He knew there was something wrong instantly.
In the fact that he could feel fabric under his fingers, that he could hear the soft muffled noises of talking beyond walls, that he could slowly blink his eyes open.
That he was alive…
The light hurt his eyes, making him shut them tightly once more. Everything felt like too much all at once, making him feel disoriented and confused. It was starting to fill his chest up with a bad feeling.
There was also the fact that he couldn’t feel his spiritual energy. It was just a small spark compared to the once raging fire that coursed through his entire being, something that came so easily to him. Without it, it felt like he was being smothered, and he hated the feeling. He absolutely hated it.
Why was his spiritual energy so low?
Why was he alive?
Why why why why---
At that soft, familiar voice, he froze before opening his eyes.
The room was void of almost everything, the only things in it were the bed that he was laying on and a chair in the corner of the room, so he didn’t need to do much searching to find the source of the voice.
Standing there, looking as if he had just risen from the chair with a hand reaching out, was Wuxian, wearing a complicated expression that was hard to decipher. Was it anger? Somewhere along the way, Feng Xi found himself unable to read him.
Feng Xi went to sit up, but didn’t get very far, unable to move his arms more than a few inches off the surface of the bed. Looking down, his wrists were bound to the sides of the bed, along with strange looking bracelets that seemed vaguely familiar, one silver band wrapped around each wrist.
He let out a humorless laugh, shaking his head. “So, I’m a prisoner now?”
Moments passed, and yet he received no response. That’s fine. He didn’t need one. With how everything looked to him, he pieced it together without Wuxian having to say anything. The air between them was heavy, and Feng Xi couldn’t bring himself to look up, to look at Wuxian. He didn’t want to see whatever expression the other was wearing. It wouldn’t matter anyways.
There was a soft click, and the door to the room opened up.
“Gege? You’re still here?” Another familiar voice. “I thought I told you to go and-- Ah! Feng Xi, you’re awake!”
Xing smiled widely, her voice not holding back on any of her obvious happiness. “Why didn’t you tell me he was awake?” She turned to Wuxian, shoving him lightly with a pout on her face. “I told you to let me know of any changes!”
“I only just woke up,” Feng Xi answered, finding it much easier to talk to her. “I’m assuming we’re at the guild right now.”
“Mm, we are,” Xing answered as she walked over to the side of his bed and reached out, grabbing onto his arm gently and turning it in order to place her fingers on the inside of his wrist, “but not for very long. Oh, gege, I almost forgot, Xiao Hei was asking for you earlier.”
Until now, Wuxian had just been standing in the middle of the room, his eyes never leaving the floor. He had been almost as still as a statue, not even daring to take large breaths. Hearing this, however, he gave an abrupt small bow in thanks before silently leaving the room, making sure to close the door softly behind him.
Slowly, the heavy weight of the room lifted, and Feng Xi found himself able to breathe. He allowed Xing to examine him, keeping quiet to allow the other elfin to concentrate, but his eyes wandered down and saw how, on her wrists, Xing wore a very similar pair of bracelets, like the ones he was currently wearing himself.
A memory itched in his head, but no matter what he couldn’t remember why he recognized them or what significance they held.
“Hush, you know I’m not that good at examinations. Don’t think that just because I haven’t seen you in so many years, I’ll go easy on you.” Her voice held a light playfulness to it, one he was familiar with, knowing that her threats at the moment were nothing to be taken serious.
That’s why he wasn’t afraid to speak. “What’re these bracelets?”
Her eyes shot open, blinking at him a few times before looking down to Feng Xi’s wrists. She dragged a finger down the surface of his bracelet, letting out a heavy sigh before looking back up at him.
“If you feel well enough, the guild leader wants to speak to you. Once he explains everything to you, you’ll be leaving the guild with me.”
Officially, it was already spring season, but the air was still harsh and biting.
Trees were in the process of regrowing the leaves they had lost a few months prior, flowers were struggling to sprout from the still cold earth. Humans walked around still bundled up, but lost more layers as the days continued to gradually get warmer.
It was a time of new beginnings and birth.
And the time for illness!
Xiao Hei frowned, trying his best to hide his slight disgust. “I thought you said you wouldn’t get sick like this.”
Sniffling, Xiaobai shook her head. “I’m not getting sick! I promise!” As soon as she said this, she sneezed once more before sniffling. “It’s allergies from pollen.”
Elfins didn’t have this problem like some humans did, and Xiao Hei was still learning what exactly that meant. Either way, he was still concerned for his friend's health, so the boy removed the scarf he had previously been forced to wear and wrapped it around Xiaobai loosely. He didn’t need it anyways, the springtime air was actually refreshing to him.
