Another night passed with Sheng Mu finding a good spot for them that even Xie Yi had no complaints about.
Once they got closer to the sect, Mingtian started scouting out front and running around more with curious eyes, inspecting the terrain. Xie Yi took it as preparation for him finding a good place to change.
Xiao Lu looked happy that the ‘menace’ was gone and kept her little TuTu in her arms all the time, not setting it down even once.
Xie Yi blindly followed Sheng Mu’s leading - not that there was much to lead - and looked around.
He was quite relaxed when suddenly, Mingtian’s calling howl reached their ears.
Alerted, the group of cultivators darted forward.
Mingtian was having a hard time struggling in the net without hurting the youth who was trying to use some sort of poison on him.
“Hey!”, Xu Yan bellowed as Xie Yi hurried forward. Mingtian had not needed to wear the restrictive collar for a long time so there was nothing showing him as a partner of a cultivator.
The youth working on the net only glanced up before he continued trying to subdue Mingtian who - by all means - looked more annoyed than troubled.
“What are you doing, trying to hunt the partner of another cultivator”, Sheng Mu scolded, approaching the small group with large steps.
While one of the three looked very much like a bodyguard, the second one was a little flower easily on par with Xiao Lu. She had more of a gentle and refined look, though.
“There is no marking on it”, the bodyguard said with a huff, positioning himself to block Sheng Mu.
Staring each other down, they stood face to face.
“Why would we lie”, the cultivator snarled. “Stop this right now and we will prove it.”
“Only for you to catch him?”, the bodyguard laughed hollowly and crossed his arms. “Are you idiots?”
Mingtian groaned mentally. For the more intelligent spiritual beasts, a partnership was the more likely way of getting along. For lower ones, it was more on the sort of a classical contract.
You could, if you were strong enough, overwrite an imprint from another cultivator. If Mingtian was a common lower spiritual beast, what the young man was trying would work.
However, Mingtian neither had a spiritual imprint nor was he so weak as to allow one.
The young man frowned as he tried to push a figurative wall with bare hands.
Mingtian pulled back his lips, baring his teeth. The fur he would usually fluff up on purpose to look cuddly began to flatten, as did his ears. The scorpion tail uncurled.
Sizzling, the almost bright green fluid dropped down the tip of his tail, immediately dissolving part of the net.
It crackled as the net broke apart, all use broken.
“You made him mad”, Xie Yi exclaimed, not realizing that Mingtian wanted to intimidate the guy to get some space.
The canine wasn’t mad at the interruption - it worked just as well.
When Xie Yi ran over he returned to a fluffy pup, sticking out the tip of his tongue and blinking his huge turquoise eyes while placing his paws on the drops of acid to make sure Xie Yi wouldn’t step on it.
With blatant disregard of the stranger, he dragged off the net and cuddled Mingtian.
“MingMing is obviously mine.”
...Out of the whole group, it was only Xie Yi who was still approaching the topic off a robber with logic.
The young man widened his eyes with a stunned look.
He had not expected the beast to resist him so heavily. At worst, he had thought he could waste some more time and subdue it slowly. With lower beasts, it was hard to prove the ownership if there wasn’t some sign.
He hadn’t expected that a wild spiritual beast would act so happily submissive that it was impossible to deny he already had an owner.
Did that weird kid feed his pet with expensive herbs? How did it get so attached?
Mingtian played along happily, placing his paws over Xie Yi’s shoulder and giving him a wolfish hug. From whining, over licking his cheek, to wagging his scorpion tail, Mingtian did everything to spell out a single message:
How am I not this person’s partner?
“I guess it was a mistake”, Xu Yan stepped in, placing a hand on Sheng Mu’s shoulder while looking over the three foreign cultivators.
Like they did, everyone was wearing a darker robe that was more useful for travelling outside. With this, the bright emblem on their chest stood out all the more.
Xu Yan did not want to offend people from the sect they were about to visit right away.
“It appears so”, the young man said with a smile that did not reach his eyes. “It is too bad that such an excellent beast has an owner already.”
Mingtian had to bite Xie Yi’s shoulder to keep him from flaring up and declaring that they were partners. That was a word mostly and unofficially reserved for higher-levelled spiritual beasts.
“Yes, they get along well”, Xu Yan agreed with a kind smile. “They match perfectly."
Who were they kidding? Mingtian was a healthy-looking crossbreed with interesting features. Who knew what they would want to do with him. It certainly had nothing to do with him being ‘excellent’.
“Senior Brother”, the gentle girl whispered, touching his robe lightly and lowering her eyes. She gave a soft bow to the group. “We apologize. It was because I had asked my Senior Brother to help me capture this beast. I… I really took a liking to it immediately. It really is too bad.”
“This close to a sect, there is always a chance of a beast belonging to a visiting cultivator. You should make sure there is no owner before trying to capture it”, Xu Yan reminded them amicably, ignoring the hint in her words.
“Xie Yi, make sure that Mingtian stays close to your side when we enter the sect”, Sheng Mu spoke up, not even looking over. Xie Yi hummed in reply.
The girl’s eyes flashed when none of the present men tried to soothe her.
Frankly, it wasn’t that they didn’t want to.
Xu Yan stood on Xie Yi’s side no matter what, so although he felt bad for the girl, he wouldn’t help her.
Sheng Mu did not like her expression - it felt a bit fake.
Xiao Lu did not like her because she was pretty.
Song Lan and Chen Hu would have loved to help out, as would have QingQing, who wanted everyone to have peaceful relations.
But everyone knew: It was absolutely impossible to separate Mingtian from Xie Yi. It wasn’t even an option. There was no use in thinking about the possibility.
The girl switched her target and walked over to Xie Yi with tiny steps. “Uhm, I apologize. Please take no offence.”
Xie Yi stood up, turning to them. Only now did the three people see him fully.
With his eyes sparkling in the sunlight and the soft, beautiful features, Xie Yi had neither the looks nor the aura of a common youth.
Shocked, the girl paused.
“None taken. However, I cannot give him to you.” Xie Yi spoke calmly and gently, unwilling to give the girl any reason to say he was rude.
He had to be good to the disciples of the sect, or Shi Yue would get mad!
Xu Yan’s smile grew wider as he saw the interest spark in all three cultivator’s eyes.
The rest of the group felt pain all over their bodies.
Oh my. Those people better not try to make a move on Xie Yi. That would end in a pool of blood.
The only good thing was, before they had left, their masters had talked to them about this sort of possibility.
They were responsible to watch out for each other, but not for Xie Yi!
Even if Xie Yi went on a killing spree, they held no responsibility!
After all, no one could expect them to try and stop the little demon!
So if those three idiots wanted to dig their own graves, it absolutely did not have anything to do with them!
...At this realization, they all relaxed again. Xiao Lu’s face was turning into a gleeful grin.
The girl, who was trying her best to appear gentle and kind, hid the interest immediately. With a second, short bow, she thanked him. “Thank you very much for your kindness. It would have been terrible if this had soured our relationship.”
Soured? What relationship?
“Are you here to visit our sect?”, she inquired, curtly glancing over the rest of them. Sheng Mu did not look as good as the man from her group, so she continued to look at Xie Yi.
Xie Yi opened his mouth and shut it again. Was this going to get into the direction of having official talks? Uncertain, he looked over to Xu Yan.
His appearance of a poor little puppy that was not quite sure what to do struck the heartstrings of the foreign group even worse.
Only Xie Yi’s fellow disciple could discern that this wasn’t about uncertainty, but Xie Yi being unwilling to try and deal with something he neither knew how to do nor cared to learn about.