Jin ZiXin stared up into the night, up at the trees almost straight above him. He could vaguely make out the profile of a woman among the treetops, sitting on a branch with hanging legs and long hair flying free in the wind.
The woman jumped down, all the way from over three meters above him, and landed a scant meter in front of him, right on her feet without so much as a wince in pain. "What are you doing here alone, kid?"
"I'm not a kid." Jin ZiXin almost growled out. His patience was wearing thin from the unsettling atmosphere of the village, and his running. He couldn't help but think that there was a murderer out there, just waiting for him to let down his guard. "I'm a disciple of the Heavenly Abyss Sect."
"Oh, really~?" the woman's voice was dragged out in clear disbelief. "I didn't know they let in people straight from the streets now."
This was another thing about sects that Jin ZiXin didn't like. It wasn't just the fact that they were scamming everybody and their mother by making them believe in things like immortality and cultivation, they also scammed people out of their hard-earned money with tricks such as 'possession', 'ghosts' and 'spiritual beasts'. Thanks to this, virtually all of the sects were ridiculously rich, and yet, they never gave out charity.
They didn't help out those low their luck, they didn't offer assistance outside of their territory if they destroyed something and they didn't take people into their sects if they didn't have a satisfactory education.
At least, if they must insist on scamming everybody — even the emperor! — out of their money, then they should at least give something back for free.
But no, they didn't. It honestly seemed like the thought had never occured to them.
They were close enough now that with the help of his small torch, Jin ZiXin could make out the obvious features of the woman. She was taller than him, with free-flowing dark hair slicked back from her face, a pair of light red eyes that shone in the night and a beauty mark under her left eye. It was an eye color that he had never seen before. She had that same ageless look that most people seemed to have in this world.
Their unrealistically good genes were just plain unfair.
She rose a dark eyebrow at him, "Huh... and what are you doing so far away from your sect?"
"The village chief asked us for help about a malicious ghost." Jin ZiXin answered and once he said it, he remembered that he wasn't out of danger just because he had successfully left the village. His eyes were once again focused on the strange woman and he realized that she looked very comfortable for being alone at night.
"It's not you, is it?"
"Pfft!" the woman didn't even have the decency to cover her mouth as she burst out laughing, almost falling over from the strong force of it. Jin ZiXin leaned his weight back and bit his lip in annoyance.
"You don't have to laugh at me."
"You think — !" the woman fell down on her ass and just sat there laughing, her head thrown back. "You I'm a ghost?!"
"Obviously, you're not." Jin ZiXin bit out harshly. "Excuse me for asking."
She waved a pale hand at him, still sitting there and laughing, showing absolutely no signs of stopping. Jin ZiXin frowned down at her and resisted the urge to cross his arms, lest he set himself on fire.
He sighed, "Are you done?"
"Ye-yes." she finally slowed down enough to look back up at him, and it struck him suddenly, how inhumane those pale red eyes were. He supposed it was only an example of the difference evolution could make on eye colors.
"Good." he sighed again. Why was he stuck here with a seemingly less-than-sane woman? At least, he was pretty sure that she wasn't the killer. He couldn't imagine that they would react like her.
She climbed back to her feet in an eerily smooth movement, and scrutinized him from head to toe. All the way from his hair pulled back in a half-tail, his slightly dirty white and purple uniform, to his sandal covered feet, because god forbid people wore actual protecting shoes in this time! That would be a scandal!
He couldn't resist shivering under her gaze, having the disturbing feeling that she could see his very soul. Which was just absurd, there was no way that she could, but he couldn't shake the sensation.
It was a disconcerting feeling.
Her arms crossed and she asked him, "So why are you out of the village alone, if you're on a ghost hunt?"
Jin ZiXin bit his bottom lip again, debating the wisdom of telling her the truth. But it wasn't like it was a secret, and it wasn't like it actually mattered, considering the fact that neither ghosts nor cultivation were real. So he told her the truth, "There was a strange fog — a trap, I think — and I ran away."
"You ran away?" the woman asked, all humor suddenly gone from her expression.
Jin ZiXin glared at her. "It was the right course of action! I could hardly see a meter in front of me, and there was no guarantee that the flare worked, or that anyone saw it. In that sort of situation, running away is the logical course of action."
"I agree." she stated easily.
Jin ZiXin furrowed his brows in confusion. "You do?"
"Yes." she tilted her head and smiled at him, and he couldn't help but think that it was genuine, despite not knowing a thing about her. "I just don't find cultivators who do very often. They tend to stand their ground and give up their life, rather then just run away and flee."
