It’s not the first time Mo Xuanyu has been left taking the back alleys in order to get home – he’d rather avoid his cousin whenever possible – and it likely won’t be the last.
He’s lucky enough that he had just caught sight of Mo Ziyuan and a couple of his friends outside the library he had been hiding in. They had stood out on the street – what with the baggy pants and attempt to look fashionable, despite the fact that none of them were able to pull it off. And so, he had given the librarian his saddest expression before asking if she could let him use the back door. She had taken one look at his split lip and watery eyes and immediately agreed.
Though – it hadn’t been entirely successful.
He had gotten halfway home before he had caught sight of them, and now he’s meandering around until it gets dark enough that they’ll all go inside.
Mo Xuanyu hates that he’ll have to return to that house soon – it’s a nightmare – but it’s not like he has anywhere else to go, is it? Sure, he knows he has a father and some siblings out there, but, well-
There’s a reason he’s here and not there.
He turns the corner, and stops.
There’s a wooden fence stretching halfway down the block – from over the top of it, he can see the branches of a ginkgo tree, the leaves yellowing as if it were autumn and not early spring. There are also the fully opened blossoms of a plum blossom tree, the branches just hanging before the edge of the fence. The buildings around the enclosed space are the cold grey concrete that’s usual for the city, making the old warm-coloured wood stand out even more.
But what’s really weird for Mo Xuanyu is the fact that he’s walked down this path plenty of times before – and he’s never seen this place any of the other times.
He slows down as he approaches the front gate – it’s a simple archway, one side has a sculpted crescent moon, while the other is a full circle. Perched on the crescent moon is a crow – it’s beady eyes regarding him closely.
The lawn is an actual lawn, grass and flowers blooming in front of a traditionally-styled home. Windchimes and red lanterns hang from the eaves – Mo Xuanyu sees them moving in the breeze he can’t feel from outside the fence. Now that he’s closer, he can see another tree – this one a magnolia – the buds tightly closed where it grows next to a pond with a few lotuses blooming.
Carefully, Mo Xuanyu steps onto the small stone path leading from the wooden gates, taking another look around at the estate.
“Oh, hello sir!”
He spins to the right, turning to see a young boy holding a broom. And for some reason the kid is dressed like he just walked off the set of a xianxia drama, long hair, robes and all.
Mo Xuanyu blinks.
The boy tilts his head.
“Welcome to the Yiling Wish Granting Shop?” It’s more of a question then a greeting, the boy clasps his hands together and salutes him, “You’re here to see the shopkeeper?”
He laughs – incredulous, “A wish granting shop? And Yiling? We’re in Shandong, not Hubei…”
“Oh!” The boy runs to the entrance – careful not to step over the threshold – and looks around, “I don’t think we’ve been in Shandong before…” He seems disappointed by the lack of view that the alley gives.
The bells and chimes ring out in the breeze, and as Mo Xuanyu turns back to look at them sway, the boy speaks again.
“The Shop was in Yiling when Ying-Ge took over,” he strains to look further down the alley, in the direction Mo Xuanyu had come from, “So it became the Yiling Wish Granting Shop. I don’t know where it was before.”
Crossing his arms, Mo Xuanyu replies, “So this shop moves?” Is he being pranked right now?
Nodding the boy pulls away from the gateway – absently twirling the broom in his hands, “Yes, when my family first moved in, the Shop was in western Shaanxi.”
Mo Xuanyu has either found someone who is crazy, a liar or being lied to – either way – it’s probably time for him to leave.
“Of course,” He says, trying to keep the disbelief from his voice, “Well, I’m sorry to bother you but I have to go-“
And he stops.
Because right in front of the gate strolls Mo Ziyuan and his friends – they walk right up to the entrance – laughing loudly and obnoxiously. Mo Xuanyu feels himself tense up in anticipation of having to run from them again, when the boy speaks up.
“Are you hiding from them?” While the boy is soft spoken, it’s loud enough that even the unobservant Mo Ziyuan is sure to hear him, and frantically, Mo Xuanyu brings a finger to his lips – trying to gesture he should be quiet, with a small shake of his head, and a gentle smile, he continues.
“They won’t be able to hear us – or see us either – the Shop only appears to those who need it.”
And sure enough, when Mo Ziyuan leans backwards, he doesn’t fall through the open gate, instead he looks as though he’s leaning on a windowpane. Mo Xuanyu blinks.
“What? I don’t – What?”
The boy seems even younger now – openly giggling at him, “I did tell you…”
Moving right up to the threshold himself – Mo Xuanyu tries to see if somehow, they managed to put up some glass or plastic or something while he was distracted. And- he sees nothing. He reaches out a hand-
And suddenly all the boys on the other side of the door start screaming – flinging themselves at the other side of the alley and pointing.
“A hand! A-“
“It came out of the wall!”
Then – shoving each other behind them the whole way – all nine of them run down the alley.
“Oh no…” The boy mutters, “Qing-Jie is going to be upset about this…”
Mo Xuanyu just stares at the opening – not even for a prank would Mo Ziyuan allow himself to look such a fool – which means –
“A wish granting shop…” He mutters, because apparently that’s a real thing now.
From the corner of his eyes he sees black and red robes – the boy extends a hand to help him up from where he’s dropped to the ground. He’s far too young for it to actually help – but the attempt is kind.
“That is the usual reaction,” He says, hiding his smile behind his hand, “Did you want to see the Shopkeeper now?”
Mo Xuanyu looks back towards the building.
“Alright.” He says, “Alright.”
