One after another, the days passed, and the two of them grew more and more restless. Even though they were the king and queen of this dynasty, they both knew that this was not the real world.
Pei Mianman finally couldn’t stand it anymore. “Ah Zu, what is going on?” She asked Zu An, dragging him away from Xiao Tuo in the process.
Afraid of her status as the queen, Xiao Tuo did not say anything.
Zu An was rather embarrassed. He put his clothes on and said, “I have no idea either. I suppose it’s no wonder those past trial participants never succeeded either. I thought that it was because they were too dumb, but it looks like I’ve underestimated those heroes.”
He had managed to expose Xiao Tuo as a spy and root out the hidden boss, the high priest Lian, and he shared an exceptional bond of trust with Pei Mianman. All of this had made him extremely cocky. Now, however, it dawned on him that there surely were other stunning candidates who had participated in this trial before. It wasn’t unreasonable that some of them would have gotten this far as well.
“Then what should we do now?” Pei Mianman asked nervously.
Zu An’s tone grew serious. “I’ve been thinking about this issue constantly these past few days. We must have overlooked something. We have to carefully go over the details of what happened, and see if we can figure out the key to this trial.”
This kind of open world trial really was a pain in the ass, since it gave him no clues as to what he was supposed to do. He had to dig up every bit of information on his own, and he wasn’t even given any feedback as to whether he was doing well or not.
Pei Mianman bit her lip, her voice clouded with worry. “Won’t this be extremely dangerous for our real bodies outside the trial, though? We’ve already spent a few months in the trial. Who knows…”
An ordinary person would have died a long time ago without sustenance. Even though the bodies of cultivators were tougher, there was still a limit.
Zu An replied, “I’m not too worried about that. If my suspicions are correct, the flow of time inside this trial should be different from outside. A few months in here might only be an instant outside. If this weren’t the case, this trial would be impossible to complete, and that would render it meaningless.”
To borrow a phrase from ancient mythology, ‘a day in the heavens above is a year on earth’. It wouldn’t have surprised him in the least if time flowed differently in different worlds.
Pei Mianman was calmed by his words. “Even so, we can’t stay here forever.”
Zu An frowned and said, “I’ve gone over everything that’s happened so far, but I don’t think I’ve overlooked anything…”
A sudden thought occurred to him, and he quickly turned Pei Mianman. “Tell me everything that happened in your battle against the Qiang Faction again. Don’t leave out on even a single detail.”
Since this was a joint trial shared by both a man and a woman, whatever happened on her end would also be vital.
“Didn’t I tell you exactly what happened already?” Pei Mianman grumbled, but she still went on, “Those Qiang people were quite tough, and every single one of them was courageous and battle-hardened. However, their civilization lagged behind ours in terms of technology. We had war chariots, and made use of formations as well, while they fought more individually… Even so, they were still quite valiant. We were trapped and surrounded during one of the battles, but fortunately, a nearby tribe rushed over to help us. That was why we were able to defeat the Qiang Faction.”
“A tribe?” Zu An was surprised. “Do you know which tribe they are?”
Pei Mianman’s brows furrowed. “I believe they called themselves the Zhou tribe. They reside in the west, and seemed to have been oppressed by the Qiang Faction for a long time. That was why they came to our aid.”
“The Zhou tribe?” Zu An suddenly straightened. “This is it, this is it! The Shang Dynasty was wiped out by the Zhou Dynasty! I believe this trial has something to do with these Zhou people.”
“But the Zhou tribe was also rather behind in terms of technology. There’s no way they are a match for our Shang State!”
“They might not be able to match us now, but what about a few centuries later?” Zu An’s mind moved quickly. “Could the objective of the trial be to cut off this problem before it even develops?”
As he spoke, he grew more and more convinced that this was the case. He quickly summoned Fu Shuo and shared his thoughts.
“What? My king wishes to wipe out the Zhou tribe?” Fu Shuo was shocked. He quickly said, “I absolutely advise against it! Not only is their land worthless to us, they even helped us in our battle against the Qiang Faction. If we turn around and attack them now, we would be seen as dishonorable! How would the other factions treat us then? We can’t have all of them turning against us!”
Pei Mianman shared his views as well. After all, she had fought side-by-side with the Zhou tribe not too long ago.
Zu An knew that there was a good reason for his conclusion, but there was no way he could explain his true reasoning to Fu Shuo. He could only put on a stern expression and say, “I’ve already made up my mind. There is no room for discussion. Prepare to mobilize the men.”
