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As The Heavens Fall

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The two stared each other down, breathing heavily from their brief but intense fight, unblinking and refusing to look away as if that, too, would be admitting some sort of defeat.

Feng Xi was the first to break that eye contact for a moment, his eyes instead flicking quickly to look at the other before once more staring down Xuanli, but the Cryo Archon saw the quick glance and smirked. “Wuxian,” he called out as he adjusted himself to stand up and relax his shoulders, “surprising to see you here!! Up for a rematch?”

Wuxian walked over and gave Xuanli a quick once over. Although he is an Archon, Xuanli looked worse for wear, and he gave a shake of his head. “Not interested.”

A lie, obviously, but he wasn’t about to start a fight with someone injured, even if that injured person was an Archon.

“What are you doing here?” Feng Xi snapped, venom filling his every word as he bared his teeth. “I thought the others were keeping you busy.”

“Your friends are nowhere near a match for me, even if I am to face them all at once.”

“What did you do to them?”

“Nothing. They’re getting treated by Xing.”

Even knowing this, Feng Xi didn’t drop his guard in the slightest, and Wuxian couldn’t blame him.

“The tournament is over now, Feng Xi. Any more fighting you wish to do with Xuanli, you’ll have to go and fight me first,” Wuxian continued, taking a challenging step forward. He knew that Feng Xi would hesitate. Feng Xi wouldn’t pick a fight knowing that his friends are beaten and worn down, even if they were getting treatment. He would want to go see them as soon as possible.

And Wuxian was right, as Feng Xi looked between the both of them, seriously weighing his options at the moment before fleeing. He wasn’t too worried about Feng Xi running off. They would cross paths once more, they always eventually do.

Startled by the hand suddenly placed on his shoulder, Wuxian jumped only a little bit as Xuanli began laughing, once again smacking his hand down. “I knew I could count on you to show up!” He said with a wide grin.

“Are you admitting that you would have lost if I hadn’t appeared?”

“Ha! And let someone like him take my gnosis? Like I would ever let that happen!”

“Are you aware that he is my equal in battle, and as such, is equal to you as well? He may one day take your gnosis if you aren’t too careful.”

“I still wouldn’t let him take it, I would much rather have someone like you take it instead, ya know.”

“I’m not at all interested.”

Xuanli took his hand off of Wuxian as he started rambling on about how much of a pity it was that Wuxian had no desire to become an Archon, but his ramblings were only half listened to as Wuxian surveyed the destroyed arena and the broken buildings.

He has been around long enough and has witnessed enough tournaments held here to know that this isn’t normal. A bit of damage here and there, yes, but this looked similar to a battlefield. The wall of cryo flames had blocked his view of what was going on, and he ended up helping the crowd of people get away, so he didn’t have the time to approach the arena until now.

Xuanli wasn’t one to be easily beaten up in battle. He may be a bit of a brute, but he had years of combat experience and knew when to get serious during a fight. He wouldn’t willingly let himself get beaten by some mortals.

Something wasn’t making sense here, and it made him uneasy.

“Xuanli,” he called to get the Archons attention, who turned to the side to look at him with raised eyebrows. He didn’t know how to go about asking, so he just chose the most blunt way possible. “What happened here?”

The cold air blew through the silence between them. Xuanli lowered his head, shaking it before letting out what looked like a heavy sigh. He no longer held the air of nonchalance around himself, now he looked as much as the Archon he was supposed to be.

“We need to get to Lao Jun and Qing Ning as soon as possible,” he said, avoiding the question but Wuxian knew from his tone that it would be discussed once they got with the other Archons. Xuanli looked back up at him, eyebrows raised as he continued to speak. “But first, we need to go find those kids.”

 


 

Xiaobai felt weird.

She didn’t know how to describe it exactly, other than just… weird.

Her body felt like it was floating but being weighed down at the same time. Her mind was full of cotton and she couldn’t hold on to a single thought at all. She didn’t remember blacking out, but at some point, she must’ve, because this wasn’t the arena in the cryo nation. In fact, this wasn’t the cryo nation at all.

It was warmer here, gentler, the wind carrying on the gentle scent of salt.

Everything felt weird. It was so hard for her to put it into any sort of words, having felt nothing like this before. She opened her eyes and was greeted with a familiar ceiling. They were back in the anemo nation.

Just how did she get here?

Was Shanxin also with her?

Was the Cryo Archon okay?

And what about that boy, what happened to him? Were they able to take him with them?

Her head started to feel like she was swimming, and it ached as more and more questions appeared in her head until finally, Xiaobai winced at the pain. Maybe it was best to just forget all of those right now, and find someone, anyone, in order to get some answers. At least then she wouldn’t just be laying here and torturing herself with these questions.

She got up from the soft bed, a bit reluctant to leave it, and left the room. She didn’t know too much about this place still, only having been here just a few days ago and it hadn’t been for very long either, so she wandered about rather aimlessly.

Once again, the massive building was empty, making it void of any life. It felt eerie.

