Extra 28: The Little Hatchling
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Sorry for the delay, it was unintended. I had a series of health issues going on for more than a week, so I was unable to write during that time (๑ŏ ᴗ ŏ๑)

This extra will consist of a series of glimpses and chronologically ordered events in our main couple's life many years later, starring a certain little bun. I hope you enjoy the last extra! :)

Two hundred years later―

Crack.

The crisp sound seemed too loud in the expectant hush of the egg chamber, its vibration lingering in the air longer than possible. The spiritual energy that had slowly been gathering in the room suddenly rushed towards a certain egg, swirling around it in a maelstrom of rapid currents before getting sucked into it in a constant stream.

Qinghe clutched Wei Xiang’s arm and exclaimed in a pensive and excited whisper, “Xiang, it’s starting! The egg is hatching!”

Wei Xiang’s eyes gleamed with insuppressible joy. He held Qinghe closer and nodded with a wide smile. “Yes, we’re finally going to witness the birth of our first child.”

It had barely been a few hours before when Wei Xiang had been alerted to a potential hatching due to the perception spell that always kept him aware of the status of the eggs. He had immediately told Qinghe and the rest of the Feng household, and they’d all rushed towards the egg chamber. However, Zheng Xuan had advised everyone that it would be better if the hatchling first had time to bond with its parents before being subjected to such a large group, so the rest of the family waited outside with only the future parents of the hatching wyvern staying in the egg chamber to share this experience.

The couple was currently crouched in front of the bluish-silver egg, their eyes fixed on the hair-thin crack running down from the tip to the middle of the eggshell. Under their focused gazes, the egg lightly wobbled to and fro while another small crack joined the first one.

Qinghe’s grip on Wei Xiang’s arm grew tighter. He held his breath in anticipation, both wonder and nervousness in his gaze. He’d never experienced anything like this before, and no matter the mental preparations he’d tried to make in these past two hundred years after they’d decided to hatch this egg, he found that the actual situation was still too different from his expectations. There were too many emotions swirling in his usually calm mind, each of them so very vibrant. Every detail in front of him seemed sharper and more vivid than ever, etching itself indelibly into his memory.

Wei Xiang patted Qinghe’s hand without taking his eyes away from the egg. There were many recording crystals installed in the egg chamber to catch the hatchings, but Wei Xiang still didn’t want to miss even a moment of seeing it with his own eyes.

In a low voice, Qinghe muttered encouragingly, “Come on, little wyvern. You can do it. Be born quickly so that I can hug you.”

Wei Xiang’s expression warmed.

As if listening to Qinghe, another two cracks split the eggshell simultaneously, connecting with the previous fissure. As a result, a small triangular piece of the eggshell wobbled, breaking free and toppling down to reveal a thin and pale gelatinous layer within. Something dark strained and shifted under the elastic layer.

Qinghe almost jumped with excitement. “I can see it! I can see the baby!”

Wei Xiang nodded, his intent gaze remaining on the hatchling even as he observed, “The little one is progressing well.”

Qinghe nodded and declared proudly, “Yes, it’s all due to my encouragement.”

Letting out a soft chuff of laughter, Wei Xiang turned his head for a moment to place a small kiss on his adorable little husband’s forehead before turning back to the egg.

As if energized by the sound of them talking, the little wyvern struggled harder under the membrane, causing the cracks to spread and knocking down more pieces of the eggshell. With a soft and wet tearing sound, the thin membrane split open and let out a gush of transparent fluid. A small and blunt gray snout was revealed as it poked and pushed out sluggishly.

Qinghe leaned forward, unable to hide his awe at finally being able to see the little wyvern. Wei Xiang’s eyes turned gold, his pupils going slitted as he focused his entire attention on the hatchling.

The little wyvern’s maw opened to reveal tiny needle-like teeth as it gulped down its first breath. Scenting the presence of strangely familiar people, the little wyvern grew excited, its movements hastening as it wriggled with more gusto. The membrane tore further, spilling more thick fluid outside. The swaying of the egg increased while the cracks on its surface spread with sharp snapping sounds. Within a few moments, a large part near the top of the egg had broken off, scattering shell fragments around the base of the egg. The smaller pieces hung down, still connected to the edges of the opening by the remains of the sticky membrane.

From the dark gap, a tiny wyvern head emerged, smaller than a palm and looking more like that of a large gray lizard’s than a rare draconic being’s. The hatchling was a dull gray in color, but its scales would probably grow in strength and luster with age. Twelve little white bumps crowned its head, yet to grow into full-fledged horns. Since it was born in Heaven, it was already a heavenly beast and didn’t have to cultivate to ascend like Wei Xiang had to. Drenched with fluid, the little wyvern’s head glistened wetly while its eyes were squished close. Its expression was as if it was concentrating on something. The little wyvern’s tiny nostrils flared as it drew in breaths while its neck extended upward, pushing its head out of the egg and into the fresh air outside.

Qinghe pressed his lips together to suppress his excited shouts. He didn’t want to end up scaring their child right back into the egg with his enthusiasm. Meanwhile, Wei Xiang had to physically stop himself from helping the little one out of the egg. Spiritual beasts that hatched from eggs often had to struggle out on their own or it would impede their development and cause them to be born weak.

“Xiang, can you tell the baby’s gender?” Qinghe suddenly whispered.

Wei Xiang only had to sniff the air once before answering, “It’s a male.”

Hearing them speak, the little wyvern opened his mouth and let out a warbling, squeaky sound.

Qinghe melted. “Aww, he wants to join our conversation.”

Wei Xiang chuckled. “He’ll have to fully get out of the egg first.”

Seeming to realize it as well, the little wyvern shimmied his body, trying to squeeze up through the hole he’d made. More of his slender neck pushed out of the gap before a pair of bony shoulders followed.

Qinghe’s eyes widened as he stretched out his hands worriedly. “Ah, if he keeps going this way, he’ll―”

Before Qinghe could finish his sentence, what he feared happened. Due to the hatchling’s weight being unevenly distributed, the egg wobbled unsteadily before falling down with a dull thud. It broke apart on one side, the shell fragments scattering on the ground. The little wyvern toppled out of the egg and laid stiffly on the floor as if stunned by this abrupt ejection. His wings lay akimbo on either side, the fragile bones and pale, paper-thin membranes looking crumpled and slicked with fluid. Slumped over on the ground, the hatchling lightly shook himself and made a rumbling, disgruntled sound. His eyelids parted a slit and the little wyvern looked at the world for the first time with a grumpy expression.

Qinghe had to struggle to suppress his chuckles while Wei Xiang’s eyes gleamed. They looked at the hatchling with affection, drinking in their first full view of him.

Meanwhile, gathering his four tiny limbs under him, the little wyvern tried to stand up wobblingly. Fluid dripped down from his body while eggshells crunched under him. Tiny black claws clicked on the floor. His slender tail stayed pressed against the ground as if for balance. With determination, the little wyvern tried to take a step forward, his delicate body trembling with the strain. But due to a combination of inexperience and a floor turned slippery with fluid, the little wyvern’s limbs slipped and slid in four different directions, sending him crashing to the floor with a splat. The little wyvern made a displeased hiss, but remained splayed on the floor. His expression seemed to say that since the world was being mean to him right after he was hatched, he was going to stop making any effort and just stay here lazily.

Qinghe burst out laughing. His little son was just born and he already behaved like such an old soul!

Taking pity on the hatchling, Wei Xiang grinned and reached out to carefully pick him up, amniotic goo and all. The newly-hatched wyvern seemed to sense a connection with him and coiled his tail around Wei Xiang’s wrist and comfortably settled in his arms.

Bending over the little wyvern, Qinghe lightly poked his snout with a finger and cooed, “Oh, look how adorable you are. So majestic even when covered with egg slime. What shall we call you, my sweet little son?”

Though the hatchling didn’t comprehend what was being said, he still felt that Qinghe was familiar. How could he not? After all, Qinghe had been the one to spend the most time with the egg till now. And so, feeling favorably towards him and hearing Qinghe’s loving tone as he poked his nose, the little wyvern made a pleased rumble, nuzzling the tip of Qinghe’s finger.

Qinghe’s expression turned adoring. “Aww, he recognizes me! Xiang, did you see?”

Wei Xiang smiled and patted the hatchling approvingly. “Yes. He’s a clever little one, isn’t he?”

The couple lavished more praise and affection on the little wyvern, stroking him and getting him accustomed to their presence. The little wyvern luxuriated in their attention before realizing that these two people that it recognized the most weren’t similar in shape to him. And so, the hatchling shifted into a human baby in an instinctive attempt to match them.

Wei Xiang hurriedly shifted his hold to securely support the wyvern who’d suddenly turned into a plump little baby. A swirl of dark silvery hair adorned the baby’s round head while his big bright eyes were a deep blue.

After a moment of astonishment, the couple quickly got used to it. After all, this wasn’t unexpected. Qinghe ran his finger over the baby’s soft and round belly and remarked, “I never thought about it before, but Xiang, why do you and the little one have bellybuttons? Since bellybuttons are only formed upon removal of the umbilical cord, shouldn’t beings that hatch from eggs not have them?”

Wei Xiang nodded and explained, “Eons ago, humans were very strongly biased against non-humans and considered spiritual beasts as the monsters crouching in the darkness waiting to eat them. To be able to mingle with humans unnoticed, the spiritual beasts evolved into being capable of manifesting human bodies for themselves. Since not having navels would obviously give them away, no matter the type of beast, their human form was made to have a navel.”

Qinghe showed an expression of realization. “Ah, that makes sense.”

Feeling left out, the little wyvern baby waved his little hands and burbled complainingly.

Chuckling, the couple showered their new son with more love until the demanding young master was satisfied. Then remembering that the others were waiting outside to meet the newest addition to the family too, the couple finally decided to take the little wyvern out of the egg chamber.

Outside the chamber, the mood was both tense and hopeful.

Feng Huixin and Feng Chunyi were frowning, with Feng Huixin staring at the inactive transportation array on the wall with a fixed gaze while Feng Chunyi stamped her feet impatiently and paced to and fro, constantly muttering under her breath. Fei Jin held a basin of warm water to bathe the newborn wyvern in while Fei Yin had a stretch of soft cloth at the ready to wipe the hatchling down afterward. They wore focused expressions as if ready to spring into action the second the array opened. Xie Xingye fiddled with the edge of his sleeve, purposely not looking at the wall with the array. But he still couldn’t help but peek up at it now and then with an expectant gaze. Zheng Xuan seemed to be the only calm one, patiently patting Xie Xingye’s back and remaining composed.

Suddenly, the array on the wall glowed. The attentions of everyone snapped to it as one. From within the array, Qinghe and Wei Xiang emerged, with a baby in Wei Xiang’s arms who was slicked with goo and looking around curiously with deep blue eyes. Everyone quickly moved, surrounding the baby, their gazes roving over him.

Feng Chunyi immediately said, “I want to hold him!”

Wei Xiang chuckled. “Mother-in-law, at least wait until he’d cleaned up. Everyone can get a chance to hold the little one then.”

Feng Chunyi pouted but nodded. A non-goo-covered baby would be much more pleasant to hold, after all.

Wei Xiang thus set about keeping the baby in place in the shallow basin of warm water that Fei Jin set down while the twins slowly and carefully washed the baby. Meanwhile, Zheng Xuan came over to crouch by them, giving out instructions in his halting, gravelly voice, “Don’t let the water…get into his eyes, ears…or his mouth and nose. Don’t touch his belly…or throat…too much. Wyverns are predatory…by nature…and their self-protective instincts…will be triggered…if you touch anywhere vulnerable…especially when they are young…and not yet capable of…self-control. If he…switches forms…in between…you must take care…with the wings. They’re very…fragile. You should also…be careful of his claws…and the sharp tip…of his tail…when bathing those…vulnerable areas.”

Qinghe stood beside them, seriously nodding as if taking notes in his heart, while Xie Xingye made passionate eyes at his dependable lover. Feng Chunyi impatiently waited with folded arms while Feng Huixin clenched and unclenched his hands restlessly, his eyes on his grandson’s chubby little cheeks.

Once the baby was successfully bathed and dried using both a towel and Qinghe’s wind, it was time for everyone to hold him. Since Wei Xiang and the twins had already gotten a chance by now, Zheng Xuan carried him next. His large and scarred hands seemed gigantic when compared to the baby, but he used the utmost care and gentleness when holding the little one.

Zheng Xuan lifted the baby boy up, looking at him face-to-face, and smiled at him. “Hello, little one.”

The baby waved his hands and giggled sweetly.

Zheng Xuan’s smile grew wider. He turned to Xie Xingye and offered, “Xingye, do you want to…hold him next?”

Xie Xingye blinked at his beloved, then at the baby, and gave a nervous laugh. Tucking is hands behind him, he shook his head. “No, I… It’s okay.”

Zheng Xuan raised an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything. Looking at Qinghe, he asked, “Have you held your son yet?”

Qinghe shook his head and reached out. “Not yet. Can I hold him now?”

Zheng Xuan nodded and handed over the baby.

Qinghe took the little baby in his arms and marveled at how warm, soft, and heavy the little guy was. But not letting him admire him, the little hatchling twisted and turned as if trying to fall down. Qinghe made a sound of surprise and called out panickily, “X-Xiang! Quick, tell me how to hold him properly so he doesn’t fall!”

Wei Xiang chortled at his husband’s discomposed expression and went over to help. Once Qinghe was able to hold his son steadily, he bathed the little one’s face with kisses while admonishing in an affectionate voice about how naughty he was. The child squirmed and squealed happily.

After that, it was Feng Huixin’s and Feng Chunyi’s turn. Both of them already had experience with babies due to raising Qinghe, so neither of them was flustered. Feng Huixin stably held the baby with an arm and tenderly squished his cheeks with the fingers of the other hand. Feng Chunyi held him up and made funny faces at the child while asking in a silly voice, “Who’s your favorite grandma, little one? Tell me, who~”

Childish laughter rang out, bubbling with innocent joy and bringing a warm smile to everyone’s faces.

Nuzzling the cheerful baby, Feng Chunyi casually noted, “He’s very advanced for someone just born, isn’t he?”

Feng Huixin replied, “Most spiritual beasts are born ready to survive in the wild.”

“Yes. Especially in certain species of reptiles where a lot of development occurs while in the egg itself,” Wei Xiang added while taking back the baby from Feng Chunyi.

Qinghe excitedly hovered by the child, seeming to almost bounce on his feet. “It doesn’t matter how developed he is. The little one is still the most precious baby, aren’t you?” Addressing the child at the end, Qinghe tickled his belly, eliciting more happy gurgles.

Coming up to stand on either side of Qinghe, the twins looked at the baby with small smiles. Fei Jin asked, “Senior Brother, what about the baby’s naming? Will you wait for a hundred days as per tradition to choose one?”

Fei Yin added, “And will he use ‘Feng’ or ‘Wei’ as a surname?”

Qinghe tilted his head and looked up at Wei Xiang. “Since the little one is a wyvern, I think he should use ‘Wei’. Xiang, what do you think?”

Wei Xiang blinked. “I… I suppose it makes sense.” Turning to Feng Huixin and Feng Chunyi, he asked, “Master, Mother-in-law, is that alright?”

Feng Huixin silently nodded while Feng Chunyi waved a hand while saying, “Of course it’s alright. Why are you even asking us? That’s the brat you both are taking the most responsibility for.”

Wei Xiang smiled and looked back down at the baby. “Very well. He will be surnamed Wei, then. What about his given name, love?”

Qinghe grinned and answered, “There’s no rush or a need to wait a hundred days. We can take our time to settle on a name we all like and then use it.”

Everyone nodded in agreement.

A few days later, the baby’s name was finally decided: Wei Yuan.

……

One thing Qinghe could never get used to was Wei Yuan’s occasional crying fits. They came and went like a raging monsoon storm, utterly unpredictable. Every time he saw his son scrunching up his little face and crying like the world was ending, Qinghe would feel his own eyes starting to sting and nose turning stuffy.

When people generally had problems, Qinghe could talk to them and figure out a way to quickly resolve it. But with the infant Wei Yuan who couldn’t yet speak to communicate what was bothering him, Qinghe was helpless to do anything. And so, seeing the little one wailing with anguish at how his father was unable to read his mind and give him what he wanted, Qinghe felt beyond distressed. His poor little son, unable to express himself, forced to suffer with no one able to even understand him…

As a result, the adult father would end up accompanying his little son as they both hugged each other and cried, one more silently and with far less tears and snot than the other.

When Feng Chunyi saw this, she very easily absolved herself of blame, saying that this excessive empathy was something Qinghe had gotten from his father. When Qinghe was a baby, Feng Huixin had reacted much like this to seeing his son cry as well.

But knowing this hardly helped Qinghe.

The first time Wei Xiang saw the faces of his two precious people wet with tears, he didn’t know what to feel. He’d walked up to them and lifted Qinghe onto his lap, who in turn had their son sitting on his thighs.

Hugging his lover and son close, Wei Xiang patted their backs comfortingly and asked, “Love, what’s wrong? Why are you both crying?”

Qinghe sniffled and rubbed his teary face. “I don’t know. Yuan-er was crying so pitifully, so I ended up crying too…”

Looking at his newly arrived father, Wei Yuan waved his little fists drenched with tears and drool and burbled something unintelligible in a wronged tone as if trying to answer too.

Wei Xiang’s face twitched as he suppressed his smile. Why did he find these two so cute?

Soon, under Wei Xiang’s warm palms soothing them and his steady and reassuring presence, Qinghe and Wei Yuan’s waterworks quickly ceased. Within a few more moments, the family would be laughing cheerfully again.

From then on, Wei Xiang tried to always be the one who handled their son when he was crying. And even if Qinghe somehow ended up having to face their disconsolate toddler, Wei Xiang would be there. He seemed to have developed a sixth sense for whenever his little husband and son were crying, appearing almost before the tears could start to calm them both. Each time, he couldn’t help but think just how strange his family was while also being thankful for having them.

Because all their weirdness aside, Wei Xiang would never trade his beloved family for anything.

As Wei Yuan grew up into a sprightly little boy, Qinghe and Wei Xiang came up with several ways to calm him whenever he grew upset because of some unreasonable thing as children were often wont to do.

Wei Xiang would turn into his wyvern form and have Wei Yuan securely fixed onto his back with unbreakable spells before taking him up to fly. Whatever little woes the child had would often flutter away with the wind, and it also served as encouragement for him to try harder in his daily flying lessons. For some reason, Wei Yuan seemed to be more skilled in climbing up steep surfaces than in flying. Occasionally, when Qinghe joined Wei Yuan on Wei Xiang’s back and went flying with them, there’d be especially loud squeals of excitement from the child.

On the other hand, Qinghe’s version of cheering him up consisted of using his wind to send Wei Yuan soaring high into the air. As a wyvern, the little boy not only enjoyed flying but also being suspended up high like this. Qinghe would then let him fall down before securely catching the delighted little child. Then he would send him floating up and repeat the process again. Wei Yuan would keep giggling with joy the entire time, his steel-colored hair sticking out every which way. And even after they were done playing, he would be giddy, his little legs pumping as he ran around and jumped to vent his excitement, his smile big and wide.

Another thing Wei Yuan liked doing was sitting on Feng Huixin’s lap and watching him seriously attend to paperwork, his clear blue eyes gleaming with curiosity. When he asked questions using his undeveloped vocabulary in a childish voice, Feng Huixin would do his best to answer with simple, easily understandable words. Oftentimes, by the end, Wei Yuan would wind up dozing away in the tranquil silence of the study and his grandfather’s steady presence.

Wei Yuan also enjoyed accompanying Feng Chunyi while she was gardening, often following her around like a cute little chick and offering to help her in his sweet voice. Unable to bear how adorable her little grandson was, Feng Chunyi had ended up giving him a few pots of harmless flowering plants to take care of on his own. She very seriously told him that if he did well, she would add more plants in his name and might even consider giving him a plot of land to make his own garden. As a result, Wei Yuan took very good care of his tiny share of the plants and treated them with the utmost importance.

One day, all the flowers in the pots ended up wilting, the plants themselves looking on the verge of death. When Qinghe found Wei Yuan, he was crying his little heart out beside the plants, his expression inconsolable.

“Yuan-er, what’s wrong? What happened to your plants?” Qinghe asked worriedly while lifting up the child and patting his back soothingly.

Hiccupping, Wei Yuan held out a crystal bottle with pale green liquid sloshing inside and explained through his tears, “I-I found this in Grandmother’s stuff. I asked and she said it was called spring medicine. So I put it on the plants to make them have more flowers b-but…they…they…” Distraught, the little one’s face crumpled as if he was about to dissolve into tears again.

