Chapter 340: Great Danger! (1)
A light wind whispered, and the tree leaves rustled in reply.
Seated behind a crimson maple tree, Wang Chong was driving his cultivation. A surge of blood-colored Origin Energy gushed through his body in a unique circulation pathway before eventually being deposited in the depths of his dantian.
This blood-colored Origin Energy didn't belong to Wang Chong. It was obtained from those bandits through his Little Yinyang Art.
In these days spent eradicating the bandits, Wang Chong had been able to absorb Origin Energy from them. With this source of nourishment, Wang Chong was swiftly growing stronger over the days, and even his Little Yinyang Art had broken through its bottleneck.
Wang Chong could clearly feel that the amount of energy he could draw out using the Little Yinyang Art was significantly larger than before.
However, one pity was that Wang Chong had yet to reach True Martial realm, so he couldn't tap into this energy. Thus, he deposited all of the energy he had accumulated into a hidden spot beneath his dantian.
This was a secret art for storing Origin Energy that Wang Chong learned in his previous life.
Should any unexpected situation occur before him, he would be able to use this energy storage to tide him through the danger. This was particularly essential to him at this moment, given that his cultivation was still low.
Just as Wang Chong was driving his cultivation beneath the tree, a loud voice suddenly sounded out. He opened his eyes, only to see a sight of wreckage in the bandit camp before him. A Great Tang cavalryman walked up to him with a sheathed sword hanging at his waist.
"The battle has ended. Bai xiaojie has captured a bandit, and she is currently looking for you, saying that she has something she needs to discuss with you," the cavalryman reported respectfully.
"Oh?" Wang Chong's eyebrows shot up. Naturally, Bai xiaojie referred to Bai Siling. As Bai Siling was a lady, Wang Chong's platoon had been privately addressing her as Bai xiaojie.
Bai Siling wouldn't call him without any reason. Since she was inviting him over, something must have happened.
"Understood. I'll head over now."
Wang Chong retrieved a sachet from his waist and opened it, revealing a bag of yellow beans. He placed it before Little Shadow and patted the horses neck. Watching for a moment as his horse delightfully munched on the beans, he turned around and followed the cavalryman's lead.
Passing through the multiple posts, Wang Chong finally met Bai Siling in the very depths of the camp. The young mistress of the Bai Clan was seated on a chair cloaked with a layer of tigerskin. Standing around her were eight cavalrymen with swords hanging by their waists as well. Not a single one of them spoke a word, and an air of tension hung in the room.
"What's wrong?" Wang Chong asked with a smile.
It was rare to see Bai Siling with such a grave demeanor.
"A problem has cropped up. This fellow is the chief of this den, ask him yourself." Bai Siling raised her snowy hands and pointed to the bound man in front of her.
Wang Chong turned his attention to the man kneeling on the ground. The other party seemed to be in his thirties, standing at around five chi or so. Unexpectedly, he carried an air of chivalry about him.
How rare! To think that there would be such a man among the bandits!, Wang Chong thought, a hint of astonishment flashing across his eyes.
Disposition arises from the soul. Bandits, who made a living out of robbing and killing innocent merchants, usually had an air of brutality around them.
A man like the one before him was indeed rare among bandits. Wang Chong couldn't help but feel a sliver of goodwill for him.
"You are the chief of this den?" Wang Chong stepped forward and asked.
"Yes!" the man straightened his back and replied sharply. "We might be bandits, but we never target Han merchants or interfere with the officials. You shouldn't have captured me or killed my men."
"Hahaha, it's indeed rare to see a bandit as righteous as you. Bandits make a living off stealing the wealth of others, so how different are you from the rest? Besides, the royal court has pinned great hopes on developing this path. I believe you should know how the royal court deals with those who engage in robbery. Did you think that you would be spared just because you have never robbed a Han?" Hearing the words of the man before him, Wang Chong burst into laughter.
The man fell speechless.
"I hope to exchange the lives of my brothers for intelligence." After a moment of silence, the man replied.
"Speak. Let me see what kind of intelligence is worth your lives," Wang Chong questioned authoritatively.
"It's a piece of intelligence that could save your lives," the man replied.
In response to that, Wang Chong glanced at Bai Siling, only to see a slight frown on her face. It seemed like she knew what was coming up.
Wang Chong turned his gaze back to the bandit chief and said, "Continue."
