In contrast to Hua Ming, Jiang Chen maintained his calm, not losing his composure even when caught in a hostile situation. He stood tall with a relaxed expression, lacking the usual nerves or fear that one in trouble would usually possess.
His presence was arresting. The crowd couldn’t help but think that perhaps he really was someone important.
Even the shopkeeper reconsidered Jiang Chen carefully. He’d spent his life observing customers and had his own ways of reading people. This young man, however, he couldn’t get a handle on.
Jiang Chen wasn’t dressed particularly opulently and thus didn’t look like a noble scion from the Ten Divine Nations. But his temperament, calm attitude, and irresistible presence on the other hand, did indeed resemble those of the aristocrats.
The shopkeeper couldn't come to a conclusion just yet.
The Northcrown Five were wandering cultivators and had a fair bit of status in the jianghu. But naturally the store couldn’t possibly risk offending an aristocrat of the Ten Divine Nations for some wandering cultivators.
Everyone knew the major factions in the Ten Divine Nations were highly, unreasonably protective of their own. If he got on a noble house’s bad side, the shop might not survive the troubles that came after.
The Northcrown Five were merely his old customers. They might have spent more money here than other customers, but the shop didn’t have that strong a relationship with them when it came down to things.
Indecision set in.
The hook-nosed cultivator stared at Jiang Chen with a sneer. “Do you know how many claim to be from the Ten Divine Nations, kid? You’re far from the first! Tell us who you are if you’ve got the balls to. If you’re someone we five can’t afford to offend, we’ll get ourselves out of here. If you’re an imposter, then I’ll teach you a hell of a lesson today!”
These cultivators spent all their time busting their chops in the world. They’d learned to speak in whatever way the occasion warranted. They were experts in reading the room. His words sounded impressive, but one had to read between the lines. He appeared to be quite resolute, but in truth, he had left some wiggle room for himself.
It was a perfect illustration of bullying easy victims and fearing those that were stronger. From the way the ultimatum fell easily out of the man’s mouth, it was clear that this was the Northcrown Five’s usual modus operandi.
The shopkeeper changed his tune as well. In a purposefully neutral tone, he said, “Dear friend, this humble shop has come to be known in Oriole Valley. It was established hundreds of years ago. If you truly are from the Ten Divine Nations, we are honored by your presence. We’ll willingly give you not one, but dozens or even hundreds of Bluesmoke Jade. It will be our gift to our friends from high places. Who might you be?”
This was another probe to compel Jiang Chen to reveal his true identity.
All of the customers elsewhere in the shop had stopped what they were doing to watch the drama play out. Those around Jiang Chen backed away to keep a safe distance from him. No one was stupid. They could be harmed on accident if a fight broke out.
As a result, Jiang Chen and Hua Ming were left in the center of the shop. They stuck out like a sore thumb.
Hua Ming quailed inwardly. He was a young boy after all, spending his days wandering around Oriole Valley. Half his time was devoted to begging, and the other half wasted on nothing of importance. In everyone’s eyes, he was a dirty, stray dog. No one cared enough to spare him a glance.
However, he was currently the center of everyone’s attention. Despite the fear filling his heart, he managed to stay strong against the pressure.
I’m just a little beggar. When have I stood at such heights? I’ve never been the center of so many people’s attention before! I don’t care who this man is. I’ll stand strong by his side! My life isn’t worth much. Even if I die here, I’ll die having tasted glory for once in my life!
Hua Ming had made up his mind resolutely.
All his life, he’d been on the receiving end of scorn and disdain. He was a nobody that no one respected. He’d never even been treated like a human being. But now, the spotlight was on him because of this man. People no longer looked at him with disrespect, but with something different in their eyes.
It made Hua Ming’s blood boil to be seen and valued. Even if he died at this moment, at least he would’ve shone brightly for once!
Jiang Chen threw the shopkeeper a look. As for the Northcrown Five, he didn't spare them even a glance. An aloof smile tugged at his lips.
“If I say that I’m not from the Ten Divine Nations, shopkeeper, am I going to be carried out of this shop as a dead man?” Of course he could tell that there was an edge to the shopkeeper’s polite words. “Is this how you run your business? If the other customers were in my place, would you decapitate them without hesitation?”
“You’ve said enough already, kid,” the hook-nosed cultivator scoffed. “If you can’t prove that you’re from the Ten Divine Nations, you have no one else to blame for what’s coming to you.”
Jiang Chen huffed out a laugh and shrugged. “Is that a threat?”
The man glared at Jiang Chen. “You can take it as one.”
