Chapter 1: Then
(All stories have their beginning, just as there is always an ending. It is a fact, as irrevocable as any of those fundamental laws of life; mortals die, being stabbed hurts, and the sudden need to shit when a toilet is nowhere in sight is one of the most terrifying feelings that you will ever experience.
All stories have their beginning, and this one is no exception: a prince in a golden country catches the boy that falls into his arms, declares “I want to save all people” with all the boldness of someone whose very blood is inlaid with fortune. The Prince rises and falls, rises and falls, scrabbling to hold on to ash as his kingdom scatters to the winds of plague, war, and misfortune; burned, and burned away.
The Prince caught the boy, but there is no-one to catch him- no-one left in the world to hold him as he weeps, and so he becomes the God mocked for being a curse.
This is the story of a Prince who becomes a God, who becomes a wretch—but where does the story go? How does it end?
Is that really where it begins, with a Prince catching a boy? What about the other stories within it: in one, the Prince wanders for eight hundred years only to drag himself back up by his teeth; in another, it starts when a figure with one eye and a smile as cold as his heart throws himself from the heavens just as he once did off the wall. Is the beginning where things start, or is it the restart- that point where a choice is made, a path is changed?
For want of a nail, the whole story can change, and that moment is like a new beginning. The second, third, fourth beginning of this story, the life of this Prince who had the world in his hands and lost it all.
All stories have their beginning, and this one starts with a boat).
Xie Lian is a man as tired of the world as the world is of him, to whom every step is the drag of feet across the ground as he wonders when he will next trip, when he will next fall (when he will be pushed, pushed, pushed, because he did all he could to help and the world did all it could to tear him apart). Xie Lian is a man to whom life is a curse, the chore of someone who even death has turned its back on, and he wishes it would be over.
I want to rest, he thinks. I want to be at peace, and that is a thing he will never find in this sham of a life. The damned will wander for eternity whilst the world watches and laughs, trapped in this hell where even fire refuses to burn. Parents buried, a kingdom lost, the only companion at his side the piece of silk that failed to free him- this is a man who is adrift, who doesn’t know what to do now that everything has fallen and fallen apart.
This is a man adrift, and so he sets himself adrift more literally. Sets a boat adrift on the sea, with nothing to steer it and nothing to keep it afloat, and lies down. Wherever it goes or whatever happens is not his concern- if trying all this time has done nothing but speed up his doom then there’s no point in trying at all. He just floats, his path controlled by the sea current and the whims of the world.
(Like it always has been, like it always will be; this may be his story, but he is not the writer of it- he is not in control of the narrative).
A storm hits, the boat tossed from side to side, water oozing black, and yet Xie Lian doesn’t react. He doesn’t fight it, doesn’t so much as flinch- he simply closes his eyes. Thinks, maybe I can finally be lucky enough to die, and doesn’t even have enough hope in him to use it on that.
(Hope is a luxury for those who still have things to hold onto in life).
He doesn’t die, which is not a surprise; whether stabbed a hundred times or hung by silk, death still rejects him like his people had, like the Heavens did, just reject, reject, reject at every turn he takes, every move he makes.
(Just an endless sea of betraying and betrayed, of losing and being loss, of dying but never being dead).
The boat hits land, which is not a surprise; no escape can go on forever, despite how much you may wish for it. Just as with the sea, you will always hit the next bump to bring you back to reality, the next island on which you will suffer, rot, and break. There is always an end, always the next chapter, and until the moment Xie Lian is finally freed his thoughts of drifting aimlessly forever and forevermore will be just that- a thought.
(And yet, he keeps on trying- no luck, no home, no companion, just a wretch and his desperate attempts for release; his desperate tries for freedom).
There is nothing about this that should be a surprise- it’s the same old scene, the same old story, and he thought the world had done enough to him that surprise was no longer possible.
He thought, this is just another day of despair in an endless cycle of many.
And yet, when he opens his eyes, he sees gold. There is a man standing before his boat, with ears tapering to points as sharp as his teeth and a sea of hair as black as his clothing. A man, with the eyes of a cat and skeletal fish swimming around him, with nails sharp enough they could be called claws, a man who is neither God nor human.
(A ghost, whispers a little voice in the back of his head. The thing you had been so close to becoming).
Xie Lian opens his eyes and sees a man who looks at Xie Lian with the coldness of a person who is unimpressed by what they see-
(but it isn’t cruel, it isn’t snide, there is no hatred there, none of the distaste with which the world looks at Xie Lian- there is nothing in those eyes, as if there is nothing to be found.
As if he doesn’t see Xie Lian as anything more than a man in a boat).
And yet, when Xie Lian opens his eyes, he is not alone.
“Why is a former God intruding on my domain,” says the ghost, says this stranger with eyes that you could drown in as easily as the water he has made his home.
“The current carried me here.” Xie Lian sits up, removes his sword. “May I ask who you are?”
“The Calamity Black Water Submerging Boats.” A pause, a slight tilt of head. “You are the fallen Prince of Xian Le.”
“Are you my destruction,” Xie Lian asks, sword on the ground, eyes on this person who has been thrown into the place people call Hell, into a place of death and horror and suffering the likes of which life can’t compare to and dragged himself up to new heights, “or my salvation?”
Hei Shui frowns, the pupils in his eyes constricting. “An odd thing for a God to ask.”
“If you have heard the stories, then you would know I was not much of a God.”
There was quiet, a thing shared between this Ghost who built a home for himself in power and this wretch of a God whose power crumbled and he with it. The island around them is quiet, this domain of a thing who has been sequestered away from the world and all the harm it can do; Xie Lian cannot see anyone around, does not know who or what happened to make a place like this seem like a welcoming retreat.
(But he does see the appeal- knows that this is a place where the looks wouldn’t follow, where he could waste away quietly, where he could close his eyes and sleeps without having to fear waking up bound to a cross with a crowd baying for his blood.
He knows that in a place like this, at least he could achieve something resembling peace).
Hei Shui eventually crosses his hands into his sleeves, the fish around him baring their jaws in wide, toothy smiles and eyes alight.
He says, “Neither. The only one who can choose such a thing is yourself. If you want to break under the weight of the pain, then break. If you want to climb above it, then climb,” and Xie Lian finds the breath caught in his lungs, the rattling of something in his mind as he hears these words (almost kind, almost encouraging, the closest thing he’s had to it from someone who knows who he is and what he’s done).
He says, “The world can try and break you, but if you turn around and tell it no, then it will not win,” and Xie Lian finds he cannot look away- like if he stops staring at this ghost, then an illusion will shatter, and he will find himself back in his boat, alone and unwelcomed on all sides.
