The pill battles had the same time limit as the martial dao battles: four hours.
As seconds flowed into minutes, the only thing the audience could do was anxiously wait with bated breath. Thanks to the fact that both were competing in isolation, no one outside knew what they were doing.
Four hours were almost up. According to the rules, each person could only write a maximum of seven answers. A correct answer was awarded a point, but an incorrect one didn't result in a penalty. Points were understandably deducted for extra answers, so the contestants would write seven answers at most.
Huang'er had only written two answers upon her scroll so far. Both were ingredients she was reasonably sure about. She had a few ideas about the remaining blank spaces, but was still deliberating. The answers in her mind resided on the border of plausibility. There was some supporting evidence for them, but they were largely blind guesses.
The passage of time meant that she could no longer delay. Near the four-hour limit, Huang'er wrote all her guesses down on the scroll. She was out of time and had nothing to lose by doing so. The round ended as she wrote her last few letters.
With that, the contestants were finally released from isolation. Huang'er's expression was neither happy nor unhappy. Pill King Hui, on the other hand, looked quite a bit more serious, with a hint of uncertainty mixed in.
Both answer scrolls were submitted.
Out of respect for a nominally courteous contest, each contestant marked the opponent's scroll. No one was foolish enough to try any underhanded tricks here. Oaths had been sworn beforehand, and deceit was easily identified at this stage.
Pill King Hui was somewhat surprised that Huang'er had two correct answers. His provided pill had been quite obscure. He had expected the girl to be completely stumped, honestly.
I wonder if she actually figured it out or not? Maybe they're lucky guesses. The pill king found it hard to believe that someone so young had the skills needed to connect those particular dots. He had done the same for the Pinecrane Pill, though both were auxiliary materials. He hadn't a clue as to what the pill's main materials were.
Both parties identified two materials each.
"Because the number of materials identified is equal, the second round ends in a draw." Emperor Petalpluck was as taken aback at the result as anyone else. Because a battle like this was very technical, he had been of the opinion that the remarkable girl from Sacred Peafowl Mountain was likely going to lose. A tie with a pill king… how unexpected.
Sounds of bewilderment echoed through the crowd. The first tie had come upon them so quickly! Pill King Hui was a little upset. He hadn't wanted to settle for anything less than a victory. But life was often a series of disappointments, and he received an outcome that was merely adequate.
He didn't have time to mope, though. He messaged Emperor Pillzenith as soon as he left the stage. "Your Majesty, the pill I analyzed just now had an aura of incredible vigor. I suspect it may be the Pinecrane Pill we're after."
It was a stunning piece of news, right out of the blue. Countless thoughts popped in Emperor Pillzenith's mind, most of them half-formed.
The Pinecrane Pill, eh? Greed filled the great emperor's heart. His great status only intensified his desire. Does a pill as miraculous as the Pinecrane Pill really exist in this world? Where did Pill King Zhen get it from? Who taught it to him? In addition to his greed, emperor felt a concentrated dose of envy as well.
Finally, his heart settled on a resolution. I have to get my hands on it. No matter what, I have to have the Pinecrane Pill!
Emperor Pillzenith did not doubt Pill King Hui's judgment. The man was one of his most trusted subordinates. Despite not showing himself almost at all in public, Pill King Hui's pill dao knowledge was phenomenal. The emperor trusted him implicitly. The pill king's near-certain attitude meant that it was more likely than not the real thing.
From Sacred Peafowl Mountain's perspective, there could be nothing more impenetrable. Emperor Pillzenith knew what pills Taiyuan Tower carried, as did many pill kings who paid attention to their peers. Therefore, it was impossible for young lord Zhen to pick one from the selection there. He had to resort to something far more enigmatic.
The Pinecrane Pill was the most reasonable candidate that fulfilled that criterion.
Huang'er's tie was neither good news nor bad for Sacred Peafowl Mountain. At least Sacred Peafowl Mountain wasn't disadvantaged by the pill dao battles as a whole. The third round pitted young lord Zhen against Emperor Shura, but everyone instinctively felt that the former was the sure-fire victor.
The proceedings went as predicted. Emperor Shura tried to struggle, but he had little expertise to speak of that would be useful. He couldn't even match up to his former subordinate Pill King Bu, much less the likes of Pill King Hui or Ce. That was partially why Pill King Bu had been so valued at Shura Retreat several years ago. Alas, his provocation of Jiang Chen led to him being involuntarily taken in as the young man's disciple. Shura Retreat had lost a top rank pill king that day.