“We better hurry up then, before you actually do catch a cold.”
“Ah, it’s so nice having a didi worry about me,” Xiaobai said with a laugh, quickening her steps to catch up to him as she fixed the scarf around her neck.
“It’s only because you have gross snot dripping from your nose.”
“That’s a cruel trick to play, Xiao Hei.”
Xiao Hei snickered, enjoying teasing the human girl. He opened his mouth to say something more, but suddenly stopped in his tracks and looked around. Xiaobai waited patiently, tilting her head a little in confusion as she watched him search for something.
His eyes must land on the target, because suddenly he’s beaming. “Shifu!!” He calls out, hoping a little bit in excitement before turning back to Xiaobai. “Shifu’s here, I godda go!”
“Leaving me for your shifu,” she said with a long, dramatic sigh before smiling. “Go ahead, I can get to school just fine without you walking me. See you later?”
“En!” He nodded before rushing off, turning around on his heels to give a large wave that Xiaobai returned as they went their separate ways.
Xiao Hei weaved through the crowd of people effortlessly, the years of training making him agile to avoid colliding with anyone or truly getting in anyone's way as he ran, unable to contain his obvious excitement. It didn’t take very long for him to spot Wuxian, and didn’t even bother to hold back as he crashed into, wrapping his arms around his teacher. There was only a slight movement from the impact, but no matter what Xiao Hei knew that Wuxian would always catch him, and would always be stable.
Wuxian ruffled Xiao Hei’s hair, a small fond smile spreading across his face without realizing it. “You’ve gotten better at detecting others, I think that was the quickest you found me.”
“I’ll always be able to find you in a crowd, shifu,” Xiao Hei said, his voice muffled from where he was pressed against Wuxian before looking up at him, wearing an expression of determination. “You can’t hide from me that easily.”
“Oh? Does that mean you won’t be able to detect anyone else? I guess that means you really haven’t made any progress, it seems.”
Xiao Hei’s eyes widened for a moment, the smile on his face dropping before being replaced by a pout, cheeks puffed out and eyebrows furrowed. The expression tugged at Wuxian’s heart, instantly overcome with fondness for his little disciple. “I’m not that weak, of course I can detect others, I just don’t care for them as much.”
Once again, Wuxian ruffled Xiao Hei’s hair as the young elfin pulled away, finally detaching himself from the other and followed by his side as Wuxian began walking.
Wuxian walked with his hands held together behind his back, his steps almost as smooth as if he were flying. Xiao Hei always finds himself trying to copy a walk like his, one full of confidence and grace. However, he still walks childlike, carefree, with his arms swinging by his sides. One day he’ll be able to walk like his shifu, but until then, Wuxian has told him to keep that carefree stride in his steps.
However, even after a few steps, Xiao Hei could tell there was something not quite right with Wuxian, and he frowned a little in concern. Wuxian’s shoulders were unusually stiff, and the graceful stride is replaced with one full of mild urgency.
“Shifu?” Xiao Hei called out, receiving no answer to his call but knew that Wuxian was listening intently, as he always did. “Did something happen? What’s wrong?”
There wasn’t much Wuxian could hide from Xiao Hei these days. The child, although having just turned 13 not too long ago, was extremely perceiving and the two read each other very well.
As Wuxian’s steps slowly came to a stop, so did Xiao Hei’s, who stood by his side and patiently waited for his answer. It might take a few moments for Wuxian to find the words, but he’ll answer when his heart has settled a little, once he finds the right words, as words weren’t something that came to Wuxian easily.
People passed by them like a flowing river around rocks, and the longer the silence dragged on, the more Xiao Hei realized just how much, whatever happened, affected him. With slightly trembling shoulders, Wuxian let out a breath before turning his head towards Xiao Hei.
It still took a few moments for Wuxian to speak, but finally he opened his mouth and said, “Feng Xi is awake.”
The rain hits the building in a soft pattering sound, giving some noise to the otherwise quiet room. It had been sunny earlier today, but now it was grey, wet and cold.
Feng Xi looked around as his chest clenched in a very spiteful way.
He didn’t want to be here. He didn’t want to be contained inside four walls, he didn’t want to be trapped. This felt suffocating, and he felt his head spin at the slight panic this brought about inside of him, tearing at his throat, wanting to be set free, telling him to get out of here as quickly as possible.