It didn’t take very long before she stood in front of a familiar pair of doors, slowly opening it and peeking her head in the room. It was almost like a rush of deja vu, watching as Qing Ning was once more pacing around and Lao Jun lounging, but this time, the two Archons were joined by a third, the Cryo Archon.

The door made a soft creaking noise, catching the attention of the three Archons.

Qing Ning was the first to react, as her eyes instantly lit up and she made a dash for Xiaobai, throwing the door the rest of the way open before wrapping her arms around the girl, only just a bit taller than Xiaobai. She held on tight, with Xiaobai a bit stunned for a moment. With the way Qing Ning held her in her arms, it was almost as if she was about to protect Xiaobai from anything and everything that threatened her, shielding her from the world.

It was a warm, comforting embrace. Xiaobai couldn’t help but to sink into her arms a bit.

“Oooh I’m so happy you’re finally awake,” Qing Ning said, relief spilling all over her words and her tone. “I was so worried when you showed up, my healing was doing nothing to help! I’ve never felt so scared and powerless before!”

“Sorry for worrying you,” Xiaobai said, and she meant it. It really did seem like the Anemo Archon had worried herself to death. The two of them had only known each other for such a short amount of time, and already Qing Ning was treating her as if they’d known each other for so many years.

After a few moments, Qing Ning pulled away a bit, but kept Xiaobai close as she quickly checked her over, even gently placing her hands on both sides of her face to turn her head this way and that. “You really shouldn’t be walking around already,” she mumbled as she fretted. “You should be resting still. Are you sure you’re alright? Oh it looks like you have a cut across your forehead here, let me just–”

“Qing Ning, you’re smothering the poor girl,” Lao Jun called out. From just over Qing Ning’s shoulder, she could see that Lao Jun had an eyebrow raised, but his tone held fondness to it despite the warning.

Qing Ning huffed as she turned to look at him over her shoulder. “How can I not? We sent two children off on a dangerous mission, with gou gege coming back looking as if he was just beaten to a pulp!”

“Hey! I was not beaten to a pulp!”

“How can I not worry about them?!”

Xiaobai couldn’t help but smile a bit at the slight bantering. It really was obvious how close these three Archons were. “By the way,” she interrupted, getting Qing Ning’s attention on her once more. “Where’s Shanxin and Huangshou? Are the two of them okay?”

“They’re fine, I promise,” Qing Ning nodded as she lowered her hands finally from Xiaobai’s face, now moving them so she was holding onto one of her hands as she dragged Xiaobai into the room. “Any wounds they had I already healed, though Shanxin is already a very skilled healer. If she were to study here for a bit, I’m sure her healing capabilities would be one of the best in no time.”

“Good luck convincing her of that, she doesn’t have much interest in getting better at healing, she wants to mostly use her electro vision for her inventions.”

“I hadn’t known Shanxin was an inventor,” Lao Jun looked interested, sitting up a bit more and even leaning just a bit forward. “There’s a rather prestigious school in Lanxi Zhen she could enroll in. I haven’t heard of any new inventors in the last few years, I’m happy to know the youth are starting to take an interest.”

“Huh? But she could achieve so much more if she were to stay here and study healing,” Qing Ning frowned. “There will always be those willing to tinker away and invent, but not many have the drive to learn the process of healing and medicines.”

Xiaobai listened as the two Archons started bantering back and forth over what sort of studying would benefit Shanxin best, and all she could do was sigh. If only the two of them were to know Shanxin did whatever she wanted, when she wanted. She would probably turn the both of them down if the offer was extended, honestly. She was a bit of a prodigy, but Shanxin really had no drive to please others or do as they say. She invented whatever she wanted to invent, and she learned healing to the extent of her own interests.

The only one not caught up in the debate was Xuanli, who sat there looking bored, completely uninterested in what was being said. Looking at him now, Xiaobai noticed that he had bandages wrapped around him, and her eyebrows raised in confusion.

“You’re staring.”

His sudden statement made Xiaobai jump a bit, noticing that he was now looking at her with his eyebrows furrowed a bit. She couldn’t tell if he was angry with her or not for staring, but it really seemed like he was. Quickly, she looked away, muttering a quick apology to the Cryo Archon. For a moment, she had forgotten her place. He was an Archon and she was nothing more than a human, show some more respect for crying out loud!!!!

Xuanli let out a scoff. “I’m not going to bite you or anything, you don’t need to act so on edge.”

Well… that seemed to be true.

He was close with Lao Jun and Qing Ning, who both seem to be rather relaxed and don’t care much for being treated and worshiped like gods, even if they essentially were gods. He also held an air of nonchalance around him about his position.

A bit hesitant, Xiaobai lifted her eyes to look back up at him, meeting Xuanli’s eyes that were already on her. He smiled once he had her attention again, the furrow of his brows from earlier gone. “There, see? I haven’t bitten you yet. Besides, you really helped me out back at the arena, so I can’t quite fight you just yet.”

The way he kept using the word yet made her feel a bit on edge, to be honest, as if he would lash out if given the chance.

