Novel [BL]The Ice Prince and his Fairy (18+)

Discussion in 'Community Fictions' started by jolliapplegirl, Sep 21, 2020.

  1. jolliapplegirl

    jolliapplegirl Well-Known Member

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    AN: This story will later become 18+ so watch out if that's not your thing. Also, there will be mpreg. That is all.

    You can also read my stories on Scribblehub, Wattpad or A03 under the same name.

    Synopsis:
    Qin Rong is your regular, everyday man. Goes to work, pays his bills, and watches soap operas under the cover of night.

    He is also an elite mercenary for hire. (Gotta pay those bills somehow)

    On one mission, he is shot in the back by an unknown ally and dies only to wake up in the body of a strange, malnourished child. Escaping his captors, he meets a young noble, befriends him, and later leaves to get back into the mercenary business. Yet how is it that once cute and innocent child ended up growing up to be such a devious person?

    **​
    QR: Don't die~
    ML: I won't if you stay with me.
    QR: Don't use your life as a bargaining chip!
    ML: Then I guess I'll just go on with-
    QR: O-okay, okay, I'll stay with you!!
    ML: It's your words. Don't take them back.
    QR: ...


    Genre: Action, comedy, romance

    Table of Contents
    Chapter 1
    Chapter 2
    Chapter 3
    Chapter 4
    Chapter 5
    Chapter 6
    Chapter 7
    Chapter 8
    Chapter 9
    Chapter 10
    Chapter 11
    Chapter 12
    Chapter 13
    Chapter 14
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2020
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  2. jolliapplegirl

    jolliapplegirl Well-Known Member

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    "You second-lead-syndrome loser!" A young girl cried out, her words echoing far past the room she resided in.

    "Oi, don't go acting like you don't fee the same way, Yanli." Lin An, an older woman stated, confident and sure as she spoke. "We both know compared to Se-Yeon, Min-Hyuk is a much better match for the female lead."

    "Se-Yeon saw her first plus he even let himself get poisoned by the green tea bitch of a concubine, Yoo-Ri just to save her despite their fight." The girl countered, her heart thumping as she recalled the scene in vivid detail. "How much more manly and cool could he get?"

    "Psh, like that's anything compared to General Se-Yeon. He also tossed aside his home and position to save Hae-Sook from that insidious bitch's plot to frame her for that murder." Lin An said, waving Yanli's counter like a fly. "Min-Hyuk was totally on that bitches side despite how much time the leads spent getting to know each other." The young girl slammed her hands on the table, greatly aggrieved at the older woman's words.

    "It wasn't his fault! Eunuch Kwan had been sowing so many seeds of doubt that Min-Hyuk had no way of knowing what was true anymore!"

    "Bullshit!" A third woman, Han Ming, interjected. "That whole plotline was just a ruse to introduce a new love interest into the fold despite Min-Hyuk and Hae-Sook already being so close. Why else would General Se-Yeon have never shown up before that point?"

    To those who listened to the conversation (cough-shipping war-cough), one might assume the women in question were arguing over a novel. One of those cheesy, dime a dozen novels about reborn female leads who travels back in time to become the most coveted woman by many men who, before that point, were content with literally no one else. But they would be wrong. The subject of their shipping war was of a worse form of degeneracy.

    Serial dramas.

    These women were major fans of a drama that had split the internet fan base in half. It turned sister against sister, mother against daughter, and co-worker against co-worker. There are those who claim internet shipping wars were brutal but it was nothing compared to a face to face argument. Hands flew and words were said that made those of weaker hearts give up their ship in shame.

    This is the scene that Lin Qin Rong walked in on. His male co-workers tried to warn him, telling him to take his break elsewhere or he'd end up being dragged into the dispute. Apparently, when a stalemate was met, it was policy to drag a man into the discussion, whether or not he'd watched the show. Ignoring their warning, cause his phone needed to be charged and the only outlet was in the breakroom, he walked in just as the three were about to get loud.

    "Ah..." Qin Rong flinched as their gaze hit him, feeling cornered and somewhat regretting entering the room. "I...should just get going and leave you ladies t-

    "Don't take another step! Tell us, who is a better fit for the female lead in {Under Summers Gaze}, Prince Min-Hyuk or General Se-Yeon?" They demanded, pinning him to the spot. While he wished he could just run, he knew there was no escape. He'd been painted with a target. Even if he ran now, they'd just corner him again and again until he answered.

    "...Fine." He sighed, walking to sit between them. He needed to charge his phone anyway. He had an important call he was waiting for. The three women stared him down, waiting for his answer. "To be honest, I kind of like Min-Jun as her partner rather than General Se-Yeon or Prince Min-Hyuk." He stated, shocking the three women. Not really because of his knowledge of the show, but for his actual statement.

    "What?!" They both cried out.

    "Another second-lead-syndrome!?" Yanli marveled.

    "To be fair, it would be third lead syndrome." Han Ming corrected.

    "He's practically a background character!" Lin An countered, ignoring Qin Rong's pout. Honestly, this was why he stayed out of shipping wars but when else would he get the chance to talk about this stuff?

    "Yeah, but he's the only one who stands by Hae-Sook side no matter what." He defended, relaxing in his seat. "When she wanted to run away to help her family, Min-Jun is the one to help her. When she needs to come up with a plan, the one she asks first is him too. Plus she actually remains intelligent when talking to Min-Jun

    ."Eh?" They echoed, confused. This brought Qin Rong's fanboy self to the surface.

    "Surely you guys noticed it too, right?" He asked, not waiting for a reply before continuing. "How the female lead is so oblivious to the feelings of both male leads? They shower her with gifts and compliments and yet she brushes them off like air. Like friends do the things they do for her. She's smart enough to uncover the vast conspiracy spanning decades but misses when the male lead is jealous of her proximity to General Se-Yeon?! What kind of conveniently dense protagonist is that!?" He vented, clenching his fist in frustration.

    "Hey, don't be so rude." Lin An countered, watching him with amusement. "Love is complex and sometimes it comes up in various ways."

    "But to be so dense about?"

    "As if you'd fare any better." Han Ming snorted, earning another glare from Qin Rong.

    "I totally would." He stated, lounging back in the chair to show off his looks, which were fairly decent. "Watch how the next time a girl comes onto me, I show off my skills."

    "Oh yeah, nothing screams 'take me now' like a 20-something working at Wonderburger*." Yanli snickers, watching Qin Rong glared at her fruitlessly.

    (AN: I made up a burger joint. Think Mcdonald's meets... IDK, SmashBurger)

    The trio smiled back at him, enjoying the look on his face. Qin Rong, burger flipper he was, was indeed handsome. Not model handsome but handsome enough to turn heads from both genders. And he noticed too yet never tried to reciprocate anyone's feelings. Looking at him, Yanli and Lin An couldn't help but just enjoy the view. Han Ming, being married, just smiled with amusement.

    At the duo's admiring gaze, Qin Rong couldn't help but feel disappointed. Most men would be over be overjoyed to have the attention of two beautiful women. Unfortunately for him, his workplace was made up of two types of females: Teenagers who needed a part-time job and older women in need of a part-time job. As such, the two women were either too young to legally even look at or old enough to be his mother.

    That is to say if he had a mother.

    Shaking off the unpleasant thought, he turned to women, who were glad to find a fellow USG fan in their workplace. The group spent the break talking over various plot points, crack ships and other good shows to binge watch. Time flew as their break soon came to an end. Just as Qin Rong was about to recommend another show, his phone rang. Seeing the who was calling, his expression changed.

    "Senior Rong? Who is it?" Yanli asked, noting the change in atmosphere. He turned to them with a smile, the aura having faded just as quickly as it appeared.

    "It just a friend of mine." He stated, standing up. "If you'll excuse me." He then turned and walked out, parts of his conversation echoing. The two women watched him leave, curiosity burning in their eyes but suppressed by etiquette.

    "Senior Rong has friends?" Yanli asked, confused. She'd never seen the man with anyone in any friendly way. In fact, their conversation just then was the only time she recalled him being friendly with any of their co-workers.

    "Perhaps he's beginning to open up a bit?" Han Ming suggested, smiling wisely. She was happy that the young man was being a bit more open. He was very quiet and somewhat distant, hence why he wasn't a cashier despite his looks.

    "Hopefully, he'll smile more." The younger girl said, blushing a bit at the memory of him smiling. It was so cute!!! Ah, how handsome!!!

    *****​

    Meanwhile, Qin Rong spoke on the phone, passing by his co-workers who ignored him. They always did but he still felt the need to speak 'code'.

    "I've been waiting for your call all day, bro." He said, a small smile on his face. "What are we playing tonight?"

    "...You're not alone?" The voice on the other end asked, noting the code. The voice was garbled and distorted, hiding the identity of the caller.

    "Nope, I'm at work but I can swing by if you want?" He said, his words meaning [I have nothing in the way.]

    (AN: The brackets are the meaning of his code-speak.)

    "Good, we have another mission for you."

    "Another game session? Awesome! Solo or co-op?" [Another mission? Will I be working alone?]

    "No, you'll be working in a team. You are to defer to them."

    "Ah, I'm being paired up with a bunch of noobs?" [Do I know them?]

    "You've worked with them before." The voice assured him, sounding annoyed.

    "I guess it's fine but the game better be fun or I'm out." [What's the mission and payout]

    "I'll send the information to you via the usual means." The voice said, the sound of clicking faintly in the background. "I'll expect you to have it done as soon as possible."

    "Kay, see ya later." [Got it.]

    Qin Rong told his manager he had to head out and was soon rushing home. Finally! He got another mission. He was running low on cash and working at Wonderburger* barely paid for his groceries, let alone his rent. It was evening by the time he reached home.

    Entering his dingy apartment, Qin Rong went over to his closet and took out his hidden laptop. Powering it up took seconds and after some code-breaking, he successfully got through his encryption. Due to the nature of his night job, he couldn't just leave his laptop with no defenses. It wasn't a genius-level encryption but it was enough that the regular run of the mill hacker would find nothing strange.

    In the usual place, he found a message from his boss. Another mission, this time requiring him to travel a bit. He sighed, a bit upset that he'd have to skip out on work and probably get fired. He liked the job, cover or not. Plus he finally found some folks to talk about dramas with.

    Speaking off, since he would be out of the country, he should probably set his favorite shows to record so when he came back, he could comfortably binge watch the new episodes. He might not be able to discuss it with his co-workers but at least he'll know how the story ends.
     
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  3. jolliapplegirl

    jolliapplegirl Well-Known Member

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    Waking up, Qin Rong felt strange, like he was there but not. He struggled to open his eyes but only found himself staring into a misty void. Where was he? Thinking back, he realized the truth fairly quickly.

    He died.

    Trying to recall how, he looked back on how his last day had started. It all began in that damn taxi, didn't it?

    ***​

    "Where to, sir?" The taxi driver asked, looking back at the man in his back seat. It was an Asian guy, a rare sight in country K. He was pretty like the few he'd seen on TV but less soft. He looked cold as ice.

    Staring down at his phone, Qin Rong was still trying to find a signal. Country K had terrible reception at times and his data plan could only manage so much interference. Still, he had places to be so he just handed the driver a piece of paper, acting like he couldn't understand him. The older man bought it, muttering something about 'dumb tourists' and the like. Qin Rong couldn't help but agree. Tourists were dumb.

    They trusted the word of folks clearly out for their money, went to the publicly advertised places rather than the local joints that served way better food for a better price and went to events that even locals never went to cause it was too much of a hassle. They clogged up streets and made life so much harder since they rarely knew how to travel without their eyes glued to google maps.

    (AN: Bask in my inner New Yorker pet peeves.)

    Luckily, Qin Rong was by no means, a tourist. He wasn't local but he knew the streets of country K better than those born an raised in its borders. This day, he had business to get to. And the first part was to get to his meeting place, on time.

    Trouble was, everything that could go wrong, did. His flight got delayed several times, his bags got mixed up with some other peoples and it took him over an hour to get a taxi. He didn't even understand why. Country K was not a summer getaway for anyone. Who the fuck was coming here!?

    Huffing, the young man looked around, checking his mental map to make sure he was on the right path to the meeting spot. His client had wanted him to go to some ritzy hotel. That was pretty normal. Most of his clients were super rich and had their secretaries or whatever pass the mission on in person. Folks were smarter now and phones could be tapped.

    Looking around, however, he noticed he was not where he should be. In fact, his driver seemed to have driven him into a bad neighborhood. From the darkened alleyways, he could spot a few eager faces, waiting for fresh meat.

    Keeping his head down, Qin Rong looked up to see the driver leering at him from the mirror. He was on the phone, talking to someone about 'picking up another one' and 'how much he could get off an Asian'.

    Qin Rong quietly sighed, more annoyed than anything. He really didn't have time for this! He was already running late and he didn't want to have to deal with this. Still, it'd be for the best to take care of things now rather than let this slimeball continue. He quietly undid his seat belt, watching the man continue to watch the road.

    Pretending to stretch his body, he reached into his shirt for a weapon. The driver was too distracted by the brief flash of skin his action provided to notice wire pulled from his clothes. Before he could notice, Qin Rong wrapped the wire around his neck and pulled, pinning him to the headrest.

    As expected, the driver tried to fight him off, using his fingers to claw at his neck and try and free himself. With the car now driving without any direction, the young man quickly pulled back, the fine wire slicing the man's neck and leaving him to bleed out.

    Not waiting for the car to crash, Qin Rong kicked open the car door and rolled onto the street. Soon after he recovered, he heard a loud crash. He didn't have to look to know what it was. Still, it was best to make sure.

    Looking over the scene, the car was wrapped around a phone pole and slowly catching flame. Their eager and wary eyes watching him drifted away, now seeing him as not worth the trouble. With the unspoken treaty in place, Qin Rong strolled down the street eager to get to his appointment.

    "Ugh.. I hate this..." He grumbled, striding down the street.

    ***​

    When he finally did arrive at his destination, the sun had just begun to set. Obviously, he could have caught another cab rather than walking but he didn't have any more money to use. He was low on funds and if he had the cash, he wouldn't have needed this job in the first place.

    "God, please make it an interesting job or I might just go and get a normal job." He grumbled, walking into the 5-star hotel. As one could expect, a 20-something dressed in shorts and a slightly singed Hawaiian shirt did catch some stares but a single cold glare at those bastards got them to mind their damn business.

    "Tch." He walked to the desk, not expecting the receptionist to address him at all. "Hey, I need to-"

    "I'm sorry, sir, but are you lost?" Before the receptionist could open her mouth, another man interrupted her. The man was well dressed, as was everyone and his tagged named him the manager. "If you'd like, I can direct you to the right hotel."

    "This is K City hotel, right?" He asked, his eyes on the receptionist rather than the manager. She looked a bit troubled, probably unsure if she should answer or not.

    "Indeed, it is, sir." The manager replied, his tone tight and restrained so as not to snap at the rude young man. "So as I said, if you're lost I can-"

    "Then I'm right where I need to be." He replied, cocking a hip. He really didn't have time for this. He was already late as it was.

    The two stared at one another, the manager clearly feigning understanding and Qin Rong blatantly annoyed. Like an entitled teen, he leaned on the counter and address the receptionist, who nervous say between them.

    "You mind calling up a Mr Coyote?" He asked, ignoring the fuming manager. "He's expecting me."

    Having had enough of this farce, the manager stood up straight, opening his mouth to demand the young man leave or else he'd call security.

    Before the first threat could be spoken, a voice rang out.

    "Imp, is that you?!" All three people turned to the new faces, each showing a different expression.

    The receptionist was awestruck, her heart racing and her face red at the sight of these gorgeous men. Surely, they must be some kind of movie star or model!

    The manager was pale-faced and panicked, feeling his life was over. This man was THE Mr Stark, one of their VIPS. He came to only the best hotels and his endorsement propelled a business into stardom or tore them down until there was nothing left.

    And he'd disrespected a possible friend of his.

    Qin Rong, on the other hand, looked pissed off. Stepping forward, Qin Rong grabbed the second man by the collar and glared up at him.

    "What the hell, Coyote!" He snarled, looking livid. "Don't use that name in front of others!" He scolded, earning only a confident smirk from the man. Coyote, an American with a cocky attitude, showed no shame as he swatted Qin Rong's hand away.

    "No need to get all pissy, Imp." He retorted, moving past him. "Boss man pays for discretion. I doubt anyone will think anything of your little moniker." He finished with a smirk.

    Without a word, Qin Rong flipped him the bird and walked behind him, letting the asshole lead him to their room. All the while, Mr Stark spoke to the manager and receptionist. Whatever was said seemed to get them to let the matter go and go on about their business.

    Soon all three of them stood in the elevator, the faint music being the only reprieve from the deafening silence. Mr stark was looking down at his phone, probably letting the others know he'd finally arrived while Coyote just smirked to himself, probably daydreaming about something stupid.

    All the while, Qin Rong stewed in his own misery, cursing these men and all their ancestors.

    Why were they so damn tall!? He inwardly raged as he stood between them, his head only reaching on of the men's shoulders. As expected by his codename, Imp, he was generally smaller than most men. It was fine at home since most of his coworkers were women whose height was about the same as his but as soon as he left, he was surrounded by god damn giants.

    If I ever get another chance at life, I'd better be taller than I am now! He thought, scowling deeply.

    From what little he'd been told, he'd figured he'd be working with 2 people he'd met before. Coyote was one, a westerner who loved to make fun of him due to his height but quickly shut his mouth when a blade was pressed against his balls.

    They'd worked together twice before and each time, Qin Rong wanted to kill him. He was loud and annoying but too damn good at his job to just kill him outright. His strength made up for all of Qin Rong's weaknesses.

    They were, after all, mercenaries so a wide variety of skill sets was needed for any given mission. Whether it was assassinations, retrieval or sabotage, Qin Rong had had his hand in something bloody. The amount of blood on his hands could fill most lakes.

    All this is a short (not short) cute (absolutely not cute!) oriental man of only 27 years of age.

    Arriving on their floor, Qin Rong was curious as to who his second partner would be. Would it be Salamander, the weapons expert? Or maybe it was Cobra, the poison master what still owed him $20?

    Yet what greeted them was a face that might topple countries if it wasn't for everything that ever left her lips.

    "Well well well, look what Coyote found." The beautiful redhead teased, cocking a brow. He clothes were high class, the very opposite of Qin Rong's hoodie and jeans. Her waist and hips curved in just the right way, encouraging men of all ages to embrace her and hold her tight. "Our long lost Imp."

    Qin Rong, however, saw through all the charm and beauty and knew her to be a major, unrelenting bitch. She was also a well known hacker, codename: Phish, for her skills at breaking into systems like one logs into their computer. As her fingers danced over a keyboard, the world opened up before her, revealing all their secrets.

    "...Fish, I see you haven't..." He looked her up and down, his face showing distaste. She still was too... much for him to deal with so she was definitely not his type. "Changed. Still can't get a date? Or even a fuck buddy?"

    "Fuck you!" She snapped, stomping her foot. It was a well known fact that despite her looks, she rarely kept up a relationship for long enough to tell anyone about it. The last time they worked together, she'd mentioned that she had just begun dating someone after 2 previous breakups.

    The time before that, it was only a couple of weeks.

    "Yeah, sorry, I'm not that desperate." He retorted, walking past her. They were about the same height but her heels made her just a bit over his head.

    "You!" She screeched, glaring at the back of his head as he entered the hotel room.

    Children, behave yourselves. You are supposed to be professionals, not bickering infants.

    "I was behaving myself." Coyote interjected, shamelessly raising his hand like a teacher's pet. Mr Stark silently stared back before the man's hand went down. "Sorry."

    "Now about your mission." Mr Stark started, walking around the large table moved to the center of the room. It had a single paper roll on it. It unfurled to reveal the blueprints of a large facility. He turned out the lights, letting the single table lamp illuminate the room. His eyes remained hidden behind his glasses as he spoke. "It's simply this: You are to enter this facility, kill the target and retrieve the item. Any questions?"

    "Are we doing this one at a time or all at once?" Coyote asked, noticing that the expected position of the target and the item were very far apart. Doing it one at a time would be time consuming and make them more likely to get caught.

    "Your choice, "Mr Stark replied, not looking up. "but I would suggest doing so at the same time." Qin Rong frowned, crossing his arms over his chest.

    "So we'd be splitting our forces." He stated, thinking it over. "Will just the three of us be enough?" He was worried that this might be hard to pull off alone. Usually, they'd at least have a B team to distract the guards or at least take some of them out so entering wasn't an issue. A facility of this size was bound to have a lot of guards.

    "The client wishes for discretion so any more than this would raise alarms." Mr Stark explained.

    "Fine, then I'll kill the target and Imp with go for the package." Coyote said, raising a hand. Qin Rong had no issue with this. While he was good at both thief and assassination, Coyote was only good at killing so he might as well take the hard job.

    "And Phish?" He asked, watching the silent woman raise a dainty finger.

    "I'll be on standby." She said, pointing to someplace a distance away from the facility. "While you guys are inside, I'll toy with the cameras to make sure you aren't noticed."

    "Who will cover our escape?"

    "I will." The beauty spoke up again, smirking. "I've got some sniper training since we met last."

    "All that between binge eating Ben & Jerry's?" Qin Rong muttered, a faint smile on his face. As expected, Phish exploded.

    "Fuck off, you midget!"

    "Children!" Mr Stark snapped, his voice cold and commanding. "Behave. Any other questions?"

    "When are we heading out?"

    "Tomorrow night." He replied, adjusting his glasses. "Be done by morning."

    "Got it!" Three voices echoed, their tone professional and confident.

    ***​

    The mission was supposed to be simple. Get in, take out the target, retrieve the package and get out.

    Yet how often do one's plans actually go so smoothly?

    ***​

    The next evening, the mission had started and they'd already hit a hurdle.

    It was raining.

    The facility they were breaking into was in the middle of a dirt field, making it easy to spot anyone coming. It was why they chose to go at night as opposed to daytime. There was more cover.

    Yet the rain complicated things since all the mud and water would slow them down. Not to mention that them entering the place wet was bound to leave traces of them.

    "Should we postpone the mission?" Coyote asked, looking out from their hiding spot meters away. He was surveying the area around the facility. Due to the rain, there were fewer guards outside but the weather all so made it hard to tell what other security measures might be in place.

    "If we did that, we might miss our chance." Qin Rong pointed out, securing his equipment. Since he was just stealing, he didn't feel the need to carry a lot. Just a standard army knife should be enough. "We don't know when the target and the package will be in the same place again."

    "Plus our client wants this done tonight so we have to go forward." Phish pointed out, her voice crisp and clear through their earpieces. As a hacker, Phish was close enough to get into the facility's network but nowhere near the action. Once both Coyote and Qin Rong's objectives were complete, she was to take up a sniper to cover them.

    But again, the rain complicated things.

    "We are professionals." Qin Rong proclaimed, decked out in his weather gear. "We'll get the job done."

    ***​

    Entering the facility was, as expected difficult. Qin Rong had no clue how Coyote got in but he had to sneak in through the vents on the roof. Which meant he had to scale the side of the build.

    In the rain.

    Without being seen.

    Had he mentioned that the facility was seven stories high? No? Well, it was indeed, that high. Several times, he had to dodge the floodlights surveying the area, losing him some distance, making the whole task so much harder.

    When he finally did get to the top, 20 minutes had passed and he had been informed by the jovial Coyote that he was already on his way in. He'd even asked if Qin Rong had gotten in yet.

    "...Just do your damn job." He snapped, hoping to be heard over the rain pelting down on him. Coyote snickered and Qin Rong just muted him as he snuck in through the vents.

    As expected, for such a large building, the vents were large enough for him to fit. He was small so even if a regular adult would find it cramped, he had plenty of space. Plus all the water made it easy to slide through.

    He was sliding down a vent when he heard a voice.

    "You in yet, Imp?" Phish asked through his earpiece, clearly impatient. "Coyote is already tracking the target down."

    "Seven stories. In the rain." He whisper-yelled at her. He couldn't afford for his voice to echo.

    "And you call yourself a professional." She snorted. Qin Rong said nothing, landing softly at the bottom of the shaft. "Oh hey, head up, I see some heat signatures."

    "Below me?" He asked, thinking there might be guards nearby.

    "No. In front of you." She said, sounding confused. The sound of rapid typing echoed through the earpiece before she shouted. "Oh, shit, get out of there now!"

    With practiced ease, Qin Rong found an exit point and slipped out just as the vent was filled with flames. Had he hesitated a second more, he'd have burned alive. Despite the near death experience, Qin Ron was more confused than scared.

    "Flames? Seriously!?" He said, wanting to facepalm so bad. "Who puts flamethrowers in a vent!?"

    "Why are you asking me?" Phish retorted, clearly annoyed at all the chatter. "Just get moving, Imp."

    "Kay~" He sighed, stretching to get ready. In front of him was a long corridor. There were cameras around but the light was flashing pink, so he knew Phish had them under her control. "Where am I now?"

    "Fifth floor, hallway... 8." She replied, more clicking sounding over their connection. "The package is 2 floors below you, room number 1342-k."

    "Got it, I'll take the elevator." He ran down the hall, careful to keep an ear out for guards.

    "Or you could take the stairs, since it's closer."

    "That'll take too long." He whispered back, looking around the corner and spotting two guards with their backs to him. Quietly, he ran up at them, sliding his knife from its sheath and stabbing one of the men in the back. As the other pulled out his gun, Qin Rong shoved the man forward, using him as a shield.

    A single gunshot rang out before Qin Rong managed to slit their throats. The bullet had lodged itself into the first guard, knocking the breath from him. He took a minute to make sure reinforcements weren't coming before hiding the bodies.

    Despite it being a quick fight, Qin Rong was impatient. He'd fallen behind and if he failed the secure the package before the target was taken out, escape would be difficult.

    Hence his rush to the stairs when he noticed that the elevator was card key activated.

    This was just not his day!

    When he did manage to find the room he needed, the package was in the center of a large empty room on a small platform. It was in a small red box, just as described in the mission statement. Cocking a brow, Qin Rong took out a spray bottle and let it out around the room. As expected, a laser grid. Probably actual lasers too, if this day was going to get any worse.

    "No time to waste." He muttered, stretching his muscles. There was quite a distance from the door to the platform. Taking a run start, the young man leapt into the grid, his body twisting and flipping through the beams with ease.

    It was because of this, his agility and flexibility that his moniker was imp, much to his chagrin. While he hated the name, his skills allowed him to survive in his field for as long as he did.

    He reached the platform, using a glass cutter to carve out a space for him to snatch the package. Much to his surprise, it was a plain silver bracelet. Not at all what he was expecting.

    As soon as e touched the cool metal, he heard a voice, not of Phish or himself but a child's voice. Small and weak, pleading.

    'I want to go home...'

    The voice whispered in his ear, distracting him for just a moment. At that moment, his hand slipped and the bracelet slipped from his fingers.

    The world went red as the alarms blared on. Qin Rong, snapped from his daze, grabbed the bracelet, slipping it onto his wrist for safekeeping, and ran out, heading back to the roof where they were to be extracted.

    He'd muted Coyote, so he had no clue where the man was. He could only hope he'd taken out the target. Trip to the roof was difficult, with Qin Rong having to fight off several guards with guns barehanded. His knife couldn't do much against men in bulletproof vests.

    After a long haul to the roof, Qin Rong found himself alone on the roof, the rain pelting down on him. He was bleeding from a wound he'd sustained from the fight before and leaned against a nearby wall. He felt a bit safer, knowing Phish should have her sniper rifle out to cover them.

    "H-hey, Phish, what's the ETA on our extraction?" He panted out, waiting for a reply. When he received nothing but silence, he tried again. "Hey? Phish, are you there? What's the ETA on-"

    "Sorry."

    That was the last thing he heard before a gunshot sounded before pain exploded through him. Before the rain covered up his cry of pain.

    He didn't even get a chance to turn around before another shot rang out, bringing with it, only darkness.

    He'd died, stabbed in the back by his partners.

    Yet his last thought was about how he'd never get to see how his favorite drama would end.
     
  4. jolliapplegirl

    jolliapplegirl Well-Known Member

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    Thinking back, Qin Rong couldn't help but think of all the stuff he'd miss out on now that he was dead.

    All those manga and comics he'd never finish.

    All the TV shows left unwatched.

    All the foods he was too poor to eat.

    Not having the chance to snap the neck of that bastard that killed him.

    That's what bothered him the most. He knew it was someone on their team that did it. He couldn't be sure who since there were a lot of people there. Was it Phish, the snippy bitch, or maybe it was that pervert, Coyote. Heck, it might have even been Mr Stark, just to cut ties with him.

    It was hard to say and he knew he'd never learn who killed him. It was frustrating but such was life. Or death, in this case.

    Speaking off, he was a bit confused. He'd been aware of his floating status but he'd never heard of an afterlife that subsisted solely on floating in a void. Was it like one of those novels where souls got picked up by systems and were sent off to do tasks?

    But if that was the case, where was his welcome party?

    With that, Qin Rong called out, trying to get anyone to respond. After many tries, he stopped, getting bored with the useless endeavor, and chose to relax. He might as well if there was nothing else to do.

    Minutes turned to hours into days and perhaps years but still, no one came.

    Qin Rong remained calm, used to being alone, and isolated so it wasn't much. It was just boring.

    After what felt like a decade, a light appeared before him, a faint voice speaking distantly. He couldn't hear the words but they sounded pissed. Just as the light consumed him, a second voice called out.

    [Ah shit, wait a sec-]

    ***​

    Qin Rong felt weak.

    Everything hurt and his body felt like it was near death. Something was caked on his face and smell made him want to puke. The only reason he hadn't was that there was nothing to vomit out.

    Panting, Qin Rong tried to calm himself, as he'd learned to do as a child and figure out what was happening. Going from an empty void to pain and hunger was startling, to say the least.

    Slowing his breaths, he tried to listen out for anyone. After a minute, he could almost make out wind, but it was faint which meant he must be indoors. His hands had been twitching for a while, so he knew he was lying on a stone floor, the only part of which that was warm was the place his bare chest was on. Everything else was cold, so most likely, he was either in a basement or in a cave but he was weighing in favor of the former. The stones were clearly bricks.

    After minutes of struggling, Qin Rong gained the strength to roll over onto his back, wincing as pain laced through him. Open fucking wounds on his back!

    Biting his lip, he suppressed a scream of pain as he struggled to get upright. The exercise was, as expected, painful but worth it. His head was muddled from hunger and possibly head injury, but he couldn't be sure until he got a look at himself.

    Where the hell was he? He wondered, trying to wipe whatever was on his face. It was wet and smelled gross but it was a smell he knew.

    Rotting food and puke.

    Where ever he was, they'd tossed rotting food to a starving person. This person had probably tried to eat it and then puked it out when they got sick. Qin Rong would have felt disgusted if not for the cruelty of such an action.

    Just how desperate for food had this person been?

    Finally cleaning his face off, Qin Rong took a look around the room he was in. It was dark and dank, so he was definitely in a basement. Possibly a prisoner considering the condition. It wasn't a large room and a single source of light was a window a couple of meters above him.

    It was night time. The moon shone through the window, illuminating the room somewhat. It wasn’t a very large room but one he could walk and stand in. A couple of feet away was a large door.

    When he went over to try and open the door, he noticed how big everything was compared to him. His hands were tiny compared to what he assumed was a regular-sized door.

    Was he a child?!

    Recalling that misty place he’d been floating in, he concluded that things were strange right now and he’d have to figure out just how strange later. First, he needed to escape.

