At dawn on the third day, Su Ru Hui and his companions set off for the snow line. It had just snowed the night before, and the ground was completely covered with a thick layer of snow. They passed countless corpses along the way, all frozen into sticks, with hollow eye sockets filled with dust and snowflakes. In order to avoid encountering other trial-takers, they chose a slightly steep route, which bypassed the mountain cliff, crossed a mountain ditch, and climbed up the bare slope to reach the snow line.
The mountain road was steep, especially with snow piled up. Every step sank to the calf, and the three of them walked with difficulty. When the sun had completely risen, they finally bypassed the mountain cliff and reached the mountain ditch. The three of them were connected by a hemp rope and walked north along the narrow protruding edge of the mountain ditch. The edge was too narrow, like walking on a tightrope. Fortunately, the weather was good during the day, unlike last night when wind and snow raged.
Suddenly, He Sheng, who was in front, screamed. The snow under his feet collapsed, and he didn’t step on it firmly, so he rolled down the slope. When he rolled down, Su Ru Hui and Sang Chi Yu were pulled down too. The three of them rolled down like a ball to the bottom. Su Ru Hui was buried in the snow, and his mouth was full of cold snow particles.
They were lucky it snowed heavily last night. The mountain was covered in sharp stones. If they had rolled down like this without anything to cushion them, they would have been done for. Su Ru Hui was almost frozen stiff at the bottom, struggling to open his eyes. Suddenly, he met a pair of lifeless eyes.
Sang Chi Yu grabbed him by the collar and pulled him out. The two of them saw a corpse under him, with its eyes wide open.
On the other side, He Sheng also stood up. He was not far from Su Ru Hui. The three of them looked back at the mountain valley and saw countless bodies lying haphazardly under the snow. Some of them were buried deep with only their hands and feet showing, others their heads. Their skin was frozen to a pale blue color, and each one was as stiff as an ice stick. If they hadn’t fallen down and collapsed the ice layer, they wouldn’t have seen so many bodies buried here.
[Congratulations to the host for obtaining Frozen Meat X37.]
“They…” He Sheng exclaimed in fear. “Are they the trial takers?”
Su Ru Hui squatted down and examined their faces. He had a photographic memory and remembered all the trial takers from before. After a quick scan, he did see a few familiar faces. “There are indeed some trial takers, but most of them are new faces.”
Su Ru Hui turned over one of the bodies. The clothes were intact, but the expression was terrified, as if this person had seen something extremely horrifying before dying. The collar was embroidered with red thread, forming characters that read “Bao Tai,” presumably the name of the dead person.
“Why did they die here?” He Sheng asked.
Su Ru Hui shrugged, indicating that he didn’t know.
This was the leeward side, and it’s steep. Normally, no one would come here, so it became a place to abandon corpses. Who abandoned them here? Su Ru Hui turned to look at Su Yu. The young man’s face was solemn, lost in thought.
Time was running out. There was no time to deal with these corpses. The three continued to climb upwards, stepping on the snowline but not daring to go up. They hid in the snow, waiting for noon to arrive. They set up a shelter and looked out, but there was no one on the snowline. They were probably waiting nearby.
At noon, several Frontline Guards officers came up the mountain in a puppet carriage, just like two days ago. They set up a table and waited for people to report in. Finally, a few scattered individuals came out and told the officer their name and hometown. There were already more than ten people, including the Cannibalistic Buddha who fought with them before. Su Ru Hui glanced at the others for a moment, then crawled out of the snow.
After reporting their names, they waited until noon. No one else appeared in the snowline. The officer counted the names and said, “Fifty-two. Two more than expected.”
The people looked shocked and frightened. “Are we going to fight again?”
“Wait a minute…” The officer squinted at the book. “Jiang Que Xie? The Jiang family from Yun Zhou?”
“That’s me!” Su Ru Hui stepped forward.
“You are a member of a prominent family, and you cannot enter the Frontline Guards.” The officer waved his hand and ordered someone to take him away. “Bring him to another place.”
