Xiao Jin went back to his position after a bow towards Xie Yi, whose whole demeanour relaxed once faced with his favourite paper-man.
The sect leader watched their spar with mild surprise. It had been a while since he had seen Xie Yi fight and he had not known that the youth’s martial arts had gotten so good. “What manual is that?”
“Not an official one. They don’t suit him - we are making adjustments towards one I found.” Shi Yue thoughtfully watched his disciple. “He’s better with a sword but that’s exactly why I want him to train without one for a while.”
An hour later, Xie Yi found himself staring up at the ceiling. Xiao Jin had gone easy on him, otherwise he wouldn’t have lasted longer than a couple of minutes with the unusual arts.
Xiao Jin intended to stretch out his hand to help Xie Yi up, when the door opened and a gray-black nose sniffed in.
Seeing strangers, Mingtian twitched his ears but trotted over to Xie Yi anyway. The young man stretched his arms up. “MingMing!”
With his full weight, the canine climbed onto Xie Yi’s stomach and licked his face to the human’s laughter.
Mingtian could tell that Xie Yi was unhappy and guessed instantly it had to do with the stranger who was standing in the training room. No surprise that his little brother was disgruntled.
Xiao Jin retreated back to his corner without needing to be commanded to.
“His partner, Mingtian.”
The conversation reached both of their ears. Xie Yi lowered his eyes but hid it behind Mingtian’s long fur.
“Partner? You allowed him to take one this early?”
Mingtian would have loved to speak up, but he had no chance but to stay quiet or he would be heard. That boy sounded like the type to get stuck on rules, very unsuitable for himself and Xie Yi.
Contrary to Mingtian, who was planning on fully ignoring that idiot, Xie Yi flared up defensively. “It’s none of your business who I partner with!”
Snarling, he sat up and moved his arms around Mingtian to carry him.
“Master, I’ll retreat for now. I’d like to wash up.”
“Go.” Shi Yue’s sleeve made a small sound as it moved with the motion of his hand. Watching his irritated disciple leave and the confused but sceptical look of the young cultivator next to him, Shi Yue felt a headache coming.
As he was currently staying mostly at Shi Yue’s place, Xie Yi returned to the main house and into the bath with a grumble. Mingtian joined him but only leaned on the edge of the bathtub in his human form.
“Leave the growling to me, kid. Don’t get so angry at everything.” He rubbed his large hand over Xie Yi’s slightly wet hair.
The young man did not care for covering up in the water or anything and stretched out his legs. What was Mingtian supposed to see that he hadn’t seen before? Sheesh.
“You’re also not around often recently”, Xie Yi complained. “I’m stuck in the sect and you’re out all the time. Are you with Xue Hua?”
“Yes”, Mingtian chuckled.
“Your relationship got a lot better lately, it seems. What do you even do with all that time.” Xie Yi humpfed in a pout but getting no response, he looked over anyway. Mingtian was silently smirking. “Ooh. Well, good for you.”
“I still need to get a dowry before I can officially marry him, though”, Mingtian laughed. “But… as it is right now, it’s not bad at all. The most important thing is that he accepts me.”
“He has thawed a lot recently”, Xie Yi hummed softly.
Xue Hue was beginning to show a lot more emotions on his face. Most of all, even he could see that Xue Hua was rejecting Mingtian’s closeness less. He looked embarrassed but wouldn’t run.
“I’m so happy you get along with him”, Mingtian mumbled and hugged Xie Yi’s neck from behind. Although the position in itself should be overly intimate, especially with one person not wearing any clothes, it was so devoid of anything sexual that it would be impossible to interpret any ulterior motives into it. “It’s important to me.”
“I don’t think we would have gotten along well in my last life. It’s good that it is how it is right now”, Xie Yi mumbled, moving his fingers through the water. The bloodied, distorted him would not have accepted Xue Hua.
“Hm. So, don’t be mad if I spend a lot of time with him right now, okay?”, Mingtian asked quietly.
