Everyone was taken aback. Gu Sanzheng asked, "What are you planning?"
"You'll know once you try it!" Miao Yi gave a simple retort, then turned his dragon steed to the left and rushed off on his own.
Everyone looked towards Gu Sanzheng. After a moment of hesitation, he too turned his Crystal-Armored Hurricane Beast to the right and charged off alone, under the worried gazes of Tan Lao and Ye Xin.
"Trying to escape separately?" Behind them, Bai Ziliang scoffed. He looked back and yelled, "I'll go after that little rascal! The rest of you go after Gu Sanzheng. Ignore the ones in the middle for now!"
He still didn't know what Miao Yi's name was. This fueled his frustration even further.
Bai Ziliang was worried that they wouldn't split up. As long as they weren't together, he had no reason to fear facing Miao Yi on his own. He strongly believed that the rest would have no problem handling a single Gu Sanzheng as well.
The Tempest Beast quickly turned as Bai Ziliang rushed after Miao Yi. Meanwhile, the people behind him headed straight for the lone Gu Sanzheng.
"What's going on?" At the back, Ba Jie and the others were a little dumbfounded. Why did they split up all of a sudden?
Kong Zhi asked, "Are we going to go after Bai Ziliang, or should we go after the biggest group?"
"If we catch up to Bai Ziliang, will you be able to take him down?" Ba Jie pointed towards the crowd and said, "We'll go after that young miss."
Obviously, he was referring to Lan Susu's group. However, everyone felt it was odd hearing those words coming from his mouth. Their expressions twitched as they considered the idea of a group of monks chasing after a young lady...
As he continued to flee from his pursuers, Miao Yi kept turning his head back to look. When he saw Bai Ziliang coming after him on his own, he couldn't help revealing a bitter expression on his face. Earlier on, he wasn't sure who was more important to Bai Ziliang—him or Gu Sanzheng (Niu Youde). But from the looks of it, it seemed as though Bai Ziliang would much rather give up on 'Niu Youde' than let him go!
All I did was destroy one of your artifacts. Do you really need to be so persistent and come after me so relentlessly in this forbidden area?
At first, he assumed that Bai Ziliang would at least be slightly apprehensive of this forbidden area. But alas, his hopes were dashed.
Unfortunately, when the tiny mantids were in the middle of breaking open the gourd artifact, Bai Ziliang noticed the discrepancy and managed to figure out what was happening inside. After that, he almost strangled Miao Yi and the others to death with the iron chains. Otherwise, Miao Yi could have destroyed the gourd artifact undetected. After all, he wasn't the only one trapped inside.
Miao Yi quickly turned his dragon steed around and headed back towards Zhao Fei and the group. At the same time, he readied a tiny mantid in his hand.
Alas, despite the outstanding performance of the tiny mantids all this while, it seemed that they were quite fearful of the intense heat. Miao Yi could feel their apprehensiveness. He instantly discarded the idea of having the tiny mantids sacrifice themselves to launch a sneak attack on Bai Ziliang and his forces, quickly storing them back into his storage ring.
Following their original plan, both Miao Yi and Gu Sanzheng returned to the group. Gu Sanzheng looked at Miao Yi with astonishment. At this point, anyone could tell that Miao Yi was the one Bai Ziliang was truly after. Gu Sanzheng also understood that Miao Yi was simply trying to probe Bai Ziliang's intentions just then.
Having chased after separate targets for a short while, Bai Ziliang eventually regrouped with the rest. They were all a little confused as to what Miao Yi and the others were trying to pull.
"What are these people doing? Are they trying to prank us?" To the back, Ba Jie also felt like he'd just been taken for a fool.
As they ventured deeper into the hard, blackened wasteland, they came across more and more jagged, towering hills. It was as though they had run into a forest of stone, and their speed was greatly affected by this change in terrain. In addition, the incline was becoming increasingly steeper. In the distance, a tall mountain loomed over the horizon.
The closer they got to that mountain, the hotter it became. As the dragon steeds galloped, the rubble kicked up from the ground instantly turned into sparks. It was quite a spectacular sight to watch as a whole group of dragon steeds from front to back kicked up sparks under their hooves.
