The angrier Jiang Chen got, the calmer his heart became. His expression now was entirely impassive. The look with which he affixed the stranger pill king was filled with intimidating force, making the other man's eyes evasive.
"And who the hell are you? What right do you have to ask me questions?" The other man became restless and angry himself, raising his volume. "Come, someone, anyone! Throw this man out!"
The cultivators downstage all felt compelled to charge up, but a casual wave from Jiang Chen swept them aside. His emperor domain rippled outwards, repelling his would-be assailants.
Like a god amongst men, Jiang Chen stood with head held high on the stage, his eyes almost physically piercing into the other man's heart.
"Don't ask me who I am. If you really have the courage to answer questions from your audience, then there's no reason you should make an exception with me. If you don't, then what gives you the boldness to preach here in Vermilion Bird Avenue? Do you have an answer to that, hmm?" Jiang Chen's tone suddenly became serious.
The man wasn't entirely a quack. Quite the opposite, he had some talent in terms of pills. There was no reason that he'd be lecturing here otherwise. He had indeed arranged for specific questions beforehand. That was why he'd been able to answer them so smoothly and brilliantly.
But that didn't mean he wasn't a real expert. He had only done so in order to emphasize the mythology around him. He wanted to gain more fame than he truly deserved.
It was obvious that the tricks used here were old-hat. He had brought up a three-question round because he was confident that he knew much more than his adversary. He had plenty of ways to make the other guy look bad. The unfamiliar pill king recovered himself after a few moments of stupor. Jiang Chen's remarkable martial prowess made him think twice.
It's extremely likely that Taiyuan Tower sent this man. He is quite skilled in martial dao, so he can't be a pill dao expert as well. He's only here to stir up trouble. Is he demanding three questions to try to shock me into submission?
The lack of a response elicited a faint smile from Jiang Chen. He gave the audience a cupped fist salute. "Friends, I know that many of you are here to listen to pill dao lectures. But is it really good to listen to a fellow as fame-hungry as the one over there? How much knowledge and expertise does he really have? Do you want to listen to the words of a mere pretender?"
Most present were honest lecture-goers, but Jiang Chen's interruption brought a convincing argument to the front of their minds. The pill king's lectures were reasonably exciting to listen to, but if he didn't have the courage to answer some questions from a stray troublemaker, then the latter's claims might ring true after all. Were the questions rigged or not? The possibility that they were was a disappointing one indeed.
Whether in the martial or pill dao world, people were admired for having real talent and expertise. Faking beyond one's means made for a bad impression, even if one did have a modicum of skill to back it up.
Pill King Zhen had attracted so many people to his lectures because of his surpassing skill, tested time and again in the fire. His mastery of pill dao had been proven through countless endeavors. Alas, that pill king made appearances no longer in recent years. He was sorely missed by the public at large.
The two new pill stores opened near Taiyuan Tower hadn't been taken seriously at first, but the pill stores invited two pill kings day after day to come lecture. In the beginning, everyone was there for only the spectacle.
Very few were actually interested in the lectures themselves. But after watching the spectacle for a few days, the audience discovered that the two stranger pill kings talked about some pretty interesting things. Rumor spread of this, attracting more and more people to the daily event.
Though most supported Taiyuan Tower in the face of the obvious provocation from these two other pill stores, not everyone loved Jiang Chen's store. Because of differences in faction, a portion of people disliked Taiyuan Tower from the start. It could even be said that they had a lukewarm hatred for it.
No one from this group would oppose the two stores simply because of their provocation towards Taiyuan Tower. Out of the people in attendance from this group, many had also heard Jiang Chen's lectures years prior. However, they had zero loyalty to Taiyuan Tower. In fact, some privately wished that it would shut down.
Others had a more neutral stance. They were interested in purely the lectures. There was no reason for them to openly support either Taiyuan Tower or the two new stores. They were more than happy to reap much benefit as they could get out of the conflict.
The new lectures they had listened to just a few moments ago was a good example of that. Though the pill king's question and answer session had been staged, the lecture had included some quality content.
If the lectures were vapid and boring, they wouldn't have been able to attract nearly as many people. Though these pill kings' lectures were not as technical as Jiang Chen's had been, the latter hadn't lectured here for some time. The neutral lecture-goers didn't exactly have an option.
Many people began to raise their voices after hearing Jiang Chen's words.
"Pill King Hong, even if that guy is just here to cause trouble, isn't it normal for there to be discussions among pill dao peers? If he wants to ask you three questions, why not hear him out? If they're well-asked, we'll be happy to hear them too. This kind of contest is what pill dao is all about! Perhaps it'll even become the talk of the town."
