As he often did, the store owner brought out some food as thanks for finishing the job quickly. It was never anything too special, but it tasted alright and was just perfect for Xie Yi, who had a high consumption of spiritual energy.
Just that this time, that woman was sitting right next to him.
He focused on his food, half ignoring them. No matter what, he couldn't help but wish that the woman were Li Mei instead; the Li Mei who shared a body type with her.
Li Mei had a good chance of realizing when Xie Yi got too tired of interacting with her. She’d spend some time with him - maybe a lunch break or just a few minutes of talking - and then leave without a hassle. Sometimes she’d hug him or pat his head, but there was no real feeling of discomfort. She was fine to be around.
At this time, Xie Yi just felt tired. He hadn’t slept too well the last night and although he had spent a lot of the day sleeping, his head just couldn’t keep up. Thankfully, the fake skin wasn’t useful for smiling anyway, so he didn’t force himself. The sides of his lips didn’t move up a single inch.
Why was it so familiar? Doing things he was told to do in exchange for something he wanted, stupidly fulfilling tasks with an emotionless face. No need to smile or be happy, just do as you’re told.
Suddenly he felt unwell.
I want to go back home.
“Is there anything else left to do?”, Xie Yi asked, pushing the plate away. He hadn’t even eaten half of it. “Otherwise I would leave now.”
“Oh… No, there’s nothing”, the store owner stuttered, seeing that the cultivator wasn’t interested in his daughter. So be it, then.
Xie Yi stood up quite abruptly, walking towards the door. “I will collect the payment at the usual time. Goodbye.”
He was almost running outside, jumping onto the roof right opposite of the store.
Standing up there, he took off the mask for a moment to rub his eyes and placed it back on. Shivering in the wind, he turned west.
Feng Yan’s smithy wasn’t too far away. He knew that Feng Yan slept in the building and how to intrude so that he would only wake the old man.
Sneaking in - only the storage room where the spiritual weapons and materials were placed was tightly secured - he wandered towards Feng Yan’s room and knocked.
Silence for a while, then a groan and the shifting of fabric. A small sound when a candle was being lit. Steps, and then the door opened.
Feng Yan tiredly rubbed his face, not looking surprised at seeing Xie Yi in his adult form. His hand reached out to wrap around the cultivator’s shoulders, and then he pulled him inside.
“One of these days, someone is going to notice and think that I’m having a secret lover”, he grumbled to himself, manoeuvring Xie Yi to the edge of the bed and making him sit down before letting himself fall right next to Xie Yi with a long sigh.
The cultivator waited for Feng Yan to take his face out of his hand.
“Alright, brat. Talk to me.”
Feng Yan had once said that he is Xie Yi’s guardian. He said that with a guardian, children are supposed to rely and lean on them if they’re confused. That’s what a guardian is for. When he asked Shi Yue about it, Shi Yue had agreed: Children are supposed to rely on the adult taking care of them.
He couldn’t fully understand, but it felt nice talking to Feng Yan. Not really to find a solution, just talking. Feng Yan was far away from the sect and everything concerning it, so even if Xie Yi talked, it was like talking to a wall that would listen. The good point about Feng Yan was that, contrary to Mingtian, he was an ordinary human who grew up with ordinary humans.
“I’m feeling uncomfortable”, Xie Yi plainly admitted.
Feng Yan scrunched his bushy brows and immediately took off the demon mask on Xie Yi’s face, placing a huge hand on the other’s forehead. Xie Yi’s stiff face twitched lightly at the contact.
“I dunno”, Xie Yi honestly replied, uncomfortably raking his fingernails over his legs in discomfort. “My head. My brain? Stomach?”
The man halted, then sighed and took his hand down. “Oh, it’s not physical, is it? Don’t make me worry. I thought you were sick. What happened, hmm? What riled you up?”
His tone grew incredibly gentle, a bit like Mingtian sometimes. Xie Yi liked the tone. It was soothing and nice.
So Xie Yi just talked. He wanted to earn money to be free to do what he wanted, but he hated the feeling of following the orders from a random person. He wanted to listen to Shi Yue and behave and stay in the sect, but there were things he had to do that he didn’t want to and couldn’t ignore. He just felt confused because there were too many things he couldn’t understand but he had no way of avoiding it. He had to deal with those things, even if he didn’t understand.
Inexplicably unhappy, Xie Yi kept on dragging his fingernails over his legs. Things he didn’t understand, he hated. Things he hated, he just wanted to destroy. The urge was welling up, along with a simple understanding: If he actually wanted to, with Mingtian’s help, he could destroy a lot of those things he hated and not worry about them anymore.
The crystal in his chest pocket was beginning to burn hot and Xie Yi’s face distorted. Unhappy!
A hand descended on his head, hitting it with the edge.
“You’re a brat. Act like one.”
“Ah?”, Xie Yi exclaimed, surprised at the sudden hit. He rubbed his face, looking at Feng Yan, who was glaring at him sternly.
“What’s with this? You’re unhappy because there are things you don’t understand? Well, guess what, so is everyone else.”
“Do you think that all of us don’t feel any different? You’re right, you grew up without parents for a long time, so there are a lot of things you were never taught. But you are not the only one. I don’t understand anything about cultivators, I don’t know how they live. I don’t know about deities. I don’t know about the laws of this world. Heck, I don’t even know something as insignificant as the recipe for the bread of the bakery across the street!”, he humpfed, shaking his head. “Should I let that drive me crazy? If I want to know, then I try to learn. Maybe I can’t learn it because of some reason, but so be it. It’s impossible to know and understand everything in this world. Don’t let that drive you into a corner.”
“This is ridiculous”, Xie Yi growled, angry. He stood up, staring down at Feng Yan with clenched fists. “What is keeping me from making mistakes, then! What is keeping me from messing up!”
Feng Yan stood up as well, looking down at Xie Yi who was still smaller than him even in his adult form. Slowly, pronouncing every bit of the word, he said: “Nothing.”
And after a short pause that left Xie Yi completely deflated, he continued. “Absolutely nothing. There is no such a thing as a human who doesn’t make mistakes. You will have to learn to deal with that, and it’s a slow, neverending process. All you can do is try to keep your mistakes as small as possible and fix them when you can.”
He walked through his room to a cabinet and opened it. Inside lay candies - Feng Yan unexpectedly had a sweet tooth, so he always stashed some. One of them he pulled out, then placed into Xie Yi’s hand. The cultivator stood quietly, staring down at it.
“Don’t try to learn everything in a single day. How about this: Your master told you to rest for a month, right? Then just do that. I understand that you won’t quit your job and that is fine - because it is your decision - but otherwise, let yourself catch a break once in a while, won’t you?”
Xie Yi unwrapped the candy and placed it into his mouth. Sweet.
He nodded and went to the bed to take back his mask. “Okay. Thank you.”
Feng Yan waved his hand. “Whatever. Go back, brat. This place is your home, but the sect is, too. Have a good night’s sleep. You look tired.”
“Un. Sorry for disturbing you”, Xie Yi whispered, then bowed. He kept the position for a moment and slowly left through the door.
Feng Yan looked after him, then turned off the lights and walked back to his bed. His eyes closed, he sighed again. Then his eyebrows scrunched and he opened them again, staring confusedly into the darkness.
“Wait, what the heck am I even saying to a child? I should have told him to stop doing that stupid, dangerous job! The sect isn’t even permitting it! Goddamnit!”