen Wei nodded. His face seemed slightly pale, and his fingers clenched and unclenched anxiously. “Fu You always called them Fairies. Even in the stories she told, she made a point about their obsession with punctuality, how they would get furiously angry if people didn’t arrive on time. If my hypothesis is correct, this obsession has become a deep-seated need for their species, and I would not be at all surprised if they had escalated from anger and threats to violence.”
The lead Fairy’s vehement voice seemed to reverberate briefly throughout the room. Guo Changcheng gulped, grabbing convulsively for Chu Shuzhi.
“So we’ll be on time,” Zhao Yunlan said, squeezing Shen Wei’s hip. “No problem.”
Shen Wei’s brows furrowed. The look on Zhao Yunlan’s face was making him nervous — it was too reminiscent of the one he wore when he had figure out how to get one over on his father in a way he couldn’t refute.
“Zhao Yunlan,” he said quietly, leaning close. The rest of the SID, thankfully used to them by now, graciously turned away to give them a slight semblance of privacy. “We are still too close to everything that happened, everything is still so unstable. I would really like to avoid any unnecessary conflict, if we can.”
“I know, baby,” Zhao Yunlan murmured, wrapping his other arm around Shen Wei’s waist to pull him into a loose embrace. “I need to look up some things, but I have an idea, ok?”
Shen Wei searched Zhao Yunlan’s eyes, but found them open and plain, with no underlying subterfuge. Slowly, he nodded.
Zhao Yunlan brightened. “Great! With a three day deadline, I need to get started now, so I’m gonna go chat to Sang Zan,” he said, pressing a kiss to Shen Wei’s cheek and darting up the stairs.
Shen Wei stared after him, an odd nervousness curling in his belly, before Da Qing butted up against his hand with a meow.
“He’s probably going to make a fool of himself to annoy them into leaving,” the cat said as Shen Wei sunk back into the couch, making himself comfortable on Shen Wei’s lap.
Shen Wei huffed out a weak laugh, his hands stroking through Da Qing’s fur. “Yes, he is rather good at that, isn’t he.”
As if sensing their words, Zhao Yunlan popped his head over the side of the balcony, pointing threateningly at both of them with a teasing grin. Shen Wei waved back at him, and told himself it was all going to work out fine.
True to what he said, Zhao Yunlan spent the three days given to them by the Fairies embroiled in research. At any given moment he could be found either deep in discussion with Sang Zan and Lin Jing over resources and knowledge, or with his nose deep within a book, scrawled notes littering the conference table around him.
Shen Wei had picked one up upon returning from requesting the three Yashou leader’s presence at the meeting, but had found it near-nonsensical, Zhao Yunlan’s writing so rushed and messy that the only part Shen Wei could even discern said, “Standards — hypocrisy???”
He had tried asking Zhao Yunlan about it, but had gotten only a knowing wink and a mumble about rules and not holding people to different standards, so had been forced to let it go.
Which was how he found himself here, standing next to Zhao Yunlan’s chair as the clock inched ever-closer to midnight, with Zhao Yunlan showing no indication of moving.
“Zhao Yunlan, we need to go,” Shen Wei said, just barely keeping himself from wringing his hands together.
Zhao Yunlan nodded, not looking up from his book. “In a sec, ok?”
Shen Wei’s jaw worked, his hands clenching and unclenching with anxiety. “Zhao Yunlan.”
Zhao Yunlan finally glanced up, his gaze softening. “Trust me, okay? I’ve got a plan.”
“Can you not tell me even part of it? How did you find out anything about them?”
Zhao Yunlan pushed himself to his feet, reaching out to hold Shen Wei’s hands in his own. “The old man had some books lying around, I remembered thinking they were stories when I was a kid. If it’s like you said and their adherence to rules has turned into a need, then that’s something we can work with. And for that, we’ll need to be a bit late, okay?”
Shen Wei took a deep breath, and slowly let it out. He nodded, raising his hand to send a message to the Yashou and the Regent, telling them to delay their arrival until he indicated for them to arrive.
