The caress of death was far more comfortable and warm than Huang Ying expected it to be, it felt like a mother brushing the cheek of her long-lost child and welcoming it home. The urge to embrace the warmth grew stronger and stronger, but the warmth suddenly vanished before it managed to overwhelm Huang Ying's mind.
Huang Ying felt that he was lying on his back, his eyes closed and his eyelids as heavy as stones. He tried to open his eyelids but only managed to make them tremble slightly, a sinking feeling starting to envelop his body. Huang Ying's brows furrowed slightly as he once again tried to open his eyes, managing to open them ever so slightly before they closed again.
The sinking feeling got worse when his eyes closed again, something that felt like mud pressing down on his chest. Huang Ying got the feeling that he'd never be able to open his eyes again if he failed now, so although he had no idea what was going on, he grit his teeth and mustered all his might, cursing out loudly as what seemed to be muddy water flooded his now open mouth.
"For fuck's sake, I SAID OPEN!"
Huang Ying's eyelids trembled for a short while as more and more mud flowed into his mouth, but they eventually slid open under his continued effort, the sinking feeling and the mud vanishing once his eyes fully opened. When Huang Ying fully opened his eyes he saw that he was no longer present within the tunnels where he had just been killed, he was currently sitting on an ashen island that was about half a kilometer in each direction. The island was ashen because it was covered in dusky-white sand, the only thing present on the island was a small empty lake that was about 200 meters in width.
Everything beyond the island was complete darkness, Huang Ying unable to discern whether or not the island was floating on something or just hovering. Huang Ying curiously inspected his surroundings when the same deep and muddy voice once again resounded throughout his body, this time also echoing in the surroundings.
"Welcome to our world."
Huang Ying almost jumped when the voice sounded out this time, quickly peeking over the edge of the island and peering into the darkness below, where he had heard the voice come from. When his gaze drifted into the darkness, his heart nearly stopped in his chest. There were countless red eyes drifting around in the darkness beneath him, tens of thousands jagged mouths drifting around with the eyes, none of them seemingly having any set positions. The countless maws all opened at once, the deep voice echoing throughout the area.
"A curse or a blessing, what will you make of us, of you?"
Huang Ying could faintly remember the voice saying something similar just as he died, but the exact words from then escaped him. He could tell that the voice wasn't actually asking him the question, it was just stating out into empty air without expecting an answer. Huang Ying swallowed some saliva while looking at the seemingly endless maws, deciding that since he had already died he might as well ask any questions he had on his mind.
"Who...what are you? And what is it that you keep talking about?"
Huang Ying couldn't help but be curious about what it was that this thing kept referring to as a curse or a blessing. Could this mass of eyes and maws have something to do with the fact that he didn't have a dantian, or was this just a mad dream he saw in his final seconds before dying? The countless eyes all suddenly stopped drifting around, focusing on Huang Ying and placing such a pressure on him that he felt like he would simply dissipate.
"Once, long ago, we were Baku, then we were Wutong Cang, then we were Ah Rong, then we were Maribel, then Jonathan, then hundreds of others, and now we are you, and you are us, the next person chosen to carry on our power. The path of the Saint, the path of the Devil, the path of the Ruler, the path of the Peasant, the path of the Slave, which path will you take us down in this life? What height will you reach?"
The voice gave an answer that could only be considered half an answer, once again saying the same thing that it had said earlier. But before Huang Ying could question it further, the world around him started to shake violently, the darkness beneath him rising up like tidal waves of eyes and maws. All the eyes were still locked on him, the maws all speaking and chuckling at the same time, but this time it was his own voice that came from the maws.
"So feast! Feast and be reborn, rise and show us the path you have chosen, show the world your worth!"
The waves crashed down onto Huang Ying's body, the cacophony of thousands of his voices mixing together overshadowing all other sounds as the darkness enveloped his body and sank into him. A horrible tearing feeling pervaded his very being, his entire body rapidly getting torn apart.
The brawny bandit pulled his sword out of Huang Ying's body and let the corpse fall to the ground, wiping off the blood with a grimace while looking at the two limp legs sticking out from the open cell a short distance away. He put away his sword and stepped over Huang Ying's corpse to head for the cell, muttering low curses.
