Ah Hong had been won over by Jiang Chen’s tremendous charisma over the days. He’d gone from cold observation, to astonishment, then a slow integration. Now, he was fully impressed with the young man’s performance.
From start to finish, he felt pride at being more than an eyewitness. Perhaps following this Shao Yuan would lead to a much more exciting life than before.
Ah Hong had no intention of betraying the Starlight Sect, but he could see how much trouble the faction was currently in. It couldn’t guarantee its own safety. He only hoped he could preserve some of the sect’s heritage and hope through a different method.
“I have a presumptuous request, Sir Shao.”
“What, pray tell?” Jiang Chen smiled.
“If… if your plan succeeds, and the Soulless Powder of Wind and Cloud takes everyone out, could you… spare those from the Starlight Sect…?” Ah Hong’s voice became rather quiet as his sentence went on.
Jiang Chen laughed. “That’s not a problem. After this plan pans out, I estimate that the Starlight Sect will be the first to defect to the sacred land. The conflict may not end just yet, but such an immediate outcome is unavoidable.”
“Huh? How so?” Ah Hong inquired with some surprise.
“Simple. We’ll be exposed in the process. When the imperial family and House Xiahou find out, they won’t hesitate to strike at the Starlight Sect. Even if your sect protests its innocence, they’ll force you to mount a desperate attack against the sacred land.
“If the sect slacks off even a little in that effort, it will be made an example of to the others. Morale has been very low among the rebel alliance, and most have been dragging their heels. If I were the imperial family and House Xiahou, I would jump at the chance.”
Ah Hong thought about it for a few moments. It made too much sense to ignore.
“So, does this mean you’re agreed to my request, Sir Shao?”
“Yes. Don’t worry, you have my word I will not kill those from the Starlight Sect.” Jiang Chen’s answer was very straightforward.
“Alright. After all’s said and done, I will try to convince the sect head by giving him your analysis. Maybe…”
“I don’t mean to look down you, Ah Hong, but you’re not nearly important enough to convince your head. If you went, you’d only have the opposite effect.” Jiang Chen smiled. “I’ll deal with it myself. I’ll make sure the situation is favorable for you and yours.”
As they conversed, a message echoed in the distance. “Area sixteen, prepare to gather.”
The young man chuckled. “Come on, then.”
All of the men on defense duty assembled at the designated location. A great number of well-equipped elites had been added to their number, ready to launch a frenzied assault on the sacred land’s great formation.
Obviously, the rebels’ failure to gain anything of relevance for the past period had driven them to restlessness.
Jiang Chen lay low among the teeming crowd. Since he had requested to ‘lead the charge’, the imperial prince had put him on the very front lines.
Imperial Prince Shang and two other administrators congregated near a gray-haired old man. Their expressions towards him were ones of utmost awe and respect.
The young man remembered that another venerated forefather from the imperial family was supposed to be the commander for the raid. A demigod who was quite near the threshold.
Can he be this gray-haired man? His suspicions were quickly proven.
Imperial Prince Shang stepped forward unceremoniously. “All of you, quiet down. Forefather Calmdew has something to say.”
Jiang Chen glanced surreptitiously again at the demigod forefather. This was no ordinary man. His will was focused inward, utterly impenetrable to the casual observer.
“This Forefather Calmdew is a tough nut to crack, young master Chen,” the Vermilion Bird reminded discreetly.
“Haha, can you handle him?” Jiang Chen asked.
“Let’s put it this way: he’s very unlucky to have met me,” the bird chuckled.
The Vermilion Bird’s boast wasn’t empty. Even before its rite of rebirth, it had been able to duel human demigods in ancient times with a reasonable win rate. Back then, demigods were uniformly stronger than they were now.
Now that its rite was complete, the Vermilion Bird was just half a step away from the divine realm. It was on the threshold of becoming a full-fledged god. Because of this, it had an advantage in battle against most initial divine realm cultivators. Its sacred beast blood ensured that this was so.
“Let us prepare on two fronts then. If the Soulless Powder of Wind and Cloud is ineffective against the strongest experts, then you should swiftly and decisively annihilate this so-called imperial forefather. How does that sound?”
