The Advance of the Mountain Wind – One

Yunlan calls bullshit, at the very end, and everything changes, including himself. The SID can probably cope, but the Ministry may never be the same, to say nothing of Dixing. Romance, Drama, I-4

It wasn’t, Zhao Yunlan thought, anything like what he’d have expected. He didn’t feel any great enlightenment or sudden attack of wisdom. It didn’t feel like a scroll of ages unrolling in his head, or like he was about to burst with the weight of memory. Returning divinity didn’t feel like anything appropriately dramatic, in his opinion. It was just…

He recognized this.

He recognized the faint inward curve of Shen Wei’s shoulders, and the tiny crease of his eyes. He recognized that instant when Shen Wei’s lips firmed, just before he offered Yunlan a shaky smile. He knew this, all the little signs that said Shen Wei wasn’t telling the truth. Not just wasn’t saying everything, though Yunlan had certainly seen enough to that to recognize it. No, this was xiao-Wei actually trying to lie to him about something.

And he knew, just as surely, just as unobtrusively, that the smeared starlight all around them was not what two souls should be seeing, in this moment.

…or, one soul and one ghost. He was certain of that too, and all right that was a little more suitably strange.

“Soooo,” he drew the word out until Shen Wei huffed a faint laugh and took an obvious breath for composure before raising his brows. Yunlan smiled and spread his hands. “What’s really going on?”

Shen Wei went completely still for one moment, and Yunlan was sure, in his head this time and not just the bottom of his heart, that he’d been right. “Hmmm?” he prodded, wiggling his fingers in a ‘give it up’ gesture.

“Didn’t we just cover that?” Shen Wei asked back, almost dryly enough to cover the flicker of his eyes aside. Almost.

Yunlan reached out, the way he never had but remembered so well, and touched his fingers to Shen Wei’s chest, over his heart. “Xiao-Wei,” he said quietly, and watched Shen Wei’s eyes go wide with shock, soft with want, the way he’d only seen once before. No, more than once, but only ever for him. That hadn’t changed.

Shen Wei’s throat worked as he swallowed, and his voice came out husky, unsteady. “What…?”

Yunlan grinned at him, just as roguishly charming as he could make it, and coaxed, “Tell me the truth?”

That made Shen Wei start back a step, though, whole body stiff. “I can’t.” His voice turned sharp with what sounded to Yunlan like genuine fear. And the only times he’d seen Shen Wei truly afraid had been for him; that also felt correct all the way down. So there probably was something big at stake. Even so… Yunlan looked around, thoughtfully. The more he considered it, the more he felt like their surroundings were thin. As though, if he reached out and dragged his fingers down, he’d smear paint down a canvas backdrop.

Admittedly, no one was more surprised than him when starlit blue really did start to come apart under his reaching fingers. Even after he bit back an undignified yelp and snatched his hand away, something lingered on his fingers. Something light and chill.

Familiar chill. The chill that whispered ‘xiao-Wei’ to him.

Yunlan rubbed his fingers together, eyes fixed on the shreds of blue and silver still flickering around his fingertips. The same colors, now he thought about it, that lurked between the shadows of Shen Wei’s power. “What is it you’re trying to do?” he asked, softly. “What is it you need me not to know?”

“Who you are.” Shen Wei’s voice was soft, too, as if he didn’t want to upset some delicate balance, which made Yunlan chuckle, shaking his head as he looked back up. That balance was already tipped, quite likely by the forced actualization of that damn shot of serum now he came to think about it.

“I’m Kunlun. Aren’t I? Or I was.” He frowned a little. “Am? I think am, maybe. This should be a lot stranger,” he complained. “I keep forgetting I’d forgotten.” He started a little when Shen Wei’s hands closed on his shoulders, bruisingly tight.

“How…? But your soul is whole,” he whispered, as if to himself, gaze raking over Yunlan. “So bright, though. If you’re drawing the matter of the Lamp back to you…” His head jerked up and he looked around—and, tellingly, away, as if he saw beyond the pretense draped around them. “But the seal of the Lamp is still whole.”

Yunlan considered the surprise in Shen Wei’s wide eyes and the thread of fear still running through his voice, and reached out to lay his hands on Shen Wei’s shoulders in turn. “What are you worried might happen?” he asked softly, as if coaxing a witness.

