The group crossed through mountains, but there was not a single speck of green in sight. The buzzing of the locusts could be heard everywhere. Coupled with the fear from the uncertainty of what was up ahead, everyone felt restless. There would be frequent bickers, and some would even draw their weapons at one another.
Liu Hong could not ride at the front anymore. He spurred his horse and wandered through the group, using his imposing aura as an innate master to control everyone. They arrived before a narrow valley.
Suddenly, Liu Hong tightened the reins and waved his hand, making everyone stop. He called out, “Who’s the friend up ahead? Stop lurking around! Come out and show yourself!”
Though his innate true qi, his voice echoed through the valley.
“Haha, I was wondering who it was. So it’s the Iron Lion. Do you still recognise me?”
A burly man climbed onto a boulder and gazed down at the group below. His face was sallow like he was sick, but his eyes shone brightly. He held a huge bow in his hand. Many figures shuffled about and appeared on the two sides of the valley, all holding bows and arrows.
“Huang Binghu!” Liu Hong’s eyes narrowed. Although the only reason why he managed to become an innate master was because of the spiritual fruits, he could still tell that Huang Binghu had reached the seventh layer of Qi Practitioner. He had opened up a sea of qi in his dantian. He had already surpassed the realm of masters of the jianghu and become a true Qi Practitioner.
He clasped his hands and said, “Village chief Huang, it really has been quite some time. I heard you’ve been wandering the lands. I was not aware that you’ve returned to the mountains and picked up a role like this again.”
“I’ve made a fool of myself before school master Liu. Currently, daemons are running amok. The mountains aren’t exactly a safe paradise either, so all we can do is seek refuge in Clear River city, except we’re running a little low on food. We have no other choice.”
Huang Binghu sighed. The locust plague primarily spread through populated regions, so it did not reach deep into the mountains. Drawn Reins village thrived on hunting, not farming, so they had it relatively easy in the beginning. However, in recent years, the daemons hidden in the depths of the Boundless mountains gradually began to expand their range of activity.
A few months ago, incidents of a daemonic beast breaking into the village began occurring. The tall, wooden walls could stop armies, but it could not keep out a daemonic beast that moved like the wind. Lives were lost before long. The daemonic beast basically treated Drawn Reins village as a lamb pen, where it could pop by and feast whenever it wanted to.
Drawn Reins village was forced to recall Huang Binghu. After a tremendous effort, he finally shot the daemonic beast to death, but Drawn Reins village had lost almost a hundred people in the process. However, if that had been a daemon and not a daemonic beast, everyone would have perished. Huang Binghu was forced to migrate with the entire village, but Drawn Reins village did not have a particularly large reserve of grain, which led to this situation.
Huang Binghu could kill a first layer Qi Practitioner with ease, but Liu Hong was rather troublesome. He was not afraid of the Iron Fist School, but this old man had a fantastic disciple, the current leader of the school of Agriculture, Li Long.
“School master Liu, you should leave here first with the disciples of your Iron Fist school! I don’t really want to do something like this, but I can’t just watch the children starve,” Huang Binghu said. The people at the back of the group fell into a panic. Some of them begged loudly for Liu Hong to protect them, while others broke into curses at Huang Binghu.
With a swish, an arrow out of the blue shot over, and a person who was cursing away fell to the ground. The crowd immediately fell into an uproar. “Murder!”
“What’re you howling for? Shut your mouths!” Liu Hong roared furiously.
Through the imposing prestige he had built up over the years in Qingyang city, the group immediately settled down. He did not sympathise with the person who had just died at all. Do you really think a mighty Qi Practitioner is someone that the likes of you can insult? Even a second-rate or third-rate figure of the jianghu would have picked up their blade and killed you for something like that.
“Old brother Huang, why don’t we travel to Clear River city together? I’ll deal with the issue of food. The journey will be a little safer too.”
Liu Hong thought quickly. The disciples of the Iron Fist school did not emerge from thin air. Many of them had connections with the wealthy families at the back. If he simply allowed Huang Binghu to rob them, their morale would immediately crumble, but if he refused to relent, Huang Binghu was not an easy opponent either. If he decided to be ruthless, he would spare none of them, just in case it led to any future trouble. By then, no one present would be able to stop him.
“Master, we don’t have a lot of food on us either,” Wang Lei said softly.
“Collect everyone’s food and allocate it again! If they refuse, they can piss off!” Liu Hong called out.
“Thank you, old school master Liu.” Huang Binghu clasped his hands, and the hunters of Drawn Reins village climbed down from the two sides of the valley. Then he ordered, “Take out our food as well for old school master Liu to allocate.”
The hunters all handed over food such as dried jerky in silence. Every single one of them were neutral in expression, but they seemed like they could erupt with violence and malice at any moment. The misery over the past few months oppressed and twisted their minds. Let alone stealing food, they were even willing to commit cannibalism.
