The man’s lips were slightly parted. The mood was shifting.
Then Tiankong looked at the wine in his hands and placed it down with a sigh. “Oh… Actually, you don’t need to search for it. It probably wasn’t that good, after all. I… should stop drinking wine so often, anyway.”
Tiankong’s fingers gave a shiver. He forced a light smile, but it was obvious that his mood had become downcast.
“It’s perfectly fine to drink good wine. You’re right, though; that one was crap. This here is much better. Don’t you agree, Shi Yue? It’s quite the good wine in my opinion”, Wu said sternly, filling up Tiankong’s cup and pushing it back into his hands.
Shi Yue twitched back into focus and gave a soft, relieved smile before reaching out with his cup to touch it against Tiankong’s. “That’s right, this wine is good. Drinking good wine with good companions makes a fine memory.”
The masked cultivator pursed his lips and relaxed. He nodded and returned the gesture. “Indeed.”
Shi Yue changed the topic, returning to the auction. He had gotten a piece of information handed to him by Wu and that had been enough to make his own conclusions.
He didn’t want that mood to return. He quite enjoyed the way Tiankong acted when he was in a good mood.
Still, Shi Yue’s thoughts did a quick run of what all of this suggested.
He knew that Tiankong had a large problem with the Demonic Sect. If he fully believed the person in Xie Yi’s mind to be him and also believed the depiction that he had been shown, then Tiankong was in a poor condition.
From what he could guess now, this didn’t only include his mental, but also his physical state. It had been at least so bad that he needed to drink the wine like a painkiller, despite not being aware of it.
That also meant that someone had given him the wine while keeping him in the dark about its effects - and judging by Wu’s figuratively dark face, it hadn’t been him. That Tiankong hadn’t noticed it himself was unnatural enough, so everything screamed of a well-planned intrigue.
He could imagine the Demonic Sect pulling that off.
So, why had Wu allowed him to hear about this?
Was it to hint at the atrocities that the Demonic Sect had committed and asking Shi Yue not to interfere in their revenge?
The Demonic Sect had been rather quiet lately, but the sect leader was very wary of them. If he could support Tiankong, then he-
Shi Yue stopped the thought and used his hand on his leg to fiercely twist his skin.
What was he doing! He couldn’t feel anything that suggested he was being influenced by a formation or drugs of some sorts, so why were his thoughts flowing like that?
Even if he was fond of Tiankong, that was not a warrant for mindlessly supporting him. The other was still a stranger with a suspicious identity.
Ideally, he should keep his fingers out of the mess.
Deciding to do so, Shi Yue returned his attention to the next article being brought out downstairs.
Shi Yue made a small sound of surprise when he saw what was uncovered. The servant had pulled the fiery red cloth away in a huge flourish, smiling brightly.
“Dearest guests, may I present you one of these highlights of today’s night?”, he purred sweetly, like hypnotizing the guests.
Numerous eye fell downstairs.
It was an unprocessed, uneven piece of ore the size of someone’s fist.
It wasn’t overly much, but Shi Yue’s eyes were stuck to it and when Tiankong turned to glance down curiously as well, he froze.
The ore was like someone had dropped several drops of ink into a quiet pool of water. Black ripples covered it, reaching out from various parts and creating lines where the ripples intersected.
Its uneven surface made it look like water hovering in the air, shimmering in the light.
Even from far away, the ore looked like it would be cold and smooth to the touch.
“Ink-Drop Ore”, Shi Yue whispered appreciatively. “That is indeed an item worthy of today’s auction.”
Wu twisted on his seat to peer down. His eyes turned to slits as he stared at it, golden lights flickering on the dark colour.
“What are its properties?”, he asked with a low voice. Outside, the bids were running.
“What would be interested to use it for?”, Shi Yue asked instead. It would be easier to name the advantages and disadvantages if he knew what the two wanted.
“A jiao”, the beast said.
