Chapter 120 Tracking
Gu Shenwei lifted his narrow sabre high and cut off a head.
There was no immediate reaction and the expected confusion set in right away. The three huts were silent, as if there were no more enemies.
The moon shone brightly and the teenagers remained motionless like statues, waiting patiently for the counterattack after the silence.
The enemy’s counterattack came suddenly. The previously calm state of the oasis seemed to have shattered like glass. Everything that was still came alive; several figures shot out of the door, windows, and roof all at the same time.
The killing competition began.
Sabres in and sabres out. The figures both moved and attacked with great speed, jumping back three steps for every success. All the people who fell looked like mutes, with no one shouting.
The killing started and ended silently. The magical scenery was restored and everyone, regardless of if they were standing of squatting, became motionless again. It was as if a bunch of marionettes who were performing a brief and intense show suddenly had their strings cut and were now hanging limply.
There were a total of eight corpses while the teenagers had won a great victory. No one was hurt.
The assassination was usually much simpler than a duel because one of the parties took the initiative. The people in the house died under the sabre before they even had time to show their kung fu levels.
The last step was to see if there were any survivors hiding in the house.
Apart from Liuhua, the others rushed into the three earthen huts. Gu Shenwei took charge of the middle room. As soon as he entered, he saw a figure standing in the middle. He rushed up to attack but ended up falling into the ground.
Unexpected assassinations were easy to carry out, and unexpected attacks were just as hard to guard against.
Because of a sudden storm, the six teenagers had broken into the enemy’s defenceless base. Before they lifted their sabres and cut off the heads one by one, this place had never been visited by outsiders before.
So Gu Shenwei was also the first victim of the underground trap.
He didn’t know what was going on in the other rooms, because the trap door closed as soon as he landed.
It was pitch black.
A finger poked his chest like an iron bar, sending Gu Shenwei flying backwards and knocking him against the wall. He responded by quickly rolling to one side to avoid the attack that might follow.
“Eh?” Someone in the darkness gave a cry of surprise. Gu Shenwei stabbed toward the direction of the sound with his narrow sabre, but he missed. That person’s experience was also rich and immediately changed positions after making the noise.
In the dark, underground space, the two waited quietly for the right moment. No one dared to move, not even breathing as they both knew that their lives depended on how long they go without making a sound.
Gu Shenwei was in an inferior position. He didn’t know the size and shape of the trap, and also didn’t know whether the other side had a helper or not. Additionally, the heat in his xuanji acupoint was raging as he was on the verge of a Qi deviation.
If he had not seen Xue Niang being decapitated by a green-faced assassin in person, he would have thought that she was the one who stabbed him in the dark.
He immediately understood the origin of the black-robed women. They were the disciples of the Great Desolate Sect (Da Huang Sect), who were Xue Niang’s fellow-disciples. Xue Niang’s real name was Kang Wenmei, and she was also known as the ‘Iron Claw.’ He should have thought of it earlier.
Those black-robed women’s kung fu was not as good as her, and also wore steel thorns on their fingers. The finger energy of the person in this secret chamber, however, was as powerful as Xue Niang‘s. She didn’t need a sharp weapon anymore.
In fact, the Desolate Finger energy instilled by Xue Niang at his xuanji acupoint had saved his life. Although the finger energy occupying his xuanji acupoint was the culprit for his Qi deviation, it could also help dispel internal energy of the same nature.
Gu Shenwei didn’t have time to dwell on this. He gripped the narrow sabre with his right hand and supported himself with his left hand and his feet like a cat which was preparing to leap forward. It was just that the time spent on preparing was too long.
It must have been a long time and it seemed that everything had stagnated in the darkness, even the time had stopped. But he felt stuffy in his chest now and knew that he had held his breath for too long.
The breathing method for holding one’s breath had a higher requirement for one’s internal energy, which was exactly Gu Shenwei’s weak point. He was no match for the invisible enemy in the secret chamber.
Once again, he turned to the words in the mysterious swords manual, which had so far helped him through many difficult and dangerous times.
What’s the point of opening your eyes when it’s all dark?
Gu Shenwei closed his eyes, and tried to sense the so-called ‘Qi’ mentioned in the swords manual, the ‘Qi of life’ everyone had but no one could see and hear except sensing it, the ‘mysterious Qi’ which both him and Lotus didn’t even have a clue after numerous practices.
At the very moment when he was about to suffocate and give up, Gu Shenwei felt something special in the chamber, something he could not describe about. There was no more time for him think, and he suddenly stabbed out with the sabre in hand.
Something fell, and Gu Shenwei also followed it down. His mind was completely blank, and he felt like that he was in a strange dream where he knew that death was imminent, so he ordered himself to take a quick breath. But his chest felt like it was being pressed by a boulder and had no strength to rise or fall.
He finally drew in some air. He sat up straight and breathed heavily, as greedy as if he were a taotie that had been starving for three days. 1
The first thing he did was to try to recall what he had just felt, the way of finding the ‘Qi’, but failed.
None of the sword moves and techniques written in the mysterious swords manual could be practised since they could only be enlightened as they killed. Gu Shenwei and Lotus had long ago discovered that only through killing could they make progress. Otherwise, it would be useless no matter how familiar they were with the sword moves,
The enemy was dead, but Gu Shenwei could no longer recall that strange state he was just in. He had to wait for the next crisis.
It was the most dangerous way of sword-training in the world. One mistake and you were dead.
