Editor: Dhael Ligerkeys
The battle lasted just over a quarter of an hour. Lu Ye and his squadmates rested in the woods, each leaning against a tree trunk while they recuperated and healed, leaving their mounts to lick their own wounds.
Not far away was the site of the battle where the bodies of dead Qin Cultivators were strewn everywhere. But they should have been thankful. Their leader, the Fifth-Order Cultivator, was the last one standing in the end before he was ultimately dismembered limb by limb by Lu Ye and the others as he made his last stand.
In just one morning, the Xie Jin raiding squad first encountered an enemy counterpart before joining a friendly defense squad in a concerted effort in thwarting an enemy offense which ended up in the complete decimation of the enemy vanguard squad, and now, they managed to wipe out half an enemy defense squad all on their own. One could call it an extremely productive morning.
The many engagements in such a short period had seen them collecting a few cuts and bruises of their own, but fortunately for everyone in the squad, there was nothing serious.
“Thank you so much!” the soft and tender body of a woman snuggled into Lu Ye, her fragrance filling his nostrils as Qiao Qiao Er tossed him a thankful wink.
In the last attack against the enemy Fifth-Order squad leader, Lu Ye had a chance to perform the killing blow but he did not take it. Instead, he allowed his squadmates to have the final coup de grâce. The opportunity eventually fell on Qiao Qiao Er’s lap, allowing her to earn an additional thirty Spirit Stones.
Beyond any doubt, Lu Ye had the most kills out of the entire squad in this morning’s skirmishes. He alone made up more than three-tenths of the team’s rewards for this morning’s raids. In the final attack against the enemy Fifth-Order squad leader’s last stand, it was he who spearheaded the charge to distract him to prevent any unwanted losses to the squad against a cornered enemy of such powerful strength.
Lu Ye was aware that he had profited enough and he knew better than to be greedy. After all, his fellow squadmates had been shedding blood and sweat of their own as well. Hence Lu Ye thought that he might as well give them a little hand.
More so, since independent Cultivators have often had to struggle against privation and destitution.
“You earned it,” said Lu Ye curtly as he shifted sideways to make space for his meditation. As much as he wanted to be nice to his fellow squadmates, he just couldn’t tolerate Qiao Qiao Er’s over-passionate advances on him.
But Qiao Qiao Er was not going to give up just yet. “How bout I come to your tent tonight?”
“Growl…” a large white furry head stuck itself between them both as Amber hurled a fierce glare at Qiao Qiao Er.
“I-I was just joking!” Qiao Qiao Er got up at once, her hand quickly caressing her backside as she trotted hastily away, still reeling with fright from that traumatic experience last night.
A peal of giggles broke out amid coughing fits. It was Song Xie, who had been watching the whole scene as he healed himself.
“I’ll see if that coughing will kill you!” Qiao Qiao Er scowled nastily at him.
All of a sudden, a wave of rustling leaves swept through the woods, followed by the unmistakable emanation of spiritual energies coming this way.
The entire squad tensed before Xie Jin raised a hand. “It’s fine,” he said, “Friendlies.”
And he was right. It was the Green Feather Mountain vanguard squad that was sent to attack the other half of the enemy defense squad and capture the hillock. After completing their mission there, they rushed this way to help.
The Fifth-Order squad leader was astounded to find nothing but an empty hillside otherwise filled with dead corpses. “Wh-What?! The battle here’s ended already?!”
They were under the impression that this side of the two-pronged attack would be a most difficult one since the raiding squad would be heavily outnumbered by at least three to one. Even with their superior mobility due to their mounts, the Xie Jin raiding squad was only expected to just hold off the enemy while the friendly vanguard squad finished off the other half of the enemy defense squad before coming back here to help mop up the rest. None of the vanguard squad thought that they would come here to find that the battle here had finished.
The Green Feather Mountain vanguard did a quick survey of the bodies and in the end, the Fifth-Order squad leader exhaled with disbelief. [Gods, this wasn’t a battle. This was an all-out slaughter…]
[Since when did this raiding squad become so powerful? Last I checked they shouldn’t have been able to do something like this.]
