Jiang Chen paid the guards no mind. His only response was a faint smile as he looked piercingly at the crown prince. His expression was relaxed as he spoke. "Are you interested in a private chat, Your Highness?"
Though the stranger had acted brusquely, the crown prince noticed his composure under the royal guards' pressure. That alone was enough to mark this man as extraordinary. Captains of the crown prince's personal guard were usually mid rank emperor realm cultivators. Furthermore, the guardsmen were all at least sky sage realm, with the slightly better ones half-step emperor realm and a few even mid rank emperor realm. A retinue like this was more than enough to render the common man incapable of controlling his bladder in fear.
The crown prince's hesitation made Jiang Chen smile. "As Veluriyam Capital's line of defense on the northern border, Bluesky Nation is a principality of considerable importance. You are its crown prince, are you not? Surely you have more courage than this." A provocation would usually do the trick.
"Who are you, sir?" The prince's face chilled. "For someone who now stands in my palace, you are being exceptionally discourteous. There is no need for me to prove to you how much courage I have. I don't even know where you hail from. Am I supposed to be polite to someone who shows a lack thereof?"
Jiang Chen chuckled. "Ah, absolutely. You are the crown prince of a great nation, to be accorded a certain degree of respect. However, that doesn't mean it is deserved from everyone you meet."
His words were so authoritative that everyone on the prince's side did a double take.
There were no fools here. Everyone sensed that the strange youth likely had extraordinary origins.
"Do you come from Veluriyam Capital, friend?" The old man suddenly spoke.
"You have a good eye, Grand Tutor. Alas, you haven't taught your student to a similar degree of excellence. A crown prince should have a broader view of things." A man of Jiang Chen's current stature had more than sufficient authority to comment on the mere crown prince of a nation. In fact, he had enough to criticize a king. He was the young lord of Sacred Peafowl Mountain, the future master of the entire Veluriyam Capital! A great number of great nations and cities sat within his territory.
As it is written in the Book of Poetry, 'Under the wide heaven / all is the king's land, / within the seboundaries of the land / all are the king's servants.' As the future ruler of Veluriyam capital, it didn't matter if they were kings of the great nations or lords of the great cities, everyone had to bow before him.
But the crown prince was still somewhat of a youth. A hint of dissatisfaction appeared on his face when he heard Jiang Chen's words. Thankfully, the old man's sharp glances hsi way stifled his temper for the moment. There was no immediate outburst, no order for the guards to attack. But the effort of keeping his temper in rein had manifested itself in an angrily red face. It made Jiang Chen crack a smile inside. The crown prince is a young man after all. It's unsurprising that he can't keep his cool.
From the looks of it, the prince was probably a few years younger than him. Suddenly, a scent wafted past his nose. Distracted, Jiang Chen sniffed at the air. He detected a whiff of something unusual.
"Hmm? Is someone trying to refine the Fierce Tiger Pill?" He was very sensitive to pills. The barest hint of a scent floating in the air was enough for his nose to pick up on. "The refining techniques don't seem very good, though. The Fierce Tiger Pill has been utterly ruined. Refining the pill like this is just a waste of materials."
Jiang Chen chuckled, looking back to the young crown prince once more. "Is Bluesky Nation's crown prince actually a pill aficionado?"
This simplified things a great deal. The crown prince's face went from red to an alarming shade of purple. The Fierce Tiger Pill's associated problems had occupied his mind for a long time now. He'd spent quite some time on it, and yet his attempts so far had all failed. The grand tutor's eyes lit up. "Do you know about the Fierce Tiger Pill, friend?"
The crown prince's eyes began to shine with interest as well when he heard the question. His unconvinced eyes roamed over Jiang Chen's body, considering the other youth more seriously this time.
"The Fierce Tiger Pill is hardly complicated or remarkable. What is there to know about? Something fit for me to practice with when I was ten, that's all. A second-rate pill at best." Jiang Chen casually shrugged.
The crown prince's entire body shook. "Bragging doesn't cost you anything," he curled his lip.
Jiang Chen didn't bother to explain. He continued to speak with the same tone of indifference. "The Fierce Tiger Pill can strengthen the body and tap into one's latent potential. It is able to multiply a cultivator's power several times over for a short time. Commonly used in the military because of its cheapness, it has devastating side effects as well. The best pill kings do not typically find it worthwhile to refine something so flawed." His description finally evoked a change in the crown prince's skepticism. Evidently, Jiang Chen had mentioned everything there was to say about the pill.
"You are not the average scholar, friend, but a veritable expert!" The grand tutor was extremely pleased. "Your Highness, our guest here is a master of pill dao."
"Who doesn't know how to give a nice speech, huh? That's no proof of his competence." The crown prince still looked somewhat distrustful.
Jiang Chen openly grinned at that. The young crown prince was flipping the provocation card back at him. Considering its intended target though, it went wide of the mark.
"The Fierce Tiger Pill is too low-ranked, crown prince. I would not care to refine it even if you provoked me ten times more. Veluriyam Capital has another pill called the Tiger Eruption Pill. It, too, is a berserk pill, and you can consider it a ranked-up version of the Fierce Tiger Pill. It is superior to its lesser version in both medicinal effect and the severity of its side effects. Moreover, because it is a recipe from the Deviant Pill Faction, its cost is incredibly low."
