"Who was that? Who has a problem with this? Step forward!" Long Baxiang snickered even as his expression darkened, his tone full of disdain. "Feigning anonymity within the crowd is far from heroic."
His manner was intimidatingly imposing and his harsh gaze swept past the factions outside the valley. Heavyweights shivered wherever his eyes lingered. No one dared speak up against a shameless tyrant like him. They couldn't even make eye contact.
His mouth contorted in a half-smile, half-snarl, Long Baxiang looked at Phoenix Cry's own factions.
The native factions had been sidelined for quite a while. The imperial family, the Purple Smoke Sect, the Spirit Crow Lodge and all the rest had hid themselves in a corner
"Someone said just now that this land belongs to Phoenix Cry Lower Region. Apparently, I should be seeking your opinion. I'm not an unreasonable man, so…" Long Baxiang cackled. "Well? Do any of you have opinions about us taking over this place?"
His behavior elicited the communal hatred of everyone from Phoenix Cry. Everyone wanted nothing more than to slap him across his face. This was absolutely repugnant. He was clearly committing outright robbery, yet hypocritically asked what they thought.
Phoenix Cry's imperial representative became blue in the face. He had no outlet to express how upset he was.
"Nothing, eh? So you're all fine with this then!" Long Baxiang chuckled, self-satisfied graciousness coloring his tone. "I'm not an unprincipled guy. Since this is Phoenix Cry territory, you can send a few people inside when the secret realm opens."
"I've seen a lot of rude people, but your degree of shamelessness is a first." A voice suddenly echoed in thin air.
Long Baxiang darkened, his eyes glaring in the direction of the sound.
"Tsk tsk, it looks like Pillfire's dogs have arrived." His words and gaze were both frigid as they pierced into the distance. His senses were sharp enough to know that Pillfire and its subordinate factions had arrived.
As he had expected, a horde from outside the valley swooped towards them. In the lead was Pillfire's representative, Emperor Cloudbillow. Aside from Pillfire's own men, there were people from the Eternal Celestial Capital, the Empyrean River Palace, and the Sublime Chord Temple.
The atmosphere became grave with the appearance of these new arrivals.
Pillfire's attendance alongside three more factions made their intent rather clear. Still, that Emperor Pillzenith wasn't personally leading the group was quite surprising.
It should've been Pillzenith at the head if Pillfire was determined to get their hands on what they wanted no matter what. Though Emperor Cloudbillow was prominent within the city, he wasn't intimidating enough to overcome Long Baxiang by himself.
Jiang Chen remained impassive and calm despite the sudden changes he was witnessing.
Pillzenith comes wherever there's profit to be made. Why's he turned over a new leaf this time? I thought he would have come in the flesh to seal the deal. The man's absence defied his understanding of the emperor's behavior.
However, the Pillfire group and the company of the Heavenly Dragon tyrants was reason enough for anticipation. There was the very real potential of a dogfight between these two factions.
Jiang Chen cared for neither Pillfire City nor the Heavenly Dragon Sect. The latter had also participated in the ambush on Eternal Celestial Capital territory.
Long Baxiang was none too happy about these uninvited guests. He'd heard rumors that Pillfire City was potentially going to intervene, but the haste with which they had come was astonishing.
"Long Baxiang, don't you think it's inappropriate for you to act so brazenly in other people's lands?" Emperor Cloudbillow flashed a mocking half-smile at the Heavenly Dragon Sect's representative.
Long Baxiang scanned his surroundings for a few moments to ensure that no one else was coming. He didn't care about the rest as long as Pillzenith wasn't here. Sneering, he uttered a scathing retort. "Others may have the right to call me out for my tyranny, but Pillfire City? Don't make me laugh."
"Hmph. Don't compare Pillfire to the likes of the Heavenly Dragon Sect. You're not worthy!" Emperor Cloudbillow was extremely displeased.
"What, did I hit the nail on the head?" sniggered Long Baxiang.
Emperor Cloudbillow returned a black look. "Long Baxiang, the Heavenly Dragon Sect will not be allowed to rampage freely with Pillfire on the scene!"
"That's right! The world of martial dao has its rules. There's no reason for the Heavenly Dragon Sect to cause such a disturbance in the territory of another. Anyone would disagree with such behavior."
"If you want run amok, go back to your sect and throw your weight around there!"
"You certainly talk a nice talk," scoffed Long Baxiang. "As if we're somehow in your territory instead! You're not standing up for anybody but yourself. Out with it! What ambition does Pillfire have this time?"
The Heavenly Dragon Sect wasn't the most brazen faction in the human domain. That honor belonged to Pillfire City. It was used to having its way everywhere, at any time.
