As the door opened, Maimai expressed a pouty face in the direction of Jin Li. The martial artist ignored her.
He was currently sipping tea, the scent of which was slightly bitter yet also refreshing. The tea cup he used looked finely made, with a dappled bronze finish and gold line motif and came as part of an overall set. It wasn't something likely to be found in a boudoir, but looked as if it would fit well in a nobleman's study. Maimai wondered where he had got it from and if she could get her father a set.
"C-come in," Leon ushered them both through the door. Unlike his sour lover, the alchemist seemed delighted to see them, improving Maimai's mood. She childishly stuck out her tongue at Jin Li. He still ignored her.
In a gesture of welcome, Leon poured them both tea in cups from the same set. Maimai savoured it, while Bowyer blurted in comment; "It's good!"
"Tch," Jin Li exclaimed irritably. That was his tea that was being shared. With this he couldn't ignore the pair any longer. "What are you doing here?" He tugged Leon down to sit beside him, preventing the smaller man from refilling the pair's cups after his own was. Leon rolled his eyes, but remained obedient, settling Jin Li's mood.
"Can't Leon's best friend visit from time to time?" Maimai retorted.
"No." He caught the questioning gaze of his small alchemist from the corner of his eye. "I'll allow it... but only following a card of invitation." Now it was Maimai's turn to roll her eyes. Sure sending cards to the doors of people you wished to visit or whom you wished to visit you was the etiquette amongst houses of noble and powerful backgrounds, but Leon was from a small village, don't know if they bothered with such formalities and plus, they were all at school!
Jin Li turned to question Bowyer. "And you, Senior?" Despite his bluntness, Jin Li remained respectful to those he chose to recognise.
Bowyer put on an air of humbleness; "Jin Li, I require your assistance."
"Hey, you haven't heard what it is that I need you for!"
"Isn't it to practice sparring with you?" Jin Li sneered. Honestly, he didn't usually mind, but his small alchemist and himself had been apart for this whole week and even then, Leon had fallen asleep before they got to do anything last night as he had been exhausting himself with his own matters during the day. He hadn't managed to talk Leon out of wanting to descend the mountain for somethings today either. But it had been to purchase supplies which included smoked and salted meats, so Jin Li had forgiven him for spoiling his personal plans, this time.
Bowyer couldn't help but hesitate, slightly sheepish. Maimai thought it was quite a cute look on the robust man and he unknowingly was relabelled as 'bottom' in the girl's slightly offhanded view. "Well, sort of," he admitted, "and sort of not. You see, there is this girl..."
"Girl?" Maimai blurted, before blushing, inwardly crying due to this unexpected development. "Ah, I see..." she coughed before washing her mind with the refreshing sight of Leon nearly cuddled to Jin Li's side. She sipped her tea to clear her throat. "You wish to impress her?"
Leon was used to Maimai's personal outlook on life, didn't think anything of her reaction and as usual Jin Li didn't care. However, from another point of view, it could be taken with an alternative interpretation. Bowyer looked at the pretty girl again before stumbling to answer her question. "Actually, no," he chuckled awkwardly after a moment and scratched at his jaw as he glanced away with an internal sigh. "Really, I'd rather the opposite. But she and her friends cornered me a bit and I ended up promising to help her with her practice..."
"I'm not helping her in your stead," Jin Li declared, cutting Bowyer off with finality.
"I'm not asking you to do so, I swear!" Bowyer promised, sincerely. "Just be my wingman. I don't want her getting the wrong idea and convincing herself that there is something between us!"
The reassured Maimai, who was relieved to know her ship had not yet sailed, tapped her lip in thought. "I'm confused," she stated, honestly. "I'm assuming that this girl likes you?"
"Indeed," Bowyer responded with a drawn out sigh.
"And you do not like her?" She persisted, to which Bowyer nodded in agreement. "Then why have you just not rejected her pursuit?"
"Well, its not as if she has stated that she likes me," he admitted, then rushed to defend himself so to not look egotistical in others eyes. "It's pretty obvious though, to the point where it's really difficult to ignore! Like, when I was forming my team, her friends rushed to volunteer her after all appearing in my path with her and her declaring how she would love to experience what it was like to traverse the Shattered Isles... it would have been really difficult to refuse her had I not already made an agreement with Borean at that point."
Leon vaguely recalled something about a girl delaying Bowyer at that time with the assistance of Pike when they were vying for him to join their teams... he never did understand their intentions. Still, he did end up appreciating the experience, even if it was not really fun and games.
"So you haven't rejected her because she hasn't confessed?" Maimai wanted to clarify.
"Yeah, on the off chance that I and everyone else is really misinterpreting her interest," Bowyer explained, "wouldn't that embarrass her too badly if I did so?"
