Almost all of the factions that mattered in the human domain were gathered at Veluriyam Capital.
His expression stern, Jiang Chen's gaze swept past everyone in the audience. "Ladies and gentlemen, what are your future plans?"
They'd formed an alliance the last time, but it hadn't convened since his departure for the Ninesuns Sky Sect. With the rapidly changing circumstances, they might've had a change of heart. For him, indecisive fellows weren't welcome in Veluriyam.
The city hungered for talent, but quality mattered far more than quantity. It was better to do without factions that only saw him as a temporary refuge, who were ready to abandon ship as soon as the tides turned. Thus, he needed to ascertain their true intentions.
Ninesuns' Emperor Clearsky was the first to speak. "Young lord, battle didn't break out at my sect in the end, but all of us have witnessed your righteous loyalty. It will be difficult for any sect by themselves to withstand the great changes upon us. Apart from you, who else is qualified to lead us all?"
He thumped his chest. "From now on, the Ninesuns Sky Sect is at your orders. May the heavens be witness to our oath and strike us dead if we betray you."
He was clear-sighted enough to recognize that apart from Veluriyam, no other faction had the ability to withstand the upcoming dangers. The city was mankind's last hope. Being the leader of a previously hostile sect lent his words greater credence.
The Skysword Sect's Han Qianzhan laughed heartily. "Let me be frank. My sect already has a deep friendship with the young lord, and without his protection, I don't think we can survive, unless we're enslaved by another race."
Su Huanzhen sighed softly. "My Celestial Cicada Court naturally has no objection to young lord Jiang Chen as our young leader. We'll provide whatever assistance is in our power."
The Eternal Celestial Capital had been eradicated, the Order had defeated and then absorbed the Heavenly Dragon Sect. Out of the eight first rank sects, only six were left. And among the six, three had clearly expressed their stance.
The Empyrean River palace master sighed softly. "Young lord, my sect was once close to Pillfire, but since we're now allies, we're naturally yours to command against foreign invaders. We have no second thoughts, this I do swear!"
Only the Sublime Chord Temple and the Moon God Sect were left. The Moon God Sect's representatives hadn't arrived yet, so the Sublime Chord Temple became the center of attention.
"We're willing to obey the young lord," the Temple also declared.
The remaining second rank and third rank sects naturally followed suit in the wake of the first rank sects.
A faint smile on his lips, Jiang Chen stayed noncommittal. He waited for everyone to say their piece before nodding. "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm very grateful you all think so highly of me, but you're mistaken.
"You speak of swearing loyalty and obeying my command. But in fact, Veluriyam's forces are strong enough to stand tall even in these troubled times. Your first loyalty should be to your own conscience. Don't feel compelled by the circumstances. I have no need for fairweather friends who will go where the wind blows.
"I like being blunt upfront." Jiang Chen's gaze seemed mild, yet it exuded a forbidding dignity. "You can stand here and talk to your heart's content because we share a common identity. We're all humans with the same ancestors, the same homeland, and the same mission. But if some of you have forgotten who you are or your own conscience, then please leave. Whatever your future endeavors are, I promise not to stop you."
The crowd turned grave. Everyone realized he'd spoken from the heart.
"All of you are aware of the disunity infecting our domain. We're busy either fighting or scheming against each other. But if we continue down that path, foreign invaders will carve us apart and send us to the depths of hell before we even face the demons." His words hammered the crowd like heavy blows.
Indeed, many had fallen into the very vicious circle he'd spoken of. Every major faction busily schemed and undermined its peers.
But peace was now a thing of the past. Alien races had begun to stir, extending their clutches deep into the human domain. If nothing changed, humans would be easily divided, then picked apart one by one.
For example, the Order had pushed mankind almost to the brink of despair in a few short years. Now that Boundary Steles were breaking one after another, the threat of the foreign races loomed large upon the human domain.
Jiang Chen declared gravely, "I need to remind you all of something else as well. I've been to the northwest in the past few days and seen the Boundary Stele there completely broken. The Embittered Savages' vanguard has already crossed into our lands. If not for my timely arrival, they would have captured the Moon God Sect's three sectmasters, many of its holy maidens, and wrested control of the entire region."
"The Embittered Savages… have they truly come?" Clearsky turned somber.
The audience's expressions mirrored his. The tribe's ominous reputation had persisted from antiquity until now. Anyone would pale at the mere mention of their name.
Han Qianzhan asked gravely, "Are they as fearsome as they used to be in the past?"
"Young lord Jiang Chen, you've fought them. What's your assessment of their strength?" Full of questions, the crowd was keen to learn more.
"I'm not fond of alarmist talk, but none of the first rank sects in our domain could've withstood that simple advance party."
All of the sect heads turned grim at the news. Even a first rank sect couldn't withstand the advance party? Their strength hadn't dwindled at all since antiquity?
"Some of you must think I'm exaggerating. No matter. You'll have ample opportunities to face them in person." Jiang Chen could read the skepticism written on some faces.
Someone outside the gates suddenly announced, "Young lord, the three Moon God sectmasters and several holy maidens have arrived outside Sacred Peafowl Mountain. They seek an audience with you."
Jiang Chen blinked, then quickly understood. The Moon God Sect had finally realized they needed a protector and came to offer their allegiance.
"Good timing. Send them in." He'd been worried no one could back him up with first-hand experience, but the Moon God Sect could now tell the rest of these fellows about the Savages' viciousness.
Accompanied by Xu Qingxuan, the sectmasters and holy maidens quickly arrived at the scene.
Rather ashamed, the senior sectmaster said, "Young Lord, I haven't had the opportunity to repay you for your life-saving grace, but here I am, troubling you again. Please forgive me."
Jiang Chen smiled. "You've come right on time. All of the various factions happen to be gathered to discuss mankind's future. You were the only ones missing."
The senior sectmaster smiled wryly. "To think we would be last. Allow me to express my thanks. Without the young lord, I fear we'd never have had the opportunity to meet again."
A heavy atmosphere descended upon on the crowd.
Su Huanzhen asked, "Head Sectmaster, since you've fought against the Savages, can you tell us exactly how strong they are?"
"How strong?" The senior sectmaster's tone was bitter. "Courtmaster Huanzhen, that's a sore subject for us, to tell the truth. I can't tell you the full extent of their fighting potential, because they didn't need to go to any effort to almost destroy us. If not for the young lord's timely rescue, all of us would've already been disgraced."
Lingering fear coursed through her at the memory of the battle.
Those in the audience looked at each other. Silence stifled the air; only the crowd's urgent, oppressive breathing could be heard.
"Are the Embittered Savages truly this fearsome?" The Empyrean River Palace's palace master's tone was wry.
"We've only faced the troops led by one prince from one village, yet there were at least three empyrean masters among them." The senior sectmaster sighed softly. "How many villages do the Savages number? How many empyrean masters do each of them possess?"
No one could answer.
In the end, everyone's gaze landed on Jiang Chen. The young lord truly hadn't been exaggerating. No matter how rich the heritage of a first rank sect, what use was it against empyrean masters? None of the factions could've withstood that advance party.