Duke Xiaoyao didn’t hesitate for too long before he nodded. “Alright, I leave the negotiation with Shao Yuan in your hands. Xiahou Ying won’t be a problem. You’re authorized to give away some of the clan’s treasure at your discretion. House Xiahou will do our best to satisfy his needs!”
He didn’t have much of a choice. If he could get Shao Yuan to spare them by sacrificing some of their own interests, he wouldn’t hesitate to do so.
His bone-deep hatred for the genius made him want to devour the man’s flesh and blood, but right now, he had to think with his head rather than his heart.
As one of the top factions in Eternal Divine Nation, House Xiahou had an amazing horde of resources and treasure. They could afford to give some of it away.
The elder visibly brightened once Duke Xiaoyao approved of his plan. “Don’t worry, Your Grace. This subordinate won’t disappoint you. I’ll be back with good news.”
“If you accomplish this task, we’ll make sure to reward you when the time comes,” promised Duke Xiaoyao.
The elder went off with his orders and located Jiang Chen in no time. The Vermilion Bird was taking some time to recuperate after a round of attacks, which had left House Xiahou’s fortress severely damaged. The fort still stood, but its integrity had been compromised.
“Young master Chen, House Xiahou is the real deal. Even with my relentless and powerful attacks, I’ve failed to destroy the outer walls of the fort. I’ve only damaged them. All of us have to work together to break through their defenses.”
The Vermilion Bird didn’t have a habit of complimenting others. Thus, it meant its praises to House Xiahou.
Jiang Chen chuckled. “The fact that House Xiahou managed to stage an uprising and almost succeed proves their foundation to be solid.”
“True. However, they’re still somewhat lacking in the way they hold themselves, when compared to the sacred land.”
At this moment, something triggered Jiang Chen’s consciousness. He spotted a person sneaking past layers of defenses and entering his area.
“Brother Vermilion, would you please get that man for me?”
In a flash, the bird caught the man and brought him before Jiang Chen.
“I am here on the duke’s orders to seek you out, Sir Shao Yuan.”
“The duke? You meant Duke Xiaoyao?” Jiang Chen was surprised. What was there for the Xiahou patriarch to talk to him about?
“Please hear me out, Sir Shao Yuan. Our patriarch greatly admires your talent and cultivation. He told me that he’d like to offer you Xiahou Ying and some wealth as part of a deal with you.”
“What deal?” Jiang Chen asked with a half-smile.
“As long as you can get Senior Vermilion to pull away from the battle and thus spare House Xiahou, our patriarch will willingly offer you our clan’s treasure.”
“Tsk, since when was House Xiahou so generous?”
“It’s not a matter of generosity. The duke simply recognizes it’s time to cut our losses. He knows that once House Xiahou falls, all of our possessions will become the sacred land’s anyway. They’re better served as leverage for us to cut a deal with you.”
Jiang Chen smiled and didn’t immediately respond.
The elder continued at a deliberate pace, “Sir Shao Yuan, you weren’t born and raised in the sacred land. I’m sure someone as talented as you won’t covet its heritage. Besides, do you really think the sacred land will fully trust an outsider like one of their own? Will they really be willing to pass the torch to you one day?
“We all have to think for ourselves. You’ve made great contributions to the sacred land, but what have they done for you in return?”
The elder had a silver tongue. He was able to identify the key points and make all the right arguments. If Jiang Chen was a regular genius, he would’ve entertained some possibilities, if not been outright tempted.
But he was no ordinary man. Not only wasn’t he tempted at all, the offer was a colossal joke to him. The look in his eyes was amused as he gazed back at the elder.
“I’ve disrupted many of your plans already,” Jiang Chen smirked. “Doesn’t Duke Xiaoyao hold a grudge?”
“There is no permanent enemy in the world, just a permanent pursuit of profit. House Xiahou is the only faction that can pose a threat to the sacred land within this nation, Sir Shao Yuan. If we fall, leaving the sacred land the authoritarian ruler, they are bound to change. Are you sure you will always be the young genius they value the most? Are you sure you’ll receive the best resources?”
