Please Read: This is only roughly edited. Expect the occasional typo. Please read the warnings. Expect weekly to biweekly updates unless school shits on me (I'm a suffering honours-degree student). I take story logistics very seriously but since this is a fantasy I may have let the occasional loophole slide. Since I write and publish at the same time, there may be some logistical errors such as date/time discrepancies and conflicting facts. If you see any please PM me and let me know as I'd like to fix those too. Please note that 'facts' don't include things stated by characters because they're probably just stupid or really drunk at the time.

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Warnings: Homosexuality (the romance plot is gay/MxM/slash/yaoi or whatever you call it); smut (lots of smut); coarse language; some violence; adult themes (duh?)

- Additional note on the warnings: I don't consider this bestiality but know that technically one of them is not human so there might be 'themes of bestiality.'

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Don't like, don't read. I write for my own enjoyment and I only publish because it makes me happy when people tell me they enjoyed it too. Also, thanks for your concern, but I'm not interested in stylistic criticism at the moment (questions are alright).

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Additional FYI's: this is roughly based off ancient China during the Warring States Era, one generation before the first emperor of China brought the states together. But this is fiction, not a textbook, so please don't drill me on what's true and not true.

Relevant music: 영원한 건 없지만 by Roy Kim; 지워져간다 by John Park; Unbreakable by Josh Kramer; Chocolate by Lee Jin Ah; Sparkle by Radwimps

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All names/characters/organizations/countries are fictional or used in a fictional way.


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Prologue

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The beast woke with a start, roused by the echo of a woman's dying scream in his dreams. Blind, he whimpered to himself in the darkness and shifted his muscles experimentally. Pain shot through his spine, though the sting wasn't as terrible as before and he could at least move most of his limbs.

The ground felt smooth underneath his rough paws – it lacked the coarse pebbles and sandy texture that he was used to. As more of his senses returned, he caught the sharp whiff of ginseng, sage, and blood. Nose twitching, the beast lifted its head and struggled to open its eyes.

Blearily, he managed to make out a brown sky, clouded with grey smoke. This wasn't the afterworld… he realized dimly with a shudder of surprise. Somehow, he had survived.

A surge of black hatred surged through the beast's head and with a sudden, low growl, he struggled to his feet. Even on four legs, he could barely stand. The weight of his stiff, wounded body felt like a hundred boulders but the burden of his conscience felt like a mountain. Limping forward with a dry, wheezing pant, the beast headed for the scent of cold air. Quickly, his body screamed. Quickly, die. Hurry up and die.

If he didn't… the pain would never end. The beast hung his head with an agonized growl and dragged his body forward. Staggering towards a suddenly foreign sky, alone… that was the only thing that he was sure of.

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...

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Barely minutes later, a boy kicked off his black cloth shoes in the doorway of the small hut. As soon as he looked up, he spotted the bloodied paw-prints and uttered a low curse.

"Ah. What an idiot." Sighing, the boy dropped his bag of supplies and ran a hand through his wavy brown hair in exasperation. It had only been four days since he'd discovered the beast, lying like a rotting corpse by the side of the road. At first glance, anyone would have decided that it was just an unfortunate young wolf, but he had known better.

Huffing resignedly, the boy picked up his bags and left to find some rags to wipe the floor with, muttering under his breath as he searched. "Those things really have no sense of self-preservation, do they? You're going to die if you run away, you idiot."

But truthfully, he had expected as much. They were all like that – the lycans. Strong-willed and aggressive. As much as they looked like humans on the outside, he knew that the wolf was their true form. Beasts – that's what they were. He'd hoped the news had been false, but after what he'd seen in the past few days, the boy was starting to accept that it was true. That they were all dead.

Pausing, the boy lifted his head and gazed out the open door. Despite knowing that it was all in vain, he felt his heart wrench with something a bit more than pity as he scanned the bamboo foliage. He'd hoped to see a tuft of black fur, or the glint of blue eyes… but he saw nothing. Clenching his jaw, the boy turned his back and huffed irritably. They're gone. His conscience spat the words unceremoniously inside his head.

Or at least, they would be, soon.

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Chapter 1

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He had been following this path for… four hours now, if he were to be realistic. Though at this point, after trudging along the narrow, barely-visible trail of pebbles through the hazy canopy of bamboo for hours – without food – he was tempted to say that he was going to walk this stupid road for eternity.

He'd passed a small pond earlier, probably an old extension of the Yellow River – which he had been following, at least until a group of travelling soldiers scared him off the road. After running like a headless chicken through the forest, he'd gotten himself thoroughly lost, and it was only through sheer luck that he'd managed to find this small trail. Four hours ago.

It was now getting dark. Wearily, the man heard his stomach grumble and he reached into his garments for his water flask. His tired fingers fumbled, and while he was struggling to dislodge the flask, he tripped over a protruding root and fell on his knees by the side of the road.

"… Nafan, come on." Groaning, the man muttered forlornly to himself and took the lucky opportunity to rest his tired feet. Finally managing to free his flask, he drank the rest of the water – some two or three small gulps – and sighed heavily.

