“He’s going to be healthier than ever.” Gwen’s babulya patted her on the shoulder. “Give it a week, and Percy can return to school.”
Beside his hand-wringing sister, Percy was suspended above a levitation module designed to prevent pressure-sores while he recovered.
“Hey, sis…” her brother moaned. "I am... fine!"
At the sight of several hundred acupuncture needles sticking out from Percy’s full-body plaster cast, her eyes grew moist.
“It's not as bad as it looks, the bones need to set properly, that’s all.” Klavdiya tapped on Percy’s vitals while Gwen shivered at the sight of the needles. “I've foregone Regeneration to implement a strengthening technique. Why waste a perfectly good opportunity?”
Her brother moaned, his every utterance plucking at Gwen's heartstrings. His face retained a mess of blue bruises where the truck's grill had said hello. She had wanted him recovered by the hour, though babulya's advise that gradual healing was always superior to the brute-force of battlefield triage.
“Who did this?!” Gwen snapped, her hair rising into the air as though she’d turned half-Hag. Her flaring temper elicited a quiet 'eek!' - revealing a meek existence hiding behind her babulya in the form of a girl in Xiangming's charcoal-ivory uniform. “You there! What do you know?”
She wanted to meet her idol, not be eaten by her.
“A truck!” Mei spluttered. “A truck hit Percy!”
“That truck has seen its last haul!” Gwen seemed to almost rise into the air. “Where’s the driver?!”
Her babulya intervened.
“Arrested - the driver is an NoM, and he is entirely blameless.” The old woman stared her granddaughter down until she acknowledged the unfortunate man's innocence.
Mimicking Caliban with a prey denied, Gwen returned her attention to Mei.
“Alright, then why were you playing in traffic? Belay that, how the hell can a bloody truck hurt a Mage? Percy’s got Abjuration Shields!”
Mei teetered on the verge of tears and would have cried but for the fact that she couldn't breathe.
“Not… Mei’s fault…” Percy moaned. “Blame… Alain…”
“Who the fuck is ALAIN?”
“My cousin…” Mei squirmed. “He was fighting with Percy.”
“YOUR KINSMEN PUSHED MY BROTHER ONTO THE ROAD?!”
“His servant did,” Percy’s schoolmate cowered. “It was an accident!”
“I’ll show him an accident!” A sliver of Dragon-Fear licked at Mei's ashen face, made paler by the bright cobalt emanating from Gwen's electric eyes. "You better not be lying to me."
“Gwen!” Her babulya struck her head from behind. “Enough! You're in a hospital!”
“Urrrrghn!” Percy keened like a wounded cat. “Sis, the needles… why…”
“Shit, Percy! I am sorry,” Gwen knelt by the bedside. “Where does it hurt?”
“Where does it... not hurt?” Percy's complexion turned to paste.
“Gwen, leave us. I need to reset the needles.”
“Sorry, Babulya. Sorry, Percy.”
“Mei, go explain what happened,” Klavdiya commanded Percy's schoolmate. "Away from here. Your grandfather should be here shortly."
Stepping outside, Gwen and Mei were met by two boys who had been waiting for them to exit.
The older of the two was an able-bodied youth standing close to six-foot, with a sharp, angular face and semi-transparent, pale amber irises. The other was a boisterous looking troublemaker with slicked-back hair, a head shorter than the first, standing with the gait of a wannabe triad hoodlum.
“Brother Ma, Senior Li!” Mei bowed deeply. “I am sorry about Percy; it’s all my fault.”
“No need to be so distressed," the Ma boy answered after a ninety-degree bow. “Miss Song, it’s a pleasure to meet you finally. I have heard nothing but praise from my Uncle in regards to your abilities.”
Gwen scanned the boy's face, her brain quickly connecting the dots.
“You’re Professor Ma’s…”
“Nephew, Ma’am. Please call me Kelvin.”
The two shook.
“Well met, Kelvin.”
“This is Don Li, my vice-captain. We’re Percy’s Seniors.”
Don bowed deeply as well.
“Please accept my most sincere apologies." Don lowered his head. "I was supposed to be looking out for Percy, but I arrived too late to stop Alain.”
“I take it all of you know who this Alain may be?”
“He’s my cousin.” Mei swallowed.
