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Stay Up ‘Til Sunrise

Chapter Text

When the tree branches had torn through his heart, tearing his spirit realm apart from the inside out, Feng Xi was certain that he would never wake again. He had made peace with the thought. His last act was to put down roots in the once fertile land that had been his home, to reclaim just a piece of what had once been his—not nearly enough, but it would have to do.

 

Such had been his conviction that the first few times he regained consciousness, he did not remember much of them. Elfins had no souls, and so when they died, they did not go to the Underworld to seek reincarnation as humans would. They were born of nature and to nature they would return, all flesh and blood dissolved, their spirits dispersing to the four corners of the earth, and Feng Xi was okay with this end. Not quite content, but he could and did accept it.

 

It was better not to have a second chance anyways, he thought. Given how his life had ended, watching his dream of returning home dissolve along with Xiao Hei’s Domain, he did not know if he quite wanted to run from this ending to live out another one. He was so tired of running all the time. Yes…better to sleep forever, in a verdant grave of his own making, and never worry about a thing again. And that’s what he did.

 

Except now, he was awake again. Undeniably so.

 

He came to in a sudden moment of clarity, consciousness striking him almost like a physical blow. It was brighter than he expected, wherever he was, so he kept his eyes closed, eyelids fluttering as he struggled to adjust, though all the while, the confusion that burned within him seemed to gnaw at his very sanity. The end of the battle at Long You, the Domain popping like a bubble before his eyes, his last words for Xiao Hei—it was all coming back to him now.

 

How…?

 

Am I…alive again?

 

Feng Xi forced his eyes open at last. He found himself standing inside a simple, traditional-looking house, all papered windows and painted wood. The view outside the window reveals a thin slice of land, then tranquil water, and further beyond that…nothing. Just white emptiness stretched out as far as he could see, and his heart sank in his chest. He knows this place, or more precisely, he knows its owner. No matter how long it has been, he could still instantly recognize the spiritual energy signature that reverberated throughout this space.

 

What am I doing inside Wu Xian’s spirit realm? he thought, and for the first time in a long time, panic welled up in Feng Xi throat, threatening to strangle him. He had been so sure that he had died, that he would sleep forever on the land that had once been his home, and yet here he was. How did this happen? Why am I even here?

 

The entrance to the house was just across the room he had awoken in. Feng Xi tried to run toward it, but he only made it a few steps before realizing that he could go no further. It was as if there was an invisible rope tied to him, keeping him tethered within a certain range. What even…?! He whipped his head around once more to scan the room, and this time his eye snagged on what appears to be a potted bonsai sitting on a small table near the window.

 

The pot itself was not particularly noteworthy, just a shallow ceramic urn, but the tiny plant growing within it drew him in somehow. He felt…calmer when he was looking at it. Heavy and warm. More grounded. It was almost like he was back in his tree in Longyou again, and the feeling increased in strength as he came nearer. He blinked, then reached out to try and touch the plant, only to bite back a cry of alarm when he actually saw his arm—it was nearly transparent, with only the faintest outline of light to mark the location of his hand and the rest of the limb. A frantic examination revealed that the rest of his body was in a similar state.

 

“Oh,” he said out loud for the time, and his voice came out thin and cracked from disuse, barely louder than a whisper. He winced at the sound before he turned to look at the bonsai again. The plant was familiar, he realized now, and he even was starting to understand just where he had interacted with it before. He recognized its verdant leaves and its core of spiritual energy—it made him feel like he was back in Long You because it had been a part of his tree all along. A cutting, if he was not mistaken.

 

Feng Xi stared wide-eyed at the cutting, feeling a little crazed. In that moment he wished with all his might that he would cease to exist upon his next breath, that he would return back home to his blissful, unknowing sleep. Because slumbering under the earth once more is much more preferable to thinking about the innumerable, inscrutable reasons why Wu Xian has done this—why he has taken a piece of Feng Xi’s living grave marker and planted it into his own spirit realm, sheltered within the house that appears to be the last remainder of Wu Xian’s days as a normal human.

 

His wish went ungranted.

 

This makes no sense, he thought numbly. None of this made any sense—he was alive again, and inside Wu Xian’s spirit realm of all places, and the man had taken a cutting from his tree for what purpose? To remember him by? The very thought made Feng Xi scoff.

 

He pressed his fingers against his forehead, forcibly quelling his emotions. Okay, one thing at a time, he told himself, taking a deep breath. He tried moving around the room once more, testing his boundaries, and it is soon apparent that the bonsai plant was the source of his limited motion. He could not walk more than a few steps away from it before his motions were halted. From what little he could deduce, it seemed possible that the bonsai’s presence had something to do with his return to consciousness as well. A true miracle indeed, he thought bitterly, and he almost thought that Wu Xian had intended for this to happen before he dismissed the thought. He was the antithesis of everything Wu Xian had stood for in four hundred years. The executor had no reason to wish him alive again.

 

Still, now Feng Xi was alive and conscious again, whether he liked it or not. That meant he needed a plan for what to do. The enormity of the problem before him almost made him want to pull his hair out—Wu Xian was sure to notice Feng Xi’s presence as soon as he returned, and although the executor was not the type to kill him in cold blood, he was still bound to notify the Guild. Every executor in the world would know that Feng Xi was alive again, and the rest of the elfin world would eventually find out by extension—Xu Huai, Luo Zhu, Tian Hu. Even Xiao Hei. They would all know.

 

Feng Xi fought back a wave of terror at the thought. Within Wu Xian’s spirit realm, he had no way of knowing how much time has passed since the events of Long You. Were Xu Huai and the others alright? Were they still being imprisoned by the guild? He could only hope that they had the sense to pin the majority of blame on him and make off with lighter sentences, but deep in his heart, he knew they were too loyal for that, had loved him too much for that. If they knew he was alive again, he knew they would fight tooth and nail to return to his side, and that was the last thing he wanted.

 

His friends deserved better. They had always been meant to live a carefree life that was not weighed down by his choices. He was the one who had stolen Xiao Hei’s Domain, who had selfishly gone off and died and left them all behind with his mistakes. No, Feng Xi, how can we blame you for any of that? he could almost picture them saying, but he did not want their understanding or their forgiveness. He didn’t deserve it. He just wanted them to be free and happy, and that would come to pass only if he managed to stay out of the picture.

 

And what of Xiao Hei? He wonders what became of the little elfin, if the child had recovered from his trauma, if he was even still a child anymore.

 

He had not meant to hurt Xiao Hei at the beginning. It was true that he had manipulated him into coming to Li island with him, had hoped to manipulate him to hate humans, but he had truly not planned ahead to use his Siege on the child, not until that moment on the rooftop. Not that it changed anything. All intentions aside, he had chosen to do what he did, nearly killing the child in the process. He had accepted responsibility for his actions long ago.

 

I’m so tired, he thought, subconsciously stepping closer and closer to the bonsai plant on the table. All this time, the tree cutting had been maintaining a gentle tug on his effervescent form, its pull soft and mesmerizing, like a lullaby. I just wanted it all to be over. Why do I even have to deal with all this again?

 

He was only an arm’s length away from the plant now. Waves of calm, soothing energy washed over him, and he reached out almost helplessly to lay a translucent hand on the bonsai’s tiny trunk. The effect is immediate—an indescribably warm and comforting sensation sweeps through his mind, concluding with a pleasant weight of drowsiness, and he could have almost wept with relief. Maybe this was my punishment of some sort…a taste of what coming back to life would entail, he thought as consciousness slipped away for what was hopefully the last time.

 

He prayed that he would not wake again.