Struggling to suppress his own urge to start crying with his son, Qinghe bent to nuzzle Wei Yuan in the way he knew a mother beast would her hatchling. Wei Yuan sniffled, but didn’t cry. He clutched at Qinghe’s robe and rubbed his wet face against his father’s cheek, taking the offered comfort.

After the child had calmed a bit more, Qinghe gently asked him, “Yuan-er, why did you put that spring medicine on the plants to make them flower? Did your Grandmother tell you that it’d work that way?”

Wei Yuan blinked up his large eyes that still shone with the remnants of tears and shook his head. “No, Grandmother didn’t tell me to do that. I did it all on my own. Because it’s spring medicine, and spring season means more flowers growing, I thought it was medicine to make flowers grow more. But the medicine made all the plants die!” Declaring this angrily, Wei Yuan threw the bottle down with a furious glare. But the sturdy crystal bottle didn’t shatter, just bounced and rolled on the ground. Wei Yuan growled at it as if to threaten it into behaving. The unimpressed bottle remained unbroken.

Qinghe was torn between crying and laughing, both at his son’s strangely valid child-logic and his angry antics. Taking the bottle of aphrodisiac from the ground and going back into the house, Qinghe explained the situation to the others and let Feng Chunyi use her wood element ability to quickly make the wilting plants—the victims of Wei Yuan’s good intentions and a bottle of aphrodisiac—healthy again.

Needless to say that after that, all of Feng Chunyi’s bottles of liquids and other suspicious instruments were firmly locked away and put out of reach of the curious little boy.

In this way, a couple of years passed.

……

On a certain summer day, the heavenly realm that commonly had mild weather became hotter than usual. Rather than stay cooped up in the stuffy house, Qinghe took Wei Yuan to the back porch to play in the shade while Wei Xiang went off to fetch some ice.

Qinghe sat on the edge of the porch, his legs hanging down as he leaned on the pillar to his right. He held a particularly large beetle that he was keeping, lazily teasing it with his fingertips. To his left sat Wei Yuan, settled deeper inside the porch and under the cool shade. He was happily playing with a pair of fish-shaped wooden toys Qinghe had carved and painted for him. Wei Yuan was in the process of making a heroic story with two of his favorite little fishies. He had just reached the part where the queen fish was going to rescue the girl fish she loved from the evil people who wanted to catch and eat her when he scented his Father Xiang and looked up.

Engrossed in playing with the beetle in his palm, Qinghe absentmindedly said, “Xiang, you can leave the ice basin at the side. Make sure it’s upwind so that it’ll cool the breeze as it blows towards us, will you?”

Wei Xiang hummed in agreement and did so, then sneakily took an ice chip from the basin for himself. Wei Xiang’s lips stretched with a wicked smile as he oh-so-casually walked towards his husband’s unguarded back. Qinghe had swept his hair to the side to expose the back of his collar and nape to the breeze. Naturally, Wei Xiang’s aim was that semi-loose collar.

Looking up at his Father Xiang and seeing his evil expression, Wei Yuan giggled. His Father Xiang was definitely going to do something naughty to his Father Qinghe! Hearing the light sound, Wei Xiang turned to him with a smile and pressed a finger to his lips to make a ‘shh’ motion. Wei Yuan clamped his little hands over his mouth to silence himself, his eyes shining brightly.

Turning back to a still unaware Qinghe, Wei Xiang grinned and reached out a hand. In a single, smooth motion, he pulled back Qinghe’s collar and dropped the ice chip in before quickly stepping back.

Qinghe jerked upright and let out a sharp squeal. The beetle in his hand fell onto the ground and scurried off as if sensing that trouble was coming. Qinghe gritted his teeth and got out, “Wei! Xiang! Get out the blasted ice! It’s so fucking cold!”

Wei Xiang tsked with humor dancing in his eyes. “Language, love. Is this the example you want to set for our child?”

Qinghe growled and turned to direct a thunderous glare at him.

Wei Xiang smirked. “Oh, so scary. I must run away before I’m roasted to death by the fury in your eyes alone.” Saying so, Wei Xiang turned around and promptly escaped his husband’s wrath.

Keeping his back stiff and straight, Qinghe postponed his plan of revenge for now and instead focused on trying to get that wretched ice chip out of his clothes. But the damn thing was too slippery and deep within his robe. He finally just loosened his belt and let the ice chip drop down before retying it again. Now that that was done, Qinghe stood up and lifted the ice basin with a grim, determined expression. His husband would definitely pay! Just see if he won’t fill his Xiang’s inner robe entirely with ice today!

Seeing his Father Qinghe’s expression that said that his Father Xiang was in big trouble, Wei Yuan laughed again gleefully.

Hearing the cheerful sound, Qinghe’s face softened. He bent to poke his son’s round cheek with a cold fingertip and remarked in an affectionate voice, “So you became your Father Xiang’s accomplice and let him put that ice into my clothes, didn’t you? Naughty brat.”

Wei Yuan laughed harder and happily rubbed his plump little cheek against his father’s comfortably cool finger.

Qinghe smiled and retrieved his hand before giving him a particularly large ice chip. “Here, Yuan-er, play with this for now. It’s nice and cold, isn’t it?”

Wei Yuan happily took the offering and said cutely, “Thank you, Father.” Aha! Now he had an ice boat for his queen fish to use while rescuing her girlfriend fish!

As Wei Yuan thus happily continued playing, Qinghe hefted up the ice basin and marched in the direction Wei Xiang had fled in, icy vengeance in his mind.

……

Despite all the shenanigans, not all the time Qinghe and Wei Xiang had could be spent with Wei Yuan due to their respective duties. As a result, the couple either made sure that at least one of them would be free to spend time with the child or sent him to play with the many trustworthy people they knew. It helped their bonds of family and friends to grow tighter while familiarizing the little one with the others as well.

On this particular day, Qinghe was taking care of Wei Yuan. Due to the child’s adamancy in wanting to see Wei Xiang while he was working, Qinghe decided to take him to the Order of Sentinels. Though this was not the first time the child had been here, he wasn’t yet completely familiar with the place either.

Qinghe entered the Sentinel compound with Wei Yuan perched on his shoulders. As they walked the corridors containing the officers’ private quarters, the child looked around with a serious expression, searching for Wei Xiang. But all the doors lining both sides of the corridors were closed, and since this was peak working hour for most Sentinels, there weren’t many people walking by either. Wei Yuan frowned. Where could his father be?

Sensing his son’s puzzlement, Qinghe smiled. Of course he knew where his husband was by way of their soul bond. But just this time, Qinghe wanted to let Wei Yuan try finding Wei Xiang on his own.

As if on cue, Wei Yuan finished looking around and asked confusedly, “Father Qinghe, where’s Father Xiang?”

Qinghe suppressed a grin and replied in a contemplative voice, “Hmm, maybe he’s hiding behind one of these doors. How about Yuan-er choose a door so that we can go and knock on it. If someone else other than your Father Xiang opens it, you can just ask them if they saw him anywhere.”

The child’s clear blue eyes brightened. “Yes!” It was good that his Father Qinghe was able to come up with a plan of action, or who knew where they’d have lost his Father Xiang?

Not sensing his son’s worshipful gaze, Qinghe prodded, “Which door shall we start from then?”

Wei Yuan scrunched up his brows and looked around before finally pointing in a random direction. “There, that one!”

Qinghe merrily set off in that direction and stood in front of the door. “Here we are. I’ll let Yuan-er handle everything from now on then.”

Wei Yuan gave a firm nod like an officer about to raid the headquarters of a criminal organization. Raising his little fist and leaning forward while perched on his father’s shoulders, he knocked on the door.

After a few moments, the door opened, revealing a casually attired officer who was obviously off-duty. Running his thick fingers through his disheveled hair, the officer yawned and nodded to Qinghe in greeting. “Is there something I can help you with?”

Wei Yuan raised a hand as if in class. “Is my Father Xiang with you?”

The officer’s face unconsciously softened into a smile when faced with the child’s cutely serious and inquisitive expression. “No, I’m afraid your father isn’t here, Young Master Wei.”

Pouting that his Father Xiang wasn’t being easy to find, Wei Yuan asked, “Then…do you know where Father Xiang is?”

The officer regretfully shook his head.

Clearly disappointed, Wei Yuan slumped down onto Qinghe’s head, his legs hanging listlessly from his father’s shoulders. But he still took the time to blink at the officer and say, “Thank you for talking to me!”

“No, please, it was my pleasure,” the officer said warmly, trying to hide his amusement. Despite having been disturbed out of a nap just now, the officer had a huge grin on his face when he closed the door.

“Father, what do we do? Father Xiang went missing!” Wei Yuan declared worriedly.

Qinghe’s eyes shone with laughter even as he patted his son’s leg and said solemnly, “Now, now, don’t give up yet. Someone must have seen him, Yuan-er. Let’s try another door and see.”

Wei Yuan nodded, cautious hope in his gaze.

But even after trying a few more doors, they found no clues. Though Wei Yuan was dispirited, Qinghe, in contrast, was in very good spirits after seeing the officers struggling not to smile and falling all over themselves to help his adorable little son.

“Which one shall we try next, Yuan-er?” Qinghe prodded.

Wei Yuan sighed and pointed at a door dully.

Qinghe smiled wryly and decided that if they didn’t find anything after this, he’d directly take Wei Yuan to Wei Xiang. While it was good to teach his son how to act independently, he still didn’t want him to get too discouraged in the process.

But unexpectedly, this final officer had more to say than the previous ones. Looking at the Wei Yuan perched on Qinghe, she replied, “At this time, Senior Officer Wei should either be in his room or his office. I’m guessing he’ll most likely be in his office.”

Qinghe silently heaved a breath in relief at that correct answer, glad that this little investigation at least ended up with a fruitful result.

However, Wei Yuan frowned at the officer with a confounded expression and said, “But who’s Senior Officer Wei? I want to know where Father Xiang is!”

Qinghe’s lips twitched while the officer raised a brow in surprise. Sighing, Qinghe told her, “Thank you for your time, Officer Lie. Our apologies for disturbing you.”

As the puzzled officer closed the door, Qinghe started walking along the corridor and asked his son, “Yuan-er, you…you do know that your father’s name is not Father Xiang, don’t you?”

Wei Yuan made a sound of abject startlement and disbelief. “It’s not?!”

Qinghe didn’t know whether to laugh or console his distraught son. “No, it isn’t. The person you refer to as Father Xiang, someone who also happens to be my husband, is actually called Wei Xiang. Here in the Order of Sentinels, which is one of the places he works in, Wei Xiang holds the title of a senior officer. That is why the people here call him Senior Officer Wei out of respect. And you have his surname, which is why you’re named Wei Yuan.”

The little boy looked like he’d just heard something earth-shattering. Qinghe lifted a hand to sympathetically pat his arm even as he had to suppress the urge to run to his husband and convey this amusing situation immediately.

Something horrifying suddenly occurred to Wei Yuan, and to confirm it, he peered down and called frantically, “Th-Then, Father Qinghe… Is your name also not Father Qinghe?”

“…” Qinghe was finding it even harder to hide his laughter now. In an even voice, he replied, “No, my name is actually Feng Qinghe. Your grandmother and grandfather are also surnamed Feng.”

Wei Yuan looked like the world had betrayed him.

Smiling helplessly, Qinghe spoke, “But Yuan-er, see, of all the people in the world, at this time, only you can call us Father Xiang and Father Qinghe. No one else has that privilege. And when you have more siblings, they’ll have that privilege too.”

Wei Yuan frowned and gravely pondered upon his words. After a few moments of silence, the little one’s expression eased. “Then, for now, you’re only my Father Xiang and Father Qinghe? And Grandmother and Grandfather are also only my Grandmother and Grandfather?”

Qinghe smiled wider and nodded.

Cheering up immediately, Wei Yuan said, “Then it’s okay!”

Shaking his head helplessly, Qinghe chuckled. “Good. Then shall we go and see your Father Xiang and share this new discovery you made today?”

Wei Yuan happily bounced on his father’s shoulders. “Yes!”

And so, off they went to entertain Wei Xiang.

……

When Wei Yuan was old enough, all the adults in the Feng household discussed and decided to send him to a nearby school to broaden his horizons. His family might be able to teach him many things, but going to school and mingling with other kids his age would definitely help him gain valuable knowledge and experience.

Though Qinghe and Wei Xiang worried at first about their precious son finding it difficult to adjust, Wei Yuan proved more adaptable than they thought. He very carefreely made a lot of friends and gained a reputation as a charming and intelligent student. Though most of his fellow students were human deities and not spiritual beasts, Wei Yuan had no trouble fitting in. After all, most of his family back home were human deities too.

One day, Wei Yuan pleaded with his parents, wanting to go and stay at one of his friends’ house for a night after being invited. Though Qinghe was reluctant, he was eventually won over by his adorable little son’s constant persuasion and agreed. Anyway, this friend that Wei Yuan wanted to stay with was someone he and his Xiang had heard a lot about, so they knew that he would be good to their son. This friend’s only parent, his father, worked as a guard at the residence of one of the deities in the heavenly court. From what they’d heard, he treated his son well, so he should treat his son’s friends well too by extension. There shouldn’t be any trouble. And so, Wei Yuan was sent to spend the night away in his friend’s house.

But unfortunately, things were not as they initially seemed.

Wei Xiang was the first one who sensed something wrong and hurried to check up on Wei Yuan through the shadows. What greeted him in the friend’s house were shouts of strange men and a conversation that made his heart sink lower and lower in dread.

“Where did that wyvern brat go? Don’t let him get away!”

“It took a lot of trouble to get that kid into my house using my own boy as bait, so you lot better not lose him and stiff me of my share of the profit!”

“A rare beast like that, especially a young one, is worth a lot! Don’t you dare damage him when you find him!”

“I’d say that dead or alive, he will still have a lot of value. Even if all we get to sell are pieces of him, we’ll still earn a lot! The buyers are already set, so the only thing left is finding where he is.”

“Shit! I think he managed to get out of the house! Spread out and try to search for him! Don’t forget to keep an eye on the sky as well! I’ll notify the ones roaming outside to go after him too!”

By now, what had happened was clear to Wei Xiang. His son’s friend’s father must have urged his own son to invite Wei Yuan as a guest and set up a trap in cooperation with illegal traffickers to lure, capture, and sell Wei Yuan. Since he was one of only two wyverns, and the weakest one too, he had been targeted. But thankfully, Wei Yuan seemed to have escaped and now had the traffickers in a tizzy. However, the traffickers were taking action very quickly, and if they managed to find the child, who knew what all would happen to him?

Wei Xiang was sickened and beyond furious. But rather than give in to rage and waste time here punishing the perpetrators, Wei Xiang quickly used the shadows and alerted the Offices of Judgment instead and explained the situation. He would let his enraged master and fellow officers clean up these people in the house. What was important now was finding his son before any of the traffickers already giving chase could get ahold of him. And so, Wei Xiang hurriedly explained the circumstances to Qinghe and Feng Chunyi as well and conscripted their help in searching for Wei Yuan.

The Feng household was all too clear on what all could happen to a kidnapped child, especially with Qinghe as the prime example. Just the thought of Wei Yuan, that happy, bubbly little boy, going through the same things Qinghe did because of their negligence was enough to whip them all into a frenzy. Without wasting a moment after arrival, they followed possible trails and spread out, hoping against hope that the traffickers who were already on Wei Yuan’s tail wouldn’t get the chance to catch up to him.

In the end, it was Qinghe who found Wei Yuan. Or rather, he found the traffickers who had been following the child lying on the ground, ripped to pieces. Due to their deity-level sturdiness, all of them were still alive, but were left with deep gouges in their torsos or backs along with a torn limb or two. It seemed that unlike Wei Xiang, Wei Yuan’s claws had some substance that prevented quick regeneration even in deities. Unable to move well or breathe, the group of pursuers was flailing in a heap with blood pooling under them. Since this was an uninhabited area with only trees and shrubs to witness their struggles, they were unable to get any aid. So the second they saw Qinghe, they tried to call out to him for help. But one look at his icy gaze and they immediately froze, not daring to move anymore.

Ignoring them for now, Qinghe quickly sent a message to request Wei Xiang to come and asked his mother to take care of the other groups of traffickers still looking for Wei Yuan. As for the child himself, Qinghe could sense that he had climbed up and was hiding in a nearby tree, trying to stay utterly motionless. However, the fact that he didn’t jump down the second he saw his father itself alerted Qinghe that something was amiss. And so, he decided to wait for Wei Xiang to arrive before discussing about how to get their son down and comfort him after his ordeal.

In the time till then, Qinghe went about ruthlessly incapacitating the traffickers further to make them lose consciousness just in case they thought up some way to escape, then waited by the tree Wei Yuan was hiding in. Sensing through his wind how his little son had assumed his wyvern form out of fright, clutching a branch high above and trembling against it, Qinghe felt his heart breaking. But he forced himself to wait for Wei Xiang. If he said or did something that ended up worsening his son’s current condition, then all the guilt in the world wouldn’t be enough to make up for it.

When Wei Xiang arrived, he barely spared a glance to the pitiful heap of traffickers, his gaze instead accurately landing on the tree branch hidden behind foliage where Wei Yuan was. With the amount of fearful hormones the child was producing, it would’ve been more difficult to not spot him.

“Xiang, Yuan-er isn’t coming down on his own. Do you think something’s wrong?” Qinghe worriedly asked.

Wei Xiang frowned. “I’m not sure, but I’ll find out and take care of it. Love, stay here and wait for us.”

Qinghe nodded. Since his husband said he’d deal with it, he would leave it to him.

Without much ado, Wei Xiang directly leapt up and landed on the branch with Wei Yuan. The sight that greeted him made his chest tighten with pain.

His son had instinctively assumed his wyvern form and was lying flat on the branch, his wings tightly folded against his back. Since he hadn’t developed confidence in his flying ability yet, Wei Yuan seemed to have chosen to climb a tree and hide here instead. His bloodied claws were dug deep into the branch, the wood turning grayish and flaky where it was pierced due to the injected toxins. Wei Yuan’s slender snout was covered with blood from where he’d bitten his pursuers, his teeth that were bared in fear and panic dyed red as well. His eyelids trembled, peeled wide open to reveal unseeing eyes glazed with terror. His long and thin body, covered in a shining layer of small scales a couple of shades darker than silver, was quivering tautly. His long tail was wrapped around the branch, squeezing it tightly as if the more he held on, the more secure he felt.

Wei Xiang took in a deep breath and let it out, trying to compose himself. The sound made Wei Yuan’s shaking worsen, a small, helpless growl slipping out of him, both threatening and pleading.

In a calm and gentle voice, Wei Xiang said, “Xiao Yuan, It’s only me, your father. I won’t hurt you.”

Wei Yuan didn’t move, not seeming to see or hear him at all, locked in his own fear and stuck deep in self-preservation mode.

Wei Xiang sighed and strode forward on the branch in slow steps. Wei Yuan made alarmed sounds and tried to scoot back, only for his hindquarters to encounter the tree trunk. Wei Yuan whimpered.

“Shh, it’s fine,” Wei Xiang spoke soothingly and crouched in front of the frightened hatchling.

He held out a hand to let his son sniff him and realize his identity. But unexpectedly, Wei Yuan instead snapped his jaws onto the perceived threat, his teeth piercing Wei Xiang’s hand. As he felt the sharp, needle-like teeth digging into his flesh and crushing his bones, Wei Xiang winced. But he didn’t retreat or try to take his hand back, simply waiting and hoping that his son would recognize him by the smell of his blood at least.

“Xiang!” Qinghe called from below. Having been keeping an eye through his wind, he was alarmed at his husband’s sudden injury.

Keeping his voice steady, Wei Xiang reassured his beloved, “I’m fine. Xiao Yuan is just afraid. I’ll take care of it.”

Qinghe bit his lower lip, but nodded.

Meanwhile, the smell and taste of Wei Xiang’s warm blood flooded Wei Yuan’s mouth. The power pulsing in this blood was all too familiar to him. This was his kin, his littermate, the only being currently alive who was like him. The recognition punched him, the impact swift and shocking. Unconsciously, Wei Yuan’s jaws loosened slightly. His senses cleared a bit and the figure of his Father Xiang filled his vision.

His father’s expression was calm and kind, but the corners of his eyes were pinched in pain. A warm and broad palm brushed the side of Wei Yuan’s head tenderly as his father said, “It’s fine, it will be fine. I and your Father Qinghe are here. We won’t let anything bad happen to you. You did very well in protecting yourself till now. We are very proud of you. Xiao Yuan, why don’t you let go of me now and we can all go back home together? Your grandmother is there too. Your grandfather will take care of all the bad people and make sure they can never hurt you or take you away again. Now that we’re here, you’re not alone. You don’t have to be afraid anymore.”

