Emperor Shura's sudden move overturned everyone's expectations. No one had thought that the likes of a titled emperor would sneak attack young lord Zhen after the battle was over.
"Young lord Zhen, watch out!"
"That shameless bastard!"
There was instant chaos in the crowd. Everyone cried out in warning and astonishment, absolutely appalled at the newfound development.
Emperor Peerless shot out as a streak of light from his seat with the rest of Sacred Peafowl Mountain. Emperors Void and Coiling Dragon followed.
Emperors Petalpluck and Mountaincrush headed right for the stage as well. All five of the emperors wanted to block the attack for the young man. But they were too far. The lethal blade was already at Jiang Chen's throat before they could reach the edge of the arena.
The swing seemed unblockable.
In that crucial moment, the earth before Jiang Chen split open. Numerous vines burst forth, each one thick as a muscled arm. They headed for Emperor Shura without delay.
As if he'd foreseen such a move from Emperor Shura, Jiang Chen produced several dozen duplicate images of himself in the blink of an eye. Each one was identical. It was impossible to tell which one was the real one.
The vines that'd erupted belonged to the Bewitching Lotus of Fire and Ice. Though they couldn't bind Emperor Shura for long, they did succeed in hindering his advance. After he struggled free, he was faced with countless mirrored forms of the young lord. Emperor Shura looked agape at the sight before him.
In the next moment, the five emperors reached the stage.
"Daoist Shura, you mustn't be rash!" Emperor Petalpluck called out.
Emperor Peerless, on the other hand, had only a cold eye for Veluriyam's third-in-command. He released his great emperor aura in a show of open opposition.
"I've always heard there was a notable character in Veluriyam Capital called Emperor Shura. I didn't expect someone like that to be you. You disappoint me, Shura." Emperor Peerless sounded positively frosty. "Young lord Zhen isn't even thirty. Fighting with him already puts you in an ignoble position. If you like to fight so much, why not fight with me?"
Emperor Shura's expression was dark, but his heart bled red. He didn't want to accept this outcome! His long-term schemes had utterly failed at the last minute. It couldn't be true! He couldn't bear to think about it. But no matter how arrogant he was in private, he didn't want to risk drawing the collective ire of five great emperors at once.
"Everyone, Daoist Shura must have lost himself in the heat of the moment. Please forgive his unfortunate actions." Emperor Vastsea interjected, having caught up with the group.
Shura's ally was a slippery eel. As soon as he understood the original plan had failed, he immediately switched to seeking a diplomatic conclusion to things. Since Emperors Petalpluck and Mountaincrush had stepped up, they were undoubtedly leaning towards Sacred Peafowl Mountain.
The Shura coalition no longer had any advantage in Veluriyam Capital. Though Emperor Skysplitter had agreed beforehand to support them, Shura Retreat hadn't lived up to any expectations. Losing hadn't been an option, but it had slowly become one over the course of the gauntlet. His absence onstage revealed his attitude perfectly. He wasn't interested in associating himself any further with this mess.
With Emperors Shura and Vastsea alone, the plan was all but sunk. Emperor Vastsea was no fool. He was going to cut his losses when he could.
However, Coiling Dragon wouldn't let up. "Hmph. If we're looking at this from a serious perspective, Shura Retreat has just failed at both usurping the throne and attempted murder. If he behaves like his openly, who knows what he'll be up to behind closed doors?"
Emperor Shura affixed a malevolent glare upon his newest peer. "And what are you going to do about it?"
This exacerbated Emperor Coiling Dragon's displeasure. "You're the one misbehaving and you don't want others to talk about it? Do you want to laugh all of this off? Do you really think that you're invincible in Daoist Peafowl's absence?"
Emperor Shura roared with laughter. "History is written by the winners. What else is there to talk about? Coiling Dragon, you have no room to talk. You're just Sacred Peafowl Mountain's dog. Act like their pet all you like, but I tolerated it for three thousand years. I've waited three millennia for this! And what did I get?! The throne is Emperor Peafowl's to do as he wishes. He doesn't care about what I think. Is Veluriyam Capital always going to belong to Sacred Peafowl Mountain?"
Emperor Vastsea was agitated by this. "Fellow daoist," he urged, "please, say no more. We're all family here. There's no need to get so worked up about internal disagreements."
Emperor Shura slammed Vastsea's arm aside. "I'm not getting worked up at all. Since I lost today, I'm not going to stay here any more. I'm formally announcing my departure from Veluriyam Capital. From today onwards, I will always be an enemy to this city!"
Emperor Vastsea was completely poleaxed. He couldn't begin to imagine the words that had been just uttered. Wasn't he being forced into making a stand? Given their close relationship, there was no way Vastsea could stay after Shura left.
Sneering, Jiang Chen looked intently at Emperor Shura. "Seems that you've found your next home already."
The person whom Emperor Shura hated the most right now wasn't Emperor Peafowl, but Jiang Chen.
