Time to welcome our third male lead to Lost You Forever, and I don’t mean he’s third in line to win our leading lady’s heart. While he’s the final guy to show up in the story, narratively he’s got a much much deeper tie to Xiao Liu than either of them knows right off the bat. As usual with stuff in Qing Shui Town when people show up and stuff happens, it’s messy and complicated and nothing is ever what it seems. I really enjoy how this story plops us smack in the middle of daily activity, in many ways just turning on the TV right in the middle of a show. A brief snippet and you’re hooked, but then you have to extrapolate and read between the lines of what is happening without the benefit of the earlier narrative. Thankfully the back story gets revealed little by little, and Xiao Liu gets pulled back into her old world little by little. He’s a god, supposedly of little power compared to others, but he’s scraped by with his quick thinking and a surprising tenacity. Little things don’t phase him, and he appears to rarely let his guard down. So far we’ve only seen Xiao Liu share a bit with Shi Qi, and have a bit dragged out of him by Xiang Liu. I’ve read all of Tong Hua’s novels and I can safely say her three male leads here are extraordinarily rendered. On par with the complicated tortured Meng Jue, the candid and passionate Huo Qu Bing, the reticent and devoted Liu Fu Ling, the selfless and reserved Meng Xi Muo, and the ambitious and determined 4th Prince. I love watching Xiao Liu be a man because it allows the characters to interact without the usual veneer of attraction. Tong Hua does well by never describing Xiao Liu, we don’t know what he looks like, but it doesn’t matter because he isn’t who he really is anyways. That makes his interaction with Shi Qi fascinating, because they are both honest with each other but living a lie. Conversely, Xiao Liu and Xiang Liu are like this really crazy combustible slow burn that has nothing to do with romance but everything to do with this weird sensation that they just “get” each other.
Chapter 3 – A Guest From Far Away:
Butcher Gao had only one child and Ma Zi had no parents, so after the marriage Ma Zi became like a son to Butcher Gao and often went to help out. Gradually he lived more at Butcher Gao’s house and returned to the clinic less.
Chuan Zi laughed at Butcher Gao’s smart deal, got money for marrying a daughter and got himself an extra son. Xiao Liu and Lao Mu didn’t care – to Xiao Liu having one Shi Qi equaled ten Ma Zi, and for Lao Mu he was just happy to see Ma Zi living a peaceful happy life.
So when one day Ma Zi was carried into the clinic by Butcher Gao and Chun Tao, Lao Mu was in disbelief while Xiao Liu furrowed his brows. If it was Chuan Zi that got beaten up that wouldn’t surprise Xiao Liu. Chuan Zi could be an ass and sometimes deserved a beat down. But Ma Zi was not like that, he was tall and strong but very reasonable and was willing to give in to others.
“What happened?” Lao Mu asked. Chun Tao wiped her tears and explained “After butchering a sheep this morning, I was delivering sheep blood when I accidentally bumped into a lady. I apologized to her and offered to pay for the damage but the lady’s maid yelled that I couldn’t afford it. My dad got nervous and a few words were exchanged and then fists went flying. Ma Zi tried to protect my dad and got beaten.”
Qing Shui Town had no government or law enforcement and the only law was survival of the fittest.
Chuan Zi heard enough and grabbed his medicine bag and took off. Chuan Zi was very scrawny as a kid and Ma Zi took good care of him. The two fought all day long but they were closer than even real blood brothers. Xiao Liu called out “Lao Mu” and Lao Mu immediately ran out after him.
Ma Zi’s injuries were not that severe and after Xiao Liu patched him up and Chuan Zi and Lao Mu were still not back, he told Chun Tao “You take care of Ma Zi, I’ll go check.”
Butcher Gao grabbed his butcher’s knife and wanted to follow but Xiao Liu laughed “Your business can’t be shuttered so go back to work. Lao Mu and I will see to it.”
Shi Qi followed behind Xiao Liu and when they arrived at the inn they saw Lao Mu fighting with a girl in yellow. Chuan Zi was laying on the ground and when he saw Xiao Liu he grumbled “Brother Liu, I didn’t start anything. Before I got close to them I was already beaten down.”
Xiao Liu shot him a glance and then looked at Lao Mu who was clearly not a match for the girl in yellow. The girl was like toying with a monkey the way she danced around Lao Mu, with a veiled girl standing on the stone steps next to her. The girl was laughing as she watched and would call out an order “Hai Tang, I want to see him fall on his butt.” and the girl indeed caused Lao Mu to fall on his rear end. The young girl giggled and clapped “Hopping, I want to see him hopping like a toad!”
Lao Mu could not control his body and he was forced to hop like a toad as if someone else was pressing on him. The little girl doubled over laughing and all the people gathered to watch the scene were also guffawing.
Xiao Liu squeezed to the front and bowed to the young girl before turning to Hai Tang “He’s already defeated, will the young lady please stop.”
Hai Tang looked at the young girl but the young girl continued as if she heard nothing “I want to see him tumbling.” Lao Mu was then tumbling on the ground while the young girl laughed and the crowd also laughed.
