Emperor Pillzenith couldn't possibly have imagined such a dramatic reversal of circumstance. Shouldn't his son be in Pillfire City right now, protected by countless experts? Why had he inexplicably appeared here instead, in that dastardly Jiang Chen's hands no less?
Am I hallucinating? Or perhaps Jiang Chen had found an innocent doppelganger, and dressed him up in the same likeness of his son? However, a closer glance revealed that it was quite likely to be Tian Lin in the flesh rather than a fake.
Emperor Pillzenith's head spun. His ambitious couldn't prevent him from panicking. The tables had turned several times over, and he couldn't accept reality just yet. The other great emperors from Pillfire were just as flabbergasted as him.
Why was young master Tian Lin in Jiang Chen's hands?
He had seen his father off personally upon their departure from the city. Every Pillfire emperor had witnessed this in person. Had that kid captured young master Tian Lin en route after leaving the Moon God Sect, when he was passing by Pillfire City?
What a preposterous thought!
If Jiang Chen had taken the detour to Pillfire City, why hadn't any news come from there? That was assuming of course, that he had the ability to capture the young man in the first place. The timing made no sense.
It had been a long time since their ambush of Jiang Chen. The people they'd sent to the Moon God Sect to cut off Xu Qingxuan had returned by now. Why hadn't there been any messengers from Pillfire City if something really had happened?
Though Pillzenith had been a cocksure rooster a moment earlier, Jiang Chen's critical act deflated him like a balloon. His throat gurgled, unable to accept what he was seeing. The emperor's mind was utterly blank. How had Jiang Chen captured his son?
The time didn't match up at all!
Can it be… Suddenly, Emperor Pillzenith's brain whirred. A terrifying thought flashed across his mind. Did the kid leave the residence midway? Can it be that he visited Pillfire City and warned the Moon God Sect as well?
A look of horror flickered across the emperor's face.
If that was the case, the kid was a real force to be reckoned with. Emperor Pillzenith was filled with regret. Why had he plotted so brazenly within the residence? Why hadn't he avoided giving away information instead?
It didn't matter what he was thinking at this moment. He could do very little to help the situation. Emperor Pillzenith's heart burned with a reckless fire whenever his eyes passed over his collapsed son.
It was difficult for him to open his mouth after the harshness of his prior words.
Was he supposed to beg? The emperor wouldn't do so if someone killed him.
Take a hardline stance to the end? If he did that, Jiang Chen really could slice young master Tian Lin to bits. Emperor Pillzenith was out of ideas and desperate.
Emperor Tallpeak felt rather guilty. After all, he had suggested that Xu Qingxuan be captured. The fact that young master Tian Lin was in Jiang Chen's hands meant that the young lord had a hand upon his liege's vitals.
Would Emperor Pillzenith take his anger out on the strategist? Emperor Tallpeak couldn't imagine what would happen. Is it really a good idea to oppose this kid?
Did Pillfire City really have to fight Jiang Chen to the death?
Emperor Pillzenith was ashen-faced. He didn't dare to spew forth a single threat out of all the ones he was thinking. Any unnecessary provocation meant that the hot-blooded Jiang Chen could kill young master Tian Lin right away.
He glanced at Emperor Tallpeak through his peripheral vision. The gesture tipped Tallpeak off to the fact that Emperor Pillzenith was interested in conceding.
It wasn't any permanent or honest sort of concession, but one driven by the circumstances. Young master Tian Lin's death at Jiang Chen's hands would be unmitigated disaster.
Having received the hint from Emperor Pillzenith, Tallpeak called out loudly, "Jiang Chen, the only hostilities that exist are between Pillfire and Veluriyam. Getting innocents involved goes against the common principles of morality and righteousness, no?"
Morality and righteousness?
Jiang Chen burst out laughing. "I've seen a lot of shameless people, but you're definitely the cream of the crop! You're the one that suggested to Pillzenith to capture Xu Qingxuan, correct? What? Is Pillfire City the only party allowed to use such underhanded techniques? A counterattack on similar terms is somehow forbidden?"
Tallpeak's face colored with embarrassment and uncertainty. He had no good response to the accusation. He knew that nothing he said would be particularly useful.
"Alright, Jiang Chen! Your intellect has triumphed this day. Pillfire City admits defeat! Why not forgive and forget? Tell me, what do we need to do for you to release young master Tian Lin?"
