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“Apologies, Elder Geng. We have no obligation to do as you say.”

“Agreed. We already asked around ourselves. No one in our family has crossed paths with Xiahou Xi.”

“Doaist Geng, most of the houses from Sunrise Divine Nation had no contact with him either. A few did see him hours ago, but he was secretive and appeared to be avoiding others.”

“Let it go, Doaist Geng. It’s an event of thousands of people. A few accidents were bound to happen.”

The loss hadn’t happened to them, naturally they weren’t taking it seriously. Death wasn’t a problem as long as it happened to other people. That was how the martial dao world had always been.

Casualties in other factions were none of their concerns. They would sooner mock House Xiahou for their misfortune than worry for them. 

After all, the Ten Divine Nations weren’t a united front. Conflicts and rivalry between them meant that the web of relationships was a delicate one. Many within the Ten Divine Nations considered Xiahou Xi’s death nothing more than an interesting turn of events. That was why the three houses of Polylore Divine Nation had been mocked for their failure on Winterdraw Island.

A young man walked out from the crowd as the tension in the air grew palpable. He meekly approached Elder Geng. 

“Senior Geng, I saw this storage ring when I was leaving. I picked it up because I didn’t know who it belonged to. I thought it was just a lucky find. Perhaps the ring...”

“Give it to me,” Elder Geng rushed out. If the lost ring did belong to Xiahou Xi, something bad must’ve happened. The odds that the genius had survived were slim.

The young man was a scion from a small faction. He nervously presented the storage ring. Elder Geng’s face fell as soon as he set his eyes on it. The design of the ring was unique to House Xiahou. He took it for a close consideration. It was Xiahou Xi’s.

Elder Geng flew into rage, his expression dark. “Who was it? Who killed him?! Admit your crime now! Coward, you coward! What kind of person would be scared to take his victim’s possessions after killing him? Show yourself and let me look at you with my own eyes!” Elder Geng had forgotten himself in his fury.

Yan Qingsang couldn’t be more shocked. He hadn’t exited for long, had he? He’d felt guilty for leaving Brother Shao Yuan to face Xiahou Xi on his own. The deed had weighed heavily on his conscience. He’d been pleasantly surprised to see Jiang Chen make it out alive.

Now, the feeling gave way to ecstasy and shock. He moved closer to Jiang Chen and transmitted, “Did you do it?”

Jiang Chen played dumb. “Huh? What do you mean?”

Yang Qingsang paused. A crooked smile pulled at his lips when he realized what Jiang Chen was playing at. He was still stunned, but didn’t push. He schooled his expression into indifference and turned his attention elsewhere.

Deep within his heart, he couldn’t be more satisfied. Xiahou Xi was overweeningly arrogant. Yan Qingsang would be lying if he claimed not to hate the rival genius, and in fact would be the first to applaud if the fellow died. 

He wanted to poke fun at Yan Jinnan. “Is this the man you’ve been fawning over? He was killed with no one the wiser!”

Given the circumstances, he stayed silent.

Elder Geng was furious, but there was nothing he could do. He had no leads, no information, no evidence. Any of the contestants could be the killer.

And, the killer was cunning. He’d made the decision to discard Xiahou Xi’s ring instead. Whoever picked it up could serve as his red herring.

Elder Geng peered at the youth who’d turned in the ring. No matter how he looked, this young man couldn’t have been capable of killing Xiahou Xi. He scowled at the young man. “What’s your name?”

“This lowly man is Yanqing.”

“Alright, I’ve heard you. You may go now.” Elder Geng pocketed the ring. He had no intention of giving a reward for the information.

The youth gave up on being rewarded and scrambled away. He was rather worried that Elder Geng would turn on him if he overstayed his welcome.

Xiahou Xi’s death caused a significant ripple, but not as big as the incident on Winterdraw Island. There was only one victim, and the Bluesmoke Isles had forewarned the participants.

Members of House Yan were curious, but they kept up a polite front. They didn’t dare to provoke House Xiaohou at time like this. Elder He and Elder Quan led the group of scions away.

Yan Qingsang grabbed Jiang Chen. “Follow me, Brother Shao Yuan.”

It was Jiang Chen’s goal to get close to House Yan to begin with. He went along. “Stop dragging me around. I’ll go with you.”

