Ever since he moved to Longyou, Wu Xian’s life had settled into a regular routine. Every day, he got out of bed at six o’ clock and turned on the TV to watch the morning news.
During this time, the television stations never aired any good shows. Wu Xian usually left the television on as background noise, but today, the show playing was about a fire in the Amazon rainforest.
While he was brushing his teeth in the bathroom, Wu Xian stuck his head out to watch. There was no image of the rainforest left on TV, only orange-red fire and gray-black smoke. The two television hosts made full use of the Q&A format to explain how such a fire could burn even in the rainforest.
They said, this was a special natural phenomenon known as a dry thunderstorm. When the weather is hot and dry, lightning striking dead wood can cause fires. Temperatures in the air rise too high, evaporating the water before it even gets to the ground.
But if the rain never fell, then the wildfire would continue to burn.
The television hosts then changed the conversation, saying that Longyou City will also have a thunderstorm tonight, and they hoped all the citizens would prepare accordingly.
Wu Xian’s hand stopped brushing his teeth for a long time. He spat out toothpaste.
Wu Xian came to know Feng Xi because of a wildfire, too.
At that time, Longyou City didn’t exist. Everywhere as far as the eye could see was covered in forest. Lightning fell in the middle of the night and struck some unlucky tree, and so the fire started. By the time Wuxian had arrived, half the night sky had been lit up by the flames.
There were still a few people living here and there, and Wu Xian hurriedly brought them next to a stream. Upon hearing further movement in the forest, he faced the flames and walked back in.
It was then and there that he first saw Feng Xi—a panther leaped out of the blaze, carrying rabbits, squirrels, and a litany of other creatures as he ran. When he saw Wu Xian, he picked the human up as well to help him escape.
“......” Wu Xian was speechless for a while. At the time, he thought that this elfin was a little stupid, but good-intentioned.
And so he hopped off of Feng Xi’s back, grabbing a rabbit that had nearly fallen out of Feng Xi’s mouth as they continued to run towards the river. He said, “I’m here to help. Are there any elfins left in the forest?
The panther turned to stare at him for some time, then he abruptly transformed into his human form. He placed all the little animals he had still been holding into Wu Xian’s hands.
Feng Xi still was not proficient in the art of transformation at the time. He could not hide his big tail away, so it remained outside, swishing back and forth anxiously. He said, “I’ll leave these elfins to you. I’m going to go back to the forest.”
“Does the forest still have any elfins?” Wu Xian asked again.
“No,” Feng Xi said. “I’m going there to fight the fire.”
Wu Xian immediately held onto him. How could a wood type elfin fight a wildfire? Everyone knew it was a hopeless proposition. “It’s no use if you go. Wait for the rain.”
“And what if it doesn’t rain?”
“Then the fire can only continue. There’s no other way.”
Wu Xian tried to talk him out of it, and all the little elfins Feng Xi had rescued hung onto his clothes, but to no avail.
Feng Xi bitterly shook off Wu Xian’s hand. He gritted his teeth and rushed into the fire.
He shouted hoarsely, “So do I just stop caring, then?!”
Wu Xian had no way of chasing him. His hands held too many little elfins, so he could only take care of them first. By the time he had caught up with Feng Xi, the sky was already dripping rain, and the fire in the forest was gradually fading away, giving rise to layers of smoke.
Wu Xian had originally held no hope of finding him. For a wood type elfin, fire was too monstrous.
But from the center of the choking smoke, Feng Xi came out—he had survived, and carrying some small saplings in his arms, he fell on Wu Xian’s body. Feng Xi’s left eye had been badly burnt. It was highly light-sensitive, so he could only use his long hair to cover it. Many years later, he kept it the same way.
On the next night, the little elfins who had escaped from death celebrated with a party, and they invited Wu Xian. They didn’t dare to use fire, so they had melons, fruit, and delicious wine in the moonlight. Feng Xi was there too, but he stayed far away from Wu Xian.
Wu Xian ate pears while carefully observing him. Before long, Feng Xi quietly jumped down from the branches and entered the forest alone. Wu Xian left the party with an excuse and secretly followed behind him.
Within a short distance, they had entered the clearing where the woods had been burnt until nothing was left. As Wu Xian watched, Feng Xi transformed back into a panther, curling up quietly in the moonlight and lying down on the dark ashes, as if returning home.
Wu Xian only learned through later conversations that Feng Xi was the first elfin born in the forest. He had always been watching over this place, taking care of all the newborn elfins.
In the stories of these other elfins, he was perfect—he was kind-hearted, gentle, and considerate, and he loved this land with all his heart.
