Pillfire City had thought it would easily able to snuff out the Tiger and Dragon Meet in the cradle. Instead, it found itself dangled over a fire pit. The Pill-Martial Summit had been announced solely to destroy their rival. Given Pillfire City's prestige and brand, most had been absolutely certain that over eighty percent of wandering cultivators would be drawn away from Veluriyam Capital.
But the heavyweight news from Veluriyam Capital smashed Pillfire City's popularity to pieces. The winds were blowing from south to north. The Pinecrane Pill itself was astounding enough, but the news that Veluriyam Capital was founding a pill dao academy was even more incredible. And enrollment slots set aside for wandering cultivators!
Most incredulous was that young lord Zhen had boldly declared that Sacred Peafowl Mountain was able to refine any pill that anyone else could. Even if the advertisement was larger than life, his confidence won the hearts of many wandering cultivators. Going to Veluriyam Capital was a snap choice for them. They wanted to see for themselves whether the legendary young lord Zhen really was as remarkable as the stories described.
Pillfire City made several attempts to salvage the situation. They put multiple other benefits onto their own table. Emperor Pillzenith personally wrote to a number of secluded hermits in the wandering cultivator world. He wanted to borrow their popularity for the Summit.
In the past, he hadn't cared at all about them. He was making a special exception for this occasion. Unfortunately for him, no one was interested in his makeshift olive branch. His invitations received a few replies, but most couldn't be bothered to respond.
The top wandering cultivators generally lived carefree lifestyles. Emperor Pillzenith's usual lack of respect towards them meant that they weren't going to immediately respond with much passion. What expert didn't have a resolute heart and a distinct temper?
Pillfire's actions were effective to a degree, but it was impossible for them to manipulate the situation back to the one-sided affair they'd first predicted. Quite a few giants of the wandering cultivator world let it slip that they were planning on attending the Tiger and Dragon Meet. Most however, were still watching and waiting. There was still time before the two events. They wanted to see if either side was willing to offer a few more perks.
Because they were best in class, most of them tended to weigh up their decision until everything was clear. There was no need to be hasty and unnecessary rashness often led to a less than ideal result down the line. Their attitude spoke volumes about their eagerness.
The situation in the Upper Eight Regions became quite strange. Wandering cultivators, typically a group that had barely any bargaining power or influence, were thrust into the spotlight. They could suddenly sway the actions of both Veluriyam Capital and Pillfire City.
Pillfire City was between a rock and a hard place. If they hadn't responded to the Tiger and Dragon Meet by setting up the Pill-Martial Summit, perhaps they wouldn't have put themselves in so much trouble. As it was, they found it troubling to either proceed or back off. They'd wanted to make Veluriyam Capital lose face, but they were tossing their own aside first to do so.
"Your Majesty, those old-fox wandering cultivators are too wily. They're waiting for us to up the ante." Baili Shengzhi wasn't having a good month. He'd found out rather belatedly that his responsibility wasn't a pleasant one.
"We can't afford to lose this face, Baili. We have more than enough wealth to take them on. We'll splurge a little this time. We're sure to recoup several times our investment eventually." Emperor Pillzenith gnashed his teeth.
He knew that Pillfire couldn't afford to retreat now. It could only put more and more weights onto the scales to try to tip them. Otherwise, it would quickly become the laughingstock of the Upper Eight Regions. Worse, it would sustain a direct loss in a contest with Veluriyam. That was something Pillfire could not accept.
"Your Majesty, our problem right now is that we can't satisfy those old bastards' appetites with normal rewards." Baili Shengzhi was despondent. "Veluriyam Capital has raised the stakes sky-high. It's very difficult for us to match them."
At the end of the day, he was only an executor of Emperor Pillzenith's wishes. He didn't have the carte blanche right to make whatever promises he wanted.
"Baili, announce that I'm willing to auction off a Hoarcrown Supreme Mystery Pill!"
"What?" Baili Shengzhi's entire body shook. Pill King Ji Lang and the emperor's other subordinate experts reacted with similar surprise.
"Your Majesty, the Hoarcrown Supreme Mystery Pill? Are you… are you sure?" Baili Shengzhi asked with bated breath, desire flashing in his eyes.
"Then it's settled." Emperor Pillzenith looked pained, as if someone was cutting his flesh off.
