The lesson was quickly learned: If you wanted something from Senior Xie Yi, you had to call him. If you didn’t call, he’d ignore you and you’d be left to rot.
The teacher was actually very interested in letting Xie Yi lead the lesson instead of just aiding. She purposefully lowered her presence and just watched with bright eyes how the boy straightened more and more, his voice become continuously calmer and sterner.
Like a seasoned instructor, he called them out, correcting their mistakes and demanding forms. He circled them constantly, watching over everyone and directly walking over if they didn’t understand his corrections. If they asked for help he would pause and only continue once everyone was on track again.
“Hoo…”, the teacher exhaled excitedly. It was unusual to see such a little kid act as a great instructor in the making.
It did look a bit like he was training an army, but those unruly children could use the strict teaching once in a while.
“This is worse than my dancing lessons”, a petite girl complained, unhappy. “Even then I don’t have to roll around on the ground! Why do I need more flexibility for fighting than for dancing?!”
Seeing that Xie Yi was ignoring her - as she did not call him out specifically - the teacher answered with a condescending smile. Each year, there were always those with cocky attitudes.
“Oh? No one is forcing you to learn it. You don’t need to do what he suggests. You can ignore almost everything us teachers say, as well, and try your own way of cultivating. But you should be aware that there is no medicine for regret.”
She let her eyes wander over each of them with a cold glint.
“On the battlefield, there is no second try. Anything you can take along is good. Some random knowledge about a rare animal? Might be useful when you encounter it. A few words in a foreign tongue? Maybe lets you recognize a stranger’s language and origin. A bit more flexibility? How do you know you might not need it?”, she scolded fiercely.
It was important that the children learned this, or it could cost their lives. She spoke up louder. “Be a sponge! Suck up every bit of knowledge! Learn everything you can! Under peaceful circumstances like these, when you have someone guiding you, don’t ever say ‘no’ to learning a new exercise! Use it! It will never be to your disadvantage, only if you discard the chance!”
The girl quieted down, her face flushing with shame when everyone turned to stare at her.
Xie Yi, however, muttered a sentence to himself as he corrected the stance of another disciple. With everyone having fallen utterly quiet, they could still hear it.
“It sure would be nice to be that carefree.”
The disciple winced in unison.
Xie Yi, Grandmaster Shi Yue’s disciple - a young boy with unnatural red eyes. Although he was incredibly talented, he had a huge flaw of missing a lot of common knowledge because he had spent most of his life on the streets. An orphan.
For him, there probably was no such a thing as something he didn’t want to learn, right?
Well, so were their thoughts. Xie Yi actually had a lot of things he didn’t care to learn, but those always excluded fighting. He just really couldn’t imagine refusing to learn something that could be useful in combat.
Hey, aren’t you all worried about how to get rid of the assassins coming after you? (He was still missing the point that assassins wouldn’t randomly go after disciples and that that kind of happening was not common.)
“Xie Yi, thank you for helping. I’d like to have them start jogging now. Do you want to participate? Can you?”, the teacher asked in a much kinder voice, stopping Xie Yi who was just about to continue his circling.
“Will jog, too”, he just said, then slightly went to the side to wait for everyone to get up.
The routine was hardly different from how his teachers did it in his own lessons. The largest difference was obviously the number of rounds, and how the disciples took it. These ones, who hadn’t been here for too long, completely couldn’t pace themselves.
Xie Yi rolled his eyes at the familiar scene and completely kept to his own pace.
To his confusion, the group from before fell in right next to him.
“Why are you running so slowly?”, the most talkative one asked for them all.
“I’ll get faster once we’re closer to the end and I can pace myself better”, Xie Yi said with a glance to the side. He knew his strength well enough that he could increase his speed continuously and reach the goal just in time to be comfortable but not slow. This was a warm-up, after all.
“Do you jog every day? You were here yesterday even though you didn’t have a lesson.”
“Not every day.”
“Why yesterday, then?”
“...Because I felt like it.”
“Oh. Does Master Li tell you to go jogging, too?”
“So you do it out of your own volition? Isn’t it more interesting to practice with the sword or spiritual energy?”
Xie Yi shut his mouth for a few seconds and continued to jog. Why did they have so many questions?
“I like to exercising in general…”
“I told you to exercise more”, a girl said, rolling her eyes. “He’s younger than you but already stronger. Weren’t you the one who said that you’d become an Immortal?”
The guy cleared his throat and glared at her. “So what! Don’t compare me to him! Hey, what kind of things does the Grandmaster teach you? Is it different from normal lessons?”
Xie Yi felt a subtle but growing urge to start running.
The group was like Xu Yan, just multiplied and with no desire to back down even though he was getting uncomfortable.
They were even starting to jog around him - forming a circle that he felt he couldn’t get out of.
