The Grandmaster looked down at the dark face of his disciple and gently patted his back. “Do you want to take a rest?”
“I want to go for a swim”, Xie Yi mumbled in a depressed mood. He had hoped everyone would be a bit more united.
“In the lakes? I’m not sure if it’s the weather for that”, Shi Yue mused with a glance up into the cloudy sky. “Anything else?”
Xie Yi remembered the group of disciples that he had met the last time in this sect. Shuddering, he pulled a face. “Anything that ensures I’m not likely to walk into anyone I know.”
Remembering what he had heard from Xie Yi, Shi Yue patted his shoulder in understanding. “Maybe a walk, then.”
As impatient as they were, they had to wait for the next day for everyone to make a decision. Waking up in the morning, Xie Yi was ready to face more discussions, but the sect leader informed them that several cultivators had asked for another day to consider.
Annoyed, Shi Yue only agreed after he saw Xie Yi smiling lightly.
“It’s your birthday tomorrow. I did not intend to have any sort of distraction on that day”, Shi Yue unhappily said.
Xie Yi found it funny. It was his birthday, but he had to pacify both Mingtian and Shi Yue. “I don’t really care that much. You said there would be a festival this weekend, right? Let’s postpone my birthday there! I don’t need anything tomorrow.”
“But-” Both Shi Yue and Mingtian spoke up at the same time, then exchanged disgruntled glances.
“If you try to give me anything tomorrow, I’ll reject it”, Xie Yi decided. “It’s not like it’s my actual birthday. We don’t even know when that is. It’s no trouble to have it a few days later this year.”
Xue Hua spoke up calmly, looking at his mate and his partner. “Although I can understand your thoughts, please don’t forget the levels of importance. It’s better to have a nice birthday during the festival than do it tomorrow, when the mood is tense after the meeting.”
“That’s… true”, Shi Yue admitted and deflated.
Mingtian whined, then hugged his mate sadly. He didn’t go against him, but he was not in full agreement.
Xue Hua looked at the youth he was already seeing as a sort of in-law and tilted his head while momentarily glancing at the Grandmaster in the group. Xie Yi gave him a tiny nod, then tugged at Shi Yue’s sleeve.
“In return, can you make me dinner tomorrow? With wine?”
Shi Yue’s face lightened. “Of course. Is there anything you want to eat?”
There… actually wasn’t, but Xie Yi hurried to make up a few dishes. After he had named several and asked for three flasks of Shi Yue’s more precious wines, the Grandmaster had stopped scowling.
Xue Hua found it rather amusing, even if it didn’t show on his face.
Sadly enough, Xue Hua’s words had been a jinx.
Although everyone agreed in the meeting, the tension was suffocating. Not everyone in the room got along, and some had different ideas on how to proceed. Only the Virtuous Sect, who had a different task than others, was somehow left out.
That did not stop the other cultivators from pressuring Shi Yue on the informant’s identity, though. Shi Yue mixed truths with lies, answering easily enough that his words were believable at least.
It was mostly Xie Yi who got more and more annoyed. How could he not tell that out of these people, the majority was trying to find out his identity for advantages?
Surely, they themselves wanted to take the precious informant to their home.
Even on the side of spiritual cultivators, even in the face of war, even then… Even then, some people could not surpass their own greed.
Their insistence was straining his nerves and soon enough, Shi Yue was forced to let Xie Yi leave first and endure the cultivators on his own. He did not want to risk Xie Yi’s mood getting even worse.
Upon hearing that it was Xie Yi’s birthday, the sect leader made an exception and allowed Shi Yue to use a separate kitchen in the evening. To avoid others coming by, Shi Yue quickly finished cooking, then hurried off into the forest, where Xie Yi was waiting for him.
Su Liang, whose intelligence was steadily growing after having devoured a bellflower fruit, allowed Xie Yi to hug him and patted his small paw on the youth’s head.
He made some noises that sounded a lot like ‘There, there’, causing Xie Yi to laugh.
Even the cub could tell that this YiYi person, who was very nice and not scary and had protected him and was close to his papa and mama, was in a bad mood.
Whining, Su Liang called his papa to come over for a hug and Mingtian jumped up instantly to embrace both his son and his brother in his long arms.
