Caught up on his thoughts, Xie Yi sat quietly for a long time.
He only twitched out of it when he heard the sound of two children walking around upstairs, likely searching for people. Both children weren’t allowed down here and had followed the rule obediently.
Xie Yi climbed the ladder back up and found Qiang Ren holding Xiao Zai’s hand and leading her around.
“Master”, Qiang Ren called in his childish, high voice.
“I’m not”, Xie Yi rejected quickly. It was a new word Qiang Ren had learned.
The boy looked at him blankly. “But… But you teach me and you bought me…”
Was he going to explain to the boy what the exact situation was?
...No, that was a hassle. “Okay, fine. Call me Master, but remember you’re not my disciple. I’m only teaching you and taking care of you.”
A teacher for a day is a father for life. Considering he was halfway Qiang Ren’s guardian, it was acceptable for now. “Ah Ren, were you searching for me?”
“Yes. Xiao Zai says she’s not feeling too well.”
“Ah? Why didn’t you go directly to Li Mei or Master Chen. Come here, Xiao Zai. What’s wrong?”
The girl sniffled and grabbed Xie Yi’s hand with her free one. Her face was slightly reddish and felt warm to the touch. The dependency in her eyes was clearly visible, as well as her trust.
She was too scared to go to anyone else.
“Okay, well done. Thanks for bringing her to me. Let’s go to your room.” Xie Yi picked both children up, easily carrying each of them in an arm.
Manoeuvring through the lines of arrays, he made his way to the large bed and climbed onto it with the two. Xiao Zai sat on his lap, weakly leaning against his chest. Qiang Ren was watching nervously.
Xie Yi let his spiritual energy run softly through Xiao Zai. He felt the areas where she had been operated on - nothing bad, thankfully, they were likely only cutting her open to check the status of her organs rather than changing anything in her body.
What was raging inside her body was similar to an inflammation. Her young body could not take the beginning of demonic cultivation she was forced to start.
There wasn’t a lot, but it was enough to affect her. Demonic cultivation was violent and unsurprisingly unhealthy for someone her age. Compared to spiritual cultivation, you would have to start about a decade later with cultivating unless you wanted to risk your health taking a dip.
However, in those scums’ eyes, that kind of problem could be solved by more disgusting traditions.
“Am I bad?” Xiao Zai shivered in his arms when Xie Yi did not say anything in a while.
“Everything’s alright, little one. You’re only exhausted and need a rest for now.”
“I’m sorry for causing trouble…” Xiao Zai curled up tighter. She was frightened - what if Xie Yi would not like her anymore?
“You’re not causing trouble. I’m your family now and family is never troublesome.” Xie Yi hugged her closer. With her against his chest, he also tugged Qiang Ren forward into a loose hug. “Family does not mean blood-bonds. I’m your family if you want me to be.”
Xiao Zai nodded through her tears. It took a long time until she settled down with her fever. Qiang Ren responsibly snuggled into the blanket next to her like a little guardian.
“I miss my sister”, Xiao Zai whispered sadly and closed her eyes.
Xie Yi pursed his lips.
This was something he would have to talk to Shi Yue about.
Once the thought had settled, it stuck. Xie Yi stayed in the room for a couple of hours, holding Xiao Zai in his arm and conversing with Qiang Ren in whispers as the boy tried to practice reading simple words.
Halfway through, Su Liang slipped into the room and joined them. He curled around Xiao Zai’s sleeping figure and stared at the book in Qiang Ren’s hands with raised ears. Like a sponge, both children were sucking up any knowledge they were given.
Xie Yi left the room silently after all three had bundled up together for a nap. With a grim face, he first wandered around the upper grounds, before deciding to go back down the lower grounds.
The teachers he passed by greeted him kindly and the disciples nervously tensed. Some of them, those he had entered the sect with, had complicated expressions on their faces but greeted him directly. Watching the disciple practice, Xie Yi felt his mood smoothen.
“Long time no see”, a youthful voice broke into his thoughts. Xie Yi placed his head in his neck and smiled up at Xu Yan. “Is making the younger generation nervous your new hobby?”
“I’m thinking and this is calming me down.”
“Great.” Xu Yan plopped onto the grass next to him.
“...Are you angry because I haven’t visited you in a while?”
“We are friends, Xiao Yi, not lovers. I don’t need you around all day. I know you were busy with the kids and deciding what’s going to happen.”
“What were you up to these days?”
“Learning first aid. I dunno, I somehow have a feeling it’s going to be very useful soon.” Xu Yan gave a depressed smile, then his eyes lit up. “And I’ve been visiting Zhi Ci. I told her about Xiao Zai.”
Xie Yi perked up. “How did she react?”
“She cried. A lot, honestly. And she asked who is taking care of Xiao Zai. When I told her that she’s with you, she was incredibly relieved. She asked me to tell you that she will never forget this.”
“I’m going to ask Shi Yue if we can let the two of them meet. Xiao Zai needs her support.”
“That would be nice. Zhi Ci will be very happy to see her.” Xu Yan laughed and punched Xie Yi’s shoulder. “Just started dating and already turned into a dad.”
“In a way, I’m even older than Shi Yue. It wouldn’t be too early.” Xie Yi shrugged his shoulders with a lopsided smile.
“What’s Master Li’s opinion on it?”
“I think he’s fine with it. He likes children.” Xie YI paused for a moment. “Xu Yan, you have a pretty large family outside, don’t you?”
“Yes? My parents and several siblings. They moved into a larger house with the money I make here. You haven’t met them yet.” Xu Yan tilted his head and squinted his eyes.
“Contact them. It might be that they will have to come up here soon, for safety reasons.”
“I don’t want to risk not telling you. I’ll take Feng Yan up here once it’s time”, Xie Yi said decisively.
“How does the sect plan on doing this? The sect grounds aren’t small, but there are a lot of people here. If everyone takes their family up here, and then maybe the extended family… The sect isn’t a city. It can’t house that many people.”
“Extended family?” Xie Yi’s eyes widened.
“Grandparents. Cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews. Close friends, maybe precious servants. Most people have a pretty large network of people that they hold very dear.”
Xie Yi frowned. Maybe because one half of his family was already here and the other half was only a single person, he hadn’t thought about this.
What would Shi Yue do?
“In any way, people will be hurt. This is not a decision that has a right answer.” Xu Yan sighed deeply and rubbed his forehead. He himself only had his family, so taking them up would hopefully not be an issue.
“What do you think he will do?”
“He will have to set a limit. Either a limited person count or that only the direct family is allowed to come into hiding. Worst case, only certain people will be informed at all to bring their family up here.”
Xie Yi chewed on his lip. He could help increase the ground they could protect - since he knew a lot about the Demonic Sect, he also knew how to protect himself against certain types of attacks and which arrays would be useful on the long run.
“Wars start long before the actual fight”, Xu Yan said ominously. “I hope the preparation will go well.”
Xie Yi exhaled. There was still a bit left. The war they’d start was based on Xiao Zai’s information, so they would have to wait for that.