Chapter 349: Suspicions!
"Lieutenant Zhang, what was written on the arrow that Siling shot over just now?" Xu Gan suddenly asked.
Bai Siling had shot an arrow with a white cloth on it previously. Other than a few pills wrapped within it, there seemed to be some words written on the cloth itself as well.
But after distributing the pills to the injured personnel, Zhang Lin spoke not a word about the contents of the message.
"This... sigh. Actually, the note was written by the young lord over there. He emphasized for me not to show anyone the note, and that I should only show it to you after we successfully escape from here. Written on it is an escape plan, and it’s probably our only chance at survival," Zhang Lin replied with a bitter smile.
"Oh? Even we are disallowed from looking at it?" Xu Gan asked in astonishment.
"Un," Zhang Lin nodded.
Xu Gan fell silent. A moment later, a thought suddenly came to his mind, and he subconsciously turned to look at Huang Yongtu. The only reason he could think of why Wang Chong would want to hide the plan from them was that he distrusted Huang Yongtu. He didn't think that Huang Yongtu was a reliable man.
"Bastard!" Huang Yongtu had heard Xu Gan and Zhang Lin's words loud and clear, and almost at the same moment as Xu Gan, he came to the same conclusion as well. Veins popped up by his temples as rage blazed in his heart at the realization.
"What does that bastard mean by this? Does he not trust me?" Huang Yongtu's face flushed in anger. They were already in a desperate situation, and yet Wang Chong was indicating that he wasn’t trustworthy. This put him in a very embarrassing situation.
The wise Zhang Lin and Xu Gan chose to turn their heads to the side and ignore his words.
In the end, it was a fact that Huang Yongtu had been trying to provoke Wang Chong the entire way, so it was understandable for the latter to not trust him.
"Lord, what do we do now?" Ma Song asked Wang Chong back on the main road. His words captured everyone's attention as they pricked up their ears to hear what the latter had to say.
It had been a while since they had descended into a temporary stalemate. Letting things continue on like this wasn't a solution; they wouldn't be able to save Xu Gan and Huang Yongtu just by waiting around.
"If only we can send word out..." a Ten-Man Squad Commander in the group offered.
"It's no use. We are at least three to four days away from the closest guard post at the moment. By the time reinforcements arrived, it would already be too late," Bai Siling replied, pointing out the impossibility in the Ten-Man Squad Commander's thoughts.
"Siling is right, we can only depend on ourselves to save them. The reason why they shot the dove sent by the royal court as soon as they caught sight of it was to prevent us from getting word out. Even if we wanted to seek reinforcements, they wouldn't give us the opportunity to do so," Wang Chong added with a frown.
In order to prevent the recruits from tapping into their connections to solicit external help in their trial, communication means were severely limited for the mission.
After the communication tools on Lieutenant Zhang Lin were destroyed while he was in the middle of getting word out, the group was left without any means of contacting others.
Furthermore, as the western Silk Road trailed through the mountainous region, it was extremely remote. Other than traveling merchants, rarely would one see anyone else here.
If not for the long distance to the capital, there wouldn't be so many bandits and highwaymen in the region.
In other words, the only ones who could save Xu Gan and the others at the moment were the 42 of them!
"... Furthermore, compared to this, there's something else that I am more worried about." Wang Chong said grimly.
"What is it?" Those words immediately caused gazes to center on Wang Chong.
"Did you notice something?" Bai Siling asked nervously.
The current Wang Chong was the cornerstone of the group. If even he was feeling unconfident, less would have to be said about the others.
"Siling, why do you think Iron Cloak Li hasn't moved yet?" Wang Chong suddenly asked.
"What?" Bai Siling was taken aback. She was caught off guard by Wang Chong's abrupt question, and for a moment, she found herself being unable to catch up with his train of thought.
"With the current stalemate, even though we are unable to save Xu Gan and Huang Yongtu, the Iron Cloak Highwaymen are unable to do anything about us, either. We can stand here calmly because we can keep a huge chunk of their forces in check with just our presence itself, and allow Xu Gan and the others a breather. But why is Iron Cloak Li allowing this stalemate to continue?
"With their strength, they could most definitely take down Xu Gan and the others. They would have to pay a price for it, but it's indubitably within their means. The fact they haven't done so can only mean that they are using them to keep us in check, as well. After all, if they were to die, we would surely retreat immediately.
"But since we are already standing here, why isn't he making a move?"