The dual-Elementalist's glare wilted the girl with its intensity.
“Let’s talk outside.” Gwen pointed to the balcony. “I need some air.”
The three teenagers regarded one another, passing a measure of understanding before following the renowned Worm Handler. Once outside, the trio was surprised to find that Gwen had summoned both her Familiars.
“Shaaa!” Caliban slithered about in its obsidian serpent form.
“EEE!” Ariel emerged fully fluffed with Almudj’s Essence.
The sight of the Worm Handler's twin monsters stupified even the usually stoic Kelvin. Beside their captain, Mei took up his right arm, shivering uncontrollably; on Kelvin's left, Don clutched his captain’s left arm with equal vigour.
“It's alright. I am working on something.”
To ease their apprehension, she coiled Caliban behind her, while Ariel set forth on a diplomatic mission.
Ariel cocked its head, its luminous eyes blazing with a rainbow-hue.
“Can… can we touch it?” Mei instantly melted. She had been waiting for this moment for the better part of a month.
“Of course," as a generous God, Gwen offered her Ariel for petting.
Ariel took the better part of a minute to charm its targets, who instantly became its servant, hungrily massaging its mane, brushing its tail and touching its feet.
“Watch the horns,” Gwen warned them, sending a stream of Essence into Ariel, feeling the mounting stress in her Astral Body decrease. “They discharge electricity, sometimes.”
“Senior!" Mei raised her hand. "I am a Lightning Mage too!”
“That’s good to know, Sister.”
“Hee hee hee.” Mei's anxious face broke into a grin, growing so giddy that she bodily embraced the fluffy body beneath her.
“Shaa!” Caliban sulked. Why does Ariel get all the fun? It seemed to say. Not wanting Caliban to feel left out, Gwen picked it up bodily and coiled it around her shoulders so that it could nuzzle her face.
"Wow, Caliban looks magnificent," Mei remarked.
Gwen ignored the unintentional double entendre.
Instead, she commenced her gentle interrogation.
“So, you kids got a tale to tell?”
“Ma’am.” Kelvin dipped his head awkwardly. “We’re the same age. You’re seventeen, right?”
Gwen measured Kelvin from head to toe.
“Sorry,” she apologised, realising working at the office amongst adults had thrown off her biological metronome. “Gents, Mei, I would like to know what happened to Percy. I wish for every detail.”
Mei faced the Void Sorceress and her Mongolian Death Worm.
“I’ll start. It’s my fault that all of this happened…”
With a tender voice that matched her petite face, Mei told the tale of Percy helping her rebuff Alain’s possessive jealousy, finishing with Alain’s ambush and her friendly-fire. The final result, she explained, was a serendipitous convergence of circumstances, truck included.
“And his Shield didn’t manifest?”
Caliban's faceless mien slithered closer.
“I think I paralysed him,” she explained, guilt written all over her face. “I hit him with my Body of Lightning; there’s a paralytic effect to the attack.”
“I see." Gwen remained all business. "Gents, your turn to verify.”
“As Percy’s Team Captain.” Kelvin stepped up. “I can verify that Alain had an issue with Percy. A part of their conflict is because I chose Percy over Alain for the final slot of our team. If anything, I may be the originator of their conflict.”
“Not true.” Don stepped between Gwen’s Familiar and his captain. “Alain’s a reptile. I was the one who was negligent. I should have smacked the little er-bi before this happened.”
“Don, watch your language!” Kelvin chided his second.
“It’s fine, Don.” Gwen considered the two boys, carefully observing their body language. Don appeared to be a Water Mage, while Kelvin was a high-tier Mineral Mage. The act they were putting on was likely for her benefit, though she had to applaud the fact that the two boys covered for Mei, who, in her opinion, was the real catalyst.
“I should have gone with Alain.” Mei appeared crestfallen.
With a glance from its Master, Ariel stood on its hind legs and licked the girl’s face. In return, Mei hugged Gwen’s Kirin around the neck and buried her face into its mane.
Gwen sighed. The kids were wary.
“I see, so Alain’s to blame. Tell me about him.”
“He’s my cousin,” Mei reinstated the unfortunate fact. “He’s potentially the next head of the family after Uncle Tsung died in Tibet. In our Clan's bloodline, it's just my sisters, me and another cousin left, that and our mothers."