    He felt around the door, trying to find the hinges so he could just undo them. As expected from a prison, they were on the outside. He didn’t bother to call out for help either, since if he was locked inside, he doubted that one ones who did so would care enough to let him go.

    As his stomach screamed out in hunger, Qin Rong pushed it aside and tried to think of a way out. So far the only way out was the window but it was really high up. He could scale and jump the wall but in such a weak body, it’d be difficult.

    Should he wait for his wardens to return or run?

    Before he could come to a decision, he heard voices closing in. There were two of them and they sounded like older men. Wary, Qin Rong took up a look around the room, hoping to spot something that could block the door but the place was empty.

    “Damn.” He whispered, his first words in this world very fitting of his character.

    His eyes landed on the window once more. The space between the bars looked large enough to fit a child so perhaps…

    “Hope the runts not dead yet.” One of the men complained from outside. “Not worth much if it’s a corpse.”

    This child already died, you bastards! Qin Ron glared at the door, wanting so badly to beat the shit out of those men who spoke so flippantly about a kid. How scary it must have been, to be trapped in such a dark place and yet still try to hard to survive.

    And still, die anyway.

    His rage helped him move as he ran at the wall, his light body zooming across the short distance. Before he hit the wall, he jumped pushing himself off the wall higher. With expert precision, he soon reached the window, dangling from the edge.

    As expected, his body was weak from hunger so it took a moment to get up and through the bars. In that short span of time, the door to his prison opened.

    “Rise and shine, ya litt- H-hey, where did it go!?” The man shouted, his voice a lot closer than before. From below, he continued to shout. “Get down here, you little worm!”

    For reasons unknown, Qin Rong felt his neck burn. He cried out, scratching at his skin as he slipped between the bars onto the grass outside. Despite the pain, he continued forward, crawling away until the voices faded.

    Even then he continued forward, his steps unsteady as he tried to get further away. He didn’t understand what had happened before but he was not going to stick around.

    He found himself in a forest, the trees towering over him and protecting him from sight. Leaning against a tree, he tried to catch his breath, his throat still burning slightly from whatever had occurred before.

    Qin Rong couldn’t feel anything there but figured it might be something internal. A microchip, perhaps?

    No, things looked a bit medieval for that. Or maybe his wardens were old fashioned? It was hard to say.

    “I think it went this way.”

    “Shit.” He muttered, crouching down. He hadn’t expected them to find him so quick. He was small and weak but nimble so he’d hoped he’d gotten far enough.

    No such luck.

    So he ran on stick thin legs and an empty stomach, somehow evaded his pursuers until he reached a cliff. Far below him, he could hear the crashing waves of a river below him.

    He considered jumping but to brave rapids in the dead of night was surely suicide, especially with a body as weak as his. Cornered, he searched for a means of escape but was quickly found by his captors.

    “Nowhere else to hide, little brat.” One man sneered, a rope hanging from his hands as the second man blocked off his only other route of escape. Both were masked by darkness but Qin Rong could already tell he was outmatched. They were adults and he was a child with no weapons or time to come up with a plan.

    So he did the next best thing.

    He jumped.

    ***​

    As expected, the water sucked him in, crashing over him and tossing him about to and fro. He wanted to scream but was quickly smothered by the waves that sought to drown him. As he finally sank beneath the water, he felt his conscious fade.

    Was he going to die so soon? Was his last thought before darkness overtook him.

    ***​

    The morning sun rose slowly, bringing to light all that had been hidden hours before. The birds called out to the sky, soaring from their nest to find food and landing by the water. One such bird landed by the side of the now calm river to take a sip.

    As it drew close, a small hand burst from the water and grabbed the creature. It struggled fruitlessly as the rest of the hand emerged from the water revealing a small child. Before the bird could even regret it’s choice to drink by the water that morning, its neck was snapped.

    “Whoo! Breakfast.” Qin Rong coughed, panting as he tried to catch his breath. He looked at the now dead bird and sighed. It wasn’t much but it was definitely better than nothing.

    As he prepared the bird, he tried to understand everything that had happened before.

    He had definitely died before but now he was alive in the body of some kid. Like those novels, his co-workers liked to talk about. That he could accept. His job made it imperative for him to adapt to changes, no matter what.

    Still, being reborn in the body of a half-dead kid was a bit much.

    Brushing at his hair, he finally took notice to himself. He still didn’t know what he looked like now. His hair was kind of long, brushing his upper back but the color was… surely it wasn’t really blue, right?

    He placed his meal by the fire to cook and walked over to the river to take a better look at himself. What he found was… both horrifying and awesome.

    He was absolutely beautiful.

    Even as emaciated as he was, he was still a sight to behold. His hair, though matted and tangled was a vibrant and luminous shade a blue, just a shade darker than the sky above. Eyes of pure gold stared back at him, surrounded by thick lashes that captivated the eye. Even his skin, pale possibly from his lack of exposure, was appealing, making one think of a peeled egg.

    This body… it was a boy, right?!

    Qin Rong quickly checked, sighing with relief that had not lost such a thing to the gods of rebirth. What cruelty it would be to unmanned after being killed.

    Still, the question remains, what should he do?

    Whoever those guys were before seemed to have either given up on him or went some other way to find his body. He had no clue why they wanted him so badly but he couldn’t rule out that they might still be looking for him.

    They claimed they needed him alive for something. Perhaps they were interrogating the kid? That would explain the starvation. Children were a lot easier to break than adults but what would they need him for? Had he been the only one or were there more within those walls.

    All this ran through his mind as he ate, grimacing at flavorless bird meat easing his empty belly. As expected, it wasn’t all that filling but it was better than nothing.

    He quickly destroyed his campsite and got dressed, leaving the area after covering his tracks.

    He had to get something more filling to eat.

    ***​

    After wandering the forest for a bit, Qin Rong couldn’t help but sigh.

    “I’m going to starve!” He snapped, not caring about scaring off any potential game. It not like any had come even close to him since he’d been walking around. As if they could sense his intention to kill them, everything ran from him.

    Every time they looked back (which they did every time), they’d give him a look of pure betrayal, as if he’d wronged them.

    “I just want to eat, damn it!” He complained, tossing himself on the ground. In situations like this, he’d have just eaten some of the numerous berries and mushrooms he’d spotted but nothing looked familiar to him.

    His old body had adapted to poisons and was basically immune but this child was nothing like that. Even worse, even if he wanted that immunity, his body was too weak to even try.

    Just as the notion of munching on grass flitted by in his mind, the scent a freshly cooked meat hit him. Jumping up, Qin Rong ran toward the smell, uncaring if it was those guys again.

    He just wanted to eat!

    He was soon met with a high brick wall with spikes embedded at the top. Snorting, Qin Rong climbed a tree nearby to scale over the wall, rolling to stop as he jumped in. Within was a large luxurious garden, with flowers and plants that were clearly not the ones he knew.

    He allowed himself to take a few fruits from the garden, figuring that people wouldn’t plant poisonous fruit in their own yard. He packed them away in his knapsack that he’d made that morning. It was mostly empty but now housed a vine he used as rope and a bunch of fruits.

    Walking in deeper, Qin Rong kept his ears, making sure he wasn’t seen. There was no way of knowing whose yard he’d just broken into. Despite that, his mind was almost solely on the smell of meat coming from the place.

    He soon found a small table with two equally small chairs on either side. On the table was a covered plate but he knew what was underneath.

    MEAT!!!

    Rushing over, he tossed the cover aside to reveal a bounty. A large roast chicken, mashed potatoes, and rice as white as snow. It steamed in the air, meaning it was fresh. Qin Rong openly drooled over it.

    Part of him felt bad for his desire to eat another’s food but the person who it belonged to was clearly well off so surely they wouldn’t mind him having a bite, right?

    With that to ease his conscious, he dug in, cramming as much food as he could into his mouth. While he wasn’t a big fan of western food, Qin Rong was not a picky eater so went enjoyed himself immensely.

    He was enjoying himself so much, he failed to notice the approach of another child until they were right behind him.

    “U-um, excuse me?”
     
  5. soie_yoie

    soie_yoie Well-Known Member

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    Will this be 11 chapters complete? Thanks for sharing.
     
  6. jolliapplegirl

    jolliapplegirl Well-Known Member

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    11 chapters just happen to be how many I have so far. I don't know how long a story it will be by the end.
     
    soie_yoie likes this.
  7. AnnieCos990

    AnnieCos990 New Member

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    When the Chapter 4 will appear
     
  8. jolliapplegirl

    jolliapplegirl Well-Known Member

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    Qin Rong froze, hoping he was just imagining things. There was no way he'd gotten so into eating that he failed to notice someone approaching. He was a mercenary!

    "U-uh, excuse me?" A small voice called out, making the blue haired boy want to cry. He'd been caught by a damn child! He was a failure. "What are-"

    Before another word could be said, Qin Rong jumped onto the table and ran, chicken leg in hand. There was no way he was going to miss out out meat.

    "Wait, don't go!" The child called out, his light steps following after him. The two ran for a minute, with Qin Rong scaling the wall in seconds as the child called out to him. He wasn't sure what was said but refused to wait and see.

    As the child stood there, staring up at the wall that the intruder had so easily climbed, tears formed in his eyes.

    "Please don't leave me here all alone." He sniffed as he dejectedly returned to his table, the silence of the garden his only companion.

    ***

    Elsewhere, Qin Rong was trying to catch his breath. He was relieved to have gotten some food but was disappointed he couldn't finish.

    Moreover, he was kind of curious as to why there was such a large estate so deep in the wood like that. The house was western and large enough to house a good couple dozen people but why was it so remote?

    Tossing the thought aside, he looked out from the treetops to find somewhere to go. He couldn't hide out in the woods forever and obviously can't learn anything about this land without interacting with anyone.

    And he had to get some better clothes than the rags he was wearing.

    Sometime later, he found himself in a small town and was a bit surprised. It was busy and dirty but definitely not China.

    Was this some European type world? If so, it'd explain how different the buildings looked. They were tall and some had a weird shine to it.

    Walking around, Qin Rong was careful to keep out of sight. He wasn't sure if the people after him had come to this town and he wasn't keen on being picked up by them. Who knows what they'd do after the caught him.

    Peeking out an alleyway, he spotted some clothes hanging on someone's window sill. Pushing aside the guilt, he nimbly climbed up the wall and snagged them for himself. The food from before had given him some much needed energy.

    After quickly changing into a simple outfit, he walked around, trying to find some means to get information. He was munching on the fruit he'd stolen from the house in the woods when he heard a loud crash.

    Curiosity won over caution as he rushed over just in time to find quite the sight.

    In the middle of the square was a large creature pulling a shimmering white wooden carriage. The creature wasn't a horse however. It was like a horse sized reptilian like creature that stood on two large legs and possessed small clawed arms.

    A T-Rex?!

    The t-rex was currently hiss-barking at a small child who had apparently gotten in the way of the carriage. As expected, the child was in tears as it did so, curling up into a ball. Before Qin Rong could even ask what was happening, a figure jumped from the carriage yelling profanities.

    "Oi, get from there, you little brat." The short, very short, man yelled, his beard catching all the spittle his tirade produced. "I've got places to be."

    Checking out the guy, he looked like an adult but his features were strange, as if he was carved from stone. Every step he took could be felt, as if the earth itself was responding to him. As the child continued to cry, the person in the carriage peeked out.

    "Will you stop wasting time and just move the child." The person, whose sex was hard to determined since men weren't supposed to be that beautiful and women that beautiful shouldn't be found on earth, said. The voice was melodious and soothing but definitely male. "Just move them aside so we can go."

    "Yes, Master Fenral" The stout man said, still looking annoyed as he calmed his mount. The child ran away, disappearing into the dark alleyway. Qin Rong was about to leave to gather his newly shattered thoughts when he felt someone watching him.

    Looking up, he saw the beautiful man, Master Fenral, staring at him cooly. As expected, looking at a very good looking person was appealing but he could help but notice how strange he actually looked.

    His hair was long and pale, almost white which complemented his slightly darker skin tone. The weird thing was his head. On top, he wore a circlet that looked like branches but some of them looked like they were coming out of his head.

    Frowning, Qin Rong failed to notice the gleam in the man's eyes as he gestured toward him. He then saw the stout man turn to him and rush over, calling out to him. He ran, not slowing down until the calls were gone.

    Curious thing was that the calls were in foreign language but he could tell they were calling for him.

    ***

    Qin Rong sat on a roof top, munching on the fruit he'd taken, which he'd so lovingly named a Chapple since it tasted like a cherry and an apple. The fruit was purple though so he was a bit on the fence about the name.

    He was partial to chapple but his less serious side wanted to name it a Pogole cause it sounded fantasy-y.

    As he thought about this, he adjusted his newly acquired cloak that covered his head and shoulders. Watching the crowd, he saw many different hair colors and concluded that blue was not the strangest color.

    From what he'd figured out, he was in some kind of fantasy world with magic and mythical creatures. He'd already spotted a couple elves and dwarves most of them were merchants. The town seemed lively and nice but Qin Rong was a wary person but nature. He wouldn't get taken unaware.

    Especially since he was still being chased.

    "Damn it." He whispered as he sank down to keep out of sight. Just below, Fenral and his lackey were walking down the street, the crowds parting for them. He could hear the whispers even from where he was.

    "Ah, how lovely a sight to see."

    "Lord Fenral truly is beautiful."

    "It's scary how attractive elves can be."

    "Yeah, even the men are as lovely as angels."

    "Though I wonder why he's out on the street at all."

    Qin Rong cursed under his breath, knowing exactly why the man was there.

    He'd been following the boy around for hours now. He'd thought he'd lost them but no, they'd just ditched the carriage to follow him on foot. Qin Rong had no clue how he kept finding him but he was getting real sick and tired of this now.

    Yet, despite his anger, he couldn't face them. Magic existed in this world and he had no clue what he was up against. For all he knew, Elves could fly and cause hurricanes.

    As such, he ran from town, even though he wanted to stay to gain more information. He'd only learned a little bit and now, because of that bastard, he'd have to come back later.

    Fucking pretty boy bastard!!!

    Down below on the street, Fenral stopped, frowning as he looked up at the nearby rooftop.

    "Master?" Salgut, his Dwarf companion/servant called out, standing behind the beautiful man. Despite being close in age, both over a hundred years old, Fenral was twice as tall as the slightly older man.

    "It would seem that he'd ran away again." He sighed, a bit disappointed. Salgut laid a comforting hand on his masters arm.

    "Don't worry, we'll find him soon enough." He assured.

    ***

    Qin Rong stayed in the forest, thinking it was safer than town. There were a lot of things that could go wrong there so he chose to sleep in a tree.

    Despite his better judgement, he decided to go back to the house in the forest again. He wasn't sure why it was there but surely it was a better place to reside near than just anywhere.

    He snuck in, tiptoeing around. The sun was setting and as expected, the yard was empty. Still, Qin Rong was wary so he moved quickly.

    Like before, there was a plate of food on the table, covered but warm to the touch. After looking around, he uncovered it and ate quickly, not sure when he'd get another chance to eat. Halfway through however, he heard a branch snap and he ran, ignoring the calls to stop.

    That night, he slept with a full stomach and a smile.

    Elsewhere, that same night, a small boy hid under his covers, sniffling. He was disappointed he could talk to the pretty haired person.

    Over the next few days, a pattern had developed. Every morning, Qin Rong would wake up, bath in the river and look for food. Most days he'd fail to catch anything in the forest and got to the forest house.

    He always found a plate of food waiting for him. Despite knowing he was being watched, he'd walk in and eat, happy to eat some good food. He never managed to finish his meal though, since the child living there always tried to get close or talk to him.

    Like a bird, he departed as soon as he was approached.

    This day, Qin Rong noticed the plate was sitting on the third floor window sill. Curious as to why, he climbed up, eventually finding himself sitting on the sill. Just as he was about to dig in, he saw the inside of the house.

    It was the first time he'd actually seen the interior of the house. The room was a large bedroom, with a large bed dominating the room. Sitting beside the bed was a familiar form.

    The child, a boy about the same age as him, sat there reading a book. Curiously, the boy had black hair, a first since arriving in this world.

    (AN: This world is apparently an anime where people have every other hair color but black or brown.)

    The sight was assuring, making Qin Rong feel a little less out of place. While he looked like everyone else, seeing someone who looked normal was a comforting sight.

    Somehow, the child seemed to feel his gaze, cause he looked up and caught sight of Qin Rong. For a moment, they stared at one another.

    He even has black eyes! Qin Rong thought happily.

    The boy slowly stood up, as if worried he'd scare Qin Rong away. The action was amusing. Deciding to play the part of a flippant cat, he jumped from the window sill, rolling so he could land safely on the grass below.

    Looking back up, he saw the boy staring down at him, concern clear on his face. Qin Rong wasn't cruel so he show himself off by stretching, assuring the child that he was fine before running away.

    The boy watched the blue haired youth run off, wishing he could get him to stay just a bit longer.

    A few hours later, Qin Rong was walking back to his camp, tired from a day in town. He hadn't gotten anymore information than the day before since that Fenral bastard kept following him around.

    One of these days I'm gonna figure out why he's so keen on stalking some kid. He thought as he walked through a bush. Brushing a shrub aside, he stopped to see a curious sight.

    In the middle of a small clearing was a large basin of still water. It was not at all hidden though someone had clearly attempted to do so since there was some branches and leaves on it. The person hadn't even bothered to bury at the very least.

    Whoever had but this here clearly doesn't know how to hide a... a trap?

    Staring at the basin, he briefly wondered what it was doing there and why. Just then, he heard a sound and soon found the answer to his 'who' question.

    A short distance away, a child was crouching behind a bush, watching the basin.

    Or at least he was trying to. From where he stood, Qin Rong could very easily spot him and stared straight at the kid. After a second, the boy noticed Qin Rong staring and flinched.

    With a frightened expression, he curled up, covering his eyes as if doing so would hide him from sight.

    If not for the fact that that was probably the single most adorable thing he'd ever witnessed in his life, he might have felt offended by it.

    Still, he was curious as to what was going on and perhaps playing along would help solve the mystery of all the weird stuff going on. So with a quiet huff, Qin Rong jumped into the basin and waited.

    The wait was short.

    "A-ah! I caught you!" The boy cried out, jumping to his feet. He looked ecstatic, as if all had gone well. "It worked! I caught a faerie!"

    A faerie? Is that what the kid thought he was? Was it the blue hair? Or perhaps when he jumped from the third story window before? Whatever the case, he was apparently now in a faerie trap or something.

    "Oh human, please release me and I'll grant you a boon." He deadpanned, a bit curious as to this child's reason for 'catching' him. His tone was flat but being a child, the boy didn't take notice.

    "A boon?" The boy frowned, a bit unfamiliar with the word. "What's that?"

    "Uh..." Qin Rong wasn't expecting such a situation so explaining was a bit of a hassle. "It's kind of like a wish, I guess?" Apparently, he said the right thing, cause the boys' eyes gleamed with curiosity.

    "A wish?" He gasped. "You grant wishes?"

    "Within limits, I guess." He shook his head, hoping this child didn't try and wish for something unreasonable. Maybe he shouldn't have called it a wish...

    The boy stared at the ground, shuffling about shyly. The sight softened his heart, making him want to pet the adorable little bun.

    "Then..." He mumbled, his cheeks a bit flushed. "W-will you stay with me and be my friend?!"
     
  9. jolliapplegirl

    jolliapplegirl Well-Known Member

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    Qin Rong stared blankly at the child, noticeably surprised by the request. Considering it was a child before him, he was expecting something more fantastical but when faced with such a humble wish, it made him feel a bit guilty for intending to just bail after being asked.

    The boy, seeing Qin Rong frown, started to tremble, tears welling up in his eyes.

    “Is… is that too much to ask?” He mumbled, his eyes getting more wet. Upon further inspection, Qin Rong saw that they were bright gold, an interesting color.

    “No, but…” Qin Rong scratched his head, unsure how to proceed. He’d never been in a situation like this. “Is that really all you want?”

    “Un.” The boy nodded, a glimmer of determination in his eyes. “I’ve never had a friend so…”

    God, that was just sad. Qin Rong was alone by choice so he couldn’t imagine how lonely someone who wanted company could feel. Seeing this kid stare up at him, his only wish from what he assumed was an all powerful fairy being companionship.

    What kind of monster would say no?

    “Fine” He sighed, looking away. “I guess it’s better than just wandering about all day.” He really was tired. All day those two weirdos from before had been trying to catch him. He obviously got away but instinct told him not to head to town for a little while.

    Much more, and he’d be nabbed by a pretty boy and his manservant.

    “R-really?!” The young man jumped with joy, taking hold of his hand. His black as night eyes glimmered brightly as he beamed. “Thank you, Miss Faerie”

    Qin Rong felt his eye twitch.

    “Oi, who are you calling miss?!” He snapped, scowling. The boy blinked back at him, clearly confused.

    “Eh? Is Miss Faerie mad?” The child frowned, looking near tears again. Qin Rong felt a sting of guilt for causing him to cry but his manly pride couldn’t let this go. “Did I say something wrong?”

    “You called me miss.” He replied, crossing his arms. Qin Rong had panicked when he saw his face for the first time, thinking he might have become a girl somehow. To be mistaken by someone else was a bit... “I’m a boy.” He clarified, confidently presenting himself.

    As expected, the boy looked both shocked and doubtful. Did he think he was lying?

    “But Miss faerie is so pretty.” He mumbled, looking Qin Rong over. He knew what the boy saw. A pretty face with delicate features. Even though kids were generally cute, Qin Rong was exceptionally pretty, to the point where even he had doubts despite having checked before.

    “I know that already but I’m a boy!” He pointed out, his scowl deepening as he grew frustrated. Thinking back to his previous life, how he wished he could be as attractive as drama stars, drawing so many eyes. His dream of being admired by hordes of beauties. Yet having been born into the body of a pretty person, he finally saw how annoying it was.

    Gods, just let him be average again!

    The boy looked doubtful but nodded, helping Qin Rong from the trap. As soon as he stepped from the water, Qin Rong Shivered, unconsciously clenching his hand. The boy looked up at him with a smile.

    Neither of them said a word, gold eyes staring into black ones. Qin Rong considered his options, whether to allow this kid to hold his hand much longer. Generally, he disliked such casual skinship.

    As if sensing his intention, the boy slipped his fingers into Qin Rong’s, his dark eyes pleading ‘Is this fine?’ The hardened mercenary who had killed and maimed thousands since he was a child felt his heart soften just the slightest bit and let out a frustrated groan.

    “Fine, lets just go.” He grumbled, ignoring the sunshine that bloomed on the kids face.

    ***

    “This is my home!” The boy proclaimed, dragging Qin Rong into the manor. As soon as they arrived, Qin Rong was shown a tour or the two story house. As expected, it was fully furnished and large yet…

    “Is it just you living here?” He asked, frowning as he noted how quiet everything was. He hadn’t spotted or heard a single servant in the house since arriving. From the way the boy dressed and size of the house, he figured the kid must be rich or something. Yet the house was quiet.

    “I-” The boy started, frowning a bit but stopped when they heard the front door slam open. They both flinched.

    “Young Master?” A matronly voice called out, the sound of heavy items hitting the ground followed. Had she been shopping? That would explain the empty house but was she the only one? Qin Rong’s analysis was put to an end when the boy started shoving him.

    “H-hide!” He whispered hurriedly as the voice started up the stairs.

    “What?!”

    “Please, hide! I’m not allowed to let anyone know I’m here so you must hide.” He explained, shoving Qin Rong into a closet and shutting the door. “Sorry.”

    Darkness surrounded him. He sighed, letting himself relax as he listened to what was happening outside.

    “Young Master?” The woman called out, her voice a bit faint. The door to the room slammed open and the footsteps stopped. “Oh, there you are, young master. Did you not hear me calling you?” She snapped, sounding annoyed.

    “Sorry.” Silence fell between them for a minute. Qin Rong had suspected the two had left before the woman spoke up again.

    “Were… were you talking to someone just now?” She asked, her footsteps drawing closer.

    “No!” The boy replied, a bit too quickly for Qin Rong’s comfort. He was obviously lying in that kid way. Again, the older man sighed, promising himself to teach this kid how to properly lie. This was a shameful display

    Surprisingly though, the servant believed him.

    “...As long as you understand the risks.” She sighed, moving away from the door. Qin Rong was shocked she bought such a blatant lie but chose not to voice his objections. Being caught in a rich kid's house and being arrested was not how he wanted to end his day.

    “I do.” He heard the boy muttered quietly. He must not have moved from the closet door yet. The servant continued.

    “Anyway, we’ll be leaving this weeks meals in the Pantry so be sure to eat it properly.” She informed him casually, surprising the person in the closet. Yet she continued on. “Young master is a mature young man, so you don't need us to tell you to eat.”

    “Yes.” The response was level and cool, sounding nothing like the excited child who stumbled over his words and feet getting him here. It was a bit disconcerting to hear a child speak like that, like drone.

    “And the house looks to have been left dirty since our last visit. Did you forget to clean it up?” A brief moment of silence followed, which meant the boys response was nonverbal. “I see. Does Young master need us to clean up after him like a child?” She pushed, stepping closer again.

    “No, I’ll take care of it.” Again, his responses were so cold and conditioned, it made Qin Rong want to jump out and shake the sense back into the kid. Worse yet, the servant lady hummed with joy, as if praising a dog.

    “Good, then I shall be going now.” Her footsteps retreated, echoing through the empty house and ending with a slammed door. Silence fell, leaving the two young boys alone with only the wind to keep them company.

    The boy had been staring at the ground when the closet door slammed open. The faerie, still as pretty as before, looked furious. He couldn’t help but stare.

    “What the heck was that?” Qin Rong snapped, just barely keeping himself from cursing. It was only the fact that this kid was a child that kept him from using his much more expansive vocabulary to voice his feelings.

    “Miss Faerie, I-”

    “Qin. Rong!” He interrupted, stomping over. The boy stepped back until his back hit the wall. Gold eyes blazed as Qin Rong stared him down.

    “Q-Qin?” He echoed, the sound completely foreign to the boy.

    “Qin Rong, thats my name.” He explained, slapping his chest. It was tired of being called miss. It was already bad enough to be mistaken for a girl but to be called it so often. Just how much could a man take?! “Say it properly.”

    “Yes!” Ever obedient, the boy nodded. “Q-Qin Rong.”

    As he spoke this name, the boy felt very happy. This faerie trusted him enough to give his name. Names had power and the boy could already feel the threads of magic binding them together. It was faint but twinkling of energy flowing between them was clear as day.

    Qin Rong, completely unaware of magic and its rules, had unintentionally bound them together in a bond. An exchange of names, true names, was something sacred and arcane. Had he known what he’d done, he might have thought better than to give the name belonging to his soul.

    But that would be for a later date.

    The boy wanted to give his name, to reciprocate the trust granted to him by this noble and beautiful creature but was interrupted before he could say anymore.

    “Good.” Qin Rong nodded, happy this child was obedient. He wasn’t sure what he’d do otherwise. “Now answer my question.”

    The boy blinked, trying to recall what was asked. He really just wanted to exchange names first but he felt Qin Rong was the impatient type.

    (AN: He totally is)

    “You mean about Ms Pellelot?” He answered, eager to please. “She's the lady in charge of the house.”

    What part of her is taking care of the house? He thought, with a grimace. Her after image? He thought about how brief her visit had been and wanted to slap her. How dare she leave a child alone like that.

    “Really?” He echoed, folding his arms as he gave the boy a disbelieving stare. “Cause I’ve been here everyday for about a week now and haven’t seen her once.”

    Initially, Qin Rong hadn’t thought about the lack of servants since he was only there to steal food but looking back, he felt stupid for not noticing. The garden, while lovely, was clearly in need of tending and the grass was overgrown.

    Perhaps he could weed the garden one of these days so that it wasn’t as depressing a sight. It would be a shame to let such a nice looking garden fall to ruin.

    While thinking this, the boy preened under the attention he was being given. He couldn’t recall the last time someone spoke to him this long. Better still, he had been approached first!

    There had been many times he’d tried to initiate a conversation with the servants only to be ignored or dismissed. He’d always just thought they were too busy but it still left him feeling alone despite a manor full of people.

    Then all suddenly left all at once.

    “She only comes by once a week.” He countered, feeling the need to defend the older lady. She wasn’t very nice but as a noble, it was his duty to defend the virtue of a lady.

    Qin Rong, was quite the opposite. In the modern day, women were treated as equal to men so, like a man, he would hold nothing back.

    Especially not a woman who so willfully abandoned a child like trash.

    “… So you, a little kid, is all alone for days on end?” The boy puffed up defensively at the statement, looking Qin Rong straight in the eye.

    “I’m a big kid, so I don’t need servants to hold my hand.” He proclaimed, cheeks puffed up as he presented himself to Qin Rong. He was very proud of himself.

    Qin Rong cocked a brow, his eyes drifting to the messy state of the child's clothes. His shirt was unpressed, his pants legs uneven and his shoes untied. He looked every part a child who dressed themselves.

    “I’m guessing that's what that lady told you.” He concluded, looking doubtful. Upon closer inspection, he noticed how unkempt the child was. He’d done a fairly good job taking care of himself but Qin Rong could tell he wasn't the best at it. “That you have to take care of yourself?”

    Qin Rong had lived most of his life caring for himself, since those deemed to be his parents didn't bother to. He didn't want this kid to face the same fate.

    The boy, not wanting to lie, said nothing, which was just as good as a nod.

    “Figures.” He snorted, scratching his head. Truly, the adults in this world disgust him. “I bet she still collects checks while she lounges about doing nothing.”

    “Checks?” The boy echoed, confused by the new word. He wanted to ask more but was cut off by Qin Rong.

    “What does she do for you?” Qin Rong honestly wanted to know if she was truly worth keeping around. If she was just going to stop by once a week for five minute, tops, there was no point in her showing up at all.

    Even the most self centered, minimum wage earner put more effort in their job than this chick. They at least made the effort to look like they were working.

    “She drops off food every week.” He declared, looking proud to have kept his chin up during this interrogation.

    Qin Rong however, stood by, waiting for the rest of the list. When he was only met with silence, his scowl deepened.

    “And that's it?” He cried, shocked that the five minutes she spent in the house was her sole contribution to this child's well being. Heck, she only stayed longer because she thought someone else was there. Who knows how long she usually stayed? “She doesn’t cook or clean?”

    “I can do all that!” The boy insisted, huffing as he crossed his arms. “I made cookies once.”

    “Cookies?” He thought back to the other day when he spotted a plate of… he wasn’t sure what they were. He could smell that it was burnt so he steered clear of it while munching on his (totally not stolen) toast. He hadn’t thought about it until just then. “You mean those black things I found the other day?”

    “Yes.” He looked away, his face a bit red. To have his creation, a humble plate of cookies called ‘black things’ was bit hurtful, though he knew it was true. “ I… left them in the oven a bit longer than I was supposed to and-”

    “Never mind all that.” He waved him off, not caring anymore about that. He hadn't expected a child to be capable of baking well on his first try. Who would? “I can teach you how to cook properly later.” He tossed out, not thinking about how many future plans he was making despite his plan of leaving later. He wasn’t really thinking just then, just speaking his mind. “I have more issue with a child being left alone.”

    The boy was excited, curious as to what this faerie would teach him. Yet his last sentence brought him back to the present.