Miao Yi had a serious expression on his face, as though he was debating about something. No one knew what he was thinking about.
"I really can't hold on much longer!" Pi Junzi voiced out again. His tone seemed incredibly pained.
Fear was also evident on Tao Ruchun's face. He too was close to his limits.
When he heard this, Miao Yi seemed to have finally made up his mind. He turned back and said, "Gu Sanzheng. They won't be able to hold on much longer if they have to keep taking care of their dragon steeds. Let the four of them ride on your Crystal-Armored Hurricane Beasts!"
Gu Sanzheng nodded. Tan Lao and Ye Xin waved their hands, and the three of them immediately brought their Crystal-Armored Hurricane Beasts next to Zhao Fei and the others.
Zhao Fei and Sikong Wuwei quickly jumped over and landed behind Gu Sanzheng, while Pi Junzi and Tao Ruchun landed behind Tan Lao. The latter group instantly felt better now that they no longer needed to take care of their dragon steeds.
"Harrumph…!" Everyone turned back and watched as the four dragon steeds neighed in agony after losing the transcendence energy's protection. They instantly caught fire and thrashed about within the blazing flames, before ultimately falling to the ground. It was a horrific sight to behold.
"Alliance Master, we really can't hold on much longer!"
"Alliance Master, we can't go on any further!"
This act had also shocked the forces behind them, as many Yao cultivators began pleading with their Alliance Master Pang Duo.
Pang Duo immediately shouted to Bai Ziliang, "Young Master, the ones with a lower cultivation are really at their limits!"
Even Bai Ziliang felt a chill in his heart at what just happened. He finally relented and said, "Those with a lower cultivation no longer need to continue the pursuit!"
When they received the order, a great number of Yao cultivators immediately came to a stop. They were sick and tired of this horrible place, and they began to head back. Only three Blue Lotus Ninth Grade cultivators—Pang Duo included—remained. Together with Bai Ziliang's original party of six, a total of nine riders continued chasing after Miao Yi and the others.
Ye Xin suddenly turned to look at Miao Yi. The space behind her was still vacant, and she was already riding right beside him. There was no time to be feeling reserved because of their gender differences. Ye Xin kept on waiting for Miao Yi to come over, but he simply put on a serious face, with no signs of jumping up to her at all.
Ye Xin thought he was worried about riding together with a woman, and so she yelled, "What are you still waiting for? Quickly get over here!"
However, Miao Yi simply turned to Gu Sanzheng and asked, "Can the Crystal-Armored Hurricane Beasts outrun Bai Ziliang's mount?"
Tan Lao answered on his behalf, "His mount is known as the Tempest Beast. Once it matures, it will be able to tread on clouds and mist. Even though it's still just an infant, its speed is not something our Crystal-Armored Hurricane Beasts can contend with."
Miao Yi asked, "When we were at sea, I noticed that spiritual beast was able to walk upon the waves, so how did you manage to outrun it then? Unless you guys bumped into Fairy Yue Yao right from the start?"
That didn't seem likely. If they had met Fairy Yue Yao from the beginning, he wouldn't have been able to catch sight of them still in a stalemate after being stuck inside the gourd for so long.
A flash of inspiration could be seen in Gu Sanzheng's eyes. He immediately said, "Tan Lao. Quickly, use your Great Art: Mystical Voice of Myriad Beasts to disorient it."
Tan Lao understood what he was aiming for. The plan was for him to use his beast-taming art to disorient the Tempest Beast while they took advantage of the Crystal-Armored Hurricane Beasts' speed to outrun all the other dragon steeds.
He laughed bitterly. "I've already disoriented it once. The other party already knows about this method. I fear it will no longer be effective."
Ye Xin yelled, "How will you know if you don't try?!"
Tan Lao resigned himself and readied his bronze-colored flute.
The melody of the flute resonated across the desolate wasteland. At times, it was woeful and sad; other times, it was sharp and powerful. "Roar!" Behind Miao Yi and the others, the Tempest Beast immediately roared out painfully, becoming restless and agitated. It had completely lost its bearings.
