I had been tasked with one objective. That was to break through everything that stood in my way while most of the Thunder Phoenix Clan’s forces were occupied. The target was to free the captives so that they would no longer have any bargaining chips over our heads. As I heard the explosions rock the first gate, that was the signal to begin the operation.
With a swift blow of my fist, a jolt of mana shot through the stone wall, creating a large array of cracks in it. A follow-up kick was all that was needed to create a person-sized hole away from where attention was being drawn for me to slip through. I had to duck slightly due to the extra height of the girl that was clinging to my back, but she was key to our success.
“Ready?” I asked her as I scanned the chaos on the other side that had erupted. Men were wildly flailing about with their eyes turned to the sky. The bombs that were dropping had captured their full attention, leaving no one to pay any regard to our sudden entry.
“Mm-hmm.” I felt the limbs around my neck and torso get tighter as Chrys knew that I was about to break into a run. If I had known that we would be doing such a thing on the battlefield, then I would’ve done piggy rides with her more.
Speeding along the edge of the valley, the dust from the explosions acted as a smokescreen to obscure our advance. As far as most people knew, we were just another person trying to escape from the bombing. Occasionally, someone got close enough to notice that the weird shadow in the dust was, in fact, a man with a child on his back, which instantly set off his alarm.
Noticing the sudden backpedaling of his movements, I raced in to deliver a one-two punch. I had read from boxing manga that jabs were the key to controlling the flow of a fight, but this had been especially true in my case.
With one strike to break an opponent’s weapon or armor, and another to strike a pressure point, my mana-laced jabs sent disabling blows to each person before he could form a proper defense. My Crit stat had turned even the lightest taps into decisive strikes.
‘No time for even a battle screen to load in the background,’ I jokingly thought. However, that was only the case for those that had little training in mana control.
The tension of the quick bout ended as I felt Chrys’s grip loosening a bit.
As I was continued on, Chrys kept an eye on those that had powerful mana signatures. In addition to helping me avoid attacks, the girl on my back was sensing the path of least resistance for me. That more than compensated for the extra weight that slightly encumbered my movements.
Moving swiftly, we soon approached the second gate. I made short work of the wall once again before dashing through. Since the pathway had widened a bit, no one would likely be squirreled away in the corners… or that was what I thought until I had interrupted a heated mahjong match that the clansmen were in the midst of.
“Look! Over there!”
“Hey! You’re not getting away from my Ron this time! Pay up!”
“Seriously, worry about that later, you idiot! Intruders!”
I wordlessly mouthed an ‘F’ sound as the group of four men stood up from their makeshift gambling arena. But before they could draw their weapons, the sounds of bombing near the gate’s center had pulled their attention away.
The booms of various explosions had made its way here to wreak havoc. ‘What impeccable timing!’
I raced over and kicked up the table of mahjong tiles, causing them to cover their faces from the hard pieces of chiseled bone flying in the air. With a few quick taps to their legs, a horrible muscle cramp had left them writhing in place.
I didn’t even wait for the result as I had to hurry and move out of that area. Around ten seconds later, the sound of an explosion shook the ground behind me. A bomb had fallen there, just as Katsys had told me before.
Given the pace that I was expected to advance, there was a fair chance that I would run into the path of the bombing. As such, Katsys had drawn out the pattern that she would use ahead of time and had me memorize it. I would have to thank her later for the lucky save.
We hid ourselves among the fresh clouds of dust kicked up by the surrounding blasts. Even with the poor visibility around me, my ‘Eyes of Providence’ could see the mana around people’s bodies, allowing me to avoid bumping into them. Though I could see mana, my eyes had difficulty distinguishing it unless the body was actively pouring it out; I couldn’t sense how powerful my enemies were, if they were good at containing it inside. Chrys was invaluable in tugging me away from those that had stronger signatures in hiding.
Eventually, the dust started to thin out and no more bombs could be heard. The sight of the final gate was right in front of me. However, there was no more cover to be found.
“Wait! That’s not one of ours! Sound the alarm!” One of the lookouts yelled.
I gritted my teeth as I saw several men on the wall start drawing bows. At once, a cloud of arrows blanketed the sky as there was seemingly nowhere to run. If I put up a thick mana shield, then most of the force from the arrows could be blunted, assuming that there wasn’t a high-level archer. However, that would slow me down, and I would soon be caught by those on foot. If Chrys’s lucky dodge ability were to kick in, this would be the time for it to happen. However, I did manage to put up a light mana shield over our heads without slowing down, for extra insurance.
Thankfully, it wasn’t needed.
As the arrows rained down and imbedded themselves into the ground, I felt no force impacting us from above. I could feel Chrys’s breath tickling my neck as she hid her face from the scary sight. I didn’t blame her; my heart was pounding too.
The barrage of arrows came to a halt with the men looking astounded that not a single one had found its way to me. I let out the breath that I had been holding.
‘Man, Electi abilities sure made it easy to get things done.’
