In the front of the crevasse, Han Lingyun picked back up the array flags he had placed.
“What was that for?” Wang Yimo questioned him.
“A concealing formation obviously. You found the entrance so easily so what makes you think that others wouldn’t find it as well?”
Wang Yimo pursed her lips at the remark. She had been too shaken before to think clearly. “You made the right call. Okay, now that we are far behind in points, let’s find some groups to eliminate.”
The pair stealthily left the periphery of the crevasse and began searching for their first targets. What they had not anticipated, was that they couldn’t find anybody. This made the two young teens more and more cautious. It was unsettling.
They could occasionally hear some distant sounds of conflict and would sometimes arrive in places that showed marks of fighting but the area seemed nearly empty of any other disciples.
However, they still continued their search with relative calm and didn’t rashly take off for the skies. After all, the first objective was simply to not lose their own black token and make it to the second phase of the tournament. Their score in this phase would only matter to determine their future opponent. It was only a matter of time before they stumbled on somebody anyway.
In fact, all the conflicts would end very quickly, with the victorious protagonists escaping right afterwards. If both parties realized that their strength was similar, they would simply part ways. At this point, the reckless ones had already been eliminated.
Han Lingyun and Wang Yimo realized that point but still felt apprehensive. ‘Even so, how come no one has sneak attacked us yet? It really feels like that whole area has been emptied out of disciples.’
It was at that moment, after having tread aimlessly for a good half hour, that a sudden burst of qi erupted at a close distance to Han Lingyun and Wang Yimo.
“Let’s go get a closer look!”
The pair was ready to face any kind of adversary and situation. But what they hadn’t anticipated, was to fall on Yu Tao having just eliminated a group of disciples.
Caught by surprise, the pair was discovered by Yu Tao before they could react.
What followed was an awkward silence between the three. If there was one person Wang Yimo wanted to avoid, it was precisely this man. But at the same time, she felt indebted to him after he had rescued her from a perilous situation.
In front of Wang Yimo and Han Lingyun, Yu Tao’s eyes were unreadable.
Han Lingyun could still distinguish hints of coldness within Yu Tao’s gaze. Even if Wang Yimo had recounted the events, he didn’t know the whole situation but could make some guesses from the atmosphere.
At the same time, Han Lingyun concluded that Yu Tao was the man responsible for eliminating a good portion of the disciples of that area. His capabilities were indeed frightening. If that was indeed the case, it would also mean that Yu Tao had some sort of investigative skill in his arsenal.
The first one to break the silence was Yu Tao. “Miss Yimo, I see that you have recovered, what a pleasant surprise!”
Han Lingyun decided to step back and see how Wang Yimo handled this situation. It would be a good test to verify if her will was still shaken.
She wore a forced smile. “It was only due to luck; my heart had been previously affected by the dangerous situation.”
“How remarkable! Now that you have recovered, I guess you see no inconvenience in us two disciples of the same sect teaming up.”
Wang Yimo’s smile somehow grew even stiffer. “Disciple Yu Tao, I’m not sure that our fighting styles match well together. I don’t think your method to confront others head first is suitable for Han Lingyun and me. My attacks aren’t that dominant. Also, I wish to harvest points with my own capabilities. And I have trained with Han Lingyun already so we have developed some strategies together. Maybe we should go our separate ways, that way everyone would be more efficient.”
Yu Tao was unfazed. He shook his head. “I’m coming with you. Miss Yimo, you shouldn’t trust another disciple so much like this and even stay alone with him. Nothing prevents him from stealing your Black Token in the end.”
Wang Yimo wanted to make herself clear. “Disciple Yu Tao, Han Lingyun and I have prepared for this competition together. Not to mention as the 2nd and 3rd ranked disciples of the sect, we don’t need your protection. That previous situation won’t happen twice. It would be best for everyone’s points if we go our separate ways.”
“It’s okay miss Yimo, you can work with Lingyun and I’ll be keeping a close eye on him to ensure your safety. That way everything works fine.”
Exasperated, Han Lingyun realized he had no way of chasing Yu Tao away, if he just disregarded Wang Yimo's clear intentions.
