Liang Chen's footsteps echoed through the empty halls of the palace, splatters of blood leaking out from beneath the doors of nearly every room he passed by. He had already left the palace that Fue Sangye was in control of, this was the palace of the deceased Qing Rue, the pools of blood a grim reminder of Liang Chen's earlier visit.
Those that had been spared had already fled the palace, and unbeknownst to Liang Chen, they would be the source of a legend that the palace was cursed by a vengeful spirit. But that was a tale that had nothing to do with the current Liang Chen, his gaze calm to the point of indifference as he continued to walk.
He retraced his earlier steps and headed for the terrace that served as the crown of the palace, the glass doors still wide open to invite him. Qing Rue's body was still propped against the fence surrounding the terrace, his pupils dilating and expanding as if his mind was buried in the nightmare that Liang Chen had bestowed upon him.
Liang Chen walked up to the body and placed his hand on its head, his law of rot gushing out. The clothing disintegrated, the flesh became a foul-smelling liquid that dripped onto the bed beneath him, and finally, his bones turned to pale dust that blew away, the corpse returning to nature. Liang Chen's eyes rose slightly after he disposed of the corpse, a bit of wind picking up the loose interspatial ring while his gaze swept over the city beneath him.
His eyes slowly closed as he observed the almost uncountable number of people that were roving through the streets as they went about their daily lives. His senses slowly spread out, poison particles smaller than a speck of dust rising from his body and spreading out with the wind. The poison in them was so weak that it wouldn't even harm a mouse, but that weakness meant that he could create and maintain a seemingly endless number of particles.
The poison took over for his senses when it spread beyond the range of his senses, latching onto the skin and clothing of the living beings that it touched. The wind helped spread it further, the entire city blanketed by his poison before long, allowing him to simultaneously observe the entire city at once.
The people went about their lives as normal, some took care of their shops, some risked going out to hunt, others tended to their small farms. They met up with friends and shared moments with their family, and Liang Chen observed it all as he stood at the highest point of the palace. Every life was in sight, everyone held in the palm of his hand without them even knowing it. Perhaps this was what Universe consciousnesses felt when they oversaw the worlds they controlled, perhaps this is what they, as gods, felt at all times.
But the feelings of gods was not something that Liang Chen bothered wasting any time on, he was not an existence that could co-exist with gods if they acted like he had seen them act up until now. He only had a single goal, that one simple yet bloody goal.
He stood still, as if frozen, for over five days, observing every nook and cranny of the city while watching how the people here lived their lives. But once he felt like he had observed for long enough, his eyes slowly opened again, a slight tinge of relief surfacing in his golden pupils.
"Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, was it? Perhaps there is a bit of truth in it."
Liang Chen had been to many places and seen a lot of things, he was already all too used to people using each other or killing each other for the smallest of reasons. As such, he expected that even though the people in this city were mostly mortals and low-levelled cultivators, there would be a great number of them that would cross the line.
But to his surprise, the number was surprisingly low, only a few thousand at best. So he couldn't help but think about that quote, perhaps cultivators were just more prone to crossing the line because they had the power to do so. Unlike these powerless mortals, who were so oppressed by the mere existence of cultivators, they simply didn't have as many chances to cross the line, it was simply too risky for them.
But whether or not it was by nature or by circumstance, there would always be someone to cross the line, someone who would take things too far. And Liang Chen was the bane of people like this, a bit of dull violet lightning crackling through his pupils as he looked down upon the city.
The lightning was sent out through the connection he had with the poison particles, slowly accumulating until it formed a proper bolt. And then, without any of the people in the city understanding how, the lightning appeared out of nowhere and struck down the people that Liang Chen had marked.
In only a few seconds, a few thousand people were silenced forever, Liang Chen drawing back the poison particles he used earlier. There was one fact he himself hadn't noticed yet. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, was that very same saying not true for him? After all, he had just felt relieved that it was 'only' a few thousand people in this city who deserved death. To the past, weaker him, this would be an insane number, a number of deaths that could chill his blood. But to the current him, it was a source of relief.
And perhaps, as an added layer of irony, the man who despised the heavens more than anyone had just created a phenomenon that would be spoken about for ages to come. None of those who had witnessed it would be able to forget about the day where the heavens awoke and sent down their wrath on the sinners. For the first time in countless years, the heavens finally did what the bedtime stories always said they would.
