The first tempted was the head of the Starlight Sect. He had previously thought he was on a path of no return, but Jiang Chen’s words changed his mind.
The imperial family and House Xiahou had failed to demonstrate complete superiority over the sacred land. Did the Starlight Sect really have to follow these losers to their demise?
It was almost as if Jiang Chen could see what the sect leader was thinking. “Sect Head,” he smiled serenely, “Ah Hong from your sect was key to my infiltration. He’s been displeased about the imperial family and House Xiahou’s rebellion all along. He also told me of his peers being oppressed in the alliance.
“I can pardon the Starlight Sect’s past offenses on the sacred land’s behalf. As long as you and yours leave the alliance and cease aiding the forces of evil, the sacred land guarantees your safety. If you are willing to assist the sacred land in quelling this rebellion, you will be rewarded handsomely! Whether you are friend or foe is entirely up to you.”
The Starlight Sect head tangibly felt the gazes around him turn strange. He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. How could he not know that this solicitation was also a burning of his bridges?
The undertone of the young man’s speech was that the Starlight Sect had been displeased for quite a while. Even if he didn’t cut ties now, would the others continue to accept him?
There was no other choice for the sect. There was no other choice for him.
Men who became sect leaders were generally decisive. The head of the Starlight Sect grit his teeth, nodding. “The Starlight Sect is out! Sir Shao Yuan, please inform the first prime that though we have committed many grave misdeeds, we have also repented of our sins. We are henceforth an ally of the sacred land, willing to do whatever needed to redeem ourselves!”
There was a great outcry at this statement. Duke Xiaoyao was furious. “The Starlight Sect was a traitor from the start! Friends, how can we let these backstabbers live?”
“Yes, we can’t let them leave so easily!” a supporter of House Xiahou chimed in.
However, many other factions were eerily quiet. They didn’t partake in the clamor. Because the situation was still murky, everyone kept self-preservation at the top of their minds. Even if they didn’t leave the alliance directly, they wanted to quietly observe any changes.
“House Beigong, House Feng, you’re cannon fodder in this alliance as well. The first prime promises equal treatment with the Starlight Sect. As long as you renounce your past affiliation, you too will be granted clemency despite your conduct. Moreover, you are fully aware of what the sacred land can bring to bear. Today, I bring a warning, next time will be an army. You won’t have the opportunity to escape the slaughter then!”
Even without the example of the Starlight Sect, these two houses were already quite dissatisfied at the heavy losses they’d been forced to sustain by the alliance. Jiang Chen’s proposition was extremely attractive in light of that.
House Beigong’s patriarch couldn’t help but ask. “Sir Shao Yuan, do you represent the first prime?”
“I have been delegated that authority, yes,” Jiang Chen replied coolly.
“Alright. If that’s the case, House Beigong is out of the alliance as well. We head to the sacred land’s aid! We’ve been thinking about it over the past few days ourselves. Perhaps the sacred land’s rule is what’s best for this nation. The other factions only have ambition without the ability to match!”
House Beigong took a parting shot at the imperial family and House Xiahou on their way out.
The departure of three first-rate factions caused the hearts of the others to waver as well. Clearly, the anti-sacred-land alliance had been drastically weakened.
The Jade Lake Sect head mused for a few moments before sighing. “Apologies, Your Majesty. After serious consideration, we believe this rebellion to be extremely odd and out of place. The Jade Lake Sect is out!”
That sect was on reasonably good terms with the imperial family, but had decided to leave regardless. The factions that remained became even more panicked. Among the three great sects, two had withdrawn. Of the seven houses, two as well.
Jiang Chen’s eyes settled impassionedly on the House Yan patriarch.
“Patriarch Yan, it seems you’re planning to follow House Xiahou to the bitter end. Is that correct?”
House Yan’s patriarch shivered. He looked with mixed feelings at the young man aloft. The youth had been a genius of House Yan only a few years ago, but was now pointing fingers and issuing commands above them.
“Never mind, never mind,” the Yan patriarch murmured. “I’ve made so many mistakes in the past, but I won’t falter here. I’m out! House Yan is out!”
House Yan wasn’t a particularly important member of the alliance in the first place, but it did serve as a first-rate representative as one of the seven great houses.
Now, five of the first-rate factions were solidly detached from the alliance.
