The expressions of the top three expeditionary army leaders shifted ever so slightly after hearing this.
The empire is fine without the Imperial Family—such words could be considered rebellious. But Duke Ding and Duke Wei were both related to the Imperial Family by blood, so it sounded like modesty coming from their mouths. However, pondering the implications behind their words was enough to make one shudder.
Xiao Lingshi was the first to speak after the three shot each other a glance, “Surely, Duke Ding jests. Even though I’ve always been posted on Evernight and come from a humble family, there’s not one day in which I’m not fully aware of my identity as a citizen of the empire who serves His Majesty.”
The other deputy commander-in-chief followed up with a faint smile, “General Xiao’s words are spot on. Even the four major clans are only His Majesty’s subjects. As officials, even they must abide strictly by their responsibilities, to speak nothing of a small aristocratic family like mine. The two dukes have spoken too seriously.”
Duke Ding stroked his beard with a smile and said warmly, “The two generals have spoken well! Let us check the list. Some changes seem to be taking place.”
Duke Wei scanned the screen and praised at once, “The empire is truly producing a lot of talents. All of the top-ten are actually from aristocratic families, and four of them are even medium-ranked ones. None from the four major clans and the imperial family have entered the rankings.”
Yang Shuo’s forehead was covered in traces of sweat—he was, after all, still a bit young. His Highfence Yang family was on the rankings at this moment, and it was even ranked third. The two dukes’ words, from a while ago up until now, contained deep implications. Any careless mistake in his words might’ve brought about a disaster.
The expeditionary army commander-in-chief, Marshal Luo Mingji, remained silent with his eyes lowered and didn’t seem awake. Meanwhile, Xiao Lingshi was completely relaxed.
Yang Shuo knew that he had to be the one to continue Duke Wei’s words. He gritted his teeth and said, “The Imperial Family and the four major clans are the cornerstones of the empire who have always planned well before taking action. Ordinary clans are not a match for them. Moreover, the number of participants from the four clans aren’t small according to the register. It must be that they haven’t found the opportunity to establish contributions after entering the Iron Curtain. The rankings at this phase cannot be taken too seriously.”
The two dukes glanced at each other and nodded with a faint smile. Only then did Yang Shuo manage to secretly loosen his tightened right fist—there were faint traces of moisture on his palms.
Xiao Lingshi said from the side, “But judging from the timeline, it’s about time the clans start reporting their contributions.”
The rankings suddenly changed at this moment as though it were reacting to his words. The golden-clawed flying serpent representing the empire and the emblems representing the four clans released bright light as they started entering the rankings. Among them, the Song clan made triumphant progress and actually charged to the top of the rankings with close to 100,000 points. Only the Zhao clan was showing some decline and actually failed to enter the top-ten. This startled everyone present.
This spectacle was also playing out in every part of the country, appearing before the heads and elders of each family.
The imperial palace apartments. Far opposite the Weiyang Palace, within the Jiaofang Hall, a beautiful lady in Chinese-style clothing and bundled hair sat high atop the phoenix seat. Before her, two people were holding a black-veined metallic origin array. They stood there with great respect and didn’t dare to lift their heads at all.
The incomparably complicated patterns on the origin array flickered on and off as it projected a screen, upon which was displayed the rankings list of the bloody battle. Moreover, the shocking part was that the rankings here were in sync with the changes taking place at the expeditionary army headquarters.
Knowledgeable people would know that the power and influence behind such methods were inevitably significant, and the expenditure involved didn’t stop at enormous. But to this otherworldly beauty atop the phoenix seat, money was merely a number.
An imperceivable smile emerged on her face as she watched the rankings. She asked indifferently, “How come the Zhao clan is doing so badly even at the start?”
There was an impressive looking man standing below the phoenix seat. With sword-like brows and starry eyes, his aura was extraordinary.
