“Sir?”, the waiter asked, shivering. It was often a bit cold around cultivators, it was even colder around this one and just now, it had turned another bit colder. Should he have thought of an excuse to let his guest have a room on his own? But why had he thought that the atmosphere around the guest had eased up for a short moment when he saw the other? An illusion, maybe?
Thank god that the shift would be over soon. Let someone else deal with the scary cultivators.
The guest turned to him and he moved, going into the room where the other cultivator had just left from.
Downstairs, Shi Yue gave Zhi Ruo a tiny push. “Go.”
“Is everything alright? Who was that?”, she worried, uncertainly taking a few steps.
“I have no idea”, Shi Yue huffed. “But let’s see if I can’t find out.”
There were too many mortals around so he couldn’t freely use his spiritual energy without damaging them. Trying to probe the other was too dangerous, as well, as he would risk a fight breaking out. What worried him was that he felt the spiritual energy coming from the other was weak but that the aura he had belonged to that of someone far stronger. Someone used to being the top of the food chain. Since these two parts weren’t congruent, that might mean the cultivator was hiding his power.
Is that it?, a voice whispered into his ear, questioning and cold. Is that the reason?
Shi Yue’s steps trembled a bit but he walked up the stairs without stopping. Ignore it. Just ignore it.
Isn’t it because his aura is just like-
Just like who? Just like the person in Xie Yi’s mind. That was why he was going, wasn’t he?
Is that it?, it repeated, then vanished.
Shi Yue rubbed his ears. It wasn’t like cultivators lost those inner voices where your subconsciousness reminds you of something, it was just that he had never had an inner voice that wasn’t exactly his own. This one’s tone was colder and a bit unfamiliar, something that shouldn’t be possible with your own subconsciousness talking.
He shook it off and walked onwards, nodding to the waiter who came just down the stairs to go and fetch their order. On his own he entered the room, looking at the person who was looking down at the dancers.
There was something terribly desolate about him, like everyone else in the world were just puppets and he the only being alive. He was watching it with mild interest but didn’t appear overly focused on it.
Shi Yue moved over without the slightest sound, taking the seat opposite, where he had sat before. His cup was still on the table, empty, and Zhi Ruo’s had been exchanged for a new one.
Shi Yue didn’t hide his staring. It would be useless in front of a cultivator anyway, even more so if that person was actually as strong as he thought he was.
“I believe I haven’t seen you around yet”, Shi Yue said quietly, redirecting his eyes to the dancer as well. “Are you new to the town?”
The cultivator’s fingers, wrapped around the empty cup before him, began to slowly move. Lightly scratching over the surface, repeating over and over again. A sign of boredom, maybe, or one of unrest. Possibly one of annoyance. It was near impossible to tell when the aura around the man stayed as one of cold, detached indifference.
“It’s my hometown, but I’ve been at another place for a long time”, he said, his voice dripping ice and bloodlust.
Shi Yue had planned on inquiring where that place was but stopped himself once he heard that tone. His eyes narrowed.
“This town is a good place”, he commented instead and saw the man nod. The bloodlust eased up again.
“It is calming.”
This time, exhaustion in his voice.
Shi Yue tapped a finger on the rail up and down without a sound. This person… should be related to Xie Yi. There was no comparing their atmosphere or the sheer force of their movements and words, but something was oddly familiar. The greatest points were his voice - even altered, the way he phrased his sentences and how he pronounced the words was just like Xie Yi - and the way he pursed his lips as he spoke about something he didn’t like.
Back then, he had wondered if the person in Xie Yi’s mind was his father, and it still seemed very possible. It might be an older brother, too. Either way, the person was related to him and had left a deep scar in Xie Yi’s mind - that was the explanation that was sticking to him.
Still, there hadn’t been any real hostility. Xie Yi had shown discomfort at the sound of the sobbing voice, but neither did the blood ocean try to pull him under nor did the boy appear particularly scared. The things that had traumatized him might not necessarily have been committed by that person, they could just involve him.
And the one in front of him fit the description of terribly desolate while covering himself in bloodlust. The question was, was he just as sorrowful?
There was a soft knock on the door.
“Come in”, Shi Yue called and the waiter walked inside, carrying a trail with two bottles of the white wine. Shi Yue waved him over and otherwise ignored him until he had left again.
Opening one of the beautiful glass bottles, he reached over to pour the man a cup and then himself.
The man twitched and turned his attention to the sparkling alcohol. Shi Yue looked at him with lowered eyes, then raised the cup.
“Well, to a good night, mister…?”
The man hesitated, then answered: “Tiankong1The name the public knew of the leader of the Demonic Sect in his last life and the name that Mingtian gave him.”
“Shi Yue”, the other answered with a smile and clinked the cups together when the other lifted it as well. He had had a whole bottle already, but he was good with alcohol. This one, especially, contained some spiritual energy and thus was quite nice to drink.
He sipped on his a bit, then watched his opposite nip at it. His soft lips twitched into half a smile of content, then he changed his grip on the cup to a more comfortable one and kept it close to his lips, obviously enjoying it.
The sight was somewhat pleasing.
Picking up a non-dangerous topic of conversation, Shi Yue pointed at the dancers down below. “Have you noticed? They use peculiar movements that make the patterns on their dresses shift in hypnotic ways. It keeps the customers focused on them.”
The other hummed, then commented on it as well: “I don’t know the material. Where is it from?”
Shi Yue had intended to sound the other cultivator out and determine, for one, if he was dangerous and, on the other hand, if he could really be the person in Xie Yi’s mind.
Two hours later, he found himself in a very interesting conversation about the readings of an ancient array that they had scrawled on the table with wine. Which parts could suggest what, which words they didn’t know, what kind of arrays had already taken the place of this old one…
Tiankong grew increasingly motivated, turning from almost not talking at all to fully fixated on the array and seriously discussing it. The similarities to Xie Yi were just growing, but Shi Yue hardly noticed, too happy to have invited Tiankong for a drink.
This wasn’t only a person with extensive knowledge, he was also incredibly intelligent and quick on the uptake. His ideas were vastly different from Shi Yue’s, but he wasn’t insisting on keeping them and was flexible and adjusting his mindset to look at it from different angles. Maybe because he was talking like Xie Yi, listening to his voice was actually nice.
Shi Yue was openly beaming as he talked, drawing on another couple of signs. “This should have a similar effect to that one, shouldn’t it? It doesn’t work on the old array, though, I have tried it before.”
“Isn’t it because the link to the user is missing?”, Tiankong jumped in immediately, excited. He had half stood up, leaning over the table and pointing at certain parts. “See, this doesn’t just establish the link in itself, it also creates a link to the fingers of the user. That’s what’s missing, right? The array does depend on the user’s movements, after all.”
“But it’s exchanged with this one”, Shi Yue chimed in. “This one is used to create a link to your hand. That should not be different.”
“But that’s to the skin”, Tiankong declared proudly. “This one, you see, is linked directly to the nerves, so it reacts to the impulses of the brain, but this one here is like a glove and could only do what the hand itself does-”
He continued on and on, stunning Shi Yue. When had he last had discussions like these? Just with an open mind, not fixated on your current knowledge, but exchanging information with the willingness to be corrected?
As for trying to sort Tiankong into dangerous or not, how could he still remember to do that? The bloodlust and coldness were gone, exchanged by an almost cheery aura of pure, uninhibited curiosity.