Chapter 81: Devious

its late but it’s here lol 😀 also answer the poll.

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For many moons, the soldiers of Heavenly Sword Army had gone without sleep. Every night their camp would be terrorized by enemy attackers, making the rotating guards useless. No matter how many soldiers stationed to keep watch over the camp nor the amount of torches lit, the enemy was still not deterred .

Many times, the camp would be lit ablaze. While on other nights, the soldiers of Aurora would blow horns and ring gongs from within the forest to prevent the Heavenly Sword Army from sleeping soundly. Sometimes, missing soldiers of the Heavenly Sword Army would be found hanged on trees without a hint of skin on their bodies. Of course this was not the end of it, many horrific scenes had unfolded within the forest and were just waiting to be found.

The soldiers of the Heavenly Sword Army were all stricken with fear and were terrified but their superiors would not give the command to attack. All they could do was wait, and as the days went on the more frightened they became. Every night became a living hell: the fear of an enemy attack, the fear of being the next victim of the gruesome acts. All of these had been embedded into every soldier’s mind. The lack of sleep had made many of them become deranged while others tried to sleep during the day. Gan Ning would appear waving the flag of Aurora and pretend to launch an attack on the fort. 

A true master of psychological warfare this man was. Gan Ning had spent a good portion of his life running and hiding either at sea or in deep forests. Thus, he had witnessed first hand what happens to those who were put under extreme loads of stress. Thanks to this, he just simply had to embed a seed of fear within their hearts and slowly sow it. When these seeds blossomed, they would signal the end of Heavenly Sword Army.

With the lack of sleep and constant fear, a human mind could only take so much before it cracks. And when it does, even the slightest of stimulus can cause an army to crumble.

Currently, the soldiers of Aurora were all well fed and safe within the gorge, while the soldiers of Heavenly Sword Army were completely miserable.This meant that, it was only a matter of time before Gan Ning truly began his assault on the camp.

Unknown to Gan Ning or any within the gorge, help was on its way and would arrive at any moment. Zhang with one hundred ninety thousand cavalries were steadily making their way towards the Beast’s Gorge while being followed by a carriage transporting some elderly businessmen.

Had Zhang and his army taken the main roads that ran across the entire Aurora Province, perhaps they had arrived at the gorge ages ago. But because they did not wish the enemy to know of their presence, Zhang’s entire army had to travel through thick woods or old abandoned roads which took most of their time.

“My lord, our scouts reported that roughly ten miles ahead towards the north there is an encampment with flags of Heavenly Sword Army raised.” A soldier reported while atop of his horse.

“Tell the men to halt and search for a suitable location to set up camp. Tomorrow we will face the enemy in battle.” Zhang said as surveyed  the land around them. Currently, Zhang’s army was marching on an old abandoned road through a dense forest with trees as far as one could see.

After some time, the soldiers found a large cave not far from where they were. The cave’s entrance was at a strangely flat area within the forest, and it’s interior was humongous despite its small opening. Once inside the cave, one could travel for hours and still would not be able to find its end. While Zhang’s men began setting up camp inside the massive cave, he stood atop a small boulder sticking out of the ground peering into the endless depth of the cave.

“This might be a good spot to try out the map.” Zhang thought as he withdrew a map made from golden silk cloth from his interspatial ring. It had been a while since Zhang last tried to use this map to locate a dragon’s vein but he had a feeling that this cave might be one a ideal place to tap into the vein. Ever since he had found this map within the ruins of the Sai Empire’s capital Zhang had not been able to locate any other dragon’s vein, But once he did, he would be able to tap into an enormous supply of extremely pure essence. 

Studying the map, Zhang found out that the things depicted on it often change. To be accurate, the map’s locations often change from one location to another, it would depict an entirely different location of the dragon’s vein. By pouring essence on the golden silk cloth, it will show you a map of the place you were currently in and it will show you the location of the dragon’s vein if it is within that area.

