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The Phoenix and his Dragon

Chapter Text

Someone held his wrist lightly. The world was one big blur of loud noises and pain.

His head was cradled in large warm hands. Uncomfortable droplets of water dripped onto his face leaving rivulets behind.

He felt his body pulled into a warm hug.

“…poison…”

Someone was rocking him back and forth.  

“Is…alright?!”

Why did everything hurt so much?

“…poisoned?”

His head felt like it was filled with stones, weighing his him down, bouncing around and pounding his head from inside.

“…the other students…”

He was in such agony.

“…intruders…”

Words flowed in and flowed right out.

“…robber…”

Someone took his outer robes off making him shiver.

“—I came back.”

He heard the muted sound of someone crying.

“—should have told you— sorry –did come back—.”

Maybe it was him, from the immense torture he was in.

“Good Xiao Jiu.”

His mouth was held open and he could faintly taste a bitter liquid on his tongue.

“Sweet Xiao Jiu,” cried a shaking voice. “Won’t you please drink your medicine?”

Beyond reason, even in his haze of pain he was struck with the urge to smack that person upside the head.

“…drugged.”

Fluid filled his mouth, but he had no strength to do anything about it. Something soft met his lips pushing the bitter medicine in. A hand gently massaged his throat to urge him to swallow.

He was enveloped in warmth and then he knew no more. Chamomile and lavender, such a comforting scent.


“Not bad. Not bad,” said a sagely voice.

Shen Jiu did not want to open his eyes, it felt too painful to move them. 

He felt a thin bony hand on his wrist, taking his pulse.

“Sir Mu, will he recover?”

Sir Mu pulled Shen Jiu’s sleeve down to re-cover his wrist and returned Shen Jiu’s hand to the warmth of the blankets.

“The worst is past. I would ask Young master to not be so anxious. It would be helpful to soothe some of Student Shen’s pains with internal energy. I will leave that to you, Young master.”

Now that Shen Jiu thought about it, wasn’t Sir Mu that physician who examined him previously as well?

He struggled to open his eyes and only managed an aborted gesture.

Yue Qi rushed over to his side. “Shh, shh,” Yue Qi hushed him. “You’re still hurt Xiao Jiu. Let Qi Ge ease your aches.”

A steady stream of internal energy flowed into him, warming him from inside. It lulled him back to sleep.


When next he woke, he was finally alone.

Almost.

A man wearing a physician’s attire was in the room.

“Sir Mu?” Shen Jiu croaked, throat and mouth dry.

The man turned around. His eyes were wrinkled and wise, giving the appearance of an old man, but his movement was of a much younger man.

“Scholar Shen, please refrain from moving and reopening your wounds.”

“How long…?”

“Scholar Shen has been asleep for five days.”

Well, now.

“What happened?”

“You were poisoned with the Blood Star powder.” Sir Mu poured him a cup of water. “Luckily, this is quite a well-researched poison with a simple antidote. Young master also found you quickly and the internal damage was not fatal.”

“What is the antidote?” As soon as Shen Jiu inquired, he realized how inappropriate it was to ask the doctor for the secrets of his livelihood.

“If Scholar Shen is interested, then this physician will leave his prescription here.”

Sir Mu bowed and was about to take his leave.

“How was I poisoned?”

“Replying to Scholar Shen, it was likely ingested in food. Blood star poison is fast acting and severe. This physician believes it was in the dish of sesame sticky candy that Scholar Shen ate.”

Shen Jiu was utterly disquieted by how Sir Mu was addressing him. Such a respectful way of speaking directed towards him, it was a first.

“Was it really only that dish?”

“Begging your pardon, Scholar Shen?”

“The servants brought in many snacks, was that the only dish that was poisoned?”

“Young master Yue didn’t mention any other dishes present in the room.”

Wahhh, he had to marvel at himself. Was there any bigger idiot than this Shen Jiu? Where there is favor, there is jealousy. He should have exercised more caution. But it was too much to ask him to never eat or to always wait for Yue Qi to test his food.

“Sir Mu, allow me to seek guidance, is there a way to prevent poisoning in the future.”

Sir Mu chuckled, “Scholar Shen, you kid too much. Besides dedicating your life to the study of poison, it is impossible to avoid it if a person wishes you harm. Even then…” he trailed off. “However, this humble physician would suggest that Scholar Shen request a Repelling Scents hair pin from Young master Yue. It is capable of detecting most common poisons.”