At that, Shen Wei hesitated and his eyes slid aside, fixing straight over Yunlan’s shoulder. Yunlan stifled a sigh. Few things frustrated him as much as that iron wall of reticence Shen Wei used instead of a flat out lie (which might reveal something). For once, though, Shen Wei didn’t refuse or dance around the answer, for all it looked dragged out of him.

“After you sacrificed yourself to keep the realms separate,” he paused, mouth tight, and added, “after the first time you sacrificed yourself, I caught your soul and went to Shen Nong, asking him to see you reincarnated as a human.”

Yunlan had another genuinely strange moment, at that, as his head said that was the most peculiar thing he’d ever heard (which was saying something), while his heart said it made perfect sense (and was exactly the kind of thing xiao-Wei would do). Yunlan was starting to think he’d need to invest in some folklore textbooks to get used to the inside of his own head. And, possibly, to get at what were some apparently juicy details that current explanations of history left out.

“He said the cycle of reincarnation only had capacity enough to hold human souls, not a god. Gods are… there’s so much potentiality in them, and it flows so easily between forms. He said it would only be possible if he sealed away your power, and even memory of your power, and…” Shen Wei hesitated again, glanced at Yunlan’s expectantly raised brows, and sighed. “And if I stayed away from you. As a human, you wouldn’t have the strength, any longer, to resist the destruction inherent in my nature.”

Yunlan tightened his grip on Shen Wei’s shoulders, stroking gentle thumbs along his collar-bone, trying to soothe the tightness in Shen Wei’s voice. “For how long?” he asked, curious.

Shen Wei’s hands flexed tight again for a breath. “Ten thousand years. That part was true.”

Yunlan thought back to another interval that had started in star-smeared blue, and couldn’t help laughing, the laugh that he used to hold the rest of the world off for a moment’s pause and give himself time to think, because the implications of this were… well his head was alarmed, anyway. “So that whole ‘back in time’ thing was, what? An illusion?”

“Not exactly. It would have been dangerous for me to control your senses directly for that long, and I wasn’t sure I could, by then. It was… it was an idea, a story of sorts, that I gave to the Holy Tools, to the Lamp especially. They fueled a kind of life in it, so that it felt real as it played out.” For a moment, Shen Wei looked rueful. “I hadn’t expected it to have quite as much life as it did, for it to keep happening whenever you started to touch the true nature of the Tools themselves, let alone for it to touch other minds also, but perhaps I should have.”

Shen Wei was watching him, now, eyes dark, and the whole line of his body was cautious, ready to step back before he was pushed away. Yunlan could feel the body-memory of that in his own muscles and bones, from long years of dealing with his father. He tightened his hold on Shen Wei’s shoulders a little, automatically reassuring. Considering that ‘time-travel’ interval as a sample of Shen Wei’s (and perhaps the Holy Tools’) storytelling ability, he smiled slowly and asked, “Is that why you seemed so young?” Because that part felt right, that xiao-Wei had been… perhaps not innocent, but definitely young, when they’d met.

The faint line of tension in Shen Wei’s shoulders eased. “Yes,” he admitted, softly. “I had to create that idea seed very quickly. Most of what was in it was actually true, just… not all in order, and not in that context.” He looked rueful for a moment, mouth quirking. “Professor Xia would probably lecture for hours on all the modern historical theory I got wrong, too.”

Yunlan waved dismissive fingers. “Ah, fair enough, since modern theory is apparently already wrong.” Shen Wei hesitated, suddenly looking much more professor-ly, and Yunlan poked at the sense of certainty in the back of his head. It didn’t change. “It is wrong, isn’t it?”

