Guan Zheng stopped three feet before Ruan Zhan and looked down at him. Many complicated expressions such as wariness, doubt, anxiety and disdain flashed across his face. He didn’t take another step.
Ruan Zhan remained motionless like a fossil.
Only after a full minute passed did Guan Zheng, after hesitating one more time, take a step into the empty space around Ruan Zhan.
Despite having walked inside, he didn’t make a move against Ruan Zhan. He just walked slowly around him, continuing to chant and call the Gu inside Ruan Zhan’s body while urging the creatures around to come closer.
As Xiao Xia watched anxiously, those creatures approached Ruan Zhan cautiously. With Guan Zheng’s urging and Ruan Zhan’s silence, the creatures gradually became bolder. They drew closer and closer to Ruan Zhan’s position. Some even started climbing onto his body.
At this point, Guan Zheng finally relaxed. He went right up to Ruan Zhan and stopped all his movements. He pondered for a bit, as though considering how best to torture him. Finally, he took out one of the small bamboo tubes hanging around his waist and pulled the lid off.
“This is my most powerful Gu. I never thought I would give you a taste today.” As he spoke, he glanced at Xiao Xia and Wan Li who were anxiously watching from the ‘window’ and smugly shook the object in his hand, “Have you seen a beehive before? You’re about to see a human beehive. Furthermore, this handsome man will not die. He’ll turn into a walking, handsome beehive, hahaha…. “
He laughed loudly, raised his hand and was about to pour the Gu insects in the small bamboo tube onto Ruan Zhan’s head. Yet the moment dozens of bean-like Gu insects were poured out, the situation suddenly changed!
Ruan Zhan, who previously seemed to have turned into a stone statue, suddenly leapt up. His left hand produced a talisman which sparked in mid-air and shot straight at the Gu insects, while his right hand swung the bloodwood sword at Guan Zheng.
“I knew you were faking!” Guan Zheng shouted loudly as he swiftly retreated. One of his hands pulled out a black wooden stick from his waist to parry the bloodwood sword that sliced through the air as it descended. His other hand rushed to retrieve the Gu insects that were about to be burned by the talisman fire.
However, the bloodwood sword did not strike at Guan Zheng. To his alarm, it suddenly shot downwards and cut at his waist. Guan Zheng was shocked. He knew that despite being a wooden sword, the bloodwood sword in Ruan Zhan’s hand was a sharp weapon that could cut through anything. If he didn’t dodge, he would be split in two. Therefore, he could no longer bother with the Gu insects as he hurriedly blocked with his stick. The Gu insects he had worked so hard to refine were mercilessly burned to ashes by the fire of the talisman before they could unleash their ability.
However, the clash he expected between the black wooden stick and the bloodwood sword didn’t come. There was a thump and something tugged at his waist.
“Damn it!” He thought. His heart turned cold on the spot. He immediately realized that he had finally fallen for Ruan Zhan’s trick.
He looked down a second later. As expected, his small drum had been sliced in half and could no longer be used. This meant he was no longer able to control those creatures!
“So you lured me over for the sake of destroying my treasure!” Guan Zheng gritted his teeth.
“Seems like it was very effective.” Ruan Zhan sneered and glanced around.
Since the drum was destroyed, those animals, ghosts, insects and snakes had been freed of Guan Zheng’s control. Their survival instincts had already urged them to scatter and flee. Within moments, they vanished without a trace.
“You’re very skilled!”
Ruan Zhan didn’t speak, tacitly agreeing with him.
When Guan Zheng summoned the Gu inside him, it wasn’t that he didn’t feel anything. On the contrary, the pain was like being put through a meat grinder and he almost couldn’t bear it. However, he understood that if he couldn’t hold out, Wan Li and Xiao Xia wouldn’t be able to last until reinforcements arrived. They would be thoroughly defeated.
The reason he fought back against the Gu with all his might was to seize this opportunity for a counterattack.
He knew from the beginning that his fire spell would not be able to stop Guan Zheng. Guan Zheng was powerful enough to use everything within the forest. It was impossible to calculate how many dark things were hidden within these woods. Therefore, he had to come up with a way to pull the carpet out from under him, and destroy the tool he used to control those creatures.
Although what he cultivated differed from Guan Zheng, he knew that all magic had similar roots. A summoner’s command couldn’t merely be accomplished by chanting spells and a witch’s dance. The key was that small drum. It wasn’t an ordinary drum. It was definitely a Daoist treasure that had to be refined. Therefore, as long as it was destroyed, the attacks of those “headless soldiers” would be cut off at the source.
