Just as Xiahou Jing feared, the entire Order collapsed once news from Veluriyam reached it.
Other than a small core of high-level, die-hard followers, most members became restless. The boldest among them surreptitiously left Unbounded Mid Region to head for Veluriyam. And of the protector kings and elders still at large, more than half went underground, never to return.
However, Emperor Everviolet wasn't one of them. He wasn't that dedicated to the supreme lord, but he'd already burned all his bridges with Jiang Chen.
Others might seek a better future away from the Order. But if he were to leave, could he go to Veluriyam and beg the young lord for an antidote? That would be inviting humiliation onto himself. Not to mentioned, he'd joined the Order on his own initiative.
"There's no need for distress, my lord. Most people are fairweather friends in the martial world. We can't count on them for the sect to grow!" In fact, Everviolet was rather excited. He had his doubts about Xiahou Jing himself, but he was willing to stake all his chips on the young man after learning of his origins.
This supreme lord comes from Myriad Abyss Island. Even if he's failed this time, who's to say he can't turn thing around? That was now Everviolet's fond wish.
His spirit at its lowest, Xiahou Jing was comforted by Everviolet's words.
"Protector King Shockcloud, they say only the strongest grass can withstand the storm. It seems that you're the one most deserving of my trust." Xiahou Jing generously doled some encouragement of his own.
This was the right move to make! Everviolet burst with joy.
"Supreme Lord, we didn't fail not due to lack of strength, but because of strategy. We underestimated Jiang Chen. That bastard Mo Wushuang was a determining factor as well." He gnashed his teeth at the mention of Peerless.
After several days of analysis, he'd come to the conclusion Peerless had been the one to create a chink in their armor and light the fuse of their defeat. Xiahou Jing also fumed when he heard the two words "Mo Wushuang."
"That bastard's always done as he pleased. He pulled a fast one even on me. To think he was Jiang Chen's man all along!"
Everviolet snorted coldly. "I have no idea what he was thinking. Flocking to Jiang Chen? He even looks quite the loyal dog. That said, he's a strange one to have stayed under our noses for so many years without exposing his identity. To think he changed his martial path! I'm familiar with his martial style, but even I was completely duped."
Xiahou Jing exclaimed, "More frighteningly, he didn't hesitate to disfigure himself. It speaks volumes about his resolve!"
Despite his anger, he couldn't but admire Peerless in that aspect.
A grim, murderous glint flashed in Everviolet's eyes. Back in the day, he'd ranked far above Mo Wushuang among the six wandering titans, overshadowing the latter in both strength and prestige. There'd be no question about it.
But now, Peerless was well on his way to eclipsing Everviolet! He couldn't accept that the outcome of the battle had been influenced by someone who used to be inferior to him in every respect.
"Shockcloud, we've suffered a great deal this time, so I need to consider our future plans carefully. In the meantime, you'll be in charge of the consolidation effort."
"Just as you've said, we don't need those fairweather followers. Those left will form our true, most reliable core! We need to make every single one of them feel like they belong. How will we prosper without cohesion?"
Xiahou Jing remained rational despite the crushing defeat. Confront Jiang Chen head-on was no longer an option for the foreseeable future. Lying dormant was the wisest course to take.
Someone outside suddenly reported, "Supreme Lord, there's a visitor who wants a word with you. He calls himself your savior."
Savior? Xiahou Jing immediately thought of the person who'd intervened in the battle and created a small gap in the golems' stone field, giving him a chance to escape.
It wasn't wrong to call the man his lifesaver.
In fact, Xiahou Jing had been puzzling over the matter. Who had it been? Many possibilities had crossed his mind. It might've even been an esteemed senior from Myriad Abyss Island. If so, would the senior bring tales of his disgrace back home?
He'd fretted over the possibility. Now that the "savior" had come to find him, he could no longer postpone the face-to-face. The time for reckoning had come.
"Invite him in!"
Xiahou Jing composed himself and remarked to Everviolet, "Shockcloud, I have high hopes for you. If some of you can become empyrean masters, you might be the first among them."
