Chapter 819: The Sacred Peafowl Mountain
Though it was his second time coming to the Sacred Peafowl Mountain, Jiang Chen felt entirely different from his first visit. His previous appointment had been marked with worry. His presentation of the Longevity Pill as a stratagem to strike at the Majestic Clan was a slight gamble. Who knew if the people at Sacred Peafowl Mountain would play along? But this time, Jiang Chen was here on the personal invitation of Emperor Peafowl, and his heart was undisturbed. Naturally, he had come accompanied by the Coiling Dragon Clan lord and company. Besides young master Ji San, there were two other geniuses from the Coiling Dragon Clan as well.
The Coiling Dragon Clan trio’s cultivation levels were similar. One was at the peak of ninth level emperor realm, and another was simply ninth level. On paper, there was no substantial difference between the two of them and Ji San. Unless Ji San suddenly broke through into emperor realm one day, he had no overwhelming advantage in the competition to be the clan lord. The Coiling Dragon clan lord himself had little bias overall for all three of the possible candidates, whether for or against. However, Jiang Chen was keenly aware that young master Ji San had distinguished himself in recent events via his unparalleled contributions. He was likely first place in the clan lord’s heart already.
“Ah, this must be the Pill King Zhen I’ve heard so much about recently?” The one speaking was a smartly dressed youth. The fairness of his appearance easily rivaled Ji San’s, though he tended a little more on the feminine side.
Ji San extended a hand in introduction. “Brother, this is one of the best and brightest among the younger generation of the Coiling Dragon Clan. You can call him young master Liuxiang.”
“How do you do,” Jiang Chen smiled and nodded.
Young master Liuxiang looked Jiang Chen over closely, but his expression was warm. “I’ve long heard your name, yet we haven’t been acquainted until now. Ole Third, you’re truly a master smuggler. You’ve hid a good brother like this away for so long without introducing us. Don’t you know I love to make new friends?”
“Well, you’re acquainted now, aren’t you?” Ji San laughed, and the other two followed suit. However, the third genius refrained from doing so. Garbed in black, he looked at the mirthful trio coolly, his expression stern. His features were well-defined, almost as if they had been sharpened against an axe and saber. His entire person gave off a sense of incisiveness. He was obviously not an easy person to approach.
Ji San had no intention of ignoring him, however. “This is a newcomer to our ranks, a rising star in the Coiling Dragon Clan. His name is Ji Zhongtang, and he is four or five years younger than me, and yet he has already arrived at ninth level sage realm. His future potential is limitless."
Jiang Chen inclined his head, grinning a little. “The Coiling Dragon Clan’s strength is truly profound. Geniuses like him are hard to find.”
Ji Zhongtang returned the nod with indifference, as a kind of half-reply. Once the youths’ conversations were concluded, the Coiling Dragon clan lord waved a hand. “Come, we should not be late to the Peafowl Gathering. It is not good to arrive after the others.”
Led by the clan lord, it only took a short while for the group of youths to arrive at Sacred Peafowl Mountain. Two of the monarchs subordinate to Emperor Peafowl awaited them at the foot of the mountain. The one elegant in demeanor was named the Cloudsoar Monarch; the other was more fierce, called the Chronobalance Monarch. Alongside their compatriots the Wildfox and Plumscore Monarchs, they were the Four Monarchs of Sacred Peafowl Mountain. Together, they were the strongest among those who directly answered to Emperor Peafowl. Of course, it was difficult to gauge their strength against the Coiling Dragon clan lord’s.
In the four monarchs’ opinion, the Coiling Dragon clan lord was older than all of them, and possessed unfathomable strength. Hypothetically, he would not be an easy opponent. Moreover, the clan lord had always kept a low profile. Thus, it was impossible for the four emperors to have ever sparred with him. Exactly which party was stronger was still a mystery.
“Clan Lord, your complexion is quite rosy as of late. That is cause for congratulations.” The Cloudsoar Monarch consoled, clearly on good terms with the Coiling Dragon clan lord.
