A hazy humanoid silhouette slowly emerged by the side of Fang Tan, hissing like a snake.
Before it got near, the duo including Fang Tan felt a bone-piercing chill pressing into their bodies. Goosebumps popped up all over their skin.
A thick stench of demonic aura emanated across the ground, covering the entire area within it completely.
Extraordinarily, this aura was tightly contained within the area and did not leak out in the slightest.
"This... this is...!?" Fang Tan could feel his teeth clattering against each other. Such intense demonic aura pointed only to a Great Demon. There was no second possibility.
Demonic aura was a very peculiar entity. It looked like fog, but was actually something else. To humans, demonic aura was more like a unique hazy substance produced by mixing the scent of demons with energy radiating from them.
It was grayish-white and looked indistinguishable from fog. But one could pick up a subtle scent from it. It was the natural scent of demons, produced by their bodies. At times, it was even corrosive and carried other dangerous properties. In fact, it was often mistaken for toxic fumes.
Presently, the duo including Fang Tan could smell a foul odor. It was obviously the raw stench of a snake.
"Run!" Fang Tan pulled Zhan Hongsheng away.
Without warning, a heartbeat-like rhythm resounded across the area.
Fang Tan's face was as white as paper as he knelt on the ground, frozen. He had almost collapsed to the ground. A mouthful of blood gushed out of his mouth the moment he opened it.
"Big Brother... Fang! Help... help me..." Zhan Hongsheng felt a stabbing pain in her chest. Blood leaked from the corner of her mouth. Her face was likewise drained of all color as she fell limply on the ground.
"This is... a Great Demon's Heartbeat Resonance... Hongsheng! Hang in there... I'm going to get teacher and the rest. You've got to hang in there!" Fang Tan struggled and was barely able to pull himself up. With a flicker, he mustered his black membrane which encircled him like a cloak. For a few seconds' span, he was bolstered with an ounce of strength. With a giant stride, he leapt away from the direction of the Great Demon and vanished on the plains in the blink of an eye.
"Big brother Fang..." Zhang Hongsheng was hardly able to speak a further word. But as she stared at Fang Tan's vanishing back, it was as if something in her heart shattered.
"What identity should I use?" A deep, hoarse and strange voice rang out abruptly.
Zhan Hongsheng was gripped with fear. She knew that the Great Demon had arrived. Any existence called a Great Demon would at least be in the realm of Snake or above. Some Great Demons of that caliber possessed immensely powerful bodies, which produced queer effects like Heartbeat Resonance. Once prey entered its hunting range, it would be shaken by the Great Demon's heartbeat, its limbs turning limp and numb. Its internal organs would bleed and it would lose all strength, turning into prey stuck on a spider's web, waiting helplessly as the Great Demon neared it and fed on it.
That was a hunting skill developed among Great Demons who did not move fast. When amplified, it was a nightmarish, unassailable demon art.
The heartbeat gradually approached. Suddenly, it retracted all of a sudden and faded.
Finally able to breathe again, Zhang Hongsheng was overwhelmed with joy. Before she could analyze the reason for the pause, she mustered all her remaining strength and rolled towards the cargo carriage on the side, hid behind a heap of cargo and sat down against it.
"Almost gave myself away... oh... better turn off Heartbeat Resonance." The voice rang out.
After catching her breath, Zhan Hongsheng turned her head around and peered towards the direction of the voice through the gap between goods.
A snake-headed muscular man immediately entered her view.
The head of a black python and a humanoid male body, dressed in a set of ash gray robes which barely hid his muscular frame.
Zhan Hongsheng felt relief in her heart after a glance. Snake-type demons typically had very poor sight. Most of them relied on other means to navigate the world, such as body heat or scent.
Zhang Hongsheng swiftly activated one of her bloodline secret arts which controlled one's own breathing and body heat. Fortunately, being a disciple of the Fine Garden Sect, she was skilled in controlling temperature. Had it been any others, they might have found themselves in a tight spot trying to conceal their own selves.
Flooded by relief, Zhan Hongsheng recalled how Fang Tan had abandoned her and escaped on his own. Involuntarily, grief welled up inside her. As her emotions fluctuated, however, her secret art began to waver, shocking her back into focus. She dared not let her thoughts wander any further.
'Why would a Great Demon from the snake race appear here?' Zhan Hongsheng forced herself to focus on this question.
'This is clearly the meeting place for sects in the Hundred Lineages. With so many powerful sect masters and elders present, no snake demon, not even a Great Demon, should dare to enter this area.'
Through the gap, she scrutinized this Great Demon, which had just retracted its Heartbeat Resonance.
But immediately upon sight of the demon, her heart nearly stopped beating again.
Both the head and the body of the Great Demon were morphing at a visible speed. From a muscular man, it was turning into the body of a slender woman.
Its head was continually changing from one color to another. It scales turned into human skin. Before long, its facial features had taken on the form of a familiar face, and long black hair grew out, cascading down its back.
'THIS IS!!?' Zhan Hongsheng was horrified. She could identify the name of the person that the demon had turned into.
It was He Xiangzi! Prime Devil Sect's present Eldest Apprentice Sister He Xiangzi!!
'What on earth...!?'
"It's her then. The most convenient identity." The Great Demon seemed highly satisfied with its own morphing art. After inspecting itself from top to toe and finding no flaws, its mouth cracked open in a grin as it headed for Prime Devil Sect's horse carriages.
