“Are you really reading this awful novel?” Tianlang-Jun blinks as a young but nonetheless sharp voice interrupts his lecture. He looks down to see the two greenest but also sharpest eyes he has ever seen.
Those eyes wouldn’t look out of place on a snake, he muses before sending a kind smile to the child. The young master of a house if his clothes are anything to go by. “Is that so? I thought the plot was interesting.”
A nasty glare - which doesn’t suit the youthful face to say the least - is sent to The Erotic Tales of the Sun Princess. “It’s just a poor excuse to write cheap pornography by someone who has never touched a woman.”
Tianlang-Jun blinks. “Because you have?” He can’t help but be amused. In his defense, his interruptor doesn’t look older than ten and wouldn’t even reach the top of his head was he standing on two desks.
“Of course not.” The assassin eyes roll. “Which only shows how unrealistic it is if even someone like me can notice it.”
“Isn’t it just part of the style?” No human in their right mind ever wants to come near him - an animal’s instinct without a doubt - and no demon understands the finery of literature. Unfortunately. Had this been different he wouldn’t have given an ounce of attention to the little urchin in front of him.
Instead, he grins as the child’s face discontorts even more. He opens his mouth to release what - Tianlang-Jun knows - is a rant about the book but a feminine voice prevents him from doing so.
“A-Jiu, where are you?”
The boy pales, anger turning into panic in a heartbeat. He gives him a quick glance as he evaluates what to do. Soon, all expressions leave him, he bows in front of Tianlang-Jun and leaves.
Boredom makes him follow the two children to a nice house away from the center of the city. He summons shadows to hide his presence and enters the place, eyes wide open as he studies it.
From the start, discomfort tickles his bones. None of the servants appear to be fine, the metallic smell of blood accompanies each of their moves. The aura around them, grim and thick, reminds him of the putrid scent of a city overtaken by sewers.
The sensitivity of his senses increases. The sentiment of being in a detective story makes him feel giddy. He walks down into the corridors with the two children in front of him, busy talking. Well, the girl does. The boy only pretends to pay attention.
They arrive at a study where a young man is reading. He looks up toward them and a smile as sweet as a rotten fruit slices his face apart.
If the boy from before is a snake, this one is a cat and the girl in the middle is the naive rabbit who doesn’t notice anything.
She smiles at him and doesn’t notice how his eyes run along her blooming curve. Disgust fills him. Demons had often looked at his baby sister this way. None of them had kept their eyes for long.
“Did you have fun, Tang-er?” He purrs.
Behind his back, the boy - “A-Jiu” - plays with his fingers, a clear sign of discomfort and doesn’t dare gaze up at the others. He is smarter than the girl then.
“Of course, Da-ge. A-Jiu brought me everywhere. We went to see the plums in bloom and this poet you liked so much last time was reciting. I wish you had come with us !”
The big brother stands up and comes to pat the younger boy on the head. “I’m so glad you were here to take care of my precious little sister.” His fingers tighten on the crown of his hair, long enough for the other to tense.
Hazel and green meet in a glare. Next to them, ‘Tang-er’ keeps babbling, oblivious to it all. A blind man would have a better situation awareness than this girl.
Tianlang-jun scoffs. A rabbit through and through.
He doesn't know which one of this brother and sister duo he dislikes more.
Time stretches out and the sky’s blue darkens. A yawn escapes the little girl and his brother instantly comes near her. “Do you want to eat? I’ll ask a servant to bring you a light meal in your room.”
The young girl beams at him and bids them a good night.
As soon as the door closes behind her, the atmosphere shifts. The pleasant smile melts into a disgusted snarl. Before Tianlang-Jun can think, the smell of blood invades the room as a fist sinks into the youthful flesh. New wounds have been reopened and the boy collapses without a sound.
No scream leaves him as the other climbs on top of him either. He doesn’t struggle as hands surround his neck and press as if to press the life out of it. Each of his moves betray a twisted desire for domination.
“Did you have fun today, little slave? Was it fun to parasite my dearest sister like that? Don’t become too proud just because you’re her fiance. It won’t save you. Nothing will.” He clenches his cheek and forces him to expose his face.
Tianlang-Jun expects to see unshed tears and despair on his face. Yet, only defiance shines in those two green eyes. He smirks as if to say ‘is that all you can do?’.
In front of such blazé eyes, the older looks more like a barbarian and he the emperor who indulges in a childish tantrum. It doesn’t improve his situation.
The hold on his neck grows tighter, sky-coloured marks are starting to form, and he still doesn’t flinch. Tianlang-Jun applauds his resilience. He looks remarkably proud of himself for someone whose lips are turning blue.
His nephew had been the same when others had harmed him because of his appearance. Accepting. As if pain and torture were life-long companions which he would never get rid of.
Heavenly demons burn, they always bow in front of their emotions. This situation is no different.
His energy fluctuates with rage. For a brief instant, he loses control.
The boy gasps. Tianlang-Jun notices with surprise that those two impossibly green eyes are now fixated on him, at the exact place where he stands. Too precise for it to be a coincidence.
Good spiritual veins, Tianlang-Jun concludes. How else would he be able to at least perceive his presence?
“Look at me, bastard! Why don’t you understand that I’m the emperor of your world ?! You’re not allowed to look away”
Two choices appear in front of him. Routine or change? Now which one is it going to be? He pretends not to already know the answer.
Well, stagnation has never suited him.
In the blink of an eye, the darkness fades away as he reveals himself.
“Well, I had never seen such a pathetic king until now !” He says as a form of greeting, his tone warm but his eyes freezing. “Truly this is a wonderful place if such an ant can take a position of power.”
The two freeze in front of the newcomer. They both at first wear the same look of incredulity. Then while the slave boy struggles to decrease his presence - smart boy - the other stands up and looks up to him with sharp eyes.
“How dare you! It is the main house of the Qiu family. Outsiders, especially ones such as yourself are not permitted. Now leave before I make you regret it.” He points at the robes which open to reveal his chest. In his defense, humans don’t provide clothes which fit him.
One of his eyebrows rises. “O? How interesting ! And how do you intend to do so, boy?” The game starts appealing to him. Human nature truly fascinates him. What will he do? Attack him? Lose his unjustified confidence? Who can anticipate, who can tell? That’s what makes it fun.
He feels like a child about to achieve his lifelong dream.
The boy walks toward the hanged sword and unsheaths it with a metallic hiss.
“You will pay for insulting me.”
His stand doesn’t belong to a swordsman, barely to a child pretending to be a warrior. Bullying the weak doesn’t figure in his favorite activities but he still preens when the sword breaks under his grip. The boy stops himself.
The situation finally catches up to him and fear starts pointing his nose.
“You-You- How could you do that?”
He looks up to the demon seal burning on Tianlang-Jun’s forehead which shines like a small sun.
Still on the floor, Shen Jiu throws him a look of utter disdain which earns him a wink from Tianlang-Jun.
“Don’t-Don’t kill me. We have mo-money if you w-want.”
“And pray tell me, what would I do with something like that? What I want I can take.” Which is a lie. Nothing pleases him more than buying the legal way books he loves. The sensation is entirely different.
“Please.” Tears start accumulating under the feline eyes. “Don’t hurt me.”
“Your slave carries himself with more dignity than you do.
The Qiu boy glares at him, his resentment obvious, but he doesn’t say anything. He walks toward the other boy and grips the hem of his robe. When their eyes are at the same level, he smiles at the boy.
A wave of qi later, his bruises fade until his skin takes back a color too pale for him to be healthy.
“You, on the contrary, are coming with me.”
The reality of the situation only hits Tianlang-Jun as they exit the manor. What is he supposed to do with a boy and a human one to boot? Why does his brain always give up on him at the worst times?!
Said boy is currently busy looking with a smug grin at the items he had taken with him during their leave. Mainly thick books about cultivation but also a pin which used to belong to the young master of the household.
Fear had made him quite willing to separate himself from it. The boy hadn’t hesitated to take advantage of it. Clearly, he is only human by nature and not by heart.
Well, he will at least provide a suitable distraction. Tianlang-jun sighs and looks around him.
Autumn has just started to arrive. Green still overpowers any other colour but he can see red spots starting to meddle with it. A blanket of leaves can be found on the ground and undulates as their two pairs of feet walk on it.
This peaceful scene doesn’t fit with his inner panic.
Soon, one of the pair stops. He turns around to look at the child who glares at him with stubborn lips and even more stubborn emerald eyes.
“We should hurry or no inn will take us in.”
“What are you expecting from me?” He asks bluntly.
“What could I expect from a mere child who doesn’t even reach my chin?”
“I won’t follow you if I don’t know what you want.” The child declares with the same defiance as when he was being beaten. If it wasn’t being directed at him, he would admire him for it.
“Shouldn’t you obey your savior?” Maybe gratefulness will soften his harsh edges?
“And what good is trusting you if you decide to enslave me just after? At least the Qius are a well-known evil.” Apparently not…
The fakely mature expression makes him coo. Is it supposed to scare him? How adorable. He pats him on the head and instantly takes his hand away with a yelp when the boy tries to bite him.
Nasty little thing.
“I’m not lying to you, boy. I’m just a bored old man who looks for entertainment wherever he can.” He notices with amusement that the boy looks up and down at him, clearly trying to determine how old he is. Then after a moment, he nods to himself.
“You’re lonely, aren’t you?” He smirks as he says this, smugness present in his tone and on his face. “So that’s your motive, huh? So much for a scary demon lord.”
He knows where this is going. “What do you need, child?”
“I need to look for someone.” He reveals. “Help me find them and I’ll do whatever you want.”
“This lord could make you obey without any effort.” He threatens only to gauge his reaction.
“But you won’t.” The child declares without any hesitation.