“We haven’t really been introduced yet, I keep forgetting your name. So, I’m Xuanli, the Cryo Archon. Who’re you?”

He seemed a bit awkward with his wording, as if he wasn’t too used to this sort of thing, or like he was sort of forcing himself to make this introduction. But she appreciated it nonetheless as she raised her head up more to properly introduce herself. “My name is Luo Xiaobai, sir.”

Xuanli seemed to wince. “No, no no no, don’t call me sir, that’s just fucking weird,” he quickly waved a hand in the air, looking as if being called such a formal title was physically wounding him. It made her laugh a little. “Luo… Luo, Luo… Hmmmm…. I’ve heard that name before…”

“Because it’s the family name of the deity like warriors that fought with us in the Archon War.”

Xiaobai and Xuanli turned to Lao Jun, who apparently was finished bickering with Qing Ning. She couldn’t tell which one of them won, or if either of them even did and they just came to some sort of stalemate. It wouldn’t be surprising if it was the latter.

“That’s it!” Xuanli smiled widely before laughing out and slamming a hand on Xiaobai’s back, promptly knocking the wind from her lungs. “I thought your family died off along with the rest of them! Nice to see you Luo’s have some survival instinct!”

It took a moment for Xiaobai to catch her breath, coughing a little from the impact. She looked at the three Archons with a confused expression, not understanding a single thing they were saying. “Archon War? And… deity? What are you guys talking about?”

“From what Xuanli told us about what happened at the tournament, it’s a good idea to tell you all that we can.”

 

 

“Long ago, the divinity that’s known as Celestia opened up seven seats of godhood.

 

‘Take claim one of these seven seats,’ Celestia said, ‘And the victor shall govern over land and element.’

 

As many fought and clawed their way up, thus began the bloodbath that is today known as the Archon War.

 

There were no rules, and Celestia did not watch over the carnage that took place across the land. Their only concern were the final standing seven that would be chosen. Humans were caught in the middle of this war, powerless to defend themselves against the beings that paid no mind to their lives. They were on a quick path to extinction, if it were not for a few who rose up and protected them.

 

One of which was a divine being from Celestia itself, the only one to watch in horror as many were slaughtered by what Celestia had caused. Their pleas went unheard by the other divine bodies, until they finally had enough of sitting by and watching.

 

Stripped of their godhood, they descended down from Celestia.

 

Though protection was far and few between, this divine being took up arms to protect those who wished for protection, and saved those that wished to be saved, and aided those who needed it.

 

Too many were powerful yet selfish beings, and the divinity wished to strike them down before they could strike down those who wished for peace. They could not directly interfere with the war, and so, they gifted the beings that wished for peace power to destroy those with malicious intent. They gifted humans with power to fight and made allies.

 

But they also made enemies.

 

Just as the Archon War came to a close, Celestia finally stepped in after seeing that one of their own had betrayed them. Divinity could only be struck down by divinity, and with the seven seats taken, the deity that aided humans during the war was struck down.

 

After many centuries of suffering, the land finally knew peace, and all that remained of the divine being that helped humans was a bloodline that carried that same divinity, of the last name Luo.”

 

 

Xiaobai had heard of the Archon War. She had heard stories about it, with all sorts of different storylines and tales, and yet she had never heard this one before. She never heard of a god from Celestia stepping down to help, nor that there was some sort of divine bloodline. It was all very, very confusing, and she had no idea what it had to do with her.

Seeing the look of confusion on her face, Lao Jun sighed heavily as he closed his eyes for a moment, seeming as though he were collecting his thoughts. When he finally spoke, they remained closed. “We were aware that the divine bloodline all but died out long ago, with your grandfather being the last line. For many generations now, that divinity that the original god from Celestia held slowly faded away, until your grandfather was left with nothing but the faintest hint of it. The Luo family no longer wanted to be close to the Archons long before you were born, so we hadn’t thought to check when your birth was announced.”

Lao Jun opened his eyes now. He held a warm smile, yet it also seemed sad in a way to the point where it made Xiaobai’s chest ache. “It seems as though that divine power has reawakened in you. While a blessing, you are also a terrible omen, and I fear for what lies ahead of us.”

Her hands clenched tightly in her lap and she looked down. Her head felt like it was spinning. She couldn’t fully grasp what was going on, nor understand what it all meant. Was she some kind of threat to her friends and family now? What would happen if Celestia found out?

“So then, did that person who attacked Xuanli have something to do with this?”

Xuanli let out a mocking laugh as he threw his head back. “Celestia is too cowardly to go after someone like me!”

“You’d best hold your tongue with that,” Lao Jun said with a small shake of his head and a sigh before looking back at Xiaobai, this time a more reassuring expression on his face. “While we can’t say for sure right now, I doubt this had anything to do with Celestia or with you. Xuanli has made many enemies in the past, this isn’t the first time he has been attacked. But this is the first time his gnosis has been targeted.”

“Normal people don’t know about an Archon's gnosis, it’s a well kept secret, so for a mortal to have known about one, as well as possess the tools to forcibly take one from an Archon…” Qing Ning’s voice trailed off as she became deep in thought, as her expression turned to one of great worry.