All women? She glanced at the boys.
“The Yang family is well-known,” Kelvin intruded, realising that their gweilo senior likely had no idea. "They’re descended from THE Yang family of yore.”
Gwen's stone-like mien remained unimpressed.
“They’re a family that’s existed since the Song Dynasty,” the Mineral Mage made another attempt to impress. “The one who lost three generations of sons to the Khitani Centaurs in the Song Dynasty, then again lost all their sons defending Southern Song against the Mongol Clans…”
“Alain came from Xian originally,” Mei nervously continued, stroking Ariel to calm her nerves. “He received a bloodline talent from his mother, which is something our ancestors call the ‘Pure Yang Body’, meaning he excels at Fire Magic. His grandmother's my great aunt, so we’re twice removed. His mother suggested that he and I should wed so that we could reignite the old bloodline.”
“Your family's renown notwithstanding.” Gwen furrowed her brows. “Let’s say I beat Alain up, who’s going to save him?”
“His… mother?” Mei's voice was barely audible. “She’s a Fire Magus.”
“Miss Song, you’re not thinking of…” Kelvin felt the need to interject before the matter escalated. “I am kin to the Yangs. My Uncle is married to one of the Yang women. If you want reparation from Alain, please let me know.”
Gwen cleared her throat.
"Very well. I want a public apology, fair punishment from the school, and all medical expenses paid-” Gwen paused. “Plus something else as compensation. I’ll leave that to this Alain.”
“…” Kelvin looked at Mei, who looked away.
“What? Don't tell me that's too much?”
“Crystals and favours are alright,” Kelvin spoke with great care. “A public apology is a bit…”
“A bit what?”
“I don’t think-“
“Then I’ll break every bone in the little twirp's body, an eye for an eye.” Her threat echoed across the courtyard like thunder. “Where is he now?”
“Your home?” Her orbs scorched her quivering victim.
Mei pleaded with Kelvin: the boy subtly shook his head.
“Miss Song,” Kelvin thought he’d give assuaging another go. "If it would-"
Guo Song, Chairman of the Confidential Communications Committee, pushed open the door the to balcony's exterior.
“SIR!” Kelvin bowed deeply, quickly followed by the others.
“Yeye!” Gwen ran to her grandfather, suddenly a teenage girl. “Percy’s injured, and I know where the culprit is.”
Gwen's statement of intent was enough to Petrify the horrified Mei. It was one thing to face the famed ‘Worm Handler’, but quite another to displease a man capable of sitting on one of the twenty-four inner seats of the CCP’s central committees.
“Very good.” Guo turned to the others. “You may go.”
The trio retreated, not daring to attract Guo's ire.
“Grandfather, I think you scared that girl half to death.”
“I am sure that was you,” Guo remarked dryly. “Why would I scare her? Percy brought her home once. We spoke.”
Gwen raised a brow.
“She’s a Yang, right? Good family. A respectable bunch.”
“Well, it’s another Yang that did this to Percy,” Gwen quickly explained the situation. “... rather than taking it out on the duelling field, he tried to ambush Percy in public.”
“Hmm.” Her grandfather's bulldog jowls quivered.
“Your counsel, Grandfather?”
“What's your intent?”
“Bring Alain here as a companion for Percy,” Gwen ground her teeth. “A tad worse for wear, of course.”
“That might be unreasonable.” Guo's mildness caught her off-guard. “The right thing to do would be to get them to issue compensation and an apology.”
“I asked for that,” Gwen complained, wondering if Percy had fallen out of favour. “The Ma boy said Alain's too proud for that. But I am perfectly capable of squeezing blood from a rock if need be.”
“Hmm... even for the Yangs, not offering a public apology is a little presumptuous.” Guo raised a brow.
“If you're indisposed, Grandfather, I can handle this myself,” her voice grew impious. "No one touches Percy."
"A commendable sentiment." Guo appraised his granddaughter's passion.
“I’ll go and challenge the little prick and anyone else they’re willing to throw at me. I could also take Tao's advise. I am sure an apology is easier to stomach than being homeless.”
To her astonishment, Guo patted her shoulder disarmingly.
