“If you want a stronger glyph, then this one works as well”, the cultivator finished, drawing a completely new one on the table. Shi Yue leaned on his hand, squinting his eyes at it.
“How would that work? There’s is no connection between the array and the user. It does affect the nerves, but how does it reach them?”
“You can engrave it into the body. Either with a knife to make a scar or by tattooing it”, Tiankong explained as he twirled his finger on his arm. “Since it’s directly connected with the body, it can activate much easier, with a much lower need for spiritual energy.”
Shi Yue raised his eyebrows. “That is… unconventional, to say the least. How would the array not burn out? It does depend on the materials you usually have in the ink, does it not?”
“That’s why you’d have to adjust it here and here”, Tiankong rambled on.
The idea was interesting, but far too dangerous and mutilating his own body was out of Shi Yue’s interest, so he shifted the topic away from it. Tiankong either didn’t reject it or didn’t notice, as he moved along smoothly.
Next to his knowledge about arrays, the mysterious cultivator could also follow up on his knowledge of the surrounding terrain and good hunting grounds as well as where to find certain materials.
Shi Yue laughed happily. “There is a number of nice places not too far from this city. Have you ever visited the town under the mountain? It’s lit up by night pearls and a beautiful place as long as you can protect yourself.”
“I prefer staying outside”, the other cultivator rejected instantly. “I feel… confined in places like that.”
“Well, I can understand that feeling. I admit I didn’t feel too well staying over the last time”, Shi Yue hummed lowly in agreement. Bottles number one and two were empty, and number three had been opened.
Tiankong had a good stomach for alcohol, but the percentage of the Moondrop wasn’t high anyway. Most cultivators knew how to keep something as easy as alcohol out of their system, too.
Tiankong twirled his finger over the edge of his cup. After all the drawing on the table, his fingertip was still wet and slid along the rim easily. Languidly leaning on his arm and trailing over the cup like that, Shi Yue could have sworn the other was trying to seduce him.
Could have; if Tiankong wasn’t staring down at the current singer rather than Shi Yue. Also, there was absolutely nothing seductive about how he talked or behaved otherwise.
Still, Shi Yue had an itching to reach over and grab that hand. Even with an altered voice, a highly likely altered appearance, a suspicious identity and generally likely dangerous disposition, the man managed to be surprisingly attractive.
At least much more attractive than absolutely any guy Shi Yue had ever met - he refused to count the adult version of his disciple - and still more attractive than a large number of women.
Maybe he would have been tempted if the cultivator was a woman, but he hadn’t ever been truly interested in a man before, so he struck the thought out of his brain and poured Tiankong another cup.
The cultivator smiled stiffly in response, then took the bottle and stood up to have an easier reach on returning the gesture and filling up Shi Yue’s cup again.
“I say, Tiankong, how haven’t I heard of you already”, Shi Yue said in amusement once the other had settled back down in his seat. The sects around the country regularly met up and geniuses were strongly boasted about. If Tiankong belonged to any of them, then he would have definitely known.
Tiankong twitched, his voice turning slightly dark and depressed. “If possible, I’d prefer to never get well known…” Too many bad memories with that.
Shi Yue parted his lips to respond when he heard the door downstairs open and his attention was pulled elsewhere. Tiankong, too, suddenly twisted his head.
The man who walked in was muscular, his black cultivator’s robe pulling tight over his body. When he took off his hood you could see his scarred face, distorted into a condescending grin.
“Hey”, he called to the waiter before the poor young man even had the chance to greet him, “I want a room, wine and… hmm, that beauty over there.”
Shi Yue’s face twisted into a snarl.
“Sir, we do not offer that service here”, the awkward waiter tried to explain softly, glancing back at his colleague who already went running to fetch the owner.
“Haah?”, the man grunted. “Don’t kid me. I know that some of your women follow the men into their rooms.”