Everything happened unexpectedly and things ended up working out. Ruan Zhan had been unable to get close to Guan Zheng but the Gu poison happened to flare up at this inopportune moment. Guan Zheng assumed he could attack, yet didn’t expect he had fallen for Ruan Zhan’s plan. Ruan Zhan knew he had an innate protective aura. If Guan Zheng wanted to kill him, he would have to take advantage while he was weakened and enter the circle. In that case, he could come up with a way to destroy that drum!
Therefore, he desperately endured the pain and anxiety, waiting for the moment when Guan Zheng approached! Luckily, he managed to suppress the death Gu right when Guan Zheng was about to use the beehive Gu. Only then was his plan able to succeed.
“You think this is enough to beat me? How naive!” Guan Zheng pulled the ruined pieces of the drum off and took another few steps backwards, meeting Ruan Zhan’s gaze from afar.
In terms of physical strength and fighting prowess, he knew he was no match for Ruan Zhan, and might not even be as good as Wan Li. In terms of scheming, he had thought his plans to be flawless. Unexpectedly, he had been repeatedly thwarted. Luckily, he still had other methods available to him. He was very assured that he was the peak expert within these woods.
Once he left the range of Ruan Zhan’s attacks, he started running around wildly. Those unfamiliar with him would think he had been scared off. Yet Ruan Zhan could see that he was pulling off bamboo tubes from his waist as he ran and dumping their contents onto the ground. He looked like he was betting everything on this move. Furthermore, he was still chanting something under his breath.
Ruan Zhan stretched out and dispersed the barrier, taking a look at his watch. “Be careful, he’s going to control the vines to attack! Looks like we’ll need to retreat while we fight.” He looked deeply at Xiao Xia. “That banner is very heavy, but you have to drag it along. I’m guessing there are still spirits afflicted by Guan Zheng’s ghost Gu waiting back there. Those things can be controlled by him directly, and have nothing to do with the destroyed drum. Therefore, we can’t put it away for now. Can you do it?”
“What about me?” Wan Li asked, loosening his shoulders a bit.
“Aren’t you both wise and powerful?” Ruan Zhan glanced at Wan Li and saw he seemed basically uninjured. “You guys must keep close to me. As long as we get to the appointed place, as long as reinforcements arrive at three, we will have the chance of victory. “
Before Wan Li could answer, the sound of footsteps rang in his ears. They saw that Guan Zheng had run back. Although he was a little out of breath, his face was filled with excitement. “I’m tired of playing around, you all can die now!” He shouted and swung his arms forward!
The sound of things whipping through the air rang out. Within the dense forest, vines started slithering out from the darkness like snakes. Some stuck to the ground while others swung over, heading straight for the three of them.
In the blink of an eye, a vine had already appeared before them. Ruan Zhan moved to the front to block, cutting at it mercilessly with the bloodwood sword. But the entire vine seemed to be alive. After one section was severed, the rest continued to dance demonically, trying to wrap around him. He was forced to slash continuously until the first vine was cut into foot-long segments that revealed the stem within.
Upon closer inspection, the stem actually had brows and eyes, like the face of an infant. It was clear these stems were weird Gu created by Guan Zheng that turned ordinary plants into fiendish creatures.
At this time, even more vines and other unknown plants swept over from every direction. Within moments, the place around them seemed to have become a valley, with green waves surging inside that threatened to drown them.
There was no time to say anything, no time for clever quips. They had to slaughter a bloody path out of there. Therefore, the three remained silent. Ruan Zhan and Wan Li stood back to back, putting Xiao Xia in between them. They retreated westwards as they fought.
Ruan Zhan waved the bloodwood sword in his right hand. The Daoist treasure was treated like a woodcutter as he slashed and cleaved. He didn’t let anything that passed before him get away. Leaves and branches were everywhere. As they retreated, a trail of shredded vegetation was left in his wake.
Wan Li didn’t slack off on the other side. He used the talisman covered bat and smashed everything he could see. The vines and plants he hit were either ignited by talisman flames or were flung away by blue arcs of electricity. His passage left a thin trail of flames behind.
Protected between the two, Xiao Xia didn’t suffer any major attacks apart from the occasional ambush by weeds at her feet. Whenever that happened, Ruan Zhan immediately swept his sword over and her feet would immediately be freed. What was harder for her was dragging the tattered banner. The metal banner was already very heavy for her slender arms, and it seemed to be dragging against the ground as if it didn’t wish to leave.
Ruan Zhan figured the plants were rapidly multiplying due to fiendish aura, and there were also dozens of spirits trailing after them. The tattered banner was creating a strong suction force, instinctively trying to absorb them all.
She kept Ruan Zhan’s words in mind as she desperately dragged the banner and refused to let go. There was a clear trail left behind wherever she went.
