It was too late for the emperor to diffuse the situation. Words weren’t enough to quell disgruntlement in a group once hearts had swayed.
“Your Majesty, these words are a bit too late now. If everyone had been truly united and selfless at the inception of the alliance, we wouldn’t be here today. You started out having factions like us lead the charge. We bore the brunt of the battles, while you two played spectator and reaped all the benefits.
“It was as if the alliance was solely our responsibility and none of yours. And now what? You regret it now? It’s too late! The sacred land has rebounded from their lowest point. You didn’t work together with us to vanquish them when they were at their weakest. We’ve lost our window to defeat them!”
The head of the Starlight Sect couldn’t contain his fury; anger had flooded his tone. His sect had suffered too heavy a sacrifice. They’d lost almost a third of their elites—an immense toll.
Factions in a similar position included House Beigong and House Feng. Both had started out as top-tier factions, but had suffered great casualties during the uprising.
In comparison, some had remained almost unaffected other than losing a few members in the final assault. It was only natural that the head of the Starlight Sect would be so frustrated.
Startled cries echoed from outside the palace. An extraordinary presence came from afar at amazing velocity, startling everyone.
“Heavens, is it coming for us already?!”
“Let’s go take a look.” The emperor took the lead, a group of personal guards forming a protective circle around him. Duke Xiaoyao propelled himself outside with a push against a chair. Figureheads from other factions rushed after them as well.
Tremendous might descended from above. Furiously red clouds covered the firmament, a divine beast resembling a ball of fire ensconced within. It flourished its powerful presence without restraint, seemingly ready to burn down the entire capital.
All cultivators within the city cowered and trembled under its might, their blood boiling as they struggled to stay conscious.
“It’s the Vermilion Bird! A divine beast!”
“Good heavens! Why is there an ancient, divine beast in Eternal Divine Nation?”
“Does the divine beast’s arrival means this isn’t the end for the Eternal Sacred Land? Is it true destiny for the sacred land to rule over the nation?”
“Maybe so! I knew it! It’s tradition for the sacred land is to govern the nation. They’re the rightful rulers that we put our trust in. Those ambitious cretins insisted on staging an uprising. Now, even an ancient divine beast has been disturbed. This is the will of heaven!”
“This is our doom. If the Vermilion Bird attacks, at least half of the cultivators in the city will die.”
“Definitely. The Vermilion Bird is a creature of fire. Its supreme true fire can reduce anything to ashes. It may even burn down the entire city in its fury!”
A man suddenly appeared out of thin air and landed on the bird’s back. He had a bow on his back, his expression calm and his eyes bright and penetrating, as if he could pierce through the heavenly law.
“I think it’s Shao Yuan! Shao Yuan from the sacred land!”
“Gods, am I hallucinating? Is Shao Yuan sitting on the Vermilion Bird’s back? Is... he… is the bird his ride?”
“That can’t be! How can he be an ancient beast’s rider? He’s said to be a wandering cultivator, but does anyone actually buy that he started out as one?”
“Don’t be so certain. Perhaps Shao Yuan is a god incarnate more powerful than Xiahou Zong. Perhaps he knew the Vermilion Bird from his past life.”
“Makes sense. That explains it! But why would the sacred land decline with a genius like him? So it seems that the sacred land hasn’t yet reached the end of its fortunes.”
Almost everyone within the city had their eyes on the bird and the young man, their gazes filled with a myriad of emotions - envy, fear, jealousy...
“Distinguished daoists of the capital, I am Shao Yuan of the sacred land, here to deliver a message on behalf of the first prime.” Jiang Chen’s strong voice rang through the city from above.
“Eternal Divine Nation has been ruled by the sacred land since the beginning of time. Under our reign, the nation ranks among the top in Myriad Abyss, and has been blessed with good fortune and been free of natural disasters. Now, a small group of men have started a terrible civil war for their own ambitions, leading to great suffering and countless deaths. This is divine punishment, but also the consequence of human sins.
“We cultivators train hard, but for what? For our own pursuit of martial dao, but also to protect our home and country! Isn’t it our goal to safeguard our homeland and loved ones? You haven’t been cultivating to fulfill a few men’s ambitions, have you?
