Seconds turned into minutes as the fragmented soul expanded Zhang’s cultivation core. If anyone else was able to see how effortlessly and smoothly this process was progressing, perhaps they would cough up a mouth full of blood due to envy.
Usually, when someone broke through into the elementary realm, a lot of pain and suffering would be involved. One could imagine the pain and odd sensations they’d receive if one of their organs suddenly expanded a dozen times while pushing and exerting force on the organs surrounding it.
Luckily, the fragmented soul not only allowed Zhang to progress without very much pain if any at all, it also stretched his cultivation core a good fifty percent larger than most regular cultivators. Meaning in the future Zhang could utilize powerful techniques without having to take the time to channel in a large amount of essence from outside. This would effectively allow him to gain an edge over most opponents.
Roughly after twenty minutes, Zhang opened his eyes as the bone wall that surrounded him descended back into the darkness and his shadow receded back into its original form.
“You broke through?” Wenji’s gentle voice drifted into Zhang’s ear as a figure wrapped in what used to be a white dress stood in front of him with a curious look on their face.
“Yea, I’m slowly catching up to you.” Zhang replied with a chuckle.
“You have a long way to go, sir, I’m not too far from entering the core realm.” Wenji laughed as she stuck her tongue out at Zhang while two fluffy fur balls pounced onto him and licked his face.
“After everything is over, the two of you need a bath…” Zhang said as he saw how dirty the two pups looked. With blood trickling from the tips of their hairs and all sorts of gore stuck to their bodies, Little Red and Little Blue were filthy.
“Let’s head back now, although we’ve taken care of half of the bandits, I’m not sure if the Silver Guard Brigade can prevent anyone from the Li family from getting hurt.” Wenji said in a slightly worried tone.
“I’m sure they’ll be fine. With their leader and one of their commanders gone, I bet those bandits are in complete turmoil by now.” Zhang said as he jumped back onto his feet.
While Zhang, Wenji and the pups raced back toward camp, the sound of battle soon reached their ears. It did not take long for a chaotic melody composed of the neighing of horses, the clanging of clashing swords and the cries of the wounded to echo throughout the forest.
“Where’s the boss and those bastards from the fourth company?” A muscular man gripping onto a chain attached to a large iron ball yelled.
“Second head, if the boss and the fourth company don’t show up soon our casualties will only continue to rise.” A bandit holding a rolled-up whip said.
Despite only having half of their forces present, the Death Blade Bandits were not pushovers when matched against the likes of the Silver Guard Brigade. In the end, the Death Blade Bandits still had more than enough manpower to gain a slight edge over the silver Guard Brigade and if the two forces were allowed to continue battling each other, it would only be a matter of time before the bandits triumphed.
“Take a detachment and attack the members of the Li Family! That will force a few of those escorts break off from their main force and ease the pressure on our men a bit. Also, signal for the third company to maneuver over to where we are.” The Second head of the Death Blade bandits commanded, prompting a team of roughly twenty riders to charge toward the encirclement of carriages where Uncle Li and his family were.
“Arrows!” Uncle Li’s voice could be heard as a barrage of arrows pierced through the air and homed in toward the bandits. Standing atop a carriage with a bow and arrow in hand while being surrounded by roughly twenty male servants who were also armed, Uncle Li looked as calm as a still lake.
“Protect the madams and the children! Kill the bandits! Compared to fighting them, the gambles we have to made during our everyday business ventures are much more terrifying!” Uncle Li yelled, trying to energize his servants as he nocked an arrow.
“Hmph! Not even at the fragmented realm amongst the lot of you and you think you can stop me?” The bandit holding a whip laughed as he lashed out with his whip, latching onto the wheel of the carriage that Uncle Li was standing atop of.
With what appeared to be a light tug, the whip-wielding bandit nearly pulled the carriage out from under Uncle Li’s feet, causing him to tumble onto the ground while opening an entry way through the defensive ring of carriages.
