Hearing those words left Jiang Chen's jaws slack. That piece of news was one of the last things he would've expected. A secret realm with treasure? And the Veranda's master wanted to keep its treasures entirely to himself?
Jiang Chen peered into the man's eyes for a long while. There was no hint of duplicity there. In other words, the captive was probably telling the truth as he knew it. As for whether that was the actual truth, that was another matter. The man was just an underling. He was unlikely to be privy to any important or hidden information.
However, Jiang Chen surmised that it was more likely to be slightly inaccurate rather than outright false. This man was a second level emperor realm cultivator. He was someone strong enough to be a decision-maker, even in the Great Scarlet imperial family. So, did that mean the supposed cultivation breakthrough was just an act? Was a struggle over treasure at the heart of all this?
The revelation astonished Jiang Chen. How daring was this Veranda master, huh? What a monstrous appetite he had! He was planning to keep the treasure all to himself??
But there were still a few things the young man couldn't understand. If the Veranda's master really had found a secret realm filled with treasure all his own, why had he invited so many protectors? Didn't that increase the risk of him getting found out? Or did he think that his cultivation breakthrough was a good enough excuse to bluff to the world with?
If the latter, then his plan had been a thorough failure. It wasn't just the imperial family who was involved now, but a local third-ranked Scarlet Parting Sect as well. This made for two factions in the open, with more likely in the wings.
Jiang Chen brooded a moment, but couldn't quite put all the threads together. He couldn't fully analyze the problem. He didn't have time to do more though. He could only take one step at a time and proceed with caution.
"There's a formation blocking the path up ahead," he declared. "If you don't have an accomplice nearby, then you wouldn't have been able to head on through yourself. Who is your accomplice?"
"Ah, whatever," the man sighed in exasperation. "With things as they are right now, I don't think I can be blamed for selling out a friend. The strongest of the four protectors, Ole Zhang, is also the imperial family's man. I don't think the outside world knows about this though."
Ole Zhang? Jiang Chen had paid attention to the list of protectors a while back. Ole Zhang was the most famous of the twelve, and certainly the highest in terms of cultivation level. He was a whopping sixth level emperor realm expert! Even Elder Gao of the Scarlet Parting Sect was a hair inferior to Ole Zhang.
"How many has the imperial family sent?" Jiang Chen asked once more.
"I'm just one of their many dogs," the man smiled wryly. "Do you think I know everything? I'm following orders, no more than that. I was supposed to come here and contact Ole Zhang."
Jiang Chen nodded, then asked a few questions about their communication techniques and things of note. He was exhaustive in his questioning.
"Friend, I've been very cooperative with you," the man could not resist commenting after the fact. "You're not going to…"
"You're a dog of the Great Scarlet Empire, yes? I won't kill you myself, but I guarantee that you will die."
The man blanched instantly. He hadn't noticed at the time, and his realization that the young man's oath had a hidden clause came too late. With a snap of his fingers, Jiang Chen called out the Rat King.
"Ole Gold, you and your brethren have done well today. I'm leaving this guy as food for you."
The Rat King was overjoyed at the turn of events. An emperor realm cultivator was quite nutritious indeed. Goldbiter Rats ate anything and everything. Every part of a second level emperor realm cultivator was beneficial to them, from flesh and blood to marrow and tendon.
Jiang Chen didn't lie idle himself, either. He immediately began to disguise himself as the Rats' unfortunate victim. It took less than fifteen minutes for the process to be complete.
"This is like finding a pillow when you feel sleepy," The Goldbiter Rat King laughed ingratiatingly. "Now you can get past that formation in the easiest way possible."
"You did very well today." Jiang Chen nodded. "If there's an opportunity later, I'll give you another reward."
Because of his disguise, Jiang Chen was able to walk about in the open with impunity. Before long, he came to the corner of the formation that Ole Zhang stood at. Because he had familiarized himself ahead of time with their communications and its finer points, the old man didn't suspect a thing.
"Go on ahead and find a good place to hide. I will send out a secret order to gather together after everyone else arrives. Remember, don't wander off. It's not just the imperial family's cultivators who came in here this time. The Scarlet Parting Sect, the Sky Eagle Sect, and the Myriad Buddha Sect have their men snooping around as well." Ole Zhang issued a helpful warning.
Jiang Chen secretly found it funny, but nodded in apparent agreement to the command.
"Go on." Opening up a corner of the formation, Ole Zhang let Jiang Chen in.
Considering his prior difficulties with the formation, Jiang Chen hadn't expected the solution to be this easy. Naturally, he didn't care much about Ole Zhang's advice. He had only one goal in mind, and that was to rescue Wei Xing'er as soon as possible.
