"This place," Shou moved his head around, "is a store?"
As soon as he asked, Si's said, "what is this? For some reason, it gives me a weird feeling."
The building was an unassuming one, almost completely hidden in an alley. It had two floors, but in a city thriving from commerce, that was nothing impressive. The red paint shed of the thin walls, while the wooden plaque hung askew.
"It is my family's," the kid answered flatly. He then opened the door and shouted, "Dad, I am back."
There was no reply. Still, the kid walked in without further ado, as if used to such an occurrence. Since he did not elaborate, Shou simply followed along without prying further.
The moment he entered, he was hit by a dust-storm, immediately making him sneeze. He looked around and saw mostly empty shelves. On them, there were some herbs, encased in glass. In the middle, there stood an unattended counter, ready for any customers.
"We aren't open right now, so no need to be courteous."
Though the kid only said that to be polite, Shou curiously walked around and began touching everything he could. First, he picked the jars up, then shook them around to see what would happen, until at last he'd put them back, but at a different place than before.
'Is he doing that on purpose,' the kid thought.
After realizing that there was nothing interesting, Shou's shoulders slumped down, and he gave all his attention to the emotionless boy again. Compared to these useless crops, interacting with new people was much more fun for him. "If I am correct, this is a garden shop?"
"It's a herbalist store!" The boy gritted his teeth and shouted, "forget it, I wouldn't expect a mortal to know the difference."
"So are you all alone here," Shou asked him.
"No, there's also my father, he should be upstairs."
"Huh, then what about your mother?"
The kid did not answer. Instead, he turned his head and stared into the distance, his gaze unfathomable.
'I see,' Shou thought, and stopped pestering him about that topic. He placed his hand on the kids head tousled his hair.
Life was unfair sometimes.
The kid, confused by what Shou was doing, looked at him strangely. "I'm going to see my father, do you want to follow me or stay here, hidden?"
It was a question that needed no answer. Without waiting to think, Shou trailed right behind the boy and walked up the squeaking wooden stairs. He touched the walls, only to immediately regret it, as black gunk immediately adhered itself on his fingers.
The second floor was a little better than the first. At least, it wasn't dust-laden until it was hard to breathe. The floor was neatly parted by a small hallway, with both sides accommodating two doors each. The boy decisively opened the second one on the right.
"Dad, did you not hear me, I said I am back," the boy said, "I have brought someone with me."
"Oh, who is it," a coarse voice asked.
"I don't know, I found him in the streets. He was chased by the guards."
"You idiot, why are you picking rando—cough, cough," the voice, while it was scolding loudy, stopped as if choking from his own words.
Shou looked around for the source, only to realize it came from the bed. There, a man lay sickly, covering his body with a thick blanket. Though his face was pale, it was full of expression—expressing his dissatisfaction with the stranger in his room.
"I couldn't just leave him alone when all the guards are arresting people on a whim," the boy explained, "also, there is no need for father to worry, he is a mortal."
The boys father eyes opened wide, as he propped himself up. "Really, that young man actually has no spirit energy." He said stared at Shou with a sympathetic gaze.
The kid nodded. "I don't think it will be good for him to stay in this country alone," he then said; the exact meaning behind it, Shou didn't understand. "Plus, he is funny."
"Che," his father sneered, "so this is your real goal. Forget it. A mortal like him would die in 2 hours." The man then faced Shou, "I apologize, this child can be very willful. I hope he has not burdened you too much."
Shou, as always, tilted his head, for he could not follow where the conversation was going. However, he understood that the kid had helped him, so he replied, "not at all."
"That man is also at the 'Compassion' stage," Si's voice suddenly resounded in his head.
"Huh, how did you know?"
"Hmm, how do I explain this," Si grumbled, "You should understand by now that I am only a voice. So, if I don't have eyes, how do I see the things around you, if I don't have a mouth, how do I talk," Si said, "obviously, it's because a systems senses are different. Judging the realm of a person is an easy feat for me." Without realizing it, she had started explaining again. Still, since she sounded so proud, Shou did not interrupt.
"However, that does make me curious," he muttered, "say, do you and your son have the same cultivation stage?"
"Oh, you can actually tell?" The father looked at Shou with suspicion. However, he couldn't see a wisp of spiritual energy in Shou. That could only mean, he was either a mortal, or an unfathomable expert—thus he realized there was no point in being wary, since a mortal could do nothing to him, and he could do nothing to an expert. "You are correct." He laughed, then coughed again.
The boy, seeing his father in agony, immediately ran over to support him. "Father don't push yourself!" His emotionless face, showed a rare hint of worry.
The man wiped his saliva and shoved the kid away. "I'm fine! There's no need for you to worry!"
The man resumed his talk with Shou, "Anyway, don't you think my son is extremely talented? He reached the first stage in such a swift time, dare I say he is a genius."
"Father, you are overpraising me."
"Nonsense. You, without any help, reached the 'Compassion' realm, showing what a great Dao heart you have. I keep telling you, leave this bag of old bone behind and go study under an affluent family in the capital. It would be an honor for them to have you." The man looked at his own son with a compassionate gaze. Still, there was also an inexplicable sadness behind it.
The kid could only sigh. "How can I leave, when everyday you make me worry so much?"
Shou, who witnessed the whole scene, looked at the kid with pitiful eyes. Even though he was so young, he had to bear so many responsibilities. Truly, life was unfair sometimes.