Chapter 7: Between Life and Death

Zhen Jin’s counterattack was successful in wiping out many of the fire-venom bees but at the same time, he attracted more of them.

After hundreds of sword jabs, his muscles began to feel sore. After a thousand sword jabs, the soreness worsened and seemed to swell with pain in his eyes. In particular his sword-wielding arm. Moreover, the sword felt heavier in his hand.

Buzz… The fire-venom bees seemed endless as the larger part of the swarm flew out of the campfire, infuriated due to the casualties taken. The bees seemed like a tsunami, pouring over the two in one fell swoop.

Damn it! Zhen Jin cursed as he did his best to keep fighting with his longsword. Currently, the sword felt several times heavier in his hand. He knew it was a sign he had reached the limits of his physical strength. He was sweating profusely and his mind had become muddled. He could barely feel his sword-wielding arm anymore, the muscles nigh completely numb. Each jab triggered a tingling sensation from his bones, as if they were made of cogs in ruins, completely rusted but forced to turn.

One by one the fire-venom bees stung Zhen Jin. He gritted his teeth, always keeping in mind Zi Di was behind him. To protect his fiancée, he had not taken a single step back in this battle. His right hand held his sword and his left groped all over his body, pulling out the flailing fire-venom bees that had stung him. The bees perished as a result and were thrown to the ground by him.

“My lord—” Zi Di cried from behind him. Not a single fire-venom bee had attacked her. Perhaps because Zhen Jin drew all of the fire-venom bees’ ire or perhaps because his intense movements caused his body temperature to be much higher than hers.

To Zhen Jin, it felt as if time had come to a crawl, each moment lengthy and insufferable. Eventually and suddenly, his muddled eyes cleared up and there were no more fire-venom bees flying in the air. All over the ground lay the carcasses of fire-venom bees. He had won! His heart was so full of relief he lost his grip on his longsword, the tip nearly piercing his foot as it fell. He felt numb all over his body but soon, all the wounds inflicted by the fire-venom bees induced a scorching pain all over his body.

“My Lord, be careful!” Zi Di exclaimed. The scream stimulated his numb mind, sobering it instantly. The campfire was in embers when, unexpectedly, a little over a dozen fire-venom bees flew out.

There were still fire-venom bees remaining!

However… I can no longer fight. He smiled bitterly, very clear of his condition. He knew if these fire-bees had attacked with the others, he might have been able to kill them. But now that he had already relaxed his body, he could not even hold his sword. Although he could not feel it, he knew deep down—the fire-venom was spreading through his body. A voice in his heart spoke, if you continue to fight, it will cost you your life! It came from his strong intuition as a warrior. He trusted this feeling and knew he could no longer fight on.

“Run!” Zhen Jin gritted his teeth, sighed, took Zi Di’s hand, and swiftly ran away. The two fled hand in hand, headlong into the looming darkness of the jungle. They had to escape. If they stayed, they would only meet demise by the venomous stings of the swarm but by running away, despite the dangers, there was still a glimmer of hope.

I will not give till death! Zhen Jin’s eyes were unyielding, and his morale unwaning. Behind him, Zi Di ran as she was dragged along. Soon, she was unable to keep up with his pace and tripped. Even if his strength was rock bottom at the moment, she was just a magician after all.

“My Lord, let me stay behind, I can distract…” she gasped out, panting heavily for breath.

“Shut up!” Zhen Jin abruptly stopped running and turned to face her. The girl cried out in surprise as she crashed into his arms. The next moment, the girl was spun around and her vision shifted dramatically. When she came to, she realized she was being held in his arms as he kept running frantically.

Because of the reckless intrusion of the two, the darkness of the jungle was punctuated by unsettling noises on all sides. Zhen Jin attempted to shake off the bee swarm but they relentlessly continued after their tails. Even in between life and death, the youngster kept his wits about him. 

Normally, the most direct way to deal with such a swarm would be to jump into a body of water to force the swarm’s retreat but they knew there were python-like vines lurking in the river, so diving in would be suicidal. In his desperation, he found that his best chance of escape was to sprint along the path he had walked during the day. However, his eyesight and sense of direction were greatly hindered in the dark, forcing him to rely on his fuzzy memory as a guide.

After almost crashing into a tree for the third time, Zi Di took a potion from her leather waist pouch with difficulty. This potion was stored in a glass bottle and glowed like a firefly. With this glimmer of light, Zhen Jin was barely able to find his way. The jungle had dense branches and tangled roots, it would be arduous to trek through here, let alone run, and often, the bushes and ferns formed a blockade.

Suddenly, Zhen Jin and Zi Di ran into a wall of vines. He felt malice exuding from the jungle around him, like countless tentacles reaching out from all directions to block his path to survival. He broke through the vines with all his remaining strength, allowing the thorns to scratch his clothes and skin in the dark. 

The only thing he was thankful for was that the path had been trampled on and cleared during the day, otherwise, it would simply be impossible to move this quickly through the jungle. Zi Di occasionally took out and threw a potion at the fire-venom bees. Sometimes, the bees were attracted and slowed down but more often than not, it had no effect.

What damned luck. As he ran, Zhen Jin’s heart sank, finding his surroundings growing more and more unfamiliar. He knew they were stepping into the unknown, however, there was nothing that could be done about it. With the fire-venom bees hot on their tails, how could he stand still and determine the right route? He had no choice but to hold his head down and run wildly.

After running an indeterminable length, he heard a loud growl. Suddenly, a beast swooped down from one of the trees.

What is that‽ Zhen Jin was startled upon the sight of what seemed to be a black leopard. The bloody scent of a predator assaulted his senses. By some fluke, he managed to dodge and continued to run without looking back. The fire-venom bees flying behind them and the beast that looked like a black leopard became entangled with each other. 