At this moment, the man replied with a faint smile, “The most outstanding among the Zhao clan’s younger generation are Zhao Jundu and Zhao Yuying. Zhao Ruoxi can’t be counted among them. Originally, Zhao Yuying was more suited to join this bloody battle, but I heard she was injured by Nangong Xiaofeng’s ambush, after which she crippled him in revenge. This matter has caused the Zhao clan and Nangong family to break off all relations. Zhao Yuying probably won’t be able to go into battle on the short term, but we still can’t underestimate the Zhao clan. Zhao Jundu is known as the number one character among the younger generation. He’ll definitely put on an astonishing performance once he joins the battle.”
“Mister Yan, hasn’t the Song clan been declining for a while now? How come they’re so fierce?”
Mister Yan replied disdainfully, “The Song clan has a deficit in manpower with no one among the younger generation capable of playing a leading role. They give absolutely no cause for worry. However, the centipede has yet to be completely vanquished. The Song clan is known for their vast wealth, and what they’re least lacking in is money. They likely showered money from their eaves to recruit a large number of soldiers to enter the Iron Curtain. These mottled squads will become useless when the true dark race experts go into battle.”
The young lady nodded. In truth, her eyes had never left the Zhao clan even though the swallow cloud family crest had already fallen out of the top ten.
It was at this time that a shocking change came over the rankings as the Zhao clan’s points suddenly climbed with great ferocity. Their points rose over twice as high and were now only a couple hundred points away from the third place Zhang clan.
The young lady on the phoenix seat was momentarily startled. She actually stood up and asked, “What’s going on?”
Mister Yan’s expression was grave. “It must be Zhao Jundu reporting his military contributions. Judging from the increase in points, this person is indeed worthy of his name. He’s truly capable.”
The young lady sat down slowly. After regaining her calm, she said with a sweet smile, “That’s a good thing. Bring this news to Imperial Consort Zhao, and also send her the fire crystal bracelets we obtained today as a congratulatory gift.”
Mister Yan was somewhat surprised and stole a glance at the young lady atop the phoenix seat. A shiver ran through his heart after seeing her face full of delight as though she were truly feeling happy for Imperial Consort Zhao.
Within the Zhao clan’s elder assembly, the twenty elders were all silent with grave expressions. The screen at the center was clearly displaying their military contributions in this bloody battle—the Zhao clan’s position hadn’t entered the top ten yet. This kind of ranking pressed down heavily upon the hearts of the numerous elders and made it difficult for them to breathe.
None of the Zhao clan’s three dukes were present at this moment, but their trusted aides were in attendance.
The origin array used in the elder assembly naturally couldn’t compare to the one at the Jiaofang Hall. It depended on the data stored in the mithril cards which had to be transported via cross-continent airships. It would normally take up to two days to see the newest numbers.
At this moment, an elder couldn’t help but ask, “Has Zhao Jundu gone into battle yet?”
Another elder said after some thought, “It should be three days now since Zhao Jundu’s squad went into battle. It’s probably not time for him to report contributions yet.”
Someone snorted on the spot and said coldly, “The matter is of such importance and we received news so early. But Zhao Jundu just has to procrastinate until the last day before setting out! Great! The three major clans are advancing hand in hand, while our Zhao clan has fallen far behind. How will other people think? How will they see us?! Sometimes, I wonder if he still has the Swallow Cloud Zhao Clan in his eyes. Duke Chengen is quite capable in teaching his sons.”
There were only two in the elder’s assembly from the Duke Chengen lineage. At this moment, they were full of anger but endured the provocation without saying anything.
“These matters need to be planned ahead. Let’s add to the rewards and dispatch more units!”
An elder from the Duke Chengen lineage finally spoke, “Dispatch more squads? Where will the money come from?”
“We might as well shift some of the Fire Beacon Corps’ funds. There’s been no big movement from the rebel army anyway.”
The previous elder stood up immediately and said furiously, “That won't do!”
