Chapter 295: The Examination [Volume 5 – A Distance Within Reach]
If he didn’t have the address in hand, Qianye wouldn’t have imagined this fancy building before him, with the word “wealthy” carved onto every brick, was the headquarters of the Ningyuan Group.
Although Song Zining spared no effort outside to maintain his image of a hedonistic scion, at least he was tasteful. This enormous building, however, was a far cry from the word tasteful and could only be associated with the word “nouveau riche”.
The lower eight stories of the building was a restaurant which included all forms of entertainment. Qianye had only stood at the door for a couple of seconds when he was almost dragged into the clamorous main hall by a woman with a slender waist, large chest, long legs, but one who couldn’t hide the creases on her face despite the thick makeup.
He went halfway around the building and found a staircase leading directly to the top two floors where the Ningyuan Group was located.
After Qianye reported his identity, a young lady immediately brought him toward Song Zining’s personal office on the top floor.
The view opened up as he walked out of the stairs and it actually felt quite spacious. The top floor had mostly been opened up to form a wide room and arranged to provide the atmosphere of a secluded valley. Although the Song clan had always been regarded as the nouveau riche among the clans, people began to regard them as cultured after reaching a certain level.
The notion that money couldn’t buy sophistication only applied to those without enough money. Even the best master-level craftsmen had a price. It was just that the price might not be plain money.
But such a show of extravagance didn’t suit Qianye’s tastes. He felt that such exquisite facilities bordering on extravagance were hardly suitable to exist on the same plane as this world where bloody battles could break out at any given time and place.
Song Zining was, at this moment, standing before a french window. He seemed deep in thought as he gazed at the cityscape under the rosy glow of the setting sun.
Song Zining immediately turned around with a big smile. He walked forward with large strides and reached out to hug Qianye. “Hey! Qianye, you’ve come! It’s great to see you safe and sound!”
Seeing Qianye observing from head toe, Song Zining felt somewhat apprehensive and even his smile turned a bit unnatural. He thus called out arbitrarily, “Qianye?”
Qianye raised his brows after seeing Song Zining’s calm and unworried demeanor. “I received your letter. What happened?”
Song Zining let out a dry cough and laughed. “Ah, that letter… don’t worry too much about it. It’s merely to make you hurry over here.”
Qianye exhaled lightly after hearing this and had the urge to beat up this fellow before him. Thus, he actually indulged himself and swung his fist.
“You came late, so we might not be in time for… ah…” Song Zining hadn’t even finished his words when the latter half of his sentence was blocked back. He staggered back seven or eight steps and only stopped after crashing into the window sill.
The two stared blankly at each other.
Although Qianye’s fist wasn’t delivered at full force, there was still considerable strength behind it because he wanted this troublesome fellow to know some pain. Unexpectedly, Song Zining neither dodged nor blocked and was struck squarely. Fortunately, Qianye had withdrawn some of the force at the last moment.
Song Zining reacted first and had to rub his abdomen a number of times before being able to speak. “Qianye, your strength sure grows fast.”
Qianye didn’t know what to say at this moment and just responded in an upset tone, “Congratulations on reaching rank nine.”
Song Zining smiled ruefully. “I, on the other hand, know that you’re already rank eight. But I wasn’t expecting you would become this powerful. That’s odd. I don’t think even a rank-eight arachne will be that fierce.”
Qianye had reached the eighth rank on the Western Continent. Since Song Zining already knew of this, it was apparent that Chen Lu had already reported the incident at Serenity and Lone Ghost Headquarters.
Qianye’s expression grow cold and said, “Don’t you think you owe me an explanation?”
Song Zining said calmly, “Chen Lu has told you most of it. I’m indeed working for a certain major character from the imperial army for a holistic strategy against the rebel army. I and my Ningyuan Heavy Industries merely constitute a small loop within it.”
Qianye turned silent.
Song Zining’s current position was no different from a spy hidden within the enemy camp. That major character definitely wouldn’t speak for him should things go south, and even if that plan were to succeed, there was no telling if Song Zining would gain any open credit. He might even be charged with treason many years later.
