She is the reason old sailors believe it is dangerous to have a woman on board.
Ships reach shore drained dry, only empty cots and hammocks swinging cold in the great belly. The port in panic as yet again a ghost ship has reached her final port. Too frantic with dark legends or rumors to notice her slip past between shadows. A mere woman cloaked black and silent through the night. No danger to any man who might look her way - and so much crueler than any man who might wish her harm.
Of course, He Xuan has lived many years feeding off crew and tossing corpses to the sharks she admires. Free, hungry things of the vast blank oceans. A sense of comradery she never found in life now takes shape in gray-dark beasts of sharp teeth and instinct. Creatures who wish to survive to the next day and little more. She liked sharks, and cold, dead things were always amused by the living.
Which is why, when He Xuan met her , she was not really surprised at how quickly she grew fond.
Shi Qingxuan was a creature of sunlight mornings and brilliant song. Her hair lit with fire in the day and curled softly down her shoulders when she smiled. Giggling while her Captain brother barked orders to the men, his glare fierce when any eyes lingered too long on his sister. Carrying his authority like the silver blade at his side and kept Shi Qingxuan in his sight. Always…
Or at least when she was not with He Xuan.
He Xuan did not discriminate between killing men or women. Her preference of sailors typically meant one gender was easier but Shi Qingxuan danced across her brother’s ship as they set to sea in the late evening. Her body humming with excitement, the sing-song tale of her pulse ringing across He Xuan’s skin. Innocently flirtatious as the crew cheered for her, clambered to help her in any way while ducking swiftly when the Captain was in sight.
This made it easy for He Xuan to be close, the only other woman on board. A special case, traveling with Captain Shi Wudu’s arranged cargo route. Acting humble through the strange glances as the presumed widow came aboard in the night. Tucking away into the room provided for her and Sh Qingxuan. Privacy important for such delicate beings.
“Ming-Jie? Have you sailed before?” Shi Qingxuan took to He Xuan the moment the first night came around and He Xuan rose from their chambers. Meeting her companion with startled eyes as the pretty woman came crashing into her, thrilled to meet her and clutching to her arm.
“Many times.” He Xuan answered honestly, watching the moon across a dark and rippling sea as the ship cut through the sea with a familiar sound. “And you?” She asks, not because she cares, but because it would be impolite and inhuman to not.
“Ah,” Shi Qingxuan’s smile has not faltered once in their few days together - but now she looks towards the endless ocean and seems hesitant to keep the curve of her lips. “Once.”
There is tragedy in her eyes and He Xuan rests her hand on the curve of the woman’s waist. The fine fabric of her dress does little to hide the warmth of the living body, the pulse which quickens at her touch.
“I assume this is a special occasion?”
Shi Qingxuan is glowing in the dark. The fine flush of her skin apparent in even the limited shine of the moon. The raven hair absorbing the dark and framing her gold in He Xuan’s cold gaze.
“Special…” She trails off, unsure and He Xuan smiles without teeth. Her teeth are sharp and tend to scare fragile ladies.
“You’re being delivered to a husband.” She guesses and wants to laugh. Of course, a classic tale of a brother’s order and a girl’s limited choice.
“Ming-Jie! You say it like it’s so terrible a thing! Hahaha!” Shi Qingxuan laughs, odd and empty as she pushes at He Xuan’s arm. Too rough, but those hands have yet to be tamed with age - spoiled and soft as they were. “Oh.” She squeaks and covers her mouth, looking over the layers of black He Xuan wears and deciding things for herself. Putting together rumor and assumption.
“My husband died many years ago,” She answers and thinks of a man whose face she hardly remembers.
“You’re still so young! Surely a man will happily take you as his bride again.”
“Do you think that’s a comfort?” He Xuan asks, annoyance curling her voice but Shi Qingxuan seems immune. Silly girl. “Are you excited to be given away to a man you’ve never met?” She assumes and the responding look tells her she’s right.
“My brother says he’s a good man.” She answers and looks neither doubtful or sure. “I suppose I just hope to find love.”
“Love?” He Xuan echoes and watches Shi Qingxuan stare off into the dark. The stars were no match for her gaze both dreaming and gentle. Unsoiled by the cruelty of the world He Xuan has witnessed her many years of living. “I don’t think there is such a thing.”
