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Orpheus

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February 10th, Year 109
@Xiao Xingchen


"Excuse me?"
The boy circled the lonely hut on light feet, his voice running across dark fields of grass like the first spring breeze after a long, dark winter.
It was cold in this place, even the distant lines of trees couldn't keep the winds at bay. The air still smelled of winter - the aftertaste of not-yet-forgotten snowflakes, and Orpheus' fingers had grown numb against the strings of his guitar. There was no jacket or coat to keep his exposed forearms warm, no gloves to shield his fingers from the cold; he's never had enough coin in his pocket to afford anything like that, but it had never struck him as necessary enough to complain about.

"Is anybody home?"
He hadn't reached the door yet but was calling out already, not worried about possibly hostile residents.
Adjusting the guitar on his back, the boy picked up on pace, crossing the high grass with long steps, excitement growing beneath his skin even though he didn't know the outcome for it yet.

Truth was - he hadn't seen much of anyone human around yet, only nature and its animals, distant lines of houses too close to the line of the horizon to walk towards. He didn't know where he was, nor where he was headed, but fear would only stir from its sleep once darkness would fall. And even then, Orpheus knew he could sing for comfort.

Though he didn't know where he was headed, he knew whom he had to find. It was too cold to sit around in one place, and he grew hungry quickly unless he busied himself with something, and since he didn't know how or where to look for the person he needed to get to, his best shot were the residents of this place. Certainly they've seen something he hadn't, and surely they'd help him.

Orpheus had reached the cabin's door by now - it looked like it hadn't been opened much at all, but the thought that it may have been abandoned didn't cross his mind. Raising his cold hand, the boy knocked softly.
"Hello? I am looking for someone, perhaps you have seen him?"

Shifting weight, Orpheus leaned sideways, trying to peek through one of the windows to catch a glimpse at ...well, he wasn't sure either, but it seemed a sensible idea to him.
He shifted his weight from one foot onto the other to keep himself warm, getting on his tiptoes even though he was tall enough to reach the window easily either way.
Despite his efforts, he couldn't make out any shapes inside, and with a few more minutes passing, he may just have given up and continued on his way.
But then, somebody was turning the door's lock.
 
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Xiao Xingchen

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There had been hesitation at the first sound of the stranger’s voice. A couple of years ago, perhaps he would have been quick to answer the door, to help somebody who may have needed assistance, but that had been a long time ago and times had changed. Everything had changed. Xue Yang, in all of his cruelty, had managed to leave Xiao Xingchen’s outlook on life and the people in it skewed. There was a reason, after all, that he was all the way out here, though he would have argued that it was more for the safety of others than anybody else.

It was not his fault, he would try to tell himself again and again. Believing those words was more difficult than anything, though. The dead had no ears for all of the apologies that he wanted to utter. The dead were simply dead.

Nobody came around to visit. Robin was the exception, but that was because Robin had proven his own vivid brand of kind with a desire to come check in on him every now and then despite Xingchen’s insistence that it was unnecessary. This stranger, however, was just as insistent, though, until there was a knock this time at his door. The young man stood still, blind gaze watching the door and then, slowly, he made his way toward it. The stranger didn’t sound hurt or distressed, but he sounded genuine as well. Chances were, he could gently turn him away when he realized that the blind stranger he had come across had never and would never see whoever it was he was looking for.

And so, the door pulled open and there he stood in his elegant white zhiju, a clean white blindfold wrapped around his head where his eyes should have been. “Hello,” came his quiet voice, a faint smile at the corners of his lips as he turned his head to seek out the sound of his new stranger. “I’m afraid I can’t say how much help I’ll be to you.” He didn’t think he needed to say way, unless by some coincidence, his new stranger also happened to be blind.
 
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Orpheus

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The man who eventually opened the door was long-haired and clad in white, like a God from old tales, back when shrines had still been meaningful.
His eyes were covered with an equally white blindfold, but somehow Orpheus didn't quite conclude blindness from this, but rather strange choices of attire, or perhaps ritualistic symbolism.

I’m afraid I can’t say how much help I’ll be to you
The man was soft-spoken, his smile looked friendly, peaceful.
"Of course you can't, I haven't asked anything yet!"
The cheerful words came to the boy without any ulterior motive - no cruel mockery was hiding behind his naive obliviousness. It was just that things of tragic nature rarely crossed his mind.

