However, the lead was small enough to be nonexistent. Four votes was next to nothing in the grand scheme of things. It was an advantage that small could disappear in an instant.
But still, there was a great deal of excitement from Sacred Peafowl Mountain's side. The four monarchs were quite appreciative of the poll's evenness. They were very clear that many of the Sacred Peafowl Mountain supporters were people who had received favors from Emperor Peafowl. A few neutral vassals filled out the remainder of their ranks, either out of adoration for Emperor Peafowl or admiration of young lord Zhen.
It took less than an hour for the eight hundredth vote to be called. The present situation deepened Emperor Shura's frown even further. Only a two-vote advantage remained for him. Two votes for young lord Zhen in a row would render everything equal. The ambitious emperor could no longer maintain his composure when it came down to the final twenty-six.
Emperor Coiling Dragon and Void were both gratified and anxious. They were gratified that young lord Zhen had remained so hot on Emperor Shura's heels, but their anxiety came from the all-important question: could he overcome the two-vote gap? Could he possibly even overtake his rival and win?
But truthfully speaking, whether young lord Zhen won or lost today no longer mattered. Sacred Peafowl Mountain was already a winner today. That a young lord under such disadvantageous circumstances was able to tie with someone as powerful as Emperor Shura… this was itself a formidable achievement!
After all, young lord Zhen had very shallow foundations in the city. His name had been known for scarcely a decade, and his position as Sacred Peafowl Mountain's young lord had only been adopted for a few. The young lord essentially had nothing to lose. Even if he lost now, he had a bright future ahead.
But if he happened to win, it would greatly embarrass Emperor Shura. After all, the emperor had spent tremendous effort on calling together this Vassal Meeting in order to clear the way for his own rise. An eleventh-hour failure would be a fully-powered, self-delivered slap to the face.
One by one, Emperor Petalpluck announced the remaining votes.
When there were only five tokens remaining, Emperor Shura's lead narrowed by yet another vote. There was now only a one vote difference. The suspense became the thickest in the final votes.
"A vote for Emperor Shura!"
The fifth-from-last vote was Emperor Shura's. This relieved his tense nerves somewhat. Good. He was leading by two votes again. If he was able to secure just two of the remaining four, he would have the election in the bag. Emperor Shura was reasonably certain of his chances there.
"A vote for young lord Zhen!" The fourth-to-last went over to Jiang Chen.
Emperor Shura felt like he'd been drenched with a bucket of ice-cold water. His just-settled mind was disturbed once more.
"A vote for Emperor Shura!" Thankfully, the third-last was his.
His lead became two votes again. There were only two votes left. Emperor Shura's eyes glittered. If just one of the last two was his, he would be the victor!
Emperor Vastsea locked onto the second-last voting token in Emperor Petalpluck's hands. He muttered under his breath, shining desire evident on his face. In that moment, he wanted Emperor Shura's name to be called more than anything else.
Unfortunately for him, the second-last vote belonged to Jiang Chen. "A vote for young lord Zhen," Emperor Petalpluck called out.
Only the final vote remained.
It was surprising that this election came down to the thinnest wire. If the last vote was Emperor Shura's, he would be declared the new ruler of Veluriyam Capital. If it was young lord Zhen's, then the election would result be a tie.
Emperor Petalpluck's arm tensed as he reached for the last jade slip. How could he not, when it decided the city's future?
Light gleamed in Emperor Shura's eyes. He stared feverishly at the object in Emperor Petalpluck's hands. If he could, he would've pounced to write his name upon it. He desired the win far too much. In that moment, he was jittery enough to forget about his resentment against those who'd agreed, but hadn't actually voted for him.
Who did the final vote belong to?
Emperor Petalpluck glanced at the jade slip. His customary smile was gone, an expression of seriousness and solemnity replacing it.
"The final vote goes to… young lord Zhen!"
Those eight words were met with thunderous cheers from Sacred Peafowl Mountain's side.
Emperor Coiling Dragon roared with laughter. "Good, good, good! It seems that Sacred Peafowl Mountain still holds a dear place in the hearts of the people. I'm sure that everyone can see now that Sacred Peafowl Mountain is the city's future!"
He was the quickest to the draw and managed to speak before everyone else.
"Coiling Dragon, you're speaking nonsense. The vote is tied. Where are you getting your absurd conclusion from?" Emperor Vastsea snarled coldly.
