Chapter 312: Set Adrift

 Chapter 312: Set Adrift [Volume 5 – A Distance Within Reach]

Qianye suddenly recalled Zhao Jundu and felt momentarily confused himself. At this time, Duchess An’s speech had reached a conclusion.

“The three clans, Zhang, Bai, and Zhao have produced many a genius from their younger generation who have achieved great accomplishments in the battle against the dark races. But what about our Song clan? How many of you have actually joined a major battle before? Right now, you have these old bones to protect you, but what will you do after the older generation retires?”

These words caused the entire scene to grow completely silent.

Although the world was vast, the Song clan was at least second if not first in terms of wealth. But if there was no one at the helm, the only path was toward destruction, and the best outcome would be to have the clan divided up by the others. But how could it be so easy to reverse this current trend of weakness?

Many people began to sweat profusely.

Even Qianye, who was quite ignorant toward tactics and trickery, had sensed the Song clan’s predicament in this examination.

The inheritance of such an enormous aristocratic clan naturally involved a twisted network of benefits on the inside, currently held at a relatively stable equilibrium. Discarding the old and bringing in the new would, in truth, be tantamount to shaking these elders’ lifeblood; how difficult would that be? But if such a change weren’t carried out, it would likely shake the Song clan’s roots.

Duchess An seemed to have lost interest after speaking up to this point. She got up and said, “You’re all dismissed. Put more effort into the strategic assessment two days later.”

At this point, the curtains fell on the martial examination.

After taking inventory, the one who had benefited the most in this competition was still the eldest Song clan young master, Song Zicheng. The branch of his most threatening rival, Song Zian, had taken disastrous losses. This was especially true after Elder Song Zhongcheng’s dismissal from office and their resources being halved. The effects of this were far-reaching and couldn’t be measured merely in terms of successor scores.

Comparatively, although Song Zicheng hadn’t taken first place, his status grew even more solidified since he had pulled himself far ahead of the second successor.

Song Zining, on the other hand, had always kept a low profile since he entered the successor’s sequence two years ago. This time, he could be considered to have amazed the entire Song clan with a single brilliant feat. He had only advanced to rank-nine for a few months but had already displayed enough strength to contend with a champion.

Additionally, what no one else knew was that Song Zining, as a Yellow Spring graduate, could be considered number one among the younger generation in terms of actual combat experience. A newly ascended champion like Song Ziqi might not be his match.

These results came as a slap to the greater half of the elders’ faces. They were in charge of assessing the talents of clan descendants and guiding them, but Song Zining had always received a third-rate evaluation since a young age. Later on, he was reassessed and raised by a level. Even then, he was merely second-rate in the records.

Later on, Duchess An personally judged Song Zining’s Three Thousand Flying Leaf Art as successful and raised him into the successor’s list. However, because Song Zining indulged in miscellaneous studies and possessed a romantic nature, most elders refused to believe he would achieve anything great on the martial dao.

But as it turned out, even though the Three Thousand Flying Leaf Art wasn’t an offensive secret art, Song Zining had already surpassed most of the clan descendants they had evaluated as geniuses.

Although Song Zicheng had obtained the greatest benefits in this examination, under present circumstances, some of his advisors couldn’t help but express their concern about Song Zining. However, the Song clan’s eldest young master refused to listen.

He gently said to his aides, “Regardless of bloodline, Little Seven and I share the same grandfather and we’re closer than many other people. In terms of the assistance, we have an agreement between us and he’s delivered so much more than expected. We can’t always keep working with weak people. The way to make progress is to strengthen oneself and not to suppress others. Moreover, a real expert can’t be suppressed. So, don’t let me hear about such comments in the future.”

That very night, Song Zicheng personally went to Deep Cloud Hall and delivered all the things Song Zining had requested along with a generous gift.

Skipping one day ahead, it was the strategic assessment.

The Song clan’s military tactics examination resembled the Profound Heaven Spring Hunt in form, but the rules were vastly different. The examination grounds were constructed on the borders of the Eastern Continent. In truth, the place was a battlefield where they were confronting the dark races.

