The introductory chapters of Lost You Forever is done and now we’re headed into the good stuff. And when I say good stuff, pretty much every chapter gets better and better and the world of these gods and goddesses, demons and humans, it all takes on this epic quality with so much delicate detail that touches the heart. One of the four leads gets his alter ego stripped away in this episode and he is forced to be the person he’s been running away from. So many of these mind of novels are about trying to accomplish grand endeavors, achieve impossible dreams, make a difference on an impressive scale. It’s nice to see characters that don’t seem to care about that, and even if it matters to them, it’s not by choice and instead due to fate. Shi Qi is the first to run against the wall that is his pas and I really feel for the poor guy. We spent the entirety of chapter 1 reading about the cruelty that was inflicted on him, and even if he’s recovered you can see that he’s been broken and reconstituted so that the cracks are evident in his soul.
All of Tong Hua‘s leading men have been almost perfect in face and form so it’s fascinating to see her create someone that is the opposite of that. Xiang Liu is also an incredibly difficult male lead and everything he says and does requires reading not just between the lines, but almost like searching int the mist for a hint of something more. I enjoy watching Xiao Liu live his ordinary life, the banter with the two war orphans Chuan Zi and Ma Zi, the quiet companionship of a old army deserter like Lao Mu, and now with the added quiet presence of Shi Qi along with the extreme ups and downs anytime Xiang Liu shows up. I have to say all the blood sucking between them, coupled with they way they are thisclose to wanting to kill each other, it’s so hot and dysfunctional but I can’t imagine them interacting any other way. I love that Xiang Liu treats Xiao Liu not as a woman (and he totally knows she’s a girl) or as someone to be stepped on. Xiao Liu clearly relishes making the poison for Xiang Liu and thrills in their interactions because it’s an outlet for his loneliness. Xiao Liu is a leading lady that immediately owns my heart with the capacity to care wrapped in a shell of not caring at all.
Chapter 4 – Gathering is the Hardest, Parting is the Easiest:
The Autumn afternoon is the most beautiful time of the day. When no one was direly ill, Xiao Liu liked taking a big lily frond to cover his eyes and laying on the straw pallet used to dry herbs. He raised his two arms over his head against his ears and his two legs would naturally stick straight out as well with his toes pointed. His entire body was straight like a line and in his imagination his body could extend forever. That feeling of stretching, paired with the warm sun, the fragrant lily frond, it was like drinking wine into the bones and being slightly tipsy.
He once encouraged Ma Zi and Lao Mu to bask in the sun in the same way but both felt it was super embarrassing and refused to copy him. So this wonderful feeling, Xiao Liu can only experience it alone.
Xiao Liu was done stretching and lowered his arms and pulled the frond off his eyes to look at Shi Qi cutting the medicine. After Ma Zi had his baby, he was almost living full time at Butcher Gao’s. Normally Chuan Zi would do some more chores but these past three months he was always out of the clinic doing god knows what. Only Shi Qi remained in the clinic but Xiao Liu didn’t feel like his work load increased and instead felt more at ease. Whatever he wanted to do he would discover Shi Qi already did it.
Xiao Liu sat up on the pallet and put the frond on his head and intently watched Shi Qi working. Shi Qi had his head lowered cutting the medicine and after he was done and put the medicine into satchels he went to work on another batch.
Xiao Liu called “Shi Qi.” Shi Qi stopped and looked up at Xiao Liu silently. “Hhhmmm….” Xiao Liu shook his head “Nothing.” Shi Qi lowered his head and went back to work. “Shi Qi.” Shi Qi stopped again but this time didn’t look up at Xiao Liu though he was listening. “You rest for a bit!”
“Not tired.” Shi Qi went back to work.
Xiao Liu took off the frond and looked at Shi Qi, tearing pieces off the front until it was in strips. Lao Mu and Chuan Zi never sensed that he was mad at Shi Qi. But Xiao Liu and Shi Qi both knew – in the beginning Shi Qi wanted to apologize but Xiao Liu pretended to be clueless and was instead even more polite and courteous. Gradually Shi Qi stopped trying and would only silently follow him like a shadow, finishing the work that three people used to do.
“Shi Qi………” Shi Qi raised his head to look at Xiao Liu but Xiao Liu didn’t know what he wanted to say. He bit his lip and suddenly smiled and patted the space next to him “You come here, I’ll show you something fun.”
Shi Qi put down his chores and walked over. Xiao Liu laid down and explained to Shi Qi what to do, showing him how to bask in the sun like he was doing. Shi Qi was not like Ma Zi and Chuan Zi and immediately followed suit. Xiao Liu squinted as he counted the clouds above, feeling content and letting out a sigh. Even though it was the same sun warming him, the same pallet he was laying on, but two people basking under the sun felt particularly nice for some reason.
Xiao Liu was almost falling asleep when Shi Qi’s voice spoke “There won’t be a second time.”
“Hhmmm?” Xiao Liu drowsily opened his eyes.
“No matter what reason, there won’t be a second time when you need me but can’t find me.” Xiao Liu was totally awake now and suddenly realized his petty anger at Shi Qi was totally pointless. Poor Shi Qi spent all that time thinking about it. Xiao Liu sat up and was about to say something with a smile when Lao Mu came running in and grabbed Xiao Liu and bolted right out the door.
“Shoes, I don’t have shoes on!” Xiao Liu put on his shoes and ran out the door but called back to Shi Qi “Let’s go together!”
Xiao Liu ran pell mell behind Lao Mu until they arrived at the end of the street. Xiao Liu called out a greeting to Xuan and Lao Mu pulled him behind a few tubs of wine and made a gesture to Xuan who nodded clearly understanding what to do. Someone was crouched behind him and Xiao Liu knew it was Shi Qi. He turned and make a goofy face to Shi Qi before turning back to see what interesting thing was about to happen.
