Editor: Dhael Ligerkeys
It took a lengthy examination for Lu Ye to finally confirm that Yi Yi was fine. All she needed was some rest. Only then did he finally breathe easily. With Amber now stronger and more powerful than before, Yi Yi was expected to make a quick recovery.
It was well past midnight when Squad Xie Jin made it back to the field infirmary campsite.
The people there had been keeping Lu Ye’s tent and Mu Ling was already expecting him, who took great care in dealing with his and Amber’s wounds.
Although Lu Ye fell asleep halfway through her treatment.
Fighting one battle after another for the past few days had taken quite a toll on him.
Lu Ye woke up the next morning to a sunny day with a blanket draped over him. He clambered up and peered around. Amber was nowhere in sight, although he could hear Qiao Qiao Er’s voice outside. “Come try this! It’s delicious! OY! Lemme go! There’s no need to bite even when you’re not accepting my favor!”
Lu Ye quickly dressed up and went outside. There was Amber with his vice-like jaws locked around Qiao Qiao Er’s arm. She was twisting and writhing violently, but she did not dare to pull too hard, culminating in a tug of war with her own arm as the rope.
Both of them were glaring at each other, totally oblivious to Lu Ye’s presence until he finally scowled at them, “What the hell is going on here?”
Amber released his hold of her and bounded excitedly over to Lu Ye’s side like the oversized but doting cat he was and rubbed his head affectionately on Lu Ye.
In Qiao Qiao Er’s grasp was this fresh slab of meat still dripping with juices. She lifted it aloft, yowling indignantly, “I was only trying to feed your tiger something to eat, and here’s what I get! Your pet could do with some discipline, Yi Ye!”
Amber groaned like he was being wronged.
Lu Ye peered at him before regarding Qiao Qiao Er crossly, “Or maybe you should not be trying to drug him!”
“What drug?! Who’s drugging who?!” Qiao Qiao Er retorted blankly, feigning ignorance.
But Lu Ye had already gone back inside his tent with Amber padding after him. Qiao Qiao Er looked around to make sure no one was looking before she stowed the meat back into her Storage Bag. “Heavens, just how intelligent is he?” she whispered to herself, referring to Amber.
Then she trotted away, whistling as if the episode just now hadn’t taken place at all.
Inside the tent, Amber went to a corner and picked up a Storage Bag that was lying around with its mouth. Then he placed it beside Lu Ye. That was the reward Green Feather Mountain paid them.
Rewards were usually issued during the squad’s debriefing whenever they returned after a battle. Qiao Qiao Er and Song Xie had made quite a fortune from their recent sorties.
Lu Ye picked up the Storage Bag and checked its contents. There were at least a hundred and eighty Spirit Stones and by his calculations, it was more than what he earned. Green Feather Mountain must have given him a bonus for his remarkable contributions lately.
At the moment, his stores of Spirit Stones had reached as much as five to six hundred, all of which came from the rewards for his kills and the spoils he got from his slain enemies. Like the Divine Trade Association, Green Feather Mountain had been buying magically-sealed Storage Bags that their Cultivators had looted and that included low-tiered magical weapons and tools as well. These were all divided evenly amongst all members of Squad Xie Jin.
He examined his Battlefield Imprint:
[Name: Lu Ye
Identity: Disciple of the Crimson Blood Sect
Cultivation Progress: Fifty-three Spiritual Points unlocked
Location: Spirit Creek Battlefield
Contribution Points: Three hundred and sixty-eight]
He had reached his fifty-second Spiritual Point when he first arrived at this campsite before he unlocked another Point just a few days ago. The recent fights had exhausted him so greatly that Lu Ye had to rely on his pills to refresh himself to be ready for more skirmishes, causing the slight deceleration in his progress.
But he had made great progress in his Contribution Points since leaving Mount Ying. From just a hundred and seventy-four Points, he had reached three hundred and sixty-eight. That’s almost a two-hundred-point increment that indicated how many kills Lu Ye had scored in his recent skirmishes.
But there was little to be wondered. He had slain dozens when he first entered the One Hundred Peaks mountain range. Joining Squad Xie Jin yielded even more kills where he did great work in raking up his tally. In the skirmishes yesterday alone, few enemies had managed to escape his wrath.
