Ordinary travel packs had been flung at the foot of the bed. Dinner, such as it was, rested on a little table in the room with the two of them; Nie Huaisang had pleaded weariness from the journey and a need for quiet, and a well-paid innkeeper hosting a Chosen’s allies had been only too glad to oblige. Their mounts rested in the inn stable, already curried. Nie Huaisang had made sure to pick his mare’s hooves clean himself. Their horses had to be ready to run.
Nie Zonghui placed the last silencing talisman directly on the door, and nodded.
Nie Huaisang let out one shuddering breath, then snapped open his fan before his face. “This was not in the plan!”
“True.” Zonghui sat down where he could reach the food. His hand hovered over the pot of local herb tea, the golden bread, the steaming baked beans, the green salad topped with freshly-chopped apples – all of which looked quite lovely – and retreated. “Well, our Lan friend won’t be going hungry tonight.”
Reached into a sleeve, and pulled out a wrapped packet of ham.
“Da-ge said to pack enough food for the whole trip.” Nie Huaisang felt tension seep out of his shoulders at the salty scent of good Qinghe ham. “I thought he was joking.”
“We eat a lot of meat back home,” his cousin shrugged. “You can’t grow someone Sect Leader Nie’s size on beans.” Setting the ham between the dishes, he glanced up. “Eat something, A-Sang. Inedia works for building up your cultivation, but it’s hell on plotting.”
Zonghui had been at Nie Mingjue’s side as their general hacked his way through the war. He’d know.
Heaving a sigh, Nie Huaisang flung himself down and set to dinner. Food might calm some of his quivering nerves. Maybe.
…Or, he realized, as ripples shivered in his teacup, maybe not.
Zonghui eyed his cup, and sipped his own tea, mouth twitching at the foreign taste. “Our sect has always been better with yao than spirits. It should be reassuring that Hanguang-jun finds no trace of resentful energy near the… local peacekeepers.”
Should be. Wasn’t, for either of them. Whatever a Companion was, it wasn’t a yao, ghost, monster, or demon. That didn’t mean it was safe. Tales of hungry shrines were used to scare sect children because they were out there. And every cultivator had to know the signs. Go on a night-hunt with tools against demons, and meet an angry god instead? If you didn’t know when to run, you were dead.