Chapter 21:

Reunion, Routine

Foxglove and Snakeroot

After that, Kai filled Liwa in about what had transpired while she’d been out cold. After she had slam dunked an allergy pill down his throat, he had come back to his senses. And by then, Qin was nowhere to be found. Kai could only faintly recall the memories of when he’d been consumed by the snake’s primal instincts to tear his prey apart. He saw that Liwa was gravely injured, and carried her back down the mountain.

“I was not gravely injured!” Liwa interrupted. “This is just a scratch.”

Kai smiled at her faintly with a strange fondness, and she wanted to sink into the wall in embarrassment to mimic what he’d been trying to do this entire time.

“Sorry,” she said. ”Please continue.”

And so he continued to talk. Somehow, he had made his way out of the fog with an unconscious Liwa in tow, and miraculously ended up at the bus stop that took foot passengers back to town from the mountains. And the bus, coincidentally, was just about to depart. He didn’t have a bus pass, so he—and he suddenly apologized profusely—borrowed the one that was in Liwa’s bag to pay for them both.

“Here, to pay you back,” he said, shuffling over to her with a wad of bills that was most definitely way more than the amount of money it cost for a bus ride for two.

She waved him off. “I don’t want your money. If you insist, you can treat me to a coffee or something.”

“Hmm, coffee,” he said thoughtfully. “Do you enjoy coffee?”

Liwa shrugged. “I used to like it more than I do now, after university made me dependent on caffeine to keep me awake.”

“Depending on caffeine is not good for your health,” Kai pointed out.

“Thanks, Mr. Pharmacy Student,” she replied dryly. “Depending on allergy meds probably isn’t good for me in the long run either but y’know.”

“My dissertation…” Kai said, his voice hesitant. “I’m researching a drug that can treat asterism-attributed illnesses for good. If you wait for me…I promise, we’ll be able to…”


Will be able to what, exactly?

But Liwa could not bring herself to ask him to explain when he had trailed off, and her mind had started to wander. It had been worded so affectionately, almost resembling a confession. She still really couldn’t read his vague expressions, but she definitely didn’t imagine it twice, right? A soft, tender smile—

“Get a hold of yourself,” she told herself in a strangled voice. Was that why she couldn’t bring herself to mistrust Kai entirely during the fiasco on the Azure Mountains? Because he looked at her with that funny-looking half smile of his and then it had grown on her? Preposterous.

It felt like it had been a long time since she’d last set foot in her own dorm room. So much had happened in just over a week that it felt as if several years had passed. She thought she could take it easy after a harrowing first semester and now the break was almost over. What a way to spend the winter vacation.

Gazing upon her cell phone sitting on the bedside table, she considered messaging Lan. After everything that had happened, she didn’t want to blame her friend for trying to keep her safe. But she wanted to know why the twins would go so far, to knowingly use Kai to hurt her. Was that the Azure Dragon’s will?

Did Lan try to fight it?

The moment her phone buzzed with a text, Liwa snatched it up to check her messages. She’d almost forgotten about her plans with Jin and Yuna to watch fireworks downtown to celebrate the new year until she got a reminder text from Jin that he’d be picking them up tomorrow morning at seven AM sharp in front of the economics building. Lan was still invited of course, but Liwa had a feeling she would not come.

And then the next morning arrived faster than the strike of a viper, pulling her away from her troubled thoughts and the incident on the Azure Mountain.

Liwa dragged herself to the economics building after a quick breakfast, bringing with her a small suitcase with a change of clothes for three days and enough allergy pills to last her three years. The winter air was frigid and biting, and her breath formed water vapour when she exhaled. Now that she had a brush with death by hypothermia, she made sure she was dressed warmly enough that it would put a grandmother’s concern to shame.

And so when Jin and Yuna saw her for the first time in more than a week, they dissolved into helpless laughter instead of greeting her.

“You guys are so rude!” Liwa exclaimed, her voice muffled under her scarf. “I get cold easily, okay?”

“First time I’m hearing this,” Jin said brightly, glancing over at Yuna. “Er, what about you?”

“Your memory’s better than mine,” she replied with a mischievous grin. “But I definitely don’t recall having a friend shaped like a burrito. Who’s this? Guess Liwa and Kai are both going to be late.”

Jin began, “Actually, this is Liwa—”

But abruptly Liwa cut in, “Kai is coming?”

“You’re the one that invited him before the break,” Yuna said with a frown. “Do you not remember?”

In fact, she had forgotten about that. A lot of the mundane, everyday life kind of situations had been pushed to the back of her mind with all the chaos that had been around her recently. It was both refreshing and slightly jarring to insert herself back into the old routine.

When Kai arrived, Liwa’s heart swelled in her chest. He took a curious glance at her layered coats, scarf, and fuzzy green hat that clashed horribly with her hair.

“Hmm, you look like a carrot,” he said, and she was very close to smacking him. The other two guffawed like it was the funniest thing they’d ever heard in their life.

They put their belongings away in the trunk as Jin started up the car, and Yuna slid into the passenger seat while Liwa opened the rear door for Kai.

“Don’t tell me you’ve never been in a car before,” she said warily as he stared at her in utter bewilderment.

“I have,” he said. “Once. When I was very young.”

“Get in here you two, before my glasses fog up,” Yuna called over her shoulder. “It’s not a long car ride but we don’t have all day.”

“Actually we do,” said Jin. “We have over seventy-two hours before classes start again.”

“You stupid goat, that’s not what I meant!”

Kai and Liwa had scrambled into the backseat as the other two quarreled. Upon hearing Yuna’s insult, Kai looked at Liwa with his yellow eyes wide in evident confusion. “I don’t understand. Why is Jin a goat?”

She only laughed instead, gesturing for him to put his seatbelt on. It was nice to have the old Kai back, clueless and endearing and blunt. She’d missed those days, and coming back to them after all that had happened brought her back to her reality of late night study sessions and coffee dates with friends. A perfectly regular university life.

“By the way,” Yuna said conversationally, and Liwa dreaded what came out of her mouth next, “what did you get on the calc final?”