Maimai sighed and couldn't think of what to say to refute him. "Too nice," she murmured and not quietly enough to not be heard.
Bowyer's plan to have Jin Li become his assistant was to ensure that his tutoring of Pria could not be misconstrued by others and wrongly interpreted as a date. With just one more witness to the reality of the matter, rumours could be subsequently defused before blowing up in a place where gossip was a form of entertainment. Even better when one became three; Leon and Maimai tagged along. Jin Li was not about to leave his small alchemist behind and as for the girl... that one just did as she liked!
Pria also did not come alone but with a montage of friends. Those friends, who had been planning on slipping away during the tutoring to allow her friend time alone with Bowyer in order to develop feelings, had their hopes and plans completely dashed. Pria too felt her heart sink.
All girls hope that their feelings with the person of their affections to share them mutually. Pria could face a rabid dire wolf head without hesitation, but when it came to facing Bowyer, this tall, strong vision of masculinity, she trembled at the knees and her heart would beat so hard it felt it would burst. Naturally, there was the seed of hope within her that desperately wished to bloom in the light of his attentions. She was disappointed that he was not alone, but at least he came as he promised... right?
"Don't worry," her friend whispered into her ear. "Although he is not alone, but with friends, doesn't mean that he has no feelings. He could just be shy!"
"Hmm," murmured another, more practical friend, "but it worries me about the girl in his group..."
They all knew of Jin Li. Who did not know this ostentatious first year by now?! He moved into the inner school before the first term was half way complete, rebuffed many more forward young women, who were interested in both his skills and his face, then declared that a small, unknown alchemist was his lover and Dao Companion in front of a whole crowd of students and outside visitors! That strange little man was one of the others with Bowyer, no one could forget that oddly striped hair, but just who was the girl?!
Girls instantly dislike anything that they consider a threat to them, thus even without meaning to, Maimai became the target of their unhappiness. Not that she would have expressed any concern even then, she wasn't one to care for the crowd mentality. Otherwise, she would have folded beneath glares of disdain as a shu daughter 'cosying' too closely to her Di sister by other Di daughters of important sect subordinates and elders.
"Ah, you are here!" Bowyer greeted her with a welcoming voice that instantly caused Pria to discard any dissatisfaction she'd had a moment ago. "Now tell me which move that had you seeking my help."
"Well," Pria blushed slightly as she cleared her throat. "It's like this..."
After explaining and showing him the forms in the play one by one and as best she could currently could, Bowyer nodded before repeating the motions without pause in his own way. Pria's eyes followed his sharp manoeuvres without blinking. He always moved with his sword as if he were one with the heavy blade and there was little to no excess movement, efficiently able to fight without wasting needless energy. Sure, this way looked less impressive to ordinary people, Bowyer was not a showman nor entertainer, but in this way he'd defeated many arrogant opponents, using their own egos against them. Her knees once more felt as if they were unable to support her small weight.
"I've got it," Bowyer advised her. This form was not suited to a man of his bulk, but he could already figure out how it should work. "Jin Li?"
"En." The willowy man nodded, his long black tail of hair dancing upon the slight breeze as he withdrew his long, slender blade.
"Okay, perform it again, this time without stopping," Bowyer instructed Pria. She agreed, brightly and went to bow before Bowyer. He stopped her before she could complete the gesture of formal combat. "Jin Li will be your opponent. I will watch how you move so that I can make suggestions afterwards."
Pria glanced at the cold face of her 'opponent' and shuddered slightly. He might not know it, but ever since breaking through to quaternary stage, he gave of an aura of intimidation that pressed down upon many core forming cultivators. Pria could cope with it for a while, but it would be hard to face him in battle.
Her friend mentioned this quickly; "Jin Li's not really suitable an opponent. He's too strong!"
Bowyer frowned. In the martial arts world, fighting against stronger opponents was normal, for there were cultivators who would covert your things, be wary of your potential, not to mention the multitude of ordinary beasts and spiritual beasts that would attack you just due to your presence. To state that Pria was too weak to face someone... wasn't that just submitting to a quick death? Not to mention, this was just a learning spar.
"Do not worry," Jin Li sneered. "I didn't plan to fight back. It is not worth this Lord's effort to do so."
The pig teammate friend lowered her head, realising too late her mistake.
"If it's such a big problem," a voice came from behind Jin Li, "why don't I be the opponent?" All eyes fell upon Maimai, who stepped forward in volunteer, before withdrawing a long knife from her interspacial bag. "You'll have to forgive me though, my sword skills are a bit rusty, but I should be able to defend well enough with my knife." She tilted her head slightly as she waited for their agreement, her brown curls coming loose and teasing the side of her amicable face.