The two stopped outside the woods, which was already some distance away from the camp.
The terrain here was fairly flat and open. Illuminated by the lights from afar, the surroundings were not in a complete darkness. Li Suchun pinched his fingers together in command and called out in a low voice. With the rustling sounds of the branches and leaves, a shadow sped out of the still woods.
It had rushed out in an imposing manner. The landing, however, was rather soft. Only a thin layer of dust was raised.
This single move alone was evident enough for Gu Yu to realize the improvement in its capability. He did not pay much attention to the incident earlier that day. Now that he had the chance to observe the thing closely, he noticed that there was indeed something exceptional about it.
Clad in a black robe, the zombie had its face covered. It was taller and more heavily-built than the granny previously and Gu Yu presumed it to be the corpse of an adult male. Both of its hands were out of the cuffs. Unlike the sharp, long nails before, this one had short fingernails, giving the hands a look closer to that of normal person's.
It stood there, rigid and noiseless—a being somewhere between life and death. Surrounding it was a pure, dense layer of fluctuating Yin energy.
"Can I take a look at its face?" Gu Yu asked.
Li Suchun paused, then removed the mask. Behind it was the face of a man in his thirties. It had fierce and tough features with an angular bone structure. Gu Yu seemed to notice a scar on its left side, stretching all the way from the brow ridge to the corner of the mouth.
He had no idea who this man was, but was certain that it must have been someone ruthless. It was amazing that the government managed to scoop this one up.
Gu Yu took another turn around the zombie and commended wholeheartedly, "It's incredible!"
"You know this stuff?" Li Suchun found his remark strange.
"Not really. But I can tell that you're on the right track."
It was not all that difficult to arrive at that conclusion. The zombie refined from Grandma Ge's corpse was a shuffling-through job. Being a fugitive during that period also did not leave much time for Li Suchun to train his zombie. Now that the government was buttressing him with all sorts of resources, he was able to improve the zombie at a steady pace. The previous zombie was like a knockoff compared to this one standing before them.
As malicious as the Corpse-refining Technique seemed, it was still a legitimate Taoist skill. One should not underestimate its capability once the practitioner reached the perfection of the skill.
"The Corpse-refining Technique of my sect is divided into six levels: white, iron, bronze, silver, golden, and the highest level which is already lost. At the bronze level, the zombie is able to exhibit some intelligence. It is said that the golden corpses are no different from living people."
Li Suchun was secretly flattered by the compliment and made a rare effort to elaborate on the explanation. "The one before was a white corpse. It was only showing the power of an iron corpse because of the evil spirit of Metal. This one is not like that. It has really risen in its level."
"Oh? In that case, I'm looking forward to the day when it becomes a golden corpse…"
Gu Yu grinned and darted another look at Li Suchun, then announced suddenly, "So, enough with the small talk. Bring it on."
Li Suchun was speechless for a few seconds, feeling exposed under Gu Yu's gaze; the man seemed to have seen through his every move, including the midnight visit, his deliberation in luring Gu Yu here, and in a few minutes, his own "reasonable" suggestion in a competition, had it not been for the fact that Gu Yu beat him to it.
"Don't overthink it. I actually want to see what it's capable of as well. Just think it as a friendly match." As if he was reading his mind, Gu Yu even threw in a few words to console him.
What else could Li Suchun do but purse his lips in acquiescence?
"I'm ready when you are!"
Kicking the ground with the tip of his toe, Gu Yu flitted backwards for several meters. His feet then rested on the ground, relaxed and steady at the same time. He kept his back slightly hunched, which was the most suitable position to prepare for charging.
The clear voice rang out and instantaneously, a shadow rapidly filled Gu Yu's sight. An incomparably overbearing and crushing power slammed at him with the momentum like a falling mountain, raising a shrill gust of wind with it.
Gu Yu had started the fight in order to try the zombie out, so he neither dodged nor activated his magical instrument, but took the zombie head on with his physical strength alone.
His fist jammed right on the zombie's chest and he felt as if he had hit a tough steel plate. The strong counterforce sent him stumbling back, thumping.
The zombie roared and leapt forward rapidly. Ten sharp black claws flipped out of its fingertips, reminding him of the claw sheaths of beasts.
The glowing claws flickered and their movement seemed to have woven out an escape-proof net, ready to tear Gu Yu into pieces.
Gu Yu dared not take it by force. With a nimble twirling movement, he arrived at the back of the zombie and struck out with an open palm. The exertion of force hit the target full-on, the impact sending the zombie into mid-air. Li Suchun made a finger gesture hurriedly and shouted, "Freeze!"
Then, he shouted again, "Go!"
'Hm? That's interesting.'
Gu Yu frowned slightly, for a faint, gloomy chill was boring into the skin of his hand, which was instantly "dissolved" by his internal spiritual essence.
Back then when he beat the zombie contaminated by the evil spirit of Metal, it was a prickling sensation he felt. Tonight, the Yin energy was able to penetrate into his body. From the look of it, zombies were not only depending on their physical strength, but were able to attack with a unique method.
That was spectacular, for such characteristic was what enabled the zombie to fight against cultivators as their equals.
Gu Yu was in high spirits now. Circulating the spiritual essence around his body, he finally focused it onto his right hand. An enormous force was bursting out of his fist.
