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As The Heavens Fall

Chapter Text

Commission posted by the Adventurers’ Guild:

Poster: Katheryne

Details: Recently, scholars and researchers have taken interest in the southwest ruins of unknown origin. Adventurer’s needed to do a sweep of said ruins for hostiles to be eliminated, as well as a general safety check.

Compensation: TBA


“These ruins have been around for… well, who knows how long. Why are scholars just now getting interested in them?” Argen wondered aloud from where he stood, atop a rather high rock with a map in his hand. It took him a moment to get his bearings before looking down once more at the map.

“Does it matter?” Shanxin’s words came out a bit odd, speaking through the oat bar in her mouth before finally swallowing. “As long as we’re getting paid for this, I don’t care what they want us to do.”

Argen hummed, once more looking up from his map to the horizon before jumping down. Rolling up his map, he safely tucked it away. “We’ll be at the ruins soon, shouldn’t be much longer.”

“Sure we didn’t get turned about somewhere again?”

Smiling with his eyebrows raised, “would you rather navigate? I’d be more than happy to take a break for a while.”

“Not my area of expertise here,” Shanxin quickly said, shoving the rest of the oat bar into her mouth and turning away to avoid the responsibility of not getting their party lost dumped onto her.

With a small laugh, Argen shook his head before turning towards Xiaobai.

Looking off to the distance, she was long lost in thought, and had been this entire time. The usually bubbly and exciting Xiaobai was replaced with a more quiet one that didn’t run about as much. Try as he might, Argen couldn’t figure out what had her so preoccupied.

Gently, as to not startle her too badly, Argen placed a hand on Xiaobai’s shoulder, getting her attention as she turned to look at him. “Ah, what is it, gege?” she asked with a small smile. Her mind was still lost somewhere, it seemed.

“I figured out our location, we can continue on now.”

“That’s great, let’s get going then.”

“Wait, Xiaobai,” he held more firmly to her shoulder once she started walking away, gently pulling her back and getting her attention once more. “I need to ask you something.”

“What is it?”

“You seem… hm, distracted, since we took that commission earlier today. Is everything okay?”

At this, Xiaobai looked away, bringing one of her own arms to hold the other, crossing it over her body and looking unsure. “Yeah, everything’s fine.”

“... You know you can tell me anything, right? No matter what it is.”

She hesitated for a moment, looking at everything that wasn’t Argen, trying to figure out what to do, and Argen waited patiently for her response. If she didn’t want to tell him, that was fine, but he needed to make sure she knew she could trust him. The three of them have been adventuring together for so long now, Argen could hardly count the years with complete accuracy. He cared for the two of them, and being their protector, he was determined to do whatever he could for both Xiaobai and Shanxin.

Finally, Xiaobai looked up at him, and he could tell right away there was a trace of worry in her eyes.

“Gege… I don’t know what it is, but I feel like there’s someone in those ruins who needs our help…”

 

 

 

The ruins have been around for at least 500 years, and that’s all known about it.

So far, scholars have deemed it the ruins of an ancient civilization, but due to the large amount of monsters that linger about, no one has been able to get close to them as of recent. There are a few basic studies done on it, however, but none of them are conclusive. Some say this civilization was one that had no god to worship. Not because they weren’t given one, but because they chose not to worship any.

A civilization run entirely by humans.

Today, such a feat was unheard of, as the nations of this world are each guarded by their own Archon. It was hard to believe that such a civilization existed.

The ruins themselves were made of a dark stone material, reminiscent of coal in colour, but stronger than such, though the harshness of time has worn it down. Looking at it, you could tell that such ruins used to be a magnificent castle.

It was hard to tell what it looked like in its glory days, as life around it had so much as vanished. No trees nor flowers flourished near the ruins, and the few patches of grass were nothing more than dust once you stepped on them. It was terrifying to imagine what sort of event happened here that would cause such a catastrophe.

Luckily, the commission didn’t ask for the entirety of the ruins to be cleared of monsters, and instead was requesting one branched off chamber for now. The entire ruins were much too large for a party of three to clear out anyways, and would need to be done in multiple sweeps.

What no one expected, however, was that there were underground passageways and chambers.

How does one know this now??

Well…

Xiaobai stared up at the hole she had previously fell through, her head spinning a little from the rough tumble she took, but was luckily otherwise unharmed. Which was miraculous, really, since the drop was much higher than she expected.