"I am looking for a friend - Mr. Hermes, he's a storyteller. Tall, dark, old. He's very smart. Has he knocked your door, by any chance?"
The touch of despair echoing behind warm syllables made Orpheus speak up faster, words tumbling like a rushing river past his lips, making him sound much younger than his age.

The warm air coming from behind the stranger's back lured Orpheus a step closer towards the man, like something was calling for him behind these doors. When was the last time he's had a warm meal? He couldn't remember, and he hadn't cared, until now. Until this man had opened the door and let this warmth drape around his shoulders like the memory of a spring that hasn't been around in decades.

"Do.. you perhaps have some food to share, Mister? Just a little. An apple or a loaf of bread?"
Oblivious to his unawareness of the man's blindness, Orpheus' eyes continuously tried to seek out the other's, somehow expecting the stranger to be staring back at him from beneath the fabric of his blindfold.
 

Xiao Xingchen

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There was no helping the way he huffed out a quiet laugh, dipping his head a bit as his smile twitched a bit brighter. There was almost a shyness in his gesture, and there always was as though he had someone grown more self conscious since the day he had chosen to give up his sight. He would never have taken back that decision, but he could not deny the way that his blindness had come to change his life in irreversible ways.

Still, he said nothing. It seemed impolite to point out that he had heard him calling about who he was searching for, so he simply listened in patient silence as he stood in the doorway.

Mr. Hermes. It was obvious, he thought, that he would never have seen somebody tall, dark, and old. The thought that his blindness had not occurred to the boy didn’t cross his mind. People had a tendency to notice at first glance judging by the way they waved the blind man away from their fruit stands, not wanting to deal with the blind or the cripple. Maybe there was something heart warming about the fact that the boy did not hesitate in his words even at the sight of him. He sounded friendly.

Wanting to come in, though, brought Xingchen pause. He just wanted a bite to eat. There was no harm in that. He wasn’t inviting him into his life or into his heart. Just a bite to eat, and some warmth if the way the chill in the air nearly had him shivering was any indication. And so, he gave a slight nod and stepped back, gesturing the stranger to come inside. “You’ll be much warmer in here,” he assured him, and he could still hear the light crackle of flames licking wood in the fireplace across the room. There was still some time before it went out.

Moving across the room toward a counter, side stepping the table he had finally stopped slamming his leg into, Xingchen reached out with his hand, blinding searching for something until his fingers found the basket with some fresh fruits from Cascade Bay. An apple in each hand, he turned to go back the way he had come. “My visitors are few and far between,” he told him, listening for the sound of movement so that he might be able to locate him with ease. “An older gentleman last week, but I don’t know what he looked like.”
 
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Orpheus

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Rejection was not something Orpheus would ever be expecting - one might say he's been lucky enough to be allowed his ignorance. But Orpheus was a stubborn young man, too, and neither his poverty nor the cold of harsh winters at home had been capable of driving his hope out of him.

A nod and a faint gesture of hand inviting him inside. He didn't hesitate, slipping past his host into the warmth of the house. Wide-eyed with curiosity, he took in his surroundings, and perhaps he would have lingered longer, allowed himself to touch all these things that weren't his - but the crackling flames of the fireplace were too inviting, luring him like a siren's call to take a cross-legged seat on the floor where it was warmest.

Only then did Orpheus truly take notice of how exhausted he was. The ache in his legs sparked in pins and needles, slowly growing numb against the fire's heat.
My visitors are few and far between
The man's soft voice lured the boy's attention towards him once more, apple in each of the other's hands now, and there was something odd in the way the man walked, like he wasn't quite certain just where he was stepping.
....but I don't know what he looked like

"Oh!"
The exclamation wasn't weighted by pity but rather mere sudden realization; as if he's just guessed the answer to a quiz question correctly, though he never bothered explaining it, either.
No words of sentiment were added either. After all, where was the use in saying he was sorry? It wouldn't fix this stranger, nor had he anything to apologize for, either, did he now?

When the man closed in enough, Orpheus arched up where he was sat, softly taking the apple out of the other's hand, trying to make sure he wouldn't startle him.
"Thank you. That is a beautiful apple, haven't seen such apples in a while."
Not fully ripe yet with green patches showing - his favorites. Spring apples. But spring didn't exist where he came from anymore.
Before nostalgia could come to make his lungs grow heavy, Orpheus chased it away with a hearty bite into his apple.

