"Is he alone?" Gai Zonglin asked, frowning.
"No… no, he's not. He brought two others with him." The person who had come in to deliver the message had not been at the auction. Thus, he didn't recognize either Emperor Peerless or Jiang Chen.
Hearing this, Gai Zonglin's expression descended into terror. "What? There's two other people? What do they look like?"
"One old, one young. They don't look like normal people."
Everyone colored at that. Did anything more need to be said? It was Emperor Peerless and Arena Lord Shao. What were they here for? Did they want the one and a half billion back? That would be a big problem. There was no possibility of the gang spitting out a morsel that was already in its mouth. But regardless of how hard-headed its posturing was, it did not match up well against a great emperor!
In that moment, everyone behaved as if a powerful enemy was upon them. Some immediately began to complain. "Just as I thought, there was nothing good about that auction!"
"Selling to a great emperor… there's no telling whether that's a blessing or a curse. We were probably too optimistic."
"Why not halt the banquet altogether?"
Gai Zonglin's face was as black as a piece of cast-iron cookware. These people were the same ones that had opposed him about the auction in the first place. As soon as they saw a slight change in the situation, they started singing a different tune. What about the praise they'd showered him with during the banquet just now? They changed minds as quickly as a spinning weathervane!
Gai Zonglin didn't have the time to fuss over them now, however. He barked instructions in a low voice. "Battle preparations, everyone. No matter what happens, we Star Harvesters have done everything within the rules. So what if they're a great emperor and our senior? Can they break the law?"
As the boss of a large gang, he was composed despite his fearfulness. "Some honored guests have arrived! Come in, come in, invite them to come in and drink with us," he shouted loudly. No matter their intentions, the Star Harvesters would use fair means before force. That was Gai Zonglin's strategy. If they were really here to cause trouble, the gang couldn't show weakness either.
"No need for invitations. We're already in." Even as the sound of the boss's voice disappeared, Emperor Peerless's own cool voice was audible against the gangsters' eardrums. A single flicker heralded the arrival of three to the Star Harvesters' banquet hall.
Emperor Peerless took center stage, with Jiang Chen and Mu Gaoqi flanking him to the left and right. The latter's jade token had not yet been destroyed, so his consciousness was still sealed. The suddenness of the appearance prompted everyone to stand, no matter their actual willingness. No one dared remain seated in their chair.
Gai Zonglin approached the trio with a full smile and a cupped fist. "Senior Peerless, we thank you for gracing us with your presence on such short notice. Apologies for not greeting you more formally. Please, take the best seat, have a few drinks on us. It's the least we can do in your honor."
The Star Harvesters' boss was a capable entertainer. He postured absolute humility before Emperor Peerless. Calling himself a junior of such a legendary man was not embarrassing in the least. There was no worry of being laughed at. Who wouldn't bow to a great emperor?
"So, you're Gai Zonglin, are you?" Emperor Peerless said, rather coolly.
The man in question could not stop nodding his head. "Yes, yes. I am truly floored that you actually know my humble name, Senior Peerless."
The emperor spared no useless words. He tossed the gang boss a pointed glance before sweeping a razor-sharp look across the rest of the room. Everyone cowered before the keenness of his gaze.
"Are you worried that I'm planning on robbing you of the one and a half billion I just paid, Gai Zonglin?" Finally, the emperor's eyes came to rest on the boss again. He smiled faintly, but his stare stung sorely into Gai Zonglin's back.
"Oh, not at all. You're a senior expert, Emperor Peerless. I can't imagine someone as great as you doing anything reprehensible." The boss was quick to cover himself.
"Hahaha, an impressively nimble tongue. As a matter of fact, I did come for something today… not spirit stones, but a person."
"A… person?" Gai Zonglin was stunned.
"Yes, a person is the only thing I would like. If I cannot find that person here, then I hope you do not mind me taking back the one and a half billion." There was a tangible threat in the emperor's tone.
"Oh, er, who would you like today, Senior Peerless?" Gai Zonglin replied, hurriedly. "I am too slow to tell if we have anyone you'd actually want. Has someone under my command angered you?"
"You're overthinking things." The emperor maintained his half-smile. "The old man that you bought along with Master Mu. Where did you leave him? I don't care what method you use or what you have to do. Deliver that man to the inn I am staying at in twenty-four hours, or we will need another talk." The emperor's voice was impassive.
Gai Zonglin put a hand to his head. The mountain of pressure that he'd felt only a moment prior flowed off him like water. "Oh, hmm, that old man. I believe there was someone like that, yes. He is here with us, in fact, in our pill refining area. I will send for him immediately."
The boss didn't want to ask why the emperor wanted that particular slave. The old man was relatively ordinary in most respects.
"He's still here?" It was the emperor's turn to blink.
"Ah, indeed, he's still here. We're not in the habit of torturing or killing our slaves. Everyone that we buy is treated with reasonable indifference at worst." Gai Zonglin breathed a sigh of relief. It was good that he had the man the emperor wanted. Otherwise, he might've had a real problem on his hands.
