Zhao Yunlan, or rather, Kunlun right now, has no idea how to get them out of this situation.
“This” being “Shen Wei and him, surrounded by more bandits Zhao Yunlan is strictly comfortable with (that number being zero), their backs against a sheer cliff whose top is lined with archers”.
There’s no way around it: they’re surrounded. Behind them is the cliff, easily four times of his height – even if he wants to demonstrate his non-existent rock-climbing prowess, he’d be shot down before he even gets halfway. In front of them is an entire camp of bandits, bristling with weapons and scraggly sharp-eyed daemons.
Jinghong growls. His daemon is crouched at his feet, ready to spring, but he knows better than to make a foolhardy charge like that. Zhao Yunlan is bold, not stupid, and certainly not suicidal.
He fingers his gun. Ma Gui and Fu You have reassured him that he would succeed in returning to his own time, but he honestly can’t see how they can escape unscathed from this situation. The bandits are not even of Dixing descent; they’re Haixing through-and-through, which is why they are even in this situation to begin with: Shen Wei kept pulling his blows.
The bandit leader shouts something, and Zhao Yunlan can hear the archers drawing their bows above them. He tenses, ready to make a run for it, but Shen Wei stops him with a jerk of his head. Dark energy spins like condensed galaxies in his cupped palms, and then Shen Wei thrusts both palms up like he’s going to shield them by sheer force of will just as the first wave of arrows descend.
Zhao Yunlan can’t help but flinch, but the arrows bounce off an invisible shield above their heads.
Enraged, the bandits in front of them charge as well, brandishing their weapons. Shen Wei grits his teeth, and somehow the forcefield splits further, covering their fronts as well as their heads. He grunts as the bandits slam bodily into the shield, staggering slightly from the impact, but the forcefield doesn’t waver.
It’s taking a tremendous toll on him, though. Beads of sweat dot Shen Wei’s brow, his arms trembling faintly, and it makes Zhao Yunlan’s heart ache.
He grips the hilt of his gun. “Once they run out of arrows, we can make a break for it.”
“No – need,” Shen Wei forces the words out through gritted teeth, “my daemon – nearby.”
As if that’s supposed to be a relief to Zhao Yunlan? Even if Shen Wei’s daemon isn’t physically trapped in here with them, what can it do except attempt to seek help? They’re in the middle of a wilderness on a scouting mission far from their base, none of their allies will be anywhere near here.
Shen Wei’s eyes are closed, so he can’t see the way Zhao Yunlan’s fists clench. He isn’t sure what kind of effect his dark energy gun will have on Haixing humans, but he refuses to go to his death like a coward, hiding behind Shen Wei’s faltering strength.
The ground shakes, the very trees trembling, and a shower of tiny rocks from the cliff pepper Shen Wei’s shield.
Jinghong whimpers, tucking his tail between his legs. He isn’t the only one; the bandits in front of them back away, their daemons cowering, their eyes darting to something happening on the cliff above them.
Slowly, Zhao Yunlan looks up.
And up – okay, that would be because of the height of the cliff.
The archers are fleeing in terror, but there’s a dark shape up there, its silhouette dwarfing the escaping humans.
Zhao Yunlan stares.
He has seen giant pandas in the zoo before; he has even bought a panda plushie for Shen Wei once, after he spots Shen Wei lingering by a shop display. At the time, he thought it was cute: the great Professor Shen, who keeps hand-drawn sketches of bears and looks longingly at panda-themed toys.
Zhao Yunlan doesn’t expect to find out, a thousand years into the past, that his whole life has been a lie.
‘Giant panda’ is a total misnomer for those fluffy creatures in the zoo, because those? Those are dwarf pandas. This right here is a giant panda, and judging from the sharp teeth in its gaping maw, it’s not an herbivore.
The giant panda takes a casual step off the cliff, landing in front of them.
That’s also the precise moment Shen Wei’s strength gives out. Zhao Yunlan dives to catch him before he falls, but it’s like they’re at ground zero of an earthquake, the ground shaking so much that he doesn’t manage to keep his own balance. They both go down like sacks of rice, Zhao Yunlan barely twisting himself enough such that Shen Wei lands on top of him.
Jinghong dutifully gets between Zhao Yunlan and the dire panda, his teeth bared in a facsimile of a growl, even though all Zhao Yunlan can feel from him is the instinct to flee.
Shen Wei props himself up on his elbows, panting for breath. “Jinghong,” he gasps, “it’s okay.”
The dire panda cocks its head in a very human-like gesture, and then flops down on the ground. At least he’s already lying down, Zhao Yunlan reflects ruefully, as Jinghong goes tumbling with a little yip of alarm.
“Thank you, Xinqu.”
That’s the name of –
“Your daemon,” Zhao Yunlan asks weakly, “it’s not a firefly?”
Shen Wei blinks. “Whoever told you Xinqu was a firefly?”