20. Qi Deviation (5)
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Xu Jian had been risking his neck, but he was certain by now that Ying Long had a decent picture of his true personality.

While being a spineless addled sycophant had served him well on the pier, an enormous overpowered monster like Ying Long who has a complex about being misled was dangerous to lie to, and Xu Jian's temper was bound to eventually get the better of him. He needed a narrative as an alibi. If he keeps this up, his golden thigh will only think 'okay, he was feeble because of guilt, and now that he's in a new environment, he's recovered his sense of self’.

...He'd perhaps indulged himself a little too much, though. He knew Ying Long was sweet-tempered, but Xu Jian had fallen old habits from his life on Earth.

They returned to the main hall, Xu Jian walking on his own two feet. The scabs on his feet were secure and healing, and the bruises didn't hurt nearly as much as they did earlier that morning. Ying Long hailed a servant, who quickly retrieved a set of gorgeous embroidered clothing.

“I don't like them,” Xu Jian said automatically.

Ying Long frowned down at him. “I've heard you treasured lavish clothing.”

“I was always sensitive about the lowly status of my sect, my lord. Even my master's wealth wasn't enough. But that kind of easily bruised ego is what drove me to act out. I don't have a good idea of what is and isn't appropriate until after I've done it, so I can only be cautious.”

Ying Long looked intrigued by this character lore. The narrative had been established. It had been a while since Xu Jian had spoken at length, but ten years of bullshitting had combined with a strange eloquence he didn't remember having.

“Find him something...lowly,” Ying Long ventured.

Xu Jian would prefer a Hyacinth Palace disciple uniform like the demon servants all stole, but he supposed he couldn't have everything.

The servant returned with a set of brown robes. They didn't look particularly lowly; rustic, maybe, but they could belong to a well-to-do banker. Xu Jian wore them over the eel's inner robes, and adjusted them carefully.

“These wouldn't happen to come with shoes, would they?” Xu Jian ventured.

The servant looked uncertain.

“We can come back to that. Come, rest your aching feet in the meantime.” Ying Long held out a hand to Xu Jian, who stepped on it inelegantly and clambered up onto his shoulders. He was starting to enjoy it up there.

“If it's a spare energy pool you need, the prisons are filled to the brim. I'm sure one of those little disciples will be delighted to be taken on to support you,” Ying Long said breezily.

“The prisons...are they going to be violent?”

“I have my doubts. The top level is full of the sect's little minnows, and the only casualty of our siege was an elder who had his arm removed.”

“A siege without death? How impressive.”

Well, it wasn't impressive so much as...absurd? Xu Jian had never heard of a zero fatality siege. Even if one side was being as non-violent as possible…There was plenty of worldbuilding in Black Path of the Proud Immortal, but Xu Jian didn't remember anything about this specific situation. One of the four great sects of the righteous path folding like a house of cards felt important enough to gossip about. The three remaining great sects already saw Ying Long as a threat, but they at least tolerated his presence at social events…

Perhaps they planned on negotiating a truce? But that didn't explain why no one ever spoke about Hyacinth Palace folding...?

Xu Jian felt newly uncertain as they headed down into the prison.

The building had a high ceiling, and was surprisingly clean. There were more signs of fighting here, carved into the floorboards. The individual cells were covered in a metal grate, while the group cell was blocked off with wooden bars. The prisoners watched like a hundred cornered dogs.

“Look here, everyone! I've brought home a guest!” Ying Long boomed, gesturing to Xu Jian, who had sat on Ying Long's shoulder with his hands resting politely in his lap in order to look more composed.

“I'm not a guest. I live here now,” Xu Jian added lightly.

“Isn't he wonderfully frank?”

The disciples in the individual metal cages looked like they had seen death, while the general population murmured among themselves nervously. Xu Jian knew he cut a vague figure; he was very sedate and soft-spoken, sitting delicately in simple clothes, but he had the resting face of 'a man who no one would ask a favour from’. Xu Jian interpreted this expression as merely frigid and weary, a side effect of being constantly frigid and weary, but he'd been told that the intensity of it was imposing. His original body had a droopy, languid face, so he could only imagine what Xu Jinyue's severe features lent to the expression.

Finally, the whispers of 'Xu Jinyue’ reached their crescendo. “Is that really...The Golden Star of Wendian?”

“The very same. He's gotten quite attached to me.” Ying Long was preening under the newfound attention. He must have been excited to shock and scandalize with his newest acquisition.

In order to give his benefactor some face, Xu Jian wrapped his arms around his enormous neck in order to drop down to the floor. Ying Long made theatre of it, leaning forward and holding a hand up as if to brace Xu Jian in case he fell, keeping his smug look fixed on his prisoners.

Xu Jian turned to face them as well. The reactions were mixed. Lots of horror. Quite a few smiling faces. Majority of it appeared to be confusion. As to be expected.

Xu Jian spoke softly, if only for effect. “I've upset myself terribly, and it seems I've entered Qi deviation. I need someone with a strong spiritual root who can feed me their energy in order to aid in my recovery.”

