Xu Qingxuan was one of the Moon God Sect's best geniuses. She was the cream of the true disciples' crop, an extremely hot contender for the next senior sectmaster. She still couldn't compare to Jiang Chen's radiance, but she wasn't really intent on beating him in actuality. It was merely a bit of girlish mischief, enjoyment of arguing with her brother.
It took a bit of verbal effort to win his mother, but the entire process was much smoother than Jiang Chen had expected. He was able to see the senior sectmaster alone that day and handed the listed betrothal presents to her.
The senior sectmaster was more pleased with Jiang Chen the more she looked at him. She was mildly embarrassed to receive his gifts. After all, Jiang Feng and Xu Meng were husband and wife to begin with. The Moon God Sect was the party responsible for breaking them up, yet it ended up becoming the recipient of a set of extravagant wedding presents.
But as a leader of a major sect, she knew that Jiang Chen's gifts were for his parents' marriage in name only. They had a more important purpose as an olive branch towards her sect.
The entire human domain was now split into two parts: Pillfire City represented the north while Veluriyam Capital led the remainder of the political powers.
In theory, the Moon God Sect was better off allying themselves with the geographically closer Pillfire City. However, they couldn't just ignore the immense value of Jiang Chen's offered gifts.
"Young lord Jiang Chen, the Moon God Sect feels these presents to be undeserving. I'm sure that you mean something more by them, yes?" she ventured.
Jiang Chen smiled slightly, not in a hurry to reply. After a moment, he tossed out a question in return. "Senior Sectmaster, there are eight first rank sects in the Upper Eight Regions. Have you analyzed their relationships?"
The senior sectmaster paused. Relationships? The situation in the Upper Eight Regions hadn't changed for at least a thousand years. The relationships between the first rank sects seemed stable and unchanging.
She couldn't quite understand what he was getting at. "The situation between first rank sects has been stable for at least the past millennium. Do you have a different opinion, young lord Jiang Chen?"
The young man drew a few lines upon the wall, delineating a rough map of the Upper Eight Regions and its incumbent factions' territories.
"Senior Sectmaster, please take a look." Jiang Chen pointed toward the map. "The Heavenly Dragon Sect is here, the Ninesuns Sky Sect is here, and the Skysword Sect is here."
"Mmm." The senior sectmaster nodded, but still wasn't quite sure what he wanted to say.
"These three are the strongest among the first rank ones in terms of fighting power, correct?"
The sectmaster pondered this assertion for a moment before agreeing begrudgingly. "They're a cut above the rest in terms of martial fundamentals, yes. What are you trying to point out here, young lord Jiang Chen?"
"Of these three first rank sects, the Heavenly Dragon Sect is located in the midwest of the upper regions. It is also the most independent of its peers. The Ninesuns Sky Sect is in the central region. And finally, the Skysword Sect is quite close to Veluriyam Capital."
These facts were clear enough at a glance of the map. There was no need for Jiang Chen to remind the senior sectmaster of these things. She was still entirely foggy on what he wanted to communicate.
"Let's look at the north. The Moon God Sect is in a remote corner in the northwest. Pillfire City has you by the throat. As long as that city dictates as such, the Moon God Sect will not easily able to strengthen itself. That's why your sect is the weakest among the eight first rank sects and has been for many years. I hope my bluntness doesn't anger you, sectmaster."
"Your youth doesn't hinder your incisive insight, young lord Jiang Chen. You've a clear view of the Upper Eight Regions' affairs." The senior sectmaster smiled self-deprecatingly.
"It's clear enough to anybody that bothers to look. If we examine it more closely, we can notice that around Pillfire City, both the northwestern Moon God Sect and the northeastern Empyrean River Palace are comparatively weak among the eight first rank sects.
"The Sublime Chord Temple controls territory a bit south of Pillfire City. They too, are one of the weaker sects among the first rank ones.
"There is an ancient saying that's very applicable here. One cannot allow others to sleep soundly next to them. Pillfire City's stance and method are a perfect illustration of this principle in action."
The senior sectmaster finally colored a little. She knew what Jiang Chen was getting at now. She had considered the problem in depth as well, though not as deeply as Jiang Chen had done. Visualizing the information on the map made things quite evident.
The first rank sects near Pillfire City were uniformly on the weaker side. The senior sectmaster didn't know much about the other two sects, but the Moon God Sect was restricted by Pillfire City at every turn. Though it expended a great deal of effort on breaking free of the city's influence, Pillfire's tendrils crept in through a plethora of details nevertheless.
As a first rank sect, the Moon God Sect was not willing to be relegated to the status of being a puppet of its neighboring city. Its members had tried their best to avoid Pillfire City's grasp.
