“Xiao Tian”, he called out.
“Hmm?”, the man responded, his still body moving to face Mingtian again, a soft smile on his lips. Even through the mask, Mingtian felt he could see his red eyes glow in a lively light.
“Shi Yue is searching for you. Should I make sure that we won’t see him, or do you want to meet him like this?”, he asked gently. He knew about the people who followed him whenever he went out. He had also noticed one of them leaving as soon as he had appeared with Xie Yi.
Now, he smelled Shi Yue in the air. He didn’t know why he could - it seemed like he could notice certain people from a much farther distance than others, and Shi Yue was one of them. Maybe it was because he was an important person in his past life.
He wasn’t against them meeting up.
The last time, several years ago, he had seen the way Shi Yue looked at Tiankong who had snapped. It hadn’t been a look of hostility. Rather, there had been worry and concern.
The main point was that he wanted to see Xie Yi’s reaction. How did his little brother interact with his master if he wasn’t his disciple?
Would he fall into habits? Those of ‘the disciple’ or maybe those of ‘the sect leader’?
Or would he stay… as Xie Yi?
In the worst case, he could get himself and Xie Yi out of here quite fast.
Shi Yue would be constrained by the common people around him, but Mingtian wouldn’t hesitate to kill himself a path out of the city if it meant they could leave quicker. He didn’t want to, but if it was for Xie Yi, he wouldn’t have a problem doing it.
Xie Yi hesitated a bit, glancing at the heavy door. He did not even ask how Shi Yue had found him or how he would know that they were in this cabin.
“Then let him come”, he said in a surprisingly even but still expectant voice.
Mingtian smiled and leaned back.
He could hear Shi Yue walk down the corridor and talk to a servant until they slowed down to a halt in front of the door.
Before the servant could even knock to inquire if the cultivator at his side was indeed an acquaintance of the guests inside the room, Mingtian spoke up.
“Come in”, he said loudly, his eyes falling down to the cup of alcohol that he was swirling in his hands.
The servant twitched nervously, then gave the man beside him an awkward smile and opened the door slowly.
“Excuse me, dear guests. There is someone-”
“It’s fine. He can sit with us”, Mingtian said in a tone that indicated he had no desire to converse with the servant. He moved his hand and the servant, more than happy to leave, gave a quick bow and scurried away.
Shi Yue only gave him a quick glance before looking at the two people in the room.
With his back to the auction - quite the unusual position - and looking right at the door was a muscular, dangerous-looking man.
There was something intimidating about him that made Shi Yue’s skin prickle tensely.
The man, however, merely smiled leisurely.
Just as Shi Yue remembered, he had dark skin. There were no golden markings on it this time but a number of visible white scars.
His hair and eyes were black in such a standard tone that Shi Yue instantly decided they weren’t their natural colour. They were too identical and evenly coloured.
A cloak was placed on the chair he sat on; he had likely worn it before coming inside, only revealing his muscular stature once no one was around.
His clothes were pointedly boring and simple.
He could have been any random person, but Shi Yue was still certain that this man wasn’t a human but rather a beast - and the partner of the one sitting to his side.
Shi Yue’s eyes jumped over.
Tiankong looked the same as years ago, only that his fake skin was of better quality. When he lifted his masked face to throw a greeting grin at Shi Yue, his aura dissolved into something amicable and friendly.
“Did you come to share a drink?”, the cultivator asked, as if the last time they had met hadn’t ended with a corpse and him badly injured.
Shi Yue swallowed the questions on his tongue and gave a slow nod. “If you and your friend don’t mind.”
“I don’t think we mind. Do we?”, Tiankong asked almost surprised. He turned to his partner who rolled his eyes.
“Didn’t I just invite him inside. Come and sit, Master Li. There is enough alcohol for all of us.”
“Then I won’t be rude”, Shi Yue agreed, taking the third, open chair - opposite of Tiankong. It was weird that this chair had been left open and the one that would usually face away from the door had been placed on the other side to look at it instead.
“Please call me Shi Yue”, he offered, scrutinizing the man who was leaning back with a don’t mind me expression on his face.
“Alright. You can call me Wu.” With that he fell silent and focused on his drink, leaving behind a very attentive Tiankong who was staring at Shi Yue.
