It was plain to see that Shu Wanqing had tossed aside all notion of morality and decorum in his age. When that occurred, a man like him would become a terrifying presence.
He was willing to ignore all that happened in the human domain to conserve his lifespan and energy. No matter what disaster or calamity befell it, he felt absolutely no emotional disturbance.
A faint smile hung on Xiahou Jing's face as he unabashedly observed Shu Wanqing's expression. Their gazes clashed, each attempting to probe something out of the other.
Shu Wanqing's was perpetually calm. He reacted very little to the hatred towards Veluriyam emitting from the younger man.
"Your heart is steadfast, Daoist Shu. Why should the path to the supreme dao be denied you?" Xiahou Jing's comment was an unknown mixture of mockery and politeness.
"Thank you for the undeserved praise," Shu Wanqing smiled.
"You are a straightforward man, Daoist Shu. I won't beat around the bush then. It's a crime for someone of your talents to remain in the human domain. Myriad Abyss Island would make a much better home for you. It's not that I'm throwing my clout around or anything, but I can guarantee your admission there. You may find it possible to enter with your own strength, but Myriad Abyss is a bit too mysterious for the human domain in general. Usually, there are only instances of people from the former visiting the latter. The reverse is essentially impossible without having the coordinates."
Shu Wanqing sighed in deep agreement. "I've tried it before, but each of my previous attempts ended in failure. There were a few times I came quite close to death, so my desire to do so faded after a while. If you hadn't appeared, I wouldn't have shown myself in the world once more at all."
For empyrean experts, taking even a single step into the mortal world cost them a great deal.
They had to live cowardly and conservative lives in order to guarantee they could preserve their lives, wasting no energy on what was unnecessary.
"How many more secluded masters are there in the human domain, daoist? Ones like you, I mean," Xiahou Jing mused.
He had always known that there were sure to be secluded experts in the human domain. The exact number though, was much more up in the air.
"How many exactly? It's hard for me to answer that myself," Shu Wanqing sighed. "Every year yields a different answer. I knew of six a few thousand years ago. Now? Who knows how many are still alive now?"
In the human domain, someone who had broken into empyrean realm were limited by available resources - both material and spirit energy. As such, their lives were only double that of great emperor realm experts here. This was one of the reasons that empyrean experts had been nonexistent for many years.
Xiahou Jing laughed, quickly following up. "Is there any way to contact them?"
Shu Wanqing's reply was cool. "Did you want to recruit them, Supreme Lord?"
Xiahou Jing made no attempt to deny it. "I don't want to see empyrean experts languish in this coarse environment," he laughed.
"There is no need to make those plans. Just because I'm willing to cooperate with you doesn't mean they will do the same. Perhaps some are contrary enough to be angered by your attempts to stir things up here in the human domain. They will then attempt to thwart your plans at every quarter. If you are not worried about that, you go ahead and try."
Not all empyrean experts had the same nature.
"Hahaha, you are a direct man indeed, Daoist Shu." Xiahou Jing roared with laughter, but no longer brought up the matter of other empyrean experts. He turned to something different. "Do you have any ideas about the cooperation you mentioned earlier?"
"I will lend only my strength. It is up to you to craft any stratagems required." Shu Wanqing was as straightforward as ever.
The death of Xiahou Jing's retainers, Elders Peng and Mo, meant that there was a void of power he desperately needed to fill. Shu Wanqing's appearance shored that up perfectly. He would be a fool to not grasp this opportunity. After all, he didn't have the shamelessness to return to Myriad Abyss Island to ask aid.
If House Xiahou knew how poorly he had done here in the human domain, his lofty status within the house would crash into the ground. As such, there was no reason for him to miss out an empyrean expert like Shu Wanqing at this time.
Moreover, the fact that Shu Wanqing had been able to break the stony field alone showed his immense strength. He was probably stronger than the elders had been.
Xiahou Jing thought about things for a moment before coming up with an idea.
"Daoist Shu, if you are an empyrean expert of the human domain, cultivators all over the realm will surely flock to you if you send out the call. Even if they don't do so immediately, at least they won't support Veluriyam instead. If we pair that with a bit of brutality, every faction will fall beneath our boot. Once Veluriyam Capital's arms and legs are cut off, it will be trivial to take Jiang Chen on."
