Chapter 125, Advantages and Initiative
The Qin reinforcements hastily withdrew to a safe distance and maintained their surveillance from there.
It was not that they were afraid of battle, but rather, because of the vast difference in numbers.
With more than a dozen men strong, if they could have arrived earlier to regroup with the vanguard squad, that would have yielded them enough men to renew their assault.
But the Qin vanguard squad was decimated all too quickly that by the time the reinforcements arrived, the remnants of the vanguard squad were barely a handful.
To charge right now would be nothing but folly hence the reinforcement’s decision to withdraw and cut their losses.
In the meantime, the Green Feather Mountain Cultivators broke ranks and surrounded the remaining members of the Qin vanguard squad inside a ring.
The Qin Cultivators huddled together, standing back to back looking desperate and absolutely forlorn.
But none of them begged for quarter, for they knew as well as any other contestant in this Conference that begging for mercy was futile.
All the years of animosity had left bad blood between the contesting factions and their members.
To beg for pity would only result in their being ridiculed and further humiliated by the enemy.
“WE CHARGE!” cried the only surviving Fifth-Order Cultivator.
Despite his grievous wounds, he rallied his remaining kinsmen and rushed together.
But none of the Green Feather Mountain Cultivators were interested in engaging the stampeding enemies now going full berserk.
Getting senselessly killed while their victory here was already secured was hardly their idea of fun.
Thus, the only viable mode of attack was slinging spells at the enemy.
In most cases, Cultivators of the Fifth-Order and beyond would usually have determined what specialization they would pursue by then.
Cultivators still in the Fourth-Order, on the other hand, might still be uncertain about their future, but some, especially those who aspired to be Spell Cultivators, would usually begin preparing themselves beforehand.
Hence it was common for some to have already learned how to fire spells.
Without being properly trained in casting spells and without the prerequisite rank, Cultivators below the Fourth-Order were not adept enough to use spells freely during battle.
But a few of them had been readying themselves for this eventuality before the Qin vanguard squad’s final breakout sortie and that was all the time they needed to get their spells ready.
Deadly bolts and beams of myriad colors crisscrossed everywhere, each of them of varying elements, and one in particular, one in the shape of a fiery plump avian, looked the most conspicuous.
Only the Fifth-Order Cultivator was left standing in the aftermath of the anarchic onslaught.
But he did not survive unscathed; scores of smoldering wounds littered all over him, although he did not let his injuries hamper his desire to exact as much vengeance as possible.
He charged at another independent Cultivator fighting under the Green Feather Mountain standard, only to realize that he could no longer summon any powers.
Realizing his good luck, the independent Cultivator bellowed triumphantly, roaring “What good fortune” while he drove his spear through the Fifth-Order Cultivator, putting down at last the final member of the Qin vanguard squad.
A few other Green Feather Mountain Cultivators peered at their independent comrade with envy.
Being only a Third-Order Cultivator, the latter had won himself forty Spirit Stones from that last blow alone for killing an enemy well beyond his rank.
The prize of forty Spirit Stones was handsome enough, especially for independents.
At his current stage, the amount itself could last the independent two to three months’ worth of training and meditation.
“Still eager for some more” Xie Jin glanced at Lu Ye who was just beside him, wiping the blood off his blade with the tunic of the dead body on the ground.
Lu Ye nodded quietly.
Xie Jin peered at the rest of his squadmates.
Song Xie coughed again, still looking very much like he was on his way to meet his maker and not fighting on the back of his mount.
“Count me in if it’s more fighting!” he panted with great difficulty, “Anything else, I’ll just take a raincheck!”
Tao Tian Gang would hardly want to contradict his own senior fellow acolyte of Green Feather Mountain and that left only Qiao Qiao Er, who did not want to appear weak at all, “If you boys are up for it, there’s no way I’m gonna sit out!”
The others nearly giggled at her.
“So be it then! Onward!” Xie Jin shouted, grinning broadly.
The battle was still far from over.
In fact, for Green Feather Mountain, their comeback was only just beginning.
All five members of the raiding squad got up their mounts and Xie Jin gave another fellow squad leader, also a Fifth-Order Cultivator, a knowing nod then he rode on with Lu Ye and the rest following behind.
