The supreme lord's revelation had indeed upended the crowd's beliefs.
They'd once thought great emperors like Pillzenith or Peafowl to be mankind's apex. They'd never heard of anything stronger. Only after the emergence of the supreme lord and Jiang Chen's golems did mankind slowly become acclimated to the notion of empyrean masters.
But at best, the golems ranked somewhere between half-step empyrean and minor empyrean realm. Compared to the primordial age, they'd regained less than one fifth of the strength.
Total recovery seemed impossible given the human domain's current resources. The consumption that would require far exceeded what was available.
The supreme lord smiled calmly. "I guarantee empyrean masters exist. The ancient wars have brought so much destruction that mankind's come to think of them as a thing of the past. But that's a mistake…"
"Ah? A mistake?" Sabledeep exclaimed softly. "I once heard that Emperor Peafowl comprehended the heavenly dao multiple times, but he always chose not to break through to empyrean realm. Some say the lack of resources would have caused him to fail, or perhaps he would have been forced to leave afterward and he had too many goals not yet achieved…"
The supreme lord frowned. It was the first he'd heard of it. "Is there a problem with his brain? It's a sin to refuse a gift from the heavens."
"Indeed. Rejecting the heavens is a sure recipe for future disaster. His is a classic case. Why else would his own faction's Emperor Shura join hands with Emperor Pillzenith in causing his downfall?" a great emperor familiar with the classics asked.
Rejecting the heavens would naturally anger them and bring about retribution.
The supreme lord waved his hand. "No matter. In any case, you can disregard Veluriyam's people but not the city itself. Even Pillfire can't compare with its ancient inheritance. Its three pagodas in particular are ancient mysteries."
The Veluriyam Pagodas? Everyone looked at him in puzzlement.
He chuckled. "Don't look at me. You know as much as me when it comes to Veluriyam. But my research into the ancient era tells me they must hide many secrets. If Jiang Chen's obtained the pagoda's inheritances, even I would be wary of him!"
No one knew where the supreme lord came from, but his knowledge far surpassed the locals. He knew many happenings like the back of his hand, especially those concerning antiquity. Many of the things he spoke of were shocking revelations for others.
"Supreme Lord, what's our next step?"
His warnings were a pail of cold water on the crowd's ardor. They finally understood why he was so cautious of a mere young man in charge of Veluriyam when he looked down on many sects.
"Supreme Lord, it's true Veluriyam is strong, but Jiang Chen is only a young man when all is said and done. We should use his youth to our advantage."
"Agreed. His youth is detrimental to his prestige. He has to work ten times as hard to be acknowledged."
"Shh, be quiet. Wait for the supreme lord's decision."
"Right. No matter how strong, Veluriyam is nothing for our Supreme Lord."
Their liege chuckled before turning grave. "It would be a mighty blow for us if Veluriyam were to complete its grand alliance. Our sect is on the rise, our momentum on the upswing. We can't let them impede our expansion plans.
"There's only one reason why many factions refuse to acknowledge us. They worry we can't contend with Veluriyam. You could say they aren't optimistic about our prospects.
"Of course, perhaps they think no one can oppose Jiang Chen or Veluriyam.
"But is that truly so?" he laughed, his voice leisurely yet strange. "Attend to me. Send an ultimatum to the Heavenly Dragon Clan. They have one day to capitulate, or else we'll eradicate their sect from the continent and exterminate every last of them!"
It was a domineering order.
An ordinary sectmaster would never dare use such a tone against a colossus like the Heavenly Dragon Sect. The Order's supreme lord was probably the only one in the entire human domain.
Gloom reigned in the Heavenly Dragon Sect, as if the end of days had come.
The mortal blows it had suffered had made every member anxious. In another sect, rats would have already left the sinking ship. Who would dare remain behind?
But the Heavenly Dragon Sect was more than a simple sect. Its members were staunchly united by its inheritances, firm beliefs, and a common bloodline. Even wan and routed, its disciples would fight to the death. There would be no deserters.
Despite its many outlandish flaws, the sect was far superior to most human factions in that regard. But like cats on a hot tin roof, everyone was on tenterhooks.
They'd just received the ultimatum. Surrender within a day or be destroyed! It seemed the Order had run out of patience.
Despite the rumors, Sectmaster Long Zhe wasn't dead yet. But he was at the end of his tether, any breath might be his last. And Long Baxiang, once number two, had died in Agarwood Valley.
The sect currently lacked a leader.
Surrender? The Heavenly Dragon Sect was too proud a sect to submit willingly to a faction no one had heard of a mere four years ago.
It would be even worse than losing to Veluriyam. At least, Jiang Chen wouldn't humiliate them so.
"Maybe we should ask the sectmaster for instructions?" one elder suggested.
"We can't. His life hangs in the balance. Let's first see if he can overcome this critical juncture and find a new lease on life. We can't disturb him, or we'll end up hurting him."
"What should we do then? No one else can make this decision."
"Only one day! The Order of Wind and Cloud has really crossed the line!"
"Hmph, it seems that they're anxious after Veluriyam's call for a grand alliance. That's why they're in such a hurry. They're afraid of Veluriyam after all!"
"Is there still time to ask Veluriyam for help?"
Ask Veluriyam for help?
The crowd fell into an awkward silence. When had their sect fallen so low as to look for help from a faction they couldn't see eye-to-eye with?
They had given Veluriyam no face even when during the latter's height. Both sides were on bad terms, or even hostile to each other. Wouldn't it be a slap to the face to ask them for help now?
More importantly, would Veluriyam agree?
Their sect had been part of the northern alliance. Jiang Chen hadn't suppressed them after the war, but to ask him to repay enmity with a rescue seemed too tall an order. The odds were slim, no matter how alluring the idea.
They were too short on time in any case. The Order was knocking on their doors, while Veluriyam was far away.
Someone suddenly looked up from the lively discussion, embarrassment flashing through their eyes as they fixed their gaze to the left. A figure walked out of a corner.
"Sectmaster, why are you here?"
Indeed, the figure in question was Long Zhe. He was still pale, but his complexion was much improved for someone previously at death's door. His lifeforce seemed to be returning. The crowd beamed with delight.
His sturdy frame stood like a mountain. Even riddled with wounds, he exuded an aura that inspired fear and awe in his subordinates.
"What are you talking about?" he calmly asked.
How would they dare hide anything? They hurriedly apprised him of the ultimatum.
Anger flashed in Long Zhe's eyes. "Despicable bullies! They want our surrender?"
"Sectmaster, don't be angry. Your health comes first."
"That's right. There's hope as long as we have you with us, Sectmaster."
Long Zhe commanded great respect from his senior executives.
No one would call him weak for losing against the Order. The enemy had been too strong. No matter how strong the sectmaster was, he couldn't overcome four great emperors all by himself.
How could the Order have so many great emperors? Moreover, its ranks were swelling even as they spoke! That was the most fearsome part.
What magic spell had the Order cast upon these cultivators to make them so eager to join?