After bringing out the map to analyze their current progress, the Gunuo army livened up. The Heavenly Dragon Sect was indeed very near.
"Past this river is a valley. Beyond that are the sect's sacred grounds. That sect styles itself the third strongest sect in the human domain and is rumored to have an ancient dragon heritage. We won't be going home empty-handed today!" The elder rained encouragement.
"Great. Let's go now, we don't need to rest! It's just a valley!"
"There won't be that many dangers in that valley, right?"
"Haha, do you think dangers will be allowed to remain in a valley near the sect's home base?"
"That's true. So the valley should be safe then!"
"Come on. We'll see if it's safe or not. The chieftain is leading us and we have many elders with us. Do you think they'll miss anything?"
The Gunuo warriors shone with greed for the Heavenly Dragon Sect's goods. Their cleanout of the Moon God Sect had given them a taste of the spoils of war. The potential winnings from a first rank sect stronger than the Moon God Sect could only be more than what they'd gotten so far.
"Don't rush," King Gunuo ordered. "Everyone is tired from traversing the hills and mountains. Rest for a night and we'll set out tomorrow morning."
The king's orders had to be obeyed regardless of willingness. The army rested on the spot. After some well-deserved sleep, it recuperated much of its energy and spirit.
The king was pleased with his people's enthusiasm. "According to our information, the Heavenly Dragon Sect joined the Order of Wind and Cloud at first. After that Order's defeat, it was shut down by Veluriyam Capital. Most of its experts are dead and it's a husk of its former self. My sons, this is the time for us to pillage their wealth. Are you willing to put your blood and lives on the line?"
"We are!" These Gunuo warriors were uniformly ardent.
"We embark!" The king was roused by the exuberance of his subjects. He had ordered last night's rest to allow some time to think. They were deep into human territory now with no possible outside help or backup. Additional caution and consideration was needed for their every move.
The Gunuo king was a bit different from the other chieftains. He liked to think before doing, though the Savages weren't exactly known for their wisdom.
Past the river was a winding mountain range. There was a valley before them; beyond that was the border of the Heavenly Dragon Sect's headquarters. The valley didn't appear to be particularly dangerous.
King Gunuo observed the valley for a long while. "Gu Qi, do you think there's something strange about this valley?" he asked the old man near him.
Gu Qi considered the sight for a moment before shaking his head. "I can't tell," he cracked a crooked grin. "It's… different from the wastelands we were in?"
King Gunuo sighed after a long look. "I don't know why I chose to rest rather than proceed yesterday. I felt uneasy for some reason."
Gu Qi's eyes shifted around. "Shall we prepare a bit more, my chieftain? Or take a detour?"
The king laughed. "Am I supposed to back out of the plan because of some emotional disturbance? Do you know how long a detour would take?"
"Two or three days," Gu Qi coughed out a dry chuckle.
"Yes. We don't have that much time to waste. The other three villages have easier and straighter paths to their goals than us. We can't lag behind them in our conquest."
"Not too much, at least." Gu Qi nodded.
"Come. We've covered harder and more arduous roads than this. What can this harmless valley possibly do to me?" King Gunuo's tone carried the timbre of superiority and authority.
Prominent leaders like him tended to be a confident bunch. He wasn't going to be scared off by insubstantial internal warnings, nor was he going to shy away from the task at hand.
Savages didn't balk in the face of danger. If the Heavenly Dragon Sect was going to attempt a foolish resistance, all the better. Razing an entire first rank sect could make them fabulously rich overnight. For them, the human domain was heaven!
Unlike humanity, the Savages' leaders were more responsible. Right now, King Gunuo was at his army's vanguard. Several of the tribe's experts followed closely behind. Two others shored up the rear. The distribution overall was quite reasonable.
Unlike usual times, the king didn't take large strides forward. Instead, he slowly proceeded with care and discretion.
The valley was very quiet. There were a few bestial cries, but those didn't affect the cultivators' mentality. Everything appeared quite safe.
However, King Gunuo was more bothered the further in he went. There was a niggling in his mind that it'd been unwise to take this route. There was no evidence to prove that his premonition was correct, however. Not a hint of danger appeared.
