"There are four marksmen." Jiang Shaoliu squinted, zigzagging as he closed in on one of them.
The man with the rocket launcher hesitated with his finger on the trigger.
"Why aren't you firing, Da Biao?" barked the commander holding the bayonet, "Just kill him!"
Da Xiao clucked. "Sir, he's too fast. He doesn't slow down even when he turns and I can't zero in."
"Let me try!" the commander grunted and stuck the bayonet in the ground, snatching the rocket launcher from Da Biao.
Jiang Shaoliu had a sudden feeling as if he was being stared at by a viper and kicked off of a big rock, pulverizing it beneath his heel and launching himself forward like an artillery shell.
A huge tower of flame and dust burst into the sky thirty meters behind him, scorching nearby trees to cinders and shooting rocky shrapnel everyone.
"How is he so fast!?" the commander growled. He was quite sure he had him squarely in his sights, but he still missed. He quickly reloaded the rocket launcher and took aim a second time.
Meanwhile, Jiang Shaoliu was coming close to the first sniper.
Suddenly, a loud hiss announced the appearance of a flashing red flare in the sky above the forest, several miles away.
The commander watched it nervously.
The explosion caused too much noise. The military must have noticed and launched the signal flare as a warning.
The army sniper hunkered down next Chen Anguo looked at the flashing dot on his smart watch and cried with joy: "Lieutenant, it's from our guys!"
Watching Jiang Shaoliu zigging and zagging ahead, Chen Anguo clenched his fists. "Hold on, Jiang Shaoliu, the army is coming to help you!"
A hail of bullets whistled through the air.
Unable to snipe Jiang Shaoliu, the ambushers took up their assault rifles and unloaded every bullet they had into the undergrowth, hoping to lock him in a cage of lead.
"Damn!" Jiang Shaoliu grunted.
There were at least eight machine gunners, casting a wide, intertwined net of deadly ammunition around him.
They covered the sniper and Jiang Shaoliu couldn't pass through.
Three sniper rifle rounds whizzed past him and pinged off the stones on the ground. One of them cut across the skin of his cheek and drew blood.
Jiang Shaoliu backflipped and clung to the ground like a spider before rolling sideways.
Four more bullets struck the ground in the spot he'd just left, kicking up puffs of dirt.
"You can't dodge this time!" the commander pulled the trigger and stumbled back from the recoil. The rocket screeched deafeningly and roared forward with a trail of smoke.
Jiang Shaoliu flipped himself up off the ground and twisted in midair, casting a piece of stone with heavy force before falling back down to the forest floor and rolling away behind a big rock.
The rocket exploded in midair with a violent display of fireworks that snapped a few young trees to pieces and sent debris flying in all direction.
Jiang Shaoliu frowned.
He got a painful cut across his back and blood started soaking into his torn T-shirt.
"He's hurt!" The commander reloaded the rocket launcher and prepared to fire again…
The sound of rapid, heavy footfalls rumbled in the forest as over a dozen military riflemen in camouflage uniforms rushed out from the undergrowth. The captain in the lead was a burly man with heavy features, the exposed parts of his skin shinning with silver light.
"Stop!" shouted the officer, before leaping into the air and driving his alloy battleaxe into a large rock, casting a cloud of dust and rock fragments upon the entire battlefield.
Unable to see anything, Gangxing Group's gunmen were forced to cease fire.
A firing squad of a dozen men cocked their rifles and aimed at the masters from the Gangxing Group.
After some rustling, the rest of the more than twenty masters from the Gangxing Group jumped down from trees or walked out from behind clumps of bushes, glaring defiantly at the military masters in the distance.
The commander of the party from the Gangxing Group clenched his fists and began to glow with silver light. He walked up to the captain and thrust out a finger to point at Jiang Shaoliu: "He killed our people. Mr. Liu has given the order to…"
Before the commander finished, Chen Anguo and Liu Guang came out from behind a big tree.
Chen Anguo saluted stiffly: "Sir, Jiang Shaoliu saved us just now. The Gangxing Group ambushed us and fired at us with a rocket launcher!"
Narrowing his eyes, the captain ran a finger along the blade of his alloy battleaxe.
Liu Guang nodded: "Lieutenant Chen and I would have been dead if it weren't for Jiang Shaoliu. We've become brothers-in-arms after fighting together."
The captain frowned deeply.
Well, this was troublesome.
"How dare the Gangxing Group do this?" he barked. The army riflemen inched forward, fingers ready on the triggers. They would shoot without hesitation once the commander gave the order.