“What makes you so certain?”
He leans closer with delight. “You are looking for company and not obedience. You won’t get it if you force me to do anything.”
Now that he can properly analyse it, he realizes that apart from a pride of steel and a determination as devastating as a forest fire, there is something else in those eyes. Something far more dangerous than the former two put together : an intelligence as sharp as Silver Moon wolf’s fangs and as venomous as a Yellow Spider-Snake.
Heavens, what has he saddled himself with?
Shen Jiu doesn’t know what to make of his rescuer. It isn’t something which often happens.
No one does anything for free, this he knows. People all have their own personal agenda which he had learnt to decrypt through years of practise. Men’s are the ones easiest to read. Mostly because they often search an instantaneous gratification : money, fame or sex.
(Qi-ge wasn’t - isn’t like that, the childish part of his mind protests with outrage.)
Whatever, he brushes it away, an exception is worth nothing in front of thousands of pieces of evidence. He didn’t survive by having faith in humans’ benevolence.
All this to say that the demon - Tianlang-Jun from what he had gathered - doesn’t fit in the outline Shen Jiu had made of the world.
What money could a slave offer ? None. It would make more sense to rescue a prince if he wanted fame (and why would a demon want to be acknowledged by humans?). As for sex… well, he might be cynical about quite a lot but considering this option makes him sick.
(He doesn’t want to think about what Qiu Jianluo would have done to him once he was old enough)
Also, if the way the innkeeper’s daughter looks at the demon is anything to go by, he definitely doesn’t need him for that.
He observes as the adult gives a soft smile to a guqin player and claps vehemently at the end of his songs. He doesn’t fake his joy when he speaks with a poet or when he challenges an old woman to a game of go.
Shen Jiu keeps looking and doesn’t find greed. Only honesty and a wish to form deep bonds accompanied by a total absence of taste.
This person really reminds me of him… He muses.
What a moron,
he concludes and sighs.
Maybe Shen Jiu is actually the biggest fool of them all. The seed hasn’t sprouted yet - the soil isn’t fit for it at the moment - but he knows he will come to care for this person in the future.
He doesn’t like it at all. Freedom is already overwhelming enough on its own, he doesn’t want to taste any other new food right now.
So, instead, he closes his eyes and rests. Emotions will come later.
The child doesn’t smile, doesn’t react and barely blinks. Were it not for the cutting words which sometimes cross his red lips when they’re arguing about literature or money, he would have almost been convinced he had adopted a doll.
To put it simply : not a cute child at all. The kind of child any mother would look at with suspicion and wonders Did I really give birth to that? Must be a curse for sure.
“Don’t you mind travelling with a demon?” He asks one day.
“Better a demon than a monster.” The child shrugs and goes back to reading the new cultivation manuals Tianlang-Jun has offered - stolen for - him. He goes through them with an almost starved fervor, he has noticed.
After a few months spent with proper food and rest, the gaunt aspect of his face had eased up and been replaced by handsome - although some might rather say beautiful - slander features : sharp nose and what would soon be a well defined jaw. Gone were the skeletal limbs and although he still couldn’t be defined as healthy, he no longer needed days of rest after having walked for a few hours.
Only his eyes hadn’t changed. Still brightly sharp orbs which go from a dark green to an almost golden hue, with long eyelashes and devoid of any form of sympathy for the rest of the human population.
His nightmare child truly had grown up.
“You’ll need a sword soon if you keep this rhythm up. How old are you again?” He asks.
The other’s eyes roll as if to say ‘ Why does he keep bothering me?’ but he closes his book nonetheless. “Thirteen, give or take.”
“I was eight when my mother gave me my first sword. This lord shall also give you one soon.”
“Well,” He cups his chin as he focuses. “a cultivator can’t only use knives.”
He isn’t sure he will like the answer but curiosity still makes him ask. “Knives?”
As sole answer, the boy lifts his sleeve. On his forearms, two triangles made of leather are strongly fastened. Only the handles of the knife stick out.
“Are you trying to emulate a serial killer?” He smiles as he says this. While not as interesting as romances, he still loves those novels.
“Only if you bother me too much or make me listen to your poems again.”
“You’d make a pretty interesting antagonist.”
“Better than the ones in your stupid books.”
“You can’t recognize quality.”
The boy scowls at him. “A three pages description of a woman’s chest isn’t quality!”
“But what about the emotional grandeur of the situation?”
“O you mean the moment where the heroine hesitates between two men she has known for less than a week and who only brought her problems thus far?”
Tianlang-Jun blinks as he notices the conversation has deviated from its direction. Clever little one.
“So what kind of sword, do you want?” He asks again.
Frustration forms on the child’s face because of his failure but he smooths it over in a matter of seconds.
“No need. I’m managing perfectly well on my own.” He pats his forearm once again.
The demon pouts, actually pouts at him. “Why are you stopping me from spoiling my adorable disciple?”
A shiver climbs Shen Jiu’s spin. Considering the sick feeling in his stomach, there is no way his face hasn’t turned green, he thinks;. One of his knives is in his hand in a second.
“First, I’m not your disciple. Between the two of us, if one is a responsible adult, it’s not you. Second, if you talk about spoiling me even once again, I’ll castrate you, understood?” He grips the item tighter as he snarls this.
“Although it would be fun to see you try, my healing powers would regenerate it in a few seconds.” He pats the boy on the head, ignores the glare it earns him and goes to search for a blacksmith specialized in spiritual weapons.
Shen Jiu doesn’t feel reassured at all.
Shen Jiu’s suspicions get confirmed the day Tianlang-Jun throws a sword at him and orders him to try to touch him : this demon, despite his literacy, doesn’t understand what no means.
He groans and tries to bury his head in his pillows. The clearing they had been resting at disappears from his sight. The idea to stay outside during the coldest season hadn’t overjoyed him at first but warming talismans and a blooming cultivation did wonders to ignore the winter’s wind nibs.
“Come on, sleepyhead, time to train.”
Finding Qi-ge isn’t worth so much bullshit, he mentally complains.
Dozens of cities have been searched, still no trace of him and he still has to deal with an overbearing, stupid demon?
He groans as the soft thing is yanked away from him. It won’t be enough to make him yield. The perks of having slept in the streets and other uncomfortable places in his youth: if he is in no danger, even a storm won’t wake him up.
A foot nudges him in the side. He curls on himself in retaliation but still doesn’t talk.
“I am a demon lord, you can’t ignore me.”
Shen Jiu doesn’t cackle but it is a near thing. The demon’s credibilities had been lost when he had burst into tears because of a novel’s ending. It hadn’t even been that good. Too many plot holes and inconsistent character developments!
He pretends to yawn as Tianlang-Jun keeps shaking him. Then yelps as the equivalent of a bucket of water falls on him.
He instantly stands up and jumps away.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” He screams. Strands of wet hair cover his face like a mourning veil and he pushes them away with irritation.
“This lord’s disciple isn’t the only stubborn one. Now come on. Time to practise, show your master what you’ve learnt.”
He looks with suspicion at the weapon. He doesn’t trust anything offered to him by the man, not because he fears the demon, but because they have a vastly different definition of what ‘acceptable’ means.
He wouldn’t put it past him to gift him a demonic sword.
Once he has unsheathed the sword, he analyzes it. The quality of the metal would make any warriors weep in envy. So bright it is almost blinding, it looks as if stars have been entrapped in it. He sends a wave qi to it and almost lets it fall as green lightnings surround it.
“Is it going to explode?” He asks,
The annoyingly out of place pouts comes back. “Why do you never trust this lord?”
“It saves time?” One of his eyebrows raises. Does he think Shen Jiu idiotic enough not to notice all the white lies he has told him?
No, I’m not reading again instead of working.
No, I’m not running away from my responsibilities as a demon lord, it’s a really easy job to be one.
Of course I did not break the table again, stop looking at me like that.
Tianlang-Jun erases a fake tear.
Shen Jiu scolds him mentally.
Strangely enough, he doesn’t keep his pathetic act together for long. Soon, his hand goes back on the hilt of the sword he carries. A sword who must easily be as big as he is.
Gone are the kind but bored brown eyes which makes people confuse him with a spoiled young master. Instead red irises look down on him with expectations and a devilish grin. Before he can stop himself, his legs shake and his breath stutters.
His body’s animal response to the presence of a bigger predator.
No exterior signs support this theory, yet he can’t help but think it is the demon’s attempt to get rid of him.
It pisses him off. Since when had he shown fear in the face of adversity? If he could he would himself beat up until he stopped shaking like a newborn lamb. Weakness will never be - and never has been - tolerated.
So instead, he clings to the sword and pushes away any doubt which slows him down. He lets his anger come back instead, the beast which had been biding his time inside of him.
So what if the sight of a sword makes him uncomfortable because of this bastard of Qiu Jianluo? He’s not here right now ! Why should he allow him to have any power over his person after all this time?
His flawless memory provides him with examples of moves. He hums as the sword lights up with only a thought from him. It is heavy in his hands and he appreciates it.
And unsurprisingly, doesn’t last more than ten seconds. Dirt invades his mouth as he falls head first on the ground.
He splutters in rage.
Above him, Tianlang-jun sends him a teasing smile. “Now, let’s see if we can make you last a bit longer, shall we?”
Now here is the thing, despite what his tendency to avoid him might indicate, Tianlang-Jun does indeed care deeply about his nephew.
He just doesn’t appreciate Zhi-er’s endeavour to make him a responsible adult. He had already tried that - didn’t like it - and had decided never to do it again. Love stories are far more interesting than political intrigues!
That’s why, like the mature person he isn’t, he had slipped away in the night as far away as he could.
What he hadn’t taken into consideration was Zhuzhi-Lang’s special uncle detection powers.
