Chapter 872: Talas, the Final Step!
Translated by: Hypersheep325
Edited by: Michyrr
Only the members of the eagle team knew of the heavy price that had been paid to seek out information on the Arabs. Eleven members of the team had died in the region east of Talas, and twenty to thirty eagles had died in battle. Even Little Sha had been heavily wounded. However, Zhang Que had succeeded in realizing some of the rules the Arabs operated on.
The Arabs had an independent way of fighting. The birds in the air would often fly very far from the scouts on the ground, with the hunting falcons observing areas several dozen li away. When these Arabian hunting falcons encountered an enemy bird, one of them would immediately turn back to inform the scouts in the rear.
If one wanted to prevent discovery by the Arabs, one first had to bring their scout birds to the ground. Meanwhile, if the hunting falcons did not encounter any enemies in the air, they would continue forward, circling in the air once to determine the enemy numbers before leaving.
To stop being discovered, these massive hunting falcons skilled in aerial combat needed to all be exterminated before they managed to complete a single circle. If one of them were allowed to escape, all their efforts would be in vain, and the silent advance of the more than one hundred thousand soldiers of Qixi would have been for nothing.
One circle! Only one circle! No matter what, we must succeed!
Zhang Que nervously looked up to the skies.
The Arabs currently had their army distributed in all directions, with only a part of it on the western side. This was their best chance. The eagle team had fully mobilized, and this battle would determine the success or failure of both the Qixi and Anxi armies!
As these thoughts flew through his mind, the dense flock of Great Tang eagles had already made contact with the Arabian hunting falcons.
Shrill cries echoed through the skies. There was no skirmishing or probing. On first contact, the birds on both sides had plunged into a bitter melee. Feathers flew and blood splashed, not in drips, but in a great shower from the very start.
There was a black flash as an Arabian hunting falcon dropped from the sky like a stone, crashing against the gravelly ground and turning into a ball of pulped flesh and shattered bone. Behind it came three Great Tang eagles, also crashing into the earth.
And then five, six, seven, eight…
The fighting was far fiercer than expected, the Arabian hunting falcons far more vicious. Their beaks were like steel picks, their claws like iron hooks, each of their strikes tearing out large chunks of flesh and feathers. Each hunting falcon could contend with two, three, or four other birds. It was precisely under these vicious attacks that Zhang Que's Little Sha had been injured.
But at this moment, Zhang Que and his eagle team were using completely different tactics. Whoosh! Thirty to forty eagles descended like a wolf pack on a single Arabian hunting falcon, their beaks pecking and claws slashing. With this single clash, the massive and fierce hunting falcon was felled, its body plunging out of the skies.
In this process, all the eagles were single-mindedly focused, ignoring the attacks of the other hunting falcons. None of them turned their heads, and none of them tried to escape. They bore the pain as they converged and finished off one hunting falcon before turning to their next target.
In these circumstances, the eagle team suffered large losses as many of their eagles sustained grievous wounds and dropped from the skies. This sight caused the eyes of the eagle team to redden in grief.
Each of these eagles had gone through intense training, training that had been infused with their deep affection. The death of each eagle was like a piece of themselves being torn away, but all of them could only bury these emotions deep within their hearts.
One, two, three… Zhang Que's tactics were effective, and in the space of a few seconds, many of the hunting falcons had been killed. Not even the fiercest hunting falcon could resist the attacks of so many eagles, but Zhang Que's heart was still taut with tension.
We can't let them escape, not a single one…
Zhang Que continued to clench his fists as he surveyed the situation in the air. No matter how many Arabian hunting falcons they killed in this battle, it would all be meaningless if they were not completely wiped out. If even one were allowed to return, it would mean complete defeat. The number of Arabian hunting falcons in the air continued to fall, and in the face of this undaunted flock of eagles, the hunting falcons finally lost their courage, with several of them shrilly crying out as they turned to flee.
The hearts of the eagle team leapt to their throats at this sight, and Zhang Que himself greatly paled.
At this moment, there was a black flicker as a rock eagle lunged forward like a lightning bolt, its claws tearing through the back of one of the hunting falcons and dropping it to the ground. It struck a second, then a third, which tried to turn and fight back, but it quickly joined the rest of its comrades in a plunge to the ground.
