A jubilant energy filled the village of Taizhou. Children ran carrying baskets of herbs, or other items, while the adults prepared for a feast. The news of Zhang’s recovery had made its way quickly throughout the village, and the villagers had decided to contribute to the celebratory feast.
Yan Yun had been there, after the boy had had his moment to recover. She’d felt his dantian, healed and whole once more, ready to step into the first circle as it formed anew again. It was… in some ways an enviable chance. To redo one’s path with no repercussions was not something most cultivators would have the time, or resources for.
The thought arose unsightly emotions within her, that she struggled to push down. Her own attempts at regaining her cultivation had left her with debilitating pain and nausea, as if her mind was fracturing into pieces.
“Yan Yun seems to be in a sour mood,” Leiyu commented, sensing her swirling emotions that she failed to keep in check.
“It’s nothing,” she replied to her spirit, walking past a bunch of young girls who had been carrying various food items. She noticed a couple of them glancing her way, and bowing before they hurriedly rushed on.
“Leiyu does not enjoy being lied to,” Leiyu said. Yan Yun sensed him watching through her eyes. “Why don’t you try approaching one of them? It has been your wish to make friends, has it not?”
Yan Yun ignored Leiyu’s words, not paying them any mind. To the villagers, she was the daughter of a grand elder. Though they had accepted cultivators amongst themselves, she would never have the same place Lu Jie, and the others did. Changing her path, she began to make way out of the village, and towards the forests that surrounded it. The dirt path she walked on, soon began to be overtaken by grass. The forest thickened around Yan Yun, as she wandered aimlessly, trying not to bring down what was meant to be a celebratory day by her selfish thoughts.
The sight, and the sensation of Qi brimming in the air from the spirit herbs lifted her mood briefly, reminding her of the time she’d met Lu Jie. The grove had been a favoured spot of hers, to be away from the world, and be just by herself. She would even sneak out some books of hers with her, to read in peace all by herself.
The memory brought with it a throbbing ache, as the memories of her home returned. Despite everything, she could not deny missing her home. She would not change her choices, if asked to make them again, but the pain did not lessen any bit even if she knew as much.
Lost in her thoughts, it took Yan Yun a moment to notice that she wasn’t alone. A rustling sound came from nearby, like a creature sweeping through the bushes.
“Leiyu?” Yan Yun asked, slightly concerned. She was not incapable of defending herself, but as she was right now, even a weak spirit of the second realm was a threat.
“It’s alright. Go ahead,” Leiyu said, in an unconcerned voice.
Yan Yun felt a bit worried, but did not doubt her spirit’s word as she walked through the bushes, and beyond. There, she didn’t find a spirit herb, but rather a person instead. One she was quite familiar with.
“Oh—” Yin gasped, jumping back as she saw Yan Yun. “Sorry. I- I didn’t know someone else was here.”
“No need for an apology. It was entirely my fault for sneaking up on you. I thought you were a spirit beast,” Yan Yun replied.
Yin smiled at that, though Yan Yun did not understand for what. The girl’s smile faded, the moment she noticed it, replaced by her typical flustered look, as her eyes darted all around.
Yan Yun watched Yin shuffle awkwardly, uncertain what to make of the girl. She had been living with the village head’s family, and Yin had been going to great lengths to take care of her, refusing to have Yan Yun help out with any tasks, and serving her at any opportunity. But despite the attention, she knew next to nothing about her, conversation between them, rare and fleeting at best.
“Umm.. What brings you all the way here?” Yin asked, a few moments later, when she realised Yan Yun had little else to say.
“I… was just wandering. Trying to explore the forest,” Yan Yun replied, eyeing Yin’s attire. She carried a basket by her side, filled with herbs and plants of all kinds. “What about you? Collecting herbs?”
Yin nodded back in reply. “Aunt Bao asked me to bring some, says she wanted to sprinkle in some spirit herbs in dumplings. It makes the spirits happy, and she love to pamper them.”
“I see…” Yan Yun replied, as the two returned to an awkward silence. She stood around, briefly, before nodding at Yin. “I won’t disturb you with your work then,” she added a moment later, turning around to step away.
“Umm…” Yin’s voice came from behind her.