Argen was crouched at the opening, and she could see a worried expression on his face, while Shanxin looked more intrigued.

“Are you okay?!” Argen called down.

Doing a quick check over herself once more to make sure there weren't any broken bones or open wounds, Xiaobai gave a thumbs up once she came up empty. “I’m good, gege!!”

She could briefly hear some muttering from Argen, as she assumed him to be coming up with a plan on how to get her back up safely. While he was debating, Xiaobai looked down the corridor ahead of her.

It was dark and damp. She could hear what sounded like dripping water coming from the end of the hall. Nothing moved, nothing breathed, nothing lived down here.

It should’ve filled her with uneasiness and fear, but instead, all she felt was wanting to progress on forward, despite not knowing what sort of dangers could lie ahead.

 

Within this corridor, she could feel the pull growing stronger.

She couldn’t describe it, but she felt like she had to go help someone.

“I’m going on ahead!!” Xiaobai called up to the hole. “I can find a way out!!”

Before Argen could be given the chance to protest, she quickly walked off, his voice echoing in the abandoned halls as he called for her to come back, but his words fell on deaf ears.

With the hall being so dark, Xiaobai lit a small fire in her hand. It was one of the perks of being a Pyro user, she could just become a human torch whenever she needed.

Argen’s voice soon disappeared as she walked, with the only noise her breathing and footsteps as she cautiously walked. She couldn’t tell what these underground chambers were for, any indication of what they may have been already falling away to time and neglect.

She didn’t know how long she had been walking for, or where she was even going. It would be hard to find some sort of way out in this place, and she could only hope that no monsters had made their way underground and wouldn’t run into any. She wasn’t built for long term fighting, especially not on her own.

The pull grew stronger as she walked, drawing closer and closer until, finally, she reached a giant door with strange markings etched into it. The flame grew brighter, giving her enough light to see the entire door and all its markings.

Even after studying them for a few moments, she couldn’t make out what language they were.

She should be scared at this point. She should just walk away and find Argen and Shanxin and complete their commission, but…

But no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t turn away. So instead, she pushed against the giant door.

 

It didn’t budge.

Xiaobai tried again, with a bit more force.

 

It still wouldn’t budge.

It took all her strength and using her entire body against it to get it to move it, opening it just enough to let herself slip through and she took a moment to catch her breath.

The door was probably made of the same stone as the rest of the ruins.

As soon as she caught her breath, she looked up, and once again it was stolen from her.

The room was large and she couldn’t see most of it, but in the center was a giant sphere that reminded her of the night sky, shifting through colours with what looked like stars sparkled through it, and she knew that this was the place.

With hesitant steps, she walked closer and closer until she was standing just before the strange sphere. Through the laps in the ever changing colours, she could see… what looked like a person, with dark hair.

This must have been the person who was calling out to her.

Xiaobai reached out.

She didn’t know what she expected, but being struck by a large blast of energy wasn’t it. It threw her back a ways, landing roughly onto her side, and the entire chamber seemed to shake violently. Pieces of the walls and ceiling started to crumble, and pillars that were still standing broke and fell off to the ground, kicking up smoke and dirt.

The sphere in the center seemed to become unstable all of a sudden, with lightning bolts shooting off in every direction and the colours shifted more violently before finally exploding.

Xiaobai quickly got to her feet, stumbling as she stood. The entire chamber seemed to freeze in time, and she even felt too overwhelmed to breathe. Whatever was in that sphere now emanated such intense power that it felt oppressive, making every hair on her stand on end.

Still, she wasn’t scared.

Through the smoke and dust, she saw green eyes staring at her, small before growing, and growing and growing…

Xiaobai quickly turned on her heels and ran without knowing where she was going, the fire she had created long since gone out, now navigating almost blind.

She stumbled and fell against what she guessed was a wall, and turned around just in time to see a giant shadow with those green eyes rush at her. It stopped just in front of her, letting out a deep, low growl.

And still, Xiaobai still couldn’t find herself to be scared, not fully.

Almost as quickly as it started, everything seemed to end.

The giant creature shrunk in size once more, no longer standing heads taller than her, and those glowing green eyes disappeared.

Xiaobai slowly slid down against the wall, still breathing heavily from her mad dash. Everything was silent once more.

She summoned another flame into her hand, and now, where the monster once stood, was a tiny black cat, passed out on the floor amongst rubble and stone.