“This humble physician begs leave.” Sir Mu gave him a deep bow.

“Sir Mu, please don’t be so courteous. I dare not accept such your bow.”

Shen Jiu continued cautiously, “Sir Mu… May I ask why you’ve offered me such respect.”

Sir Mu looked at him with confusion, opening his mouth and then shutting it. He seemed uncertain if he wanted to continue.

“This physician is not sure if it is his place to say…”

Shen Jiu urged him on, “Please continue.”

“This physician has heard that Scholar Shen and Young master Yue shared a childhood and were recently reunited. Scholar Shen was then accepted into the Yue Household. Seeing as Scholar Shen’s age is quite young…” Sir Mu trailed off again. “Is Scholar Shen aware of Young master’s regard?”

No, he was not aware, what did this physician mean, “His regard?”

“I…”

Shen Jiu caught on. There may be other things Sir Mu was implying, but the most obvious one was that Shen Jiu was an omega and Yue Qi wanted to fuck his brains out.

“Ah, so you know,” Shen Jiu said.

“I know?”

“Yes, that I’m a beta and unsuitable for Young master Yue. Please don’t worry Sir Mu, I know my place.” If you want to hide a fox, why not call it a rabbit?

Sir Mu raised a skeptical eyebrow, “A beta?”

Shen Jiu thickened his face and met Sir Mu with calm eyes.

“Yes, well.” Sir Mu breathed out a sigh, “That’s fine. That’s fine. Might I suggest that if Scholar Shen were to ever meet an omega, he should read the medical journal ‘Of things pertaining to nature’.”

Shen Jiu wanted to laugh, what a silly title.

“Things of that nature…” Sir Mu seemed to find it difficult to speak clearly, “Matters pertaining to…”

Sir Mu cleared his throat, “All in all, private things are private things and the only person who has the right to that information…” Sir Mu stopped again.

Sir Mu seemed to be trying to say that Shen Jiu’s secret was safe with him, and not only as a favor, but some kind of ethical obligation.

“This physician supposes, he would like to advise Scholar Shen that such a big secret, it will all be revealed eventually. It might be better to reveal it sooner than later. Young master Yue definitely won’t let Scholar Shen be wronged.”

Shen Jiu smiled softly. It was true, such a big secret could only be revealed once. If it must be revealed, then he would choose the moment he could reap the most benefit from it. And if he could, Shen Jiu would only reveal it on his deathbed. Why cut off his own wings now, at the time when he was finally free from his cage.

“Thank you, Sir Mu, for your treatment and your discretion.” The man was illogically kind. If he kept his word, then Shen Jiu was fine for the moment. But that did not mean Shen Jiu could lower his guard, he wasn’t even safe in Yue Qi’s chambers and information was an everlasting hidden dagger. Shen Jiu allowed his worries to ease a small fraction because all signs seemed to point to Sir Mu being an eccentric sage loyal to his own morality, uncaring for societal concerns.

Shen Jiu heard a door opening.

Yue Qi returned from wherever he was. He looked awful, as awful as it was possible for him to look anyway. His form slender and graceful with face of an immortal silently and tragically suffering, Shen Jiu wished he was half as beautiful.

“Xiao Jiu!” Yue Qi cried as he hurried over to Shen Jiu’s bedside with outstretched arms.

Shen Jiu did his best to dodge but failed. Yue Qi consumed him in a near painful embrace.

Sir Mu coughed lightly, but Yue Qi didn’t seem to notice.

Shen Jiu tried to struggle, but his muscles had no strength.

“Get off me,” he managed to eek out.

“Xiao Jiu, I was so worried. If you—.” Yue Qi just squeezed him more tightly.

Shen Jiu renewed his struggles with increase fervor.

“Don’t do that again, Xiao Jiu.”

Shen Jiu snickered, “Do what? Be poisoned? I don’t think that’s up to me.”

Sir Mu cleared his throat, “Young master, I’ll leave the prescription here. Scholar Shen will be on bedrest for the next three days and I ask that he refrain from exerting himself for the next two weeks. He is to continue taking this prescription for the next six months. I will be back in two days to examine him.” Sir Mu sucked in a deep breath before cautioning, “Young master Yue, please do not aggravate Scholar Shen’s illness by treating him carelessly.” Sir Mu spoke rapidly and left just as swiftly.

