All Veluriyam's great emperors were gathered together once more.
Unfurling the map a second time, Jiang Chen pointed to and fro. "Friends, Pillfire is at its wit's end. It's preparing a final assault on us to find victory or death. We should rise to the challenge in meeting them on the battlefield!"
He had refrained from formally making a break with Pillfire all this time because of his regard for the bigger picture in the human domain. A clash between two powerful forces was sure to result in civil unrest in the domain for a long while, reducing humanity's already meager strength even further.
Alas, Pillfire had seemingly cast Jiang Chen's efforts to the dogs. They'd perceived Jiang Chen's self-control and restraint as cowardice and timidness. This infuriated Veluriyam's young lord. If continual restraint couldn't bring peace, then the alternative was a thunderous strike to excise the festering boil of Pillfire from the world!
It wasn't just the great emperors in the city who were called. Emperor Vastsea, who had been maintaining affairs in Great Scarlet and Myriad, was recalled as well.
Emperor Wellspring was summoned too, alongside a few of his wandering cultivator compatriots. These great emperors had all answered the titan's charismatic appeal and were completely on Jiang Chen's side.
Unfortunately, without Emperor Peerless and the Jiao brothers, Jiang Chen felt like he was still missing something.
He wasn't lacking in strength of arms, but he did worry about his friend and subordinates. Those three had done a lot for him since the beginning. He wanted to know what had happened to them to rest his own heart, if nothing else.
One question remained, though. If the faction behind the scenes really can disguise people as Cloudbillow and Castveil, why haven't they disguised themselves as Old Brother Mo and the Jiao brothers to dump more dirty water on me?
This perplexed Jiang Chen a great deal.
'Emperor Cloudbillow' and 'Emperor Castveil' were able to mount a convincing propaganda campaign, but its effect was nevertheless diminished due to their erstwhile status as his enemies.
If the mastermind had sent people disguised as Emperor Peerless and the Jiao brothers, the effect of Jiang Chen's allies turning on him would be much superior, perhaps to an explosive and destructive degree.
However, that kind of worrisome situation hadn't happened.
Jiang Chen was both grateful and thoughtful. Maybe Old Brother Mo and the Jiao brothers were in danger, but the mastermind hadn't discovered their real identities yet. Or were they being treated as ordinary captives?
That was a more optimistic view of things.
Emperor Peerless and the Jiao brothers had hid their identities and pretended to be wandering cultivators from the onset. If they kept this on the down-low and went with the flow, perhaps they were safe still.
The thought of this relieved Jiang Chen's tension somewhat.
The great emperors gathered here were studying the young lord's battle plan. Their blood pumped and spirits were high at the prospect of battle ahead.
Among Veluriyam's own, Coiling Dragon and Void staunchly supported Jiang Chen. Petalpluck's attitude on the other hand, was a bit more uncertain. Not that he wavered in his support of the city's present leader, but the emperor wasn't confident about their chances of victory.
"Young lord, Pillfire is out in force this time. It's gathered thirty-some factions in a fierce alliance. That kind of group can sweep the entire human domain. Veluriyam is alone in its war effort right now, so we would have a lot of trouble resisting their attacks. If we use the city's defenses to maneuver against them, then maybe we can pull it off in the end. Fighting them on the outskirts… may not be wise."
Petalpluck knew that Jiang Chen was capable, but Pillfire and its allies outnumbered Veluriyam several-to-one. The outskirts offered no tactical advantage in terms of terrain. If they were weaker in terms of raw manpower too, how were they going to win?
Petalpluck's concerns did have some basis in fact. Skysplitter also felt the same way.
The latter voiced his worries respectfully. "Young lord Jiang Chen, my Skysplitter faction respects and admires your leadership completely. Only you are fit for the reins of Veluriyam. However, this coming battle will decide the city's survival. I venture that we can't brashly walk into a decision. We have no advantage in terms of men or terrain if we take this to the outskirts."
On a basic level, Veluriyam Capital was precarious in all three dimensions: circumstantial, territorial, and manpower.
Mountaincrush sighed as well. "Young lord Jiang Chen, I won't bat an eyelash in fighting for Veluriyam to the death. Fighting on the outskirts though… it's like throwing an egg at a rock with what little we have remaining."