Xuan coughed a few times and Lao Mu immediately tensed and Xiao Liu peered out over the tubs. Three prostitutes walked over to buy some wine, two drank some and left but one remained behind. Xiao Liu was getting bored when Lao Mu nudged him and that’s when Chuan Zi walked over and walked away with the remaining prostitute. They walked until they were gone from sight.
Lao Mu grabbed Xiao Liu and they raced through the alleys until they saw Chuan Zi and the prostitute talking in the shadowy corner. Then they started kissing and Xiao Liu watched with a wide grin but Lao Mu was furious and upset. Xiao Liu peeked at Shi Qi who was standing straight but kept his eyes lowered on his shoes and giving them privacy.
The two of them against the wall got more heated and the girl was making moaning noises. Lao Mu wanted to rush out but didn’t know how to handle this awkward situation. He told Xiao Liu “You deal with it!” before huffing off.
Xiao Liu didn’t bother with Lao Mu and was instead laughing at Shi Qi and inched over “A scion of a well born family, even if unmarried there must be pretty serving maids in the house. How were the maids around you compared to this girl?”
Shi Qi said nothing and was trying to inch away from Xiao Liu but he was already against the wall. Xiao Liu restrained his laugh and continued to be his evil self. He pressed his hands against the wall around Shi Qi and trapped him, much like a playboy trying to seduce a gentle lady. “What kind of girls do you like? An innocent fresh-faced type, or a girl like this who is passionate?”
In the sound of the woman’s moans, Shi Qi’s face was starting to turn beet red and Xiao Liu was laughing inside so hard he was about to bust a gut. His evil naughty side was in control and he pressed close to Shi Qi’s face and asked “You want some, too?”
Unexpectedly, Shi Qi raised his head and despite the faint blush, his clear eyes were filled with laughter. Xiao Liu was stunned and the only thought he had in his head was “A wolf in sheep’s clothing!”
Xiao Liu was so embarrassed and it was his turn to blush red so he vented his frustration out on Chuan Zi. He rushed forward yelling “Chuan Zi! Where did you get the nerve to learn to whore! Where did you get the money?”
Chuan Zi was so scared he pulled his pants up and was about to run like his habit but after taking two steps he turned back to shield the woman. The woman didn’t look the least bit shamed as she fixed her clothing. She pushed Chuan Zi aside and bowed to Xiao Liu “I am Xan Tian Er, Brother Chuan’s sweetheart and I’m not taking any of his money.”
Xiao Liu laughed “You’re a prostitute, if you’re sleeping with him for free, isn’t that bad for business?” Xan Tian Er smiled “I’m happy to!” Xiao Liu asked “Do you want to sleep with him for the rest of your life?”
Xan Tian Er paused and seemed to realize what Xiao Liu was asking but couldn’t believe it. Chuan Zi quickly spoke Up “I’m willing! I’m willing to sleep with her for the rest of my life!” Xiao Liu kicked him hard “Scram to the side, I’m talking to her!”
Chuan Zi looked at Xan Tian Er with puppy dog eyes and kept nodding his head. Xan Tian Er finally believed what Xiao Liu was asking her and there were tears in her eyes. She knelt down “I am willing.” Xiao Liu added “You sure? Following Chuan Zi means working hard and it’ll be a tough life.”
“I am willing.”
“Done. You go back and wait. Think about how you want to have the ceremony.”
Xan Tian Er couldn’t believe it and kept looking at Chuan Zi. It was this easy? Chuan Zi pulled her up “Brother Liu may be really mean but he always does what he says.”
Xiao Liu wrenched Chuan Zi’s ear and dragged him off “You really have grown up!” Chuan Zi was happy to have his dream come true so was alternatively yelping in pain and laughing happily towards Shi Qi who followed behind with only smiling eyes for Xiao Liu.
Passing the wine shop, Xiao Liu called out to Xuan “Thanks!” Xuan peeked at Xiao Liu pulling Chuan Zi’s ear and opened his hands “If a wedding is coming, don’t forget to buy from the shop.” “Done, you can discuss with Lao Mu when the time comes.”
Xiao Liu dragged Chuan Zi all the way back to the clinic and right outside the door he whispered “Now start yelping more pitifully.” Chuan Zi reacted and started howling and crying as Xiao Liu kicked and beat him into the courtyard until he was in front of Lao Mu. Lao Mu’s heart softened “He’s all grown up, don’t beat him in public at least wait until back home to save him some face.”
Lao Mu was initially still furious but after seeing Xiao Liu deal with Chuan Zi he didn’t know what to do next “Xiao Liu, what are we to do? How did Chuan Zi get mixed up with a prostitute?” Xiao Liu said “Think of a way to buy her freedom. After we buy her free, we’ll do what we did for Ma Zi.”
If Lao Mu was from either Sheng Nong or Gao Xing Kingdoms, even if he loved Chuan Zi he would have a hard time accepting that Chuan Zi was going to marry a prostitute. But he was from the Xuan Yuan god tribe, filled with wild abandon and ridicule towards social norms, so after he squatted on the doorstep for some time and thought about it, he decided there was nothing wrong with it. So that was how Chuan Zi’s marriage was settled.
Once Lao Mu decided on it, he went about making it happen. But the brothel decided to raise the price sky high and the cost to buy Xan Tian Er’s freedom would allow Ma Zi to marry ten Chun Taos. Lao Mu tried to get people to be the middlemen but to no avail even with his and Xiao Liu’s twenty-some years of relationships in Qing Shui Town.
Lao Mu was furious but there was nothing he could do. The brothels in Qing Shui Town were special, a place for information to be disseminated and gathered, filled with the most beautiful and talented girls, where powerful men would often go visit. There were various powers at play there, not just Sheng Nong, Gao Xing, and Xuan Yuan, but the various noble families from the Chi Sui family in the Middle Plains to the Fang Feng family from the North.
