Turning to see the words on the wall, Meng Fuyao felt her face heating up. Almost burnt, she gritted her teeth, ready to fulfill her desire of chewing someone up.
Before she could do anything, footsteps came through from outside the cave.
The assistant general stopped before the cave entrance. He had already scouted the place, and since there was no way the couple of them could have grown wings and flown away, they had to be inside.
The black wave of soldiers gathered together, jamming up the city wall. Extending kilometers away, the winding troop appeared like a snake under the moonlight, their weapons as shiny as scales.
There was no one anyone could single-handedly fight through this dense formation; just one strike per soldier would be enough for one to die from exhaustion.
"Burn!" The assistant general ordered, his teeth twinkling like those of a beast amid the darkness.
The general had ordered for the arsonist to be chopped into pieces, and he planned to bring a corpse back for him to do as he pleased.
The wood had been piled up, but the cave was as quiet as before. The assistant general let out a cold laugh before heavily striking his arm downward.
As a soldier was about to start the first, the pagoda-shaped firewood pile collapsed. A coarse branch fell from the top and smashed his head.
Faces changed as other soldiers retreated instinctively. There were many customs regarding Rongsmen's troop formations, and one of the important ones included their belief that it was inauspicious to get injured before a war.
The assistant general studied the firewood pile for some time, recalling that nothing had been shot out from the cave. Dismissing it as a coincidence he waved, and a personal guard went forward to light the fire.
Midway, the guard's knees went weak, and he rolled to the ground immediately after. He rolled on and on, and his head rolled off all of a sudden.
The head had rolled out soundlessly before the eyes of thousands of soldiers. There were no blood, no cries, and the head had even preserved the victim's cautious look from before. It no longer looked like a head but a ball that had been kicked away.
Under the moon, deep within the mountains and before the cave, what would it feel like to have a head roll to one's own feet?
At least for the assistant general, he had almost lost it.
"Ah," he let out, automatically lifting his leg to kick it away.
Like a sigh being released amid a void, the head exploded with a low explosive sound. The frosty moonlight illuminated bits of flesh, some white, some red, and some already solidified, that splattered everywhere, covering the crowd of soldiers.
What would it feel like to have the flesh of a comrade rain all over one's body? Horrifying and disgusting, probably, much so that the scene would turn into a perpetual nightmare for even the bravest fighters.
The assistant general let out a wretched cry before collapsing. The skin on which the flesh came into contact started smoking up. Bone-deep holes were gradually becoming visible.
"Curse! The devil's curse!"
Yet another body had collapsed before the cave's entrance and in front of a disordered troop. The Rong soldiers were shocked silly by the sudden death they had just witnessed. They raised their weapons without knowing the enemies' location, refusing to escape.
The Rong army rules were strict; as escapees' whole family would be killed, these soldiers stayed rooted to the ground despite being scared out of their wits. Some tried to toss their torch over.
Inside the cave, Meng Fuyao's eyes darted about as she focused on Yuan Zhaoxu, her mind full of thoughts. She hadn't made out the method he had used to kill. It felt nothing like martial arts, and she couldn't seem to understand it.
Yuan Zhaoxu's fighting style was rare in the Five Region Continent. It was neither orthodox nor demonic. His move was soundless yet fatal and brilliant. Meng Fuyao had studied under the Old Taoist Priest and gained significant knowledge of martial arts but was still unable to recognize his approach.
And this move of his stripped away one's focus and will. It was a mental game, but the Rong people were persistent despite the hopeless situation that awaited them.
Meng Fuyao looked up and saw a torch of flame flying over, about to reach the dry pile of firewood.
A purple shadow flashed by, quick as light. Yuan Zhaoxu, who had been passive, started moving.
In the blink of an eye, he had arrived outside the cave and kicked the pile, causing it to scatter. The coarser tree branches flew in all direction and onto the bodies around. The soldiers started collapsing like dominoes. As each branch was able to strike four or five people, a huge number of soldiers fell to the ground in an instant. Blood and bile sprayed everywhere.
Tie Cheng followed suit. His inner energy wasn't as overwhelming as Yuan Zhaoxu's, but he was a good close-range combatant. As Yuan Zhaoxu charged into the crowd to attack, he retrieved his blade and stood by the entrance. Those who daren't face Yuan Zhaoxu attempted to go around the cave, only to be pounced on and stabbed.
With a single kick, Yuan Zhaoxu had managed to kill 10 over men. Instead of pursuing the already retreating enemy, he returned to where Tie Cheng stood. "Please stay guard here."
Tie Cheng had pierced his blade through the chest of an incoming soldier as Yuan Zhaoxu spoke. While wiping the blood off his face, Tie Cheng shouted, "What are you going to do, then?"
"I'm tired, and I am not as heroic as you are."
