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224 Partners

    Kiba's expression was that of fury as Amir reminded him of the possibility that he might not be able to protect Ruby.

    "Calm down," Alexia stepped in and joined the conversation.

    She placed a hand on his shoulder and said, "He is saying this for your own good so that you won't have any regrets in the future. While we as a group are strong, the dangers here are not to be underestimated."

    "The best thing for Ruby would be to join her father," Amir said as Kiba calmed down a bit.

    Everything he and Alexia said so far was a gamble; he believed either he would win or lose everything, there was no other possibility. If possible, he didn't wish to use this, but given the current situation and his future plans, there was no other choice.

    Byron's eye flashed with slyness as he listened to the conversation.

    "This could work for us," Byron thought with happiness. "Kiba has fallen for Ruby so this would be the right opportunity to separate him from this Amir and his group."

    "Amir is right," Byron loudly said, much to the surprise of Kiba and Ruby. "This forest is dangerous and I want to have my daughter with me to ensure her safety."

    "But---"

    "No," Byron's voice was firm with determination like a true father who wouldn't comprise with the safety of his daughter. "I have faith in you Kiba but you have to understand my dilemma as well.

    "I sure do," Kiba nodded while gritting his teeth.

    Ruby looked on and complained of hardship inwardly. She pretty much knew what Kiba has in mind from the beginning. Just a moment ago, he also passed a message to her telepathically to tell her what she has to do.

    "Kiba, I will join father," Ruby took his hands in hers and said, "You continue with Amir and others for the time being."

    "What?!" Byron was visibly shocked. He believed she would try to make him join her, and not another way around.

    "Ruby but---" Kiba tried to interject but Ruby shook her head.

    "Some separation, for now, would ensure our relationship works for better," Ruby said with a smile. "Besides we will meet again before the core region opens up."

    Far away, Ashlyn looked at everything without saying a word like she didn't care the least bit.

    An hour later.

    Ruby left along with Byron, Cindy, and others of her original human trafficking group.

    "Why did you let Kiba stay there?" Byron asked after they left the swamp.

    "He has something he wishes to acquire from the group so leaving him alone was for the best," Ruby answered, her mind flashing with pictures of Ashlyn. "A Stardust Mushroom and a few other items."

    "Oh!" Byron nodded in understanding.

    "He might resent me if I made him leave the group after coming so close," Ruby explained further. "So leaving him, for now, would have a better effect on his heart and he would remember me forever for my understanding."

    "Ah! Smart!" Cindy praised with an open heart. "He would return to you on his own with gratitude."

    "We are going to get rich after we capture him," Byron stated his plan of using Pond of Lust.

    "We sure are," Ruby said with a smirk while inwardly she prayed for their poor souls.

    "We should join Xander and Kyron," Byron said.

    "Ah...they would be meeting me when the core region opens up," Ruby made an excuse. "That was part of our original plan and I no longer have any communication with them due to lack of any signals here."

    "A pity but I can wait some time to meet them," Byron didn't care much. There were only two weeks left for the reunion so it was fine.

    "You are going to meet them very soon in the wonderland," Ruby mused in her heart as she traced a silver bracelet on her wrist.

    Before leaving the group, Kiba gave her the bracelet and explained its use. She was no longer worried about her safety.

    "Kiba, have fun."

    ----

    The next day.

    Morning.

    The poisonous fog over the swamp has reduced. The black sludge was visible and so were red worms over it.

    These worms were similar to leeches, capable of sucking the entire blood of a person. Just their appearance was terrifying and made one feel uncomfortable.

    While the fog was faint, it was still emitting a terrible stench, capable of making one feel drowsy. Amir and others wore masks to stop the stench from invading their senses.

    "The width of the swamp is low so we can easily cross it now," Mina said as she leaped high in the air and aimed her hands at the opposite banks of swamp.

    Woosh.

    Two columns of sandy liquid flew out of her hands. The sandy liquid joined together in the form of a bridge, and soon, the liquid solidified, connecting the two banks of the swamp.