He says, “Bare your teeth and bite back, Xie Lian, or the world will rip your throat out,” and Xie Lian reaches like he is a flower straining to sunlight, reaches his hand to this ghost who says the words he needed to here in this place where gloom is in vogue, and-
-a hand reaches back.
The Prince turned God turned Wretch takes the hand of the ghost, and the story shifts. Changes, as the threads are woven and the pages turned.
The Prince takes the hand of a ghost, and in doing so, the first step onto his new path.
(Something flutters, soft and fragile inside his chest, and it is a feeling that has not been seen for years- a feeling he thought long since lost to him).
Hei Shui is a quiet creature, who likes to eat but refuses to eat Xie Lian’s cooking, whose hands shake when he is in small, dark rooms, who lets Xie Lian stay in his life because he doesn’t seem to care enough to kick him out. Perhaps it’s the want for companionship in a life where he’d been denied it, this strange, lonely disaster who is so small compared to even Xie Lian, or perhaps it’s because he sees part of himself in Xie Lian, another person who was chewed up and spat out again and again, over and over until there was nothing left but a husk and what little feelings they could still manage.
He is quiet, a little snappish, as if anger has consumed so much that there is nothing left of him beyond it, and Xie Lian is drawn to him like a grieving man is to the first ray of sunlight, like a witch to the pyre on which they will burn. It’s rather nice, not being alone for the first time in a long time, to be around someone who has no obligation to him and is thus less likely to walk away.
(Somehow, Xie Lian feels it in his bones that this ghost will not hurt him, and it may be delusion, it may the quiet madness of a man who has lost too much, but he tucks it inside his chest and lets it burn.
He feels more alive than he has in years, with this person who is slowly unfurling to him like the first blossoming of a flower, and Xie Lian finds that he is latching onto it like a goose to the first moving thing they see).
And one day, he tells Hei Shui everything that happened to him, lets his woes anger hurt spill like diarrhea from the asshole of a person who has held it in for too long, and Hei Shui listens to every word. Hears him, the way his country refused to, the way the world never would, and it makes Xie Lian feel like his lungs are in his throat, like there is a thread on his fingertips and it is drawn to this lonely disaster.
One day, he tells Hei Shui the story from his perspective, and Hei Shui says, “You have been wronged and done wrong in return. It is your choice where the narrative goes next.”
One day, he tells Hei Shui his life, and when he asks, “Will you tell me about you?” there is a pause. Pupils dilate in a stare of bright, bright gold, and Xie Lian waits for it- waits, because he is good at patience, and this is one person he is willing to wait for.
(This is one person he thinks he’d always wait for).
One day, Hei Shui sighs. Says, “My name is He Xuan,” and the tragedy that had built a scholar into a ghost unravels.
A tragedy is told, and Xie Lian stares, heart pounding against his ribs and every word ringing in his ears, as he looks at Hei Shui- at He Xuan- and sees a man who had gone from one hell to another, had suffered because of the cruelty of God and Fate alike, sees a victim who clings to the bitter resentment to sustain a heart that is slowly falling into apathy, and thinks, there’s someone out there whose luck is as bad as mine.
Thinks, there is a person out there who has suffered just as I have, and they gathered the broken pieces back up, taped them together with trembling hands and moved on.
He looks at He Xuan and sees this lonely ghost who has suffered so much at the hands of the same world that tore Xie Lian’s life to pieces, sees a man who never wanted anything more than to live with his family and his books, sees someone who was cast down all because of the greed of the Heavens and those who had it all.
The clock ticks, and a path shifts, the narrative turns, turns once more. A page is turned, and Xie Lian makes a choice.
He casts aside the world, and instead chooses someone else to be his world.
(“I’ll be back as someone who can stand by your side,” he says to He Xuan, presses a kiss to the back of his hand like a knight to their lord, like a lionheart to their King. He Xuan’s face flushes red, the red of spilt blood, and it is the colour that Xie Lian keeps in his mind- this sight of the disaster he has declared as his.
Ten years later, the Heavens are alight with news that the Prince of Xian Le has thrown himself into Mount Tonglu, and they mutter behind gilded fans, eyes as blind as their souls.
Ten years later, He Xuan shakes as his body alights with heat, restlessness pulsing in his blood like a drug, and he locks himself in his room and trembles.
Ten years later, Xie Lian returns to the side of the one he promised himself to, and with every step he takes the world burns).
(There was once a Prince who became a God who became a wretch. Cast aside by the world and all he valued, the Wretch sunk into despair and tried to drown himself. The waters turned black, and he met a Calamity with eyes of gold and a heart as cracked as the Prince’s.
Once upon a time, the Wretch rediscovered the beating of his heart, found a person who helped him find what he wanted, and what he wanted was this: to be by the side of this Calamity who the Wretch’s heart has declared his and to build a place for them to thrive.
He throws himself into hell and comes out as a calamity of fire, as someone who can stand by the Calamity’s side and burn the world that hurt them both.
There was once a Prince who became a God who became a Wretch who became Bloodless Pyre Reaching Towards the Sea, and he is burning the narrative down).
He Xuan is waiting for Xie Lian in the same place they first met, with trepidation in his eyes and pupils’ constricted, skeletal fish disturbing the air around them in the same way the steam on Xie Lian’s breath disturbs the sea. He Xuan is waiting for him, for the fulfillment of this promise made years ago by a wretch of a man, and Xie Lian steps from the boat. The sand sizzles under his feet, and the eyes that meet He Xuan’s are as red as the blood that drowned Mount Tonglu, pupils dilated enough to block out the red sun of the iris.
“You threw yourself into Mount Tonglu and came out alive. What is it that drives you?”
“Love, for you, and hatred, for the world.”
“I would become a supernova for you, if that was what you wanted me to do. I would give you the heavens, the earth; I would destroy them, I would save them. I was a dead man, and you showed me life- now let me show you love.” Xie Lian offers his hand, smiling from teeth that are too-sharp, and says, “I will burn the Sun while you drown the sea, He Xuan. Together we will be unstoppable- we will be unlimited. All you have to do is stay with me. All you have to be is mine.”
He Xuan wavers, pupils dilating as a shudder runs down his spine, and Xie Lian takes a step closer. His blood sears, his breath steams, and yet the air is only the gentle warmth of a heated room in winter, of sunlight on a spring day; it does not hurt, because He Xuan is the one thing he doesn’t want to hurt. He Xuan breathes, looking like he is standing on the precipice of flight or fall, and Xie Lian looms over him, like a shadow to block out the sun.