Hearing exactly the reassurances he needed and becoming aware that the danger had finally passed, Wei Yuan’s chest trembled with sobs while big drops of tears welled in his eyes. His jaws opened to let go of Wei Xiang’s hand. Wei Xiang ignored his injury and pulled his son close. He carefully hugged him, patting his back as Wei Yuan cried with the remembered fear and helplessness of before and the relief of now. Halfway through, Wei Yuan turned from a frightened young wyvern to a young boy even as he continued to tightly hold onto Wei Xiang.

Once his sobs had quietened, Wei Xiang held him firmly and jumped down. Qinghe immediately came over to lavish his share of care, comfort, and affection on his little son. Wei Yuan burst into tears again, causing Qinghe’s own eyes to start watering. Wei Xiang could only smile wryly and hold them both close, patting their backs consolingly.

Once the waterworks wound down, they returned home, leaving the to-be-kidnappers to the care of the newly-arrived officers of judgment. After another round of fussing from Feng Chunyi, Wei Yuan tearily asked for his parents to cuddle with him. To no one’s surprise, Qinghe and Wei Xiang agreed. Feng Chunyi left the family of three to their bonding and declared that she’d stay guard outside the bedroom to make her grandson feel safe and marched away while stroking her wooden sword.

On the bed, the three people laid snuggled together with Wei Yuan at the center. Wrapped in his parents’ comforting presence, Wei Yuan slowly calmed. After being scared in the beginning and then crying so much, he felt strangely clearheaded now.

Qinghe wrapped an arm around his son’s stomach and asked softly, “Yuan-er, are you alright? Do you feel weird? Did those people do anything…bad to you?”

Wei Yuan blinked at him trustingly and recalled his ordeal, “After they caught me, they scared me and said mean things about how they’d hit me until I was throwing up blood and remove my legs and make me crawl if I kept struggling. One of the evil men said he’d take off my eyes and tongue and only give me worms to eat if I didn’t do everything he told me. Then another mean man told the others that I’d be much easier to handle if they broke my legs, so th-they held me d-down and…tried t-to…”

Qinghe hugged his son tightly. “It’s alright now. You didn’t let them hurt you.”

Wei Yuan nodded. The threat of so much violence being done to him had been frightening. The worst pain he’d ever faced before was when he broke his arm after falling down from a tree. At that time, he had been coddled and pampered by his family so much until the injury healed. But he knew that those men would have done much, much worse to him than breaking a bone without even caring, and he would’ve been utterly powerless to do anything! It was infuriating and frustrating beyond measure!

Sensing his son’s increasing agitation, Wei Xiang asked, “Xiao Yuan, what’s wrong?”

Wei Yuan blinked and his eyes turned slitted, his irises a reflective silver. With an intent, almost vicious expression, the little boy expressed, “I never want to be prey again!”

Wei Xiang raised an eyebrow in surprise while Qinghe nodded in understanding. Patting his son’s head, he said, “That’s logical. If Yuan-er wants to be able to protect yourself, then you should learn to fight and deal with people meaning you harm. If you want, your grandmother and I can teach and train you in those aspects. Would you like that?”

Wei Yuan nodded determinedly. As long as it would make him even a little less helpless, he would do it.

Qinghe smiled and pecked his son on the nose. “Good. Now you should try to relax and get some rest. The training you’ll have to go through is not going to be easy.”

Wei Yuan nodded again and closed his eyes. Knowing that he wouldn’t have to feel that fear of being hunted again, and knowing that nothing and no one would be able to hurt him now with his family by his side, he finally felt peace filling him.

Tranquil silence suffused the room, warm and comfortable. Qinghe and Wei Xiang looked at each other over Wei Yuan’s resting figure, the same complex thoughts swirling in their gazes. The way Wei Yuan was dealing with this incident was startling, showing just how unpredictably mature a child could be sometimes. It also seemed that no matter how much they tried, they couldn’t completely shield their son from the cruelties of the world.

They hadn’t expected traffickers to lay their sights on Wei Yuan, but they felt that they should’ve expected and prepared for it. Now that the traffickers have been captured, the others working with them could be routed out as well. But the couple also knew that there might always be other dangers lurking, out to get their son. As much as they tried to be vigilant, they couldn’t completely protect Wei Yuan without smothering him. They would have to figure out a way to balance his safety with his freedom and make sure not to fail their son again.

As Qinghe and Wei Xiang shared these thoughts with each other through their gazes alone, Wei Yuan’s childish voice suddenly interrupted them, “What will happen to Xiao Qiu now?” His eyes, having returned to being a bright, clear blue, blinked up at the couple. “Xiao Qiu only has his father as family, so what will he do now after his father became a bad person and got taken away to jail?”

Qinghe bent to kiss his son’s cheek and praised, “My Yuan-er is such a good and compassionate child.”

Wei Yuan looked at him puzzled. “Eh? Why?”

Chuckling, Qinghe said, “Because you don’t even consider what you said as something kind.”

Wei Yuan frowned. Wasn’t it normal to be worried for his friend?

Qinghe only smiled. After his ordeal and how it had come about only because of his friend’s invitation to stay with him, it wouldn’t have been odd if Wei Yuan came to resent or avoid his friend. But instead of unfairly blaming his unknowing friend or running away, he instead showed care and sympathy towards him. Though Qinghe didn’t know if this response was normal for kids in general, he still felt immensely proud of his own son for thinking this way.

Meanwhile, Wei Xiang answered Wei Yuan’s question, “If he doesn’t have any objections, Qian Qiu will find a home with one of the deities who want to adopt a child and have been vetted by the Offices of Judgment, your grandfather’s people. Once Qian Qiu is settled in his new home, he can choose to come back to school like always. Of course, if you want, we will take you to visit him in his new house so that you can check up on him.”

Wei Yuan brightened. “That’s good then! Xiao Qiu always wanted a bigger house, so maybe now he can get one.”

Wei Xiang smiled and rubbed Wei Yuan’s head. “Yes, I hope he does too.”

On the child’s other side, Qinghe’s expression was warm and happy. He extended an arm and hugged both his son and husband. “Alright, now we should all sleep. It’s been an exhausting day. Everything else can come later.”

“Okay,” Wei Yuan agreed easily and wriggled between his parents with a cheerful smile.

And so, with their hearts at ease and their expressions content, the family of three slept.

……

From then on, Wei Yuan’s schedule changed. While he did spend a few days a week in the school as usual, he also began to train in martial arts with Feng Chunyi and Qinghe. Rather than just showing him the moves and getting him to mimic it, Qinghe also took his son with him when completing relatively low-risk tasks both in the heavenly realm and the mortal realm. This way, Wei Yuan would also be able to see the practical aspect of battles rather than only the technical one. At the side, he received tutelage from Wei Xiang as well on how to use his beast attributes like claws, tails, horns, and even his instincts to his advantage when in his wyvern form, along with using the metal and fire elements. All in all, the little one’s schedule was not as open as before, but his parents still made sure that he’d have plenty of time to play freely, explore the world, and grow up on his own.

This afternoon was one of those free times that Wei Yuan could spend as he liked. Since Qinghe had just finished a certain large task given to him by the heavenly court and was relaxing at home, he and Wei Yuan spent time together playing for hours. Qinghe was expecting Wei Xiang to finish his work and return soon as well, but for now, he was content to accompany his son.

After a morning full of playing, Qinghe and Wei Yuan settled down to relax on a tree. Qinghe laid stretched out on the branch, his back against the trunk. His arms were curled around the child on his lap. Wei Yuan sat sideways on his father’s thighs while his head rested on Qinghe’s chest.

After exhausting himself by playing to his heart’s content, the little boy was tired. Held in his beloved father’s embrace, with the wind brushing over his face, along with the sunlight filtering through the thick canopy of leaves and turning the air pleasantly warm, the kid grew drowsy. His eyelids drooped, feeling languid and heavy. Rubbing his eyes with a fist, Wei Yuan sleepily asked, “Father, will you sing me a lullaby?”

Qinghe’s eyes widened. “A…lullaby?”

Wei Yuan nodded and shifted to settle himself more comfortably. “Yes. Ah-Wen and Xiao Tai and Lingling from school told me that their parents sing them lullabies to get them to sleep. Can you sing me one too?”

As the child blinked up at him with his big blue eyes looking dazed with sleep, Qinghe felt his heart squeeze. He pondered for a bit, then nodded. “I…I’ll try.”

Wei Yuan smiled happily and snuggled his face into his chest, preparing to be lulled into sleep by his father’s voice. Qinghe smiled wryly and patted his son’s head. When was the last time he’d sung? He couldn’t remember. But he supposed he could give this a shot for his precious little darling’s sake.

And so, Qinghe hummed aimlessly, his voice clear and pleasant to the ear. The tune was gentle and peaceful, floating lightly with the breeze. It elicited the feeling of being petted by cool fingers on a hot day, being enfolded by a warm blanket in a blizzard, being hugged by one’s most beloved, or watching the rain fall while sitting snug and dry inside one’s home. It evoked the sensation of floating on water, feeling the cool wetness supporting one’s back while the mild rocking and swaying suffused one with tranquility. It was like the free and weightless feeling of flying, drifting through white and fluffy clouds and letting the wind guide you to your destination without a care in the world. The tender melody wound around Wei Yuan lazily, making him feel comfortable and even more drowsy. His eyes closed, his body relaxed, and his breathing grew deeper as he slowly eased into slumber.

As soon as Qinghe determined that his son was fully asleep, his voice trailed away. He lifted his head up and smiled at the Wei Xiang who had arrived when he had been in the midst of humming the lullaby. In a quiet voice, Qinghe spoke, “Xiang, you’re back.”

Wei Xiang nodded with a smile. “Let’s put Xiao Yuan to bed and spend some time together…in a different bed.”

Qinghe’s eyes gleamed at the implication. The couple carefully put the sleeping Wei Yuan in his room and retired to their own bedroom. With a child now in the family, they hadn’t been able to carelessly do it wherever and whenever they wanted like before. So when they got some private time alone to enjoy like right now, Qinghe and Wei Xiang learned to cherish it very much.

Without wasting a moment, Qinghe and Wei Xiang began kissing while their fingers eased off each other’s clothes. They fell into bed and tangled together. After some foreplay and preparation, Wei Xiang quickly entered Qinghe and buried his face into the crook of his husband’s neck, luxuriating in his beloved’s scent saturated with arousal.

Qinghe slowly stretched and shifted on the bed restlessly, one arm wound around Wei Xing’s shoulder while the other hand cupped his husband’s nape. “X-Xiang…” he exhaled, his voice low and breathy.

Something lit up in Wei Xiang’s gaze, his eyes glinting. Moving his head, he traced the long column of his beloved’s throat with his mouth before biting his Adam’s apple, then licking it. Qinghe cried out. As he swallowed thickly, he could feel his bobbing Adam’s apple brush against a warm pair of lips still hovering over his throat. The light sensation made Qinghe shudder.

In a deep and smooth voice, Wei Xiang said, “Love, your voice is so beautiful. Why don’t you hum me a tune right now?”

Qinghe’s face flushed at this unexpected request. After a moment of hesitation, he shyly nodded and tried to hum. His voice quivered at first before slowly steadying. The tune this time was filled with bashfulness and unhidden lust. Given form by Qinghe’s voice that had turned husky with desire, the song seemed even more sultry and provocative.

As the melody flowed over him, Wei Xiang felt as if it was sensually caressing his body, sliding over his skin, suffusing his blood, and increasing his need. He could feel the vibration of Qinghe’s voice under his lips as he brushed them over his husband’s slender throat. He could feel Qinghe’s fingers drifting up from his nape and absentmindedly combing through his hair with languid movements. He could feel Qinghe’s warm and soft passage tightening and loosening around his member along with the rise and fall of the slow and heated tune. Wei Xiang grew drunk on the intense desire evoked by the wordless song.

Unable to bear any more of this temptation, Wei Xiang abruptly growled, “Enough.” His hips withdrew and thrust in a quick and powerful motion.

Qinghe gasped. His voice ceased singing and turned into a symphony of cries at the sudden bursts of pleasure. Moving with fervent passion, Wei Xiang didn’t let Qinghe stop using his voice even as it turned hoarser and hoarser with his gasps, moans, sobs, and pleas for more, all the way until they both went over the edge of orgasm one after another.

For the next few months, Wei Xiang grew obsessed with hearing Qinghe sing for him while the pair of husbands was engaged in intimacy. It both puzzled and gladdened Qinghe, and he was all too willing to perform privately for his Xiang like this, reaping the rewards through increased passion.

After that, Qinghe became used to singing happy little tunes to himself, especially when he was drunk and all his usual restraints loosened. Qinghe would let Wei Yuan ride on his shoulders and cheerfully march through the Feng residence’s corridors, clutching a jar of wine to his chest while singing with merry childishness, “I love Xiang~ Xiang loves me~ With little Yuan-er, we’re a family of three~”

“Three!” the child would echo happily while tilting his head side-to-side and waving his little arms in the air. He really liked it when his father became like this. It was always so much fun!

Other times when he was drunk, Qinghe would stride through the residence while happily singsonging, “Xiiiang~”

And Wei Yuan would try to mirror his father enthusiastically in his childish voice, “Xiang!”

As a result, the house would ring with the sound of one adult and one child alternatively singing: “Xiiiang~”, “Xiang!”

One time, as they were calling out like this, Wei Xiang appeared in their path, an amused smile on his face. He didn’t even need to scent the alcohol on his husband to know that he was drunk. His childish behavior itself gave it away.

Encountering his beloved suddenly, Qinghe let out a happy shout, “Xiang! You’re here!”

Wei Xiang patted Qinghe’s head and said with mirth dancing in his eyes. “Yes, love, I’m here. How could I not be when I keep hearing you and our son going around calling me by name.”

Qinghe didn’t even try to understand and just leaned forward to hug and nuzzle his husband with a silly grin. On his shoulders, Wei Yuan raised up his hands towards Wei Xiang in a silent demand. Wei Xiang lifted Wei Yuan up from Qinghe’s shoulders and decided to carry him on his hip, since his front was still being clung to by a certain enthusiastic octopus called Qinghe.

Sensing the shift, Qinghe’s head popped up as he looked at Wei Yuan settled happily on Wei Xiang’s left hip. Lifting his own arms, Qinghe merrily climbed onto Wei Xiang’s other side and hung off his right hip, his limbs winding around his husband’s torso.

Wei Xiang showed a helpless smile and adjusted his balance while using his palms to support them both by their butt. Liking the sensation of his Xiang’s hand on him there, Qinghe happily wriggled his bottom.

Wei Xiang squeezed it in warning, “Qinghe, behave.”

Qinghe pouted but stopped moving.

Sighing wryly, Wei Xiang began walking with two people hanging off him on either side.

“Father Xiang,” Wei Yuan suddenly called out. “I’ve been very good today!”

Looking at his son’s blue eyes blinking at him with the expectation of praise shining in them, Wei Xiang smiled warmly. “I expected nothing less from my Xiao Yuan. You’re such a good boy.”

Wei Yuan smiled, pleased.

Wriggling restlessly, Qinghe suddenly declared, “Xiang, I’ve also been good today!”

Wei Xiang turned to look at his husband, and reading the ‘Praise me too!’ written on his face, he struggled to suppress his laughter. In a solemn tone, he nodded and said, “Yes, I knew you’d be good, love. As expected of my wonderful husband.”

Qinghe preened happily at the praise.

Wei Yuan piped up again. “Father Xiang, since I was good, I want a kissy as a reward!”

Wei Xiang smiled and dutifully bent to peck his son on his round cheek. “Here you go.”

Qinghe began wriggling again. “Xiang, Xiang! Me too! I want a kissy too!”

Wei Xiang chuckled and turned to give him a peck on the cheek as well, but Qinghe moved faster and landed a solid smooch on his lips. Wei Xiang unresistingly accepted it and even opened his mouth in invitation. Qinghe gleeful thrust his tongue in and earnestly began kissing his husband. Wei Xiang’s steps slowly stopped as his attention was consumed by the slick little tongue wreaking mischief in his mouth, slipping and sliding every which way like a naughty toddler exploring a new playroom full of toys.

With interest, Wei Yuan looked at his parents exchanging a different type of kissy than he was used to. Tugging on Wei Xiang’s sleeve, he interrupted him to ask, “Father Xiang, is that a special type of kissy? Will I get one too?”

Qinghe and Wei Xiang parted with flushed faces. Qinghe buried his face into the side of Wei Xiang’s neck while Wei Xiang endeavored to compose himself again and answered his son’s question, “Yes, this is a special kiss, but no, I will not be sharing one with you. This special kiss is only reserved for someone who’s your mate or a lover who consents to be kissed like this.”

Wei Yuan tilted his head, only half-understanding. “What’s a consence?”

Wei Xiang gently corrected him, “It’s ‘consent’. It means agreement or permission. For example, if someone wants to play with your toys, they need your consent to do it. They need to ask you and get your permission first to use them. Similarly, if you want to do something intimate with someone―like kissing them with romantic intentions like me and your Father Qinghe just did, for example―then you must obtain their consent. They have to tell you that it’s okay for you to do that and that they want it, and they should be aware and completely conscious while agreeing or it won’t count. It’s very, very important. Do you understand?”

Wei Yuan frowned and nodded thoughtfully, seeming to slowly digest it.

Wei Xiang smiled and resumed walking down the corridor. It was alright if their son didn’t get it completely on the first try. There would be plenty more opportunities to teach him the important things slowly over the years. He and his Qinghe would do their best to educate their child on everything they could and do their utmost to make him an upright and self-sufficient individual. Since they’d chosen to be his parents, that was the least they could do.

……

A scream rent the air, shrill and saturated with pain.

Qinghe flinched, his hands curling tighter inside his sleeves while his feet paced faster. Seated on a stone bench nearby, Chen Xiande had on a tense expression as well.

They were currently on the grounds of the Silver Moon Sect, waiting beside a small, single-room building made of light gray stone. A wide paved path led to the tightly shut door of the building while green plains and well-kept flower gardens sprawled all around the house. In the distance, Wei Xiang and Hei NingYu played with Wei Yuan, keeping the child occupied so that Qinghe and Chen Xiande would have some space while they waited for Jing Shui to finish giving birth.

As another scream filled with agony ripped out of the small building, Qinghe clenched his jaws and tried to convince himself that Jing Shui was fine. There should be no issues with this delivery. After all, it was being overseen by the Deity of Health himself. And after Qinghe’s repeated bugging, even Xiao Tian had assured him that there would be no complications. But each time a scream issued out of the building, Qinghe couldn’t help but worry, his heart in his throat.

Currently, the Deity of Health and his young apprentice, along with Wu Xiao, Grandma Jiao from the Baolin Tribe, and Liu Xue—Jing Shui’s master—were all inside attending to Jing Shui. Since Qinghe, Chen Xiande, and the others had arrived much later, there had been no space inside the room for them, so they could only wait outside.

A year ago, Jing Shui and Wu Xiao had finally conceived a child together with the help of the Deity of Health that Qinghe had introduced to them. Now that the child had grown enough to be taken out of Jing Shui’s dantian, it was time for him to give birth. The procedure consisted of the Deity of Health slicing open Jing Shui’s belly while keeping Jing Shui conscious so that he could halt his regeneration until the baby was out of his body and continue supplying the child with spiritual power to keep it alive until it was able to take its first breath. But doing that while being cut open, then bearing the pain of the child growing in his dantian being ripped out of him, would be beyond excruciating. However, even knowing all this, Jing Shui had wanted to have a child.

Though Qinghe realized that this was his friend’s choice, and that the long-awaited birth of this child could even be considered a joyous occasion, he couldn’t help but feel dread and distress chew at him. He didn’t like thinking of how much his friend must be suffering. He didn’t want his friend to have to go through all this. He didn’t like not being able to help and take away all of his friend’s troubles. He didn’t like it one bit!

“Junior Brother, come here and sit down,” Chen Xiande’s voice suddenly sounded.

Qinghe halted and turned to look at his senior brother with confusion.

Chen Xiande sighed. “I don’t know what you’re thinking, but it’s plain to see that you’re tormenting yourself over it. Come, sit down and tell me what’s bothering you.”

Qinghe bit his lower lip and nodded. He quietly went to sit beside Chen Xiande, his body remaining stiff and tense. Chen Xiande showed a small smile and began stroking his back gently, waiting silently for him to start speaking.

After a few moments of hesitation, Qinghe finally burst out, “Senior Brother, I-I don’t like Brother Jing’s child! I don’t like how much it’s causing Brother Jing to be hurt while being born!”