As the last Arabian hunting falcon dropped to the ground, the eagle team broke into cheers.
The rock eagle that had ended the lives of the three Arabian hunting falcons was Zhang Que's Eagle King, Little Sha.
Zhang Que finally breathed a sigh of relief. The Arabs would not remain perpetually unaware, but by killing these hunting falcons, they had managed to buy some time for the army.
"The rest will depend on Huang Botian's group!"
There were two bottlenecks one needed to pass to prevent discovery by the Arabs. The first was the hunting falcons the Arabs had stationed around their outermost perimeter, and the second was the scouts on the ground. Each hunting falcon had its respective scout, and just because the battle in the air had been won didn't meant that they could let down their guard.
The scouts on the ground would definitely come to investigate once they lost contact with their hunting falcons, but this task was beyond Zhang Que's abilities.
A resounding shout came from up ahead, and Zhang Que turned to see Huang Botian mounted on a brown horse, gathering the elite scouts for a sortie.
The army began to march faster and faster as Talas got closer and closer. Everyone knew that not much time was left for the army, and all of them were nervous to the extreme.
At thirty li, all the Arab scouts on the perimeter were wiped out, buying the last bit of time for Wang Chong and his army of more than one hundred thousand.
The army could be discovered at any moment, and all of them were racing against time, striving for every second. All of them understood that each extra meter the army could advance increased the chances of victory by just that little more. They silently and grimly advanced, making no sound other than the marching of their feet and the rolling of the wheels.
Only the final step remains!
In the rear of the army, Wang Chong sat upon the White-hoofed Shadow, gazing at the numerous banners ahead with his sharp eyes, encircled by experts and generals. Whether it was Zhang Que's eagle team or Huang Botian's sortie of scouts, he had a grasp of the entire situation.
For an army of one hundred thousand to remain undiscovered was an impossibility, but he could at least push his army to get as close as possible, winning for it the largest advantage possible.
Wang Chong had used the model to carefully examine the terrain around Talas. Although Talas itself was ringed by plains, there was a range of low hills to its northeast. If he could reach that hill before being discovered by the Arabs, he could catch them unawares.
A small boat could easily change course, and while a squad of ten-some people could easily alter its tactics, a vast army of hundreds of thousands fully invested in attacking Talas would not find it so easy a task to alter the direction of its assaults. This was the chance that Wang Chong and his army could exploit.
At this moment, the earth began to sway and shudder as the air was suddenly filled with the rumbling of hooves.
"Reporting!" A scout dismounted and kneeled on the ground, his expression nervous. "A force of seven or eight thousand Arab soldiers is heading our way! Lord Protector-General, how should we handle them?"
Wang Chong only faintly smiled as he looked ahead. A cloud of dust was rising from behind the hills, and atop them, a steel wave of seven or eight thousand Arabs appeared.
"We were still discovered in the end!"
Wang Chong's faint smile turned into a careless grin. The Arabs were not weaklings, and though he had done his best to remain hidden and let the din of battle cover his advance, the Arabs had still noticed something strange and sent soldiers to sweep the area.
"But just seven or eight thousand is far from enough!"
His tactics of muffling the animals and forbidding any chatter amongst the soldiers had proved effective. The only sound he had no means of suppressing was that of the carriages, but the paths Wang Chong's army traversed were part of the bustling Silk Road, crisscrossed by endless streams of caravans, making such a sound extremely normal. In addition, since the scouts had not reported back on their approach, the noise had not engendered much suspicion.
Wang Chong had thought very carefully over these measures, and they were now bearing fruit.
The Arabs had heard the noise, but they clearly believed that the number wasn't very large and had sent only seven or eight thousand cavalry to see what was going on.
Wang Chong unsheathed his sword. This four-feet-long Wootz Steel sword seemed to even block out the light of the sun, its edge gleaming with cold light.
"All soldiers, hear my order! Advance at full speed!"
Before he had even finished speaking, his sword had swung down toward that distant band of hills.
With this order, the army of more than one hundred thousand seemed to shed its disguise, stirring up a massive cloud of dust as it charged. Although the Arab force of seven or eight thousand cavalry had appeared and discovered them, it was already too late. Their discovery would have no effect on the overall situation.