"It's about time I head out, Yumao is probably about to reach that stage of annoyance where he's liable to eat someone."
Liang Chen did not know about the two different legends he had created in this city upon his first visit, his gaze sliding down to his interspatial ring as he muttered to himself. Yumao had been put in charge of taking care of the people that he had saved, but Yumao was far from suited for work like that so leaving him alone with it for too long wouldn't be a good idea.
He sent his consciousness into the ring and called Yumao back, the winged serpent happily leaving the orb within the ring and flapping his wings in front of Liang Chen's face. Liang Chen gave his head a few rubs, the line of feathers running down his spine tickling the tips of his fingers.
"I'll leave it to you, I hope you haven't eaten any of them. And oh, if you don't mind, take us to that lightning place I told you about."
He slid off the interspatial ring he was wearing as he spoke, placing it on Yumao's head so that he could keep it safe. The orb that could hold living beings was stored in his interspatial ring, so if he wanted to enter it he would either have to pull it out from his interspatial ring or enter the ring himself.
Removing it wasn't a terribly enticing idea, the time-altering capabilities of his interspatial ring simply worked too good when matched with the orb, so it was better for him to entrust the ring to someone else whenever he entered the orb. After all, entering the ring while simultaneously wearing it wasn't exactly something that could be considered possible.
He vanished into the ring after he finished speaking, arriving within the plaza that served as the centre of the city located within the orb. Liang Chen swept his gaze across the plaza, Yumao had simply gathered up all the people there and brought out beds that they could sleep on. After all, what point was there in spreading them out through the city when he could just gather them up here to save himself some trouble?
"Come on man, at least let them have a smidgen of privacy..."
Liang Chen muttered a soft complaint, but seeing that all the people were still alive, and that their wounds were mostly healed, he couldn't really say too much. He hadn't counted earlier, but sweeping his gaze across them now he realized that he had actually picked up a bit over 50 people, it probably wasn't too comfortable for all of them to be stuck here in the plaza.
"Excuse me, could you be Benefactor?"
A soft and rather weary voice interrupted Liang Chen's sweeping gaze, his eyes turning towards the bed that the voice came from. The person sitting on the bed was a young girl with shoulder-length black hair, the covers pulled up to her neck to cover her body. This was the final person that Liang Chen had saved, the unfortunate girl that had gotten her eyes sewn shut.
Yumao had at least removed the stitches, but the eyes of the girl were already completely ruined. The needle had gone through her eyes multiple time as they were getting stitched, it was as if a multitude of claws had cut through her pupils so it was a rather macabre sight. But even so, she had been the first one to notice his arrival, alerting the others.
"The name is Liang Chen, not Benefactor. I've already killed everyone who deserves to die outside, so I've come to check on you, please don't mind Yumao if he was a bit rough, that's just how he is."
Liang Chen shook his head slightly, he hadn't really gotten the chance to introduce himself earlier due to the circumstances of how he picked these people up. He gave them the news that those that had tormented them were now dead, but there was very little joy present on the faces of the people that had turned to face him.
"Dead...They're all dead..."
The people that had tormented and tortured them were all dead, just like that, as if it was all just a dream. But then, what about all the pain they suffered, all the scars on their bodies, what were they to do about them? They had already lost everything, but now they had even lost the targets of their anger.
"My intention is to keep you safe here until I reach a safe place where I can set you free. But that may take a while, as I'm not currently in a place that can be considered very safe."
Liang Chen knew that there was no way he could free these people inside Purgatory's Cradle, there were no safe places there. But leaving Purgatory's Cradle just to free them also wasn't too safe, there was no telling if the Sky-Piercing Sparrow still had something set up outside. Liang Chen's gaze swept across the people gathered in the plaza, and just as he feared, his words didn't have the desired effect.
"Free? But... What are we even supposed to do?"
"No home, no family, is there even any place where we can be free?"
"We can't even take revenge for ourselves..."
When you lost everything and were plunged into the depths of despair, how were you supposed to react when you finally managed to leave it? Was it fine to just be happy that you were alive, or were you supposed to feel sad about everything you had lost?
