A year has passed.
In the suburb of the fortress city Mou, Fu Zhou prefecture. Shi Mu was sitting cross-legged on a huge bough, his eyes tightly closed in meditation. He was wearing a short black jacket, and had the silver knife and black blade slung over his shoulder. If not looking closely, one might not be able to tell that it was him at a glance - the years since he left the fishing village had seen many major changes to both his body and his countenance. Although the big eyes and bushy eyebrows of his had not changed much, the outline of his face had been sharpened by years of hard training, the facial features more distinct. His nicely tanned complexion had completely been replaced by a nearly bronze color. When it comes to his stature, the change was remarkable he had grown much taller, with wide shoulders and a tough chest, and his arms were just as strong as cast iron, which added to his innate stubbornness a sense of wildness. All in all, the fishermen of his native village would definitely mistake this strong young man as someone else, should they ever meet again.
Right at this moment, Shi Mu was breathing faintly, deep in his contemplation, with the thick foliage fully shielding him. Looking afar, there were no other living creatures in this woods, except the plants, which, whenever the wind came, would rustle in the breeze, swaying helplessly - a bleakness only a fortress of trees would display.
As a matter of fact, as early as one year ago, the city of Mou fell under the merciless attack of the barbarians. Throughout his journey from the Black Demon Sect to this part of the land, Shi Mu had witnessed countless tragic scenes that would send shudders through his spine. Villages plundered by the barbarians could be seen everywhere in the prefecture, and the once flourishing fields were trampled by barbarian riders. Adult normal men were harnessed and treated less like servants and more like animals, who would get a good whipping whenever their “master” felt like it. Women were raped and killed, their naked bodies left scattered all over the ground, like litter. As for the elderly and the children, they could not provide any practical usage (either manual labor or sex), hence, they met a quicker end, which was, in some ways, less suffering.
This atrocity of unparalleled savagery drained the last bit of equanimity out of Shi Mu’s head. His hands itch, his teeth grit, and the thought of avenging his people grew uncontrollably stronger each day. For all that mattered, he is one of the human species, and this country, Qi, is his homeland!
That’s why he was holding his breath in this woods, not far from a camp which was set up by the Zheng Yan Tribe, one of the eight tribes that launched the invasion against the three countries. Shi Mu had received a mission of ambushing the patrol group of this camp earlier.
Some time later, sounds of horses trotting this way to the woods grew increasingly audible. Shi Mu’s ears stirred, and his eyes immediately opened, gleaming gold. Through the leaves, he could see clearly a group of ten barbarian riders moving toward him. These riders were all extremely big, each standing at least three meters tall, with spears made of bones slung over their backs, and stone axes, which hung from their waists. Even the horses they were riding were much stronger than normal horses, otherwise, how could they bear the enormous weight of their masters and their weapons
The man leading them was a young barbarian of heavy build, whose arms were thicker than Shi Mu’s thighs. He was holding a mace, which looked extremely heavy, in the most casual looking way, as if the mace weighed nothing. He was, himself, bared to the waist, showing the eye-catching tattoos on his chest - a howling blue lion.
Information about the barbarians soon flashed across Shi Mu’s mind. As far as he knew, the leaders of barbarian patrol groups were uniformly Houtian Totem warriors, roughly the same level as normal Houtian warriors. Thinking this, Shi Mu quietly reached for his black blade at his back, his eyes narrowing with hatred.
The leader with blue lion tattoo looked rather wary, for, just one month ago, their camp had been raided by strong human warriors who caused great damage to their unit. But, just as they had passed under a big tree, the unexpected still came. As far as they could make out, the dense foliage of the big tree burst open without warning, and a large streak of cold light cascaded down to their heads with thirteen black knife shadows blending into the light. The silhouette of a black-robed youth pierced through the leaves. this was, precisely, Shi Mu!
The young barbarian leader shouted angrily, his eyes widely opened. In a split-second, his bulked arms grew even stronger, and oddly enough, blue lion hair started sprouting from his skin. He wielded the mace wildly, tracing an arc in midair and stirring a cold wind. In his hand, the mace went directly to meet the black knife shadows, like a fierce dragon.
Boom! The two weapons clashed in midair amid ear-deafening noises and the hum of metal vibrating. The thirteen shadows were dispelled, as well as the mace. Shi Mu was quite amazed to find himself severely challenged, both physically and mentally, by the brutal force of the barbarian leader; after all he had always been confident of his own huge strength. But right now, his right arm was groaning in the aftermath of the clash, almost struck numb. Undoubtedly, this barbarian leader must equal a Houtain warrior in his actual strength!
Shi Mu soon tumbled through the air, minimizing the impact. But the pursuing mace would not let Shi Mu go, and it rotated in the air, coming his way. Shi Mu’s eyes dilated, and, still in midair, he instilled his magic power into the black blade in the shortest time and then swayed his weapon, chopping heavily at the mace.
The two weapons collided once more. But this time, a glaring ball of fire exploded in the air! The barbarian leader was left no time to figure out what had happened, and he could only feel enveloped by an irresistible heat wave, his eyes could see nothing other than burning fire, and his hands stung from the blow, almost unable to hold the mace. The horse beneath him was in a worse condition heavy as it is, how could a horse bear the two succeeding strikes from Shi Mu Sadly, its four legs were instantly broken.
