“Grandmaster Zhu”, Xie Yi greeted carefully and with a formal bow. “What a coincidence.”
The old man snorted and did not grace him with an answer. Xie Yi hesitated and kept up the act for another while until he had decided on how to best attack the man.
“You have business around here? Should I go back and call out my master?”
“My business is with you.” Grandmaster Zhu chuckled lowly, the sound quite twisted. He stepped slowly closer and Xie Yi looked once over the man.
The sides of his lips were dragged down a bit and his eyes narrowed in a frown. He looked just about ready to attack Xie Yi at any second, his expression revealing way too much, including the almost non-personal fury.
Suddenly, Xie Yi wondered if he was simply a welcome target for the man’s anger. Maybe there were reasons he was doing this - or maybe he wanted someone to let his anger out on, and Shi Yue’s disciple was suitable.
Xie Yi faked a defensive expression and took half a step back. “With me?”
The old man laughed. “Not so proud anymore now that you’re alone? Kid, someone like you has to be taught a lesson. A bit of suffering will teach you to be polite.”
The young cultivator wanted to spit. That guy still dared to talk like this when he was clearly planning on killing him?!
“Kneel down and accept your punishment. I might be lenient if you do.” The old Grandmaster’s face twisted more and more as he pulled out a whip. The ugly, almost glowing green colour screamed poisonous to the heavens.
For a moment Xie Yi was stunned, but he quickly collected himself. Right, strong cultivators did not need to explain. Everyone was on the level of servants. If they wanted to hit, they would hit. As long as the effect was within boundaries, people would stay quiet.
They would not expect someone to not obey.
Xie Yi exhaled slowly and closed his eyes.
Kneel down? Before that guy?
He did not think any further and sank down to his knees.
He did not want to kneel, but this would put him into an even more advantageous position with the man letting his guard down. Between an advantage and his pride…
He had to solve this quietly. He had to, or cultivators might notice them. He couldn’t cause his family any more trouble. No, his pride wasn’t worth that.
He kneeled on the dirty ground and lowered his head, his face expressionless. In his mind, he heard Shi Yue’s voice, speaking up during one of the lessons he had gotten as a child.
If your pride cannot handle admitting a mistake, if your pride cannot handle giving in and lowering your head when needed, then that truly was a brittle pride.
He bowed his head in hopes of lowering the damage that would follow, and he felt it was fine.
The Grandmaster laughed, a creepy sound in the dark woods. The whip whizzed through the air.
Ah, kneeling was fine. But if he let himself get hit by a whip… Then that kind of injury truly would be too hard to explain.
The Grandmaster reacted out of pure instinct. He leaned backwards, his reaction time already lowered due to his old age, and stared with wide eyes at the strands of hair that fluttered before his eyes.
Xie Yi hissed in annoyance, finishing the slash and drawing Juxian back diagonally over his shoulder while stepping forward with his other leg.
Whips of wind followed his movements, crashing into the trees and damaging the bark.
The second strike clashed against another sword. Even if he was slower than for example Shi Yue, the old man was still a grandmaster and had taken out a sword to protect himself without further thought.
Gritting his teeth, he increased his strength, planning to break Xie Yi’s sword.
It was only now that he got a clear glance, and it sent a shiver down his spine.
Juxian’s abnormal blade was shining even in the darkness under the trees. The sword hummed, an almost condescending sound at the futile try of being broken.
“Spirit sword!” Grandmaster Zhu exclaimed with shock in his voice, his eyes flickering up to meet Xie Yi’s. The unusual colour shifted further, revealing a bright ring around the pupil, and a creepy, cold smile hung on the pretty man’s lips.
“Not the last surprise.”
The outer shell of his core gave an audible crack as his aura surged, his spiritual energy painfully pushing through his channels.
“I’m not fond of using Juxian to kill, but a Grandmaster should be appropriate”, he muttered, the chilly voice drilling into Grandmaster Zhu’s brain like a bug.
His sword groaned unhealthily under the contact as he tried to create a distance between the two of them.
The ground gave way under their combined pressure, leaving dents wherever they stepped.
The man’s expression was stupidly blank; everything in his head was telling him that the scene that was happening was impossible. It could not be true.
And yet, his opponent was skillful enough to intervene every time he attempted to pull out another weapon or use his spiritual energy for a larger attack.
The sound of swords clashing together became the only thing that both of them could hear.
Xie Yi felt the strain on his wrists but persevered in hoarding the old man, keeping him in the exact same place to avoid the area of destruction panning out. Keeping him under control like this was exhausting and time-consuming, causing sweat to appear on his forehead, but they were unlikely to be noticed.
Rust-coloured blotches began to dirty Xie Yi’s clothes. The drops rolled off Juxian like off a lotus leaf, but the fabric greedily sucked in the liquid.
He was relieved that sparring with Shi Yue and the paper-men had gotten him back into practice. Fighting another Grandmaster was hard, even more so if you had to ensure that the other couldn’t concentrate enough to use their full strength.
The man’s face distorted into a grimace as the seconds passed and the puny little cultivator, who was supposed to be nothing but an ant compared to him, used a strength that he should not have.
“Demon”, he growled. “Vile thing! You can’t be human!”
“Have to disappoint you”, Xie Yi responded darkly, twisting around the other man’s sword and aiming at his hand. “No matter how monstrous I am, I’m still a human.”
Bone cracked and gave way. Juxian slid through the flesh and tendons with no more resistance than if it was water - only blood sprayed, a slightly foul stench accompanying it.
“You reek of rot, old man”, he hissed, not caring for the dumbfounded expression on his opponent’s face.
He held his sword with only one hand and reached out with the other. This time, there was no one to hold him back as his fingers tightened around the wrinkly face, pushing it away.
He felt the area under his thumb give away and frowned but did not lessen his pressure.
Feeling the excruciating pain in his eye, the Grandmaster screeched like a pig being slaughtered and let go off his weapon rather than using it. He tried to pull at Xie Yi’s hand but only succeeded in making Xie Yi tighten his grip even more.
In a duel of endurance, Xie Yi would have surely lost - but not in a battle that was only this long.
The man slammed to the ground, feeling a knee on his throat and a finger hooking into the cave of his eye. He made a couple of incomprehensible, gargling noises and scratched at Xie Yi’s hand again.
“Animals like you usually don’t deserve a quick death”, Xie Yi snarled with narrowed eyes. “You’re lucky that I don’t have time for you.”
He pulled his knee away and the man inhaled instinctually, his chest rising. Just as he was about to cough and gasp for more air, a thin blade dragged once over his throat, leaving a line on the ground below and neatly severing his head.
Xie Yi released his hand, wiped it on the man’s sleeve and shook the blood away from Juxian.
With distaste written all over his face, he showed his teeth. “Good riddance.”
Juxian complained in a low hum when Xie Yi unceremoniously stuck him into the ground with an angry movement, causing the youth to flinch and quickly pull his sword up again. Once cleaned, he sheathed the weapon and took a few breaths with a hand on his chest.