Chapter 9: We Are Templar Knights!

As Zhen Jin and Zi Di hid in the cave mouth, they paid close attention to the battle between the beasts. Throughout the fight, the scaled leopards were rushing past with haste but not disorganized, and they firmly kept the monkey bear surrounded and in the center. 

If the two ever left the cave, they would immediately expose themselves to these beasts. The chances of surviving were small, so they would definitely not do it unless they were forced to.

The longer Zhen Jin watched the fight, the more fearful he felt. As the two sides fought it out, it became clear the numerous scaled leopards had the advantage over the monkey bear who fought alone. 

Although leopards are not solitary animals and typically formed leaps to survive, such a large leap of leopards is simply unprecedented. On this island, not only are the creatures terrifyingly mutated in form, size, and abilities, but their behaviors are also dramatically different.

He had some speculations about why these scaled leopards were here. He remembered when the fire-venom bees were chasing him, he had encountered a mysterious leopard-like beast. In the end, the beast had lost against the bee swarm and fled. 

That mysterious beast was probably a scaled leopard. After its rout, it could have returned to its leap and informed the rest of the leopards and followed Zhen Jin’s and Zi Di’s scent as they escaped, eventually leading to their arrival here.

These black leopards don't want revenge against the fire-venom bees I fear, rather they might want to hunt me and Zi Di. Thinking of it this way, the monkey bear saved us from a disaster. But he was not thankful. The monkey bear first drove away the fire-venom bees and now was fighting the scaled leopards, giving Zhen Jin and Zi Di a chance to survive but if it won, it would still prey on the two in its den. It was all simply a coincidence.

“Roar!” The leopard leader suddenly pounced on the monkey bear’s back and bit its neck. The monkey bear flew into a rage and frantically shook its body but the leopard leader tenaciously clenched its fangs as it was nearly flung off, holding on only by its bite on the monkey bear’s neck. 

The bear had a thick layer of skin and only bled for a moment. It extended its gorilla arms and used its sharp fingernails to penetrate the leopard leader’s scales, stabbing deep into its body. The leopard leader would not let go even if it died. Meanwhile, the remaining black leopards also pounced on it, pushing the monkey bear to the ground.

“A chance!” Upon seeing this, Zhen Jin decided within an instant. He dragged Zi Di and ran out of the cave but at that moment, a few of the remaining black leopards saw them, and one of them immediately howled and lunged at the two. The rest also began to stir. Zhen Jin and Zi Di were forced to flee back into the cave by this scaled leopard. 

The leopard did not chase the two into the cave because the monkey bear burst with raging power at that moment. Its paws radiated roiling heat and its fingernails, sharp and hard as iron, turned red like steel heated in a furnace. The bear thrashed around crazily, shaking off most of the leopards on it. Then it used its paws to ruthlessly stab into the leopard leader’s body. It struggled frantically as large amounts of blood spurted from its mouth and nose.

Riiiiip! The next moment, the monkey bear brazenly tore the leopard leader in two. Its paws also turned red and gave off waves of rolling heat as if it were freshly smelted steel. The red hot paws easily penetrated the leopard scales, and with the bear’s great strength, it was a weapon of slaughter.

In a short while, it slaughtered a dozen or so black leopards, leaving their carcasses strewn around on the ground. The leopards suffered a disastrous defeat and the remaining few were routed. 

Although the monkey bear was the victor, it was a miserable victory. It was blinded in its right eye, its body was covered in wounds, dripping with fresh blood, and several of its wounds were so deep they exposed the bone underneath the flesh. Its worst injury was on its neck, the leopard leader had bitten there deeply and seemed to have punctured an artery. Bright-red blood gushed out from this wound. The monkey bear was so wounded that despite having repelled the leopards, it made no efforts in pursuing them but immediately walked back to the cave.

Without any options, Zhen Jin and Zi Di could only retreat. A wounded beast was even more dangerous. Fortunately, due to its injuries, the monkey bear walked back slowly. Meanwhile, the two were forced to go deeper into the cave’s depths. If the cave only had one exit, then they and the monkey bear would eventually have to meet and a battle would have to take place but he was not sure of the outcome. 

He originally had a longsword but lost it at the campfire. Now, his only weapons were two daggers. He had one while Zi Di had the other, the best-case scenario would be that the cave path forked.

However, something unexpected happened, the monkey bear had walked halfway in when it suddenly stopped. It then started using its sharp fingernails to dig ore out of the cave walls, opened its mouth wide, and devoured it.

Zhen Jin secretly kept watching as his pupils slightly contracted. He was amazed to discover that after the monkey bear ate a dozen chunks of ore, its wounds gradually stopped bleeding. The monkey bear’s weak and dispersed aura was also steadily stabilizing. Zhen Jin was edified through its actions. It turns out these ores are the monkey bear’s food!

He had seen many claw marks in the cave before and thought that the monkey bear was just sharpening its claws. After seeing this, he understood the scraping marks were the result of the monkey bear excavating for food.

The monkey bear’s condition was rapidly improving. Zhen Jin and Zi Di looked at each other and saw the graveness of each other’s faces. Now they only had two options.

The first was to continue to retreat and hope to find a fork in the cave and use it to avoid the monkey bear.