 


 

“Hmm, I still can’t believe you found a little cat inside those ruins.”

Xiaobai smiled, feeling a pang of guilt.

After the encounter with the cat, Xiaobai had picked it up and continued to find her way through the ruins until she found a small opening that she could crawl through, if it wasn’t for the fact that she had hurt her leg in her mad dash to avoid the overgrown cat. She had shouted to get Argen’s and Shanxin’s attention.

They had gotten her out of the ruins, and upon seeing the injured state that she was in, as well as how much more dangerous this commission was than they initially thought, Argen called it a day. Xiaobai had protested, as Shanxin was already in the process of healing her leg, but Argen wouldn’t budge.

Now, with the sun setting after a much less eventful day than they had planned, Xiaobai and Shanxin sat outside, with the black cat sleeping soundly in Xiaobai’s lap.

She felt guilty. She didn’t tell either of them about this cat and what had happened, as she couldn’t even make heads or tails of the encounter anyways. It sounded too baffling. It was much easier to claim she found this cat living inside of the ruins than to tell them it had previously been a person, maybe.

Argen would just fret and think she had gone and hit her head at some point.

“He’s kinda cute,” Shanxin said, reaching out to gently scratch at the black cat's head with one finger before leaning back once more. “Huangshou seems pretty weary of him though, scaredy cat.”

Her grey tabby was peeking from around her back, wide eyes unmoving from where he was staring at the black cat intently. Xiaobai laughed softly. Huangshou was a friendly cat, getting along well with most in the village, sans the dogs of course. She had no doubt in her mind that he’d warm up sooner rather than later.

“So, thought of any names yet?”

“I was thinking of naming him Xiao Hei.”

Shanxin stared, not saying anything for a few moments before scoffing, shaking her head.

“What?” Xiaobai exclaimed, feeling her face heating up a bit in embarrassment.

“Nothing, nothing. I just couldn’t help but think how unoriginal that is.”

“But he’s a black cat! It’s perfect!”

“No you’re right, it’s very fitting. It goes well with your name.”

Xiaobai pursed her lips in a pout. So maybe she got her naming abilities from her mom, so what? It was a cute name either way, and she wasn’t about to change her mind on the matter!!

Before anything more could be said on the topic, the door to the small house behind them opened, and the two of them turned their heads to see Argen walking out, softly closing the door behind him.

“Gege!! So what did you tell grandpa? I’m not in trouble, am I?” Xiaobai said, putting on her best innocent face as possible. It wasn’t her fault that she fell into the ruins.

Argen sat down between the two, playfully giving Xiaobai a shove with a scoff. “You can put away that whole innocent look, gramps is just happy that none of us are injured. You know he wouldn’t be able to yell at you.”

“So what’re we going to do about the commission?” Shanxin asked. She had been the most disappointed in the idea of tossing aside such a rewarding commission, excited for the possibility of being paid big. It was understandable that she was itching to get to it before anyone else did.

“We aren’t doing anything about it. I, on the other hand, am going to Katheryne tomorrow morning and asking for more assistance with it, preferably with someone who can point out such weak spots in the earth so no one falls underground again.”

That was possibly the best option honestly. With the way things were, the three of them weren’t quite equipped to deal with something like this. If they had known there was the possibility of pitfalls, then they would’ve asked for more help to begin with. No one knew there were any underground passageways and chambers to begin with, so no one thought of it.

Shanxin fell onto her back, Huangshou jumping out of the way just in time to not be crushed by her falling body as she muttered something about rotten luck.

Argen fully turned to Xiaobai and pointed at the house with his thumb. “Gramps wants to see you, by the way.” Xiaobai panicked for a brief moment, looking down at the sleeping cat in her lap, too soft-hearted to move the poor thing before Argen spoke up once more. “He wants to see the cat too, so you can take him with you.”

Well, she didn’t want to move the cat at all, but this was better than nothing.

As she stood up, gently cradling the cat in her arm, she almost missed the odd look Argen gave the cat, and only wondered briefly what the reason behind it could be. That was, until he let out a surprised yelp. Looking around him, Xiaobai could see that Huangshou finally latched his teeth onto Argen’s elbow. He must’ve been expecting Xiao Hei to bite at him, like with every other animal.

Xiaobai laughed softly as she entered the house, leaving her teammates behind.

