Jiang Chen was at his calmest now. The three wandering great emperors' promises greatly relieved him. The stranger's attempt to speak on behalf of all wandering cultivators was done for. Given that the three titans of the sphere had spoken, the man would need to consider his next moves carefully.
The young lord glanced at the strange troublemaker with a cool smile. "Take out your supposedly six thousand years old Heavencloud Ganoderma. Isn't it easier for you to stoke the flames with so many more seniors around?"
The wandering cultivator's heart pounded. What had seemed to be a flawless encirclement now had a slight crack. A tinge of fear entered his mind. However, he couldn't do much else aside from continuing forward. Taking the spirit herb out, he proclaimed loudly, "You don't scare me, young lord Zhen. Now that more seniors are here, there's no way you can hoodwink all of us!"
He adopted a strained tone with malicious intent, fully bent on depicting Jiang Chen as an oppressive villain.
"Come, seniors and friends, one and all. How can my Heavencloud Ganoderma only be a thousand years old?" Pillowing the herb in his hand, the man showed it off to the heavyweights, muttering all the while. "Young lord Zhen, you say that my Ganoderma is the same age as the one yesterday. Why don't we compare them, hmm? Can you bring it out?"
The Ganoderma from yesterday was indeed on Jiang Chen's person at the moment. After the treasure identification segment, Cheng Qian had gone to Emperor Coiling Dragon to make a deal with Jiang Chen and Sacred Peafowl Mountain.
With a faint smile, the young lord took out the very herb that was the talk of the town.
"Hmm?" Everyone was taken aback by Jiang Chen's ready display of the Ganoderma.
"I'm curious, young lord Zhen. How did that Heavencloud Ganoderma come to be in your hands?" Master Dong Ye asked with a frown. His statement left a lot to the imagination.
That's right. Why was the Heavencloud Ganoderma still in young lord Zhen's possession? Shouldn't he have returned it to the wandering cultivator already? Did he…?
Some quick thinkers' thoughts immediately went to the nastier side of the spectrum.
"I'm curious too, young lord Zhen." The elder from the Empyrean River Palace began his question rather viciously. "It's only been a day. How did the Heavencloud Ganoderma slip into your possession in such a short span of time?"
As Pillfire City's dog, the Empyrean River Palace behaved within expectations by standing out to oppose Jiang Chen.
The Heavenly Dragon Sect's Long Baxiang sniggered. "I hope you didn't steal it via any underhanded means, young lord Zhen."
Jiang Chen's eyes were full of derision: derision for these supposed seniors, who, despite so advanced in age, behaved no better than clowns.
"I know what all of you are getting at. Trying to besmirch my good name, hmm? That's right, the Heavencloud Ganoderma came into my hands through perfectly upright means. I am its lawful owner."
"Heh heh, we're on Veluriyam Capital ground. No treasure owner could refuse an offer from you." Long Baxiang sneered.
To the side, Emperor Coiling Dragon couldn't sit still for much longer. "You there, Long so-and-so! Stop with your foolish insinuations. The owner of the Heavencloud Ganoderma willingly traded it to young lord Zhen. I'm a witness to that! If there was any coercion involved at all, then let heaven strike me with the force of five thunders. Aren't you here as Veluriyam Capital's guests? Or are you here to engage in debauchery and deception? That seems a lot closer to your real motives right now!"
The emperor's words were full of justice and reason. For a time, no one could utter a single rebuttal. Many fresh suspicions were assuaged. An oath like that from a great emperor was essentially definitive. No one could casually make an oath to heaven and earth like that.
Jiang Chen's expression remained impassive. He handed his own Heavencloud Ganoderma to Jiao Yun. "Here, give it to our fellow daoists to peruse. Remind them to pay attention to the roots, the lines on the leaves, and the shape of the herb's body."
Carrying out his orders to the letter, Jiao Yun immediately showed it to the others.
"Everyone, the young lord is a candid man, above resorting to petty tricks. However, he's also stated that anyone using those tricks in front of him will only experience shame. Pay attention to the details. Don't be deceived by your first impression."
All the onlookers began to compare the two spirit herbs closely.
From first impressions alone, they all noticed that the concentration of spirit energy coming from the two Ganodermas was vastly different. Moreover, the outward appearances of the two were too divergent. The new Heavencloud Ganoderma was clearly a lot bigger.
An idiot could see how the two differed with a cursory glance.
Even Emperor Wellspring furrowed his brow after seeing the clear-cut discrepancies. He didn't understand why young lord Zhen wanted to put them side by side in the first place. Not comparing them was surely better. There was such a stark difference when the two were held up against each other!
The elder from the Empyrean River Palace chuckled. "I'm a bit slow about this, so excuse me. How can anyone be confused about such an obvious gap?"
