No matter how they looked at it, what Ai Hui was doing seemed completely unorthodox. Seeing his serious expression however, helped them to accept it without so much as a squeak. The past few battles had given them a taste of just how far behind Ai Hui they were, and as such they were now less doubtful of his actions.
Lou Lan brought out all the remaining chili.
Chili was a commonly found cooking ingredient that was especially enjoyed by fire elementalists.
During the Cultivation Era, the cultivators led simple lives and enjoyed light and elegant dishes. They ate things like spirit grains and drank spirit tea. Those who were more affluent ate spirit food that had been nurtured for extended periods of time, usually upwards of ten thousand years. Such foods were not just highly potent, they were also symbols of wealth and power.
The newly founded Avalon of Five Elements only had a history spanning one thousand years, even less if one began counting from when they first achieved an advantage over the Wilderness. People living in the Avalon of Five Elements were more interested in the practical value of the food they ate. Elemental food, for instance, was an important part of any elementalists’ training regime. Potency was the most highly regarded aspect of elemental food.
The popularity of elemental food was what spurred the wood elementalists to focus more of their efforts on selectively nurturing ingredients. Chili was an example of a successfully nurtured ingredient.
Chilies contained an abundant amount of fire elemental energy. While not considerably powerful, the fire elemental energy found in chili was unique in that it could greatly increase the liveliness of the fire elemental energy within a fire elementalist’s body.
Fire elemental energy was the liveliest among the five types of elemental energy. Liveliness was a crucial part of fire elemental energy, so much so that the flames created from livelier fire elemental energy burned hotter. If it was an endothermic flame being formed, then its temperature would be much lower.
The wood elementalists had spared no effort in breeding chilies, creating a wide variety of exceptional species.
Each chili pepper from the Lava species was only the size of a pinky and was slightly curved. Its neatly arranged seeds could be seen through its crystalline red body. Every once in awhile, one of its seeds would release a jet of flame that surged around the cavity within the chili pepper’s body.
Of course, such chilies couldn’t simply be eaten on a whim.
Although the elemental energy contained within chili had many benefits, it was highly irritating and posed a serious challenge to the person eating it. The more outstanding the species, the more potent and irritating its elemental energy. After many rounds of selective breeding, wood elementalists had been able to take its “spiciness” to a whole new level. At that level, spiciness was no longer just a taste, but an experience.
Anyone who took on the challenge would feel as though their entire body was on fire. They would feel as though flames were spurting out of every single pore on their body, as if they had fallen into a pit of magma or burned at the stake.
Such advancement had also elevated chili’s status from a common ingredient to one that was specially used by fire elementalists. Only fire elementalists could withstand such a terrifying form of elemental energy. Nowadays, there existed certain species of chilies that were rarely eaten even by fire elementalists. Under the perverse dedication of the wood elementalists, quite a number of common food ingredients had undergone extreme transformations.
Using chili to suppress the blood ants was no joke.
In the Wilderness, Ai Hui had done and witnessed even weirder things. From smearing sludge on one’s body to hide bodily scents, to using plant juices as poisonous insect repellent, he had experienced them all.
What’s so strange about using chili?
Lou Lan squatted beside Ai Hui and asked curiously, “Does Ai Hui have a sudden craving for chili?”
“Nope,” replied Ai Hui without lifting his head. “I suspect that the blood ants have an aversion to the smell of chili.”
“Really?” Lou Lan asked, suddenly interested.
“I’m not sure, but we won’t know until we try.” Ai Hui examined the chilies, quickly noticing a problem. All of the slightly different looking things in front of him were chilies. There were green ones, yellow ones, red ones, and even black ones! Some were large and some were tiny, some were of odd shapes as well.
Were the blood ants averse to all kinds of chili or only specific types?
Forget it, let’s just try them out first.
Ai Hui took out a few of each type of chili and began to grind them up separately. A rich, spicy smell pervaded the air as he crushed the chilies into powder form. Tiny tongues of flame could occasionally be seen among the powdered forms of species such as Lava.
He spread the chili powder in a circle around the training ground. In order to test how effective each type of chili was as a repellant, he marked down the location of each different kind. Lou Lan went down into the basement to sprinkle chili powder as well.
The blood ants weren’t powerful combatants on their own, but they had strength in numbers and often moved in swarms. They were adept at ambushing from underground as well.
Ai Hui was exhausted after finishing the whole business with the chilies.
He didn’t sit down, but began to complete one Circulatory Cycle Revolution while remaining in his sword stance. He relished finally having the chance to meditate.
He had done all he could, the only thing left to do was wait.
Every part of his body ached as an overwhelming tiredness washed over him, but he couldn’t fall asleep just yet. Keeping himself awake, Ai Hui persevered with the Circulatory Cycle Revolution.
His bodily aches, exhaustion, the wind, and the faraway sounds of battle receded from his mind like an ebbing tide. The world around him slowly faded away as his focus remained squarely on the task at hand. All that was left was an inner tranquility, the circulation of his elemental energy, and the throbbing of the sword embryo.
The mayor’s residence.
Wang Zhen had a grave expression as he listened to his subordinate’s report.