The black leopard was quickly defeated and took the initiative to retreat. This short intermission caused the distance between him and the fire-venom bees to increase. However, the fire-venom bees despised him and would never give up. As the chase continued, they closed the distance pressing toward the young girl.

Zhen Jin’s well of strength was gradually running dry. His legs were heavy like lead, his heart felt weak, and his pace began to drop. As the terrain became steeper, a seemingly bottomless cliff appeared before the two by the light of the shimmering potion. The fire-venom bees were coming from behind them to the left.

“There is a cave over there with light!” Zi Di suddenly said. The cave had a distinct but weak orange-red light emanating from it and seemed to be inhabited. Zhen Jin was gasping heavily, but his eyes lit up as he plunged into the cave with Zi Di in his arms.

When they entered the cave, searing hot air washed over them. There were no signs of human activity in the cave, what emanated the glow were peculiar ores. They were bright red and emitted intense heat as well as a shimmering orange light. At the mouth of the cave, the size and number of the ores were small, however, the deeper they went into the cave, the more both grew.

After a few hundred steps, Zhen Jin felt like he was in a furnace and Zi Di was already dripping with sweat. It was best not to continue moving forward, the hot air in the cave would steam them alive. But the fire-venom bees had also entered the cave, chasing after them like the Grim Reaper. He put Zi Di down and the two were forced to grit their teeth and dive deeper into the cave.

The life-and-death chase had reached a critical juncture here.

Hope emerged within Zhen Jin's heart: Although he could not fight the fire-venom bees, he might still be able to use the special terrain around to escape the fire-venom bee’s assault. As far as he knew, the fire-venom bees used heat to lock onto their foes, the higher the heat, the more the swarm would be attracted. The future looked dark and grim but there was still a glimmer of light struggling.

The two clenched their teeth and pushed themselves forward, staggering one step at a time. The cave became narrower, and the red hot ore almost covered the walls entirely. They could not touch the walls—it was too hot!

“There are traces of beasts here,” Zi Di suddenly whispered. Zhen Jin looked where the girl was pointing and saw claw marks scraped across the cave walls. To be able to live in such an extreme environment, this beast was definitely not simple! His heart sank and he gave a bitter smile. How could he care about such a beast right now? He had no choice!

After the fire-venom bee swarm entered the cave, although they were distracted by the ore and lay down on it to absorb their heat, they never gave up on attacking the two and were always flying close behind.

The future was uncertain, and the two could only brace themselves and persevere forward.

Suddenly, Zhen Jin started to sway. His body and mind began to feel intensely dizzy, making him almost faint on the spot. What damned luck. He stumbled and his vision began to tremble as if it were an earthquake, barely leaving him standing. The fire-venom had flared up! He unconsciously reached his hand out and held on to the cave wall.

Sizzle… The cave wall burned his leather gloves as black smoke quickly arose.

Simultaneously, a stench exuded from Zhen Jin. The smell immediately caused the fire-venom bee swarm to become agitated as they gave up the ore, replacing their previous swaying, careless state with bloodlust aimed straight toward him.

Zi Di’s face instantly paled. She realized the fire-venom bees could lock on to their foes by the smell of their fire-venom. Moreover, when the fire-venom flared, it would emit a special smell that incited the fire-venom bee’s ferociousness! Zhen Jin had a lot of fire-venom in his body, meaning many fire-venom bees had died at his hands. Such a powerful enemy would naturally trigger a frenzied attack from the fire-venom bees.

In her fright, she pulled out and poured a potion on to Zhen Jin’s body in an attempt to mask the stench of the fire-venom. To her surprise, it had immediate effects. The fire-venom bee swarm’s bloodlust dissipated and they once more focused on the searing hot rocks. “Let’s hurry, the effects of the potion will only last for a short while,” she said as she put Zhen Jin’s arms over her shoulders and carefully dragged him forward.

After just a few steps, Zhen Jin felt his head spinning and completely lost his sense of direction, making taking even a single step extremely difficult. The fire-venom made his body burn entirely, and made his head feel like a giant bell, ringing incessantly. With what little clarity he still had, he weakly said to Zi Di, “You escape, quickly go.”

She was free of fire-venom thus the only target of fire-venom bees in the cave was Zhen Jin. If Zi Di ran, she had the possibility of escape! 

Yet the young girl violently shook her head. Her eyes were tearful, and her voice was sobbing she resolutely said, “No. my Lord! I will not abandon you! It was with great difficulty that I found you and reached this point. How could I give up now!”

He sighed and suddenly pushed Zi Di away hard. “Go!”

“I won’t, my Lord!”

As the two pushed and pulled at each other, they both fell to the ground. The fire-venom bees flew overhead. 

While Zi Di closed her eyes shut, Zhen Jin glared with impotent rage at the swarm as they pounced on him. He looked on helplessly as they flew down toward him, stingers erect, only a finger’s length away from his face—

“Roar!” Suddenly, from within the cave’s depths came a beastly roar. It echoed through the cave walls, shocking and throwing the fire-venom bees into disarray. They flitted through the air as if they were drunk and some even collided into each other.

Thump, thump, thump… Not long after, a series of thumps resembling soldiers beating war drums resounded within the cave. Soon, the monster racing through the cave appeared, the figure was so fast the two could only see a large black shadow. 

The mysterious cave monster immediately lunged toward fire-venom bees. The aggressive and ferocious fire-venom bees were then unexpectedly repelled by the monster as they began to flee in haste. The monster quickly pursued and both parties left the cave.

A silent calm washed over inside the cave. The two lay down and gasped for breath as they stared at the cave ceiling in a daze.