Two weeks into their journey, He Xuan takes Shi Qingxuan into her bed.
She is soft and meek and all the things He Xuan expected of the boasting girl whose heart flutters when He Xuan touches her now and then. Testing the waters curiously - wanting to know if her suspicions were true.
No husband will satisfy this girl who clings to He Xuan’s shoulders. Wanting to touch and be touched in return. Smoldering against He Xuan’s cold skin and kissing her, curious and then hungry. Obsessed and then delighted - a fast learner. Tasting both soft and sweet just as He Xuan imagined she would and oh how trusting this pretty girl made of sunlight and joy is. Sleeping peaceful and exhausted through the morning, curled bare in blankets against He Xuan’s side and daring to smile in her slumber.
He Xuan was planning on slaughtering this crew that night.
She pushes it for another week and kisses Shi Qingxuan’s warm throat. Tracing the darling pulse which hums against her lips like a promise.
“I wish this could be my life.” Shi Qingxuan whines as He Xuan pulls in closer. Feeling something like guilt for waking the mortal.
“Spoiled. I thought you were hoping for love with this husband of yours?” The words taste foul and bitter against her tongue though she doesn't know why.
“Perhaps,” She giggles and rests her head against He Xuan’s collar, petting her cold arms and leaving adoring kisses across her collar. “But I think I would be happy with you.”
“May I ask what you are?”
Shi Qingxuan’s hair is spilled across the bed and their pillows. Intertwined each night while the men of the ship are doozy above, having no thought to what the women are doing locked away and safe from prying eyes.
“What I am?” She questions and when Shi Qingxuan’s hand rests above her silent heart - she realizes she’s not been so careful after all.
“I noticed.” She says, pink mouth frowning - not with fear - but concern. Once again proving she is a stupid, stupid girl for not being afraid.
He Xuan leans back in their bed, her own hand curling around the slight shape of Shi Qingxuan’s wrist and presses her thumb into the pulse. This teasing song which makes her mouth water and should be her only true desire.
“I am something you will regret knowing.”
“No.” Shi Qingxuan smiles in the face of a demon and scoots closer, managing to startle a beast who was drenched in the lives of more people than Shi Qingxuan is likely to have met in her lifetime. “You’re my friend. I will never regret knowing you.”
Her smile is pure sunlight and He Xuan fears her flesh will start to melt under it’s blaze.
“Stupid girl.” She huffs, leaning in to kiss that dangerous joy. “Just a friend?”
He Xuan kills all the crew except for Shi Wudu.
She does hurt him, but it was because he was too arrogant to stand down when his sister begged him not to fight.
He Xuan wishes she could kill him, but Shi Qingxuan holds her brother’s wounded body with tears streaming from those warm eyes. Staring up at He Xuan who laps blood from her teeth and cuts the rope holding the lifeboat so the sturdy little ship crashes to the ocean surface with a dangerous sound.
Delivering the precious cargo from He Xuan's hungry reach.
“The current will take you to shore.” She calls down to the shivering woman who can’t seem to understand the brutality she witnessed. He Xuan had locked her in the room before she fed that night, didn’t want her to see and have the last time Shi Qingxuan looked at her to be with terror. “I warned you.” She speaks, and can’t tell if Shi Qingxuan heard her.
“Ming-Jie…” The girl cries from below, calling out to a stranger.
“My name is He Xuan.” She answers, turning as her black robes catch on the wind and tumble her hair loose and wild about her face. “And I told you, you would regret it.”
He Xuan does not look for news of the rescued Shi siblings, nor does she stay in the city for long.
She does not listen for word of the emptied ship or the Captain and his sister. Does not linger to see what this husband is like or if Shi Qingxuan survived the trek to shore long enough to marry this man. She does not think of Shi Qingxuan the moment she escapes those pleading eyes...will not think of a girl who was not hers and never would be more than a skipped meal.
But He Xuan is haunted by her pulse.
Her voice in the dark, that emptiness suddenly so painfully black that He Xuan is tempted to let the sun in just a bit.