Yue Qi did not seem to notice, instead burying his face in Shen Jiu’s hair.

Shen Jiu viciously pinched the soft flesh on Yue Qi’s side. At the very least it provoked a twitch from Yue Qi, but he was not relinquished. Shen Jiu decided to wait out this bout of sentimentality.

Yue Qi finally pulled away so he could speak to Shen Jiu, “Xiao Jiu. I will send you away.”

Shen Jiu searched Yue Qi’s eyes for any hint of a jest, but he seemed sincere.

Yue Qi’s eyes were bright with unshed tears, “Being beside me will only hurt you. I cannot protect you yet. There are too many enemies within these walls. I will bring you back when I become the Lord.”

Shen Jiu’s lips twitched. You’ll protect me when you become a Lord? He raised a brow in disbelief. You can’t protect me now, but you think you’ll be able to protect me when you’ll have even more enemies and jealousy at my privileges will be even more severe? Yue Qi. Oh, Yue Qi. Always making promises you can’t keep.

Shen Jiu shook his head, “So what? You’ll wait for me to die out of sight? At least with you here, you can call the physician. If you send me away, what recourse will I have in the event that someone else considers me their enemy. If you’re a danger to me, then I’ll die from our acquaintance either in your sight or out of your sight.”

Yue Qi’s face contorted in some unknown conflict of emotions, “Xiao Jiu, you’re willing to stay beside Qi Ge?”

Shen Jiu was tired of dealing with Yue Qi.

“I’m going to sleep.” He nodded at the chair bedside the bed, “You can sit over there.”

“Xiao Jiu…”

He gave a silent ‘Don’t call me that!’ and then pretended to fall asleep. He could feel Yue Qi’s eyes on his face, so he rolled over.

So, the snacks were likely poisoned. He’d only been at the Yue estate for less than two weeks and he’d spent the majority of that time period unconscious. And now he had to solve his own attempted-murder mystery. How useful would Yue Qi be in finding the culprits? Could the man even imagine what was meant to happen in the bedroom? Even when they were living on the streets, Yue Qi was the most naïve person Shen Jiu had ever met.

Whoever it was, had access to poisons and hence was a danger not just to Shen Jiu, but Yue Qi and the Yue estate at large.

But Shen Jiu had no idea where to start, he was behind a curtain the entire time those servants came in to clear breakfast away and set out snacks. He could not entirely claim both servants were female let alone attempt to recognize their faces. He also didn’t know which snacks were poisoned nor who or when they cleared away those snacks. Silly as it might be, it was a good thing he enjoyed the sticky sesame candy so much he took a plate with him or they might not have been able to deduce the general outline of what had happened. He would need to tell Yue Qi everything he knew, in case Yue Qi had any insights. It would also potentially alert Yue Qi, in the case that the person who poisoned Shen Jiu meant Yue Qi harm.

As for Shen Jiu’s next steps, was his only option to keep any eye out and wait for the guilty party to strike again?

If there was something he was relatively confident about, it was that the poisoning was not motivated by his fight with the now-expelled students because those students presumably were in the hall at the time that he was poisoned, and if it was a student seeking vengeance on behalf of his less intelligent friends, judgment was not passed yet at that time and they had no real reason to poison Shen Jiu. To be quite frank, he’d only been at the Yue estate for two nights and was likely not poisoned for anything he’d done, but who he was.

Or who he was affiliated with…

Yue Qi, you idiot. How was he so oblivious living in a viper’s nest. Shen Jiu vowed to learn everything he could about this household. Who lived here, who visited, all of the who, what, when, wheres and whys, he would know them like the back of his hand.

One good thing had resulted from this, Shen Jiu didn’t need to pretend to be bedridden. But all that time wasted being asleep was infuriating. All this time spent lying down doing nothing. Shen Jiu made a decision. He sat up quickly.

“Yue Qi!” He called and then groaned. Painful. No more sudden movements.

“Xiao Jiu!” Yue Qi exclaimed, leaping out of his chair to hasten over to Shen Jiu’s side.

Shen Jiu waved him off, “Bring me my books, I want to study.”

Yue Qi smiled fondly, his eyes wrinkling. Was the man a fool? Why was he always smiling? Shen Jiu found himself blushing and unable to look at Yue Qi directly. 

“While Qi Ge’s heart warms to see Xiao Jiu so diligent, it would be better for Xiao Jiu to rest.”

