Editor: Dhael Ligerkeys
Even as she was gripped with terror, Lan Yudie’s training took over before her mind initiated the process of reacting. One of her daggers screamed through the air, heading on a collision course with the incoming sword. But the dagger shot wide; the sword was just too fast like a lightning bolt.
Lu Ye could see with his own eyes the sparkle of the sword’s tip coming closer and closer. For the first time in his life, he truly felt danger, awash with cold fear that swept through him from head to toe as Death loomed so near he could almost feel Its breath.
His body must have received the impulse of fear and the palpability of Death that a Spiritual Pattern “Protection” shield larger and more solid than usual materialized before him. Just as the magical sigil-festooned shield barely took shape, the sword swathed in light slammed into it almost instantly.
Even the strongest Spiritual Pattern “Protection” shield that Lu Ye had ever conjured could only take one hit from a blow so powerful and deadly. It shattered, despite his best efforts to keep it intact.
But it was the shield that bought him the short sliver of time he needed to tilt his body ever so slightly.
The sword whizzed just by, missing his throat by just a hair’s breadth.
There was neither time to think nor hesitate. Even before he could retaliate, he could sense air roiling at the back of his head: something was coming.
He quickly conjured another Spiritual Pattern “Protection” shield just behind him.
The shield burst into pieces before dispersing into dregs of energy that vanished. Lu Ye dropped himself to the ground in a roll, just in time for the strange, unseen force he sensed to plow through the air just over his head. He looked up and saw the same sword missing him just by a fraction of a second.
The sword hummed in a tremble that indicated just how much power was condensed into it. The magical weapon pivoted around, a needle on a compass where its North would always be centered on Lu Ye. As the sword readied itself for a third charge, Lu Ye focused his thoughts on what he should do. Beyond any doubt, the force of the sword was one that he had never encountered before. Err but one step and he would be dead.
Just when Lu Ye was bracing himself for another attack, a cry pierced the silence in the clearing. As if on cue, the sword’s brilliant radiance ebbed immediately, and it fell to the ground with a clatter like any other ordinary sword.
Lan Yudie flung out an arm. The dagger that she had thrown earlier magically returned to her grasp and she caught it in an icepick grip with which she viciously ran her blade through the artery on the Combat Cultivator’s throat. Blood sprayed out like a fountain, but she withdrew quickly enough to not be caught in it.
The enemy Seventh-Order fell on his knees, his hands clawing incessantly at his throat before he finally lurched forward face-first into the ground. A speck of red glow rose from the man’s arm and fell into Lan Yudie’s Battlefield Imprint.
The purplish streak on her face only just subsided and Lan Yudie tottered unsteadily. Lu Ye had to hold her to prevent her from falling.
“We need to go. Quick!” she urged.
They could sense masses of Spiritual Powers closing in on them. Someone must have realized that there was a fight here. There was no way to discern if they were allies or enemies, but from how Lan Yudie chose to intercept this group alone, Lu Ye was willing to bet that they must be hostiles.
Lu Ye helped her up Amber’s back and they raced out of the clearing.
They quickly left behind the traces of Spiritual Powers that they picked up earlier, although Lu Ye did not look relieved just yet. Something was wrong with Lan Yudie. Whatever happened earlier, she must have used some sort of spell or enchantment that she needed to pay a cost for. Even after the battle had ended, she appeared to be manifestly weak and fragile, and her body was scorching.
Yi Yi was already ahead, reconnoitering for a spot where they could take temporary refuge at.
Night was already upon them when Lu Ye finally held Lan Yudie’s arm to help her into the cave. Yi Yi’s search finally bore fruit.
When Lu Ye was carefully lowering Lan Yudie from Amber’s back, he was horrified to find so many cuts and lacerations on her. Owing to the urgency to escape from the clearing, there was no time to dress her wounds and now, she had fainted.
Her wounds certainly looked worse than how she looked on the surface.
“Dress her wounds, Yi Yi,” asked Lu Ye while he produced some of the medicinal powder and gauze that Hua Ci had left for Yi Yi.
Yi Yi materialized.
She had learned much from Hua Ci and Ruan Ling Yu in the crafts of healing during their stay in Mount Ying. What she was drilled in wasn’t anything remarkable, but Yi Yi was at least competent enough to deal with superficial wounds.
The medicinal powder was a specialty of Hua Ci. A concoction of her invention that worked remarkably well against cuts and lacerations caused by sharp weapons.
As Yi Yi went to work, Lu Ye found a spot and sat down. He took out his Spirit Pills and swallowed them to replenish himself.
Later that night, Lan Yudie finally woke up. She warily got up and surveyed around before she finally breathed easily.
Lu Ye tossed some meat jerkies to her which she caught and began nibbling on the dried ration. Finally, when she was feeling better, she croaked hoarsely, “I was careless. I thought I’d be able to get away.”
She would have been dead if Lu Ye did not come back around to her aid.
“What about Qi Xin and the others?” Lu Ye asked suddenly.
Lan Yudie stared at Lu Ye incredulously. Of all the questions she thought he would ask; this was the last. She had not told him before about the fates of her brothers-in-arms.
“We’ve lost two of them,” Lan Yudie revealed morosely.
Lu Ye fell silent. He did not even know who the two were, much less their names and how they look.
“You should go,” said Lan Yudie. “I’ll only drag you down. My injuries will take time to heal and if we were to encounter any enemies—which we’re bound to—I will be no use to man or beast.”
“We’re going together.”
