When the three passed the river and set foot on the other side, they saw a few others nearby. However, the two parties made eye contact and then they mutually split away, moving swiftly into the complicated terrain.
Li Luo and his friends plunged into a dense forest, with birdsongs coming from the mountains around. Their faces were all serious.
"What are your plans?" Li Luo asked Zhao Kuo and Yu Lang.
Zhao Kuo smiled. "I initially thought I would get some points first in the elimination round. But now I think I'll stick to you."
"Because of Lian Zhong?"
Li Luo said, "There's no need for that. I'm not too worried."
"Brother Luo, you can handle yourself, no doubt. Of course I know you're not afraid of him. I'm just worried they're going to bring a whole gang against you. Although I'm not as strong as you, perhaps I could share some of the load if it comes to it," Zhao Kuo said.
And then he cracked a bigger smile. "Plus... points are going to come faster with Brother Luo, eh?"
Li Luo smiled back. He knew that Zhao Kuo was looking out for him for the most part, but he did not pursue the matter further. He nodded to Zhao Kuo.
"And you?" He turned to Yu Lang.
Yu Lang fiddled with his fringe, then said soberly, "You know what I'm capable of. I can slip through the ranks of this competition like a fish through water. If you are willing to hire me at a high price, I can give you a discount on behalf of our friendship. Just 1,000 skygol- HEY!"
Before he could finish, Li Luo and Zhao Kuo had already walked on, leaving him behind.
Yu Lang panicked. "500 skygold!"
Li Luo still ignored him.
Yu Lang burst out, "If you're not happy with the price, counteroffer, damn it! Some respect please! I wonder which school you learned those disagreeable manners from."
"Five skygold." Li Luo sketched a careless wave with his left hand.
Li Luo almost sprained his back laughing. "Scum, you're really scum."
Yu Lang said loftily, "If you dare to ask, I dare to respond. Li Luo, you think you can shame me with five skygold? How naive."
Li Luo shook his head, but the humor was still in his eyes. He knew that both Zhao Kuo and Yu Lang were truly worried that he was Eastpool Academy's target and that they had chosen to follow and protect him.
Despite their vastly different personalities, both were good friends worth keeping.
"I have an idea," Yu Lang suddenly said. "We are too obvious if we move as a trio. I think we should send Zhao Kuo ahead alone. Li Luo will use Water Shadow Art to hide the two of us following behind."
Li Luo caught on. "Fishing?"
The bait was going to be Zhao Kuo, a stolid, honest guy that would catch the eye of every dirty player. They were going to swarm all over him for his points.
Zhao Kuo chuckled, screwing his face up in an attempt at panicked horror, as though he was properly terrified.
"Zhao Kuo, your acting skills are wasted at Southwind Academy, man." Yu Lang stared at him, mouth wide.
Zhao Kuo gave him an impertinent bob of the head back in response.
"Settled, then," Li Luo decided. The three-man fishing team was formed.
Deep in the forest, the dappled sunlight filtered through the dense canopy.
A meek figure skulked through the trees, his eyes darting about constantly. He was the very picture of caution.
Occasionally, he would melt back into the shadows and observe for a while before proceeding again.
Truly a meek and scared person.
Behind this cringing figure, Li Luo and Yu Lang stood in the shadows, well hidden. They were lost for words at Zhao Kuo's immersive acting.
"This man's completely in character now," Yu Lang marveled. He thought his own acting skills were quite something, but now he saw that Zhao Kuo was a fellow thespian indeed.
Li Luo nodded fervently. He felt that Zhao Kuo indeed had potential. He put a lot of care into the details.
"But the others are cautious too."
Li Luo looked at one particular shadow. He had discovered some time ago that there were two people watching Zhao Kuo, although they had not made their move. Instead, they had been tailing and observing Zhao Kuo him too.
Clearly, they were trying to ascertain if Zhao Kuo's caution was for real.
Both had tested Zhao Kuo out many times already, but Li Luo's camouflage still held. Unbeknownst to them, they were the ones being hunted.
Li Luo could sense that their patience was waning. Zhao Kuo's acting was extremely natural. He had them hook, line, and sinker.
Just as Li Luo flirted with the idea of a proactive action, the leaves rustled and two shadows streaked forward, landing in front and behind Zhao Kuo, neatly trapping him.
Zhao Kuo paled. He shouted, "What are you trying to do? I'm from Southwind Academy! You dare to test me!?"
His performance was world-class. Li Luo and Yu Lang lapped it up from their front-row seats.
The two who had appeared were from two different schools. They were not at all weak, both Seventh Seal Stage cultivators.
"Man, we followed you for so long. You're Zhao Kuo from Southwind Academy, aren't you? I saw you in the examination intel... Cut the crap. Hand over your points," the two accosters said.
"In your dreams!" Zhao Kuo yelled. His silver resonant power shimmered into view.
Seeing him move, the two did not hesitate in their attack either. Hefting their swords, they shot towards him cat-quick in a pincer movement.
A ruthless attack.
But just as their attack was about to land, a gentle breeze rustled behind the two.
Their hairs prickled. To their horror, the cringing expression on Zhao Kuo's face was gone, now replaced with a smug, mocking smile.
"Damn it, we've been had!"
They realized what was going on and started cursing themselves. They had been very careful in scouting the area. How had they not detected these two?
What sneaky behavior!
A chill ran through them. They knew that they had walked into a trap. Focusing their resonant power, they attempted to take down the actor, Zhao Kuo. At least with a hostage, they would have some bargaining power.
Zhao Kuo saw through them. But he neither hid nor backed down. Instead, a fierce look entered his eyes.
His large axe twirled so fast, it made a wheel, and he charged the pair.
The clash of steel sent sparks flying out. Zhao Kuo grunted as he felt the jolt of the shock run through his body. These two were not weak at all. Naturally, came out of the clash in better shape.
Still, before they could press his moment of weakness, the two blasts of resonant power caught up to them from behind.
The two spat out mouthfuls of fresh blood and rolled on the floor like freshly plucked gourds.
When they tried to rise again, they found an azure-blue short sword and a stiletto resting lightly on each of their necks.
"Brother, one sudden move and there will be blood," a light voice sang from beside him.
The two looked at each other bleakly. "Damn, you Southwind Academy students really play dirty. Fishing?!"
"Hey, if you didn't bite, we wouldn't have caught you."
Li Luo laughed. He beckoned to Yu Lang and Zhao Kuo to take off their crystal medallions. They cleaned out their points.
When their crystal medallions' points drained to zero, an urgently flashing red light followed. And then a beam of light extended out to truss them up tightly.
Clearly, they had been eliminated. The light’s purpose was to bind them and prevent them from interfering with the competition.
After taking their points, the trio did not even bother with parting words, immediately turning to leave. Their conversation drifted backwards.
"Not a bad haul. I wonder who the next unlucky bastard will be."
"Hope they're fatter than these two."
"But damn, Zhao Kuo, you're a born actor. They followed so cautiously for half an hour, but still fell for it."
"Haha, it's nothing. Still some details to polish. I should have added a bit more fear when they appeared to catch me. I think that's more realistic."
"Your work ethic is admirable, Sir."
"Hey, love the work you do, right?"
"Well, yes..."Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Did Li Luo and Zhao Kuo pick up some devilish traits from that damned Yu Lang?