It took Xie Yi much longer to speak of his last days. He hesitated at every word and ultimately only summarized roughly, possibly unwilling to go into detail.
Then, how his next life began and he set out to find Shi Yue. How Mingtian appeared in this life, and why they already knew each other.
At the end, he fell quiet and distractedly continued staring outside.
Shi Yue, on the other hand, was filled with a single emotion.
What Xie Yi had gone through needed more than an iron will. This wasn’t just about physical talent, this was also about the sheer mental strength needed to endure what he had been put through and leave with his sanity pretty intact. Even more amazing; he was learning to discard his old habits and trying to change his way of life.
He had some issues feeling pity for Xie Yi - he still subconsciously linked those events to a man that grew up into the leader of the Demonic Sect.
“How could you endure all of that?”, he sighed softly, his eyes downcast.
Xie Yi shrugged. “It’s the tenacity of a street rat, maybe. I just wanted to live. Qiang Ren, that kid, is the same as me - he can’t be killed easily. That’s why I took him along. And Xiao Zai… is the same, too.”
He paused. His brows furrowed a bit.
“I know it’s not realistic, but I think she recognized me. Despite the mask and coloured lenses, I had a feeling she knew it was me, but she didn’t call out or cry. She walked on quietly, as if nothing had happened.”
“We will break her out as soon as possible”, Shi Yue promised. Not a promise he should make considering his status, but one that he wanted to give.
“I don’t know what exactly their plan with me was, but I think it’s in everyone’s interest to not let a second me develop”, Xie Yi warned carefully. “I’m saying this now: I was not fighting at my maximum strength most of the time in that life.”
He shuddered a bit.
“I didn’t like doing it even when I was in danger. They did some experiments on my heart and core, so whenever I passed a certain threshold, it felt like I was being torn apart. However, I could have fought at that strength like a while. It’s very dangerous to allow them to succeed with those experiments.”
Juxian’s distorted form was, in a way, a mirror of his own. Even he himself did not know what his heart looked like after the old bastards were finished with him, but he was sure it didn’t have too many similarities with a normal human heart anymore.
“Shi Yue, I’m a bad enemy, but I’ll do everything to be a good ally. Please don’t tell anyone else about me”, he finally asked in an almost inaudible voice.
Surprised, Shi Yue twitched. “Of course I won’t tell anyone! If I need to share information, there will be ways around it. In the worst case, I can use Ying Hua’s prophecies as a cover.”
“Oh right, she can make those. That’s a pretty cool power.”
“She was one of the reasons why I allowed you around when you were young even though you were…” Shi Yue cleared his throat. “Slightly weird.”
“She said that Xie Yi will never lie to Shi Yue. You told me often enough that you did not like the Demonic Sect and didn’t want anything to do with them, so I wasn’t too worried from the start.” He smiled gently at his disciple. “That’s why, don’t worry, I’ll believe you no matter what you say.”
Xie Yi blinked. “And if that prophecy didn’t exist? If I told you right now, I am on your side, would you believe me without it?”
Shi Yue looked into the other’s unblinking eyes and seriously deliberated the matter. Would he?
“Yes”, he said after a couple of seconds, his voice even. “I would.”
A sweet smile bloomed on Xie Yi’s face that threw Shi Yue into a daze.
“Is that so. Then I’m happy.” The black-haired youth giggled.
Unable to resist, Shi Yue rubbed a finger against Xie Yi’s cheek with a doting smile. “So happy over something so simple.”
“How is it simple? I was the leader of the Demonic Sect, hey! You trusting me is a big thing! That always worried me.” Although he knew he should lean away and not interpret too much into the touch, Xie Yi sat without moving.
The hand brushing against his face was warm and soothing. It was too bad that he couldn’t take a hold of it.
Sadly, Shi Yue had to pull it back after a few seconds. It was better to do it on his own than let Xie Yi retreat. “You can rest at ease. You’ve been truthful so far, I don’t see why you’d suddenly start lying. Even if something sounds like nonsense, I’ll believe you - there is nothing more ridiculous than someone going back in time.”
