Imperial Prince Zhao far surpassed the Veranda master in martial prowess. Even though the latter had the initiative, the prince staunchly believed that things were still undecided. That advantage plus a few of his trademark treasures could very well be enough to turn the tables. At least to him, he was far from being at the end of his line. So what if the Resplendent Emerald Veranda master had succeeded in his plot against them?
For that plot to come to complete fruition, the Veranda master needed sufficient strength to back it up. As long as the prince had the upper hand on that front, he was unafraid of any plot from his adversary, no matter how dastardly.
While Prince Zhao and the Veranda master duked it out verbally, Jiang Chen roamed some more within the bounds of the formation. His goal was the earth attribute treasure found somewhere within. He didn't much care about the fight between the prince and the Veranda master.
However, being trapped within the formation of fog was a death sentence for Imperial Prince Zhao and company. The master of the Resplendent Emerald Veranda suddenly cackled ominously.
"Don't look around like that, brat! I never thought that you would create the only chink in the curtain of my perfect plan."
Everyone was confounded by the sudden declaration. They didn't quite understand why the Veranda master had made such a baseless comment.
Only Jiang Chen knew that he was the target. Laughing softly, he responded with indifference. "I'm impressed with your ambition, Cui, and also your cunning. But have you considered that our current differences are completely reconcilable?"
Jiang Chen's words shocked the audience once more. Even Imperial Prince Zhao didn't know what to say. He deployed an eye ability with utmost force in the youth's direction, struggling to confirm whether the new speaker really was his subordinate 'Little Chen'.
Ole Zhang was just as confused as the prince. "What are you talking about, Little Chen?"
"I'm not really him," Jiang Chen smiled faintly. "The real 'Little Chen' is already dead."
"Really?" Old Zhang blinked. "Who are you, then?"
The prince's brow furrowed. "Kid, you dare lay a hand on a servant of the royal family?!"
"Royal family, hmm?" Jiang Chen's detached tone continued. "Is that something impressive or important? If that's so, why are you locked up here like a homeless mutt?"
Prince Zhao was almost angry enough to cough up blood. "You! Good, good, very good! I didn't know so many geniuses lived in the Great Scarlet Mid Region. First the Resplendent Emerald Veranda master, and now you. You're an oddball, alright. Identify yourself, kid!"
"Rather than being interested in who I am, maybe you should pay some more attention to yourself," Jiang Chen grinned mockingly. "I reminded you earlier out of the kindness of my heart. I told you not to fall for the Veranda master's stratagem. But you didn't listen to me, did you? My betrayal here should be unsurprising."
Prince Zhao's face was as dark as the night sky, his ugly expression a sight to behold. It was true, there had been a reminder earlier. He simply hadn't taken the warning seriously. The treasure had been their top priority at the time. He hadn't expected the Veranda master to show up so quickly.
"Friend," Ole Zhang replied hurriedly, "it doesn't matter whether you're Little Chen or not anymore. We should be on the same side right now. The Veranda master won't let us escape, but that is true for you as well."
Smiling still, Jiang Chen glanced towards the aforementioned man. "Let's see what the Veranda master himself has to say about it."
"Are you trying to strike a compromise, kid?" The Veranda master grinned in his own bizarre way. "You robbed me of my woman and ruined the most important part of my blood sacrifice. Do you think you have the right to talk to me like this?"
"I don't think I can force you to actually forgive me, but I certainly can force you to compromise," Jiang Chen said coolly.
"Oh?" The Veranda master's grin widened.
"I'll start killing everyone in here. Each casualty means that your sacrifice has a higher probability of failing. If I finish my task, then your ritual will be done for. You can say goodbye to your plans of summoning the demon great emperor!" Jiang Chen's countenance was cheerful as he said this, but his tone rang dread through his listeners' hearts.
The Veranda master was stunned. The emperor he was trying to awaken was in a crucial period within the altar. He couldn't yet consume flesh and blood with a physical body. If the young man went on a killing spree now… it was possible for him to eliminate all sources of food for the demon emperor!
The Veranda master had prepared eighty-one pure yin female cultivators to fuel the blood sacrifice. Through a specific ceremony, the demon emperor could use them to struggle free of his restrictions.
Wei Xing'er's time of birth and bloodline potential had perfectly matched the blood sacrifice's criteria. She had been one of the most key components of the sacrificial process. Without her, the ritual could only unleash a third of its intended effects.
That was the reason the Resplendent Emerald Veranda master had sent the four wandering cultivators to cut Jiang Chen off. Thankfully, the Kunpeng Meteoric Escape ability had been too fast for them. When the quartet caught up, Wei Xing'er was long gone.
The Veranda master didn't even close off the formation in time. Without her, the sacrifice was significantly less powerful. If not for the fact that the ancient restrictions had already loosened considerably, a thirty-percent ritual would've been nowhere near the amount of needed energy to wake the demon emperor.