Gnosis… She heard that word being used during Xuanli’s fight. “Can you explain to me what a gnosis is?” she asked hesitantly.

She got the gaze of all three Archon’s on her after asking, and Xiaobai feared for a moment if that secret was something to be kept from her as well. Just before she could start panicking and beg for forgiveness, Qing Ning stepped forward. “Seeing how your abilities affect an Archon’s gnosis, it might be for the best to let you know.”

Lao Jun turned and gave her a stern look, one that didn’t go unnoticed by her, as she let out a sigh before setting a hand on his shoulder. “We’ve told her this much, and I doubt we can keep it a secret from her much longer.”

It took him a moment to relax once more, but eventually Lao Jun did, but not without still holding a look of concern in his eyes.

“You can think of it as an Archon’s source of power,” Qing Ning went on to explain as she turned back to Xiaobai. “It proves we are Archons, one of the seat holders of Celestia, as well as our right to rule over our nation and land. It’s similar in a way to a vision, but visions are much more primitive compared to the power of a gnosis. Without it, an Archon is stripped of their title and greatly weakened. However, with your divine abilities from Celestia itself, you hold the power to give those with a gnosis a great boost in their abilities.”

“I wouldn’t have been able to win that fight without your help,” Xuanli said with a smile as he looked at Xiaobai, sincere with his words. “The moment that kid grabbed hold of my gnosis, I was cut off from it.”

Lao Jun nodded. “So, then our next order of business is to figure out where that young man got his knowledge from, as well as where he got those gloves from. However, this situation doesn’t involve you.”

His eyes were looking directly at Xiaobai, and she knew that whatever information was given freely to her was already given, and no more would be handed over. She wanted to know more, she wanted to know about the situation with the delusions, and if these three would be safe in the end, but Lao Jun seemed to now have some sort of guard up.

She remembered back to his words said only a few moments ago. Xiaobai was now an omen to them. If she could help these three, then she didn’t doubt that there might be some less kinder Archons that would target her if word were to get out. Although kind, Xiaobai had to remind herself of Lao Jun’s position as her nation's god, Daode Zhizun, and how he was ruthless against those that posed a threat to his nation and its people.

Suddenly, her heart ached deeply, however, she nodded her head respectfully. “I understand,” she said as she stood.

“Qing Ning or I will summon you sometime tomorrow to hear what you encountered while in the Cryo nation, but for now, find your friend and get some rest.”

“Thank you,” Xiaobai smiled, before finally leaving the room and making sure the door was closed behind her.

She couldn’t hear anything from the room as she leaned her back against the door, taking a moment to catch her breath and process all the information given to her. At this point, Shanxin would have certainly told her that their work here was done, that they could finally go home. There was nothing left for them to do, nothing that they had to do or required to do.

And Xiaobai wished with all her might that she could believe that, but there was a strange tightness in her throat that told her this wasn’t over yet. Something was coming. Something big and terrifying. No matter what, it was just a feeling she couldn’t shake.

 

 

“You didn’t have to be so harsh on the girl, you know,” Qing Ning said with a heavy sigh as she proceeded to collapse into the now empty seat that Xiaobai had been occupying. “She never asked for this.”

Lao Jun nodded. “I know, but you wouldn’t understand just how dangerous the situation is now. You weren’t there for the full intensity of the Archon War, you didn’t see just how bad it was.”

She knew that Lao Jun was only harsh to protect everyone, that he meant no ill will or malicious intent behind it, but sometimes that harshness would hurt others, and more importantly, it hurt himself. Xiaobai has only known Lao Jun for a short time now, the mortal wouldn’t be able to pick up on his slight mannerisms that gave away that he was truly upset by how harsh he had to make his words.

While the world knew him as the mighty and malevolent Daode Zhizun, all Qing Ning could see him as was her shifu, family.

Despite being born nearing the end of the Archon War, there really wasn’t much she knew about it, other than Lao Jun lost too many close to him. By the time he and Xuanli adopted her, he was already so broken and scarred from the ongoing war that had almost no end in sight. She had made it her own mission to make sure that not only humanity, but also her family, would no longer suffer from such a war.

She couldn’t find it in her to be upset with him for how he acted towards Xiaobai. Xuanli must’ve picked up on Lao Jun’s emotions as well, as she watched him reach over and take Lao Jun’s hand into his own. Lao Jun looked at Xuanli with love and adoration in his eyes, briefly distracted from the pain and fear that was no doubt in his chest.

Neither of them knew what was going on. All of these events were happening all so suddenly and at once, after so many years and centuries of peace.

Qing Ning thought back to the absolute horror she felt not too long ago when those humans arrived back at her nation's capital with Xuanli in tow, beaten and worn. An Archon can’t heal another Archon, and they can’t heal through normal means. The fact that he had been attacked with a delusion only made it worse, she couldn’t heal him, and his connection to Celestia in her chamber was much weaker than it should’ve been.

