Jiang Chen's words sounded completely reasonable.
Elder Xun suspected nothing awry. "The current situation isn’t too optimistic. Though the sacred land has lost a lot of territory and suffered many casualties, its main force is still largely intact. Moreover, the defense of its great formation is difficult to break through. If we try to force our way through, we'll be trading a lot of men for just a little damage."
"So, our offensive is all talk and no action?" Jiang Chen ventured.
"Not quite. Our alliance's biggest advantage is our numbers. We're gaining in size every day, while the sacred land can’t replenish its own ranks. We're completely fine for the long haul. The sacred land is slowly eating away at its stockpile of resources. Despite the resistance, it'll fall sooner or later."
When he got to this point, Elder Xun clapped Jiang Chen's shoulder. "Work hard, my friend. I know you want to earn riches and glory, and I guarantee this is a good place for that."
Jiang Chen nodded, then smiled simperingly. "One more thing, Elder Xun, if I may. Will headquarters look after us while we're defending here? If we're in danger, will we get help right away?"
Elder Xun couldn't help but laugh. "You're thinking too much, friend. There are over a hundred of these posts. How would we have nearly enough people to man them all if we were that meticulous with every single one?"
"So… if we die here, the people outside won't know?"
"If you fail to make contact for a long time, then we'll know you've died! Plus, you'll send out signals for help if you're in danger, won't you?" Elder Xun chortled. In his opinion, these Starlight guys clearly had brain damage. Was such an obvious question even necessary?
Jiang Chen sighed softly. "No one will know when we do fall here, then."
"Oh, we'll find out eventually. If you die, the enemy will obviously break through this area. That's evidence enough, isn't it?" Elder Xun thought less and less of Jiang Chen and company.
"Not necessarily. What if the opposition from the sacred land retreats after they're done killing? They won’t do as we expect every time, would they?" Jiang Chen retorted.
"Stop worrying, friend. Are you worried no one will collect your corpse after you die? Rest easy on that front. There are patrols at dawn and dusk to see how all the areas are doing. Plus, the commander does a roll call and gives a speech every day for those who are responsible for an area. If you’re not there for it, that’s explanation enough in itself. Understood?”
Elder Xun shook his head as he said this. Clearly, these Starlight people were all just straight up idiots. How dare they hold the sixteenth post with their intelligence?
The elder wasn’t up for further conversation with Jiang Chen. “Alright,” he smiled coolly, “I’ve said all I have to say. I pass this position onto you. Good luck out there. Don’t let the commander or our allies down.”
Jiang Chen grinned. “Why’re you in such a hurry, Elder Xun?”
“Why wouldn’t I be? The guard has passed, hasn’t it?” Elder Xun darkened. “I have to go inspect my new area. What, are you regretting it now? I’m telling you right now that once the guard is changed, nothing can reverse that action. There’s no room for playing around in war.”
The young man laughed heartily. “Regretting it? Hardly. I simply mean to correct you. You all died in battle in area sixteen, no? I’ll report that to the imperial prince right away. House Beigong’s experts, all dead in action! There were barely any bodies to find when we arrived.”
Elder Xun and his companions all colored at this. “You’re mad, kid!” they rebuked.
“The Starlight Sect’s gone crazy.”
“Did you hit your head on a door somewhere?” They were clearly angered. They’d awaited the change of the guard for quite a while, and had no patience whatsoever for idle chatter.
“Get outta my way,” a burly man called out. “Don’t think that this place belongs to you now. It only takes a hot minute for your old man here to teach you a lesson!”
Jiang Chen frowned. He hated when people called themselves his father.
“Old brother Zhu Que, this man dares call himself my old man. Doesn’t that mean he thinks he’s a generation above you? What do you say to that?”
The Vermilion Bird chuckled, then nodded. “This.”
He raised his arm to produce a fiery chain in the center of his palm. It was composed of blue runes that glowed faintly without much furor.
