Chapter 154 - The Holy Girl
Billigerd's words started a commotion in the hall immediately.
"The Great Shaman, this is out of the question! Please reconsider it!"
"The portal is not only our race's forbidden place, but also the resting place for our ancestors. By no means should humans and sea-dwellers be let into the gate! What a disgrace to our deceased heroes and forefathers that would be!"
For several moments, both parties were quite agitated, and at this time they had the identical idea in their minds.
"Hehe, I won't let them in for free. For each quota of participants they should hand in a large sum of refined iron or provisions, and each can have at most two participants." The great shaman pursed his dry lips and stated calmly. Though not loud, his voice was filled with authority that tamed the eight shamans immediately, who all stood mute and awe-stricken with stern faces.
For humans and sea-dwellers, however, once this resolve should be officially announced, basically they would have no choice but to participate. After all, they had come for the same purpose of making alliance with the barbarians, which means that the barbarians had the final say. On the other hand, for the barbarian tribes, refined iron and food had always been in shortage in the wasteland. Therefore, whatever scruples the shamans were holding at the moment, they would sooner or later be dispelled for the sake of the rare resources. To say the least, four participants from extraneous tribes would not make much as compared with one hundred barbarian warriors.
Suddenly, the narrow-eyed shaman of the Fiery Snake tribe thought of something and asked directly, "Great Shaman, we still have a problem here. The quality of the beasts' spirits differ tremendously from each other, so how should we calculate the scores each party gets in the competition?"
"That's easy. Let's make it now: Scoring begins with beasts at the primary stage of Houtian level. That's one point. Then comes Houtian beasts of middle stage, which scores a hundred points. A consummate Houtian beast makes a thousand points, whereas a primary Xiantian beast should be ten thousand points." The Great Shaman expounded slowly.
This said, he threw a casual look to shaman Yan who was apparently in low spirits, then closed his weary eyes, ready to fall asleep at any minute. After the eight shamans got this mute dismissal, they left the hall one after another, leaving the great shaman in his solitary doze.
After a short while, the three shamans from the peaceful tribes convened in the Blue Teeth Palace halfway up the sacred mountain. There, they plunged into an urgent discussion.
Basically, the peaceful tribes are no match for their belligerent kinsmen in military force, laying bare the unjustness of the competition. As for the Fire Dancing Princess and Shi Mu, they were not considered as capable participants at all.
Four hours passed, the conference ended without a satisfactory outcome. The shamans left with anxiety more or less on their faces.
Later on, a servant left the hall in the direction of the princess' abode.
"So, the great shaman said that we should offer provisions or refined iron in exchange of the right to enter the Portal of Brave Warriors?" The Fire Dancing Princess asked shaman Yanya sitting in the hall. The news certainly had provoked her.
"That's right. The great shaman's words are ultimate. Nobody is to challenge the decision. But whatever you get in the secret space inside the gate shall belong to you only." Shaman Yanya nodded his head sympathetically.
The princess knitted her eyebrows, sinking into the chair with a sour face. For a moment she remained sullenly silent. However, though Shi Mu standing beside her did not change his countenance, he was extremely thrilled to learn of the news at heart. What an unexpected chance! After all the vicissitudes he had been through on his way to break the curse, he now had an opportunity! Yesterday, he was still wallowing in melancholy. But today, a life-changing opportunity came of itself!
After a few moments, the princess raised her head and said resolutely, "Good, then. We humans shall offer fifty thousand kilograms of refined iron and a hundred thousand kilograms of rice. We'll have the quota of two participants."
Though the princess knew exactly that this exchange was a blatant extortion, but what else could they choose in this situation?
"Good. Now the tribes are in busy preparation for the competition. I'll keep you informed." Shaman Yanya nodded approvingly, not a bit surprised at the quick decision.
Subsequently, the princess asked about the basic information on the Portal of Brave Warriors, which shaman Yanya had no intention to conceal. He began talking tirelessly about the gate and the secret space.
According to Yanya, the Portal of Brave Warriors was created by several shamans jointly back in ancient times, and inside it was sealed an independent space that was enormously huge. As a result, many fierce beasts that had already died out in the outside world still inhabited the place, including some of the earliest creatures. Every ten years on the big ceremony held in the sacred mountain, the great shaman would open the gate after prayers. Then each tribe shall sent a group of warriors into the gate to hunt animals and obtain their spirits. For generations, this ceremony had been the most solemn one, anticipated ardently by all the tribes; the beast spirits obtained in the secret space were far better that that in the outside world.
