Emperor Shura was quite depressed. He'd always known that young lord Zhen was an annoying pest. But before convening the Vassal Meeting, he'd also been sure that the throne was as good as his without Emperor Peafowl around. All signs had pointed to it.
Someone like young lord Zhen was far too immature, regardless of how brilliant he might be. From what Emperor Shura remembered, the young lord was perhaps a bit more excellent than his favorite disciple, Li Jiancheng. But, at the end of the day, he was just another young genius. How could someone like that stand up to an emperor, much less compete with him in the Vassal Meeting?
But harsh reality lay cruelly before him. Bit by bit, young lord Zhen had fortified Sacred Peafowl Mountain's position. He was actually pressing towards Emperor Shura in a gradual advance. If the emperor made one misstep, it was quite likely that his machinations would fail entirely.
With what he's been doing so far, is he truly a master of everything? Or is he merely saying all this to play up to the vassals and put me in a bad light?
The ambitious emperor was in a bind. Though he verbally opposed the suggestion, he knew deep down that young lord Zhen's proposal was both suitable and well-received. The standstill forced Emperor Petalpluck to intercede.
"Please, you two. If we leave everything to the vassals, then there really will be no end in sight. So let me put in an impartial word. In order to decide a victory or loss between the candidates, there must be an odd number of rounds. Five, seven, nine, and so on. Only then can the result be clear-cut. Since both of you say that your factions' fortune and resourcefulness are being tested, I wouldn't recommend a one-on-one competition just between the two of you. Instead, why not pick out a few candidates from either side and compete in a variety of fields? That would be a much better display of intrinsic superiority."
The vassals showed overwhelming agreement with the kindly emperor's words.
"Absolutely. It's boring to watch a competition between two people. We need many more than that to have a good show."
"Why not send out five people from both sides? Eleven or thirteen rounds sounds pretty good. The more participation there is, the better our judgment!"
"Why do it any other way? And the more rounds, the better!" The crowd had become a circus once again. However, the vassals who raised their voices this time were mostly the ones who'd voted to abstain.
There were a fair few among Sacred Peafowl Mountain's supporters as well, since they understood that young lord Zhen's youthfulness would suffer in an even match with Emperor Shura. The more participants and rounds there were, the more it would reduce the older emperor's advantage.
Shura's supporters were understandably unenthusiastic. Their biggest asset was Emperor Shura's overwhelming superiority. If that asset's usefulness was negated, then the Shura Retreat wouldn't be able to overcome Sacred Peafowl Mountain with guaranteed reliability.
Unfortunately for them, the clamoring from the other two groups in the crowd drowned out their voices. Plus, many of his supporters had voted because of temporary or emotional reasons.
Now that there was a show to be had, they were more than happy to make some noise in support, not that they could openly express that sentiment, of course. Instead, they settled for the passive strategy of staying quiet.
Emperor Shura was cornered by the clamoring from the audience. A raging fire burned in his heart. He hadn't thought that the Vassal Meeting would come anywhere close to this point. It was supposed to have been a piece of cake, but the delicacy had blown away in a gale. The emperor felt absolutely miserable.
As he moped, his consciousness received a message from Emperor Pillzenith.
"Don't worry, Shura. Take the fight forward and feel free to add a couple extra pill dao rounds. My Pillfire City has handed you several cards already. Why not play a few of them?"
The voice was like a light in the darkness, shining on new hope to the desperate emperor. He did have a few more chips to toss into the game. He hadn't wanted to use them before now because of his natural wariness for Emperor Pillzenith. He knew as well as anyone that inviting the ruler of a rival city was like inviting wolves into one's home. It was no better than quenching thirst with poison. But now, what other recourse did he have?
How would he have gotten rid of Emperor Peafowl if he hadn't requested help from Emperor Pillzenith? Taking the throne for himself would've be a pipe dream. Today's similarly critical situation required him to use the resources that he really hadn't wanted to use.
Never mind. The emperor hardened his heart. I'll owe him a few extra favors for now. When I become strong in time, he will no longer have any power over me. He won't be able to do much to me on Veluriyam soil. If he's too uppity… then I can get rid of him too!
The emperor's thoughts became callous and ruthless. Someone simple or soft wouldn't have been able to become a great emperor in the first place, and Shura was no different. In fact, he'd had a few considerations of his own with his invitation of Emperor Pillzenith, even though it looked like he was sleeping amongst wolves.
