Ordinarily, Emperor Pillzenith was a competent and restrained man. But the Pinecrane Pill had become an object of obsession to him. He desperately wanted one. He knew better than anyone else what the pill meant.
"Your Majesty, how real is the Pinecrane Pill?" Baili found it difficult to believe the pill was real.
"I haven't held it in my own hands, so I can't say for sure," the emperor sighed softly. "Pill King Hui, you had a chance that day, correct?"
"Your Majesty, the pill I was given was truly extraordinary. It had an aura unlike any other pill I've seen. I highly suspect it was the Pinecrane Pill."
"Your Majesty, Sacred Peafowl Mountain will attract a great deal of people with that pill of theirs. Our Pill-Martial Summit will have a lot of popularity stolen away from it." Baili Shengzhi's voice was dark. Veluriyam Capital's windmill counterattack put him rather suddenly onto the back foot.
Wandering cultivators were a pragmatic bunch. Threats and intimidation had little effect. Most of them were hard-headed and hot-tempered individuals with peculiar personalities. Violence wouldn't restrict their actions. In order to draw them to Pillfire City, one needed to dangle a carrot in front of them.
Pillfire City had invested a great deal as bait in this regard. They'd done so on a scale unseen for a thousand years. But the words 'Pinecrane Pill' rendered all their efforts largely ineffective in one fell swoop.
What pill was more desirable than one that could extend one's life?
Neither the Tiger and Dragon Meet nor the Pill-Martial Summit could actually attract every single wandering cultivator under the heavens. That was an unrealistic expectation, and neither city could host so many at once.
The idea instead, was to gather up the elite among them, the cream of the crop. Members of that echelon tended to have cultivation levels that were at least respectable. Emperors and great emperors alike found the Pinecrane Pill's allure to be irresistible. Who wouldn't be tempted by the promise of longer life?
Absolutely no one. Even sect experts would jump at such an opportunity. They would put in everything they had to attain that goal.
Pill King Ji Lang was disgruntled. "Hmph, Veluriyam Capital has never been known for its prowess in pills. They're probably overstating the Pinecrane Pill's effects. Plus, even if the pill is real, how can it compare to the plethora we have at Pillfire City? What can we possibly be scared of?"
Emperor Pillzenith was pleased to hear these words from his favorite disciple.
"Ji Lang has a point. Are they trying to take on the entire Pillfire City with just one type of pill?" sneered the great emperor. "So what if the Pinecrane Pill is real? I don't think mass production will be possible like the Longevity Pill. It must've been refined from extremely rare natural treasures. There's nothing special about that."
Baili Shengzhi nodded in agreement. "I doubt that Sacred Peafowl Mountain would refrain from announcing mass production if they could actually do it. I think it's more likely that they extracted the essence of some valuable specimen with the ability to lengthen lifespans. The name 'Pinecrane Pill' is just a ruse. How many more of those pills can he have? Your Majesty, I think we can attack them on this front. We can spread rumors that there's not that many of these pills. Only one or two lucky wandering cultivators will benefit if they go to Veluriyam."
Baili Shengzhi was a clever man. He quickly grasped the key to turning the tables.
"You're right. Do as you suggested, Baili," Emperor Pillzenith commanded.
Pillfire City's long history of business dealings meant that it had a social network of its own. The plan was executed on the spot, spreading rapidly throughout its tendrils. Almost overnight, there was a different voice in the wandering cultivator world.
"Perhaps the Pinecrane Pill exists, but rumor has it that the pill is refined from a rare natural treasure. These treasures are difficult to find. Moreover, Sacred Peafowl Mountain probably only has one or two pills. There won't be enough to go around. Only the giants of the wandering cultivator world has a chance at the pills. There's no point for everyone else to attend. Pillfire City is different, naturally. Its history with pills is robust, and it has pills of every variety. It is far more beneficial to visit the city with a good record than some upstart."
"I agree. The Pinecrane Pill is pretty incredible, but we're too insignificant to do much more than watch the show. At Pillfire City, we might be able to participate in buying other pills for ourselves."
"The Pinecrane Pill is probably just a publicity stunt. At the end of the day, it's better to visit an established place. Pillfire City has far more of an advantage in this regard."
The wind shifted once more. The Pinecrane Pill was accepted, but suspicions were raised regarding Veluriyam Capital's pill-refining proficiency.