Once more, the cultivator swallowed down the words he wished to say.
He could inquire. What happened to you, do you know Xie Yi, why are you here.
Or he couldn’t.
Tiankong appeared to be waiting to see what he would do and Shi Yue feared that this was one of the moments that would tilt their relationship to one side or the other.
He held back a sigh, then smiled.
“It’s been a while. Why do I have the sneaking suspicion that you are here for the wine rather than the auction?”
“That is an absolutely correct suspicion”, Tiankong confirmed, nodding seriously. “It’s a good one.”
He reached over to pour Shi Yue a cup. The cultivator looked at it for a second, then raised it up before drinking.
“Did you know that one of the items on auction today is supposed to be a treasure from a Transcendant’s home?”, he opened, and Tiankong’s face bloomed into a smile.
The auction was a long process spanning over several hours, but the two showed no signs of wanting to leave. From one topic to the next, the table was soon filled with drawings made from alcohol again.
The third person at the table rarely gave a comment and quietly watched with a soft, pleased gaze and ordered wine whenever it was empty.
Shi Yue was pointedly avoiding topics that could lead them to talk about the happenings from six years ago. He was itching to ask but unwilling at the same time.
He felt that just like Xie Yi, Tiankong needed to be dealt with carefully. There were landmines that you could step on. He didn’t want the mood to turn sour.
Surely, the beast at Tiankong’s side that was watching him with such loving eyes would never allow the man to hurt himself?
When he had glanced over and seen Wu look like that, he had been stunned for a moment. It took him a moment to identify that the love that was written all over the man’s face had nothing to do with romantic attraction and was more that of a family member.
“You really do like wine a lot, don’t you?”, Shi Yue commented when Tiankong had reached about four times as many cups as he had. As a high-level cultivator the alcohol wouldn’t do much to him, but it was rare to see a cultivator drink so much with such relish.
“I do”, Tiankong confirmed with a happy nod. “Somehow, the taste makes me relax. Who knows why.”
The face of the man next to him twisted into something ugly for a split second before returning to normal.
Shi Yue glanced over and carefully prodded the issue. “Good memories, maybe?”
Tiankong hummed and made a sound in acknowledgement. “Ah, probably. Before, whenever I drank wine, I would feel really comfortable. I haven’t found that special wine yet, though.”
“What is it called? I might be able to help you find it”, Shi Yue offered, seeing as Wu didn’t make a move to stop him. The whole conversation felt as if it was being led along - if he entered an area he wasn’t supposed to, that man would intervene but until then, he would stay quiet.
“Hmm, it had a really weird name. Red… No, crimson? I think it was crimson. Crimson Dream, maybe?”, Xie Yi tried to remember. “It had a rather strong colour, I remember that.1Completely random name. No reference to any existing one”
Shi Yue’s friendly smile faltered.
He knew the wine.
It was a misconception that it was called Crimson Dream due to its colour. It was called that way in allusion to poppies - a highly narcotic flower.
It was less a wine than the last grace. The effects of the wine were so numbing and tranquillizing that even cultivators would fall asleep and pass away from a single cup. One would have to be a late-stage Grandmaster at the very least to manage a full cup.
However, it was impossible for a cultivator to not notice the numbing effect and under usual circumstances, a wary cultivator would dislike being put into such a state, let alone enter it willingly.
That obviously left the question of why Tiankong would ever drink the wine willingly and still appear oblivious to its effects.
Although, he wondered numbly, seeing Wu’s face, maybe Tiankong had been given the wine on purpose by someone.
“Did you drink it often?”, he continued to inquire, constantly glancing over to Wu. The man’s hands were curled around his cup tightly but he didn’t stop Shi Yue.
“Almost every day”, Tiankong chuckled. “I felt downright uncomfortable when I didn’t. I got quite addicted to the taste. That’s why I still like wine so much.”
Uncomfortable? Had he been addicted to the taste, or to the feeling of his discomfort vanishing? Was it that he felt uncomfortable without the wine, or that the wine covered up the discomfort that was there constantly?
Shi Yue lowered his head slightly.
Tiankong saw the movement and stilled unnaturally, prompting Shi Yue to tilt his head up again immediately.