Thus, surprise doesn’t assault him as he hears a delicate voice not unlike the hiss of a snake and sees scales which reflect the sun’s light.
What surprises him, however, is the panic which leaks in his nephew’s tone. Why would one of the most feared demon general be sca-
O right he has forgotten about the calamity in human’s clothing which travels with him.
He walks closer and laughs as his two wards come into view. Zhuzhi-Lang slithers away to avoid the sharpness of his pupil’s still unnamed sword. A ball of fire comes just after and darkens his nephew’s scales. Seconds after, his sword comes back to finish the job.
Murderous is the default setting of the boy. Each of his moves bear a killing intent he doesn’t even bother hiding. If he didn’t know humans aren’t as pristine in comparison to demons as they like to pretend, he would have already checked for a demon heritage.
He hums and sits down to look at the fight.
Tianlang-Jun may have underestimated how well the human child would progress with just manuals and little to no explanations apart from how to properly wield a sword. He watches with wonder as fire talismans are sent in a quick succession at his nephew who appears to be on the verge of tears.
He moves quickly, almost bestially and leaves little to no room for Zhuzhi-Lang to fight back.
He should help him, he really should. But a true display of elegance and skills is taking place in front of him, it would be terribly ungrateful of him not to enjoy it a little first, right?
“Junshang !” Zhuzhi-Lang screams when he notices him. This slows the other down who takes the time to blink at Tianlang-Jun.
“Is he a friend or do I burn him?” A dark green light illuminates his fingers, born from the anticipation of executing his threat.
“While it would be funny to let you indulge in your pyromaniac’s tendency, I like my nephews alive, thank you.”
“You know he was going to come?” The fire dissipates with an angry buzz from the talismans.
“Of course? Family’s members tend to visit each other.”
“Well, warn me next time !” The brat doesn’t even bother apologizing, only watches Zhuzhi-Lang with accusatory eyes, a hand on his waist, as if he, the one who had been about to be turned into a fried snake, is the culprit.
His nephew’s eyes turn tearful again. Exasperation fills Tianlang-Jun as he apologizes to the child who keeps giving him a displeased expression. A harsh young miss through and through.
The boy will eat Zhuzhi-Lang alive if he doesn’t grow a backbone. Even a succubus would show a man more mercy than this particular human.
Tianlang-Jun sighs at the future headache it will without a doubt turn into. He makes Zhuzhi-Lang sit down, one hand on his shoulder as a sign of comfort.
Instead of leaving as he usually would when Tianlang-Jun meets with someone, he breathes deeply and stares at Zhuzhi-Lang with what could almost be called - at least, for him - polite eyes.
“Young Master?” Zhuzhi-Lang wiggles in discomfort as he usually does when someone looks at him for too long.
“Do your scales have special properties?” He bluntly asks. Only common sense prevents him from gripping the demon’s arm to examine it.
“They’re good for defense?” Zhuzhi-Lang hesitates and gulps as the boy’s eyes narrow in dissatisfaction. He’ll be able to convince him to jump off a cliff in two days, Tianlang-Jun evaluates . “And they are useful for camouflage, young master.”
“Do you have to use qi for them to work?” He shoots back.
“I think it depends on how much I want to hide?”
“Are you answering or asking me?”
“I-” He stutters.
The discomfort shifts to full blown panic. That is enough.
He moves between them to intervene but the boy acts before him.
“It’s fine if you can’t answer. You can’t know everything about yourself.” His tone softens. A few months ago, showing empathy would have been impossible for him.
It turns out a child raised in a highly abusive place doesn’t always know how to communicate well. No one had warned him.
Many conversations had been necessary, painful ones. He had lost count of how many times the boy had lashed out, screamed at him not to dare to pity him until his lungs were empty of any oxygen.
It hadn’t fixed everything, of course, but the boy had at least given up his human bomb status to become a controlled fire.
“Do you want tea?”
“The one from this city with the fantastic dancers-”
“I wasn’t asking you.” His lips glue themselves together with a snap of his fingers. Teaching him this spell was a mistake.
“I’ll take whatever Junshang wants.”
He tsk-tsks but doesn’t comment.
It is adorable to see the boy try to be amiable to his nephew. He is lost in front of how emotional the other is. His eyes flicker from one side to the other - his reaction when he second-guesses what he is doing - and widen each time tears accumulate in Zhuzhi-Lang’s.
It makes him look like a fawn instead of a snake which amuses Tianlang-Jun to no end. His reaction earns him a new confrontation with the silencing spell.
My metaphorical snake disciple is trying to befriend my very literal snake nephew.
Eventually, Zhuzhi-Lan relaxes enough to offer him a shy smile, the kind he usually reserves for his uncle.
It makes the boy exhale in relief.
He goes away under the pretext of gathering wood. It is no lie although his exhaustion, more mental than physical in nature, also plays a role in it. He never moves away from their camp if he doesn’t need to be alone.
“What’s the young master’s name, Junshang?”
Tianlang-Jun stops his lecture as he realizes that he doesn’t know the answer.
They have been traveling together for almost one year and he had never thought to ask. Does that make him a terrible guardian? He feels like a terrible guardian.
Later, when he asks him the question, silence falls on them. Zhuzhi-Lang gives him disappointed eyes.
The boy looks up from Zhuzhi-Lang’s rainbow scales which he has been looking at with a clear fascination (he had held himself back from grinning when the demon had allowed him to examine them ) and offers him his most shit-eating grin.
“This one was wondering how much time it would take you to notice.” Shen Jiu fans himself lazily. The object had been earned from a bet against an old craftsman. It is a beautiful thing. In soft shades of blue and green, delicate bamboos have been painted and leave nothing to the imagination thanks to their precision.
“You never mentioned it!”
“I didn’t mention the sky was blue either. Do you need me to remind you of everything of importance?”
“That’s your job !”
“I am not your disciple nor your babysitter, idiot !”
A strange friendship starts after this although Shen Jiu keeps insisting they aren’t friends.
As usual the boy’s action doesn’t fit his words.
It takes him weeks to stop watching each of Zhuzhi-Lang movements like a hawk, as if he expects to be attacked by surprise at any moment. After this, the cold suspicion shifts into cold approval and the lessons start. Well, he says lessons but maybe rants would be closer to the truth. Their topics vary a lot : From how he shouldn’t let Tianlang-Jun get away with anything to how to manipulate anyone so they give him what he desires.
It is terrifying to realize how much the boy analyzes his own behaviour.
Zhuzi-Lang, meanwhile, will fret over the boy, bring him trinkets and anything sharp he can find. Offerings to a god, they can’t be called anything else. Shen Jiu always brightens and examines the knives with poorly concealed amazement…
Then explains to his nephew all the ways he can use them to maim a man.
Tianlang-jun now has a murderous teenage boy with almost a hundred knives at his disposal and a young snake demon who is well on the road to become as vicious as the former.
He may have made a terrible mistake.
Although he admits this whole situation might lead to unexpected results. Shen Jiu likes teaching his devious tricks and doesn’t even blink when he discovers Zhuzhi-Lang’s true form, only yawns and asks what spell he uses to maintain his humanoid form. A pleased blush doesn’t leave the young demon’s face for hours after this.
“What do you think A-Jiu?” A knife is sent toward him in reaction to the nickname. He catches it without a thought and sends it back. “About being my nephew-in-law?”
Zhuzhi-Lang yelps. A stark contrast to Shen Jiu’s obvious boredom. “Do I look like I have the time for a relationship?”
“You both would look really good in red.”
“Warm colours and black don’t suit me at all.” Shen Jiu retorts, oblivious to the anxious snake next to them. Or maybe he doesn’t care. He likes tormenting Zhuzhi-Lang as much as Tianlang-Jun does.
“Junshang, Young master…”
“Our family has always taken care of those who married into it. Look at Zhi-er’s father for example. I only mildly threatened him when he asked for my sister’s hand. Your children would be very cute also.”
Zhuzhi-Lang’s human appearance dissipates in a flurry of white clouds. Now as a big snake, he contorts until his head is hidden under his stomach.
It is the closest to pouting his nephew has ever come to be.
Shen Jiu’s eyes roll with what could almost be called fondness. “Come on, Zhuzhi-Lang, it’s not even biologically possible.”
The silence which follows makes him pale. “Is that some weird demon biology that I don’t know about?” He has always prided himself on his curiosity but this might be going too far. Tianlang-Jun’s devilish grin doesn’t assagiate his worries.
“Allow this lord to explain.”
“Junshang.” Zhuzhi-Lang pleads.
He exits this conversation with wide eyes, a knowledge he has never wanted and a deep state of confusion.
Snake demons’s ways of reproduction doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
From a common agreement - which means Tianlang-Jun had asked, Shen Jiu hadn’t cared and Zhuzhi-Lang had bowed - they leave for the capital at dawn.
Summer will soon come and the sun’s rays burn the tip of Shen Jiu’s nose. As he usually does when they arrive at a new destination, he separates from the two demons and starts exploring.
The slums at the border go first, soon followed by better living quarters. He talks to prostitutes, young ladies and grandmas who enjoy the sun near the imperial palace.
They always answer in the same manner. “We don’t know where the person you’re looking for is.”
The imperial exams will soon take place and a flock of young men which he acknowledges as a cultivator pass near him. They are whispering among each other and the white of their robes inform him they belong to Cang Qiong.
It is nearly impossible for Yue Qi to have managed to join it but hope - as much as Shen Jiu will deny indulging in such a stupid emotion - still makes him follow them.
He focuses his qi on his hearing and leans closer.
“Shixiong, what will we do if we fail?” One of the girls whines.