"Why make it so complicated?" Shu Wanqing frowned. "On a larger scale, it seems to be a fight between the Order and Veluriyam. But really, it's just a spat between you and Jiang Chen. As long as we can deal with the city's leader, everything else will follow."
In his age, Shu Wanqing preferred to head directly for the goal rather than engage in anything too complex. Dealing with Jiang Chen was a precise, efficient maneuver. Without him, Veluriyam Capital would no longer be a problem.
"It's not that easy to deal with him," Xiahou Jing smiled wryly. "Do you think I haven't thought of doing that? I've already assigned him sufficient importance, but what did I get in the end? The deaths of my two closest empyrean retainers!"
He clenched his teeth as he said this. Sparks of anger flew out of his eyes. Clearly, he still held the loss of the two elders very dear.
"That scoundrel himself isn't very strong. He has eight Primordial Stone Golem Tribe warriors, which is probably his strongest asset. He has a Vermilion Bird as well, but it's at the end of its rope. I assume it'll be dead before long."
Xiahou Jing was filled with resentment for the bird as well. He'd lured it with many promises and gifts, but it had remained totally impassive toward him. It was a thoroughly dishonorable experience.
"According to what I know," Shu Wanqing suddenly intoned emotionlessly, "this isn't the first time you've fiddled with Boundary Steles. The one broken at Agarwood, the one in the northwestern wastes this time… the Order of Wind and Cloud is behind this, is it not?"
He appeared to have complete knowledge of these things.
Xiahou Jing was a bit surprised. "You know so much despite being a hermit?"
"Your line of thought is correct," Shu Wanqing stated. "Once the Boundary Stele in the northwestern wastes is shattered, the Embittered Savage Tribe will invade with an army. Veluriyam Capital will be hindered by the new distraction and there will be increased opportunities to deal with Jiang Chen!"
There was no hint of compassion or guilt in Shu Wanqing's voice. Xiahou Jing marveled at his lack of empathy. It seemed odd. He had made contact with many other human domain experts, and those people had harbored a degree of care for the land even after joining the Order. Most cultivators especially couldn't accept the breaking of the Boundary Steles.
As an empyrean expert, Shu Wanqing should have been a leader and elder among humanity. Why was he so uncaring in this regard?
Did he have no sense of belonging to this domain, to his race?
How much enmity did he harbor in his heart to reach this level?
"Daoist Shu, if I may ask, will you really be able to stand by and idly watch while the Embittered Savage Tribe invades?" Xiahou Jing couldn't resist inquiring.
"And why not?" Shu Wanqing replied even-handedly. "Every step I've taken thus far has been over a mound of bones. The heavenly dao was never prepared for those with extraneous things like compassion. Only those with a heart of stone is fit to receive it. Who cares who lives and who dies, be they human or otherwise? What grace have I received from them, that I should worry over their lives?"
Xiahou Jing clapped, laughing. "Good, good! No wonder Daoist Shu was able to reach empyrean realm, while those pursuers of false dao in the human domain languish as great emperors unto their deaths. Everything has a reason behind it. That means that Jiang Chen will only be able to get to great emperor at most. I wonder what the Primordial Stone Golem Tribe sees in him?"
In the northwestern wastes, the head of the Moon God Sect was at her limit. Her pretty eyes were bloodshot and her elegant face pale.
"Sectmaster, rest for a while. I'll fill in for a bit." The second sectmaster wasn't as fatigued as the main sect head, but she was plenty tired in her own right.
She cursed as she said this. "Those bastards of the Upper Eight Regions… are they really men?! We sisters have held this place down for so long. Where are our reinforcements? Are they going to let us die here?"
The main sect head sighed softly. "Don't complain, sister. The Order of the Wind and Cloud is set on harming the entire human domain. Perhaps it has already fallen into a great war. The lack of reinforcements is understandable."
Because they were in the northwestern wastes, their knowledge of what had happened in the outside world was delayed. It was difficult just to survive here, not to mention repair the Boundary Stele. They lacked Jiang Chen's methods to do so, so they were finding it quite taxing to perform the same task.
As time went on, they felt their strengths falter. If there was no change to their situation, the Boundary Stele would crumble within three to five days at most.
Once it did, the human domain would no longer have any defense against the Embittered Savage Tribe. Sensing the blood in the water, that bestial tribe would come rushing in.
Or perhaps they were already mobilizing on the other side.