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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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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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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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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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Xiao Xingchen

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As he listened to his company's chatter, which was quite enough to fill the silence all on his own, Xingchen reached out with his hand, bending a bit at the waist as he felt to the left of the chair for a basket he had been working on slowly over the past couple of days. His fingers slid over the smooth yet bumpy surface of woven bamboo and he closed his hand around the edge of the basket, pulling it up into his lap. Pulling some loose bamboo from within it, Xingchen became to idly wrap the bamboo tightly around the handle as he listened, his fingers moving at a careful pace but with admittedly curious skill for a young man who could not see.

Still, his pace slowed a little bit at the sound of that question as though he had never considered it before. And perhaps he hadn't, but even then, he thought the answer was obvious enough. People bothered Xingchen on the street even with the cloth over what eyes were not there to be seen. What would they have done without it? And so, in some ways, perhaps the cloth wasn't only for the sake of others. It was for his own sake, his own comfort, as well.

Before he could say anything, though it was debatable with how long he was taking whether or not he would at all, the other had moved on, introducing himself with a name wholly unfamiliar to him, but not easily forgettable at all. Orpheus. Although Xingchen had no face to connect that name with, there was a voice and he found that these days, he had quite the memory for voices. "I do," he admitted, his fingers returning to their previously more comfortable pace as he carefully weaved the handle of the basket. "My name is Xiao Xingchen. You aren't here to rob me, are you? I've been told that I am much too trusting for my own good."

Nobody had ever said that. Though, he supposed he had told himself that a thousand times since the day that fate had stolen Song Lan from him and swept his miserable form to Pandora.

NOTES:
 
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A bite of the apple in his mouth and eyes ever-bright with curiosity, Orpheus observed how the other man picked up a basket made of what appeared to be bamboo. Something about the way the other worked on it was soothing to the eye, meditative almost.
Watching him made Orpheus realize how tired he was, how much he was aching for the hours upon hours of wandering.

Xiao Xingchen was, much like his own name was to the other, wholly unfamiliar to Orpheus. It sounded much more complex than the Greek he was used to, much more foreign.
Like a man from a far away place, which immediately made Orpheus want to learn everything about him. He hadn't come upon many foreigners back home. Only those who had come from surrounding towns and cities, but rarely beyond country borders.

Before he could think up what to ask first, however, Xiao was inquiring about a different matter altogether.
Orpheus' smile slipped - though the other couldn't see his expression losing its chilidish curiosity. The question had hurt somewhat, but on the other hand, the boy couldn't quite understand why anyone would assume such a thing about another, so perhaps this was on him.

"No, I'm not like that. But... I think if you'd ever come upon a thief, there wouldn't be much use asking him whether he's come to rob you."
He may not have possessed much people knowledge, but he guessed thieves weren't too eager to spill their intentions.

Having gnawed the apple down to its very seeds, Orpheus pushed himself to his feet and strode over to the kitchen to discard the remains of the fruit and wash his hands off its sugary sticky juice. He kept the seeds in the pocket of his trousers though - perhaps he would get a chance to plant them sometime.

Reclaiming his seat by the fire, he continued to watch his host working on his basket.
"Who taught you that?"
Cradling his guitar in his lap, he supported his elbows on the instrument in thoughtful pose, excitement slowly easing into something quieter with watching Xiao's fingers working away on the bamboo.
 
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If Xingchen had meant anything at all by the question, it had certainly not been to insult him. They were both lucky, perhaps, that the blind man was not somehow a mind-reader, although some may even have questioned that when they watched the way that he moved about on the streets, side-stepping obstacles that he would have bumped into had he not been paying close attention. He thought he would never have liked being a mind-reader, but then, something like that would have saved him from Xue Yang's cruelty. Something like that would have saved the life of Song Lan. Zichen would have been right there by his side and he would not have been in mourning for what he suspected would be the very rest of his days.

His heart, he suspected, would never stop hurting.

Whatever the case, Xingchen, in all of his blindness, was not aware of the slight offense he had caused and had he been aware, an apology would have easily been spoken. All he heard in the end were the boy's words and he smiled faintly, giving a slight nod of the head. "I suppose that is true," he remarked, his voice having even an edge of amusement to it as he considered that. Were somebody there to rob him, they more than likely would never have told him that. Were he willing to trust Orpheus less, he may have thought he had already gone wandering about the hut, snatching things up silently between innocent words. That wasn't to say Xiao Xingchen would never have known. In some sense, he did have other ways of seeing.

As though on cue, he heard Orpheus' movement and turned his head slightly to follow the sound of it. He was moving toward the kitchen and he could hear the distinct sound of him discarding the remains of the apple he had given to him. He washed his hands and soon enough he was back to his spot by the fire. Xingchen heard something else, though. The quiet thump of wood that he had not noticed before, a hollow echo that he knew immediately did not belong to the wood of the floor alone.