Nine years was all it had taken for him to be reduced to a homeless, jobless, defenseless nomad. And to think that he had already been scorned at back then, too. A 'ghost,' they called him. His skin tanned differently, his eyes were a funny pale gold, and his hair was a weird curly brown – his mother had been a foreigner who'd lived in the palace. How she'd gotten there, Nafan had never really understood… she'd claimed to be friends with the Emperor, yet he'd never seen them talk. In fact, the only thing that they'd had in common was an irregular interest in the lycans…

Nafan, you're rambling. An annoyed voice pierced through his drowsy thoughts and Nafan jerked his head up, realizing that he'd been dangerously close to dozing off. Getting up, the man bent down to brush the dirt off his knees and promptly froze.

A deep shadow by the side of the road had caught his eye. No normal person would have seen it, but for an expert like him, it was an unmistakable sign.

A paw print. Too large for a dog, so it had to belong to some other kind of beast. A wolf, maybe, or something worse. A couple specks of leaf debris had settled over it, but that was all – the print was recent.

For a long while, Nafan stared at the print. Something tingled in the back of his head, but it was muffled by the throbbing of his headache and the whining gurgling of his stomach. Eventually, he straightened and glanced around warily with a shiver. The shadows were lengthening by the second – if he stayed out here any longer, he was probably going to be eaten by whatever made that print.

Motivated by a fresh surge of fear, Nafan straightened his garments and set off again, muttering prayers under his breath. He jumped at every rustle, gold eyes glinting anxiously in the faint moonlight as he glanced jerkily around. But eventually, the forest showed his poor soul a bit of mercy. Light – he caught the soft glow of lanterns from a window in the near distance, and saw that beyond a couple more shrubs, the path ended in a stone staircase.

Fervently thanking the gods, Nafan broke into a run. He made it about half-way up the stone staircase before he tired himself out, and by the time he reached the front door of the house, he was almost crawling.

It was a large house, he noticed warily as he straightened and walked up to the front door. The outer walls were a mixture of brick and wood, and in the darkness it looked like it was covered in snakes – though he knew that in reality, it was just vines. Hanging above the door, an engraved clay sign creaked in the faint breeze. It read, Youmei Inn.

An inn! Well, that was all he needed to know. Heaving a sigh of relief, Nafan pulled experimentally on the painted wooden doors. They slid open, and without further hesitation he slipped inside.

Warmth, light, and the aromatic scent of tea and alcohol combined hit him full-on and Nafan almost fell to his knees again. Swallowing back his drool, Nafan adjusted his garments again and walked forward wearily.

This was the main chamber of the inn, some sort of pub. It wasn't busy, but for an inn this far from the Yellow River, in the middle of nowhere, he was impressed by the business. Amongst the many tables and chairs set out, there were about four parties, all men. The largest group consisted of four people who looked like soldiers. Nafan skirted around them warily, making his way instead to what looked like the front desk. An elderly man, who he guessed was the owner, was standing there expectantly. He was giving Nafan a bewildered stare, like he thought he was hallucinating.

Already used to that look by now, Nafan walked up to the counter and smiled.

"Hi, I saw the sign. This is an inn, right? Is there space for me to eat and stay for the night?" Or a couple nights, part of him thought, but he pushed that thought back. No, no, he had to keep going, if he didn't find a job soon he really was going to become a ghost.

"Uh…" The old man opened his mouth with a confused rasp, then turned his head and barked in a thickly accented dialect. Nafan, not quite able to understand, remained there with a smile plastered to his face until several moments later a young woman – barely more than a girl – walked in. When she saw him, her eyes lit up in that similar expression of confusion. Nafan made sure to beam a little bit extra.

The elder walked up to her, said some things in her ear, then walked past and left them alone. The girl raised an eyebrow and cast the old man a displeased look before turning and, somewhat resignedly, walking up to the counter.

"He says you want to stay the night." She still had an accent, but at least he could understand her.

"I'm also interested in food," Nafan added airily, hoping that his stomach – which was now grumbling nonstop – wasn't actually as loud as it sounded inside his head.

The girl paused, gazing at him calculatingly. She seemed to hesitate, then leaned over the counter towards him, eyes narrowing challengingly.

Alright, so it wasn't exactly the right time to be noticing, but Nafan promptly thought that she was quite pretty. Pale skin, long dark hair pinned back with decorative clips, wearing loose silk garments that parted just deep enough for him to glance down – and notice that there wasn't much there. Faintly disappointed despite himself, he wasn't able to drag his eyes back up before sharp fingers suddenly pinched his lower cheeks and forced his head back up.

"Hey, you bastard," she growled in a low voice, long lashes lowered in an unimpressed glare.

"Aha. Sorry." Chuckling apologetically, Nafan cringed, and she released him with an irritable click of her tongue.

"Well, another pervert come to visit my inn. That part's not a surprise, but you seem a bit different from the rest," she said wryly, pulling out an ink pen and a piece of parchment and passing it over the counter. "It's one silver coin for a bed, twenty coppers for dinner, and one silver for a bedmate."

