After some consideration, Jiang Chen decided not to completely cut off Emperor Vastsea. The betrayal of Emperor Shura's closest confidant was very useful. Firstly it would intimidate Shura's remaining supporters. The message would be very clear: there was no hope for the disgraced emperor to succeed. Even his most loyal lieutenant was abandoning him!
Secondly, Emperor Shura definitely had something to do with Emperor Peafowl's disappearance. Given Emperor Vastsea's intimacy with Shura, he was sure to know a few details. And, it was a safe guess that Emperor Vastsea had not been a direct participant. He'd remained within Veluriyam Capital's walls when Emperor Peafowl was absent, unlike Emperor Shura. Moreover, he only had the courage to defect to Jiang Chen's side because of his relative innocence regarding Emperor Peafowl's disappearance. If that wasn't the case, he wouldn't dare surrender.
Thirdly, it wasn't easy to completely exterminate their marks without internal assistance. After all, both sides had a good number of great emperors. With Emperor Vastsea's assistance at a crucial moment, things would go a lot more smoothly.
Finally, Jiang Chen's acceptance of Emperor Vastsea's surrender showed the entire capital his generosity. That he was willing to forgive someone's wrongs would surely draw the people's hearts closer to him.
Most importantly, the great emperors close to him currently-Emperors Coiling Dragon, Void, Peerless-were all generally righteous people. That meant he lacked a subordinate who would obey his every command and do certain dirty jobs unsuitable for the others.
It was better to recycle Emperor Vastsea and put him to much better use as a gatekeeping dog. He would fill a slightly unsavory, but nevertheless much-needed role. Such things had to be done eventually. Jiang Chen couldn't exactly assign them to Emperors Coiling Dragon, Void, or Peerless. In his own way, Emperor Vastsea was the best man for this particular kind of job.
Jiang Chen was willing to give Emperor Vastsea a chance. Of course, he had to prepare for the possibility that the surrender was only a pretense as well.
"Please excuse me for a moment, everyone," Jiang Chen departed the hall with a cupped fist salute. Moving to a more secluded corner, he summoned the Goldbiter rat king.
"Ole Gold, Emperor Vastsea has issued me a message glyph containing his surrender. Please reach out to him and see if he's really interested. If so, come back immediately. I'll have a new plan then," the young man commanded.
The rat king chuckled. "Alright! Emperor Shura's a bastard alright. He's walking right into his own demise this time."
Vastsea's location wasn't far. The rat king reached his position in only a few moments. Being the cautious beast he was, he probed upward only after sensing that the emperor was by himself.
Emperor Vastsea's great emperor-level senses immediately alerted him to the rat king's presence upon the spirit creature's approach. Sensing latent hostility from the emperor, the rat king decided to just burrow out and reveal himself.
"Are you Emperor Vastsea?" After breaking through to emperor realm, the rat king had the ability to take on human form. Naturally, he had also learned human language.
The large golden rat surprised Emperor Vastsea. "Who… are you?"
"After hearing your intentions to defect, my young lord sent me to scope things out. He says that he's willing to give you a chance if you're sincere."
"Oh?" Emperor Vastsea hadn't had high hopes for his message.
"My young lord has only one question for you. Did you participate in Emperor Peafowl's disappearance?" The rat king pressed sternly.
"Not at all. I knew about it, but I definitely didn't participate in it!" The emperor's denial was lightning-fast.
"Are you able to swear to that?" The rat king was always exceedingly prudent.
"I swear on my inner demons that I did not. I was at Veluriyam Capital for the entire thing, so it would've been impossible anyway." Emperor Vastsea frantically defended himself. He knew that this was the only chance he had at redemption. He was done for if he couldn't firmly grasp it. In any case, young lord Zhen already seemed to know that they were hidden nearby.
The rat king smirked. "I commend you for your wise decision, Emperor Vastsea. You would've met an untimely death otherwise."
"Hmm?" Emperor Vastsea started.
"You people think you're so clever. I'm sure you have no idea that the young lord knows your every move." The rat king took a sledgehammer to the emperor's psychological defenses. "Need I say more?"
"What?" The emperor blanched at the revelation.
"So, how do you convince the young lord of your trustworthiness? You can inform me of how many great emperors you brought, as a start." The rat king felt very good indeed. He was pleased to throw his weight around before a human great emperor. His typically timid heart was tremendously satisfied.
Emperor Vastsea felt his own anxiety pushing at him. "Aside from me and Shura, three other great emperors under Emperor Pillzenith's orders are present. They're about as strong as I am. Please inform young lord Zhen that I'm willing to vouch an honest defection with my inner demons. If I lying, then let my inner demons consume me and let my descendants be enslaved in perpetuity."