They lived in a small village, fairly close to this nation's biggest city. The village was mostly farmers, with nothing lavish about it. Here, everything was simple. Here, everything was small. But here, there was a tight knit community of neighboring friends and family. Nothing exciting or fantastic ever went on here, so when both Xiaobai and Shanxin got their visions a few years ago, they were congratulated by everyone within the village.

Argen, on the other hand, had his vision as early as Xiaobai could remember.

The house she and Argen lived in with their grandpa was something small and simple, like everything else in this village, and Xiaobai wouldn’t have it any other way. Just this past spring, they had to make a few repairs to the roof of it, as the spring showers came through and threatened to flood the place, finding too many leaks in the roof to ignore.

She loved her grandpa, and she loved Argen, and she loved her parents that were away on too many expeditions to keep Xiaobai in a house alone. She wouldn’t have it any other way.

Adjusting her hold on the still sleeping black cat in her arms, she softly knocked at the already opened door, leading into her grandpa’s bedroom.

He looked up from where he was seated up on the bed, back resting against the headboard, and he smiled at Xiaobai. “Come here, come here,” he said, gesturing quickly with his hand to beckon her inside the room, “let me see the little stowaway you picked up!”

Excitedly, Xiaobai quickened her steps into the room, sitting at the chair that was beside his bed as she held out Xiao Hei in her arms.

He was silent for a few moments, saying nothing as he reached out to brush his hand through the cat's pure black fur, letting out a humming noise as he did so. “You’ve found something quite extraordinary. And dangerous.”

Xiaobai looked up at him with a confused look, tilting her head a bit. “What do you mean?”

“Tell me, how did you come across finding him?”

She froze for a moment, debating with herself if she could bring herself to lie yet again to someone she loved so much, but before she could even do so, her grandpa beat her to it. “The real story, not the one you told Argen and your friend.”

Her grandpa could always see through her. Without realizing she had been tensing them, she had relaxed her shoulders and gave a small sigh before looking down, looking at the cat.

“I’m… not really sure what happened… There was something that resembled the night sky in there, and when I touched it, a giant monster came at me from within. Before it could do anything to me, it shrunk down to… this. A little black cat.”

It sounded just as bizarre speaking it as it was to actually go through the experience. She half expected him to start laughing and call her crazy or over-imaginative, but he didn’t. Her grandpa just listened silently, nodding along.

“Xiaobai.”

Upon hearing her name, she tilted her head and looked up, back at her grandpa.

“I want you to go meet with Lao Jun.”

Lao Jun…

Lao Jun…?

Hmmm…… Lao Jun…

Her eyes widened.

“You want me to go see the Hydro Archon?!”

He laughed loudly at her reaction before nodding. “Yes, exactly!”

Xiaobai sat back, eyes still wide.

What?

What what???

Did her grandpa lose it? Has he really lost it? He wants her to go seek an audience with the Hydro Archon, Daode Zhizun, the God of Oaths, over a cat?

A cat????

What gave him the idea she could even get his attention in the first place? And why was he using his name so casually?! Did he want to be struck down by Celestia?!

“I can see the steam rising from your head, you don’t need to think so much.”

Blinking, Xiaobai dragged herself out of her thoughts, and decided her thoughts didn’t have to just be thoughts. “Grandpa, this is a cat. A cat!!! Why would I see Daode Zhizun about a cat?! I can’t just walk up before the gates and demand to talk with him just because I found a- a strange cat inside some ruins!!!”

He nodded along once more, allowing Xiaobai to speak out her thoughts without interruption until she was finally done. “So then, do you think you imagined everything that went on inside those ruins? Is that what you’re telling me?”

“I-” Xiaobai froze, her words stopping before she could say anything as she thought for a moment. There was the possibility that she had imagined everything, but at the same time… it wouldn’t have explained why she had felt a strange pull towards whatever this cat had been trapped in, and that also doesn’t explain why she could’ve sworn she had seen a human shape within the entrapment.

Finally, Xiaobai shook her head. “No, I… I’m sure that I hadn’t imagined it.”

“Lao Jun is one of the oldest Archons. He has been around far longer than any history book can recount. Those ruins were something meant to be sealed away and forgotten, with this little fella left to rot away with it. I may be an old man, but I can tell that there’s something special with this one, as well as dangerous. If anyone were to know a thing or two about him, it would be Lao Jun.”