It was hard to imagine this ego centered spear user being a good teammate. Han Lingyun resigned himself and decided to see how things went in their first fight. ‘If Yu Tao trully doesn’t interfere like he just said, having a protector won’t bring any harm. I fear that my hopes are unrealistic though.’
After discussing basic strategies, Han Lingyun activated his merger art and led the two as he scouted in front for other disciples.
At least the three agreed on one thing: changing zones. Even Yu Tao was finding his score plateauing. Yu Tao wasn’t stupid; he knew that eliminating weaker disciples that tried to hide would only bring a few points. The greatest point gains would be made by getting the black tokens of the other hunters.
After several incense sticks worth of time, Han Lingyun spotted two disciples with the same robes treading carefully in the high grass. Those robes didn’t belong to one of the top 16 sects.
Before making a surprise attack, Han Lingyun carefully scrutinized his surroundings for others. Sure enough, 6 disciples of another sect were approaching the pair from another side.
Han Lingyun informed Yu Tao and Wang Yimo after having discreetly placed some flags at precise positions the 2 disciples were heading towards.
It was a case of the mantis stalking the cicada, unaware of the oriole behind. The three White Tiger Sect’s disciples crept up on the scene waiting for the others to make a move.
The first group to take action was the largest one. In their midst there was 3 qi condensation disciples and the three others were still at the body strengthening stage.
They were surprisingly well coordinated: the 3 qi condensation disciples launched qi attacks while the body strengthening disciples rushed to the two isolated targets. A brutal crash was heard but it was the 3 body strengthening attackers that were thrown in the air. The ground had erupted as 10 other disciples emerged from the soil.
They had been tunneling under their 2 friends on the surface to try to bait smaller groups while being less exposed.
Yu Tao was taken aback by the sudden reversal. Even with his skill for localizing qi, he had failed to notice the disciples underground. That didn’t mean that those disciples didn’t have qi, but because they were right underneath their sect mates, the observing Yu Tao hadn’t distinguished their presence. His skill could only vaguely give directions.
He couldn’t sit still any more as he witnessed the start of a messy fight.
With a wide grin, Yu Tao glanced towards Wang Yimo before jumping out of their hiding spot. Han Lingyun’s irritation immediately shot up.
‘That’s what I thought. Expected but still frustrating. Can’t he sit still?’
As Yu Tao moved to intercept the two groups, Han Lingyun could only activate his dark cloud of qi earlier than he would have wanted to.
But that dark qi had a formidable effect, especially after being enhanced by the formation he had placed in advance. This formation had a very specific use, it was made precisely to increase the length and durability of his own dark cloud.
The whole scene immediately fell into darkness and all were left completely confused. Yu Tao and the others were nearly attacking at random or with the brief openings caused by qi attacks.
Several disciples had actually used their white tokens immediately. So much could go wrong in a situation where there was an unknown enemy that you couldn’t see.
Yu Tao had been informed in advance that Han Lingyun planned on using this move but he still found it infuriating. He could have easily taken out that group alone, and now he was like a headless chicken as well. They truly were not made to fight together.
‘I’ll have to convince Yimo to make this cowardly cockroach go his own way. He isn’t suited for action. I would be much more efficient without him to hinder me.
With Wang Yimo as a support by my side, I will be able to reach the highest rank of that competition by crushing all my enemies with absolute power.’
Yu Tao continued to slash down that stupid black gas with his spear. The gas eventually thinned out to reveal a crater of destruction.
‘Hehe maybe I went a bit heavy handed.’ Yu Tao lampooned.
“Fairy Yimo, you can come out and pick up the Black tokens.”
Yu Tao felt a bit uneasy. “Hello? I said you could come out!”
Yu Tao suddenly took off on his flying treasure to get a better view of the surroundings. There was no one around. And on the ground, he could spot only one Black Token.
“HAN LINGYUUNNN! You DARE to play with me like this? I SWEAR if any harm comes to Yimo, I’ll KILL YOU!”
Yu Tao was thrown away by a projectile imbued with qi. If he had not reacted at the very last moment, he would have been dead or seriously injured. From high up in the sky, he could be easily spotted from hundreds of meters, making him an obvious target.