“Take my hand, He Xuan,” he says, voice as soft as the silk in which he was raised, and he reaches out. Offers it to He Xuan as easily as he has offered the world, offers his heart and an eternity with it. There’s a vow here, an oath, the promise of something warmer than He Xuan has known in years- the gift of a thing He Xuan had thought stolen from him along with everything else in life. “Let me be your hearth.”
(He thinks of the wretch who had made a promise and fulfilled it, of the way his days had been filled with something beyond hollow thoughts of revenge and the resentment festering in his chest, of the way his own heart had stuttered despite itself.
He thinks of how he had actually felt alive, for that year the wretch stayed with him, and the hope that had clocked his throat when Mount Tonglu cracked open.
He thinks of Xie Lian, and the strange fluttering in his stomach, the chill down his spine despite the way the air burns).
He Xuan takes his hand.
(All stories have their beginnings, and this is where their story begins; with hearts offered and taken, a love cemented in a promise of blood and fire.
All stories have their endings, but this is not it; it is merely one chapter finished, the next page to turn. A Calamity and a Prince have found a home in each other, but there is still more to come for them, a narrative to play.
They have found a home in eachother, but the Flower has yet to bloom.
All stories have a beginning, an ending, and a middle; this story is still only on its first leg. Now turn the page dear reader and find out what awaits them in the next chapter of life).
Chapter 2: Now
So originally I was going to wait to post this until I had chapter 5 drafted, but then someone sent me a really nice message about someone's reaction to this fic and I was !!!!!❤ ❤❤!!!!! so have an update now. In this chapter we come to the 'Now' timeline.
Thanks go to NyghtRaven and Andy for helping edit this!!
I hope y'all enjoy it!!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
If humans are flowers and ghosts the elements, then Gods are the stars. Slow to rise but quick to fall, burning like they have nothing but time on their hands, like all they have to sustain them in this world is their own ideals and the belief that people have in their divinity. The stars that look so much smaller than they actually are, their true ugliness distorted by the distance that cannot be crossed; as likely to smother galaxies as they are to guide them, the light blinding as easily as it can illuminate.
When they rise, they do so with a bang. When they fall, they do so with a bang. Either moment is so removed from humanity, so far out of their reach, and yet the tremours shake them down to their bones, pull out roots and use it for food; they dismiss the same people they are supposed to exist for.
“The Gods love the world,” claims each human as they prostrate themselves on the ground in front of temples, in front of shrines, in front of whatever bowl they have created to try and catch the stardust. The Gods hear these prayers, but do they listen to them? Do they acknowledge them?
“The Gods love the world,” and yet they leave it to rot, caring for little beyond their gilded halls and the confines of their own power. To them, worship is just a means to an end, a good stroke for their ego- it is the thing that keeps them there, but it is not something of value. It is not something of sentiment.
“The Gods love the world,” and it is a lie that makes liars of human and God alike, rots the flowers whilst the stars only grow brighter.
“The Gods love the world,” but they do not; they love only the world they have constructed for themselves, this little pocket of paradise. And the world- none will ever know if it loves them back, or what passes as love for such a twisted little thing.
The Gods love the world, and their every move is one that shakes it; they are too much, they are not enough. The Gods are the stars and they shine, shine, shine, but why are they better than the fleeting beauty of a flower or the hardened strength of an element?
Why should Gods be better than humans or ghosts?
They are higher than the world, up on their pedestal carved from bone, blood, and gold, and that means it will hurt all the more when the sun and the sea climb up to drag them down to where they will be swallowed whole.
If humans are flowers and ghosts the foundations of nature, then the Gods are the stars. And one of these days the stars twinkling up so high in the sky will fall, fall, fall.
A new star has risen, and their arrival shakes the heavens and the world that holds it up. This is a star that shines so bright that the heavens nearly drown in its wake, and the humans tremble, the ground beneath their feet cracking in the same way their faith will when no God helps them. The ghosts howl from their corners of the world, sequestered from all that is alive, and two figures- one in white, one in black- look up at the sky with hands clasped and pupils dilated.
There is a new God in heaven. His eyes are as red as his clothing, and around him flutters a cloud of silver butterflies, brighter than the Sun and all the stars in the sky could ever hope to be. He stands tall, even among the giants that make up Heaven, and not a soul dares to breathe as he smiles.
There is a new God in heaven, and the first thing he says is, “Whilst I’m sure the gawking is a valued pastime here, can someone tell me why I can remember less than a human would after getting their skull cracked open?”
There is a new God in heaven, and his arrival is one that shakes God, Ghost, and human alike.
This is what the God knows: he is Hua Cheng, a God of Luck and Prosperity.
This is what the God does not know: anything else.
His life before ascension is a slate as blank as his mind, memories lost in the same moment his mundanity was. No-one in the heavens knows any more, for his ascension is a strange one; this is not a grand hero or a prince or a scholar, this is not someone with a fate that shall be screamed to the world ‘look, there is someone great here! Look, this is one who will be loved by fate!’ Not even Jun Wu, the strongest, or Ling Wen, the wisest, have heard of this Hua Cheng- it was as if he popped up out of nowhere, a soul slipped quietly between the cracks until the Heavens plucked him up.
It was as if he’d been a nothing until the Heavens forced him to become something.
This is unprecedented, a thing never before seen, and it terrifies the Heavens, brings forth murmurs and whispers as they all gather in the meeting hall and stare.
He is unprecedented, this strange thing with eyes of blood and butterflies at his fingers, a flower in full bloom without even having to be planted first.
He is unprecedented, an enigma with a smile as sharp as glass despite the blankness of his mind, and the Gods wonder, ‘Is he an omen of calamity or a herald of good?’
The answer is not one they have access to, nor is one that he can give them, for he is a butterfly afloat on a sea he does not know in a world he does not remember. Everything is gone- stolen from him the moment he touched the heavens, and in its place all he has is a title and a status.
Is it worth it? He thinks, is this what I wanted? But there can be no answer from a mind that can offer them. All he has is his Godhood, and it’s a gift wrapped in ambiguity and questions: why did he ascend? Who was he? Where did he fit in, what is it that drives him, who is he, why does he feel so empty?
Why is it that he has reached the pinnacle most can only dream of reaching, and yet it offers nothing but anxieties for a person lost in their own skin?
“There is nothing that can be done,” Martial God Heavenly Emperor Jun Wu declares. “We will have to simply induct him into the Heavens as best as we can- memory or no, he is still a God, and that means he is worthy of standing here.”
The other Gods murmur, bowing down to the declaration of the one at their head, but Hua Cheng stares with narrowed eyes. He doesn’t know why but something about this Great Martial God makes his skin crawl- makes the butterflies agitated, makes him feel like baring his teeth and hissing. Perhaps it’s the power- a survival instinct in the face of a God so much more powerful than him, this great being who has faced down more than most of the world and still come out on top. Power was a coveted thing, so dangerous and yet so very valued, and Hua Cheng doesn’t need a memory to know that it can cause damage.
