“Kid”, Mingtian greeted in a quiet whisper, softly touching Xie Yi’s shoulder on the bed. Because Xie Yi had used Xiao Jin as a sparring partner until the middle of the night, he had stayed in his room on the upper grounds alone.
As soon as touch and sound reached his senses, Xie Yi opened his eyes and tiredly rubbed them. It was more than early in the morning; the sun was still far from rising.
“Hmnn… Morning. Is something wrong?”
“Nothing wrong. I’m just setting out to find Nie.” Mingtian sat down next to him and pulled him into a hug. Too tired to use his muscles, Xie Yi leaned against him. “Xiao Liang doesn’t show any signs of being unwell, although he doesn’t eat much. It’s better that I hurry up now, before we wait too long.”
Xie Yi returned the hug. “Okay. Be careful out there. You’re sure you don’t want to send anyone else?”
“I don’t think Nie could be convinced by someone else. Besides…” He chuckled a bit, the laughter rumbling in his chest. “I can take the chance to see if I can find my dowry for Xue Hua.”
Xie Yi’s face turned into a wide smile, although he was still too drowsy to open his eyes. “Hurry it up then. Any words of wisdom for me while you’re gone?”
A long, thoughtful hum. “I’m pretty sure that Shi Yue knows who I am. Don’t try to make up stories about it, just don’t mention me. He’s a trustworthy person. Other than that… Just don’t die.”
“Got it. I’ll live.”
“You better! Hug Xiao Liang for me, okay? You have to fulfill my quota, too”, Mingtian whined sadly. “That’s the most important thing next to not dying. Don’t forget about it!”
“I will hug him in every free minute to make up for you not being here, promise.” He yawned, then moved his heavy arms to loosely place them around Mingtian’s shoulders. “Safe travels!”
“Hm. Go back to sleep.”
Xie Yi found himself being tucked back into the blanket and watched through the curtain of his eyelashes how Mingtian left through the window.
Xie Yi sighed and closed his eyes.
He woke a couple of hours later and looked around in a daze, not fully certain if he had only dreamed of the conversation. The largest hint that Mingtian had been here was how the blanket was placed around him.
“It will be a bit lonely”, he said to himself while walking towards the bathroom to wash up and change clothes.
He made his first walk of the day over to the canteen to meet up with Xu Yan. Su Liang wouldn’t be awake at this time yet and he wouldn’t disturb the two of them too early.
Xu Yan was sitting a good bit farther to the side, at the edge of the room. Whenever he chose that seat, everyone would leave him alone as it suggested Xie Yi would join him. There was a weird balance between estrangement, respect and fear towards him.
Xie Yi plopped down next to Xu Yan and forced the bland breakfast down. “MingMing’s out now…”
“Ah, out to get help for the little guy? Can’t be helped.” Xu Yan chewed his food and swallowed. As usual, Xie Yi had told him everything right away, so he was one of the very few people from the lower grounds who were aware of Su Liang. “You’re going over after breakfast?”
“That’s the plan”, Xie Yi agreed. “You’ll go to Zhi Ci?”
Xu Yan made a sound in agreement and then defensively turned to his food under Xie Yi’s stare. “...I can’t eat in peace if you watch me.”
“I can’t go over. How are things with her?” The black-haired youth kindly didn’t pressure his friend and swallowed the unspoken comment.
“Back up on her feet. She’s discussing with the wardens if there’s any possibility of her joining the sect, maybe with safety measures. It’s a problem since the sect leaders decided to kill any survivor of the Demonic Sect and technically, we’re not supposed to leave her alive at all.”
He lowered his fork and sighed with a downcast face.
“Shi Yue won’t let her die. There’s still hope, but it might take a long while until she can go outside.”
“She’s handling it well, though”, Xu Yan noted. “She’s training and reading all day. It’s only physical training, but she’s content. I think she’s enjoying the peace.”
“That’s good”, the other sincerely said and switched topics. “You know, maybe if he’s a bit older, I can take you to see Xiao Liang. He’s adorable!”
Xu Yan chuckled. “I know, I know. You’re saying that every time. Finish your meal and off you go to see your little nephew.”
Xie Yi beamed.
On the way to the upper grounds, an unusual figure stopped him. Her sole appearance around here was enough to attract a lot of eyes.
Ying Hua brushed some of her curling hair back behind her ear, the red-brown colour standing out a lot.
“Something the matter?”, Xie Yi asked in surprise at seeing her down here. She did not like wandering around in the sect, so she should be here for him.
Xu Yan, still next to him, bowed at seeing her and took half a step back.
“We are making a nest for Xiao Liang”, she said in her calm, sweet voice. “Come help. ...You are Xu Yan?”
“Yes!” Xu Yan flinched straight. Ying Hua was beautiful, but also a bit creepy from a normal person’s viewpoint.
“If you have nothing to do, find a cultivator to pair up with and go gather these here. The more, the better. Do it as long as you have time.” Ying Hua pulled a neatly folded piece of paper out of her sleeve and pushed it into Xu Yan’s hands.
Confused, the young man unfolded it and Xie Yi snuck a peek.
It looked like it was intended to be a request for the teachers, who would usually select some disciples for the task, but maybe it was because Xu Yan was Xie Yi’s friend that she decided to give it to him directly.
That, or because he was conveniently standing there.
The list felt endless and was packed full with names. There were mostly herbs and only some beast materials, making it a task more focused on gathering than hunting. Suitable for Xu Yan.
“Oh… Should be for the nest?”, Xu Yan muttered half to himself.
Most of them had cooling or soothing effects. Some of the herbs were noted to be brought over fully intact, so they could be replanted.
You could create a completely new environment if you used all of this right.
Only a handful of these materials were harder to find, but the majority were a hassle to deal with. For example, some of these herbs would wither very quickly, or they were incredibly sensitive to pressure, or would lose their properties if placed with…
Xu Yan felt the sweat run down his face.
What a troublesome list. But it was for Mingtian’s child, so he did not feel it wasn’t worth the trouble. “Alright. I’ll try my best.”
Ying Hua gave no further reaction and glanced at Xie Yi before turning on her heel and leaving. Xie Yi smiled wryly, waved at Xu Yan and hurried after her.
They didn’t enter the room from before, but this time a room that was placed underground. Xie Yi had not seen it before, but judging by the cluttered space above the trapdoor, it had been used as storage space.
The room itself was formed like a dice, with very even lengths on all sides. Some lanterns helped with makeshift lighting, but Xie Yi remembered a few different types of bioluminescent plants on the list that Xu Yan had.
“Xie Yi, you’re helping, too?”, Xue Hua asked when the cultivator climbed down the ladder. The avian was moving around slowly and constantly staring on the ground to make sure Su Liang didn’t walk right under his foot.
“Obviously. Xiao Liang, come and give me a hug!” He jumped the last steps and went into a crouch. Su Liang perked up and wobbled over while making growling noises.
“There’s not that much we can do right now, actually”, Xue Hua explained and glanced around. “Cleaning up, mostly. Setting up a basic formation for the nest. Yue doesn’t have suitable materials, so we have to get everything.”
The materials that Shi Yue had were numerous, but also strong. Their energy was too aggressive for a little child sensitive to spiritual energy.