Heavenly Soul Chapter 59: Living Arrangements
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A young female servant was currently guiding the four cultivators to their accommodations.
In a soft and pleasant voice, the servant girl explained, "Since we were unaware that there would be an extra guest, we only have two guest rooms prepared in one of the residential courtyards. A third room shall be prepared soon. The prince's room has also been tidied up and is ready for His Highness's use."
Frowning, Qinghe refused these arrangements directly, "There is no need for all the trouble. I will share a guest room with my lover. Brother Jing can stay with the other person."
In this way, they could stay nearby and avoid being split up. Jing Shui would also feel more at ease if he shared a room with Wu Xiao.
Shocked at the thought of four people sharing two rooms, especially when one of those people was the prince, the servant tried to refuse, "B-But propriety dictates that―"
Interrupting, Qinghe stated inflexibly, "I'm sure that the imperial palace values the comfort of their guests more than some outdated rules, isn't that right?"
The servant could only nervously say, "O-Of course, but―"
"If anyone makes a fuss over it, just tell them that they are free to take this issue up with me," Qinghe spoke firmly, giving no room for her to refuse anymore.
Sweating, the servant finally conceded, "…Yes, sir."
She led them farther and farther away from the imperial court and the main building of the imperial palace, to a series of simple courtyards where guests of unimportant rank were usually accommodated.
The two guest rooms prepared for them were situated beside each other and faced a small garden with stone benches. As they made their way towards the rooms by walking on a narrow garden path, they saw a small pond in the garden, with rotting leaves, algae, and debris floating among the withering lotuses.
The water in this small pond was a cloudy dark green, tiny fishes and tadpoles barely visible beneath the surface as they swam hectically. The croaks of frogs and toads could be heard, along with the layered chirping of a multitude of insects. A vaguely damp and moldy odor thickened the air around the stagnant water of the pond.
The pond's rim looked shiny and green, covered in thick layers of slime. One step on it and a person's foot would definitely slip, causing them to plunge into those murky depths for an unneeded dunk in its muck-filled waters.
Seeing that this was not the kind of water he could dip into, Qinghe felt slightly sad. Maybe he should ask his lover to use the shadows and transport him back to his room in the sect every now and then so that he could play in the stream in the backyard. Thinking this, Qinghe's mood brightened again.
After showing them to the guest rooms that they'd be residing in, the servant woman left hastily, probably to report to someone that the guests were not staying in the expected rooms.
Before the four people entered their respective quarters, Wu Xiao set up a barrier that covered both rooms at the same time.
He guided forth his power and thin tendrils of silvery spiritual energy extended from beneath his feet, disappearing into the walls and covering the outside of the two rooms. The glowing lines formed into characters and shapes, drawing out an intricate formation before sinking into the walls.
A basic restriction array with protective intent and soundproofing was thus established.
This was not only so that they could have some measure of privacy, but also to prevent the annoyance of having to constantly check for poison, traps, assassins and the like in the room.
Just as they were about to enter, Jing Shui spoke out, "Why must I share a room with this fellow?"
The last time he'd stayed in the same room with Wu Xiao had been a long time ago. He could still be considered a kid then. But doing the same now made Jing Shui feel somewhat self-conscious, his face unconsciously heating up at the thought of sleeping on the same bed.
Noticing his strange expression, Wu Xiao cheerfully exclaimed, "We can start cohabitating now itself in preparation for the day we are going to be married. Isn't it wonderful?"
But rather than arguing or bickering, Jing Shui's face only got redder.
Qinghe took mercy on his friend and stated a more sensible reason, "No matter what, we are still in hostile territory. It would be safer to stay in pairs. Plus, I didn't think it would be good for Brother Jing to stay in your former room since it might bring back bad memories for you. Staying with each other is still better."
Not meeting his friend's eyes, Jing Shui mumbled discontentedly, "But still…"
Seeing how he was continuing to be unreasonable, Qinghe bluntly explained, "And I'd rather share a room with my lover rather than either of you, so suck it up, Brother Jing."
Wu Xiao burst into laughter. Winding a hand around Jing Shui's shoulders, he leaned in and advised, "Just give it up, Ah-Shui."
Turning his head away from Wu Xiao's face that was way too close for his comfort, Jing Shui finally relented, "…Okay."
And so they each went to their respective quarters.
But for some reason, Jing Shui felt his heart thumping erratically with anticipation at the thought of being alone in a room with Wu Xiao.
