Chapter 136 - Disguise
In the depths of the Purple Spirit Mountains in the Chen Prefecture of the Heavenly Qi Country.
This chain of mountains rolled, unbroken, for a thousand miles, with multiple ranges of low hills, which were densely covered with lush vegetation and trees. Rivers and streams ran down the hills and wound around the mountains. Whenever there were clouds and mists rising from the mountains, the magnificent scenery would resemble an otherworldly picture, an abode for dragons and phoenixes. The biggest of the chain were two purple-hued mountains of regular height. Like the two horns of a dragon, the two mountains stood amid purple mists all year round.
Buildings of various styles peeped through the mists, the tops of which were clearly seen. Most of them had attics which were connected by airborne bridges. The wooden door-frames and roofs were carved with phoenix patterns. Through the mists, shadows of people moving about the airborne bridges could be seen.
This was where the Ethereal Phoenix Sect - one of three big sects of the Heavenly Qi Counrty - was situated. The peak of one of the two mountains had a four-story purple palace that stood out among all the buildings. This palace was entirely made from some kind of purple rock, which was dotted with golden spots which would shimmer beautifully in the sun.
At this time, in an interior stone room of the palace, a graceful lady was sitting cross-legged on the floor. She was wearing a green gown that had thick blue magical characters embroidered on it. The dress floated in the breeze, sending ripples of magical power of the water element into the air.
A column of blue light shot up above her head, and, in a flash, the light, like a whale blowing out it's spout, turned into a blue rain that fell around her, forming a clear stream that flowed to her feet. The water accumulated and eventually turned deep blue. After an unknown amount of time, the water surface suddenly jolted, and then a blue lotus flower appeared under her and started lifting her into the air.
Just then, a jade bracelet around her wrist quivered, emitting a light purple circle that consisted of many tiny characters. In a short time, a small formula appeared in the air with a flash of purple light. The light then transformed into a palm-size jade slip, which the graceful lady immediately caught hold of with two of her fingers, then gently placed it on her forehead.
The lady opened her eyes wide abruptly, and her countenance changed. The blue light surrounding her vanished into thin air. With a great haste, she stood up and left the stone room.
At the same time, a dozen figures flew from all directions toward the palace, entering a conference hall inside it.
One hour later, the hall became empty again. The graceful lady herself still sitting in a chair prepared for the elders. Her delicate brows knitted tightly and her forehead was creased with fatigue. She rubbed her temples, relaxed a little, and then took out a white jade slip and stuck it to her forehead.
After a moment, she, once again, set the communication formula to send a message. Her right hand flicked in the air, and the white slip soon vanished. All done, she lifted herself up from the chair and walked to the rear of the hall, her heart heavy.
In the Heavenly Green Mountains of the Heavenly Qi Country. Here was where the headquarters of the union of the seven sects was situated.
In a certain stone room, a green-robed middle-aged woman was reading a white slip, and the content soon made her face furrow with worry. She hurriedly exited the room. At almost the same time, other stone rooms opened one after another, and out came men and women with the same severe looks on their faces. Among them the man named Xie of the Black Demon Sect.
Shortly afterwards, the seven figures convened in a major hall on the great peek. They sat in two rows at either side of the hall, and each of them emitted deep, powerful qi that belonged only to powerful warriors. These seven elders were the leaders from the seven sects, who stayed at the headquarters to govern the routine matters of the union. Appointed by their respective sects, these elders had the right to rule on every issue related to the barbarians.
At present, the hall had a rather stifling air. It was so repressive that none spoke up to break the ice. Finally, the Black Tortoise's leader stood up. He had bushy brows and looked to be around thirty years old.
"Elders, several days ago, a total of eleven islands, from all three of our kingdoms, small and large, were attacked by the Sea Dwellers. The guards on the islands were mercilessly slaughtered. Among them, we of the Heavenly Qi Country suffered the most casualties. Never before, throughout the past three hundred years, have such events happened. It seems that the Sea Dwellers have discarded the truce which our forefathers, with much difficulty, fought for, and will break in at any time. We should give this matter our utmost attention."
This was answered by an old lady dressed in purple gown, "Now that we are at war with the barbarians, if the Sea Dwellers come, we'll be being attacked from two sides. At the present time, I think we should negotiate for peace with the barbarians." She suggested in a depressed tone.
Just as her voice fell, two or three people agreed by nodding their heads, while the others remained in a meditative silence, not showing their views on the subject.
The man from the Black Tortoise Sect, who spoke first, frowned, "the barbarians have so many tribes of different scales, so, even if we openly appeal for peace, they may not come to a consensus as quickly as we wish. Some may even propose presumptuous demands. How should we deal with that?"
"Humph! The East Sea is boundless, and the Sea Dwellers will never be defeated by us humans or the barbarians alone. If any of our three kingdoms fall, the barbarians will be exposed to the danger. What we need to do is remind them of this fact. Unless the barbarians are born without brains, they would not sit by idly and let the Sea Dwellers gain so many advantages." The graceful lady from the Ethereal Phoenix Sect retorted in a disapproving tone.
"The barbarians are brutal and bloodthirsty, and their tempers are quite eclectic, so ordinary theory does not apply to them. As far as I'm concerned, we should try both ways. On the one hand, we reinforce the coastline with guards and ban all the sea-going activities. On the other hand, we send a secret ambassador group to talk with the barbarian's Great Shaman." The blue-robed elder man from the Heavenly Sword Sect shook his head, speaking slowly.
"Good idea. The Great Shaman never leaves the barbarian wasteland, and is widely known for his wisdom. He would never make a decision against his people's benefit. Besides, he is the spiritual leader of the barbarians, and is very much revered among them. If he nods his head, all the tribes will follow him." The man named Xie agreed.
