House Xiahou was equally displeased about the imperial family’s forcefulness. It had its own ambitions: to replace the Eternal Sacred Land, not to help the imperial family grasp absolute power.
Even if the imperial family were allowed to rule on the surface, the house’s profits and initiatives had to be guaranteed behind the curtain.
But the actions of the former made that seem rather unlikely. The imperial family was attempting to steal authority for its own, as well as diminish House Xiahou’s contributions. And now, they were actively picking a fight! Naturally, Xiahou Zhen was quite upset. Correspondingly, he dispensed with courtesy in his tone.
Forefather Calmdew became more wary of Xiahou Zhen when he heard the latter’s rudeness. “These people’s symptoms indicate that they’ve been poisoned with the Soulless Powder of Wind and Cloud,” he said coolly. “You should know that better than me, Xiahou Zhen.”
“Hmph! What are you trying to say, Forefather Calmdew? There’s a saying that the huntsman puts away his bow when there are no birds left to hunt. However, we’re far from being at that point yet! Are you already kicking us off the bridge?”
Forefather Calmdew was furious. “Cease your nonsense, Xiahou Zhen. Take a look for yourself! Are these not the signs the Soulless Powder would have?”
The forefather was intensely irritated that Xiahou Zhen had the gall to deny something so obvious.
Xiahou Zhen snorted softly, but a touch of doubt tinged his expression. He became much graver after probing several cultivators in succession.
“I’m not making baseless accusations, am I? My deduction was completely correct,” Calmdew pressed.
House Xiahou’s forefather knitted his brow. Suddenly, he turned back towards his house. “Is it one of you who has caused this trouble?” he intoned slowly. “Step forward now and repent, and this may yet be resolved peacefully.”
Xiahou Zhen was unable to deny wrongdoing. Still, he’d truly been ignorant about all this, hence the question. He assumed that someone had done something foolish out of a grudge against the imperial family.
However, his sweeping eyes found only surprise on the faces of his kinsman. They cast dubious glances at their neighbors, but there was no hint of guilted panic in their own.
“I will count to five. If the culprit stands forward, I promise I will only punish him. If he does not and is found later, his entire branch will suffer.” Xiahou Zhen’s sinister voice sent chills down everyone’s spine.
However, no one ended up coming forth.
“Forefather Calmdew, this matter has nothing to do with House Xiahou. Plus, we’ve been in this area all along. The huge area of the poison’s influence means that the person responsible would’ve had to walk around. However, no one would’ve dared leave without my orders – or used poison without my notice, for that matter.
“Additionally, taking down so many cultivators isn’t a job for one man. The amount of Soulless Powder used must have been immense. No warrior from House Xiahou present here did such a deed. If you can prove me wrong, I will sentence him myself!” Xiahou Zhen tone was categorically certain.
On one hand, he firmly believed what he had said. On the other, he was sure that the poison that had taken down the rebel army was indeed House Xiahou’s exclusive Soulless Powder of Wind and Cloud.
It was difficult to wash themselves of the shit that had been smeared on them.
“Forefather Calmdew, House Xiahou’s intentions to cooperate with the imperial family are sincere. We would preserve the greater good in this crucial moment, even if we were stupid beyond words to make this move. Why would we do something so unwise? There must be some trick in this. Perhaps someone with ulterior motives is trying to break apart the imperial family and House Xiahou.” Xiahou Zhen tried his best to convince the imperial family’s forefather.
“Your words aren’t proof enough! You say House Xiahou didn’t do this, Xiahou Zhen. Well, then, produce the antidote.”
Xiahou Zhen waved a hand without hesitation. “Take out your antidotes for the Soulless Powder, everyone. Keep one portion for yourself and contribute the rest. No selfishness!”
House Xiahou’s warriors were reasonably loyal and responsive. The antidote was swiftly presented.
Forefather Calmdew grew hesitant because of their readiness. Was the culprit someone else after all? Was someone hiding in the shadows, trying to stir up conflict between House Xiahou and the imperial family?
“You lot, you’re not poisoned. Take some of the antidote to guard yourself against the airborne powder, then give out the antidote to the others.”
