Pill dao battles were one of the most popular in the world of martial dao. It was a method of competition only slightly inferior to martial dao. Beginning with pill dao and finishing with martial was a way of generating anticipation.
Of course, it was difficult to come up with topics for pill battles of this level. Though Emperor Petalpluck was the judge, he wasn't proficient enough to compose a sufficiently challenging and fair question. Therefore, he asked the two sides to agree on the method of competition themselves, with the caveat that they had to agree on it.
The second part was the significantly harder of the two. After some lengthy negotiations, the two sides finally arrived at an agreement. There would be three rounds, each involving different pill-related fields.
The first was refining pills; a rather straightforward and primitive way of doing things.
The second was pill analysis. This round required both sides to present the other with an unknown pill. Each party was to analyze the pill. The side that identified more materials would be declared the winner. As for exactly which pills were eligible, anything went as long as it was effective in confounding the opponent. Naturally, no cheating was permitted. An automatic loss would be awarded if any was found.
The third was the opposite of the second. Both sides would prepare correct and incorrect ones materials ahead of time. Their opponent had to find the type of pill most appropriate to the materials prepared, and successfully refine it. If both sides succeeded, the side that did so first would win.
Both sides had to send in three different competitors. As for who was chosen to compete for what, that would be decided via random draw.
"I have no expertise with pills, so I'll refrain from participating and messing things up," laughed Emperor Peerless.
Jiang Chen nodded. "For the pill battles, I will take Huang'er and Cloudsoar Monarch." Among the four monarchs, Cloudsoar was likely the best at pills. He might not be as good as Emperor Peerless in actuality, but neither person had a chance against a candidate from Pillfire City. Therefore, it was better to some face for the great emperor.
As expected, Shura Retreat sent out the two followers of unknown origins.
"Huang'er, I can definitely win against Emperor Shura for this one. I don't think Cloudsoar has a chance, so if you can tie with your opponent, that would be for the best." Jiang Chen attempted to relieve some pressure from his female companion with a silent message.
"Let's see how the drawing turns out," Huang'er returned a slight smile.
Cloudsoar Monarch was picked for the first pill-refining round. Jiang Chen was delegated to the third-the one that required material preparation and synthesis. Huang'er was given the responsibility for the second round, pill analysis.
Jiang Chen had no problem with any of the three rounds. He was absolutely confident that he would win against Emperor Shura a hundred percent of the time. He could say the same when it came to anyone, honestly.
"Alright, the draw is complete. Let the first round begin. Sacred Peafowl Mountain's Cloudsoar Monarch versus… Shura Retreat's Pill King Ce!" Emperor Petalpluck announced.
Cloudsoar's opponent was a man with a large mole at the base of his earlobe. His name was Pill King Ce. Whether that was his real name or pseudonym was as much of a mystery as the rest of his background. However, Jiang Chen could tell from the man's bearing that he was likely quite proficient with pills. In fact, he was probably superior to Pill King Lu Feng and Bu.
The pill-refining round was extremely clear-cut. There was no flourish or flair. Ability, handiwork, and technique were the only elements at stake. The type of pill to be refined was also decided by random draw. Emperor Petalpluck selected an arbitrary type from more than a dozen of similar difficulty.
From the look on his face, Cloudsoar Monarch was very relaxed. There was no pressure to be found in his expression.
"Young lord, do you think that Cloudsoar will be able to win this one?" Chronobalance Monarch asked Jiang Chen uncertainly, his voice hushed.
"This is just the first round," Jiang Chen smiled back. "It doesn't matter whether we win or lose. It's fine to test the waters for now."
These were words of consolation. Truthfully, each and every one of the thirteen rounds was important. However, he didn't want his subordinates to worry too much. It had taken quite a bit of effort to pump up morale. He wasn't about to let it deflate so easily.
As he had foreseen, the unknown pill king was extremely adept at his art. While the man didn't betray much of his skill in the beginning, the prowess he began to display in the middle of a round was equivalent to at least a ninth rank pill king's. He performed even better as time went on.
Though Cloudsoar Monarch performed extraordinarily well considering his actual skill level, it wasn't enough to overcome their foundational difference in the end. Pill King Ce finished the refinement process a full thirty minutes before the monarch, with pills that were higher quality than his opponent's to boot.