"That's right, Pill King Hong. Someone of your level shouldn't be scared of three little questions. You wouldn't have a problem with thirty of them! Isn't that right, guys?"
"Exactly! Pill King Hong has showed us his richness of knowledge these past few days. His fame is not at all undeserved."
"Pill King Hong, since this brazen troublemaker is here already, why not answer his three questions? Then you can make him kneel and beg for forgiveness before kicking him off stage. You'll show us your skill in the process!"
No spectacle was too big for those who wanted a good show. The people here didn't necessarily support the two new stores. They just saw nothing wrong with stoking the flames and watching the ensuing conflagration. Plus, if it really was a battle between two pill experts, then some pretty exciting sparks could fly. It would really be a worthy spectacle, then.
Did Taiyuan Tower send him? This was the question in everyone's mind. Taiyuan Tower had ridden a heady tailwind for quite a few years now. Though Pill King Zhen wasn't in the city presently, they still had other pill experts holding down the fort. Pill Kings Bu, Lu Feng, and Lin were all worthy contenders residing in the store.
All three were also Pill King Zhen's disciples. Could they really tolerate an open challenge in front of the Tower? It damaged both the store's face and reputation. Seeing someone come forward so diametrically opposed to the newcomers piqued the audience's interest.
The lecturing pill king was precisely the 'Pill King Hong' that had been spoken of just now.
The commotion from the audience had stirred his heart. He gathered up all the strength in his entire body, tossing a thoughtful glance at Jiang Chen. Taking in a deep breath, he tried to rally his self-confidence. That person's eyes carries an unknown aura. He clearly has extraordinary origins. But I'm not scared of many in the realm of pill dao. I don't know where he's from, but I don't think it'll be easy for him to beat me with pill dao alone. If it's a battle of knowledge and foundations, I'll gladly engage him!
Having thought it out, the pill king cleared his throat. "Friends, the art of pill dao is recorded in innumerable texts and volumes. It is very difficult for someone to call themselves a master of all. I hope everyone understands this simple fact. If this person is intent on making some trouble for me, I can't help it if he simply picks three of the most difficult questions to ask me. If he wants me to answer three of his questions, that's perfectly fine. I'd like to make a reciprocal request as well. He has to answer three of mine first. My lecture time is valuable, and not everyone who comes onstage is qualified to ask me questions. If everyone does it, then what time will I have left for the actual lecture? If he answers my three questions, that proves he is worthy of asking me questions. If he can't, well, what's the point of wasting time on him then, right?"
Pill King Hong was a quick-witted man. His declaration was grounded in truth, and effectively defended himself as well as restoring some face. Even Jiang Chen found the response somewhat admirable. However, he had an easy counter for it.
"Are you looking for excuses for your inevitable failure? Someone of your caliber isn't worth my time to intentionally harass. So, I have to answer three of your questions, is it? Your mimicry isn't bad. Well then, let's make it fairer. You can ask me a question, then I'll ask you one. We can take turns doing this for as long as you want. How does that sound?"
Pill King Hong had thought that his maneuver would easily get rid of the troublemaker. That his young opponent had taken it a step further had been entirely unexpected. He began to have doubts about the situation.
Who is this guy, and where is he from? Is he truly skilled in pill dao as well? He wouldn't dare to make that demand otherwise. A variety of thoughts and possibilities entered his mind. In his current spot, he couldn't afford to lose, so he had to pick his moves very carefully.
It was a perfect window for Jiang Chen to push his advantage: his opponent had fallen silent with uncertainty. There was every reason to strike while the iron was red-hot. "Let's avoid any appearance of impropriety, alright? I won't pick a subject that you can say you don't know much about. We'll talk about pill runes, the topic of your lecture. How does that sound?"
Runes that appeared on pills during the refining process were essentially miniature formations embedded within them. Formations that took on unique form as runes both consolidated the pill's medicinal properties and evoked the materials' potency to their fullest extent.
Ordinarily, etching runes into pills was a complicated matter. Ordinary pill masters could do no such thing. For example, Elder Yun Nie had been helpless before the Hexarune Black Dragon Pill all those years ago. Refining that pill only required the most fundamental of runic concepts, and was actually just a stepping-stone pill to others of the same type.
Though the elder hadn't quite reached pill king level, he was at least most of the way there. Given that even he found a rudimentary pill rune difficult to handle, it was easy to see that pill runes were much harder than one would expect.
Pill runes, incidentally, had also been the subject of the lecture just now. The fact that Jiang Chen had instantly offered this concession made him a gentlemen in the eyes of others.
That was the subject of your lecture, right? You must be an expert in it, then. How can you slip out of answering questions on a supposedly mastered subject?