Finding out that Xuanli’s gnosis was targeted and almost ripped away, Qing Ning had watched as Lao Jun almost broke down after the realization that he had almost lost his husband without knowing why. She had to drag Lao Jun away from the child that they took prisoner, because she was sure Lao Jun would’ve killed him if given even the slightest chance.

Now, Lao Jun was much more calmed down from the ordeal, with Xuanli smiling in front of them and moving around, even though the bandages were just barely holding him together. Luckily, her capital was built upon a large leyline, and as whatever damage the delusion did to him faded, he would heal.

Qing Ning felt her vision swim for a moment, resulting in her putting her head down for a moment as she collected herself. She was tired, more so than she remembers feeling in a long time, but she figured it was due to the recent anxiety and stress.

“Alright,” Qing Ning declared, as she stood from her chair once her head stopped swaying and her vision cleared up once more. “I’m going to visit the kid they brought in. Shifu, did you want to join me for some questioning?”

It might be a bad idea to bring him, but he knew more than she did and would be able to place whatever pieces were missing to this puzzle a lot quicker than she could. Lao Jun nodded as he stood, and Xuanli looked at them expectantly, eyes shining almost. “Can I go too?”

“No,” Lao Jun shook his head, “you were targeted specifically. We can’t risk you getting face to face with that child again.”

Instantly, Xuanli seemed to deflate, and he threw himself dramatically over the arm at the seat, tugging at the hems of Lao Jun’s sleeve. “Why nooooottt?” He whined. “It’s boring here! There’s nothing to do!”

“Do I have to remind you that you’re technically a patient here, and that I will strap you down to a chair if I have to?” Qing Ning raised an eyebrow at him. It wasn’t that she didn’t want him involved, but Lao Jun was right. There must’ve been a reason why Xuanli was specifically targeted, whether it was from the kids own personal vendetta or by some order. It was too risky.

Lao Jun smiled as he placed a hand on Xuanli’s head gently. “We’ll be back soon, I promise, so be a good boy and stay here.”

A redness spread across Xuanli’s face as well as some wide, stupid looking smile, as he instantly relented and gave in to Lao Jun’s words.

Qing Ning faked a gag as she walked past them. “While you two flirt, I’ll actually get some work done around here!” She could hear Lao Jun chuckling as he followed along behind.

There wasn’t any sort of jail or containment center inside of the medical building, since it functioned more as a hospital as well as Qing Ning’s home rather than a place to lock people up, but she didn’t trust the kid to be placed anywhere else, too afraid that he may find some way to break out or would hurt innocent bystanders, so they turned one of the rooms into a makeshift cell. It was easy to use her abundance of anemo energy to keep a constant flow of wind containing him, easily tearing him to shreds if he should attempt to leave.

Opening up the door to the room, the boy was seated in the middle, legs hugged tight to his chest, unmoving except for the shifting of his eyes over to the archons as they entered the room, his expression changing to one of a glare.

Qing Ning looked in confusion as she shut the door behind herself and Lao Jun. “Why are you seated on the floor?” she asked him, having made sure there was proper seating in the area he was contained in. “You’ll upset your wounds more if you aren’t careful.”

The boy just looked at them for a few moments, the only sound heard between the three of them was the soft blowing of the wind from the cage. His eyes shifted away from them. “I’m fine, dafu.” His voice was low and a bit muffled from the way he was seated.

Lao Jun remained silent as he slowly walked, eyes never leaving the boy, and Qing Ning could tell he was just barely containing himself to keep quiet. She let out a small sigh, realizing that she really was going to be the only one to get any real work done. “Do you mind telling us your name?”

Once again, he was silent and took a few moments to reply. He was probably weighing the pros and cons of all his answers, and deciding which would be the safest option.

“Mu Si,” he finally said.

So, they at least had a name to call him, finally.

It was hard to tell, having been alive for so long, but Qing Ning figured this child was in his late teens, early adulthood at the latest. A similar age to Xiaobai and Shanxin it seemed. It was extremely baffling why someone as young as him would want to use a delusion, he still had time to gain a vision of his own if that’s what he desired, but what made it even more confusing was his hatred for Xuanli. A god with a hatred towards Xuanli made sense, he has fought many battles through the years and has had many vow to one day overthrow him, but a child who has no such means of doing so…

“Mu Si, why were you after the Cryo Archon?” Qing Ning asked. Of course, Xuanli had already told his side of the story, but there wasn’t a whole lot he could tell to begin with.

“As I said, he was distributing those things and hurting others. I figured someone had to do something to stop him.”

“Those things, do you mean the delusions?”

“I didn’t know what they were called.”

“Did you know what sort of effects they had on people, then?”

Mu Si nodded. “Two of my friends had gotten them a few days ago, before being brought here for treatment.”

So he and his friends went and used them without even knowing what they were? Why would they want them in the first place?

Well, the question of why wasn’t that hard to figure out at all to begin with. Whether they wanted them for some other reason, most of the time, it all boiled down to the fact that many mortals wanted a vision of their own. Visions were marvelous and amazing tools to mortals who didn’t fully grasp what they were, some even looked at vision bearers with envy.

