Third Master Jing stared at Jiang Chen for a long while before snickering suddenly. "If I remember correctly, you were the one trying to buy up sky rank spirit herbs in the shops around town earlier, were you not?"
"If I could buy what I wanted with spirit stones, what would I be doing here?" Jiang Chen said coolly.
Third Master Jing chuckled. "Well, you certainly look pathetic. Here, I'll take a step back: two sky rank spirit herbs, two earth rank spirit herbs, and two hundred million saint spirit stones. I think that's a more than fair price, and it's my last call. Any more haggling, and I'll make sure that you never find the Smiling Bodhi you're looking for in this city."
The last statement was accompanied with an uncommon flare of banditry. Both conclusion and man seemed unquestionable and unchallengeable.
All the onlookers had their eyes on Jiang Chen. Clearly, the young man was in a lot of trouble after having been marked by Jing Third. He was about to be forced into the transaction, whether he wanted to or not. Few escaped from this particular lowlife's clutches.
Jiang Chen knew that this was highway robbery, but he urgently needed the Bodhi to save a life. If he didn't buy it off Jing Third, no one else in the city would dare sell him one, either.
Jing Third's Bodhi was Emperor Peerless's only hope. No matter how unwilling he was, the circumstances dictated what he had to do. Suppressing his rage, he nodded. "You're a shrewd businessman, Jing Third. Fine, it's a deal."
The two sky rank spirit herbs prepared prior were taken out and the rest of the materials in the transaction added to the pile. Honestly, seeing so much wealth out in the open was enough to give anyone a blood rush. 'One should not flaunt one's wealth' was a common idiom, but Jiang Chen could not afford to adhere to it presently.
Third Master Jing's cocksure confidence made him feel far less calm than he was displaying. In all of Jiang Chen's life, he had always taken advantage of others. Never had he been wrung out in such a way. Not that he couldn't bear to ever lose, but he had lost in a very awkward way. It wasn't a loss he was willing to take. What the third master had done was blackmail. Third Master Jing might deny coercion, but it would be patently untrue.
Furthermore, the manner in which Third Master Jing had acted was less than pleasant. Despite the enormous benefit he was enjoying from the sale, his tone was one of mock accommodation. "Little brother Shao," he laughed, "you should know that I'm always happy to lend a helping hand. Don't forget to keep in touch if you have anything else you need help with here."
Jiang Chen took the Smiling Bodhi in hand, checking it over for problems. After ensuring there were none, he put it away emotionlessly.
"You have such prestige here in Frostmoon City, Third Master Jing. Whomever else could I get to help me?" Jiang Chen smiled ever so slightly, drifting out with nary a word more.
There was a wave of hushed murmurs in the crowd behind him. It was a collective exclamation of surprise. The youth had a strong spirit and deep pockets. Two sky rank spirit herbs, two earth rank spirit herbs, and two hundred million saint spirit stones… it was no small sum, and yet he'd given it away with little pause. The crowd didn't know why Jiang Chen needed the Smiling Bodhi so badly, but they were nevertheless impressed with his affluence.
Still, some breathed a sigh of lamentation for him. The youth's age and inexperience showed through. If he was going to suffer a big loss regardless, why didn't he butter up Third Master Jing a little? Leaving behind those baleful words would only provoke hatred from the other man. Everyone acquainted with Third Master Jing was familiar with his pettiness.
If that young man had showered him with flattery and praise, perhaps that would be the end of the matter. But an offering of disdain was another matter, as thinly veiled as it was. Wasn't that just making more trouble for himself? Those who had past dealings with Third Master Jing knew that certain developments were due down the road. Of course, no onlooker would poke his head into the third master's business. Quite the opposite, they had to express their support for him out in the open.
"Youngsters nowadays don't know what's good for them."
"That's right. If not for the third master, he wouldn't be able to get one Smiling Bodhi for ten sky rank spirit herbs!"
"Exactly. He's taking the third master's generosity for granted and spitting on his goodwill. Young men like that…"
"Hmph. No matter where he's from, it's suicide to be so dismissive of the third master here in Frostmoon City."
Third Master Jing basked in the people's adulation. He accepted all of them with a face full of smiles, then gave a casual wave before storming off himself, henchmen in tow. There was another wave of sighs as the man left the premises.
"No wonder third master is the richest man in the city. His money certainly comes easily and quickly."
"The third master conducts his business through special methods. You can't just not deal with him. You'll end up needing him in the end anyway. That young man looked very well-off, but he was too naïve."
Though the comments sounded fawning, they hid daggers of aversion.
Some were even brave enough to sing a different tune, under their breaths. "Even an idiot can make money like that. It's just using power and influence to bully people, isn't it? He's happy about it because he gets the cash, but he's also destroying Frostmoon City's reputation."
"I agree. Outsiders who've visited shake their heads at the sound of our city's name. They aren't interested in buying or selling pills and spirit herbs here anymore."
