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Wei Potian didn’t really understand why Song Zining was so anxious.
He knew warfare well enough to tell that those roaming squads were vital to Song Zining’s hold on the mid-field fortress. These units were preventing the dark races from an all-out attack and forcing them to leave soldiers to guard their rear.
The rear guard couldn’t be too big or too small. This posed a problem when there was a limited number of soldiers to invest in the war. Assigning too many to the rear would weaken the assault and increase casualties, while the opposite would allow Song Zining’s focused attacks to devour the supply lines.
As only Song Zining could use divination, the dark races were more or less fighting a miserable blind battle. They could only brace themselves and take Song Zining’s bait.
They would still do some damage to the Empire while attacking fortresses, unlike roaming battles where their casualty ratio was so much higher. Hence, the dark races had no other choice but to attack no matter how high the walls were.
Recalling the roaming assault forces was akin to cutting off an arm. Wei Potian simply couldn’t understand.
After the recall, Song Zining formed the army into three units and assigned a duke to each of them. He also reminded them repeatedly to exercise utmost caution.
At the same time, a bright flare shot up into the air and lingered in the sky for some time. This signal was to alert the heavenly monarchs to the region. This meant that Song Zining wasn’t too assured even with the dukes leading the army.
When all arrangements had been made, Wei Potian could no longer keep quiet. “Is this really necessary?”
The fortress defense battles reduced the need for mobility and the exhaustion of airships. This allowed the Empire to barely keep up.
The roaming troops were mostly transported by off-road vehicles, only summoning airships when required. The three units at the moment were excessively equipped, and all of them were to be transported by air. This would increase the requirements by many times.
These three armies were strong, but the expenditure could match six roaming squads. Wei Potian felt that the latter would give them a greater advantage.
Song Zining heaved a sigh of relief after making all the arrangements. He unfastened his top button and poured a glass of chilled alcohol. After finishing it all in one go, he said, “Did she say she’ll kill you if she sees you again?”
“She did, but…”
Wei Potian wanted to explain, but Song Zining said, “I understand. You should return to the Empire immediately, and bring your Wei clan soldiers with you.“
Wei Potian was shocked. “Wait! Why must I go back? My Thousand Mountains is almost at the perfection stage.”
“Do you think you won’t see her again? Do you think she’ll let you off this time? Do you want Qianye to not be able to face us in the future?”
The three questions tightened themselves around Wei Potian until he could no longer breathe. He stood dazed for a while before his expression crumbled, saying, “That can’t be. The meeting wasn’t so bad, except the fact that I got beaten up pretty bad.”
Song Zining said word-by-word, “She will kill you if she sees you again, do not doubt that.”
“Then I just need to avoid her, right? Don’t you know divination? Just do some calculations and help me avoid her. Must I hide away just because I can’t afford to provoke her?” Wei Potian felt that things weren’t so serious.
“I can’t divine her.”
“I just can’t,” Song Zining repeated.
“So there’s something you can’t scry, didn’t you say the only ones you can’t divine are great dark monarchs? There aren’t any here.” Wei Potian was skeptical.
Song Zining asked, “Do you really think she’s easier to deal with than a great monarch?”
Wei Potian was stunned. “Looks like Qianye won’t have an easy time in the future.”
Covering his face, Song Zining sighed at Wei Potian’s train of thought. “Let’s worry about you first.”
Wei Potian wasn’t willing to accept. “I’m still Qianye’s brother-in-arms regardless. She won’t go so far, will she?”
Song Zining couldn’t be bothered with him, but he also couldn’t let him do whatever he wanted. Otherwise, it would be impossible to clean things up when the time came. Just as he was thinking about how to explain it to the fellow, an aide rushed in urgently.
That person cried out in a panic, “Sire, things don’t look good! Duke Yuanguang’s unit was ambushed by the dark races. The entire unit was wiped out, only the duke escaped with heavy injuries!”
“What?!” Song Zining’s expression shifted drastically. “Take me there!”
Wei Potian stood dazed for a moment before following the others.
Lying within the hospital at the duke quarters, Duke Yuanguang was as pale as a sheet despite the lack of bloodstains on his body. The Imperial doctors around him looked anxious and helpless.
Song Zining rushed to the bedside. “What happened?”
Duke Yuanguang opened his eyes and said with a wry smile, “The dark races… appeared without the slightest warning. I saw Nighteye… it’s not a shame to lose to her. What the Empire did to her, we’re finally… reaping what we sow.”
“As expected.” Song Zining looked gloomy as he observed the duke’s injury.
