He didn’t want to die.
A young broken figure of a cub from the Tiger Clan wobbled down the streets of a city located in the eastern parts of the Tiger Clan. His insides were burning and it felt like someone was trying to slowly gobble out his intestines. The pain in his stomach was nearly knocking him unconscious.
But despite the blinding pain, he had to keep moving forward. Song Qiying knew he couldn’t let his pursuers catch up to him. He needed every second to get as far away as possible from them. The moment they caught up would mark his end, only the gods knew what they intended to do to him upon catching him, although he had some ideas.
“Where is that little son of a bitch?”
“We need to find that traitor immediately!”
“He was fooling us this whole time, being all buddy-buddy with us. When in reality he’s been an omega this whole time!”
“As soon as we find that clown, I will show that bitch that you don’t play around with alphas. Once we catch him, we’ll take him to Balganbul and sell him to the slave traders there. That’s a worthy place for an omega bitch like him.”
Song Qiying pressed himself firmly against the wall of the building he was hiding behind, trying to stay hidden as much as possible even though the piercing pain was a strong reminder of his nearly paralyzed condition. But he knew that if he were to stop there and if his pursuers were to catch him, he was done for. Many options rushed through his mind; from broken bones to certain death. But the option of Balganbul and slavery sounded the scariest of them all.
Even Song Qiying knew of the notorious red light district.
Only one strong emotion rushed through Song Qiying's body. It was clearly written on his face.
At that moment Song Qiying made up his mind on one thing. He couldn’t let them catch him, at any cost. He would fight till he no longer had any strength to stand, but he would not let them take him anywhere.
A sharp stabbing pain entered his stomach as he was about to move, and Song Qiying fell on one knee, trying to catch his breath while easing the pain. He felt like someone had just kicked him in the stomach. All air from his lungs was gone. The young boy was panting heavily as sweat ran down his forehead. His ears hurt and his tail had coiled up.
But he knew he couldn’t stay in this place for much longer. Song Qiying could only try to ignore the pain and move forward, towards home.
Song Qying could hear the voices of his “friends” first going further away, but then closing in again. Taking a deep breath, he pulled himself up and started limping his way forward as he had his hand pressed against his stomach. He was still unable to understand what had brought him into this situation that was so unlike anything he’d ever witnessed.
The pain, his friends behavior and their killing intent. None of the previously mentioned had ever happened before.
Song Qiying stopped to wipe the sweat off his forehead, and then continued on his way.
Just a little bit. Just a little bit further and he would be home. And once he was safely inside those walls, there was nothing that could hurt him. (Song Qiying was to learn only much later, exactly how naive this thinking was. An omega was never safe in the Tiger Clan).
But first, as Song Qiying knew, he needed to make it back home or he’d never be safe.
From where he was currently, the market district of the aristocrats, Song Qiying’s home was located further down the city of Gyeryongsan, closer to the commoners housing areas. He had gone out together with his friends to celebrate their graduation from the military school, when he had partially lost consciousness suddenly. By the time he regained it, his friends had already surrounded him, and were staring at him with beastly eyes.
Song Qiying had realised that he needed to run away. And fast.
The pain in his stomach held him back greatly, however. So now, Song Qiying was caught in this situation of cat and mouse. He was being chased and his friends were after his life. It’s flee or die.
After passing two more buildings, without crossing paths with any of his supposed friends, Song Qiying noticed that he had arrived at a riverside. The boy sighed in relief. He needed to just cross the bridge that would take him to the other side of the river, and then he would be home. He would be safe.
But Song Qiying quickly realised that there was a problem. In order to cross the bridge, he would have to come out from hiding and reveal his location, which would put him into a vulnerable position. Using the dark alleys to his advantage was how he had gotten this far. But stepping into an open space like this, would make all his previous efforts futile.
Song Qiying was also perfectly aware that there was nothing else for him to do. If he wanted to get across the bridge he needed to come out of his hiding place. He wasn’t in any condition to start searching for another crossing place that would be less open, and he didn’t believe in his abilities to cross the river by swimming - at least not with the condition his body was in. His only choice was to reveal his own position to his chasers by stepping out from the shadows.
Wiping away the sweat and swallowing his tears, Song Qiying steeled up his mind and ignored the unpleasant thoughts running in his head, and whatever nightmares his imagination was coming up with. Taking a few deep breaths, his eyes flashed with determination and the young boy dashed forward.
He wanted to think that everything would go well, but Song Qiying had learned this night that it was all just wishful thinking. He was sure that by now his friends had already realised where he was heading and would be staked out by the bridge, as it was the only location he could cross the river in this part of the city.
So the moment Song Qiying ran into the open, two young boys around his age came running from their hiding places and rushed towards the vulnerable and hurt omega. They dove at him, falling on the ground along with him and tried to immobilise the young boy by getting on top of him and pinning him to the ground.
But Song Qiying wasn’t going to give up so easily. He immediately tried his best to get in some punches, but soon the two got hold of his arms, pinning them to the ground. Despite being smaller in size, Song Qiying was proud of his fighting skills, but even he would have trouble going one against two when he was forced to the ground. Seeing that his arms were sealed, Song Qiying switched to using his legs, but he quickly realised how futile it was. As none of his efforts seemed to work, Song Qiying decided to resort to the last option he had.
“HELP ME! HEL-!” As soon as he started to yell for help, one of the chasers quickly shut him up by covering his mouth.
“Don’t you dare cause a commotion when you’re the one at fault, omega bitch.” The eyes of the young boy, who Song Qiying had always seen as his friend, were like that of a hunter looking at his prey.
“Hak Bong and Yang Chin! Did you get the ragdoll?” Song Qiying’s eyes widened in shock. It was the son of a general. This boy was the biggest and strongest out of the pack and also the leader. He was the boy who was also Song Qiying’s best friend - Seo Chanu.
The most ruthless bastard and dynamist that Song Qiying couldn’t consider to be that friend anymore.
“We’ve gotten him! The idiot tried to cross the bridge, just like you said he would, Brother!” The alpha on top of Song Qiying yelled looking proud of himself for sitting on top of a powerless omega.
