“We should go eat some good meat as a reward for this. Let’s try getting rid of them and then you and me will go hunting”, Xu Yan soothingly suggested.
“I don’t think you’ll like hunting with me”, Xie Yi lamented.
“Yeah, so I’ll be waiting for you somewhere and you can load off whatever you caught with me. At least I won’t freak out at seeing you all bloody.”
Xie Yi whimpered. “Yes, please.”
“Then we will do it like that.”
Xu Yan had a number of little sisters, so he had some ideas of how to run away from them.
They sought out an expensive restaurant and had a good meal. At the end, they began to start a conversation with the friendly waiter about the best quality meat, which beast had it, and how to take it apart.
Neither of the girls was too fond of meat anyway and would not care much more than getting a good meal, so they soon were bored.
Xu Yan gave them an apologetic glance but did not stop the conversation.
Once they made themselves scarce to watch a play somewhere in the city, they stopped. The amused waiter touched his head in half a salute.
“Always happy to help.”
“Thank you”, Xu Yan laughed, leaving him a tip.
The moment they were out in the forest, Xie Yi was jumping rather than walking. He shoved his stuff to Xu Yan and went away, returning every few quarter-hours with something new he had caught.
Xu Yan leaned back and relaxed while reading a book, only glancing at the things that Xie Yi brought him.
The last hours of the day passed peacefully.
“Now we even have a good amount of herbs”, Xu Yan sang happily. “That’s great!”
Xie Yi nodded as he stretched.
“How are you feeling by now, anyway? Is it better?”
“Aah…” Xie Yi awkwardly showed a smile. “Truthfully, my brain is a bit occupied. I’m kinda worried about Zhi Ci.”
Xu Yan remembered the pretty woman. “Her little sister isn’t in the best state, but it’s not lethal. What is making you fidgety?”
“There’s… something”, Xie Yi complained. “I don’t know what yet, but something is bothering me.”
“Take your time to think about it”, the other tried to help. “Maybe you’ll get it if you go through everything one by one again.”
The cultivator gave a nod and pushed the issue away for the moment, focusing on returning to the sect.
They returned to their rooms after making sure that everyone was back and had had dinner.
A quick wash and they changed into their sleepwear.
For once, Xie Yi did not get into bed but sat at the table.
Thoughtfully playing around with a brush, he stared out of the window.
Then, with a frown, he wrote down the names.
Zhi Ci, Xiao Zai.
He wrote them and wrote them again. Over and over… and then in another way.
He racked his brains over how to write them until he stopped with his hand tight around the brush.
Xu Yan jolted when Xie Yi jumped up.
The cultivator raised his hands slowly, the brush falling. His fingers reached into his hair, gripping tightly.
He began to tear at it, strong enough that Xu Yan could see his scalp ripping.
He jumped out of bed, wanting to ask Xie Yi what was wrong, but stopping himself when he saw his friend with tears in his eyes full of madness.
Xie Yi howled; inhuman and loud, a painful sound that broke Xu Yan’s heart as he heard it.
Xie Yi’s throat broke as he forced his voice to tone down, despite knowing the array would catch any sounds.
“Those bastards”, he bellowed painfully, scratching his fingers down his face with a fury that had nowhere to go. “Those-”
There were no words to describe the hate he was feeling.
Juxian reacted with a shrieking sound vibrating in Xie Yi’s head and turning him so dizzy that he had no other choice but to sit down.
He gritted his teeth, allowing angry tears to fall.
One was a ‘Paper Woman’; a partner only for practice, a life easily discarded and not cared about. An exchangeable existence.
Only someone like her could be kind to the little girl.
After the ‘first’ one might have failed, they continued on with the numbers. It was how they had explained it to him, too, before he was allowed to use his name.
Now it was her. The little ‘second’ one with her abnormal talent and the cracked core.
What did her health matter? If she died, there would be a third one.
Xie Yi, oh, Xie Yi.
How could you let them go back like that?
If he had recognized the elder’s insignia on Zhi Ci’s clothes before, he could have taken her out.
Because of him, the little girl was still in their clutches…
Going through the same things he had gone through.
“I have to go”, Xie Yi slurred. He stood up abruptly, grabbing Juxian off the bed. Xu Yan stepped into his way as he turned to the door.
“You are going nowhere”, Xu Yan said warily. “Xiao Yi, what is going on? You have been so weird ever since you a while ago. Before, you had that fever, and now this-”
“Let me go”, Xie Yi said, much too calm.