But the way Wu Xian saw it, he was extreme and stubborn. He kept looking back to things that had already been lost, and it would be easy for him to put himself and the people around him in danger.
Psychologists would say he was the complex combination of a giver, a protector, and a tragic romantic, but Wu Xian only had one thought about him at the time—that he was dangerous.
So he always kept an eye on Feng Xi.
Sure enough, many years later, he started to hear news of Feng Xi hurting people.
Wu Xian was already an executor at the Guild then, so he took the initiative to go catch him.
When they met again, they were in those same woods. But because of increasing pressures from human society, the places where elfins could live had diminished greatly. Feng Xi had grown up more since their first meeting, and his ears and tail were now well-hidden when he transformed. His single exposed eye, however, no longer held any goodwill toward humans.
He asked, “Why are you here?”
Wu Xian skipped the pleasantries. He said, “I’m here to bring you to the Guild.”
He saw his opponent’s eye darken, like a clear pool that had been suddenly disturbed, with hate slowly seeping out amidst the ripples.
They had their first fight.
Thinking back on it now, Feng Xi should also call Wu Xian “shifu” too.
He was an elfin who grew up in the mountains. His every tendon and bone, every hair and skin came from nature—how was he to know how to use them to fight humans? All of his martial abilities, his every move and style, were all learnt through his battles with Wu Xian.
And Wu Xian was more than happy to teach him, or more like “discipline” him.
People who do not know martial arts have no way of understanding this kind of happiness. Whenever he fights Feng Xi, they share their breaths and heartbeats. They touch upon each other’s flesh and blood with killing intent, yet they must also go and learn each other’s pace. When one advances, the other retreats; when one comes, the other goes. At their closest, lips brushed past cheeks, sharp nails and teeth opened cuts on the skin, and ice-cold weaponry pierced through the body, rendering one immobile.
Not unlike making love.
Of course, Feng Xi had no idea that Wu Xian was thinking such thoughts.
He was a purebred elfin who grew up drinking from the mountain dew and the forest streams, with no knowledge of the fruits of love.
His heart was made of wood—even if it bloomed, it would only bloom in the sun’s direction.
He would not understand.
No matter what he did, Feng Xi would not be able to win over Wu Xian. Whether in terms of elemental attributes or battle experience, he stood no chance.
Countless times, Wu Xian carted his bound form off towards the Guild, regardless of whether he was willing or not. They trod through the stars and moon and walked through the sun and rain, growing closer and closer all the way.
Wu Xian knew the most genuine side of Feng Xi. In front of him, Feng Xi was no longer an older brother or a leader, and he had no need to cater to anyone else’s feelings, no need to put up a front. If the food was nasty, he would spit it out. If his mood was poor, he would quarrel with Wu Xian. Sometimes during those long nights, they would strike up short yet normal conversations just to quell the boredom.
Wu Xian asked him, “What do you want?”
Feng Xi turned to face away from him, his jaw tightly clenched. He said, “I just want to go home.”
But what he wanted was far more than that.
What he wanted was for the humans to leave, for time itself to flow backward, to go back to the way things used to be, without a hair out of place.
Of course such a wish could never come true.
Even the elfins who had grown up at his side have started to move on. In actuality, they were all smarter than Feng Xi—only he was still stuck in the past.
But he elicited so much affection. All his friends around him more or less loved him, so they indulged him. They acted in accordance with his wishes because this was what Feng Xi wanted. The elfins who had received his favor would gladly reach out a helping hand.
Wu Xian didn’t know if Feng Xi could feel their love. He seemed to not have changed from his past self, always with his eyes fixed on what was lost, thinking that was what everyone wanted. And because that was what everyone wanted, he did everything in his power to accomplish it.
He always tried to provide shelter like a tree, forgetting the need to be free like a panther.
Yet Wu Xian was no good with words and explanations—he only knew how to tie up Feng Xi and cart him off to the Guild.
He surmised that those fellows in the Guild should be able to speak better than he could, to unwind the knots within Feng Xi’s heart. They were all elfins, so Feng Xi would not be so resistant.
He thought since the lifespan of elfins was long, sooner or later, Feng Xi would think things through.
Until Feng Xi died in front of his eyes.
Before then, Wu Xian had never thought that death could be something so beautiful and grand.
Feng Xi gathered up all that was around him and dispersed them—those bottled feelings and annoyances, unanswered wishes fallen to despair, rages, regrets, sorrows, pains—he threw them all away. He no longer thought of anything. His hands stretched up towards the sky, and his feet planted in the earth as the giant tree spread out its branches, vines, and green leaves. Everything, hundreds of years of life, all bloomed in the space of an instant.
