Li Mei jolted, her smile vanishing. Her eyes widened as she stared at Xu Yan. “What did you say? You finished copying them?”
Startled by the sudden shift, Xu Yan pulled his head between his shoulders. “Yes? Barely, I guess. Xiao Yi was much faster than me and I don’t think I would have managed to finish without him.”
Li Mei sucked in a breath, then exhaled slowly. Her smile was a bit shaky. “Well, this time’s batch sure is interesting… Two people who finished copying the rules… I can’t remember this happening since I've been here.”
Seeing their confused looks, she explained. “In the usual cases, the newcomers tend to procrastinate it and start too late. Even then, they stop when they get exhausted. There’s a lot you have to do to finish this task… Start early, drink the medical soup at the right time, don’t take too long breaks and of course, don’t give up. It’s really hard to do when you don’t have training. In the most common cases, the newcomers just come to the morning call and explain that they couldn’t finish it.”
“So… I did a really amazing thing?”, Xu Yan wondered out loud. Li Mei’s smile turned into an amused chuckle again.
“Yes, you did. You know-”
She stopped when a low hum appeared. Like a shockwave, something moved across the whole sect, blowing up dust and leaves. The sound that accompanied it wasn’t uncomfortable; it was more like the sound of a musical note humming out after being struck.
The two children looked around, then back at Li Mei, who was turning her head away.
“Oh, that’s the morning call. I gotta get to class now. If you need help with something, then feel free to come by in the medical division and ask for me. I’ll help you, alright?”, she said, reaching out to ruffle their heads (although Xie Yi tried to lean away).
She waved at them before hurrying off to where two other female cultivators her age were waiting, giggling when she reached them and then leaving together.
Xu Yan still stared, entranced. Compared to the teacher from before, the young girls would be more to his interest, given that there was only a few years gap in age.
“Xu Yan”, Xie Yi called out and waited. After a second, he called again. “Xu Yan!”
“Eh? What? Oh, yeah! Let’s get going.”
...So easily tempted. Li Mei was pretty, yes, but wasn’t Shi Yue much nicer to look at?
Master Chen was already waiting for them, greeting them with a curt nod when they stood before her. Xu Yan fidgeted on his spot, often glancing back to the dorm.
It took a whole fifteen minutes for everyone to come out, but the beautiful cultivator didn’t even raise an eyebrow at it. She just checked to make sure that everyone was assembled and then spoke.
Like obedient puppies, the group followed in her step to get to the main hall, searching for pillows to sit down upon and then stare up at their still standing teacher. Xie Yi felt that there was a reason as to why they were sitting on the ground when the teacher was standing… Since she could look down at all of them.
“Number one”, she just started without any context. “You are responsible for waking up on your own. The bell will only be there for a month and it gives you enough time to wash up and come out for the morning call. The morning call sounds five minutes before that start of the first lessons or any other activity.”
She looked around, her face suspiciously neutral.
“Number two. We are not going to be responsible for your meals. Where and when you eat, we won’t comment. If you want to eat during lessons or during training, go ahead. You can get your food at any time, but only three times a day. You will get a bracelet from the attendants as you leave, which will work as your identification for when you wish to get your meals.”
“Number three; the bracelets. They also store your name, your rank, your teachers and later on your division. If you lose them, then we will not be responsible. The bracelets will later function as your wallet, so you’d do well to watch them as it is not our task to return them to you if they’re lost.”
“Number four. Your daily necessities will be taken care of by the attendants. That means that you can leave your dirty clothes in the baskets in the washroom, for example. If you need anything, talk to them.”
While saying that, she glanced at the teenaged females in the room that awkwardly lowered their heads.
“Number five. When you leave in a moment, along with the bracelet you will also be given a longer list of rules, a map of the sect grounds and a schedule for the next two weeks. Manage your time by yourself. If you are in trouble or need help, then talk to one of the attendants walking around or come to the office here in the main building.”
She pointed at a door behind her, then smiled brightly.
“Lastly, I have already collected your work from last night. I am overjoyed to see that two of you actually managed to fully copy the rules.”
A number of jaws dropped. Everyone had experienced how hard the task was.
“Your rewards will be given to you later. Well done, you two. I won’t say any names, and we will be giving your rewards discreetly. You might not want to flaunt it.”
Xu Yan winced a bit but kept himself straight.
“That’s all. Please go get your things.”
Without any more explanation or guidance, the woman left with a flourish of her sleeve. At the door to outside, ten attendants waited with baskets.
One by one, the newcomers trickled towards them, getting their bracelets and sheets.
Xie Yi slowed down to walk last, shaking his head at Xu Yan who wanted to wait for him. Only when everyone was outside, did Xie Yi walk over to them, glancing at the broader, wooden bracelet one of them held out.
