Ch. 4: Built to Break
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Rain poured down from the sky followed by whipping winds. The other guards wanted to stop and find shelter, but Brother Li vehemently disagreed and ordered them to march forward. All of the children huddled together in the cage, glaring at the young boy who staggered and slipped in the mud. They could at least have gotten the cover of a thick oak tree if they stopped, but because of the obstinate child, they were forced to bear the brunt of the weather. 

Mei Hua’s body grew heavier and heavier with every step. Rainwater weighed down his clothes and hair, as well as slicked the dirt roads. The wind made going forward arduous as it angrily screamed in his face and pulled on his limbs. Every step was torture. Not only that, but the pace had increased as the guards desired to escape the deluge and seek shelter. 

Willpower and a trickle of spiritual energy weren’t enough to keep him standing. Mei Hua slipped on a rock, ripping open his foot. He cried out before he slid in some mud. Since his wrists were bound, when he fell, his arms were viciously yanked out of their sockets. Stars danced in front of his eyes. He couldn’t even cry out. 

Burning knives cut through Mei Hua’s flesh as his legs gave out and he was dragged along the muddy road. It took everything he had to twist around so his back took the brunt of the cutting sticks and stones instead of his soft stomach. Warm blood blended in with mud and icy rain, freezing yet warming him up until everything became numb. He didn’t know when he passed out. 

When Mei Hua woke up, he wished he hadn’t. His body was burning. Every inch was sore and torn to shreds. When he tried to open his eyes, everything was black. He felt grateful that he had the blindfold on because he probably resembled ground beef and he really didn’t want to see that. His limbs hung limply, as he had no strength to lift them. 

What happened? Mei Hua thought as he listened to his surroundings. 

The undulating movement and the rumble of the carriage suggested he was still on the road. He also heard the chattering of teeth, rustling of clothes, and sniffles of the children. So he was back in the cage? 

How am I even alive? Mei Hua wondered to himself. His body certainly felt like he should be dead. Maybe they stopped soon after I passed out. 

Just the thought of glee on that bastard Li’s face had Mei Hua seething. He had tried so hard not to give the other what he wanted, but it was useless in the end. He was far too weak to stand a chance. And that other bastard, Wei... Mei Hua wanted to kill him. He was the sick person who came up with this cruel game. 

If I ever run into these guys in the future, I’ll pay them back tenfold, Mei Hua thought maliciously. 

“Big Brother, are you awake?” Xiao Ai inquired somewhere at Mei Hua’s side. 

Mei Hua tried to speak, but his throat was parched. He managed a small nod. Xiao Ai sighed in relief at the gesture and sat closer to the bloody figure. 

“I thought you died,” Xiao Ai admits with a shaky voice. 

The image of trembling lips and inky black eyes arose within Mei Hua’s eyes. He quickly pushed it away. Instead, he forced out a grunt-like laugh. 

Maybe it would have been better if I died, Mei Hua thought bitterly. He really didn’t know for what reason he was carrying on. He wanted to meet the villain and protect him, but he couldn’t even protect himself. How was he going to help others?

“Would you like some water?” Xiao Ai inquired. 

Mei Hua managed another nod and gratefully accepted the warm water trickling down his parched throat. His lips cracked and he could taste the iron against his dry tongue. He cleared his throat and tested his voice:

“How long have I been asleep for?” 

“It’s been two days,” Xiao Ai informed him, “After you passed out, they kept dragging you for another mile until they stopped. You weren’t moving or waking up and you were barely breathing. Everyone thought you had died.”

All the color ran out of Mei Hua’s face. Not even when I was unconscious did they stop? Were they really trying to kill me? How am I even alive?! 

As if reading his thoughts, Xiao Ai continued, “They didn’t know if you were alive or dead, so they just threw you back in the cage saying they would deal with your corpse later. That guard named Wei gave me some medicine to feed to you so you wouldn’t die.” 

That Wei bastard? Mei Hua shuddered. Why would he give me medicine when it was his idea in the first place? Unless he has some sick plan up his sleeve. 

A few days after he had recovered a bit to sit up, that Li bastard decided to pick another fight. 

“Ah, I see you’re still alive, brat,” Li sneered, banging on the cage near Mei Hua. 