"A what?" Nafan echoed, his gaze shifting distractedly down to her exposed shoulders. Her inn?

Sighing, the girl pulled up her silk garments and tapped a finger on the parchment. "Sign here for one silver and twenty coppers, we can spare you a meal tomorrow morning if you don't cause trouble. You're from Qin, aren't you."

"… Eh, you found out," Nafan said sheepishly, writing his name where she tapped and handing everything back. "Was it my accent?" After spending eight months on the other side of the country, he'd hoped that he'd lost some of his tell-tale state dialect. Right now, with all of the states at the brink of war, it was a major disadvantage for him to be wandering in enemy territory with the Qin state dialect.

"You try to hide it, but it's obvious," the girl said dryly, pausing to stare at the parchment. She glanced up again, one brow raised dubiously. "Hey, you… what language is this? Are you really a foreigner, when your dialect is so strong?"

"My mother was a foreigner. She gave me the name." Nafan shrugged, wincing as his stomach gurgled particularly loudly. "Don't worry, I don't know what it means either, or what language it is. I only know how to write it."

"… Hm." The girl glanced down at his chest idly before flicking her gaze back to his face with a wary look. "You don't seem like an evil guy. You should get yourself a normal name. At least to write down on paper."

Laughing forlornly, Nafan nodded, just to appease her. "I'll think about it," he lied, gazing distractedly over to the tables as the old man from earlier appeared with a tray of tea and food in hand. "So… can I eat?"

"Find a place to sit. Take my advice and go to the corner over there, away from the soldiers," the girl said, lifting a hand to point at a small round table at the very far end of the room. "They're here for women, so they should be in a good mood, but still. I don't want a fight to break out in my inn."

"Thank you." Gratefully, Nafan unstrung two silver coins and passed them over. She gave him a strange look, but he just smiled. "What's your name?"

"… Wang Tianxi," the girl said, sounding a little more amiable as she pocketed the extra coin. "Enjoy your stay."

Delighted by the prospect of food, Nafan whistled quietly to himself as he headed over to the far table. A group of three rather elderly men, local peasants from the look of it, turned their heads curiously as he passed but he barely noticed. There was a second door at the far end, near the table. It was half-open – through the other half, he could see a hall with several wooden sliding doors. A young girl was sweeping the floor, and he eyed her for a while until the warm steam of food took his attention elsewhere.

The old man from earlier set a tray down on his table. He was avoiding Nafan's gaze, so out of respect for the elder Nafan glanced the other way. By the time he looked back, the man had left, and in front of him was a platter that glowed with heavenly light. Tea, rice, squash, and carp. Tongue swelling with saliva, Nafan grabbed his chopsticks and instantly began to devour his lucky meal.

It wasn't until he nearly choked on a fish bone that he noticed the note – held down by the teacup, which he hadn't touched until then. Curiously, Nafan sipped the hot tea and lifted the note to read. Written in neat, black lettering were the words, if you give one more silver, I'll be your bedmate.

Nafan coughed and set down his cup of tea. Then he turned in his chair and promptly met the dark gaze of Wang Tianxi, who was watching him from across the room. Impressed, Nafan laughed to himself and turned back to his food. He'd had nothing but bad luck recently… but it looked like that was starting to change.

Now that his terrible stomach pangs were gone, Nafan ate slower, finishing the rest of his rice and then casually sipping at his tea. He paused for a moment, gazing at his rippling reflection in the surface of the dark liquid. He'd become aware of the fact that he was a rather big man, and could look intimidating at times with his thick head of brown curls and messy bangs, which shadowed a good portion of the right side of his face. But that was fine – he usually wore a smile, and after a couple hesitant looks most people would approach him eventually. Shifting his attention away, Nafan lifted the cup and noted that the ceramic teacups were well-decorated, though not quite as lavish as the ones they used in the palace. The patterns were a bit rough, but he thought he managed to make out the body of a wolf etched into the pottery.

Hm. It was rare for artists to incorporate wolves into their work. They weren't particularly common in the orient, at least not in the Middle Country. There had been a couple years in the palace where scrolls containing artwork of the lycan were common, but those had been taken down and burned after the late King Zhaoxiang passed away. According to the King's advisor, Fan Sui, the lycan had fought each other to extinction. The two clans, the Raoul and the Sreki, had engaged in a long, deadly war and in the end neither had survived.

Nafan hadn't believed it at first. The lycan were beasts but they were noble beasts, with a distinctly rational and human side. Besides, as far as he knew, the Raoul and Sreki had never had a reason to fight. But upon travelling to the lycan territory himself, just north-west of Qin, he'd found the mud and rivers stained with blood. A massacre of that scale… no one could have done it but the lycan themselves. He'd been forced to accept the truth.

That had been nine years ago, and hardly anyone knew about the lycan now. The majestic creatures that had churned the battlefields with blood alongside King Zhaoxiang would probably disappear from memory when Nafan died.

