Traveling past the endless seas, Jiang Chen finally returned to the Bluesmoke Isles. His return to Miracle City found it much more bustling than his last visit. He heard wandering cultivators everywhere discussing the jade festival before he even entered the gates. Listening just a little was enough to yield a large helping of information.
“Hua Ming’s information was on point. The Bluesmoke Isles really did successfully invite the Ten Divine Nations’ peoples to the jade festival!” Jiang Chen was mildly astonished at this. Was it because of the Bluesmoke Isles’ prominence, or the value inherent in the ancient jade at the festival?
He guessed the latter was more likely. Otherwise, there wouldn’t have been so many in attendance from the ten nations in the first place. If the Ten Divine Nations’ largest factions have come, has House Yan as well? The youth’s heart quavered. Would Huang’er be with them?
He felt a certain anticipation about it. In theory, the possibility of her presence was extremely slim. But there was a strange thought in his head that it wasn’t totally out of the question.
Perhaps Huang’er has taken note of the name ‘Jiang Huang’ after hearing about Polylore’s bounty?
There had been a very good reason for Jiang Chen to use that pseudonym. It hinted at his arrival while keeping himself hidden. He firmly believed that Huang’er would be astute enough to take note of this fact. They had that much mutual understanding, at least.
It seems that the ancient jade festival will be more interesting than I first thought.
Still, he refrained from going out to gather any information himself. He chose instead to head for the inn he’d lodged at previously. Hua Ming was there waiting for him.
How is his cultivation doing after a few months?
The boy had spent the past few months laying low. He’d fully heeded Jiang Chen’s advice on the refinement of his own mental fortitude. It’d had a significant effect on him. When Jiang Chen saw him again, the immaturity was gone from his face. Much of his former flippancy and glibness had been pared away.
Though the boy wasn’t yet reliable, he’d grown a noticeable amount. The process had also honed his energy and keenness – characteristics unique to the young and vigorous.
“You’re finally back, master!” Hua Ming was overjoyed to see Jiang Chen again. He had yearned day and night for his master’s triumphant return.
And now, his honored master had come back to him.
“It looks like you haven’t forgotten my instructions, Hua Ming. Well done. Your mentality has been honed quite a bit, and your martial dao hasn’t suffered either. With a couple years of training, you can overcome your late start completely. In fact, you may be able to surpass those who started earlier than you. It all depends on your heart.”
Jiang Chen wasn’t worried about Hua Ming’s talent. The boy’s mentality was a bigger concern. If Hua Ming didn't change his mindset, no amount of talent could rescue him. The late start for the boy was a chief sticking point.
But it seemed that Hua Ming quite cherished this life-changing opportunity.
“Master, you’ve given me a new life. Of course I will listen to your instructions. Oh, registration for the jade festival is about to close soon! You came to Miracle City to attend it, yes? There won’t be any more spots left if you don’t go register!”
“Hmm? When does it end?”
“In another four days,” Hua Ming replied anxiously. “If you hadn’t come back, master, I would’ve registered in your stead.”
“Haha, that’s plenty of time. Have you picked up any important information during this period?”
“I hear the Ten Divine Nations’ factions have all reached Miracle City already. But they live in very discreet spaces, and aren’t seen unless they choose to show themselves.”
“What else did you find out?” Jiang Chen asked.
“Only things related to the festival. I hear that the Bluesmoke Isles is placing a lot of importance on this year’s. Its scale is unrivaled in the past three thousand years – apparently in order to please the guests from the Ten Divine Nations. It’s said that if the Bluesmoke Isles can satisfy the Ten Divine Nations, maybe they’ll raise Bluesmoke up as the eleventh divine nation in a couple of years!”
“Haha, that’s just exaggerated gossip, isn’t it?” Jiang Chen didn't find that particularly credible.
Perhaps the Bluesmoke Isles was a bit stronger than the Rejuvenation Isles, but a single ancient jade festival was unlikely to be enough to garner the Ten Divine Nations’ support in such a weighty undertaking.
If it were that easy to become a divine nation, then the title itself would be a lie.
All ten of the divine nations had various trials and illustrious histories beneath their belts. The Bluesmoke Isles was several levels below them.