“Alright, I won’t pout”, Xie Yi promised. Was this what you call the newly-wed phase or something like that? They sure were sticking together a lot. “I probably can’t watch, can I?”
“One day, I’ll have to learn it.”
“Let Shi Yue teach you once you become a couple.”
Xie Yi gave a very long sigh. “You know that that’s a different matter. You and Xue Hua had a relationship before, but I…”
“Don’t think about it”, Mingtian interrupted him. “Don’t think about it at all, okay? Continue on as usual.”
He was pretty sure that Shi Yue would fall for his little brother in time. Xie Yi did not need to stress at all. Somehow he had a feeling that in time, everything would turn out all right.
“What’s your plan for now?”
The youth inhaled and exhaled slowly. Mingtian wasn’t asking for his plan over the next few days.
“I can’t leave for now. Once I can move around freely again, I… I want to help Zhi Ci get over her problems. Then I want to go through as many outposts as possible. And… I want to get that thing before those assholes can. The weird stone.”
“No”, Mingtian rejected harshly.
“I’m not letting them get it”, Xie Yi responded darkly.
He knew why his partner had reacted so quickly, though.
He still didn’t know if the Demonic Sect had a greater plan for raising him the way they did other than wanting a powerful weapon, but he certainly knew that acquiring this one item was one of their plans.
Reason being, even he had almost died.
The canyon was deep, but nothing a cultivator couldn’t manage. It was also covered by a thick layer of fog that you couldn’t see through, but the fog itself was not dangerous.
The problem lay on the ground of the canyon.
Mingtian had not seen it, he had only seen Xie Yi come out of it barely alive. If he had been down there, he would have recognized the abnormally looking flowers that were blooming everywhere, turning the whole ground into a colourful sea.
Walking down there wasn’t comfortable - the ground was uneven, sometimes it would sink in a bit or you’d crack through a layer.
And that was because…
The whole canyon, the whole blooming length of it, was covered in a layer of forever preserved corpses. They would never fully rot, staying there until eternity.
Sometimes you might step on a brittle skull or some of the soft flesh and sink down.
Xie Yi had never talked to Mingtian about what had happened down there and Mingtian hadn’t dared to ask. When Xie Yi had crawled out, he was physically at his end and mentally so out of it that he did not react to anything for almost a month. The elders had watched that with fascination.
Xie Yi did not like the canyon.
The corpses would call out to you from below the layer of blooming flowers, sometimes grabbing your ankles. They would whisper and laugh, mainly, or call out to you with the voices of your loved ones.
If you so much as wavered momentarily, you would fall into their illusions.
Back then, he had had to endure the sight of Mingtian devouring Shi Yue and while interfering, had gotten badly hurt. When he had snapped out of it he was on the ground, half enveloped by the flowers. The fight had never truly happened.
But because his brain had decided the illusion was real, his injuries had become real. Not physically - but he felt the dizziness of blood loss and the pain of his torn limbs. He could only crawl, unable to do anything against injuries that weren’t there.1This is a true condition and pretty dangerous. People can actually die without any external injuries, but the conditions for making them believe they are actually in a lethal state are pretty high. The most well known example of this is a blindfolded prisoner being placed under psychological torture. When threatened to be killed and touched by an edged piece of ice at his wrists, he believed the melting ice to by his blood and the edge to be a knife cutting him. The pain he felt was real, despite never being in danger.
He dragged himself to the deepest part of the canyon, right into the middle of the largest blossom to get the small stone or whatever it was. Surprisingly, nothing worse happened there.
He thought that was the end of it, but getting out of the canyon took days.
He couldn’t fly, couldn’t use his sword, couldn’t use his spiritual energy. He climbed up with nothing but the bit of strength he had left. But he fell, over and over again. That’s where he actually got the physical injuries from that just added to the ones his body believed to have.
He couldn’t climb up when all he saw, heard and felt was not stone but rather a wall of corpses.
Never in his life had he encountered an illusion he couldn’t break out of no matter what he did.
He was more than relieved at finally getting out of that hell.