Amidst the crowd, Jiang Chen snickered as he watched Pillfire's performance. It was changing its tune very quickly.
Before now, there'd been a focus on an honorable and respectable attitude. When profit was in sight however, it instantly reverted back to its old ways, dispensing with all pretense. The essence of its conduct was self-gain through any means necessary.
There was no reason for the Heavenly Dragon Sect and the Ninesuns Sky Sect to oppose this motion. They watched Pillfire's performance with smiles on their faces, their tacit support evident.
The first rank sects had brought their own teams of elites. Losing any one member would be a tremendous blow. There was also no reason for them to actively scout ahead, given the risks.
Large sects always preferred others sacrificing themselves and dying on the sects' behalf. There was plenty of cannon fodder to go around here, no?
How could those second-rate factions want a cut of the prize without paying something for that privilege?
The pressure on the inferior factions mounted. They could only begin discussions among themselves on what course of action to take. They knew that if they didn't take stock of the situation, they would be pushed out for sure. The secret realm and its treasure would be barred to them forever.
"Everyone, it's not the time to debate about fairness. The greatest fairness in the world of martial dao is survival of the fittest. The heavenly dao is just. You're provided according to what your strength deserves. We either send out a few scouts right now, or we're thrown out from the secret realm. What do we do?"
"What the hell can we do? At the end of the day, they're stronger than us. If we expend enough men to sort out the way ahead, we'll still be called upon if there are future problems ahead. We'll probably all be dead before we see any treasure!"
"That's right. We were the ones here first. Why do we have to go to our deaths?"
"Shut up!" One of the second rank sect's giants criticized angrily. "There's no point wasting words here. If you have the balls for it, why not seek justice for everyone by arguing with the Upper Eight factions?"
Please. Argue with the Upper Eight factions? That wasn't any less suicidal than simply scouting ahead. Pillfire quite obviously had the initiative.
The Ninesuns Sky Sect and the Heavenly Dragon Sect didn't seem to want to offer opposition at this juncture. That meant those who obeyed lived, and the rest perished. The logic was as simple as that; survival of the fittest was a universal law.
The second rank sects immediately began to plot how they could foist scouting duty onto even weaker factions.
Aside from the Upper Eight's leading factions, there were second, third, even fourth rank sects as well. The Purple Smoke Sect and the Spirit Crow Lodge were very good examples.
However, the remaining factions exploded with fury when the second rank sects expressed their intent.
They were unquestionably fearful of the Upper Eight's largest factions, yes. But since when could second rank sects throw their weight around, huh? What right did they have to attempt shirking their issues and fob them off onto slightly weaker factions?
There weren't many second rank sects present. Third and fourth rank sects composed the majority.
"It's normal for the Upper Eight Regions to give orders as the leaders of the human domain. What gives you the authority or the right to send us to our deaths?"
"That's right! We might as well not go in at all then. How come second rank sects are allowed to lord it over us too?"
"Exactly. Our chances of getting anything are very low. Why should we be cannon fodder for them?"
"Cut the blabber. Let's fight it out. You think all of us added together can't beat a few second rank sects?"
"Yeah, let's get 'em!"
Chaos brewed in the proceedings. When the weaker factions found out that the second rank sects were planning to force them to scout out of self-preservation, they erupted in rage.
No one could do anything about how powerful the Upper Eight factions were. These second rank sects were all from the neighboring regions though. They didn't belong to the Upper Eight Regions. Why were they expecting any special treatment?
"We can draw lots, but the second rank sects shouldn't have any special treatment!"
"That's right! The second rank sects don't lead the Upper Eight Regions. They don't qualify for preferential treatment!"
Only twenty percent of those assembled belonged to the second rank sects. The remaining eighty were from lower factions. Third rank sects like the Purple Smoke Sect, for example. These factions weren't to be underestimated. Most importantly, their numbers advantage meant that they weren't going to just eat the loss.
