Like a piece of iron stuck to a magnet, once the reed boat docked at the pier on its own, Wei Ying couldn’t sail away no matter how hard he paddled with the long stick. He used his legs to push against the wooden planks, rowed insanely in the opposite direction, but the boat remained steadfast in its spot amongst rippling waters, bobbing gently to the rhythm of the currents flowing by the riverside. He theorized that the boat was a magical sentient object that heeded its master - however, since Jiang Yan Li had stepped through a portal leading back to the Mortal Realm, the boat no longer responded to anyone’s will. Wei Ying cussed silently under his breath; he would’ve loved to take a leisurely river cruise in the Underworld for his personal amusement, if not as the last thing he could enjoy while he was still, well, existing.
Faint barking sounds jolted him back to reality, and they seemed to emanate from the direction he came from. Wei Ying knew that he shouldn’t dally around, since the guards could follow his trail by travelling along the river’s edge. He quickly disembarked from the boat, careful not to slip or touch the acidic water’s surface, trotted along the pier before taking a sharp turn away from the bright white line painted on the gravel; he refused to toe that line at all. He knew he couldn’t run forever, so while making his way through prickly bushes and dense undergrowth, he scouted around to see if there were any abandoned buildings or caves that he could use as a safe house.
Just then, he spotted a sign pointing towards a rugged path leading uphill. In the dim light, he could hardly make out some serpentine symbols etched onto it, which are partially related to the language of the Dark Arts - and the fact that those symbols actually hissed and wriggled like live worms. He read the words “Danger ahead!” and “Do not touch!”, and need not look further - he sprinted forward with glee, hoping that whatever that lay ahead was right up his alley.
A large windswept barren crater lined with lava streams, like a hole punched deep in the middle of a volcanic mountain, lay as far and wide as the eye could see. It was a scenery fit for the heart of Hell - the surface was cracked, there were multitudes of geyser vents and bubbling pits of lava, with some brackish salty pools near the base; everything was grey, bumpy, jagged, dry, dusty and encrusted with ink-black volcanic ash or rock. The stinging smell of sulphur permeated the air and at times, made Wei Ying’s eyes water; the air was arid and hot that mirages appeared in the far end of the rim of the crater; thankfully, a bodiless spirit did not have to fear extremes in temperatures although it may experience unsettling discomfort from the assault on its senses. Every few minutes, tremors rumbled through the downward slopes of the topographical marvel, resulting in tiny landslides of rock and sand, and billowing clouds of dust rising up the air.
If the amount of signages hastily hammered to the crater grounds was an indication, then whatever that was held in the middle would be considered as the biggest, baddest, meanest and fiercest monstrosity that the Underworld has ever seen. During the uphill trek, even while munching on foraged berries and nuts (his Dark Arts knowledge about the geography and the flora and fauna of the Underworld came in handy - thank goodness he didn’t skip any chapters while pouring through those ancient tomes during his previous life as the Yiling Patriarch), Wei Ying became increasingly smitten by the conspicuous signs with ostentatious messages - “Do not enter, or risk getting EATEN!”, “TERROR ahead! Proceed at your own peril!”, “LETHAL biological warfare weapon ahead! You have been warned!”, “You will DIE instantly! Turn around NOW!”, “You are walking into the den of the MONSTROSITY! Begone, trespasser!”, et cetera ad nauseum , which only served to inflame the man’s curiosity to take a few more steps into the unknown.
A light hike and jog past what he thought to resemble as jagged outcrops, gritty sand dunes, mud-cracked landscape, and a large blood-splattered poster nailed to a dead tree trunk screaming the words “MONSTROSITY! DO NOT PROCEED!”, Wei Ying eventually broke into a sprint when he recognized the secret held in the centre of the bowl-like depression - it was Wen Ning with his limbs spread-eagled and tied to large poles to the side!
“Wen Ning! Wen Ning! Can you hear me?” Wei Ying asked repeatedly, and waved a hand in front of the man who was almost on his knees.
