It jumped off the ledge of the stone, stretching.
The golden eyes were unnatural, the iris not conforming with human biology. Below the eyes and down the cheeks went reddish marks that had an appearance somewhere between bloody tear trails and bleeding slits. The black hair that framed the delicate face was completely unmoving - stiff like stone, despite its soft appearance.
The ears that peeked out of the stiff hair were adorned with golden ornaments, sparkling in the sunlight.
The soft features were as if someone had tried to draw Xie Yi on mere description - somehow like him but not quite, with a completely wrong temperament.
The child blinked calmly, folding his hands behind his body.
Xie Yi shuddered as his eyes went over the slender body.
The clothes the child wore were more an allusion of the cultivator’s robes than actual ones, the long sleeves tightly wound around his thin arms and patched together from red and white. His torso area was completely open, revealing the ghastly sight.
The slightly twisted ribcage formed an actual prison, bones black instead of white. Something akin to glass was filling in the free space between each rib, closing the cage.
In the middle, the beating heart struggled against the stakes keeping it in place, hammered through it.
As if something was trying to rip out of its insides, it struggled and bled, distorting around the restraints but unable to move away. The blackish blood dripping down the stakes dissolved when it hit the bottom of the cage.
It didn’t look a lot like a human heart anymore. It was patched together from different parts, some vaguely reminding Xie Yi of demonic or spiritual beast hearts. Some parts were human, but not the same as other human patches.
The child, maybe a teenager, didn’t care about the struggling heart and simply watched Xie Yi with his unnatural eyes, quietly waiting.
Xie Yi swallowed, trying to force the blockage in his throat down, and spoke in a forced tone. “You are my sword spirit?”
“Yes”, the child said in a voice not unlike his. It was calm and polite, but when put together with the deviant appearance, it created a chilly atmosphere.
Xie Yi nodded, almost to himself, and pulled his wits together. “I see. Then, I guess I have to give you a name-”
“No”, the boy interjected, shaking his head. “I have my name already.”
“You do?”, Xie Yi responded without thinking, stunned. As far as he knew, sword spirits only had the name given to them by their creator. That was because sword spirits were supposed to be like young children; not fully aware of what was happening around themselves and only forming their sense of self after a couple of days. The figure before him, however, did not appear like that at all.
“Yes. It’s Juxian1局限, "to restrict sth within set boundaries", "to constrict"”, the boy said in an almost amused voice.
Xie Yi felt himself shudder slightly again. Juxian continued to talk.
“Xie Yi, you are strong. You don’t need help fighting against external forces. That’s why, let me help fight against the enemies that you can’t block”, he whispered, soothingly. The tone was hypnotizing. “What you can’t control, I can control. I will confine and restrain that which you have left behind, so that it can’t swallow you up again.”
He paused, then smiled sweetly. “The last time, you couldn’t hear me, but this time, you are willing to listen. Xie Yi, don’t reject me again. I will never harm you. Those ugly things, you don’t need them, do you? Or do you want them back?”
Hurriedly, Xie Yi shook his head. Unconsciously, his hand was already reaching up to clench the robe in the middle of his chest. The sound of his heart beating was clean and strong, not distorted. It was perfect like this.
“Good”, Juxian laughed happily. “You can reach your destination without it. I will be watching from the sidelines, okay?”
“Un”, Xie Yi heard himself agree.
Juxian laughed again, then patted his ribcage and the translucent walls. “I’m just as strong as you are. You can depend on me.”
With tiny steps, the sword spirit hopped forward, opening his arms wide and looking up at Xie Yi with expectant eyes.
Xie Yi looked down, the slowly opened his arms and bent a bit forward to tug the teenager into his arms.
He had a feeling that contrary to Ying Hua, Juxian would never grow up, but he didn’t need to. The smaller body was warm against his chest - exactly like the soul crystal had been before.
Warm and gentle, but also strong and reliable with the serenity of a lake.
Xie Yi sighed, leaning against the boy who didn’t budge at all under his weight. “Then, I’ll be relying on you.”
Once more, Juxian made a sound that sounded like laughter, then began to turn more and more transparent.
Xie Yi straightened his back again, then walked forward to reach out for the spirit sword lying on the stone altar.
The scabbard was red like the sunset, with golden markings wrapping around it like chains. It was a lavish sight with the additional, unreadable signs dimly glowing in black. When Xie Yi carefully picked it up, he took the chance to inspect the hilt, as well; three red lines were placed on one side each, between them a golden tinted piece of glass that went through the hilt.
Although the colours looked warm, it felt like a calm pool of water.
Slowly, Xie Yi drew it. It took some strength to free the sword from its scabbard, but the blade was a sight so marvellous to behold, he barely noticed.
The blade looked almost completely like glass. Except for the black core, the blade was transparent and veined with sunset-coloured lines. Contrary to the scabbard, it was warm to the touch - not hot or uncomfortable, but like feeling the sun on your face.
Xie Yi sheathed it again, then tilted his head until his forehead lightly touched the hilt. For a few seconds, he didn’t move, then he began to smile and pressed it against his body.
Shi Yue didn’t like fighting with Ying Hua, but Xie Yi was his own person. Even if he fought with another sword, he would always keep Juxian with him.
...While Xie Yi had been forging, Shi Yue had been pacing up and down the hallway in front of the room. He hadn’t felt any fluctuations in spiritual energy after the overbearing wave that had passed by a few minutes ago, so Xie Yi should be finished.
As the matter concerned the possibility of a spirit, he didn’t want to intrude right away and had to force down the feeling of uncertainty.
Seconds passed painfully until the door opened and Xie Yi waved him inside.
Once the door was closed, Shi Yue immediately began to scrutinize Xie Yi.
His disciple looked exhausted with his hair clinging to his skin due to sweat. The sides of his lips were curling up in content and his eyes were glowing with joy.
Shi Yue ignored the uneven beat of his heart and focused on Xie Yi’s general state.
“You are alright?”, he asked to confirm in addition to looking out for any signs of discomfort.
Xie Yi beamed, then raised the arm that had been lowered and displayed what he held in his hand. Pulling it out with his other, the sword was on full display.
Shi Yue started.
He had no doubt that the sword before him had a spirit and that made Xie Yi’s gesture all the more meaningful. Without a shred of hesitation, he showed Shi Yue the existence that was linked so closely to him right after it was born.
Touched, Shi Yue didn’t reject it and stepped closer to take a look at it.
“Some say that looking at a cultivator’s blade that inhibits their spirit is a bit like looking at their soul”, Shi Yue muttered.
If the scabbard was the spirit, then the blade was the cultivator.
Ying Hua’s scabbard was lavish and delicate, but her blade was pure white. It would not break or blemish no matter what happened to it, so his master often joked that Shi Yue had an unbending soul that would not surrender under any circumstances.
Xie Yi’s blade was very different.
“It’s both complex and pure”, Shi Yue laughed. “A blade that does not hide its darkness but decides to control it. It really is a very beautiful blade.”
Xie Yi was looking at Shi Yue as he talked. He had a feeling he was missing out on something in Shi Yue’s words but could not tell what.
Still, he felt incredibly uncomfortable all of a sudden.
Confused, Xie Yi hurried to awkwardly sheathe the blade with a lowered head. His face felt warm.