    “I’m not alone!” The child insisted, pouting cutely. Qin Rong just barely resisted the urge to pinch those chubby cheeks.

    “Having a maid show up once a week isn’t company.” He countered, turning away so he could rid himself of these weird feelings bubbling within him. “Especially if She’s not even here long enough to wipe her feet.”

    “But I’m not alone! I have Nick with me.” He stomped a foot, staring at the ground. From under his breath, he muttered. “And you too.”

    Luckily for him, Qin Rong was too far to hear his words.

    “Who’s Nik?” Was there more people in this place! Why hadn’t he noticed?

    “My brother?” The words were soft and light, casually put out into the world with little care. But Qin Rong felt the world shift. Cause he could have sworn the house was empty.

    “You have a brother?!” Qin Rong cried, wanting to scream. He prided himself on his skills so learning he had somehow missed someone was damaging to his ego. The child was unaware of this and continued on as if Qin Rong wasn’t inwardly chastising himself.

    “Yeah, he’s upstairs.” He nodded, pointing up the stairs. “Do you want to meet him?” The child looked up at the slightly taller Qin Rong, eager to introduce him to Nik.

    In this house, it was just the two of them, so after having met and made friends with a fae, the boy was longing to have them get to know each other.

    Qin Rong, however, was not that keen on meeting anymore children. Just dealing with one was giving him a headache. Sure, the kid was cute but Qin Rong wasn’t the children kind of guy. He could barely deal with most adults, so why would he put himself through the horror of not one but two children?

    Yet he had no chance to refuse, for the black haired child grabbed him by the hand and excitedly dragged him up the stairs, telling him all about how much he’d love Nik cause he was cute and obedient and the list went on. Black lines flashed across his face as he listened.

    Again with the hand holding!

    ***

    Upon arrival, Qin Rong was surprised to see another black haired child. Two for two, it would seem. The child was lying in bed, the large mattress almost swallowing the child whole. He looked comfortable and content, the soft snores filling the empty room.

    Damn it. Qin Rong thought, sitting on the edge of the soft bed. He was cute!

    The mercenary covered his face in shame, wanting to die. Why? Since when was he this weak to cute things? He usually felt little to nothing for children, generally more concerned with the present mission at hand than any of the people around. Yet less than a day into being around these two, he truly felt the desire to pinch those pudgy cheeks.

    He looked between his fingers, watching the elder boy crawl up onto the bed to check his brothers temperature. It was a practiced move, one he’d clearly done many times.

    “Ah, you’re fever went down a little.” He sighed, smiling sweetly. “So sleep well.”

    This caught his attention.

    Reaching over, he rested a hand on Nik’s head, curious. He was really warm.

    “His temperature went down?”

    "En, he was sweating before but now he isn’t."

    That… that wasn’t really good but Qin Rong wasn’t a doctor so he couldn’t be sure. Looking him over, Nik didn’t seem to be uncomfortable so perhaps he was overthinking it.

    The boy watched Qin Rong look over Nik, happy to see his two favorite people getting along. Sure, Nik was still asleep but Qin Rong seemed to like him. He was sure his little brother would feel the same.

    I’d like that. He thought, yawning.

    “You tired?” Qin Rong looked up, cocking a brow. He nodded, rubbing his eyes. “Go to sleep then.”

    In unison, they both fell back on the bed, reveling in the softness. Their simultaneous sighs echoed through the room. They stared up at the ceiling for a moment, letting the soft snores from Nik fill the air. Just as Qin Rong was thinking the boy had fallen asleep, he spoke.

    “You won’t leave, right?”

    “Didn’t I say I’d grant your wish?” He countered, frowning at the boy. Did he think he was a liar? “What kind of man do you think I am?”

    “But you’re not a man.” He pointed out sleepily as he rubbed his eyes. Qin Rong wanted to argue the point but the boy continued. “You’re a faerie.”

    The mercenary, his heart hardened by all he’d done, chuckled. Right, that's what he was. A magical creature who had granted this small child a wish. Amused, he reached out to pet the child, running a hand through his soft hair.

    “That's right.” He said, lying back on the bed. With little Nik between them, it felt a little like a sleep over. Qin Rong had never had such a thing, since his home life never allowed for such indulgences, so he was liking the feeling. “And we faerie’s never go back on our word.”

    “Promise?” The boy’s eyes were heavy and he was quickly losing the fight to sleep yet remained determined to get this answer from the fae. Qin Rong couldn’t help but sigh at the sight.

    Boy, this kid was so fussy, constantly asking him this. Was he not trustworthy? Sure. he lied and cheated as a lifestyle but this was a new him. Surely, the boy couldn’t sense that… could he?

    He wanted to be sincere so he reached over to take the boys hand. His eyes widened, shocked that the fae had taken his hand.

    “I, Qin Rong, promise you that I won’t leave you.” He whispered, squeezing the boys hand. While he wasn’t sure what the future would hold but he, at the very least, wanted this child to feel content to close his eyes. To assure him he’d be there when the sun rose.

    The boy, hearing his vow, felt tears well up in his eyes. He’d so wanted someone to say those words for so long, he’d forgotten how to present himself properly. So he openly cried.

    “Oi oi, don’t cry, it's nor manly.” Qin Rong gently chastised, reaching over to wipe the tears away. Really, he hadn’t meant to make him cry and yet here he was, doing just that.

    This was why he was no good with kids.

    “Sorry, I’m just happy.” He sniffled, pressing his cheek to their joined hands. It was so warm. “I should share with you too, since you are nice enough to trust me.” He said, tightening his fingers around Qin Rong’s. His bed mate had no clue what he was talking about. Was he referring to him spending the night?

    “I’ll give you my name, Qin Rong.”

    It was only then that Qin Rong realized that he hadn’t bothered to learn this child’s name. For some reason, it had not occurred to him to ask. It had not struck him as odd to have spent the day with someone whose name he didn't know.

    He couldn’t fathom why this was the case. Yet he felt like nothing was amiss.

    Though his soul was human, his body was one familiar with the rules of the world. It knew better than to expect an exchange of names. Such an act was dangerous, one that could leave someone in danger of subjugation. But Qin Rong’s conscious mind was stronger than his body’s instincts, so he gave his name, his souls name, freely and without fear.

    “So what is your name?” He asked easily, unaware of how much he was asking for.

    “Xanderous Murcielago Chavin” The boy, now known as Xander, answered happily. He closed his eyes, happy to have given his name.

    This left Qin Rong reeling from confusion and shock. He felt this might be a constant issue.

    Xanderous?! Was that a name?

    Well, obviously, it was but that was… not what he expected. What's up with the dramatic and epic name?! Are you an RPG character?

    As Qin Rong contemplated this, threads of magic formed a bridge between them. Xanderous felt the threads form and connect the two of them, a bond that can't be broken. To exchange names was an act that illustrated complete trust in one another.

    If one had the true name of another, they could have control over that person, easily bending others to their will. It was because of this that no one went by their true name, shortening or even changing their names to keep them safe. No one would risk giving themselves up so willingly. Even married couples were wary.

    Hence why children were warned from the time they spoke their first words not to share their true names with anyone, not even their parents.

    Yet Xander felt no fear, for the bond built by this was worth it. He never felt closer to someone and finally saw why some people would willingly give their name to another. It was a way to keep Qin Rong by his side, forever.

    Even if they both forgot each others names, the exchange was ironclad.
     
  10. jolliapplegirl

    jolliapplegirl Well-Known Member

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    The sun rose, steadily and with conviction, seeking to awaken the world and bring the day to start. From within their nest, animals of all kind were roused from their slumber, seeing proof that the deadly night had passed and they survived to see another sunrise.

    It was a happy occasion, even as the animals went about their lives, never considering how easy they could die. Like every morning, the birds let out calls of jubilation, chirping as they flew to catch their breakfast.

    Anyone witnessing this daily but beautiful scene might let out a breath and feel a lightness in their heart. Surely this was the best part of the day, beholding the majesty of such an event.

    Yet Qin Rong was not one of those people. Those bastards were what he hatefully referred to as 'morning people'.

    He was not a morning person.

    The birds can go fuck themselves! The mercenary scowled, trying to block out the sounds and failing. I'm trying to sleep yet they won't shut up!

    He wanted to sleep in, to curl up and relax now that he'd found himself a nice warm burrow to settle in. Yet the sounds of the morning felt closer than before, as if something was calling out to him rather than the world.

    The desire to shut those damn birds up welled up within him enough to rouse him from his slumber. It was a familiar feeling, similar to the frustration of wanting to continue sleeping but knowing you couldn't unless you got up to turn off the alarm. And by the time you did that, you were already awake, so you couldn't go back to bed.

    That was the first feeling Qin Rong felt as he glared out the window.

    I hate you, sun.

    The sun reciprocated his hatred as it shone brightly, damn near blinding him even as the last dredges of sleep slipped away. With a deep scowl, the mercenary sat up and surveyed the room.

    Where the hell was he? Looking around, he couldn't place his surroundings. He'd been waking up in a tree for days now but now he was in a room? It wasn't even his own room. This room was way too nice. So where was-

    A loud snore echoed through the room, shocking the fatigue from him. Beside him, there were two children snuggled close. One under the thick covers and the other on top of them. The resemblance between them made it clear they were related, both having skin like caramel and pitch-black hair.

    "Oh, right, I forgot about you guys." He muttered, crossing his legs to study the two. Darn, they really were cute, weren't they? The desire to poke their cheeks welled up in him until he heard it.

    That ungodly snore.

    Qin Rong covered his ears, horrified that such a small child could let out such a sound. Was the kid part lawnmower?!

    Now fully awake, Qin Rong jumped out of bed and headed downstairs. Like the day before, the house was empty, his footsteps echoing down the hall the only sounds he could detect. He considered whether or not to eat the food that old hag had left behind but chose to leave it be. He might be mooching off these kids but he wasn't going to eat the only food they got.

    Since it was pretty early, only a few animals were out and about. Yet Qin Rong was happy to walk outside, taking in the early morning air. The mild chill energized him, making him want to move and get his blood pumping.

    When he was alive, he'd always wake up early in the morning to exercise and work out. It was a habit he'd held for years and even after being reborn, that habit stuck with him. The only issue was that this new body was weak and small, so he couldn't do half the things he did as an adult. As such, all he could manage at this point was jogging for as long as possible.

    His morning jog was a lot more productive than his previous, what with him having slept well for the first time in days. Sleeping in the forest might seem fun but when you were in the body of a child, there were very few things out there that couldn't kill you in your sleep.

    Nights in the woods was a stressful time and left him exhausted most mornings.

    This fine morning, he managed to reach the river he'd jumped into on his first night without huffing up a lung. He was still exhausted, panting heavily and sweating but he'd made it pretty far on his own.

    Qin Rong laid by the riverside, letting the cool water flow over his feet as he caught his breath. He'd managed to catch a few birds during his jog, so he had prepared them and let them roast over his modest campfire. In the meantime, he might as well take a moment to consider his circumstances.

    1: He was now living in some kind of fantasy world.

    Having to survive in the woods for a few days made it hard for him to consider these things. Every day, he struggled to find enough food to stave off hunger. Yet having a moment to relax, he considered how he should proceed.

    He could use that Xander kids' house as a base for now but that wasn't a long term plan. He needed to learn more about the world he was in before he ended up accidentally killing himself. There was a lot out there that could hurt him.

    2: He was someone that was kidnapped.

    That much was obvious considering where he'd woken up. Those men seemed to think he was valuable but why was anyone's guess. Qin Rong didn't think his body was very special. This child was like any other, small and weak.

    Then again, it might just be because this body had a pretty face. That was usually enough to warrant some kidnapping but...

    He wondered where this kid came from. Was there someone out there who was out looking for him? Parents? Siblings? Would Qin Rong have to confront them one day? Pretend their child hadn't starved to death in the dark all alone?

    Qin Rong's heart was cold but the thought of how much this body, the original host had suffered, angered him to the core. Torture was one thing but letting a kid suffer such a fate was too much!

    I don't know why you suffered, kid, but don't worry about it now. He thought, sending a silent prayer to the original host. I won't let your death go unpunished.

    Qin Rong felt a slight warm feeling flow through him as if his prayer had reached the lost soul. He couldn't be sure but he thought the kid might have felt happy about his promise. Wherever he went after death, Qin Rong hoped the kid was happy.

    With resolve in his heart, the mercenary jumped to his feet, snatching his now cooked food and considered how to strengthen himself. He could continue to do endurance exercises but he was feeling impatient. There was no telling when something might go wrong and he needed the means to protect himself when the time came.

    After eating, he meditated, taking note of the strange energy he had bubbling within him. He wasn't sure what it was but he felt more energized than before.

    Was it perhaps magic?

    This world did have it but how was he supposed to use it? He quickly figured out calling out attacks he'd heard in videogames didn't help and making poses just irritated his wounds. Thus he was left frustrated and grumpy as the sun traveled across the sky.

    "I guess I'll have to see if I can find anything useful in the books back at the kid's house." He grumbled as he cleared up his camp. Looking up at the sky, he was shocked by how much time had passed. From the sun's position, it was almost noon now.

    "Those kids must be awake now." He muttered, watching his face in the river. He was still sweating from his exercises and the desire for a hot bath surfaced. "I wonder if I can get a bath in this world. It'd suck otherwise."

    He then decided that a shower was definitely on his list of things to invent if this world lacked one. There was no way he could live with baths. He was a modern man, damn it!

    On his way back, Qin Rong couldn't help but notice a subtle change within himself.

    While he hadn't been able to use the energy within him, he felt the effects on his way back. While the run was still tiring to his body, he didn't get worn out as quickly as he had that morning. Running through the forest and over the roots, he felt like the forest was welcoming him as if it were clearing a path for him to move more smoothly.

    But surely that was just too fantastical. There was no way it was anything like that.

    The fact that he hadn't tripped or stepped on anything this time around was never considered as Qin Rong jogged. For the leaves truly did part for him.

    ***

    When he returned, he was shocked to find Xander sitting outside the door, curled up in a ball. Seeing the forlorn child sitting on the pouch, his arms wrapped around his knees like that, Qin Rong couldn't help but visualize a dejected puppy waiting for its master's return.

    Wait, does that make the owner of this puppy me? He thought, letting out a heavy sigh. Such a sound should have gone unnoticed but the child's head snapped up, his eyes landing on Qin Rong like a heat seeking missile.

    "R-Rong, you're back!" Xander jumped to his feet, rushing over to hug the blue-haired boy. He'd been so worried that the day before had been some kind of fever dream he'd cooked up to ease his lonely heart.

    He'd woken up alone and scared that he had imagined his new friend. He didn't mind spending his days with Nik but he was always sleeping or sick so it was no fun. Qin Rong was the first person his age he'd been around in months.

    It was lonely being cooped up by himself.

    Seeing the boy near tears, Qin Rong had to suppress his urge to comfort the child. He hadn't really thought about how the kid would feel waking up alone, without even a note or anything. He had grown so used to being alone, he didn't even think to tell Xander he was leaving for a little bit.

    Now he was left with a forlorn child who had rushed into his arms as if afraid he'd disappear the second he blinked. Now the image of a lost puppy biting his master's pant leg to keep him from leaving wouldn't leave his head. Now his puppy was crying. He couldn't do nothing, could he?

    "Oi, why are crying?" He scolded, unable to help himself. "Don't you have any pride?!"

    This brat had the audacity to shake his head, clinging onto Qin Rong like a drowning man to a plank of wood. Qin Rong felt a bit of annoyance at this kid's willingness to toss aside his pride.

    "I missed you!" He sobbed, soaking Qin Rong's shirt. It was already wet with sweat so he barely noticed.

    "Missed me? I wasn't even gone more than a couple hours!" He snapped, feeling a strange mix of guilt and anger. On one hand, this was a lonely kid but on the other hand, he couldn't stand how this kid was acting.

    "But... but-" Xander gasped, trying to talk through his tears, After the third 'but', Qin Rong lost his patience and grabbed the child's ear.

    "Oi, stop crying!" He snapped, tugging until they were face to face. Golden eyes staring into pitch-black ones. "Aren't you a man? Haven't you got any pride at all?"

    "Sorry." Xander saw that Qin Rong wasn't happy with his tears so he did his best to stop. He wiped his face clean, a few hiccups being the only remaining indication of his distress. Unseen by the child, Qin Rong was struggling to settle his own thoughts, still feeling strange about how this child was acting.

    Qin Rong wasn't really good with kids. Or people in general. He was surly and unsociable at best. His main means of socializing were trading insults and barbs. It worked in his line of work but here, that couldn't work.

    His only company was two children who possibly weren't even in the double digits yet!

    "Seriously, this is why I avoid dealing with kids." He groaned, awkwardly scratching his head as he watched Xander clean his face. "You are so lucky I don't break my promises or else I'd dump this place."

    "R-really?!" This shocked Xander since Qin Rong seemed to be so nice. He even chose to stay by his side despite his failings.

    Qin Rong shrugged, not explaining any further. He knew himself fairly well so he didn't want to mislead this child. He was not a nice person.

    He'd killed people, good and bad, for most of his life. Whether it was self defense or for money, changes nothing. The day he spilled blood for the first time, he was a murderer. He never lied to himself about it and was upfront about it.

    Yet despite his attempts at closing off his heart, little cracks kept forming that he couldn't cover up. His love of dramas and happy endings. The few times he gets to banter with associates. Even his decision to remain here with Xander was just another crack.

    He wondered if he could remain numb to it all if those cracks continued to grow.

    "Where did you go, Rong?"

    Qin Rong thought about telling Xander the truth and chose not to. He was fine with cracks but he wasn't keen on letting this kid know too much about him.

    "Sorry about that." He replied with a sigh. "I'm not used to sleeping in so I went to stretch my legs." That wasn't a total lie. Qin Rong was generally a lazy guy who hated waking up in the morning but he was also very diligent when it came to his training.

    "Why didn't you say anything?" Xander cried, stepping close. While his expression was that of a wronged child, his eyes show mild resentment.

    Ah, this kid really was upset, wasn't he?

    "Sorry! It's just..." Qin Rong looked away, feeling a bit out of sorts. When was the last time he had to explain himself like this? Months? Years? "I'm not used to being around other people."

    "Do you not like humans?" He asked, looking concerned, even as Qin Rong blinked in confusion.

    Humans? Oh right, he was supposed to be some kind of fairy, right?

    "Uh, you can say that." He shrugged, not wanting to say much more. The fact he'd apologized this much was a testament to how much he was willing to go through for this kid. "Look, I don't want you lurking out here like this next time, okay. This place might be isolated but there are still dangerous things out here."

    Other than being deep in the woods, this place had little to no security. The stone wall was definitely a deterrent but it would only slow someone down, as opposed to actually stopping anyone from coming in. This was a world where children could be kidnapped and tortured.

    He didn't want that to happen to these kids.

    "S-sorry." Xander mumbled, trying to hide how happy he felt about Qin Rong's concern. There were times he felt like the boy in front of him was older than him, acting more like an adult than a child and it was distressing.

    Not because of the sense of superiority he sometimes felt coming from Qin Rong but because of how distant the faerie was toward him. The way an adult would treat a nosy child.

    The way his own father treated him. It was why he and his brother lived alone in the woods, far from his family. Such treatment was what he had come to expect from an adult.

    Complete indifference.

    But seeing Qin Rong show genuine concern, even if it was reluctantly, made Xander feel happy. His Faerie was definitely better than any adult Xander had ever met.

    Meanwhile, Qin Rong was considering how to properly punish this child. This wasn't the first time he'd done this. Hadn't they met in the woods just yesterday? Had Qin Rong not passed by the area, this stupid kid would have sat there all night?

    "If sorry was enough, would we need the police?" He scolded, smacking the kid upside the head. His strength at that moment was weak but it definitely got the kid's attention. "Better question, how should this lord Rong punish you?"

    "P-punish?!" Xander was confused. What had he done to deserve punishment? More importantly, what kind of punishment? Would his faerie hurt him?

    "En. You dared to put yourself in danger when you have a brother to take care of!" He really couldn't stand the thought that this kid could have easily died because of how reckless he was being. If he was alone, that was one thing but Nik was here too. "What would you do if something were to happen to you? What would he do?"

    "I understand."

    "As long as you do." He nodded, watching tears form in his eyes again. Damn it with this kid. "Now stop crying. You're a man, aren't you?"

    "I'm not!"

    "Well, you will become one later, right?" He waited for the child to nod. "How can you keep your brother safe if you cry whenever something happens?"

    "I don't cry that often." Xander denied, not wanting to be seen as weak by his faerie.

    Qin Rong cocked a brow. "Oh really?"

    "Yes!"

    There was a moment of silence between the two. Qin Rong looked at the child, doubtful of his words but seeing the determination blazing in his eyes came to a solution.

    "Then how about a deal."

    "Deal?"

    "Yep. Between me and you, a promise between men." He proclaimed, pounding his chest. This was the only way he could think of to get this kid to toughen up. "I want you to refrain from crying. If you want to cry, do it elsewhere but when things are going on, action is what is needed. If you stop to cry when shit is hitting the fan, things will get worse and you won't have helped at all."

    "I don't want that! I want to keep Nik safe!" Xander knew his life wasn't good. It didn't take a genius to figure it out. But he did know that he was a big brother and that his little brother needed him.

    It's just that he didn't know how to help and it always filled him with such frustration that his eyes would fill with tears. And when he cried, people called him weak and useless which he couldn't deny.

    So it was an endless cycle.

    But Rong said he could do better. He just had to follow Rong and keep his promise.

    "Okay, then I pr-"

    "Whoa there!" Qin Rong held up his hands. "Don't be so hasty, kiddo. You haven't given me my promise to make."

    "I can make you promise me something?"

    "Of course! I'm making a demand from you so it's only fair." He explained. This wasn't a practice he did often but when he was young, this was the best way to ensure a fair deal. Luckily, Xander was too young to try and take advantage of this blank check. "As long as it's nothing unreasonable or-"

    "I want Rong to stay with me!" He cried, his eyes aglow with glee.

    "Didn't I already make that promise?"

    "Yes, but only because of my boon. I want Rong to promise without coercion."

    Eh? This kid knew a big word like coercion but still believes in fairies? What a weird kid.

    "If that's all you want, then fine." He said, scratching the back of his neck. He felt a bit weird, having someone use this promise just to get him to stay with them. It was a bit embarrassing. "As long as Xiao Xan keeps his promise not to cry, I'll stay with you."

    "Xiao?"

    "Oh, its... its a fairy thing. Don't worry about it." He said, grimacing as he lied. After thinking about it, Qin Rong had decided he wasn't going to call this kid by his full name. It was a mouthful and needlessly complicated. "Now, do you promise?"

    He nods. "I absolutely promise not to cry anymore if Rong stays with me!" As long as he wasn't alone, he could suppress his sadness. No, his sadness could be alleviated as long as he had Rong by his side.

    Cause he knew Rong was too nice to leave him floundering.

    "Hey, Rong, what happens if we break our promise?" He hadn't thought about it but was curious to know what the consequences were.

    Qin Rong fearlessly flashed his fist. "If I find you crying when you should be acting, I'll be sure to smack some sense into you at that time."

    "And what about you?"

    "That's on you, kid." Qin Rong shrugged, not really that concerned. Xander was a kid. Punishments to them were time-outs and no snacks.

    There was no loss on his end.

    "On me..." He echoed, watching Qin Rong walk inside. In his heart, Xander felt troubled. His faerie had left so easily, not even thinking about Xander in the least. Even with the magic binding them, he was still so distant.

    While the name binding magic was strong, Xander had no means of using it so he feared that Qin Rong might one day just leave and not return. At that time, there would be nothing he could do.

    That his precious friend might very well break his promise.

    The child's mood darkened, a subtle shift in the air forcing the birds around them to fly away. Dark eyes watched with covetous glee at the thought of his own penalty for Qin Rong.

    If Rong breaks his promise and leaves my side... He thought, running after the mercenary calling out to him. I guess I'll have to find a way to keep him there more securely.

    ***

    "Oi, are you coming or not?" Qin Rong called out, having been waiting for Xander for a few minutes. What was the kid waiting for? An invitation?

    Xander walked into the house, a bit confused. Why was Rong standing by the kitchen?

    "Me?"

    "No, I meant the three-eyed gremlin behind you." He deadpanned, only to see the child indeed look around for a gremlin. "Of course, I mean you, silly. How am I supposed to punish you if you are all the way over there?"

    "R-right." He mumbled, clenching his fist. He thought about everything this punishment could be as he was lead into the kitchen. The room was a mess, since Xander's last attempt to cook. Dishes filled the sink and there was a bunch of flour spilled on the floor.

    He just hoped the punishment would hurt too much. He still had to take care of Nik and-

    "What are you just standing there for?" Qin Rong snapped his fingers to get Xander's attention. "Get cleaning."

    "Cleaning?"

    "Yeah." The bluenette gestured around the messy room. "How is anyone supposed to use the kitchen when its a mess like this?"

    "My punishment... is cleaning the kitchen?"

    "Yeah, what else did you expect?" Qin Rong frowned, confused by this kid's reaction. What, did the kid think he was going to have him drawn and quartered?

    "Right!" Xander nodded, feeling both relieved and happy. He had indeed been thinking of terrible punishments. He'd heard of many horrible things that were done in the name of punishment so when it was brought up, he was legitimately scared for his safety.

    But Rong was a nice person so if his punishment was just this, he was fine with it.

    For the next hour, Xander mopped the floor and wiped down any surface he could reach. Rong, because he wasn't a complete monster, helped with the dishes. A lot of the stuff in there was too heavy for a kid Xander's age and despite being about the same height, Qin Rong was the stronger of the two.

    "Oh!" After a while, a thought came to Xander. "Rong, what are we doing in the kitchen?"

    "Well, you are cleaning it." He pointed out, watching him wipe down the counter.

    "Yes, but you said you wanted to use it?"

    "Yeah, I wanna make some food." He explained, walking over the a large locker looking thing. Upon inspection, it seemed to act like a fridge, the inside cool when opened and keeping the food fresh.

    So this is how he kept the food from rotting. He thought, looking over everything.

    "After all that work, I could use a bite to eat." He finished, turning back to the child.

    "Rong can cook!?"

    "Of course I can cook!" He cried, feeling a bit offended at the statement. What, because he was male, he should be able to cook? Such thoughts were way to rich for this poor man. "How else would I survive?"

    "Servants?"

    Qin Rong couldn't decide if that statement was pure entitlement or naivety. Considering this kid had food brought to him, it made sense but still. Then again, it wasn't too much different from his own thoughts.

    Like, take out was good when the time was short but very unhealthy. More importantly, Qin Rong worked at a fast food place most of the time. Without a degree of any kind, that was the only job he could get. He barely had the funds to pay his rent so there was no way he could afford to eat out often.

    He chose to respond by using the health argument. Cooking for one's self was better since you could control what was placed in the meal. There were very few surprise veggies when you cooked everything yourself.

    Yet when he was showing Xander the food they would be using, the mercenary stopped to study a certain plant resting among the rest. A plant that shouldn't be there among those to be consumed since it was toxic.

    "You didn't eat anything before this, did you?" He asked, turning to Xander. The boy shook his head.

    "No, I was out looking for you."

    Qin Rong shut the door and picked up his pack. "Good, then I'll teach you how to make breakfast with these!" He pulled out a few animals he'd caught on the way back. There were a couple of birds, a rabbit and a couple of plants that hadn't killed him when he tried them.

    "Ack!" Xander jumped back shocked by the bloody carcasses. He paled at the sight. "Where did-"

    "I hunted them myself." He declared, looking proud. "Took me a while but I pulled it off."

    "You... killed them yourself?" Weren't faeries the guardians of the forest, valuing the lives of animals and nature above all else?

    "Who else but me could?" The carnivorous Fairy retorted, unaware of how much he was breaking this child's world view. If faeries could eat animals, what other universal truths were waiting to be broken?

    "But we have food here." He pointed to the locker. "Why go hunt?"

    Qin Rong briefly considered whether or not to mention the poisonous plant he'd seen in the bundle. He doubted it was accidental and who knew just how much was contaminated in there. If he used anything in there, all three of them may very well die.

    "I don't take handouts," He replied, his statement half true. He'd already hunted before finding out about the plant so why not go that route. "especially from selfish bitc- bad people who leave children to fend for themselves."

    "I can take care of myself!"

    "Sure you can." He snorted, rolling his eyes. "That's why you can't even bake cookies. But don't worry about it. I'll show you how to properly fend for yourself. You won't need that old hag, even if she never comes back."

    ***

    Their cooking lesson went well, even if Xander looked a bit squeamish as Qin Rong showed him how to properly skin and prepare meat. Yet the kid had impressed him. He only threw up once after hearing the sound of cutting flesh.

    It was definitely a good start.

    Qin Rong showed the child how to make a simple meal, a humble but filling soup. Since Nik was unconscious, he couldn't eat solid food so this was the best choice. After Xander left to feed his brother, Qin Rong wandered about the house, getting a feel for his new base.

    He could tell that once upon a time, the place was magnificent. While the house wasn't huge, it was large enough to house at least a dozen people at once. The walls were covered in elaborate and beautiful paintings that screamed money. The rugs were so finely weaved, Qin Rong barely felt it under his feet.

    Yet the place was clearly abandoned. layers of dust coated almost everything, masking the sheen this place could show. It was a shame, seeing such a nice place fall apart.

    He did, however, notice how some places were cleaner than others. Someone had attempted to clean the place once or twice. Yet their reach was definitely not that of an adult.

    The image of short little Xander struggling to dust the tall walls came to mind. Qin Rong smiled to himself, thinking how adorable that kid was.

    As he walked around, the smell of books drifted by, attracting his attention. He'd been hoping to find a library and what he found didn't disappoint. The room was large, taking up at least two or three of his own apartment worth of space. The walls were covered with shelved books.

    He'd hit the motherload!

    At least, that what he thought until he opened a random book only to find literal gibberish.

    "Jnduai isjdio misam disan dji?" He read, horrified by what he held. After taking out several books, he saw how they all shared the same disjointed jargon from the first book. The only thing that assured him this wasn't a joke was the fake that all the words were different in each book.

    All this time, he hadn't had any trouble communicating so he'd assumed he and the people here were speaking the same language. Even as he spoke, he heard his native tongue when people responded to him. Yet this book proved that must be just him.

    In other words, he could speak the language but not read it. As he contemplated how to resolve this, he heard rapid footsteps approaching.

    "Qin Rong! Qi-" Xander stopped when he spotted a dejected looking Qin Rong. "Ah, there you are!"

    "Yo." He greeted from atop his perch. He was sitting on the latter that leaned on the shelved wall. Xander stepped into the room

    "What are you doing up there?"

    "Trying to read." He grumbled, unable to hide his frustration.

    "Trying?"

    "I didn't realize I can't read." Just saying it aloud was enough to have him throw the book down. "What are these letters?! I know a couple but they are arranged so strangely and belong to different languages so..."

    "I can show you." Xander, seeing his friends irritation, picked up the book. He held it up to the boy. "See? This is a history book. It's all about the history of Nercon."

    "Necron?" He echoed, curious. The mercenary slid down the ladder, landing beside Xander to look over his shoulder. "What's that?"

    "That's our kingdom. See the map?" He showed a page filled with mysterious words but Qin Rong could recognize a map anywhere. Xander pointed to one. "This is Precipise, the kingdom of water. Next to it is Pulvis, Auris and Penum, the kingdoms of the Dwarves, Elves, and demi-humans."

