The unaware newcomers showed faces of relief after thinking about it and feeling that there couldn’t possibly be anything weird about copying text. Even if most of them weren't overly good at writing, since they didn’t have to write their own text, they thought they could manage.
Some even looked happy at the prospect of being allowed to write on expensive paper. The amount of richer children mixed in was small, so for the larger part, they'd only write on the ground and sigh at the thought of actual ink and paper.
Xie Yi had never liked writing. He had dabbled a lot in forging, but other than that, he wasn’t too interested in topics other than fighting and arrays. Writing was a slow thing, almost an art, and had no result other than having information documented. Even reading was better since reading could teach him new things about fighting.
Moreover, paper is sensitive, as is ink before it dries. Too easy to mess up.
He just hoped they didn’t expect too pretty writing with all of the newcomers being a mix of different wealth. Not all of them had enough money to get thoroughly taught in writing, although the town made sure that everyone could at least read, to avoid corrupt officials cheating people easily.
“Let’s not fight the older ones for rooms, Xiao Yi”, Xu Yan decided by himself, including the fact that they’d share a room. “We can just take any right now. There shouldn’t be too much of a difference between them.”
“Un”, Xie Yi just randomly replied, slowly turning to follow the small crowd that was being herded towards one of the dorm areas. Right now, everyone was still positive, but Xie Yi guessed it would change any moment.
Since there was a tremendous difference between the rooms. Not only size, but also furniture, the state of the room and - although they couldn’t tell yet - how much energy particles were floating around. At least the ones with the best spiritual energy were the rooms with basic furniture, not the luxury rooms.
That meant that those only interested in nice living would get stuck with lesser surroundings for cultivation than those who were fine with basic living, and those unable to hold their ground would end with both bad rooms and bad environment for cultivation.
The rooms were their first currency, worse than money. Of course, you could gain one by fighting, but you could also trade the peacefully or offer them without anything in return to earn goodwill.
After a short while of silence after seeing all of the rooms, the ones that were bound to get the best due to being the tallest and strongest already began to haggle. The prettier girls of correct age had chances of earning themselves a nice room without a fight, as did the richer but weaker kids. Everyone else was left behind, especially someone powerless like Xie Yi.
Hm, in time he’d get himself a better room, but for now, his body couldn’t take too much anyway. As for living conditions, he would be fine with even just a tree, so he couldn’t care less about it. Xu Yan looked much less satisfied than Xie Yi did but didn’t dare to resist the teenagers a few years older than himself. The oldest one was sixteen, and quite well-trained.
The number of rooms with worse conditions were higher than the better ones, so the two boys decided to not struggle and just accept the fact that they’d get one of the smaller rooms. On Xie Yi’s pressing, they took one that was on the ground floor and close to the door.
With Xu Yan not having a preference, he simply accepted it as his new friend’s weird habit, but some of the attendants raised their eyebrows mutely at seeing his behaviour.
The sect was covered in a number of arrays. Complicated structures that could be created in a number of ways, with different materials and patterns, using spiritual energy to activate and run to cause an effect. Some around the dorms were for defence, some for heightening the density of energy particles, some to ensure that no stray animals would get in. Due to the difference in usage and their complexity as well as natural restrictions, all of them were in different sizes and placements.
The dorms had several smaller arrays placed for protection. Since they were intended for ‘civilians’ - meaning the youths who hadn’t become cultivators yet or were only at a very low level -, the engravers had to use materials that wouldn’t disrupt the flow of spiritual energy in a way that no beginner could compensate. To stabilize that, the arrays could only be quite small.
In order to still cover all ground, the arrays had to overlap.
And that one room was conveniently placed in a way that three arrays overlapped. Out of all the rooms in the specific area they had been allowed to choose from, that room was - bluntly put - not only the safest but also strategically well placed near the escape route.
Satisfied with his new home, Xie Yi circled around their small room, inspecting everything. Two simple beds and a wardrobe for both of them, then a small table in the middle of the room with space for them both and a cabinet where they could keep things. On the table were two cups and a translucent container filled with a milkish, sparkling fluid.
The moment they had decided on their room, one of the attendants pulled three sets of simple robes for each of them out of nowhere, sizes mysteriously correct, curtly explaining how to put them on and then leaving after placing the sets of brushes, ink and paper on the table.
Xu Yan looked around, lost. They had barely been told anything and he was nervous about making a mistake. Their room had everything they needed - the wardrobe also contained loose sleepwear and underwear for any size - but he still felt unwelcome and uncomfortable. Everything seemed prepared to last only two weeks, in case they wanted to leave or were thrown out for some reason. That left him, who was used to always being told what to do by his parents or older sibling, a bit without direction.
It appeared whimsical, but the youths were supposed to gauge their own time until tomorrow when they would be woken up on time and given more information.
Xu Yan glanced around. “Should we go explore a bit?”
“No, let’s start”, Xie Yi strictly refused, plopping himself unto the ground and scooting over to the table with a sigh. It would take hours to finish the copying. Xu Yan appeared surprised at his determination and missing curiosity for the sect grounds.
Xu Yan grumbled something and complained to deaf ears. Only minutes later did he surrender and then join Xie Yi, who was already frowning at feeling the strain.
With every letter, the rules etched themselves into his mind, painfully slow. Even drawing a stroke was helplessly exhausting, causing his forehead to soon be wet with sweat.
The insides of his body were churning with rejection at the unfamiliar exhaustion. He knew how to circulate his energy and gather it, but this was pretty bad. Already tired after just one line of text, Xie Yi leaned back and sipped on his portion of the medical drink.
It tasted bad. Horrible, even, but it woke him right back up.
Glancing up, he could see Xu Yan completely frozen and pale white, staring at his paper which had a single stroke with bloodless lips. The poor boy hadn’t thought they’d be put to such a test right away.
Xie Yi poured some of the liquid into the second cup and shoved it over. Xu Yan gave a startled twitch, then reached out for it with both hands and sipped it slowly. After the first sip, he halted, pulling a face, but moments later he took the next at feeling his fatigue lower significantly.
Xie Yi looked back at the rules. They were simple.
Don’t force your will onto others. Don’t commit crimes. Don’t attack others without reasons.
Help where you can. Listen to your teachers. Work together.
All in all, the rules were roughly about that. Not overly complicated to memorize, but much harder to actually follow. Humans are hypocrites, especially when it comes to following rules.
There was a much larger extension to the basic rules that also included behaviour for sparring, how to deal with the spiritual beasts, with the training rooms and much more, but they only needed to copy the main ones. Anything above that would border torture and wasn't anywhere near the intention the teachers had. Everything still had to be in line with how the sect wanted their disciples to be taught and grow.
“Just go slow”, Xie Yi reminded Xu Yan as he picked his brush back up again, carefully dipping it into the ink. “It’s possible to finish this.”
“Maybe if I work throughout the night”, Xu Yan whined, rubbing his face. His eyes hadn’t lost their will yet, meaning he was going to fight it. The longer he persevered, the easier it would be to finish the next stroke. You just needed to start and not procrastinate, slowly and surely working towards the goal without worrying over the whole. One step at a time.
That was their first lesson - and it had already started.