Ying Long wasn’t used to not being sure of things.
Ever since he took his title, he overtook everyone around him with a cold self-assurance, not allowing anyone to control him or his heart. Anger came slow, at whatever pace he wanted to. He had such a wonderful clarity of purpose, didn’t he? When was the last time he had lost control of his emotions?
“The issue seems to be that it’s not his fault,” Weng Min had said. “His respect for you means nothing and serves nothing, he is mean for no reason, and there is nothing either of you can do about it, because he believes everything he says. Helplessness disturbs the heart, yes?”
“He’s not being compulsive. He was mad at me. You saw.”
“Yes, he was mad at you. But did you think reasoning with him or ignoring him would work?”
He was right. It wouldn’t. He couldn’t stop Xu Jian from having emotions and being honest about them. But retrieving the famous Xu Jinyue for himself was a source of pride, and he was positive a human who could only tell the truth would never get tiresome; while was very easy to just throw away toys when they didn’t please him, he couldn't possibly get rid of Xu Jian.
Xu Jian wasn't feeble or crazed. He still had a short temper, still had a haughty attitude, and still had his pride. He was also capable of hiding things, and insults. Ying Long should hate him.
Xu Jian was honest, though. No matter how little his true self changed, Xu Jian still had to say things that were true.
Maybe, if he perceived it not as a complication, but simply a learning curve...
Then, as if sensing that Ying Long was ready to be reasonable, Xu Jian vanished.
Ying Long searched everywhere, over the span of two shi12-hour unit; 4 hours. Xu Jian was nowhere to be found. Not in the town, not on the mountain, not in or around the river. Ying Long searched as far as a human could go, then searched farther, but to no avail. He had simply...disappeared.
It should have occurred to him that given enough time, Xu Jian might circle back.
Xu Jian didn’t look angry or frightened when Ying Long arrived. He looked expectant, though the trembling still gave him the countenance of a baby deer.
Ying Long could be impartial, here. He was in control of his emotions. “Where were you?”
“Walking with some children,” said Xu Jian.
“Yes. Human children who grew up here would know more about the area.”
“Why...why would you need to know more about the area?”
“You’re angry with me.”
Ying Long’s jaw clenched. He felt an irrational surge of guilt. “Do you think you’re going to be disposed of over a disagreement?”
“I thought that I could have talked it out, but then you found out I left before I could do that, so I’m not sure. Are you going to get rid of me?”
The silence between them was excruciating.
While Ying Long was trying to figure out the least embarrassing way of pretending nothing happened, Xu Jian was slowly settling in his own bones, and he regarded Ying Long curiously. The demon’s brow was still furrowed, but he seemed...well, if not calm, only slightly aggravated.
Xu Jian relaxed. Of course he was only aggravated. Like he’d been telling everyone, Ying Long was even-tempered. He’d worked himself up for no reason.
This even-tempered Ying Long spoke. “What were you doing for so long?”
“Burned down the bank.”
Ying Long blinked slowly, looked to the stream of dark smoke on the horizon, and then looked back to Xu Jian. “And...Why would you burn down the bank?”
“Wanted to abolish slavery.”
The demon’s mouth parted and an unnatural stillness fell over him. It was strange that he’d have the strongest reaction to that statement out of anyone who was up-to-date on his activities, considering Xu Jian had expressed how much he didn’t like the idea of slavery existing just a few hours earlier.
Ying Long had nothing to contribute, so Xu Jian kept going. “I took all the proper bank assets. It’s probably for the best if the palace manages them.”
“Oh,” said Ying Long, “alright.”
Xu Jian waited for further comment, but Ying Long remained stiff and open-mouthed, staring at nothing. He tilted his head, and added “would you like me to show you where I put it all?”
Ying Long nodded stiffly.
Xu Jian walked him out of the palace, tense from the sensation that he was missing something. Ying Long wasn’t yelling at him, though, so he supposed he couldn’t afford to worry about it. They passed by the human servants on the way, who parted off to the side to let them to pass, all of them wide-eyed and terrified. Xu Jian didn’t look back.
The gate to the Spring Plum Courtyard was closed. Xu Jian couldn’t use his abilities in front of Ying Long, so he had to climb up the walls. When he couldn’t get a proper foothold on the stones, a hand was placed on his behind, and he was lifted all the way up. Ying Long vaulted over it effortlessly.
The door that had been roughly leaned into place was gone again. He could only assume the children were planning on feeding their mother.
He stood by the cart. “This is all of the money and records kept in the bank.”
Ying Long stared blankly at the wagon. “All of them?”
“Well, I set the debts on fire. That’s why the bank burned.”
Once again, a silence born of Ying Long’s unnatural stillness. Xu Jian cleared his throat meaningfully, jerking the demon lord from his trance.
Ying Long quickly knelt down and gripped the cart with both hands. With only a small stagger to re-establish his balance, he had it lifted in the air, where he could transfer the very cart that had Xu Jian heaving, sweaty, and on the verge of collapsing only hours before to a single hand.
Mountain demons were terrifying.
Ying Long used the tip of his foot to lift the bar across the door. While he was occupied with fitting his entire body through without toppling over, Xu Jian summoned the leftover rice and placed it where the cart had been, a final offering of goodwill.
Ying Long made no comments as he began the trek back to the palace. The smoke coming from the bank was beginning to thin. The air was acidic, stinging at Xu Jian's nostrils. Ying Long adjusted the cart so it rested on his shoulder. Each of his footsteps thrummed through the earth and up to Xu Jian's ribcage.
When they returned, the Hyacinth Palace sect elder hadn’t started a coup yet, which was encouraging. Ying Long gained some of his confidence back, and walked to the main hall with a proud posture.
“Weng Yu!” He called.
Weng Yu emerged from the shadows as if summoned. “My lord.”
“We’re managing the city’s accounts now.” He dropped the cart with a deafening crash. It shattered all over the floor. “Have some servants sort through these.”
Weng Yu looked suspiciously at Xu Jian, who stared unflinchingly back.
“...Right away, my lord.”
She bustled away, silk robes shimmering like water. Xu Jian didn’t know if he liked her or not.
Ying Long looked over Xu Jian cautiously. “Do you need to find a partner for your energy...?”
“...Not right now.” He had been burning through it, but he didn’t feel as weak as he was before he had been treated.
Ying Long shifted from foot to foot, which wasn’t much of an improvement from being dazed. After a moment, he declared “you have to tell me if you plan on going anywhere.”
Ying Long opened his mouth, closed it, and then added haltingly, “And tell me if you want me to do something.”
“That would arouse suspicion and give you the power to stop me,” Xu Jian said.
His nostrils flared. "So, did the Qi deviation actually affected your nature at all?”
“I’m less prone to rages,” Xu Jian ventured. He was pleased it was this simple to drop the ‘feeble sycophant' attitude, and he was confident he wouldn't inadvertently send Ying Long into an insecure rage, but he also didn’t care for the idea that he resembled Xu Jinyue in any way.
“...Is there...anything you want while you’re a guest here?” Ying Long prodded.
Xu Jian studied Ying Long’s features. He looked suspicious, as if Xu Jian was about to throw a viper at his face.
Well, if he was asking.
“Could I have the scholar’s pavilion?”