Wen Ning was barely conscious and his face was covered with dust, grime and dried mud. His head lolled in all directions as he struggled keep his half-standing, half-stooping position like an elderly man with a bent back; his knees caved in probably out of cramps and fatigues, but the chains forced him to remain upright on the soles of his feet, and more chains made sure that his lifeless, dangling hands were spread out like broken wings on a bird that had been trapped when it met its untimely end. Wen Ning wasn’t coherent - he mumbled syllables that didn’t make sense, he wasn’t aware of his surroundings, he blinked his eyes blearily and the dark circles under them were even more pronounced than before, and he was so pale and his limbs were like jelly, that Wei Ying thought the Wen gongzi could collapse at any time and expire in front of him. It was mind-boggling, even unthinkable, how the guards of the Underworld could call the baby-faced man a ‘monstrosity’!
After giving a couple of hearty shakes on the torso clothed by multi-layered ragged black robes, in which Wen Ning remained unresponsive, Wei Ying discovered a large ugly diagonal gash from one shoulder, near where the black veins started, to the lower waist of the other side, where torn strips of cloth used as a makeshift belt hung loosely. It was a wound that could never heal - much like what Wei Ying witnessed on his shijie ’s chest; the wide, gaping laceration on Wen Ning’s body perpetually oozed congealing viscous black liquid - his undead blood -, which although didn’t change the colour of the man’s clothes, gave some clues as to what ill-fate befell him before he was spirited off to the Underworld.
Realizing that the longer they stayed at that bottom of the crater, the more exposed they were to the risks of natural disasters, falling stones, or becoming shrivelled like dried plums placed under the hot sun - except that the high ceiling of the Underworld was eternally moonless and lacked any source of light -, Wei Ying took some time and effort to pick apart the chains that tied his friend to the poles.
“For a ‘monstrosity’, the security is certainly lax around here, and the materials they used to bind you are brittle as rusted metal,” he murmured to a semi-comatose Wen Ning, noting that there wasn’t anyone in the vicinity to watch the prisoner - probably out of fear of being terrorized or devoured by the fearsome ‘monstrosity. He raised a fist-sized rock and pummeled a weakened spot on the chains, cave-man style; the chains were as needlessly large as those that anchored warships to moors, but prolonged exposure to erosive gases, volcanic atmosphere, violent winds and occasional bursts of superheated vapours left much of the material deteriorated and pockmarked with holes. Soon, the ends of the chains that imprisoned Wen Ning were successfully cleaved, and the man ended up with several more trailing chain-links on his body on top of the smaller ones that he already had on his garments.
Wei Ying put one of Wen Ning’s hands around his shoulder, and slowly and carefully, the duo started climbing up the crater that was filling up with shifting sands; a sandstorm seemed to be blowing in, and Wei Ying didn’t want to be caught in one.
All Wen Ning needed was just a drink of water - and he received lots of it, in awe and gratitude of the man who saved his life yet another time.
Wei Ying dragged the weakened, partially conscious Wen Ning to the top of the crater, where a natural spring flowed into a brook that led to, and supplied water to, the Ten Courts around the foot of the hills. There, he found plenty of lush forests as compared to the crater behind them, and therefore, abundant fruiting berry bushes, succulent wild vegetables and ripened nuts hanging off branches of trees that grow on damp soil. He fashioned scoops out of large leaves to give Wen Ning a much-needed trickling shower, have his face wiped down and cleaned, and a life-saving drink. Without any cultivation or the ability to transfer qi , Wei Ying could only try to feed a bit of food to the man made to sit in a lotus position, but the latter choked, coughed and spitted half-chewed mush of fruits and nuts - at least he was stirring to full consciousness.
“Wen Ning? Wake up! Snap out of it!” he whispered and rubbed soothing circles on the man’s back; he wasn’t sure if there were any guards around, so they needed to remain quiet.
Wen Ning finally blinked a few times, and greedily accepted another scoop of water with tasty moans, gently fed to his mouth, and croaked with a raspy voice, “... Wei… gong … zi …?”. Wei Ying took a few gulps for himself and nodded energetically. He dropped everything and held Wen Ning’s arms, then shook them with a sense of gladness, of welcoming back a long lost friend.
