36 – Yes. I’d like to use you very much
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The Hua clan’s territory lay in the warm yet humid part of the Demon Realm, a reasonable distance away from the royal court. Jun was reasonably familiar with this region however, having ventured there both in his most recent lifetime and in his previous one, albeit with wildly differing intentions.

The first time around⸺ well, the less that was said about it, the better, honestly. More recently though, he had mainly visited the fringes of it, for purely practical reasons. This particular section of the Demon Realm was after all home to a wide variety of plants with useful properties. It was also home to a fairly wide variety of demons, as well as famed for its nightlife. The most successful courtesans and other entertainers all hailed from this region, and so did the most skilled herbalists. The region was also famous for its alcoholic beverages and its other intoxicating substances, appreciated by locals and temporary visitors alike.

Nowadays, this part of the Demon Realm was reasonably stable, which had led to a booming tourist industry – for demons, that is. A lot of demons came here to appreciate what the region had to offer, and particularly what the pleasure district had to offer. Many also came to appreciate the Great Cherry Blossom Forest, which thanks to the efforts of the Hua clan and others now bloomed practically all year round.

“Tacky as ever,” commented Bai Jixue, features obscured by the veil. “More grotesque than I remember though.”

“How so?” asked Jiao Ziyu, the Peak Lord speaking up for the first time in hours.

The latter seemed quite taken by the beauty of the scenery surrounding them, practically mesmerised. The trees did have that kind of effect on people though, on demons and humans alike. In fact, it was quite possible that it affected the latter more, given the differences in-between this type of cherry tree and the ones that could be found in the Human Realm. Originally, they might have been one and the same, and that these had ended up absorbing quite a bit of qi from their surroundings throughout the years. And, considering the fact that this was demon territory, well, go figure.

“They bloom practically all year round,” Jun offered up all while gradually extending his senses. This close, he should be able to sense them – Yue, and that damned Hua Hongzhu – and once he did, well, then it would be a simple matter to make the jump. It was not entirely unlikely that he would be jumping straight into an ambush though, so he obviously had to be prepared. Something about that earlier comment niggled on him though. “You’ve been here before then?”

All things considered, he should probably have tacked on some sort of honorific to that, given Jiao Ziyu’s alarmed look. What was Jun supposed to call the immortal though? In his previous lifetime, ‘Honourable Grandmaster’ would have cut it. In this one however, what could he even say? ‘Sir Immortal’? Because uttering the aforementioned immortal's name aloud was generally a bad idea this deep inside the Demon Realm – unless one wanted to immediately garner a whole lot of attention, that is.

“It's grotesque because it is,” said Bai Jixue, snapping his fan open and closed. “They’re dying. They weren’t the last time I was here.”

Looking at the pink cherry blossoms surrounding them, Jun could not see it. To his eyes and to his other senses, these trees looked to be doing fine. There was definitely something off about this place though, something vague yet strangely menacing. But Jun obviously had more important things to worry about, so he chose to ignore it for now.

“I was not aware that you’d been here on previous occasions, Venerable Master,” said Jiao Ziyu.

“I was not aware that it was any of your business, brat,” said the immortal.

Well, if indeed so, then that might just explain why Bai Jixue was almost as notorious in the Demon Realm as he was in the Jianghu. Never mind all that though.

Jun concentrated, extending his senses, searching. Because Yue was out there. Getting to him was Jun’s priority, no matter what challenge Hua Hongzhu might intend to throw his way. Yue was out there, and if Jun’s suspicions were correct, then also⸺

“They’re not at the palace,” Jun finally determined, because even with distance and layers of barriers obstructing his senses, he could determine that much with reasonable certainty. That obviously left the question as to where they could be though, considering the nature of this whole debacle. Was Hua Hongzhu even planning on challenging him? Or had she thought better of it and bailed, taking Yue with her as insurance against Youming Jun’s wrath, hoping to sue for peace? It was not entirely unlikely. Nevertheless⸺

“What do we do then?” Jiao Ziyu asked.

Well, Jun’s first instinct would have been to make an example out of the lot and torch the place. However, thinking of it now, then perhaps this approach would prove detrimental rather than beneficial. As such, he – one naturally inclined towards fire – turned to a certain immortal, who had proven himself naturally inclined towards ice and wind, and said, quite bluntly: “If we target the palace directly, then we can forget about stealth. I can’t think of a more efficient way of drawing out Hua Hongzhu, but if I do it, well...”

He conjured up some flames simply to illustrate his point, then said: “It wouldn’t be my first time torching this place, but I’d honestly rather not. It’d give people the wrong impression about me and my ambitions.”

“Hoh?” The immortal snorted. “And you’d suppose I’d let myself to be used in such a fashion?”

Well⸺ “Yes. I’d like to use you very much.”

Jiao Ziyu choked on his own spit. Jun paid him little heed however, keeping his attention firmly on the immortal before him. Because yes, Jun was perfectly aware that he was being shameless, but⸺

A heavy hand landed on top of his head, grabbing a fistful of hair. Jun did not flinch though, remaining perfectly still and perfectly steady as Bai Jixue leaned in.

“You know,” the immortal said, his eyes gleaming. “As much as I appreciate bluntness, I don’t particularly appreciate being viewed as a tool. A proper ‘please’ might take you a long way.”

Hah. “Then would you please consider helping me out, Venerable Master Bai?”

“I refuse,” Bai Jixue huffed, turning away.

Then, in short order, the immortal was standing on top of one of the cherry trees, brandishing his fan. “I’m doing this for myself!”

And with those words, the immortal swung his fan in a wide arch, conjuring up freezing winds. Then he pointed the fan up towards the heavens, towards the clouds, and then⸺

Clouds drew together, thickening, and not long thereafter, temperatures plummeted even further and there was snow, snowflakes whirling through the air; an artificial winter in a land that had most likely never before seen anything quite like it.

Ah yes, this would do. This would do just fine. Apparently, the immortal had his own bone to pick with the Hua clan, and wasn’t that just great? Or was it? Ice and snow might not have the sheer destructiveness of fire, but at this rate, if this continued, then this area might just end up encased in a glacier. In the end though, in a way, had the Hua clan not more or less brought this upon themselves? Besides, it was not as though Jun stood much of a chance to stop the immortal even if he wanted to – not without potentially suffering some serious injuries, that is.