The dispute here hadn’t yet come to an end when a loud noise was heard once more, and the distance seemed even closer. Clearly, the enemy forces were closing in.
Wu Daoyu’s expression fluctuated repeatedly, and the uneasiness in him grew by the minute. Just from listening to the sounds, one could tell that the dark races had fielded people at the level of an honored marquis, perhaps even a vice-duke. The situation on the frontlines was no doubt extremely critical. Yet, he had no choice but to remain here and bicker with Zhao Junhong—this feeling was inexplicably depressing.
At this moment, every moment wasted meant that the casualties on the front line would increase in severity. The defenders fighting there were Wu Daoyu’s lineal descendants and personal forces, the foundation of his status in the military. It would be a lie to say that he wasn’t feeling a heartache. Yet, Zhao Junhong was clearly not going to let this matter drop, and with both Prince Rui and Sun Chao present, he couldn’t storm off regardless of how dissatisfied he was.
Seeing no easy end to the debate, Sun Chao broke into a frown. He raised his hand to stop the two parties and said, “This official has come to a conclusion. There is not enough evidence to prove the Zhao clan’s collusion, this matter cannot be settled by a single party’s words. Zhao Jundu’s killing of a military major general, however, is verified. Even if this person was attempting to frame a superior, the crime itself does not warrant death. This matter shall be further investigated.”
Wu Daoyu’s expression sank somewhat, but this outcome was still within his expectations. “How about Qianye, then? Don’t tell me his vampire ident.i.ty can’t be confirmed?”
These words were rather unpleasant to the ears, but Sun Chao acted as though he didn’t hear anything and merely continued in his calm voice, “Qianye possesses a blood core, this is something many people saw. Moreover, he had trespa.s.sed a restricted area and seized the vampire princess. His crimes are unpardonable. Although he has since fled the empire, he cannot escape his punishment just like that. Since this matter had arisen from the military, the military shall take the lead to a.s.semble a team and chase down the fugitive. Does anyone have any objections? Oh right, during the operation, make sure to gather information on the mastermind behind him.”
This decision was right and proper. Although Sun Chao’s final words were quite harsh to hear, Wu Daoyu ultimately couldn’t point out what was wrong. He thus agreed to the verdict.
Zhao Junhong’s eyes lit up as he lowered his gaze with a calm expression.
Up next was Zhao Jundu’s case. Sun Chao said, “Zhao Jundu did kill a general, but the latter was also in the wrong. We are on the verge of war at the moment and thus everything will go according to priority. This investigation shall be delayed. The military department will terminate this hearing, allowing Zhao Jundu to return to the front lines and redeem himself with contributions. His punishment shall be decided on how much he had accomplished during the war. Does anyone have any objections?”
Wu Daoyu was just about to speak but, in the end, decided to swallow his words. Although he wasn’t exactly satisfied, he knew it was useless to keep Zhao Jundu locked up. Besides, even if he was punished, there was no way a princess’ son would be made to pay for a major general’s life with his own.
With the imperial family around, he would have to keep Zhao Jundu well fed and provided for—there was really no way he could do anything to this prisoner. Wu Daoyu didn’t quite have the courage to a.s.sa.s.sinate him, either. There was no way he would walk out of Indomitable alive if the Zhao clan were to find out.
From another point of consideration, he had already suffered enough hards.h.i.+p while defending Zhao Jundu’s sector. The dark races kept launching fierce attacks on his battlefront, pus.h.i.+ng him back repeatedly at every turn and piercing into the outskirts of Indomitable like a wedge.
This kind of a.s.sault could easily be countered if the Zhao clan private armies on either side were to flank the enemy. It would also lessen Wu Daoyu’s pressure. Yet, the Zhao clan had hunkered down without the slightest of movements. The dark races also seemed to know that the Zhao clan wouldn’t attack—they ignored the sides entirely and charged straight in with great arrogance.
