Hong Yu’s architecture is noticeably grander than Bai Hu’s. Not only are most of their buildings bigger, their exteriors are much more lavishly decorated as well. Strings of lanterns stream below the roofs of tea houses and restaurants and inns, almost like the town is perpetually in the state of a festival. Colourful potted plants are lined on balconies, meant to usher prosperity and good fortune for the buildings. Even the merchants and citizens appear better dressed than the average person from Bai Hu.
The first thing the Purger pair do upon arriving is split up and search for any apparel stores they can find, while Rei huddles in the company of some bushes at the outskirts of town (after some minor protests and struggles).
Within half an hour, Shu arrives back at the spot where they’re supposed to meet with three sets of robes.
“Do you have any idea how painful it’d be to stuff my tail in that?” Rei shrieks, stamping his foot on the soil.
“No, because I don’t have one,” Shu answers curtly,
“This is an outrage! In my land, this is equivalent to court-sentenced ignominy! Only criminals of the worst kind suffered this sort of humiliation. How could you do this to me?”
“Ahhh… shut up, royal brat. Be grateful I even considered your stupid tail and bought robes.” Shu grinds his teeth, shoving a set to him. “The whole point is to hide your stupid tail, remember? What, are you really dying to be arrested or something? Or hunted down by bounty hunters? Or even better, hunted down by us.”
“BUT the colour doesn’t suit you? Okay! Here’s a milky white one!” Shu shoves the next set of robes to Rei’s arms.
Rei glances down at the robes, then back at Shu’s murderous glare, and instantly shrinks from him.
“I’ll… put it on…”
Minutes later, Song arrives as well. In his arms is a bamboo hat in the shape of a wide inverted cone, as well as a roll of bandages.
“So I looked around and came up with two ideas,” Song says. “One, we wrap these bandages around your head and ears tightly, like a hat.”
Rei’s ears instinctively droop. “Y-you know my ears aren’t just for show, right? These are real, and my only ears. You want to crush them with those bandages?”
Song looks down at the roll of linen in his hands.
“And even if they don’t hurt like hell, how am I supposed to hear anything then?”
“Oh. Right.” Song tosses the bandages to Shu－ who catches it with a sour look－ and brings out the bamboo hat. “Then what about this? It should be enough to hide your ears.”
And to Shu’s non-surprise, it isn’t.
“Is that the best you can come up with?” Shu sighs. “Song, I love you, but sometimes you really need to do more than just… ‘do things’, if you know what I mean.”
“Guess we’ll just buy a cloak then.” Song tosses the hat aside, already marching back to town.
Rei watches him go. Shu notices that the wolf boy has been staring a lot at his partner..
“What’s on your mind?” Shu asks.
Rei shakes his head. “That boy, Song… he’s a little weird, isn’t he?”
“Why do you say that?”
Rei muses for a moment before shaking his head. “Never mind.”
Knowing he’s not going to get much out of him either way, Shu can only sigh in resignation. Song eventually returns with the cloak he promised, and the trio proceed to the inn that Shu noticed on his way back. It’s a brownish-red three-storey building at the south-east corner of the town, average and modest-looking as ever. The best part is several food stalls and a general store can be found close to it. It’s everything that Rei needs to live while drawing minimal attention to himself.
The three manage to check-in without so much as a squeak from the bored innkeeper, whose sickly yellow skin makes him look like a zombie keeping watch of the place. Admittedly, that’s also to their advantage as well.
Once they arrive at Rei’s designated room on the third floor, the wolf boy leaps onto the only bed in the room, bouncing on the springy bed with a delighted giggle, slamming his tail on the sheets as he does so.
“You probably should take a bath before you do that,” Shu says, tossing the spare clothing and the other unused baggage onto the nearest chair.
“Oh. You’re right.”
Song pinches at the stack of spare robes, wincing slightly at them. “Damn, these clothes suck. I’ve never liked these civilian clothes one bit.”
“And you guys still bought them for me?” Rei then points his finger accusingly at Shu. “Speaking of clothes, what the hell are you guys wearing anyway? I never had the chance to ask you guys about it, but you guys look like…”
“Like what?” Song prompts.
