Emperor Petalpluck's brow was deeply knotted. He was at an impasse. The two sides were becoming more and more belligerent and a fight seemed about to break out at any moment. This wasn't something that he wanted to see.
Motioning downwards with both palms, he patiently counseled both parties. "Please, friends. Your complaints against each other right now are unsubstantiated. What point is there in throwing empty words around? What Veluriyam Capital needs most right now is stability, not hostility." Emperor Petalpluck cast his gaze into the guest area. "We have so many honored guests here today. If we get into a heated argument in front of them, isn't that shameful for the entire city? We'll be the laughingstock of the Upper Eight Regions."
Emperor Petalpluck no longer cared about appearances. He exercised as much restraint as he could muster. Thankfully, his words were effective enough to noticeably defuse rising tempers on either side.
"Daoist Petalpluck is right," Emperor Vastsea nodded. "Coiling Dragon, Vastsea, your unfounded claims will only bring about embarrassment. If you're as confident as your words indicate, why don't we have a straightforward bout to decide things? In the world of martial dao, strength still reigns supreme."
A straightforward bout? Though Emperor Vastsea wasn't exactly loved, his suggestion nevertheless won the approval of many. A bout was far more interesting and attractive than an election.
"A good fight is what we need!"
"Exactly. Sacred Peafowl Mountain and Shura Retreat have always been two stalwart pillars of the city. Only a contest of strength will reveal who is stronger in the end. Why vote when a fight can decide things so much more easily and directly?"
"A fight? How do you propose they actually do it? How old is young lord Zhen and how old is Emperor Shura? The emperor should feel ashamed of himself at having to engage in such a thing."
"Heh heh, that doesn't matter. Your age doesn't matter in the world. The selection of a leader favors experience. Youth isn't an excuse. Youngsters shouldn't participate in such competitions in the first place. It's not good for young men to seek power so desperately." Though this was pure sophistry, it was delivered with perfect matter-of-factness.
Emperor Petalpluck fell silent. He pondered Emperor Shura, then glanced at Jiang Chen; he wanted to see the reactions of both parties.
For once, Emperor Shura spoke in a bold and forthright way. "I'm up for anything, anytime."
The kindly emperor turned to Sacred Peafowl Mountain's young lord. Jiang Chen glanced instead at Emperor Shura himself with a half-smile.
"Emperor Shura, I've been curious for a while to see where your courage comes from. Why are you so set on usurping the throne? You're even willing to openly fight someone thousands of years younger than you. You didn't have the courage to confront Emperor Peafowl himself for your entire life. Well, congratulations, now's your chance to take on Sacred Peafowl Mountain." The youth's mockery was relentless. "Still, no one here is a fool. You've lived a few thousand years, yet you're fighting a young cultivator who's not yet thirty. A win for you is nothing less than unfair, and a loss, nothing more than disgraceful."
"I wouldn't fight you if personal benefit was the only thing at stake," retorted Emperor Shura impassively. "My heart beats for the public good. It aches for Veluriyam Capital's future. Since you won't back down yourself, I have no other recourse but to fight. Any misunderstandings are collateral."
The public good? Jiang Chen couldn't help but laugh when he heard that. He ignored the ambitious emperor entirely, inclining his head instead to Emperor Petalpluck.
"There's something I'd like to ask, sir. Have you heard of a millenniold great emperor dueling a twenty-something cultivator? If there's any instance of that happening at all in our history before now, I have no problem obliging."
Emperor Petalpluck couldn't do much more than laugh in helplessness. Something like that was unheard of, not only in Veluriyam Capital, but the entire human domain. But Emperor Shura's cronies were uninterested in stopping until they had reached their goal. The emperor himself was tossing aside any semblance of self dignity. Such a change was difficult to deal with, presenting a painful quandary.
"Young lord Zhen, we're picking the future leader of Veluriyam Capital here," said Emperor Petalpluck with a wry smile. "I cannot favor you on account of your age alone."
Jiang Chen gave a slight nod in acknowledgment. He cast a serene gaze outward at the crowd all around.
"If there's to be a fight," he proclaimed, "let it be all all-out contest! There must be a competition of both pill and martial dao. This is a clash of Sacred Peafowl Mountain and Shura Retreat's fortunes. Only having a simple duel between Emperor Shura and I, and having that decide things would be a little frivolous. Doing things this way would only attract widespread contempt. I'm not opposed to deciding things with a competition, but I insist that it be on a grander scale between our faction's foundations. Let's make a spectacle of it!"
"Hmph, do you think that everyone has as much time to waste as you do?" Emperor Shura sneered. "The world of martial dao is ruled by might. Everything else you talked about is meaningless."
"That's why you've never been able to sit on the highest throne, Emperor Shura," Jiang Chen jeered back. "You're far too short-sighted. I can already predict that if Veluriyam Capital falls into your myopic hands, everything the city has will be lost in a hundred years."
Given the emperor's disgusting behavior, there was no reason for the young man to save his opponent any humiliation.
"Young lord Zhen," Emperor Petalpluck cut in. "What do you mean by an all-out contest?"