Song Qiying’s eyes glazed the moment they met with the alpha boy, who had just become his ex-best friend. The young boy, who was born into a family with high status, was laughing maniacally, his tiger ears sprouting from beneath his long brown hair.
“We’ve got you now.” Seo Chanu smirked as he approached Song Qiying, looking down on the boy who was lying on the ground, two boys on top of him.
He signaled the two boys to get off him, and moved over the boy, pressing his knee against Song Qiying’s chest. He lowered his head a little bit and caressed the smaller boy's cheek while looking him in the eyes. “I’ve known you my whole life, but why is it that only today do I learn that you’re actually a filthy omega?”
Song Qiying stared at the boy with serious eyes. “Seo... Chanu... “
“Don’t you fucking dare to speak my name with that fucking trashy mouth of yours, who can tell where it has already been! I thought of you as a friend, I thought we would grow old together and remember our past with laughter. But you fucking little… piece of shit! You dared to lie to me! You dared to use your fucking powers to fuck with me!” For a second it looked like he had tears in his eyes.
He slapped Song Qiying’s cheek and then grabbed his jaw, squeezing it hard as he towered over the powerless omega. The smaller boy swallowed his tears and tried to withstand the pain all over his body. His lower parts were burning and the strong alpha smell around him seemed to only make the pain even worse.
Seo Chanu leaned closer to Song Qiying. “How about this time I fuck you?” His expression was full of malice as he knew that he had the upper hand in this situation. Any sign of the weakness he had shown previously, was gone.
Song Qiying tried to fight against him, despite being perfectly aware that he couldn’t possibly get free from his grip. Seo Chanu had always been stronger than him. So he resorted to the last option possible.
Song Qiying spit in Seo Chanu’s face, blinding the boy for a second.
“Aah, you little fucker!”
While Seo Chanu was distracted, Song Qiying used this chance to bite the other boy’s arm. The bigger boy freaked out and momentarily lost his hold on Song Qiying. The latter boy didn’t let this moment slip by and quickly used the last of his strength to transform into his animal form, freeing himself completely from the hold.
“Shit! Someone catch him!” Seo Chanu commanded, still in the middle of wiping the spit off his face. His arm was also hurting from the bite he had received.
His minions immediately surrounded Song Qiying in attempts to catch the tiger. However, that was all they did. Beside surrounding the tiger, no one dared to do anything else. It was like their feet had frozen to the ground.
Seo Chanu cursed under his breath. “What are you cowards doing!!? I said to catch him!”
“But Brother! That’s a…”
“He’s just an omega, he can’t be that difficult to catch!”
“But that dude, he’s a Siberian tiger. They are stro-”
“That fucking piece of shit is an omega and nothing more! We alphas are far superior to those slaves.” Seo Chanu yelled, his true colours showing. He was famous for his strong dislike and disrespect for omegas. The dynamic didn’t have a place in the Tiger Clan to begin with, but Seo Chanu took his dislike to a completely different level.
However, it seemed that this speech worked on the other alphas. Instead of seeing a strong Siberian tiger, they now saw a weak omega who had been driven into a corner before their eyes. Everyone rushed forward in the attempts of catching Song Qiying.
There were both advantages and disadvantages to fighting against a human in one’s tiger form. Their speed and strength were superior to a certain point, but Song Qiying knew that the moment he was caught was the moment he would die. So instead of seriously fighting against a superior amount of enemies, Song Qiying just used the time to dodge, while trying to find the perfect moment to escape from the situation.
Seeing how his minions weren’t able to catch a puny omega like Song Qiying, Seo Chanu got irritated. “If this isn’t enough, then I will show you how a real alpha fights.”
Song Qiying was still concentrating on avoiding the incoming attacks, when he suddenly saw a strong paw aiming to cut his eyes. Based on instinct alone, he was able to dodge it, but it still managed to scratch his cheek. Song Qiying looked up and saw a beautiful Caspian tiger standing before him. The two kept their alert stances, not breaking eye contact, and Seo Chanu hissed angrily.
Song Qiying knew that he had to do something and fast. Seo Chanu was one of the strongest fighters of his generation, and the smaller boy had only managed to win against him on a few lucky occasions. There was no way he could win against a full powered Seo Chanu when his body was slowly breaking his mind apart. Transforming into his animal form meant that Seo Chanu was taking this seriously and there was not much Song Qiying could do.
He needed to find a way to escape from this situation.
Eyes still locked on Seo Chanu, Song Qiying tried to find the best escape route. He took a couple steps to his left, revealing his fangs and Seo Chanu did the same, cautiously moving clockwise against Song Qiying, mirroring his movement. Song Qiying tried his best to make it seem like he was seriously aiming to fight against Seo Chanu.
When the moment was right, Song Qiying broke the wall of tension. He dashed forward, towards Seo Chanu. The other boy fell for this and dashed towards Song Qiying. However, instead of attacking Seo Chanu, Song Qiying dodged his attack and then used Seo Chanu’s body as a platform to leap from. The young Siberian tiger made a beautiful arc and landed straight into the river.
“Fuck! He escaped!” Seo Chanu’s companions cursed, running onto the bridge. They searched thoroughly, trying to find any marks of Song Qiying pulling himself back onto the shore.
“Come on! Let’s follow him down the river. He has to climb up at some point!” Hak Bong suggested.
“That’s enough.” Seo Chanu’s voice pierced through the air. He had turned back to his human form and was fixing his dark blue dopo.
“But Brother. We can still find him.” Yang Chin insisted.
“It doesn’t matter anymore. He’s a filthy omega. He might have escaped this time, but there’s nothing much that he can do with his dynamic - he will be found and captured one day, there’s no escape for him.” Seo Chanu explained as he looked down the river.
His expression darkened. “You might’ve escaped this time, but I will make sure to kill you the next time we cross paths.” With that he left the bridge, being closely followed by his minions.