Perhaps this was a smokescreen deployed by Bluesmoke for its benefit. It could lord over its neighbors with the reputation alone, even if the elevation turned out to be false.
Jiang Chen didn’t care about the specifics. Huang’er was a much more pressing topic of interest for him. Was she here? Because visitors from the Ten Divine Nations were honored guests, it was virtually impossible to find out where they lived. Still, it wasn’t a bad idea for him to take a walk around town to try his luck.
“Hua Ming, I’m planning to take part in the ancient jade festival. What do I need to register?”
“It depends on who you are. The largest factions from the Ten Divine Nations have several free entries per house. Factions from other isles have a few as well, varying depending on the strength of the isle in question. Wandering cultivators will need a security deposit and a registration fee. There’s a test of some sort as well, and an age restriction.”
“An age restriction too?”
“Yes. The festival isn’t supposed to be a free lunch. There’s no way they would let ancient, secluded experts join. Won’t Bluesmoke be robbed clean otherwise? The festival allows only geniuses below sixty to attend.”
A cultivator below sixty was like a mortal in their teenage or twenty-something years. Geniuses in this age bracket were considered youthful. It didn’t apply to Jiang Chen.
“Keep cultivating at the inn, Hua Ming. I’m going to sign up and poke around for some information.”
“Yes, master.” Hua Ming agreed readily.
Jiang Chen exited the inn for the street. Pedestrians were denser than on his last visit. Miracle City had six places to register at. He found a reasonably close location.
Alas, the line for registration extended out the entrance. Since every other location was probably the same, Jiang Chen got in line.
It took over two hours for it to be his turn.
Each person admitted into Bluesmoke had papers to that effect. Only once their authenticity was verified was a registration accepted.
Age of the bones was the first to be tested. There was no duplicity possible on this front. Only someone under sixty could move on. After that, a series of other tests were performed, largely involving knowledge about ancient history and jade. This was no problem at all for Jiang Chen.
He quickly passed through.
“You will receive your right to a registered spot once you pay a security deposit of two hundred thousand sky spirit stones. Non-refundable, of course.”
The ‘security deposit’ was the same as a registration fee. The ancient jade festival would span an entire month; a registered entrant could purchase as much jade as he liked during this time. If the value of his winnings exceeded the registration fee, that was his fortune.
If it was far off in the other direction, then he would eat the loss.
The security deposit was almost exorbitant, to be sure. It was hard for the typical wandering cultivator to earn it all back within a month. How much did unidentified jade ore retail for? The largest was only a thousand sky spirit stones.
Two hundred thousand meant two hundred pieces of the largest ore — an extremely difficult task. There was a glut of contestants, and thus fierce competition.
However, Jiang Chen thought it completely worthwhile. Two hundred thousand sky spirit stones wasn’t much at all to the current him. But the scale of the ancient jade festival was sure to mean that a huge mining quarry would be opened to the public. This was a great chance to strike rich.
He happily paid out the two hundred thousand required to receive a registrant medallion. Now that he was registered, he was in no hurry to return to the inn. An excursion around the city would do him some good.
He was especially interested in dropping by the most extravagant of bars and brothels. The high-class houses of ill repute were the most popular gathering spots for youths of all stripes.
He wasn’t there to cavort with the pretty girls, but to gather information. The young geniuses from the Ten Divine Nations were sure to prowl out and about. What places did young people favor the most?
Taverns and whorehouses, of course, and the higher class the establishment, the better.
It took only the slightest bit of asking around to find out the most famous purveyors of such services. Jade Revel Lodge was the closest. In fact, it was in his direct vicinity.
The very name evoked licentiousness. Apparently, the girls of this lodge were famous in all of the Bluesmoke Isles.
Moreover, it had exclusive possession of fox-girls from the Azure Fox Tribe. Even in Myriad Abyss Island, the race was an elusive one. The males of the tribe were a perverted bunch, but the females were uniformly bewitchingly exquisite women.
Because Azure Foxes weren’t known for their martial prowess, fox-girls tended to congregate to brothels and other such locations. Since they were also scarce, every fox-girl was a valuable prize. And yet the Jade Revel Lodge had more than a dozen of these beauties! This was the source of its fame in Bluesmoke.