A Mysterious Enemy
Although the treasure trove map was weathered by the years, the Tian Dang Mountains were depicted very clearly. Hundreds of mountain peaks were drawn in detail. The red cross that Ka Luo spoke of was right in the center, at the base of a tall mountain.
Ka Luo pointed at the map. “We are here right now. Although we did not encounter any obstacles today, we did sense something. The operation might not go smoothly.”
Jia Te Lin nodded. “It is too silent. Silence is frightening. Even if it is winter, there shouldn’t be zero animals on the mountain. However, we have yet to encounter one. It seems like there’s something imperceptible here controlling these mountains.”
Ka Luo nodded. “What worries most is that Magic Scholar Li De’s spell was counter-devoured.”
Hua Rui said, “That’s right! It definitely is not a volcano, but I could not say so then.”
Nian Bing’s heart jumped. His perception of Hua Rui immediately changed. This shocking-looking vice-captain was not as simple as she appeared. She had known all along it wasn’t a volcano, but she hadn’t said as much in order to calm the rest of the team.
Ka Luo turned to Nian Bing. “Nian Bing, do you have any opinions?”
Nian Bing thought it over. “I have only one: immediately turn back and give up this mission.”
Jia Te LIn snorted coldly. “You scared?”
Nian Bing smiled thinly. “Scared? If being scared can save my life then what’s the harm in being scared? I refuse to let myself to fall into inescapable danger just because we are barreling forward. If I could choose, I think that it is best we abandon this mission, because that unknown danger might not be something we can contend with.”
Jia Te Lin argued, “Boy, do you know how much we spent for this operation? We paid over 10,000 gold coins to your mage association alone. And there are a lot of other expenses! We have already invested three months worth of the association’s income. How could we just give up?”
Nian Bing refused to return Jia Te Lin’s gaze. “I have a reason. As long as there are green mountains, there will be wood to burn.1 Of course, I understand what you are thinking right now. Without running into a true obstacle, you might not give up. Since I promised President Ka Luo that I would join your operation, I will definitely travel with you. However, if things come to pass as I have said, if we meet an undefeatable enemy, I will not hesitate to run away. At that time, you cannot blame me.”
“You…” Jia Te Lin leaped to his feet, filled with imposing might. He released his martial master qi, the light in his eyes flashing. He looked like he was thinking over whether to dispose of Nian Bing or not.
Hua Rui hehe’d and leaned close to Nian Bing. “Little brother, it looks like you have seen something. Why are you so sure that we cannot triumph over this mission?”
Nian Bing harrumphed coldly. “I did not discover an enemy, but could it be you didn’t feel that it got warmer the closer we got to the center of the mountains? The changes have not been too overt, but we are in the midst of a severe winter; it seems much too warm here for that.”
His words woke them. Jia Te Lin sat back down, his expression focused and then exchanged looks of dismay with Ka Luo. They really had not noticed this issue, but now that Nian Bing mentioned, they felt it true.
Ka Luo took a deep breath. “Nian Bing, what you say is reasonable. However, before we began the mission, we already accepted a portion the employer’s commission. If we go back now, according to the rules we must pay it back in threefold. Though the association is able to repay this amount, the losses would be too great, especially in terms of our reputation. So we need to at least try. Do not worry, if we meet any danger, we will definitely make protecting the mages our top priority. IF you agree, I will let you and your friends leave first if we definitely cannot stop the danger. How is that?”
Nian Bing smiled. “Since President has decided so, I will not say anything more. We must be extremely careful. As for my friends, you do not need to worry too much about them. They will not have problems unless the enemy totally annihilates us.”
“Aaaahhh–” came a ear piercing shriek from outside. The expressions of the people in the tent all changed at once. With a flash of light, Ka Luo and the two vice-captains charged out of the tent. Nian Bing was already gripping two magic scrolls.
“What happened?” Ka Luo asked seriously, his eyes searching the camp illuminated by torches. All of the mercenaries were nervous, each of them having drawn out their longsword and anxiously surveying the pitch-black darkness around them.