The large swathes of warriors collapsed on the ground concerned Calmdew somewhat.
The front ranks of the gathered army had almost entirely succumbed. Those in the reserves were relatively further away, but didn’t dare approach at this time. All the elites were concentrated in the first group, making for weaker reserves in backup.
The antidote was gradually distributed to those affected.
“Our antidote is very effective,” Xiahou Zhen stated coolly. “It should less than an hour for them to recover much of their strength.”
His words served to remind Forefather Calmdew: House Xiahou shouldn’t be blamed before the truth revealed itself.
Time passed moment by moment.
Most of an hour passed, but those who had taken the antidote were unchanged in their paralysis. In fact, they had become even weaker.
Forefather Calmdew became even more enraged.
“When will you stop with your tricks, Xiahou Zhen? I believed you when you said House Xiahou didn’t do it, but your antidote is completely useless. House Xiahou really does plan on opposing the alliance, then?” Calmdew’s tone was filled with hostility.
Xiahou Zhen was utterly confused. He held the antidote in his hands, stunned by its lack of effect. Suddenly, his eyes widened. “There must be a spy in our midst. Warriors of House Xiahou, listen up! House Xiahou will not suffer this deception. Look alive and seek out this spy!”
Having said this, Xiahou Zhen cupped a fist toward Forefather Calmdew. “Forefather, you would only please our enemies if you target us now. We haven’t done anything wrong, and this disaster is not our doing. Whether you believe me or not, that’s the honest truth!”
Calmdew’s expression was dark. He had half a mind to believe it. Regardless of House Xiahou’s ambitions, it wouldn’t conduct such blatant sabotage. Was there really a spy here, just like Xiahou Zhen had said?
Calmdew opened his consciousness to look for someone fitting that description.
Xiahou Zhen did the same, house warriors in tow.
The forefather swept his gaze in Jiang Chen’s direction quite suddenly. He paused upon the young man and his comrades, suspicion plain upon his face.
“You there don’t look like you’re poisoned! Why is this? What faction are you from?”
The forefather’s attention meant that the jig was just about up. Jiang Chen was a bit disappointed he hadn’t managed to provoke House Xiahou and the imperial family into direct conflict.
“Out with it! Well, what faction are you from?” The other two principals came up to shout the same.
It was time for battle to be engaged. The enemies’ suspicions were already roused. He chuckled and flashed a wide grin. “So you see what we’re doing, then?”
“You’re the one that poisoned us?” Xiahou Zhen was incensed.
“They’re from the Starlight Sect!” Someone pointed out instantly.
“The Starlight Sect?” Forefather Calmdew glanced all around. Many from the Starlight Sect had also been afflicted. How could they be from the Starlight Sect? Had these four been bought out by the Eternal Sacred Land?
But, even if they had, where had they gotten House Xiahou’s Soulless Powder of Wind and Cloud? Moreover, how had they spread the poison so effectively?
“Are you the culprits?” The forefather looked Jiang Chen up and down. His tone grew chilly; a fearsome power radiated from his consciousness directly towards the young man.
Men on the level of Forefather Calmdew were crafty. He wanted to strike pre-emptively to catch Jiang Chen unprepared, and take out his opponent before the latter realized it.
He didn’t expect his demigod level of consciousness to vanish without a trace after entering his target’s mental ocean!
Sweat trickled down the forefather’s back. His expression was incredulous. How could this be?
Forefather Calmdew knew his strength well. Even Xiahou Zong would have been severely injured by an invasive attack from his consciousness. In fact, such a blow would have potentially been lethal.
And yet, his sudden strike seemed to have veered off the mark – or missed entirely. It was very strange indeed.
Jiang Chen knew that his chain seal had saved him yet again. He became all the more astonished for it. The chain seal was practically invincible against mental attacks. It had essentially absorbed what would have been a crippling attack.
Since when was there such a capable expert in the Starlight Sect? Furthermore, he looks rather young.
Everything about this oozed oddity.
The forefather found no reason to panic. He trained an icy gaze on the suspicious youth. “You are certainly not from the Starlight Sect. No one from that sect would dare do something like this. Show your true face!”