    Looking it over, Qin Rong nodded finding the subject fascinating. With only one book, with one page, he'd learned so much about this world. Sure it was stuff he could infer on his own but confirmation was best.

    "Ah, I did see a few elves in town before." He noted, seeing that Auris was neighbors with Necron, which was probably where they were now.

    "You've been to town?"

    "Yeah, haven't you?" Xander shook his head.

    "No, miss Pellelot says I can't." He mumbled, to which his companion clicked his tongue.

    "Well, screw her then." He said, waving it off. That bitch was a bad person anyway. Why listen to her? "We can head over one of these days. It's not like she can stop us if we go, right?"

    "R-right!" Xander stammered, his face flushed for some reason. Seeing that devious smile on his friend's face, was that supposed to make his chest hurt like this?

    "So tell me more about the world." He asked, turning the page to find paragraphs of babble. It might save time to just have the kid explain everything.

    "You don't know any of this?"

    "This is my first time hearing about this." He replied honestly, not thinking about it. Xander smiled, coming to a conclusion.

    "Ah, right, 'cause you're a faerie." He concluded, nodding with understanding. You must be from the Mist."

    "The Mist?"

    "Yeah, the land of Fae." He stated, turning to a page with a forest covered in mist. Big letters he assumed read 'Mist" overlayed the image. "No mortal has ever ventured there."

    Looking it over, he came to the conclusion he might able to use this. If no one knew what this Mist was like, he might not have to lie so much. While he had no issue lying, it was annoying to have to keep track of his lies.

    So he chose to confirm Xander's assumption, stating he was from the mist and that this was his first time coming to the mortal realm. The child bought it, never once asking why he was there.

    It was for the best. Even Qin Rong didn't know why he was there.

    ***

    After some deliberation, the two chose to continue their reading in Nik's room. The child was still sick and Qin Rong felt guilty for keeping his only caretaker away.

    So the two of them sat on the bed, with Nik sleeping between the two. Looking at the scene, with a book resting on Nik's chest, one might assume they were reading the smaller child a bedtime story.

    But both Xander and Qin Rong knew that wasn't the case. Nik had yet to wake up since his arrival.

    A bit concerned, Qin Rong checked Nik out. The child's skin was pale and sweaty, still a bit feverish. His breath, while steady was deep and labored. Looking at all the symptoms, it was clear Nik was very sick.

    Yet he only had another child to take care of him rather than a doctor.

    "How long has Nik been sick?" Qin Rong couldn't help but ask. While he was eager to learn about the world, doing so neck to a sickly child was just gross.

    "Eh?" Xander looked up, surprised by the question. "A... couple of weeks, I think? Father said fresh air would help him recover."

    "I bet he did." Again, Qin Rong clicked his tongue as he looked over Nik. "Has he seen a doctor?"

    "Yes. He said the same thing as father."

    "I see." Qin Rong said nothing more, not wanting to worry the kid with his line of questioning. He was mostly just curious since he wasn't sure yet. If his suspicions were correct then-

    Qin Rong's thought was interrupted by Xander taking his hand. He looked up to see the child curled up into a ball. It was the same position he'd been in when Qin Rong came back.

    The hold was light but firm as if Xander only sought some comfort from Qin Rong but didn't want to bother him.

    This was basically Xanders's thoughts. Hearing Qin Rong's words, he recalled how sick Nik was. He'd known it was bad but what could he do? He wasn't a doctor and the real one had told him that if he just waited, Nik would recover.

    That's was weeks ago.

    Having been reminded of his little brother's condition had depressed him, leading to his action now. Qin Rong, while not the smartest guy, could tell when he'd brought the mood down with his words. He hadn't meant to, he just- No, excuses were just a waste of time.

    He had to bring the mood back.

    "By the way," He said, feeling a bit awkward. Teasing was not something he was good at. "you snore like you're trying to wake the dead." He had hoped Xander would laugh or lighten up at his statement but he just grimaced, looking more dejected

    "Sorry." He mumbled, curling up tighter. Qin Rong was flustered.

    "N-nothing that you can help but keep that in mind." He scolded, though he wanted to smack himself. This wasn't helping his mood!

    "Can..." Xander's eyes danced around the room before falling on their intertwined hands. "Can we still sleep together?"

    "Ugh, really?" He couldn't help but sigh. He didn't dislike the kid but the snoring really was an issue.

    "Please?!"

    "Ugh, don't look at me like that." The elder begged, his muddled mind trying to recall why he was rejecting this kid. "I'm not swayed by cuteness."

    The act that was performed next was one of pure evil. A practice from the dawn of time, used by the most notorious manipulators through history. Few were strong enough to withstand such an assault.

    It was the puppy dog pout and Qin Rong was not one of the destined few strong enough to resist.

    "Fine! Sure, whatever." He tossed his hands in the air, giving up after a minute of looking at that face. That just wasn't fair! "It's not like I wanted to get any sleep at night anyway. But you'll owe me."

    "Anything!" Xander's mood immediately brightened after hearing Qin Rong's agreement. He might snore but he still didn't want his Faerie to leave him. If they slept in different rooms, how would he be able to tell when the boy ran off?

    "Fine, teach me the language. I wanna learn how to read all this on my own."

    "Okay." He nodded. "Do you plan on reading everything in the library?"

    "That's the plan."

    "Wow, that's amazing." Xander marveled at Qin Rong's efforts. He had only read a couple of the book in the library but couldn't imagine reading them all.

    "Not really. I have a theory and I just want some confirmation."

    "On?"

    "On whether or not the poison in your brother's body is from the food you guys have been given or something else."

    *****

    AN: As you can see, Qin Rong is not good with kids. Or people in general, really but definitely not with kids.
     
  11. jolliapplegirl

    jolliapplegirl Well-Known Member

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    AN: I'll be honest, I had a hard time thinking of an ending to this chapter. Still, I'm happy I got it done. Yay!

    *****​

    Silence fell between the two, the child staring at Qin Rong in horror. Poison? Obviously, Xander knew what poison was but to think it might have been used on them was...

    Was there someone so cruel?

    "W-what?!" The child tried to understand the words being spoken but he felt distant and detached as he spoke.

    Qin Rong, however, was surprisingly casual about the matter.

    "Yeah, I can't really be sure until I read up on the natural toxins in this world." He said with a shrug, looking over the book he'd been reading with Xander. "A lot of stuff is similar to things I'm familiar with but-"

    "Nik has been poisoned?!" He cried, his hand clenching hard enough to get the faerie's attention again.

    "Eh?" Qin Rong was confused for a moment before recalling he was talking to a child about this. "Oh, yeah did I forget to mention it? My bad."

    Then again, he'd only realized this recently. He'd suspected Nik had been poisoned the night he'd arrived since his symptoms were strange for a child his age. But he had originally assumed the kid had just put something in his mouth that he shouldn't have.

    Kids were like that after all.

    But seeing the food in the fridge had ended that assumption. To blatantly place poisonous plants among the edibles, the person had clearly wanted the boys to get sick and die.

    The only question was why.

    "Is that why you said you'd provide us food?" The child pulled Qin Rong from his thoughts.

    "Partially. Honestly, I just didn't trust that old hag." He admitted, looking away. "That and I spotted some Liferoot in the basket of vegetables. Those are generally bad but on kids, it's lethal."

    "But I read that Liferoot was a kind of medicine."

    "It is, at least the roots are. Everything else toxic." He explained, smirking at the child's trust. And at that old hags deceit. "Nice touch on her part giving you the whole plant and mixing it in with everything else. Most can't tell the difference between roots and stems."

    [AN: This is not actually true but I'll explain at the end why I chose this plant.]

    Really, the only reason Qin Rong was so familiar with herbs was that in his line of work, such knowledge was critical. He'd been poisoned once and never wanted to suffer such a fate again.

    He studied the subject extensively, even going through the harrowing ordeal of poisoning himself to develop an immunity to most poisons. This took years and in that time, he learned to recognize the signs of poisoning at a glance.

    But he needed more information if he was going to treat them.

    "How long has Nik been sick?"

    "A few weeks."

    "Really?" Qin Rong felt suddenly curious about the children he'd been living with. "Then what are you doing here?"

    "Father thought Nik would fare better away from others." Xander explained, running his hand over his brother's head. "I was worried he'd be lonely, so I offered to accompany him."

    "And then he left ya'll to die here." He concluded, seeing the ending clearly. Their dad just wanted them away from his sight when they died, hence the poison food and the lack of care.

    "He wouldn't-" Xander started but held his tongue. While he wanted to think of his father as a kind man, the situation was more complicated than that. His father was a powerful man, in need of strong heirs.

    Perhaps the two of them just weren't good enough in his eyes.

    Seeing the tears forming in the boy's eyes, Qin Rong felt a bit guilty for saying all that. He wasn't sure why but he kept on forgetting that he was talking to a child. He was getting way too comfortable with this kid.

    Still, he couldn't leave the child crying.

    "Hey now, there's no need to be so glum about that." He tried, awkwardly patting Xander on the shoulder. "So your dad's a jerk. Such is life, right? Adults are only human. Some are good and most are terrible. Just be glad you got to figure this out before you got a knife in the back."

    "One of father's wives died that way too." Xander sniffled, wiping his face before any tears fell. He'd made a promise, he couldn't break it now.

    Qin Rong was too shocked by Xander's statement to even notice the near breach in their contract.

    "W-with a knife to the back or poison?"

    "Both maybe?"

    How could it be both!? He thought, trying to understand how that would work. As if reading his thoughts, Xander continued.

    "The guards said she got sick and fell onto her letter opener." He explained, recalling the incident fairly well. It had been noisy that morning and the servants kept whispering about it. He was young and only had a passing interest in it.

    Meanwhile, the mercenary was reeling from shock, trying to come to terms with how casually this kid spoke about such a thing. He was a mercenary, so death and backbiting were just a part of the day to day life but this kid spoke like it was nothing.

    Like holy shit, what kind of life was this kid living when such obvious backstabbing was happening?! Was that why this kid was being poisoned?

    Wait, then why wasn't Xiao Xan sick too?

    "Have you eaten the same stuff as your brother?" He asked, looking him over. He hadn't bothered to check Xander before since the kid was showing no overt symptoms of poisoning. Xander nodded as Qin Rong checked him out. "You have been but aren't showing any symptoms. You already have an immunity?"

    "What's that?" He asked. After having listened to the explanation, he recalled his mother talking about something similar. "Oh, like when I used to get sick before. Sometimes Mama would give me these bitter pills. They always made me sick but mama said it would make me stronger later. I really didn't get it."

    "Wow, smart woman." Qin Rong marveled, greatly impressed. She had given her kid enough poison to immunize him to most poisons before he even knew what going on. He had to talk to this lady later. "Do you have any of those pills on you or the recipe?"

    Xander shook his head.

    "They're back home. I hid them under my bed so mother wouldn't find them."

    "Why hide them?" He frowned at the change of address.

    "Mother doesn't like me reading stuff mama left behind."

    More confusion.

    "So this mother is...?"

    "Fathers wife."

    "And mama?"

    "My and Nik's mama." He explained, happy to talk about her. Qin Rong, however, was confused.

    "Just how many wives does your dad have?" He asked, now wondering if he'd missed something. Either there was an affair going on or his father had his finger in way too many pies.

    The child frowns, beginning to mutter under his breath as he counted on his fingers. After reaching 10, he stopped to think.

    "12, I think?" He finally answered, before shaking his head. "No, Lady Juliet got sick and died before so 11 now, I think."

    12?! What was this guy?! The emperor?! N-no way, there was no way this little brat was a prince. Even if he was unfavored, there was no man dumb enough to send their own kid this far into the wilderness. Reputation and danger aside, he could have let them die much more naturally if he kept them close.

    "How many wives do men usually have?"

    "Father said that a man is allowed as many wives as he can afford. They are to give birth to his heirs and stand by his side obediently." He said, so casually, one might think he was talking about the weather.

    Hearing all that, Qin Rong felt a bit uneasy in his heart. To think this was just a polygamous society he'd landed in. He'd heard of harems but surely there had to be an upper limit, right? But he couldn't ask this kid. Obviously he didn't know.

    More to his concern was how casual this kid spouted this all like it was normal. On one hand, who was he to criticize the culture of this place. What worked for them, worked. Perhaps there was a reason for such a practice, like high infant mortality or short life spans.

    But on the other hand, Qin Rong had read and watched enough dramas to know just how ruthless a harem was. He didn't want this kid to be involved with or get dragged into that hellscape.

    Jealous women were scary.

    Other men might dream of harems but Qin Rong just wanted a monogamous relationship and he was definitely going to instill that in Xander.

    "Look, Xiao-Xan I've got to level with you." He placed his hands on the child's shoulder, looking him dead in the eye. "All that talk about having as many wives as you can afford is nonsense."

    "It is?"

    "Yeah, cause really, how do you know how much you can afford? What if you lost all your money overnight? What would you do?"

    "I don't know." Xander hadn't really thought about it but felt that Qin Rong's words made sense.

    "Exactly! That's why it's best to stick with one partner, that way you don't have to worry too much about it."

    "But what if she gets lonely?" He asked, curious. He recalled seeing his mothers all around, often talking to one another. While they seemed annoyed with one another by their tones, they smiled and laughed often so perhaps it was just a grown-up thing.

    "That's what she has you for." He exclaimed, draping his arm around the child. "She married you, to be with you. And you chose her because you liked her."

    "I did?"

    "Well, you will. Obviously, you only marry someone you like."

    "I like you!" He cried, thinking it might be nice to marry Qin Rong. His faery was pretty, nice and smart. He'd make a great wife!

    "Yeah but that's different." The mercenary laughed, amused by the kids' words. "Trust me, when you're older, you'll understand the difference between liking me and liking another. Marriage is a commitment, a promise. It's something you can't just do just cause everyone around you says you have to."

    Xander felt a bit aggrieved at his companion's words but nodded, as he trusted his words. Perhaps he would come to like someone more than he did Qin Rong one day.

    But he wasn't sure such a thing was possible.

    "Will you marry someone too, one day?" He couldn't help but ask as he laid back on the bed.

    That'd be nice but I doubt it." Qin Rong muttered, staring up at the ceiling. To marry someone, he'd have to trust them. It has to be someone he was willing to share his secrets with and love with all his heart.

    While he had never spoken about it, Qin Rong was a romantic. It was why he loved dramas and novels. He had grown up with no one to love or love him, so he idolized the romantic fantasies he saw in media. While he had never found anyone who could penetrate his heart, he still yearned for it.

    Yawning, he turned to Xander, who had curled up beside his brother and fallen asleep. Soft snored flowed from his lips, making Qin Rong smile in the darkness.

    He could only hope that one day, they both found that special someone who could fill them with love. He was willing to wish that for them both.

    ***​

    Over the next few days, Qin Rong went about detoxing Nik. It took some time but with Xander's help, he found the herbs he needed to help the process along.

    At first, the child was confused by the process but never questioned anything he did.

    What a good kid~

    It started with herbal baths, in which they'd let Nik soak in to ease the toxins from his body. When Xander first saw that black gunk seeping from his brother's skin, he was horrified. All this had been inside Nik?!

    Don't worry, this is normal. Honestly, I'm more shocked this kid survived this long. I'm impressed. He's stronger than I assumed.

    Nik has always been tough!" Xander proclaimed, happy to hear Qin Rong's words. It meant his brother would be fine. "What are those?"

    Xander's gaze fell upon Qin Rong's exposed arm. The skin was pale as marble but stained with dark marks peeking from beneath his sleeves. They weren't bruises, he was sure. He knew what those looked like.

    "What do you mean?"

    "Those marks." Xander gestured to the marks, reaching out to touch them before his hand was waved off.

    "Nothing, don't worry about it." The boy insisted, instead focusing on washing the impurities from Nik's body. He too had noticed the marks but didn't think much about it.

    If it became a problem later, then he'd handle it.

    Xander looked on, unconvinced but obediently went along with Qin Rong's words. His own thoughts, mirroring the blunette.

    I'll take care of Rong if this becomes a problem.

    After the baths and the regular meals, Qin Rong noticed a physical change in the two boys. Xander started to fill out and look much more his age. Nik also went from sickly pale to rosy-cheeked and plump enough to be pinchable.

    Qin Rong did in fact do such a thing, though he would take that secret to his grave.

    After a couple of days of this method of this, Nik woke up one afternoon while the two older children were sitting on the bed studying. Xander was reading a book on magic while Qin Rong was practicing his reading skills.

    He could read the basics but bigger words were difficult for him.

    The small child let out a small sound, alerting the two boys of his awakening. As Xander embraced the child, Qin Rong ordered the elder boy to get some water. Nik had to be dying of thirst.

    Now alone with the child, Qin Rong checked him out. While he'd expected the kid to wake up soon, this was a bit ahead of his expectations. Pressing a hand to the child's soft cheek, he was relieved to see that Nik's fever had come down finally.

    Sleepy eyes turned to him, staring dazedly up at him with dark eyes.

    "Huh, he has black eyes too." He muttered, smiling at the sight. He hadn't meant to say it out loud but seeing it was comforting. After days of seeing folks with crazy hair and eye colors, it was nice to see something familiar.

    Other than skin tone, it was like he was back home.

    "You like things like that?" Qin Rong turned to see Xander walk into the room and feed his brother the water. He recalled that the blunette seemed fascinated by his eyes before. "Black hair and eyes?"

    "Yeah, I suppose I do."

    Xander unconscious touched his hair, his fingers getting caught in the wavy curls.

    "Even though it's cursed?" He mumbled, looking away.

    "Eh? What's this about being cursed?" He shot back, pulling the child's hand away. "Why would black hair be cursed? Are you being silly again?"

    Xander shook his head, confused but smiling to himself. Perhaps Faeries didn't have this kind of curse. They were magical after all. Qin Rong, not hearing an answer, continued on.

    "Besides, I don't believe in curses so no, I don't dislike black hair." He declared, smiling at the child as he patted the child's head. "I really like it in fact."

    "Really?" Xander knew Qin Rong wasn't lying but his words were unreal. His family had always told him how dirty he and his brother looked, having inherited their features from their mother. He'd be told his features were ill-fated, more in line with monsters than man.

    Yet Qin Rong liked it, even going so far as to touch it.

    Unaware of how much his simple words had touched the child, Qin Rong continued to reassure Xander, worried the child might think he was lying.

    "Yeah, it reminds me of home." He said, with a smile. He opened his mouth to say more but noticed Nik was now staring at them, mainly Qin Rong. "Hey, sleepyhead."

    "Who is you?" He mumbled, his voice coarse from sleep but high, showing his age. He even had a small lisp.

    It was so damnably cute.

    "I'm Qi-"

    "His name is Rong." Xander cut in, worried the faery would share his name with Nik. While he loved his brother, he didn't want to share this bond. "Call him that."

    "Okay." Nik, the ever obedient one, nodded and turned back to blue-haired boy. "Hi, Rong."

    Qin Rong chose not to question the interruption and just kept going. "Sup. You feeling better?"

    "I'm tired." Nik yawned, looking about ready to fall back asleep. Qin Ring rustled the child's hair.

    "Yeah, you almost died so that makes sense." He chuckled, playing with the kid's head. Nik just let him shake his head around and it was fun. "You wanna learn how to not die?"

    "Uh-huh!" At the prospect of learning something new from this unfamiliar person, Nik got energized, kicking his feet under the blankets. He didn't understand all of this person's words but he was new and looked pretty so he must be nice.

    Such innocence would have both horrified and softened the mercenary's strong will had he known the child's thoughts. These kids were too precious~

    "Cool, just listen to Da-ge and you'll be fine." Qin Rong proclaimed, excited at the prospect of teaching theses kids a way to stick it to the ruthless adults in their lives. He had no way of knowing how long he could stay with them but he was invested in making sure they, at the very least, survived to adulthood.

    "Da-ge?" Xander frowned at the unfamiliar word.

    (AN: Da-ge means big brother)

    "It's a fairy thing." Qin Rong lied, not wanting to make things more complicated. He disliked lies but what else could he say? That it was the language from when he was alive in another world?

    "Hm." Xander looked doubtful but didn't question it. He disliked that his faery was hiding things but so was he. "Rong, I want to learn faery tongue!"

    "Eh? Why?"

    "You sometimes talk in a strange language and I want to as well. You seem more comfortable doing so."

    Well of course. Mandarin was his native language. While he was fluent in over a dozen other languages, he couldn't help but prefer his own. He considered the option, really not wanting to.

    Teaching the kid another language would take a while, wouldn't it?

    As if seeing his thoughts, Xander pressed forward.

    "It won't be any trouble!" He insisted, staring the bluenette in the eyes. "I'm a fast learner. Honest!"

    Seeing the conviction and determination, how could the mercenary not respect the child? He looked confident and he had seen how smart the kid could be.

    That and it'd be nice to have someone to talk to in mandarin in this unfamiliar world.

    "Fine. But anyhow you start messing up, I'm canceling our classes, got it?"

    "Yes."

    Over the next few days, while Nik was recovering, the lessons went on. Now they were divided between Xander's lessons and Qin Rong. Like the mercenary, Xander was like a sponge, soaking in everything Qin Rong had to offer much faster than anticipated.

    Qin Rong was quite shocked by his progress.

    Soon, the two could carry on a conversation for long periods of time. Hearing his native tongue spoken after so long was melting his heart.

    That is until Nik noticed and wanted to join in.

    He, being only 5, was unable to speak the words but was excelling at writing out the characters and making sentences. This upset Xander, as he was much better at speaking than writing or reading.

    This lead to their current situation, in which the three of them were lounging in the backyard. Qin Rong sat in a tree, relaxing under the leaves while the two brothers sat directly beneath him. He would have been out hunting for food but found their conversation a lot more interesting.

    "And I'm saying you're dumb!" Nik proclaimed, somehow looking down on his much taller brother.

    Ah, he truly is coming into his little sibling persona. Qin Rong thought, watching them with amusement. He'd never had a sibling but from what he'd seen in media, this was about right.

    "Say's who?"

    "Says me! Read this!" The smaller of the two boys pulled out a notebook filled with notes, with translations that were messy but frighteningly accurate. Nik was very good with the written word despite his age.

    Both Qin Rong and Xander were shocked by how well the five year old took to writing and translation. Still, Xander refused to concede any ground to his little brother. Not with Qin Rong nearby.

    "W-what is that?" Xander grimaced, trying to read the characters but finding it hard to recall the meaning. Yet seeing the translation, how could he not protest. "That's not what that character means!"

    "Yes, it is!" The child insisted, comparing his notes to his elder brother's recent writings. Xander refused to fall behind and was practicing his writing skills. Yet he made a mistake. "See?"

    "That's chénmò (silent; taciturn)" He said, pointing to his intended word.

    "No, you wrote it wrong! Its this one, to sink."

    [AN: For clarification, chénmò: 沉默("silent; taciturn") and 沉没("to sink"). They are homophones so they sound the same but use different characters and have a different meaning.]

    Looking between the two words, Xander was aghast to realize he had wrote it wrong. He sitll had trouble remembering all the strokes and the meanings.

    "Eh, but-" He tried to defend himself but Qin Rong cut him off, calling out from above.

    "Xiao Ni is right." He was impressed by their tenacity but he couldn't let these kids make excuses. "You read it wrong and misunderstood the sentence."

    "But I-"

    "Yay, I win!" Nik threw his hands in the air, jumping with joy at defeating his big brother.

    Qin Rong couldn't allow that.

    "No, you didn't." He chastised, climbing from the tree branch.

    "I didn't?"

    "Yep, see here?" Qin Rong pointed to the challenge he'd set up. They were to hold a written conversation. "You forgot to accent this character, which is why Xiao Xan misunderstood."

    "Oh..." Nik wilted, looking distraught that he'd made such a simple mistake.

    Seeing both boys looking so forlorn, Qin Rong felt a bit bad for them. Perhaps he shouldn't beat them down about it too much. All in all, the fact they got this far in a few days was impressive.

    "But don't sweat it, kids." He praised, petting them both. "You are doing much better than I anticipated. You're learning things that take adults weeks to memorize. I'm honestly shocked."

    Two small faces burst into large smiles. Xander looked ready to burst while Nik jumped away from them to run around, screaming. It was rare for them to be praised by their teacher/companion.

    Qin Rong was a spartan when it came to teaching.

    "This is fun!" Nik cried out, his words echoing through the yard, scaring away some birds. He turned back to the other two, his eyes glowing with excitement. "I wanna learn more!"

    "Sure, maybe I can teach you some Japanese too."He offered, wanting to show this little sponge more. "Its characters aren't too different from these. You better be ready though. I won't tolerate any more mistakes, ya hear me?"

    "Right!" Nik didn't miss a beat, wanting to earn more praise from the pretty big brother and learn more new stuff. Even if he was scary, new things were so exciting!

    Xander inwardly sighed, knowing he couldn't fall behind his baby brother. It was a matter of pride.

    "Is that another clan of Faeries?" He asked, turning to Qin Rong. At the boy's frown, he continued. "Japanese, I mean. That's another faery tongue, right?"

    "Uh, yeah. Kind of."

    A moment of silence fell between the two as the air got tense. Xander disliked the feeling he was getting from Qin Rong, that he wasn't being entirely honest. As if sensing the incoming nagging, Qin Rong spoke.

    "Anyway, I've got to go get us some dinner." The mercenary proclaimed, effectively avoiding the situation. He wasn't going to justify himself to a kid. "Prey won't catch themselves, right?"

    Xander gloomily walked back to the house, knowing Qin Rong wouldn't let him accompany him on the hunt. That and he was still a mite bit annoyed at the faery.

    Qin Rong wasn't too worried. Xander got over things fast when it came to him so he was sure the child would be in good spirits by the time he came back. Kids had short attention spans after all.

    Nik, having not noticed the tension, waddled over to Qin Rong, wrapping his arms around the pale boy.

    "You're going hunting?" He asked, staring up at the older boy. "Why not get your Sodalis to help you, Rong-ge?"

    "My what?"

    "Does Rong-ge not have any?" Nik had seen the books his brother had been reading. They were all about faeries and their abilities. He was sure this faery would have one.

    Obviously, Qin Rong knew nothing about faeries so he had to ask. "What are those?"

    "You're animal servants." All faeries had animal servants. Thats what the book said. "Rong-ge is a faery, right?"

    "Yeah but I have servants? How?"

    "You give them commands." Nik shrugged, not understanding the question.

    "Are you saying I can talk to animals?!"

    "You never tried?"

    Who goes around trying to randomly talk to animals? He'd be crazy to try! But then again, this was a world with magic so maybe.

    So after gathering his hunting supplies, most just a makeshift bow and arrow and a small blade, Qin Rong considered how he should test if he really could do what Nik claimed. There wasn't anything to lose, after all.

    Standing in the middle of the forest, Qin Rong looked around to chose his target. Unfortunately, his predatory aura tended to scare most animals away, so he was left without anything to test his possible abilities.

    Then he spotted it, a bird watching him from high above, casually sitting on a branch. It was a small bird, just barely visible.

    Qin Rong's smile became manic. Had anyone seen him, they would think he wanted to eat the bird.

    The bird felt the same and flinched at the look.

    "Hey! Hey, bird!" He shouted, his voice echoing. "Hey, do you hear me!"

    Bird: ...

    It wasn't doing anything. Then again, its not like birds could talk... right? He frowned, considering the option for a second before tossing it aside. There was no way, right?

    Maybe he should have given it an order then. Something simple.

    "I want you to go and bring me a yellow flower." He commanded, staring up at the bird. "You hear me?

    Bird: ...

    After a minute of staring the bird flew away, apparently having lost interest in him. Qin Rong stood there, his face flushed from anger. He facepalmed, trying to keep himself from banging his head against the tree.

    Why had he listened to Nik? He was five!

    Look at him, yelling at birds at the behest of a child. A bit longer, and he'd be talking all kind of nonsense. It was mortifying.

    His only reprieve was that he was at least alone in these woods so he wouldn't have to explain himself to anyone. With that in mind, the mercenary continued on with his hunt, his steps quiet and light.

    Moments after he'd left, on a nearby tree branch, the same bird from before landed, a tiny yellow flower in its beak.

    *****​

    AN: So about the life root thing, I was looking for a plant that fit my description but was having a hard time. Then I found this plant and thought 'screw it, this is a fantasy. I can make shit up.' Life Root was actually considered a medicinal plant for a while but is now classified as too toxic to be used in the cases it used to. That and it turns out using it on children ends up causing symptoms similar to Reye Disease, which can easily be mistaken for a natural cause of death. All in all, it fits as a means of killing kids they don't want to be suspected of infanticide.
     
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  12. jolliapplegirl

    jolliapplegirl Well-Known Member

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    AN: After writing this chapter, I've come to realize I am absolute shit at writing and/or planning action scenes. Woe is me~

    *****​

    The next day was hectic for various reasons. Mainly, that bitch housekeeper, Miss Pellot or whatever, showed up again. The fact she hadn't come by in almost two weeks showed that she truly had intended for her last delivery to kill Nik and Xander.

    Fucking bitch.

    Qin Rong listened in for a while when she arrived. She was visibly surprised when she saw that not only was Xander alive and well but bursting with energy.

    Qin Rong, while not good with kids, was great at keeping himself alive. Adding two more mouths to his plans was nothing!

    Her face nearly cracked as she tried to pretend she wasn't shocked by Xander's condition, talking to him much more reverently than before. Qin Rong was curious as to why but couldn't stick around, as he had to be a babysitter.

    So he left.

    What was said between the child and the adult would remain a mystery for years to come, despite how much of an effect it would have on his fate. At that time, how was he to know?

    While that was happening, the mercenary had been tasked with watching over Nik, who refused to stay still. They had decided to keep Nik's sudden recovery a secret as there was no way to explain it without revealing Qin Rong's presence.

    Xander had wanted to, sure his father would be happy to hear the news but Qin Rong shot the idea down fast.

    "Oi, haven't you been paying any attention?" He snapped, staring down at the child. "That bi-lady wanted you and Xiao Ni dead. I doubt it was something she decided on her own. That means you have unseen enemies."

    Xander wilted, knowing Qin Rong was right but disliking it. He knew things were... chaotic back home yet he couldn't help but want to tell his father the good news.

    "What should we do then?"

    "Obviously, get stronger but hide your talents." Qin Rong stood up, looking over the two boys. "That way, they will stop being concerned about you."

    "So it's like a game?" Nik asked, raising his head from his book. He'd only been half-listening, not very interested in this kind of grownup talk. Yet this part sounded fun.

    "Yep, the rules are simple. Amass strength while not letting anyone know what you have."

    When Qin Rong had said it, he hadn't expected they'd take to it so well. Nik was an easy one. He was a child so there was no way anyone would suspect this kid of being a genius. While his speech still slurred like any child his age, his skills were not to be underestimated.

    Not far behind, Xander excelled at most things it seemed. Put a book in front of him once and he could recite it back word for word. It was crazy how smart he was. He'd even taken to copying Qin Rong's morning exercises, jogging in the morning, and properly stretching like he'd done it all his life.

    It was crazy!

    What the hell was up with these kids?! Weren't they only just hitting the double digits? They should be playing with blocks and struggling to count, not expertly translating books like it was nothing.

    Was it just him? Was he the idiot? Or maybe he'd just found himself saddled with two unreasonably genius children?

    Ah, what a disastrous fate this poor man was facing.