With his back against Bai Siling, his gaze pierced through the large group of bandits and highwaymen to peer at their chief and military advisor.
To be able to bring so many highwaymen and bandits under his control, Iron Cloak Li must be quite a formidable man.
And considering how the bandits and highwaymen were effectively maneuvered to deal with Wang Chong's charge previously, and even retaliate, little had to be said about the military advisor's capabilities, as well.
Facing such opponents, Wang Chong would never belittle them.
"You mean that..." Hearing Wang Chong's words, Bai Siling frowned as a possibility surfaced in her mind.
"Say it, let's see if our thoughts coincide!" Wang Chong said gravely.
"The reason why they aren't making a move is because they are waiting for an opportunity, one that could corner and crush us?" Bai Siling asked uncertainly.
"Un," Wang Chong nodded heavily, affirming her thoughts.
"That's what I'm thinking as well. The Iron Cloak Highwaymen are simply too calm given the current situation. There is little doubt that the military advisor is making some arrangements behind our backs."
"What do we do then?" Realizing that danger was slowly crawling up on them, Bai Siling asked anxiously as her face paled.
Five hundred bandits and highwaymen were already a difficult adversary for them to deal with. If the enemy were still preparing something on top of that, it would put them in an even more disadvantageous situation. Putting aside saving Xu Gan and Huang Yongtu, they might even end up losing their lives here too!
"Their arrangements should be roughly completed by this point. It's likely too late for us to retreat." Wang Chong said.
A huge gale blew past, but ghastly silence floated among the cavalrymen. The tense atmosphere seemed to be crushing down on their shoulders.
It was impressive for them to force the bandits and highwaymen to this point despite the huge disparity in their forces. However, this didn't mean that they had overcome the crisis before them yet.
As formidable as forty Great Tang cavalrymen were, it would be hard for them to fight against a force of five hundred at once, especially since there were quite a handful of True Martial realm experts amidst them.
At this moment, they were at a decisive disadvantage.
Furthermore, according to what Li Cangqi had said previously, Iron Cloak Li was at least a True Martial realm 5-dan expert. On top of that, he was adept in a powerful secret art known as the "Iron Cloak Technique". If he were to participate in the battle as well, they would be in far more danger than before.
Seated on top of his White-hoofed Shadow, many thoughts flashed across Wang Chong's mind.
Knowing that Wang Chong was rummaging through his mind for a solution, Bai Siling knew that it would be unwise to bother him. Thus, she could only forcefully suppress the anxiety gnawing at her heart.
Time slowly ticked away. Eventually, Bai Siling reached the end of her tolerance and asked, "Have you got anything yet?"
"There's indeed a way to overcome our current crisis."
"What is it?" Bai Siling immediately asked.
Wang Chong chuckled in response as he turned his gaze back to Iron Cloak Li and Zhou An once more.
"Before that, there are some preparations we have to make, as well." Wang Chong waved his hands, and the forty Great Tang cavalrymen immediately turned around and galloped off around the bend, disappearing from sight.
"What are they doing?" Noticing Wang Chong's abrupt actions, Iron Cloak Li frowned in bewilderment. "Could they have noticed our plans?"
With his steely might, Iron Cloak Li had dominated the west road for many years. Be it merchants or soldiers, he had always killed those who crossed him without hesitation. But this time, Iron Cloak Li couldn't help but feel stifled regardless of what he did.
The reason was simple; these forty people posed too large of a threat to him.
"That is unlikely. I have already instructed them to make a detour around the mountain so that they would remain completely out of sight. Besides, they are already here. Even if they were to notice something, they won't be able to bring themselves to leave that easily. My gut feeling tells me that they are just backing away temporarily, and to a nearby location at that," Zhou An replied contemplatively.
"Men, send a scout to check on the situation!" Iron Cloak Li pondered for a moment before issuing a command.
"Yes, lord!" A bandit bowed deeply and left the area.
"Damn it, those fellows can't be abandoning us because of the danger, right?!" Huang Yongtu bellowed anxiously on the slope, after seeing Wang Chong and Bai Siling's group disappearing around the corner.
With his life hinging on Wang Chong's actions, he couldn't help but be worried when he saw the latter leaving so decisively.
Born and raised in a noble clan, Huang Yongtu had never been exposed to such a dangerous situation before. Had he known that he could face such grave danger in the mission, he would have never participated in it, even risking the censure of his clan or the training camp.