Xiao Liu solemnly spoke up “The rule of Qing Shui Town says to know when to stop when there is no blood feud at stake.” The young girl looked at Xiao Liu “My rule is whomever offended me must die! Xuan gege won’t let me hurt anyone so I won’t hurt anyone, but I’ll make him perform tricks.”
Lao Mu was a hardscrabble battle worn old man and there were tears in his eyes as he begged Xiao Liu “Kill me!” He was a runaway soldier from the Xuan Yuan Army but he was only escaping the nonstop war and not escaping a man’s dignity. Xiao Liu’s murderous intent was roused and he stepped forward.
Suddenly Lao Mu stopped tumbling and Chuan Zi hurried over to help him up. The young girl was unhappy “Hai Tang, did I allow you to stop?” Hai Tang shot a glance at Shi Qi standing in the crowd “It wasn’t your servant I” She slowly backed up and stood in front of the young girl with her eyes locked on Shi Qi.
“If not you, then who? Which pathetic lowlife dared to?” The young girl wanted to push Hai Tang aside and look for herself but Hai Tang held tight to the young girl and said in a low voice “The person has higher power than I do. Let’s wait until Master Xuan returns.” Hai Tang grabbed the girl and quickly left the inn. Xiao Liu looked at their retreating backs and smiled “I’ll be waiting for you at the clinic.”
Lao Mu had some name recognition on the street but the indignity he suffered today caused his face to darken and he entered the house without a word. Xiao Liu knew he couldn’t comfort him so told Chuan Zi to keep an eye on him lest he tried to kill himself in shame.
Xiao Liu sat in the front salon while Shi Qi stood off in the corner in the shadows. Xiao Liu toyed with a cup of wine and chattered in his usual way “Lao Mu, Ma Zi, Chuan Zi, they all think I’m the nicest person. But in truth I’ve killed people since I was very young…….I haven’t killed anyone in a long time but today I wanted to kill them.”
“They are Gods.” Shi Qi suddenly spoke out.
“What of it?” Xiao Liu looked unafraid.
Shi Qi was silent. Xiao Liu glanced at him “Will you help me?” Shi Qi nodded. Xiao Liu smiled and suddenly didn’t feel killing anyone anymore. Xiao Liu drank a tumbler of wine and finally the person he was waiting for arrived.
The young girl took off her veil and her features were merely fine but with an expressive pair of eyes that raised her looks from a 5 to an 8 on that alone. The man standing next to her was very extraordinary – his eyes were warm and his demeanor refined like the rivers and mountains in fluidity and strength.
The man bowed to Xiao Liu “I am Xuan and this is my cousin Ah Nian. Our servant girl Hai Tang has been poisoned by young master you so I came personally to ask young master to give us the antidote.”
Xiao Liu played with the tumbler of wine in his hand and said with a smile “Sure, if one kneeled and bowed in apology to my elder brother.”
Ah Nian glared at Xiao Liu “Want my servant girl to bow in apology to your elder brother, are you sick of living?”
Xiao Liu coldly stared at Hai Tang who appeared in great pain as she clutched the wall and slowly sank to the floor. Ah Nian whined “Xuan gege, you see! They came looking for trouble. I didn’t hurt them and was just toying a bit but they responded by trying to kill us. If I wasn’t carrying my E….father’s poison warding beads then I would have been poisoned.”
Hai Tang yelped in pain and Xuan stared at Xiao Liu “Please give me the antidote!”
Xiao Liu coldly laughed “What? You want to take it with force? Be my guest!”
Xuan reached out to grab the medicine and Xiao Liu backed up. Xiao Liu knew Shi Qi was behind her and if he blocked for Xiao Liu then he could see what type of powers Xuan had and poison him accordingly. But Shi Qi didn’t step forward and when Xiao Liu looked back the corner of the room was empty and Shi Qi was gone.
Xiao Liu was struck by Xuan and collapsed. Xuan was surprised that Xiao Liu was so weak since he appeared so brash and quickly held back his power “I’m sorry, I didn’t know you……” He picked up Xiao Liu to check his injuries and it was a relief that Xuan never intended to hurt him so Xiao Liu appeared just dazed. Xiao Liu rested on Xuan’s shoulder and a small smile appeared on his lips and his eyes filled with derision. Sometimes one could only laugh at the entire world.
Ah Nian picked up the antidote bottle and fed a pill to Hai Tang who swallowed and expressed some aura “This is the antidote.” Ah Nian mocked Xiao Liu “You’re this useless and you dared to oppose us?”
Xiao Liu pushed Xuan away and struggled to get up “Scram!”
Ah Nian wanted to strike but Xuan stopped her “Since the poison has been cured, let’s just go home.” He looked at Xiao Liu one more time before dragging Ah Nian behind him. Ah Nian looked back and silently mouthed the insult “Lowlife loser!”
Xiao Liu walked into the courtyard and sat down on the stone step and Shi Qi walked behind him. Xiao Liu smiled at the sunset and loudly sighed. He was wrong, he should never rely on another.