“The Yangs… have given much to the Party.” Her grandfather pointed to the city below. “One son during the first collapse of the Front, then another in the Reclamation. Only recently, they lost their sole remaining male heir to a rebellion in Tibet. They have no Magisters left; a few women Maguses remain, but no one of note. Do you truly wish to browbeat a family like that, knowing your guan-xi with the Fungs? With me? With your Uncle Jun and his... dragon?”
“I…” The fire she'd been stoking dimmed. “That would be bullying.”
“That is the correct answer.” Guo took a deep breath. “Still - an apology must be had. Direct involvement of Jun or I would only make our House lose face, so I'll leave it to you. Can I trust you handle it, tactfully?”
“I’ll do my best, Grandfather,” Gwen replied, thinking of her brother's broken body next door. “Percy will have his apology, one way or another.”
Unaware of his family discussing the matter of his vengeance outside, Percy readied himself for restful slumber, hoping that when he woke, his bones would have mended and he could return to school. Not only that, grandmother had promised that after her acupuncture technique, his bones would be better fortified against future mishaps.
Other than that, Gwen's screw up aside, it had been a good day.
Having Mei, Captain Ma and Vice-Cap Li visit him was tremendously inspiriting, filling his chest with a cosy warmness.
Conversely, having Gwen teary-eyed as she attempted to feed him in front of Kelvin, Don and Mei was torture.
Thankfully, he was soon left alone. With his family and friends gone for the night, he circulated a mote of mana into the Kirin Amulet nestled against his chest, then descended into darkness.
When Percy opened his eyes again, he knew it to be a lucid dream.
He knew this because the sensation of estrangement from his physical body was identical to the one he experienced while under the influence of the Amulet’s ritual.
Calmly, without undue alarm, he scrutinised his surroundings.
More precisely, the Song's family tomb in Hubei.
The oppressive atmosphere was as he recalled, made more so vivid by the hundreds of Spirit-plaques decorating the place, each with names of his ancestors carved into chunks of incense-wood.
“Hail, child of Ying Xing.”
A voice floated through the air as an unearthly chill infused his spine.
Holy shit! Percy sniffed the air and scanned the scene, scanning for the source of his unease.
Stay calm! He commanded himself. His stoicism surprised even himself. The lite-Necromancy he had committed in Hangzhou was doing wonders for his tolerance against supernatural surprises.
More importantly, what had the voice declared? Song Ying Xing? Wasn't that the progenitor?
His first suspicion had been that the dream was brought on by the entity in the Amulet, whose presence he had felt but could never decipher. Strangely, his second thought was of his sister.
“Hail.” Percy bowed, his body feeling distended and displaced. “May I ask who…”
“This one knows of the living heir.” The disembodied voice resonated across the hallowed hall.
Living heir? Percy recalled his grave-sweeping visit with the family to their Hubei home. As the heir of House Song, he had spent three hours dusting down every nook and cranny of the mausoleum, eyeballing every plaque an inch away from his nose to make sure that not a single spec of grime remained. After Guo saw just how eagerly he had applied himself, Percy’s grandfather grew mightily pleased, praising Percy in front of Ying Xing’s plaque with such fervency that for a spine-tingling minute, he'd thought Guo was enacting a Necromantic ritual.
After that, they left to join the rest of the village, setting off hundreds of lanterns, filled with wishes and messages to their ancestors, into the sky.
The spectacle had touched Percy quite profoundly: there was something to be said when at the stroke of midnight, from all around the mountain, the river, the village below and the city in the distance, a great river of lanterns lifted into the air, turning the horizon into a vista of light.
So, was this 'being' one of his ancestors?
Had 'he' come to answer the messages he wrote on the lantern, asking for a blessing no less than Gwen's?
If so, could an ancestral blessing be considered Necromancy by the Tower?
“My Lord.” Percy swallowed, remembering his grandfather’s instructions. “This descendent greets the Ancestor.”
Slowly, the miasma coalesced within the chamber collected until it formed into a shape more familiar to Percy than even the Ancestral Hall and its plethora of dead Songs etched onto plaques.
First came a stag’s horns, then a tiger’s maw, fishes’ scales, lion’s mane, carp’s whiskers, solidifying until Percy gasped with breathless anticipation. There was no doubting it. From its presence, it’s guise and aura - he was facing the real deal. This must be the being inside his Amulet!
