Ch.199: Underground
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Gnawing on a chicken leg, Xie Yi squatted at the side of the street and considered what he was supposed to do. Juxian had given him zero information.

Xie Yi shook his head and tried to think about what he knew.

The demonic cultivators here existed to recruit unhappy children that could be converted to the dark side. The Singing City also had a pretty large underground market that literally was below the city.

Under normal circumstances… He would probably go there, which meant he needed a mask. 

Hmm, could he still remember where the guy selling human skin masks1A thing from Chinese novels. While the material depends on which story you are reading, the gist is that these masks are like a second skin. Basically instant plastic surgery, turning you into another person without looking suspicious worked?

He didn’t want to walk around with his actual face, especially not on the market.

A bit blind without being able to remember the actual path, Xie Yi hoped that muscle memory would lead him to the correct man. Beneath his house was another hidden passage to the market that Xie Yi had used often before; only the higher-ups of the Demonic Sect knew about it.

That said, the man was neutral. He wanted money, he didn’t care from whom. There were a lot of people like that.

Xie Yi snaked through some side streets until he reached the store selling masks. Foxes, demons, goblins - everything was hanging around. When he entered, a small bell rung and the grumpy looking man behind the counter looked up.

He looked very old… Actually, maybe he had only worked with his descendant before.

“What do you want?”, the old man grunted in an unfriendly manner.

“A human skin mask, coloured lenses and a cloak”, Xie Yi ordered peacefully while placing his hands on the counter.

The old man looked over him once and snorted. “Brat, don’t try playing assassin. You don’t need that kind of thing. Go back to the main street, where it’s bright and nice - that suits you better.”

Xie Yi appeared stunned at those words, then laughed.

Bright and nice suited him better.

How sweet.

He smiled at the owner and tilted his head. The man froze and straightened slowly under the chilling, dead gaze. “Bright and nice has never suited me. I sure wish it would, but I fear that cloaks and masks are more my thing.”

The old man hesitated, then turned away with a frown. “Whatever. Your decision. Do you have the money to pay for all of that? Good quality is expensive.”

“Oh”, Xie Yi said stupidly. “No.”

...He didn’t. Not that much.

Human skin masks were damn expensive, he knew now that he had an idea about the worth of money. He could buy a cloak and lenses, and other small stuff too, but there was no way he could buy the mask or the service of putting it on.

The owner’s eyes widened as if he didn’t expect that. “Then what are you still doing here! I’m selling things, if you don’t have money then leave!”

“I can pay with information?”, Xie Yi tried to suggest awkwardly. The disdain in the man’s eyes was a bit embarrassing.

“And what kind of information does a brat like you have?”

Xie Yi hummed and counted on his fingers what he still remembered could be useful for common people. “Location of an unexplored gold mine, the weak point of the Ridgeback Rhinoceros, how to improve talismans meant for creating short term barriers, …”

The more things he named, the more suspicious the man looked.

“Can you prove any of those right now, right here?”

“Uhm…” Xie Yi frowned. He could draw the arrays, but they needed materials, so…

The old man watched Xie Yi’s twisting face.

His gut told him that the child was indeed telling the truth, but that was why things were incredibly suspicious! Who would have this kind of information and not use it for themselves?!

“Well, what can I do? I need those and the black market access in here”, Xie Yi awkwardly mumbled, half to himself. Hearing those words, the old man tensed up.

“The… what?”

“Black market access? The one under this house, it is there, right?” Did he remember wrong? Maybe it didn’t exist yet?

The old man turned pale white. How did this kid come to know of that?

At that moment, he made a decision.

Honestly, all of this was not worth the trouble.

“Listen here. Give me those weak points for the beasts and I’ll give you some mask I have no use for. Use another entrance and don’t come here again.” With a headache, the man went to search for one of the older masks he had.

As long as the suspicious brat with even more suspicious knowledge was far away from him, he’d feel better.