The squad leader of the vanguard squad gave Xie Jin a blank look before the latter nudged a chin at Lu Ye by means of an explanation. The squad leader finally understood why.
It was not a question of whether the raiding squad was powerful or not, but rather because of the addition of a strong and dependable member.
Lu Ye had demonstrated his ability to kill one enemy Cultivator in every skirmish that had happened today, maybe even two if he was lucky enough. But the same could not be said for the rest of the squad.
The half of the Qin defense squad that the Xie Jin squad was supposed to be holding off had lost what ability or morale to fight back, but without mounts of their own they could barely hope to flee.
In the meantime, the leader of the vanguard squad was rather sour. To make sure that they were in time to support the Xie Jin raiding squad, about seven to eight Qin Cultivators had managed to escape. If they knew how well things here had progressed, they would have killed them all for a better win.
Not that he could complain about today’s win.
Xie Jin and the leader had a quick discussion about their plans and it was concluded that the vanguard squad would retreat back to the hillock and occupy it for now.
Meanwhile, the raiding squad would withdraw to the field infirmary campsite to refresh themselves. The raiders and their mounts could do with some rest and recuperation after all the fighting and exertions.
The raiding squad rode past two hills and saw tents erected on a third that belonged to Green Feather Mountain and there were more than twenty defenders there.
Lu Ye was rather surprised to find Mu Ling, in addition to two other Medical Cultivators, being posted there.
He did not have to be a genius to know why. Placing Medical Cultivators so far up the frontlines was a risky business. As Cultivators who focused on the magic of healing, they could barely defend themselves against Cultivators of similar rank let alone superior ones. Therefore, one could expect how dangerous it would be for them if and when the Qins or the Tai Luo Clan were to launch a sudden attack here.
Lu Ye and Amber went inside a tent where Mu Ling busied herself with dressing his and Amber’s wounds.
With only light wounds between both man and beast, Mu Ling’s treatments and just a couple of pills were able to restore them back to fighting fit come the next morning,
Xie Jin led his squadmates out for another day of raiding the next morning. Only this time, they did not encounter any enemy raiding squads at all. In fact, it felt as if their enemy counterparts were all deliberately avoiding them. To this end, they eventually discovered that the enemy raiding squads had all been disbanded with all its raiders assigned to different defense squads. In the end, Lu Ye and his squadmates were assigned to assist their vanguard squads in capturing more territory.
And they were unstoppable.
One after another, they took over other hillocks like knocking down dominoes.
In just three days, the Qin forces lost a total of eight hillocks which formerly made up a considerable part of its twenty-seven-hillock territory. They had taken over two of Green Feather Mountain’s hills at first, only to lose six of their own instead.
No one at the great hall sitting on the summit of the central neutral region could fail to notice how dismal Qin Wan Li looked.
From the Shadow Moon Disc, the status quo of the Conference could have not been any clearer: the Qins’ tally of hillocks they controlled now numbered at nineteen, while Green Feather Mountain had caught up from behind with thirty-two hills securely defended, whereas the Tai Luo Clan was leading with forty-nine hills, which was almost half the total number of hills, to call its own. It was a most amazing feat for the Clan for even in its heyday, Green Feather Mountain could only boast forty-six hillocks under its control.
Forty-nine – an unprecedented record.
But this was only possible because of the new Green Feather Mountain strategy to allow the Clan’s vanguard squads to freely occupy its hillocks while its own Cultivators vigorously chipped away at Qin territories. All defense squads were given orders to abandon their assigned hillocks if and when a Tai Luo Clan invasion was coming their way.
This could help to prevent unwanted losses and preserve the bulk of Green Feather Mountain’s strength.
This was all Tang Wu’s simple master plan: that Green Feather Mountain would first devote its entire might into annihilating all of the Qins and once they were ready, they would deal with the Tai Luo Clan later.
But Qin Wan Li was not a five-year-old who failed to guess the obvious. Only, what could he do? The rules were clear: every hillock in the Qin domain made up the blind bets he placed to qualify for this Conference. He could hardly say no.
“Come on, Tang,” Qin Wan Li peered at Tang Wu morosely, “That’s so underhanded of you.”