“No permanent enemy, huh? It seems House Xiahou is going to make me a very generous offer.”
“Yes, we are. Whatever you wish for, we’ll give it to you.”
“Is that so?” Jiang Chen smiled. “What if I want Duke Xiaoyao’s head?”
The elder’s smile dropped and his pupils contracted violently. “Why must you be this stubborn, Sir Shao Yuan?”
“Why do you think?” Jiang Chen asked in lieu of a response.
“You’ve done everything possible and improbable for the sacred land. Isn’t it time for you to be a little selfish? Are you willing to let all of House Xiahou’s treasures become the sacred land’s property after you conquer us for them? Don’t you want to earn a little something for yourself?”
“Ha, I’ll fight for what I want on my own. Go back and tell Duke Xiaoyao that neither coercion nor bribery work on me.”
“Sir Shao Yuan...”
Jiang Chen’s expression darkened. “Enough! I’ll spare you this time. Get out of here and tell Duke Xiaoyao that House Xiahou may keep your possessions for now. I’ll go get them myself later. There’s no need for him to offer them as gifts.”
A peaceful resolution was impossible between Jiang Chen and House Xiahou. He’d never show mercy to this clan.
Noting his determination, the elder sighed and went away empty-handed.
Not long after that, a messenger from the sacred land came knocking. The elder from House Xiahou had come discreetly, but he hadn’t escaped the sacred land’s attention.
“Sir Shao Yuan, the first prime has summoned you to discuss an important matter.”
Jiang Chen snorted. He knew he had to eliminate any suspicion within the sacred land at a time like this. He nodded. “Let’s go.”
As he expected, the first prime had been informed of the Xiahou elder’s visit. She was surprised to see Jiang Chen bring it up of his own accord.
“House Xiahou is making its desperate, final struggles,” she sighed. “I didn’t expect them to play such a trick and try to drive a wedge between us. This seat trusts you with my whole heart, Shao Yuan. You wouldn’t have joined us back then if you were willing to make peace with House Xiahou. I didn’t summon you to question you, but to protect you.”
“Protect me?” Jiang Chen was puzzled.
“You’ve been on a dramatic rise lately and you’re now our poster boy. Enemies see you as their biggest obstacle. The elder visited you in secret seemingly to strike a deal with you, which is in itself an attempt to fracture us. They may have known beforehand that they wouldn’t be able to buy you, but they can use the opportunity to undermine your reputation and make us suspect you. Once the doubt drives us apart, House Xiahou will have a fighting chance.”
Jiang Chen considered her explanation.
“Don’t worry, First Prime. I won’t be swayed even if all of House Xiahou’s treasure is put before me. There will be no peace between me and House Xiahou.”
The first prime breathed out in relief at Jiang Chen’s resolute promise. She’d said she didn’t doubt him, but deep inside her heart, she was still a little worried.
The young man was on track to greatness, but he’d only joined the sacred land not too long ago. What if he was tempted by House Xiahou’s offer?
Fortunately, he was more strong-willed than she’d expected. In that case, it’d be unreasonable of her to be too stingy with her rewards.
“Shao Yuan, once we break into the fort, you and the Vermilion Bird will be considered the top contributors,” she promised. “You may have first pick from the House Xiahou vaults. What do you think?”
No reassurance or promises spoke louder than material rewards. Jiang Chen’s eyes lit up. He knew what the first prime meant.
“I accept your generosity with great respect.” He trusted the first prime to honor her promise.
The elder returned to House Xiahou, dejected. Duke Xiaoyao could tell that negotiations must have failed.
“Your Grace, Shao Yuan is as stubborn as a mule. He wasn’t willing to listen at all. My apologies for my incompetence!”
Duke Xiaoyao huffed. “Forget it. I’d look down on him if he was able to bought so easily.”
“Your Grace, Shao Yuan clearly resents us deeply. He won’t stop until he eliminates us.”
“No need for the reminder,” Duke Xiaoyao responded irately. “You’re dismissed.”