House Yan’s contingent had planned on returning to the Eternal Divine Nation right after the jade festival. However, its younger generation was champing at the bit to participate in the princess consort selection. The rewards were quite handsome.
The elders conferred among themselves before coming to a decision. Because nothing untoward had happened during the jade festival, another few days wasn’t going to hurt. Why not let the youngsters enjoy themselves in the coming festivities?
If one of them managed to take the princess home with him, so much the better. After all, none of the geniuses who’d come to the jade festival were top talents in the house, apart from Huang’er.
They weren't really eligible to intermarry with the other great houses. If a marriage could be arranged with a second-rate faction like Bluesmoke, the union would offer a psychological and material advantage. Whyever not?
The Bluesmoke Isles played up the atmosphere as much as possible. The process of picking the bridegroom was one of the most disappointingly common – via a martial tournament.
However, such a crude way also tended to draw the most attention.
The requirement to participate was exactly the same as the ancient jade festival. A young genius in the same age range, with the same qualifications. In fact, anyone who’d participated in that festival didn't need to re-register to enter. Those that hadn’t needed only to pass a cursory inspection.
The young geniuses were well and truly riled up.
Rumor and gossip about Bluesmoke’s princess began to circulate. All of them uniformly described her as ravishingly beautiful. Because of this, interest in her grew even more intense.
Jiang Chen felt Yan Qingsang’s palpable enthusiasm over the past few days. He seemed dead set on achieving his goal of winning the princess.
“Brother Shao Yuan, can you be honest with me? How likely do you think I’ll come out on top for this tournament?” the young man asked for what seemed like the eighteenth time.
“I say Brother Yan, you talk too much. If you want to know the answer to that, why not make a real attempt? Haven’t you seen all the geniuses who’ve come from the Ten Divine Nations? If you don’t know which of them will be your fellow competitors, going to see them for yourself is the best course of action.”
“Ah…” Yan Qingsang sighed softly. “Several dozen factions have come from the Ten Divine Nations. About that many of their young geniuses are definitely stronger than me. If I were as strong as you, brother…”
His eyes suddenly lit up at this. He opened his door and peered about, then closed it and returned secretively. “About that Xiahou Xi…” he intoned in a low voice.
Jiang Chen furrowed his brow. “I told you, I didn’t see him.”
“Haha, you were hiding your true strength all this time, eh?” Yan Qingsang punched Jiang Chen’s shoulder playfully with a chuckle. “Still, I’m quite satisfied whenever I remember that arrogant prick is dead.”
He’d been bullied quite a bit by Xiahou Xi. It was immensely gratifying to dwell upon the latter’s ignoble death. The occurrence had taught Yan Qingsang a bit more about his new friend as well.
He’d thought Brother Shao Yuan was simply a knowledgeable scholar of ancient jade. He’d never given much consideration to his brother’s martial prowess. Now he knew that Shao Yuan was superior to him in this aspect as well.
Yan Qingsang had firmly believed that he needed to build true rapport with the young man and bring him into the family fold. Brother Shao Yuan would be a big help in many aspects of his life and future. If his friend made a name for himself someday, Yan Qingsang would share in that honor.
The young man from House Yan sighed, then made an unexpected remark. “Brother, I know you’re somewhat interested in my cousin, but it really is impossible between you two. I hear that Bluesmoke’s princess is dazzling and elegant, comparable in her beauty to the Ten Divine Nations’ sixteen golden hairpins. If I can’t make it, maybe you’ll have a better chance! Aside from a select few guys like Ye Zhou from Polylore, it’s a cinch for you to beat pretty much everyone here!”
A man that could kill Xiahou Xi was sure to be leaps and bounds stronger than his victim. The conjecture above was reasonable in light of that.
Jiang Chen rolled his eyes. “Brother Yan, please don’t play the matchmaker for me. I have other things I’m occupied with. Don’t drag me into this, alright?”
“Come, come,” Yan Qingsang cackled. “I hear they’re officially starting the competition today. Only small fry will be fighting in the beginning, but maybe we’ll see an expert or two as well. Let’s go watch from the sidelines first. There’s a month in this tournament. More skillful cultivators like us should make an entrance later on!”
The place set for the competition was Miracle City’s arena. All twelve stages were opened to the public.
Starting from this day forth, anyone who won ten matches in a row in an arena had the right to present himself to the princess – as stated by the Bluesmoke government. If anyone could remain undefeated after a month, he would be among the suitors available for the princess’s personal selection.
If only one did, he would become the bridegroom by default. If many did, either the princess or an elimination match would remove the extra candidates.
The rules were far from well-defined.
But Jiang Chen saw through the ruse. These arrangements were safeguards against the possibility that the emerging winner wasn’t from the Ten Divine Nations. Bluesmoke’s plans would be all for naught then.
Bluesmoke was clearly planning to use the so-called martial tournament to marry its princess into the Ten Divine Nations, which would increase its own social status.
