22. Yufeng (2)
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This kept coming out as tonally incoherent, so I had to go back and edit Chapter 20 heavily so chapter 21 feels like an obvious progression and this chapter actually worked. Misery made manifest

The attendant Ying Long was seeking was immediately obvious among the sea of blue fabric, in a patterned lilac outfit with frilled inner robes that were reminiscent of the petals of Weng Yu's outfit.

He was also taller than Xu Jian, and his hair was pulled tightly into a bun, save two locks that stuck out at an odd angle. Xu Jian didn't know enough about river demon anatomy to tell if it was just a thing demon hair could do, if it was styled, or if river demons had some sort of antennae. He was frog-like in colour and patterning, but his face was long.

Xu Jian didn't remember any character with his description, even though he seemed important too. Did Ying Long's 'attendants’ leave him when he went mad with power?

“Weng Min,” Ying Long greeted.

“Lord Ying. Are you showing everyone your prize?” Weng Min gave a smile that reminded Xu Jian of a pleased newt.

Ying Long only looked uncomfortable, glancing down at Xu Jian as if wary of something. Xu Jian blinked up at him, then softened his expression a little. “My lord was buying me shoes.”

“You couldn't just take some shoes?”

“Shoes are a careful fit. If it's too big, it's challenging to walk. If it's too small, I'll get blisters.”

Weng Min laughed. “A cultivator of your status can get blisters? Don't you break through levels of cultivation for that?”

Xu Jinyue at this point in the story had broken through… whatever level had core formation. He wasn't sure. Seventh? Either way, Weng Min wasn't wrong. “There's something wrong with my dantian. I don't take in energy anymore. Just walking on rocks left bruises.”

Weng Min clicked his tongue and looked up at Ying Long. “So he really entered Qi deviation. What's Lord Ying planning to do with him, then?”

Ying Long continued to stare at Xu Jian. Then he spoke very carefully. “I'll leave him to occupy himself.”

Weng Min's brow twitched. “Leave him?”

“And he'll be at my side when I have meetings. So people I know I have him.” Satisfied, Ying Long folded his arms and looked away.

Weng Min blinked slowly, a lack of comprehension clouding his features. He refocused on Xu Jian, with an uncomfortable intensity that only increased over the silence.

“He seems...unhappy.”

Oh, good, he noticed how bizarre that was too. Xu Jian weighed whether or not saying anything was going to be a problem, and decided picking at the wound until he figured out the cause was fine. “He doesn’t know how much a tael is.”

I know how much a tael is! I said I don’t carry bronze!” Ying Long snapped.

“You said you didn’t. I said I wasn’t sure and you said you didn’t know,” Xu Jian replied gently.

“I said I didn’t know how much it was in bronze. I don’t know how much bronze coins weigh. Obviously. Because I don’t touch such trivial currency.”

"It's a shop, he'd obviously have a scale!"

Weng Min looked even more baffled. “You’re squabbling over money?”

“He's squabbling over money. I'm saying he's being unreasonable,” Ying Long retorted.

Xu Jian’s countenance was frosty. “I asked him to give me a silver coin and he gave me an entire ingot. There's nothing more unreasonable than that.”

“Is this really...worth getting angry over?” Weng Min probed, looking suspiciously at his lord.

"Of course it isn't. You--" He pushed Xu Jian towards the people working on the wall. "Introduce yourself. I have personal matters to attend to."

What the hell was his problem?

Xu Jian didn't want Ying Long hovering around him either way, but he didn't expect to be casually dismissed. He shuffled away while looking cautiously over his shoulder. Was Ying Long really planning on getting rid of him? Couldn't it wait? He wanted directions on how to get from the palace to another sect first. Ying Long was already walking away with Weng Min, though, apparently discussing how unreasonable Xu Jian was being in fervent whispers.

There wasn't much to see. It was a stone wall, and it was very tall. The demons on the wall weren't nearly as flighty and curious as the demons Xu Jian had been interacting with until that point, and didn't pay Xu Jian any mind. He walked along the length of the wall, making sure to avoid the scaffolding, in case someone dropped something on on his head.

It was because he was keeping such a wide berth that he saw something unusual.

Xu Jian darted up one of the bamboo ramps and scaled two levels of the scaffolding before his target could flee. He didn't see incorrectly. There, on one of the platforms, taking advantage of the incurious workers, crouched four human children.

They all shrank away when they realized they were caught. They didn't seem afraid, so it was unlikely they knew who he was. Xu Jinyue had never been to Yufeng, and most of the rumours about him wouldn't be of interest to children. They had their own impressive cultivators to worship at home.

Xu Jian couldn't think of what to say, so he just said "what's the legality of slavery?"

They blinked. A girl, the tallest among them, rose a little. "You don't know?"

"I don't. What's the legality of slavery? Can children be slaves?"

"No, they can't, it's like. Uhm. Slavery is a punishment. For- war. And, uhm. To pay debts. You can always be in, uhm, debt. But sometimes people sell themselves to pay. They say 'I'll work 8 years instead', and so the debtor will sell the debt to the person they sold themselves to. Mom says not to do that unless it's to cultivators because you can always just be in debt forever, but you can't get out of getting bought."

"Hm." Well, that was miserable news. Xu Jian definitely wasn't any position to single-handedly abolish slavery, especially when it was in such a middling stage of 'oh, it isn't that bad, is it'. People would fight him tooth and nail, and he'd already disgraced himself, so he didn't have any power to stop it. Only the likes of mid-series Lai Mingliao could force the matter. It was easy to support people after the fact, but sticking your neck out could get it cut off. Knowing who was in what circumstances was the most he co-

Then Xu Jian realized: 'wait, cut off by who?'

"Where's the debtor's offices?" He asked suddenly.

All of the children were at this point completely bewildered. "What?"

"Where's the debtor's office in Yufeng? Who keeps the debts?"

"The bank does...Why do-...why do you want to know...?" The tallest girl shrank away as Xu Jian approached, spine held straight and proud.

He tilted his head, and placed a trembling hand over his heart. "An honest man doesn't have to be evil to be destructive, you know. I just want to try to ruin something. At a time like this, when no one's leaving their homes...surely a little rampaging won't be any trouble?"

Ying Long was notoriously sweet-tempered. No matter how he was offended, he'd simply send that person away so he wouldn't have to deal with them. Xu Jian had apparently done something to irritate him, but he didn't think that frustration was deep enough to warrant a punishment worse than sending him away.

Simply put, he could do whatever heinous thing he wanted, and all he needed to look forward to was a new place to stay.

In a city with no one to police him, why not rob a bank?