Tie Cheng fumed, immediately injuring 10 men with a kick. 'Tired?' He turned around and yelled, "Are you crazy? We're going to die from exhaustion if you don't escape from the circle fast enough. None of us will be able to escape."
Gaining no response from Yuan Zhaoxu, Tie Cheng suppressed his urge to hack that fellow to death. Soldiers pranced forward, leaving him with no choice but to obstruct their attacks and continue with the never-ending task.
Unable to contain her mouth Meng Fuyao turned and mumbled, "Just your luck... just anyone's luck to bump into him..."
Yuan Zhaoxu returned to her side, smiling. "It is my rotten luck to have met someone like you."
He leaned against the wall, starting another fire and calling for Meng Fuyao and Xiao Dao to warm themselves by it. Not bearing to see Tie Cheng fighting alone outside, Meng Fuyao asked, "Not gonna help?"
"He wants to marry you. This is the least he should do," Yuan Zhaoxu stated as a matter-of-factly. "Or how else am I to resign?"
Bitter-faced, Meng Fuyao responded, "I'm not going to talk to you from now on. You're just going to refute every statement I make."
Yuan Zhaoxu let out a laugh, and while separating the branches, he waved, and a half-burnt wooden stick flew outward, right in time to save Tie Cheng, whose knees had gone weak and was about to get sliced.
The wooden stick hit the Rong soldier right in the face, instantly splitting his head open.
Tie Cheng paused for a little while before turning around and thanking Yuan Zhaoxu reluctantly. "Focus on fighting," came a response.
As Tie Cheng was about to throw a verbal retaliation, he caught sight of an incoming rod and rushed to grab it. There was no time to bicker with Yuan Zhaoxu.
"Hah," Meng Fuyao let out, before continuing, "I see that you're nurturing his subordinate consciousness.
"He's pretty good, skill-wise, loyal, and brave. Just a little too intense for me." Yuan Zhaoxu picked out a pine cone from the fire pile and handed it to Meng Fuyao. "Remove his acute spirit, foster his submissive side, and there will be one more person to protect you in the future. You must know that Yao Xun is unctuous and unreliable."
Meng Fuyao fell silent. Looking down at the shelled pine cone in her palm, she noticed that it looked exceptionally clean and moist, almost jade-like and smooth. It looked like a loving heart.
She used it to warm her face, feeling the touch of it on her skin.
A shadow flashed before her eyes. Yuan Zhaoxu was gone again. He was always appearing by Tie Cheng's side at the "right" time, lifting a hand and wiping out yet another bunch of soldiers. Upon forcing the enemies backward and giving Tie Cheng a chance to catch his breath, he would return into the cave with an "I'm tired and need a break", no longer willing to exert an ounce of strength.
As Tie Cheng fought restlessly, Yuan Zhaoxu would also stop by and drop a few casual words. Beyond pissed but controlling his anger because of the people in the cave and his own sense of responsibility, Tie Cheng slowly came to realize that Yuan Zhaoxu's advice was helping him to refill his energy, focus, and precision.
Meng Fuyao looked from afar and commented in an envious tone, "How lucky is this fellow." Yuan Zhaoxu showed a faint smile.
The moon set from the west as the sun rose from the east and then set again in the west. The cave dimmed, and then lit up, and then dimmed again as the battle continued. Tie Cheng's arms had weakened as well, and a sharp whistle sounded from afar.
Yuan Zhaoxu, who had been shutting his eyes and meditating, informed, "We can go now."
Meng Fuyao could tell that he was stalling for time and figured that Lord Yuan Bao must have been up to mischief. Not pursuing the matter, she allowed Yuan Zhaoxu to help her up.
"Hold onto me," Yuan Zhaoxu ordered.
"I can walk by myself," she replied awkwardly.
Of course, Yuan Zhaoxu wasn't giving her a choice. By the time she was done acting awkward, he had already made a move. Meng Fuyao felt herself slamming into his chest and was left with no choice but to hold tightly.
Yuan Zhaoxu sped through the crowd, killing anyone in his way. Blood prints and corpses were created with every step he took. He reached a hand out, his gesture appearing that that used in the highest of heavens by the Gods when summoning for living creatures. Where he passed, bodies collapsed and stacked up, bloody holes evident all over. Bones were shattered, and the bodies were soft like snakes.
He smiled, while holding onto Meng Fuyao, his sleeves floating in the air as he passed through the crowd. Yet another pool of blood was left where he came through. Under the pale moonlight, it could be seen that his purple robe was free from all stains.
A life was taken at every step, with no exception.
Having witnessed their comrades' bizarre deaths and Yuan Zhaoxu's heedless killing, the remaining Rong soldiers were finally caving. The distorted, snake-like corpses reminded them of their beloved Garison, who had the face of a man and the body of a snake. The man before them, the man who had destroyed so many lives... could he be the incarnation of Garison?