Xie Yi's face was fully white and frozen to the point of him not even reacting when Xu Yan waved in front of his eyes. His look was completely vacant.
Confused, shocked and a bit worried, Li Mei turned to Xu Yan with a flustered face. “What is wrong with him? Did I say something bad?”
“He really, really adores Master Li”, the boy could only helplessly try to explain what he himself hardly understood. “I guess it’s a shock to hear that he already has a daughter, for some reason.”
Li Mei gasped. “Oh, not a biological one! She was picked up by the sect leader a few years ago, on a mission. Master Li just took her in. She’s not officially his daughter, either, but everyone just kind of treats her like that. She’s not fond of people and prefers hiding away from sight, so it’s a surprise that you met her, Xiao Yi. I guess you could say she's rather proud?”
Xie Yi still stood frozen and blank, making Li Mei worry whether he had heard her at all.
In his mind, his feelings had shifted from ‘Who dares have a child with him’ to ‘How dare someone not blood-related to him stick so closely’. He couldn’t tell what was worse.
On one hand, he didn’t want Shi Yue to be so close to someone that they’d have a child. Even if it was an accident, it just couldn’t be!
On the other hand, he didn’t like how it was now, either! There was no reason for him to be treating her nicely! She could live with another father, why must it be Shi Yue!
Worst of all, he couldn’t just get rid off her! As far as he could tell, she was stronger than him! She had Shi Yue's protection! And killing people in the middle of the sect was easy to be found out…
Depressed, Xie Yi let his shoulders slouch and lowered his head.
“Why is he still like that?”, Xu Yan exclaimed desperately, nudging the other in hopes of getting a response.
Li Mei, in the meantime, tilted her head and slowly tapped a finger against her rosy lips. It might be that Xiao Yi just had a sort of overwhelming adoration for Shi Yue, to the point of not wanting to share him with anyone else. If that was how it was, then who knows how that would develop in the coming years. After seeing a number of different people due to her sect, she was rather open to any possibilities.
She reached out to pat his head. This time, he didn’t retreat, which was a worrying reaction in itself. The child didn't look cuddly.
“Don’t be like this”, she coaxed. “If you want his attention, then just become strong enough to catch up to him!” ...Ridiculous, actually, but as long as it would cheer him up…
Xie Yi twitched lightly, then looked up at her. His dark red eyes were glowing.
“If I become a Grandmaster, he’s going to pay attention to only me…?”, he carefully said, watching her closely.
Li Mei felt she was doing something very wrong, but after thinking for a moment, she couldn’t find a reason not to motivate the boy. In a few years, he'd look back at this scene and laugh, if he remembered at all. She shoved the feeling to the back of her mind, conveniently ignored his use of ‘only’ and smiled brightly. “Yes.”
Xie Yi regained all the vitality he had lost and looked fine once more.
“Alright!”, he declared, giving both Li Mei and Xu Yan a weird shiver.
Rubbing her arm, Li Mei wondered whether it was his eyes. She wasn’t superstitious - and besides, the boy had been brought over here after an examination, so it should be fine - but they could still take on quite the piercing look considering the boy was… tiny and fluffy.
She lowered her voice before continuing. “You managed to finish copying the rules, right? There’s a saying that this first test hints at how well you’ll do in the future, so that’s a good sign already. Just keep that determination.”
“It’s all no use if you’re not talented”, Xu Yan lamented sulkily, causing her to point a finger at him.
“All talent is no use without hard work. If you work hard enough and even just have mediocre talent, the sect doesn’t hold back in teaching you and offering you resources. That’s why the Virtuous Sect is the first choice for a lot of people. Even with mediocre talent, as long as you have great teachers, good resources and work hard, you can overwhelm the greatest talent who doesn’t know how to use it.”
She shrugged. “And it’s not like talent can be accurately measured.”
Li Mei looked over the two of them, then raised a delicate eyebrow. “If you two end up being overwhelmingly talented, then don’t turn arrogant, alright? We’ve got enough of those.”
Xie Yi felt the image of the annoying disciple that had examined him pop up in his mind and scrunched his eyebrows. With that guy being allowed to participate as an examiner, he definitely was a talented individual. He definitely fell under the category Li Mei was thinking of.
“Are they that bad?”, Xu Yan asked nervously, lowering his head a bit. “We’re not from rich families, we don’t have any good connections…”
“Just don’t get in their way”, the young woman said after an awkward pause. It wasn’t her first time trying to help some of the newcomers, but they too often ignored her words and ended up getting themselves in trouble… which in turn would end with them landing in the medical ward, often enough under her watch.
She was partially helping to be nice, but she also didn’t feel like dealing with unnecessarily complicated injuries and curses. Since those arrogant idiots would always try to make it hard to cure, she had to stay up for nights to find ways to help their victims! Master Chen wouldn’t help her with that unless it was life-threatening, ah!