Then again, the frequent sorties had caused him and Amber enough exhaustion to blaze through his stores of Spirit Pills. With more than four hundred Pills when he first arrived here, his Pills now numbered just barely three hundred.
But he could not complain, at least not with such rich returns. Participating in this year’s Dragon Spring Conference had turned into a bountiful haul after all.
Lu Ye finished surveying his possessions before he took a bath and changed into a fresh set of clothing. Next, he brought Amber out on a walk to look for something to eat. The Green Feather Mountain mess staff worked round-the-clock to provide good food to all Green Feather Mountain personnel. Anyone who felt hungry needed only visit the mess and they would be served their fill.
He stumbled into Xie Jin halfway and they talked as they walked together. As it turned out, the multi-pronged assault was a huge success. The Tai Luo Clan was forced to give up one hillock after another yesterday, marking a massive cutback in its territories. Out of the one hundred hills inside the One Hundred Peak mountain range that was the battleground for this Conference, the Green Feather Mountain forces had raised their tally to a record-breaking fifty occupied hillocks.
From the looks of things, the situation of the Conference could very well remain so until the end. Both the Qins and the Clan lacked the needed men and resources to mount any offensive worthy of the name to capture more hillocks. One might argue that cutting their losses and accepting their defeat might be the more prudent and rational course of action for the two factions.
Green Feather Mountain hadn’t enjoyed such tremendous success since the Qins’ inception into the Conference and Tang Wu was said to be so euphoric that he contacted Xie Jin and praised his good work.
Lu Ye picked up a juicy piece of meat and deposited it into his mouth. Chewing it, he said, “Does that mean that there’s no more fighting?”
“I guess so,” Xie Jin nodded. The skirmishes the previous night had turned out to be a premature conclusion for this year’s Conference.
Lu Ye mulled about the response. That would mean that perhaps it was time he took his leave and continued his journey.
Past Dragon Spring Conferences usually took a month but this time, the winner was determined in just a span of a dozen days.
Xie Jin seemed to have read Lu Ye’s mind. He sidled closer and said quietly, “There’s no hurry to leave, my friend. Senior Brother Tang Wu has explicitly told me that our squad is qualified to enter the Dragon Spring.”
Lu Ye’s brow piqued with interest. [Oh?]
“It’s all thanks to your heroics that we managed to survive yesterday’s battle, Lu Ye,” Xie Jin said, beaming very broadly, “What’s more, Green Feather Mountain has never been stingy in rewarding well-deserved effort. We’re not known to be generous to independent Cultivators for nothing, you know.”
[You’ve got to hand it to them. They really are good at wooing fresh talents,] Lu Ye observed quietly.
In the jade slip that Xie Jin handed him when Lu Ye first met him, the information inside the object did mention that independent Cultivators who had proven themselves worthy would be awarded a place to enter the Dragon Spring.
In fact, Lu Ye had heard Song Xie and Qiao Qiao Er chatting about this once. In all past Dragon Spring Conferences, Green Feather Mountain would only allow one or two independent Cultivators the chance to enter the Dragon Spring together with its own acolytes. That three were allowed in this time really was a new precedent.
It all boiled down to the scarcity of the places themselves. With only limited admissions allowed, the Green Feather Mountain forces would have been more than happy to hoard all the places themselves. But several places might be distributed to other middling sects or powerful militant orders allied with them. With fresh talents and young prodigies of their own, these allied factions had kept abreast of the progress of the Conference with great interest, although they would never be involved in the contest due to the sacrosanct covenant of the Conference.
That would mean that any places that trickled down to any participating independent Cultivators came in pitifully rare supply.
Stepping into the Dragon Spring was any low-tiered Cultivator’s ultimate dream for the cleansing properties of the spring’s water were said to be able to temper one’s physical constitutions so greatly that no amount of magical pills or herbs could ever compare. Having a strong physical constitution could come in handy to any Cultivator no matter what path he or she aspired to devote himself or herself to.
Xie Jin placed a hand on Lu Ye’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about it, Lu Ye. It’s very likely that this year’s Conference might end earlier. After all, Senior Brother Tang Wu’s a busy man. He can’t be nestling himself up there like he’s roosting on an egg to no end.”
