For a full five minutes, Xie Yi was bombarded with a total of a hundred and fifty needles appearing at random intervals. Sometimes he moved too slow to react to them touching the border of his area and hit him, but he still managed to hold off the significantly larger part.
When the lights dimmed, he was automatically called back to the hall.
The newcomers and attendants weren’t able to see his test, but the teachers had weird looks on their faces. Shi Yue was avoiding the stare of the sect leader, and was looking at his tea with great interest.
Xie Yi actually felt very annoyed. He had missed too many. Had this been a fight, he would have been dead.
“Did you do badly according to your standards or according to my standards?”, Xu Yan inquired as soon as he saw Xie Yi. He himself thought he hadn’t done badly; he wasn’t bad at control and defence was something he could very much agree with.
“I guess others might not necessarily agree that I did badly”, Xie Yi said carefully. ‘I would have died’ wasn’t a standard that Xu Yan accepted usually.
“Phew, that sounds good”, Xu Yan mumbled while patting his chest. “Not that I doubt you will pass, but you know, tests just make me nervous. You even have increased difficulty.”
A bit apart from them, the sect leader gave up just staring at Shi Yue and spoke up quietly. “What exactly are you teaching the boy.”
Shi Yue raised a delicate eyebrow in indignation. “You are talking like I’m teaching him how to be a killer. He just is that talented, I’m hardly doing any teaching other than trying to correct the corrupted mindset he has.”
“He is ten years old and has been here for two weeks”, the sect leader emphasized. “He just aced a test that we’d give a mid- to late-stage first level. If he grows up just as talented as he is right now, it’s going to be a disaster unless he’s a saint. I’m expecting you to watch him closely.”
Shi Yue hid the complex emotion reflected in his eyes by lowering them. With every day he knew Xie Yi, he adored the boy more - he was more than willing to learn, he was talented and bright. When with him, Xie Yi behaved like an innocent, sunny little boy that would beam at every praise and take criticism seriously.
How could he not like such a disciple? If there was a day when he’d turn bad, could he really endure standing on different sides?
Moody, he leaned on his arm and turned his head away from his master.
“I’m not saying that you should keep him weak. I’m saying you should make sure he won’t become twisted as he grows up.” The dark tone in the sect leader’s voice lessened considerably at seeing his succeeding disciple’s reaction to his words.
Shi Yue twirled the tea in his cup. “I certainly won’t allow that to happen.”
With the conversation finished, they turned back to watching the third test that looked a lot less impressive than the previous one.
The children got arrays to copy and activate as well as a number of different materials from which they had to find the ones listened and mix their ink. Of course, they also had to name the effect of it.
Xie Yi alone simply got the name of the array, had to draw it himself, had to name the materials and then select them from a bunch of others and had a much more complicated one. He took it well. It was an array to form a protective shield, a very common one (from his perspective, at least).
Master Chen looked quite worn down once they reached the fourth and last practical test. While rubbing her temples, she spoke to everyone. Four had already dropped out due to insufficient results and were standing somewhere outside.
“There is a slight change in plan. Following the wishes of most teachers here and after gaining Grandmaster Li’s approval, we will let the fourth test of student Xie Yi be open for public viewing. That means that the rest of you can watch it as well. Remember that this difficulty is much higher than what you will have to do.”
She snapped her fingers and the space around them fell to pieces, revealing the training ground again. People were whispering to each other, the conjoined mutter surprisingly loud.
She just ignored everyone as the attendants brought the newcomers to the side and then erected a barrier spanning the whole training ground, leaving only Xie Yi in the middle.
Shi Yue appeared beside him, explaining the test for everyone to hear. With his first word, everyone fell into silence.
“The fourth test is about gaining control over a lower-levelled beast. This doesn’t only test your physical abilities, as you need to make sure to not come too close, it also tests how you act in stressful situations and how well you keep your focus. Gaining control over a beast of the type we will confront you with is nothing but steadily keeping pressure on them until they submit, meaning, no special process is required.”
He looked around, seeing some disciples nod at the test they were familiar with. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t impossible - the beasts were slower than the average human and just keeping the pressure on something was easier than accurately blocking attacks. The greatest difficulty laid in making sure that your mind didn’t waver and you lost control.
Shi Yue lowered his gaze down to Xie Yi, who still didn’t show any sign of being nervous. “In adjustment to Xie Yi’s capabilities, the beast he will deal with is a different type.”
On cue, Shi Yue’s attendant walked forward. The people around him parted to make space for a currently still controlled beast following behind him on a leash.
Xie Yi watched as the man entered the barrier and walked towards him before releasing it and taking the leash off. It was still under control and obediently standing in place.
For the first time, the boy pursed his lips.
He hated those goddamn things. About as tall as a large dog but with legs shorter a pig’s, the beast was more mouth and eyes than anything else. With its dumb look, it did what it did best even when not under control: Sitting down and not moving.
Xie Yi had always just called them watchdogs just as a lot of other people did. They didn’t have a lot of similarity to dogs other than the fact that they had fur, but there was another point that made the name very fitting.
If this thing saw someone in what it believed to be its territory and decided that the whatever wasn’t something it could eat, it would start to cry.
A high-pitchhed, endlessly going sound that would go up and down in tone, missing every note it could miss. At the same time, the thing would try to chase the intruder out of its territory by stubbornly and consistently following them. If you let it reach you, it would probably just run you over and then try to shove you away.
It wasn’t any more dangerous than a common dog. It was just very, very annoying. Oh, how he yearned to just blow it up.
“It seems you know them”, Shi Yue said with amusement, his voice only directed at Xie Yi. “Good. Get it back under control without covering your ears.”
“Master Li”, Xie Yi begged. “Can’t you get me something worse? I don’t care if it’s dangerous, but can I please get another beast?”
“It’s the perfect opponent for you.” Shi Yue teleported himself back to his chair, sitting down with a satisfied look on his face. Who would have thought that ruffling the child's feathers would give him a sense of satisfaction? That look was really amusing.
Those damned things did explain why the barrier had looked so weird. It included sound. None of the numerous disciples would have to suffer as much as he did.
Stepping back slowly, Xie Yi watched with a sense of dread as the thing began to shake its head, eyes clearing, and then turn towards him.
With its huge pair of eyes, it looked for two seconds that made cold sweat run down Xie Yi’s back. Then it opened its mouth and began to cry.
The stubbly feet pushed its body up, mouth constantly open like a box someone had forgotten to close. It looked amazingly stupid as it began to run - the legs were just too short for the movement to be threatening, but that wasn’t the point.
Xie Yi jerked his hands up to his ears, barely stopping himself from artificially blocking the sound with energy, and instead began to focus on the beast. He just needed to endure for a while.
When controlling a beast, there was no going with full force. You could easily crush their spirits completely. Gaining control needed a steady pressure that would wear them out and put them into a dizzy state in which they didn’t really move. Were the disciplees trained they could use that state to give the beast orders or keep them dizzy, but the test was just about reaching it in the first place. For others, that would be a constant maximum output, but he had to be a bit more careful.
The procedure was a standard one everyone should be able to do. It was very useful, as a lot of lower-levelled cultivators needed to rely on ordinary beasts for transportation or other assistance.