Editor: Dhael Ligerkeys
Lu Ye’s weapon came back around for another furious hack down at Lan Yudie. Sparks were elicited from the collision. Instead of withdrawing, Lan Yudie had just parried that last blow with the help of a dagger that she had produced out of nowhere.
Lu Ye recovered and readied himself for another attack.
Lan Yudie snorted, “Too open!”
She threw herself at him with a barrage of punches raining down on him. Lu Ye might be able to catch her movements with his eyes, but he could barely react quickly enough this time. Immediately, he activated Spiritual Pattern “Protection” and the circular image of a runic sigil materialized in front of his abdomen.
A bang resounded, followed closely by a huge sweeping wave of force and dust. The blow nearly knocked Lu Ye off his feet, blasting him some twenty or so meters away. Even with the magical shield, Lu Ye still felt his stomach aching so painfully that breathing itself was already torture.
“What the hell?!” an incredulous Lan Yudie gasped.
She was positive that she had hit something, although in the eruption of dust she could barely see what it was.
But before she knew it, Lu Ye was already upon her. He recollected himself just as soon as his feet hit solid ground and dashed forward at full speed, eager to not give his enemy any moment for respite. All Lan Yudie could manage to see was the frosty glint of his weapon bearing down on her.
Lan Yudie quickly sidestepped the blow. Something changed in her aura. Her speed gained a sudden burst.
More clangors ensued, filling the dark forest with the incessant, slipshod din of steel gnashing against steel.
“ROAR!” Amber came lunging out of the darkness all of a sudden at Lan Yudie from behind. But as if she had an eye on the back of her head, she easily evaded the massive white tiger with a deft twirl on her toes that even a skilled ballerina would have approved before she drove her foot into the tiger’s flank, sending the huge beast hurtling away through the air.
But Amber was not going to admit defeat just yet. Just before it careened out of reach, the big, muscular animal twisted and lashed his tail at Lan Yudie. The vicious attack caught her unaware and smacked at her face like a deadly whip, enough to leave her staggering while she clutched at her face, growling, “You horrendous thing!”
She quickly withdrew to a safe distance.
That gave Lu Ye the chance to rejoin Amber and get up on its back. It was time to leave. The battle wasn’t long but it was definitely enough for him to know that he wasn’t going to defeat her—at least not yet. Therefore, they needed to go. Fast.
But the situation was made worse when he sensed more Spiritual Power signatures closing in on his position rapidly. In the blink of an eye, he was surrounded.
“Wait… What the hell happened here?! Why did you fight?!” gasped one of the newcomers, a young man who looked totally flabbergasted to see the aftermath of the brief fireside fisticuff.
Lan Yudie’s team was supposed to maintain their distance when they picked up the clamors of battle going on. Thinking that Lan Yudie and Lu Ye must be under attack by some Thousand Demon Ridge Cultivators, they rushed here at once only to stumble into this mess.
“Stop fighting, just stop!” cried another.
“Please, calm down, Brother Lu! This is a misunderstanding!” shouted a third quickly.
Lu Ye surveyed the newcomers from the back of Amber. The entire band of newcomer strangers was a party of six. Three Sixth-Orders and three Fifth-Orders, and if his guess was correct, one of them was the one who had been masquerading as the one who was pursuing Lan Yudie earlier when she was pulling off that damsel-in-distress act.
[Are they all a team?] he mused grimly.
The only point of egress from being surrounded by such a team would be through their weakest point—the Fifth-Orders. Even so, there really was no guarantee of success.
But Lu Ye was quick to note that none of them had shown him any hostility the moment they showed themselves. In fact, one of them was even addressing him as “Brother Lu”!
Which was something odd, for the only ones who knew his true name were those from the Rogue Wanderers’ Club and Yi Yi. Since entering the Battlefield, Lu Ye had been calling himself Yi Ye instead of his real name Lu Ye.
[So how did these people know what my real name is?]
Then there were the numerous attacks that he encountered recently. A hunch told him that all of these bizarre incidents in the past few days must be related somehow.
The Sixth-Order who called him strode over to Lan Yudie and muttered dubiously, “What happened? Why did you both begin to fight all of a sudden?”
[The plan was to protect him, not attack him!]
