Master Chen allowed them to glance around for a while, waiting at the side, before pulling two small balls out of nowhere. She didn’t even worry about anyone intruding; she’d certainly know before anyone came close.
With a relaxed look, she pushed one of the round balls each into their hands. Her own fingers were encased in a dark, laced glove that tickled the palm of Xie Yi's hand as he caught the reward. Stunned, Xie Yi scanned the thing that was warmly lying on his palm.
It was perfectly and thus unnaturally round, with a white sheen over its translucent core. The ball wasn’t heavy - it felt more like a feather in his hand - and was only the size of a walnut. Yet, Xie Yi couldn’t help staring at it. A bit, he felt like crying, but then again, he also felt happy holding it in his hand. It didn't make sense.
With an equally conflicted expression, Xu Yan stared at the ball cradled in his own hands, struggling to look up at Master Chen. “Master Chen, what is this?”
She smiled weirdly. Her long fingers were resting on her crossed arms, tapping lightly. She spoke quietly. “A soul crystal. If you forge it into your sword after keeping it with you, it raises the chance of gaining a sword spirit.”
She raised her eyebrows as she looked over them. “It’s a very good reward that even Masters wouldn’t reject, so take good care of them. It will take a few years before you notice anything significant, but don’t underestimate it. Believe me when I say that a lot of people would be tempted to steal it.”
Xie Yi stared at the crystal. A few years? No, not at all. Maybe it was because his soul wasn’t as inexperienced as his body was, but he could immediately feel the connection to the crystal.
The sentient existence within the crystal was curling up tightly as if afraid, shivering at the touch of Xie Yi’s mind with his.
Shi Yue had said that a sword spirit is like a part of yourself.
Maybe that was why the feeling of the budding spirit rejecting him… it was really desolate.
Troubled, Xie Yi placed the small stone in one of his inner pockets, not wanting to continue to look but also worried about losing it. Xu Yan hurriedly followed his example and Master Chen nodded at the sight of it. It was always better to not flaunt your rewards in front of others.
She lightly clapped her hands. “Well, go and find a seat for yourself. In another few minutes, the first students should be coming in to snatch the best seats.”
With their quiet agreement echoing each other, the children made their way to sit in the front area. Just as it had been in the other room the tables were a bit high for them, which made it uncomfortable but not impossible to work with.
Xie Yi stroked the wood. It was obviously quite old and had been used for a while already, but no one made any attempt of hiding the chipped edges or the cuts from knives slipping off the materials. He would have believed it to be the sect not wanting to order new tables all the time, but now he felt that it was most likely Master Chen just liking it better this way.
“Do you think that there is some kind of story behind those, too?”, Xu Yan asked his friend, glancing over. His small fingers were tracing the numerous lines and spots.
Xie Yi hummed in reply. “Maybe?”
He hadn’t ever thought of scars as something he needed to care about. Whether he had them, or not…
His skin wasn’t fully his, anyway.
Shi Yue watched the Koi carps circle the small pavillion over and over again, eager to snatch any crumbs the cultivator might throw into the water. Despite touching the surface several times, there was almost no sound to their movement except the light splash of water dripping down their fins.
The sect had bought only carps that were white with a black dot or the other way around and always made sure that both colours were of the same number. Any larger number or different pattern was fed to the spiritual beasts as delicacies.
Of course, he knew that even this sect - the sect he loved so dearly - couldn’t escape the hypocrisy of humans. Since they wanted to form Ying and Yang within the water, they didn’t allow anything else to disturb the pattern. Even those precious, expensive carps would be nothing more than food for other animals if they wished to discard them.
Absentmindedly, Shi Yue twirled the water in his cup, forming a small whirlpool.
“What are you thinking about?”, a clear voice asked him. It wasn’t a very special voice, maybe a bit smoother than a normal person’s, but truly nothing that differentiated it from anyone else’s. He still preferred it over many people’s. It was familiar and calming, which was all he wanted. He never understood people swooning over the city's songstresses.
Shi Yue’s violet eyes moved away from the water and to the other side of the decorated table. At some point of time, a second set of cup and plate had appeared before the formerly empty chair.
