“Hey, kid! I can sense the presence of someone at the peak of what you would call the Elementary Realm nearby. Although the current you can only absorb a bit of essence from those who are devoured by the shadows, if you are able to kill and absorb their strength, you'll be able to break through and reduce the strain caused by the Heavenly Devouring Technique’s second art.” A voice rang in Zhang’s mind as he and Wenji speed through the woods under the cover of night.
“Once you break through, and reach the mid-level of the Elementary Realm, you'll be able to utilize the second art without over straining your body. On top of things, you'll be able to use a bit of the third art of devouring which would allow you fully absorb the essence of your victims.” The fragment soul residing within Zhang said.
“I need you to reach the Profound realm as soon as possible so you can help me consolidate a soul wisp and obtain a new body. Sadly, my last attempt had dispersed the soul wisp I had already consolidated and shattered a hundred years’ worth of effort.” The fragmented soul added.
“I'll try my best to break through as soon as possible.” Zhang replied as he and Wenji closed in upon a group of men lurking within the woods.
“Let's wait and see what they are up to first before acting.” Wenji suggested upon spotting a group of roughly a hundred men. While nearly half of these men were regular people, the rest of them were all fragmented realm cultivators.
Nodding in response to Wenji’s suggestion, Zhang hid behind a bush as the moon up above revealed a group of a hundred mounted men clad in a mix match of armor.
“The lot of you listen up! When the boss gives the signal, we are all to swoop in and engage those Silver Guard Brigade bastards. Once we have their attention, keep them as occupied as possible so the other three teams can flank them and kill the members of the Li family.” A middle-aged man with a murderous look on his face and two braided ponytails said.
“Commander, even the maids and young girls? Wouldn't it be better if we could keep them alive for some fun? If anything, we can sell them off once we are done.” A man with a few missing teeth said while a lecherous grin said while rubbing his hands and licking his lips.
“Yuan Yuan, that's not a half-bad idea.” The middle-aged man with braided ponytails said with a laugh.
“I think it would be best if you stayed hidden behind this bush. Else if they catch sight of you, they'll fight twice as hard.” Zhang joked in a soft tone.
“Hmph, it seems to me that because I decided to go with them to save your life, you think that you're somehow stronger than me.” Wenji snorted and spoke in a half angry and half joking tone as she got up from the crouching position she was in and pushed through the bush in front of her.
“Who's there!?” One of the bandits yelled as the sound of snapping twigs could be heard as Wenji made her way through the underbrush.
“Death…” Wenji said as a ray of moonlight acting as a spotlight, shone down upon her as she emerged from the bushes and caught the attention of all of the bandits.
“Death?” One of the bandits murmured in a confused tone after being mesmerized by Wenji’s beauty for a long moment.
“Little miss I don't know where you come from, but for you to run into us, The Death Blade Bandits, here means that you won't be leaving until we’ve all had a turn.” The man with braided ponytails said with a laugh as he licked his lips.
“Anyone who dares talk to my woman like that has a death wish.” Zhang’s voice rang into everyone's ears as a pair of glowing red eyes could be seen from within the dark woods.
A flicker of a moment later an ominous snaking shadow slithered across the ground and latched onto the shadow belonging to the man with braided ponytails and his horse.
Moments after which a dozen bony skeleton hands emerged and dragged other the man and horse into the dark abyss, before receding back toward Zhang and leaving a pile of bones, some articles of clothing and a horse saddle behind for all to see.
“Who is your woman?” Wenji's asked after a moment of pause as she charged forward and began to execute a dance of death. Using the shock and fear invoked by Zhang’s attack, Wenji's draw her sword belt and with graceful movements began to cut down one bandit after another.
With a gentle stroke, Wenji's would be able to maim the hind legs of the horses the bandits were riding on, causing them to topple over onto the ground, leaving their riders vulnerable and ready to be slaughtered. Before long wherever Wenji went, a rain of blood and gore followed, causing fear to seep into the hearts of even the most hardened bandits.
“De-demons!” One of the bandits cried as his feet went wobbly causing him to tumble off his horse and onto the ground.
“Mo-mo-monsters!” Another bandit cried as his hands shook uncontrollably and his sword fell to the ground moments before he pulled the reins on his horse and began to flee.
In a flash, morale was but a thing of the past, resistance was but a thing for the fool hearted as the bandits began to scatter, ignoring friend or foe alike.
“If you've come here with ill intentions don't even think of leaving!” Wenji's yelled as three silver needles slid out from her sleeves and into her grasp before being launched into the air and embedding themselves into three fleeing bandits.
“Don't let any of them escape or the other bandits might be alerted!” Wenji yelled toward Zhang as she continued to embed long deadly needles into the backs of the fleeing bandits.
“Kid stop wasting time and go kill that peak stage Elementary realm cultivator! Although that initial stage Elementary Realm cultivator from a moment ago, proved to be a bit helpful after being absorbed, he alone won't be enough for you to break through! You should head toward the north and kill that Peak Elementary Realm cultivator!” The fragmented soul yelled out in Zhang’s mind.
“Fine, let's finish things here… time to see how powerful this technique has become after I've successfully opened all of my channels.” Zhang mumbled as ten small flames ignited at the tips of his fingers, causing a smile to appear on his face.
Compared to before when he could barely ignite a single sickly looking flame that seemed like it could be extinguished by a gentle breeze, the ten flames dancing on Zhang’s fingertips looked vibrant and full of life.
“Burn!” Zhang roared as the ten dancing flames shot into the air, forming into what appeared to be ten small sparrows before splashing onto and setting ten mounted riders ablaze.
All the while, Zhang’s shadow fanned out in a tentacle-like manner and claimed victims of their own.
Little Red and Little Blue also occasionally sprang out from the woods and claimed a life or two or maybe five.
