He stood up and patted his clothes down.
The belt was tight around his waist and the broad sleeves had made place for armguards. The second, thicker layer of clothes stopped at his shoulders, allowing him good movement.
Without the overly billowing robes, Xie Yi felt a good lot more comfortable.
“Then I’ll be out to hunt”, he declared with a toothy grin.
“Watch out for yourself, little brother”, Mingtian said his goodbye. “Don’t get hurt and make sure to eat well.”
“I will, I will. See you.”
The beast gave a small parting howl and watched his partner leave before stretching and making his way to find Xue Hua.
At the same time, Xie Yi made his way towards the valley. His sword was one without the slightest hint of spiritual power and not usable for flying, so he had to go by foot.
Still, both skill and power quickened his steps considerably.
By the time he reached the valley, one day had passed and once again, darkness was descending upon the forest.
Xie Yi looked around. It was impossible to see very far - both thick foliage and constant fog limited his vision.
There were stone formations cropping up everywhere, tightening paths and making the whole area feel much smaller than it was.
The youth pursed his lips and drew his sword as he walked, his senses heightened.
In his last life, he had hated this place because he hadn’t heard any voices.
The abnormal fog was supposed to enhance your heart demons, making it appear like they were talking to you. That he hadn’t heard anything had been unsettling.
Now that he did hear the voice, he wondered if it was any better.
“Can you shut up?”, he asked himself.
The voice laughed.
I don’t want to. Make me.
Hm, this was indeed his heart demon. Exactly like his past self. If you want someone to shut up, you have to cut out their vocal cords or they won’t truly be quiet.
Why not stay here? It’s comfortable. No one will ask anything of you. You can kill beasts if you feel like it, cultivators if they come by. You can eat whatever you want. You can spend your day however you want.
Why not stay?
Xie Yi looked forward as he walked. The ground was uneven and cracked beneath his feet.
It was not simply words that were spoken. They tugged at his heart, hypnotizing, coaxing him.
It was indeed tempting. It was a drop of water in the desert.
“I like spicy stuff”, he suddenly said, his voice even. “I like that dough on sticks that Shi Yue always makes me for my birthday. I like Xu Yan running after me like a panicked mother hen. I like Feng Yan scolding me and pulling my ear.”
“I like Li Mei randomly patting my hair, like Ying Hua just quietly sitting in a room with me, like Xue Hua worrying over my health, MingMing always being with me and Shi Yue’s smile. I like getting up to practice the sword and fighting against the paper-men and drawing stupid, easy arrays and failing at the skills but not getting scolded for it.”
He talked on and on, his voice not wavering once.
“The little room I share with Xu Yan. The pavilion in the upper grounds. The training room. The annoyingly large robes, the classes, the rules, the bustling of the disciples. The comfort.”
There was a sort of deafening silence, then a tiny sigh.
When the silence returned, it was neither the silence from his past life, nor the silence it had been a moment ago.
Xie Yi narrowed his eyes, the tranquillity of the silence around him soothing his ears.
“That’s my answer”, he said anyway. “Sure, the sect is annoying and there are things I’m missing… But it is very much worth it for what I get in exchange. I’m content.”
He heard a low grunt before the voice vanished back into its silence for another while.
Don’t you know that you’re supposed to sway when you hear your inner demon’s voice? At least struggle a bit.
“Why? I know that not having to follow any rules and running around killing everything is an easy way of life. I never had to wonder about what other people are thinking. I also know that I like fighting and the thrill it gives me. So?”
The one who was once his own demon decided to completely discard himself. How interesting.
The silence changed to one of solitude. Xie Yi blinked.
“Huh. I thought that meeting my inner demon would be a larger problem.”
Now he was wondering why other cultivators were always so troubled about it. Wasn’t it nothing more than resisting temptation?
Sheesh, those people really didn’t know what they had in their life if they were swayed that easily.
To thrive for more is fine, to demand it is destruction. Xie Yi had learned the hard way that if you try to take on more and more, at some point you will realize that you can’t handle it all.
That was why he preferred starting small.
Like with Huo Cheng, he wanted to find the limits of what he could bear for now in every area of his life.
Xie Yi left his thoughts to wander as he looked around.
In a way, Xie Yi enjoyed being in the valley. It wasn’t noisy and every corner gave you the possibility to get cover and evade.
The fog swallowed sound and made you feel like walking on clouds despite the chilling coldness that would seep through your bones.
It was not unlike drowning in a cold, white sea.
For a moment he abruptly tensed, then relaxed again.
Although somewhat blind, he changed his direction, soon reaching the wall of a cliff.
You were never quite alone in places like this but for once, there really was another person nearby.
Leaning against the stone was a slender figure.
The young woman - girl? - jolted when she was him, half jumping up.
Sword drawn, stance lowered, she tensely glared at him.
“You need help?”, Xie Yi asked, ignoring her behaviour and staring at her waist. There was a bloody red patch on it. While not lethal, it looked uncomfortable.
The woman was dressed for a hunt, with pants rather than a skirt and a tightly bound ponytail swaying behind her back.
She stared at him, her nervous eyes wandering over his body.
Xie Yi shrugged, pulled a pill out of nowhere and threw it into her direction.
She reacted out of instinct, catching it, and her eyes widened. The scent of herbs was strong enough to prove its use alongside the soft emission of spiritual energy.
She swallowed it.
“Why help a stranger?”, she asked in confusion, relaxing.
Xie Yi shrugged again. “My master says it’s good. I’m not in a hurry. It was easy.”
Another staring contest. The woman could stare quite well.
She exhaled through her nose and gave a soft laugh. “Weirdo.”
“What are you doing here without pills?”
“I’m hunting”, she responded, leaning back against the stone and sliding down into a seating position. Her face distorted curtly. “I wasn’t given any.”
“That’s stupid”, Xie Yi said with a raised eyebrow. She did not wear a sect’s robe, so she was probably part of a normal family and simply talented for cultivation. Possibly self-taught.
“Does your family not have any?”
“They do have them”, she growled. “But they won’t share. My father especially. He gives it all to my half-brother. And if I don’t fill the quota for hunting, I won’t get food. I think they’re picking on me.”
“Bad family relations?”, Xie Yi guessed. He had heard about that quite often by now; families keeping their resources for certain children.
She nodded unhappily. “Honestly, if it wasn’t for that little girl they’ve adopted, I would run away. But she’s too cute. I’m worried she’ll be the next one if I don’t listen.”
Then she stopped herself and brushed her black hair out of her face nervously. She chewed her lip.
“What am I doing?”, she quietly muttered to herself. “Sorry. Don’t mind me. I’m talking nonsense. Thank you for the pill, I’ll… leave now.”
She struggled to stand up and turned to the right.
“Wrong way”, Xie Yi corrected her hurriedly. “Out is the other side.”
Her face flushed red.
Awkwardly and with a pained expression she gave a small bow. “...Thank you. I’ll repay you if we meet again.”
Xie Yi hummed and watched her.
A mere few steps were enough for her to vanish into the white fog. Xie Yi tilted his head.
He had memorized the tiny insignia on her lapel that felt a bit familiar. If he saw it again, he’d take a look at her family. What kind of people were like that?
They deserved punishment.
Oh. He could have asked her name. Well, he’d find it out sometime.
Pleased with the thought, Xie Yi returned back to his previous path and trudged through the white walls. The ground below him became stonier as time went by.