Chapter 112 - A Mission of Blood
The beautiful girl looked at Shi Mu in astonishment, her eyes wide open, and as she had just bathed, the moisture on her skin only added an unusual appeal to her gracefulness. In Shi Mu's eyes, she was just like a lotus flower appearing above the water, so clean and charming that his chest stung.
Suddenly, coming to himself, Shi Mu found it imperative to give a decent explanation. He blushed and stammered a little, speaking in a great haste, "Sister Ke. it's... it's not what you are thinking... Oh I didn't presume to mean that I know what you are thinking...it's just that...I wasn't peeping. Please believe me, I was just passing by when I heard something so I thought I'd better have a look..."
"It's ok brother Shi. Of course I believe in you. I've been hiding in the mine for days, waiting for my next mission, so I thought why not have a bath here when the sun still hasn't risen." Ke Er replied, her face also blushing. Then she waved her hand, and the black vine branch soon disappeared into the earth.
Shi Mu had a quick, last glance of the branch, his eyes thoughtful. The two of them exchanged an embarrassed look wordlessly, feeling the air around them grow dense.
"Huh, the day's breaking, let's hurry back ." Giving a dry cough, Shi Mu sheathed his blade, trying to break the ice.
Ke Er blushed a little but said nothing. She casually straightened out her hair and followed Shi Mu toward the way back to their stronghold.
So the two of them walked silently through the trees, soft morning rays piercing through the foliage. Except for the chirping of birds, the world seemed to have been enveloped in total quietness. Shi Mu slowed down his pace while the Ke Er followed, with a short distance between them. Both were enjoying bathing in the light without saying anything. Seen from afar, this constituted a perfectly romantic picture, with the youth tall and stalwart, his arms waving like wind, and the girl small and delicate, looking rather timid and endearing. [HJ: As a feminist I'd rather not translate this sentence...But I am a loyal TL, you know.]
[EC: I feel our TL is going to have a lot of issues with this, considering the fact that the author is definitely NOT a feminist.]
"Brother Shi was out at this time of the day, so were you practicing all night?" Ke Er's beautiful eyes blinked innocently as she sped up to catch up with Shi Mu.
"Yeah, it is quiet outside. Which is good for practicing alone." Shi Mu nodded as he replied.
"Brother Shi is so hard-working, no wonder you are such a strong warrior and also a talented Adept at the same time! I could never match you in practice at all. As I far as I know, there's no one in the young generation of our Ethereal Phoenix Sect that can compare with brother Shi." Ke Er's gaze turned soft as she spoke gently.
"Sister Ke flatters me. You are also very brilliant in the magic of wood. The vine branch you controlled just now should be something quite unusual, right?" Shi Mu asked in a casual tone.
"It was just an ordinary wood spell. How can it compare with Brother Shi's magic? Oh, speaking of your magic, I'm running out of charms, could brother Shi help me make some Fire Ball charms? Or would that take too much of your time?" Ke Er suddenly changed the topic and asked him in a sweet voice.
"If Sister Ke offers the materials, it should be no problem." Shi Mu answered quickly.
The atmosphere between them became quite cordial as they chatted all the way. Soon they had come near to the stronghold's entrance where the huge tree stood. Suddenly, the leaves of the tree rustled violently and out came a dashing man.
Ke Er was taken aback at first, but when she made out that it was White Jade she lowered her guard with a soft sigh. But Shi Mu frowned, for an ominous feeling arose in his heart.
"You two ...." Staring at them, White Jade could not help but feel a fit of indignation turning his insides upside down. His face stern, he snapped a fierce look at Shi Mu, which the latter had already expected. Resting his eyes on Ke Er and himself in turn, even Shi Mu began to feel an involuntary sympathy toward White Jade: Ke Er's hair was still wet, which suggested a recent bath. As for himself, dew had wet his clothes, due to him staying up all night on the grass - a sight that resembled a post-bath scene. Therefore, what else could White jade think of before two such wet people?
By now, Ke Er had also realized this, recalling herself naked before Shi Mu, her face reddened even more. Her rosy cheeks and quasi-acquiescence of the bath ignited the jealousy that had already been simmering in White Jade's chest.
"Does brother White have any business with me? If not, please excuse me. " Shi Mu broke the silence in an indifferent tone, then strode away before White Jade could say anything. He was well aware that if he tried to make any explanations it would only make the situation worse. Ke Er saluted White Jade perfunctorily then also walked away, bypassing him to follow Shi Mu. Gazing painfully at the two receding figures, White Jade's eyes were full of malice that even he himself could not contain.
After returning to his room, Shi Mu sat thinking deeply. White Jade had always been hostile to him, and would cause him trouble now and then in recent months, but had still dared not go too far, considering Shi Mu's Adept identity. But that was before today. Now that this embarrassing event had happened, the two of them had officially fallen out, as it is. So he had every reason, from now on, to be wary of White Jade. However, since Shi Mu was accustomed to concealing his actual strength before the other disciples in this stronghold, all had always considered him an average warrior. Plus, the many charms he had with him, as well as many secret techniques and gadgets as his trump cards, he was confident to survive any of White Jade's plots. Also, he would not just bite the bullet without striking back if White Jade ever resorted to indecent means.