This suggestion won most of the elders' approval. And the elder lady from the Dark Charm Sect spoke up, asking another question, "If so, do we have an appropriate candidate to lead the ambassador group?"
"The Fleet Fire Princess of the Heavenly Qi Country. She is currently a disciple of our Tian Yin Sect." A middle-aged woman suggested quickly, her eyes glinting. She was wearing white gown and a golden hair clasp.
The Fire-Dancing Princess was, indeed, the best candidate, as she was both a representative of the Qi court and the union of the seven sects. Other elders also nodded their agreement after a few brief thoughts.
Since the candidate was settled, the elders then began discussing affairs concerning shortening the battle line, as well as sending reinforcements to the coastlines of the East Sea. The following session did not witness a peaceful consensus again, and the hall rang with heated arguments.
Three days later, the ambassador group, led by the Fleet Fire Princess, had a quiet, covert departure from the Heavenly Qi Country.
There was not a single cloud in the sky, and the scorching sun was constantly baking the vast wasteland. Within one's sight, every patch of land was dusty and dry, being full of cracks. Straggling purple bushes dotted the arid land, and, every once in while, one could see one or two stunted trees standing stubbornly among the squatting bushes. Occasionally, some orange-colored rocks peeped through the bushes or lied listlessly on the sand. These weather-beaten rocks had been there for years, being constantly abraded by the wind. Every now and then, a gale blowing past would roll myriad crumbs into the air, which would dance pathetically, as if telling sad stories of the deserted land.
Such a scene of desolation was a true portrayal of the barbarian wasteland, and such a scene could be seen for thousands of miles.
A barbarian clad in hides was trudging heavily toward the shadow cast by a huge rock a dozen meters high. This man had dark skin, and was powerfully built, though could only be counted as a small one among his kinsmen. A silver sheath was hung over his shoulder. Adjacent to the sheath was a colossal bow. In his right hand was a black blade wrapped in a tattered cloth. The quiver was filled with arrows, which made his steps particularly large and heavy.
This small barbarian was none other than Shi Mu in disguise, and, at this point, he had been in the barbarian wasteland for two weeks. His journey was not the safest of all, since he had to not only bypass the barbarian riders, who passed every now and then, but also fight ferocious beasts all the way. The strangeness of this land also poised problems that slowed down his pace. But fortunately, he had now finally reached the very depths of this wasteland.
He swept the surroundings with his vigilant eyes, and was relieved by the unchanging bleakness he saw before him. No life inhabited this place. He slowly put down his black blade, and drew the canteen to have a sip of water. Then he seated himself in the shadow of the rock, and concentrated his thoughts, starting to practice the Art of the Heavenly Elephant.
The barbarian wasteland was not known for having much water, and to journey during the daytime naturally demanded a large supply of water. Therefore, Shi Mu had decided to rest in the day and advance in the night, to conserve the little water he still had with him. This was a hard decision to make. Nights in the wasteland had proved themselves to be extremely dangerous, with the beasts and poisonous bugs being most active at this time. Regardless of traveling at night, he was still running out of water. Up till now, he still found it formidably difficult to find water when needed, and the only regular pattern he had discovered was that whenever there were bushes, there would be water.
When he first entered the wasteland, he was not well prepared, and had run into the plights of water shortage many times. However, thanks to the kind barbarians he had met on the road, who, after hearing Shi Mu's pitiful story, would gave him their own water canteens generously, Shi Mu eventually survived. These common barbarians would also give him some tips about finding water, which had saved him from falling into bigger dangers.
[ED: O.o Now I want to know this 'sob story' that Shi Mu told these people. (Certainly he didn't tell them the truth? I would think he would get killed on the spot. :/ )]
[TL: Yeah. I had this doubt when I translated this part. The author certainly wanted it ambiguous.]
Once, when he journeyed during the night, he was bitten by a very small poisonous ant, and his right leg immediately swelled up, being filled with great pain. Later, a passing old barbarian man had helped him, voluntarily, using a strange-looking herb nearby to cure the ant wound.
Experiences such as these made Shi Mu realize that the common barbarians were just like human people, and most were kind and generous. This newly gained knowledge helped reduce much of his hatred toward the barbarians.
At this moment, just as the last ray of the sun was devoured by darkness, Shi Mu's eyes flashed, having been alerted by something. Swiftly, like a leopard cat, he sprang up from the ground, with the black blade already in his hand.
He soon found himself surrounded by a hundred animals - lion-like beasts, as big as calves, with light purple fur. Those hungry eyes were twinkling with fierceness. Shi Mu could tell at a glance that these savage animals were the notorious Wind-Chasing Wolves, an aboriginal beast of the barbarian wastelands. Their fur was similar in color to most plants in this land, and their steps were light and quiet, which enabled them to approach a target without being noticed. Once they had encircled the target, they would charge en masse. Thus, they are best at making sneak attacks.
Shi Mu took a quick glance at the approaching enemies, and, though concealed behind the wolves, a relatively bigger one still drew Shi Mu's attention. That must be the Alpha of this pack.
He raised his eyebrows, and raced forward, leaping up into the air and swaying his black blade. A large patch of blade shadows soon rolled to the Alpha wolf.
Then an ear-splitting sound rang out!
Some six or seven forms swooped down on Shi Mu from all directions, as quick as lightning, showing off their white teeth. Shi Mu waved his arm with great force, and a dozen blade shadows were cast in all directions.
The dull noises of sharp weapons cutting into flesh resounded. After a second, the rust-like smell of blood filled the air, and seven Wind-Chasing wolves were cut into halves.
Shi Mu paused to adjust his movements, but before he could act again, a dozen black forms came down upon him, while the Alpha wolf's form disappeared into the darkness.