Drawing lots was an extremely primitive solution. Thankfully, there were more than enough here to pull it off.
Xiahou Jing nodded after a head count. "We're missing a few, including Protector King Gentlewind. Has anyone seen him?"
Everyone shook their heads. They'd been set on escaping the chaos prior; what energy did they have spare to keep an eye out for others?
"Never mind that. If no one's seen him, he is probably dead." Xiahou Jing couldn't care much more than that. "There are twenty-four of us here. Aside from Daoist Shu and I, there are twenty-two of you. You will be numbered from one to twenty-two. Numbers one and two will be up first, three and four close behind, and so on. If nothing unexpected happens, one and two will protect us until we're done. Of course, the later numbers can help us mitigate any dangers noticed! Does that sound fair?"
This makeshift method was reasonably fair. These Order executives discussed it among themselves for a few moments before deciding this was largely acceptable for everyone.
Everyone gathered together and drew lots. The randomization process proceeded apace.
In no time at all, the numbers were assigned. A protector king and Celestial Star were chosen. The unlucky louts paled when they realized their unfortunate fates. Had they really been chosen as the first sacrifices?
Numbers three and four were extremely grave too. Clearly, neither was thrilled with the high-pressure role of being the first backups. If harm befell the two before them, they would need to brave the front lines at any time.
The emotions of five and six were comparatively more stable. Still, there was some worry between their brows. This was true for seven and eight too.
Outside the formation, Jiang Chen could easily guess that the executives had gathered together to discuss a strategy. He was in no rush to attack. He sat cross-legged in place to recover his qi.
His continuous attacks with the Holy Dragon Bow and usage of the Confounding Puppets meant that he had expended a lot of energy. He was able to get only some of it back after modest recovery.
It was at this time that he received a piece of excellent news. The four stone golem brothers were coming toward here, having heard his summons.
At the same time, Veluriyam's army was advancing inexorably in preparation for an all-out attack. All of this was greatly reassuring for Jiang Chen.
He didn't mind the Order's desire to drag things out at all. The Nine Labyrinth Formation was adept at sapping their strength.
Shu Wanqing especially had been, at minimum, crippled by the Holy Dragon Bow. If his wound didn't heal in time, Jiang Chen would have an even better chance at hunting him down.
There was a sudden clamor of noise from outside. The Order's members surged towards this direction as well. The stone golems' earthshaking presences were the catalyst that drove them onwards.
Jiang Chen immediately perceived that the four stone golem brothers had arrived. He was overjoyed. Their arrival meant that his forces on hand were significantly bolstered. It was perfect timing, since he had a use for fresh troops in the slaughter of his enemies.
Big Stone strode over rapidly, his huge legs thundering. Order members fell like dominoes wherever he went, swept to the ground in swathes.
"Savior, we are here!" Big Stone's furious roar was a clap of midday thunder, deafening enough to raise a figurative roof off the rafters.
The stone golem was superbly excited to see Jiang Chen. They'd been worried for their benefactor's well-being during their assignment to destroy the Order's foundations, since splitting up had been required.
Big Stone grinned at the sight of Jiang Chen safe and sound. "Where are the Order bastards, Savior? Where they hiding?"
Jiang Chen smiled smoothly, pointing to the formation. "They're all stuck inside."
Big Stone was completely lost. He couldn't make heads nor tails of the nine scrolls of mazes suspended in midair. From the outside, they were just pretty pictures. Someone unversed in formations wouldn't be able to see inside, much less understand its mysteries.
Jiang Chen instructed rather than explained. "Big Stone, you and your brothers should be on high alert. There are two empyrean experts inside the formation. I shot one of them in the thigh, so he's kind of badly wounded. Still, he should be more of a threat. The other one is the Order's supreme lord. He's younger and comparatively weaker than the old guy, but he's not to be underestimated either."
"Good to know where they are," cackled Big Stone. "We brothers are looking for a fight! The supreme lord is empyrean realm? Perfect. We fight him!"
Just as the stone golem brothers had joined up with Jiang Chen, the Order members outside came to the field when they heard the supreme lord was trapped here.
Order members swarmed all around. However, with the golem brothers' hindrance, these people were unable to approach at all. Any that made the attempt were cut down in droves. There was blood and bodies and death everywhere, a gory sight to behold.