Long Ling and Feng Nu had made their way out of their tent. Long Ling’s gaze swept over the crowd. When she saw Nian Bing, she breathed an obvious sigh of relief, but immediately reverted to her chilly demeanor.
Nian Bing’s eyes roamed around the camp. He muttered a few lines of chant and produced an exploding flame in the air. The light of the fire penetrated the darkness, immediately brightening up the area. Because of the sudden light, a black shadow in the trees flitted away to a distant location lightning fast. Hua Rui bellowed in anger, her massive frame slamming into and breaking a sapling. Brandishing her battle axes which resembled carriage wheels, she chased after the black shadow, light as a swallow. Jia Te Lin had obviously been with Hua Rui for many years. In a remarkable display of silent understanding, he went in the direction the black shadow had first come from, where the scream was first heard.
Nian Bing did not care about those things. After using the exploding flame spell, he immediately ran over to Feng Nu, saying a few things in her ear quietly. Feng Nu frowned, but nodded slowly. This all happened in front of Long Ling; her aloof expression showed signs of distress.
After some time, Hua Rui and Jia Te Lin returned. Hua Rui’s enormous axes were streaked with blood, and Jia Te Lin was carrying a person. It was one of the mercenaries; he no longer had the aura of life about him. His neck was twisted at a strange angle. Obviously, he had died from a snapped neck.
The atmosphere around the mercenary troop had changed completely. Jia Te Lin said coldly, “There were no signs of a struggle; he must’ve been taken by a sneak attack. The assault was extremely violent and directly snapped his neck. Can anyone tell me why he went into the forest alone?”
One of the mercenaries said quietly, “He went to relieve himself. Just as he entered the forest, we all heard the scream.”
Ka Luo’s expression was positively chilling. He turned to Hua Rui. “What did you discover on your end?”
Hua Rui reported, “It is a human; I was able to tell from their body type. He and I did not clash, but he was astonishingly fast. I had to use all of my strength as well as the plundering shadows skill and still barely managed to keep up with him. He probably didn’t think that my speed would suddenly increase, and in that moment of carelessness, I managed one stroke of the axe to his back. However, that person seemed to be wearing some kind of armor. His back was extremely hard, like mail plating, but it seemed even firmer than mail plating. My axe landed, but it was only at sixty percent strength and I could only scratch him. After I used plundering shadows, my speed dropped drastically temporarily, so I did not pursue him. HOwever, i saw that the person seemed to have red eyes; it was quite monstrous. Luckily Nian Bing used that fireball. If not, we would not have been able to catch that shadow in the darkness.”
Nian Bing said, “That person must’ve have been scared by my fireball and chose to run immediately. From now on, no matter what you’re doing, at least three people must be together. This way, at least you’ll be able to defend the attack and give us a chance to save you.”
“Watch out,” said Feng Nu suddenly. Without hesitation, Nian Bing immediately broke open the scroll in his hands. A rank 4 ice wall spell appeared around him. A great force rammed into him and Nian Bing’s body moved forward on its own. The Ice and Snow Goddess’s Sigh and the Flame God’s Roar leaped into his hands. Without turning to look, using only his spirit to determine the opponent’s location, he sent a fireball and ice ball out at the same time.
With a large bang, the instantly cast ice and fire magic exploded with a high-ranking fighter’s body. At the same time, the opponent showed his strength.. A cry of alarm came from mid-air. Hua Rui and Jia Te Lin were already charging there; two broad axes and a cold sword were headed straight at the figure who had attacked Nian Bing.
Fiery red light suddenly flashed as a scorching stream of air pervaded the space. With a large sound, Hua Rui and Jia Te Lin were repelled in the air. The attacking black figure shot back into the air and rasped, “This will be your only warning. Immediately leave this place, otherwise your corpses will buried here in the Tian Dang Mountains and become fertilizer.” The voice then faded away with the figure. When Jia Te Lin and Hua Rui had fallen to the ground, the black shadow had already vanished without a trace.
