If he looked carefully, he could see another, unactivated array over the one that would keep out unwanted guests. Given the material that looked like what he knew as the powder of ground beast bones, it was probably a one-use type array that would burn out.
Xie Yi waved his feet over the ground without touching anything, studying it. He had no idea what it would do, he didn’t know the structure it used. Those weren't signs he knew how to read.
“I’ll activate another array now”, Shi Yue calmly explained. “All you need to do is just sit on your chair. And if you feel uncomfortable or scared, then don’t try to run away but tell me, alright?”
God beware someone running over the materials of a one-use array. Besides, that would probably mean he’d fail whatever examination was going on, though, so Xie Yi had no intention of doing that. He just nodded and continued looking around, watching as the array slowly activated.
The mere fact that the array took almost a minute to activate when used by a grandmaster was enough to hint at its complexity. Shi Yue was furrowing his brows the more it glowed, until it finally gave a shudder and, with a single jump of pressure, enveloped the whole room in darkness.
Xie Yi blinked when he couldn’t see Shi Yue anymore, but kept on sitting obediently. He twisted in his seat, looking around in the highly unnatural darkness.
After a few moments, heartbreaking sobs sounded.
From somewhere in the darkness, a wave of blood flushed out, covering the ground around Xie Yi’s chair and then vanishing, as if he couldn’t see the water level but just the waves above it.
The louder the sobs became, the larger the bloody waves grew.
Xie Yi leaned away, pulling up his feet and curling his fingers on his knees. Of course, he recognized the sound of his own crying and the pain that came alongside it. Even the desire for blood, to eradicate everything including himself, that began raging in the currents around him.
That was something he couldn’t erase. Even if this was a new life, he had once caused the death of his most favourite person. That pain and guilt, it wouldn’t just go away. He wished it would, and he ignored it, but somewhere deep inside, it was still around, ready to envelop him in agony and rob him of all his senses.
From somewhere, a step sounded.
The bloody waves moved as if crashing against a wall, then receded like the tide, avoiding the area where the step had come from. The sobs quieted down and finished in a mournful, desperate sigh.
Everywhere Shi Yue stepped, the blood would retreat as if not wanting to dirty him. The closer he came, the calmer the sea, until it quieted down to invisibility.
Shii Yue stared down at him with a complex gaze, his body glowing in a soft halo. Around where his feet touched the ground, ripples were forming. Not on blood but on clear water, spreading out and cleansing the ground from its disgusting red colour.
Xie Yi smiled at seeing him. Look, I didn’t run away, even though I don’t like it here.
“Who was that?”, Shi Yue asked, redirecting his gaze to the absolute darkness behind Xie Yi. The boy chewed on his lip, looking up at his master with a lowered head. Shi Yue turned back to him.
“You… must have lived through a very hard time, didn’t you?”
The longer Shi Yue stood before Xie Yi, the more of the darkness vanished to reveal nothing but white and the clear pool of water they were standing on.
Shi Yue waved his sleeve with a deep frown and the array shattered, returning them back to reality.
The boy really was unnatural. There was a deep, dreadful darkness lodged deep inside him, its origin unknown. All he knew was that it was in pain and thirsting for blood to relieve it of the agony. Where such a young child could have met a person like that, moreover, leaving such a strong imprint on his mind, he couldn't tell. Maybe, he thought, maybe it was the person who had left him behind - judging by the age of the crying person.
On the other hand, the boy himself was… a blank sheet of paper. When the boy had turned his attention away from the other existence and towards Shi Yue, his current state of mind and more importantly, his reaction towards Shi Yue, had revealed itself.
And there really was nothing at all. No heavy desire, not even one to live, no influence of any other person on his mind colouring his world. Just a headless adoration for Shi Yue, to the point that it overshadowed even the boy’s wish to become his disciple. In the darkness, only Shi Yue could stay untainted and approach him as he wished, without the slightest rejection.
He had a feeling that if he sternly explained he’d prefer it if Xie Yi would never appear before his eyes again, the boy might just do it as long as it meant that he was happier. And that was rather creepy to know, if only…
Xie Yi continued to smile happily, his short legs waving over the ground.
If only he wasn’t so small and cute, it would probably be reason enough to avoid him forever. But since he was so tiny, it didn’t really feel threatening. A weak child compared to himself as a grandmaster, added to his behaviour, lessened the danger considerably. He could just make sure that the boy would grow up more normally and forget whatever happened in his past, then he’d certainly be a good student.
While Shi Yue was deciding things for the futuure, Xie Yi made sure to memorize the appearance of the array. If anyone other than Shi Yue would ever try that on him, he would have to make sure to punish them for wanting him to experience something so uncomfortable. In the worst case, arrays that could continue working even after the death of the ones activating it could be stopped by covering it with the ground cores of those people. That had always worked well up until now, anyway.
“Well”, Shi Yue said, dragging him out of his thoughts, “now that that’s done, we can start today’s lesson. For now, I’ll be teaching you. I hope you’ll do your best.”
“I’ll do whatever you say, Shi Yue!”
“Master Li”, he corrected. “And, good, that’s what I’m expecting of you.”
Shi Yue actually had no real clue as to how to teach a young thing like Xie Yi. He had worked with the older disciples on higher levels - that was mostly fixing their mistakes in cultivation, not actual teaching. Sometimes he’d give a lesson, but even then, it wouldn’t be about the basics.
He had asked the sect leader about how to start his lessons. If he went overboard, there was a chance he’d accidentally crush a budding talent, and that wasn’t his plan. He wanted to test the boy, not grind his determination to dust.
The sect leader had suggested starting with something fun, then getting towards a longer theoretical part, a bit of practice towards the end and then ending on a light note.
That had stumped Shi Yue a bit, as he had no idea what would be fun, but with the help of another teacher who had children on her own, he had prepared a few things.
Waving Xie Yi closer to the table right in front of the massive chalkboard, he uncovered what he had prepared. A number of materials lay on the table.
Xie Yi immediately hopped over and eyed them closely, all discomfort forgotten. Bone powder - probably from lower beast cores -, gemstones, herbs, brushes. He recognized them as materials for arrays, although they were all of low level and perfect for beginners. As long as the array was simple enough, you could just mix the ground materials into ink and then draw an array as well as set an active beast core into the center for it to work.
It was a trick that rich people liked to use to amuse themselves, as it didn’t require any actual energy but just knowledge of the arrays and the correct materials.
Xie Yi’s eyes glittered. “What are we gonna do with this? It’s for arrays, right?”
“Correct”, Shi Yue confirmed. “Arrays are the easiest to understand after you’ve tried some, yourself. All of these are harmless, so it’s fine to play around with them. Why don’t you just select three materials and we see what kinda array comes out?”
Shi Yue sounded a bit forcefully kind, but Xie Yi didn’t notice. He had never done anything like playing around with the weaker and more useless arrays, so he had no idea what the materials were used for. He could probably read the corresponding array, but since Shi Yue would take out the diagram to draw it after he had chosen, he couldn’t guess yet.
With a curious hum, he pointed at a darker bone powder and then a blueish-gray, ground herb. Finally, after some thinking, he added a reddish juice that might or might not be from a fruit to the pile.
Shi Yue looked over his selection and nodded, then pushed an empty bowl over and poured some ink into it. Finally, he handed Xie Yi the brush.
“Carefully mix a bit of those into the ink. You don’t need much. After that, you can use the backside of the brush to stir it.”