Editor: Dhael Ligerkeys
The Tai Luo Clan squad leader was no fool, nor was he a five-year-old who was still dubious about his situation. He knew that he would be dead no matter what and he had every intention of bringing as many enemies as he could into the grave with him.
Meanwhile, Qiao Qiao Er surveyed the battlefield and decided to head towards rejoining Song Xie and Tao Tian Gang instead since she failed to get an answer out of Lu Ye. Song Xie might yet survive this day, but the same could not be said for the already-wounded Tao Tian Gang if their enemy was not defeated quickly enough.
On the other hand, Han Zhe Yue’s smug elation dissolved into reticent gloom inside the great hall at the central neutral region as she failed to take her eyes off the display where the two raiding squads were battling each other. When one of the black dots there vanished, her grin froze. Then a second disappeared and that was when her smile evaporated before a third faded, portending the failure of her intricate ploy and an unbelievable blow that had left her stupefied and petrified with disbelief.
“HAH!” a usually-stoic Tang Wu cackled so hard that he looked like he could almost double over in laughter as he patted the display of the Shadow Moon Disc.
Even he could hardly confess to anticipating such an incredible turn of events. He did not know what really happened out there on the field and how his raiders managed to defy such impossible odds and triumphed, but the display of the Shadow Moon Disc showed the ironclad truth: the enemy raiders had lost two Fifth-Order and one Fourth-Order Cultivators and it wouldn’t be too long before his raiders mopped up the last of the two.
His raiders had won! That was reason enough for a celebration, although his hunch told him that this could only be the doing of the new recruit, the Fourth-Order Cultivator called Yi Ye. He knew for a fact that the rest of the squad did not have the flair for such heroics.
Recruiting Yi Ye for this year’s Conference might have been the best decision he had ever made.
But Tang Wu’s laughter only managed to rile up an already-miffed Han Zhe Yue whose very hands and shoulders were shaking with boiling rage as she stared at the display of the Disc. Another onyx-black spot melted into nothing. She closed her eyes with frustration.
If only she could unsee what just happened!
[What a waste! That would have been such a perfect plan if all those incompetent and inept fools had not botched its execution!]
Qin Wan Li involuntarily shifted sideways if it was to put as much distance as he could between both him and Han Zhe Yue. The last thing he wanted was for him to get caught up in the fallout of her rage.
The battle was still ongoing, but with only the last enemy raider still standing.
Lu Ye and Xie Jin had slain their target before coming over to assist Qiao Qiao Er and the rest.
The last Fifth-Order raider of the enemy squad had thought of fleeing, but he could not risk exposing his back to three Fourth-Order adversaries if he turned tail and ran. To do that would be tantamount to suicide.
And his plight was not alleviated one bit at all by the addition of Xie Jin and Lu Yu, whose arrival had practically sealed his fate.
Barely ten seconds later, the final enemy raider crumbled to the ground and into a pool of his own blood after a final, futile act of defiance where he fired his last Talisman at Tao Tian Gang. Mumbling curses with his last breath, he died knowing that his squad had failed their charge miserably and his attempt to kill at least one target had ended in vain.
At long last, the gritting struggle was over for Squad Xie Jin with Tao Tian Gang badly wounded and Song Xie making it through without anything life-threatening. But their kill tally had just risen by four Five-Order and one Fourth-Order kills.
Despite the vast differences in strength and power, they had managed to scrape a win as underdogs. A feat no one else would believe was possible.
Everyone peered at Lu Ye with the wonder and awe of discovering a unicorn.
They knew that it was he who first killed his target, the Fifth-Order Body-tempering Cultivator, before making short work of the Spell Cultivator who had been giving Song Xie a hard time. No one could dispute that it was they who would be lying on the ground dead and maimed if it wasn’t for Lu Ye.
“Come on, we need to support the vanguard!” Xie Jin called.