“There is no reason for Li-shimei to worry. As the disciples of the Qing Jing peak’s lady, how could we fail?” He sends a beaming smile to the woman who leads them.
She doesn’t react to the praise and only keeps fanning herself lazily.
The boy’s enthusiasm deflates.
Trying to earn her favour, huh? I won’t learn anything from him.
He stops looking at him and pays attention to the three boys at the end of the procession.
“Have you heard about the head disciple of Qiong Ding?”
“Hush, we’re not supposed to talk about it outside.”
“Come on, that’s because we are outside that we should talk about it. The Elders never let us.”
“Can you blame them? The sect leader’s prized student suddenly being forbidden from exiting one of the caves? They would drown in shame if other sects learnt about it.”
“Still, for Yue-shixiong to be locked away, it makes this shimei really curious to know what he has done.”
Shen Jiu freezes when he hears this.
Yue isn’t an uncommon name but there is only one person who would get into so much trouble. The similarities are too big for it to pass as a coincidence. It could still be but like a dog who finally gets a bone after a week of starvation, Shen Jiu refuses to let it go.
Oblivious to the two sharp eyes hidden behind a delicate fan settled on him, he separates from the disciples and walks away.
The inn they are staying at resides not too far away from one of the theaters Tianlang-Jun enjoys. His nose wrinkles at the noise which erupts from it. Drunken laughters and cheers of admiration break the peacefulness of the street.
One he has gotten his pouch of money back, filled with the money of won bets and games, he goes back to the market. He calculates what he will need for the trip to Cang Qiong.
Four days of food if he manages to fly on his sword without trouble. Two weeks if he doesn’t.
A cloud of demonic energy interrupts his reflexions. He gulps at the oppressive and threatening miasma-like aura which surrounds him and steals away his oxygen.
His hand goes to catch the handle of his sword. A kick in his ribcage prevents him from doing so. The first thing he registers is the feeling of his back hitting the wall against which he has been projected. The second is the taste of copper on his tongue.
Pain flashes through him. He forces himself to stand up. In a matter of seconds, his expression has gone from wounded to stoic.
From the dark mist, a silhouette appears. It belongs to a man. Taller than any human he has ever met but nonetheless smaller than Tianlang-Jun. Dressed in red from top to bottom, he looks like a man exiting a bloodbath or a groom on the day of his marriage.
A demon from the South , his mind registers.
A scar goes down from his face connecting one of his scarlet eyes to his chin.
“What do you want ?” He grits as he stands up.
“Where is he?”
“Who? Because I don’t know the exact position of every member of the male population, asshole.”
He rolls on the ground to avoid the incoming punch. Fire talismans appear in front of him and he feels his qi sing inside his spiritual veins.
Like in all his previous fights, the fire answers his thoughts like an extension of his mind. It shifts, deviates and comes back within an interval so small the demon is quickly overwhelmed. He uses his demonic powers against it but nothing happens.
This isn’t the type of fire to be easily quenched.
The demon’s eyes widen in realisation. An instant later, emerald flames bite into his flesh. A scream of anguish escapes him.
His opponent now promptly carbonised. He looks around him, searching for another hostile presence. No passer-byes had been harmed. They had without a doubt been fast enough to run away.
He sighs in relief and cleans the blood falling from his nose. Heaven, he hates being dirty, he needs a bath.
“Did you think that would be enough to kill a demon saint, little boy?” A burning palm captures his shoulder and presses on it until he hears his humerus crack.
The demon doesn’t wait for Shen Jiu to get over the pain. A hand full of sharp very red nails is on the verge of diving inside his stomach.
He blinks at the hand which is preventing him from moving.
Fucking hell !
His chest revolts as he jumps away to avoid it. Shen Jiu is fast but the demon is faster. His expression freezes in cold exasperation as dark nails sink into his skin.
Why did his luck always run dry in this kind of situation? It felt like having a knife you could only use when you didn’t need to defend yourself, eat or cut something. A perfectly shaped fruit with a rotten inside.
More blood erupts from his body as he struggles to get the sharp claws out of him. He bites the inside of his mouth as it only makes them sink deeper.
It earns him a deep chuckle from the demon. All the hairs on his body rise. This situation brings back memories, memories which always enjoy sneaking up on him in the worst situations.
You didn’t think you could escape, did you, stupid little A-Jiu?
He shudders and pretends he doesn’t smell Qiu Jianluo’s rotten breath on him.
Blood loss makes him dizzy but he forces himself to move. It hurts and pain flares hot in his veins.
“What kind of monster are you?” He snarls.
Shen Jiu snorts. He doesn’t remember any moment of his childhood (it has since long ago come to an end, no matter what the idiot says) where he hadn’t been bleeding, hurting, starved or thirsty.
Because of this, his body has stopped reacting to injuries the normal way.
Instead of a face contorted and eyes wet with tears, he knows without a doubt that he must look quite bored by this whole situation.
A face which doesn’t fit having the equivalent of a butcher’s knife in the chest. It always annoys his attackers which pleases him endlessly.
With quick fingers, he draws a new array under the demon’s arm.
“Go to hell, asshole.”
A bright light is the last thing he sees before being projected away.
Tianlang-Jun doesn’t take the situation seriously until it is too late.
He exits the teahouse with a satisfied spirit and an even more satisfied stomach. This particular teahouse is well-known for its chrysanthemum tea and its mooncakes, a fame that he now understands since his stomach is filled with them.
Behind him, Zhuzhi-Lang carries the little box full of sweets he has bought for Shen Jiu. The way he handles it reminds him of mother hen with its chicks. The snake demon steals shy glances away from it and blushes each time he asks him what is wrong.
The scream from the outside reaps the contentment away from him.
Surrounded by a tornado of fire and hair driven wild to the point it almost looks like shadow whips, Shen Jiu stands. In one of his hands, a seal Tianlang-Jun had seen him work under the moon’s light when he thought no one was looking.
He laughs as the heat burns his face. No one has ever faced Shen Jiu’s special fire talismans and not gone from raw to crispy. An unyielding, merciless sun.
His amusement comes to an abrupt end soon. He runs forward and hears Zhuzhi-Lang do the same when Shen Jiu collapses. He feels oddly vindictive when the demon explodes under the seal’s fire and sends his ashes away with a burst of wild demonic qi.
Injuries never hurt a heavenly demon more than when they are a loved one’s.
Blood is pouring out from the wound like a river falling down a mountain. The huge gash almost separates his arm and side from the rest of his body. He wouldn’t be surprised if his right lung and liver were out of commission.
He pushes the soaked strands of hair which drip red ink like a used brush to uncover the wound. It doesn’t look better from closer. Spots of white which are all that remain of a sliced rib cage.
It is a strange thing for a demon, especially one as prestigious as Tianlang-Jun to feel fear. Yet, at the moment, even the expression “terror-stricken” would have sounded like a nice euphemism. The last time the demon remembered being so earth-shakingly terrifying had been during Zhuzhi-Lang’s birth.
“I’m going to use my blood to heal you.”
His voice comes out different from his usual higher tone still not lowered by puberty. “Do what you need to do.”
“I could use it to manipulate you.”
“Moron.” He grits and more blood falls from his lips. “If you.. wanted to use it you would have already given it to.. to me.” He chokes. “Shit,... what a bastard…”
The pale skin has gone cold under his fingers.
He slices his wrist and brings it to his lips. Someone on the verge of death shouldn’t in any way look beautiful yet at this instant, Shen Jiu looks every part of the porcelain doll Tianlang-Jun had compared him to in the past.
Scarlet pearls fall into his mouth and he massages his throat until the boy swallows.
He waits for his blood parasite to connect.
Once the distinctive
echoes in his mind, they instantly go to work. Pale skin knits itself together and the red recedes until colour comes back to both their faces.
Shen Jiu struggles to stand up and snarls at him but soon goes limp in his arms with exhaustion.
He blinks in surprise, angry against his body’s betrayal. “O I’m going to faint.” And then manages to do just that.
Shen Jiu awakes soon after. The fury in his eyes hasn’t receded. He growls as Tianlang-Jun carries him back to the inn and refuses to let him down until they have reached his bed. The only reason he doesn’t get bitten as a punishment for this unwanted contact comes from the clear exhaustion in those green eyes.
He scoffs when both nephew and uncle beg him to rest and opens a particularly dull book he had been refusing to read until now. Less than a dian after, soft snorts resonate from his room.
Unsurprisingly, they are both awoken in the middle of the night by pained whimpers. Both rush toward the side-room.
“I don’t need your comfort, I’m not weak !” He screams at the two of them, eyes wet with unshed tears.
“A-Jiu,” He whines in his most pathetic voice, the one which always makes Shen Jiu cave. “Indulge this lord, please. I was so scared earlier !” Zhuzhi-Lang nods next to him.
He helps Shen Jiu lean down and brings him against his side.
“Allow this poor teacher of yours to sleep here tonight.”
“Are you going to be weird about it?”
“When am I not weird?”
Shen Jiu sighs, exhausted. Yet, he doesn’t protest as Zhuzhi-lang's reptilian lower body surrounds him and only yawns.
The green of his eyes had already started to become brighter because of the demon blood now inside of him.
The next morning he wakes up with painful ribs, kicked during the night by an agitated teenager and almost suffocated by a giant snake.
He can’t bring himself to regret it.
Because Shen Jiu having nice things for too long would disturb the universe’s organisation, his halcyon days don’t last long. To be precise, there are only three of them.
Despite his wounds no longer being a threat to his life, his muscles still cramp because of them. As he stretches in his little side room at the inn, he feels something coming.
He only has seconds to jump away before something crashes in the roof. Shen Jiu mentally lights a candle for the rooftop.
He coughs as dust burns the back of his throat and unsheathes his sword.
