Yao Ming's story
His chest was painful, so there was no other way than to stop for a moment and lean against the wall.
Wheezing, Yao Ming placed a hand against his heaving chest and tilted his head to lean against the wall. He was getting old. Walking for this long was getting more and more exhausting.
Aging was a scary progress. It had frightened him - to see the wrinkles fold the skin around his eyes, to notice the first couple of gray hairs, to notice that his stamina was declining. In the first place, losing his cultivation had been a shock anyway.
He didn’t remember too much about what had happened. He knew he had been part of the Virtuous Sect but had made many mistakes and was finally controlled by the Demonic Sect. Due to this, he himself had decided that he wanted to lose his cultivation and had given part of his memory.
Well, he would have probably been killed if he didn’t choose this way. Not like there was too much of a choice.
It was interesting how he could tell that he often tried to behave according to his old strength; he would misjudge how much he could work, how much he had to eat, or how long he had to rest. It had taken quite some time for him to get used to the change.
The guards here were a bit wary about him at first, which he understood and frankly, appreciated.
Not that he had appreciated it during their first meeting.
He had been miffed since they had been so overly careful, especially since now he was just a weakling.
But after a couple of months, he was thankful.
“Mister! Mister, do you need a longer break?”
One of the children noticed him lagging behind and jumped back down the stairs to check up on him. Just like many other illnesses, the recent plague affected children less than adults, and most of them survived it easily. However, the situation meant that a lot of them were left behind. 1...No, not Corona.
“I’ll be fine in a minute”, Yao Ming responded calmly.
The boy’s face scrunched up. He turned on his heel and ran forward again.
The orphanage… Well, calling it an orphanage was too much. It was merely a single house where some healthy people tried to somehow keep the left-behind children healthy and raise them. Anyway, it was a place where help was always needed, and it was the place where Yao Ming spent most of his time.
The children, gullible and yearning for love, were easy to trust adults.
They’d even trust slave traders passing through and trying to gain money from the plague.
He was thankful for the guards who watched every single person with eagle eyes and who considered everyone dangerous until proven differently.
A lot of the children he had met when he came here first were adults already. He knew all of their names and where they lived - it was his priority to make sure that they would survive and not fall to illness.
Now that there were more people helping out, the plague was slowly getting under control. Still, the aftereffects would stay for years to come.
The most recent wave had been over a year ago. Yao Ming hoped it was the last one. Resources were a bit scarce.
“Doc, you fine? Need a hand?”
The dark rumble of a guard pulled Yao Ming out of his thoughts.
Now it wasn’t one boy; there were five children, dragging two wryly smiling guards down the stairs towards him. They tugged at their clothes, yapping away.
“Alright, alright! Kids, stop pulling at us! You lot go on ahead, we will make sure he’s fine”, one of them said, shooing the kids away. Only after Yao Ming also waved his hands at them were they pacified and ran forward with happy giggles.
The guards let their eyes slide over him. “Old issues?”
“Old issues”, Yao Ming confirmed with a shrug. It was no secret that he was a former cultivator with destroyed cultivation. “I’m fine.”
“They’re nervous. Can’t be helped”, the older guard sighed and rubbed his neck. All these children had lost their parents and were sensitive to people showing signs of sickness.
“Aight, Doc, gimme your stuff.” The younger guard reached out to take away Yao Ming’s heavy bag while the other moved to stand behind Yao Ming, ready to steady him or push his back.
Yao Ming humpfed condescendingly, but his soft expression betrayed that he wasn’t offended by how they were acting. Besides, he was getting a bit old. It was fine to accept help.
Dragging his feet up the stairs, Yao Ming tilted his head to look up the sky.
How funny. Now that he was weak, he actually felt more content and peaceful than before.
The children's stories
That Mingtian turned into a cuddly little child around his father was something that Xue Hua personally saw as very endearing. He knew from their childhood how much Mingtian had suffered not having loving parents, but now there was a father who would stroke his head and tell him stories.
