Volume 5 – A Distance Within Reach (Chapter 294 to 470)
Chapter 382: Solid Defense
The couple of days which followed were exceptionally quiet. Human hunters and adventurers no longer dared venture into the wilderness covered by the black tide. The sudden change sent everyone into a panic. Many chose to escape overnight into the hinterlands of human territory, but there was also no lack of brave chancers who wanted to wait for opportunities. Such people stayed back in cities like Blackflow that were located within the border counties.
Similarly, the dark races also kept themselves hidden, both sides waiting for the right moment.
News of the Iron Curtain had stirred up quite a tempest inside the empire as the empire half-publicized this information for the first time. Moreover, the army and aristocracy were formally mobilized to participate in this battle. The scope of mobilization would increase as the bloody battle progressed.
In the eyes of many, the opening up of a new battlefield was a symbol of the empire’s increasing power, but those with vision knew more. There were deep implications regarding the empire’s proactive initiation of this bloody battle. It wasn’t only to demonstrate their martial prowess to the dark races, but it also served as an opportunity for the aristocracy to show off their military accomplishments within the country. The bloody battle was, just as the name implied, extremely cruel—the nobility, the army corps, and even the imperial family would be ranked according to their military contributions. It would directly reflect the relative superiority of all the clans.
The clan rankings which hadn’t seen any change for quite some time would likely shift after this battle.
The noble clans who received the recruitment order naturally began to prepare for war. Meanwhile, the minor clans that didn’t receive the order were rather dissatisfied and began thinking of ways to get their hands on one. Many small families with big ambitions chose to attach themselves to the major clans after failing to receive the order.
Even if they didn’t have big aspirations, the generosity of the military contribution rewards was enough to move them.
The Violet Ketu Courtyard within the Zhao Clan Manor of West Pole City was busier than usual in the recent days. Followers and guards passed through continuously, arranging various types of armaments. There was a pool of flowing water in the little courtyard at the back, emitting white steam in the warm afternoon—it was actually a hot-spring. At this moment, there was violet mist mixed in with the white steam which pervaded the air. Zhao Jundu sat cross-legged at the waterside performing maintenance on his Blue Firmament, part by part.
Extremely light footsteps were transmitted from outside the courtyard doors. There were only a couple of people who dared disturb him at such a time. Zhao Jundu looked up and, as expected, saw Zhao Junhong arrive.
Zhao Junhong’s expression was solemn, but he didn’t speak immediately.
Zhao Jundu snapped the Jade River Blade into the groove below the barrel and stood up to break the silence. “Second Brother, you’ve returned. Come in and have a seat.” He was very clear why Zhao Junhong was here.
The Swallow Cloud Zhao Clan, as one of the four major clans, received news of recent matters before receiving the imperial family’s official order. The elites of the younger generation were to emerge in full strength—with Zhao Yuying as the commander and Zhao Junhong as her deputy, they were to lead the group into battle. However, the most famous Zhao Jundu and Zhao Ruoxi weren’t included.
Such an arrangement wasn’t due to the selfishness of Duke Yan and Duke You lineages. The eldest of the Duke Chengen lineage, Zhao Junxiao, made his name the earliest and had already surpassed rank-thirteen. He would draw Sky Demon’s attention if he were to enter the Iron Curtain, and it would be no different from throwing his life away. Although the third Zhao was a champion, he was incomparable to the second brother in terms of talent, combat strength, and charisma.
As for Zhao Ruoxi, she was the Zhao clan’s guardian treasure. It wasn’t necessary for her to gild the lily with more military accomplishments. Zhao Jundu, on the other hand, was the accepted number one character of tomorrow and thus had no need to prove himself in the bloody battle. What he needed at the moment was to nurture his origin power well and enrich his foundations. Moreover, this lineup reflected the Zhao clan’s habitual arrogance—it was almost saying that there were so many outstanding talents in the Zhao clan that they could contend against the other three clans even without Zhao Jundu.
However, Zhao Jundu acted completely out of character after receiving this news. He wholeheartedly requested to go into battle and, in the end, replaced Zhao Junhong. Zhao Junhong was, at that time, on a punitive expedition against the rebel army on the Western Continent. By the time he returned, the name list had already been submitted to the imperial army and become set in stone.
Zhao Jundu personally served Zhao Junhong tea after entering the room and said without beating around the bush, “It’s better for Second Brother to oversee the family in this battle.”
Zhao Junhong smiled ruefully as he received the exquisite porcelain cup. He turned the vessel in his hand for a couple of times and, in the end, still decided to ask, “Why? Is it because of Qianye?”
“Not just him. I want to experience this so-called Iron Curtain.” Zhao Jundu smiled sarcastically after a brief pause. “There are gushing undercurrents in the empire. No small number of people are dissatisfied at our Zhao clan. I’m hearing no small number of rumors about how our Zhao clan’s reputation was born of nepotism. This bloody battle will be a good chance for our Zhao clan to kill its way to glory! The Iron Curtain will be a good opportunity to kill whoever isn’t convinced.”
Zhao Junhong suddenly said, “I’m preparing to enter seclusion and advance to the rank of champion.”
Zhao Jundu was startled momentarily and was just about to say something when Zhao Junhong waved his hand. “Don’t worry, the conditions are just about right. My Silver Sword Finger has formed its ninth sword intent. I’ll come over to the Iron Curtain and kill my way to fame after I become a champion.”
