World of Crystals > Enter the Red Lotus > No Greater Gift
No Greater Gift
Then, as if on cue, his friend finally appeared at the end of the hall. Tall and willowy, Xiao Tian cut an imposing figure in his brilliant, gleaming red O-yoroi armor, the great white ostrich plume in his helmet such a contrast with his striking blue hair. He was androgynously handsome--nay, beautiful. And as he crossed the hall with such confidence, such bravado even for one so young, Shouren could not help staring at him, and feeling a great sense of pride. To think of the old cliché warmed his heart, and filled him with laughter: the student had, in this case, quite surpassed the master. For the student he held so dear was now, in fact, his superior. Anyone else would have been bitter, but Shouren was not.
"You're late, Supreme Commander," Shouren said pointedly, raising a silver eyebrow. Xiao Tian smiled slyly at him.
"Nagging again, Zhang? You're worse than a woman," he snickered. Then, Xiao Tian pointed out the gilded palace window. "Is the sun yet crossed the phoenix?" he asked.
"Then I am precisely on time."
Shouren laughed in defeat, and warmly embraced him. "You look well, Liang."
"As do you, old friend," Xiao Tian replied. "How goes training?"
"Quite well," Shouren answered. "Particularly now that there is no need to send our best men to the hinterlands of Maho-Kuni for instruction in useless incantations."
"Simplicity," Xiao Tian nodded in agreement. "We are men of the sword; magicks should enhance the blade, not replace it. We have no need for those ridiculous incantations."
"Indeed. And we have some promising new recruits. None that match you for speed, but who can?"
"You, if I--and my behind--recall."
Shouren laughed darkly. "Yes, yes. Until you mastered the wasp sting. Then it was I who grew sore."
They shared a hearty laugh at that, for several moments. Shouren treasured those years in the dojo with his star pupil, years that seemed altogether too fleeting in hindsight. More than anyone, Xiao Tian was living proof that Shouren's radical sword-and-spell techniques were successful, and watching his eager apprentice lap up everything he had to teach like a sponge was most gratifying. And more than anyone, Xiao Tian understood the importance of thinking outside the established parameters. It was his adaptability and strong sense of curiosity that Shouren admired most.
Though he was filled with an immense pride in Xiao Tian and all that he'd accomplished, Shouren could feel sadness creeping in. He saw less and less of him as time went by, and it was perhaps those very skills that Shouren had helped him hone to perfection that were pulling Xiao Tian away from him. He was being sent on longer and more dangerous missions. Shouren wondered rather morbidly just what the Emperor had in mind for a "gift", considering the last gift a Liang got from the Celestial Throne was one-way passage to the lawless lands of the barbarians. So be it, he thought. Let all the Red Lotus Brigade follow, and the Western barbarians finally be civilized. He would accomplish this under Xiao Tian's banner, fighting at his side.
"You seem troubled, Shouren," Xiao Tian said, frowning.
"I wonder what His Magnificence will give you," Shouren mused aloud.
"I haven't the slightest idea. I was hoping you knew," Xiao Tian confessed. Shouren suddenly grinned sardonically at him.
"Perhaps he means to give you a wife. It is long past time that you wed and had sons."
"You are scant older than I am," Xiao Tian snorted. "If it is long past time for I, then so it is for you. Heaven knows you should have found a broodmare by now."
Shouren stared pointedly at Xiao Tian. "That was unfair, Tianyi," he said softly, relaxing for a moment into the familiar affection. He closed his eyes, and silently cursed himself. Shouren was never that careless. Perhaps that thought threw him off guard more than he believed it would. He was suddenly startled by a set of unbelievably soft lips pressed against his own.
"I'm sorry," Xiao Tian whispered. "I was unkind."
"Xiao Tian--" Shouren hissed in protest. "We stand mere feet from the Emperor and his men!"
"His Magnificence can bestow upon me no greater gift than that which I already possess," Xiao Tian said quietly. Shouren's sudden anger at his own carelessness, and his love's utter disregard for propriety, melted away. All he could do was smile, as the antechamber's doors swung open and guards stood in lines before them.
"We should give him the chance to try, though."
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