Jiang Chen hadn't expected this particular tactic from Emperor Pillzenith. It was patently ridiculous that the great emperor was threatening him with the second sectmaster of the Moon God Sect.
The young lord burst into exasperated laughter. "Are you telling me that you want to trade for your son with the Moon God Sect's second sectmaster, Pillzenith?"
"I'm only repaying you in spades, brat!" Pillfire's leader retorted coldly.
"Hahaha!" Jiang Chen roared with mirth. "You're truly shameless, Pillzenith. I thought the Moon God Sect was one of your more distant allies. Weren't you quite close for a time? Aren't you worried that your other allies will get cold feet from your actions?"
Jiang Chen looked meaningfully at the other sects flanking the emperor.
"There's no need for your provocation, Jiang Chen. Your destruction of the Boundary Stele and intention to cavort with alien races makes you a criminal to humanity itself! If you know what's good for you, surrender now and wash away Veluriyam's sins with your own blood to preserve the lives of your people. Otherwise, our armies will make your rivers run red wherever they go!"
The speaker was the head of the Empyrean River Palace, one of Pillfire's most loyal dogs. Jiang Chen wasn't surprised that he'd stepped up to protect his master.
Jiang Chen looked at the palace head with a half-smile. "The Empyrean River Palace is still considered a first rank sect, but you're willing to stoop to being Pillzenith's pet. But it's fine too if you like being a dog. We all make different choices in life. Your gravest mistake lies in your horrendous choice for a master. Do you think that Pillzenith will most assuredly triumph over Veluriyam Capital given your numbers?"
The Empyrean River palace head was supposed to be an important character in the Upper Eight Regions, given the stature of the faction he led. In Jiang Chen's eyes, however, the man wasn't worthy of any respect. Showing the palace head any courtesy would be doing himself a disservice.
The palace's head was red in the face with fury. Killing intent radiated from his eyes. Pillzenith waved a hand, signaling for the palace head to back off.
"Jiang Chen." Pillzenith remarked coolly. "You've always branded yourself a chivalrous boy. Don't think for a minute that I don't know the hidden dealings between Veluriyam and the Moon God Sect. This old woman is the master of your dear sister, Xu Qingxuan. She raised your sister from childhood, didn't she? She's like a second mother to your sister. If you're willing to let her die, then why can't I sacrifice my son for the sake of mankind?"
Though Jiang Chen held Pillzenith in great contempt, he had to admit the thickness of the other man's skin. Even the most ferocious of carnivores didn't eat its own children.
Pillzenith wasn't eating his own son outright, but he was using his son's life as part of a gamble. If Jiang Chen was incited to anger and refused to make the hostage swap, Pillzenith would be indirectly responsible for his son's death.
The young lord's first thought was to refuse Pillzenith's offer. As soon as he considered that, his sister's face rose unbidden to the top of his mind.
"If I simply leave my sister's master to die, our relationship will fracture for sure. Jiang Chen weighed things up. He would always have more chances to kill young master Tian Lin, but a crack in his relationship with his sister was generally irreparable.
"Never mind. The old woman has such a loathsome temper that I even wanted to kill her at one point, but she is sis' master at the end of the day. I'm sure Qingxuan thinks her of a second mother."
Jiang Chen could anger everyone in the world but his family. He could bear any shame on his family's behalf.
What was the life of a young master Tian Lin worth?
He was suddenly no longer fixated on killing the youth. Raising an eyebrow, he responded impassively, "I underestimated your shamelessness, Pillzenith. Very well, we can make the exchange if you so desire."
His Evil Golden Eye opened wide, glaring at the emperor. "You must swear however, that you haven't used any methods on the second sectmaster or left her with some hidden deficiency. Otherwise, I won't agree to the trade even if my sister blames me for the rest of her life."
Pillzenith was taken aback. He had done precisely that. Once the trade went through, he could use said methods to torture the second sectmaster so that she would wish for death for the rest of her life.
He was a villain through and through. It was just as well that Jiang Chen had his guard up against his enemy's poor morals. This demand destroyed Pillzenith's contemptible plans.
Jiang Chen wasn't in any hurry. "Your son can go back to you whenever you give me a second sectmaster that's perfectly healthy."
Suppressing his anger, Pillzenith called out, "Jiang Chen, you want me to swear an oath, but can you guarantee that you haven't done anything to my son?"
The paranoia was mutual. Pillzenith was as wary as Jiang Chen just as Jiang Chen was of him.
After some preparation, the great emperor was forced to remove his tricks from the second sectmaster. A conspiracy found out is no longer fit to be called one.