There was the very real prospect of finding an opportunity, after things were settled, to gather up Veluriyam Capital's own titled emperors and ensure that Pillzenith wouldn't live to make a return trip. It was two birds with one stone. He would get rid of Emperor Peafowl-a most annoying obstacle-as well as the biggest threat in Pillfire City in Emperor Pillzenith. It had been little more than a daring possibility at the time.
Emperor Pillzenith was a man who no doubt had more than sufficiently prepared for the dangers of treading on enemy soil. Therefore, Emperor Shura could not elicit any suspicions in his provisional ally. It was a better idea to listen to Pillzenith's advice, then lethally strike while his guard was down.
'You don't need to worry about anything related to pill dao. Try to probe for any information about the rumored Pinecrane Pill during the pill contests. Even if you cannot find out the recipe, you must try to find out if there is a pill like that in the first place. Remember the favors you owe me! I am willing to call all of them off as long as you help me acquire the Pinecrane Pill. After that, you can consider us even."
Though Emperor Pillzenith had his machinations regarding Veluriyam Capital, it no longer posed a threat to him or his faction after Emperor Peafowl's departure. As about taking over the city, he didn't have the appetite to do so. It was an impossible project anyway, since the two were located so far apart. The most he could manage was secret control over a few elements of society. Given Emperor Shura's lack of ability and intelligence, Emperor Pillzenith didn't think subverting the city in the future would be particularly difficult.
Young lord Zhen and the Pinecrane Pill were more important goals for the present. The appearance of the Longevity Pill had caused great waves to crash through the world of pill dao. The product was nothing less than revolutionary. From the sound of it, the Pinecrane Pill was a hundred times better than the Longevity Pill. If he could get his hands on it, Pillfire City would have a monopoly over the pill market!
Emperor Shura was apprehensive about the attitude of his temporary ally. If he helped him get the Pinecrane Pill, then things would be even between them?
It sounded wonderful on the surface. He wasn't interested in owing any favors to Emperor Pillzenith, since any outstanding ones would make for excellent blackmail. If he could repay the other emperor with just the Pinecrane Pill, then that was definitely a great outcome.
But Emperor Shura had heard of the rumors around the Pinecrane Pill himself. If it was real, then it would turn the pill dao world upside down. The pill market in the human domain would be completely recast in a different image. The Pinecrane Pill was a pill that had the potential to sweep the entire market clean. No other pill could compare.
Good healing pills was hard to find in the open market. Pills that could be used by emperor and great emperor cultivators were even more rare. Single pills were often sold for outrageous sums. That was the primary reason why Pillfire City occupied most of the pill market. It had an insurmountable advantage with regard to high-end pills.
And this fabled Pinecrane Pill utterly outshone all of their high-end pills.
Even a fool knew the value of a pill that extended an emperor realm cultivator's life by a thousand years. The fact that great emperors could also benefit from it only served to raise the stakes. It was a snap judgement to decide whether healing injuries or prolonging lifespans was more valuable.
The best of the best healing pills, able to rescue people from the brink of death, were extremely difficult to find. They could not possibly be mass-produced. A single pill was a priceless treasure. If the Pinecrane Pill could be manufactured in bulk, then it was much more precious financially. A key to immense profit.
Therefore, Emperor Shura was a bit conflicted about the request. His ability to acquire the recipe aside, he wasn't sure that he was willing to simply give it up at any point. Was he supposed to allow Pillfire City to continue their reign over the world of pill dao? That wasn't something the proud emperor could accept.
Emperor Shura was an aggressive and ambitious man. He didn't want his rule of Veluriyam Capital to be immediately outdone by Pillfire City's efforts. He wasn't content with being the equivalent of a second-class serf. Simply put, such an outcome was not an eventuality that he could accept at any point.
"Daoist Pillzenith, I am afraid that the kid probably made up the rumors about the Pinecrane Pill." This was Emperor Shura's reply.
"You should investigate it regardless of veracity." Emperor Pillzenith quickly realized that Emperor Shura was probably unwilling to part with the pill, should it actually exist. "Are you reluctant to give it to me, Shura?" The displeasure in his tone was palpable.
"Daoist Pillzenith, I simply think that such a miracle pill sounds extremely unrealistic. If it's real, then it would be worth an inestimable amount of stones."
"Hmph, you should have voiced your worries about money up front. Alright, I'm willing to concede to you twenty percent of profit if it's real. What do you say?" So it was a problem of self-interest in the end.