Now everyone looked to the captain.
It was up to his next order whether the battle resumed or not.
The Gangxing Group commander gnashed his teeth and adjusted the rocket launcher in his arms.
Mr. Liu had given the order to kill Jiang Shaoliu at all costs, but to fire now would cost too much; he couldn't make this decision.
"This is your lucky day," the captain sneered, and turned to Jiang Shaoliu with cold eyes: "Come with us and we'll protect you. Otherwise, don't expect the same offer in the future."
After that, he threw up an arm and barked, "Let's go!"
The masters from Gangxing Group lowered their guns and left, making sure to brush past Jiang Shaoliu so he'd know they would never forget his face.
After they left, the captain shouted: "Fall out. Keeps your eyes peeled for counterattacks."
The soldiers all saluted and jumped to the trees or behind the stones to hide.
Staring after the Gangxing Group masters as they left, Jiang Shaoliu clenched his fists and exhaled a puff of steam.
The captain went over to him and said in a low voice, "You're no match for those guys. The leader goes by Lei She; he has a silver life ring and he's as strong as me."
Jiang Shaoliu nodded and didn't say anything. A single silver ring was a cakewalk.
"Captain," Chen Anguo said in a low voice, "Jiang Shaoliu has just fought and killed Sha Xing from the Yungang League without so much as a scratch!"
The captain's jaw dropped.
How could a famous and powerful man with two silver life rings like Sha Xing be killed by Jiang Shaoliu?
"I have to go now." Jiang Shaoliu turned to Chen Anguo: "Lieutenant Chen, the military will take care of you from here. Good journey to you."
He nodded to the captain and waved to Liu Guang, then walked off.
"Wait!" Liu Guang came up to him.
Jiang Shaoliu looked at him blankly: "Anything else?"
Liu Guang looked over his shoulder at Chen Anguo, who nodded surreptitiously.
"Take this fruit." Liu Guang took out the fruit they had won from the pangolin and said sincerely: "Lieutenant Chen and I would have been killed by Sha Xing without you. You're injured; this can help you."
The fruit's marvelous aroma wafted out of Liu Guang's hand, completely wiping out the feelings of anger about the Gangxing Group's sneak attack.
"This type of heavenly fruit has medicinal properties. It must be a good one, based on its smell and color." Liu Guang held out the fruit. "Don't you dare refuse! We are brothers-in-arms."
But Jiang Shaliu shook his head.
Chen Anguo came up and patted him on the shoulder. "The Gangxing Group won't give up so easily. There're three people from the Yungang League missing as well, and you should be prepared for the consequences of that. This fruit will help you."
Standing in the distance, the captain looked at the fruit in Liu Guang's hand and nodded knowingly. As a military man, he could understand this sentiment between battle-tested comrades-in-arms.
Jiang Shaoliu's stomach growled loudly.
Liu Guang said nothing.
Chen Anguo was speechless too.
After saying goodbye again to Liu Guang and the soldiers, Jiang Shaoliu sped away, shuttling through the mountains and cliffs.
Xiao Bai was still in the single-life ring monster area. He wondered how he was doing.
The tiger needed a safe environment to practice and stabilize its qi, as it had only just condensed its second life ring.
"Where could Xiao Bai be hiding?" Jiang Shaoliu thought on the run. The warm flow was flushing his insides and he started to get really hungry.
He seemed to feel hungry much more often after acquiring his second life ring, and the true qi flowing within him seemed to be really doing something to his body when he practiced the Great Sage's Formula, leaving him sweaty all over, with foul-smelling grey-white toxins in the sweat.
"Is it because of the second life ring?" Jiang Shaoliu stopped and wiped some sticky grey-white stuff off his forehead.
He gave it a sniff.
"Ugh, that's disgusting!" Jiang Shaoliu moved his hand away quickly and almost vomited.
He kept on running until he heard running water. It was a clear brook, devoid of any acidic flora or unusual piscine life forms.
He quickly took off his clothes and jumped into the water with a big splash.
After washing away his putrid sweat, he put on a ragged T-shirt and took a bite out of the heavenly fruit.
This fruit was much better than the lotus fruit he had eaten before. Even its smell made him feel spiritual and serene.
He was hungry again.
Rubbing his tummy, Jiang Shaoliu frowned, "How am I going to rack up any points if I keep eating the beasts I kill?"
Upstream, a huge black bear bent down for a drink.
Some of its claws were broken and bleeding.
A clump of snow-white fur washed off its claws and floated downstream.