Shi Qi kneeled beside Xiao Liu and handed him the basket of snacks. Xiao Liu asked “You know them?” Shi Qi nodded. “They are the young lady and lord of a noble family in the God tribe?” Shi Qi paused for a moment before slowly nodding. “You were afraid they would recognize you so you hid? Or you thought I shouldn’t have messed with them so you hid so they could get the antidote?”
Shi Qi lowered his head and Xiao Liu flipped the basket over and a plate of goose necks and claws fell on the ground. Xiao Liu walked out the door when when Shi Qi tried to get up “Don’t follow me!” and Xiao Liu’s order caused him to stop.
Xiao Liu walked to the edge of the river and watched it rumble past. He wasn’t angry that Shi Qi let Xuan take the antidote. He was angry because when he relied on someone it was to turn around and discover that person wasn’t there. He was angry at himself for having this pathetic hope. Xiao Liu jumped into the river and swam upstream. The river got wider and wider and the current stronger and stronger.
The icy cold river rushed past everything, night and day, it never stopped. Xiao Liu allowed the current to batter him and feel the sense of powerlessness. The sound of laughter came from above and Xiao Liu raised his head to see Xiang Liu casually riding on his golden white condor and looking down at Xiao Liu. “Night fishing?”
Xiang Liu reached out his hand and Xiao Liu grabbed it and vaulted on the back of the condor. The condor rose into the air into the clouds and Xiao Liu was all wet so was cold and shivering. Xiang Liu handed a tumbler of wine to Xiao Liu and he quickly gulped down a few drinks.The strong alcohol in his belly immediately cut some of the chill.
Xiang Liu leaned back and stared at Xiao Liu who felt a bit brave with some alcohol in his belly “What are you looking at? It’s not like I’m a woman!”
“Only very few Gods can have their own winged ride. An even a God with not very low powers, when riding on the back of a winged ride will still feel uneasy. But you…..you are comfortable and much too at ease.”
“I just find myself more and more curious about your past.”
Xiao Liu tipped his head back and gulped down the wine.
“Who are you upset at?” “None of your business!”
“Are you itching for a whipping?”
Xiao Liu sullenly said nothing.
The condor flew to a lake, and with the moon hanging in the dark sky it illuminated the dark blue waters so it sparkled silver and was so quiet it was like time was locked.
Xiao Liu handed the tumbler to Xiang Liu and stood up. He opened his arms and howled to the wind before suddenly falling from the condor like a shooting star diving into the lake. Xiang Liu moved and the condor started to fall as well.
Xiao Liu was like a beautiful butterfly falling into the silver water and disappearing into the depths. The waters rippled out from where he disappeared and when the biggest ripple disappeared was when Xiao Liu shot out from the water like a swimming dragon. His arms grabbed the neck of the condor and he asked “Can you swim? Want to race?” Xiang Liu scoffed.
Xiao Liu added “If you dare then don’t use your powers.” Xiang Liu raised his head to look at the moon. Xiao Liu continued “Scared? You can’t be? Nine Lives Demons Xiang Liu can’t be such a coward!” Xiang Liu finally looked directly at Xiao Liu “Seeing the way you are begging me, I’ll do it.”
“I begged you?”
Xiao Liu’s head was resting on the condor’s neck “Fine, consider it me begging you.”
Xiang Liu slowly took off his robe and jumped into the water. Xiao Liu swam towards the shore with all his might with Xiang Liu right beside him. The water in the lake was icy cold and Xiao Liu warmed up with each valiant push forward. He could forget everything and return to childhood when it was all so free, so relaxing, so happy. His only goal was to return to shore, so very simple.
After an hour Xiao Liu finally reached shore. Xiang Liu was sitting next to a roaring fire and his clothes were already dried. Xiao Liu climbed on land “You won, but….” he pulled out a fish from his sleeve “I caught a fish. Let’s cook it, I’m hungry.”
Xiao Liu started cooking the fish while Xiang Liu said “You grew up somewhere with a lot of water.”
“You say that for anyone who can swim?”
“Not just because you can swim, it’s that swimming brings you unfettered happiness. People seek familiar things that allow them to relax and feel the freedom and joy from childhood.”
Xiao Liu whistled “They say you are a Nine-headed demon, and with your nine-heads thinking together it’s definitely working. Even what you say is so deep.”
“Don’t you know that’s a taboo topic?”
Xiao Liu wasn’t scared and continued “I’m curious, how are your nine-heads arranged? In a row? One one top of the other? Or three on each side of three in the middle? Which one goes first when you eat?…..” Xiao Liu suddenly couldn’t open his mouth anymore.
Xiang Liu took the cooked fish and slowly started to eat it and Xiao Liu could only stare. After he finished the fish he stared at Xiao Liu “I actually like eating people the best. Your size is perfect so that each of my heads can take a bite.”
His hand stroked Xiao Liu’s face and he leaned in and grabbed Xiao Liu’s neck. Xiao Liu’s body shook and he shut his eyes. Xiang Liu’s tongue tasted blood and a realization thundered through his mind. He slowly sucked a few times before raising his head “Do you dare say anymore nonsense?”
