The Order of Wind and Cloud's erratic movements were a source of restlessness for Jiang Chen. Even if he wanted to settle the score immediately, it was doubtful the Order would comply with that intention.
They willing to resort to as much underhandedness as possible, and to do some truly disgusting things. An opponent like this was much harder to handle than an exasperated Pillfire City had been.
The supreme lord's residence within the Order's headquarters was a mysterious and shrouded place. Even the eight protector kings weren't permitted to approach without a summons.
Within the residence, two figures flanked the supreme lord like twin shadows. Their posture signified utmost respect to their dear leader.
"Elder Peng, Elder Mo, you two have been with me for a long time. There's no need for such formalities." The supreme lord waved a hand dismissively.
These two old men were the experts most intimate to the lord. Barely anyone else even knew they existed at all. In fact, Peng and Mo were the most capable of his subordinates - and the most trustworthy, of course. He held these two in much higher esteem than the eight protector kings.
The protector kings were largely people that he'd managed to gather from various places in the human domain. They were natives of the place. These two on the other hand, had always been his retainers.
"Seventh Master, we assist you at the house's orders. You are our master and we must reflect that in our attitude toward you. We dare not overstep our bounds." The speaker was the slightly chubbier Elder Peng.
Beside him, Elder Mo was a thinner, darker-skinned man who nodded in agreement. He seemed naturally averse to talking much. The 'seventh master' on their tongue was none other than the Order of Wind and Cloud's supreme lord.
"Elder Peng, you've spied everywhere in the human domain these days. You should have enough information by now, yes? Do you have any clues?" The supreme lord looked toward the bigger subordinate.
"I've found out a lot, yes," Elder Peng responded quickly. "As a whole, the human domain is the weakest it's ever been since the ancient times. Still, its weakness is superficial to a degree. There's a group of empyrean experts hidden within the human domain, though they habitually feign death through hibernation. The mainstream view here is that peak great emperor is the strongest one can be. Most cultivators believe that no empyrean experts exist in the human domain.
"Of course, it's hard to say they're wrong. Not many empyrean experts exist anymore at all, and the ones that do don't care about human affairs. One could say there's little difference between the two."
The supreme lord nodded slightly. "The human domain has fallen so low. Not even a tenth of the ancient spirit veins remain as they once were. It is wise for the empyrean experts not to show themselves, because they will only accelerate their deaths if they do."
"Haha, waiting won't make much of a difference in their inevitable fates either. They're only fooling themselves! They'll die sooner or later. If the human domain's spirit veins can't recover to their old states, they'll only slowly wither away in their faltering dreams." Elder Peng's tone held a hint of mockery. Clearly, he didn't hold the hidden empyrean experts of the human domain in high regard.
"Nevertheless, their attitude is understandable." The supreme lord inclined his head. "It's good for us that they're not willing to move out. That's one less potential obstacle to our plans."
"Seventh master, we can scoff at these people, but we can't ignore them. If they realize our goal, they might mobilize like mad dogs against us. Our best choice is to keep our true intentions from them."
The supreme lord thought about this for a few moments, then assented. "You're right. We can't reveal our goal. Instead, we must hasten its completion. When other factions from Myriad Abyss shrug off the taboo and surge in, House Xiahou's advantage will not be as pronounced. Currently, House Xiahou is ahead of everyone else in our return to the human domain."
The supreme lord of the Order of Wind and Cloud was the seventh master of Myriad Abyss Island's House Xiahou. If Jiang Chen were present, he would have noticed instantly that the Order belonged to Huang'er's worst enemy.
Of course, this seventh master wasn't the house's most core disciple - ergo, not the one that was supposed to have Huang'er as his cultivation vessel. However, the fact that he was of the same house was reason enough to oppose him.
The seventh master of House Xiahou had snuck into the human domain using a variety of arts, bringing a small retinue with him. Just as Elder Shun had slipped into the human domain with Huang'er all those years ago, House Xiahou's seventh master had necessitated the same kind of secrecy.
There was a taboo imposed on the entirety of Myriad Abyss Island, forbidding anyone to return to the human domain without express permission. It had once been very strict. Because it had been almost two hundred thousand years since the ancient era, it was slowly being forgotten.