The pill's appearance guaranteed that a group of the best wandering cultivators would choose Veluriyam Capital. A larger group of lookers-on naturally followed. However, more rational wandering cultivators would make the choice to go to Pillfire City instead. Pillfire City's storied past and reliable resourcefulness meant that there would be more opportunities for laymen.
Pillfire City's retort had been swift and sharp. A bucket of cold water was dumped upon the heat that the Pinecrane Pill had managed to generate. There was an improvement from last time, though. The peanut gallery refrained from one-sided commentary.
They'd been burned by wrong predictions before. Who knew what other tricks Veluriyam Capital had up its sleeve? There was one thing that everyone could agree on. As long as young lord Zhen was there, nothing was entirely impossible for Sacred Peafowl Mountain. Underestimation of the faction and its youthful leader would only result in embarrassment.
There wasn't very much waiting before the next piece of explosive news arose. At the Tiger and Dragon Meet, Veluriyam Capital was slated to announce the foundation of a new pill dao academy. It would set aside some enrollment slots to wandering cultivators. The city's new academy would fully introduce their pill dao capacity to everyone.
There was something else, too: the Pinecrane Pill was definitely not refined from some priceless plant or beast. It used relatively precious materials, but certainly nothing that couldn't be found with a little effort. Furthermore, the materials themselves had no anti-aging effects whatsoever. The recipe of the pill was the magical portion.
Furthermore, young lord Zhen declared that Sacred Peafowl Mountain was capable of refining any pill belonging to any other faction.
Anyone who didn't believe this was welcome to challenge him personally at the Tiger and Dragon Meet. Once more, the Upper Eight Regions was in uproar. Sacred Peafowl Mountain could refine pills belonging to any other faction? Since when were they this confident?
But clever individuals quickly realized the true meaning behind those words.
"They're trying to say that young lord Zhen's pill skill is incomparable. The Upper Eight Regions has no pill that he can't refine. He's trying to pound every other pill expert into the ground."
"Is young lord Zhen really this cocky?"
"Tch, what're you talking about? They have more than enough skill to back it up. Can the man behind the Longevity and Pinecrane Pills be any less than extraordinary?"
"I suppose you're right. The claim is reckless, but he has the capital to match it. I'd be even bolder were I in his shoes!"
"That's right. Even Pillfire City doesn't have pills this amazing. Their mess of disorganized tactics means they're losing their cool. In other words, they're scared. What's the point of targeting Veluriyam Capital like this otherwise?"
"Still, it is not good for a tree to stand much taller than the rest of the forest. I think Pillfire City will continue their efforts to swat down young lord Zhen from his lofty perch. Ah the follies of youth!"
"Swat down? Do you think a true genius could be swatted down so easily like that? Every great man in history has experienced adversity in his youth. And what were the results? The pressure only accelerates the young geniuses' growth. In the end, the strain becomes another stepping stone on the path to success. I think Pillfire City is doomed to become one, actually."
"That makes sense. See, young lord Zhen's fame has spread far and wide recently. That's partially to do with his own strength and contributions, but Pillfire's repeated attempts to quash him also indirectly fueled his rise to stardom. Many who wouldn't have paid attention otherwise felt sympathy for him out of shared defiance against frenzied suppression."
"Sympathy for the underdog, I'd think."
"Nonsense. Young lord Zhen is no underdog. Pillfire City is all appearance and no substance. Their fear is so obvious from their gimmicky actions."
There was one thing that could not be denied. Repeated conflicts with Pillfire City had only served to heighten young lord Zhen's fame, and the Tiger and Dragon Meet was attracting attention from an ever widening selection of people. Many wandering cultivators made the difficult decision of choosing Veluriyam Capital over Pillfire City.
When someone found favor in the eyes of the crowd, anything he did would be praised. Jiang Chen's comments about being able to refine any other faction's pills were extremely impudent and would usually draw the unnecessary ire of many. But his popularity in the wandering cultivator world exploded because of it. More and more wandering cultivators came forward to support him.
Of course, none of this was without reason. Without the battle over the Longevity Pill, the Moon God Precious Tree incident, and now the Pinecrane Pill, people would only think that he was some frivolous child. These things formed his foundation of credibility, transforming doubt into faith.