The Order hadn't been composed of staunch warriors from the start. Moreover, since it was so young, its members felt little loyalty and duty to it.
After several charges that led in only death, terror prevailed in the crowd. The ordinary Order members began to flee, no longer interested in their supreme lord and protector kings. If they couldn't save even themselves, what point was there in worrying about others?
Jiang Chen took a deep breath, reaching for his Holy Dragon Bow again. This time, his prey were Xiahou Jing and Shu Wanqing. He could no longer suffer them to run amok. He had had enough of being stabbed in the back.
"Hmm? What are they doing?" Looking inside, he found the Order executives' formation a bit odd.
They had apparently been reduced to a team of expendables. They shambled on ahead, while Xiahou Jing and Shu Wanqing lingered behind.
"Tsk tsk, those two are really pompous. Making the executives stand in front of them as meat shields to save their own lives?" Jiang Chen saw with a single glance how irresponsible these two supposed empyrean experts really were. They were using their subordinates as human shields against his arrows!
He held such behavior in disdain, knowing that Shu Wanqing was scared of the Holy Dragon Bow.
"That old bastard seems to have found some clues as to the function of the Nine Labyrinth Formation. He's probably using these people to protect himself in order to find the exit and escape." A different kind of thought flashed across Jiang Chen's mind. "How can I let him do as he wishes?"
He raised the Holy Dragon Bow, then lowered it. His enemy's cowardly method meant that the bow could only get through six or seven targets before his strength failed. He didn't have a ton of energy in reserve, and squandering it this way was an absolute waste.
He decided to send another Confounding Puppet in to muddy the waters. A single thought was all that was needed; the puppet disappeared into the formation without a trace.
The puppet disguised itself as Protector King Gentlewind in a few moments. It clutched its chest, limping in Xiahou Jing's direction.
"Supreme Lord," a hoarse voice called out.
"Protector King Gentlewind?" Xiahou Jing was shocked. "You're not dead?"
Under Jiang Chen's control, the Confounding Puppet shook its head, sitting down as if out of energy.
Xiahou Jing thought dispassionately that the man was heavily injured. "Sit and rest a while," he said coolly without sympathy. "While we find a way out from this trap, save up some energy for the final charge!"
His tone clearly indicated to the protector king that each man was going to need to fight for himself. The Confounding Puppet sat down cross-legged, nodding without reply.
Xiahou Jing's attention wasn't on 'Gentlewind'. His full focus was with Shu Wanqing and any breakthroughs he could make. Shu Wanqing was their biggest hope at the moment.
"Supreme Lord Xiahou, this formation is a dimensional ability that isn't really complicated. This vast space is composed of many images, trapping us within a limited patch of space that merely seems unlimited." Shu Wanqing was garnering more success the harder he looked.
"Where's the exit then?" Xiahou Jing couldn't help asking.
"Don't be so hasty. I'm puzzling things out. These identical images have given us many incorrect ideas… Don't interrupt me. I'm on the cusp of a spark of inspiration."
People tended to be especially focused on the verge of a breakthrough. It was precisely then that the cross-legged 'Protector King Gentlewind' shot up in a streak of light.
'Protector King Gentlewind' had become a tornado. He swung a heavy punch into the small of Shu Wanqing's back.
The empyrean expert had been wholly focused on observing the formation. He'd never expected an ambush from behind him! There'd been no one there a moment ago.
This punch of despair smacked Shu Wanqing with devastating force. His entire person convulsed as if a vital acupoint had been hit.
A mouthful of fresh blood was vomited out alongside last night's dinner.
The Confounding Puppets' individual offensive strengths could not come close to matching their maker the Grand Marquis, but a single concentrated blow from them was nevertheless astoundingly potent against opponents caught off-guard.
Shu Wanqing hadn't had the remotest inclination to defending against this kind of attack!
The punch landed squarely, creating a depression at its point of impact. He found it difficult to breathe given the repeated severe injuries.
Xiahou Jing paled as well. He stared at Gentlewind in shock, unable to recover himself for a long while. It wasn't until the 'protector king' began to attack Shu Wanqing once more that he snapped back to reality!