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The Clouded Mirror

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What happened? Shen Wei couldn’t… something was wrong. He couldn’t move or-

The blow came out of nowhere, snapping his head to the side. His mouth was full of blood-

“Wake up, gege.”

Right. Dixing, Ye Zun, the pillar.

It was a struggle to pry his eyes open. Blood was matting his eyelashes shut- he got another blow for his trouble, rattling his teeth.

“Gege, I’m insulted. I thought you’d be happier to see me.”

“Didi…” he tried to say, but his mouth wasn’t working right. It came out as a mumble and a dribble of blood. His body was trying to heal itself, but there was nothing for it to draw off of. The chains holding him up were sealing his power- it burned, searing like ice in his chest. Things were fading out, harder and harder to hold his head up. Shock maybe, a distant part of him said.

“Gege! Stay awake, I want to talk.” Ye Zun said in a sing-song voice, lifting up his chin. It was like looking in a cloudy mirror, the face familiar and not. “There we go, keep looking at me. I’m disappointed, I thought you'd be stronger than this.” his touch was gentler now, wiping the blood from his chin and lips, smoothing back his hair. His dark eyes were hard.

“What’d… why, didi…” the knot of light energy he was keeping, it was making things worse, poisoning him. The ice-shard pain in his chest was getting worse and Ye Zun's face faded and blurred.
“Hey!” he was shaking him, slapping his cheek. “Wake up, I told you to stay awake!”

“didi...I.. let me down, I can’t…” he coughed, struggling to get air in.

“Stop that!”

“I’m…sorry…” but this seemed to only frustrate his twin more, as if his body shutting down was done on purpose just to annoy him.

A new pain pierced through his belly, cold and exquisite. He didn’t scream, gasping as everything crystallized into sharp edged pieces. He pried an eye open, Ye Zun was staring at him with wide eyes, as if surprised he’d driven a long knife through his belly and into the pillar behind him.

“I’m sorry-” he panted, his body flashing hot and cold. He couldn’t get air in, he couldn’t breathe, struggling to continue to apologize to his little twin.

“Don’t apologize to me!” that fury was back and he wanted to help calm him. But his tenuous hold on consciousness was slipping, his mind decided without his consent to shut down for a while.
The darkness was blissfully pain-free as he sunk into it.

 

Sometime later he swam back into awareness. There was blood puddled around his feet and it took a long, syrupy moment to realize it was his own. This wasn’t good, he thought faintly.
Voices were coming closer, and he couldn’t quite parse the words. Some of the voices were half familiar- his head was yanked up by his hair.

“Hei pao shi!” a familiar voice yelled, offended and angry. He managed to focus, Chu Shuzhi struggling against Ye Zun’s cultists. He was bleeding from the scalp and nose, hands tied behind his back. “What the fuck did you do to him? My lord!”

“Shuzhi…” he managed to whisper, unable to get enough air for any volume. Lao-chu continued to struggle until one finally got a good blow to his head. He slumped to the ground, stunned and chest heaving.

“The other Haxingren escaped, but we got this one.” a very young man announced, giving chu a good kick to the ribs.

“Oh, yes, isn’t this one of your pets?” Ye Zun laughed, fingers still twisted in Shen Wei’s hair to hold his head up. Lao-chu growled, struggling to get to his feet.

“I’m going to fucking end you if you don’t stop touching him!”

“Ha, isn’t that cute? I think he’s in love with you. What are you going to do, little dog? Fight me for him? Be the hero so he’ll love you in return?”

“Untie me and find out!”

“Let him go.” Shen Wei swallowed, trying to pull up the scraps of strength he had left. “Let him go, you have me.”

“Can you see the look on his face?” Chu swam in and out of focus, he looked desperate, afraid.

“Has he had to watch you debase yourself with a Haxingren, while he wants to fuck you himself? Or have you been fucking him on the side?”

“Shut up!!” Chu roared, getting enough to his feet that the cultists had to pile on him to pin him down again.

“Please, didi.” he whispered. It was a struggle to get enough breath to speak. It was hard to think, They needed to stop this bleeding, or at least let him lay down.

“Please what? What would you do if I made you watch him being hurt?”

“No…”

“Fuck around and find out you traitorous-” he was cut off by a kick to the ribs, something cracking.

“Or what would he do if I hurt you in front of him? Would he debase himself to save you? You want to watch that?”

“Shut up! Don’t touch him!” Chu gasped, clutching his ribs. He was radiating fury to cover his fear.

“Didi, stop.”

“Ah, but gege, you can’t take much more, can you?” he twisted the hilt of the knife still buried in him and his vision went white again-

Things came back into pieces, noises that formed into words. Chu’s face was almost green, eyes wide in alarm. Was it bad that it didn’t hurt so much now? He felt like he was floating underwater.

“Oh, poor gege. You worried your little friend. I thought you weren’t going to wake up from that.”

Ye Zun was close enough he could feel his warmth burn through his clothes. Those hot hands cradling his face gently. “What would you do for me to let him go unharmed? Hm? Just say it.”
He didn’t know what he wanted him to stay, unable to form words. He couldn’t think.