After about fifteen minutes, Pillzenith returned with the second sectmaster. "The second sectmaster here is perfectly healthy, Jiang Chen. I can swear an oath that she will not suffer any ill after effects from her captivity."
"You'd better think hard on whether you have anyone else from the Moon God Sect in your hands, hmm?" Jiang Chen replied.
Pillzenith harrumphed. "That's none of your business."
Jiang Chen was perfectly calm and unwavering. "I'm making the exchange, so it is my business. No matter how you pretend to not care, you clearly still want to rescue your son. Before he comes back to you, you should stay as honest and cooperative as possible."
He was using Pillzenith's care and hope to rescue his son against him.
Pillzenith harrumphed again. "I swear that I only have one hostage from the Moon God Sect. One is enough, anyway."
Truthfully, there had been quite a bit of pressure on Pillzenith for doing something so shameless. The Moon God Sect was a first rank sect that formerly had been on very good relations with Pillfire City. The despicable deed he'd been forced into doing just to fight Jiang Chen was exceedingly shameful.
That was why he had captured only the second sectmaster through covert operations rather than kidnapping her in broad daylight from the Moon God Sect.
As for the others, the great emperor didn't think that they would be worthy of being hostages in the first place. Only Xu Qingxuan's master had the weight to strongarm Jiang Chen into capitulating.
The great emperor was reasonably astute at reading people's hearts.
After a round of back-and-forth, both parties settled on strict and stringent terms to ensure that the exchange could go through uneventfully.
"The trade, then." Jiang Chen waved an arm to release young master Tian Lin.
The young man was ecstatic to regain his freedom. He rushed before Pillzenith. "Father, this brat has made me suffer a great deal. Please strike him down on my behalf!"
The second sectmaster was free as well. She swallowed her typical pride to return despondently to the side of Jiang Chen's forces, unsure of how to handle herself.
She was the second-in-command of a first rank sect and usually commanded significant respect in the world of martial dao. Her loss at Pillfire City's hands had been quite painful and depressing in light of that.
"Thanks for the help, Jiang Chen." The second sectmaster's thanks was extremely quiet.
Regardless of her stubborn nature, she knew that she would have met a grim fate without Jiang Chen's graciousness. A proud person could only think normally when her pride was shattered.
"You can thank Qingxuan," Jiang Chen smiled faintly. "If you feel particularly grateful towards me, I would be happy if you could be a bit more lenient on my sister in the future. Alright, now that this little interlude is over, the curtain is about to be pulled back on a grander spectacle. If you are interested in watching, do stand back and enjoy the show."
"Stand back?" The second sectmaster gritted her teeth, her eyebrows upturned. "Pillzenith has gone too far. The Moon God Sect will not ignore his evil deeds. Today, I represent our sect in making a formal alliance with Veluriyam Capital against the malevolent Pillfire City!"
The second sectmaster had ever been single-track minded. She'd sung the multifarious praises of Pillfire City before, even hinting to Xu Qingxuan to make more contact with the city's Pill King Ji Lang. Her worship of absolute power at that time was evident.
The harsh lesson she'd been taught today had opened her eyes. The Pillfire City and Emperor Pillzenith she'd formerly respected were completely different from what she had expected. Their impressions had been utterly destroyed in her heart.
The Jiang Chen that she hadn't thought much of before on the other hand, had surprised her time and time again to the point of embarrassment. This was the young lord of Veluriyam Capital indeed!
Her reaction changed Jiang Chen's own opinion of what kind of person she was. The fact that she had such a one-track mind was endearing in her own way; perhaps she wasn't really that vicious after all.
However, he had no need of her intervention.
"Emperor Wellspring, please escort the second sectmaster to the back. I think she needs some rest." He didn't feel like explaining anything.
He asked Wellspring to just take her away. Only a top-level expert like Wellspring could calm a hysteric woman like the second sectmaster.
As expected, she caved under the emperor's gentle firmness and was compelled to retreat to the rear.
By this time, Pillzenith had completed an overview of his son as well. He had no concerns remaining.
"Jiang Chen!" The emperor's voice rumbled like thunder. "I'm putting aside my private grudges with you for now. The only reason my armies are here today is to punish you for the matter of the Boundary Stele! Your unauthorized attack against it has destroyed its protective boundary. Your betrayal of humanity in favor of alien races is unforgivable!"
"What next?" Jiang Chen smirked. "Are you going to get Emperors Cloudbillow, Castveil, and the rest to accuse me?"
Pillzenith blinked. What was he getting at? Was that kid's gall solid stone? Did he not know the meaning of fear?
Jiang Chen's nonchalant reaction displeased and surprised him.