Xu Yan passed. Not with ease, but not with overly many difficulties either. Out of roughly thirty, eighteen were left.
Together, they were once again pulled into the space that was now filled with chairs and tables. The theoretical exam was exactly that: A written exam.
But just as expected, this wasn’t just about writing down the answers.
Xie Yi placed his head on the table with a ‘thump’, holding his hands up to cover his still sore ears.
Hundreds of flies. Incense to make you tired. Timed questions that would vanish after a certain amount of time had passed. Open essay questions that could be interpreted in so many ways that it was troubling. Asking questions wasn’t allowed this time. You don't understand a question? Too bad.
In between, the teacher patrolled happily, sometimes standing behind students and just staring down at them or making incomprehensible sounds after seeing their papers. It was all an act, Xie Yi decided; they weren’t actually judging the answers on the paper. This was purely about distracting the students and making them insecure.
The most annoying thing was that they had to write using ink and not something that could be erased. What was written down could be striked out, but none of them wanted to leave embarrassing faults behind. It was obvious to see that many of them got stuck at daring to write their answers down.
From his position, Xie Yi could see Xu Yan who was amazingly ignoring everything - he had mentioned that he often sat at home working while his siblings were running around.
The sect had been kind enough to supply brushes that would write down the words they wanted, at least, so no one had to worry about their handwriting if they weren’t good at it.
Xie Yi was just writing himself, hoping to finish as soon as possible. He knew the answers for most questions but the open essays gave him a headache.
...Discussing what he thought an ideal way of teaching a young cultivator would be like wasn’t very suitable for him. What had his time been like? Thrown into mountains without protection, thrown into the ocean, on abandoned islands, or into situations where he would die if he couldn’t finish an array or spell in time…
Looking back, it didn’t seem that bad - he had lived through worse. Still, he knew that writing that down as a teaching method wasn’t a good idea.
They probably wanted common sense. Too bad, he didn’t have that.
In the end, when Master Chen declared that time was running out, the just sighed and looked at the ceiling. He had to be honest, then.
He didn’t know what good teaching would look like. He thought it was probably different for every student and every goal; maybe some would only mature if you - well - threw them unto a mountain to learn. The ideal way to teach a cultivator was something he had no idea about - otherwise he’d be able to teach another person in an ideal way as well, right?
It was an answer that refused to be one, which was as good as it would get.
When time ran out with the ring of a bell, everyone’s paper vanished from their tables only to appear in Master Chen’s hands.
“We will look through those and give your final evaluation in a few hours. In the meantime, you are free to rest or go get a late lunch. When you hear the hum that also appears during the morning call, please assemble back here again.”
And that was it.
The entrance exam couldn’t be too overbearing, so none of the tests were beyond the capabilities of the students. Obviously, not everyone could deal with having one test after another for a whole day, but endurance was an important aspect a cultivator should have.
A figure jumped on Xie Yi’s back, pulling him into a hug. “Thank god this is over! Xie Yi, how did you do with the open essay question? You didn’t write nonsense, right?”
Troubled, the black-haired boy pursed his lips and avoided Xu Yan’s eyes. “I don’t think I did?”
“Oh sheesh.” Xu Yan rolled his eyes but his lips were upturned. “How about we go find some food? I’m starving, to tell the truth!”
“Un”, Xie Yi quietly consented.
Everyone was rushing to get food, but even that bustle was calming. With everyone running around like mindless chickens, there was no time to think about the exam and whether they’d pass or not.
Even when the call sounded, they just ran out, stumbling over each other and avoiding to think.
In the end, eleven students made it.
Xu Yan was hugging his friend to the point of obstructing his breathing, squealing happily and rubbing their cheeks together to Xie Yi’s annoyance.
“I agree with their comment to let you develop towards being a Gatherer”, Xie Yi mumbled through his squashed cheek.
There were various professions that a cultivator could work on. Of course you could just be unspecialized, but usually, people had something they focused on.
One of these were the Medics. While some of them preferred to be stationary and work within the medical ward to help with injuries and brew potions, there were also those that went out and accompanied groups in case of accidents. Funnily enough, poison was part of that.
Gatherers were usually outside, exploring all over the world to find the herbs and materials that were needed for potions, forging and arrays.
Forgers were usually more the stationary type that created spiritual weapons and armor and anything else that was ordered and interesting.
Obviously, all of those weren’t confined anywhere - it was more of a job next to being a cultivator.
The Combatants were what people usually thought of. They went out to help people and kill beasts that troubled everyone, often in groups together with Gatherers and Medics.
The Tamers were responsible for acquiring beasts that would work within the sect or helping people find beast partners.
Lastly, there was the group that wasn’t an official group and was the second thing that people thought of when talking about cultivators. It was also what Xie Yi was planning on working towards.
The Wanderers weren’t fully unspecialized, but their skills were diverse. There was never any certainty that they would step in to help, as their main focus was ascension. With the sky as the limit, they worked towards becoming the best possible.
Xie Yi had always liked that. He was curious about what lay beyond the grandmaster level, so he was fully intending on finding out. He liked forging, so he’d put a focus on it, but not only.
“The teacher is a woman. Master Chu, I think. I think I’ll agree to become her disciple”, he hummed. “You’re obviously going for Master Li, so I won’t even ask.”
Xie Yi smiled brightly, having calmed down after his previous annoyance from the practical test.