Xue Hua didn’t mind because it made Mingtian happy, and Su Liang didn’t mind because he loved the story sessions where he’d sit at the side in his mother’s arms.
The gathered power in the room was insane.
Once in a while, Nie would check up on Su Liang, especially once the child began to try and shift forms.
Human Su Liang was a little bun with white hair that had golden streaks and shining eyes. He looked like a little angel, especially since he still sprouted feathers here and there.
Nie looked into the clear eyes that were exactly like his mischievous son’s and never commented on Xue Hua’s soft cooing about the powerless little child.
Xie Yi found Su Liang climbing up the whole kitchen to get the cookie jar and push its accidental breaking on a bird he caught and placed in the room. He, too, never commented.
Su Liang had a lot of Mingtian. Much more than the majority of people realized.
But who could be mad at a little bun?
Especially a little bun that had skipped some stages of infancy and immediately turned into a child looking only a bit younger than Xiao Zai and Qiang Ren, toddling after them?
Aaah. He was cute.
Xue Hua would have liked another child if he didn’t know it was too dangerous.
Mingtian… Mingtian didn’t want another one. He loved Su Liang dearly, but he was relieved when the child started wandering off on his own and he could stick to his mate again.
“Mother”, Su Liang chirped, tugging at Xue Hua’s clothes. “Mother, can I have another one?”
Xue Hua’s face softened. He handed his son another of the cookies and the bun glowed in happiness.
At the side, Xiao Zai pulled a face. Maybe it was her experience in the Demonic Sect, but she was weirdly mature and had long figured the feathery bun out. Not that he was hiding the fact from her - her own cookie had landed in his stomach.
Oh, and Qiang Ren’s too.
Because Qiang Ren couldn’t say no to Su Liang, either.
“Older brother”, Xiao Zai tried to say, “don’t you think Xiao Liang should tell Xue Hua about already having gotten your cookie?” ...And mine?
“He’s growing, it’s fine”, Qiang Ren said with righteousness that made Xiao Zai’s face twitch.
So are we!! And don’t talk like cookies are nutrients!!
The girl sighed.
When she heard footsteps, she jumped up and ran over to Xie Yi, who welcomed her with open arms and picked her up. “Qiang Ren, are you teasing Xiao Zai?”
“I’m not”, Qiang Ren whined, his eyes wide with shock. He hurried to stand in front of Xie Yi with straight shoulders, trying to look reliable. “Really!”
Xie Yi pat the boy’s head and the child blushed.
Officially, only Xiao Zai was Xie Yi’s adopted daughter.
...Unofficially, he had two children.
“Xue Hua, I’ll be going out to hunt later. Want me to take the three of them along to play by the lake?”
So close to the sect, there were no stronger beasts and Su Liang’s mere presence was beginning to scare them away. Let alone the addition of a nearby Xie Yi.
“That would be awesome”, a voice shouted through the window. Mingtian stuck his face trough and grinned. “Stay for a couple of hours.”
Xue Hua blushed blue and Xie Yi grinned back. “Alright, I’ll try to waste some time. Don’t overdo it.”
The children didn’t understand the conversation, but they saw Xue Hua throw a spoon at Mingtian. In his hair, the hairpin with its delicious-looking bells (Su Liang’s comment) was jingling.
Su Liang’s happiness was a rather simple matter, but for the other two abused children, this kind of peace was their own safe haven.
Xie Yi looked down, surprised to suddenly feel the two kids cling to him even tighter. “Is something wrong?”
“Lake”, Xiao Zai mumbled into his clothes.
Xie Yi smiled. “Alright, alright. We’ll go in a second. Su Liang, come here.”
The third child toddled over with an angelic, sweet smile.
Carrying three kids, Xie Yi went to gather up his husband and some snacks, then the family left for the lake.
In the house that was left behind, Mingtian was finally able to drag his mate into the bedroom.