Xiao Liu wildly shook his head. Xiang Liu released him and Xiao Liu scrambled as far away as he could. Xiang Liu climbed on the white condor and crooked his finger towards Xiao Liu. He didn’t dare get close and instead backed up a few steps. Xiang Liu stared with a smile “Do you want me to go over there?” Xiao Liu quickly shook his head and docilely came over and climbed on the back of the condor.
As they returned to Qing Shiu Town, Xiang Liu kicked Xiao Liu off the back of the condor without warning and Xiao Liu fell into the river. He was stunned and floated on the surface watching the condor fly off. It was so dark and quiet he didn’t even the energy to curse. Xiao Liu closed his eyes and allowed the river to carry him downstream and once he gauged he was close to the clinic he flipped over and swam to shore. He climbed on land dripping wet and the first thing he saw was Shi Qi standing there. Xiao Liu smiled at him “Still awake? Take care of yourself and get some rest.” He walked past Shi Qi who followed but Xiao Liu acted like he didn’t know. He walked to his room with Shi Qi still following but the moment he entered the room he shut the door behind him without turning around.
He quickly took off his wet clothes and dried his body before climbing under the covers naked. The normally cold covers were not cold and instead there was a warm incense ball inside that made it warm and fragrant. Chuan Zi and Lao Mu clearly were not the considerate thoughtful type. Xiao Liu smiled and flipped over before falling asleep, his body so weary he didn’t even have a dream left.
The next day, Xiao Liu acted like nothing happened and went back to the usual business. Because Ma Zi was recuperating at Butcher Gao’s place and Lao Mu appeared fine but refused to go to the clinic to see anyone, that left Xiao Liu needing to do a lot more chores. Thank god Shi Qi was of such help in seeing patients, making medicine……after a long busy day and after dinner was done and Chuan Zi saw Lao Mu enter the kitchen, he turned to Xiao Liu “Are we going to just let this go?”
Xiao Liu munched on a duck neck “If we don’t let it go, what do you want to do about it?” Chuan Zi kicked the grinder “I’m pissed!”
Xiao Liu slapped Chuan ZI with the duck neck “I think I’ve spoiled you all these years so you don’t know what’s really like out there! In this life, as long as you are alive then there will be times you have to endure even if you can’t endure anymore. To back down even when you don’t want to. Even those princes and princesses live like this!”
Chuan Zi remembered when he was small and how much he suffered and couldn’t help but admit Xiao Liu was right. He was just a human and enduring was a must. But he still muttered “You talk like you know, but you’re not a prince or princess!”
“You son of a turtle! If I don’t beat you a few times a week you forget who’s the boss!” Xiao Liu jumped up and grabbed a broom and started whacking while Chuan Zi grabbed his butt and lowered his head and ran into his room and locked the door. Xiao Liu thumped his door with the broom and yelled “Did you understand what I said!”
Lao Mu stood by the kitchen door and said “Xiao Liu, I heard what you said and I took it all in. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.” He closed the kitchen door and walked back to his room. Xiao Liu immediately calmed down and tossed the broom to the corner of the yard.
Chuan Zi opened his window a sliver and cast a worried glance towards Lao Mu’s residence. Xiao Liu rapped him on the head and said in a low voice “Those people are just passing through Qing Shui Town. Once they leave, time will erase everything and Lao Mu will return to his old self.” Chuan Zi nodded and closed his window.
Shi Qi handed the snack basket to Xiao Liu and he grabbed a few duck feet. Shi Qi’s eyes lit up. Xiao Liu politely smiled “Thank you” and Shi Qi’s eyes dimmed. Xiao Liu munched on a duck foot and walked into his room kicking the door shut. Shi Qi held the basket and stood there with his lead lowered.
It was six months later and Ah Nian and Xuan did not leave Qing Shui Town like Xiao Liu predicted. Chuan Zi angrily tended to the herbs and complained “Brother Liu, that bitch and that pasty-faced dandy opened a wine shop on the street. I’m going to call a few beggars to go ruin their business.”
Xiao Liu kicked him “If you have the ability to ruin someone’s business then you’re not Chuan Zi.” Chuan Zi smashed his hoe into the soil and Xiao Liu ordered “Be careful, if you destroy my medicinal herbs I will smash that hoe on you!”
Chuan Zi muttered “Lao Mu hasn’t stepped foot outside once since then. If they remain in town, what’s Lao Mu going to do?”
Xiao Liu sprawled on a bucket and munched on a blade of grass and pondered. It wasn’t just Lao Mu who didn’t leave the house, Shi Qi also rarely left the house and when he did he would wear a face covering woven hat.
Xiao Liu couldn’t figure it out. Shi Qi had no choice because he couldn’t go back to his real home, but that pretty boy and that wench Ah Nian appeared to be living the swell life so why would they plop down in Qing Shui Town and not leave? Was it because of family opposition that they couldn’t be together so they eloped? Was he a poor pretty boy who seduced a high born lady, so the lady brought her maid and took off and now they were a pair of star-crossed lovers running………
Chuan Zi knelt down in front of Xiao Liu “Brother Liu, what are you thinking of?”
Xiao Liu explained “Think of it this way, it’s hard to make money in Qing Shiu Town, they won’t last long and their shop will be shuttered eventually.” Chuan Zi thought about it and agreed. Those existing wine shops will try to squeeze out the new guy, and that pretty boy didn’t seem like a businessman in the least. Chuan Zi got happy again. Too bad three months later both Chuan Zi and Xiao Liu were disappointed.