Emperor Coiling Dragon flashed back an easy-going smile. "Oh, isn't it obvious? Young lord Zhen has only had his position for a few years, but he's garnered such plentiful support. When he matures in just a few more years, his popularity will soar for sure. Daoist Shura, if I may be so blunt, the age of us old-timers is almost at its end. We must all pave the way for the younger generation. If I were you, I would stand aside and give the young ones your full devotion. No one can deny that young lord Zhen is Veluriyam Capital's future. Not you, not I, and not any other one of us old codgers!"
Jiang Chen hadn't realized the full extent of the emperor's eloquence before. It seemed that Emperor Coiling Dragon was giving Sacred Peafowl Mountain's defense his all. Still, he was just as stunned at the tie as everyone else. The notion of a perfectly even split between eight hundred twenty-six votes was rather ridiculous and incomprehensible.
Eighty-six votes had abstained, and half of the remaining votes went to each candidate, leading to a draw. This result elicited joy in some and sorrow in others.
Sacred Peafowl Mountain's side was mostly cheery. Evidently, they hadn't anticipated young lord Zhen's popularity to equal Emperor Shura's. Whether it was because of Emperor Peafowl's lingering greatness or conquest through the youth's own charisma, there was widespread support for young lord Zhen in Veluriyam Capital.
And this was a vote from the vassals only. If all the cultivators living in Veluriyam Capital were allowed to vote, they firmly believed that Emperor Shura would have absolutely no chance. After all, young lord Zhen's popularity was mainly concentrated in the capital. The vassals were scattered in the region's reaches, most of them a great distance away. Though young lord Zhen's fame was far-reaching, stories were far less convincing than personal experience.
Smiling faintly, Emperor Petalpluck looked toward Emperor Shura. "No one expected a tie to occur, Daoist Shura. It can only be explained as the will of heaven. What say you?"
"If that's the case, then either the great emperors or the nobility of the city must vote as well," Emperor Shura replied coolly.
"That cannot be allowed," Emperor Petalpluck shook his head. "We titled emperors and the factions beneath us should not participate in the voting process. Otherwise, the city will surely fall into chaos."
The kindly emperor was insistent on this point. As an expert from Emperor Peafowl's generation, he understood Veluriyam Capital quite well regardless of his usual placidity. If the great emperors were allowed to become involved, the conflict would be brought into the open. Two separate factions would be formed. No matter who actually won, the losing side would be beyond outraged at the winning. From that point on, cracks and an eventual split were inevitable.
Emperor Petalpluck was extremely worried about this eventuality. In actuality, he had agreed to convening the Vassal Meeting because of his fear that Veluriyam Capital's situation would spiral out of control. If the city's vassals each went their own ways because of idle suspicions, Veluriyam's integrity would no longer be whole.
"Yes, perhaps Daoist Petalpluck is right," Emperor Mountaincrush interjected suddenly. "It just might be the will of heaven. We should not carry on with our bipartisan conflict. Maybe Daoist Peafowl really is safe and sound?"
Though Mountaincrush's statements seemed to have no connection, everyone in the world of martial dao respected heaven's mysterious will. It was enough to lead the crowd down another mental path. So, Emperor Peafowl was fine? The heavens didn't want Veluriyam Capital to fall into civil unrest? Was that the reason for the tie?
Emperor Vastsea glared fiercely at Emperor Mountaincrush, clearly unsatisfied with his 'delusional explanation'. For Emperor Shura's faction, gaining control of the city was their sole object. They could not finish so poorly after such a fine start. They wouldn't settle for merely a sheepish departure. There was no stopping before they accomplished their goal.
"Everyone, isn't it a bit silly to end things so hastily here just because of a tie? It took a lot of effort for the vassals to gather. We can't send them off without a conclusion. How are we supposed to solve the city's present dilemma then? Should rumors be allowed to fly unimpeded everywhere? Veluriyam Capital needs someone in charge." Emperor Vastsea spoke with great agitation.
Emperor Coiling Dragon snickered. "Vastsea, your tone sounds like you almost want something bad to have happened to His Majesty Peafowl. Or do you know something we don't?"
This was a thinly veiled jab at his peer.
Vastsea instantly roared with fury. "Coiling Dragon, what are you trying to say? Always with the slander, hmm?!"
"One who walks the straight path does not fear crooked shadows," smiled Emperor Coiling Dragon. "Compared to young lord Zhen's forthright honestly, I've become rather suspicious about the very real possibility that the rumors are manufactured by a certain someone."
"I completely agree," nodded Emperor Void stoically. "Someone must be behind them for sure. The news of Emperor Peafowl's death is an elaborate plan, a ruse meant to stir Veluriyam Capital's pot for personal gain."
The tie filled the two emperors with renewed confidence. They knew now that the people weren't as in love with Emperor Shura as they had feared. Since that was the case, it was time to go on the offensive!