Chapter 329: Conflict!
But soon, Bai Siling turned around and returned to her original position.
By then, Huang Yongtu had already realized the interaction between her and Wang Chong.
"What did you talk to that brat about?" Huang Yongtu frowned.
"Nothing much." Bai Siling walked past Huang Yongtu and returned back to her own platoon.
Huang Yongtu was displeased by her cold reply and harrumphed impatiently. But soon, his eyes turned back to the furious blaze in the mountain. On the other hand, Wang Chong was still a little surprised by the matter with Bai Siling.
That woman... isn't she a little too sharp? Did she notice something? Or is this based on her intuition?, Wang Chong thought, as he assessed the unmoving Bai Siling from his spot.
Bai Siling's actions were completely unexpected. Wang Chong didn't expect her to be paying attention to him.
Nevertheless, Wang Chong didn't think that he had displayed any openings that would betray his true intentions. In his view, it was more likely for this matter to be a result of the uncanny intuition of a lady.
The ladies from the training camps are truly extraordinary!, Wang Chong thought. It was like that for Second Sister Wang Zhu Yan, Marquess Yi, and Princess Ni Huang, and now there was a Bai Siling to be added to the list.
Also, he suddenly recalled Bai Siling's earlier words. The latter had said that she seemed to have seen him somewhere before.
However, Wang Chong was certain that he had never seen her before!
I have really underestimated her previously, Wang Chong thought.
On the top of the mountain, the flame was still blazing. It was a mission that should have been accomplished swiftly, but Xu Gan took an entire hour before he managed to return back to the group.
When he emerged amidst the forest, his clothing was marked with black ashes and signs of burns. However, what was even darker than that was his face.
"Lord..." Zhang Lin drove his steed forward to welcome his return, but Xu Gan simply tilted his face to the side.
"There's no need to ask, it was a failure. Two of them got away!" Xu Gan said with a livid expression. He had headed over confidently, thinking that he had covered all of the possible scenarios.
But when he finally reached the top of the mountain, everything went contrary to how he had expected it.
He spent an entire hour trying to pursue the bandits who had escaped from his encirclement, hoping that he could make up for his failure. But the darkness of the night, as well as the complicated terrain, had become his greatest obstacle instead.
Despite giving it his all, two bandits still managed to escape.
In fact, Xu Gan was even injured in that encounter. It didn't come from the bandits but the sharp thorns when his steed lost his balance while he was pursuing the bandits anxiously.
Xu Gan would have loved to lie and say that he had slain all of the bandits, but twenty veteran soldiers of Great Tang were standing behind him. There was no way he could do it before them.
"There's no need to be disheartened by this, there are still many other bandit bands before us. There are still plenty of opportunities, you just have to be more careful the next time," Zhang Lin consoled him.
In the first place, the royal court didn't expect the recruits to succeed when they assigned them this mission. They were simply making use of this opportunity to temper them.
Perhaps due to this, Zhang Lin didn't seem to be too disappointed by Xu Gan's failure.
In any case, it was still early. Making use of the short interval before the news could reach any other, the group hurriedly rushed to the next den.
Xu Gan was simmering with frustration from his previous failure, so this time, without even waiting for orders, he led his platoon of cavalrymen on a ferocious charge up the mountain.
Having learned from his previous lesson, Xu Gan was exceptionally careful this time around.
But an hour later, he appeared before everyone else with an even more livid face.
As careful as he had been, a couple of bandits still managed to escape from his encirclement.
It wasn't that Xu Gan had never participated in such cleanups before, but the bandits along the west road were particularly cunning. Their familiarity with the local terrain, their expertise in making use of it, and their experience with dealing with government soldiers; like loaches, no matter how hard Xu Gan clamped down on them, they would still manage to find some way to slip through his fingers.
"Damn it!" Xu Gan's face was absurdly dark. It finally dawned on him that he had been underestimating the difficulty of this mission.
Huang Yongtu drove his steed forward and asked politely, "Brother Xu, why don't you let me try?"
"There's no need for that! I don't believe that I, as an elite trainee of Longwei Training Camp and the offspring of the Xu Clan, won't be able to deal with mere bandits!"
If anything, the previous two failures only further fueled Xu Gan's determination. If he were to give up now, he would never be able to wash away this humiliation.
Traveling westward through the darkness, when they finally reached the third bandit den, Xu Gan immediately led his platoon to charge there without the slightest hesitation.
He was much more wary this time around. There were no blazing flames nor furious war cries in their operation.
But when a bandit slid down the cliff along an ivy vine and disappeared into the mountain valley, Xu Gan nearly exploded on the spot.
The escape of any bandit meant the exposure of their trail. Without a doubt, this signified that he had failed once more.
Mishaps had occurred three consecutive times. With this, Xu Gan's operation had officially come to an end.
"Brother Xu, this is our first time leading such a cleanup, so such situations can't be helped! Why don't you take a rest and leave it up to me?" Huang Yongtu patted Xu Gan's shoulder and consoled him, but a vague hint of derision could be seen deep within his eyes.