“So I’m unlucky today. So be it. What are you going to do? Show me what you’ve got.” Jiang Chen didn’t take the threat seriously at all. He knew that the more timid he was, the bolder the man would become.
The shopkeeper naturally didn’t want a fight to break out in his shop. And judging from the young man’s unusual calm in the face of threats, he couldn’t tell if the calmness was merely a pretense, or if it was backed up by real power.
If there was a fight, and the young man was from the Ten Divine Nations, his shop was as good as doomed.
“Wait,” the shopkeeper hurriedly spoke up. “This is a fight between the two of you. This humble shop should not get involved. The innocent customers should be left out of it as well. If you want to resolve this problem through force, you can request Oriole Valley to arrange a fight to the death. A private fight within this humble shop won’t be approved by the authorities.”
When everything was said and done, the shopkeeper was a businessman. He was reconsidering his options as the situation had devolved. He knew that if the fight happened on his premises, it was going to have a negative impact no matter the results.
Jiang Chen broke out in laughter.
The shopkeeper was a wiley one alright. He was trying to shirk his responsibilities!
“That’s where you’re wrong, shopkeeper. When it comes down to it, your unfair treatment was the source of our conflict. Do you think you’ll be able to disown all responsibility by saying that?”
The more the shopkeeper tried to pretend the conflict had nothing to do with him, the more Jiang Chen was going to hold him accountable.
The shopkeeper grew even more suspicious because Jiang Chen’s aggressive attitude. Perhaps the young man truly is someone important. Why would he be so fearless otherwise? If the young man was only pretending, he was too good an actor.
The hook-nosed cultivator was displeased as he’d expected full support from the shop, but before anything of consequence happened, the shopkeeper had pulled away and cut ties with him. This wasn’t someone he could count on!
“Let’s go to Oriole Valley and fight to the death. Do you dare take the challenge?” Fueled by his anger, the cultivator boldly took a stand. The Northcrown Five had never lost in a fight before.
Even that didn't get a rise out of Jiang Chen. “I’m not interested in traveling that far,” he remarked nonchalantly. “Whatever you want to do, do it here and now. Even if the authorities finds fault, you won’t be the only culprits. What’s there for you to be afraid of?”
The five cultivators were getting confused. What was Jiang Chen trying to do? If he wasn’t afraid of even Oriole Valley, how powerful were the forces supporting him?
Out of everyone in the room, Hua Ming was the most thrilled. He was young, but had a quick mind. He could tell that both the Northcrown Five and the shopkeeper were getting wary of Jiang Chen. Glee filled his heart. He had been looked down on for years, but the glory he gained today more than made up for it!
He did his best to calm himself and exclaimed, “You people are blind! Don’t you know who my employer is? You bullies who target only the weak may scare off regular men, but this is my employer you’re facing off with! You’ve bitten off more than you can chew! What are you going to do, huh? Do you really dare see who’s tougher between your or my employer??”
Hua Ming held his head high. Throughout his life, he’d learned to do only two things. One was to fake a smile. The other was to flatter others. Now, he’d learned a third thing today, and that was to speak confidently with his back straight and his chest out. Damn, it felt good!
Outside the shop, the street was crowded with onlookers. Drama attracted people faster than the plague could spread.
A team of officers pushed past the crowd into the shop. The captain of the team gave each party a glance before turning to the shopkeeper. “What’s going on here, Shopkeeper Kang?”
The shopkeeper was stuck between a rock and a hard place. What he least wanted was for a fight to break out. For a business man, peaceful profits always came first. He put on a bright smile when he saw the officers. “Great timing, Captain Qiu! If you can resolve this problem, that will be ideal...”
He relayed what had happened.
Lieutenant Qiu frowned slightly once he understood the situation. He could tell the shop was to blame for not dealing with the issue properly to begin with. He turned to Jiang Chen. The young man had a striking appearance, gracious bearing, and gave off an uncommon air.
He didn't dare to show preferential treatment to either side. He greeted Jiang Chen respectfully and requested evenly, “This isn’t a serious conflict, my friend. Are you willing to take my advice and let it go?”
“What about the jade?” asked Jiang Chen.
“Whoever came first has ownership. Since you picked it up first, you should have it. However, you still have to pay the full price. What do you say?”
“I already paid.” Jiang Chen glanced at the shopkeeper.
“Yes, he did. He did pay.”
Captain Qiu threw the Northcrown Five a look. “You people should take a step back too. Oriole Valley has overcome many challenges over the years to be where it is now. Stop stirring up trouble all the time.”
The captain wasn’t a fool. He knew that Oriole Valley could afford to offend the wandering cultivators. But this unknown young man, on the other hand, might be someone the Oriole Valley couldn’t afford to antagonize as well.