Lao Mu furrowed his brow and sighed “I see that Tian Er really wants to be with our Chuan Zi and now would rather get beaten then see another customer. That old madam is vile!” Ma Zi felt bad and tried to talk Chuan Zi into giving up. No matter how pretty Xan Tian Er was, she wasn’t someone for guys like them. Chuan Zi’s face was ashen and he would sit on the courtyard stoop just cradling his head through sleepless nights.
Inside his room, Xiao Liu laid on his pallet with his legs up looking at his precious little mirror and giggling. The image inside the mirror was all his glorious handiwork that night. He drew nine heads on Xiang Liu’s face and his icy eyes were glaring at him like daggers.
Xiao Liu stared at the mirror and flicked Xiang Liu’s head “Go ahead and rage! Go ahead and rage!” After he was done flicking, he wiped the mirror and it returned to its original state. It appeared just a bit more ornate than an ordinary mirror but there was no sign that it contained anything from the past.
This seemingly ordinary mirror was actually created from the spiritual essence of a mythical gorilla type beast in the inner wild desert region. It was vicious and had the power to see into the past. It was a power that worked against nature so it was hard to develop this ability and these beasts were even rarer to encounter. And a mirror created from the spiritual essence of such a beast, there was only one such mirror in existence. The reason was that to seal the spiritual essence of such a beast into an magical object and have it show the past required the beast to be completely willing without a shred of anger. But there was no such beast who endured the painful training to develop such a power to see the past who would be willing to die without any anger.
Xiao Liu tucked the mirror away and put his hands behind his head. After that night, many months had passed and Xiang Liu never showed up again. So many people were looking to take him down so it’s normal for him not to appear. If he did appear Xiao Liu would feel like his life had reached the end. So Xiao Liu prayed every day for more people to be looking to take him down. Make his life so busy that he completely forgot about Qing Shui Town and one Wen Xiao Liu.
A little white condor that was the astral projection of the giant white flying condor Furball came flying in through the window and haughtily landed in front of Xiao Liu. Xiao Liu spoke to it “Seeing you so puffed up, I just want to pluck all your feathers off, roast your right side, stew your left side, and after eating all of you throw your bones to the dogs.”
Furball charged Xiao Liu who grabbed his head and rolled under the pallet “Tell your master I need to see him. It’s something important.” Furball glared angrily at Xiao Liu before spreading his wings and flying into the night. Xiao Liu felt it a bad idea to meet Xiang Liu in the room. The same environment may cause him to remember the insult last time and he’ll easily get enraged.
Xiao Liu left the house and walked upstream with the river until he left Qing Shui Town and entered a deep dense forest. He saw a tree as thick as it would require 5-6 men to encircle it and climbed up that tree and found a comfortable spot and sat down.
The tree was very high and could see far from the vantage point. The winding river glowed silver in the moonlight and if it wasn’t the middle of the Winter with the blustery wind blowing then the view would be perfect.
Xiao Liu raised his head and a white condor carrying Xiang Liu dove down from the center of the moon. White hair, white robe, flying down from the sky like falling snow, he softly landed beside Xiao Liu.
Xiao Liu said “Three choices. Whip me 40 times. Kick me off from here. Or listen to me say something important. Important!”
Xiang Liu asked “Did you bathe?”
Xiao Liu was still cheeky “Bathed super clean, just waiting for my lord to arrive.”
Xiang Liu’s hand grabbed Xiao Liu’s shoulder and he lowered his head. Xiao Liu docilely tipped back his neck and when Xiang Liu’s sharp fang pierced his skin and started drinking his blood, Xiao Liu didn’t close his eyes and instead looked at the moon.
Xiang Liu wasn’t holding back and Xiao Liu gradually felt lightheaded. “Are you planning to suck me dry all at once? Even if you have nine heads, I didn’t hear that you had nine stomachs! Can’t you save some for next time?”
Xiang Liu’s lips were still on Xiao Liu’s neck and was right next to the artery that led straight to the heart “When do you think I should bite down right here? Tonight?”
Xiao Liu immediately countered “Not tonight since it’s too pretty out. Killing me is such a mood ruining thing to do, wait for the day when I really want to kill you.”
“You don’t want to kill me?”
Xiao Liu smiled “No! You clearly know I don’t want to kill you, and I won’t kill you.”
“I don’t know. All I know is that you ought to hate me.”
“You don’t know and you dared to come see me while still nursing your injury? You really see me as a harmless bunny rabbit? Or are your nine brains fighting with each other and now you’re stupid because none of them work?”
Xiang Liu leaned in to clearly continue his meal so Xiao Liu quickly added “Because I’m lonely!” Xiang Liu’s lips pressed against his neck and didn’t move.
“No matter if you believe me or not, but I really don’t hate you at all and don’t want to kill you. Because I’m very lonely. I developed a strange tic when I was hiding in the deep mountains and went many years without encountering another person. I caught a monkey and started talking to it all day long. The monkey tried to escape and when it couldn’t it actually hit its head against the cave wall and committed suicide. Later on, I encountered a snake that wanted to eat me and almost bit off my leg. But it could understand what I was saying and reacted to whatever I said. I knew it was dangerous but I couldn’t help myself and could constantly go prance around in front of it. It was so furious it almost went insane. Having it around, it wasn’t so lonely in the mountains anymore.” Xiao Liu laughed “After some time, he discovered I was super sneaky and wanted to leave but I wouldn’t let it and kept bothering it so it kept trying to kill me.”
Xiao Liu looked up at the moon and there was an indescribable sadness in his eyes “They say the Heavens favors the tribes of the Gods, but I think it favors the humans. They are just like the Gods in every way except their lives are so short in comparison. Look at the moon, it’s been there like that for the last thousand years. No matter how beautiful a sight one will still get tired of it.