Song Zining patted Qianye’s shoulder with a laugh and said, “Don’t worry, I also obtained sufficient benefits. The rapid development of the Ningyuan Group can’t be separated from the various conveniences this person has given me. Fortune has to be sought amidst danger. High-risk businesses are naturally high in return.”
Song Zining had also spoken the same words back when he acted against the trade channel behind Wu Zhengnan. Qianye sighed inwardly and said, “Remember to tell me if there’s anything I can help with.”
Song Zining blinked a few times and said, “Aren’t you going to ask who that major character is?”
Qianye kept his silence—at some point, he had begun to avoid this matter. He always felt that he wasn’t prepared enough to mention that name.
Song Zining no longer continued speaking about this matter. “Don’t worry about me. Every business has risks. At least the risk with this business isn’t greater than my return to the Song clan this time for my great-grandmother’s birthday.
Qianye was somewhat startled and Song Zining didn’t keep him guessing either. “It’s our old ancestor’s birthday in a couple of days.”
Qianye said in surprise, “It’s a good thing that she possesses such longevity.” Lethal accidents could happen anywhere in this era of conflict. One would require significant fortune to be able to live to an old age.
Song Zining laughed. “Of course, it’s a good thing for her. The same can’t be said for me, however. Someone is determined to take my life on the old ancestor’s birthday.”
“Who?” Qianye’s voice was suffused by a strand of killing intent.
Song Zining shrugged. “Who else but my beloved brothers?”
Qianye was somewhat perplexed. “How can they kill at your old ancestor’s birthday?”
The clans encouraged internal competition among their descendants in order to preserve their vigor, but they strictly forbid such conflicts to escalate to the murder of blood relations. Even if Song Zining had such archenemies within the clan, they wouldn’t pick such a time to commit the crime.
Song Zining sighed and said, “But killing is possible during this birthday event.”
It turned out that the birthday of the Song clan’s Duchess An happened to coincide with the decennial successor exam.
Thirty years ago, Duchess An felt that the clan’s descendants were growing progressively weaker in martial power and becoming more dependent on trickery, thus widening the gap between them and those from the other three clans. She thus set up this unique examination system.
Outside of the statecraft and tactics assessments included in all great clan examinations, their martial arts section was a unique and pivotal component.
Here, the martial arts referred to one’s individual strength, and the competition was a single-elimination tournament. The participants here weren’t just limited to the Song clan’s successors; each of them could invite two guest warriors for assistance. The level of the Song clan successors wasn’t restricted, but the guest warriors had to be below the champion rank.
Such a rule was quite fitting of the Song clan’s characteristics—since martial power wasn’t their forte, they would have to draw upon the superiority of their relationships. Those external participants would then be given the treatment and qualifications of an official clan guest. This could also be considered a way for the Song clan to attract talents.
The problem was that the competition between Song clan successors actually followed the rules of bloody battle which also meant that each was responsible for their own life and death. Even if an outsider were to kill a Song clan scion, he wouldn’t be held accountable.
Qianye had long since known, from the Yin family’s successor exam, that the conflict for the clan successor’s position had always been cruel. The Song clan, on the other hand, had always maintained a relatively mild facade. Yet, unexpectedly, its assessment methods were so cruel and blunt. It was virtually the same as openly encouraging the candidates to fight and kill each other mercilessly.
“This rule is truly unexpected,” Qianye said after recovering from a momentary lapse in thought.
Song Zining, however, spoke without much concern, “The old ancestor finally made this painful decision to baptize the Song clan descendants with blood in order to produce some promising talents. But old habits die hard; how can they be broken so easily? It’s been thirty years now, and the two successive generations of the Song clan only continue to grow weaker. When have we ever produced a character on par with the Zhao clan’s Zhao Jundu and the Bai clan’s Bai Aotu? To say nothing of a peerless genius like Zhang Baqian. With him around, the Zhang clan is guaranteed at least fifty years of unfailing prosperity.”
