Editor: Dhael Ligerkeys
“What should we do, Brother He?” asked a Sixth-Order acolyte fully sodden with slimy hemolymph.
“How about we send word to Brother Cheng to call for help?” suggested another.
Unlike the Crimson Blood Sect, it was standard practice for legates and prolegates to leave part of their force in the outpost to watch it while the rest headed out to deal with the insectoid threat. Outposts were a sect or order’s main presence and symbol of power in the Spirit Creek Battlefield and the security of an outpost should never be taken lightly.
In this case, the Redoubt of Wrath had almost a hundred men watching the outpost while more than five hundred were here inside the wormhole. Among the one hundred watching the outpost was Cheng Bo, prolegate of the Redoubt and a Cultivator fresh into the Seventh-Order.
But with the outcome of this expedition now taking a terrible and disastrous turn—with the insectoids mowing them down and Grand Sky Coalition Cultivators cutting off their exit—calling Cheng Bo for help really seemed like the best course of action.
“He won’t make it in time,” He Meng shook his head. The outpost was only just ten miles away, but Cheng Bo would still need time to consolidate the needed resources for a reinforcement party and that would be too late by then.
“FIGHT WITH ME!” He Meng growled, a hint of defiance and ferocity gleaming in his stare. He might not know who his enemies were, but he was a Seventh-Order and a veteran of many gritting battles; there was no way he would be daunted by the situation, and fighting their way out was the only way for any of them to survive since the alternative was sitting on their own hands before they end up as bug food. Whatever had gone wrong, the insectoids had suddenly grown stronger, and the acolytes of the Redoubt of Wrath would have triumphed in this extermination if not for it.
With no time to lose, He Meng entrusted the fight to his men while he quickly selected a handful of Sixth-Orders to come with him.
They reached the bottom of the pit more than ten seconds later. A handful of Fifth-Order Cultivators were there, half-crouched with their hands on their knees. One of them called, “Let’s do this!”
At more than fifty meters away, He Meng and the Sixth-Orders bolted. As soon as they reached the Fifth-Orders, the latters cupped their hands around the feet of the runners and gave them a boost.
“GO!” the Fifth-Orders grunted strenuously as one, pushing with all the might and Spiritual Power they could call upon. That gave He Meng and the Sixth-Orders the propulsion they needed to fly up and out of the pit.
He Meng immediately channeled his power. Reaching the top of the wormhole in mere seconds, the rancorous legate of the Redoubt of Wrath outpost was shocked to find faces staring down at him as he neared the opening of the pit. By the time he rose high enough to get a full view of the force that already had the wormhole surrounded, he spied a force of at least six to seven hundred men!
[What?! So many?!] He Meng was informed that Grand Sky Coalition members were waiting to ambush anyone getting out of the pit, but he was under the impression that the number of ambushers wasn’t many since most other sects and orders, at this time, should be busy with dealing with their own insectoid infestation. That was why he expected to see just a minor drove of enemies, not an army of Cultivators.
Clearly, his assumption was misplaced. The six to seven hundred men that now had the opening of the pit surrounded were enough to make up the full complement of an outpost’s force of Cultivators.
[What the Hell?! Don’t they have to defend their own outpost from insectoid attacks?!]
Before he could even answer his own question, a pair of streaking lights shot straight at him, followed by a volley of spells and talismanic bolts.
Shrieks and screams cascaded all around him. The Sixth-Orders who came up with him weren’t ready for the assault by the enemies that caught them by surprise and all He Meng could do was watch as his men fell back into the pit, one after another, like flies.
Of the cadre of Redoubt of Wrath acolytes who came up, He Meng was the only one to survive the onslaught—all thanks to his prowess as a Seventh-Order and his skills with his spear. He parried every blow that came his way, just before a fiery red spark lanced through him, creating a wound that disgorged a fountain of red as it exited him.
As his weight dragged him back downward, a fiery image shaped like a dragon flew and lunged at him.
In the meantime, Lu Ye, who had been just beside the pit, mused aloud wryly, “That’s a rather nice trick, these fellows.”
