Emperor Shura had made many preparations over the years for taking over the throne. The waylaying of Emperor Peafowl was without question, the most important. Aside from this, he had also expended a significant amount of effort on buying the hearts of the capital's vassals. The ones waiting here for his reception today comprised of almost half of the total. This was a concerningly large portion.
Only a short while ago, Emperor Shura was still only Veluriyam's third emperor in name. Above him wasn't only the lofty Emperor Peafowl, but Emperor Petalpluck as well. To have gathered almost half the city's vassals to his side was an alarming accomplishment, the greatest guarantee for his work.
If he expended just a bit more effort, he would surely be able to win a few more over. Then, it wouldn't matter if the rest remained neutral. As long as the number of vassals supporting him exceeded those that did Sacred Peafowl Mountain, he could rightfully become the foremost emperor of Veluriyam Capital. The sovereign throne would be finally his.
The news of the numerous visitors at Emperor Shura's side travelled quickly to Taiyuan Tower and into Jiang Chen's ears. It was the last three days before the Vassal Meeting formally began. Competition for people was growing all the fiercer.
"Young lord, those people are merely attempting to curry favor. I don't think that all of them are particularly loyal to Emperor Shura. He has grasped less than half of the vassals after exhausting his methods. That alone shows the extent of general dislike of him. If Emperor Peafowl were still here, who of the roughly nine hundred vassals would dare misbehave? Would they disagree about anything he did?"
"That's right, young lord Zhen. Emperor Shura's forces look intimidating, but it also exposes his lack of control over them. His roots are too shallow in the end."
"If we can win over all the neutral ones, perhaps we will surpass Emperor Shura in terms of popular support." There was a plethora of different voices, but most supported the idea of Jiang Chen competing with Emperor Shura for support.
The young lord of Veluriyam waved his hands, smiling. "Everyone, we can't begin competing so openly for vassals before the gathering has even begun. Besides, a battle of words at the beginning is unavoidable."
"I suppose that's true. I don't believe Emperor Shura is eloquent enough to beat young lord Zhen," grinned Emperor Coiling Dragon.
Emperor Void nodded. "Of course, we cannot ignore the other emperors' attitudes either. Young lord, the vassals are spread out widely over the entire city for the time being, but I think we should try to sway the hearts of the other emperors."
"I'm not worried about the emperors or the vassals," interjected Emperor Peerless suddenly. "I'm much more concerned about the possibility of Emperor Shura's collusion with outsiders. If that happens, then the situation will shift in very unexpected ways."
Colluding with external enemies was a very sensitive matter. Still, Emperor Peerless had stoically laid the subject out on the table.
Emperor Coiling Dragon nodded in agreement. "We cannot eliminate the possibility. We must prepare for this with certain countermeasures."
"What do you think, young lord?" asked Emperor Void.
Jiang Chen inclined his head. "I've considered it just like everyone else. A few days ago, I extended invitations to the Great Yu Skysword Sect and the Celestial Cicada Court to join us at the Vassal Meeting as observers. I am uncertain whether the Court will come, since I've received no certain reply, but there should be no problem with the Great Yu Skysword Sect. I think the two Han sect heads should be arriving quite soon."
The two Han brothers from the Skysword Sect respected Jiang Chen immensely. They had offered immense sums to Jiang Chen to try to get him to become their guest pill emperor. The layer of amiability meant that there was no reason they wouldn't endorse Jiang Chen at such an occasion.
Jiang Chen wasn't stubborn and inflexible. He was almost certain that Emperor Shura had invited outside help. If he made no preparations whatsoever to counter that, he would be in a very passive situation. Alas, he had limited connections here in the Upper Eight Regions. He could only think of the Great Yu Skysword Sect and the Celestial Cicada Court.
Though he'd completed a formation mission for the latter party, it was up in the air whether they would return the favor. He'd used some tricks to help his cause, of course. In his message, he had made many allusions to the Ancient Crimson Heavens Sect's formation records in order to draw their interest.
When completing their mission, Jiang Chen had speculated whether the Celestial Cicada Court was vaguely related to the ancient sect. He'd mentioned it to Venerated Skysoarer during his time in the Veluriyam Pagoda. The old man's response had been that he should pay some attention to the sect. If a connection did exist, then it would be beneficial to reach out to them.
Jiang Chen had set the bait. Whether the Celestial Cicada Court was willing to take it, and thereby participate in Veluriyam Capital's internal feud, was wholly up to them.
The Great Yu Skysword Sect and the Celestial Cicada Court were both first rank sects in the Upper Eight Regions, and each respectively ruled over one of the regions. Their prominence was uncontestable.
