At some point, they had become surrounded by a dense pack of “participants”!
They were at varying distances, some sitting and some standing. None of their faces could be seen clearly. It wasn’t even clear if they were animals or people. Only pairs of dark green eyes and drifting clumps of will-o’-wisps could be seen.
All at once, Xiao Xia deeply felt the suffocating sense of being completely surrounded.
”I didn’t expect you to actually dare pursue!” Guan Zheng spoke, full of confidence.
”You were waiting. If we didn’t come, wouldn’t we be letting down your kindness?” Ruan Zhan gave tit for tat. “We wouldn’t want to trouble you and ask you to return to the octagonal building.”
”How clever of you to know there’s no point in hiding. However, you no longer have that formation. All you brought are those two burdens. How are you going to resist me now?”
”We’ll know whether I can resist after we give it a try.” Ruan Zhan threw Guan Zheng’s previous words back at him. “There’s no point in speaking further.”
Guan Zheng’s expression changed slightly. With a cold sneer, he pulled open his robes, revealing a small drum hanging from his waist. Huang Bo Heng had done the same thing, but everyone present knew that his powers were incomparable to Guan Zheng’s. He had just been a puppet that had been controlled with a bit of his will. Before them stood the true mastermind!
Guan Zheng slowly raised his hand. It fell heavily upon the small drum.
Strangely, there was no sound. It was completely different from the earthshattering sound that came from Huang Bo Heng’s drum that day. Despite this, the surroundings were filled with waves of rustling. It made the three people within the encirclement clearly feel that something had moved even closer.
”Was that some sort of supersonic soundwave? Something only audible to animals and not humans? Or was it a microwave?” Wan Li was still in the mood to analyze things. He wasn’t nervous at all.
”Are you heating up food? What microwave?” Ruan Zhan scolded without looking back.
Xiao Xia, who was standing behind him, didn’t say anything. She felt Ruan Zhan’s shoulders tense, clearly on guard. She knew he was preparing defensive measures. Their enemy was stronger, so defending and then counterattacking was their best bet!
Guan Zheng’s movements were extremely similar to Huang Bo Heng’s. However, it was much less exaggerated. He didn’t perform a witch’s dance, and merely beat the drum over and over while his feet moved dexterously. His movements varied in tempo and not a single sound rang out throughout the entire process.
Yet despite his silence, his actions were extraordinarily effective. It was clear the difference between his and Huang Bo Heng’s witchcraft wasn’t a question of levels…it was the absolute difference between puppet and puppeteer.
The rustling grew more and more violent. Although the shadowy figures before them didn’t seem to be moving much, they all knew the attacks were about to begin.
None of them spoke. They looked around vigilantly, carefully pinpointing the sources of the rustling. It seemed to be coming from the ground. When they followed the sound and looked downwards, two of them were fine while Xiao Xia immediately screamed!
Huang Bo Heng had merely controlled several snakes but that was already enough to give her repeated nightmares. Now, the ground was covered with disgusting things…countless exotic reptiles she had never seen before and strangely shaped creepy-crawlies covered the ground. They were crowding towards the three people within the circle in an orderly fashion! At a glance, a black circle seemed to surround them as it shrunk and shrunk.
Seeing this, Ruan Zhan immediately formed a flaming handprint and shot it at the ground once again. A cloud of dirt was sent billowing outwards as a ring of fire appeared around them. Not only did it keep the snakes and insects out, the flaring fire also scared them into scattering in fear.
Seeing that the situation had temporarily improved, Ruan Zhan looked up.
In the distance, shadows flickered across Guan Zheng’s face in the light of the dancing flames. However, he still had the same contemptuous smile across his face. He was completely unconcerned at seeing Ruan Zhan cutting off his attack with fire. It was completely different from Huang Bo Heng’s panic back then.
He merely grabbed a handful of unknown powder from his robes and threw it into the air. The moment the powder landed, he sped up and exaggerated his movements. Within a dozen seconds, those crawling things formed up again and started attacking the ring of fire!
Xiao Xia was incomparably stunned as she watched.
All animals were afraid of fire, and this was no ordinary fire. It was spellfire, supported by Ruan Zhan’s incantation, which had even more destructive power. But these reptiles completely went against their animal instincts. Along with Guan Zheng’s inaudible commands, they seemed to ignore the spellfire as they continued wriggling towards the ring!
The smell of burnt flesh came in bursts. The first wave had been swallowed up by the merciless fire. The larger insects and snakes were not burned to death immediately, and were still twisting in the fire, making hissing noises that might have been tragic screams. Yet this has no deterrent effect on those behind. Before the first wave stopped, the second wave already arrived. Then came the third, and the fourth, flowing in like the tide!