But he was tired of fighting. With no more energy to fight and protest, Feng Xi remained compliant and said nothing as he stood in the middle of the room, staring out the sliding glass door to the world outside, covered in rain. From where he was, he couldn’t see any green, only grey upon grey upon cement and steel and brick and it was wet and disgusting.
Slowly, he turned to look at Xing, who was standing a ways away from him under the entrance way of another room. She was frowning, showing her obvious concern for him. “Were you listening to me?”
He was so, so tired of fighting. “Sorry,” he said, giving a smile that must’ve looked more exhausted than it did apologetic, “I didn’t catch what you were saying. I must’ve zoned out for a moment.”
Xing shook her head as she walked over to him, that expression never leaving her face as she placed a hand gently on his shoulder. “I know this is probably not where you want to be,” she said, her voice gentle and kind as she spoke, understanding, “but this is the best solution to everything. And either way, I’m really glad that you’re back, Feng Xi.”
He didn’t doubt that, she had no reason to lie to him. It’s been many, many years since they last spoke, and it probably hadn’t been under favorable circumstances either. He can vaguely remember being locked up by the guild, and Xing being one of the ones to plead for his innocence. He never got to thank her for that time, but now was many years too late, many mistakes and regrets too late.
“I think I would like to be alone for now. I’m really tired from everything that went on.”
Nodding in understanding, Xing took her hand off his shoulder and took a small step back. “Like I said, I’m in the apartment right across from you, but in case I’m not there, this entire building houses only elfins, so feel free to go to anyone else with your questions.”
Giving a nod and waving to each other, Feng Xi was left alone in the middle of that cage that he was supposed to call home now. The silence brought from it was almost deafening, the white noise given by the gently falling rain giving absolutely no relief.
In the forests, out in the open, there was always some noise going on. The whistling of the breeze, trees dancing and leaves rustling about, the soft noises created by the call of an animal or an insect. Forests were live, breathing every minute.
Cities were artificial, lifeless and dull regardless of how many lives it held within. They were sharp and harsh. Painful. Suffocating. They lacked any true comfort and warmth, and the places that held living beings, the places they called home, were enclosed and separated from each other, as if no one could stand the thought of being anywhere near one another or even seeing each other.
But that doesn’t matter now, does it?
Feng Xi looked down at his right wrist, and the glittering of the silver band around his wrists was bright. Twisting his arm this way and that, there was no possible way he could remove it. It almost taunted him with how bright it looks compared to the bleak and dark situation he was in. Frustration started to bubble up from within, and he had to shut his eyes for a moment to ground himself and focus on his breathing. No matter how much he acted out, he’d only feel exhausted afterwards and would have made absolutely no progress.
Once calmed, he opened his eyes once more, and frowned in confusion.
On his right hand, wrapped around his middle finger, was a small metal band. It was a darker colour than the silver of the bracelets, and had a blue hue to it. He twisted the band around his finger a few times, trying to figure out if there was a reason for it being there, but no matter what he came up blank. Too much went on, going by so quickly, that he hadn’t even realized it was there until the grey light from outside touched it, making it shine softly.
Without his spiritual energy, there was no way he could determine what it does, so he gave up and let it be. His main concern was the bracelets anyways.
Overcome by exhaustion, Feng Xi sighed and slowly walked through the apartment space, not paying enough attention to his surroundings to remember every detail until he found the bedroom. His mind was too much of a muddled mess for him to even think about anything else other than to lay down on the bed and stare blankly at the ceiling.
He hasn't felt exhaustion this extreme in so long that he couldn’t quite remember the last time. Without his spiritual energy, he felt himself tiring out quicker, mind and reflexes not as sharp, almost as if there was a fog surrounding him, disorienting.
Staring up at the blank ceiling, Feng Xi drifted off to sleep thinking of what the guild leader had told him…
Xing led Feng Xi through the guild halls.
It was much different than what it had been the last time he walked through the halls, and he wondered when and why they decided to change it up. There was some areas that look vaguely familiar to him, but overall it felt like an entirely different place, one that he was sure he’d got lost in if he were to attempt this alone. It would probably trap him within and lead him astray, as if he were running through a maze.
They walked through halls and up flights of stairs, all void of any elfins as they reached the upper floors. Feng Xi had no doubt in his mind it was because they all knew he was here and awake. No one wanted to cross paths with him. It was a surprise to him that he wasn’t chained and shackled up, like he was so sure they wanted to do to him.
“We’re here,” Xing said, her voice cutting through the bitter thoughts that had clouded Feng Xi’s mind. She stood before wooden sliding doors, facing him as she gave him an encouraging smile. “He just wants to talk with you and tell you some things. I’ll be right out here, so once you’re done, we can leave.”
