As the sun sank ever so closer to the horizon, the bright blue light of the day gradually drained away to make way for the evening sky. A chilling wind breezed through the convoy sending a shiver down the spines of any who came into contact with it.
“Something seems amiss…”
The Instructor, who was casually steering the wheel of the aether car, glanced around the surroundings in suspicion. After travelling for a few hours, the caravan was nearing Chilyoja Waypoint and might arrive at any moment. However, ever since leaving the clan, he had not seen any other traders or merchants that might be entering the waypoint. Scratch that, he had not even seen traces of any other humans.
“Hmmm? Something wrong, Lou?”
Ines, who had finished answering all of Shin and Junius’ queries, at some point returned to her original seat at the front, next to the Instructor. Hearing the upsetting words of the muscular man, she asked for the source of his worry.
“Don’t you feel that something seems weird? We are about to reach the waypoint, but there is no one in sight. Usually, there would be some other carriages on the roads leading to the gates. But we have yet to see a single soul…”
“Hmmm? You’re right… Stop the car, I’m getting out.”
Hearing the Instructor’s legitimate concern, Ines tapped the steering wheel of the aether car and asked the brawny man to stop the vehicle. Once, the car came to a halt, she opened the door and climbed to the roof to get a better viewing angle. Since the car that they were in was leading the caravan, the abrupt and unplanned stop startled those who were behind them.
“What’s going on?”
“Why is Ines on the roof of the car?”
All the other Frie Clan members performed an emergency brake and got out of their vehicles.
“Hraaarhhh, what’s going on?”
Waking up from the commotion, Shin, who had decided to take a nap, rubbed his eyes while yawning. Junius, who had also shut his eyes for a light rest, quickly became alert after hearing the noise.
“It seems like there something happening…”
Grabbing on to his pristine, new shoes, Junius attempted to wear his footwear and leave the comfort of his wheelchair.
“Hey, what are you doing?”
Unfortunately for Junius, Shin was still playing the role of his caretaker. Reaching out, the black-haired youth gripped Junius’ hands.
“I’m going out to check.”
“No can do, you are supposed to stay in that cosy chair of yours for two more weeks!”
“But I can walk with little problems! One or two weeks doesn’t make a difference!”
“Nope, the doctor said that you have to remain wheelchair-bound for a month! Not one day less. Don’t worry, I’ll go out to see what’s going on. You remain here and rest like an injured person should.”
Wrestling the shoes away from Junius, Shin kept the footwear at the overhead compartment so that Junius would be unable to reach it. Once he made sure that Junius failed to escape, Shin left the aether car from the back door. But what greeted him were the confused faces of the other Frie Clan members. Many of them looking at the roof of their car. Intrigued, Shin followed the direction of their gazes to find Ines grimly scanning the surroundings.
‘What’s going on?’
Shin asked mentally. At this point, the more experienced escorts realised that something had gone awry and scrutinised the surroundings.
Ines, with her high vantage point, was able to see much more. Currently, the convoy was on a road that was surrounded by multiple trees. Scanning deep into the woodlands, Ines could see signs of irregular movement. The rustling of leaves hinted that a substantial number of living beings were hiding in the bushes.
“Bandits… I should have expected… Everyone, assume battle positions! We are under attack!”
Raising her right hand upright, Ines gave the order. The highest command present were Ines and the Instructor due to their high cultivation levels. Thus, her words were law.
“Come at me!”
The long forest road blinked sparks of red as the numerous escorts gathered spiritual energy to summon their Spirits. As members of the Frie Clan, all of those present had undergone the Spirit Awakening ceremony and had decent cultivation levels. Usually, escort missions were taken by juniors of the clan consisting of Spirit Apostles and Spirit Cores with a Rank 30 Spirit Adept leading the convoy. However, due to some special circumstances, the current caravan had two Rank 50 Spirit Lords presiding over it.
“Hmph! Damned bandits…”
Ines cracked her knuckles as she prepared herself for battle. The reason why the Frie Clan had to purchase a new batch of aether cars was because a few months ago, a bandit tribe had hijacked a caravan en route back from a trading port. Although there were no casualties from the attack, the clan had suffered severe losses. Unfortunately for the Frie Clan, an aether car was a sign of wealth and opulence. Hence, their convoys had historically been a prime target for bandit attacks.
The council had once toyed with the idea of going back to using horse carriages, but the efficiency and low maintenance costs of an aether car were hard to ignore. Furthermore, the Frie Clan had the pride of a major power. They did not want to be seen using a backward method of transportation.
“Ho ho, some ignorant bastards are trying to steal our stuff huh?”
Getting out of the driver’s seat, the Instructor stomped out of the car leaving massive footprints on the ground.
“Hey, Ines! Leave them to me… I couldn’t let out steam before, so let them be my punching bags!”
Back at the mountain, the Instructor wanted to rush out and club the Second Elder and Bates till their heads caved in. However, he was deprived of that urge once he read the official statement that was issued by the upper council of the clan. Swallowing his anger, all he could do was grit his teeth in indignation. Now that the perfect target had shown up, he could finally vent his frustrations with a good old fashioned beat-down.
“Hah… Leave some alive and intact… We need to bring them to authorities later on…”
Although they were under attack, Ines was more worried about their assailants. Seeing that the Instructor was pumped up and ready for a fight, she prayed that the bandits would not suffer too much at the hands of that pent-up monster.
At that moment, a flying arrow whistled out of the woods and headed straight for the brawny man’s head. It flew through the air at speeds untrackable to the average human eye. With a foul black arrow tip, the arrow threatened to take down the Instructor before he could even react. But unfortunately, the muscular man was no average human. A crimson red light gathered from under the Instructor and condensed to form a humongous battle club that was a hundred fifty centimetres long. Adding that to his unkempt facial hair and broad-shoulders, the Instructor currently looked like an indomitable caveman.
The Instructor effortlessly deflected the arrow by simply raising his Spirit. However, once his club made contact with the projectile, he noticed that something was wrong. Looking down at his Spirit, a purple fluid remained. As if it were alive, the liquid bubbled, trying to eat away the massive club. Sadly, the Instructor’s resistance was much stronger than the strange fluid.
“Poison huh… Interesting… Everyone, be careful! They are using poison-laced weapons! Don’t think of them as mediocre bandits!”
The Instructor had his fair share of fighting against bandits. Most of the time, bandit tribes are formed by weak and impoverished people who had yet to awaken their Spirits. Even those who were able to awaken their Spirits were barely to cultivate to the Spirit Apostle level due to the lack of resources and cultivation techniques. However, seeing that their foes were able to use poison-laced arrows that were strong enough to cause a reaction to his Rank 57 Spirit, the Instructor knew that the bandits were not regular outlaws.
The moment the Instructor warned the other escorts, a horde of ruffians wearing tattered and filthy clothes emerged from the woods. Armed with steel weapons such as swords and spears, over a hundred bandits formed up into a neat row, preparing themselves for an ordered charge. Bowmen nocked their arrows and stood at the rear of the formation. Instead of a bandit tribe, the assailants seemed like a well-trained army regiment.
“Woah… What’s going on?”
The muscular man was shaken. He had never seen such strange bandits in all his years serving the Frie Clan. Before he could give out any orders, the bowmen released a hail of arrows that flew directly at the caravan.
“Damn it… Brace yourselves!”