At this point, Yujia was beginning to lose hope of finding someone to help them get out. There was a very high possibility of her and Zixu having to spend the night in the forest.
During this time, Yu Zixu worked on starting a fire before night officially came. He found a few dry pieces of wood, a sharp rock, and some dry grass for tinder. He told Yujia to go find some smaller twigs for kindling, and by the time she came back with an armful of kindling and slightly larger sticks to keep the fire going, he already had an entire drill-contraption set up.
She set the kindling down in a nearby pile and sat down to observe him.
"Have you started a fire before?" she asked.
"When I was younger, yes. My uncle taught me on a long-distance business trip that I went with him on. I practiced a few times for fun when I got back home."
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That sounded like the making of an arsonist.
Yujia fixed her eyes on the notches he carved into a piece of wood with the rock. He now took a thin stick and placed it in one of the notches.
For some reason, she didn't quite see Zixu as one who would practice starting fires with just a few sticks of wood. On the contrary, he seemed more like the type to carry matches on him so that whenever he needed a fire, he could be prepared. Through all the stories he told her, her mental image of a young Zixu was the type to be careful with his actions and words, even as a child, and to focus on improving practical skills that he could frequently apply to his own life.
Survival skills didn't really seem like they categorized as something he would spend his time learning, though they were certainly very useful right now.
"I was very dedicated to becoming perfect at everything I was taught," he replied, his gaze still focused on the pieces of wood, which he now put between his hands to spin the stick into the notch. "Starting a fire with just wood and friction is a difficult task. My uncle, who had practice, did it so easily. Yet when I attempted it, even with his careful observation, I could never get enough of a flame going. So I was determined to master it."
He used the heel of his foot to steady the notched wood.
"When I went home, I didn't think that my father would appreciate me starting fires in the villa. I would sneak to the backyard and carve my pieces of wood and find my spindles. I would practice until my hands were all blistered, day by day, determined to prove that I could start a fire by myself. And when I did, there was a kind of triumph that I had never felt before. It was nice to know that I had the power to do something. It may have been just a simple flame, but it was almost like the first taste of power I ever had."
"And you were… how old when this happened?" Yujia asked in reply.
"Then, you were a very ambitious and power-loving twelve year old."
He didn't object to that, only nodding. All the while he talked, he continued to twist the wood spindle. A long while passed, and nothing seemed to happen. No smoke, no sparks, nothing.
Yujia stared at this. "Will this work?"
Zixu looked up at her, the corners of his lips curling up. "Starting a fire has also taught me the important skill of patience."
It was as if the word "patient" was a magic word, for the moment Zixu said that, smoke began to drift from the notch the wood was spinning on. When there was enough smoke, he moved it from the tinder to kindling, cupping it in his hands and gently blowing at it. Then, it was truly magical to see little orange flames flicker up from the cracked twigs, growing larger and larger until Zixu tucked the fire within other twigs and larger sticks.
From that, within minutes, a medium sized fire was going between the two of them.
Yujia looked at this with wide eyes. Her eyes grew larger by the second.
This was pure magic. She could see why a twelve-year-old Zixu felt so proud of himself for being able to start a fire. Seeing this fire start in front of her, from just a few sticks of wood to a flame burning an entire pile of logs and bamboo, felt like a magic trick.
Fire, which could be started so easily with any bit of technology, from flint and steel to modern stovetops, felt like something so basic. But now, seeing how much work it took to start a fire without that technology, Yujia had a newfound appreciation for its existence.
Zixu, who tossed a twig into the growing fire, muttered, "It took me awhile to start this fire. I used to be able to do it quicker as a child. I suppose I forgot most of how to do it by now."
"That's still… stunning," she murmured back.
And though the sky was already close to becoming entirely dark, and though the fire was enchanting enough with its flickers of vibrant oranges and yellows, Yujia realized one crucial fact.
She was very hungry.
The sky gradually grew darker around them, with the sun slipping behind the horizon. And yet still, no one showed up. Not a single shadow of a human other than the two of them, Yujia and Zixu, appeared.