PEST OF THE UMBRA KINGDOM
THE DEATH IS HE
Heavy silence hung inside a rather spacious room fitted with several sets of tables and chairs, all carrying cups of various drinks. Of the six people sitting inside the room, two appeared rather anxious, one wholly nonchalant and three were expressionless as they sipped their teas slowly. Old man Van wasn’t kidding when he said he’d gather the Elders quickly, as even before the day’s end, Lino found himself in a room with three big-shots from the Su Main Family. They were so above him in Levels that he couldn’t even perceive their names, let alone anything else. Still, he remained completely calm and simply drank bad wine he bought on the market just a few hours ago, while Velin and old man Van appeared rather tense and uncomfortable.
“... you expect us to leave the town’s fate in the hands of a child?” the only woman in the room - who appeared to be in her fifties with first signs of gray hair and tempting, blue eyes broke the silence, glancing at Lino indifferently.
“Save it,” she interrupted old man Van who tried to explain. “Kid, if you have any pride, get up and walk out of this room right now. You don’t belong here.” Lino glanced at the woman indifferently before taking a sip of wine.
“Fuck off, old hag.” he spoke casually, as though merely uttering a greeting. Velin’s and old man Van’s fears came true as both their heads simply sloped down, shaking in disbelief. “You come into my home,” Lino continued, his voice growing icier. “Barely look at me - and when you do it is with contempt - and then tell me to kick it? You’re neither naked nor sucking, so what right do you have to speak to me like that?” silence that was perhaps even heavier than before the conversation was started emerged as the woman stared at Lino in surprise and shock while two other Elders next to her glanced at Lino with faint interest.
“Save it,” Lino interrupted her, smiling faintly. “Old hag, if you have any pride, get up and walk out of this room right now. You don’t belong here.” he chuckled for a moment before continuing. “Now, before your old heart bursts and you either kill me or die yourself, let’s put all that behind us and focus on the task at hand: those eyes aren’t real, right? I mean, goddamn woman! The rest of you is like a compilation of world’s filthiest mold, but those eyes are like gems in a pile of dung! Hey, wanna trade? I read somewhere that there was this guy about a few centuries ago who went around collecting eyeballs of powerful cultivators and then melded them all into his own eyes, improving vision and color till his eyeballs were literal rainbows. Too bad he eventually got caught and was publicly tortured for one month before being crucified. Yikes.”
“... too far?” Lino tilted his head for a moment before sighing. “Forgive me, I have to keep my tongue at a leash. Bad dog. Bad, bad dog!”
“... pft.” both Elders barely held back from laughing as the woman glared at them for a moment. Velin and old man Van on the other hand appeared petrified as they stared at Lino in disbelief. “Alright kiddo, you’ve proven your bravado,” one of the Elders sitting next to the woman decided to intervene, speaking in a calm tone; he appeared to be in his fifties as well, but his hair was already wholly gray, face slightly wrinkled, and eyes strangely brown. “You ought to understand Elder Wan’s perspective as well, though. We don’t know you, and you’re barely a Soul Realm kid in the sea of those just like you. Besides, with Devils, to us it’s personal.”
“... I watched my hometown, my entire Kingdom scorched in their filth,” Lino said. “While I could only flee with my balls contracting back into my stomach, swearing inside my heart I’d come back to liberate the land one day. In the end, I don’t see any Demons and Devils crawling around these parts.” Lino lied through his teeth, as he didn’t really want to give up the dominant position; Writ had informed him there’s an interesting piece inside the basin that Lino didn’t want to give to anyone else. “To you it’s personal, you say? What’s it to me, then?”
“Ho ho,” the third Elder who abstained from talking up until now finally spoke to Lino, laughing lowly while stroking his rather long, white beard. He appeared to be the oldest and as he was sitting in the central position, Lino assumed he was the leader of the three, immediately shifting his focus onto the old man. “Your tongue sure could use a leash, lad. But,” the old man stared intently at Lino who appeared indifferent to the gaze, surprising him. “We’ll compromise. You take one side of the wall to defend, we’ll take another.”
“... defend?” Lino tilted his head slightly, smiling. The other five all suddenly felt chill crawl down their back. “Who said anything about defending?”
“---y-you want to storm Devil’s Stronghold that has at the very least a quarter million demons?!!” the woman exclaimed as she leapt out of her chair.