    But at the very least, this meant he didn't have to hold back with them. He had been worried he wouldn't be able to deal with treating kids gently, as he wasn't the type to coddle anyone. If these kids were truly as smart as they seemed, he might not have to baby them.

    He was no good at doing that kind of thing anyway.

    Yet here he was, watching over a five year old running about the yard, calling out to him. How annoyingly cute this all was.

    "Rong-Ge!? Rong-Ge, come play with me!"

    "Didn't I tell you not to make so much noise?" He chided, looking fierce as he spoke. Nik barely batted an eye as he ran past. "You're supposed to be in bed, remember?"

    Nik was supposed to be pretending to still be in a coma but trying to keep a small child stationary when he wanted to play was impossible, no matter who it was trying to do it. Whether it was a hardened mercenary with hundreds of kills under his belt or a tired parent, there was no stopping this kid.

    It's only at times like this that he acts his age. He thought, watching the kid run over to the tree swing he'd made a few days prior. Nik absolutely loved it, demanding to be pushed at all hours of the day.

    Time for breakfast? No, push me!

    Need to study? No, push me!

    Time to go to bed? No, push me!!

    The damn kid was obsessed with the thing. Had he not melted when he saw how much fun the two boys had with the swing, Qin Rong would have burnt the damn thing.

    Still, seeing the two boys play together, Qin Rong had felt a bit envious, wishing he had someone like that when he was a child. Or even in his adult life. Someone to call a friend. He'd been alone for such a long time, perhaps it was just wishful thinking.

    For now, he'd have to settle for these two brats.

    Well, since he was on the swing now, perhaps he could get his examination done rather than later. Qin Rong was no doctor but he could at least do a basic check-up. While Nik showed no signs of being affected by the poison, Qin Rong wasn't about to allow himself to get lazy.

    So every once in a while, he gave Nik and Xander a check-up. As he was very familiar with how poisons worked, he was good at spotting the signs of ailments.

    Xander was easy, as he was very obedient and quiet. The drawback was that he fidgeted a lot when touched and was always flushed in the face. It was annoying when he had to take the child's temperature.

    Maybe he was just naturally warm or something.

    In truth, the main problem was with Nik. He was obedient and easy to work with so Qin Rong generally didn't mind looking over him. The only major inconvenience was that he was stuck with a very curious child. As Qin Rong did his checkup, a myriad of questions spewed from the toddler's mouth, one after another.

    Why do you do that? What does that do? How come this thing does that but not this?

    It never fucking ends!

    The worse part was when they got stuck in a 'why' loop. It started out simple but after the fifth why, Qin Rong was getting to the end of his patience.

    (AN: Anyone whose ever seen that Ed, Edd & Eddy episode with Johnny knows what I'm talking about)

    "Oi, if you don't shut it soon, I'm going to knock you out so I can do this in silence." He snapped, wanting to scream. Any more why's and he'd have to explain the origin of the universe or the meaning of life and he was not drunk enough to open that can of worms.

    "Can Rong-Ge really do a thing like that?" Nik's eyes gleamed as he thought about all the things Qin Rong had told him about herbs and their effects. His little legs kicked with excitement.

    "Would I lie to you?"

    Nik shook his head. Qin Rong was a lot of things: vulgar, loud, and maybe a little scary but he wasn't a liar.

    "So if I wanted to put someone to sleep, I wouldn't need a spell for it?" He asked, after finishing up his examination. "How cool!"

    A spell? Right, this was a world of magic so it stood to reason such a spell would exist. Qin Rong wasn't sure how to feel about that. Even without guns, this world still had a lot of things he had to watch out for.

    "Oh yeah, you mentioned something about magic before." The mercenary turned to the toddler, his eyes sharp as they stared down at Nik. "You said I could talk to animals."

    "You can."

    "No, I can't."

    "Yes, you can."

    "No, I tried and it didn't work." Just recalling how embarrassed he felt when he'd been yelling at some random bird like an idiot made him want to scream. Really, what was he thinking?

    "It should." He pouted, not liking that he was being doubted. Maybe Rong-Ge just didn't do it right.

    "Well, it didn't."

    "Maybe you didn't try hard enough?"

    "Oi, what makes you think I didn't?"

    "Knowing Rong-Ge, you probably didn't." He huffed, staring the older boy down.

    "Oi, when did you get so mouthy?" He snapped, to which to child blinked at him.

    "When I woke up?"

    The words, said with such bluntness yet zero sass, silenced the mercenary for a second. What could he say to that?

    "...If I didn't admire the pair on you, I'd probably be madder about that." He grumbled, recalling that he was currently arguing with a toddler. A genius one but a five year nonetheless. "More to the point, I tried to call a bird and it just flew away."

    Qin Rong decided to confess the tale, wanting to show this small child that he was, indeed, the wronged party. Yet Nik was having none of that.

    "Call it."

    Qin Rong frowned. "Now?"

    "Yes!"

    "How?"

    "I don't know just command..." He looked around, spotting a bird on the tree nearby. It watched them impassively. "that one! Call it down to us."

    Qin Rong followed his gaze, frowning as he could swear he recognized the thing. Wasn't that the same bird from the other day? No way. Surely most birds just looked alike.

    "You want to call out to it?" He watched the child nod, his dark eyes gleaming with excitement.

    Qin Rong didn't share that enthusiasm.

    Yet never let it be said he wasn't nice to children. With a heavy sigh, he turned to the tree.

    "Oi, Tweety get down here now." He called out, tapping his finger on the table beside him. Watching the bird stare back at him, the mercenary turned to Nik, expecting some repentance for trying to fool him. Yet those dark eyes were aglow with glee, his gaze riveted on the table.

    Following his gaze, he saw what captivated the child. The bird, just a bit bigger than his hands, stood right where his finger had been. It stared up at him, waiting for another order.

    Qin Rong: ...

    Nik: Told you so.

    "Are... did you come because I called you?"

    [Chirp]

    "Bring me that cookie." He pointed to the plant of cookies a few inches away from them. Xander had insisted on trying to bake again.

    They turned out horrible but Nik seemed to like them just fine.

    (AN: Nik is very supportive of his brother, even when he fails)

    The bird stared at him for a second before flying over to the plate. At first, it tried using its beak but when it found the treat to be too heavy, it instead used it's feet to latch onto it and dragged it over.

    As Nik looked on, the picture of smugness, Qin Rong was over the moon.

    "Holy shit!" He cried, wanting to scream but holding it in. "I can actually command animals? That is so cool! Does that mean I could have an animal army at my beck and call? I could command bears! Tigers!! Maybe even a muthafucking lion!!!"

    The image was painted in his mind: Him with bulging muscles and a half-naked lady by his side as he rode into town on a fucking lion. Maybe even some fire and lightening to show off how awesome he was? How badass would that be?!

    Yet here was Nik to burst his bubble.

    "I doubt that." The child said, watching Qin Rong's bird fly back onto the high branch. "Faerie's have a limit on how many and what kind of Sodalis' they can command. I've never heard of a faerie with any lions or tigers or bears."

    The image, once so clear, shattered as the reality of his situation dawned on him. Was he going to only be stuck with a bird as a companion?

    "You seem to know a lot about the subject." He grumbled after a moment to mope. Nik shook his head.

    "No, Xander told me about it." The child clarified, sitting beside the older child. "He knows a lot about magic."

    "Oh, that reminds me. You guys have magic too right?"

    "Probably. I don't know my element yet."

    "Element?" Was he really in some RPG or something?

    "En." He nodded, his little legs kicking the air. "Most people have command over a single element. Kids learn what their element is when they turn 7."

    So Xiao Ni wouldn't have discovered his own yet.

    "What about Xiao Xan?" He asked, suddenly curious. "What's his element."

    "I don't know." Nik shrugged.

    "How old is he?" He felt a bit bad for not asking before this. There was so much he didn't know about these two despite living with them.

    "11."

    "He's 11?! Then shouldn't he know already?!"

    Again, Nik shrugged. "I used to hear the servants whisper and call him an Asperos."

    "Aspe-what?" While the word was simple, Qin Rong felt strange when he tried to say it. Like his body could sense the filth attached to the word.

    Or like how one can tell that they are being insulted despite not know the meaning of the word.

    "I dunno." Nik shrugged again, looking every part the unconcerned child. All he needed was a mobile phone in hand and he'd complete the picture of a bored child.

    Qin Rong didn't press the matter, realizing at Nik had probably heard something he wasn't meant to hear. Considering how they were treated, the mercenary could fill in the blanks.

    Xander and Nik were not well-liked by anyone in their household. Not by their father, his wives, or even the staff. They even openly mocked the elder.

    If Qin Rong ever got the chance, he'd teach them how to treat others properly. If they lost a few teeth in the process, well who could say how that happened?

    ***​

    The bitc-lady didn't leave for a while, staying over a whopping hour longer than the last time. Any longer and she might have fulfilled a 5th of her full workday

    The desire to just end her rose in the mercenary but he chose to stamp it down. While he was sure no one would miss her, her disappearance would definitely be noticed. Too bad.

    The sun was still pretty high in the air by the time Xander wandered out. Qin Rong was glad that he didn't need to speak, as Nik was eager to regale his brother with the things they'd done in the hour he'd missed.

    So many highlights! Truly~

    Nik was about to mention the rumors mentioned by the maids but Qin Rong was quick to interject.

    "I'm gonna head out."

    Two pairs of dark eyes turned to him, one looking him over quizzingly.

    "To hunt?" The elder asked doubtfully. Xander knew the gear his faery took with him and it wasn't this. He only had two knives rather than his usual four.

    Qin Rong inwardly gave him point for observation.

    "Nope. I need some supplies and I'm planning on snatching them from the market."

    "Snatching? You mean, you want to steal them?!"

    "What else can I do?" He shot back. "I don't have any money."

    "I'll buy it for you."

    "Oh," An elegant brow rose, the mercenary now intrigued. "and you have money?"

    "Yes, Father left some for us when we were dropped off." Xander proclaimed, running back to the house to retrieve the moment provided to them. It took only a few minutes but Nik, ever the loyal brother, made sure Qin Rong didn't sneak off when the elder was gone.

    Damn siblings, looking out for each other. The mercenary inwardly grumbled.

    Upon his return, Xander presented their allowance, dozens and dozens of coins that glimmered in the sunlight. Even Qin Rong's bird, which had been watching them indifferently, flew down to peck at the shiny coins.

    To say Qin Rong was envious would be an understatement but he hid it well.

    "How generous." He grumbled, the sarcasm thick and heavy. If these kids had money, why were they letting him go and hunt every other day? Sure, he suggested it and enjoyed doing it but that didn't mean it shouldn't be mentioned! "But I don't need it. I'm pretty fast on my feet."

    He walked past the boys, intending to slip through town and collect some things. While he was fine with being given stuff, he drew the line at money. Debts were nefarious and murky, so he swore that in this life, he'd keep his nose clear of monetary debts.

    Those always came with interest.

    "Rong, please!" Xander begged, grabbing Qin Rong's arm. "It's not safe in town and if you get caught, you'll surely die."

    "Die?" He couldn't help but chuckle at that. "Isn't that a bit dramatic?"

    "No, stealing is punished by the death penalty."

    S-seriously?! He'd heard that some countries had draconian laws but to kill someone over theft was... If that was the punishment for stealing, who knew what the penalty was for anything else.

    "I see..." He muttered, inwardly spitting blood at the harsh punishments this country doled out. How was he going to make a living if death was looming over him because he snatched a fruit once?

    Seeing his friend stop, Xander relaxed a little, slipping his hand into Qin Rong's. Ever the sly boy, the mercenary failed to notice.

    "Rong, please let me go with you."

    "Why?"

    "I want to go with you." He spoke from his heart, wanting to do something with Qin Rong. It was too much to stay cooped up in the house for so long. "I've never been to town and it might be good for us."

    "Us?"

    "Nik would have to come with us." They obviously couldn't leave the child by himself. While Nik was mature in some ways, he was still five and bound to set the house ablaze if left alone too long.

    "Of course, he would." Qin Rong sighed. Nik, this whole time, watched the two older boys, waiting for his turn.

    Yet why did Rong-Ge seem so reluctant?

    "Does Rong-Ge no longer like me?" He cried, pouting as he angrily kicked his feet. He'd been good and behaved yet the faery wanted to leave him behind?

    "No, I like you just fine." The mercenary was quick to reassure the child, not wanting to deal with a tantrum today. Making smart kids mad was by no means a good idea. Especially when you lived with them.

    "And me too, right Rong?" Xander pleaded, clinging to the blunette's arm.

    A flash a pain raced through him but he hid it well, petting Xander's head as he slipped his arm free.

    "Ugh, I like you both, okay?" He said, smiling even as the pain faded into a dull ache. "No need to get all sappy about it."

    "Yay!" Nik cheering, giving his brother a high five. Neither noticed his flinch, instead celebrating the win against Qin Rong. "This is going to be so much fun!"

    "Exactly, so we should get ready," Xander suggested, looking pleased with himself. "or else Rong will leave us behind."

    "I won't-"

    "He definitely will." Nik interjected, giving Qin Rong a distrustful look. "Rong-Ge is such a meanie at times like this."

    The two shared a pout, looking very much their age. It was at times like this when Qin Rong remembered that these two, despite their smarts, were still kids.

    If not for the fact that he was the one watching over them, he might have found it cute. Now he had to go to town with these two in tow.

    How troublesome.

    ***​

    The town was no different from the last time he slipped in. The streets were noisy and somewhat crowded, making it hard for the three children to walk. Harder still with a child who kept trying to run off every time he saw something interesting.

    At his age, everything was interesting.

    "Oi, Xiao-Ni!" He shouted for the nth time. "Hold Xiao-Xan's hand properly."

    "But I wanna-"

    "No buts." He snapped, pointing to Xander as he stared the child down. "Hand. Now"

    With a deep pout, the toddler walked over, taking his brother's hand once again. Qianlong sighed, feeling a headache coming on. Over the last few days, he'd come to realize Xander and Nik's personalities fairly well. If Xander was the good boy, Nik was anything but. He was loud and energetic, running through the house like a caffeine addict on a binge. If not for Qin Rong's daily exercise, he'd never be able to keep up with the little guy.

    Truly, the only thing that kept Nik stationary was learning new things but in town, that was everything.

    Meanwhile, Xander remained where Qin Rong had left him, smiling as he waited for the blunette to come back. To keep them from getting separated, Qin Rong suggested the three of them hold hands, with Xander being their centerpiece.

    Qin Rong originally wanted Nik to be in the center but Xander refused, wanting to hold Qin Rong's hand instead. Since the money they would ultimately be using was his, the merc had to allow it.

    Yet it would all be worth it as long as his plan went as he hoped. He had all the pieces in place. He'd told the boys his plan, needing them to pull it off. As they approached the market place, he leaned down to whisper to the two boys.

    "You remember what I taught you, Xiao-Ni?" He watched the child nod, a smiling blooming where a pout had been previously.

    "Uh-huh. Be cute!" His smile turned a few heads, making a few adults fawn over the child as they walked by. Seeing this, Qin Rong felt his confidence grow.

    "Exactly! Being cute opens a hell of a lot of doors." He stood, grinning from ear to ear as his plan came together. "It might even get us some discounts."

    Ah, he might be able to even get some money for himself too~

    Yet Xander chose to be the killjoy.

    "Discounts?" He echoed, looking doubtful. "Isn't the prices fixed?"

    "Puh-lease, those prices are ridiculous." He pointed to the nearby stall. He could smell the scam this guy was pulling, charging so much for so little. "Let me tell you, there is no such thing as a fixed price. It's an offer. At most, its a suggestion."

    "I really feel that it isn't though." He mumbled, following after the two as they approached the stall.

    Yet, much to his surprise, Qin Rong was proven right when he went to buy his items. Like some kind of old western, the two squared the lot, eyeing the other to find any weaknesses.

    The shopkeep simply saw a small child, surely someone he could wrangle just a bit more money out of. He had seen how heavy their coin purse was and knew they could afford his inflated prices. Not to mention he was a veteran merchant with over 30 years of experience under his belt.

    What could this kid do?

    Little did he know the opponent before him wasn't just an ordinary child. He was a mercenary trained in countless fields to make him the most efficient killer in the business. His knowledge of trends rivaled those on Wallstreet or the like.

    Moreover, he had lived as a miserly person almost all his life. If there was anyone to never underestimate when it came to angling for discounts, it was a man who never had a lot of money to spend.

    Never underestimate a man who survived a week without pay (which was complete bull by the way) on nothing but $15 and an expired coupon.

    After the showdown had ended with Qin Rong as the victor, the trio left with a money bag still heavy with coin but an arm full of supplies.

    "You... you actually managed to haggle this much?" Xander was still in a state of shock, staring at their haul. "Are you a spirit of frugality rather than a faery?"

    "Oi, don't go using big words like that at your age." He grumbled, feeling upset that it took him a minute to recall what that word meant. "I already have to settle with having two genius' showing off. I don't need this too."

    "Well, I helped right?" Nik shouted, raising his hand as he jumped in place.

    Qin Rong's mood improved instantly, petting the child on the head. "Yes, you did, Xiao-Ni. Good job!"

    Seeing the blunette's happy praise of Nik, Xander looked heartbroken.

    "E-eh? What about me?"

    "Hah! I was useful to Rong -ge!" The younger boy boasted, looking smug. To be praised by Rong-ge, how could he not?

    "I-is it because I'm not cute?"

    "Short answer: Yeah"

    "Eh?!"

    For a moment, Nik felt a twinge of pity for his older brother. To be called not cute by someone you like must hurt.

    But... he was being praised by the usually hard to impress Rong-ge so his sympathy lasted only a moment.

    Qin Rong, ever the ruthless one, just shrugged.

    "Facts are facts, dude. Cute sells." He explained, patting the older child on the shoulder. "Used properly, you can rule the world."

    That caught Nik's attention.

    "So I could rule the world by being cute?" He pressed, grabbing Qin Rong's sleeve.

    "Of course not!" Xander argued, pulling his brother away.

    "He's right." The merc nodded, imparting his world knowledge onto these children. Best they learn now rather than later. "There are only two types of people who can pull off the cute act well into adulthood. Pets and women."

    The unfortunate fact is that the only ones in life that could sell meng and get people to bow to their whims were those two groups. You had to be completely shameless about it but even the hardest heart will melt for big eyes and soft hair.

    Look at Qin Rong. He was currently staring at two children who sold their cute sibling shtick like it was a freebie. Looking at the two boys, how could one's heart not melt at how adorable they were.

    But Qin Rong stayed strong, determined not to yield under their power.

    ***​

    Their shopping trip was a resounding success, with them haggling their way to a bag full of herbs and oils. While the two boys were clueless about what they'd bought, seeing their faery looking over their spoils with such satisfaction made them content to stay.

    "So is that everything?" Xander asked, watching Qin Rong circle their bounty for the nth time. He was very wary about their stuff being snatched and chose to check whenever he could.

    "Let me check." He pulled out his list, letting Xander watch their stuff to keep pickpockets from snatching it.

    Qin Rong knew that most of the stuff on his list was fairly common to find. While it was a hassle for one person to pick the items, as the areas in which they grew was filled with monsters, the market was practically flooded with the items.

    Yet he couldn't find this one thing.

    "I want to go find some Kulin Grass before we head back." He grumbled, knowing that none of the stalls they'd visited had any.

    "Ah, one of the nice ladies mentioned spotting some on the other side of the market." Xander pointed out, taking Qin Rong's hand. "Should we go there now?"

    The mercenary had long since grown used to holding hands, so he didn't react to the touch. This made Xander happy, even as the faery's mind went elsewhere.

    "Probably," He nodded, looking back to their supplies. "but first, we need to secure our spoils."

    "How about a cart?"

    "Can we afford that?" Qin Rong asked before recalling who had done the shopping. Of course, they could afford it. It had been him shopping. They might as well have not shopped at all with how much they saved. "I mean, could you even secure on at your age?"

    "Don't worry." Xander assured, happy to be able to help at long last. "As long as you have money, they'll take anyone."

    "Fine, you and Xiao-Ni get a carriage while I get the grass."

    Xander frowned. "By yourself?"

    "It'll be quicker this way and by the time you secure a cart, I'll be back." Qin Rong moved to walk away, his hand slipping from Xander's. With a panic, Xander gripped him tighter.

    "But... Ah, what about Nik?"

    "What about him?"

    "He might try and run off if I turn my back on him." He pressed, frowning deeply. He worried that the faery would disappear if he went alone.

    Perhaps it was just him being childish but he refused to let Qin Rong go alone.

    "Just hold his hand." He countered.

    "And hold the groceries?"

    "...Fine." The blunette grumbled, conceding. "I'll take him, you take the groceries."

    Xander beamed, nodding happily.

    "Deal." Xander pushed Nik into Qin Rong's arms, his nerves settling as he watched the two walk away. He called out. "Don't get into any trouble, okay?"

    "Eh?" Qin Rong turned to protest boy but found that Xander had already left. Boy was fast when he wanted to be. This left him to grumble to himself. "Who's the kid here?"

    "Who isn't?" Nik retorted, confused by the question.

    "...Whatever." He grumbled, taking Nik's hand as he ran.

    ***​

    Navigating the city with two children was hard but doing it with only one was somehow harder. Especially when said child had such short legs and couldn't keep up.

    Yet bless him, the little bun tried his best.

    "I'm not tired." He panted, his response the same after the fifth time Qin Rong offered to take a break. He was all for determination but a child is still a child. It was only after he offered to carry the boy on his back that they managed to get moving.

    Nik was a heavy kid, with five years worth of fat in him but Qin Rong just thought of it as training, his main goal forefront in his mind. He told them he wanted to buy stuff for them but that was only half true. While he liked Nik and Xander, his main goal had been to look into something on his own. He'd been putting it off for days now and it was getting harder to manage.

    Since he escaped from that dungeon, his body had felt strange. It wasn't malnutrition or even some form of poison. From what he'd read up on, it wasn't anything natural. It started with a pain in his neck, like a noose tightening around his neck every once in a while. Like a leash.

    Then black spots began to form all over his body. It wasn't painful unless touched by another person or himself. He'd been lucky he could hide it from the boys but it was starting to travel down his arms and he wasn't sure he could let it get any further.

    The pain got worse as the marks spread and if he didn't do something, he might not be able to push past the pain and move. He had been hoping to see if there was anyone who knew anything about it but had been forced to take the boys with him.

    Even now, he felt the marks creep over his skin, scratching against his muscles leaving him restless.

    "Rong-Ge?" Nik brought him out of his thoughts, surprising Qin Rong. The child was staring up at him, frowning.

    "It's nothing." Qin Rong assured, smiling as he stroked the child's head. "Let get going, kay?

    Yet just as they were about to leave, someone blocked their path. Qin Rong felt his neck itch even before he looked up.

    It couldn't be. His luck wasn't that bad.

    "See, I told ya he had wandered back into town." An unfamiliar man said, turning to his companion. "So how about my pay, your lordship?"

    The first man, dirty and aging badly, was a stranger to Qin Rong yet his body shuddered at the sight of him. While he might not know this person, the original's body sure did and was terrified. The mercenary was stuck, his body refusing to move even as he struggled to do so.

    His body felt like stone, his blood cemented in place. Yet the spell was broken by the words spoke by the second man.

    "You will get your pay when the fae is in my custody." Smooth even tones radiated from that man, easing some deep part of his body. The man - no, elf- turned to Qin Rong with a strange look. "Not a moment sooner."

    Yet that voice, he definitely knew it.

    He'd run from it when he'd first arrived, hearing it echoing in his dreams. The dirty man was one of his captors. From the looks of him, things weren't going well for him. Yet why was he with this weird elf guy?

    If he wasn't wrong, this was that Fenral guy who'd chased after him when he was in town before. What was the connection between these two? Were they partners? If so, why were they fixated on him?

    "Rong-Ge?"

    Qin Rong flinched, having forgotten Nik was there with him. If it was just him, he might have tried to get some information from the two but with Nik here, it wasn't an option. Darn.

    He'd interrogate these guys later.

    "On three, we run. So hold on tight" He muttered to Nik in mandarin, hoping he understood. The child said nothing, though his hand clenched his shoulder in what might have been understanding.

    The elf noticed this yet seemed to misunderstand. "There's no need for any incantations now, little one." He assured, taking a step forward. Qin Rong took a step back.

    "One."

    "I know things seem strange but I assure you, there's no need to be worried." The elf continued on.

    "Two."

    "If you would just stop running away, I wouldn't have to go-"

    "Three!" The mercenary turned and ran, leaving the two men in shock for a moment. The captor reacted much faster than the elf, shouting after him as he followed in pursuit.

    On one hand, Qin Rong was short and carrying a child on his back, making him slower than a full-grown adult. On the other, Qin Rong had been training his body and knew how to take advantage of what little strengths he had.

    Like how small he was.

    While he hadn't been in the city for a while, the mercenary had familiarized himself with the area enough to know just where he could fit where others couldn't. Nik, being the obedient child he was, followed his commands when he told him to go ahead of him.

    "R-Rong-Ge, what about-"

    "I'll be right behind you. So hurry up." He ordered, turning his back to the small opening he'd pushed the child through. He waited a second, considering using this opportunity to interrogate that man alone. If he hid and did a surprise attack, it wouldn't matter how small a body he had.

    Yet he chose to follow behind Nik instead, recalling that he was vulnerable and by himself. If they caught Nik, what could he do?

    He absolutely couldn't risk the kid's life just for a few questions.

    His decision turned out to be correct, as the captor entered the alleyway they'd slipped in with quite a few more people than before. Apparently, his captor had brought a few friends. That complicated things.

    On the other side, Nik was near tears, a strange mix of fear and relief on his face when he saw Qin Rong emerge.

    "Rong-Ge!"

    "We've got to get to the woods." The mercenary dragged the child behind him, half carrying him as they run. "It'll be easier to lose them and we can meet up with Xiao-Xan."

    "But how will we find him?"

    "Leave that to me." He assured, though he honestly had no clue how.

    ***​

    Xander had had quite a hard time getting a cart. While his money should have made things easy, the driver was reluctant to accept it after seeing his skin.

    He had hoped having the money would make the man reluctant to speak his mind about his opinion on Luze people but no such luck. How untrustworthy and sneaky they were.

    How dirty they were.

    Xander had heard this all before, whispers about it whenever he and his mother were walking around the palace. His mother had held her head high, ignoring the sneers and telling him not to let the barbed words stick to him.

    That they were a proud and noble people that were just as worthy as anyone else.

    He'd tried back then yet still found himself scrubbing at his skin for hours, hoping to get the 'filth' off. He had wanted to be like his mother and take pride in his features yet those words cut deep.

    This time, however, when those words were said, the pain was so much less than before. He only had to think about Qin Rong and him complimenting their looks.

    Hair like ebony and skin like caramel, he had said, petting the two.

    The faery, as lovely as a painting, thought they looked good. That their features were comforting and preferable to the standard Necronese look.

    Perhaps this was what his mother had felt when she was facing those hurtful words. They stung still but she felt assured in her heart that she was beautiful. If not in her own eyes, then in the eyes of another.

    Sometimes, that was enough.

    Feeling a bit proud of himself, Xander packed up their supplies and took hold of the reins in front of him. The man ended up selling the cart and mount to him, not wanting anything touched by a Luze.

    Had Qin Rong been there, choice words would have been said in response but Xander wasn't like that and could only mutter them in his heart. Instead, he directed the carriage out of town, lurking in the woods like they'd agreed to.

    Yet to his surprise, there was no one around. His attempt at haggling had taken longer than expected, so he was sure the two would be back by now.

    Where were they?

    Just as he was considering heading back into town, he heard a loud chirping sound from above him. A small bird was flying overhead, making a lot of noise. Before he could even ponder the matter, he heard someone burst from the bushes.

    "Nik?!" Xander jumped down, catching the exhausted child and carrying him to the cart. The chirping bird stopped, landing beside the child meekly. "Nik, what are you doing alone? Where's Rong?"

    Yet the child was too tired, quickly falling asleep once he was off his feet. Frustrated but worried, Xander looked over his brother, finding no injuries or blood. So he wasn't injured but why was he alone?

    "Rong..." Xander felt his chest tighten, fear that his friend might be in danger somewhere. But what could he-

    [Chirp]

    The child turned to the bird, frowning as it seemed to be waiting for something. Could it be? He had heard about Sodalis' yet it couldn't be, right?

    "Did Rong send you here?"

    [Chirp]

    Perhaps it was naive to hope but Xander felt that the bird understood him at that moment.

    "Can you lead me to Rong?"

    [Chirp~] The bird lifted into the air, flying away. Xander covered Nik up, making sure he and the cart were generally hidden as he raced after the bird. He wasn't sure what he planned on doing when he got there but he absolutely refused to let Rong be alone. They had made a promise.

    Elsewhere, Qin Rong was struggling to catch his breath. He had hoped sending Nik away would make losing his pursuers easier. It hadn't. Strangely, they kept finding him, even after falling for his misdirections. Somehow, they were tracking him yet he had no idea how.

    To make matters worse, the marks were getting worse. They burned and clawed at his insides much more harshly than ever before. He had suspected the two matters were connected but he was too weakened to try and stage an ambush.

    It was too bad though. These guys were idiots, splitting up and leaving their backs open. If Qin Rong was at full strength, he could have taken them out one by one even with this small body. It would have been great to get his blood pumping like that but now he was stuck as the prey.

    The mercenary was hiding in a tree, watching the men search for him. There were a lot more men than before, all of them looking like they had seen better days.

    He briefly wondered how these vagrants even met that high and might elf guy in the first place. From the whispers he heard, Fenral was some kind of nobleman, revered for whatever reason. Why would he associate with guys like this?

    More questions to be added to his ever-growing list of 'wtf' matters. Yet they'd have to wait for when he wasn't in so much pain.

    Once the men moved on, Qin Rong began to descend the tree. Now that they were behind him, maybe he could finally get far enough away not to be tracked. Yet luck was not one his side as, less than a quarter of the way down, pain surged through him weakening his grip.

    He fell.

    In an effort to save himself, the mercenary spun himself around to catch himself. It would still hurt but slightly less so. Yet after waiting a moment, there was no pain. Peeking, he found himself hovering above the ground. Before he could even question it, he hit the ground, coughing up some dirt.

    While his arms and chest hurt from the impact, there was a strange itchiness on his back. He felt some... flutter? Reaching back, his fingers brushed against something that sent shivers through his body.

    Were those... wings?!

    "What the fuck is going on!?" He muttered, marveling at the sight. Why did he have wings? Could he fly with them? Were they the reason he hadn't hurt himself when he fell?

    All these questions would remain a mystery as the reality of his situation came crashing back. Those lovely pale blue wings were ruthlessly grabbed, sending waves of agony through Qin Rong.

    "End of the line, kid." A gravely voice mocked, holding the mercenary in the air by his wings. One of the men chasing his had fallen behind and spotted him when he unfurled his wings. It a beautiful sight but greed overcame the man's awe as he saw his chance.

    Just think of how valuable a pair of faery wings could be!

    Qin Rong cursed, struggling to escape. Damn this tiny body. Even with all his training, his kicks amounted to a mere breeze when faced with an adult. Yet he refused to cry out, fearful he'd attract the others.

    It was hard too, as he felt those delicate wings struggle to hold his weight. Fairy wings were sheer and light, meant to carry a fae through the air with the help of magic and training. They were never meant to be touched or grabbed so the mercenary felt them stretch with every kick he tried to deliver.

