All new disciples were parted into smaller groups and then assigned to their temporary guardians for bringing them to the sect. After all, not everyone had a large spiritual beast, and the younger ones especially had to be watched closely to make sure they wouldn't fall down during the flight.
The children didn't complain but obediently lowered their heads, huddling closely around whomever they'd go with and keeping their mouths shut in order to not miss anything said. Even the richer, more arrogant children that had just joined them all were quietly following the rules.
Only Xie Yi was stubbornly staring up at Shi Yue, who was looking down at him in ease.
The little boy was looking so desperate at being taken along by him, it was almost funny. At the same time, he seemed like he wouldn’t take a no for an answer. And that was something to say, considering that Master and Grandmaster-level cultivators had quite some aura.
“If you can convince my beast to let you ride him, then you can”, Shi Yue finally decided, whistling.
A loud cry answered him and moments later, the cultivators parted to make space for a huge bird.
It had long tail feathers and a beautiful crown, looking very much like a phoenix if it wasn’t for its icy colour and the rainbow coloured eyes. Even just its eyes were larger than a grown man's fist, and the bird's wings were gigantic. All in all it looked terribly imposing, especially when its crown stood up arrogantly as it landed.
It affectionately chirped as it greeted next to Shi Yue, rubbing its head that was larger than the humans against him. For a beast like this, it was obvious to see that it loved its partner a lot.
“This is Xue Hua”, Shi Yue introduced him. The bird beast, being easily as intelligent as a human, turned his head to glance at the boy his partner and master was looking at.
Small. Insignifact. Weak-
The bird shivered, hiding the movement by shaking its feathers.
No, not weak at all. Scary. Really. Damn. Scary.
What was with his eyes? Why did such a young child look like it wanted to pluck his feather and bake him for dinner? Hey now, is that really a glare a little human should have?
“He’s my precious partner”, Shi Yue muttered almost to himself, smoothing Xue Hua’s feathers with a gentle gaze. He hadn't noticed the dark look at all and was quite focused on ordering some ruffled feathers.
Instantly, the beast felt the terrifying gaze vanish. Instead, the child was looking at his master with a gaze full of admiration.
“I understand”, he said in his tiny voice, then approached the bird and held out his hand. “My name is Xie Yi. It’s nice to meet you.”
They stared at each other for a moment.
Well, it looks like this human adores my partner as much as I do. It should be okay to get along as long as he doesn’t go overboard - the bird thought.
Well, it looks like this beast is precious to Shi Yue. It’s important to get along with those Shi Yue likes - the boy thought.
A silent pact of armistice was formed. The bird lowered his head to greet the boy, earning the shocked looks of a number of cultivators and the curious gaze of two Grandmasters - one of them still hidden in the clouds. High level spiritual beasts didn't just greet people and allowed them to get onto their back. Most certainly not just a little child without power and no bond to their partner.
“It seems you are riding with me then. Xie Yi, you may call me ‘Master Li’ for now. I expect you to follow my orders, or you might fall”, Shi Yue carefully explained, watching the boy’s face light up cutely, like a puppy wagging his tail.
“Yes, Master!”, he chirped sweetly, looking quite overjoyed at being acknowledged by Shi Yue. He was displaying zero fear on his face for actually falling off the bird.
Shi Yue expected to have to help the child get onto the back of the beast, especially since flying could be quite frightening at first, but the lively boy had no trouble climbing up the magical beast and was staring at him expectantly.
Shi Yue shook his head to himself and got on as well, making a small sound to show his readiness for flight. Xue Hua acknowledged it with a cry, then stretched his gigantic wings and leaped into the air. He didn’t wait for the others as he took off, making his way to the sect and tightly holding his new disciple to his chest.
He stared down, wondering what to do if Xie Yi started to cry.
...A useless worry.
Giggling happily, Xie Yi had turned his nose up into the wind, excitedly looking around as he leaned against Shi Yue without a hint of embarrassment. Like it was the most natural thing to do, he was tightly snuggled in the cultivator’s embrace. For him, it was the best place on earth.
He has a strong mind, Shi Yue thought to himself, once again surprised. The boy was anything other than ordinary, which also made him suspicious. At the same time, he couldn’t have faked the intent of his energy - the boy adored him to the point of mindless devotion.
Had they maybe met before? Maybe he had saved his life or something like that, otherwise, he couldn’t explain why such a young child would act like a religious follower.
Shi Yue relaxed his tight hold, seeing that the boy was perfectly fine, and calmly patted his head, causing the boy to giggle and smile even happier.