Besides that, he also intended to investigate the treasure at the cause of the earthen pulse. An earth attribute treasure was exactly what he needed. It would be an amazing prize if he could somehow conveniently snag it.
But he didn't let himself get carried away by his current bit of smooth sailing. He knew full well that the imperial family was only one of the factions with its eyes on the Resplendent Emerald Veranda's master. There were three third rank factions who shared that stance. Ole Zhang had admitted Jiang Chen, and the other agents within could do the same.
The Veranda master's lifetime of cleverness has been mucked up by this moment of stupidity. He thinks that he can use money to buy these four protectors over, but in actuality, all of them are secretly plotting against him. His impression of the man worsened greatly.
Just as Jiang Chen had guessed, several others had been let in as well. He easily noticed them on his way further in. Despite their skillful concealments, his immeasurably powerful consciousness captured all of their positions. His senses were keen enough to find even great emperors if they weren't particularly well-hidden.
However, he didn't find it likely that they would attack him. No one would want to show themselves given the current state of affairs.
Jiang Chen quickly found a private place of his own, and sent out a horde of Goldbiter Rats in every direction to search. At the same time, he used a tracking method to attempt to find where Wei Xing'er was.
He found her approximate location without much delay. Just as the Goldbiter Rat King had said, there was a system of caves hidden deep within the mountain. It was a dark and lightless place. Jiang Chen wasn't in a rush to barge in, instead relying on a swarm of Goldbiter Rats to scout the way.
Rats were born diggers. There was plenty of feedback before long. The system of caves opened up into an underground city. There were structures of all stripes here, all sorts of alien, exotic, or just flat out weird building styles.
Under the guidance of the rat king, Jiang Chen quickly made his way into the city proper. The buildings here definitely showed their age and were veritably ancient.
"Young master Chen, this place is weird. Why did the Resplendent Emerald Veranda master pick a place like this to break through? I think there's something we don't know," the Goldbiter Rat King said.
"Never mind that, we need to find Wei Xing'er first." Jiang Chen had a feeling that he was getting closer and closer to her.
"Oh, there's news from up ahead." The Rat King's descendents had managed to scout up fresh information. "There's a prison area here full of women. More than a hundred of them, by the looks of it.
"All of them are fairly young.
"Wei Xing'er is here too, but there's someone watching her."
Tidbits of intelligence streamed in from the rodents.
"Let's go see, then." Jiang Chen had a clear advantage when exploring deep underground. The Goldbiter Rat King made way ahead of him with ease, and his Bewitching Lotus of Ice and Fire also excelled at burrowing.
These amenities allowed him to tunnel to the area Wei Xing'er was being kept in in only moments. However, she wasn't in the best of shapes. She was barefoot with shackles around her ankles. Her expression was completely wooden.
There was an altar not far from her. Around it were all kinds of deviant devices that gave off a sinister, bizarre aura. The Resplendent Emerald Veranda master sat cross-legged beside it, a half-smile hanging on his lips. He seemed lost in meditation, and gave off the same feeling as the inanimate objects beside him.
"After all these years, Cui Yu, you're finally revealing your true colors. Did you keep me around this long just for this?" Wei Xing'er jabbed at him mockingly.
The Resplendent Emerald Veranda's master's name was Cui Yu. His eye twitched, but his face remained expressionless. "Wei Xing'er, I admit that you have reasonable skill. Too bad you can't say the same for your luck. That's right, the reason I kept you around all these years was to bring you here. Only here can your life take on a new, higher meaning."
"Stuff it with your drivel. Cui Yu, I don't care about what you're trying to do, but I'd rather die than be a cultivation cauldron for you!" Wei Xing'er began to loudly protest.
"Hmm?" The master blinked, then exhaled serenely. "So you knew about it? I must've underestimated you, huh."
"Me and everyone else in Great Scarlet Capital. We all know that you cultivate with a vile and heinous method that uses living humans as its cauldrons. Even if you prevail today, Cui Yu, you'll become infamous and die a horrible death. After I die, I'll haunt you for eternity as a malevolent ghost!" She bit off her words.
"Hahaha, do you think I'm scared of ghosts? Me, a cultivator? The throne of the Great Scarlet Mid Region is at hand. Do you think your accusations of infamy will matter? History is written by the victors. It's just too bad that you won't be there to see my victory. Your destiny has already been sealed as a mere stepping-stone. Hahahaha…"
In his pride, the Veranda master began to cackle. Suddenly, his ears picked up something in the air. With a frown and a "hmm", he glared into a section of empty air.