Jiang Chen couldn’t bear to see Yan Jinnan’s deferential attitude, but it wasn’t his place to interfere. Instead, he focused his gaze upon the thin youth. This House Yan scion was evidently being forced against his will.
A single round of toasts later, the youth put his cup down and raised a cupped fist salute. “Friends, I have a few matters to attend to. Please excuse me.” He motioned to leave as soon as he finished saying this farewell.
Yan Jinnan’s face darkened. “What are you doing, Qingsang?”
The lanky youth’s name was Yan Qingsang. As a young genius of his house, his position was possibly even lower than Yan Jinnan’s. His heart was in the right place though, and he was a straightforward sort. He couldn’t stand Yan Jinnan’s obsequious behavior and thus was taking his leave early.
“Brother Jinnan, I haven’t felt well these past few days. Perhaps my inner demons are attacking me. Please suffer this small indiscretion and allow me to return and rest.” Yan Qingsang was filled with a bellyful of displeasure, but he knew this wasn’t the time to get angry. The most he could do was bite it back and take a low posture.
Yan Jinnan was somewhat exasperated. It had taken quite a bit of effort to get Xiahou Xi to come, and for what? For maintaining their social standing, obviously! He didn’t want House Yan’s young geniuses to be pushed out and ostracized by their peers in Eternal Divine Nation.
Why was Yan Qingsang not playing along with him at such a critical time? He wasn’t happy at all.
“Sit down!” Yan Jinnan commanded.
Xiahou Xi laughed softly. “It seems you barely have any authority in House Yan, Yan Jinnan. If you can’t settle affairs at home, why invite the rest of us? Did you want us to come laugh at you?”
Everyone in attendance cackled and jeered. The words added insult to injury; Yan Jinnan’s expression became even darker.
The young geniuses from the other houses had no skin in the game. They peered at Yan Jinnan through supercilious smiles, not a single one interested in interceding for him.
Yan Qingsang became blue in the face. He stood in place, his chest heaving a little. The other two scions of House Yan also glared at him, pressuring him as well as they could.
After an internal struggle, Yan Qingsang exhaled softly. “Sorry, Brother Jinnan. Apologies, everyone.” Raising a cupped fist salute once more, he went down the stairs without turning back.
Yan Jinnan flew into a rage. He stood up and was about to give chase when Polylore’s room door opened.
Ye Zhou marched out, the other geniuses from his divine nation close behind.
“It sure is lively outside,” he smiled. “Fellow geniuses from Eternal Divine Nation, hmm? I am Ye Zhou.”
Everyone from Eternal colored at the name. Even Xiahou Xi had to stand.
Ye Zhou was a genius from Polylore’s strongest house, House Ye. Moreover, he was as well known and reputed as Xiahou Xi’s clan brother, Xiahou Zong.
Even the arrogant genius from House Xiahou was diminished before him.
“Big brother Ye Zhou.” Xiahou Xi’s arrogance was completely gone. His tone became exceedingly humble. “This little brother is Xiahou Xi. My heartfelt greetings.”
“Greetings, big brother Ye Zhou.” All of the geniuses from Eternal Divine Nation raised cupped fist salutes.
Ye Zhou smiled a little. “We are all fellow daoists and travelers. There’s no need for so much courtesy. What a shame that Brother Xiahou Zong hasn’t come today, though. I’ve missed him since our last meeting.”
Xiahou Xi laughed ingratiatingly. “Big brother Zong has often mentioned you as well, big brother Ye Zhou. He says you are one of the few he respects in our generation.”
Ye Zhou was clearly a well-composed individual. He didn’t become puffed up because of Xiahou Xi’s praise. “He rates me too highly then.”
Conveniently enough, the meeting of the two groups covered for Yan Qingsang’s departure. Though Yan Jinnan was still sore about it, there was no place for him to speak now. He awkwardly stood to the side.
Jiang Chen had no interest in listening to the two groups catch up with each other. He glanced at Ye Zhou, committing the young man to memory, then put down what he owed for his drinks and left.
Once outside of the establishment, he saw that Yan Qingsang had gone several miles ahead of him. He caught up quickly with the indignant youth.
“Please give me a moment, friend.” This was no time to be shy. Jiang Chen called out to Yan Qingsang.
The young man in question wasn’t in a good mood. He blinked when he turned around. “Who’re you?”
Jiang Chen smiled a little. “Just a patron at Jade Revel Lodge just now.”
“You followed me?” Yan Qingsang’s eyes widened in fury. He was typically a nice enough person, but events in recent memory had made him extremely irritable. Plus, no one would be happy about being followed.
“Oh, don’t misunderstand!” Jiang Chen waved hurriedly, offering another smile. “I had a business proposition I wanted to be so bold as to ask you about. I’m looking for a reliable partner, you see.”
