Jiang Chen devoted himself to cultivating every day. His discipline impressed the elders in House Yan, who’d been observing him in secret. They approved of the young man more and more.
At first, they worried that he might’ve approached Yan Qingsang with ulterior motives. Now, it seemed clear that he was merely a diligent wandering cultivator trying to gain the support of a large faction. He worked on improving himself and his cultivation with a single-minded focus that even many scions from aristocratic families didn’t possess.
Jiang Chen knew Elder He and Elder Quan were secretly watching him, but he pretended to not know and took no actions to change that.
In a hidden room in the manor, Elder He sighed. “Look at him, Elder Quan, then look at the youths in our family. There’s a stark contrast with how they treat their cultivation. Our youths have grown complacent. They lacked the urgency, vigilance, and hunger of the wandering cultivators. This young man has great potential.”
Elder Quan echoed his sentiment, “Compared to Shao Yuan, Yan Qingsang’s too headstrong, Yan Jinnan too frivolous, and the others too meek. If you ask me, only a handful of geniuses in the family, like Zhenhuai, can rival him. Elder He, we should really recruit him and have him be of use to House Yan. Otherwise someone as talented as he will easily find his way to success by turning to the other aristocratic families. We’ll lose this diamond in the rough then.”
“We should give it more thought. I’m worried that he’s approached us with an unknown agenda.”
“What can it be?” asked Elder Quan. “To get close to Huang’er?”
“I can’t say for sure. It’s merely a feeling. But perhaps my instinct is wrong this time. He doesn’t seem like a lascivious man. He’s aware of Huang’er, but not obsessed with her. Not even the tournament for the princess’ hand has piqued his interest. Besides, many people on Myriad Abyss Island know about Huang’er. Someone as smart as Shao Yuan couldn’t be an exception. It’s unlikely for him to foolishly covet her at the risk of making enemies out of House Yan and House Xiahou.”
“Elder He is right. It defies logic for Huang’er to be his ultimate goal. There are sixteen beauties in the Ten Divine Nations. Even if he wants to attach himself to a stronger faction, he wouldn’t pick the unattainable Huang’er.”
Elder He laughed. “Perhaps we’re really being overly sensitive.”
Within the palace of Miracle City, members of the royal family gathered.
“Tell the princess to come here, Jigonggong.”
“This servant has already done so. She’ll be here soon.”
A young imperial descendant scoffed. “Who does she think she is? Go get her again!”
“Understood.” Jigonggong returned after a moment with a young woman in tow. Snow-white fabric covered her tall and slim frame. Her arrival brought with her a cool brilliance that lit up the room.
The royals swallowed hard in face of her grace. They had to admit that the princess was strikingly elegant and beautiful. She was not of the royal blood and therefore, the royals didn’t bother to hide their predatory gazes when they considered her.
Without a word, the princess took her seat, her delicate eyebrows knitted together. She ignored those assembled like they didn’t exist.
An older imperial prince cleared his throat. “Princess Bi, the tournament has started. Many have requested for you to put in a showing. They would like an opportunity to admire your beauty and grace.”
“I’m not interested,” she responded with steel in her voice. “There are many princesses in the royal family. Pick anyone else to make an appearance.”
“You were handpicked by His Majesty, Princess Bi. Only your unparalleled beauty can conquer the geniuses and make them fall for you. This is an imperial order for the good of the royal family and the Bluesmoke Isles. Besides, isn’t it a good thing for you to find a good husband?”
The princess stayed as frigid as the cold moon and said nothing, but her rejection was clearly expressed.
“You’re making it difficult for us, Your Highness. Don’t forget that the royal family has raised you and provided the necessities of life over the past couple of years, as well as resources for cultivation. Now that the royal family requires your assistance, how can you refuse to help?”
“I will always remember everything that His Majesty’s given me. If he wishes to take my life, I will not resist in the slightest. However, not even he can force me to do anything against my will.”
The princess would not be swayed.
“You...” The royals were rendered speechless. They were helpless against someone who refused to listen to any reason.
“Princess Bi, why are you so against the idea? There must be a reason. Men and women should be married after a certain age. You may have great potential in cultivation, but you can’t say that the geniuses from the Ten Divine Nations are all beneath you, can you? Countless women in Myriad Abyss can only dream about being married to someone from the Ten Divine Nations.”