Zhao Jundu nodded, and Zhao Junhong placed a hand on the former’s shoulder. There was no need for superfluous words between the two brothers.
Qianye had just returned to Blackflow City. He had spent the past two days patrolling the wilderness between Blackflow City and Silverflow Fjord. There were no signs of the dark races whatsoever, and there wasn’t anything unusual in the areas enveloped by the Iron Curtain apart from the silence and overactivity of darkness origin power.
Qianye summoned Song Hu and went up to the city walls to inspect the city defenses. After Wei Bainian’s reconstruction, the strength of Blackflow City’s defenses was undoubtedly one of the best among the third and fourth-tier human cities. It was, without any reservations, number one within the Trinity River County, but it would involve a major project if they wanted to upgrade it one more level.
The core of a medium-sized city’s defenses lay in the kinetic tower and the various large defensive weapons attached to it. Any of the two involved steep construction costs and had fairly stringent requirements for technicians and resources. The current Dark Flame couldn’t afford it at the moment.
As such, Qianye decided to employ the sea of people strategy commonly used in Evernight Continent, conscripting large batches of mercenaries and adventurers to fill the gaps in the city defenses. Fortunately, Dark Flame still had sufficient supplies after devouring the seventh division, but it would be a completely different matter if the dark tide continued for several months.
Qianye called Song Hu over for a tour of the city defenses. He had planned to let the conscripted mercenaries guard the less important regions. After they had inspected half the city’s defenses, Qianye asked, “How many soldiers have been conscripted?”
“Ove three thousand in total. Any more and our budget might not be able to hold out.”
Qianye frowned. “Only three thousand? It might not be enough.”
Qianye still had some rare materials he had brought out from Andruil’s realm and thus didn’t need to worry about military expenses for the time being. But the armies of Evernight had always nurtured soldiers in battle—one would still need to consider the value of the defensive region before deciding the investment. Qianye had learned the truth about the Iron Curtain from Zhao Yuying and understood that this battle would be dangerous. Song Hu, however, wasn’t at the level where he could know of such secrets, hence it was natural for him to have reservations during conscription.
Qianye pondered for a moment and said, “No matter, a unit will be delivered soon.”
Qianye saw Song Hu’s expression turn a bit unnatural and said with a smile, “Relax, I’m not asking the Seventh Young Master for reinforcements.”
Song Hu immediately turned somewhat awkward. He coughed a couple of times and asked, “So where is the new unit coming from?”
There seemed to be no visible danger after the descent of the black tide, however, the most affected were the people’s hearts. Few among the original residents moved away, but only the boldest of the vagrant hunters and adventurers stayed back—no small number of them flocked toward the hinterlands—this caused the formerly ample manpower to become rather scarce.
Qianye saw that Song Hu was clearly trying to avert the topic after his moment of indiscretion. He didn’t press on with the question and only said, “From the other expeditionary armies within the county. They’ll provide soldiers and military expenses. It’s not a lot, but at least it’ll serve as a supplement.”
“The expeditionary army? It’s already fortunate if they don’t stab us in the back at the critical moment. Why would they reinforce us?”
Qianye replied with a laugh, “Don’t forget that this is Evernight.”
Evernight wasn’t imperial territory. Apart from a number of massive fortresses, they had no way to dispatch soldiers to reclaim land once it had been lost. Presently, no one could clearly say how long the black tide with last and what would happen during this period. Just like Blackflow City, the defensive regions of Evernight were all more or less the private properties of the respective division commanders. Should Blackflow fail to hold out, the adjacent warzones and cities would be next in line to face the dark race battlefront.
There were no eternal enemies in the face of profit.
With that, Qianye continued toward another defensive sector.
The place he was going to inspect next was a crucial part of the city defenses, a cannon tower.
There used to be an old ballista on top of the tower which relied on mechanical force to fire bolts at the enemy. Now, it had been replaced with a stronghold cannon. It was a second-hand model ten years behind the ones installed in the empire’s frontline bases, however, it was still countless times more powerful than the ballista which had fallen behind by hundreds of years.
Blackflow City had four stronghold cannons in total. Wei Bainian had utilized the Wei clan’s resources to get a hold of them during his time in office. His withdrawal tactics during the great war were also built around these cannons.
Qianye naturally couldn’t overlook the core of Blackflow City’s defenses and had to inspect it personally before he could rest easy. However, he couldn’t help but become alarmed when he gazed upon the cannon tower from afar—there were dozens of people working there, and the outer shell of the stronghold cannon had been unloaded to reveal the machinery within. Moreover, it looked like many of the internal components had been removed.
The stronghold cannon was different from ordinary tanks and trucks. Its construction was exceptionally complex and not something ordinary mechanics could handle, especially since many of its internal components were sealed together as modules for ease of maintenance. Entire modules would normally be swapped out during repair, allowing them to complete the process in the absence of a high-ranking machinist. The price for this was its great cost since entire modules would need to be switched out even if a small component was damaged.
Qianye looked carefully and found that it wasn’t just a couple of modules that had been removed; some of the modules had even been opened. One had to know that the weapons manufacturers had installed anti-tampering mechanisms in order to prevent imitation. The components installed within would be completely destroyed unless the modules were opened with a special method.
Now that these modules had been opened, the cannon was as good as scrap.
Qianye was shocked out of his wits and immediately hopped onto the cannon tower. “Hold on! What are you doing?!”
The technicians on the platform were all those whom he recognized. One of them looked up at him—it was actually Percy!