Ka Luo brandished his longsword and was standing next to Nian Bing. He asked in concern, “Are you all right?”
Nian Bing looked back at the pile of ice powder with lingering trepidation. He truly doubted, if Feng Nu had not suddenly warned him, whether or not his trigger magic scrolls could save his life. The rank 4 ice wall spell was the strongest spell out of all defensive rank 4 spells, but it was only able to stop a little bit of the enemy’s attack. From Ka Luo’s movement, the one to truly save him was not that spell, but Ka Luo.
He shook his head. “I am fine. Thank you very much for saving me, President.”
Ka Luo smiled bitterly. “It seems what you said had reason. From when I exchanged blows with that person, it was very obvious that his strength was not any less than mine. From what we have seen, we have at least two martial master ranked enemies.”
Nian Bing sighed. “But I understand, that this will not sway your conviction. Am I right?”
Ka Luo nodded firmly. “Knowing the difficulties yet rising above has always been the principle I live by.”
A sudden laugh broke out behind them. Nian Bing turned to look, only to see that the one laughing was Zi Qing Meng. “You two seemed to have switch ages. The young one is a cautious old man and the elder one is a stubborn young man.”
Ka Luo sighed. “Continue with the watch. Everyone else go back to sleep in the tents. What Nian Bing said before is now my order. Anything must be done with at least three people.”
Everything returned to silence. Nian Bing went back to his own tent this time, thinking about the powerful attack from before. He couldn’t help the fear creeping into his heart. Who was the enemy, after all? If it is at Feng Nu said, it is some kind of clan. That said, what kind of clan could live in these mountains. And they seemed capable of human speech as well as a human shape, so they should be humans! How are they some other clan?
He breathed in deeply. The enemy suddenly attacking from a hidden location only made Nian Bing feel the situation was even more dangerous. As a mage in the mercenary group, he was the easiest target for the opponent. He needed to raise his vigilance and defense. If not, if he were to die mysteriously in these mountains, it would be a total waste.
The enemy’s surprise attack set the entire group jumping at the sighing of the wind and the cry of the crane. However, after midnight there were no obvious changes. Under the illumination of the sun on the Tian Dang mountains, a new day had begun. Nian Bing turned the mercenary who had died into ashes. The mercenaries companions would bring back his bone ash to bury in the Ice Moon Empire.
Gazing at the continuous chain of ridges, Ka Luo raised a hand in the air and shouted one word. “Forward!” It seemed like the attack from last night had all but disappeared; he was full of confidence. However, Nian BIng observed that Ka Luo’s other hand never left the sword hanging at his waist.
The atmosphere of the second day was much more nervous that then first. Everytime they noticed some activity or sound next to thim, they were frightened as if the enemy was already leaping out and snapping their necks. It was not strange that they were this nervous. After all, the death of their companion had cast a shadow over the troop. Fortunately, Ka Luo and the two vice-captains were extremely unyielding and their subordinates had undergone long years of training. If you looked at them, besides being a lot more cautious than before, they did not seemed to very affected.
The strange thing was that the enemy had warned them yesterday, but on the second day they did not appear before the mercenary group. Nian Bing even felt that the people watching him from afar had disappeared. So a day’s worth of travel with smoothly. Despite this, when they camped for the night, Ka Luo made sure to personally inspect every single tent, then went to the mercenaries in charge of patrol to tell them what to watch over. Each of the vice-captains also took either the before midnight or after midnight shift.
He patted his stomach. The things that he made were still the most delicious. Nian Bing reclined in his tent, relaxed. The cushion he had brought with him in his space ring made his time right now most enjoyable. For two days, the food had been all his responsibilities. Every time they ate was the time that the mercenaries could completely relax. Because of this, the mercenaries favorable impression of Nian Bing increased. When they were on the road, they would specially stick close to him, so as to prevent another sneak attack from occurring. And after two days, Li De’s magic had also recovered to about seventy-eighty percent. He was no longer super weak, but he still did not dare probe into what was at the center of the Tian Dang Mountains.
- As long as you’re alive, there’s hope. ↩