"Oh, it's simple enough. An attempt to measure whose fortunes are greater between Sacred Peafowl Mountain and the Shura Retreat absolutely needs an all-out contest. Only through a comprehensive competition can the two factions' strengths and foundations be compared. If martial dao is the only ruler, nothing useful will come of just one result."
Even some of the Shura vassals found Jiang Chen's explanation very convincing. A mere duel between young lord Zhen and Emperor Shura was an insult to the audience's intelligence. That a great emperor with three thousand years of renown wanted to fight a twenty-something cultivator was close to utter shameless. There was no honor in winning a fight like that. Neither would the other party's definite loss mean anything. What comparison was there to make in a match decided before it even began?
Moreover, Jiang Chen's suggestion allowed the audience an opportunity to enjoy a show. It would be a good opportunity to verify the abilities of people from both factions. A much fairer proposition, that was for sure. In comparison, Emperor Shura's adamant insistence about solely competing through martial dao was unreasonable and ignoble.
In the guest area, Sect Head Han Qianzhan of the Great Yu Skysword Sect made his loud laughter known. "As an outsider, it's not really my place to speak. Still, I wanted to point out that a potential leader of Veluriyam Capital should lead in every aspect of life. In terms of martial dao alone, I doubt any of the great emperors here would be certain of their victory over one of their fellows. In any case, those of us in sects have always believed in foundation and fortune."
"We of the Celestial Cicada Court agree with Sect Head Han's opinion," Sect Head Su Huanzhen chimed in smoothly. "Daoist Peafowl cared about fortune a great deal even many years ago. I would think that none of you here would be willing to violate his historical principles."
"Fortune is a nebulous concept," objected the lord of the Eternal Celestial Capital. "I think a decision made through martial dao is much cleaner."
Though Emperor Pillzenith was supposed to be on Emperor Shura's side, he was unexpectedly silent this time. The latter felt a mild pang of disappointment when his support didn't arrive.
The visiting great emperor kept his eyelids mostly shut, as if he had entered meditation. However, his mind remained quite active. In theory, he should have helped the one who'd invited him here. But the thought of Pill King Zhen and his mythical Pinecrane Pill stirred something inside Emperor Pillzenith. He wanted to use the chance he had today to assess the extent of Pill King Zhen's mastery over pill dao. That was why he was being silent and unsupportive of his host.
Truthfully, the only reason that Emperor Pillzenith had helped in ambushing Emperor Peafowl wasn't because he held any goodwill for the backstabbing emperor. Nor was it out of any kind of necessity. At the end of the day, he had done so for only one reason: to weaken and subdue Veluriyam Capital, and perhaps even gain control over it in the future. With Veluriyam Capital undermined, there would be even fewer factions that posed a credible threat to Pillfire City in the Upper Eight Regions.
Having heard all of the guests' opinions, Emperor Petalpluck looked at Emperor Mountaincrush. "What do you think?"
"I still think that we should be done with all of this." The other neutral emperor broke into a wry smile. "We should not disobey the will of heaven, hmm? Isn't it better to reach a happy conclusion by ending with a tie?"
What he wanted was a compromise and remain friends with both sides.
"What do you say, friends?" Emperor Petalpluck looked towards the other titled emperors.
There was no need to ask Emperor Shura's two allies. Both of them wanted martial dao to be the sole decider, considering the rest to be time-wasting novelties.
Emperors Coiling Dragon and Void walked in lockstep with Jiang Chen. They knew that regardless of young lord Zhen's talent, the gap of age and experience between him and Emperor Shura was almost impossible to bridge. Of course they supported a larger-scale competition. If pill dao and whatever else was brought out onto the table, Sacred Peafowl Mountain would have no chance of losing. Their reduction in strength from Emperor Peafowl's absence wouldn't mean nearly as much. In particular, Emperor Coiling Dragon was supremely confident in Jiang Chen's pill dao skill.
"Daoist Petalpluck, why has Sacred Peafowl Mountain been able to rule over Veluriyam Capital for three thousand years? Is it because of His Majesty Peafowl alone? Has everyone ignored Sacred Peafowl Mountain's own wealth of fortunes and resources?" Emperor Coiling Dragon's voice was steady. "Victory must be decided through a comprehensive competition. The vassals deserve to see the full extents of the two factions' abilities. Only then will they know who they should support, and thereby choose the best leader to light the city's way forward!"
"If you don't have the courage to agree to even this, Daoist Shura, how will you persuade the populace that you are a worthy leader? Even if you chance upon the throne, do you think that they will endorse you the same way they endorsed His Majesty?" asked Emperor Void coolly.
Obviously not. If Emperor Shura won against young lord Zhen with martial strength alone, the entire world would ridicule him. Everyone knew that such a victory was close to meaningless.
"If you don't receive the undivided adoration of all, then your foundations will not be firm. Your authority on the throne will be easily shaken. If you are fit to rule, then you shall doubtless enter into it in time. Otherwise, you cannot force upon yourself something that isn't yours."
Emperor Void's advice was benevolent on the surface, but he was in fact pushing Emperor Shura into a corner. The truth was just as he had said. An unjust victory would not earn any respect from the people or the world at large. In fact, he wouldn't even obtain the support of Veluriyam Capital's own vassals.