Chapter 20: Nor Underestimate Others
The fire raged on. Amidst the blaze, a giant tree slowly toppled to the ground with a thud, splashing embers everywhere and causing more chaos.
The spider leader made a shrilling hiss that felt like it could burst eardrums. This was its territory, its home and now it was being burned to the ground. What it saw before its eyes made it furious. Unlike ordinary spiders, it did not fear the flames and its silk had a qualitative enhancement that made it resistant to fire.
With the main culprits in front of it, it was going to throw all its anger at them. It did not worry about Zi Di as she was already trapped in the spiderwebs and only had an Iron aura.
Its only concern was Zhen Jin. This youngster’s aura—the spider could not sense it. The beast’s bloodlust was focused on Zhen Jin and it shot more and more webs at him. At first, it had only bound the spear and the youngster’s hands with webs. Then, it quickly covered Zhen Jin’s entire body in a layer of spiderwebs, even his ears and nose.
Had he had the dagger, he could have freed himself from this predicament. But the situation was not so and he found himself in dire straits as a result. A sharp weapon was the key to escaping this trap. If he still had that longsword, he could have easily solved this conundrum. Even that scimitar he had left behind would have been enough.
Zhen Jin did not give up, he tried to use his strength to break free. But although his strength had increased, it was still far from the limits of what the webs could endure and his efforts did not result in the webs tearing. Instead, the results only brought him despair.
If he could not break free despite using all his strength, there was no hope. A reckless struggle would only tighten the spiderwebs around him. It was like sinking into quicksand, futile attempts would only hasten death. Zhen Jin stood motionless, his mind racing to find a way out of this mess.
The spider, seeing the youngster seemingly resigned to his fate, pressed its face close to the youngster’s face. Above its malevolent mouthparts, there were more than ten orb-like eyes packed together. The spider’s eyes stared at Zhen Jin, and its mouth opened and closed with a screeching sound. It was as if it were laughing in contempt at Zhen Jin.
It wanted to carefully ravage the youngster. It wanted to skewer him, to drain his blood while injecting venom into him. It wanted to watch the venom destroy the youngster’s body from the inside out and watch it rot piecemeal. And after the youngster finished rotting into an ooze, it wanted to suck it into its belly, erasing the youngster’s existence from the world.
Zhen Jin did not struggle. He gritted his teeth and forced himself to lock eyes with the beast. The spider leader raised its two front legs, which were sharp as swords, and easily stabbed through the webs. He grunted as he felt the two dagger-like legs attempting to pierce through his back.
The mail played its role here and shielded him. This hindrance infuriated the spider leader even further. It pulled on a thread and closed the distance between it and Zhen Jin to only the width of a palm.
“Screeeech!” The spider leader’s mouth opened wide and screeched, spraying a rotting stench on Zhen Jin’s face. At the same time, a green, sticky liquid dripped out like saliva from its mouth. His eyes opened wide as he thought the spider was going to bite off his head but the next moment, the spider relaxed, closed its mouth, and shook its head at him.
To his surprise, he saw the spider’s face contorting into a cruel mocking grin. He was chilled as realization dawned: The beast purely wanted to torment him and take its time enjoying his suffering. It wanted to listen to his screams and cries, to enjoy his struggle while he inched closer and closer to death.
The pressure on the mail increased and reached its limit. It could no longer protect him and was pierced through by the spider’s sharp legs. They then stabbed into his flesh.
The youngster first felt cold, then the pain hit him. Besides the intense pain, there was also extreme fear. He could feel the movement of the two spider legs. After piercing through the outer layer of flesh, one continued to pierce deeper—endangering his internal organs—while the other hit the bones of his ribcage and was obstructed. The spider continued to exert force and his rib bone broke.
“Aah!” Zhen Jin shouted in pain and his face twisted instantly. The burning fires shone a red glow on the youngster’s face, and the current Zhen Jin looked as hideous as a devil. The spider enjoyed itself silently, and its numerous eyes reflected the youngster’s face but the spider was quite disappointed as it did not find emotions of cowardice or pleading from Zhen Jin, only a fire of anger and hatred that burned brighter than the surrounding forest fire.
“Aahhh!” he screamed continuously under the beast’s torment. His head felt like it was going to split open and explode as a new set of memories surfaced in his mind.
* * *
It was a tournament gallery packed full of people and the duel in the arena was nearing its end.
“Sure enough, your family is worthy of the name of a former Southern great nobility!” said a young man who had been knocked down into a corner. He was in a difficult situation currently: riddled with wounds, some even bone-deep. It was the Templar Knight, Qing Kui.
His opponent was a middle-aged man with a long, thin mustache that split in the middle. In contrast with Qing Kui, he was completely unscathed. He held his head slightly high, he carried himself calm and unhurried toward Qing Kui.
Zhen Jin found himself amid the crowd of onlookers, nervously watching the two. His eyes were mainly focused on the middle-aged man for the man was his father, the Bai Zhen family head. Alongside Zhen Jin were many familiar faces. They were fellow Templars.
“Qing Kui, surrender if you can't win!”
“Your opponent is too strong and you are too young. There’s no shame in losing this battle.”
“Qing Kui, think of your younger sister. Don’t be stubborn.”
The young Templar Knights shouted many things. Qing Kui’s younger sister was also present. At this moment, her face was pale as if bloodless and she was trembling like a pitiful little flower in a fierce storm.