The multi-coloured eyes of his visitor changed colour as the light hit them from different angles. The visitor tilted his head from one side to the other, then smiled stiffly.
“Don’t force yourself”, Shi Yue retorted with slight amusement twinkling in his eyes. Xue Hua was terrible at smiling. He always wore a pokerface, even though he was a very gentle person deep down that would suit an equally gentle smile. At the same time, his partner could be very arrogant if he didn't take his opponent seriously. Over the years, that pokerface had probably just gotten stuck.
Xue Hua rubed over his face, offended. His skin was white to the point of seeming translucent, giving off a blueish sheen in the light. His robe fell in layer over layer, rustling with every movement. It almost looked like the clothes grew right out of his shoulders.
“So?”, Xue Hua repeated again, reaching out to snatch one of the small cakes placed in the middle of the table. His partner hadn’t touched them yet, so there were a lot left.
Shi Yue sighed and redirected his gaze to the Kois.
“Family”, he responded before slowly leaning on his arm and lowering his gaze. Like a celestial, he sat unmoving and allowed the gentle breeze to play with his hair, the lonely atmosphere upsetting the warm shine of the sun that was dying the silver strands golden.
Xue Hua chewed the sweet dessert slowly, his thin eyebrows lowering. “Is this about the child or your sister? Or-”, he started and halted, lowering his eyes to slits as he stared at Shi Yue, “-is it both?”
Shi Yue closed his eyes. Hypocrisy. Was he a hypocrite? Probably, just like every other human.
The child had no family, or at least it appeared to be that way. Maybe a family that had pushed him away. One way or another, it had left a deep scar on the boy’s mind. Normally, he would have to report that fact to all the higher ranking teachers to warn them - that there was a potentially dangerous person amidst them. A talent that could be formed but had to be put under surveillance.
But he didn’t. Because he, himself, had such an ugly landscape inside his mind.
Maybe one of his biggest regrets after becomign a grandmaster was the decision to use the array on himself. He had wanted to understand himself better. He hadn’t wanted to be reminded of his ugly sides.
Peace? He wanted peace. He didn’t like fights. He didn’t like people hurting each other. He didn't want to see the world in ruin. He wanted to help where he could, as much as possible. He wanted things to be good. He wanted children to grow up with love; not as he had.
He liked thinking that this was his largest trauma. His parents.
It wasn’t, but he hadn’t wanted to know. Or hadn't wanted to be reminded of it.
Even now, he felt sick when he saw her. Oh, she did greet him. Talked to him about his achievements, maybe ask how he was doing. She didn’t act jealous about the fact that he was stronger than her, and he believed that she truly didn't feel that way.
She just… didn’t feel anything towards him.
Nothing at all.
What was the worst thing about his childhood? He wanted to answer that it was the fights, the betrayal, the hunger, all those things.
But in truth, it was the eyes of his sister.
The eyes that denied his existence to the point that he wanted to doubt it himself. She didn’t care. Whether he was in the room, whether he was talking, whatever he did…
She just didn’t care. It was pure, plain disregard.
And it was so, so much more horrible than anything else. It was like being an ant.
No matter what he did, she would simply pass him by and smile at their parents who cared for her. Anyone else’s attention, she neither needed nor wanted. Their every interaction was nothing but the curtesy of a person acting as others would.
It was disgusting.
He didn’t want to know that he felt this way and he didn’t want to see her. But that sister of his, who never truly noticed him, also didn’t see a reason too not regularly visit him as a sister should. Because it didn't matter to her whether she did or not.
It was too bad that she was a master. He truly wished she would be dead already, just so he could stop questioning his own worth.
Ever since the day he saw his mind, he couldn’t help but wonder whether all his good deeds were just to have people acknowledge him. At the same time, he wondered whether it even mattered.
Xue Hua scratched the palm of his hand when he felt his partner’s mind wander. He would prefer if Shi Yue could escape that tiny shadow that would stop covering him if he only dared to take a step back. Was the child with a complicated history appearing a bad thing? Or a good one?
“Hey”, he called out softly, causing Shi Yue to twitch out of his daze and exhale slowly.
The violet eyes opened again and finally pulled themselves away from the hypnotic patterns in the water, back to the beast.
“What about you? What are you thinking about?”