“Xie Yi, fight me!”, the hot-headed youth snarled.
The people in the canteen looked up, shaking their head slowly while rolling their eyes.
Xie Yi finished chewing his rice and swallowed before looking up. He knew that one. Sheng? Sheng something. Maybe.
It wasn’t the first time that he was challenged by that guy. It was actually a very regular thing.
Feng Sheng Mu was one of the richer people in the sect. With a long line of being officials, the Feng family had good reasons to hold their heads up high. A few generations ago they had become interested in having cultivators to prove that their new generation wasn't only intelligent but also strong.
Sheng Mu hated Xie Yi, but it was a bloodless hostility.
What he hated was being weaker than the delicate-looking young man without a background.
Xie Yi tolerated him. Even if he got challenged every few days, it wasn’t really trouble and Sheng Mu was surprisingly resilient.
“I’ve got time next week”, Xie Yi said after thinking for a while. “Just go take a spot.”
He waved at the man and continued eating.
Usually there was quite the process you had to go through to challenge someone, but everyone knew Xie Yi. He accepted any and all challenges.
It was more of a checking whether there was still an open slot than anything else.
Besides, Xie Yi didn’t mind actual training matches. If directly reminded, he would treat the spar as a lesson and give his opponent pointers, which was why he was a popular target.
Well, there more than enough of those who didn’t ask him for mercy. But those were the ones that often lost a limb or two.
Sheng Mu’s teeth made crunching sounds. For him, who took the fights very seriously, Xie Yi’s leisurely behaviour was unacceptable.
“Ahahaha, Senior Brother”, Xu Yan tried to soothe. He jumped up and went over to lay a calming hand on Sheng Mu’s shoulder. “He doesn’t mean it badly-”
Sheng Mu slapped the youth’s hand away. “That’s none of your-”
A chair creaked.
The people in the closer vicinity turned quiet, lowering their heads and avoiding eye contact.
Although a lot of them liked calling Xie Yi a little demon, they knew he was actually rather easy to deal with unless you touched one of his reverse scales.
Master Li, for example, was one of them.
Xu Yan was another.
You could be rude to Xu Yan - he would get mad at you but that was about it - but you could absolutely never raise your hand against the peaceful guy.
When Xie Yi’s eyes began gliding over the table and up Sheng Mu’s torso to his head, the cultivator felt himself freezing.
He knew that rule as much as everyone else; it had really been instinctual. But he didn’t want to back down, either.
Xie Yi pulled his lips back in a snarl and stood up slowly. With every inch that his body moved to straighten, Sheng Mu twitched a tiny bit back.
Xu Yan turned white.
“It’s fine”, he bubbled, running over to Xie Yi. “I surprised him.”
“Don’t you dare touch him”, Xie Yi warned Sheng Mu, half ignoring Xu Yan who looked like he wanted to cry. Why did this happen so often!
Sheng Mu hesitated to fire back a comment, but couldn’t open his mouth. The bloodlust that was drowning him felt too thick. A young cultivator could not stand in front of someone who had spent a life dyed red with blood.
Xu Yan pulled at Xie Yi, but the youth kept on walking on. Groaning, he shouted a single sentence right into Xie Yi’s ear:
“Master Li will get angry!”
Xie Yi froze. He was still snarling, but his feet had stopped moving.
A moment later, his tensed muscles relaxed and he returned to a dark frown. He rubbed a hand over his chest, then faced Xu Yan.
“Let’s eat somewhere else.”
“Oh my god. Sure”, Xu Yan exhaled in relief, pushing the half-empty bowl into Xie Yi’s hands so that they’d be full. He gave a warning glance to Sheng Mu before taking his own food and then half pushing Xie Yi out of the canteen.
Xu Yan shuddered curtly when they stepped outside. He had kept his friendly, kind looks from when he was younger but had grown up considerably - still a bit taller than Xie Yi.
He had long accepted that he couldn’t fight against people; he was too soft-hearted. He trained himself against beasts, but human beings were near impossible.
Unknown to Xie Yi, he had to ward off the number of people trying to change rooms with him with his hands and teeth and without fights.