For the following period of time, Shi Mu sat with his legs crossed, and fumbled in his shirt for some time before he took out a black bone slip on which was recorded the Art of the Stong Ape. A cloud of deep regret covered his eyes as he held the slip in his hand, studying it once again - he still could not practice this art. After he had reached the fourth level of the Art of the Heavenly Elephant, Shi Mu had exchanged for a bottle of Demon's Qi and some blood of the heavenly apes with his feat points at a stronghold of the union's. With this stuff, he tried to practice the Art of Strong Ape, but his accumulated real qi was still far too weak before the Demon's Qi, which subject him to the danger of being infected by the Demon's spirit. Judging from the current conditions, he might as well try it later when he had reached the fifth level of the Art of Heavenly Elephant.
Shi Mu sighed deeply and carefully put the stone slip away, solely concentrating on practicing the Art of Heavenly Elephant. By convention, he could rest for several days after having performed a mission out of the stronghold.
This way, two days' time quickly flew by. Shi Mu would practice the Art of Heavenly Elephant in his room during the daytime and go outside to practice the Art of Swallowing Moon at night, and White Jade never once came to pick a quarrel.
But on the early morning of the third day, when he returned after a whole night's practicing the Art of Swallowing Moon, his expression changed as he stepped into the mine. All the disciples had gathered around the table, sitting silently with serious faces.
"Brother Shi, we've been waiting for you, come to your seat." The young Taoist who had asked Shi Mu to draw Golden Armor charms before stood up to greet him.
"What happened? Why are all of you here?" Shi Mu asked.
Ke Er, who was sitting among the disciples smiled to him and pointed at a stone stool beside her. Shi Mu thought briefly and then came to sit by her.
The shadow in White Jade's eyes darkened, but he said nothing, only the protruded veins on his neck betrayed his anger. "Now that all of us are here, I will talk business. Look at this." He took a deep breath and diverted his eyes from Shi Mu and Ke Er. He took out the white plate he had shown before, and, as white light shot up from the surface, a light screen appeared in midair again. A line of red characters on it attracted everyone's eyes.
Shi Mu's countenance shifted. The other disciples were also shocked at the sight. As a rule, the union had its own standard in classifying missions distributed to disciples. Ordinary missions are written in white color and special ones are black, only extremely urgent missions will be red. So why, all of a sudden, did a mission of red appear?
"It was a mission we just received this morning. They called upon us to make a surprise attack at a barbarian stronghold that stores their provisions. It's thirty kilometers away from the mountain range. We have been told to burn all the barbarian's provisions there." White Jade looked around and said in a grave tone.
"A stronghold of army provisions... Is it the one near the Eagle Worrying Ravine?" A disciple of the Wind and Fire sect asked with fear.
"Yes, exactly." White Jade nodded with an expressionless face.
"How could it be possible? I have gathered intelligence about the enemy there before, and the geography there was perilous, with hundreds of barbarians guarding the stronghold, including many Totem warriors. But we only have a dozen people!" The disciple asked anxiously.
"I know, it's highly dangerous, but we have to perform it 'cause it's a mission of blood from the union."White Jade threw the disciple a scornful look and said coldly.
All the other disciples present sank into a deep silence as they heard the answer. Punishments to disciples who refused to follow an order were usually merciless. Light ones included sealing one's skills and distributing them to remotes places for hard labor, whereas serious punishment would be a total destroy of one's skills and a relegation to being the lowest of servants, imprisoned in the sect for life.
"Though quite difficult, the feat points for this task are very generous too, as many as eight hundred points altogether. And it counts on your contribution as to how many points each of you will receive at last." White Jade's eyes swept over all the disciples as he announced the reward mechanism. And this news surely comforted the disciples a little, their expression relaxing to some extent.
"Now that the mission is set, let's move on to the plan. " White Jade spread a piece of paper on the table and began to draw a map of a valley on it. "I've been to the Eagle Worrying Ravine before, and it used to be a mountain stronghold of a gang of robbers, which, I'll admit, was quite hard to find. When the barbarians invaded, the robbers abandoned it so the barbarians took it over as a stronghold to store provisions. I remember the general terrain and have drawn it for your reference." Saying this he showed the others the map, which Shi Mu also raised his head for a look at. White Jade had drawn quite a detailed map of the Eagle Worrying Ravine and all the places around had been clearly marked.
In the valley shaped like a calabash, some buildings, like that of a stronghold, were accented, and it could be roughly said that the stronghold had two layers. Shi Mu specifically looked at the disciple of the Wind and Fire sect, who had been to the Eagle Worrying Ravine, and felt assured when he saw that the disciple had no objection to the map. So the terrain drawn by White Jade should be real.
"As brother Zheng has said, the barbarians guarding the Eagle Worrying Ravine are large in numbers and strength, so we shall not make frontal attack with only a dozen of us." Jade White said seriously.
"Has brother White come up with a smart idea?" Ke Er asked in a clear voice.
"Hehe, I would not say it's all that smart. I have discussed this with some of my brothers and we all decided that we should divide ourselves into two groups, one feigning an attack in the front to attract the enemy's attention as much as possible, while the other seizing the chance to sneak into the base to burn the provisions." Jade White smiled to Ke Er and explained.
Disciples around the stone table all sank into a brooding silence as they heard the plan. Many frowned and wore thoughtful expressions. It really was not a smart idea at all, it was, at best, a conventional one. And there is really a chance to complete the mission if no accident happens. After a moment's contemplation, no one opposed to the plan at last.
"Now that we do not have a different view, let's discuss how to distribute our people." Jade White cracked into a smile, which he rarely did, as he saw the plan was accepted.