The change of the guard had given the Vermilion Bird an opportunity to feed. Elder Xun and his lackeys were eaten wholesale in less than fifteen minutes.
“Not bad, not bad,” the bird remarked appreciatively.
“Old brother, there will be enough to eat for the both of you on the battlefield. I think you’ll have a much better shot at comprehending the divine realm after all’s said and done.” Jiang Chen could tell that the Vermillion Bird quite liked the situation.
“I think you’re right. I quite like things this way.” The Vermilion Bird was exuberant.
Jiang Chen got back his documents very quickly, then destroyed the rest of the dead’s effects. He did so in order to prove that the four of them hadn’t made any contact with Elder Xun at all. Dead men told no tales, thankfully, so their claims weren’t likely to be disputed.
The news was carried back very quickly.
Imperial Prince Shang was one of the first to hear. “What? Elder Xun and his men have all died? What about the Starlight who went to change them out? Are they dead, too?”
“No. They were the ones to notice the death of Elder Xun’s men and brought back the news. Apparently, they’re requesting reinforcements because of the danger.”
The imperial prince was livid. “They’ll defend it themselves or die trying. Reinforcements? Where am I supposed to get the men from? If I had that many men, what would I need them for?”
Area sixteen was not a high-risk zone that practically no one wanted to go to into. The likelihood of dying there was too high.
Since the beginning of the invasion, the mortality rate in that area had stayed at an incredible level. Thus, there were never enough men to defend it. No one with half a brain was willing to brave such a minefield.
The imperial prince considered people who were ignorant of the current state of affairs the only source of volunteers. These fresh cultivators who’d just come back from the outside, for example.
Asking for reinforcements now? Impossible!
“Send someone to reprimand and encourage them. They should fight with courage and make a good effort. Even if they can’t kill many enemies, they must ensure the area is not lost. The grander battle must not be affected.”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
An emissary from the imperial prince came to Jiang Chen’s area in no time at all. The emissary first applauded their bravery, then warned them of his master’s requirements.
Jiang Chen agreed readily, of course.
This area was so far away and unwatched that the outside world knew practically nothing about it. He had easily dispatched Elder Xun and the rest without drawing any attention.
The emissary verbally employed both the carrot and the stick before departing.
Jiang Chen snickered after he did. “Imperial Prince Shang really does take us for fools.”
“Heheh, shall I go kill him?” The Vermilion Bird licked his lips. He was raring for a fight. The brink of divinity caused its fighting spirit and initiative to rise a hundredfold.
“No rush. The imperial prince isn’t a clever man. It would be worse to have a wiser replacement.”
Jiang Chen wasn’t in a hurry to act yet. He had his own ideas, but lacked sufficient control over the entire situation. Plus, an assassination had to be clean and swift. Any high-profile killing like this had to be decisive for a victory.
Small-scale exterminations, on the other hand, could be performed casually out of sight and without raising suspicion. He had gotten rid of Elder Xun and his men today because they’d been easy prey.
As they conversed, a neighboring area suddenly fired an emergency signal to call for help. The blue light meant that the alert level was correspondingly high.
“Area eighteen, yeah? The area right of us. According to the rules, those in neighboring areas have a duty to help each other.”
Jiang Chen began to brood. This sudden development was outside of his expectation. However, he quickly calmed down and decided to observe instead.
If Imperial Prince Shang were to blame him, he could easily find enough excuse to deflect the accusations. Saying that there had been sacred land operatives nearby his own area was one good reason. He had stayed in order to hold the line.
Though Jiang Chen stayed put, trouble charged in his direction before long.
There was a message from afar. “Daoists in area sixteen, on your guard. Sacred land remnants have fled into your area. Beware, beware.”
It came from area seventeen. Evidently, all the cultivators on this battlefield were equally sly. They let a hot potato slip into Jiang Chen’s area rather than fend it off themselves.
A problem that no one wanted to face was a hard one to handle. Rather than get upset at the politics between areas, Jiang Chen laughed.
“If the alliance regularly engages in this kind of cloak-and-dagger behavior, it will fall apart sooner or later. There are no conflicts of interest as of yet, but when there are… its members will turn on each other.”
Suddenly, he felt a powerful presence approach at top speed.
“Everyone, prepare to keep him here. Don’t let him past us. There are many more areas beyond sixteen. How can he possibly escape from the rest of the encirclement?”
Ah Hong was very excited to watch Jiang Chen and his sacred beast friends rampage as they wished. All of a sudden, he began to feel that accompanying these guys in their work was much more enjoyable than what he’d done for the Starlight Sect before.
