While Jiang Chen was preparing for his trip with Huang’er, several of House Xiahou’s executives urgently plotted in secret in a hidden base. They met at their venerated forefather’s hermitage.
The forefather in question had closed his doors to cultivate for more than three hundred years. It had been nearly a millennium since news of him had last circulated. In fact, it was a mystery to the outside world whether he was still alive at all.
“Xiahou Zong is dead?” A wizened, emotionless voice came from within the serene valley. It was the house’s sole, remaining forefather, Xiahou Ming.
He was more than ten thousand years old. There was barely anyone alive in the Eternal Sacred Land older than him. Someone of his age should’ve come to terms with life and death long ago, and the emotions tied to mortality. However, the forefather sounded strangely affected.
Xiahou Zong’s death astounded him a great deal.
“Forefather, we juniors have failed in protecting Xiahou Zong. We were incompetent!” Despite his status as the patriarch, Duke Xiaoyao was careful to be on his best behavior before the forefather.
“Ah…” Xiahou Ming sighed wistfully. “I divined Xiahou Zong’s fate and fortune once. A calamity was fated to strike him before forty. I emphasized it time and time again, but none of you ever took it to heart. He didn’t need to die. If he had passed the ordeal, he would have risen into the skies and attained true greatness. Now that he’s gone, House Xiahou’s fortunes will be severely affected.”
Duke Xiaoyao was intensely distress. “I have failed, Forefather. Please punish me harshly.”
“Punish you? If that did anything, I would kill you on the spot. But what good would that do for us? Moreover, you weren’t the main reason for Xiahou Zong’s death. At the end of the day, his fortunes didn’t run deep enough. His nature hadn’t been tempered properly. Such is the case with countless geniuses in the world of martial dao. But his talent… what a shame, what a shame…”
There was unspeakable regret in Xiahou Ming’s aged voice.
“What should the house do from now on, forefather? Do our plans proceed?” the duke couldn’t help but ask.
“The arrow is nocked on the bow, why should it not be fired? Matters here in Eternal Divine Nation must be resolved eventually. Xiaoyao, any faction at the zenith of its strength, yet still unable to replace the sacred land, is destined to decline. The sacred land will eventually suppress it to become a second or third-rate faction – or worse, cause it to disappear from history forever.
“Remember, we cannot foresee the limits of our own future, but we must cherish this opportunity. After these long years of expenditure, the Eternal Sacred Land is on the verge of exhaustion. We are becoming stronger each year, while the sacred land is becoming weaker. Do you not even understand this much?” Killing intent flashed in Xiahou Ming’s eyes.
“This junior understands.” Of course the duke knew all this. He had hesitated merely because of Xiahou Zong’s death. He wondered whether the house had enough luck left to challenge the Eternal Sacred Land.
“What are you perplexed about, then? Xiahou Zong is a genius that comes once in ten thousand years, yes. But House Xiahou hardly relies on a single youth for its strength. If you’ve lost your fighting spirit because of his death, you disappoint me.”
“My fighting spirit burns as brightly as ever,” the duke affirmed hurriedly. “Especially since you are leading us, Forefather.”
“How are things everywhere else in the nation? The other factions?”
“Of the three sects and seven houses, seven out of the ten have formed a coalition in order to disrupt the current state of affairs and end the sacred land’s rule. The sacred land’s dictatorship will come to an end.”
“Seven? So three have sided with the sacred land?”
“No no no, not at all. Declined trash like House Yan can be taken out of the equation automatically. Though they seem neutral, they are actually on our side. They simply lack the strength and resources to participate in a momentous matter like this.” Duke Xiaoyao’s tone was filled with disdain for House Yan.
“House Yan?” Xiahou Ming harrumphed. “If I remember correctly, the root of Xiahou Zong’s trouble was this house, yes?”
“Yes…” Duke Xiaoyao was rather embarrassed. “Shao Yuan hated Xiahou Zong because of a House Yan girl.”
“Women have ever been a source of danger. If Xiahou Zong could not understand even that much, he had good reason to die at his enemy’s hand.” Xiahou Ming’s tone carried a hint of displeasure still.
“Our great work is at hand, Xiaoyao. You must compose yourself. Don’t let the sacred land perceive anything awry, or all we have done will have been for naught.”
