74 The Basiliscampus
(T/N: Basiliscampus means Basilisk Sea Monster. Both Greek, ‘basilisk’ refers to the legendary reptile reputed to be King of serpents, and ‘campus’ has the direct meaning of ‘sea monster’, from the mythology ‘hippocampus’)
The shriek came from You Ji just as we were traversing the boundary forest between two districts, moving towards the East.
You Ji had always been gutsy; there wasn’t much that could scare her, which was why I immediately whipped my head towards her at the scream.
The moment my eyes fell upon the culprit, I was flabbergasted.
For some reason, a creature was circling beneath a tree ahead. It had the appearance of a mermaid, yet at the same time, bore a striking resemblance to a serpent! Though it had a fish tail for its lower body, it wasn’t beautiful like a mermaid’s. Rather, it was filled with bumps and hollows of different sizes. Its upper body was human and from the peaks in its figure, you could faintly distinguish it as a woman.
However, the monster had no nose, her eyes were like black holes and when she parted her scarlet red lips I could see her green, serpent-like tongue. As for the tangled mess on her head, I couldn’t tell if it was her hair or a bunch of sodden seaweed.
“Wh-wh-what is that?” My teeth chattered from fear. To be honest, even though I’ve been in the split zone for more than a month, I’m still not used to these strange creatures.
I looked at Li Qing frantically. At a time like this, only the armor-wearing, noble Li Qing could provide me with a sense of security.
Yet, in a twist of events, the expression on Li Qing’s face was even more peculiar than the monster. It was so strange that it surpassed my fear of the monster circling under the tree at the moment I saw it.
The expression on Li Qing face seemed… sympathetic, yet helpless at the same time.
It was simply too bizarre. I’ve only been in the split zone for a short time but as newcomers, Li Qing stayed with Nie Zun and I almost every day so she could look after us. That was when I knew that Li Qing was a resilient woman, almost beyond the point of comprehension.
Sometimes, I don’t even regard her as a woman anymore.
Her usual calm and unflustered self, unwavering before the monster, should have been the norm. Instead, it was as though she was a believer overflowing with compassion, on a mission to save the world, her face washed with empathy and resignation.
“Don’t do anything, just hide.” Li Qing spoke up suddenly in a grave tone as she turned towards us.
“Didn’t you bring us here to practice real life combat?” Despite Li Wen’s gentle appearance, she was more courageous than You Ji and I.
Li Qing squinted. “Perhaps another day. It’s still too early for any of you to handle this thing.”
Without giving us a chance to question the monstrosity any further, she swung her arm and grabbed the broadsword from her back. Along with her armor, she charged towards the creature like an awe-inspiring female warrior.
“You have the audacity to create havoc in my Western District? I’ll make sure you can’t get out of here alive!” Li Qing’s arrogant voice reverberated through the forest.
The monster was circling, staring at us with her black eyes. At the very moment Li Qing rushed forward, the creature opened her mouth wide and whipped out her green tongue, springing like an elastic band which could stretch and contract as it pleased. With a swoosh, the creature swiped with her tongue, coated in a dark green substance.
“How repulsive.” You Ji’s eyes were filled with disgust, staring at the creature in front of us, her hand smoothing down her own green hair defensively. I glanced sideways at her glossy green hair and immediately felt sick to my stomach.
When I returned my attention to the battle, the broadsword which seemed far too large for a woman to wield was still in Li Qing’s firm grip.
With a swing, the blade sliced through the air and it was then the monster seemed to come alive. She rose from her spot, her tongue lashing about like a whip. The green toxin sprayed in all directions and a black fog formed wherever it landed; it seemed the substance on her tongue was acidic, capable of corroding anything in its way.
“Is this thing a serpent or mermaid?” I asked Li Wen in a soft whisper.
To which, she replied with a laugh. “Who knows?”
The swing of Li Qing’s blade severed the monster’s tongue!
What the f– Even its cry was animalistic!
I was dumbstruck by the creature’s mournful wail. In the next moment, her eyes were painted a scarlet red and her bloodied lips began spouting some form of black pus. The severed tongue was still twisting on the ground and her fishtail flapped vigorously.
One by one, the trees were struck down by her tail!
“How truly disgusting, I can’t bear to watch this anymore.” You Ji wore an enchanting smile before she casually swept her captivating serpent tail.
With the flick of her tail and an easy leap, You Ji moved dozens of meters ahead. Following her hasty advance, her hair danced in the air before it formed into two green whips at the back of her skull, seemingly infinite in length.
As she closed the distance between herself and that wailing monster, the end of her two whips made a sharp swerve backwards, forming the shape of a pointed arrow then plunged straight into the two black holes which made the creature’s eyes.
Two streams of gooey substance gushed from the monster’s eyes and it let out a shrill cry. The cry was exceptionally sharp and piercing to my ears. Without realizing it, I grabbed onto Li Wen’s hand and attempted to retreat a few steps back. It was then I saw the hint of excitement that flitted across her face.
