Hyacinth Palace was a place of scholars and spellwrites, so it was a commendation of their wealth that they had expansive combat training grounds.
When the demons saw Ying Long approach, they immediately scuttled off. Xu Jian craned his neck to watch them leave. He couldn't tell if they were afraid or eager. Ying Long stood in the middle of the yard and slammed his sword down on the grounds. Barely a minute afterwards, his twelve eels emerged from behind nearly every wall.
They were dressed differently than the servants or Weng Yu, and both leaving the palace and sword training called for them - they hadn't been described in detail in the novel, so Xu Jian was imagining faceless ninjas observing in secret, but these must be his personal guard.
Ying Long was a spoiled child from a good bloodline, so his family had raised servants who lived only for the sake of the clan. They were all absurdly accomplished warriors, but because Ying Long had such an even temper and liked spoiling others - in a way not unlike a billionaire giving thousands to charity and making sure the press knew about it - they all grew up just as spoiled as he was.
Of course, when Ying Long lost his mind and abused them viciously, they weren't sure what to do, and protected him to the end, no matter how much he hurt them. When Lai Mingliao defeated Ying Long once and for all, they were listless and unsure of where to go next. In the end, because Ying Long took power from the Demonic Sect, they followed Demonic Sect rules and joined the one who killed their leader - Lai Mingliao.
After hearing them natter mindlessly for a day and a half, Xu Jian now had a pretty good idea of why they were so helpless.
He had gotten used to thinking of them as Ying Long's eels, though, so he'd continue thinking of them as Ying Long's eels.
They all stood at attention, looking gleeful and empty-headed as usual. Ying Long grabbed Xu Jian with one hand and placed him down on the ground. The dirt was pleasantly warm against his toes.
“Stand aside. This will be a dangerous match for the audience to witness.”
Literally what audience. It was just him.
Xu Jian still jogged over to a wall and climbed up the brickwork to sit on top so he could see. Satisfied with Xu Jian's relocation, Ying Long got into position, though he didn't remove the blade from his sheath. The eels circled him. There was a moment's pause, where everyone seemed to be waiting.
Then an eel attacked, and it became a frenzy.
Ying Long looked like he should be overwhelmed by their speed, but he was so enormous, all his attacks were AOE by default. With each mighty swing, he knocked away three of his eels, and when an eel latched on, it seemed effortless for him to yank them off and chuck them like a baseball across the lot.
An eel dashed under a swing to get Ying Long while he was vulnerable, but Ying Long answered it by kicking them away. Another tried to attack him from behind while he was occupied by both deflections, and his sword embedded in the earth and grounded a spin kick that sent them flying right into the wall just under Xu Jian's feet.
Mountain demons were terrifying.
It didn't take long for him to flatten his entire entourage. He set the sword onto his shoulder, looking pleased with himself, then looked up at Xu Jian on the wall.
Xu Jian was lounging on his side in the same way Ying Long had when they made camp, head perched on the back of his hand.
Ying Long jogged over to him, his face alight. “Well?”
“You fight well, my lord,” Xu Jian said mildly.
He preened. “Naturally. You would be hard-pressed to find a single person capable of drawing blood.”
Well, there’s Lai Mingliao, and then the man who taught Lai Mingliao, and then the tournament-hosting-sect’s patriarch who almost defeated Lai Mingliao, and then most of the demonic sect, and then…
The more he thought of how many people Ying Long could be easily killed by, the more pity Xu Jian felt for him.
Ying Long had expected Xu Jian to be impressed by his flexibility and strength, and was put out as his look of indifference faded into a frown, as if disappointed. He didn’t know what the little human had to be disappointed about, but he had already planned out other things to do today.
“A bit of playtime with my subjects is good for the body, but let's indulge in more engaging forms of entertainment.” He plucked Xu Jian from the wall and placed him on his shoulder. It gave him a thrill of excitement when Xu Jian wrapped his thighs around his neck and buried his fingers in his hair, unconcerned with boundaries or pride. The Xu Jinyue of rumours hated demons so much he’d clip their ears after fighting them, yet now that he was in Ying Long’s possession, Xu Jian’s finger could idly brush against the back of his ears, absently and without pressure.
There was something lovely about having something like this for himself. Only children have ever been so placid for Ying Long, and even then, they would usually get bored and try tearing his hair out after a few minutes.
“We’ll go on a hunt,” he announced gleefully. “Just on the other side of the mountains, there is a forest with more than enough targets. I can fetch us something larger than rabbits.”
Xu Jian was silent above him. After a moment, he took Ying Long’s horn and gently pulled his head back, so they could look each other.
Again, the mien was wrong. No matter how pliable Xu Jian had become, he still seemed frosty and above Ying Long’s frivolities, which was intensely uncomfortable, like he was speaking to a disapproving aunt.
“My lord,” Xu Jian said, “Did I not say I’m ill?”
Ying Long’s mind blanked.
He did, didn’t he… “You seem fine. Were you not treated?”
“Her energy is a pittance. I need...what do you call them. A human cauldron.”
Ying Long flushed, even knowing what he meant. “That isn’t...that isn’t quite the right term…”
Xu Jian waved his hand, unconcerned. “My mistake. I do need someone to give me energy, though. I don’t want to hunt when I’m fragile.”
“You don’t have to hunt-”
“-So I shall wait alone, with no one to protect me and nothing to do, while you enjoy yourself?”
“I’ll of course have an attendant or two-”
“-So I shall be left to my own devices with a bodyguard, still with nothing to do.“
“You can prepare the-”
“Why must I prepare? I don’t know the first thing about preparing meat. Am I meant to ruin your hunt for your amusement?”
Despite the escalation in tension, the cadence of his voice remained unchanged, which was far more disconcerting than if he had merely been nagging like an auntie.
“I will teach you to clean it, obviously!”
“Why not bring the meat back? Will we really be out in the elements slowly gutting deer? It would take up the day. Is that what goes for entertainment in the demon world? Gutting dead things all day?”
Ying Long’s face was still hot, but he couldn’t understand from what. He was disoriented by the unexpected barrage of questions. While it was clear Xu Jian didn’t want to hunt, his statements were becoming more and more barbed. Ying Long was used to just discarding those that upset him, but he personally picked up Xu Jian, and the human hadn’t said anything insulting…?
“By the way.” Xu Jian’s thighs slid up past Ying Long’s ears, and his shoulders felt empty without the tremble. The little human slid down his back and walked around so that they faced each other. His robe was disturbed, exposing a bruised shoulder. Ying Long frowned.
“You weren’t healed at all…”
Xu Jian tilted his head. “I told you. She wasn't enough. I need someone to support my health.”
Finally, things returned to a state where Ying Long could do something. “Then! I’ll fetch you one at once!”
Xu Jian frowned at him. “My lord...surely you don’t expect me to go out in public in such meager clothing?”
The robe slipped further down his shoulder, as if to punctuate his statement.
...Tiny movements like this were simple for Path of Wind.
Ying Long became suddenly aware of how thin the fabric was. “Of...Of course!”
“Shoes as well. I don’t want to cut my feet on the ruins my lord has made of the palace.”
Finally, Xu Jian relaxed. “Your infinite generosity humbles me, my lord.”
For the first time, Ying Long could see that the compliment was made without warmth. He clenched his teeth, feeling more wronged than ever.
It was possible...that Xu Jinyue’s original personality was not as warped as he was led to believe?