“That snake, what happened afterwards?”
“You killed it?”
“No, the King of the fox tribe.”
Xiao Liu shut his eyes “The Nine-tailed fox wanted to kill me but the snake believed only it could eat me so it blocked the path of that vicious fox…so it ended up dead!”
Xiang Liu softly chuckled “Interesting. And the fox?”
“I killed it.”
“You’re that powerful?”
“He should have killed me the moment he caught me. But he was consumed by hatred and greed. He used various special creatures to feed to me, forcing me to eat eat many disgusting things, all so that he could make me nice and plump before eating me. He intended to use my mythical blood to help him recover his lost powers……Oh, I forgot to tell you, he wasn’t a Nine-tailed fox by then, just an eight tail since he got a tail cut off so his powers were severely depleted. He raised me for thirty years and right when he was about to partake of the victory, one day he accidentally got drunk in front of me.”
“He kept you locked up in a cage?”
Xiang Liu was silent for a moment and his hand was massaging Xiao Liu’s neck “Am I the snake to help alleviate your loneliness?”
Xiao Liu smiled “Who knows? Perhaps I’m the snake who is amusing you.”
Xiang Liu released him “The important thing!”
“Does the brothel on Dong Gui street belong to you guys?”
“Why are you asking?”
“Chuan Zi wants a prostitute from there.”
“You want to ask me to help you secure her freedom?”
“Does that brothel belong to you guys? I guess not. It doesn’t seem like the way you operate anyways.” Xiao Liu smiled and a light glinted in his eye “No need to help me, I’ll go ask another person for help.”
The white condor Furball flew back and was circling overhead. Xiang Liu lightly leaped up and landed on the condor’s back “This was your important business?”
“Er…..Chuan Zi’s marriage is important………..Ah——”
Xiao Liu’s branch suddenly snapped in half and he fell, slamming through various other branches and causing Xiao Liu to start spitting up blood. Wham, Xiao Liu finally landed on the ground as a swirl of dirt blew up around him.
Furball was so happy and circling low overhead to mock Xiao Liu. Xiang Liu stood on his back with a smile “You are the snake egg that anyone can eat.” Furball rose higher and Xiang Liu left.
Xiao Liu waited a few moments before slowly sitting up. His head was spinning and he couldn’t see straight and his legs hurt so much he couldn’t walk. The startled chipmunk peered out at him and Xiao Liu smiled “What’cha looking at? Looking at me being made a fool? I didn’t get to be a fool for nothing, I traded something small for something big, The next time I see that big demon he won’t be looking to wring my neck…..”
The sun hadn’t even rose when Shi Qi tracked him down and found Xiao Liu curled up within a tangle of broken branches. He looked totally beaten up but was sleeping with a slight smile on his lips. Shi Qi knelt down and slowly picked off the leaves on his head and saw that there were two fresh bite marks on Xiao Liu’s neck. It was slightly hidden underneath his collar with the red teeth impression vaguely showing the imprint of a pair of lips.
Xiao Liu’s eyelid fluttered open “Shi Qi?” He opened his eyes and smiled “I can’t walk again.”
Shi Qi piggybacked the docile Xiao Liu on his back. Xiao Liu rested for three days and when he was able to move around on crutches had Lao Mu make a few dishes and invited Xuan over to drink.
Xuan arrived and Xiao Liu warmly poured everyone a bowl of wine. Lao Mu and Chuan Zi drank their wine and promptly fell over fast asleep. Xuan smiled at Xiao Liu while Shi Qi quietly sat to the side. Xiao Liu said to Xuan “I asked you here to ask for something.”
“Chuan Zi wants Xan Tian Er, so can you help make it happen.” Xuan said nothing. Xiao Liu earnestly added “I know this seems rather abrupt but Chuan Zi’s marriage is very important so I am shamelessly asking you.”
“Why does Brother Liu think I can help?”
“I don’t know the true identity of you or Ah Nian but I know you are from no ordinary background. I was curious and wanted to asked around but you sniffed it out. If Brother Xuan wanted to help then you can.” Xiao Liu tried to be extra buddy buddy and called him Brother Xuan.
Xuan glanced at Shi Qi “Ah Nian and I just want to live a quiet life.”
“Yes, yes, I know. I promise I won’t bother you guys ever.”
Xuan stared at Xiao Liu who smiled “I have lived in Qing Shui Town for over twenty years. I am just me.”
Xuan got up to leave “Remember to invite me for the wedding banquet.” Xiao Liu was all smiles “I will, I will!” Lao Mu drowsily got up “How did I get drunk so fast?” Xiao Liu laughed “Who told you to drink so fast. Next time eat something before drinking. Tomorrow go and try to buy her freedom again.”
“If I tell you to go, then go.”
Inside Hui Chun Clinic, it appeared Lao Mu was in charge but when Xiao Liu decided to have the last word then Lao Mu did as he was told. The next day Lao Mu got himself ready and went to buy Tian Er. The old biddy actually accepted the price offered in exchange for Xiao Liu giving them a concoction for avoiding pregnancy. Lao Mu was ecstatic and immediately agreed. The transaction was finalized and Lao Mu brought Xan Tian Er back to the clinic.
When Chuan Zi saw Tian Er, he couldn’t believe his eyes. Gradually his eyes misted and his nose got stuffy so he lowered his head and gruffly said “I’ll go to sister-in-law to borrow a few outfits for you.”
Xiao Liu smiled and told Lao Mu “Prepare some good dishes to celebrate tonight.”
“Sure!” Lao Mu grabbed the shopping basket and happily head out the door.
Xiao Liu’s face cooled as he looked at Xan Tian Er “Do you believe that I can leave you wishing you were dead?” Tian Er sat down “I believe you.”