The first round's winner was patently obvious. Emperor Petalpluck and company all agreed that Pill King Ce took home the victory.
"The first round goes to Shura Retreat!" proclaimed the kindly emperor.
Emperor Shura broke into a satisfied smirk. He was greatly encouraged by the act of drawing first blood. Pill dao was Shura Retreat's perennial weakness. Scoring an initial victory here was a palpable blow to Sacred Peafowl Mountain's morale. The depressing looks on their followers was evidence enough. The first round's victory was not as simple as winning just one round. Of course, it was very important to win the next round as well.
"You have accomplished a great deed in winning the first battle!" He motioned to Pill King Ce joyfully, then turned his head to another man in silver robes. "Pill King Hui, you're up."
"No problem. How learned could a soft, weak girl like that be, even if she started learning pill dao in her mother's womb? The second win is as good as mine!"
The second round's battle was actually rather abstruse. It tested the competences of both parties to their limits. The prerequisite for participating was having an esoteric pill, and a complexly constructed one at that.
This was in itself a trial.
Huang'er didn't refine pills often herself, and though Jiang Chen did as a matter of course, his pills were largely varieties that had made their way into the hands of the public. Because of this, they had already been thoroughly analyzed by countless people.
Not knowing the refinement process was one thing; discovering the pills' component materials was a much easier task. Thus, any remotely standard pill could not be used. Though Jiang Chen had countless recipes in his brain, he needed to have a finished pill on hand for the round.
He had plenty of finished pills, but the only remotely esoteric one was the Pinecrane Pill. There was no guarantee that the others in his collection were sufficiently unknown. Pillfire City's wealth of knowledge was a given, after all.
Jiang Chen grit his teeth. He relented on giving a Pinecrane Pill to Huang'er in the end. The Pinecrane Pill was a very skill-intensive pill. In terms of technique, it required more than many empyrean rank pills did. Even Emperor Pillzenith would have a hard time making heads or tails of it. Now that a pill as precious as this was on the table, he was truly all in.
"Second round, Miss Huang'er of Sacred Peafowl Mountain versus… Pill King Hui of Shura Retreat!"
The disparity in ages between the two competitors created shocking contrast.
"Hold on," Emperor Shura suddenly interjected.
"Do you have something to say, Daoist Shura?" frowned Emperor Petalpluck.
"The contestants must be isolated this round. Otherwise, what if someone cheats? It's quite easy to remotely slip a couple details to someone onstage." Emperor Shura was very wary of Jiang Chen. He wanted to cut out all the risks he could. However, his suggestion put Emperor Petalpluck in an awkward spot.
Jiang Chen snorted in derision. "Emperor Shura, you seem so scared of me! In that case, why not just give up trying to oppose Sacred Peafowl Mountain?"
The emperor harrumphed. "Scared of you? You must be daydreaming or out of your mind. I'm worried that someone will secretly interfere. I would hate to see something that impolite."
"Emperor Petalpluck, we can go with isolation." Jiang Chen smiled faintly. "I'm sure that both parties will be equally well-isolated, of course. It simply wouldn't do to have any wolfish behavior in the open… only barbarians sleep with wolves, no?"
He alluded to Emperor Shura once more.
The second round proceeded under isolated circumstances. The Pinecrane Pill was an inscrutable pill indeed. Pill King Hui noticed how extraordinary the pill was the moment it entered his hands.
Inhaling sharply, the pill king was infused with countless excited thoughts. Before he came into the ring, he had been instructed by Emperor Pillzenith to get news on the Pinecrane Pill. He had a very strong hunch that this pill was the one and only.
The spirit energy and powerful vitality it emanated…
He almost wanted to stow it away and keep it. But reason overcame impulse in the end. He was in an arena. There was no way he could smuggle it out and even if he tried, he would first become the laughingstock of the town.
While this was happening, Huang'er received an unknown pill as well. She didn't know what it was, but she had been mentally prepared not to. Before the round began, Jiang Chen had taught her how to analyze a pill that was foreign to her.
Because the competition did not allow for breaking apart the pill, great finesse was demanded. Without that rule, one could come up with a few conclusions just by carefully dissecting the pill. With it, the only tools remaining were one's eyes, nose, and consciousness.