“I had a stroke of good fortune a while ago, and it’s helping me temporarily. Hopefully my good luck continues, and things change for the better.” The Coiling Dragon clan lord was not about to betray Jiang Chen’s trust.
Some matters were so grave that it was difficult to disclose them, even to close friends. The Cloudsoar Monarch looked over at the youths behind the clan lord. “Many of the Coiling Dragon Clan’s disciples are geniuses, as expected of the foremost clan of Veluriyam Capital,” he smiled.
The clan lord chuckled as well. “Brother Cloudsoar, there is no need for the flattery. We are amongst friends here. The only reason our clan has the position is because of the emperor’s care. Without His Majesty, I’m not sure if we could even maintain a foothold here, much less contest first place.”
There were laughs all around. The Cloudsoar Monarch seemed quite interested in Jiang Chen. “Clan Lord, this must be Pill King Zhen?” He asked, pointing to the youth behind the man.
Jiang Chen’s submission of the Longevity Pill’s recipe was a well-guarded secret, and had no place in open discussion. This was especially true with youngsters present.
“That’s right. Pill King Zhen’s genius is something to be marveled at. Even His Majesty has made remarks to that effect. That’s why he was hand-picked to come to this conference,” the Coiling Dragon clan lord laughed.
The Cloudsoar Monarch nodded in agreement. “To defeat the Majestic Clan several times in succession on his own strength alone… a genius like that is worthy of the emperor’s invitation. Well then, please come in.”
He made an ushering gesture. At the signal, the Coiling Dragon clan lord finally began to walk inside, the youths in tow. There were many guests already present. As the greatest emperor among the seven great emperors of the capital, Emperor Peafowl had a whole seven subordinate clans beneath him. No other emperor came close. This was despite the fact that Emperor Peafowl hadn’t intentionally gathered factions to his side. The only one who came close was Emperor Shura, who commanded five clans. Together, Emperors Peafowl and Shura controlled almost half of the twenty-eight great clans of Veluriyam Capital.
Of the seven that sided with Peafowl, the Coiling Dragon Clan was the most prominent. At the sight of the Coiling Dragon clan lord, the other lords who’d already arrived rose to greet him. The internal ushers working directly for Peafowl were just as attentive to the clan lord’s arrival, receiving him with great care. Meanwhile, young master Ji San took Jiang Chen away in a different direction, an odd expression on his face.
“Brother, let’s take a look over there instead.”
Jiang Chen had no preference one way or another. He had no interest in participating in a conversation with a group of old geezers. The deeper they went, the more austere the environment became.
“Ji Ole Third, what are you sneaking around like that for? What do you plan to do?” There was a sudden cry from nearby.
Ji San stopped in his tracks, displeased. “What does that have to do with you, Fatty Miao?”
To the side, several youths showed themselves from behind a flower rack. At their head was a young man, broad-shouldered, stocky of build. Ji San glanced at them lazily, his attitude clearly irreverent. The bear of a youth was named Miao Suo, an heir to the Spiritbranch Clan, another of the seven great clans beneath Emperor Peafowl. Though they weren’t the foremost clan, they weren’t quite last place, either. They were a respectable top six clan. But more importantly, Ji San and Miao Suo had always had bad relations. It wasn’t that they had a natural grudge. Rather, they liked the same girl, a disciple who studied under Emperor Peafowl.
“Hmph, Ji Ole Third. I know you’re going to solicit Miss Dan’s attention again. I’m warning you, she’s in a bad mood lately. I wouldn’t disturb her if I were you.”
Ji San sneered. “Fatty Miao, are you sure there’s nothing wrong with your brain? Or are you seriously telling me how to conduct myself?" Not wanting to bother with Miao Suo any longer, he turned to Jiang Chen again. “Brother, let’s go.”
Miao Suo was greatly upset, but he was held back by several of the youths near him. “Brother Suo, don’t be so angry. If Ji Ole Third wants to be rejected, then let him. Miss Dan is a disciple of the emperor, many of her peers admire her already. There’s no way that she’d pick Ji Ole Third.”
