Beyond the Timescape

Chapter 4: An Unexpected Guest



Chapter 4: An Unexpected Guest

About seventy or eighty feet away was a group of seven men and women, spread out in a loose formation. They wore clothing of gray leather, and all of them had bags and sacks on their person. Furthermore, they all bore weapons.

Three had bows and arrows, two had sabers. The weapons were strapped to their backs but ready to use at a moment’s notice.

One of them, who stood by himself in the middle of their loose formation, wore fighting gauntlets.DiisCoover 𝒖pdated novels on n(o)v./e/lbin(.)co𝒎

The person who had spoken in the strange voice was a tall, burly man who carried a battle ax. He was the closest to Xu Qing. Scars criss-crossed his vicious-looking face, and he had a full beard. His eyes glittered cruelly, and he flashed an evil grin as he walked forward.

Xu Qing took everything in with a single glance.

Given the way they were standing around loosely, he got the impression they didn’t normally work together, but rather, had teamed up temporarily for convenience.

Xu Qing had no problem determining who these people were. They were all... scavengers.

There was no shortage of scavengers in South Phoenix. Most of them were vicious people who had no bottom line. And they lived lives in which the weak were the prey of the strong.

Because the blood rain over the forbidden region had stopped, the barrier surrounding it had been opened, attracting these people here.

The forbidden region was dangerous even to them. But they were people who lived on the edge of a knife, and therefore, the resources available for the taking here were just too enticing. Just about everything in the city was infected, but there were still valuable things to be taken.

Mind spinning, Xu Qing turned and prepared to flee.

However, seeing that, the burly man’s eyes grew crueler, and his grin turned bloodthirsty. “Trying to run? I love slaughtering brats like you. I bet you have a lot of loot in that sack of yours. This kid is mine, Sergeant Thunder!”

The burly man’s eyes radiated an overwhelming ferocity that made his massive battle-ax even more intimidating. Striding forward, he raised his ax in his right hand and leaped in Xu Qing’s direction.

The ax whistled through the air as it closed in.

The burly man was both strong and fast. But Xu Qing was faster. Just as it seemed the ax would hit him, he leaped to the side.

The ax passed right in front of his face, the wind brushing aside his hair to reveal his cold, wolf-like eyes.

Xu Qing dropped into a roll, and then instead of running away, shot back toward the burly man. That was when his black iron skewer suddenly appeared in his hand.

Taking advantage of the fact that he was shorter than his opponent, he jumped, stabbing the skewer toward the taller man’s chin.

It all happened too quickly. A moment ago, the seemingly frail Xu Qing had made it seem like he wanted to run away, which made it easy to conceal his attack. And now, the burly man was suddenly struck with a feeling of deadly crisis.

That said, he had a lot of experience. Looking shocked, he lunged backward and threw his head away from the iron skewer. Even still, the skewer hit his chin, slicing open a large cut.

Before the man could even get angry, Xu Qing’s left hand rose from his thigh with a dagger in it.

While the burly man was leaning back, Xu Qing dropped down and plunged the dagger into the man’s right foot.

A poof sound accompanied the dagger’s plunge into the leather shoe, through flesh and blood, and into the muddy soil below!

The burly man’s face distorted as pain ripped through him, and he let loose an agonized shriek. Then, before he could counter attack, the nimble Xu Qing danced backward, slipped behind a section of crumbling wall, and crouched into hiding, waiting to see what would happen next.

The light of the fire flickered, making it impossible to make out his features clearly. However, his wolf-like facial expression was clear, and it was with both vigilance and ferocity that he glared out at the scavengers.

Everything happened so quickly, and Xu Qing himself seemed so young and weak, that the other scavengers didn’t have time to react before he was out of sight.

Now, they looked around fiercely, and the three with the bows glared with very sharp gazes.

As for Xu Qing, he remained in hiding, not bothering to look at the shrieking man he’d stabbed in the foot. Looking past the three archers, he found his gaze coming to rest on the person in the middle of the group, the one with the fighting gauntlets.

He was an old man, and though he was dressed similar to the others, his eyes seemed sharper. What was more, Xu Qing could sense the fluctuations of spirit power on him. Given where the old man was standing, and the way the others seemed to be instinctively looking at him, Xu Qing had a good guess about who he was.

This old man... was the leader of his group of scavengers.

As Xu Qing looked at him, the old man looked back, his eyes flickering with a strange look.

After a moment, the old man shifted his gaze to the fire and smoke, and a thoughtful expression appeared on his face.

Meanwhile, the burly man yanked the dagger out of his foot and, eyes blazing with fury, started running toward Xu Qing.

“You brat!” he shouted. “I’m gonna kill you!”

Xu Qing’s eyes narrowed as he prepared to take action. Before he could, the old man spoke in a calm voice.

“Enough!”

His tone contained such intimidating authority that the burly man immediately stopped in place and looked back at him. “Sergeant Thunder….”