Lan Yudie finally simmered down. Looking slightly embarrassed, she hissed, “I just couldn’t help it!” She was just too overwhelmed by the indignation and shame that the very target that she was trying to protect had managed to drug her and she allowed herself to walk right into it.
Even so, she was only too impressed by Lu Ye’s prowess in battle. Despite being two ranks lower, even she had to admit that she was nearly intimidated by his aggressive style of fighting and his ruthlessness. Never had she felt such a way towards a Fifth-Order before.
In contrast to him, the Fifth-Orders of her own team has all the formidability of meek and soft little bunnies.
Now that she had sampled firsthand Lu Ye’s deadliness, she fully understood how easy it was for Lu Ye to cut down an entire Thousand Demon Ridge kill squad. Any other Cultivator of lower or similar rank would immediately find his- or herself frightened and daunted by his bold and assertive style which would allow Lu Ye to secure the initiative of any battle quickly.
“Who the hell are you?”
Still wary of the newcomers, Lu Ye did not stop observing them. He spied one of the Fifth-Orders, the weakest member of the team and the best possible chance for escape in case these strangers were enemies.
The young man who spoke first grimaced. It was apparent that Lu Ye still maintained a sizable mistrust towards them all. But that was hardly a surprise; even he would behave so if he were in Lu Ye’s shoes. Believing a bunch of strangers was easily one of the quickest ways to die in the Battlefield.
He did not immediately answer Lu Ye’s question. But to ensure that no further misunderstanding would occur and that the conversation would progress smoothly, he held out a hand and said solemnly, “I, Qi Xin, of Mount Aurora hereby swear in the name of Heavens that all seven of us bear Brother Lu Ye no ill will. We come under the orders of our order’s leadership to carry out the mission that they have delegated to us. Once again, in the name of the Heavens, I so swear!”
The palpable sensation of something ethereal and divine descended from the air and lingered amongst them for a few seconds.
“Please, Brother Lu,” Qi Xin said at last to Lu Ye who looked like he wasn’t getting off Amber’s back just yet, “Please allow me to explain.”
Lu Ye slowly and reluctantly allowed his saber to slide back into its scabbard. Swearing in the name of Heavens’ was so sacrosanct that not even Thousand Demon Ridge Cultivators would not foolishly and flippantly dare to toy and flirt with. That Qi Xin was willing to make such a vow proved that at least he was speaking the truth. He and his team weren’t trying to harm Lu Ye in any way at all.
Pensively, Qi Xin said, “I know you must have a lot of questions that you want answers to. But I’m afraid this is hardly the time and place. Can you come with us somewhere safe to talk?”
“Very well,” said Lu Ye after a moment’s thought.
There were questions that were waiting to be answered.
“This way, please!” Qi Xin beckoned with a flourish and led the way. The others followed closely behind.
“Wait a minute!” Lan Yudie’s hand shot up suddenly.
“Yes, Sister Lan?” Qi Xin turned back around quizzically.
A red-faced Lan Yudie muttered quietly, “I’m still under the effects of the poison. I cannot use my Spiritual Power and I cannot move!”
She had been trying to keep the effects of the poison suppressed, but that only served to delay the inevitable. If anything, the effects turned to be worse after her attempts, causing her Spiritual Power to be completely useless at the moment.
“What happened?” cried everyone, “Who did this?!”
Lan Yudie cast an accusing glance at Lu Ye, who averted his gaze and pretended to have a sudden interest in the starry night sky overhead.
The entire team broke into myriads of expression. Some wanted to laugh although they couldn’t bring themselves to. Their shoulders shook as they fought against the urge to explode into guffaws. That would explain why a fight between them occurred when Lan Yudie’s supposed to be the one protecting him.
At any rate, no one could blame her for losing her cool.
“Do you need me to give you a lift?” Qi Xin squeaked meekly.
“Gimme a break! As if I need your help!” Lan Yudie hissed furiously, “Whoever did this should take responsibility! He has a mount that I can ride on!”
Lu Ye hesitated, but he patted Amber’s back nonetheless.
Lan Yudie strode up to the tiger and vaulted herself up. Amber didn’t look too happy, but he relented nevertheless.
“All right, off we go then,” said Qi Xin, leading the way. They moved quickly without any more conversation.
