Mingtian’s behaviour was out of place in the cold, cruel underground.
He wiped some of the blood off Xie Yi’s face with a gentle expression.
Xie Yi gingerly pushed his hand away and wiped his face by himself. The blood that had been dripping off stained his clothes even further but at least it stopped flowing into his eyes.
Mingtian had not commented on the way Xie Yi changed with every minute in the dungeon.
He hadn’t spoken a word in hours. Mingtian was relieved to see that he did not show the mad glint that the previous him had had, but he watched nervously as Xie Yi’s eyes turned in colour.
By now, they were shining like an eclipse, almost glowing in the dark. The air around him was crackling, but he did not look to be in pain. His strength was far surpassing the level he was supposed to be able to use.
Xie Yi stepped over the mangled corpse of the man he had killed and towards the other end of the room.
The… women that had been hung up did not look very human anymore.
A dozen of them were suspended half in the air, their lower bodies hanging inside the boiling pot. Their skin and flesh had begun to dissolve from the extended time in the hot water, dying the water a gruesome tone.
The herbs they had been fed had coloured their skin blackish, and the colour had seeped into the water as intended.
The potion that could be brewed this way would cost about a hundred lives, but it had the effect of keeping people’s appearances young. A popular measure for the arrogant higher-ups of the sect.
Xie Yi stopped before them and touched the cheek of one of them. She must have been a beauty once.
Her dead eyes were glued to Xie Yi. There was no feeling, but she was staring at him.
Xie Yi cracked his lips apart. Some blood that had been staining them red now caused a taste of iron to spread in his mouth.
“It’s alright now. It will stop hurting in a moment.”
He wanted to sheathe his sword but Mingtian held it for him. Thankful, Xie Yi handed it over and pulled Juxian out of his sheath.
The unblemished sword shone in the light of the fire at the wall.
Slowly, tears dripped out of the eyes of the woman.
Xie Yi set the sword to her throat, smiled gently, and drew it through.
She seemed to sigh.
One by one, the women fell.
Mingtian took down the women who were dead, laying them to the side. After a moment of consideration, he started a new fire and placed them inside.
The stench and smoke spread quickly but Xie Yi did not react to it.
He stood in front of the fire as he waved Juxian to let the blood fly off before sheathing him again.
He endured the smoke for a minute, took his sword back from Mingtian, and left the room.
“It’s kind of you to switch to Juxian for it”, he said, closing the iron door behind him. Let the room burn out and cleanse that dirty place.
“I did not want them to die with the blood of those bastards touching them”, Xie Yi responded while lowering his eyes.
“Kid...”, Mingtian nervously called.
Xie Yi stopped walking and turned to smile at him. He looked exhausted. “I am not going mad, MingMing. I’m only sad. I didn’t remember all of this before seeing it, and understanding what’s going on is…”
He stopped himself and continued to walk.
“We shouldn’t waste time. They’ve all ran deeper inside. We should find out whether Zhi Ci is here or not and destroy as much as possible.”
The carnage was bad, but his focus was on making sure that Xie Yi did not lose his mind.
Xie Yi merely sighed when the next group dared to try and stop their way.
He used their own arts against them without a second thought, Mingtian behind him as a safety measure. He did not aid him in killing and only kept pests off his back, otherwise allowing Xie Yi to let the anger in his heart flow out freely.
The violent screams echoed through the narrow paths, accompanied by the disgusting cracks of breaking bones and the squelches of their smashed flesh.
The cultivator only sighed as he waded through the mess he left behind. It clung to his body.
With every corpse, the anger inside him turned further into resigned exhaustion.
So many potions and pills built on the lives and agony of humans. So many intricate mechanisms only created to increase the suffering of their victims.
The minds of the men who had thought it up were amazing.
From a neutral standpoint, their research into pills was much farther than most sect’s and the machines they built were masterworks. It was only the direction that was crooked.
Another abandoned area opened up, looking much more like living quarters.
Xie Yi glanced around, finding only one closed door.
He walked forward to open it without a care in the world, his nonchalant face abnormal in the setting.
The door opened, light shining inside.
“...Xie Yi?”, a soft voice asked, confused.
Xie Yi blinked into the much darker room.
Zhi Ci was standing protectively in front of five other, younger children. Three girls and two boys.
All of them stared at him with wide eyes.
“Zhi Ci”, Xie Yi greeted calmly. “It’s good that we found you. We will get you out of here.”
He walked forward, grabbing her arm and tugging her outside. She resisted, uncertain of what was going on.