“Uhm…” Rei hesitates. “Like prostitutes, I guess. I mean, you’re wearing so little! Most of your torsos aren’t even clothed!”
“It’s the uniform of the Purgers,” Shu explains. “To be fair, one of the fundamental skills that all Purgers must master is seduction. Sex appeal is a bread-and-butter tool for us and we’ve been taught it from a very young age.”
“Many species of monsters, demons and Seekers actually fall for it,” Song adds while exploring the room with his usual child-like wonder. “Using lust to let down the guard of our enemies can be pretty handy, but it’s more of a technique for Purgers-in-training to crutch on.”
“Elite Purgers also use it as a form of last resort,” Shu reminds him.
“Yeah, yeah… I don’t need it though.”
Rei still doesn’t seem satisfied with the answer. “It’s just weird to see two boys that look like girls dress so scantily, and partnering up to hunt Seekers down as if it’s an everyday thing.”
“Says the one naked in a cave,” Song says.
“I have my reasons!” Rei retorts. “There was an acid rain a few days before I got kidnapped and it ate most of my clothes! But you both are dressed like this willingly!”
“Okay, okay, calm down, geez…” Shu mutters. “It’s no big deal, really. Why do you have to whine so much about it?”
“Maybe…” Song narrows his eyes, his entire demeanour taking a dramatic twist all of a sudden. “He’s just shy about us.”
“S-shy about… what’re you saying?” Rei asks with a frown.
Shu watches as Song saunters towards him, and immediately knows that his partner has just flipped his switch.
“You even said it yourself.” Song presses his body against Shu’s flank, grabbing the side of his hip with a hand while caressing his bare navel with the other. “Two boys that look like girls dressing so scantily… now, what would two boys like that do together?”
Shu can feel his body heating up from Song’s amorous advances, and it’s even worse when he knows it’s rare to see him like this. His heart is now pumping so fast and hard it’s actually hurting his chest, making it hard to breathe. Just like that, Shu is reminded how much he loves his partner, how beautiful he is as a living being, and how much he’s willing to give to a boy like him. Just as easily as that, Song has Shu captured in his spell of seduction.
“W-what’re you doing?” Rei squeals again, covering his eyes but with an obvious gap between his fingers.
“I don’t know, you tell me.”
Song’s hand is now tracing up against Shu’s body, and it’s all Shu can do to not tremble from his partner’s electrifying touch. His breath is starting to come out shallow. Song’s palm arrives at the edge of Shu’s cropped uniform, ready to slip beneath it. Meanwhile, the silver-haired boy brings his lips close to Shu’s ear and lets out a breath. At that, Shu’s mental wall separating his emotions from logical thinking collapses. Total submission－ his body now completely, utterly belongs to Song.
“Just kidding.” Song sticks out his tongue impishly at the wolf boy, who has already fallen to the ground, his face as red as tomatoes.
Shu feels as if something just punched a hole in his chest, and a wave of bitter emotions instantly gush into his being. Disappointment, for sure, but he understands why Song did that. He already misses Song’s breathy voice.
“Now you see how powerful seduction can be as a weapon?” Song says.
Rei can only nod unintelligently, still stunned from the display.
And why did Song do that? For the sake of education, instilling a warning… and personal enjoyment, of course. Typical Song, Shu thinks to himself.
After some more warnings and instructions from the Purger pair to Rei, the two boys bid their farewells to the wolf boy and leave the inn. While on the streets, right as Song is about to move on again, Shu grabs him by the collar and pulls him close, his furious expression doing nothing to chisel away Song’s permanent mask of nonchalance.
“That’s all you have to say after playing me like that?” Shu growls. “I’ll make you pay for this.”
Song places a finger by his lip in mock innocence. “So what happens now?”
Shu releases him. “You’re going to take responsibility for your actions, of course.”
Song stops dusting himself and looks back at his partner. A tiny smile cracks from the corner of his lips.
“Yan was right. You are hard to handle.”