“Who are you working for?”
Xan Tian Er touched her face “Using my looks, Brother Liu is not giving my competition enough credit and definitely not the men!”
“Why did you seduce Chuan Zi? I don’t believe you would spare him a second glance.”
“I’ve been seeing customers since I was thirteen and in the twelve years since I’ve seen enough guys. Chuan Zi may not have much but he’s the only one willing the marry me.” Tian Er smiled “Three months ago, a man came to me and gave me money to seduce Chuan Zi. I don’t have much position at the brothel so if I don’t save up then I’ll starve to death when I get old. I agreed and Chuan Zi never had a woman before so I just let him sample what a woman can give and he immediately vowed to marry me. Since I was thirteen such words leave me numb and I never believed it. But I can’t believe you guys really did come and buy my freedom. The madam hated that I found a guy behind her back so she purposely raised the price high. But last night the man came again and gave me another sack of money and said the deal between us was done. If I wanted to marry Chuan Zi, then use that money to buy my own freedom.”
“Do you recognize that man?”
Tian Er shook her head “Brother Liu knows, the gods and demons can all change their looks. I’m just a human.” Tian Er knelt down “Twelves years as a prostitute and my heart is cold and hard. Even now I don’t believe Chuan Zi won’t discard me one day and plans to live an entire lifetime with me. But I can try it, if Chuan Zi really wants to be with me….” Tian Er raised her hand “I solemnly swear to the Heavens that I will be true to him.”
Xiao Liu looked at Tian Er and said nothing.
Tian Er lowered her head and her voice was soft “A cold and hard heart can keep out the pain, but also keeps out the joy. I really want a man to turn me back twelve years ago, let my heart soften so that I can cry and laugh. If Chuan Zi is that man, then I will treasure him more than my own life.”
Chuan Zi was dragging Ma Zi and ran in “Sister-in-law said……” He stopped when she saw Tian Er kneeling before Xiao Liu who laughed “What? Your wife is giving me a bow, you have a problem with that?”
Chuan Zi looked at Tian Er with a smiling red face and Tian Er was like suddenly letting a heavy load off as she slumped forward and solemnly bowed her head to Xiao Liu. When she raised her head there were tears in her eyes.
Xiao Liu waved her off “Can you cook? If you can’t, go to the kitchen and learn from Lao Mu!”
After dinner Chuan Zi and Tian Er went for a walk along the river. It was freezing cold but neither was scared and slowly walked and chatted. Xiao Liu leaned on his crutches and watched them from a distance with Shi Qi beside him. Xiao Liu started nattering “This is actually an interesting gamble. Tian Er doesn’t believe Chuan Zi will want to be with her forever so right now she’s giving him all fake affection. But the more Tian Er is nice to him, the more Chuan Zi is nicer to her. The fake affection will gradually be mixed with real feeling, and as a lifetime passes even the false becomes true. But during this process it’s not without risk. Tian Er is gambling with her heart and if Chuan Zi dared to discard her then one of them is going to end up dead.”
Xiao Liu laughed “My life is very long, I can wait to see the outcome.”
Shi Qi looked at the two people “Xuan, why?”
Xiao Liu answered “Last time I snuck into his place to eat chicken and he started being wary of me. He used Tian Er to find out who was behind me. If I asked Xiang Liu to help then that’ll create an even bigger problem down the road. Even though he doesn’t think I’m completely trustworthy, but time will show him that I really am not involved in anything. Let’s not catch a cold with them so head back.”
Xiao Liu handed his crutches to Shi Qi and playfully hopped back to the house. When he hopped on the stoop there was a thin layer of ice that Xiao Liu wasn’t looking out for so he fell backwards into Shi Qi’s arms. Xiao Liu tried to grab the crutches in Shi Qi’s hands but came up empty and fell back into his arms again.
The two of them stared at each other in silence. “That…..thank you.” Xiao Liu turned and hopped back into the house.
In the Spring when hundreds of flowers blossomed was when Chuan Zi and Xan Tian Er got married. It was a simple wedding and only close friends of Ma Zi and Chuan Zi were invited along with Butcher Gao and Xuan. Chun Tao was pregnant again and she sat down with a smile but never spoke with Tian Er. When her daughter would run over Chun Tao would pull her away and tell her not to bother auntie.
Chuan Zi was so happy he didn’t notice a lot of things, but his laughter was resounding and brought joy to the entire house. Xiao Liu munched on a duck neck and watched them with a smile. This is the sweet, sour, bitter ordinary life. Whether it was sweet or bitter tea, half depended on the Heavens and half depended on the person.
In the middle of the banquet, Ah Nian arrived. When Xiao Liu turned around, Shi Qi was already gone. Lao Mu warmly welcomed her and she nodded to Lao Mu while telling Xuan “Xuan gege, Hai Tang said you were at a wedding banquet here.”
Ah Nian glanced at Chuan Zi and Xan Tian Er and it was a look of unbridled disdain that even the happily he was loopy Chuan Zi could feel it. Chuan Zi’s face hardened but Tian Er wasn’t upset because she quickly realized that Ah Nian’s disdain was for everyone at this banquet. Ah Nian’s disdain coming from a place so lofty, so absolutely untouchable, it made everyone feel their own lowly position. Butcher Gao remembered he was often smelling like meat, Chun Tao worried her fingernails were dirty……..
Ma Zi and Chuan Zi were tightly clenching their fists but Ah Nian did nothing and said nothing. She just stood there looking at everyone. Xiao Liu was impressed – how the heck was this chit raised? How could she be so boldly arrogant and condescending, with disdain raining down on everyone, yet left everyone feeling like she was right to look down on them that way?
Xuan stood up to leave but Ah Nian put down a handkerchief and sat down “Xuan gege, I’ve never seen such a banquet before, let them continue.” Xiao Liu was about to spit up blood and even Chuan Zi was about to flip tables but Xan Tian Er stopped him with a smile “Let’s toast the lady.”