But he also said that two of his friends were now in the Anemo nation getting treatment. “Could you tell me the names of your friends?”

Mu Si just stared at her, with enough time passing between them to let her know he wasn’t so readily going to answer her question, probably due to wanting to protect them.

“I made a vow to never do harm to my patients, no matter who they may be. If they are under my care, they will receive said care until they are healthy once more. I only wish to know their names so I can tell you how their treatment is going.”

At this, he seemed to perk up a little, as if he hadn’t considered that to be an option, that she wouldn’t tell him how they were doing instead of instantly punishing them. “My friends… are A Xian and Tan Jiu.”

Qing Ning racked her brain, trying to think of anything involving these names. She had seen so many inflicted by those delusions, it was hard for her to keep track of it all clearly, but eventually, the names became faces, and she remembered what she could about their conditions. She gave him a reassuring and, what she hoped was, a convincing smile. “They’re both doing fine. Although they had been showing symptoms when they arrived here, we managed to slow down or completely stop them.”

She didn’t know Mu Si had been sitting there, all muscles in his body tensed up, until she finally saw what looked like him relaxing, as though a weight had fallen off his shoulders. “That’s good,” he said in a much lower tone this time, but he sounded relieved.

Looking over, she saw Lao Jun with his eyes closed. No doubt he had conflicting feelings and thoughts going through his mind right now. As someone who would do anything for his family, Lao Jun could no doubt sympathize well with this child, even if it pained him to do so.

Qing Ning felt relieved, having answered a few of their questions now, but so far, these questions were the easier ones. What came next were the harder ones, the ones this child might not be so inclined to answer, if not for his own sake, than for the ones of his friends.

“Can you tell us the reason behind what drove you to attacking the Cryo Archon?”

Just as she expected, Mu Si seemed to put up his guard once again, though not nearly as much as last time. “I know that you went after him because of your friends,” she continued, pushing on forward, “but that doesn’t quite explain how you knew of his gnosis, or how you even possessed the ability to take it from him.”

Mu Si bowed his head, looking back and forth between the two archons as if they were predators, ready to strike at any moment. “I was told he was the one giving out those delusions and making everyone ill.”

Qing Ning raised her eyebrows. “What nation do you and your friends hail from?”

“The Cryo nation.”

“And have you lived there your whole life?”

“Yes, dafu.”

“Then you’ve been under the Cryo Archons protection for many years, probably even generations if your bloodline is from there as well. You should know then that the Cryo Archon is not one to favor such underhanded tricks, nor is he intelligent enough to pull through with such plans.”

Lao Jun lifted his hand and let out a small cough, holding back a grin and laughter. It wasn’t favorable to say such things about her father, but really, Xuanli couldn’t come up with such a plan and the both of them knew it. Any plans they enacted in the past were first thought through by either herself or Lao Jun. It was just the truth.

And obviously, the people who lived under the Cryo Archon were at least a little aware of this to be true as well, as Mu Si seemed to stop for a moment and really consider Qing Ning’s words, running them through his mind a bit and realizing that there were enough instances for this to be true.

“I see we have some level of understanding now,” Qing Ning said with a small nod.

“While it may be true he couldn’t plan this on his own, I’ve heard that both Qing Ning dafu and the Hydro Archon would easily back him up, making it so the three of you were working together. The three nations are close, afterall.”

There were rumors that she and Lao Jun were in on this as well, but after some thinking, it didn’t hold a lot of weight. “Do you really think I would be willing to give myself more work as a doctor? Especially with something I couldn’t cure easily?”

Mu Si seemed to think about it some more, and his eyebrows seemed to stitch together as he frowned. He was putting the pieces together and realizing that all these allegations weren’t holding up as well as he thought.

Lao Jun turned and gave Qing Ning a look, one that was only a little concerned. She could tell what he was thinking just by the look in his eyes.

There was something much bigger going on here, much bigger than a simple child getting his hands on a weapon and pulling some stupid stunt. If that were the case, then this situation would have been blown over by now.

No, this wasn’t just the arrogance of the youth.

Qing Ning bent her head down a bit and placed a hand over her forehead, feeling as though her head was going to start splitting from the stress of it all.

“Qing Ning dafu,” Mu Si said, causing her to look up once more at the suddenness of being addressed without needing to ask him a question first. “I don’t know much, as the person I got these items from kept their identity hidden, but please be careful.”

“Why must we be careful?”

 

“I fear someone may be betraying you.”

 

Lao Jun took a step forward towards the child, hands now clenched at his side in ill contained rage. “And what sort of proof do you have throwing around such claims, child?” he said through almost gritted teeth, not taking well to the threat that someone close to them may be a traitor. Qing Ning could understand, but she reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder, pulling him back just enough that he got the hint to back down.

Mu Si seemed hesitant to talk for a moment, but he ended up letting out a sigh before figuring he would be dead either way. “The one I spoke to, they seemed to know quite a lot of detail of how the state of the Anemo nation was under this crisis due to the delusions. They had also warned me of what your two emissaries looked like, something I don’t think you had announced prior.”