Yan Qingsang snickered and gave Yan Jinnan a taunting look. “How about we check our finds now?”

“Why not?”

Jiang Chen messaged him hurriedly, “Let him take out his ores first. Don’t let them see everything you’ve got. You only have to win.”

He’d discovered close to three hundred pieces of ancient raw jadeite. According to his estimation, anything more than twenty was enough to win the bet. Yan Jinnan and the others had no talent in detecting ancient jade. It would take a miracle for them to win.

House Yan soon found their way to an ore processing shop.

Yan Qingsang won with only fifteen pieces of ancient jade. Despite the large amount of ore Yan Jinnan had discovered, most were of no value. He did acquire about a dozen ores containing ancient jade, but the quality was mediocre at best. The other two performed even worse.

As for Yan Qingsang, he presented fifteen ores containing ancient jade. He was the clear winner among the four of them. The thirty million stones were his.

Yan Jinnan and the other two cursed and swore, but they didn’t dare to go back on their words. House Yan’s family law was no joke.

One could lose, but one had to lose with dignity.

Elder He and Elder Quan were surprised by Yan Qingsang’s finds. They exchanged a puzzled look. Once they were back at the manor, the two old men summoned Yan Qingsang.

“You’ve done well in the jade festival, Qingsang,” greeted Elder He. “Congratulations on your remarkable performance and winning the thirty million stones.”

“Hehe, what Brother Shao Yuan taught me about recognizing ancient jade is useful. They had to admit their defeat. Elder He, Shao Yuan’s a wandering cultivator from a humble background. He’s always wanted to gain a foothold in the jianghu. With his talents and familial heritage, he’s bound to make a name for himself. Perhaps he can be of help to House Yan. What do you think?”

Elder He was surprised. “Do you mean you didn’t win out of luck, but with the methods he taught you?”

“Not out of luck!” Yan Qingsang was honest with them. Luck might be useful in the short-term, but no one could rely on luck alone for a lifetime.

“Alright. What do you think, Elder Quan?” The truth spoke the loudest. Elder He was growing curious about this friend of Yan Qingsang’s.

“If the wandererdidn’t befriend Qingsang with ulterior motives, I believe that he can be of use to us,” opined Elder Quan. “With what he is capable of, any other families would gladly bring him into their fold.”

“What did you plan to do originally, Qingsang?” Elder He asked curiously.

“I wanted to invite him to join my side. After seeing what he’s capable of, I believe it’ll be a great loss to House Yan if we don’t keep him around.”

The two elders shared a look and waved a hand at him. “You may go, Qingsang. This isn’t a trivial matter. We’ll have to discuss it first.”

The two were shrewd foxes who’d lived for a long time. They wouldn’t make a decision lightly.

Once Yan Qingsang was out of earshot, Elder He sighed. “Yan Qingsang’s a strange one in the family. He’s at odds with the other geniuses, but close to a non-related wandering cultivator. I suspect that he’s gained even more than what he showed us.”

“Forget it, the house didn’t require them to turn in their finds,” Elder Quan spoke up. “Let him have the jade. If he has an encounter that helps him stand out from the geniuses, it’s a good thing for the family. To be honest, even though there are several geniuses with better talent in cultivation than Qingsang, none of them can compare to him in backbone, magnanimity, and grit.”

Elder He paused. “You think so as well?”

Elder Quan nodded. “I do. We may as well turn a blind eye to some of his actions. But who exactly is this Shao Yuan?”

“How about we question the young man and remind him to stay in line?” suggested Elder He.

“We can question him, but not interrogate him.” Elder Quan was cautious. “Young men like him were prideful. If he finds our attitudes hostile, it can do more harm than good.”

Elder He contemplated deeply. In the end, he nodded. “You’re right. It’ll be good if someone like him is on our side.”

Jiang Chen was called into the room not long after. He hid a smile. Yan Qingsang must’ve expressed his intention to recruit Jiang Chen and asked permission from the two elders.

They must’ve summoned him to test the waters. Jiang Chen sharpened his focus.

“It’s Brother Shao Yuan, isn’t it? I hear from Yan Qingsang that your secret method greatly helped him in searching for ancient jade. It’s a marvel that you’ve inherited such a remarkable talent. This old man is impressed.”

These were empty pleasantries. Jiang Chen nodded and smiled in response, but he didn’t say anything.

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