Xie Yi sucked in a breath and hastily corrected his stance to protect his weak left side.
With him holding his right hand above his left, he had always found it uncomfortable to protect the left side of his body. His arms were twisted but he couldn’t risk loosening his grip.
Disgruntled, he jumped a step back and out of the other’s reach before taking a step to the left, ultimately forcing his opponent to decide whether to try and force a better position for himself or attack the stronger right side.
The paper-man’s armor creaked. He decided for the latter, jumping right in again.
The paper-men were based on different habits. This one was the type to focus a bit more on strength. His hits were heavy, but he was too stationary.
There were also those for speed, with lighter hits, or the more cunning ones.
Then there was the most expensive, golden coloured man standing near the entrance like a door-god. Xie Yi loved that one enough to deliberate whether stealing was an option.
Fighting against him was a reward that Shi Yue had decided on.
Xiao Jin - Little Gold - was anything other than little and, on the contrary, made a very intimidating guard.
With his golden and red armor and the large spear, he appeared like an ancient general ready to fight.
Xie Yi loved that - named by himself - Xiao Jin.
Mainly because Xiao Jin was his most favourite opponent.
The paper-man had been created by the sect leader’s master and had, by now, gone through three generations of enhancements and training.
His style of fighting was cold and calculating. He would switch between heavy and light strikes in the blink of an eye and fake his movements to confuse you.
He was a proud general teaching his soldier, giving off an aura of serenity. Honourable, just, merciful…
He was currently stronger than Xie Yi and always won. And yet, not once had Xie Yi felt bad after losing.
When the figure had placed his spear on the ground and then slowly reached out the golden hand to help him up… Bowed with his legs put together and his back straight before returning to watch the door…
After the first fight, Shi Yue had to peel him off the motionless figure and shove him out of the room.
In fact, Shi Yue had momentarily worried that Xie Yi might be one of those unusual people that could fall in love with items, but that thankfully wasn’t the case.
Xie Yi simply wanted to own the figure that was not only a great opponent but that also felt like a perfect knight. The ones that had all those virtues that people thought of as good. 1 A/N: At this point I might say: Xie Yi does, in fact, have a type. He is easily attracted by those knightly people. That's what had him running after Shi Yue at first (if you remember, he first met him when Shi Yue rescued random strangers for no reward)
Shi Yue soon became aware of the first half of that reasoning and it was enough to disperse his worries.
The spar between Xie Yi and the paper-man was beginning to reach its end when the spiritual energy in the figure began to mimic exhaustion.
With sluggish movements, he was no opponent for Xie Yi, who stopped only once his sword hovered right above the gap between torso and hip.
The man gave a rigid jolt, then halted for two seconds and slowly withdrew.
Xie Yi exhaled slowly and stepped back. Drops of sweat were running down his throat. He looked at the sword in his hand, then up to Shi Yue and smiled.
Walking over to the bench at the side where the scabbard lay, he sat down to immediately clean the hilt from sweat so that he could place it away neatly. He would continue his practice with a wooden one.
“You are too risky”, Shi Yue scolded for what was easily the thousandth time. It was his most common criticism. “You have enough stamina to endure a longer fight. There is no need to take a risk just to finish it earlier when you don’t need to.”
“Un”, Xie Yi agreed while pulling a face. Old habits die hard?
Other than that, there only minor things that he wanted to correct.
“Can I spar with you sometime, Shi Yue?”, Xie Yi asked carefully.
Shi Yue sternly looked down at him. “Defeat Xiao Jin first.”
“But you don’t allow me to fight against him regularly.”
“You will have to earn your right to fight and defeat him.”
Xie Yi pulled a face. He felt like Shi Yue was slowing him down on purpose.
I got it, I got it. No use in trying to bargain.
Xie Yi pushed down the unnatural irritation suddenly bubbling up and left the bench to begin actual exercises to warm up. It almost took him a quarter of an hour, but he felt better afterwards.
Only then did he grab the wooden sword hanging at the wall under the steel jiao and went to the center of the room again.
Shi Yue approached him but kept a distance. With his hands folded behind his back, he began counting.
A lowered stance, both hands on the sword. Back straight, the sword facing forward and slightly angled up. Xie Yi rolled his shoulder once, then stilled.
Half a step forward with his right foot and a quick, vertical strike. The moment the sword in his hands stopped, Shi Yue’s voice called out again.
His feet turned a hundred and eighty degrees, his torso followed. As he turned, he drew the sword over his shoulder and did the next, clean strike.
His left hand released the sword. With only his right, he drew an arc that returned him to his original position.
“Four. Five. Six.”
In quicker succession now. Get back to a more upright stance for an angled strike from the left, draw a loop at its end and slash horizontally. Follow the movement to turn with a jump and an angled slash again.
He went through the movements almost habitually, Shi Yue’s calls timed so perfectly that he never quite stopped moving.
They were almost like meditation. He did the exercise several times a week and hardly had to think anymore. Sometimes Shi Yue would throw something at him to see if he could catch him off guard, or he would place hovering spheres to check whether Xie Yi was striking correctly.
By now, they had set up over a hundred different choreographies that Xie Yi had memorized. They changed regularly and in difficulty.
Shi Yue didn’t intend for them to be useful in fights. He knew that Xie Yi didn’t have to learn them to fight well and that he knew the basics good enough.
But it had a calming effect on him.
Xie Yi was starting to get more and more impulsive at the weirdest times. He might be all happy one second, then be about to snap in the next because of a random sentence. The situation was a bit dangerous.
Xie Yi finished the lesson with a few deep breaths. He shook his head, letting the drops of sweat fly off.
“Wash up and change your clothes again. We will continue with a lesson on arrays”, Shi Yue said calmly and watched as Xie Yi almost ran to the small room.
Xie Yi’s two most favourite things were fighting and arrays. Arrays were on a strong first place, however.
Most higher levelled cultivators got something they were unnaturally attached to. It was like a self-defence mechanism that evened out their long life and the sight of the world going back past them.
The Transcendent had books. Shi Yue had food. The sect leader had paintings.
Tiankong was obviously focusing on arrays. The way they had interacted back then had shown it openly, and Xie Yi carried the enthusiasm.
Shi Yue’s eyes dimmed.
He did have some sort of information. Tiankong’s companion often appeared, but Tiankong himself didn’t. He had refused the Black Spider following the man - he was far too dangerous and Shi Yue didn’t want to appear hostile.
Years had passed, but he kept the mission open, waiting patiently. There was no hurrying when dealing with a cultivator.
“I’m finished”, Xie Yi shouted out of the room, throwing the door open. “Let’s go!”
“Fix your clothes”, Shi Yue growled with a glare.
Xie Yi looked down at himself. “Eh…”
Xie Yi’s face gave a twitch, then relaxed again. With a small pout, he took another few minutes just to get the annoying robe in order.
Shi Yue shook his head to himself and released his connection to the room’s array. Thanks to it, the fight with the paper-man hadn’t left any marks.
“Bye, Xiao Jin”, Xie Yi said, patting the golden guard on the shoulder as he left the room.