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A Dangerous Path

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In Xue Yang’s defense, he hadn’t prepared this night hunt badly. He had prepared it the exact same way he had before, and every other time it had worked perfectly.

He was a mere victim of circumstance. The worst fucking circumstance.

If that bloody fucking donkey hadn’t been stuck in that fence—

He had prepared. Gone to a nearby village with the excuse of getting some difficult to get supplies, added poison and removed tongues as usual, stole the difficult to get supplies, and returned with a good tale of another dead village, Daozhang, the poor sods. And he’d timed it right, so the corpse poisoning would have taken full affect, but nobody would actually be dead (because getting the bright moon and gentle breeze to kill actual fierce corpses would be incredibly pointless) by the time they arrived.

Provided there were no donkeys stuck in fences, owned by old men with one hand that Daozhang would decide he had to help. But that was such a specifc set of circumstances and so unlikely, when was that ever going to be a fucking problem?

...

What was worse, was as the one person involved who had all his eyes and hands, he had to do most of the work to remove the goddamn bloody donkey. He felt each second slip away toffee slow as he removed the fence posts, intensely aware that he could be spending each one of those moments doing literally anything else. Ignoring trying to bring Xiao Xingchen to his level, he could be painting himself bright blue and it would have been just as useful and a lot less frustrating.

So, by the time they got to the village, it had become less of a night hunt and more a ‘any later than this and it would be early morning’ hunt. Which was fine, apart the fact that some people had died.

And become fierce corpses.

Fierce corpses who had it out for the murderer.

Which would have been fine. He could deal with fierce corpses. He gotten very good at dealing with fierce corpses. But he was working with one hand behind his back, pretending to be a bad ordinary cultivator instead of the fucking brilliant demonic cultivator he was.

He stuck to Xiao Xingchen like glue, did his best to try and look helpful and nice and not let the smile creep into his voice when Daozhang cut down a screaming person. But it was dark. He was using his eyes. Xiao Xingchen was using a seeing eye sword.

Their separation was inevitable.

As, apparently, was his flight from ten fierce corpses who had it out for him.

He backed away, brandishing his knife. “What did I ever do to you?!”  If he had a sword, or could use all his talents, ten fierce corpses would have been nothing. But he knew from experience that him and a knife vs ten fierce would not end great.

Shuanghua’s sword glare flashed in the distance.

Xue Yang squinted at it, calculating.

It was far enough away that Xiao Xingchen wouldn’t be able to hear what he was doing.

He pulled a piece of emergency paper from the pocket in his sleeve—it was going to be a pain in the arse to replace, but this was what the emergency paper was for—and cut his finger with his knife. He drew on a spirit attraction talisman, fast and precise.

His back slammed into a tree.

Convenient.

He slapped the talisman onto the tree, and rolled out of the way.

The fierce corpses did their best to attack the tree, ripping off bark and one enterprising corpse trying to bite it.

Xiao Xingchen ran towards him, covered in splashes half congealed blood, sword pointing the way. He cut the fierce corpses down with a grim efficiency.

Once they all fell, he shook the blood off Shuanghua and put it back in his scabbard. “Are you alright, friend?” he asked in his soft-soft voice, so hilarious gentle and talking like he was glass that would shatter if he was too mean.

He spoke with a breezy, confident tone, hampered by the fake creak he had to put in. “Eh, I’m not as useless as I look, Daozhang—”

Xiao Xingchen half smiled and the half joke, and put his hand against the tree--

And felt the paper.

He picked it up and held it out in front of himself, like he was trying to look at it, a pointless gesture out of sheer habit.

He couldn’t see the writing, but his mouth pressed into a slim line. For all that he was an utter fool, he wasn’t ignorant. He could smell the blood. And he knew what it meant for fierce corpses to suddenly by really interested in an inanimate object. And he knew that while this was an allowed technique, there were only so many ways a random wandering cultivator would learn it.

He put the talisman down, and opened his mouth to speak.

So, this was how it all unravelled. “Spare me the lecture, Daozhang, about ‘proper’ techniques and ‘moral’ behaviour--”

“I understand. You were in a dire situation, and your options were limited.”

Xue Yang stopped talking. Stopped breathing.

“I would advise you to be cautious. It is a dangerous path, and it would be easy for you to be overtaken, in the end. Even the founder of the path could not escape that fate, nor many of his disciples. You can still learn other paths. You have the potential.”

He said it in the same kind and gentle voice, that same voice that was like fingers barely touching something fragile. Like he was actually concerned about the danger to him or his morality, like it was an unfortunate incident or circumstance that could be put behind them.

Nothing like what he had said before, when he had called for his death—

But well, didn’t know who he was talking to, did he? He was talking to his friend, and not Xue Yang. He laughed, doing his best to keep any bitterness or anger or awareness out. “I appreciate your concern, Daozhang.”