The second was to fight the monkey bear and seize the advantage while it was still injured.

Both options had their risks. The first would have them give up their golden opportunity and let the monkey bear recuperate smoothly and if the fork did not exist, they would still have to fight the bear. As for the second option, Zhen Jin was uncertain of the outcome if he were to fight the monkey bear and although he would be seizing his opportunity in the fight, if there was a fork in the cave and he ended up dying fighting the bear, would that not be too miserable?

Zi Di suddenly grabbed Zhen Jin’s hand, she did not speak but her eyes revealed her intention—the choice was all up to him. He was left indecisive for a while. This was a decision that determined life and death and more importantly, this not only determined his own but also of his fiancée, Zi Di.

A heavy responsibility lay on Zhen Jin’s shoulders. His eyes darkened for a time but soon a light of perseverance steeled within. He grasped Zi Di’s hand and then let go. He drew the dagger and slowly crept toward the busily-eating monkey bear. 

Of the two options, Zhen Jin was not sure which was better, nor did he have any reliable information to help him decide. Therefore, he decided to follow his instincts—to struggle and seize fate by the throat!

Closer, closer. The distance between Zhen Jin and the monkey bear was getting smaller. The bear was still eating. Perhaps because this was its den, perhaps because it was in a sorry state after a bitter battle, whatever the case may be, it did not notice him approaching. But at this moment, his complexion changed.

A memory emerged in his mind.

Damn it, not now! Zhen Jin powerlessly cursed but he could only immerse himself in the memories as they flooded him for a while.

* * *

It was a dimly lit old tavern filled with chattering people.

“Victory is ours!”

“Drink to your heart’s content.”

Zhen Jin found himself in a corner surrounded by knights donned in dazzling armor. He was, of course, one of them. Although these knights had scratched armors, tattered cloaks, and injured bodies, they were still very excited. It appeared to be a post-battle celebration.

“Huzzah!” someone cheered. “Can anyone in the world stop us Templar Knights?”

“In hindsight, that recent battle was difficult,” someone sighed.

Someone else spoke with lingering fear while stroking his wine cup, “I almost lost control of my mount.”

The sighs of the Templar Knights drew a sneer, “What sort of hardships are these? Children, you are all too green.” The voice reverberated in the tavern, attracting the gazes of Zhen Jin and the rest of the Templar Knights.

It came from an elderly man. He had a white mustache, a majestic physique, a blinded eye, and was donning the armor of Templar Knights. But there was a clear difference in the gold and silver adorning engravings on his compared to the rest—it was more ornate and majestic.

The Templar Knights did not retort but instead looked at the old man with awe and the noisy tavern suddenly became silent.

“Grand Master, tell us. We know you are a veteran of many great battles, such as the capture of Iron Banner Fortress, or the encirclement of the Blood Knights, or the defense of Griffin Cliff. Which battle do you think was the most difficult you faced?” someone broke the silence and asked.

The old grand master chuckled but did not answer, instead he lifted his wooden mug, tilted his head back, and drank every drop of beer in it. As soon as he put down his empty mug, a Templar Knight beside him brought another filled mug.

The old grand master reached for the handle of the mug. This time not guzzling it but taking a small sip, imbibing almost all of the beer froth. His intact eye, under the illumination of the fire in the tavern, shone with reminiscence. He said, “When it comes to the most difficult battle, it would have to be that one, six years ago at Jackal Valley.”

“Oh, I know that one, it's the battle of the annihilation of the Order of Cold Firs!” someone shouted excitedly. Some turned and narrowed their eyes at Zhen Jin.

The old grand master nodded and continued, “That's right, it was at Jackel Valley. And truly, those Southern nobles are almost all treacherous scum. Despicable, shameless, and capricious!

“Our Fifth Order of the Temple had been marching for five days by the time we entered Jackal Valley and once we were in the valley, our allies suddenly betrayed us! There, we were surrounded by thousands of murderous Cold Fir Knights.

“Our Fifth Order that had just retreated from the front lines was caught by surprise, losing thirty percent of our men in the first wave, leaving only a thousand men, almost all wounded. The Order of Cold Firs launched wave upon wave of charges and we were barely able to defend ourselves relying on our crumbling camp.”

He reminisced somberly, “We repelled the second wave at the cost of three hundred men. Then the third wave struck and we lost over two hundred men to it. After the fourth wave, we only had about eighty men left. We had frantically used up all of our berserk potions and we couldn’t get any more supplies.

“To make matters worse, the enemy troops had a powerful man who called himself the Corruptor. This warlock was extremely ruthless and under his spells, our weapons and armor were corroded away. We were in dire straits and that’s when the Grand Master of the Order of Cold Firs demanded our surrender.

“We knew the Southern nobles wanted to take us prisoners so they could have an important bargaining chip to negotiate with the Emperor. Hehe, but he underestimated us Templar Knights! We negotiated for a while and then started our charge!

“Even unarmed, we are Templar Knights.

“Even unarmored, we are Templar Knights.

“Even unmounted, we are Templar Knights.

“Even unsupplied, we are Templar Knights.

“No matter how numerous, how powerful the enemy, and how few, how weak we are, we will not surrender—because we are Templar Knights!”