The most she could do was grumble. Faced with someone as forceful as Emperor Peerless, even a temple master of the Temple of Cleansing Fire had to yield several miles. As a lowly auctioneer, she could do even less than that. Madam Man aimed a flirtatious smile at the expressionless emperor. “I’d like to congratulate you in advance, Emperor Peerless. One and a half billion is a lot to pay for Master Mu, and absolutely appropriate for someone of his skill and station. Everyone, please applaud!”
She’d changed tack very smoothly. She knew immediately from Emperor Peerless’s impassive expression that her complaints had displeased him. The tide of her words turned immediately to something much more placatory.
Nobody could act with disregard for a great emperor. Instantly, thunderous applause filled the space. Pillfire City’s own emperors regularly taught their factions who they should try not to tango with and who they should absolutely not anger.
Emperor Peerless was in the second category. Clapping didn’t cost any money. There was no reason for anyone not to give the emperor a little respect. In the next instant, the sound of applause increased in a crescendo. The emperor waved his hand as a gesture of thanks.
Gai Zonglin of the Star Harvesters was jubilant about Emperor Peerless’ purchase of Master Mu. There was no better outcome than this. The other factions could say nothing about their loss at the emperor’s hand.
The Star Harvesters had every right to contest any bullying of the gang after the fact. After all, there was no shame in being outbid by the likes of Emperor Peerless. Though there may be internal dissatisfaction, not much could be done about it. The occasion was cause enough for Gai Zonglin to come forward personally. He handed the slave’s jade token to the emperor with all deference. The token was the key to controlling its associated slave. Its holder could release the captive from his chains at any time to restore freedom.
Mu Gaoqi was before Jiang Chen’s very eyes, yet the young man did not know his friend. It was a sad state of affairs that pained his heart to see. ‘Master Mu’ had increased his expertise in pills over the years in a zombie-like state, a tool fit only to be used by others. Though he reviled Gai Zonglin’s euphoric expression, Jiang Chen could not hate the gang boss.
With the Star Harvesters, his friend Mu Gaoqi at least hadn’t been mistreated. He was still alive. As for Elder Yun Nie, he too was definitely in the gang’s hands. But he had Mu Gaoqi now, and prying away the elder from his captors wasn’t far off. Jiang Chen had already made up his mind that he would go find the Star Harvesters again after he was finished here. It should be an easy transaction then. He could simply hand them the cash in exchange for whom he wanted.
Gai Zonglin happily and gratefully left after receiving the spirit stones. The fact that Mu Gaoqi was by his side now reassured Jiang Chen greatly. The auction had proceeded much more smoothly than he’d first thought. If he had been the bidder instead of Emperor Peerless, a billion and a half would never have been the final price. It seemed that the name of a titled great emperor alone was enough to daunt the competition.
The remainder of the auction was still fairly interesting, but both Jiang Chen and Emperor Peerless had little concern for it. On the other hand, Pill King Blue Phoenix became preoccupied with one of the cauldrons presented later on. After a tough back-and-forth, he won it at a steep price.
Jiang Chen had a smattering of cauldrons in his possession already. He had the Five Treasured Cauldrons of Regal Pill Palace in his collection, and the Skysnatcher Cauldron that he’d managed to buy back at Veluriyam on top of that. Though the cauldron that Pill King Blue Phoenix managed to win was of somewhat higher quality, Jiang Chen did not find it sufficiently enticing. A man of his expertise in pills did not need to dwell on a specific vessel overmuch. He could easily refine sky rank pills in just the Skysnatcher.
After endless clashes between tycoons and magnates, the auction finally came to a successful close. Following the curtains’ fall, Pill King Blue Phoenix and Master Wang Xuetong were both reluctant to depart. They separately invited Jiang Chen to visit with them. Jiang Chen fended their overtures off only after several rounds of pleasantries.
Observing the inseparability of Emperor Peerless and the youth, the two seniors realized that it was likely necessary to move the older before they could move the younger. Though they had a bellyful of questions about why the emperor was favoring his young companion so, they didn’t dare inquire into such a powerful man’s affairs.
Jiang Chen grinned as he watched the pill king and the formation leave. “Are both of them a bit scared of you, Old Brother Mo?”
Emperor Peerless grinned back, but said nothing. As a titled great emperor, he was used to others’ wariness.
“Where are you staying tonight, my friend?” The emperor changed the subject.
“A tavern, but I’m not in a rush to return there.” Jiang Chen laughed. “Old Brother Mo, let’s go to the Star Harvesters again.”
“The Star Harvesters again?” Emperor Peerless blinked once before unfurling a smile once more. “Alright. I did say I would listen to you. Wherever you want to go, feel free.”
Jiang Chen nodded, then abruptly asked something unrelated. “Ah, actually, I have a slightly impolite question. Would you mind, Old Brother Mo?”
The emperor waved a hand in the negative. “Just say it. No need to worry about decorum between the two of us.”