A red silhouette who brings back painful memories stands in front of him.
“Human, I am the Demon Saint Sha Rong. Are you the one who killed my brother?”
Although demons are far more fond of “scarlet inheritance” as Tianlang-Jun nicknamed them - inheritance through the extermination of all their legitimate siblings - months with Tianlang-jun has taught him that familial bonds between demons aren’t that different from human’s.
They go from deep ones to “I would cheer if someone was murdering you”.
There is no way to know in which category their relationship fell. Caution needs to be applied.
“So what if I did?”
His defiance doesn’t gather the rage he is used to. The newcomer is smiling brightly at his words.
“I see, I see. I am pleased to see my brother met his end through such a powerful and fair-faced cultivator.”
What a weirdo, why are all demons stupid or crazy… Wait, that’s not true. Shi- I mean Tianlang-Jun definitely falls in both categories and Zhuzhi-Lang-
“A fitting reward should be given to you for your service. How about becoming my first wife? I would make sure of treating a treasure such as yourself well.”
His thoughts come to a halt as he notices how the demon - Sha Rong - appears to be gauging him, looking up and down with appreciative eyes.
That is not the first time such an offer is made to him, no matter how much it makes him want to puke. Puberty had taken quite a lot of time to come. In consequence, at fourteen, he still looks far more feminine than other boys his age.
“I am a man.”
“I can dig that.”
“Stay away from me.” His knife teleports in his hands. Is it because of cultural differences that he can’t stand talking to a new demon for too long before getting a headache?
“So feisty ! I like it ! You should really consider my offer, treasure, you would never need for anything in your life.”
Fortunately, many conversations with prostitutes have taught him how to deal with unwanted attention.
Hours later, when Tianlang-jun comes back from another escapade to a theater, he finds a demon hung at the roof of the inn, beaten black and blue. On his face, written in bright red stands the word “pig”.
“Do I want to know?” He asks to a still fuming Shen Jiu.
“I apologize if my courting was inadequate, treasure, I’ll promise to do better soon.” Sha Rong screams.
“A-Jiu, if you want to murder someone, do not do it publicly. People are getting scared outside.”
“Good, they should be.”
“Wait that voice… My lord, is that you?”
“You know him?” Shen Jiu spits. “Is there anyone in this goddamn realm you don’t know?”
Tianlang-jun blinks. It is Zhuzhi-Lang at the end who reminds him :
“This is the son of former Demon Saint Sha Lian.”
“My rival !” Tianlang-jun goes to open the windows to examine his face. “Oh my ! You’re quite right, I would recognize this deep love of red anywhere ! A-Rong, how are you?”
His beating from earlier doesn’t prevent the demon from beaming. “I’m quite well as you can see, my lord. I was merely engaging in the first stage of courting with this enticing creature.”
“You’re so popular, A-Jiu. I should ready a dowry for you.”
“Keep talking and you’ll end up like him.”
They both ignore him. “Of course, if I had known he was of your kin, I would have seeked permission from my lord first. ” He wriggles in order to face them. “But as you can see, my courtship is already on the road toward success.”
“I never agreed !” Shen Jiu protests.
“But you’ve already punched me.” Sha Rong says as if it refutes what he has just said.
Tianlang-jun coos. “How forward, A-Jiu. You finally accepted one of your many suitors’ courtship? This lord is quite happy.”
Shen Jiu doesn’t have “suitors”, he has pests which don’t understand what no means and which serves as very nice scarecrows when he is done with them.
Shen Jiu turns toward Zhuzhi-Lang, the only other person with common sense, for further explanations.
“No demonic lineage would accept a wedding with a weak individual. Because of this, demonstration of strength from the prospective spouse is often needed.” He blushes. “The future bride often punches their suitor until he can no longer fight to do that.”
“Why do your traditions not make any goddamn sense? What if the spouse kills their suitor?”
“Then it’s their fault for going after someone who was too far out of their league.” Tianlang-jun shrugs. “And of course, the first step doesn’t take place if the two have known each other for a long time and appreciate each other, trust each other's abilities.”
“You can hit me as much as you want, treasure, I won’t yield. Anyone who is strong enough to kill my brother and remarkable enough to be part of my lord’s family deserves nothing but the best from me !”
“Stay away from me !”
One day, as Shen Jiu is once again working on his qi control by using it to harden his skin, a golden shadow bursts out of a bush and turns its sword against Tianlang-Jun. Zhuzhi Lang had left a few hours ago to search for more suitable clothes for Shen Jiu whom puberty had finally decided to begin.
A new assertion of the said shadow informs it is actually a young woman wearing the Huan Hua Palace’s robes and with it a very nasty glare.
Sha Rong had not given up his endeavour to court him which had led to an increase of the demons roaming the region. It was only a matter of time before cultivators barged in.
“How dare you kidnap an innocent child !” She screams.
Both he and Shen Jiu blink and watch each other. After a moment, Tianlang-Jun manages to break the silence.
“Is he” He points at Shen Jiu. “Supposed to be the innocent child?” They share the same look of disbelief. The last person who had dared to qualify Shen Jiu as such had ended up losing a good deal of money and his pride to boot it.
The lady nods, her lips drawn in a tight line and her hold on her sword betrays her strength. The Huan Hua palace’s uniform doesn’t hide how her muscles roll under it.
He opens his mouth to explain the situation to her but stops as he almost loses his head.
He laughs. “You’re so cold-hearted, you don’t even let this poor demon explain his side of the story.”
The pitiful tone doesn’t even slow the woman down. One moment, she is standing in front of him, the other she is behind him on the verge of cutting his right arm.
Only inhuman reflexes save his life and just after, another slash is already coming. Every demon would dream of being as fast and vicious as her. Even belladonna aren’t as deadly.
The sun’s light shines on her golden uniform and gives her an ethereal glow.
“A-Jiu, a little help maybe?”
He would have better luck praying to the gods.
“Has he hurt you, boy?” The cultivator asks.
Calculation can be seen then a radiating smugness arrives. Shen Jiu lowers his robes in an almost shy manner, a fake blush on his skin of jade, until the white scar left from the Southern demon’s wound can be seen.
“It has healed without problem.” He admits with a bashfulness which would make a maiden jealous.
Conniving little brat ! Tianlang-Jun laughs.The maiden’s dark eyes are murdering him.
Her attacks grow stronger now as rage fuels them.
He sees Shen Jiu take note of her fighting style and bemoans his ill-luck. Why did he have to send the kid who actually listens to him away?
The golden flowers sewn on her robe reflect the sun and burn his eyes when added to the already bright color of her clothes. He has only a few seconds to jump away before their lights attack him.
Literally this time.
What had once been sunlight condensate under her qi to form just as bright chains of energy.
“O I heard about those. Evil-capturing chains. They are given to each direct disciple of the Palace Master.” Shen Jiu comments because that is exactly what he should be doing while his master suffers the most unfair grievance.
The woman smiles. “You’re correct. Would you be interested in joining my sect, we need smart individuals such as yourself.”
Dear maiden, how heartless of you to criticize your martial siblings in such a manner… And A-Jiu, don’t praise the weapons who are about to kill your master !
He had thought himself used to fast attacks. Shen Jiu and Zhuzhi-Lang only use those when they are able to. But rapidity takes a whole new definition when coming from this woman.
New wounds open and blossom on his body and new ones come before he can heal the first ones. He almost loses an eye and when he jumps away to avoid it, the one stabbed is his right leg instead.
He doesn’t remember the last time he had so much fun during a fight.
The clear song of two swords clashing against each other fill the wood. Tianlang-Jun’s chuckles and the cultivator’s increasing growl of rage fill the role of choir.
The fight would have lasted for hours if not for a tiny mistake. Few know about Heavenly demons’ biggest flaws. As former heavenly beings, a certain control of their pulsions is needed for their cultivation.
It explained why there were so few of them. As a loss of control is synonym of defenselessness for them, it was rare for a demon of their type to manage romantic relationships on the long term. A true curse for one of the rare demon specy who prefers monogamy.
Many of them had been killed in the hue of passion with a partner they had thought to be their soulmate.
Although this situation isn’t by nature similar, the rush of joy Tianlang-Jun feels at this instant overshadows every climax he has ever had in his life.
Nothing matters more than what is going on in this forest.
Because of that, he can barely react before his qi slips away from him and turns against his person. A silver blade uses this moment against him. It falls on him like thunder and for a brief moment,
Tianlang-jun knows deep in his bones that he won’t escape it unharmed.
A gust of wind cuts its path and leaves as sharp as claws injure the hand which holds the sword. The woman doesn’t even blink. Only flies a few meters away thanks to a graceful jump.
Tianlang-jun is propeled in the opposite direction before he can take in what’s happened. Only once he is laying against a rock does he look at his saviour.
“A-Jiu ! You came to rescue me !”
“Gods almighty, give me patience. Have you no self-respect? Do you expect not to side with you after everything you’ve done for me?”
“You’re the one who angered her !”
“This and letting you die are not the same.” Anyone less familiar with the boy would have been convinced by the innocence he emits. Not him.
“You want to examine her chains closer, don’t you?”
“...” Shen Jiu blushes, embarrassed to have his lie exposed so carelessly. Yet, he recuperates quickly. “So what if I do?! The end result is the same.” His words fail him. Curiosity had indeed played a big role in his intervention but how was he supposed to explain that so did fear?
“You should be a little more honest. No girl likes a man who lies about his feelings.” He snickers like the grown demon overlord he is.
“Do I look like the type of person who cares?!”
“So this lord can say goodbye to grandchildren I see… O but maybe A-Rong won’t care. He is a M without a doubt so you can still have a happy wedding. A very happy one.”