In the interval, Shi Mu stayed most of the time in his flat practicing martial arts, except for a brief visit to the market near the sacred mountain. In the market, he bought materials for an ancient prescription he got from Minh Tu that was said to be able to suppress the multiple-headed viper. Besides that, he also bought a batch of hides to make low-level magical charms. According to his experiments, Body-Lifting Charms drawn on such hides could raise one's speed one third higher than normal magical paper. Apart from these, the princess also gave him three middle-level charms called the Cold Dungeon Charm for emergency needs. Though the Cold Dungeon Charm was only an ordinary charm of middle level, belonging to the element of water, it was still beyond Shi Mu's current power to draw it. All these preparations gave him more assurance in the pending competition.
Several days later, in the valley behind the sacred mountain.
This is a rather broad valley that covers at least seven hectares. White rocks are erected in a certain place of the valley, each carved squarely and is about three meters in height. On their surfaces are drawn blood-red dark magical characters. Seen from above, these huge rocks constitute an enormous ring about three hundred meters in diameter like an imposing Stonehenge.
Peculiarly, on some of the huge rocks are overlaid one or several rocks of the same make either uprightly or horizontally, creating a pattern that appear both erratic and meaningful.
Not far from the stone formula, a black altar that was several meters in width is built. In front of the altar, all the eight shamans were standing with serious faces silently, as if in anticipation of something. The heavy air among them spoke much for the dignity of the occasion.
On the square before the altar, a hundred or so barbarians in various styles of clothes were standing in two groups opposite each other. One of the two groups was obviously stronger in both build and morale. Undoubtedly, it was the group of Houtian totem warriors from the four aggressive tribes, whereas the weaker group consisted of warriors from the four peaceful tribes.
Shi Mu was now standing side by side with the Fire Dancing Princess in the group of the peaceful tribes. On their opposite, seven or eight odd-looking men were clustered around a girl; she was wearing a blue dress who appeared to be their leader.
The girl looked roughly the age of thirteen or fourteen, her skin snow white, and her features strikingly beautiful. The shiny black eyes of hers were looking in the direction of the stone formula curiously.
The odd-looking creatures around the girl would look much the same as humans save for the scales all over their bodies. Some also had ears like fins, and some even had a fishtail. They were heavily-built guys with protruding muscles, using giant trident as their weapon. Some of them were casting coldly provocative looks to the Fire Dancing Princess but the princess did not care in the least about it, returning those insulting looks with radiant smiles. Shi Mu also looked at them overtly, sizing them up and down.
So these queer guys should be the sea-dwellers, and the girl in blue their Holy Girl. A day before the ceremony, he learned from Minh Tu that the holy girl was one of the two participants of the sea-dwellers in this competition; he could not help but seize the chance to study her closely. However, the result was most baffling; somehow, Shi Mu had a vague feeling in his heart that he had met the girl before, but he could not remember for the life of him when or where.
Just as he was lost in thought, Shi Mu sensed a hostile look shot towards him. Immediately, he raised guard and tilted his head slightly to search the look. It turned out that an old shaman with a red crutch and a pair of serpent eyes was looking daggers at him. The wrinkled skin of the old barbarian had a glow of faint green. Seeing that Shi Mu had taken notice of him, the old shaman quickly averted his venom eyes in a casual manner.
The Fiery Snake Tribe! The name immediately flitted across his mind, but Shi Mu dared not make any obvious moves.
Just then, the crowd stirred slightly, and then everyone's eyes turned to the opening of the valley. Shi Mu also followed their direction, and saw an old, gaunt barbarian ambling into the valley like a withered leaf blown staggeringly into the air. He was walking with a branch-like crutch, old and clumsy, with unsteady steps.
However, at the sight of this frail old man, all the eight shamans and the hundred barbarian warriors tensed up, and the earlier provocative atmosphere vanished without trace.
Shi Mu was most astounded at the scene. He could never have imagined that the most reverent person of all the barbarians should be this old feeble man! Moreover, he could not sense the any miniscule amount of qi from him. The great shaman looked just like any old barbarian; one would never associate him with the ruling emperor of the barbarians.
Billigerd walked at an extremely slow pace, as if each step would cost all his strength, if he still had any. However, the barbarian warriors and shamans waited patiently; their eyes were fixed intently on the old man who was making his way strenuously to the black altar.
The valley was absolutely quiet.
It took the great shaman fifteen minutes to reach his destination. Once he ascended to the platform, the eight shamans scattered around the altar to form a circle.
"The brave warriors of our sacred God, the Portal is to be opened. Are you ready?" Standing on the altar, Billigerd swept the whole audience with his turbid eyes, and then asked slowly.
"Yes!" The thunderous answer shook the earth, the brave word reverberated through the valley. Then all of the warriors burst out shouting, rushing towards the stone formula.
Shi Mu and Huo Wu exchanged a look and then also followed the warriors of peaceful tribes. The girl in blue whispered something to her fellow companions and then walked to the stone formula with the fishtail guy.
The enormous stone formula stood there waiting for its visitors quietly.