Under the combined efforts of a young demon like man, a young goddess like woman and a pair of fluffy fur balls, a quarter of the men under the banner of the nefarious group known as the Death Blade Bandits perished. Regardless of whether they were ordinary people, fragmented or elementary realm cultivators, everyone was slaughtered.
One may wonder who two people and two pups were able to slaughter one hundred horsemen without letting a single person escape, but the answer was actually quite simple. Due to the nature of their surroundings, being littered with numerous trees, the bandits found it quite difficult to maneuver their steeds. Logically speaking, dismounting and then fleeing would have definitely allowed quite a few bandits to keep their lives, however
“I think their leader is this way! If we can get rid of them before they attack the caravan, then that would be for the best.” Zhang said as he gestured for Wenji and the pups to follow him, listening to the directions the fragmented soul had given him.
“So... If you keep talking to me as if I'm always some kind of damsel in distress, I'll be forced to give you a proper beating.” Wenji's said as she stuck her tongue out at Zhang and raised her fist into the air in an angry manner.
“I'll make a note of that.” Zhang replied while a silly smile surfaced on his face.
After their ordeal with the Cai Clan, Zhang felt that he and Wenji had become much closer than before, many times closer than when Wenji was still known as Brother Cai Cao.
The two of them could now crack jokes and tease each other without reserve and there were no longer any secrets between the two of them. Zhang was also delighted that when he told everyone Wenji was his fiancée, she didn't openly reject it, which according to the guidance left behind by his clan’s exalted ancestor was a step in the right direction.
As Zhang and Wenji raced through the dark woods with only the brilliance of the moon to light their path, a most unwelcome event occurred. Mere moments before the duo and their trust pups located their target, a red colored flare was shot into the sky, signaling for the remaining bandits to attack.
“The camp!” Zhang yelled as a storm of hooves began to cause the ground to rumble not too far from where he stood.
“Those guys from the Silver Guard Brigade will have to earn their keep. If we can kill enough of the bandits in this group, they should have enough manpower to deal with the situation.” Wenji said as she continued to dash through the woods and toward the sound of stampeding horses with her sword in hand.
“You two go keep an eye on her.” Zhang said as he looked at Little Red and Little Blue who responded through a series of barks before jolting after Wenji.
“Their leader should be the one who is at the peak of the elementary realm and he should be located at the very front of this group of riders.” Zhang thought as he charged through a thick bush and into the ensuing chaos that Wenji had ignited not too long ago.
“First Art, Devour the Flesh!” Zhang said as his shadow expanded and a fury of skeletal hands rose up and dragged a large number of unsuspecting bandits to their graves.
Seeing Zhang’s mysterious and frightening shadow, a man wielding a massive scimitar leaped off his steed.
“I don’t know which pit in hell you crawled out of but I’m going to send you back down there, you monster!” The man roared in a confident tone as his scimitar smashed into the ground where Zhang was standing a mere fraction of a second ago. Having manipulated a few skeletal hands to pull him to safety, landed a short distance away.
“I don’t know about hell but I’m going to send you to a pretty awful place myself.” Zhang said as he flicked his hand and made a lone skeletal hand grasping onto a gleaming black colored blade rise out of his shadow.
Gripping the familiar black colored blade, Zhang shot forward while skeletal hands sprang from the ground underneath, grasping and pinning the man wielding a large scimitar in place.
With what seemed like no little to no effort at all, Zhang’s blade cleanly sliced through skin, flesh, and bone, causing a severed head to roll onto the ground.
While employing the power of the Heavenly Devouring Technique, killing an ordinary elementary realm cultivator who lacked even the most basic of fundamentals did not require too much effort at all on Zhang’s part.
Had Zhang went up against someone as capable and resourceful as Wenji for instance or someone as powerful as Elder Cai Long, then the fight would have definitely dragged on a much longer. Even someone like Cai Kang would have been able to put Zhang into quite a sore spot. If one thought about it, although Zhang was able to put Cai Kang into a fairly disadvantageous situation when they had fought thanks to the use of the element of surprise, had the two of them properly spared, the outcome of their match could have resulted in a devastating defeat for Zhang.
As the bandit leader’s corpse sunk into the dark abyss that was Zhang’s shadow, he felt a surge of energy rush through his veins and seep into his bones, followed by a subtle stabbing pain.
“It’s time.” Zhang thought with glass as he proceeded to go into a cross-legged seated position while four walls composed of white bone rose up and surrounded him.
After having witnessed how effortlessly Zhang had dispatched of their leader, the surrounding bandits quickly fled and as the thought of confronting Zhang quickly disappeared from their minds. While a small number of bandits actually managed to escape, a good number of them were helplessly slain by Wenji and the two pups.
Deep within Zhang’s body, a mass of essence was swirling about, and signaling the beginning of his passage into to the Elementary Realm.
Shutting his eyes, Zhang concentrated all of his attention towards guiding the swirl of essence within him, hoping to use it to construct his base foundation. Manipulating the swirling mass of essence, Zhang would have to do what every Elementary Realm cultivator before him had done, he would have to enlarge his cultivation core.
“Brat, sit back and let me give you a hand.” The fragmented soul within Zhang said.
“Give me a hand?” Zhang asked in a slightly unhappy tone due to being disturbed at a very crucial moment on his path of cultivation.
“Shut up and sit back, if I had any intention of harming you I would have done so long ago! I’m only doing this so you can progress faster so I can get a new body faster!” The fragmented soul yelled as Zhang felt a strange force penetrate into his cultivation core.
Moments after the strange force make its way into his cultivation core, Zhang could feel that it was beginning to manipulate the swirl of essence inside his body, sending countless streams of essence shooting to the walls of his cultivation core in an attempt towards expanding them.