Sacred Peafowl Mountain, Veluriyam Capital.
Jiang Chen delegated the responsibility of the martial dao tea party to Jingzhong Hui. Emperor Wellspring was called emperor no more. The city had taken to calling him Elder Hui, or sometimes Elder Jing.
In the same way, Emperor Peerless had become Elder Mo.
After breaking through to great emperor, Jiang Chen assigned the bulk of menial work to his subordinates. His focus was on personal cultivation. He had plans that once the human domain settled down a bit, he would make a trip to Myriad Abyss Island.
It'd been several years since Huang'er's departure. It would be a lie to say that Jiang Chen wasn't worried about her. Xiahou Jing's nature was evidence that his entire house was a brood of vipers. If Huang'er really did become Xiahou Zong's cultivation vessel, she would surely meet with a miserable end.
"Young lord, we've received a calling card." Xue Tong came in with the card in question.
Jiang Chen took and perused it with a frown. "Old Man Cranecry? Who's that? Old Brother Hui, have you heard of someone by that name?"
Wellspring's entire body shook. He bounced up from his chair, his eyes wide with surprise. "Did you say Old Man Cranecry, young lord?"
"Yes? Do you know him?"
Wellspring looked incredulous. "I don't know him, but I've heard of him! Your calling card is from Old Man Cranecry?"
"Yes. He said he wanted to come chat with me during the tea party. He was very courteous." Jiang Chen handed the card to his lieutenant.
Wellspring took it and read it himself. Residual shock was visible on his face. "I didn't expect Old Man Cranecry to still be alive."
"Why do you say that?" Jiang Chen asked curiously.
"I've heard stories of him ever since my youth. He was a legend of his generation. There were many tales passed down about his exploits. When I was young, my master used to tell them to me as inspiration." Wellspring grew wistful as he recounted his past.
"He's a man out of history. That means he should be very strong, no?" Jiang Chen played with the card in his hands. "I'm surprised he's so polite in his communications."
His understanding of the secluded experts so far had given him the impression that they were a uniformly proud and aloof bunch. He wasn't used to Old Man Cranecry's civility.
But Jiang Chen was the kind of person that reciprocated any kindness he received ten times over. He wasn't likely to be hostile to someone polite. Those who wished to attend the martial dao tea party were considered guests.
He found no reason to refuse them outside the gates. "Old Brother Hui," he smiled, "it sounds like you used to idolize him. Come with me to receive this honored guest."
"I would wish for nothing more!" Wellspring was overjoyed.
At the foot of Sacred Peafowl Mountain stood an old man in cream-colored robes. It was none other than Old Man Cranecry. He had an ethereal aura, someone almost separate from the world; perhaps because he had departed from it for so long.
There were a few others following him: four of the secluded experts who'd visited Craneseat Mountain. Everyone aside from Xi Yanbing's trio had come.
"You must be Old Man Cranecry, sir. This kid is Jiang Chen, please forgive my tardiness in receiving you!" Jiang Chen greeted them with passion.
Cranecry considered Jiang Chen with undisguised interest. "Young lord Jiang Chen, I often hear your name despite my hermit lifestyle. Heroes often become so at a young age. Very good, very very good. I heard you were holding a tea party for the secluded empyrean masters. Though I've long since washed my hands of mortal affairs, I was drawn here by your remarkability."
"I humbly thank you for your graciousness, sir." Jiang Chen had a rather good first impression of Old Man Cranecry. The visitor wasn't throwing his weight around simply because he was an empyrean cultivator.
The old man's eyes were placid and serene, and his words had the same nature. Jiang Chen found no fault in anything. Thus, he desired to show the same amount of exceeding courtesy. He enthusiastically brought the secluded experts up the mountain.
The young man's attitude contented Old Cranecry and his companions. They had heard from specific sources that Jiang Chen was young and proud, but that seemed completely inaccurate in person.
There was no youthful brashness in this particular youth. Quite the opposite: he treated them with decorum and respect in a practiced hand. In some aspects, he might have been even more mature than they were.
"My friends, the tea party begins tomorrow. Please rest in a few of the side residences for today. Do you know if there will be more guests coming?" Jiang Chen was unsure of exactly how many hermits there were.
"I can't answer you clearly," Old Man Cranecry laughed. "By my estimates, there should be more secluded experts than just us few. Some won't come because of various reasons, but we shall see tomorrow as to the remainder."
Jiang Chen nodded. "I'll keep my eyes open."
