Chapter 968 The Justiciars
“Li Mu, you monster! Get out here this instant!”
A Drakonid Prefect—the one with middling stature and size—was glowering furiously from the other side of the aureate shield of the Column Barrier ward, hurling angry words and blows at the Column Barrier with enraged fervor.
The rest of the Drakonid champions mirrored his sentiments by glaring at Li Mu.
Heaven forfend that glares and stares could kill, and Li Mu would have long been reduced into strips or confetti already.
“You’re not getting out of here, Li Mu. Surrender that poor child! You’ve killed her family, isn’t that enough?! Out of respect that you’re a champion too, you are hereby offered the chance to duel against a Justiciar of the Drakonid Cohort! That should be an honor to die for!” the pallid Drakonid general yelled loudly.
Drakonid regulars surrounded the whole area, making sure that Li Mu would not slip past their fingers.
Li Mu calmed down with little Feng Xingyan in his arms as he deliberated on what happened.
Whoever was behind this set-up lacked the motivation or means to make it ironclad.
The Sons of Lightning could have easily done better.
No one could ever believe that the Sons of Lightning, with all the resources at their disposal and the fervor that they have exhibited thus far, would be reluctant to go the full length to ensure the success of their plans.
“So who is the one behind the massacre and why did he not cover his tracks?”
The answer dawned upon Li Mu soon enough.
Because the decision to slaughter the villagers must have come from someone in so high a position that he or she believed that this debacle was not worth the trouble.
The person behind this only needed to convince a handful of people about the “threat” that Li Mu represented and use their influence to quickly terminate him. That way, no one else would ever bat an eyelid at the real truth. Even if there were anyone who would be willing to get to the bottom of things, few would ever dare to defy the Sons of Lightning, especially when the deed was done, and Li Mu’s death has become irreversible.
If Li Mu had placed his hopes in the Military of Man that it would clear his name in due time, he would be so wrong.
But the only question now remained was why the Sons of Lightning wanted to eliminate him so badly.
The loathing that Lei Cang reserved for him could barely translate to such a large-scale endeavor to terminate him.
Feng Xingyan was already in deep slumber in his arms. The little child needed rest. The terror of seeing her family butchered right before her eyes had taken quite a toll on her mentally.
Li Mu undid the magic of the Column Barrier.
That released a wave of force that erupted in a ring around him.
The force knocked every Drakonid champion and Prefect around the Column Barrier to the ground.
Somehow only one man was left standing. The Drakonid Prefect of ordinary girth and a broad face. Li Mu had intentionally spared him.
The Prefect stared at Li Mu incredulously.
“You. You had a hand in this, didn’t you?” Li Mu growled at the Drakonid Prefect who had been acting very unusual. “Or, at the very least, you know what happened here, am I right?”
“Nonsense!” the Prefect blustered, the surprise on his face giving way to anger. “You monster! You butchered all the poor villagers here who had given you room and board! Food and care! How could you! And yet you’re blaming me instead? You despicable thing! Take this!”
He lunged at Li Mu, brandishing his deer horn knives.
Li Mu swung an arm and easily smacked the man face-full into the ground.
The difference between their strengths and powers was just too vast.
“Whether you’re involved in this or not, the answer will be revealed soon enough.”
With the sleeping Feng Xingyan still in his arms, Li Mu performed several seals with his free hand. He pricked his middle finger and blood oozed out, a red bead on the tip of his finger. The droplet of blood floated into the air, pulsing with a golden luster—a sign of the powerful magic in that droplet alone. Esoteric beliefs often dictate how blood at the tip of one’s fingers held as much power as the blood from one’s heart.
Li Mu dabbed the glob of blood with his finger and with the air as a canvas and his blood as ink, Li Mu drew the pattern of a glyph.
Aureate lines followed where his finger moved, glistening and pulsing in stasis, while the finger danced in midair. The lines streaked and spread farther and farther, engulfing all of Oststern within its domain. Golden luminescence blazed to life inside the domain of the town-wide magical circle. That was when everyone—Li Mu and the Drakonid champions, Prefects, and regulars alike—could see what the naked eye could not: tendrils of scarlet mists rising from the dead bodies of the slain villagers. The lingering resentment and loathing of the dead.