“Charge! Kill them all and grab whatever riches you can!” One of the bandits roared as he waved his sword about in the air.
Soon enough, like a raging wave, the group of twenty mounted bandits swept into the encirclement of carriages and began to slaughter everyone in sight.
“I knew it! Those two definitely had something to do with these bandits!” An elderly man who everyone referred to as Uncle Pang said with eyes brimming with hatred as he saw the bandits charging toward him while releasing murderous intent.
“We have something to do with the bandits?” Wenji’s soft voice drifted through the air as she appeared beside Uncle Pang. pulling him back, saving him from being decapitated.
“Quickly! Run!” Wenji yelled while making a slightly frantic expression as she pulled Uncle Pang to his feet.
“You think you can get away?” The bandit laughed mockingly as he signaled for his horse to move forward and chase after Wenji and Uncle Pang.
“So-someone! Help!” Uncle Pang cried as the mounted bandit inched ever closer and closer.
Luckily upon hearing Uncle Pang’s cries for help, a few of the male attendants of the Li Family rushed over with spears and swords in hand. With the combined might of three people, they were able to swiftly deal bandit.
“If we had ill intentions, we would have kidnapped Little Brother Ming the instant we caught sight of him…” Wenji said while pretending to wipe tears from the corner of her eyes, tugging at Uncle Pang’s heart strings and prompting him to feel bad for his previous allegations.
Elsewhere within the encirclement, Li Ming could be seen wrapped within his mother’s arms as the two of them were being chased by the bandit wielding a whip.
“Die!” The bandit wielding a whip laughed manically as his whip snaked through the air toward Madam Yue Yu’s back.
“Not on my watch!” Zhang’s roar sounded out, capturing everyone’s attention. Appearing out of nowhere Zhang pushed Madam Yue Yu and Li Ming to the ground, out of harm’s way, while jumping in front of the snaking whip.
“Uncle Li! Quickly!” Zhang yelled as blood oozed from a long but shallow gash that ran along his back.
Hoping to keep a low profile and their strengths hidden, Zhang and Wenji decided it would be best for them to pretend to be just as helpless as everyone else. Zhang even went as far as having the two pups leave numerous bite marks on the bodies of the bandits that he and Wenji had killed so that people would believe the bandits were slain by demonic beasts.
Of course, if the members of the Li family were caught in a dire situation they would instantly act, but until things reached that point, Zhang and Wenji were simply going to play minor roles in the battle and allow the Silver Guard Brigade to earn the fees they had charged Uncle Li.
“Little brother, we got it from here!” A young man roughly in his twenties along with a group of men clad in silver armor could be seen rushing into the encirclement with weapons in hand.
“It’s the Silver Guard Brigade! We’re saved!” Someone cried.
“The Silver Guard Brigade are here! The Silver Guard Brigade are here!” Someone else yelled gleefully as the men clad in silver armor engaged the bandits in combat.
“Had they bothered to leave a few of their men as guards, the bandits wouldn't have even been able to make it through the ring of carriages.” Zhang thought as he stepped back and helped Madam Yue Yu and Li Ming up from the ground. Despite feeling that Uncle Li had overpaid the Silver Guard Brigade, even though they were quite useless, Zhang did not voice his opinions.
Once roughly fifty members of the Silver Guard Brigade arrived and took control of the situation the bandits quickly met their demise.
“Good job their kid, but next time leave the fighting to the experts like us.” The young man who had led the Silver Guard Brigade to aid the Li Family said in a slightly arrogant manner.
“Young Master Yin Wei, how is the battle progressing?” Uncle Li’s voice interrupted before Zhang could reply to the young man.
“Mister Li, the battle isn’t currently going as we would hope. However sooner or later the bandits will flee once they realize their possible gains outweigh the cost of losing so many men.” Yin Wei replied.