The duke waved his hand. “Don’t waste your time, I know my condition. She has crippled my foundation, I’m no longer a duke from here on out. I can tell that she didn’t want to kill me, else I wouldn’t… be back. Too bad our brethren…”
Song Zining’s expression grew unsightly as he checked the damage. Duke Yuanguang’s origin crystal had shattered and was bound together by a wisp of dark golden blood energy. This lingering blood energy formed an ancient rune that could be interpreted as “death!”
The dark golden blood energy was absorbing the duke’s essence blood to empower itself, but they couldn’t remove it because it was the only thing holding his origin crystal in shape. Once removed, Duke Yuanguang’s origin crystal would crumble. He might not even survive, let alone maintain his divine champion cultivation.
Yet the dark golden blood energy would drain him entirely if it was left alone. This blood energy was like a bone maggot that could neither be extracted nor be left alone.
Only then did Song Zining realize why the doctors were so helpless. Removing this blood energy would require someone stronger than the assailant in both cultivation and origin power quality. Nighteye had set up a battlefield on the duke’s origin crystal and challenged the entire Empire.
Song Zining pulled his hand back. “Don’t worry. The wound is troublesome, but it’s not impossible to treat. Also, it won’t act up immediately. You must avoid using your origin power from now on. I’ll dispatch an airship to send you back to the Empire, I’m sure the princes will think of something.”
Duke Yuanguang grabbed Song Zining’s hand excitedly. “I can still recover?”
“Yes,” Song Zining said decisively.
Duke Yuanguang heaved a sigh of relief. Some color returned to his face as he said, “That’s great, that’s great! I still have so many things I need to do. I was wondering why you didn’t catch the dark races squad with your divination, but I understood when I saw her. She… sigh… she won't live long with the heavenly monarchs around.”
Wei Potian’s lips moved ever so slightly. He wanted to say that Nighteye had the Tempest, so the heavenly monarchs might not be able to do anything to her. However, he felt that it wasn’t quite appropriate to say it considering Duke Yuanguang’s state.
The duke might’ve been speaking logically in his despair, but the words he had spoken after seeing some hope were his true thoughts. This person was notorious for being petty. It would be bad for Wei Potian if the duke were to hold a grudge and spread word that he was working with the enemy.
Wei Potian was frank but not dumb. He still had some measure as to what he should and shouldn’t say.
Song Zining comforted the man somewhat and arranged for him to be sent back to the Empire once his injuries were stable.
Watching as Duke Yuanguang’s airship left, he said, “She’s moving fast…”
“Is it really her?” Wei Potian couldn’t believe it.
“Who else?” Song Zining had a feeling that the “death” on Duke Yuanguang’s origin crystal was actually a message for him.
The dark golden blood energy made it impossible for him to calm down.
While Song Zining was lost in thought, an aide ran over and said, “There’s a report from the frontlines. Profundity Monarch has found traces of the enemy and is about to attack. He asks us to make preparations to defend against beast movements and make arrangements to return to the Empire.”
Song Zining was in a daze. “Load the hibernation chamber onto the airship and order them to remain on standby… what did you say?”
The aide was shocked out of his wits. Song Zining’s expression changed drastically as the message was repeated. “Damn, he’s ruining the plan!”
The aide was astonished. The Profundity Monarch was a god-like character who was far above everyone. When did he need other people’s agreement to take action?
In truth, it was already good manners that he had sent word in advance. All he needed was to appear and take command of everything with a single word.
Yet Song Zining was speaking as if he were a failure. The aide simply didn’t dare to continue the conversation.
Wei Potian was utterly confused with no idea what was going on.
Song Zining glanced at him and sighed. “The best strategy now is not to play our piece. Once the Profundity Monarch attacks, we’ll have nothing left to intimidate the dark races. Besides, his attack might not even succeed.”
Wei Potian nodded in agreement.
Song Zining sighed. “Ah, let it be. Heavenly monarchs are human, after all, and it’s only normal to make mistakes. But erring at such a time is really not worth it.”
Wei Potian said, “You can’t do anything. It’s not like you can control the heavenly monarchs.”
Song Zining’s expression grew fierce. “Back during Marshal Lin’s era, even the heavenly monarchs had to listen to his orders!”
“But you’re not…” Wei Potian stopped halfway. “Now that I think about it, you do have some similarities with him. It almost seems like yesterday that we were in Blackflow City.”
Song Zining shot him a glance. “Aren’t you just one step away from the divine champion realm as well? Many years have passed. We might be in our prime, but we’re definitely getting older.”
Wei Potian couldn’t help letting out a sigh as he thought about the years.
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