Han Lingyun was now alone with only a giant wolf facing him. The wolf seemed to understand that it couldn't survive with Captain Lacroix behind but perhaps it could at least take down a little human with him.
Han Lingyun tried to look into the eyes of the beast. There was boundless hunger and some hatred. Surprisingly Han Lingyun couldn't find much fear, this wasn't in line with the beast's instincts. Maybe seeing its entire pack getting slaughtered had led it to desperation. Maybe this magic beast was more intelligent than the typical wolf Han Lingyun knew.
This would be a huge test for himself and a great way to put in use his blackbird art. Even if such a combat would most likely never happen in the wild as wolves stayed in packs, this would be his first fight to the death.
Well, he still hoped that he would be saved if his life was threatened but he couldn't rely on it.
The wolf didn't immediately sprint forward like the previous one but slowly approached its prey. It could sense Han Lingyun's faint nervousness and inexperience. And that boy looked so delicious.
Han Lingyun calmed his heart and entered the mindset of the blackbird art. He would be the one toying with the wolf, not the other way round.
The wolf, probably sensing an increasing danger from the boy, or losing itself to its hunger couldn't stay collected anymore and accelerated toward its prey, coughing up saliva at every furious growl.
Han Lingyun coldly eyed the wolf and ducked behind a tree as the wolf's head brushed by. He slashed his sword at the wolf's back as its momentum brought it forward.
The wolf wasn't seriously injured: its flesh was surprisingly tough to cut through. It stopped in its tracks and briefly turned around to try to bite off that child again but another attack cut cleanly its leg as it moved.
The cry of pain it let out didn't distract it from leaping to the side to avoid the sword and jump forward another time.
This round, Han Lingyun saw the teeth from up close, he dodged to land another big cut in the wolf's neck but a paw managed to scratch his right hip.
Han Lingyun was caught off guard and his heart tensed. He didn't pay any attention to the stinging sensation as his brain pumped adrenaline. The wolf was now desperate as well after being injured several times so it tried to fall on the boy in a last-ditch effort as its breath was leaving it.
Han Lingyun decided to avoid contacts for the time being; he knew that time was in his favor. He weaved and used precise movements to keep the giant wolf from landing an attack. He had to use all his strength on every foot as the wolf's large size and agility made this exercise way harder. Whenever the wolf used too much force and missed Han Lingyun, he tried to inflict another cut.
The wolf began to slow down considerably but Han Lingyun remained on his guard. Never underestimate a wounded beast backed into a corner. Indeed, the wolf suddenly bolted with a greater speed than ever before.
A typical rookie disciple would have been taken by surprise but Han Lingyun only displayed a faint grin. This was his chance to end it once and for all. Just as the beast was going to chomp him, Han Lingyun plunged his sword into the wolf's gaping mouth with all the strength he could muster while he leapt above the wolf with his momentum.
The beast violently crashed down with a sword piecing its brain. It didn't wake up.
Han Lingyun and his friends heaved a sigh of relief.
The other disciples felt even more terrified by that intense combat. In comparison, they became more impressed by Wang Yimo who seemed to have killed one wolf so effortlessly while it felt like a tough and brutal fight for Han Lingyun.
Like previously, Captain Lacroix buried the beast and the group moved forward. She also threw a healing pill to Han Lingyun. His hip was still slowly bleeding from the scratch and the intense movements.
Han Lingyun thought back to his fight and his mistakes. The blackbird art had been hugely useful for the quick movements but the blurry like effects didn't seem to have much of an impact on an opponent just trying to ram into him with little technique. He had to keep that in mind going forward.
'I should probably also find a way to train my ability for surprise attacks. That would be the best way to kill a stronger opponent than me.'
The next one to fight a wolf was Liao Zhenzhen of the sword maidens. She managed to kill her magical beast as well but had been quite severely injured in the process, having to exchange a paw to the shoulder for the killing blow.
Captain Lacroix examined her injury, poured some unknown liquid on her gaping wound showing the bone and gave her a couple pills. Liao Zhenzhen's shoulder was still painful but soon it miraculously healed.
That injury came as a cold shower to the few disciples that fancied their chances. Captain Lacroix proposed that more than one could challenge a wolf together. At her word, Shen Lin and Yang Haoyu decided to step up, as did the 5 remaining sword maidens.