Xie Yi’s head slowly sunk between his neck. Uwaah… Just what was going on here…
“...-find that spiritual beast? Was that just a random encounter? I want one, too, but I guess I’ll have to wait-”
...God, could they talk.
He had looked over to the obediently following Mingtian for the hundredth time, but the puppy turned his face away over and over again, signalling that he was neither going to help nor approving of Xie Yi’s desire to run.
Alright. Interacting with people was tiring, and keeping friendships up was tiring. Why did he have to interact with other people again? Had anyone explained that up until now?
His ears were starting to hurt again. Xie Yi bit his teeth together. “Can we just jog quietly for a while?!”
“Oh, sure”, the group laughed. “Sorry.”
And they all fell quiet.
Xie Yi couldn’t believe his ears. Ah? It was that easy?
He felt just a tiny bit stupid.
Contrary to his expectations, the group stayed very quiet for the rest of the warm-up, only bothering Xie Yi when they actually had questions that were relevant for the lesson.
It stuck in Xie Yi’s mind that they had stopped being talkative, his thoughts wandering continuously.
Somewhere towards the end, Xu Yan was dashing over again, wheezing and holding his chest as he looked around with a ‘Great, everyone looks alive and well’ expression of relief.
“So… what’s bothering… you…”, he wheezed, wiping the sweat of his brow. At least the building wasn’t far from the training grounds.
“How do you know something is bothering me?”
A finger poked against the crease on his forehead and Xie Yi made a sound in understanding before explaining.
Xu Yan snickered. “Didn’t they just stop talking because you made it clear that it was annoying you? People usually watch out a bit for other people’s moods. It’s just polite.”
“Is this another ‘practise thing’?”
“It’s another ‘practise thing’.”
In the end, most of the facts about interactions that Xu Yan tried to explain to him ended with a summary that you needed to watch other people and learn how to react. It was literally just that.
For example, Li Mei was very cuddly, so you could walk right over and hug her. Shi Yue, on the other hand, wasn’t. It was all about memorizing who would be fine with what and then seeing what you, yourself, were fine with, to compromise.
Sheesh. The world sure was easier when he just did whatever he wanted. It was a good bit bleaker too, though, so he didn’t mind the work.
“How are you feeling?”, Xu Yan asked with a look around and seeing that the lesson was ending. “Are you still alright?”
Xie Yi stopped to listen to his body for a moment before coughing awkwardly. “Uh, I’m starving, tired, and my stomach is beginning to cramp, so I probably overdid it.”
“Why didn’t you stop earlier!”
Xie Yi turned his eyes away. He was a bit too used to ignoring his discomfort in favor of completing his task. “I’ll go get food immediately.”
“You’d better”, Xu Yan scolded, already reaching out to grasp Xie Yi’s hand and tugging him forward.
Xie Yi’s eyes involuntarily dropped down to their hands.
Somehow, it looked weird.
Different from how it looked when Shi Yue led him, but also different from Mingtian and Xue Hua held hands.
Some seconds passed before he noticed.
“Everyone is holding it differently”, he muttered almost soundlessly.
Xu Yan was holding his hand just enough to pull him, already half on his wrist.
When Shi Yue had led him, he had always held his hand carefully and somewhat open so that Xie Yi could pull it back.
But when Mingtian had held Xue Hua’s hand, it was different. Because their fingers were intertwined, the hold was tighter.
Why would you hold someone’s hand, unless to lead him around?
But no, they had kept their hands like that even as they walked, so it had nothing to do with them sitting.
Xie Yi raised his right hand to his face, blindly stumbling after Xu Yan.
Discomfort was stinging in his heart.
They had drunk wine together. Shi Yue’s hands were large enough to easily wrap around the bottle, the calluses on his fingers a proud sign of his hard work.
His own hand had been the same; wrapping around the bottle as he poured Shi Yue a cup-
No. Not his hand.
His hand was tiny.
It would be his hand, but it wasn’t. Not yet.
Xie Yi felt the sides of his lips pull away, his mouth forming a thin line. The discomfort was stinging.
Rubbing his chest, he picked up speed. “Li Mei had painkillers, right?”
“Ah? Yes! Do you want to sit down? Should I go fetch her?”, Xu Yan panicked, stopping dead in his tracks. Xie Yi asking for painkillers was unusual enough that even Mingtian was suddenly right next to their feet, looking up.
Xie Yi shook his head. The discomfort was already lessening. It wasn’t even real pain, just… kind of weirdly unbearable.
“It’s fine. It’s already better. Just a stomach cramp, I guess. I’m still hungry. Let’s go.”
He pulled his hand out of Xu Yan’s grasp and took the lead in walking, breathing in through his nose and then slowly out of his mouth until each and every messy thought was gone.