Wu Daoyu criticized the Zhao clan many times, but they would always respond by saying that it wasn’t their defensive zone.
Everyone knew about the enmity between the Zhao clan and the Minister of the Right, represented by Wu Daoyu. All the aristocratic families understood the reason why the Zhao clan wasn’t moving their troops, hence everyone simply maintained a uniform state of silence.
Many of Wu Daoyu’s generals had fallen in the past seven days, including a third of his entire force. Morale was at an all-time low and might break down at any moment. Wu Daoyu had to oversee the battle personally many times and even join the battle in order to calm the situation. However, the defenses he had worked so hard to stabilize had been broken once again while he was busy wrangling here.
Seeing Wu Daoyu keep his silence, the other aristocratic families made no objection, either. All the leaders were busy thinking about the Ancestral Fortune Palace’s decision to let the military hunt Qianye down—was this a half-hearted measure or were they giving the military a chance to silence the target? Could it be that they wanted to follow the trail and find out who the real mastermind behind this matter was?
But who would’ve thought Zhao Junhong would stand up at this point. “This matter isn’t appropriate! Jundu is one of the pillars of the empire and a crucial factor in the upcoming war. If any scoundrel or corrupted minister can bring false charges against him, how is he to fight this war? The person trying to frame Jundu during these unusual times must have other motives and is very likely an Evernight spy. If killing such a person is a crime, won’t all the warriors of the empire feel disheartened?”
Wu Daoyu roared furiously, “Zhao Jundu is just a junior, how can he be considered crucial?”
Zhao Junhong sneered, “The defensive line never shrunk a single inch in Jundu’s hands, but it’s practically crumbling in yours. If you want to know why he’s crucial, that is the very reason!”
Wu Daoyu had nothing to say. The dark races would launch occasional a.s.saults when Zhao Jundu was in charge, but the true experts would always be intercepted by Duke You. The ex-marshal could barely hold out against experts capable of fighting on par with Duke You, hence his repeated defeats.
But how could he say that out loud?
Seeing that the two parties were about to start bickering again, Sun Chao raised his hands and stopped them from talking. “Since the Zhao clan has objections, then this official can no longer decide on this matter. I shall return to the capital right away and seek a verdict from my superiors. While this matter awaits a decision, Zhao Jundu shall remain in confinement and the military will be responsible for his defense sector.”
Wu Daoyu felt his vision grow dark and his hands turn cold. He had never imagined that this was the real trap.
The Zhao clan was clearly borrowing the dark race’s hand to bury all of his subordinate forces under the walls of Indomitable. At that time, Wu Daoyu’s wings would be clipped—although he still possessed his personal combat strength, his enemies would surely grasp the opportunity to rob him of his authority in the military. With his power gone, what was the use of being a divine champion?
Moreover, this utter defeat meant that his value to the Minister of the Right would diminish greatly. His dreams of regaining his marshal rank might very well remain a dream.
Sun Chao said nothing else. He stood up immediately and left for the airs.h.i.+p port with his subordinates. Apparently, he was going to rush back to the imperial capital to seek imperial instructions. Wu Daoyu wanted to chase after the man, but his footsteps faltered, knowing very well that nothing he would do could change the outcome and that it would only add to his embarra.s.sment.
Zhao Junhong arrived beside Wu Daoyu and accompanied the latter in watching Sun Chao’s receding figure. He then said in a leisurely manner, “Marshal Wu, Duke You is the one overseeing the entire battle around Indomitable. He has long since issued a strict order that whoever loses their defensive zone and allows the dark races to reach the city shall be punished by martial law. There’s less than half left of your defensive zone.”
Wu Daoyu snorted coldly. “This marshal answers to the military, there’s no need to heed Duke You’s orders.”
Zhao Junhong said indifferently, “Marshal Wu must be more familiar with the imperial martial law than I am. It’s just that if you dare resist when the time comes, the execution will extend to your nine generations.”