Xie Yi did not mind if the face mask was not pretty and a bit old, he only cared about the use. He didn’t think about why the old man suddenly accepted his deal.

In a couple of minutes, he had everything he needed. 

The pretty little youth turned into a plain man in dark clothes. Other areas that showed skin, like his hands, were covered in gloves, essentially revealing only the human skin mask.

Xie Yi touched his face. It felt weird to feel his changed features.  

While good human skin masks were expensive, they could still be made by anyone who invested enough time. The application, however, was an entirely different story.

To be able to apply the mask so that it was like a second face, being able to display any movement and twitch normally, that was an inborn talent. There weren’t many people around who had the suitable type of channels for this work.

That was why, if they wanted to, they could spend their life lavishly. This one was a bit eccentric, though.

“Thank you very much”, Xie Yi said with a slight bow. “And I really can’t use the entrance here?”

“I don’t know how you found out about it, boy, but if you value your life then you’ll forget this information! Now scram and use another entrance”, the old man scolded, shooing Xie Yi away.

Xie Yi shrugged and left. He knew some of the other entrances anyway, so it wasn’t too much of a hassle.

Although one would think that the black market would be in danger, having several entrances, but it wasn’t half as easy to get down there as Xie Yi thought.

The difference between him and everyone else was that the elders of the Demonic Sect had spent a lot of time teaching him every single thing he needed to know, to the point of Xie Yi not even being aware of what he did to reach the entrance.

The first mark was a small cross in a circle at the entrance of a little street.

Xie Yi activated his spiritual energy and let it surround his feet as if he was leaving footprints. Then he walked forward with wide eyes, checking the corners for the next marks.

In total, there were over fifty different positions where the marks could be, and over three hundred marks that would tell you how to proceed. Whether to go left or right, how many steps, sometimes even the speed you had to use. The orders were strict and detailed.

Only if the path was exactly traced with spiritual energy would you be able to enter the inconspicuous door in a small side street and not enter a normal residential house but rather something like an office.

The black market guards, high levelled mercenary cultivators, watched Xie Yi closely as he entered the office as if it was his living room.

Rather than worry about the scary looking men, Xie Yi was relieved. He wanted to get to the outpost but he honestly didn’t remember how to find it, considering it might not even be at the same place right now.

“Excuse me, could you help me find the way?”, Xie Yi said politely, approaching the most dangerous looking man that appeared to be the boss.

The man raised an eyebrow, intrigued by the harmless looking youth in front of him who didn’t look intimidated at all.

“Whaddaya want?”

“I’m supposed to go to the outpost of the Demonic Sect, but I have no idea where it is.”

“You?” The man’s eyebrows raised further. He didn’t disdain the Demonic Sect - not like the black market was a lawful place - and he often saw newbies, but never one like this.

“Yeah.” Xie Yi raised his hand and released some of the demonic energy in his core.

That was proof enough.

“And how come you’re here alone? You were just led here and left behind, or what?”

“Uh”, Xie Yi stuttered. “The man who brought me here said I should ask you. He was… was going to buy some booze?”

Another man laughed. “Oh, I know that one. Boss, do you remember? The guy who threw up on our floor?”

The stern boss sighed. “Ah, that guy. I can’t believe it. The next time he makes us do his work, I’ll go call the outpost and tell them I want his salary.”

He shook his head to himself and returned his attention to Xie Yi.

“Find the Lotus Brothel. You’ll find your companions around there, they can lead you.”

“Okay. Thanks”, Xie Yi said while nodding.

I wonder when I'll be able to actually catch up with all of those sponsored chapters...
Thanks for sticking with me even though I've slowed down with writing. I really appreciate that! It's a relief that people still like what I write, even if I don't update as much (I'm not kidding, I'm a very nervous person. I freak out easily and uploading my stories is rather nerve-wracking for me)
Writing is getting better again so I think I can fork out a sponsored chapter this week.