The next morning, Xie Yi pulled out some rope from his storage ring and tied it around his wrists to fixate the troublesome loose sleeves.
When he walked into Xiang Zhe’s room, the disciple was already awake and dressed. Xie Yi used his teeth to tie a knot, then looked at his arms with satisfaction. Now the fabric wouldn’t move around so much.
“Are we leaving?”, he asked and Shi Yue followed him inside. The Grandmaster nodded.
“Yes. Let’s hope nothing happens on the way back.”
Xie Yi approached Xiang Zhe, who awkwardly retreated half a step. “I can walk until we are out of the city.”
“Sure.” The other shrugged. He could understand why Xiang Zhe wouldn’t want to be seen being carried.
They walked in Xiang Zhe’s pace, which was quite leisurely but alright, since they also bought some breakfast on the way for the two younger disciples that needed meals more regularly.
Once back in the forest, Xie Yi squatted down and exhaled through his nose. Xiang Zhe hesitated for half a second, then decided that just getting on was better than testing his senior's patience.
Shi Yue had a hard time keeping his face straight at the sight of Xiang Zhe hugging his arms around Xie Yi’s neck and his legs around the other’s slim waist.
Both of them still had some childish features on their faces, looking very much the same age.
Suddenly, Shi Yue felt old.
Out of the other three present people, only Xie Yi knew his master well enough to notice the subtle shift in mood, but because Shi Yue was looking at Xiang Zhe, he assumed that the Grandmaster was worried about the disciple’s health.
That, or that Xie Yi might let him fall…
With the determination of not causing trouble, Xie Yi carried Xiang Zhe steady like an ox. Even the one who was carried relaxed soon enough. It didn’t look like Xie Yi was carrying anything of weight.
It took a couple of days to reach the outer vicinity of the sect grounds. Xiang Zhe’s health returned and he could walk on his own again, much to everyone’s relief.
They still slowed down but because Xie Yi had been in too similar a situation noot very long ago, he was incredibly tolerant and did not treat Xiang Zhe as bad as usual.
Every night, both teachers gave him a full checkup. The issues in his body were vanishing slowly, as if they hadn’t been bad from the start. Even the injury on his arm healed well.
Xie Yi circled around Shi Yue as they walked. His master had started frowning a while ago and it got deeper and deeper, the more they approached the sect. It should be a good thing, but Shi Yue didn’t look happy about it.
Xie Yi glanced at the sky and listened. No smoke, no sounds of screaming or fights.
No reason to worry at all.
But because it was his master, Xie Yi switched into an alert mode unconsciously. With his half blocked abilities and his body not adjusted to the possible strength of his core, he could not sense everything that the Grandmaster did.
The teacher and Xiang Zhe only reacted to the change in aura around Xie Yi. Mild surprise coloured their faces.
Shi Yue threw him an appreciative glance. Paying close attention to any subtle change in your teammates was important, and no possible danger should be ignored.
“The mood feels weird.” It was a bit too quiet. It was a bright, sunny day with only a few clouds, but there were no disciples around.
“Let’s hurry a bit, I can take it”, Xiang Zhe insisted nervously.
For once, Shi Yue did not reject the goodwill and simply picked up his pace.
Light-footed, the four of them came closer and closer to the sect. Soon, even Xiang Zhe’s face twisted a bit. By now, there should already be guards around.
The only calming aspect was that none of them could find any signs of fights out there. If there had been, Shi Yue would have left them behind and ran right back on his own, but like this, he was only uncertain of what was going on.
“Could it be”, Xie Yi suddenly muttered, “something with the raid?”
While Shi Yue had gone to find him, the rest of the raid group had been supposed to return. Although he couldn’t think of anything terrible that might have happened during a common raid, Xie Yi considered the possibility.
“The raids happen often. There shouldn’t be larger accidents”, the teacher wondered.
Shi Yue blanched. Only he knew that this one raid had not been common, not at all. This one had caught their attention because of the Demonic Sect’s elders.
With his worry in mind, Shi Yue unconsciously sped up. Xie Yi waved his hand at the teacher behind him, who glanced at the tense Grandmaster and slowed down with the still injured Xiang Zhe. Instead it was Xie Yi who kept up with Shi Yue and did not leave his side.
The sect was eerily quiet and the number of guards outside had doubled. When they spotted their Grandmaster, their faces lit up. They didn’t even try standing in his way but quickly opened the door and made space for him.