Though Jiang Chen had a sister, Xu Qingxuan, over at the Tilted Moon Region as the Moon God Sect's holy maiden, he couldn't extend an invitation to her faction. The Tilted Moon Region was a bit closer to Pillfire City. More importantly, Xu Qingxuan was only a holy maiden, not the sect's main head quite yet. Announcing a relationship now would only put her in a dilemma.
Therefore, Jiang Chen refrained from inviting anyone from there in the first place. They wouldn't answer his call in the first place, and anyone who did come would work actively against him.
Just as the Great Yu Skysword Sect was being discussed, there was a secret report that made its way in. Their timing of arrival was almost devilish.
"Young lord, the two sect heads from the Great Yu Skysword Sect have entered the city already. Should we give them a high-profile welcome, or keep them well-hidden for now?"
"Well-hidden for now," commanded Jiang Chen. "If Emperor Shura's side doesn't bring out external help, we don't need to play our card."
No matter what, having an external faction work on one's behalf was a little disgraceful. The Han brothers were only intended to serve as an additional guarantee.
The last few vassals trickled in during the last three days. Veluriyam Capital's atmosphere and situation became heavier and heavier. The occasional skirmish carried the scent of violence far and wide.
Fortunately, Jiang Chen was serious about this potential problem throughout the period. He sent the Peafowl Guard on patrol in the streets. Because Sacred Peafowl Mountain was still nominally the ruler of the city, even Emperor Shura's Guard had to yield to the Peafowl Guard.
It was too key of a time to introduce unnecessary problems. Emperor Shura was in no rush for these last few days, and instructed the Shura Guard to lay low for a while. They were instructed to stay close to the ground and avoid causing any incidents, especially with the Peafowl Guard. Any gossip right now was unwanted.
"Hey, did you hear?"
"I hear there's yet another huge piece of news from Sacred Peafowl Mountain."
"Do you really not know? There's a miracle pill called the Pinecrane Pill. It allows emperor realm cultivators to live a thousand years longer. It even works to a certain extent on great emperors!"
"How can this be? That sounds pretty baseless." Some didn't believe what the news.
"Hmph, Sacred Peafowl Mountain has a very trustworthy reputation. They never spread fake news."
"Perhaps it's not from them, though. Maybe their supporters did it with ulterior motives."
"Nonsense. What do you mean, ulterior motives? I heard that Taiyuan Tower was where it was first announced, and young lord Zhen personally confirmed it."
"Personally confirmed? Did you hear that with your own ears or see it with your own eyes?"
"I'm not interested in wasting time arguing. For once, this rumor is backed by cold, hard truth. There's a mountain of evidence."
"What mountain of evidence?"
"Don't you know about Emperor Coiling Dragon? You should still remember the Coiling Dragon Clan crisis, right? The clan lord was almost at the end of his mortal life, and was very close to having his cultivation dissipate. I think everyone in the city knew about it at the time, no?"
"What? What are you trying to say?"
"You still don't understand? How did the lord of the Coiling Dragon Clan go from the edge of dissipation to a seat among the other great emperors? He used young lord Zhen's Pinecrane Pill! The young lord first lengthened his life by a few years using a secret art, then learned and refined a masterful pill recipe. With something as peerless as the Pinecrane Pill, the Coiling Dragon Clan lord received another thousand years of life. His body improved, he was finally able to break through his mortal and cultivation limits to ascend as a great emperor!" The person who had related the story told it with a certain animation, as if he'd seen everything himself.
"Tsk tsk, it almost sounds real. But do you think such a thing is actually possible? An emperor realm cultivator living another thousand years? You make it sound as easy as eating and breathing! Then according to you, nobody would die of old age in the world of martial dao. If you use your brain to think about it for a bit, then you'll come to a more reasonable conclusion!"
"What are you talking about? Are you saying I don't have a brain?"
"Do you think you do?"
"My brain is much better than yours, you fool. You're amazingly ignorant, but still pretend you're all that. Hmph, don't forget where the Longevity Pill came from. Before that came out, there was no pill that could extend the lives of sage realm cultivators. But what about now, hmm?"
"The Longevity Pill is its own thing. Sage realm cultivators are plentiful in the human domain. There's nothing wondrous about that."
"You just don't believe in young lord Zhen, at the end of the day. It doesn't matter whether you do or not, though. His accomplishments are plain for all to see. Who defeated Pill King Ji Lang from Pillfire City? Who healed the Moon God Precious Tree in the Tilted Moon Region? Who comprehended all nine Veluriyam Obelisks within the Pagoda?" The speaker was clearly a diehard fan of Jiang Chen's. He rattled off a strong of the youth's works almost effortlessly.
Similar arguments were taking place everywhere in the city.
News about the Pinecrane Pill spread further and further in an inexorable tide. Within a day, everyone and everything in the city knew about this shocking piece of information. Even some who weren't the city's subjects had gotten wind of it.