QingQing’s shoulders continued to loosen as she watched Mingtian uncurl his tail momentarily, showing the sharp tip, and rolling it back in.
“Spiritual beasts are fascinating”, she laughed. “I want to work more with them, but my master doesn’t let me.”
“I’m sure Mingtian won’t mind if you play with him”, Xu Yan happily said.
QingQing was their junior sister.
He felt unhappy seeing her so tense and he knew that unless she gained more confidence, she’d have trouble advancing her cultivation.
If she felt safe during this expedition, she might be more confident on the next. It wouldn’t be too much work to try and make her feel better by keeping her close.
Xie Yi was overly strong but did not look scary and Mingtian was a fluffy bundle of fur that might divert her attention. Like this, he planned to keep her close-by and hope to make her feel more comfortable.
He knew that not everyone watched out for their junior disciples like that, but after he had Li Mei, who had always helped them out when they were young, he wanted to do the same.
Maybe one day QingQing would continue it and help her junior disciples.
Mingtian had understood that and played along to the best of his abilities, acting as a faithful guard dog.
Xie Yi wasn’t able to understand what was going on, but he understood that the focus appeared to be on showing her that ‘things are not scary’.
So he tried to help with that. It was a bit awkward and messy, but it did have the effect of QingQing often laughing at his illogical comments.
When Sheng Mu stopped by to check up on her, he saw that she was in a good mood and left again after giving an appreciative nod to Xu Yan with a complicated expression on his face.
They kept their steady pace, moving on along as time passed. Xie Yi kept half an ear and eye on the rest of the group all the time, relieved to find them behaving normally and following along without problems.
Of course he knew that Sheng Mu kept leaving the group to wander a bit around and check out some herbs here and there, and that the two arrogant idiots kept on flirting with the queen-like girl who was very satisfied with their attention… But he did not care too much about those.
All in all, he only cared about Xu Yan, whom he was watching out for and steadying when he’d stumble on the uneven ground, and QingQing, who was under Mingtian’s watch.
Well, QingQing only because Xu Yan was keeping an eye on her.
Even though the guy needed all his attention to watch out for himself.
Almost without thinking, Xie Yi would grab onto Xu Yan’s arm to help him over troublesome parts and Xu Yan accepted the help with quiet smiles. In the first place, Xie Yi only intervened if Xu Yan would have a lot of trouble with something.
QingQing watched it with wide eyes, shyly lowering her head when Xie Yi did the same for her as an afterthought.
“You really do get along well”, she said quietly. “Senior Yi is very different from what I had initially thought.”
Xu Yan pulled a face.
“What am I like? And what did you think I was like?”, Xie Yi asked curiously, tilting his head back to glance at her bright eyes.
“You are very observant and helpful. And funny!”, she giggled cutely. “And not scary or anything.”
She ended her sentence in a tone that implied she was finished. Xie Yi insisted. “What were your thoughts before?”
She flinched and turned her face away with a blush. Xie Yi had a feeling she looked like someone who had said something they hadn’t wanted to say, but she was no friend of his and thus he saw no reason to stop simply because it made her uncomfortable.
Xu Yan awkwardly coughed. Oh, he knew the stories. At first, there had been lot of stories about the weird black-haired disciple, but by now, they had completely derailed.
Because Xie Yi kept mostly to a very specific, small group, and Xu Yan did not mingle too deeply with others, either, a lot of people had made up their own presumptions. It’s not like they truly cared whether they were right or wrong, but the rumours did start to spread outside and to new disciples.
Basically, it went as follows:
Xie Yi was a cultivator like a demon, whose talent was only outmatched by his love for violence. (Ehh, not exactly wrong.)
At the same time, he used his good looks to earn whatever he wanted from the people around him, resulting in him relying on precious herbs and potions that he got for free to increase his strength. (That was bullshit.)
One of the people he had seduced was his roommate, Xu Yan. Xu Yan was his servant and bedwarmer. Also, Xu Yan was used to keep the second space in the room occupied so that Xie Yi had his peace. (That was both embarrassing and hilarious.)