Tumbling down the horse, the barbarian leader managed to steady himself, and held the mace against his chest to protect himself from further strikes. Shi Mu dropped down from the tree as well, his right arm would not work for a while, aching and limp, but his right hand had posed a strange gesture while he muttered some incantations quietly. Suddenly, he opened his lips, and a ball of white breath shot out like an arrow! The distance between them quite near, the barbarian leader could never dodge this unexpected arrow!
Pu! The white breath ball bypassed the mace and submerged into his chest. Immediately, a huge boom resounded, and the upper body was blown up, blood scattering in all directions while his braided head rolled over the ground pathetically. All happened in just a blink of an eye, and the ten-odd barbarian soldiers were frightened out of their wits seeing their leader killed in an instant before their very eyes. In a flurry, they flung their bone spears at Shi Mu, which flew toward Shi Mu with air-piercing sounds. Shi Mu did his best to duck, but still got wounded in his right arm. The disciplined soldiers took the chance to pulled their stone axes, and quickly circled Shi Mu, howling in great anger.
However, Shi Mu was not even slightly daunted by this. He put on a sardonic grin, and began to rotate the black blade in his hand. Soon the glint and flash of the cold steel surged though the barbarians. Though of heavy build, and equipped with a bold heart that did not fear death, these soldiers still fell under such a skilled attack. After some ten seconds, all the remaining soldiers had been killed.
Shi Mu sheathed his blade, his face stern. Then he walked to the headless body of the barbarian leader, fumbling in his shirt. Soon a silver-edged bone token was found in his waist, and on its surface were written several lines of some strange characters. Shi Mu was overjoyed, storing the bone token in his shirt. All done, he did not linger over the place any more and turned to make his way into the woods, going in a northwesterly direction.
One hour later, another group of barbarian riders, consisting of over a hundred soldiers, passed through the woods where the previous fight had happened. The leader was an extremely big barbarian, whose height was above the average for normal barbarians, and his waist was as strong as a bear’s. He was carrying huge steel axes twofold the size of normal human’s weapons.
The troop stood was profoundly shocked by this shameful sight; in alarm the barbarians all pulled their weapons, ready for any possible enemies, only the middle-aged leader dismounted his horse, scuttling up to the headless young barbarian. He knitted his eyebrows, facing the miserable looking corpse, his face grave.
“The Lion Totem! Could this be warrior U Luo “ Another tall barbarian approached, his eyes on the abdomen of the headless body, his face furious.
“Should be.” The middle-aged leader forced the words out through gritted teeth.
U Luo was born of the same tribe as him, and, moreover, the two of them were related. So the tall barbarian did not say anything more.
“The human bugs! How dare they! They’ve been so arrogant these days, killing our warriors right under our noses! We’ve lost over twenty brave leaders in the past few months.” The middle-aged leader cursed bitterly.
“The humans must have set up strongholds in this area, aiming particularly at our totem warriors. We’d better report this to our Great Leader, and scout for nearby humans.” The tall barbarian thought for a while and suggested.
“We’ll report this jointly, and the Great Leader will definitely approve. U Luo was the youngest, bravest totem warrior of our Black Fire Tribe, and I’ll revenge him with my own hands, offering the killer’s head to U Luo’s dead spirit!” The middle-aged leader’s face twisted in agony and rage.
But the killer he cursed had already traveled tens of miles by now, approaching some foggy woods. He galloped to the entrance of the woods nonstop, keeping a vigilant eye on his surroundings. Once he had made it several miles into the woods, he relaxed his pace. Feeling the bone token in his shirt, he heaved a sigh of relief.
One year ago, the barbarians launched an unprecedentedly large-scale invasion into the Heavenly Qi country, hence, the seven sects of the three kingdoms reacted quickly, forging a union that fought jointly against the barbarians, whose power was, thus, largely weakened due to this quick response that far exceeded their anticipation. Therefore, after taking the three fortress prefectures of Qi, the invasion was gradually repelled, and the flames of war did not stretch any further into Yan and Huang Countries. Even so, millions of people had been made homeless, or become servants of the barbarian’s. As a result, the elders of the Black Demon Sect decided, after negotiation, that the annual competition should be canceled and that all disciples would go to reinforce the Qi fortresses in turns, as a special training. Meanwhile, tasks assigned by the sect changed to battles with the barbarians.
For the first six months, Shi Mu was not dispatched to the fortress for his outstanding skill of making charms. He was demanded to stay within the sect, making commonly used low-level charms for the battlefront. But as the battles grew more intense, the Black Demon Sect began to grow short of manpower, so, at last, Shi Mu, too, was dispatched to the front, sent to the most dangerous prefecture, Fu, of all the three fortress prefectures.
Shi Mu had been through these woods many times and smoothly traveled to a cliff at the other end of the woods, resting by a huge tree. He carefully scanned the area, and listened hard for distant sounds. Once he had made sure of his security, Shi Mu fished a blue token out from his shirt. On the face of the token was five red magical characters, circled by complex heavenly patterns. He held it tightly in his hand, muttering spells. As his magic power went into the token, the characters lit up and a faint blue light shot out, flying up into the huge tree.