Shi Yue would have loved to scold him for it. Huo Cheng had no decency when he was actually in the mood - either you left the room or you would have to watch. Had he known that Huo Cheng would come, he would have ordered the girl, whom he had known Huo Cheng would like, to stay outside.
As it was, Shi Yue had a grim look on his face while Huo Cheng delightedly kissed the girl and caressed up her leg.
But this time he was bound to not get what he wanted.
Tiankong has his eyes fixated on him. Paired with his emotionless face, even Shi Yue felt he could hear the quiet, scolding click of a tongue.
Huo Cheng gave him an embarrassed smirk but kept on holding the girl. He tried to talk but ended up clearing his throat.
Huo Cheng swallowed, then placed the girl down after all and sat straight.
He coughed again. “Uh, I’m sorry. Let’s continue our talk.”
He sat there like a boy scolded by his father, his eyes twitching up to Tiankong.
Three seconds of continued staring passed, then the man redirected his attention to the food before him.
“How rare to see you so meek”, Shi Yue commented with amusement while glancing at Lu Han, who was wiping his sweat away. It was always a critical situation when it looked like the prince might take fancy to yet another woman.
Huo Cheng pulled a face.
Tiankong had, for the whole time of their discussion, sat quite neatly. Only during certain moments when they talked about arrays did he lose the nice posture.
Now, with Shi Yue only somewhat leaning back and another person sitting neatly, Huo Cheng felt a bit awkward being so messy.
Most of all, he felt like a child, which he rarely did. It couldn’t be helped; Shi Yue was a good bit older than he was and Tiankong should be, too.
“Huo Cheng often has to stay in his country due to being a prince. He can’t wander around freely, despite being a cultivator”, Shi Yue explained kindly. “So we don’t see each other that often either.”
“I have yet to meet that mystery-disciple of his!”, the other man lamented, making a dramatic movement that looked like he was heartbroken. “My Shi Yue! Has a disciple! And I never met him! Even though I heard he’s a beauty!”
“...That’s your main point, isn’t it?”
“What do you think of me.” Huo Cheng humpfed and crossed his arms but slowly lowered his head under Shi Yue’s scrutiny.
His face only managed to stay serious for half a minute before it fell to reveal his mischievous grin again.
“So? Gimme a description?”
Shi Yue rolled his eyes but smiled softly. It was always amusing to be with Huo Cheng, who saw no reason to keep up any polite act.
He hummed to tease the excited young man for a while, then pointed a long finger at Tiankong. “Imagine him, only in younger.”
“Oh!”, the prince exclaimed, clapping his hands together. “What! Your disciple is his family?”
Tiankong cocked his head, not denying the words.
“Xie Yi is very much like Tiankong when he is talking about arrays”, Shi Yue summarized, his eyes thawing more. Just then his movements stilled and he gave an awkward chuckle. His white hair fell into his face as he shook his head lightly. “But how should I say it? It’s a bit dangerous to think of him as just a pretty flower - even if one with thorns.”
“Do elaborate, dear friend”, Huo Cheng purred, leaning on Shi Yue. He was an absolute gossip-monger, but it was hard to get good information on that Xie Yi.
Shi Yue refused to do so and picked up his cup to hide his grin behind it.
Oh, his disciple was vicious. Was there any denying that?
He didn’t bat an eye at accidentally cutting off his fellow disciples’ limbs. He had a blatant disregard for other people’s well-being if they didn’t include his friends. He would raze through hordes of beasts in a storm of blood while grinning in delight.
But there is no such thing as an inherently good or bad person.
So what if he was vicious?
Xie Yi didn’t turn down people who asked for help. He was learning constantly to find a better balance in sparring and learned to lower the casualties.
He would go out and unleash his desire to fight against demonic beasts threatening commoners, rather than go all out against other humans.
Shi Yue didn’t find it in himself to care that Xie Yi was by nature bloodthirsty and a fighting maniac. All he cared about was how his disciple decided to live.
And the youth had decided to learn how to control it with all of his determination. There was nothing else that Shi Yue wanted to ask for.
Funnily enough, most cultivators would take on the same worldview at some point in time of their life. It was only a difference of them openly acknowledging it or acting like hypocrites.
After all those years, Shi Yue - who was a very peace-loving person from the start - had decided to accept this. He had seen too many people disdained for the identity of their family that they had nothing to do with.
