Old Man Clearcloud and the Silversand Cavalier traded a look. Jiang Chen's explanation didn't alleviate their concern one bit. According to what the young man was saying, Sir Miao was nothing more than a pawn. Even the Resplendent Emerald Veranda master wasn't likely to be the mastermind. If that was true, then no one who'd entered the mountain today could escape. If a mere pawn was this strong, wasn't the mastermind sure to be a hundred times moreso?
"What kind of ability is that demonic cloud? Getting close to it is enough for my consciousness to waver. My entire body feels uncomfortable because of it. It's like i'm suffocating."
"That's a long story and now is not the time. Just remember that you shouldn't be touched by the demonic cloud. Protect your consciousnesses well. The demonic cloud is one of the most aggressive abilities the demons have and belongs to an equally aggressive branch."
The demon race had many branches. The formation and usage of demonic clouds was a method that belonged to the blood demons. The blood demons were the most murderous and vicious of their brethren. The word 'blood' was in their name, and they loved exposing themselves to as much of it as possible. Copious amounts of slaughter was typically involved.
Back in the desolate wildlands, Jiang Chen had met both shadow demons and wood demons. Blood demons had been missing from that lineup. Meeting a nasty race like the blood demons here in Cloudshatter Mountain of Great Scarlet had been completely out of his expectations. If the demon emperor was allowed to awaken and consume all of these emperor realm cultivators, he would return to peak performance in no time. When that happened, even someone like Jiang Chen would be in great trouble.
"Alright, you two. This place has been locked down, but there's always a ray of hope in times of despair. We just have to look for it ourselves." Having said his piece, Jiang Chen disappeared into the distance without delay.
Old Man Clearcloud and the Silversand Cavalier exchanged another look, unsure of how to proceed.
"Silversand, my friend, I didn't expect the Veranda master to deceive us like this. We really put our foot in it this time." Old Man Clearcloud sighed. "If we escape with our lives intact, I won't meddle in any worldly affairs ever again."
"Let's hope there's a miracle," the Silversand Cavalier let out a dry laugh. "Our young friend was right, though. We need to find our own ray of hope. It's no use waiting around for one to simply appear."
"How are we supposed to look?" The old man was morose. "His words sounded like spurious nonsense. It's hard to make heads or tails of it. I think he might be exaggerating the danger we're in."
"I don't agree," the Silversand Cavalier shook his head. "If he means us ill, there's no need to do something as absurd as warning us. Someone of his abilities doesn't need us on his side. Since he neither means ill nor needs us, there's no reason for him to deceive us."
The cavalier was a bit smarter than the old man at the end of the day. "I've decided. I'm going to follow his lead and head inside to check things out. Only through information can there be a chance at life."
Old Man Clearcloud hesitated a moment, but didn't immediately agree. "Brother Silversand, further in means you'd be closer to the zone of trouble. Aren't you heading straight into the jaws of death?"
"The formation is sealed now," the Silversand Cavalier replied seriously. "If we can't leave, then there's not much of a difference how close we are to the center. If a demon emperor really is awakening, does it really make it safer to be a bit further away?"
Old Man Clearcloud looked shaky. "Better than putting yourself into the path of danger, no?"
"Not necessarily! If we all put in the work, perhaps we can stop the Veranda master as a collective. I believe that young man has left to do exactly that."
"Him?" The old man was still a bit upset when he spoke of the young man. "If he's so great, why didn't he invite us?"
"Maybe he doesn't care for our strength," the cavalier smiled wryly. The duo hadn't been able to help much in that last encounter.
"Hmph! He's just half-step emperor realm. If he didn't have so many treasures-from a prominent sect, no doubt-it wouldn't have been so easy for him to beat Sir Miao." Old Man Clearcloud harrumphed. "I think he has his own agenda."
The Silversand Cavalier disapproved of the old man's suspicion somewhat. "Old Brother Clearcloud," he frowned, "he did save our lives back there. It's rather ignoble for us to speak poorly of him behind his back."
Old Man Clearcloud was displeased. "Brother Silversand, if you're set on heading inside… then I'm sorry to say this, but I'm not going with you."
It was obvious to the cavalier that the two men had differing goals. He sighed softly, presenting his comrade with a cupped fist salute. "If so, then let's split here. In a sense, the Veranda master's task for us to serve as his protectors has ended early. There's no need for us to stick together any more."
The cavalier's tone was a bit chilly. He was clearly disgruntled by the old man's irresponsibility in the face of danger. Clearcloud was no different from the late Granny Goldneedle. He didn't have the courage to do some simple investigation, despite evidence of the demon race's resurgence. The old man's fame alone wasn't enough to make the cavalier respect him.
