The sea of Goldbiter Rats spread as far as the eye could see. They perhaps numbered in the billions, compared to the tens of thousands of men in the northern alliance.
It hardly seemed fair. Whether in number or momentum, the gulf between both sides was overwhelming. If not for great emperors barely stabilizing the defensive perimeter, the northern alliance would have collapsed already.
But even so, they were backs against the wall, tottering on the brink of defeat. There was little suspense to what would happen if the rats could open a single gap in their ranks. Carnage would ensue, pure and simple.
Each warrior was an elite who'd experienced life and death on the battlefield. It was readily apparent the dire straits they were in. The northern alliance boasted of a considerable elite force, but they were entirely overshadowed and drowned by the endless waves of Goldbiter Rats.
True, the great emperors couldn't be underestimated. They flattened any rats within their range into a bloody mess. But those were paltry losses for the endless ocean of beasts. Attempting to kill them all would be futile.
As soon as a group died, another batch was ready to replace it. And further behind, even more rats awaited their turn, eager to enter the fray.
Like a deluge battering a creaky dam, the endless siege inexorably found an opening.
"Ah!" A cultivator shouted in anguish. As a slight weaknesses appeared in his defensive range, rats instantly swarmed the space, pouncing on him and gnawing until only bones were left.
This tiny gap soon became an enormous hole in the defensive system as more and more rats poured inside.
Physically and mentally exhausted, cultivators fell one after another, becoming rat food. Their miserable shrieks filled the air.
The smell of blood made the Goldbiter Rats even more frenetic. As if demented, the ones in the back surged forward like the flood crashing through broken dikes, gaining space bite after bite, swallowing any creature in their paths.
In the blink of an eye, they submerged several hundred cultivators as they pummelled the immediate defensive circle, then spread out to tear the defensive system to shreds.
Someone shouted at the top of his lungs, "We can't hold it any longer. Run for your lives!"
As if possessed, the majority of cultivators turned tail, melting into escape rays shooting into the air. The fastest among them barely reached the safety of the sky, but the rest suffered a much grimmer fate.
Propelling into the air like cannonballs, countless rats pounced on them, bringing them back down to earth. And then, only horror awaited them as teeth rent their flesh.
"Everyone, run together!"
"It's our only chance! We're dead meat otherwise!"
The so-called northern alliance wasn't a true, solid alliance. Rather, it was a simple mob unified by common interest. This impossible alliance crumbled under the threat of oncoming death. In fact, it'd only held on for so long thanks to wariness of Pillzenith and his show of strength when subduing those lacking resolve.
But when facing the rats' onslaught, the fear he inspired could no longer stop the disintegration of the defensive line. The once coordinated ranks had broken down into small isolated pockets.
Pillzenith couldn't attend to every area, but even if he could, he would be powerless to stop them from fleeing. It was human instinct to run from death.
More and more cultivators took to the skies.
Some Goldbiter Rats were particularly strong and could fly as well. Those who could charged back and forth in the air, forming multiple front lines to prevent the cultivators from fleeing. Only, most rats weren't at that level. Their concentration in the air was much lower than on land.
Hence, even as many were forced down, a few fortunate ones managed to slip away, deserting the battlefield without a glance back as soon as they left the combat zone.
On Veluriyam's side, Emperor Coiling Dragon brimmed with eagerness as he spectated from afar. "Young lord, quite a few fish have slipped through our net. It's time for Veluriyam's force to shine."
The number of escapees wasn't high, but it wasn't negligible, making him a little anxious. He would have charged ahead in his impatience to catch them all, but Jiang Chen shook his head with a small smile.
"Don't worry, it doesn't matter. We have bigger fish to fry. You can't slaughter all tens of thousands of them. It's fine if we leave some small fry a way out."
No cultivator involved in this battle could be called ordinary, but the escapees weren't his goal. There was no need to kill every last of them.
"Big Stone, wait for now. Only act when you see our real targets preparing to flee. Don't let any of them get away. Remember, I'm testing your ability in this battle. Understood?" he commanded.
"Relax, Savior. We brothers won't forget our mission." Big Stone seemed very excited, his lively eyes staring ahead at the battle.
Jiang Chen had already ordered them to keep track of the northern alliance's great emperors. They could let anyone else go if they pleased, but not a single big fish was allowed to leave.
That was an unequivocal order!
Leading Pillfire's warriors, Pillzenith exerted his full power as he killed the rats in an effort to resist the endless waves. Thanks to their bravery, Pillfire's blood-soaked men hadn't suffered grave casualties yet. However, the enemy had sliced through the northern alliance, splitting the various factions like a cake, destroying their coordination and making each pocket fight for themselves.
"Your Majesty, there's no end to the rats. Our losses will be too severe if we keep fighting. Why don't we…" a great emperor from Pillfire stammered.
Despite his frustration, Pillzenith hadn't been blinded by anger. No matter his power, the endless sea of rats was beyond what his personal strength could handle.
"Leave?" He seriously considered this issue for the first time.
But how could he be willing? Waste an entire year of painstaking planning? He had gone through many hoops to gather these troops. If he were to fail, Pillfire would lose its prestige and its credibility. Would anyone still have faith in him after a defeat?
"Your Majesty, it'll really be too late if we don't retreat now."
Pillfire clenched his teeth. Still blowing away rats left and right, he ordered decisively. "We leave! You go first, I'll cover you!"
No one could accuse him of cowardice. He knew that without him at the helm, Pillfire's defenses would crumble in no time. Bringing up the rear implied some risk, but he was confident in his own ability.
Blade in hand, he cut into the air, shouting, "Break, Aurora Slash!"
Countless blades of energy spun in all directions in a dazzling aurora, submerging all of the surrounding rats in white cyclones and eviscerating them, creating a window of opportunity for Pillfire's troops.
"Go!" Using the sole opportunity their lord could create for them, they turned into streaks of light fleeing into the sky.
But all of a sudden, a fearsome power appeared from the void, crushing them with the weight of a mountain. Their bodies no longer obeying them, they bounced back to the ground.
"What the hell was that?" They wailed like ghosts, their eyes filled with disbelief at the failed attempt.
Pillzenith also froze. He'd used a powerful move to block all of the Goldbiter Rats in the vicinity and give his men every opportunity to survive. Why hadn't any of them escaped?
From his vantage point, they'd fallen back on their own accord, leaving him flabbergasted at the strange scene. He stared at the sky and spotted thick clouds rolling above his head. Powerful creatures seemed hidden inside, blocking the way out.
Who is it? As far as he knew, there shouldn't be such powerful creatures in Veluriyam.
"Pillzenith, you also have two choices today."
This time, Pillfire's master thoroughly froze as Jiang Chen's voice pierced his ears. The last time, he'd sentenced the young man like a judge in full control of the situation. But the roles were now reversed, and the young lord had thrown his own words right back into his face!