The smell of earth

Kun could smell the earth outside. Dry, damp, alive, dead. He could feel it in his very skull, where the curse was engraved in his mind. It called to him, inviting him to stay out there and disappear within the soil.

Perhaps he should have found a place in the city. There were places there that could have distanced himself from the nature that beckoned him. However, Kun didn’t want to avoid it completely. He wanted to live alongside it, surviving it, much as he had for the longest time.

Now that Ling was gone, though, everything had changed.

The years went by and Kun pretended he was all right. The children couldn’t tell. He taught them the best way he knew how, unsure if he should be allowed to. Unsure if he should be allowed near anyone at all. Yet he was too selfish. He couldn’t let go of what he had left. He might take loss in silence, but he wouldn’t let it go without struggle.

Then what was this? This time that passed, this time that was empty? He knew the whispers were encompassing Shui and there was nothing he could do.

Kun didn’t know when he had last seen Jin.

“Surely this is boring to you,” he said to the dragon. The warmth of the creature, face pressing into his side, was more than abating the cold. “Don’t you want to go fly away? For more than a few hours. I’m not always available. I know we understand this. Maybe Shui would bring you more entertainment?”

The last suggestion he let out to see the expression on the dragon’s face which Kun had always equated to laughter. Kun’s eyes sparkled.

I want you to talk to me about Ling.

Kun felt the emptiness creep up upon him. The petrichor permeated his scent, a tight grip on his heart. Constant, but only hurt when he let it. “Very well. What do you want to hear about Ling?”

The dragon gave him a look that was all-encompassing.

Kun would talk about Ling. Even when it hurt, he kept talking. Because he was asked.

He wished he could distance himself from it all, instead of surviving it. He wished.

Desire for the quiet

The whispers were louder.

Or maybe Shui was simply listening more. The silence which beckoned the voices, the silence that Ling used to fill with useless chattering – the useless chattering that Shui loved. Gone. It ripped into him more than anything had in a long time.

He missed the silence. He missed a lot of things. Trying to think about it selfishly lessened the pain somehow, dulled it, turning it into an ache which he could put aside with all of the other things which had ached him in life.

The nightlife wasn’t loud enough. It never was anymore. Shui felt like he was going crazy. Stopping at the bottom of the hill, he looked up at Kun’s lodge, at the dragon wrapped around one side of it. Kun was home. They all had homes now. That had been a while. It felt like a time before Ling.

The time before, the time after. What had Jin said about the children of earth? Shui wanted to throw up. He stepped up the embankment, hands in pockets.

“How’s it going?” he asked the dragon, not expecting a response. The dragon and he had only ever gotten along because of Kun. The fact that hadn’t changed much was more comforting than how Jin had become.

Silver scales gleamed under the fur which poked out from under each plate, from a light that came from nowhere.

Shui nearly walked right past the creature when a tail tripped him.

God fuck damn, you-” Shui bit his tongue before he could shout more at Kun’s pet.

“Shui? I thought I heard you.”

He picked himself off the floor and looked toward the door. As always, Kun’s home looked inviting, even when he could barely look inside. “Yeah, I’m here. You’re still up.” Thank god. “Wanna do something?”

Perhaps he would thank the dragon one day, for realizing before he did that he might walk right back down the hill and disappear into the town. Kun didn’t drown out the whispers.

But he spent too long trying to hear them.

What one doesn’t do without

“Don’t you do without with your fellow students?” Kun asked, obviously in reference to the very soft bed Jin decided to avail himself of.

Jin stretched out over the sheets before folding his arms over his chest. “I know the difference between having a lack and having excess. Just like I know I’m not with my dumb fellows right now.”

Kun chuckled. “Well, I suppose I’ll leave you to it.”

“I wasn’t chasing you out. Just don’t interrupt me.”

“Meditation, is it?”

Jin didn’t bother to respond about the thing he really wasn’t doing. Eventually Kun sat on the other side of the bed with his book. He began to read out loud, without comment from Jin. Jin’s arms relaxed, hands falling back to his side.

His fellow students might go without, but Jin would take advantage of the luxuries afforded to him by the people who refused to leave him alone.

Teaching a child

“You don’t walk under ladders.”

Jin scolding Ling was nothing new. “Why not? There’s space.”

“Because something will drop on your head and you’ll die.”

“Now, now.” As per usual, Kun stepped into the conversation a little too late. “Ling, people are usually on ladders.”

Ling watched him and waited. “…yeah?”

“What happens if you jostle a ladder while someone is on it?”

Ling put the scenario through his head. “They… fall off?”

“And on you,” Jin ended. “If you’re lucky, because otherwise I’m not stepping in for you when someone complains about what you’re doing.”

“It’s like why you don’t put your hand in the fireplace,” Kun added. “Safety measures.”

Ling nodded, then glared at Jin. “I’m gonna ask Kun things from now on. He makes sense.”

Jin rolled his eyes. “Finally. I’ll have more time in my day.”

The next day, they would thank the dragon for it.

“It appears that my shoes are missing.”

Shui rubbed his eyes. “Not just you, buddy. Mine aren’t here either. What the hell.” He was too tired for the absurdity to hit him yet.

Kun searched their room for any pairs of their shoes, still quiet as to not wake up Jin. Ling was nowhere to be seen.

“I bet it was the kid.”

“My, aren’t you quick to accuse,” Kun teased.

Shui rolled his eyes, rising to his feet. “Well he’s not here.”

Jin grumbled. Both of them quietened. Shui gestured that he would check for Ling. Kun nodded. Shui left his friend alone with the non-early bird and tracked down Ling. It didn’t take long to find him, he was outside with the dragon.

“Where are our shoes?” he asked Ling without any preamble. Ling glared back at him, then pointed at the dragon. “Why did you give the dragon our shoes?”

