28. Prized Possession (4)
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It had been a strange week for Yu Zhunyao.

Ever since Xu Jinyue’s arrival, things had been going...well, not the way Yu Zhunyao expected a hostile takeover to go.

For one, the day after he came to visit her, there were suddenly humans everywhere. Well, ‘everywhere’ from the perspective of someone who locked themselves in the medicine hall. So, within the medicine hall.

“I don’t have anywhere else to go,” the servant had said, and then went right back to dusting the shelves.

No servant she could get her hands on would clarify their motivations or their origins. There were just human servants that were...around.

The day after that, Yu Zhunyao grew bold enough to actually go outside, and while there were plenty of demons who regarded her like she was not supposed to be there, no one made any mood to stop her or ask her questions. She wasn’t even stopped when she took the servant’s entrance to the kitchens.

The demons didn’t let her take any food, but they did let her cook while they were busy making gruel out of what looked like a small mountain of silt. No doubt to appease the monstrous appetite of their giant leader.

Yu Zhunyao made herself rice congee, and having its familiar flavour on her tongue made her burst into tears.

On the third day, Yu Zhunyao took note of the fact that Xu Jinyue appeared to be missing.

The human servants said they didn’t know what she was talking about in a way that implied that they absolutely knew what she was talking about, but were too scared to say anything. The demon servants just made vague gestures and said ‘Lord Ying has him’.

For the next two days, Yu Zhunyao did her best to do her duties as she had before the demon takeover. It wasn’t hard, though it was unsettling to see a Hyacinth Palace without disciples, and the repairs that needed more building materials to fix lingered like scars all over the palace. No one would let her into the main hall, and no one would let her into the prison. It was a different kind of loneliness than the one she felt when completely isolated.

It felt hopeless.

It was hard to practice hand arts when someone could walk in on you at any time, so Yu Zhunyao went back to studying herbalism. She wasn’t going to give up her goal of branching into pill-making just because everyone she knew was currently missing.

She had been blindly flipping through pages in a haze when a slip of paper fluttered onto her desk.

Come to the scholar’s pavilion

She jerked her head up to see the leaving back of a servant.

“Wait, what does this…?”

But she received no answer.

Yu Zhunyao had never seen this handwriting, but from the way the strokes wriggled like waves had ran through them gave her a good guess.

Wary of the company she may be keeping if she went to the pavilion, she dressed herself properly and combed her hair until it was like running the teeth through water. She also carefully placed an expensive pair of reading glasses on her face. She’d been using them during study sessions, especially with the tiny print on some of the technique scrolls.

She hurried to the scholar’s pavilion. The demons had finished clearing and repairing the main halls, and were redoubling their efforts on the outer courts, making it tricky to maneuver around the streams of people.

The pavilion was quiet, as untouched as the medicine hall, and the door was open. She peered inside, but saw nothing but smeared dust and footprints. She had no choice but to go inside.

Yu Zhunyao walked slowly, clutching her hands in front of her. The building wasn’t too large, and she quickly came upon the first open door, to a large study carrying a majority of the palace’s texts, from techniques to poem books.

She didn’t see anyone, but massive portions of the collection were currently on the floor, so it didn’t mean much. She got closer, wary of sudden atta-

“You’ll have trouble finding anything,” came a low and thrumming voice right next to her, and Yu Zhunyao shrieked and jump back.

The massive Mountain demon from before was lounging on an enormous settee, a River demon perched upon his shoulder shelling lotus seeds, which were dropped in a bowl cradled next to the Mountain demon’s stomach.

“O-Oh...Lord...Ying?” Yu Zhunyao ventured.

The demon lord didn’t pay her much mind. “He’s attempting to restructure the entire library using the Duwei decimal system.”

She blinked. “The...what?”

Lord Ying threw a few lotus seeds in his mouth. “He’s given each topic a number, and then each book gets a number too, so you can look it up in a funny little book he made.”

The elders, if they ever returned, were not going to be happy with that.

“Come. He’ll return soon.”