“You’re making some kind of dirty joke, aren’t you?” As Tianlang-Jun opens his mouth he continues. “No, nevermind, don’t say anything I don’t want to know. I’m going to let the lady cultivator have you. You’re not worth the trouble of fighting against her…”
“No, you won’t abandon your dear shizun, will you? A-Jiu?”
“For fuck’s sake, I’ve already told you : YOU ARE NOT MY SHIZUN !”
Even without the enhanced hearing of a cultivator, no one could have missed this demonstration of rage.
A silver weapon falls from the sky once again and so do the golden chains of the cultivator. Shen Jiu has had enough, he wants to go back to his books !
He draws a seal in the air with brisk moves. A liquid thick like sap exits the symbols and soil the chains with it.
The cultivator hadn’t expected such a thing. The carefulness with which Shen Jiu dissimulates his spiritual power makes anyone doubt he even knows how cultivation works. To those who aren’t searching for it, he looks every part of the meek teenager.
She fights to escape the goo fluid but ends up closing the trap on herself like a butterfly on a spidernet. She growls and her struggles only stop after long minutes.
“Thanks heavens.” Tianlang-Jun exhales in relief.
The consensus reached is the following one : they can’t keep her with them indefinitely. It is impossible to guess her importance in Huan Hua Palace and thus, impossible to guess the response her detention will lead to.
None of them fear the major sects but their ignorance of their existence protects the calm life Tianlang-Jun has created for himself. There is no way he’ll take the risk.
As soon as Zhuzhi-Lang comes back, he orders his nephew to take the woman away. The strange substance which holds her captive should at least constrain her for a few more hours. More than enough for Zhuzhi-Lang to bring her back on her sect’s territory safely and come back without any injury.
Tianlang-Jun pats himself on the shoulder for this outstanding plan.
What he doesn’t expect, however, is for the cultivator to refuse. Each time any of them comes close to her, their powerless captive turns back into the fierce martial artist they had first met her as.
Biting, punching and kicking. Her entraves don’t manage to hold her back as much as they should and she clearly doesn’t need spiritual energy to be a first-grade threat.
Explanations are not sufficient to make her calm down. He tries to tell her they wish her no harm, even quote a quite wonderful poem he has read not too long ago but it doesn’t soften her. Each time, her dark (as beautiful as a spider’s) eyes turn conflicted which makes him wonder if there is something else behind her refusal to go away.
So does Shen Jiu who is the only one she acknowledges. During the night, when the two demons pretend to be sleeping, their hushed voices reach his ears.
“She doesn’t tell me that much.” He says after having reapplied the binding seal. “That’s normal considering the situation but... she could have left from the start if she wanted to.”
“Something like what? As handsome as this lord is, I doubt it would be enough to keep this fair maiden here.”
For the first time since they met, Shen Jiu laughs. The sound is as chilling as a ghost’s hold. “What do you think it could be?” He doesn’t elaborate more.
Weeks go away but nothing seems to work. As beautiful as she is, Tianlang-jun has had enough. As the delicate demon that he is, he can’t handle being glared at from sunrise to sunset. Inside his chest, his poor maiden heart weeps in agony from such an unpleasant situation.
He sits in front of her and waits for her to stop murdering him. It is only dawn at the time and when she finally calms down, the sun is standing proudly in the sky while a disheveled A-Jiu struggles to wake up from his slumber. Hair sprouting in all directions, sleepiness makes his disciple look like a grounded onion. Smells like one too.
He catches him under his armpits and yanks him toward the cultivator. After an instinctive kick in Tianlang-Jun’s stomach, Shen Jiu goes numb while grumbling about the cold. He deposits him in front of her. Her eyes narrow in suspicion.
“What are you going to do with him?”
“You’ve been here for days now, you should know I take care of him well.”
Because his A-Jiu is a little shit who didn’t understand the importance of turning off his brain, he instantly answered with : “Take care of me, take care of me. You’re spouting so much bullshit it’s a miracle anyone still wants to kiss you.”
Anger flares hot in her spider’s eyes at those words. He offers her a sheepish smile full of white teeth.
Cups of tea are brought to them by Zhuzhi-Lang, green tea with a strong floral smell which he recognizes as lavender.
“I apologize but it seems you’ve misunderstood the situation.” Shen Jiu starts once the tea has washed away his exhaustion.
“Yeah ! I’m an innocent demon !” He speaks only to see how rage colours his disciple’s cheekbones.
“I’m this close to letting her tear you apart, dumbass.” Shen Jiu grits and drinks another mouthful of tea. “Listen, I know cultivators don’t have the best relationship with demons but this one,” He points at Tianlang-jun. “As fucking annoying as he is, isn’t ill-intentioned. Only stupid.”
“Exactly, wait…, A-Jiu !”
The cultivator nods. “I see,he has been a terrible influence on you.”
“Of course not ! I am a good teacher !” He complains while she says : ''Teaching a young child to scream and be rude in such a way. Pathetic. Nothing else could be expected from a demon.”
“No, no, I got him like that.”
“Incorrect. My anger management wasn’t as bad before.” He comments while brushing his hair. As soon as it is back in its usual bun, Tianlang-Jun messes it up once again.
“You shouldn’t be staying with him. He’s a demon.”
“I’ve seen worse.”
“Stubborn child, don’t you know how dangerous he is? He could destroy a town by himself if he wanted to !”
“Are you repeating what someone taught you or what you think?” Her eyes shine as she says this. This is the reaction she had been expecting, he guesses.
“It leaves me no choice then,’ She nods. “If he refuses to leave then I’ll stay with you to prevent the child from going on the wrong path.”
Couldn’t you be a bit more honest ? Tianlang-Jun sighs. If you don’t want to leave then just say so.
Shen Jiu’s eyes widen with fake innocence. “Was I doing something wrong, Shijie?” He hides his wince as she pats him on the head.
You, little mongrel ! A-Jiu, stop pretending I’m the villain! Tianlang-Jun pouts.
“This elder’s name is Su Xiyan, little one. You may call me Su-shijie.”
“Thank you, Su-Shijie !”
She chuckles. “Well, well, aren’t you a cunning kid?”
Shen Jiu doesn’t give up his fakely cheerful smile. “Only to those who piss me off.”
“That’s a good mentality.” She nods.
When Zhuzhi-Lang comes to bring her tea, Su Xiyan thanks him warmly, pats him on the head and calls him a good child.
A kind woman, who refuses to show any mercy and fights like a martial goddess? Tianlang-jun might be a little in love.
If only she didn’t try to maim at the first occasion...
Among them, Zhuzhi-Lang might be the most human and yet, he sheds his skin at the end of each winter.
“Yue?” Su Xiyan frowns. “There is indeed a head disciple of Cang Qiong who carries such a name but I have not heard about him in a long time.”
Shen Jiu pales. “He's not dead, is he?”
She shakes his head. “Sect Leader Xu is crazy about his head disciple and everyone already acknowledged he was going to become the next sect leader. They would have informed Huan Hua Palace.”
He clenches his hands. So, they were hiding him from the rest of the cultivation world? Why?
Shame , his mind supplies. This so-called righteous sect is trying to hide something Yue Qi had done.
“Where is Cang Qiong?” He struggles to keep his voice even.
“A-Jiu, no, that’s a terrible idea.”
“It’s only a terrible idea if it fails.”
“It’s a terrible idea if you die.” The demon corrects him. “I can’t afford to come with you.”
“Which is good because I’m not asking you.”
“You should let him go.” Su Xiyan interrupts his soon to be born retort. “He fights well enough to manage it.”
“I doubt he can win against their whole mountain.”
“Should I be concerned you think I’m such an idiot after so much time? I don’t intend to fight them all. It’ll be an infiltration mission.”
“Like those ninja in the novels which talked about Wakoku.”
A vein throbs under Shen Jiu’s pale face. “Whatever helps your brain work.”
Yue Qi can’t breath.
Guilt and self-hatred dances inside of him, animated by his all-powerful grief. Memories of the boy he calls little brother but that he has raised like a son haunt him. If he could move, this whole cave would have fallen under his fury but as he stands now, turned powerless by his qi deviation he can only make his bed nails bloody as he punches and scratches the walls.
His hands hurt, his arms hurt, his legs hurt. In an almost twisted manner, he cherishes it. Everything which can make him feel closer to what Xiao-Jiu must be feeling, he accepts with his whole heart.
The cave is covered in his blood and filled with his screams which only stop when his throat has gone too raw for him to continue. He won’t rest until his little brother is no longer trapped in this nightmarish place. Even if he has to ruin his health doing so.
He glares at the sword in front of him. Another thing he would turn to ashes if he could.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
The guards have long ago stopped caring about his screams. They no longer come in, he doesn’t even know if there are still people outside. Maybe they have forgotten. Maybe he’ll end up rotting here for the rest of his life.
He grips the sword and doesn’t even wince when the dark blade penetrates his palm.
I hate you, I hate you, I hate you all !
They call him virtuous, say he is perfect and kind and pure. They don’t know what lies beneath the gentle facade. He isn’t any of those. Of course, he doesn’t mind helping others and offering advice. It doesn’t cost him anything, only a bit of time and as a cultivator on the verge of reaching immortality, he has plenty of those. They don’t know the selfishness behind who would rather see the world burn than lose those - the one - he loves.
Only one person knows who he really is. And he can’t even protect this rare specimen.
As focused as he is on his guilt, it takes him a long time to notice something has changed. That the constant and sickening silence has stopped. Someone yelps and then a vibrant “
echoes in the darkness of the cave.
Yue Qi looks away from Xuan Su. What is going on?
He blinks when an explosion adds itself to the increasing chaos.
The whole cave shakes. Again then again.