    But he couldn't stop. If he stopped, he'd be imprisoned and probably never escape again. He wouldn't get a chance to do all the things he wanted to do in this life. To avenge his body's original owner and grant his wish.

    He'd be damned if-

    The wings tore and Qin Rong screamed.

    The pain was all-consuming, leaving the fairy writhing on the floor as the remains of his wings faded like mist.

    The man scowled, wanting to beat the child for ruining his plans. Fae wings were something most nobles wanted for their collection yet all his fighting had made them tear. Not to mention the noise!

    The mercenary felt his consciousness fade, his brain unable to handle the levels of pain it was receiving. Distantly, he thought he heard someone calling out to him but surely not. There weren't any people he knew who would come to his rescue.

    He was a killer. He as antisocial at best. Why would they come back for him?

    As his vision darkened, he imagined he could hear the heavy rain that had been drenching him to the bones before his death. Someone was... standing nearby? Whose feet were they? Who shot him in the back?

    Why was there a kid calling out to him?

    Everything went dark.

    ***​

    Ailred Fenral sighed, letting his carriage jostle him about as they rode along. Had it not been Salgut driving, he might have made some complaint about it.

    "Dearest, have we arrived yet?" He called out for the nth time. He had chosen to leave the pursuit to the humans but it was taking much too long. Surely catching one faery wasn't that hard.

    What one person can't do, surely a dozen should be able to, right?

    "Not... really." Salgut replied, sounding annoyed as he came to a stop. Then again, he usually did but it was that trait that Ailred liked so much. "I don't think we'll be getting any further than this."

    "How come-" He had been about to ask but upon peeking out the window, he found his answer.

    Only a short distance from them, the once lush green forest had been frozen. Spires of ice and snow covered the area, bringing a subtle chill to the air.

    They were definitely not getting any further.

    "What the heck is all this?" The dwarf groused, rubbing his thick arms at the chill. The elf offered his cloak, which swallowed the dwarf in fabric.

    "Ice magic, it would seem." Ailred walked close, reaching out to touch some of the icicles. It stung his skin with its chill. "A strong one too."

    "But there shouldn't be any mages this powerful in the area." His companion argued. "Surely someone would have reported it."

    This area was as rural as could be. There was no reason for anyone high ranking to even sniff in this area, let alone show up. It was because of this that Fenral's arrival had been met with so much excitement.

    "Perhaps it's an unregistered user."

    "How troublesome." He grumbled back, looking even more annoyed. Fenral chuckled, stroking his partner's cheek.

    "Indeed. I doubt our men are alive in there." If the chill was this heavy just outside the area, the epicenter might very well be a tundra.

    "Pah, they were just some low lives." Salgut snorted. "No loss to the world."

    "Indeed but I really wanted to get my hands on that faery." He sighed, turning back to his carriage. "If we don't, I'm worried it'll die on its own."

    *****​

    Extra:

    Qin Rong is actually very good at cooking. His life made it essential for him to know how to cook, purely just for survival. Yet as he grew older, he came to like cooking, finding fun, and cool means of making delicious food. He regrets he had no one to share his food with.

    In another life, he would have gone on to become a chef.
     
  13. jolliapplegirl

    jolliapplegirl Well-Known Member

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    AN: Again, the dreaded action scene makes it hard to finish a chapter. But I muscled through!

    Woo!

    *****​

    It burns.

    His whole body burned like his flesh was being licked by flames. It was horrid, suffocating. Yet he refused to give in.

    Because letting the flames burn him was the only way out.

    If he tried to escape...

    "I want to go home."

    That small voice, one he recognized as his own, called out to the darkness, pleading for help.

    But none ever came.

    He'd run from that darkness but now he was pursued by flames. It burned his flesh black, promising a slow end if he didn't follow the call.

    The darkness or the flames. The darkness was what the child had chosen, to be free but beyond the flames were-

    It was waiting.

    They were waiting.

    He had to...

    He must...

    Go back.

    Go back.

    Go-

    "Rong!?"

    The flames dispersed and he was washed with a cool sensation that eased his racing heart. The call faded with every beat of his racing heart.

    He was being called but... he didn't want to stay away.

    He could follow that call. It was safe.

    He'd found his way 'home' at long last.

    ***​

    Xander had been pacing the floor, his nails ragged from bitting them to the nub. Yet even as blood filled his mouth, he didn't stop.

    Rong.

    His precious faery, Qin Rong.

    Why wasn't he awake yet?!

    He'd shooed Nik away, assuring him that the boy was just tired and that smothering him wouldn't help. He wasn't sure how much his brother believed his words but he was relieved when he saw him listen.

    Nik was smart. He knew it was better for Xander to be alone.

    But now that he was alone, the elder child felt his mood darken, wanting to do... something. His body buzzed with anger, wishing he was stronger. If he'd been stronger, Nik and Qin Rong wouldn't have been in danger in the first place.

    He'd kept his faery from being taken but had those two pushed any harder...

    The thought of Qin Rong being taken as he sat by helplessly was too much to bear.

    Pushing down his tears, Xander sat next to Qin Rong as he laid in bed quietly. Sleeping so peacefully, the boy really did look like a doll, with skin like porcelain and just as smooth.

    Yet what he longed for was to see those pretty gold eyes looking up at him.

    Whether they were gleaming with anger and pride, Xander knew that the eyes he liked most belonged with this person. He wanted them on him.

    How nice would it be if he could have those eyes be on him forever?

    Yet those eyes remained closed, reminding him too much of how Nik had looked just weeks prior.

    Would that happen to Rong too? Would he sleep forever?

    "Qin Rong." The child sobbed, clinging to the faery's somewhat cold hand. He squeezed his fingers tight, wanting to warm them and awaken him.

    Please wake up.

    If Rong died then... What would he do?

    "Ugh." A voice groaned above his head, making his heart nearly stop. With wary hope, he looked up and saw a beautiful pair of golden eyes staring down at him. "Xiao-Xan, you're crushing me, you know."

    "R-Rong?!"

    "No, it's the tooth fairy." He grumbled, trying to sit up. His body was in agony and he quickly gave up. He sighed. "Of course, it's me, who else would it be?"

    "Rong..." Xander let loose a torrent of tears, his relief overwhelming the small child.

    Rong was okay~

    The mercenary flinched, having not expected to wake up to a blubbering child. What happened to greeting those who recover with a smile? Hadn't that been the norm?

    "Ah, shit don't cry!" He plead, really out of sorts. He didn't know how to comfort people, especially children. "Didn't we have a man's agreement?"

    "You almost died!" He shot back, sniffling.

    "Fair enough." He raised his hands in surrender. He couldn't expect much else considering the situation. "I'll allow it just this once but after this, there's no leeway."

    "Okay." He sniffled, trying to cry all the tears he'd been holding back. From the time he'd found Qin Rong to this moment, he felt like he'd been trapped in a deep hole. Every moment Rong stayed asleep, the hole would get deeper and the light above him grew dimmer.

    He wasn't sure what he'd do if that light faded.

    But it didn't matter anymore. Qin Rong was okay. He woke up and he'd be okay now.

    As if to comfort himself, Xander climbed onto the bed and laid down beside Qin Rong, snuggling close with his head on the faery's chest. Hearing his heartbeat eased his fears and steadied his own heart.

    He was here.

    Qin Rong didn't push him away, knowing the kid was probably terrified and needed assurance. It was a bit heavy but he was the adult so how could he dare deny this kid.

    In a rare moment of kindness, he wrapped his arm around Xander, stroking his head. He was a bit surprised by how soft the kid's hair was. It was like petting a horse.

    "Are you guys alright?" He asked after a few minutes of this, his body relaxing throughout the silence. "Where's Xiao-Ni?"

    "He's outside playing." Xander replied sleepily. It was nice to be petted by Rong. "I told him hovering around you wouldn't help."

    "And you could cry your eyes out in peace." Qin Rong snorted, mildly amused by the statement. "Smart move, Xiao-Xan."

    "Don't tease me! I was really worried about you."

    Seeing him puff up like that, he really did remind Qin Rong of an agitated horse. He chuckled at the thought.

    "I know. I'm sorry for worrying you guys." He said earnestly. "I honestly didn't think I'd get caught like that."

    They stared at each other for a minute before Xander laid back down.

    "Who were those men?"

    "No clue. For some reason, they seem really keen on catching me."

    "Maybe they wanted something from you?" He guessed, staring up at Qin Rong.

    "Like what?" The mercenary snorted at that. "I'm just a normal guy!"

    "You're a fae!" Xander cried, thinking it over as he spoke. "A creature of legend that no one has seen in centuries."

    If it was because Qin Rong was a faery, then it would make sense. Fae were mythical creatures and had all kinds of special abilities. If they caught Rong, they could do all kinds of stuff.

    He'd seen some scary books about how Fae wings and other body parts could be used in potions. Had Xander not found Rong when he did...

    He suddenly felt relieved about what he'd done to those guys, even if it was a bit scary.

    Qin Rong, however, was starting to feel a bit guilty about his lie. If this went on, there would be serious trust issues later down the line.

    "Listen, kid about the faery thing-" He started, wanting to confess to his lies.

    Yet his mind couldn't help but focus on the matter of his wings.

    Unconsciously, his hands wrapped around himself, feeling for the silky soft appendages only to find bandages there.

    "Was I hurt?" He asked, feeling around. Other than his expected soreness from the black spots, there was nothing he could see that required bandages.

    "I don't know. There was a lot of redness there." Xander had no idea how to treat Qin Rong when they arrived back home. Even when he was unconscious, the fae groaned and cried out in pain, clutching himself as he shook. The only thing that seemed to help was wrapping him up so he did.

    When he told Qin Rong this, the latter's eyes dimmed a bit, looking past him at something distant.

    "I see." He finally sighed, sounding exhausted as he closed his eyes. On any other day, Xander would have left it at that but he had so many questions. Some that couldn't wait.

    "Rong, what are those black marks on you?"

    Golden eyes snapped open, staring the child down. "You saw them?"

    Dumb question. Qin Rong thought as he sat up. The kid saw his body so of course, he noticed them.

    Xander nodded. "They were all over you. Are you cursed?"

    "What? No way." He assured, though even he was unsure. "It's nothing like that."

    "...You're not lying?"

    "I won't lie to you guys." He replied. He really wasn't lying if he himself didn't know. The marks could be a curse or something else entirely. Either way, it was the mercenary's goal to find out.

    "...Okay." Xander mumbled, looking unconvinced but saying nothing. He was sure Qin Rong was cursed but if he said he wasn't, what could he do?

    He could only hope it wasn't a bad curse.

    ***​

    Over the next few days, Qin Rong stayed in bed, his body still too weak from the attack to move that much. Despite his insistence, Xander told him that it would be best if he remained indoors.

    "I just got a bit banged up." He argued after a couple of days staring up at the ceiling. "There's no need to treat me like I lost a limb here."

    As if to prove his point, Qin Rong jumped from the bed, sticking the landing. And then, like fate was laughing at him, his legs crumpled beneath him. Xander caught him, pushing him back onto the bed.

    "You are still weak! If you push yourself, you take longer to recover."

    "I know my body better than you." He grumbled even as pain raced through his body. He gritted his teeth, determined to hide just how painful it was.

    "And I know a weak body better than you." Xander snapped back, staring Qin Rong Down. "I've taken care of Nik long before you came so I know the signs."

    Seeing Xander like this, Qin Rong knew it was going to be hard to convince the kid. He was worried and for good reason. It was a new feeling for the mercenary, having someone worry about him.

    It wasn't a bad feeling.

    "You're really not gonna let me leave?" He tried once more. "What about food?"

    "We went shopping the other day so we'll be fine until you recover."

    "And what about your meals? You can't cook!" He'd suffered at the hands of Xander's culinary skills. The child was a disaster in the kitchen.

    "I've been paying attention to your lessons, you know." Xander puffed up his cheeks, looking very cute just then. Qin Rong suppressed the urge to pinch them.

    But that all ended as Xander continued. "Until you get better, I'll be cooking."

    "Ah, Shit."

    ***​

    As expected, Xander was a terrible cook. Either he did too much or too little. It was horrible and made the day all the worse.

    Yet Qin Rong was enjoying himself greatly.

    While the food was often burnt, it was still edible. At the very least, food was always cooked through. That and it was fun to sit with the boys as they laughed and made fun of Xander's cooking abilities.

    Thinking about it, Qin Rong couldn't recall a time before this new life where he sat with others and ate so freely. No twitchy fingers inching toward hidden blades or wary glances at those around him.

    It was nice.

    During the days, a system had been set up. Obviously, despite his willingness to go along with Xander's wishes, the mercenary refused to stay indoors all day.

    He'd go crazy.

    Xander had no issue with it but Qin Rong did and voiced his displeasure often. Nik, ever the good kid, tried to stay with them too but the child was way too energetic to stay inside. But since he also wanted to spend time with Qin Rong, a compromise had to be found.

    To keep the little one from crying by himself outside or shaking with unburned energy inside, Qin Rong chose to sit on the window sill, watching Nik play.

    This made Nik happy as he wanted to play with Qin Rong and remaining stationary was about all the mercenary was willing to do on a good day. It would be nothing new for the toddler.

    Xander, on the other hand, became a mother hen, hovering over Qin Rong like he was crippled or something. Even after assuring him that he was fine, the child refused to stop worrying about him and the spots.

    Qin Rong regretted letting the child see them. He really should have just lied but he was reaching his limit. There were only so many lies he was willing to tell these kids. They weren't friends or family but they were the closest thing to either.

    Before this, he'd only had co-workers. Before that, he had a sperm donor and a womb as companions. Back then, lies were necessary. They made sure he had food in his stomach and a roof over his head.

    The lies also saved him when blood was spilled and he needed to run.

    "I have to go for a minute." Xander said, standing from his spot beside Qin Rong. His gaze was toward the sky but when the mercenary looked up, there was nothing there. "I'll be back."

    "Where are you going?" He called from atop his perch. He'd chosen to rest in a tree today, finding himself preferring to be in trees as of late. He didn't question it and while Xander nagged him about the height, Qin Rong still won the argument.

    Xander stopped, staring at the ground as he replied.

    "Father sent another letter."

    Over the last few days, since they'd come back from town, Xander had been getting a bunch of letters. Qin Rong wasn't sure he believed it. He hadn't heard anyone come by and his bird had yet to notify of him of any messenger birds.

    So where the hell was the letters coming from?

    Xander walked off, leaving Qin Rong and Nik alone in the yard. Their lesson had just ended the toddler was eager to play. Much to the mercenary's surprise, Nik took the Japanese much more than Mandarin. He could actually speak it since the pronunciation was easier.

    Genius kids. He thought with a sigh. A bit bored, he decided to take a walk now that Xander was gone. Nik was not as nagging when it came to how much Qin Rong was allowed to move.

    He was still wandering about when he spotted a curious sight. A winged lizard/snake thing. It was dark gold, like spicy mustard with large red eyes at stared down at him. It wrapped its small body around a branch as it crept down toward him.

    (AN: It's a small amphiptere but I'm gonna call it a wyvern for now)

    As it approached, Qin Rong felt no fear toward it, sticking his arm out as if to make a perch for the creature. And as if they were partners, the creature responded, flying over to him to encircle his arm.

    "What the heck are you?" He marveled, his heart racing with excitement. While he'd seen some cool creatures since being reborn, this was the first true fantasy like creature he's come across.

    The winged lizard bared his fangs, hissing like a snake. Still, the gesture felt friendly, as if it was greeting him.

    Qin Rong beamed.

    "Holy shit! Are you a freaking dragon or something?!" He cried, looking over the lizard with eyes gleaming with awe. "That is so cool!!!"

    At that moment, gone was the battle-hardened mercenary with hundreds if not thousands of kills under his belt. In his place was his inner child, jumping with joy with having found an actual dragon. There was not a man alive who wouldn't get excited.

    Wait, if this really was a dragon then he couldn't just hide it from the boys. That would be too unfair.

    "Oh my stars, I've gotta show Xiao-Xan! He is going to freak when he sees this."

    Perhaps it was a bit childish but what man didn't feel a bit excited at such fantastical things? He ran to the house, the wyvern having wrapped itself around his neck as he approached the house.

    "Xiao-Xan!" He called out, searching from room to room. It was unusual for his housemate not to respond so he got a bit worried. Nik might hide to mess with him but not Xander. After a few minutes, he felt a strange gust of cool air from an open doorway.

    Looking inside, he saw Xander standing in the middle of the room with his hands raised and his back to the door. Above his head, it was snowing though the floor didn't look wet at all. He looked to be practicing as he waved his arms around doing... something.

    It was quite a lovely sight.

    "Huh, so you aren't an Asperos then." Qin Rong sighed with relief, immediately frowning as he did so. He wasn't sure why he'd said that or what it had to do with anything. His body just felt a strange sense of relief and reacted as such.

    Just another mystery to add on top of everything else. How annoying.

    He knocked on the door to get his attention.

    "Yo, Xiao-Xan." He called out as he walked in. "Check out this-"

    "Kiliol?!" With that said, a wave of darkness swallowed the snow all of a sudden, leaving the room with only a mild drop in temperature.

    "Ki-what?" Qin Rong was still trying to come to terms with what he just saw but those words were all he could think to say. "What was that just now?"

    Yet rather than answer his question, Xander's dark eyes were riveted on the creature slung over Qin Rong's shoulder.

    "Where did you find..."

    "This guy?" Qin Rong, sensing that the subject should be dropped, decided to go along with Xander. He'd ask him about the weird magic show later. For now, he had a cool dragon to show off. "Found him in the yard. Cool right?"

    The child grimaced, looking uncomfortable. "But its..."

    A loud crash rang through the air followed by a high pitched cry. There was a second of silence before both boys responded.

    "What was-"

    "No time." Qin Rong interrupted, rushing out the door. "Let's go."

    "Rong, wait!"

    Qin Rong didn't wait. All his training and experience told him that waiting was a terrible idea. He had no clue what the situation was but his instincts told him it wasn't a simple slip and fall scenario.

    His glimmering gold eyes dimmed somewhat as he sensed the danger in the air. He ran out the door, hiding behind the bushes just as Xander slid next to him.

    In the yard, there was a strange man holding Nik in a chokehold. The small child was struggling but didn't seem to be in any immediate danger. The table was knocked askew and from a glance, Qin Rong could tell the man had slipped in over the wall.

    Just like he had.

    Damn, this place really was too open and vulnerable. This guy managed to slip past his bird so easily and snatch a hostage.

    Xander, who had been silent for a while, grabbed hold of Qin Rong's shirt. "Who is-"

    "Xiao-Xan, how much magic can you use?" He interjected, his hand slipping easily to his hidden blade. If he could use Xander's magic, that would make things easier.

    "I..." Xander's eyes darted to the wyvern, its cold eyes never wavering off him. He swallowed nervously. "I can't use any..."

    "Eh?" The mercenary turned, about to scold Xander before remembering where he was and who he was with. He'd almost fallen back into his mercenary mindset with a child. He was definitely slipping. "Tch, never mind, I'll take care of it."

    He pulled out his small hunting blade, letting out a breath as he slipped back into his default mood.

    "What are you-"

    Qin Rong didn't wait to listen to Xander's words, rushing from the bushes at the man. He heard and turned toward the sound but Qin Rong was small and fast, sliding behind the man to knock out the back of his knees.

    The intruder buckled, releasing the terrified Nik who ran away as soon as he had the chance. But Qin Rong wasn't done. He raised his knife but was shocked when the man swung his hand and knocked the blade from his grasp.

    Now unarmed, Qin Rong jumped away, turning to retrieve his weapon. He might have training but his body was still that of a child. He would be easily overpowered if he gave the man the chance.

    "You little bastard!" The intruder cursed, grabbing Qin Rong's ankle and pulling him back. The impact as he hit the floor, knocked the breath out of the faery, giving the man the opportunity to overtake him.

    Pinned, the man wrapped his arms around Qin Rong's neck, squeezing tightly. Qin Rong panicked, knowing he only had seconds before he passed out but unable to do anything as he was too small to even reach the man's elbow.

    Just then, the air around them chilled and something slammed into the man, knocking him to the ground. Qin Rong gasped for air, trying to get his senses back as the man rolled around the floor. Peeking over, he saw the wyvern attacking him, whipping him with its long tail and snapping at him.

    This was his chance.

    Without thought, Qin Rong retrieved his knife and rushed over, jumping onto the man's back. He tried to shake the mercenary off but his attention was almost purely on the snapping dragon. Qin Rong brought his knife down into the man's neck, cutting his carotid artery.

    As expected, the intruder tried to fight him off but Qin Rong refused to let go, bringing his blade down multiple times, slicing through his neck and face with unsteady strikes. Blood spurted wildly, staining his clothes and face but he remained determined to kill this guy.

    He dared enter his home and threaten his friends. Let the bastard bleed himself to death.

    It took a few minutes for him to collapse from exhaustion. Only a single moment before his heart gave up its futile attempt to pump blood. His last moments were filled with fear and panic but worst of all, the cold stare of the child who killed him.

    After he died, Qin Rong let out a breath, finally calm after all that. Looking around, he couldn't help but grimace. As expected, the kill was messy. His body was too small and weak to make a clean cut. Looking at the aftermath, it looked like an amateur's first kill.

    His pride as a mercenary was wounded looking at it.

    He walked over to where the two boys were hiding, casually cleaning the blood off his knife. His clothes were covered in blood but at least there was some clean spot to use.

    He raised a hand, an easy smile on his face as he drew closer.

    "Hey, Xiao Ni, are you-"

    "Eek!" Nik hid his face in his brother's chest, though not before showing just how terrified he was at the moment.

    "Eh?" Qin Rong blinked in confusion before recalling what had just occurred. "Right, sorry. I must look pretty scary. Let me go get cleaned up."

    Xander looked like he wanted to say something but seeing how his brother was, he couldn't chase after Qin Rong.

    He would later wonder if what happened next was his fault.

    ***​

    Qin Rong strolled into the house with his head held high and a calm demeanor. He made it halfway through the house before he felt the first heave rush over him. Covering his mouth, he rushed the bathroom to throw up.

    What came out of his was thick and black, making him feel like oil was rushing through him. But the smell was one he was all too familiar with.

    He was puking blood.

    While he was sure his blood wasn't supposed to be black, it at least confirmed that he definitely needed to be careful from now on. If just getting in a small tussle like that had him coughing blood, he wasn't sure how much more he could take if pushed further.

    Qin Rong took a quite bath, trying to muffle his coughs and heaves as his body spit up black gunk. It hurt and he felt a little scared but pressed both down. Fear was natural but not useful at this moment.

    He'd have to press forward on his research into his curse.

    He was thinking of ways to find more info as he walked out of the bathroom when he spotted Xander sitting outside in the hall. He was curled up on the floor and looked to have been sitting there for a while.

    Again, the image of a lost puppy came to mind and brought a small smile to his face.

    "Did I keep you waiting long?"

    Xander looked up, his eyes big and wet as he stammered to speak.

    "R-Rong, about before I-" He started but was interrupted by Qin Rong raising a hand.

    "No need to get all mopey, man." He interjected with a raised hand. "I'm sure that was really scary, doing all that in front of you and Nik. I'm sorry you had to see all that."

    He truly didn't blame the kids for being scared. It was one thing to see him hunt animals but to see him slash at a man's throat like that... even the most jaded killer would flinch at the how gruesome it was.

    It was why his pride had been hurt. Had he a stronger body, the kill would have been clean and less traumatizing for them.

    " You..." Xander stared at the ground, his fingers clutching his clothes like it was a lifeline. " You did it so easily."

    It took Qin Rong a minute to figure out what was being said. He couldn't help but frown when he did, a bit confused.

    "Of course." He said with a shrug. "Hesistation would have lead to him killing you both." His tone was light and casual as if discussing the weather as opposed to the death of a man.

    Even right then, Qin Rong was contemplating how to get rid of the body and the evidence. This was the mindset he was familiar with and preferred most days. Killing that guy felt like he'd found an old shirt that carried him through tough times.

    It wasn't nice but it was comfortable and familiar.

    Xander paled at the tone, horrified at how blase Qin Rong was being.

    "B-but to do it like that... like it was nothing, you-"

    "I what?" He snapped back, a bit defensive. He'd killed that guy to protect them. "Am I scary because of it? Does it scare you that I could kill a man yet show no remorse?"

    "It doesn't scare you?"

    Sometimes it did. When he'd killed someone for the first time, his hands shook. His palms stung from the pressure when he'd stabbed that person the first time. And each one that followed. He didn't even remember that person's face, just how messy it had been.

    Just like today.

    "When you do it enough, no, it doesn't."

    Xander's expression turned ugly, looking like he wanted to say more but was unable to get it past his lips. What he'd seen from Qin Rong was... horrifying but not because of the kill itself. Blood could be washed away and nightmares fade with time.

    But the cold look in Qin Rong's eyes as he killed that man would remain seared into his mind forever. He didn't want to see that look again.

    "Qin Rong, I-" The child tried but was cut off by the mercenary. He didn't want to hear any more about the matter.

    "We'll talk about this later." He walked past Xander, patting him on the shoulder. "You head to bed."

    "But-"

    "Nik is gonna need you tonight." He called out, a small smile on his face even as the look on Xander's face broke his heart. He didn't want to see that expression on the kid. "It might be better if I sleep in the other room, for his sake."

    "...Alright but..." Xander gave his a worried look, wanting to get closer but scared to do so. "Don't go too far, okay?"

    "No problem. I just have to clean up a bit, kay?" He still had a body to dispose of after.

    ***​

    Later that evening, as the night air chilled the very breath in their lungs, two men stood in the forest talking. The taller of the two, beautiful and elegant, sighed heavily.

    "What's wrong, dear?" His companion, a dwarf, asked, staring up at him. The elf sighed once more.

    "I'm thinking about the man from before."

    "Thinking of other men, are you?"

    "You know I only have eyes for you, Sal." He assured, leaning down to press a kiss onto his partner's cheek. "But the man I hired to find that faery hasn't returned yet. I'm worried he might have run off with his payment. I'd hate to have to replace him on such short notice but-"

    The trees rustled and both men were instantly on their guard, eye sharp and ready. From the behind them, a dull thud sounded, earning both their gazes and immediate grimace.

    The man they hired just hours before, his severed head was laid out on the forest floor with the terror from his last moments still gleaming in his milky eyes.

    Ailred the elf covered his mouth, taking a step back.

    "Who did this?!" Salgut shouted, his stance still firm and ready to fight. Silence fell as the two waited for a response.

    The wait wasn't long.

    "How about you stop sending assassins to my base and you'll no longer have to deal with replacing them."

    Above them, the faery they sought rested on a tree branch, mostly hidden in the shadows of the leaves. The only parts visible would be his exposed legs and the glow of his gold eyes.

    "Assassins?" Ailred echoed, cocking a brow. "Those were but messengers."

    The elf was honestly impressed. The fae had managed to get this close without either of them noticing. It was proof the youngling was quite strong and possibly even useful.

    Perhaps this venture wasn't a waste of time. He thought as the child scoffed overhead.

    "Really? They sure did look like assassins when they held a knife to my friend's neck."

    It was a half-truth. While the man hadn't used a knife, upon searching the corpse, he found one hidden in his pocket. He had definitely intended to use it and had he waited for the weapon to come out, he'd be dead or worse, Nik would have been.

    He wasn't about to tolerate that.

    "My apologies then." The elf replied, quick to make amends if he could. "You must understand, humans are such greedy creatures, the lot of them. It was my mistake for having entrusted such a delicate situation to ones such as them."

    "That it was." He conceded. Qin Rong had been a mercenary for the majority of his life. He'd met all kinds of people in his line of work and the one thing he learned from all of them was one thing: Never trust them.

    Whether it was a seemingly moral guy trying to bring 'justice' to the world or some degenerate willing to slit the throat of his own mother, when pressed against the wall, they all looked out for themselves.

    So he could understand the man's words but forgiveness was a long way away.

    "If I may," The elf called out, gaining Qin Rong's attention once more. "I'm more curious as to how you realized we were here."

    Qin Rong cocked his head to the side, gesturing to the next branch over. Illuminated by the moonlight, a pretty bird sat on the branch watching them.

    [Chirp]

    "Ah, so you have a Sodalis already?" He said with a smirk. To have been tailed by a bird was a bit embarrassing but novel. He turned back to the Fae. "Quite a feat for one so young."

    "Don't waste my time. Tell me what you want."

    An elegant brow rose in question. "Or?"

    "Or, I'll show just what I can do when there aren't any children around."

    The elf's eyes drifted over to the severed head behind them. While the slices were messy, the cut that cleaved his head was clean and precise. There was no hesitation in the cut.

    This youngling wasn't ordinary after all.

    "No children?" He echoed, feeling more amused than scared. "Perhaps that might be the case, as faeries are notorious for their deceptive appearance."

    Qin Rong said nothing, his fingers tapping a tune on the blade of his knife. Neither had noticed when the knife was brought out but the threat was clear and the elf's companion remained wary by his side.

    "Fine. I only wish to make an offer to you."

    "You've been chasing me down like this to make an offer?" He scoffed, wanting to snap but holding it in. "How come I doubt that?"

    The elf chuckled.

    "Sir Faery is a very wary person. It makes sense to be so distrustful when so far from home." His eyes drifted over Qin Rong's exposed leg, catching the tendrils of black inching down his leg. "Especially with THAT, creeping over you."

    "That?"

    "The black marks. Its spread quite a bit now, right?" He pressed, watching the Fae carefully. "Staying fit and healthy keeps it at bay but being so far from magic laden areas prevents you from recovering fully."

    The mercenary, inwardly jumped, wanting to know why this guy knew about the marks. He'd kept them hidden, even when being pursued yet this elf already knew about them.

    Yet he knew better than to reveal this. He couldn't give this guy an edge.

    "I've been living with children for a while. One is bound to get a little dirty every once in a while." He snapped back with a smirk. "Though I question why the noble Lord Fenral is checking out the bodies of children."

    Salgut, who had remained silent since the beginning, stepped forward, furious on behalf of his partner. "How dare you insinuat-"

    "How I can not?" The elf interjected, raising a hand to quiet the dwarf. "When a child of the noble fae race is being enslaved, what kind of person looks away?"

    "Enslaved?"

    "The black marks on your body, its a method used when enslaving a magical being. It works well on humans but it's better to use it on mythical creatures." He explained, circling the tree. "Only a few humans have magic within them so it would be a waste to curse them like this."

    Qin Rong thought this over and concluded that this might be true. It would explain a lot. Yet he still felt like something was off.

    "You seem to know a lot about this for a supposed good samaritan."

    "It's in my interest to know what can be used against me. Surely you understand the sentiment."

    The challenge was blatant and seeing no other recourse, he went along with it.

    "What's your deal?"

    "I wish to help you get rid of that curse."

    The Fae scoffed. "Out of the goodness of your heart?"

    "Obviously, I'm not a fool." He replied, a sly smile on his lips. "I do require something from you."

    "Figures." It was always like this. While he hadn't expected charity, he knew better than to trust a guy like this. "Well, sorry to disappoint you, pretty boy, but I don't need your help."

    "Oh?" The elf laughed, amused by the youngling. "And how do you intend on undoing that curse on your own?"

    "I'll just find those guys and-"

    "The men who put the curse on you are dead." He stated casually. Qin Rong flinched.

    "D-dead?"

    "Killed by your companion with the ice magic."

    Ice magic? Then it had to be...