These three great emperors were all quite rational in their rationales. They weren't opposing simply for the reason of opposing.
"Oi, you three," Vastsea interjected disdainfully. "You've known the young lord for so long, but you still don't know him well enough yet. When has the young lord done anything that he was unsure about? Pillzenith is strong, but have you forgotten? He brought a very large group to ambush the young lord on Eternal Celestial territory, but that ended in shambles nonetheless."
Vastsea was a serial flatterer, but he did have the advantage of steadfastly supporting anyone he threw in his lot with.
Just like when he'd joined Emperor Shura all those years ago; at that time, Shura had no advantages whatsoever over Emperor Peafowl. Despite that, Vastsea had fought his instincts and raised the banner of revolution alongside Shura. Whether openly or covertly, he sang a counter-tune against Peafowl.
Now that Jiang Chen had his loyalty and recognition, he stood beside Jiang Chen to the bitter end.
The benevolent Emperor Coiling Dragon spoke up as well. "I very much agree with the young lord's proposition. If we defend only Veluriyam's heart, Pillzenith's armies would rampage through the countryside and the peoples under our rule. When Emperor Peafowl reigned, he never abandoned a single one of his subjects. Are we supposed to toss aside our principles simply because of our enemy's apparent strength? Shall we hide within the city's walls and ignore the plight of our people? What right do we have to their help and support then?"
There was mass concurrence at his speech. It was right for a leader to personally defend the gates to his nation.
As the leader of Veluriyam Capital, Jiang Chen ruled over countless miles of land and people, vassals as many as the stars in the sky.
If they disregarded border defense and allowed Pillzenith's forces to invade openly, it would be a swarm of locusts romping across the countryside. The only result would be a massive loss of life!
Even if Veluriyam's core remained intact after a long, hard defense, they would be a general without an army.
The prominence of a faction was fueled by its innumerable subjects and subordinates. Existing without these foundations was a tree without roots: living on borrowed time.
Emperor Void nodded. "If Emperor Peafowl were here, he wouldn't hide himself within Veluriyam's walls either. Veluriyam may fall, but we can't let it fall in such a dastardly way. We great emperors should die before the commoners in defense of our country. What opposition can there be to this? Moreover, the young lord's decision to meet our foes on the outskirts must have a reason behind it. Why not hear him out before we decide?"
As Jiang Chen's confidants, Void and Coiling Dragon were closer to him than the rest. There was an element of blind worship in their relationship to him. Plus, they had been Emperor Peafowl's confidants in the past as well. Their perspective was similar in many respects to their former master's.
Therefore, both great emperors were much more firm on this particular topic of contention than the others.
Wellspring chuckled. "Friends, let me put myself forward for a second."
The wandering great emperor held immense seniority in the world of martial dao. After all, he was one of the wandering cultivator world's six titans. If he was less prominent than Emperor Peafowl, that was only by a hair's margin.
In the Veluriyam of today, even Petalpluck wasn't necessarily comparable to Wellspring. Decorum-wise, it was necessary and obligatory to listen to what he had to say.
"Young lord Jiang Chen and I are of one mind and spirit, so I won't offer my opinion on that part overmuch. I do think though, that Pillzenith's thirty-odd coalition is less fierce than it may seem. The very fact that he is at Veluriyam's doors means that he cannot wait any longer. Why? Because he's afraid of the young lord.
"They may look strong at first glance, but have you considered on what is their cooperation basis in the first place?"
Almost all of the other great emperors couldn't say that they had. Most sank into thought. Yes, why had these thirty-odd factions come together in the first place? What was the glue that held them together?
"What's keeping them as one? Is it profit? Pillzenith's threats and blackmail? Or a common fear and hatred of young lord Jiang Chen?" Emperor Wellspring posed a few more questions, more detailed this time.
"What do you think is the reason, Daoist Wellspring?" Coiling Dragon asked.
"I've come up with a couple possibilities. Firstly, young lord Jiang Chen's youthful heroism has elicited envy and fear of his potential rise into blinding prominence. It may affect these factions' bottom line one way or another. Secondly, Pillzenith has always had remarkable influence and prestige among many factions. Those particular ones may have been intimidated or coerced into supporting his war effort. Thirdly, they may have come solely for the sake of potential profit - chief among that, division of Veluriyam's treasures!"