Rocks start falling, a deadly rain. He runs to stand in a corner and watches with delight as cracks form and light takes over the darkness. Fresh air replaces the tainted one and for the first time in months he feels freedom greet him.
He is outside before he can order his body to move.
Yue Qi turns around, eyes wet with tears who refuse to remain unshed any longer. This can’t be… He bites his lips in an attempt to scatter the mirage. His mind already weak from his forced isolation can’t stand it. The madness he had been keeping at bay surfaces from the darkness once again.
All his defenses crumble as his arms surround a slender body. A warm and very real one which smells of grass, green tea and something else which reminds him of a forest fire..
“You’re here, you’re really here. Xiao Jiu !” Uncontrolled sobs leave his mouth. The happiness he had forgotten during those years apart shine brightly inside of him.
The younger boy frowns. “Don’t call me that…”
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. Please don’t hate me. I know you told me to be careful but you know how I am.” His breath is unregulated but he doesn’t care. Everything settles into place. He pushes away a strand of hair who has fallen in front of Shen Jiu’s green eyes.
“It’s fine, I didn’t expect you to come anyway. Now calm down, you’re hyperventilating.”
“You’re crying, Xiao Jiu.”
Shen Jiu furiously wipes his eyes and struggles when Yue Qi’s hold prevents him from hurting himself.
“Stop speaking nonsense !” He screams before starting to examine the other.
Yue Qi’s usually bright obsidian eyes are unfocused, shifting from one side to the other like a spooked prey’s. Beads of sweat are accumulating on his brows and with only a bit of prodding, he realizes the other’s qi is moving in irregular waves.
Shen Jiu hums. “Can you promise not to take what I’m about to do the wrong way?”
Yue Qi’s head bows on the side. “What are you going to-” A punch in the throat paralyses him before he can finish. Shen Jiu catches him before he collapses and breaks his nose.
“You’re not having a qi deviation in front of me, moron.” He huffs.
“Can you repeat, A-Jiu?” The boy looks away from the sleeping teenager who is laying against his side with exasperation. Su Xiyan is examining him with concern, her eyes keep going from the passed out boy to his sword.
“He’s going to stay with us.”
“No, no, this I understand. But where did you find your stray again?”
“In Cang Qiong.”
“Not being able to remember something I told you minutes ago is proof those shitty novels have indeed rotten your brain.” Despite his harsh words, the hand who pets the unconscious teen is gentle.
“Indulge this lord if you don’t mind.”
Shen Jiu sighs. “They had locked him away in one of their shitty caves. No one was letting him out so I knocked his guards out, exploded the door and let him out.”
A satisfied smirk is given to him. “I added a fire talisman with an echo talisman. The door didn’t even resist.”
Yup, he has raised an hellion. “And the cultivators didn’t mind?”
“Because you think I asked them? Hell no ! I punched all those who tried to stop me.” He snickers at this. “You should have seen them. One of them looked so surprised, he even yelped like a little mistress.”
“You didn’t kill anyone?” Not that he cares but being subjected to the fury of a sect doesn’t figure on his agenda.
Shen Jiu takes a moment to think, then shrugs. “Not willingly at least.”
Alright, they may have a problem.
Experience has taught that the boy cares very little about the chaos he occasions as long it doesn’t harm him in the short or long term.
He feels a headache coming on knocking on his skull as if to say “Guess who is in trouble?” Parenting is hard.
“What I wouldn’t do for my cute disciple…” Shen Jiu opens his mouth to protest but a groan from the other teenager cuts him short.
The two impossibly green eyes fall on the source of the noise with rapt attention.
“Rest, moron. You’re still recovering from whatever they did to you.” He brushes a few bangs away and frowns at the sweat which is once again accumulating on his forehead.
“I didn’t keep my promise, Xiao Jiu. I’m sorry.”
“Whatever. I wasn’t expecting you to teleport out of this shithole.”
“Language.” Yue Qi chides him.
He waits for Shen Jiu to explode. Many things have been fixed but there is nothing he can do to clean this potty mouth.
“As if I would listen to someone who can’t even stay upright.”
He blinks at this.
“Your Qi-ge ended in a pretty pathetic situation again. Sorry Xiao Jiu.”
“Stop apologizing. It’s nothing I haven’t seen before, Yue Qi.”
Yue Qi chuckles and leans closer to the touch. Tianlang-Jun hums at the scene.
“Zhuzhi-Lang and A-Rong will be jealous.” He comments idly.
This brings Yue Qi’s attention to him. He looks at him then at the demon seal on his forehead. He tries to stand up but Su Xiyan forces him down with a scowl.
Tianlang-Jun waits for the panic to arrive, for an outburst to manifest, yet the serene expression holds steady despite how Shen Jiu is glaring at him.
An endless storm and a calm breeze. Fitting in a way.
“Aren’t you going to comment on the-” He points to his demon mark.
“Any benefactor of Xiao-Jiu will earn nothing but gratefulness from this humble one.”
“I am a demon.”
“You helped Xiao Jiu.”
What a terrifying level of devotion. “I could be up to no good. Or try to kill you.”
Shen Jiu snorts. “You’re too lazy to be an evil demon lord.”
True but hey. “If you have Xiao Jiu’s approval then I have no reason to attack you.” Yue Qi says.
“You shouldn’t trust him solely on this basis, Qi-ge.” Shen Jiu scolds him.
“A-Jiu, please, don’t encourage cultivators to kill this lord. Again.”
“I don’t see what you’re talking about.”
“Xiao Jiu wouldn’t do this.” Yue Qi agrees.
“Don’t be stupid, of course I would. I’m just saying that if I was trying to kill him, I wouldn’t be so obvious. Have a bit of faith in me.”
Su Xiyan comes to see him after the two boys have fallen asleep, their legs wrapped together. Shen Jiu had screamed he didn’t want to sleep so close to him yet still ended up using the other teen’s body as his bed.
He struggles to calm his heart down.
“I have a question.”
“Yes, you are indeed the most beautiful person alive.”
Her eyes roll in exasperation. “Keep it in your pants, demon.”
“Snake demons know how to manipulate souls, don’t they?”
“To some extent? It depends on how powerful their bloodlines are.”
“And Zhi-er’s is?”
He puts his hand on his chest in mock outrage. “Maiden Su, are you insinuating I’d allow any weak demons to marry my sister?”
“I see. Do you think he’d be able to separate someone’s soul from a sword?”
Tianlang-Jun bursts out laughing. “Who would be stupid enough to link their life to a sword. Your jests sure are wonderful.” He stops as he notices her eyes don’t waver. “Please tell me A-Jiu’s friend’s soul isn’t connected to his sword.”
She doesn’t answer.
“By all demon saints, are cultivators stupid?”
“We don’t have all the story behind it.”
“His life is pretty much ruined. A sword isn’t something you can talk to, it won’t allow you to back away. They’re pitiless and will eat you alive if you give them the opportunity.”
She looks at him, an unasked question in her eyes. Yet, that’s her unwillingness to ask which convinces him to answer.
“That’s what killed my brother-in-law and sister. A damn cursed sword which should have never been made. He should have managed to liberate himself but the sword decided to turn against my sister to weaken him. He killed himself with the sword seconds after he got his control back.”
She doesn’t offer her condoleances and he is thankful for that. In his dream he can still the saccharine tone of demon nobility during the funeral.
“I’ll ask Zhi-er as soon as he comes back. “
His side has long grown cold when Yue Qi wakes up. For a brief instant, he fears it has all been a dream, that the Shen Jiu who has rescued him has only been a product from his decreasing sanity.
“Eat a little more of these, Jiu-er. You’re still too thin.”
“Su-shijie, I can’t anymore, stop…”
“She is right, JiuJiu, growing boys need meat.”
“For fuck’s sake ! You just had to find an even more annoying way to call me? We are nowhere close enough to call me that. Now, repeat after me : Shen-”
“Less screaming, more eating. You’ll have all the time to murder him after, Jiu-er. Here, Zhi-er, you eat a little too.”
The perfect painting of a family appears in front of him. As it is often the case, Xiao Jiu is scowling in a manner which makes him look like a wronged cat. His thin hands claw at the heavenly demon side each time he gets too close.
A demon who has to share a familial connection to Rock Snake demons looks at him first. Dark green scales reminding him of a tranquil lake surround sharp golden eyes.
Yue Qi freezes.
“Stop looking at him like that, Qi-ge. This asshole of Qiu Jianluo definitely was uglier.” Shen Jiu pauses with an expression Yue Qi has dubbed as “Purposely overdramatic”. “No actually, I’m sorry Zhuzhi-Lang, it is the highest insult to even compare you to someone as repulsive as Young Master Qiu.”
Yue Qi disagrees.
He isn’t like Shen Jiu whose opinion of one’s beauty depends on his feelings for the person. He knows with utter certitude that the young master of the Qiu family possessed the attractiveness only seen in gods. How could he not when he looks so much like his little brother?
Old Master Qiu had never acknowledged having bastards despite being a well-known figure in local brothels. Yet, Shen Jiu’s phenix eyes and stubborn lips so much like his two legitimate children’s prove the contrary.
Only his green irises betray they don’t come from the same mother. Such an unnatural color they are, fresh leaves of mint which turn acidic when displeased.
Demon had been the nicest thing street’s people had called Xiao Jiu when they were younger.
“The connection with his sword is still recent. It shouldn’t be hard to reverse if Zhi-er is careful.”
Yue Qi freezes as he hears this. How…?
He looks at Shen Jiu who is growing more and more suspicious with each passing second.
“Xiao Jiu, maybe you should…”
The weakness in his voice doesn’t remain unnoticed. With a wave of Shen Jiu’s hand, his voice gives up on him. If the spell hadn’t just been used against him, he would have been impressed by how easily his brother had casted it.