That all made sense. He was the oldest Archon, said to be one of the original victors to have come from the Archon War, as well as the ruling Archon over their nation. If she wanted answers, he would be her best bet. However…

Xiaobai frowned. “But how am I supposed to get him to meet me? I don’t think Daode Zhizun meets with just any commoner.”

He raised his eyebrows before taking on a prideful look. “You simply just use the name you were gifted with of Luo.”

“Why would he change his mind just after hearing our family name?”

“The Luo bloodline is one that has lasted for many generations. He’d be happy to retell all the stories of our family to you, if you have the time.”

 


 

Lao Jun, also known by its citizens as Daode Zhizun, was the Hydro Archon of this nation, whose capital was named Lanxi Zhen. He is the God of Oaths and Protection.

Xiaobai didn’t know much about him, other than the rumors that the common folk pass around, which…. She wasn’t too sure of how accurate they were. Some were extremely mundane without anything too interesting, some spoke of him as being a benevolent god and saving the common folk, and then there were some that were just a bit odd, like how he was extremely interested in bizarre works of fiction and quite eccentric.

She really enjoyed hearing of these rumors, but she refused to make any assumptions about the god herself. How could she when she has never met him? It would be pretty rude to make any conclusions about him.

What she did know to be true, however, was his dedication to protecting all people of his nation.

Here, no one ever went hungry. If there was a natural disaster of any sort, Daode Zhizun would make a personal appearance to said area, bringing with him bags of grain and rice to feed the people until they were able to support themselves once more.

No one in this nation was desperate enough to turn to a life of crime, and any who came over from other nations were taken care of swiftly.

What Xiaobai knew for sure was she loved living in this nation watched over by Daode Zhizun.

However, despite all these appearances that he made, it was hard to meet with him personally.

For one, Lanxi Zhen was a capital built upon a mountain, and at the very top of it was where Daode Zhizun resided. For most, making such a trip up that mountain was too laborious. For those who did make it up, they were turned away for one reason or another (those are where the odd rumors come from, as most of the time, the reasoning would be something along the lines of “Sorry, Daode Zhizun is currently reading, and would rather not be interrupted. Any matters can be addressed over there.”)

So, it was safe to say that Xiaobai’s hopes of meeting with the Archon was low.

But, of course, if there were any answers she could get from Daode Zhizun about Xiao Hei, then she had to try!!!

Xiaobai had made the decision to leave early the next day, as the trip to the capital would take almost a full day, knowing she would get to Lanxi Zhen before the sun would set beyond the horizon.

She welcomed the chill of the morning air, taking a deep breath in and feeling the slight sting in her lungs. Xiao Hei had yet to wake up, so she decided to place the cat gently in a spacious backpack with enough cushioning to keep him safe and warm, and strapped to her hip was a smaller bag, holding a few coins and some snacks for the trip.

She hadn’t told Argen or Shanxin of her travels. She didn’t want to bother them.

They would ask questions, she knew for sure they would, and she wouldn’t know what to tell them. She felt crazy for doing such a thing, and they would think she was crazy if she tried to explain it.

Well, that was the plan, anyways.

That plan didn’t work out, though, when she finally came to just the outskirts of the village, and she saw two familiar silhouettes, slowing her steps down to a stop. Xiaobai internally panicked for a moment, wondering if she could sneak away before they noticed her and find another route.

Before she could move, Shanxin turned her head and spotted her.

“Xiaobai!!” Shanxin shouted, very loud, very unlike her normal quieter voice. “Did you really think you could plan on ditching us?!”

Ah, so she was angry.

Xiaobai quickly thought of her chances of getting away, not wanting to face whatever wrath Shanxin may throw at her, but really, that would just make matters worse.

And, honestly, Xiaobai felt a little happy she wouldn’t have to take this journey alone.

“How did you two know I was leaving?” Xiaobai said as she rushed over, careful not to run too quickly or move too much, though at this point, she wasn’t entirely sure that Xiao Hei would actually wake up, no matter how roughly he was treated in the backpack.

“We were listening in on your conversation with your gramps last night,” Shanxin said nonchalantly.

Why isn’t that very surprising?

“I can’t let you go to the capital alone,” Argen said, reaching out his hand to lightly ruffle at Xiaobai’s hair, which caused her to smile and laugh lightly before batting his hand away. “I promised your parents I would watch out for you. Besides, you might get lost in such a big city.”

“How could I get lost? Daode Zhizun’s palace is at the top of a mountain, it’s kind of hard to miss!!”

