Xiahou Zhen felt rather embarrassed. He’d gone to threaten House Yan in person. As a venerated elder of House Xiahou, he had always felt a natural superiority when it came to the other house. Thus, he had thought the Yan patriarch would carry out his orders unerringly.
But Yan Wanjun had disappeared!
I was deceived by House Yan’s patriarch. His demands had not been met, which was more than enough reason to be angry.
“Calm down, everyone. I was responsible for this matter all along. Since House Yan’s patriarch has decided to be rebellious, I will clean up my mess.” It was Xiahou Zhen’s principle to be a responsible man.
“There’s not much point in killing a few from House Yan now, venerated elder,” Xiahou Zong remarked coolly.
“What do you mean, not much point? We must drill the consequences of disrespecting House Xiahou into those Yan numbskulls.”
“Do you think it fruitless to act against House Yan currently, Zong’er?”
“Right now, House Yan is like a lamb to the slaughter. It’s not going to run away whether we kill it now or later. If we mete out punishment upon House Yan now, we only push it further towards the Eternal Sacred Land. Though it won’t affect the house’s plans in the grand scheme of things, it will introduce some unnecessary uncertainty.”
The house’s plans!
Everyone cooled off when they heard that.
Xiahou Zhen sank into thought. Though he was a venerated elder, he was willing to listen to Xiahou Zong’s opinion. In fact, he didn’t have much of a choice in the matter.
“Young master Zong is right. The house is in mid-expansion and should prioritize intimidation rather than pulverization. If we crush House Yan utterly, it won’t hesitate to turn to the Eternal Sacred Land!”
“That’s true. We aren’t scared of House Yan, but we have better things to do. Why should we give ourselves busywork? I think it is better to apply both the carrot and the stick. That’ll keep them at a reasonable distance from both us and the sacred land.”
Everyone nodded in consensus at that suggestion.
Xiahou Zhen inclined his head. “So I should pay attention to how I approach it then. I can kill one or two as a show of House Xiahou’s attitude, which should be more than enough.”
“Just as it should be. If we don’t do anything at all, House Yan will think us weak instead!”
Everyone nodded once more.
“Young master Zong,” someone piped up, “ Shao Yuan from the Eternal Sacred Land is really quite full of himself. Do you think he’s brave enough to face you in the tournament of geniuses?”
“I don’t know.” Xiahou Zong shook his head coolly. “I certainly hope so. I don’t want to be disappointed yet again. It’s been so many years, yet no worthy opponent in Eternal Divine Nation has risen to meet me. Shao Yuan is capable at pill dao, but I’m not so sure about his martial dao.”
“I hear his martial dao talent is pretty good too.”
“Pretty good?” Xiahou Zong smiled faintly. “It’ll be a shame if that’s all he has to offer.”
There were countless cultivators with ‘pretty good’ martial dao talent in Eternal Divine Nation. Such people were far beneath his attention.
“Of course. There hasn’t been a single genius who can go toe-to-toe with young master Zong in martial dao in Eternal Divine Nation. I’m not sure there will ever be one, either. We never towered above the competition like you in our youths, so we don’t understand your loneliness very well, haha.”
Even House Xiahou’s elders needed to praise Xiahou Zong from time to time. His loftiness of position within the house was thus evident.
Suddenly, the voices of the meeting ground to a halt. A figure had appeared in the collective view of the attendees. It was so insubstantial that it appeared to have blown in by the wind.
“Patriarch!” There was instant silence upon the scene.
The patriarch of House Xiahou held penultimate authority within the house. Aside from the venerated forefather, he had the most power. His name was Xiahou Xiaoyao, also known as Duke Xiaoyao.
He was one of the strongest men within Eternal Divine Nation, claiming superiority over all but some of the most venerated forefathers. Even the first prime of the Eternal Sacred Land couldn’t claim she was absolutely stronger than him.
His hair swept up on his head and secured with a small hair crown, Duke Xiaoyao cut a lean, graceful figure. Starry mystery radiated from his eyes.
