The sunlight shone through the small window, heating the cell even more. Aleran was now eating together with the Zarasen. They were each sitting on their beds talking while carrying the insipid food to their mouths.
It was a fluid conversation it has been 5 months since the old man started teaching him. Aleran was already able to talk normally, although with a bit of accent.
Of course, it was impossible to learn a complete language in a few months, but he no longer spoke like a one year old. He was at a level that one could pass him as a foreigner who can manage a decent small talk in Eleemes, the common language of the continent.
Aleran raised his look to Zarasen. In the beginning, he had been a skeptic, but now he had to admit that as crazy as this old man was, he was an excellent teacher. Zarasen had taught him from the most basic to the most complex, from conjugation to the structure of the sentence. All that with nothing to write on and to someone who had zero knowledge of it.
This made Aleran guess that Sarezan was some kind of teacher. He once tried to ask him with the old man making an imposing gesture and answering .“ I was much more than a teacher. If I had taken a fart back then, a line of people would have been trying to breathe it. Had I wanted to teach, hmm! there would have been wars to attend to my lessons.” The only answer Aleran gave to that was an eye roll.
After that, the old man kept babbling about how great he was for the whole day. Making all kinds of comparisons, most of them Aleran didn’t get. That's why now, he avoided asking any questions related to Zarasen past. Sometimes the old man was a pain in the ass with his creepy obsession with feet and his weird behavior. Like not trying to cover himself when using the bucket to take a piss, or sleeping naked on hot nights.
But overall, it was great to have company, unlike his first two months here. Also to have someone willing to teach him the language no matter how weird this someone was, was a good thing.
Finishing eating Aleran said. “I wish I could have talked like I’m now when they sent me to this cursed place.” He put the plate next to the door and continued.” They wouldn't have sent me to this accursed place if I had been able to show them that I was not crazy, but now these damned guards don't even care that I'm sane.”
“Ahahahhaahah!” Zarasen just started to laugh at his words as if they were the funniest joke he had heard. Aleran glared at the old man who was throwing bits of food out of his mouth, dirtying his own clothes even more while laughing.
Zarasen suddenly stopped and looked at Aleran like he was looking at an idiot, then he looked surprised. “Oh!, you don’t know hahaha! How cute of you to think that.”
“What do you mean old fart?” Said Aleran with a frown
Zarasen laughed a little more, then looked at Aleran with pity. “Kid, they would have put you here no matter what. Don't you realize? This is where the Silver Moon kingdom throws their garbage, the problem is not what comes out of your mouth.”
The old man got up with strange agility unfit for such a weak body and pointed towards Aleran chest. “ The problem is that you had an accident with your cultivation and crippled yourself and that my boy, it’s a huuuge loss of face for any clan or sect.” Said while making a gesture with his hands to show how big of a problem it was.
"Believe me, they had no other choice. If the news had spread about you, their whole clan would have suffered greatly. It is something every family knows it happens and it surely happened in most families. But everyone takes huge efforts to conceal this from others. A cultivation deviation is perceived as a weakness of the family legacy, a failure of their techniques and negligence from the elders. It's the kind of news that can destroy the reputation of a family. It is the hypocrisy of the noble families in all its splendor."
“Many of those who suffer your same fate end up losing their minds. There are some who lose their minds but not their cultivation, making them a risk to other people and to themselves, so they are locked here. Some others are just like you, sons of powerful families abandoned here. Hard to imagine, isn’t it? The crazy guy next door crying like a baby could have been a mighty cultivator who bowed his head to no one. Of course, there are also regular crazy people, it's hard to tell them apart now.”
“So they put me in here just because they were embarrassed by me.” Aleran was trying to process this news. ‘Well, I guess I would feel betrayed if I were the same Aleran from before.’
“In a nutshell, yeah. The only chance to see their families again to those who are here is if one of their once loved ones with low cultivation needs a transfusion of blood. Since they can't get it from a cultivator with higher power because it would be harmful, they use someone like you, who has the right amount of remnant qi.
“But don’t feel down kid, the more strict families usually kill the ones like you. After all, no matter how well covered is this place and how much anonymity is guaranteed, there is bound to be someone who knows the identity of all those who are here.”
“Who runs this place anyway?” Aleran asked.
Zarasen made a faked thinking pose that looked convincing if it weren´t for his eyes that were half laughing. “Mmm I'm not sure but I would say its either the royal family or one of its puppets, maybe the right minister. Those who kill their black sheep are those who don't want the royal family to know of their weakness. On the other side, the royal family reassures its grasp on those who do trust them enough to put their relatives here.