The three different trails stretched slowly and painstakingly side by side towards the west. They were given no respite along their journey. A mere hundred meters of distance left the three panting from exhaustion, yet they gritted their teeth and endured. Just as they were about to reach their limits, another clearing appeared behind them.
It was a small valley, surrounded by mountains on three sides with a small waterfall ahead that flowed into a small pool. The only entrance was extremely narrow. As they retreated inside, the crowded vines and plants were momentarily stuck and stopped their pursuit.
Guan Zheng had been following behind this whole time, his arms raised stiffly, pointing at them. Seeing them retreat into the valley with the plants unable to pursue, he didn’t look worried. Instead, he smiled victoriously.
“You thought you were the only ones who can set traps?” He changed his gestures and drew strange circles in mid-air. “Just wait to become human cocoons! Hahaha!”
His gestures became more and more urgent. Before the three could figure out what he was up to, something tightened around their waists. They were immediately pulled against the mountain wall by a strange force. Before they could struggle, they were wrapped up by vines.
“Don’t bother struggling, it will only make things tighter. “ Guan Zheng no longer looked tense. His face held the weariness, relief and smugness of defeating his enemies. “When I saw you retreat westwards, I knew you were heading for this small valley.”
Ruan Zhan struggled for a while but to no avail. He then looked towards Wan Li and Xiao Xia who weren’t even able to struggle anymore. Xiao Xia had kept Ruan Zhan’s words about dragging the banner in mind, so she had been wrapped up along with it and was still doing ok. Wan Li’s legs had been completely wrapped up, and he would soon be completely covered up by the crawling vines.
“Oh, Ruan Zhan. You were too clever for your own good. Although you’ve scoped out the area in advance, I’ve lived here for so many years. Wouldn’t I be more familiar with the terrain? You thought this place would be easy to defend, with its enclosed sides and narrow entrance. Yet you didn’t realize the vines on the mountain walls are tough and numerous. Since there’s no need for them to uproot themselves, they are even easier to control. When you took your first step in this direction, I had already sent a flying Gu over to control the vines on the walls. Haha, get wrapped up and die as a result of your own choice! “
Ruan Zhan still didn’t speak. He felt as if he were stuck in quicksand. The more he moved the more trapped he became. He decided to stop moving altogether, his mind turning rapidly.
The bloodwood sword was still in his hand, but Guan Zheng was more wary of him. Therefore, the vine around his waist had also tied his arms together, preventing him from moving them at all. Now those vines climbed faster and faster. They had already wrapped the three of them up layer by layer. Half his body had been buried already. Wan Li and Xiao Xia only had their heads sticking out.
In an instant, he understood what Guan Zheng meant by ‘human cocoon’. He was going to wrap them in vines and trap them like silkworms!
“Fuck, never thought this daddy would one day become a white, chubby and cute baby silkworm!” Wan Li was still laughing and joking at this time.
“Silkworms in spring die as their silk runs out. Let’s see how long until you run out of nonsense to say!” Guan Zheng strolled a few more meters into the valley, searching for a better angle to admire the “human cocoons tied to the mountain wall.
He looked at Xiao Xia.
Due to the tattered banner’s protection, she hadn’t been wrapped up quite as quickly. However, she was much shorter than the two men. Therefore, her state was similar to Wan Li’s. However, due to the banner, the vines loosened after tightening, so she wasn’t like Wan Li who was constricted so tightly he had trouble breathing.
She was tied next to Ruan Zhan. She had originally been very panicked, yet seeing him by her side and noticing that he had stopped struggling, she inexplicably felt calm and no longer as frightened.
Guan Zheng saw Xiao Xia’s expression and understood that the person in Xiao Xia’s heart was actually Ruan Zhan. Jealousy involuntarily flared in his heart. He pointed with his finger and the vines around Ruan Zhan’s waist constricted violently, making him gag. He almost spat a mouthful of blood!
“Your ribs broke, right?” Guan Zheng smiled maliciously. “I can also lock the cocoon up tightly. With just one squeeze, the broken ribs will pierce into your organs. Or would you rather your bones turn outwards so you can become a hedgehog?”
He looked at Xiao Xia as he finished speaking, admiring her teary expression. He didn’t know if what surfaced in his heart was the joy of revenge or more sadness and disappointment.
Ruan Zhan stubbornly held back the blood that was about to spurt out of his mouth. A spark of insight flashed through his mind and he thought of a way to escape.
He raised his head. But before he could tell Wan Li what to do, another figure appeared within his line of sight. Someone stood at the valley’s entrance: a beautiful woman in red!
Reinforcements had arrived!
Even though he knew that the reinforcements wouldn’t make a move to save them and had only come for the next step of his plan, she had still arrived as promised.
As long as he found a way to escape his predicament, he had a chance to win!