The conferment of a landed title involved strict rules. Ranks below that of an honorary count could be gained by paying military contributions, but these were empty titles with no land and couldn’t be inherited. Titles related to land, even viscounts, had to follow strict laws regarding title, inheritance, and authority.
This was especially true for a regional noble title since they wouldn’t downgrade over generations. Each of them had to be carefully selected and not conferred randomly. The recipient of such titles would always have to pioneer new land at the beginning of their careers. The price for such a hereditary title was that they would have to hold their land or risk having their titles revoked.
Song Zining was planning to build a high-ranking aristocratic family on his own! If that was Song Zining’s plan, then what of Qianye? Lan Xincheng thought of something that caused his heart to skip a beat. Could he be planning to build a kingdom? The Great Qin wasn’t the only monarchy in the realm.
Lan Xincheng’s eyes darted over Qianye and Song Zining. He deftly removed any thought he had before—he could only feign ignorance since the other party wasn’t planning to say anything out loud. Qianye’s relationship with the Empire was rather delicate, and there were too many powers related to him. As a soldier and not a politician, Lan Xincheng knew that getting involved meant nothing good.
As for Song Zining’s three demands, there seemed to be a fair number of openings in them. Qianye had announced that he wouldn’t be limited by the Empire, but Song Zining planned to remain within the system.
Border nobility was a special position. After claiming this title, Song Zining would formally become a member of the Empire’s upper echelon. At the very least, his status would give him the right to certain secrets. At the same time, border nobles could expand their private armies without limitations and expand their land outwards. They could even request help from the Imperial forces when required.
Requesting this title could be considered an extremely smart move. It looked like the Empire wasn’t losing anything tangible, but from a different perspective, it meant that all the land claimed would have to be recognized. Even if it was just for their face, the Imperial clan would not allow other powers in the Empire to invade Song Zining without good reason.
Hence, the value of this title would depend on Song Zining himself. This seventh young master, who had been considered the future god strategist of the Empire, had fully proven his ability with his miraculous accomplishments.
Lan Xincheng came to understand that Song Zining’s demands were all interconnected and that there was no space for negotiations.
There was one point that he wasn’t clear about. What were the corvettes for? These airships were fast and versatile, but the glaring flaw was their inferior defense and range. They could only follow the fleet and perform very little on their own. This was especially true in long-range battles because their flight range was limited. That was why destroyers were the main fighting force in fleet battles.
That was also the reason why Lan Xincheng was confident that he could hand over these airships even on the eve of a major battle in the void. Corvettes simply had no place in the battle outside of the void continent.
Lan Xincheng was happy to agree since Song Zining was insistent and the demand wasn’t unacceptable. As an important member of the military, the general was able to access a lot of information and had studied Qianye and Song Zining’s battles. Their accomplishments, which went against all common sense, proved one thing—their true combat strength was far above what they had on paper.
Since that was the case, Lan Xincheng decided to clench his jaws and agree to everything. The next step was to proceed with the handover of the airship. Fang Zhang and Dark Flame would see to the necessary procedures. Lan Xincheng would return to the Empire in due haste and report Song Zining’s demands for participating in the war.
In the days that followed, Song Zining picked out some mercenaries who had experience as airship crew, and Qianye transferred a batch of sailors and Highbeards from the Martyr’s Palace to accompany the handover of the warship.
By the time Fang Zhang’s airship took to the air, Qianye said to Song Zining, “Are we really going to take part in this war?”
“You’ve already decided that we would, haven’t you?”
Qianye remained silent for a while. “I was a bit hesitant. Most importantly, we’re not sure if the plan was really devised by Marshal Lin.”
“It can’t be wrong. Only Lin Xitang can produce a plan perfectly encompassing all the powers of the Empire. Prince Greensun would’ve lost his patience long ago and charged over to duel the dark race experts. Other people might be able to imitate such a plan, but it wouldn’t be as grand or as detailed. This plan gives off a feeling of perfection. War is an art… turns out Teacher Zhang Jing didn’t lie to me.”
Song Zining’s evaluation was fairly serious at first, but his last words relaxed Qianye’s frown.
He said with a serious expression, “You can choose not to take part in this battle. You don’t owe the Empire anything, it’s the Empire that owes you. If you wanted to give back a bit, what you did in the Great Maelstrom is already more than enough. You have no idea what you did back there implies.”
Qianye smiled faintly. “I don’t feel like I owe them, nor am I trying to make up for anything. I’m doing things that I feel like I should, or perhaps I want.”
Song Zining remained silent.
“Will you take part in the battle?” Qianye inquired.
“Of course I have to. A border title isn’t so easily obtained, so I’ll have to put in a bit of effort at least. One has to know that the Empire hasn’t conferred new titles below duke rank since the pioneering ended. Even people like Marshal Lin won’t be given such a role.” Song Zining was full of smiles.
Qianye couldn’t help but shake his head when he saw Song Zining’s love of money and power. The gloominess in his expression dispersed somewhat.
Song Zining said, “Disregarding everything else, having me command one of their routes will reduce casualties by a big margin.”
Qianye nodded. “Well, if you’re going to war, then how can I not?”
