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To The Last Gasp

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The first thing the Black Cloaked Envoy says to Chu Shuzhi is, "Do you mind leaving Dixing?"

At the time Chu Shuzhi is still on the stone floor, wearing chains and a pair of loose, rough trousers and nothing else. He's not even sure what exactly is happening. He looks up at the man in the cell with him. There's no light, but Chu Shuzhi has gotten used to his second vision and he can see the mask, outlined in silver and purple in the darkness. No one would wear that mask except for one person. The Black Cloaked Envoy is a legend and long gone and he's standing right in front of Chu Shuzhi.

Chu Shuzhi has stopped kneeling in front of anyone years ago. Until the guards make him, anyway. They never hesitate to force him down to his knees. Sometimes he thinks the Regent likes it better that way, when they have to force him, but Chu Shuzhi persists in refusing to kneel anyway.

But now, Chu Shuzhi is already down on the floor, there's no bed in this cell. It's easier than he might have thought to move until he's kneeling in front of the Black Cloaked Envoy, his forehead pressed down against the hard stone floor. For a moment the only sound in the darkness is the lingering rattle of his chains.

The Black Cloaked Envoy sighs, and Chu Shuzhi thinks it sounds… tired. It seems like something too mundane for the Black Cloaked Envoy.

There's a dragon in Chu Shuzhi's cell, he thinks suddenly. It should be an auspicious sign, shouldn't it? Maybe Chu Shuzhi has spent too much time in his own company because he suddenly isn't quite sure if this is real anymore.

"You don't need to do that," the Black Cloaked Envoy says. His words don't sound tired, just slightly disapproving. Chu Shuzhi isn't sure what he's done wrong, he can't immediately figure out what the Black Cloaked Envoy is talking about. "You don't have to kneel," the Black Cloaked Envoy clarifies.

Chu Shuzhi… lifts his head slightly. He looks up just a bit, enough to get a glimpse of that mask. "Yes, I do," he says, his voice coming out dry and hoarse. When did he bother to speak last? It's been a while, he almost wasn't sure he'd remember how.

He will decide who he bows down to.

The Black Cloaked Envoy sighs again. Chu Shuzhi waits.

"What can I do for you, daren?" he asks at last, when the Black Cloaked Envoy still hasn't said anything. Chu Shuzhi doesn't think there's much he can do for the Black Cloaked Envoy. There's not much Chu Shuzhi can do for anyone where he is.

"Come with me," the Black Cloaked Envoy says and Chu Shuzhi feels the cuffs around his wrists and ankles fall away. The Black Cloaked Envoy turns away.

For one breathless moment, Chu Shuzhi finds himself entirely unable to move. He's not… this can't… The Black Cloaked Envoy doesn't just swoop in to rescue Chu Shuzhi from his imprisonment, that's not something that actually happens. This can't be real.

But what if it is?

Chu Shuzhi scrambles up off the cold stone floor on unsteady legs. And somehow even knowing they would, there's a swell of relief inside him when his chains stay on the ground.

The Black Cloaked Envoy is still there, waiting for Chu Shuzhi. He didn't leave.

"It was… agreed that you would leave Dixing," the Black Cloaked Envoy says without turning to look at him.

Chu Shuzhi lowers his head. "Yes, Heipaoshi-daren." His voice is still rough with disuse. Chu Shuzhi swallows quickly. "Where do you want me to go?"