Meanwhile, Song Qiying had finally pulled his head up from the water and was trying his best to swim towards the opposite shore. Once safely on land he shook the water off his fur. His vision betrayed him for a second and Song Qiying wobbled forward. With the adrenaline rush finally calming down, in pain and exhausted, Song Qiying slowly made his way towards his home.
He was afraid to transform back into his human form, being in his animal form felt more reassuring in the moment. If nothing else worked, he could at least use his speed and agility to run away.
It took Song Qiying twice the usual time to get home, but at least this distance went uneventfully. Some of the passersby gave him an offended look as it was forbidden to use one's animal form in the city area without the approval of the military, but most just avoided him like a plague. Some drunk men yelled at him to transform back to his human form that instant or they would report him to the military headquarters, but Song Qiying ignored them. He was too exhausted to even walk, it took all of his energy to advance forward while remaining conscious. He couldn’t be bothered to think about how he had just offended the military.
Song Qiying smiled weakly the moment he spotted his house. He crawled his way to the yard and collapsed there, finally returning back to his human form simply from no longer having the energy to maintain his form.
He was butt naked. Unlike the rich people, who could pay big money to enchant their clothes with magic, so that they remained intact when they transformed back and forth between their animal and human form, commoners like Song Qiying simply couldn’t afford such luxury. His choices were either to carry around an extra package of clothing with him, or transform back to a naked human form.
Lying on the ground, Song Qiying finally felt like he was safe. Despite being completely naked and vulnerable to any attacks, this was the safest he had felt that night. Song Qiying started to cry uncontrollably, feeling weak and having mixed feelings of fear and sadness along with the pain constantly killing him.
“Honey, did you hear something outside?”
Song Qiying was pulled back to reality when he suddenly heard the voice of a woman ask. He realised that it belonged to his mother. She sounded concerned.
“Do you mind checking it out?”
“I’m sure it’s just a stray cat making noises.” The boy heard his father replying. The man's voice was nonchalant and it sounded like he was just trying to come up with an excuse to get her off his case.
“Qiying isn’t back from the party yet, right? Maybe it’s him?” The woman insisted.
“He would’ve come inside by now, wouldn’t he?”
“Just go and check it out and make me calm down, please. Better to be safe than sorry.” She kept insisting.
“Okay, okay! I’ll go check!” Song Qiying heard his father finally give up and admit his defeat. The boy then heard steps approaching the doors at the entrance, after which, one of them was slid open.
The man with a set of unusual white ears and a white-and-black striped tail looked around the yard and sighed. “See, it’s nothing but a stray cat, you were worried over noth-!!” He informed his wife, but then paused suddenly upon seeing Song Qiying. His eyes widened in shock.
“Qiying!!” As if he had just realised that it indeed was his son, the man ran to Song Qiying, yelling out his name. He took the young boy into his arms and lifted him up.
“Are you alright? What happened to you?”
“Honey, is everything alright?” A woman’s voice came from the entrance.
Song Qiying peered through weak eyes and could barely see a faint figure of his mother standing by the opened door. She had been so worried that she had ended up walking all the way to the entrance to see what was going on.
Song Qiying’s father, Jiang You, looked horrified. He had examined the boy’s body only to discover that he was running a high fever. Song Qiying’s whole body was sweating and he was panting hard, as if it was difficult to breath. Jiang You quickly rushed to cover Song Qiying with his overcoat. It was only then that he noticed the wetness beneath Song Qiying.
“It can’t be…”
“Honey, what’s happening her- Dear Zouyu, is that Qiying? Is he alright?” The wife asked, panicking.
“It’s very bad! He seems to be running a high fever. We have to do something about it, and quick!” Jiang You’s voice was filled with concern and something else hidden under that.
His mind was examining all the various options they had in this situation, trying to figure out which was the safest. He soon realised that the option safest for Song Qiying, was the one he liked the least, but there was nothing else he could do in this situation. Having decided to gamble on the risks and benefits, he then continued.
“Look after Song Qiying while I go prepare a horse for us. Make sure he remains conscious and try to wipe the sweat off his face if possible.” He needed to move Song Qiying to a safer location and the fastest and currently safest way was on horseback. But he needed to be quick. If Song Qiying was in this condition, it wouldn’t be long till officers came knocking at their gate.
“But what about Qiying, is he alright?”
“COME!” Jiang You shouted.
His wife immediately followed his command, and rushed to his side, taking Song Qiying from his arms. As soon as Jiang You was free, he immediately dashed towards the stables, preparing the old lonely stallion they had. Despite its old age, Jiang You had complete trust in the horse, especially when it came to speed.
Jiang You cursed in a low tone as he was tacking up the horse. “This is all my fault, I should’ve expected this, I should’ve known it would come to this. I was careless…”
The black stallion neighed shortly, and Jiang You only now realised that it had sensed his anxiousness. He stroked his hand along the crest of the horse and smiled gently. “I’m sorry friend, I let my emotions get the best of me. I will trust you to bring my son to safety.” He said and embraced the horse's forehead.
Once the horse was fully prepared, he rushed back to the front yard, where his wife was waiting for him, Song Qiying in her arms. Her eyes were filled with tears as she tended to the young tiger cub. She couldn’t bear to see his pained expression.
Song Qiying was on the edge of consciousness. He could hear his mother’s soft humming against his body and feel her arms around him, but it was all just a blur to him. He barely realised what had happened after he had collapsed in the front yard.
Jiang You approached his wife, the dark stallion readily next to him. “Help me get Qiying on the horse.”
The woman stared at him with widened eyes. “You’re taking him out in the condition he is in? I won’t allow that! I won’t allow you to kill our son! Just go on your own and call a Templar here to take a look at him! He needs to receive Baekho’s blessing and we need to figure out what’s wrong with hi-”
“If we don’t leave this moment, Qiying is going to die!” Jiang You realised too late that raising his voice against his wife had been a huge mistake. The woman before him was trembling, her eyes shining with tears.
