"Young lord, we owe you yet another favor!" the head sectmaster exclaimed.
Descending, Jiang Chen saluted back with a cupped fist salute. "Honored sectmasters, now isn't the time for pleasantries. The Boundary Stele is broken and the Embittered Savages are invading. The northwest will be embroiled in the fires war sooner or later. You must decide what the Moon God Sect is going to do sooner rather than later."
The immediate danger had passed, but the Moon God Sect wasn't out of the woods yet. The real difficulties were yet to come.
The head sectmaster sighed softly, glancing at the northwestern wastes. Her eyes were filled with a heartfelt wariness. She and her peers were quite grateful for their recent escape from the jaws of death.
After all, they had been fighting with the understanding of certain death. Only Jiang Chen's timely reinforcement had saved them. It was difficult for them to take much of a hardline stance before him.
"I would like to return to the Moon God Sect proper before we discuss it further. Shall we speak there, young lord?"
"Please." Jiang Chen nodded.
The Moon God Sect as a whole had sunk into a strange sort of panic. The three sectmasters' return relieved that to a certain degree.
There'd been all sorts of rumors circulating during their absence. The people's concerns and fears were numerous. These details were clearly visible to the sectmasters.
"Excuse the embarrassment, young lord." The head sectmaster was none too proud of her people's performance.
Jiang Chen waved a hand. "Not at all, sectmaster. Most sects in the human domain wouldn't have been able to do what you all did. Some sects can't even maintain an upright attitude before the likes of the Order, much less the Embittered Savage Tribe."
It was true. The Moon God Sect had already displayed remarkable responsibility in this trying time. Perhaps another sect would;ve fled wholesale.
The head sectmaster was thoroughly despondent. Clearly, the results of the northwestern trip had let her down a great deal. As one of the eight first rank sects of the Upper Eight Regions, it had posed no resistance to the Embittered Savage Tribe. This was a big blow to her pride.
"Young lord Jiang Chen, how are things with the Order? The human domain has had many years of peace until now. Why are things changing so quickly recently? Is it just a sign of the times?" The head sectmaster was none too eager about this.
"Sectmaster, the human domain's situation is fated to change. The Moon God Sect should make plans for itself sooner rather than later." Jiang Chen knew it was hard for the woman to accept all of this at once. However, he wasn't going to sugarcoat anything.
"Young lord Jiang Chen," the second sectmaster frowned. "Veluriyam Capital is the leader of the human domain. As such, isn't it your duty to lead all human experts in resistance to the bitter end? What do you mean by 'plans'?" Her rationale was more palatable than her tone.
The head sectmaster looked expectant as well. "Yes, young lord. Veluriyam Capital has the strength. If other human heroes are called together under its banner, it's quite possible to defeat the Embittered Savage Tribe. The Moon God Sect is willing to bleed to the last by your side."
Jiang Chen sighed with a helpless smile. "I would like as much as all of you to station troops in the northwest and engage the Embittered Savages in a decisive battle. However, your remoteness may have prevented you from gaining an understanding of the situation in the rest of the human domain.
"The human domain is a straw hut that has leaks everywhere these days, allowing in the elements. The northwest is only one of these leaks. If my estimates are correct, the other Boundary Steles will be in danger as well. One can compare the human domain to a beat-up drum that anyone will eagerly thump. It's quite likely that the Order could launch an alpha strike on Veluriyam Capital itself while I am busy with the Embittered Savages."
The head sectmaster's face colored. "The other Boundary Steles..."
Jiang Chen nodded. "Agarwood Valley's has already been broken once. If not for my whole-hearted efforts to repair it, the Southern Celestial empyrean experts would've charged into the human domain already. The Boundary Stele in the northwestern wastes looks to be impossible to repair for the moment, so large-scale invasion from the Embittered Savages is only a matter of time. From what I know, there are a few other places in the human domain where Boundary Stele realms are situated as well. Of course, that's not the scariest part… do you know where the Order's supreme lord comes from?"
"Where?" The head sectmaster looked confused.
"Myriad Abyss Island." Jiang Chen laid it out straight.
Every executive of the Moon God Sect drew a sharp breath. Myriad Abyss Island? Was it interfering in the situation here as well?
That meant the human domain was teetering on the brink of the abyss - at least, it was much more precarious than they'd first expected.
The head sectmaster couldn't do much more than stand with eyes and mouth agape for a while. Finally, she sighed with some wryness. "So, the Embittered Savage Tribe's invasion is unstoppable then?"
"That's why I asked you to make a choice, sectmasters." Jiang Chen couldn't possibly put everything he had into the northwest just to assist the Moon God Sect.