In a suddenly somber mood, Nafan set down his cup of tea with a sigh and reached into his garments to finger his chain of silver coins. Across the room, Wang Tianxi had come out from behind the counters and was speaking to the three peasants with a smile on her face. He couldn't see the rest of her body through her long robes, but he guessed that she was quite petite. Probably, her limbs were thin and delicate… a little drowsily, Nafan leaned back in his chair and imagined wrapping his hands around her tiny ankles.

Barely seconds into his daydream, there was a loud bang and a figure came flying out of the wooden hallway doors just in front of Nafan's table. Sitting up in guilty shock, Nafan stared with wide eyes as a heavyset man lumbered out and slammed the swinging doors back again with an angry snarl.

"You deceitful little bitch –!"

The figure, a dark-haired girl in cerulean robes, picked herself up and grabbed desperately at the man's feet as he tried to stomp past. Growing furiously, the man kicked her aside and lifted his foot with a yell.

"Let go of me, dirty runt! Who would want to sleep with a rat like you?!" he screamed, slamming his foot down on the girl's hand.

Skidding his chair backwards, Nafan rushed to his feet and ran over, grabbing the man's shoulder and pulling him away before he could step on her again. Across the room, Wang Tianxi had also been running over, but when she saw him she stopped in her tracks and a guarded expression flashed over her face.

In front of him, the man flailed and wrung himself out of Nafan's grasp. Whirling around, he threw waves of drunken-smelling snaps into Nafan's face. "Who the fuck are you? You'll pay for treating me disrespectfully, I'll have you know that I'm an important merchant around here, you bastard! Without me, you would all starve to death!" Cackling, the man lifted both hands to push Nafan away, but Nafan grabbed his wrists firsts.

Returning the man's furious glare, Nafan smiled and tilted his head faintly. "Back in my country, we eat fat little merchants like you," he said with an exaggerated foreign accent. Releasing one of the man's shocked hands, he stabbed a finger into several pressure points along the man's left wrist, rendering it immobile, then proceeded to pop every single one of his finger knuckles. "First, we pluck out their fingers, one by one," he purred, grin broadening despite himself as utter horror appear in the man's eyes. "Personally," he added airily, reaching the pinky finger and cracking the last knuckle with a neat snap. "I like the part just under the fingernails. It fries very nicely."

The man's mouth, which had been slowly opening, finally let out a high squeal. He pulled away and Nafan released him, watching with probably too much amusement as the man staggered out of the inn as fast as he could. After he was gone, they could still hear his terrified whimpers echoing in the air for at least a couple more seconds.

Pleased with himself, Nafan turned, about to walk back to his table when a hand clamped down on his ankle. Surprised, he glanced down and saw the dark-haired girl he'd just saved lying on the ground in front of him.

"Oh… are you okay? You can get up now," he began, about to bend down. Briefly, he remembered thinking that she had an awfully strong grip for a girl – but by the time that thought turned into a suspicion, it was already too late.

"You…" As he bent down, he heard a low voice snarl, and then the next thing he heard was a massive ringing in his ears.

Gasping for air, Nafan lifted a hand to his stinging jaw and blinked rapidly in an attempt to wash away the stars in his eyes.

What the…

He'd been thrown against a wall and was thoroughly winded by the impact. In front of him, the dark-haired girl stalked up to him. She lifted a leg, her robes sliding all the way down her pale thighs as she planted her foot on his abdomen and pressed down, hard.

"Guh!" Gasping at the impact, Nafan grabbed her ankle with both hands and looked up, struggling to make out her face. His vision was still swimming, but he managed to make out a pair of glistening, intense blue eyes.

Wait, blue…?

Nobody had blue eyes here in the Middle Country…

"And who the hell are you?" the girl growled, in a voice that wasn't very feminine. But maybe his ringing ears were distorting the sound. "Scaring off my customer like that… you know how long it took me to seduce that rich bastard? Fine. I'll just take my money from you instead…"

He saw her lift an arm, fists clenched. With a pang of alarm, and in a sudden spurt of insanity, Nafan twitched his fingers in a familiar motion. Grabbing her foot, he pressed his finger into the middle and trailed it quickly down, rubbing twice with more pressure at the end of the stroke.

She froze.

Relieved as the pressure on his abdomen disappeared, Nafan coughed and took a moment to regain his breath. But along with the cold, delicious air came a pang of intense shock.

She… responded?!

Snapping his head up, Nafan met the girl's blue eyes and felt a second pang of alarm. That wasn't a girl – it would have been difficult to tell from just the person's face, but at the moment her robes had fallen back far enough for him to see the extra… shadow, pressed against her – no, his, thigh.

"Ah – I'm so sorry!" A third voice, high-pitched in worry, broke their exchange of shocked stares. Blinking as a hazy figure appeared between them and shoved the blue-eyed boy away, Nafan coughed again and came to recognize the pretty face of Wang Tianxi. She stretched out a hand and helped him to his feet with a fervent apology. Then, still supporting him, she helped him limp to the nearest chair.

"It's fine," he rasped, unconsciously searching for the boy from earlier. He spotted, with a strange feeling of relief, the boy trailing after them. His pretty face was scowling, and his robes had fallen back into place now.

"Don't help him, Tianxi-xi," the boy huffed, crossing his arms across his chest and shooting Nafan a dirty glare. "It was his fault to begin with."

