Though Yan Qingsang looked a bit too flippant sometimes, he was strangely stubborn on the most particular of matters. Especially on the topic of House Xiahou, he was unrepentant and uncooperative. This was evident from his conduct back at the Jade Revel Lodge.
When he’d first heard of family feud, his first instinct was to oppose it. He hated House Xiahou to the bone, and found it absolutely unacceptable he would have to attend a birthday party for one of its daughters. Furthermore, he would be obliged to give away pieces of his valuable ancient jade?
There was an immense psychological hurdle here.
“Grandfather, House Xiahou is far too oppressive a faction. Haven’t they bullied us enough? Are we supposed to go lick their boots too?” Yan Qingsang’s tone was a bit too aggressive in light of his frustration.
“Ah, kid, when will you get rid of your bad habit?” Yan Wanjun’s voice was filled with a deep helplessness.
That his grandson’s nature was so immovable, especially when it came to House Xiahou, was a source of perpetual headaches for him.
“If you can’t muster any subtlety and restraint, how will you inherit this branch’s heritage? How will you undertake the task of restoring our line’s status and honor? What right will you have to lead House Yan’s younger generation?” Yan Wanjun balked irritably at his grandson’s gloomy inaction.
Jiang Chen thought for a moment, then opened his mouth. “Brother Yan, I’ll fund the two pieces of ancient jade.”
Yan Qingsang glared at Jiang Chen. “The jade isn’t the point here! House Xiahou is oppressing us, but we’re supposed to butter them up. Why??”
“Why? Because they’re stronger than us right now. At any moment, they can cause us to suffer more than we already have. Why else do you think?” Yan Wanjun furiously gasped for breath.
“I’ve let you have your way in everything else, Qingsang. I don’t think a bit of extra personality is bad for a young person, so I haven’t been too strict with you. But if you can’t hold yourself back with regards to House Xiahou, you’ll run into trouble sooner or later. Let me ask you, what can you do if Xiahou Zong comes to take Huang’er away tomorrow?”
“I…” Yan Qingsang scrunched up his face angrily. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. What could he do?
Nothing at all!
Aside from watching the Xiahou genius take Huang’er away, there was nothing he could do at all.
Yan Qingsang’s strength was insufficient to win against Xiahou Zong, even in a fair duel. In fact, five of him added together couldn’t beat someone like that!
Xiahou Zong was touted as the strongest young genius in Eternal Divine Nation. No matter how unhappy Yan Qingsang was about him, he couldn’t turn emotions into any actual physical damage.
“Qingsang, a man must view a problem in the long run as well as short. You want to act according to your pride, but you don’t have the skill to back it up. Why then are you following your emotions? Can you afford to do that? It is fine to chase your whims, but you must have sufficient strength to do so. Maybe you think you can hide rather than fight, is that so?”
“And what’s wrong with that?” Yan Qingsang was mulishly unconvinced.
Yan Wanjun sighed, then looked toward Jiang Chen. “Little brother Shao Yuan, you’re the same age as my grandson and a brother to him. You be the voice of reason. From your neutral perspective, what do you think he should do?”
Jiang Chen smiled wryly. “Elder, I bear little goodwill towards House Xiahou, so I’m not really neutral or unbiased. From Brother Yan’s point of view, I don’t think there’s anything wrong in biting the bullet for as long as needed.
“Relationships between great houses are often filled with hypocrisy and lies, but superficial gestures are necessary to a certain degree. You may think shirking your responsibilities is fashionable, but really, it’s a display of a different weakness. If you can talk with a smile to someone you truly despise, that is a useful psychological trial to undertake.”
He was speaking in hypotheticals only, of course. He didn’t know if he could pull that off himself.
Yan Wanjun blinked. “You have… little goodwill towards House Xiahou? Do you bear a grudge towards them for something?”
“How should I put this…?” Jiang Chen laughed, trailing off.
Yan Qingsang looked around, then grinned. “There are no outsiders here. I’ll talk if you don’t want to. Grandfather, it’s ninety percent likely that Brother Shao Yuan was the one who got rid of Xiahou Xi. You didn’t see how angry House Xiahou’s people were. It was damn exhilarating! Haha, they have no clue how or where Xiahou Xi died, and they’re still in the dark about it. This guy’s never admitted to that, though.” He rolled his eyes at Jiang Chen when he said this.
“What?” Yan Wanjun’s entire body shook. He looked at Jiang Chen with incomprehension. Though Xiahou Xi wasn’t the strongest genius in House Xiahou, he was among the top five. He’d been the leading young genius of House Xiahou’s team to the ancient jade festival. His untimely death had become an interesting topic of discussion within Eternal Divine Nation.
That was how Yan Wanjun had heard of this. According to rumor, House Xiahou was internally livid about all this. The elder hadn’t expected the youth before him to be responsible for that feat.