Jiang Chen watched impassively as the situation begin to spiral out of control. No matter how they chose, it was highly doubtful that they'd end up picking him. Not that he minded scouting ahead, regardless.
A valid concern for others wasn't necessarily the case for him. The restriction looked terrifying, but it was also flawed. Did the flaw exist originally, though? Or had it appeared with the passage of time?
Though Jiang Chen didn't fear scouting at all, he couldn't exactly volunteer himself either. Being overly eager would only attract unwanted attention.
He didn't want to reveal his identity so early. Drawing attention would also play into the opposite of that.
Amidst a chorus of protests, the Upper Eight Regions began to speak once more. They ordered the second rank sects to wise up and avoid privileging themselves; they had no such right given current company.
The second rank sects were displeased by these orders, but there was nothing they could do. It was finally decided that three people would be chosen by lot.
That was a minuscule portion of the total population present. Therefore, there was no significant resistance to this proposition. Everyone in the world of martial dao was confident in their own fortunes. One would have to be tremendously unlucky to be picked as one out of so many peers.
Regardless of how low the probability was, there were three picked in the end. The unlucky louts were pulled out after the lots were drawn. None were from Phoenix Cry Lower Region.
The trio wanted to renege immediately after being picked, but the watchful eyes of the great emperors from the Upper Eight Regions crushed their thoughts of resistance.
If they showed any dissension, those great emperors would kill them in one sweep!
They were dead either way.
Death was absolutely certain if they tried to go back on the results.
If they scouted ahead and were lucky enough to pass the restriction, whatever treasure they got in the secret realm was theirs to keep. It was quite reasonable for a successful scout to have first pick of the spoils.
"Listen up, you three. As long as you pass the restriction, any treasure you obtain within will remain yours. We can guarantee your rightful ownership to a point. However, any particularly special treasure - the kind that can alter the fate of humanity - should probably not be touched. Your ability and fortunes are insufficient to control treasures like that. They'll simply bring misfortune instead."
There was nothing for any of the three people to say. They could only nod to show that they understood what they had to do. It was just scouting ahead, right?
Their life and future prosperity was on the line!
Better to actively push into the danger of the abyss than be pushed by another. Survival seemed bleak now, but…
The Upper Eight Regions were quite generous. Pillfire City's Emperor Cloudbillow gave out several pills to each of the three men. In particular, the heat avoidance pills were some of the best that the city could refine.
The three scouts didn't expect Pillfire's Emperor Cloudbillow to be so friendly. Not only was he encouraging them, but also giving them pills for protection?
"No matter which of you passes through the restriction, anyone that manages to return will receive a handsome gift from me. I can even consider taking you under Pillfire City's wing."
Pillfire City's wing?
All three scouts felt their hearts jump. They were at one of the lowest points in their lives, a moment that made them utterly weak and desperate.
They had been designated cannon fodder because of the weakness of their own sects. This was the original sin of any faction that couldn't claim significance.
Emperor Cloudbillow's promise of admission into Pillfire was painfully desirable for people in their position.
"Go on. I won't go back on my word. As long as you give all the treasures you get to me, I guarantee you will become my confidantes."
This ignited the fighting spirits of the three scouts.
Exchanging looks, the trio transformed into three streaks of moving light, shooting towards the heavens and the opposite side.
All three men felt their scalps tingle at the sight of the boiling, bubbling matter beneath them. Their first thought was to fly as high as possible to maximize their distance from the danger. Only that could alleviate some of their fear.
Alas, flying high didn't mean that they would escape or surpass the restriction. The restriction itself had terrifying offensive strength that was ready to spring forth at any moment. The lava wasn't the only risk factor.
One of the three attempted to shoot past the restriction without hesitation.
Unfortunately for him, a chain of embers dozens of yards long swept up the interloper like a fiery dragon. Not losing much of its momentum, it swooped downward, disappearing into the bubbling magma.
In the next moment, a shrill shriek pierced through from the lava.