Lu Ye swiveled around to peer at Tao Tian Gang, who wasn’t looking well at all with his massive hemorrhaging. Leaning against the trunk of a tree and gasping for air, the chalk-white Green Feather Mountain acolyte looked like he could be sailing perilously close to the brink of dying any moment now.
“Junior Brother!” Xie Jin groaned with guilt.
Tao Tian Gang forced a grin. Weakly, he said, “Don’t worry about me. Go! I’ll meet you back at the field infirmary!”
“I’ve called for people to come get you.”
“Win this for me!” Tao Tian Gang said gravely.
Xie Jin nodded without a word.
Two out of the five mounts that the Tai Luo Clan raiders had ridden here were dead, all thanks to Amber, who had shown that it was the strongest and most dangerous of the mounts they had encountered up until now. That allowed them a certain edge when it came to fights between raiding squads.
The rest of the mounts had been routed the moment their riders were killed.
Squad Xie Jin got on their mounts and resumed their charge up the slopes with Lu Ye leading the front. The battle at the crest had been going on without them and it was time the raiders made their entry.
The Green Feather Mountain vanguard squad assaulting the crest was clearly in the advantage as per Han Zhe Yue’s original plan. It was all so that she could send her raiding squad this way without arousing suspicion.
She anticipated that her squad would easily decimate Squad Xie Jin before assisting in the defense uphill. The raiders numbering only five, but with four Fifth-Order Cultivators—including a Spell Cultivator in their midst—their presence would surely be able to surprise the Green Feather Mountain vanguard squad and reverse the circumstances
Yet instead, it was her raiding squad that was annihilated in its entirety, making the already-unfavorable situation worse.
Lu Ye could never forget the looks on the faces of the Tai Luo Clan defenders when he and his squadmates reached the top of the hill. They looked utterly astounded. They were told that they only needed to hold the defenses until their raiding squad arrived. The knowledge that there were enough Fifth-Order Cultivators in the raiding squad to make a difference in this battle had been what kept their morale intact.
But seeing that it was the enemy raiding squad arriving instead of their own sapped their confidence and will to fight on.
The raiders had just survived a grueling and almost-fatal battle that had greatly fatigued and exhausted them. A charge straight through the defensive lines might do more harm than good, hence Lu Ye led his squad around the edges, chipping away at their men and morale as they looked out for chances to exploit.
Qiao Qiao Er rather enjoyed this way of fighting. The length of her whip made her the one with the widest range, allowing her to either yank an enemy into the dirt or hook him away from the defensive formation, isolating him enough for Song Xie and Xie Jin to deal with him from a safe distance.
Lu Ye allowed his teammates to rake up all the kills. Being able to fire spells of his own, he circled around, firing one phoenix-like bolt after another into the midst of the enemy defenders, causing more pain and misery, if not death.
That slowly and steadily heaped more pressure on the defenders.
More defenders fell one by one, firmly securing Green Feather Mountain’s victory here.
Han Zhe Yue stared blankly at the display of the Disc, watching how the black dots slowly vanished one by one.
She could send more raiding squads this way. But help would take time to arrive, even if Tang Wu did nothing to make sure that the reinforcements were not intercepted and cut off.
And she was right. For every raiding squad that she sent to the same hillock where Squad Xie Jin was fighting, Tang Wu would send another to meet them halfway.
She could barely mobilize some help from the nearby hills, for this was a multi-pronged assault by Green Feather Mountain; a joint offensive being conducted on at least five to six fronts. With more than a handful of the nearby defensive squads bogged down in a deadlock trying to fend off their invaders, both her and Tang Wu’s original plans respectively were for the men on this particular hill to break the impasse.
That presented her with only one last viable option: to retreat before every defender there made the hill their final resting place.
But retreating was easier said than done, for that would mean exposing their rear to the enemy. More often than not, this could turn out to be a dangerous mistake; the defenders might be totally wiped out instead, especially with Lu Ye and the rest of Squad Xie Jin lurking around like a pack of wolves.
