Editor: Dhael Ligerkeys
The Combat Cultivator could barely keep his rage in check as his eyes throbbed. [This scoundrel is skilled in spells! How could I have been so careless!] Still, he adamantly stood his ground, choosing not to evade, but instead, he channeled every ounce of Spiritual Power he could muster and swung his hammer forward.
The impact saw him being hurtled through the air before crashing to the ground with his chest bloodied and charred. Amber leaped over the fallen Cultivator with Lu Ye on his back, who bent down and gave a finishing blow with “Sharp Edge” fully activated to make sure that his enemy was dead.
The morbid crunch of steel gnashing through flesh and viscera elicited a blood fountaining out of the wound, but Amber did not stop. The magnificent animal bounded off into the distance before Lu Ye could ascertain that his enemy was really dead
“There he is! Quick!” a voice screamed from behind, followed by the shrill whistle of an arrow that plunged into the darkness, missing him completely.
Lu Ye could see that he was right, especially seeing how anxious the pursuing mob was.
If he had made the mistake of charging at where he thought the mob was weakest, then he might be able to gain a momentary initiative, but it would not be enough to prevent him from being overrun. If anything, that seemed more like a trap that his enemies intentionally set for him.
Withdrawing the Bell Spirit Artifact allowed the Spell Cultivator to regain his freedom and the first thing he did was fire an energy bolt at Lu Ye. But it was too late; Lu Ye was gone.
The mounted Cultivators gave chase, but after a certain distance, as if they had received orders to not overstretch themselves, the riders stopped, staring at Lu Ye from afar, awash with resentful bitterness.
From the Shadow Moon Disc’s display, Lu Ye’s position – which was denoted by a white dot – had well reached the safety of the Green Feather Mountain with a group of more than two dozen blue dots racing towards him while not far away, on the summit of a hilly knoll, another cluster of blue dots was locked in a fierce battle against a company of black dots.
That must be where Lu Ye had noticed a commotion earlier.
Inside a great hall, Han Zhe Yue shot Tang Wu a scathing glare, her eyes flaring with rage. If only her eyes could emit death rays and kill him, that would have pleased her greatly.
The blue dots closing in on Lu Ye’s position were obviously men sent forth on Tang Wu’s orders, or the Tai Luo Clan forces would not have called off their pursuit of Lu Ye. The last thing they wanted was to intrude into the territory of Green Feather Mountain.
It was also Tang Wu who had launched an attack on the summit of the hill as a means of sending a message to Lu Ye.
As it happened, Lu Ye immediately caught on to the gist despite not having any direct communication with Tang Wu, whose tactful arrangement was enough to make Lu Ye come his way.
In the meantime, Han Zhe Yue could not believe that her gambit failed to work. Lu Ye had not charged towards the trap as she intended him to.
The clandestine duel of wits had seen Han Zhe Yue emerge as the clear loser. Not only was Lu Ye well and alive, but he had successfully made it to the Green Feather Mountain forces while she had lost more than a dozen Cultivators, to say nothing of the territories which she had lost after all of today’s skirmishes.
“What in God’s name was that?!” the scrawny Qin Wan Li yelped with disbelief.
For the entire length of the afternoon, Qin Wan Li had barely taken his eyes off the Disc, seeing how the tiny white dot weaved and twisted back and forth amid the pandemonium that centered on him whilst he snaked his way out from the mountains and rode into the sunset in triumph. Qin Wan Li himself could hardly claim similar success even if he were in Lu Ye’s shoes. Hence his awed silence while he felt both pride and admiration for Lu Ye. Anyone else would have long been killed in the early exchanges of what Lu Ye had just survived, never mind making it to the end safely.
But that was not all. There was another key point of this contest, one which did not escape the notice of many who had been watching the event: a black dot that denoted one of the Fifth-Order Cultivators had vanished all of a sudden during the chaos.
That could only mean one thing: that the Outsider Lu Ye had slain a Fifth-Order Cultivator!
The notion itself could practically frighten anyone. If Lu Ye had only just escaped unscathed, then one could argue that it was his mount that had saved his life. But Lu Ye had managed to kill his enemy, a Fifth-Order Cultivator. That practically shone a different light on things.
