“How do I find my reason? I don’t understand it.” Xie Yi hiccuped and pulled his feet up again. A skeleton hand broke off and loosened its grip.
“It’s a natural thing. It’s a striving for the state that you are most comfortable in. A state that gives you true peace. That can mean a lot; wishing to become someone that changes the world, or acquiring something, or just being safe. You might not ever be truly aware of what it is, but it will finally release you of that constant unrest in your heart.”
“Stop talking in riddles!” Xie Yi continued struggling away from the hands that pulled at him and angrily shouted at Juxian, who blinked with an apologetic expression.
“Force of habit. Just look out for it, Xie Yi. Stop clinging to an excuse with closed eyes. Cling to it and look around - you can see neither raft nor island if you don’t try to look. It might take a while, but there will be one. Until then, no one will mind you leaning on them.”
“Couldn’t you have told me that somewhere else”, Xie Yi hissed and followed Juxian, who began walking backwards.
The smaller version of him smiled. “No. You are obstinate. You wouldn’t have listened if I simply told you. That’s good - keep on watching only me. They can’t do anything if you don’t allow yourself to be shocked by the cold water they are throwing you into.”
“What is this place”, Xie Yi asked, not looking away from Juxian’s unnatural but beautiful eyes. He blocked out everything else and only trudged after the sword spirit. In time, the screams and whimpers vanished, then the hands that tried to pull him down.
“They’re Cursed Netherworld Flowers. Not a species that should be here in the Branched World, mind you. They’re a mutation of a much nicer, much prettier species that belongs to another plane.” Juxian clicked his tongue again, as if he disdained the existence of the flowers.
“How do you know that?”, Xie Yi asked dumbly. “Is that something all spirits know? What belongs to the other planes?”
“It’s something I know, let’s leave it at that. I’m tempted to destroy them all, but I’m not allowed to do that. You should make it a longterm goal, though. The flowers are useful for demonic cultivators.”
On and on they walked. The uneven ground was slow to traverse, and Xie Yi felt a jolt run through his body every time he broke down over a broken bone. The flowers did not care about being walked on and straightened right away, contrary to the corpses below that stayed broken.
“And that… stone, too?”
“For them, sure. Well, this time, they have gotten to the flowers much earlier than the last time, due to you escaping them. While that’s bad, it’s still better than them getting that, admittedly. Even half of the thing can be used.”
“What does it do?”
“What do you think it does?”
He didn’t know. He never found out, in fact. Once he had given it over to them, he had never seen it again. “Something with illusions, perhaps?”
“Not bad! It eats up your brain.”
“It what?!” And how did that fit into illusions?!
“It takes up part of your brain, like a parasite. It’s the most animalistic type of this flower that you can find. It takes up a host to protect its species. The rest is good material for creating illusions.”
Juxian wanted to shake his head, but didn’t do so in favour of holding Xie Yi’s eye. It was better to make sure that the other wouldn’t fall into the illusions again.
“Growing these flowers is much harder if you don’t have the mother-plant. In fact, the flowers will even destroy each other if placed too close, and fight for dominance, so they’re a hassle. The mother-flower keeps them under control, but it’s immobile and weak. The only thing protecting it is the guard-parasite.”
“You mean that huge flower in the center? That means if I destroyed that, all these flowers would wither?”
Xie Yi’s face lit up a bit. He would gladly destroy this place, even more so if it was so easy.
Juxian raised an eyebrow. “You don’t truly think it’s that easy? Even reaching the flower aside - which is a unique thing you can do right now - you can’t win against the parasite.”
“It looks like a stone. The last time, I could carry it away easily”, Xie Yi mumbled in complaint.
“Did you carry it away easily?” Juxian smiled twistedly. “What did it look like when you saw it, inside the flower?”
“White”, Xie Yi answered instantaneously. He remembered it well, because it had been such a clean colour in this terrible place.
“And how did it look when you gave it away?”
“It was-” ...White?
It hadn’t been. It had been black. He had the memories, he remembered the way it looked, but back then, he hadn’t questioned it for a single moment.
“The parasite likes strong hosts, but it hardly cares for using them unless the mother-plant is in danger. Only if that happened would it use its host to come to the rescue while the other flowers protect the mother in the meantime. That said, it's cooperative with people who grow more of the flowers and will also protect them.” Juxian hummed softly. “You might have killed yourself in your last life, Xie Yi, but I can’t even name all the things that would have ended your life sooner or later, even if you hadn’t.”
“It was… in my head?” Xie Yi felt himself retching and reached up to cover his ears, shuddering. He stopped walking. “I didn’t notice? How couldn’t I notice that?”
“It’s a thing from a higher plane. It took the place of what it ate up and did the same work. The health of the host is important - no one would ever notice something is wrong until someone attacks this place here. As for why you didn’t see it move, that’s the task of the flowers here.”
Xie Yi recoiled. “Then why am I walking towards the flower now! I don’t want that thing inside me again! And you said that they can’t get it!”
Juxian laughed. He sounded so pleased and amused, as if he was teasing a child. It didn’t suit his small body.
“Yes, that’s why you don’t have to worry. We’re not going close to the mother, so the parasite won’t wake up. It’s just that it’s the easiest to climb out of the canyon at that area, since you can’t use spiritual energy down here.”
Xie Yi glanced past Juxian, but quickly returned to staring only at him. “I don’t see that huge flower anywhere nearby.”
“Oh, it’s going to take a while until we get there. A couple of days. This place is large.”
The young man stopped walking. This time, he let his eyes slide once over the sea of flowers. His nose was already numb to the stench. “You don’t mean to tell me I will have to sleep down here?”
“You will have to.”
“How about I just start climbing up on the wall here? Instead of wasting days getting to the flower.”
“You are welcome to try.”
The sentence was so openly suspicious that Xie Yi clamped his mouth shut and went back to following obediently. He wasn’t sure how he was supposed to find a place to rest down here.
How had he done it the last time? It had all happened in a somewhat short timespan, so he hadn’t slept.
And to tell the truth, he was getting a bit queasier now. Not that he cared about the corpse-layer in itself, he had no problem with the sight.
But by now, he had gotten used to being cleaner. Walking through this place was much more unpleasant now.
Xie Yi, not ever stopping cursing mentally for a single second, trudged forward continuously, his eyes glued to his sword spirit walking backwards through the sea of yellow and red flowers.