Xiahou Ming instructed Duke Xiaoyao.
“Don’t worry, Forefather. We’ve kept everything quite secret. If we destroy the sacred land, then the imperial family…”
“Hmph, what will the imperial family amount to once the sacred land is gone? It’s just a puppet of the most powerful faction. Useful for keeping up appearances, but totally superfluous otherwise. The current imperial family has too many idle thoughts. Quite a bold stance to take, I should say. It will not be allowed to exist in the nation’s future.”
Xiahou Ming’s tone was icy despite the topic of the conversation. The imperial family’s existence was a trifling matter to him.
Duke Xiaoyao crowed with laughter. “Exactly what I think, Forefather. The imperial family is too ambitious for its own good. We are merely making use of its ambitions and connections to form a stronger alliance with the other factions. There would be no reason to suffer them otherwise.”
The imperial family had been an accessory of the sacred land from the outset.
Precisely because the sacred land’s usual involved role in their affairs, it was tired of playing the puppet. It wanted to become a master in its own right.
Sadly for it, it would never get that chance in Eternal Divine Nation.
Whether the ruler behind the scenes was the sacred land or House Xiahou, no serious consideration would be given to turning over any real authority to the imperial family.
“Your line of thought is still clear enough at the moment, Xiaoyao,” Xiahou Ming declared coolly. “I hope the death of Xiahou Zong will not cloud your judgment.”
“Don’t worry, Forefather. House Xiahou has prepared so many years for this moment. I will grasp this opportunity with all my might.”
“Remember, wait for my command. I’ve observed the old man in the sacred land for thousands of years. When I act, you must immediately respond by conquering the sacred land. Kill everything alive within, whether man or beast!”
“We are to eliminate sources of future trouble?” Duke Xiaoyao chuckled. “I understand.”
“Go. Call together your men and ready for battle. It might very well happen in the next few days.” Xiahou Ming’s aged voice sounded rather sinister.
One day of preparation was more than enough. Jiang Chen intended to sneak Huang’er and Bi’er out of the Eternal Sacred Land. The current situation was far too complicated to risk alerting anybody.
The lower a profile he kept, the better. The more people that knew meant the more potential for trouble.
Though he was able to force himself to stay calm the entire day, there was an uncomfortable sense of dread within. He only became more resolved to carry out his plan because of it. The sooner Huang’er and Bi’er got out of here, the better.
Everyone disguised themselves before departing the sacred land in the dark of night.
Upon traveling a few dozen miles out, Jiang Chen frowned slightly. His unease hadn’t abated a single bit. They traveled a bit more before he quietly called everyone to a stop. “Hold on, everyone. Looks like someone’s tailing us.”
“Someone’s after us?” Yan Qingsang was among the company as well. He wasn’t heading to the human domain himself, but he did want to accompany them. Jiang Chen had seen no reason to refuse.
“They latched onto us as soon as we left the sacred land.” Jiang Chen’s expression was as black as his tone. “But it’s fine. The people following us aren’t particularly strong. Perhaps we’ve been taken for normal disciples of the sacred land.”
“Oh? How strong?” Yan Qingsang brightened when he heard this. He wanted to practice on someone his own level.
“We’re not far from the sacred land. They’re not exactly going to make a move here. Let’s head on out another thousand miles or two.” Jiang Chen didn’t mind taking them out if their stalkers stubbornly followed.
Being followed was hardly a good thing. There was something inherently wrong about being shadowed starting from the sacred land’s outskirts. That meant someone was observing the sacred land’s activities. To send stalkers after a few likely insignificant characters could mean nothing else.
It was clearer than ever that the Eternal Sacred Land could no longer exercise its authority of rulership.
In the past, who would dare monitor anything within several hundred miles of the sacred ground? Doing so was tantamount to a death wish.
A thousand miles or two was quite close for an empyrean cultivator. It didn’t take long at all for Jiang Chen to notice that the group was still on their tail. They behaved as if they wouldn’t relent.
He was rather upset at the unwanted attention.
“Take care of Huang’er and sister senior Bi’er, Qingsang. I’ll send these blind fools to hell myself.”
Regardless of who it was, a group of secret pursuers could only mean ill. Jiang Chen didn’t want a horde of unwanted ghouls at his back. It would affect the speed of their trip as well as risk revealing their destination.