“Not interested.” As a scion of a great house, Yan Qingsang was uninterested in commercial ventures. Compared to that, Yan Jinnan’s shameless behavior was a much more interesting sticking point. House Yan really was going downhill if that kind of groveling was necessary!
Jiang Chen sighed. “Are all the geniuses from the Ten Divine Nations as patronizing as this? How sad. I have a perfect plan for making a ton of stones. It won’t work if no one recognizes my talent.”
“What kind of ‘perfect plan’ do you have?” Yan Qingsang sneered.
Because Jiang Chen was dressed like a wandering cultivator, the young man from House Yan was rather suspicious whether the stranger had anything of value to offer in the first place.
“Are you interested in hearing about it, friend?” Jiang Chen smiled faintly. “It’s related to the jade festival.”
“No.” Yan Qingsang shook his head, turned around, and set off.
“How absurd. I don’t know exactly where you come from, friend, but I happened to see everything that happened in the Jade Revel Lodge. Your status in the house is quite average, no? And your house is quite average among its peers too. If you’re unhappy about these things, why not take a chance to improve your position? And perhaps your house’s too, in the process.”
Jiang Chen hit several key notes in Yan Qingsang’s heart. It was enough to compel the youth to halt in his tracks.
“What’re you getting at?” Yan Qingsang stared at Jiang Chen coldly.
“The Bluesmoke Isles has placed a lot of importance on this jade festival. Many ancient ruins are being opened up to the public. Aren’t the Ten Divine Nations gathered together here to search for treasure?”
“So what if we are?”
“There you have it then. I’ve a method I inherited from my forefathers to identify ancient jade with striking accuracy. Because I’m a wandering cultivator, I won’t be able to make it out intact with too much treasure. That’s why I want a larger faction I can cooperate with, ideally one with a good sense of right and wrong. After all, I’m not interested in sleeping with the fishes after my usefulness is spent.” Jiang Chen had already made up this speech when he exited the Lodge.
Yan Qingsang scrutinized the purported guru before him more closely.
“Identifying ancient jade? If you have that kind of skill, wouldn’t Bluesmoke be turned upside down by now? You can only trick little children with a lie like that!”
“Haha, none of my ancestors are as talented as I am. It seems I’ve learned it better than any of those before me. I’ve only recently made my way into the world, so I haven’t had time to test extensively yet, but I have profited several times over already. If you don’t believe me, why don’t we try it on any jade store you like?”
“What’s your success rate?” mused Yan Qingsang.
“When most people bet on jade, they rely on their luck alone. The more skillful gamblers might be able to strike gold one in a thousand times. But my method has to do with the uniqueness of my bloodline as well. I can get it right somewhere between one in ten to a hundred.”
Jiang Chen didn’t paint too grand a picture.
“Oh?” Yan Qingsang became more interested. “You sure you’re not making stuff up?”
“Try me.” Jiang Chen smiled faintly.
“Alright. I’d like to see if you really are as good as you say.” Yan Qingsang wanted to see this miraculous skill with his own eyes.
“Pick any jade store you like. You’ll see that I’m not tricking you then.” Jiang Chen was forthright about it because he wanted to win Yan Qingsang’s trust.
The young man from House Yan nodded. “Sure. Like you said, I’ll pick.”
He’d become strangely trusting because of Jiang Chen’s confidence. They strode toward a street with an abundance of jade stores. Such avenues were trivial to find in Miracle City.
Yan Qingsang didn’t head for a large store. Instead, he arbitrarily chose a smaller one. “Here’s fine.”
Jiang Chen nodded. “Alright. If you’re not happy with the place, we can switch anytime.”
“I see no problems with here,” Yan Qingsang chuckled. “If you can find one piece of valuable jade within a hundred, I’ll believe you.”
“I don’t think we’ll need that many. Thirty should be enough. I’ll have to select the ore myself though.”
“Of course,” Yan Qingsang acquiesced readily.
They wandered around the store. Jiang Chen slowly searched the stockpiles on the shelves. There wasn’t much jade that contained ancient heritage in the first place. Sometimes none existed even in a hundred pieces. Therefore, the selection process wasn’t an easy one.
He made one round, then a second.
“The jade here is too mediocre. Shopkeeper, is there any new stock?” asked Jiang Chen.
“There’s a VIP area inside. However, the price will be three times that of here,” the shopkeeper replied.
“Well, let’s go have a look.” Yan Qingsang took the initiative.
Under the guidance of an employee, the two men entered the VIP area. There were significantly fewer people here, though plenty of jade still. As a result, there was much less competition for rifling through the ore.
Jiang Chen nodded slightly to himself, then renewed his search.
It didn’t take long this time. He carefully combed through the stockpiles for an hour before he produced twenty pieces of raw jade. “These will do.”
“Friend, each piece here is three thousand sky spirit stones.”
“I’ll take them. Wrap them up for me.” Yan Qingsang made the purchase without thinking twice. A scion of House Yan didn’t need to care about such a trifling sum.