He took a deep breath to calm his mind and then knelt down next to his wife, taking hold of her hand. “I believe that Qiying is experiencing his first heat, and I highly believe that his friends realised it too. Seo Chanu is the son of a general and there is now way he will leave the matter untouched. Even if I might have one of the five great families backing me up, I know the main family won’t interfere and protect me in this situation. Qiying will be killed for being an omega and I, who have kept his dynamics hidden for all these years, will die for harbouring him. I can’t guarantee that they will not touch you or Bingqing.”
“What are you talking about?” His wife looked confused and concerned.
“I don’t want to move Qiying around in the condition he is in, but right now it’s the only way to save him. I can’t have him die and I won’t let you die - so please help me to put Qiying on top of the horse, and then you go pack only what we need for a trip to Palgongsan and rush to Nesting Swan as quickly as possible.”
“You don’t mean?”
“With the way the situation has turned, we can’t stay in this city anymore. We have to leave.”
The expression on Jiang You’s wife’s face softened. “From the moment you found Qiying and we decided to raise him as our son, I knew this day would come eventually, but now that it’s here I feel so unprepared. He was showing no signs of presenting his dynamics, so I hoped to continue living our life as a normal family.”
Jiang You smiled. “But you should’ve known that there’s nothing normal about Qiying. Not with the genes he has.”
“I know, I know. It was just my wishful thinking.” The woman laughed through her tears. She then looked at Jiang You. “Let’s get our boy on top of the horse and protect him like we always have.”
Working together, the husband and wife raised Song Qiying up and got him on top of the horse. Jiang You’s wife made sure to support the boy firmly as the man jumped on the back of the horse. Wrapping his arms around the half-conscious and pained boy, he then nodded at his wife.
“I will be heading to Nesting Swan now. You should go get Bingqing and follow suit as quickly as possible.”
“I will.” The woman nodded, resolve showcasing on her face. “May the protection of Baekho be with you.”
“May the protection of Baekho be with you.”
Jiang You then whipped the reins. As his stallion started trotting, he whispered into Song Qiying’s ears. “Hold on just a little bit longer. I will get you to a man who can keep you safe.”
Jiang You rushed his horse, riding alongside the river. It was only at the west gate that he turned towards the north, heading towards the part of the city that was a famous travelers destination and where many of the travelers found lodging.
Jiang You stopped his horse before a big building that had people entering and exiting it. Song Qiying firmly between his arms, he stared at the inn’s nameplate: Nesting Swan.
Closing his eyes as he paused, opening them again with a newly found determination gleaming from them, Jiang You got off the stallion and did his best to get Song Qiying down without moving him too much. After that he tied the horse to a hitching post and then guided Song Qiying towards the inn.
Upon entering, he was welcomed by a friendly voice. “Hello, how may I help you?”
Jiang You glanced at the woman, lifting Song Qiying up as the boy was slipping from his hold. “Blessings of Baekho. What room is customer Zhang Jiale staying in? I need to see him.”
The woman’s expression shifted completely. She glanced at Song Qiying who was panting heavily while practically unconscious, and then at Jiang You, who was trying his best to keep Song Qiying straight.
With an indifferent expression, she answered. “I am sorry to inform you, but no such customer is staying at our establishment. You should try asking at different inns.”
“What?” Jiang You was confused. How could this woman lie straight to his face? He had met the man just the previous week and Zhang Jiale had said himself that he’s staying at Nesting Swan. That was his regular place to stay at whenever he visited Gyeryongsan.
“Your companion seems to be heavily sick. I must ask you to leave the inn immediately, you’re being a bother to our customers.” She spoke.
This is when the situation became clear to Jiang You. She was acting this way all because of Song Qiying. But it didn’t matter to him that she didn’t want to let him in, he must meet with Zhang Jiale at all costs.
“I have urgent business with Zhang Jiale. I must see him as quickly as possible. I won’t leave until you tell me where his room is located.”
“I’ve already told you that there is no such customer staying at our inn. Now let me once again ask you to leave.” The woman argued.
“In the name of Baekho, I won’t leave until I’ve seen Zhang Jiale.”
“You’re being a bother to other customers.”
The banter continued for a good while and gathered a crowd of onlookers. Neither was willing to back down on the matter. Finally, the appearance of a third person put an end to the debate.
“What do you want from me?”
Jiang You turned towards the direction that the question had come from and saw the very person he was looking for. A sudden wave of relief passed through him, his ears and tail relaxed visibly. It seemed that he was still in the grace of Baekho.
Zhang Jiale was a man who stood out among the crowd. He was a deer and there weren’t many ways to hide his appearance as one, nor was there any need for that.
Unlike the tiger's majestic tail, his was a mere stub that was barely visible from beneath his clothes. His height was comparable to that of an average male Tiger Clan member, but he was much leaner and less built. This leanness was a common trait among deer.
The most outstanding fact about deers was that among all the land clans, they were the only ones to grow antlers. This trait was only ever shared by the celestial dragons, but even theirs were said to stay on the smaller side, compared to the antlers of deer that could easily grow to weigh over a half bag of rice.
However, as Jiang You had learned throughout the years he had known this man, Zhang Jiale did not have antlers, at least not a pair that seemed to grow. Whenever he visited the Tiger Clan, they were only small stubs that could easily be hidden under his long hair. Jiang You didn’t know if this was because the man cut his antlers to stand out less, or that he chose the time after he had just shed them, or if there was something else causing it. After all, his son didn’t seem to be shy about showing off his antlers.
Zhang Jiale turned towards the two guests who had been causing a commotion. “You?”
“I- I am so sorry dear customer. You said you wanted us to refuse all guests, so I tried to deny him entry, but the man kept insisting on seeing you. I apologise greatly that I have failed to fulfill your request, causing trouble for you and the other patrons.”
Zhang Jiale looked at the people around them. The commotion was growing bigger. Some of the other customers were getting curious, while others were rushing out of the building to avoid the scene being caused by Jiang You.
The member of the Deer Clan realised that the situation was getting out of hand.
“Follow me.” He hurried Jiang You, having realised from one glance that Song Qiying’s condition was serious. They couldn’t afford to waste any time.
Zhang Jiale rushed to his living quarters that he shared with his son, and as soon as Jiang You and Song Qiying were inside, he shut the door behind them. The deer then glanced at his three guards. “Watch the door for us and make sure no one enters this room without my permission. You understand?”