“Those are regular guests that are merely acquainted with some of them. That kind of service is forbidden here and we make sure that nothing indecent happens in the rooms”, the waiter tried to defend the restaurant. If any of the women took fancy to a customer, then they had to manage it out of working time.
“Well then, I want to get acquainted with them. Send them to my room”, the man insisted, his voice dropping down a few degrees. He crossed the space to the waiter in a single step, reached out for his collar, and lifted the delicate man up.
On the stage, the pretty woman screeched in shock. Some of the guests tumbled out of their seats, throwing over bottles or cups. Even if some of them hesitated to intervene, none of them did.
The intruder let the waiter fall down again, who coughed violently and gasped for breath while holding his aching throat. A kick from the burly man made him roll over. “I ain’t got all night. Are you gonna lead me up or what?”
“I-”, the waiter stuttered, fearful. “I-I… Yes…”
With wobbly legs he stood up, stumbling over to the stairs. His already pale face was ashen by now, an unhealthy grey that betrayed his fear.
The man laughed in satisfaction, then threw a leering glance at the woman on the stage and strutted after the waiter with his hands in the pockets of his cloak.
Shi Yue exhaled through his gritted teeth. It was easy for a cultivator to get in trouble if they randomly intervened in other people’s business and especially right now, where the problem with his disciple was ongoing, he was hesitant to cause a mess. If the man actually raped or killed someone then he would have more than enough reason to throw him out, but until then, the situation was in a deadlock. On the other hand, he was unwilling to let things get that far and wait until someone’s life has been ruined.
Before him, Tiankong had turned completely quiet, his existence so low that Shi Yue jolted when the man moved. For those moments, he hadn’t just been distracted from the masked cultivator - he had completely forgotten that anyone was sitting there at all.
“What are you-”, he started, reaching out for the hand of the cultivator that was passing him by and clasping his fingers around the thin wrist. “If you start a fight, you will be the one at fault!”
He was already wracking his brains for a solution that would end in neither a large fight with high collateral damage nor in a breaking of law for himself. If commoners thought that strong cultivators could do as they pleased, then they were completely wrong. Just like nobility, cultivators had their own chains binding them.
Tiankong shook the hand around his wrist off in passing, his head completely lowered as if he was staring at the ground. He still continued on to walk to the door.
Shi Yue jumped up and after him, just in time as he opened the door to stand almost right in front of the burly man who had his fingers on the waiter’s neck as they walked up the stairs.
The man mustered his opposite and showed a wide, dangerous smile. His fingers tightened a bit, causing the shivering waiter to whimper quietly.
“Don’t stand in my-”
The sentence was broken off unnaturally, the sound twisting towards the end.
The first thing the waiter noticed was the twitch of the fingers on his neck, then a dull sound accompanied by a disgusting, wet squish.
His trembling eyes moved to the side, ever so slowly, and up at the man.
The body wavered, blood dripping down the tongue that lolled out of the open jaw. Bone was breaking out of the bloody red flesh, white with black spots, like spikes. The opened windpipe gurgled with the remnant air escaping his lungs.
The waiter had enough consciousness to fall forward instead of backward down the stairs as he fainted, his eyes rolling back into his head. The body, however, broke together, threatening to tumble down before a bloody hand reached out to grip it at the lower jaw, dragging it to the front again.
On the floor, the upper half of a head was lying emotionlessly, staring against the wall with blank eyes.
Shi Yue felt the wave of cold, insane bloodlust spill over from Tiankong, flooding all over him as he noticed, somewhere in the subconscious, that there were dark spots on the dead man’s body. A Demonic cultivator.
Tiankong’s face twisted, his lips pulling back into such a wide snarl that it looked like his skin might split open. The hand that had easily torn off half of the man’s head was now crushing the lower jaw, the unbloodied right hand reaching over to grasp at the arm.
Tearing and ripping, both fabric and skin screamed at the movement. Where flesh and bone broke, terrible noises sounded.
Shi Yue finally snapped out of it. Tiankong was tearing the body to pieces, bit by bit, drowned in an inexplicable rage.