Frustrated and annoyed, Lan Yudie hissed, “I told you. I’ll only be dragging you down. Can’t you understand?”
“We’re going together,” insisted Lu Ye with resolve burning in his eyes.
“Are you deaf or are you dumb?!” Lan Yudie growled, “Don’t you understand?! For this bloody mission, I’ve lost two fellow acolytes! Two who are as good as a brother and a sister to me! I don’t even know you, yet here we are, throwing our lives away for you just because our mentors gave us this godawful mission! Why should we die for you anyway?! If this is a debt incurred by our forebears, then why should we, the future generations, bear the brunt of it!? And you, do you even know that in places that you don’t even know where, people are fighting to keep other Thousand Demon Ridge Cultivators off your back? The battles that we’ve waged in these few days alone for your sake!? Why are we even here?! What are those people out there fighting for?! Don’t you see it!? It’s all for you, you moron! So go! Go and stay alive! Don’t let the deaths of my fellow acolytes be for nothing! Don’t let the deaths of those who are fighting to keep you alive be for nothing!”
What she thought was a furious rebuke that would make Lu Ye change his mind evidently failed to work when Lu Ye just stood there with a blank look on his face, saying, “Are you done?”
“Wha—?!” Lan Yudie was speechless. Finally, she lashed out, “Oh, how I wish to give you a tight slap in the face!”
Lu Ye sighed. “You know? Just half year ago, I was just a slave. A lowly slave in the Evil Moon Valley mines. The Grand Sky Coalition attacked the mines and liberated us. They even inducted us into the sects and orders which are part of the Coalition. I was lucky enough to have been able to enter the Crimson Blood Sect. But before I even got a glimpse of what the stronghold looks like, my mentor was forced to send me here. So all this while, I have only had one aim: that is to reach the Crimson Blood Sect outpost here.”
“It’s just as you said. Whatever our forebears had, why should it now burden us the future generations? You, me, and possibly all other Toms, Dicks, and Harrys out there? We don’t even know what happened last time. But you know what? It matters. It matters because I’ve entered the Crimson Blood Sect. For better or for worse, I’m a member of the Sect and I represent it here. So whether I like it or not, our forebears’ burden is now mine to carry. It’s my duty.”
“For these six months here, I might have gained much power and strength, but what am I compared to the vast world of the Spirit Creek Battlefield? Who am I to be the powder keg that sets off this fragile balance between the Thousand Demon Ridge and the Grand Sky Coalition? I’m just nothing, and why should they center all their battles on me? I know that people are losing their lives on my account, but I only just found out about that now.”
“I can’t say that I don’t care about the deaths, nor would I just brush all that off with a simple ‘I don’t know’. Whether you’re doing it on your mentors’ orders or out of goodwill for me, I don’t know. But I know this: I will remember this forever. I acknowledge what everyone is doing for me!”
Lan Yudie stared at him, at complete loss for words.
She was unhappy and displeased that she was given this mission at first. None of her squad knew Lu Ye and they owed him no obligation. But by orders of their mentors, they were required to protect him with their lives. Right now, two of their number were dead and more might follow, to say nothing about many more who could very well be losing their lives this very instant out here in the wilderness on Lu Ye’s account.
But after listening to him, their fates were not pitiful at all; his was.
And how could it not be. A Fifth-Order Cultivator caught in the middle of a war between two vast and powerful confederacies comprising of thousands of Cultivators. So many wanted him dead—even more so, the champions who were now on their way from the centermost regions of the Battlefield. Any other Cultivator of his age and rank would have crumbled under the shear stress and pressure.
He did not ask for this. But rather, he was shoved into this mess. Lan Yudie could have sworn that she herself would have long caved in to such a challenge.
“And… Your point is?”
“And so,” Lu Ye smiled at her, “I want to live. I don’t care what happened in the past, and I don’t know what happened that caused the Crimson Blood Sect to be so hated by the Thousand Demon Ridge. But people are dying to save me so I must live. You said it, I need to survive, or those people would be dead for nothing. I might be weak and helpless today and I know any talk about avenging them is nothing but stupid talk. But if I survive, I’ll have that chance. Those Thousand Demon Ridge goons better make sure that I don’t make it to the Crimson Blood Sect outpost, because one day, I promise I’ll be back to make them pay!”
Lan Yudie stared at him, gawking with disbelief as if she had just heard the most absurd nonsense in the world. It took her several seconds before she could respond, “Are you mad?!”
But she chalked it up to a young man’s brash insolence. Staying close to Lu Ye of late had made her reassess her judgment of him. She thought that he was just a quiet introvert at first, but she was mistaken.
“I will not leave you here,” said Lu Ye. That earned him an exasperated rolling of eyes from Lan Yudie, “I can go but you’ll never survive. So rest well tonight, we have an early ride tomorrow.”
She stared crossly at him and Lu Ye returned a placid gaze.
It took minutes before she finally averted her stare, resigning at last to his stubborn intransigence.
“Wait a minute,” she said suddenly. “Did you change my clothes?!”
Only now did she realize that her garb looked different. These were men’s clothing that she was wearing. From the size, it was clear that they belonged to Lu Ye, and her wounds have been dressed. She could feel just mild discomfort coming from the places where she had been hurt.
“No, that was not me.”
Lan Yudie’s face blushed furiously. “Y-You saw everything?!”
“I told you, that wasn’t me,” Lu Ye persisted.
Lan Yudie’s was the color of claret by now. “Who else could it be if it’s not you?! That white kitty of yours?!”
Amber’s head came up to shoot her a scathing look of indignance.