Even the disciples of the Iron Fist school who collected the food approached them with utmost caution, let alone the others. None of them were bold enough to leave the group, handing over the food on them obediently.
The group set off again and crossed a few more mountains before finally leaving the mountain range. The expansive plains unfolded before them, but there was not a single plant in sight. It was only an endless wasteland. Perhaps because it was far too barren, but there were not a lot of locusts flying around. The group advanced in silence. The towns and villages they encountered along the way were all abandoned, without the slightest sign of human activity.
Liu Hong rode at the front. The group travelled through both day and night, hurrying towards Downstream town.
“We’ll rest for fifteen minutes!” Liu Hong ordered.
It was currently noon. The proud sun shone like fire. Every single person poured with sweat and was utterly exhausted, using the opportunity to rest.
“Downstream town is close. Once we’re there, we can ride down along the river until we reach the prefectural city of Clear River. We won’t have to walk anymore!” Wang Lei announced loudly to raise everyone’s morale.
“Looks like old school master Liu has already prepared a boat. I wonder if it can fit us all?” Huang Binghu asked to probe him out. Even the largest dragon boat could not fit so many people.
“My disciple arranged it all. I don’t know whether we can fit everyone either. It might be a squeeze.” Liu Hong mulled over his words.
“As long as there’s a boat, a squeeze is fine.” Huang Binghu smiled. It was not like he could be squeezed off anyway. Right when he wanted to ask a little more, his face suddenly changed, and he picked up the huge bow from his back. He picked up a feathered arrow and nocked it, looking around.
“What’s wrong?” Liu Hong asked.
“There’s daemon qi!” Huang Binghu looked around carefully. Suddenly, he saw a green figure emerge from the soil from the corner of his eye, darting into a large man’s body. The large man howled out and rolled around on the ground before immediately bleeding from all of his orifices and dying.
Huang Binghu’s finger loosened, and the arrow shot through the air, piercing the man’s body and exploding violently.
Within the air filled with flesh and blood, the green figure pounced up again, producing a splash of blood from a disciple of the Iron Fist school’s head and leaving behind a hole. The disciple fell to the ground before he could even cry out.
“A nymph daemon!”
Only now did Huang Binghu make out the green figure’s true identity. It was the nymph of a locust, completely verdant-green in colour. It was only the size of a little finger, and it did not possess the ability to fly yet. Normally, it was referred to as a nymph. However, the nymph’s daemon qi was extremely startling, reaching the level of daemons. Who knew how many people it had eaten already.
He thought, It’s so barren here that even regular locusts cannot survive, so why would there be a nymph daemon? It doesn’t seem like a coincidence! It seems like it’s specially come to intercept us!
Liu Hong could not even make out the nymph daemon. Howls constantly rang out around him, and towards the end, basically everyone screamed in horror as if an invisible demon had grabbed their souls. Even he felt rather frantic inside. Only when he reached into his clothes and felt the talismans hidden inside did he calm down a little.
He asked Huang Binghu beside him, “Old brother Huang, what do we do?”
Huang Binghu leapt up and arrived at the highest point possible. His pupils had narrowed until they were only two specks, staring at the daemon qi’s location. Over a dozen rapid fire arrows rained down like a storm, turning into exploding balls of fire and blowing up a corpse to pieces.
Liu Hong asked, “How is it? Did you kill it?”
“It dove back into the earth. I might have harmed it, I might have not.”
Huang Binghu shook his head. He was extremely stern. The nymph daemon actually seemed to read his mind, burrowing into the soil immediately and not pouncing towards the next victim. Otherwise, he really would have had an opportunity to kill it. It also maintained its tiny size as if it did it specially for him.
“Then what do we do?”
“There’s nothing we can do,” said Huang Binghu. No matter how great his marksmanship was, he could not pierce the soil and hit the nymph daemon.
Liu Hong’s face changed. A daemonic beast lurking in the soil that could strike at any time was basically a nightmare.
“Looks like we don’t have to worry about the boat being too small now.”
Huang Binghu cracked a joke, but even he could not laugh anymore. In terms of strength, the nymph daemon was equivalent to a human Qi Practitioner of the fourth or fifth layer at most. It could only be regarded as a daemonic beast, not a daemon.
However, he had absolutely no chance of defeating it, as behind the nymph daemon was a great Daemon King who had thrown the entire Green province into turmoil. Within his madness and violence was great craftiness and vigilance. There were no regular daemonic beasts that could rival his battle strategy and experience.
He could keep it at bay at most, so the nymph daemon only ate the regular people in the distance for now.
“Set off!” Liu Hong was decisive too, immediately issuing an order.
However, before he had even finished his words, another cry rang out. A person at the end of the group collapsed with a green bump moving about under his skin, but it did not kill him immediately, intentionally increasing his pain. The cries were tragic, making everyone shiver.