All around Oststern, the red morbid mist rose into the air like phantoms of grudge and rancor coming back to seek vengeance from.
“Heaven and Earth, Heed my Call; Splinters of life, I call upon you; Take haste, take hold; What grievance you hold, your secrets to tell!”
Li Mu cried, his fingers performing the last prerequisite hand seal needed for this spell.
The aura lingering over the dead bodies—their resentment, their anger, their frustration—all rose from the corpses of the slain villagers, obeying Li Mu’s call and hovering in mid-air for a transitory moment before they glided towards the soldiers like a cloud of morbid red phantoms bearing down on prey.
“What’s going on!?”
“What devilry is this?”
Everyone scrambled around frantically, a nest of mice trying to crawl over one another in their panicking delusion to get to safety.
It did not take long for everyone to realize that the red scarlet mist did no harm to them. But the mist all accumulated around the broad-faced Prefect and twenty other Drakonid and regulars, who had been trying to ward off the mists to no avail.
Li Mu did not fail to neglect that these twenty-or-so Drakonids were the ones who had been most fervid in riling up the rest.
A glimpse of steel flashed in Li Mu’s eyes.
“So it’s true…”
“Look at the grudge of the dead coiling around you… That’s proof enough that you people are involved in the slaughter. What else do you have to say?”
Li Mu kept his stare transfixed at the broad-faced Drakonid Prefect.
Feeling ashamed, the Drakonid Prefect responded through gritted teeth, “Just a parlor trick that proves nothing! Just because you’re capable of some hocus pocus doesn’t mean that you can shift the blame for this to us! How dare you!” With not even an inkling of fear, he threw himself at Li Mu with the frenzy of a madman who doesn’t balk in the face of death.
“Another idiot who doesn’t fear death?”
Li Mu shifted.
The deer horn knives flew into the air and got knocked out of the Prefect’s hand.
Li Mu seized the Prefect’s throat and lifted him up, “Now, let’s hear it. Who’s behind this?”
“Behind this? Heh, if there’s anyone, it’s you… You heinous monster… You bloodthirsty demon…” the Prefect showed so much rage and sanctimony like a real hero who has nothing but the deepest hatred for anything evil and foul.
“Save him quick!”
“Li Mu! How dare you! Let him go at once!”
The rest of the Drakonids went livid.
The soldiers swarmed in on Li Mu, but none of them could get close. Before their weapons could so much as graze him, they were knocked away by the aureate protective aura enveloping all over him.
Li Mu stared at the Prefect, his eyes boring deep into the latter, “Last chance. Who sent you here?”
The Prefect defiantly returned the stare, cracking into a wicked grin. “You want to kill me, don’t you? Do it. Do it and show everyone what kind of monster you are. Do it!”
“You’re not afraid of death, are you?”
“I won’t be here if I am,” the broad-faced Prefect smirked into Li Mu’s face.
“Very well then,” said Li Mu.
His hand glowed with a golden radiance that intensified and grew until the brightness engulfed the Prefect from head to toe.
The flame of the Southern Fire Emperor, a flame that could consume both body and spirit. Few other pains could barely come close to this pain and here was the Prefect howling at the top of his voice like a pig being led to slaughter.
In the end, it was Li Mu’s smack to his head that render him unconscious and then Li Mu threw him on the ground.
Taoist Arts – Karmic Trace could never be wrong. With this special sorcery that Old Swindler taught him, Li Mu was now certain that the broad-faced Drakonid Prefect was involved in the massacre of the Oststern villagers and he was not only an agent of the Sons of Lightning but also a zealot who was willing to die for their cause.
His death would be the spark needed to inflame the Drakonids and all of the Military of Man.
Such was his purpose. One that could only be accomplished through death.
In spite of knowing that he would not live to see the next daylight, this was a mission he gladly undertook.
But Li Mu was hardly surprised to know that the Sons of Lightning have zealots in their rank. But what he failed to comprehend was the reason behind the Sons’ obsession to eliminate him.
The Drakonid Prefect woke up once more and Li Mu has had enough.
If death was what this idiot wishes for so much, Li Mu decided to just oblige him.
Li Mu never cared about the consequences.
Death was what these scum deserve and so he would give.
