Chapter 119:

Crushed (1)

Mad God


The summer came and went and it was late autumn by now. The news of the establishment of Heaven’s Gate shook up the world inside the Kingdom of Ten, but on the other side of the Shert River, it left little to no impact on the citizens of the Empire. Some people felt compelled to try and visit the world’s newest sect when it opened its gates next spring, mainly those who never got the chance to try to join the Immortal Wonders Sect. Still, the majority continued to live their life just as before. The disciples inside the Immortal Wonders Sect were even more excited and focused. The notion of rivals appearing out of the blue was a good chance to prove their talents. Nobody wanted to be the one who brings shame to the Sect, by losing to someone from Heaven’s Gate.


Ariana felt the same way, maybe this is why she advanced to the 4th stage of body refinement much quicker, compared to her previous speeds of advancement. Now she was sitting on Kyu, right behind her Master as they traveled alongside the roads of the Empire. It was her first time going outside. Ever. When she was a child, she only knew the city’s back alleys and its sewers, situated in the Qun kingdom’s capital. Next to those, she only knew her new home, the Sect’s grounds. Now, seeing the changing scenery of the forests, plains and mountains afar, was an exciting and uplifting experience.


“We should reach them by the evening!” Ren commented, patting the head of Kyu who was walking casually on the road. They were constantly in the center of attention when they were passing caravans or simple travelers.


“Why not fly there, Master?” Ariana asked, holding onto her Master’s waist from behind.


“And where is the fun in that? It is faster, yes, but why hurry? Who knows what we would miss!” She answered.


“Like?”


“A bandit attack?” Ren said, tilting her head, thinking about the many possibilities.


“Master, I heard the Empire’s roads are really safe! 4 out of 5 caravans make it without being attacked by scoundrels. Also…” Ariana murmured but stopped in the end.


“Maybe, but nowadays some nobles feel like there is fire under their butts and are trying to make some trouble. And… also what?”


“Who would attack us? Seeing Kyu’s giant form, nobody would dare to!” She said with a chuckle.


“Um! Nobody! Kyu’s strong!” Kyu said with a rumbling voice, nodding her head rapidly.


“Ah… I totally forgot about that.” Ren nodded, now a bit disappointed. “Still! We could see others being robbed and save them! Or a hidden ruin with treasure inside! What if we rush into a hidden expert, wanting to trade some ancient artifact?!”


“I doubt that Master, the Empire was stripped clean over the 2000 years since its inception. I read about the exploits of Aerthus VII who was obsessed with relics of the past!” Ariana said, shaking her head.


“Geez, have some sense for adventure and fun!” Her master replied as she rolled her eyes.


“S-sorry…” Ariana lowered her voice but Ren just turned around, patting her head.


“No need to feel guilty! You saw how those two rascals acted with me, you can voice your thoughts freely, I won’t get mad!”


“Master, Kyu smells blood!” Kyu interrupted them suddenly.


“Oh? See?” Ren chuckled, “Let’s see what we got here! Let’s go!”


Kyu immediately picked up speed, following the scent she smelled and after a few minutes of riding, going off of the main road, they rode into the thick bushes and foliage. When they arrived at a hidden camp, it was already completely destroyed. Bodies littered the shrubs and roots of the trees, their blood painting the ground below them dark brown.


“Bandits?” Ariana asked, looking around. She was a bit pale but not that disturbed by the scene and smell yet.


“Going by their haphazard attire, I would say yes.” Ren nodded while Kyu walked closer, turning one body onto its back. It immediately revealed the simple, precise stab wound on his chest that pierced his heart. “By the color of their skin and stiffness of their bodies, the dried bloodstains… They were killed days ago.” Ren said as she jumped off Kyu’s back. Ariana quickly followed her Master as they examined the corpses.


All of them were killed the same way; A stab through the heart. They had no chance to even react as their weapons were still holstered and none of them showed any signs of resistance.


“Maybe it was an inside job, Master?” Ariana asked. “Or maybe they were assassinated.”


“Maybe. But I doubt it, these are just… oh…” Ren stopped, turning the last of the 7 corpses.


“What is it?” Ariana hurried there while Kyu just sat down lazily, waiting for them to finish.


“This guy has a ring I recognize.” Ren said, looking at his pinky finger.


“From where?”


“From the Capital. It is a ring used by Elder Boursat’s previous gang, the Wild Cats’ lieutenants.”


“So… these are people from the gang we are headed for…?” Ariana asked while she furrowed her brows, looking around once again.


“Seems like it.” Ren nodded, also starting to get curious as to what was going on. “And they were killed without even noticing they were already dead. They either fell victim to someone seeking vengeance, a skillful vigilante. Or… mm… Anyway! Official troops wouldn’t leave corpses here, just laying around and rotting!”


“Or? Master?” Ariana asked.


“Or they poked a hornet’s nest somehow. This is clearly an outpost to survey the area of their base. Let’s go, Kyu, pick up speed!” Ren jumped back onto her back, followed by her disciple as Kyu rushed out quickly.


They reached their destination just before the sun could fully go down. From far away they already saw the smoke rising into the air, signaling, there was trouble ahead. As Kyu neared the camp, which was situated beside a thin, slow flowing river, originating from the nearby, small mountain range, the smell of death became even more prevalent. The tents and supply crates were smashed, overturned and burnt to the ground. The camp’s watchtowers laid in ruins, bodies were skewered on broken, wooden poles, while around them, roughly 30 heads littered the ground, separated from their bodies. Some were burnt alive as their bodies were still in the fire that was signaling their demise.


“We are late by a day at least.” Ren whispered, watching the scene.