Ah Nian stuck her nose up “I’m not going to drink since your cups aren’t clean.” Xiao Liu kept repeating over and over “I need to endure her, I need to endure her……”
Xuan took the cup from Chuan Zi and gulped it down. Ah Nian furrowed her brows but said nothing. She curiously looked at the dishes and said to Lao Mu “I heard the dishes represent how important the bride is. Since the dishes look so crappy, you guys don’t think very highly of the bride.”
Even Tian Er’s face fell now and Xiao Liu decided to send the guests off NOW. He said to Xuan and Ah Nian “You guys are leaving? NOT STAYING? Then be safe and leave well!” Xuan pulled Ah Nian up and headed for the door while apologizing to Xiao Liu. Ah Nian glared at Xiao Liu “Every time I see you I despise you. If it wasn’t for big brother then I would order you whipped.”
Xiao Liu thought “If it wasn’t for your older brother then I would whip YOU.” After Xuan and Ah Nian left, Xiao Liu let out a sigh of relief. He walked around the outside and through the medicine patch and to the river. He saw Shi Qi sitting there looking out at the water. Xiao Liu stood beside him “Six years ago during the Spring, you were laying in the pile of logs.”
Shi Qi turned to look at him with a smile “Six years.” Xiao Liu squatted next to Shi Qi and said with a smile “Even Chuan Zi and Ma Zi can tell you don’t belong at Hui Chun Clinic. Xuan clearly can see it. Since he’s already wary of me, he’s likely already sent someone to investigate your background.”
“Um.” Shi Qi’s eyes were clear with a hint of a smile, remaining calm and peaceful as if he was above the fray. Like he was one with the mountains and streams and wind and flowers.
Xiao Liu sighed. Actually Shi Qi was another type of lofty personage. Ah Nian’s type made Xiao Liu want to jerk her down and whip her. Shi Qi’s type made Xiao Liu want to rub his dirt all over Shi Qi so that he got some dirt on himself, so that he wouldn’t disappear into the wind and become like the cloud.
Xuao Liu picked up a rock and tossed it into the water and it splashed droplets on Shi Qi’s face. That made Xiao Liu happy and when Shi Qi took out a cloth to wipe Xiao Liu forbade him to. Shi Qi didn’t understand but stopped wiping and instead used it to wipe the water from Xiao Liu’s face.
The condor Furball swooped towards them close to the river’s surface and Xiang Liu stared at them with an amused expression. Xiao Liu immediately stood up and walked forward, not even turning his head around while telling Shi Qi “You go back first!” Shi Qi was worried and didn’t want to go at first, but then he remembered the imprint of a kiss on the inside of the collar and he lowered his head and silently left.
Xiao Liu stood in the water and looked up at Xiang Liu “Coming to give a wedding present?” To remind me that there is one more hostage?
Furball flew lower and Xiang Liu reached out his hand. Xiao Liu grabbed his hand and vaulted on the back of the condor before they were suddenly in the clouds. Xiao Liu pressed against the condor’s back and looked down. Furball was flying low so Xiao Liu could see the view on land until they flew over the ocean. Furball was so happy he was crowing and twirling in the air. Xiao Liu’s mythical powers were quite low so he gripped the back tightly with his face ashen. He said to Xiang Liu “I would rather you killed me by sucking all my blood dry than by falling to my death.”
Xiang Liu asked “Why are your spiritual powers so low?”
“That evil fox wanted to not waste my powers so he used medicine to suck it out of me and then slowly drip it through my blood so its better when he eats me.”
Xiang Liu laughed “I heard the pain of getting the powers sucked out is like having one’s bones stripped. Looks like those 40 lashes were too soft, I need to find a new torture method.”
Xiao Liu’s face was white “Do you think it’s like singing, one gets better with more practice? Because it was so painful back then, that is why I’m more afraid of any pain than anyone!”
Xiang Liu patted Furball who immediately stopped teasing and started flying properly. Xiao Liu let out a sigh of relief and went back to sitting properly. Furball was flying slow and evenly while Xiang Liu looked out at the horizon, his face like the still water, without any emotion. Xiao Liu asked “You’re in a bad mood?”
Xiang Liu quietly asked “Those thirty years you were locked up in that cage. How did you endure it?”
“In the beginning I wanted to escape. I would yell, try to upset it. Later I stopped and just silently refused to cooperate. I tried to kill myself many time but never succeeded. Finally I gave up and tried to find joy in my situation. I would make bets with myself as to what nasty new thing the evil fox would bring. I loathed him and hated him with every fiber of my being. I started collecting materials to try and make a poison, thinking that when he ate me I would eat the poison first and poison him to death.”
Xiao Liu scooted closer to Xiang Liu “But a person’s heart is strange. Happiness or sorrow, it’s all relative. If a person had only one biscuit a day but then saw beggars frozen on the street, he would feel happy because he wasn’t as bad off. But if he saw all his friends get rich then he would feel sorry that his life was terrible. Do you really need me to get into more detail about my horrific past? I can consider embellishing so that you’ll think it’s not just horrible, it’s the worst ever!”
Xiang Liu raised his hand to smack Xiao Liu who immediately closed his eyes and curled up like a beaten animal’s automatic reaction to anticipating more pain. Xiang Liu’s hand lowered and he put it on Xiao Liu’s neck. Xiao Liu saw that he didn’t hit or bite and felt a bit bolder “You’re really different tonight. Did you grow up in the ocean?”
Xiang Liu didn’t answer and Furball descended until he was right up against the ocean surface. Xiang Liu got off the back of the condor and instead of falling in the water he was standing on the surface like it was land. He reached out his hand to Xiao Liu and he immediately grabbed it and slid off the condor. Furball was actually scared of water and immediately rose back into the air.