That it can destroy.
Or maybe that’s overthinking it- maybe he’s simply rankling at the idea of someone else deciding his Fate, maybe he’s simply tense from waking up surrounded by strange faces in a strange place with his memories reduced to crumbs.
Jun Wu turns. “Shi Qingxuan, guide Hua Cheng in the ways of Upper Heaven, and assist him until he is settled into his own.”
“Yes, Martial Emperor,” chirps a woman in green with a fan in her hand. The butterflies around Hua Cheng halts, their flapping becoming more frantic where his mind was quiet, like she was supposed to be familiar, but he didn’t know what it was or why.
To Hua Cheng, Jun Wu says, “Congratulations on your ascension, unfortunate side effects aside.”
“Thank you,” Hua Cheng says. He did not bow, and any emotion he might have felt was tightly coiled within.
The meeting disperses, and the Heavenly Officials went on their way, leaving behind only the pair that had been thrown together and the questions that made every breath smell of doubt.
The meeting disperses, and the clock turns.
(There is a God in Heaven without his memories, a pinnacle of life without a life to guide him, a star whose light wavers with the uncertainty of the lost and the silver butterflies that flutter from his soul. To him, this is the first page of his story, the first chapter to take him through- this the beginning of a thing that has no other to hang onto because the world has taken it away.
All stories have their beginning, but his is one that has been lost- erased, and with it, the foundation that made him into what he is, the purpose by which he is guided, the altar to hold his stardust.
This is a butterfly who rose and rose until he touched the sky and transformed into a bloom the likes of which has never been seen before; a star so bright that it blinded even himself. This is a story of confusion and desperation, of Gods who pride themselves on knowing faced with a creature who shares their title and yet know nothing, of the Ghosts who sit back and watch the skies with wary eyes, of the humans who get on their knees and pray until their hearts bleed black.
There is a new God in Heaven, a Silver Winged Fortune, and the world is as unsure of how to deal with him as he is the world).
Shi Qingxuan wasn’t sure whether to feel honoured that Jun Wu trusted her with something like this, or to feel a little uncomfortable. She wasn’t normally one to feel unnerved by social situations- in fact, she thrived in them! It came from having a brother who was more likely to be cold than he was warm, his love hidden beneath the demeanour he wore that was as harsh as the water over which he ruled. And her parents too, when they were still alive- affection was in between the lines, the soft moments that interspersed the snapping, the smiles and the touches that were like precious jewels every time she earned them. She was the odd one out- the one full of energy and joy, drawn to others like they were the flames and she the moth, the one who they’d thought would never ascend.
(But that was wrong, in the end- she did, she joined her brother in the Heaven’s and made her family proud, she’d fulfilled the grand Fate she was meant for. Her brother had hugged her, that day, a tight, full on hug that he so very rarely gave unless she initiated it, and it had almost been better than the divinity itself,
It was one of the best days of her life, because it was the day she made her brother proud).
So no, Shi Qingxuan wasn’t a wilting daisy who turned and fled at the slightest sharp word. This Hua Cheng, however- there was something about his gaze that made even her falter a little, like he was measuring up everyone he saw and cutting them apart to fit into little boxes, like he was hunting for weaknesses in the gambling game they call life. There was no warmth in his eyes, no gentleness on his face- it was like the loss of his memories had slammed anything soft from him, like his way of defending himself from the strange new world was to wrap himself in knives and breathe.
He looked at her like he wasn’t sure if she was enemy or ally, like even with the butterflies around him he was a being built to fight. He looked at her like with his memories lost, he was drawing in, drawing close- a snake coiled around its eggs to defend itself, only there are no eggs- only, someone stole the eggs.
(Only someone stole a part of him that was important- they took all they could and left only a shell in gilded clothing.
That someone was the world, was the heavens, and he looked like this was not something he was happy about).
He looked like a man who was lost and hated every second of it, and it was the kind of look that could freeze steel. But Shi Qingxuan was the wind, was an elemental God who could face down most and come out victorious; she was strong, despite the fact that she was so friendly (or, in the words of the other Gods, nosy and overly familiar, but that was neither here nor there), and the fact was that she was strong.
(Especially in this form. The humans worshipped her more as a woman and so as a woman she is much more powerful. Not as powerful as Ge, because safe passage over the sea was a thing more valued for worship than the wind, because not many worshipped her on her own, but still powerful.
Not as strong as a martial God, but still powerful.
There were nine thousand temples in their name, and it wasn’t for show).
So she keeps her smile up, clacks her fan shut, and says, “Hello, Hua-xiong. I’m the Wind Master Qingxuan. How do you feel about your ascension? It’s a grand day in anyone's life!”
He stares, the butterflies drawing close to him as if they’d rather not touch her. She’s not sure what to make of that; are these some kind of representation of his power? Is it an emotional thing, like the pricking of a foxes ears? Has he not figured out how to control it yet? Poor thing- they've all been there before. Why, before she figured out how to control her power she once destroyed an entire city! Granted, she struggled at adjusting to the ascension a lot more than most- Ge said it was because of the temperament of the wind, and Ge was smart, so he must be right. Maybe it was similar with Hua Cheng?
(She’d have to ask Ge about it, when he returned).
Eventually, Hua Cheng says, “I rather think I need to have knowledge of a life to be able to feel anything about it.”
“Ah, yes, I forgot about that.” She laughed at her own joke, and something shifted in his face, though what it was is beyond her. “Come with me- I’ll show you all you need to know about being a God!”
And with that, she sets off, without waiting to see if he follows.
(He does, because of course he does- he is a crow without a murder, a bee without a hive, a God without his memories, and so all he can do is follow. He needs to learn in order to survive- needs to know what he has to do and where he is and why so he can carve a place for himself in the world, dig a bowl to catch the memories if they finally come falling down.
He follows her, listens to everything she advises him, does as she demonstrates, and asks questions to learn more.
He learns, wraps himself in the knowledge like it’s a cocoon, and when he emerges, he is brighter than anyone could have imagined.
He wraps himself in a cocoon of lost memories and the guidance whispered by the wind, and climbs out as a butterfly brighter than the sun).
(“Temples are the first order of business- a God without a temple is none at all!”
“Hm, that seems a rather tenuous base of power. What if someone were to burn them all down?”
She laughed, “Don’t underestimate a God’s power! The only reason the mortal folk would burn your temples down is if you somehow caused a disaster as big as Xian Le.”
