"Senior Vermillion, your keen eyes must have witnessed which fellows surrendered to the demon lord in the secret realm. Any familiar face you see today is an imposter. Please use your powers and expose their true nature!" Jiang Chen called out, still using the human language.
The Vermillion Bird glided in the sky, leaving a fiery trail in its wake. It was a celestial furnace that could rain down fire and scorch the entire world if it ever so fancied.
At least, such was the primal fear the ancient creature struck into the heart of the crowd. They could only look up to its unattainable level. Under this kind of fundamental oppression, even Pillzenith succumbed to a sliver of imperceptible panic.
A Vermillion Bird!
An ancient Vermillion Bird!
His mind went blank. Fear and anger assailed his heart. How could the scion of a mundane noble of the trivial sixteen kingdoms alliance be this lucky? Did every good thing in the world have his name written on it? Did he have to hoard all advantages beneath heaven?
Dragons and Vermillion Birds were divine beasts from the ancient era. These divine creatures were thought to be extinct, yet Jiang Chen had both of them at his side.
Pillzenith seethed with envy.
As for the other powerhouses, the bird's formidable presence filled them with fear and regret. Enlightenment beat them over the head. They finally understood why the young lord had seemed so unafraid.
The terrifying tide of rats was one thing, but an ancient Vermillion Bird was simply an existence beyond their comprehension!
Judging by its aura, it was at least empyrean realm, an existence far beyond great emperors. Without a doubt, it could easily kill great swathes of them in the blink of an eye if it cared to. In fact, perhaps none of them could make it out alive.
With such a hidden card, what was there for Jiang Chen to worry about?
Even the factions most loyal to Pillfire were full of remorse.
"To think that a single bad decision would cause our downfall! We shouldn't have opposed Veluriyam. We shouldn't have listened to Pillzenith!"
"Why did we have to stick our noses in a power struggle way beyond us? Isn't that pure suicide? Sigh, I just hope the situation can still be salvaged."
"Damn Pillzenith, damn Pillfire, everything's their fault!"
"Jiang Chen is truly a tiger grown with wings. He's too strong now to be stopped. By opposing him, we'll become his stepping stones. How foolish this was!"
The same heartfelt regrets resonated deeply in all of the powerhouses. How they wished they hadn't succumbed to Pillfire's carrot and stick! They should've kept to their own business.
Now, their very lives were in jeopardy because of Pillzenith's ambitions. Had everything been worth it? Even a child could answer that. The more they thought about it, the more resentful they became.
Combining the God's Eye with the Evil Golden Eye, Jiang Chen could read their inner thoughts like an open book. He smiled expressionlessly.
"I ought to kill you ten times over for your conduct and misdeeds. I wouldn't feel the slightest bit of guilt if I did so. However, the heavens treasure life and humanity can't afford never-ending infighting. So, after some contemplation, I've decided to give you a chance. I repeat, this is your last chance!" he warned sternly.
"Another chance?" The crowd perked up.
"Wonderful! Young lord Jiang Chen is truly not the heinous villain that Emperor Pillzenith's depicted!"
"But will he really give us one last chance?" Some found it hard to believe.
Pillzenith shouted, "Don't fall for his lies! The brat wants to drive a wedge between us so he can destroy us one by one! Trusting him will only bring ruin!"
The anxious lord of Pillfire had to stop his rival from inciting the people to desert him. The alliance already rested on flimsy foundations. If they were swayed by Jiang Chen, they would lose their last bit of fighting spirit.
Pillfire would become isolated on all sides. How could he afford that in the current circumstances?
He wouldn't have been afraid if not for the Vermillion Bird. Even if he couldn't reverse the situation, he was confident that he and his elites were powerful enough to escape.
But everything had flown out of the window the moment the ancient bird had appeared.
Just how strong was it? That was difficult to gauge, even for him. The beast didn't look in its best condition, but even so, it wasn't something that Pillzenith could take on!
He'd been reluctant to retreat, wondering if he should continue fighting. But now, he only had one thing on his mind: flee!
Jiang Chen looked at him with a supercilious smile. "Pillzenith, even at death's door, it seems you still want to drag everyone down with you."
His eyes landed on the various factions' leaders. "You can help him, or you can mend your ways. It doesn't matter to me, but you'll have to bear the consequences of your decision. You've been warned.
"Now, those faithful to Pillzenith to the bitter end, stand to the right. Those with a change of heart, move to the left! Remember, there's no middle ground. If you don't move, you'll be considered Pillfire's staunch follower!
"You have ten breaths to decide starting from now!"
The crowd stared, dumbstruck, especially those who still hoping for a miracle. Some weak-willed fellows immediately ran to the left, clearly fed up with Pillfire. Why should we pay for Pillzenith's ambitions with our deaths?
Things would be different if the man had some mettle. Everyone could have shared some profits together and gone home happy. However, the great emperor only had ambition going for him. Time and again, he'd come off the worse for wear against young lord Zhen, retreating with his tail between his legs.
It seemed he'd enraged the young lord enough this time that Veluriyam was determined to settle things once and for all.
As to who was stronger and who was weaker, didn't the results speak for themselves? These cultivators had little love for Pillfire to begin with. Now they only wished to draw a clear line between the city and themselves as swiftly as possible!
The first one led to the second, then a third...
Pillzenith watched as familiar faces normally filled with deference and flattery leave his side without any hesitation.
In less than ten breaths, three-quarters of the crowd stood to the left, with quite a few Empyrean River and Sublime Chord cultivators among them.
The Empyrean River Palace's master still stood in front of Pillzenith, but his inner struggle was plain on his face for all to see. Despite his vast experience, he couldn't help but be cowed by the Vermillion Bird's overpowering aura. He'd finally started having second thoughts. What had he gained with following Pillfire so staunchly all these years?
He looked at the opposite side. The Great Yu Skysword Sect and Celestial Cicada Court stood by relaxed and carefree, idly watching them.
These first rank sects were just like his own faction, so why were they on such a vastly different trajectory?
"Daoist Pillzenith…" he finally spoke, his tone pained.
"What? Are you planning to betray me as well?" Pillzenith asked indifferently.
"N-no. But where there's life, there's hope. With these circumstances, why don't you…"
"Enough!" Pillzenith interrupted furiously with displeasure. "That brat must've given you something good for you to waggle your tongue like this to try to persuade me!"
That stopped the palace master in his tracks. He was Pillzenith's confidant. How could Jiang Chen possibly give him anything? He's simply taking out his helplessness and frustration on his own people.
The palace master smiled ruefully. Without a word, he raised a cupped fist salute. Then, despite his shame, he walked to the left without a backwards glance. He could see as clearly as anyone how utterly routed they had been, so he had to make a choice.
For Pillfire, Empyrean River Palace's abandonment was the last nail in the coffin.
Pillzenith laughed arrogantly despite his anger. "What a bunch of cowards! Buck up, all of you! Even if the entire world abandons us, what does this great emperor have to fear?"
With a grab of the hand, a purple talisman suddenly appeared in front of him.
"This is bad, he wants to get away!" Skysword Sect's Han Qianzhan immediately saw through Pillzenith's intentions.
Sure enough, the talisman immediately glowed with a divine purple light that enveloped all of Pillfire's powerhouses. With an incantation, the radius covered by the purple light steadily increased.
"Be careful, Jiang Chen. This is an ancient talisman. The old man is trying to slip away," the Vermillion Bird warned.
Given the divine creature's condition, the young lord hadn't planned on making it fight. He merely needed its deterrence effect.