Chapter 40 - Hunters and Eagles
"There's no need! I'll send you to see Wu Tong immediately!" Shi Mu answered with a stony face while he moved his arms and drew his blades instantly from the waist. With a cold flash of light, Wu Hua's head separated from his body, his face contorted pathetically.
This was a horrendous sight to Zong Xiu; her face went pale and her dreamy eyes widened in terror. However, nothing stirred the calmness in Shi Mu's heart, as he went for the horses - the only living creatures that shared his calmness now - to pick the two heaviest from them, and then hooked the nearby cart to the two of them.
After a while the grey cart was driven by the two horses galloping on the highway with Shi Mu and Zhong Xiu in it, resuming their journey to the mountains. Shi Mu whipped the horses incessantly, constantly on alert to the Jin pursuers after them. He had prepared himself for any potential dangers and dare not to slacken in his vigil after dispatching Wu Tong the Houtian warrior. Judging from what a HouTian warrior in his beginning stage could do, Shi Mu was more than clear of the might of an intermediate HouTian enemy and he had heard of how the fifth master of the Jins far surpassed warriors like Wu Tong.
About thirty miles behind Shi Mu's cart, the Jins were also galloping at their top speed, while three snow white eagles with emerald green heads were flying several miles ahead of the Jins high up in the sky. Their wings were majestic, stretching long and pumping with a smooth, peaceful vigor.
As the night began to recede and the day to reveal its light, the grey cart finally came to the verge of a vast rolling mountains. So vast that the youth and the girl could not see their end. There, Shi Mu unhesitatingly abandoned the cart and horses, rushing into the verdant mountains with Zhong Xiu, approaching their unknown fate without turning back their heads once.
Four hours later the Jins also reached the mountains. The fifth master was riding on a red horse, and after a brief glance at the deserted grey cart and two horse, he commanded the two servants near him in a harsh voice,
"Have the eagles prepare to engage and send out all the hunters! Catch the bastard!"
The servant in control of the eagles nodded his head obediently and fumbled in his shirt for a silver whistle and blew into it loudly. A long shrill whistle and three short harsh notes sounded out as the eagles all dived sharply with stretched wings, wheeling above their heads. Then the other servant, much smaller in stature, went to the black cart after jumping down from the horse, and pulled open the cart doors. Out scuttled four bull-like dogs that were all waist high, with protruding green eyes, and were covered by thick blood-red hair. From their fierce mouths sharp teeth could be seen vaguely every time they panted. The next moment the hunter servant threw down a grey shirt to let the dogs scent it. As one, as if getting a signal, the hunting dogs howled fiercely before they scampered into the mountains like a whirlwind.
"Hurry up and follow them, while the hunters still have the remaining smell of the shirt's owner." The hunter servant face lit up upon seeing the scene.
"Good! Hopefully they won't waste my time by leading us to the bastard's laundry bin. Move!" The fifth master said with a sinister grin, his face twisted with malice. Just as he finished the words he jumped off the horse and followed the hunters into the mountains, and the two servants followed behind meekly. In an blink of an eye, the only man left was the man who had never underwent martial training, forced to stay with the cart.
Deep in the mountains, Shi Mu plodded on wearily, carrying the exhausted Zhong Xiu on his back. All of a sudden, a clear cry sounded out above. Shi Mu eye's widened as he looked up and saw a snow white eagle, whose looks were rarely seen, swirling above the groves around them, crying all the time. At first, Shi Mu was surprised but quickly regained his footing as he advanced undisturbed; a little longer, he was flustered to find that the strange eagle was following them! Meanwhile the cries grew increasingly loud and numerous.
"There's something fishy about this eagle. Miss Zhong, please get down first." Shi Mu's heart leaped with vigilance as he noticed the strange behavior of the animal.
"Yes Brother Shi, be careful." The girl had been rather tired and dozy on Shi Mu's back, but the new situation sobered her up immediately.
Shi Mu nodded and slowly let the girl down. With a lift of his arm the purple steel bow he had been carrying over his shoulder was already unslung and readied to shoot. The next minute, an arrow whizzed into the air, and with an eerie pained cry the eagle was shot through its heart before it fell heavily down like a shooting star.
"Finished. Let's move on." Shi Mu sighed with relief, put away his bow, then urged the girl with a hearty smile.
But this time he judged wrongly. Just as his words fell another cry came from the distant sky; in a minute, two other white eagles had found their way and began to cry out. But this time they remained in the nearby sky without approaching on, swirling with stretched wings.
Shi Mu's expression changed profoundly, and without a word he carried the girl in his arms, dashing to an adjacent hilltop.
"Brother Shi, what's wrong? Could it be that the eagles were sent by someone?" Curling up in Shi Mu's arms Zhong Xiu asked in confusion.
"I think so. Butler Cheng once mentioned to me that the Jins kept a kind of tracking eagles, they have green heads and could travel as far as a thousand miles per day. But these eagles were always paired with a certain type of tracking beast." Shi Mu's face fell; he answered as he kept on racing at his top speed, making the air howling around his ears. At this speed, he was no slower than a race horse.
"Tracking best? Do you mean the Blood Hunter?"
Just as Zhong Xiu was pondering a fierce fit of dogs growling resounded behind their backs. Before they could make out the source a group of several huge red hunting dogs emerged out of the grove a three hundred meters behind, rushing toward Shi Mu.
"Haha here you are bastard! Took me such a long time to find you! You damn scoundrel killed my only son! I'll skin you alive, eat you alive, and I will go far and wide to research ways to torture you!" A middle-aged bearded man also emerged from the grove, two golden sticks in his hands. Following closely behind him were two servants, one wielding a saber and the other a sword. They were none other than the fifth master and his two servants controlling the eagles and hunting dogs.
Although Shi Mu had set off four hours earlier than them, carrying Zhong Xiu had slowed down his speed, plus the Jins had the assistance of the eagles and hunting dogs to help them find a path that led directly to their target. Faced with the deadly enemies on all sides, Shi Mu had to abandon his running plan and resort to the final method: Kill! Kill those who would take his life! And this had been the way he led this harsh life all these years, and never once did he complain, only striving forward, through fire and water to forge himself stronger and stronger.
He quickly released Zhong Xiu and said, "Be quick, go away yourself. Find somewhere to live happily. Let me deal with them."
"No way. I'll stay with you, and if need be, die with you." Zhong Xiu insisted with the most tranquil face.
How could Shi Mu not be moved by the girl's affection and declaration. After some thought and a deep look into her eyes, he was the one that yielded. Slowly, he answered, "Well, if that is what you wish for. You can stay, but please hide yourself well so that I can concentrate on the enemies."
The decision overjoyed the girl even when faced by deadly foes. "Then I'll hide behind that huge boulder. Brother Shi, promise me you'll be careful!" After a quick nod Zhong Xiu turned and ran away. Watching the beautiful girl's figure sway back and forth as she ran, Shi Mu took a deep breath and grasped for the purple steel bow again. This time, he knew what he was facing: grave danger. A mid level Houtian warrior!
Meanwhile the hunting dogs rushed forward, leaving no time for a sweet farewell; in a few minutes they were now only one hundred fifty meters away.