Two hours later, the squad found a cave where they took shelter inside.
Lu Ye first waited for the Mount Aurora Cultivators to step into the cave before he went inside with Amber. The squad knew what it was for, but they decided not to make any remarks about it.
It was barren and arid inside and everyone sat on the ground.
“So, let’s first begin by telling me how you came by my name,” said Lu Ye, wanting to gain control of the initiative as usual.
Qi Xin almost giggled. “Brother Lu Ye, are you really unaware of what is really going on right now?”
“What is going on right now?”
“So, you really are in the dark, eh?” Qi Xin sighed at that. “It appears that your identity is public knowledge now, Brother Lu Ye. Not only does the Ridge know that you’re an acolyte of the Crimson Blood Sect, the whole Battlefield knows. Especially those who have been looking.”
Lu Ye never looked so grim before, his forehead crumpling into one of the deepest frowns he had ever had.
[Public knowledge!? How?! And what does ‘those who have been looking’ even mean?!]
He had been cautious and prudent since coming into the Battlefield, all because his mentor Tang Yi Feng had urged him to keep his identity as a member of the Crimson Blood Sect a secret—always.
He never understood why, but there was no reason for him to doubt his mentor nor suspect him of any treachery.
To that end, he had been introducing himself to others as Yi Ye. Hua Ci and a handful of others might know his true name, but none of them were aware of his provenance.
If there was anyone who knew his true name, that would only be his former fellow slave from the Evil Moon Valley mines whom he encountered outside the Yi’An city branch of the Divine Trade Association not long ago.
That was a coincidence, but Lu Ye had quickly left the place without staying to talk.
But that was when Dong Shu Ye managed to track him down, he suddenly recalled…
Then he remembered Dong Shu Ye sending a message using his Battlefield Imprint just moments before his demise. He thought that was Dong Shu Ye calling in reinforcements at the time, although he quickly dismissed the matter when he saw no one coming.
Dong Shu Ye knew he was dying at the time. Even if he called for help, they would never arrive in time. But what if he was not calling for help at the time?
[Is this Dong Shu Ye then? He must have overheard that Burning Moon Mountain git calling my name and somehow managed to divine my provenance then?]
Before his death, Dong Shu Ye’s final words were that he would be expecting me in Purgatory. That might seem harmless at the time. But what if that was not just an empty threat?”
“What is wrong with my identity?” Lu Ye asked.
That was the question that had left Lu Ye wandering into late nights without knowing the answer. His mentor Tang Yi Feng had specifically warned him about not divulging his identity as if it would be a dangerous thing to do, but he did not say why.
[Did the Crimson Blood Sect do something that angered the whole Battlefield last time? Was it what caused the Sect to be so hated in this pocket dimension?]
“I’m afraid I myself don’t know the true answer to that question,” said Qi Xin, “It involves a secret known only to the older generations of our order. But I do know this: the whole Battlefield now churns because of you, Brother Lu Ye. The beacons of war are lit on your account. The Thousand Demon Ridge wants you dead and many in the Grand Sky Coalition are doing their utmost to protect you, which includes Mount Aurora. That is why we’re here. We were given strict orders by the leadership of our order to come and make sure that you’re safe.”
“What do you mean that the whole Battlefield now churns because of me?” asked a bewildered Lu Ye.
What could a Fifth-Order Cultivator do to rock the whole Battlefield?
No. Lu Ye realized. It could only be due to his identity as an acolyte of the Crimson Blood Sect.
If Qi Xin was speaking the truth, then there must be more than meets the eye with this ancient order which he was forced to reluctantly be a part of in the first place.
“Younglings like us don’t know much about what happened long ago, I’m afraid. But I do know that the Crimson Blood Sect used to be a Tier-One Order within the Coalition,” said Lan Yudie suddenly. She had been busy trying to expel the poison from her body. Being the leader of her squad and the most senior member, she knew more than the rest of the others. “But something happened. Something that saw the Crimson Blood Sect became a Tier-Nine Order and now, it teeters on the brink of being defunct. It’s been thirty years since the Crimson Blood Sect has ushered in new blood and if this goes on, then come the assessment two months from now, the Crimson Blood Sect would become nothing more than just a name in the history books.”