Coiling Dragon grinned. "I knew that I didn't have to worry about the benefits of following young lord Jiang Chen."
Void burst into laughter as well, but said nothing more. Instead, he awaited for Jiang Chen's next words expectantly.
"Coiling Dragon, you are the descendant of a true dragon bloodline. I've always had high hopes for you. When you break through to empyrean realm, you will be capable some of truly astonishing things. You won't lose to His Majesty Peafowl in terms of potential."
"His Majesty Peafowl?" Coiling Dragon and Void were bewildered.
"Yes, His Majesty Peafowl has peafowl blood in his veins, another ancient sacred beast. You, Coiling Dragon, are aligned with the ancient true dragons. Both of you are heirs of top-quality bloodlines from ancient times. Therefore, I have high expectations especially for you, Coiling Dragon!" Jiang Chen exclaimed.
The great emperor found it hard to remain completely composed.
He smiled wryly. "Young lord, I'm the least talented among Veluriyam's great emperors. I broke through to great emperor only because of your Pinecrane Pill. Ah…"
"You don't lack the talent. You merely need to make use of it more effectively." Jiang Chen waved a hand. He didn't cherish Coiling Dragon just because the man was an old acquaintance; his bloodline was equally important and incredible.
"You mentioned His Majesty Peafowl just now, young lord," Void suddenly interjected. "Is he… truly… still living?"
"I cannot make any guarantees as to that," Jiang Chen mused. "But my intuition tells me that he still lives. When he reappears in the world once more, he will surprise us all - not as 'Emperor' Peafowl, but as an empyrean senior."
"An empyrean senior?" Everyone drew in a sharp breath.
"Young lord, His Majesty, he…"
"Yes," Jiang Chen nodded. "His Majesty Peafowl first sensed the heavenly dao many years ago. Moreover, he has more than sufficient opportunity to break through. It should only be a matter of time. I only wonder what level he will be when he comes back to us?"
Jiang Chen reminisced about his time with the kind ruler.
Coiling Dragon and Void had both been very close to Emperor Peafowl. Hearing Jiang Chen relate this warmed their hearts.
Apart from them, Jiang Chen saw little reason to comfort others' emotions. Most others were not nearly as close as the few he'd already spoken to, which meant that they wouldn't have second thoughts about his actions.
After a night's rest, the army embarked to return journey to Veluriyam.
Before the Embittered Savages had invaded, this army would have been sufficient to conquer the entire human domain. No one would've dare touch a force in such numbers and strength.
Jiang Chen hurriedly entered seclusion after returning to the capital proper. In his last battle, he had attained a new understanding of the Nine Labyrinth Formation. He wanted to take a few days off to digest what he had learned. The battle had indirectly taught him the potency of the formation.
Even a third level empyrean expert like Shu Wanqing had been unable to free himself for a time within the formation. If the formation could be strengthened even further, Jiang Chen would have an easier time both offensively and defensively in future battles.
He'd realized that he needed some sureties if he wanted to venture into a place like Myriad Abyss Island. The Nine Labyrinth Formation and Confounding Puppets were superb candidates.
However, the Embittered Savage armies remained in the Moon God Sect's lands without much activity, surprising everyone. This held true ever since Jiang Chen left closed door cultivation.
He was just like everyone else. That didn't seem like the Embittered Savage style. Why were they holding back like that? As he guessed at the motives of the Savages' inaction, Veluriyam saw the arrival of an unwelcome guest.
Outside Sacred Peafowl Mountain's entrance, a gray-robed old man stood aloft in the clouds with a frigid expression. It was as if an iceberg hovered overhead.
The appearance of the old man alone lowered the ambient temperature. The air had seemingly frozen over as well. This drastic change shocked every observer in the vicinity, including Jiang Chen.
The eight stone golem brothers gathered quickly together at Jiang Chen's side, flying rapidly together to the source of the disturbance.
"You are Jiang Chen?" The gray-robed old man was a glacial statue amid the clouds. His wintry arrogance caused everyone in attendance to shiver.
Jiang Chen hadn't even begun his approach when there was a low cry near him. The Vermilion Bird rushed here from Sacred Peafowl Mountain's back, stream of crimson carrying its wings.
It had been purifying its body via the wood spirit spring at the back of the mountain as of late. Doing so didn't fundamentally resolve the bird's problems, but it did stabilize its condition. At least right now, the Vermilion Bird was not bound from acting like before. At its worst, any attempt at combat meant a grave injury to itself.
"Back off, Jiang Chen!" The Vermilion Bird swiftly rushed forward, guarding and preventing the young man from moving forward.
Jiang Chen stopped his advance at the bird's nervousness. He focused his gaze on the gray-robed old man.