For a few minutes, the students were allowed to just mingle and talk, then the teachers called their disciples-to-be to themselves. Xu Yan waved at Xie Yi and shouted something about eating dinner together later before hurrying away.
Xie Yi himself made his way to Shi Yue, staring up at the smiling man.
“Let’s go as well”, he pleasantly said as he placed his hand on Xie Yii’s shoulder. The teleportation tugged at him, and suddenly the two were standing in a small room he hadn’t seen before.
The teacher that takes in a disciple will perform a ceremony with them, that much Xie Yi knew. It was a sort of tradition for a reason he didn’t understand.
The room opened up to a small garden with a pond, and the pure unfamiliarity of the area suggested that he was standing in Shi Yue’s house. It did feel a lot like him, at least.
The tea set on the low table, the pillows that were placed on the ground and the doors that stretched along the whole wall so that the room could fully open up to the outside. The bubbling pond was spewing water from somewhere and a windchime hung out in the open, accompanying the sound with its rings. Next to the pond was an old tree, gnarled branches reaching out as if to shade the water.
Xie Yi circled the room like a little puppy, inspecting what he could see. Sadly, that wasn’t too much - there were drawers and all, but those were closed.
“Don’t run around, come here”, Shi Yue called softly, pulling the two pillows so that there was no table between them. The ceremony wasn’t an overly stiff thing unless it was about taking in a succeeding disciple.
Xie Yi hurried over, folded his legs and sat down neatly. His bright red eyes were wide with expectation, causing Shi Yue to smile.
He filled two low cups with tea, then slowly and patiently explained how the ceremony would go. Basically, it was about giving vows to each other - to respect the other, and to teach and learn honestly.
Xie Yi repeated the words, fidgeting nervously and trying hard to not mess it up. It was neither a complicated ceremony nor did Shi Yue make it especially tense, but Xie Yi was overwhelmed by the urge to cry. This life, he was going to be able to stay by Shi Yue’s side and not hurt him.
“Hold out your hand”, Shi Yue said once the vows were finished.
With a blank stare, Xie Yi lifted his right hand, only for Shi Yue to place a thin silver bracelet next to the identification bracelet. Xie Yi inspected it.
The silver looked like it was glowing, not even as thick as his smallest finger. It had fit itself snuggly around his wrist, the material slightly warm.
“It will help me find you when you’re in danger. It reacts to your vital signs and will alert me when they lessen. I will hurry over immediately”, Shi Yue promised solemnly and Xie Yi’s eyes just stung harder.
“Thank you”, he forced out through his blocked throat, then rummaged through his pockets to find what he had run to make in the break. Blinking heavily, he held out his own present - a small cloth bag.
Shi Yue took it up, eyes widened a bit. “And what is this?”
“It’s for you”, Xie Yi mumbled. “Because you like calming scents, right? It isn’t as good as the candle you brought over, but it's portable and smells nice.”
Shi Yue gently lifted it up to his nose. Indeed, the scent was somewhat similar to that of the candle. It didn’t have any of its strongly calming properties, but even just replicating the scent with the materials around the sect must have been a hassle. Had he hurried to make this in those few hours while the papers were being graded?
“Senior Li Mei allowed me to take some herbs from the medical ward. I’ll pay her back later”, Xie Yi admitted awkwardly and clenched his hands on his legs.
Trying to give Shi Yue presents had turned into half a trauma in the latter part of his life. Shi Yue always gotten horribly mad for some reason and he had never been able to figure out just what exactly was wrong. This time, he decided on the scented bag because Shi Yue had liked the scent of the candle, so maybe it was a better choice for once.
A warm hand reached out, gently brushing through his hair. The movements were accompanied by a low and sweet voice.
“I like it a lot. Thank you very much.”
The words that he hadn’t been able to hear, he gained in exchange for an insignificant present that was put together in a few hours.
Xie Yi hiccuped, then felt his lips tremble as his eyes turned blurry after all. He didn’t want to cry, but it was hard not to. This common body hadn’t put a dam on his feelings yet.
Xie Yi made a quiet noise as the tears ran down his face, startling Shi Yue who instantly leaned forward. “What’s wrong? Were you hurt during the exam? Did I say something bad?”
“You made him cry”, the slightly twisted voice of a spiritual beast speaking human tongue sounded through the open doors.
A large bird head peeked in, eyes opening and closing and twinkling with amusement. “You have your disciple for two minutes and made him cry.”
Shi Yue lowered his eyes at the beast, his hands wiping away the endless stream of tears from the silently sobbing Xie Yi.
“Be quiet. Xie Yi, can you please tell me why you’re crying?”, he asked, slightly desperate. He knew children cried easily but he hadn’t expected Xie Yi of all people to suddenly start crying like that.
“I-I’m jus-t happy y-you’re alive”, Xie Yi hiccuped, his sight completely blurry. His small hand was tightly holding the sleeve of his master, unwilling to let go.
“It sure is easy to make him happy”, Xue Hua commented unhelpfully but with a warm voice. He wanted his partner to be happy, so any addition to the family that would contribute to it was very welcome. Even such a weird child.
“That’s really very sweet of you but please don’t cry? I’ve got a long life to go ahead of me, alright? I’m a Grandmaster, I can get very old”, Shi Yue tried to calm him but only succeeded in making Xie Yi cry even harder.
“Yesh”, he sobbed, then pulled the sleeve closer to himself and hugged it tightly.
Shi Yue sighed as he continued to pat the child’s head. Understanding children really was hard.