“Please tell His Majesty that he’s free to take my life if he wishes, but I’ll never surrender myself to a forced marriage.” The princess rose and walked off further into the palace without looking back.
“Halt!” snapped the imperial prince. “Princess Bi, the royal family has never wronged you. Since you refuse to listen to reason and gentle words, don’t blame us for resorting to a more forceful approach!”
She didn’t even pause. The threats didn’t register at all as she disappeared from everyone’s view.
“This servant will try to convince her, masters...” Jigonggong was frantic with panic. He too thought that the princess had been too stubborn this time.
Marriage was written in the cards for a woman. There was nothing bad about the tournament. Even a princess of the Bluesmoke Isles shouldn’t find it a humiliating end in being married off to the Ten Divine Nations.
Jigonggong was too scared to face the royals’ fury. He hurriedly followed the princess into her room.
“Your Highness, you’re dooming yourself in disobeying the royal clan.” Jigonggong’s tone was anxious. He’d grown to care about the princess after serving her for many years.
“Are you going to force me to get married as well, Jigonggong?” she asked coolly. There was a trace of helplessness in her frosty eyes.
“This servant would never! But the emperor put great emphasis on this tournament for your hand. If the princess refuses to cooperate, this servant shudders to think what they’ll do to you. The emperor’s fond of you, Your Highness, but this marriage was part of his plan. If you disobey his will, not even the combined force of everyone on Bluesmoke Isles will be able to save you.”
“I know.” She sighed, sounding a little lost. “I can only repay the emperor’s favor with my life.”
“You mustn’t, Your Highness,” Jigonggong rushed out. “There’s hope as long as you live. Even if you’re unwilling to give your hand to the winner of the tournament, why don’t you put in an appearance? There are a lot of geniuses from the Ten Divine Nations participating. Even if you have no interest in marriage now, maybe you’ll find someone you like after meeting them. You can always find excuses to turn the marriage down when no one strikes your fancy. I believe that the geniuses from the Ten Divine Nations won’t force a marriage against your will. They are all ferociously proud. They won’t shamelessly chase after you if you don’t like them.”
The princess looked at him with a frown. “If I spoil the marriage, what will His Majesty do to me?”
“This servant doesn’t know. If you don’t make an appearance though, the consequences may be too terrible to endure.” The eunuch sighed. “The emperor has invested a lot of effort into cultivating you. Perhaps he’ll arrange another marriage should this one fail. If the tournament ends with no success, maybe you can travel around the Ten Divine Nations to gain some worldly experience. Perhaps you’ll happen upon a husband you like? This servant doesn’t know the source of Your Highness’ resistance, but this cannot continue on.”
“I understand, Jigonggong. You are dismissed. Tell them I’ll consider making an appearance in a few days, but I’ll make my own decision in finding a husband. No one can force me into that.”
Jigonggong was delighted by the compromise. “Understood. This servant will convey as such to the imperial princes.”
Once the eunuch left, a trace of concern resurfaced in the princess’ beautiful eyes.
If Jiang Chen had present, he would’ve been greatly taken aback to see the princess. She was none other than Ling Bi’er, who’d gone missing for many years.
She’d wandered the world since her escape from Regal Pill Palace. The heritage she’d gained in the Paramount Realm boosted her strength significantly.
While being chased by enemies, she’d happened upon a mysterious ancient formation. She accidentally activated it and, before she realized what was happening, she was transported to Myriad Abyss Island.
Her destination wasn’t Winterdraw Island like Jiang Chen’s, but a different region.
Unfortunately, she was dropped into the midst of a battle. In the heat of the moment, it was the emperor of the Bluesmoke Isles who’d saved her.
When he realized the remarkable potential she possessed, he put forth a great deal of effort into furthering her accomplishments. Her cultivation progressed by leaps and bounds over the past few years.
Of course, the emperor had his agenda. He saw her unique grace as an opportunity. He wanted to arrange a marriage between Ling Bi’er and a scion from the Ten Divine Nations in order to foster a closer relationship between Bluesmoke and the divine nations.
In other words, she was merely one of the emperor’s pawns.
Though she was talented and clever, she had been too young to understand the minutiae of politics. When she’d realized it, she was already trapped in the cage of the emperor’s making.