“Leave it to me!” The Vermilion Bird was itching for a fight.
“How about me?” Long Xiaoxuan piped up.
“You can do what you like, Brother Dragon.” Jiang Chen had no task for the dragon, but he wasn’t worried about his friend’s safety, either. Long Xiaoxuan was formidable in his own right.
“Little brother Dragon,” the Vermilion Bird said, “I think you should hold back for now. It’s shocking enough for one of the four sacred beasts to appear. If two did instead, young master Chen would be troubled to no end in the future. The time isn’t ripe yet for that.”
The words were heartwarming for Jiang Chen.
As expected of mankind’s old friend, the Vermilion Bird impressed him with its consideration.
Forefather Calmdew began his speech.
“Everyone, the divine nation has already been turned upside down. The imperial family’s takeover is set in stone. You are participating in one of the most key battles in our campaign. If you survive it, you will enjoy untold riches and glory for the rest of your life. If you do not, the nation will erect monuments and shrines to your name, granting you eternal fame.
“Warriors, are you prepared to win this battle!”
“We are!” From the thunderous reply, morale seemed quite high.
Hidden amid the crowd, Jiang Chen pretended that he was as enthusiastic as his neighbors. He was just chanting empty words to avoid suspicion
“I don’t like to waste words. As the representative of the imperial family, I guarantee that our most distinguished warriors from this first charge will be awarded with land and the ability to begin their own factions upon victory! The imperial family will forever appreciate your service.”
Almost every cultivator wanted land or a sect of his own.
It felt good to be a king among one’s people, regardless of how small the latter group ended up being.
“Roar! Long live the emperor. We are willing to lay down our lives for the imperial family!”
The forefather’s material promises were a tale as old as time. However, that didn’t make them any less effective.
“Very good. Each man should prepare himself. The regional principals will hand out your tasks shortly. Do your job well and keep the formation unbroken.” Having said this, he handed the floor to the three principals. Imperial Prince Shang was one of them.
He evidently had the concrete battle plan already, and gathered the cultivators under his jurisdiction to give them the details of their work.
“You, you… you’re in charge of this area near the great formation. It’s not the most active, but a lot of rank and file to take note of. The sacred land’s experts seem to prefer taking this route.
“You lot, go to this area…
“Your team should provide backup here. If the men in front of you fail at their task, rectify their error…” The imperial prince’s delegations took place at a rapid-fire pace.
Jiang Chen’s group was up in no time at all. Imperial Prince Shang was clearly worried that the young man would go back on his word; “I’ve arranged a wonderful job for you,” he said hurriedly. “The area you’ll be responsible for isn’t the hottest, but it’s just as important as area sixteen was. Good luck, and don’t let us down.”
Jiang Chen smiled wryly. The imperial prince was the furthest from worrying about someone ‘letting him down’. He simply lacked manpower that was willing to serve as shock troops.
Nevertheless, Jiang Chen put on the most simpering smile he could manage. “Thank you, Your Highness. We will give it all we’ve got.”
Imperial Prince Shang waved, clearly not expecting much out of these four men. They were cannon fodder – what else could they do?
He didn’t have time to chat with the walking dead. As soon as the briefing was done, he hurried away to instruct the others. This suited Jiang Chen’s purposes perfectly.
He hated being watched when he was up to no good.
Since the army was two to three thousand strong, the area the poison needed to cover was correspondingly immense. It would be nearly impossible for Jiang Chen to spread the powder by himself.
Thankfully, he had the Goldbiter Rats to help him out. He had prepared such huge quantities of the Soulless Powder as a safety. His design was to have the rats make trouble from the underground.
The Goldbiter Rats moved through the earth like ghosts. Even if their movements were detected, the proximity of the great formation meant that they’d be attributed to that instead.
Jiang Chen sneakily called up the king of the Goldbiter Rats. “Old Gold, this job is a bit riskier than usual.”
“Don’t worry, young master Chen. The Goldbiter Rats always get it done!”
“Take care yourselves. The Soulless Powder of Wind and Cloud is very potent. Try not to accidentally sniff too much of it in,” Jiang Chen noted.