“But you need not worry, I will leave half of my unit here to keep you and your family safe, if anything were to happen they would lead you to safety. True to our reputation, we will ensure that no one in your family comes in harm's way.” Yin Wei said while giving off a proud smile.
“With your men here, I feel much more at ease.” Uncle Li said before Yin Wei headed back to the battlefield.
“Little brother, I saw what you had done and I can’t possibly thank you enough. Had you not appeared in the nick of time, Li Ming and his mother may have gotten injured or worse…” Uncle Li said as gave Zhang a gaze filled with appreciation.
“There is no need to thank me, Uncle Li. As promised in exchange for your hospitality I will continue to watch over Little Ming and Little Ling until we reach Twin Blade City, even if it costs me an arm or a leg.” Zhang said in a reassuring tone.
“Uncle Li, although we haven’t known each other for long, to us you, the madams and the brats are close to family.” Wenji said while giving off a vibrant smile that could melt the iciest of hearts.
Seeing Wenji’s demeanor, Uncle Li couldn’t help but smile in return before gathering up his servants and closing the gap opened up within the ring of carriages.
True to Yin Wei’s thoughts, after a substantial number of bandits were slain, the second leader of the Death Blade Bandits ordered his men to retreat. That is of course after news arrived from the scouts he had sent to check up on what had happened to the first and third company of missing bandits.
Without a single survivor and only signs of a massacre to tell a gruesome tale of what had happened to their comrades, despite gaining an upper hand against the Silver Guard Brigade, the Death Blades Bandits felt that if they lingered any longer, calamity would befall upon them.
Once the Death Blade Bandits departed, a victorious cheer rang into the heavens as the Silver Guard Brigade sounded their horns, signaling an end to a blood battle.
Although there were numerous casualties amongst their ranks, the members of the Silver Guard Brigade were brimming with excitement. Believing they were successful in beating the infamous Death Blade Bandits, the members of the Silver Guard Brigade thought that it was only a matter of time before their already illustrious reputation soared even higher.
With their spurted high in the clouds, the members of the Silver Guard Brigade began to tend to the wounded, bury the dead and scavenge whatever they could from the corpses of the dead bandits.
Although most of the bandits were dirt poor, they were all equipped with decent weapons, armor and a horse which could all be sold for quite a sum of money.
To ensure that they were prepared if the bandits decided to turn back and fight once again, the Silver Guard Brigade sent out teams of scouts to survey their surroundings.
Just like the scouts sent by the bandits, the scouts belonging to the Silver Guard Brigade also stumbled upon a ghastly scene of gore and carnage. Taken back and unsure of what had occurred, the scouts quickly reported their findings to the superiors of the Silver Guard Brigade, who in turn urged Uncle Li to quickly depart instead of resting for the night.
“Mister Li, it appears that nearly half of the bandits we encountered had actually been slaughtered by some unknown entity. Since we don’t know if this entity is a friend or foe I believe it would be best if we depart with due haste.” Yin Wei said as he eyed the surrounding woods as if he was expected someone or something to dash out at any moment.
“Is the situation really that dire? After such an extraneous battle, everyone is exhausted, shouldn’t we at least rest here for a few hours?” Uncle Li asked.
“I’m afraid the longer we stay here, the more dangerous things become. All of the blood that was spilled here tonight might even attract packs of demonic beasts. Once those things come out from the depths of the forest, we may all get slaughtered.” A middle-aged man who appeared to be brimming with experience said, as he tried to persuade Uncle Li to depart as soon as possible.
Thanks to an employment contract the two parties signed and a large sum of money that had yet found its way into their hands, the leaders of the Silver Guard Brigade couldn’t simply get up and leave. Else they would have more than likely fled the instant they stumbled upon Zhang and Wenji’s handiwork.
“If you gentleman think it’s unsafe to remain here, then I guess departing now would be for the best.” Uncle Li said as he saw the subtly frightened look on Yin Wei’s face.