"Shut up, I told you not to cause trouble," Tianxi snapped, lifting a hand and flicking the boy in the nose.

The boy yelped, immediately covering his nose with both hands as his blue eyes broke out watering. Despite himself, Nafan chuckled.

"You shouldn't do that. They're really sensitive there," he said hoarsely, suddenly unable to wipe the smile away from his face.

I must be dreaming…

He had been thinking that his good luck was much too good to be true. But this would explain it. A dream, yes…

But he only had a couple seconds to wallow in content before he became aware of the other two staring at him with intensely strange eyes. Like they really had just seen a ghost.

"… Hey," Tianxi whispered after a while, leaning her head towards the boy. "Do you think…?"

"He's not human," the boy nodded decidedly, one eye narrowing in a glare as he eyed Nafan warily. "He must be a demon. He used some sort of magic on me, after he touched my foot he took control of my body and made it move on its own."

"I knew there was something strange about him." Tianxi started nodding too, in apparent agreement. "What do we do with him? Should we throw him out? Hand him over to the soldiers?"

"Whoah, wait!" Nafan said hastily, lifting his hands with a nervous laugh. "I'm human! I'm – I'm – I'm a doctor!" he stammered, bringing his hands together and fidgeting. "I specialize in, uh, Chi therapy. I just used your pressure points to manipulate your body for a bit, that's all." Though a human shouldn't have pressure points there, he thought with a pang of mingled confusion and excitement. Unable to help himself, Nafan gazed in hopeful fascination at the boy's face, unconsciously admiring his azure-blue irises. He had forgotten how breathtakingly beautiful they could be…

"… What should we do?" Tianxi asked again, apparently deciding to ignore him.

"... Wait," the boy said, his voice lower now, calmer, as he cast the man a wary look. He seemed to hesitate, but eventually sat himself down across the table from Nafan. "Who are you?"

"I… I just told you," Nafan pointed out with another nervous chuckle. "I'm a doctor."

The boy paused for a moment, then spared Tianxi a glance and muttered. "Get me some strong alcohol. I want to pass out."

Tianxi's eyes lit up in surprise before she scoffed and hit him irritably over the head. "Dumbass. Be serious."

"I am being serious," he growled, rubbing his head and casting her an injured look. "Hurry up. Get some for him, too."

"Ah, I'm okay –" Nafan began hastily, only to cut himself off when the boy shot him a rather threatening glare. Subdued, he lowered his hands under the table and smiled meekly at his unexpected companion. In the background, Tianxi sighed again and left.

It was silent for a while. The boy avoided his gaze, fidgeting instead with a chopstick that had been left on the table. He twirled it, fingers moving so fast that Nafan got dizzy just from watching. Eventually, Nafan heard himself speak up.

Or croak, was more like it. He was worried that the boy wouldn't have understood him, but it seemed like it had gotten through.

"My name?" The boy paused, his lips pursing into a frown as he gazed thoughtfully off to the side. "Why should I tell you?"

"I can tell you mine," Nafan offered half-heartedly.

"Why the hell do I want to know yours?" The boy cast him an ugly look.

"My name is Nafan von Tethys," Nafan announced anyway, managing to bring a smile to his lips.

At that, the boy turned his head, finally meeting his gaze. There was a spark of interest in his blue eyes as he looked at the man. Suddenly, his lips stretched in a grin, and Nafan felt another spark of delight as he saw the boy's irregularly sharp incisor teeth gleam behind his pink lips. "What? You're not a fan of titties?"

Expecting as much, Nafan smiled patronizingly as the boy snorted and promptly broke out laughing.

"Is that really your name? Not-a-fan-of-titties?!" The boy managed to stop laughing enough to gasp the words out, but he receded into giggles again as he finished his sentence.

"You can call me Nafan," Nafan said impassively, pushing back the irritation pulsing in his temple with an internal sigh of relief. At least he'd gotten the boy to relax, from the looks of it. In the background, he saw Wang Tianxi approach with a massive black bottle of liquor on a tray. When she saw the boy laughing, her eyes lit up in surprise and she cast Nafan a suspicious look.

"Hey, listen to this," the boy chuckled brightly, reaching up to rap the back of his hand on Tianxi's chest as she bent over to set the tray down.

Wow, he's got nerve. Nafan thought despite himself, as he watched annoyance flash through the woman's face.

But the boy, oblivious, pointed a finger at Nafan and chortled. "His name is not-a-fan-of-titties."

"Don't be stupid," Tianxi said irritably, also sitting down beside the boy. She seemed to have decided to join them, Nafan noticed in faint relief. Maybe he could get some information out of her, instead.

"No, really!" Snickering, the boy grabbed the bottle and pulled the cork off with his bare hands. "Can I call you Titties?"

"No, please call me Nafan," Nafan said, managing to sound pleasant as the boy pushed a cup of liquor towards him.

"You should listen to him, Khyriel." Tianxi sighed, holding out her own cup in a gesture for the boy to pour her some as well. "Or he'll make your body do strange things again. He's a pervert, you know. It doesn't matter how handsome they look, I can always tell."

