The sectmaster's presence somewhat eased the crowd's anxiety. To fight or to capitulate, everything was now in his hands.
Long Zhe heaved a soft sigh. "Everyone, we've all witnessed their strength. We are no cowards, but the situation is simply too dire to overcome."
His words filled the crowd with sorrow. Had the sectmaster decided to surrender?
It might be their only chance to survive, but the prospect filled them with rage and disgust nevertheless.
The Heavenly Dragon Sect surrenders!
Like the plague, the news instantly spread throughout the entire human domain. The overweeningly arrogant and despotic Heavenly Dragon Sect had been beaten into submission!
Jiang Chen also stayed silent for a long while when he received the news.
Seeing his dark expression, Coiling Dragon urged, "Young lord, don't be upset. We didn't expect much from the so-called first rank sects to begin with."
Jiang Chen hadn't put much hope in the Heavenly Dragon Sect. To be frank, there had been little love lost between them, and quite some enmity. But the sudden capitulation filled him with disappointment in the human factions. An inexplicable sorrow welled in his chest. What was he trying so hard for?
To protect mankind?
He'd never been given to such grand aspirations. If not for Emperor Peafowl's urgings, he wouldn't even have taken on this heavy burden. Yet he'd conscientiously done his utmost ever since, rushing here and there, planning for an uncertain tomorrow. What had he gained in exchange?
An invasion from a northern alliance?
One disappointment after another?
The Heavenly Dragon Sect had been part of the northern alliance, yet instead of taking out his anger on them afterward, he'd let them leave safe and sound, hoping they might repent one day. But like cowards, they'd surrendered to an upstart. Were they following in Pillfire's footsteps?
The Heavenly Dragon Sect had been renowned for its unyielding pride. However, when push came to shove, they'd laid down their weapons instead of fighting to the last breath.
Jiang Chen was indeed a little discouraged.
"Coiling Dragon, both your clan and the Heavenly Dragon Sect share dragon ancestry. Dragons are the proudest of ancient tribes. They would die rather than face humiliation. Tell me, what would your choice have been?"
Coiling Dragon smiled wryly. "Young lord, that's too difficult a question. What I can say is that men of my clan are born of Veluriyam and will die ghosts of Veluriyam. We will never surrender. This I swear!"
Jiang Chen nodded. "It's too bad there are so few like you. Even in our city, not everyone is as determined."
Coiling Dragon sighed. "Don't I know it."
Such was the state mankind was currently in. Many ancient beliefs and convictions had been lost. Unlike their forebears, factions could no longer face death with courage and equanimity. Fortunately, only Coiling Dragon and Void were currently present beside Jiang Chen.
Void comforted, "Young lord, don't feel down. The Order is merely trying to intimidate us before the great assembly."
Jiang Chen nodded. "You're right. Tell everyone to stay on their toes. To be forewarned is forearmed."
"Indeed, the Order won't take the formation of the alliance lying down."
"The assembly might be the first direct confrontation between us." Anticipation flashed in Coiling Dragon's eyes.
After receiving Veluriyam's summons, every faction made due haste, rushing to join the gathering.
News continuously trickled into Veluriyam over the next couple of days. It was an unusually grave atmosphere within the city.
"Young lord Jiang Chen, the second rank Water Mirror Sect was ambushed and exterminated on its way here."
"Young lord, the Celestial Capital Upper Region's second rank Butterfly Sect has also been attacked by an unknown enemy. Only a single cultivator managed to flee alive."
Seven factions were waylaid over the course of a few days. Almost no one survived the attacks.
The string of bad news terrified many would-be participants. Quite a few second or third rank sects sounded the retreat midway. Some sects even received words after barely stepping outside their doors. They then thought better of their actions and returned home.
The Order of Wind and Cloud had begun its revenge. Want to unite the world? We won't let you!
It was a low blow to be certain, but the results spoke for themselves. Out of the several hundred sects above third rank, more than half waved the white flag.
These factions had been hesitant from the start. They'd merely answered Veluriyam's call to curry favor and avoid the city's ire.
But now, these fence-sitters could feel death breathing down on their necks and had naturally decided to withdraw. They weren't devoted enough to give up their lives for Veluriyam's sake.
One could imagine Jiang Chen's gloom. There was nothing he could do, other than wait and see. The entire city seethed with rage. The Order was too despicable!
But Veluriyam had no answer to their contemptible methods.
The Order had vast manpower at its disposal and countless powerhouses. By hook or by crook, they would stop at nothing until they achieved their goal. The cruelty of the wanton slaughter and destruction had gone beyond the former Pillfire City.
In a few short days, the Order had made a ruthless and cruel example out of a dozen sects. Their strategy bore evident results.
Half a month later, only one-fifth of the factions had safely reached Veluriyam. The assembly had lost much of its luster.
Fortunately, all of the first rank sects had arrived. The Eternal Celestial Capital had been destroyed and the Heavenly Dragon Sect had capitulated, but no one else was missing. Its hands full with the northwestern wasteland, the Moon God Sect had sent representatives nonetheless. This allowed the assembly to retain its last shred of dignity.
But the Order of Wind and Cloud immediately issued a statement. Every faction participating in the assembly was an enemy, next in line to suffer the Order's ire.
It was a naked threat!
"Young lord, we can't just let them run rampant like this! Everyone is on tenterhooks."
"Indeed, the Order's already proved its ruthlessness. Add to that the Heavenly Dragon Sect's surrender... the entire human domain is now afraid of them."
Jiang Chen wracked his brains for many days.
"Attend to me. Coiling Dragon, tell the Order that this young lord is waiting for them at the grand assembly in Veluriyam. Rather than cheap tricks behind our backs, let's have a showdown if they dare. Real cultivators step forward and fight in broad daylight. Wretched murder in the dark won't gain them any respect!"
Sensible arguments would be wasted on the Order. It had already demonstrated the depths of its unscrupulous and outrageous nature. Hence, he could only resort to an even more outrageous approach.
A direct showdown wasn't the ideal solution, but it wasn't a bad choice in the current situation.
An attack on the Order would be fraught with danger; but in his own domain, he could use the advantage of terrain to teach them a lesson.
However, would the Order be so accommodating?
Nothing was less certain. The worst case scenario would be for them to ignore his challenge and intimidate more factions into surrender.
If so, they would be even harder to deal with.
If they agreed to an honorable duel, he would welcome them with open arms. But as expected, his plan failed. The Order replied that a brawl against Veluriyam was beneath its dignity.
Veluriyam ought to wisen up and surrender sooner rather than later. Otherwise, the Order would next set its sights on the city itself! Veluriyam wouldn't be as lucky as the Heavenly Dragon Sect. Once mobilized, the Order would butcher anyone who dared resist!
The entire city simmered with anger at such arrogance. But no matter how much they despised the upstart, there was little they could do.
Strength wasn't the most frightening thing here. No, what made the Order the most troublesome type of opponent was that, despite its blatant power, it never thought twice about resorting to shameless, underhanded methods.
Compared to the Order, Pillzenith's petty tricks were like a twelve months old baby who'd barely learned to walk.
A deathly stillness descended upon the Veluriyam, the lull before the storm. To think a faction that'd emerged a mere four years ago would gain enough momentum to back Veluriyam into such a corner!