Jiang Chen was sharp enough to notice Bluesmoke’s noteworthy ambition. It was understandable. Any faction or nation naturally wanted to become stronger. In the world of martial dao, anyone who was satisfied with the status quo was in a dangerous situation.
Only through continuous advancement could increase one’s likelihood of survival.
Jiang Chen was affected by the sight of the hardworking rabble in the various stages. They charged in with an ardor that put their anxious misgivings on full display.
Bluesmoke wants to connect with the Ten Divine Nations, and these wandering cultivators and smaller factions want to latch onto Bluesmoke in turn. Such is life in the world of martial dao.
He had little interest in observing bouts at such a low level of expertise. In fact, he found the exchanged blows positively boring. When he tried to stand up and leave though, he felt Yan Qingsang tug on his arm.
“Don’t go yet. We haven’t even seen the princess. Why’re you in such a hurry?”
“You wanted to see the princess, not me,” Jiang Chen huffed.
“I want you to accompany me though.” Yan Qingsang sounded giddy. Jiang Chen didn’t know how to respond to his friend; the young man right here and the stubborn youth back at the Jade Revel Lodge were barely the same person. Everyone had a side to them that most of the world didn’t know.
Jiang Chen didn’t refuse Yan Qingsang’s request. He knew that if he wanted to get closer to House Yan, Yan Qingsang would be a big part of that plan. Thus, he was inclined to be accommodating in many things.
Yan Qingsang’s enthusiasm ran so high that he wasn’t quite sated even after an entire day.
Does he really want to be in love that badly?
When they returned to House Yan’s residence, Huang’er was taking a walk near the entrance. She came to a stop when she saw the two youths arriving home, looking at Yan Qingsang with a half-smile. “I hear you went to win the princess’ hand in marriage, cousin. How did you do today?”
Yan Qingsang took shameless pride in the time he’d spent today. “I did go to the arena, but I didn’t participate. Experts like us need to wait a bit in reserve, you know.”
“Us? Plural?” Huang’er glanced at Jiang Chen, her smile widening a little.
Jiang Chen shrugged. “Don’t listen to his lies, Miss Huang’er. He’s positively besotted with this entire thing and just happened to drag me along for it.”
“No, Brother Shao Yuan. You shouldn’t slander me!” Yan Qingsang protested. “I’m hardly besotted. And hey, stop pretending to be a gentleman in front of my cousin. Let’s go inside already.” The young man was fiercely vigilant when it came to Huang’er.
Jiang Chen laughed, but said nothing more. Inside House Yan’s temporary residence, he and Huang’er treated each other as guest and host. It was impossible to detect anything more between them.
He knew clearly that Huang’er was being secretly watched.
When Yan Qingsang called on Jiang Chen to accompany him to the arena the next day, he was met with a vehement refusal.
Yan Qingsang headed there himself. Jiang Chen meanwhile, returned to the inn where Hua Ming was. His student had been very obedient indeed. He had focused single-mindedly on cultivation. The boy was overjoyed to see his master once more.
“You must’ve gotten a lot at the ancient jade festival, master!”
“I suppose I did, and I found a partner from the Eternal Divine Nation. I gave half my winnings to him. Still, half of a fortune is rather sizable in its own right.”
“Eternal Divine Nation? Which faction?” Hua Ming asked curiously.
“House Yan,” Jiang Chen stated offhandedly.
“Why House Yan? I hear House Xiahou is the strongest faction in Eternal Divine Nation,” Hua Ming blurted out.
“Haha, yes. House Xiahou is the strongest right now. It certainly won’t be in the near future,” Jiang Chen smiled. “Hua Ming, we must stay here a bit longer. Perhaps we’ll go to the Eternal Divine Nation after that. Prepare yourself for that eventuality.”
“Huh? Eternal Divine Nation?” Hua Ming’s eyes lit up. “That’s wonderful. My biggest dream is to someday go to the Ten Divine Nations and see the most marvelous sights in Myriad Abyss for myself.”
Jiang Chen knew that in Hua Ming’s understanding, the Ten Divine Nations were tantamount to the sacred lands of Myriad Abyss Island. He wasn’t in a rush to change his student’s preconceptions about the world.
Such things needed personal experience and exploration over time. It was extremely difficult to forcibly alter a worldview in a convincing way.
After making sure Hua Ming was fine and settled down, Jiang Chen promised to meet up with his disciple in another few days. He gave the boy a few martial dao pointers before going back to House Yan’s residence.
For the next while, Jiang Chen would occasionally accompany Yan Qingsang to the arena to watch the fights. Most of the time though, he remained at House Yan’s temporary residence to cultivate his own martial dao.
He had planned to refine a cauldron of Emperor Supremacy Pills, but no opportunity or good environment to do so had presented itself to him. The superb specimens of Heavencloud Ganoderma he’d obtained back in Oriole Valley were ripe for conversion.