Six of House Yan’s young geniuses had been invited to the birthday banquet. Yan Qingsang ranked among the bottom, with only Yan Jinnan at his level. The other scions of House Yan were stronger than him.
Being the outsider he was, Yan Qingsang travelled by himself, bringing Jiang Chen to House Xiahou’s manor on his own, rather than go with the other youths.
House Xiahou had several manors in the capital. Most of the younger generation resided in Green Lotus Manor. Although the neighborhood around the manor wasn’t the most prosperous in the capital, it was the most prestigious. Almost all top tier factions had a house or manor here.
Green Lotus Manor was bustling with activity. It was festooned with lamps and decorations, creating a magnificent atmosphere. It seemed more like a festival than a simple birthday celebration.
Yan Qingsang handed the invitation to the guard at the door. He was let inside without any questioning, Jiang Chen trailing after. He was here as Yan Qingsang’s attendant, so he was quite relaxed. From the arrangements House Xiahou had made, he was able to gain a basic understanding of the family.
It cared deeply about projecting a grandiose image.
Many young talents from around the nation had come to the celebration and were conversing in groups. They seemed to be having a good time. Jiang Chen looked up to see Yan Jinnan sitting in a corner with a downtrodden expression. It was clear that he was unhappy.
Jiang Chen speculated that the members of other factions must be ignoring him due to their low opinion of him.
Yan Qingsang also noticed Yan Jinnan’s plight, but turned a blind eye to it.
Jiang Chen had to admit he felt sorry for the youths of House Yan. They would’ve regretted not coming to the celebration, but there was nothing interesting in attending either.
His eyes darting to the door, Yan Qingsang caught the silhouette of a man. Jiang Chen followed his gaze. From a distance, the proud man held himself like a statue. He stood out from the crowd, and was dressed like a member of House Yan.
Putting a name to the face, Jiang Chen was almost a hundred percent sure that this was the top genius of House Yan, Yan Zhenhuai.
Yan Qingsang hurried over to the man. As the top genius, he held a high place in Yan Qingsang’s heart that couldn’t be overlooked.
“Brother Huai,” greeted Yan Qingsang.
Yan Zhenhuai was tall and fit, and the lines of his face strong and sculpted. He presented a striking figure. Throwing a glance at Yan Qingsang, he nodded. “There you are, Qingsang. I hear that you performed well in the jade festival. You’ve made the family proud.”
“Haha, that’s because you didn’t go.” Yan Qingsang was surprisingly humble.
Jiang Chen stood silently on the side with a slight smile.
Yan Zhenhuai flicked a glance over and asked Yan Qingsang, “Is this your sworn brother?”
“He is. Brother Huai, this is Shao Yuan. He’s a good man with great talent. You’ll grow to like him.” It was evident that Yan Qingsang held Yan Zhenhuai in high regard, or perhaps there were less than a handful of people in House Yan that he respected.
Yan Zhenhuai nodded. His speculating eyes swept over Jiang Chen before he turned to Yan Qingsang. “Tell the others to come to me. The family should stick together. If someone’s going to start trouble, they’ll at least give me some face.”
His tone was free of arrogance or pride. He was simply taking on the responsibility of the oldest brother. This earned him some respect from Jiang Chen.
“They’ll come on their own, Brother Huai,” responded Yan Qingsang. “I’m not gonna get them.”
Yan Zhenhuai smiled faintly. “I heard that you had an awkward time with Yan Jinnan in the jade festival. Is that true?”
Yan Qingsang admitted to it with a nod. “It’s true, but it’s in the past now. You may not know what happened, Brother Huai. I was just too angry...”
Yan Zhenhuai nodded. “Alright, you don’t have to say anything. I know the details. You did the right thing.”
At this moment, the other youths of House Yan spotted Yan Zhenhuai too. They made their way to him with surprise and delight.
“You really did come, Brother Zhenhuai!”
“I heard you were exiting closed door cultivation recently. We were just speculating if you would attend!”
“We can be at ease with Brother Huai here.”
“Haha, Brother Huai is our backbone.”
They were genuinely happy to see him. They knew that Yan Zhenhuai’s attitude would determine if they could preserve their pride and avoid humiliation. If he protected everyone, they would be met with less jeering and attacks.
Yan Zhenhuai scanned the group. “I was told there would be six of us, me included. Why are there only five?”