Up at the great hall sitting atop of the centermost summit of the mountain range designated as neutral grounds, Tang Wu crossed his arms as he took one last look at the Shadow Moon Disc’s display. “Looks like everything’s settled. So, how about we call it a day?” he asked the others.
Qin Wan Li shot a look at Han Zhe Yue, not wanting to speak first.
Han Zhe Yue smirked. “The Conference’s only halfway. What makes you think that we’re thinking of calling it a day already?”
What Tang Wu said was true and she knew it. The Clan could ill-afford fielding more assault forces only to add more casualties to their already-substantial losses and to sit on the present status quo until the end of the Conference would be nothing but just a complete waste of time. But she was too spiteful and vain to allow Tang Wu to have his way.
“Oh? So you are all for sitting down here and watching paint dry?” Tang Wu hissed placidly.
“Watching paint dry is interesting enough if you know how to appreciate it,” Han Zhe Yue chuckled flippantly. So long as she could cause even the slightest discomfort and displeasure to Tang Wu, Han Zhe Yue was game for anything. Just like what Tang Wu said himself not long ago, Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
“You seem to be laboring under the delusion that just because you’ve withdrawn your defensive line, that would prevent me from trying another attack?” Tang Wu asked.
“I’d love to see you try,” Han Zhe Yue taunted.
With their defensive line withdrawn, the Tai Luo Clan defenses had grown considerably stronger. On the other hand, the Green Feather Mountain forces were all stretched precariously thin since they had to hold fifty hillocks. It was the vast number of independent Cultivators that they managed to recruit for this Conference that had kept the Qins and the Tai Luo Clan from wanting to try anything funny. Hence Han Zhe Yue’s reasoning that it wouldn’t be easy for Green Feather Mountain to muster enough men for another assault without compromising itself.
That gave her the courage to openly taunt Tang Wu. Literally, every contesting faction in this Conference was already at its bare bones.
Tang Wu kept his stare transfixed on Han Zhe Yue for seconds before he issued a litany of orders.
In mere moments, the swarms of blue dots on the display of the Shadow Moon Disc began to roil and mass.
Green Feather Mountain defenders holding the hillock at the most front immediately withdrew, leaving the place unoccupied.
At the same time, more bluish hordes peeled off from the defensive squads guarding all other nearby hillocks, coalescing into a large group that swamped the foot of the nearest Tai Luo Clan hillock. But that was not all; faraway in the glen where the Green Feather Mountain field infirmary was situated, a tiny squad of five bright bluish dots appeared and began speeding towards the frontlines.
The edge of Han Zhe Yue’s eyes throbbed. Tang Wu had summoned forth his best raiding squad—that brat with the white tiger and his squadmates!
Hours later, the five bluish dots finally converged with the Green Feather Mountain contingent now besieging the Tai Luo Clan hillock, making the assault force a provisional but no less formidable vanguard platoon more than fifty-man strong.
Meanwhile, Han Zhe Yue’s breathing raced as her chest heaved under her robe, her face now as taut as a clenched fist as she looked at the display of the Shadow Moon Disc.
Tang Wu’s head swiveled around and he peered at her quietly.
Qin Wan Li moved not even an inch. Without any desire to get involved in this pantomime, he could barely understand what was going on. [Why is Green Feather Mountain giving up one of their hills to attack another one of Tai Luo Clan’s?!]
Silence pervaded the hall for minutes until Han Zhe Yue finally let loose a long sigh. She tapped on her Battlefield Imprint and issued her final order.
From another Tai Luo Clan hillock nearby, a few raven-black spots extricated themselves from their main group and marched over to the unoccupied hill that the Green Feather Mountain forces just vacated, although, the sluggish movements of the spots were sign enough of how reluctant they were to undertake this mission.
They hiked up the slopes and stayed there but Green Feather Mountain made no attempt to attack them.
“Smart choice,” Tang Wu chortled, his lips curling into a wry grin.
A resigned Han Zhe Yue declared, “I move to end this year’s Conference now. What do you say, Qin?”
Qin Wan Li could hardly squeak anything beyond a “yes”. Only now did he finally understand what was going on.