55. Punishment for Lying
“I think I said too much…” HaoRan felt rather guilty as he stared at XiaoYu’s fading shadow. He was only ecstatic over meeting an old classmate in the game, so he wanted to keep chatting. He didn’t think he’d stumble and cause a mess.
“It’s fine,” I_Am_A_Poor_Man comforted, patting the other on the shoulder.
“But Xiao-Bai seems…angry.”
“Really?” Poor_Man thought back at their interactions with XiaoYu in the past. The younger man certainly didn’t show any signs of his temper before. Except for certain issues which he was quite stubborn about, XiaoYu had always accepted everyone’s suggestions, reminders and even teasing with a gentle demeanour.
“In my memory, Xiao-Bai has always been sitting quietly to a side.” Hong HaoRan summarised how the nicknames came about. “While some of the bored kids in the class would seize the chance to insult Xiao-Bai by calling him Little Moron (Xiao-BaiChi) or Boy Toy (Xiao-BaiLian). He would just politely smile at them. He’d never acknowledge it or argue. But just now…” It was his first time witnessing XiaoYu turn and leave. Was that a sign he was angry?
“Perhaps Xiao-Yu isn’t angry. Don’t think too much about it.”
“None of you know about his family issues?” HereticKing was surprised no one in such a large class knew of XiaoYu’s situation. They’d even spread false rumours during a class gathering. Anyone who’d spent an ounce of time with XiaoYu would know he’s not that kind of person who only focuses on power and benefits.
“XiaoYu doesn’t talk much to us. None of us are good friends of his, so we don’t really know what happened to him after graduation.” HaoRan scratched his head in shame. Even the fact XiaoYu got into University C was something he only knew through the school’s congratulatory notice.
HereticKing stared at the direction XiaoYu disappeared to in thought. He sort of understood why he could always spot the type of lonely gaze within XiaoYu’s eyes. The kind that spoke of attempts to hide it but could never succeed all the time.
Once DrunkBed dejectedly walked away, HereticKing messaged XiaoYu, “Come to the Portal at the East Gate.”
XiaoYu didn’t reply at once. He was afraid he’d be asked about his real life. He wasn’t ready to say it out yet. He didn’t even feel like telling anyone about it for the time being.
“XiaoYu, we’re leaving. You’re the only one left. Hurry back now,” HereticKing’s voice rang out again just as XiaoYu was hesitating. While the other’s voice was as steady as ever with no way of telling what the other was thinking, XiaoYu felt a sense of pressure coming from those words. There was no way XiaoYu could try pretending to be an ostrich now. Furthermore, XiaoYu was someone who kept his word. They all agreed to go to the Derelict Ruins. Sure, the current situation was a little awkward, but he can’t recklessly stand the rest up.
“I’ll be there soon.” XiaoYu decided to put aside his conflicted feelings for now. Perhaps everyone would be too busy grinding later to ask about his family.
XiaoYu swiftly traced back his steps only to see HereticKing alone. The other man was leaning against a lamp post with his arms crossed in front of him. While his face was expressionless, the overwhelming presence still attracted many a stray eye.
XiaoYu felt it strange that Poor_Man and Below_The_Moon weren’t anywhere to be seen at all. By the time he’d walked closer, the wax statue HereticKing sprang to life. He grasped XiaoYu by the arm and dragged him to the centre of the nearby Portal.
“Select Nebula,” HereticKing commanded.
Nebula was a tiny suburb within Prole. Thus, when XiaoYu and HereticKing stepped out of the portal, the street was so not a match for the bustling streets in the heart of the capital. The autumn breeze showered the ground with leaves. There was only one word that could aptly describe the scene – desolate.
HereticKing led XiaoYu into an empty alley. Then, HereticKing abruptly stopped before XiaoYu and turned to stare right into XiaoYu.
XiaoYu was already half a head shorter than the other man. Under direct eye contact, XiaoYu felt as if he’d shrunk even further. His instincts told him the other wanted to say something to him, but he was also afraid he’d be asked a question he didn’t want to answer. So he tried to shrink smaller and smaller.
HereticKing reached out and held XiaoYu’s cheeks.
In the blink of an eye, he pulled them apart. XiaoYu’s cute kitten face was instantly turned into flatbread.
“…Ouch.” XiaoYu didn’t know what’d happened at first as he never could’ve imagined HereticKing would pull such a childish prank.
“Does it hurt?”
“This is your punishment for lying.” HereticKing let go. One look at XiaoYu’s red cheeks and anyone would know HereticKing didn’t hold back at all.
“I’m sorry.” XiaoYu knew too he’d told a shoddy lie. It was so obvious that anyone with sense would instantly know it was fake. Since they agreed to meet up beforehand, he must’ve already finished organising his bag. Otherwise, all these weeks XiaoYu had been living with the guild would’ve been a waste.
“In the future, if you don’t want to tell anyone, just say no.”
“You can even just stay silent. No one would force you to speak, but I don’t like you escaping via lying.”
“Yes. I know.”
“Does it still hurt?” XiaoYu was good at acknowledging his mistakes. At that, HereticKing gently rubbed at XiaoYu’s burning cheeks.
“Not anymore.” XiaoYu had lowered the in-game pain sensors to the minimum from the very beginning. Compared to the torture that was death, this was nothing.
“Then let’s go meet up with the others.” HereticKing won’t apologise for pinching XiaoYu’s cheeks. Telling a lie means accepting punishment. That was the rule his big brother set for him since he was a child. Hei QiYao had carved this rule deep into his heart and mind. He was basically raised (bullied?) by his big brother.
HereticKing led XiaoYu through Nebula by the hand. The Derelict Ruins of Natalis were still a few portals away. (Even if the portals were in the same city, they’re located in different areas and each of them have different ranges.)
The journey was silent. XiaoYu was still reflecting on his actions. He didn’t know how to read and decipher the air. He didn’t know if HereticKing was still angry or not based on that calm voice. But he did know he did something wrong today. He didn’t want to be hated by HereticKing, so he decided to sincerely apologise once more.
“Yao, I’m sorry. I won’t lie ever again,” XiaoYu said.
“Mn.” HereticKing nonchalantly hummed in response. After a pause, an idea seemed to have struck him. He curved his lips into a small smile and continued, “Tell a lie again and I’ll kiss you.”
“Hah?” XiaoYu instantly froze. He cannot compute.
Boy toy/Toy boy: American vs British. Take your pick. Boy toy is used here because I only ever heard the American version of it. For those wondering, it’s a synonym for gigolo. Google and some dictionaries seem to think it refers to a female edition of that meaning instead. Online forums seem to concur that their version is rather dated. Urban dictionary (the most unreliable dictionary on the internet) + memes show that most people don’t know boy toy might refer to a younger woman instead. Thanks, Madonna, for showing how “dated” you are. (jk. Don’t kill me. That’s what they said on the forums.)