That pretty boy’s wine shop not only was running smoothly in Qing Shui Town, it’s business was actually quite good. Chuan Zi was enraged “Those prostitutes love a handsome face and they keep that pretty boy’s business running. I see them all dressed up sauntering there to buy wine. That pretty boy is also so shameless, flirting with those whores……”
Xiao Liu glanced at Lao Mu who still refused to step foot outside and decided to go to the wine shop for a stroll. Xiao Liu stepped out and Shi Qi followed so Xiao Liu said “I’m going to the pretty boy’s wine shop. Just to see, not to fight.” Shi Qi halted and Xiao Liu smiled and kept on walking. Moments later Shi Qi was back following this time wearing a hat. Xiao Liu glanced back at him and said nothing.
Xiao Liu walked into the restaurant across from the wine shop and ordered two dishes. He sat down and boldly observed while Shi Qi sat behind him as quietly as if he didn’t exist. There was no Ah Nian or Hai Tang in sight, with their personages it was likely they didn’t show their face to the customers and remained in the back.
The pretty boy was busy running the shop, dressed in common fiber thread robes as he took the money and handed out the wine and greeted the customers. He didn’t stick out like a sore thumb and actually fit in with the street.
The pretty prostitutes came to buy wine and he smiled with warmth and clarity in his eyes, tending to their purchase like he would if she was any houswife. The prostitutes were also very reserved with a small smile, very respectful of him as they were of themselves. Xiao Liu viciously chomped on a biscuit – the prostitutes were happy to give him business not because he was very handsome, but because he paid no heed to his own looks or the prostitutes.
After his business slowed down, the pretty boy brought a jug of wine and walked over “I’m still relatively new here and using a family passed down recipe of making wine to earn a living. In the future, will Brother Liu please look over the store fondly.”
Xiao Liu lived in Qing Shui Town for over 20 years and was also a doctor so everyone doing business on this street called him Brother Liu. At least the pretty boy knew his manners.
Xiao Liu laughed “Sure. And if you can’t get her pregnant with a son also come see me and I’ll make sure she gives you one.” The pretty boy laughed back and opened the jug of wine and respectfully poured Xiao Liu a bowl. He drank first in toast “What happened before that was in disrespect, will Brother Liu please be the bigger man and forgive.”
If one was passing through, then one could just be a bully and beat folks up and just leave. But to stay for a long period of time, even the strong needs to lower their pride and respect the rules of the place. Otherwise Xiao Liu could put poison in his wines every third day, and add stuff when he bought meat from the butcher, and spit in the snack cakes…..
Xiao Liu saw that the pretty boy understood so he quit beating around the bush “If I’m the bigger man, your wife isn’t going to do the same.” The pretty boy answered “Ah Nian is my cousin, will Brother Liu please don’t misunderstand.” Xiao Liu smiled and didn’t drink the wine in front of him. The pretty boy took another bowl and gulped it down. Xiao Liu ignored him and kept on munching his food.
The pretty boy drank 6 bowls in a row and watched Xiao Liu keep eating. He wanted to pour himself another bowl when the jug was empty. He went back and brought back another jug and that is when Xiao Liu looked directly at him “Have your cousin apologize to Lao Mu.” The pretty boy said “My cousin’s temper is unbending. I’ll bring wine and apologize to Lao Mu.”
“You sure are willing to bend over yourself to protect others. You’d rather bow your head low than have your cousin swallow her pride.”
“I am her elder. Whatever she does, I need to take responsibility for.”
Xiao Liu lowered her head and thought for a moment before suddenly laughing. He stood up and picked up the bowl of wine and gulped it down. He sincerely complimented “Great wine!” The pretty boy laughed “Please Brother Liu come more often in the future.”
Xiao Liu added “You don’t need to bring wine over to apologize. Just send two jugs of your best wine to Lao Mu.” “Fine, whatever Brother Liu says.” The pretty boy bowed and went back to running the shop.
At dusk the pretty boy came with Hai Tang and he even hired two men to transport twenty four jugs of his wine from his shop slowly down the street to the clinic. He did it so all the neighbors could see and that was enough to give face to Lao Mu. Hai Tang bowed her head in apology to Lao Mu, it was clear she wasn’t happy to do so but it was done all respectfully and properly as befits someone from a well-born household.
Lao Mu sat there with his face dark and self-mocked “I’m not as able as the young miss so I can’t accept your apology.”
The pretty boy told Hai Tang to go home first and himself stayed. He cut to the chase and opened a jug of wine and poured two bowls for himself and Lao Mu. Lao Mu was down-to-earth and since it wasn’t the pretty boy who offended him, he accepted the wine and started drinking with the pretty boy.
The bowls of wine went down like water and Lao Mu started talking more and more. He even started army chants with the pretty boy! Lao Mu wasn’t an educated gentleman nor did he know how to read. Army drink chants he learned in the army and it was beyond crass but surprisingly the pretty boy knew it as well.