Yan Yun turned back around to glance at the girl, finding her eyes glancing down at the ground, before rising up to meet hers briefly. She noticed her hands, clutching her clothes tightly.
“I… this is not my place to ask but— you seem a bit sad. I-is something wrong?” Yin asked.
Yan Yun stared blankly, unsure of how to reply. A part of her wished to talk, to share what she had been burdened with, but another wanted to push the memories and thoughts further down, never to be seen by anyone.
“It’s nothing,” Yan Yun replied, trying her best to return a smile. “I just… don’t know what to do. I’m sitting around being useless and I’ve lost my path as well.”
Yin looked up at Yan Yun, meeting the girl’s eye for the very first time. “I can’t say I know what… what losing your path would be like. I imagine it is hurtful, for someone such as you to lose something so precious. But I know that you are not useless, no such thing.”
“Aren’t I?” Yan Yun asked, her smile turning crooked. “I do not know how to cook, I do not know how to draw the water from the river, I do not know how to clean. I… was raised in a large sect with servants for every whim and fancy I had. My life… all of it, was dedicated to learning how to be the lady of my sect, and towards my cultivation. Now, I have lost both. What good am I to anyone?”
Yin looked back down her, clutching her robes tightly once more. “I… you are not,” she replied, her voice strained. “Because… I aspire to be like you.”
Yan Yun’s looked at Yin in confusion, as the girl looked up, her cheeks flushed with a red tinge. “You are the prettiest woman I’ve ever met. Even the adults cannot look you in the eye… and you know so much. Polite, and well versed in etiquettes. You are not useless. Far from it. If anyone’s useless, it’d be me. I do not have any Path to lose. I do not know of the ways of sects, or things about cultivation. That’s why… I don’t think you’re useless at all.”
Yan Yun looked at the girl, feeling surprised. She had… hardly expected a confession like that, much less from Yin. “I don’t find it of much worth. I would rather… rather know the people like you do. The villagers regard you with a kindness in their voice, as if you were their own daughter. The children look up to you. Even Leiyu likes being around you, and he only likes powerful cultivators normally.”
“That is not true,” Leiyu protested silently. Yan Yun ignored him, looking at Yan Yun.
“The only family I had, I have forsaken. While you still have yours, there to love you and look after you. I would much rather have what you do,” Yan Yun said, feeling a weight lifted off her shoulders at the admission.
Yin stared at her with wide eyes. Yan Yun looked away, finding a blush creeping upon her cheeks at the girl’s gaze.
“I know this is presumptuous of me… but. Would you like to be my sister?” Yin asked, her voice wavering at the end.
Yan Yun looked at the girl, finding her eyes widening in surprise this time. “A… sister?”
Yin nodded. “I… have always wanted one. Then- you would have a family here too. And, I could teach you how to cook, and make tea, and pick up herbs. And… if you’d like, you could teach me about the sects.”
Yan Yun continued to stare at the girl, finding words failing her.
Yin’s face slowly began to fall, as she watched Yan Yun staring in silence. Slowly, she bowed her head. “I’m sorry. That was presumptuous of me, please, forget what I said,” the girl said in a hurried rush.
“No!” Yan Yun exclaimed. “I would love to be your sister. I just- I do not know what to say.”
Yin looked at Yan Yun, before slowly making her way towards her. “Really?” she asked in a quiet whisper.
Yan Yun nodded. “If you would be fine with someone like me as your sister. Then, yes.”
Yin hesitated for a moment, before reaching out to grasp Yan Yun’s hand. “T-then, you have to call me Yin Yin.”
“Yin… Yin?” Yan Yun tried.
A bright smile blossomed on Yin’s face at the words, enough to make Yan Yun blush in embarrassment. “It’s not fair if I am the only one who has to call you that,” she protested.
“Then… I’ll call you Yun Yun,” Yin said, and Yan Yun nodded.
“Okay… Yin Yin,” Yan Yun replied, feeling flustered as well.
Yin smiled, before handing her herb basket to Yan Yun. “Since I promised to teach you, let’s start by picking some herbs.”
Yan Yun looked down at the basket, grabbing it in her hands. “Was this just a ploy to make me help you?” she asked, hesitantly.
Yin smiled back, not replying. Yan Yun followed behind her new sister, a matching smile adorning her face.