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Chapter 39: Present Matters
The flames in the middle-aged man’s eyes flickered a few times. His flying sword turned around again, and urgently sped up, pointing straight at Ding Ning who was more than sixty feet away. When his yellow sword was dozens of feet away from him, it reached a peak in speed. There was a soft pop, and a visible sound wave erupted.
At the same time, the power inside the middle-aged man’s body was poured into the flying sword. The flying sword was completely out of his control, no longer a sword, but an arrow faster than the speed of sound.
No one expected what Ding Ning chose to do.
When the flying sword started to accelerate, Ding Ning took a step back. He did not make a normal retreat, but stepped forcibly on the back edge of the chariot with his right foot.
The heavy chariot was tipped up. Before the terrifying arrow arrived, the chariot with its front edge tipped up had become an enormous shield in front of him.
A hammering sound resounded again. The bottom of the heavy chariot protruded towards Ding Ning’s body and caused a dome. At the same time, a wave of energy exploded on the protruding metal.
The heavy seal chariot vibrated countless times at this moment. On the other side, the thin yellow sword shattered into countless pieces like it had hit a thick wall, and became outwardly shooting lines of metal under the sunlight.
Furious roars sounded from the army behind Ding Ning.
The sound of ballistas being rewound sounded again. A metal tide appeared in the sky again.
The middle-aged man coughed up blood. His body shone metal-grey under the shine of the metal in the sky.
“Go!” He once again shouted, not towards the two attendants near him, but towards the two cultivators who had charged out of the ground previously.
Pew! Pew! Pew! Pew!
There was a wave of sounds of metal piercing flesh. Sprays of blood came out of the middle-aged man and his two close attendants. In the next breath, this scene disappeared from everyone’s sight. The three lost the form of their bodies, and there was only the sound of impacts and flying flesh and blood.
The two cultivators who had come out of the ground did not listen to the middle-aged man’s last order. Like wild beasts they howled, drawing afterimages on the grass as they charged in a frenzy towards the Qin Dynasty army.
No one sent an order. There were countless turbulent air whirlpools behind the two cultivators. Within the whirlpools were sword lights.
These sword lights were faster than the two cultivators so they easily caught up.
Bloody waves appeared on the two cultivators. The sword light entered their bodies which disintegrated and collided onto the ground as they ran.
This was a bloody and cruel scene. Nangong Caishu felt she wanted to vomit but she forced herself to look. She knew that she had to adjust to such scenes. In the future, she would have to face more such scenes. Only by getting used to this would she not be affected by her emotions in future battles like this and avoid making mistakes in judgement.
When the remnant limbs of the two cultivators fell to the ground, the tipped chariot finally crashed back to earth.
Because no one was certain if other cultivators were in the grass, no one cheered. But the commanders in the army who controlled the flying swords unconsciously showed joy in their eyes.
No one liked spilling blood, especially seeing their own people’s spilled blood. Everyone knew what kind of price an army would pay upon encountering an ambush like this. Yet now, the enemy had seven dead cultivators and their army had not even had one fatality.
“Why?” Nangong Caishu looked at the pieces of limbs on the grass, struggled to breathe in, and turned to ask Ding Ning.
Bringing Nangong Caishu along was to let her learn about leading armies and fighting from him. So Ding Ning glanced back at her and said, “Five hundred feet behind us is the area that our army’s cultivators cannot sense clearly. Since these cultivators decided to attack here, they would definitely have cultivators hiding behind our army to attack from behind. This will cause the most chaos.”
“What if these cultivators were not there?” Nangong Caishu thought and asked with a frown, “Then would not our best seal weapons gathered together all fail?”
Ding Ning glanced at her and said seriously, “You have to know, fighting a war is like a battle between cultivators. There is nothing completely certain. You have to pursue the greatest possibility. If none of these people are in the rear, then the strongest attack of our army will be wasted and useless. But the greatest possibly is … to avoid being sensed by our cultivators, the strongest people best at hiding will detour behind the army and attack at any moment. That is also their greatest strength.”