Swirling motes of Negative Energy surrounded its body.
Percy recognised the mana of the miasma shrouding the Kirin's skin like a rash; it belonged to him. It was the ritual used by the Songs.
A sudden thrill ran through his body. If Gwen could tame herself a Kirin, why couldn't he? Whatever she could manage, he was confident he could as well.
“Long has this one slumbered.” The Kirin’s voice was rumbling thunder on a stormy, cloudless night. “Until awakened by the intrusion of a nameless one.”
Nameless one? Was that Gwen’s doing? Percy racked his brain.
“Do not patronise me, Child of Song, let us broker no words of deceit.” The Kirin thundered. “This one and the heir are not allies.”
“Umm… we are not?” Percy almost kicked himself. Did he fuck up already? What did Gwen do to get on the Kirin's side? An offering? Offer what? Herself?
“Foolish youth. It was your ancestor who deceived this one.” The Kirin exhaled two churning streams of jet-black ash, slicing the air with its whiskers. "A despicable man.”
Maybe I should get the hell out of here. Percy eyed the exit. To his chagrin, the gate of the Ancestor’s Hall opened into an abyss of space.
“Having now roused from slumber, this one shall broker for thy pitiable ritual no more! The heir will no longer usurp this one's strength!”
Wait, WHAT?! Percy did a double take. What the hell does that mean? What about his training?
From above, the Kirin's eyes were twin orbs of smouldering stone.
No, that can’t be right. Percy willed himself to focus. Necromancy was always 'take', never 'give'.
“If it's your Essence” he accused the Kirin. “I bet I can still use the ritual and compel your stone to give up its nourishment.”
Perhaps because it had been caught lying, the Kirin grew in stature.
Instantly, its presence filled the tomb.
Before its Demi-God visage, Percy was a slab of fish!
But the motes of Negative mana cascading from the Kirin's side told a different story.
For a minute, boy and Kirin both observed one another.
“Your words hold some weight,” the Kirin’s annoyance rocked the interior of the mausoleum, cascading dust and ash all over. “Yet how soon you forget the reason for your sad state. Did your Fulu not fail when you needed it the most?”
Fulu? Percy searched his brain for the unfamiliar term. Fulu- 'Fu'- those were Taoist talismans, were they not? Did the Kirin think his westernised Spellcraft was a form of sectarian Taoist magic?
“What are you saying?” Percy demanded. “What does my Spellcraft have to do with…”
“The Protection charm which you abused with such liberty,” the Kirin continued. “And your body-transfusion sorcery, do you truly believe they belong to you? That you’re a genius?”
“It was you?!” Percy was an intelligent and perceptive young man.
“Good, thou comprehends," the Kirin gloated. "This one could go on, but one tires of unprofitable word-games. As thy ancestor had broken his compact to this one, so now one demands reparation from his descendant.”
Though his instinct told him to leap out the door and into the abyss, Percy remained in front of the Kirin. Did this mean that he had been chosen? Was he elected for some higher purpose? What of his sister? Did she not meet the ancestors?
“What did the progenitor promise you?” Percy carefully enquired.
“Servitude, then freedom.” The Kirin loomed over him with the oppressiveness of a tombstone. “But then an imbecile split my heart stone in two, negating the possibility of this one's eventual emancipation!”
Grandfather Guo! Percy blinked.
Holy Kirin shit, no fucking way!
His Grandfather had split the family amulet in twain to give both Jun and Hai a chance, breaking the Song's tradition of having ‘one’ true heir.
“Lord Kirin, what is your desire?” Percy kept his voice level and steady, hiding his excitement.
“The other half of this one's heart-stone.”
“...” Percy's silence refuted the Kirin’s claim. There was no way he could do anything to uncle Jun, nor did he want to.
“This one does not make demands without commensuration,” the Kirin continued. “Within this one's wisdom lies the knowledge of your ancestors, two hundred generations of them, each a Master in their own right. Even in the parlance of thy ineffective Fulu, this one can trivialise all obstacles in the heir's cultivation!”
"This heir would be a Master in no more than a decade!"