"Ah, there's a reason why Frostmoon City is dropping lower and lower in the esteem of the Upper Eight Regions. Infamy typically has a reason." By now, the people were publicly criticizing Third Master Jing's behavior. His actions could be summed up in three words: bullying the market.
Naturally, they took care to keep their volumes relatively low. They didn't want the others to hear and inform Third Master Jing, lest he be offended. In Frostmoon City, few could remain comfortable after offending this character.
For the time being, Jiang Chen wasn't in the mood to concern himself with the third master. No matter how strong his displeasure, he kept everything to himself. His first priority was to return to the inn, then refine the antidote and cure Emperor Peerless. This Smiling Bodhi had cost him dearly, but at least he had it now. With it, Jiang Chen had an over ninety percent chance at awakening the emperor once more. Moreover, there would be no lasting effects whatsoever.
It was all thanks to Jiang Chen's exclusive methods. Any other pill king or emperor on the continent could not say the same. As for the empyrean pill sages above the pill emperors, Jiang Chen couldn't say. He hadn't seen any in person after all, much less observed their skills at work. Returning to the inn, he found Long Xiaoxuan on careful watch duty. There had been no unexpected developments while he was gone.
"You owe me another favor." When he saw Jiang Chen back, the dragon looked the very image of impudence.
Jiang Chen snickered. "Brother Long, I owe you too many favors. I can hardly count them all. Let's find an opportunity so I can repay them all at once, eh?"
"I'll keep track." Long Xiaoxuan grinned suddenly. "Remember the spirit beast you got at Pillfire City? I don't like its aura. Where're you keeping it?"
"What are you going to do, my good dragon brother?" Jiang Chen hurriedly asked.
"Why so sensitive? Worried that I'll eat it?" Long Xiaoxuan was particularly full of himself today.
Jiang Chen gave his draconic friend a once-over and chuckled. "Brother Long, why do I have the feeling that your ego grew with your transformation?"
"Don't change the subject. Where're you keeping the spirit beast? Let me see it."
"Brother Long, please don't ask after it any more. I definitely won't let you eat it. Even if you did, you wouldn't be able to assimilate its bloodline," Jiang Chen tried to cover a second time for his new pet.
"Two things," Long Xiaoxuan complained. "First, I have no interest in a little cub like that whatsoever. Second, I'm the descendant of an ancient dragon! There is no bloodline that I can't assimilate."
"Maybe not this time," Jiang Chen smiled mysteriously. "Brother Long, not many ancient spirit beast bloodlines can boast sovereign natures. The true dragons are such a breed, and you're one of them yourself, but they are hardly the only breed in the heavenly planes."
"What do you mean? Are you saying that the little cub you have also has a sovereign bloodline, fit to rule the heavenly planes?" Long Xiaoxuan's tone shifted towards skepticism.
"I can't say for sure right this moment, but my instincts tell me that's not far from the truth. If so, then you and him can be tiger and dragon brothers, right? You'll both be great helpers for me."
Long Xiaoxuan felt a flash of inspiration from his inherited memories. His face colored a little. "Does that tiger… have the bloodline of the ancient Astral White Tigers?"
In ancient times, very few kinds of spirit beasts were eligible for rulership. The Eastern True Dragons, the Astral White Tigers, the Blazing Vermilion Birds, and the Ophidian Black Tortoises were all such species. Besides those, a few other bloodlines were considered equal but slightly lesser. The qilin, the peafowl, the kunpeng… a few dozen other bloodlines on this level existed, ranking only marginally lower than the Four Aspects mentioned above. Below them were the countless other species of spirit beasts.
"It's only a small suspicion," Jiang Chen smiled. "I haven't the time yet to test its blood to confirm. It's still only a cub anyway, and has experienced no awakenings of hereditary memories. In fact, it appears just as a normal Cloud Devouring Tiger would. How unfortunate for its previous owner… in both senses of the word. Alright, Brother Long. I'll need you to protect me while I refine some antidotes. If anything comes up, do as you like."
Jiang Chen had no time for further chatter with his dragon buddy. Time awaited for no one. The quicker he refined the antidotes, the better Emperor Peerless and Madame Yun's chances were. As it was a situation with actual lives on the line, Jiang Chen put everything he had into it. Thankfully, the most difficult thing about neutralizing the Seven Emotions Poison was analyzing its toxicity and finding a way to beat it. The antidote itself was nothing special.
The refining process was complete in under an hour. Jiang Chen ended up refining two different forms of the antidote. One was spirit fluid, and the other in the form of a pill. The Seven Emotions Poison was quite cruel. It did not solely attack one's organs through the bloodstream, but seeped into one's skin and pores as well. Its final destination was its victim's consciousness, having the power to lock on and consume a cultivator's ocean.
Emperor Peerless and his cultivation partner were only in the stages of having their oceans of consciousness sealed away. There hadn't yet been any destruction. Once their consciousnesses were gone, even the immortals wouldn't be able to save them.