The rat king's surprise was understandable. An empyrean body's life and blood essence were extremely potent nourishment.
Xiahou Jing had earned himself a pitiable fate. A genius of House Xiahou of Myriad Abyss Island had died ignobly in a foreign land, his corpse unable to escape desecration. His misdeeds meant that this conclusion was well-deserved.
The rewards of this battle had been tremendous.
Jiang Chen toyed with Xiahou Jing and Shu Wanqing's empyrean decrees, wondering how to divide them up.
Each empyrean expert's understanding of the heavenly dao created a personal decree through refinement. A great emperor without much hope to break through would have a very good shot at ascending to empyrean realm with such a decree in hand.
Therefore, these two ownerless decrees could very well mean the creation of two new empyrean experts. These, plus the ones from Xiahou Jing's subordinates - Elders Peng and Mo - meant that Jiang Chen had four empyrean decrees on hand.
How to distribute them needed to be carefully considered.
Wellspring and Peerless didn't need them any more. They had the kunpeng bloodline, which meant they were more than likely going to break through at some point. There was no need to waste decrees on them.
Moreover, empyrean decrees had the disadvantage of locking one's cultivation achievement at the previous owner's. It was virtually impossible for any higher martial dao achievements. For example, since Shu Wanqing had been third level empyrean realm, someone that succeeded his empyrean decree could at most get to third level as well.
Breaking through third level would be a hundred times harder than doing so as an empyrean expert in one's own right.
Of course, this was a non-issue for the majority of great emperors. Those experts would take more than ten lifetimes to break through on their own strength; it was unlikely they would be able to break through to further empyrean levels.
If Jiang Chen were to publicize these four decrees, countless great emperors in the human domain would be driven mad with desire. These empyrean decrees were more attractive than everything else. The Pinecrane and Emperor Supremacy Pills paled before the potential a decree offered.
Wasn't the Pinecrane Pill used for extending one's lifespan past a great emperor's? But if one could simply ascend to empyrean realm and gain a huge chunk of lifespan, what was the point of struggling with a pill for a fraction of that?
A single empyrean expert would only produce a single order in their lifetime. Empyrean experts were rare specimens in the human domain. An old codger like Shu Wanqing never showed himself in public if he could help it.
"Old Brother Mo, Old Brother Hui, who under my banner do you consider worthy of an empyrean decree?" Jiang Chen found it hard to decide.
He had a few possibilities in mind: Void and Coiling Dragon, for starters. Alas, neither of these great emperors was peak great emperor, which meant it was far too difficult for them to refine the empyrean decrees.
Most importantly, they were Jiang Chen's direct subordinates. He didn't actually want them to make use of the decrees. Because of their closeness, he wanted them to achieve empyrean realm through their own ability. Only then could they have better futures beyond that.
"Young lord, we must be careful about this. These decrees may cause unwanted problems to arise in the people's hearts. When some invariably feel that your distribution of them is unfair, internal strife and all kinds of other problems will ensue." Wellspring was a wizened old man, able to see further than most.
Peerless nodded as well. "If you give them out to your closest great emperors like Void and Coiling Dragon, no one will say a word about it. Other great emperors with greater seniority in Veluriyam though, may talk behind your back… Petalpluck and the others. As for the wandering great emperors and ones from the other sects, they've only temporarily joined up. They wouldn't dare expect a decree, unless you have plenty of orders to go around someday."
Jiang Chen smiled. "I have the same hopes for Void and Coiling Dragon as I have for you two. I want them to break through on their own merits. Coiling Dragon especially so. I consider him capable of real greatness."
"Oh?" Wellspring's eyes brightened. "What kind of greatness, may I ask?"
"He is a descendant of a true dragon bloodline and I have a true dragon right here. When Brother Long reaches empyrean realm, a single drop of dragon blood could turn Coiling Dragon into an overwhelming draconic warrior! There's no problem with his compatibility. True dragon blood is perfect for him."
Peerless and Wellspring traded an understanding look. The method of their own breakthroughs was kunpeng blood.
The bloodline belonged to an ancient sacred beast, the kunpeng. In ancient times, such a bloodline rivaled true dragons' in prominence. The only difference was that kunpengs tended to be less prestigious and thus less well-known as well.
Peerless applauded with laughter. "Very good, very good! You seem to have planned for absolutely everything, young lord. What can possibly prevent the human race from flourishing?"
Wellspring stroked his whiskers with a smile. "This was why I joined the young lord, my friend. He is a genius chosen by heaven. Any time the human race experiences a tempestuous era, all kinds of geniuses spring forth out of the woodwork, heralding in a new eras. So it is with young lord Jiang Chen. Under his leadership, humanity will enter into a new age. A new path will be open to us as a result of this catastrophe!"
