“Okay,” Xue Yang said, looking up at the ceiling with an expression that suggested he wanted to kill something and probably would, very soon. “What are you crying about now?”
“I don’t have any friends,” Mo Xuanyu explained. Xue Yang wasn’t allowed to kill him – Jin Guangyao said it would be politically inconvenient – so he felt moderately safe around the other man.
“What am I?” Xue Yang said. “Dirt?”
“Way too scary to be friends with someone like me.”
“…good point,” Xue Yang said. “You are kind of pathetic. A real crybaby.”
Mo Xuanyu was pretty used to statements like this.
“Actually,” Xue Yang said, and smiled. “That gives me an idea.”
Mo Xuanyu did not like Xue Yang’s idea.
“I don’t want these types of friends!” he wailed at the door, then, sniffling, turned around. “No offense meant.”
The two fierce corpses stared back at him.
“I’m sure you’re very nice,” Mo Xuanyu said, voice wavering. “Just very, uh…dead.”
Xue Yang cackled from outside the door. “I even took out their controls, just for you!” he sang out. “All the crybabies together in a single room. Have fun!”
And then his footsteps went away.
Shaking, sniffling, Mo Xuanyu turned to look at the two fierce corpses. It turned out they were chained to the wall, which was a bit of a relief.
“…are you the other crybabies?” he asked, curiosity temporarily overwhelming him. There was no one else in the room but them, but it seemed implausible.
Implausible, but apparently correct: tears started dripping down the face of one of the corpses.
“I want to go home,” he said, sounding genuinely miserable.
Mo Xuanyu looked at the other corpse.
“I want to go to his home,” he said, ducking his head and stuttering a little. He didn’t cry, but his eyes wrinkled up, like he wanted to but couldn’t. “It sounds nice.”
Mo Xuanyu had never heard of a home that sounded nice before.
“What’s it like?” he asked.
Mo Xuanyu really hated disappointing people.
It sometimes felt like he’d never done anything else: disappointed his mother when his father lost interest in him and stopped visiting, disappointed his aunt and her family by existing, disappointed his father after he turned out to be useless after he’d gone to all the effort of bringing him back to Lanling City, disappointed his teachers, disappointed his half-brother Jin Guangyao, disappointed – everyone, really.
So when he heard that he was probably going to get kicked out of Lanling, it wasn’t really a surprise. He’d long outworn his welcome, after all.
But then he also heard that they planned to send him back to Mo Manor and just – no.
He’d just have to disappoint everyone one more time.
“I’m pretty sure you’re not allowed to do this,” Wen Ning said, rubbing his wrists as if it would help return the circulation he didn’t have. “Friends or no friends.”
“They said I was going to have to go home,” Mo Xuanyu said, shivering from terror at the mere thought. “I don’t want to go back to my home. I want to go to his home.”
A-Jue wiped his eyes with his sleeve and sniffed. He was the biggest crybaby of the lot of them, but it wasn’t his fault; according to Wen Ning, he’d lost a big part of his memory and higher order thinking skills when he’d become a fierce corpse and spent any time that he wasn’t murdering people in a crazy frenzy of rage on Jin Guangyao’s orders at the mental age of about seven or eight.
It also didn’t help that, out of the three of them, he was Jin Guangyao’s favorite.
It was not a good thing, being Jin Guangyao’s favorite.
“We’re going home?” he asked, looking between them, watery eyes and all. “Will Sangsang be there?”
“Maybe?” Mo Xuanyu said, and looked at Wen Ning, who shrugged helplessly. Neither of them had any younger siblings, and Wen Ning hadn’t known anything about politics long before he’d died; he’d been in the dark rather deliberately. “Hopefully.”
“We should try to avoid being seen,” Wen Ning said wisely. “I have an idea.”
“This cart stinks,” A-Jue mumbled, knees pulled to his chest. Even folded up, he was nearly as big as Mo Xuanyu was stretched out. “I hate radishes.”
