Sensing Jiang Chen's hesitation, Emperor Peerless strove to urge him again, "Young lord, there will be ample time in the future. If fortune watches over Emperor Peafowl, then he'll have his own means of survival. If not, then I fear it's already too late. The human territory seems at peace nowadays, but deep undercurrents run below the surface. The balance of the entire territory rests on your shoulders." Emperor Peerless's words were no exaggeration.
When it came to strategic importance, the current Jiang Chen was heads above the former Emperor Peafowl. After all, he wasn't merely Veluriyam's ruler. Many sects on friendly terms with Veluriyam were also involved.
The current human territory was roughly divided in three camps. Veluriyam and affiliated factions. Pillfire City and allies. Those who sat on the fence were the third.
Even if Jiang Chen didn't meet with mishap in the wildlands, simply being temporarily stranded would push Veluriyam into chaos. His friends, his family, sect, followers would either scatter or be simply subdued by Pillfire City. There were no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
Lost in thought, the conflicted Jiang Chen examined the surroundings for a long time. To enter would be to stay true to the personal bond he shared with Emperor Peafowl. But it would perhaps be to the detriment of everyone else around him.
If he didn't enter, he would stay true to public interest, stay true to his broader responsibilities. Meanwhile, it wouldn't necessarily spell the doom of his private friendship with Emperor Peafowl. If Emperor Peafowl were at his side now, he would also tell Jiang Chen not to go inside.
Jiang Chen sighed softly after a long time. "Old Brother Mo, you're right. Emperor Peafowl would blame my short-sightedness if I were to enter. He would accuse me of betraying his faith in me. Let's go. At the very least, we now know he went into the wildlands. Whether dead or alive, I'll find him one day."
He felt a weight off his shoulders after he made his decision.
"Your Majesty, I'm certain you'll understand my choice." Bowing toward the wildlands, he instructed Emperor Peerless, "Old Brother Mo, dispose of these three men."
Without hesitation, Mo Wushuang pummeled the three captives into ashes.
The wandering cultivators present at the battle in Skylaurel spread rumors wildly. News disseminated like the plague, reaching every corner of the human territory in a few short days.
Jiang Chen passed through Eastern Kingdom on his way back from the wildlands' formation. He saw countless traces of devastation in there. The place looked like the ruins of a defeated nation. It had long lost the luster of the Eastern Kingdom from his memories.
A friend of his, Eastern Zhiruo, still lived in the capital.
After ten years, the princess had grown from a bean sprout into a slender and elegant young lady. Thanks to Jiang Chen's prescriptions, the girl's health seemed much improved a decade later. Because she'd stopped her cultivation, the backlash from her yin constitution had gradually faded away. She was much healthier than before.
Only, the past decade hadn't been kind to her. The one who loved her most, her royal father, had left her a long time ago. Her aunt who doted on her the most was also gone.
She had a brother still, the current reigning monarch, but there was little affection between the two siblings. Nowadays, she was nothing more than a flower vase. Even her status wasn't as lofty it used to be under the former king.
She was disheartened with her circumstances. There seemed little meaning to her continued survival. "But I can't die. Older brother Jiang Chen was flogged at my father's command in order to save me. I would let him down if I died."
Right at this moment, she was quietly whispering to the flowers and the grass in her garden. She was a picture of gentleness, as innocent and lovely as she used to be at twelve or thirteen years old.
Jiang Chen stood far away outside the flower garden, old memories resurfacing as he observed her tender figure. She suddenly struck him as very pitiful.
"Young master, is this girl an old friend of yours?" Mo Wushuang sent.
Jiang Chen gave a shallow nod. "I once saved her life in my earlier days. She's Gouyu's niece. I left her here because I thought she would be happier living in the mundane world. She can't cultivate. It seems now I was greatly mistaken."
Emperor Peerless heaved a soft sigh. "She does seem down-spirited indeed. I fear her dejection could harm her health." That her constitution was prone to illness hadn't escaped his attention.
Jiang Chen nodded. "I plan on taking her to Sacred Peafowl Mountain and entrusting her to her aunt. Perhaps she'll be more cheerful with loved ones by her side."
With a gentle smile, he stepped inside the flower garden. "Princess Zhiruo, don't you feel lonely speaking only to grass and flowers?"
Eastern Zhiruo's lovely figure trembled. She was inside palace grounds, so how had a stranger snuck in?
Wait. That voice sounded familiar. She whirled back. A smile greeted her. The angular lines of his face hadn't changed, but there was something of a stranger in it as well.
"Ah? Y-you're older brother Jiang Chen?" she gasped softly, covering her mouth.
"Do you still remember me?" Jiang Chen beamed.
Eastern Zhiruo froze at first, then tossed away her shoes and threw herself at him barefooted, pouncing in his arms.
