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Jiang Chen chuckled. “That doesn’t matter now. You think the people you have left can do anything to us?”

He pointed at all the alliance cultivators lying on the ground, a waggish smile curling at the corner of his mouth.

Forefather Calmdew snickered. “I can summon a hundred thousand cultivators from the capital at any time. These couple thousand have only temporarily lost their strength. House Xiahou has plenty of antidote for the Soulless Powder… unless you’re from House Xiahou yourselves!”

“Maybe we are. Have you considered that, hmm?” Jiang Chen replied with a half-smile.

The imperial forefather’s face colored at this. He instinctively took a few steps away from Xiahou Zhen in order to keep his distance. If these people were from House Xiahou, there would be a lot of trouble.

“Enough with the slander, kid,” Xiahou Zhen interrupted immediately. “When will you stop using our name to do violence?”

Using our name?

“Why try to hide it, venerated elder? In what way is House Xiahou inferior to the imperial family? Why should we be led by them? In my opinion, we should be the true rulers of the nation. We are the real pillars that hold it up!”

Jiang Chen spoke with an exaggerated swagger that was accompanied by a medallion that had once belonged to the late Xiahou Jing. “Venerated elder, Xiahou Jing reports for duty!”

Xiahou Jing?

Many of the younger members of House Xiahou blinked. Xiahou Jing was one of them who had disappeared a few years ago. There had been no news of him since. Most in the house didn’t know where he’d gone. How was he here all of a sudden?

Why would a man who’d vanished for so long resurface here?

Disquieted, Xiahou Zhen glanced at Xiahou Jing’s medallion. It was authentic; however, he remembered another contradicting detail.

“Absurd! You’re not Xiahou Jing! His soul lamp broke many years ago! You’re a fool to impersonate him!” the venerated elder declared furiously.

Jiang Chen was all silly grins in contrast. “Venerated elder, everything’s already settled. Only a couple of stragglers remain – no one else can fight. Isn’t this the chance for House Xiahou to take the nation for our own?”

“Silence! Shut up!”

Though House Xiahou wasn’t happy about the imperial family’s current prominence, that didn’t mean the house wanted to break with it so soon. The two parties needed to be unified, at least, before the fall of the sacred land.

If the imperial family and House Xiahou parted ways, that would be tremendous news for the sacred land they were opposing. Even a second chance at life.

The bigger picture helped Xiahou Zhen hold back somewhat, unwilling to elicit more suspicions from the imperial family. Cupping a fist, he proclaimed loudly, “Friends! House Xiahou has always been aboveboard with our actions. I can guarantee that these people are not part of my house!”

“If not, why do they have your exclusive poison?” The quick thinkers among the crowd pointed out a glaring flaw.

“That… maybe they’re the culprits responsible for killing Xiahou Jing. They stole his recipe for the Soulless Powder. Don’t be fooled, friends!” Xiahou Zhen did his best to explain.

“Actions speak louder than words,” someone near Forefather Calmdew remarked snidely. “You’ve said so much, but it wouldn’t be nearly as convincing as if you took that Xiahou Jing’s head.”

Xiahou Zhen nodded. “Men of House Xiahou are not to be infringed upon!” he roared. “Warriors, come slay these bastards with me!”

He led the charge himself. As a venerated elder of House Xiahou, he was quite capable. His palms pushed two wheels of air outwards. They spun at incredible speed like inexorable grindstones into Jiang Chen’s midst.

Jiang Chen laughed softly. “Kill him!” he cried.

Having received Jiang Chen’s instruction, the Vermilion Bird loosed a sinister cackle. Xiahou Zhen felt his hairs stand on end. In the next moment, it transformed into a crimson ball, shooting at high velocity towards the enemy.

As one of the four sacred beasts, the Vermilion Bird was also significantly more powerful post-rebirth. Though it was only a demigod, it could fight toe to toe with any full-fledged one.

Xiahou Zhen was only peak empyrean realm, making him easy prey for the bird at best.

Faced with a blast of red in his direction, Xiahou Zhen sent two more wheels of air to intercept the Vermilion Bird. He was shocked by the potency of the incoming attack.