The rest of the Drakonids who have been shown as the perpetrators of the Oststern massacre got the opportunity to witness and endure Li Mu’s full wrath. Like cheese in an oven, Li Mu incinerated the Drakonid Prefect right before the eyes of his fellow co-conspirators. Those that tried to come to his aid, Li Mu had their powers sealed and the bones of their limbs brutally snapped before he tossed their broken and incapacitated persons into a heap beside their conflagrating captain to join him.
“Monster! You really are a monster, Li Mu! You’ll pay for this!”
The pallid-white Drakonid general charged at Li Mu, his eyes now as red as a raging bull and his powers channeled to the point of a massive meltdown.
Li Mu Iifted a hand.
The golden ring around Li Mu expanded suddenly, sweeping everywhere like a rippling nuclear shock wave.
The blast hit the Drakonid general, sending him tumbling out of Oststern’s entrance.
Li Mu stomped the ground with a foot and the cylindrical girth of the Column Barrier enlarged, spreading far and wide enough to expel every Drakonid out of the village.
That made Oststem a lone island in the middle of a sea of black. But the Drakonids did not remain idle. They attack with every means of offense in their panoply, trying to bring down the magical barrier.
Yet from outside the golden wall of the Column Banner, the Drakonids could see what was going on inside.
Blood inundated the soil like a flood. Li Mu gathered the dead bodies of every Oststern villager he could find and piled them together under the shade of the village’s Tree of Eternity. Next, he buried the bodies in a barrow. When his work was done, he collected the twenty-or-so incapacitated Drakonids, including the still-alive Drakonid Prefect, and dragged them to the barrow. He broke more bones and positioned each of them in front so that they were kneeling for their sins. Only after that, with the late Feng’s own saber, he executed them all by beheading every single one of them.
Blood inundated the soil like a flood.
The heads sat before the barrow like a row of offertory tribute.
Li Mu stood at the barrow and mourned for the deceased villagers for what seemed like the greater part of a half-hour before he finally came out of the village. Unperturbed by the thousands of rancorous and seething Drakonids glaring at him, he said, “Those that I killed deserved their fate. But this is only just the beginning. Tell this to the Sons of Lightning: they could summon help even from the high heavens above, but so long as they have hurt anyone I care for, I will bury them with my own hands.”
That was the end of his message.
Thunder roared from the cluster of dark clouds congregating overhead.
That sent a jolt of shock through the army of Drakonids surrounding Oststern.
“Was that Heaven giving Li Mu its divine approval?”
“Or was that the Sons of Lightning’s furious response to Li Mu’s haughty pronouncement?”
But whatever it was, that was the last straw; no Drakonid could stay undaunted after such a display.
If anything, Li Mu remained unfazed. He swooped up the still-sleeping Feng Xingyan, plus a golden hen from Heaven knows where, and took to the sky, where he turned into a streaking comet that slashed across the wild blue yonder as fiercely as a blade in the hands of a skillful swordsman.
A gust of wind blew in his wake.
And the golden radiance that shrouded Oststern eventually ebbed away.
The pallid-white general led his men into the village.
The Drakonids were apoplectic. Never before had they endured such disgrace where they could only sit on their own hands and watch their comrades being butchered one after another like sheep.
Nevertheless, Li Mu’s behavior: his actions and the words he said—plus notwithstanding the thunders that followed his declaration—left quite an impression on the soldiers. Some of the men exchanged gawking, perplexed stares while some still glowered over their helplessness earlier.
“So is Li Mu really the one behind the atrocity here or not?”
The shoot of doubt began to bloom within the minds of the men.
“Because no murderers ever behave as he did!”
But this was interrupted by the arrival of more than ten comet-like streaking lights. In just barely seconds, the newcomers reached the sky above Oststern.
The leader of the newcomers, a middle-aged man with a modest appearance, looked down from his sword that he was riding on like a surfboard and cried, “Where is Li Mu?” As he spoke, his long, untied hair and robes snapped in the wind.
The pale-faced Drakonid general opened his mouth as if to speak, although not a syllable came out. All he managed to do was point in the direction where Li Mu had gone to.
“We give chase.”
The newcomers wheeled around and shot into the distance like a barrage of flaming lances.
They were the Justiciars—the most elite force of the Drakonid Cohort, tasked by the Military of Man to be judge, jury, and executioner to eliminate any threat to the army and legion they are assigned to.