“Nothing to say? Fine. break his fingers.”

Chu swore, fighting as his arm was pinned down. One of the cultists pulled his smallest finger back- the puppetmaster swallowed his screaming, turning it into a snarl.

Shen Wei could feel his breathing come faster, short pained gasps as they pulled another finger back slowly. He tried to tell them to stop, coming out as choked sobs.

“What was that, gege?”

“Stop-” it was barely audible.

“I’m sorry, I can’t hear you~”

“Please… stop.” This time Chu did scream when the bone snapped, and he could feel his eyes well up. He was breathing too fast, too shallowly, his vision narrowing and fading as he hyperventilated.

Noises sounded muffled and echoing, and he lost track of time. It could have been hours or minutes between the moments of awareness. Voices left at some point, screaming stopped. He vaguely registered Chu’s boots resting near the growing puddle of his blood.

“Did you finally decide to wake up?” Ye Zun in his bright white clothes seemed to glow in the dim light. His voice swam in and out. “You’re not doing so well.”

He’d answer him if he could, he’d tell him anything he wanted to hear. For a drink of water, to lay down. For some warmth. But Ye Zun’s hands were on his face, burning as he tilted his face up.

“Do you want me to let you down, take away some of the pain? Release your little lover here?”

Tears were running uncontrollably down his face. Yes, please, he’d beg for it if he could.

“But we’d have to get this out of you first, eh?” the slightest twist of the knife still buried in his belly, and he couldn’t even scream, wheezing out what little air he had. “Oh, but I don't know about that, you might finally bleed out. And I still want your company for a bit longer.”

From the way his heart was skipping and fluttering, he wasn’t sure he could hold on for much longer. He was losing too much blood, his heart struggling to pump what was left to his brain.
His brother lifted up his head, putting a cup of water to his lips and let him gulp it down.

“There, there, slowly.” he said in a nearly-gentle way, then gave him a second cup. And he was crying at this and he couldn’t help it. Ye Zun wiped his face, pressing a kiss to his forehead. “There we go, isn’t that better?”

“Thank you.” he slurred, voice barely above a whisper. And he couldn’t stop the tears, leaning into the hand cupping his cheek.

“You’re going to be good for me, right?” he nodded. Maybe if he was good, and told him what he wanted to hear, he could at least get Chu Shuzhi out of here. He wasn’t expecting to get away alive, but maybe he could…

He didn’t know what Ye Zun wanted.

“Say it, you’re going to be good for me.” he was pressing his thumb into Shen Wei’s lower lip, running it roughly across the cracked surface.

“I’ll be good,” he whispered. It was all he could do.

“Good, good.” he pressed his thumb inside his mouth. “What do you even see in that idiot man?” he murmured, more to himself as he started tugging at the buttons of Shen Wei’s shirt. He was so warm compared to his frozen body, he couldn’t… Shen Wei wanted to look at Chu, see how badly he was hurt. But looking away might upset Ye Zun and his hands were touching him- he was so tired so cold and it was hard to think. His lips were pressed- and he just wanted to lay down, let go. Let go. Yes. let go and go away...

“Hey-” someone was tapping his face, speaking from deep underwater. “Hey, I didn’t say you could- hey, wake up!”

He’d open his eyes, in a moment. He needed to get his strength back, he just needed to…

Go away. Just for a moment.

He swam up to consciousness, vaguely aware he was laying down. Where was he? He was on something hard and...Dixing. The pillar. His twin, where was his twin? That knife. The wound didn’t hurt.
Chu Shuzhi. He needed to… he coughed, tasting blood.

He couldn’t sit up, he knew that much. But somehow he managed to roll over onto his belly and painfully inch his way over to him. Chu Shuzhi was unconscious, curled around his injured hand. But he was breathing, he didn’t look like he was too badly hurt.

“H-hey…” he could just reach his face, touching his cheek with blood-caked fingertips. “Chu… wake up.” he whispered before he started coughing. Blood pooled under his cheek, he could barely keep his head up, eyes open. “Wake up… please.”

It took much too long before Chu Shuzhi to stir and open his eyes. He blinked hazily for a moment before snapping to awareness.

“My lord, what- oh no.” his eyes were wide as he sat up. Good. Shen Wei's strength was gone and he laid his head down on the gritty stone. He could let go.

“Run, Shuzhi.” he mumbled, starting to slip. “Run.”

“Not without you.” he was rolled onto his back, arms slipping under him to be cradled against a broad, warm chest. “Hold on, I’ll get you out.”

“I’m…” his head lolled against Chu’s shoulder, hearing him hiss in pain. “‘M not going to…”

“Shh…” he staggered under Shen Wei's weight as he stood, probably not all that strong or steady himself. He couldn’t help but make small noises of pain when jostled unexpectedly, fading in and out when it got too much. “Hold on.” Chu was breathing heavily, a rattle to it. “We’re almost to the portal gate.”

He should run, leave him. Chu wasn’t strong enough to carry him and run, he was bleeding to death and he couldn’t heal himself. He was better off leaving Shen Wei behind. But he couldn’t… get the breath to…