Seeing this, everyone revealed expressions of joy. Miao Yi's eyes also shone as though he'd seen a glimpse of hope. Suddenly, Bai Ziliang bent down and quickly stuffed something into the Tempest Beast's ears. After that, the Tempest Beast quickly calmed down and continued chasing after them.
Their faces contorted in shock as their hopes of outrunning Bai Ziliang were completely dashed.
Miao Yi grimaced as he slowly turned back to look ahead. Even that final glimmer of hope was lost now...
Even further behind, the ninety Yao cultivators were on their way back when they were stopped by a group of six monks standing in a row. When they saw Kong Zhi's mount, the Yao cultivators didn't dare to act rashly. Especially since Bai Ziliang had already informed them of Kong Zhi's identity beforehand.
The Yao cultivator in the lead greeted him and said, "Grandmaster Kong Zhi. Buddhism is all about compassion and forgiveness. I hope you will be merciful and let us go!"
Kong Zhi was incredibly troubled! The Sea of Constellations Subjugation Crusade was indeed unsuitable for Buddhist monks like themselves. That said, they couldn't simply let these people go, although it was contradictory to the Buddhist doctrine. After all, for all intents and purposes, they had come here under the pretense of exorcising evil. He turned to look at Ba Jie beside him.
"Amitabha!" Not only was Ba Jie dressed in a set of clean, white monk's robes, he also had a handsome appearance. As though he lamented for the entire realm, he clapped his hands together and sighed, "The Great Buddha indeed values compassion. He couldn't bear to see carnage run rampant in this Western Star Sea, which is why He sent us here to spread the word of peace! I can tell that all of you bear an overwhelming murderous aura. It disrupts the harmony of the realm! As long as one delivers oneself from the boundless sea of tribulations and repent, one will be able to reach salvation. As such, I urge you all to cast away your blades!"
The Yao cultivator in charge immediately nodded. "Grandmaster is right. We have already repented and were just about to leave."
How dare you try to play me for a fool! Ba Jie raised an eyebrow, and with clapped hands, said, "Since you've already repented, why not cast away those blades of yours that spread chaos? Everyone, please leave all your belongings behind, including the Geotranscendence Bangles on your wrists. Those are the evil roots of the Sea of Constellations Subjugation Crusade. They must be culled! How else will you all be able to repent if you don't rid yourselves of them?"
The Yao cultivator was slightly distraught, but still forced a smile and replied, "Grandmaster, this Geotranscendence Bangle is locked firmly onto our wrists, and can change its size according to the person. There's no way we can take it off!"
Ba Jie sighed, "Since you have decided to repent, why not display your resolve and cut the evil away at its roots? If you chop off your hand, you will naturally be able to take it off!"
The faces of the Yao cultivators' all twisted in shock. If they chopped off their hands, they could indeed take off the Geotranscendence Bangles. However, they had already implanted their unique art source signature inside. As long as the person in question was still alive, the indicator would not disappear on the astrolabe. Once the Geotranscendence Bangle was taken off, the indicator on the astrolabe would immediately change color, and the enforcers for the Subjugation Crusade would rush over to exact disciplinary action at the drop of a hat. That was the same as courting death! They were all notified of this in the jade archive handed down to them.
The Yao cultivator in charge asked in a somber tone, "Is Grandmaster trying to make things difficult for us?"
Ba Jie shook his head, "You've all fallen too deeply into the bogs of chaos and are still intent on being ignorant. It seems like you will not know how to repent unless we completely exorcise the evil from you!"
There were several Yao cultivators on the other side who were infuriated by Ba Jie's overbearing demands, and they barked out, "Cut the false benevolence act! In the end, all you want to do is rob us!"
"It's not the first time my intentions have been misunderstood. If you all insist that we're mistreating you, then so be it! As Buddha once said, 'If I am not the one to bear this sin, then who shall?!' " The gentle, compassionate expression on Ba Jie's face abruptly changed to one of mockery as he scoffed, "You guys really thought I was some kind of *clay idol. Let me tell you, as far as the six of us are concerned, peace and compassion were never in our books. The only thing we like to do is punish crooks!"
*clay idol: comes from the saying, 'a clay idol that crosses the river will not be able to save itself.'-- meaning helpless/a pushover