Qing Kui took a deep breath and stood up shakily. He lifted his longsword, though it took him all his might, and once again faced the Bai Zhen family head.
“Alas!” a sigh rang out from the crowd. “This duel was initiated by Qing Kui. Getting someone like him to admit defeat of his own accord is simply harder than repelling a giant dragon.”
“What can be done then?”
“Even if Qing Kui admits defeat, it will also depend on whether the Bai Zhen family head is willing to let him off.”
“Indeed. Qing Kui’s father and grandfather both died in that battle at the hands of the Bai Zhen House. Hatred runs too deep between the two families.”
Qing Kui cried out and launched another futile charge which the Bai Zhen family head effortlessly dodged, and with a slight flick of his rapier, he sent Qing Kui’s longsword flying.
Cling. The longsword arced through the air spinning and its azure blade cut into the marble, embedding itself behind Qing Kui. The difference in their strength was clear.
Qing Kui’s sister could not bear it any longer, she walked over to the old knight who was presiding over the duel and pleaded, “Uncle Grand Master, please, in consideration of the many years of friendship between our two families, I beg you to do something. Please save my brother.”
This old knight was none other than the grand master of the Fifth Order of the Temple. He coldly snorted and said with annoyance, “This is a sacred duel between knights. It is fair and impartial. There will be no favoritism!”
He looked at Qing Kui’s younger sister with a stern gaze. "I have been trying to save your brother for a long time. However, despite being a member of my Fifth Order, he did not listen to me, the grand master, and insisted on challenging the Bai Zhen family head.
“Hmph. How old is he? How strong is he? How much combat experience does he boast? He hasn't even fully cultivated the Qing Kui family’s signature battle art, Bronze Armament, yet he still dared to challenge the Bai Zhen family head. Is this the bravery and fearlessness of a knight? No, it is the foolishness of one whose mind is blinded by the desire for vengeance!
“What you see is the result. The Bai Zhen family head used a single battle art and utterly destroyed your brother’s Bronze Armament. Thousand Needle Storm is the advanced version of the Bai Zhen family’s signature battle art, Hundred Needle Wind. It is a move that can only be used with Gold cultivation, and hundreds, if not thousands, of imperial knights have died to it. Back then, even I was stabbed through the heart by a rapier of the Bai Zhen House!
“Your brother has not kept the code of Templar Knights. He has forsaken bravery and spurned patience. He has dug his own grave! As the current head of the Qing Kui House, he must bear the consequences of his recklessness. He must pay the price—even if that price is his life.”
The grand master’s words gave no quarter and rendered Qing Kui’s sister weak. Her knees gave and she fell to the ground, bursting into tears. The Templar Knights around them were silenced by the grand master’s rebuke although they were indignant. They could only grit their teeth and clench their fists hard.
The Bai Zhen family head gave the old grand master a deep look before approaching Qing Kui again. He said in an arrogant tone, “Qing Kui Family Head, what other abilities do you have to continue resisting? Do you still have any battle qi? If you don’t have any, I will take your life with the next move.”
The Bai Zhen family head slowly raised his rapier and held it pointing upward, its tip almost pressing against his nose. “This will be the last act of your life. So, keep your eyes wide open and watch well. Be at ease, killing you with Thousand Needle Storm is too grand of an honor for you. You fall short compared to your father and grandfather, therefore Hundred Needle Wind is more suitable for you. If you are lucky enough to live after taking this move, then I will spare your pathetic life. There’s no harm in that, right?”
As soon as his voice fell, the rapier in his hand suddenly transformed into a radiant silhouette of a sword. Qing Kui roared. He had been waiting for this moment for a long time. He squeezed out the remaining battle qi in his body and an azure light flickered, vaguely forming a lance.
Both sides collided and then passed each other. An arm flew in the air, dripping blood as it fell outside the arena. It was holding a rapier. The audience was shocked into a deathly silence.
With a thud, Qing Kui fell to the ground unconscious. The Bai Zhen family head’s complexion was as unpleasant as it could be. He used his left arm to cover the wound over his shoulder where his right arm had been cleanly lopped off.
“Fa-father!” Zhen Jin let out a startled cry, his voice was trembling violently.
The old grand master entered the arena at this time and stood between the Bai Zhen family head and Qing Kui, separating the two. He furrowed his brows and with a look of utmost solemnity. He stared at the middle-aged man and said, “Bai Zhen Family Head, the words spoken in a duel are sacred. This duel is over.”
The middle-aged man’s pupils constricted as he glared at the unconscious Qing Kui. He gritted his teeth. His face was full of anger and hatred as the blood flowed from his wound. After what felt like a long while, he slowly nodded thick with malice and unwillingness and staggered out of the arena.
“Father!” Zhen Jin ran over and supported the Bai Zhen family head.
The crowd erupted into cheers, Qing Kui’s younger sister cried tears of joy, the young Templar Knights raised their arms while shouting, and many passersby exclaimed in disbelief.
The middle-aged man who had already regained his calm looked at the spectacle around him, took it all in, and said, “My son, look at me. Tell me what our family motto is.”
“One must not overestimate nor underestimate others,” Zhen Jin reluctantly raised his head and said with a choked sob.
“Very good, remember it. Remember it well!” the Bai Zhen family head gritted his teeth and said resolutely.