Ah Hong was clearly a feisty one. He grit his teeth and brandished his weapon, then made a mad charge at Jiang Chen. The difference in strength between his enemy and himself was completely ignored.
Harrumphing softly, Jiang Chen shot a ray from his Evil Golden Eye at the remaining cultivator. Ah Hong’s body shook; he was restricted by an invisible force he couldn’t struggle free from, regardless of what he did.
“You… you…” Ah Hong’s tongue trembled. He glared angrily at Jiang Chen.
The young man had no desire to kill. Otherwise, Ah Hong would’ve become a golden statue in a hot second. What chance would he have had to speak?
“My magnanimity has a limit. I respect your authenticity and passion, Ah Hong. That’s why I left you alive. Do you want to die? If so, I can fulfill that request.” Jiang Chen also had another reason for leaving Ah Hong alive.
His Evil Golden Eye released its grip on the cultivator from the Starlight Sect. Ah Hong seemed to know the strength difference between Jiang Chen and himself. They were competing on completely different levels.
He deflated by sitting down in resignation. His tone was as equally hopeless as his demeanor. “Who are you, really? Did you really kill my companions?”
“Yes,” Jiang Chen readily confirmed. “As for who we are, that’s not for you to know.”
“If you killed my companions, why not me as well?” Ah Hong sounded mildly self-destructive.
“I’m only keeping you alive because I think you’re useful. You’re man enough to not need to die. Are you really so submissive and servile to House Xiahou? To the imperial family?”
“You… what are you saying?” Ah Hong’s eyes glared piercingly at Jiang Chen, his curiosity plain for all to see. Frankly, he was astounded. "Who are you, really?" he rasped.
"I'm not from House Xiahou or the imperial family."
"An expert from the sacred land then?" Ah Hong's tone became conflicted. "I suppose it was fitting my peers would die at your hand. So vengeance comes for me as well? Come on then, kill me. I won't resist."
His fighting spirit was obviously gone.
"That's easy enough. If you don't fear death though, why do you fear living on? Do you want to be released from this mortal coil? Don't you want to see what the future holds for Eternal Divine Nation?"
"How can the future possibly be different? You think you still have a chance to turn the tables? House Xiahou and the imperial family control most of the nation's important facilities. Over seventy percent of factions have sworn their allegiance. I don't know what your position is in the sacred land, but it's best for you to leave now. If someone ends up paying attention to you, you won't have a chance to escape."
Ah Hong seemed apologetic to the sacred land to a certain degree. His altruistic reminder was evidence enough of that.
"Leave? Why would I leave?" Jiang Chen smiled coolly. "It took me quite a bit of effort to get here in the first place. I'm about to get into the capital!"
"Into the capital? You… you're not scared of dying?" Ah Hong gasped.
"Dying? The person capable of killing me in this world hasn't been born yet. Enough small talk: do you know why we've left only you alive?"
"You want to use our identities to sneak into the capital." Despite his candor, Ah Hong was no simpleton.
"Yes. So, will you cooperate?"
"Hmph. Aren't you worried that I'll call for help as soon as we enter the capital? You won't have a way out then." Ah Hong snorted.
"That's not your concern. We have our ways of making you submit, but we'd prefer if you willingly assisted us. We can see that you don't want to help House Xiahou's dirty deeds. The Starlight Sect doesn't stand to profit much from this insurrection, and in fact, it very well might be the next target after House Xiahou and the imperial family solidify their authority."
Ah Hong stayed quiet. He could see a hint of that already. There was nothing to deny about it.
"I'm not making it up, am I?" Jiang Chen chuckled. "The Eternal Sacred Land never bothered to strike at any of the first-rate factions in the nation, because all of you lack some way in strength and resources compared to it. The sacred land would never do something so unnecessary. House Xiahou and the imperial family? Not so much. They're not intrinsically much better than the rest of you. To prevent you from threatening their new position, they will inevitably cut you down to size. I'm sure you see that as well as I can."
"Hmm, so what? You should talk to the head of the Starlight Sect about it. I'm just a probational elder without much authority. You're wasting your time talking to me." Though Ah Hong agreed with the analysis, he didn't want to actually admit it.
"You can't change much in the grand scheme of things, but you can at least follow your own heart." Jiang Chen's searching eyes penetrated Ah Hong's consciousness, laying all in his heart bare.
