Half an hour later, the air turned significantly colder. Xie Yi peered down and frowned.
These were areas he couldn’t walk around in yet. The energy of spiritual and demonic beasts was so heavy that it lingered over the ground like a fog - two groups fighting for dominance. The forest was lush and green, the treetops amazingly high.
As they flew over it the ground began to tilt to form the high mountain peak that stood like a sword stuck into the ground. Rather than saying that there was a staircase upwards, it was better to say that there was a ladder formed like a staircase. Only in the middle and towards the end did the slope soften.
The middle part had a large expansion where Xue Hua could land comfortably enough. The whole staircase leading up to it was lit up by lanterns glowing in a white light and festive looking rope with charms attached spanning between them.
The pavilion on top was half-hidden in the clouds, standing above a waterfall than covered the backside of the unnaturally formed mountain. Trees were blooming out of season, surrounding a small house just behind the pavilion.
Xie Yi shuddered uncontrollably at the sight of the building. Just the aura alone was enough to pressure him heavily. It wasn’t painful, but it did evoke a sense of rejection against wanting to approach the place. It wasn’t somewhere he was supposed to enter.
“It will get better once we’ve landed. When master feels us approaching, the feeling of rejection will lower. Endure it for a bit”, Shi Yue muttered. His poor disciple was still recovering from the drug and now had to endure the pressure of a Transcendent.
“I’m fine”, Xie Yi whispered and shook his head.
He kept his jaw clenched until Xue Hua slowed the beating of his wings and set his body more upright to land. Almost gently he set down, folding his wings back up and then letting his passengers go down.
As Shi Yue had said, the rejection immediately lowered considerably. It still wasn’t comfortable, but at least he didn’t want to run away as much as before. As expected, the mountain was very special - how else would he not notice such a huge spire-like stone formation standing in the middle of nowhere? He certainly hadn’t seen it in his last life.
“Thanks for taking us. Wait here for a while and rest”, Shi Yue told Xue Hua as the bird glanced around.
Xue Hua whistled and lowered himself at the side.
With a nod, Shi Yue turned on his heel and walked towards the next staircase, tapping Xie Yi on the shoulder in the process. Alerted, the boy redirected his eyes back to the man.
Xie Yi followed his master’s steps, almost jumping to keep up, when suddenly-
Squeaking, Xie Yi found himself jolted back and angrily turned around to see who had dared to pull at his bag. However, there was no one there - his bag was stuck at a sizzling barrier.
“It keeps out beasts”, Xue Hua explained, shifting and turning into a human form to stand out less. He went closer and knocked against it, creating small sparks. “Not harmful, but I guess the sect leader doesn’t want to be disturbed. What do you have in your bag?”
Xie Yi pulled an awkward face. The bag had Mingtian in it, he couldn’t just-
“Xie Yi”, Shi Yue softly called, reaching out with his arm as if he was going to take his hand. “Come, don’t be too slow.”
Xie Yi fell into a daze at the sight of his master in front of the huge staircase up to the beautiful pavilion, sleeves and hair billowing softly in the wind, hand reaching out for him…
“Okay”, he bluntly decided, taking off his bag and throwing it towards Xue Hua. “Please watch it for me, ‘kay?”
And with that, he ran after Shi Yue, who lightly but protectively placed his hand against the small back as they began to ascend the long staircase.
Xue Hua lowered his eyes once the two figures had grown a bit smaller, then tilted them down to the very still bag in his hand. Rudely, he tore it open and turned it over.
Mingtian fell out of the bag with a whine, rolling over and jumping to a distance the moment he hit the ground. His body was pressed close to the floor, ears and scorpion tail lowered.
Xue Hua froze, the bag in his hand falling down. When he spoke, his voice was icy.
The puppy gave a sigh, then shifted as well. Moments later the youth stood in its place, tense face turned away. With how the sun was falling, it was completely shaded and half-hidden behind his hair. With clenched fists he stood, not making a sound. It was a desolate sight how he stood there, looking lonely.
