The two walked outside and headed for the rear mountain. Zhou Yan sighed as he looked down at the residence. “Senior brother Zhen, you probably don’t know that this is the residence His Majesty lived in when he was young. No one’s lived here since. Even senior brother Fan didn’t have the honor of living here.”
“Oh?” Jiang Chen had no idea. Cloudsoar Monarch certainly hadn’t mentioned it to him.
“Haha, His Majesty has high hopes for you. Higher, I think, than what he’d had for senior brother Fan. Many people believe that my choice of master is unfortunate. If I weren’t studying under Emperor Peafowl, perhaps I would have been another emperor’s heir. Understandably, there’s no shortage of provocations both open and concealed… they want to make me jealous.” Zhou Yan laughed as he said this. He glanced at Jiang Chen before he went on. “To tell the truth, I do feel a little frustrated. However, just like I said onstage, my feelings of relief are far stronger. There’s no one else in my position. I always have a powerful genius that I can challenge just in front of me, a mountain that I can try to climb. Don’t you agree?”
Jiang Chen gazed across at his junior brother, silent but smiling. Zhou Yan’s way of thinking was rather unique and remarkable. Sacred Peafowl Mountain’s second-best genius sighed softly again. “I have no doubts whatsoever in His Majesty’s prudence or vision. That’s why I’m here to tell you this. I’m a disciple of Sacred Peafowl Mountain first, your rival second. There’s no need to worry about any backstabbing from me, nor will I hold you back.”
“Oh, I’m not worried.” Jiang Chen smiled placidly. “You have His Majesty’s confidence, so what need is there for worry?”
Zhou Yan evidently hadn’t expected his new senior brother to be so easygoing. Jiang Chen clapped his shoulder. “We both seek to advance the interests of Sacred Peafowl Mountain. I wouldn’t be so fixated on empty titles given by others. If I say that I’m not interested in being the young lord, you’d think me a hypocrite. Honestly though, I couldn’t care less who the young lord is—you or me, it doesn’t matter. His Majesty may think that I’m better suited for it in the short term, but who knows what’ll happen in the future?”
Zhou Yan was amazed. He thought that his words had been candid enough, but his counterpart was even more direct about things. Moreover, his new senior brother’s words were nothing short of abnormal. Anyone else acting like this was probably a faker, but he found it hard to disbelieve the clarity in Jiang Chen’s eyes. No, he instinctively wanted to trust the other youth.
“Oh, yes, er, Sacred Peafowl Mountain seems quite lively today. What’s happening?” Jiang Chen was inquisitive.
“The same as always, hah.” Zhou Yan laughed wryly. “A herd of imbeciles that want a quick path to the top. Miss Dan’er has no interest in any of them.”
“Them? I thought there was only Miao Suo?” Jiang Chen blinked.
“There was only Miao Suo at first, but more and more clans showed up. Now there’s even two emperors! All here to ask for Miss Dan’er’s hand for their young geniuses, of course.” Zhou Yan groaned. “If it were only Spirit Branch Clan, His Majesty would have sent them packing long ago. The presence of two emperors warrants serious treatment, however.”
“Which two emperors?” It was impossible for Jiang Chen to imagine that two emperors would be drawn out by a matter as simple as marriage. Two emperors!
“One is Emperor Vastsea, the other Emperor Void.” Zhou Yan exhaled. “Those two majesties got into a pretty heated fight. His Majesty can’t take either side, so he’s been trying to put out the fire instead.”
Jiang Chen didn’t know what to say. Wasn’t it better for marriage to be proposed between two willing parties? If Miss Dan’er has zero interest in marrying, what were they even going on about?
“Have you seen Miss Dan’er, senior brother Zhen?” Zhou Yan queried.
“No, I haven’t.” Jiang Chen shook his head. “Have you?”
Zhou Yan nodded. “A single glimpse. Admittedly, Miss Dan’er is both charming and graceful. Like the fair ladies that poets speak about, she is simply extraordinary.”
Jiang Chen was speechless. Did Zhou Yan secretly admire Miss Dan’er as well?
His senior brother’s strange look made Zhou Yan uncomfortable. “Senior brother Zhen, please don’t misunderstand. The only thing I seek in my life is the paramount dao of the sword. I, ah, I’m not going to waste my days on lesser matters like this. It’s just that a thought crossed my mind. Given Miss Dan’er’s high standards, perhaps only a genius like senior brother Zhen can meet her expectations?”
Jiang Chen didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Was Zhou Yan planning to play the role of a part-time matchmaker? He hadn’t even seen Miss Dan’er in person. He had no energy to consider such things. As the two young lords spoke, a beam of light cast down from the clouds. It was a message glyph, landing squarely in Jiang Chen’s hands. Opening it, he grinned. “His Majesty is calling for me. Shall we go see His Majesty together, Brother Zhou?”
Zhou Yan wanted to decline, but mulled it over for a few moments before changing his mind. “Alright,” he nodded.
Leaving the residence, the two of them hurtled through the air towards Emperor Peafowl’s palace. The emperor was in a bit of a bad mood. Around him, the four monarchs had complicated expressions as well.
Plumscore Monarch was particularly indignant. “What a bunch of ridiculous morons!” She smacked her hand on the table. “They have no right to lust over Sacred Peafowl Mountain’s noble miss! What a bunch of immodest buffoons.”
