It was a lot. It was so much that it threatened to spill over the plate and was just somehow balancing itself. Xie Yi looked at it with a helpless gaze. He had never eaten overly much. Food was just a necessity.
“You gotta earn some weight”, Xu Yan humpfed and added a bit more.
The plate was a tiny mountain by now, but Xu Yan still debated on how to add more. He certainly could; other cultivators needed very large meals to gain the calories they needed for training, so the sect wouldn't complain about someone taking a large portion. In a panic, Xie Yi just turned and walked to a free table close to the other newcomers.
It would be better to stay in the general group as Shi Yue had suggested. At the same time, the separate tables allowed them to not feel like they had to talk to anyone else. Xu Yan appeared satisfied with that, too.
“I’ll tell you what we learned”, he declared as he shovelled some of his own, rather large, meal into his mouth, then rattled down a mixture of messed up information, actual theory and some wrongly remembered or filled-in parts. Xie Yi listened - because that’s what people do, apparently - and sometimes nodded along. It wasn't interesting, but as long as Xu Yan was talking, he could eat in peace.
“So yeah. We should learn how to gather the particles in the next days. What did you do?” Xu Yan finished after several minutes, his chest raised with pride at remembering so many things. Still, his eyes were twinkling with curiosity at what Xie Yi might have learned.
Xie Yi remembered the lesson but shook his head. “I can’t talk about it. Not allowed.”
The other boy pursed his lips in a pout and leaned on his elbows. “Too bad, though I understand. It's a private lesson with a Grandmaster after all. Are you going to come to the physical training lesson?”
The red-eyed boy mutely pulled out his schedule from one of the robe’s inner pockets and shoved it to the other, who promptly began to compare them and then make a happy sound.
“Great! We do have quite some lessons together, after all. That way I won't suffer alone. Let’s also look at some other lessons in the free time, okay? We could visit Senior Li Mei!” Happy with his suggestion, Xu Yan smiled childishly. He was still deciding things on his own, most likely out of habit.
“Un”, Xie Yi agreed with a small nod.
The open, voluntary lessons were all on a separate sheet and included just about any possible topic one could think of. Shi Yue wasn’t giving lessons - in fact, his lessons would be closed anyway and only for those invited -, so only Xie Yi had the privilege of being taught by him at the moment.
Most of the teachers’ names didn’t ring a bell for either of them. In the course of the next two weeks, they’d be meeting them all at least once, but that wouldn’t hinder them from finding out earlier. Showing that you were willing to learn would always leave a good impression.
In the corner of the newcomers, pretty much everyone was discussing where to go in their free time. After their initial test, they had understood that there was no use in wasting their time away - they needed to be efficient. Even if they expected to be exhausted after the training, they didn't want to waste the free hours until evening, either.
“I imagine with we might find Senior Li Mei in Master Chen’s class… There is one after training. It’s not overly long either, so let’s look at that.” Xu Yan easily took the lead, seeing as Xie Yi didn’t have a lot of interest in deciding.
If it wasn’t Shi Yue’s lesson, he wouldn’t care.
They ate their fill - although Xie Yi had to wave a white flag at some point - and then took a small break before going to their first training lesson. There were other people on the large training grounds as well, but the newcomers were all gathered in a small corner where their teachers wouldn't be distracted. (Also, to avoid any stray attacks hitting the defenseless children.)
For those children, it was a pure fight of willpower, just like last night. The two teachers were adept at separating them into groups according to their strength and giving those suitable tasks that would once again push them to the edge of their power.
Xie Yi felt like crying. He had lived with Feng Yan with a year, but the long time of malnourishment before that had left his body so weak that he was in a worse state than the little girls in his group. It wasn't the pain that disturbed him, it was just immensely annoying to feel the difference between his previous and current body. The mind is willing, the flesh is weak. (He had heard that saying somewhere. He felt it was a different situation, but it sounded suitable for how he felt.)
After four hours of continuous breaks and new exercises, the field was littered with lowly wailing bodies.
“Xiao Yi”, Xu Yan mumbled.
“Being a cultivator is hard.”
We haven’t even started. “...Un.”
Some nicer secondary disciples brought them something to drink, passing the flasks of sweet, cold water around with amused faces. Tempering your body was a long and annoying process, but the physical base had to be set somewhere. You couldn't just start cultivation and expect your body to handle the aggressive energy running through your channels. It would tear them apart if they just focused on cultivation while ignoring their physical training.
Groaning, the two boys still dragged themselves over to the medical building. They had planned to go to the lesson, so they would. The building was rather close - for a good reason - and easily recognizable thanks to the large signboard declaring it as such. The doors were wide open, allowing anyone to step in.
Instantly, they were greeted by a fascinating scent, mixed together by hundreds of herbs.
They looked around, breathing in, and slowly walked forward.
A bandaged girl, followed by a calm looking youth, were walking towards them, conversing. The girl was examining her arms while the boy glanced over with an expressionless gaze.
“...-just make sure you don’t overdo it. Let the ointment seep into the wounds overnight, don’t take a bath. You can take the bandages off tomorrow”, he explained in a calm and practiced manner. The girl nodded and went off, ignoring the two boys.
The youth turned over to them, greeting them with a polite smile.
“Welcome. How can I help you?”
“We, uh, wanted to greet Senior Li Mei and attend the lesson from Master Chen that should start… soon?”
The youth nodded. Judging from his demeanour, he might be used to people coming over with similar requests. “Li Mei is in the room next to the class. I’ll lead you over.”
It wasn’t hard to tell that the youth didn’t care for the poor newcomers, but he was polite enough and brought them over, even showing them where the class would be. Since it was a practical lesson, it was in the medical building, not in the rooms of the main building.
Li Mei was in some kind of workshop, mixing together a potion. The workshop was filled with cabinets that held all kinds of flasks, boxes and cans, materials and finished medicine lining up next to each other. Even a newcomer could easily tell what was where thanks to the labels that were put everywhere, just like a well-organized library. The large table in the center of the room held weird machinery that was likely used to create the potions and ointments. The two boys watched her elegant movements until she was finished, then carefully spoke up.
Li Mei smiled amicably, set down the finished flask in her hand after closing and labelling it and then turning towards them. “It’s you two! I didn’t expect to see you so soon. How was your morning?”
They pulled a face and she giggled. “Well, that’s physical training for you. It won’t get better, to tell you the truth. They'll always push you to the brink. You just get number to it as time goes by. If I can think of some tips, I’ll tell you.”
“Thanks, Senior”, Xu Yan sighed. “It’s a bit nerve-wracking to only just barely have the information we need.”
“It’s part of their teaching”, Li Mei commented, shaking her hand and letting her hair fly. “To be able to follow the path even when you’re being thrown into an unfamiliar environment without knowing what’s going on. But it isn’t forbidden for us seniors to help you, so if anything catches your eye, you can ask me.”
At her wording, Xie Yi twitched. Right, there was something that had caught his eye.
“Senior, do you know about a little girl my size? With red hair?”
Li Mei hummed softly, then nodded. “Red hair and your age? I think I know who you’re talking about, there should only be one person like that around as far as I know. Did she wear a robe different from the other cultivators?”
Xie Yi confirmed under the curious gaze of Xu Yan. It hadn't been the robe the cultivators worse, even if they had some leeway of adjusting their robes - just like Li Mei - they still all followed the same pattern.
Li Mei smiled. “That’s Ying Hua.”
Xie Yi’s gaze wavered at the familiar naming pattern. When Li Mei continued to smile innocently and finish her explanation, his stomach turned around.
“She’s Master Li’s daughter.”