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However, Sun Zihu had issued his command, "Sleep! Anyone who can't sleep tonight will be penalized for having violated military law! The list of names will be sent back to Marshal Wang and judgment shall be upon meted upon his consideration!"
It was an unreasonable order, but it was also a necessity.
The western relief troops and Sun Zihu knew that they only had the night to rest. After that, it would be blood and fire, life and death.
They also realized that Han Sanhe was attacking aggressively so as to interrupt their rest!
If the hundred and fifty thousand men from the relief troops who had just arrived did not rest well, the damage done to their combined combat power would be significant! At the very least, their inefficiency would prevent Han Sanhe's Dongxuan army from losing tens of thousands of men.
It might even turn the tides of war!
"What are Sun Zihu and his troops doing?" Fu Baoguo, who was so tired that he was losing his commanding shape, asked with reddened eyes in the latter half of the night.
"All that can be heard are loud snores," answered a general.
"Good." Fu Baoguo nodded with satisfaction. "Elites of the west indeed!"
The other generals looked impressed as well.
These were no ordinary men indeed, for it required a tough state of mind to be able to sleep in such an environment. It seemed that the relief troops from the west had lived up to their name as elites and was no weaker than the east army.
The western relief troops were thinking to themselves, "We know that we should sleep and rest. However, we really don't want to sleep, yet we have to. Firstly, Vanguard Sun has issued a death order. Secondly, the threat is looming over our heads. It's secondary if we infringe the military order; the point is that the violators will be reported back to Marshal Wang. If that happens, those names will be in the f*cker blacklist. We have to sleep no matter what. Besides, only good sleep and rest allows us to better fight that d*mned Han Sanhe. When we're well rested, we will fight Dongxuan well tomorrow – we will let them know that Yutang's military has the western troop in addition to the eastern army!"
The battle that persisted throughout the entire night finally drew its curtains around dawn.
Fu Baoguo paid the hefty price of seventeen thousand casualties in the battle. Dongxuan fared worse, leaving no lesser than thirty thousand corpses at the fort, while there had to be at least ten thousand men suffering from both light and serious injuries who had to be dragged back.
Both sides had dealt significant damage in this battle that saw intensive attacking and defending.
The Steel Cavalry, who were roaming about in the nearby forest in search for chances to sneak in the fight, ventured out over twenty times that night, emptying the arrows that they carried with them.
When the golden gong of the attacker sounded during dawn the next day, Fu Baoguo could finally breathe in relief.
It was about then that Sun Zihu came to request to fight!
"You know the most of the combat ability of the western relief division after all, so you're fully in charge of commanding them." Fu Baoguo said, "I only have one request; to fight for a full day of rest and recuperation for us!"
"Don't worry, Marshal Fu. The western army will give our best. Even if all of us are down, the Fortress of Resilience will remain guarded!"
Sun Zihu saluted earnestly.
Having traveled such a long way, what he had seen along his journey allowed Sun Zihu to truly understand the importance of the Fortress of Resilience. There were only flat plains beyond the Fortress of Resilience – there would be nothing left for them to hide behind!
Once this fort was overthrown, Yutang would be presented before the enemy, naked and pliant to their torment. It was no surprise that this spot was always attacked incessantly and cripplingly each and every time. This was the one and only path the invading enemy had to go through.
If Dongxuan wanted to invade Yutang, they had to overthrow the Fortress of Resilience. Only when they conquered this fort could they think of invading Yutang.
It was not entirely impossible to through the two mountains beside it, in a detour, but the condition was that Dongxuan's soldiers had to be experts above the fifth peak. Of course, it was not completely safe even to go over the two mountains beside the fort; there were innumerable cliffs and steep areas, their depths unknown. Even if a cultivator was already at fifth peak, there was no guarantee that he would pass them safely.
This was the experience Dongxuan had learned from countless, bloodied, lessons since Yutang had built the Fortress of Resilience; it remained impenetrable!
Han Sanhe was the God of War of his time and was unsurpassable in terms of tactics and intelligence, but he could only fight a tough war with Fu Baoguo which swung back and forth between success and utter failure before the Fortress of Resilience. Other than that, there was no other way that they could bypass the fort.
Sun Zihu had followed the western marshal, Marshal Wang Yunzhu, for close to a decade now and was also a noble warrior that fought for his own ground on the battlefield. Otherwise, he would not have been tasked with this arduous responsibility by Wang Yunzhu to lead this troop. He was indeed currently the most familiar and suitable person to lead the western relief troops.
