Shen Qiang couldn’t help but feel guilty when he saw Nian Hong Fang’s expression. This person didn’t know that Ma Zhi Wu was a demon. Naturally, he would feel hurt when the man he loved didn’t return to his side. And if he was of the impression that it was not Ma Zhi Wu’s own fault, then he would be worried. He just was that type of person. If he wanted him to feel any better, he would need to make him give up on ever being with Ma Zhi Wu again and instead fall in love with somebody else. But doing that was easier said than done.
Shen Qiang looked at the herbs again, glancing at Nian Hong Fang every now and then. “Maybe … I could help you?”
Nian Hong Fang looked up with some surprise. He felt even more surprised when he saw Shen Qiang’s expression. He had already noticed the last time that Shen Qiang’s attitude toward him had softened when they talked after he had finished writing the letter. He hadn’t been quite sure what this was about until Elder Geng told him that this person might have some good feelings toward him.
Seeing the way he behaved right now, he started to believe that the Elder was right. He didn’t know how this could have happened though. Love at first sight? Somebody he reminded him of? Maybe he had just struck a fancy there and was exactly the type this man liked.
It was a little strange to imagine. But this was also good. If this man liked him, then maybe they could really go through with Elder Geng’s plan and thus find out where Ma Zhi Wu and the others were. It would rely on how well he was able to play his part.
Nian Hong Fang looked at the herbs but then shook his head. “I’m afraid if you have never worked with any herbs, then that would be difficult. I guess you don’t happen to be an alchemist?”
Shen Qiang shook his head as well. “I’m not.” But he was happy that Nian Hong Fang was even willing to talk to him. He had feared that because he was involved in that matter with the demon, that Nian Hong Fang would immediately shoot him down. But now it seemed that he wasn’t that vigilant in regard to him.
Nian Hong Fang finally pushed the herbs aside and gave Shen Qiang a smile. “I’m sorry. I guess I’m a bad host. It’s just that I really can’t stop thinking about him. Would you like to have a cup of tea?”
Shen Qiang shook his head again. “Don’t worry about it. I can understand that you’re feeling anxious. It says a lot about your character. Obviously, you’re a very good person.” He looked away, feeling that he had maybe already said too much.
“Then what about the tea? We have some teas that are good for cultivation.”
Shen Qiang looked up again and gave a relieved smile. “Do you also have normal tea? I’m just a practitioner, not a cultivator.”
Nian Hong Fang nodded and then went to get some normal tea, feeling a little giddy with excitement. A practitioner … That wasn’t much to go by but if he was from some kind of organization that was trying to harm the Yun Zou Sect, then this at least meant that they could eliminate all the ones that only had cultivators as their members.
Now, he only had to find out a little more about him so that they would be able to eliminate even more possible culprits. Then, it was only a question of time until they found Ma Zhi Wu. He couldn’t be too obvious though.
Nian Hong Fang brewed the tea and then carried a cup over, putting it down in front of the man. He gave a small smile and then went to get a cup for himself before he sat down opposite of him. He gave him a long look before he lowered his gaze back to the cup. “I’m afraid I didn’t quite catch your name the last time.”
Shen Qiang’s heart leaped in his chest. “That … I’m afraid I didn’t tell you because I was preoccupied with my task. I’m called Shen Qiang.”
“Shen Qiang …” Nian Hong Fang repeated the name but it didn’t sound familiar. Then again, most people that he knew outside of the Yun Zou Sect were alchemists like him so that didn’t come as a surprise. But it could be that Wu Min Huan or one of the Elders would be able to remember some people of that name.
It wasn’t for sure though. Maybe this person wasn’t anyone famous. Actually, that was rather likely. A task such as delivering a letter was nothing that needed a person to be very good. So maybe he had actually been tasked with that because he wasn’t famous and didn’t have a high status wherever he was from.
For a moment, Nian Hong Fang was tempted to bring it up directly and ask him which organization he was from. He forcibly held back though. Most likely, even if this Shen Qiang didn’t know the whole story behind Ma Zhi Wu’s disappearance, he should at least have some kind of a clue what was going on so that he didn’t reveal anything important. He might become more cautious when interacting with him if he was too hasty.
Nian Hong Fang lightly blew his tea, thinking of something to say. To be honest, he felt that he wasn’t very good with men. Back then, falling in love with Ma Zhi Wu had been an accident. And one that he had tried to escape with everything he got. The one who pursued the other had been Ma Zhi Wu. So there had been no effort expended on his part. How to please a man … He had no idea.
But this Shen Qiang seemed to have a good opinion of him. So maybe just being himself was enough? It seemed he could only give that a try.
Nian Hong Fang looked up again and observed Shen Qiang’s expression, bringing up his true feelings. “I’m quite happy that you came by again. Previously, Ma Zhi Wu would come by all the time. But now … He’s been gone for five years. And with all the blunders I have made I didn’t dare to spend too much time under the eyes of my Master. I’m afraid he’ll get fed up with me being this unfocused all the time. As for the others … There are mostly just the other disciples of our peak here. They all have their own friends and I don’t want to intrude. I guess I’m not very good company right now.”
Pity flashed through Shen Qiang’s eyes and got more pronounced the longer he talked. Nian Hong Fang hurriedly looked away. It seemed that he was on the right way to uncover something. Maybe it wouldn’t take too long to find out what had happened to his lover.