Thus, Zhang laid the golden silk map on the floor and began sending a blueish ray of essence into it. Moments later, the lines and depictions on the map began to move and scramble together. Slowly, after a pulse of blue essence was emitted the scrambled symbols and markings formed an entirely new map.

“No luck this time either…” Zhang mumbled while he looked at the new map that now depicted the layout of the entire cave. From the layout, if someone kept walking straight, they could most likely keep on going for days without end. However, the map showed a massive hidden chamber with a entrance that most likely wouldn’t even be big enough for a child to entere, few dozen paces to the right of where Zhang was standing.

“Perhaps I’ll find a treasure trove in there.” Zhang thought with stars twinkling in his eyes. Step by step he made his way towards that small hole shown on the map. Once in front of the small entrance, to the massive chamber Zhang balled his hand into a fist and gathered essence into it then with a loud bang the wall that had the small hole in it was turned into rubble.

A cloud of dust covered all visibility as Zhang stepped into the room. With a stomp of his foot covered with essence,  the cloud of dust was blown away revealing the interior of the massive room. To his disappointment, the room was utterly empty and void of any signs that anyone or anything had been inside it.

“My lord is everything alright?” A soldier asked while poking his head through the hole in the wall. 

“No I was simply investigating something.” Zhang replied and walked out of the empty chamber. After leaving the the empty chamber, Zhang returned to a large tent that his men had erected for him and with a wave of his hand, a black portal appeared. From within the portal a pinkish metallic spider with the size of a large dog crawled out.

“Silky come here.” Zhang called as he withdrew a piece of Mirage Viper meat from his interspatial ring, placed it on a plate and presented it to the queen spider. 

Thanks to the Ruler’s Domain’s constant expansion, Zhang had been able to keep Silky and her brethren from roaming about in the open. The Titanic Spiders had created a nest within the ruler’s Domain and Zhang would occasionally send food and water inside for them to feed on. Due to their current sizes, if all of them were released outside at once, they would draw unwanted attention.

Without a hesitation, Silky crawled straight to the plate that Zhang placed on the floor and devoured the piece of Mirage Viper’s meat in an instant. After devouring the Mirage Viper’s meat, Zhang reopened the portal to return Silky back into the Ruler’s Domain when suddenly it bolted out of the tent and disappeared instead of entering the portal.

“What the…” Zhang murmured as he walked out of the tent to have a look of where Silky had gone. After following Silky’s trail of essence for a while, Zhang reached the cave’s entrance.

Recently, after the Underworld Heart merged itself into his body, Zhang had been able to sense and see faint trails of essence that was emitted by the people and things around him. Each one gave off a different trail of essence and Zhang was able to see it; the higher the person’s cultivation the thicker the trail that was left behind.

“Well I guess that proves it, I should probably send some men out in the morning to keep those four out of trouble.” Zhang muttered. Ever since the soldiers he ordered to question the mysterious carriage returned, he had a feeling that the four beauties were the one riding in that carriage following behind the army. He couldn’t blame his men for lying because they were his future wives after all and those men were just regular soldiers.

But of course there was no way to be sure without bursting their bubble, so Zhang decided to play along and pretend he didn’t know they were tailing him. But considering that tomorrow they might engage in a battle, he used Silky as a bait. Seeing how it suddenly ran off sending a few hundred men to keep the girls out of trouble. 

He had hoped that they would be good and stayed in the Green Clover Province instead, where it was safe, but a part of him knew that there was no way the Yuying, Ai and Ling would do so. As for Lingqi, since he hadn’t been with her for long he couldn’t know for sure if she would tag along or not, but judging by her personality she was probably traveling with the other three.

After facing death in Green Clover City and then watching as Yuying and Ling were poisoned, a part of Zhang was somewhat afraid. For him fear was not something that he had to face very often, but there was a certain saying that went: “Love is a strange thing. It can make the weakest person strong, and the strongest person weak.” He was afraid of losing his loved ones, so he tried to keep those he held dear far away from danger. 

However, love was not something that only felt by Zhang, because love was a two way street. The fear of loss he felt was not his to feel alone. The four girls also felt it  that’s why they followed him. The only thing he could do now was to trust that they were strong enough to keep themselves safe from any danger and that he was strong enough to keep the danger away from them.