"Senior Apprentice Sister? Why are you here alone? Where's teacher?" A familiar voice suddenly rang out from another direction.
Zhan Hongsheng paused in surprise. She recognized the owner of that voice. It was none other than that annoying disciple from Prime Devil Sect, Lu Sheng.
That arrogant, narcissistic block of ice with a paralyzed faceLu Sheng!
'Crap!' She thought about how Lu Sheng had no idea at all that this He Xiangzi was a Great Demon in disguise. If something bad happened...
She dared not continue down the path of her imagination.
'I've got to alert him as soon as possible!' She tried hard to move her body. Unfortunately, her body had been too severely wounded in the Heartbeat Resonance. Right now, she was unable to budge an inch.
'He Xiangzi' laughed as she asked, "Oh, it's Junior Apprentice Brother Lu. Where's teacher? Did you see where teacher is? I specially bought teacher a small gift. I hope he'll like it."
"Oh, I saw him on a horse carriage up north a little while ago. He's still chatting with Clan Master Floating Wanderer from Levitating Clan," Lu Sheng replied.
"Is that so? Then I'll go look for him," 'He Xiangzi' said smilingly.
"Sure." Lu Sheng did not seem to be alone. A lady with skin fair as snow was beside him.
"In that case, I'll go look for my teacher as well and find out what caused that blast earlier. So many people around us have disappeared. They may have already gone to check out the situation," the lady said softly.
"Alright." Lu Sheng nodded.
Zhan Hongsheng watched as the lady left and Lu Sheng began to walk in the opposite direction. She heaved a sigh of relief.
The 'He Xiangzi' that was the Great Demon in disguise was walking towards the north as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
Zhan Hongsheng's mind settled down. If two sect masters in the realm of Snake were together, they might have a chance to see through this demon's disguise.
"Oh, wait," Lu Sheng's voice broke the silence once more. Zhan Hongsheng tensed her body nervously.
"Senior Apprentice Sister, when did you start wearing such clothes? How is it that I don't remember you wearing such an outfit before?"
"Me?" 'He Xiangzi' turned around in surprise. "Is there anything wrong with my outfit?"
Lu Sheng laughed. "Of course there is. You usually wear long robes and pants. Not to mention that on your right elbow, there's..."
"There's what?" 'He Xiangzi' asked, puzzled.
"Isn't there a scar there which you can't heal?" Lu Sheng frowned.
"Scar?" 'He Xiangzi' paused. She lifted up her right elbow and touched it. "It's right here, isn't it? Come and see."
Confused, Lu Sheng looked again at her elbow. A scar really appeared on that spot.
A red flash of light streaked across in the blink of an eye.
'He Xiangzi' moved across the distance of several dozen meters in the blink of an eye, appearing right in front of Lu Sheng. A snake tongue, raw-red in color, shot out from its mouth and wrapped itself around Lu Sheng's neck like a noose.
The distance between the two of them was virtually nil.
"Then you tell me, what shape that scar is in. And this time, I'll be sure to make my disguise more convincing..." A creepy smile appeared on the snake demon's face.
It grabbed viciously at Lu Sheng's heart.
The snake demon's face changed when a metal-scratching sound rang out as its sharp claws struck Lu Sheng's chest.
Lu Sheng looked down at the claws on his chest, then looked back up at the snake demon, which had by then morphed back into its original, snake-headed, humanoid body. A queer expression appeared on his face.
"Looks like I've been found out in the end... I wasn't intending to expose myself..."
"!!?" The snake demon stared wide-eyed, completely at a loss about what had just happened. Immediately, it felt a terrifying force gushing out from Lu Sheng's body.
Before it could even react, Lu Sheng's body inflated dramatically like a balloon.
In black smoke, his lower body turned into two extremely thick stumps like elephant legs. A giant tail, a meter thick, emerged behind him, filled with savage-looking black spikes.
He was a monster, cloaked in a layer of armor. His muscles had expanded and blackened, especially on his arms and neck, which looked as if purplish black pythons were formed around them.
Three pitch-black horns extended from his forehead. His mouth cracked open till the ears, revealing razor-sharp teeth like a saw. A single glance at them sent chills down one's spine.
In the mere span of a few breaths, Lu Sheng had turned from his previous fragile scholar's look into a three-meter-tall abomination.
"YOU!!" The snake demon had no time for further thought. Quickly, it activated its strength-amplifying demon art. The scales all over its body immediately stood up and its muscles twisted and turned madly beneath them, gathering all its physical strength and demonic power. It brought both its arms in front of him in a criss-cross as a shield.
A deafening boom, like an amplified war drum, blasted in the air.
The snake demon's criss-crossed arms were struck dead in the center by Lu Sheng's giant claws. Instead of flying backwards, however, it was fixed firmly into the ground like a pillar without budging.
But its entire body was quaking vigorously, as if it was receiving a terrifying force.
In her hiding spot, Zhan Hongsheng stared dumbstruck, her jaw hanging loose.
From her initial worry that Lu Sheng would be assaulted and killed by the snake demon to the sudden turning of tables, with Lu Sheng morphing into this frightening form...
She had no clue in the slightest what on earth had just happened.
'Isn't Lu Sheng just a recently-made disciple of the Prime Devil Sect? With that weird personality, anti-social disposition and arrogant temper which makes him disgusting to look at...
But... but... he suddenly turned into this...' The transformation in between was simply incredulous to Zhan Hongsheng.