“Oh, that’s fucking perfect.” Aleran's hope of breaking out was finally destroyed. “Haaa.” Aleran let out a sigh and plummeted towards the bed, covering his eyes with his hands. ‘There goes the last ray of hope.’
“ Come on kid, here have a look at my feet, that will cheer you up.” Aleran turned his head only to see an ugly, dirty and amorphous foot, it was full of calluses and had a wart in one of the toes. It was so ugly that it made him laugh unconsciously.
“See, there's nothing a good foot can´t solve.” With this weird phrase, the old man went to the door and staid there looking at the guards doing their rounds.
Aleran sat up again and even though he had promised himself not to ask about Zarasen past he couldn't help to blurt out. “And why are you here? Are you also from some powerful family?”
He saw Zarasen flinch a little before clearing his throat to answer. “hmmm! No, I wasn't, this place is near a town which is mostly inhabited by the jailors and their families, except for them the rest are all common folk. I suppose they force them to live in this secluded place to ensure secrecy. Anyway, I was there beg… heem!....I mean asking for loans, but the people there didn’t like me for some reason and gave me for crazy so they sent me here.”
Aleran couldn't help but squint his eyes at the old man. The short tale was enough to picture the old man asking for money to the passers-by and when meeting with rejection asking to let him lick their feet.
What's more, he had been living with this old man for enough time to know that his obsession with feet was not the only one. He had sometimes asked if he could rub Aleran’s elbow or more disgusting yet Aleran sometimes caught him trying to sniff and lick his ear.
“That...makes sense.” Said Aleran “ Why do you have to ask those questions? you would still be free had you kept your weird fetish a secret.” Aleran knew the old man wasn’t as dumb as he looked, in fact, he was really intelligent.
“Ahahhaha” Zarasen didn’t turn, he was still with his forehead glued to the window. “Because it is all about the questions, kid, and the reactions to them.” his voice was now deeper startling Aleran who never heard him speak like this.
“ Everybody is the same, look at those guards for example. Every step they take it's already planned, everything they do fall into their routines. They have a pre-planned route to patrol, in a fixed amount of time with a manual that tells them how to control the prisoners or in this case the crazy. And though it is easier to notice it in them, most people are the same.”
“There is a certain unspoken code of how to dress. There is an accepted way to behave depending on the situation and there is also a personal factor that is each individual routine.” Zarasen paused for a minute as a guard was passing by and when it was far enough he continued with an even deeper voice.
“Humans are beings of routine, wearing it like armor they lock their hearts in it and eventually lose themselves. They repeat without thinking the same behavior over and over. But there is a moment when you make them a simple yet unexpected question, or you do an action outside their logic, that's when you can peer inside the armor for an instant and see a glimpse of their true hearts.”
Aleran was silent for a moment. For a second only the sound of footsteps was heard, the jailor was again passing by de door. Once the sound faded Aleran with a serious expression made a question in a low voice. “What did you see in my heart?”
Zarasen expelled a breath of air out of his nose and turn around to look at Aleran with a serious look. His formerly grey eyes were suddenly filled with life, shining with a green color. They were so deep and penetrating that Aleran felt a shiver down his spine. For a moment the old, fragile man was nowhere to be found, his aura was intimidating even.
His voice deep and powerful Zarasen spoke. “Sadness, loneliness, fear, and disorientation. Hatred, to this place, to the jailors, the product of you thinking yourself better than this place and everyone else in here. There is a hidden and wounded pride there, but it is not the only thing damaged. Your whole heart is wounded and you know it, but you are underestimating the size of the injury. It runs deeper than you think, it feeds on your fear caused by a deeply rooted trauma that will hunt you your entire life.”
The moment he finished, Zarasen turned again to the window. The air he emanated was back to that of an old fragile man, the previous aura seemed to have been a lie. Only silence remained but to Aleran it felt like an oppressive silence he was still affected by the words the old man said.
‘Glup.’ He swallowed saliva, the moment he thought of the trauma and the sensation of his consciousness banishing. Of falling asleep to be lost forever together with the latter appearance of that being that made him feel insignificant.
He knew that the moment he is left alone, his thoughts will always wonder to those feelings, reliving everything again. It scared him how accurate Zarasen was.
The silence lengthened but was suddenly cut by Zarasen’s raspy and carefree voice. “Hey kid, wanna scape?”
Aleran who was lost in his thoughts was jolted awake. He raised his head to look at the old man with incredulity “ What did you say, old man?”