Though the Kirin spoke of his ascension, for some reason, all Percy could think of was Gwen returning victorious from the IIUC. In three years, it would be his turn. He would join the IIUC, and there, he would supersede Gwen's accomplishments! His future would be incandescent!
But still, he didn't trust the creature at all.
“No,” Percy swallowed his desire. Too much ambition was a dangerous thing. “No deal. I am not harming my family.”
“FOOL!” the Kirin roared. “Dost thou believe that this one demands the lives of thy living kin?!”
“As heir, the other half of the Amulet will return to thee, one day,” the Kirin explained. “Be it naturally, or via conspiracy, that is not for this one to enact nor say. This one is an immortal being. What is half-a-century when this one has waited for over a millennium? This one desires a deal - that within thy natural lifespan, thou shall join the two halves of this one's heart stone and free one from servitude.”
"And in return?"
"This one shall aid in thy training; thou shall be as heaven to the mundane earth."
Percy mulled the Kirin’s clarified offer.
The damn thing was desperate, but they both had their backs against the wall. Without the Kirin’s tacit support, his new found talents would come to an abrupt end, his future training all the more arduous. Instead of catching up to his sister, he would be swimming upstream against the current. The Duelling Team, his university placement, being his sister's equal, they would all have to be forfeited.
As for the cost of the Kirin’s offer?
The Song’s would lose their Amulet, presumably.
But by the time he was an old Magister on his deathbed, who would be left?
Guo and Klavdiya would be long gone.
Hai and Jun, most assuredly.
He somehow doubted someone who could manifest a pseudo-Kirin at seventeen would be hankering for a training crutch. Though Gwen could benefit from the Amulet, her need wasn't dire. Simply put, she couldn't pass on the family name, her training was already leagues ahead of Percy's, and she was in no shortage of Crystals nor Spirit.
Percy's final concern was for his future scions, though as a teenager himself, he couldn't conceive of such a thing. Even his grandfather's obsession with the House of Song was but a parcel to his ascension.
“Once free, wouldn’t you run amok?” he demanded of the beast. Probing its offer for weaknesses.
“If thou cannot best this one even during the infancy of one's rebirth.”The Kirin’s expression grew twisted as a tendril stroked its chin. “Perhaps the cultivator should give up his Dao before he hurts himself.”
Fucking dick-mouth, Percy snorted internally, deriding the Kirin's fleshy, prehensile whiskers. His gut feeling told him that the damn thing would absolutely not go peacefully. But then again, who said Percy would hold his end intact? His ancestor was a perfect example, wasn’t he? In time, with power, research, another century of advancement in Spellcraft, he may very well end up with a Kirin for a mount!
“And you would accelerate, rather than delay my Spell- Cultivation?” Percy reiterated.
“Thy ascension shall be celestial.” The Kirin's whiskers oozed a strangely thick, black liquid.
In the light of the tomb, the Kirin's appearance was positively demonic.
Wait-a-second, what if this was all just a dream? Percy reminded himself. He was taking a lucid fantasy far too seriously. So long as he had control over himself, over his mind, and so long as he had his sister to give up a helping hand, what need he fear? Why, if he told Gwen-
“Thou shall keep this one's contract in confidence,” the Kirin’s burning orbs narrowed. “Else do not blame this one if thy Fulu fails at a most desperate hour.”
“What, and lose you the only means of your freedom?” Percy fired back.
“… the descendants of the Song are crafty,” the Kirin grumbled. "If this heir is unwilling, this one does not mind if one is returned to his superior Kin."
"Kin?" Percy's spine turned to ice. "What Kin?"
"One's Sister." The Kirin's visage grew cruel and haughty; its maw dribbled with dark malice. "She and this one could be happy together."
The fucking nerve of the damned mongrel! Percy's expression grew instantly dark.
"Listen well." He strode toward the beast, his body suddenly alive with vigour. "You and I are in the same fucking boat. Do you understand, ya MUTT? I am your best hope. Gwen will eat you up; you won't even have a whisker left."
"The heir is willing then?"
With a dire vehemence, Percy caught one of the Kirin's whiskers with a terrific grip, feeling a dull heat singe the skin on his hand.
"Yes, I am willing!"
The bond between them, the connection previously engendered through the ritual, grew immeasurably more intimate. Percy felt lifted into the air as the haze entered his body, filling every pore with its strange Astral energy.
