The earth was shrouded in darkness, and thick clouds covered the night sky. This was undoubtedly a moonless night.
On one of the wooded hills encircling the Rat Nest, giant figures were convening quietly from all directions. They halted at a spot several miles away from the stronghold. Holding their breath, nobody broke the silence, as if they were all waiting for some kind of signal.
After a short time, a dark cloud rolled by from the distance, swirling menacingly. Its form changing all the time. Sometimes it looked like a tiger, other times, like a leopard. The cloud gave off an evil aura. For a while, the dark cloud paused over the hill, hovering, and then slowly began to descend, revealing a small barbarian clad in black hide.
The barbarian man was wearing an odd-looking black hat, which looked like a black goat head. He could not be called old, but his arms had shriveled, looking like a wizened branch. Holding a white cane made of bone, he looked just like a fiendish wizard. The cane had a white skull at its top, its black eye sockets glowing with two dark fires.
At the moment, there was already a couple of giant barbarians waiting at the hilltop, who bowed deeply to salute the small wizard, like devout admirers.
“Your Highness, our Great Commander!”
“Is everything ready?” The small wizard, who was called “Great Commander”, opened his mouth, his voice deep and husky.
“All set. All four exits are manned by our people. Today we’ll definitely eradicate this stronghold. None of the human Adepts can live!” A bear-like middle-aged barbarian stepped forward, answering in a harsh voice. He was holding two axes over his shoulders.
The Great Commander coldly nodded his head, gazing at the stronghold. His eyes were full of venom.
“Commander, according to our intelligence, this stronghold is under the protection of a Star Grade Adept. Our men are brave, but they are still not that Adept’s match.” The middle-aged barbarian added, after a hesitating moment.
“What are you worrying about? Why do you think I would come here, if I was not determined to meet those human bugs? “ The Great Commander said, a condescending look under his dark, sinister brows.
“Of course! There’s nothing to worry about with your Highness here,” the middle-aged barbarian hurriedly answered.
The Great Commander waved his hand to cut off the flattery. He then shook his staff, and a white light shot up, emitting a harsh noise. Hearing the signal, all the barbarians near the stronghold burst out shouting. Rancorously throwing themselves toward the stronghold.
In the Rat Nest.
Shi Mu was sitting cross-legged on his bed, slowly working the Art of the Heavenly Elephant. As his real qi circulated through his body, stripes of black air emerged, floating around him like silk.
During the time when he practiced the Art of the Strong Ape, he did not slack in the Art of the Heavenly Elephant. By now he he was not very far from reaching the 6th level of the art.
Just then, a huge booming noise came from outside. Shi Mu was startled, and he hurriedly got to his feet and grabbed his black blade. Just as he was to walk out of the room, a thought dawned on him. Returning to his bed, he stooped down and groped under the bed, drawing out a wooden case which contained a thick wad of charms. Without hesitation, he grabbed all the charms and stuffed them into his shirt. Then he quickly made for the door.
The booming sounds grew louder, and were coming from all directions.
“Could it be that someone is attacking our stronghold?” Shi Mu made a fearful guess in his heart, quickly scanning the environment. Then he chose a direction and ran off.
He did not make it much far when the neighboring passageway echoed with rapid footsteps. He paused with vigilance, grasping his black blade with more strength. But the next moment he relaxed as he saw some five or six Adepts scuttling to him, among them Feng Li.
“Brother Shi, do you know what’s happening?” The group of Adepts were alarmed at first, but relieved after making out Shi Mu’s face. A male Adept in the Tian Yin sect’s uniform stepped forward and asked.
Shi Mu shook his head, “No, but it’s possible that we are under attack.”
Just as his voice fell, shouting and clashing of magic power came from the passageway ahead. The Adepts blanched with fear and looked at each other in confusion. After a minute, determined, they marched forward. Shi Mu lagged behind purposefully to approach Feng Li. But just as he was to say something, the two Adepts at the front went around the corner.
“No! Watch out!” Shi Mu’s face fell, and he called out to warn them. However, it was already too late. Two piercing sounds rang out, followed by black-feathered arrows that shot through the two hapless Adepts. They each uttered a heart-rending cry, and the arrow hurled them onto the wall behind them, nailing them to it. The black, thick feathers at the arrow end quivered violently for a long time, tracing a fan-shaped shadow in the air.
One of the two Adepts was hit in the heart, and thus died instantly. The other young Adept was still breathing, and he looked at Shi Mu pleadingly, his arms struggling to rise.
Whiz! Another arrow whistled past, and it found the Adept’s throat, sinking into the wall half an inch. The strength behind the arrow created a circle of fissures on the wall. Shi Mu looked at the two bodies mournfully, then hurriedly leaned against a slanting wall, drawing out five charms from his shirt. Straining his ears, he paid full attention to the sounds in the distance. The other Adepts were frightened out of their wits, stepping back from the two bodies, as though they were some objects of some ill omen.
The air around Shi Mu stirred as Feng Li approached. Shi Mu gave him a quick, questioning look, then glanced at the others a few meters away. He whispered to Feng Li, almost inaudibly, “the barbarians that have come...is this your doing...?”
“Brother Shi, I hate the barbarians to the bone, how could I do such a thing against us humans? Besides, I’ve given you the token of my life.” Feng Li replied in a low voice, with a bitter smile.
