Jiang Chen was quiet the entire way back to Yan Qingsang’s abode. His companion, however, seemed to be brooding about something. The young man knew that Yan Qingsang probably hadn’t recovered entirely from the conversation yet and saw no reason to show undue concern.
But Jiang Chen’s silence seemed to be a bit uncomfortable for the other. “Why aren’t you saying anything?” complained Yan Qingsang. “You said quite a lot in front of my grandfather.”
“It’s just a birthday banquet, no?” Jiang Chen smiled. “What’s the point of being depressed for something like that? Are you really that scared of House Xiahou?”
“Me, scared of House Xiahou?!” It was as if Yan Qingsang’s tail had been stepped on. “Ridiculous!” he shrieked. “I just don’t want to talk to them.”
“Tsk tsk. That’s a nice way to put it, but you’re scared. That’s why you want to hide from them.”
Jiang Chen’s declaration was met with some annoyance from his friend. “I said I would go, didn’t I? That’s enough. My grandpa told me to listen to you, so out with it. Any sneaky ideas?”
“I don’t know anything about House Xiahou right now.” Jiang Chen shrugged. “What idea could I possibly have? We have to go to this party, but I doubt we’ll enjoy the experience. House Yan isn’t in such a good spot that you can expect any stellar treatment.”
“Well, yeah, obviously,” Yan Qingsang agreed readily.
“So our strategy is simple. We must preserve both ourselves and our reputations. House Xiahou is strong now, and House Yan weak. It won’t be too embarrassing even if we eat a loss or two.”
“Was that supposed to be encouraging? That was horrible.” Yan Qingsang shook his head wordlessly.
Jiang Chen laughed, but said nothing more. Honestly, he was as unwilling as Yan Qingsang to attend this banquet. If Yan Wanjun hadn’t designated him to go, he wouldn’t have any interest in it whatsoever.
Of course, there was the additional benefit of testing House Xiahou’s waters. His understanding of that house was based on superficial information from members of House Yan. He didn’t have a good idea of how strong the house was, or where its strengths lay.
“Your answer to my grandfather’s question about what you’d do if you met Xiahou Zong… you sure had balls, huh?” Yan Qingsang suddenly changed the topic.
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Jiang Chen felt little reason to conceal what he thought.
“Do you even know who Xiahou Zong is?” Yan Qingsang was at a loss for words again.
“Yes? The foremost genius of House Xiahou, rumored to be the best in Eternal’s younger generation. But I can guarantee that his life will be cut short.” Jiang Chen laughed.
“How so?” Yan Qingsang couldn’t help but ask.
“Is House Xiahou the strongest faction in Eternal Divine Nation?” Jiang Chen asked instead.
“No,” Yan Qingsang replied with some disdain. “They’re just an unworthy upstart. It has no qualification for being the strongest faction, and its position as the second or third is tenuous at best. The strongest faction will always be Eternal Sacred Land. Anyone who dares deny this fact will be visited with great trouble.”
“Well, there you have it. A faction that’s not the strongest has a genius that calls himself the strongest. That’s reckless confidence at best, suicidal rebellion at worst.” Jiang Chen sighed when he got this point. “If Eternal Divine Nation only has Eternal Sacred Land as the permanent foremost faction, I can understand why the rest of the houses wax and wane so frequently. The current House Xiahou may very well be a reflection of the House Yan of yesteryear, and the current House Yan, its future.”
These words were mildly philosophical. Yan Qingsang dwelled on them awhile, looking pensive.
Jiang Chen walked towards his residence without another word.
“Hold on a sec, brother.” Yan Qingsang caught up to his friend in a few broad strides. “Hey,” he smiled ingratiatingly. “You sound pretty reasonable. You think House Xiahou will fall someday?”
“Definitely. Whether you’ll be able to see that day is another matter.”
“And why wouldn’t I be able to?” Yan Qingsang huffed.
“A house’s rise and fall may take decades, centuries, or millennia—perhaps dozens or more. If they one day earn Eternal Sacred Land’s ire, their destruction will soon follow.” Jiang Chen sighed upon seeing Yan Qingsang’s slow comprehension.
“Come. Let’s pick out two pieces of good quality ancient jade. We need to get through the little predicament before us first, or I won’t be able to stand before your grandfather.”
Yan Qingsang was displeased, but followed Jiang Chen anyway.
Jiang Chen chose the gifts after little consideration. “These should be fine. They match your relative prominence and status.”
Yan Qingsang sighed. “What has the world come to? I have to simper in front of a bunch of people I hate and give them presents. House Yan really has fallen pretty far. What a shame. My uncle was a genius of his generation, and the house thought he would be able to restore our former glory… but his current fate is rather ignoble.”