The name dragged a nail along the back of Hua Cheng’s teeth, like the tap tap tap of a fist on a door, like a reminder that there was still something more. So he asked about it, and received the story of a Kingdom lost at the hands of a calamity and its own prince; of the God who failed so badly he threw himself into Hell.
Hua Cheng asked about the Kingdom of Xian Le, and only received a fragment of the story).
(“Find yourself,” she says, after a while together- after Hua Cheng has warmed up to her, after they’re something that could be called friends. “You don’t know who you are- so what! That just means you make something of yourself from what you have now; you build yourself up from the bottom, step out into the world as a new person. You are a God now, a thing with fortune in your blood and prosperity in your bones, and so you can use it to shape a world for yourself.”
He hums. Throws a pair of dice in the air and catches it, looking at the two sixes staring up at him. Another set of boxcars, luck on his side every time.
In the back of his mind, there is a murmur- a phrase that echoes in his soul, like the words have been carved there for here and evermore. Repeats it aloud, rolling the words around on his tongue as if testing how they feel, “I want to help the common folk.”
They do not feel like his words, but they settle against his soul like something right; like something that is meant to be. So he smiles and repeats, “I want to help the common folk,” not knowing that these were the words uttered by a prince with the stars in his eyes and hands that clung on until the things he held were long dead.
He says these words, not knowing the Shi Qingxuan breathes in around a shudder in her spine, a thought of, oh. Oh Gods, is this another tragedy in the making?)
(There is a God with fire in his eyes and butterflies in his soul, as much a mystery to the world as it is to him, and the wind dances around him, a playful presence in a bunch of stiffs; mischief in a place where everyone has lodged a golden stick up their own ass.
If you are in the streets, watch out for the God of crimson and silver; watch for the God with a hard smile and blank eyes. He will bring you wealth, if you deserve it; he will bring you luck, if you are in need of it. If you pray to him, he will look down at you with those eyes dyed with blood and from his offered hand will fly a singular butterfly.
If it lands on you, then you will be blessed with the greatest luck you’ve ever had; if you deserve it- if you need it- then he will grant you everything you’ve ever wanted.
If you deserve it, then he’ll give you the luck that will put the world in your hands.
And for those that don’t- the prayers who are blinded by greed, who hurt and hurt and hurt, take from the lesser and the weaker, prayers who will milk the world dry if they could; for the worshipers to whom life is a game that only matters if they are on the winning side, who would rob the poor to feed the rich, who would shit in the mouths of the people trying hard to survive…
For the worshippers who have been deemed as wrong, then you best run quick, run far, because the Silver Winged Fortune will drag you into a gambling game you cannot win and rob you of all you own. You best run, because you will lose everything and have to watch as it is parceled out to those who need it more.
There is a God whose ascension is as recent as his name, whose been around for little more than a year, and yet already his name is worshipped far and wide, four thousand and nine hundred temples built in his honour.
There is a God who ascended to the Heaven’s with only a name he can vaguely remember, and already he has clawed his way towards the top of the podium).
Chapter 3: Then
There is referenced torture and dismemberment in the second to last scene of this chapter (very mild and not graphic but still there).
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
There is a new Devastation on the loose, and the flowers trembled in fear whilst the star’s try to pry their jaws off their shoes.
“How could that foolish prince become such a monster?” they whispered, behind painted lips that hid snakes instead of tongues and knives instead of teeth. For that is what he had been-a laughing stock, a selfish prince reduced to a beggar and a thief, a cautionary tale to warn the people away, to remind the Gods that even they had limits.
“Be careful you don’t end up like the Royal Highness of Xian Le,” is what they’d say, the title more an insult than anything, and whoever was being warned would nod solemnly. Inscribe it onto their hearts like the consequences of such folly had been inscribed onto Kingdom and Prince alike. Those who known the Prince personally- the poor, unfortunate retainers who’d suffered at his side, saddles with a fool for a master and a graveyard as a home- would turn away, tune it out, their expressions twisted into something as ugly as their loyalty had become.
(“Poor things,” old Gods would coo, the ones who would be perfectly at home following people around grocery stores and gossiping at people whose eyes scream for help at every person who passes by, grannies in a meat suit that is still as pristine as it was thousands of years ago. “Suffered so much, and for what? A stain on the earth, a buffoon who wore a crown and danced on the dead.”
“Poor things,” they’d say, not seeing how the pair would clench their fists and tremble).
It had been a tragedy that the world declared a comedy, the Epic without an ending, and yet somehow this tragic hero- this Prince who became a God who became a fool- has closed his eyes and his ears to the whisper and burned the narrative to the ground. Somehow, this foolish Prince has thrown himself into Mount Tonglu and dragged himself from its jaws as Devastation itself, eyes darker than the Hell inside his soul and a heart to match it.
Somehow, this foolish, bumbling beggar had reached for the sun, an Icarus with clay wings and a paper heart, and instead of falling for the third and final time, he opened
and swallowed the sun whole.
(The Fool became a phoenix and it will burn, burn, burn until the world is nothing but ash at its feet and the only thing that remains is the Seat that it declared its home).
There is a new Devastation on the loose, one with fire at his fingertips and smoke in his lungs, and he is coming to drag the Heavens down. And to them, this is ridiculous; to them, this is unthinkable. Ghost or not, surely it was still the same foolish Prince who couldn’t even save his own Kingdom. How could he dent the Heavens when he couldn’t even save his own parents? How could he get revenge on the Gods when he couldn’t succeed against Yong An?
How could a Fool hope to drag the stars from the sky?
“We’re fine,” they tell themselves, waving away the chill that drags its fingers down their spines, the fluttering in their guts. “It’s not like he can do anything against Heaven.”
(There is a new Devasation on the loose, and Heaven laughs, laughs, laughs, like they forget the crater he once left in the earth.
They laugh, fools so far removed they’ve forgotten the one, golden rule: you don’t tempt Fate, because she will shit in your mouth and leave you to choke).
It was rare to see He Xuan and Xie Lian without each other, in those early days. Glued at the hip, soaking up the touch like it was the only thing that could heal their jagged edges, soothe the broken parts into something that could pass as whole. They were two bruised, battered people who bared their teeth at the world, now seeking out softness from the one thing they could trust to provide it.
(“All I want is you,” Xie Lian said, his face pressed against He Xuan’s hair, as they sat on one of the thrones they shared. “You’re all I can trust not to take the heart I give you and shatter it.”
“I don’t need a heart when I have you.”)
They sleep tangled together, a pair of puzzle pieces trying to become one, in a bed that may as well be a nest. During the day, they’re hand in hand, side by side, front to back- the position didn’t matter as long as they were close. As long as they were together.