The skirmish atop the crest manifested into a grind that persisted until sundown. The aftermath was a hellish sight of dead bodies littering everywhere along the descending slopes of the hill. The air was rank with the stench of blood and the hilltop plains were scattered with bloody maimed limbs and sickening chunks of flesh and viscera. Many of the dead were those killed when they were trying to retreat.
Squad Xie Jin and their friendly vanguard squad were victorious.
Tired and weary, Lu Ye and his squadmates rode behind Xie Jin as he led them back to the field infirmary campsite hidden in the glen at the far rear.
But the day had not yet ended for the rest of the Green Feather Mountain forces.
Those who could still fight quickly regrouped and reorganized themselves before they marched towards a nearby hillock to shatter the deadlock there.
Han Zhe Yue looked as if she was going to try and smash a chair at the display of the Shadow Moon Disc. She tore her gaze off the magical surveillance device and hissed at Tang Wu with eyes moist and bloodshot with despondency, “You wish to put an end to us once and for all?!”
Tang Wu snorted at the closest thing to a plea from her. “As if you lot would show us any mercy if we were in your shoes. We’re enemies, remember? Don’t you think that it’s hilarious that you’re saying such silly things to me?”
Han Zhe Yue gritted her teeth and swallowed what retort she was going to say and stole a glance at Qin Wan Li instead.
Qin Wan Li quickly averted his gaze, trying to avoid looking at her. Life for the Qins wouldn’t be easy after this, of this he was certain. Even so, the Qins could hardly say yes to the Clan’s appeal for help. He did not want to be caught between a rock and a hard place.
Green Feather Mountain would make sure that he would regret agreeing to provide any assistance to the Clan. What the Qins now had was a peace that was built on the lives of more than a hundred loyal Qin acolytes and retainers—a price so dear that Qin Wan Li would never forget.
If anything, he would rather tell Han Zhe Yue to just yield and admit defeat, if only she was not giving him such a venomous glare right now.
The choice between antagonizing the Clan and ensuring the safety of his kinsmen was a clear one. The security of his family was paramount.
“Very well!” Han Zhe Yue broke into a sudden smile with resignation, conceding at last that all hope was lost. All her elaborate planning and preparation in her fearsome duel of wits against Tang Wu had boiled down into such an inglorious and irreversible defeat just because of a simple miscalculation.
She shut her eyes and placed her finger on her Battlefield Imprint. Quietly, she relayed an order—the one order that she would have done anything to prevent sending if she could help it!
Almost immediately, the masses of jet-black flecks began to swarm away from the hillocks at the frontlines, including the ones that were still in fierce combat.
More black dots vanished, signifying more casualties. Han Zhe Yue looked away, fearful that watching how the last of her withdrawing forces were being slaughtered like dogs would send her into such delirium that could compel her to reverse her orders.
The last vestiges of her rationale and reason were urging her to cut her losses or the Clan would suffer a ruin far greater and far more detrimental than the one they were in right now.
Meanwhile, Lu Ye and his squadmates were just passing another crest on their way back when word came from the field infirmary that the worst was finally over for Tao Tian Gang and he was now safe. The glad tidings were greeted with exhalations of relief.
The raiders barely knew each other, but having shed blood and sweat together had created a close bond between them all.
Xie Jin remained in close contact with the other squads, keeping himself informed about the situation at the frontlines, and when he told everyone how the Clan was recalling its troops en masse and the Green Feather Mountain forces at the front were giving an all-out push, both Song Xie and Qiao Qiao Er cheered jubilantly.
Lu Ye took the time to check on Yi Yi.
She was hurt when she tried to distract his target, the enemy Fifth-Order Body-tempering Cultivator, and he recognized the wounds she received. They were the same as the time when she was trying to retrieve the Barrier Penetrating Fruit for him. Her entire form turned so pale and faint that she looked like she was teetering on the edge of complete disintegration and it took almost a month before she was back to normal.