Nangong Caishu nodded. She pondered this and organized her thoughts. Then she asked, “In the end, in the view of most of us, that middle-aged man has no more avenues left. His assassination failed and he cannot return to report so he wanted to throw his lot in with us. In that moment, he was full of murderousness when he forced out the two hiding cultivators. I saw no flaws. Why did you order to attack them then?”
“On the battlefield, no judgement can depend just on the momentary picture we see. What we see is often false.”
Ding Ning said slowly and patiently, “Previously, the cultivators had some conflict after they learned we had already detected them. But in the end, these cultivators still chose to fight here, especially after I waited so long. After I told them that I knew the battle would occur here, they still did not give up. This means there is a strong leader among these people. This strong leader does not just have iron tactics and determination, but can suppress all of their cultivation. Of the cultivation these people displayed, the middle-aged man was the strongest. Thus the middle-aged man was the leader, and the one forcing all other cultivators to fight here.”
After a pause, Ding Ning looked at Nangong Caishu whose expression was slowly stiffening. “So all his efforts, even sacrificing those two cultivators, was to see his orders through to the end, to get near me and kill me.”
Nangong Caishu struggled to swallow. She looked deeply at Ding Ning and could not understand how this youth from a wine shop had such brains and insight.
“How did you discover they had a conflict?” Nangong Caishu asked something that puzzled even Guo Feng and the other commanders.
“If a cultivator’s feelings have problems, then his actions will inadvertently be different than usual.”
“For example, the vibrations coming off the body, their path of travel and the distance they maintain, or the marks they would not originally leave behind … many similar things. Sometimes, negative emotions are vented on things along the way, like snakes and insects passing by.”
“You noticed even such things?”
“You remember the falcon I killed yesterday night with a flying sword?”
“That falcon grabbed a bamboo rat which had been decapitated.” Ding Ning looked at the disbelieving Nangong Caishu and said coolly, “Firstly, the bamboo rat is adorable, harmless, and fears people. It flees if it senses people. It is not threatening like poisonous snakes, and does not have to be killed with a sword. Bamboo rats have tasty meat, but if it was killed and not eaten, then it means that the cultivator has only swung his sword because he was not feeling right.”
Nangong Caishu looked dazedly at Ding Ning. “How can you notice these details?”
“Look at the people behind you.” Ding Ning did not turn his head and said softly to Nangong Caishu. “Just think of how their lives are in your hands. If you do not pay attention, these people may become corpses … you will naturally become more careful.”
Nangong Caishu instinctively turned around to look at the soldiers standing behind her. Her body inexplicably trembled.
“Last question.” Nangong Caishu said after a long while of silence, “His last blow was very fast, but you clearly predicted it. So you were able to use the chariot to block. How did you predict it? Since you predicted it, why did you not just dodge, but blocked and destroyed a chariot?”
“Because I gave him and my flying sword a chance to fight.”
Ding Ning looked at Nangong Caishu and his expression grew serious. He said softly, “I am seriously injured and have not recovered. If he chose to fight me in the end, he would worsen my wounds, but he chose such an attack. Facing the entire army, his attack could not kill me. This meant that he wanted to see if there are powerful cultivators hiding in the army. But such a test has no meaning to him because he will die soon after. So he is testing to show others, for example, stronger assassins.”
Nangong Caishu understood this and her expression grew unpleasant.
“As to why destroy a chariot …” Ding Ning turned to her and said, “This is a simple question just like the other ones. His sword is very fast, very strong. If I just dodged …”
When he said this, Nangong Caishu understood thoroughly — behind Ding Ning were many soldiers.
She had no other questions now, but before Ding Ning had the army advance, he said seriously to her, “Do not spend effort on pondering these people’s origins. When leading an army and unable to leave the battle, a commander only needs to consider how to deal with everything the army will encounter along the way. There are only enemies to be encountered, and never faraway enemies.”
“Why do you seem focused on training her into a commander?”
When Ding Ning returned to Zhangsun Qianxue to the carriage cabin, Zhangsun Qianxue’s cool voice sounded in his ears.
“Because she is suitable to be a commander, and her life seems to be arranged to become a commander,” Ding Ning said softly and slowly. “Also, this is what is present. There will be more battles to be fought next.”