“Underhanded? In what way?” Tang Wu hissed placidly. “We’ve not broken any rules, last time I checked. So how underhanded have we been, pray explain. This is just us playing to win without infringing the rules of this Conference, which I’m sure you’ll agree.”
[But at my expense], Qin Wan Li wanted to say. The Qin forces have been bleeding men and supplies for the past three days with more than a hundred casualties. Anymore and the Qins would be ruined.
The dots began shifting again, indicating more troop movements on the Shadow Moon Disc. A mass of blue dots were marching straight for another hillock held by a cluster of scarlet specks, indicating another invasion. Qin Wan Li checked the numbers of blue-dotted invaders and their ranks and sighed. [Heaven forfend that the Qin casualties would be piling again this time.]
His face squirmed and distwisted with suppressed horror and disgust before he finally said quietly. “Master Tang, a parley, if I may? On behalf of the Qin forces, I’m permitted to say that we’re happy to contend with just eighteen hillocks.”
Tang Wu at him briefly before the corner of his lips curled into an imperceptible grin. “Very well then!”
That was all Qin Wan Li could have asked for as he quietly careened with gratitude and relief as he immediately dispatched his orders at great haste. In mere minutes, the cluster of crimson spots immediately teemed down the slopes of the hillock, giving way for the company of blue dots to occupy the place without any resistance.
Qin Wan Li stole a glance at Han Zhe Yue. There she was, hurling at him a most venomous glare. He returned a weak and sheepish smile. After all, he really was at his wit’s end. The Qin forces could only take so much beating and his request for just eighteen hillocks in the parley was as good as admitting defeat and a pronouncement of surrender…
And Tang Wu had graciously accepted the parley.
That effectively ruled him out of getting involved in the feud between Green Feather Mountain and the Tai Luo Clan.
Naturally, Han Zhe Yue was hardly happy about how things were developing. But she could hardly complain. The Qins could have just watched from the sidelines but it was she who dragged them into this mess. In the end, the Qins not only lost both men and arms, they had even lost a portion of their territory. In contrast, it was the Clan that had benefited the most by gaining almost half the total number of hillocks in this Conference with minimal losses of their own.
Therefore, she could hardly direct any word of blame to Qin Wan Li. The Qins were a noble house with a relatively young history of just thirty years and wealth and influence that the Clan and Green Feather Mountain each could easily dwarf. For this reason, tossing him a scathing glare was just as far as she was willing to go. She swiveled around to lose her temper at the person who she thought most deserved it: Tang Wu. “Scoundrel!” she glowered at him.
“You can talk all you want,” Tang Wu commented dryly.
Han Zhe Yue nearly blew her gasket. “Come fight us then! What’s with all that retreating whenever you see us? Are you wimps?! Is Green Feather Mountain made up of nothing but a ragtag bunch of cowards?!”
“You want a fight?” Tang Wu said, “Very well, you got it.”
As soon as he was finished, the Shadow Moon Disc indicated more abrupt troop movements. Waves and waves of blue dots were mobilizing, marching towards a hillock now being occupied by black spots.
“Don’t you feel that you’re a tad too overstretched?” Tang Wu smirked. “You sure you’ll win this skirmish?”
Each faction only had a limited number of men signing up in the Conference. That made defending a real science. One could control a great number of hillocks but at the same time, had to sacrifice the integrity of their defense since the deployment of manpower would have to be stretched thin. Hence, Han Zhe Yue might have enhanced defenses laid out on hillocks skirting the peripherals of the Clan’s territory, but still, the defenses remained lacking in manpower. An invasion right now would be an easy win for Green Feather Mountain.
“Just you look!” Han Zhe Yue scowled. She quickly sent urgent orders to her men and in mere minutes, more black dots marched towards the frontlines to reinforce the hillocks now closest to the enemy lines.
The wry grin on Tang Wu’s expression only creased deeper as if he had guessed this coming from a long way. Qin Wan Li, who had been watching Tang Wu, knew better than to say a word. Tang Wu must be plotting something and the last thing Qin Wan Li could afford was to meddle with Tang Wu’s plot and face the full wrath of Green Feather Mountain.