“Eh? You do recognize me! That’s great, Wen Ning! What happened to you? Why did you end up here? The last time we met was… err… before summer, right? How have you been since then?” Wei Ying exclained his barrage of questions, and Wen Ning had to squeeze his eyes for a moment to steady his wavering consciousness.
Wei Ying was concerned about the other man’s state, so he held himself back and waited patiently for Wen Ning to digest his current situation. Then, as though some cobwebs had been cleared from the mind, the man suddenly lurched forward and grabbed his wrists in a desperate bid to seek answers.
“... Wei gongzi ! Wei gongzi ! Si Zhui! Where is Si Zhui?!” Wen Ning cried.
Wei Ying sighed - it was going to be a longer day than he thought. There was much to tell, and even more to ask; Wen Ning’s story is probably as colourful as Wei Ying’s, as the two shared a lot in common, both in the past and present - however, this was no time for catching up for old times’ sake, and certainly no time to sit down to enjoy tea together. He placed a forefinger on Wen Ning’s lips to gently shush him.
There was much to do, but everything had to start from somewhere. He calmly asked the alarmed man what was the last thing he remembered.
Lan Zhan had professed his hatred towards womankind after what happened to his spouse and the three boys whose fates he did not know - because he had completely disconnected from the outside world -, and swore to avoid any encounters of the female kind. However, as repulsive as his discerning palate deemed the fairer gender to be, he could not overcome that disturbing, unquenchable thirst for the flesh; he thought he had been infected by the curse of the incubus, since his spouse had not displayed any symptoms of transforming into one while lying on the bed; or worse, he thought he was haunted by the dirty stories that Wei Ying used to rant during their sexcapades, and that startling and honest, impassioned accusation that the husband actually has a unspoken penchant for - he detests the word, and can never bring himself to say it audible - vaginas.
In any case, Lan Zhan had sought the black rabbit for some counselling advice; it crawled up and down the man’s body and sniffed at his erogenous zones, before declaring that there was nothing wrong with him, and a caveat that the man should really go to the nearest major hospital for a full check-up by a certified doctor. By then, Lan Zhan was livid, because all that pawing, nibbling and tickling with rabbit whiskers made him hard again - so, he stomped off to the floor mat out of pure bad habit and the desire to ‘scratch that itch’, and teleported himself to a sexual buffet paradise; the dungeon was, again, filled with the choicest, more beautiful and fertile females he had ever laid his eyes upon, and he had no other option but to yield to his boiling lusts, and started sampling each individual morsel, the stretched-open virginal holes, invitingly welcoming his overexcited, cum-leaky penis to conquer and deflower every willing Wei Ying within his grasp.
Two minutes later - with another two thousand babies perfectly conceived with explosive, arching servings of his seed, and are well on the way to full-term births; he added another notch to his list of achievements and unlocked the prized Top Baby-maker award, again -, Lan Zhan returned to the cave-home with his body sexually flushed, panting heavily, eyes glazed from orgasming too fast, too much, and his loins had shrivelled to, say, normal sizes, and his back ached from pistoning non-stop for way too long. He quickly hopped into the pool for a quick dip, then refreshed and cleansed himself from all traces of unholy desires, and marched straight to the bedroom to cuddle up with his beloved - in a desperate bid to salvage his tattered pride and reputation as a loving, faithful husband, and to atone for his sins - although surely, the spouse would never know if the husband never told.
Alas, something was amiss. Lan Zhan had spent so much time surrounded by soft curves, feminine voluptuousness, cherubic baby fat and jiggle-worthy mounds, that he actually missed groping, ravishing and squeezing (forcefully) F-cup sized boobs, and sleeping between them. Ample breasts weren’t just sexual objects of desire, but as a source of nourishment, of primal happiness and satisfaction, and of comforting deep-seated fears and anxieties; if anything, Lan Zhan wished he could just take the boobs and run from the insatiable harems, because he swore that he’d avoid females as much as he could.
