Xie Yi breathed in and out slowly before he began to walk, then break into a slow jog. Behind him, the cultivators chuckled with satisfaction at everyone obeying them.
Even though they said to run around the whole sect, everyone knew that they actually just meant along the borders of the common grounds. They wouldn’t dare cross over to the areas behind that. However, even this area was large enough to offer a number of opportunities as annoyingly large as it was.
Normal newcomers wouldn’t be able to find a way out of training. Even the cultivators likely didn’t notice. But who was he? He was the one who survived after being thrown into a mountain full of ferocious beasts. If there was a way to use the surroundings to his advantage, he would know.
There were hundreds of combinations you could use to create some nasty arrays that would cause some chaos. As long as you knew… even the grass beside the road could be used. And he knew.
The larger problem was: Did he know any that wouldn’t outright blast those bastards to pieces? As fun as that would be, Shi Yue had explained that he couldn’t kill people. Well, he had added that this conversation would be longer on another day, since it wasn’t just as easy as ‘never kill anyone’, but for now, he was supposed to follow that rule.
Since Shi Yue said so, he couldn’t do it. And just tearing off an arm or two might result in trouble, too, so he needed something lighter.
Maybe really just cause chaos so that the lesson would end. Causing chaos was easy.
With his short legs, he kept at the end of the line and jogged behind the group of about thirty people. Those that were physically weaker were nervously fidgeting, wasting their breath by spending to much time on worrying. Those that were fitter were still nervous, but they also showed some determination to hold on.
Xu Yan had, in those short days, already realized that it was a good thing to follow Xie Yi’s behaviour - although with a grain of salt. Indeed, if Xie Yi didn’t frown then the situation wasn’t bad, but Xie Yi’s definition of ‘not dangerous’, ‘not troublesome’ and ‘not complicated’ were so far out of the norm that Xu Yan would be suspicious the moment the words left the boy’s mouth.
For now, Xie Yi looked so relaxed and even pleasantly expectant that Xu Yan felt the tension in his own muscles release a bit. Xie Yi always knew something others didn’t. Obviously, someone a Grandmaster is teaching must be special!
Xie Yi glanced around, checking the situation. The cultivators could watch them for quite some time from their position on the field and the materials he needed, while common, had to be harvested without them noticing. The only time he could do that was when buildings would obstruct their view.
Over the years, a flat path had formed right around the wall of the sect where people had jogged for years and years. If you went out early enough, you’d even see people who had turned an early morning jog into their habit, so the path was easy to traverse.
“So, how are we going to get around all of this?”, Xu Yan whispered quietly. Xie Yi had continuously run a tiny bit slower than the others, just enough to create a distance that looked natural. To tell the truth, Xu Yan was looking forward to whatever Xie Yi was planning, even just because it was likely mischief. He did worry a bit about getting punished, but on the other hand, if there was one person who would mindlessly do anything to not have to leave his master’s side, then it was the red-eyed child.
Xie Yi tilted his head, his soft black hair tickling his cheek. “How well do you remember the herbs we learned about in Master Chen’s class?”
“Uhm, I’d say I remember them all. Not their properties, but I can find and name them”, Xu Yan responded after pondering for a moment. His memory was rather good and with his fondness of exploring everywhere, he was bound to become a Gatherer in the future.
“Can you snatch the herbs I tell you to from the roadside without those idiots noticing?”
Xu Yan’s face began to shine, the excitement making him look like a little puppy. “Leave it to me! You’re going to draw an array, aren’t you?”
“Un”, Xie Yi simply admitted. Xu Yan knew he could draw arrays ever since he had turned his water into wine out of annoyance from not being allowed to drink as a child. Actually, it had just been the taste and not the alcohol content, since his little body wouldn’t be able to take it. Anyway, he didn’t see a reason to hide in front of Xu Yan. Shi Yue said not to talk about it, but he didn’t talk and Feng Yan said that you share your secrets with friends, and Xu Yan had said they were friends, so those rules probably didn’t exclude each other?