Chen Xiande raised an eyebrow in surprise. His junior brother sounded uncharacteristically childish. Chen Xiande hugged Qinghe with an arm and patiently said, “Junior Brother, you can’t blame the unborn child for that. The child isn’t purposefully choosing to be born painfully. Brother Jing and Sect Master Wu were the ones who chose to have this child while fully knowing how agonizing it could be.”

Qinghe buried his head into Chen Xiande’s shoulder and nodded. Yes, logically, he knew that. And yet…

Jing Shui screamed again, the sound long and gut-wrenching, before his voice ended in a helpless sob.

Qinghe’s shoulders hunched as he chewed on his lower lip. The worry and pain in his expression were palpable.

Chen Xiande sighed and turned towards where Wei Xiang and Hei NingYu were looking after Wei Yuan in the distance. The little boy was happily chasing a butterfly while holding out a flower as if in bait. The two adults watching this seemed to be suppressing smiles. Suddenly seeming to sense something, Wei Xiang looked over with a frown, his gaze accurately landing on a distraught-looking Qinghe. Wei Xiang turned to glance at Chen Xiande with a concerned question in his gaze. Chen Xiande wordlessly shook his head and instead mouthed to his lover to send Wei Yuan over.

Hei NingYu arched his brows but nodded. He said something to the Wei Yuan who had been happily following the butterfly through fields of flowers. Wei Yuan stopped and listened intently to what Hei NingYu had to say before nodding and turning to dash towards the house. The more he neared his Father Qinghe and Uncle Chen, the more of his father’s distress Wei Yuan could scent. Directly heading to his father, Wei Yuan tugged on his sleeve apprehensively. “Father? Did something bad happen?”

Qinghe straightened from where he had been leaning into his senior brother, his eyes suspiciously red-rimmed. Before he could answer, Chen Xiande spoke, “Yuan-er, your father is needlessly worrying about your Uncle Jing. Why don’t you comfort him?”

Qinghe shot a baleful glance at his senior brother. Using his little son was unfair! How would he be able to resist his adorable Yuan-er’s charms? Trying to put on his usual pleasant expression, Qinghe smiled at his son and said, “It’s alright, Yuan-er. I’m fine.”

Wei Yuan tsked. “Father, lying is bad. I can smell that you’re not okay.”

Qinghe’s eyebrow twitched. Of all the people he could choose as his family, he just had to go and get two spiritual beasts who wouldn’t be swayed by his acting skills. Sighing, Qinghe rubbed his forehead.

Seeing this, Wei Yuan frowned concernedly and climbed up into Qinghe’s lap. Qinghe automatically steadied him and held him close. Wei Yuan hesitated uncertainly before carefully closing his little arms around his father in a hug. Trying to reciprocate the way his parents comforted him, Wei Yuan sloppily patted Qinghe’s back and pressed wet kisses to his father’s face. “It’ll be okay, Father.”

Qinghe felt his heart melt into a soft puddle of warm feelings. He smiled more genuinely this time. In a quiet voice, he expressed, “Thank you, Yuan-er. I’m already feeling much better.”

Seeing that his attempt at comforting had been a success, Wei Yuan beamed happily.

From beside them, Chen Xiande suddenly said, “Junior Brother, see? Isn’t it wonderful to have a child like this? But even such an adorable and lovable child like Yuan-er must have been extremely painful to give birth to. And yet, doesn’t it seem worth it now? If you had to bear a lot of pain to bring such a child into this world, then wouldn’t all that have been worth it?”

Qinghe froze and opened his mouth, then closed it. In the end, he could only nod and admit, “Senior Brother is right.”

Chen Xiande’s expression softened as he patted Qinghe’s head and continued, “It’s like that for Brother Jing and Sect Master Wu as well. All this pain is worth it for them to make a new life that they can love and cherish with all their hearts. No matter how much agony Brother Jing has to go through now, I don’t think he will ever regret it as long as he gets to have a child of his own at the end.”

Jing Shui’s voice sounded again, his scream sounding guttural and faintly exhausted. But this time, Qinghe didn’t feel as pained or desperate. This…was something his friend had chosen. This was something Jing Shui wanted. To get a child, this was a payment he was willing to make, and Qinghe didn’t want to diminish that choice by worrying like a mother hen unable to trust her chicks.

Letting out a breath, Qinghe smiled at Chen Xiande and repeated, “Senior Brother is right. I shouldn’t have gotten so worked up.” His voice turning wry, Qinghe went on, “But I have to say that Senior Brother seems to have gotten more formidable in your persuasive ability. It’s a necessary quality for a sect master to be sure, but I’m starting to miss the times when I could easily get away with things in front of you.” Qinghe pouted exaggeratedly and puffed up his cheeks in mock-dissatisfaction.

Chen Xiande laughed and poked his junior brother’s cheek. “So you say, but weren’t you the one who started me on this path of becoming a worthy sect master? Junior Brother, you only have yourself to blame.”

Qinghe stuck out his tongue while Chen Xiande chuckled cheerfully.

Jing Shui’s scream rang out again, sounding tired and worn out. Some of the lighthearted humor left Qinghe’s face, but he still didn’t grow as anxious as before. Seeing this, Chen Xiande nodded to himself in satisfaction. It could be said that after two hundred years, Chen Xiande had firmly settled into his role as Qinghe’s senior brother, caring for him whenever he could and correcting him whenever he beat himself up unnecessarily.

Wei Yuan interrupted this moment of brotherly harmony to suddenly ask, “Father, why is Uncle Jing shouting like that? What’s wrong with him?”

Qinghe smiled at his son and answered, “Didn’t we say before that your Uncle Jing is giving birth? It seems to be a very painful process, hence him screaming.”

Tilting his head, Wei Yuan commented casually, “Ah, I see. Is Uncle Jing going to poop out an egg then?”

Qinghe and Chen Xiande almost choked on air.

Struggling to compose himself, Qinghe finally got out, “Yuan-er…we talked about this before, didn’t we? Humans don’t lay eggs, they directly give birth to live babies. And…the way childbirth works for males is different from females.”

Thinking back to a certain memory, Wei Yuan showed an expression as if just remembering it.

A few months ago, when Qinghe and Wei Xiang had felt their unquenchable passion for each other abruptly rising despite their son being awake and prowling the house, they’d firmly locked the door to their room and began rolling on the bed. However, when Wei Yuan suddenly decided that he wanted to show his parents an interesting worm and found their door locked while strange sounds issued from within, he merrily climbed up the side of the house and entered the room through the window. Needless to say, the child was both shocked and curious about just what his parents were doing, wrestling naked like this. This had ended up with the couple having to give the child a detailed explanation of how people had sex and all that it entailed, including the subject of conception, pregnancy, and birth. Wei Yuan had listened intently the whole while, both fascination and disgust displayed in his face.

Though Qinghe had been utterly calm and composed on the outside while imparting that knowledge, just thinking back to it made him want to cough with remembered embarrassment. Thankfully, his Xiang had been right there with him helping explain the concepts to their child, lessening his burden.

Before Qinghe could dwell too long on that memory, his attention was redirected by the door to the small building opening. Qinghe’s back snapped upright. He only just realized that he didn’t seem to have heard Jing Shui’s screams for a while. Was it…finally over?

Without a word, Qinghe and Chen Xiande began striding towards the door, an inquisitive Wei Yuan still in Qinghe’s arms. In the distance, Wei Xiang and Hei NingYu looked at each other and also decided to head in with their respective beloveds.

The inside of the room was stuffy and smelled of sweat and pungent herbs. In the middle of the room, on the bed, laid Jing Shui, his body without strength and his eyes glazed while he weakly let out quick and short breaths in an attempt to manage his pain. The sheets under him were soaked with sweat, only the area under his abdomen painted a garish red with a pool of blood. His upper half was completely bare, and his lower belly was still open, with the edges of the cut glowing a strange white and trickles of blood continuing to ooze out. Ribbons of translucent spiritual power extended out from his open stomach, their ends ragged and waving in the air as if searching for something. The Deity of Health was bent over Jing Shui’s stomach, the usual bandages around his throat undone. The deity seemed to be singing something inaudible, and hearing his soundless song, the ribbons coming out of Jing Shui’s stomach slowly curled in on themselves and folded back into Jing Shui.

Standing beside the bed was a pale-faced Wu Xiao, his arm being gripped by Jing Shui to use as an anchor while he was adrift in an ocean of agony. His slender fingertips dug deep into Wu Xiao’s skin, embedded into his flesh to the point of even pressing into his bone, blood flowing down in unending streams. But Wu Xiao bore it silently, his free hand gently wiping away the sweat on his beloved’s brows as he murmured soothing words of comfort and encouragement. Now and then, his gaze would drift over to the side to ascertain that his newborn child was alright. An old woman with a dark blue cloth covering her head whom Qinghe recognized as Grandma Jiao was bent over the bed, industriously wiping down the rest of Jing Shui's body without saying a word. The thick steel bangles on her weathered arms clinked and clanked in a subdued manner.

At the side, the assistant of the Deity of Health, a young girl in a blue robe, held a swaddled bundle with something reddish and squirming inside that emitted soft yet insistent cries. A basin of bloodied water stood at the side, seemingly used just now to wash the baby. Liu Xue stood smiling and cooing over the newborn, her fingers oh-so-gentle as she played with the baby’s tiny fists.

As soon as they entered the room, Chen Xiande, Hei NingYu, and Wei Xiang, along with a Wei Yuan who was just lowered onto the ground, headed straight for the baby, wanting to either look at it or help with caring for it. Qinghe, on the other hand, marched towards Jing Shui with a worried frown. His voice was full of worry and a hint of panic as he called, “Brother Jing, are you alright?”

As Qinghe strode towards Jing Shui, he was suddenly stopped by a nut-brown arm blocking his path. In a raspy voice, Grandma Jiao said, “Calm yourself before you go to him. He’s agitated enough as it is. You going there in this state won’t help him any.”

Qinghe blinked at her and woodenly nodded. She was right. He was wound too tight. Seeming to sense his mood, Wei Xiang silently appeared, wrapping an arm around his waist and saying, “Love, don’t worry. Your friend is in the Deity of Health’s care. By the look of it, he’s just about done wrapping up. Your Brother Jing will be fine.”

Qinghe blinked and nodded again. With the help of Wei Xiang’s familiar and calming presence, Qinghe soon managed to get himself under control and slowly stepped forward to help care for Jing Shui while Grandma Jiao went to hold the baby. Her arms now freed, the Deity of Health’s apprentice went over to help her master.

Meanwhile, the Wei Yuan who was lifted up by Hei NingYu finally got a look at the newly born baby while it rested in Grandma Jiao’s arms. Seeing the small, wrinkly baby with blotchy, pinkish skin, Wei Yuan wrinkled his nose. He wanted to say that the baby looked like a hairless monkey, but he managed to control himself. What if the baby heard him and remembered his words? How would he be able to play with it when it grew up if the baby decided it didn’t like him for being rude this once?

Suddenly realizing something, Wei Yuan turned to Hei NingYu and whispered worriedly, “Uncle Hei, I wasn’t this ugly when I was born, was I?”

The lips of everyone in the room twitched.

Wu Xiao turned towards Wei Yuan with a glare. “What did you just say, brat?”

Realizing that he’s been able to hear what he just said, Wei Yuan blinked his eyes innocently. “Your baby is very pretty, Uncle Wu. Like a…like a…” Wei Yuan struggled to come up with a flattering comparison. His face suddenly brightening, he said, “Yes, like a strawberry!”

“…” Wu Xiao looked at him blankly, then shouted, “Do you think I’d be appeased with that!”

Wei Yuan showed a guilty expression while Qinghe and Wei Xiang were torn between laughter and tears.

Unexpectedly, Jing Shui’s voice interjected weakly, “Why? What’s wrong with strawberries? They’re cute.”

Wu Xiao’s attention was immediately redirected towards his husband. “Ah-Shui! Are you alright? Does it hurt anywhere?” Turning to the Deity of Health, Wu Xiao frantically continued, “He’s fine now, isn’t he?”

The Deity of Health had just finished healing the cut on Jing Shui’s lower belly and was allowing his apprentice to wind the length of white bandages back onto his smooth neck. Turning towards Wu Xiao, he gave a simple, quiet nod. Without looking up, his apprentice acted as her master’s mouthpiece and said, “Yes, your husband should be fine now, Cultivator Wu. Just make sure that he rests well and replenishes his spiritual energy. That means not using it for anything other than circulating it through his body. It is recommended that you and he spend as much time with your son as possible and learn how to care for him together. That is a necessary bond that parents must form, both between themselves and their child. But other than that, there’s nothing else to worry about.”

Wu Xiao let out a breath in relief and hugged Jing Shui. Grandma Jiao brought their child to them and let Jing Shui and Wu Xiao admire the new life they created with wonder and awe on their faces.

Grandma Jiao watched them with a small smile. Turning towards the others, she made a silent gesture, urging them out the door. Understanding that she was suggesting they give the family of three some space, the others all slowly exited the room, soft smiles and warm expressions on their faces.

Outside, Wei Yuan turned to Qinghe with a frown and asked worriedly, “Father Qinghe, do you think the baby heard me say it was ugly? Will it not play with me anymore after growing up?”

Qinghe and Wei Xiang looked at him with surprise. Then Qinghe smiled and reassured, “I’m sure the baby didn’t hear what you said. Just in case, why don’t you apologize the next time you see the child?”

Wei Yuan immediately regained his spirits and nodded. “Yes!”

And so, Wei Yuan became determined to say sorry and treat the baby well in the future to make up for being rude this time.

For the first few weeks after their child’s birth, Jing Shui and Wu Xiao extensively argued over which one of their surnames to give their baby. Wu Xiao wanted to name him as ‘Jing’ so that his beloved would know that he still had at least one blood-related family member left. But Jing Shui refused, saying that he didn’t want their son to be named after his detestable family. In contrast, naming the child after Wu Xiao’s family that had been so caring and warm to Wu Xiao when they were alive would be much more preferable. As a result, in the end, that’s what the couple chose to go with. Their son was finally named Wu Jiyue.

In the future, as Wei Yuan grew up, he indeed became good friends with both the younger boy Wu Jiyue and the already grown up Yan Minglan, Yan Lin’s daughter. Though in Yan Minglan’s case, it was mostly because she was often tasked with keeping the two younger boys in line and looking after them that she ended up caring for them. Having taken the elixir given to her family by Qinghe long ago that would grant her immortality just like it did to her parents, despite two hundred years having passed, Yan Minglan still looked to be a young girl. By the time the boys grew up and the visible difference in age between them and her vanished, the three would become a tight-knit group. But for now, they were still in the process of growing up and deepening their relationships.

And all the while, Wei Yuan merrily went about meeting more people and winning more hearts.

……

On a certain bright evening, Qinghe took Wei Yuan to the Spirit Bewildering Forest to meet with Kong Min and the Master of Land, Ying Xulin.

Though the reason Qinghe used outwardly was that he needed them to babysit his son, the true reason was to let Wei Yuan and Ying Xulin meet for the first time and bond. Wei Yuan had already had the chance to get close to Kong Min during his visits to the Sentinel headquarters, but he hadn’t met the reclusive Ying Xulin yet. Qinghe had thus decided that it was about time his son got acquainted with yet another of his strange uncles.

As Qinghe and Wei Yuan walked down the cleared path Ying Xulin had made especially to welcome them after knowing of their arrival, Wei Yuan looked around energetically with gleaming eyes. Running to the edge of the path, Wei Yuan pointed to the glowing blue-green mushrooms lining the sides and shouted, “Father, look! Mushies!”

Qinghe smiled. “Yes, aren’t the glowing mushrooms pretty?”

Wei Yuan nodded, then immediately snapped his attention to something else and pointed up, declaring, “Flying fishies!” Jumping in place with insuppressible excitement, Wei Yuan began calling, “Father, look, there’s flying fishies! There’s small flying fishies here!”

The creatures Wei Yuan was pointing to each had a circular black head that was indeed flat like a fish’s, with big and round eyes protruding from either side. A thin black tail directly extended from the head and was enveloped in a purplish glow that seemed to take the shape of an elongated leaf. Wherever the creature swam in the air, it left behind a trail of faint purple light.

His gaze flicking towards a swarm of these creatures floating along the path, Qinghe showed a helpless yet indulgent look. “Yes, yes, I see them. But Yuan-er, they’re not fishes but tadpoles. I suppose they belong to the violet crowned frog that’s said to dwell only in the Abyssal Fog Swamps in the Spirit Bewildering Forest.”

Wei Yuan tilted his head. “Father, what are tappoles?”

Tadpoles,” Qinghe enunciated, “are baby frogs. In ordinary cases, after directly hatching from eggs, the tadpoles can only live in water. They eventually grow legs, became able to live on land as well, and turn into frogs. If you want, we can borrow some frog eggs and grow them back home so that you can see the process for yourself.”

Wei Yuan grinned and bounced around with more vigor. “Yay! We’re getting baby frogs!”

Qinghe chuckled. His little son was so excitable that even the simplest of things could send him into a jubilatory dance.

Shadows suddenly slid over them as something blocked the sky above for a moment before moving on. Wei Yuan froze and looked up. The sight that greeted him made his mouth drop open.

Scattering the sky above them were irregular spherical clumps of earth that were barely a meter in diameter. On top of each ball of earth grew a small sapling made of white wood, it’s smooth branches adorned with icy blue leaves. The saplings’ roots seemed to have spread throughout the clumps of earth, holding the dirt together tightly and hanging down after piercing through the earthen sphere. Small and round glowing bumps grew from the exposed, dangling roots in neat columns, giving off a faint silvery radiance. The spheres of earth were connected together with a spider web of silvery threads, causing the entire group of floating saplings to drift together in the sky.

Only after the group of saplings slowly glided away out of sight did Wei Yuan regain his wits. “F-Father! There’s flying trees!” he exclaimed with a disbelieving expression.

Qinghe chuckled. “Yes. I suppose it’s the migration season for the jade-wood saplings. They’ll go to the western section of the Spirit Bewildering Forest and set down roots in the Phantom Fire Hills to absorb its unique flavor of energy for the next couple of seasons, then head back to the Frozen Cliffs.”

Hearing this, Wei Yuan’s stupefied expression turned to one of deep contemplation. The pair started walking again, and it was only a few minutes before the child once more began energetically pointing out every new wonder they came across, be it the fluffy and white cloud-like creatures sliding softly over the ground, transparent and hollow glowing rocks housing creatures resembling snails inside it, or spiny, ghost-like worms diving in and out of tree trunks as dolphins usually did in water. Every interesting sight, smell, or sound made Wei Yuan’s eyes gleam, his wide smile of awe staying undimmed.

In this way, they finally made their way to the edge of the Forest’s Cradle.

Seeing the large, straight, and tall trees on the border of the clearing, Wei Yuan happily skipped up to them and hugged one of the trunks. “Father, look! This tree is so big!”

Qinghe smiled helplessly. “Yes, it is. But so are the other trees here.”

Wei Yuan nodded, then frowned. “Father, can this tree also fly like the ones we saw before?”

Qinghe grinned. “Maybe it will if you ask your Uncle Ying.”

Wei Yuan perked up. So the Uncle Ying he was going to meet could make trees fly? How fun! Then he should definitely be on his best behavior so that his uncle will like him and make trees fly when he asked!

Seeing his little son’s expression that appeared as if he was plotting on how to charm Yin Xulin, Qinghe’s eyes shone with amusement. He made a beckoning motion and held out his hand. “Come here, Yuan-er. Let’s go and meet your Uncle Kong and Uncle Ying.”

Wei Yuan walked over and obediently held his father’s hand, happily following him into the Forest’s Cradle.

Encircled by the tall trees, the clearing was filled with diluted rays of amber light dripping down through the canopy of tightly woven branches above. The floor was a dense mass of knotted roots, not a hint of flat land to be revealed in between. Flowers with translucent petals and luminous pollen swayed at the clearing’s edges, occasionally sending out specks of dust flowing with the wind. Random pieces of furniture―like a large table with plush chairs, a few chests of drawers held in place by wooden vines, and a bed piled high with quilts and pillows―littered the clearing, seeming to blend in and turn the ancient place more comfortable and homey.

On the side opposite to where Qinghe and Wei Yuan entered the clearing from, a hammock stretched between two of the trees. Kong Min laid in the hammock, one foot dangling out and swaying to and fro merrily. Dappled with sunlight, his copper-hued skin looked especially warm. His light brown eyes were focused intently on the thick tome he was reading from. Held up in a bun as usual, his black hair looked ruffled and windswept, a few tendrils shifting lightly in the breeze.