"What are Veluriyam's plans, young lord Jiang Chen?" The head sectmaster asked.
"To be honest, we're planning on fortifying our holdings and gathering resources. Only with a well-defended base of operations can we come out of this mess alive. If we are forced to run all over the place, we will only be led by the nose by our enemies." Jiang Chen was staunch in this perspective and attitude. Asking him to stake everything on the northwest was impossible.
The second sectmaster couldn't accept this. "Do you mean that you're going to ignore the human domain's troubles, young lord Jiang Chen? Is defending Veluriyam Capital to be your sole objective for a while?"
Jiang Chen sneered. "What do you think Veluriyam should do then? Act like a firefighter and head wherever we're needed?"
His tone turned frosty. "To tell you the truth, I wouldn't have come here today if not for two reasons. One, because of Qingxuan's heartfelt request; and two, because I respect your sense of responsibility. Talking is much easier than doing, but saving the world cannot be the sole responsibility of Veluriyam Capital."
Jiang Chen was more than a bit put out.
The human domain's factions hadn't been exactly the height of friendliness towards Veluriyam. When Pillfire had still been around, it had been targeted several times.
"Please quell your anger, young lord Jiang Chen. The Moon God Sect respects Veluriyam's actions a great deal as well." The head sectmaster hastened smooth things over when she noted Jiang Chen's unhappiness.
The young man's reply was cool. "Head Sectmaster, both I and Veluriyam have done much for the human domain in recent years. We didn't do it for credit or praise, but I haven't been impressed with the behavior of the other factions either. Despite Emperor Peafowl's and my own contributions, what have we been repaid with? Inciting civil unrest, attacking the capital, and open warfare and hostility in general. The rise of the Order of Wind and Cloud was instantly supported by a multitude of experts, who then turned their spears toward Veluriyam Capital… I can say that my city has never let the human domain down even once over the years. But what have you done for us in return apart from drag us down?
"Is a human domain like this worth my Veluriyam Capital protecting? Is it worth me risking my life time and again?" At least of half of Jiang Chen's speech was frustrated venting.
The head sectmaster and the others looked mildly disconcerted. He wasn't entirely wrong. Under Pillfire's influence, most factions in the human domain had leaned towards antagonism towards Veluriyam. Some could even have been called outright belligerent. It was unreasonable to ask Veluriyam to do more, given this.
"There's a saying, young lord Jiang Chen, that goes something like this," the head sectmaster sighed softly. "Only in times of unrest can a hero's true character be proven. Veluriyam is pure gold that should not fear the refiner's fire. The human domain's other factions should agree that you are the only leader fit for them now, no?"
"Agree?" Jiang Chen snickered. "Only because they have no other choice. I have no desire to argue with you about this. Veluriyam Capital will fulfill its responsibility as the leader of humanity the best it can. However, present circumstances deserve a piece of advice. Don't fall prey to naïve delusions, but understand the whole of the situation. The human domain from now on will only be worse off than it appears, never better. The slightest misstep can mean death from now on."
The head sectmaster remained wordless.
The second sectmaster frowned. "Young lord Jiang Chen, aren't you exaggerating? Even if the Embittered Savages invade, as long as everyone works together…"
"If it were only the Embittered Savage Tribe, then there would be no problem. The Southern Celestial Tribe and other unknown forces outside the other Boundary Steles however, make things a lot more uncertain. None of these factions are inferior to human forces. You've seen the Embittered Savage's strength firsthand. The Southern Celestials have empyrean experts all over. The Order of Wind and Cloud comes from Myriad Abyss Island. And yet, all of these pale to the awakening demons."
Jiang Chen had no reason to exaggerate. The human domain had no room for optimism right now.
"The demons?" The head sectmaster's phoenix eyes narrowed. "Are the demons stirring?"
"I haven't been in the world for long, but I've already encountered a demon lord and a demon emperor. This doesn't include the demons I met in the desolate wildlands either. I just want to say that if the seal over the desolate wildlands is broken and the demons return to the world, the human domain will become an infernal carnival. It's quite possible that all humans will be wiped out."
The second sectmaster wanted to say something more, but the head sectmaster stopped her with a look. The latter was more clear-minded than the former.
"Young lord Jiang Chen, we've never known very much about the situation elsewhere because of our remoteness in the northwest. Please, enlighten us on what we should do from now on." The head sectmaster's tone was very humble.
There was no other way. Their short exchange with the Embittered Savage Tribe had illustrated her the gaping difference between them. To put it bluntly, the Moon God Sect's chances of survival were minuscule without Veluriyam Capital's protection. Unless they were willing to become slaves of an alien race, of course!