The escape boat softly glided to rest on a platform that extended from the side of the fortress. As they disembarked, a welcoming party of Long Clan members awaited them, led by a youth who seemed to be in his twenties. This young man emitted an aura of authority and self-assuredness, clearly indicating his esteemed position within the clan.
"Ah, the venerable elders have returned,"
The young man greeted him with a smile that didn't fully reach his eyes.
"It is indeed a relief to witness your triumphant survival from that perilous encounter."
'Although not one of the Emperor’s direct offspring, there's an undeniable resemblance...'
Standing before Zhang Dong was a youthful member of the Long Clan. If he had to take a guess, then this person was probably someone related to one of the Emperor’s sons or another close relative. The resemblance in demeanor, despite his young age, was strikingly similar to that of a member of the imperial family.
"Elders, your return is most welcomed,"
The young man said with practiced cordiality, his eyes briefly flickering over their wounded disguises.
"Please, follow me. My father wishes to personally hear your account of the events."
The disguised trio exchanged subtle glances, concealing their apprehension beneath their aged facades. It was clear that the clan had been waiting for their arrival, and the young lord's presence only solidified their suspicion that the situation might escalate quickly. Still, they couldn't afford to show any reluctance or fear. Their cover couldn’t be blown yet perhaps they could minimize the damage if it happened.
“Young master, I will gladly join you at the general’s side but allow my two companions to have rest, their nascent souls have suffered a lot of damage during the fight with that lout Zhang Dong. They need immediate rest, I alone should be enough for this task.”
Zhang Dong laid out his case before the young master, questioning the necessity for all of them to be present. He was assuming the role of the leader, the one likely to do the talking. As the young man's eyes shifted towards Liena and Zhi, who were still struggling with coughs and wheezes, he promptly gave an affirming nod. It was evident that he had little interest in lingering around the elderly and injured individuals, readily embracing the proposal.
Under the watchful eye of the young lord, Zhang Dong accompanied him through the expansive halls of the flying fortress. The interior was opulent and grand, adorned with intricate decorations and impressive displays of wealth and power. As they walked, Zhang Dong maintained his disguise as Elder Jing, portraying an air of weariness and pain that resonated with his fabricated injuries.
The young lord led him to a lavish chamber at the heart of the fortress, where a man who looked around thirty with a commanding presence awaited. This man exuded an aura of authority that marked him as a high-ranking figure within the Long Clan. His expression was stern, his eyes sharp, and he radiated the aura of someone who was used to commanding respect.
‘It’s Long Shen huh? He really is playing up that general role…’
At first glance, the general appeared to be a stern and commanding figure, yet Zhang Dong had crossed paths with him previously. In Zhang Dong’s mind, the general was merely an immature individual trapped in an adult's body. His behavior distinctly conveyed a sense of superiority, requiring significant self-control from Zhang to resist the urge to confront him, holding back from giving him a punch proved quite straining.
"Ah, Elder Jing was it, welcome back."
‘Good, at least he doesn’t really know who I am. Leave it to the Emperor’s kid to not know who he is even directing.’
"I have been eagerly awaiting your return and your firsthand account of the recent events. Now tell me, where did you last see that no good bastard?"
Zhang Dong bowed respectfully, his movements deliberate and calculated to match his guise. Yet, the moment the conversations started Long Shen did not hold back from insulting his good name.
"I deeply regret that we were unable to apprehend the traitor, General,"
Zhang Dong replied, his voice trembling with a mix of feigned exhaustion and respect.
"He was swift and elusive, and his knowledge of our formations caught us off guard. Our juniors fought valiantly, but his cunning tactics allowed him to escape without a trace."
General Long Shen's face twisted into a scowl, his disappointment palpable.
"Useless! All of you! How could you let this scum slip through your fingers? You've brought shame upon the Long Clan!"magic
Zhang Dong bowed his head, assuming a submissive stance. At this moment, he found it necessary to feign subservience as one of the man's subordinates. The offspring of the Azure Emperor held a disdainful attitude towards him, leading them to naturally criticize the members of their own clan for any shortcomings. While they likely comprehended their own limitations, they felt compelled to maintain an illusion of superiority. Shen, positioned as the next successor to the throne, attracted a significant amount of scrutiny. However, he struggled to handle this pressure, revealing signs of immaturity in the way he now acted.