“Xue Hua, did you hear that?”, he happily called to his mate.
“I can’t understand his whines”, Xue Hua responded with a deadpan voice. “Just like you can’t understand his whistles. So, yes, I did hear it but no, I don’t know what you’re happy about.”
“He called me for a hug”, Mingtian proudly declared. It was a good sign of Su Liang’s increasing intelligence, that he was starting to use a cub’s calls with certain intentions.
“I also think he’s consoling me”, Xie Yi guessed correctly. He felt a bit touched, so his face softened. “Thanks, little guy.”
Su Liang yipped.
He did not participate in the small feast that Shi Yue had single-handedly prepared - and that was uncharacteristically placed on the floor in the middle of a forest rather than neatly on a table.
Xie Yi thought he had chosen the dishes well. They were pretty tasty.
“How is the plan, Yue? Xie Yi roughly summarised what happened this morning.” Xue Hua blindly handed his mate a bowl with meat and kept his eyes on his partner.
Shi Yue lowered his hand holding his chopsticks. “For now, we will wait until the festival is over. Afterwards, I think it’s best if we part ways… Mingtian, you can change your size, can’t you?”
“Can.” Hearing the serious tone, Mingtian did not joke around and confirmed it immediately.
“I would like for Xue Hua to return to the sect with Su Liang. I and Xie Yi will officially go to the Singing City to participate in one of the auctions that is happening there. We won’t hurry too much; it’s better if we look as usual. That’s why we will travel by foot and Mingtian can follow us, hidden.”
“So, only us two will free Xiao Zai?”, Xie Yi asked. He thought it was a good idea; they were basically two Grandmasters and could move quicker than in a larger group.
“Yes. Mingtian will wait outside of the city. He is responsible to ensure that we can go back as quickly as possible. We will not be able to hide that we have taken Xiao Zai away, so it’s safer this way.”
“We should be able to confuse them”, Xie Yi added. “Shi Yue, try to let me fight as much as possible. Don’t forget, I can still use demonic energy. They might search for a traitor within their own rows first if we are lucky.”
“So we’d have to change our appearances. That would be for the best anyway.”
“I know a really good store!” (Somewhere else, someone sneezed.)
“Then that’s what we will do. Any objections?”
Xue Hua looked mildly unhappy at being sent home, but he understood that only Mingtian following them was much more convenient due to his ability to change sizes. Moreover, he wouldn’t like Su Liang getting too close to the Demonic Sect. “None.”
Mingtian was satisfied at being able to accompany Xie Yi. “None!”
And Xie Yi… would have agreed, even if the plan was completely stupid. “Nope.”
“Good.” Shi Yue paused, feeling relieved at finally being able to let the matter rest and turn to the topic he found more important right now. “Xie Yi, how do you want to spend you slightly late birthday? The fireworks will be lit during the late evening.”
“Then…” Xie Yi scratched his neck. “Hmm. It would be nice to eat dinner in the city and then go watch fireworks. As for noon… Maybe we could all go take a stroll? See if there’s anything nice to buy?”
“I’ll pay”, Mingtian interjected quickly. “You can choose whatever you want!”
“Same goes for me”, Shi Yue agreed. “You can just choose things as you please, the two of us will give it to you. Think of it as presents and an apology for having to move the day.”
I actually really don’t care about that…
Xie Yi did not try to convince them that the day itself didn’t matter again. He simply gave a content smile at the thought of going on a shopping spree. “How about we eat lunch in the city, too? It’s probably more convenient.”
“Let’s give the day a slow start, in that case. You can wake up whenever you want to and I’ll make us breakfast. After that…”
“Oh! Oh, oh! I want to go to the bath house again!”
“...After that we will go to the bathhouse and then start strolling around.”
The main reason why Xie Yi missed the scowl on Shi Yue’s face was probably because he did not think that there would be anything making Shi Yue unhappy about it.
“Did they have cold baths?”, Xue Hua asked slowly. “And… do they allow beasts?”
“They did have cold baths, yes. As for beasts…” Two of them were in a humanoid form and the third one… was so adorable, the youth couldn’t imagine them saying no. “We will have to ask but I’m sure it’s fine.”