“You drink to a juicy white thigh, I drink to rosy red lips, you drink to a plump white breast……” the two of them went more and more bawdy and rollicking while Chuan Zi and Xiao Liu stood there gaping while Shi Qi silently sat with his head down.
Lao Mu guffawed at Shi Qi “So shy and modest! A few words and your ears are red?” Xiao Liu noticed that Shi Qi didn’t hide from the pretty boy which meant the person he knew was Ah Nian. Chuan Zi nudged Xiao Liu “Lao Mu is laughing.” Xiao Liu glanced at the pretty boy – the guy was definitely someone to reckon with. From women to men, elegant to crass, he could handle them all. No wonder he would seduce a high born lady to run away with him.
After finishing two jugs of wine, Lao Mu and the pretty boy were nearly BFFs and the only thing missing was becoming sworn brothers. After sending the pretty boy off, he reminded him to come back for his roasted lamb and more drinking. Lao Mu and Chaun Zi were both drunk so Xiao Liu hurried to clean up the dishes. Shi Qi said “I’ll do it, you rest.” Xiao Liu laughed “Can’t have you doing it all.”
Shi Qi washed dishes while Xiao Liu wiped down the stove, not a word spoken. Shi Qi glanced at Xiao Liu a few times but Xiao Liu smiled as he did his chores and even when he met Shi Qi’s glance he didn’t look away and would instead make a goofy face with a smile. After Shi Qi finished with the dishes and reached out for Xiao Liu’s rag, Xiao Liu held on “I’m almost done, you go rest.”
Shi Qi quietly stood there. After some time he spoke “Xiao Liu, you are still angry.”
“Huh?” Xiao Liu pretended not to get it “No, Lao Mu is now all buddies with him and is willing to accept Ah Nian like a little sister and let her win this time, what reason would I have to still be angry?” Shi Qi knew he was avoiding the topic and stared at him “You are not talking to me.”
“How so? I talk to you every day. Am I not talking to you right now?”
“I….want…..you to be like before. I want to hear you talk.”
“Before?” Xiao Liu acted stupid “How was I different now than before? Don’t I treat you the same as I do Ma Zi and the others?”
Shi Qi lowered his head and didn’t have the glib tongue to counter. He could only use his silence to endure it all, his voice lingering of loneliness. Xiao Liu hung up the rag and wiped his hand on his shirt “Okay, all done. Time to rest.”
Xiao Liu hurried back to his room, the hard shell around his heart already sealed shut again. It was his moment of softened pity that caused him to be confused for a while but now he was back to thinking clear again. Every person arrived alone on this Earth and would depart alone. There was no one to rely on. How much hope and reliance one had today, was how much pain and suffering one would endure down the road. Rather than that happening, it was better to not have it to begin with.
Since Shi Qi temporarily couldn’t go back, then he’ll let him stay for now. A temporary companion, and this brief period in what was a long life would one day be forgotten.
Things went back to normal and Lao Mu regained his worried old man’s vigor. He shopped, he cooked, he went about matchmaking for Chuan Zi. Xiao Liu was the type who never worried while Shi Qi’s words were as rare as gold, leaving Lao Mu with all sorts of things he wanted to discuss and no one to talk to. He ended up getting even chummier with that pretty boy Xuan.
He often stopped by the wine shop after grocery shopping and would drink some wine and complain to the pretty boy. The daughter of the Dong family didn’t like Chuan Zi, and Chuan Zi didn’t like the daughter of the Xi family……….. The few drunkards in the wine shop offered up ideas for Lao Mu.
Chuan Zi’s future spouse was nowhere to be found yet but Ma Zi’s wife Chun Tao bore him a chubby baby girl which lead to Lao Mu crying tears of joy and vowed to continued working on Chuan Zi’s marriage. The ordinary and bustling days passed like flowing water and the pretty boy’s wine shop finally became part of the Qing Shui Town family and the people on Xi He Road finally accepted Xuan in earnest.
Xiao Liu initially pondered why Xuan stayed in Qing Shui Town but as the days passed even he forgot to think about it and poured all his attention into researching medicine.
Xiang Liu kept wanting weird deadly poisons so Xiao Liu had to get up his energy to deal with him. Xiao Liu stood by his window and made a wish to the moon – wishing Xiang Liu would choke to death on his food, choke to death drinking water, fall while walking and die.
After making the wish he closed the window and was about to carry his happy hopeful wish to bed when he turned around and saw Xiang Liu dressed all in white laying on his pallet with his cold eyes staring at him. Xiao Liu immediately blurted out “I wasn’t cursing you!”
“You were cursing me just now?” Xiang Liu smiled and crooked his finger. Xiao Liu step by step walked up to him “Don’t hit the face.” Xiang Liu didn’t use his hands and instead used his mouth, he bit down hard on Xiao Liu’s neck and sucked his blood. Xiao Liu closed his eyes and this wasn’t like last time meant as a warning. Xiang Liu really was drinking his blood.
After some time he released Xiao Liu but his lips remained on his bite mark “Scared?”
Xiao Liu candidly said “That night I knew you discovered the secret with my body. I thought you would think of ways to eat me, but tonight you came and all you want is my blood. I’m not scared anymore.”