"Tiger Eruption Pill?" The grand tutor's eyes glittered. "I believe I've heard of that pill before. Hmm, if I recall correctly, there's a store called Taiyuan Tower in Veluriyam Capital that sells it. The young lord of Sacred Peafowl Mountain owns it."
"Exactly so," Jiang Chen nodded.
The grand tutor turned back to the crown prince. "Is this not confirmation enough that our guest is a master of pill dao after all, Your Highness? Since you thirst after the wise, should you not honor one when such appears in front of you?" He waved to the guardsmen. "You, you, and you. All of you, come outside with me. Let the crown prince and our honored guest have some privacy."
The prince's guards were a bit hesitant. Their charge was the crown prince after all, his were the only orders that mattered. The grand tutor was the prince's teacher, but this concerned the prince's safety… they couldn't afford to take risks.
The crown prince knew that his teacher always had a good reason behind his actions. The old man was cunning and unfailingly cautious. Despite his own misgivings, he waved them off as well. "You may go. I'd be glad to have a more intimate chat with our visitor."
Seeing his guards' remaining uncertainty, he called out, "What are you waiting for? We're in the palace. Are you afraid of him eating me or something?" His small show of annoyance finally compelled the guards to leave.
"Not bad, not bad." Jiang Chen applauded him, laughing. "Being able to rectify your mistakes is a great virtue."
"Yes, yes, keep sharpening your tongue," the crown prince harrumphed. "I'd like to see how much skill you have with literally anything else."
Suspicion still ran subtly beneath the crown prince's words. There really was no way around the prince's youth.
"I have skills aplenty, I assure you. However, refining the Fierce Tiger Pill can hardly be counted as one. Your own cauldron of pills is already ruined, no? Then I'll go to the trouble of turning that waste into wealth." Jiang Chen didn't allow the prince a moment to fire off a retort, walking directly towards the pill room off to the side. He found the prince's behavior amusing. The other youth was standing in the doorway, stuck between wanting to excuse himself and wanting to watch. An interesting young man, to be sure.
Personally, Jiang Chen didn't care either way. "Feel free to watch if you want. It's not like the Fierce Tiger Pill is some kind of secret recipe, no do I have anything to hide."
His tools: the crown prince's cauldron, and his materials: the materials within. There was no flourish in his actions. He conjured the most basic of pill-flames, casually summoning a decidedly average heat source to heat up the cauldron. Following this, he casually matured the flame, beginning to refine the once-wasted materials once more.
The Fierce Tiger Pill wasn't even a top-ranked pill. It was sage rank at most, not worthy enough to be considered even true sage rank. It affected only origin realm cultivators. Sage realm cultivators could find some benefit out of it in a pinch, but the effects were greatly discounted. On the other hand, the Tiger Eruption Pill could be used by both origin and sage realm cultivators without much of a difference in its effects. More importantly, the majority of the side effects present in the Fierce Tiger Pill were alleviated.
Jiang Chen's technique was practiced enough, but the crown prince saw nothing amazing or unique in it. None of the steps were particularly mysterious or hard to understand. He frowned, his heart marred with uncertainty. This guy looks confident, alright, but there's nothing special in what he's doing. There's no way he can turn stone into gold. No, I don't believe it. How can he possibly refine the Fierce Tiger Pill with ruined materials? He must have boasted without the ability to back it up.
Nonetheless, Jiang Chen's equanimity and self-control were formidable. Despite himself, the crown prince appreciated that kind of discipline. One would be hard-pressed to find the like in a common charlatan. Still, composure wasn't everything. At the end of the day, the results had to speak for themselves.
Thirty to forty-five minutes passed before Jiang Chen concluded forming hand seals. "All done," he smiled serenely. He quenched the flames with a flick, and the cauldron sounded several times with a ringing roar. With a flourish of his sleeves, Jiang Chen brushed the lid atop aside.
"Take a look: some Fierce Tiger Pills, as promised." His sleeves swished in the air as the young lord pushed the cauldron towards the crown prince's direction.
The crown prince blinked incredulously, striding forward rapidly to stare into the vessel. His expression froze as his eyes made contact with its contents. It was as if he'd seen the most unbelievable thing in the world. Paralyzed by shock, he couldn't tear his eyes away. After a long while, the prince convulsed and looked at Jiang Chen with mixed feelings. "You… you really didn't cheat?"
He was hit by a wave of insecurity. He had witnessed every step of the process, but he was still dubious about what he'd seen.
"Cheat?" Jiang Chen's expression was perfectly cool. "The Fierce Tiger Pill does not merit the act of cheating, period. Can't you sense your own materials within the pills? Your pill dao ability is worse than I thought, then."
The crown prince was perfectly capable of that, but had completely forgotten to. Hastily moving to do so, he found that the finished product really did consist only of his own materials. More accurately, they had been the exact materials that he'd ruined earlier. This revelation sent him into a frenzy. Was pill dao truly able to perform the miracle of turning trash into treasure? That seemed far too good to believe.
All of his pill dao teachers had been picked from Bluesky Nation's best pill kings. They represented the nation's cream of the crop. Unfortunately, without a concrete recipe, their collective attempts to refine the Fierce Tiger Pill had ended in failure. The fact that someone as ordinary-looking as the man before him had been able to refine the pill was wholly unexpected. After all, his teachers had spent several years without anything close to resembling a success.