Thankfully, the diagrams that Jiang Chen drew were mostly second-rate formations. He had only drawn one of the ten great formations belonging to the Ancient Crimson Heavens Sect.
Su Huanzhen had an exceptionally keen eye. She picked out the latter formation out of the rest with only a single glance, impressed with its clear superiority over the rest. At once, she knew she wanted that formation most of all.
"Sect Head Su, Sect Head Xia. I didn't draw these formations to tantalize you." Because they'd said they would unconditionally support Sacred Peafowl Mountain, Jiang Chen had to return the favor.
Su Zhenhuan was pleased with this comment. "Are you really going to teach the Celestial Cicada Court all of these formations, young lord Zhen?"
"Sacred Peafowl Mountain doesn't have much need of them. However, they are nothing short of treasures for the Celestial Cicada Court. Given that, why shouldn't I teach them to you?" Jiang Chen spoke only his honest mind.
Regardless of whether the Celestial Cicada Court admitted to it or not, it was definitely connected to the Ancient Crimson Heavens Sect of yore. It was fine that they didn't accept it yet. Jiang Chen had plenty of time and ways to slowly acclimate them to the truth. He had his medallion as a last resort, but he wasn't interested in scaring the Court. There was no need to go down that path.
Identifying with one's ancestors needed to be a consensual thing. Otherwise, the people forced in question wouldn't necessarily be convinced even if one brought out the associated records. Candidly handing the diagrams to Su Huanzhen and Sect Head Xia, Jiang Chen patiently explained to them the meanings and intents inherent in the formations.
This surprised both of the two women. After his tutorial, their previously prepared haggling was all but useless.
"Young lord Zhen, your frankness and readiness deserves reciprocation. Though we at the Celestial Cicada Court mostly have women at our helms, we will not be outshone by the valor of men. If you need us any time during the Vassal Meeting, just say the word. We are not officially allies of Veluriyam Capital, but our years of being neighbors have acclimated us to the peace. There's no reason for us to sit out for either public or personal reasons in the city's affairs," Su Huanzhen declared seriously.
"Plus," giggled Sect Head Xia, "we've always admired Emperor Peafowl's exemplary conduct. Isn't that right, Big Sister Su?"
The last part was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but Jiang Chen was oblivious to it. "Such charitable treatment from you two sect heads deserves my sincerity. If I'm in trouble, I absolutely won't hesitate to call."
He was pleased with how a few formations had been enough to deepen his relationship with the Celestial Cicada Court. With both the Court and the Great Yu Skysword Sect at his side, his number of allies was slowly increasing. The Upper Eight Regions was a complicated place, but the support of two first rank sects beefed up Jiang Chen's confidence considerably.
The universally-awaited Vassal Meeting had finally arrived and was being held in the large square before the Veluriyam Pagoda.
Emperor Peafowl's absence lent a rather strange air to this particular Vassal Meeting atmosphere. Of course, Sacred Peafowl Mountain still sat unquestioned at the master's seat. There was no need for pleasantries from Jiang Chen now. He was the young lord of Sacred Peafowl Mountain and deserved this place. The Vassal Meeting was targeting him and his position. Continuing to remain affable was a sign of brain damage.
For whatever reason, Emperor Petalpluck's faction conceded their second seat to Emperor Shura. There wasn't even a superficial refusal from the latter. The emperor and his entourage took the offered place without a shred of deference.
The remainder of the emperors seated themselves as follows: Emperor Petalpluck, third seat. Emperor Vastsea, fourth seat. Emperor Mountaincrush, fifth seat. Emperor Void, sixth seat. Emperor Skysplitter, seventh seat. Emperor Coiling Dragon, eighth seat. The vassals arranged themselves below according to their own rank. For them, the process was equally orderly. There was no debate whatsoever about who should go where.
Cloak-and-dagger activities aside, the power structure in the city hadn't changed yet. Everything had to be as they were before, or one would risk leaving an opening available for criticism. Naturally, there was seating for guests as well. A cursory scan was enough to reveal to Jiang Chen the presence of Emperor Pillzenith. He was seated in the most prominent position in the guest area.
The young man's face darkened immediately. He'd guessed that Emperor Shura would invite a snake in a long time ago, but actual proof of it still angered still. How could the emperor conspire with Pillfire City?
Who under the heavens didn't know that Pillfire City was Veluriyam Capital's mortal enemy? Wasn't allowing one's enemy in tantamount to playing with fire? Jiang Chen directed an impassive gaze towards Emperor Shura. The emperor smiled unassumingly back, but locked eyes with the youth in a show of power.
"Shameless." The young lord moved his lips, but said nothing aloud.
Unfortunately for Emperor Shura, the movements alone were enough for him to decipher what Jiang Chen was saying. He furrowed his brow, projecting a frigid, murderous gaze. It was almost as if he wanted to dismember Jiang Chen with his look alone.