On the other hand, Qinghe didn't feel much different. After all, he had been sharing his room with Wei Xiang before this anyway.
Looking around at the mismatched and gaudy ornamentations filling the walls and tables, Qinghe commented, "The room is so…crowded. It's so unnecessarily ostentatious, and most of this stuff cannot be used anyway…"
And as Qinghe continued complaining about the tastelessly furnished room, Wei Xiang also surveyed the space with disapproval. He would much rather prefer staying somewhere that was similar to his lover's neat and sparsely decorated room rather than this messy place filled with too many unneeded things.
As he looked around, Wei Xiang's wandering gaze suddenly landed on an especially ridiculous decoration of some sort that had large plumes of feathers sprouting out of an animal's head cast in gold.
Reaching out his hand, Wei Xiang plucked one of those deep turquoise colored feathers and studied it curiously. The feather was as long as his arm, the large plume especially fluffy and soft. He guessed that it must have belonged to a huge spiritual bird beast of some sort.
Lifting his head, he saw that Qinghe was still going on about the room, and on an impulse, Wei Xiang reached over with the feather and brushed it lightly over his lover's cheek.
Qinghe's tirade was suddenly interrupted as he felt the soft touch of the feather strands sliding over his skin. He faintly shuddered before pushing the feather away, a light flush suffusing his face.
Trying to act indignant, Qinghe turned his head to the side to hide his expression and spoke in a quiet voice, "Stop it. I'm trying to complain here."
Aware of his little lover's strange reaction, Wei Xiang looked down at the feather with new interest, his gaze turning contemplative as a smile slowly stretched his lips. But before Qinghe could notice it, he put his expression away, his fingers playing distractedly with the large plume.
In a casual tone, Wei Xiang spoke in answer to Qinghe's previous complaints, "Just throw away whatever you don't like. Having a comfortable bed is the most important thing after all."
Qinghe waved a hand as he said, "This isn't our home so I can't be bothered with redecorating. And we don't need sleep that much, so the quality of the bed is irrelevant."
Hearing this, Wei Xiang sidled up to Qinghe and drew him close by his waist. Leaning down, he whispered in a low voice full of meaning, "A bed is used not only for sleeping, my love. There are other, far more interesting activities I'd rather be doing on it. With you, and in you."
Blushing, Qinghe coughed lightly to alleviate his embarrassment. Then nodding solemnly, he declared, "You're right, the comfort of the bed is very important. So it's imperative that we thoroughly inspect it."
Wei Xiang's eyes darkened. He lowered his head just as Qinghe raised his up.
Lips met and hands roved, removing the impeding layers of fabric between their eager bodies. Still kissing, they moved to the bed, their clothes discarded on the floor.
Qinghe lied on the bed, his face and body flushed, his pupils dilated due to the flame of desire beginning to lick under his skin. He shifted restlessly, his body feeling languid and warm.
Spotting the huge feather still held in his lover's hand, Qinghe frowned in puzzlement. "Why are you still holding on to that?" he asked huskily.
Wei Xiang smirked. "Because I want to try something with it."
Qinghe only frowned more confusedly. "What do you want to try?"
"This," Wei Xiang murmured as he raised the feather and carefully brushed it over his little lover's flushed body, over his smooth arms, slowly down his chest and belly…
As the fluffy feather dragged across his sensitive skin, Qinghe could feel its lightness and softness leaving delicate wisps of pleasure in its wake, gently stirring his desire.
This weightless pressure and almost imperceptible friction were not nearly adequate to quench his need, and as the feathery strands ran teasingly over his nerve endings, it only made him writhe for more.
He was desperate for his lover's steady and firm touch, for Wei Xiang's rough and hot palms to press down and slide over his skin, igniting this gentle smolder to blazing flames and finally granting him the release he so frantically sought. Continuing to be teased like this to the point of frustration without being satisfied was torturous!
Maddened by the unfulfilled need, Qinghe let out soft breaths as his limbs moved restlessly over the cool sheets, seeking, hungering for something elusive just beyond reach.
"…Xiang…please…" he called out breathily. "…not…enough…"
Seeing Qinghe disoriented and shifting in agitation like he was being driven insane, Wei Xiang felt his heart clenching with affection. So it turned out that his little lover became particularly weak when feathers were used on him, he thought with interest.
Putting the feather away, Wei Xiang carefully settled over his gasping lover to finally give him what he wanted.