"You fuck me over, mutt," Gwen's brother growled with a fury he didn't know he had possessed. "And I'll make sure you'll be living in limbo for all of eternity."
There was a pause.
"Then one... obeys." The Kirin bowed. "So long the heir keeps one... fed."
In the material world, where Percy's body floated over a bed of air, a warning glyph flared. A night nurse rushed into the room to check the patient's vitals, only to find that all was well. After she triple-checked the Biomancy array, she wrote it off as an error, then resumed her patrol.
Meanwhile, hidden under Percy's bandages, the Kirin-Stone Amulet turned the colour of jet.
Jun shot awake, covered in a snail-sheen of cold sweat.
“You were murmuring something.” Ayxin sat by the bedstead, her eyes casting a gentle glow over the hotel room. “Bad dream?”
“... Do you always watch me sleep?” Jun remarked, unnerved by the sight of Dragon-kin looming over his once sleeping form. He reminded himself that Ayxin was, despite the perfection of her current guise, an apex predator.
“My kind rarely sleeps outside of our domain, so yes.” Ayxin’s eyes swept over her lover’s body. She could sense the rushing of his blood, the air in his lungs, the Ash in his mana conduits, and the thrumming Essences of Magical Creatures stowed within the amulet around Jun's neck. Now that her man was awake, what had once been a tranquil balance of the metaphysical was now thrown into disarray. “What’s wrong? Why did you rise?”
Jun touched a hand to his pendant.
“Nothing. Just a bad feeling.” He circulated a mote of mana into the heirloom device, failing to find any irregularity.
Ayxin slipped back onto the bed, serpentine in the manner her waist arched and her limbs folded around Jun’s torso. She pressed her palms against his chest, then circulated her Essence into her lover’s body, probing Jun’s conduits for symptoms of damage or distress.
“I sense nothing.” She laid a pale cheek against his neck. “You’re fine.”
Jun took her hand in his own, his other hand resting on her thighs.
“If we were on the Mount, I could use the Scrying Pool,” Ayxin advised. “Maybe it’s that niece of yours again. According to my father, her time of peace should be ending very soon.”
“I'd imagine that being the case.” Jun wetted his dry lips. “No one ever said the IUCC would be safe.”
“There is no need to fret.” The corner of Ayxin’s mouth formed into a curl. “Father promised her that Golos would be there thrice. She’ll be fine.”
Jun wanted to say the Yinglong's involvement made it worse, though he knew Axyin was right. There was nothing he could do, not to mention Gwen was more than capable of taking care of herself. Relaxing his shoulders, Jun guiltily kissed the Dragon-kin's delicate fingers. With Ayxin's white-jade figure lounged against his chest, Jun couldn’t help but feel that he had betrayed something of the life he had lived, tempering his craft like an esoteric Daoshi, waist-deep in Undead.
“Hahaha,” Ayxin’s laughter was accompanied by daring fingers.
Jun looked down.
“You did that on purpose!” He couldn’t help but taunt his insatiable lover.
Once Ayxin had gotten past her prudish pride, it was as though a dam had broken. As for Jun, his usual apathy to delights of the flesh was swept away by the supply of draconic-vigour supplied by Axyin. The first time they had finally gotten down to business, the double-king frame snapped under the vigour of what Gwen had sulkily dubbed the horizontal fandango, attracting a mid-night apology from the management of the Pudong Ritz-Carlton.
“Privacy Mode,” Jun commanded the room.
The double-drape curtains, enchanted to block Divination, closed of their own volition. The first time Ayxin had invited him to enjoy the view, he had remarked with a throbbing vein a very terrible observance.
On his right was the looming form of the Pearl of the Orient, A.K.A the Pudong Tower, looming only five blocks away and close enough that he could see the Mages working late into the evening.
On his left, some six kilometres away, was the CCP Super-Structural Tower, looming at half the height of the Ritz-Carlton but covering a dozen-times the ground space, one of its Towers pointed right toward him.
Was it a coincidence that the presidential suite just happened to be wedged between the two Towers, within strategic-Scry range?
Ayxin pushed him against the bedframe.
He was a patriot, Jun grumbled. But he wasn't THAT patriotic.