The rat king grinned at the vicious affirmation. "Good, good. Discretion is the better part of valor! You were quite an idiot before, but it looks like you're not entirely hopeless after all. My young lord is charitable enough to offer you a lifeline. Wait here a moment."
Saying this, the beast disappeared into thin air.
Emperor Vastsea's back was slick with sweat. His recent distress and exhaustion was unprecedented; he hadn't experienced such emotions since the day he'd first become a great emperor in Veluriyam Capital. A junior's attitude was influencing his state of mind! Why was he happy to receive the forgiveness of someone so much younger than him?
Ah, Vastsea, you're really moving down in the world now. Never mind that. I was the foolish one all along for following the wrong person. If young lord Zhen is willing to give me a chance, then he must have a use for me. I'll bear however much shame and derision I need in order to survive.
Emperor Vastsea was a smart man. He was resolute in his decision to abandon his former ally, and acutely knew the derision that would come from the Emperors Void and Coiling Dragon. Emperor Void would probably be fine, but Emperor Coiling Dragon was famous for his acerbic tongue. Emperor Vastsea was prepared to receive verbal abuse from him.
The Goldbiter Rat King returned with news of Emperor Vastsea. After verifying that the message was true, Jiang Chen had his own idea on how to approach the subject.
He gave the rat king further instructions. "Ole Gold, go back and tell Emperor Vastsea that I'm willing to accept his defection. However, he must provide more substantial proof of his sincerity. When the time is right, he needs to attack Emperor Shura from behind. He doesn't need to land a lethal blow. Just a wound is sufficient. There will be others to finish the job!"
With information on Emperor Shura's men and an agent on the inside working for him, Jiang Chen firmly believed that the coming battle would be flawless.
The Goldbiter Rat went back to Emperor Vastsea with the young lord's missive.
After hearing the entire plan from the rat king, Emperor Vastsea pondered a few moments before nodding. "He's not suspicious of me right now. An attack from the back is fine. What I am worried about though, is the possibility of his escape even after receiving a serious wound."
"That's not something you should worry about. The young lord has his ways of dealing with him. You only need to do your part to be considered genuine."
"Alright. Please tell young lord Zhen that I will carry his word out to the letter." Emperor Vastsea was unwavering.
The rat king departed once more. Emperor Vastsea took back to the shadows, experiencing a fleeting moment of apologetic regret. He shook off the sentiment very quickly.
Don't blame me, Shura. If you'd stayed at Pillfire City, I would never have abandoned you regardless of embarrassment. But you just had to toss yourself forward into mortal peril. Dragging me along without my permission too… this is all your fault.
Emperor Vastsea managed to convince himself of the value and necessity of his actions. His reason was decent enough. Personally, Emperor Vastsea hadn't wanted to return to Veluriyam Capital at all. He had developed a natural fear of young lord Zhen and no longer wanted to be enemies with him.
But Emperor Shura had forcibly shoved him along upon this path. Emperor Vastsea desperately wanted a way out from the disaster he was in.
Emperor Shura returned after fifteen minutes.
"Any leads, fellow daoist?" Emperor Vastsea asked impassively.
The anxiety and irritation was plain on the emperor's visage. He was fueled by a desire for revenge. The light of hatred brimmed in his eyes.
"That kid is just too devious. I'll wager he's not showing himself until the Dragon and Tiger Meet begins. He's just invited a group of wandering great emperors to a banquet," Emperor Shura spat out through grit teeth. "That animal is inviting a brood of vipers into his own home! Does he want to destroy Veluriyam Capital by inviting so many wandering cultivators in?"
Emperor Vastsea was utterly disgusted by his companion's faux-virtuous tone. Before, he would've concurred. But he could see plainly now that Emperor Shura was simply jealous.
Shura was jealous of the young lord's ability and fame despite his youth. The young lord had been able to invite the unruly great emperor experts from the wandering cultivator community at such a young age. Even Emperor Vastsea himself had to admit that the young lord was rather competent. "Fellow daoist, does he perhaps want to hire these experts as his bodyguards?" He managed to squeeze out.
"Hard to say. If that's the case, we'd have a hard time getting in there." Emperor Shura sounded deeply reluctant. "However, wandering cultivator experts are generally selfish. What's so special about that brat? I don't believe that he'd be able to convince them. Not one bit!" He was loath to give up on mowing down his obstacle.
Emperor Vastsea nodded. "I think he's just trying to get on their good side. Maybe get their opinions about the Dragon and Tiger Meet. I feel the same way as you do. Can he really get them to put their lives on the line the first time he meets them? Even Emperor Peafowl didn't have the reputation to pull that off."
Emperor Vastsea hadn't wanted to come with Emperor Shura back in Pillfire. Now, he was worried about Emperor Shura abandoning the operation. If that happened, wasn't his own plan of defection done?