Feng Xi was unable to find any words to say, as he was sure whatever he said now would be something spiteful and venomous, so he just gave a small nod in thanks and understanding before walking through the doors.
Sunlight poured into the room through a large, open balcony that looked down upon the entrance to the guild, showing off blue sky upon blue waters. The warmth and openness of the area made Feng Xi pause for a moment. He had been sure they would throw him into a dark room meant for judgement. It certainly wouldn’t surprise him at this point, as he was used to the guild lying through their teeth with empty promises and fake hospitality.
Now, they would have all the more reason to deceive him than they did years ago.
Next to the balcony was a small table with a set of chairs on either side, one of them being currently occupied.
“You don’t have to stand, come and sit. I’m sure your strength hasn’t returned to you just yet,” Pan Jing said, his voice calling out just loud enough for Feng Xi to hear.
So many emotions twisted inside of Feng Xi’s entire being, painful, dark, ugly. His fists clenched by his side. He wanted to get out of here, he didn’t want to be here, he didn’t want to be treated like this only to find out they’re going to keep him as a prisoner. If that’s what they wanted, then they should’ve just left him be, death would have been more of a blessing than whatever hell they were going to shove him in.
Blinding anger took hold of Feng Xi’s heart, and in a blink he was holding Pan Jing by the collar in a death grip. “What do you want from me?” he spat, not holding back any of the spite he held deep inside his heart. “I could destroy you right now and not have to go through any of the bullshit you plan on putting me through.”
Pan Jing frowned, but other than that his expression was calm and unbothered, as if his current position meant nothing to him. “Maybe you could have, once. But do you really have the energy to do so now? Do you still hold your will to fight?”
Feng Xi gritted his teeth.
Yes, he was angry. Yes, he held deep spite for the guild. Yes, he wanted out of this place and would do whatever he had to to do so.
But he really had no burning energy to fight. He just felt… Exhausted. Tired.
He really was tired, wasn’t he?
It was as if all the previous energy he had before was sucked away from him, and Feng Xi let go of Pan Jing’s clothes before sitting down, his legs unable to hold his own weight anymore. It would bring him a lot of satisfaction to punch Pan Jing in the face right now, but his limbs felt like they weighed a ton, and he couldn’t bring himself to move anymore.
Silence settled between them, only interrupted by the soft noise beyond the balcony and what Feng Xi thinks he can hear is Xing’s pacing behind the door. The boiling emotions from earlier cool and simmer down to small embers, almost completely extinguished by his exhaust and sudden fatigue.
Pan Jing takes a sip from a cup before pouring tea from the kettle between them into the empty cup in front of Feng Xi. “Some tea will help clear your mind,” he says as he places the kettle back down.
Feng Xi gives the cup a quick glance, watching as steam gently rises up from the hot liquid. There was absolutely no way he was going to drink it, regardless of the fact that Pan Jing made a show of it being completely harmless. He didn’t trust this place.
Seeing as though this entire conversation would go nowhere if they continued like this, Pan Jing sighed heavily. “I’m sure you may have many questions, so ask away.”
“What do you plan on doing with me?” Feng Xi asked quickly, wanting to know exactly what their plans were for him. He didn’t want to be lead on and pulled about anymore, he just wanted to know what was in store for him.
“We don’t plan on doing anything with you,” Pan Jing answered calmly, “all we ask is for your cooperation.”
“Cooperation in what?”
“We found that locking up your gang was not the best course of action not too long after… Well, after your plan. They were to serve their time here as punishment for many years to come, but we were given another idea that seems to be working more effectively.”
Feng Xi frowned. He was glad to hear that his friends weren’t locked up, that they seem to have spent their years without him happily, but… “What other ideas?”
“They are given freedom under certain circumstances depending on what they choose.”
“That’s not freedom,” Feng Xi snapped. “You’re just putting them all on a leash. In what way is this a better option?”
“Given that you and your group put not only elfin lives at risk, but humans as well, I don’t think you get to make any sort of demands. Especially since you came extremely close to killing Xiao Hei,” Pan Jing leaned back, unfazed by Feng Xi’s minor outburst.
Pan Jing’s words were almost like a physical punch to Feng Xi, tensing up and freezing. No, a physical hit would be much better than this, he knew how to handle that sort of pain, not the one that he felt deep within his body, because he knew that was true. He knew that everything that happened was because of his impulsive actions, and he left his friends to deal with the aftermath of it alone.
