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!