[My goodness… Is this fellow a member of some powerful faction or a great family?] Qin Wan Li mused quietly.
“What are you doing?!” Han Zhe Yue barked at him furiously, “Make yourself useful!”
Qin Wan Li hastily feigned a cough, replying politely, “Of course, Senior Sister Han! Just give the word, and I’ll go wherever you will go!”
The Qins might wield enough influence and authority to earn a fiefdom of their own, but they were still very much new. That meant that the Qins were still very much reliant on the aegis of the Tai Luo Clan. For this reason, all members of the Qin Family knew better than to antagonize any member of the Clan and Qin Wan Li understood fully well that he needed to be careful and subtle in dealing with Han Zhe Yue in her full wrath.
But Qin Wan Li’s obsequious flattery seemed to have worked. Han Zhe Yue’s anger subsided like a tide and ignoring Tang Wu, she began laying out her plans for a retaliation right in his face.
But Tang Wu wasn’t idling. He stole a furtive glance at the Disc. The squad of blue dots had formed up on the white dot, meaning that everything had been progressing smoothly for the moment.
Meanwhile, Lu Ye found himself surrounded by more than a dozen Cultivators. He beheld the unfamiliar faces quietly, gripping a jade slip firmly between his fingers.
These strangers did not appear to be hostiles and they clearly expected his arrival. Even before they got close, they had announced themselves as members of the Grand Sky Coalition, prompting Lu Ye to show them his blue Battlefield Imprint to prevent any unwanted misunderstanding.
The jade slip was handed to him by one of them, a Fifth-Order Cultivator by the name of Xie Jin who told him that the jade slip contained everything that he needed to know: the current status quo and his own situation.
For a Fifth-Order Cultivator who obviously was more powerful than he was, Xie Jin was awfully polite.
Lu Ye warily made sure that his pursuers were nowhere in sight before he gave his mount a light pat, tacitly signaling the tiger to be vigilant before he finally tapped the jade slip on his forehead to access the information it contained.
By the time he finished going through the contents of the jade slip, he lowered it from his head with a bewildered expression on his face. [The Dragon Spring Conference? The contest held by three powerful factions where the winner would be awarded the chance to enter the Dragon Spring?]
Lu Ye could not believe his luck. He had been traveling the wilderness, trying to avoid territories belonging to great families and powerful factions, choosing only to enter towns or hamlets that usually teemed with independent Cultivators if he needed anything.
Ten days had passed since he last stumbled upon a settlement that was filled with independent Cultivators.
While he avoided contact with anyone else, he did not realize that this was the venue of the Dragon Spring Conference. His initial decision to travel via the One Hundred Peaks mountain range was only because this particular area appeared to be his safest way to travel, being the neutral crossroads leading to the territories of the three most powerful factions in this locale.
Little did he realize that his arrival would cause such a ruckus.
That was the same reason that compelled him to choose traveling via the Split Sky Gorge – the border of the fiefdoms held by the Mystic Sect and the Crimson Heart Sect respectively before the former unified both domains under one single rule.
It was a mistake coming here. He should not have chosen the neutral area which was smack bang in the middle of so many dangerous and powerful parties, with all sides trying to outdo one another and thus making the place chaotic enough. He should have chosen to travel through territories controlled by the Grand Sky Coalition.
He immediately made a mental note about this.
And from what he gleaned from information supplied by the magical jade slip, the area in the One Hundred Peaks mountain range which he had just passed through was well within the Tai Luo Clan’s circle of influence. That would explain the relentless pursuit by the Clan’s Cultivators.
But Lu Ye noticed one more detail: he had rarely seen any Fifth-Order Cultivators before. Yet so many had been popping out of the woodwork lately, just to attack him.
He could think of one possible explanation. According to the jade slip, he had entered the Clan’s territory from the back and the Clan had stationed a few of its most powerful Cultivators mostly at the front lines where most of the conflicts with the rest of the other factions would be. This was why, as he made a beeline that intersected straight through the entire breadth of the Clan’s territory, more and more powerful Cultivators were roped in to hunt him down.