Sun Zihu received the military order formally and immediately plotted the formation, dividing the hundred and fifty thousand people into five waves, with thirty thousand men in each batch. He then took batons from all the guarding soldiers in the fort.
The moment most of the soldiers exchanged duties, they closed their eyes and snored – a lot of them had fallen asleep standing before they could walk off from their post. Even Fu Baoguo had closed his eyes at once and was carried back by his assistant general and janissary after giving his command.
Marshal Fu slept along the way. No one knew what he dreamed of, but the janissary felt his clothes dampened from the marshal's tears. Who would have believed or imagined that Yutang's reputed Marshal Fu Baoguo, who had always been coldhearted like steel, would cry as well?
However, Fu Baoguo's assistant general and janissary were not astonished at all because their eyes were also brimming with tears.
The Fortress of Resilience did not even have four hundred and fifty thousand people even when they added the four hundred thousand brothers of Yutang's eastern line and the active participation from the people of the martial world and the ordinary citizens who had come to help.
Up until now, there were only two hundred and thirty thousand men left!
In other words, a good hundred and eighty thousand brothers had fallen forever in the Fortress of Resilience since the war began.
Now, each and every fighter in the fort dared not gather together. Even the generals who had gotten used to drinking some wine and gathering with their brothers when they were the most exhausted after a battle, were drinking alone, weeping as they did.
They dared not greet anyone nor call for their friends; they would rather drink alone because they would not be able to gather those who usually drank with them now, no matter how they called out for them.
The eight brothers who had always been drinking together initially had abruptly become three, before dwindling down to two. What sort of emotions would run through the two people when they gathered together then?
It was not drinking wine – it was more like slicing their own hearts, ripping it to shreds!
On this night, the soldiers who were taken off duty bawled. They were still weary after waking up from a much-needed sleep.
They looked upon the neat stacks of wills left by their comrades and brothers beside them, as well as the military pay and money that their brothers had asked them to bring home on their behalf. They thought of their brothers who had taken sabers with their chests and with angered roars on the battlefield. They thought of their brothers who had blocked the arrows that were coming for them with their bodies.
They thought about that fellow who was always sharp-witted and sly, who had thrown himself in front of them in one quick step, becoming a porcupine after being hit by so many arrows. He had turned around and smiled despite the blood dripping from his mouth, "F*ck… after being sly all my life, I acted impulsively this time. What a time to be so reckless!"
Then, their comrade fell.
They recalled the brothers who had clapped their shoulders good-naturedly when they were setting off, "If I die in the war, you must remember to take care of my mother!"
"If I die in the war, my household will be left in your care."
"If I die in the war, my child is still young; brother, I will have to trouble you."
"These are the divorce papers. If I die in the war, don't let my household know about my death. Send the divorce papers back, let the woman leave before you tell them. She's too devoted. If she knows about my death, she'll remain a widow for life…"
"You aren't married yet. If I die in the war, go to my house. My wife is pretty and gentle, marry yourself into my family. Help me take care of my child, and if you feel awkward, you can change the child's name to your own family name. Then, my mother will be your mother, my son will be your son, and my wife will be your wife!"
Recalling all that had been entrusted to them, they had a hard time holding back their tears.
When they were talking about these then, they were light-hearted and had mockingly fought each other with angry curses; now that they thought about it, it was heart-wrenching.
Fu Baoguo woke up in the middle of the night, looking at the roof with dead eyes. After some time, he suddenly covered his mouth; tears coursed like a broken dam. He gripped his chest, feeling the piercing heartache and sobbed, "A hundred and eighty thousand… the lives of a hundred and eighty thousand brothers have been snuffed, just like that!"
He took in big gulps of air, feeling the anguish suffocating him.
They said a general's heart was like that of steel, but how could that be? No matter how similar they were, it was not truly steel after all – it would still hurt.
The crushing heartache was bone-deep!
Only a day later, the western elites who came to provide assistance had a thorough taste of this crushing heartache that Fu Baoguo and the eastern troops were experiencing. The bitterness wrenched the western soldiers' guts.
The western troop had lost over two thousand men during a probing attack by Han Sanhe. It was only a test by Han Sanhe, a mild skirmish.
His aim was to test the mettle of the relief troops who came yesterday. He could improve his tactics after understanding who they were!