The army was within a range of 100 kilometres by the time the scout had departed. It had been two-and-a-half days since then. Therefore, the battle must have started already.
Tie Long Cheng was fuming with anger. He smashed all the items that he laid his eyes upon in the tent.
He gasped as he seethed with anger.
Tie Long Cheng had decided, [I won’t give Wu Kuang Yun a chance to explain if I see him again. I shall behead that ominous General. I shall offer that pig’s head as sacrifice to our flag…]
“Wu Kuang Yun, I must punish you under the military law!” Tie Long Cheng roared as he straightened his beard.
The people around him kept quiet out of fear…
However, no one was aware of Wu Kuang Yun’s circumstances; he was terribly depressed. He would’ve banged his head against something and died if he were to find-out that he had been wrongly accused… and Tie Long Cheng’s reaction.
[What other option do I have?]
[It’s true that I’m a Great General. But, I am merely a nominal General; nothing more.]
[His Majesty has deprived me of my real power. Everything is being commanded by His Majesty … what does it have to do with me? Does anyone know that my forehead is swollen from kowtowing in front of him? Does anyone know that I’ve been trying to persuade him; but to no avail?]
“Your Majesty, Your Majesty… this won’t work… this is bad…. we can’t advance recklessly,” Wu Kuang Yun said with his face covered in tears. He felt like cutting-open his heart to demonstrate his sincere convictions.
“I’ve made-up my mind. Don’t make me repeat myself.” Tie Bu Tian’s complexion was as cold as ice.
Wu Kuang Yun advised against this decision repeatedly, but Tie Bu Tian reprimanded him fiercely. He secretly relegated the Great General to the rank of a Nominal General. Therefore, this Nominal General had become the pseudo commander of the army…
Tie Bu Tian had his own consideration regarding this plan.
The dispatch of these troops could be termed as ‘hasty’ if a long-term strategy was taken into consideration. In fact, this decision would be too unfavourable and disadvantageous to be taken into consideration by any means.
Moreover, it was foolish to discard a natural stronghold and take the initiative to attack. The enemy could invade the hinterland of Iron Cloud nation if the soldiers were to get defeated, and the entire army were to collapse.
However, Tie Bu Tian had another consideration.
The plan – to rely on the natural defence of the terrain to defend against the enemy – could be considered later. It would – at the most – guarantee that they would never lose ground. However, they would also never win by following this strategy. This battle was related to the survival of the entire Iron Cloud Nation. How could they think of winning it by playing safe?
[Everyone thinks that I’ll rely on the natural defence provided by this inaccessible terrain… and will obstinately cling to defence. But, I must initiate the attack. This would catch them off-guard.]
[Bai Chang Tian’s army is coming from afar. They still haven’t arrived at their desired location. They won’t get enough time to set-up a camp or take rest… before they face our attack. This battle would determine the winner.]
It was a risky gamble. However, they had no other option but to take this risk.
Moreover, an important person was supposed to be returning from this route – Minister Chu.
Bai Chang Tian and his troops would obstruct Chu Yang’s escape route if they were to pitch their barracks at their desired location. In that case, Minister Chu would get surrounded by the enemy after undergoing a long and difficult journey of 6500 kilometres. He would fall into a death-trap – with enemy pursuers behind him and the enemy army to his front.
That must not be allowed to happen at any cost.
They must send-in their army right away; regardless of how they interpreted this matter. The sooner they took a step… the better.
“Wu Kuang Yun, you just need to fight. Fight for our victory!” Tie Bu Tian said coldly, “I don’t care whether you are a Great General… or whoever else. You just need to obey my commands when the time comes.
“If you defy the Emperor’s orders… then you shall be beheaded!”
Wu Kuang Yun wanted to cry, but found no tears to shed.
He was an old soldier – a veteran; he had spent half of his life on military expeditions. How could he not know that these troops would catch the enemy off-guard? They had 90% chances of winning. Bai Chang Tian was a famous general of this generation. However, he would never imagine that the garrison troops of Iron Cloud would discard the defence of their natural stronghold and come-out to fight.
After all, Iron Cloud had been clinging to this defence strategy – not just for the past few decades… but throughout the hundreds of years of history of war between Iron Cloud and Great Zhao. Great Zhao devised plans to attack, and Iron Cloud relied on the natural defence of the terrain to defend itself. The situation had always remained the same.
This had always been a part of the fixed mind-set of all Generals.
This was the first time that they might be able to defeat the famous ‘White Tiger’ General Bai of Great Zhao.
[Tie Bu Tian will not take any risk… even if there is 1% chance of defeat. After all, the Iron Cloud nation would collapse if something bad happens…]
‘White Tiger’ General Bai Chang Tian was also thinking about the same topic during his army’s march. [The natural stronghold of the army is at the end of this road. They don’t need many soldiers to defend it. In fact, they need less than a thousand people; even an army of 100,000 soldiers will be of no use against them.]
[Why did the Prime Minister change the course of my army midway? Why did he place 500,000 soldiers under my command to march all the way here? This shouldn’t be needed. Whether one sees it from strategic point-of-view or from an overall standpoint… this decision shouldn’t have been made…]
Bai Chang Tian thought, [Only 200,000 soldiers should’ve been enough to contain the enemy here. We’ll get victory at the main warfront. After that… capturing the stronghold would be a piece of cake; the enemy will have no hope of winning once we take them by storm…]
[Is it really because of King of Hell Chu?]
[Humph… Chu Yung is just a man… even though he’s called the King of Hell. It’s impossible for him to cover a distance of 5000 kilometres on his own. Moreover, he’ll be constantly pursued on his way here.]
[After all, he’s not a god.]
