The boss let him through - in the first place, they were only lounging here to sort out troublemakers and watch out for city guards - and Xie Yi descended down the stairs at the end of the hallway.
The black market wasn’t actually what you’d imagine hearing the word market.
Everything outside was only selling food, looking quite normal, and only a couple of large buildings were around.
A brothel - hah, now he finally knew what that was - an auction house, a weapon seller. From the outside, everything looked quite normal.
Well, maybe excluding the illegal slaves being sold.
Xie Yi let his eyes slide over them with disinterest. Slaves weren’t his thing.
Since the market wasn’t overly huge, Xie Yi found the Lotus Brothel soon enough and as expected, there were indeed some demonic cultivators standing around.
A few of them were clearly newbies wasting time. If he remembered correctly, they’d be working here for almost a year before the sect would decide to actually take them in. He had never questioned why a year, but he was sure there was a reason for it.
Xie Yi stopped by a stall to buy some food and then hovered around nearby. Was he supposed to approach them?
At that time, their peculiar conversation reached his ears.
“I still think you’re creepy”, the tallest one scoffed.
A smaller guy with a haughty look rolled his eyes. “I’m telling you, it’s logical! If you keep them while they’re young and raise them, you have total control! They won’t have annoying habits, will be perfectly obedient to you and you don’t have to deal with their families.”
“What if she ends up ugly, though?”
“You can tell from their parents, right? Worst case, you can throw them away”, the haughty guy shrugged.
“I wouldn’t bother. Raising a girl sounds like way too much work”, the most muscular one sighed.
“Idiot, you gotta hire someone to do it for you!”
They all laughed and Xie Yi felt his face scrunch up. Were they talking… about raising girls into obedient wives?
“I swear, even the higher-ups do it. I saw one; she was like a little doll.”
“I know, I know. How often have you told us this already? I think you just have a thing for kids”, the tall guy scoffed.
“She was pretty, though”, another one murmured. “Maybe she’s someone’s daughter? They were treating her pretty carefully.”
Xie Yi’s breathing hitched.
A piece of valuable information that he would miss if he didn’t come here.
Could it be, a little girl that the sect kept…
“If you dare, then ask the Madame about her. I certainly won’t.” Another guy glanced at the brothel before looking away.
Xie Yi thoughtfully closed his eyes. The Singing City was pretty close to the canyon and the black market held some powerful people despite appearing so harmless. It wasn’t impossible that Xiao Zai was kept here right now.
Xie Yi finished his food, then checked his remaining money. Would this be enough?
It wasn’t a lot for a high level cultivator, but it certainly wasn’t just a bit.
With confident steps, he walked past the group that had switched topics to something else and entered the brothel.
The one he had visited with Shi Yue had smelled of makeup, but it had somehow felt clean. This one here… felt like eating overly greasy food.
He did not look rich enough to attract attention, but one woman was polite enough to come over and ask what he wanted.
After a short exchange, Xie Yi was sure he had enough money to ask for a room and order alcohol, as well as someone to play music for him.
“I don’t need them for anything else”, he added seriously and the woman nodded. Either way, if they got their pay without having to please a customer, it was a good thing.
Xie Yi ascended the steps slowly and while glancing around everywhere. He purposefully stopped to admire some especially beautiful women, and the girl leading him waited patiently. He glanced down at her.
“Are there lots of children like you here?”
The girl flinched and blanched. “N-No, not many…”
Xie Yi hummed but didn’t continue asking. He was only giving it a try - if he didn’t see Xiao Zai, then he didn’t lose anything.
But whether it was the heavens or any other influence, two hours later, when he was leaving, he stopped at the sound of a weak cough.
The Madame of the building - easily enough recognizable by her lavish looks - was walking down the hallway. Everyone bowed to her and the women began to shudder.
On her hand, she held a little girl with a white face. A little doll, sickly and small.
Xie Yi moved to the side to make space for them, but he stared at her from his lowered face. Xiao Zai looked up, holding a handkerchief before her mouth as she coughed.
She was only looking over everyone without any interest, but the moment her eyes passed Xie Yi’s, she softly exhaled and lowered her head again. The tension in her shoulders relaxed the tiniest bit.
She didn’t look too bad, to Xie Yi’s relief. She didn’t look healthy, that was for sure, but there were no visible wounds and she was walking normally.
Xie Yi closed his eyes.
I’ll come and get you. Just endure for another while.
When he opened them again, the Madame was gone. The servant-girl nervously looked up at him, wondering if he was going to cause trouble, but Xie Yi started walking again.
“The question is, how long will she be kept here”, he mumbled to himself.
Technically, the black market was a safe place for the Demonic Sect. This place did not like righteous cultivators or anyone who was lawful, to be blunt.
Someone who came here as a lawful person would be attacked by everyone. Not to mention that you needed someone to lead you into the market in the first place.
People made regular habits of randomly wandering around the streets and entering houses just to make sure that no one could tell how they found their way when they actually went. Without a leader, it was near impossible to find your way in.
He would offer this knowledge to Shi Yue. Since the man knew the truth now anyway, he would offer everything, everything he knew.
As long as it meant that he could prove he was still on Shi Yue’s side.
...Maybe he should say the righteous side, but ultimately it was more Shi Yue’s. If Shi Yue changed sides, he would… would…
...No way he could be on the side of the elders again. Actually, this was a stupid thought - if Shi Yue changed sides, then he would have changed so much that it wouldn’t be the Shi Yue he liked anymore, so he wouldn’t follow.
The righteous Shi Yue’s side, was it, then.
Xie Yi’s steps were slow as he made his way out of the market. He was pretty sure he had the information he needed, so now was the time to return.
His heart was beating heavily in his chest at the thought of being able to free Xiao Zai soon.
“Dear Sir, are you interested in buying a slave?” Someone jumped up before him with a wide, disgusting smile. “We have the best wares down here.”
Disgusted, Xie Yi was about to reject him, when the man already dragged him to the side.
“We have pretty young women, strong men - good slaves for labour and whatever you need!”
Like dead fish, the rows of neatly placed slaves stared at him through the cages. He wished he could feel bad for them, but in truth, he didn’t care. This was life.
Glancing to the side, Xie Yi found one cage that was bursting with people. They sat squashed against each other. “What’s with those?”
“Aah”, the slave trader said with a nod. “Wares of minor quality. They’re useful enough as sacrifices or training dummies.”
Xie Yi went closer. If the other guys were fish, these were corpses. Some were even drooling, their eyes completely devoid of thoughts.
None of them moved. Sometimes they emitted groans or grunts, but otherwise they were quiet. They did reek, however.
His eyes merely glanced over everyone until they got caught on one particular slave.
It was only a flicker.
Xie Yi felt a smile appear on his face and he raised his arm. “How much is that one?”
The slave trader followed his outstretched finger to the tiny, malnourished brat at the side.
Because he wasn’t worth much, the trade was completed quickly, along with a comment that the slave trader was not responsible for Xie Yi dealing with illegally owning a human now. How he got him out of here was none of his business.
Xie Yi nodded, then picked up the child under his arm and carried him like a sack. Actually, he weighed even less than a sack. He was skin and bones.
In a corner, he set him down and looked over the boy.