Shen Wei tipped his head to one side. “Yes and no. The star travel part, certainly. That was just the conclusion one charismatic scholar pushed to the fore. However varied in nature, we’re all creatures of this world, gods and humans, beasts and spirits, and all. But the biological and energy-state distinctions are certainly present. They aren’t all there is to the nature of the Yashou or of my own kind.” A corner of his mouth curled and there was a hard glint in his eyes for a moment. “That’s undoubtedly why Professor Ouyang’s experiments largely failed. There was an element the researchers simply weren’t taking into account. Even so, modern science isn’t wrong, per se. It just doesn’t have all the pieces and ignores some possibilities.” He chuckled, suddenly, and Yunlan had to take a moment to retrieve his thoughts as they snagged on the sound of it—Shen Wei’s laugh always did that to him, even now he remembered hearing it more often. “I wish we had more time. For you to return to the world as your old self… I wish I could be there to see the academic establishment trying to cope with that.”

Yunlan blinked at him. “You will, though.”

Shen Wei smiled, and Yunlan felt his heart twist at the sadness in it. “Whether you consider it a stable energy pattern or a soul… I don’t have any such thing, to draw me back into the world again. I think the Lamp will keep me from complete dissolution, but I’ll never leave it.” The smile softened, and Shen Wei touched Yunlan’s cheek with light fingers. “It’s all right. The Lamp was created from you. To be one with you, and always near you… I couldn’t imagine a better end, for one with my nature.” Softer still, as horror pulled Yunlan’s breath short, he added, “When you finally choose to rest from the cycle of rebirth, you can find me here.”

“Absolutely not!” Yunlan shouted, giving Shen Wei a good shake. “Do you ever damn well stop?! For once, think about your own worth!” Shen Wei just looked back at him, level and resigned, and Yunlan let go long enough to drive his hands through his hair with a sound of furious frustration. Under the fury, though, was still the bedrock certainty he’d spoken out of, not moved at all by Shen Wei’s determined self-sacrifice. He had a lot of damn nerve, taking Yunlan to task over doing this a measly two or three times. Yunlan scrubbed his hands over his face and pulled in a deep breath for calm, trying to get a better grip on the certainty. He knew, down to the core of his bones, that they both would, could, leave whatever in between place or gateway of the Lamp xiao-Wei was currently holding them in. He could do so because of his soul, Shen Wei said—and quite probably a push from xiao-Wei’s power to get him clear. If that was what it took, then Yunlan’s… Kunlun’s… his own power could probably push just as well, but Shen Wei still needed that stable energy pattern. A soul. Which he didn’t have, so how was this supposed to work?

The answer floated up into his thoughts, along with the memory of xiao-Wei’s pendant.

Soul fire.

Yunlan opened his eyes, holding tight to that certainty, listening to that knowing with all his heart, and reached out to touch the hollow of xiao-Wei’s throat, where the pendant had lain for millennia. Yes, he could feel it there, still. Of course xiao-Wei wouldn’t have been able to leave him the real one; it wouldn’t match the story. Yunlan was willing to bet that the pendant he thought he’d picked up really had been illusion, carefully crafted as a parting comfort that matched what he thought he knew. He hooked a finger under the cord of the real one and rubbed his thumb over that small, precious bead. Golden fire flared alive, between his fingertips, answering the will of its source, and Yunlan didn’t hesitate, pushed away all his doubt and skepticism, and laid his palm against the brilliant glow, pressing it into xiao-Wei. He could feel it changing, flowing into another shape, and that was correct; it needed to become xiao-Wei, take on the shape of his being. He remembered doing something like this before, didn’t he? Which meant it could be done again. Yunlan nudged the glow along, reaching deeper with… not exactly his hands.

All he would be able to say, later, was that he knotted his soul fire into Shen Wei, twined the strands of it tight with the strands of Shen Wei’s being. He could never explain it in more detail than that, to the despair of entire biology departments and several eminent particle physicists. When it was over, Shen Wei was staring at him, eyes wide and a little wild, gasping for breath. “How?” xiao-Wei whispered. “What did you do?”

“What I should obviously have done a long time ago.” Yunlan paused, though, because the thought made him feel… wistful. “Except maybe I couldn’t?” he hazarded. “Huh.” Something hadn’t been right, then. Hadn’t been ready? Yes, that was right; he’d needed to share a different part of himself first, and xiao-Wei had needed to accept it.