Shen Jiu was not touched. If he was to continue lying down, he’d die of restlessness, and he said as much to Yue Qi, but Yue Qi refused to fetch Shen Jiu’s books and Shen Jiu was in too much pain to collect them himself.

How to convince Yue Qi?

“You can read them to me then…” Shen Jiu glanced at Yue Qi from the corner of his eyes, “like when we were children.” He was banking on Yue Qi’s longing for the past to push through his concern for Shen Jiu’s reluctance to lie still.

Yue Qi seemed uncertain, but Shen Jiu knew he’d won. “I suppose that would be alright…”

Ah, guilt, what good friends we will be.


And now we ask the age-old question, ‘Is Shen Jiu capable of making friends?’

As far as he could remember, there were only two people in the world for whom he had positive feelings and as far as he could tell, they were also the only people who held him in any good regard.

But as for everyone else, if he didn’t hate them, then he didn’t care for them.

It was just so hard to pretend to be nice. He tried to study Yue Qi’s actions, but whenever Yue Qi caught sight of Shen Jiu, he’d turn all of his attention toward Shen Jiu instead, which made for very little research material.

Today was the first day he was allowed out of Yue Qi’s rooms and he was eager to spend his free time understanding the workings of the estate, but he encountered obstacles at every turn. Nearly everyone was looking at him with judging eyes, whispering in front of his eyes and speaking behind his back.

“His childhood friend? More like his bedside companion.”

“It is improper.”

“He’s slept in Young master Yue’s room for nearly two weeks now, isn’t this enjoying the honeymoon before the wedding?”

“What wedding? The most he can aspire to is bed maid.”

Shen Jiu feared that even if Sir Mu could vouch for his conduct, no one would believe it.

“Did you hear what Young master Yue did for him? An entire class was dismissed. I heard even the Chang family’s son was expelled.”

“They say even if you beat a dog, you should see who its master is.”

Shen Jiu didn’t know whether to be amused or angry. Amused because they think so highly of Shen Jiu’s position in the household or angry that they called him a dog and Yue Qi his master. As for their low estimation of his abilities… sure ten to one was hard, but he was confident in his ability to meet all of those lazy students one to one!

…definitely angry.

Stepped out of the alcove, “What did you say?!”

They gasped as if it was oh so surprising that they were overheard, “Scholar Shen!”

“Greetings, Scholar Shen.”

It was two servant girls running their mouths in their free time.

“Who did you say was a dog?”

One of the girls dropped to her knees and the other knelt down beside her.

“Begging Scholar Shen’s forgiveness, these servants were—. We were—.”

“We were idling when we should be working. Scholar Shen, please punish us lightly.”

Shen Jiu wouldn’t mind a fight, or at least beating them up until their legs were broken, but they were only two servant girls in the end. However, his anger wouldn’t easily be quenched.

“Five slaps each.”

One girl turned teary eyes towards Shen Jiu. “Scholar Shen?,” she asked in a shaking voice.

“You heard me. Five slaps.”

The other girl pinched the first. “Thank you for your mercy Scholar Shen,” she said and slapped her own face five times. She did not withhold her strength, her cheeks were bright red with only these fives slaps. If it was Shen Jiu, he would not have put as much force as she did into striking herself.

The first girl shot him another beseeching look, holding his eyes for a moment before slapping her own face five times. Her cheeks were barely tinged pink.

Somethings were just not fair, but who was he to begrudge someone their own small attempts at being clever, “Don’t let me catch you spreading rumors again or it won’t be such a light punishment.”

Pink cheeked girl looked at him with indignant eyes, mouth trembling from Shen Jiu’s terrible abuse. The look was quite becoming on her with her big doe eyes and glistening cherry lips, if she turned such a gaze on him before, perhaps even he would be willing to indulge her.

The other girl pulled her up and bowed to Shen Jiu, urging the other one to bow too.

Were all noble houses filled with beautiful servant girls? Now that Shen Jiu had a better look at her face, he could see that even with her bright red cheeks, the other girl looked more like a beauty after a run than how Shen Jiu would look after such a punishment, probably something akin to a monkey’s butt.

“Begging your leave,” said red cheeked girl, “Scholar Shen we must attend to the new concubine.”

He dismissed them.

There was new concubine? Wasn’t that a big event? Shen Jiu really had no idea what was happening in this estate. Maybe he should have asked a few more questions.

He sighed.

