The unexpected news instantly soured the atmosphere. In particular, Emperor Petalpluck’s easy poise turned into a gloomy frown.
Moments ago, he’d argued that the Agarwood Boundary Stele’s woes had been mere coincidence. But now, a crack had also appeared on the Northwestern Stele. When it rains it truly pours.
The Southern Celestial Tribe lay in wait beyond Agarwood’s Boundary Stele, a tribe weaker than mankind during antiquity. And they’d sent three empyrean experts? Petapluck found that hard to believe.
However, the Northwestern Stele was a bona fide defensive wall. Its fall would trigger certain invasion from the Embittered Savage Tribe. All that accumulated resentment and frustration waiting to be unleashed upon mankind... The prospect was too dire to imagine.
Trivial issues would never bother a bright and optimistic girl like Xu Qingxuan, but the faint panic on her face said it all too clearly. The situation was far graver than anyone had imagined.
Growing up in the Moon God Sect, she’d learned long ago of the fearsome tribe living beyond the northwestern wasteland. No one was allowed to approach the Stele for no good reason. Worse, to destroy it would be a crime against humanity. These teachings had deeply impressed upon her ever since her childhood.
All sects near the Stele thus warned their disciples.
It was precisely the Stele’s formidable importance that had triggered Petalpluck’s opposition. Usually, the great emperor was a goody two shoes who never offended anyone. But the Steles weren’t to be touched. His out-of-character protest had been born from this deeply-rooted notion.
Jiang Chen hadn’t said it in so many words, but he’d implied he wanted to head outside. To merely suggest it clashed with Petalpluck’s beliefs.
Did that mean voluntarily breaking the Boundary Steles? That would be an unforgivable sin against humanity!
Jiang Chen was Veluriyam’s young lord, and his word was law among mankind, but Petalpluck couldn’t condone such conduct. Like a box of mysteries, no one could foretell what calamities could occur once the Steles were broken.
Jiang Chen sighed to himself. He could see the bone-deep fear and panic the news had caused in everyone present. Even his tigress of a sister wasn’t immune. But he hadn’t been indoctrinated like them. Perhaps he was the only man in the entire human domain that didn’t hold the Steles in such religious reverence.
The former Jiang Chen had been at too low a level to even know what the Steles represented. He himself had learned of them some time after his reincarnation, but he’d taken it in stride thanks to his character and experience.
To him, the Steles meant little, and certainly not objects of dread.
In his previous life, there had been many restrictions between the different planes. Such barriers weren’t easily breached, but once they were, terrible planar wars would ensue. He’d seen them too many times to count.
Sometimes, the more one feared something, the more likely it was to happen. But if one accepted it, then all of a sudden it wasn’t so frightening after all. For example, these Boundary Steles.
No Steles had existed before the ancient demon-sealing war. The different races on the continent had waged incessant wars of conquest upon each other. Mankind had been no stranger to such conflicts, yet hadn’t it survived fine and dandy to this day?
Why had the humans attracted the demons’ attention? Why had their domain become the war’s main battle zone? Hadn’t it been because of their prosperity?
Naturally, special historical circumstances had warranted the Steles’ existence. But times had changed and they were no longer be so significant. So why fear them?
“Everyone, Agarwood’s Stele broke, while the one to the northwest might not hold on for much longer. Perhaps we’ll soon hear similar news from the northeast. Ask yourselves this, why?” One by one, Jiang Chen’s clear gaze swept through the crowd.
“When Pillzenith established the northern alliance, he accused me of breaking the Stele and colluding with foreign races. Why? Simple. The Steles are too sensible a subject. Such a taboo was sure to arouse everyone’s hostility.”
He let rational arguments do the talking.
“There must be a reason for their collective collapse. It can’t be a joint attack from other races, because it’s impossible for them to coordinate their efforts. In the end, it boils down to the Steles themselves losing their effectiveness.”
Three minor empyrean powerhouses, no matter how strong, would never have breached a brand new Boundary Stele. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
Jiang Chen believed this was an opportunity for mankind.
Petalpluck turned grave. After careful thought, the young lord’s words made too much sense to refute, no matter how much he wanted to.
“Young lord, the Embittered Savage’s territory seems to lie beyond the northwestern wasteland. Mankind can ill afford an invasion from them,” Void interjected. Thanks to Emperor Peafowl’s influence, he was given to lament the fate of humanity.
“Young lord, is there any solution? Agarwood’s Stele could be repaired, so why don’t we do the same for the other ones?” Coiling Dragon’s thinking was very simple.
Jiang Chen sighed with a wry smile. “The one in Agarwood was fused with the Primosanct Sect’s formations. I couldn’t have mended it without the resources and secret arts left by the ancient sect otherwise. Even so, the repaired formations are still some way from the original, so the Stele’s power might be less than sixty percent compared to antiquity. As for the Northwestern Stele, it’s hard to comment before I see it with my own eyes.”
Xu Qingxuan implored, “Brother, the northwestern wasteland is the only thing that stands between us and an invasion from the Savages. You have to think of a way.”
Jiang Chen stayed silent. He lacked the most basic knowledge about the Northwestern Stele. What was he to do?
More importantly, he’d sent a call for a grand alliance not long ago. What of the gathering if he were to run to the northwest? What would the whole world think of Veluriyam then? Or of him?
There was also the Order of Wind and Cloud sharpening its blades and eyeing the Ninesuns Sky Sect like a tiger drooling over its prey. A trip far away would play right into the Order’s hands.
Emperor Mountaincrush suddenly slapped his thigh. “Young lord, could the Order be behind the troubles in the northwest? Aren’t they located very close to Agarwood? They might even have a hand in that Stele’s breaking.”
Abuzz with ideas, this sudden hypothesis had suddenly dawned on him.
Jiang Chen shook. He’d never considered this line of thought. It sounded outlandish, but after some reflection, it was a real possibility!
“Can the Order be this despicable? If so, they’re the scum of the earth!” Coiling Dragon shouted with indignation.
Everyone looked at Jiang Chen. In this mist of confusion, the young man was their only ray of light. They all waited for his conclusion.
Jiang Chen heaved a soft sight. “There are too many possibilities. I have to say, Emperor Mountaincrush’s idea does have some merit.”
The Order of Wind and Cloud was becoming more and more suspicious. No one had heard of this faction previously, yet it had suddenly appeared out of nowhere and risen to prominence in four short years.
It wasn’t particularly powerful, yet no other sect could rival its frighteningly strict and secret structure. It had no flaws, no rumors. That sounded simple, but it was almost impossible to achieve.
A dilemma now lay ahead of him.
If he chose the grand alliance, then a potential gap in the Northwestern Stele would be prelude to a catastrophic invasion from the Savages. But if he were to head there instead, then what if the Order launched a swift attack on the Ninesuns Sky Sect?
Even if he were to grow wings, the northern wasteland was too far for him to return in time. Such a difficult choice would decide mankind’s next step, or even its entire future.
“First things first,” Emperor Skysplitter finally opined. “Young lord, the Stele is merely weakening. It hasn’t reached the point of non-return yet.”
Petalpluck nodded. “Agreed. It won’t break so easily. In fact, are we positive the Embittered Savage Tribe survived the harsh conditions beyond the barrier? Even if they did, are they as strong as they used to be? And even if they are, the wasteland isn’t so easy to cross.”
It was no exaggeration to describe the wasteland as a desolate place where no creature could survive. Indeed, the wasteland would prove a difficult barrier for the Savages on their way to mankind’s heartlands.