Jiang Chen's choice was a bit risky. Still, he felt that the risk was well worth the rewards. If he attracted more attention to himself, his parents' route would be less dangerous in turn.
He was perfectly willing to be with his parents, but he had a strong premonition that Emperor Pillzenith would try something this time.
Pillfire still hadn't responded with much of anything after he took out two of their great emperors. This kind of silence didn't fit with Emperor Pillzenith's style. The quieter things were, the more terrifying the conspiracy behind it.
Jiang Chen's trip to the Moon God Sect had been entirely undetected, but the return trip was no secret at all. It wasn't that he didn't trust the sect, but that the sect was large enough to have at least a handful of people close to Pillfire.
As long as those people existed, information about him could be easily leaked to Emperor Pillzenith. How would he pass up such an obvious opportunity for revenge?
Jiang Chen didn't think he would be so kind.
When he was first departing from the Moon God Sect's territory, the young lord had considered where exactly Emperor Pillzenith would strike. He passed by Pillfire's land with apparent calmness, but was on his guard every moment of the way against a possible ambush.
However, the emperor stayed quiet the entire way.
This didn't relieve Jiang Chen at all. Quite the opposite: the invisible pressure on him mounted rather than relented.
For the young lord, this was partially a good thing.
As long as Emperor Pillzenith had his eyes on him, his parents would be completely safe. Because he had sent them off half a month ahead and dragged out his own return, they should be safely within Skysword Sect territory now.
While they were there, they had a seventy to eighty percent chance of being safe.
"Young lord, the atmosphere seems strange with the Eternal Celestial Capital." As an elite wandering cultivator, Jiao Yun was a world-wise man. His nose and instincts were sharper than most sect experts.
He'd been perturbed as soon as they'd entered the Eternal Celestial Capital's jurisdiction. It was a feeling born purely of expert intuition. He felt that things were likely to be less than peaceful here.
"We have many great emperors," Jiang Chen smiled faintly. "What could a faction like the Eternal Celestial Capital possibly do to us? No need to worry. Let us proceed."
The Jiao brothers weren't cowards. They had merely relayed their thoughts to Jiang Chen as part of their vanguard duties. What decision the young lord came to was his own business. They had no intention of doing so for him.
Han Qianzhan felt the repugnance in the air as well. "Young lord Jiang Chen," he advised. "The atmosphere here is rather odd. Shall we go eastward to my sect? We can head south after that to reach Veluriyam Capital as well. It'll be a bit of a detour, but that should be no problem for us rough folks. Your parents…"
He was trying to be thoughtful on Jiang Chen's behalf. Great emperors like them could deal with whatever kind of foe that came their way. Unfortunately, the young lord's parents couldn't say the same, especially when caught in a melee.
"Don't worry, Old Brother Han. I have my own ideas about the matter. The Eternal Celestial Capital was the ultimate culprit for destroying Myriad Domain all those years ago and my enmity with them is limitless. Not going on a killing spree in their territory is already showing mercy. Me, take a detour? Impossible!"
The steel in Jiang Chen's words stayed Han Qianzhan from saying anything further. He thought this was a choice made in hot-blooded youthfulness and therefore refrained from further admonishment. The entourage had enough strength to simply power through, anyways. The Eternal Celestial Capital was a first rank sect, but they couldn't compete with the sheer number of experts present here.
The wandering great emperors amongst them were all veterans of battle. The strangeness in the air was clear as day to them, just like everyone else. However, they generally had untamed natures. They had the fewest misgivings about staying, compared to anyone else in the group.
In fact, they were a little excited for something to happen. If a fight were to break out, that wouldn't be the worst of things.
The group maintained its original speed, trudging at a steady pace along the road. Suddenly, Jiang Chen waved a hand. "Hold!"
The group instantly came a halt. All eyes focused on Jiang Chen.
"It seems that we have some restless guests," the young lord frowned.
"Who's blind enough to try that?" Emperor Inferno chuckled. "Let them come."
"Young lord Jiang Chen, I hear you have a vendetta against the Eternal Celestial Capital? Shall we go there now and help you uproot that sect entirely?"
"Heheh, we'll consider it part of the repayment for your Pinecrane Pill. Just give us the word!"
None of these wandering cultivator great emperors were meek men. They felt anticipation rather than anxiety at the mention of potential trouble. They seemed almost happy to have the chance to cut a path into the Eternal Celestial Capital and pull off a high-and-mighty sect from its throne. Wandering cultivators were naturally hostile to sects and factions.
However, Jiang Chen was stuck in his silent frown. After a while, he sent a message forward. "Jiao Yun, Jiao Feng, draw back."