And what about when you were so weak that even leaving the pit of despair couldn't really be called salvation, the moment your saviour took his eyes off of you, you were liable to just be dropped right back into them. Liang Chen let out a somewhat heavy breath at the sight, it would be a bit painful if the people he had just saved lost all their will to live and ended it all. But just as he finished his sigh, that soft voice rang out once more.
"Excuse me, but could you tell me if someone sent you to save us, or to kill the lord of the palace? Is that why you were there?"
Liang Chen's gaze turned towards the girl with ruined eyes once more, she was the only one present that had gotten to kill one of her tormentors with her own hands. There was also the fact that she had endured pain and torment that should have killed a normal mortal, she clearly had a stronger mind than most. And now she had already been given several days to gather her thoughts so she had probably already formed a few conclusions and decisions.
"No, me going there was nothing but a coincidence. I just so happened to reach that particular city first, and then I just so happened to see what the people in the palace were doing. I disliked it, so I acted, that was all there was to it."
Coincidence. In the end, it all boiled down to that ephemeral thing known as luck. Would Liang Chen be here or there at this specific time, would he hear about this or that, would something stop him as he was on the way? Countless factors played into it, to the point where each person he saved had such a small chance of being the one saved that it was borderline a miracle.
"I see. Then, Benefactor, have you done similar things in the past?"
The girl simply nodded her head surprisingly calmly, the quiet tone of her voice somewhat calming the minds of the slowly despairing people around her. She asked the question, but she seemed to have already formed a guess, she had probably pieced things together based on the question Liang Chen asked her back in the prison cell.
"I have, many times already, and I'll do it many more times in the future. The number of lives I've taken to this day is not something you should try to guess at, it will only dishearten you."
These people were just mortals, the strongest among them hadn't even reached the Soaring Immortal realm yet. For them to comprehend the sheer number of people he had killed? Something like that would drain all of a mortal's hope, because that was a number that could fill up a city.
"...Could you tell me why, Benefactor? Is it a desire to kill?"
As was to be expected, even the seemingly calm girl faltered slightly when Liang Chen spoke so calmly and confidently. She could still remember that eerie calmness he radiated when she first met him, the man pressing her down hadn't even been able to move thanks to the fear-inducing aura he radiated. But even so, she wanted to know, why go out of his way to kill people he disliked, and to save people that had nothing to do with him. Once she knew the answer to that, perhaps she would be able to find an answer for herself.
"As a child, I was told that the heavens are just, they will punish evildoers who hurt innocent people. But the heavens aren't just, they are either dead or indifferent. So I will replace them, I will strike down those that the heavens should have erased long ago."
Liang Chen didn't hide it, it was the path he had chosen, even if the actual choice felt like it happened several hundred years ago already. It was a terribly strange sensation, the execution of his parents and the death of his sister felt like they had happened ages ago, yet he remembered them like it was yesterday.
"I see, it must have been a very painful experience that led you to think like that."
The girl could only give a very simple response, there really wasn't much she could say to the story. But she knew, no grand ambition was born in a place of comfort, they all came from pain. The greater the ambition, the greater the pain. And to supplant the heavens, how grand of an ambition was that?
But he had given his answer, his reasoning for tearing a bloody path through the palace dungeon and saving her. And in turn, she came to her own conclusion. She pushed away the blanket covering her while getting down from the bed, revealing that she was still wearing nothing but the rags that she had worn inside the dungeon. She was practically naked, but she simply ignored that as she got on her knees, lowering her head until her forehead touched the ground.
"Please, Benefactor, I realize that I have no right to request this, but please help me grow stronger. Please, give me a chance to fight on my own."
Liang Chen's expression cramped slightly as the girl got on her knees, only turning more bitter as she spoke. But that bitter expression was only the start, as the girl's words seemed to invigorate the more despondent people around her, giving them a certain idea.
"...Please, extend a hand to me as well, I do not wish to rest amidst the mud any longer."
"Please, give me a chance to take back my own freedom."
"Please, give me the strength to avenge my arm on my own."
They had lost everything, and even if they were given freedom, they would just lose it in the end. So why not fight? Why not claw their way out of the mud and up into the light, why not fight against the injustice they had to suffer? Liang Chen understood this thought process, he really did. But even so, with his lips twisted into a bitter smile, he couldn't help but try to persuade them.