Master Dong Ye sighed. "You must give everyone an explanation, young lord Zhen. Forcibly giving a wrong evaluation for a transaction is at odds with the principle of fairness that you claim to uphold."
Long Baxiang chortled mercilessly. "I didn't expect a man so young to have methods so devious. You almost managed to fool the entire world! If not for this wandering cultivator friend's courage to stand up for himself, everyone else would've remained duped and taken the hit."
Each man's words were more hateful than the last's. The triple attack incited the emotions of a good amount of listeners.
Was young lord Zhen really a fame-chasing hypocrite? Was his 'fairness' just a rallying cry to trick wandering cultivators?
Many were filled with disappointment. They'd respected young lord Zhen a great deal before this, which had also improved their overall impression of large factions slightly. Perhaps young lord Zhen's faction really was different from the others.
It seemed that their illusion had almost been shattered overnight. Now, they felt that they'd been played for a fool. The atmosphere in the crowd took a solemn turn for the worse.
Still, a great swathe of wandering cultivators thought that the speeches so far were largely one-sided. Young lord Zhen hadn't defended himself yet.
If the two spirit herbs really had such a large gap, why would he have taken out his own to compare in the first place? Wasn't that putting himself at a bigger disadvantage? There was surely a reason for young lord Zhen's decision.
The sharper audience members weren't immediately influenced by Master Dong Ye and Long Baxiang's words, instead choosing to observe any further developments. On the other hand, those that supported Jiang Chen already were at a bit of a loss for words. At a glance, the difference was clear as night and day.
Countless eyes gathered upon Jiang Chen.
The wandering cultivator snickered a few more times. "It doesn't matter how you got your hands on the first Ganoderma, young lord Zhen. If you're intent on doing the same by robbing me of my own, then I'll give up my life in pursuit of justice!"
"Enough." Jiang Chen broke the silence with a furious thunderclap. Proverbial lightning surged from his eyes, forming an aura of killing intent that shot toward the other. That single word had been spoken with the fury of a dragon's roar, rattling his audience's eardrums. It shocked every listener in attendance.
The young lord's gaze was knifelike. "Stop making yourself out to be a victim. Your poor performance may be able to fool laymen, but it's far from good enough to hide from my observant eye."
He cupped his fist in a salute to the crowd. "Everyone," the youth proclaimed loudly. "I'm sure that you can see the huge difference between the two Ganodermas at a single glance. As long as you're not blind, yes?
"But us cultivators should know that what our eyes tell us may not be the truth. The disguise is done reasonably well, but it can't fool real experts. The Heavencloud Ganoderma may be an unfamiliar plant to you, but I know it very well. A true six thousand year specimen has jade-colored roots, and each whisker is perfect and vigorous like a dragon's. The counterfeiting techniques that went into this one are superb, but I'd assume that the artist hasn't seen an actual herb that old himself. What color is this supposedly older one's whiskers, hmm?"
The crowd looked at his behest. They noticed that the whiskers of the newer herb were a faint blue-green. Though they were a bit thicker than the ones belonging to the herb that Jiang Chen had produced, the color was identical.
"You're making things up, young lord Zhen." The wandering cultivator shrieked shrilly. "Is it supposed to be jade-colored just because you say so? Do you have any proof? It's just your baseless word alone without proof!"
Master Dong Ye incanted a Buddhist mantra. "Young lord Zhen, any further quibbling will only lower my opinion of you."
Instead of growing angrier, Jiang Chen laughed. "Master Dong Ye, I've been wrong about something all along. I thought that the Buddhist disciples of the Sublime Chord Temple didn't lie, but it appears that they're just conmen and cheats. Remember, Master Dong Ye, any falsehood is supposed to result in punishment in the hell of pulled tongues. If you can't enter nirvana as a cultivator of the Buddha Warrior's Eye, then I think that hell is where you'll end up. Do you dare swear on Buddha's name that you haven't lied in the matter? If you can make an oath to heaven and earth, then I'll disperse all of Sacred Peafowl Mountain's wealth immediately as compensation to our wandering cultivator friends here."
His speech was both resolute and unyielding, leaving Master Dong Ye at a loss for a reply.
"Like I said, the counterfeiting method is quite good." Jiang Chen continued with a frosty expression. "Alas, the counterfeiter is limited by his experience. Look again at the Ganoderma's leaves. A six thousand year old Ganoderma should have snaking patterns upon its leaves that correspond with the truths of heaven and earth. The ones on these leaves? Nondescript images still in the process of evolving.
"The lines on the Ganoderma's body as well. Many people don't know that they're very similar to tree rings and can be used to tell the herb's age. If the Ganoderma was six thousand years old, it would have sixty lines. How many are on this Ganoderma, eh?"
The crowd of wandering cultivators was collectively stunned by Jiang Chen's new information. Did the Heavencloud Ganoderma have so many distinguishing features? Was the second one really a fake?