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Fading echoes

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When he comes to, the man is still there – but Gege isn't.

"Your Ge went and left you behind," the man says, kneeling down. "He expressly told me to continue to educate you for him," and he laughs, like what he's saying is true, when he can feel-

The bond is dim, like it always is when one of them is asleep – although it's rare, so rare, that he's the one awake while Gege sleeps – but the echoes remain, glimmers of Gege's last feelings: desperation, ragefear, for his Didi.

"Liar," he spits – Gege would never abandon him, he can feel it – and the man's face blackens into a scowl.

"He said you were stupid, useless," the man snarls, raising his hand, and-

Pain, in his face, his cheek – and he hits the ground, sprawling, breath wheezing out as he coughs, coughs; the man had – hit him, and he – wants Gege, needs-

Wake up, he thinks desperately at the corner of his mind where Gege dwells. Gege, wake up – and then the man is looming over him, fingers digging in hard against his bruised cheek as his face is forcefully turned-

"Your Ge abandoned you," the man says, half in focus like his ears aren't quite working – or like his words are skipping his ears entirely to echo inside his head – and he feels-

"Gege abandoned me," he says, and it's – true, isn't it? Gege isn't here, so it must be.

Gege left him, and now he's alone.

At the camp, he is given tasks.

Fetch wood, carry water, wash blood from clothes and leather and fur; and as the light fades, tend to the fires that burn throughout the camp.

Gege abandoned me, as he drags a fallen branch through the underbrush, staggering every time it hits an obstacle.

Gege didn't want me, as he trudges to the river to fetch another bucket of water.

Gege left me-


Gege's voice shatters through his head, and his knees give out; he drops onto the sand, bucket landing heavily on its side, the water he'd painstaking carried halfway back to the camp instantly lost, soaked into the ground.

Didi, Gege sends, and he – feels-

Gege, he thinks, and of course Gege didn't abandon him – he can feel him in the corner of his mind, that place of trust and safety. He will always have him; Gege would never.

Didi, run, Gege sends, and he scrambles to his feet and bolts.

"I'll always find you," the man says, fingers clamped so hard around his wrist as he all but drags him that he's sure to have bruises. "You're so useless your Ge abandoned you, but I'll make something useful of you yet."

"Gege would never abandon me," he spits, stumbling over the rocky ground, and the man actually pauses.

"Now why would you think that?" he says, and yanks at his wrist, forcing him uncomfortably up onto his toes; his shoulder aches like his whole arm is going to tear off.

"He abandoned you," the man says, and the words echo through him, muffling everything else in his head, swiftly fading echoes of desperation surely unimportant.

"He abandoned me," he repeats dully, tongue thick in his mouth, and follows the man back to camp.

He doesn't have a name.

They call him stupid, useless, slow, weak. Once, he was Didi – but Gege had abandoned him, sold him into the care of this man, and now he's alone.

They're right, of course – he is useless, weak. He coughs all the time – and his head is almost always aching.

He wouldn't feel like this if he were stronger.

He's at the river, scrubbing blood from Laoban's armour, when pain flares sharp through his temple; he drops the brush, clutching at his head-


Gege's voice thunders through his head, and he curls in a ball, wheezing. It hurts, it hurts-

Didi, Gege sends again, softer, and he can – feel him, love and fear and desperation, where are you and I can't find you and he took you from me.

Gege, he thinks, Gege, help me-

"Useless," Laoban bellows, and he tries to uncurl; his lungs have other ideas, choking on his next inhale, and he coughs, coughs-

"Not even finished yet?" Laoban scoffs. "No wonder your Ge left you behind."

He gasps for air – and then Laoban's hands are on him, hauling him up. His head spins-

He wakes with a face full of dirt. He's back at the camp, dumped on the outer edges, nowhere near the threadbare blanket Laoban gave him – more than a useless whelp like you deserves, he'd said, laughing, and he grits his teeth, clambers to his feet-

Didi, where are you? Gege sends. His presence is thin, thready and faint. I'll come for you.

I don't know, he thinks. In the camp.

Can you see the stars? Gege sends. Look for the Princess of Heaven-

He remembers the stories Gege used to tell, when they were clutched shivering and close at night, waiting for sleep to find them – about the court of the Celestial Emperor, and how to find north, in case they were ever separated-

I see it, he says, backing away from the flickering light of the fires. He can hear shouts, jeers, barks of laughter; hopefully Laoban and the other men are sufficiently occupied-

He steps over the last tent rope, sidles into the underbrush, and runs.

This time, it takes Laoban until morning to find him.

He's slow, tired – exhausted from walking all night, trudging step after step in every effort to put more distance between him and the camp.