The examinees would each bring a hundred-man unit and launch an assault against the dark races, then form rankings in terms of military accomplishments.

Chances of accidents happening in this strategic assessment were high. Even a powerful candidate might run into a large dark race unit or a general if he was unfortunate. As for the strength of the successors’ forces, there was only a generalized restriction on the number and level of troops. Individual combat strength would depend on the resources of their respective branches.

At first, both Song Zian and Song Ziqi had ambitions to suppress the eldest Song Zicheng. However, they had never expected to be injured so badly by Qianye in the martial examination. Song Ziqi could still force himself to appear, but Song Zian simply couldn’t join the examination in person and only sent his squad in. Without a leader at the reins, their final results were easily imagined.

One day before the strategic assessment, almost a hundred airships arrived majestically on the Eastern Continent. Duchess An was no longer spectating this time, but the experts from the Hall of Peace had all been mobilized for security.

Song Zining’s unit was neither strong nor weak and could only be considered average. Having received no support at all from his parents, he had depended on himself to build everything from scratch. It was already commendable for him to have reached this level.

The prize for this military tactics examination moved Qianye. It was a set of armaments sufficient to equip a reinforced company and, additionally, their quality was at the level of the imperial elite corps. With these armaments, anyone with sufficient resources could form an unit of considerable strength.

One could see Duchess An’s intentions from this reward. She hoped the Song clan descendants would not only raise their individual fighting power but also form an impressive military force. She hoped that they would accomplish things out on the battlefield. The foundation for maintaining one’s noble title was still via military accomplishments. Only then would they be capable of preventing the downfall of the Song clan.

Unfortunately, Duchess An’s painstaking effort had turned out contrary to her expectations.

Although Song Zining himself didn’t quite need the equipment, Qianye’s Dark Flame Mercenary Corps was expanding with great momentum in the recent days and such a batch of premium military supplies might not be available for purchase even if one had the money.

As such, Song Zining and Song Zicheng reached a secret agreement. If he were to help Song Zicheng win the military assessment, the rewards would all go to him in addition to enough cargo trucks for use by a battalion.

Qianye had never expressed his opinion on such matters and simply let Song Zining make the decisions. He also stopped cultivating intensively and, instead, went to Song clan’s depository to find more books on the theory of origin power cultivation and various basic martial arts.

Qianye would return to Evernight Continent as soon as this examination was over. With Song Zining and Song Zicheng’s name, he was afforded a rare opportunity to borrow and read so many classics. He had to grasp this opportunity to study as much as he could.

The myriad great daos weren’t always interconnected, but the more one understood, the easier it was to approach the true path. After reading through a dozen or so basic martial techniques and then reviewing the experiences he had gained from actual combat, Qianye felt himself beginning to understand things comprehensively.

After over a day of flight, they finally arrived at the borders of the Eastern Continent, and the curtains would soon be raised on the strategic examination. Over twenty Song clan units would be thrown into different places on the battlefield and launch individual attacks against the dark races.

They were almost three-thousand-strong with all the Song clan units added together and were made up of elite soldiers all rank-five and above. Additionally, there were two champions and several quasi-champion level experts among them.

Obviously, the dark race forces here weren’t expecting to encounter such a powerful force and were immediately beaten into a miserable retreat. Their defensive lines fell into chaos and holes opened up everywhere.

Things became chaotic right after boring a hole through the enemy defense lines. Some units continued to push deeper in, some chose to circle back and flank the enemy, while certain unit commanders decided to settle old scores in advance. As such, many moderate conflicts broke out throughout the place. Even though the main goal of the examination was to eliminate the dark race forces, incidents where people hindered each other were a common occurrence.

While fighting for relative rankings, sometimes it was more effective to weaken someone else than to bolster one’s own score.