“You did what ?!” Shen Jiu screams.
“I’m sorry, Xiao-”
“O, no, no, no. You’re not getting out of this with your puppy eyes and your apologies. I am at a loss for words ! How could you do something so stupidly, foolishly….”
Two hours and five cups of tea. That’s how much it takes for Shen Jiu’s rage to subside.
The ritual to break his connection with Xuan Su is an easy one. His shifu had qualified it as impossible but the snake Xiao Jiu had called Zhuzhi-Lang does it in an eyeblink.
For the first time in almost thirteen months he is alone in his head. The sword’s malignant conscience stops hovering in the back of his mind. He lets out a sigh of relief and goes back to sitting against Xiao Jiu. He only complains a little before going soft against Yue Qi’s side.
Su Xiyan and the demon had left a few moments ago to go deal with disciples from Cang Qiong Mountain.
“Would you have told me?”
“If they hadn’t told me, would you have told me about your sword.”
Yue Qi freezes. A trap has opened under his feet. Whether he answers yes or no, rage will come. He sighs before answering as calmly as he can. “I didn’t want you to feel guilty.”
Shen Jiu cackles but it is a tired sound. “Idiot, what would I have to feel guilty about? You’re a fool if you think it would have made me anything but overjoyed.”
“That’s not true and you know it.”
“Well of course, I would have been angry, you shouldn’t sacrifice your potential for me. I wouldn’t for you.” Another obvious lie but Yue Qi doesn’t interrupt him. “But if I wanted to help you I would need to know what I am working with.”
“Shifu said it was impossible.”
Shen Jiu snorts. “He is thinking in term of normal cultivation when it is an almost demonic one who tied your soul to your fucking sword. Of course it wouldn’t work. I wouldn’t have made the same mistake.”
He starts talking about the many ways the bond could have broken. Yue Qi doesn’t understand all of them, Shen Jiu had always been more studious than he is anyway.
He takes the time to really look at his little brother now that all his worries have left him.
Long silky hair has been brought back in a messy bun tied with a blue ribbon. The robe he is wearing is a tad too big for him but he can see how his shoulders have started to fill them in. His eyes are still as sharply green as ever but he can see the aggressiveness in them has dulled. It is more controlled now that Xiao Jiu doesn’t need to summon it all the time.
“You’ve grown up, Xiao Jiu.” He pats him on the head to congratulate him. He doesn’t chuckle when the other boy stops ranting and blushes but it is a near thing.
“You’re so annoying. Why do you say those things aloud?!”
“How else am I supposed to show how proud I am? I bet you could win if we spared against each other.”
“I’m not interested. You would hold back all the while and it would tell me nothing about my current level.”
Yue Qi laughs. “One of my shidi always tells me the same thing.”
“Well, of course they would.” Shen Jiu’s voice takes a higher pitch. “Shixiong, shixiong, please pay attention to me.”
“They don’t sound like that at all !” Yue Qi protests but folds like paper in front of unconvinced eyes. “Not all of them at least.”
“Ah ! I knew it.”
“They are nice. You could see it for yourself.”
“I don’t think they would let me visit after I destroyed a part of their precious mountain.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“I don’t need them to cultivate.”
“You want to stay with Tianlang-Jun and Head Disciple Su.”
“That’s not it at all.” He turns toward Zhuzhi-Lang, the one chosen to monitor Yue Qi’s condition. “And if you tell him such an obvious lie I will turn you into snake soup.”
Eventually, after two weeks of running away from Cang Qiong, watching more plays than he has ever allowed himself to and caught up with Xiao Jiu, Yue Qi announces he needs to go back.
“I’ll come see you as often as I can but I can’t keep running away from my duties. Are you sure you don’t want to come with me? Qing Jing has the biggest library of the region.” His shifu would hate him for this proposition. Xiao Jiu and Qing Jing’s current peak lord would get along like oil and fire and burn everything on their way.
“Stop trying to steal this lord’s first disciple!”
“What an honour when you know I am also the only one.” Shen Jiu deadpans.
“A-Jiu, did you just ?!”
“I thank you for taking care of my little brother. If you need anything please do not hesitate to ask. Xiao Jiu…”
“Spare me your stupid declaration. I’m accompanying you to the bottom of the mountain to make sure you don’t get lost again.”
“It happened once.”
“Yes, because I didn’t let you roam alone after this . Now, up on your sword. I don’t want to waste my time.”
A clear spring sky opens up to them. The first time he had flied on his sword, Shen Jiu had struggled to even rise above the trees. The second time hadn’t gone so much better. Now, flying too low annoys him. There is something soothing about being alone where few can reach him. More than once, he had risen until oxygen became insuffisant just to isolate himself.
With Yue Qi next to him, he doesn’t know if he needs to. Yet, what kind of little brother would he be if he didn’t tease him a little. He can see how the teenager’s eyes follow him, afraid of a potential fall.
One of the reasons the idiot and Su Xiyan had started getting along was their love for fighting while flying. None of them liked how cultivators remained motionless on their swords and thus defenless.
They had trained together a lot and dragged a kicking Shen Jiu with them.
In the sky, the martial goddess became a dove. In the sky, the idiot became a flying moron. Shen Jiu didn’t know what he looked like but he at least didn’t plummet to his death.
With a burst of qi, he accelerates. Behind him, he hears the other laugh before doing the same. They slalom in the sky together like two crazy birds.
“Come on, Young Master Yue ! How can such a respected disciple from a respected sect be so slow? Surely you’re holding back on me.”
“Be careful, you’re going to fall.” He warns him but doesn’t slow down.
The most complicated game of tag starts.
What Yue Qingyuan has earned through experience, Shen Jiu compensates with maneuvers which would scare anyone else. An eyeblink is enough for him to disappear from his vision field. It reminds him of this boy from Bai Zhan whose name he doesn’t remember.
At the end, Yue Qingyuan finally manages to catch up. His hand shoots toward the light grey fabric of Shen Jiu’s tunic. Not that he would let victory run away from him this way. He leans forward until his gravity center is off the sword he still hasn’t bothered to name.
For a brief instant, nothing stands between him and an imminent deadly dive. He feels a rush of adrenaline go from his chest to the extremity of his fingers. His lungs contract and coton muffles his senses. He hears Yue Qingyuan scream.
His ankles circle around the hilt of his sword. His head goes up.
The second after, he is behind him and taps on his shoulders in a teasing manner. Yue Qingyuan spins round, eyes wide and red patches on his face.
“Heavens ! You’re awful, you’re awful, you’re awful.” He repeats which only makes Shen Jiu smirk. “You could have killed yourself !”
“I did break a few bones while learning to do it.”
Yue Qi’s hands don’t stop shaking. He can see the hug coming from a hundred li. “You’re a nightmare.” He complains while the other’s arms close themselves on him.
The city which resides at the bottom of Cang Qiong Mountain has nothing to envy to the imperial capital. The safety offered by a major sect had lured merchants more effectively than honey could attract bees.
The human density is such that Shen Jiu doubts he would have been able to reach the entrance of the sect without Yue Qi opening a path before him. No one wants to stay in the way of a righteous cultivator.
Shen Jiu follows him, careful to distract anyone’s attention from his person.
The paifang which demarcates the end of the mortal world from the beginning of the sect appears. Behind it : a waterfall of stairs so long that the end of it is hidden behind a sea of clouds. Until today, he had never seen anything so impressive and awe-inspiring.
“You could come with me.”
The sentence breaks the trance he has fallen into. For a few seconds, he considers accepting. There are many things Cang Qiong can provide him which Tianlang-Jun can’t. All his personal effects are in his pouch, it wouldn’t cost him anything.
The idiot wouldn’t protest either. He can still remember the bittersweet smile he had received while he was leaving the camp. Tianlang-Jun doesn’t expect him to come back.
It wouldn’t be difficult and yet…
He sighs. “No thanks, being surrounded by so many rich masters would make me sick.”
Yue Qi’s smile deepens. “If you say so.” Shen Jiu really wants to punch him.
They look at each other, ignorant of what they should say. Their last separations had been marked with barely unshed tears and bitter feelings. They don’t know how to deal with this one.
His stomach contorts inside of him. Isn’t he betraying Yue Qi? Shouldn’t he stay with him now that he can? Surely, the idiot will get into trouble if Shen Jiu’s pragmatic mind doesn’t stand between him and his recklessness.
“Xiao-Jiu,” Yue Qi startles him. “Come back tomorrow.”
“Head disciples are allowed to give jade tassels to visiting disciples so they can enter the sect whenever they want. I’ll give you one.”
“No need for that, have you forgotten I had no trouble slipping into your fancy sect.”
“Xiao-Jiu… Please, do not do that again, my shizun will definitely get an aneurysm if another intruder appears so soon.”
“And that concerns me because?”
Yue Qi smiles indulgently at him. That’s all he seems to be good for since their reunion.
“I’ll buy you sweets if you do.”
“I’m not a child !” He protests. “And you would buy them for me even if I didn’t promise anything.”
The look which, in the street, had made dozens of children obey to Yue Qi manifests itself. Shen Jiu looks up. There is no way in hell he’ll let himself be manipulated by the cross between a puppy look and a parent’s “I’m very disappointed in you” one.
He ducks his head and groans. “Just leave.”
“But you’ll come back, right?”
“Use your brain. That’s not the kind of question you should ask.”
He turns around and starts walking back toward the city. Yue Qi laughs behind him and waves. Shen Jiu keeps pretending not to be looking. The talisman he had sawn in the other’s clothes resonates in a pleasant manner with his golden core.
Lost among the crowd, he allows his face to soften. He had never been the smiling type but the situation he is currently in deserves an exception.
He doesn’t notice the lady staring at him through the window of a teahouse.