Zhao Yunlan smiled at him, pressing a soft kiss to his mouth. “Thank you, Xiao Wei.”
By the time they arrived the lead Fairy was almost incandescent with rage, his heavy eyebrows pulled low over his eyes and his breath panting out like an angry bear. Shen Wei stiffened, fighting the urge to summon his glaive and keeping a careful eye on all of their hands for any growing magic.
“We, the assorted representatives of Haixing, Dixing and the Yashou do humbly greet the assorted representatives of the Fairies, and welcome them to our place of meeting, hoping that they find our company welcome and that this is the beginning of a new age of cooperation and harmony and—” Zhao Yunlan interrupted in a bored monotone. He leant against a tree with practised insouciance, his arms folded over his chest. “Blah, blah, blah. We get it. Look, can we finish this up quickly? I’m tired, I wanna go to bed.”
“You arrived late,” the lead Fairy hissed. “You are lucky we did not strike you down where you stand as soon as you arrived. And now, instead of providing any sort of explanation, you give us insolence!”
“Late?” Zhao Yunlan raised an eyebrow. “I’m pretty sure we arrived dead on time, actually.”
“You are a full hour late!” the lead Fairy howled.
Shen Wei met Zhao Yunlan’s eyes, wondering where he was going with this. Zhao Yunlan winked, a gesture so familiar that all of the breath wooshed out of Shen Wei’s lungs. He ducked his head in a slight nod, subsiding back.
“Now, that doesn’t sound right,” Zhao Yunlan said, pushing off the tree. “Xiao Guo, can you pass me your phone, please?”
“Oh—of course, Chief!” Guo Changcheng stuttered, fumbling in his pockets. His phone nearly fell to the floor before he could hold it out, and Zhao Yunlan deftly plucked it from his fingers, waking up the screen and turning it to the lead Fairy.
“You see? 12.02 am,” Zhao Yunlan said grandly. “Granted, it is no longer dead on midnight, but if we account for this current… interaction, then that puts us right on time.”
“Impossible,” the lead Fairy said. “You must have changed the time on that one, I know you can!”
Zhao Yunlan nodded agreeably, tossing the phone back to Guo Changcheng and tucking his hands into his pockets. “I thought you might say as much. Could everyone in the area who has some sort of time-telling device that automatically updates itself please remove it from their pocket and check the time for us?”
The rustle of clothes was the only sound other than the wind passing through the trees, everyone keeping a careful eye on both Zhao Yunlan and the lead Fairy as they went through their pockets or their bags, trying not to make too much noise lest they draw undue attention.
One by one their phones were produced and awoken, all of them revealing the same thing — 12.02 am. The SID crew, Uncle Four, Ying Chun, Ya Qing and even the Regent, who was for once remaining mercifully silent even as an oily smile played over his lips, all held their phones towards the Fairies, who recoiled with a hiss.
“You are liars,” the lead Fairy shrieked. “You have shown us disrespect in every instance since we met, and you are late and you are liars! And now we will—”
“Um, boss?” A quiet voice broke in. “Um, I’m really sorry, but I don’t think they were lying.”
The lead Fairy’s arms deflated slightly from where they had started to raise, his head snapping around. “What.”
A small Fairy woman shuffled around from where she stood behind him, biting her lip as she glanced between him and Zhao Yunlan.
“I—It’s just, well, you put me in charge of finding out local customs whenever we arrive somewhere new, and I bought one of those communication devices and, well, see, the thing is—”
“Spit it out already, girl, we don’t have all night,” Ya Qing said cooly, her eyes glinting.
“Yes ma’am!” The Fairy woman squeaked. She drew herself up, her hands fiddling with something she held. “You put me in charge of finding out local customs, I bought a communication device, and when Chief Zhao told us to check it, it—look.”
She held up the phone. 12.03 am glared from the screen.