Two of the men, both beta tigers, nodded and left the room. They settled outside, on either side of the door, guarding it with their lives. Meanwhile a beta deer stayed in the room, close to the door as well.
Inside the compact room, which contained two beds and a small table, Zhang Jiale turned to Jiang You. His expression was stoic, but studious at the same time.
“I take it that you have an explanation for why you barged in here all of a sudden and as to why your son is in this condition.”
The seriousness of Zhang Jiale’s expression caught Jiang You off-guard and sent shivers down his spine. This was the moment where he hoped that Baekho and Zouyu were kind enough to protect their devoted servant.
“Qiying… he was…” Mind still a mess, Jiang You didn’t know how to start. “My son was celebrating with his friends and returned back home in this condition. I knew something was wrong with him, but can you please check if it’s what I suspect it to be. I tried my best, but I don’t think I can…” Jiang You was unable to finish his sentence.
“For you to come here and ask for help from me, instead of contacting the church, I can see that the situation is dire.” Zhang Jiale said in a calm manner.
“There is no way I can go to the church right now.” Jiang You murmured.
“Strong words coming from a Bishop.” Zhang Jiale said. He then helped Jiang You to lay Song Qiying on the mattress and blankets that he had prepared for the boy.
Jiang You wasn’t like the other tigers; the black-and-white coloring of his ears and tail pointed towards his special abilities. White Tigers were a special subspecies of tiger said to be born with magical powers and distinctive aura colours. Based on the colours they were divided into paladin and priest classes and then further into 8 subcategories. Jiang You belonged to the family of bishops who specialise in curing and taking care of people.
The silver-haired man watched as Zhang Jiale was examining his son's body. The deer wore a worrisome expression on his face that got darker with every passing moment. After a while, Zhang Jiale called for the guard who had remained in the room and whispered something into his ear. The guard nodded and exited the room.
“What do you think is the problem? Is Qiying really in...” Jiang You was unable to finish his sentence.
Having finished his examination, Zhang Jiale closed his eyes. “My guess is the same as yours. It is very likely that he’s experiencing a heat, but I can’t be entirely sure, which is why I called for someone who can confirm our assessments to be true.”
Just as Zhang Jiale finished his sentence, the door was slid open and a figure entered the room.
“Father, you called fo- Fucking nymph! What crawled from the gates of hell and smells so fucking strong and foul!? Are you trying to lure all the alphas into this tiny room?” A crude voice of a young man spoke. He was wearing similar travelling clothing to Zhang Jiale and a beautiful pair of antlers sprouted from his blond hair.
Jiang You turned towards the young man, and realised that it was Zhang Jiale’s son, Sun Xiang. Zhang Jiale held the reputation of a travelling merchant, who had been in the business for years now, and Sun Xiang had been with Zhang Jiale from the very start. He had grown from a young teary fawn without antlers into a prideful young omega who seemed to want to pick fights with every passerby.
He was also the reason Jiang You had gone to look for Zhang Jiale instead of the church. This man with an omega son would definitely know how to deal with an omega in heat.
“I guess that confirms our suspicion then. The symptoms looked very similar to Xiang’s, but I’ve never witnessed a heat beside his, so I wasn’t sure if each omega’s was case-by-case basis or if they shared common symptoms. They say that omegas can detect the smell of a fellow omega in heat, so I thought Xiang would probably be able to discern if he was in heat.”
Jiang You felt like a heavy boulder was lifted off his chest. When telling his wife that their son was experiencing his first heat, he hadn’t been sure if that actually had been the case at all. But now that a reliable person had confirmed it for him, he was both glad and frightened. He needed to decide now what he would do from here.
What would be the best way to protect Song Qiying?
“Has this happened before?” Zhang Jiale’s question cut Jiang You’s thoughts.
The younger man shook his head. “As far as I know it’s his first time.”
“A first timer? I hope he has a strong mind and body, because the first time hurts like hell. He’s fucking doomed if he dares give up.” Sun Xiang snickered.
“Can you treat this with any medicine?” Jiang You asked, desperation in his voice as he ignored the boy’s tone.
“I can, but I highly recommend to not use any. Since it’s his first heat, it could totally mess up his natural system. Once the damage is done, there’s no saving him and he might end up relying on suppressants for the rest of his life. Or his body can get seriously damaged.” Sun Xiang replied, the crassness of his speech having disappeared.
“What do we do then? He’s clearly suffering!” Jiang You asked, desperation in his voice.
“There's unfortunately nothing we can do.” Zhang Jiale interjected.
“Anointing him with an odour masker would stifle his scent a little. That way at least he wouldn’t attract every alpha in this city; he doesn’t seem to know how to control it himself yet. The situation should be back to normal in a week. If he survives that long.” Sun Xiang said.
“A week? That can’t be possible!”
“Don’t worry, it’s only the first day that’s truly critical. Once he makes it through the night, it should ease down from there. Right now odour masker paste and ginger tea should be good enough.” Zhang Jiale replied.
“But Father that’s-!!” Sun Xiang’s face went pale.
“I would appreciate it if you could go brew some ginger tea for our guest, Xiang.” Zhang Jiale had a smile on his face, but for some reason it was surrounded by a threatening aura.
“Yes, Father.” Sun Xiang’s shoulder slumped. “Fuck you, ginger tea… Fuck you.” He mumbled leaving the room.
Zhang Jiale had a smile plastered on his face as he watched Sun Xiang go. He then turned to Jiang You, looking apologetic. “I’m sorry, he’s grown to hate ginger tea as it was my go-to whenever he was in heat when he was younger. Now he can’t stand the smell of it anymore.” He said and then sighed.
Eventually, his glance wandered to Song Qiying. “Since this child has presented himself as an omega, I take it he’s not your biological son. After all, I’ve heard that White Tigers can’t have but a beta child.”
Jiang You lowered his eyes. “You are correct.”
“Does the child know?”