“General, we’ve marched for 150 kilometres. We are soon going to step into the Heaven Splitting Mountain pass. The brothers have had a long and difficult journey. Can the tired soldiers and their worn-out horses rest for a while?” the Deputy General asked secretly.
“Hmmm. We’re almost there. Why do you want to take rest? Don’t our soldiers have the least bit of will-power? Are they really my soldiers?” Bai Chang Tian scolded with a cold look on his face.
“Then… should we continue to march?” The Deputy General’s face twitched a bit.
Bai Chang Tian gave a slow nod, “Inform the brothers to increase their marching speed. They can set-up a camp at the designated place if we reach there on time. Then… they can take as much rest as they want. They may take turns to sleep too.”
The fact was that Bai Chang Tian was feeling uneasy in his heart.
His biggest talent as a soldier was to besiege the enemy territory, and expand the borders of his motherland. However, he had been sent to keep watch as the final battle was about to start… His ‘planned-insufficient contribution’ in the upcoming war had made him sullen.
Bai Chang Tian had nearly started to think that someone must have ruined his impression in Prime Minister’s eyes.
That was why, he had been sent at a place where it was impossible to accomplish anything. It was an unrewarding task to attack the Heaven Splitting Mountain Pass. The terrain of this place was in enemy’s favor. It seemed as if the overhanging cliffs had been cut by a sharp knife. Moreover, it looked as if the entire mountain pass had been artificially truncated through a mountain. There were thousand feet tall vertical cliffs on both sides.
Bai Chang Tian felt as if he was gazing at the concave-shaped interiors of a cave as he walked into the mountain pass. Since ancient times, there had been a single narrow road that went upwards. Moreover, it was a precipitous trail; it was so steep that it made people curse-out as they climbed-up. Even the people who were physically strong felt powerless as they climbed-up the trail. However, the enemy needed only a hundred people to defend this place. In fact, the enemy could remain unharmed, and kill all the climbing soldiers without any difficultly.
[Why even bother to attack?]
[This is disgraceful. The war is about to break-out… and I have been sent on a vacation here…]
However, Bai Chang Tian had been strict and demanding with his troops; just out of habit. He had been more vigilant and careful at previous times. But, he was more relaxed now.
They turned-over a winding mountain road. Then, the road became a little wider.
Bai Chang Tian’s spirits rose as he saw this. He ordered his troops to speed-up and rush forward. Suddenly, he frowned as he felt that something was wrong.
He wrinkled his brows and got lost in contemplation…
Suddenly, he felt the ground trembling under his feet. Countless birds seemed to be frightened; they were shrieking endlessly. They were displaying a strange and eerie behaviour. The sky was filled with bird cries; they were flying everywhere in disarray. Moreover, the animals were in disarray in the nearby forest; they were running around in all directions.
A cloud of dust could be seen rising-up from a distant place; it seemed to have filled the entire sky.
“Enemy attack!” a sharp bugle sound emanated from the vanguard unit, and echoed with terrified screams.
Bai Chang Tiang’s body got tensed. He said promptly, “Soldiers, halt where you are. Prepare to face the enemy.”
However, his brain went numb as he understood the situation. [There are tall and insurmountable vertical cliffs on both sides. My soldiers are tired…. and my horses are worn-out; they’ve already walked into this narrow mountain-road. Now, there’s no way to go back. An attempt to retreat is bound to make us collapse and crush each other.]
[We have no other choice but to keep moving forward.]
[But, the troops have lost their fighting spirit. The enemy must have conserved their strength for the big push. How should I fight this battle?]
The troops in the front stopped as they heard the command. However, the formation of the soldiers was very long as an army of 500,000 was marching ahead. Therefore, the soldiers who were far behind didn’t hear the command even though the soldiers at the front had stopped. Moreover, several of the soldiers were sleep-deprived since they had been marching for a few days. Therefore, they had continued to walk in a sleepy manner. They kept drifting forward with the support of the formation, and didn’t stop.
The front of the formation got congested as the soldiers in the back continued to move forward. Soon, the formation was crammed-up, and a lump was formed in the middle. The soldiers had got stuck together; they were extremely close to each other.
The soldiers were unaware of the situation. Therefore, loud screams and curses started to echo in all directions. The army was in complete disorder by the time all the soldiers had stopped walking. The soldiers continued to curse each other…
“F*ck! Are you blind? You stepped on your grandpa!”
“F*ck! Whose grandpa are you?”
“I’m your grandpa!”
“How dare you hit me? Brothers, let’s teach him a lesson…”
“Let’s beat this son of a bi*ch to death! Let’s end this f*ker’s bloodline…”
Bai Chang Tiang looked at his officers as the chaos ensued; he had turned deathly pale. He felt powerless for the first time in his thirty years of service; he desperately wanted to reverse the situation.
He had been going freely with the flow until now; he had been blindly following hundreds of years of convention. He and the others had always known that the troops defending the Heaven Splitting Mountain pass never initiated the attack on their own… Moreover, he hadn’t spotted an enemy scout throughout his journey. This had suggested that the enemy was sticking to defend their position.
Therefore, he had become less vigilant. He could have never thought that the enemy would ambush him at such a terrible timing, and in such a manner.
His entire army was in chaos and panic. However, the sound of the hoof-beats kept approaching closer. The enemy hadn’t slowed down. Instead, they had increased their speed as they charged at them; their battle cries echoed throughout the sky.
The enemy seemed to be relying on their sharpness and rage to beat them in one fell swoop.
Suddenly, the huge army flag rolled-out amidst the loud battle cries. The flag danced in the wind as it rose high up in the air. One could see an image of a golden dragon soaring above the clouds on the surface of the flag.
“Wu Kuang Yun!” Bai Chang Tian cracked-up as a look of hatred appeared in his eyes.