Sleep soon, Didi, Gege is urging him. Find somewhere hidden and sheltered-

"Stupid!" Laoban bellows, and he whips around, panic flooding through him – Laoban is here, just coming over the ridge he'd spent hours clambering up in the dark – and he breaks into a run, heart pounding in his chest – away, he needs to get away; he can't, not again, not-

Didi, Gege is saying, but he can barely hear him over the thunder of his heart, shoving past a low-hanging branch, ducking around a jagged boulder-

His foot catches, and he's falling – and then he hits the ground, hard, palms and knees stinging; he gasps in a breath, scrambles up-

Something yanks him back by the hair, tearing in his scalp, and Laoban spins him around, slams him into the nearest tree.

"Maybe I should just kill you, do your brother a favour," Laoban snarls. "He didn't care about you at all, sold you without a second thought-"

No, Gege says, so forceful that his own lips shape the word without conscious thought.

"What was that?" Laoban says, shaking him, and he bares his teeth, looks up-

"Gege didn't sell me," he says, and watches Laoban's eyes narrow.

"How are you doing that," he says, and lifts his free hand so casually that he's not expecting it at all when Laoban slaps him, bouncing his head off the tree.

He gasps, scattered – no, no, Didi, Gege shouts in his mind, but Laoban's other hand is coming up, wisps of dark energy following-

"Your Ge abandoned you," Laoban says, and he blinks, everything else fading out, unimportant. Of course Gege abandoned him – why would he stay? He's slow, weak, useless-

"He abandoned me," he repeats, and doesn't resist when Laoban drags him away.

"Tell me where you were going."

"Away, Laoban."

A slap, snapping his head to the side. "Away where?"

"North, Laoban."

"Why north?"

"Gege said I should go north and he would find me, Laoban."

"Your Ge said that, did he? Tell me how he spoke with you."

"In my mind, Laoban."

"Do you hear him all the time?"

"No, Laoban."

"Can you hear him now?"

"No, Laoban."

"Do you want to hear him?"

"No, Laoban."

"Tell me why."

"Gege abandoned me. I don't want to hear him anymore."

"If you don't want to hear him, break the connection."

"Yes, Laoban."

The bond snaps, but not without cost – a final parting gift of emotion from his Gege: pain, fear, desolation. It's exactly what he wants – he hates Gege for leaving him, saying he'll always be there and then betraying him. This time he's the one leaving Gege – see how he feels, how much he likes being abandoned.

He'll find him eventually – if he keeps serving Laoban he's bound to get stronger, and then one day he'll be the one standing over Gege, holding the knife-

One day.

His Gege will be his alone to kill.

He doesn't get stronger.

He gets taller, smarter – but Laoban refuses to teach him to fight. And maybe he is useless, weak like Laoban says – still can't go even half a day without coughing – but he's got eyes; he can watch the others fight from behind the mask he now wears, watch them throw each other into the dirt and laugh, and practice quietly by himself at the river while the laundry dries.

After all, once he's found Gege, once he has him at his mercy – he needs to be able to kill him.

Eventually, he gains an actual name – Ye Zun, said at first in mocking tones, derision at his performance at his new – duties, but Ye Zun doesn't care how they say his name, not yet. He's still waiting, still planning – because revenge against Gege comes first, always, but after that-

After he's had Gege at his feet, bleeding and broken until Ye Zun is finally satisfied-

Then, it will be time for the rest of them.

Ye Zun comes up with plan after plan – even steals the Alliance's precious Hallows – and still Laoban ridicules him, hits him-

Ye Zun knows Gege abandoned him long ago – but Gege is his to kill, and when Laoban oversteps-

Laoban's hand around his throat hurts, and Ye Zun can't breathe – and Laoban doesn't stop, and doesn't stop, and this can't be how it ends, Ye Zun hasn't – he can't-

Something snaps in his brain, and Ye Zun – screams, and-

Dark energy curls, thick and heavy in his mouth, his throat, and Ye Zun-

Breathes in-

Huddled on the ground, Laoban's rebels – his rebels – kneeling before him, looking at the dark energy dancing around his fingers-

The dark energy that had been denied him so long-

Never again will Laoban call him stupid, useless, weak – Ye Zun's power has awakened, and he's anything but weak.

Laoban will never lay a hand on him again.

Dark energy churns inside him, assimilating with his own, and Ye Zun has everything he needs – power, the Hallows, and an army-

Everything he needs to finally hunt down Gege, and Ye Zun-

Ye Zun closes his hand, watches the dark energy fade at his command, and smiles.

Heipaoshi cuts the mask from his face, and Ye Zun takes a breath-

Spins just in time to block, a quick exchange of blows that leaves nothing but his hand and the dark energy it holds between his throat and Heipaoshi's sword-

Looks up-

Behind his mask, Heipaoshi's eyes widen.

"Didi-" he whispers, and lowers his sword, and can this really be-

"Ge?" he whispers, and Heipaoshi's sword vanishes, and he reaches up to his mask-

The hood and mask fall away, and it's him, it's Gege – Ye Zun has been searching for him for so long, and now he's here, in front of him-

"Ge," he says again, and it's not an act, the way his eyes feel hot; he takes a breath against the surge of pure emotion thrumming through him.

He's so close – he just needs to be patient.