They both moved some distance away, and Captain Lacroix let loose one wolf in front of each group.
The wolf in front of the sword maidens tried to run away but it found itself frozen when it wanted to head to the other direction. Of course, this was Captain Lacroix restricting its escape.
On the other hand, the wolf facing the two friends didn't hesitate and bolted forward. Shen Lin tried to face the charge with his shield but he had underestimated the wolf's momentum though and he was launched back with the wolf still in front of his shield. He contorted himself in the air to throw his Dragon fist. With precise timing, Yang Haoyu used that distraction to plunge his sword deep into the wolf's flesh from the side.
Shen Lin rolled on the ground after landing heavily. He wasn't out of danger though as the wolf was already right on him again. His shield wouldn't be enough to defend against the wolf's teeth and paws so he decided to whack it with all his strength and abandon his shield against the wolf's head. The beast became momentarily dazed and Yang Haoyu didn't wait to give everything he had in a sword strike that cut the wolf's throat once and for all.
This all happened very quickly and the two friends bumped fists and congratulated themselves for their team work. It was still a terrifying experience though.
As Shen Lin and Haoyu turned to look at the result of the sword maiden's fight, they saw a wolf already lying dead on the ground with multiple swords stabbing it from all sides. This one didn't leave this world peacefully!
After this interlude, the disciples continued forth. The ones that had taken down a wolf had obtained a new status in the other disciples' heart. In truth, it was more than that. They had seen death from up close.
Han Lingyun sensed that he had passed a mental barrier even though he hadn't enjoyed the process and still felt repulsed by the ordeal. He was sure that if it wasn't for the state of mind that he imposed on himself to use the blackbird art he wouldn't have been able to kill. It wasn't because he felt pity for the wolf, but because of his own fear.
Just as Captain Lacroix had warned previously, the group didn't stop their advance at night. The return journey was several more times more difficult. They hadn't eaten much that day too.
From time to time, magic beasts would approach the group. Most kept their distances but a couple still launched themselves toward the group, forcing Captain Lacroix to start a massacre.
Other magic beasts would often run away when seeing Captain Lacroix's power but many more would be attracted to the corpses, forcing the group into a short sprint to leave the zone before more and more beasts arrived.
Flying magic beasts were also a pain in the ass as they hovered for hours above the disciples. Captain Lacroix would still kill any that came too close but no one felt reassured with those bizarre giant vultures above their heads.
The night was the worst time for the disciples as the magic beasts were more numerous and the forest made for terrible visibility. Fires and torches wouldn't keep magic beasts away, on the contrary! Humans were a common prey for magic beasts and those beasts didn't share the same instincts as their 'normal' wild counterparts.
So, by the next day at noon, the disciple didn't look in the best of shape. One thing had greatly motivated them though: their war cry and sect song.
It wasn't quite clear who was the first to come up with the idea but soon every quarter of an hour or so the sect song followed by a war cry resonated in the forest. One bulky disciple called Shao Zhengzhong with a particularly loud voice was soon designated as the lead voice.
Shao Zhengzhong: "I am a White?"
Shao Zhengzhong: "We will triumph!"
Shao Zhengzhong: "Leave our comrades?"
Shao Zhengzhong: We will grow!
Shao Zhengzhong: "We! Are! The!"
Everyone: "WHITE TIGERS!"
Captain Lacroix didn't stop this initiative. In fact, she too enjoyed watching these young lads' enthusiasm. The group also realized that the war cry scared away some beasts!
Finally, in the middle of the afternoon of the second day, the group reached the bottom of the mountain range of the White Tiger Sect.
The disciples had walked and ran for 2 days without sleep, a minimum amount of food, and had to carry the heavy harvest. By this point, most 2nd grade talents were spent, they didn't have the stamina of the 2nd level of body strengthening. So, most of the lifting was done by the others.
Surprisingly for most disciples, the climb felt easier than last time, even with their sorry conditions.
As the 400 disciples made their way to the 1st year's village, full of pride of their performance during the expedition outside the sect, they couldn't help but notice the dark and gloomy atmosphere that permeated the settlement.
Just what had happened here during the last 5 days?