Xiang Liu strolled along the waves with Xiao Liu. There wasn’t a sliver of light, the ocean was pitch black, there was nothing ahead of them, there was nothing behind them. The world was so vast and Xiao Liu felt so miniscule as if a wave could swallow him at any time. He grabbed Xiang Liu’s hand tightly.
Xiang Liu suddenly stopped and Xiao Liu didn’t know why but he didn’t ask any questions. He inched closer to Xiang Liu and kept him company staring out towards the East. After some time, a moon rose from the edge of the ocean and the quiet beauty was so powerful that Xiao Liu felt the hard shell around his heart soften. In the sound of the ocean waves, Xiang Liu’s voice spoke “As long as there are such sights in this world, then life is very precious.”
Xiao Liu nattered “The most precious of sights will get old after seeing it too much. Only if someone views it with me. Views are dead, only if a person can appreciate it then the view has meaning.”
It wasn’t clear whether Xiang Liu heard what Xiao Liu said, but he didn’t respond. The most beautiful view had passed and Xiang Liu summoned Furball to take them back. Xiang Liu closed his eyes and there was exhaustion in his brows. Xiao Liu asked “Why are you in a bad mood?”
Xiang Liu ignored him so Xiao Liu just spoke out loud “Since Little Zhu Rong took over running the Middle Plains, I hear the Middle Plains are starting to be well managed. The Yellow Emperor will eventually deal with General Gong Gong. The power structure in this world can’t be reversed, and definitely not by the will of one person. I suggest you take off sooner rather than later. Actually, you’re just a demon, and a loathsome nine-headed one at that. With those snobbish Gods of the Sheng Nong tribe, in their eyes you are……you are less than nothing. Why do you have to worry about the Sheng Nong rebel army. What can you get by following General Gong Gong? Do you like power? Then why don’t you betray Gong Gong and cast your lot with the Yellow Emperor……….”
Xiang Liu opened his eyes and it was blood red with a demon glare. Xiao Liu was shaken by his glance like his entire body was paralyzed and blood began to drop from his nostrils and his fingertips. “I…..wrong…..wrong…..” Xiang Liu closed his eyes and Xiao Liu’s body toppled forward onto the condor’s back like a used rag. When they were almost back at Qing Shui Town, Xiao Liu sat up and wiped the blood away before wordlessly falling off the side into the river.
Xiao Liu floated down the river and let the water rinse away all traces of blood. Xiao Liu looked at the full moon above as it shone on the entire land. Xiao Liu climbed on land and pushed open the front door dripping wet. Shi Qi immediately stood up from inside the kitchen and Xiao Liu smiled at him “Any hot soup? I want some.”
Xiao Liu walked onto his room and took off his clothes, drying himself before putting on clean clothes and burrowing under the clean warm blanket. Shi Qi entered with a hot bowl of soup and Xiao Liu sat up an slowing drank it and his body warmed up. Shi Qi took a towel to dry his hair and Xiao Liu leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
Shi Qi looked and didn’t see any lip marks on Xiao Liu’s neck and his lips curved upward. Shi Qi finished drying his hair but didn’t want to stop so grabbed a brush from the table and combed through it.
Xiao Liu said softly “You shouldn’t spoil me. If I get used to it, what’ll I do when you leave.” “I won’t leave.” Xiao Liu smiled, millions made promises, it was hard to find one who kept them. If he was Shi Qi, it might’ve been easier, but he wasn’t just Shi Qi.
There was an extra woman now in Hui Chun Clinic but not much had changed. Lao Mu tended the kitchen stoves and Tian Er tried to learn but appeared to lack that innate talent. Chuan Zi still washed his own clothes since Tian Er destroyed three outfits in a row washing it. Chuan Zi and Tian Er’s life together didn’t start off smoothly but Tian Er was trying and Chuan Zi was very caring and understanding so the two of them were very happy.
Shi Qi was still a man of few words but a hard worker. Xiao Liu was still full of energy at times, completely lazy at others.
It was a Summer midday and not many people were on the street since it was so hot. Without a patient, Xiao Liu sat down under the awning fanning himself and zoning out.
A richly decked out carriage rumbled past and the wind blew the curtains up to show a gorgeous lady inside. Xiao Liu gasped at the beauty and his eyes followed the carriage. The carriage stopped outside the jewelry store run by owner Yu Shin who got out and greeted the lady. Yu Shin was a well known personage in Qing Shui Town not because his jewelry store was all that profitable, but because he owned all the shops on this street. Once a year Lao Mu needed to go to the jewelry shop to pay the rent on the clinic.
Qing Shui Town may be like a pan of loose sand but it wasn’t completely a mess thanks to Yu Shin. He wasn’t a government official but worked hard to maintain rules and order here. As one would see it, Yu Shin was like half the authority in Qing Shui Town. So when he was bowing to someone else it caused the entire street to be stunned. Everyone wanted to discuss it but was too scared to discuss it. Wanted to look but didn’t dare look. In a second the entire mood changed on the street.
Xiao Liu wasn’t just stunned, he was very interested because Hui Chun Clinic was where he spent the last twenty some years of his life. He planned to keep on spending his life here and he liked all the neighbors on this street and didn’t want to see anything change.
The next day, the news broke that Yu Shin wanted to take back some of the shops. Lao Mu sighed and even Chuan Zi and Ma Zi were in a daze. Butcher Gao heard the scoop and came to share that Yu Shin wanted to take back Hui Chun Clinic because it was close to the river and there was another patch of fertile land. Lao Mu cursed since when he rented the place it was just an empty lot that he worked hard to make fertile. But in front of the authority of Qing Shui Town there was nothing he could do other than endure a sleepless night.