    Those guys had been killed by... Xander? No wonder the child looked so terrified by his flippant response. To say such a thing when he's already killed someone himself.

    Shit, he'd screwed up.

    Perhaps intending to take advantage of the lapse in conversation, Ailred continued. "With those men dead, you won't have a clear path to discover the cure."

    "And you do?"

    "No, but I do know a lot of people who will know how to undo it."

    "So you'll show me the right people and I do you a favor." He said, seeing the deal laid out. They had come to an understanding.

    "Yes."

    This was something he could handle. He'd lived his life making deals like this. A contract with clear stipulations and limits.

    "And what favor is that?"

    "Work for me."

    Figures. "How long?"

    "However long I need you."

    In any other situation, he might have considered it but taking into account his current predicament, the offer felt dirty.

    "So I'll be trading in one set of chains for another?"

    Ailred didn't bother to deny this, choosing to shrug instead. "Well, at the very least, you won't have death looming over you with me."

    And like that, Qin Rong remembered why he usually disliked his bosses. They were just as slimy as the men who worked under them. Now this bastard was using his curse as a bargaining chip.

    "I'd rather die than live under someone's thumb indefinitely." If he accepted, what would be the difference between him and a slave?

    "Then how about treating it like a debt to be paid?"

    "How much?"

    "Depends on how much resources and time it takes to find your cure. I truly don't know which of my contacts has the information you need so it might take days or months to find the right person." He explained, watching the fae. "In that time, you'll assist me in my duties. After you are cured, you'll pay me back for the time spent."

    The merc clicked his teeth. "That sounds awfully convenient for you."

    "You get to live without the pain of that curse for the rest of your life." He retorted, not denying a thing. "And who knows what knowledge you might pick up by my side."

    "So you're a doctor and a teacher too?"

    "I like to be helpful."

    There were a lot of things to consider if he agreed. He still didn't trust this guy but if he was his only chance at undoing the curse, he couldn't outright reject the offer.

    Next time, things might not end with just coughing up black blood.

    "Say I agree to this proposal, how would it work?"

    Ailred smiled with satisfaction.

    "You'd leave with me so that we might pursue the knowledge we lack."

    "I'd have to leave." He echoed, thinking of Xander and Nik.

    "Obviously. You can't expect me to circle back here every time I find something new." The elf huffed, looking offended. "I do have my own affairs."

    Silence fell between the two, though both sides knew how the matter would end. There really was only one option for Qin Rong if he wanted to live.

    "I'll think about it."

    At that, Ailred chose to set the matter straight. Negotiations were over.

    "You have until tomorrow at midday. I've spent enough time here already."

    ***​

    For the rest of the night, Qin Rong considered what to do. Sure, he'd promised to stay with Nik and Xander but he really was no closer to figuring out how to undo this curse.

    If this guy could help, then it would save him a lot of trouble.

    Heck, even if it wasn't true, he could still use this as an opportunity to learn more about the world. Books were fine but the world was more than just words on a page.

    Yet if he accepted, he'd be abandoning the boys after such a terrifying experience. There were a lot of things Qin Rong wanted to say to them. He wanted to explain himself, so they wouldn't be scared of him. He wanted to talk to Xander so he could help that child through his struggles.

    But could he truly give up this chance to free himself from this curse?

    If he stayed, he would definitely die. He could feel the inky black curse dig into his flesh. This curse was definitely going to kill him if he did nothing.

    He could explain himself at any time. He could apologize and kowtow to the children until his tongue fell out. He'd have his whole life to make it up to them. But if he died, that was the end of it.

    And he refused to die so easily after getting this second chance at life.

    There were things he wanted to do in this life, things that would be hampered if he remained cursed.

    So he made his decision.

    ***​

    Xander slept restlessly. The previously cool night air became smoky and sluggish. A strange smell filled the room, making his body feel heavy. Scared, he opened his eyes, his murky vision landing of a familiar figure.

    Pale skin, vibrant blue hair, and golden eyes sitting on the bed beside the two boys. Nik was knocked out by the mist but Xander was able to awaken despite the weakness.

    Strangely, he could tell Qin Rong was talking but his words were muffled and hard to hear.

    "-I had a lot of fun with you guys. I've never had people I could trust and rely on. It's a little sad I only found this now, after dying but... I'll miss you guys."

    "Rong?"

    "Just go back to sleep, Xiao-Xan." He said softly, stroking the child's head as he moved away.

    Like a distant light, Qin Rong slipped from sight, leaving the room in darkness. Xander struggled to stay awake, not wanting to lose that faded image of the faery's back.

    But sleep overtook him and he would curse this night forever.

    Cause his precious faery left and didn't return.

    ***​

    Perhaps it was just that luck was not on Qin Rong's side that night. He had hoped his words would be remembered but they weren't. All the child would remember would be his retreating back as he left them, the words muted by his own cries.

    He had hoped his note would bring comfort the next morning when they two realized he was gone but it hadn't. Xander and Nik were children. Things were simple and even when explained, they couldn't truly understand his vague explanation.

    But it had to be fate when, months afterward, Qin Rong returned to that solitary manor in the woods only to find a home long since abandoned.
     
  14. jolliapplegirl

    jolliapplegirl Well-Known Member

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    After the day Qin Rong returned to an empty house, life was different. As expected, being a child all alone in the world was hard but it was nothing new for the mercenary. In some ways, things never change regardless of the world one lives in.

    One being, getting a job.

    At first, he chose to sell whatever he could take from the house. While he wasn't happy about stealing from friends, he was sure it wouldn't be a problem. It's not like anyone else would expect to return to an abandoned house that still had valuables in it.

    In other words, finders keepers.

    The money he made and the lessons he'd received from that creepy elf guy made things a lot easier when it came to surviving on his own. His knowledge made him a lot more appealing than his less educated but older competition.

    Yet such matters were never so simple.

    While getting a job was somewhat easy, keeping one was where things got difficult. Why? Because apparently it was pretty damn obvious he was a fairy.

    Qin Rong had no clue how people kept finding out about him but every time he thought he was in the clear, some bastard would try and kidnap him or collect stuff from him to sell.

    And every time this happened, he had to kill the guy, making it pretty difficult to pick up his paycheck the next day. Which then led to him having to leave town and the cycle restarted.

    Honestly, seeing his wanted poster in almost every town he went to would have been cool once but considering he was only 10 at the time, he felt it might be a little excessive to offer so much for a child. Did these folks not have anything better to do?

    Still, it was becoming harder and harder to get by as time went on. One year turned into two and the bounty hunters after him didn't seem to be getting easier. If anything, his bounty kept growing to the point he began wondering if someone was fucking with him.

    He'd only killed, like, five creeps. Why offer so much when there were literal monsters to hunt!?

    The worst part of his notoriety was the fact he only learned about the adventurers guild after the fact, as they were the ones who usually hunted him down. He didn't bother killing them, as they were only doing their job but he was not going to make it easy for them.

    He'd probably ended a few adventurer careers when he got too heated in a fight but such were the risks of the job.

    On one such day, his life changed for the better and he had to thank his wanted poster for it.

    He'd just turned 13, having been on the run for years and grown tired of running. While it was fun for a while, living like a rogue, being chased after was exhausting and troublesome.

    Not to mention rough on his expenses.

    The town he was resting in was abuzz with news that war was breaking out and the headstrong young men of the town were excited to join. It would be a chance to prove their strength and make a name for themselves.

    That and get paid quite a bit if they accomplished something great.

    Qin Rong had heard whispers of war but hadn't expected it to actually happen. It would make things both easier and harder.

    On one hand, he could gain a lot of money as most young able-bodied men would be gone, clearing the job market. On the other hand, there might be folks who try to recruit him for the army. Qin Rong was first and foremost, a mercenary. He wasn't a soldier and refused to be.

    Plus, with the war, there might be some leniency over some crimes so he could finally sleep in an inn without finding some creep hanging over him with a knife and his pants down.

    These were the thoughts the teen held as he sat in a slummy bar in the bad part of town. He'd covered himself up so as not to draw attention but his height couldn't be missed. Especially as he sat on a barstool, his legs dangling quite a bit higher than the other.

    The bartender, ever the professional, said nothing as he stepped up to him.

    "What are ya havin'?"

    "Give me something strong." He pressed a coin to the table, his eyes remaining on the table. "I need to take the edge off."

    His voice was light and pleasant to the ear, gaining the interest of those around him. They were charmed by it but grew even more suspicious. Why was such a person in their bar?

    The reason should be obvious and they could only come to one conclusion. The same reason most of them came. To keep from being caught by authorities.

    This conclusion made Qin Rong even more of a centerpiece than just his small size.

    All the while, the mercenary paid no mind to all the attention. It couldn't be helped and he refused to let it bother him unless he was in danger. Anything outside that was none of his concern.

    The drink he was served was dark in color and smelled like it could peel paint from the fumes alone. It was just what he needed as he gulped it down in one go.

    The smell burned his nose and felt like fire going down his throat but the feeling that followed made it all worth it. That fluffy buzzing that made the world's problems fade away with just a swallow.

    "Are you sure you should be drinking like that?” A gruff voice said as a man sat down beside him. Even without peeking, Qin Rong knew the man towered over him. Despite this, his tone was curious and light. “You seem a bit young to be starting a habit like that.”

    "Do I ask you why you go around talking to strangers like you know them?” He snapped back, tapping the bar to get a refill.

    "I like to make conversation.”

    "Plenty of folks you can converse with other than me.”

    "I think you might be the most interesting partner.” He raised a hand, choosing to follow the mercenary’s lead and share a drink.

    Seeing the two glasses, Qin Rong watched the man dump the fiery liquid down his throat and nearly cough a lung. Amused, Qin Rong did the same, smirking as he took it like a champ.

    He wasn’t a heavy drinker but drinks were a hell of a blanket when the weather was bad.

    “So why me?” He pressed, watching the man catch his breath. “Cause I'm young?”

    The man turned to him and for the first time, Qin Rong saw the man’s eyes. Pale and empty, like a corpse. He shuddered, even as the man smiled back.

    “That and you just drank the strongest shot in town like it was water.” He shot back, raising his empty glass. The mercenary stared for a moment before following suit and tapping his glass.

    Not wanting to lose his senses, Qin Rong chose to order water after that. The stranger followed suit, ordering a hefty meal alongside it.

    At his cocked brow, the stranger smiled.

    “At least let me buy you some food.” He offered, taking a sip. “You look like you could use a meal or two.

    And like the traitor it was, his stomach chose that exact moment to growl, not even letting him have the chance to deny it. He hadn’t eaten in a while but only had enough for drinks.

    Why the hell was it that drinks were less expensive than food? How did that make sense!?

    Qin Rong wished he had a stronger will but when he saw the sandwich and warm soup placed before him, he tossed it aside. Pride was fine but it didn’t fill one's stomach. He was halfway through the sandwich before he spoke.

    “So what do you want from me?” Qin Rong demanded, swallowing down the sandwich. It wasn’t a good sandwich but it was food so he ate it with enthusiasm.

    “Want?” The stranger echoed, his smile stiffening a bit.

    “People don't just walk up to others, offering food without some kind of catch. So what do you want?”

    “Not so much a want,” He stated, reaching into his pocket to pull out a roll of paper. “but an offer.”

    “Oh?” Was he some kind of recruiter for the army? If so, why chose him as opposed to anyone else in the bar.

    Qin Rong knew what he looked like to others. Poverty and malnutrition didn’t do any good for his growth. Comparing himself to other 13-year-olds he’d met, he looked like a child and it showed in how people treated him.

    This also helped him, as it made people underestimate him, giving him a chance to counter whatever trap they’d set for him.

    He couldn’t say for sure, but this guy might be another bounty hunter. He could only hope that wasn't the case.

    “What's the offer then?” Qin Rong asked, curious. If it was a trap, he’d just have to deal with it then.

    He really was too tired to run away.

    The stranger smiled, his youth peeking from beneath his stubble and demeanor. This guy was clearly older but looking him over, Qin Rong didn’t think he was that much older.

    “A means of making money and using your skills in a more productive field.”

    “You know of my skills?”

    “Who doesn't?” He chuckled, unfurling the roll of paper to reveal Qin Rong’s wanted poster. “It's not often one meets a fairy, let alone one with so many kills under his belt.”

    Qin Rong clicked his tongue, cursing his luck to have been cornered by another damn bounty hunter. Couldn’t it have just been a trap he’d slip past later so he could at least finish eating?

    Under his cloak, Qin Rong gripped the handle of his knife, thinking of when he should strike. If he killed this guy, the bar would erupt into chaos and his small frame should be able to slip out-

    “I'd be more careful with the threats if I were you.” The stranger continued, casually drinking his water. “I'm not the only one here, after all.”

    Qin Rong’s eyes narrowed, looking around the room. At some point, the room had grown quiet and there were a lot more eyes on him than before.

    Turns out the stranger hadn’t come alone. Damn it.

    As if sensing Qin Rong’s revelation, the stranger nodded and continued.

    “So about that offer.”

    ***​

    Elsewhere, a long distance away from the solitary fairy, a castle that towered over the very mountains themselves stood, housing many souls. The most important souls to the kingdom, that ruled everything within its borders with loyalty and authority.

    Within that castle, a servant, barely an adult himself, rushed through the halls. He had an important message to send and he feared which of the two he carried would condemn him when he delivered them.

    “Your highness?” He called out before knocking on the door, his breath rushing past his lips. When given permission, the young man burst in, panting as he spoke. “Your highness, I have news about-”

    “What is it?” The younger man within demanded, his voice cold and harsh like the winds of the highest mountains. “Did you find him?”

    The servant flinched, wanting nothing more than to run out the door once more. How was he supposed to deal with this prince?

    He had been told when he started serving Prince Xander, that the child was weak-willed and easy to bully. He had shared his desire to bully the noble, thinking him weak and unfavored.

    Yet this child, upon his return to the castle, was anything but weak. It took only days for those who tried to bully the formerly neglected child to ‘mysteriously disappear’.

    After that, no one dared question his rule. Years later, the servants still held their prince as a frightening person, none wishing to be in his presence longer than necessary.

    The young servant now, however, had no choice as he had drawn the short stick on delivering bad news.

    “U-uh…” He tired, shivering under the cold dark gaze of the prince. “About that…”

    Xander was getting impatient. He raised a hand, feeling the magic flow through his veins and manifest as a cold breeze and swept through the room. As the temperature rapidly dropped, Xanders glare never faltered.

    “Don't waste my time.” He snapped, watching the servant shiver. “Tell me what happened.”

    The servant truly wanted to cry but held it in, his words scattered as the room got colder.

    “I-in reply to his highness, the p-person you placed a bounty on has not been c-captured yet.”

    Xander’s hand clenched, ending his spell and leaving the room as cool as winter. Even as his breath condensed in the air, the prince’s mind was fixated on the message.

    Again. They still didn’t catch him! What useless people did he have?

    “So why are you bothering me?” He shouted, jumping from his chair. “I told you-”

    “You told him many things but you don't get to make a decision until you are worth something.”

    Both young men flinched, their gazes falling upon the older man standing by the door. His lavish clothes and regal air made it clear who the man was. Without thought, the servant prostrated himself before his king, hoping he’d survive being stuck with the both of them

    “Father.” Xander greeted, bowing his head. He truly didn’t know what to think about his father's sudden appearance but kept his expression calm.

    “Oh, I'm your father, am I?” He replied mockingly, stepping past the servant to stare down his teenage son. “Yet you still refuse to show me any respect?”

    “Father, I-” He started to defend himself but was quickly cut off.

    “Don't bother wasting your breath. I don't need to hear your lies.”

    “...” Xander couldn’t argue the point even if he could speak. Since his return to the castle, Xander had remained distant despite his father being the one to invite him back home. It couldn’t be helped though. It was because of this man that he had left behind the one place he could call home.

    Seeing the teen obey, the king smiled with satisfaction.

    “I've heard about your little hunting game.” He said, circling the young man. “How long has it been? A year? Three? And what have you come to show for it? Nothing but wasted time and resources.”

    “It's not a waste!” Xander snapped back, clenching his fist.

    “Oh?” The king mocked, leaning in close. “Then how come you haven't caught your little pet? Its been years and yet nothing but reports of failure. It's quite disappointing too.” He sighed, his gaze drifting to the wanted poster lying on the desk behind Xander. “Had you just come to me, I could-”

    “Father,” Xander interjected, his tone calm and level despite him feeling anything but. “with all due respect, I refuse to allow you anywhere near him.”

    “Oh?” The king huffed, cocking a brow at his son. “You presume you can allow me, the king and your father, to do anything? How amazing a son you turned out to be.” He said with a chuckle.

    Xander flinched, realizing his mistake just seconds before he was pressed against his chair, his father's larger hands encircling his throat.

    “A little prince born but slave blood presumes that my allowance to reside in my home means he has power. How amusing.”

    Xander’s fingers twitch, suppressing the instinct to defend himself from his father. He would lose either way.

    “Father, I-”

    “Quiet.” He barked, his hands clenching over the teen's neck. “Don't make the mistake in thinking you are special just because I let you return home with your brother. Don’t take my mild kindness as an excuse to do as you please. You are my property, my subject, and my son, in that order. Are we clear?”

    Xander glared down at the floor, suppressing his frustration as he spoke through gritted teeth. “Absolutely, Lord Father.”

    “Good, then this little game of yours is done.” He stated, releasing the teen and walking back to the door. “You’ll have more pressing matters to attend to.”

    Xander flinched, his gasps briefly halting as his father's words sunk in.

    “What do you mean by that?” He asked, though he feared he already knew what was being said.

    The king smiled serenely.

    “There will be a war happening soon.” He stated, looking every part a noble king even as his son sat on the ground before him. “What kind of king would I be if I didn’t have a few of my own sons out there as well?”

    ***​

    The war was long and arduous, leaving many wounded or worse. Many villages were without adequate protection or workers, making them targets for the unscrupulous sort. Those ten years were harsh for some but a godsend for others.

    One of those people would be Qin Rong himself.

    He had thought his life could only get worse after being cornered at a bar all those years ago. Yet to his surprise, the offer being made was an actual offer, not a trap.

    While Qin Rong wasn’t allowed to join the adventure guild due to his crimes, he could enter a mercenary guild. Apparently, their rules were a bit more lax.

    He’d been recruited at the tender age of 13, with the condition that his bounty is removed from circulation. After all, how could he do jobs if he had to worry about some guy stabbing him in the back for a quick buck? Much to his surprise, the bounty had been called off soon after his acceptance into the guild.

    He didn’t question it, feeling relieved to finally be able to live freely and work in a career he was comfortable with. Sure, cleaning out the bloodstains was a hassle but the pay was great.

    On this fine morning, 23-year-old Qin Rong was using his legitimately earned money to get himself a treat. He had suffered many injustices since his rebirth but the one that haunted him throughout the nights was this one thing.

    Not being able to eat any sweets.

    He never was one to have a sweet tooth but to go without any was not a life worth living. So imagine his surprise when he learned that the town he and his men were resting at was famous for their sweetbreads.

    Sinking his teeth into the warm, sweet bread was the best feeling ever~ He might have let loose a few unmanly sounds as he ate, drawing the attention of his subordinates and a few guests.

    The men under his command knew better than to comment but the other customers had no filter and spoke their minds.

    “A pretty wench like you shouldn’t be making sounds like that unless you have a good man to ride.” One guy called out, checking Qin Rong from head to toe.

    Qin Rong had grown to be quite the beauty, much to his chagrin. Pale skin that never reddened under the harsh sun, long blue hair that made the sky envy its clarity and bright gold eyes to captivate. All in all, Qin Rong was someone to look upon and admire.

    Until he opened his mouth.

    “Who are you calling a wench, you fucking weirdo?!” He barked, jumping to his feet. The man flinched, quickly leaving before he got hurt. Qin Rong looked around the room, noticing a few others look his way. “Stop staring at my ass before I shove your heads up your own!”

    All the ogling eyes looked away, feeling that the threat might not be just words.

    Qin Rong’s men could only stay silent, knowing full well the threat wasn’t empty. They remembered the last guy who tried to grab their boss's ass.

    They still remember the screams and shock everyone shared at just how flexible the human body could be.

    At the table the mercenary had left, his companion chuckled to himself

    “You do have a nice ass though.” He noted, an easy smile on his lips.”Why not share it with the world?”

    “I don't wanna hear that shit from you, Shinigami!” Qin Rong snapped back, stomping back over to his table.

    “Oi oi, call me Arthdal won't you?” Arthdal grumbled. “It's because of you I have such a weird nickname.”

    Arthdal had been Qin Rong’s partner since he joined the mercenary guild. The two had grown close and bonded easily, especially after learning his partner was like him, having died and been reborn in this world.

    But the jerk was too damn lucky, having earned a cool nickname due to his abilities and appearance. Lucky bastard.

    “Oh, woe is you, having the codename like Death God.” Qin Rong mocked, slipping back into his chair. “Shall I sing you a melody to show my pity?”

    “I just happened to have lucked out.” He assured, his smile returning. “Your codename... isn't so bad.”

    In their guild, every member was given a codename to ensure their identity remained a secret. Only the high ranking members got to choose their codenames, which everyone else was assigned one based on their abilities.

    Arthdal and the boss were apparently the same race, both having those creepy corpse-like eyes, so they were called Ghost and Shinigami. Since no one other than Arthdal and Qin Rong was able to speak Japanese, the bastard was allowed to have a cool name while claiming it meant ghosts.

    Yet this bastard dared say Qin Rong’s codename wasn’t bad?!

    “You dare say that, you otaku bastard?!” He snapped, slamming his hand down on the table. “Its all cause of-”

    “Oi, Faery!”

    Arthdal and Qin Rong turned toward the approaching man, the latter of the two scowling as he drew near.

    “What?!” He grumbled, hating once again that his codename was such an embarrassing one. Very few members had their race be their codename as there were many of them. Since Qin Rong was the only faery in the guild, only he had such a name.

    It was horrible.

    His annoyance showed as the man stared him down and snorted.

    “Whoa, no need to get all hissy, babe.” Everyone knew how Qin Rong felt about his name and loved taking their little acts of vengeance by calling him that often.

    Many learned not to press the matter further. This man, too, quickly learned what not to say when he found himself suddenly falling forward, his legs swept from under him by the ‘babe’ in question. His face was slammed into the table, a sickening crack echoing through the room as his nose broke on impact.

    Yet let it be known that this man wasn’t weak, as he barely cried out as he fell onto his knees, clutching his face. His mind was still focused on the pain and shock at suddenly fallen when Qin Rong grabbed the man by the hair and tugged his head back so they were face to face

    “Call me babe again,” The Fae said with a level yet scary tone. “and I'll be decorating your throat with your teeth. Understood?”

    “S-sorry.” He said, blood and snot flowing freely as he spoke. “Won't happen again, boss.”

    “Better not.” He said, letting the man go. With his authority as the leader of their group maintained, he sat back. “Now what do you want?”

    “Ghost says he has another mission for us.”

    Ghost was the head of the mercenary guild, having recruited Qin Rong years ago. While Qin Rong had raised in the ranks enough to lead his own group, his boss was and always would be Ghost. So if he had a mission, the only answer would have to be yes.

    How troublesome.

    With a sigh, Qin Rong stood and walked out, ignoring the looks he got as he left. Even after his shouts and beatings, most couldn’t help but admire the Fae, realizing just why they were sought after.

    It was because of this inconvenient part of his nature that he chose to wear a mask most of the day. Otherwise, his usually capable men would be distracted and generally useless. Which would then lead to botched missions and Qin Rong being scolded for it.

    It wasn't Qin Rong's fault though. His features leaned way more toward pretty than handsome. Put the man in a dress (and soon die afterward) and he'd be toppling nations down with his beauty.

    All of this was to the man's dismay.

    Like, take his hair for example. It's not like the merc wanted to resemble some wuxia novel character but there was no way around it. He had learned years into this new life that fae hair couldn't be cut outside of the use of magic or the faery's death.

    How many times had he woken up to some weirdo trying to gut him just to sell a few of his cerulean locks? Way too many times, if you asked him.

    So now Qin Rong was forced to tie up his hair into a ponytail, just so he could go about his day. But that alongside his delicate features and his relatively short stature made him a target of men often.

    It couldn't be women fawning over him!? No, it had to be dudes! That just wasn't fair.

    Once he secured his mask, he left the shop to meet with his leader. He could only hope the mission was a well-paying one.

    ***​

    Ask and ye shall receive.

    Qin Rong was practically shaking with excitement. He hadn’t expected such an easy mission to pay so well.

    How lucky!

    His task was simple. Rob a caravan of a certain item. The guards would be heavy since one of the country’s princes would be traveling with them but it shouldn’t be an issue.

    Considering the rumors he’d heard about the princes, he figured this one would be easy pickings. Most of the princes were pretty much worthless, drowning themselves in opulence and indulgences.

    As such, the guards usually weren't too enthusiastic about defending the princes when tasked with protection. Qin Rong had personally met former guards who stated as much. How they’d rather just let the place get robbed than spend and another minute listening to some slob complain and whine.

    Qin Rong felt little guilt for his profession, having done much worse before his death. To him, this was a job. It couldn’t be helped if his paycheck relied on someone else's misery sometimes.

    Surveying the area, he was a little surprised to see how tight-knit the soldiers stationed around the caravan were. They were all friendly with one another but strict, leaving little spaces for Qin Rong to slip in. He had been expecting more lax security but after hours of surveillance, he came to realize things might not be that easy.

    “I’m starting to see why the client is offering so much upfront.” He muttered to himself as he observed the camp. Every once in a while, a guard would enter one of the tents and leave with a handful of papers, only to return with said papers later.

    That must be the place where they store their documents. It was also Qin Rong’s target, his task to retrieve some documents. He wasn’t sure what it was but he didn’t need to know. He just needed to know what it looked like.

    Curiously, there seemed to be a nicely dressed guy staying in the tent as well, his bright blue hood standing out among all the dull gray surrounding him. He might be a guard or just a scholar but he was mostly just an obstacle.

    “Xiao Dao!” He called, his little yellow bird landing on the branch beside him. It chirped in response. “Go observe that hooded guy. Let me know when he leaves, how often, and how long.”

    [Chirp] The bird flew off, its small form slipping past the guard observant gazes. To them, it was just a bird. Too small to eat and therefore, not worth their concern.

    “Xiao Ti.” He called, his recent Sodalis being a large murky-blue bird. It came to him, landing on his leg. “You get the tough job. I need you to distract the guards. Cause a bit of chaos but only enough to give me time to sneak in, got it?”

    {Caw}

    Qin Rong pet the bird, waiting for Xiao Dao to return so he could make a plan. It would be best to rob them at night, to allow him to sneak in and out without a hassle. Usually, he could manage it during the day but seeing the security, he knew that wouldn’t be possible.

    He looked over the camp, his eyes landing on a certain tent with a flag flying above it. He wasn’t sure what it was about it that made him stare. Perhaps it was the flag. It was bright gold with a pair of tattered white wings on top of a red sun. The image was striking, reminding the fae a bit of the past.

    Namely, the day his own wings were torn.

    He shuddered, remembering the pain that followed him afterward. It had taken him months to feel better afterward and even then, he felt scared to try and fly again. Every time, he felt scared that a pair of hands would grab hold of them again and…

    Xiao Ti let out a cooing sound, rubbing its soft head against Qin Rong’s fingers. The mercenary smiled at the creature's attempt at comforting.

    “I’m fine.” He assured it, stroking its feathered body gently.

    It was an unreasonable fear, he realized. He was much stronger now, no longer a helpless child that could be lifted with one hand.

    He could feel his wings like they were itching under his skin. He could fly if he wanted to. Fly anywhere.

    It just wasn’t going to be today.

    ***​

    Night fell and Qin Rong was ready to infiltrate the base. Xiao Dao had made sure to observe the target tent and the guards around it. There was a small area small enough to be passed over by guards that he could use to sneak in. Not to mention the guards somewhat manic shift changes.

    All in all, it meant that Qin Rong only had a very small window to slip in, retrieve the item and sneak back out unseen.

    Having this all told to him by his bird felt like it should have been surreal but he stopped being shocked by things like this long ago. His Sodalis’ chirps sometimes could be understood by Qin Rong if he focused hard enough.

    But really only sometimes.

    After hearing the explanation from Xiao Dao, Qin Rong briefly wondered once again which prince was supposed to be housed here. Most of the princes were rumored to be worthless with guards that matched. This guy however had such tight security, Qin Rong actually felt challenged.

    It was a bit exciting!

    His heart racing, Qin Rong sent Xiao Ti off to distract the front gate. As the bird flew, Qin Rong raced to his position, his body hidden by the dense forest surrounding the campsite.

    From below, Qin Rong could see his bird soar overhead, its underside gleaming with red and violet feathers that captivated the eye. The guards at the gate were no exception, their attention focused on the bird.

    Yellow sparks burst from Xiao Ti’s tail feathers, cascading down like snow. The light show drew many eyes, each of them marveling at the sight of a Furie bird in person. All up until its sparks ignited a nearby cart, the sun-dried wood bursting into beautiful gold flames.

    Panic ensued, as the guard sought to scare the sacred bird away while others struggled to put out the flames.

    Qin Rong took the opportunity to sneak into the camp, his footsteps light and swift. Even with the distraction though, the guards within stayed vigilant, giving the mercenary only a few seconds to move from place to place.

    After the fifth close call, Qin Rong almost wanted to cry.

    His job shouldn’t be filled with this much stress. He felt like he was staring in a horror movie, just waiting for the inevitable jump scare.

    Ah, the things he does for money~

    While all the tents looked the same from ground level, he kept his ear open for Xiao Dao, knowing it would still be near the target tent. Upon finding it, he slipped into the small space, for once thankful for his small size.

    Unfortunately, the tent was still occupied. Since he was pretty well hidden, he chose to listen in, curious about the blue hooded man.

    “- not tell you to leave me be!” A young man’s voice echoed through the tent, annoyance evident in his voice. “I don’t have time to entertain wastrels.”

    It was clear this guy was being bothered by someone’s presence but the person was too far away to hear him clearly. After a minute, the second person spoke, sounding closer now.

    “Your highness, the 8th and 4th prince have need of you.”

    The first voice, apparently some kind of royal, snorted at that. “8th brother wouldn’t call for me.” He stated, his footsteps drawing closer to where Qin Rong was. The mercenary moved away a bit. “So what does 4th elder brother wish from me?”

    “Sire, I-”

    “Will be hurt quite badly by me if you chose to lie to me.” He interjected, the smirk on his face practically dripping off his words. Qin Rong never thought one could hear a smirk but apparently you could.

    Silence fell between the two, worrying Qin Rong as he really needed to get that document and escape fast. Just as he was about to cut a hole into the tarp, the voices came back.

    “I… don’t wish to make an enemy of the Prince of Shades.” The second voice mumbled, now sounding much more nervous. While he couldn't hear anything happening, Qin Rong sensed they weren’t just having a conversation anymore.

    More importantly, who the hell was this prince of shades? And why hadn’t he heard of them before this? All 14 princes were pretty well known, though a couple were curiously absent from the rumor mills. Most wrote it up as them not doing anything but Qin Rong was starting to wonder if that really was the case.

    This Prince of Shades guy might be the reason security is so tight. How troublesome.

    Something seemed to have occurred while he was distracted because he could now hear sounds of a struggle as well a loud thud.

    Someone had won the fight.

    And that someone was the Shade guy, his voice calling out to the guards outside the tent.