Leaning against the tree by Kong Min’s head was Ying Xulin. His dark brown hair fell down to his knees, several locks having turned into green vines halfway and littered with small leaves and white flowers. The transparent golden stag horns he usually sprouted seemed to have been put away this time. Contrasting with his usual dark attire of a full-sleeved black inner robe under a purple sleeveless outer robe, Ying Xulin’s fair skin seemed to glow with gentle luster. His dark green eyes swirling with potent magic stayed fixed on his lover. His fingers, tipped with long claws, gently swept away the locks of Kong Min’s hair that seemed to be getting into his eyes. Kong Min murmured a thanks and continued reading. Ying Xulin smiled, his countenance full of contentment and deep peace.

Wei Yuan stared at Ying Xulin with an intent gaze. His instincts prickled with warning. But before he could act cautious, Wei Yuan heard his father say, “That’s your Uncle Ying, Yuan-er. He and your Uncle Kong will take care of you until I return later. Be good with them, okay?”

Wei Yuan relaxed. Since his father was leaving him here with this dangerous seeming person, it must mean that he won’t hurt him. Wei Yuan obviously trusted his father’s judgment far more than his own instincts. Smiling cutely, he nodded. “Okay, I’ll be good!”

Qinghe patted his head with a loving smile.

Ying Xulin looked at the little child with an uncertain and uncomfortable expression, then silently turned back to gazing at Kong Min.

Realizing that the guests he’d been waiting for had arrived, Kong Min hurriedly read a few more lines from his book before putting it away and getting down from the hammock. “Little Bro, I see that you’ve brought Yuan-er. How long should we look after him?”

“Until late evening or night, if you don’t mind,” Qinghe replied.

Kong Min nodded. “That’s not long.” Bending down, he smiled at Wei Yuan. “Did you hear that, Yuan-er? You’ll be spending time with me and your Uncle Ying today, alright?”

Wei Yuan grinned and ran up to Kong Min. “Yes!”

Kong Min chuckled and caught the child under the armpits and raised him up. “My, look how enthusiastic we are! Tell me, little nephew, who’s your favorite uncle?”

Giggling cheerfully, Wei Yuan called in his childish voice, “Minmin!”

Already used to this silly address, Kong Min laughed and brought the child close to rub their noses together affectionately. He said in a mock-solemn voice, “Yes, it is I, your Uncle Minmin.”

Wei Yuan chortled happily.

Qinghe shook his head with a smile. “I’ll be going then. Please take care of Yuan-er.”

Kong Min nodded.

Shooting one last affectionate glance at the Wei Yuan who was happily waving at him, Qinghe left the clearing.

Holding Wei Yuan to his chest, Kong Min turned to Ying Xulin while saying, “Yuan-er, see? That’s your Uncle Ying. Why don’t you greet him.”

Wei Yuan blinked his big blue eyes at Ying Xulin, then showed a bright grin. “Hello, Uncle Ying!”

Ying Xulin uneasily looked at Kong Min, then turned back to the lively child and forced himself to respond. “…Hello.”

Sensing that his lover was nervous since this was the first time he was interacting with a child, Kong Min shook his head with a small smile. Walking up to Ying Xulin, he unceremoniously handed Wei Yuan to him. “Here, Ah-Xu, hold the kid. We’ll be babysitting him in the future as well, so you should get close and familiarize yourself with him now itself.”

Ying Xulin carefully held the fragile little child in the way he’d seen Kong Min doing while his body went stiff with apprehension. At least he knew already that this child was supposed to be a male, so he didn’t have to fear misgendering him and offending hm somehow. Looking down at Wei Yuan’s inquisitive expression, Ying Xulin gulped. What should he do after this?

But Wei Yuan hardly needed an excuse to try and charm his uncle. He cheerfully wriggled in Ying Xulin’s arms and rubbed his cheek against his shoulder. Then burying his face in the crook of Ying Xulin’s neck, Wei Yuan took in a deep sniff. He smelled the earth on him, damp and full of life, along with tender green leaves warmed in the sun and dry wood. Wei Yuan sighed. “Uncle Ying, you smell very nice.”

The anxiety fluttering in Ying Xulin’s chest lessened. “I…I see. Thank you.”

Wei Yuan straightened and grinned. “Uncle Ying, you’re very comfy for cuddling.”

Ying Xulin looked vaguely confused, but he still nodded to accept what he thought should be a compliment. “Thank you. You feel comfortable to hold as well.”

Wei Yuan brightened. “Then we’ll cuddle a lot in the future! Ah, but we should also include Uncle Minmin or he’ll get lonely.”

Kong Min rolled his eyes with a chuckle. “I’m glad you didn’t forget me in favor of your new uncle, brat.”

His expression softening, Ying Xulin showed a small smile to Wei Yuan. “Yes, I would like that.”

Kong Min felt his heart warming. It seemed that his lover was finally opening up a bit to the kid. Feeling cheerful, Kong Min suggested, “Yuan-er, would you like to eat something? Did you already have lunch?”

Wei Yuan nodded quickly. “Yes, yes, I want to eat!”

Chuckling, Kong Min motioned towards the table. “Let’s eat there then.”

Wanting to be set down, Wei Yuan shimmied in Ying Xulin’s arms. Ying Xulin bent and carefully placed the child on his feet. Wei Yuan nimbly navigated the uneven ground and ran up to sit on one of the chairs before bringing out boxes of food from his newly acquired private storage space. The moment he’d gotten his own spatial storage, he had happily stuffed it full of his favorite food, so he had quite a lot of it now. Kong Min and Ying Xulin joined him at the table as well, sitting down on either side of him, and Wei Yuan generously shared his food with them.

“So, Yuan-er, how is school going? Is there any boy or girl who caught your fancy?” Kong Min asked with twinkling eyes.

Wei Yuan frowned. “Father Qinghe and Father Xiang help me with my homework and explain stuff, so school’s easy. But I don’t understand what you mean by catching a fancy boy or girl.”

Kong Min chuckled. “I meant, is there someone you like very, very much and want to spend a lot of time with? Someone you’d want to cuddle with and smooch?”

Wei Yuan scrunched his nose. “Oh. That. No, definitely not.”

Kong Min suppressed his laughter at the child’s less than thrilled expression. It seemed that his little nephew still had ways to go before he became interested in people that way. “Well, let’s put that aside then. How about your training? Are you learning a lot with your Father Qinghe and grandmother?”

Wei Yuan perked up. “Yes, and it’s very fun! Grandmother said that if I kept doing this good, she’ll give me a special and sharp dagger of my own soon!”

Kong Min felt complicated. Was it even a good idea to give a weapon to a child? But knowing that his master was there in that house too, Kong Min could at least be assured that he would take care of any problems.

Meanwhile, Wei Yuan was peeking up at his other uncle from the corner of his eye. All this while, Ying Xulin had remained quiet and still. Not wanting him to feel left out, Wei Yuan used his chopsticks to laboriously pick up a certain piece of fruit and held it in front of Ying Xulin. “Uncle Ying, quick, eat it before it falls down.”

Ying Xulin blinked, but seeing how the fruit was indeed beginning to slide down, he took it into his mouth without delay. Wei Yuan grinned happily and held up another piece of fruit. In this way, the child began feeding Ying Xulin. Kong Min simply smiled and remained silent to let his lover bond with the boy.

Once the fruit pieces were fully consumed, Wei Yuan merrily moved on to feed Ying Xulin other things while chattering about what he liked or disliked about the food.

“Here, Uncle Ying, try this! It’s spicy and chewy and nice. It also has a lot of juice though, so don’t let it drip! Last time when Father Xiang made some for dinner, the juice fell all over my favorite belt and made it unusable.” Wei Yuan’s cheeks puffed up displeasedly at that remembered accident.

Ying Xulin’s gaze was warm as he solemnly replied, “Yes, I will take care. Thank you for warning me.”

Wei Yuan’s mood immediately brightened. “That’s good.”

As the pair kept chatting, Kong Min quickly finished his food and decided to braid his Ah-Xu’s hair to pass the time. Ying Xulin cooperatively held still and let his beloved play with his hair as he liked.

In the meantime, Wei Yuan was done feeding Ying Xulin all the messy foods and moved onto sharing some of the flat circles of hard rice treats with him. These treats were the size of an adult’s palm and extremely difficult to break off with one’s teeth alone. Wei Xiang had made these for Wei Yuan to chew on when he was teething as a human baby. Back then, it had taken several weeks of dedicated chewing for Wei Yuan to make a dent on even one of them. Even now, it took a full day for him to fully break up and finish a single treat.

However, to Wei Yuan’s disbelief, Ying Xulin unconcernedly crunched on one of them and finished it in seconds.

Unable to hide his awe, Wei Yuan exclaimed, “Uncle Ying, your teeth are so sharp and strong! Can I touch them?”

Ying Xulin nodded before bending down and cooperatively opening his mouth. Wei Yuan stuck a hand in, eyes shining with curiosity. As the child’s fingers felt up his sharp incisors, Ying Xulin’s hand hovered over Wei Yuan’s wrist, ready to gently guide his fingers away in case he was about to cut himself.

Just then, Kong Min finished with plaiting Ying Xulin’s hair and said, “Yuan-er, would you like to finish your Uncle Ying’s hair by finding some good flowers and putting them in? I’ll help you too if you want.”

Wei Yuan retrieved his fingers from within Ying Xulin’s mouth and nodded at Kong Min. “Yes! Can I take the glowy flowers from near the trees?”

Kong Min smiled. “Yes, it shouldn’t be a problem. Isn’t that right, Ah-Xu?” he asked, turning to his lover.

Ying Xulin nodded. “Yes, take as many as you’d like.”

Wei Yuan leapt down from the chair and grinned happily. “Then I’ll take the best ones to put in Uncle Ying’s hair!” Saying so, the little boy scurried away to crouch down and carefully examine the flowers littering the clearing’s edge.

Kong Min and Ying Xulin watched the child carefully peering at each flower, assessing their worth with pursed lips until his eyes went cross from concentration. Once he decided that a flower met his high standards, Wei Yuan would carefully pluck it and tenderly cradle it in his arms before setting off to look for another. Within half an hour, Wei Yuan had picked an armful of flowers that he thought were the best of all and walked up to place them on the table.

Next, he dragged a chair behind the one Ying Xulin was sitting on and stood atop it to study his uncle’s braided hair with his little hands on his hips. Sitting at the side, Kong Min rested his chin on a palm and watched his little nephew with interest. Wei Yuan carefully deliberated before choosing a flower to tuck into a particular part of the braid, then continued to add more flowers in so that it would form a straight line down the middle of the braid. Once he was done tucking all the flowers in, Wei Yuan got down from the chair and declared, “It’s a bit wobbly, but I think it looks very nice.”

Ying Xulin nodded and sincerely said, “Yes, I’m sure it looks great. Thank you…Yuan-er.” He felt a little awkward while using the little hatchling’s name for the first time, but Wei Yuan didn’t even notice as he beamed up at him cheerfully.

Kong Min’s eyes twinkled as he saw two of his precious people growing closer. He had to say, as open and talkative as his dear nephew was, it would be difficult for anyone to stay cold with him for long. It was all too easy to get caught up in that wide and charming smile of his, bubbling with happy energy.

Wei Yuan went back to eating his food and feeding Ying Xulin. Once the food was gone, Wei Yuan looked up at Ying Xulin with expectant eyes. “Uncle Ying, do you want to play with me?”

Ying Xulin felt a little nervous, but he’d also grown to feel comfortable with the cheery little hatchling by now. Nodding, he said, “Yes. How would you like to play?”

Wei Yuan vibrated with excitement as he immediately said, “Can you make trees fly?”

Kong Min looked at the child incredulously.

But Ying Xulin didn’t even hesitate before nodding. “Yes, I can. Which tree would you like me to make fly?”

Wei Yuan quickly pointed to the tree he’d hugged just before and said with eyes gleaming excitedly, “There, that one!”

Ying Xulin wordlessly lifted a hand. The wild magic suffusing the clearing thickened, gathering under Ying Xulin before surging forward. The tree Wei Yuan chose trembled. With snapping sounds, the trunk of the tree bulged in two places on either side before new branch-like protrusions extended out, forming into the shape of wing bones. Leaves began sprouting on them, covering the wing-shaped branches in a thick and dense layer as if to mimic feathers. The tree flapped its new foliaged wings in slow motions, making crackling sounds.

The powerful gusts of wind resulting from the large wings blew back their hair. With stunned expressions, Kong Min and Wei Yuan watched the tree’s transformation. On the other hand, Ying Xulin studied the tree’s wings critically, trying to figure out if this size was enough to carry the tree’s weight or if he needed to extend the wings more.

As the tree strained upward, the ground under it quivered due to its roots being pulled out. Infused by old magic and aided by its metamorphosis, the tree freed itself from the hold of the earth and gradually floated up. It’s roots jerked out of the ground and the tree beat its wooden wings with more vigor, gaining height. The canopy of intertwined branches above the clearing shifted and parted to make space for the tree taking flight. It floated up and up, flying into the sky over the Forest’s Cradle. It flew in circles while twisting and twirling in the sky, its long roots trailing behind it like ribbons as it performed tricks to entertain the little child watching it.

Wei Yuan jumped and clapped in fervent enthusiasm, his joyful laughter and the open wonder in his expression bringing a pleased smile to Ying Xulin’s face.

Kong Min’s lips twitched. Should they even be showing something so unrealistic to his little nephew? Wouldn’t he end up thinking that flying trees were normal then? But considering the type of strange household the boy was growing up in, Kong Min decided that flying trees would be the least of the little one’s worries. Letting out a soul-weary sigh, Kong Min gave in. He would just have to have a talk with his little nephew later and try to make him understand that he shouldn’t expect every tree to fly and perform on demand. Ahh, he’d never thought there’d be a day when he’d be the one to act as the responsible person…

Meanwhile, Wei Yuan was hopping up and down with uncontrollable excitement. With a wide smile and sparkling eyes, he pleaded, “Uncle Ying, more! Do more!”

And watching his sweet little nephew’s entreating gaze, how could the completely enamored Ying Xulin refuse?

As a result, for the first time ever, with gaping mouths and wide eyes, the people of this world saw the surreal sight of a flock of trees flying in the sky above the Spirit Bewildering Forest.

……

Wei Yuan spent his days learning and playing while being lovingly pampered by his parents, grandparents, and uncles. He was glad to have such a large family full of such nice people, and spending each day with them was so much fun. But Wei Yuan also began to think it was strange how he had no spiritual beast relatives except Zheng Xuan.

Wei Yuan had long ago been told how his Father Xiang was actually his biological brother and that the many eggs in the egg chamber he had been born in would also hatch into their siblings in the future. Though Wei Yuan had thought it strange, he had eventually grown to accept it. For him, his Father Xiang would be his father as long as he accepted and treated him as his son. He knew that he was fortunate to have his Father Xiang and Father Qinghe as parents and didn’t intend to change anything in their already comfortable relationship.

But that still left the question: What happened to his Father Xiang’s and his own parents?

One day, Wei Yuan grew curious and asked Wei Xiang about it. For some reason, the Father Qinghe who was standing nearby looked vaguely worried while his Father Xiang only smiled a small, calm smile and asked, “They died a long time ago. Would you like to go see their resting place?”

Wei Yuan had bobbed his head in agreement, but Qinghe called hesitantly. “Xiang…are you sure? Do you feel…ready?”

Wei Xiang nodded. “It’s time. And no matter how long I wait, I might never feel any more ready than this.”

Qinghe sighed. “Very well, then. I suppose you should notify the dragons that we’ll be visiting their Mausoleum of Sovereigns.”

And that was what Wei Xiang did.

On a certain cloudy day, Qinghe, Wei Xiang, Wei Yuan, and Zheng Xuan set out to visit the burial chamber of Wei Xiang’s and Wei Yuan’s parents. Since it was something only a Sovereign’s direct family, their spouses, or their personal guards could visit, Xie Xingye, Feng Huixin, and Feng Chunyi could not accompany them.

The Mausoleum of Sovereigns was located in an idyllic pocket dimension that could only be accessed from the back of the dragon Sovereign’s palace. The silver-haired dragon elder who was the who had headed the three elders who tried to make trouble for Qinghe and Wei Xiang the last time they visited was the one who served as their guide this time. He led the group through the pocket dimension’s entrance and into a flat plain covered in an even layer of bright green grass. In contrast to the weather outside, the skies inside the dimension were a clear, piercing blue with thready white clouds floating peacefully.

Rising up from the ground in the middle of the green field was a pure white tower with curling golden roofs adorning the top of each level. The tower had twelve sides and rose up to hundreds of levels. From the distance, it was like a bright, ethereal needle piercing the sky. Cradled between the verdant green fields and serene blue skies, the tower seemed to be wrought of hazy dreams that would be forgotten the moment one took their eyes away from it.

Wei Yuan’s eyes shone at this scene and he happily began prancing around on the grass. Wei Xiang and Qinghe smiled while Zheng Xuan cautioned in an affectionate voice, “Xiao Yuan…be careful. Don’t run around…like that…or you might…fall.”

“Yes~” Wei Yuan said and skipped back towards his parents. He lifted his arms and held one each of Qinghe’s and Wei Xiang’s hands, settling in between them.

The silver-haired elder narrowed his eyes, but only said, “We should begin.”

The group started walking, heading directly towards the tower.

Looking around at the almost empty dimension with bright eyes, Wei Yuan asked curiously, “Why is that white building all alone in here? Shouldn’t it be outside with the other buildings?”

Before anyone could reply, the silver-haired dragon elder puffed up his chest and proclaimed in a grand manner, “Dragons are glorious beings whose physical bodies are too precious down to the very last hair. It is especially so for our Sovereigns who are lauded as the strongest of our kind. Due to that, disrespectful knaves often seek to steal their remains to sell or use in powerful spells. Those unsavory types had made many attempts and almost even succeeded in desecrating the Sovereigns’ tombs a few times. Something like that happening to our divine rulers is unthinkable! As a result, we have chosen to build this tower in here to convey our respect to them and inter the remains of our beloved Sovereigns so that only those who are deemed worthy can even think of approaching close to them.”

Wei Yuan blinked at him and said blankly, “Ah, I see.”

The silver-haired elder’s face spasmed at this lackadaisical response. Reducing his imposing manner, he smiled and tried to put on the airs of a kind grandpa to connect better with the child. “Young Prince Wei, you might not know, but your legacy is a special one. You might not be a full-blooded dragon, but we of the True Dragon Clan will still welcome you with open arms if you ever choose to visit us and learn about your proud heritage.”

Wei Yuan blinked at him again and asked, “Do you all have flying trees?”

The silver-haired elder’s eyebrow twitched. “…I’m afraid not.”

Shrugging, Wei Yuan looked away, already losing interest. “Then it sounds boring.”

Inside his sleeves, the silver-haired elder clenched his fists. What sort of strange criteria was this child using to determine the worth of visiting the mighty True Dragon Clan?! How could he decide it just like that?!

At the side, Qinghe’s and Wei Xiang’s eyes danced with suppressed laughter, but they didn’t say anything. Even if their son truly wanted to visit the True Dragon Clan, they would still support his decision and let him make his own choices as long as he allowed them to send someone with him to assure his safety. However, that didn’t mean that they wouldn’t feel gleeful and entertained at this helpless sight of the silver-haired elder.

Walking at the back of the group, Zheng Xuan simply shook his head. Maybe this dragon elder had grown too old to remember what appealed to children. As old as he was, even Zheng Xuan knew that the pompous way he was acting wouldn’t endear him to the child at all.

Coughing to regain his composure, the silver-haired elder tried another approach. “We might not have flying trees, but we have children around your age that you might like to play with. Especially my grandson. He’s an adorable child only a year or two younger than you. Would you like to spend time with him?” If even a single person from their clan could make a connection through which this child could be influenced in the future, he’d consider it a success!

Not knowing his thoughts, Wei Yuan perked up. “That sounds like fun!” Maybe if he had a dragon friend, he could fly with him in his wyvern form and learn things about being spiritual beasts together! Turning to his parents, Wei Yuan asked, “Can I go play with the dragon boy?”

The silver-haired elder smoothly added, “Even if Sovereign Wei and Deity Feng do not wish to send your son alone to the True Dragon Clan, we can allow our Xiao Shang, Shang Riyao, to visit your residence to spend time with Young Prince Wei.”

Qinghe and Wei Xiang shared a glance. They could already guess what this elder was planning. But they also had faith in their son. In the end, Qinghe patted Wei Yuan’s head and nodded. “Very well, if the dragon child doesn’t mind coming to play with our Yuan-er, then there is nothing to object.”