Xiang Liu said with a half-smile “Maybe I currently want your blood, but one Winter I may want to stew you to nourish myself fully.”
Xiao Liu laughed and opened his hands “I belonged to my lord you already. My lord can do whatever you want with me.”
“You’re lying again!”
Xiao Liu looked at Xiang Liu – tonight he seemed different. His white hair was still not a strand out of place, his white robe was still spotless but appeared not as perfect as before “You’re hurt.”
Xiang Liu stroked Xiao Liu’s neck as if picking a spot to bite next “What exactly did you eat to grow up? If demons were to discover that your blood was more powerful in healing than even the most magical of medicinal pills, you’ll get eaten until nothing is left.”
Xiao Liu laughed but didn’t respond to Xiang Liu’s words and instead asked “What brings my lord here so late tonight?”
Xiang Liu took off his outer robe and laid down comfortably “Borrowing your pallet to sleep.”
“Then where will I sleep?”
Xiang Liu glanced at him and Xiao Liu immediately squatted. He understood, he could sleep sprawled anywhere.
Xiao Liu glared angrily – that’s my blanket, Shi Qi took it out and aired it under the warm sun all day and beat it until it was nice and fluffy. Xiao Liu wrapped himself up in a blanket and curled into a ball in the corner of the pallet and resentfully fell asleep.
In the middle of the night, Xiao Liu climbed on top of Xiang Liu’s body and he opened his eyes. Xiao Liu grabbed his neck and laughed wildly “You’re using your power to heal yourself, right? Don’t interrupt and stop now otherwise you’ll exacerbate your injury and may even lose all your powers and lose all thought.” Xiang Liu closed his eyes.
Xiao Liu slapped his left cheek “How about I whip you 40 times?” Xiao Liu slapped his right cheek “You stupid demon, you’re not afraid of pain. If I cut off your left arm you’ll probably roast it with your right arm and eat it.”
“Hee hee…..” Xiao Liu jumped off the pallet and ran to the kitchen to grab some coal from the stove. He slithered back to the room and jumped on the pallet and hooted “Even you have a day like this! Don’t be angry and focus on healing your injury, don’t let me distract you!” Xiao Liu grabbed the coal and started carefully drawing over Xiang Liu’s face.
After Xiao Liu was done and approved of the results, he grabbed his precious mirror and put it in front of Xiang Liu’s face “Take a look but don’t get mad and ruin your healing energy flow.” Xiang Liu opened his eyes which were sharper than knives but Xiao Liu was on a roll “Look!”
Inside the mirror, under Xiang Liu’s left eye was three more eyes, under his right eye was three more eyes, and there was one more eye on his forehead. Xiao Liu counted “One, two three……….a total of nine.”
Xiao Liu used his blackened fingers to rub those eyes until it became heads and he turned nine eyes into nine heads. Xiang Liu stared at him and Xiao Liu furrowed his brows “I really can’t imagine what nine heads looks like. One of these days you have to show me your true form!” Xiang Liu’s lips moved and he wordlessly mouthed “I am going to devour you.”
Xiao Liu used his dirty fingers to rub on his lips “If you don’t mind it being so dirty then go ahead and eat!”
Xiao Liu flipped off the pallet and cocked his head to stare at Xiang Liu “I’m leaving, no need to come look for me. I’m going to disappear for a few days until your temper dies down. When you remember my good side then I’ll be back.” Xiao Liu grabbed some snacks from the kitchen and was about to leave when he saw Shi Qi.
Xiao Liu just finished tormenting Xiang Liu and was in a very good mood so waved a greeting to Shi Qi with a bright smile. Shi Qi hurried up his footsteps and there was a twinkle in his eye until he noticed the teeth mark on Xiao Liu’s neck. For all intents and purposes it looked like a mark left by a kiss. Shi Qi’s eyes darted to Xiao Liu’s room and the twinkle disappeared from his eyes. Xiao Liu told Shi Qi “Xiang Liu is in my room. Don’t bother him and let him rest. He’ll leave when he wakes up. I have some things to do so I need to leave. Tell Lao Mu not to look for me.”
Xiao Liu left without waiting for Shi Qi to respond, thinking to himself where to hide so that the big demon couldn’t find him. Where do I normally never go? As he thought and walked he ended up sneaking into the pretty boy’s wine shop.
The sun hadn’t come up yet and Xiao Liu entered the store when it was still pitch black. He did it without being spotted and was feeling terribly pleased with himself. He was sleeping soundly against a tub of wine when he heard Xuan enter to grab some wine and the sound of talking.
“How are they?”
“Three died and one escaped back. Master, it’s not that we’re useless but this time it alerted that big demon Nine Lives. But three of our men risked their lives and managed to injure him.”
“Xiang Liu got injured?”
“Our men in the mountains know its the perfect opportunity to get rid of him once and for all but he can’t be found.”
“Your servant I shall leave now.”
