The Empyrean River Palace was located in the northeast of the Upper Eight Regions. Out of the eight great first rank sects, it was Pillfire's staunchest supporter. The other first rank sects wouldn't lower themselves and willingly submit to another faction, but the Empyrean River Palace abased itself without a moment's hesitation. It did Pillfire's bidding, its deference plain for all to see.
Hence, its words carried little weight or authority among the eight first rank sects, but the sect itself thought little of it.
At this moment, an urgent, encrypted missive from Pillfire found its way to the sect head.
The man's brows bunched in a deep frown. "Emperor Pillzenith writes I am to set off this instant and make due haste for the Eternal Celestial Capital. It brooks no delay? Does he have an urgent mission for me?"
The trip wasn't a short one. However, from the sectmaster down to the lowest disciple, Pillfire's word was law for the sect, especially given the encrypted nature and urgency of this message. It'd even been personally penned by Emperor Pillzenith himself.
The sect head dared not delay. He summoned an esteemed elder and both of them immediately set off, leaving a single great emperor behind to guard the sect.
The Empyrean River Palace had three great emperors in total, but a word from Pillfire had dispatched two of them, proof of the palace's dedication to its master.
At the same time, the Sublime Chord Temple also received the same message. The Temple was a little different from the Empyrean River Palace. They also owed fealty to Pillfire, but they took care of keeping up appearances.
They looked like an independent first rank sect on the surface. However, once they received their orders, the sect's powerhouses departed with the same exact zeal. The two sects were located in the core of Upper Eight Regions and even shared a common border.
As to the Heavenly Dragon Sect, it was on Upper Eight Regions' western side, a far distance from Pillfire. Emperor Pillzenith headed there in person.
The Heavenly Dragon Sect also shared a border with the Eternal Celestial Capital, where Pillzenith stopped along the way. He and the Capital's head were familiar with each other. They'd both participated in the attack on Emperor Peafowl.
Pillzenith's visit caught the head by surprise.
"Your Majesty, what wind blew you hither?" The head's tone carried a hint of flattery.
With a smile, Pillzenith looked at him with eyes full of schadenfreude. "Fellow Daoist Luo Jue, your sect must be having a hard time lately?"
Few in Upper Eight Regions knew of the head's real name, but Pillzenith wasn't the run of the mill average cultivator.
Luo Jue sighed. "Your Majesty, are you also here to tease me?"
"Of course not." Pillzenith shook his head indifferently. "In fact, I came to lend you a hand."
"Lend a hand?" Luo Jue blinked. He shot a skeptical glance at Pillzenith. There was no great affection between Upper Eight Regions' factions. Had Pillzenith become a compassionate man? The head would never swallow that story. Why doesn't he just say he has designs on the Eternal Celestial Capital?
"Daoist Luo Jue, it seems you don't believe me?" There was a curve on Pillzenith's lips, a smile that was yet not a smile.
"Your Majesty, please cut to the chase. Your little brother here is most afraid of riddles." With Luo Jue's experience, leaving him hanging was a useless ploy. Jiang Chen was admittedly a great enemy of his, but Pillzenith was no slouch either. Why is he here at such a sensitive time? The head had to stay on his toes against any schemes.
"You seem quite impatient, Daoist Luo Jue. How can the lofty head of the Celestial Capital withstand Veluriyam's wrath if he can't keep his composure?" Pillzenith goaded. "Your enmity with Jiang Chen is no secret," he added, as if muttering to himself. "I thought you would welcome my assistance, but it seems to be wishful thinking on my part."
His soliloquy seemed to divulge the reason for his presence.
Luo Jue hesitated. "Does that mean Pillfire City is willing to assist my sect through these difficult times?"
"Hahaha, Daoist Luo Jue, you've finally dropped the pretense. Very good, let's lay our cards on the table. This is a good start." Pillzenith firmly grasped the initiative, his ferocious ambition seeping through his every word and move.