“You-... Are you the intruder? Are you here to kill everyone?”, she warily shouted. “Why are you doing this! Let me go!”
Are you blind? ...Was what Xie Yi asked but didn’t.
He understood it perfectly well. If people did not want to see an issue, they were natural experts at acting ignorant.
That was why street rats were not helped, why abused people were not supported, why this place could exist.
The children that were here were trained.
They did not see or hear.
For years, they would get used to what was happening until it was natural. Once allowed outside, they would of course understand the cruelty of the situation by interacting with people, but turn a blind eye to it.
Unless you were a rare case like Xie Yi, you could not fail to understand over time.
But rather than admitting that your whole life was a lie, that you were part of the cruel scheme, that your strength was built on it… Rather than going against the people who had instilled bone-deep fear and admitting all of this, they preferred to not know.
Zhi Ci had mentioned wanting to leave, so she should admit it to some extent.
“I am not asking you to admit it to me. It is enough if you understand it in your heart. Get out and wait for me at the door”, Xie Yi calmly told her, gripping her hands in his.
Faced with his serene eyes, Zhi Ci felt tears welling up. A sob escaped her throat. “I’m not leaving without Xiao Zai. I’m supposed to watch over her. She gets scared without me.”
“She will suffer worse if she has to tear out your heart and eat your core”, Xie Yi cruelly confronted her. “Does she not trust you? Won’t she know you will leave, but will return to free her as well? I am not planning on leaving her here, either. But I can’t free her yet.”
“I...”, she sobbed.
“Don’t hesitate. Just go out”, Mingtian said, giving her a push on the back.
She stumbled a step and looked back. “What about the other-”
Xie Yi caught the weapon that was supposed to crush his head with a single hand.
Crushed instead was the weapon and throat of the child - only thirteen years old. Xie Yi looked down at the soulless eyes.
He would not have killed the girl for simply attacking him.
Sad, he looked back towards the rest of the group that had picked up weapons.
He did not miss the excitement glimmering deep inside their quivering pupils. It was a sort of hunger.
After all, if a child here killed another, they were allowed to take not only that person’s belongings completely to themselves, they were also allowed to take the core.
In this place, a cultivator’s core had more than enough uses.
They did not understand the danger he posed. Too hooked were they on the thought of gaining power.
“Leave”, Mingtian repeated.
Zhi Ci lowered her head. This time, she ran.
Xie Yi cut down the children without batting an eye. After so many corpses, children did not faze him.
“Should I be more hesitant about this”, Xie Yi asked, sadness tinging his voice. “It should be hard to kill children, right?”
“People hesitate about killing children because they’re innocent and powerless”, Mingtian growled. “There is nothing wrong about killing a child that plans to tear your body into pieces, with full knowledge of what they are doing.”
Xie Yi looked at his hand that he opened and closed. “MingMing, what is wrong with my core?”
“What are you talking about?”, Mingtian tensely mumbled.
“Oh, don’t kid me. I can hear the sounds. It feels like my core is breaking, but all that is happening is that I get stronger and stronger. Is this a fire burning bright before its end?” He frowned.
“I don’t know how to check up on that kind of thing”, the beast whispered. “But I’m sure it is not. I’m sure it is different. Because… That kind of thing shouldn’t be possible in the first place, so who knows?”
“If I end up wrecking my cultivation, I’ll trust you to bring me out of here”, Xie Yi sighed.
“Of course”, Mingtian whispered.
He walked behind him, sniffing the air and listening for more hidden people.
“Maybe it’s not a bad thing. Maybe you’re… somehow getting your old cultivation back.”
“That makes no sense.”
“Well, you’re using Master-level strength right now, and as far as I know, turning back in time isn’t a common thing that happens. Anyway, I like that thought better”, he grumbled.
Xie Yi smiled wryly. “Sure, why not. Let’s say it’s some kind of miracle that brings me back my old strength without any payback.”
“You’re a child, be a bit more optimistic. Leave the pessimism for us adults.”
The cultivator laughed a bit despite his downcast mood. “Shi Yue said I’m the most suspicious person he has ever met. I think I’m the most unlogical, too. Body of a young man, mental age of several hundreds of years. A twisted mind inside a twisted body.”
He rubbed his chest and lowered his red eyes.
Mingtian skipped a step to stand in his way. He reached out to grasp his shoulders and pulled Xie Yi into a hug.
“What is wrong, little brother! This isn’t like you!”, he said, pain lacing his voice.
Xie Yi closed his eyes and curled his fingers around Mingtian’s clothes.