    “Get rid of this, will you.” He ordered, sounding bored. “Make sure it looks like an accident, will you, Derrick?”

    Derrick, it seemed, wasn’t too pleased about the matter, as he seemed to grumble about something.

    “He ‘accidentally’ snapped his own neck?” He stated, his tone dry and level, like this was just an everyday occurrence.

    “People can be so clumsy sometimes.” He proclaimed, his tone an audible hand wave. Qin Rong had never heard such an expressive voice before.

    After a moment of silence, the person sighed. “As you wish, sire.”

    The corpse was moved, leaving the shade guy by himself.

    “Gods, I hate this.” The Shade guy groused, the sound of a chair strapping against the gravel echoing. “If 4th elder brother finds out I killed another one of his guys, I might have to deal with him myself. Ugh, I don’t want to stage another assassination attempt. It’s annoying~”

    Qin Rong flinched, his finger clenching around his knife.

    It wasn’t the man’s words that had Qin Rong rooted to the spot. He had heard all kinds of things coming from the most unlikely of sources since he joined the guild. Heck, he wasn’t even surprised that the guy was saying it out loud for anyone to hear. There were some really stupid people in the world. Many of whom Qin Rong had killed himself.

    No, it was none of that that made Qin Rong’s blood run cold as he cut a hole into the tarp.

    It was the fact that the words spoken were in Mandarin.

    *****​

    Extra:

    Author: So Arthdal, was the name, right? Can I call you Artie?

    Arthdal: If you don't want to see your next sunrise, you can.

    Author: Right... So, Arthdal eh? That's an interesting name.

    Arthdal: Wasn't it just the name of some drama you found on Netflix or something?

    Author: Yes, and it was awesome, damn it. So you better live up to the grand name I gave you.

    Arthdal: If you're asking me, you might not be doing your job right.
     
  15. jolliapplegirl

    jolliapplegirl Well-Known Member

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    AN: Some changes happened in between my planning of the chapter and my writing of the chapter, hence why it's late. It's not my fault that my characters don't always follow my script~

    *****​

    Qin Rong was reeling, his mind scrambling to figure out what was going on. He hadn't heard his native tongue since those two but why would they be here?

    Then again, who else in this world knows Mandarin other than them?

    He really didn't want to think about it. Part of him was still somewhat resentful that he returned only to find an empty house but complaining about it was pointless. They were children so he shouldn't have expected anything from them.

    But now he was faced with adults. Adults who were obstacles to his mission.

    How troublesome.

    He let out a silent breath, settling his heart as he kept an ear open. His mission was paramount at the moment. No matter how curious he was about things, he needed to get his target and leave.

    He'd figure out why he was hearing his native tongue later.

    After a minute of moving around, the man in the room left, his voice calling out to someone as he walked. When his voice got faint, Qin Rong moved in, slicing the tent open and slipping through.

    The tent was, as expected, a mess but that wasn't an issue for Qin Rong. He knew what he was looking for and had been assured it would be front and center.

    Whatever this thing was, both his client and that guy held an interest in it.

    Qin Rong moved fast, his eyes skimming over every piece of paper. His target had a specialized seal on it, marked with a symbol of a sun embraced by wings. It was very distinct and shouldn't be hard to find.

    Within moments, his hands brushed over the surface of the drawers, feeling something scrape against his fingers.

    Ah, a false bottom! How clever but not clever enough.

    It did, however, take him a minute to disable the booby trap attached to the drawer. Anyone else would have missed it and set off a silent alarm but Qin Rong wasn't just anyone. He was a professional.

    That and the draw reeked of fire magic. Had he been reckless, he and the tent would have burst into flames.

    Ah, these people are so troublesome.

    Soon, he had the piece of paper in his hands, the gold wax seal glimmering in the candlelight. His palms buzzed as he held the paper, something about it making his body resonate.

    Was there magic in this writing?

    Before he could spend another second thinking about it, a chill ran through him. He ducked just in time for a strong gust of wind to slice through the air where his head had been.

    Wind magic.

    Rolling behind one of the desks, he waited as the man from before entered.

    "Don't bother hiding. I know where you are." He called out, his tone light but with an undertone of menace.

    Yet he hadn't attacked yet so he was either bluffing or he had some other motive. Considering his previous words, Qin Rong guessed the man wanted info.

    "Just so you know, I have no interest in politics." He called out, letting the man know he wasn't affiliated with any prince. Qin Rong was a simple guy. Give him a job and he'll do it. There was no way he was interested in the inane power struggles that riddled the royal family.

    At least outside of dramas or the like.

    There was silence, making Qin Rong wonder if the man believed him. It didn't really matter though. He'd still knock the guy out when he got the chance but he at least wanted to make it known he wasn't some royal's lapdog.

    "Who are you?" The man demanded, sounding closer. Qin Rong gripped his dagger tighter, slipping the paper into his robes. "Why did you sneak in?"

    "Wouldn't you like to know?" He sneered, waiting for the man to pass by his hiding spot. As soon as his foot came into view, Qin Rong attacked. He had wanted to stab the man in the foot, so he could slip out and run.

    After all, his mission was retrieval, not assassination. Killing someone connected to the royal family was way too much trouble.

    Yet to his surprise, the man dodged his strike, countering with another burst of wind magic that cut through his former hiding spot like butter. Worse yet, Qin Rong had managed to get himself cornered when he'd moved out the way.

    All kinds of rookie mistakes today! He inwardly growled, glaring at the man in front of him. How dare he make him act like an amateur...

    "Xiao Ni!?" He couldn't help but exclaim, his mind somehow identifying the man in front of him. While it had been many years, he recognized those eyes anywhere. Even after all this time, there were only two boys who had black eyes and dark wavy hair like the ocean.

    Nik's hair had grown, just as he'd always said when he was a child. Nik loved the stories Qin Rong told about ancient times and Wuxia adventures so he'd sworn he'd grow his hair out. Despite being told that doing so wasn't appropriate for men, Nik was determined to do so anyway.

    Looking at those wavy locks brush well past his shoulders, Qin Rong couldn't help but chuckle behind his ask.

    Nik, meanwhile, was left befuddled.

    "Who are you?" He snapped, his mind trying to place why those words sounded familiar.

    "Shit!" Qin Rong hissed under his breath, cursing his lack of professionalism. He had one job and already fucked it up.

    It's just that he wasn't expecting to see Nik after all this time. It was one thing to see him on the street but being spotted while on a mission was frustrating. He had a job to do.

    "Look, I'd love to stay and chat but I have other things to do."

    "Oh, do you?" Nik countered, regaining his composure. He held out his arm, magic radiating from his palm. "And what makes you think I'll let you go?"

    Qin Rong said nothing, letting out a shrill whistle from his lips. Nik didn't wait to see what his action had done, rushing forward and letting loose another series of magic strikes. Each blade of wind cut through the air fast, giving Qin Rong mere moments to dodge them all.

    Unfortunately, at close range like this, the mercenary wasn't fast enough and his arm got nicked. With nary a second to lose, Qin Rong drew close, ducking low to trip Nik as he recovered from his strike.

    Nik was a seasoned fighter, having fought in the nation's war since he'd reached double digits. He wasn't one that could be taken by surprise easily yet he had fallen prey to an old method of attack that few utilized since it was reckless to the highest degree.

    As there were very few mages in the world, there was a well-hidden secret weakness that every young mage learned to counter. While one could conceivably use magic as often as one pleased, there was a moment where the mage was vulnerable to attack.

    A single moment after the mage used his magic, they couldn't move until the spell was complete.

    It was a dangerous weakness and one that centuries of scholars had tried to find a solution for. None could be found and it was decided that this weakness would never leave the confines of the magic academies.

    Most mages train so they can still defend themselves during this brief lapse but Nik was confident no one would dare try that with him. His element was wind after all. While it was easy to dodge fire, water, or earth magic, wind magic was invisible to the naked eye. Who would risk getting close when one couldn't see where the strike was coming from?

    On this day, he learned there was one guy crazy enough to do it. Someone determined to get past Nik by any means. And his reason was simple.

    He had quite the paycheck coming his way if he succeeded~

    Man's gotta eat, after all.

    Still, Qin Rong managed to get close enough to Nik as he recovered and punch him in the face. Blood flowed as the man covered his face. No matter how much training one gets, a punch to the nose will always result in a moment in which their defense is lowered.

    If he wanted to, Qin Rong could kill the man right then and there. But Nik was still his Xiao Ni so he didn't bother to attack any further than that. Might as well leave him with a bloody nose.

    Luckily, Nik's attack had torn a giant hole in the tent to which Qin Rong could easily escape.

    Bad news, the back of his tent wasn't open but covered with logs.

    Good news, Qin Rong was a nibble bastard and knew how to maneuver through the gaps.

    There were very few but he could do it. He wasn't called 'imp' in his former life for nothing.

    His escape seemed to be going well, as his Sodalis' continued to wreak havoc everywhere else. Even Nik got distracted by the chaos, having to choose between catching the thief and protecting the supplies needed for their trip home.

    Choices choices.

    Meanwhile, Qin Rong slipped past the scrambling guards, his clothes blending into the darkness seamlessly. He had neared the edge of the encampment when he saw he'd approached the larger tent with the blazing flag atop it.

    Somehow he'd gotten here but his mind was on other things. Like the branch hanging over the tent.

    His way out.

    With practiced ease, he scaled the nearby crates, summoning what little magic he had to get himself to the branch. While his wings were weak, he could fly for just a little while, long enough to get him from ground level to at least a third story.

    Yet doing so always tired him out, thus the mercenary took a small break as he sat on the tree branch, watching the camp. Xiao Ti was working hard, setting fires all over the place.

    I really need to reward that guy later. He thought, letting out another piercing whistle. It was loud but with how much chaos was happening, he was confident no one would notice him in the darkness.

    Yet luck was not on his side.

    He felt a rush of cold air hit him just before the branch broke under him and he fell. Right on top of the tent.

    God, this really wasn't his day.

    ***​

    Qin Rong woke up in a strange position. Beneath him was bedding so soft he felt like he was sitting on a cloud. Beds should never be this soft or else people would never leave them.

    It was so comfortable~

    On the other hand, his wrists were bound above his head, the ties firm. It wasn't a simple knot and would take a bit to escape from.

    In other words, he was tied to someone's criminally soft bed.

    Qin Rong kept his eyes closed and his breathing steady, listening out for anyone nearby. His senses as a fairy were very good, allowing him to sense magic to a certain degree. This helped a lot as most people he faced used magic and basically had a large glowing sign alerting him whenever there was someone nearby.

    This time, however, he couldn't sense anyone. Curious, he opened his eyes and peeked around the room. The room was fairly dim, lit with only a few candles in the room. The bed was placed in the far end of the room, with the doorway exactly across form him.

    Curtains instead of a door?

    Damn, he fell into the tent. He sighed, recalling what had happened before he blacked out. Still, he'd been left alone so he had to escape before-

    "Who are you?" A man asked, his weight falling onto the bed as he sat beside Qin Rong.

    Qin Rong bit his tongue, suppressing the urge to curse out loud. Somehow, he'd missed this guy despite him being so damn close. How?! His senses hadn't failed him in all these years yet despite this man standing right next to him, he sensed nothing.

    This guy wasn't a simple soldier.

    Still, his pride as a mercenary refused to allow this guy to gain the upper hand. His expression remained calm even as his heart jumped in his chest.

    "Boy, I'm really off my game tonight." He sneered, turning his head away. "That's twice now I've gotten that question."

    His tone was light and joking as if he wasn't still bound and helpless to a man he couldn't even sense when he was standing right next to him. It was a mocking tone. One the man was none too pleased to hear.

    "Answer me or there won't be a third time." He growled, grabbing Qin Rong by the neck. The mercenary didn't even flinch.

    "There won't be one anyway. I'm a professional after all."

    If there was one thing Qin Rong took pride in, it was his profession and its rules. It wasn't clean, nice, or even fun at times but it was the living he'd chosen and one whose rules he would continue to uphold, even under the threat of death.

    The man saw this and released his grip. There was no point in trying to threaten this person. He wasn't so weak-willed as to break under torture.

    Too bad. The man thought, clicking his tongue. I was in the mood to let off some steam.

    "So you won't tell me who you are or who hired you?" He pressed, staring down at the bound intruder. His lips smiled, briefly distracting the man for a moment.

    "What kind of professional would I be if I did?" Qin Rong smirked, looking every bit as mischievous as his race would imply. This cheeky bastard was teasing him.

    He's cute. The man thought, scowling to himself.

    "So professional that you so easily reveal your occupation?"

    "I doubt you're an idiot so me revealing it gives you no new information about me."

    It was true. He didn't need him to confess his skills. They were clearly demonstrated as he caused untold amounts of chaos around his campsite in so little time. If not for how annoying the lecture he'd get from father later would be, he might have felt a bit impressed.

    But at this point, he just was annoyed.

    "I'm not paying you to tell me." He stated, knowing that would be about the only way to get the information he wanted. Thieves like this were all the same, willing to slit throats for just a little money.

    It was disgusting.

    "That won't sway me either." Qin Rong said, staring up at the hole in the roof. He must have fallen through there.

    This took the man by surprise, not expecting his refusal. "How come?"

    "Considering circumstances, you'd probably just kill me as soon as I tell you what you want to know." He stated, sounding completely nonplussed by the notion. It was the obvious play after all. What man would just let a thief go, even going so far as to pay him too?

    Only an idiot would do that and he doubted this guy was an idiot. If he was lucky, the man would be but as noted before, luck was not on his side.

    ***​

    Xander stared down at his prisoner, growing more and more curious about this mysterious person. When the man had fallen through his roof, he'd been quick to restrain him, fearful that the thief might try something.

    Yet as he tied him up, he couldn't help but stare at his face when the mask was taken off.

    He'd never seen a more beautiful person in his life.

    After years of being surrounded by noblewomen whose beauty rivaled that of angels, the face of this man was still far beyond theirs. Skin so pale, it was like marble. Soft pink lips that begged to be kissed, tempting Xander like no one had before.

    He had cursed his weakness, hating that he'd been bewitched by a man so easily. And it was a man. He'd checked. He'd had his doubts that a man could be so lovely and was quick to check and make sure.

    He was relieved no one had walked in on him as he'd done this or else he might very well die from embarrassment.

    Still, the one thing that bothered him the most was that his eyes were closed. Something screamed at him to look into the thief's eyes. He wanted to see what color they were. If they were as pretty as the rest of him.

    At present, those eyes that had left him pacing the floor with anticipation had finally turned to him, illuminated by the light of the candles.

    Gold. Pure gold like that of a clear sunny day.

    Just like...

    Xander stormed over, looming over Qin Rong as he pressed a hand to the man's cheek. Qin Rong, having expected to be attacked was left befuddled as his captor stared down at him with a heated gaze.

    That was not the look of a man about to kill someone. He thought, staring wide-eyed as he drew closer. Could we go back to that part of the story?!

    "What are you doing?!" He snapped, turning his head away just as the man's lips landed on his cheek. He shivered with unease.

    Xander blinked, mildly distracted as those gold eyes stared up at him.

    Ah, he looks really cute now.

    Qin Rong was a pretty smart guy, able to read lust a mile away. This guy, despite everything, was lusting for him. The why of that change was the mystery.

    "Oi, I'm not a woman!" He snapped as the man kept touching his face. For reasons unknown to him, Qin Rong wasn't nearly as disgusted as he was usually when men touched him like this.

    Possibly it was due to the lack of attempted rape at this point. Still, he wasn't about to wait for that.

    Xander couldn't help but want to continue touching this beautiful person. How was it his fault that he'd been enamored by such a pretty face? Surely, it was his fault for being so tempting.

    "You're prettier than any woman I've met." He stated, meaning it. He couldn't think of a woman even half as lovely as this man beneath him.

    "That's not something I want to hear a man say!"

    "So you'd prefer it coming from a woman?"

    "No, but-"

    His angry retort was were cut off as Xander pressed his lips to Qin Rong's shocking the mercenary into silence. The two didn't move for a moment, both too caught up in the moment.

    Xander was enjoying his first true kiss. He had shared a kiss with other women before but none had drawn him in so wholehearted as this one. Soft lips slid and pressed against his own, tempting him to delve in deeper.

    He wanted to taste more of this man.

    Meanwhile, Qin Rong was trying to remember why he was supposed to be bothered. To say the mercenary was lacking in partners would be an understatement. Due to his looks, most ladies didn't want to get close to him.

    'Sleeping with a man so much prettier than me is a little...'

    'It's not that I wouldn't like to but I fear you might take my customers away if others see us together.'

    'It's really not fair for you to be so pretty and have such nice skin too. There is no justice in the world~'

    To say he was left wanting, would be too kind. He very much desired companionship. It just turned out that he wasn't that picky.

    Closing his eyes, he pressed up against Xander, slipping his tongue past he man's lips. Xander flinched, unsure how to proceed but letting the thief chose the pace. The kiss went on, with Xander quickly picking up on what Qin Rong was doing

    The mercenary might not have kissed many people in this life but he'd watched enough dramas and manga to know how to kiss properly.

    When Xander pulled away, Qin Rong was left panting, his face flushed from lack of air. There was only so much one could learn from books after all. How to breathe while being kissed was not one of them, turns out.

    Staring down at the man, Xander smiled, a rare sight to any who had come to know him.

    "But?" He pressed, confusing the still dazed man. Qin Rong blinked at him, wondering what he was talking about. Then he remembered they'd been holding a conversation before all this.

    Damn it.

    Qin Rong wanted to die just then. This was worse than any torture. Flay his skin, boil him alive but please free him from the mortification of being reduced to this?!

    "W-what do you think you're doin-" He tried to snap but his neck was nipped, reducing his growl to a moan.

    Damn, since when was his neck a weak spot?!

    Xander paid no mind to Qin Rong, having not heard a single protest as of yet. He might not like that he was enjoying himself but he very clearly was. Xander, feeling heat rush through him, shared his desires, and chose not to hide it.

    Xander started to remove his clothes, thoughts of this man's identity and his client lost as he grew more and more curious about what lies beneath those dark clothes. Would his skin be as soft everywhere else as his face? Were his nipples light like a peony in the spring or red like a cherry, tempting him.

    Either way, he wanted to see it all.

    Qin Rong watched him strip, his own body betraying him as it responded to his lustful gaze.

    Hell the fuck no was he about to be screwed by some random guy! No matter how much his traitorous body responded in kind.

    His eyes drifted past the man, to the hole in the roof. Just above them, Xiao Ti and Xiao Dao sat on a branch watching them.

    Freaking voyeurs. He inwardly cursed, clicking his tongue to get their attention. He'd spent a long time teaching them how to reach quieter signals for situations just like this where he didn't want the other person to know what he was doing.

    Well, not exactly like this but the point was still the same.

    Xiao Ti and Xiao Dao were good birds, knowing their master's wishes and fulfilling them with admirable loyalty.

    What occurred next was a bit unclear, as Xiao Dao showed off its special ability. While the small bird was ideal for scouting, this wasn't because it was good at it. No, it was because his tiny little bird was apparently some kind of mob boss or something.

    Qin Rong had no clue how the tiny thing did it but it seemed to have an entire army of birds of various species under its command to do the scouting for it. It was terrifying to see birds as big as a dog being lead around by the bird that was smaller than a child's shoe.

    This seemingly harmless bird called upon its flock, sending them into the tent while Xiao Ti followed close behind, igniting his bonds with its feathers.

    As Xander fought off the sudden onslaught of birds, he noticed his thief had slipped away, leaving an empty bed and charred ropes.

    He stared at the bed, ignoring the birds as they flew from his tent like the wind. His mind was on other things.

    Those golden eyes that snagged his attention like nothing else. They looked too much like his faerie's eyes. He cursed himself for not taking the man's hood off so he could see if hidden beneath it was his fairies lovely sky blue hair.

    He touched his lips, his mind drifting back to the kiss he'd shared with the thief. Even after all the chaos, he was aroused and wished his intruder had waited a few minutes more so they could have had a bit more fun.

    Ah, but that would have to wait for another day it seemed.

    ***​

    When Nik and a few other soldiers arrived at Xanders tent minutes after the birds flock left, they found the prince sitting on the bed. Feathers of various sizes and colors littered the room creating a sense of wild abandon.

    It was quite a sight to walk in on as the shirtless man stood up. His cold stare freezing the hearts of the soldiers.

    Nik was smart enough to step aside, not wanting to get in his brother's way.

    "Why is it that someone managed to enter my quarters so easily?" He demanded, though his tone was even. It was this calm and level tone that rendered the battle-hardened soldiers speechless. Their leader was a respectable man, never one to raise his voice as he could easily command others with a whisper.

    Yet they knew they had messed up badly for their leader's tone to be that clam. It was like a pool of still water that hid a predator waiting for some hapless fool to draw near.

    Unfortunately, those hapless fools were unable to leave the tent and regret their life choices.

    "Y-you highness, please forgive us." One man bravely stepped forward, hoping to save at least himself. "We- Argh!"

    His excuse was cut short as ice abruptly encased his hands, weighing him down until he was on his hands and knees. The sudden change in temperature was painful, making the three soldiers cry out as their skin burned from the cold.

    Xander watched them shiver and grit their teeth with an air of indifference. It was clear they felt aggrieved but their prince showed no concern.

    "Had you done what you were supposed to do, you wouldn't be in pain right now, would you?"

    His word cut through the groans of pain, silencing them as they peeked up at the prince. There was no mercy in those eyes endlessly dark eyes.

    "N-no."

    Xander smiled, looking pleased even as the men prayed their prince would have some mercy on them. As if hearing their thoughts, Xander continued.

    "Am I being cruel then? Am I being unfair?" He asked, as threads of darkness inched over their skin.

    It was Prince Xander's unique magic.

    There were millions of mages in the world but Prince Xander was the only one capable of using two elements as opposed to just one. Only his father and his close subordinates knew of such a thing and the things they had seen their leader do with that magic was...

    It was just good to not be on the receiving end of magic that couldn't be seen or sensed.

    "N-never, your highness. We... We thank you for your mercy."

    "I see. Then perhaps there is something else you should be doing rather than bleeding all over my things." He calmly stated, undoing his spell. His men's hands were shivering and some of their skin had cracked under the intense cold.

    Still, the men were smart enough to leave when given the chance and ran off to regain feeling in their fingers.

    "Yes!"

    Once the two brothers were alone, the air relaxed somewhat. Xander sat back, his hands running over the feathers left behind.

    Nik really wanted to ask about the feathers but he had more pressing questions.

    "Brother..."

    Xander still stared down at the bed, his tone lighter as his fingers found a small yellow feather among the murky dark ones. "What?"

    "Are... are you really unhurt? That guy seemed tough."

    The theif was quick and his movements were fluid. Even Nik, famed for being quick, found it hard to keep up. Xander couldn't help but be impressed when his younger brother admitted that, looking gloomy as he tried to hide his still bloody nose from the elder.

    That man wasn't just some random thief. Someone with that much skill couldn't have been cheap nor was it random. He came for something specific.

    He also had very soft lips. He thought, his mind drifting a little as he recalled their kiss. He knew he shouldn't have done that but it was too tempting. Something about those eyes had made him do it.

    They reminded him too much of his faerie.

    "That man isn't so simple." He replied, standing up. Nik watched his brother retrieve his discarded shirt. "He came here for this."

    In his hand, the rolled-up document rested easily. He'd found it on the thief as he was checking his sex. He was sure the thief was, at that moment, realizing he'd lost his target and cursing Xander endlessly.

    Far away from the camp, that very thing was, indeed, occurring.

    Back at the tent, Nik breathed a sigh of relief, watching his brother pocket the document. It was safer with him anyway.

    "I thought so too. He was definitely after something specific." He echoed, looking annoyed. He hadn't been able to catch the bastard and he'd even managed to sneak into his brother's tent. "Do you think he was one of 4th brother's men?"

    While most citizens assumed the royal family got along well, those closer knew that the war within the castle walls was as fierce as ever. From birth, the princes and princesses were at each other's throats, scraping at what little they could to gain just a small amount of power.

    They all yearned for the throne and were perfectly willing to kill their own blood to do so.

    The most dangerous being the 4th prince, the closest to being named 'Crown prince'. His only obstacle being Xander, the nation's 8th prince and war hero.

    Xander considered it for a moment. If there was anyone brazen enough to hire a mercenary, it would him. Yet the thief didn't bother to try and hurt either him or Nik.

    Their elder brother was not so kind as to let such a chance slip by.

    Voicing this concern, Nik could only agree. Despite all the chances he had, the thief never did more than break his nose and hurt his pride.

    "That guy was a bit weird though." He noted as he and Xander cleaned the tent minutes later. "The thief, I mean."

    "How so?"

    "He kept saying weird stuff." He complained, thinking about the man's reaction to him. As if they knew each other. "Oh, and he was using faerie speak!"

    Xander froze, his heart racing as Nik's words settled within him.

    "Faerie..."

    Those were words he hadn't heard in years. He rarely spoke the language taught to them, not out of inability but from how painful it was to know that the third person who spoke it was not with them.

    Yet today, they'd met a gold eyed man who spoke faerie tongue and didn't harm them. Could it be...

    "Did he say anything to you?"

    Nik blinked at his brother, confused by Xander's sudden impatient tone.

    "The thief?"

    "Yes."

    "Uh... oh, yeah!" He cried, recalling what had confused him so long ago. "He called me Xiao Ni or something. Its weird cause I'm not little and-"

    The rest of Nik's words were lost as Xander's mind drifted elsewhere. His lips still buzzed with energy and the desire to find that man igniting like wildfire in his cold heart.

    ***​

    "I hate this!"

    Arthdal sat beside Qin Rong, listening as the man voiced his dismay for the nth time. After the first dozen times, the man learned not to press the matter and just wait it out. While alcohol didn't have much effect on the fairie, it did make him just a bit more willing to speak.

    Though that was somewhat the problem as the man shouted his disdain for 'this' throughout the bar. The bartender had tried to get him to calm down but after being on the receiving end of the pretty boy's death glare, he quickly learned not to get involved.

    This left Arthdal to be the man's babysitter, sitting with him for over a week and listening to his vague complaints.

    "That guy was a major asshole." The blunette raged for the nth time that evening.

    "Yep." Arthdal deadpanned, only half listening.

    "Like, how dare he try that with me?!"

    "How dare he."

    "Right? I should have killed him."

    "Why didn't you then?"

    "..."

    Arthdal sighed. Like every time before, whenever he tried to figure out any details of this apparent issue, Qin Rong stopped. It was frustrating how well this man could keep his mouth shut yet to voice his objections so openly.

    Choose a side already.

    Having grown tired of all the drama, Arthdal chose to end the week-long stalemate and press forward.

    "Did you at least get the item you were supposed to retrieve?" The two had a job to do and he had yet to hear whether Qin Rong's was successful.

    "..."

    "Well?"

    "I... lost it." He mumbled into his cup before slamming it down onto the bar. "No, that bastard stole it from me. I know he did."

    Arthdal cocked a brow, a bit surprised by the admission. "Isn't it a problem that you failed to get the item?"

    "No, it's fine. I memorized it beforehand."

    "You peeked?!"

    "Of course!" He retorted, scowling. "Consider I lost the damn thing, it's a good thing I did. Otherwise, I'd have nothing to give the client."

    It was a habit he'd developed over the years after being in the field. His clients sometimes liked to try and 'renegotiate' after he'd accomplished his mission. Selling whatever info he'd been paid to retrieve always evened things out financially and allowed him a little revenge.

    Arthdal looked to understand the sentiment and continued to drink.

    "Have you yet?"

    "No, forgeries take time to perfect. Especially when magic was involved." Honestly, he hadn't expected to find a magic-infused document in his work. He'd heard of it but seeing it up close was quite an experience.

    Unless one had a strong sense of magic, the text was unreadable. Only a few magically inclined creatures were capable of reading them and most could only parse out a few words. Qin Rong, as a fairy, could read everything and only had to retrieve a sheet of magic paper to write everything down on.

    But magic paper was expensive and hard to get for even the most influential people. For a humble mercenary to get a sheet, a week was a godsend.

    "Still, I'm surprised he managed to snatch it from you." His companion continued, peeking over at Qin Rong. "You're usually very adept at this kind of thing."

    Qin Rong said nothing, not wanting to talk about why he was so distracted. He was still trying to come to terms with the fact that he'd been kissed by a guy. Worse yet, that he'd liked it too. Sure, he hadn't slept with a woman in... a while but surely that didn't mean he suddenly switched teams, right?

    Ah, I really need to get laid.

    He took another swig of beer, letting it burn down his throat and settle warmly in his gut. He might be able to get wasted but a good buzz was always appreciated.

    Just then, the store seemed to burst into loud cheers, many of the patrons rushing toward the entrance. Curious, Qin Rong tugged on Arthdal's sleeve.

    "Hey, what with everyone going?"

    "Really? You didn't notice all the excitement until now?"

    "I was busy." He grumbled. The fact that he'd been busy trying to get drunk was left unsaid.

    "Of course you were." Arthdal sighed, rolling his eyes. "Well, two of the nation's princes are returning from battle tonight. It's been the talk of the town for a while."

    The fact that Qin Rong was unaware of this fact annoyed the mercenary. He prided himself on knowing what was happening around town yet that weirdo's actions had made him miss out of something this big.

    Damn him.

    "Prince Xander is considered a war hero, though he's rumored to be quite bloodthirsty." Arthdal continued, grumbling. "It's nearly impossible to get any info on the guy."

    And not from lack of trying either. Prince Xander had instilled an admirable amount of fear into his men. No one was willing to disclose anything more than what was publicly known. If not for the fact Arthdal needed said info, he might have felt impressed.

    He waited for a reply from his companion, yet was only met with silence.

    "Did you happen to see- Wait, where are you going?!" He shouted, shocked to see Qin Rong had walked off at some point.

    "Imma get laid." He shouted back, unashamed of the looks he received as he exited. Arthdal followed after him, worried about his friend.

    "Is this really the time for that?"

    "Absolutely!" He snapped back, pushing through the crowd. While he was shorter than most men, he lucked out in that every man in this town was a damn giant. If anything, he was the average height for a man from his old world.

    That little tidbit eased his wounded pride somewhat as he moved through the crowd

    ***​

    On the street, a parade of people crowded around, eager to catch a glimpse of the infamous Prince of shades. While no one was exactly sure why he was named such, his infamy made him the most successful commander.

    As the army traveled down the road, the two princes came into view as they rode their steeds, enrapturing the townspeople as they did. The princes were of foreign blood, granting them an exotic look that attracted many women.

    Their caramel skin and wavy black hair aroused images of desert princes and wild passion in those who saw them. Yet fear for what they were capable of keeping the women at bay.

    Nik was bored, not wanting to have to participate in the show but doing so to support his brother. If he wasn't there, he knew for sure Xander wouldn't be either.

    The sacrifices one had to make~

    Yet curiously, his usually indifferent brother was staring into the crowd, his dark gaze riveted on something. Following his gaze, Nik spotted a head of bright blue hair traveling through the crowd, getting further and further away.

    Nothing really special in this nation, what with everyone having such colorful hair.

    He turned to Xander, wanting to ask what was so special about that person but bit his tongue as he took another look at the man. The world was ending. The sun had risen in the west. Surely hell hath frozen over.

    Because his brother, the infamous Ice Prince, was smiling as he watched that blue-haired man move.
     
  16. DarkNaivety

    DarkNaivety Member

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    I AM LOVING THIS STORY. I found it on AO3