Xu Gan had come from Longwei Training Camp, and his cultivation was higher than Huang Yongtu’s, as well. As such, Huang Yongtu thought highly of Xu Gan. However, the three consecutive failures had overturned his impression of the latter, his respect for the other was slowly eroding, and contempt took its place.
Perhaps Huang Yongtu might be unaware of it, but the change in his attitude was showing through in his mannerisms.
Xu Gan could clearly sense the difference, but as indignant as he was, there was nothing else he could say at this point. Harrumphing coldly, he could only draw his steed to the side.
There was still some time before daybreak. After traveling for another 20 li, they arrived at the base of the fourth bandit den. It went without saying, but Huang Yongtu excitedly led his team of twenty ferocious cavalrymen up the mountain.
Around yet another hour later, Huang Yongtu finally returned with his platoon. And what was different between him and Xu Gan was that there were even some wounded among his platoon.
From Huang Yongtu's expression, everyone could discern that he had failed as well.
"What are you looking at? Is falling into a trap that much of a spectacle?" Huang Yongtu lashed out furiously as he led his men to retreat to the sidelines. Never could he imagine that the bandits would be so cunning as to lay so many traps along the way to their den.
A single misstep had resulted in Huang Yongtu and his steed triggering one of them. It was fortunate that it wasn't lethal, but as a result, the men in the den were alarmed.
Despite the immense strength Huang Yongtu wielded, he didn't even manage to encounter the enemy.
"Hmph, and here I was thinking how capable you would be!" Naturally, Xu Gan wouldn't miss out of this opportunity to put him down too.
At this instant, it finally dawned on the group that the seemingly simple requirements set by the Bureau of Military Personnel was far more complicated than they had imagined.
With their fighting force, defeating the bandits wasn't an issue. The problem lay with eradicating all of them entirely.
The fifth bandit den was located in proximity to the fourth, and the one in charge of the offense this time around was Bai Siling.
But still, the operation ultimately ended in failure.
Three men over five operations, but there wasn't a single success. Even Lieutenant Zhang Lin couldn't find a single word of consolation to offer anymore.
These recruits from Longwei and Shenwei were just too inexperienced. If things were to proceed down this path, the chances of success would be practically null.
They wouldn't be able to participate in the ensuing missions, either.
Furthermore, it wouldn't take long for the escapees to create their own band and rally more people in to fill up the slots of the deceased.
If there was one thing Silk Road would never lack, it would be men who were willing to risk their lives in search of wealth.
By this moment, the sun had already risen, making it unsuitable to move anymore.
"Alright, let's reorganize our troops. There's no need to get disheartened, we can always continue our operation tomorrow night..."
But before Zhang Lin could finish his words, a sharp voice abruptly interjected.
"Brat, what are you laughing at? Are you mocking us?" Xu Gan suddenly turned to glare at Wang Chong furiously.
"I did?" Wang Chong pointed his forefinger at himself in confusion. All he had been doing all along was sitting quietly on the back of his horse, he didn't recall doing anything of that sort.
When in the world did Xu Gan see him mocking him?
"Hmph! You still dare to deny it?"
The more Xu Gan thought about it, the more furious he became. His high pride made him deeply ashamed of his failure, and he couldn't help but feel that everyone was mocking him.
Even the slightest glance at him felt like needles on his skin. At this point, it no longer mattered to him whether Wang Chong mocked him or not.
"Are you thinking that we are incapable, and you would fare much better than us? Hmph, did you think that I wouldn't be able to see through those petty thoughts of yours? Since you think so highly of yourself, why don't you go ahead and give it a try? Let us see how formidable you are!" Xu Gan sneered coldly.
"Did I?" Wang Chong asked in amazement. Such thoughts had never flashed across his mind, so how could he have expressed it in any manner? But regardless, it seemed like Xu Gan had already decided upon this matter, and no amount of words could change his mind.
"Brat, you're thinking too highly of yourself!" Huang Yongyu sneered by the side. Initially, he thought that he had overestimated Xu Gan's capabilities, but only when he was leading the operation did he realize the intricacies involved in the matter.
At this moment, Huang Yongtu also felt a burning sensation on his face.
It was one thing if all of them had failed, but it just happened that of the four of them, Wang Chong hadn't led an attack yet.
Given such facts, Huang Yongtu immediately chose to side with Xu Gan.
"Brat, instead of harboring such petty thoughts in your mind, why don't you show us how much you are worth?" Huang Yongtu taunted.
Gazing at the situation, Bai Siling hesitantly opened her mouth to say something, but she eventually held in. On the other hand, Lieutenant Zhang Lin was slightly worried by the turn of events.
"Lords, it is imperative that we remain united. There are many grounds that you will have to cooperate on in the ensuing missions. Since daybreak has already struck, it is no longer suitable to conduct any attacks so-"
Zhang Lin hurriedly cut in between them in hopes of alleviating the tense atmosphere, but at this moment, something completely unexpected happened.
"Fine!" a deep but powerful voice interrupted Zhang Lin's words.