The guards around the Virtuous Sect saw Xie Yi coming from far away.
With the story of Xie Yi following after a demonic cultivator, everyone was excited to greet him, but he only glared at them and they fell quiet. The child in his arms was breathing deeply and had buried himself against his chest.
The guards shut their mouths and only accompanied the weary Xie Yi.
For the past numerous days, he had tried his best to keep Qiang Ren alive with his limited knowledge of what his burdened body could eat.
It was more exhausting than anything else, but Xie Yi quickly saw a type of dependence in the child’s eyes that was just too familiar, and so he continued doing his best without complaint.
“Inform Master that I’ve come, please. I’ll go into the medical ward with the child.” Li Mei would be the best person to give the boy to for now.
Qiang Ren woke up with hazy eyes when Xie Yi shifted him in his arms. He warily looked around, his small body tensing, but he relaxed at the friendly smiles of the guards and Xie Yi's calmness.
He struggled a bit and Xie Yi set him down to walk by himself.
“I’ll bring you to a senior sister of mine. She will watch over you while I take care of some important stuff. Listen to what she says, alright?”
Qiang Ren nodded quietly.
Li Mei gave him another hug when she saw him, just as tight as the last time he had gotten back from outside. It was obvious she knew about something and was relieved to see him back.
“What do you have there?”, she said in surprise at the boy looking up at her.
“A street rat. I’ll train him.”
She sighed. “You know what, whatever. You have your own mind. Come here, little guy, let’s wash you up.”
“Do you mind lending me a room while you check up on him? I think Master will come soon”, Xie Yi said softly to the female cultivator. She nodded and pointed at a room a bit farther away.
Xie Yi went inside and sat down.
In his mind, he repeated the same things over and over.
Talk, just talk. Staying quiet has never helped anyone. If you do not explain, others couldn’t understand. Surely Shi Yue would let him explain.
The minutes dragged on.
The door opened hurriedly, with too much force, but not with violence.
Shi Yue stood in the doorframe, his eyes immediately falling upon the only other person inside.
Xie Yi sat in the room, tense like a bowstring, and his eyes shining like eclipses while they were fixated on Shi Yue. He would run and fight if necessary, but he didn’t want to - that much he made clear by sitting at all.
Shi Yue exhaled and found himself deflating a bit. Xie Yi looked a bit thinner, which made him unhappy, but not worse for the wear.
“Welcome back home”, Shi Yue said quietly and it was more than enough.
“I’m home”, Xie Yi whispered back and the bright colours faded from his eyes.
Shi Yue closed the door behind himself, then went to sit opposite of Xie Yi. In a soft voice, he started with something less important.
“I heard that you brought back a boy?”
“A street rat. I felt he was similar to me, so I decided on a whim. He can be Su Liang’s playmate later”, Xie Yi explained readily.
The silence returned.
Xie Yi looked up and tilted his head softly. His black fringe fell to the side. “How long… I mean, when did you begin to remember?”
Shi Yue sighed softly. “After the coma. That time is like a dream for me, but… For you, it’s reality, isn’t it? You remembered from the start.”
“Yes, I was brought back here. To that time.” He paused, then averted his eyes. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what else I can say, but… I’m sorry.”
“No, I have to apologize. I thought it would be fine to just talk to you about it, but I didn’t consider the full picture.” Shi Yue lowered his eyes and looked at his hands on his lap. “There’s only one thing I have to say about it.”
He raised his head again and stared at Xie Yi until the other met his eyes.
“Right now, you are the Virtuous Sect’s member, Xie Yi, and my succeeding disciple. Things that have never happened will not change that. I will believe in the ‘you’ that I know.”
Xie Yi was stunned, then laughed softly. His cheeks flushed a bit. “You know, this is why I like you. Thanks.”
The gentle gaze made Shi Yue’s breath hitch. He opened his mouth to respond, but Xie Yi changed the topic before he could react.
