During this night, those three were the ones who had the most comfortable sleep of the group.
The other five members were not as well-rested.
Sheng Mu was still more than annoyed about Xie Yi coming along. The youngest girl was worrying about the trip overall, and the three remaining disciples had completely different things in mind.
Xu Yan noticed it immediately when they all met up at the gate. He also noticed it completely going over Xiao Yi’s head, which instantly worried him.
The girl of the higher batch - Xiao Lu - was a very pretty one with seductive, upturned eyes. At first glance, Xu Yan could tell her main concern was Sheng Mu.
The two guys, Song Lan and Chen Hu, were constantly staring at Xiao Lu.
Sheng Mu, on the other hand, was busy glaring at Xie Yi and the little junior sister, which from the start was introduced by Sheng Mu as QingQing, was overwhelmed by about everything.
The only one that Xu Yan did not need to worry about was QingQing, actually. She was not only the little junior sister but also Sheng Mu’s cousin and judging from their body language, someone he would protect. Sheng Mu's obstinate temper aside, he was not a bad guy. He surely would watch out for her.
Which would leave the very troublesome distribution of attention.
Ah, Xie Yi was focused on Mingtian, who was looking at a bunny-like spiritual beast on Xiao Lu’s shoulder as if debating to eat it.
“Tell your beast to stop scaring my TuTu!”, Xiao Lu huffed in annoyance when she felt her spiritual beast shiver against her neck.
Contrary to Mingtian, it was on the lowest caste. Its intelligence was not that much higher than a common beast and it would not be able to turn into a human. This was the type of spiritual beast that was often taken as a pet rather than a partner. Some even killed them for the useful meat.
Xie Yi somewhat disdained that. Why keep such a useless pet? As an emergency ration?
He had no good feelings towards the thing that looked like pink cotton candy. (Mingtian agreed on that description, which was why he was getting hungry.)
Xie Yi looked at her without any expression, then slowly let his eyes move to Mingtian.
He was lying on the floor, his scorpion tail rolled up so that he looked a bit like a Chow-Chow if you did not see his face through all the fur.
Mingtian’s ear twitched and he looked up, exactly as expressionless.
“Don’t scare her rabbit”, Xie Yi said without any intonation.
Mingtian gave a yip.
The youth looked back up at Xiao Lu, his face spelling ‘Are you satisfied?’. He had done what she had asked of him, after all.
Xiao Lu looked angry. He did not know why. He did not care.
“If we’re all gathered, then we should leave now”, he said instead, looking over the group. Excluding QingQing, they all had too much stuff. It did look like Sheng Mu was carrying some of hers, though.
“Why are you giving orders?”, Chen Hu asked in a provocative tone. “Don’t you know we are your senior brothers?”
Xie Yi pointed at himself. “Can you win against me?”
The other cultivator twitched.
“Do you know the terrain? Know the way? Know how to find it, how to deal with the beasts? Do you know it better than me? If you do, go ahead and lead.” - If not, then shut your mouth.
Chen Hu pulled his head between his shoulders and glared at him but did not speak up again.
Even Sheng Mu did not try to get the position.
“We should try to get as far as possible while the sun is still up”, Xu Yan interjected logically. “So we really should leave now. Xiao Yi, do you have a route planned?”
“Then let’s go for now. We can still adjust our route later?” Xu Yan tried to mediate between the group.
Grumpily, they accepted his explanation and heaved their bags up on their back.
QingQing had the smallest bag. Sheng Mu watched her closely as she picked up it up, ready to help her at a moment’s notice.
Xu Yan’s opinion of him certainly rose. Xie Yi didn’t see it.
Mingtian stood up and walked right next to Xie Yi as they left through the gate after showing their passes. Waving to the sentries, they made their way down the winding path until they found the place where they would begin to make their way right through the forest for a while
In the beginning, everyone was still conversing.
Xu Yan used Xie Yi as some sort of encyclopedia and kept on asking him about weird plants he saw - the other did not know a single name, but he sure knew a lot of (questionable) uses.
The young man laughed at Xie Yi’s focus on using the plants for torture or poison. “How about something a bit more healing, eh? I’m not planning on poisoning an army.”
“There are better ways to poison an army than some roadside herb. Oh, that one is good for assassinations! It has the same symptoms as a cold.”
“When did you even learn all of those”, Xu Yan chuckled. “I think I’d get in trouble with my teacher if I had such a strong focus on poison.”