Royalty didn’t need to be snobbish. Homeless people didn’t need to be thieves. Cultivators weren’t always righteous.
Wasn’t the world much more colourful if you looked at the person and what they were making of themselves, rather than always at their circumstances and how they might be according to your prejudices?
“All you need to know is that there is a chance you might find yourself losing a part or two if you think you can feel him up”, Shi Yue said instead.
Huo Cheng winced, his hands jolting between his legs as he looked at Shi Yue in horror. “How can you be so cruel?!”
“Hands off my disciple, and you won’t have to worry”, Shi Yue warned protectively. As if he’d allow Xie Yi to be pulled into Huo Cheng’s crooked world of beauties!
Next to the bickering pair, Tiankong was beginning to smile softly, the sweet image half-hidden by his hair.
Although the group didn’t have too much trouble staying up a whole night, Lu Han’s yawning soon became a sign of the progressing hours.
“I have to go”, Tiankong said suddenly. Shi Yue blinked in surprise, but looking at the time, it was indeed about to become morning.
“I see. Would you mind me accompanying you until the gate?” He spoke kindly. It was a shame that they would part again so soon. From the last time, it had been six years since they saw each other again.
Tiankong pursed his lips.
“What, what?”, Huo Cheng asked curiously. “You are leaving?”
“His partner is waiting for him”, Shi Yue explained. “They made up a meeting time.”
Under normal circumstances, Shi Yue would simply say goodbye to a friend and let them leave, especially since he could easily spend another while here with Huo Cheng.
It was just that Tiankong was too similar to Xie Yi. The thought that his little disciple would walk around in a town like this… Waiting to be eaten up by the snake-like people around here… (He knew it was ridiculous the moment he thought about it, but anyway...)
No good. He would accompany Xie- ah, no, Tiankong, and hand him right over to Wu.
Tiankong nodded in agreement and stood up, returning to his calmer demeanour now that they had stopped talking about arrays again.
“You know what, I’ll come along”, Huo Cheng decided spontaneously and stood up.
“Prince”, Lu Han cried out tiredly. Huo Cheng placed a hand on his short hair and ruffled it.
“We’ll come back afterwards. Why not stay here and sleep for a while?”, he proposed, already turning to one of the servant girls. “Prepare a room for him and keep this one open. We’ll return in a while.”
“Yes”, the servant girl confirmed with a small bow. She hurried out of the room, leaving the door open when she saw Shi Yue making a gesture with his hand.
“The costs will be taken over by you, I presume?”, Shi Yue teased Huo Cheng as they walked outside.
Tiankong was stretching a bit as he walked, looking distracted, but the Grandmaster knew he was listening.
“Obviously”, Huo Cheng waved the issue away. “Even more reason for you to go rest, Lu Han! We’re paying!”
“I-... Understood”, the nervous young man surrendered hesitantly. He lowered his head before Tiankong with half a smile and walked towards the servant girl that was already waiting down the hallway.
“Where do we need to go again? The dock?”, Huo Cheng wondered, taking the lead. Since the island was only reachable by boat, it did, of course, have a dock.
Shi Yue nodded.
“If he isn’t finished with… dealing with his business, we might as well keep you company”, Shi Yue told Tiankong who replied with a low hum. The man still looked unhappy at being unable to go hunt the Demonic Sect members.
Down the stairs, the women saw them off with giggles and waves. They were different ones than before - the shift had changed. Madame Bai wasn’t around, but Shi Yue expected to see more of her later when there wasn’t Tiankong - who was a stranger to her - around.
As it was approaching morning, the city was rather quiet compared to before. People were going to sleep now. They had a completely inverted day-and-night cycle.
With the sky beginning to tint in wine-red hues and the streets being much emptier, Tiankong looked less out of place. He was clearly walking with more ease in his step. Shi Yue wouldn’t have been surprised had he begun to hum a song.
Huo Cheng, possibly infected by the pleasantly serene atmosphere, stilled his talking and placed his head in his neck to watch the sky’s colour change.
By the time the first deeper shadows were drawn on the ground, they had reached the dock. A tall figure was already standing beside it, turning his head away from the water and towards the three of them the moment they came within earshot.
Shi Yue recognized the face and slowed his step.
Wu walked over with the habitual gait of predatory spiritual beasts - almost like jumping, with very broad and quick steps that looked too nimble for a human.