Scoffing, the boy cast him a side-ways look. "He's not handsome. But it looks like he has money, so it's fine."

Deciding to ignore what they were saying about him, Nafan leaned across the table a little and took advantage of the boy's distracted glance to capture his gaze. "Khyriel?" He spoke slowly at first, making sure to pronounce it right – it was a bit different from the way Tianxi had said it. It had been a while since he'd used that language. "Is that your name?"

Again, both of them froze. Then, slowly, Tianxi turned her head to stare at Khyriel, while the boy continued to stare at Nafan.

"… I'm just a doctor." Sensing that something was possibly going to happen, Nafan reminded them warily and lifted both his hands onto the table for them to see.

"… And what brings a doctor here, this far away from the main road?" Tianxi took the initiative to ask, when it became obvious that Khyriel was too shocked to speak.

"Oh, I… uh, got fired, I guess." Suddenly reminded of his predicament, Nafan drained his cup of liquor and grimaced as the sharp liquid stung down his throat. But still, the burning feeling provided some comfort as he felt it trail through his body, and he was grateful when Tianxi refilled his cup. "I… somehow ended up sleeping with a nurse and a patient from the same hospital. They got in an argument, and the word got out, and it turns out the nurse was the mayor's precious daughter, so…" Shrugging, Nafan averted his gaze with a hoarse laugh. "Out I go."

"See. A pervert." He caught Tianxi's whisper as she leaned over to murmur in the boy's ear.

Khyriel snickered, but it was distracted-sounding, and he trailed off as he drained his own cup.

"And what about you? Youmei Inn, was it? I've been wondering for a while now, is this an inn or a brothel?" Changing the subject, Nafan leaned back in his chair and smiled mildly across the table. They were both younger than him, he guessed, but old enough to have been on their own for a while now. Fifteen, maybe sixteen. But while their ages were similar, he was beginning to see the stark contrast between the two. Whereas Tianxi's straight, black hair was neatly pinned behind her head, Khyriel's hair was thicker, fell over his face, and only grew long in a thin tail at the back of his head. He was starting to smudge his makeup, Nafan noticed musingly. It seemed like the effects three small cups of liquor were enough to turn his pale cheeks pink.

"It's a bit of both, I guess you could say." Tianxi's voice was a little wary as she replied. Pausing distractedly as Khyriel slammed his empty ceramic cup in front of her for the fourth time, she refilled it with a heavy sigh. "Slow down, Khyriel. You know you're not a very good drinker."

"I said I wanted to pass out, didn't I?" Khyriel pointed out irritably, gazing into the clear liquid with brooding blue eyes.

"So an inn-brothel place, this far away from the Yellow River," Nafan continued, pulling his gaze away from the boy and offering Tianxi's pretty face a content smile instead. "Business isn't as bad as I thought."

"You're not from around here, so I suppose you wouldn't know." Tianxi mused. "My father and grandfather ran this inn for a long time before me, before they passed away together in the war. It may seem like we're in the middle of nowhere, but we're not. There are several small merchant communities nearby, and a supply town just a couple kilometers south. We're between Linzi and the Yellow River, so travelers drop by often as well."

"Oh, Linzi! Then I'm not as off-track as I thought I was." Nafan said, brightening in relief. After losing his position in the palace, he'd travelled all the way across the Middle Country to the Yellow Sea, on the coast of Qi – the state that he was in now, where Linzi was the largest city. It was one of the last provinces who hadn't faced the wrath of Qin, the power-hungry, self-appointed capitol state. He'd resided out in a couple different sea-side cities for the past eight or so years, but after the last incident he'd been finding it hard to get a job. Most people were too suspicious of a foreign-looking man to accept him as their local doctor. So he'd been forced to play his last card – to the north-west was Qin's greatest rival, a state called Zhao. After King Zhaoxiang brutally conquered half of the state with the help of the lycans, sixteen years ago now, they had taken a break – but now they were back, still greedy for more. With war brewing between the remaining parts of Zhao and Qin, they would be in great need of doctors. Definitely desperate enough to accept even a suspicious-looking one like him.

"Off-track? Where were you trying to go?" Tianxi asked, eyes widening in faint interest. Beside her, Khyriel mumbled something under his breath and tilted his chair dangerously far back.

"I'm trying to get to Zhao," Nafan confessed sheepishly.

"You must be mad." Tianxi shook her head, but she was smiling now too as she re-filled everybody's cups. "Walking straight into war speaking the enemy dialect."

Grimacing, Nafan reached for his cup. "I'm working on the dialect, trust me. I'll make it disappear by the time I get there."

"You can speak my dialect just fine," Khyriel muttered, audibly this time. Attention caught, Nafan glanced at the boy and promptly found himself captured by those intense blue eyes. "… Khyriel Kanare. That's my name," the boy grunted, tilting his head back and pouring liquor into his mouth. The translucent liquid glistened in the candlelight as it trickled between the boy's lips.

