The moment his murderous intent was flaring, the bitter battle, where he had to defend Jingling in the past, reappeared in his mind. The difference was that this time, attacking and defending roles had been easily reversed.
His troops responded in thunderous roar.
When darkness fell, Xu Ziling put the pomegranate wooden stick on his horseback. Standing in the dense forest, he and Xuan Yong kept a close watch over each and every move that the enemy made.
On the opposite bank, the Cao Army lighted more than a hundred torches in tight battle formation, while covertly building the pontoon bridges.
A bit worried, Xuan Yong said, "If Cao Yinglong relies on this confusion to have his men crossing the river and setup formation on this side of the river, based on our current military strength, I am afraid we are helpless to do anything to him."
By this time, five out of eight pontoon bridges have already been completed, the cavalry was the first to take their horses crossing the river. The situation was more urgent.
Xu Ziling smiled and said, "Under normal circumstances, we are indeed helpless to do anything to him. But look closely at them; they all show hungry, exhausted and beleaguered look on their faces. As long as your eight trebuchets are doing their job to create confusion, for instance, destroying one of the pontoons, I guarantee that the enemy will break down and lose their will to fight, any formation they are creating will be useless."
His confidence restored, Xuan Yong nodded and said, "I was indeed a bit worried about personal gains and losses. We are honing our strength for the big push, as well as trying to catch the enemy off guard with a surprise attack [idiom, from Sun Tzu's 'The Art of War']. I know that the other side does not know about us, so we are really in an invincible position. Hey! How could Xu Ye, in such an urgent situation where war could happen any moment, still look so calm and composed?"
Xu Ziling replied indifferently, "As long as you are able to put life and death, success and failure, completely out of your mind, and able to have free spirit and comfortable thought, you will be able to completely bring out your full potential."
Revealing a deference expression on his face, Xuan Yong spoke in low voice, "Xuan Yong receives benefit from your advice."
Finally the eight pontoon bridges were completed, from beginning to end it took less than half a sichen. The number of men crossing the river increased dramatically; waves after waves of men were heading to the grassland on the western bank of River Zhang. Most men and horses were at the end of the limit of their strength; as soon as they crossed the river, they sat on the ground, no need to mention any will to fight.
"When should we attack?" Xuan Yong asked.
Xu Ziling's pair of tiger-eyes suddenly lit up; he said, Cao Yinglong and Fang Jianding already crossed the river! Xiang Baxian [sic. It was Xiang Batian in Book 9 Chapter 7] will make Kou Zhong's job a bit easier!"
And then he turned his head and shouted, "Light the torches!"
Behind him, the sound of battle drums and bugle horns immediately shook the heavens. From the eastern bank, loud battle cry and the whooshing noise of big rocks splitting the air also shook the heavens.
From the Ranch warriors' point of view, everywhere on the mountaintops on the opposite bank were bright with several thousand torches, painting the riverbank, as well as the sky, blood red, so that the pontoon bridges, which were originally hidden in the dark, were completely exposed. The torchlight also revealed what seemed to be the flickering shadows of ten thousand horses and thousands of men.
Shang Xiuxun was greatly surprised, "How come there are so many men?"
Laughing involuntarily, Kou Zhong said, "Good kid! Unexpectedly he knew how to bluff; even I am intimidated by him."
One big rock accurately hit a pontoon bridge, the more than a hundred men and horses on it were immediately overturned and fell into the water in such a sorry state.
At the same time, from both upstream and downstream, not far from the crossing, several hundred archers appeared, and mercilessly shot those who were falling to the water and were trying to swim to their direction.
The thieves on both sides of the river, as well as those who were still on the pontoon bridges, were thrown into confusion, and were trying to flee for their lives, yet they were trapped into a completely desperate strait.
The fireworks released from the opposite bank burst into greenish-white sparks high in the sky.
"Charge!" Kou Zhong shouted.
The Ranch Cavalry of five thousand men were divided into five units of one thousand men each, like five tornadoes sweeping through the enemy lines.
From about a dozen or so mountaintop jungles torchlight lighted the sky, raging flames spread wildly, so that the moon and the stars in the sky lost their splendor.
In the river and on the shores, dead bodies were everywhere.
Out of eight pontoon bridges, five have been destroyed. The killing was just the beginning.
All Shaoshuai Army and Ranch warriors wore yellow headbands; those without the yellow band were killed without mercy.