He could almost guess how these enemy acolytes managed to get out of the pit and what they were thinking of doing. But clearly, they had underestimated the number of people here. That was why they came up only to serve themselves up on a silver platter.
Down below the pit, the Fifth-Orders who gave He Meng and his squad vanguard of Sixth-Orders a boost watched as they rose up and came back down without even a second of stopping to fight at the top. In fact, He Meng came back down with company—a fiery energy bolt shaped like a dragon snapping its jaw at him while it gave chase. Bodies tumbled to the ground in a series of heavy thuds, each of them crackling and burning in flame causing the bottom of the pit to be filled with the odor of roasted flesh.
But these were not all; several more of those who were climbing up with ropes were singed by the flames and asphyxiated by the fumes, fell amid wails of despair and crashed down as well.
“Brother He!” one of the Fifth-Orders cried, rushing over to help snuff out the flames.
Any man weaker than He Meng would have been killed already; he had just taken a hit from Lu Ye’s hiltless knife before the Fire Dragon spell hit him.
His hand shot up and seized the Fifth-Order by the collar, and he hissed bitterly, “The Crimson Blood Sect! It’s the Crimson Blood Sect!”
He had spied a snowy-white tiger and a young man just beside it when he was falling back into the pit. Any legate worth his salt would have instantly recognized who it was.
With that, his head hung limply between his shoulders. And so died He Meng, legate of the Redoubt of Wrath outpost in the Battlefield.
The Fifth-Order burst into tears. But there was no time for grief. With the Crimson Blood Sect sealing off their exit, the Redoubt of Wrath acolytes down here—without He Meng and the Sixth-Orders who had perished in their ill-fated attempt to secure their survival—were about to find themselves neck-deep in insectoids at any moment.
Harrowing screams coming from those at the front told him as much. With no more Sixth- or Seventh-Orders to keep the insectoids at bay, the remaining Redoubt of Wrath acolytes down here could never prevent the fate of becoming bug food. Driven into manic delirium, a few of them began clambering up the ropes, clawing their way as desperately as their limbs would carry them. They would rather just die at the hands of the Crimson Blood Sect.
The Fifth-Order got to his feet. He tapped on his Battlefield Imprint and delivered a message. Next, he grimly took up his weapon and charged at the insectoids.
If he must die, then he would rather die at the hands of the insectoids instead.
Many followed in his footsteps. Terrible and heart-wrenching howls came from the bottom of the wormhole as the insectoids feasted on the poor men and women stranded down below.
More than ten miles away, the message that had just arrived drained all color off the face of Cheng Bo, the prolegate of the Redoubt of Wrath outpost.
Caught between the Crimson Blood Sect and the unstoppable insectoid tide, He Meng had lost his life in the course of his duty and the remaining Redoubt of Wrath acolytes were facing certain death!
He checked his Battlefield Imprint. To his horror, he saw with his own eyes how the names of the acolytes in his Battlefield Imprint vanished piecemeal. Cheng Bo crashed into his own chair with despair.
The rest of the acolytes still manning the outpost began to realize what was going on as well. They swamped Cheng Bo with questions but when they received not so much as a despondent and blank stare from him, they feared the worst. The expression on his face was enough to indicate that whatever they dreaded was indeed true.
“CRIMSON BLOOD SECT!” Cheng Bo snarled, his teeth gnashing as blood filled his eyes in rage.
As prolegate of the Redoubt of Wrath outpost, Cheng Bo heard all about Lu Ye’s exploits at the Battle of Goldentip. In fact, Cheng Bo and He Meng had discussed much about their new neighbor and had talked about how they should be prepared and wary of him.
[What an ungodly bunch of people], mused Cheng Bo at the time. [For decades, they had not got any new acolytes, then all of a sudden, when they had finally stumbled upon one, they found one who is obviously able to live up to that reputation.] If that Lu Ye could defeat opponents well beyond his rank when he was only just a Fifth-Order, then there was no telling what incredible feats he would be capable of once he hit the Seventh-Order.
To both of their amazement, Lu Ye turned out to be relatively quiet after his appointment as legate of the Crimson Blood Sect outpost. There was almost no development up until the Battle Royal of the Legates.