“Then after me – ah!” The boys eyes widen, “I forgot- My name is Wen Yuan, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” He offers another salute.
Folding one hand over the other – Mo Xuanyu copies the motion, “I am Mo Xuanyu.”
“This way then Mo-Xiansheng.” Wen Yuan says leading him along the stone path to the wooden building.
There are a few wide steps leading up to a veranda which surrounds the structure, Mo Xuanyu can make out several windows with fine latticework covering them – the interior seems well lit. Rather then entering through the doors, Wen Yuan leads him further down the veranda, around the corner and towards the back. Once more Mo Xuanyu finds himself taken aback – because it’s only now that he realizes that the grey apartments and skyscrapers have disappeared – and now he sees the sharp hills and valleys and rivers around them.
He doesn’t see the city itself from here – but he does see a river and forest and forest.
It’s times like this he wishes he had a phone or a camera, it’s beautiful.
There are even more lanterns here – and even more people.
All dressed similarly to Wen Yuan, long robes and hair grown out – several of them appear to be fetching water from a well, while the others appear to be doing laundry. The fabrics look high quality – soft and vibrant, Mo Xuanyu wonders how much that must cost.
A few of them look up as they walk by, a man a few years older than Mo Xuanyu waves as they approach the doors at the back, already wide open.
“A-Yuan! Weren’t you sweeping?” Comes the cheerful call from inside.
Wen Yuan begins to speak, but as Mo Xuanyu finally gets to a place where he can look inside the room, he stops listening.
The man inside is sprawled across the ground – half sitting against the table beside him. There are at least three empty jars of wine on it and the floor, and several other unopened ones. The mans robes are half open and his hair pools on the floor around him, a red ribbon haphazardly holding back some of it. His eyes are a bright silver, and he smiles with straight white teeth. On his chest is an odd sunburst-patterned scar or tattoo.
As messy as he seems –
He’s really hot! Mo Xuanyu blinks, this guy is really, really hot!
“-and so I brought Mo-Xiansheng here.” Wen Yuan says, not yet realizing that Mo Xuanyu is peeking inside the room. “Ying-Ge, can you, um, well…”
“Well what? A-Yuan?” When Ying-Ge tilts his head, Mo Xuanyu is reminded of a stray cat that he used to see outside his house.
Then his head slams onto the table loudly, as a young woman comes into the room from behind him, having just thrown a large, heavy looking, bound book right at the back of his head.
“Wen Qing!” He cries.
“Fix your robes!” She snaps, scooping up the book, “What are you doing? Sitting around drinking while the rest of us work! Who do you think you are, Wei Ying?”
Wei Ying straightens, a large red mark on his forehead, “Wen Qing – dear, dear Wen-Yisheng, why do you hurt me?” He pouts, “I did a very big job the other day, I’m so tired… Please be nice to Ying-Er? Ahh-!”
He’s cut off as she yanks him further upright – and starts fixing his robes, “Who’s Ying-Er?” Wen Qing near snarls, “You are an adult! Don’t act like a child!”
Mo Xuanyu watches as Wei Ying gives Wen Yuan a quick wink, “Ying-Er is three years- Ow! Ow ow ow!”
With forceful movements – Wen Qing pushes Wei Ying further away from her. “You have a customer, and look at you! Half-drunk and half-dressed!”
“Oh!” And now the full force of his smile is directed towards Mo Xuanyu, “Welcome to the Yiling Wish Granting Shop! I’m the Shopkeeper, what did you want?”
Staring at him – Mo Xuanyu really isn’t sure what to say.
“You must have something you wish for?” Wei Ying says, “Only people who really, truly wish for something can see the Shop. Let alone enter it. I promise,” he smirks, “If you can pay the price then you can have whatever it is you wish for.”
Rubbing his hand over his wrist, feeling the bruise on his shoulder twinge, Mo Xuanyu speaks slowly, “I… I don’t want to go back. To my. My house.”
Wei Ying slumps back down, scooping up one of the wine jars, “That’s so easy.” He ends up pouring more wine onto his clothes and neck then he does in his mouth, “The price isn’t that bad either, right Wen Qing?”
“It’s a nightmare,” Wen Qing says dryly, “And every day I think about how much easier it would have been to just kill my uncle.”
Laughing Wei Ying waves her off, “She’s joking. Qing-Jie loves it here.”
Wen Qing crosses her arms, “Are you giving him the same deal you gave us?”
“Not quite. His situation isn’t quite as dangerous as yours, so it’ll be a little less strict…” He turns to Mo Xuanyu, “You can stay here for as long as I'm Shopkeeper. But you’ll have to help out around the Shop, cleaning, cooking, helping with the Storeroom – that sort of work. You can leave too – if you want – but if it’s not leaving on a task I’ve asked of you, then you will never enter the gates again.”
Something seems different in his eyes now – the playful glint from before is gone, his gaze is solemn and maintains eye contact. There is no grin in sight.
“What sort of tasks?” He forces himself to ask, he doesn’t want to have to hurt people or anything like that.
“Collecting things, food, supplies,” Wei Ying answers, “We can’t leave the Shop. So usually the price for a wish is something we need, but we can go a while without customers… That’s where you come in.”
It’s not that bad a deal actually, Mo Xuanyu thinks, working and living here seems like it would be a lot better than his aunts house. And if it isn’t, then he’ll just leave.
“Okay.” He says, “I’ll do it.”
Wei Ying rises to his feet, he’s taller than Mo Xuanyu – and standing, his hair seems to reach his waist – an easy-going smile crawls across his face.
“Welcome home then, Mo Xuanyu.”