“Greetings to the patriarch.” Everyone bowed.
Xiahou Zong bowed in deference before Duke Xiaoyao as well. This act, in spite of his customary arrogance, showed the clout that the duke had within the house.
The venerated forefather barely inquired after the house’s affairs, which made Duke Xiaoyao the actual ruler of the house. He had power over its members’ lives, as well as the course that the house was to take.
“Sit down, everyone.” The duke waved a hand, in apparent high spirits. He radiated an aura of authority that commanded automatic respect from others. His eyes rested upon Xiahou Zong first and foremost. “Well done, Zong’er,” he commended. “Your strength within House Xiahou redoubles our might.”
This was high praise indeed.
Xiahou Zong was almost humble before the patriarch. “But you are the source of the house’s strength, patriarch, the final, perfect touch to the details.”
Everyone roared with laughter at the adroit rejoinder. What innovative flattery!
“Everyone, I visited the forefather before I came here. He has given a precise date. Our plan is to be put into motion after the sword competition. Together, you form the backbone of our house. We must all be daring and selfless in this action. Anyone who negatively affects the plan with self-interest will be branded a criminal. The house’s future prominence rests upon this plan. If we succeed, we stand to gain untold riches in every respect. If we fail, we might…”
The duke trailed off, but his meaning was clear enough.
“Are the other factions’ attitudes clear, Patriarch?” asked venerated elder Xiahou Zhen.
“We’re sure about most of them. Some wish to stay neutral, and the majority of the remainder has allied itself with us. The support the sacred land receives will be extremely limited,” Duke Xiaoyao remarked confidently.
“Is the Eternal Sacred Land really so badly off now?” asked another.
“Hmph. It has consumed more than half of the nation’s resources all this time, yet all it’s done with that is twiddle its thumbs. What has the sacred land done for our nation? What geniuses have come out of it over the years? Despite its wealth, it’s barely stronger than our house. Is a sacred land like this worth supporting?”
The duke’s analysis was pointedly cynical.
“The sacred land has shown signs of decline for several centuries now. We always thought it was loftily untouchable before, but it doesn’t look so intimidating now that we’re up close. It’s lost its former feeling of overbearing dominance! What need have we to fear it any longer?
“It’s time for history to lower the curtains on a dying faction. No political layout lasts forever. A change in the Ten Divine Nations by the wheel of history is past due. Regardless of all else, House Xiahou must take ample advantage of this opportunity. We will set the world on fire!”
Every House Xiahou member in attendance felt their blood run hot.
Duke Xiaoyao smiled, then turned back to Xiahou Zong. “Zong’er, our plan begins with the sword competition. Your job is to crush every genius in your way – including those from the sacred land. Ah, I hear they have a new genius called Shao Yuan?”
“Yes, but he doesn’t amount to much more than a clown. His comedy show won’t last much longer.” Xiahou Zong was furious at any mention of the other youth.
The disrespect to him was one thing, but Shao Yuan had dared publicly propose to Yan Qinghuang! This seriously infringed upon his bottom line.
How could someone as proud and ruthless as Xiahou Zong ignore such blatant provocation and insult?
“I hear that kid is more than a little bit unorthodox. Don’t underestimate him, Zong’er. Winning against Flora Divine Nation’s Shi Xuan is no ordinary feat. Yes, he hasn’t shown his martial dao talent yet, and I think he will prove inferior to you in the end. But still, you mustn’t take him lightly. In the arena, you and he are mortal enemies. If you can kill him in one blow, do not use two flourishes.”
Duke Xiaoyao was a practical man. He cared only about results rather than the process. The best route to victory was the most efficient one.
Xiahou Zong cupped a fist toward his senior. “Don’t worry, Patriarch. He’s made me angry already. I won’t give him the shadow of a chance to leave the arena.”
Everyone knew the overwhelming lead Xiahou Zong carried compared to the rest of his generation. They were impressed and pleased with the decisiveness of his claim.
“Good. Our young master Zong is ambitious!”
“Let the glory of House Xiahou begin with your victory, young master Zong!”