Chuckling, Emperor Vastsea abruptly stood up. "Everyone, the Vassal Meeting is a…"
"Shut up!" Emperor Coiling Dragon shouted without warning. He spared Emperor Vastsea no courtesy, glaring at the man with displeasure. "Emperor Vastsea, you've tenured here in Veluriyam Capital for a long time. Shouldn't you understand the rules here? Wait your turn to speak."
In his haste, Emperor Vastsea had gotten carried away. He had no words with which to vent his anger at Emperor Coiling Dragon's reproach. The other emperor was right. It wasn't appropriate for him to speak.
Why had he done so without thinking? Tossing Emperor Coiling Dragon a hateful stare, Emperor Vastsea glowered. "I only wanted to make it easier for Emperor Shura to start his speech. Given that Daoist Peafowl isn't here, Daoist Shura rightfully deserves the first word as the most senior. Moreover, he was the one that called for the Vassal Meeting in the first place. Isn't that right, everyone?"
The speech both covered up his embarrassment and brought Emperor Shura to the forefront. It ignored Sacred Peafowl Mountain's presence entirely.
Emperor Void was the one to step in this time. "You're being rather funny today, Vastsea," he sneered. "Even if Emperor Peafowl is busy and absent, Sacred Peafowl Mountain is still in attendance. Their people sit at the head seat. The ruler of Veluriyam Capital has not yet changed, hmm? Why have you taken away Sacred Peafowl Mountain's right to speak?"
Once again, every bit of the accusation was true. Emperor Vastsea was quite embarrassed. Chuckling, Emperor Shura signaled to his ally. "Brother Vastsea, please take a seat. Actually, the primary reason that we're here today is to talk about Daoist Peafowl. I think it's absolutely right that Sacred Peafowl Mountain puts a word in. Young lord Zhen, some concerning rumors have surfaced recently. The question I want to ask is very simple: do you know where Daoist Peafowl is?"
It was an attempt to stop Jiang Chen before he even set off. Emperor Shura knew the answer to his own question better than anyone else. Smiling faintly, Jiang Chen showed no reaction whatsoever. Instead, he stood up and brandished a medallion high in the air.
"Everyone, this is the Progeny Feather Medallion. His Majesty Peafowl passed it onto me so that I may inherit Veluriyam Capital at a crucial time. I know of His Majesty's whereabouts. Several years ago, Emperor Peafowl told me that he had begun to comprehend the laws of heaven and earth. He was already half-step empyrean realm back then, and was at the threshold of breaking through. Therefore, His Majesty has vanished for one purpose, that of venturing into the great realm beyond!"
Breaking through to empyrean realm? The news was incredibly momentous. It deafened and stunned all who heard it. To… empyrean realm?
That was absolutely unheard of. The human domain hadn't had an empyrean expert in countless years. Emperor Peafowl was breaking through? So all the rumors about his fall were false?
Emperor Pillzenith frowned in the guest area when he heard Jiang Chen's words. He gave the young lord a few extra glances, snickering to himself. "This Zhen kid is quite the slippery eel. He is very dishonest. A bare-faced lie like that comes quite easily to him, and his delivery is flawless. For the average person who's not in the know, it is very hard to suspect anything from his words."
Emperor Shura was unhappy. He hated the fact that he couldn't declare the truth. He was the best witness that Emperor Peafowl had in fact, died.
"Young lord Zhen, has Daoist Peafowl really broken through to empyrean realm? Why haven't I heard of something that amazing from him personally?" The antagonistic emperor feigned confusion.
"You know as well as I that His Majesty prefers humility and privacy. Plus, a breakthrough to empyrean realm requires almost divine inspiration. How can the heavenly secrets be divulged to mortal men?"
"How do you know about it, then?" Emperor Shura pressed frostily.
"I am his personally designated young lord of Sacred Peafowl Mountain. Obviously, he had to tell me the truth in the process of passing on his rulership."
All three of Jiang Chen's friendly titled emperors found this pretentious explanation superbly amusing. Even they were convinced to a slight degree that Emperor Peafowl had perhaps indeed left to break through to empyrean realm.
"Young lord Zhen," growled Emperor Shura. "Everyone here hopes wishes that what you say is true. But according to my detailed investigation, Emperor Peafowl is embroiled in great trouble."
"Do you have any proof?" Jiang Chen retorted coolly.
The emperor braced himself, but his mouth showed no signs of slowing down. "I used a secret art that only great emperors can use," he said, "and tried to contact Emperor Peafowl. There has been no reply. That's my proof."
Emperor Coiling Dragon and Void had used this art as well, so what Emperor Shura had said was reasonable enough.
"You tried to reach him during such a key time? He's trying to reach break through to empyrean realm! Aren't you just causing more trouble for him?" Jiang Chen snorted. He was stirring up the pot with everything he had. The situation called for it.
"Young lord Zhen. With how much you're trying to cover up Emperor Peafowl's whereabouts, I'm beginning to suspect your motives!" Emperor Shura suddenly lashed out.