“They can’t have changed it, I’ve been with you the whole time and have had no contact with anybody,” she said, her voice just barely trembling. “But, I did try to tell you about the phenomenon they have here, where the times change twice a year, and you told me—”
“Silence!” the lead Fairy screeched.
“Yes, that,” she mumbled, ducking back behind him.
He rounded back on Zhao Yunlan. “You,” he hissed. “With your impertinence and your disrespect, do you not understand who you are dealing with? I will make you regret even being born. I will atomise you, I will raze your world to the ground and stand triumphant over the ashes, I will—”
“That won’t change the fact that we were on time and you weren’t,” Zhao Yunlan interrupted. He raised a single eyebrow. “Are you going to punish me for a transgression you committed? Sounds a tad hypocritical, no?”
Silence rang across the park as the lead Fairy grew scarlet with rage. The other Fairies stared at him, increasingly judgemental looks on their faces as they watched him struggle for words. The two who stood closest to him exchanged a glance, and one jerked their head in the direction of the ship. The other nodded, and slowly the group peeled away, giving Zhao Yunlan haughty but reluctantly impressed looks as they did.
“I will not forget nor forgive this transgression,” the lead Fairy finally spat. The young Fairy who had stepped forward earlier caught him by the arm, towing him after the others with an apologetic smile on her face.
Zhao Yunlan waved at her, smiling genially. They watched them all basically shove the leader into the ship. There was another flash of light and an electrical whine, and then the ship was gone.
“Well!” Zhao Yunlan said, clapping his hands together and turning back to the group. “That was an interesting experience, wasn’t it?”
“You couldn’t have told us about this beforehand?” Zhu Hong asked, crossing her arms.
Zhao Yunlan just grinned. “If you had listened to my ranting then you would have remembered today was daylight savings,” he said, pointing at her. “Not my fault you didn’t put the pieces together.”
His gaze slowly slid across to the rest of the group. “Though I do have to wonder,” he mused. “How exactly it was that the Fairies knew to come to Dragon City, and to the SID headquarters in particular.”
Shen Wei watched as the Regent faltered slightly before redoubling his slick smile, bowing low.
“No doubt the Lord Guardian’s strong reputation as a leader and protector preceded him,” he said as he straightened.
Zhao Yunlan hummed neutrally, eyebrow quirking as he looked past the Regent to Ya Qing. She inclined her head, not dropping her eyes from his.
“Indeed,” she murmured. “The Lord Guardian has a strong reputation. If you will all excuse me, I will now take my leave.”
And before anyone could intervene, the Crow vanished.
Ying Chun sighed, her shoulders slumping briefly, before she too turned to Zhao Yunlan and Shen Wei.
“Thank you, Lord Guardian and Hei Pao Daren for handling this situation for us,” she said as she also inclined her head. Zhao Yunlan waved her words off, and Shen Wei just smiled lightly at her.
Uncle Four nodded his agreement. “Yes, thank you,” he said. “And Zhu Hong, we will see you soon, yes?”
“Yes, Uncle,” Zhu Hong said. “Travel home safely.”
Uncle Four and Ying Chun gave each other one last long look, before they too withdrew.
The SID turned to the Regent, who once again bowed low as he simpered praises and farewells, then took his leave as well, leaving them alone in the park.
“One day those two will stop causing problems,” Zhao Yunlan said with a sigh.
Chu Shuzhi snorted. “Yeah, when pigs fly.”
Zhao Yunlan barked out a laugh, slinging an arm around Shen Wei’s shoulders. Shen Wei leant into his touch with a smile, but quietly said, “Next time, please tell me what you’re planning when something like this happens.”
“But how am I meant to show off my dashing heroics and quick wit if you know what’s going to happen?” Zhao Yunlan cried. Shen Wei just looked patiently at him, and eventually Zhao Yunlan subsided with a fond huff. “Fine, I will just for you. But you still have to promise to be impressed by me!”
“You are always impressive,” Shen Wei said. “You also have a meeting with Minister Guo tomorrow morning, which you will have to wake up earlier for, since daylight savings have now kicked in.”