The mine was completely surrounded. There was nowhere for Gray to go, not with the scores of bandits right in front of the tunnel entrance. However, they did not come in and instead continued downriver. They seemed to know that Gray's mine was abandoned and instead surrounded the other old mine where the miners were sleeping.
The bandits lined up in numerous rows and formed a thick semicircle around that mine entrance. If anybody wanted to escape from that, it would be almost impossible.
Gray peeked out further and watched as the black robes parted and a tall individual walked forward. From his demeanor and stride, it was obvious he was strong and filled with confidence.
The leader surveyed the entire mine before gesturing to some men beside him. They saluted and dashed forward, carrying large bundles of some sort in their arms. They placed them around the entrance and then stood back up, awaiting instructions.
However, it was not the bandit leader who acted first but a blur that shot out of the cave. It was foreman Kang, half-naked and wielding his pickaxe like a weapon.
"Give me your dog life!" He yelled and swiped at the nearest bandit.
However, against both Kang and Gray's expectations, the bandit leader moved like the wind and managed to reach his subordinate before the foreman. There was a flash of metal that met the heavy pickaxe in mid-swing.
The force of the impact blew Kang back and sent him tumbling to the entrance of the tunnel. Despite his cultivation at the 6th Level of Spiritual Strengthening Realm, the exchange of force caused him to spit out blood.
Satisfied with the result, the bandit leader sheathed his sword arrogantly.
"Are you alright!"
Several yells emerged from inside the mine. It seemed that the miners had woken up and were aware of the bandit attack.
"I'm fine!" Kang yelled. "Barricade the entrance! Don't let them come in!"
The bandit leader wasn't going to allow this to happen and he gestured to his men.
"Do it!" His clear voice echoed through the night.
At his signal, bandits around the cave lit their torches, finally bringing light to the dark night. Several rushed forward and used their torches to ignite the bundles that were placed at the entrance. These bundles began to burn vigorously and let off a great deal of black smoke.
More bandits also came forward, holding more burning bundles. Once the bundles were almost engulfed in flames, they started throwing them into the mine, several at a time.
"Put it out!"
Panicked screams came from inside. The miners couldn't deal with so many flaming bundles and the tunnel soon filled with thick, choking smoke that billowed out in huge black clouds.
"You bastard!" Kang screamed and charged out.
He finally couldn't stand it anymore and went all out. The only hope for the miners was to defeat the bandit leader.
The two experts traded blows one after another. It was an impressive show of force from both sides but it was quickly clear what the result would be. None of Kang's punches or kicks or swipes with his pickaxe landed while the bandit leader hadn't even drawn his sword.
After about twenty exchanges, the sword finally emerged and…
Kang let out a wretched scream and tumbled to the ground. He had a large slash across his chest and his pickaxe was nowhere to be seen.
Before he could get back up, the sharp end of the sword was pointed dangerously close to his throat. The bandit leader held the sword there and didn't say anything, waiting for the foreman to catch his breath.
"You… I can tell this is no ordinary bandit attack… not with your numbers and your strength." Kang said between gasps, "So tell me. What do you want?"
The bandit leader put away his sword and lowered his hood, revealing a youthful face that very familiar.
It was Duanmu Tang!
Gray had stared at that sorry face for many days and nights and would be able to recognize him anywhere. He didn't expect to see this asshole here once again and he also didn't expect him to have improved so much in such a short time!
Duanmu Tang was most likely already at the 7th Level of the Spiritual Strengthening Realm. Gray had only gained three levels and yet this bastard had gained two levels. Gray had a supreme cultivation art, a mountain of gold, and treated jade like candy. What did Duanmu Tang have?
"Foreman is wise and has judged the situation correctly." Duanmu Tang spoke in a serious voice, "We are here tonight, not for your gems and spiritual stones but for you and the miners. Surrender your miners and we will not hurt them. If you resist… then don't blame me for being ruthless."
Kang was responsible for the lives of his men and this was not a winnable battle. While he was trained by the company, most of the miners were simple commoners with almost zero experience fighting. His decision was simple and it was what Gray expected.
"We… we surrender…" Kang said. He then turned to mine and raised his voice, "We surrender! Everybody come out!"
The miners heard and obeyed. They marched out dejectedly, most covered in black soot from the smoke bombs.
They were rounded up by the bandits. One by one, they had their hands tied behind their backs and then to each other.
Gray grimaced and stopped watching. Given the dire situation, he had no intentions of staying here and being captured as a slave. He dug up the spiritual stones he had hidden and put them in a cloth bag. He wrapped the bag around his shoulder and made sure his precious treasure would be secure. With pickaxe in hand, he peered outside once again, waiting for the best chance to make a run for it.
"Line up properly!"
The harsh yells of the bandits filled the night. They came prepared and had seemingly an endless supply of rope. Their targets were the miners from the very beginning.
The foreman and ten head miners, in particular, stood separate from the others. They were the strongest cultivators and thus had their arms and even their feet bound.
When every miner was tied up, Duanmu Tang drew his sword once more and headed towards the foreman and the head miners.
Foreman Kang immediately sensed that something was wrong.
"What… what are you doing!" He yelled angrily. "Hey, hey!"
Duanmu Tang did not reply and simply answered with his sword. A flash of the blade and the foreman crumpled to the ground without this head.
The head miners and the others screamed in horror.
"Bastard!" Gray unwittingly muttered under his breath.
He was shocked by Duanmu Tang's despicable act. The foreman had already surrendered and he killed him in cold blood!
Gray was so furious he wanted to slap Duanmu Tang down and teach him a lesson. If there weren't all these bandits around, he would definitely have charged out and given that bastard a piece of his mind…
And yet, in a great twist of fate, his wish was instantly granted because a moment later, Duanmu Tang turned around and stared straight at Gray's hiding spot!
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