Xu Yan hadn’t shown hostility or wariness at the sight, merely excitement and curiosity, which was another reason why Xie Yi judged it would be fine. The boy was fascinated whenever Xie Yi drew arrays and just shut his mouth about the issue.
In this context, the mischievous child already guessed that his friend was going to do something with arrays. (Where had he learned those from, though? He couldn’t imagine Master Li teaching those, and they didn’t have access to the library yet. Well. Not like he needed to know everything.)
Without the slightest hesitation, Xie Yi named the herbs one by one, only waiting for Xu Yan to confirm that he knew them. All the other ingredients, he would bee able to gather himself. There were some fruit around that he could use, and some spiritual beasts had lost feathers that could stand in for another ingredient. He had no beast core, but since he could move energy by himself, that wasn’t a problem. As for a brush, although the effect would be weakened, he could use his finger.
His blood would work as ink. As far as he knew, or rather guessed by the reactions of the Virtuous Sect disciples back then, using blood as ink wasn’t something they liked. He had seen them use it in life-threatening situations, but they had always been shocked when he just used it on a daily basis.
Maybe it was just too bloody for them.
For blood to work in the stead of the special ink, the blood would need to be warm and connected to the user's core when it touched the array. That meant that only flowing blood could be used. Usually, Xie Yi had cut open his arms and then used his fingers to draw arrays with the red liquid dripping down his hand, grasping the powdered materials.
That always had a drawback, though. Arrays forge their energy from the ingredients they are given, so if you use blood, then some of it runs back into the human body.
Anyway, although he had felt it, it didn’t look like there was any sort of effect on him.
Besides, the array he was planning to use would be tiny, so there wasn’t any problem with using it. Determined, Xie Yi picked up his pace to gather what he needed in the shade of the buildings. Some of the other cuultivators glanced back, but since none of them were close to the boys, they preferred using their stamina to care for their own bodies.
The best area to do anything was behind the dorms. It wasn’t too close to the guard blocks, which might have patrols, and was behind a building, blocking all view. At the same time, the dorms were empty during daytime except for very few people who might wander in to fetch something, but those wouldn’t care to stare out of the window. Moreover, the area behind the dormitories were overgrown with tall trees.
Let alone those annoying cultivators, even the group jogging couldn't tell what anyone a few meters away from themselves was doing.
In order for it to not be too immediate, Xie Yi forced himself to complete a whole lap, keeping the few necessary ingredients in his robe. Wheezing, he slowed down once they had managed to get behind the buildings again. Xu Yan looked a bit better than him, but not overly much. They spend minutes just breathing.
The boy blinked his brown eyes and gasped for air through his open mouth, turning his head while Xie Yi leaned on his knees to catch his breath.
“Now?”, he asked, already fishing out the herbs that had gotten slightly squashed from being hidden in the small pockets.
Xie Yi reached out for them, quickly checking that they were correct, the bent down to dig a small hole in the ground. All he needed was a place to gather his blood.
As soon as a handful of earth was scooped out, he pressed tightly down to flatten the surrounding area enough that it would hold his blood for a short time. Usually, he’d use a bowl or let it hover, but he didn’t have the possibility to do so at the moment. It was fine, anyway, it would work as the center of his array.
He couldn’t grind the ingredients cleanly given his situation, so he had to make-do with using his energy to gain a rough material that would hopefully mix somewhat. Biting his own finger bloody wasn’t hard either, so the preparation was done in a matter of a minute.
Xu Yan squeaked when he saw his friend rip of a piece of flesh on his index finger without blinking. In a panic, he grabbed the others hand. “What are you doing! Don’t hurt yourself!”
Xie Yi tilted his head. “Hm? I need my blood. I don’t have ink.”
The other child’s mouth opened and closed like a fish, his eyes wide with shock. “You- You- You can’t! We could have waited for the teachers to come! I thought-... I didn’t think you needed blood!”
Xie Yi quivered. The look in Xu Yan’s eyes made him deeply unsettled, though he couldn’t quite tell what it was. A subtle feeling of discomfort at the unknown emotion rose within him, prompting him to pull back his hand abruptly and stare at the ground. “It’s fine.”