However, with an incomplete blood sacrifice, the demon emperor would take much longer to recuperate. Because of that, he needed more food to hasten his recovery. With enough food, the demon great emperor could just as easily return to peak performance. As the heir to the emperor, the Veranda master's status would rapidly rise as a result. His goal was control of the entire Great Scarlet Mid Region. He wanted to act as the demon emperor's agent, and rule with an iron fist of expansionism.
Lofty ambitions for a pitiful man.
His plans were also close to flawless. He had played the entire Great Scarlet Mid Region for fools. However, no amount of calculation could've prepared him for Jiang Chen's appearance out of the blue. A crucial segment of the plan had been broken. The Veranda master hated Great Scarlet Empire's ruling family, but he hated the outrageous Jiang Chen just as much. He wanted to feast on the entrails of both parties.
The conversation took place as if no one else was present. Prince Zhao was furious at being ignored.
"Master of the Veranda, it's truly incredible that you'd sell yourself out to demons! You've made yourself a public enemy to the human race. Friends, the remnants of the demon race are making a comeback, and our lives are on the line. Are you going to sit still and wait to be slaughtered, or are you with me to kill the monster in front of us once and for all?!"
As an experienced and world-wise man, Imperial Prince Zhao knew how important it was for everyone to stand in solidarity in a time of trouble such as today. Their deaths were insignificant when compared to the range of devastation the Veranda master could unleash upon the rest of the world. He'd probably start with the royal family first after killing them all. Prince Zhao absolutely did not want that to happen.
The three sects' personnel no longer seemed to care about the treasure any more. All of them gathered in front of the prince, making their thoughts known. "Your Highness, we shall weather this trouble together!"
"That's right! A monster who's sold himself to the demons deserves hostility from everyone!"
"As supporters of the royal family, we're behind your demon-slaying efforts all the way!"
The determined attitude of the vast majority present reassured Prince Zhao a fair bit. There were so many emperor realm cultivators here. If everyone worked in unity, then they could overcome any challenge! Most people now stood by the prince. Only a hesitant few hadn't yet made the decision. Jiang Chen was the defiant exception.
Ole Zhang sighed, his eyes turning towards the noticeable outlier. "Friend, I'm sure you've known the Veranda master's defection to the demon race for a long time. Are you still willing to cooperate with him, knowing that? Right now, it doesn't matter whether you killed Little Chen or not. We human cultivators should stick together and fight our common demon foe."
The old man had a keen eye and a sensitive grasp on the situation. He had perceived that the young man here was perhaps more useful than everyone else combined. Though he didn't know where this 'Little Chen' impostor had come from, this stranger had just played a key part in ruining part of the Veranda master's blood sacrifice. It was evident from that that the young man had a unique method of dealing with demons. Even the Veranda master was wary of him.
If a man like that wasn't on their side… no, worse, if he was allowed to go to the Veranda master's… there was no telling the consequences!
The prince harrumphed softly, but didn't cut the old man off. He had noticed the same thing. This mysterious challenger was the key to victory today. Ensuring his neutrality was the bare minimum they needed to accomplish.
"Friend, this prince guarantees that if you stand with us, you will be absolved of anything you've done. I won't press you on whether you killed Little Chen or not. It's clear from the Veranda master's betrayal of his race that he has no principles to speak of. It is dangerous to work with him. Perhaps he will start on you after he deals with us!"
"That's right, friend. I think you should make a sound-minded decision. The demons' malevolence has been infamous since ancient times. If you collaborate with them, you'll be a criminal for all of history!"
"His Highness is right. Do you expect a man who conspires with demons to honor his word?"
Everyone knew that the Veranda master's enmity had no solution. Since he'd submitted to the demon race, they could only be mortal enemies hereafter. But this enigmatic cultivator seemed to hold plenty of animosity for the Veranda master. Moreover, the latter exercised caution around him. There was every advantage to having a guy like that on their side.
If these people had been from literally anywhere else, Jiang Chen would've joined up without hesitation. However, Great Scarlet Mid Region was an important exception. He hated and was wary of demons, but that didn't mean he could lay down his old grudges and work with anyone from that region. His heart wouldn't let him. He didn't care for it one bit.
Glancing emotionlessly at the prince, Jiang Chen's voice was as deadpan as his appearance. "Rather than sparing the time to worry about me, you should think how you're going to break through this formation. When the demon emperor wakes up, you're only going to be food for him. If you really are as noble as you say, then the best way to show it is to kill yourselves. Show your devotion to your race! Otherwise, you'll be shameful morsels of contribution towards the demon emperor's revival. You'll only be enabling the demon emperor with your cowardice and stupidity!"