Shi Yue stormed inside.
Medical cultivators were running around, one of them Li Mei. She did not notice the newcomers, but Shi Yue gently grabbed her arm in passing and stopped.
Li Mei flinched in surprise, then saw who it was that had stopped her and almost let the bottles in her hand fall. She gripped the Grandmaster’s sleeves.
“Li Mei”, Shi Yue tensely said. “What happened?”
“It’s the sect leader”, she stuttered, tears brimming in her eyes. “Him, and almost all of the rest… They’re-”
She stopped herself in the middle of the sentence, eyes darting around.
Shi Yue would have commended her for not talking about details in front of the other disciples, but he was in no mood to do so.
“Lead us.” Xie Yi was the one to interject, curtly squeezing Li Mei’s shoulders. She bit her lip and continued on her way, now followed by the two cultivators.
A number of disciples called out for them in passing, but Shi Yue ignored every single one.
The ward was reeking of blood. It took Xie Yi the sight of an injured person to even notice the smell after what he had gone through in the canyon, but when he noticed, it hit him hard.
The rooms were filled up with people that were heavily injured, all teachers. Although their injuries were ugly, they were all conscious.
Quite different was the sect leader.
Xie Yi frowned when he entered the room, irritated by something for a moment, but then distracted by the sect leader.
States of unconsciousness were not that uncommon for cultivators. They were mostly induced by injuries to their core, resulting in the body shutting down to rest.
The sect leader was not conscious, but he wasn’t in a fully unconscious state.
His face was taut and distorted with concentration, sweat running down his temples. An attendant carefully wiped it away with a wet towel, nervously standing at his side.
A prickling, slightly yellow, white mist was diffusing in the room. It was hardly noticeable at first glance, but just breathing in told Xie Yi that this was the sect leader’s spiritual energy.
“Don’t touch him!” Master Chen’s harsh voice stopped Shi Yue from reaching out for his master. She stepped out from a corner, looking exhausted. “You absolutely mustn’t disturb him if not necessary! Don’t use spiritual energy in this room either!”
The whole room was void of any arrays, quite unusual. The only movement of spiritual energy was coming from the softly groaning old man on the bed.
All people in the room had lowered heads and never stopped moving around, changing water or wiping the old man’s sweat or fetching things. Everyone was busy with something.
“I’ll come to hate this question if this continues”, Shi Yue growled, swallowing a curse. “What happened? This is no coincidence. What did the Demonic Sect do?”
“Something”, Master Chen spat out. “A something that exploded under the sect leaders feet when they were on their way back. The explosion was nothing bad according to everyone else, but the mist that came out was. No one quite remembers what happened, but afterwards they were all injured and the sect leader was on the ground, the mist gone.”
“So? What is wrong with him?”
“I can’t tell you. He’s fighting against something; poison, maybe, and I don’t dare give him more than a physical examination. If I disrupt him, he might lose the fight. And I don’t think I can win against something that has him in this state since we found him.”
Xie Yi went closer to the sect leader and scrunched his nose.
Shi Yue clenched his fists. “This was planned from the start. Yao Ming appearing at this time and the attacks on both sides.”
“Yao Ming?” Master Chen made a confused sound, then shook her head. “Anyway, you’ll tell me if I need to know. For now, I will watch him as I watched over you when you were unconscious. He is a tad bit better today than he was yesterday, and yesterday was a tad bit better than the day before. I think he’s winning.”
In a gentle gesture, she wrapped an arm around Shi Yue’s shoulder and leaned her head against his shoulder. Shi Yue choked out a sound to confirm he had heard her.
Xie Yi frowned even deeper. Standing half leaning over the sect leader, he sniffed again. Then he hesitated. “Master?”
“What is it?” Maybe because Xie Yi’s tone was weird, Shi Yue forced himself to concentrate his attention on his disciple.
“Can I talk to Zhi Ci? Now, if possible? I have something to ask her.” He stepped back and uncertainly chewed on his lip.
“Ask her what? Does it have something to do with what is happening here?”
The young man wasn’t sure he was on the right track. It was only a hint, but a hint was better than nothing when dealing with demonic cultivators.
“Maybe. I want to ask her… If she has seen a certain type of plants in the Demonic Sect.”
Because the sect leader vaguely smelled sweet, like the stench of rotting meat mixed with the scent of flowers.