They hurried on with their journey at night. Zhuning had nothing to grind her teeth on, so she started to babble instead. The first thing she did was to scold Sixteen. “You’re so strong, why don’t you fight back with others hit you? Even ten of those men wouldn’t be enough to win against you.”
Sixteen piggybacked Zhuning with his head bowed, not daring to speak. It was only after Zhuning got tired of lecturing that he replied, “When I was young, I didn’t know, I could fight back.” His parents had sold him when he was a small child. He had spent his entire life either being sold off or beaten. No one had ever taught him how to fight back, or that he had the right to counter in the first place.
Zhuning fell silent at his words before she sighed. “In the past, one of my imperial brothers came back with a little tiger after his hunting trip. Because the tiger was too little, he left it to a mother dog to raise. That little tiger was always afraid of that dog. By the time it grew big enough to kill that dog in one bite, it was still afraid.” Zhuning reached out a hand and rubbed Sixteen’s head. “Actually, there’s no need to be afraid. You’re clearly strong, you just can’t get past the demons in your heart.”
Sixteen didn’t speak, so Zhuning continued, “See? There’s already no one who can stop you from walking anymore.”
Indeed, Sixteen’s feet hadn’t stopped moving, but he said, “You can, make me explode.”
Zhuning blanked out before her lips drew up into a smile. “You actually believed that? I was tricking you. There’s no such spell at all.” Sixteen nodded, silent as ever. Zhuning asked, “Then aren’t you leaving?”
“Hurry and escape from my side, ah. I’m a zombie, I’ll drink human blood.”
“I’m poisonous,” Sixteen replied succinctly. “And, if I go, no one help you, grind your teeth.”
Zhuning tightened her grip around his neck. “You’re clearly a living human, but you’re even more slow-witted than a zombie like me. In the future, can you stop speaking in bits and pieces?” Zhuning rubbed her teeth, which were beginning to grow itchy again. Sixteen grabbed one of his wrist bracers and placed it by Zhuning’s side, indicating she could use it to grind down her teeth.
“I’ll try, to talk smoothly,” he said.
Zhuning simply chomped down on the bracer.
Traveling by night was a dull affair. Soon enough, Sixteen’s black iron bracers looked worse and worse for wear. Zhuning stopped chewing on the bracer and started babbling again, slowly telling Sixteen her story. There were tales of the former Great Jin Dynasty and its palace and her betrothed, the emperor’s son-in-law. They’d never gotten married, but Zhuning said she had adored him.
“In the end, I died by his hands,” Zhuning’s face was expressionless at these words, but when Sixteen turned to look at her, he felt she should be very sad.
Sixteen turned back and kicked a pebble at his feet. He couldn’t help but ask curiously, “How did, you die?”
Zhuning shook her head, unwilling to say. She changed the topic instead. “What about Sixteen? Have you run into any fun stories before? Tell me some.”
“Fun?” Sixteen thought it over. “I’ve run into you.”
For some reason, Zhuning felt her face heat up from the careless remark. She soundly thwacked Sixteen on the head. “Where did you learn to say such sweet things!?”
Sixteen allowed himself to be beaten before he said, “It’s truth.”
Zhuning’s head drooped over his shoulder as she looked absently at his neck. On the one hand, she was excited by the sight. On the other, she was recalling the awful taste of his blood. The two conflicting desires combined until Zhuning stuck out her tongue and gave a vicious lick to Sixteen’s skin. Sixteen’s steps faltered, and Zhuning asked, “What now?”
Sixteen didn’t understand the sudden impulse in his heart, but he did feel his body getting hotter. “It’s like…being bitten, by a mosquito.”
Zhuning soundly thwacked his head again. “Your heart’s no better than snakes and scorpions! Hurry up and keep walking!”
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