Among the aristocracy, two hadn’t rebelled in the first place. They maintained a neutral stance even now. Only two houses and the Cloudwave Sect remained with the rebels.
The Cloudwave Sect was a die-hard loyalist of House Xiahou. It wouldn’t possibly betray its master. Nevertheless, its members began to fret about the disintegrating alliance.
“Cowards, one and all! Faithless curs!” Duke Xiaoyao was furious. “The alliance has two divine realm experts. We have full control of the situation. You are foolish, absolutely foolish, to leave now!”
“Everyone,” the emperor called out as well, “I don’t blame you for being temporarily tricked by this kid. As long as you take back your words now, I promise you won’t be charged for them. Will the sacred land protect you in the future? When the two divines slay the sacred land’s venerated forefather and return, what good will your numbers do? Do you dare stand against the gods?”
These words were rather intimidating to listen to.
Jiang Chen chuckled. “Are you still making your final struggles, old man? The venerated forefather isn’t someone that two initial divine cultivators can take down. They used underhanded methods to trap him in the first place, didn’t they?
“When the forefather recovers, he will have no problem breaking free. Perhaps your two divines won’t even live to return. Moreover, this ancient Vermilion Bird beneath me is a god as well. So what if you have two divines? The venerated forefather and the Vermilion Bird are more than a match for them.”
The young man’s words were far more convincing than the emperor’s. The leaders who had quit the rebellion readily agreed after some thought.
The forefathers of House Xiahou and the imperial family were strong, but they were definitely considerably weaker than the sacred land’s venerated forefather. Adding on the Vermilion Bird, it was obvious which side would win.
“Sir Shao Yuan, we are willing to bow before the sacred land. We will not have another change of heart. If we betray the sacred land, let heaven and earth destroy us!” The leaders were wise enough to understand that their previous momentary hesitation might’ve led to Shao Yuan to think less of them for it. They swore oaths of loyalty immediately.
Jiang Chen laughed. “You are all important leaders of this nation, and will surely play an important part in maintaining its future. The nation needs you to run smoothly. The Eternal Sacred Land has no intentions to pursue everyone to the bitter end. If everyone else is dead, then what? The nation will be drastically weakened. What good would a sacred land by itself be? Therefore, don’t worry. The sacred land’s promise of a full pardon is genuine!”
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief at that. Jiang Chen’s words strengthened their resolve.
“How long are you going to wallow in your idiotic stubbornness?” the Starlight Sect head loudly proclaimed. “Do you think the imperial family will let you grow as you are? What about House Xiahou? Wouldn’t you threaten their positions then? I’ve thought it through already. We are the tools that will be discarded in time. The imperial family and House Xiahou want us to be exhausted as cannon fodder. They can seize power while we are weak, and then we will be powerless against anything they do!”
Loyalists aside, most of the first-rate factions had decided to exit the alliance. However, many second-rate factions hesitated about whether they wanted to stay.
They hadn’t left yet only because they had their own ambitions. Once the first-rate factions were weakened, they intended to rise up as replacements. Every member of this coalition was here for selfish reasons.
“I know what you’re thinking. You want to see the first-rate factions sacrifice everything they have in the fight against the sacred land. Then, you can rush in. It’s a good idea, and some of you might even succeed. But don’t forget: House Xiahou and the imperial family aren’t charities. Do you think yourselves more capable of scheming than they?”
The Starlight Sect head channeled his frustrations into incitement.
“That’s enough from me. You see the sacred land’s strength and resourcefulness. Once this ancient Vermilion Bird strikes, the imperial family and House Xiahou’s experts can possibly escape. But what about you? How likely do you fancy yourselves getting out intact?”
Jiang Chen suddenly found the Starlight Sect head much more pleasing to the eye. He was a good deliverer of speeches.
“Ah, forget it. We’re out, too.”
“House Shangguan withdraws!”
“As does the White Tiger Mountain!”
“We’re all out of here!”
Second-rate factions were far more numerous than their first-rate brethren. Almost thirty of them announced their departures in the blink of an eye.
The emperor was as pale as a ghost. What he was seeing was a stinging blow to his ego.
What had been a superbly advantageous position had crumbled over a matter of minutes. He still couldn’t understand. How? Why??
Had it just been Shao Yuan who’d single-handedly turned the tide in Eternal Divine Nation?