Unfortunately, the speech only gave Miao Suo further cause for concern. Ji San himself was already a tough rival. If Emperor Peafowl’s other disciples joined in, what chance did Miao Suo have? In the moment, he felt a little desperate. For his part, Jiang Chen didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Ji San was taking him to see his prospective sweetheart! It sparked some curiosity in him, though. Ji San was a genteel and handsome youth. What kind of a woman was she, that he esteemed her so?
A bamboo grove was seen in the distance, and a flowing stream lay in front of it. A narrow bridge of the same material connected the shores. It was a charming scene.
Ji San waited at one end of the bridge. “Miss Dan, Ji San of the Coiling Dragon Clan seeks an audience.”
A few moments passed. Footsteps could be heard within the grove. A young maid appeared, addressing Ji San. “Please go back, young master Ji San. My mistress is in a bad mood today.”
Ji San wasn’t about to be deterred after coming so far already. “Little sister Cui’er, can’t you let her know that I’m here?” He said, obviously thick-skinned.
The girl named Cui’er scowled back. “Just go back like I told you.”
Ji San chuckled. “But I’ve gone to the effort of making a trip here! This is rare for me. Isn’t it a shame to simply leave? Little sister Cui’er…”
Cui’er raised a willowy brow. “Who’s your sister?”
Ji San was still smiling, not taking any offense. “Okay, okay. Can I call you Miss Cui’er instead? I have a letter here that you simply must give to Miss Dan. Please, please do. Even if I can’t see her, surely a letter is fine?”
Seeing someone as suave as Ji San adopt such a humble attitude shattered Jiang Chen’s worldview. How beautiful did Miss Dan have to be for Ji San to act like this? Cui’er thought for a moment, giving Ji San another onceover. He seemed to pass some kind of litmus test, at least compared to the fatty earlier.
“Wait here,” she stomped off.
Ji San was very pleased. Miss Cui’er must be deferring to her mistress. He threw Jiang Chen a look of victory.
Miss Cui’er reappeared very quickly, her pace brisk. She was pouting and had a pile of things in her arms. “These are all the things you’ve given mistress in the past. None of it has been touched. So, you can have it back,” she said, candidly facing Ji San.
“What?” Ji San found himself in a disarray by her words.
Chapter 820: An Imperial Opportunity
Miss Cui’er felt a bit guilty when she saw young master Ji San’s depressed demeanor. “Young master San, Cui’er knows that you’re a good person. It’s not that my mistress thinks otherwise, either… she just has someone different in her heart, and always has. After all these years, she still hasn’t put him down.”
Ji San’s cheer faded when he heard those words. Relationships were strange like that. If her heart had been empty, Ji San was confident that he would one day, with enough effort, be able to change her mind. But a lost love was much more difficult to beat.
“Young master San, please just go…” Cui’er sighed in resignation at the situation, turning to leave as well.
Jiang Chen patted Ji San on the shoulder. “Brother Ji, let things be decided by fate.”
Ji San laughed aloud, managing to remain carefree despite the situation. “As you said, brother. All things under heaven are decided by threads of fate. Perhaps there is none between Miss Dan and myself.” He shook his head slightly as he spoke. “As it is said, ‘The modest, retiring, virtuous, young lady / For our prince a good mate she.’ But alas, though I may admire beauty, even I know that forcing one’s hand in such matters leads to nothing but unhappiness.”
The two of them departed from that place. Though Ji San had felt some sadness still, he was able to recover after another few moments. “How unexpected. That I, crushed by my first love, could scatter it to the wind so soon.” Walking out from the bamboo grave, Ji San’s laugh was self-deprecating, but perhaps poignant also.
Miao Suo and company awaited them outside still. At Ji San’s reappearance, the former couldn’t help but mock him. “Ji Ole Third, didn’t I tell you already not to go? You were just asking to get snubbed.”
Ji San returned a breezy smile. “Well, it’s better than how she treats you, isn’t it?”
Miss Cui’er returned to the bamboo grove and approached a clearing. A pastoral domicile lay here, a refuge from the busyness of the outside world. “Miss, I’ve sent them all away.” She stood at the door, speaking to the house’s inhabitant.
“Mm.” A tranquil voice replied from within.