“Yay!” Wei Yuan jumped up and down cheerfully.

Showing a satisfied smile, the silver-haired elder threw a jab, “It is good that Deity Feng didn’t let your prejudices get in the way of your child’s happiness. Your stubbornness to go against us in certain matters recently has been most petty, so I was afraid you would once again disregard common sense and choose to oppose us.”

Wei Xiang’s eyes narrowed with a dangerous gleam while Qinghe merely smiled, the sharpness in his gaze hidden. “By those ‘certain recent matters’, I’m assuming you mean our refusal to pardon one of your elders and dragging him to the heavenly court to be trialed after the way he attempted to orchestrate my son’s kidnapping?”

The silver-haired elder gritted his teeth. “Deity Feng, you crossed too many boundaries at that time! We can even forgive how you manipulated us in the situation with the wyvern eggs. But on top of that, you went so far as to extort land and other assets from us recently even after we agreed to let you punish the offending elder! How arrogant of you to ask us to bow our head that far! What do you take the True Dragon Clan as?!”

Qinghe shot him an amused glance. “Extort? I merely asked you to follow the terms of the contract you and your fellow elders signed two hundred years ago. I kept up my half of it, and yet you dragons seem unable to fulfill your part of the bargain. The compensation we exacted from your clan in return for its kidnapping attempt was just and exactly as stipulated in the contract.”

The silver-haired elder was unable to retort against that, so he could only switch his target and say, “Sovereign Wei, do you share your human mate’s views as well?”

Wei Xiang looked uninterested. “Everything that has to be said has already been stated by my husband. What more do you want me to add?”

“The True Dragon Clan was the home of your mother, the Sovereign Song Xia. She was beloved by us and we honor her memory even now. Is it wrong for us to ask for some leniency from you on her behalf? Shouldn’t you have shown your support for us at least for your mother’s sake?” the silver-haired elder said self-righteously.

Wei Xiang froze, the corners of his lips lifting in a silent snarl. “You dare say she was beloved by you lot after everything your dragon court did to her? Did you forget how you all pried her from her mate and hatchlings, using her as a puppet in your politics before sending her to her death in the battlefield? How many fucking holes do you think I have in my head to believe your delusional bullshit?! Why don’t you recite your nonsense to the air and spray your saliva on a moldering wall, you slimy-tongued viper!”

Heavy silence echoed in the wake of his outburst. Unable to get out words in his fury, the silver-haired elder went red in the face.

“Xiao Xiang,” Zheng Xuan said quietly, placing a hand on his shoulder.

Wei Xiang halted. He took in a deep breath and let it out. Once he was able to bring his anger under control, he resumed walking, his expression somewhat stiff. Qinghe wrapped an arm around his shoulders in silent comfort while Wei Yuan hugged his waist, looking up worriedly with big blue eyes. “Father Xiang?”

Wei Xiang’s face unconsciously softened. He bent down to lift up his son and Wei Yuan snuggled up to him, rubbing his cheek over Wei Xiang’s in a silent show of placation. Wei Xiang’s gaze warmed. “I’m fine, Xiao Yuan. Thank you.”

Recovering his voice just then, the silver-haired elder choked out, “S-Such impudence! Wyvern Sovereign Wei! You―!”

Frowning, Zheng Xuan interrupted the silver-haired elder, “Your court has…broken up his family…enough. You pulled apart…his mother and father…and now you try…to take away…the brothers and sisters…he wants to raise…as his own children. Just how much…must you torment him…before you all are satisfied?”

Rebuked like this by the Zheng Xuan who was much respected among the dragons after his return from exile, the silver-haired elder could only shut up and glare at Wei Xiang silently.

Seeing his seething gaze, Wei Yuan puffed up his cheeks and scolded him, “You! Stop making Father Xiang grumpy, or Father Qinghe will make you cry!”

Qinghe burst into laughter while Zheng Xuan suppressed a chuckle. Even the Wei Xiang whose mood had begun to worsen again cracked a smile. This child was too adorable to let them keep up their anger.

Meanwhile, the silver-haired elder was once again struggling to compose himself. As much as he wanted to shout at the child, he knew that he had to control himself. The adults of this family were a lost cause. But at least the child should be relatively easy to influence and open to persuasion. He couldn’t alienate him and risk losing the chance.

Stabilizing his emotions, the silver-haired elder put away all his disgruntlement and showed a strained smile to the little boy. “Young Prince Wei, it was not my intention to make your father angry. I keep trying to make amends, but your parents always behave in a hostile manner towards me. Maybe you could help me convince them that I mean them no harm?”

Qinghe raised an eyebrow. Did this elder really think that children were that blind or stupid?

Wei Yuan frowned dissatisfiedly. “That’s because you keep saying mean things. If you sincerely say you’re sorry, Father Xiang won’t be mad at you.”

The silver-haired elder froze.

A hint of humor appeared in Wei Xiang’s eyes. He mercilessly prodded, “Xiao Yuan is right. If you and everyone else involved in angering me can bend your backs and sincerely apologize to me, I can consider letting you off.” Turning to his son, he continued, “What I said is reasonable, isn’t it Xiao Yuan?”

Wei Yuan nodded with a wise expression on his chubby little face. “Yes, Father Xiang is right!”

Stiffening, the silver-haired elder glared at Wei Xiang and sputtered, “A youngster like you demanding bows from your elders is too―! Such insolence!”

Wei Xiang shook his head with pretend-sadness. “As long as you lot hold on to that pride and refuse to admit your wrongs or make amends, I’m afraid we can’t be friends. How regrettable.” Hugging his son tighter, Wei Xiang said to him, “See, Xiao Yuan? I tried, but he’s refusing to even apologize.”

Wei Yuan shot a displeased look at the elder before directing a sympathetic expression towards his father. Patting Wei Xiang’s jaw, he seriously said, “It’s alright, Father Xiang. You already have lots of good friends, so don’t feel sad about losing a bad friend.”

Wei Xiang nodded as if solemnly accepting his consoling. “My Xiao Yuan is so wise. I’ll listen to you then.”

Qinghe’s eyes watered from containing his laughter while Zheng Xuan chuckled silently with his head turned away. Oh, this was too adorable!

The silver-haired elder gave up. There was no curing this family, hmph! He could only place his hopes on his grandson and trust that he’d win over the wyvern child before turning him against his parents and bringing him over to the dragons’ side.

After this discussion full of twists and turns finally wound down, silence slowly settled on the group. Under the influence of the wide blue sky stretching above, the expanse of green plains sprawling below, and the fresh breeze blowing through, the tense mood from before gradually cleared up.

All the time, the tower had been getting closer and closer. Soon, they reached its base and climbed up a short set of stairs onto a wide, railing-less platform. A simple and meticulously neat white staircase wound around the outside of the building, snaking through the gaps cut into the wide golden roofs while being shielded by it. The silver-haired elder took the lead in climbing up and the group followed after him. Wei Yuan happily scampered up. Of all the activities he liked to do, he loved climbing up tall structures the most, with flying a very close second.

While the child hopped up the steps cheerfully, the atmosphere around Qinghe, Wei Xiang, and Zheng Xuan was somber. Walking at the back, Zheng Xuan’s eyes were full of deep thoughts and remembrances of times long ago. Meanwhile, Qinghe kept peeking up at his husband, trying to see if he was alright. Wei Xiang eventually had to pull his beloved close, kiss his forehead, and reassure him that he was fine before Qinghe stopped looking so worried.

Holding Wei Xiang’s hand, Qinghe let himself relax a bit, his mind drifting back to the time around half a century ago.

The pair of husbands had been poking around in the wyvern’s secret dimension in the Spirit Bewildering Forest, trying to see if they could find anything interesting left behind by Wei Xiang’s mother, when they came across a stone crypt, it’s entrance buried under eons worth dust and debris. Inside laid the remains of Wei Xiang’s father and the first generation wyverns, Wei Xiang’s siblings. After some discussion, Wei Xiang and Qinghe had decided to leave the wyverns in the place they were born and raised in, only taking Wei Xiang’s father’s coffin with them to the heavenly realm to inter him beside Sovereign Song Xia’s final resting place in the Mausoleum of Sovereigns. But instead of accepting the True Dragon Clan’s invitation to preside over his father’s reinterring, for some reason, Wei Xiang had instead given Zheng Xuan that responsibility and had stayed back home in the Feng residence.

That whole day, Wei Xiang had stayed in a strange mood. He’d spent all his time sitting in the Feng residence’s library, looking over his mother’s journals and other books detailing the events around his parents. Finding him poring over the ancient tomes, Qinghe had wordlessly sat down on a nearby table, taking out his writing tools and the reports he needed to finish for the heavenly court by the next day. In this way, the couple spent their time silently in each other’s company.

After a few hours, as the light of day faded into dusk, casting the inside of the library in warm and nostalgic hues, Wei Xiang finally began talking. He spoke about what he’d pieced together about his parents, and Qinghe intently listened.

From what his mother had written about him, his father, Wei Zan, seemed to have been a carefree and easygoing person despite being the Sovereign of the entire Metal Serpent Clan. He had several advisors and aides who would take care of most of his work, leaving him to roam freely around his territory and cause mischief. That was how came across Wei Xiang’s mother for the first time.

Wei Zan was particularly skilled with making magical mirrors out of an amalgamation of his scales and silver, but seldom found any use for his creations. Wei Xiang’s mother Song Xia, on the other hand, was skilled with spatial manipulation; especially things like creating dimensions, making spatial storages, connecting two places using transportation arrays and the like.

Later, Song Xia had to leave her mate and children to return to the heavenly realm due to her deal with the dragon court, exchanging her freedom for the lives of her family and loyal guards. But not content to be separated from his mate, Wei Zan made a pair of special mirrors, one for him and one for his lover. Before leaving, Song Xia connected the two mirrors using her ability so that she and her beloved mate—and later, their hatchlings—would be able to communicate with each other even if they were in different realms. She then hid away her mirror in a small spatial pocket within her storage space so that the dragons wouldn’t find out. In this way, the pair used the mirrors to secretly keep in touch even while apart.

Millennia later, when the dragon queen fell in battle, her mate died as well. Because even though no one knew, their souls were tied together. They had been bonded their whole lives without either of them finding out till the end. It seemed that they had tied themselves to each other in a past life, the soul bond following them into this life without them needing to create it anew, persevering till the end.

As Wei Xiang talked about it all, his gaze had been complicated, a sense of wistfulness detectable. Here were the two people who had brought him into this world, and yet they had already been so far away when he was born. It made him uncertain about how to face them now, and so he kept putting off his meeting with their remains. But no matter how much time passed, Wei Xiang didn’t feel any more prepared to visit their graves. For this reason, he kept delaying his visit.

Decades later, when Wei Yuan curiously asked him about their parents, Wei Xiang finally decided that at least for his son’s sake, he would face this. Wei Yuan deserved to know about this and have the chance to see his parents graves, and he deserved to have both his adoptive parents there beside him when he did.

And so they were now here, visiting Wei Xiang’s parents’ final resting place for the first time.

After about an hour of climbing stairs, the silver-haired elder finally stopped on a certain floor. He got off the staircase and crossed the veranda that encircled this level of the tower before heading in through the giant stone archway inlaid with delicate gold filigree and set with fist-sized gemstones. A series of doors waited within, and the silver-haired elder used different keys to enter each one. The group followed him all the way inside silently until they reached their destination.

The room was large, cylindrical, and airy, constructed entirely of the same white stone as the outside of the tower. The chamber’s walls were carved to show different images and aspects of a single dragon. Her eyes were set with radiant gems while each of her scales seemed to have been individually crafted with gold and fixed into the reliefs. She stood tall and imposing in one carving, a regal queen reigning supreme, while she was shown as wise and calm in another, thinking solemnly of the welfare of her people. In one relief, she stood with battle armor, a grim and determined expression on her face as she wielded weapons, but in yet another, she gently cradled a clutch of eggs, her eyes unfathomably tender. Many such sculpted figures lined the walls, grandly celebrating the various faces of the Sovereign.

The wall facing the entranceway was left free of any carvings. A knee-high platform was situated in front of it with two coffins placed side by side atop the platform. Hanging on the wall directly above the pair of coffins was the painting of a couple, presumably of the two people currently interred here. Both of the coffins resting under it were made of dark brown wood shining with faint luster. One of them had a golden lid etched with a majestic dragon while the other coffin had a blank silver lid that shone like a mirror. A transparent dome of spells the height of a person covered the entire platform. Its job was to both prevent anyone from tampering with the coffins and to contain the power of the deceased held within. If left alone, each of the Sovereigns’ power would have long suffused the tower, intermingling and changing the environment here.

The atmosphere in the room felt hushed and dry. An air of solemnity and reverence weighed the spacious chamber, seeming to turn even the cheerful sunlight subdued and muted. But there was nevertheless a sense of timeless peace and still calm permeating the room, as if nothing had moved here for an eternity and nothing would move in the future as well. Everything here had found its place and was content to rest here until it turned to dust.

Qinghe looked at the coffins, then lifted his head to study the painting hanging above. In it, a dark-haired woman sat on a worn bench under a wisteria tree, while a silver-haired man laid sprawled on it, his head resting on her lap. Strings of purple blossoms hung in curtains both behind and above them as if to form a protective canopy gently enfolding the couple. Lit with daylight, a soft and warm glow suffused the scenery, lending a tender and poignant air to the scene.

The posture of the woman in the painting was balanced and poised, with a hint of majesty and readiness for battle that seemed to have softened in the man’s presence. Her skin was a creamy white tinted with the warm gold of sunlight dripping down from above. She wore a plain white robe with simple gold embroidery adorning the lapels and hem. Her hair was a deep ebony that turned slightly wavy near the ends, with streaks of brown intercepting the shining locks. Small frown lines were etched between her arching brows, but her forehead stayed smooth and unwrinkled now. Her eyes were a profound black, fixed on the man using her lap as a pillow with an exasperated look tinted with calm affection. Her lips were slightly raised at the corners, yet it seemed that her face was too used to remaining stiff to allow her any more of a smile.

The man lying on her lap was far more expressive. His gleaming blue eyes shone with vivid emotions as he gazed lovingly at the woman, his entire attention seeming wrapped around her. Mischievousness, teasing, contentment, peace, and joy radiated from him. One of his hands was placed on his stomach while the fingers of the other lifted up a lock of the woman’s hair to his lips. Colored a dark honey, his lips were pulled up in a playful grin while his body laid loose and boneless on the bench. His skin was tinted with honey, the exact hue as Wei Xiang’s. He was dressed in a sleeveless gray outer robe that flowed like water over his form. His shining inner robe was a shade or two darker than true silver, the same color as his thick and straight hair. Black thread adorned his sleeves and the border of his outer robe. His lean body looked full of energy, ready to leap up at any time. Yet he stayed still and obedient in the presence of the woman he loved.

Together, the woman, Song Xia, and the man, Wei Zan, looked like a harmonious couple spending time quietly together, free of worries and responsibilities.

As he studied the painting, Qinghe’s eyes kept being drawn towards all the little details in their expressions, postures, and other physical attributes that resembled Wei Xiang and Wei Yuan. Thinking how these two people would be unable to see their sons now, Qinghe felt his heart grow heavy.

Beside him, Wei Yuan was also looking intently at the painting of the two people that his parents had said he was born from. He stared transfixed at the man’s tarnished-silver-colored hair and blue eyes, and the woman’s calm gaze and steady temperament. He could feel his connection to them through the picture. The strange sense of familiarity he felt with them was same as what he felt with his own Father Xiang, the unmistakable tie of blood.

For a moment, Wei Yuan felt regret that he wasn’t able to get to know these two people before they went away. But looking at his Father Xiang and Father Qinghe, that strange, tight feeling in his chest loosened. Even if his and his Father Xiang’s real parents were gone, Wei Yuan was still glad to have been adopted by his current parents, being able to soak in their affection and company every day. He was happy with his current life.

Seeing Wei Yuan’s gaze on the painting filled with many thoughts, Wei Xiang smiled and patted his head. “Xiao Yuan, after we return home, would you like me to tell you stories about them?”

Wei Yuan snapped out of his contemplations and nodded excitedly, his eyes shining with curiosity.

“Now that we are here, we shall pay respects to the Sovereign…and also her mate,” the silver-haired elder spoke.

The elder, Zheng Xuan, and Wei Xiang knelt on the ground and bowed down. Wei Yuan blinked at them and rushed to copy their actions. Qinghe slowly followed suit as well.

When they rose back up, Wei Xiang looked at his husband with surprise. He knew that his Qinghe was too prideful to bow simply for the sake of upholding traditions. If he ever made a gesture of respect, it would only be because he truly meant it.

Seeing his beloved’s expression, Qinghe showed a small smile. “I wanted to show my gratitude towards your parents for existing and thank them for bringing my Xiang and Yuan-er into this world. If nor for them, then the two most precious people in my life would never have been born.”

Wei Xiang hugged him tightly, hiding his expression in Qinghe’s shoulder. “Thank you, love.”

Qinghe patted his back, his smile soft.

“Father Qinghe, I want a huggy too!” Wei Yuan demanded.

Laughing, Qinghe lifted him up with his free arm and pulled him close in an embrace. Wei Xiang used an arm to wrap around his adorable son too. As the family of three stayed pressed together like this, Zheng Xuan smiled quietly while the silver-haired elder let out a dissatisfied huff and strode outside. He’d see how long this closeness would last after his grandson managed to pry that brat away from the Feng household!

With this intention, a few weeks after the visit to the grave, the silver-haired elder’s grandson Shang Riyao was sent to the Feng residence to play with Wei Yuan. But as the two children grew more friendly with each other, Wei Yuan happily dragged the little dragon off to the mortal realm to meet his other two friends, the younger child Wu Jiyue and adult Yan Minglan.

As the three boys became closer and grew up under the care of Yan Minglan, the silver-haired elder stroked his beard with satisfaction. Good! If the situation kept proceeding like this, it was only a matter of time before he could start using his grandson to plant suggestions into that wyvern child’s mind and turn him over to their side!

But little did the elder know that it was his grandson who had ended up being utterly taken in. Not only did Shang Riyao become a loyal friend to Wei Yuan and grow to respect Yan Minglan, he was also irrevocably charmed by a clueless Wu Jiyue to the point of having stars in his eyes whenever he saw him. Would there still be any chance for him to listen to his grandfather and act against Wei Yuan?

But unknowing of what the future held for his grandson, the silver-haired elder merrily continued plotting his plans that, alas, would never reach fruition.

……

On a certain day, Qinghe and Wei Xiang ended up needing to take care of a rampaging ancient beast in the heavenly realm that had broken free of its seals and began wreaking havoc.

Unfortunately, Feng Huixin had gone just today to deal with something in the Order of Sentinels while Feng Chunyi and her most trusted warriors were out visiting chaos to a certain city that seemed to have started secretly amassing powerful deities and training them with the purpose of infiltrating and planning a coup d'état in the heavenly capital.

Not willing to disturb either of them while they were busy, Qinghe and Wei Xiang decided that together, they would be more than enough to handle this issue and began preparing to take on the berserk creature. In the meantime, since there would be no one at home to look after Wei Yuan, the couple invited Xie Xingye and Zheng Xuan to come and watch over the child for a bit.

Before Qinghe left with Wei Xiang, he didn’t forget to warn the two babysitters, “Uncle Xie, Uncle Zheng, since it’s getting late and nearing Yuan-er’s bedtime, he might try to sneak out to play in the forest again while hiding his presence. Please stay with him until you’re sure that he is really asleep.”

Xie Xingye grinned and nodded, “Yes, leave it to us and go play with your husband.”

And so, reassured, the couple had left Wei Yuan to the dependable Zheng Xuan and the not-so-dependable Xie Xingye.

Now faced with the task of babysitting, Xie Xingye looked at the child consideringly. He wasn’t used to dealing with children, and he even felt slightly panicked at the thought of something so fragile, impressionable, and vulnerable being near him. What if he hurt the child accidentally? It made him quite anxious. But thankfully, his Lord Zheng was here to make sure he wouldn’t end up inadvertently doing anything bad, so Xie Xingye felt more or less at ease. And seeing how adorable this child looked—with big blue eyes blinking inquisitively, round and rosy cheeks that seemed so soft, and hair a couple of shades darker than silver turned messy after a day of playing—he couldn’t deny that he was curious to spend some time with him and indulge in the child’s company. After all, this would be the first time in years that he’d gotten to see this nephew of his.