"Young master Chen, there's a secluded valley eighty miles southwest of here. There's a forest of stone there, and the pulse of the earth seems to have its origins around that area as well." The Goldbiter Rat King had some breaking news for his master.
Jiang Chen nodded. "Sounds good. Let's go there."
He had no time for delay. Soaring towards the direction the Rat King had informed him, he saw numerous cultivators in his flight. Some even tried to attack him, but the speed of the Kunpeng Meteoric Escape technique removed any possibility of their success.
It didn't take long at all for Jiang Chen to land near the forest of stone. The granite formation was imposing indeed and looked like a potential home for a tribe of giants. Each stone was grand in its own way, a blend of ruggedness and splendor. In this forest, the wonders of the natural world were evident. At the moment, there were roughly two hundred gathered here in the forest. All of them were emperor realm cultivators.
Jiang Chen didn't rush closer immediately, instead opting to hang far away on the outside. He was perfectly willing to approach, provided the two dozen emperor realm cultivators nearby made themselves scarce in the near future. As long as they were around, he would definitely be attacked.
It seems that these people are all here for the earth attribute treasure. The terrifyingly potent earthen pulse it generates marks it as something truly extraordinary. But what treasure is it, actually? Jiang Chen mused in curiosity.
He was certain now that the treasure really did belong to Great Scarlet Mid Region. It wasn't just some demonic trick. A pulse in the earth was not so easily faked. Even if this place had been the site of an ancient demon fort a long time ago, the treasure definitely also existed. Perhaps this truth was the foundation of the Veranda master's plot. Without it, how could he have drawn so many emperor realm cultivators here?
"Humans die for wealth, birds die for food." Jiang Chen watched the mad crowd of cultivators from the Great Scarlet Mid Region a long distance away, internally sneering. He felt no compassion for them. If there was the opportunity to do so, he would've liked to watch their slaughter in person. After all, many people here had participated in the invasion of Myriad Domain.
"These people are so fired up. Why is it that none of them suspects the Resplendent Emerald Veranda master?" Jiang Chen found that fact rather odd.
No matter how attractive a treasure was, the people gathered had ultimately followed the Veranda master's trail here. But the man in question was currently nowhere to be found. Was there not the slightest shred of doubt? Why were they behaving in such a frenzied manner?
Jiang Chen didn't know the precise origins of these experts, but there weren't many possibilities to choose from. The imperial family and the three sects, plus possibly a few extra wandering cultivators. Maybe a few others from the surrounding regions who'd caught wind of this. Without counting things out, he estimated that at least eight factions stood here today.
Unfortunately, these factions seemed to have reached consensus about not allowing anyone else to enter this place. The agreement involved collective expulsion of any latecomers. However, the formation outside Cloudshatter Mountain' closure meant that no one else had come into the valley. Thus, internal conflict began to intensify. Everyone wanted to take the first bite. They all wanted the best position. It quickly devolved into a shouting match.
"What right do you have to say that? What right does the Sky Eagle Sect have to take the most privileged position?"
"Exactly. We're in a fair competition here! You Sky Eagle Sect guys better be careful with that cocky swagger! The rest of us can very easily gang up on you."
"Hmph. And what do you think you're doing? You look pretty unfamiliar. You're not from Great Scarlet, are you? Why are you minding our region's business?" One of the experts from the Sky Eagle Sect stared coldly at the second speaker.
"Everyone, please listen! We of the Sky Eagle Sect have no intention of becoming a public enemy. But we are the first ones that got here, and I think we deserve a small edge because of that. It's not because we think we're superior to everyone else here. First come first served makes sense, no?"
The Sky Eagle Sect expert followed the speech up with a cupped fist salute. "These are my thoughts. The affairs of our Great Scarlet Mid Region should be settled only by the locals. The strongest sects here are the Sky Eagle, Myriad Buddha, and Scarlet Parting Sects. We three sects should therefore naturally take a leading position today. Don't you all agree?"
The speech was very persuasive. A few words were enough to dismantle the others' common hatred. Furthermore, it pulled the other two sects closer to their side and pushed away everyone else. The member of the Scarlet Parting Sect was placated and now agreed rather than opposed.
"Quite so. The Great Scarlet Mid Region is dominated by our three sects. Everyone else must either take our orders or leave!"
Someone from the Myriad Buddha Sect opened his mouth as well. "I suggest that we three sects join forces. We can clear out the riff-raff out with ease."
"Who're you calling riff-raff? We come as representatives of the imperial house. You three sects are strong, but are you stronger than the entirety of the empire?" Ole Zhang was talking now, the strongest of the protectors from back at the formation.
Jiang Chen had been able to pass because Ole Zhang had let him in. The old man was a peak sixth level emperor realm cultivator and a hair's breadth away from seventh.