(On one notable occasion Xie Lian went a whole day with He Xuan carried in his arms, absolutely refusing to put him down for any reason whatsoever. He Xuan’s face had been as red as the fire Xie Lian represented, as beautiful as the day he first had mercy on a Wretch, and it makes Xie Lian’s dead heart stutter, his mouth full of joy).
The early days were ones of quiet peace, where the relearn each other as Devastation to Devastation, lost soul to lost soul; of opening up themselves entirely to another person, learning everything they could about this person they have declared theirs. Days of lounging around with He Xuan slotted in between Xie Lian’s legs, dozing a little as Xie Lian plays with his hair, or Xie Lian watching with unblinking eyes as He Xuan cooks for the two of them, sneaking kisses whenever they could. The early days were the soft, the sweet, the happy; of living for love, and only love.
But life is not full of good things that last, even for those that have grabbed Fate by its balls and pulled. The early days faded, the soft satisfaction of being together and being happy dwindling in favour of bigger things- these lofty goals that had dragged the sun down to the dirt, the thoughts of a flower drowned beneath the weight of someone else’s sins.
“We deserve better, Yuyu,” Xie Lian insists, cupping He Xuan’s face with a tenderness out of place with the words he’s saying. “Revenge- you want it, don’t you? I want it too- I want to drag the stars from the sky and tear them apart. I want to burn this rotten world until there is nothing left to burn whilst you smother the cockroaches that leave their own kind to drown. I want to dye the ground red and build a Kingdom for you- for us.”
His eyes are soft, his smile softer, and He Xuan wavers. He’s teetering on the edge and no matter which way he falls, there’ll be a net waiting to catch him. He feels like a water serpent in the hands of a dragon, and it makes something curl inside his gut; something warm, fluttery, a little like fear and a little like comfort. He Xuan hesitates, and the fact that he hesitates at all is a point in his favour, though Xie Lian spots it, makes his voice quieter, brushes a thumb against the bottom of He Xuan’s eyelid.
“You deserve a world as beautiful as you are, and I will give it to you. Don’t you want to be happy with me?”
“I do,” He Xuan murmurs, nuzzling his face into the hand that holds the warmth of a thousand suns. “You are the only good thing in my life.”
It’s like signing away the universe, a contract that marks the doom of everyone except for two, and yet, He Xuan doesn’t fucking care. What did the world ever do for him, except hurt? What good thing has it not taken from him apart from this one Ghost? He Xuan doesn’t care, not now, not really- not when he is in love, saved from the emptiness that consumed his life by this supernova with a brightness that hides a cracked, crumbling core. Not when he is happy with this Pyre by his side and the sea at his beck and call.
He Xuan doesn’t care (doesn’t want to, because the world never cared about him), and so he signs the dotted line with eleven simple words. The light that touches Xie Lian’s face is joyful, pride clear in the curve of his lips, and he moves his thumb to press against He Xuan’s bottom lip.
“Good Yuyu,” he praises, voice like the chime of a bird song before the world cracks in two, and He Xuan shivers, swaying towards him like a flower drooping under the weight of its own petals. “You showed me that there can be a life after the fire burns hope away, and so I will pave the world for you to thrive. Just you and me, in a world that can’t hurt us anymore.”
He Xuan closes his eyes, and Xie Lian replaces thumb with lips.
(They didn’t speak much, for the rest of the night).
There is a new Devastation on the loose, and he has done the unthinkable, breaking through Heavens gates with a smile on his face and another, shorter ghost at his side. There is a Devastation in Heaven, and the Gods stand and stare, like they had never seen his face before and think, what kind of abomination is this?
They look at him like he is roadkill that dragged itself up, guts hanging out and all, and farted.
“Hello again,” Xie Lian said, this thing that was once one of them, and his voice is the rumble of a volcano, the trill of a phoenix about to burn up, burn out. “I’m here to challenge you all to a fight.”
There is a choked sound. Though the pair have broken into Heaven (which, what the genuine fuck), it is Middle Heaven, where the Gods are weaker and any requests for help would likely take a few days to be noticed. It could be seen as fortunate for the Gods, really, as it means those with personal grudges against the Royal Highness of Xian Le are absent and there would be less property damage, it also means straight up booting him out is going to be a rather more difficult task than one might hope.
(And then there’s the matter of the ghost by his side- what rank is it? Fierce? Severe? Wrath? Can they fight it?
Devastation, some thought, but nobody dared to utter it aloud. One Devastation level Ghost was already chilling enough, but two? They would all be royally fucked that not even all the luck in the world could save them).
“What kind of fight?” demands one of the braver ones, a literature God who is as liable to start a brawl as she is to argue.
“A contest of martial arts against me.” And then, lifting up the hand of the other ghost, as if showing off a prize treasure to a gathering of auctioneers, “And a contest of debating against Yuyu. If we win, all contestants will jump from the sky and live as normal people.”
The silence that follows is one that hangs between horrified and angry, the Gods exchanging looks with each other as if things will start to make sense with enough eye contact. What kind of horrendous penalty is that? Does he think they’re stupid, coming into their domain to mock them like this when he’s only a lowly reject?
“For what kind of reason should we agree to such a ridiculous demand?”
Xie Lian stretches his smile over teeth that would rival a lions. “Because if you win, we will give you our ashes.”
And isn’t that an idea. To be the one to take down the Demon God of Xian Le, to hold the ashes of two Ghosts in their hands and destroy them as they will. It’s an opportunity that is almost unheard of, never before offered, and Gods are greedy, greedy things. They are powerful and luxury is the toilet on which their buttcheeks rest, but there could always be more- they could always climb higher up the ladder, sit higher up in the sky, shining brighter than all the others. They could be one of the big Gods, with enough merits to do whatever they want, enough lanterns lit that their name is declared with the Top Ten for all the world to see.
This is an opportunity and it could make them great.
Despite the many, many reasons not to, they agree- thirty three Gods against two Ghosts, a challenge to a penalty that isn’t death but might as well be.
("I was forged in the flames of Hell, thrown there by the Gods upon their gilded throne, and now I am coming for them. I will drag them down, devour them like the fire devoured me," an oath spoken, an oath kept.
It is thirty three Gods against a Sun and the Sea, and it is contest that only one will win).
The Contest begins. First comes the Martial Gods, lined up to fight against this smiling Devastation in mourning clothes, like toy soldiers in front of a jenga tower.
This should be easy enough, they think, because for all that Xie Lian is powerful, these are Martial Gods at the peak of their power. To defeat all of them would require luck he has never had, and so this must be a battle they can win.
They were wrong. All of them were wiped out, weapons melted and dignity only a step behind. Heaven could only watch in shocked silence as Xie Lian smiled out at them with all the warmth of a lightning strike, the corpses of their weapons at his feet and his sword returned to his sheath.
