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Everviolet would have lost his temper at Scourcloud's attitude and exploded in a pitched battle if they weren't currently within the headquarters.

But sadly, they were, so he reined in his anger and didn't blow his top. In any case, he might have once again come out the worse for wear in a battle. Not because of the fighting, but because he had no justification for taking action.

The Order forbade internal fighting and he was in Scourcloud's residence. Trespassing on someone else's house? The fault would be entirely his if a dispute were to erupt.

Everviolet kept a tight hold on his anger and stomped away in a huff.

Scourcloud watched the departing figure, as cool as ever to Everviolet's moods. Everviolet was a leader of the wandering cultivators, yet he's so unwavering in his submission to the supreme lord. Has humanity's fortunes truly fallen so low?

This mysterious protector king had his own bottom line. Unlike his peer, he didn't drift with the waves, blindly following orders and committing distasteful acts. He even wondered whether the supreme lord was wary of him, or truly valued him too much to send him on small errands.

"A fake siege on the Ninesuns Skysect on one side, another fake siege on the Celestial Cicada Court on the other. What can he be up to?

"Perhaps he's gotten word from the assembly that the grand alliance is aimed at him. Perhaps he knows the Ninesuns Sky Sect will be a hard bone to pick with Veluriyam's backing. Is that why he's revised his plans? Or does he have something else in mind? Are the pretend attacks simple diversions?"

When it came to the supreme lord, Scourcloud's bold guesses were as good as anyone else's. Common sense didn't apply to the man. There was surely a mad scheme behind these actions.

"He still doesn't fully trust his protector kings, even if all of them have taken his Exultation Pill of Wind and Order."

The pill was one of the ways the supreme lord controlled his protector kings. It enhanced their cultivation, but it also contained a unique poison that would be lethal without regular doses of antidote.

It was a very cruel, even insidious move. But it was common practice for the supreme lord.    Bluntly put, one had to follow his rules if one wanted to enjoy the benefits he provided. Otherwise, one wasn't even qualified to join his faction.

In fact, such behavior was understandable from a man in his position. What ruler didn't wish for obedient, untroublesome subjects?

Not to mention that these were subordinates he'd taken in along the way. There was naturally a clear difference in loyalty compared to the firm bonds between genuine sect peers. So he indeed required the Exultation Pill.

Scourcloud felt restless. Though a member of the Order, he didn't approve of its actions. Destroying the Boundary Steles in particular, went against his beliefs. He'd voiced his opposition many times.

Alas, the supreme lord had been determined to see it through, remaining impervious to the protector king's urgings. Moreover, he'd been the only one among all eight kings to have stood firm in his opposition. A couple others had been doubtful, but they'd quickly given in to the supreme lord's resolve and had firmly supported the decision instead.

Perhaps herein lay the reason why the supreme lord had never sent him on missions. If not for his outstanding cultivation, he might already have been stripped of his title of protector king.

I wonder if Veluriyam Capital already knows about the northwest? The faction's young lord Jiang Chen was now the only one who could reverse the situation. How I might send him word of this development?

Scourcloud had become unnerved by the supreme lord's inscrutable plans. Worry and confusion were growing inside his heart.

"The Exultation Pill will flare up sooner or later if I leave. I don't mind dying, but my death should  at least be meaningful. I've stayed here for so many years, but I haven't unearthed any secrets yet. What a waste of four years spent in painful isolation!"

He gently stroked his disguised face, slowly removing the mask. Inside the mirror, a horrifying face leered back at him. A cold, firm smile appeared on his lips. "I even changed my martial path and disfigured myself. Wouldn't it be laughable if I had nothing to show for it?"

As it turned out, the protector king's heart didn't belong to the Order.

Everyone had to use their true guise in order to attain the status of a protector king. His unwavering resolve and courage to conceal his own and resort to self-mutilation was something that not everyone could do. 

The supreme lord hadn't imposed such a harsh requirement on the lower ranked Celestial Stars and Earthly Fiends. But the stricter scrutiny was mere common sense. After all, protector kings were involved with the highest level of decision-making.

Veluriyam Capital.

"Young lord, we've found a group of men skulking their way towards the Celestial Cicada Court. They're aiming for the sect's rear."

"Young lord, followers of the Order are gathering inside the Ninesuns Sky Sect's borders as if readying for a siege. They're commanded by Emperor Everviolet."

"Young lord, the Moon God Sect has proof the Order is behind the northwestern troubles. They await your decision!"

Bits of intelligence filtered to Jiang Chen one after another. He'd done his level best to filter out fake information over the past few days. Yet, many happenings still reached his ears, each more pressing than the last.

"Surrounding the Celestial Cicada Court's rear?" Jiang Chen frowned. The Court was Su Huanzhen's sect, Veluriyam's close companion and its staunchest ally. With the Court's main force still in Veluriyam, a sudden attack might spell untold damage, harming all of the sect's fortunes.

"What is the Order up to now?" he puzzled.

Sounding east to strike west instead?

But where was east and where was west? Who was the Order's real goal?

It was impossible to tell with the information at his disposal. The Celestial Cicada Court seemed the least likely target. But in war, nothing could be ruled out. Perhaps this least likely target was precisely the Order's next goal.

"This supreme lord is a master tactician. We're like puppets dancing in his palm."

Jiang Chen was a tad irked. In so many years in the the human domain, even his most fearsome opponent Pillzenith had never backed him so tightly into a corner.

With so many allies, a direct assault on the Order seemed the best choice.

Yet, in the depths of his mind, there was a voice telling him this wasn't a wise choice.

By the time his forces reached his target, the Order might have already vacated the premises, turning around to attack Veluriyam instead or a first rank sect. The alliance might find its ancestral homes under siege. Anything was possible.

Meanwhile, the Order clearly had little attachment to the Unbounded Region. It was merely a temporary springboard for them. If they could truly invade Veluriyam or a first rank sect, would they be hurting for another land to occupy?

Even the Heavenly Dragon Sect's domain was vastly superior to their current location. This was the sorest issue for Jiang Chen.

The Order was young yet and unweighed down by baggage, affording them greater flexibility. They could abandon the Unbounded Range at the drop of a hat. However, not even the lowest third rank sect in the alliance could abandon its home. Away from their roots, they would wither and die.

"Young lord, this supreme lord seems to be reading our actions like an open book!" Emperor Wellspring voiced his doubts.

Jiang Chen blinked. "What do you mean?"

"They seem aware that we've decided to bide our time for now. That's why they're sending their troops everywhere and putting us under pressure. There must be moles inside our alliance."

Jiang Chen had also come to this conclusion. It was impossible to prevent spies in such a large gathering.

Many wandering powerhouses had attended the grand assembly. Moreover, no one could guarantee the Order hadn't infiltrated one sect or another. 

"Old Brother Hui, the Order is crafty and cunning . All of their troop movements are decoys. They must be forcing us to spread ourselves thin so they can take us down on all sides."

Jiang Chen had his own guesses as to the supreme lord's plans.

Emperor Wellspring muttered, "It's a real possibility. Or perhaps they have a main target in mind, while everything else is a smokescreen?"

A main target?

That was the most troublesome part. Which was the main target? No matter which sect it was, if they couldn't react in time, it would invariably weaken such a freshly born alliance.

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