The two figures clashed again, the extending fist against the brandished claws. The flowing spiritual essence and Yin energy exploded abruptly at where they met, as if a bomb had gone off. Huge clouds of dust rose and flew in the air, which then turned into a small cyclone. Rocks and stones burst apart in the wind, knocking around in the woods making sputters and crackles.
The impact sent the zombie flying backwards before it smacked into a tree. Contorted, the trunk as thick as the rim of a bowl dished in instantly, from where the trunk started fracturing inch by inch; the cracks spread out at an insane speed.
With a crack, the trunk snapped in half.
Gu Yu was no better off. He was slightly at disadvantage in terms of physical strength alone. Like a kite with a broken line, he looked rather sorry as he was sent flying into the woods by the blast.
Being one level higher than a white corpse, the iron corpse's was able to clear up its chaotic mind a little bit and it found what was happening most provocative. Just as it was going to approach the man and tear him into pieces, there came a sound.
An indescribable whistle ripped through the night air. A tiny green flash swished around its head and drilled through its skull from its forehead to the back of its head.
The green flash flickered again and disappeared like a ghost.
The zombie froze on the spot, snarling and bellowing. Only this time it was not out of anger, but was the result of fear.
It was an instinctive terror of destruction!
Li Suchun was even more terrified, for the reservoir of Yin energy inside the iron corpse had been ripped open and the energy was pouring out like gushing water. Yin energy was imperative for a zombie. Without it, well, there would not be such a thing as a zombie!
Li Suchun hurried to its side. He fumbled out two Yin-gathering Talismans and stuck them onto its forehead. He could only hope that the wound would heal before it lost all of its Yin energy.
Turning around, he saw Gu Yu strolling out of the woods while dusting his clothes. Gu Yu then waved at him with vexation.
"I think I've had enough for one night. I'm off to bed now."
And off he went without even looking at Li Suchun. He couldn't disappear faster.
Li Suchun stood dazed where he was as he watched Gu Yu leave. For a moment, it was like he was back at that night in Iron Mountain Reservoir.
He felt exactly as before now.
Gu Yu got back to his room. What had happened was nagging at him.
It was so obvious!
The discovery of the lode of spiritual stones was making some government officials uneasy. Li Suchun was simply their tool to weigh Gu Yu up.
Just as mentioned before, their partnership was a very unstable one. The agreement would be instantly revoked if the stakes on either side increased significantly or something highly profitable showed up.
This probing cost him nothing, but it had made him very unhappy. And when he was unhappy, he would "return the favor" with equal unhappiness—he learned that from Xiaozhai.
Therefore, he would not just let it drop. He would wait a few days, however. After the preliminary development was finished, it would be time for him to get even and renew the negotiations.
Apart from that, Li Suchun also got him thinking: the saddest thing in the world was when when a fellow—be it an ordinary person, a cultivator, or even an animal—had no control over their own destiny.
Of course, there was always the other side of a coin.
With the government as one's sponsor, many doors would be opened, such as money, fame, resources, etc. In Li Suchun's case, he was controlling the iron corpse with ease and completely unlike his old feeble self.
He had probably been taught some Qi-nurturing method to improve his strength, as well as to lay foundation for future improvements—that was where the benefit lay.
After finally managing to take care of that wound, Li Suchun trudged back to the camp and went straight to the head of their team.
The leader had been waiting for his return for some time. He asked eagerly, "Xiao Li, how did it go?"
Leaning against the table, Li Suchun sat down. His face was even paler than usual from the overexertion of energy and a faint stench characteristic to zombies was coming out of him.
Without realizing it, a glimmer of disgust flickered in the leader's eyes, for who would willingly choose a corpse-controlling fellow as their colleague? Of course, he would not let it show, but only bombarded Li Suchun with questions. "You've fought? How did it go? Who won?"
"In the beginning, he also wanted to sound me out, so it was a tie. He then used that thing and easily beat me," Li Suchun was being very honest.
"Did you see it clearly?" the leader asked anxiously.
"No, it was too fast."
"Are you sure? Not even a clue?"
The leader's face darkened. He went on, "In that case, exactly how capable is he? How long could you hold on if he used that thing from the start?"
Li Suchun was silent for a few moments before he shook his head. "I'd be annihilated within seconds."
The team leader's face was turning green, but he could not lose his temper near Li Suchun. It took him a while to fight back the frustration and he squeezed out a smile. "Don't worry about it. We appreciate what you did. Hang out with him more often from now on. You're both cultivators, you must have a lot of things in common!"
"Ok. I'll go back now if there's nothing else."
Li Suchun replied dully, then slowly rose and left the room.
With a tacit understanding, everyone looked past what had happened that night—even when they had all seen the mess left in the woods with all the cracked stones, snapped trees and deep holes of footprints.
The authorities were utterly embarrassed. They had been fairly confident; they had the iron corpse now! Multiple tests had been ran on it before they sent it here. This zombie was an amazing specimen, both in speed and strength.
Even if it could not win, they could live with a draw.
As it turned out, Gu Yu's new weapon was even more spectacular and the zombie was still no match for him. The most frustrating part was that no one had been able to see what the weapon looked like so far.
After the incident, the camp was as calm as smooth water and all work continued as if nothing had ever happened. Every day, new reports were sent to the superiors and new instructions sent back. Another week went by like this and at long last, a small achievement concluded this stage of their work.
They had finally estimated the reserves of that spiritual stone mine.