“How many corpses litter the path of their ambitions? How many have died needlessly? Have you thought about what will happen to your family after your death? Who will shed a tear for you before your grave?
“Those ambitious men won’t cry a single drop for you!” Jiang Chen exclaimed with great passion. “And yet, you risk your life fighting for their cause. Is that fair?”
There wasn’t a swear or insult with his words, neither did he make any threats. And yet, they hit everyone where they were most tender. He was right. What exactly were they fighting tooth and nail for?
Had the sacred land not been a good leader?
The nation had been at peace under their rule. What purpose did the civil war serve? To fulfill the ambitions of the imperial family and House Xiahou?
Would the two factions do a better job than the sacred land? Given their behavior and track record, the answer was a vehement “no!”
The sacred land had at least given everyone a sense of security, which was more than the imperial family and House Xiahou could say.
“Nonsense! Someone kill that brat!” The emperor couldn’t stand listening to Jiang Chen stirring up the crowd. It was an open challenge to the imperial family’s authority!
“This subordinate volunteers!”
One of the imperial experts made his move. Two spears emerged in his hands with a twist of his arms and he stomped, propelling himself into the air to glide through the sky.
He was smart enough to recognize the power of the Vermilion Bird, and thus kept his distance to threw the spears at Jiang Chen at full force.
The spears streaked through the air like flashes of light, radiating killing intent. They were weapons of unparalleled might, only slightly short of the divine rank. One was of the yin element and the other, yang. When combined, their destructive power was absolutely astounding.
The spears’ power wasn’t at all diminished after leaving their wielder. The man was able to manipulate the spears like they were extensions of his arms.
The two spears morphed into dragon-like beasts before Jiang Chen and charged at him with their brandished claws.
The Vermilion Bird scoffed and spat two fireballs at the spears, as vibrantly red as the sun in the sky.
Caught by the fireballs, the two spear-beasts shrieked pitifully and spasmed as they scrambled to flee. However, the fireballs were faster and caught them, enveloping them in flames.
The two beasts shuddered and tumbled as pained, pitiful screeches rang through the sky.
Jiang Chen raised his Holy Dragon Bow and shot at the cultivator, who hastily dodged the vicious attack.
However, numerous vermilion feathers followed up the feathers and loomed in his eyes. The cultivator’s pupils dilated violently as they pierced through his body.
His existence was wiped out by the terrifying might.
Jiang Chen summoned the arrow back with a quick grasp and stored his bow on his back.
“Who wants to try next?” he threatened, expanding his Evil Golden Eye to its fullest and covering the land with his consciousness. That, on top of the Vermilion Bird’s unrelenting presence, put him in a dominating position over everyone.
Lower level cultivators ducked their heads, too terrified to meet Jiang Chen’s gaze. They weren’t at a level to resist his eye art and aura.
Silence spread through the city. It was so quiet one could hear a pin drop.
“Your Majesty, is that the best your its experts can do?” Jiang Chen smiled lazily. “The imperial family was only able to gain your status because of the sacred land’s support. And yet you forget gratitude and repaid kindness with malice. Your days on the throne are numbered.”
The emperor raged. “Crook! How dare you insult the imperial family?! Whoever kills this man will be rewarded handsomely with your own lands and faction!”
The imperial experts exchanged glances, but none volunteered.
They weren’t afraid of Jiang Chen, but rather of the Vermilion Bird he was riding. The bird was so terrifyingly powerful that they didn’t stand a chance against it. They’d be marching to their deaths even if they attacked together.
Forefather Calmdew had been powerful, but he’d died at the bird’s hand as well.
The emperor flushed purple with anger at seeing how timid his men were. He hadn’t expected the tide to turn so suddenly, putting them in such a dire situation. They’d been on track for victory just yesterday!
Jiang Chen smiled slightly as the emperor’s air of superiority evaporated. “Most members of the alliance were tricked into joining by the imperial family and House Xiahou. According to the first prime’s order, all factions will be pardoned for your crimes if you leave the alliance right now. If you insist on staying on the wrong side of history, we won’t stop until we eliminate all of you.”
The heads of each member faction were visibly conflicted.
They all recognized this as the sacred land’s ploy to break the alliance, but no matter how obvious it was, they didn’t have much of a choice other than walk straight into such a trap.