Like the sound of a sigh.
Wu Xian had lived for more than four hundred years. Gratitude and resentment, partings in life or in death, all of these feelings and events had tumbled over and over in his heart. He had begun to make light of such emotions long ago.
Feng Xi had also lived for hundreds of years, but his heart had never ceased to feel. He would shed tears over the loss of a leaf, a flower, a blade of grass, a tree. For an unattainable wish, he would bleed himself dry.
Wu Xian suddenly wanted to ask, why can you live life with such fervor, such determination?
The tree was silent, casting a mottled shadow that captured Wu Xian within.
Wu Xian felt an ache.
Through all of life’s trials and beatings, he had tempered his heart into steel. But somewhere along the way—he did not know when—a seed had been placed inside. When the steel broke, the crack in his heart seemed to grow wider and wider, until the seed burst through the tough iron hide and spiraled into the sky, growing into a towering tree.
Wu Xian remembered many insignificant things. He remembered the way Feng Xi’s shadow lay curled up under the moonlight; he remembered the gentle way Feng Xi treated every tree. He remembered how Feng Xi would always tuck his bangs away in the flickering firelight at night; he remembered him saying “I just want to go home."
In that instant, a surging tide of emotions overwhelmed him.
Shock, sadness, anguish, annoyance, indignation, rage, grief, pain, love, praise, unhappiness, anxiety, irritability, confusion, guilt, remorse, melancholy, admiration, love, love, regret, loneliness, tension, bitterness, sorrow, disturbance, unsettledness, melancholy, weariness, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love...
Feng Xi was gone.
He had struggled; he had strived; he had given his full effort; he had no regrets.
His heart had become an oasis, and the ruins crashed full force onto Wu Xian’s body.
And so the lightning struck, but there was no rain, and the wildfires burned and burned.
Wu Xian fell in love with him, right in the moment he decided to leave forever.
Now Wu Xian lives in Longyou City. He would attempt to make breakfast everyday after his morning routine, taste it, then dump it in a practiced motion before ordering out.
Everyday, he went to Feng Xi’s park. He would stand in line and buy a ticket, look up at the crown of the tree, and say “Wow—” just like everyone else.
Only after the people had all left would he quietly leap onto the branches, wandering into them for a visit.
When Feng Xi was still Feng Xi, no one could walk into his heart. He had always hidden himself so deeply.
But the tree was open to all, so when Wu Xian walked up along the mighty branches, it was like reading his heart all over again. He would follow the leaf veins into Feng Xi’s soul.
Wu Xian played his flute and listened to him, and the tree leaves rustled in reply. He cleaned the garbage on and around the tree, observed every new tender shoot, and lived life at a slow pace.
He told the tree, “There will be a thunderstorm tonight. Don’t get hit, since you’re so tall.”
After he said this, he rested a hand on the tree trunk and quietly transferred some of his spiritual energy into it.
Everyone said, why do this?
Everyone said, you can’t bring him back.
Everyone said, even if he comes back, he won’t be the same way he was in the beginning.
Just like the wildfire in the Amazons. The people argued endlessly that since there’s a fire every year, what’s the point of putting it out now?
Trees cannot speak. If this one falls, a new one will grow to take its place. Should it just be left alone then?
Feng Xi was an obstinate elfin who never knew how to change his mind. He was the one who chose this path. Should he just be left to his own devices then?
Wu Xian said, “So do I just stop caring, then?”
Today, Wu Xian stayed sitting in the tree until midnight—he still could not stop worrying.
The thunder overhead rumbled, dull and heavy. Dark clouds interspersed with lightning trailed and lingered in the sky, but the rain still did not fall.
They were all waiting for something.
Wu Xian’s heart lurched, and he leapt off the tree in one bound. He arrived at the deepest part of the roots where they had last said their silent goodbyes.
He said, “Come.”
And so the metal pieces that originally tied down Feng Xi emerged from the layers of greenery, returning to their places on his wrists. It had been many years now, but he had always left them there, awaiting a miracle—they were warm to the touch.
In the depths of the leaves, accompanied by a fit of rustling, two green lamps lit up. The wind howled, the tree shadows swayed, and the weak flicker of spiritual energy was lit up by lightning, followed by rolling thunder.
The tiny black panther peeked out from within the tree, hesitating slightly before walking towards him. Its every step trod upon Wu Xian’s heart, the sharp claws tearing through blood and flesh.
It raised its eyes to look at Wu Xian.
Just one look.
Just one look, and Wu Xian knew.
He remembered him.
The rain poured down.