“Next time I’ll just keep you all close to me as possible…” Zhang thought while on his way back to his tent. As he walked through the rows of tents pitched in the cave, he noticed some of his men cooking dinner and decided it would be nice to have a meal with them.

“May I join you?” Zhang asked politely. Despite being their lord he never truly acted like one, well besides in a battle but outside of the battlefield Zhang acted with utmost respect for the men who fought and would die for him.

“Ye-yes my lord.” One of Zhang’s soldiers who was sitting by a campfire replied in a somewhat startled tone.  It was not everyday that your commanding officer or someone of equivalent to a king or prince would sat down and ate with you.

With a smile on his face and an empty stomach Zhang had his fill. After eating and some merrymaking, Zhang bid his men a good night and made his way back to his tent and laid down.

“Hopefully tomorrow will not be a bloodbath.” Zhang muttered before shutting his eyes.

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Once the moon retreated and the sun was slowly raised to the skies from below the horizon, Zhang’s army was currently assembled in the massive chamber that he had opened the previous day. Despite being assembled, no one was dressed in armor or had their weapon by their sides.

Their scouts had reported the forces of the Heavenly Sword Army were roughly ten miles away from their current position and showed no signs of movement. Thus, Zhang decided the best course of action to take was: to move his army as close to the enemy camp as possible and attack after the sun had set. In the dead of night, the enemy would not be able to tell how many soldiers they were facing nor would they be able to successfully pursue them if the attack failed. So instead of marching early in the morning, an assembly was called for.

“Tonight, we will face the scoundrels, the Heavenly Sword Army, and tonight we will have their heads! If we are able to finish them off then the entire Heavenly Sword Province would be ours for the taking! Thus, I ask all of you to fight not only for the sake of rescuing Lord Jian Wei but also for the sake of the riches of tomorrow!” Zhang shouted to his men. Soon after, a series of roars and cheers echoed throughout the chamber and into the cave. If the Heavenly Sword Army in the Aurora Province was wiped out then after losing three hundred thousand soldiers atop of the losses from the Green Clover Province the Heavenly Sword Province wouldn’t have enough men to stop Zhang.

“Whoever gets the most merits will be greatly rewarded! I will personally bestow those who slay enemy generals and officers a title and lordship once we gain control of the Heavenly Sword Province. As for our brothers who do not manage to gain lots of merits I will still reward them with a thousand gold coins each.” Zhang added to further build up the morale of his army. 

Usually when a soldier obtained merits within the army, at most, they would gain a single rank or a reward of a hundred or so gold coins. But what Zhang currently offering was something of an entirely different league. To obtain a title and lordship would mean not only they would jump ranks in the army. It also had the possibility that they could join the circle of nobility. 

To common soldiers, these sort of things were only pipe dreams that could never come true. At most, what these men wished for was a full stomach and perhaps enough money to buy a plot of land and marry a beautiful wife. But being granted a title and becoming a lord meant they would not lack in power and wealth nor would their descendants. Or at the very least, they would be given one thousand gold coins, which would ensure that they could return to their villages or hometowns and buy a decent piece of land and live off of it.

One could say that Zhang’s soldiers were filled to the brim with morale after hearing his words. The thought of riches, power, prestige and beautiful women filled their thoughts. 

After Zhang’s speech, everyone was dismissed and allowed to rest until noon and when the sun was at it’s highest, one hundred eighty nine thousand and five hundred men saddled on their horses and headed for the Beast’s Gorge but not before a company of five hundred soldiers were sent to guard the carriage carrying the “elderly businessmen” following behind their army. Also before leaving the cave, every soldier was ordered to have a cloth wrapped around their boots and weapon so later when they move in on the enemy camp on foot they would make less noise.

So with the sun above their heads, Zhang’s soldiers slowly rode through the forest. They were careful during their advance to ensure that they did not run into any enemy scouts. If they did, then these scouts would be swiftly taken care of.

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