The supreme lord bit his tongue. The city's Vermillion Bird guardian had been partly why he hadn't ordered an immediate assault. He feared the golems even more, but the ancient bird had been the one to appear instead. The turn of events both startled and disquieted him.
Why was the Vermillion Bird so recklessly expending its energy when so close to death? Wasn't this accelerating its own demise? This was highly startling.
The golems' absence also disquieted him. Had they all followed Jiang Chen to the Ninesuns Sky Sect? If so, it didn't bode well for Elder Peng and Elder Mo's ambush. There were eight stone brothers after all.
They might not have recovered their full strength and couldn't match the two elders in individual fighting prowess potential. But even with the advantage of surprise, two elders against eight golems was a tall order.
Hopefully they can capture Jiang Chen quickly with the Soulless Powder! The supreme master was now regretting his decision. With the two elders by his side, he wouldn't be forced to personally take to the frontlines.
"Vermillion Bird, why do you serve lowly humans in your decrepitude, of all things? Don't you think it's the ultimate disgrace for one of such divine lineage?" The supreme lord attempted to appeal with both reason and emotions.
However, the ancient bird only spoke the ancient beast language. It could understand the human's meaning, but didn't take it to heart.
True, the human domain's current strength didn't warrant the protection of such a noble, divine existence. But an insistent voice deep in its heart told it the city was worth defending, even with its life, for no other reason than Jiang Chen!
It couldn't see through the young man, but it had a hunch that the young man could bring about an opportunity for rebirth! Such was its instinct as an ancient divine beast. For that reason, it turned a deaf ear to the supreme lord's arguments. It had vast experience and a firm will. How could a few simple sentences sway its resolve?
Its indifference unsettled the supreme lord. Even an empyrean expert would crumble from the first blow against an ancient Vermillion Bird at its peak. If it was willing to stake its life and ignite what little life essence it had left, he had no confidence he would emerge the victor.
"Senior, Veluriyam isn't worth sacrificing yourself for. Why not join me instead?" His voice took on a beguiling rhythm. "I can tell you're nearing the end of your life. You have less than a century left to live. You require a place suitable for your rebirth!"
Being from Myriad Abyss Island, he was knowledgeable about the Vermillion Birds' characteristics.
His words cut deep into the bird's greatest weakness, sending a ripple across its heart. However, it immediately realized this man was no upstanding or reliable partner. The human's words couldn't be trusted.
"Senior, the spirit veins in this domain are depleted, its lands barren. It can't sustain your rebirth. But I know of an infinitely better place! I can even take you there." His glib tongue didn't produce the desired effect. Rather than weakening, the divine beast's aura thickened even further.
The ancient bird knew well that it couldn't trust the man. Even if he was speaking the truth, he might still end up enslaving it, making it his contract beast. The fellow could scarcely conceal his intense desire to conquer and dominate. To partner with him would be to make a deal with the devil.
"Jiang Chen, I'm barely holding on here. I can intimidate him at most, but if you don't make it back soon, I don't have enough lifeforce left for an all-out fight…" Though its determination was too firm to be shaken, it could only deter and delay the enemy.
It could only deter and delay the enemy. No matter how firm its determination, its aged carcass wouldn't endure an intense fight.
"Young lord, just as you thought, there's a group hiding along a road we must pass. Two among them are especially terrifying. My descendants don't even dare go near them. No living creature comes out alive from an area ten miles around them!"
At the border between Veluriyam and the Ninesuns Sky Sect, the rat king kept Jiang Chen abreast of the situation as his descendants continually transmitted new information.
Traveling light, Jiang Chen and the eight golems had arrived quite a while ago and had been biding their time, waiting for the rat clan's intelligence.
What would he have done in the supreme lord's shoes? Given the man's craftiness, an ambush on the way back from the Ninesuns Sky Sect was certainly on the menu. So he'd decided to try his luck.
It'd only been pure conjecture, but if he had been wrong, he would've slipped back to Veluriyam and fought the Order head-on. However, it seemed he'd hit the mark. He could now spring his own surprise attack on the enemies and lay waste to their schemes.
"Young lord, there aren't many of them. We think they must have arranged a poison formation in that area. It must be why we haven't seen any animals come back out alive."
"A poison formation?" A sudden thought occurred to him.
He recalled the many cultivators that had been waiting outside Agarwood Valley. When he'd come out, all of them had vanished. Moreover, he hadn't found the beginning of a clue on site.
There had been a few marks left at most, but nothing that had indicated a fierce struggle. It now seemed clear they'd been captured by the Order. How had the Order accomplished such a task with nary a trace?
Lost in thought, Jiang Chen remained silent.
"It seems the Order relies on more than empyrean powerhouses. They're also experts in poison. Otherwise, it would have been impossible to capture so many men this easily!"
All the pieces of the puzzle finally fell into place.
"Why rely on poison? It means they aren't as overwhelmingly strong they'd like us to believe. Why use such slow methods otherwise?" Using cold logic, he hypothesized the enemy's strength.
"They must be afraid of something. Hm, now that I think of it, that supreme lord must have been hiding in the secret realm and seen everything. Otherwise, why would he have sent so many impostors to Upper Eight Regions' sects to rally the northern alliance against me? He must know I've obtained the Primosanct Sect's inheritance, and even about the golem brothers and Senior Vermillion!"
This must be why the Order had always been reluctant to face him outright.
It was strong without a doubt, but not strong enough to subdue eight primordial era golems. Given the supreme lord's ambition, he wouldn't have wasted time with such roundabout strategy.
The mention of poison suddenly gave the young lord an idea. Scenes of previous battles suddenly emerged in his mind, especially the battle at Cloudshatter Range in Great Scarlet.
Back then, the Veranda master had submitted to Demon Emperor Bloodmalva and deployed the demonic miasma. The Golden Cicada blood had rendered Jiang Chen immune to poison, but he'd feigned weakness to encourage a direct attack from the Veranda master, then instantly killed the latter with a sudden counterattack.
That plan was perfect, if I say so myself. Why not use it again?
"Use the Order's own plans against them…" He suddenly couldn't stop this train of thought. "Big Stone, I have a plan. Are you brothers willing to give it a try?"
The golem replied straightforwardly. "Savior, you saved us. Our lives are yours. We'll do whatever you tell us."
Jiang Chen explained his plan. The golems beamed with excitement, but Big Stone was soon crestfallen. "Savior, we golems are strong, but we aren't immune to poison."
Jiang Chen smiled. "But you don't need to worry about that."
He summoned the Thundercloud Cicada. After many years of evolution, the cicada's strength had greatly improved, reaching an entirely new level of existence. As a result, its bloodline had also been strengthened.
The Cicada howled at the prospect of giving away eight drops of blood. "Big brother Chen, aren't you too cruel? You're going to suck my little body dry at this rate."
Jiang Chen laughed. "Just how much have I asked of you over so many years?"
Indeed, he hadn't asked much of the critter until now. Hence, despite its wails and shrieks, the cicada still complied after playing coy for a while, obediently handing over eight drops of blood essence. "A drop a year. I'm playing dead for the next eight years. Big brother Chen, just forget about me in the meantime!"