He was about to continue with an atrocity to really get them going, but was stopped dead by a sudden and horrible realization.

He didn't know what 'truth’ would be upsetting to the disciples of Hyacinth Palace.

Only two characters from the original palace showed up in the novel, and it was only for a subplot about a haunting. The values of the original sect were never brought up, only their original rules. Most mentions of the palace were centred around Ying Long. Xu Jinyue had never been to the palace, so him being himself wouldn't be offensive enough.

His destruction bonus...

Xu Jian shot a sudden, manic look at Ying Long, but chastised himself immediately after. He was only allowed to stay because he was giving Ying Long face. If he disrespected him in front of an audience…

The image of the tree shattering in Ying Long's hand jumped to mind.

Unhappy at being in front of such a huge audience without being able to capitalize on it, Xu Jian folded his arms and frowned deeply. Ying Long, infinite in his pride, could only interpret this body language as insecurity. “I suppose there wouldn't be any volunteers. Unfortunately, this isn't a choice!”

He slammed his sheathed sword against a metal cage, making the whole building shake.

“Surely someone here is willing to let my new pet drink from their bountiful wellsprings?”

One of the isolated disciples leaned forward against his cage. “Are you really Xu Jinyue? How did you come to such a state?”

“I'm Xu Jian. I was guilty about something I did, and in my stress, was reckless with my cultivation method. I based my pride around not being truly evil, so when doing something truly evil, I couldn't explain away my behaviour."

There. A nice and vague narrative. He was getting quite good at this.

“What did you do?” The caged disciple pressed.

Xu Jian blanked.

Well, if he said 'I did such and such’ when talking about Xu Jinyue, then surely…There was a truth he could use, but it sat dark and uncomfortable in his chest, and the hesitation to voice it made him veer into cheap vulgarity, spinning a mostly innocent event as scandalous as possible.

“A friend came to me begging for help, and I sold her off.”

[+500]

...Huh?

One? Just one? That was only destructive to one person? Why was it only destructive to one person? Why was that one person so offended? What?

It was a 'truth' about a friend of his who needed his help doing sex work in a town she wasn't familiar with, so she asked him to introduce her to clients and stick around, since he had some experience. It was a mediocre story, but he thought it would be easy to spin, and perhaps push if being vague couldn't do the trick.

"Your greatest evil was selling a debt slave?" One of the individually caged disciples scoffed.

"Good heavens. Is slavery legal?" Xu Jian asked in horror.

"It's- sorry are you not sure? About the legally of slavery?" The disciple looked baffled.

"Well it must be legal here, if it's not bothering any of you. Not doing a wonderful job are you, my lord? Been here how long? A month? And you haven't even abolished slavery?" He gave a pointed look at Ying Long, who seemed to shrink under his gaze.

"So you...you went mad with guilt...because you sold someone into indentured servitude when you thought it was illegal to do that...?"

"What? Of course not. She needed help finding work. I didn't sell anyone."

"Wait, then what was the evil you committed?"

Ugh. Xu Jian didn't want to make up a lie. He was already a pissed no one wanted to beat him up for human trafficking. "None of your business. You think I'm going to just dump my history on strangers? If the people of Wendian want to give me 100 lashes, I'll take them, but what am I to say to you, ah? Are you rubbernecking?"

"'Rubbernecking'...?" A few whispered.

"You're all soft-spined layabouts. What will become of me, taking energy from you? Scram!" Xu Jian angrily flicked his sleeve at them.

Ying Long suddenly reached from behind and plucked him into the air with both hands. Xu Jian writhed around in a panic, and turned to see Ying Long looking at him like he was holding a dirty diaper. 

"My lord, these disciples are worms. Can't we go lower? I don't want to gain power from this scum," Xu Jian said quickly.

"...That wouldn't be safe for anyone," Ying Long said.

"Then..." He relaxed in Ying Long's hands. "Then I'll have to look to other sects to lend someone."

Ying Long glanced at the imprisoned disciples with unreadable eyes, then nodded. "Of course. No accounting for quality."

He finally drew Xu Jian in close to place him on his shoulder. He didn't look like he wanted to do it. Xu Jian wrapped himself around Ying Long's head like a trembling hat and simmered there, not looking at anyone in particular.

Ying Long observed the confused crowd and said, with a hollow voice, "it looks like we won't be needing any of you after all."

The demon lord probably wanted a more subdued reaction from Xu Jian, but he was busy thinking. Pissing off people on Heaven's Crossing Pier was impossibly easy; every time he admitted to something, they were reminded of all the other awful things he did, and got angry. He had no such luxury here. And apparently, making up atrocities was going to be unreliable, because they were already committing them, apparently.

Xu Jinyue was a stranger to these people. And in a position of status. The difficulty curve of bringing destruction down upon his own head was too drastic, but now that he knew he was in such poor health, he couldn't skimp on the points. The things the System could get him were likely going to be his only protection. Besides, he was bad at talking people through things; it may be likely that Ying Long will succumb to the allure of power, and if that happened, Xu Jian would have to kill him early in.

It wasn't as if he could just create new atrocities, after all...

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