Cloudsoar Monarch smiled wryly. “Daoist Plumscore, there’s no need to be so angry. Hasn’t His Majesty sent them packing just now? Maybe this is the best we can do for now.”
“Rubbish. What part of it is ‘best’, or even good?” Plumscore Monarch would not relent in her fury. “Those bastards know no shame. Why else would Dan’er announce that she’s locking herself away in closed door cultivation for the next three years?”
It was at this moment that Jiang Chen and Zhou Yan walked in. The youths’ appearance wiped away some of the female monarch’s anger from her face.
“Ah, you’re here.” Emperor Peafowl let out a soft sigh.
“Your Majesty.” Jiang Chen and Zhou Yan came forward, bowing.
“No need for such formalities. Make yourselves at home.” Emperor Peafowl waved a hand. “Today was a bit sudden, I think. I definitely didn’t expect that Emperors Vastsea and Void both would come asking for my daughter’s hand in marriage. If things had gone differently, I think it could have had a positive influence on Dan’er. It’s a pity that it turned out so poorly. Instead of undoing the clasp over her heart, this has only tightened it.” The emperor was not fundamentally opposed to an arranged marriage. If he were, he could easily have scared everyone off merely by darkening his face. As a matter of fact, he hadn’t pressured anyone he’d spoken with today. He wanted Dan’er to open her heart once more. Meeting Veluriyam Capital’s young geniuses was an undemanding social activity that might have served as the first step to recovery. Alas, Dan’er would not loosen the knot sealing her heart. She couldn’t cast aside the shadows of her past at all.
The propositions of marriage quickly turned into a farce, concluding with Dan’er’s declaration that she would shut herself away for three years. It taught Emperor Peafowl a valuable lesson: The troubles of youth weren’t things that he, a senior, could simply counsel away. Emperor Peafowl commanded the fate of Veluriyam Capital and the lives of many, but he had no power over passion and love. Casting aside the awkwardness in the air with a sweep of his arm, Emperor Peafowl broke the silence once more. “Feel free to take your leave for now. I’d like a moment with young Zhen alone.”
Saying their farewells, the four monarchs withdrew from the room. After a courteous salute, Zhou Yan wisely followed suit.
“Shall we take a walk, lad?” Emperor Peafowl smiled.
Jiang Chen knew that something was on the emperor’s mind, nodding in agreement to the request. The image of young and old, strolling side by side, had the savor of an intergenerational friendship. The two of them slowly toured the palace’s corridors, gradually ascending higher and higher. The increase in elevation gladdened their hearts.
“This isn’t like you, Your Majesty. Love and affection are the passions of youth. Such emotions cannot be forced. No matter how much you dote on Miss Dan’er, shouldn’t you steer clear of running this particular show?” Jiang Chen was different from everyone else. Even the four monarchs dared not speak so in front of Emperor Peafowl, but he had no such reluctance. He knew that the emperor saw him as a friend and confidant. He hadn’t been kept behind for mere flattery and praise!
Emperor Peafowl smiled wryly. “You’re certainly fearless in your words, young man. To tell you the truth, I’ve always been the lighthearted type, but Dan’er in particular hangs on my heart. She’s not my biological daughter, but might as well be… I certainly treat her like my kin. Perhaps this too is the machination of fate. No matter how strong a person is, he always has some small flaw or weak point. Maybe the girl is mine, hmm?”
Jiang Chen listened to the emperor quietly. A lump formed in his throat. He suddenly thought of his father from his previous life. He hadn’t perceived it all those years ago, but thinking back on it now, perhaps he was his father’s only weakness back then? It was this sole weakness that prevented someone as noble as the Celestial Emperor from being able to stop that world-shattering catastrophe. If his father hadn’t had that single vulnerable spot, would the results have been different? If he had been able to exert the full extent of his power, the Celestial Emperor would have had ample leisure to deal with the disaster. But reality did not have room for ‘what ifs’. Jiang Chen’s heart spasmed at the very thought. Emperor Peafowl’s words cut him to the bone. He didn’t think that the emperor was simply moaning and groaning over nothing.
“Fate decrees all, Your Majesty. Miss Dan’er isn’t your real daughter, but perhaps a filial thread ties her to you regardless?”
“Perhaps.” Emperor Peafowl’s look softened, his eyes full of the kindness that only a father could have. He was showing a soft side that no onlooker could have imagined he’d possess. Despite holding the title of Veluriyam Capital’s strongest for the last three thousand years, the emperor was still a mortal man. Suddenly, a thought seemed to strike him. “That’s right, you’re from the Myriad Domain, no? She says that she’s from there as well. Do you know if there’s a sect in the domain that had someone called Dan’er in it?”
“Dan’er?” Jiang Chen frowned. His own mind was roused in remembrance of an elegant figure—Dan Fei. He took a deep breath before he posed the question. “Your Majesty, are there any other clues besides her name?”
“She has a daughter, called Nian’er.” Emperor Peafowl furrowed his brow as well.
“She… has a daughter?” Jiang Chen broke into a wry smile. The sliver of curiosity he had was gone. Dan Fei had been an unmarried girl. Where would she have gotten a daughter from? He was thinking too much. Surely, there was a myriad of girls called Dan’er from the Myriad Domain.