Xi Wei had no fixed residence, so finding a safe place became a major concern. Aimlessly wandering around was the most stupid choice they could make.
If it were only him, it would not be so difficult. Adding on a baby suddenly made safety a bigger issue. The first step was to find a way to accommodate this change.
Xi Wei carefully walked along the streets while making frequent stops. One of the reasons was to try to avoid the crowd, and the second, more important reason, was that for him, Zeno was very heavy. He needed to constantly adjust the position to prevent his arms from growing tired, and he also needed a moment to catch his breath.
Although Zeno could not see Xi Wei, that did not mean that he could not feel what was happening. The protagonist’s breathing was laboured, and being positioned next to his chest allowed him to hear the intense beating of his heart. This caused him to worry, as well as stirring up some feelings of guilt.
Finally, when his surroundings had become silent, Xi Wei stopped. With a small adjustment to the swaddling cloths, he exposed Zeno’s face to the open air. He quickly tucked the wrappings around the baby’s neck to allow him to breathe freely without letting cold air into the rest of his body.
Zeno had been concerned about a lack of oxygen, but for fear of further imposing on the protagonist he dared not vocalize his discomfort. Now that he was more satisfied with his position, he sat quietly and turned his eyes to take in the surrounding environment.
Ye Sa City was very rich in water resources. With all kinds of rivers criss-crossing through, it was comparable to the Italian city of Venice in form and function. There were a large number of boats, be they on the water or docked. Some of the boats were privately owned, some were for businesses, some were gorgeous and others were simple. The only feature that all these boats can be said to have in common is that they were small. Because the width of the river was on the smaller side and the height of the arched bridge was lower, an oversized boat was not free to pass into Ye Sa City.
Their stop was under a bridge spanning over one of the waterways where a crude boat was docked.
The boat was very humble to say the least. In fact, the boat was small, the hull was woody, and the length was only about twice the height of Xi Wei and Zeno put together. The width was approximately equal to the height of Xi Wei, giving the impression of a miniature model rather than an actual boat.
The hull was peppered with scrapes and scratches, as if it had been through many collisions. The edge was full of deep and shallow dents, and the awning had many holes. If it rained, it may be difficult to tell the difference between being underneath the cabin roof or not because of how little cover it provided.
When Xi Wei carried Zeno onto the miniature boat, Zeno found it difficult to believe that this boat that should have been discarded eight hundred years ago was going to be their future home.
From the outside, the boat appeared broken and small, and when you headed inside it turned out that it was a level three dangerous ship. There were visible traces of repairs to the bottom of the ship, although it gave off the feeling that it could start leaking at any moment.
If Zeno could only speak, he wanted to yell at Xi Wei with all his strength to wake him from his delusions. Hey protagonist, even sleeping in the snow would be better than this boat, at this rate we’re setting ourselves up for a water burial!
Apparently Xi Wei did not share in his concerns. Returning to the familiar spot allowed him to relax and release some tension, before getting Zeno settled in and getting to work.
He first placed Zeno down gently on the dirty, shabby blanket in his cabin, which had long its original color. Secondly, he actually pulled out the cloak that Zeno’s mother had wrapped him in, laid it aside, and then carefully brandished the old, rusted little dagger. With this he began to cut the cloak into various strips and chunks of cloth.
It took him quite a long time to complete his task because the dagger was so dull.
When he was finished, Xi Wei started waving the dagger around in the air with slightly knit brows, and Zeno could not help being absolutely terrified.
Protagonist, don’t say that after dismembering that cloak you want to dismember me! Easy as it was, eating other children is what a villain would do. If you think you are miserable now, just see what happens if you—the future hero—becomes a villain.
However, he obviously imagined too much, and for a while Xi Wei distressed the swaddling cloths with the dagger. As a result, the cloth lost its high quality look and resembled something discarded. Although it was not as warm compared to the original state, it has ceased looking like goods worth stealing.
It was a demonstrable fact that in Ye Sa City, if the goods were deemed valuable, there was a risk of being robbed of even if you were an infant.
As a native Ye Sa City beggar, Xi Wei understood the way to survive here. Only the low-key and cautious could live safely.
After all that had transpired, even though he was the protagonist, Xi Wei felt very tired. Due to prolonged malnourishment, his face had become pale, there were obvious dark circles beneath his eyes, and his mind was distressed from the constant difficulties he faced. Xi Wei had been mostly sleepless since he’d gone into the streets, and having returned to a home of sorts, he found the fatigue difficult to bear.
Zeno, who wanted to have his protagonist take a good rest, deliberately called out twice, at which time he was indifferently given a little glance. At that moment he immediately opened his mouth into a big yawn to try and show how “sleepy” he was.
Xi Wei blankly watched the tiny person with a pitying look; Zeno’s prayer for his sleep froze on his face. He was not quite sure what to do, but pulled him to his chest in order to sleep with the little baby, whose off switch was flipped the second he was drawn near.
