With the help of his Soul Sense, Zax detected the Gray Lords approaching, riding on horse like Deformed Beings.
At first, he was taken aback. There were a little over two hundred riders, of which only three were at the Core Master realm while the horse type Deformed Beings all had one, pale scale at the back of their necks, a sign that they can only grow to the Peak of the first realm.
This meant that the Gray Lords possessed more than two hundred potential Peak Mist Lord steeds!
Zax found it hard to believe that three Core Masters can manage this many strong Deformed Beings, and indeed, after his Soul Sense examination he discovered that he was correct.
Scrutinizing the body of the horse Deformed Beings, Zax saw that each of their Pure Cores had a blemish, they were all damaged beyond repair to possibly inhibit their potential growth.
“Mendor, get your men to stay alert of escapees”. Zax said coldly.
“Escapees? Zax, don’t look down on my mercenary band. No man will dare to leave his post and run for his life without my command”. Mendor frowned.
Yes, he was more apprehensive than Zax with dealing with the Gray Lords, but that was only rational behavior and not an indication that he or his men should be underestimated.
Chuckling and looking ahead, Zax clarified. “I wasn’t talking of your men, but the Gay Lords runts. I intend to swiftly kill the three leaders and then concentrate on the remaining bandits. I rather finish the entire group than give them a chance to revenge after we leave the village”.
“Taking on three Core Masters by yourself?” Mendor was stunned and only for the sake of proper conduct in this perilous situation, did he insistently stay composed. “This won’t be like fighting the Black Chrome Alligator. Of the three Gray Lords’ leaders, two can handle a one on one battle with the alligator you killed and the third, I heard, is Advanced phase first level Core Master. Even if you are at the Peak of the second Core Master level, it would be too difficult for you to fight alone the three leaders, much less kill them swiftly”.
From the way he handled the Black Chrome Alligator, Mendor assessed Zax’s cultivation between the Beginner to Advanced phases of the second Core Master level, not higher or lower, and in his opinion that was enough to place Zax as a prodigy on the Martial path.
“If I were a common cultivator, then I would have agreed with you, Mendor. My forte is not in mist cultivation, but soul cultivation”.
“A soul cultivator?!” Mendor did not expect Zax to be one.
Though they were more than bodily cultivators, those who invested their time on specifically soul cultivation were still hardly seen.
Of course, Zax was unaware of the unconventional perception that accompanies soul cultivators in Ercas Mir. From his experience in Kingdom Earth he was already in the state of mind that bodily cultivators were scarce everywhere, but those who cultivated the soul… He initially just thought to use it as an excuse to cover his lack of use in mist energy, and it also made it a lot easier to explain why he must make direct contact with his opponents in battle. However, from Mendor’s reaction he figured a little bit of the truth.
“Yes. It may sound like that put me in a disadvantage from the start against the Gray Lords, but it actually the opposite. With my unique movement technique”, a lie to cover the explosive strength of his legs that enables him to reach a speed far greater than any Peak second level Core Master, “I will incapacitate the three leaders without anyone noticing the mist fluctuations. Following that, well… just recall what I did to the alligator”. Zax sneered, to add to his presence and hopefully raise Mendor’s confidence in him.
To kill two hundred bandits on his own was not an impossible task, but to make sure none will run away was a whole other matter.
By recalling how Zax killed that Black Chrome Alligator and hearing him explain his method, Mendor felt as if he was enlightened a little about the young expert who arrived from nowhere.
A cloud of dust emerged from the woods. The Gray Lords galloped on three to five meters tall, gray and black hues horses that trampled everything at their wake, but the Titan Kapok Trees, while the rider themselves were equipped with plates of armor and all kind of weapons.
“Halt!” A shout resounded and the atrocious cavalry stop right at the entrance of Virgil’s Pasture.
Anxiousness was plain clear on nearly everyone in the welcoming party. Zax and a handful of stubborn young village warrior were the only one ready to battle.
“Leonard!” Of the three leading middle aged men, the oldest looking one, with full beard and a scar that stretched from his left cheek down, below his chest armor, called the village head out from behind the line of mercenaries and inadequate village warriors.
Leonard stepped forward, ensuring his reluctant warriors that it is fine with shoulder taps and nods. He walked all the way to Garnet at the front and met face to face the scared Gray Lord.
Bowing, Leonard said. “As the head of Virgil’s Pasture I welcome the great Gray Lords to my village”. He straightened up. “First leader, second leader, third leader, what can I do for you today that you chose to visit my humble village?”
“Humph, Leonard, as if you need to ask. Since you arranged such a miserable group of dirtbags to show off in front of us, I’ll do you the courtesy of not beating around the bush”. The one Leonard referred to as “third leader”, spoke condescendingly. “The Black Chrome Alligator that harassed your village, our scouts informed us that you successfully killed it and obtained its carcass. Bring it out, as well as its Pure Core, now!”
The third bandit leader, who looked not much different than the first and second, was over fifty years of age, but due to the acquired vigor of Martial cultivation, his temperament was quite overbearing.
“Third leader, first leader, second leaders”. Garnet spoke out. “The alligator carcass was something we obtained after spending a lot of money to invite helpers to kill it. Moreover, he further paid a massive price when the alligator mascaraed our villagers and cattle-”
“That’s not our problem”. Second leader interfered after scanning the so called “helpers” and not being impressed by their top experts. “Have you forgotten? We are bandits! We don’t force to pay us taxes, for obvious reasons, but we will take everything else as we see fit!”
