The Vermilion Bird nodded slightly without speaking. Clearly, it agreed completely with Jiang Chen's speech.
The bird had had good relations with the ancient Primosanct Sect, and ancient humanity as a whole. It had experienced the ancient demon-sealing war and thus knew the internal strife that tended to exist between man.
Even in the most dangerous of times, humans constantly bickered. It had seen more than its fair share of similar situations in its long lifetime. The bird admired Jiang Chen all the more because of this. This was partially why it had remained impassive before Xiahou Jing's temptation.
It had already seen the responsibility and poise that had characterized the human leaders of yore in Jiang Chen. Though the young man was still incredibly fresh and immature, the direction he was going in was quite apparent.
"You're a real fast talker, boy." The glacial old man fumed at what he was hearing. "We secluded experts have a bigger picture of the proceedings. Do you think us the same as you mortal ants? Unlike you, we don't worry ourselves all day about the slightest of commotions."
"Same to you, old man! What's this big picture you're talking about? I don't see it at all. The first thing Shu Wanqing did when we met was ruin my plans, that old buffoon! He ended up joining the Order of Wind and Cloud, then disguised himself to pin a failed ambush on the Embittered Savages on me! If that's what the big picture told him to do, then you're all blind!" Jiang Chen was truly livid. These so-called hermit experts were masters of twisting fact into fiction.
The old man felt the same way. A man of his cultivation level made him one of the strongest among his secluded expert peers. Near the top, if not the pinnacle. In the human domain, he and his empyrean expert friends had always considered themselves above everyone else. Equality was an empty and meaningless concept for them.
Thus, they regarded it mandatory for each and every one of their actions to be upheld as an imperial decree for those in the mundane world. The disrespect that Jiang Chen embodied was completely unheard of!
"Who's your backer, kid? Your ego is through the roof!" the old man inquired stonily.
"You're trying to gather information from me now? If I said 'nothing', are you going to attack Veluriyam Capital immediately?" Jiang Chen shot back with a humorless half-smile.
"Hmph, you have no room to argue. No matter how strong the person behind you is, your unpermitted killing of Shu Wanqing is a crime most grave. Even if he was in the wrong, he was still one of humanity's remaining empyrean experts. The removal of even a single one is a heavy blow to the pillars that support our race. Neither you nor Veluriyam can sustain the associated guilt!" He was attempting to be judge, jury, and executioner all in one.
"Are you planning to start your own court? Is that some kind of verdict you're proclaiming?" Jiang Chen's expression was mocking. "However…" he suddenly raised an eyebrow. "What right do you have to do any of that? What makes you qualified to spew ignorance before my gates? Just because you're an empyrean expert?"
The old man piled on the pressure. "What? You don't believe I have the right to condemn you for your crimes?"
"Certainly not," Jiang Chen smiled faintly.
The Vermilion Bird hurtled into the heavens, its own aura bursting to life. Powerful tides of flame spread out in concentric circles, running counter to the old man's glacial presence. The clash of ice and fire caused the temperature around Sacred Peafowl Mountain to return to normal levels.
"Senior Vermillion," Jiang Chen proclaimed aloud, "there's no need for you to exert yourself too much. Don't be anxious. I'd like to see what this so-called human leader can do to me!"
A man fought harder when faced with condemnation.
The glacial old man had evidently noticed the strength of the Vermilion Bird. He silently retracted his pride, bracing himself.
He'd wondered on his journey here how someone of Shu Wanqing's level had died at the hands of an ordinary kid. He'd come up with many ideas, finally concluding that Shu Wanqing had probably been tricked. How could a third level empyrean expert be killed by a mundane brat otherwise?
Coming to Sacred Peafowl Mountain made him think twice about that though. The sight of the Vermilion Bird and the eight stone golem brothers had gradually clued the old man into the possibility of another reason for Shu Wanqing's death.
Moreover, the look he'd exchanged with Jiang Chen should have been enough to freeze the young man's soul... And yet, his ocular strike hadn't hurt Jiang Chen in the slightest. There had been a little mental oscillation, then nothing. It was a pebble dropped into a vast lake.
Because of this, the old man no longer looked down upon Jiang Chen.
He had come on wings of burning fury, intent on quashing the young upstart and his forces altogether. It seemed now that his initial sentiment had been far too naïve.