“You were raised in the countryside, a place like Lanxi Zhen is overwhelming for those who have never been to a city before.”

“Come on, let’s get moving,” Shanxin said, cutting off their conversation as she took Xiaobai’s hand and started walking. Argen quickly followed before taking the space on Xiaobai’s other side.

She couldn’t help but to smile.

She was ready to take this adventure on her own, taking sole responsibility for Xiao Hei and whatever weird circumstances surrounded him, but she couldn’t help but feel relieved that, for now, she wouldn’t have to be alone.

 

“By the way, Shanxin, why do you have Huangshou with you?”

“He needs to meet Xiao Hei once he wakes up, Huangshou needs a friend.”

 

 

Mountain air was different from the air in the country. It was hard to explain, but Xiaobai liked it. It also carried the smells from the food stalls scattered about Lanxi Zhen, making her stomach growl every time one drifted passed.

They arrived at Lanxi Zhen late in the day, just as she thought. The sun was close to disappearing completely behind the horizon, painting the city in a beautiful golden colour. One thing Xiaobai didn’t know of Lanxi Zhen was the many waterways cutting through the city. Such a thing didn’t happen on mountains, as any streams would run down and into larger bodies of water at the base, but Xiaobai learned that such a thing was possible through Daode Zhizun, one of the many gifts from the Hydro Archon.

Daode Zhizun controlled the waterways, able to keep them from flooding due to rain, or from freezing over from the cold mountain air. It was the quickest way to get from one side of the city to the other.

Xiaobai was amazed by the city.

Begrudgingly, she admitted that Argen was right. She would get lost if she were here on her own, but she wasn’t about to say that out loud. Argen lead the way the entire time, weaving them through the city with ease, almost as if he’s been here before.

It sat in Xiaobai’s mind, bothering her as they walked up the many steps of the mountain to the top. She could hear Shanxin groaning behind her, with Xiaobai staring at Argen’s back as he continued to take the lead.

For as long as she’s known Argen, he’s never mentioned being in Lanxi Zhen before, and she’s never heard him making any trips here either. He didn’t even have a map or anything of the sort on hand, so it confused her.

“Gege?” she called out, and he gave a hum in response. “I’ve been wondering… You’ve been leading us around the capital all day, like you know this place well. Have you been here before?”

Xiaobai waited for a response, and waited, but an answer never came.

Normally, whenever she asked a question, Argen would answer right away, even if it was to just say he didn’t know. It was weird to have him ignore her question, and in the end, it just made her worried.

Was there something he wasn’t telling her? Something he didn’t want her to know?

If he’s been here before, she wouldn’t get upset!! In fact, it would be amazing if he had been to Lanxi Zhen before, and she would love nothing more than to hear whatever stories he had from visiting this place. Lanxi Zhen so far was beautiful and there was something new and interesting around every corner.

Actually, now that she thinks about it, there isn’t much about Argen that she really knows…

“We’re here, the Jun pavilion.”

Argen’s voice cut through Xiaobai’s thoughts. Without realizing it, they were at the top of the mountain, with Argen turned to look back at them, smiling.

The setting sun shone on the palace in such a way that made the scene literally breathtaking, and Xiaobai starred with her mouth agape.

From the base of the mountain, or even from the surrounding city, it was hard to tell what lay at the top of the mountain exactly, other than being able to see the roof of a building. Here, at the top, there was a large body of water that surrounded the buildings, reflecting the sky to make it look golden and endless. A tall building stood in the center of the pool of water, with two smaller buildings on either side of it, embroidered in gold with white walls. Before them was a stone path, leading to the entrance of the buildings.

“I have to run a few errands,” Argen said after a few moments of allowing the two younger adventurers to soak in the sight. “I’ll meet up with you two back at the inn I showed you.”

Xiaobai blinked, taking a moment to process Argen’s words before she turned back to him. “Wait, where are you going? You’re leaving us?”

Argen nodded, but gave her a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry, there’s no one around, so you’ll have no problem meeting with Daode Zhizun, just go into that bigger building in the center.”

“But…”

Xiaobai tried to think of something to say, anything to get him to stay with them to meet Daode Zhizun. That thought from earlier, that Argen might be hiding something from her resurfaced. But really, why should she doubt him?

Why should she doubt the gege that has protected her and taken care of her for most of her life? The person who took up being an adventurer just to keep her safe, despite having no interest in becoming one in the first place.