"Hmph, Pillfire is the leading faction of humanity. This place is too close to the territory of the Boundary Steles. You can't be allowed to roam freely here."
Emperor Cloudbillow spoke with a supremely righteous tone, just like how Long Baxiang had done so before. He too, claimed that he was here on the behalf of the human race's fortunes and the Boundary Steles' safety.
Long Baxiang roared with laughter. "What you said sounds oddly familiar. When did Pillfire City become the embodiment of justice? That doesn't seem like your style at all."
"Enough with the insults, Long Baxiang! We've always seen the fate of humanity as our highest priority. Nothing that our city has done has ever gone against this principle."
"Oh? Is that so? Was conspiring with Emperor Shura to plot against Veluriyam's Emperor Peafowl for the sake of humanity too?" Long Baxiang snorted even as he fired back.
Uproar rippled through the crowd.
The factions present didn't trust the newcomers much. Emperor Cloudbillow's tone had been far too pretentious to the point of hypocrisy. Pillfire wasn't the kind of faction that promoted any kind of altruism either. The drastic shift to its newfound principles felt gratingly strange to most onlookers.
Was there going to be a fight between these two?
Just like Jiang Chen, many of the cultivators present looked on expectantly. They desperately wanted the two factions to engage in a fierce melee first.
"Long Baxiang, Pillfire has no interest in Veluriyam's affairs. Emperor Peafowl's disappearance has absolutely nothing to do with us. Do you think that we can't deal with your sect? Is that the reason for your baseless defamation?" Emperor Cloudbillow was furious.
"Tsk tsk, if Emperor Pillzenith had said that, I'd actually show some well-deserved fear. What do you amount to, Cloudbillow? You're not fit to make any kind of threat against me." Long Baxiang wasn't going to leave Emperor Cloudbillow's dignity intact. "Who under the heavens doesn't know about what happened to Emperor Peafowl? You think that people won't know what you did if you bury your head in the sand? There's a very good reason why Veluriyam's young lord Jiang Chen is mortal enemies with your city."
"Long Baxiang, you're a great emperor. Do you think that this idle gossip means anything?" a cultivator from the Empyrean River Palace snapped back. "The Heavenly Dragon Sect should know what's good for it and turn back. If we make a public break, the damage won't be as simple as losing face."
This was a naked threat.
Long Baxiang chortled. "The insignificant Empyrean River Palace was only able to become a first rank sect thanks to your daddy Pillfire. Is an ant attempting to threaten the Heavenly Dragon Sect?"
"So, you're not planning to take a step back eh, Long Baxiang?" Emperor Cloudbillow's voice deepened to a growl.
"We were here first," Long Baxiang declared icily. "Phoenix Cry neighbors our own. We're obligated to protect this place. Cloudbillow, get out with your lapdogs right now if you don't want a fight."
Emperor Cloudbillow burst out in laughter. "Long Baxiang, do you not know what kind of situation you are in? Are you forcing Pillfire to open fire against the Heavenly Dragon Sect?"
Long Baxiang didn't reply. Instead, he looked toward the Ninesuns Sky Sect. "What say you, my friends? We arrived first, but Pillfire wants to pull the rug out from under us. Will you agree to something as absurd as that?"
He was no fool. He knew how to read and use his circumstances to his advantage. Though Emperor Pillzenith wasn't here, Emperor Cloudbillow was no ordinary cultivator either. Plus, Pillfire had three more sects on their side. In terms of absolute strength, Pillfire had an overwhelming advantage over the Heavenly Dragon Sect.
However, an alliance between the Ninesuns Sky Sect and the Heavenly Dragon Sect could stand a chance.
Long Baxiang would never agree to giving up profit at hand to Pillfire City. That viewpoint was likely to elicit agreement from the Ninesuns Sky Sect.
"Emperor Cloudbillow," remarked one of Ninesuns' executives, "if you came to solve problems, then you should come up with a solution acceptable to everybody. If you're here to take the reins, then why waste words? Let's cut to the chase and fight then."
Mass silence fell over everyone present.
Were the human domain's strongest factions going to clash against one another? Wouldn't humanity's already mediocre conditions worsen considerably then?
Emperor Cloudbillow glared at the Ninesuns Sky Sect, frowning. "Is the Ninesuns Sky Sect also intent on opposing Pillfire?"
"Hmph, just because we don't want to raise a fuss doesn't mean we're scared. Like I said, come up with a good solution if you want to solve… this. If you want to push us out? We'll fight you to the death!" The Ninesuns Sky Sect's attitude was clear and defiant, uncompromising to the bitter end.