He flipped Wei Ying so that the latter lay face-down, and tried to sleep on the younger man’s buttocks to recapture the experience of being buoyed by bosoms. After a while, he realized there was not much fat, in fact some bony protrusions poked into his skin and caused discomfort, and the amount of muscles on Wei Ying’s ass was probably withering away from the lack of use - it was akin to lying on an old, flat pillow, and Lan Zhan nearly cricked his neck in doing so -, so he got up with a huff, then fluffed up the slightly springy but flat-ish ass, and started to pinch, knead and jiggle the twin glutes. He promised silently to include massages on the buttocks as part of their daily exercise regime from that day onwards, in the hopes that Wei Ying will regain his bouncy bum with the perfect balance of elasticity, firmness, tension, shape and volume, soon.
Lan Zhan turned around and faced down into the crack of Wei Ying’s buttocks until the bridge of his nose was snug between twin peaks, in another futile attempt to relive the softness he remembered - the area had been thoroughly cleaned and perfumed, by the way - and out of pure bad habit, inhaled noisily until his lungs filled with Wei Ying’s musky scent with a faint hint of sourness. It didn’t take long for Lan Zhan to suffocate from the lack of air in that awfully tight, narrow strip of space, so he grunted in annoyance and got up again. He swatted the taut flesh and bent down to gnaw on the surface out of spite - to leave a bite mark in vengeance -, and unexpectedly, Wei Ying let out a string of warm, bubbly soft farts. Lan Zhan flinched at the unsavoury sounds, and even more when he caught a whiff of what ailed the younger man’s barely-functioning digestive system.
He realized that he’d been so preoccupied with his own troubles and what he thought were Wei Ying’s needs, that the spouse’s basic bodily condition had been rather sidelined. Sure, Wei Ying slept on a bed with enough pillows and blankets to last a lifetime, he was fed as best as possible through non-intubation means, and his body received adequate care such as getting cleansing wipes, and moved to different positions periodically to prevent blisters and pressure sores - but with such commendable efforts going in , some would be metabolized into possibly toxic wastes and by-products, and where or when would these go out ?
The black rabbit made an off the cuff remark about “being incapcitated and immobilized for so long, surely he’s already an invalid and classified as a vegetable by the Kingdom’s medical standards; and vegetables take in nutrients from the air, water and soil, and nothing goes out until it’s harvest time”, and Lan Zhan retaliated by grabbing the furry animal by its ears and he gave the tuft of fur on its rump a punishing squeeze - and it squealed for mercy from the pain, and from the sheer embarrassment, when pea-sized droppings dribbled onto the floor.
Later, the black rabbit had to pick up its own poop and disinfect that bedroom on its own. Then, to add salt to the wound, it had to figure out Lan Zhan’s dilemma of the spouse - carefully and with admirable finesse and strength, it carried Wei Ying while walking on its hind legs to the outdoor springwater pool at the back of the home, and gently placed him into the warm, soothing and swirling waters by the poolside. Wei Ying sat boneless with his back against the poolside and the water was up to his waist. The black rabbit asked the white rabbit for a bit of help, in the form of a professional masseur, rabbit-style. The white rabbit gleefully hopped over from the home, glad to take another break from the incessant digging.
The white rabbit curled itself on Wei Ying’s belly while being half-submerged in the very comforting warm waters - it was getting a nice rinse at the same time too -, and began to knead Wei Ying’s belly with its four paws. It made little pushes, bounced on the abdomen, and when the fun kicked in, it danced and twirled around the man’s navel with dainty but impactful steps of fleet-footed furred padded feet.
Within a few minutes, Wei Ying’s belly rumbled - once, twice, then a series of low growls and squealy and squelchy sounds. Whatever that needed to be expelled from the bottom, could do so with ease, aided by the fast flowing undercurrents at the pool bed, and everything would be swept away downstream, where more streams and pools form a network of budding freshwater lotus farms near the cave-home.
The next time Lan Zhan saw Wei Ying, he practised his guqin while two walking rabbits carried the younger, unconscious - but visibly relieved - man using their forepaws, back to the bedroom; Wei Ying was already bathed and dried with a towel, and he was tenderly tucked into the bed for another musical healing session by the master of the house. Lan Zhan kept to his and the spouse’s promise, of doing it at least once a day - and he didn’t think Wei Ying’s enfeebled body could take more stress than it should. He had pleasured and relieved Wei Ying once earlier that day, at the front and now the back, so that should be enough for a job well done - for now.