"Fuck, gotta get someone else to tell the boss the bad news, don't wanna risk my own fucking head."
The man suddenly stopped in his tracks, the hairs on his neck rising up on their own as a powerful sense of unease suddenly welled up in him. He placed his hand on the hilt of his sword and turned his head, his gaze landing on the corpse of Huang Ying, his pupils shrinking when he saw the scene.
What appeared to be black mud was seeping out from beneath Huang Ying's corpse, his body slowly sinking into the mud as more and more of it appeared. Once his entire body vanished, black eyes and jagged maws appeared all over the mud and started drifting around without purpose. The eyes inspected everything around them while the maws started to eat away at everything around them, chewing up even the stone walls and floor of the tunnels with ease, the mud growing without end.
Some of the eyes suddenly focused on the man, who felt his heart skip several beats due to the gaze of the crimson eyes. And then, the mud started to move towards him. A barely shaped arm stretched out from the mud and grabbed onto the side of the tunnel, a few more barely formed arms stretching out and grabbing onto the walls, dragging the mud forward.
The arms quickly fell apart into mud again, but more simply rose to take their place, the mud even growing a barely shapen torso that fell apart after a few seconds. The man was so shocked and terrified that he even forgot about fleeing, he was completely entranced by the display of the mud, which seemed to be trying to take a human shape but failed time and time again, falling apart back into mud.
But even as it failed to take form, the mud continued to grow and feast, chunks of the walls, ceiling, and floor all around it vanishing after being eaten by the mud. And before long, it came time for the man himself to be eaten, a half-formed arm shooting out from the mud and grabbing onto his head, hundreds of tiny maws starting to gnaw away at him and absorbing him.
The mud couldn't be stopped, it flailed and tossed its way throughout all the tunnels and cells as it grew, giving no one any room to escape. The more it ate, the larger it would grow, and the larger it grew, the easier it was for it to eat more so that it could grow larger. Screams echoed throughout the six mountains, some from bandits and some from villagers, but the mud was emotionless and ate all without distinction. It's Master hungered, it's Master needed energy to be reborn, energy to rebuild a body worthy of him. So it ate, it ate everything it came in contact with, everything it could find.
The six claw-shaped mountains that served as the base of the Wolf's claw bandits were soon dyed black, countless crimson eyes and jagged maws visible on the black muck that covered and ate the mountains, a horrible sight that none were able to see due to the remoteness of the mountains, a silent sign of a monster's birth.
The muck suddenly retreated once it covered all six mountains, rapidly retreating down and gathering up into a single spot. But it was already done, all six mountains were gone, all that remained of the area was a basin nearly ten kilometers wide and three kilometers deep. And kneeling at the bottom of the basin, right at the spot where all the muck arrived and vanished, was Huang Ying.
He was currently retching violently, a mixture of black and red spewing out of his mouth and staining the ground for a short moment before sliding towards Huang Ying and sinking into his body again. Huang Ying's hair was no longer the delicate azure it once was, neither were his eyes the warm brown that they used to be, both had turned as black as the darkest night. His body no longer looked malnourished, but rather a type of slim and muscular, he had also grown larger by over 30 centimeters, now standing at almost 1.70 m. Even the leg he severed because he needed food and drink had grown back, his entire body had been completely remade by the muck.
The reason Huang Ying was retching was because there were currently countless memories flashing through his mind, none of them his own. The memories came from all the people that had been present within the six mountains, all the people that had been swallowed by the mud to rebuild a body that was suitable for Huang Ying.
The flood of memories was incredibly painful, it felt like his mind was tearing apart due to the sheer number of memories that entered him. But strangely enough, despite so many memories entering him, he was perfectly able to discern between his own memories and the memories of the people that had been eaten by him, it was like there was a thin film separating the two different types of memories.
There were a few memories not belonging to those who had just been eaten mixed in with the others, allowing Huang Ying to understand exactly what he had become, exactly what this power of his was. Once again the element of Devouring had appeared in the universe, but no one was aware of the birth of the beast that carried the element.