Xu Yan looked very obedient but Xie Yi just kept his mouth shut. He had absolutely no plans of avoiding someone who was planning on causing trouble for him. If they got in his way and tried to hurt him, he’d pay them back in like. He certainly knew better tricks than them. That's what hundreds of years with a lot of free time does. Just as he was pondering on maybe striking first, they three were inerrupted.
“Li Mei!”, someone wailed from outside. It sounded very much like someone was complaining, rather than actual pain, especially with how the name was dragged by the caller. The female cultivator twitched, then glanced at the children.
“Looks like I’m needed. I can’t leave you in this room alone, so please go out.” She pushed them through the door, then pulled it shut behind her. With a low hum, the array activated and effectively locked the room for everyone. Since she was brewing medicine inside, she couldn’t allow people to just walk in and cause trouble, as messing with just one flash or ingredient would have disastrous results.
Xie Yi stared at the array for the two seconds it appeared, then looked away.
There was medicine that could effectively strengthen your body in there; he recognized the names on the flasks. And the array was easy to unravel.
Tempted and distracted, he let himself be pushed into a corner by the young woman, dazedly watching as a younger girl walked in, accompanied by the same male cultivator who had brought them to Li Mei.
He quickly briefed Li Mei - it appeared he was a lower level than her and took care of managing the patients. A job, possibly, rather than him actually being part of the division. One way or another, he kept his summary short and efficiently informed her about what problem their newest patient had.
Li Mei rubbed her head in annoyance as the young woman wailed and sobbed, showing a burn on her arm that had chewed itself through her sleeve. It was a bit more than minor, but nothing that would trouble an actual cultivator. Xu Yan frowned a bit at the sight - getting the fabric out of the wound would hurt - but even he didn't look troubled, much less Xie Yi, who was still trying to identify where exactly on her arm was a burn that would cause anyone to go get medical attention.
“Make it not leave a scar!”, the girl demanded angrily, with her nose held up high. She had the aura of a rich kid. Her eyes glistened a bit with tears, but Li Mei didn't look impressed in the slightest.
The young man turned his back to her, rolled his eyes and then expressionlessly walked over to the two children.
“You’re still here? Get into class.”
“Why is Senior Li Mei looking so annoyed?”, Xie Yi asked, completely ignoring the youth who pulled up an eyebrow. His eyes were fixed on Li Mei, who was calming the girl down, and then fetching a small box with a somewhat disdainful look. It certainly looked like more than just the annoyance of having a sensitive patient.
The youth shrugged at them. “We don't really agree with people wanting to erase their scars. It’s Master Cheen’s teaching.”
Xu Yan’s ears pricked up and he looked at the youth with wide eyes. With a sigh, the young man explained, although his voice was tinged with pride and his back straightened a bit.
“Master Chen always says that the body is like a canvas. It can’t be helped that it shows wear and tear over the years. Rather than trying to keep on being an unpainted canvas, one should embrace the scars. Behind every scar is a memory; so accept every mark on your body as an untold story. Just like an image being painted with thousand strokes, become an artwork where every inch has its own meaning. Even if it feels like a stupid reason, or if it was an accident, or if it’s painful, don’t paint a part of your life white. One day, you will be able to look at the scars and smile, because they are proof of your very own story.”
He smiled brightly, which made his whole face light up beautifully, and pushed up his sleeve. The scars that covered his arm where numerous, but somehow, rather than being surprised at the ghastly sight, Xie Yi felt like they might start to whisper any second.
“Well said”, a charming voice sounded from behind them and the youth jolted with a slightly flushed face.
“M-Master Chen”, he whispered, then bowed awkwardly.
The woman crossed her arms under her considerable chest and smiled gently at the youth. She didn’t look offended that he had explained to them, quite on the contrary. “I’m happy to hear that people are taking my words seriously.”
The cultivator mumbled something, then babbled about having to continue to work, and hurried away. Master Chen's golden eyes were coldly looking over the two children before warming up.
“So it’s you two. Very well, come along. You’re a bit too early, but you might as well get your reward from me while we’re at it. My class usually isn’t that interesting for newcomers, and my usual students will only come right before the beginning. We won't be interrupted.” She turned on her heel and walked slowly, her hips swaying. Every word she spoke had a tone of demanding obedience that was hard for children to ignore.
With a nervous step, Xu Yan followed her, then followed by the much more relaxed Xie Yi.
As the young cultivator had mentioned, the classroom was essentially next to the workshop. Its door was open, inviting anyone in as long as they dared to pass the front area of the medical building.
The classroom smelled like grass, which was very nice. It was very bright even if rather small and a number of posters covered the walls. When Xie Yi glanced at them, he recognized them as rules and overall hints for working. There was a whole poster just explaining what the students should check if their experiments didn’t work, just to rule out the most common causes of messy work before they had to ask their teacher.