If alone, they were confident that there was little to what Lu Ye could achieve. But what the Redoubt of Wrath legate and prolegate did not know was this was only just the calm before the storm.
Word about the Crimson Blood Sect that came in the aftermath of the Battle Royal of the Legates unsettled them both.
Without warning, the Crimson Blood Sect had flung its doors open, receiving a hundred initiates in one go, including five hundred associate independents as retainers.
That overnight maneuver instantly turned the Crimson Blood Sect into a force too formidable to ignore. Since that day, the Redoubt of Wrath followed the Crimson Blood Sect’s every movement with great interest, wary that they might attempt anything untoward. But the watchful vigil did not last long when both the legate and prolegate deemed that the Crimson Blood Sect’s ambition did not stretch farther than just wanting to keep themselves to themselves.
Never did they realize that this assessment could not have been any more disastrously erroneous.
Just when the Crimson Blood Sect looked every bit the semblance of just a harmless group of people looking to live like recluses, they delivered a sucker punch out of nowhere, knocking the Redoubt of Wrath dizzy.
Four hundred and ninety-three Cultivators—including their legate He Meng—perished in barely four hours. Never had the Redoubt of Wrath suffered such a devastating loss since its founding.
“I’ll remember this, Lu Yi Ye, and when the time comes, you’ll pay!” Cheng Bo’s enraged howls rocked the whole outpost as the remaining hundred-or-so acolytes there mourned the demise of their brethren.
In the meantime, the Crimson Blood Sect Cultivators maintaining their watch of the wormhole were growing restless. Since that small skirmish, they had hardly seen any action and all they could do was just sit by the edge of the pit while the screams and shrieks from down below slowly waned.
And by doing absolutely nothing meant zero chance to farm more Contribution Points.
Moments later, the cries were gone. Utterly gone. Next, came an endless litany of incessant buzzing. That must be the insectoids.
The Crimson Blood Sect force reeled with anticipation. They had been somewhat miffed and exasperated when Yi Yi retrieved the Nucleus of Life from the nest of the insectoid infestation at their side, cutting short everyone’s leisurely kill-bugs-to-earn-points frenzy.
Now, the chance to do so again had arrived—by their own making—and everyone looked more than happy to start farming points again.
“So, Brother Lu Ye,” Chen Yu asked. The anticipation was almost written on his face. “Are we gonna fight our way down again like the first time?” The success of dealing with their first insectoid infestation had given the Crimson Blood Sect Cultivators enough confidence to make another attempt.
But to their dismay, Lu Ye shook his head. With a wave of his arm, he called, “We’re retreating!”
Chen Yu could barely believe his ears, “Retreat!?”
The seven-hundred-man-strong force rumbled away despite everyone’s dubious incredulity. But be they acolytes, initiates, or associates; no one would dare to disobey Lu Ye’s orders.
The entire force withdrew back into the hills where they were waiting a few hours earlier and Lu Ye returned to his perch at the top of the cliffs overlooking the rocky canyon.
Retreat, he called it, even though they did not withdraw far enough.
A quizzical Hua Ci formed up to Lu Ye’s side, asking, “What are you thinking of doing?”
Lu Ye was surveying the growing mass of insectoids in the canyon. Quietly, he muttered, “We may have just, with our own hands, created horrors out of our deepest nightmares.”
“What do you mean?”
“Did you not notice how deadly and dangerous these insectoids are compared to the ones we exterminated? One might argue that the Redoubt of Wrath goons had slain off the weaker ones of the horde, but I doubt that’s the real reason.”
“Brother Baxian had warned me about this: during the course of exterminating the insectoids, we must never, under whatever circumstances, allow the insectoids to get their hands on any human Cultivator dead bodies. Obviously, I guess there are other reasons other than just the sheer amount of energy stored inside a Cultivator’s body. But the bottom line remains unchanged: once the insectoids consume a human Cultivator, they will become incredibly stronger.” Lu Ye paused and murmured, “How many of those wretched Redoubt of Wrath goons were down there just now, you think?”
“Three to four hundred?” Hua Ci articulated what Lu Ye has been dreading.
“Then we’re doomed. This insectoid infestation has just grown beyond what we outer-ring-region outposts can handle.”