It was time they launched an offense of their own.
The squad leader quickly marshaled his vanguard squad and sped after Xie Jin’s squad.
The tables had been turned and the defenders were now mounting an invasion instead.
The Green Feather Mountain forces arrived at the next hillock at such a good time that the Qin defenders there – the very same squad which had withdrawn to prevent being caught up in the massacre of their comrades earlier – did not see them coming until they were halfway up the slopes.
The defenders were so terrified to see them, that for one split-second, their ranks panicked.
“Get a grip, men! Hold the line!” yelled the Fifth-Order squad leader, “It’s only five men! That’s just a Green Feather Mountain raiding squad!”
He was right.
Composure and discipline in the face of the enemy were crucial in battle.
If anyone were to break ranks, that would only give Lu Ye and his squadmates the chance to isolate the defenders from each other, turning the battle into one-on-one duels which were raiding squads’ most prominent fortes.
Xie Jin and his squad tugged at the reins of their mounts and halted, stopping a few hundred meters away from where the Qin defense squad was waiting and peering at them.
The eyes of the leader of the Qin defense squad met Xie Jin’s and that was all he needed to guess what Xie Jin was planning.
[They’re stalling! A vanguard squad must be peeling just behind! We need to get out of here before we get overrun out here in the open!]
“Retreat very slowly!”
The leading Fifth-Order Cultivator barked at his men.
The defense squad uniformly withdrew.
But their movements did not go unnoticed; Xie Jin immediately gave his word to attack.
“Hold the line!” the leading Fifth-Order Cultivator urged his men.
The rest of the squad immediately stood their ground and made ready to defend themselves.
To their surprise, the Green Feather Mountain raiding squad suddenly veered off when they were just about a hundred meters away and circled around the perimeter before vanishing.
The Qin defense squad did not know what to do.
They waited for quite some time before deciding to pull back further.
That was when the Green Feather Mountain raiding squad popped out of the woodwork again to maintain a close watch on them from a distance.
This would repeat another few more times and after every time, the Qin defense squad would emerge looking worse for the wear.
This incessant harassment was taxing, if not humiliating enough, yet even so, the sullen squad leader could do nothing but mutter words of expletives under his breath.
Xie Jin and his squad had all the advantages and initiative on an open field.
But all was not lost.
He had received word that a nearby defense squad was inbound towards their position to reinforce them.
So long as both squads could regroup, then they’ll have nothing to fear from this blasted raiding squad!
[Very well then! We’ll hold the ground here and await our reinforcements!] the Qin defense squad leader thought quietly.
But another message arrived just when he thought he saw a silver lining.
One that was enough to shatter what confidence he just discovered.
Apparently, the Green Feather Mountain vanguard squad that he was expecting to join up with this raiding squad had circled around them to attack the hillock they were originally assigned to hold!
The defense squad first received orders earlier to ride with all speed to support their beleaguered vanguard squad.
But by the time they arrived, there was nothing they could do hence they withdrew, not wanting to get caught up in the massacre just now.
This defense squad was half of the original defense squad defending this hillock area.
This half was commanded to ride first while the other was supposed to be acting as rearguard and come meet up with them.
The total number of the entire defense squad was thirty-men strong.
Yet, the Green Feather Mountain vanguard squad had intercepted the defense squad rearguard!
All three contesting factions each had Ninth-Order Cultivators keeping an eye on the Shadow Moon Disc.
Any troop movements in the field were no secret at all, but one could expect delays for messages to reach their intended party.
The Shadow Moon Disc shared between all contesting factions was a key reason why losses were able to be kept to a minimum.
Whenever things went south, the Ninth-Order Cultivators would immediately make proper adjustments to prevent further casualties to their respective factions.
But the first battle between the Green Feather Mountain and Qin raiding squads had turned out to be a complete surprise, catching Qin Wan Li off-guard, so he did not manage to react in time.
By the time the order for the Qin vanguard squad to retreat reached them, it was already too late.
The lopsided slaughter had already begun.
And that was hardly the end.
The dominoes were still falling one after another.
Right now, the Green Feather Mountain vanguard squad was assailing the hillock.
