“I have,” Lan Wangji stated, very precisely, “a question on ethics.”
Dirk sat up straight. No wonder Elcarth wanted him here, if he’d suspected this. Teaching Fetching was his job, but ethics and philosophy were his passion.
“A war has ended. It was long, and brutal. But some of your enemy has survived. It is decided by the sect leaders that the enemy cultivators will be imprisoned in work camps, set the task of erasing all works glorifying their clan.” Lan Wangji’s stare was fierce as an eagle’s. “A hard punishment, meant to last their lifetimes. But not one meant to be fatal.”
“Harsh,” Dirk observed. “But I’ve heard of worse punishments laid on beaten enemies. Captain Kerowyn has a tale that’d curl your hair of what her grandmothers did to one rapist bandit. And how that almost killed them later. Sometimes death isn’t the worst thing you can do to an enemy.”
Lan Wangji inclined his head. “The main prison camp is not within your sect’s territory. The war is over, and you must rebuild. Your sect needs all of your power to mend what can be mended, and heal those who will never be whole again. Wen prisoners are not your concern.” He paused.
Bracing himself, Dirk noted. Oh, this is going to be bad.
“Months later….” Lan Wangji drew a breath. “You hear the prisoners are dying. That they are being murdered.”
Very bad. “In the camp,” Dirk clarified. “Which I imagine was guarded. And they weren’t killing each other.”
A fraction of a nod.
Dirk took a deliberate breath to match him; Lan Wangji was upset, he didn’t need Talia’s Gift to read that. Yet the man had been raised to keep his face still as ice. He’d appreciate an example of calm. “So… let me see if I’ve grasped the situation. They’re Wen, so they’re still your enemies – but they’re beaten enemies. The war is over. And the sect responsible for guarding them at their forced labor is killing them.” Another breath. “But it’s not your sect. It’s not your territory. If you go in to stop it and someone dies – and if they’re murdering prisoners they’re not going to stop if you just ask nicely – you might start another war.”
“What do you do?” Lan Wangji’s voice was rough, half-strangled. “What can you do?”
This is what broke his faith in his sect, Dirk realized. This is why he doesn’t want to go back.