"Sacred Peafowl Mountain looks quite impressive," Cranecry smiled. "I can see you've spent quite a bit of effort on this place."
"Sacred Peafowl Mountain is the foundation of Veluriyam Capital, and Veluriyam is the foundation of the human domain. This place is extremely important, so I found that to be a necessity."
"Hmm, quite so. Young man, it has been difficult for you to build up what you have so far. I came in part to express my apologies."
"Oh? Why do you say that, Old Crane?"
"Logically speaking, the human domain's issues should've been my unshirkable responsibility. Alas, I announced to the world I would retreat from it roughly eight thousand years ago. My life was to be spent among the beauties of nature, unto my old age." Old Cranecry's words bore the tone of one who had seen much of life.
It was a tough thing for someone who'd gone into voluntary seclusion eight millennia ago to enter the world once more. The human heart was liable to be changed by its surroundings; reclusion often dampened one's optimism.
"Were you planning on coming back into the world at large, Old Crane?" Jiang Chen asked curiously.
"Haha, you're quite perceptive, young man," the old man chuckled. "The winds are changing and you're shouldering all of the additional responsibility. I can't let my old bones rest while I know that's happening. But don't worry, I won't be jealous of a young man like you even if I do come back. I don't need meaningless things like titles of leadership. Actually, I came to tell you that you've been doing very well. Please continue your good work. I will be on your side from now on."
Well! The old man was quite direct.
Jiang Chen was rather embarrassed by the display. "Not at all, Old Crane. You are far too kind. If you were to take up that mantle, I would be completely happy to listen to your orders."
There was no pretense in the young man's declaration. He wasn't some kind of omni-directional busybody. He had carried Veluriyam's weight so far entirely because of his promise to Emperor Peafowl.
If Old Man Cranecry were willing to come out of retirement and lead the human race, Jiang Chen would be perfectly happy to cede the position and initiative.
"That wouldn't be appropriate," the old man replied quickly. "You're a young genius destined to shine while I'm a wilted flower of yesteryear. To overshadow your radiance and let your genius go unused would be positively criminal."
Cranecry's attitude surprised Jiang Chen. His understanding of the secluded experts was that they were a conceited, presumptuous bunch. And yet, this old man was the picture of affability.
"Those words are too harsh, Old Crane. The seniors around you are all empyrean experts as well. Given your reputation and history, it's a no-brainer for you to take my place."
Cranecry turned solemn. "Not at all! I am older than you, yes, and I'm stronger than you currently, but I can see the momentum in things and events. If I had to pick someone who could change the fate of the human domain's future, I would definitely not pick myself. You, young lord Jiang Chen, have the momentum of the world behind you."
The better one knew Jiang Chen, the more one understood this fact.
"I don't deserve your excessive praise, Old Crane," Jiang Chen smiled wryly. "Do you have any opinions about humanity's current predicament?"
Old Man Cranecry was grim. "Humanity has three hidden problems. One, the demons; two, Myriad Abyss Island; and three, the aliens outside the Boundary Steles. The last is the least threatening of these. Since the ancient times, humanity has always had the greatest numbers and been the strongest among its neighbors.
"Myriad Abyss Island… well, it's very far away. Unless its experts return to the human domain en masse, we can overcome some of the other associated issues.
"But the demons… I'm sure you know that this is an unavoidable tragedy. It's a continuation of ancient events." Cranecry sighed. "I hear that you've fought a few demons already?"
"I've had multiple skirmishes with the demon race. However, I've only fought against disorganized troops left to their own devices. The most threatening demons remain in the desolate wildlands, where they are sealed away. I'd give them another few decades before they regain freedom."
This drew Old Crane's concern. Despite his age, he hadn't experienced the ancient demon-sealing war. As such, he had little idea of what demons were truly able to accomplish.
"You've fought many demons before. If war breaks out with the demons, what do you think current humanity's chance at victory would be?"
"Almost nonexistent," Jiang Chen replied without thinking. "Unless a significant amount of opportunities or changes arise."
Old Crane was taken aback. "Almost nonexistent?"
"Almost none." Jiang Chen knew the answer was cruel, but he didn't seek to hide the truth. "In ancient times, it cost humanity an incredible amount of manpower and resources to defeat demonkind and seal their leaders away. Though the demons won't recover their ancient combat prowess straight away, we humans have weakened a great deal since then as well. We're likely to be worse off, actually."
Honestly, his biggest worry was also the demon race.