“Of course you couldn’t! Your nature is one thing, that’s fluid enough in any god, but sharing your soul shouldn’t be… That’s not… it isn’t…” Yunlan grinned at the rare sight of Shen Wei sputtering, and got a glare for it. He turned his hands palm up and shrugged. “If it’s an energy pattern, it has to be replicable, doesn’t it?” Or, at least, that sounded reasonable given Yunlan’s rather esoteric dabbling in the sciences, and also as though it might calm Shen Wei down with academic theory.

Shen Wei opened his mouth and closed it again, slowly. “I suppose what Shen Nong originally did with your soul fire was to stabilize the pattern in humans, and fuel a re-accretion of energy and matter around it,” he mused. “In modern terms, at any rate. It’s at least theoretically possible that use created an echo, or template, of the process.”

Yunlan refrained from pumping a fist in triumph, but Shen Wei eyed him like an he was an over-enthusiastic student anyway. Yunlan smiled back, innocently. “So, you wanna get out of here?”

Shen Wei’s expression turned shuttered again. “My part of the bargain was also to ensure my kind were contained, or destroyed if the seal between realms ever broke again.”

“That’s already my job,” Yunlan pointed out with what he felt was admirable logic, spreading his hands wide, “so why can’t you just keep helping me do it?”

“If we both withdraw our power from the Lamp, the seal will be weakened again and the Division won’t be enough to guard against trespassers, any more,” Shen Wei said flatly. “If you remember anything, now, you must remember the ferocity of my people.”

“If we both have the power—the potentiality, you said?—of gods, now, why wouldn’t we be enough?” Yunlan shot back. “Why shouldn’t we be able to find another solution, if it isn’t enough? Since when do you just give in, anyway?”

Shen Wei’s voice rose, rocking Yunlan back on his heels. “Since I spent ten thousand years dealing with the fact that I was unable to go near you without killing you!”

In the ringing silence that followed that, Yunlan sighed and stepped forward again, wrapping himself around Shen Wei. “I’m here now, and a year with you hasn’t destroyed me,” he offered, quietly. “And I remember some pretty crazy things being possible. Like a young ghost deciding to go off and tour the world, instead of continuing to fight and devour his own kind. We can at least try, can’t we?”

After a long, tense moment, Shen Wei gave in, leaning his head against Yunlan’s shoulder. “As if I’ve ever been able to deny you.” He laughed, helpless and unsteady, and Yunlan just held him tight, waiting. “All right,” he agreed at last, soft. “All right, let’s try.”

A ripple of blue-shot black swept over them, and the starry void dissolved in it, unfurled in streamers of power, letting golden light burst around them like day. More than day. Like the heart of the sun itself, if you could stand there and not be burned. It was absolute reassurance and security, and it tugged at Yunlan with terrifying strength but no force at all. It felt so familiar he thought he might drown in the sensation this time. Xiao-Wei was pressed tight against him, though, and that was almost as familiar. Plus, Yunlan had just spent a year learning to trust Shen Wei’s judgement in tight spots, so when Shen Wei breathed in his ear, “Remember the world we want,” it was easy to think about the Division’s offices, of their mirrored and yet so different apartments, of avoiding paperwork and chasing strange tales and Da Qing waking him up with a sandpaper tongue and demands for breakfast, and that was when he felt it. There was a current of chill running through the golden safety of the Lamp, xiao-Wei’s power curling its way out toward that world, and he reached out to push both of them into that current, to send it running faster, faster, out through the flare of golden brilliance and into unsupported air.

“What…?!”

“BOSS!”

Aaaaaaaa!

Yunlan dropped onto a hard, wood floor, in a tangle of limbs, all the air knocked out of him in a rush. It took a minute or two of wheezing before he managed to figure out which way was up and lifted his head to squint at his subordinates, frozen and staring where they’d all started up from the long table in Division headquarters. “Well?” he finally gasped out. “Stop looking like you’ve seen a ghost and help us up!”

He was fairly sure Shen Wei’s faint groan was for the pun, and not injury, but he was careful about untangling them all the same. The team gathered around, hands reaching out, less to help than to touch them, patting over them both as a babble of words broke out.

“…been a year!”

“…really you, not Zhang Shi, right, you’re not Zhang Shi…”

“What the hell, Boss…?”

“Chief?”

“Professor?”

Chief…!