At the very least he had the decency to wait until he was done chewing before speaking up once more.
The fire was warming him quickly; the comforts of these walls were easy for him to sink into for he didn't believe in stranger danger, didn't much concern himself with the possibility of a stranger's ill-meaning.
"Why do you wear a blindfold if you cannot see anyway?"
Innocent curiosity gave his question a childish touch - he wasn't meaning to pry, but it seemed silly to him. He thought if he'd have been blind, he wouldn't have cared for hiding it.
Wasn't there only use in hiding something that oneself could see, to make it invisible?
Besides, wasn't the use of a blindfold that of blinding someone? Why bother blindfolding somebody who was blind already?

Taking another bite of his apple, Orpheus adjusted his guitar with his free hand, preventing the instrument's neck from scraping along the floor behind him, fingers holding the strings down to keep them quiet.
His eyes remained upon his generous host all this time, as if the man was somehow the most interesting person the boy's ever come across - not that the other would ever be aware of Orpheus' staring.
 
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Xiao Xingchen

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There was a bit of a youthful awe to the way that the stranger spoke, the sort of tone that left him feeling as though he could trust him. Maybe it was that or maybe it was the clear fact that he was hungry and he was cold, which became all the clearer as he listened to the way his new friend made straight for the fireplace. He was taking full advantage of all that was offered to him, something that Xingchen would not have done immediately, but then, Xingchen struggled to accept help from others. He had never struggled to give it, though, and it was always quite a lot easier when they didn't fuss about it.

With this boy, there was no amount of fussing at all as he took the apple and commented on its beauty, something that brought a faint smile to the blind man's lips. That was good. He couldn't see the fruits that he bought, but he was always told that they were top quality and they felt smooth and healthy to the touch. And yet, the way he admitted to not seeing apples of this quality for a long while left him wondering. Who was he? Where had he come from? What had his living conditions been like? It wasn't necessarily as though he couldn't relate, having lived in the abandoned Yi City, and before then, traveling with Zichen at his side, survival had always been something that had left the necessities fairly limited.

Hearing the satisfying crunch as his company took a bite into the apple, Xingchen turned away from him, reaching out blindly with his hand to find the wooden chair he knew was there. It didn't take long at all to find as though he had been through the process a hundred times before, and as he carefully took his seat, his blind gaze returned to where the boy sat on the floor. "It isn't for my own benefit," he admitted, that small smile lingering there at his lips. It was honesty, and he didn't mind being honest. By no means did Xingchen regret the decision he had made which had led him to his blindness and he would not have taken them back for the world.

But then, maybe he would have taken them back for Zichen. For the guarantee of his life. For the sake of having him there at his side at all, for knowing that his suffering was less than it could have been.

"If I removed it, you wouldn't like what you see." Xingchen himself could never have described it for he had never see it with his own eyes. Never again could he look in a mirror and, really, it was a miracle that he was able to keep his robes as pristine white as they were and his hair as effortlessly smooth as it was. But then, quite a lot of things about the ways that the lonely blind man in the cottage survived were miraculous.

NOTES:
 
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Orpheus

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The soft crackling of the fire sounded like music to him - but most things did. Nature was made of melodies, and Orpheus knew if only he'd find the right combination, he'd be able to fix... everything.
Thought being sat here, at the fire, skin growing warmer, it was hard to remember that spring had left him. The cold winds of winter were so far away now, and it made Orpheus lazy for a moment; it made him forget the misery of his home.

He didn't forget his host though - he listened attentively, taking occasional bites out of his apple every now and again, its sweet juice more than enough to keep up the boy's good mood.
His host, however, was much more reserved, much quieter than him, though that didn't bother Orpheus in the slightest.

"Have you ever asked anyone whether it would bother them if you took it off?"
Again there was no harshness to his words at all.
Orpheus didn't think he would have minded to see the other without his blindfold, and even if - he couldn't tell whether it bothered him or not unless he saw it, right?

But the man seemed comfortable enough with wearing it, which was the only reason the boy decided not to push him about it any longer.

"I am Orpheus, by the way. Do you live here alone?"

It wasn't a big house by any means, but certainly big enough for a wife, or a dog, or a parent. Living alone struck him as sad, in a way. But he's never lived alone, not really, at least. The only time he's been alone was when his mother had abandoned him - but Hermes had never left his side since.
Well.... until now.
 

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