Around him, everyone cringed at the crying sound in their ears, sharing his pain a bit. Most of it was blocked by the barrier, but they could imagine how amazingly annoying it would be inside. There was a reason why the watchdogs were pets that cultivators quite liked: They kept away ordinary humans.
Xie Yi felt his energy shiver and waver as he pulled it out of his body before pushing it down the beast like throwing a wet blanket at someone. It halted when it felt the contact, then shook its body and continued to cry while raising its speed.
It was just fast enough that Xie Yi with his short legs had to be constantly moving at a light jog to keep up the same distance. He would have liked smashing it, but that wasn’t allowed.
Mentally wailing, Xie Yi kept on jogging backwards in a large circle, keeping the stupid thing at bay. They were obnoxious when it was about ignoring others and, given their strength, quite hard to control. Basically, they were just so dumb that putting them into a mindless daze was quite the feat.
Xie Yi cursed. Wasn’t this too mean? Couldn’t they have put up another test for physical and mental endurance? Just the jogging alone was exhausting, let alone blocking out the cries and focusing on his task.
Over and over he felt himself slip up and lose control when the watchdog behaved unexpectedly or dashed at him. He had enough energy to keep the play up for a while, but neither his body nor his nerves would be able to endure that long. He didn’t have overly much space for messing up.
Out of the barrier, Xu Yan gnawed on his fingernail. Li Mei had, at some point of time, joined him and was trying to soothe the fidgety boy, her female friends watching the play with amusement.
“Believe in him”, she tried to say for the hundredth time. “He can do this.”
“I’m kinda more worried that the beast will end up dead rather than controlled”, Xu Yan lamented. Somehow he had a feeling that Xie Yi was very capable of just finishing it off.
The girls chuckled. “Don’t worry, don’t worry. He might be a genius, but you can’t kill them so easily.”
(Meanwhile, Shi Yue was starting to get worried about how he should judge the test if the watchdog ended up dead. The sect leader was slowly joining in with sweating coldly.)
“Your friend is amazing”, one of the smaller girls distracted Xu Yan kindly. “Did I hear correctly that for him, this exam is about becoming Master Li’s disciple? He’d be the first one. I would say that’s quite an amazing thing, but seeing what he’s accomplishing here, it feels like he’s got the talent for it.”
Another girl nodded. “Yeah, I haven’t ever seen a newcomer on this level. He must be from a rich family that already taught him some things beforehand, right?”
Li Mei shook her head and glanced at the boy in the barrier. “No, he’s an orphan, isn’t he? It’s talent and tenacity. I don’t think there’s any luck in there.”
“Xiao Yi meditates every evening”, Xu Yan explained absentmindedly, wincing as his friend barely escaped the watchdog trying to run him over. It was obvious that he was getting exhausted from the simultaneous strain. “He draws arrays over and over again and even does additional physical training. I feel like I’m lazy, just watching him.”
“He’s a strong boy”, Li Mei agreed, causing Xu Yan to sigh.
Strong, yes, but still weak enough to sleep curled into a corner of his bed, hidden under his blankets and waking up at the slightest sound. Wasn’t he just strong because he felt he had to be?
“Little Junior, help me hug Xie Yi’s thigh when he jumps to being a great figure, okay?”, Li Mei chuckled. Xie Yi was a bit weird but she rather liked him. He was more mature than other children but at the same time much more childish. His face, whenever he realized that he was doing something out of the most basic common sense, was always priceless.
Master Li would have a lot of fun with him.
“Senior Sisters, can you tell how long Xiao Yi still has to endure? He’s starting to look bad”, Xu Yan suddenly asked, hopping from one foot to another.
Just now, Xie Yi had faltered in his steps and now his eyebrows were scrunched.
The girls looked up. One of them gave a smile after a second or two and patted his shoulder. “Any second now. He’s got this.”
And indeed, a few seconds later, the beast’s steps slowed down until it came to a halt. The barrier hummed as it dissolved and the same attendant as before jumped forward, taking over control and putting the beats back on its leash.
Xie Yi let himself sit on the ground for a moment to breathe. His back was uncomfortably drenched and his legs and ears felt sore. His core still felt happily lively but he couldn’t enhance his body yet - it was more likely that he'd mess up the needed amount and damage himself.
Shi Yue appeared back at his side, looking after the beast with a twitching smile. “It’s a bit… squashed, but considering that it’s still alive and moving, this is a pass. Congratulations on getting through half of the exam.”
Xie Yi sniffled, pouting a bit. The watchdog had been Shi Yue’s idea. That was at least so mean that he wouldn’t talk to him for one… no, two minutes!
Seeing the child pout, Shi Yue couldn’t help but glance down in amusement before picking him up like a puppy by the neck. “We have to open up space for the next ones”, he explained as he carried Xie Yi to the side to rest with him.
Five students could do the test at the same time, the inside of the barriers only visible to the teachers. The beasts they got were closer to bunnies - they wouldn't attack but rather run away. While easier to control, their difficulty lay more in their ability to run around like rabbits and thus make it hard to keep a focus on them. For the common student, there was also a limit to how far they could extend their energy, so they had to follow the beasts.
...It really was a lot easier than his test.
Xie Yi’s face was dark as he sat with crossed arms, his face pointedly turned away from Shi Yue who placed a cup with water on the tiny table that was placed next to him. Xie Yi could easily reach out and take it, but he was still planning on pouting.
“It’s amusing”, the cultivator commented to his master. “When Xiao Hua is annoyed with me, I have to watch out that my home won’t turn into rubble. Xie Yi is annoyed with me, and he refuses to take a drink that he’d actually really need.”
“That’s children for you”, the sect leader laughed. “Aren’t they adorable? Hurry up and get some on your own.”
Shi Yue’s face faltered. “I’ve got Xiao Hua and Lao Hua. I don’t need children right now.”
The sect leader just opened his mouth to continue teasing his disciple when he stopped, stunned. At Shi Yue’s chair, Xie Yi had propped himself up enough to glare over the armrest right at the sect leader. If that wasn’t a gaze that was filled with the intent of wanting to tear him apart, then he hadn’t seen one before.
“He’s a bit possessive”, he merely said with a sip of his tea, curiously holding the gaze of the child. “I don’t think he likes the fact that I just told you to start a family.”
“Xie Yi, don’t glare at the sect leader. It’s rude”, Shi Yue scolded mildly.
The boy looked up at him, face just as dark as before, though his gaze turned from filled with killing intent to filled with absolute annoyance. Shi Yue absolutely wasn’t allowed to have a family that he'd like more than him!
“Don’t glare at me either”, he calmly stated. “Disciples that glare at their masters are no-good.”
Xie Yi twitched and lowered his gaze for a moment. Then he lifted his eyes again to continue glaring. “But you haven’t become my official master yet.”
Shi Yue chuckled at the tone of accusation in his voice. “You still have a theoretical exam to pass. Obediently drink something and rest, the theoretical part isn’t that easy, either.”
Xie Yi humpfed and turned his eyes to the barriers, fixing the one where Xu Yan had entered. That kid wouldn't have problems with this, right? Worst case, he’d just have Xu Yan follow him as a personal attendant and conveniently teach him about cultivation behind everyone’s backs. Feng Yan had said that you can’t leave friends behind, so he would never let Xu Yan down.