"Humph. Warming up now that you're drunk? Good-for-nothing," Tianxi huffed, punching him lightly on the shoulder. In response, the boy parted his lips and bared his fangs in a snarl. Nafan really couldn't suppress his smile at that.

"How long have you been here, Khyriel Kanare?" Nafan asked, speaking carefully as he addressed the boy. "You're awfully far from home."

"... You already know too much for my liking, don't expect me to tell you anything more," Khyriel said in a low voice as he cast the man a wary glance. "Strange-looking perverted doctor or whatever."

"My name is Nafan."

"Titties, right." Scoffing, Khyriel drained one more cup and gasped contently.

"Do you work here?" Nafan pressed, wondering how he could get behind the boy's suspicious walls without getting his head bitten off.

"Why else would I be crawling after the ankles of old men?" Khyriel growled, shooting him a narrowed glare.

"The brat owed me a favour," Tianxi explained, lifting a hand to the boy's face. Khyriel immediately covered his nose, but the girl flicked him in the forehead instead and he snapped at her again with an irritated yelp.

"I paid it back to you a long time ago," Khyriel said indignantly, rubbing the red mark on his head and casting Tianxi a resentful look.

"Yeah, now you only crawl after men because you like it," Tianxi said with a light laugh. "I'm proud of you, Khyriel. You've learned so much from me."

"So what if I like it, it's easy money," Khyriel growled. "Besides, I learned those things by myself –"

"What things?" Nafan interrupted curiously, sensing that they were dragging the conversation further from where he'd like it to be.

Both of them paused and cast him the same, evaluating look. Then Tianxi lifted a hand and patted the upper chest area of her garments, where Nafan kept his coins. She smiled, long lashes fluttering as she leaned across the table and gave him that same view down her loose robes.

"If you cough up one more silver, I can show you."

Catching her drift, Nafan tore his gaze away from her pale skin and instead looked at Khyriel. The boy, drunk, seemed to have lost interest in their conversation and was gazing listlessly into the shadows at the side of the room.

"… Alright…" Slowly, Nafan reached into his garments and pulled one more silver coin loose. He slid it across the table and Tianxi's smile deepened, but when she put her finger on it Nafan didn't let go just yet. Sensing her questioning gaze, he tilted his head at the boy. "But I want him."

Surprise widened the girl's dark eyes and she leaned back, biting her lip for a moment. Her eyes narrowed, and she tilted her head warily at him. "… But he's a boy, you know that, right? Do you prefer boys?" She lifted a hand to the sash of her robes. "Because I can do that, too –"

"Oi, leave him alone." A voice interrupted and Khyriel returned to the table. Swiftly, he placed his finger on the coin and pulled it away, a dark grin transforming his previously sullen face as he pressed the coin to his lips. "He's my customer now, right? Hey Tianxi-xi, hurry up and get us a room."

Pursing her lips, Tianxi got to her feet resignedly.

"Let me take the liquor, too. It's great." Cackling, Khyriel grabbed the bottle and trailed off beside the girl, throwing one arm over her shoulder.

"You're not planning to kill him, are you?" Tianxi said dryly, her voice tinged with dislike now as she glanced back to make sure Nafan was following.

Alarmed, Nafan paused in his tracks, but Khyriel waved his hand dismissively.

"Nah, I'll wait until he's left the inn. I don't want to spend another five months lending my ass to repay the damages."

"Good," Tianxi muttered, stopping outside a sliding door at the very end of the hall. "This will be your room. Feel free to ask if there is anything else you would like." She spoke briskly, but when she stepped back and met Nafan's gaze, her dark eyes narrowed. "Enjoy your night."

Offering her a nervously fluttering smile, Nafan nodded and felt his eyes trail after her as she left, focusing a little longingly on her thin, pale neck. But this was more than worth it, he told himself as he followed Khyriel into the room and shut the sliding doors. As much as he admired a woman's slender, pretty body, he would turn his back to it in an instant for the chance to see a lycan again.

Khyriel seemed blind to the man's intentions. The boy had already sprawled himself comfortably on the floor, stretching his limbs across the neatly folded blankets. He was on his belly, still pouring himself liquor, again uncaring of the fact that his robe had again climbed dangerously up the length of his thighs.

He's a boy, a boy! No… wait, he's not even human, don't look at him like that! Swallowing hard, Nafan dragged his eyes away and headed over to kneel in front of the boy. Khyriel looked up, his blue eyes glittering amiably as he stretched out a hand and offered a cup of liquor to the man.

"I didn't pin you as the type to like boys," Khyriel purred, eyes narrowing in a smirk. "Is that why your mother gave you such a funny name, Titties?"

"It's Nafan. And it's Tethys," Nafan sighed, accepting the cup anyway. "And I'm not interested in boys. I'm interested in wolves."

As he'd predicted, Khyriel immediately froze. Suddenly aware of the fact that he was two inches away from someone capable of transforming into a beast with fangs and claws, Nafan also tensed, ready to spring into action in case the boy took it the wrong way.

But, far from that, Khyriel released his next breath with a sigh and a faint laugh.

"Kinky," he commented mildly, draining his cup of liquor and pouring himself another one immediately. "But I don't think you'd want to be inside a wolf's ass."