Yan Qingsang’s uncle was Huang’er’s father.
“You’re talking about Miss Huang’er’s father, right?” Jiang Chen asked a question that he knew the answer to.
“Yes, brother. Since there’s no one else here, I’ll lay it on you straight. Remember what I joked about earlier? If you can off Xiahou Zong like you did Xiahou Xi—I mean, without anybody finding out, you could very well win my cousin’s heart. Everything will be possible then!”
Jiang Chen was both upset and amused at Yan Qingsang’s pretend secrecy. He smiled. “About your uncle. Did he show incredible talent in his youth? How was he back then, compared to Xiahou Zong now?”
“Hard to say. They’re from two different generations. But my uncle was praised even by those from Eternal Sacred Land. They thought he was the most outstanding representative of his own generation. But maybe you’ve heard of what happened next.”
Jiang Chen nodded slightly. “I’ve heard stories and talk of the enmity between your two houses. Your uncle was rather radical in his own way. He’s worthy of admiration from younger cultivators.”
“I suppose, but it’s no fun to be stuck in the Boundless Prison. I wonder if he’s still alive after all these years. If uncle knew that his daughter was going to suffer too though, he’d surely break out to save Huang’er if he were strong enough.”
“Would it really be that easy?” Jiang Chen inquired curiously.
“No way. Super, incredibly, impossibly difficult!” Yan Qingsang shook his head. The Boundless Prison had been inherited from the time of the ancients, and possessed an ancient formation to match.
“I hear that the Boundless Prison imprisoned experts in the ancient times. In fact, Myriad Abyss as a whole was a place for Divine Abyss’ exiles. But such talk is forbidden here nowadays.”
“How trustworthy is that rumor, then?” Jiang Chen blinked.
“Reasonably so. The more the official sources try to deny something here, the more likely it’s true. But that doesn’t really matter.” Yan Qingsang didn’t seem to be all that interested about the subject.
“Hmm, perhaps,” Jiang Chen fudged. In truth, he was very curious about what the other youth had just said. He’d always felt Divine Abyss Continent to be intimately related to his past life. He didn’t have enough evidence for it, but plenty of details pointed to how worthwhile investigating the prospect would be.
Thus, Myriad Abyss Island was an important place for him to study as well.
Jiang Chen hoped he could dredge up the secrets hidden within his chain seal sooner rather than later. He had a feeling that it contained—if not the ultimate answer—then at least a few clues. If his father really had designed the seal for him, there was sure to be some explanation accompanying it.
After Yan Qingsang’s departure, Jiang Chen began to cultivate without wasting a moment. He had nothing on his mind except breaking through to empyrean realm as quickly as possible. Only then would he solve the chain seal’s mystery.
In three days’ time, Yan Qingsang found Jiang Chen quite early.
“You agreed to come with me, brother. You can’t get cold feet now. Today is that Xiahou biatch’s birthday. I hear that her house has made a big affair of it, and a marriage partner is being sought from among the attendees.”
“Another arranged marriage?” Jiang Chen wanted to throw up. After witnessing what Bluesmoke’s imperial family had done, he was somewhat put off from the idea in general.
A strategy that used a woman as a valuable token wasn’t worth very much. However, it did tend to be simple and effective. A marriage between two factions naturally led to an alliance.
House Xiahou’s real intentions were thinly disguised at best.
Jiang Chen looked at Yan Qingsang with pity. “I offer you my sympathies, Brother Yan. If that Xiahou girl is looking for a marriage partner today, countless young geniuses will try to use House Yan’s youngsters as stepping stones. The more they embarrass you lot, the more she’ll be pleased.”
Yan Qingsang was unsurprised. “Oh, I’m sure that bitch helped plan this. She’s pretty young, but she’s already an expert at seducing men and manufacturing controversy.”
“If you can’t avoid it, then face it head on, eh?” Jiang Chen glanced at Yan Qingsang teasingly. “Oh yes,” he added with some nonchalance. “What’s that girl’s name?”
“Not a bad name,” the young man laughed. “What’s her relationship to Xiahou Zong?”
“His younger sister by blood. Why else do you think the birthday of someone ordinary like her would be anyone’s concern? Not to mention a special banquet.”
The conversation had carried the two of them out of their own residence toward House Xiahou. As they walked, Yan Qingsang explained the various internal connections and associations of the largest factions.
His knowledge was far from comprehensive, but Jiang Chen found it helpful to fill in the gaps in his own understanding. After all was said and done, he had a reasonable grasp of the affairs here in Eternal Divine Nation.