“Miss, forgive me for speaking out of turn. The… young master Ji San just now, he’s a young man with both talent and character, and more importantly, he’s a moral man. I think, maybe…”
“Cui’er, His Majesty instructed you to attend to my domestic needs. Do you intend to change professions and play the matchmaker as well?” The voice was aloof, with a hint of annoyance.
“I’m sorry, miss,” Cui’er hastily apologized.
“I’m not blaming you, but I hope my wishes are known.” The voice sighed.
“Yes, miss, I’ll never suggest anything like that again.” Cui’er flicked out her tongue, some fear still lingering.
“What is His Majesty up to recently?”
“His Majesty has recently left seclusion, and is hosting some sort of Peafowl Gathering. Would you like to go observe, miss?”
The voice faltered a moment. There was a faint exhale. “Never mind, I will not.”
“Miss, don’t be like that. You cultivate every day, but you should get some fresh air as well. I know you might have a lot of things bottled up, but I’m worried you’ll hurt yourself if you continue like this.” As she spoke, Cui’er felt a light pat on her shoulder, and turned her head. “Your Majesty?” She gasped in surprise.
Emperor Peafowl had come. “Cui’er, feel free to excuse yourself. I’d like to talk awhile with Dan’er.” Emperor Peafowl’s tone was mild. There was no feeling of remoteness, even for a servant.
Too nervous for words, Cui’er could only nod. She ran off like a gust of wind, tiny steps pattering upon the ground.
“Dan’er, can I come in?”
“Yes, Your Majesty?” The voice inside the house took on a tone of slight amazement. “Please do.”
Pushing past the door, Emperor Peafowl entered the residence. A slender, beautiful shadow stood by the windowsill inside. From a distance, she looked a little thin, but her figure was lithe nevertheless.
“Dan’er, the Peafowl Gathering… What do you think about taking a look together?”
“I would rather not, Your Majesty.” Dan’er’s inflection seemed to be permanently neutral. It was as if she cared for nothing, could be interested by nothing.
“Ah,” Emperor Peafowl murmured, “Dan’er, your cultivation foundation is not particularly sturdy. Even though I’ve helped you rebuild it, you cannot pursue haste alone in your studies.”
“Your Majesty, I cannot be lazy. My homeland is destroyed, and the people I care about are lost. How can I disengage myself from these truths?” Dan’er shook her head, adamant in her conviction.
“The Myriad Domain’s fall is not something that can be rectified in a single day. It takes time for these things. If you abuse your body like this, you’ll use it all up before that day comes.” Emperor Peafowl breathed out in quiet encouragement.
“Don’t forget, you have Nian’er as well,” he added.
Dan’er’s delicate body shook when she heard the name. “Your Majesty, how is she? I remember you said you’d take good care of her.”
“Don’t worry, Nian’er is quite well. I’ve instructed the Plumscore Monarch to teach her personally. I am sure that with enough time, she will become a bright pearl of Peafowl Holy Mountain.”
“Your Majesty, your grace towards me is boundless. I couldn’t repay the debt even if I were to devote my next life to you.”
“There’s no need to treat me as a stranger like that.” Emperor Peafowl returned a carefree grin. “All things are decided by fate, and fate led me to you and your daughter in the wilderness. Your deliverance from evil men was merely circumstantial.”
Dan’er inclined her head. “Even if fate is responsible, I must still thank you for your charity and kindness.”
“Let’s not speak about such depressing matters. Haste makes waste. Your first priority right now is to calm yourself. If not for yourself, then for your daughter. Fate will guide you, as it does in all things. I’ve been childless my entire life, and we’ve gotten along rather well. I see you as my own daughter, and I do not want you to torture yourself so.”
Dan’er nodded, momentarily lost in thought. Taking in her enduring sadness, Emperor Peafowl knew that she hadn’t really gotten over things. “Well, the Peafowl Gathering begins soon. Dan’er, I remind you of only one thing. All things fall into place, when fate’s trajectory dictates.” Saying this, he drifted out the door. Emperor Peafowl shook his head as he left the bamboo grove. “All men are troubled by emotions, and Dan’er is no different. She’s such an emotional girl, yet so stubborn. I wonder what kind of youth she gave her heart to, back in the Myriad Domain? After all these years, she still hasn’t forgotten.”