The information the Fifth-Order squad leader received told him that the enemy vanguard squad had a few shy of thirty men, whereas his rearguard only had about half that number.
The entire rearguard could very well be exterminated if a battle were to break out right now.
The Fifth-Order squad leader peered around.
The enemy raiding squad which had been harassing them was gone.
They had gone missing.
“Where are they!” he asked.
“Um, they haven’t appeared yet,” answered one of his men meekly.
“Oh, Heavens!” the squad leader yelped, realizing something was amiss.
[Have they gone to regroup with their vanguard squad to support the offense!] “QUICK! WE NEED TO GO!” he yelled frantically.
As he wheeled around, he sent another quick message to ascertain the whereabouts of the five-man enemy raiding squad.
Five seconds passed like an eternity before the answer finally came.
“The enemy squad closing in fast from the slopes!”
The squad leader only just digested what he just read when approaching cascades of padded thuds of mounts thundering towards his position could be heard.
He looked up and there was the Green Feather Mountain raiding squad charging down the inclination!
“TALI**ANS AT THE READY! WE MUST SURVIVE!” he roared.
A series of whooshes filled the air around them as the defenders immediately activated seven to eight talismans and hurled them as quickly as possible at their enemies.
One after another the talismans erupted like dynamites blowing up once their sparks finished off the last of their fuses, dispensing destruction and woe.
But Lu Ye and his squadmates were already prepared.
As soon as they saw the barrage of talismans heading their way, they dispersed at once, relying on the agility and mobility of their mounts to avoid the blasts of the magical paper-made incendiaries.
That was the end of the first exchange.
The raiding squad breezed past the gauntlet virtually undeterred and unharmed, with Song Xie as the only exception when he was caught in a blast that knocked him off his scorpion.
Still, it was fortunate that the blast did not manage to hurt him at all.
“AGAIN!” the Fifth-Order squad leader bellowed and his squad let loose another volley of talismans.
This second barrage proved no more useful than the last.
Lu Ye and his squadmates had managed to reach the cover of the woods that they could use to shield away from many of the blasts.
Just as the second barrage ended, Lu Ye and everyone else peeked from their covers, readying their own talismans while they channeled their powers so that they could activate them on the fly.
The talismans they used were all provided by Xie Jin, showing how Green Feather Mountain was well-supplied with an abundance of resources and arms.
All five talismans detonated into a flurry of projectiles of various elements – serpents of flame, scythes of winds, spears of ice – that rained down amongst the Qin defense squad.
Qiao Qiao Er’s was a Golden Wheel Talisman Paper that she employed with brutal but no less impressive efficacy when she doled out death and despair to the poor Qin Cultivators amid her shrill and triumphant howls of laughter.
The Qin Cultivators ran helter-skelter everywhere to evade the bombardment, but without mounts, they were not able to avoid being hit like Lu Ye and his squadmates.
By the time the raiding squad’s retaliation ended, one of the defenders was killed with a handful more injured.
But there was no respite.
Before the Qins could reform their lines, the entire hillside forest shuddered with the same rumbling of padded thuds they heard before the skirmish began.
The Fifth-Order squad leader looked and beheld with dismay the sight of the raiding squad galloping towards them at full speed and fury.
The entire defensive line was in total disarray and nothing could restore discipline back to the chaotic situation.
That practically made the Qin Cultivators sheep ready for slaughter as the raiding squad steamrolled through their disorganized lines.
Lu Ye wheezed by an enemy, lopping off his humongous head as easily as driving a hot knife through butter.
Song Xie’s scorpion whipped its deadly tail around and speared its tip through another, eliciting loud anguish screams of pain while Qiao Qiao Er had another enemy pinned down with her whip coiled around his neck, although he managed to free himself and escaped.
Xie Jin and Tao Tian Gang barely got any kills, but the former managed to keep the enemy Fifth-Order squad leader at bay while the latter helped to divert the attention away from the others during the first run.
All five members of the raiding squad plowed through their enemies and halted about a hundred meters away before they wheeled around at Xie Jin’s signal and resumed their positions back at the slope just over the discombobulated and scattered mass of the enemy defense squad for their next charge.