“I didn’t!” Ling scowled. “I woke up and they were gone!”

“Then why are you blaming the dragon?”

“Because I saw it eat them!”

Shui and Ling stared at each other for a few moments. Then they both looked at the dragon. Shui sighed. “You’re serious.”

Ling nodded.

“I’ll get Kun.”

To eat alive

The earth surrounded Kun, as though it were going to swallow him up. Even his great eyesight couldn’t help him when there was no light at all. Only Ling likely would be able to see. Or at least smell his way through. If he was even awake. Kun couldn’t make any assumptions.

Placing his hand against the wall of the tunnel, Kun felt his way forward. He could still hear the keening sound of the dragon from the far back entrance into these caverns. Not enough space down here for a dragon. As much as Kun would’ve felt safer with one beside him. At the same time, the surface had to be much safer right now. Better that only four of them were in danger, not five.

Or three. Kun didn’t feel like he was in much danger now. He hoped to keep it that way.

He moved forward slowly, halting occasionally and listening. There were times he could hear the shifting, the arachnids deeper in the earth. None of the sounds were Shui or Ling. They would be much more obvious.

Jin, less so.

A wave of pain rolled through his body, starting at his temple and running down his spine. Kun gripped at the earth even tighter, feeling the soil under his nails and between his fingers. No, he was not in danger.

If he found the other three though, they might be.

Kun turned in the direction of the sounds. His eyes sharpened. Even in this lightless underground, now he could see. The pain sharpened everything.

His curse, then.

He would finish off the spiders.

Whispers you hear in the silence

Shui could hear them, when things were quiet enough. They were still there, waiting for him. The wailing, the moans.

Of course, the solution for this was simply to make sure things were always loud. During the day, in the city, that was easy enough. At night, in the city, that was also easy enough. The problem was that he had to go to sleep at some point and there wasn’t always the promise of someone being there if he didn’t play his cards right.

“What are you doing?”

“Just… don’t say anything.” Shui tried not to look at him, as he lay down next to Kun with his back toward him. “Do you snore?”

“I’ve never been told as such.” Kun sounded amused. Shui didn’t know whether to feel insulted or not. Kun wasn’t telling him to get out of bed though.

Nevertheless, he felt like some explanation was in order. “I’m just tired. I can’t get to sleep.”


“It’s too quiet tonight. I hate the winter.”

“Shui, I didn’t need an excuse. Good night.”

Shui relaxed. “Night.”

The night was not good. Kun was his best friend, but keeping away the whispers was not something he was good at.

The day before

If there was one thing Jin had never considered himself to be, it was normal. However, he spent less and less time as he left his youth behind considering other people’s opinions to be as valid, he became normal and every other person became odd. His beliefs didn’t line up with everyone else’s, despite what he trained to become.

Jin hated Shui, but found him completely normal. Maybe it was the shared irreverent attitude, that Shui could express and Jin found ways to excuse or change. Probably why he still saw the man despite not liking him much. Shui had always seemed normal, not strange like everyone else. Probably Heaven’s way of spiting him for not being like the other students of the cloth.

Ling was not odd. As obnoxious as he was, as childish as he was, as much as everyone else around Jin would comment on the child’s oddity. Jin could not see it. Somehow Ling had fit in his life as naturally as something that Jin had actually chosen. Maybe it was because Ling seemed to think the odd things were odd and the normal things were normal. What Jin thought was odd, what Jin thought was normal. Not that either odd or normal mattered much to Ling, as long as he got what he wanted. The typically selfish child. Jin felt more accomplished in taking care of him. Probably why he did it, despite everything else.

Jin couldn’t place a finger on Kun. He should have been odd, to Jin. The man came with a dragon, for gods’ sakes. Despite sharing similar interests, the two of them were not similar at all. Kun told him once, in his usual manner of complete politeness, that if there was a heaven he wasn’t very interested in it. Those were his words, but Jin saw underneath them, to where Kun meant “and it could burn forever for all I care”. Kun was usually better at hiding his true intentions, so he must have wanted Jin to understand.

“But I admire your dedication to the faith. Your belief. It means something to you.”

Not what it meant to everyone else, but that was correct. Kun poured him more tea as they watched Shui try, once again, to teach Ling how to catch a fish from the pond. Neither were very good at it.

“Won’t your masters be upset with that?” Kun asked, referring to Shui and Kun’s actions.



Normalcy had struck Jin as odd, but here they were. The last day, before all of this would disappear for him, forever.

Jin would miss normal.

After the journey

“I have to go back.”

“I’ll go with you.”

It had been a difficult decision, to leave behind the work they were doing here. But it was a choice he made, to return with the two, to go all the way back to where they had started.

When he woke up in the morning, he was alone. He knew then that they had left without him.

A frantic knocking at his door admitted Shui. “Fuck! I knew it! They’ve just left, you can catch up with them. She’ll fly you after if you-”

Kun put on his glasses. “No, that’s all right.”

It wasn’t. He had been left behind.

Jin just should have told him.

Two degrees of separation

“Put that back please.”

Ling did as Kun asked, because he’d asked nicely. “Can we get this?” he asked after, pointing at it.

Kun shook his head. “I’m sorry. We’re on a limited budget this time. Be patient, Ling, we’ll have dinner when we meet back up with the others.”

Ling nodded, contrite, and followed after Kun. Then a thought occurred to him. “Then we’re buying just… food?”

“And the other necessary travel supplies.”


Kun stopped and looked at Ling. Ling could have sworn a very pleased looked was there, but looking closer Kun looked as he always did, simply content. “I don’t think I consider that necessary travel supplies.”

Jin and Shui were going to be livid. Kun was the only one who could get away with this. Ling smiled. “Yeah!”

More for food.