Fu Shuo was about to try to dissuade him again when a messenger arrived with an urgent report. “Reporting! The ruler of the Zhi State has sent an emissary requesting aid. The Earth Faction has invaded their territory, and they are powerless to stop them. They have requested that my king provide them with reinforcements.”
“The Zhi State? The Earth Faction?” Zu An was bewildered. Why had these two powers suddenly popped out of nowhere?
Fu Shuo was quick to offer an explanation. “The Zhi State is a small country to the north, and we have always shared a cordial relationship with them. Their country has publicly acknowledged their status as our vassal state. They are a natural barrier against any incursions from the north. The Earth Faction is a powerful barbarian tribe further north. They are probably taking advantage of the disorder that the Qiang Faction invasion has caused to launch their own invasion.”
Zu An finally remembered that the Earth Faction had been mentioned in some of the documents he’d read. The Earth Faction occupied territory around Shanxi and Hebei, and were a powerful enemy of the Shang Dynasty.
He hadn’t paid them too much attention earlier on because he didn't think they had much to do with his trial.
Even now, he did not believe that these factions were related to his trial. He could send any random military officer to aid them, while he maintained his focus on the west, and the Zhou tribe.
However, Fu Shuo and all the other court officials opposed this plan. “We cannot do this! The Zhou tribe is weak, and does not even border our Shang Capital! Attacking them makes no sense, and will instead turn the rest of the states against us! We must focus on the Earth Faction. They are at least as strong as the Qiang Faction. Once they break through our northern defensive line and march south, our Great Shang State will be in huge danger!”
Zu An was stunned. Was the threat they posed really that serious?
As they deliberated, more emissaries showed up one after another, all hailing from the Zhi State, with each message sounding more urgent than the last. It was easy to see how precarious the situation in the north had become.
Pei Mianman pulled Zu An to the side. “Ah Zu, if the Shang State is wiped out, wouldn’t that spell the end of the trial?”
“Of course.” Zu An knew what she was trying to say. The Shang people had set up this trial. If he let the Shang State be destroyed by the Earth Faction, then he wouldn’t have to worry about the Zhou people at all. All of it would be over right there and then.
Faced with no other choice, he decided to destroy the Earth Faction first, and then find a chance to deal with the Zhou people afterwards.
The court officials were overjoyed, and praised him for being wise and brilliant.
Zu An wasn’t in the mood for idle chatter. He immediately gathered all of the chancellors to discuss military strategy. The more mundane matters were easy enough to handle, but the key was to elect a leader for the troops.
All the chancellors threw their weight behind the queen. After all, she was held in such high esteem, and she had already proven herself in the battle against the Qiang Faction. There was no one more qualified than her.
Zu An's head began to ache immediately. He obviously didn’t want to be separated from Pei Mianman again, and neither did she.
However, the two of them examined the situation carefully, and concluded that this might be yet another part of the trial. In the end, Pei Mianman took the initiative to volunteer.
As for Zu An, he had to remain behind in Yin Capital. It hadn’t been too long since he’d dealt with the high priest, and several of that traitor’s old subordinates were still in hiding. If he left, the capital might descend into chaos. Moreover, while the strength of the army and its generals were essential for war, so were the setting up of supply lines and other forms of logistics support. Victory and defeat hinged on the robustness of these logistics.
Only with Zu An taking care of the logistics in Yin Capital would Pei Mianman be able to wage this war without undue amounts of stress.
This whole situation left Zu An feeling rather strange. Everyone was used to hearing about the man going out to work while the woman managed the household chores, but in this case, the roles had been completely flipped. Despite this, he did not object to it, since it was what the trial demanded of him. He did not want his pride to get in the way of their goal.
Having experienced the war with the Qian Faction, both Pei Mianman and Zu An were clear on their roles and responsibilities. Three months later, Pei Mianman returned victorious.
Zu An thought that they could now turn their attention to the Zhou tribe, but not a moment had passed before the ruler of the Tang State pleaded for help. This time, it was the Eros Faction, invading across the northern banks of the Yellow River.
When they had finally dealt with the Eros Faction, the even more powerful Ghost Faction marched across the Mongolian Plateau to challenge them. Zu An and Pei Mianman were completely overwhelmed, and could not spare a moment to deal with the western Zhou tribe.Previous Chapter Next Chapter