Yunlan patted xiao-Guo’s shoulder, gingerly, and shot a meaningful look at lao-Chu. Lao-Chu gave him a glower, and an only slightly less ferocious one to Shen Wei, but did come coax xiao-Guo off Yunlan’s shoulder before it got any wetter.

“Okay, in order, wow has it really been a year, no I’m not Zhang Shi, yes it’s really both of us.” Yunlan gave the tall windows a second look and yes, he could see night sky out there. “Also, what are all of you doing working so late?”

“We’re not working,” Zhu Hong snapped, hauling him up off the floor by an elbow and dropping him on the couch. “We wanted a memorial among ourselves, because yes it’s been a year, but the office has too many other people in it during the day.”

Yunlan blinked up at her, stunned. “We got more staff? Seriously?” He turned to look at Shen Wei, being guided down onto the next cushion by Lin Jing. “Are you sure we’re back in the right world?”

“Yes, I’m sure.” Shen Wei was smiling at him, but it was Professor Shen’s small, contained smile, and that just didn’t feel right. Yunlan leaned comfortably against his shoulder, and was satisfied to feel the straightness of Shen Wei’s posture relax a bit.

“But what happened?” Da Qing demanded, scrambling up onto the table so he could stare demandingly at both of them.

Yunlan looked at Shen Wei, who was looking back with the very same helpless expression Yunlan felt on his own face. “Well, that’s… a long story,” Yunlan finally managed.

Shen Wei sighed and straightened, as though shaking himself back to reality. “For the Ministry’s consumption,” he said, sounding convincingly authoritative, “I think the story had better be that the injection Zhao Yunlan took did work, but had a delayed onset. Any inconsistent behavior can be explained by intermittent onset symptoms. For anyone who knew about Zhang Shi, we can say instead that he was caught in a wormhole created by the Holy Tools’ reactivation and only found his way out at this point in time. For myself, we can say I was hospitalized easily enough; there wouldn’t have been a body reported, after all.”

The team looked at each other, trading grimaces, nods, shrugs. “It sounds plausible,” Lin Jing agreed, and then leaned forward on the edge of his chair, eyes bright in a way that always meant trouble. “So? What really happened?”

Shen Wei glanced at Yunlan again, and the question in his eyes was so clear Yunlan thought he might as well have spoken. “I’d like my team to know,” he agreed, quietly. “But are you sure?” In his opinion, xiao-Wei had gotten far too good at sacrificing his own wants for Yunlan’s, and there was no time like the present to start breaking that habit.

Xiao-Wei hesitated. “I’ve watched human science for a very long time,” he said, at last, just as low. “What the ‘serum’ actually does… now that those results are out in the open, I think there will be another shift, soon. If that does happen, what you and I are may become hard to conceal. Better to be prepared.”

Zhu Hong straightened, at that, mock-temper melting into serious attention, but Lin Jing actually bounced in his chair. “What it really does? You know the mechanism?!”

Da Qing rolled his eyes. “Down, boy.”

Yunlan grinned, relaxing into the familiarity of his team of maniacs. “Well, it’s like this. It turns out I’m a god.”

There was a long moment when everyone very obviously waited for the punchline, and Shen Wei actually rolled his eyes.

“Backing up a little,” he put in, dryly, “the current theories of history, of meteorological disasters and legends being metaphorical interpretations of the lives and doings of mortal leaders, are inaccurate. The first gods, the later gods, they were true beings. Nuwa and Fuxi. Shen Nong.” His hand slid over to rest on Yunlan’s knee. “Kunlun.”

Da Qing shook his head like he’d gotten water in his ears. “Wait. Wait, that…” He rubbed his forehead, frowning, and asked, plaintively, “Why does that sound right?”

“Memory as long as yours and mine is a slippery thing, sometimes.” Shen Wei’s hand tightened on Yunlan’s knee. “There are things I remember as sharply as if they just happened, but many of the lives I watched over, and even lived, are faded, now. Jumbled together.” His mouth twisted for a moment. “I stopped reading history, after a while. It got hard to remember whether some things were true memory or just things I’d heard later. It’s probably worse, for you, since you lost so much memory entirely, for a while.”