Meanwhile, Wei Yuan was also studying Xie Xingye. Though he vaguely recalled this uncle’s scent as if they’d met before, he couldn’t remember much about him. And it was no surprise, since he had still been an infant at that time. Wei Yuan’s gaze intently took in Xie Xingye’s handsome yet not overly-beautiful face, dark gray eyes framed with a thick sweep of lashes, eyelids tilted up at the corners and lined with black, a wide, smiling mouth with dark red lips, neat black hair simply tied behind him, bright amber stones studding his ears, and black clothes seeming to leave smoky trails when they swished through the air. Wei Yuan’s final verdict after observing everything was that this uncle of his seemed very interesting! He wondered what new games they could play together and whether he could sucker him into letting him stay up late.

At the side, Zheng Xuan merely watched with a smile as Xie Xingye and Wei Yuan looked at each other with almost identical curious and assessing gazes.

Wei Yuan suddenly lifted his arms up. “Uncle Xie, hold me!”

Xie Xingye’s face jerked. Would that really be…alright? He looked at Zheng Xuan with a question in his eyes and received an encouraging nod in reply. Taking a deep breath, Xie Xingye bent down and carefully lifted Wei Yuan up by his armpits before straightening. The child dangled from his hands and looked at him with gleaming eyes. Xie Xingye peered back at him with puzzlement. So…what should he do with this kid now?

Wei Yuan cheerfully smiled up at him. “Can I eat your hair?” He’d never tried to eat hair before, but he wanted to try it now! He was curious to see if it would taste like dry noodles.

Xie Xingye shot a freaked out look at Zheng Xuan. What the fuck?!

Zheng Xuan suppressed his amusement and replied to the child in his lover’s stead, “Xiao Yuan, no…you can’t.”

As Wei Yuan’s attention was diverted to Zheng Xuan, Xie Xingye let out a breath in relief.

“Why not?” the child asked, his clear eyes staring at the scarred dragon with a piercing intensity and demanding answers.

Zheng Xuan patiently explained, “Because…it’s not…food.”

Wei Yuan tilted his head in thought, his dangling legs starting to swing energetically in the air. “Even if I put tasty syrup or gravy on it?”

Xie Xingye’s lips twitched, but Zheng Xuan solemnly shook his head. “Yes…even then…hair will remain…inedible.”

Wei Yuan appeared to have begun pondering deeply about something.

Xie Xingye looked at Zheng Xuan with a gaze that screamed ‘What do I do now?!’

Zheng Xuan chuckled and stepped closer. “First…why don’t you…hold him…properly?” he said and lifted a cooperative Wei Yuan out of Xie Xingye’s hands. He then demonstrated to his lover the proper method of holding a child, how he could support the weight of the small body without putting too much pressure on any delicate areas, and how to balance him properly.

Xie Xingye studied it carefully, then nervously took Wei Yuan into his arms to try and copy Zheng Xuan’s posture. Zheng Xuan corrected the position of Xie Xingye’s hands and made him spread out his fingers more before finally stepping back with a satisfied nod.

Wei Yuan snuggled happily in the comfort of Xie Xingye’s warmth and turned a sparkling gaze towards Zheng Xuan. “Uncle Zheng, you’re a dragon, aren’t you? So do you have treasure? Do you have a treasure cave like my father to keep all the shinies?” Since he’d already had the chance to meet and grow familiar with Zheng Xuan before during the mausoleum visit, Wei Yuan was more chatty with him.

Zheng Xuan smiled and said, “The biggest treasure…of any draconic being…be they a dragon…or a wyvern…is their mate. As such…Xingye is my…biggest treasure,”

Xie Xingye grinned and batted his lashes at his lover. “Aww, Lord Zheng, you’ll make me blush.”

Wei Yuan looked up at Xie Xingye with appraising eyes and nodded. “Yes, he’s very pretty and interesting like a treasure.”

Xie Xingye preened, “Boy, you have good eyes.” It felt especially good to be praised by a child, since children were after all supposed to be more forthright and honest with their opinions, weren’t they?

Zheng Xuan let out a gravelly laugh and shook his head. It looked like his adorable nephew had captured the heart of yet another of his uncles. “Alright now…Xiao Yuan. It’s dark outside…so you should…go to bed.”

Wei Yuan puffed up his cheeks and pouted. “But I just met Uncle Xie! I don’t want to sleep yet!”

Xie Xingye gave a light pinch to the stubborn little boy’s bottom. “Are you trying to use me as an excuse, you brat?”

Wei Yuan blinked his eyes at him pitifully.

Sighing, Xie Xingye relented, “How about this: I and Lord Zheng will accompany you in your room for a bit more if you promise to go to bed now and sleep like a good boy.”

Wei Yuan frowned. It seemed he couldn’t get away from bedtime that easily. It was such a pity. Hesitantly, he tugged on Xie Xingye’s robe and asked, “Then…will Uncle Xie tell me a story? I’ll sleep after that, promise!”

Xie Xingye pondered. If he remembered right, then it was normal for children to love stories. But what type of story could he even… Xie Xingye’s gaze abruptly shone with a gleeful light. He almost wanted to break out into laughter while rubbing his hands together evilly. If the kid wanted a story, then he’d tell him a story he’d never forget while also making sure that it’d curb his troublesome antics in advance! “Very well, I’ll tell my cute little nephew a wonderful bedtime story~”

Zheng Xuan looked at his beloved’s cheer with a wary expression. What was his lover plotting?

But not noticing anything, Wei Yuan happily cheered. He was greatly looking forward to what sort of stories this new uncle of his would tell him.

With that decided, Xie Xingye carried Wei Yuan to his room, with Zheng Xuan accompanying them. As soon as they neared his bed, Wei Yuan leapt into it and happily burrowed under the sheets before looking up at Xie Xingye expectantly.

Xie Xingye pulled up a chair to the bedside and settled into it comfortably, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and anticipation on his face. Zheng Xuan rested back against the wall near the headboard, wondering if it really was okay to let the child be subjected to whatever his beloved was conspiring.

With a smile, Xie Xingye asked, “Are you ready for me to start my story?”

Wei Yuan nodded eagerly.

Xie Xingye’s smile widened. “Let me begin then.” In a smooth voice, he recited, “Once upon a time, there was a little boy called Yuan-er.”

Wei Yuan excitedly raised up a hand and declared, “Father Qinghe and Grandfather call me Yuan-er too!”

Xie Xingye exaggeratedly widened his eyes. “Oh? How strange!”

Zheng Xuan’s lips twitched. What was his beloved planning?

Xie Xingye then continued, “This Yuan-er was a lively little boy with silver hair.”

Wei Yuan raised up his hand again to state, “I have silver hair too!”

Xie Xingye made a big show of looking at the child’s hair and nodded. “Yes, so you do. What a coincidence!”

Wei Yuan wriggled happily on the bed while Zheng Xuan shook his head with a wry smile.

Xie Xingye went on, “This boy named Yuan-er with silver hair had a strange hobby. He liked to sneak around and eat hair. One day, he spotted a droopy figure with especially long and tasty-looking hair. So Yuan-er did what he always did. He took a step forward and chomped down on the hair. The figure suddenly turned around, and Yuan-er was so shocked that his mouth dropped open and he let go of all that hair. Do you know what he saw?”

With big eyes, Wei Yuan shook his head.

Xie Xingye grinned and continued, “He saw that the figure with the long hair was not a person. It was a ferocious looking monster with a large mouth covering its whole face. And that mouth was full of sharp black teeth.”

The kid’s eyes grew wider as he drew up the bedcovers to just under his eyes. “A-And then?”

Xie Xingye smirked. “And then the monster gave a hideous shriek and tried to leap onto Yuan-er. But the second Yuan-er saw the monster’s face, he had already started running towards the nearby woods. He ran and ran as fast as his legs could carry, and the monster’s unearthly shriek also grew fainter and fainter as he left it behind. Soon, he’d lost the monster.”

Wei Yuan let out a breath in relief.

But Xie Xingye’s smile turned evil as he continued, “After escaping into the dark forest, Yuan-er walked around in it for a while. The forest was full of bare black trees without any leaves and with dry black dirt on the ground. Yuan-er wandered in the dark for a long time without being able to find a way out. He stumbled and fell again and again. His body became littered with small scrapes and bruises. He grew hungry and thirsty. But there was no escape from the forest. It was so still and silent here except for the rustle of the trees…or so Yuan-er thought at first. Then he remembered, these trees had no leaves, so how would they make rustling noises? Getting curious, he listened closely. And it turned out it wasn’t rustling after all.” Xie Xingye leaned forward even more and said, “They were whispers.”

Wei Yuan clutched the edge of the quilt tightly and gulped.

Xie Xingye went on, “And the whispers said:
‘What a sweet smelling boy! I reckon he’d taste just like candy!’
‘Look, he doesn’t have his parents with him!’
‘He eats hair, he is a naughty little boy.’
‘If he’s a bad boy, then he needs to be punished!’

“Hearing all this, Yuan-er was terrified. He tried to run away, but he couldn’t escape the forest. Seeing him desperately trying to get out, the evil trees laughed loudly. Their laughter sounded like creepy hisses, echoing and slithering dryly through the forest.

“As he was fleeing, Yuan-er stumbled over a tree root and fell down. But before he could get up, he felt a sharp line of pain on his back. The tree behind him had whipped him with its stark branch. Yuan-er wanted to scramble up and get away, but another tree bent down and struck him with its branch as well. Then another, and another, and yet another… Yuan-er was soon covered in lash marks. His skin was torn and blood kept pouring out. Poor little Yuan-er screamed and screamed for his parents, but they couldn’t hear him.

“The bloodthirsty trees kept hitting him again and again, scraping his flesh off his bones little by little until there was nothing of Yuan-er left except a pale skeleton on bloodied ground. Yuan-er’s soul still remained, hovering over what was left of his body and trembling pitifully. The trees finally stopped and laughed again, saying, ‘Now that the naughty child has been punished, it is time for him to become one of us.’ The other trees all waved their branches in agreement.

“The earth under Yuan-er’s skeleton sank down and ate up his bones. From the bloodied soil, a new tree grew, its black trunk just as twisted as the other trees, its branches just as bare and sharp. Yuan-er’s soul was sucked into this new tree, and so Yuan-er became a tree. The other trees yelled out congratulations to Yuan-er and said, ‘The next time a naughty child passes through here, we will give you his hair.’ Hearing this made Yuan-er feel happy again. And so, he eagerly waited along with the other trees for the next naughty child to pass through their forest. The end.”

Wei Yuan looked up at Xie Xingye with terrified eyes. This story was so scary!

The Zheng Xuan who had ended up getting taken into the morbid tale sighed. He probably should’ve stopped his lover when the story started becoming gruesome. The child was probably traumatized by now.

Smiling cheerfully, Xie Xingye said to the wide-eyed child, “Yuan-er, you’re a good kid, aren’t you? So you have nothing to worry about. Ah, but there are a lot of trees outside the house, so I hope you don’t go there without having someone accompany you, or who knows what’ll happen? You’ll stay in this room like a good boy during bedtime, won’t you?”

Wei Yuan frantically nodded. “Yes! I’ll be a good boy! I-I won’t eat hair, promise!”

Xie Xingye smiled happily and led Zheng Xuan out, leaving the child to try and sleep. He had no doubt that his dear nephew wouldn’t get up to any mischief while the story was still fresh in his mind.

And so, dragging his lover into one of the rooms in the Feng residence that was reserved specifically for them, Xie Xingye decided to have some fun with Zheng Xuan on the bed. A helpless Zheng Xuan could only oblige, and the long night was soon filled with passion before giving way to peaceful sleep for the couple.

……

A few hours later, Qinghe and Wei Xiang returned to the residence. Due to how the beast they’d gone to hunt had ended up exploding over them, they were both now covered in splashes of blood, some jelly-like white fluid, and large chunks of reddish-pink flesh. Rather than contaminate the house with the gore clinging to them, the pair decided to first have a wash to remove the goo and bits of body parts in the stream flowing through the forest surrounding the house. After washing the blood, disentangling themselves from the coils of ruptured intestines, and picking out eyeballs and teeth out of their hair, they finally returned to their room to have a longer bath in a tub of warm water.

Soaking relaxedly in the tub while clouds of steam wafted up, Qinghe sighed with satisfaction. “I finally feel clean again.”

Leaning back on the opposite end of the tub, Wei Xiang chuckled. “I really didn’t think I’d ever be free of the feeling of gunk stuck to my skin. Having a bath in warm water really does feel much more cleansing than a wash in the cold stream.”

Qinghe murmured his agreement and closed his eyes. Ahh, this was heavenly… He suddenly felt a warm palm sliding up his leg, brushing past his knee and caressing the inside of his thigh. Qinghe opened his eyelids to half-mast and peered at his beloved.

Wei Xiang’s eyes bore a suggestive, inviting look. His lips quirking up seductively, he proposed, “Love, why don’t we do something fun together to wind down?”

Qinghe’s lips stretched in a slow, sensual smile of his own. “Something fun, you say? What does my Xiang have in mind, I wonder?” But even as he asked that, Qinghe was already leaning forward to trace his husband’s shoulders, his fingers sliding down Wei Xiang’s muscled arms before sweeping back up his firm abdomen and chest. Meanwhile, Qinghe parted his legs to let his beloved slip his wandering fingers in between, taking his length into that warm palm before massaging it to life.

Giving out a soft groan, Qinghe leaned into Wei Xiang and brought their lips together. Wei Xiang’s hand lifted up from Qinghe’s shaft to hold him by the hip. Qinghe wrapped his arms around his husband and pressed down on Wei Xiang until he was lying back against the tub’s edge again. Qinghe’s lips sucked over his beloved’s while his tongue danced slowly in Wei Xiang’s mouth as if taking its own time to savor a delicious feast. Wei Xiang’s hand squeezed and released Qinghe’s hip in approval while his other palm lifted to cup his beloved’s nape.

The mood turned thick and amorous, their flushed and wet bodies sliding against each other in an unconscious temptation. The liquid desire pooled in their bellies, flowing languidly through their veins like sweet honey.

Knock, knock.

The sound broke through the haze enveloping the bedroom, interrupting them. A sleepy, childish voice called from outside, “Father Qinghe? Father Xiang?”

Qinghe disengaged from the kiss and panted while resting his forehead against Wei Xiang’s. In a husky voice, he said, “It’s Yuan-er.”

Wei Xiang sighed. “So it is. It seems he hasn’t slept yet. But I’m already thankful that he didn’t escape to play in the forest again.”

Qinghe chuckled.

Pushing his husband to lie back in the water, Wei Xiang stood up from the tub and said, “I’ll take care of this, so you continue bathing.” Since his beloved loved soaking in water, Wei Xiang decided to let him be.

Qinghe nodded. “Thank you. I’ll be out in a short while.”

Wei Xiang bent to press a kiss to his cheek before saying, “Alright. Take your time.” He quickly got out, dried off the water, and dressed in a long robe before heading towards the door and opening it.

On the other side stood Wei Yuan, tiredly rubbing his eyes and waving on his feet. Seeing his father in front of him, Wei Yuan raised his arms in a silent request. Wei Xiang obliged, lifting him up and holding him to his chest. Rubbing his son’s round head affectionately, Wei Xiang asked in a quiet and kind voice without any hints of dissatisfaction or impatience, “What’s wrong, Xiao Yuan? Why haven’t you slept yet?”

Wei Yuan rubbed his face on Wei Xiang’s chest as if trying to wipe away his drowsiness. “I’m scared the tree monsters will eat me.”

Wei Xiang’s brows shot up while Qinghe hid his amusement and called from within the room, “What tree monsters do you mean, Yuan-er?”

Wei Yuan blinked to become more awake before explaining, “Uncle Xie told me a scary bedtime story about evil trees that are actually monsters. They wait for children who eat hair to get close and then they use their branches to suddenly hit them.” Wei Yuan demonstrated by flailing his little arms as if to mimic wobbly noodles before continuing, “Then a new tree comes out and gobbles up the children’s souls.” So saying, he started grabbing fistfuls of air and pretended putting it into his mouth with an adorably ferocious and evil expression. “Then the children become trees!” he finished while sitting up straight in Wei Xiang’s arms, his own arms extending diagonally up and his fingers spreading out as if imitating the branches of a tree. Holding this position with wide eyes, Wei Yuan looked at his parents as if saying, See, isn’t it horrifying?

Witnessing all this, both Qinghe and Wei Xiang had to struggle to contain their laughter. How could their son be so cute!

Wei Xiang patted his son’s back and solemnly promised, “It’s alright, Xiao Yuan. Though the tree monsters sound very…formidable, you can rest assured that I and your Father Qinghe won’t let them get you.”

Wei Yuan nodded. “I know. That’s why I came to ask if I can sleep here even though I’m a big boy now.”

Unable to help himself, Wei Xiang bent to press a series of small kisses to his little son’s adorable face. “Yes, my Xiao Yuan is such a big and brave boy. But even big and brave boys will want to cuddle with their parents, so yes, you can stay with us tonight.”

Wei Yuan smiled happily, his eyes turning to crescents. “Yes, let’s cuddle!”

Qinghe chuckled warmly at his lethally adorable husband and son duo. Shifting lazily in the tub of warm water, Qinghe placed an elbow on the edge and cupped his chin with a palm while looking at his son. “Yuan-er, would you like me to ask Uncle Xie not to tell you scary stories like that again?” After all, whatever story Xie Xingye had told Wei Yuan seemed dark enough to scare such a small child into weeks of nightmares.

But to the couple’s surprise, Wei Yuan shook his head with bright eyes while saying, “No, I like Uncle Xie’s scary story. I want him to tell me more scary stories!”

Qinghe raised an eyebrow. “Since Uncle Xie and Uncle Zheng are staying at our house for now, you can ask him tomorrow.”

Wei Yuan looked delighted while Wei Xiang wryly shook his head and carried his son to the bed. Laying down Wei Yuan in the middle, Wei Xiang settled on one side of the bed, leaving the other side open for his husband. Placing his palm on the restlessly shifting child’s stomach, Wei Xiang said, “Your Father Qinghe will come join us after he’s done bathing, so be good, Xiao Yuan.”

Wei Yuan nodded. But after a bare few minutes of exercising his patience, Wei Yuan squirmed impatiently and asked in an aggrieved voice, “Is Father Qinghe not done yet?”

Chuckling, Wei Xing rubbed his son’s stomach. “Settle down, Xiao Yuan. Your father will be here soon.”

In a low murmur, Wei Yuan grumbled to himself, “‘Soon’ is just one of the adults’ lies to kids.” Then turning around, he snuggled into Wei Xiang’s chest.

Laughing quietly, Qinghe decided to not keep his son waiting any longer and got out of the tub. After drying himself using wind and dressing in a loose robe, he laid down on Wei Yuan’s other side. Wei Yuan turned onto his back again and wriggled like a happy little worm. His favorite place in the whole world was lying like this between his fathers!

Qinghe and Wei Xiang draped an arm each on the giddy child and settled in to sleep. Wei Yuan stilled, trying to soak up this comfortable feeling and sleep as well. But as he blinked up at the ceiling, he realized that he wasn’t as drowsy as before. Wei Yuan frowned up at the shadows overhead, feeling a bit stifled. Just past the barrier of this ceiling, there laid the vast sky with boundless stars. Yet here he was, stuffed into a room. If not for his parents, Wei Yuan might have tried to escape out into the forest like usual.

“What is it, Yuan-er?” Qinghe asked softly, noticing his son’s disquiet. “Are you unable to sleep?”

Wei Xiang opened his eyes to peer at his son as well.

Wei Yuan puffed up his cheeks and said, “The ceiling is too boring, and trying to sleep in a gloomy room doesn’t feel nice. Maybe I’ll feel more sleepy if I can see the starts and be outside in the forest.”

Qinghe and Wei Xiang exchanged a glance. So this was why their son kept trying to escape into the forest at bedtime? Was he feeling suffocated inside the confines of the house at night?

Wei Xiang frowned and asked Qinghe, “Do you think we should build an open-air room for him to sleep in during fair weather?”

Qinghe sighed. “Let’s discuss it together with Mother and Father later.” Then looking at Wei Yuan, he smiled. “Yuan-er, you should’ve told us before why you wanted to run into the forest during bedtime every night. We would’ve listened and tried to make it feel better for you.”

Wei Yuan blinked up with tentative hope. “Then…I don’t have to sleep inside?”

Wei Xiang patted his son’s head. “You might have to stay inside when there’s rain or snow. But I don’t see why you can’t sleep outside the rest of the time as long as you remain within the residence’s grounds and somewhere we can check up on you.”

Wei Yuan shot upright on the bed and bounced happily. “Yay! Then can we sleep outside now?”