"Have you realized that the further you proceed, the more empty dens you stumble on? Don't you find it bizarre?"
"Do you mean to say that the escaped bandits will pose a threat to us?"
"What if I tell you that the escaped bandits have sought refuge with a certain man?"
The room was suddenly plunged into deafening silence. Wang Chong's lips moved, but not a word would come from his mouth. He turned his eyes to Bai Siling, only to see the latter nodding grimly.
On the other hand, the man gazed at Wang Chong deeply, seemingly trying to assess his reaction.
All of the escaped bandits had gone to seek refuge with the same man!
Only those present here at the moment would realize the significance of those words!
On the journey here, especially in recent operations, Wang Chong had stumbled upon too many empty dens. In those places, not a single bandit could be seen.
Even so, Wang Chong paid it little heed. After all, it was perfectly normal for bandits to escape upon learning of the arrival of the military.
But if they had all gone to seek refuge with a single person, the nature of the entire incident changed.
More than a dozen dens of bandits put together, that would be a strength of several hundred men! That would be a force to be reckoned with!
"Continue!" Wang Chong instructed gravely. This was indeed vital intelligence, to simply shrug it off would be foolishness.
"I am not sure if you know of the Iron Cloak Highwaymen. Their leader, Iron Cloak Li, is a vicious man with incredible martial arts. More importantly, he is a practitioner of the Iron Cloak Technique, making him invulnerable to harm. On this path leading from the capital to Longxi, he's indubitably the number one expert!
"Furthermore, he has a fearless personality, which makes him an extremely dangerous man. Even for us bandits who make a living out of robbery, we will avoid conflicts with the military. However, the Iron Cloak Highwaymen are different. Even soldiers are nothing more than targets to them. There have been at least seven military platoons who have died to his hands to date. As such, he possesses quite a reputation for himself among the bandits and highwaymen.
"Furthermore, as they usually operate on horseback, the Iron Cloak Highwaymen boast great mobility. The royal court has tried to apprehend him on several occasions, but he is a cunning man. If the royal court were to dispatch a huge army, Iron Cloak Li would immediately lead his men to hide in the dense forests in the northwest, reappearing only when everything dies down. On the other hand, if the force were smaller, Iron Cloak Li would lead his men to eliminate the soldiers, thus further augmenting his reputation.
"From Longxi to the capital, the bandits and highwaymen view him as their de facto leader. Currently, it is said that he already has a force of five hundred strong under him.
"You have overdone your cleanup this time around. From top to bottom, not a single man was able to escape. Out of fear, many chose to join Iron Cloak Li's faction to protect themselves. There were quite a few who invited me over as well, but out of disdain of Iron Cloak Li's viciousness, I turned them down.
"But not too long ago, I received a letter from the Iron Cloak Highwaymen inviting the surrounding bandits and highwaymen to deal with the military cleanup. Considering how you are the only group along this part of the Silk Road, his target is probably you."
As the man spoke, his gaze fell on each and every man in the room, lingering for a moment longer on Wang Chong and Bai Siling. It was apparent that those two were the true masterminds behind this operation.
"Where's the letter?"
"It's here." The one who spoke wasn't the bandit chief, but Bai Siling. From her sleeve, she retrieved a red letter and passed it over.
On the cover of the letter was a hideous black demon.
Iron Cloak Rally, three forceful words were written beneath the demon.
"As the heavens decree, the noble lords over the surface and the pugilist reigns over the underworld. Each and every man has their own way of survival, but today, eighty soldiers infringed on the natural way of the world and slaughtered great men of our path. Thus, I earnestly invite the heroes of the world to gather together to return order and hammer justice upon the eighty vile soldiers!"
The letter was signed off with the name Iron Cloak Li.
Seeing the words of the letter, Wang Chong frowned. The man had described Iron Cloak Li as a vicious man, but the words in the letter were eloquent, very unlike ones that had been written by such a man.
Knowing what Wang Chong was thinking of, the man explained, "The letter was written by the military advisor of the Iron Cloak Highwaymen, Zhou An. He has always been in charge of the administrative affairs of the group."
"Eighty men huh? He even knows our strength, that isn't a good sign." Bai Siling's eyebrows were knitted tightly together as she mused.
Xiaojie is another way of saying "Miss", which feels rather out of place here.
Been struggling to find a term for it so I'll use the hanyu pinyin for this one, just like -gongzi.