Fine. So he was bad at making friends and his mind was small and his heart cold, so what. It just meant he had to find another way of finding out the current situation at the house, did everything need to be conveyed through words? Most things were more honestly assessed by hiding in the rafters and eavesdropping anyway, going through letters, rifling through possessions, those sorts of things. The evidence couldn’t lie like people could.

“Scholar Shen,” a cool detached voice spoke from behind Shen Jiu, “come with me.”

Shen Jiu turned around, “Qing Jing-Shifu!” Did Qing Jing-Shifu see what Shen Jiu had done? “I—”

Qing Jing-Shifu looked at Shen Jiu with indifference and then walked away. He was almost to the end of the hall before he turned around. “Didn’t Shifu just tell you to come?” He asked before continuing around the corner.

Shen Jiu ran after him.


It felt very awkward. Qing Jing-Shifu led him to a very elegant suite of rooms and then ignored him in favor of going to his desk.

“Grind the inkstone.”

Shen Jiu knew how to do that, he’d done it countless times for Qiu Jianluo.

“It would be best if you forget about any petty issues that come up.”

Qing Jing-Shifu picked up his brush.

“I—.”

“Silence until spoken to, is a good virtue for children.”

Shen Jiu shut his mouth.

Qing Jing-Shifu’s strokes were firm and steady, his delicate wrist held parallel to the table.

“I don’t know what kind of life you’ve lived before or what kind of relationships you have with those around you, but the past is the past; relying on it to support the future is unstable and allowing it to hold you back is unwise.”

Shen Jiu felt maligned, he was not trying to rely on Yue Qi’s influence to survive. “Shifu, I—.”

“Humans are inconsistent and trying to understand their subtle movements is like studying the fall of the dice, too little and you have the wrong picture, too long and you realize it’s all the same. Knowledge, understanding, training, is like building a house of bricks; it will shelter and serve you in the future. Will you build your house of sand, to be rebuilt time and time again, or of bricks, so you have a firm place to stand?”

Shen Jiu didn’t understand, “Shifu, I… don’t understand.”

“Good. Evil. Is that humanity? Such absolutes. Jealousy today, devotion tomorrow, hatred yesterday.” Qing Jing-Shifu finished his work and picked up a handful of sand to release over his writing. “Let it go.”

“Let it go?”

“It is this Shifu’s hope that Scholar Shen will dedicate himself to his studies. Scholar Shen has passed the optimal age of cultivation by a few years and it is unlikely he will ever fulfill his potential.”

Shen Jiu resented that statement; his accomplishments and failings were his own. Age was nothing to determination.

Qing Jing-shifu continued to write, each stroke deliberate and careful. “With such a steep climb, it is best not to look behind or beside and embrace a singular devotion to rise.”

Shen Jiu really didn’t understand. Was he being encouraged or scolded?

Perhaps it was both.

Qing Jing-shifu held up the scroll he had just written. It contained three characters.

“This is Shifu’s gift to Scholar Shen.”

Flowing. Clarity. Autumn. Shen Qingqiu.

“It is this teacher’s hope for your future. Shen, so no stone will stop you nor cage contain you. Qing, that your heart is calm and free from regret. Qiu, for it is late, but it is not winter. It is change, just as you can.”

Qing Jing-Shifu was giving him a courtesy name. But…

‘Qiu,’ what an awful word, let alone one that should be in his name. Would it be possible to deny this honor?

Impossible, it would be like spitting in his teacher’s face. Is the only option to accept his tormenter’s name as his own?

“But words are words and worth little without intentions. Even if I offer these three words to Scholar Shen, if they do not reach your heart then they will do you little good.”

Oh, what was ‘Qiu’ but a dead family. Qing Jing-Shifu was giving him a new meaning, a new life, a new name.

Shen Jiu knelt and touched his forehead to the ground, “Thank you, Shifu. This student will take your intentions to heart and bring honor to this name.”

“Good. Rise.”

Qing Jing-shifu handed Shen Jiu the scroll.

“As my good and righteous student, it would not do to bring unnecessary rumors to our name. I trust my student will act with propriety in the future and be careful of wandering eyes.”

“Yes, Shifu.”

“You may go.”

Shen Jiu bowed and prepared to leave.

“Oh, tomorrow you are to study with the advanced class. I trust you will do your best to keep up.”