“If you haven’t pissed yourselves, then let us complete the second half,” he says, and this ‘Yuyu’ steps forward.
The Literature Gods take the floor, shaken but still more confident than not. After all, why should a regular Ghost be able to out debate them when their intelligence was great enough for them to ascend from it?! The only reason Xie Lian was able to succeed was because he had once been a Martial God, they reasoned. This ‘Yuyu,’ on the other hand, had never been a Literature God! They can still win this!
(They could not win this).
‘Yuyu’ argued like the finest of scholars, thoroughly trouncing them with clever acting, obscure facts, and eloquent wordings. He debated the Literature Gods into the ground and then shat on their pride whilst they were down.
And so, it was Ghosts two, Gods zero.
Xie Lian beamed, scooping ‘Yuyu’ up into his arms and spinning him around like he weighed no more than a cat. “As expected of my Yuyu! No-one can defeat Black Water Sinking Ships, not in in battle or in debate.”
Quiet, the air in the room thinning like someone had just sucked it all up with a hoover. Black Water Sinking Ships- that was the name of the Calamity that had emerged from Mount Tonglu a hundred years ago! That was a Devastation class Ghost!
Holy shit there are two of them!
All the Gods in the room seemed to have spontaneously developed a hive mind, if the steady stream of fuck fuck fuck was any indication. Either oblivious to the sudden number of shat pants or simply not caring, Xie Lian set Black Water back on the ground, though still holding tightly like a child to a pet.
“We won,” he said, resting his chin Black Water’s head. “Don’t forget to jump!”
“You have until the sun goes down,” Black Water added.
And with that, they disappeared, swept up by a burst of pale fire and a flash of bone. In their wake, the defeated Gods stood with wide, shameful eyes, panic only just starting to dig its fingers into their chests and make them see how badly they’d fucked up. If they were to fulfill the agreement, they’d have to abandon everything they’d worked for, living as humans once more, trapped inside the drib drab of the mundane whilst the memory of glory can only fester like an old scab. They’d be throwing themselves into obscurity, leaving behind a life of gilded halls and being worshipped in temples built entirely for you.
They’d be grounding themselves, all because of the challenge of two shadows that don’t know that death is meant to be permanent.
“Pretend this never happened?” offered one Martial God, holding the only part of their weapon still remaining.
The agreement was universal, and so a plan was made: never talk about this again, and forget it every happened. As long as it was swept under the rug, they couldn’t be held accountable. Besides, why should they subject themselves to such humiliation just to satisfy an agreement? They were Gods! Promises were nothing in comparison to them, let alone those made with Ghosts.
It’ll be fine, they reasoned. It’s not like there’s anything they can do about it.
When the sun set that night and the Gods remained in Heaven, Xie Lian turned to He Xuan.
“They broke their promise, Yuyu,” he said, a beacon of white at odds with the darkness in his eyes. “Let’s show them why you don’t break promises.”
He Xuan dipped his head in agreement, squeezing Xie Lian’s hand one more time before he stepped into the water, form shifting as he went. Xie Lian took flight, an Icarus with the sun in his veins and he’s here to bring its wrath to the universe.
They went their separate ways to fulfill their roles, but their hearts remained with each other.
Come morning the entire world would shake with whispers of a figure clad in mourning clothes that had burned thirty three temples to the ground. It is said he hummed a song from a kingdom long since lost, the dead gathered at his side.
Come morning the Heavens would shriek as the bodies of thirty three Gods turned up drowned, their bodies bloodied and bloated. The water filling their lungs is as dark as the ink marking their skin, and even when their bodies start to recover themselves- even when they once again begin to move- they stare at the world with the eyes of the dead. The rest of Heaven barely manages to get the story out of them before all thirty-three pick themselves up on shaking legs and throw themselves from the Heavens.
Come morning the entire world will know of Bloodless Pyre Reaching Towards the Sea and his plans to burn the Gods out of the Heavens and drown them in waters as black as the blood that runs through his veins.
Come morning the entire world will know, ‘Break your promise and we will break you.’
(It had started small, this grand gesture to the world, this warning that the Heavens couldn’t continue to trample everyone under their whims anymore. Little things to remind the Gods that they weren’t safe on their pedestal in the sky, and that they were coming to swallow them whole. Like a story, there is a beginning, the point where the narrative is small enough that the plot is barely there, the markings that will soon swell to sizes beyond that even the author can comprehend.
It had started small but like all good stories, it didn’t stay that way for long).
The thing about Gods is that, for all their power, for all they might have gone through to get where they are now, they are complacent. Cushioned from the world by their divinity they are safe and sound, unreachable as can be, and so when something threatens this comfort, they quake.
What if we lose it all, they think. What if this evil can drag us and the world down?
They feel claws scratching at their spines and teeth against their throats, the crawl of a spiders legs through their veins, and swallow. But despite it all, they are Gods, and that requires a certain amount of persistence. It requires an assurance in yourself that won’t come from cracking under the first obstacle thrown your way, and so they bite the terror back. Shake it off, straighten their spines with steel and spite, and regroup to plan a way to deal with this threat.
Regroup, and make themselves feel like the apex predator once more.
It was a peaceful day. He Xuan’s nestled against Xie Lian’s chest, holding a book open for them both to read, the skeletal fish that were once his family’s souls swimming lazily in the air around them.
“There is an intruder on the island,” he says, his eyes staring off into the distance as he sees everything and nothing all at once. It is him who is linked to the domain, the one to whom it bends, and so though Xie Lian stands with him as an equal, it is He Xuan who is the King of these waters. He can feel the disturbances in land, water, air, knowing when all is not well just as easily as he knows that those that have no soul will never come back.
So if He Xuan says there is an intruded then there is an intruder, and Xie Lian doesn’t like intruders.
“Well then,” he hums, standing up and hefting He Xuan to his feet as he does so, “let’s go greet our guest.”
When he offers He Xuan his hand, it’s barely even a question anymore- more an instinct. A reflex, because he knows that should he reach out, He Xuan will reach back.
He knows the He Xuan will always take his hand.
And he does. He twines their fingers together, undoes his hair from the ponytail with the other, and shakes it out.
“Let us go,” he agrees, and they head off, the Sea and the Sun side by side.
The intruder, as it turns out, is a God. The Lord Earth Master at that, a brusque man known for being dutiful to the Heavens and his beliefs. Jun Wu could tell him to go jump into Hell and he most likely would, but if any dared approach him he would scowl and snap at the like a particularly angry turtle. He is a God who rests comfortably on his pedestal, one who will do anything to ensure it does not crumble, and he is the one who dared violate their sanctuary.