"Am I overthinking things?" Doubt flickered through his mind. He usually placed great trust in his intuition.
"My intuition has rarely failed me through all these years. Is there really someone waiting in the valley?" King Gunuo slowed down a bit more. At the same time, he transmitted to his people: "Keep your wits about you. Prepare for battle."
Though everyone else had no idea why their king was being so prudent, his strength and ability was enough to give credence to his instructions. The army's relaxed nerves drew taut.
The troops continued onward. Each step was taken with excruciating care, as if the ground would sink in the very next moment.
Everyone was on edge, but the calm journey didn't seem to warrant their reaction. The battle they'd been anticipating didn't arrive.
They were almost at the valley's exit. They could see it with their own eyes.
There was a collective sigh of relief. Perhaps their chieftain had overreacted. There didn't seem to be much danger after all. If they were at the end already, what could an ambush really do at this point?
"Gu Qi, do you feel anything wrong?" King Gunuo still wasn't completely at ease. He turned to his trusted advisor.
"My chieftain," Gu Qi smiled wryly, "I'm afraid I was too slow to have noticed anything."
"Maybe I'm being too paranoid," King Gunuo sighed. "We're almost at the exit. Don't let go! Outside this valley is the sect's border. On flatter land, that sect can't hope to ambush us successfully."
The king waved. The army advanced without delay.
As it did so, King Gunuo's face suddenly fell. His brow furrowed heavily, his consciousness experiencing a bizarre shock. Dread coursed through his heart. In the next moment, he felt a vague emptiness in his empyrean qi ocean. It was hard to maintain focus.
What was happening?
This inexplicable condition sent beads of cold sweat down the king's back.
"Stop, stop!" the king waved, his voice terse.
"What is it, chief?" The nearby elders gathered to his side.
"Sense your qi oceans. Is there something odd about them?" King Gunuo was grim, clearly somewhat agitated.
One of the elders immediately yelped. "My qi ocean is blocked off. My head is spinning…"
"Mine… mine as well!"
"Not good!" The Gunuo king was in full panic mode. "Everyone charge! Hold nothing back. We must get out of here!"
The chief of Gunuo village led the charge by blasting off toward the valley's exit.
The others didn't dare defy the king given his reaction. They followed close behind using every ounce of their remaining strength.
The army's formation started to crumble. Some of the ones with weaker cultivation stumbled, their feet leaden.
More and more fell to the ground, moaning for their companions to help them up.
But who was going to rescue his fellow at this time? The terror of death chased the Savages, clogging their chests with a primal instinct to flee. None of them would help even someone at their feet.
A few seconds might mean the difference between their own life and death.
"Ignore the others. Charge out!"
"Charge!" Though the formation was now in complete shambles, many did manage to reach the valley's exit. The Gunuo king's dashing figure stood upon some empty space nearby, his eyes gazing into the distance. He was looking for something.
"Come on out!" The king's voice was cold. "You humans are cowardly and shameless. You only know how to use tricks and schemes! I'm not afraid of you!"
His voice rang out like a great bell, grand and majestic. From the sound, it certainly did not sound like he was weakened at all.
A mocking laugh echoed from the void. "The Gunuo Village, isn't it? You're the king, then. A word of advice, don't try to pretend you're fine. The more you resist, the faster the toxin will act. Be a good boy and sit down. With your cultivation, you might still have a chance at eliminating it from your system."
Every tribesman was wide-eyed and slack-jawed at the message. Apprehension was plain upon their faces. They'd been poisoned?
This scary thought drilled into every man's bone. The Embittered Savages were barbaric and fearless, but they did fear death. This kind of bloodless death without any battle was utterly shameful to them.
King Gunuo's handsome face contorted. "You bastard, do you think I can't pluck you from your hiding place?"
The voice roared with laughter. "Very good. The angrier you are, the deeper the poison will spread. King Gunuo, why are you even here? Aren't you a chieftain back home? Why must you deliver yourself into the jaws of death here in the human domain?" The derision came from none other than Jiang Chen, of course.
As he spoke, he appeared not far from the king. The Holy Dragon Bow was slung across his back and four stone golem brothers stood in a line behind him.