Slowly, Feng Xi’s body relaxed as he got over the shock of Pan Jing’s words and succumbed once again to fatigue. “So, is that what these are?” Feng Xi asked, his words mumbled and monotoned, void of any emotion that he had before as he lazily held up an arm, showing off the silver bracelet on his wrist. “Are these pretty much your leashes?”
Giving a small hum, Pan Jing shook his head. “No, those are something specifically meant for you. None of your friends wear those, except for you and Xing.”
Ah, well, at least he was glad they didn’t have to go through this suffocating feeling of not having their spiritual energy running freely. “Then I hope you’ll at least tell me what they are.”
“I was sure Xing would have told you upon your waking up, but I guess she figured it was best to hear it from me. Those bracelets are something we’ve been testing out for many years now. You may remember Xing mentioning them while you were still part of the guild, but they were designed to suppress an elfins spiritual energy and their abilities. They’re not completely cut off, but you’ll find that it’ll be much more difficult for you to even perform the smallest things you once did so effortlessly. This includes your ability Siege, which has been completely severed.”
So that’s what it really was, huh?
They figure he can’t be trusted anywhere, so they’re destroying and suppressing the part of him they can’t control. They’re afraid he’ll use Siege again and try something else, destroy more, maybe even successfully kill someone this time.
Just the thought alone, the thought of even planning something out, the thought of doing something as drastic as he did before, it made everything just hurt worse, and Feng Xi is starting to wonder just how much can he hurt before he’s torn apart from the inside out.
In a way, he couldn’t blame them.
He didn’t trust himself to run freely either.
“How long do I have these on for? Forever?”
“Of course not,” Pan Jing said, taking another sip from his cup. “You’ll be given back your spiritual energy and abilities once the one supervising you feels as though you can be trusted. Only they can remove the bracelets.”
Feng Xi wanted to ask more, ask who was supposed to be supervising him, but he found that he didn’t truly care enough to bother asking. And he was sure that, if he were to, they wouldn’t tell him. Feng Xi was an extremely powerful elfin with spiritual energy, without it he can only rely on brute force and even then he was still strong. They would think he’d try to force the other to remove the bracelet.
The silence dragged on for a bit before Pan Jing cleared his throat and leaned forward, clasping his hands together on the table. “Well, if that’s all the questions you have about the bracelets, then let’s move on to our next topic.”
Pan Jing then went on to explain to Feng Xi where he would be staying and how they would monitor him. The guild had decided that for elfins who didn’t want to join human society and were taken into custody for one reason or another, instead of isolating them within the guild they would instead either be tasked with working as an Executor for the guild, or willingly live among humans for the duration of their sentence. Only after their sentence will they be given the option to leave the guild, or to stay where they are.
Seeing as how Feng Xi’s case was special, in that he couldn’t be allowed access to his spiritual energy and abilities, he wasn’t given the freedom to choose between the options. The only options he was given was to be locked up within the guild as a prisoner, or to live in the city of Long You around humans and elfins alike.
He hated the city, and the thought of living in one made his blood boil, but he hated the guild even more and refused to be locked up, so it was almost a no brainer for him.
There is an apartment building that they give residency to elfins, Pan Jing explained. It was a bit of mercy they could give to Feng Xi for the time being, as adjusting to living near humans would be too much stress for an elfin like him, who had lived so long surrounded by only his kind, to handle.
Most of the information after that went right through one ear and out the other. Feng Xi found himself lost in a fog in his own mind, a static taking over his entire mind and being. There was something about finances, accommodation, he wasn’t sure and he couldn’t find it in himself to care enough to listen at any point.
Time passed weirdly within the realm of the guild, by the time Pan Jing was finished saying what he wanted, Feng Xi wasn’t sure how much time had passed since he entered this room. There was a noise that sounded like conversation, but his mind couldn’t make out the words being spoken or if it was even directed at him. What finally broke him out of his dazed state was a hand placed gently on his shoulder, and a soft call that sounded like his name.
Blinking a few times, Feng Xi finally turned and looked up to see Xing staring at him with concern. “Are you alright?” she asked, moving her hand to rub soothingly at his shoulder.
He didn’t know how to respond because he couldn’t feel anything at all, just numbness and pain and exhaustion.
Somehow, Xing must understand, because she’s gently leading him to stand from the chair and finally taking him away from the guild, speaking soft words of encouragement and support that Feng Xi really can’t wrap his mind around, but appreciates her trying either way.
As they’re leaving, all Feng Xi can think of his how everything would be better off if they just left him alone, let him succumb to the fate he had chosen for himself. Surely everything would have been better off that way.