The door to the wine cellar closed and silence descended. Xiao Liu finally let out a pent up breath softly. He went back to sleep, feeling nothing in particular. General Gong Gong and Xuan Yuan had been fighting for a couple hundred years now. In the beginning, the Yellow Emperor sent army reinforcements, but the Middle Plains were still not conquered, Gao Xing was to the other side, Gong Gong was in an advantageous physical location so the Yellow Emperor lost all his battles. All he could do was keep Gong Gong cornered and wait for him to surrender one of these days.
The war gradually went from open battles to secret scuffles and underhanded schemes of assassination……..whatever Xiao Liu couldn’t even think of, someone already tried it.
Xuan Yuan even announced a reward, and Xiang Liu was the number one bounty on the list, even higher than Gong Gong. The reason was very odd – Gong Gong was nobility from the Sheng Nong royal family so if anyone killed him for the bounty that would incur the wrath of the entire world. But Xiang Liu was fine – he was just a demon, and a hideous freakish nine-headed demon at that. So to kill him for the money reward wouldn’t even cause anyone to have a sleepless thought.
Whether Xuan wanted the money or something else, Xiao Liu would need to think about it. Everything in this world could be boiled down to money and power.
Xiao Liu hid in the wine cellar for three days and on the fourth day sneaked into the kitchen for some snacks. With his mouth shoved full of goose meat he heard Xuan’s voice behind him “Want some wine to go with it?”
Xiao Liu froze and turned his head to see Xuan leaning against the kitchen door gently looking at Xiao Liu.
Xiao Liu giggled “I…..your food tastes better than Lao Mu makes.”
“It’s even better warm.”
“Erm….then heat it up?”
Xuan put some dishes on the stove and then fired it up. Xiao Liu sat beside him and Xuan poured him a bowl of wine and Xiao Liu slowly sipped it. “If you like, you can drink more.”
Xuan handed the warmed up food to him and then sat down to drink with Xiao Liu who thought that if it wasn’t the middle of the night and also coming uninvited, this scene would be rather warm and inviting.
Xiao Liu asked “Did Ah Nian make the food? She’s a good cook.”
“Ah Nian only knows how to eat.” Xuan’s voice contained a gentle coddling.
“Can’t believe you know how to make wine and cook. Ah Nian is very lucky.”
“She calls me older brother, I ought to take care of her.”
“I haven’t seen Ah Nian recently.” It wasn’t recently, it was almost never seen her.
Xuan laughed “Brother Liu misses Ah Nian?”
“No no, just asking.” Best never to see her ever.
“I asked her to embroider a partition for me so she’s been working in her room.”
Xiao Liu was startled to realize the reason that demon wench was so quiet was because the pretty boy used a trick to keep her occupied.
Xuan appeared to know what he was thinking “In the future if Ah Nian does anything that is rude, will Brother Liu please forgive her considering she’s just a girl.”
In the future? There is a future……so he’s not going to quietly get rid of him tonight? Xiao Liu smiled “No problem, no problem, I’ll definitely let it slide.” Xuan stood up and sincerely asked again so Xiao Liu said it again that he’ll let Ah Nian’s actions slide until it became a promise. Xiao Liu sighed and said wistfully “It’s good to be your sister.”
That was probably the most sincere thing Xiao Liu said all night and even Xuan felt it. His mask of a smile disappeared and he said “No, I am not a good brother.” In his words there was the hint of sadness. Xiao Liu drank his wine “I’m going home.”
Xuan said “I’ll walk you out.” Xiao Liu stood up and Xuan walked him out “Come by when you have time.” “Okay, you go back, no need to accompany me any further.”
Xiao Liu ran back in a jiffy and flipped the wall into the courtyard then slipped into his room and closed the door. A person stood up from the edge of the pallet and Xiao Liu was so startled his back was to the door.
It was death laying down or standing up so might as well get it over with. Xiao Liu closed his eyes and shook “I…..I….was wrong!”
Like a cat, using the gentlest voice to cajole an owner’s forgiveness, hoping Xiang Liu would remember his ability to make poisons and also that his blood was healing, then perhaps he wouldn’t be beaten half to death. Except….after a few moments, there was still no movement.
Xiao Liu’s heart was pounding furiously and finally he couldn’t take it anymore and opened his eyes. It. Was. Shi. Qi!
Xiao Liu was furious! He was so scared out of his wits! He pointed at Shi Qi and wagged his finger “You….you…..how come it’s you?” Shi Qi’s face was ashen and he voice despondent “I’m sorry you were disappointed.”
“What are you doing in my room?”
Shi Qi bit his lip and lowered his head and turned to leave. Xiao Liu quickly tried to apologize “I’m sorry, I thought you were someone else. That….that….my tone of voice was harsh but don’t feel bad. I’m not forbidding you from entering my room.”
“It’s my fault.” Shi Qi moved past him and walked out, closing the door tightly behind him.
Xiao Liu hadn’t sleep comfortably in days so quickly took off his clothes and burrowed until the covers. He closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths – clean, warm, the faint scent of soap and sunshine.
The comforter had been laundered and dried under the sun. Xiao Liu laughed and reminded himself not to get used to it. All people will leave and he can’t get coddled, his life was to sleep in a cold blanket, in a dirty blanket. Xiao Liu finished reminding himself before turning around and falling fast asleep.