A blunt force from the right side sent a sharp pain through the man’s chest.
What the fuck…
Even through the pain, it was almost impossible to stop moving. On reflex, the arm holding a large sword swung up, the sharp blade searing through flesh of a man who’s face he didn’t even catch.
What the fuck is happening…
On his left, two more men, in full armor and sharp swords, were rushing at him. With a small drop, he braced himself for the impact, drawning the swords in his hands over his shoulder, steady and aiming at his assailants. It truly was a miracle his body was doing all the work while his mind was in utter turmoil.
What the fuck is happening here!?
Di Fan dodged one man, slicing the other man’s throat with the readied weapon. With a swift turn, the momentum carried the blood stained steel through the first man’s back even before he was allowed to stop and turn around.
With a deep breath, Di Fan stood upright, looking shellshocked down at… his hands? They were definitely not his. Hands, arms, torso… body. His eyes traveled up at the scenery.
Bodies of men were littered all around him. Even more were upright, fighting, yelling, dying.
At least, none of them were approaching him at the moment. There was a sense of solitude, a sphere of peace just around him that he tried to hold on to for as long as possible. He needed time and space to make sense of what was happening.
Di Fan turned towards the call, the only one he could distinguish as words form all the noise around him. A boy, he couldn’t be any older than sixteen, was running towards him with his face and body covered in new and old blood mixed with dirt and who knows what else. However, despite the state of his outer appearance, there was a comfort, relief in his bright eyes that were directed at Di Fan.
“General! You are well!”
The youth stopped a foot away from Di Fan and bowed, a sword held tightly in front of him, dangling and dripping crimson. “A’Jing swore he saw the general get shot at with multiple fire arrows. We all rushed in as fast as we could!”
Di Fan stared down at the youth and a sense of familiarity rushed over him, a name entered his mind.
“Young Prince Lin should not be bowing to me.”
The prince’s eyes widened before he shook his head vigorously. “General! I thought we agreed I am your apprentice first and a prince second.”
If Di Fan thought hard about it, flashes of memory ran through his mind of fleeting scenes and distant conversations. However, the speed at which everything was rushing back at him made it almost impossible to decipher what was really going on.
What is really going on here? Fuck, I have a headache.
Before anything else could be said or done, something caught Di Fan’s eyes. He looked over the young prince’s shoulder and his body moved on its own once again. In a split second, his hand drew a small dagger from his side and flung it across the young man’s left shoulder, the sharp end finding its target directly between an unknown man’s eyebrows.
A soldier, hopefully an enemy soldier, dropped to his knees, the dagger still firmly lodged in his head, and fell as the young prince turned around in shock.
Di Fan straightened himself up once again and looked down at his hands.
What the fuck?
-A week ago…-
“Please tell me you read this.”
A phone was shoved in front of Di Fan’s face one rainy morning when he was so close to finishing up his third report of the day. It didn’t help that the phone was on full brightness and his small office, including his work computer screen, were on dimmed lights setting that he preferred when working. To say that his eyes got a shock was an understatement.
After letting his eyeballs adjust to the sudden assault, he read over the title and a small smile tugged at his lips.
“Seeing how I was the one who sent you this, yes, I read it.” Di Fan looked up at his coworker and friend, a beautiful woman in her late 30’s that had the spirit and a youthful appearance of a twenty something, who blinked back at him couple of times before pulling the phone away.
“Well, in my defense, I got this sent to me by like five other people so I just clicked on it without looking at who sent it. But can you believe this!” The woman almost skipped around Di Fan’s desk, leaning her body over the arm rest to get comfortable. “Search it up! I’m sure it’s been long enough that more information is out.”
“Sam,” Di Fan sighed but still moved some to give his friend more room to sit, “I need to finish this.”
“Di Fan, I’m very certain that you’ve been working nonstop since you sent me this which was,” she tapped away on her phone, “three hours ago. You know it’s unhealthy to be so stationary like that. Science says that for every hour you stay seated you should get up and do something physical for fifteen minutes.” She shrugged. “Or something like that.”
Di Fan chuckled. “You say that but you want me to stay seated and look this up, so how does that help me?”
“A break is a break. Now look it up!”
Truth be told, Di Fan was also dying to know more about the article he had sent to Sam that morning. He had always been a fan of books, movies, games, and stories in general that delved into fantasy, word building and all the magic they could hold. It was the main reason he went into publishing, so he could be the first in line to get his hands on all the stories he could find.
