On the mountain range outside of Baiman, the ancestral home of the Thunder Phoenix Clan was erected within a sunken valley and enclosed by tall, steep cliffs to protect its inhabitants from outside attacks. The only entryway was through a narrow passage that could only fit ten people walking side by side, making this location a natural barrier against those that would oppose them.
The many families that comprised this clan had specifically chosen this place as a safe haven, a last line of defense against those who would turn a fist at them, be it demonkind or declarations of war by their fellow people. As the collective force of Lady Kaguya’s rescue team approached the entrance, many of the guards could be heard taking a deep breath to calm their nerves or fiddling with their equipment to ensure that nothing was amiss. Merely stepping foot into this narrow entryway towards the clan home was like voluntarily leaping into the jaws of danger, as one could feel the air giving off a sense of dread that chilled their bones.
Perhaps, it was the sudden darkening of the pathway, where the walls were tall enough to block out the sun. In addition, the numerous holes etched along the walls stood out at them like eyes watching their movements, waiting for a moment of weakness for those that hid within to pounce. And to top it off, the abundance of thick mana which collected around this area disguised the presence of strong fighters that were hidden and waiting to strike.
Regardless of the reason, the fighters were on edge. Some of them briefly wondered if it was too late to turn back, only to slap themselves for feeling so intimidated by the prospect of losing their lives. They had all sworn an oath to Lady Kaguya, to the country of Sanshiro. It would take a lot more to wound their spirits, but for the moment, even those that were determined to advance occasionally hesitated taking the next step.
Fortunately, they were all backed by each other. The clinking of their weapons and the warmth of their bodies created a rhythm and sensation that compelled everyone forward. Each moment of hesitation was met with an arm gently patting one’s back in assurance. Each sigh of nervousness was succeeded by a hearty battle cry, wiping away those feelings of doubt.
There was no other way than to charge forward. The Thunder Phoenix Clan had declared war, and its members were eagerly anticipating their arrival. They had no option but to face them head-on and prove who was the righteous leader of this holy land.
A quarter of the way through, they had met their first sign of opposition – a walled gate that was the clan’s first checkpoint. Seeing the army of people advancing forward, the lookouts sounded the alarm, quickly gathering their fighters and opening the gate to greet these invaders.
A young man, holding a spear in one hand and the flag of the holy family of Mitsubishi in the other, moved forward to announce his intentions.
“Thunder Phoenix Clan! Return Lady Kaguya and her retainers, who you have wrongfully captured. If not, pray to the Gods that the might of Sanshiro will spare you from its retribution!”
The Thunder Phoenix Clan members snickered. They could see only a few hundred warriors in front of them. Since they had expected opposition to come, there was already around the same number stationed at this location. Furthermore, they had a wall to protect them. By the time their defenses fell, the rest of the clan would already be well on their way here. It was foolish of them to think that those numbers could topple the greatest clan in the country!
They gripped their weapons and licked their lips as the spear-user, Sun Wen Zhi quickly dropped his formalities and waved his spear forward to start the attack.
However, the next moments caught them by surprise. Explosions sounded from behind the walls, as men were blown away from their positions. The lookouts turned their heads in shock as they had not expected cries of pain from their own men, when none of the warriors had approached the gate yet.
‘Is it some kind of surprise attack? Did some men sneak around and initiate an attack while they were greeting them from the front?’
But as the lookouts searched for the nature of the attack, they were astounded by the fact that round objects were falling from the sky and exploding as they landed on their troops.
“BOMBS?! WHERE ARE THEY COMING FROM?!”
Sounds of panic echoed throughout the ranks stationed at the checkpoint as numerous bombs seemingly appeared above them. Not used to a barrage such as this, the men chaotically shuffled around trying to avoid them, stepping over each other and clogging the path. Though the pathway fanned out past the gate, there was still hardly any room to dodge them but to retreat towards their home. However, they had inadvertently blocked each other in panic, making them easy pickings for the bombs, which sent explosive pulses of mana that shook their bodies and knocked them unconscious.
Pretty soon, the only ones left at the gate were those that had strong enough mana shields to guard against the explosions. The several hundred men initially stationed there had been reduced to under 50. All around the area, piles of unconscious warriors were strewn about. Fortunately for them, excessive mana damage merely shaved off the normal integrity of their health bars, stopping before it reached a critical state of life. Since the bombs didn’t damage any vitals or result in open wounds, a person was in no danger of dying unless a separate attack of such was inflicted.
The lookouts, who had been spared because none of the bombs had hit the wall, gulped as they turned their attention back towards the charging warriors, no longer certain that they could hold on for help to arrive.
Below them, they had failed to notice a man with a girl riding on his back making their way to the far-left side of the wall. With a swift swing of his weapon, the sturdy stone of the wall had crumbled to the ground. The noise was drowned out by the clamor of warriors reaching the walls, as they slipped through the hole that was made. The lookouts’ attention was squarely fixed on the spear-user in front, blowing open the gate with a single stroke. The remaining Thunder Phoenix Clan members had turned their attention on the gate as well, gearing up to take on the flood of warriors streaming through it. No one paid attention to the lone pair that had separated itself from the other invaders.
While the warriors loyal to Lady Kaguya started charging through the gate, a lone, blue-haired girl stood on a ledge several tens of meters above the valley, a place no one would think to look towards. Katsys had found a vantage point to look ahead, prior to the initial confrontation. Stepping through a portal to the perch above, she was able to see the army that was situated behind the gate. This was the perfect opportunity to test her bombs.
