Forced to move like common people, Shi Yue and Xie Yi slid alongside the walls and hid between the luckily rather large number of cabinets and decorative items down the hallway.
The younger cultivator was forced to place his ear against one of the doors, his eyes narrowing in concentration as he tried to figure out whether someone was inside or not. Shi Yue joined him and breathed a couple of words into his ear, the hot air tickling him.
“We can’t tell. We will have to risk it.”
Of course they could stop here - a good part of the building would collapse and if they were lucky, some areas of the upper floor would suffer as well. However, due to the way it was built, most of it would stay intact.
Xie Yi’s shoulders tensed. He did not want to leave without causing damage to this area specifically. It was selfish, but he was going to stay until he was sure he had at least planted a single bomb. At least in one of these rooms - that would collapse one of the necessary pillars holding everything up at least.
They could always run. They’d be fast. He was sure they could do it.
Shi Yue saw the determination in his beloved’s eyes and knew that if he left right now, he’d leave alone. He planted a soft kiss on Xie Yi’s earlobe to convey he was going to stay, and Xie Yi placed a hand on the handle.
Sneaking around like this was an experience neither of them had had in a long time. It felt childish and stupid to peek through a door from a crouching position, holding their breaths and hoping no one was inside.
They were lucky… As lucky as you could say it was, when the whole sect was out fighting.
The room was on the level of a spiritual sect’s leader. It was overly lavish, wasteful even, and Shi Yue scrunched his nose in disdain at the precious materials that had been used for nothing but decoration.
His eyes slid over the room, stopping at the bed. He pointed at it, but Xie Yi shook his head and pointed at the wardrobe instead. The bed was likely to have additional arrays that he didn’t want to deal with right now.
Hiding the next bomb between the clothes was easy enough; it wasn’t large and the amount of fabric inside the shelves was so large that you could probably hide a whole person under it. Considering the level of tidiness, no one would even notice the bump.
Xie Yi was satisfied and so they entered the hallway again. Just as the door closed behind them, another further down opened.
The man that stepped out looked kind.
He was the kind of old man whom you’d help walking and who’d pat your head and give you a bit to eat as thanks. The kind of old man Shi Yue even knew from his old neighbourhoods. With gentle smiles and wrinkles from laughing too much, and soothing dark eyes.
He looked so nice that, if not for the door he had left out of or Xie Yi’s sudden burst of bloodlust, he’d have needed a while to snap out of it.
The old man’s eyes widened in surprise. There was no anger or aggression in them at all. He slowly raised his hands in a calming manner and spoke up: “I… don’t believe I have seen you two around before. May I ask for your names? Are you lost?”
He took a step forward, his voice full with worry.
“It seems you’re hurt? Do you need help, maybe?”
Shi Yue heard Xie Yi growl beside him. The younger cultivator, without any hint of gentleness or love, threw out his arm and raked his fingernails once over Shi Yue’s cheek, drawing blood.
The smell and sudden pain alongside the feeling of shock of being hurt by his lover was like a wave inside his head and suddenly, the absurdity of the situation was clear to him again. There was no way for this to be an ordinary old man. That he had almost approached the figure to explain their reason for being here chilled the cultivator to the bone.
The old man paused in his steps and tilted his head. All kindness fell off, leaving a thoughtful expression. His fingers curled as he let his hands fall, eyes focused on Xie Yi who had stared at him from the start, unblinking.
“Hmmm. How curious. Why does it not work on you? As far as I know, you shouldn’t be stronger than Shi Yue”, the man muttered to himself before clicking his tongue. “Well, to be expected from the one who managed to run away.”
“Don’t talk as if I belong here”, Xie Yi snarled, his desire to kill seeping into his words. He did notice the weird smell that surrounded the old man, but hate overpowered it.
“You do. You should have been here, with us. Why you weren’t… It’s a mystery.” The old man stroked his beard and thoughtfully placed his other arm behind his back, leisurely as if he was taking a walk. “But we have no use for you now that you’ve grown up somewhere else.”
The certainty with which the man talked about Xie Yi as an item that should have belonged to them was gruesome. Shi Yue wiped over his bleeding cheek, not intending to scold Xie Yi for the manoeuvre. “He’s not yours. He’s mine.”
“I am aware. What a waste of good material.”
“Indeed”, Shi Yue scoffed. “So good that the only way to have him is by exchanging myself in turn. That’s not a price someone like you can pay.”
The old man laughed. “It’s annoying that you two rats managed to make your way inside here somehow. I should have left earlier with the others… But, no hurry. I will be leaving then.”
Without a care in the world, the elder turned around and began to walk away.
This was part of their arrogance, too. They themselves did not like fighting too much. They delegated and enjoyed.
Xie Yi howled and, ignoring Shi Yue’s scream, darted forward like a beast.
The array that halved the hallway flared bright golden, sparks flying like lightning as Xie Yi collided with it. Blood sprayed to the sides where his arms tore again, but the cultivator grit his teeth and pressed on. He knew - even if he managed to unravel this array, minutes over minutes would pass before he had done it. Enough time for the elder to leave.
The calmness with which the Demonic Sect’s elder walked was enough to inform Shi Yue that he fully trusted the arrays to keep Xie Yi away and to walk out unscathed.
“It’s no use!” Shi Yue shouted as he rushed forward, trying to drag Xie Yi away who was on the verge of destroying his arms. Half insane with fury, Xie Yi screamed his throat sore.
“I refuse! I refuse to let all of you bastards survive this!” He raged on, freeing himself out of Shi Yue’s grip and dragging Juxian out of his sheath. Like a blunt weapon, he hit it against the array, causing streaks of lightning-like backlash to tear open his arms even further. As the elder descended down the hallway in no hurry at all, Xie Yi placed his raw fingers against the array again, tearing. “No matter the price!”
A low chuckle sounded through the room, instantly turning everything all quiet. The elder froze in his step, his head jumping to look back like a bird’s.
Xie Yi looked at the distorted pupils of the child right on the other side of the array. Juxian was both in his hands and half-translucent in front of him, smiling like a devil.
“Any price?”, he whispered sweetly, placing a small hand against the array.
“Any price”, Xie Yi repeated with a hiss, his eyes bloodshot.
And Juxian laughed, and dragged his fingers across the array again, the movement copying Xie Yi’s from before.
The sword in Xie Yi’s hands burst into pieces of hardened light. Not a single shard struck anywhere other than the array, which trembled and exploded with a shriek. Turning into dust, the air was instantly dry in everyone’s lungs.
With widened eyes, Xie Yi looked at the equally frozen elder. Xie Yi’s left hand kept clutching what was nothing but an empty sword hilt that had lost all luster. Blood dripped down his fingers, like an animal haven only just torn apart a meal.
Xie Yi growled again, taking a step forward, and Shi Yue reflexively closed his eyes.
There was no way for the elder, who was only a Master and not even well trained, to escape the maddened Xie Yi. And there was no way for Shi Yue, who had exhausted himself, to stop his beloved.
And yet he had no heart to watch the scene that was going to happen. The man who had robbed Xie Yi of his humanity, was going to die under the same beastly hands he had once cultivated. This was a side the Shi Yue of the last timeline had seen often enough, but… This Shi Yue did not want to see it, and he knew it was not part of the person he loved anymore.
It was an angry remnant that would live and fester until all elders were dead. Only then could it scab and vanish; a wound that Xie Yi too wished to lose.