Foxglove and Snakeroot
The air that hung around the Azure Dragon Estate was more somber than Liwa remembered, and rain fell incessantly once the car passed the outermost perimeters of the property. Last time she was here she was still just a child, and she remembered being jealous that her friend lived in what was basically a fairy tale palace among the clouds. The low-hanging fog seemed ominous now, almost suffocating. This time, it was like even the land itself was telling them they were unwelcome. It felt like laying siege to a fortified military base.
“Did you even tell Lan we were coming?” Liwa asked Yuna, whose pointed silence was more meaningful than any lie that Jin could see through. “Yuna!”
“I texted her, but she hasn’t been reading my messages,” she said eventually, as they pulled up to the front doors of the main building. “I figured it’d be okay. She’s the head of the family now! And she’s our friend.”
“So do I just…park here?” Jin said nervously.
Neither Yuna or Liwa could offer a better parking spot, so Jin left the car just under the awning at the side of the building. The three of them hurried to the entrance to duck out of the rain, but they were already drenched by the time they were at the doorstep. With Lan’s powers, surely she would’ve already noticed their arrival, like a convenient built-in security alarm for the property. No one had come to receive them, but no one had barred entry either.
Jin hid behind Liwa as Yuna lifted the brass door knocker that was cast in the shape of a dragon’s head. Before she could knock, the door opened.
The figure that stood at the doorway had a familiar face and stature, with tousled seafoam blue hair and brilliant azure eyes like a cloudless sky. Even though he looked almost identical to Lan, the sharper angle of his cheekbones and the set of his mouth divulged his identity as Lan’s twin brother, Qin.
He was rarely there in Liwa’s childhood memories of visiting the manor, as he was often whisked off to piano or to take supplementary lessons with a private tutor. He was raised to be the next Azure Dragon, Lan used to say when neither of them really knew what that meant. Perhaps Lan did all along.
Qin had the same face as his twin but he couldn’t be any more different. While her eyes were wide and honest and blue like the shallow seas, his were sharp and as stormy as tumultuous waves crashing against jagged rock.
“Ah, Lan’s friends?” he queried, and a small smile played across his lips as he surveyed the three of them. “Greetings, my name is Qin, the other half of the blue dragon god of the east. I’m afraid I must apologize that you may have found our welcome somewhat lacking upon your arrival. We’ve been so terribly busy picking up the pieces after Grandfather passed. I hope you will accept my sincerest apologies on behalf of my family.”
It seemed like Jin was about to say something, but Yuna was quicker. She elbowed him in the rib, hard, and blurted out, “We’re the same age, aren’t we? Don’t bother with the formalities. We’re here to give Lan some notes from the classes she's missed."
"How thoughtful," Qin said lightly, pushing the open door wider to invite them in. "However, it's not worth the trouble when you could've just simply emailed them to her."
Yuna stepped over the threshold, digging her heel into the welcome mat. Her voice was challenging when she spoke. "I'm afraid my notes are handwritten, but I appreciate the concern."
"Ah, I can fetch a towel so you can dry yourselves off," Qin said amicably, watching rainwater drip from her shoes with an indiscernible expression.
The faint glitter in Yuna’s deep blue irises was hard to make out behind her thick glasses, but Liwa had seen her use her powers hundreds of times to immediately recognize that she was calling to the weaving star. Yuna’s hands reached out suddenly, her fingers deftly curling around a glowing celestial thread pulled from thin air. With a flick of her wrist, she began to weave. Looping strings formed cloth in moments and when Liwa blinked there was a fluffy white towel draped over her head.
“This is the first time I’ve seen a weaver maiden at work,” Qin commented. “The process is intricately beautiful, as you are.”
Yuna deadpanned. “I’ll weave your mouth shut. I’m only letting you off just this once because you look so much like Lan. Speaking of which, where’s your sister?”
“In the other room,” Qin replied, and Liwa could feel Jin tense beside her.
“You’re lying,” he said suddenly. “Everything you’ve said so far—”
A towel flew through the air and hit him square in the face.
“That’s enough, Jin,” said Yuna, her voice low and her raised hand trembling. “Members of distinguished families have etiquette rules they must abide by. Of course not everything is going to be the absolute truth—just because you can tell truth from lies doesn’t mean you are always right! Yeah he totally hates us and doesn’t want us barging into his house uninvited but guess what? He’s being polite! So play nice, or you can go stand in the rain by yourself.”
Affronted, Jin turned to Liwa, but she just shook her head.
“She’s right, you know?”
“I can tell the three of you are very close with each other and with my sister,” Qin said idly. “I can’t help but be a little envious. The xiezhi is correct, of course. Lan is currently away on a…business trip, but she will be back by tomorrow morning. I was hoping since the three of you brought sufficient amenities to stay the night, that she could explain everything to you personally when she returns.”
Even though Yuna just chewed Jin out for his abilities earlier, she still turned to him to verify whether that was true or not.
“Wow, it’s a sleepover,” Yuna said listlessly, plopping down on the ornate sofa on the far side of the wall.
“At Lan’s house,” said Liwa, barely able to feign some enthusiasm as she laid down the king-sized guest bed.
“Without Lan…” Jin finished sadly from his spot on the floor.
The three of them did not speak for a long while after that, as Liwa browsed her phone while Jin unrolled his sleeping bag and Yuna flipped through her calculus textbook suspended in the air by celestial thread. The guest room was far too spacious, and the tension between them was almost palpable. Liwa scrolled mindlessly through social media without really paying attention, thinking back to the events from earlier that day. She had thought nothing of it at first, but from the time when she told Yuna about the strange sea in her dreams, she had already been acting a little odd.
She had been on edge all day, and Liwa wondered if it really was just stress over the upcoming exam. Yuna was usually smart and rational. Something was wrong.
Liwa glanced up from her phone screen. Curled up against the arm of the sofa, Yuna had loosened her hair and was lazily plaiting it down her back with one hand while annotating notes with the other. Jin had finished setting up his sleeping bag and had slipped inside, zipped it up, and was out like a light.
With the walking lie detector asleep and no one else around, maybe Yuna would be more willing to talk now.
“So about this morning…” Liwa started.
Yuna shot her a weary look. “Are you not going to study? I’m only offering to lend you guys my notes if you actually put in the effort.”
“It’s not that,” she said. It was that Yuna had always been brusque with her words, but she wasn’t the type to lash out at her own friends without reason. She’d never had an issue with their powers, only a grudge against the source. “Is something bothering you? You’ve been acting weird since morning.”
“Excuse me? You’re the one that suddenly passed out and you have the nerve to—”
“Yuna. Answer me honestly. Do you know something about my past life that I don’t?”