It was said that when the taboo had first been announced, an oath had been sworn that two hundred thousand years needed to pass before its reconsideration was possible. This meant that Myriad Abyss Island's forebears had the foresight to realize that things wouldn't change very much in the two hundred thousand years in their future.
Past that, things were much more uncertain.
Regardless, the taboo wasn't yet removed at present time. Though there were many loud voices clamoring for its removal, anyone that returned to the human domain from Myriad Abyss Island before it was actually removed infringed upon the rules.
This was also the reason for Elder Shun's excessively harsh punishment upon his return to his homeland, quite a few years back.
Obviously, the passage of time meant that the taboo had little actual force. The difference was in how people chose to enforce it.
If a group gathered together to make a big deal of itt, the taboo could be the basis to dole out trouble. If there wasn't anyone that cared much about it however, the taboo was a superb tool for personal gain.
House Xiahou had a clear upper hand thanks to their precedence. Perhaps they'd been inspired by Elder Shun and Xi's trips to the human domain.
"Seventh Master," Elder Peng remarked seriously, "we can't reveal our identities yet right now no matter what. House Xiahou can't give its enemies ammunition back on Myriad Abyss Island."
The supreme lord nodded in agreement, then laughed. "Didn't you say you would investigate the young lord of Veluriyam Capital last time, Elder Peng? Do you have any results yet?"
The question piqued Elder Peng's passion. "He's not a simple kid! I went out of my way to gather up every little tidbit about this kid's rise. His path from a commoner to greatness would be remarkable even in back home.
"He started out as the son of some duke of a mundane kingdom. Who knows what kind of amazing insight he'd received to become the leader of the human domain! Apparently, he cured that chit from House Yan of her poison."
The elder related Jiang Chen's exploits with a great deal of interest.
"Heheh, he's certainly brave to touch third brother's chosen woman. I guess she wouldn't have been of much use to him anyway if her poison hadn't been cured, so he's done something helpful in that regard. Still… after touching third brother's woman, his life is as good as over!"
Elder Peng widened his eyes. "Seventh master, you're going to move against Jiang Chen?"
"I might as well do third brother a favor. Nothing wrong with that, eh? No matter how he cured that chit from House Yan, he's punishable by death for even nominally associating himself with a woman chosen by House Xiahou." The supreme lord responded, rather matter-of-factly. He radiated a kind of aloofness that reflected House Xiahou's self-styled supremacy.
"He's pretty capable," Elder Peng smiled. "The Order isn't well established yet, and we have a long way to go before we can find what we're looking for. It doesn't seem like a good use of resources to spend our time and energy on fighting Jiang Chen."
"Inappropriate." The silent Elder Mo finally proffered a single word.
"What's so inappropriate about it?" The supreme lord frowned a little.
"Cart before horse." Three more words were all that the elder was willing to part with.
Elder Peng elaborated helpfully. "Seventh Master, we have all the time in the world to do battle against Jiang Chen later. Right now, our foremost goal should be to complete the house's task of excavating the human domain's ancient sites. We must find the heavenly secret orders that pertain to a primordial secret. That secret has never been cracked, even in ancient times.
"Back in the day, all seven secret orders came close to being collected together. Alas, there was a failure at the eleventh hour. Because the seven heavenly secret orders have never been gathered, the primordial secret has never been divulged. It's been two hundred thousand years, and Divine Abyss Continent is about to enter into another period of turmoil. We have to take advantage of this opportunity before the storm, and make use of what little time we have left!"
Elder Peng had the best of intentions. He knew that House Xiahou was a uniformly prideful family. They could not accept a woman they felt they owned being defiled by another. This was the reason for the Order of Wind and Cloud's recent opposition to Veluriyam Capital.
The only reason for it had been the seventh master's displeasure with Jiang Chen, leading to a deep-seated desire to make trouble for the latter. Unfortunately, covert observation has revealed that it wasn't an easy task to deal with Jiang Chen.
Back in Agarwood's secret realm, the seventh master and the two elders had been hidden during the entire sequence of events. The method they'd hid themselves with was so clever that neither the Vermilion Bird nor the celestial demon lord had noticed them.
Not that either ancient being had been at the peak of its strength, to be completely fair. The separation of both from the outside world had severely weakened them.