“Xinmei has gone inside already. I think Miss Ying had someone summon her.”
One of the six Yan youths was a female cultivator called Yan Xinmei; she was the only one not present.
In addition to Yan Zhenhuai, Yan Jinnan, and Yan Qingsang, there were two other young men. They both veered on the quiet side. One of them was reserved, and the other detached and aloof. Neither of them seemed particularly amiable.
Jiang Chen observed them impartially as an outsider. He could tell that Yan Zhenhuai was the only leader among the group.
The others refused to take their peers seriously. Jiang Chen sighed inwardly. The decline of House Yan seemed to stem from many contributing factors. The death of their venerated forefather wasn’t the only cause.
Or perhaps it was the forefather’s death that’d led to the deterioration of the family culture, which in turn gave rise to a series of problems.
“Alright, it’s about time. You’ve all brought your gifts, haven’t you? Come with me!” Yan Zhenhuai waved his hand. The others trailed after him to the inner courtyard.
An extravagant banquet came into view. The setup was luxurious, magnificent, and sumptuous. A large platform rose up in the center of the garden. Around the platform were circles upon circles of tables.
It was an interesting layout for an event. The elevated platform was clearly the center of attention. House Yan’s table was placed at the outer edge of the first circle, a seemingly harmless arrangement that put them on a lower level.
One sacred land, three great sects, and seven aristocratic houses. In addition to House Xiahou, there were ten other first rate factions.
Among the ten factions, it was House Yan’s table that was placed furthest from the stage. It couldn’t be considered an open insult, but anyone observant would recognize it as an attempt to marginalize House Yan. The guests didn’t find that strange. They too felt that House Yan couldn’t compare with the other houses now.
Yan Zhenhuai raised a slight eyebrow, but quickly schooled his expression into one of impassiveness. “Take your seats.”
With a wave of his hand, the other youths found their spots and sat down. As Yan Qingsang’s attendant, Jiang Chen naturally didn’t have a place at the table.
Yan Qingsang was a little embarrassed by that.
Jiang Chen didn’t care. He wasn’t here for a seat at House Yan’s table. He was here to get to know House Xiahou. Otherwise, no one would be able to convince him to come as an attendant.
The table could fit ten. Even if all six of the group had taken a seat, there were still four spots left.
Yan Zhenhuai glanced at Jiang Chen, who was standing behind Yan Qingsang. “Have Brother Shao Yuan to take a seat, Qingsang.”
Yan Qingsang paused. “What?”
Yan Zhenhuai smiled slightly. “Brother Shao Yuan has been approved by the patriarch and the board of elders. He’s one of us now. He should have a seat.”
Yan Jinnan stilled and objected disapprovingly, “Brother Zhenhuai, we’re all lineal descendants of House Yan. People are going to talk if we let an outsider—an attendant—sit with us.”
Yan Jinnan had never liked Yan Qingsang. His own follower was standing behind him. How dare Yan Qingsang’s take a seat with them?
The aloof-looking genius nodded in agreement. “Jinnan’s right. Masters should be masters; attendants should be attendants. The hierarchy must be maintained.”
Yan Qingsang’s blood boiled, but noticing Yan Zhenhuai’s expression, he managed to keep ahold of his anger and stop himself from slamming a hand on the table.
Yan Zhenhuai leveled a pointed look at Yan Jinnan and the other genius. “Don’t forget that the patriarch and the board of elders have accepted Brother Shao Yuan. He’s a comrade-in-arms, not a mere follower. Keep that in mind.”
The house’s leading genius had made himself clear. Even though the two young men were upset, they didn’t dare argue with him. He might truly grow angry if they did.
Yan Qingsang snickered and grabbed Jiang Chen. “Take a seat, brother. As Brother Huai said, you’re entitled to share our table.”
Jiang Chen smiled. Since Yan Zhenhuai had spoken up for him, he wouldn’t turn the invitation down. He didn’t mind standing, but he wouldn’t mind taking a seat either.
When they were all seated, a pretty young woman showed up out of the blue. She put a hand over her mouth to muffle her cries as she ran.
“Xinmei?” The members of House Yan recognized her immediately.
The young woman’s eyes reddened when she spotted her family. She rushed to their table and dropped into a seat, laying on the table with her face buried in her arms, sobbing.