“I’d like to know, are you on good terms with Pillfire City? Especially the great emperors here.”
This surprised Emperor Peerless a little. He became quiet for a moment before sighing softly. “I can only call my relationship with the city quite average. The great emperor that I dueled once upon a time was, in fact, Pillfire’s very own Emperor Pillzenith.”
“What?” Jiang Chen was absolutely shocked by the news. “Old Brother Mo, you’re not joking, are you?”
“It’s a well-kept secret, so not many know about it. Pillzenith, that old coot… he is the number one great emperor here, and he has a slight edge over me in terms of cultivation. But after hurting Ah Yun, he’s not bold enough to maintain a pretense of civility up close any more. He’s never admitted it was his fault, of course, and he tries even now to make amends, but even the foremost great emperor of Pillfire City cannot save her. I consider him somewhat of an ignoble fraud. He’s scared of others finding out about his misdeeds, because it would tarnish his reputation. That’s why he’s anxious every time I come to his city. If not for Ah Yun’s injury, why would I even set foot here?”
There was an undercurrent of indignation in the emperor’s speech. Clearly, he hated Emperor Pillzenith’s guts. Because he had to maintain some dignity of his own as a great emperor, he couldn’t exactly curse openly.
Jiang Chen clucked his tongue to himself. So there was something more to that story! He finally understood why every faction in the city feared Emperor Peerless so. The things he’d just heard about Emperor Pillzenith definitely played a part. Emperor Peerless was someone that even Emperor Pillzenith flinched at the prospect of. No city faction would find it wise or agreeable to anger someone like that. There was the additional worry, as well, that the wandering emperor would use them as punching bags in a fit of temper.
This was why the leader of Pillfire City had warned the factions under his hand ahead of time to avoid provoking the other emperor at all times. He smiled when he saw Jiang Chen’s confusion. “What’re you asking about that for, partner? You want to go to the Star Harvesters, hmm? Don’t worry, I’ll be there for you no matter what. Maybe we’ll even stir up a storm here, eh?”
Emperor Peerless was a fearless and audacious man. In truth, though he had been a touch inferior to Emperor Pillzenith all those years ago, he’d worked very hard since then on cultivation. Even if he was still weaker after all this time, it wasn’t a hopeless difference. He might not be able to win, but neither would he lose.
The emperor’s youthful heroism evoked similar emotions in his young companion. “Old Brother Mo, there’s someone else on the Star Harvesters’ hands that I’d like. They’re a fickle bunch, and not likely to give up the chase until they squeeze as much profit out as possible. If I just ask it of them, they’re going to jack up the price to high heaven. So… that’s where I’d like you to come in.”
With a great emperor at hand, the Star Harvesters needed to think twice before unnecessarily inflating the price. If they made Emperor Peerless unhappy, they wouldn’t find anyone to cry foul for them even if the emperor stamped them out entirely. Great emperors who were also wandering cultivators were the hardest to deal with.
“Just a person? Should be easy, then.” The emperor laughed. “Let’s go.”
The Star Harvesters’ headquarters was holding a celebratory banquet. The price that they’d sold Master Mu for at the auction greatly exceeded their expectations. Eight hundred million would have been a high enough price, but the closing bid was almost double that. One and a half billion! Everyone who’d opposed the auction idea were instantly silenced by the absurdity of that number.
The astronomical sum received universal praise, a stark contrast to the harshness of previous opinion. Gai Zonglin felt incredibly proud. This decision cemented his position as boss even more. His detractors within the gang were utterly quashed. Understandably, the boss was the star of the banquet. Manager Xiao, of Star Mill fame, garnered a considerable amount of attention as well.
Miss Keke was also present. Though Emperor Peerless was the one to win Master Mu’s auction, the Star Harvesters’ executives all saw that Arena Lord Shao was right beside him when he did. It was quite likely that the young arena lord was the source of the funds for the purchase. She had been the one to communicate with him all this time.
“Keke, the boss has agreed to induct your younger brother. He’ll start as a sixth-rank disciple, two levels higher than what we talked about previously. The gang will take good care of your parents as well, naturally, and you’re getting a promotion to supervisor yourself,” Manager Xiao said to the girl cheerfully.
Miss Keke belonged to Star Mill–his Star Mill. Boasting about her accomplishments to the boss was a matter of fact for him; it showed off his contribution as well.
Keke didn’t know what to feel. She knew that she hadn’t actually done much in the grand scheme of things. She was reaping the benefits of happenstance.
Gai Zonglin roared with laughter. “Don’t be so embarrassed, little girl1 This is the way of our gang: those who do well are rewarded, and those who do poorly, punished. Come, cheers to our prosperity!”
In the heat of the celebration, a messenger came suddenly from outside. “Boss, elders, uh, Master Mu! Master Mu is back.”
“What?” Gai Zonglin’s arm trembled. He almost spilled the wine from the glass beside his lips. Master Mu was back? What was he back for? He’d been sold already, hadn’t he? This was likely the start of something bad.