The Shadow Moon Disc was the only reason he could think of behind how easily the Green Feather Mountain forces tracked him down. All three factions had Ninth-Order Cultivators garrisoned around the Disc and that allowed them to be aware of his whereabouts no matter how hard he tried to hide.
He had the strange feeling that someone had been watching him, especially since the Clan’s Cultivators were able to locate him at every nook and cranny, and the information inside the jade slip confirmed his suspicions.
Seeing how everything made sense, Lu Ye was satisfied with the veracity of the information he now received.
At any rate, the timely appearance of these riders had thwarted the pursuit of the Clan and that was good enough for Lu Ye to believe that they meant him no ill will.
“Come with us, my friend. It’s not safe to loiter around here.”
Xie Jin gestured at Lu Ye to follow him.
Lu Ye nodded, “Very well.”
Lu Ye dug his heels into his mount’s flanks and rode ahead with the escort of Cultivators around him.
Xie Jin struck up a conversation with Lu Ye on the way and the latter called himself by his alias “Yi Ye”. Oddly enough, Xie Jin did nothing to pry about Lu Ye’s provenance and background.
It was usual for people inside the Spirit Creek Battlefield to not reveal any information about their own background, more so, if the Cultivator is a member of a powerful faction or an influential family on a wandering pilgrimage.
Cultivators from such distinguished provenance would be sorely mistaken if they started waving the names of their sects or families around like a flag and think this would bring them convenience. If anything, this would only invite more trouble, or more specifically, attacks by other hostile parties.
Having been forewarned by Tang Wu that Lu Ye might be a student from one of the great sects and other militant orders, Xie Jin naturally knew how to avoid offending Lu Ye’s sensitivities.
The company of more than two dozen Cultivators eventually dispersed slowly as they rode further. The group was made up of Cultivators stationed at nearby garrisons and forts, hence with their current mission successfully completed, they would be expected to resume their posts. By the end, only Xie Jin and Lu Ye remained.
In the meantime, Han Zhe Yue, with Qin Wan Li assisting her, launched another desperate attack on one of the hills controlled by the Green Feather Mountain forces, piling enough pressure on the Green Feather Mountain forces that the latter had to withdraw and give up the hill that they had just captured not so long ago. But luckily enough, they managed to prevent many casualties and wounded men.
Xie Jin and Lu Ye made it through a couple of mesas and mounds before they reached a brightly-lit glen – a hive of activity with Cultivators in the hundreds and even thousands scuttling back and forth among scores of tents and canopies.
Seated atop the back of his tiger, Lu Ye beheld the large campsite and spied that many of the Cultivators were injured and hurt. Even from his spot, he could make out the assortment of painful groans and cries from inside the tents and canopies that never stopped wafting into the air rank with the stench of blood and sweat.
This must be the field infirmary, Lu Ye realized. The spot where all Cultivators who were wounded from the skirmishes at the front lines were brought to to heal and recuperate.
Lu Ye rode to the campsite and eyes began to pan his way. “Splendid performance just now, my friend!” a voice hooted cheerily.
Some began giving him applauding whistles…
Female Cultivators started to bat their eyelashes coquettishly at him…
Lu Ye was flabbergasted by the warm welcome the wounded Cultivators threw at him.
“Everyone has heard about what you did, my friend. You’re a hero right now,” Xie Jin grinned at him.
Only now did Lu Ye understand what was going on here.
Xie Jin led Lu Ye ahead until they reached a tent. “Have a rest here, Junior Brother Yi Ye. I’ll have someone tend to your wounds in just a while,” he said.
“All right. Thanks.”
As much as Lu Ye wanted to decline the offer, he did not want to sound impolite and ungrateful. His wounds weren’t too bad and after his few near brushes with death, he had since developed a greater endurance to pain.
But the same could not be said for his mount Amber. The Tai Luo Clan Cultivators had been trying to incapacitate him in their attempts to prevent Lu Ye from escaping. They rained him with spells and Spirit Talisman attacks, to say nothing of the arrows and bolts they managed to wound him with, despite Lu Ye’s best efforts to parry and deflect them away.
“I’ll leave you to rest then,” said Xie Jin. He was about to turn around and leave, but he stopped short. “Ah, yes. I nearly forgot.”
He retrieved a Storage Bag from inside his pockets as he spoke.