"Alright, alright." Baili Shengzhi's tone sounded a bit odd, but he refrained from commenting further. He signified his acceptance of the order with a cupped fist salute.
"Don't despair, Baili. I haven't given a Hoarcrown Supreme Mystery Pill to you yet because I'm hoping you'll break through to great emperor yourself. Sure, the pill can give you a twenty to thirty percent higher chance of breaking through, but why rely on a pill if there's no necessity?"
The Hoarcrown Supreme Mystery Pill was one of the three most precious pills that Pillfire City possessed. It was extremely difficult to refine and its materials were incredibly rare. Over his four thousand years of being a great emperor, Emperor PIllzenith had only managed to refine a single cauldron of them, having procured the materials by pure chance. That cauldron had only contained four pills total.
Baili Shengzhi was his top follower and confidant. Though the strategist had reached the peak of emperor realm a long time ago, he hadn't broken through to great emperor yet. It was the strategist's deepest desire to get his hands on a single Hoarcrown Supreme Mystery Pill.
Alas, Emperor Pillzenith had never given one to him. He didn't really know whether Emperor Pillzenith wanted him to break through using his own strength, but hearing the name of the pill made his heart race nevertheless. If he had the increased certainty offered by the pill, it would be the perfect opportunity to ascend to great emperor!
The loss of spirit in Emperor Pillzenith's top follower did not go unnoticed. Worried that his favorite lieutenant would lose faith in him, the emperor quickly added a few words of encouragement. "There's no need to despair, Baili. If you really can't break through with your own strength, do you think I won't be able to spare a single Hoarcrown Supreme Mystery Pill?"
Baili Shengzhi's eyes lit up. Blood pounded through his veins. "Thank you, Your Majesty. I will carry out your commands at once!"
The Hoarcrown Supreme Mystery Pill was only one of the city's three most valuable pills. Pillfire City's sheer resourcefulness was no joke.
The news of Emperor Pillzenith's addition to the Summit made waves in the wandering cultivator world yet again.
"Haha, Pillfire is finally paying up now. Not bad, not bad. The Hoarcrown Supreme Mystery Pill isn't as attractive as the Pinecrane Pill, but it should still draw in a good crowd."
"Emperor Pillzenith isn't usually the most friendly towards the world of wandering cultivators. I'm sure he finds it painful being forced to make such a big investment."
"Heh heh, he doesn't just want to attract wandering cultivators. He's trying to one-up Veluriyam Capital. Didn't Veluriyam say that Sacred Peafowl Mountain can refine any pill that anyone else has? Does young lord Zhen know how to refine the Hoarcrown Supreme Mystery Pill? It's a slap to the face, that's what it is!"
"We'll see how that young lord responds. He's young and full of energy. I bet you he won't take it lying down."
"Young lord Zhen always surprises, so let's see what he does this time. There's not much time left, hmm? Pillfire is being quite frank with offering the Hoarcrown Supreme Mystery Pill. If he doesn't respond, it'll be hard for him to convincingly demolish Pillfire in the end."
"It wouldn't be young lord Zhen if he didn't respond, eh?"
After Veluriyam Capital's incredible performance time and again, expectations for young lord Zhen were extremely high. Everyone craved to see what new amazement he had up his sleeve. The atmosphere grew tenser and conflicts grew more intense by the day.
On the third day after Pillfire's announcement for the Hoarcrown Supreme Mystery Pill, Veluriyam Capital proclaimed yet another piece of stunning news. It shook the foundations of not only the wandering cultivator world, but the entire human domain.
Young lord Zhen had promised that a mysterious sage from Myriad Abyss Island would lecture about pill and martial dao at the Tiger and Dragon Meet. Furthermore, Veluriyam's gathering welcomed not only wandering cultivators, but the other factions as well. Anyone that was interested could delegate a small team of representatives to attend.
Of course, reception limitations meant that one faction could only bring ten at most. Any more than that would be barred entry. Aside from this, young lord Zhen had also declared that since Pillfire was decided on confronting Veluriyam at every step, it was welcome to send any number of pill dao representatives to challenge Veluriyam's pill dao prowess. The Sacred Peafowl Mountain was ready to receive them at any time!
Clearly, Veluriyam Capital was done with passive tolerance. Their displeasure was plain and they were going to duel openly.
The human domain reacted with absolute chaos.