He sighed softly, but wasn’t about to press the matter. He knew that Dan’er hadn’t said a word about it because she didn’t want others to interfere. A man of his skills could divine and investigate the past quite easily. However, Emperor Peafowl wasn’t that kind of work-making busybody. If Dan’er didn’t want outside help, then she would have to unravel the knot in her heart on her own. Any external meddling could only end in disaster. The Myriad Domain had already fallen, and likely the person that Dan’er held in her heart with it.
Emperor Peafowl shook his head again as the thought arose. “Am I really getting old, and my heart is softening in my old age?” He allowed himself a wry, almost self-deprecating smile. With a single movement of his body, he disappeared into nothingness.
The much-anticipated Peafowl Gathering finally began. All of the guests were seated in their assigned places, their postures solemn. The venue for the event was a place sacred in its beauty. There were ponds filled with lotuses all around and bamboo forests to the side, adorned with exotic flora and making the scene as if an ethereal realm. All present had their eyes focused on a single entrance. Emperor Peafowl and the Four Monarchs were about to appear. Under everyone’s gazes, the much-anticipated five strode out.
Jiang Chen’s look froze. Emperor Peafowl’s clothes were the exact same as when they’d met that day, and he had the same carefree air. Everyone stood simultaneously at the appearance of the emperor, as if in agreement. They saluted in respectful unison. “Greetings to Your Majesty"
“Haha, there’s no need to be so formal.” Emperor Peafowl opened both arms, laughing. “This isn’t a grand ceremony or anything, friends. Make yourselves at ease.”
The attendees were influenced by the emperor’s bright smile, their own moods improving as well. Evidently, part of the reason for their presence was to see if His Majesty Peafowl had recovered from the loss of his disciple. It looked like he had, after all.
“I called everyone here today so we could talk about recent events. Of course, there’s the matter of preparing for Veluriyam Pagoda’s opening as well! How ready do you feel, gentlemen?” Emperor Peafowl carried himself very jovially. His eyes settled on the Coiling Dragon clan lord first. “Would you like to talk about it, Coiling Dragon?”
Hastily standing, the Coiling Dragon clan lord disclosed recent events before introducing the several geniuses from the clan at length. Afterwards, he pointed at Jiang Chen. “This is Pill King Zhen, a guest pill king of House Wei. I recall that Your Majesty personally asked him to be invited.”
Smiling, Emperor Peafowl shifted his attention towards the young man. Maintaining full composure, Jiang Chen returned the gaze with a cupped fist salute. “Greetings to Your Majesty.”
“The pleasure is mine. I hear that you've distinguished yourself in the recent events of the capital. You’ve done a lot of work for both House Wei and the Coiling Dragon Clan. I hear that you’re an apostle of the Deviant Pill Faction?”
The question was a customary part of proceedings, and Jiang Chen knew it to be the case. “My studies in pills have been rather eclectic, but it is true that I am quite proficient in the teachings of the Deviant Pill Faction. I’ve studied their knowledge in particular for many years.”
Emperor Peafowl nodded. “Very good. There are many pill kings here at the Sacred Peafowl Mountain, but we don’t have much expertise with the Deviant Pill Faction and its teachings. It would be good if we could exchange knowledge here. You are welcome to come to visit anytime.”
“I thank you for your kindness, Your Majesty.” Jiang Chen smiled slightly in thanks.
Nothing further was said. The Emperor moved his gaze towards the other clans, who reported their situations one by one as well.
After the conclusion of the reporting segment, Emperor Peafowl chuckled. “I’m glad to hear that everyone is working hard. I’ve called our young geniuses here to present a select number of opportunities. Of course, supplies are limited, and only fortune will dictate the degree of your benefit. Thus, I’ve made a few arrangements… geniuses of the clans, are you ready to face my trials?”
Opportunity? Trial? The young geniuses were flush with excitement. Opportunities given by the emperor… it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!