Wu Daoyu felt a chill creeping into his heart. Nonetheless, he wasn’t willing to allow a youngster to gain the upper hand. “If that day ever comes, I’ll make sure to drag you along.”
Zhao Junhong only smiled without making any comment. “Oh right, since the military has been tasked with hunting down the vampire Qianye, I must remind you to dispatch a sufficient number of experts. Otherwise, where will you hide your face if they all get wiped out? And where will the Minister of the Right hide his face?”
Wu Daoyu was startled. “How much do you know?”
Zhao Junhong laughed out loud. “How can I know anything? The place Qianye charged into was the military stronghold, you should know more than I do. Marshal Wu, take care!”
Wu Daoyu didn’t act up as he usually would as the scene of Li Fengshui’s corpse floated into his eyes.
The latter’s body was full of blood and his organs had been crushed to smithereens. Although the man was already wounded beforehand, only he himself knew the degree of his injury. This officer of the Fifth Central Command was extremely crafty and it was difficult to tell if his movements were fake or real. No one could say for sure if he was truly ever wounded.
If Li Fengshui was only lightly injured, and Qianye had managed to kill him despite the hostage situation, that would mean the vampire fugitive’s combat strength was fairly terrifying. Then, recalling how Qianye had actually escaped from right under his nose, Wu Daoyu’s expression grew ever more serious.
If he dispatched too few experts, it would be equal to sending them to their deaths. If he arranged for a lineup that was sure to win, it would drastically reduce his fighting power in Indomitable. If he were to somehow lose the defense line, the Zhao clan would surely cause trouble for him. Without a doubt, he would lose a layer of skin even if he managed to survive the ordeal.
He was now stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea with no good plan in mind.
At this point, Prince Rui walked over and said to Zhao Junhong, “You’ve grown up so much during this time. When I met you for the first time, you were still being breastfed, haha! Come, accompany for a drink.”
Zhao Junhong replied, “How can I refuse your excellency’s invitation?”
Seeing Prince Rui and Zhao Junhong leaving together, how could Wu Daoyu not know that the Ancestral Fortune Palace was here for the Zhao clan? He had made ample calculations but never expected that Qianye would be able to escape from right under his nose. Additionally, Zhao Jundu had seized this opportunity to pin the responsibility on him.
Suppressing Qianye was fine, but it was different for Zhao Jundu. Even the Minister of the Right himself wouldn’t be able to do anything against this Zhao clan young master in the current case.
A great plan was utterly defeated just like that. After much thought, the key factor lay in the imperial family’s change in att.i.tude. Wu Daoyu gave it some deeper thought and realized that the imperial family had tipped the scales merely by dispatching the Ancestral Fortune Palace and a single Prince Rui. The thought of this caused the old man to feel a bone-deep chill from the night breeze.
In a side-room within the Wei clan mansion, Wei Potian was bundled up in a cape and sleeping soundly. This chamber was shabby and cold, with no furnis.h.i.+ngs except for a table and some chairs, not even a stove for the depths of the cold night. There was a teapot and a crude porcelain cup sitting on the table, and the tea within the latter was already starting to frost over.
Such a crude environment was, of course, not the Wei clan heir’s bedroom but where he was kept under house arrest. He was only allowed to leave three times a day to visit the toilet and stretch his limbs.
The night was indeed chilly, but it could do little against the Thousand Mountains cultivator, Wei Potian. Wrapped in whatever he could find, the Wei clan heir was snoring as loud as a thunderstorm. Even the two tremors that alarmed the entire city of Indomitable couldn’t wake him up. It almost seemed like the man was determined to sleep until sunrise even if someone were shouting in his ears.
The doors to the room creaked open at this point and a mysterious silhouette flickered inside. The guards outside the door sensed nothing—they yawned repeatedly and soon fell asleep against a corner of the wall.
That shadow arrived beside Wei Potian’s bed and shook him. “Wake up.”