Biting back indignation, the old man glared at Jiang Chen with frost in his eyes. "Don't think that you'll escape judgment just because you have an ancient sacred beast behind you. I can smash you into the ground if I'm a bit more serious about it. Don't take me for a blind man! This ancient sacred bird has little of its lifespan left. It's nowhere near peak strength. If we fight with any rigor, it is eighty percent likely to die on the spot! Those big guys look intimidating, but I doubt they can match up to me."
The old man definitely had a keen eye. Jiang Chen's faint smile was unchanged. "If you're so sure, why waste words like this?"
At the same time, he turned to the Vermilion Bird. "Senior Vermillion, you don't need to do much here. Please, take a break. I'd like to try how far this old man's mettle will take him."
The Vermilion Bird was a bit surprised at Jiang Chen's declaration, but nodded and retreated nonetheless.
The eight stone golem brothers stood at Jiang Chen's side, clamoring for a piece of the action. "Young lord, let us brothers fight this old farts."
"Yeah, we hate old farts like him!"
"Not all old farts. Just cocky ones."
"Not just cocky either. Cocky and stu-u-u-upid!" The stone golem brothers clowned around, adding to each other's words in a circle.
The old man was positively incensed. Ever since he'd first made a name for himself, anyone that knew about him in the human world of martial dao had only shown him the epitome of courtesy and respect.
That he was being ridiculed and shamed to such a degree before Sacred Peafowl Mountain's gates…
Despite his rage, the old man didn't lose his reason before Jiang Chen's impudence, but there was a twinge of regret in his heart.
He had acted with too much haste and impatience this time. If he had two or three companions nearby, he would be in a much better place right now. It was partially his fault for being overconfident.
The old man took a deep breath at this thought. "Jiang Chen," he conceded emotionlessly, "it wasn't easy for you to get to this point from scratch. I'm giving you a final chance to profess your sins, and if you do, I promise I will intercede for your life. There is a condition, though: you must give up Shu Wanqing's storage ring and empyrean decree."
Jiang Chen snickered to himself. They were finally at the crux of the matter.
It was impossible for the old man to simply be here to seek justice for Shu Wanqing. Given the kind of person the expert had been in life, what kind of acquaintance could he possibly have had that would do that for him?
Any that did come would've only done so to protect the interests of empyrean experts as a whole, not Shu Wanqing on a personal level.
The old man had done a good impression of an indignant speech, but he was far from being a good person.
Now that the true motives were known, Jiang Chen finally understood his purpose for coming here. He hadn't come to seek justice for an old friend at all, but to engage in banditry.
Jiang Chen couldn't resist cracking a smile at the revelation. "This is what you came here for, right? Why circle around it so much? Shu Wanqing's storage ring and empyrean decree, hmm?"
"Quite. If you give me these two things, I can guarantee your life." The old man cut to the chase.
"You're saying I don't need to die if I give you these two things?"
"Obviously," the old man affirmed with some displeasure.
"Then…" Jiang Chen laughed. "I won't give them to you."
"Why? Aren't you afraid of an alliance of empyrean experts forming against you?" The frigid old man no longer hid his malicious attempt at intimidation.
Jiang Chen shook his head slowly and responded resolutely. "I am the master of my own destiny. You can't do anything to me. Those two things are my spoils and I won't give them up. You've made a mistake by trying to extort me."
"Hmm? Are you resisting to the bitter end then? Stupid." The old man thought that Jiang Chen would be swayed by the fact he'd given ground twice. But the young upstart hadn't given him the smallest modicum of respect.
The empyrean expert was furious. If he wasn't wary of the Vermilion Bird and the eight stone golem brothers - and Shu Wanqing's death besides - he would have begun a thunderous assault on Sacred Peafowl Mountain a long time ago.
"Resisting?" Jiang Chen smiled coolly. "If that's what you think, then so be it. Oh, and another thing: don't pretend like you're here to get even for your friend. Your actual reason for being here is obvious. You just want to loot the dead like a vulture! Shu Wanqing's corpse, to be exact. If you'd been polite about it at the outset, I might have considered negotiating with you. Alas, your behavior has disgusted me beyond my tolerance. Get out of here, you hear me? Scram!
"So what if you're an empyrean expert? I've seen more than my fair share of them." Disdain was plainly writ on his face.
He wasn't boasting at all. In his previous life, even his shoe-shiner had been at least empyrean.
The old man's face colored. Clearly, his anger had flared up several times over. If not for his uncertainty, he wanted to arrest Jiang Chen on the spot and rip him to shreds. Only then would his hatred be abated.
Jiang Chen hadn't given him an inch. The only things he'd gotten today were a series of slaps against his cheeks.