“He knows he’s adopted. I listed him down as a possible alpha candidate when he was only a young child, so he’s been living among the alphas this whole time.” Jiang You revealed, feeling embarrassed. He really wasn’t sure if he should be telling this to Zhang Jiale, and saying the words aloud made him realise how naive he had acted in the past.
Zhang Jiale looked surprised. “You do realise what this means? I mean, I’m not even a member of the clan and I know what the results are going to be.” Lying about one's dynamics, even just possible dynamics, was a serious crime in the Tiger Clan, one that could lead to losing your life if it was to be revealed that you lied on purpose.
“Designating him as a possible alpha and he turned out to be an omega?” Zhang Jiale sighed covering his face with his hand. “The military and church will accuse you of lying. Why did you even do it? Why not designate him as a possible beta instead?”
Jiang You’s eyes glowed with determination. “I did it to protect my child.”
Zhang Jiale turned to look at Song Qiying. “I can understand that you wanted him to have as normal a life as possible when he was a child. After all, no other clan treats their alphas with such a high regard as tigers do. But what you did was also extremely dangerous. You let him be surrounded by alphas so casually, don’t you know how young alphas act? They have no self control. What if he had had his heat when among alphas?”
Jiang You kept swallowing the lecture. “I understand that I did wrong. Just one look at the child and it’s easy to tell that he looks nothing like a typical alpha. But I was hoping that the signs would be wrong, that just like that man, he would…” He couldn’t finish the sentence, so instead he changed the topic. “Today, he was with his friends when he went into heat. They’re all alphas.”
Zhang Jiale’s eyes widened. “You mean?”
“We can’t be sure. We’ll have to wait and see what he has to say once he regains his consciousness.”
Zhang Jiale was about to reply when the door to his room opened and Sun Xiang walked in, carrying a plate of tea and yellow paste. He looked at Zhang Jiale. “Father, there was someone who wanted to meet you.”
“A woman with a chi-”
“Wait, nevermind. It doesn’t matter. I can’t meet them anyway in these circumstances. Go tell them that I’m-”
“Wait. I think those could be my wife and daughter. I told them to head here as soon as they’ve packed. They were both tigers right?”
Sun Xiang nodded.
Zhang Jiale’s eyes widened. “Packed? You mean you’re leaving?”
“I have sinned against the church, the military and the emperor. A cub from the Seo family was among the friends Qiying met today. Even if Baekho forgives me, the clan never will.”
“So you decided to run away.”
The name of one of the four great families was no stranger to Zhang Jiale. He knew exactly what the outcome would be, if Jiang You would have to go up against them.
“Please don’t put it that way. I’m doing this to protect my family.”
Zhang Jiale looked thoughtful for a moment. He then turned to his son. “Go bring the woman and her daughter here. They’re safer with us in here than attracting attention near prying eyes.”
Sun Xiang set down the tea and paste and headed out to greet Jiang You’s wife and daughter, and welcome them in. It didn’t take long for him to return back with the two females closely behind him.
Unlike Jiang You, his wife was a normal Malayan tiger, the second smallest subspecies of tigers, having an orange-black-white striped tail. Their daughter followed after her and was also a Malayan tiger with an orange coat.
The moment Jiang You’s wife saw her husband, she rushed into his arms, embracing him strongly. She tried to stop her body from trembling, but couldn’t, and sobbed into his chest.
“We came, just like you told us to. I packed our belongings, got Bingqing ready, left the house and came here. But oh, Bingqing’s father. I also did something you didn’t tell me to. I did a horrible thing.”
Jiang You wrapped his tail around his wife in a protective and comforting manner and purred softly.
“What did you do?” He asked.
“I set our house on fire!” The woman said and then burst into tears.
Jiang You’s eyes widened in shock. He wasn’t able to hide his amazement. “This is…”
His wife was a genius! Burning the house to avert the officer’s attention elsewhere while running away from the city. How had he not thought about it!?
She was a genius!
“You did well, my wife. You did well.” He said, patting his wife’s head gently.
The woman purred a couple times and eventually calmed down. She then looked at her husband. “Where’s Qiying?”
Just as she had asked this, they suddenly heard noises coming from the direction Song Qiying was resting. It looked like the boy had regained his consciousness.
“Father?” Song Qiying’s voice was weak. “Where am I?”
His mother immediately rushed to his side. Her smile was warm and gentle, even if she had been crying just moments ago. “Qiying, hun. It’s okay. Mother and Father are here with you, so you’re safe now.”
Song Qiying smiled weakly. “Mother? I’m glad that I made it back home safely.” His eyes then met with his younger sisters, who started sobbing at the sight of him. He could only laugh weakly, trying to cheer her up.
“Can you tell us exactly what happened? You had us really worried.” Jiang You asked, and sat down next to his wife. He immediately reminded his son to stay down and not move around too much. Right now, it was most important that he would get some rest.
Song Qiying glanced at the unfamiliar people around him and felt nervous. Jiang You noticed this and tried to calm him.
“It’s okay, the people here are going to help you. There’s no need to be afraid, they’re Father’s old friends. You’re in safe hands.”
Song Qiying seemed to calm down visibly and sighed. He tried to then recall the events of the night, but tears quickly started forming in the corners of his eyes. “I... I was out with my friends from school, when I suddenly started feeling weird inside me. I remember losing consciousness at some point and when I regained it I was already surrounded by my friends, with my clothes…, the way they looked at me, I…” Song Qiying shivered being unable to hold back the tears running down his cheeks.
His mother pulled him into a strong hug, comforting the young boy. Song Qiying flinched in pain, but did not say anything. He did not want her to feel troubled, and he didn’t want her to let go of him either.
The boy took a couple moments to collect his thoughts, and then continued. “I knew that something was wrong, I could tell it from their eyes. So, I ran away as fast as I could. They still managed to ambush me before I crossed the bridge near home, so I had to use my bestial imago and jump into the river.”
As for the rest, Jiang You already had an idea of what had happened. The boy wandered home and collapsed in the front yard. And that’s where he had found his son.
His son had truly gone through a lot that day.