The ability to defeat and slay Xiahou Xi one-on-one wasn’t impressive in itself. But that, given the circumstances, Xiahou Xi’s execution had been swift and untraceable. These two conditions multiplied the difficulty of the task. The person responsible had to be strong enough to overwhelm Xiahou Xi as well as be extremely decisive. Any hesitation would’ve led to a failure.
“Little brother Shao Yuan, did you really…”
“Yes.” Jiang Chen knew that he could no longer hide it. “I was with Brother Yan originally, but Xiahou Xi came out from the middle of nowhere to ambush us both. I had to take the initiative before he made good on his threats.”
Yan Wanjun now saw Jiang Chen in a vastly different light.
Yan Qingsang positively beamed. He punched Jiang Chen’s shoulder playfully. “You finally came clean about it, huh? I knew it was you all along.”
“Was I supposed to admit that back there? If I did, House Yan would’ve been implicated in a very troublesome way.”
“Yeah, yeah, you were right to be cautious.” Yan Qingsang nodded rapidly.
Yan Wanjun admired Jiang Chen like he would a monstrous existence. “Xiahou Xi was half-step empyrean, wasn’t he? Some say he even got to first level empyrean realm. You killed him? Young Shao Yuan, your ancestral bloodline is really…”
“It wouldn’t have been easy for me to win with my personal strength. I used a few tricks to turn the tables on him,” Jiang Chen said humbly.
“In the world of martial dao, everything you can bring to bear is your own strength. There’s no such thing as trickery not being a part of strength,” Yan Wanjun replied with utmost seriousness.
Yan Qingsang sighed. “If you can get rid of Xiahou Zong one day in the same way, that would be perfect. My cousin wouldn’t have to be his cultivation vessel anymore then. Ah!”
“Qingsang, you shut up. Don’t mention something like that so casually!” Yan Wanjun rebuked.
“I just wanted to brag a little. Who among the younger generation in Eternal Divine Nation can take out Xiahou Zong? He’s already made it big, like a dragon that’s returned to the sea. He’s practically unstoppable. I wager Eternal Divine Nation will be his in a hundred years or so.” Yan Qingsang’s unwillingness to accept the situation was palpable.
Yan Wanjun completely agreed.
“Qingsang, how did Huang’er do in Bluesmoke? Was her mood alright?” the old man asked.
“What does that matter? There’s a curse upon her fate that no one can change. Moods are temporary, and I’d wager she’d prefer death rather than her current existence.” Some sadness tinged Yan Qingsang’s voice.
“Ah, it’s grandfather’s weakness. I cannot protect my son or my granddaughter. Qingsang, I live still only for your sake. If you don’t better yourself, there’s nothing I have left to live for.” Yan Wanjun heaved a long sigh.
“Don’t say that, grandfather… I’ll try my best for sure.” Yan Qingsang became wistful at his grandfather’s display of vulnerability.
“If you’re serious about that, cool your heart about House Xiahou first. You must attend their daughter's birthday party. House Yan has many youths and a limited number of invitations. I went through a lot of trouble to secure you a spot. If you proceed with your foolishness, you’ll be sidelined no matter how much I coddle you!”
His grandfather’s anger exhausted Yan Qingsang, sapping the latter of his spirit.
“Fine, fine, I get it, grandfather. I’ll go, alright?” He gave in in the end.
“Not just that. Make sure you present a smile! No matter how upset you are inside, bottle it up for later. That’s an order!” Yan Wanjun glared at his grandson.
“I… I will try my best!” Yan Qingsang gritted his teeth.
“Little brother Shao Yuan, I entrust him to your care on this trip. Please, remind him of anything you notice. Remain vigilant on his behalf. His temper is easily taken advantage of.”
“Alright,” Jiang Chen smiled.
Yan Qingsang was much more pleased. “Now that you’re coming, I feel much more at ease. Your presence provides me with a bit of extra insurance.”
“What kind of insurance do you need in the first place?” Jiang Chen cracked a wry smile. “Are you planning to commit murder or burn them down?”
“I feel the impulse to do so whenever I hear the name ‘Xiahou’.” Yan Qingsang gnashed his teeth.
“Don’t worry. Remember what I said last time? Heaven is as inconstant as water is formless. House Xiahou is at its peak right now, and it may very well get carried away with arrogance. A single accident or mishap could send it down into the dust. It’s quite possible, wouldn’t you agree?”
“I’ll wait for that day, then,” Yan Qingsang spat out spitefully.
“Rather than wait, I prefer making a full effort to actualize it.” Jiang Chen smiled faintly.
Yan Wanjun’s impression of Shao Yuan was deepened by the two young men’s conversation.
The old man suddenly chuckled. “Little brother Shao Yuan, what would you do if you met Xiahou Zong one day in person?”
“It depends on the circumstances,” Jiang Chen mused. “If there’s a chance to eliminate him without a trace—like at Yellow Dragon Ridge, back in Bluesmoke—then I’d take it without question. If we were under the public eye, I see no reason to go toe to toe with the entirety of his house. Assessment of the situation is key.”