“Shi Yue said I’m the most suspicious person he has ever met”, Xie Yi unhappily grunted.
“Xiao Yi”, Xu Yan said with a soft smile, patting his shoulder. “...That is absolutely correct.”
Xie Yi threw him a fake offended glance.
“By now I’m like, okay, whatever kind of weird stuff you do, I just accept it”, he said while shrugging his shoulders. “Usually, it ends up useful for me. It’s way easier not to worry about you being super weird.”
“I’m not that weird!”
“A ‘normal’ person would be someone like me. We are not using Master Li as a comparison.”
“..I…” Xie Yi hesitated with a pout. “I’m only a bit better at some things than others are.”
“The common talented person would be someone like Sheng Mu or Yao Ming.”
“...” Xie Yi shut his mouth. Even he didn’t have a face thick enough to describe the differences between himself and those people as ‘a bit’. And that wasn't boasting.
Obviously it was an unfair comparison considered he had a full lifetime more experience, but from other people’s point of view, he was only a teenager.
“Even Mingtian is weird”, Xu Yan declared with amusement. “Look at him! Doesn’t he obviously fully understand human language?”
“Of course”, Xie Yi huffed. Mingtian’s tongue lolled out as he kept on jogging around them.
“You do know that only mid-tier spiritual beasts are able to learn human language fully and only high-tier can learn it as children? How old is he?”
Actually way older than you think, but he still is a high-tier, so no difference.
“And?”, Xie Yi asked, avoiding Xu Yan’s grin.
“What kind of teenage cultivator has a high-tier spiritual beast as a partner, huh? Xiao Lu’s rabbit is more normal.”
...Phew. Trying to compare Mingtian to the rabbit was no better than Xie Yi and Sheng Mu.
“...So I’ve got lucky. And?”
“You’ve got a sword spirit”, Xu Yan counted quietly. “You’re the soon-to-be succeeding disciple of a Grandmaster and future sect leader. Oh, your looks are way above average, too. In what way are you normal again?”
Xie Yi mutely blew up his cheeks. Xu Yan ended up bursting out into laughter.
The group, as a whole, wasn’t walking fully together. Everyone was a bit apart from each other, so no one could hear their conversation.
Xu Yan, however, noticed QingQing watching them.
He glanced back at the meek little girl. She appeared a bit frightened with the dark forest around her, but her cousin did not notice. Sheng Mu often went on a small distance and scouted the area.
Pursing his lips, Xu Yan waved her over.
She noticed the movement and hurried to catch up.
“Y-Yes?”, she asked quietly and with a lowered head.
Xu Yan gave her an amicable smile. “Are you alright? Is this your first time out?”
Xie Yi tilted his head and made place for her to walk between them. If Xu Yan had called her over, he wouldn’t send her away.
“Yes… I-I usually don’t leave the direct vicinity of the sect”, she admitted with a blush. “I’m bad at fighting…”
“Oh. Then, if you’re worried, stay around us”, Xu Yan suggested. “I'm the same. Xiao Yi here is going to get rid off anything long before we see it, right?”
“What am I, a guard dog?”, Xie Yi complained. To tell the truth, he would indeed hunt a lot of beasts before they came too close. Mingtian might help with one or two, as well.
“That’s MingMing”, Xu Yan corrected him. “He’s Xie Yi’s partner and very nice. Are you scared of dogs?”
The young man leaned over to scratch Mingtian’s ear. The beast, noticing what Xu Yan was doing, closed his mouth to hide the sharp teeth and tilted his head to throw a friendly look at the girl.
Her face lit up a bit and her shoulders lowered. “I like dogs. Mingtian is very pretty and looks very interesting.”
Xie Yi’s face was a questionmark but Xu Yan lightly hit his arm to warn him not to interfere.
Mingtian fell in line with QingQing and lifted his head for her to touch it. She laughed sweetly as she stretched out her hand to carefully brush her fingers over his fur.
Xie Yi could not tell why Xu Yan was saying all of this, but anyway, the point appeared to be to prove to QingQing that Mingtian wasn’t dangerous?
Thinking that, Xie Yi spoke up lightly. “Mingtian has a scorpion tail, but he often keeps it curled up so that people don’t get hurt. But even then, it’s not venomous unless he wills it.”
Xu Yan gave him an appreciative glance. Xie Yi guessed he must have done something right.