Zhang Jiale smiled gently. “You did the best you could in a situation where you didn’t know how to react. You’re a strong boy.” He praised the young tiger cub and a light blush appeared on Song Qiying’s cheeks, but they couldn’t tell if it was because of the embarrassment or his fever.
The next moment though, Zhang Jiale’s expression got serious. “What you need to do now is to get some rest. Giving you suppressants at this point is bad for your body, so all we can do for now is to let you drink some ginger tea and then anoint odour masker on your skin to dampen the natural omega scent. “
Song Qiying felt his eyes tingle a little bit. “So what my friends said is true then. I am an omega.”
Jiang You could feel his heart breaking, seeing his son like this. He had never wanted this for his son, he hadn’t protected Song Qiying all these years just to see him make an expression like this.
He had failed to protect his son and family.
Jiang You’s wife embraced her son, comforting him. His daughter also patted the boy's head, smiling gently. “You should get some sleep now. Everything will be alright.”
Song Qiying thanked his mother and sister. They then proceeded to apply the odour masker to his body and have him drink some ginger tea to calm down.
Jiang You, Zhang Jiale and Sun Xiang were watching from the sidelines. The deer man whispered in Jiang You’s ears. “You do realise that the situation is severe. The church will not like it when they hear about it.” He started in a serious tone. “Not only had you lied about his dynamics, Song Qiying openly admitted transforming into his imago inside the city. His friends most definitely saw that. He could get killed for it.”
Jiang You’s expression was dark. “I understand it all, I really do.”
“I really hope that you do.” Zhang Jiale looked disappointed in his friend for a moment.
“He’s my son that I’ve raised and nurtured. Everything I’ve ever done has always been for his sake. And it will continue to be so.” Jiang You declared.
And he knew as long as he had Baekho’s blessing with him, he would be successful.
“What are your plans from here on? Beside running away.” Zhang Jiale then asked, changing the topic.
Jiang You looked down. “I’m positive I can survive wherever I go, but I’m worried about Qiying. The way omegas are treated here, following his punishment, given that they don’t simply kill him on the spot, he’s either going to be sacrificed to the gods, sold as a slave or end up in Balganbul.”
“No one wishes that for their child.” Zhang Jiale said. He understood Jiang You’s worry, because he too was a father of an omega. When Sun Xiang had first presented as an omega, he had been at a loss as to what to do. It was extremely dangerous for an omega to travel around carelessly, but somehow he had managed to survive their many tribulations.
“There is nothing I can do to keep my son safe anymore.” Jiang You started in a sad voice and turned to Zhang Jiale. “This is why I would like to ask you to take Song Qiying under your wing. Please, you’re the only one I can rely on.” Jiang You’s expression was serious as he bowed deeply.
“As an omega, Song Qiying has no future here in the Tiger Clan. But I know that there are other clans that are more kind towards omegas, some even hold them in high respect. So I wish you to take Song Qiying under your wing and let him travel with you until he has found a safe place he can and wants to settle in.”
Zhang Jiale was quiet for a moment.
“Why me?” He then asked.
“You’re the only travelling merchant whom I truly know. But also…” Jiang You said as he glanced towards Sun Xiang’s direction. “Your son is an omega. Placing Song Qiying in your care would be the safest. Your son can teach Song Qiying about how to deal with all that omega stuff and all.”
“... You really have thought things through.”
“It was something I never wanted to happen, but I indeed tried to formulate sure and safe plans of what I’d do if he does end up presenting himself as an omega. You were my first choice, given that you were in the city. Travelling means you’d be difficult to locate and never stay too long in one place. Your son is an omega which means he can teach Qiying and you travel with bodyguards which means Qiying will be safe.”
“You really do love your son.”
“I vowed in the name of Baekho to his father that I will keep him safe.”
Zhang Jiale gave a defeated sigh. He then glanced at Song Qiying, who had drunk his tea and was now sleeping soundly on the mattress. “The situation is a lot worse than I had imagined. Do you mind if Xiang and I excuse ourselves to discuss the situation for a moment?”
“Ah yes, sure. I will wait for you guys then.” Jiang You kept nodding his head relieved as he finished his cup of tea in one go. He had been so nervous this whole time that he had let it go cold.
Zhang Jiale smiled. “I will let you know the battle plan as soon as we’ve talked it over.” He then excused himself from the room together with Sun Xiang.
Jiang You gulped loudly, hoping that Baekho would be kind to him.
“Do you think this is all that he needs to take?” Jiang You asked Zhang Jiale as he packed the last of the luggage into a wagon. The deer merchant looked around and then nodded content.
Seeing that everything else was ready, the two men then returned back inside and carried the half conscious Song Qiying into the same wagon as the luggage. After having had a chat with his son, Zhang Jiale had returned to the room with Sun Xiang and said that they were willing to accept Jiang You’s request to take Song Qiying in and let him travel together with them.
Jiang You had looked relieved, while on the other hand Song Qiying, who had just woken up, was looking greatly confused. What was all this talk about him leaving, he didn’t understand. In the end, Jiang You had explained everything to him; about his future— that it was impossible for him to have one in the Tiger Clan, and how it would be safest for him to leave the clan and family to live outside as a travelling merchant under Zhang Jiale’s care.
Song Qiying wasn’t given much of a moment to think, or even the possibility to make his own decisions, but he understood the urgency of the situation. He had no choice but to comply, knowing that it would be the safest option. And so, there he was, laying down in Zhang Jiale’s wagon, ready to join the deer man and his son in their travels as merchants.
Song Qiying had just closed his eyes, when he heard steps approach him. He peeked through a half-open eyelid, and saw his mother walk towards him. The tiger cub was about to get up to sit, but she quickly stopped him. “Qiying, I will miss you so much, my son. I know that the Tiger Clan will be a dangerous area for you from now on, and it might be so that we are to never meet again, but I want you to know that your sister and I will be waiting. So please come seek us out one day and visit us.” She embraced her son strongly.
