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To the Root

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Zhao Yunlan woke standing up, in bright sunlight. Summer buzzed around him, pleasantly warm as the trees blazed green and swayed in the breeze. It could not have been further from where he'd gone to sleep.

There was only one path between the green fields. Zhao Yunlan started walking.

It didn't take long to come upon a small farmhouse that looked like it had seen better days. It looked curiously old-timey as well, though who knew how the poor farmers lived nowadays. There was someone kneeling next to some plants.

It was- "Shen Wei?"

"You came!" Shen Wei said, a blazing smile on his face. "Come, hold the basket."

Zhao Yunlan mutely drifted over and took the basket from Shen Wei. It was wicker and it was almost full with some plants – onions, perhaps – already, fresh from the soil. He had no reason to dream of farming. "Do you like farming?" he asked Shen Wei.

"Mother and Father are growing old," Shen Wei explained, "so I came back home to take care of the farm."

"And your job at the university?"

Shen Wei frowned momentarily. The crinkles smoothed from his brow as he said, "It's not that great a distance. Especially if one cheats."


"Yes." Shen Wei pulled out another thing, grabbing the white bulb and dragging out the pale roots. "But the millet is almost ready, and the onions ripe. We can pick peas after I've gone through this bed of onions."

Zhao Yunlan was silent. Shen Wei picked another few onions. "Where are your parents?" Zhao Yunlan asked.

Again, a frown. "They're ... resting," Shen Wei explained. "We shouldn't disturb them."


Shen Wei placed a final onion in the basket. "Didi!" he called.

A brother? Zhao Yunlan frowned. Was this-

"What is it, gege?" Ye Zun said.

Zhao Yunlan froze. Yes; with them both like this, maskless and in some sort of peasant garb, the resemblance was impossible to miss. They were identical but for the color of the hair and the spirit within.

"This basket is full; bring it indoors."

"Sure thing, ge," Ye Zun said and bounced off with the full basket.

Zhao Yunlan sighed. "Shen Wei... This isn't real."

Shen Wei frowned. "But the onions are ripe and the millet can soon be harvested and-"

"-and your parents died ten thousand years ago and your little brother wants to destroy the world," Zhao Yunlan gently said. "You left to search for the Guardian Lantern's wick in Dixing and have been there for days. This is a dream formed by the Nightmare Master. He's targeted Zhu Hong and Chu Shuzhi already."

"I- I-" Shen Wei swallowed. "I... Yunlan?"

"Why does your brother want to kill us? Do you think you could stop him?"

"I'm tied to his pillar."

Zhao Yunlan knew this would end the moment Shen Wei truly believed that this was a dream. He stepped close to Shen Wei and placed his palms on Shen Wei's cheeks, drinking in Shen Wei's presence. "I'll free you."

"But-" Shen Wei swallowed. "Help me speak to him?" he croaked. He looked absolutely broken.

"I'll help you talk him down," Zhao Yunlna promised. If it was possible, he'd do it. If not – Shen Wei was powerful, and they could set a trap besides.

"Thank you," Shen Wei whispered. He leaned his head on Zhao Yunlan's hands.

The world shimmered. Sunlight faded, the beds of plants turned to furniture, and Zhao Yunlan was on his back in his bed.

He heaved himself out of bed and searched around for his phone. He'd need to call Chu Shuzhi, but after that – Zhao Yunlan had no intention of leaving Shen Wei in trouble. He was going to save his xiao-Wei from trouble, come Hell or high water – or evil twins to talk down.

Then Chu Shuzhi picked up, and Zhao Yunlan told him the battle plan. A few more minutes to toss on clothes and stuff breakfast in his mouth, and he was on his way to rescue his boyfriend.