Li Wen didn’t sense my grip at all. I stared at her side profile, watching the excitement as it crept up on her, before eventually making the decision to loosen my hold. Instead, I shifted my focus towards finding another shelter. What can I say? Saving my dear life is an important matter!
When I turned back, Nie Zun’s eyes met mine. His gaze seemed lonely yet clear at the same time, and his chin was tucked into the collar of his turtleneck. For some reason, my heart tightened at that so I stared coolly at him in return. In complete contrast to my indifference, my legs had a mind of their own and stole a few steps closer to him.
Another piercing wail sounded and I whirled around, catching that same complex expression on Li Qing’s face. Brandishing her broadsword, she lunged towards the monster again with a roar.
Despite being blinded by You Ji’s attack, the monster didn’t seem affected by its lack of sight. Instead, between the forceful beats of its tail, two withered arms grew from beneath its torso’s peaks. Tattered pieces of meat hung loosely upon them, as though the formation of those arms hadn’t been completed. The arms crunched when it stretched forward, and without warning it grabbed onto the two columns of You Ji’s hair which moments ago had stolen its vision.
You Ji was obviously alarmed by the abrupt change of the creature’s body. Using her startled state to its advantage, the withered hands of the monster clutched tightly onto her hair and yanked her down before roughly flinging her up again. You Ji’s body was flung upwards along with her hair, and the blind monster began swinging her in circles like a ragdoll.
Swoosh! Swoosh! Swoosh!
I covered my mouth in disbelief; like a toy in the monster’s hands, You Ji was swung about by her hair, round and around, with immense strength. A strong gust rushed wherever it passed, until a whirlwind began to form around its circumference.
A foul stench emitted from the whirlwind. Li Qing swung her sword, but was forced backwards by the sheer strength of that foul wind. In retaliation, she swung her broadsword back and forth in succession, cutting through the wind to keep herself hovering in mid-air.
It was evident You Ji had extended her hair too far during the attack and now, swinging so high in the air and swiveling at such speed, we were momentarily stumped by the situation.
I could no longer get a clear look at You Ji.
Horror drowned my eyes as I watched the scene in front of me and my hand found its way over my lips.
Li Wen glared and gritted her teeth before she was floating in the air as well.
“Don’t come near!” Li Qing hollered towards us, as if she had sensed Li Wen’s movement.
Li Wen clenched her jaw, reluctant to stay out of the battle, but she did not dare defy Li Qing’s orders. Just like that, she remained afloat in front of me.
I’ve never witnessed such a brutal fight in all the time that I’ve been in the Western District. “Wh-what should we do?” Growing frantic, I couldn’t help tugging at Nie Zun’s sleeve.
Nie Zun’s downcast gaze swept calmly from the sleeve I was holding to my face.
His voice was soft and gentle, “It’ll be fine.”
Just like that, his voice brought an inexplicable reassurance; those words alone calmed my mind in an instant.
I took a deep breath and watched Li Qing’s continuous attempts at breaking through the whirlwind. After a second of pondering, I reached for the bow on my back.
The bow was gifted to me by Li Qing, but I wasn’t proficient at it. In all honesty, I haven’t had much use for it since my arrival. But there was no better time to deploy this weapon than now.
I held the bow in my hands and tried pulling back the bowstring.
… It didn’t move.
I wracked my mind and thought back on Li Qing’s words; feeling the infinite power surging from my split symbol, I tried manipulating some MF into my hands.
This time, I was able to pull the bowstring with ease. Attaching the arrows, I took my aim.
Should I shoot at the whirlwind? No, it’ll get diverted the moment the arrow hits. What should I do then…?
… Ah, whatever. Let’s just give it a shot.
Manipulating my MF, I pulled back, secured my target in sight, and…
A single arrow flew decisively ahead, charging towards the whirlwind.
In a miraculous turn of events, the whirlwind broke apart and we finally heard a cry from the swiveling You Ji. The monster’s hands were gripping tightly onto the two bunches of splintering green hair. And then––
You Ji’s hair abruptly severed, and with the momentum of the rapid spinning she flew like a grenade deep into the forest with a scream, gone without a trace.
Li Qing could care less what happened to You Ji––right now, the monster had an exposed weakness. Leaping immediately, the luminescence from her broadsword shone bright. She was furious now. The slice of her blade drew a shrill howl of wind.
The glare from her blade was blinding, sliding through the monster’s flesh like it was mud.
The monster’s body split in half, and its torso flew off with the impact.
Floating back to the ground, Li Wen paid no attention to the savage end to the creature. Instead, she turned her focus to me, her features painted in shock. “What immaculate archery technique! You actually managed to take perfect aim at You Ji’s hair despite the speed! Even going so far as to calculate the speed of the wind so you could splinter You Ji’s hair by following the movement of the whirlwind!”
I was in a trance.
Hearing Li Wen’s words, I watched her impressed expression as it lingered on the bow in my hand and me.
Although it did feel nice to be complimented, I couldn’t help but wonder… How did the arrow find its way through those rings of whirlwind to ultimately sever You Ji’s hair?
I was clearly aiming for the creature’s head…