Chapter 157 - The Mystic Stone
"Could it be the handiwork of the barbarian ancestors?" Staring enchanted at this blackish fragment, Shi Mu murmured to himself. He let his eyes run over the adjacent bushes, and then something glittering caught his attention. He strode forward to the left, and then brushed his way through the thistles and thorns until a larger part of the statue showed itself before his very eyes.
This was the bust of the artwork, lying slanted and submerged in the grass leaves. Judging from the two pieces he had seen, this statue appeared to be a strange monster that was half-human and half-animal with two ears atop its head and canine teeth jutting out of its mouth. This look resembled a werewolf.
Shi Mu knitted his brow. This statue resembled totem warriors in their animal form. Thus, the assumption that this statue was made by the barbarian ancestors may have some truth in it.
Following his line of sight through the forest ahead, Shi Mu was surprised to discover more of the broken parts scattered along the way. He followed the path where the fragments were and the deeper he explored into the forest, the more stone works he saw. Among them were further parts of the same statue, but also stone columns and dilapidated walls and curbs.
The mysterious fog clouding his mind deepened. He hastened his steps, and found that the trees grew increasingly scatty as he approached the other end of the forest, where the next scene shocked his body into a jerk.
His eyes were overwhelmed by the sudden presence of a vast open space. In the center stood a series of crumbled stone buildings built against the mountainside; this should be some ancient remains.
Shi Mu carefully walked up to the buildings, and then found the relics of some altars, temples, etc. In the middle of the remains stood a stone temple with a dome. It was relatively more in its integrity through the long passage of time. Its adjacent buildings had long collapsed, turning into crumbs that cluttered around it like stars around the moon.
Shi Mu had a quick glance of the site and eventually set his eyes upon the dome. Half of the building had crumbled, exposing a towering statue that was at least thirty meters in height standing erect inside it. Shi Mus eyes shone as he detected some similarity between this statue and the broken one he had seen. Both were half human and half animal.
This one had a face roughly of human, but was rather fierce and contorted. Those angry eyes stared hard at some point in the air with its tusks sticking out. Two curved horns like that of a goats thrusted skyward from its forehead, and the ears bore much resemblance to goat ears. The animal-human had its bust bare, and powerful muscles protruded to the extent of as if it was about to burst. The hands were human hands, but the feet were once again goat hooves. The pair of arms was different in posture: one was raised high, while the other drooped. The former was clutching a flute-like thing which had three holes on it. It was quite puzzling.
The most admirable thing about this statue was its completeness, which made a striking contrast to the uniform fragmentation of the environment. Shi Mu could not help but shift his eyes between the statue and the surroundings before once again keeping them riveted to the statue.
Suddenly and without warning, Shi Mu was grasped by a fit of extreme fear, as if something invisible had just attacked him that he could barely breathe. By reflex, he averted his eyes from the statue, and then his body slowly returned to normal mysteriously. He could not explain the sudden visit of that terror, but simultaneously a hope stirred in his heart. Since this statue had the ability to manipulate ones mind, this site should bear some monumental significance to the barbarians even in ancient times. Shi Mu kept his eyes out of the sweep of the statue, walked into the remains, and then began rummaging in the relics.
Soon he had finish checking the place out, and was rather disappointed by his fruitless research. Things were old and useless here: either ruins of the buildings or rotten wood. There was nothing of value.
Shi Mu would not admit defeat yet. He went over the remains again, but the result was the same.
He smiled wryly at his avarice. How greedy human beings are! He turned about, and was ready to leave. But at the last moment, his eyes caught sight of a red glimmer which came from the drooping hand of the statue.
He followed the dim light without hesitation, and soon discovered that the red light was a ruby stone the size of a fist; it would have easily escaped his attention if it werent for his excellent eyesight.
All kinds of thoughts tossed about on the stormy sea of his consciousness until he finally gritted his teeth, resolved, and then sprang up to take the stone. Without once looking back, he ran madly back along the road he had come.
After several minutes, he paused to gasp for breath and get a feel for the stone in his hand. Nothing unusual. Then he heaved a sigh of relief and took the stone to his eyes to have a careful study.
The ruby stone had a texture of red, fine lines on its surface that were shining as if they were alive. It had a warmness to the touch. By no means should it be an ordinary decoration. A brief examination could at best prove this, with no certain answer of its origin. Shi Mu carefully stored it into his bag and did not linger any longer. In a great haste, he returned to the valley.
At the same time, near the entrance to this same valley, a group of five barbarians showed up. These are exactly the totem warriors of Fiery Snake Tribe and Brutal Bull Tribe. The bare-headed one was still holding the bone plate. The pointer on it was pointing to the depth of the valley.
"Seems hes entered the valley." The bare-headed barbarian claimed after a brief consideration with his eyes closed.
"Aint look like a nice place. No mark on the map. Should be a dead end. Hehe, catch a turtle in the jar - the old guys used to say. Will Save us a lot of time. No way he can flee out of this valley." The thinner guy of the Fiery Snake tribe took out a map and let out some dry giggles.
"Then what are we waiting for? Hurry up!" Mang Kun snorted coldly, being rather unsatisfied with the low efficiency of his team members.