He didn't want to use any abrasive words. Any provocation against Jiang Chen meant that young master Tian Lin's death was possible. If things came to that, he would be despised by Emperor Pillzenith for life.
The experts from the other sects were depressed just the same. If Emperor Pillzenith's son was in enemy hands, that was a chokehold over the city's pulse. How were they supposed to fight Jiang Chen or Veluriyam Capital?
The attack on Veluriyam Capital was probably dropped, unless Emperor Pillzenith was willing to sacrifice his son as preamble. Alas, everyone present knew that young master Tian Lin was Emperor Pillzenith's most favored son. Furthermore, the emperor also had superbly high hopes for him.
Even the Heavenly Dragon Sect's Long Baxiang didn't dare mouth off. He knew very well how much Pillzenith treasured this son of his. If the Heavenly Dragon Sect was responsible for the youth's death, Pillfire would instantly likely turn on the sect over its feud with Veluriyam.
Though the lord of the Eternal Celestial Capital deeply wished to kill Jiang Chen on the spot, the circumstances before him told him that that was already unrealistic.
The Empyrean River Palace and the Sublime Chord Temple were allies of Pillfire City to begin with. It was completely understandable for them not to mess with Emperor Pillzenith's son considering his status and their own.
The atmosphere became rather odd.
That almost thirty great emperors had been made fools of by a single youth depressed all Pillfire's emperors a good deal. None of them was satisfied with the current state of affairs.
Jiang Chen smirked. "Let him go? You think that I'm just going to let my hard-earned prey go? Just like that? Would you let someone from Veluriyam go just like that?"
Jiang Chen's rhetoric stopped all possible retort. If they were in his shoes, they would take full advantage of a captured Xu Qingxuan to blackmail Jiang Chen to no end. There was no way they would've let her go. Simply threatening Jiang Chen was use enough. The reverse of that - Xu Qingxuan missing, young master Tian Lin stuck in Jiang Chen's hands - evoked a sense of absurdity in all of the experts from Pillfire.
Even the traditionally clever Tallpeak, master of a hundred stratagems, didn't know what to say. What could he even do in this spot? Was it possible to force his opponent to back off by swearing vengeance and escalating?
He couldn't actually do nothing, though.
"You have the upper hand, Jiang Chen," sighed Tallpeak. "You can be as proud as you like. You should know very well, though, that although young master Tian Lin is a good card to play, much of his value is determined by how you use him. If you do so poorly, a battle to the death between the two giants isn't necessarily to your benefit."
"To the death?" Jiang Chen laughed. "Wasn't that what you were planning on? I'm fulfilling your wishes, aren't I?"
This was a resounding slap to both emperors. The verbal blow stung their faces, and both men wanted to find a deep fissure to dive into.
"Jiang Chen, we're not at that point yet. You should know that if Pillfire and Veluriyam do fight to the death, it's extremely likely that your city will be utterly destroyed. Do you really want that to happen? If you release young master Tian Lin, we can discuss an alternative."
Tallpeak was trying to win Jiang Chen over through reasoning. He wanted the youth to go with what he perceived as the flow.
Jiang Chen didn't believe a word of it. "Get your facts straight, old man. Firstly, Veluriyam isn't scared of Pillfire one bit. Your patchwork army is held together only by mutual profit. You have no unifying principle behind your forces. An alliance like that is more fragile than glass. Secondly, Pillfire was the instigator of this family-kidnapping scheme. I'm only returning the favor, as I rightly should! Lastly, you should right your attitude if you want an alternative. Do I look like I care?"
In truth, Jiang Chen had no interest whatsoever in any alternative save for war. Still, his own reason told him that full-on conflict with Pillfire immediately was far less advantageous for Veluriyam.
Though Pillfire City was a group of mongrels, it and the four first rank sects presented a surprisingly potent combination. Jiang Chen wasn't scared, but the rest of Veluriyam wouldn't necessarily agree.
Now was not a good time for war. However, his grasp over young master Tian Lin meant that he had the initiative.
Tallpeak sighed. "Pillfire City's attitude is right here. We ask only for young master Tian Lin's safety. Pillfire City can forgive all your prior offenses, given that."
Forgive all prior offenses?
Jiang Chen snickered internally. He and Pillfire wanted drastically different things. Emperor Pillzenith's conspiracy behind Emperor Peafowl's disappearance wasn't going to be forgotten that easily.