No, she hadn’t said what the two looked like, or even showed them off to the crowd that gathered. She had made sure Xiaobai and Shanxin went there as anonymously as possible, as to not draw attention to them from anyone, much less anyone that might want to target them.

This meant that whoever it was, they were very close to her, making the group of people to consider even smaller, which just made her anxiety spike more. She couldn’t bear the thought of anyone betraying her, much less someone she would consider family. She didn’t even know who would do such a thing, with absolutely no names coming into her mind.

This news was extremely upsetting and concerning, and if it were true, they would need to figure out what to do about it, and extremely quickly.

“That’s enough out of you,” Lao Jun sneered, placing himself so he was now standing in front of Qing Ning protectively, as if this boy was of any harm to her. “If all you’re going to do is feed us lies now, we’re done here.”

Nothing more was said, Mu Si didn’t seem to dare to speak, as he just silently watched Lao Jun lead Qing Ning out of the room. As the door closed behind her, Qing Ning looked back into that room, back at that boy, and for a moment, she could see something that looked like fear in his eyes, but it didn’t seem as though it was for himself. There was something else on his mind. Was he scared for his friends? Or was there something more that they needed to be on the lookout for?

The door shut, and Lao Jun seemed to let out a sigh of relief. “I know we’re in your nation, but next time, we should put him under oath. That way, if that mortal tried to lie to us again, he would be doing so under my court and have to deal with the punishments. Are you alright?”

 

Qing Ning…

 

She really didn’t know how to answer.

 

Letting out a heavy sigh, Qing Ning wrapped her arms around herself. “Yeah, I’m fine,” it wasn’t a total lie, but she really didn’t know how to feel or what to think. She didn’t want to believe someone close to her could be some kind of spy, but that sort of accusation doesn’t just show up suddenly.

It was one thing with people thinking that the three archons were colluding with one another, they were super close, afterall, with hardly anyone knowing that the reasoning was due to them being family. It’s been going on for so many years, with so many accusations, that she could simply brush it off.

But to think someone was going behind her back…

It didn’t seem possible. She didn’t want to believe it.

A hand on her shoulder knocked her out of her thoughts, blinking in confusion as she looked up at Lao Jun.

“Don’t think too hard about what that boy said,” he placed his hand on her other shoulder, a comforting touch that helped to ground her and keep her from getting lost in her thoughts. “No one in our family would ever betray one another. We’ll figure this out, like we always do.”

Something was nagging at the back of her mind, making her feel unsure. But she smiled anyway and nodded. Even for a moment, she wanted to believe in his words. “You’re right, shifu. Everything’s going to work out just fine.”

Lao Jun reached up and lightly ruffled her hair, causing her to shout in protest but laughed nonetheless. “That’s enough excitement for now. You should go and rest for a bit, we’ll continue this later. I have some things I want to go over with Xuanli, anyways.”

“Ugh, you two are going to do gross things, huh?” Qing Ning faked disgust as she fixed her hair. “At least I don’t have to worry about you getting a divorce.”

“A divorce? That’s a mortal concept, your father and I are bonded for eternity, I made sure of it.”

“You made him take an oath, didn’t you?”

“Not to stay as my husband, that’s just an added bonus.”

“Yuck, alright alright, I know you haven’t seen each other in a while, I know when to get out of your hair,” she said dramatically as she walked away, shaking her head as she did so.

Lao Jun stood there and watched for a moment before heading back the way that they came, no doubt going to see if Xuanli had done as told and remained in the room to wait for them.

 

Qing Ning walked the silent halls of the building, before finally reaching her room, opening the door and walking inside with a heavy sigh. She felt a little suffocated with the overwhelming feeling of dread and the knowledge from what they learned today, so she walked over to her window overlooking the city and threw it open. The moon shone overhead, bright and illuminating the darkness. It was late into the night, the only noise filling the silence was the distant sounds of insects softly chirping. Even the city seemed to be sleeping, as a faint glow shone above the city, and the sea made no noise.

She tried her best not to get lost in thought, fearing that it would lead her down a rabbit hole that would certainly make her feel like she would lose her head.

With another heavy sigh, she bought a hand up and pinched the bridge of her nose.

This situation was really getting out of hand, huh?

“Do you plan on jumping?”

Qing Ning startled, quickly turning around to see Diting holding a tray with his eyebrows furrowed a bit, confused.

“Nonsense!” She quickly laughed it off, quickly waving one hand in the air in embarrassment for having startled so much. “Even if I was, I’m the Anemo Archon!! The winds would catch me long before hitting the ground!!”

He just stared at her for a moment before walking into the room, letting the door behind him close as he shook his head. “Lao Jun told me to bring you some tea,” he said as he set down the tray on the small table in her room, setting up the small set he had brought in with him.

Qing Ning smiled as she walked over, sitting down and happily accepting the warm cup he offered to her.