“That is true.”
Xie Yi wanted to continue talking when something small came in through the door. Tiredly waddling forward, the white ball of feathers looked up at the two of them with half closed eyes and whistled.
Shi Yue picked the small thing up. “What’s the matter, little baby? Can’t sleep?”
Su Liang nuzzled against Shi Yue’s hand and bit a finger in a daze. He wiggled around, turning his face into one direction before lying still again.
Xie Yi looked outside but could not find anything. “Is there something there?”
Shi Yue looked outside, then frowned. “How long has it been since Mingtian left?”
“Eh? It’s been… A bit over two months, I think”, Xie Yi said thoughtfully.
“I’ll ask someone to send out an avian beast tomorrow. He might be back sooner than expected”, Shi Yue whispered and stood up. Su Liang in his arms had stopped moving. “I think it’s time for us to go to sleep. Let’s continue talking tomorrow.”
Xie Yi emptied his cup and closed the bottle of wine before standing up as well. “Alright. Good night.”
“Good night”, Shi Yue responded, watching Xie Yi leave before he took Su Liang back to his nest.
The bird that was sent out was one of the weakest, but also quickest creatures that cultivators knew about. It took a couple of days for it to fly back and forth, but it came back with a joyful message: There was indeed a dark-skinned man with the aura of a beast approaching the sect, about another week to go judging by the speed he and his companion were walking.
Xie Yi and Xue Hua both were visibly delighted. Even Shi Yue, who wasn’t too much of a fan of the man, had an expectant look on his face.
That said… Shi Yue didn’t have a lot of time for rejoicing. After running back and forth to convey their newest information to those that had to know and making up stories about he had gotten it, he stopped by the medical ward.
“How is the sect leader?”, he asked Master Chen, who had her hand on the old man’s wrist.
“Better. If I take the information you got at face value, then his body must have been working on getting rid of this drug. He doesn’t reject spiritual energy when I try to insert it and gives small responses. I’d say he is resting right now.”
She took back her hand and crossed her arms, pushing her cleavage up. Another cultivator glanced over, then hurriedly looked away when she raised an eyebrow at him.
“I can’t think of an antidote yet, but I agree with the information you have - this seems more like a rough first test than a finished product. I believe if we know what to expect and protect ourselves against it, we won’t be hit too hard yet.”
“Everyone else was safe. He might be in this state because he was too busy protecting the others to protect himself”, Shi Yue sighed. At heart, his master was still too kind to lead a sect… And funnily enough, the same went for Shi Yue, who was supposed to lead the sect after him.
It wouldn’t be bad to have someone like Xie Yi around. He was ruthless, but that might offset some of Shi Yue’s kindness. A leader could not help everyone all the time.
Master Chen waited until everyone else was out of the room before talking again. “Fascinating that Madame Bai suddenly has access to such a precious piece of information.”
Shi Yue sat down next to the sect leader, watching the old man breathe smoothly now. “She has an information agency. Of course she is going to gain especially precious information once in a while.”
The woman hummed with a face that made it clear she did not believe this at all, but she wasn’t planning on asking.
“When will you go inform the other sects?”
“Soon, since the sect leader is better now”, Shi Yue replied. “I’m only waiting for someone to return, afterwards we will leave for the Honourable Sect. Xie Yi will come along with me, maybe Xue Hua... Although I'm hesitant on asking him.”
“Anyone else going?”
“Probably not. I do want most people here, since I’m leaving again.”
Master Chen fixed her hair quietly, her lowered eyes fixated on Shi Yue. “It seems we are running right into a small war. You might want to take care of some things before it’s too late.”
Shi Yue pulled a face and averted his eyes.
“How old are you again?”
“Old enough to sort this out myself.”
“Old enough to get into the habit of never having a relationship with romantic feelings?” The woman huffed. “Do you think it was easy for me to start dating my disciple? It was hell to get those words out.”