Qianye’s true vision was definitely a powerful killer weapon on the actual battlefield. No enemy within a thousand meter radius could escape his perception. With the addition of Song Zining’s Three Thousand Flying Leaves Art, they were able to successfully counterattack and half-massacre two ambush units attempting to launch a sneak attack on them.

Afterwards, Qianye left the group and proceeded to ambush Song Ziqi and Song Zian’s units.

Qianye felt that such a move wasn’t entirely necessary in this round. To them, the path toward victory was to ignore the competition and directly push into the depths of the battlefield, killing as many dark race soldiers as they could. Who would be able to catch up to them if they killed a number of viscounts?

But Song Zining had pestered Qianye insistently until the latter reluctantly agreed to this strategy.

According to Song Zining, the key to this battle was to ensure Song Zicheng’s victory. Only then would they achieve the greatest benefits for everyone. As such, they had to be absolutely safe in case Song Zicheng somehow encountered some odd misfortune and suffered a setback. The best method was to cripple Song Zian and Song Ziqi’s forces, completely disabling their competitive strength. As for the others, there was no need to fear them since it was impossible for them to catch up with Song Zicheng.

In the end, Qianye didn’t deny Song Zining and made his way through the battlefront alone. He then ambushed Song Zian and Song Ziqi’s forces in succession, heavily injuring all of their core experts. Song Ziqi suffered a direct hit and was immediately withdrawn from the competition.

Apart from Zhao Jundu, Qianye had rarely, if ever, met his match on the battlefield in terms of sniping. He was at an entirely different level compared to these Song clan young masters. On the battlefield where myriad changes could occur within an instant, these so-called experts from the arena were easily overwhelmed and abused.

Qianye’s ambush also produced an additional effect. The two units completely lost their courage—they each found an easily defensible area and made camp, only daring to reveal their heads after noticing no hostile activity for several days. With so many days of delay, it could already be considered a miracle if they could make their way to the middle of the rankings.

During the remainder of the battle, Qianye couldn’t help but feel Song Zining’s Three Thousand Flying Leaf Art, rumored to be able to see through the mysteries of the mortal world, had the potential for inauspiciousness.

Song Zicheng’s troops pushed in continuously like a hot knife through butter, but for some reason, they had actually failed to notice the positions of the allied units. Among his adjacent forces, Song Zining had stopped moving entirely after Qianye left, while Song Zian and Song Ziqi’s forces were beaten up by Qianye until they were holed up in a corner. As a result, Song Zicheng pushed too far ahead and soon became an isolated unit.

The dark race forces immediately grasped this opportunity to rapidly assemble their forces and surround Song Zicheng’s unit. A great battle ensued where Song Zicheng routed the enemy forces but at a great cost. He single-handedly killed a third-rank werewolf viscount but was also heavily injured and had no choice but to withdraw from the competition. The greater half of his troops had also suffered heavy casualties and lost their fighting power.

After Qianye returned to the squad, the situation developed in such a way that even sitting in place was no longer feasible. They even had to actively retreat tens of kilometers, lest some blind dark race units bump into them. Killing such a unit would cause Song Zining’s score to surpass Song Zicheng’s instead.

As such, a peculiar spectacle was formed—the examination was only halfway through when four of the Song clan’s most powerful squads stopped making any progress. The remaining units, on the other hand, were fighting rather valiantly. However, their fighting power was too inferior compared to the top-four and had no way to catch up.

What should’ve been a vigorous strategic examination was thus concluded with a weak finish.

The total accomplishments of each unit could scarcely be described as passable. But this was the real truth—a truth mixed in with politics. Just like how internal struggles had always held the empire by the elbow whenever they faced the dark races. The situation on the dark race side was even more serious. Were it not for their intense infighting, how could the Great Qin have established the empire and gradually expanded?

Qianye was in a bad mood after the battle ended. But he was no longer that rookie from the Red Scorpions—everything he had experienced during his journey from Evernight to the Upper Continent had changed his mental outlook. He glanced at Song Zining who had been out of sorts throughout the entire strategic examination and ultimately decided not to say anything.

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-Legion-'s Thoughts