The crowd immediately surged forward violently. The twisted sounds of crying and yelling filled the air, full of fear and regret. They regretted leaving Qingyang city in such a hurry, but little did they know that the current Qingyang city had already become the huge locust’s slaughterhouse as it rapidly evolved into a daemonic beast.
Huang Binghu had nocked an arrow, but with further thought, he lowered his bow again and gathered the hunters of Drawn Reins village, hurrying off towards Downstream town. He could continue obstructing the nymph daemon from feeding, but he would definitely be the first to give way. As such, he was better off letting the nymph daemon eat for a bit, which would earn him some time.
However, he also understood that this was only a temporary measure of relief, as the nymph daemon would grow stronger with each person eaten. If it completely metamorphosed, then even he would be in danger of being eaten.
“Old brother Liu, hopefully this school leader Li has prepared someone to receive us, or we’re all going to die in the mouths of the insects!”
“It’s just dying.” Liu Hong’s face darkened.
“Save me, school master Liu, village chief Huang!” Liu Hong looked back and saw a group of people trying to steal Ye Dachuan’s carriage. As a result, he rode back and crushed a head with a punch. “All of you piss off!”
They hurried off, and the group separated into two. Those without horses and martial arts all fell behind, becoming the nymph daemon’s food. The miserable cries gradually grew distant before the wind eventually swallowed them completely.
They travelled like this until dusk. Even the fine steed that Liu Hong rode began to foam at its mouth. Even with their martial arts, the disciples of the Iron Fist school and the hunters of Drawn Reins village were utterly exhausted, forced to stop, rest, and eat some food.
“Thank you, old hero Liu. Once we arrive in Clear River city, I’ll definitely thank you in another way! If I had known earlier, I wouldn’t have left Qingyang city. I shouldn’t have returned to Qingyang city. Back then when Jiaping city was destroyed, I should have just chosen to retire in the prefectural city!”
Only now did Ye Dachuan finally find the time to disembark and thank him. His chubby face was pale, completely devoid of blood.
When Jiaping city had been destroyed at the hands of the rock demon, he had nowhere to go as a vice district magistrate. He deeply feared the power of daemons, so he made his younger sister do some convincing with prefect Liu Changqing. In the end, he was transferred back to Qingyang city as the district magistrate. He never thought the daemons would still end up coming for him.
“You’re welcome, sir!” Liu Hong nodded. Wang Lei patted himself on the chest. “As long as I’m still breathing, I’ll definitely protect you until Clear River city, sir!”
Ye Dachuan’s younger sister was a beloved consort of the prefect Liu Changqing. Although her beauty had already declined with her age, she gave birth to a son and a daughter for Liu Changqing, which only consolidated her status. Ye Dachuan had mentioned this so many times across the years that Wang Lei could not forget about it even if he tried to. He knew that his relationship with Li Long was not amicable, so preparing another option for himself was always a good idea.
“Thank you, school master Wang!” Ye Dachuan thanked Wang Lei as well, but he did not really trust his guarantee. Once the nymph daemon came for them, even protecting himself would be difficult for this school master Wang, let alone protecting him. He suddenly thought of a person. “Sigh, if Qingshan was here, we wouldn’t be in such horrible shape!”
“You’re thinking too much, sir Ye. Do you still think he’s your sheriff?” Huang Binghu smiled. If Li Qingshan were present, the measly nymph daemon would be nothing.
“I heard from Li Long that he’s currently the White Hawk commander of the South Sea commandery in the Mist province. He’s occupied a place called Savage mountain and is known as the King of Savages. Even the King of Southern Yue has to show him some respect when he sees him,” said Liu Hong.
“Really?” Huang Binghu was in disbelief. Only after setting foot on the path of cultivation could he truly sense how insurmountable of an existence a provincial governor was.
“I didn’t really believe it when I heard it too, but that disciple of mine never lies. I even punched him a few dozen times!”
“Time sure flies!” Ye Dachuan lamented.
“You’re talking about Li Qingshan?” A sharp voice drifted over with the wind.
“Who else could it be?” Ye Dachuan said, only to see Huang Binghu’s face change drastically. At the same time, Liu Hong raised his fists, gazing at the barren hill nearby cautiously.
The sun had already sunken beneath the horizon by now, only leaving behind a red glow in the west. A few cold stars lit up in the sky. A withered tree on the barren hill extended its branches like a huge, withered hand trying to grab one of the stars.
A tiny nymph perched on the branch of the tree. The sharp voice had come from its mandibles.
I actually only noticed it after it had gotten so close! Things aren’t looking good! Huang Binghu could clearly see that the nymph daemon had gained a smear of greyish-yellow. It was rapidly metamorphosing. Once it completely metamorphosed, all of them would die.
“What a coincidence. I’ve known him for quite some time now too. It was all thanks to him that I managed to escape from the Demon Suppression hall. It’s a pity that he’s gone to the Mist province, or I’d definitely thank him properly.”
Releases are back to normal. 2 chapters a day.