“What are you doing here?”, Xue Hua demanded to know, teeth crunching. His body leaned forward as if he wanted to jump over and shake the youth, but he stopped himself and took a deep breath. “If you’re here to hurt Yue or the brat, I’ll-”
“I would never hurt Xie Yi”, Mingtian growled, being the one to bridge the gap instead until he was close enough to feel Xue Hua’s breath on his face. His hair was raised and eyes burning, causing Xue Hua to widen his own in surprise.
Seeing Xue Hua’s reaction, Mingtian took a step back and pushed down the complicated feelings stuffing up his chest.
“Just as I wouldn’t hurt you”, he added, quietly. He hadn't wanted to come on so strong, he had just felt very annoyed at the thought. His next words were louder, but he averted his eyes again. “It’s a coincidence. I didn’t know you were his master’s partner. I didn’t expect to see you.”
“Well”, Xue Hua huffed, “that makes it two.”
Silence descended upon the two of them.
Xue Hua swallowed heavily, then looked over the other. He was muscular and tall and looked healthy, but his clothes looked torn and messy. The crisscross of scars over his bared arms was so dense that it was hard to find patches without marks. Only his face appeared to be somewhat spared of it, except for the gruesome red scars peeking out from under his hair, just where his horns would be in his beast form.
Xue Hua stopped himself from running over to check them. Just the bit that he could see looked so terrible and painful, but he didn’t manage to make his body move. Instead, he tried to continue talking.
“What is your name now?”, he asked, his tone level and casually, like he didn’t really care.
“Mingtian”, the other shrugged, a smile tugging at his lips.
“Ah?” Xue Hua blinked in surprise.
“He just gave me my name back. Without the ‘Wu’, though. So, I’m Mingtian.” The fact seemed to amuse Mingtian greatly and his eyes lit up.
It was enough to ensure Xue Hua that everything really was a coincidence; he really did like the boy. Or maybe you could call it fate?
“How about you?”, Mingtian asked back after a moment of hesitation.
“Xue Hua”, the bird responded.
They fell back into silence.
Xue Hua bit the inside of his lips, uncertain. He was angry and mad and all those feelings of betrayal were bubbling up again, but they felt somewhat fake. Like forced, and not true feelings. In the end, the thought that dominated his thoughts the most was to ask Mingtian why he was covered in scars, over and over.
But his tongue didn’t obey.
“Can you even be a cultivator’s beast partner?”, he asked cruelly. Almost instantly he winced, mentally scolding and screaming at himself. Why was he acting so bitter?
Mingtian twitched, then stopped breathing. The slow, almost invisible fall and rise of his chest that had accompanied the choppy conversation as a natural movement had stilled, now sticking out even more.
Xue Hua tensed at the reaction, guilt flooding over him and constricting his throat. Even if he wanted to speak, he couldn’t.
Then, Mingtian looked up, with a twisted smile filled with self-loathing that didn’t even begin to reach his eyes. He resumed his breathing, shallow.
“Yes”, he forced out painfully. “He is not the type of person to judge me for it.”
Did he know that? He didn’t. He hadn’t asked yet, but the person of his memories didn’t mind. This time, he couldn’t, either. If he did, Mingtian felt he would go crazy.
Xue Hua, on the other hand, was beginning to have his own difficulties breathing. He hadn’t wanted to say that, it was just that he was still so… disappointed. Because he himself was hurt, he wanted Mingtian to be hurt too, only to regret it the moment he saw the other’s face.
Both to their own thoughts they stood, rigid.
They had always, always been so terrible at communicating. It always went wrong at every corner. Both sides saying what they didn’t mean and regretting it afterwards, it really was a stupid relationship. But at least it had been one.
Xue Hua thought frantically about how to make things right again. It wasn’t like they could just forget-
...Although, wasn’t it worth the offer?
The bird took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Now he just had to say what he wanted to say and not blurt out something stupid again.
Attention attracted by Xue Hua’s long breath, Mingtian carefully glanced over to see the other walk slowly towards him. Surprised, he took a step backwards.