Gu Shenwei groped his way forward step by step in the dark until he finally came upon the dead body. He found a paper roll in its robe and lit a weak fire, but he still could not see anything clearly.
The fire flared up as he lit the corpse’s clothes.
It was a small secret chamber. It had two exits: a passage of about half a man’s height on one side that looked like the mouth of a monster, and a wooden door over his head.
The corpse was a woman’s, and the wound was in her throat, which didn’t bleed much. She had died almost immediately, showing that the kill was more perfect than anything Gu Shenwei had ever done.
Gu Shenwei jumped up several times and found that the wooden door was so firm that it could not be pushed open.
The flame was devouring the woman’s hair, and the light was growing dimmer and dimmer..
The others never came to the rescue, so screaming for help was useless. Instead, Gu Shenwei arched his back like a cat and crept into the dark passage. With a narrow sabre held in front of him, he cautiously moved forward.
To his relief, the passage was not very long, and he pushed open another wooden door at the end of the passage that led back to the desert. Looking around, he found that it was not far away from the oasis.
When Gu Shenwei returned to the front of the three earthen huts, he found the eight bodies were still lying where they were, but the killers were all gone.
Gu Shenwei checked the other two earthen huts and also knocked on the ground, but he couldn’t find any trap doors.
Was he abandoned? Gu Shenwei didn’t think so.
It was almost dawn now, and Gu Shenwei was still circling around the earthen huts conducting a thorough search. The first thing he discovered was that Liuhua’s set of three bows were all armed with arrows but not yet released. Gu Shenwei put all of them away.
Then he finally found some strange footprints, which were shallow and jumbled. More importantly he noticed that there was a distance of about a dozen steps between the two sets of footprints, as if they were left by a few giants who had long legs but small feet.
Unless these people were jumping.
At once, Gu Shenwei thought of the black-robed women, who were jumping strangely as they approached the target.
Following these footprints, Gu Shenwei went back to the place where they had been hiding during the day.
All the camels were dead, the remaining dry food soaked in blood and covered with sand. The water bladders were all pierced with almost all the water having leaked out.
Gu Shenwei packed a few pieces of blood-stained dry food, collected some water with a largely intact water bladder, and began tracking the footprints.
The footprints were not always discernible; sometimes he had to walk in a large circle to find the next footprints, which wasted a lot of time. He went deep into the desert, taking a turn to the south again after a day’s time. He finally entered the wilderness, after which the footprints became normal, and it seemed that the people had stopped jumping and several other people’s footprints showed up.
From the tracks, he gathered that his team-mates were still alive and there were only three kidnappers in all. Gu Shenwei sped up his pace.
All of the three are experts, Gu Shenwei thought. He had eaten all the dry food, and there was only a bit of the water left. Thinking had become his way of dealing with the hunger. If Lotus and Wild Horse were caught unprepared, he would also not be a match for the enemy. What was strange about the situation was that the three kidnappers simply left without trying to capture the last teenager.
Through what Zhang Ji and Fang Wenshi had said, as well as what he saw and heard, Gu Shenwei was even more sure than before that the Great Desolate Sect (Da Huang Sect) and Golden Roc Castle had a close relationship. Even the martial arts of both sides had a lot similarities, such as the black-robed women’s jumping-like lightness skill being almost the same as the green-faced assassins’.
When he drank the last drop of water, Gu Shenwei suddenly realized that the three kidnappers might not necessarily be highly skilled in martial arts. Similar to those of Golden Roc Castle, they could have used some knockout drugs.
Gu Shenwei took no rest as he moved forward. On the morning of the fourth day, he crossed a stream and drank plenty of water. Then he climbed on a slope and saw the southern mountains, which were a branch of the Tian Mountains. By following it west, he could return to Jade City, but the footprints he followed were shifting increasingly eastward.
He finally caught up with the kidnappers that evening.
The targets lived in a courtyard. It was another stronghold of the Great Desolate Sect (Da Huang Sect) but on a much larger scale and with much better security. There were hidden sentries lurking around miles away.
Gu Shenwei didn’t beat the grass and frighten away the snake, but instead hid and thought about how to save his people.
It was impossible to force his way through as he could only deal with one or two people at a time with his swordsmanship. Any more enemies, and he would run a real risk of dying.
Assassination was also not reliable. A single killer’s ability was limited, not to mention that the other side was also good at assassination and would not let him succeed easily.
The moon had climbed up to the tip of trees now. Gu Shenwei decided to first ignore the stronghold of the Great Desolate Sect (Da Huang Sect) and stealthily sneak ahead of the kidnappers.
This was not the kidnapper’s final destination. After four days of tracking, he had figured out the other side’s route and roughly guessed that they would end up in the mountains.
On the fourth of the five night watch periods, he came upon a small river, which was full of rapid swells. He soon found the best place to cross the river, and also found a grassy path that led to it.
This was a place the kidnappers needed to pass through if they wanted to move on.
Gu Shenwei started setting a trap, although he only had a narrow sabre, a dagger, three sets of bows. He spent two hours practising the use of a crossbow, and a period of time erasing the traces of his movements.
The next step was to wait. The killer always had to wait. Gu Shenwei still remembered how much he hated this.
He needed to kill three experts of Great Desolate Sect in one fell swoop.
- Translator’s note: Taotie is a mythical ferocious beast which enjoys eating and drinking in large amounts. ↩