The two had both sensed the heavenly dao and were only one step away from empyrean realm. This meant that they were superior in terms of heart and mindset to other great emperors.
Even the Ninesuns Sky Sect's Clearsky and the Skysword Sect's Han Qianzhan - these two esteemed masters - were inferior in this regard. Despite the fact that they were both near peak great emperor, Peerless and Wellspring had transcended higher.
Among the six wandering giants of yore, Everviolet was clearly lower in level compared to Peerless. In the last battle, he had been captured alongside the other Order executives.
Saying this, Jiang Chen smiled. "Have Everviolet and Sabledeep accepted their lot at all?"
Wellspring couldn't help laughing out loud. "Everviolet is a stubborn man. He sticks to his choices. If he had been friends with you from the beginning, young lord, he would have supported you unto death. Unfortunately, fate didn't allow that to happen. He followed Pillzenith in the past, and his hatreds there spurred him to join the Order. Now that his two masters have both lost to you, he has little to live for anymore."
Jiang Chen nodded. "His arts of the eye are quite remarkable. I value his genius enough to show him leniency. As long as he swears never to betray humanity again or work for alien races, he may go free."
After killing Shu Wanqing and Xiahou Jing, his mood had significantly improved. These tangential supporters no longer seemed so necessary to kill.
"Much obliged for your mercy, young lord. I'll release him in a bit," Wellspring smiled.
"Sure, I'll come with you when that happens. What about Sabledeep?" asked Jiang Chen.
"Sabledeep has no record of doing evil under the Order's banner. Rather than saying he joined the Order, it may be more accurate to say he was beguiled by its supreme lord. Ah, he usually cares a great deal about his reputation, so these happenings have been a tremendous blow to him. I trust that he can recover in due time. If he is sufficiently comforted, I see no problem in winning him over to our side. He is fundamentally pure of heart."
Wellspring's magnanimity was such that he didn't add insult to injury for either of his former fellows.
"Daoist Sabledeep is indeed an authentic man," Peerless chimed in. "He's obsessed with martial dao and a deeper comprehension of life. He does lack somewhat in social graces, but his integrity should not be questioned."
"If that's the case, take me to him." Given his recent string of successes, Jiang Chen was quite enthusiastic. He had an assembly of capable subordinates already, but his appetite for savants was undiminished.
Sabledeep was dressed in white from head to toe. There was no mote of dust upon his garments, producing an almost otherworldly effect. His eyes were clear, with an indescribable depth.
"Daoist Sabledeep, young lord Jiang Chen is here to visit you," laughed Wellspring.
Sabledeep's eyelids drooped. "How do I deserve such a visit? I am an utter failure. Daoist Hui, Daoist Mo, I know you must have interceded for me before the young lord. But, my crimes…"
Jiang Chen chuckled. "But I heard quite the opposite. In the Order, Sabledeep had a perfectly pristine record as to reprehensible acts. Why be so hard on yourself? I'm going to spare the courtesies and cut to the chase. You must be disappointed, now that Xiahou Jing's promises to you have disappeared along with his life. However, I can promise you much the same, with one key distinction: I always make good on my promises. Wellspring and Peerless can bear testament to that."
Wellspring was very pleased when he heard what Jiang Chen had to say. "Daoist Sabledeep, the young lord is a man of his word. Brother Peerless and I have already begun to sense the heavenly dao. Empyrean realm is only a matter of time for us. Didn't you join the Order solely to ascend to a higher level of existence? Why must you be so foolish as to avoid the closest source of help?"
Sabledeep's entire body shook. His eyes radiated incredulity. "Y-you…" he stuttered. "B-both of you have sensed the heavenly dao already?"
The great emperor had been equals with Wellspring and Peerless once. In fact, he'd been ranked higher than the latter. Hearing that they'd both come closer to the heavenly dao made him rather upset. It wasn't really envy, but he was hardly in a good mood.
"Daoist Sabledeep, you should've heard what kind of man the young lord is. Right now, he's the only one the human domain can rely on, one way or another. Who else is worth joining? You can't shove your head in the sand, nor can you succeed through self-preservation alone! If you were willing to cooperate with Xiahou Jing, why not accept young lord Jiang Chen?"
Sabledeep was looking more and more persuaded.
There was one last obstacle in his own heart to overcome. Wasn't shifting his allegiance so quickly a display of disloyalty? But it seemed that Veluriyam didn't care about that and was being very sincere!