Xu Ziling and Xuan Yong, each leading five hundred men, rushed out of their respective hiding place and charged toward the enemy. The remaining several hundred men were spread out with the straw dummies, increasing the momentum of their attack. They also released powerful arrows to intercept any thief who happened to flee in their direction.
The thieves abandoned their horses and fled on foot to be able to run more easily.
Xu Ziling fought at the head of his troops. His state of mind has entered the out-of-the-ordinary 'non-self' boundary. His zhang-and-a-half long pomegranate stick displayed its matchless swift-and-fierce killing power to the fullest extent. It poked, swept, hacked, or struck, ao that the enemy, along with his weapon, would be thrown out and died on the spot, no one was able to prolong his remaining breath.
The thieves have turned into a sheet of loose sand; those who were able to run have run, those who were unable to escape could not even form any battle array; only small groups of three or four men were fighting desperately with their backs against each other for support.
It's just that the thieves were indeed too numerous; over the years, they were accustomed to pass their days licking the blood from their blade, accustomed to see the wind and the waves, so that although they were hungry and trapped in difficulties, in this life-and-death crisis, they were still unyieldingly brave and were fighting desperately with everything they had.
At first Xu Ziling was able to identify Cao Yinglong and Fang Jianding, and was rushing over to kill them, who would have thought that thousands of enemies swarmed toward him from the shore? Before his eyes were dense shadows of people with flickering blades, naturally he could not see Cao Yinglong and Fang Jianding's whereabouts.
A thief with exceptionally outstanding martial art skill met his stick with a spear. But after three exchanges, Xu Ziling flicked his wrist, the pomegranate stick pushed and pulled to create a gap, which he immediately exploited. With a thrust the thief's chest shattered and he died.
However, with this slight delay, the soldiers to his left and right immediately bore the brunt of the enemy's desperate offensive. Immediately seven or eight Shaoshuai soldiers fell to the ground. Clearly the battle was very intense.
Xu Ziling had no time to grieve for the dead and the wounded, all he knew was that he must vent his resentment to the enemies on four sides, eight directions. Once again the pomegranate stick flaunted its prowess; it rolled toward the enemy like the waves of the great river Yangtze, killing the enemy that they scattered in all directions.
As soon as anybody was within his pomegranate stick range, blood splashed and body flew, not a single one narrowly and luckily escaped.
Depending entirely on this powerful master's leadership, the remaining four hundred or so Shaoshuai Army soldiers were able to break the enemy line into two sections, creating the most favorable situation for the other Shaoshuai Army unit under Xuan Yong's leadership.
Arrows were still shot constantly from Shaoshuai Army's entrenchment position toward the fleeing bandits, so that dead bodies continued to accumulate along the shore in total disorder.
One side was focused, while the other was in disunity.
Although the Cao Army was numerous, because the troops' heart was in disorder, they quickly lost their number advantage. Cao Yinglong was unable to pull the wildly swelling water into a stream.
The thieves successfully crossed the river numbered approximately ten thousand men. When the ambush began, close to a thousand men plunged into the river, attempting to escape, but the Shaoshuai Army ambushing on both upstream and downstream mercilessly shot them with arrows.
It felt like the fierce fighting would never end.
Wherever they went, Xu Ziling and his men were like breaking dried twigs and pulling rotten weeds, so that the enemy left behind a mess dead bodies, everywhere they touched, it was frighteningly severed limb and blood; yet there were still countless enemies all around, so that Xu Ziling felt as if he was in an endless killing spree, as if he had fallen into an ant hole. As soon as his hand slowed down slightly, an enemy appeared in front of him, going all out, disregarding his own life, to counterattack. It was a fierce battle where either you die or I perish.
Suddenly the pressure was lightening up; turned out he had reached the riverbank. He saw the raging battle on the opposite bank was not less intense from the battle on this side.
Xu Ziling saw the enemy fleeing everywhere like a tide. His heart moved, he stuck the pomegranate stick into the ground, and then borrowing the power from the stick, he flew midair, while his tiger-eyes scanned the crowd.
He saw that the Shaoshuai Army under his leadership only had more than three hundred men left, while on the other side, Xuan Yong's team was not much better. But they succeeded in defeating the opponent, so that no one dared to fight with them, and all he saw was fleeing enemies scattering in all directions.
A group of about a hundred enemies was running away, the leaders happened to be Cao Yinglong and Fang Jianding. Letting out a wild roar, Xu Ziling landed back to the ground, and led his men in full speed pursuit.