Tom, Rowan and the others all quickly turned their heads to the west, where a series of guttural growls, howls and snarls could be heard.
"Well that doesn't sound good" said Lance nervously as the horse underneath him started to whinny and stamp around.
"Alright, we've got company. Pucker up boys" said Pike in his usual loud voice that sounded more like a bellow than anything else. He then tightened the grip he had on his glaive.
"Hah, I suppose those'll be the red eyed wolves that Daniel warned us about" sighed Rowan, who then turned to face Tom.
"Don't worry cousin, I won't let any harm come to you"
"Well it shouldn't be too bad anyway, they're strength is usually only equivalent to 3rd-5th level body strengthening" said Avery, who then also directed his gaze to Tom before adding "You should be able to one on by yourself easily enough".
"Ok then. But what do we do about the horses?" said Tom.
Tom wasn't feeling any pressure from the snarls that were coming closer and closer. He'd already read a bit about the red eyed wolves and didn't feel that there was anything to be concerned about.
As Avery had said, the strength of red eyed wolves was generally only in the range equivalent to 3rd-5th body strengthening level cultivators. Furthermore, they had only little reserves of qi and weren't able to use any qi techniques. This meant that in the Tainted Forest, they really weren't that strong. They were just a type of weak qi beast whose strength lay in the fact that they travelled in packs. There were however several other wolf species that were far more powerful than the red eyed wolves, but they wouldn't be seen this close to the boundary of the forest.
An interesting thing to note about the red eyed wolves was that although they were one of the weakest qi beasts in the forest, they were also incredibly vicious and would attack other creatures regardless of their strength. This was probably because of a combination of their naturally fierce nature and their inability to accurately judge the strength of their opponents. As a cultivator, Tom was able to determine the strength of others, be they other people or animals, by sensing qi and judging the amount, structure and concentration of qi present on them. It seems the red eyed wolves either didn't have this ability or because of their savage nature, they just didn't care about what they saw.
It was because of his knowledge about the red eyed wolves that Tom wasn't concerned about himself but was concerned about the horses. They had been avoiding qi beasts up until now and hadn't been attacked by any in turn. This had meant that the horse hadn't been in any danger. If they had chosen to attack the previous qi beasts they had seen, they would have been in a better position, where they could dismount and pursue them while a few hung back and kept the horses safe. Now however, it was the red eyed wolves that were charging at them and even if they were stronger than the wolves, the horses weren't. Just hearing the sounds in the distance had already gotten the horses agitated and riled up. Out of the eight people present, only Rowan, Avery, Pike and Harrison had kept horses under control. Tom and the other guards that had come with him were having trouble keeping their horses in check.
"We should dismount and form a ring around the horses" said Avery decisively.
"Agreed" said Harrison, who then dismounted and drew the bastard blade he had at his hip.
The rest of the group performed similar actions. Tom got off his horse and drew his arming sword. He had his shield strapped on his left arm for defence. Rowan got down and pulled out her arming sword, though compared to the one Tom was using, which was made from iron, hers was steel and of considerably better quality and Avery unsheathed the two handed longsword he was carrying. The rest of the guards however didn't have to perform such actions. This was because one of them carried a battle-axe and the rest were carrying polearms. They were already just holding them in hand while they were travelling.
The only person who didn't get off his horse was Pike. He intended to fight while on horseback. This wasn't actually completely stupid though because he was good at using his weapon and the horse he was seated on was one of the steadiest there.
"Pike, aren't you getting down?" shouted Avery.
"Nah, I'm good up here. I'll ride around and clear the ones up circling around us"
"Fine, but if the horse dies it's your own bloody fault"
"Hah hah ha, no problem. I'll sweep them all away. They won't touch the horse"
While Pike and Avery were talking, the rest of the horses were gathered together, with Harrison holding onto some of the reins and keeping them from running off. Tom and the others took positions around them, two guarding the back and the rest on the front. Tom's position was at the front but to the side, while Rowan and Avery were a couple of steps forward to take the brunt of the incoming wolves.
Tom and the others had gotten into position just in time because as they did, the red eyed wolves had come into sight and could be seen charging towards them.
"That's a lot of wolves" said Lance, a bit shocked.
There were a good 20 wolves that were running towards them, growling and making various other aggressive noises. It was good that they were neither too strong, nor too big. They were only about 4ft tall. However, there was one particularly large wolf among them; their alpha, that stood at 5ft tall.
"Don't lose you nerve. But watch out for the big one. It should have a strength of around 7000 jin" said Avery, who was maintaining his calm. Unlike Lance, who had never been in such a situation before and was generally just less experienced because he was younger, Avery had taken part in a qi beast hunt before and was rock solid when it came to a fight. There was little that could make him panic, he could always stay calm and concentrate during combat. It was what made him such a good fighter.