Back on the ground, he icily glanced in the direction where that attack had come from. With slow steps and a chilling air, he approached the one that dared to target him. He had never wanted to kill that much.
Meanwhile, at another corner of the testing formation, Han Lingyun and Wang Yimo were speeding through valleys. Wang Yimo couldn’t repress her giggles to the point where she had tears in her eyes, which infected Han Lingyun too.
Gasping for air, she grabbed Han Lingyun’s arm. “I think that we are far enough. Let’s not take too much risks of getting ambushed. Ah that was hilarious, we could hear the explosions for so long after leaving!”
“Hehe that’s the power of a formation, with enough qi crystals to power it and maintain the dark cover.
As for those disciples digging around, I can’t believe they hadn’t been taken out yet! With all the vibrations they were causing from underground, they were anything but hidden. Perhaps we should deliberately search for those moles. I th…”
Wang Yimo suddenly pulled Han Lingyun. “Get down!”
A couple of hundred meters away, a disciple was circling in the air on a flying sword. Han Lingyun merged with the scenery as much as he could to try to remain hidden. He simultaneously placed a mini concealing formation around Wang Yimo and himself.
Seeing a disciple flying at this stage of the competition was definitely cause for alarm. It could only mean two things. Either he was supremely confident in his fighting ability or he was a scout for a large group of disciples, perhaps even acting as bait for the careless ones.
The disciple flew over the pair without noticing anything. The versality of Han Lingyun’s formations was truly remarkable which always puzzled him as to why they were not more widespread among disciples. Of course, they were rare and expensive, but not as much as some of those peak qi condensation weapons. According to Elder Wen, they were looked down upon for several reasons.
Some argued that it would provide bad habits for later on by relying too much on these tools. At the formation establishment stage, a cultivator would be able to use a spirit sense, and would be able to sense qi and the world surrounding him to a much higher degree. Those basic array formations would be detected straight away by formation establishment cultivators thus rendering them useless in those situations. Han Lingyun found this argument completely ridiculous: different cultivation realms obviously use different fighting tactics.
The second reason, is that even if using arrays is much simpler than creating them, learning to employ arrays isn’t completely straightforward and demands a significant time investment too. Time that disciples that don’t wish to specialize in array formations would rather spend on cultivation.
However, Elder Wen believed it was mostly due to a poor perspective from other cultivators. For the majority that never came into contact with formation arrays, the whole field seemed obscure and complex. The average low-level cultivator simply had a little understanding of formations and didn’t differentiate use from creation.
Han Lingyun thought of an analogy with his previous life’s memories: It was like seeing a ‘geek’ as a mysterious hacker actively creating malwares when he was in fact just executing some premade code.
There was an unconscious repulsion for this uncommon path that occupied a secondary and misunderstood place in the collective psyche, especially for younger disciples that could relate easier to stories of valiant sword cultivators. It didn’t help to improve the idea of array masters that their interactions with other cultivators were often limited to adding defensive barriers.
The sects and school were to blame as well for this unattractive image of the formation array profession. A handful of experts were sufficient for a large organization like the White Tiger Sect and their growth was very expensive in materials. As a result, recruitments and promotions of that path had been left out.
Finally, most array masters were more than glad to keep a monopoly on formations, not working on demystifying their own field.
This combination of factors gave Han Lingyun a great advantage in any open terrain confrontations, as his opponents didn’t have his tools and were not well prepared to face against them.
Han Lingyun focused back on the situation at hand. A group of twenty or so disciples belonging to the same sect soon came into view.
Wang Yimo whispered into his ear. “I recognize those robes. They belong to the Thousand Willow Sect, one of the SCA’s 16 great sects. This is going to be harder than expected.”
“You want to take them on?” Han Lingyun frowned.
“We have trained for these situations, haven’t we?”
“That’s true but they are bound to have some trump cards of their own. We have to be careful as we lack information.”
“Don’t you have a formation that would reveal their number of qi condensation cultivators?”
“I don’t. And even if I had, it wouldn’t be so useful as they would feel the qi when passing through the formation and be prepared for a surprise attack.” Han Lingyun remarked.
“We will have to use our special combo then.”