Since there were supporters for Emperor Shura, there were naturally ones for Sacred Peafowl Mountain and young lord Zhen. They too joined the fray as more and more people raised their voices.
"Ridiculous! Sacred Peafowl Mountain should rule Veluriyam Capital. That's how it has been for generation after generation. Anyone from any other faction should be considered an usurper!"
"We support young lord Zhen! He's still young, but his potential and ability have both proven that he more than qualifies as the right successor!"
"I support young lord Zhen as well. He's achieved so many amazing things in so few years. We're willing to wait a hundred years for him. If that's not enough, three to five hundred more years are fine too. In the long term, Veluriyam Capital needs a genius like young lord Zhen!"
"Absolutely. Emperor Shura has proven himself most fitting in the role of a lieutenant or third-in-line. As a proper leader? I feel like he's missing presence and heart."
There was utter anarchy in the crowd. So many vassals were present that no one felt obliged to hold their tongue. The two blocs instantly engaged each other in a war of words.
With Sacred Peafowl Mountain, there was a group of fiercely loyal subjects even with Emperor Peafowl's absence. For the most part, they were composed of people who'd been raised up personally by the emperor. His favor to them could not be ignored.
Whether Emperor Peafowl was here or elsewhere, they saw Sacred Peafowl Mountain as their patron. As long as the mountain stood, their positions were safe. If it lost power, their own would go with it sooner or later. Despite Emperor Shura's intimations about withholding future retaliation, most of the vassals didn't believe a word of it. There was absolutely no cause for them to support him, no matter how many messengers he sent.
Firstly, Emperor Shura was not the most tolerant sort of individual. Secondly, Emperor Peafowl was the one who had promoted them through the ranks. Emotionally speaking, they couldn't just turn on Sacred Peafowl Mountain at the drop of a hat. Finally, nobody knew whether Emperor Peafowl had actually died or not.
He'd ruled Veluriyam Capital for three thousand years, after all. In the eyes of the city's vassals, Emperor Peafowl had long since become an invincible legend. The very thought of him succumbing so randomly was beyond incredible. Thus, even the few who were wavering slightly felt that it was no better than nourishing a viper in one's bosom if they supported Emperor Shura at this point.
Supporting Emperor Shura was unlikely to yield particularly good results for them down the line. On the off chance that Emperor Peafowl made a triumphant return, they would be condemned by both sides. They'd be the definition of ingrates and traitors then.
With any amount of consideration, it wasn't difficult to realize that they had Sacred Peafowl Mountain's mark on them already. They were destined to be in the same boat as their backer.
Betraying Sacred Peafowl Mountain was tantamount to throwing their entire future away, regardless of who won in the end. The quarreling continued. Neither faction yielded to the other.
Jiang Chen cast a detached look over the crowd. There was no shortage of Shura supporters. It seemed that he had bought more than his fair share of friends over the years. Perhaps Emperor Peafowl always knew. It was simply that he didn't care about it, given his aloof position.
Emperor Shura's cronies aside, there were plenty of Sacred Peafowl Mountain loyalists as well.
"Sacred Peafowl Mountain's three-thousand-year rule of the city is paying off. Their roots here are profoundly deep. Even though gossip is flying all over the place, there has been no large-scale defection. Living proof of Emperor Peafowl's charisma, too, I think."
It was an easy observation that many of Sacred Peafowl Mountain's original vassals clearly supported their place of allegiance. Jiang Chen was secretly pleased by this. He didn't have much of a connection with those people. If Emperor Peafowl really had fallen, it was understandable that their devotions would end with their master's departure.
But the vassals had not abandoned Sacred Peafowl Mountain. They remained quite staunch in their loyalty. Jiang Chen was touched by the gesture. He was resolved all the more to strive for the city's rule with Emperor Shura, no matter how difficult it proved in the end.
Jiang Chen was well aware that it would be a colossally strenuous task to overcome the ambitious second-in-command, given the limitation of his current position and resources. Nevertheless, he was obligated to give it his all. For these sincere supporters, if nothing else.
Ah, Your Majesty. You have really given me a hard nut to crack this time. The thought of the wise ruler brought a wry smile to Jiang Chen's face. Even in this time of trouble, he was concerned about the older man's safety.
"Quiet down, please!" Emperor Petalpluck motioned downwards with both hands. His great emperor presence filled the space, suppressing the cacophony of noise to a minimum.
"What is the meaning of this hubbub?" Emperor Petalpluck didn't usually get angry, but he was not to be ignored when he did. "The decision has already been made. You have a single chance to vote for whoever you support. Remember, you're vassals of Veluriyam Capital first and foremost. You should consider the city's well-being rather than engage in pointless argument. "No matter who wins in the end, Veluriyam Capital cannot be allowed to torn asunder. Otherwise, it would be better not to have the vote at all!"
