Time passed without pause after Huang Ying's interaction with Ooyan Ping, his monotonous routine not changing. But in that dull monotony, he found a strange sense of peace and purpose, even the actions of the other children weren't able to disrupt that sense of peace and purpose. But even that slight peace and purpose the world would deny him, because two weeks after he met Ooyan Ping, calamity struck.
The sun was just barely rising above the horizon, the people in the village not even fully awake yet when the sound of thundering hooves suddenly resounded across the entire village. The ground quickly started to tremble, loud shouts mixing with the thundering hooves and abruptly waking up everyone in the village.
Just as everyone managed to throw on their clothing and leave their houses, the ones making all the noise became visible. Hundreds of horses and their riders became visible on both the road leaving the village as well as in parts of the forests around the village. The riders were clad in simple leather armor or robes, with a few of them wearing chainmail or thicker metal plates. The villagers to first discover them quickly called out in a mixture of shock and fear, directing the other villagers.
"It's the bandits from the Wolf's Claw Mountains, everyone retreat to the Mayor's house!"
Wolf's claw Mountains was the name of the six mountains standing on the other side of the forest stretching out past the southern side of the village. A large group of bandits had been living there for several tens of years now, but they had never dared to make a move on the city, content with skulking around the road leading away from the city.
Huang Ying was working on breakfast for San Jongyu when the bandits became visible in the distance so he heard the loud shouts of the villagers as they rushed towards the mayor's house for protection. He quickly threw away the food in his hands, cursing loudly as he ran out of the kitchen.
"Fuck! Can't let them get their hands on gramps."
Huang Ying couldn't let the bandits get their hands on San Jongyu, Xing Tang would become devastated should something happen to him. Xing Tang was currently not just the last person Huang Ying could consider a friend, but also the last person he considered family, he would not allow her to be sad. He threw open the door to San Jongyu's room and ignored his screaming and shouting as he picked him up and carried him on his back.
San Jongyu was an adult, but he was old and skinny so even the young Huang Ying could carry him. His years of wandering the forest had also given him pretty good endurance and strong legs, so he managed to somewhat run while carrying San Jongyu on his back, quickly heading for the mayor's house at the center of the village.
San Jongyu thrashed around and flailed his arms while Huang Ying was carrying, resulting in him hitting Huang Ying's head several times, but Huang Ying simply ignored it. Li Jun also seemed to realize the seriousness of the situation, staying quiet so that Huang Ying could focus.
As he ran, Huang Ying once again felt the burning pain that he felt in his stomach when he watched Xing Tang ride away from the village, but he knew that now wasn't the time to worry about it so he continued to run. It only took him a little while to meet up with the rest of the people rushing towards the mayor's house for protection, all of them gathering up outside the three-story house surrounded by a large wooden fence.
They all shouted at the house and tore at the fence, but there was no response from the mayor or any of his men, the house remained dead silent. More and more people started to scream and shout, but the only response they got was the thundering of hooves and the shouts of the fellow villagers. Only a few of the more attentive and calm people were able to notice a few splatters of blood visible on the inside of the windows on the third floor of the house.
The horses and their riders burst into the village, a few more people running on foot behind the horses and storming into the village. The bandits were like locusts, barging into every house and snatching up anything that seemed valuable. They didn't even have to go looking for the villagers, all of them had already gathered up in front of the mayor's house, wrapping themselves up in a nice package just waiting to be picked up.
The riders quickly surrounded them, lashing out with their weapons to herd the villagers like sheep. Once all the villagers were surrounded, all the bandits quieted down and opened a path, a large muscular man riding a brawny ox riding down the path and stopping in front of the terrified villagers. The muscular man was tall and tanned, clad in a fur coat that revealed his scarred chest, his brown hair hung loosely down his back and he had blue eyes that gleamed with a ferocious light.
The man didn't even get down from his mount, he simply pointed out with his finger, an arc of azure lightning crackling out from his finger and striking the tallest and most muscular man among the villagers. The man struck screamed in agony and fell to the ground, his body twitching for a bit as he was scorched, ending up as no more than a corpse in just two seconds.
The man's display of power worked perfectly and served its purpose, all the villagers stunned into a terrified silence. The man swept the villagers with a cold gaze, his right arm patting the large double-headed axe that he carried on his back.
"You are all our prisoners now and you'll follow us back to our hideout. Try to flee and we'll kill you, try to resist and we'll kill you, try anything funny and we'll kill you, refuse our orders and we'll kill you."
The villagers could do nothing but meekly nod their heads, some of the bandits moving forward and tying them up with rope they had prepared beforehand and looted in the village. Each villager was tied to one of the horses, and when Huang Ying tried to stop them from taking San Jongyu, the bandit simply punched him in the face and shattered his nose, handing San Jonyu over to someone else while Huang Ying was dazed.
Before long, all the villagers were tied up and forced to walk behind the horses as the bandits returned to their hideout, leaving behind a few to loot the last of the houses. Those that were too weak to keep up or fainted along the way were simply dragged behind the horses, the bandits clearly not caring one whit about their lives.
The rope around Huang Ying's body was tied so tightly that it dug into his arms, the horse he had to follow was also moving a bit faster than the others, forcing him to jog to keep up. It wasn't a problem at first, but it would take at least a day to reach the Wolf's Claw Mountains, could Huang Ying really jog for that long?
The pain in his stomach also got worse as he continued to run, spreading throughout his entire body until he felt as if he was burning. Huang Ying managed to last longer than the bandit leading him expected, jogging after him for three hours before his pace became erratic, his feet occasionally stumbling. As they approached the fourth hour, the burning pain and the exhaustion became too much for Huang Ying and he joined the others that fell before him, losing control of his body and fainting. But as he fainted, he felt like he heard a deep and muddy voice resound and echo throughout his body.
"So this time it's you."