The old man's eyes were clear as crystal. It was impossible to see any human emotion in them. Replacing that was a magic that seemed to make Jiang Chen's consciousness tremble. However, the chain seal in his consciousness countered this mysterious force immediately.
Jiang Chen braced himself. "Close your eyes," he called out to the stone golems. "Don't look into his."
The golems were usually a fearless bunch. Just a moment prior, they'd been glancing over the gray-robed old man with provocative looks. Jiang Chen's warning rang an alarm in their hearts. The brothers hurriedly turned their heads.
The gray-robed old man was mildly startled to see a Vermilion Bird blocking his way. Clearly, he wasn't reckless enough to disregard or disrespect a divine creature. He could feel the ancient aura radiating off of the bird in a palpable way.
"Such potent fire energy. Is this an ancient sacred fowl? No wonder you were so brash, Jiang Chen. Is this ancient bird your backer?"
The gray-robed old man bore a frosty, detached attitude. Every word he uttered seemed capable of freezing over one's soul, their syllables almost a curse.
Jiang Chen was much more alert than usual. The old man was unquestionably an extremely fearsome foe, much more so than any previous opponent he had faced. Perhaps the only other impenetrably mysterious characters he'd encountered in the past were Elders Shun and Xi. The others couldn't compare to this gray-robed old man's power, Shu Wanqing included.
"Who are you?" That aside, he was visibly frustrated. Regardless of his identity, the old man had come without notice in a display of force and dominance. The harassment and incitement was obvious in the gesture. Jiang Chen had more than enough cause to be annoyed.
"You don't need to know who I am. I am only here to ask you whether you killed Shu Wanqing." The old man spoke with the authority of someone in a superior position.
Jiang Chen had a vague idea of where the old man had come from.
"What's it to you?" He was trying to come up with a plan on the spot. Jiang Chen remembered that before he died, Shu Wanqing had warned through frenzied shouting that killing him would lead to other empyrean experts seeking to punish the act.
Was this iceberg of an old man one of those supposed empyrean experts?
"Oh?" The old man's eyes spun in their sockets. He cackled callously. "A child as young as you is rather too murderous. And quite so impolite to your elders. I'd like to know who your master is. Who taught you, hmm?"
He didn't buy the possibility of Jiang Chen being a self-taught genius at all. He felt that there had to be someone more mysterious and powerful behind the curtain.
Jiang Chen sneered. "Senior? If you really were a senior that deserved respect, I would've welcomed you with more than enough. However, your hostility to me is showcased through your attempt at demonstrating your brawn before my gates. Am I supposed to be courteous despite that? You're too naïve, old man!"
He respected his elders, but not those who liked to flaunt their seniority. To him, any senior who had real character and integrity - even cultivators who were the epitome of mediocrity - deserved treatment according to their age.
This old man's behavior made it extremely difficult for Jiang Chen to consider him a senior, regardless of his level of cultivation. This was one of his life principles. He showed respect only to those who gave it to him.
The old man's tone darkened. His cold eyes flared with arctic light. "A lawless brat indeed. Do you really think that Veluriyam Capital has taken over the entire human domain? Do you think yourself the lone voice in the realm?"
Jiang Chen smirked. "I don't know about the entire human domain, but on Veluriyam Capital and Sacred Peafowl Mountain territory, I certainly am! You're dreaming if you expect me to answer your aggression with simpering sycophancy!" He dispensed with courtesy altogether.
"Impudent brat! Ignorant fool!" The old man was very displeased. "Shu Wanqing is an old acquaintance of mine and one of the empyrean leaders of humanity. Your unpermitted killing of him runs counter to humanity's interests and dishonors your ancestors. Do you know how reprehensible and vile your actions were?"
Jiang Chen broke into laughter when he heard what was said. "Runs counter to humanity's interests? Old man, you're puffing him up to be some kind of empyrean leader of humanity. Let me ask you, what has he done in this hour of crisis to deserve that title?
"Did he repair the broken Boundary Stele in Agarwood? Did he stand in the Embittered Savages' path in the northwestern wastes? Or did he quell the rebellion of the Order of Wind and Cloud?" Jiang Chen was laughing because of how angry he was.
These hermit experts had inflicted some kind of brain injury to themselves by going into hiding. Their logic was that of bandits. Though they had done absolutely nothing, they were proud to call themselves humanity's leaders.
It was as if they were fit to lead solely because of their strength. Even if the only thing they did was sleep all day, the world had to bow to their wishes. Others might have acquiesced to his intimidation, but not Jiang Chen.
Leadership required responsibility. Even without being the strongest in the world, it was possible to take up the mantle through all-encompassing empathy and constant work for the race's behalf. Only a man like that deserved to be called a leader!
Someone as presumptuous and vain as this wasn't remotely close to leading anything.