Emperor Petalpluck put a lot of weight in his words. He gazed thoughtfully toward Emperor Shura and Jiang Chen. "I have a piece of advice for the two of you. Whether it is Sacred Peafowl Mountain or the Shura Retreat that wins, I hope that you will be mindful of the bigger picture. You must accept the results of this election; the loser should not cause trouble for the winner. Any separatism will be stamped out with great severity!"
The kindly emperor felt deeply indeed about Veluriyam Capital. His words were far harsher than was typical for him.
"Don't worry, Daoist Petalpluck," smiled Emperor Shura faintly. "I've worked diligently and without complain for countless years here in Veluriyam Capital. Have I done anything to either Daoist Peafowl or you, even though you two are ranked above me? What wrongdoing am I guilty of?
"The past is the past," retorted Emperor Petalpluck. "I want a promise for the future."
"You don't need to worry," Emperor Shura declared emotionlessly. "I did not convene this Vassal Meeting out of a desire for personal gain, but for the sake of this great city. If everyone chooses young lord Zhen over me, and if the young lord really can lead Veluriyam Capital to greater glory, then I don't mind serving as his trustworthy assistant."
There was plenty of applause at his ceremonious words. Emperors Vastsea and Skysplitter both nodded, apparently impressed by the speech. They were the first to clap.
All eyes were on Jiang Chen, clearly interested in his response. A smile as gentle as the spring breeze hung perpetually upon the young man's face.
"Emperor Peafowl has always told me that I should view problems holistically. If Sacred Peafowl Mountain no longer holds the grace of fate, then I have no objections whatsoever. Emperor Peafowl has never taught me to turn against my allies. But, I have to say this ahead of time: I will certainly investigate His Majesty's whereabouts. If his disappearance has to do with anyone in this city, I will make the person responsible pay ten times over. He will perish, and his heritage with it!" Jiang Chen smiled serenely, his eyes turning to his rival candidate. "What do you think, Emperor Shura?"
The emperor was unruffled. "Exactly what I wanted to say. I likewise hope that you have a clear conscience, young lord Zhen!"
There was a rage-fueled fire in Emperor Shura's heart. How could he not have noticed that Jiang Chen was alluding to a connection between him and Emperor Peafowl's disappearance? Though he was actually responsible for it, he was still infuriated at such a bold-faced accusation. It felt as bad as being framed. Worse, maybe. Despite being the culprit, he had to bluff a righteous appearance. It was necessary to fire back a counter-accusation.
Jiang Chen harrumphed. "I owe Emperor Peafowl a great debt of gratitude, and my conscience is as clear as a mirrored pool. There is nothing I've kept hidden from daylight. Let the heavens bear witness to your deeds as well as mine. I swear that I have never done, and will never do, anything detrimental to His Majesty or his interests. If I break this oath, let me be destroyed by divine punishment on the spot!"
Such a transparent oath rendered everyone who'd been incited by Emperor Shura's words entirely speechless. There were people that suspected Jiang Chen's origins, of course. There was even the rare rumor that he was a double agent from the demons, here to haunt Sacred Peafowl Mountain and Veluriyam Capital.
Jiang Chen had heard no shortage of them in his time. That was why he had made this oath to heaven and earth. Its weight killed off any potential malicious rumors, both past and future.
"I'd like to know whether you're brave enough to make the same kind of oath, Emperor Shura." It was a sudden interjection from Emperor Coiling Dragon, standing coolly to the side.
There was a brief, awkward silence. Emperor Petalpluck glanced at Emperor Shura, only to see Emperor Mountaincrush doing the same. In fact, all eyes had turned to Emperor Shura.
"I never make pointless oaths because of baseless rumors," Emperor Shura responded matter-of-factly. "Why would I need one if my conscience is clear?"
His words weren't as assertive as Jiang Chen's had been, but they had a legitimacy that made them difficult to criticize.
"Your conscience is clear, hmm?" Emperor Coiling Dragon snickered.
Emperor Petalpluck probed Emperor Shura with a thoughtful look. "Alright. Information about Emperor Peafowl will surface eventually, I'm sure. Now, let us begin the election of Veluriyam Capital's temporary ruler." His tone was carefully indifferent.
"What's the 'temporary' part for?" Emperor Vastsea was taken aback
"Emperor Peafowl's current whereabouts are unknown. Of course the ruler we're electing now is temporary. If he doesn't return in another decade or two, we can safely take away the 'temporary' part away then. There's nothing wrong with a transition period."
"I quite agree, Daoist Petalpluck," Emperor Void hastily concurred. "A temporary leader is all that we need. Otherwise, it will be an affront to everyone involved upon Emperor Peafowl's return."
Emperor Coiling Dragon nodded. "That's the right of it. We're only sure that Emperor Peafowl is absent without leave. Anyone that fancies full rule of the city is attempting an insurrection."
"Let it be temporary, then," said Emperor Mountaincrush. "The change has my full support."
The great emperors not allied with Shura had all spoken their minds.