Other victims were his master, the Grandmaster Li, who was inclined to giving his disciple precious gifts in return for Xie Yi acting as his little wife. There were also several other masters who were interested in special favours and thus were more open in helping him. (Not wrong that they liked Xie Yi and were often helping him, even in exchange for favours, but with a completely different subtext.)
Yao Ming did not like Xie Yi because Xie Yi had rejected him. (The fact that Yao Ming was the bad one in this story made it Xu Yan’s favourite rumour.)
Alternatively, Xie Yi was Master Li’s illegitimate son. Or Ying Hua’s boyfriend. Or an Immortal who went Man I’m bored and somehow managed to hide himself to act as a disciple… All his usual injuries were fake and just a cover.
If it was the rarer rumours, they were pretty funny. But the main ones were quite insulting and they were probably what QingQing talked about.
“Probably the stories of you seducing the whole sect”, Xu Yan said in her stead to Xie Yi, who snorted in response.
Xie Yi didn’t think that was the whole story but Xu Yan had answered him so he let the topic fall.
“Senior Yi is just as knowledgable as the rumours say, though”, QingQing tried to praise.
Xu Yan chuckled lightly and gave Xie Yi, who was staring at her incredulously, a long look. “I guess you could say he’s as knowledgeable as he is ignorant?”
“I’m pretty sure there is way more stuff I don’t know compared to what I know.”
“That’s the normal default for humanity, Xiao Yi.”
“Wait, so am I on the average for once?”
“Nah. Your area of knowledge is violently shifted compared to others.”
Xie Yi made an unhappy sound and blew up his cheeks while staring straight ahead. Why was it so hard to be normal for once!
He knew that most cultivators tried to stand out, but he thought that was easy. What he wanted was to mix better with the normal people so that every one of his friends could stop worrying about him. Also, normal people had a more peaceful life than outstanding ones.
Sadly, as Mingtian had said to him before one quiet evening: Xie Yi, you are failing in every aspect of being normal.
...He was trying. Really.
“It’s part of Senior Yi being so special that pulls in the people around you, isn’t it? Even Mingtian, I’m sure such an intelligent beast would not follow you otherwise. It's fascinating that he knows you are so amazing”, QingQing said with hurried nods as if she was confirming her own assumptions. Mingtian gave a humpf in agreement.
“Mingtian is a crossbreed, so he’s special in his own right. They’re usually very unhealthy but he looks perfectly fine, doesn’t he?”, Xu Yan added.
“Of course! Mingtian is much more special than those random little beasts”, Xie Yi asserted with a proud look. “I’m lucky he’s always around to take care of me.”
Xu Yan hummed thoughtfully, his face a mischievous grin. “Usually it would be the human taking care of the young beast but since we’re talking about you two, I can believe that. Mingtian must have it hard, dealing with you.”
“You know, QingQing, Mingtian even stops Xiao Yi from causing a mess. Can you imagine how many arrays we have that go up in smoke because Xiao Yi is playing around with the writings? Mingtian always pulls us away before that happens.”
Offended, Xie Yi sucked in a breath. “You were the one who wanted an array would make people have a better impression of you!”
Halfway through the sentence, Xu Yan started to cough violently loud as he jumped over to Xie Yi. Covering the other’s mouth with his hands, he tried to drag him under his arm.
“Ah-ha-ha!”, Xu Yan dragged loudly. “I don’t know what you mean!”
QingQing tilted her head in confusion, not having heard the second part, but Mingtian rolled his eyes.
Who is to disdain a young man wanting to be more attractive.
Anyway, Xie Yi only ever played around with little arrays, trying to come up with variations and new ones, or else the building would have gone up in flames already.
He was only allowed to try a larger one when Shi Yue was around, and only in a special room that could take an explosion.
The sad thing was that Shi Yue only allowed useful tries.
Xu Yan, on the other hand, went along with ideas like talismans that would attract bad smells to the people they were attached to, or arrays that would keep tea warm if you placed them on it, or puppets that would grind your ink for you…
Generally, those were much funnier. But totally not allowed.