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“City Lord, is that kid really that strong?”

“Champion?? That requires overwhelming superiority. Many of my geniuses have just as much talent as him.”

“To think the city lord thinks so highly of this youth!”

Xi Wushang waved his hand. “Do any of you have definite information about him?”

An official checked the documents. “He arrived in the city not long ago. He even had his share of run-ins with the city guards a while ago and completed several good deeds in passing.”

“Good deeds?” The crowd blinked collectively.

Virtue was almost foreign to Sin City. Its inhabitants knew only evil. The city wouldn’t have been called such otherwise. 

“Correct. Soon after arriving in the city, he saved a poisoned middle-aged cultivator on the verge of dying. Afterwards, he ran into trouble with the city guards, but provided critical care for a guard commander’s wife when that was cleared up.”

The information wasn’t all that important for the upper echelons in the city lord manor, so few had previously paid attention. However, as Jiang Chen’s star shone brighter and brighter in the selection, they reached back to unearth more about him. Even Xie Wushang’s curiosity was piqued now.

“Which guard commander?”

“Yong Peng of the third battalion, eleventh squad.”

“Do you have more precise intelligence?” Xie Wushang’s interest was thoroughly roused.

The city lord manor had a vast information network. Since they’d discovered the matter in the first place, they’d naturally acquired minute details as well.

The official quickly narrated the whole affair from beginning to end, adding, “Yong Peng’s wife had a strange illness. He hired many pill emperors to diagnosis his wife, but none found the root of her disease. For some reason, he invited a young and unfamiliar face, but lo and behold, he struck luck this time!”

Xie Wushang stayed silent for a long while. “This young man is truly something.”

“Isn’t he? Although, it’s no surprise so many pill emperors failed to diagnose the wife. Few would associate her issue with his cultivation.”

“This means this young kid is truly a good seed.”

“City Lord, we’ve really struck gold this time!”

Xie Wushang smiled wryly. “Sadly, the chief warden is the one who requested the selection. He’ll be in charge of those qualified, even if they belong to the city lord manor in name.”

The officials looked on with envy.

“City Lord, isn’t that a lucky break for these fellows? Is the chief going to grant them freedom?”

“The chief must have his reason to value the selection so highly. It might really be a great chance for these guys!”

No matter how high their cultivation, freedom was the number one dream for Winterdraw’s inhabitants. Unlike outsiders, they were deprived of it from birth, hence it was their greatest obsession.

The officials were greater than the candidates in status and cultivation, but jealousy crept in at the thought of the latter’s possible opportunity.

Xie Wushang remarked placidly, “The chief’s intentions aren’t for the likes of us to speculate. Do you think freedom will fall into their lap on its own? Even if offered the chance, they’ll have to pay a price to match, so there’s no need to be envious.”

The officials nodded in agreement after a moment of contemplation. The chief warden had ruled over Winterdraw for many years. When had he ever been so generous? There was no free lunch in the world.

True, opportunity was essential, but strength and luck were also equally important. No matter how great the opportunity, one couldn’t grasp it without enough strength.

The elimination stage proceeded unimpeded.

The fighting raged fiercer as it went on. The first round had been unremarkable, but things were much more heated now that the top thirty two vied for a spot in the last sixteen.  Few candidates held an overwhelming victory, especially this far in the competition. Most duels were intense and evenly-fought. Jiang Chen’s easy victory was an exception. 

Jiang Chen observed the developments, serene despite the increasingly furious battles, ready to tackle any opponent in his way.

One more. One last victory and I’ll be one of elite round’s winners. His eyes suddenly gleamed. He looked at a certain place inside the hall, his gaze skimming over light as a feather before looking away. It seemed that, hidden in a corner, the city lord had been observing them from the start.

The curtains finally fell on the second round’s bitter head-to-heads, leaving only sixteen left. 

“The second round is complete. The sixteen of you have won the right to participate in the final round. Half among you will become the lucky ones to enjoy wealth, a title, and some of the best the city lord manor has to offer. Just like the last time, you have four hours to rest. We’ll begin immediately after!”

It was rather a short respite, especially for the many exhausted after two bouts. For them, four hours were a small window to recuperate. The candidates spared no expense at this stage. Those with depleted stamina tossed various recovery pills into their mouths.

The final goal was almost within reach, so no one was willing to give up. Everyone wanted to be among the last ones standing.

Jiang Chen was rather relaxed in comparison. He hadn’t been greatly taxed thus far. His second fight had been a little more complicated than the first one, but still not enough to really test him.

At this moment, at least half of the other fifteen secretly prayed to not draw him for their last opponent. They’d been cowed by his earlier display.

Fours hours flew by.

The supervisor smiled. “Alright, I wish I could give you more time, but we’re on a tight schedule. The rules are the rules. I hope you’re back to your best condition! We’ll now proceed with the final bouts. I don’t have to tell you what winning entails. Now, let’s attribute new numbers and draw lots for the pairings.”

To avoid confusion, fresh numbers were allocated after every round. The candidates were assigned a number between one and sixteen. Jiang Chen was number six, and he drew number nine.

“Tsk tsk, thank goodness the two of them have run into each other!”

“Haha, great, a clash between a tiger and a dragon. That’s one less problem for us to worry about.”

Number nine had also been a strong force in the previous two rounds. His first opponent had been killed in one blow, and the second effortlessly blown out of the ring.

Like the young lord, he was one of the four rising stars, so the rest sighed in relief. Not having to face these two fearsome combatants lessened their burden. It was the best news possible for them.

Number nine’s coolly arrogant gaze landed a few times on Jiang Chen. Although proud, he was still on his toes against his opponent.

As for Jiang Chen, he’d already taken note of number nine before. If he recalled correctly, the man was called Su Hong and he possessed immeasurably deep fighting prowess.

The man hadn’t gone all out in the previous two bouts, so Jiang Chen didn’t know much about his fighting style. But that was of little consequence as for him as no opponent was worth paying particular attention to. Su Hong was a tall obstacle for others, but not much to speak of in front of the young lord.

The upcoming duel enlivened the officials.

“A clash between these two will be the pinnacle of this competition!”

“Haha, this Jiang fellow’s finally met his match. I heard that young Su Hong’s risen very fast in the past twenty years. He’s apparently in the top three of the island’s younger generation. He’s well-known among the jianghu.”

“Indeed, he’s made quite a name for himself. It’s surprising to see him willing to participate!”

“Is that truly so surprising? Despite his fame, he’s nothing more than a vagrant wandering cultivator. On Winterdraw, you need a faction in your corner, so the city lord’s a sensible choice.”

“Haha, the fight promises to be spectacular.”

“City Lord, what do you think? What are Jiang Chen’s chances of winning?” 

Xie Wushang was in no hurry to speak. He remained silent for a long time before sighing quietly. “Su Hong isn’t bad, but my guts tell me he stands no chance whatsoever.”

“What?” Had they heard wrong? Su Hong was a strong and famous genius among the island’s juniors. How could he stand no hope of winning against an obscure Jiang Chen from nowhere?

The city lord’s baffling judgment was too difficult for them to swallow.

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