Tom's muscles tensed a bit as he took a defensive stance and prepared for combat. The wolves ran closer and closer and were now only 20m away. They had started to group together and several would end up attacking the front of their ring together.
Pike lowered his glaive, pointing it forward, and took this opportunity to spur his horse on. He galloped towards the rapidly approaching wolves and swiped across with his glaive once he had reached the front of their pack.
This action was incredibly reckless. Not to mention the safety of the horse, even if he was at the 8th level of body strengthening and the wolves in front of him were only equivalent to several levels below him, it wasn't like they were unable to kill him. Among the qi beasts in the forest, they were quite weak and wouldn't be able to bite through heavy or good quality armour, but, Pike wasn't wearing heavy armour. The most he had on was a heavy leather combat jacket made from a material that was resistant to being cut. It would not, however, be able to stop the wolves from biting and clawing through it and into Pike's flesh underneath. It could barely save someone from the sword strikes of a cultivator at the middle levels of body strengthening. Nevertheless, Pike's reckless charge actually resulted in good results and neither he nor his horse were harmed. Well, perhaps the horse developed a psychological scar from being made to run head first towards the snarling maws of a couple of red eyed wolves, but that is something that we can never know.
When Pike had charged forward, two red eyed wolves each maddeningly jumped towards him and the horse with their mouths opened wide. However, before they reached either Pike or the horse, Pike's weapon had swung round, slicing through the jaw of one wolf and then slamming into the side of the other. The first wolf fell down dead at the side of the horse while the other was slammed away and left incapacitated on the ground with broken bones. It would probably be in agony from the shattered bones in its body until it finally died or was put out of its misery. It couldn't be helped. Even though the force of swing was weakened when the glaive head sliced through the first wolf, Pike's bursting power of over 8000 jin still easily crippled the wolf, that was only equivalent to the 3rd level of body strengthening, when he caught it on its side.
Like that, Pike had charged through and taken down two of the wolves in the process, easing the pressure that those behind him would face. He then kept on going and aimed towards the wolves that were following behind.
Meanwhile, the rest of the wolves that were charging at the front didn't have any thoughts of turning around to pursue Pike. They had vison locked in front of them, charging with the uncontrollable desire to kill and spill blood.
Rowan and Avery each faced a wolf at the same time. Rowan faced one of the stronger ones, equivalent to 5th level body strengthening, but since she was the strongest person present, already at the 1st level of qi expansion, she was able to kill it perfectly easily. When it jumped up at her she made a diagonal step forward with her right foot and a simple left to right upwards slash, cutting deep into its neck and killing it. Avery on the other hand was facing a weaker wolf. Like Rowan, he made a side stepping movement, but, instead of a diagonal slash, he made a horizontal one against the body of the beast, cutting deeply into it, and then turned his blade around to attack another wolf that was following closely behind it.
Thankfully for Tom, he didn't need to face two wolves at the same time and the one that came at him first was one of the weaker ones. It jumped at him head first with its jaw open, ready to bite him. Tom raised his shield high and then slammed it into the side of the wolf's head as it got close. Luckily, he had gotten the timing just right and the wolf had its head knocked down to the ground. Before it could recover and move away or attack him again, Tom quickly swung his sword down at the head of the wolf.
Because he wasn't as strong as the others and because the sword he was using wasn't of a very high quality, the cut he made wasn't as deep as the cuts the others were able to make. The wolf was still alive and tried to move back but Tom swung his sword again, this time hitting its neck and biting deep into it. Blood gushed out and the beast died, collapsing on the ground.
Tom didn't have much time to breathe though. Another wolf jumped up at him from the side. Rather than bite him, this one was trying to attack with its claws. Tom raised his shield and blocked the beast. Then, while he had it caught on its back legs, he thrust his sword through its exposed belly.
It wasn't a killing stab, having missed the wolf's vitals. The wolf ferociously tried to bite at Tom but Tom was keeping it at bay with his shield and it couldn't leverage its head to reach him. Struggling with the beast, Tom pushed forward, knocking it over on its back. He drew his sword out of it and then thrust again, this time hitting important internal organs. The wolf whined and struggled but ultimately it couldn't escape the clutches of death.
After killing his second wolf, Tom was able to look back and take in the whole situation. In the short while he had been fighting, Pike had ridden around and killed two more wolves and Rowan had run forward to kill two more herself. Avery had only felled his third because he had stayed back to protect the horses. Tom could see the guard with the battle-axe to the side cleaving a wolf in half at the waist. There was a dead wolf at Harrison's feet and another one still impaled on Lance's spear after it had run round the back and tried to attack the group from the rear.
In just a short amount of time, the number of the wolves had already dropped to only five left and neither the horses nor anyone present on Tom's side had been injured or killed.