“In fact, there was no need for you to come down here. Without you, the Demonic Sect would have failed to explore this place over and over again. They’re not even sure if there is anything down here, that’s why they sent you. The flowers themselves hold enough interest for them, but they would have not been able to reach the center.”
Juxian walked forward and grabbed Xie Yi’s wrist before cruelly dragging him back towards the flowers. Xie Yi stumbled under the iron grip. No matter how much he pulled, he was dragged along.
The corpses stared up at him. Some still had eyes that moved around to follow him through the gaps in the leaves, some were empty holes. The flowers leaned towards him as if tilting their heads.
“It’s funny. You can survive this place because you are strong, but also because of what happened in your last life. Normal people could not stomach this place. They’d be swallowed up as they begin to drown.” Juxian talked peacefully and continued dragging him on.
Hands reached past the flowers and tried to grab his ankle but failed. Whether this was part of the illusion or not, Xie Yi did not know.
“These flowers catch their prey not by attracting them with their scent and lulling them in. What they need is a breeding ground full of despair and a soul that cannot find peace and serenity. I’m surprised they managed to take root at all; it seems people involuntarily fed them by using this place as a dumping ground for humans.”
“Let me go! What do you want!” At this moment, Xie Yi had no head for trusting his own sword spirit. All he knew was that he did not want to walk further in.
“They are pretty powerful, you have to give them that. I’m not sure if I would still count them as plants, they're rather close to being animals”, Juxian said appreciatively. “See? This is their power.”
He pointed right before him.
Xie Yi’s eyes gaze flickered forward, then got stuck as if glued onto the gruesome sight.
There was absolutely no reason for this exact patch to have no flowers to hide the sight below. It was purely for the convenience of the illusion.
It was because they were sights that he knew that they felt so much worse.
Shi Yue, torn open and tortured, dyed red and with a pained expression. Mingtian’s fur spread over him like a blanket, the hollow areas where his eyes would have been turned to Xie Yi.
He shuddered again.
“The illusions here are stronger than any illusion you will find on this planet. In this place, even a dragon will fall, let alone a human.”
Juxian whispered next to Xie Yi.
“They drag it out. Your reason for living. They drag it up to the surface and tear it apart in front of you until your head cannot tell reality from fake anymore. They swallow you while you wallow in misery and desperation and are unable to keep your head above water, even if it would only be a short moment. The emptiness of not having a will to live - that is their favourite.”
He paused, then smiled. “But you? You have no reason. Have no purpose. You only have excuses.”
“What?” The words startled Xie Yi out of the trance that his memories brought up. Confused and lost, he looked over to Juxian. “...Excuses?”
“A reason is something natural. An excuse isn’t. From the start, you weren’t standing on safe land. From the start, you were holding yourself above water with driftwood. There was no shock when the driftwood was destroyed, unlike someone dragging the land away under your feet. You simply searched for a new piece - a new excuse, to keep holding on to.”
“Please stop”, Xie Yi begged, turning away from the sight in front of him. “I just… I just want to leave! Please stop talking about so many confusing things!”
“You know exactly what I’m talking about, that’s why you don’t like it”, Juxian rejected him. “You have no reason for being alive. And that scares you. So the easiest way to confront you with it is this place.”
“Why confront me at all!” The youth shouted and jolted his arm out of the grip. He wanted to step backwards but found his leg sunken between the corpses. They hugged his leg tight and he struggled to free himself. “I am alive, aren’t I! Isn’t it okay!”
“Because I want you to understand that it is perfectly fine”, Juxian shrugged and laughed. “Because you don’t actually believe it is okay. Have your excuse. Cling. Hang onto your life. Whether you scream and howl like a beast, it doesn’t matter. Bite your teeth into it and don’t let go.”
He waved his hands in a broad motion. “I only want you to be aware that it’s an excuse. Mingtian and Shi Yue, they both love you a lot. They will carry you as long as you need, but you should never stop trying to find the reason why you are alive. You mustn’t forget that you can’t just lay the burden of your life on another’s shoulder forever. What do you want to be, Xie Yi? Who? What is the goal you are dedicating your life to? ...Until you have found that answer, I am sure they will not mind lending you their shoulders to lean on. But don’t ever forget that an excuse is not a reason. It is not steady. It breaks easily.”
He smiled bitterly at the taller cultivator, the marks below his eyes looking like tears. “An excuse is never enough to truly live. An excuse is never something permanent. I want you to be happy - that’s why, don’t stop searching for your reason because you’re scared there is none, alright? Your reason is yours alone. You are the one who decides what it is.”
“And maybe you can consider, that wishing for a happy and peaceful future where you can spend your lives with your loved ones until the end is not a bad reason at all”, he finished, barely audible.
Xie Yi’s lips quivered softly.
Seeing Xie Yi’s lack of understanding, Juxian sighed sadly. “Look, when humans are in water, they try to swim. They don’t want to drown. It’s natural. But humans get exhausted. They need something steady - an island, to stand on. A reason. Or a raft, to rest on. A purpose. Something they can use until they find steady ground. When someone destroys the land they stand on, they can still swim, or can keep themselves safe on a raft. But you? You had no land or raft from the start. You were born in water, keeping yourself up out of pure instinct and holding onto everything you could. Even if it was something fragile.”
Xie Yi turned away from him, not willing to listen.
This place was his hell. This was the place where he watched his beloved people fight each other to death, unable to stop them.
How had he gotten out of the illusion back then? ...Because Shi Yue had died, but Mingtian was still there, still alive.
If it had been Mingtian who was dead, would he have continued on for Shi Yue, who survived?
If both of them had been dead… Would he have continued to move for the elders?
Those were his three excuses. One had been taken from him in his past life, but he persevered for the others. When the other two were destroyed at the same time, he had not known what to do anymore. He had swum for too long without any rest in sight. He was exhausted.
...What did he want with his life?
To do as the elders told him. To see Mingtian. To see Shi Yue.
There was nothing that was “for him”.
No reason to do things for the elders - not because he wanted them to be happy, or because he liked doing things for them, or because he agreed with their views.
No reason to see those people - whether they were unhappy, or sad, or angry, he never stopped to notice. Never stopped to care. He wanted to see them solely because they made him feel different. If there was a new person like that, maybe he would have been able to exchange them.
Maybe, a bit, he could understand the difference. Back then, he had not truly understood the agony of losing his brother, so he buried it away and went on with his excuses.
“Am I… weighing them down?”, he whispered, unable to free himself from the grip that pulled him farther down. He was sinking.
Juxian, seeing this, began to pull him out with a click of his tongue. “Shi Yue isn’t aware of the full extent of importance he has for you. As for Mingtian, really? The reason why he lives, why he won’t ever give up, the ground he stands on is that he wishes to make his loved ones happy and keep them safe. You are part of that reason, you know? He would never abandon you.”