Jiang Chen fulfilled public expectation by winning against Emperor Shura rather easily. The latter wasn't much embarrassed by the loss, though, since pill dao was a pursuit he hardly cared about. He was much angrier about the fact that Pill King Cui hadn't won the second round. This cast a shadow into his heart. Still, coming out with one win and one loss wasn't too bad. This was a field in which Sacred Peafowl Mountain had an advantage. There was nothing unacceptable about Shura Retreat's performance.
The pill dao rounds having concluded, preparations for the subsequent subject's rounds were underway. Formations, talismans, and beast taming all had two dedicated rounds each.
Drawing lots revealed beast taming to be the next topic. Because beast taming was a comparatively scarce area of expertise, most cultivators outside specialized sects were unfamiliar with it. But this wasn't an absolute conclusion. Lack of expertise didn't stop some cultivators from taming spirit beasts as their familiars or mounts.
After some discussion on Sacred Peafowl Mountain's side, it was decided that Jiang Chen and Huang'er would step forward. Truthfully, Huang'er knew nothing about the subject. Unfortunately, neither did Emperor Peerless and Cloudsoar Monarch. So in the end, she was the best choice. The other person was almost guaranteed to lose. Having someone close do so allowed some appearances to be maintained. An expert like Emperor Peerless could not be permitted to show fear.
Emperor Peerless had a tamed beast, having almost entirely used his martial power to force it under his command. He'd done so with significant help from a friend with the needed talent. He had no skills of that sort, which meant that he would accomplish very little even if he forced himself to participate.
However, Jiang Chen was different. He was quite the accomplished beast tamer. In the Boundless Catacombs, he had relied on the ancient beast language to draw Mang Qi's non-malicious interest in him. Moreover, his connection to Long Xiaoxuan had also been sparked by his knowledge of draconic language. That was the benefit of being well-read and studied.
One had to learn a beast's language in order to tame one. Beasts came in all shapes and sizes, but ancient beast language was a typical common tongue. The reason Jiang Chen had been able to befriend Long Xiaoxuan was his mastery over it. This was also the cause of his natural intimacy with the Astral White Tiger cub.
Why else would such proud species willingly associate with a human?
Shura Retreat sent out Emperor Shura and Pill King Hui. If it wasn't for the rule that both factions' leaders were required to participate in one round per area, the emperor would have much preferred sending both Pillfire's pill kings. The two of them were surprisingly adept beast tamers in addition to their pill-refining skills.
Emperor Shura was no slouch at taming beasts himself, though. He was actually moderately proficient.
"Young lord Zhen, your Sacred Peafowl Mountain has no chance in the beast taming competition." The emperor couldn't help but snicker when he saw that Jiang Chen brought Huang'er out with him.
"If you're so confident, shall we call off the thirteen rounds? We can decide the winner with a single round instead, yes?" Jiang Chen smiled faintly.
The words delivered a stinging slap across Emperor Shura's face. His expression froze with a slack jaw. He didn't know what to say. He found it difficult to answer Jiang Chen's counter-challenge. If he didn't take it, didn't that mean he shouldn't have been so uppity about his chances? Why say Sacred Peafowl Mountain has no chance, then?
But Emperor Shura couldn't just agree to it, either. His heart was disturbed by Jiang Chen's confident smile. He couldn't shake off the feeling that a conspiracy hid just behind it. The emperor knew better than anyone by now that Jiang Chen was no ordinary young genius.
In his opinion, the young man had terrifying potential. He might still be catching up to Emperor Peafowl's level, but if he was allowed to grow, it was quite possible that he would become one of the emperor's toughest enemies. Emperor Shura instinctively feared his youthful opponent.
Naturally, he refrained from falling for a potential trick with Jiang Chen's counter. It was much safer to stick with thirteen rounds. His initial comment became a blow against himself because of it, though. There was a patch of laughter from beneath the stage. Mocking sounds made their way up to the contestants. Emperor Shura's posturing and fear to fight worsened the vassals' opinion of him yet again.
"Hmph, I'm not interested in getting a free win from my juniors. Nor do I care for casually breaking the rules. If you're scared, young lord Zhen, it's not too late to beg for forgiveness."
"Beg?" Jiang Chen snorted. "If you're not afraid, Emperor Shura, then why are you changing the subject? If you're not afraid, why not accept my deal? I'm curious. How come you're picking a fight with me when you actually don't want to be aggravated? You never have anything to back up your words. Perhaps you're actually a masochist?"