    Kiba and others walked over the make-shift bridge, looking under the bridge. Hundreds of worms shot up like spikes and entered the bridge.

    "Watch out!" Alexia warned.

    The worms coursed their way through the solid material which formed the bridge and jumped out. Around twenty worms attacked Kiba, landing on his shoes and running towards his neck.

    "I have no fancy for worms," Kiba said as the air around him solidified and formed a protective layer on his skin.

    The worms opened their mouths, revealing short but ghastly teeth. They snapped their teeth on his skin.

    ~crack~

    Like frail glass, their teeth broke in pieces. The worms were startled for their teeth could shatter even through the strongest of metal.

    A dozen or so bugs jumped towards Ashlyn to suck her blood, but the moment they touched her black suit, streams of the blue current shot out.

    Zzzz

    The red bodies of worms turned as dark as charcoal as current coursed through.

    For Kiba and Ashlyn, the bugs were the epitome of death. The others were sadly not so lucky especially Gill.

    He used a laser gun to shot the bugs to death and so far, he has killed more than ten. But the bugs were resilient, they surrounded him from all sides. As he killed and shot more lasers, cracks started appearing on the bridge.

    "Stop you, idiot," Alexia shouted. The laser shots have damaged the bridge beyond its limit, and alas, her warning was far too late.

    ~shatter~

    The bridge broke apart in pieces, and along with it, everyone started falling towards the black mud.

    "Fuck!" Amir stretched his body into a ballon but he didn't dare fly high. The poisonous fog has formed clouds in the air, and if he touched it, his fate would be beyond miserable.

    Mina waved her hand and formed a pillar of sandy liquid upon which she landed while trying to kill a worm which has entered her pant. She was in no condition to help others.

    Meanwhile, inside the black swamp, a dark hand stretched towards the falling members. The hand was formed up from sludge, and it emitted a sucking force like quicksand.

    "Damnit," Gil quickly adjusted his gun and shot at the sludge hand. The laser pierced through the hand, forming circular holes.

    But the sludge from the swamp moved up and filled the holes like tissues.

    "No!" Gill got no time to adjust as the hand grasped him and entered the swamp.

    In no time, there were no more sounds from Gill. The surface of the swamp was the same as always with no traces that it has just sucked a human.

    "That was unexpected," Kiba thought, unfazed by his falling. "It should be some beast born in sludge."

    Just as he was about to touch the swamp, a gale of air bounced on his feet and he leaped towards the bank of the swamp. The sludge hand once again shot out, pursuing Kiba.

    "You are still hungry?" Kiba asked, amused, as he twisted his body in mid-air. He was just five meters away from the shore when the sludge hand blasted out sludge nails from its fingers.

    The nails were pointed, their fronts covered with poisonous fog. With a loud screeching sound, they arrived in front of Kiba.

    The fog dispersed in the air to engulf Kiba from all around. His mouth and nose were covered with a gas mask but the fog wanted to enter his pores.

    Kiba waved his hand and a transparent golden shield appeared in front of him.

    Shua.

    The nails struck at the shield, and the collision created faint cracks on it. The poisonous fog, in the meanwhile, found it hard to enter his body. It was like his pores were isolated from the world, not giving them an opportunity to invade.

    ~tap~

    Kiba landed on the shore. The sludge hand, finding its target out of range, once again dissolved in the swamp.

    "Hmm?" Kiba turned around and noticed Ashlyn standing some distance away. She felt his gaze and brought her emerald eyes on him.

    "Hey," Kiba said before turning around again.

    He was afraid he would enter into a trance if he looked at her face any longer. Her beauty was mesmerizing to the soul and he didn't wish to have any embarrassing moment again.

    Ashlyn didn't say anything and observed the fight in the swamp. After five minutes, Amir and others also crossed the swamp.

    "We have lost Gill," Nellie said as she wiped traces of blood from her neck.

    "First Monroe and now even Gill," Amir's expression was unsightly. He felt the last two days were the worst days he had in his life.

    "Let's rest and then proceed," Alexia walked under an old tree and sat down to relax.

    ...

    A few hours later.