Even from his position on the settee, Lord Ying’s arms stretched out far enough to snag her and usher her close. She resisted the urge to scream.

“We are...we are speaking about Xu Jinyue, yes?”

“He doesn’t like his courtesy name. Can’t imagine why.” Lord Ying continued to pop seeds in his mouth.

“We’re observing. Xu Jian has an impressive mastery of avoiding his condition,” said the River demon sitting atop Lord Ying. “He’s very slippery.”

“Avoiding...his...You mean his truth compulsion?”

“It’s not compulsive. He acts like it is, though. Quite sneaky of him.” Lord Ying offered Yu Zhunyao the bowl. She shook her head rapidly. The bowl was instead lifted to the River demon, who emptied the rest of the seeds into it, then got working on another lotus pod.

“I...well, that does sound...like it makes sense?” There were many people in the world who became intensely anxious when lying. A Qi deviation could induce that mentality, she was sure. It certainly made more sense than 'must tell truths', at least.

“Hush, hush. There he is.”

Xu Jian emerged from another doorway, fully dressed and clutching a bowl. He swiftly pulled a sleeve back and began scooping bits of the bowl’s contents with a flat tool and smearing it on a piece of paper he had spread on the table. The paper was transferred to a large board, where it was carefully sliced, and the pieces were applied to a pile of books he had next to the table. His movements were quick, intent, and purposeful.

“He’s putting the labels on so you can count the numbers at a glance.”

“Why...is he…?”

“He loathes boredom. It’s enchanting.” Ying Long regarded his kidnapping victim fondly.

Yu Zhunyao glanced at him out of the corner of her eye and tried to avoid looking intensely uncomfortable.

When the paper had all been sliced and stuck to the books, Xu Jian turned, and flinched when he saw Yu Zhunyao standing stiffly next to the demon lord.

“Oh. How long have you been standing there?”

“Just a little while,” she said hoarsely.

Xu Jian came up to meet her, and opened a fan she hadn’t noticed him carrying. He fluttered it lightly. He was still unsmiling, but his eyes were curved and gleaming with contentment.

“I’m glad you came. I wanted to catch you up on some things. Despite my best efforts, you’re still the only disciple willing to…” He gestured generally to Ying Long.

She was the only one willing to not only stay in the palace, but serve under a new master as well. It wasn’t as if Yu Zhunyao had a choice, though; she had been stuck in the medicine hall, and Lord Ying had caught her there himself.

“You’re the reason the human servants are back?”

He blinked slowly, like a cat. “The servants are back?”

She frowned.

“He’s locked himself in the building the past few days. He only sleeps on this.” Lord Ying patted the settee he was lounging on.

“He doesn’t trust me to leave by myself anymore, so I just don’t leave,” Xu Jian said.

“Do you really not mind being-” She almost said ‘taken captive’, but then remembered she was standing just in front of the captor, and instead said “kept?”

“Heaven’s Crossing Pier was a miserable place to be. It was easy to stay occupied, but people kept attacking me. This place is much better.”

“I just- I think it’s a little degrading.”

“Yes, that’s very annoying. But I’m not being pestered, so it’s not as if I’m unhappy with it. Come here.” Xu Jian returned to his table, and she reluctantly followed.

He began writing on a fresh piece of paper. His constant shaking only barely made his lines shake.

Elder in the basement wants to speak to you

Yu Zhunyao sucked in air through her nostrils. He glanced at her, then back to the paper.

No disciples outside yet?

She shook her head.

He looked to Ying Long with light tension in his brow, then returned to his paper.

We’ll have to check in on them

She gestured at Ying Long with her eyes and gave him a bewildered look. How on earth was he going to escape Ying Long?

He looked up at her, and while his mouth remained neutral, the gentle curve of pleasure came over his eyes again.

Working on a big project, updates will be slowing to a crawl again. By the way, Webnovel updated its TOS and it's a lot more clear and less shady; should I reprint for more reach/ease of access, considering Webnovel has an app?

Should I post this story on Scribblehub AND Webnovel?
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