Qing Jing-Shifu’s words were as much a reprimand as they were a vote of confidence. Strangely, Shen Jiu found himself wanting to prove to Qing Jing-Shifu that his faith was not misplaced. Shen Jiu found a quiet corner to sit and study.

He became so immersed in the text that he didn’t realize the sun had set until he found himself unable to see the words anymore.

Someone set a cloak about his shoulders, “Xiao Jiu, come back to the room, you can read by candle inside.”

Yue Qi. Qing Jing-Shifu had subtly warned him earlier about being seen with Yue Qi. And even if Shifu hadn’t said anything, Shen Jiu did not intend to stay in Yue Qi’s room any longer now that he wasn’t on bedrest. But Yue Qi likely wouldn’t let him be without a fight.

“I—.” What would be the best way to persuade Yue Qi so that he wouldn’t have to argue with him for an entire night. “I… want to become more acquainted with my peers. I will be sleeping in the Scholar’s quarters tonight,” Shen Jiu said.

Yue Qi smiled placatingly, “That’s fine, Xiao Jiu. Why don’t you just come over and use the room to study. You can always return to the Scholar’s place to sleep at night.”

That gentle smile wouldn’t fool Shen Jiu. That was the smile Yue Qi would always use when he thought Shen Jiu was being unreasonable and was humoring him in the moment, but knew he would win in the end. It was a smile that meant Yue Qi thought Shen Jiu would give in eventually.

Well, not today! “Don’t call me Xiao Jiu!” Shen Jiu chided.

He lifted his chin, “They’re scholars, aren’t they? I’m sure everyone else is still awake and studying too!” And then he ran away.


Sleep would not come.

It seemed that unless Shen Jiu was at death’s door he could not sleep in this large manor. He tried to sleep on his side, his back, even one attempt on his front, but try as he might, his brain would not shut down. In the distance he heard the faint sound of a guqin. He gave up. If he could not sleep, then trying to sleep was a waste of his time.

At least then, he would spend it studying.

He took a candle outside and found a sturdy tree to lean against and read. With the sound of the rustling leaves, the splendor and harmony of the water garden, and the faint melody of the guqin, it felt like a dream-like, heavenly moment, the kind that made your heart swell up in some unknown longing and gratitude.

It was a pleasant way to spend his night. He did not feel so exhausted by the time morning came.


Qing Jing-Shifu was paying him special attention today, by scolding him over everything.

Earlier it was about Shen Jiu’s clothing, then it was about his writing posture, then it was about Shen Jiu’s brush grip and now he was upset at Shen Jiu’s stance.

“You have poor basics, my child.”

He used a fan to strike the back of Shen Jiu’s knee, causing him to buckle.

“It is a child’s lesson to remember to not lock your knees.” Qing Jing-Shifu shook his head at Shen Jiu.

“You are excused from all other activities today. Your goal is to hold this stance until dinner and not faint. If you can do so, come to the classroom at dawn. If you can’t, you may go to the Lantern Festival tomorrow instead of class.”

Wasn’t this more of a punishment for doing well and reward for slacking off? What come to class at dawn versus going to a festival? Wasn’t a festival better?

Qing Jing-Shifu raised a scolding eyebrow at Shen Jiu’s silence.

“Thank you, Shifu?”

Qing Jing-Shifu opened his fan with a snap and fanned himself as he walked away.


It was painful. Really painful. He’s quite certain that this counted as exertion. Who knew standing in place would be so hard. He really wanted to lock his knees. His arms were so tired they were shaking, his muscles really wanted to just stop already. But Shifu wanted him to hold this stance. While it seemed illogical, he was pretty sure the reward was meant to be ‘come to the classroom at dawn’ and not the Lantern Festival.

Pain, pain, suffering, and agony, he’s miserable. Ah, Shifu come back. Let this student lie down.

This student is sorry. Please come back Shifu.

It wasn’t just his arms; his stomach had been in pain for about the last hour. He’d broken out in cold sweats and his sword was slipping. Shen Jiu renewed his grip, but the sword was still slipping. Ah, his insides felt like they were on fire. He couldn’t do it.

He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t do it.

Master please come back.

His vision was grey like pools of sand were forming in the sky, the world was fading. Not again.

Shen Jiu closed his eyes and tried to calm his heart. His body felt like lead, it was too heavy for him to hold it up. The ground was coming up to meet him, he knew it, but when he reached it, it didn’t even hurt. It felt like he was going to bed.

His master’s voice came from the darkness, “You disappoint me.”