Shi Yue looked down at the ore again and pursed his lips. “It’s a good material. It doesn’t break easily and has a sort of flexibility. It has a calming effect and can be paired well with water, ice and earth attributed materials. It’s more on the defensive side.”
He tapped a finger on the table. “However, it is hard to forge and weak against corrosion. Most people prefer it to forge jewellery since it is quite beautiful anyway.”
Tiankong leaned farther on the railing to look down. “I want it”, he said in the tone of someone who was used to getting his way - no matter the cost.
It was his partner who made sure to keep him in check. “It’s expensive. Go ahead and give it a try, but there is only so much we can pay.”
Wu didn’t look too optimistic.
The price was indeed rising steadily and towards incredible dimensions. It was at the point where even cultivators had to raise their eyebrows.
Tiankong’s shoulders slumped. The slight, excited lift of his lips vanished again and the aura of delight was gone. He had been like a child, just like when talking about arrays, when he had seen that piece of ore.
Shi Yue’s lips opened involuntarily.
He barely kept his words from slipping out, almost biting on his tongue in the process. He really was going crazy, to almost suggest that he would take over the cost.
For what? For a person he only knew a few hours in total now.
For a man who was most likely linked to him only through his precious disciple.
For a man with a questionable past, one that had been so painful that it had permanently scarred him.
For someone who was excitable like a child, with an endless curiosity and an open mind…
Shi Yue forcefully corrected his train of thoughts and stifled a groan. He should leave soon and immediately go find his master. His brain wasn’t working normally.
Rather than an interest - romantic or platonic - like he was used to, the thoughts felt more like obstinate beings with their own mind.
Stubbornly insisting to lead him to certain directions without allowing him to pull back.
The cultivator ignored the feeling of his pounding head.
“I could lend you some”, he managed to say. With his long fingers around his cup, he took a sip to calm his mind.
Tiankong cocked his head and looked over with slightly parted lips and a look of surprise on his face.
“Of course I want to be paid back, but your thoughts about arrays have been very helpful so far, so it would certainly weigh up the interest”, Shi Yue explained. It was correct - that single time he had talked to Tiankong had given him a lot of ideas that proved to be useful and today appeared to be the same.
“What are you thinking of?”, Tiankong asked. With his voice tinged with excitement but also wariness, the words seemed to imply certain things.
Shi Yue took a second to stop his thoughts from wandering in that direction. He wasn’t interested in that kind of thing.
“Give me a way to contact you. If I encounter problems with an array, I’ll have a method to call you. I’ll take your help as payment”, Shi Yue suggested seriously. It was a very good deal, but Tiankong leaned back hesitantly.
It was Wu who explained.
“That’s a problem. We can’t say we will be able to answer your calls.”
The man leaned on his arm and gave Shi Yue a mischievous grin. “Although, if you just continue to let those guys look out for us, you’ll find us anyway. But that should be quite expensive?”
Shi Yue lowered his eyes. So he had noticed the Black Spiders. That meant he hadn’t minded Shi Yue inviting himself in?
That the beast appeared to follow some sort of plan made Shi Yue feel uncomfortable. He did not want to dance in another’s palm. It might be better to stop things right here.
“Suspicious?”, the beast asked with wide eyes that suggested it came as a surprise to him if only they weren't so overly dramatic. Tiankong didn’t intervene at all - he watched their exchange quietly.
“You’ve got all right to be. Alright, let me say this, then. If we do get this ore, you will find it in the hands of your little disciple. Why not let the payment go over him, too?”
Shi Yue shuddered, his eyes widening a bit.
His shoulders tensed involuntarily.
“What-”, Shi Yue started but then stopped. There were too many questions, he didn’t even know which one was the most important to ask.
What is your relationship with Xie Yi. What do you plan to do. What do you want to do with him. What are your intentions behind telling me this?
He closed his eyes for a moment, then looked outside where the bids had slowed to almost a halt.
“Fifty thousand”, he called out loudly. Six thousand higher than the last bid.
With dark eyes, he glared at the beast. “If it is for my disciple, then I will pay, of course.”