After a rather roundabout circuit of conversation, Elder He came to the crucial question with a chuckle. “Brother Shao Yuan, it’s a shame that you're a mere wandering cultivator with your talent. Since you and Qingsang get along so fabulously, we would like to invite you to join House Yan. It will be beneficial to your development if you do.”
They had finally come to the most important topic.
Jiang Chen smiled faintly. “Honorable elders, I’ve always admired the Ten Divine Nations. My cultivation simply hasn’t offered me a good advancement opportunity until now. Therefore, I am thankful for your courteous invitation. May I ask though, what role would I be joining the house in?
“I have no interest to do so as a servant of any kind, but I might consider it as a guest expert or advisor.” These words actually a way of advancing in the form of retreat.
The two elders exchanged a look. Despite his honest and simple appearance, this young man was difficult to fool. They had indeed wanted to mislead and dupe him into becoming a servant for House Yan, but the young man’s clear mind had enabled him to maintain a bottom line and his own goals in the face of a faction of the Ten Divine Nations.
“Haha, as long as you show off your talents after you join, we have more than enough room for an extra honored guest!”
The Ten Divine Nations’ factions didn't easily invite others to be their guests. Only those with special expertise in certain fields had that luxury and right.
“Ah, if I’m given that position, then I am perfectly happy to affiliate myself under House Yan’s wing.” Jiang Chen offered a little underhanded praise.
Suddenly, there was loud arguing from outside.
“Yan He, Yan Quan, come out here this instant!” The thunderous voice came from House Xiahou’s Elder Geng. His attempt to cause a ruckus back at Yellow Dragon Ridge had been unsuccessful.
“What’s he doing here?” The elders exchanged a wary look. Though they were elders of House Yan, they nevertheless possessed a reflexive fear of House Xiahou.
“Let’s go out and see.”
They couldn’t exactly avoid Xiahou Geng now that they’d been named. He was at their doorstep!
“Why are you so angry, Brother Geng? Come, have a seat.” Elder He ignored the old man’s dangerous expression, returning only a smile.
“I’m not interested in your fake civility,” Elder Geng replied darkly. “Call out your house’s Yan Qingsang.”
“What has Qingsang done?” Elder He couldn’t resist asking.
“Hmph! I suspect that he’s the culprit responsible for ambushing Xiahou Xi. My investigation has told me that Yan Qingsang’s made a lot of money off of his excavations. I wonder, did he get all that jade by himself?”
Xiahou Geng’s information gathering was admittedly quite capable. It wasn’t easy to find out so much detail in so short an amount of time.
Elders Quan traded a look with Elder He. “Brother Geng,” he smiled wryly, “how could Qingsang’s strength possibly threaten Xiahou Xi? I think you’ve listened to too much hearsay.”
“Ridiculous. We asked many people in our investigation. They told us that Yan Qingsang appeared near the place where Xiahou Xi disappeared.”
This logic was almost irrational in its rashness. Was a passerby really classifiable as the culprit?
Yan Qingsang was quickly summoned and informed of the accusation. “Honored elders,” he protested, “you think far too highly of me. My cultivation is far too insufficient to ambush Xiahou Xi. Would I really be Yan Qingsang if I could beat him?”
He was indeed considerably weaker than the late cultivator.
“Hmph. Why were you nearby then?” Xiahou Geng probed icily.
“Where do you mean by ‘nearby’, Elder Geng? I’ve been to many places over the past month. I never stay in a particular spot for very long, and I exited early to boot. I don’t think the time matches very well, right? I haven’t seen him.” Yan Qingsang’s denial was clear, logical, and evidence-based.
Even Xiahou Geng found it difficult to rebut the youth. Though the old man was displeased, he had no proof with which to take further action. His interrogation thus complete, he stormed out in a huff.
House Yan could do nothing about Xiahou Geng’s overbearing behavior. Elders He and Quan were both quite frustrated. They’d been called out by name, but couldn’t do much more than sulk.
The jade festival was over, but the fervor in Miracle City surrounding ancient jade didn't dissipate.
Every jade store in the city was bustling with activity. Every now and then, there was the explosive news of yet another discovery of ancient jade – sometimes of supreme rank.
Talk of so-and-so finding another primordial heritage was the fastest type to propagate.