“This kid is probably a survivor from the slums. The god above let him live, so back off. Let’s go.”

“But...” the burly man said, obviously not willing to drop the matter so easily. As far as he was concerned, he’d been careless. If he kept up the attack, it would only take a matter of seconds for him to snap Xu Qing’s neck. However, before he could continue with an argument, the old man looked at him casually.

“Are you really going to talk back to me?”

The burly man struggled to regain his composure before bowing his head.

As he did, his eyes flitted to Xu Qing hiding behind the wall, and pure killing intent appeared on his face. Then he turned and limped back in the direction of Sergeant Thunder.

Sensing the man’s killing intent, Xu Qing kept his eyes on the scavengers as they left.

They only went about thirty feet. Then Sergeant Thunder stopped and looked over his shoulder. It was hard to say whether or not he was looking at Xu Qing, or at the burning corpses. Either way, he said, “Kid. Do you want to come with me?”

Xu Qing was stunned. Furthermore, it wasn’t lost on him that the old man said ‘me’ and not ‘us.’

Xu Qing wasn’t sure how to respond. As he looked at the group, though, he realized that Sergeant Thunder wasn’t rushing him for an answer. In fact, he was just standing there patiently.

About ten breaths of time passed, allowing Xu Qing to examine the group, including Sergeant Thunder and the burly fellow he’d stabbed.

Xu Qing’s eyes glittered with strange light. Then he slowly stood up and, without a word, started walking toward the scavengers.

Seeing that, Sergeant Thunder smiled, turned, and continued walking. The others in the group all gave Xu Qing long, hard looks, then followed the old man.

Just like that, Xu Qing joined the scavengers as they searched through the city for items of value.

Before long, he learned that the vicious man he’d stabbed was known by the nickname Cruel Ox.

On numerous occasions, Cruel Ox looked Xu Qing up and down, a sinister expression in his eyes. However, the man obviously had self-control, and he never did anything rash. He was clearly waiting for a time when Sergeant Thunder wasn’t around. Then he would make a move on Xu Qing. And he seemed fully confident he would get that chance.

While thinking about the situation, it occurred to Xu Qing that Cruel Ox was obviously a greedy man. That was when Xu Qing started taking advantage of his knowledge of the city to assist the scavengers. Acting very subservient, Xu Qing helped them find more valuable items than they could have on their own, and more quickly than normal.

Cruel Ox really was greedy. Even after getting so much loot that it surpassed his normal weight limit, he still wanted more. Despite being injured, he searched even more enthusiastically than the others, and his burden grew heavier and heavier. At first, it didn’t make much difference. But as time passed, even his immense strength was worn down, and he started getting particularly exhausted.

Meanwhile, Xu Qing could sense that Sergeant Thunder had good intentions. So he didn’t try to lure the scavengers into the dangerous district surrounding the city magistrate’s manor.

As evening fell, the party left and set up camp in what had once been the slums outside the city. They worked with practiced ease to set up six tents that were little more than tarps hung over bare ground.

The two saber-wielders shared one of the tents, with the remainder of the tents being assigned to one person each. They spread powder around the camp to form a perimeter, and started burning incense as well.

As the sky turned dark, and the howling arose in the city, the scavengers entered their tents.

The only exception was Sergeant Thunder, who eyed Xu Qing standing off to the side. The old man pulled out a sleeping bag and tossed it over.

“The incense keeps away the mutant beasts,” Sergeant Thunder explained, “and the powder keeps the grues out. Given how much you helped us today, Cruel Ox won’t cause any problems. You’re safe here.”

With that, the old man entered his tent.

Xu Qing didn’t say anything. After Sergeant Thunder entered the tent, he snuggled into the depths of his sleeping bag. However, he didn’t zip it all the way up. Instead, he kept a crack open so he could keep his eye on the tents.

The howling continued into the depths of the night, growing more intense the entire time. And the crying of the grues echoed about, creating a completely terrifying atmosphere. From the look of it, no one had any intention of stepping out of their safe night refuge.

Except for Xu Qing…

He lay in his sleeping bag with his eyes open, unmoving, seemingly waiting for something.

Time passed, until it was in the middle of the night, the time when most people were deep asleep. That was when Xu Qing slowly crawled out of his sleeping bag.

He moved very carefully so as not to make any sound. The howling and crying in the city echoed in his ears, yet it didn’t seem to affect him mentally. Slowly but surely, he crawled across the ground toward Cruel Ox’s tent.

He simply couldn’t allow potential calamities to exist around him. It didn’t matter if they were only potential calamities, they needed to be eliminated as quickly as possible.

He had shed his own blood learning that lesson the hard way back when he lived in the slums. And it was also the only reason he’d decided to come along with the scavengers.

What was more, the reason he’d been so helpful, and the reason he’d found so much loot for Cruel Ox, was to make sure the man was both exhausted and off guard.

That was also the reason he’d acted so subservient.