And soon, a symphony of passionate cries echoed throughout the space.
The muffled and suggestive sounds bled through the wall separating the two quarters, floating into the adjacent room.
Since the restriction array Wu Xiao had set up only enclosed the outside of the rooms and did not run through the wall in between, the two rooms were not mutually soundproof.
Just listening to the vague sounds was enough to make Jing Shui blush redder than a cherry. Coughing lightly, he considerately suggested to Wu Xiao, "We should tell them that these rooms have thin walls."
Wu Xiao merely smiled in amusement. "I'm sure they already know."
An especially loud gasp sounded from next door and Jing Shui flushed further as he spoke, "If they knew, then why would they be so…noisy?"
On the other hand, Wu Xiao was observing his thin-skinned Ah-Shui with great interest. Chuckling, he answered, "Because they don't care."
Then moving closer to his awkward looking beloved, Wu Xiao couldn't help but tease, "Ah-Shui, how about we retaliate against them? If you allow me, I can also make you let out those sorts of sounds."
Turning his head away, Jing Shui shouted angrily, "Sh-Shameless!"
Unable to let go of this chance, Wu Xiao bent down to lightly blow against Jing Shui's neck. Startled, Jing Shui almost leapt out of his skin as he jumped away.
"Y-You… Stop it!" he yelled as he moved farther away, his hand covering the tingling region on his neck. He could still feel the sensation left behind by the warm breath brushing against his skin, making him feel strange and hot.
Wu Xiao looked at his lightly trembling Ah-Shui and smiled. "Okay, okay, I won't do anything more."
Jing Shui hesitatingly sat back down beside Wu Xiao on the bed. After all, this room didn't even have any other seats or even stools in it. The person who furnished this room clearly didn't have any care for the people who would be using it if they could omit even something as basic as that.
But since it resulted in them both having to sit together on the bed like this, Wu Xiao couldn't really complain.
Looking at the flustered Jing Shui, Wu Xiao marveled at how far he'd come. When they'd first met due to the urgings of his senior martial sister Liu Xue, the current sect master of the Golden Sun Sect, Jing Shui had been very…prickly, yet his character had also seemed subdued.
As he thought back to then, Wu Xiao's mind slowly drifted to memories of times long past.
Wu Xiao remembered his senior sister standing beside him, saying, "Xiao Xiao, won't you take that Crown Prince Jing as your direct disciple?"
But the sect masters of the Silver Moon Sect had never had the habit of arbitrarily taking in direct disciples like this, so Wu Xiao could only refuse. "Elder Sister, you know I can't do that. And stop calling me with that weird nickname. 'Xiao Xiao' doesn't sound nice at all."
Lightly puffing her cheeks, Liu Xue retorted, "Then you can first stop calling me 'Elder Sister'. You have to call me Senior Martial Sister!"
Wu Xiao sighed and put aside this age old argument of theirs in favor of the more recent discussion. "Anyway, why do you want to give that crown prince to me? I thought it was one of your Elders who recruited him in the first place? Or is this Crown Prince Jing's aptitude really so bad?"
Liu Xue said dejectedly, "The problem is not that. His aptitude is actually one of the best I've ever seen. He can use one of the elements, so he'll probably have to be sent to the Heavenly Peak Sect sometime in the future to train in martial arts and to also have the chance to form his own spiritual weapon."
Raising an eyebrow, Wu Xiao questioned, "That's hardly a problem and it still doesn't explain why you want to give him to me."
Her eyes growing deeper, Liu Xue said seriously, "It's because I do not understand how to handle his issues. That boy carries around a burden I don't know how to lighten. But you're not like me, you know more about how to put people at ease and bring them out of their shell. I've seen you do it before, so I want you to use those skills and help this child."
Wu Xiao closed his eyes and bent his head. The people he had helped were all disciples from his sect, and most of them were members of Silver Mist.
Granted with the ability to foretell the future, almost all the seers of Silver Mist had to go through untold sufferings.
They were either fanatically sought out for their ability, ostracized by their family and friends, or driven out of their homes altogether. There were times when these seers would try to change the tragic fates they saw with their foresight, only to fail miserably and make everything worse.
Not only that, but the cruelties and disasters they often saw with their foresight carved scars deep into their psyche, hurting their minds to the point of making them unable to protect themselves or react suitably to threats and dangers.
This was why the people of the Silver Moon Sect―specifically its subdivision of Silver Mist―stayed mostly within the protected confines of their sect grounds, unwilling to set foot outside into the world.