Qianye was slightly shaken after hearing Zhao Jundu’s name. Song Zining’s words were full of undercurrents—this was the first time Qianye had seen just how far the conflicts between the four clans had progressed. The Song clan was actually poised to use the blood of its descendants to wash the stairs leading toward the sky.
Qianye asked with a sigh, “Who’s planning to kill you?”
“Ha, naturally it’s that bastard Song Ziqi and a couple of others in cahoots with him.”
Qianye had heard Chen Lu mention the name Song Ziqi before he wrecked the Lone Ghost regional headquarters, but he wasn’t clear about the reason for their enmity. “What did you do that made your family want to kill you at all costs?”
This bloody rule was laid down since thirty years ago, yet the Song clan was still maintaining its mild outwards appearance. This went to show that, regardless of the reason, the Song clan successor’s competition hadn’t reached an extreme intensity, at least on the surface.
Song Zining’s entry into the successor’s list was fairly recent, and he had always maintained an extremely low profile. So much that the Profound Heaven Spring Hunt could be considered his first public appearance. So how did he provoke such an archenemy?
Song Zining plucked his fingers nonchalantly and said, “Nothing too big. It’s just that the Ningyuan Group was growing a bit too fast recently and snatched a few deals from them. Ah yes, those deals seem quite sizeable. In addition, I accidentally destroyed two of their trade caravans, but that’s because they’re too weak. Who would’ve thought they would be wiped out after a few rounds? Oh, and I might’ve taken up his little brother’s quota in the Profound Heaven Spring Hunt. Perhaps that counts too?”
Qianye was momentarily at a loss for words. There was indeed enough reason for Song Ziqi to form a vendetta.
“Then, give me data on Song Ziqi.”
Song Zining shook his head and said, “Song Ziqi just broke through to the champion rank. He’s my opponent. I only need you to help me deal with his guest warriors.”
Qianye said with a frown, “It might be better for me to do it,” he paused for a bit before adding, “did you break through to rank-nine just to deal with this examination?”
Song Zining said with a smile, “Don’t worry. Although I ranked up quickly, there are no problems related to an unstable foundation. It’s just that an overly wide gap in levels will be troublesome.”
The oldest among the Song clan successors of this generation was already nearing thirty, and among them, three had already broken through to the champion rank. If Song Zining still lingered at rank-seven, the three-level-gap would put him in a fair bit of disadvantage.
It is preached in every cultivation art that one must, with patient polishing, form a solid foundation after igniting the origin nodes. However, such a rule couldn’t easily apply to a genius with great attainments in the secret arts like Song Zining. There was no significant consequence for them under the champion rank regardless of the time and level of their breakthrough.
Qianye could only nod since Song Zining had said so. In his mind, however, he was thinking of playing it by the ear when the time came. He already had experience fighting against champions. Song Zining, on the other hand, was speaking of it quite casually but it would definitely be a bitter fight at that time.
Qianye suddenly recalled another matter and hesitated slightly before asking, “There should be many people from the other clans going over to offer their well-wishes on Duchess An’s 100th birthday, right?”
“The old ancestor has declined visitors for many years now.  There won’t be any outsiders present during the successor exam. However, the other clans will surely send people to deliver birthday presents and offer greetings. Although there won’t be a unified banquet, the clan will arrange for people to receive them separately.” Song Zining reacted fairly quickly—he knew Qianye wasn’t someone who would think of such trifling details. “Why? Is there anything that will inconvenience you?”
“I met Zhao Jundu on the Western Continent.” Qianye couldn’t even squeeze out a wry smile and couldn’t help but reach out to rub his throbbing temples.
However, recalling Zhao Jundu’s unmistakable killing intent at the mention of Song Zining’s name, Qianye still decided to tell his good friend about this incident so as to prevent unexpected circumstances when the two met again in the future. Besides, Song Zining was probably the one who knew Qianye’s many secrets the best.
Song Zining was astonished, but there was nothing unexpected in his gaze toward Qianye. On the contrary, it seemed to contain more understanding.
 The literal translation is “closing the door and thanking the visitors”, which sounds much more polite but makes much less sense here.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
7/7 of the week. Enjoy guys ^_^ This new arc looks interesting.