The burly man snickered. “What? That’s a candle women carry to the outhouse. You trying to scare me with that pathetic thing?”
His laughter stopped creaked to a halt in the next moment. The bluish chain of fire had gusted into his vicinity in the blink of an eye. His pupils dilated violently as soon as it reached him.
In the next moment, it expanded all around him in a flash.
Then the strangest of sights occurred. The cultivator’s flesh and blood were siphoned away in a fraction of a second; he spontaneously became a skeleton.
His arrogant expression hadn’t the time to transform into shock and horror before disappearing entirely into nothingness. A bleached, off-white frame was all that remained.
The spectacle scared Elder Xun and company witless. What had just happened? A real live person had been turned into bone just by that chain’s slightest touch? That was too terrifying to believe!
They’d all heard of powerful abilities before, but seeing such a domineering one was a definite first.
The man who’d just died had been quite capable defensively. Alas, the opponent’s attack had torn his vaunted, steadfast defenses to shreds with no resistance whatsoever. The chain had burned him away as easily as a piece of paper or wood.
Elder Xun and his peers were paralyzed. Technically speaking, they were more numerous than Jiang Chen’s group, but which of them could possibly live after being attacked by the Vermilion Bird’s inner flame? Distractions aside, even a fully focused cultivator would’ve died instantly.
The Vermilion Bird was already a demigod!
A casual attack was enough to inflict enormous damage to the average empyrean cultivator.
“You… you…” Elder Xun was yellow in the face. He stuttered, his prior expression of mockery and confidence gone. Unfathomable fear replaced it.
“What about us?” Jiang Chen smiled. “Elder Xun, you’re as good as dead. Why resist, right? Just kill yourselves to wrap things up nicely. What do you say?”
Elder Xun colored. “You’re a spy, kid!” he cried out. “Are you from the sacred land?”
Jiang Chen chuckled. “Wrong. I simply couldn’t stand your ugly mug, so I thought I’d take you out. It’s nothing to do with the sacred land.”
“You… ridiculous! I was perfectly polite…”
“Perfectly polite? How many times did you internally call me stupid? I can’t read your mind, but I hardly need to when it’s written all over your face. You didn’t even bother to hide your emotions. Plus, your deaths will show off our superior skill in comparison. How would we prove our stellar contribution otherwise?”
Jiang Chen’s logic nearly made Elder Xun cough up blood. “Since you’re already at it, old brother Zhu Que, I’ll leave these guys to you.”
The Vermilion Bird licked his lips. “All of them?” he chortled.
“Don’t leave a single one,” Jiang Chen declared cruelly.
Elder Xun and his comrades were white with terror. The others began to beg. “Don’t kill us! Don’t kill us! We’re innocent, we did nothing wrong… it’s all because…”
The young man wasn’t interested in hearing their empty excuses. “Go ahead, old brother.”
The Vermilion Bird cackled once before propelling himself airborne with his toes.
“Run, everyone! We have to make it back to the patriarch and the imperial prince. Make this guy pay!” Elder Xun was infuriated.
However, the Vermilion Bird didn’t give them the ghost of a chance. Three were caught within moments and consumed without reservation.
Only Elder Xun remained in futile defiance of his fate.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t do much more than flop uselessly about. The Vermilion Bird was many times stronger than he, and a gout of flame destroyed the elder’s defenses outright.
“Die!” The sacred bird pounced upon the old man, a huge talon slashing Elder Xun’s head right open. Blood streamed out from the gash.
The elder’s soul tried to escape, but the Vermilion Bird wouldn’t let him. It picked the intangible thing out of the air and brought it to its beak.
Elder Xun had no time to express his despair before being swallowed whole.
Because the Vermilion Bird was on the verge of breaking through to divine realm, it was more than happy to make use of such wonderful sources of nutrition. In ancient times, such primitive methods were unnecessary thanks to the abundance of resources, but drastic times called for drastic measures.