The Temple of Cleansing Fire began to take the Bounty Arena more and more seriously as time went on. It was evident from the kind of people they sent as ushers: they were of a much higher caliber than the last time the Arena was hosted. After verifying Jiang Chen’s participation medallion to be without error, the ushers politely let him inside.
Moreover, there was an administrator-level guide ready for him. If there was any suspicion in the man’s mind with regard to Jiang Chen’s youth, he did not show it. Instead, the covert young lord was treated with a warm smile every step of the way, his attendant maintaining a perfect professionalism. Even if Jiang Chen wanted to find fault, there was very little he could complain about.
It’s unsurprising that the Temple of Cleansing Fire is one of the most powerful factions here in Pillfire City. They’re not like the rest, that’s for sure. Invisibly, Jiang Chen’s opinion of the faction rose a fair bit. In the selection area, he noted that the number of participants wasn’t as high as he’d imagined.
He had originally thought that anywhere between eight hundred to a thousand participants would come. But in actuality, a cursory scan revealed that only one to two hundred were present. It only took another moment for him to come to terms with that fact. People with insufficient confidence in becoming arena lord wouldn’t just throw money away like this. After all, a tenth of the security would be deducted as the sign-up fee upon failure.
Though the sum was affordable enough for most, there was no reason to enter without a reasonable chance of success. There were still other posts available. The main arena aside, they could still compete for being an assistant. Although that was decided by the arena lord, there was no need for the assistants to offer up a security or go through a selection. In some respects, vying for the position of assistant was more attractive than arena lord. Of course, the arena lord received the lion’s share of the bounties; but the assistants didn’t have to risk any of their own money, either.
The sight of Jiang Chen making his way into the waiting area came as a shock to those already present. The youthfulness of the new fellow competitor was obviously surprising. He had no desire to draw attention to himself. He sat down at an unassuming place. Once seated, he scanned his surroundings to discover that yes, he really was the youngest among everyone here.
His eyes drew back from a distant gaze when he suddenly ne noticed that someone close to him was sizing him up. Turning his head, Jiang Chen found a half-smiling face right in his own. It belonged to a shifty-looking man on his left. Jiang Chen couldn’t help but crack a smile at the sight of him. How quaint. There’s someone else here just like me. It was plain as day that the other man had disguised his appearance.
Jiang Chen’s keen eyes were enough to immediately recognize that the other person’s appearance was a clear façade. Beneath his outward appearance was a youth, roughly the same age. In other words, Jiang Chen wasn’t the only youngster here. This discovery piqued some of his interest in the other person.
The ‘man’ seemed to be as keen as he. Detecting the hidden meaning in Jiang Chen’s smile, he immediately perceived that his own jig was up. Chuckling, he struck up a conversation. “You’re certainly very blunt and forthright, pal. I put some thought into it, then turned myself into a little old man. You, on the other hand, have disguised yourself as someone of the same age. Aren’t you worried that the other old coots around here will gossip about you?”
The fact that the young man had begun talking to Jiang Chen on his own initiative was remarkable. He was even making faces in the process.
Jiang Chen wasn’t against talking to such an amusing guy. “There’s no rule that the Bounty Arena won’t accept young men as candidates, no?” He smiled faintly.
The other man cackled. “I guess not, but you might not be picked by those wealthy bounty-setters even if you do become one, just because you’re too young.”
That worry wasn’t entirely baseless. However, Jiang Chen saw little reason to be concerned. In the end, he thought, it always came down to a comparison of raw strength. The Bounty Arena took place over the better part of a month, not a few hours. One’s ability had plenty of opportunity to stand the test of time.
Seeing Jiang Chen’s impassivity and composure made the other man’s eyes twist and turn in their sockets rapidly with extreme curiosity. Suddenly, the man grinned. “Right, let’s introduce ourselves. I’m Lin Zhirong. What should I call you, friend? Which Pillfire City house or family do you belong to?”
“Shao Yuan.” Jiang Chen said only two simple words.
“Your name is Shao Yuan?” The man who called himself Lin Zhirong asked.
Jiang Chen nodded. He hadn’t just made the name up wholesale. Because his father in his previous life had been the Taiyuan Divine Emperor, most called him by the name of ‘Crown Prince Shaoyuan’. ‘Shao Yuan’ was an obvious homophonous split of that. It also made a perfectly appropriate alias. That was how Jiang Chen had been able to say those two words in a fit of inspiration.
