Now that the spirit herb vault was back in the sacred land’s grasp, the second prime’s wounds were quickly treated. After hearing the decisive turn that Jiang Chen had effected, the recuperating prime discarded any lingering suspicions he might have harbored. Now, more than ever, he realized the true extent of the young man’s capabilities.
Under the command of the sacred land, the other factions pointed their spears against the rebels after a brief respite.
In only a few days, the counter-insurgent army swept through the capital and surrounded it. Though the imperial family had a few true believers left, many of their past adherents turned against them because of the way things were heading. Only the most rabid of supporters still resisted.
Because of this, the imperial family’s resistance was largely pointless. The palace fell in less than half a day.
The emperor struggled vainly with the protection of a few of his most loyal men, but he managed to do nothing of consequence. He planned to sneak out of the capital in disguise, but the city was completely surrounded. Moreover, too many pairs of eyes were on him.
Before he could even attempt an escape, he was reported on and captured by the sacred land’s experts.
The imprisonment of the emperor was the heaviest blow yet to the anti-sacred-land alliance. The factions that had wanted to fight tooth and nail no longer had any spirit to do so. Even the emperor had been captured, so was anything they did of any consequence?
One of the two major factions in the rebel alliance was broken. Only House Xiahou remained, which commanded far greater forces than the imperial family. After all, its gradual development over so many years had made it capable of threatening the sacred land somewhat. There had to be something to back that up.
Though it had suffered painful losses in several of the prior conflicts, House Xiahou’s core had remained intact. It still possessed formidable forces with which to fight.
The sacred land wasn’t going to repeat the mistake of the rebel alliance. It knew the value of uprooting weeds. Moreover, it wasn’t going to attempt to selfishly exhaust its opponent using cannon fodder. Instead, the venerated forefather led the charge.
Jiang Chen and the Vermilion Bird were part of the main force as well.
He had little interest in fighting the imperial family, but greatly enjoyed wiping out House Xiahou. His past enmity with the house meant that he would be satisfied only with its extermination. If he didn’t, it would seek revenge sooner or later.
Nipping an undeveloped problem in the bud was the best solution.
House Xiahou had the Cloudwave Sect and another first-rate house as its staunch supporters, thus it possessed the robust combat strength of three first-rate factions. The collected company was a good match for the Eternal Sacred Land.
However, other factions had joined the sacred land in quelling the rebellion.
Because of their past misdeeds, the former rebel factions wanted to contribute meritoriously. Their previous hostility to House Xiahou only added fuel to the fire. Thus, they displayed an incredibly intense desire to fight. House Xiahou was put under a lot of pressure.
Its bases of operations were eradicated one by one. The Cloudwave Sect and the other supporting house were forced to withdraw to House Xiahou’s main headquarters. Though not as impregnable as the sacred land, it was nevertheless a well-reinforced fortress. Terrain and formations combined made it difficult to attack.
However, more and more men and experts gathered outside it as time passed – so much so that the sacred land and its allies now outnumbered House Xiahou three to one.
Face to face on the field of battle, House Xiahou wouldn’t be able to last more than a few moments.
Alas, the security of its headquarters allowed it to gasp for a few more breaths.
No man within House Xiahou’s headquarters was in a good mood. This was a far cry from what they’d felt a short while ago. Before this, they had been at a clear advantage in their encirclement of the sacred land. As such, they’d been completely at ease.
Now they were the ones surrounded and disadvantaged. There seemed to be no way out from their predicament, and whether or not they could keep up their futile struggle was yet to be seen.
The scariest thing was that the pendulum was swinging the other way. When fate had been on their side, the rebel alliance had been ragtag and loose at best due to disagreements over profits. Therefore, it had never been able to effect its full strength.
The sacred land’s counterattack was different. Since all the factions had been ruled by the sacred land originally, they possessed a natural fear for it.
Furthermore, the sacred land led by example, placing itself on the very front lines. That lent its words more credibility. It was thus able to concentrate its allies’ forces much more capably than the rebel alliance had.
“Your Grace, I don’t think we can keep defending this fortress. As sturdy as it might be, our soldiers’ morale will suffer. Not everyone can keep their fighting spirit roused in these trying times. If pessimism fills our ranks, they might just turn on us by letting in the sacred land’s army. We can’t just ignore that possibility.”
The Cloudwave Sect head was the speaker here. He regretted his involvement with House Xiahou as much as anybody. What had he gotten out of the deal? He’d lost his home and heritage, and was now hemmed into House Xiahou’s final holding.
What had he gone to so much trouble for?
The Cloudwave sect leader was somewhat hesitant still. He had heard of the sacred land’s declaration that only the imperial family and House Xiahou were found culpable. Their accomplices had a chance of atoning through service.
Thus, he had the discreet notion of stabbing House Xiahou in the back.
The choice between life and death was extremely difficult, but it had to be made nevertheless.
The Cloudwave Sect and House Xiahou were on incredibly close terms. He was loathe to contemplate betraying House Xiahou just yet.
Honestly, the sect head was in great turmoil. He wanted to hear whether House Xiahou had any plans for self-preservation.
If House Xiahou had any bit of hope left, he would be willing to follow it wherever it headed. It was less likely that the Cloudwave Sect would be forgiven if he were to plead with the sacred land now. More importantly, would it even be trusted given its closeness with House Xiahou? Would it be accepted without issue?
All of these were unknowns.
Duke Xiaoyao gazed thoughtfully at the Cloudwave Sect head. “Brother Yun, what do you think? Speak your mind. We should gather our wits and pool our resources to get through this ordeal.”
As he said this, he glanced toward the patriarch of the other house under his command. “Ole Brother Tian, that goes for you too. I’m willing to listen to and try out any piece of good advice.”
House Tian’s patriarch sighed. “I hear that the imperial family has fallen. The only thing that’ll get us out of this bind is if the two divine forefathers return.”
The Cloudwave Sect head nodded in agreement. “Yes, that is the only way we can turn the tables. Our strength alone will not suffice.”
Duke Xiaoyao let out a long sigh. After witnessing the Vermilion Bird’s overbearing strength, he knew their methods were limited. Moreover, there remained the three primes to contend with. The first prime, for example, was at least as strong as he.
Duke Xiaoyao was a powerful expert, but he couldn’t guarantee a win against the leader of the sacred land.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, he felt virtually powerless before the Vermilion Bird. At least he could maneuver around the first prime as he liked!
In fact, the heads of all three factions added together wouldn’t necessarily be able to defeat the divine spirit creature.
The bird was of the lineage of one of the Four Divine Beasts, and had come into the fullness of its own strength. Perhaps only House Xiahou’s divine forefather would be able to overcome such an existence.
They were too mortal to want to attempt the incredible feat.
“Your Grace, there shouldn’t be a problem if the two forefathers leave the sacred land momentarily, should there? As long as they quickly crush the sacred land’s counterattack, that Vermilion Bird, and the three primes, we will be in a favorable position once more. Threatened with death, those traitors will betray the sacred land again. If you’re not happy with that, you can kill a few of them. The Starlight Sect, for example…”
The Starlight Sect had publicly renounced all affiliation with House Xiahou. Making an example of a faction like that was ideal.
Duke Xiaoyao furrowed his brow. He knew that the two divine forefathers could reverse the situation. But wouldn’t they be here already if they had the freedom to do so?
The fact that they hadn’t returned meant that the sacred land’s venerated forefather was significantly harder to seal away than they had previously thought. It was possible the two forefathers themselves were in trouble.