“... The situation at West Second Street has been stabilized. Upon arrival, we found around two hundred and seventy dead and one hundred and twenty injured. The number of people missing is still undetermined. We have mobilized the residents to begin efforts to eradicate the remaining blood ants. As of now, West Second Street has been purged, but because the sealing stone has been damaged, it is difficult for us to redeploy underground defenses. I have already given orders to set up early warning systems, as well as arranged for the injured to be quarantined and overseen.”
“The situation on Wave Street is critical, with more than five hundred blood ants belonging to more than four swarms on the attack. Despite our resistance, pretty much the entire street has been destroyed. The number of deaths is catastrophic… We only managed to save sixty-four people. Twenty-four of those saved were injured and arrangements have been made to send them to quarantine. We’ve suffered heavy losses and can no longer continue with the operation. May I suggest that we assemble a team of students from Central Pine Academy to assist with a sweep of the area, to ensure that none of the blood ants remain?”
The air around them seemed to congeal as the mood became incredibly sullen. Hearing more of the depressing, bloodstained figures eventually numbed them from the initial terror. They had lost almost a third of the districts within Central Pine City within such a short span of time.
After a long day of firefighting around the city, the dean was visibly tired. Having led a comfortable life, when had he ever experienced such intense combat? Although, he didn’t exactly have a choice either.
Nowhere to run, everyone knew that there was nowhere to run.
Losing almost half of their personnel to death or injury was a hard pill to swallow. Only elites were capable of standing in the face of such adversity on the battlefield.
But it wasn’t as if these people had become elites overnight. They were simply driven to fight by the fear of dying at the hands of the blood fiends. Fighting was the only way forward.
The dean slowly opened his mouth to speak, his voice hoarse. “The situation in Central Pine Academy is slightly better. The teachers have experienced a greater number of casualties than the students. We’ve lost slightly more than one hundred students, with an overall loss of over twenty percent of the academy’s headcount.”
A weak smile crept onto Wang Zhen’s lips. The teachers were much more important than the students. To him, the students were too weak to be of much use, especially when compared to the teachers. He was certain that the teachers would be able to easily unleash their true powers with a few more battles under their belts.
“Why such a large number?” He couldn’t help but ask, thinking about the much greater number of casualties among the teachers.
“They are teachers,” the dean croaked on. “None of them will simply stand and watch while their students are eaten.”
A flash of rage lit up in Wang Zhen’s eyes. “They’re too soft-hearted!” he hissed angrily.
“They are teachers,” the dean replied while returning Wang Zhen’s fiery gaze. Raising his voice slightly, he continued, “Not soldiers.”
Central Pine Academy wasn’t a particularly prestigious academy. Teachers were rarely transferred into or out of the academy, and as such, many of them had worked with the dean for many years. They had become more like friends rather than colleagues.
The number of deaths he had received news of and witnessed first hand that day alone was more than the number of funerals he had attended until now. The sorrow he felt was terribly overwhelming.
In all his years of teaching, some things had long been inscribed into his bones.
He was a practical man, looking out specially for Shi Xueman and Duanmu Huanghun due to their importance, but when he sees students being attacked, notices them trembling before the blood ants, and sees their fear-stricken faces, he would still rush forward to protect them.
They were, after all, just a bunch of children.
He knew that such acts weren’t rational at all, that he should be using his elemental energy in more important situations, and yet...
This is probably why he’s still only the dean of such a small academy. The dean laughed in his heart, resigned to his fate.
Wang Zhen kept quiet, realizing his mistake. While the teachers’ actions appeared very silly and naive to him, he couldn’t help but admit that they were highly admirable.
“I’m sorry, where are my manners. The students will be proud of them.” Wang Zhen apologized sincerely with a bow.
“It’s okay, you must be under a lot of pressure as well,” the dean responded empathetically. “What’s the plan now? Is there any news from Master Han’s side?”
Wang Zhen regained his composure and said, “A map of the entire city has been sent to the embroidery workshop. Master Han has gotten in touch to tell us that they have begun studying it.” The dean nodded and commented, “No one else has done this before, so there’s no point of reference. Only Master Han has the mettle and confidence to take on such a challenge.”
“That’s also why we can’t just pin all our hopes on Master Han,” Wang Zhen replied resolutely. “We need to reclaim the areas taken over by the blood fiends before Master Han completes her preparations. I plan to mobilize every able person, including the students, for this battle.”
“Why?” asked the dean, his face drained of color. “How many more will have to die? They’re not strong enough, we’ll only be sending them to their deaths!”
Wang Zhen calmly looked at the dean and said, “There are two reasons for this. First, we’re low on manpower so everyone has to take part. Everyone will be fighting to the death, so it makes no difference. Second, some of the blood ants have already completed their transformation.”
“Transformation?” The dean’s face turned ashen.
“Our elemental energy seems to be the catalyst for their transformation. So far we’ve only met one fully transformed blood ant, but we had to sacrifice a lot of people to take it down. We’ve also killed another three blood ants in the midst of transforming that appeared to be in a state of hibernation. It is still unknown if their transformation has anything to do with eating people, but considering that it’s not an isolated phenomenon, things might get worse if we continue to wait. If more blood ants complete their transformation, our circumstances will become even more dire. That is why I am prepared to send every last elementalist and student out on a full-scale assault to reclaim every one of the districts that we have lost, as well as to kill every last one of these damned blood ants!”
Wang Zhen looked extremely ferocious.