Shi Yue finished his breakfast with a more than complicated look on his face.
Torn between amusement and wanting to support his disciple, the sect leader patted the younger cultivator on the shoulder. “There are still years to go”, he said, knowing exactly what was going through Shi Yue’s mind.
“Years to go until what?”, Xie Yi interrupted, instantly curious.
“...Until you’ve caught up with our level”, Shi Yue distracted him. It wasn’t exactly wrong, just not fully the intention that had been behind the original words. He would never tell his disciple that they were worried about the child keeping his obsession as he grew up.
“Oh. That’s true, but I won’t waste time”, Xie Yi answered seriously. Even the last time he had been considered very fast in cultivation, so this time, he would be even faster. That was very important because otherwise, he would have trouble following Shi Yue. After all, the Grandmaster couldn’t pull a weakling around forever.
He then halted, proceeding to tug at Shi Yue’s robes again. The cultivator gave a wry smile and moved the hand back to Xie Yi. Xie Yi was getting rid of bad habits, but he was also gaining some. It had been fine when the child was pretty much asleep, but he needed to slowly make him stop doing it while awake.
“About that Judges thing, can you explain it to me again? I didn’t really understand, but it’s important, right? It’s important for those who aren’t… Demonic Cultivators?”, he asked awkwardly, tilting his head. It felt uncomfortable to hear that the path he had taken was so abnormal that even the laws of the world didn’t watch it.
On the other hand, there might have been other laws that he just wasn’t aware of.
“I guess we can take it as a lesson”, Shi Yue mused. He did expect Xie Yi to reach the Grandmaster-level one day, so it wasn’t too bad for the boy to be aware of the rules. “It’s not a bad idea. Then listen well, it is a complicated topic that we aren’t fully certain about.”
Xie Yi sat upright with bright eyes, listening intently as Shi Yue began to explain while drawing figures into the air with his spiritual energy.
“In our world, there are four areas, or planes, I guess, that we believe exist. The one we know least about would be where the creator lives. There are numerous stories, but in the end, we know absolutely nothing about it. Maybe it doesn’t even exist, but it’s the most likely theory at this point. One plane, the one we’d perceive as the middle, is obviously where we, as mortals, live, and then there is the plane of the immortals and deities. We know that it is possible to traverse the boundary of these areas, since deities or sometimes immortals come to this place, but they aren’t the same. The fourth plane is that of the netherworld.”
He paused and drew a large circle below his drawing of common people and the deities behind a wall. In the circle, he drew a doorway with guards standing on each side.
“This is the world where souls are gathered to be cleansed and then be sent back to where they are supposed to go to. This place has its own deities that watch over the process and also sometimes come to our plane in certain situations. These deities, the Judges, are far, far stronger than any common deity or immortal being.”
He waved his hand over the image and it disappeared, then he drew a figure looming over a rudimentary city.
“The Judges watch the other areas and make sure everything stays in balance. It’s not clear when or why exactly they intervene, but we can say that they make sure that this world doesn’t fall into its own destruction.”
With another wave, the figure was gone, instead there was now a person standing in the city.
“The stronger a cultivator grows, the closer they become to being an Immortal - and thus on the same level as a deity. As such, we fall under the Judges’ eyes. There are two levels of reasonings why strong cultivators starting on the Grandmaster-level can’t just do as they please.”
He drew a second figure fighting with the first and cracks into the buildings.
“Number one, the damage. If we go all out, the results are catastrophic. If Grandmasters are put into situations where they are on separate sides, they need to consider how to cause their opponent to surrender without destroying everything around them. Of course, if they don’t care, then that is less of a problem. You can also place your bet on the other side being more reluctant to let collateral damage accumulate and thus overpower them.”
Shi Yue moved his finger and a crowd appeared around the two figures, as well as a separate figure looming at the side.
“Number two is the rules. From what returning Immortals have told us, the Judges enforce rules, just like human judges, as soon as the involved people fall under their scope and some other unknown conditions are fulfilled. These rules aren’t set in stone: They follow the rules of this planet. Are you aware of how official rules, or laws, are ultimately formed?”, Shi Yue asked, turning to Xie Yi who tilted his head.
“It’s the rule of the majority, right?”, he muttered and Shi Yue nodded.
“Exactly. Rules are based on morality and morality is formed by observing the reactions of those around us and our own understanding of what is good and bad. If everyone decides that eating meat is bad, the small minority will be suppressed. Eating meat can become a crime, depending on how harshly society views it. Stealing is a crime because society decided that people can own things - in truth, there is absolutely nothing that gives us the right to say we own something, don’t you think? This world doesn’t have borders, but here we are, saying that they exist and some people belong to one piece of earth, and others to the another. We form rules to live together, but what exactly the rules are, depends on us. That is why people living in different places can have very different ways of living.”
He turned back to the drawing.
“As such, the Judges adjust to our rules. When two forces fight at a level that will endanger the balance, they will punish the ‘wrong’ one. And who is wrong according to society?”
“The one who broke the rules”, Xie Yi answered, his eyes widening.
“Generally”, Shi Yue agreed. There were things like cause and effect that people would take into account, but he didn’t want to overwhelm Xie Yi.
Finally, Shi Yue cleared out his drawing one more time and sketched Yao Ming with his family, then Xie Yi with Shi Yue and the sect leader behind him. Between the two was a judge.
“You two young cultivators can freely fight, but us three Grandmasters are already under the watchful eyes of the Judges. If we overdo it with intervening, we will break the rules of society while breaking the balance: The overly powerful should not mess with the fights of the weak. That would possibly cause the scales to shift too much.”
He breathed in and finished: “So, it all comes down to this. If we intervene in any way - be that by fighting directly or supporting you - when do we start breaking the rules? At what point will society decide that we are doing a bad thing? We absolutely can’t risk getting too close to that boundary, so we have to keep a low profile. Even then, though, Yao Ming’s family could cause a mess - society is still rather tolerant with how much chaos powerful people can cause-, but that is why it’s important for us to stand on your side. Now it’s not just ‘worrying about going too far’, it’s also ‘worrying about society’s opinion on who is wrong’, which would cause the Judges to possibly step in earlier. If I say that I am defending you against a cultivator who tried to kill you for no reason, who is the bad person in everyone’s eyes? Yao Ming either needs a very good reason to avoid people’s opinion shifting towards us, or he has to stay as lowkey as possible with involving his great-grandfather.”
“That… is a mess”, Xie Yi admitted as he raised his hand up to his head. It was overly complicated. “Doesn’t that mean you are always in danger? Just because society decides they don’t like you?”
“Well, it’s not that easy for things to reach a level where it breaks a ‘rule’ or a ‘law’. Besides, this is just our understanding of it. It might be that things are different, but this is what we have followed for thousands of years. We all have the possibility of taking the risk and just ignoring it, but most of us don’t. It’s our best chance.”