39 – You call this learning from experience?
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Honestly, of all times to be separated from the System – of all times to be cut off from Insta-Cures and whatnot. It was an inconvenience at best, and something jeopardising the mission at worst.

There was softness beneath him; a mattress and furs. And even in his addled state, Jixue knew precisely where he was; the bedchambers of the Demon King.

“Pardon me,” said the aforementioned bastard, not apologetic in the least as he tugged at Jixue’s lapels to lay bare his nape. “I have to suck out the venom.”

There were certainly other ways, and the only really good thing about this one was that it carried just the slightest chance of the bastard getting poisoned himself. Jixue knew better than to get his hopes up though, shuddering as an abrasive tongue licked the wound. A graze of teeth followed, leaving Jixue more intensely aware than ever of the weight on top of him and the heated exhales against his skin.

The puncture wound was quite strategically placed; difficult to reach, but only for him. The bastard’s lips pressed against it, then covered it completely, and then⸺ Yeah, this absolutely sucked.

“Your disciple is right, you know? We really need to talk things out in-between us.”

Hah. “Ah yes, by poisoning and abducting me. Really friendly conversation.”

“Well,” said the bastard. “To be fair, you’d have either killed me or absconded if we hadn’t, no?”

He wasn’t wrong, per se. That said however⸺ “Being put through this kind of humiliation isn’t going to make me any less keen on murdering you.”

At this, the bastard smiled; Jixue could feel it against his skin. “Well, good thing I haven’t purged all the venom from your system then.”

Indeed, he had not. The toxin was no longer affecting Jixue’s respiration, but his muscles still felt weak. Given his current cultivation level and qi reserves, it would still take some time to purge the rest. Until then, he was effectively at the mercy of this bastard.

Pushing himself up, Jixue rolled over onto his side, a move which took definite effort. “Hoh, I guess you didn’t have the guts to try and take me without resorting to such tricks. Coward.”

“I don’t have the guts, you say?” said the other, having the actual audacity to touch him. “I’d call it learning from experience. Last time was a close call.”

Hah. “You call this learning from experience?” Jixue spat. “From where I’m at, you don’t seem to have learned anything at all.”

Well, other than to use more extreme measures, that is.

The bastard’s hand strayed into his hair, and Jixue swatted at it. This was just about the only thing he managed however. Because soon, the smiling bastard had caught both errant limbs, gathering his wrists in one hand and holding them gently but firmly before reaching out anew, brushing his knuckles against the side of Jixue’s head and neck with the most infuriating look of tenderness in his eyes.

“Little Xue, I’ve missed you so. Did you miss me as well?”

The hand strayed closer to his mouth, and Jixue contemplated the benefits of chomping down on it. He also considered the demerits though, and swiftly concluded that they outweighed the former. So, Jixue closed his eyes, exhaled, and then opened them again. “Like an enduring toothache.”

“Oh?” The bastard sounded positively intrigued. “Did missing me feel like having an enduring toothache or did you miss me as much as you would an enduring toothache?”

Jixue bared his teeth. “Take a fucking guess, dipshit.”

“Little Xue, no need for that now,” the bastard chided. “Call me Àiyǎn, just like old times.”

Ha. Ha ha. Ha. “Sure thing, Àiyǎn. You damned eyesore.”

“Well, aren't you a sight for sore eyes yourself, Little Xue?” said the other. “Though, to be honest, you’re no longer all that little, are you?”

He was not, but at this time, it as a fact that brought him little joy or use. Instead, Jixue merely narrowed his eyes, internally cursing the other’s existence.

“You know,” Àiyǎn said, finally letting go. “For a supposed human and a supposed male, you always did have an abnormal amount of Yin energy. How others failed to notice is beyond me.”

Well, people had a tendency to see what they wanted to see, and to turn a blind eye to just about anything, really. But⸺

Jixue pushed himself up, pulling his lapels into place, and only really then noticed them; the patches of iridescent plumage. “Oh.”

Well, no wonder he felt like absolute shit then, poisoning notwithstanding.

“You’re running low on Yang energy,” Àiyǎn bluntly informed him. “Dangerously low. If nothing gets done about it, then that body of yours won’t last long.”

Well⸺ “I’m aware! That’s why I was trying to finish things quickly.”

Yes, and with the completion of the Mission Objective, Jixue would no longer have any need for this body. And it was better this way, honestly; easier to ensure that his former vessel would not fall into the wrong hands. Besides, this was what he usually did upon leaving; ensuring the destruction of his vessel.

It was only in this particular world that he had not. Instead, he had left his body behind, sealed away inside some long-forgotten cave – and the System had allowed it, likely seeing some benefit to having a ready-made vessel available in case of trouble.

And trouble had indeed occurred, and complications had certainly followed. And now, Jixue was here, at the mercy of this bastard once more. Because even though this guy claimed to have more honourable intentions than the rest, in the end he too was⸺

Head suddenly jerked back, Jixue gasped, in part because of that in in part from the suddenly pungent smell of blood in the air. Then, just as abruptly, that bastard’s lips collided with his own. Blood and qi flowed into his mouth – not a great amount of it, but somehow enough to make Jixue’s head spin.

Before he knew it, Jixue found his head resting against Àiyǎn’s shoulder, laid bare, while the bastard’s fingers slid over his scalp and neck and back, making him shiver. And even without looking, he could tell that the bastard was smiling. How utterly infuriating.

“If you think... this in any way absolves you... you’re sorely mistaken.”

It was getting difficult to speak. Jixue should just convey his thoughts directly. At the same time, he shouldn’t, because he didn’t want Àiyǎn anywhere near his thoughts. But⸺

“I’m not looking for absolution,” Àiyǎn said. “Only for a solution.”

Hearing this brought Jixue to a pause, bringing about a flash of clarity. He didn’t have time for this. He had a mission to⸺

A sudden flare-up of demonic qi startled him, and Jixue instinctively sank his teeth into the other’s shoulder, biting down on it hard enough to break even the skin of such a beast.

As a result, an even stronger taste of blood flooded his senses, and along with it, another influx of qi – this one soothing but no less potent.

It must have temporarily overwhelmed him, because Jixue felt like he had lost time when he finally resurfaced, blinking, distracted by the increased clarity and sudden vibrancy of colours. There were new colours as well, some of them marking the skin of the one before him.

“Little Xue.” Àiyǎn smiled, holding Jixue’s face. “You’ve got places to be, no? Go.”

Startled, Jixue put additional distance in-between them, taking it all in. Àiyǎn’s shoulder had since long stopped bleeding, indicating that no small amount of time had been lost. Shit.

Jixue wiped his mouth. The transfer of energy had been crude and disgusting, yes, but still relatively quick and vastly preferable to the alternative. It had given him more than enough to take care of the last vestiges of venom and to replenish what had been lost during his earlier stunt. That said however⸺ “I’m not going to thank you.”

“Then don’t,” said the bastard, looking a bit drawn but still annoyingly vibrant. “Go take care of things and then come back. I’ll be waiting for you.”

Hah. Jixue ought to kill him now and be done with it. And yet⸺

“So?” Àiyǎn said, leaning forward. “Where should I send you? The Spider Caves?”

As much as Jixue hated relying on others, this would undeniably save him some time; enough of it had already been lost after all.

“Send me to the Lake of Bones.”