Everyone's spirits lifted when Prince Zhao took out his Skyclearer Talisman. The mass of cultivators started gathering around the prince. Those from the three third rank sects, the rest from the fourth rank sects, and the royal representatives-all acted with one mind. Even the wandering cultivators began to edge closer. They wanted to ride the prince's coattails out of this mess.
His face black, the prince issued a command to Ole Zhang and those from the three third rank sects. "Cut down every man who showed hesitation. I'm not interested in taking those fence-sitters out with me."
As soon as Prince Zhao gave his orders, Ole Zhang and the experts from the third ranks sprang into motion. Like tigers hunting down sheep, they pounced upon the group of stragglers on the outside.
Their targets were utterly shocked. They never thought that the prince would attack them. The people who had showed hesitation were relatively few in number. They were either wandering cultivators or visitors from outside the region, possessing no advantage in numbers or raw strength. There was no time for them to react at all before several were cut down in the ferocious attack.
The fewer prey there was, the easier it was to clean them up. It didn't take long at all for the situation to devolve into a five-against-one or worse for the defending side. In only a few moments, those who had taken too long to consider where to stand were all cleaned out.
Jiang Chen watched them from the sidelines. When he saw the stirrings of internal strife, he cleared an even larger distance from the group. He wasn't scared of them turning on him, but a healthy caution was always advisable.
As expected, Imperial Prince Zhao turned his attention to Jiang Chen shortly thereafter. His fierce gaze belied the murderous intent he had towards the person who'd kept singing a different tune.
Jiang Chen was impassive. He read the cruelty in the prince's eyes plainly. His sole response was to focus inwards, quieting his breath. Prince Zhao was made angrier by the young man's indifference. "Kill that brat as well."
"…my prince," Ole Zhang advised hesitantly. "Time is of the essence. We should break through this formation right away. When the demon emperor wakes up, it will be too late."
"If we all attack at once, we can take him out instantly!" the prince roared. "As long as he lives, my anger will not be abated."
Ole Zhang was at an impasse. He was a wily old man and instinctively sensed the difficulty in dealing with the mysterious young cultivator. The fence-sitters had been easy targets, but this youth was assuredly ten times harder… or more. The young cultivator's speed alone was unlike anything they could imitate. Plus, they were still within a dangerous formation. The longer they delayed, the riskier it was.
"Come on then, Prince Zhao, if you're looking for a fight," Jiang Chen smiled faintly. "But I can guarantee that you'll die before I do."
Imperial Prince Zhao could scarcely contain himself at the provocation. "Everybody, forward! Wipe him out! Anyone who does will receive a personally petitioned reward from the emperor!"
The master of the Resplendent Emerald Veranda had been observing the situation from the formation's exterior all this time. He'd braced himself when Prince Zhao produced his Skyclearer Talisman.
The corrosion from the fog required a little longer to affect its targets. If Prince Zhao used the talisman right this moment, then the formation could very well be broken. His prey escaping was a tangible possibility. Though there were more powerful formations further out, the demon emperor would find a hard time finding his food after they departed this sea of mist.
After all, it was far more spacious outside these boundaries. For a recently-awakened demon emperor, it was a hundred times harder to hunt all of them down within such a vast territory, compared to simply plucking them out of this foggy ocean.
Most importantly, the Veranda master didn't want to fail the demon emperor multiple times. He wanted to maintain a good impression before his master. Their infighting was excellent news for him. If they fought a vicious battle here, the blood mist's corroding effects would be sped up significantly.
Once it fully took place on its unsuspecting victims, none of them would be able to leave any longer. Even if the formation were broken, they wouldn't be able to move at all. The demon emperor's food would be safe.
Thus, the Veranda master had no intention of interfering with the group's dissension. Though he thought the death of a couple of cultivators was unfortunate, it was no great loss compared to the remainder of Great Scarlet Mid Region's powerhouses. The ones left were more important.
Jiang Chen shared the same line of thought as the Veranda master. He was also waiting for the bloody mist's corrosion to take place. When Prince Zhao issued the command to attack him, the death knell had also tolled on everyone here.
Jiang Chen had no interest in engaging with the walking dead. Instead, he used his Kunpeng Meteoric Escape ability to run circles around them. Even Prince Zhao could not match Jiang Chen's speed, much less anyone else.
Despite their absolute advantage in numbers, they couldn't catch up to Jiang Chen to attack him. In the sea of mists, it was very hard to keep up a persistent assault. Outside the formation, the Veranda watched on at Jiang Chen's ghostly speed with dropped jaw.