"Hold a moment!" The dark-complexioned Brutal Bull guy called out, scuttling to a pond nearby. There, a huge body of a blood-red wild boar lay with its head split open by a blade-like weapon. The boar was almost cut into halves by this cold-blooded killer.
"The Red-Flame Warrior Boar!" The man was shocked, and blurted out the name of the dead boar.
The others also gathered to have a look of the horrible scene. All of them changed their countenance to varying extent.
"By the looks of it, that boar should at its late stage of Houtian level. The guy must have killed it with one blow." The bare-headed man now took on a sour look.
"That Shi Mu must have some strength! We cant be too careful!"
"Humph! Its just a Red-Flame Warrior Pig! Whats all the fuss? Hurry up and kill the chap. Ive already wasted a lot of time!" Mang Kun gave a snort of contempt and turned towards the direction of the valley, leaving the others fidgeting by the boar. After a moment, the dark-complexioned barbarian followed Mang Kun with recharged confidence. The bare-headed man took another look at the lying boar. A trace of suspicion crossed his eyes. Vaguely, he sensed that something was wrong, but could not figure it out. He shook his head vigorously, trying to spin the doubt out of his mind. This done, either successfully or not, he led his two fellow men also into the valley.
In the depths of the valley, Shi Mu was galloping with light steps. After passing through a dense brushwood, he froze on the spot. His penetrating eyes looked steadily ahead with golden light. The next moment, his countenance changed dramatically, and then he immediately flashed aside to hide behind a big tree. With ape-like agility, he climbed up the tree in a few moments.
Halfway up in the tree, he paused and once again looked into the distance. The overlaid dense shadows of trees failed in blocking his view, and he could clearly see five barbarians rushing into the valley some three hundred meters away from his location at the moment. The barbarians faces were full of menacing air, and their eyes kept sweeping around vigilantly in search of something.
"The Fiery Snake tribe..." Three of the barbarians had a snake tattoo on their arms. Shi Mu closed his eyes, and those razor-sharp eyes of the Fiery Snake shamans crossed his mind with unfailing acuteness.
After some thought, Shi Mu returned to the ground and took out his Air-Piercing Bow. Nimbly, he concealed himself behind a nearby shrub, and then prepared for the incoming combat.
The three fiery snakes were taking the lead. Suddenly, the bare-headed man stopped abruptly with one hand raised up. The others stopped at the sign, and then began to listen for any audible sound.
"Whats up?" Mang Kun frowned discontentedly.
The bare-headed man did not answer immediately, but cocked his head to listen for a few more moments. A hint of doubt crept upon his face. He had heard a strange sound just now, but it was too fleeting for him to catch. He even began to doubt if it was his ears that were cheating him. What a pity that the round plate could only detect a rough direction, without further exactitude.
"Careful, everyone. Im afraid the fellow has noticed us..." The bare-headed man sighed, speaking up his mind. But just as his voice fell, a rustling sound came from a dense wood ahead; simultaneously, a black shadow flitted across their view.
"Thats him! Go!" The bare-headed man narrowed his eyes. Inside, he was thrilled, and could not wait to pounce upon his quarry. The five of them were all excellent runners, and it only took them a few moves to arrive at the place where the shadow had disappeared into. But it was all empty now except for trees and plants with no shadow at all.
"Up there! In the three!" The bare-headed man quickly surveyed the environment and caught a glimpse of a black figure looming above their head. He flicked his arm, and the green whip in his hand immediately sprang up like a viper, turning into several whip shadows that bombarded the shadow with great force. The other four followed without thinking; all of them launched attacks skyward.
In a short time, the leaves of the tree were almost pulverized, revealing the black shadow which turned out to be a cloak made of wolf hide! The bare-headed man and his tribesmen were confounded for a moment, but Mang Kun only gave a snort full of contempt, throwing up his axe to cut the cloak into pieces. For a moment, the shreds rained down upon them like grey raindrops.
But just then, a dull sound reverberated amid the whirling shreds, and a kind of unknown white powder suddenly stormed down all over the sky, completely enveloping them. The five of them had been looking up at the shreds; the sudden appearance of the white powder totally caught them unguarded. Defenseless, they each had some of the powder fall into their eyes that caused an intense sting that made them let out shrill cries in agony.
At this juncture, an air-splitting sound came.
"Beware of arrows!" The bare-headed man caught the sound with his keen ears even though his eyes were still closed due to the sharp pain. Reflexively, he ducked aside, shouting loudly to warn his companions.
Before his voice fell, another two whizzers flitted past.
Ahhhhhhh! Two shrill cries!
The bare-headed mans heart missed a beat. In this extreme condition, he could not tell to whom the cries belonged as he tumbled to the ground and rolled aside.
Boom! The tree that the cloak had been in seemed to be a trick from the start. At the moment, it unexpectedly fell down and crunched through the two crying barbarians.
The bare-headed man rolled on the ground for about several meters to get away from the dangerous center. By now, the pain in his eyes were still as gnawing him, but had lessened a bit. He managed to open his eyes to have a look at the miserable scene.
At the same time, in a shrub nearby, a red blade shadow was cutting forcibly down. Another bitter cry came, followed by a thud of a heavy body flopping down onto the ground.
ED: Shoutout to Ambi for being so awesome.