The little baby was very soft, still had a touch of milk smell, and his tummy growled occasionally, but holding him was very warm. Xi Wei was naive to the concept of sleeping next to another person. Since birth, no one had shared such intimacy with him. His own parents barely met the minimum threshold, and the only responsibility they took was to prevent him from starving to death.
Despite better treatment, the same was true of Zeno who grew up in an orphanage. It was odd to think that he could feel secure, wrapped in the emaciated body of Xi Wei, but the two tired children slept very well. Their small bodies were snuggled tightly together, a perfect fit, sleeping as if they were the only two people on earth.
At this moment, as the moon rose high in the sky, any regular city would be settled in to rest for the night. However, in Ye Sa City, all the underlying darkness had just begun to surface, and the regular river’s surface began to change.
A wide range of vessels, lit up with the strange colours of magic stone lamps, floated freely in the river.
Many ships stationed pretty girls on the bow, dressed seductively despite the cold, their eyes scouring the banks of the riverbank. When an adult male called out, they were instructed to speak at the helm to the boatman to discuss terms. Afterwards, if the transaction was made, they would both climb into the cabin and the boat would drift back onto the river.
Shortly after, the surrounding water would begin to surge, and the boat’s movements would adopt that familiar erotic atmosphere.
Xi Wei was accustomed to this situation and paid it no mind. Instead, he found he was satisfied that the baby only made minimal sounds when he woke up, and was not noisy. Since he was up, he fed 2/3 of the final loaf clumsily to the baby like before, and then proceeded to eat the last 1/3 of that dirty loaf.
Just like that, their food was gone.
The night wind howled, once again carrying freshly fallen snow; it was unknown how many will be buried in this heavy snow.
Their small boat was spared from the fate of being enveloped in snow since it was underneath the bridge, but the cabin filled with holes did nothing to block the bitter wind. Xi Wei instinctively hugged Zeno, his only source of heat, and managed to gain a bit of warmth.
Even so, his black eyes remained indifferent, and the pervading mood had not changed at all.
Amidst the few belongings scattered about the floor and the one dirty blanket, Xi Wei suddenly felt an unusual sense of warmth on his middle finger.
He hesitantly lifted his left hand in front of him, and observed the ring he wore by the scant moonlight leaking through the ceiling. In the excitement of the day, he had almost forgotten the ring that the desperate young mother had placed on his middle finger. Now that he remembered, he found himself unwilling to wear it.
Tucking Zeno tightly into his chest, he wrapped his arms around the baby so he could grab the ring in order to remove it, and his discovery rendered him frozen in shock.
The seemingly ordinary black ring was now as long as his finger, and no matter how hard he tried he could not pull it off—the space between Xi Wei’s brows knit together tightly. If he could not remove it, he could imagine that shortly afterwards his left middle finger, or even the entire left hand, would be gone.
Despite using all of his strength to pull at the outside of the ring, it was motionless. With no other means for removal, he wielded his rusty blade with only a moment’s hesitation, and began to slowly cut into his finger along the edge of the ring. Red blood soaked into the black ring, filling in formerly invisible etchings to create a vivid pattern.
Xi Wei’s pupils contracted forcefully as spikes emerge from the ring and punctured his finger; it felt as if the ring was drinking his blood.
Even though the air was frigid, Xi Wei was sweating. He sweat because of the horror and pain of the situation, and he ground his teeth together in an attempt to bear the pain that he could feel down to his marrow in silence. Despite his clenched jaw, some sound was able to leak out. However, his groans merely scattered on the river’s surface, coalescing into the ambient noise of the night.
Zeno, who could only see the protagonist’s face, was shocked as Xi Wei’s expression changed from stoic, to troubled, and then distorted with pain. At that point he clutched his left hand and began to roll around the cabin floor.
Xi Wei’s left hand was dripping with blood.
Zeno, overcome with worry, could only wave his weak little warms, anxiously crying out “Oowah, oowah.”
Unknowingly, the small baby’s white and tender face was full of tears.
As the black ring sucked up blood, it emitted a scarlet brilliance that reflected in Xi Wei’s pale and twisted face, slowly dimming until the light was gone.
Xi Wei lay in the corner of the cabin almost prostrate. His dilated pupils telling the story of the extreme pain he had suffered. After a long period of time he was finally relieved and struggled slowly to crawl over to Zeno’s side. When he finally moved next to him he was able to see his tiny face was a complete mess, startled by what had just transpired.
With an even harsher timbre to his voice than before, he managed to croak, “Do not … cry, I … will not … die.”
Xi Wei used his dirty sleeves to gently wipe the baby’s face, all the while looking pensive.
The wounds on his hand had disappeared leaving behind only dried blood. The strange ring had vanished, and the only evidence left behind was a pattern mirroring the blood soaked markings that had adorned the surface of the ring. Otherwise he might have thought it was just a dream.
After sitting for a few moments in silence, a timid voice broke the quiet in the dilapidated cabin and asked, “Who are you?”
If anyone ever finds any kind of fan art or similar for this story, let me know! I’d love to see.