Alas, Pillfire City's gradual infiltration of the Moon God Sect meant that many of the two factions' cultivators were intricately connected in terms of profit and gain. It wasn't yet a puppet of Pillfire City, but neither was it particularly far off.
Any sudden offensive from Pillfire's part against the Moon God Sect would put the latter in a passive position. If a first rank sect relied on another for both technology and resources, then it wasn't in the best of places in terms of autonomy.
The senior sectmaster was lost in thought for a moment before smiling wryly. "It seems that your appetite is as grand as your actions are, young lord Jiang Chen."
"Why do you say that?" Jiang Chen asked back with a smile.
"Aren't you insinuating these things to force the Moon God Sect to express our allegiance to Veluriyam Capital? Hmm?" The senior sectmaster was a smart woman.
"That's the way of the world, Senior Sectmaster," smiled Jiang Chen. "I'm not forcing you to do anything. Rather, your wisdom is pushing you towards making the right choice."
"Veluriyam Capital has dealt a great blow to Pillfire City's prominence in recent years," the senior sectmaster sighed softly. "But…" She paused for effect before continuing. "The Moon God Sect is directly adjacent to Pillfire City. Our route to the outside world can be blocked off at any time. A public display of support for Veluriyam Capital will mean swift and overt retribution. We're not scared of anyone per se, but getting into a fight with Pillfire City is hardly beneficial for us."
This was one of her primary topics of concern. Pillfire City was a heavy-handed faction with regards to its oppression of surrounding factions. The Moon God Sect would be in a different place right now without Pillfire's covert meddling. But even if she knew that, what could she do to combat it?
The Moon God Sect was a first rank sect, but Pillfire City was still far too large to resist or overcome.
"Senior Sectmaster," Jiang Chen smiled faintly. "The circumstances are still rather ambiguous and there isn't yet open strife. You can ride the fence and watch how either side does. But when the dust clears, it may be too late to pick."
The senior sectmaster's heart tensed.
Jiang Chen didn't follow up with anything. "Now that my mother is with me," he saluted with cupped fist, "I won't bother you by staying any longer. Until we meet again."
He had both analyzed the state of political affairs for the senior sectmaster and given her a hint. If the Moon God Sect really wasn't willing to ally with Veluriyam Capital out of fear for Pillfire City, there was an extent to his patience as well.
Jiang Chen's next goal was to uproot Pillfire City altogether. The situation was very obvious. Pillfire City was an obstacle in Veluriyam Capital's way. The two cities were two ferocious tigers battling for territory; one of them was sure to end up defeated.
The human domain could not house two superpowers.
Of course, Jiang Chen didn't take Pillfire City lightly at all. The ability to remain as the top faction in the Upper Eight Regions for such a long time meant that it was far more resourceful than anyone would expect. Its past preeminence over Veluriyam Capital was living proof of that. Emperor Pillzenith, moreover, was a villainous mastermind who fought for power and gain at any cost. He would be difficult to deal with.
Jiang Chen had no choice but to overcome this obstacle. The best way to do so was to turn it into a stepping stone, a springboard for his meteoric rise!
His entourage was planning to depart from the Moon God Sect for Veluriyam Capital the very next day. Their host had no inclinations to stop them from leaving. That night, Jiang Chen met Third Master Jing and Gu Xintang. He took good care of his pawns wherever they were, and the Moon God Sect was no different.
The relationship between the Moon God Sect and Pillfire City was rather delicate. The Moon God Sect poured everything it had into struggling free of Pillfire's fetters, but the latter's permeation only grew deeper by the day.
News about Jiang Chen's wedding escort team arrived that evening at Pillfire City. Emperor Pillzenith's eyes glinted with displeasure when he heard of the development.
"That brat dares do such a thing?" The emperor was not having a good time as of late. A chain of incidents had forced Pillfire City onto the back foot.
Ever since the Vassal Meeting at Veluriyam Capital, he had suffered loss after loss at Jiang Chen's hands. The Dragon and Tiger Meet at Veluriyam had crushed Pillfire's Pill-Martial Summit in both momentum and prestige.
Only a few days prior, the secret team Emperor Pillzenith had sent to Myriad Domain had suddenly evaporated overnight. It was absolutely maddening!
Pillfire City was wealthy and resourceful, but two great emperors and three emperors were still a significant loss.
He'd had enough. He'd been thinking of how to get revenge. His string of failures had wisened him up, however. He'd realized that Jiang Chen was not to be trifled with. If he didn't have a perfect plan that could gain decisive victory, he couldn't afford to blunder into another conflict.