However, the elders at the scene glanced at each other with most of them seconding this motion. According to normal procedure, they were to decide this matter by vote. At this moment, the two elders from the Duke Chengen lineage had realized something was wrong, but it was already too late. The matter had been decided.
A unit like the Fire Beacon Corps was considered a buffer military force of the empire. In truth, it was half a private army belonging to Duke Chengen, Zhao Weihuang, but two-thirds of its military expenditure came from the Zhao clan’s common account. The elder assembly’s suggestion was equal to reducing Zhao Weihuang’s power in the near future.
The numbers on the screen hadn’t changed by the time the elders dispersed.
The Song clan, on the other hand, was in great jubilation. Many people were spreading the news with pride and satisfaction. The Song clan’s old ancestor, Duchess An, was holding a private banquet within the Enlightenment Manor, and those in attendance were all elders of the clan.
The atmosphere at the banquet was rather heavy.
Clan Lord Song Zhongnian spoke first, “Old Ancestor, is our Song clan’s current triumphant progress a bit too excessive? Knowledgeable people might be making certain assumptions.”
The old ancestor said slowly, “There are no outsiders here, so it’s fine to speak clearly. Our Song clan has been on the decline for too long. It’s no secret that we’re strong on the outside but withering within, and there’s simply no need to hide this fact. How will we have room for hiding strategies when even going all out won’t be enough for us in this bloody battle? Rather than worry about this and that, why don’t you fork out your personal stash and form a couple more units? Perhaps it’ll allow our Song clan to look somewhat better.”
Expressions of shame immediately appeared on those who were present.
“Song Zining, that child… it’s been quite some time since I’ve heard any news of him. Who knows what he’s doing?” Duchess An brought up another topic.
All the Song clan elders glanced at each other, but it was Song Zhongnian who spoke in the end. “Zining hasn’t returned to the clan in the recent period, but the routine matters assigned to him are operating normally. I heard he’s set his mind on Evernight Continent. He bought a number of mines, and, oh, he’s also invested in a certain mercenary corps.”
Although Grand Elder Song Zhongcheng had been relieved of his post, there was still a seat for him in such clan banquets. At this time, he could no longer endure. “What willfulness! What good resources can there be in that abandoned land? Things have reached such a state. Why isn’t he forming a squad to join the bloody battle? And he’s even playing investments!”
The old ancestor said thoughtfully, “Has he not returned since the grand examination?”
“Yes.” The elders felt something was amiss after replying.
The old ancestor no longer pressed this topic. “What about his marriage. How’s the progress?”
Song Zhongnian said, “I’ve discussed this matter with the elders several times. That engagement isn’t a good match for Song Zining’s identity and ability. That Ye family girl isn’t suitable. Recently, I’m prepared to discuss this matter anew. We should cancel the engagement.”
The grand elder said with a glare, “That won’t do! It’s a confirmed engagement, and the other party has made no major mistake. If we terminate the engagement so suddenly, where will our Song clan’s prestige go? Moreover, even if the Ye family’s second daughter isn’t suitable, don’t they have other girls in their family?”
At this point, the atmosphere at the banquet became progressively heavier.
The old ancestor waved her hand and said, “Enough about this matter. Let’s eat.”
Up until the end of the feast, no one brought up the matter of Song Zining’s return to the clan to take part in the bloody battle. It was as though they had all forgotten about it.
Song Zicheng followed Song Zhongnian out of the manor gates and heaved a deep sigh in his heart as he watched the somewhat aged figure of his grandfather’s back. He was the only person of the younger generation who had been allowed a seat at the banquet as an exception. It was just that with so many paternal and ancestor level elders present, it wasn’t his place to say anything.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Chapter 3/7 of the week.
Who was expecting a big reaction from the major characters? Hahaha... I know I was. But then I recalled this is MEN where the usual stuff rarely ever happen. Actually, Qianye is really just too small and insignificant in the general scheme of things.
TL: Legion ED: Moxie