Tianming wanted to ask Sovereign Starfeather about it, so he had to go to the wondersky realm. The sovereign had operated the Kilostar Capital for ages, so he would definitely know more about divine astralships than Tianming. If that didn't work, he could ask Sovereign Brightscorch about it since there was no way he would refuse a meeting.
Apart from using the Divine Sun Palace, Long Wanying didn't know what the enemy could be up to. With Yin Chen, no plans or plots would work out for the orderians and the conflict could no longer be fought behind dark curtains. It was a competition of whose arsenal was larger; it didn't matter if the enemy learned of one's guns if they were outgunned to begin with.
Tianming went to a separate hall and used the heavenly locus formation to enter the wondersky realm. He went to Soulburn Hall; Feiling hadn't been there in quite a while. While he missed her, it was urgent, so he reached out to Old Master Shengui right away, who just so happened to be in the wondersky realm. He showed up in an instant.
"What's the matter, young friend?"
"I have an urgent question for the sovereign. Can you see if he's free to come? This can’t wait! Thank you in advance!" Tianming said in one go.
"No problem. Wait a bit." Shengui knew it must be a serious matter, so he hurried to the Kilostar Capital in the real world. Tianming didn't have to wait more than fifteen minutes for the sovereign to show up.
"What’s the matter, Tianming? I wanted to ask you whether your voyage was successful."
Tianming asked about divine astralships as clearly as he could.
"You're talking about a backup formation core, right?" Sovereign Starfeather said.
"Does such a thing exist?"
"Of course. However, there's pros and cons to them. If the formation core of the ship is stolen, the backup core can be used, so the divine astralship would still be able to function. However, having more than one core means that more than one person would be the ship's caretaker, which might lead to internal conflict. As such, the Kilostar Capital only has one core."
"Are there many divine astralships with dual cores?"
"Not many. Based on my talks with other sovereigns at the Astraldome, about a fifth of ships have backup cores, essentially replicas of the original astralship core. They’re forged over generations, thanks to their complicated divine celestial patterns. The subsequent generations have to perfect the cores over and over again until they're complete."
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Tianming had his answer now.
"Is the matter related to that?" the sovereign asked.
"My seniors are in conflict with some other faction, so I took an astralship core and tossed it into the deep cosmic aether. They don't have other divine astralships. But after years of dormancy, they suddenly decided to attack us, so we feel that something’s off."
"If that's the case, you should consider the possibility of there being a backup core.
"Understood! Thank you, Sovereign. I have to head back as there's no time!"
Tianming thanked him again before hurriedly leaving. As Sovereign Starfeather had talked with other sovereigns at the Astraldome, his knowledge was no doubt rather reliable. For there to be such a specific figure like one-fifth of astralships meant that it wasn't just a random guess without basis. Tianming immediately reported what he knew to the others who were waiting for him.
"One-fifth! Even if there's an 80% chance that the sun emperor doesn't have a backup core, we have to be prepared for it nonetheless. Tianming, what’s the situation near the Divine Sun Palace like now?"
"There’s quite a few bodies there, so I'm having Yin Chen move for better coverage. But right now, the Divine Sun Palace is dormant."
"Got it." Long Wanying took a deep breath and continued, "Everyone, here's the facts. Even if we guessed the possibility of a backup core in time, we have no way to counter it and can only do our best to defend against it. We still have to deploy the Ninedragon Imperial Tomb to fend off the attack on the Land of Three Skies."
In other words, Tianming would have to go to battle either way. Guessing was one thing, but there would be no path to victory if the Land of Three Skies was taken.
"All we can do is constantly keep an eye on the Divine Sun Palace. Once it activates, we'll immediately retreat and give up on the Land of Three Skies. No matter how fast a divine astralship is, there's no way it can travel at full speed on the surface of a star. The Ninedragon Imperial Tomb will be able to make it back in time. If the sun emperor really has a backup core, he wouldn't be able to predict that we'd immediately be notified of the Divine Sun Palace's departure," Tianming said.
There was still a risk of whether they could retreat during the delay it took for the Divine Sun Palace to arrive. The Ninedragon Imperial Tomb was quite a fast transport. As long as all the troops could be loaded back into it before the Divine Sun Palace reached the Land of Three Skies, retreat was still possible.
As the existence of the backup core was just a guess, they still stood a winning chance. Tianming and the rest were unable to give up on the three continents and let them go the way of the Azurecloud Continent. While the retreat from the Azurecloud Continent had been a success, they’d still had to leave behind lots of people who were now living in a hellscape. Just because the top sects from that continent had managed to leave didn't change the fate of the continent itself.
This was Tianming's first time leading a war effort, so he had to take certain risks for survival. He would also have to pilot the astralship.
"Don't worry, Aunt Ying. While the Ninedragon Imperial Tomb might no longer be a competitive edge, we aren’t without other means. I trust that we'll be quick enough," Tianming said."Alright."
The Saintdragon Emperor said, "Very well, to battle!" He would be going with Tianming to the battlefield with sixty million troops, a third of which would be made up of Ninedragon Army soldiers. The other forty million would be fourth-level constelliers or above from the third- and fourth-rate sects, all of them elites.
"This army of sixty million will be split into two. One will stop the wargodeans and Blueblood Starocean where they’ll pass through. The other will go to the main battlefield and reinforce the main sects of the three continents."
As those sects weren’t gathered together, the troops would have to split again. For any sect, they could simply leave with caeli, divine artifacts, pills, and resources, but things like mines, defensive formations, historical legacies, and the handiwork of their ancestors couldn't be brought away. Those were likely to be lost forever once the area was conquered. For these five sects in particular, retreating without a fight wasn’t an option, so it would be a fight to the death. It was crucial that the Divine Sun Palace be monitored throughout the battle.
Before Tianming set out, he had a large number of Yin Chens gather near the Divine Sun Palace, as well as areas it would have to pass through in a straight line to reach the Land of Three Skies.
The Ninedragon Imperial Tomb was already finished preparing as well. The sixty million troops Tianming had picked were all elite constelliers, whose average age was four hundred. They were in the peaks of their lives, still relatively young yet with a lot of battle experience. Apart from the twenty million Ninedragon Army soldiers, the others were elites from many other sects who all had some degree of grudges against the celestial orderians.
A few days back, Tianming already had a drill on boarding the divine astralship. While they would have to squeeze, they efficiently organized themselves. The Ninedragon Army had extended their organizational structure to include the other forty million troops, forming them into cohesive units. Even if they weren't as organized as a proper army, they were no less willing to fight. That was why Tianming dared to take them to the battlefield himself.
This was a large-scale war across an entire star that included tens of millions of troops, not a small-scale battle between nations of a mortal world. It was a grand face-off between the celestial orderians and the new alliance. The enemy had three hundred million trained soldiers, while the Myriaddragon Mountains had less than half that number—around a hundred and twenty million or so—but that number could still grow.
With the 'new' Xuanyuan Dragon Sect under Tianming's control, it was the basis upon which he could build his future empire. It also represented his first conflict against a sovereign-class figure, so winning was imperative. To prepare for the fight, he put all his attention into preparation, never taking a single break and constantly sorting through Yin Chen's reports, making plans to react. He couldn't afford any mistakes, as each could cost tens of thousands of lives. While the sun emperor might not care for such numbers, Tianming couldn't be the same.
"Depart!" Tianming piloted the ship using the formation. The warriors behind him were ready to fight to their deaths. "Even if there's only a 20% chance that the sun emperor has a backup core, I think it's likely, given that he's confident enough to press the attack," Tianming said.
"It's still a fight we can't avoid," the Saintdragon Emperor said.