“But if… but then…” Da Qing’s eyes swung back to Yunlan and widened. “Kunlun was… ?” he whispered. “Kunlun…!” He scrambled to his feet in a burst of black fur and leaped across to land on Yunlan’s chest and shove his head under Yunlan’s chin.

“Ow, ow, ow,” Yunlan protested, as claws dug in through his jacket. “Careful, damn cat.” The admonition didn’t stop Da Qing from clinging tight with every claw, and Yunlan supposed he hadn’t expected it to. He leaned back against the couch cushions, scratching behind Da Qing’s ears. “Yeah, it’s me.” He winced as the claws dug in a little tighter.

“Zhao Yunlan is the soul of the god Kunlun, reborn,” xiao-Wei explained to the staring team. “Reborn as human, but I believe that shot really did shift his nature and tear Shen Nong’s seal over his memories and power. As soon as he gave himself to the Lamp… well, the Lamp was created from Kunlun, to start with. Passing through it again completed the shift and restored both his memories and his nature, fully.”

Lin Jing had been muttering under his breath the whole time, and now he looked up, eyes nearly glowing. “You said the later gods were real, the ones supposed to be humans raised to godhood.” His voice was soft, as if he wanted to sneak up on an idea and not startle it. “If that’s true, and what the serum really does is change a human’s nature, then the serum is creating gods.”

Shen Wei gave him an approving, professorial nod. “Exactly.”

Lin Jing’s crow of glee nearly drowned out xiao-Guo’s yelp of, “Gods?!”

Xiao-Wei got a glint of mischief in his eye. “You took up your responsibilities quite capably, I thought.” He relented when xiao-Guo started looking like he might faint. “It needn’t change much, really. It isn’t merely an extra ability, but you can deal with the rest of what it is slowly.”

Lin Jing stopped doing a victory dance in his chair. “Stability. The other results weren’t stable.”

“It was a change imposed from without.” Xiao-Wei’s voice was quiet but stern with a warning that made Lin Jing listen seriously and lao-Chu wrap a protective arm around xiao-Guo’s shoulders. “Humans were created by the hands of one of the first gods. This path of development has always been part of your kind, but to shock it alive, to force the change,” xiao-Wei shook his head, eyes dark, “that was a fool’s move.”

“This isn’t the first time,” Yunlan murmured, listening to the sadness inside him that had the weight of memory. “Some of those stories are true too—of humans gaining the power of gods, who couldn’t handle it.” He flapped a reassuring hand at xiao-Guo, who was starting to look like fainting again. “Ah, don’t worry about it. If that was going to be a problem, it would have happened sooner. Xiao-Wei’s right; you’re doing just fine with it.”

Zhu Hong straightened up from where she’d been leaning against the table, wide-eyed. “Oh.” She peered closer at Yunlan. “Is that why you called him xiao-Wei, that time?” She managed a tiny smirk. “I guess even the Envoy would be young, to Kunlun.”

Yunlan felt Shen Wei lean into him just a little more, and felt his easy grin turning soft. His voice was lower than he quite meant for it to be, when he answered, “Yeah, I think so.”

Da Qing lashed his tail and finally scrambled off him, taking care to stomp on Yunlan’s stomach on his way. “I’m staying at Lin Jing’s place, tonight,” he announced, imperiously, changing only long enough to fish keys out of his pocket and drop them on the table before turning his back and wrapping his tail around his toes.

That felt so familiar Yunlan couldn’t help laughing. The rest of his team exchanged smirks and nods and elaborate eye rolls, and suddenly everyone was standing, gathering their things.

“See you tomorrow, Boss,” Lin Jing told him brightly, helping lao-Chu herd a confused-looking xiao-Guo out the door. Zhu Hong picked up Da Qing and stalked after them without a backwards glance.

A soft huff made Yunlan look over at Shen Wei, insouciance firmly tacked down over a sudden urge to blush. Shen Wei looked like he was trying not to laugh, and refused to look at Yunlan. “So.” Yunlan picked up the keys, spinning the ring around his finger. “I guess we’re going home?”

That did the trick, and Shen Wei’s smile broke out, warm and bright. “I suppose we are.”

Satisfaction, heavy with the weight of who knew how many lives and years, settled in Yunlan’s chest, and he smiled back. “Good.”