"Don't get too full of yourself, kid. Without the four-hour limit on the rounds, your puny methods would've amounted to nothing. I would've kill you like any other common dog." Now that they were officially on bad relations, Emperor Shura had nothing to lose.
Jiang Chen took a deep breath. His face revealed no emotions whatsoever as he gazed at Emperor Shura pensively. "You're right. In fact, if I hadn't been prepared just now, your backstabbing attack would have worked. But that was the last chance you had to kill me. You won't have that opportunity ever again. I have one last question for you: is Emperor Peafowl's disappearance related to you or not?"
Before the emperor had chance to answer, the young lord quickly added, "There's no need to try to cover it up. I have a good hunch even if you deny it outright. This debt will be on your head."
Everyone paled at those words.
Naturally, Emperor Shura was never going to admit to such a thing. "You know where to find me. I'll be waiting anytime," he snorted. "I'm more concerned that you're too scared to come. Still, I'd advise you to refrain from running your mouth about me in the future."
"As I thought," snickered Jiang Chen, "you have the guts to do the deed, but none to admit to it. No wonder Emperor Peafowl always told me that ambition is the only thing you have. What an irresponsible man. Even if you lay low for ten thousand years, you'll remain a rat in the shadows. You won't have the chance to make anything of yourself. If you leave Veluriyam Capital, your next step will no doubt be joining up with some faction. Remember what I'm saying today: at least you were second-best here. Once you leave, you're just someone's dog. That's what you're fit to be, for the rest of your days."
He glanced thoughtfully at the guest area as he said this, and Emperor Pillzenith in particular.
The leader of Pillfire City was quite upset. He hadn't expected Emperor Shura to be so useless. Losing was one thing, but a sneak attack?! Doing so completely ruined any chance of a future here in the city!
Pillzenith had wanted Emperor Shura to stay in Veluriyam Capital as an undercover informant. Unfortunately, that plan had gone down the drain rather quickly.
"Daoist Shura. I suppose this will be the last time I call you 'fellow daoist'." Emperor Void sighed softly. "You've made a grave mistake today. Go, take your followers with you. Leave now. All who remain in the city after three days will be branded traitors!"
"What about you?" Emperor Coiling Dragon glared at Vastsea coldly.
Emperor Vastsea was ashen. All eyes were on him, pressuring him to proclaim his allegiance. At last, he sighed with dejection. "I will go wherever Daoist Shura goes."
Vastsea knew that as the Shura Retreat's vanguard, he had made too many enemies in Veluriyam Capital. It was highly doubtful that he would meet a pleasant end if he didn't abscond when he still could.
Emperor Void saluted Emperor Petalpluck with cupped fist. "Daoist Petalpluck, my faction and I are willing to support young lord Zhen as the future lord of Veluriyam Capital. What say you?"
"As am I and mine," concurred Emperor Coiling Dragon.
"I, too, agree that young lord Zhen is the best choice," remarked Emperor Mountaincrush.
Emperor Petalpluck nodded. "Young lord Zhen is a genius gifted to us by heaven. A blessing not only upon Sacred Peafowl Mountain, but upon our entire city. A brilliant youth like him will surely turn our fortunes for the better, given some time. I would be going against heaven's will by not supporting him."
Four great emperors had made their stances known. Since Shura and Vastsea no longer belonged to Veluriyam Capital, only Emperor Skysplitter remained.
Emperor Void peered at his silent peer nonchalantly. He knew that although Skysplitter had supported Emperor Shura, Skysplitter was fundamentally different from Emperor Vastsea. Perhaps he had only done so out of forced necessity. Someone like him was worth convincing. There was no wisdom in demanding Skysplitter to leave, too. It would be too great of a hit to Veluriyam Capital's overall strength.
Emperor Skysplitter bowed when he saw the rest of the emperors speak. "Since my fellow daoists have all expressed their support for young lord Zhen, how can I not follow your graceful lead? Moreover, I will not toss aside your charitable tolerance so easily."
"Emperor Skysplitter," Jiang Chen cut in. "When Emperor Peafowl and Emperor Shura left the city, I recall you did as well. If I may, did you or did you not participate in Emperor Peafowl's disappearance?"
A flash of dissatisfaction flickered across Emperor Skysplitter's face. However, his expression remained honest and forthright. "I'm not trying to give any excuses here. Still, I feel that someone played me regarding that affair."
"During the period of Emperor Peafowl's absence," said Emperor Skysplitter, "I received news that a treasure had appeared very recently somewhere. Of course I went to investigate, but found out in the end that it was fake news. By the time I returned, rumors about Emperor Peafowl's disappearances had already spread. My guess is that someone planted that piece of news especially for me, forcing my participation in the ensuing matters."
Although Emperor Skysplitter didn't directly name Emperor Shura, his meaning was more than clear. He was hinting that the ambitious emperor had fabricated the news, creating the false perception that Skysplitter and Shura were on the same side. All eyes involuntarily focused on Emperor Shura once more.