So when Gege asks him if he's the leader of the rebels, Ye Zun denies it; drops to his knees and takes his brother's hand, claims to have been controlled – and it's not all a lie, he'd seen Laoban use his power against others among the rebels, but against him-

It's not like he would have needed to – Ye Zun had been weak, easy to push around, before he gained his power. Before-

"I've been looking for you," he says to Gege, and this, at least, is nothing but the truth. He ducks his head to take a shaky breath, tension all through him – even his head is starting to hurt – lets the tears in his eyes trickle down his cheeks.

And Gege-

Gege puts his hand on Ye Zun's shoulder, fingers curling into Ye Zun's cloak. "I'm sorry," he says. "I'm so sorry, Didi," and Ye Zun has Gege's left hand between both of his, and Gege's right hand is on his shoulder – for him to summon Heipaoshi's sword now will take more time than Ye Zun needs to strike. He takes a breath-

"I thought you were dead," Gege says, and Ye Zun lifts his head, leaning in; Gege is – Gege is crying, tears on his face, and how dare he cry when Ye Zun was the one who was abandoned? How dare he cry when he was the one who decided Ye Zun was worthless? How dare-

"How could I be?" Ye Zun says, clutching Gege's hand. "The one that's supposed to die – is you."

He lifts a hand, dark energy pouring from his palm; Gege freezes, arms going slack, and just in time – the Haixingren General Laoban had boasted about killing is advancing fast, and Ye Zun needs his other hand to block, block, hurling him away-

He shoves Gege back with a blast of pure dark energy, throwing him stunned to the ground; he just needs to deal with the pitiful remnants of this raiding party, and then he and Gege can-

The Yashou is easy enough to dispatch with another blast of dark energy; Ye Zun doesn't have much finesse, yet, but he doesn't need it, not with power thrumming through his veins. He turns back to Gege – now, it's now, and Ye Zun smiles, finally – and then there's a ripple through the air, and he looks up-

The Hallows are rising into the air, and no, that's not – Ye Zun needs them, needs their power to add to his own, to ensure he can crush this faithless Alliance under his heel; he stole them, they're his by right – have the Alliance figured out how to activate them? Surely not, when Ye Zun hasn't been able to-

The Hallows tear the Haixingren General into nothingness, Gege crying out after him – Kunlun, the Haixingren General's name, like he's important, like it hurts-

And of course to Gege, others are more important than Ye Zun – more important than his own brother. Doesn't Gege know – doesn't he know that to Ye Zun, others are mere dust in comparison? Doesn't he know-

Ye Zun has been wearing a mask since Gege abandoned him – didn't want the reminder, didn't want to see Gege's face every time he saw his reflection in the water – faithless, oath breaker, Gege. Ye Zun didn't want to see his face, but he could never forget – could never allow anything else to surpass Gege in Ye Zun's heart-

In Ye Zun's hate.

He raises a hand-

Something smothers him, and Ye Zun can barely move – like a Dixingren power of gravity is holding him down. But there's nothing, no-one – all of his Dixingren are dead, and Heipaoshi has never been reported to have any gravity-related powers. No, this is something else, must be, and Ye Zun looks up – sees the Hallows still circling the sky, sees – Gege, arms raised against whatever force is holding Ye Zun, reaches out-

"Ge-!" he shouts, everything in him stretching forward – straining as hard as he can towards Gege. "Help me-!" and Gege-

Gege doesn't even hesitate.

Ye Zun would have hesitated, had their positions been reversed; he'd just attacked Gege, thrown him to the ground and threatened him, and still-

Still, Gege runs, reaching out; plants his feet and catches Ye Zun's hand, and pulls-

Gege is grimacing, his entire body weight braced as he hauls on Ye Zun's arm, and Ye Zun sets every scrap of power he has against the force binding him, head throbbing, tries to throw himself forward, push toward Gege-

And something-


Gege is here; Gege is in his head, Gege is – love and fear and hope and disbelief and I thought you were dead and I searched for so long and hold on, Didi, and Ye Zun is – shaking, he's – he can't – he-

He's shaking because the ground is shaking, it was the ground that shattered, footing unsteady and roiling, a localised earthquake, and Gege is screaming, hand clamped around his own, and Ye Zun-


I only just found you again, Gege is saying – pleadingdon't go, Didi, hold on, I have you, I – and Ye Zun can feel Gege's desperation, but the force that holds him is strong, so strong, and Ye Zun-

Gege's hand clamps down around Ye Zun's wrist as he throws himself back, and Ye Zun can feel it, feel him pit everything he has against Ye Zun's bonds, as he brings the full might of Heipaoshi's power to bear-

Feel it when their hands are torn apart, as Gege reaches after him, hand closing on nothing – feels the anguish cut through him, sharper than any blade-

Ye Zun is helpless to resist as that force yanks him down, and Ye Zun-


Didi, Gege sends, grief and determination and no matter what you decide, never have regrets. Didi, I'm coming – I'll find you-

The fading echoes of his brother's love follow him into the dark.