Xie Yi threw Yao Ming back over his shoulder and quickly walked forward, closely followed by a calm looking Shi Yue with Xiao Zai on his arms. The girl was clinging to him like a lifeline.
The black-haired youth gave a short whistle the moment they were covered by trees and Mingtian rushed out, changed into a human form. He took Yao Ming off Xie Yi’s shoulder, gave them a questioning glance and started dashing forward at Shi Yue’s nod.
Only once they were far enough away from the city did Mingtian change into his bestial form and allowed them to sit on his back.
Feeling the wind rush through his hair, Xie Yi finally exhaled in relief. “Soon.”
“Don’t relax yet”, Shi Yue warned and pried Xiao Zai off his body. The girl turned to look at Xie Yi and jumped into his arms with quiet sniffles.
“Can you endure for another while? Once we’re in the sect, you’re completely safe. Your sister is there, too.” At the mention of Zhi Ci, Xiao Zai’s eyes brightened. She nodded several times.
Xie Yi frowned a bit. He carefully touched the girl's throat and nudged her lips to make her open her mouth. Finding nothing, he nervously stroked her hair. “Xiao Zai, can you say something?”
The girl needed a couple of seconds to reply, her eyes uncertain. “What… do you want me to say?”
Xie Yi exhaled the breath he had held and shook his head. “Nothing. It’s fine. Do you want to sleep? Or are you hungry?”
Xiao Zai stilled like a doll, nervously looking up.
“I fear they’ve started their training”, Shi Yue whispered with heartache. The girl was too quiet and well behaved.
“Is okay.” Xie Yi closed his mouth. When he opened it again, he said something that surprised even Shi Yue. “Xiao Zai, don’t think. Just do as I tell you. Notify me immediately when you’re hungry, thirsty, in pain or have to go to the toilet. Other than that, you simply have to sleep.”
Xiao Zai’s breathing stopped. She held it, exhaled slowly, and leaned on Xie Yi’s shoulder as she closed her eyes. Her little body was perfectly still even as she fell asleep.
“This-” Shi Yue frowned. He did not think this was a good approach, but Xie Yi shook his head.
“It’s her security. Orders are her stability. Not having an order, not knowing what you’re supposed to do… and what will earn you punishment if you don’t do it, it’s unsettling. I want her body to have its rest before her mind is forced to catch up with everything that happened.”
“You went through it before. I’ll let you decide”, Shi Yue agreed. He scooted over and wrapped an arm around Xie Yi, enveloping him and Xiao Zai in a blanket he had pulled out.
Xie Yi forced himself to breathe calmly. Everything, everything could wait until they were safely surrounded by cultivators in their sect. A place with a prison cell for Yao Ming and medical help for Xiao Zai.
Until then, they’d constantly put Yao Ming to sleep again - it was hardly healthy, but it was yet to be determined how the cultivator would be dealt with anyway...
Shi Yue quickly noticed that Xie Yi’s decision had been the right one. Even though Xiao Zai’s face was a bit blank, it regained a healthier colour. She slept most of the day and woke up for nutritious meals that she devoured with a hint of joy in her eyes. She never left Xie Yi’s side, always curled in his arms.
Rarely she’d glance up at Shi Yue, blinking dazedly and returning back to sleep when the Grandmaster gave her a gentle smile.
Mingtian’s ears would often twitch back when she moved, his attention clearly parted between Yao Ming, the surroundings and her. Her lethargic behaviour was too similar to what he knew Xie Yi had sometimes fallen into.
Shi Yue observed with rapt interest how Xie Yi turned into a mother hen… or dragon, more likely. He’d twitch even when it was Shi Yue who reached out to pat her head and would look around in the forest, holding her perfectly safe. It was adorable, in his eyes. It suited him better than the weak act.
Remembering what had happened in the black market made Shi Yue twist his face.
When exactly had he begun to lie and act so well? Hadn’t he always disliked lying? Why was he getting so good at it?
Xie Yi tilted his head to the side when he felt Shi Yue stare at him and blinked nonchalantly. Shi Yue held him tighter and bit Xie Yi’s lips - his disciple was colouring off on him. Bad.
Xie Yi took the punishment happily, although he would aggressively reject anything more than a quick peck unless Xiao Zai was asleep. If she was awake, she had his full attention.
Shi Yue paid it back whenever she slept.
Mingtian was the one who did the most work as they fled back towards the sect. He was constantly running, rushing forward, and gave them quick notifications when Yao Ming was starting to move. Thanks to him, no animals dared to approach and disturb them.
After days of travel, all four felt their bodies ache. Xie Yi blinked tiredly, half leaning against Shi Yue and almost dozing off a bit, when Mingtian’s whine jerked them awake.
They sat up straight, stretching their bodies to peer over Mingtian’s head forward and found themselves flushing with excitement at the sight before them.
People in the sect were almost getting used to rushing around whenever Xie Yi returned from being outside for a while. It was amusing how habits formed.
Xue Hua gave a short cry when Mingtian jumped into the upper grounds, alerting Master Chen, Li Mei and Xu Yan.
All three decisively grabbed their things and rushed outside, meeting each other before the gate of the upper grounds. They paused, exchanged awkward glances and continued to run, Master Chen at the top.
Shi Yue jumped off Mingtian’s back with Yao Ming in his arms and quickly delegated some attendants that came running. “Get me guards over here, now. Have someone prepare a cell - highest security level for now.”
He shook his head at Master Chen and the woman did a swerve, moving over to Xie Yi who was clearly carrying someone as well.
The girl kept a tight hold around Xie Yi’s neck, but stared at Xu Yan when he came into view. Xu Yan yelped, half in delight and half in worry.
“She’s-” Master Chen started asking, carefully reaching out for Xiao Zai’s hand to check her wrist.
“Victim of the Demonic Sect. Probably has undergone some treatments, shouldn’t be too much yet. Nothing irreversible or especially damaging, I hope. Can’t say the same about her mental state.”
Xiao Zai tilted her head to look up at him, her wide eyes asking a silent question. Xie Yi gave her a kiss on her forehead almost out of reflex and spoke in a low, gentle tone. “You’re safe.”
Xiao Zai shook.
A whimper bubbled up her throat, spilling over into sobs and finally breaking down into heart-wrenching cries and terrified shrieks. All fear and pressure gushed out of her, her wailing so terrible that her throat soon turned sore. Tears were streaming down her face as she clutched at Xie Yi, pulling at his clothes and non-verbally begging for reassurance.
Everyone let her cry. No one said a word about it or scolded her for her hysterical fit. Xie Yi kept her close to him, soothingly rubbing her back. Li Mei joined his side, making cooing sounds and wiping away her tears.
“I swear, we haven’t had a mess like this in all the time until you came, Xie Yi. And I’m not even mad. You stole her from right under the sect’s nose?”
“Damn right we did”, Xie Yi proudly declared. “And it won’t be the last thing we do.”
He bobbed Xiao Zai up and down like a baby and the girl calmed down. He had a feeling she was going to continue crying some other time but for now she was too exhausted.
“Shi Yue…” He whined and turned his eyes up at his lover, who had to look away to endure the puppy eyes.
“What is it?”
“She can live with me, right?”
Shi Yue was about to comment that it was too dangerous but stopped himself.
His house currently had…
A Grandmaster. A reborn Grandmaster with a demonic core that had been converted to a spiritual core (how, exactly?). A high level beast. A high level beast with the blood of a deity. An actual deity.
Added to that, two sword spirits, a little street rat and a little hatchling.
He blankly stared at the ground.
“If her health allows it. We have half a nursery anyway.”
...The sect leader wouldn’t complain when he woke up, surely.