“About Xiang Zhe, he says he only knows they wanted him to become a breeding ground. From the start, it didn’t matter too much if he was with us or with the Demonic Sect. If inconvenient, Yao Ming was supposed to let us free Xiang Zhe from him. I believe this breeding ground thing failed.”
“Did he say anything else?”
“Nothing.” Shi Yue placed the report down. “I want to go talk to him. What about you?”
“I’m just as curious to see what’s up with him now. I’ll come along.”
With an expressionless face, Xie Yi stood up. How Yao Ming would be dealt with was Shi Yue’s decision as appointed by the sect leader, but he did not know what Shi Yue’s plans were.
Shi Yue gave him a soft kiss on the cheek before leaving his office again and walking over the prison building.
The guards were awkward, but regulations forced them to check Xie Yi and even Shi Yue for weapons due to the safety level. Neither cultivator made a fuss, quickly letting the procedure get over them.
Before the door, the guard stopped. “We will be right outside if you yell. Yao Ming cannot move, so unless you place your hand between his teeth, it’s basically impossible for something to happen.”
“Thank you”, Shi Yue said and made a motion for the guard to open the door.
The two stepped inside and the door fell shut again, lowering the level of light within the room.
Yao Ming’s breathing was shallow and raspy like that of a sick person. They had taken everything from him, leaving nothing but his lower half covered, and his body wrapped in tight chains and buzzing arrays.
His hair was scattered and dirty, hanging over his shoulders. He was heaving with every breath and only slowly lifted his head to meet Xie Yi’s eyes.
In truth, Xie Yi expected hatred. He expected something, anything negative towards him, and found none of it. He only found exhaustion, resignation… and a deeply settled pride.
“There you are”, Yao Ming coughed. “Been waiting.”
“Waiting for your death?”, Xie Yi asked and tilted his head. He wasn’t wrong - they could easily take Yao Ming’s life for everything he had done, even more so after the Zhu family’s Grandmaster was dead and could not retaliate.
“Sure.” Yao Ming laughed darkly. “I expected that much the moment you caught me.”
Caught. Xie Yi averted his eyes for a moment. Did he get caught?
Shi Yue folded his hands behind his back, letting his disciple do all the talking. He merely watched and looked over the youth who had once been one of the most promising cultivators of his sect.
“Did you lead us to Xiao Zai?” Xie Yi asked the question directly. “...No. Not just that. Did you let yourself get injured the last time, to leave a trail? Did you not fight seriously against me? Did you sabotage the rooftop to let it break in, so we would find the girl?”
Yao Ming sneered and gave no response. He hung powerlessly in the chains.
“Aren’t you going to kill me?”, he asked instead, his voice level and calm.
Xie Yi hesitated and Shi Yue spoke up.
The Grandmaster’s face shifted into something gentle and benevolent. “No. We won’t. Although you have worked against us, you were forced to. You also helped us fight Xiao Zai. We… will let you go.”
Yao Ming was stunned. His eyes widened in pure surprise, then the emotion shifted. He grit his teeth and forced out a sentence. “You will let me go?”
“Yes.” Shi Yue nodded, his voice not much more than a whisper.
“A wandering cultivator?”
“You will not find a place in a sect, but you can still live honourably”, Shi Yue confirmed. He felt Xie Yi’s eyes on him but did not return the gaze.
Yao Ming shuddered. His head slumped down, silence falling over them. When he looked back up, his face was void of any emotion.
“I am not in any position to judge your decisions, Grandmaster, and neither am I suicidal. If you let me go, I will not complain. But…” Yao Ming breathed in deeply and his face twisted. “I must still ask a favour.”
Shi Yue’s eyebrows jumped up. “Which would be?”
Yao Ming’s voice trembled with hatred. “Destroy this abomination in my chest. I will not tolerate it. I will never accept this tainted, wicked thing to exist within me! Destroy it or be merciful and take my life, because I won’t do it myself!”
Yao Ming stretched his body up, straightening his spine. He was quivering softly, but whether it was from fear, anger or disgust, no one could say.
Shi Yue’s expression fell like a mask. With great interest, he stared at Yao Ming. “You want me to cripple your cultivation.”
“To be exact, I want you to destroy my core”, Yao Ming corrected. “I… don’t want my cultivation crippled. I want to live. But not like this.”
They were things he could not and did not want to describe.
He had spilled everything he knew the moment he was in control of his body again, hurried and fearful of the foreign thoughts invading his head again and taking over. The constant feeling that something was wrong but being unable to tell what.
There was a gap in his memory - everywhere the fake memory had been inserted was white now. He remembered behaving the way he did for a reason but he did not remember the reason anymore. All he remembered was that it had been weird from the start, that he was torn between wanting to do what he did and rushing back to his sect.
He knew why, but he did not want to say it out loud.
That he had fought so badly, that he had helped this Xie Yi whom he did not like, that he had resisted at all…
He had always been proud. Proud to be a part of this sect. He was not kind, but he loved this sect of his. He hated the Demonic Sect, he hated the demon spawns, he hated demonic cultivation.
No matter how warped his thoughts were… They could not erase the rejection in his heart at feeling the demonic energy run through his body, foreign and ugly.
If Xie Yi was not a demon spawn as he had assumed… If Xie Yi was helping the Virtuous Sect, if he was on their side, then he would rather help him than the Demonic Sect. That was where he drew the line. That was why he struggled.
Death was too scary. He knew he would not be able to commit suicide, but he was also unable to personally destroy his core. He did not just want his cultivation crippled.
He wanted this thing gone. He did not want to be a danger to those he adored.
And he could not do it himself.
Xie Yi stared at Yao Ming and was suddenly reminded of a simple fact. Yao Ming was not very old. He was young. He had grown up almost sheltered, always guided.
Of course he was scared of death.
But his pride as a spiritual cultivator did not weigh much less.
Xie Yi sighed and Shi Yue hummed.
“I was curious about what you would say when offered freedom”, Shi Yue said thoughtfully. “I did not expect it to be this. But in fact… It might not be the worst idea.”
He looked at Xie Yi and held his gaze.
“Or what do you say? Do you want him dead?”
“Speaking from personal experience”, Xie Yi said slowly, “I’d rather he atone. Throwing his life away sounds stupid, like a waste.”
There were worse punishments than death. A Yao Ming with crippled cultivation would suffer intensely - a normal life, powerless, weak. Death was suitable for those that were too dangerous to leave alive even weakened, and Yao Ming did not belong to that type.
Knowing that his life would be over earlier than any of the cultivators he had once known. That it was short.
Yao Ming did not respond to their words. He coughed again. He was not going to beg for anything else.
Shi Yue quietly agreed. Yao Ming’s knowledge was broad and even without spiritual energy, he had good skills. It would be a shame if it was not used.
Once Yao Ming’s core was destroyed, he’d have to live with a weaker than average constitution and a constant dull pain in his chest. Additionally, Yao Ming’s insider knowledge of the Virtuous Sect wasn’t too much - they could still distort some of his memories to make sure or partially destroy it, as they did not have to worry about the consequences.
Technically, he could run free.
And maybe someone of his skills was better placed in one of the cities to the far south, where sickness was spreading and doctors were needed.
It was easy to brand him as someone who had committed crimes and place him under their supervision of some cultivators. It would be one more person who could save others.
“I’ll consider”, Shi Yue ended up sighing. His determination to kill Yao Ming immediately had wavered a lot after seeing the way the youth was acting. It was easier to hate a despicable person, not a child with too much power and responsibility.