That was surprising.
Xu Jian was fully aware that wasn’t how Qi Deviation worked, because Qi Deviation existed in modern Earth, too. He hadn’t made the connection while reading Black Path of the Proud Immortal, but he got the ghist after reading some other novels.
The human brain was a sensory object. It wasn’t designed to handle deprivation of any kind. Solitary confinement was a form of torture, strong enough to cause PTSD. If you tape slices of a golfball to your eyes, lie on the ground, and listen to white noise, you could begin to hallucinate. If you sit in a room insulated against noise, the ears begin to cling to every sound.
Such deprivation had all sorts of problematic effects. Some lasted an hour, some lasted a year, some lasted for life. It could disrupt one’s sense of self, one’s emotional range, one’s willpower, one’s body functions, and so on and so forth. Because it was psychological, the point the mind began warping, how it warped, and whether it warped at all was entirely subjective, but it was still common for those who subjected themselves to intense, isolating meditation far above what they were used to to experience some hardships when becoming in tune with themselves.
In a world of spiritual energy, the main problem was that once someone lost their faculties, they also lost control of their Qi, which rampaged through their meridians, making what should have been nothing more than a psychotic break incredibly destructive.
Wendian was not a well-learned sect. They were all working based on the limited understanding of Liu Tiesheng, who had learned from Xu Jian’s father when they were both children. They had no scholars or healers that could identify the complexities of Qi Deviation. If Xu Jian said he had it and was acting weird, then Qi Deviation was the simplest excuse.
Also, demons were stupid.
Such things obviously weren’t going to fly with someone who actually knew how it worked, especially someone who hadn’t met Xu Jinyue beforehand.
“Qi Deviation,” he repeated, “I thought I'd be able to just push through it, and caused an upset at a banquet. I’ve been fully recovered for a while now, but I can’t undo what I said, and because I damaged my body when it happened, I can’t force them to take me back because of my skills. I don’t have anywhere to go, so I’m just doing whatever strikes me at the moment. People are assuming I’m still delirious, and the fact they assumed I can only tell the truth means I won't be scrutinized while I'm here.”
The woman finally took a sip of the tea to welcome the honesty. “Damage?”
“My body isn’t taking any spiritual energy that isn’t forced into me. The medic left in the Palace’s medicine hall diagnosed me.”
The Elder’s eyebrows raised. “A member of the sect was left untouched?”
“No one knows she’s there. Lord Ying took me, and seemed to expect it to be staffed, so I doubt her safety will be threatened now that he knows about her.”
The woman nodded slowly. “She’s not making any attempt to go against him, so he doesn’t care?”
Xu Jian’s lips twitched behind his cup. “Lord Ying is even-tempered. I’ve upset him, but I doubt he’d hurt me.”
“I see.” She took another sip, and looked over her shoulder at the disciple behind Xu Jian. When he reached out to grab the sword sitting next to him, Xu Jian smacked his hand away and vanished the sword in a cloud of shining cubes.
The sight made the Elder’s eyes flash. “An interesting ability.”
“Not an ability. Item I got before I left. I wouldn't waste my energy when I'm this ill.”
“Where on earth did you find such a thing?”
“Didn’t. My father left it to me.”
He raised his eyebrows challengingly as he sipped his tea. Can’t exactly interrogate a dead man, can you?
She made eye contact with the disciple again. The hall was silent after the children left with their mother, but now there was small noises; shuffling, whispers in the dark. The spiritual energy of the people hiding in the shadows was too poor for Xu Jian to make them out.
“Where are those who resisted?” The Elder finally asked.
“With all due respect, it was a siege. I’d be shocked if they could get all those people in there without breaking a limb or two.”
She took that in stride. “Do you think we can evacuate safely?”
“Leave in parcels. I doubt you’ll be noticed. They didn’t even see me wander off, and I’m technically a prisoner.”
“What are the demon forces doing now?”
“Repairing the damage. Most of the River demons are fixing Yufeng's walls.”
“It sounds so peaceful up above. Do you expect me to believe that they’re such benevolent captors?”
“I can’t exactly escort the medic down here to confirm. I’m about to be exiled, remember?” Xu Jian realized his situation. “If you’re leaving, can I come with you?”
He liked competent people who had concern for others. Between Ying Long, who had done nothing but annoy him since he showed up, and this woman, Xu Jian would rather act subservient to the latter. Plans fell through. Better options presented themselves.
“You don’t give me much reason to trust you. For example...” She studied his face. “The possibility of possession?”
“I know things about myself others wouldn’t. I’ve spent most of the past month confessing them. Though I could only confirm with someone like Liu Tiesheng.”
They stared each other down, neither of them flinching.
After a moment, she asked “What did you do to upset Ying Long?”
“Wandered off to talk to some children while he was busy and burned down the bank.”
“Wanted to abolish slavery.”
She looked doubtful at this. “Is there a reason you feel strongly about indentured servitude?”
“It’s bad and I’m strong enough that no one can stop me. And I was bored.”
“That does sound in line with the rumours of your character,” she hummed.
Xu Jian smiled thinly. “Do you plan on leaving?”
“I’ll decide what we’ll do after the servants escape the Palace.”
“That’s fine. I plan on heading West. Might squat in the tournament grounds like my father did. He seemed to enjoy it.” Her brow twitched; Xu Jian wondered if he had contributed to his lie with that comment.
Xu Jian stood, and gave the disciple a dismissive look as he walked past. He didn’t know how many people were in the room, but he didn’t want to threaten them by exploring. He didn’t have any stake in the conflict between the demons and the palace, so he preferred to wait until Ying Long returned and see what the punishment would be. He could probably wring a few points out of that conversation.
He paused. “The wards were all stripped before the siege. What happened?”
He face shuttered. "That...I don't know."
Hm. Mysteries. Xu Jian hated mysteries.
“Are you going to put the door back?” The woman added.
“Absolutely not,” he replied.
When Xu Jian ascended the stairs, he could hear scuffling behind him. He glanced over his shoulder, and the eight sallow-faced people following him froze.
“I said he was upset with me. Be careful,” he said, and continued on his way.
As expected, the demons didn’t stop them. One or two who had seen him come in with the children looked confused by the new crowd. When he passed the guards, they startled. He kept his face relaxed, hoping the sternness would keep people from asking questions. The easiest way to pull off a scam was to look as confident as possible.
At the entrance to the palace, the second set of guards stepped up to stop him. “We have orders to keep you inside upon your return.”
“That’s fine.” He flicked his sleeve at his followers. “Go ahead.”
They all looked at each other, and approached the guards slowly. Xu Jian took a few steps back, which made the guards relax and return to their posts. They were wholly disinterested in the human peasantry. The humans shuffled past, clinging onto each other as if preparing to pull each other out of harm's way if attacked, but nothing happened. They were free.
The servants broke into a run, sprinting down the stone stairs to see their families. That done, Xu Jian rolled his shoulders. He still felt floaty and untethered to himself, but satisfied. He thought he might go to his room and take a nap.
It was then that, with a sound like a thunderclap and an impact that made Xu Jian bounce in place, Ying Long landed in the middle of the courtyard, looking murderous.