However, he was even more astonished by what came next. The red figure swatted aside the spinning air currents like flies with the most casual of motions.

It was as if Xiahou Zhen had gone easy on purpose.

But everyone realized that that wasn’t the case In the next moment. There was no House Xiahou conspiracy here. The figure in red next went for Xiahou Zhen with lightning speed.

It was as if the elder’s body was frozen in time. In the next instant, a hand erupted through his chest.

A flash of red consumed Xiahou Zhen’s body and soul into the Vermilion Bird’s pocket dimension. There was a wave of fearful cries at his death.

“Venerated elder!”

“The venerated elder’s dead. Run for it!”

The Vermilion Bird wasn’t going to let them, though. It stretched out its wings, summoning a meteoric rain of fire down upon House Xiahou’s cultivators.

Shrieks and howls of pain rang out incessantly. Then, blood and gore flew everywhere. House Xiahou’s warriors was swept into a tornado of vengeance, their bodies and souls slowly ground to dust.

It didn’t take long for the supernatural storm to subside.

Nothing remained of the victims who were caught within. It was as if the space they’d occupied had always been vacant.

The horrifying scene made silence to fall over its audience. Poisoned and healthy cultivators alike were shaken to their core.

The arrogant House Xiahou contingent – the House Xiahou that had dared butt heads with even the imperial family – had been totally decimated. The venerated elder and his men, all killed in action!

Forefather Calmdew grew somber. He motioned for his subordinates to retreat, clearly bewildered by this unexpected turn of events.

“Who are you lot, really?” the forefather’s brows were knitted as he fixed a steady gaze upon the Vermilion Bird. There was a strange pressure emanating from the cultivator enshrouded in red mist, a mortal kind of fear.

The Vermilion Bird didn’t reply. Instead, he considered Forefather Calmdew like a gourmand seizing up a delicious meal. Calmdew was much more powerful than Xiahou Zhen. In fact, he could handily beat three Xiahou Zhens.

The bird wasn’t scared, though. It was a demigod that could hold its own against actual divine cultivators. Though Calmdew was also a demigod, he couldn’t make the same claim regarding his combat ability.

To put it another way, three Forefather Calmdews wouldn’t be a match for the Vermilion Bird.

Jiang Chen chuckled. “I didn’t expect the imperial family to have a few experts of its own. But, your most foolish endeavor was opposing the sacred land in the first place. You’d best take this to heart: only the Eternal Sacred Land reigns supreme in Eternal Divine Nation. House Xiahou is just an usurper.”

Forefather Calmdew was icy. “You’re barely out of your cradle, kid. You dare speak of politics? Shame on you!

“Soldiers at the rear, heed my orders. These four are enemy spies who’ve snuck into our midst. Gather together quickly to surround them. Don’t allow them to escape!”

The forefather was in no hurry to act himself. He sent the cultivators assembled for the assault instead. Those at the back were a bit further away, and had originally been intended as backup.

Unfortunately, the three thousand experts who’d been taken down by the Soulless Powder in the front ranks hadn’t awakened even now. Its potency was evident in this display.

Jiang Chen chuckled. “Everyone, you’re all smart people. If you’re not scared of this Xiahou poison, feel free to come forth. These men will serve as your example.”

“Don’t listen to his lies. In the name of the imperial family, arrest these spies immediately. Kill them if they resist!”

“You? You want to kill us?” Jiang Chen smiled serenely. “What good is the imperial family, that it deserves the sacrifice of all these cultivators for your ambitions?”

“Friends, the foundation of this nation is the Eternal Sacred Land. The rule of the sacred land has been tradition since time immemorial. The nation has been stirred up into chaos for the sake of the imperial family’s fleeting ambition. You are all brave men of this country. Are you willing to pour out your life and blood to sustain the imperial family’s delusions of grandeur?” Jiang Chen began to pontificate.

“Are you really naïve enough to think that you’ll be better off with the imperial family and House Xiahou in control? You see what’s happening now. How many have died from the various factions? And how many from the imperial family or House Xiahou? You are merely cannon fodder. They’re the ones gaining from all this. Can’t you see through their paper-thin scheme?”

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