“I imagine you already know that your schedule is slightly different from theirs”, the amused old man said with a curl of his lips. “Go fetch your breakfast and hurry over. Don’t make the Grandmaster wait.”
Xie Yi nodded, then hurriedly memorized the map and darted out.
He only stopped by the kitchen to get himself a bun - which would be enough for now - and then ran to the other entrance of the main building that could only be reached on its backside. The building was cut into three parts that couldn’t be accessed over each other except for through locked doors. One was the area with the kitchen and the hall, the second was the common classrooms and the third, smallest one, for special classes.
The classroom was up high, which would put quite some strain on Xie Yi’s small and weak body. He sighed wistfully, wishing for his strong body again, and pushed the door to the building open. No one was around at this time, also because special classes were rare.
Xie Yi looked around, then wandered in a circle to find the stairs until he suddenly walked into someone.
With a surprised gasp, he was pushed back. The figure he had bumped into wasn’t much taller than him, but obviously stronger and well-fed.
He blinked, then looked over the small figure.
It was a little girl in a robe-like top and long skirt. They were soft in colour; purple and pink, with embroidered cherry blossoms. The girl herself had bright, washed-out brown eyes and soft, curly hair put up in a bun. The red-brown strands were held up by a hairpin with hanging blossoms.
Xie Yi stopped, somewhat fascinated by her eyes that stared right through him.
“Shouldn’t you apologize?”, the girl suddenly said, her face not moving an inch. It was a bit surprising that such a stern tone could come out from her soft, plump lips.
“What for?”, Xie Yi found himself asking.
“You walked into me.”
“You did, as well.”
She frowned, then looked him over as if pondering over something. Xie Yi took the moment to ask a question on his own.
“Where is the staircase? I need to get to my lesson.”
Her eyes lowered. “With whom?”
She stared for another while, then cocked her head. Somewhere in her hairpin, tiny bells jingled quietly.
She raised a delicate finger into a direction, then turned away from him and left with small steps into another direction.
Xie Yi watched her for a moment, then twitched out of his daze and hurried towards the staircase.
Going up the almost two hundred steps of stairs was exhausting and he was panting when he finally reached the classroom, but excitement was colouring his cheeks rosy.
With an overjoyed feeling that made him want to hum, he knocked at the door and pushed it open.
Shi Yue sat dressed in a mauve robe with dark blue stitchings that would look like ornaments to a commoner’s eyes, although Xie Yi recognized them as smaller arrays that were useful for keeping things clean and neat. With his long legs crossed over each other, Shi Yue rested in a chair near the window, reading a book with one hand and closing it alongside the click of the door behind Xie Yi.
“Good morning, Shi Yue”, Xie Yi greeted with a bow.
“It’s Master Li”, Shi Yue retorted, standing up and placing his book on the chair. He motioned towards the empty seats. “Sit down.”
“Yes”, Xie Yi chirped, taking the foremost seat.
Quietly, Shi Yue pulled over a seat on his own, sitting opposite of the boy and staring down at him.
Young, but looking younger due to his harsh last years. Red eyes that would likely be linked to demons, growing brightly. An unnaturally still and straight sitting position for a young boy, even though he’d sometimes fidget.
All in all, just a cute little thing excited to become a cultivator.
Shi Yue exhaled in a sigh and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
“You are determined to become my disciple?”
“Are you willing to accept anything, to fulfill that wish?”
Shi Yue tilted his head, then explained in a stern tone. “I said I would test you and if you pass, you can become my disciple. I stand by my word. Still, you should understand that I need to make sure you aren’t trying to follow me with malicious intentions. Can you accept that I’ll lay your heart bare?”
Xie Yi tilted his head, confused. At the sight of it, Shi Yue smiled awkwardly. “Ah, I guess that’s too complicated for you to understand. Let’s see… It would be like allowing me to read your thoughts. Not literally, but about on the level of it.”
“Okay”, Xie Yi readily consented. “If that’s needed so I can become your disciple, then I don’t mind.”
Shi Yue appeared to have expected that answer, maybe due to the boy not fully understanding what he was agreeing to.
The array in the room activated with a mute command of the cultivator, shining lightly and washing over the walls. The room was specially prepared for lessons that shouldn’t be leaked to anyone else, and the barrier was sound- and sightproof for anyone below the Master-level. Even those, if they tried to break it, would at least alert the people inside the room. It was safe to say that no one would hear or see anything happening inside the closed room, except for the sect leader - and he could do whatever he wanted in his own sect, anyway.
Curious, Xie Yi stared at the ground that was now covered in the intricate design of the array. He hadn’t seen one like this before, though he could read its use. He had had another one with the same function at his home, but his was more… aggressive towards intruders. Not as peaceful as this one.
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