Dugu Zhantian laughed on meeting his old enemy, “Tuoba Tieshan, what is the commander in chief of the Quanrong doing so deep in Tianyu? Just what did Zhuge Changfeng give you to get so many of your fine men to face me? It must’ve cost a pretty penny wasting so many supplies.”
“Ha-ha-ha, you can’t get under my skin, Dugu Zhantian. I am here on the orders of my emperor, not to settle any grudges.” Tuoba Tieshan said, “Though I was quite eager to come, I might add. Being rivals for decades, I want to take that head of yours myself.”
Dugu Zhantian snorted, “Big words. We’ve been fighting for decades, always ending in a draw. Yet you want to defeat me today?”
“Why, can’t I?”
Tuoba Tieshan raised an eyebrow, “All our battles had been waged using everything at our disposal. You had your arrays and formations while I had the beast army. But now, there’s no array here to help you and my beast army is hardly damaged. Your wings are clipped while I am stronger than ever. You’ve lost your edge while I’ve kept mine. The victory today may be without honor, but all’s fair in love and war. Your defeat is justly deserved.”
Dugu Zhantian glared, waved his crescent blade and pointed at his men, “My men are strong and in good heart, welcoming death. They’re better than your pets even without the arrays. Did you not see how I flung your five armies back?”
Grinning, Tuoba Tieshan eyed him, “Old Dugu, this trick might work on the Eight Wolf Wardens, but it won’t fool these eyes of mine.”
Tuoba Tieshan pointed at Dugu Army, mocking, “Any army, no matter how brave, will be weary marching for months now. It’s basic knowledge. And to unleash that move of yours, your army is heaving.”
Dugu Zhantian’s brow twitched, but the Four Tigers of Tianyu’s hearts jumped.
“Ha-ha-ha, I may lack in arrays, but I at least know arrays work with spirit stones, using the power of the world to operate. And what did you use instead? By my reckoning, that dragon soul in that blade of yours has no energy of its own. You used your own army’s Yuan Qi to push back my men.”(StarReader: the dragon soul here is the weapon’s spirit.)
Snickering, Tuoba Tieshan shouted, “It used up most of your men’s reserves. You could use the same move a couple of more times and that’s it, for you and your army. While my beast army will have to charge each time, it will hardly lose its strength. Dugu Zhantian, face it, using that move is a sign that you’re on the brink of defeat. You’d have never used it otherwise!”
The Wolf Wardens perked up.
[That’s what it is, a trick to hide his exhaustion. Worst case scenario, we’ll have a bitter victory.]
The wolves snickered and got ready to attack.
The Four Tigers of Tianyu asked uneasily, “Marshal…”
Dugu Zhantian squinted, “Remember the Lone Goose Gorge we passed ten miles back? That choke point is the best place to hold them back. We’ll use the dragon soul to break away and rush for the gorge. That’s where our odds of victory lie!”
Dugu Lin spoke anxiously, “Marshal, have you forgotten the High Priest’s scrying? Lone Goose Gorge will be where your life ends. We can’t go there!”
“The wind scatters the lone goose’s leaves. Once in, the lord is nevermore!”
Dugu Zhantian sighed, “This was the High Priest’s advice. That I strived for the world and violated my lord’s orders, paying with my life. Lone Goose Gorge is my grave. Going in, I’ll only come back as dust.
“But what choice do we have? Am I one to bet the lives of my army on some silly superstition? Ha-ha-ha…” Dugu Zhantian regained his mettle, “Tigers, dragon soul formation, Soaring Dragon!”
The tigers’ eyes grew wet, “We obey, Marshal!”
They took up their duty and led their divisions.
Tuoba Tieshan frowned, “Wolf Wardens, flying tiger formation, with Slaughter Wolf in the lead and the others flanking him.”
The wolves began their assault.
The wind picked up in a violent storm as the wolves turned into a dagger under the might of hundreds of thousands of savage beasts, heading straight for Dugu Army. The beasts howled, scaring the forest animals within a hundred miles.
Dugu Zhantian held his crescent blade as he led in meeting the enemy. The tigers behind him followed close as the Dugu Army took the shape of a dragon.
The wolves sneered, “It’s just a longer snake, a straight line; focused on neither attack nor defense. Marshal Dugu, are you looking down on us?”
“Ignorant whelps, this is no snake formation, but a soaring dragon!”
Dugu Zhantian thrusted his blade at the sky and with a dragon’s roar, the dragon soul came out.
Instead of sucking in the army’s Yuan, it fused with theirs.
The snake formation changed into a veritable dragon taking to the skies.
Carrying millions of soldiers with it.
Tuoba Tieshan cried out. [That’s no defensive tactic, but a charging one.]
[But with the army on its last leg in defense, going on the offensive will make their Yuan Qi…]
Tuoba Tieshan surmised.
The five wolves’ army and Dugu Army clashed. The banging and shouting came just as soon as the five wolves were blasted aside from the dragon’s path.
The men were flung aside in a trail of dark blood while the spiritual beasts slammed the ground, with ten thousand of them never getting up and half of them in critical state.
The five wolves shuddered at the might of Dugu Army.
“Commander, what do we do?” Slaughter Wolf wiped his bloody mouth as he waited eagerly.
He never knew defeat in his life, finding an easy victory boring. Yet meeting Dugu Army filled him with excitement, finding value in the victory that followed in beating such a tough opponent.
Tuoba Tieshan smiled, “Chase. Let’s see how long they’ll last.”
“Commander, that move had us on the ropes. What will chasing do against that?” Howling Wind Wolf asked.
Tuoba Tieshan snorted, “Is there a need to flee if it’s that strong? His army is spent from using it. His men have no more left to give. It’s the best chance to take them down.”
They all grew excited.
After tending to their wounded, Tuoba Tieshan took his wardens after the Dugu Army…
An hour later, the dragon touched down.
The dragon soul left behind pale figures gasping for air, with many others breathing their last.
The Four Tigers of Tianyu looked ahead at the losses as they huffed.
“The dragon soul formation is too taxing.” Dugu Feng sighed.
Dugu Zhantian lamented as well, “Tally the losses.”
The four tigers soon came back with a report, “Marshal, we lost three hundred thousand of our brothers.”
“Losing a third before the battle has even started. It is the greatest loss this Dugu Army has ever had. I have failed my men.” Dugu Army sighed.
The tigers were morose.
Dugu Army had only known victory since it came to be.
“Marshal, Lone Goose Gorge is up ahead. Tuoba Tieshan will catch up soon. We have to get ready.” Dugu Lin proposed
Dugu Zhantian nodded, leading his army. Upon finding the sign saying Lone Goose Gorge at the entrance and the chilly wind coming from it, a sorrow struck his heart.
[Is this where I meet my end?]
Sighing, Dugu Zhantian entered, followed by his men, swallowed by the thick and endless fog…