“I hate radishes too,” Wen Ning said. He looked like he wished he could cry, looking at them, but then again he looked like that a lot; he’d been the first one brought back, so he hadn’t kept the ability to actually shed tears, which was awful and unfair and something they’d have to fix as soon as they had some time and weren’t being chased.
“This was your idea,” Mo Xuanyu pointed out.
“I said it’d work, I didn’t say we’d enjoy it,” Wen Ning said, and Mo Xuanyu had to admit he had a point. No one would look for two fierce corpses and one runaway teenager in the back of a radish cart, and the farmer driving them in the general direction of Qinghe had been more than happy to accept some gold in exchange for not saying a word about them.
(“How d’you know I won’t take your money and sell you out anyway?” he’d asked before they set out.
“Because if you did, we’d prioritize ripping your throat out before we got captured?” Wen Ning suggested. Mo Xuanyu elbowed A-Jue, who obligingly stretched out his hand to demonstrate the length of his reach, the strength of his arm, and the length of his sharp nails.
The ride only got them a day or so of travel north before the farmer had to make a turn that led him further away from Qinghe rather than towards, but they were in the countryside, not a city, and that was already something.
“We can make the rest by foot,” Wen Ning decided, and A-Jue put Mo Xuanyu on his back so that he wouldn’t slow them down. It was surprisingly comfortable. “I hope you’re right about your sect, A-Jue.”
“I am,” A-Jue said. “Sangsang will be there. He’ll know what to do.”
“Isn’t he only two years old?” Mo Xuanyu asked suspiciously.
“If I’m big, he’s big,” A-Jue pointed out. “And if I’m dead, he’s sect leader. It’ll be fine.”
Mo Xuanyu was nominated to be the one to go in and try to get an audience with the sect leader of Qinghe on account of him being the only one not dead.
It was a very compelling argument.
He got into the main city without a problem, gate or no gate, and then walked up to one of the guards outside the main clan complex. “Uh,” he said, fidgeting. “How do I get to see the sect leader?”
The guards looked at him in pity.
“Tell us what you want him for and we can direct you to the appropriate person to help you,” one of them said, not without kindness.
“I’m pretty sure the sect leader is the appropriate person, though…”
“Maybe you haven’t heard,” the other said. “But Sect Leader Nie isn’t actually good at anything.”
“I’m supposed to find him,” Mo Xuanyu said stubbornly. “Just him.”
“Kid. Listen. It’s not happening.”
Mo Xuanyu knew he’d screw this up. “Can you at least pass on a message?” he said hopelessly. “Tell Sangsang that I have something he’d be interested in –”
“Hold up,” the first guard said. “Sangsang?”
“…isn’t that his name?”
The two guards looked at each other. “Maybe you should go in,” the second one said.
“In fact,” the first one said. “We’re going to insist on it.”
“Please stop crying,” the young man with the fan and the frills said. “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
“I’m under arrest!” Mo Xuanyu howled, tears and snot streaming down his face. “I’ve never been under arrest before!”
“I’m pretty sure that was just an overreaction,” the young man said soothingly. “They didn’t really arrest you, they were just being mean and exaggerating. Weren’t they?”
He looked at the two guards by the door, and Mo Xuanyu followed his gaze.
They both nodded.
“Sorry,” one of them said.
“Didn’t mean it,” the other said.
“Won’t happen again.”
“Do you accept their apology?” the young man said, and Mo Xuanyu nodded. “Good, good. Now go – no, not you, them. You stay where you are.”
Mo Xuanyu sheepishly sat back down.
“Now,” the young man said, putting his elbows on the table. “You look familiar. Do I know you from somewhere?”
“Uh, maybe?” Mo Xuanyu said. “I was at the Jin sect for a while, but they kicked me out.”
The young man blinked, then his eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “Oh,” he said. “I see. No wonder you’re scared of getting arrested.”
Mo Xuanyu wasn’t sure he understood the connection. Wasn’t being arrested scary everywhere?
“Different question,” the young man said. He was playing with his fan in his hands and not really looking at Mo Xuanyu directly, which was a relief; it made him feel like the other man didn’t really care that much about the answer. “The Nie sect leader…who told you he was called Sangsang?”