“They fought back…” Ariana gulped, holding back her disgust, covering her nose with her sleeve. It was her first time seeing people disfigured and slaughtered like pigs.


The charred bodies and mutilated corpses’ smell was strong in the air as the wind blew it towards them. The ground was scarred by the aftermath of spells and fighting, broken weapons and armors.


“Master,” Kyu spoke up, sniffing in the air. “I can feel fresh blood, coming from further away!”


“Follow it!” Ren ordered as she left the destroyed camp behind, hurrying towards the nearby mountains.


“Master, was it a different bandit group that did this? Or some noble’s army?” Ariana asked, looking back, towards the destroyed camp in the woods.


“No. There were the same marks on the corpses and on the ground as we saw in the outpost previously. The fire that burned here was also not natural or it would have caused a forest fire already. This is the work of a cultivator.”


“One cultivator?”


“Yes.” She nodded heavily because going by the evidence she saw so far, there were no army or group, only one man, massacring its prey.


A few minutes later they arrived at the foot of the mountain, following Kyu’s nose, finding a hidden trail, going upwards. Not long after they finally arrived at a cave’s entrance, hidden behind thorny bushes.


“Follow me closely, Kyu, you stay here, guard the entrance! Nobody comes in after us and nobody comes out before us!”


“Yes Master!” saluted in her original form, easing Ariana’s nerves a little with her silly performance while she followed her Master inside.


The cave turned really dark, really soon. As they walked deeper and deeper, Ariana could feel coldness creeping up at her spine.


“Relax.” Ren whispered, expanding her aura, shielding Ariana from the unnatural coldness coming from deep inside.


“I can’t see anything, Master.” She gulped as she could barely make out Ren’s silhouette.


“You don’t need to.” Ren answered. “Try not to see with your eyes, but with your senses. Your body is already at the 4th stage. Use your other faculties! You can ‘see’ in many more different ways. As I speak to you, you could determine the location of the walls, rocks as my voice bounces off of them for example. Or just use your energy, try to expand it gently, like a thin bubble around you. This is the correct usage of your aura that you need to learn.” She explained to her patiently. “When you get proficient with it, you can release it farther and farther with varying strength. It will work as not just your eyes or ears but all of your other senses put together! When you get stronger, you can pick out targets within it and focus on them, crushing the weak willed easily.”


“I’ll try, Master.” Ariana nodded, trying to focus.


Ren previously already teached her how to release her affinity and energy from different energy points inside her body but now she was trying to do it simultaneously, from all 9. Doing it with the same volume, maintaining it, was harder than she thought. Her Master slowed their steps, letting Ariana try but soon she tripped and bumped into her. Ariana was so absorbed in it that she fell face forward, feeling a bit dizzy already.


“Ahaha, do not worry about it!” Ren giggled, “Just try again later! It is not an easy thing to do. Lulu is only able to expand it outwards, up to 2 meters. It is a technique you can fully grasp only by training and constant usage.”


She just finished explaining when a blue bolt flashed in the darkness, coming towards them, blinding Ariana, whose eyes already got used to the all consuming darkness. Facing such a bright light, she felt like her eyes were watering and hurting badly.


“So you are still alive!” Ren chuckled, holding out her hand, grabbing the incoming bolt, crushing it. “This was a pretty weak attack, you really expect to kill someone with this?”


“No…” came the weak answer, while another flash traveled in the cave, now from Ren’s fingers. As she snapped them, igniting the torches on the walls, light finally returned to the cave. “I only expected to go out… fighting…” Eisen groaned, laying in her own blood. “I’m not some… whiny bitch to die… without biting back…” She giggled, throwing up blood.


When Ariana’s eyes got used to the orange light, she could finally see the hiding place they were at. It was a small cave, filled with half a dozen metallic boxes, covered in frost, emanating a bone chilling coldness. The hard ground was covered with small, bushy pelts to soften them up a little, as two battered individuals leaned against the gray wall, breathing heavily. They were covered in nasty, deep wounds. They were Eisen and Sezel, the latter laying in Eisen’s lap, barely breathing.


“You got fucked up for good! Did he bring flowers or went straight to the asswhooping?” Ren asked as she came closer.


“Ugh… don’t make me laugh Boss… or I’ll die of laughter!” Eisen groaned, fighting to keep her eyes open. In reality she could not see much, only blurry silhouettes.


“Ariana, go feed Eisen with the pills we brought and tend to her wounds!” Ren ordered.


“Yes!” She nodded, hurrying close, kneeling before her, while Ren pulled Sezel off of her. “Are these… burn marks?” Ariana whispered, seeing the blackened flesh on the almost naked woman. Eisen had patches of her armor and clothing burned right into her skin and there was hardly any body parts that were still undamaged.


“Yeah… the fucker was roasting us alive…” She moaned as Ariana poured some healing solutions on the wounds and fed her a recovery pill, easing Eisen’s pains. “Thanks…”


“You still are in danger, this won’t help you recover from these deep wounds, we need real treatment!” Ariana said worryingly.


“No problem kid… I think others would have a party if they knew I died…” Eisen chuckled, closing her eyes and going limp but still breathing, finally fainting from exhaustion.


“Master!” Ariana turned towards Ren, who was now pressing down on Sezel’s chest, sending her electricity into her heart, trying to restart its beat, which just stopped. “Don’t panic, make her ready to transport! We need to get them out of here first.” Ren answered calmly and after a few tries, Sezel’s heart finally started to beat again. The once beautiful woman was disfigured by deep sword cuts and burn marks all over her body which is going to need a lot of surgeries to heal.