"Where did this kid come from? Why is his agility so absurd?" As a man who'd seen a great deal, the Veranda master was certain that he had never witnessed such a thing before. In fact, he hadn't heard of such skill being possible. "I'm glad that those dogs are eating each other. The fog will take care of them in their fatigue. The demon emperor will be pleased with the docility of his food!"
The Veranda master was the calmest one present. He could almost taste the victory to this spectacle.
Seeing that pursuing Jiang Chen was fruitless, Ole Zhang wanted to try dissuading the prince some more. But he swallowed the words on the tip of his tongue; Prince Zhao, red in the eyes, had joined the fray himself.
Ole Zhang knew the prince's temper well. Entering the melee personally meant that his anger had reached a boiling point. The only people that he would listen to now were the imperial family's ancestor and the emperor himself. Anyone else who tried would only further upset him.
Helpless against the predicament, the elder could only half-heartedly keep up the barrage. If it was up to him, he wouldn't waste another moment on this pointless endeavor. Each minute, each second, could mean the difference between life and death. Burning away precious opportunity like this was unwise.
Jiang Chen used no force at all. He relied only on his speed to play with the cultivators on his tail. Fighting several dozen cultivators head on was senseless and dumb. The scarlet fog did nothing to him whatsoever, but took an increasingly greater toll on the crowd behind him the more they used their cultivation.
Fifteen minutes wouldn't ordinarily be considered a long time, but it was dragged out by the situation at hand. Despite pursuing Jiang Chen for that long, the group of cultivators behind him didn't touch a hair on the young man's body. Prince Zhao was enraged.
"Kid!" He hissed shrilly. "If you have a spine at all, then stop running! Is your toughness limited to your talk? Do you only know how to run, and not how to fight?"
"Is your head on right?" Jiang Chen jeered. "I'm alone, and you have a few dozen with you. You're calling that a real fight?"
"…kill him!" The prince grit his teeth.
It was at this moment that several experts from fourth rank sects began to shake. Their faces looked rather ill. "What's happening?" One of them shrieked suddenly.
"This isn't good. There's something wrong with my consciousness!"
"Why can't I use spirit energy?"
"Aah! Someone's poisoned me! My consciousness has been invaded as well!" One after another, cultivators began to report their indisposition.
Jiang Chen's heart shook. Finally, the poison's effects had begun to take place.
One, two, three. The cultivators dropped like flies, as if a plaguing wave had just passed through them. It spread to those from third rank sects, then the imperial representatives as well.
Ole Zhang looked extremely disquieted. "Your Highness, something's wrong. My consciousness has also been invaded by a strange force."
Prince Zhao harrumphed, but his face reddened as he was about to comment.
"How could this be?" He examined his own consciousness. There was something terrifying within. Discovery of the oddity led to the discovery that he had no strength left whatsoever.
"This mist is toxic!" Ole Zhang was the first to make that observation.
Prince Zhao looked disgusted. He was rapidly being sapped of his strength. No matter how he pushed his hidden reservoirs, his body would not respond. He wanted to use the Skyclearer Talisman in his hand, but he couldn't. The archaic talisman reacted to him not at all.
Prince Zhao's face really and truly blanched this time. He knew that he was done for. A flash of regret passed through his mind. If he had listened to Ole Zhang's advice, maybe… Too bad there was no medicine in the world for regret.
Seeing that the time had come, Jiang Chen feigned his own collapse as well, remembering to berate the prince as he did so. "Prince Zhao, you stupid idiot! You're happy with a mutual loss, are you?"
"I thought you wanted to join up with the demons, kid?" The prince fired back. "How come you're down too? Aren't you some hot shot, eh? Why don't you keep talking?! Keep talking!"
Jiang Chen was at a loss for words. Prince Zhao was a stubborn fool.
The Veranda master cackled when he saw the cultivators drop one by one. "Good, good, good. I didn't expect things to go this smoothly. You fools! Fighting amongst yourselves brought you to your demise. Even the heavens have come to my aid."
When Imperial Prince Zhao had taken out the Skyclearer Talisman, it had made the Veranda master rather wary. Therefore, he was very thankful for the prince's incompetence. Without that specific imbecile, his plans wouldn't have so easily come to fruition.
The Veranda master was in a really good mood. As reaper of the harvest, as a trapper collecting his spoils, he could finally enjoy toying with his prey. He shut off the formation, causing the crimson fog to disperse into nothingness.
It was no longer needed. Everyone here had already been poisoned and were essentially fish in a barrel. Even if the Veranda master stood around and did nothing, they wouldn't have the strength to come kill him.