Shi Yue tested the connection to Xie Yi’s bracelet once he felt they had to be close by.
He was relieved when he noticed their direction was correct but the feeling turned into one of sickening fear not too much later.
The reason for it being that he tried to test the connection again not too much later and it hadn’t moved at all.
That meant there were two possibilities.
One was that Xie Yi had discarded the bracelet. This was what should be within his expectations but the second option sprouted in his mind and took roots.
It might also be that Xie Yi could not take the bracelet off. He might be too occupied… or simply not able to move.
“We should go in that direction. Don’t let worry get into your head before we know what is happening”, Xue Hua spoke to both calm his partner and himself.
Shi Yue did not respond.
They all were stressed from hurrying constantly but at hearing that there was a sign, they perked up.
The tree they found at the end of the signal was an old, large oak, growing taller than most trees around and making for a good waypoint.
Shi Yue rushed forward, reaching into the treehole without a second thought and fishing out the bundle inside.
The bundle was put together incredibly gently and protected by some arrays that would keep wild animals away from it.
Shi Yue placed it down and opened it up.
There were two bracelets inside - Xie Yi’s identification bracelet and the little silver one that Shi Yue had given him. The wooden permission plate was added into it, too, and the common storage ring that Xie Yi had taken onto the journey.
The Grandmaster stared at everything placed before him while clenching his hands. He packed it back up and placed it into his own storage space.
“This doesn’t look like someone rushing into a fight”, one of the teachers commented seriously. “He placed the things he did not need but did not want to break, into a landmark like this and protected it. He must have been clear-minded to do this.”
“Xie Yi might look like an impulsive fighter, but in fact, he is not”, another one whispered. “He was only impulsive during his mood swings but even then, he never let himself get goaded into action. His actions looked rash but they were very controlled.”
“Master Li, what should we do now?”
“Quiet”, Shi Yue hissed with a tense body. He stared east.
The teachers fell quiet instantly.
They all tensed as well and listened, waiting to hear whatever the Grandmaster was noticing earlier than them.
When Shi Yue jumped up, drawing his sword, they did the same.
“Speak about the devil”, he cursed lowly. “Get behind me.”
He had wanted to find the Demonic Sect so he could find Xie Yi, but he had wanted to find the specific place where his disciple was at.
He hadn’t wanted to run into any other member.
Even less a whole party.
There was no running and putting yourself at a disadvantage at possibly being caught unprepared. He rather waited for them to appear and take the chance to wipe out some of them.
Against eight people stood fourteen. Although Shi Yue as a Grandmaster was stronger than each of them independently, it was a problem that there were more of them with generally higher levels than the ones he brought.
Usually you wouldn’t see more than one or two of this level in an outpost.
“What do we have here? Dear intruders, don’t you know that invading another sect’s territory is punishable? By death, just to inform you. I’ll be so kind and execute it immediately.” The low, dirty laughter of their leader was grating to their ears.
“This is not anyone’s territory”, Shi Yue snarled. He’d never acknowledge the Demonic Sect.
“Is it not? Well, how embarrassing. Guess I have to kill you to make sure no one knows of this shameful slip-up.” He pulled his eyes overly wide and put his hands to his cheeks in an overdone expression of shock.
“The elders will be happy to hear this”, another one laughed. “Hehe. Went out to deliver something to the old lady and ended up catching a Grandmaster.”
“Don’t let her hear you say that”, his fellow disciple teased. “I bet she’ll let you bleed dry in punishment.”
“I doubt I’m pretty enough. Hey, what if we brought her that guy? Even if he’s dead, he looks quite nice. She can still have fun with him”, the other said, his eyes flickering over Shi Yue.
Xue Hua rustled his feathers.
In the midst of this crazy talk, hell broke loose without warning.
Beasts fought against beasts, cultivators against cultivators. Sometimes both sides would mingle, breaking the environment even worse.
Shi Yue felt his muscles tense at the sight of the three strongest focusing on him. His sword made a sharp sound as he drew it through the air to block the attack of another.
Fights against demonic cultivators were ugly.
Their poisoned arrows destroyed the trees, the acidic venom of their beasts corroded the ground.
Shi Yue was constantly distracted by the worry over his friends. He had chosen people who were used to fighting against the demonic cultivators but even then, the difference in level made him nervous.
Compared to people who numbed themselves completely before a fight and would recklessly attack until their death, their side that hoped to stay as safe as possible was heavily disadvantaged.
Glances to the side and back told him that they were struggling and being hoarded around. Luckily Xue Hua was with them; the avian was able to keep some of their enemies at bay even while dealing with the beasts. Those, thankfully, were weaker.
The leader of the group looked disgruntled at seeing the large beast interfering so much. “Tsk. Might as well see if that old guy’s thing works.”
A small pouch appeared in his hands. Suspicious, Shi Yue darted forward to snatch it from him, but the pouch was already torn apart by him.
A black powder spread everywhere, moved by the man’s spiritual energy.
Shi Yue jolted back at Xue Hua’s reaction. Since they had formed an official pact, he had a vague echo of the bird’s shock.
The powder wasn’t toxic as far as he could tell, but a heavy sense of discomfort settled in every beast’s body. It was as if they had stuck their nose into pepper but could not sneeze.
Against all wishes of Xue Hua, his body was heavily rejecting staying another second. Most of the smaller beasts fled instantly, Xue Hua struggled with loud, uncomfortable screeches when discomfort slowly turned into heavy pain.
Shi Yue glanced over at the pained cries. “Leave! Take care of the beasts, we will manage!”
More cries. Shi Yue hissed when the demonic cultivator used the distraction to appear behind him.
“Much better”, the man smirked. They were back to attacking Shi Yue in groups.
Pain shot through his leg where a slash tore open his clothes with a rough noise and went over his thigh. Blood coloured the earth beneath them.
The stench of rotting flesh filled the air and rose up into Shi Yue’s nose.
“You lot sure love your poisons”, he snarled as he concentrated some of his spiritual energy to push out the poisoned, black fluid.
“Yes”, the leader laughed darkly. “It’s an art!”
He retreated to let his fellow cultivators distract Shi Yue while he popped some kind of pill into his mouth.
His aura shuddered and grew unnaturally, the veins on his body bulging. Satisfied with the result, he jumped back to his place with even more strength than before.
The poison was less painful than the shouts of Shi Yue’s group as they tried to coordinate themselves against the demonic cultivators. The air was hazy with their use of spiritual energy.
Despite being stronger, Shi Yue retreated constantly. The distance between their fight and that of the others widened bit by bit.
The Grandmaster’s thoughts were whirling. So far, he could still hear everyone, but the worry about their safety was exactly what their enemies were using.
His arms were hurting from the constant blocks and numerous small cuts he was earning.
When one of his group threw out an exploding talisman, the situation changed.
With a deafening boom, the talisman exploded next to a demonic cultivator who did not manage to evade in time.
Bones cracking, he was thrown to the side and against a tree.
Smoke was rising.
The first demonic cultivator was dead.