”My God, he brought all the bugs in the entire forest!” Wan Li sucked in a breath.
”This fire won’t keep them out for long.” Ruan Zhan said calmly, but his expression was a little unusual. “But we have to last until reinforcements arrive.”
”Then what should we do?” Wan Li asked, “That bastard doesn’t care about these lowly lives at all. Your spellfire will be extinguished under his ocean of insects.”
”We must hold out until three in the morning.” Ruan Zhan shook his body slightly, “I will add another ring of spellfire and then set up a barrier. The two of you stand back to back. This time Wan Li will also have to play the role of an ace.” He pointed to the wooden bat covered with spellscript in Wan Li’s hand, and then turned to Xiao Xia, “Xiao Xia, you are in charge of the tattered banner. Remember not to let go, no matter how hard it shakes. From the looks of Guan Zheng, he probably won’t treasure the lives of spirits either. I’m afraid my precious banner will get a little crowded today. Tell me, can I rely on you?”
”You can,” Xiao Xia vowed.
Ruan Zhan nodded. For a moment, Xiao Xia felt his eyes were extremely gentle, but before she could investigate further, Ruan Zhan turned to Wan Li again.
”As for your safety, I won’t trouble myself over it.” This time, it was actually Ruan Zhan who made a joke. Wan Li’s expression became serious instead.
”You…wouldn’t be…” Wan Li asked hesitantly.
Ruan Zhan did not speak. He turned around so that Xiao Xia wouldn’t see his face. Seeing the first ring already weakening, about to extinguish, he immediately sent out another flaming handprint. Then, he drew in the air and added an invisible barrier around Xiao Xia and Wan Li. He stood on the outside by himself.
After doing all this, even Xiao Xia noticed that he staggered a bit, let alone Wan Li who was next to her and Guan Zheng who was observing in the distance.
Guan Zheng froze for a moment. At first he thought Ruan Zhan was playing some trick. Then, once he understood, he couldn’t help but laugh smugly. “I was wondering why the one surnamed Wan didn’t die after being struck by my Death Gu. I thought you used some amazing technique to break my lethal Gu technique. It turns out that you lured it into your own body. Hahaha, what a magnificent friendship. Impressive! Impressive!”
His words struck Xiao Xia’s unguarded heart like a clap of thunder!
He lured Wan Li’s Gu into his own body? No wonder he refused to say what method was used to save Wan Li! No wonder he was in so much pain that day! Then was he going to die? Was he going to be like those ghosts, invisible and incorporeal? Was she going to lose him forever?
She turned pale, turning to look at wan Li.
Wan Li nodded angrily, “That’s right, this bastard forced my Gu onto him without asking. It made me feel so guilty I don’t even dare breathe too loudly around him. If he dies, I even have the heart to accompany him in death.”
Xiao Xia was unable to speak. A hand seemed to be tearing at her heart. She didn’t know if it was pain or grief. She just felt her heart had been hollowed out, leaving behind a crumbling shell. This was completely different from the pain and unwillingness she felt when Wan Li was about to die. She felt confused, helpless, and other indescribable emotions.
”If we killed Guan Zheng, will he be ok?” She asked in a daze. However, she wasn’t able to hear Wan Li’s response. All her attention was focused on the situation outside the barrier.
Ruan Zhan stood very tall, using supreme effort to curb the tremors brought on by the pain. He still stood there proudly. After Guan Zheng’s wild laughter suddenly became a sinister smile.
”Gu in an ordinary person’s body is completely under my control. I don’t know whether it’s the case in your body.” He didn’t cease his gestures for the snakes and insects to attack. “Say, shall we give it a try?”
”No!” Xiao Xia yelled from the side.
She didn’t want to see him suffer. Seeing it last time was enough. She would rather see that distant smile of his, would rather he ignore her completely than see him suffer!
Yet she forgot that her words would be counterproductive. Guan Zheng was unable to tolerate anyone else possessing the “things” he wanted. Therefore, before her voice fell, Guan Zheng started summoning the Death Gu hidden within Ruan Zhan’s body.
He didn’t stop his movements but merely started chanting a spell. With every line he spoke, Ruan Zhan’s body bent a little further. In the end, he directly sat cross-legged on the floor, closing his eyes as if meditating, his hands forming a strange seal. He was clearly resisting the Gu that was causing havoc inside his body.