The entire city had lost itself to this crazed atmosphere. Auctions and sales happened all over the place. Even House Yan’s contingent couldn't avoid being affected by the fervor. They joined in the activity several times.
Certainly, there’d been a small group of lucky winners in the ancient jade festival who’d received amazing heritages. Many were admiring and jealous of their fortune. Some of these heritages were so potent and valuable that not even the Ten Divine Nations’ geniuses had anything like them.
“Big news, big news! Have you heard? The princess of the Bluesmoke Isles is looking for a prince consort. The imperial family promises that if a Ten Divine Nations young genius manages to win her heart, he will be presented with a piece of ancient jade of the best possible quality. It will contain a primordial heritage that’s difficult to come across in ten thousand years.”
Miracle City was thrown into an even greater frenzy after the news.
The marriage of a princess was an important event. That it was taking place after the ancient jade festival made it even more so. The exciting news fermented in the hearts of many of the young scions. They could no longer sit still.
At House Yan’s residence, Yan Qingsang was a bit eager himself. “Brother Shao Yuan, do you think I’m a good match for Bluesmoke’s princess?”
“Sure, and it would be to Bluesmoke’s advantage rather than yours. But I trust that many of the geniuses who are here think the same as you. They might not be interested in the princess much, but they definitely lust after ancient jade. The princess seems more like an accessory in this case.” Jiang Chen’s words rang true.
“What are you saying? Do you think I’m the type of guy to sell out my love for profit? But if the princess looks like a toad, then I think I’ll have to pass.”
“Why don’t you go see what she looks like? What if she’s as pretty as a fairy, her face worth nations and cities?”
“Haha, I’m a bit worried about that. I’m so handsome that I’m afraid she may fall in love with me at first sight. Wouldn’t I be at a disadvantage then?” Yan Qingsang was mildly narcissistic.
Jiang Chen was at an instant loss for words.
In the inner court of Miracle City’s palace, several representatives of the imperial family were anxiously preparing something. They wanted to take advantage of the golden opportunity offered by the jade festival to maximize Bluesmoke’s reach.
The occasion of a princess picking her consort was momentous enough. Thus, every detail had to be readied to perfection.
A pale eunuch came out from deeper in.
“Imperial Prince, the princess has refused to eat for several days. She seems very resistant to our matchmaking.”
“Haha, Eunuch Jia, you should know the princess’s temperament after serving her all these years. But you’ve served the imperial family for even longer, yes? Which are you more loyal to, the imperial family or the princess?” a middle-aged imperial representative asked with a smile.
The eunuch colored immediately. “The imperial family, of course! My loyalty to the princess is the same, is it not? Considering that she belongs to the imperial family...”
“Haha, the princess… I hope she knows what’s good for her. My royal brother has raised her to her current prominence, but that won’t last if she doesn’t cooperate.”
“She’s not actually part of the imperial bloodline. She doesn’t share our heart and vision,” another imperial relative remarked. “Alas, I wonder what His Majesty is thinking. This princess is as cold as ice. She pretty much ignores anybody. If she wasn’t so pretty, even a dog wouldn’t want to touch her.”
“That’s enough. She was given her status by His Majesty himself. His Majesty has very high hopes for her. She is beautiful and talented. A bit icy, but the large factions’ scions adore that kind of trait, no?”
“Haha, I suppose that’s true. I hear many of those young geniuses are strangely masochistic. They have no interest in easily affectionate girls, and chase after the hard-to-get, frosty ones instead.”
“So our princess should prove quite attractive, then!”
“As long as she goes with the program, of course.”
None of the imperial family members seemed to respect the princess terribly much. In fact, they didn’t seem to value her at all in their discussion.
If the princess wasn’t of the imperial bloodline, did that mean she had been found somewhere?
Within the courtyard of the imperial palace, the Bluesmoke Isles’ princess stood at her windowsill in snow-white robes. She gazed into the distance, her eyes quiet and bleak. It was as if she was entirely separate from the world.
There was an occasional flash of sadness in her muted look, as if some past sorrow racked her remote heart from time to time.
It’s been so many years, and I’m in this far-off land. I wonder if those back home are alright? Did he escape that calamity? The princess had a lot on her mind. Though her body was within the palace, her heart drifted several million miles off.
Even though she was nominally a member of the imperial family, she’d never felt a sense of belonging in all her years here. She missed her homeland, and all the familiar faces that drifted in her memories.