Shi Mu nodded, convinced. Without any more words he turned his head to the direction of the sounds again. The urgent issue was to figure out the current conditions of the stronghold. Unfortunately, the corner ahead lead to the only place that connected to other passageways. It was imperative to kill the barbarians who were blocking the way. But this was a matter difficult to handle as long as they were unclear of the number of the enemies. Otherwise, even with his strength, he would not choose to force his way rashly.
Just as Shi Mu was wavering, Feng Li’s eyes flashed determinedly, and he stepped nearer to whisper into Shi Mu’s ear, “Brother Shi, if I am sensing it right, there should be four barbarians ahead blocking the passageway.”
“How do you know this?” Hearing these words, Shi Mu was amazed.
“It’s the totem on my back. Ever since my body started mutating, I could sense other totem warriors at a limited distance. The range is about a hundred and fifty meters. Further, I could only get a fuzzy idea.” Feng Li answered frankly, without the least intention of trying to hide his ability.
“Well, if there’s only four Houtian totem warriors, there’s nothing to fear. “ Shi Mu thought to himself, tactics to deal with the enemies crossing his mind rapidly. He did not question Feng Li’s sincerity for a second.
Just then, another earth-shaking noise came! It was as if some huge monster was punching the mountain in which the stronghold was built, and the great force had violently shaken the passageways, so much so that the walls cracking. Feng Li lost his balance, slumping on the ground, and the other Adepts were also tottering. Shi Mu shrank his pupils, and shot up his body without waiting for the quake to calm. In a flash he sprang into the passageway around the corner.
Feng Li had been right, there were indeed four barbarians waiting in ambush. Two of them were archers, but due to the quake they could barely stand up, and, thus, could not aim at their targets. Shi Mu felt lucky at this great chance, and, without thinking, flung a couple of charms at their faces. The charms shone, and seven or eight icicles emerged in the air, dashing toward the four barbarians, who, at the sight, blanched in terror. In a confusion they ducked the icicles, and narrowly escaped some. But the next moment, a figure had flashed to their side. Shi Mu raised his arm, and a glint of leaping flames fell on one of the archers holding a green bow. The barbarian archer bellowed, warding off the flames with his bow. He had great hopes in this special bow, which was made from the green crystal found exclusively in the barbarian’s wastelands. It was said to be even tougher than iron. As long as he could withstand this blow, his companions could seize the chance to rescue him.
Crack! The green bow was easily cut to pieces by the hot flame, rendered as fragile as a lump of tofu. The flame did not pause for a moment, and it fell on the archer’s chest, immediately chopped his body into halves. Blood splashed violently from the giant cut.
Shi Mu’s face was as stern as steel, not changing a bit at being showered with blood. His arm waved another time, and the flames leaped up again, hurtling to the other archer who had just put an arrow on the string. Blood gushed out again, and this one also fell to the ground in halves. The rain of blood washed this underground passageway once more.
The other two barbarians finally came to themselves after watching their companions’ violent death. They uttered a furious shout, and brandished their weapons, swooping down on Shi Mu. Their arms bulked up in a second; apparently they had activated the power of their totems. One waved a colossal blade with a ghost’s head carved at the handle, while the other chopped at Shi Mu with a gigantic axe.
Shi Mu twisted his waist nimbly, and simultaneously thrust his black blade horizontally.
Crack! The two barbarians felt their hands emptied, and, in the next second, their weapons both thudded onto the ground in halves. Scorching flames flashed before their eyes, and Shi Mu withdrew his blade with an expressionless face.
The two barbarians stood in dumb horror, a circular red mark emerging around their necks and enlarging rapidly. Soon their heads tilted involuntarily, and then rolled down their bodies. The two headless corpses fell down to the ground.
It only took him a few breaths to finish all the four barbarians, and by then, the quake had died away. His eyes traced along the passageway ahead, and he frowned indignantly at the sight. Lying behind the four barbarians’ bodies were three dead Adepts, who must have been killed by the four barbarians. The fighting they heard before was probably the fight between them and the barbarians. One of the Adepts was Qiu Ming, who had fiercely opposed to Shi Mu’s living in Kun room. His chest now had a huge hole in it, and he must have been dead for a while.
Footsteps reverberated through the tunnels, and Feng Li ran up to Shi Mu’s side. Looking at the four dead bodies of the barbarians, a trace of extreme horror crept upon his face. Though at heart he could tell Shi Mu’s supreme strength, which could be seen from how Shi Mu had beat himself after he transformed into the ape, he never would have believed that Shi Mu had grown so strong as to be able to kill four Totem warriors in a blink of an eye. After taking a deep breath, Feng Li recovered his calm, and, with great caution, asked, “Brother Shi, what are we to do next?”
Shi Mu answered without hesitation, his voice firm and fearless, “Since the barbarians have made this deep into the stronghold, I that that the Rat Nest has fallen. We have many Adepts here, but most of them do not have much experience in actual combat. The servant disciples cannot be counted on either. We have to force our way out - that’s the only choice we have left.”
“But we still have Master Fang, the Star Grade Adept. Isn’t he a match for these barbarians?” Feng Li hesitated, and then asked this of Shi Mu.