“Uh,” Mo Xuanyu said. “It’s a bit complicated. You see, he doesn’t remember things very well, but A-Jue said –”
The fan snapped in two in the young man’s suddenly clenched hands.
It turned out that Nie Huaisang – that was the sect leader’s actual name – was just as much of a crybaby as the rest of them, which he really should have made clear from the beginning. Mo Xuanyu wouldn’t have been nearly as afraid of him if he’d known that.
As it was, he was still hugging a somewhat confused A-Jue (mostly marveling at how large his Sangsang had gotten) and crying his heart out while blubbering a whole lot of incoherent things, so Wen Ning patted the ground next to him and Mo Xuanyu went to sit.
“Is this a good sign?” he checked, and Wen Ning nodded.
“The Nie sect is pretty strong,” he said. “They’ll be able to protect us. Well, the two of you, anyway, I don’t know about me –”
“I don’t think surnames are really the most important thing right now,” Nie Huaisang said, finally pulling away and wiping his red eyes. “You helped bring my da-ge back home; you can stay as long as you like.”
“It really is a nice home,” Mo Xuanyu whispered to Wen Ning, who looked a little impressed.
“I told you,” A-Jue said proudly. He still had an arm wrapped around Nie Huaisang and wasn’t letting go – they’d offered to help Nie Huaisang out of his grip earlier, but he’d politely refused – and he seemed to be settling in very well to his older brother role. It was a bit strange to adjust to, but he was still A-Jue in the end. “I have the best home.”
“It’s nice enough,” Nie Huaisang said, still a bit teary-eyed. “Right. Enough feelings. I need you to tell me everything you remember about your time in Lanling.”
“…everything?” Mo Xuanyu said.
“Everything relevant,” Nie Huaisang clarified.
“You’re not going to like it,” Wen Ning said.
“Probably not, no. Tell me anyway.”
Mo Xuanyu patted Nie Huaisang on the back as he started trying to throw up again – it was all bile and dry heaves by now. It was a human failing that they shared, and the fierce corpses didn’t, although they were sympathetic enough.
“It’s not that bad,” Wen Ning offered. “We’re not really – awake, during much of it. The worst parts.”
That didn’t seem to help.
“He mostly only got mad at me,” A-Jue said, hovering anxiously. “He didn’t like that I didn’t remember him. Said it was no fun. So he didn’t spend that much time with me.”
“I hate him,” Nie Huaisang said. His voice was raspy, his eyes red, and he looked a little bit scary. “I’m going to destroy him.”
“Okay,” A-Jue said at once, because he was a big old softie as well as a crybaby. “We can destroy him. No problem. Just don’t be sad, Sangsang.”
Nie Huaisang’s lip trembled, which rather destroyed the scary effect. “Okay, da-ge,” he said. “I won’t be sad. You’re going to stay here at home with me, and then we’ll focus on making you better, okay?”
“Uh,” Wen Ning said.
“Not the corpse thing,” Nie Huaisang clarified. “The – memory thing.”
“You can fix that?” Mo Xuanyu said, surprised. “How? Senior Jin and Senior Xue both tried really hard and couldn’t manage it.”
“Yes, well,” Nie Huaisang said, and rubbed his eyes. “They don’t know that da-ge was a little kid the first time he picked up Baxia. I think that dying cut off his connection to her, and that she kept everything that was – you know – after. So maybe reconnecting them…”
“That means you’ll be grown up again!” Mo Xuanyu said to A-Jue, who seemed pleased. “That’s great.”
“I’m going to need your help, though,” Nie Huaisang said. He was mostly looking at Wen Ning. “No matter what da-ge says, you helped do – a lot of things, and if we’re going to bring down Jin Guangyao…I’m going to need help.”
“We’ll help you,” Mo Xuanyu said, and Wen Ning nodded. “I mean, we’re not – really helpful. We’re kind of all a bunch of crybabies. But whatever we can do, we will!”
“I appreciate that,” Nie Huaisang said. “Also, don’t underestimate crybabies.”
“We’re a lot more dangerous than you might think.”