As the scouts of the group, the Jiao brothers had been surveying the land up ahead. They traded a glance at Jiang Chen's message and rushed back towards their young lord.
Suddenly, an earth-shaking sound detonated where the brothers' feet had just pushed off.
Like rolling thunder, a ray of light as brilliant as a galaxy swept down from the heavens. Everything in that patch of space was rendered to dust, both flora and terrain.
The light departed as quick as it had come.
When the light faded, only rubble remained where the Jiao brothers had been standing a moment earlier. The earth was ripped apart to a depth of several yards, jagged trails lining the stony walls.
No matter how strong the Jiao brothers were, their bodies were flesh and blood. If they'd been hit by the powerful light an instant later, they would have met with misfortune.
"Everyone, to me! Come into my formation," Jiang Chen called out decisively.
He frowned as his Eight Trigram Boulder Formation flared to life, forming a temporary defensive barrier. He couldn't afford to relax a single iota. "Be careful, friends. There's something out of place here. I think someone set an ambush for us a long time ago."
"Damn. So someone was onto us all this time, eh?" cursed Jiao Feng angrily.
"So what if they were?" Jiao Yun was uncaring. "No matter who our opponent is, we'll kill him if he comes out!" He considered the number of great emperors with them to be too many to contend with. They had more than a dozen! That number was able to walk the Upper Eight Regions uncontested, much less deal with the Eternal Celestial Capital.
"Young lord Jiang Chen, we should beware of the oddities in this place. The environment here seems to correspond to a formation of some sort, but I'm not exactly sure which." That came from Su Huanzhen.
Her sect specialized in formations, thus she had a deep knowledge of them. She could feel with only the slightest probing that there was an invisible formation all around them.
Jiang Chen examined the surroundings with his God's Eye and Psychic's Head before nodding. "You have a keen eye, Sectmaster Su. The formation here isn't simple at all. It's tremendously well-hidden and the terrain here is appropriate for an ancient formation. There must have been someone who laid something down accordingly! Have we underestimated the Eternal Celestial Capital after all?"
Having been the victims of an almost-successful sneak attack, the Jiao brothers were the most impatient of the group.
"What skinless coward is responsible for this? What, you're brave enough to launch a sneak attack but not show yourselves?" Jiao Yun sounded exasperated.
"Come out if you've the balls to! Only women run and hide from a fight!" Jiao Feng was just as incensed.
"We should prepare for the worst," Jiang Chen waved a hand. "These concealed friends of ours are unlikely to be friendly." As the leader of the expedition, it was his job to encourage and stabilize the others.
There was another blast of radiant light outside. A prismatic ray held twenty-odd experts within, all of them great emperor realm! Most importantly, they all wore uniform robes and ridiculous masks. Every one of them had a corpse-like layer on their face.
All of the great emperors on Jiang Chen's side drew a sharp breath.
The uniformity in the newcomers' clothing choices and their disguises showed that they meant business. More importantly was their numbers.
The opposing side overwhelmed theirs in terms of raw strength. There were only fourteen powerhouses on Jiang Chen's side, counting both wandering cultivators and sect giants.
Their enemies had more than double the manpower. Furthermore, there was a formation prepared to hinder. The team that they'd thought invincible was now at an obvious disadvantage.
The Jiao brothers glared at the twenty-odd great emperors who'd just appeared, cowed momentarily by their presences. After a brief moment of awe, Jiao Yun harrumphed. "A bunch of pretentious cowards. Don't hide behind those paper-thin masks. Reveal yourselves!"
"Jiao brothers of Mt. Huai," the man who led the strange group called out in a low voice. "You two are some of the strongest wandering cultivators out there, yet you lower yourselves to be the pets of a toothless brat. I feel ashamed on the wandering cultivator world's behalf!
"Emperor Wellspring, was it? And Emperors Inferno and Reliance too? You call yourselves the wandering cultivator world's six giants, but you're being bossed around by a kid. Does doing that match your cultivation and reputation, hmm? I thought wandering cultivators prided themselves on their autonomy? I thought they didn't care much about the hand of large factions? Are things different nowadays? You've tossed your wandering cultivator ancestors' reputations into the gutter!"
Jiang Chen perused the group before him coolly. Their disguises were quite crude, but it was still difficult to identify their true identities. He could guess who it was with his toes.
The Eternal Celestial Capital lacked both the actual manpower and the draw needed to garner these cultivators' assistance. There was only one faction capable of this in the mid-north of the Upper Eight Regions: Pillfire City. The masks and disguises fooled nobody!