Su Ru Hui was puzzled. “Why can’t I enter? My sister used to be in the Frontline Guards.”
“Orders from above. You cannot enter from today.” The officer said impatiently, “Hurry up, don’t delay our work. There are plenty of members from prominent families in the Secret Sect; one more or one less won’t matter. Make a fuss and we’ll just throw you out.”
He Sheng comforted him, “Don’t worry, brother. You have a prominent family background; they will definitely give you a better position.”
Something was off. Su Ru Hui had a bad feeling. He had stayed in the Secret Sect for a while before, selecting good soldiers to join the army. It was always a stage performance or a martial arts competition, and he had never heard of such a brutal trial by combat. Looking at the remaining participants marked as “ordinary people,” there weren’t many left. The ones left were mostly “monks” and “thugs.” It was easy to see that spiritual power users who concealed their identities and skills would have an advantage over ordinary people, and the odds were in their favor.
“Add to that the bodies we encountered before, it feels even more unusual,” Su Ru Hui thought.
The purpose of the Secret Sect trial was probably not for conscription, otherwise they wouldn’t need to screen out the children of prominent families.
He cupped his hands and said, “Sorry to trouble you, Sir. I have two brothers of different surnames here, and I would like to take them to the nearby garrison with me. Could you help us?”
He walked up with a smile, blocking the view of the trial participants behind him, and sneakily handed each of the two officers a handful of silver.
The officers took the silver, put on a smile, and said, “We never thought that a young gentleman from a prominent family like you would be so considerate. To be honest with you, we just follow orders, and if we can make some accommodations, we will. There are 52 people here and we only need 50, so you can take one person with you. It’s hard for us to explain if there are any missing people, so please understand, young master.”
“Can you tell me why the children of prominent families cannot enter the Frontline Guards?” Su Ru Hui asked softly.
“It’s a command from higher-ups. We don’t even know why.” The officer lowered his voice and continued, “Last month, the Frontline Guards out for the Snow Territory with 500 people, but only a dozen returned. Almost the entire army was wiped out. I heard from the survivors that many refugees disappeared in the underground cave, and we don’t know where they went. There were too many missing people and even people from the Black Street are retreating. The Snow Territory is not peaceful right now, young master. You can go to another garrison such as the Dragon Guards or the Eagle Guards, which are better than the Frontline Guards.”
“Lastly, one more question. Have we only gone through one round of conscription?” Su Ru Hui asked.
The officer nodded. “Indeed, we still need to go down and clear the dead bodies and throw them into the slope.”
No wonder there were so many bodies. Su Ru Hui now knew where those bodies came from.
“Young master, please choose a person and leave. We are busy,” the officer urged him.
Su Ru Hui stood up straight and turned to apologize to He Sheng. “Brother, I’m sorry, I can only take one person with me. Third brother is young and can’t take care of himself, so I’ll take him. Are you okay on your own?”
He Sheng pushed Su Yu out and said, “Of course, no problem. I came here specifically for the Frontline Guards. I have been looking forward to it for several years. It’s fortunate that there’s a conscription, otherwise, I wouldn’t be willing to go to another place.”
Su Ru Hui held Su Yu’s shoulder and whispered to He Sheng, “Then we’ll take third brother and leave. Big brother, take care of yourself.”
With that, Su Ru Hui took Su Yu onto the puppet carriage.
The carriage rattled along a mountain road, getting farther and farther away from the snow line. Su Ru Hui turned his head and asked Su Yu, “Were you scared just now?”
Su Yu shook his head gently and said, “The Secret Sect is strange.”
The two fell into silence, both feeling heavy in their hearts.
Just now, when Su Ru Hui fell into a snowdrift and hit a corpse, Su Yu pulled him up, and the two saw the face of the corpse together.
It was He Sheng’s face. It was pale, his nose and mouth were bleeding, and he died with his eyes open.