She made him do a lot of things in his life just so he could watch over her, so now, she decided she wouldn’t force him to do this. Whatever it was that was bothering him, from keeping him from talking about this place, she wasn’t going to force him to say it. She wasn’t going to make him join them inside the Jun Pavilion.

So, Xiaobai smiled before reaching out and giving a squeeze to Argen’s hand. “Don’t leave us then, make sure you finish your errands quickly!!”

Some emotion Xiaobai couldn’t quite place flashed in Argen’s eyes, one she could only assume was relief, as he let out a light laugh. “I wouldn’t leave the two of you stranded here. Just take the path I showed you and you’ll find the inn in no time.”

With quick goodbyes from the three of them, Argen made his way back down the stairs. Xiaobai and Shanxin watched until they could no longer see him, and the awkwardness took over. Neither of them knew how to present themselves to an Archon, and they were at a loss of just what to do. But Argen told them to walk into the main building, and it seemed like their only option, so with the sun finally set beyond the horizon and the sky turning a deep shade of blue, they made their way into the building.

 

The inside was just as magnificent and breathtaking as the outside. The walls climbed higher than they could see, looking much taller on the inside, with the walls entirely covered with shelved books of all colours. There was no way to count the many books, but Xiaobai assumed them to be well into the hundreds, maybe even thousands.

“So many books,” Shanxin said in wonder as she took a few steps forward, walking deeper into the building. Turning her head to look back, she smirked. “Must be a nerd.”

Xiaobai gasped. “Shanxin!!” she yelled in a hushed voice. Her voice had carried, who knows who might currently be inside the building!! It would’ve been easy to hear her comment, even if she said it in a lower voice!!

“Must only nerds enjoy a good book?”

The two of them jumped, with Shanxin cursing loudly and Xiaobai letting out a tiny, high pitched noise in fright.

Turning around, there stood a tall man with a book in hand, his face wearing an expression of amusement. His hair was blue and curled slightly, reaching so low onto his back that it almost touched his knees. “I wonder what has the two of you so frightened,” he said, his voice full of amusement.

“You snuck up on us without making a sound!” Shanxin shouted, a hand still placed on her chest. “Of course we got frightened!”

The man hummed, seeming to nod in understanding as he used a book to poorly hide the smile on his face. “I apologize then, it wasn’t my intention. So, what brings the two of you here, so late into the day? Shouldn’t you be turning in for the night soon? It’s a long way back down the mountain.”

“We’re here to meet with Daode Zhizun, do you know where we might find him?” Xiaobai asked. She had already recovered from the startle, as Shanxin was still taking a moment more to calm her racing heart, as well as detach Huangshou from where he had jumped onto a bookshelf, holding on for dear life.

“Daode Zhizun? Why are you meeting with him? Don’t you know he doesn’t take any visitors past a certain time?” Xiaobai watched as the man leisurely walked by them, turning then to a shelf to pull out a new book and rifling through the pages for a moment before giving a satisfied nod.

“I need to talk to him about something, and I can’t bring it up to anyone else without sounding crazy.”

At this, the man's eyebrows raised. “And who’s to say that Daode Zhizun won’t also find you to be crazy?”

“Because my grandfather reassured me that if I were to tell him my last name, then he’d know that I’m serious.”

The man walked passed them once more, this time making his way deeper into the building, walking by even more bookshelves until coming to a clearing in the middle of it all. Xiaobai followed closely behind, afraid of getting lost in such a large and maze-like place. “Daode Zhizun knows of many family names and bloodlines, how can you be sure he would bother to remember yours?”

“Because my family name is Luo--”

Xiaobai was cut off by the man suddenly turning around. Any sort of amusement he wore before was gone, inside replaced with something else, something mixed with shock. “What did you say your name is?”

“My-My name is Luo Xiaobai… I’m the granddaughter of Luo Yunfei.”

“Luo Yunfei… That’s a name I haven’t heard in far too long…” the man muttered as he closed his eyes. He was silent for a few moments before he smiled, and once again opened his eyes. “Tell me, how is he doing?”

“He is doing well, sir. But, how do you know my grandfather?”

“I should properly introduce myself then. Seems as though you’re used to referring to me as Daode Zhizun, but those of Luo can call me by name, Lao Jun.”

From a few feet away, still struggling with Huangshou, Shanxin shouted loudly.

WHAT?!