    Kiba and others were walking on a track, covered by grass and dead leaves, among thick foliage and giant trees. Most of the sunlight was blocked by the thick green crowns of the trees, making the area seem dark.

    Amir brought out a map and pointed out a spot.

    "There are two tracks in this map but it is old so we are not sure if the tracks are functioning or blocked," Amir said in a heavy voice before focusing his eyes on Kiba and Ashlyn. "You two will take one path and follow it."

    "Oh?" Kiba was visibly surprised. He then thought for a moment of what Amir has in mind and he has a faint idea on what was going.

    Ashlyn didn't speak but just nodded her head. Seeing neither Kiba and Ashlyn having any objection, Amir selected a track for them.

    "If you reach the spot just fire a flare shot in the sky," Amir continued his instruction. "If the path is blocked, return here. We will proceed on the other path and do the same."

    "Are you not worried either of us would steal the mushroom and run away?" Kiba asked after Amir completed his instructions.

    "If you do so, then I can only blame my luck and lack of judgment skills," Amir said with a smile.

    "We won't disappoint you then," Kiba made an assuring remark.

    ~step~

    Kiba heard a stepping sound and noticed Ashlyn walking towards the path.

    "See you," Kiba said as he dashed to join Ashlyn.

    Behind, the members of the original Blue Cliff Group looked on as the two left the area.

    "Would this work?" Alexia asked.

    "It will," Amir answered, his eyes filled with sinisterness.

    -----------

    Kiba and Ashlyn walked on a path made of loose soil. Neither of them spoke or looked at each other as they continued their journey.

    "This is boring," Kiba thought, his mood a bit sullen. "I should have kept Ruby with me."

    Kiba recalled her sweet taste, and he unconsciously licked his lips.

    "No, I have to focus on my mission of collecting herbs and fruits," Kiba reminded himself.

    Alas, his reminder didn't help him. His mind made him remember the intimate moments he shared with Ruby and other women in the city.

    "If only there was some husband-wife pair here then it would be so really fun."

    It has been a long while since he had an affair with a married woman and this reminded him of his responsibilities as the chairman of Wife Pleasuring Service Ltd. He hoped to meet some wonderful couple so that he could cuckold the husband and make love with the wife.

    Roar.

    Kiba's daydream was broken by a loud roar. Three Silver Fur Foxes were standing some hundred meters away.

    "How should we handle them?" Kiba looked at Ashlyn to ask her opinion. She didn't say anything, and instead, leaped high in the air.

    Screech

    The blue discs flew out from her hands and rushed towards the foxes. The Foxes jumped to avoid the discs but much to their disbelief, the discs made a circular curve to struck at them.

    ~slice~

    The discs penetrated through the necks of foxes one by one, and in less than a minute, the three foxed were dead, their heads separated from the torso.

    "This arrangement is fine with me," Kiba muttered as Ashlyn landed on her feet. She raised her hands to summon the discs back to her.

    Ashlyn looked at Kiba and didn't reply to his comment. Just then, her eyes flickered as she saw Kiba raising his right hand and aiming his palm at her.

    On his palm, golden sparks concentrated.

    "You plan to kill me?" Ashlyn asked, her voice cold. The discs returned to her hands and she gripped them.

    Kiba didn't answer as a stream of golden energy boomed out of his palm. Even before Ashlyn could blink her eyes, the stream of energy arrived at her.

    But much to her amazement, the energy stream didn't land on her, instead it passed by her left cheek. Her hair fluttered as the energy stream struck something close to her.

    "Grrr!"

    A beastly voice filled with sadness and fury came out behind Ashlyn.

    She was startled and she quickly turned around.

    On the ground, a fox rolled with whimpering sound, its body morphing between corporeal and incorporeal, a bloody hole in its neck. It grunted for a second before it closed its eye for the final time.

    Ashlyn observed the body of fox and realized what just happened now. This was a level III Silver Fur Fox with the ability to morph into the air. This ability allowed it to kill its enemies without any challenge.

    Kiba walked past her and fox's corpse. Ashlyn looked at him for a moment before joining him...
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