“Yeah. So?” Lino remained calm as he continued. “We’re all aware that Demons and Demonically Possessed aren’t the issue. I’m assuming you guys can just throw your disciples at them and be done with it. It’s the Devils hiding there that will pose the challenge. If we let them attack, there’s a great chance they’ll split their forces. Suddenly, you’ll have Devil Variants popping all over the Kingdom. Right now, they’re all gathered together. If it helps, I can guarantee that they’ve yet to finish their portal. It should take them another few months at least to do so.”
“How do you know that?” the man sitting in the central position asked, squinting his eyes.
“Trade secret.” Lino smiled. “Either way, with or without you, I’ll be attacking.”
“When we last spoke,” Velin joined in with some fear. “You didn’t mention anything like that.”
“I’ve had time to think it over.”
“Then you must have a plan?” old man Van joined, hopeful expression on his face.
“Aim for Greater Demons,” Lino said. “To thin out their numbers. I have a friend who can craft Locator Talismans specifically aimed at Greater Demons. You guys form groups of disciples and give each one or two talismans. While disciples fight the Demons, we’ll let the regular army and ordinary mercenaries deal with the possessed. At the same time, the rest of us will tackle Devils.”
“Us?” the woman scoffed at him. “You think you can handle a Devil? Have you ever even seen a Devil, boy? Just because you can scare this idiot boy here,” she glanced at Velin who lowered his head in shame. “Doesn’t make you a king of the world.”
“... you’ve been grinding my balls this entire time,” Lino said in a cold tone, his eyes narrowing into slits, staring intently at the woman. “Do you want to test whether I’m capable or not?”
“Humph, I’d like to see you--” woman suddenly came to a halt as the entire room burst into noise; two Elders jumped onto their feet and took out their weapons, aiming at Lino, while Velin and Van retreated back. Lino, meanwhile, was still sitting, holding out his spear whose tip was grinding against the woman’s throat, just an inch away from piercing through.
“Now I can see why Demons troubled you so much,” Lino calmly said. “You’re just a cultivator. You’re not a fighter.” he withdrew his spear and got up. “Put your weapons away,” he said, glancing at the two Elders who still stared at his every move intently. “You’ll hurt yourselves. They’re not toys.” Lino picked up his cup from the table and walked out, leaving the other five to stare at his back in silence. It was only after the doors closed behind him that the two Elders breathed out in relief, withdrawing their weapons. The woman lifted her hand, gently touching the spot the spear’s tip was at, still looking at the doors.
“You alright?” the oldest man asked the woman, finally jolting her out.
“... I’m fine,” she said, sighing. “You two, who’s that boy?” she turned toward Velin and Van who both appeared even more petrified than before.
“... I don’t know.” both replied at the same time, in the same tone.
“It doesn’t matter who he is,” the oldest Elder - Wei - said. “With not stabbing you, he was telling us there’s still room for negotiation.”
“... an interesting fella,” the other Elder - Glen - said, smiling faintly. “To draw out a weapon in the room where he’s by far - theoretically - the weakest one... yet, none of us were able to respond in time.”
“... is he really a Soul Realm cultivator?” the woman mumbled. “In that brief moment between him taking out the spear and its tip glancing against my skin... I could see the jaws of death close in on me. Not even the Horned Devil gave me that feeling when I fought him.”
“... yeah, I sensed it too,” Elder Wei said, stroking his beard and sighing. “Could be a trick.”
“Or it could be that he was right,” Elder Glen said, sitting down, still smiling. “That we’re just cultivators. It is true that we have enough Qi with equivalent means to level this town... but in a quick fight where every breath counts... we’re perhaps even worse than ordinary soldiers in the army.”
“... we’ll do as he planned,” Elder Wan suddenly said, surprising everyone. “Qinn,” she turned to the old man Van. “You’ll coordinate that banquet you were telling me about. In the meantime, I’ll stay here and receive direct reports about the status of Devil’s Army. Wei, you go back and gather our top disciples and send them out on group missions. Each group should consist of at the very least four, and until they can kill a Pure Beast, they’re not to return back to the Clan. Glen,” she turned toward the smiling man. “You’ll stick with the boy. Learn who the hell he is and what are his intentions. He’s a variable I cannot calculate at the moment. Velin, you’ll also stay here and try to befriend him. Scout the rest of his group as well once they return and report to me or Glen directly. So long as we don’t alert Devils and Demons, the war won’t break out for a while. Let’s prepare properly this time around, lest we suffer the same way as before.”