In spite of his delight, Everviolet remained outwardly humble. "It's my honor to be of use to my lord. Your subordinate has few abilities, but thanks my eye arts, I'm rarely wrong about people. Supreme Lord, you're destined for great things. Your future is limitless."
With silver hair and a white beard, the guest seemed old but exuded an unfathomable aura. After taking place in the seat of honor and sipping the proffered tea, he sighed with emotion. "The Order's supreme lord, a guest from Myriad Abyss Island… Heh, it can't have been easy establishing such a foothold at your young age. Sure enough, Myriad Abyss Island is this continent's true holy land."
Not batting an eye, Xiahou Jing cupped his fist and asked, "Friend, words aren't enough to express my thanks, but you'll have to excuse my shamelessness. May I know your honorable name and background?"
"This old man is named Shu, given name Wanqing," the guest casually introduced himself.
"I am honored to make your acquaintance." Xiahou Jing cupped his fist again. "Daoist Shu, do you have any advice?"
Shu Wanqing stroked his long beard with a faint smile. "I merely came for confirmation."
"Oh?" Xiahou Jing blinked but refrained from inquiring.
"I've heard that the supreme lord is a young man from Myriad Abyss Island?" Curiosity and indifference seeped from the old man's voice in equal measure. Not too eager and not too tepid, he spoke with just the perfect tone.
"Is that very important to you?" Xiahou Jing asked calmly in response.
"You could say it's important, or you could say it isn't." Shu Wanqing chuckled. "Tell me, you must have exhausted all your cards in this defeat?"
"What of it? Fellow daoist, did you come to mock me?" Xiahou Jing suddenly turned frosty.
The old man chuckled leisurely. "Why would I have helped you if so? I could've helped the bastard Jiang Chen subdue you. He'd even have owed me a favor then, don't you think so?"
Xiahou Jing's expression eased. "Fellow daoist, there's no need to beat around the bush. Please say your piece."
Shu Wanqing knocked on his chair's armrest and thought deeply for a long time before responding, "I came to propose cooperation."
"Cooperation?" Xiahou Jing blinked, taken aback. "What kind? Pardon my wariness, but I don't even know where you come from."
"That's no great secret. I was born and bred in the human domain. When I ran free in the world seven thousand years ago, those so-called peak experts in Veluriyam hadn't been born yet!" His voice brimmed with ambition, a tone often belonging to those possessing unbridled arrogance and unrestrained by mundane morals or ethics.
"So you're from the human domain?" A possibility came to Xiahou Jing.
"Correct. What? Do you think I'm not qualified to work with you since I'm not from Myriad Abyss Island?" Shu Wanqing's tone also turned cool.
Xiahou Jing didn't grow angry. He laughed instead. "Of course not. I've just never envisioned a day I'd happily cooperate with someone from the human domain."
"Everything is relative. Should people at our level be bound by mundane bias? I've always done as I pleased. Every man for himself, and the devil take the rest!"
Xiahou Jing slapped the table and laughed heartily. "Well said! Daoist Shu, let's hear what kind of cooperation you have in mind!"
Every man for himself, and the devil take the rest!
This was the cruelest yet bluntest truth of the martial world. Untold cultivators lived by these words, possessing no bottom line and no morality whatsoever. As it turned out, both Xiahou Jing and Shu Wanqing were cut from the same cloth.
"Myriad Abyss Island is the holiest of holies for cultivators like me. But you, Supreme Lord, left it for the human domain. Pardon my rudeness, but they say a man doesn't get out of bed without benefits at stake. You must have your own reason for coming here. As for me, I've become indifferent to mundane affairs after living for so long. What I seek is the supreme dao."
"Alas, the human domain is too weak for the supreme dao of a man of your caliber. Myriad Abyss Island is the place you seek." Xiahou Jing surmised.
Shu Wanqing nodded solemnly. "Correct. I have no desire to involve myself in whatever you're after. However, I can help you against Veluriyam. As payment, I require a pass to Myriad Abyss Island!"