Almost as he had feared, there were enough youths trying to take advantage of the double rooms. Xu Yan somewhat thought it his task to make sure that Xie Yi wouldn’t be pushed down.
Maybe it was more that he didn’t want Xie Yi to kill a fellow sect member.
“Let’s eat somewhere at the side”, Xu Yan suggested as he looked around.
Xie Yi hummed lowly and followed.
Once they were sitting, Xu Yan breached the topic that they had talked about so often already. It was like that with Xie Yi: You often needed to remind him of things.
“Xiao Yi, I’m not made of glass”, Xu Yan soothingly said. “I can take that kind of thing. Unless it ends with a broken bone or things like that, there’s no need for you to snap.”
Xie Yi uncomfortably pulled his eyebrows together and lowered his head.
“Shouldn’t I protect my friends?”
“I’m not a feeble little girl. I can handle a bit.”
A complete lack of understanding was written over the youth’s face. Xu Yan chuckled a bit, then elaborated.
“What I mean is that, although there are people who would certainly appreciate you stepping in for every little thing, I don’t need it. Everyone has different moments where they need help.”
“Practice”, Xu Yan repeated bluntly. There was no way to understand humans without watching and repeatedly trying to find their limits.
They continued eating in silence for a while. Xie Yi looked down at his food while Xu Yan finished up his rest.
“I’ll take a break after eating”, Xie Yi sighed. With his temper growing worse, he often took a while to quietly sit outside of the sect and relax.
“I’ll see you in the evening again”, Xu Yan said softly and gently.
He earned a hum in reply, but Xie Yi was already lowering his head again. Xu Yan soon left, but not without looking back several times.
Xie Yi was thinking about the situation inside the canteen.
It would be very, very bad if he fully snapped again. He was someone who slept on hundreds of corpses. If he got into the habit of killing any annoyance again, then it would be hard to break it another time.
He needed a way to keep himself controlled.
Involuntarily, his hand reached to his chest.
Xie Yi stopped eating. He didn’t feel like it anymore.
Maybe it was better to find Mingtian and talk to him; that might alleviate the discomfort in his chest.
Xie Yi stood up decisively, bringing the rest of his food back to his room in case he got hungry later. Then he climbed out of the window and onto the roof.
With quick, practised steps, he jumped over the rooftop and towards the wall. His bracelet gave a tiny ring when he went through the array, but did nothing else. He wasn’t leaving the sect grounds completely, just the direct vicinity. No one would search for him.
Xie Yi jumped down easily, then patted his bright clothes off and walked around towards where he felt Mingtian’s presence.
Mingtian had grown to the size of an average dog. It was a comparably slow growth rate, but Xie Yi knew that it was all fake.
Mingtian wasn’t growing, he was increasing the size of his downsized appearance.
He kept the rate low on purpose so as to not appear too threatening and Xie Yi had no complaints, as this size was perfect for cuddling.
Ever since his rebirth, Xie Yi had started seeking skinship with Mingtian quite often.
It was always a relief to feel him warm, with his heartbeat slowly but strongly pulsing.
The beast was often right outside the sect, where it was easier for him to move and go to the city or wander around for a while.
The cultivator spotted him in a grass patch beneath a tree, where the beast lay curled up. The turquoise eyes opened as Xie Yi approached and then slowly closed again, perfectly at ease.
Xie Yi sat down in the grass despite the colder temperature and looked up. Soon, it would be winter. Maybe it would snow.
Mingtian moved once Xie Yi had settled. He turned around and curled back up once he could lean his head on Xie Yi’s lap. He yawned comfortably.
The cultivator gave a smile and brushed his fingers over the pair of horns before letting them slide through the rough fur that was growing thicker and thicker for winter.
A while passed before he stilled his hand in the thick fur around Mingtian’s neck and raised his right to slip it into the gap of his robe. His clothes rustled as he took out the small cloth bag.
It was comfortably warm almost all the time now. It would grow scalding whenever he was beginning to grow irritated, which was beginning to happen quite often.
Xu Yan’s crystal hadn’t shown any signs of awakening, according to the youth.
But Xie Yi felt that his own had a spirit already.