"...The people who have hurt you are already dead, they'll never hurt you or anyone else ever again. You can live in peace now, I can promise you that. And even if you gain strength, the targets of your revenge are already dead."
He really didn't want to train them to fight and kill, doing so to Yi Xue and the other people he had picked up before coming to this major universe was already enough. He wanted to prevent more people like him from being born, that was his goal, it certainly wasn't to nurture more people like him.
"You are right, I can live in peace. With all my heart, I believe that you have the strength to give us that assurance. But Benefactor, if I live in peace, what am I to do with all this festering anger, this blazing fury that won't leave my chest? The targets of my revenge are already dead, but the scars of the past never leave, nor does the pain that caused them."
But no matter what Liang Chen's thoughts were, would it matter to others? He was constantly burning with anger, wrath that threatened to burn the skies themselves. But wasn't the same true for others? Those who suffered from injustice were almost always the same, broken people burning with pain that just wanted something to direct their anger at.
"And, Benefactor, is there still not one other target that we can direct our anger towards? You said that the heavens are indifferent or dead and that you seek to supplant them, so would it not be fine for us to seek the same goal? Would it not be fine for us to rage against the indifferent heavens that allow pain to spread without end?"
The girl didn't raise her head even once as she spoke, but the soft voice that came from her lowered head tunnelled into the hearts of the despondent people around her. If one person could rage against the heavens with unfathomable wrath, couldn't they just do the same? They had lost everything and were wallowing in pain, but couldn't they take that pain and turn it into motivation? They were mortals now, but one day they might be titans that could challenge the heavens. And even if they failed, the worst that would happen would be that they died and got reunited with their families.
"There is also another way you can see it. You have saved us here today, dragged us out of the darkness and pointed us towards the light, we would not be here if not for you. But while you saved us, how many innocent fell in a different place? How many innocents were condemned to torment because you were here, and not there? If there were more people fighting for the same cause, would we not be able to reach more places at once, save more people? And as we save more, won't they be like us, another burning soul that can help others?"
The girl continued to talk, as if she was trying to corner Liang Chen and drive the last nail into the coffin. Liang Chen's expression only grew all the more bitter as the girl kept talking. When he first saved her, he had felt that she was somewhat similar to him, he too had once just been a mortal filled with a burning desire to kill the source of his anger. And from the soft yet resolute words she spoke, it seemed like she ended up making the same choice as him, albeit a choice that ended up being influenced by his words and actions.
"...I didn't want there to be more people like me, one really was enough. But I'm still weak, so it seems like that goal is still far out of my reach, huh?"
Liang Chen couldn't help but mutter to himself, he kept trying so hard to prevent the birth of more people like him, the world didn't need more angry and broken children. But the more he worked towards that goal, the more people like him he seemed to create, first it was Yi Xue and the others from his home universe, and now it was this girl and the others.
"Very well, then let me take responsibility all the way. I am Liang Chen, I can be considered one of the leaders of the Storm Wolf sect. And if you wish to save the innocent, then our doors will always be open, those who just want to live in peace can just continue living here until I find a safe place for you. But I will warn you this once, if you engage in the same acts as those I target, then my spear will come for you just like it came for them. Please, don't make me kill people I've already saved."
Liang Chen wiped away the bitter expression as he spoke, he had brought the people close to this path so he would take responsibility and see it through. And of course, he didn't forget to give them the same warning he gave everyone else, his spear made no distinction, it pierced through all sinners the same, no matter who they were.
His words were like lightning running through the bodies of the people around him, that sharp determination and underlying threat causing tingles to run up their spines. The girl with the ruined eyes raised her head from the ground slightly before knocking her forehead against it, the others around her joining her in a kowtow as an all-too-familiar scene repeated itself.
"Thank you, Benefactor. Then please, allow Disciple Jiao Hui Xin to be the first to greet Wolf Sovereign Liang Chen."
"Please, Storm Ruler Liang Chen, guide this Zi Tin onto your path of heavenly wrath."
"Please, Wolf Lord, help this Chang Toh become strong enough to save so many that my lost family can smile down at me from the World Tree Realm."
"Storm Monarch, please, please, give me a target that I can vent all this burning anger on, Cao Zen Shu begs of you!"