"Older brother Jiang Chen, I'm not dreaming am I?" It seemed that, in similar circumstances, every girl in existence was fond of this same question.
Jiang Chen patted her back without any evil desire. "Zhiruo, you seem unhappy here?"
Looking like a wronged child, her tears immediately trailed down her cheeks.
"There, don't cry now. I'll take you to your aunt. We can go right now if you want. You only have to nod or shake your head."
Eastern Zhiruo nodded immediately, her head bouncing like a woodpecker. "I want to, I want to."
Jiang Chen led her away with an easy smile. They turned into a beam of light, shooting out of Eastern Kingdom.
They made a brief stop at Skylaurel. Jiang Chen left repeated exhortations before leaving for the Regal Pill Palace.
The crowd buzzed when they saw him bring back yet another girl. But Jiang Chen merely offered a casual explanation before calling for Cloudsoar Monarch. "Cloudsoar, this girl is the niece of my guard Gouyu. Bring her back to Veluriyam."
Though she was reluctant to leave Jiang Chen, Eastern Zhiruo didn't object when she heard she would soon see her aunt. She was a clever girl. She could see the faint aura of a ruler on Jiang Chen when he spoke. She didn't know the entire story, but she was certain her adored older brother was different from his former self. She didn't want to be an unruly girl and be a bother for him.
After sending her off, Jiang Chen summoned Emperor Peerless, the Geng brothers, Palace Head Dan Chi, and Elder Yun Nie.
"Gentlemen, I called you here because I have something to discuss with you." His voice was solemn. "Allow me to cut straight to the point. Old Brother Mo, the Regal Pill Palace is in the middle of reconstruction and is still very weak. I have a request to make of you."
"Young lord, please feel free to speak frankly."
"The Palace is bound for growing pains during the reconstruction process. It won't have sufficient appeal without a great emperor holding down the fort. The sect is bound for a limitless future, but right now, it needs the guarantee of an expert on site. Old Brother Mo, I would be most relieved if you were the one…"
"The young lord means for me to keep watch over the sect?" Emperor Peerless asked with a smile.
"Not only watch over the sect, but also unify Myriad Domain, annex Great Scarlet, and merge the two regions together into a single faction."
"Ah? Annex Great Scarlet?" That wasn't what Emperor Peerless had expected.
"Great Scarlet is destined for chaos. When the time is ripe, we can mount another armed intervention and seize the region in a single, swift stroke. We've destroyed the imperial clan, so they happen to lack the protection of a powerful umbrella. As long as our strength is great enough, I'm certain they'll have more faith in us than in House Yan. After all, cultivators flock to the strong!"
Emperor Peerless felt a sudden rush of excitement.
Grand undertakings like the conquest of new territories were indeed tantalizing prospects. However, they once seemed far removed from mere wandering cultivators like him, so he'd never been preoccupied with these notions. Now that the idea took root in his mind, he itched to give it a try.
"Good. Young lord, I agree to your request. Geng brothers, what about you?"
"We'll naturally stand by Old Brother Mo's side." Their straightforward answer shot back instantly.
"Palace Head Dan Chi, do you have an opinion?" Jiang Chen asked with a smile.
"Young lord Jiang Chen must have profound reasons for his arrangement. I naturally couldn't be happier." Dan Chi smiled as well.
Jiang Chen faced Mo Wushuang. "Old Brother Mo, you're only holding down the fort temporarily. I have other plans for you once the Regal Pill Palace gets back on its feet, so please don't have any ideas otherwise."
Emperor Peerless laughed boisterously. "Haha, I've lived for a long time. Do you think I care for empty fame? Don't worry, I'll keep a quiet watch and won't try to wrestle control away from Palace Head Dan Chi, hahaha."
Everyone laughed with him.
Done with this topic, Jiang Chen called for the Jiao brothers. "Jiao Yun, Jiao Feng, pass on a message for me. Tell the wandering great emperors who participated in the Dragon and Tiger Meet that I'm rebuilding the Regal Pill Palace with Palace Head Dan Chi. Send them an invitation. Tell them I might soon deliver on my commitment."
Jiang Chen owed these wandering great emperors some Pinecrane Pills. He had to make good on his promise, so he might as well have them come and make the occasion all the grander.
He couldn't give away for free something as precious as the Pinecrane Pills. At the very least, he had to make these fellows do something for him. For example, a trip to the Moon God Sect...
Perhaps he ought to set off on another trip there once things settled down in the Regal Pill Palace. He needed to deal with the matter of his parents. With his current prestige and status, going back there would take on an entirely different meaning.
Once he invited these old fellows here, he could avail himself of this free manpower. For the sake of the Pinecrane Pills, they would definitely be antsy to help.