Giving a quick signal to Lau down below, she moved a portal over the open area beyond the gate, where the Thunder Phoenix Clan waited below. Moments later, small circular bombs fell out of the portal, landing below with deafening booms. As she simply moved the portal around to chase after the unfortunate clansman below, people on her side’s back line had been periodically throwing the freshly made bombs into the other portal. If it weren’t for the fact that they had such ill intentions, she would’ve felt sorry for them. The barrage that she had planned to thin out the enemy’s forces was working a bit too well that it felt like bullying.
With her role done for the moment, she recalled her portals and made new ones to take her to ground level. Lau was waiting to greet her.
“That sure gave them a run for their money!” Lau laughed at the turmoil that the other side was already in. He had been initially disappointed that he couldn’t join the front lines, but that was soon forgotten as Lau sensed how much of a panic the other side became when the bombs started dropping. He couldn’t advance as quickly as the others anyways due to his old age. His knees really didn’t want to move very quickly after passing 50, regardless of how much training he did. However, the knee-slapping scene that he had witnessed was more than enough to make up for it. The smugness of the Thunder Phoenix Clan had been single-handedly wiped off their faces by the efforts of a single girl, one that was not even a fighter.
As Lau wiped a tear of joy from his eyes, he bent down to pick up the large bag of bombs that was remaining. They had only used half of them so far.
“Alright, princess. Let’s catch up to the others and deliver this- “
Lau’s voice cut off as he felt a sudden presence in the air. Straightening his back, he looked over to one of the holes in the wall. “There’s no use hiding. I’d be glad to give you a rematch.”
A man casually walked out from the darkness of the hole, a weaselly grin on his face. He didn’t have the sturdy build that normal warriors of Sanshiro had, but what stood out was the impressive veil of mana enveloping him. This made the lean, but muscular, man stand out in his own way as a fighter.
“We meet again so soon, the famous Electi who went toe-to-toe with the Mage.”
“Can it, Zura. I know you’re jealous that your Flowing Water Fist style is not very effective against the demons. That’s the whole reason you’ve focused your efforts on me instead.”
In contrast to the mana hardening techniques of standard demon slayers that were used to protect one’s body, Flowing Water Fist Style continuously harnessed the mana around the user, drawing power from the surrounding environment. This was highly impractical against demons, whose mana was poisoned with miasma. A practitioner of this style would likely do heavy damage to himself when fighting against a demon. But it was perfect for defending the clan’s home, which was abundant in mana surrounding the area.
For that reason, the Zura family had never played a big part in the nation’s defense. However, they were picked up by the Thunder Phoenix Clan for the sole reason that their techniques were very effective against other warriors, especially against Lau Ki Young who had driven the strongest demon in history away.
With the aid of the Zura family, they didn’t have to fear the powerful blows of strong warriors. Their techniques allowed for them to drain their opponents of their mana and use it against them.
In the hands of a master, the Flowing Water Fist Style could ensnare nearly any attack and penetrate almost any defense.
Lau cracked his fists. It had been quite some time since he had faced against something that he couldn’t parry. He had gotten complacent in his overpowered Dexterity stat. More than any demon or powerful beast, the man in front of him was his natural enemy.
“Miss Princess, you should get a move on. Your task still remains to be completed.” Lau got into a stance as more people came out of the holes, presumably other members of the Zura family.
“This old man will be fine. You’ve got that teleport thingy, right? Plan B, just in case.”
Katsys nodded. That was the best option for now. Though she remembered how beat up Lau had gotten last time, the people on the front lines needed her help more. She grabbed the bag of bombs before dashing forward, leaving Lau and a small group of warriors to hold the back line.
Looking ahead, she scanned for the next viable cliff to perch on and shot a portal towards it. Jumping through another portal on the ground, she was met with a bird’s-eye view of the battlefield ahead.
Wen Zhi and Ludmila were charging through the middle, tearing through the Thunder Phoenix Clan’s warriors. The surrounding fighters were focused on stopping that spearhead charge that they led. She could see Claude with Chrys on his back, swiftly making his way down the left side, away from the others. Occasionally, a few warriors noticed him, but they were taken care of almost instantly. It was rather foolish of them to tackle him alone instead of calling for backup, but the plan advanced more smoothly since they had simply underestimated a chef ‘seemingly encumbered’ with guarding a child.
Looking ahead, she could see a trickle of warriors racing to another gate to notify the others of their invasion. It would certainly be an advantage to see the rest of the clan being gathered in one place to fight back. Katsys continued to fly her portals ahead, dropping the bombs herself this time. By the time she had exhausted the rest of her supply, the number of warriors left behind could be handled by the front line. Her strategy alone had shaved off nearly half of the clan’s forces. Now, the rest of the battle depended on the skills of those in the front line, along with Claude’s desperate charge to rescue those being held hostage.
“Oh? The front line suddenly stopped?” Her eyebrows arched as a noticeable shift in progress was apparent from the collective movement below. It looked like a wall of people on the opponent’s side had stopped Wen Zhi and Ludmila from advancing. Somehow, Claude had slipped past this blockade and cut his way through the last gate, but he was isolated from the rest. Looking back, she could see Lau holding back Marude Zura and his family.
“Now then, who should I help?” Katsys continued to survey the field, waiting to see where her help would be most valuable.