Song Qiying felt tears turning in his eyes. “Mother. You’re so good to me, too good even. You took me in without any questions and raised me like I was your so-”
“You are my son.” She said gently, interrupting Song Qiying, and then continued. “It’s not ‘like a son’ I raised you as my son. Song Qiying, you are my son, and will forever be, there’s nothing in the world that will change that fact, no matter what the others say.”
Following her words she placed three kisses on his face; his forehead and on both cheeks.
“May the blessing and protection of Baekho be with you.”
Having said goodbye to his mother, Song Qiying’s sister then came to him.
“I still don’t like the idea of us going separate ways, but I will forgive you this one time.”
“You better be careful out there, I’ve heard that the outside world is a scarier place than we think.”
“I expect you to bring me souvenirs the next time we meet.”
Bingqing pouted. “I want at least one souvenir from each clan you visit. And you should know without me telling you what it is that I desire.”
“Yes. I will make sure to collect as many various ribbons and other hair ornaments for you.” His little sister's eyes widened in excitement. “This way you might make a guy fall for you. Your hair is your selling point, after all.”
Bingqing blushed at the comment. “You’re unbelievable! Just watch me! The next time we meet, I’m going to be married!” She started hitting Song Qiying in anger, but then embraced her brother strongly as she leaned closer to kiss him on the forehead and his cheeks.
“May the blessing and protection of Baekho be with you.” The girl then smirked, and ran off to cry into her mother’s arms.
Wiping the small tears that had appeared at the corners of his eyes, Song Qiying then saw Jiang You standing next to him. This would be his final goodbye. He needed to go through it just one more time.
“This is the final goodbye then. We will be leaving in a moment too.” Jiang You smiled kindly at his son. He gently petted the boy’s head.
“Mmm.” Song Qiying was unable to say anything, swallowing hard tears. It was now, seeing his father, that the realisation hit him hard. He really was going separate ways from his family. He also had no idea when he would next see them again.
“Thank you so much, Father. For taking me in, for raising me and for protecting me. You’re the best father I could’ve ever had.” The boy smiled.
“I’m glad to hear those words, but I’m not worthy of such praise. I’m the one who got you into this situation.” Jiang You looked apologetic.
“But you’ve always taken care of me. When I was abandoned by my birth parents, you took me in and raised me as your son.” Song Qiying smiled. “If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have had such a happy childhood as I did now.”
“I’m sure you'll be able to find happiness from now on as well.” Jiang You said and hugged his son. He then continued with his final words. “It’s time for us to go now. Take care of yourself, my son. May the protection of Baekho be with you.”
“May the blessing and protection of Baekho be with you.”
Seeing the wagon drive away, Jiang You hopped on his horse and sighed. Looking up, before heading away, he whispered into the blue sky.
“You will be watching over him too, right? Cousin?”
That day was different from the others, Han Wenqing could tell from the way his husband was behaving. Ye Xiu seemed to be enthusiastic about something, too enthusiastic for Han Wenqing’s liking. It was plainly obvious that Ye Xiu was plotting something, and this made Han Wenqing’s constant frown tighter than usual.
“Don’t you think you’re going a little too far?” Sitting on a chair, he shifted his position and gave Ye Xiu a dark serious stare. The two were currently in Ye Xiu’s office, and while the younger man was supposed to be doing work on matters regarding his clan, instead he was loitering around in his room.
Ye Xiu stopped pacing around for a second, and turned to Han Wenqing, a smile on his face.
“Whatever do you mean?”
“Your obsession with Yu Wenzhou! I can understand why you stole me from him, but now you’re pretty much stalking his son.”
Ye Xiu chuckled. “But Little Wen is so cute. He seriously thinks that he could hide his son from me.” After that the man continued, his tone a little more serious this time. “You’re also wrong about one thing. I did not steal you from him. I took you with me before you had made your vows. It was a strategic move.”
“Your timing was the worst possible.”
“Dragon’s like grand entrances.”
“In the end, you just wanted to humiliate him, then? If you’re so obsessed with him, shouldn’t you have gone after him in the first place? Marry that fox boy.”
Ye Xiu’s eyes flashed for a second. “No. You’re wrong. What I wanted was a situation where it was impossible for you to refuse me. It was you whom I wanted as my partner for life, and we all know the honour tigers receive when being chosen as partners to dragons.”
“Oh, shut up.”
Ye Xiu smirked. “I don’t hate you either.”
Han Wenqing was about to retort something back, when the door to the office opened softly, and a person shyly peeked in. It was a young boy, dark in hair and expression. Much like Ye Xiu, he was sprouting small antlers on the top of his head, and he had a golden scaled tail that was majestically swaying behind him.
The young boy looked at Ye Xiu. “You called, Father?”
“Ah, yes.” Ye Xiu smirked.
Han Wenqing suddenly had a bad feeling about this. In fact, it was never a harmless situation that led to Ye Xiu wearing the kind of expression he was now. This would not end well.
“What are you up to this time?”
“What am I up to? Nothing! What makes you think that I could possibly be up to something, how can you accuse me like this?” Ye Xiu laughed.
“We’ve been married for 40 years already, I would have to be an idiot not to notice you’re up to something.” Han Wenqing stared seriously.
“Then continue being one. I’d appreciate it if you wait another 5 000 years.”
“Dad?” Qiu Fei, the son of Han Wenqing and Ye Xiu repeatedly asked.
“Ah, yes. Son, I’ve called you here today because I want us to go somewhere together. You turned 17 recently and this means that you’ve reached the perfect age of visiting the outside world.”
Upon hearing the words, Qiu Fei’s eyes lit up a little bit. It was dangerous for the young dragon’s to wander around in the landclans, as there were many bounty hunters after their lives and their most valuable parts, the scales of their tail. So this would be the first time that Qiu Fei would be stepping outside the realm of the Dragon Clan.
“Where are we going?”
Han Wenqing didn’t even need to guess to figure out where they would be heading. It was clear as a day that there was only one place, only one family— or rather one man, whom his husband had an unhealthy obsession with.
“We’re visiting the Fox Clan’s Honjou to meet your future fiancé and husband.” Ye Xiu smirked.
Han Wenqing closed his eyes and sighed. He massaged his temples.
The spring was arriving.