Mei Hua, who had long taken off the blindfold, didn’t even spare the man a glance. He just stared blankly off into space. He was so sick of this man already. Mei Hua thought it would be a blessing when he was finally sold or dead. 

The guard, Li, gnashed his teeth at the latter’s indifference. Even after that the boy still treated him like garbage. He pointed his finger at Mei Hua and demanded he come out of the cage once more. 

With wobbly steps, Mei Hua climbed out of the open door of the cage and jumped to the ground. Multiple lacerations and bruises covered Mei Hua from head to toe. The sack that served as his clothing was torn to shreds and barely offered any cover. He didn’t bother feeling embarrassed, though. What was the use of humility when you weren’t even considered human?

“Where is the blindfold?” Li demanded, spitting in the boy’s face. 

Cringing and wiping off the spittle, Mei Hua raised his wrist to show the black strip of cloth wrapped around it. Li ground his teeth together at the behavior and practically ripped the cloth off, wrapping it around the youth’s stubborn eyes. 

“Is this your kink or something?” Mei Hua mumbled underneath his breath. 

The closest guards snickered at the comment, whereas Li flushed red. He quickly sent his fist into the youth’s gut, making him keel over. Li decided that he would break this kid, even if it meant doing this every day. 

Without being able to see, Mei Hua was unable to predict the attacks and protect himself with spiritual energy. This caused him to grunt and groan as he took the full brunt of Li’s fists. The other was very pleased with this change. 

When the blows stopped, Mei Hua thought that it was finally over and he could crawl back into his cage, but he was mistaken. Instead, he felt the coarse rope wrap around his scabbed-over wrists. He felt the familiar tug and staggered in the direction the rope was guiding him. 

Mei Hua’s heart hammered against his chest and his breath was shallow as panic swallowed his heart. Not again, please! Anything but this. He listened with perked ears as Li jumped back onto his horse, ordering the others to do the same. 

Just like before, Mei Hua was forced to jog behind the procession. He couldn’t hear anything over the pounding pulse in his ears. He tried to calm himself down and collect his breathing. If he didn’t he was sure to face the same consequences as before; this time he might not be so lucky. 

Since Mei Hua’s eyes were blocked and his body was numb from pain, he thought that this kind of seemed like some form of meditation. If he thought of the dull repetition as he put one leg in front of the other, it pulled him into a lull. He emptied his brain as he focused on running after the horse and spreading his spiritual energy throughout his body so he wouldn’t break apart. Not even the rocks cutting into his feet or the rope slicing his wrists fazed him as he ran. 

The procession carried on for two hours before resting for a break. Mei Hua, who was in a trance-like state, snapped out of it as soon as the horses slowed to a halt. He felt the overwhelming exhaustion bloom in every inch of his body while his mind was enlightened from the meditation. He promptly passed out, the coarse rope digging into his wrists once more. 

Li was so furious that he gnashed his teeth together. Veins stuck out against his neck and he was tempted to run around the clearing whilst dragging the impudent child. It was Brother Wei who interrupted him from flicking the reins. 

“Throw the boy back into the cage,” Brother Wei commanded. The corners of his lips curled up in a morbid fascination. 

Wei hadn’t thought that the stubborn child would last so long. He surely thought the brat died last time after being dragged through the mud; although he had given him medicine with little hope. Now the child was even able to keep up with the pace. Wei was curious just how much the child would grow if they kept this up. The kid was surely a monster. 

“Brother Wei,” Li complained in a whiny tone, “why won’t you let me just drag him around for a lap or two?” 

Wei looked at his stupid junior with a placid smile. “It wouldn’t be fun if we killed the boy off. You said you wanted to see him break, didn’t you? We’ll just have to keep this up until he does. How much do you think a child like him can handle, anyway?” 

Li nodded with a dumb expression on his face. “Of course! That makes a lot of sense, Brother Wei. We’ll just have to see how well the brat can do tomorrow.” 

“Indeed. Also, I think we should prevent the child from removing the blindfold. I believe it will break his spirit faster if we do so.” 

Li nodded obediently and snickered. Brother Wei’s methods were just so cruel. He couldn’t wait to see how the child would react to the new form of punishment. On the other hand, Brother Wei wanted to see if the child would break or if he would bloom. 

Wei didn’t really care about the child, he just thought it was an interesting experiment to pass the time. It was rare seeing a child so skilled in cultivation at a young age. It would be nice to test his limits.