These guys killed almost unscrupulously. His own blood began to burn as he watched.
The person from the sacred land who had penetrated two defense areas was rather skilled. When Jiang Chen saw who it was, he almost jumped in surprise. It was none other than the man in charge of the Eternal Sacred Land’s Hall of Merit – Gu Yunjin!
Elder Gu wore a white robe today. His hair was a bit disheveled, which contributed to a rather ragged appearance. Clearly, it’d cost him somewhat to get through as many areas as he had.
Though he didn’t think much of area sixteen upon entering initially, he quickly realized that there was something different about it compared to the ones before.
“Hmph. I got past the two areas before this. I don’t believe there are literal walls of metal here to stop me!” Gu Yunjin’s own temper was riled up. He glared coldly at Jiang Chen’s quartet.
“You four are from the Starlight Sect? I don’t know how much the imperial family is paying you. I’ve killed so many expendables from your sect that I’ve lost count! And still, you pawns keep on coming. Do you not care about the losses you’re sustaining, the sacrifices you’re making? You’re throwing away your lives on the imperial family and House Xiahou’s behalf. Well, you better not cry when your sect is left bereft of men and resources. You’ll be gotten rid of soon after that.”
Clearly, Gu Yunjin was a man on a mission. His speech had been well-rehearsed and hit several critical notes.
The sacred land wanted to sow distrust and division in the ranks of its opponents. If the alliance dissolved itself out of fear, an opportunity to break out of the sacred land’s current predicament might very well arise.
In fact, the sacred land was in such a passive position because of a multitude of reasons. The suddenness of the betrayal had been one of them; the lack of exceling geniuses was another.
Most importantly, the coalition’s compounded strength was simply superior to the sacred land’s on a raw numbers level. Thus, dividing and conquering was a necessity.
Jiang Chen chuckled when Gu Yunjin finished his exhortation. “The Starlight Sect is certainly crying. You don’t look like you’re having a good time either though, Elder Gu.”
“You know me?” Gu Yunjin blinked.
“You’re one of the great elders of the sacred land. How would anyone not?” Jiang Chen smiled a little. “Hallmaster Gu, don’t you think we have some shared destiny with each other since you’ve barged into my area?”
Gu Yunjin spat angrily. “Bull. I am a true loyalist of the sacred land. How could I have anything to do with you? Enough with the swagger, kid. I’m going to send you to hell.”
Jiang Chen chortled. “No need for all the murderous thunder, Hallmaster Gu. How have you been since our last meeting in the Hall of Merit?”
“What?” Gu Yunjin gazed at Jiang Chen with widened eyes.
“Hallmaster Gu, is my pill slave Shi Xuan still with the sacred land?” Jiang Chen asked once more.
“Who… who are you?” Gu Yunjin was shocked. He looked at Jiang Chen incredulously, confusion plain on his face.
“It’s me,” Jiang Chen nodded slightly. “Shao Yuan. Hallmaster Gu, chaos has spread outside. What’re your plans on this outing?”
Gu Yunjin remained somewhat skeptical still. “What proof do you have?” He repeatedly sized Jiang Chen up and down.
There was nothing else for it; Jiang Chen brought out a few tokens as proof of his identity. A more in-depth description of their meetings in the Hall of Merit finally eliminated Gu Yunjin’s doubt.
“So, you really are Shao Yuan! Fantastic! You haven’t died or run off?” Gu Yunjin was overjoyed. “There are two versions of your whereabouts in the sacred land: one says you died in battle, the other says you fled very early on. Which is it?”
“Neither,” Jiang Chen shook his head. “I took a trip just before the rebellion began and have been busy carving a path back. I just killed the guys in area sixteen moments ago.”
“You killed House Beigong’s Elder Xun and his men?” Gu Yunjin’s amazement intensified.
“Good, good!” Gu Yunjin praised. “Good kid! I certainly wouldn’t have expected you to sneak into our enemy’s ranks! Haha, well done indeed! I’m sure the primes and Daoist Ziju will be happy to hear the news!”
“Was there anything specifically you came out to do, Hallmaster Gu?”
“On the first prime’s orders, I’m supposed to slip out and distribute tactical information and misinformation to break apart the rebel alliance. A call to action needs to be sent out as well to the factions still loyal to us, so they can defend the sacred land!”
“I’ve done both of those things. The news should’ve spread to every corner of the sacred land by now. As for the rebel alliance, cracks have already appeared in its armor!”