"Obviously they've never met Wu Mei." Jin ZiXin rolled his eyes at their stupidity. Wu Mei would never stand for such foolishness, she actually wanted her disciples to have a chance at survival, even if she didn't like them. This was one of her better qualities, despite her staunch belief in cultivation and her persistence in proving him wrong.
She had yet to succeed.
If it was up to him, she never would.
Before he got a chance to react, the woman's hand landed on his head and she ruffled his hair. "You're adorable." she almost cooed.
Her sweet voice didn't fit her image.
Jin ZiXin tried to slap her hand away, but she just laughed and caught him in a hug. In order not to set either of them on fire, he couldn't fight his way out of it, even though he technically knew how.
The was the only good thing about being a part of a sect from such a young age. At least he knew how to defend himself if he was ever attacked.
This world wasn't as peaceful as his old one.
"Let me go!" he attempted to kick her without dropping the torch or letting it come in contact with something, but he, very predictably, missed.
She just ruffled his hair harder. No amount of his whining and wriggling got him released.
It was unfair! Why did a stranger that he had never met before insist on treating so much like a child? Why did she keep on holding onto him, even when he had discounted the possibility of her being the murderer? Why was she even here in the first place, outside of a supposedly 'haunted' village?
Finally, she let him go. He stepped back from her with an irritated expression on his face and scowled at her. Must she be so rough? Despite her sweet voice, he was already beginning to suspect that there was nothing gentle about her at all.
He heard her sigh, and then she said, "My name is Yue, and you are?"
"Jin ZiXin." he stated quickly.
She stepped around him and for some reason started walking in the direction of the village. "Well?" she asked and glanced back at him. "Are you coming or not, Jin ZiXin?"
Jin ZiXin furrowed his brow together, and asked, "Why?"
He couldn't understand it. Why would she want to go toward the danger? Who actually did that in real life? He'd always thought it was one of those stupid things people just did in movies and books because it was necessary for the plot. People wouldn't really behave that way in real life, not unless they were fools or total maniacs.
She smirked at him. "I happen to be here looking for a ghost, too."
Jin ZiXin caught up with her within seconds and walked the short way back to village next to her. It was stupid, downright foolish, of him to run back toward the danger, but objectively speaking, the forest wasn't much safer. In fact, one could argue that it was more dangerous. There was always the possibility that the trap's intended purpose was to lure the victim to the forest where the murderer was waiting. Not to mention the wild animals that could be lurking in the woods.
So, purely from a logical standpoint, it did make sense to go back to the village, especially now that he wasn't alone.
They walked back to the village in silence, neither of them saying a word. Jin ZiXin kept his nervousness and anxiety from showing the best he could, the closer that they got to the village. Sure, he had spent twelve years in this world, but he had still lived a fairly peaceful life. His life had never been in any true danger before.
He resolved to practice his martial arts and sword arts more seriously when he returned to the sect. It wouldn't do to die just because he hadn't practiced dedicatedly.
He let his gaze move to Yue once in a while. Her expression was serious, and the earlier good humor was nowhere to be seen. She seemed to know exactly what she was looking for, as her eyes examined everything that they passed.
He wondered if she had met or seen the murderer before, and that was why she had come here. After all, it was a very small and remote village, not of any significance.
When they got closer to the village, he could see that the fog was missing. It was as if it had never been there in the first place, not a hint of mist or fog to be seen. He didn't entirely understand it, but the fact that it had come and gone so fast was surely a sign that it was manmade, right? Unless this was still some sort of natural phenomenon that he wasn't aware of.
Then it occured to him that he could just ask Yue. He turned to her and asked, "Is it natural for fog to come and go within the same hour with no warning and no trace left behind?"
"Fog?" she looked down at him with raised eyebrows and shook her head. "No, I can't say that it is. If there's fog like that, it must be outside interference."
"Then..." Jin ZiXin couldn't resist staring at the ground, his mood dropping further. "It was a trap."
He bit his bottom lip harder than he had done all night, and tasted his own blood. There was no way there was a ghost here, but a murderer was still a possibility, likely someone from the village itself, from the way Village Chief had acted. And he had left his two fellow disciples alone.
He didn't worry about Wu Mei, his Shifu was easily strong enough to deal with any murderer, but An Bao and Long Kun were still young, not even older than him at his death, and he couldn't help but worry about them. After all, though he didn't approve of their staunch belief in cultivation, he had lived and trained together with them for almost eight years.
He didn't want to know how he would react if anything were to happen to them.