And as their sect master, Wu Xiao had to take it upon himself to carefully heal these people so that they could smile and laugh again. As such, he could be said to be more than well-versed when it came to handling wounded minds, so Liu Xue was not wrong in handing over Jing Shui to her junior brother.
But Wu Xiao had no intention of taking in a direct disciple.
Since this Prince Jing could wield an element, the most suitable sects for him would be either the Heavenly Peak Sect, where all disciples could control an element and use it for fighting, or the Golden Sun Sect, where the disciples learnt a mixture of skills, which also included manipulating elements. No other sects dealt with nurturing element-wielders, so it was out of the question for him to accept this prince into his Silver Moon Sect.
But he still wanted to help this child somehow, at least for his senior sister's sake.
Opening his eyes again, Wu Xiao turned his head to his senior sister and settled on a compromise, "Elder Sister, how about this? I'll temporarily take in this crown prince of yours, but once he's recovered enough, you can take him back and make him your direct disciple. It's about time you got a head disciple after all."
Thinking it over, Liu Xue grinned. "Yes, I'm fine with that. After all, I won't be the one doing all the hard work. Since he already has such high aptitude, as long as he's competent enough, I don't mind taking him in as the head disciple."
Wu Xiao shook his head amusedly at his senior sister's enthusiasm. "Then tell me about this Crown Prince Jing and I'll see what I can do."
Therefore, Liu Xue told him about the free-spirited little prince who was almost crushed under the weight of sudden responsibility. Of how, under the constant pressure, he broke bit by bit, his former self eroding until it was covered under an ocean of unshed tears.
And the more Wu Xiao heard, the more he pitied this child. The wounds that were wrought due to mental abuse were just as difficult to heal as those resulting from physical violence.
This kid of barely sixteen must have grown into a timid and sensitive child after his ordeal. Having stayed in the palace all this time, he must be so afraid of this new and unfamiliar environment. Also, he would most likely be very wary of the adults around him. After all, the ones who had hurt him most had been the grown-ups that he'd trusted.
So, with a heavy heart filled with pity and sympathy, Wu Xiao went to meet this Crown Prince Jing.
But the first time Jing Shui saw Wu Xiao, he scowled and spat, "So this frivolous-looking dandy is the sect master I'm supposed to be staying with? Hmph, forget it."
And thus, Wu Xiao's impression of this 'pitiful child' shattered with a loud, resounding crack.
Bonus Scene: Teatime
[A/N: Bickering between the father-in-law and son-in-law― *cough* I mean master and disciple.]
On a certain pleasant evening, three people sat around a table, busy with paperwork. One was the sect master of the Drifting Clouds Sect, Lu Feiyu. The other two were his direct disciples, An YaLing and Li Yingzi.
Unlike his disciples, Lu Feiyu had been working since morning and felt very exhausted by now. So in a dignified tone, he called, "YaLing, pour me some tea."
Pausing in his work, An YaLing smiled and nodded. "Right away, Master."
Putting aside the papers in his hand, An YaLing diligently began preparing the tea and retrieved some clean cups from his storage.
But Li Yingzi was not willing to see his senior brother so dutifully attending to someone else, so he snapped at his master in irritation, "You have two good hands, don't you? So why don't you pour it yourself, old man?"
Unbothered, Lu Feiyu bared his teeth in a smile as he countered, "A good disciple pours tea for his master. What's so difficult to understand about this, you stinky little brat?"
At the side, An YaLing sighed in resignation as he thought, 'Oh dear gods, here they both go again.'
Not seeing his senior brother's expression, Li Yingzi sneered at his master. "Oh? Then if you aren't going to use those chopstick-thin arms of yours, how about I slice them off for you?"
Chuckling, Lu Feiyu retorted, "And with what would you do that? Your bone stick?"
In a disdainful tone, Li Yingzi returned, "It's a bone pearl flute, you stupid geezer! And I can at least bludgeon you to death with it. On the other hand, what exactly can you do with your feathers? Tickle me to death?"
Lu Feiyu narrowed his eyes, the pleasant smile still on his face. "Is this how you show gratitude to your savior, boy?"
Li Yingzi immediately grew irked at that annoying, sarcastic tone. "What savior? Are you delusional? You only picked me up from―"
Deciding that it had gone on long enough, An YaLing interrupted, "Now, now, you two. That's enough. Master, your tea is getting cold. And Yingzi, calm down. I'll pour some for you as well."