“Shao Yuan. A good name.” Lin Zhirong slapped his thigh, a hint of flattery embedded in the gesture. “Judging by your composure, you must be the heir of some emperor’s faction here in Pillfire, hmm?”
Jiang Chen couldn’t bother mustering a response. He shook his head casually, presenting the same unreadable smile and stayed completely silent.
Lin Zhirong seemed to be a particularly chatty person. He kept talking despite Jiang Chen’s lack of a response. “Brother Shao Yuan, we’re both youngsters here, so we should be on the same team. Let’s fend off those old codgers together, shall we? You really should be careful. I bet they’ll collude together and put you down.”
Jiang Chen nodded lightly, but remained quiet.
At this time, the sound of footsteps echoed out from the interior. Several of the Temple’s senior executives briskly walked in, a bearded, middle-aged man with a cold expression in their midst.
Lin Zhirong’s eyes lit up. “Emperor Peerless! It really is him. Are the rumors true?”
Jiang Chen easily recognized the bearded man’s identity as well. When he’d walked outside the Temple of Cleansing Fire’s doors after signing up, he had seen the emperor’s silhouette. Thus, he was able to deduce the emperor’s identity from figure alone.
The others were wearing extremely similar uniforms. Their identity as the Temple’s executives wasn’t worth guessing.
The sight of Emperor Peerless lifted Lin Zhirong’s spirits. His eyes glittered with eagerness, and he looked ready to pounce on his star at any time. It almost made Jiang Chen feel that the other young had come solely to chase after his hero. Lin Zhirong was unfazed by Jiang Chen’s stunned expression. He gave an embarrassed smile, though he didn’t seem particularly ashamed. “Brother Shao Yuan, Emperor Peerless is my idol.”
“I see.” Jiang Chen knew that worship of any idol was hard to understand for those who did not. He had his own stalwart set of followers in Veluriyam Capital. They were filled with admiration and respect for him, a group of faithful believers. He understood what this type of people could be like. Each person had their own idol in their hearts. Like the him in his previous life, for example. He had been filled with admiration for his father the Celestial Emperor, and he’d thought that he had the greatest father in the whole world. This kind of admiration was unreduced even with the passage of time.
“I find Emperor Peerless’s courage absolutely amazing, and His Majesty’s attitude even more. Alas, I do not have the same bravery as he in front of a loved girl.” As he said this, his eyes were dark and his tone sad. He hit himself forcefully upon the head. It was a gesture of significant self-blame.
Jiang Chen was fairly resistant to Lin Zhirong’s sudden gestures. Still, the other young man’s saddened expression affected him somewhat. The humorously unfettered youth was also surprisingly sentimental. He could tell from the crystal-clear look in Lin Zhirong’s eyes.
Jiang Chen didn’t have All-Seeing Eyes, but he had his own way of scoping people out. Lin Zhirong was a little lightheaded personality-wise, but the look in his eyes tipped Jiang Chen off. Lin was a deeply emotional man. Jiang Chen didn’t know what he’d been through, but one thing was for sure. Lin Zhirong had not been as resolute as Emperor Peerless. He had surely made a compromise of some kind instead of taking a courageous step forward. That was the source of his regret and self-blame. However, Jiang Chen had no interest in asking about a man’s private affairs.
At this time, a man dressed in the robes of an assistant temple master waved both hands to silence his audience below.
“I’m pleased to announce that this Bounty Arena has been elevated to a tricentennial status. Because of this, we’re planning to add three new arena lord seats. We’ve pre-selected their occupants already: Emperor Peerless; rank thirty-six in the Hall of Thousand Legends, Pill King Blue Phoenix; and formation master Wang Xuetong.
“Why have these three masters come for the seats? It showcases how the level of this Bounty Arena is far above what was first expected. The rest of you will compete for the remaining nine.”
Everyone cheered at these words. It was good news for the candidates as well. The presence of the three senior experts lent the Bounty Arena an aura of increased legitimacy. Though they occupied three arena lord spots, these had been added specifically for them. The original number of available positions was unchanged. It was public opinion and expectation that the seniors would have taken three out of the nine available seats, and rightly so. The fact that all nine remained increased the candidates’ chances. It wasn’t much, but anything helped.