A dark sleeve came into his view before the person did; Xu Yan tugged at his arm with a face that showed he wanted to cry.
Visibly freaked out by the large fish, Xu Yan wanted to get back up to the tiny, obedient ones as soon as possible and forget everything he was seeing down here.
He had never seen anything as freaky as those fish with human eyes. If they opened their mouths, he imagined, they might have human teeth - and that scared him all the more.
Only because he looked so frightened did Xie Yi relent and swim towards the surface again. They met Sheng Mu in the middle, who had an expression somewhere between Xu Yan’s aversion and Xie Yi’s fascination.
They had to evade the shadow of a boat, moving more towards the shore again before coming up.
Xie Yi sucked in the fresh air.
Not being able to breathe sure was a troublesome thing that had to be taken into account when considering to fight a creature from underwater.
Xu Yan came up with coughs. Whining, he made his way back to the shore. “I’m not ever going to swim in anything other than a tiny pool again!”
“Why? It was pretty down there. I would have liked to take a look.”
“The stream would have carried off. Or do you know how to use your spiritual energy from doing it?” Sheng Mu brushed his hair out of his face, shaking off the drops.
“Then it would have carried you off.” He scrunched his eyebrows together. “Are you always this careless?”
“Yes”, Xie Yi nodded dumbly. “I’m surviving it quite well.”
Sheng Mu was speechless.
The main reason why Xie Yi was not too worried about being carried off by the stream was that he was sure he could find his way out somehow. Since there was no real danger, he wasn’t too worried.
“You… are a bit of an idiot”, the other disciple said under his breath.
Xu Yan wrung out his sleeves and answered him instead of Xie Yi. “Exactly. Congratulations on noticing what a lot of people seem to miss.”
“I’m not even offended”, Xie Yi wryly said. “I probably am a huge idiot by a lot of people’s standard…”
“Actually you’re ignorant, not stupid.”
“...Is that any better, though.”
They reached the shore under the curious eyes of everyone else. QingQing was fidgeting. “Did you see any beasts?”
Xu Yan shuddered once from head to toe and slung his arms around himself. Sheng Mu frowned.
Xie Yi beamed, but QingQing kind of did not want to rely on his opinion. Her cousin looked wary, so it certainly wasn’t something she should go and look at.
“Human eyes should stay on humans”, Xu Yan whispered with his lips drawn to the side. “Everything else is… abnormal.”
“Do you think they could understand human language? Or sign language? I think they would have”, Xie Yi wondered, greedily looking into the depths of the water that you could not see from the surface.
“I… think I don’t want to go swimming here, for various reasons now”, Xiao Lu whispered with a pale face, speaking out loud what all of the rest was thinking.
“Were they not scary?”, Zhi Nan probed, watching Xie Yi. Did the weak-looking kid not get frightened? Did he like weird creatures?
Xie Yi blinked.
Uhm… When was the last time he had thought of a living creature as scary?
Things like not knowing what other people thought and stuff like that was scary, but a creature…
...There were creatures you could kill and creatures you couldn’t kill, so it was all about avoiding those that you couldn’t kill but that would be interested in killing you…
Confronted with the blank gaze, Zhi Nan swallowed his words.
“I guess not”, Zhi Nan chuckled forcedly. Thinking about it, he reached out to brush away Xie Yi’s black hair. The young man flinched considerably, turning his head away. “I’m curious, can you tell me what they looked like?”
Torn between feeling disgusted at having his hair touched by the other and wanting to tell, Xie Yi calmed the negative feelings and unloaded his sightings onto a continuously paling Zhi Nan whose smile was getting stiffer and stiffer with every second.
By now, it wasn’t an aversion to getting touched because he was expecting an attack anymore.
It was that he did not like being so close to those people.
Xu Yan was comforting, Mingtian was soothing, Shi Yue was… Honestly, it was beginning to make him nervous, but it wasn’t a bad nervosity.
There was a strong distinction between what kind of people could touch him and the way it made him feel and frankly speaking, most people evoked a sense of nausea in him.
Xie Yi stuck close to Xu Yan to get a better feeling again and his friend accepted the weird behaviour without a comment.
“What about a boat trip once you’re dried off? If we take one of the boats here, we will end close to the city and can go back from there.” As they were sitting on the grass, Zhi Nan pointed to one of the larger passenger ships on the water.
There were some purely for transportation with larger decks that allowed you to watch the scenery perfectly; they were at the perfect limit of what could swim around in the streams without running on ground.
“I like the idea, but how do we get there?”, Song Lan asked and looked around.
“With those, right?”
Xiao Lu pointed at something similar to a small pier into the water that had half a dozen small boats ready. They watched as one of the passenger ships slowed down to almost nothing and one of the boats was rowed towards it.
“There are regular times for when they pass by, we can take the next one. By then, we should be dried off”, Zhi Nan smiled.
Because everyone was curious, they agreed to get on the next one.
Xu Yan held Xie Yi’s sleeve at all times, worried that his friend might jump over board even before reaching the passenger ship.
The fee they had to pay was tiny compared to the money they could earn by selling materials and none of them batted an eye at it. On the contrary, they gave the grateful oarsmen a tip.
Xie Yi was intent on finding out how far he could look into the water from the ship. He left the others behind with a short comment and moved over the deck, making his way to pace around the whole ship.
Around halfway through, on the other side, he halted with surprise.
“It’s you”, he said loudly and the woman jolted around.
Her eyes were wide, but without hostility. She gave him a smile. “Oh! It’s the weirdo!”
Xie Yi clicked his tongue and walked over.
The woman looked to be in somewhat good shape. She wasn’t injured anymore and stood straight, donning simple cultivator’s robes.
“How is your injury?”
“Long healed, thanks to you”, she said awkwardly. “Thanks again. I would have been in a tight spot getting out of that valley if you hadn’t given me the pills.”
Xie Yi gave a small chuckle.
“Don’t worry about it. You can repay me someday.”
“I will”, she said determinedly. Bowing low, she clasped her hands together. “My name is Zhi Ci.”
She straightened again and flushed a bit.
“...I know it’s a weird name.” She rubbed her nose and looked away.
Xie Yi had never heard a name like that before, but he was in no position to judge. “I’m Xie-”
“Big sister”, a small voice called out.
Xie Yi and Zhi Ci turned at the same time, looking down at the little girl that approached timidly.
With a lowered head and her hands pressed against her chest, the girl in the dress hesitated to approach Zhi Ci after spotting a stranger.
“Come here, little sister”, Zhi Ci coaxed her, holding out a hand. “He’s a nice person who helped me a lot before.”
The girl hummed and hawed for a moment before hurrying over and hiding behind her older sister.
Xie Yi was squatting before he knew it, smiling at her. “Hey there. I’m Xie Yi.”
The girl blushed furiously and hid her face in her sister’s robes.
“Sorry, she’s shy”, Zhi Ci laughed. “I don’t know if you remember since it was only a random conversation with a stranger, but-”
“I remember”, Xie Yi confirmed. A girl adopted by Zhi Ci’s family, maybe more raised by her than anyone else.
The girl peeked out from behind her again, squeaking when she saw that Xie Yi was still looking. Suddenly, she coughed, and Zhi Ci turned around, frightened.
“Oh sheesh, let’s go back inside”, she worriedly said.
“Is she sick?”, Xie Yi frowned.
Zhi Ci sighed. “She has a weak body. My father had asked me to take her out here… The city has good medical baths. We are hoping she will feel better soon.”