"The woman I was brought up by," he admitted. "I could see then. I suppose it became like second nature after all of these years." There had been understanding when he had finally left the seclusion of the mountain he had been trained on. Understanding, but disappointment perhaps due to the simple fact that he could never return. And yet, desperate times called for desperate measures and he had returned. He had returned for the sake of somebody he loved, he had returned to sacrifice something precious so that Song Lan might be able to go on living his days and witnessing the world around him with his own two eyes. Still, whatever rules he had broken, however stern Baoshan Sanren had been in some regards, she had been the only guardian that Xiao Xingchen had ever had.

There were simply bigger things than her lonely mountain.

"What do you have there?" he finally asked, curiosity clear as day in his tone.

NOTES: there's something so soft about these two
 
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Of course, Orpheus didn't know anything about Xiao's personal struggles, and he himself didn't have many struggles to be putting up with for his young years - except for hunger and poverty.
But as long as he had his music, he thought nothing could cause him harm.
Little did he know of all the tragedies ahead of him. In a way, perhaps, Pandora had saved him from living his own legend - Eurydice, Hades, the walk into the underworld, singing on the way out, turning around. Losing the love of his life to endless darkness. Desiring nothing but death since.
All these things were ahead of him. Or would have been, if it hadn't been for Pandora. This strange place had saved him from ever-lasting grief and guilt, but it had also prevented him from meeting his future wife in the first place.
Fate was bittersweet like this, especially the ancient Greeks knew to sing of that.

The woman I was brought up by his host spoke, and Orpheus perked his head up to listen to the man's story.
As brief as the fragment of insight was, it made the young poet fall silent for a moment or two. He tried to remember his mother, but as hard as he tried, he couldn't recall her face. He remembered her voice, though, and how she's used to sing to him. Lullabies clear as lake waters, warm like the summer sun. Back then he hadn't been able to understand all of her lyrical skill, but he remembered how smooth her words had been, how her song had seemed to string lives and deaths alike, like the Delphi Oracle's prophecies.
But his memories were few and far between. He knew who she was, but he had never truly known her - she's never given him a chance to.

It wasn't bitterness as much as nostalgia that took hold of Orpheus when he thought of it, though. He wasn't angry with her, he just wondered on occasion why she had left him. Whether the fates had made it so. Whether perhaps it had been his fault.

Staring into the fire, Orpheus' vision began to swim with the blur of colors and the heat of the flames, and it took him a few blinks to restore the room around him to clarity.
What do you have there?
It took him a moment to realize what the man was talking about, but once he did, his smile returned. Not quite as bright as it had been a moment ago, perhaps, but he cradled the guitar closer, thumb running along well-familiar wood.
"My guitar. I also have a lyre. Would you like to hear me play?"

In Orpheus' defense -he did ask, he just didn't await the other's answer before grasping the instrument and running his fingers along the strings delicately. The chord he produced echoed through the small cabin, seeming to sprawl its way across every wall and every floorboard.
But it was when he started singing that the very air itself seemed to hold its breath.
"King of shadows
King of shades
Hades was king of the Underworld
But he fell in love with a beautiful lady
Who walked up above in her mother's green field
He fell in love with Persephone
Who was gathering flowers in the light of the sun
And he took her home to become his queen
Where the sun never shone
On anyone."


The young poet's voice seemed to take over every fibre of the room, luring the fire itself into silence though its heat never ceased warming their weary bones. Every dust particle, every bird on the trees outside these windows, every breeze of wind seemed to halt what they were doing for the sake of listening.

"The lady loved him and the kingdom they shared
But without her above, not one flower would grow
So King Hades agreed that for half of each year
She would stay with him there in his world down below
But the other half, she could walk in the sun
And the sun, in turn, burned twice as bright
Which is where the seasons come from
And with them, the cycle
Of the seed and the sickle
And the lives of the people
And the birds in their flight.
La la la la la la la..."


His voice grew softer, like a lover caressing his partner's cheek, like the whispered memory of something that has never been but was pulled into existence through his voice. The guitar in his hands sang like a nightingale as he worked his fingers along its strings, and the song's last chord was a slow exhale of everything the heart could ever ache for.
Orpheus allowed it to fade out naturally, the string's vibrations slowly growing quieter until eventually silence settled once more.
It took a heartbeat or two before everything around them seemed to return to its usual life again, the crackle of the fire slowly picking up again as if it had suddenly remembered its purpose.

"It is a song I am working on, but it isn't finished yet. When I finish it, it will bring spring back."
The young artist stated, his voice optimistic but growing heavy around the edges. He knew how big of a task this was, how important - unlike his host here. After all, Pandora wasn't short of any seasons.
Just that Orpheus wasn't aware of that yet.
 
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