“From now on, I’ll not hold back on any information. You can ask me whatever you want.”
...Aaaaaand the moment to respond was gone.
Xie Yi’s bright eyes were expectantly fixed on Shi Yue, as if he was ready to answer absolutely anything to prove his willingness to work with him.
Shi Yue smiled wryly.
“Okay. We can do this slowly, there is no need to rush.” He paused for half a second. “There is one thing I do want to ask… Why did you change so much?”
Xie Yi breathed out slowly. His smile was lopsided. “Aah… What should I say? My world broke down around me and I did not know how to continue, so the next time I opened my eyes, I decided to stick to you… As the kindest person that I knew existed. Because I did not want to go down that hopeless route again. If you want to, I’ll tell you the whole story.”
“I would appreciate that”, Shi Yue agreed. “But for now, maybe you can tell me where you were?”
“I was in the Singing City, the black market.”
Shi Yue had visited most larger cities before, including this one in particular. He, too, had spent time trying to find the entrance to the market before. “You know how to enter it?”
“Yeah, of course. It’s not-” Xie Yi paused, then awkwardly chuckled. “Or maybe it is hard? I don’t know. Memorizing the way wasn’t as hard as other things I had to learn.”
“There are rumours that the Demonic Sect has an outpost down there”, Shi Yue carefully inquired.
Xie Yi nodded. “There is. But the reason why the city is important… Is that Xiao Zai is there right now. Shi Yue, I think they are trying to raise her like they raised me. We have to get her out soon.”
“You mean into-” -a monster?
Shi Yue stopped himself from finishing the sentence, but the sight of what Xie Yi - no, sect leader Tiankong - had been towards the end was stuck in his mind.
A half mutated human, a patchwork of various creatures. He had experienced the effect of the strength that this brought firsthand, but that did not lower the level of cruelty.
“Yeah, exactly that”, Xie Yi sighed. “I didn’t think much of it, back then. It was something that gave me strength and that was all that mattered, but looking back on it, it was pretty horrible.”
He shook his head as if to stop thinking about it.
“I’m getting off track.”
Quickly, he recounted what had happened outside and Shi Yue nodded. Before long, he had pulled out ink and a piece of paper and was jotting things down.
“I have way too many questions and don’t even know where to start”, Shi Yue mumbled to himself. “Right, the sect leader. What about him? Do you know what’s wrong?”
Time passed in a long question and answer session. No one came to disturb them while Shi Yue filled sheet over sheet with the information they needed right now.
The flowers, the possible mind control, the outpost at the Singing City and Xiao Zai.
Xie Yi was almost embarrassed that he couldn’t answer all the detailed questions Shi Yue gave him, but he hadn’t looked out that well. It was the habit of an overpowered being to walk through the world without the need to truly watch out for what might be happening around him.
What did the Madame look like? In what direction was she walking, what was there? Were there any higher-ups of the Demonic Sect around? Did anyone other than that group talk about Xiao Zai?
Xie Yi shamefully lowered his head, but Shi Yue was smiling brightly.
“Don’t look downcast. This is more information than we would have gotten any other way. Xie Yi, I’m not sure if you’re truly aware of how precious all of this is.” He paused patted his disciple’s back. “I’m thankful that you’re so cooperative even though I must have… scared you, suddenly pushing you into a corner like that.”
“I’ll be as cooperative as you need. With all my weird, slightly distorted knowledge.” Xie Yi chuckled and rubbed his neck. “I got nervous when you suddenly tried to talk to me about it. My sword spirit was the one who said I shouldn’t go back immediately, even though I had planned to.”
Shi Yue scratched his nose and averted his eyes. “That was a good decision.”
Because Xie Yi had found information about Xiao Zai but also… Well, to be honest, Shi Yue shouldn’t have thought of himself as blameless.
Master Chen had been right. He had been pretty self-centered, not even considering Xie Yi’s view of the matter.