“Ah, wait wait wait, where do you think you’re going?” She reached out and caught his arm, just as Diting was motioning to leave.

He looked at her with a frown. “I have work to do.”

“Not right now, sit down and have some tea with me.”

“... I don’t drink this brand.”

“That’s fine, then stay and keep me company, we’ve been so busy lately I haven’t gotten the chance to talk with you.”

Diting seemed to hesitate for a moment, his eyes looking towards the cup in her hands and then towards the door, before he finally let out what sounded like a long suffering sigh. Finally, he did as told and sat across from her, hands folded neatly in his lap.

Qing Ning raised an eyebrow at him and smiled. “You don’t have to keep up appearances, you know. You’re my little brother, afterall, relax.”

It was hard for him to get out of a work mindset, where he acted refined and aloof in front of others, but she knew that he actually had a bit of a temper and didn’t enjoy talking much. It took him a few moments, but eventually, Diting relaxed, leaning back fully in the chair and crossing his arms over his chest.

She couldn’t help but to laugh a little as she set down the cup of tea, too hot for her to drink at the moment. “Thank you for all your help lately, didi. I don’t know where I would be without you and Beihe helping me out.”

“Probably trampled to death by some angry mob, or drowning in so much work that it kills you.”

Well, he definitely was right there. Without them to help manage the work and keep her on a schedule, she would’ve certainly overworked herself centuries ago.

“The old man seemed tense when he told me to get you some tea, is there anything I need to worry about?” Diting asked. For the most part, Diting was in charge of simple medical tasks as well as serving as Qing Ning’s bodyguard and security. He didn’t like having to deal with paperwork, and he couldn’t heal like Qing Ning and Beihe could, nor did he understand medicine as well.

Seeing Lao Jun tense, he probably assumed there may have been a security threat of some kind, especially with the recent accusations being thrown around, anyone would jump at the opportunity to try and do harm to at least one of the three Archons.

Qing Ning let out a sigh, looking down at the liquid inside of the cup.

Once again, Mu Si’s warning, or threat, came to her head. There may be someone within their close circle that could be a traitor, and she wondered just how much she should be telling him.

But Diting was her little brother. She watched him grow up. She loves him dearly, and trusts him as much as she trusts Lao Jun and Xuanli. They are her family.

“Gouge was attacked.”

“He was hosting that stupid tournament of his, of course he was attacked.”

“No, this wasn’t related to the tournament, if it was, shifu wouldn’t be so stressed out over it.”

Diting stared, shifting in his seat a bit. “Was the criminal apprehended?” He asked after a short moment, taking in the news.

Qing Ning nodded. “He’s staying imprisoned here until we figure out what’s going on, but as far as we know, he’s getting help from someone extremely dangerous, as they were also distributing delusions to the public.”

“Why is he staying here?” Diting quickly asked, leaning forward as he frowned, a hand pressed down onto the table. “We don’t have the security measures needed in case something happens. If he’s colluding with someone dangerous, then they could come and break him out!” His tone of voice rose, sounding more and more panicked as he spoke.

She could understand why he would be feeling anxious about this, he was right anyways. This nation was used to heal and nurture, not to confine and jail. Their defenses were lacking, and if the mastermind behind all this did show up, they really would be in huge danger.

But Qing Ning leaned forward and gently placed her hand over Diting’s, giving him a reassuring smile. “Gouge is resting here, and shifu isn’t about to leave until he makes sure this entire situation is over with. If something happens, it’ll be okay, we’ll get through it together. Besides,” she puffed out her chest and her reassuring smile turned more to an overconfident grin, “we can easily take down anyone. Don’t forget, I might be a doctor, but I know how to fight just as well. We’re tied whenever we spar, remember?”

Diting just stared once more a few moments. Something unreadable flashed through his eyes, as he seemed to be thinking about something over and over in his mind. Finally, his nose seemed to scrunch up a bit as he took his hand out from under hers and once more leaned back in his chair. Qing Ning didn’t take it to heart, he was always shy when it came to physical contact and reassurances. “Fine, but I get to say I told you so when something actually does happen.”

“Of course, of course,” she laughed lightly, nodding.

She felt her heart swell up with the love and affection she felt for her family, and how much they were all willing to go through to protect one another. It made her feel at ease and washed away the worries she had that whatever traitor there might be was in her family. Whoever it was, it definitely had to be some sort of close adversary, or was a fly on the wall.

“Thank you, didi.”

Diting looked at her with confusion. “For what?”

“For putting my heart at ease, and for taking care of me. You bring me tea every night to help me relax, and you’ve been taking on more work recently to keep the nation safe. Really, it means a lot to me.”

He looked away, looking off somewhere in the distance, with his shoulders hunched and looking embarrassed. Diting let out a small scoff. “Yeah, whatever, just drink your tea already so I can leave.”

Qing Ning looked down once more and saw that the tea in her cup was no longer too hot, now a subtle warmth as she drank it, feeling it warm her up from the inside.

She was ready to do anything to protect her family and keep this small piece of sanctuary close to her heart and happy, for as long as she was Archon.