They didn’t have time for another barrage before I had reached the wall. Of course, they hadn’t expected me to carve right through it instantly, so they threw up a fuss as to what to do about us.
At that time, a giant man had stopped the rest from chasing after us.
“Leave them. We’ve got more pressing opponents to face.” The man shifted his chin over to the line of troops that was quickly converging onto the last gate. Calling his fellow family members, they started getting into position to place everything into defense of this final gate.
As the cries of men started growing distant behind us, I looked back and saw that they had stopped following me.
“Eh? They’re not coming for us?”
Either, the advancing troops led by Wen Zhi had already made their way to the gate, or they were confident of the defense of their home. I hoped for the former.
In either case, the pathway had finally opened up to a large clearing filled with vegetation. What looked like a fancy garden with a three-story oriental castle stood dauntingly in the background. Likely, there were numerous rooms that it would take us hours to search through them all. We ducked behind some bushes as I thought about how to proceed.
“Gah, now that we’ve made it here, how the heck are we supposed to find anyone in this huge place?”
“Over there.” Chrys pointed at the top of the castle. “I feel some familiar mana.”
“Wait, you can detect the others from a distance?! Please tell me that you can sense the rest, too?”
Chrys paused for a moment before her eyes lit up. “Yes, I feel three familiar mana traces inside.”
“Good, where’s the other two?”
Chrys pointed towards the ground under the building, and then, at a room off in one wing on the second floor.
“The basement and the living area, probably? Most likely where Wen Lu and Yi Long ended up.”
I instinctively headed for the front, since the basement was closer, but Chrys suddenly pulled on my hair.
“No! That way! I feel Yi Long over there! He can help us!” She pleaded into my ear.
I stopped and thought about it. Kaguya and Wen Lu were likely being guarded, and we had no idea of the place’s layout. Though Yi Long was part of the Zhao family, it seemed like he would be willing to help us. Without a guide, it would be more difficult to move around inside an unknown floorplan. Plus, it might be easier to infiltrate from the side.
“Okay, let’s go. Help me keep an eye on our enemy. You can be my radar, since I can’t sense mana as far as you can.”
“Nevermind… you just scout for me.”
We crept over to the right side of the building, avoiding the guards that had remained in position. At this point, some people from the gates had arrived to call for reinforcements. After a rush of people charged out of the building and towards the gate, it seemed like there were scarcely any that stayed behind. That was better for us, since we could quickly maneuver over to where Yi Long was held.
I stared up at the balcony on the second floor. Of course, there were no ladders or stairs that would make it easy to get up there.
“Guess I’ll have to get creative…” I pulled out two knives from my Item Box and scanned the wall for weak spots. Coating the blade with mana, I stabbed it into the wall and quickly let the mana dissipate. Timed correctly, I was able to lodge the knife into the wall, creating a handhold of sorts.
Using this method, scaling the wall was manageable. With Chrys on my back once again, the two of us stabbed and climbed our way to the balcony above. Somehow, I had a foreboding feeling that I was going to drop into a very strange situation, but I ignored it and pushed on. We were invading the clan’s headquarters like some sort of assassin, so it wasn’t going to feel proper in the first place.
After climbing up, we could hear some muffled noises coming from the room. I charged through the open door expecting to get into a fight with some guards, but the sight of numerous girls surrounding a half-dressed Yi Long in bed was the only thing we saw.
The girls gasped as an unknown assailant waving a chef knife had popped in. Suddenly, I felt like a villain interrupting a setting with unnecessary threats and added tension.
“Haa…. Just, just get out of here. All of you now.” I relaxed my threatening pose as I tried to shoo them away. My motivation to save Yi Long had quickly deflated as I happened upon a somewhat envious scene.
“Wait! It’s not- I mean, I’m not here willingly!!!”
Chrys gave him a look that felt like a thousand needles had pricked him.
Yi Long’s state of dress and the pretty girls that had appeared to be fawning around him reminded me that the Thunder Phoenix Clan’s method of core purification was through extensive physical contact. I also gave him a weary look as the ten-year-old didn’t realize how fortunate of a situation he was in currently. I would be sure to tease him later after puberty struck.
However, I didn’t even need to be there to threaten the girls as their faces went pale as soon as they noticed Chrys’s ears. Not bothering to fix their disheveled robes, they made a break for the door.
With a sigh, I turned towards Yi Long, finally noticing that he had been chained to the bed.
“You know, I almost feel like leaving you here. What do you think, Chrys?”
“Guilty!” She pointed at Yi Long.
“Seriously! Just get me out! The guards are going to come at any moment!” Yi Long pleaded his case.
“Fine. But you better lead us to the others. Looking at Chrys, you’re going to have to earn her favor again.” I walked over and smashed the restraints holding him.
Yi Long quickly put his robe back on and headed for the door. Heading to the basement would be next. If we could grab Wen Lu, then tackling the rest of the castle would be that much easier.