An azure aura of a second level Core Master erupted from the second leader; along with it was his killing intent.
The village warriors were the first to drop down to their knees. They managed not to collapse and entirely lose face, however, apart from the crazed Black Chrome Alligator; they had never felt this level of profound malicious aura and killing intent.
The mercenaries did better, their cultivation levels were mostly similar to the strongest village warriors, between the Core Breaker to Mist Master levels, yet they were capable of staying on their feet, although, regrettably their faces gave away in how much effort they were putting themselves under the immense pressure.
“Please, stop!” Leonard called. He was shielded by Mendor and Garnet, because of his low, Earth’s Core Holder cultivation.
“Doven”, the first leader called the name of the second leader, implying in his soothed tone of voice to disperse his aura and intent.
The pressure was lifted.
Leonard looked to Zax and Mendor. He wished to see Zax explodes with the power Garnet described to him and kill the three leaders, he hoped that Mendor will express compliance, follow his suggestion and speak of his position and the consequence the Gray Lords will have to endure after robbing mercenaries who already shed blood for their bread.
Unfortunately, nothing like he wished or hoped has occurred.
“Bring the carcass”. Leonard said with a sullen face.
“Bring the carcass”. Mendor echoed the same words grudgingly. Enough men died on this job, he did not want to lose more. In addition, he waited for Zax to act, but evidently the young man that caught his interest ended up only being full of words when in direct confrontation with the many Gray Lords and their mighty leaders.
Zax watched silently from the sidelines as the Black Chrome Alligator’s carcass, in all of its pieces, was brought over. Wearing the regular village’s attire, he appeared as an overgrown villager with brighter hair and eyes than usual.
Has he rescinded the thoughts of annihilating the Gray Lords bandits? No. Having limiting himself, he had to wait for the appropriate moment to strike, when the three leaders will lower their defenses to the utmost minimum and their underling will be too shocked to hurriedly react.
“Hey, how the hell did you make this mess of the carcass?!” Third leader snapped. “At least a courter of it is ruined. At best it can be used as food, but even if it would be a gourmet meal, the selling price will still be lower than selling it intact!”
Hearing him, Garnet, Mendor as well as all those who witnessed the savagery of the alligator and lost friends, family and comrades to it, were seething in anger. Yes, in retrospect, if Zax did not help, they would have eventually still taken it down in a better form. Nevertheless, on their own the casualty toll would have become higher.
“The Pure Core. Don’t play games. We know the Black Chrome Alligator was a juvenile and its Core equivalent to the second Core Master level”. First leader said.
Mendor opened a bag he carried on his shoulder and took out of it a spherical, transparent stone in about the size of a teen’s fist, the Pure Core. He threw it to the first leader.
Smiling to himself, the first leader said nothing and placed the Pure Core in the small space behind his chest armor.
“Carry the carcass-”
The instant the gratified first leader turned to pick several men to carry the Black Chrome Alligator’s carcass, before the end of his sentence, the wind whistled and a finger that was not his own pressed at his temple.
Zax did not bother to actually use a soul attack, it was enough that it looked like that.
The finger changed into a palm and the first leader’s head turned down and to the side in a rather natural form, yet do to the excessive force his neck broke.
Zax moved fast and agilely before anyone, even the departing first leader, has registered what happened.
Next target, second leader Doven.
Zax appeared behind him, standing at the back of his horse. The second leader could only feel imminent danger when Zax’s hand grabbed the back of his head and pushed it down.
Another broken neck.
The third leader was able to change his smug countenance by the time Zax has reached him.
Zax ignored the pleading in his voice. He appeared in front the third leader on his horse and pushed his head back.
Third broken neck… A Mist User who could not use mist energy was truly fragile in the hands of another who can, or at least pretend that he can and use other means…
“Le- Lea- Leaders!”
A Mist Lord bandit finally cried out in horror, but his voice was muffled as another resounded.
Mendor ordered as he was the first to move toward the nearest Mist Lord bandit of the nine the Gray Lords had.
“Kill the bastards!”
“Take everything they own!”
Mendor mercenaries followed with passion after seeing Zax’s performance, or at least its end result.
Leonard was not sure if he was dreaming or is it really at the entrance to his village that the three notorious leaders of the terrorizing Gray Lords died!
“Take the village’s head back. We join the fight! Don’t let one bandit leave alive… Actually, try to capture two or three, we must find out which village informed them about the death of the damned alligator!”
Garnet completely ignored Leonard as he ordered his warriors.
“Yes, chief warrior”.
Zax’s silhouette was vaguely seen on the field of battle. To all who had the pleasure of perceiving it, it was the last thing they saw.
It did not take long for the bandits to realize that fighting back his futile and the only way to save their lives is run.
In the surrounding forest, Zax could be a lot freer in his display of strength and kill much faster with no one noticing. Problem was, the bandit knew the forest better than him and since he still preferred no to unleash his Soul Sense, if they hid, he will most likely not find them. Hence, he decided to block all the bandits who turned from the pasture to the closest tree line.
“They are running away, don’t let them escape!” A mercenary shouted.
Bandits, who could not escape and felt death creeping at the back of their still intact necks, dropped their weapon away, fell to their knees and raised their hands while shouting “I surrender”, each in his own pitiful voice.