Who knew that he would end up in nonfiction department in the publishing house he ended up being employed at. What’s more, he was in the biography and autobiography section of the department. No matter how hard he tried, there was only so much magic and fantasy he could find in a living person’s life.
However, he still did work in a publishing house and had friends. Friends who worked in the fiction department. Like Sam.
It was a year ago that Di Fan learned of a new collaborative pieces their work was publishing with another publishing house from China. The series was to be translated by them and introduced to the US market since it had gained so much love online. It had been Di Fan’s first time reading anything from China, much less about an entire new fantasy system that blew his mind. Which is a shame, since he was technically a Chinese-American, but he never got to chance to experience the Chinese side of his self.
Of course, he had been familiar with the culture thanks to movies and other media, but having the opportunity to read a fictional story in its full detail was beyond his dreams. It also didn’t hurt that he was now part of “I would die for this character” club for the main character of the novel.
Now, the article that he sent Sam that morning was another reason to get excited. As Di Fan predicted, the story was a hit, the audience began to demand for more and the author had finally announced that she would allow her story to be made into other media forms.
Hence the excitement. Now everyone was speculating what was to come. A movie? Live action? Cartoon? Video game?
It didn’t matter to Di Fan, he was happy with anything he could get.
His phone screen lit up and it was hard not to notice the text message. As if possessed, Di Fan swiped his phone up and read the text with a growing smile before sending a quick reply.
“Oh my God, is David coming back?” Sam spoke as she read the text over her friends shoulder.
And in that instant all thoughts of a magical Chinese novel was forgotten because Di Fan’s little brother was coming home from school. It had been two months and it felt two months too long in his opinion. Sam rolled her eyes.
“Sometimes I feel like your love for your little brother is bordering on creepy.”
“You’re just jealous that my brother loves me more than yours does.”
“And thank God for that. James has brought me nothing but headache. At least you have a good kid on your side.”
Sam could only laugh at her friend’s sudden change, all the happiness was not fitting the dark, small room stuffed full with manila folders, endless white papers and neutral colored books.
“You actually made cabbage rolls?” David peeked into the steamer with excited eyes.
Di Fan hummed as he moved around the small kitchen that he knew like the back of his hand. The last five hours had been a blur, as Di Fan finished his work in record time, stopped by the store to pick up ingredients that he didn’t have ready at home and started cooking the moment he stepped into the apartment. His brother had arrived only five minutes ago and dinner would be ready in five more.
Ever since Di Fan was twelve, he had promised himself that he would protect and care for his brother better than anyone else in the world. The two of them grew up in a single parent home who was always working to pay off the debt that never seemed to lessen.
As a child, Di Fan didn’t understand the logistics, but he found himself acting as both the mother and father to his younger brother, taking care of things around the house, cooking, making sure they finished their homework, asking his mother for money at appropriate times so David could go on that one field trip. However, after their mother passed away, when Di Fan turned seventeen, it was almost impossible to stop him from taking his childhood promise to another level.
Either way, they had managed to survive just fine.
With dinner served, David began with his tales of college, not that he hadn’t told Di Fan everything already. But it was nice to hear it from the person rather than over a phone call.
Di Fan had managed to get by with online classes so he could work as much as and as quickly as possible, however, he wanted David to have the full college experience. Of course, being the amazing little brother, David had been accepted into MIT on scholarship much to Di Fan’s amazement and pride.
Sure, he had to move to another state, but he had worked hard for it and it was only five hour bus ride away. Definitely worth it.
“Enough about me, how are you?” David plated more sauteed mushrooms onto his brother’s plate. Di Fan wasn’t a fan but the kid liked his veggies. He simply obliged.
“Nothing I haven’t already told you.” He swallowed. “Oh! We might be getting a bigger bonus this year, so that’s something to look forward to.”
David had stopped eating. Rather, he was simply staring at his brother. There was something stern about his eyes, not mean, simply determined.
“Maybe you can use that money for something fun this year. A trip? I’m sure you’d like that.”
“Or… aren’t you doing study abroad next semester? Shanghai is pretty expensive.”
“Yeah. I know. That’s why I’m applying for sponsors and more scholarships. This kid from last year had everything paid for by sponsors. She is my role model.”
Di Fan got up to get the dessert. German chocolate cake.
“More reasons to save that money. We gotta make sure you have a safe trip.”