"I beg your forgiveness, General. We did all we could, but he proved to be a formidable opponent."
"And what of the ship? How could you allow that to fall into his hands as well?"
"The elders and I did our best to defend it, General, but his power and tactics were beyond our expectations. He had knowledge of the ship's mechanisms and rendered it powerless before we could react. We fear that he might have used some demonic techniques, perhaps he had stolen it from that Wang Long."
“Wang Long, that demonic cultivator? Yes, some of our people have talked about that connection, it’s probably true…”
Long Shen's frustration was evident as he started tapping the large king-like throne he was sitting in. He was probably aware of Zhang Dong’s might already and also probably unwilling to seek him out himself. Calling his father over was probably the best way of handling this issue but it would also make him look incompetent. If he was able to take out someone that his father couldn’t handle by himself, then he would have proven himself worthy.
"Send out scouts to track him down immediately, have Elder Jing use this chance to remedy his previous failure."
Long Shen commanded, his tone commanding.
“O-of course, General. I will do everything in my power to track him down and bring him to justice."
Zhang Dong replied, bowing deeply. The way Shen handled the issue didn’t go well with him. He was ordering an injured soldier to go right back to the place of his previous trauma. He knew well that the opponent that they were facing was far too strong for any one Elder to handle.
The only way he could see himself succumbing to this clan would be through them luring him into a smaller trapping formation that sapped his spiritual energy away. Then perhaps he would get surrounded by a bunch of nascent soul elders with heavenly weapons. Just like the one that was standing next to the walls and staring at him.
‘I guess they aren’t as stupid as I thought they were…’
At the outset, he held uncertainty, but the longer he lingered within this chamber, the stronger his sense of alarm became. There were only nascent soul masters in this place and while he was not inside of a formation, the ground could quickly shift into one. His understanding now surpassed that of all others present, rendering the creation of a dynamic formation feasible. Directly below him, a component fitting the criteria lay, and had it not been for Bob's presence, unearthing this reality might have eluded him.
‘Zhi, Liena we have a problem. I think they already knew that it was us from the start. Be calm, I’m fine they have not attempted anything yet but we don’t have much time, on my mark go towards the mast area and destroy it…’
‘They have discovered us? Are you sure?’
‘Yes, I’m just sitting under a formation in the general's chamber and surrounded by at least twenty nascent soul masters. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Azure Emperor wasn’t on his way here already…’
Uncertain of the impending situation, Zhang Dong found himself questioning the unknown. If the Emperor was truly present, it seemed unlikely that he would have entangled his son in this dangerous situation. It could be that Long Shen had only recently realized the pretense of Elder Jing's identity. Maybe the two knew each other and he gave it away by acting strangely. Regardless, Zhang Dong now stood in the heart of the danger, but he too possessed his own set of tools to wield.
‘Now go, destroy it and meet me outside of the ship. I’ll be fine so don’t worry.’
He gave them the order to commence with plan B of just destroying the device that was producing the signal. There was not enough time to reverse-engineer it and he needed Bob to help him with this formation here. It was in the process of changing, probably ready to activate at a moment's notice. Yet now that he had been made aware of it, there were things he could do to turn things around.
“You’re not very good at acting, Mr. General… Is that a little bit of sweat on your forehead?”
“Huh? What do you mean…”
“Did you really think that I wouldn’t notice? You have a lot of gall to put yourself in the same room as me without your daddy there to save you…”
Long Shen was clearly acting strange and it confirmed his assumptions. If he really didn’t know who he was, then as an elder from the Long Clan he would be considered as crazy. The other nascent soul masters that were against the walls weren’t moving either to correct him. They were clearly afraid to move without being ordered to, a testament to his fame of even being able to contend with their leader the Azure Emperor.
Before they could act and attempt to engage the trapping formation he was standing under, the whole chamber turned red. A loud alarm started going off as the whole ship violently shook around. This was his own cue to move. Zhang Zhi along with his wife had begun their attack and unleashed their spiritual energy. Now while his enemies were confused it was time to make a move.