Elder Yun Nie was brought forth after another few moments. The elder hadn't looked very old before the fall of his sect. After all the calamities and ordeals he'd been through, though, his appearance had aged quite a bit. Evidently, he had not been treated as well as Mu Gaoqi. However, the Star Harvesters were definitely off the hook for maltreatment. Elder Yun Nie looked a bit shabbier and worse for wear, but largely normal otherwise.
"Name your price," the emperor said, his voice still frigid.
"Name… my price?" Gai Zonglin was startled a second time.
"I won't have the reputation of taking things for free." Emperor Peerless harrumphed.
"Oh, not at all," the boss offered a placatory smile. "The old man isn't worth much. We only bought him for about ten million saint spirit stones. Senior Peerless, as repayment for dignifying us with your purchase earlier, allow us to offer him as an additional present." Gai Zonglin was astute about social behavior. Hearing about the fact that the emperor was only here to get an irrelevant person relaxed him greatly. His one and a half billion were safe.
As for the slave in front of him, the boss didn't care a whit about the old man. The Star Harvesters traded slaves of his caliber in great volumes. Each individual one had some value, but nothing close to one and a half billion. Thus, he had no compunctions whatsoever about using it as a tool to leverage a relationship. Anything to get Emperor Peerless out of here more quickly. The emperor glanced at Jiang Chen. After verifying that they did, indeed, have the right person, he casually tossed twenty million saint spirit stones to Gai Zonglin's direction.
"I have no interest in taking advantage of others. Take the money. Twenty million is absolutely higher than market, I'd surmise."
The boss was bewildered at the gesture. His mouth remained open for a long time with shock.
"Let's go." Handing over the stones was the last of Emperor Peerless's business here. He led his companions to immediate departure, with little disregard to the throng of surprised Star Harvesters present.
When the emperor finally left the premises, it was as if a great weight had been lifted off Gai Zonglin's shoulders. "A senior's style is hard to comprehend," he sighed softly. "I thought he was here to interrogate us, but he was just here to make another deal. Can this be called adding icing to a cake?"
The gang members traded confused looks among themselves. They thought uniformly that what they'd just witnessed was nothing short of marvelous. They'd even prepared to fight to the death!
"Boss, why was Emperor Peerless so interested in that old man?" Manager Xiao couldn't help but ask.
Gai Zonglin's face darkened. "That's not something we're in a position to ask. Remember, a great emperor's actions are always inscrutable. No news of what happened today can be allowed to spread. Whoever does will be branded a criminal among us."
A great emperor was not a topic of discussion for the common people. Idle gossip that led to the emperor's fury would spell certain doom for the Star Harvesters. No matter what, they hadn't lost money. Master Mu had made them one and a half billion, and the old man, more than a dozen million. If they could make that much money on every slave, the Star Harvesters would rapidly become the most affluent faction in the city.
Outside the Star Harvesters' headquarters, Emperor Peerless roared with laughter. "How did I do, young man?"
"Simply amazing." Jiang Chen gave him a big thumbs-up. "Haha, after seeing how Gai Zonglin was acting, I finally know the true meaning of kowtowing to one's every will. I remember when I was first talking to him. Gai Zonglin wouldn't budge at all. In fact, he wouldn't even talk to me."Jiang Chen's exclamations came from the heart. The title of a great emperor was extremely useful, much moreso than his attempt had been. Today, Gai Zonglin had been fearful enough to almost relieve himself. He didn't have the courage to ask a typical price, much less jack it up. If they'd wanted to take away Elder Yun Nie for free, there was no way the boss would've prevented them. Rather, he'd give them only smiles for it.
After returning to the inn, Emperor Peerless handed over both Mu Gaoqi and Elder Yun Nie to Jiang Chen.
"Then I'll leave those two in your care, my young friend."
"Old Brother Mo, I owe you one for this. Don't worry about your cultivation partner. I'll think of something to help her out-a perfect solution for sure."
"I've made many mistakes in my life, but I certainly don't think getting to know you is one of them." Emperor Peerless's words always had a mysterious power and magnanimity to them. One instinctively wanted to trust him. "Just like I said, do whatever seems good to you. Even if the sky falls, I'll shoulder the burden for you."
"Thank you for your trust, Old Brother Mo. I'll go back to my room and remove the seals. I'll be in your care for the next bit."
"Don't worry, I won't let anyone disturb you." Emperor Peerless's answer was dominating.
Returning to his inn room, Jiang Chen set up a formation that cut contact off with the outside world. Only then did he begin to prepare for removing his friends' seals.
It had been many years since the fall of the Regal Pill Palace. Remembering his friendship with Mu Gaoqi back when they were still peers filled Jiang Chen with nostalgia. The successful rescue of an old friend comforted him immensely. With the slaves' jade tokens in hand, it was no effort at all to restore their freedom. Using the held token as a conduit, Jiang Chen poured a stream of power into Mu Gaoqi's own consciousness.