"That's not what I mean," Nafan said, chuckling despite himself as he relaxed a little. So the boy was going to keep up this game… well, there was an easy way to break that. Grabbing the Khyriel's wrist as he went to pour a third cup, Nafan gazed back as the boy turned to shoot him a wary look. "You're a lycan, aren't you?"

Again, Khyriel tensed. Nafan gazed into his blue eyes and struggled to read what was going on – he could see fear, and bitterness, and something too dark for him to decipher. For a moment he saw that bitterness grow, and he saw danger flash in the boy's eyes. But he'd strategically grabbed the boy's wrist – his finger was one press away from a critical Chi spot. It wouldn't save him if the boy actually wanted to kill him, but it could at least buy him a couple seconds to run.

"… What are you talking about?" But the boy bravely kept up the game, his voice shaking as he scoffed. "The lycan are dead. They're ghosts, just like you."

"But I'm not dead," Nafan pointed out with a faint smile.

Annoyance flashed through the boy's face and he bared his fangs in a snarl. Pulling away from the man, Khyriel fell back on the blankets and glared resentfully at him.

"Who are you?"

"I'm a doctor," Nafan repeated truthfully, averting his gaze with a faint shrug.

"Oh, yeah?" Khyriel's lips stretched in a grin, but he didn't look a single bit amused. "Then I'll tell you, I'm a prostitute and a hire-arm. Nothing more."

"Those jobs are quite at the opposite ends of the spectrum," Nafan mused, grabbing the bottle of liquor himself and filling his cup. His body had gotten used to the alcohol's sharp burn, and he was starting to feel empty without it.

"Not really. I lend people my body. They can use it for whatever they like." Khyriel spoke flatly, eyes suspiciously following the man's every move. "Whether they ask to fill me with semen or to murder their wife, I'll do it if they have the money."

"I have money," Nafan hinted, struggling to drag his mind away from what the boy had just said. It didn't sound like a bad idea, filling him with… no, no, bad Nafan! Mentally shaking himself, Nafan caught the boy's wary gaze and reached into his garments with a crooked smile. "I want to see a wolf. How much do you want for that?"

Khyriel sighed, closing his eyes for a moment before turning away and opening them to gaze at the far side of the room. "Wolves are hard to find. It'll take me a couple days. Do you want it dead or alive?"

"You know what I mean," Nafan chuckled, downing one last gulp of liquor before gasping and daring to climb on the bed beside the boy. Part of him at this point was freezing in horror – as professional as he considered himself, it was still a dumb idea to be climbing into bed with a lycan – but the other part was woozy with excitement and alcohol. And it didn't help that Khyriel, despite being a little ragged up close, was utterly beautiful in all other aspects. White skin, shiny black hair, a thin but lean frame… and those eyes…

No, Nafan, don't do it. As usual, that ominous-sounding voice groaned through his conscience, but as usual, he ignored it. Like how he'd ignored it those nights back in the hospital. Usually, it was right – if he'd listened, he wouldn't have been kicked out that town – but it also always spoke up just when he didn't want to listen the most. Like right now, as he was leaning experimentally forward, delightedly aware of Khyriel glancing back, blue eyes narrowed, lips parted faintly. They paused, faintly held breaths drifting into the air, churning the sweetly perfumed room with the scent of liquor instead.

"… Why are you so persistent?" Khyriel muttered, his eyes flickering up and around the man's face, from his stubbled chin up to his one visible golden iris. "You already seem so sure of yourself."

"No, I'm not so sure," Nafan mused, willing himself to stay still. Yes, he tended to lose control of himself at times, but he was at least smart enough not to make the first move on a lycan. Basic instincts told him it was a bad idea. Instead, he remained frozen, even as the boy turned to face him and came up close.

Almost curiously, Khyriel lifted a hand to his chin, rubbing his fingers along the man's stubble and licking his lips. Nafan saw his tongue swipe over his sharp incisors and shivered faintly, wondering what it would be like to be bitten by those.

"… What exactly do you want from me, anyway?" Khyriel murmured, all but climbing on top of the man's lap. Nafan couldn't really guess the boy's intentions anymore – it tended to become difficult to guess what someone was trying to do when they were dead drunk.

"I don't know," he replied breathlessly.

Damnit, he was probably drunk too. What a stupid answer. Of course he knew what he wanted. To fill that body with semen – no, no, to see the boy transform and confirm that he was really a lycan…

Dimly, Nafan felt cool arms slide around his shoulders and twine back behind his head. Fingers brushed through his curly hair, and lips pressed against his neck, trailing lower, pushing the hem of his robes off his shoulder.

Oh, shit. Wait. Wait just a second…

A rush of distinct alarm flew through his limbs, letting him regain control his body for a moment. Nafan pulled the boy's hand out of his hair and started to push Khyriel away – but that was all the strength he had left. One more glimpse of the boy's blue eyes, and his glowing, vibrant irises flooded over his senses like a pool of spilt ink. The last thing Nafan remembered was his hands sliding down against warm skin, and the faint sting of something sharp pressing against his lips.

.

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