She is old. Older than most of her kind she comes across, and letting her hand slip into the warmth of a cracked window does not kill her - but it gives her a moment to pretend she’s touching warm skin and a giggling throat. Of welcoming eyes and a girl’s mindless prattle as they curl close and follow the weight of one another like a dance to the rock of waves of their ship.
The sunlight exposure eventually burns her, but He Xuan takes the wounds and knows they do not hurt as much as Shi Qingxuan’s expression of fear that night at sea. The sound of her pulse growing further and further away never to be felt again…
Or so she thought.
When Shi Qingxuan’s pulse is heard once more, it belongs to a slower song. Something weary and tired - a woman of many years sitting in a bed and smiling across the room of many things. Gifts from her great nieces and nephews now grown and on their way. Of flowers and cards and trinkets from her long-gone brother’s estate who wish her health in her late years.
Shi Qingxuan may have aged, wrinkled soft, and tired, but her eyes still carry the light of stars. Her smile still causes He Xuan to step back in fear of the sun settling above the horizon.
“He-jie.” The old woman smiles and beckons He Xuan closer, tears peeking against sleepy eyes and when He Xuan takes her hand, there is little strength there. “I hoped to see you again.”
It wasn’t planned, but when a young messenger sought her one evening across the world - message on behalf of the Shi Estate - how could she refuse?
“You should have forgotten me.” She claims, face unmoving but something in her words made Shi Qingxuan chuckle.
“You don’t forget your first love, He-jie. Think better of me.”
Shi Qingxuan never married, never had children or a family of her own. She raised her brother’s children, took care of his home, and lived her life in solitude after he passed. Choosing a luxurious life of loneliness rather than one where she would always be thinking of another.
Or so Shi Qingxuan’s smile says, her feelings slipping through where their hands meet and while He Xuan cannot cry - she misses the action so dearly.
“I wish I could have seen you earlier, I’m not much to look at am I?”
“You’re beautiful.” He Xuan speaks, the pulse like a music box beginning to wind down. Coming to the end of it’s song.
“I wanted to tell you, before I go -“ Shi Qingxuan pats her hand and He Xuan can only see the brilliant girl framed by the moon with sunlight in her veins. “That I don’t regret it.”
“Don’t argue with me, I’m an old woman.” She chuckles once more and He Xuan can feel her life fading and she wants to scream. “You deserved to know.”
“Not the first time you called me that.”
He Xuan sits on the bed, her mind racing. Death is inevitable, death is her patron - why now does she see it as the horrible ugly thing trying to steal what He Xuan should never have?!
“Would you have stayed with me, if I asked?” She questions and clutches at Shi Qingxuan’s pulse as it begins to slip.
“Please Qingxuan, just answer.”
The heart is weary, but the eyes are strong when they smile.
“I would have stayed with you forever if given the chance, He Xuan.”
“Then let me give you the choice.”
Shi Qingxuan pushes at her, her young face glowing in the night as they step off the plane and onto the new land. Glittering in the night, the city just within their sight and He Xuan already has a headache from the screaming pulse of mortals surrounding them.
“But it’s so pretty!” She clings to He Xuan’s arm, resting her soft and youthful cheek against her shoulder. The girl returned to the image of when He Xuan first saw her, the sun setting at her back, the wind tangling her hair - beautiful and made of life.
He Xuan nearly gave every drop of herself to return Shi Qingxuan to this shape all those years ago - and would do it again.
“I’m hungry.” She grumbles and lets Shi Qingxuan hang around her waist. Making it difficult to walk and people stare. Amused or annoyed at the two women causing a ruckus in the late hour of the airport.
“You’re always hungry.”
“I miss boats.”
“No boats!” Shi Qingxuan pouts, tapping the end of He Xuan’s nose and earning a dull bite on her ear in return. “Hey hey! I’m not your meal!”
“That’s not what you said last night.”
If the undead could blush, well, Shi Qingxuan would be the first.
“You’re incorrigible He-jie.” She huffs, standing on her toes to kiss He Xuan. Sweet and gentle. And even though their blood is cold, their skin and touch the same, He Xuan will always feel the sun when holding Shi Qingxuan in her arms.
“Yet you love me.” She speaks, and pretends it wasn’t just to encourage Shi Qingxuan to respond:
“And I’ll love you forever.”