Xiao Liu liked water and didn’t want to leave here so decided to go see the authority Yu Shin. Shi Qi could see Xiao Liu cleaning up to head out so he followed behind. Xiao Liu was welcomed back to the lavishly decorated courtyard to see Yu Shin. Xiao Liu and Shi Qi bowed respectfully and asked if it was true he was taking back some shops? Yu Shin admitted it and Xiao Liu asked to keep renting if he was looking for a higher rent.
Yu Shin appeared to think it funny that Xiao Liu was talking money with him “Forget the rent for one shop, the rent for all the shops on this street isn’t worth mentioning.”
Xiao Liu didn’t understand business so had no clue what he was saying. After some time he asked “So what does Mr. Yu want to do with all the shops?”
Yu Shin added “You’ve lived here for twenty years so I’ll be candid with you. I’m just a servant and my master’s family is beyond wealthy. Forget one shop, they can afford to let the entire Qing Shui Town sit useless and empty just because they feel like it.” Yu Shin finished and sent them away.
Xiao Liu lowered his head to leave. If this was a plot then he couldn’t find a way to solve it. An owner wanting to take back a shop was perfectly legal and there was nothing he could do about it.
“Stop!” A woman’s voice came from above. Xiao Liu halted and raised his head to see the beautiful lady from the carriage. Shi Qi didn’t stop and kept walking while the the girl was so anxious she jump down from the second floor and ran to embrace Shi Qi with tears streaming down her face “My lord, my lord………..”
Shi Qi was standing ramrod straight and didn’t turn around. The woman collapsed at his feet in tears “They all said my lord was dead…..but none of us believed it! Nine years! Nine years!……The Heavens heard us, to let your servant I find you.”
Hearing the woman crying, Yu Shin rushed out and when he saw the woman kneeling by Shi Qi’s feet, he immediately knelt down, too. The woman tearfully asked “My lord, why are you not talking. It’s your servant Jing Ye. Did you forget? And Lan Xiang, too. You use to tease us about our names…..Yu Shin, hurry up and send message to the Grand Madam that we found our second lord. My lord, have you forgotten the Grand Madam as well?”
Shi Qi turned around and looked at Xiao Liu, the few short steps between them became an expanse so wide it couldn’t be bridged. There was such sorrow in his eyes. Xiao Liu smiled at him and walked over to say something but his usually glib tongue actually failed him. He could only try harder to keep smiling and smiling. He gestured for him to handle his family affairs and he was off.
Xiao Liu went back to Hui Chun Clinic. Chuan Zi and Tian Er was out looking for another shop while Lao Mu sat there in a daze sighing. Xiao Liu sat down next to him and looked out the courtyard. Lao Mu “Lived here for twenty years, I’m going to miss it!”
Xiao Liu mumbled “Don’t worry, it’s fine now, we can stay as long as we want, even if we don’t pay rent no one will take it back.”
Lao Mu startled for a moment “Did you convince the owner?” “You can say that.” Lao Mu gave the Heavens a thanks. Xiao Liu added ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be with you until you are old and send you off. You’re life span is shorter so I’ll be with you until you die. I won’t let you be all alone, with no one to rely on and no one to talk to. Who knows who will be with me until I die………”
Lao Mu shook Xiao Liu “You’re starting to pity yourself….” Xiao Liu said “Lao Mu, at least you’re reliable!” Lao Mu rubbed Xiao Liu’s head “My Xiao Liu is a good kid, the Heavens will watch over you.” Xiao Liu smiled and patted Lao Mu on the shoulder “Go work.”
At dinnertime Tian Er asked where Shi Qi was and everyone looked at Xiao Liu who smiled “He’s gone, no need to make his portion anymore.” Lao Mu sighed “Good, I was always worried about him.” Chuan Zi and Tian Er went right back to eating, Shi Qi spoke so little Chuan Zi never felt like he was around and Tian Er was here so recently she didn’t get used to him.
That night, Xiao Liu walked along the stone path through the medicine patch to the river. He strolled along the river and someone followed behind him, speeding up and slowing down along with him. The Summer breeze brought the scent of hops and it calmed Xiao Liu down. He stopped and turned around. Shi Qi stood behind him wearing the same old sack cloth robe which had been laundered and now smelled like fragrant incense.
Xiao Liu said “I don’t like this scent on you.”
Shi Qi lowered his head and Xiao Liu smiled “I liked the smell of medicinal herbs. Next time when you come see me, I’ll give you a satchel of medicinal herbs.” Shi Qi raised his head and it was like stars had fallen into his eyes as it sparkled with hope. Xiao Liu smiled and kept on walking so Shi Qi hurried up to walk alongside.
From then on, Shi Qi would always wear the same sack cloth robe and come walk with Xiao Liu every night by the river. The two of them would walk until Xiao Liu got tired and went back to sleep, and then Shi Qi would leave. The days seem to pass not very different then before, except the topic of their conversations had changed.
Xiao Liu would ask “How many servants do you have?”
“How much money do you have?”
“Years ago….was that because of an inheritance battle?”
“Is Jing Ye prettier? Or Lan Xiang?”
“Do you remember all the herbs I taught you.”
“Remember them well because it looks ordinary but if you add little things to it, it can take down even a god or a demon.”
“You’re not that nine-headed monster Xiang Liu, with nine-lives and can eat whatever he wants.”
“Is Jing Ye prettier? Or Lan Xiang?”
“The serving people are usually the least trustworthy. You be careful.”
“Also…..don’t resort to violence. Pretend to be stupid and endure. If it resorts to violence then you have to be thorough and end it right then and there.”
Shi Qi said nothing.
Xiao Liu sighed “If you really can’t beat them, then come back. You can keep brewing medicine for me, at least you won’t starve to death.”
Shi Qi stared at Xiao Liu and there were rolling waves in his eyes seemingly pulling Xiao Liu in.