Qinghe rose up as well and grinned. “Yes, we can.” Then turning to Wei Xiang, he said, “Xiang, I’ll bring the spare mattress, so can you carry out the quilts and pillows?”

Wei Xiang nodded and the family of three soon got to work. Within minutes, they’d spread out a thick mattress out on the training field behind the house. After the pillows and quilts were added to make it cozy, Wei Yuan jumped onto it and rolled around with pure joy on his adorable face. Lying down on either side of him after he settled down, Qinghe and Wei Xiang smiled at each other over their son’s head.

Something suddenly occurring to him, Qinghe turned to Wei Yuan and began tickling his belly while asking, “I thought Yuan-er just said that you were afraid of the tree monsters? Since we’re outside, aren’t you afraid the tree monsters will be able to get to us more easily?”

Wei Yuan squirmed and giggled under his father’s merciless tickling. Grabbing Qinghe’s hand with both of his to make him stop, Wei Yuan lifted it and hugged it to him with a sweet smile. Shaking his head, he replied confidently, “Since Father Qinghe and Father Xiang are here, the trees won’t dare to eat me!”

Qinghe and Wei Xiang chuckled at how proud their son looked. His faith in them was clear as day.

“Yes, Xiao Yuan is right,” Wei Xiang said. “We won’t let anything happen to you.”

“Mn!” Wei Yuan nodded with a grin.

Qinghe and Wei Xiang smiled back with gentle expressions.

Silence stretched for a few moments, filled with warm feelings.

Then patting Wei Yuan’s head, Qinghe said softly, “Yuan-er, the next time something is bothering you and you don’t know how to resolve it on your own―like how you didn’t want to sleep inside the house, for example―I want you to clearly tell us, alright? I’m sorry that we were unable to notice this issue before today. But as your parents, as long as you tell us if something’s wrong, we’ll try to help you as much as we can.”

Wei Yuan tilted his head as if digesting his words, then cheerfully nodded. “Okay!”

Qinghe pecked him on his forehead. “Good. Now, let’s sleep.”

Gazing up at the glittering stars spread above him and feeling the fresh breeze brushing his face, Wei Yuan felt more relaxed and calm than he could ever describe. Lying down out in the open like this, he was sure that he’d have the best sleep ever!

However, the family of three were soon interrupted in their quest to reach dreamland.

After Feng Huixin and Feng Chunyi were done with their respective tasks, they met in the heavenly capital to spend some time together before leisurely returning home at night. But when Feng Chunyi casually gazed out the window in her and Feng Huixin’s room, the sight that greeted her was that of her sons and grandson happily stargazing together on a comfy mattress without even inviting her to join them in such a fun activity! How unfair!

And so, Feng Chunyi grabbed a mattress, a pair of pillows, a quilt, and her husband before marching outside, determined to not be left out.

Seeing his grandparents and hearing that they would be joining them, Wei Yuan was more than thrilled. Qinghe and Wei Xiang could only sigh wryly. With Feng Chunyi here, they would probably not be able to sleep for a while. But of course, they didn’t refuse her enthusiastic declaration of joining them. Soon, Feng Chunyi laid out her mattress adjoining the top of her sons’ and grandson’s mattress. This way, she and her husband could lie in such a manner that all five of their heads would be near to each other. It would be most conductive to chatting.

Once the new arrivals were finished settling down, there was a few moments of silence. Insects chirped in the distance while leaves rustled. The breeze was pleasant and the starry sky serving as their ceiling glimmered with quiet tranquility.

And then Feng Chunyi spoke, “Now that we’re all together, are we just going to sleep? It’ll be boring!”

Feng Huixin shook his head helplessly. Where did his wife even get this boundless and inexhaustible energy from?

Wei Xiang tilted his head towards her and asked, “What else do you suggest we do, Mother-in-law?”

Feng Chunyi grinned. “We can talk about something fun~”

“Like what?” Qinghe prodded.

“I don’t know. I don’t have anything particular in mind right now,”  Feng Chunyi replied with a shrug. “What about you, my darling son? Is there something interesting you want to talk about?”

Qinghe frowned, pondering seriously. Then brightening, he turned to Feng Huixin with shining eyes, “Father, do you know any embarrassing childhood stories about Xiang?”

Wei Xiang’s mouth twitched. To his relief, Feng Huixin shook his head with an amused gaze. “I’m afraid Wei Xiang was already a well-behaved child when he came to me.”

Narrowing his eyes at his naughty little husband, Wei Xiang chuckled cheerfully. “Well, since you opened the door, love, maybe it’s time I heard some of your embarrassing childhood stories.” Turning to Feng Chunyi, he prompted, “Mother-in-law?”

Feng Chunyi giggled gleefully. “Yes, there are too many funny little stories about this son of mine.”

“Mother!” Qinghe called loudly.

Feng Chunyi ignored him and went on, “For example, the way he hated wearing pants. Sometimes, he’d even remove his robes and run around naked in the forest. The amount of wood splinters and sand I had to pick out from his bouncy little butt cheeks because of his propensity to plop his butt down anywhere he could are uncountable.”

Qinghe buried his burning face in his hands while Wei Xiang’s low laughter rang out. To add insult to injury, Wei Xiang said, “Mother-in-law, I wouldn’t say that’s something he only did as a child. Sometimes when he’s drunk, he says he dislikes clothes and tries to do the same thing, though he thankfully retains enough awareness to keep on at least a single layer before going outside.”

“X-Xiang!” Qinghe shouted and clamped a hand over his husband’s mouth before he could say anything else.

Feng Chunyi laughed merrily, taking great joy in her son’s mortification.

Just then, Feng Huixin spoke, “That’s something Qinghe might have gotten from Chunyi. I clearly remember that one a certain day back in our world, after drinking copious amounts of alcohol, Chunyi went to take a bath to cool off and decided to head to town after that to eat. Only…she forgot to put on anything. It was a good thing that Master caught her before she could leave the pocket dimension or who knows how far she’d have gone without putting on clo―”

“A-Ah-Xin! Enough!” Feng Chunyi exclaimed and blocked her husband’s mouth. She puffed up her pink cheeks and glared at him as if he’d betrayed her. Feng Huixin’s eyes smiled back at her with humor.

Seeing that Feng Huixin had cooperatively stopped talking, she took back her hand from her husband’s face and tried to say something to embarrass him in return, “Well, it’s not like I never caught you naked too! Whenever you were in the communal bath chamber, you were always naked!”

Feng Huixin raised a brow. “Chunyi…since I must have gone there to bathe, it’s only a given that I wouldn’t have any clothes on. How else would I bathe?”

Feng Chunyi’s face turned redder. “A-Ah-Xin! You dare argue with me using logic!”

Qinghe burst out laughing, finally removing his own hand from his husband’s face as well. Wei Xiang shook his head with a smile. His mother-in-law was so ridiculous.

Having been witnessing everything with gleaming eyes, Wei Yuan giggled happily. “Grandmother, you’re so funny!”

Feng Chunyi turned to him and energetically ruffled the child’s hair. “You brat! Are you disrespecting your grandmother?”

Wei Yuan only giggled harder, squirming under her hand.

Feng Chunyi’s face softened. “So what about you, Grandson? Are there any stories you’d like to report today?”

Hearing the word ‘stories’, Wei Yuan perked up and narrated the tale of the scary tree monsters to his grandparents using the same exaggerated gestures to show how the evil tree gobbled the souls of hair-eating children. Feng Chunyi and Feng Huixin looked like they were suppressing their mirth while trying not to squish their adorable grandson’s cheeks as he seriously demonstrated for them.

“I see,” Feng Huixin finally said after Wei Yuan was done telling his tale. “That certainly sounds frightening. Is Yuan-er afraid because of that?”

Wei Yuan cheerfully shook his head. “Father Qinghe and Father Xiang and Grandfather and Grandmother are here, so the trees won’t be brave enough to come here!”

Feng Chunyi nodded approvingly. “Yes, they won’t have the guts to bother the great Heavenly General’s grandchild!”

“Yes!” Wei Yuan cheered with his arms up in the air. Then blinking expectantly at his Feng Chunyi, he asked, “Grandmother, do you know any fun stories?”

Feng Chunyi grinned and asked in return, “Have you ever heard stories about your grandfather before?”

Feng Huixin’s eyes widened. What?!

To his embarrassment, Wei Yuan nodded. “Yes. We learnt it in school. The day before yesterday, the teacher told us about how Grandfather took down a very old and strong monster that even the previous Heavenly Emperor couldn’t beat. Everyone was talking about how unbeatable Grandfather was, and they all got so jealous when I told them he was my grandfather!” Wei Yuan laughed with smugness and satisfaction at that remembered image.

Feng Huixin coughed, his ears burning red. He felt secretly pleased at how his little grandson seemed proud of his relationship to him. Feng Chunyi chuckled quietly and hugged her husband, snuggling into his warmth. Her Ah-Xin was so cute!

Smiling, Qinghe told his son, “Yuan-er, you should sleep now. We have a playdate for you to attend tomorrow with Yue-er and your older sister Lan-er at her house, remember? Everyone is going to be there. You don’t want to be sleepy when you greet them, do you?”

Recalling that there was more fun to be had tomorrow, Wei Yuan’s face up while he wiggled with excitement. Then his expression suddenly drooped as he complained, “But Grandmother and Grandfather never come to my playdates.”

As Wei Yuan’s lethally cute eyes blinked sadly at his grandparents, Feng Chunyi quickly said, “We’ll come, we’ll come! I and Ah-Xin don’t have much to do tomorrow since we just finished difficult tasks today. Isn’t that right, Ah-Xin?”

Feng Huixin nodded and lifted a hand to pat his grandson’s head. “Yes, we’ll accompany you tomorrow.”

Wei Yuan’s expression turned cheerful again. “Yay! We’re all going to play tomorrow!”

Wei Xiang laughed. “Yes, yes. But if you don’t sleep, that tomorrow won’t come, Xiao Yuan.”

And so, the happy child wiggled a bit more to vent his excitement before cuddling with his fathers and closing his eyes. Surrounded by what he knew was the best family in all the worlds, Wei Yuan drifted off into sleep with a content smile on his face.

……

The next morning, miffed that they didn’t get to sleep under the stars with the others, Xie Xingye made sure to tag along while dragging Zheng Xuan with him as the family of five went to the play date at Yan Lin’s place. After the way Qinghe, Wei Xiang, Jing Shui, Wu Xiao, Chen Xiande, and Hei NingYu often came to meet up here, Yan Lin’s cottage had become the unofficial gathering place for everyone.

Even after two hundred years, Yan Lin’s cottage remained much the same. A vegetable garden sprawled in front of it while the wooden hut looked small and cozy as always. But its wooden boards and thatched roof had already had to be replaced several times over these past two centuries. However, Yan Lin and Zheng LiYing insisted on remaking their cottage the same as it was.

In the land behind the cottage, the ground had been cleared of weeds and rocks to make it smooth so that it could be used for gatherings. A long, worn table sat in the middle, with unlit lamps in a line at the center. Instead of chairs, two long benches rested on either side of the table to offer seating.

On one side grew Yan Lin’s fruit orchard, and on the other side was a small pond that was added more recently. As the land shifted over the centuries, a pit had opened up there. As a result, Chen Xiande had used his earth ability to firm up the land so that it wouldn’t fall apart further while Jing Shui used his water ability to pull up water from deep underground and established a channel to fill and supply the pit with clean water. Hence the pond came to be. On Yan Minglan’s request, Chen Xiande had created a small island at the very center of the pond, and a single tree now grew out of there. Seeing how Yan Minglan spent most of her time there, it was unanimously agreed that it was her territory.

When the entire Feng household arrived, Zhang LiYing was having Hei NingYu, Chen Xiande, and Jing Shui help her set the table. Wu Xiao was playing with his little son on the island while Wu Jiyue was resting on Yan Minglan’s lap. Yan Lin was puttering inside the house, filling bowls with food and doing other menial tasks. Already familiar with these people, Feng Huixin said simple greetings and went inside to help Yan Lin. Zheng Xuan followed him. Feng Chunyi and Xie Xingye happily skipped off to play with Wu Jiyue a bit while waiting for dinner to be ready. But their respective beloveds soon came to drag them off, saying that they needed more hands.

Seeing that Wei Yuan was here, Wu Xiao came over with gleaming eyes while the four people setting the table were drawn over as well. As familiar hands pinched his cheek, rubbed his head, patted his back, and tickled his tummy, Wei Yuan giggled cheerfully. He was already used to all the attention he got from his aunts and uncles, and he happily took it as his due.

Once they’d had their fill, Zhang LiYing and the others in the table-setting group went back to their duties while Wu Xiao held Wei Yuan and asked, “Are you here for the playdate, brat?”

Wei Yuan nodded and smiled brightly. “Yes! I want to play with Xiao Yue!”

Qinghe chuckled. “Sect Master Wu, could we trouble you to take Yuan-er to Yue-er then?”

Wu Xiao agreed and walked towards the island before depositing his nephew beside his cute son. “Xiao Yuan, will you take care of Xiao Yue and play with him?”

Wei Yuan nodded and seriously sat down beside Yan Minglan and the Wu Jiyue on her lap. Yan Minglan took out a fruit from the basket beside her and offered it to Wei Yuan. “Want one?”

Wei Yuan nodded and accepted it. “Thank you, Sister Minglan!”

Yan Minglan smiled and patted Wei Yuan before taking out a fruit of her own to munch on. In her lap, the baby Wu Jiyue blinked at them both with big eyes while sucking his own thumb. He turned his head to his father silently and stared.

Seeming to understand his son’s thoughts, Wu Xiao rubbed Wu Jiyue’s head and said, “You can eat fruits if you grow up quickly, Xiao Yue. Now be good and play with your big brother and sister, alright?”

Wu Jiyue burbled softly and turned away.

Smiling affectionately, Wu Xiao kissed his son’s cheek and leapt over the band of water around the island so that he could go and accompany his Ah-Shui. Wu Jiyue watched him go from the corner of his eyes and carefully got down from Yan Minglan’s lap, crawling towards the island’s edge.

“Xiao Yue, do you want to watch the fishies in the water? I’ll come with you too! Who knows if there’ll be any monster fishies who can eat you in one gulp!” Wei Yuan said after finishing his fruit and followed the toddler.

Yan Minglan kept watch on them both silently while eating fruits. If they leaned too much over the edge, she would quickly use the pole with the wooden hook sitting beside her to drag them back by their collars.

Having reached the island’s edge, Wu Jiyue was splashing his hands in the water, his face solemn. Thin feathers of silvery frost crept outwards from his palms, freezing the water into a layer of delicate designs. The strands of frost shimmered in the bright afternoon light as if encrusted with glitter.

Holding Wu Jiyue by the waist so that he wouldn’t fall in, Wei Yuan watched it with shining eyes and exclaimed, “Xiao Yue, that’s so pretty!”

Wu Jiyue paused, looking up at Wei Yuan. Then, with a focused expression, he returned his attention to freezing more water for Wei Yuan to admire. Though he had wanted to freeze the water to make a bridge so that he could go to his fathers, now that he had his big brother Yuan here, he didn’t feel the need to anymore. Plus, he liked it when this big brother of his praised him, so Wu Jiyue contended himself with making more pretty patterns on the water.

Near the table, Jing Shui sighed. “Is Yue-er using his ability again? I hope he doesn’t exhaust himself like last time.”

“It’s alright. That brat Xiao Yuan and Miss Yan are there with him,” Wu Xiao reminded.

“Yuan-er is surprisingly astute for his age, so Brother Jing doesn’t have to worry. Not to mention that Miss Yan is very dependable,” Chen Xiande added. Turning to Zheng LiYing, he said, “Madam Yan, may I ask you to set aside two more bowls of food and pairs of chopsticks? I ended up talking about today’s gathering to my twin junior brothers and they said that they wanted to come too.”

Zheng LiYing smiled and nodded. “Yes, I’ll take care of it.” Since she had just finished her share of the work, she went in to prepare the two additional portions.

Soon enough, the twins arrived as well, directly making towards Qinghe for a round of hugging and acting spoiled before being sent off on babysitting duty with Yan Minglan. Just then, Feng Chunyi and Xie Xingye managed to escape from working inside the house, slumping on the benches by the table as if they’d just finished the most grueling tasks of their lives.

On the island, Fei Jin crouched by Wei Yuan and said to him teasingly, “Yuan-er is such a good big brother to Yue-er. When you have more siblings, I can see that you’ll take care of them very well.”

Wei Yuan puffed up his chest and sat straight. “Of course I will! I’ll be a good big brother to everyone!”

Fei Yin smiled and praised in his whispery voice, “Yuan-er is so mature. Have you thought of what you want to be in the future?”

Wei Yuan grinned and nodded. “Yes, I want to be a general like Grandmother!”

By the table, Feng Chunyi froze, her eyes growing wide. W-What? For once, she was rendered speechless, her face going red with bashful embarrassment. She felt so happy that she was unable to express it.

Xie Xingye chuckled and hugged his sister with an arm. He knew how much her grandson’s words meant to her.

Meanwhile, standing together under the shade of a tree and leaning against its trunk, Qinghe and Wei Xiang shared a look. Without having to exchange a word, they silently decided that they would work hard to have the laws of the heavenly court amended so that even spiritual beasts could head the heavenly armies as long as they were strongly affiliated with a deity household. No matter what their son chose, they would wholeheartedly support him.

Turning back to the sun-drenched scene of energetic bustle before them, the couple observed in peaceful silence.

Qinghe was the first to speak, “It’s too bad that your senior brother couldn’t come with Master Ying, or this gathering would have been complete.”

Wei Xiang chuckled. “Kong Min skipped out on too much work this week, so I’ve chained him to his desk again. I suspect the Master of Land is accompanying him. But even if I didn’t make Kong Min work, I doubt that reclusive lover of his would want to come to a place and be a part of such a lively horde.”

Qinghe hummed thoughtfully. “That’s true. Even without them, this is already quite a crowd.” His face easing into a content smile, Qinghe went on in a soft voice, “It’s incredible when I think about it. At first, it was just me and the twins. But now, the group of people I love have grown so much. It was more than anything I could have imagined.”

Before he and his Xiang’s paths had crossed, Qinghe used to run himself ragged, then drop down in front of the twins while exhausted and riddled with injuries. As Fei Yin and Fei Jin held back their tears and grimly attended to his wounds, he would pretend to not see his junior brother’s worries about what all he was doing to himself or their fear that they would lose him. He pretended that everything was alright and that he could handle all the sufferings he put himself through.

As long as he didn’t die, everything else could be fixed.

But it was only after his lover and friends interceded that he realized that no, he was not alright, and that he could use their support as a crutch until he healed enough to be alright again. It was okay to say that he couldn’t do some things. It was okay to say that he was uncomfortable. And it was okay to treat himself with as much kindness as he would treat at least a stranger. He wouldn’t say that he was completely free of issues even now, but he knew that he would one day get there with the help of all the people who cared about him. And that was enough for him.

Qinghe closed his eyes and leaned his head on Wei Xiang’s shoulder. “There really are a lot of people in my life now, and I am all the more happier for it.”

Wei Xiang chuckled and gently wrapped an arm around his husband. “Yes. And Qinghe, it was you who brought them all together. It was you who created this big and wonderful family connected by both blood and bond.”

Qinghe’s cheeks turned pink. He turned his head to bury it in Wei Xiang’s shoulder, feeling both pleased and happy.

“The food’s ready!” Zhang LiYing’s voice called out.

Qinghe opened his eyes and straightened from Wei Xiang’s embrace. Chaos abounded in front of them as everyone fell on the food like a pack of starving wolves, fighting to get more of their or their beloved’s favorite food. Laughter, teasing, and banter filled the space.

Wei Xiang shook his head at this scene. Holding his husband’s hand, he strode forward, pulling Qinghe along with him and out of the tree’s shade. Turning back with an amused smile, he said, “Love, if we don’t hurry, all the food will be gone.”

Letting out a laugh, Qinghe followed his Xiang into the light.

Feng Qinghe and Wei Xiang thus continued to walk on the road to eternity, every day spent with joy and contentment while surrounded by their friends, family, and each other.

Announcement
With this, Heavenly Soul is complete! (๑⁀ ᗜ ⁀๑) I hope everyone who read till here enjoyed the ride~ I think it's interesting how the main story ended with 128 chapters and the extras exactly at the 28th chapter (৹‾⌣‾৹)✧ Now that it's over, I hope to hear your opinions on this story through ratings and reviews (ෆ⁀꒳⁀ෆ) You can also support me by donating using ko-fi~

To not make this announcement too lengthy, I've decided to write an afterword to thank you all, share a few things, and make some small announcements. I hope you can take the time to read it~ (๐• ᴗ •๐)

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