Lu Feiyu very gracefully accepted, "Very well, since my darling disciple has reminded me, I will partake of your efforts."
Miffed, Li Yingzi muttered snidely, "Presumptuous, prissy, pompous old ass."
Narrowing his eyes, Lu Feiyu asked, "What was that?"
Sneering openly, Li Yingzi had no qualms about speaking his insults out loud. "I said you were a presum―"
An YaLing felt that he had to intervene again. "Stop it, Yingzi. Drink your tea."
Since it was his senior brother who was ordering him, Li Yingzi obediently replied, "…Yes, Senior Brother."
"Hmph." At the side, Lu Feiyu did not forget to express his smugness.
Li Yingzi's eye twitched, but he forced down his irritation and decided to relish his senior brother's tea. Then in a quiet, needy voice, he asked An YaLing, "Senior Brother, can you sing me to sleep today?"
Lu Feiyu's eyes immediately narrowed.
Not sensing the strange competitive atmosphere that had suddenly sparked between his master and junior brother, An YaLing easily agreed. "Alright then, after we're done with this work, we'll go to your room and I'll help you sleep."
Li Yingzi shot a self-satisfied look at his master out of the corner of his eyes, infuriating Lu Feiyu to no end.
So with a sad expression, the sect master also looked at his head disciple. "YaLing, why have you never sung me to sleep before? Your master also wants to hear your voice when you sing."
An YaLing looked at him confusedly. "But Master, you don't need to sleep. And if you want me to sing, I can do it right now."
Lu Feiyu's mouth twitched. It's not the same! If you sing for me here, I can't make that brat jealous and it won't be fun at all!
But outwardly, all Lu Feiyu said was, "No need." Gritting his teeth, he pretended not to notice his second disciple's look of victory.
For the next few moments, the sound of tea being sipped was the only thing heard in the room.
Then Lu Feiyu brightened as something occurred to him. Turning to his darling disciple once again, he advised, "YaLing, since your junior brother is a cultivator, he also doesn't need much rest. So there's no need for you to go out of your way to sing him to sleep today. You should spend this time with your master instead and let me teach you some new cultivation methods."
Li Yingzi's eyes seemed like they were attempting to spit fire towards this shameless master of his. This blasted old man! Li Yingzi knew that Lu Feiyu was simply messing with him on purpose! He hoped someone would quickly come and take his bothersome master away to hide in a remote cave somewhere so that this meddlesome old man would finally leave him and his senior brother alone!
Not reading the undercurrents, An YaLing tilted his head cluelessly as he replied, "But, Master… Though Yingzi technically does not need rest, he is still a young boy. He is only nineteen, he still has a lot of growth to go through, and growing teens need a lot of sleep. But since he has trouble sleeping, I still think it's better if I sing to help him sleep after all."
Lu Feiyu's smile froze.
That smirking, smug expression on the little brat's face was almost unbearable.
Gently placing the empty cup down, Lu Feiyu stiffly rose and left.
He had borne enough indignity today! If he had to stay there anymore, then he wouldn't be able to stop himself from slapping off that provoking smile from that annoying little rascal's face! He would not let himself be driven to such uncultured behavior, especially not while in his darling little head disciple's presence.
And so, Lu Feiyu really had no choice but to leave.
Watching his master almost running out of the room, An YaLing contemplated out loud. "I wonder if Master suddenly remembered some urgent business."
Li Yingzi simply sneered at his master's rapidly retreating figure. Good riddance at last!
Then turning to An YaLing, Li Yingzi opened his arms and hugged him tightly, burying his face in his senior brother's shoulder and luxuriating in the faint fragrance emanating from him.
Chuckling while remembering how the old man had fled, Li Yingzi praised, "Senior Brother, you really are the best."
"Huh?" An YaLing felt that his master and junior brother were getting harder and harder to understand these days.
Li Yingzi sighed contentedly. "Nothing, it's nothing."
With a smile, An YaLing affectionately patted his junior brother's head that was comfortably snuggling into his shoulder. "Yingzi, come on now, get up. Let's finish all this paperwork so that I can sing you to sleep soon."
"Okay." Li Yingzi got up and diligently began going through the paperwork again, the thought that he would be able to hear his senior brother singing exclusively for him spurring him to put in more effort.
And thus, teatime was concluded as the two disciples continued their work in silent harmony.
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