It was all for this moment, the moment in which he took action. Xu Qing’s eyes were calm as he slowly neared the tent. Once there, he didn’t rush inside. Instead, he crouched outside and spent a long moment just listening.

He heard the sound of snoring. And it was sustained, even snoring, obviously not fake. Eyes narrowing, he took out his iron skewer and carefully cut a hole in the tent. Then he slowly entered.

It was dark inside, but he could still see Cruel Ox laying there asleep. Given the burden the man had carried through the day, and his injury, he was obviously completely wiped out.

Being the powerful expert he was, there was no way Cruel Ox could ever have guessed that the fawning young man from earlier would, in the presence of all the other scavengers, pose a threat during the night.

And of course, he had no idea that an uninvited guest was inside his tent.

As Xu Qing stared at Cruel Ox, his eyes seemed as calm as the deep sea. He inched closer until he was right above the man, then placed his gleaming skewer right over his throat. Without any hesitation, he plunged it in.

He moved with such speed and force he nearly ripped the head off.

Blood sprayed like a fountain.

The intense pain caused Cruel Ox’s eyes to snap open, and he saw Xu Qing’s expressionless face. A look of disbelief and terror appeared on Cruel Ox, and he made to cry out. However, Xu Qing’s left hand snapped out and covered his mouth so he couldn’t utter a sound.

Cruel Ox thrashed, his eyes wide, his body spasming.

But Xu Qing had a grip like a vice. Furthermore, he lifted his foot and placed it on Cruel Ox’s throat, exerting more force to keep him in place.

As the blood continued to pour out, Cruel Ox seemed like a fish out of water. Despair filled him, and then his eyes begged for mercy.

Yet Xu Qing’s face remained as placid as before. Cruel Ox fought, but the sound of his struggle was completely drowned out by the howling and screaming outside the camp.

After about ten breaths of time passed, Cruel Ox started to weaken. Finally, a tremor ran through him, and he slumped. In the last moment before he died, a look of utter despair and terror filled his eyes.

Xu Qing didn’t release his grip right away. He waited, making sure the man was truly dead, before pulling his hand away. After wiping away the blood, he opened his sack. From inside he pulled out the cloth-wrapped snake head. Being very careful, he punctured Cruel Ox’s skin with the viper’s fangs.

As the venom spread, green blisters spread out on Cruel Ox’s skin, and then he started dissolving.

After enough time had passed for an incense stick to burn, the corpse was nothing but a puddle of blood that slowly seeped into the muddy ground.

At this point, Xu Qing straightened up the tent. He also took some of Cruel Ox’s items to make it look like he’d suddenly disappeared in the middle of the night. After everything was done, he left the tent.

A cold wind blew the aroma of blood off of him as he looked up into the night sky. Taking a deep breath of cold air, he slowly went back to his sleeping bag.

Back inside, he finally felt like he could relax. Having eliminated the threat, he closed his eyes and fell asleep immediately. Of course, he kept his iron skewer gripped tightly in his hand.

The night passed without further incident.

The following morning at dawn, the first rays of morning sun illuminated the lands, and Xu Qing opened his eyes. Quietly climbing out of his sleeping bag, he casually glanced over at Cruel Ox’s tent.

His eyes narrowed.

Cruel Ox’s tent was gone!

Xu Qing’s heart sank, and his vigilance grew.

At almost the same time, the other scavengers started coming out of their tents, and the first thing they noticed was the missing tent. Some of them started looking around for clues, but there were none.

Cruel Ox had completely vanished, even down to his tent. They quickly came to the conclusion that he’d gotten greedy and went back to the city to look for more loot. And even if it had been some other reason, he obviously hadn’t taken the time to say goodbye.

There were always plenty of reasons someone would go missing in a forbidden region like this.

This had been a team of convenience, and Cruel Ox had been a lone wolf anyway. Because of that, the other scavengers didn’t care much about what happened to him. As for Xu Qing, none of them even considered that he could have had something to do with it. And given they had no reason to investigate deeply, they quickly forgot about the matter.

However, Sergeant Thunder, upon taking back the sleeping bag, gave him a deep look.

“Are you still going to come with me?” he asked.

There was a lot of meaning in those words. Xu Qing didn’t answer the question.

Nor did the old man say anything further. Instead, he yelled at the other scavengers to hurry up and get moving now that the sun was up.

Xu Qing stood where he was, not sure what to do. He looked back at the ruins of the city. He glanced back at Sergeant Thunder. After another bit of thought, he started following.

Six scavengers and one kid walked, their shadows cast long behind them by the sun....

The wind blew from the distance, sobbing and sighing.

As they walked beneath the morning sun, Xu Qing listened to the scavengers chatter.

“This is what you call a tribulation from the god above. The whole city was wiped out.”

“There’s another forbidden region in the world now....”

“This is nothing. Didn’t you hear about that huge city to the north? About seven or eight years ago, the god’s eyes opened, and the entire city just vanished. It was like it never existed.”

Slowly but surely, they walked off into the distance.


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