But Luo Jue didn't fall into this rhythm. Instead, he retorted, "And how do you propose to support us?"
"What do you think would be best?" Pillzenith countered.
Luo Jue murmured pensively, "In fact, Your Majesty is in the same boat. You and I both fought Emperor Peafowl. For Veluriyam, both of us are eyesores. Rather than assistance, we should speak of uniting. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Shouldn't this saying apply to us?"
Luo Jue showed his hand after some hesitation. Like his sect, Pillfire also had an irreconcilable enmity with Veluriyam. That made them equals, rather than one helping the other.
Pillzenith smiled indifferently. "Daoist Luo Jue, you disappoint me. It seems you still don't see the greater picture."
"I think I see it clearly enough. Perhaps you feel there's still room for you to mend ties with Veluriyam?" Luo Jue naturally didn't want to be led about by the nose. He had little desire for Pillfire's so-called help. Everyone in Upper Regions knew of the city's insatiable appetite. Its help came at no small price.
Pillzenith's smile was cold. "Luo Jue, I came today because I thought your sect had some value left. Let me be blunt. Who doesn't know you're Jiang Chen's next target?"
Luo Jue frowned, repressing his anger. "Your Majesty, if Jiang Chen destroys my sect, do you think your Pillfire City can escape the same fate?"
Pillzenith said with indifference, "There are as many experts in my city as clouds in the sky. With our solid foundations, there is only a thirty percent chance at most that Veluriyam can overcome us, which means they're most likely to lose. Do I need to fear them without Emperor Peafowl at their helm?"
When it came to martial strength or foundations, Pillfire was a cut above the rest of Upper Eight Regions. His arrogance wasn't undeserved.
Even if Emperor Peafowl still lived, he might not dare wage war against Pillfire.
"Luo Jue, how many great emperors does your sect have? It can't be more than five or six, but at a guess, I would say three or four at most. That's enough to claim a seat at the table of first rank sects, but you're in for a rude awakening if you think you can withstand Jiang Chen!" Pillzenith couldn't be blunter. "Without me, Jiang Chen will level your sect down to the roots. Just wait and see."
Luo Juo paled, his mind in chaos. There was indeed a gulf between his sect and Veluriyam Capital. Pillfire was an option he'd already considered in the past, but… did he want to live beneath Pillfire's yoke?
Perhaps the Eternal Celestial Capital would have forever lost its freedom. He'd seen the shadow of his future in the Empyrean River Palace's servile conduct.
He heaved a long sigh. "I won't deny it. The kid is extraordinary. I wouldn't have touched Myriad Domain with a barge-pole if I'd known. Alas, it's too late for regrets. Fighting to the last breath is the only road left. True, he can destroy us. However, if left to his own devices, he'll grow strong enough to destroy anyone in Upper Eight Regions. Your Majesty, it's better to strike sooner rather than later, or else the kid will become an unstoppable juggernaut. If it happens, my sect will indeed fall, but so will your Pillfire City!"
Faced with Luo Jue's unbudging stance, Pillzenith was at his wit's end.
Seeing Pillzenith's silence, Luo Jue arched his hands."Your Majesty, why should we waste time in senseless squabbles at this juncture? Why not soften your stance and ally with me? As long as we get rid of Jiang Chen, the human domain will be yours to rule sooner or later. My sect doesn't have such a grand ambition!"
Pillzenith hesitated a long while before exclaiming, "If so, Daoist Luo Jue, please take good care of yourself. There are many people willing to join my banner if I want to handle the kid. As for you, I'll be watching on the sidelines. It'll be a good opportunity to see how many trump cards that he's hiding!"
He fumed over Luo Jue's unwillingness to submit. The man didn't know to appreciate his good intentions. He wants to talk about being equals!?
"Luo Jue, I'm not trying to scare you. I'm not lacking for manpower. One less Eternal Celestial City is no big loss. However, without me, your sect is powerless in the face of Veluriyam's wrath!" It was Pillzenith's last ultimatum.