At this time, the first ring of fire had been extinguished by the desperately advancing swarm. The controlled snakes and insects were now trying to pass through the second ring. Yet Ruan Zhan seemed to be in a trance. Xiao Xia and Wan Li were inside the barrier and weren’t able to help him. They could only worry helplessly.
Likely due to Ruan Zhan being distracted with the Death Gu, the second ring of fire was clearly not as fierce. The weakened flames were less than a foot tall, allowing some creatures that could jump to leap over them. The rest that couldn’t do so continued to use their bodies to suppress the fire. The flames were swiftly suppressed to resemble burning charcoal.
Seeing this, Guan Zheng’s smile become even smugger. He probably felt it was about time, and immediately switched up the drum’s rhythm and his steps. He prompted the other things still hiding in the woods to come out.
First came the larger animals. They couldn’t be distinguished clearly in the darkness. They were most likely wild boars, wild dogs and other four-legged creatures. Then came giant pythons with their heads raised and their tongues flickering. Finally came spirits in various states! Some had no heads, others were missing arms or legs. Some were attached to strange plants, and moved towards them bit by bit!
After the manipulated animals entered the second ring, they immediately pounced towards the three people. Yet for some reason, they didn’t attack Ruan Zhan. They merely eyed him greedily and surrounded him. Despite the urging of the inaudible drum, they just didn’t dare approach within three feet of him. They could only pace painfully and hesitantly.
This was especially the case for those spirits. They moment they got close, the bloodwood sword lying across Ruan Zhan’s lap would start vibrating fiercely, giving off a dazzling red light. Those spirits squeaked and retreated. If they weren’t being controlled by Guan Zheng, they would probably have fled as far as they could.
Although they didn’t dare attack Ruan Zhan, they weren’t as polite to Wan Li and Xiao Xia. Although the two of them were safe inside the barrier for now, the attackers still threw themselves dauntlessly at the walls!
In mere moments, the barrier’s walls were besieged. All sorts of methods were used to attack the barrier as the creatures tried to break through this final fortress! The insects bit and clawed, the four-legged creatures repeatedly charged, the snakes slithered around and the spirits used various tools to strike. The entire barrier seemed to be wobbling a little.
At a loss, Xiao Xia stuck to Wan Li’s back, both panicked and anxious.
The sky had been dark to begin with, without any moonlight. Now, the barrier Ruan Zhan constructed was completely covered in all sorts of creatures. It was pitch-black inside and she couldn’t even see Wan Li’s face clearly. What felt more unbearable to Xiao Xia was that she could no longer see Ruan Zhan’s situation.
The only light actually came from some of the glowing insects, as well as those green, swirling eyes, though it wasn’t clear whether those belonged to animals or ghosts!
”Don’t be afraid!” Wan Li’s steady voice came from behind, which made Xiao Xia feel a little more at ease. It made her realize she wasn’t alone!
”I’m worried about Ruan Zhan!” Xiao Xia’s voice was shaking, “I can’t see him so I can’t feel at ease.”
”Same here. I’ll think of something. Stand firm!” Wan Li took a step away as he spoke.
Xiao Xia felt the pressure against her back disappear. Before she realized what had happened, she heard a loud bang. Then, things suddenly became bright.
One part of the barrier had cleared up. Wan Li stood there swinging the wooden bat covered in talismans. He swung once again, a flash of azure sparks bursting from the point of contact. The creatures climbing the barrier were shaken off.
So he was using this method to knock off the obstructions!
Seeing this, Xiao Xia immediately ran over to the opening and looked outwards, unable to mind how disgusting those things swaying in front of her were! “Wait a moment.” Wan Li pulled back Xiao Xia who had yet to find Ruan Zhan’s figure. “Let me find a more permanent solution. We can’t keep messing around like this. Although his enchanted bat won’t damage his own barrier, we have to avoid letting it get hit from both sides!”
Wan Li raised the wooden bat as he spoke. He looked at it under the light and after a brief hesitation, took off one of the talismans. He stuck in onto the freed up space on the barrier.
The talisman flashed red. The creatures and ghosts attempting to crawl back immediately shrank to one side.
”Seems like I was right. I feel I have the talent to become a sorcerer!” Wan Li smiled. “Why are you spacing out? Hurry and take a look!”
When Xiao Xia heard his words, she immediately leapt to that small window-like area and looked out.
Ruan Zhan was still sitting there, his clothes clinging to his thin but sturdy body, obviously soaked with sweat. The things surrounding him didn’t attack and remained there in a stalemate.
In the distance, Guan Zheng seemed to have grown impatient. He continued beating the drum as he started walking towards the unmoving Ruan Zhan!