“Di Fan,” he said his name with a whine, “I keep telling you. You don’t have to pay for everything. I’ll be fine!”
“And I keep telling you, I’ll help through your undergrad. Once you go to grad school you can takeout all the loans your little heart desires.”
David rolled his eyes. “Whatever. Once I go to grad school you better remember your words.”
“Ah yes,” David got up to serve the tea as Di Fan returned with an entire cake and two forks, “I have it all planned out. I’ll save up and buy myself a small cottage up north with enough land to have my own garden and a chicken coop, maybe a little pond if I’m lucky. I also want two Grate Danes.” He sighed in content. “Perfect plan.”
“Alone?” David placed his brother’s tea down with a quiet question.
“Two Grate Danes. Chickens.”
It was Di Fan’s turn to roll his eyes. “You know my type.”
“Yeah, yeah. No type is your type. You like no one.”
Di Fan might have been offended by how annoyed his brother sounded but he couldn’t. David wasn’t wrong. His serious lack of interst was really something even he couldn’t explain.
“Actually, you do have a type!” David sat up with a mischivious gleem in his eyes. “Fictional! That is your type.”
Di Fan chuckled. “Added points if they can wield a dragon or cast spells or something.”
“You are impossible.” David almost flung a piece of chocolate cake at his brother’s shit eating grin. “How are we related!?”
“I ask that everyday.”
Having David back home for his break was great, but his boss didn’t seem to share his feelings and assigned him with more edits than usual. The more he read about this renowned chief and that ground breaking artist, the more he wanted to escape to a fantasy world.
With the sudden news of possible more content from his beloved novels, Di Fan had been inspired to reread the entire series and now his mind was swimming with Crown Princes, Imperial Court politics, cultivation, epic magic battles, and a lonely but strong scholar.
He was truly in too deep.
Granted, the story and the world building for the novels were amazing, but what truly made the series special for him was none other than the main character. A young scholar by the name of Xu Huan was thrust into the Imperial Palace, fighting and upholding his own morals against many hardships and finding love along the way.
Since the first time Di Fan read the story, he couldn’t help but find similarities between the young scholar and his younger brother. Granted, maybe it was his bias speaking but something about the young man really brought up his protective side and he cried and celebrated along with the character chapter after chapter. David had rolled his eyes and shook his head when Di Fan mentioned the resemblance but he never disallowed the comparison.
Another aspect that spoke to him was that Xu Huan was a cut-sleeve, a term for homosexuality. Di Fan was 90% certain that David was also one but he had yet to come out to and say it. Raising a teenage boy, there was bound to be a moment or two where Di Fan would witness something he swore to take it to his grave but it kept further proving his suspicions of his brother’s interests.
A part of him was a little hurt that David had yet to tell him anything about it, but he wasn’t going to force it. All he could do was wait patiently and create an environment where he would never have to doubt Di Fan’s love for him.
So when he read all the turmoils Xu Huan lived through but still found his love at the end, while creating meaningful friendships with people around him, Di Fan was sold. That was exactly what he wanted for his little bro.
However, it had been almost a week since David came home and he would be returning back to Boston in three days so Di Fan really didn’t want to spend all his time in office. He may have been spending less time sleeping and eating so he could finish his work faster but the more he thought about going to the Orchid Show with his brother and other fun things planned, the more he pushed himself to the limit.
Di Fan worked best under pressure.
With the last of his edits complete, his body was on autopilot. Somehow he had made his way through his office, down the building to the busy street. It was night time but all the bright lights helped him keep his eyes open as he continued to place a foot in front of the other.
Someone bumped into him, but that was nothing new. He had to squeeze herself through a particularly large group of tourists to reach the subway entrance. One way or another, he had made it to the platform. The light over him was flickering a bit, but that didn’t bother Di Fan. There were too many people around for him to worry about the flickering and now grinding light.
Grinding? It sounded like metal grinding, like something heavy wasn’t being help up right. That’s when the sound changed to a louder one that Di Fan couldn’t really describe. Out of reflex he looked up where the sound had come from.
All he saw was the sudden closeness of the long fluorescent light bulb, a scream or two, and a sharp pain over his head and face.
Maybe it was because he was tired.
Maybe it was because he was in pain.
But he felt his body tumble forward, right foot stepping forward but not finding ground.
He heard more panicked voices. Shouts and screams. He might have felt someone grasp his arm, but it never fully made contact.
He might have seen the rail tracks closing in on him…
I don’t want to fall…