“No! I’ll go contact Master Li first. We can talk about anything.”
Xie Yi gripped his shoulders and Xu Yan hissed, surprised by the strength that his friend put into his hands.
“You mustn’t”, Xie Yi growled, his face distorted. “Xu Yan, promise me! You can’t contact Shi Yue! For as long as you can hide it, don’t contact him!”
“I refuse!” Suddenly scared, Xu Yan returned the grip. He was shivering. “Xiao Yi, please tell me what is going on! You… What are you planning?!”
Xie Yi’s face fell. He leaned his head against Xu Yan’s shoulder in exhaustion.
Neither of them moved an inch until he spoke.
“There is something I have to take care of. On the cost of my life, if worst comes to worst. I can’t let anyone else do this, Xu Yan… You don’t understand. This is my burden to carry. This is my sin.”
“What-”, Xu Yan began to ask, interrupted again by Xie Yi.
“I beg of you. Don’t tell Shi Yue. Don’t tell anyone for as long as you can hide it. Give me time.”
The hand he had on Xu Yan’s shoulder moved up to his throat.
Only the shortest press was needed. The moment Xu Yan’s brain did not get the amount of blood it needed as Xie Yi pressed on the artery, it shut down.
Xu Yan slumped down, his eyes falling shut.
Xie Yi caught him gently.
He pulled him onto the bed and pressed his acupoints, ensuring that the other would not wake for hours.
With a shaky breath, he placed a blanket over his friend.
He walked past the mirror, briefly looking into it and stopping.
He looked terrible.
With a few quick movements, he braided the longer parts of his hair and exchanged his broader robes for hunting clothes.
Then he left, closing the door behind him gingerly.
Mingtian came instantly when he called outside, helping him escape the sect unseen.
Once in the forest, Mingtian lowered his beastly head to nudge Xie Yi. “What is wrong?”
“The sect had a replacement for me”, Xie Yi whispered against Mingtian’s fur. “Maybe several. There’s a little girl. They’ve placed a woman at her side to be her practice target for when she’s older.”
They had done it with him. Let him get a bit attached to someone, make him kill them. It did a lot to cool down his emotions.
Unofficially, they always called those people paper-men.
Mingtian was quiet for a moment. “I don’t want you to run into the sect and kill yourself for people I don’t care about.”
“I’m not planning on committing suicide”, Xie Yi insisted. “It will be impossible to get the little girl out. They’ll guard her. But I can get the woman and wreak havoc to gain her a few more years. I know where they conduct what experiment and preparation. I remember.”
Mingtian tensely shut up. “...Will that help anything at all?”
“The beginning of everything wasn’t in the main sect”, Xie Yi pleaded. “It’s well hidden but not protected very well. She won’t be there yet cause her health is bad - they must be feeding her the poisons to gain resistance. That takes time! If I strike now, they’ll need longer to rebuild everything!”
“How do you know they won’t switch? How do you know that woman is there?”
“It’s where one of the old bastards let his blood-related slaves live. She might be there at least. And I’m sure that they cannot switch the order.”
Xie Yi rubbed his face, forcing himself to remember it all. “It’s built on each other. I couldn’t have survived the later times without the poison resistance and so on. I’m sure of it!”
He wasn’t sure.
He was only grasping at straws and hoping.
Mingtian’s ears twitched. “It’s only an outpost?”
“Pretty much, yes”, Xie Yi whispered, gaining hope.
“This will alert them of you. Once they know there is someone after them, they will be on guard”, Mingtian warned. He had a good portion of certainty to get Xie Yi out even unharmed as long as it was only one of the outposts and the youth wouldn’t try to run into his death.
“Mingtian”, Xie Yi begged with a hoarse voice. “I can’t endure the thought. Not this! Not another one like me! I’m already suffering because I won’t be able to get her out instantly, at least let me give her this postponement!”
“What about finding help first? If you ask the Virtuous Sect, they would prepare a full raid.”
Xie Yi did not answer. His fingers tightened further.
The beast shook himself lightly. “...I understand. Then let’s go.”
“Thank you”, Xie Yi whispered, closing his eyes with a shudder.
He pressed his hand against his crackling chest.
Under the terrible pain, he felt himself breaking open. The more his core cracked, the more he jumped in cultivation.
He didn’t care if this would make it worse.
If it meant destroying those bastards’ plans, he would gladly give up all his talent and power.