Actually, quite cute.
Xie Yi had no idea what was going on in his new master’s mind, but he could tell the other was in a good mood and that was enough to send his heart soaring.
“Master”, he happily said. “I’m looking forward to being taught by you! I’ll not shame you!”
Shi Yue nodded softly, satisfied with his disciple’s motivation and not dampening it by reminding him that he hadn't been fully accepted yet. It was just a probation.
“In two-... no, give me just one year, I’ll be able to leave all of them in the mud!”
Quite ambitious, but that was normal for children.
“I’ll destroy anyone in my way”, Xie Yi said, beaming.
...Now, that sounded a wee bit wrong.
Shi Yue felt the side of his lips twitch slightly. “How about we don’t destroy anyone, but rather win against them in a fair challenge and prove our strength like that, hm?”
Xie Yi paused and blinked, then continued smiling. “Okay. That’s fine, too.”
Not just fine, preferable, please.
“Have you gone to school before, Xie Yi? Or had a teacher of some sort?”, Shi Yue carefully inquired, seeing the young boy behave so strangely. The child just wiggled his legs and stared out into nowhere.
“No, I’ve been living with uncle Feng Yan this year.”
“And before that?”
Xie Yi thought about his past. Before that, huh. Before that, he had been the leader of the Demonic Sect, trying his best to make you happy but ending up causing your gruesome death.
Shi Yue was just wondering whether he had asked for too much when the boy spoke in monotone, his eyes empty. “I lived out on the streets. There were bad people, they taught me things. But I don’t think they were good things.”
He lowered his eyes to his hands holding onto Shi Yue’s arm around his body. Warm and gentle. Peaceful. “I don’t know what things are bad. Hey, you are going to teach me, right?”
Another head pat, calming. Xie Yi found himself tilt his head to press himself against the warm palm, wishing for his most favourite person to continue the warm contact.
“Of course. I will teach you anything you need to know. Whenever you are uncertain, you can always come to me.”
Xie Yi cuddled himself closer to his master in response, earning a soft sigh. Unbeknown to him, his master was already wondering how he could rid his disciple of that habit. Going around, cuddling people so defenselessly, if he grew up as cute as he looked right now, it would be rather dangerous in several ways.
Xue Hua called out as they reached the sect a mere hour later, its amazing speed only acceptable due to Shi Yue quietly creating a barrier around them. There was no hiding it from Xie Yi, of course, who was familiar with flying on beasts, but he didn’t comment on it.
Instead, he curiously stared at the sect that the beautiful bird was circling over without command, finally able to take his time and quietly take a look at everything.
The sect hadn’t changed too much from what it would look like in over a hundred years.
The sect was built on a mountaintop, surrounded by steep cliffs and deep forest, throning above everything like a divine city.
There were steps up to it, but no person would ever make the journey. (There was actually a story that those that managed to finish the climb in less than a week would be taken into the sect. It was a fact, but people hadn’t tried for so long that it had turned into a rumor.)
The first building marked the main entrance of the sect grounds which were encircled by high, lavishly decorated walls.
It was a building several stories high, including everything that you’d need to invite and deal with guests you didn’t actually want to let into the main part.
The entrance was followed by the main building, which included all kinds of rooms for classes and, in the higher storeys, rooms for more prominent guests. Before it was the courtyard, and encircling it were the rooms for guards and the dormitory for disciples and attendants.
There were also training grounds, a building prepared for practice of all kinds and the stables for common beasts.
That part was the common ground, separated from the higher grounds by the large teacher dormitory. Behind that, people couldn’t randomly visit. As if to emphasize the point, it was encased by an additional barrier, so it was the first time Xie Yi could take an actual look at it.
The middle courtyard was a work of art. Carefully placed plants surrounded the artificially created lake, including a small pavilion on the water. Two smaller gardens for precious herbs were placed at its side and then, growing in size and beauty towards the back, were the houses of the master-level cultivators. The centermost building behind the lake was where the most precious treasures and scrolls of the sect were hidden, surrounded by the houses of the only two Grandmasters within the sect - the sect leader and Shi Yue.
At Xue Hua’s cry, the higher levelled, highly intelligent beasts living in the hidden courtyard looked up, some of them answering their figurative roommate's call.
Xie Yi was almost falling down at the bird's side, trying to take a look at them. He recognized some of the beasts as ones he had killed before… Well, they had growled at Shi Yue, so he had been mad.
He probably shouldn’t do that this time, or he’d be thrown out of the sect - most likely, anyway.