Song Zining shot Qianye a glance but decided not to keep pushing this problem. “There’s one important factor. Are you going to bring the Martyr’s Palace into battle?”
Qianye said, “The first battle is crucial, so we must use it. The vessel is gradually integrating with me right now, so it’s impossible for anyone to take it away.”
Song Zining frowned for a good while. “Fine, let’s bring it before the eyes of the world. If we contribute greatly to the war, the Empire cannot rob you by force. Besides, even if someone is that greedy, they’re likely to fail. There are a lot of people in the Empire who are willing to help you.”
Those last words puzzled Qianye. There were of course some people who were willing to help him, but that would depend on the nature of the problem and the method of helping. When it came to profits, people would be either hesitant or move in full force. It was useless talking about this at the present stage.
However, Song Zining only spoke half the words and would keep things mysterious most of the time. Qianye couldn’t be bothered to play this game with him.
Since they had planned to join the war, Dark Flame’s focus had to be shifted accordingly. Song Zining started recruiting ship crew and cannoneers across the entire neutral lands. At the same time, he started absorbing experienced mercenaries. He also brought out the equipment left behind by the Imperial forces and started equipping the current soldiers.
Ground forces were also highly important since they would need to hold their ground for a while after getting a foothold. Mercenaries from the neutral lands possessed strong individual fighting power, but they were inferior in terms of organization.
The forces on the void continent were elites. Their individual fighting power was on par with the mercenaries from the neutral lands, but their discipline and command were far better than a bunch of ragtags who hadn’t fought in a large scale war before.
Song Zining had to make up for this gap by strengthening the soldiers’ discipline within a short time. Dark Flame soldiers had obtained special training before attacking Tidehark City, and many of the veterans had survived the war. Song Zining would use these veterans as a foundation to expand Dark Flame continuously, training them day and night.
Qianye was given a special mission to visit the Thunderfrost Temple.
Qianye shared a connection with Caroline of the Thunderfrost Temple, and her support had helped him through many crucial battles. Dark Flame’s biggest weakness in this expedition was that they had no divine champion to oversee them. Although Qianye was strong enough to go toe-to-toe with a divine champion, he would still be in danger when facing one.
Qianye had agreed to help her procure a piece of land, and this war was the best opportunity to fulfill his due. At the very least, the Empire wouldn’t interfere if she were to occupy a remote piece of land in the future. Otherwise, just a representative of the Empire could topple a small country like that.
Song Zining asked Qianye to make use of this connection to enlist Caroline’s help.
Caroline wasn’t the only divine champion in Thunderfrost Temple. Reportedly, she had a brother who was far stronger than herself. If he could gain the help of the temple, at the very least, Southern Blue would be safe while they were away.
Qianye rose into the air from atop the Dark Flame headquarters. He shot through the clouds, out of the continent’s protective barrier, and into the Martyr’s Palace.
The Dragonship turned about slowly and flew into the depths of the void.
In just half a day, the dragonship appeared near a continent shrouded in silver. This continent was much smaller than the Eastern Sea and barely had a protective barrier. Because it was at an angle away from the sun, the weather was frigid, and the land was covered in snow.
Qianye stopped the Martyr’s Palace above the continent and jumped down like a comet.
Snow and ice were everywhere on the continent. The winds cut like blades, and fist-sized hail would whistle past from time to time. Getting hit by hail was no different from being smashed with a rock. Ordinary people simply couldn’t stand it.
Through the air, Qianye saw a tall mountain surrounded by steep precipices and strong gales.
Qianye turned and flew toward the peak. The mysterious Thunderfrost Temple of legends was situated on that mountain top.
The powerful cold winds blew Qianye toward the mountaintop. He adjusted his posture quickly, spreading his arms and legs to attach himself to the cliffside like a spider.
There was a small mountain road nearby, but it was so deeply covered in snow that one could hardly see that it was a path.
Qianye couldn’t be bothered to follow the path, so he simply climbed up along the cliff. The snowstorms around the mountain might be lethal to ordinary experts, but it was nothing to Qianye and his ancient vampire constitution. He moved up nimbly like a spider and arrived at the peak after a short while.
The summit was a different world on its own.
There was no wind, snow, or hail here, but it was covered in deep blue ice that was countless years old. Qianye’s reflection bounced off the many icy pillars, projecting his image in dozens of locations.
The world here was so beautiful that it felt stifling, but the temperature was despairingly low. Even Qianye could feel the chill invading his body. Roughly calculated, the temperature here was probably a hundred and fifty degrees below zero. Even steel would turn brittle in such coldness—there was no way ordinary creatures could survive.
Strands of beautiful light would drift across the sky, each of them dying the frozen peak in brilliant colors. However, these beautiful ribbons of light were extremely dangerous. They were brought about by void origin power seeping through the weak space, and they could easily turn into a spatial rift.
There was a temple of ice at the center of all the beauty and danger, with its twelve giant pillars glistening brightly under the sun. The icy palace was almost a hundred meters tall and housed an icy bulrush flower atop it. Qianye had no idea what it meant, but he could feel an ancient intent rushing at his face!