Ah Hong hesitated a long while before muttering, "What do you want me to do?"
"Easy. Help us get into the capital and cover for us when needed. You can leave the rest up to us."
"That's it?" Ah Hong was incredulous.
"That's it." Jiang Chen nodded.
"After you get into the capital and disappear, what am I supposed to tell the sect head?"
"We all died," Jiang Chen supplied readily.
"If you die so suddenly like that, won't people figure out there's something fishy easily?"
"Here's your solution: we can join the war effort against the Eternal Sacred Land. On the battlefield, any of us could die at any time. There's not much for you to explain then."
"...that works," Ah Hong mused. "We’ll probably be sent there after returning anyway."
"There you go, right?" Jiang Chen nodded again. "It's just that simple."
Ah Hong's eyes suddenly glinted with a keen light. "Was this your original plan?" he asked in a low voice. "You wanted to get into the battlefield to resolve the siege? I advise you not to bother. The barricade around the sacred land is watertight. You'd only be throwing your lives away."
"Oh, lives will be thrown away, alright," Jiang Chen snickered. "But not ours. You're in for a big surprise."
Ah Hong sank into silence for a time once more. His deliberation finished, he sighed. "Alright, I'll do it."
"I know you're not scared of dying. Still, for the sake of safety, I'm going to put a seal on your consciousness to oversee and control your actions."
Ah Hong was completely unperturbed about this. "If you weren't going to do that, I would think the worse of you for it," he harrumphed. "Maybe you're not committing suicide after all."
"I'm glad you think so," Jiang Chen smiled faintly. "I hope our cooperation works out for the both of us. If you can, feel free to rescue a few of your peers from the Starlight Sect. I won't mind. Just don't be too obvious about it."
Ah Hong sneered. "I don't have many friends in the sect. I don't know anyone worth saving. They want to enter the fray and risk their lives so they can win a share of honor and glory. They want to sell their lives to House Xiahou and the imperial family? Consider that transaction done. What can they complain about the expected outcome occurring? Do I look like I care about the other guys with me that you killed?"
This man was certainly a bit of an oddball.
Jiang Chen roared with laughter. "Sure, sure. Every man is the master of his own destiny. If that's really what you think, then you're more broad-minded than you know. If your cover really works out, then I'll owe you a big favor."
"Forget about that. Think about your own hide first, and work on those disguises. I'm not worried about being dragged into this, but you better actually execute your meticulous plan. It’d be idiotic if you were caught before anything happens."
"Heh, you can be sure that we will. Just tell me any habits or verbal tics your comrades had, as well as any other special traits I should know of. The relationships between three of them would be useful as well. And if the time comes that we need your mediation, do help us through any tricky situations."
Jiang Chen nodded. "Excuse this next bit, then. Relax your consciousness and don’t resist. I'm about to make that seal. I'll remove it as soon as possible after all is said and done."
"Okay." Ah Hong wasn't particularly enthusiastic about it, but he was at least straightforward.
His astonishment was no less than Lu Che and the rest during the process of the seal implantation. He was just as shocked by the strength of Jiang Chen's consciousness.
His disbelief in their success was slightly shaken by what he'd witnessed.
The procedure itself was smooth enough. "There we are," Jiang Chen smiled after it was finished.
Long Xiaoxuan was swiftly sent out to spread the aforementioned rumors. Though the dragon liked to play it quiet and cool most of the time, gossip and misinformation was his forte.
He made up all kinds of fantastic allegations with a sincerity that gripped the hearts of his listeners. The hearsay spread fast like a plague through Grandeagle City.
The more stupid of the wandering cultivators were scared into flight overnight by the report of an extermination order. Moreover, they spread the falsehood on their outbound trips. Their logic was simple enough: the more people that knew about this, the less likely they themselves would be pursued.
This was risk mitigation at its finest.
Grandeagle City boiled over, as did all the metropolises surrounding it. Almost the entire Eternal Divine Nation knew about the siege in a single night.
The nation was up in arms; riots were everywhere. Loyalists everywhere gathered their men upon hearing the sacred land was under attack, ready to fly to its aid.
The divine nation was like a barrel of gunpowder that'd been set aflame. Smoke and chaos roiled over its demesne.