When they corner him, however, he looks more like a rather angry rat than anything close to a God.
“Hello, Lord Earth Master,” Xie Lian says, quite politely, smiling as if said God wasn’t currently chained to a wall. “How are you enjoying our home?”
The Earth Master glares, mangled leg stretched out painfully in front of him, and keeps his mouth shut in a rather clear ‘fuck you, you’re not getting anything out of me.’ Near the door, where He Xuan is hovering, a skeletal fish grins with bloodied teeth, hungry for more than just the taste it had gotten. Xie Lian’s smile didn’t waver, though the room became a touch hotter.
“It’s rather rude to trespass and then refuse to cooperate.”
“It’s rather rude to chain someone up or burn down thirty-three temples,” the Earth Master ground out, fists clenched and straining against the chains. “Though I suppose the Demon God of Xian Le wouldn’t know much about manners now, would he?”
Laughter, as cold as the waters in which the Earth Master had been dragged into, and then, “A rather old name for me, isn’t it? I’m hardly a God anymore.”
And the Earth Master leaned forward, like the rat jumping on the crumbs it was thrown, a thing dangling from the predator’s jaws doing its best to survive. “But you could be again. The Heavens would take you back, if you proved yourself.”
“Oh?” Xie Lian frowned, head tilting to the side as if in quiet interest. In the back, He Xuan’s mouth opened as if he wanted to say something but could only choke on his silence. Xie Lian did not see this but the Earth Master did and in it, he saw a chance. He saw a weakness to exploit and like all men who are looking death in the face do, he grabbed it by the balls.
“All you have to do is destroy Black Water’s ashes.”
The quiet that followed was as heavy as the air a person’s stomach after they’ve eaten too much at once, the kind of quiet that comes when you’re not sure if what follows is an avalanche or your life. The tremours in He Xuan’s hands were hidden by his sleeves, pupils so thing they barely seemed to be there, and if one were to squint his ears would seem almost flatter against his head. Xie Lian’s face was placid, the smile of the forest after a fire, a city after a flood. He could probably smell He Xuan’s fear, slight though it may be, and the fact that he didn’t address it seemed to all the world as if he was considering; as if he would take the ring from his finger and obliterate it.
(A sign the world would soon be free one Calamity).
The Earth Master’s shoulders slumped a little, as if he believed he’d won, but then a hand shot out and yanked him up by the face.
“Have you ever wondered what it feels like to die, Lord Earth Master?” Xie Lian asked, caressing the Earth Master’s face. It was a gesture that could almost be called gentle if not for the way the blood oozed up from the press of a too sharp nail against soft skin, the baring of teeth behind the smile. The Earth Master scowled, aware enough not to share fear or too stupid to feel it, and spat on Xie Lian’s face.
There was a screech as one of the skeletal fish went careening forward, jaws opened wide with the fury of Hell driving its flight, but then Xie Lian’s laughter stopped it dead in its tracks. He Xuan shuddered, despite himself, because not even the adoration that hung in every breath could erase the way it sounded so very wrong, like a sweetness that was closer to poison than honey.
Not even the knowledge that this was Xie Lian, the one who loved him enough to throw himself into Hell for He Xuan, could erase the way the animal instincts in He Xuan’s body screamed to run.
“It’s alright Yuyu,” he said, his voice almost a coo as he dug the nail in deeper. “As long as you’re by my side then nothing else matters.” And then, to the Earth Master, as bright as the sun he sought to smother, “I’ve always wondered what it would take to kill a God. You’ll help me figure it out, won’t you?”
The Earth Master barely gets the change to inhale before Xie Lian’s hand bursts into flame and then the only sound he can make is to scream.
It takes the Earth Master five hours to die, and Xie Lian smiles through every second of it. Five hours of progressive gore as Xie Lian tried every way he could to make it hurt, and by the end of it the Earth Master can’t even whimper, his body ripped to shreds piece by rotten piece.
At the end of it, Xie Lian leaves all but two of the dismembered parts of what once was a God lying on the ground, and bounds off to find He Xuan. He Xuan is in the kitchen, sitting on the table with a skeletal fish nuzzled at his side, and Xie Lian presses a kiss to his cheek, the heat of the pyre softened to something more suited to a hearth.
“I have a gift for you, Yuyu,” he says, and offers a hand palm up. In the hand sits two finger bones, carefully cleaned of the rest of the finger, and with little metal bits attached at one end. Like this, so white it’s almost like what the Heavens used to be before corruption took root, He Xuan could almost ignore the fact that they were attached to the Earth Master’s body not half an hour ago.
Xie Lian picks them up by the spike, dangling them from one hand, smile widening with the excitement of a cat bringing a dead bird to its owner. “They’re earrings! One for me and one for you- so we match!
“Why use the bones?”
“Because they’re proof.” He reaches out, tucks He Xuan’s hair behind his ear, and lets that hand linger on the curve of his cheek. They’re warm, washed before he came here, and He Xuan feels too warm. “Proof that we can tear the Heavens from the sky, one God at a time. That nothing can stop us. It’ll be proof of our promise.”
“Proof of our love,” He Xuan murmurs, breathless for a reason other than his deadness, and Xie Lian smiles.
The metal is cold against He Xuan’s skin where it is pierces through his ear, but Xie Lian’s touch is warm, as are his words: “As long as you’re here with me I’ll take care of you, my love.
He Xuan wants them to be true like he has wanted for so many things, and he leans into both words and touch. If Xie Lian is the fire that burns the rot away from the world then He Xuan is the ocean that reaches for the warmth only the sun can give it.
(Theirs is a love sealed in blood).
(There is an island in this world, a quiet little place sequestered from the world by treacherous waters and a demon’s wrath. It is like the candy house that lured in Hansel and Gretel, the maggot on the fishing rod; one look at it is all you need to know that this is not a place to trespass on. One look, and you know this is not a place to cross. Some still dare it, drawn to the story where evil is vanquished and treasure is found, the fools who don’t know that the only end for them in this story is death.
There is an island in a sea of water as black the night once the stars are swallowed down by hungry, hungry jaws and the sun is burned to a husk. If you enter there pray it is death that finds you first because there will be no other mercy; pray for death with the eyes of gold and fish of bones, this quiet, quiet thing that will cute your head of as quick as can be. Pray, because if the one to find you is Fear with eyes as dark as the scars he left on the world and mourning clothes for the innocence lost, then you have many long hours ahead of you.
Pray, because he will make you suffer the same way the world did him.
There is an island that holds two Devastations, a home sweet home, and it was one you should hope to never breach).
Thanks to Ptero for helping me with the nickname Yuyu (鱼鱼)! It means fish as an individual character but can also mean surplus, apparently!