Yan Xinmei cried pitifully, weeping up a storm. The other youths of House Yan exchanged various looks. It was unusual for her to lose control of her emotions on such an occasion.
The expression on Yan Zhenhuai’s sculpted face turned dark. As the top genius of the house, he knew how to gauge the situation. He could tell that Yan Xinmei must’ve been bullied.
“Keep your chin up and wipe off your tears, Xinmei. Don’t embarrass the house,” he transmitted. “Did someone do something to you? Which family was it?”
His voice calmed her somewhat. Her tears slowly ceased, and she wiped her face before straightening up.
“I’m sorry,” she said quietly. “I’ve embarrassed everyone.”
“Why were you crying, Xinmei?” Yan Qingsang had to ask. “Did someone do something?”
She paled and shook her head vehemently. “Stop asking. I’m fine.”
Yan Qingsang shook his head. “You don’t look fine.”
“I will be in a while.” She tried putting on a brave face, but the attempt wasn’t entirely successful.
Even an outsider like Jiang Chen could tell that something bad had happened, and rather severe at that. However, given the circumstances, it was impossible for them to strike back for whatever maltreatment they’d suffered.
Even top genius Yan Zhenhuai could only prevent them from being bullied. It was impossible for them to regain face and intimidate the room.
“Be patient. Many are waiting for an opportunity to stir up trouble for House Yan. A reckless move may be exactly what they’re waiting for.” Yan Zhenhuai’s eyes swept across the table. “None of you have to do anything today. I’ll shoulder all of the burden. Even if they want to slap our faces, it’s my reputation they’ll damage. As long as I’m here, their main target won’t be you. Understood?”
The youths stilled.
“How can we do that, Brother Huai? We’re a family. We should stick together through thick and thin. We’ll shoulder the burden together!”
“Together? How? This isn’t a battle. False friends are more dangerous than an honest enemy. You need to keep a level head and your wits sharp.” He was more observant and experienced than his peers and could grasp the situation better than they could.
With his warning, the other youths managed to slowly regain control over their emotions. They were no fools. They knew that they couldn’t do much with their limited power and status. If someone was to make trouble for House Yan, it was Yan Zhenhuai who would have to deal with it.
Jiang Chen considered Yan Zhenhuai with appreciation. He was deserving of his reputation as the top genius of House Yan. There were differences about him that were different from the other geniuses in the family. In fact, Jiang Chen saw the bearing of a leader in him.
“Miss Ying is coming!” someone called out, breaking the awkward atmosphere. “Keep your eyes sharp and welcome her!”
Almost all the guests had arrived, allowing for the young daughter of House Xiahou’s fashionably late entrance.
She was dressed in a pale-pink long skirt. As her name suggested, she was as beautiful as a cherry blossom. She was taller and more limber than the average girl; her slender waist accentuated the curves of her body.
She walked in with a bright smile, escorted by the geniuses of House Xiahou. She waved her hand at different directions to express her welcome and gratitude.
As soon as she arrived, the master of ceremonies launched into his opening speech.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the birthday celebration of Miss Xiahou Ying of House Xiahou! All of you are remarkable geniuses in Eternal Divine Nation. You were invited because you are the future of the nation. Perhaps one of you will become her dao partner one day!
“With that, we shall proceed to the first stage of the celebration. All of the guests will present their gifts, which won’t be displayed to the public until Miss Ying picks three of her favorite gifts. Of course, she’ll pick her least favorite three as well.”
Was there really a need for gift-giving to be its own ceremony?
Jiang Chen was speechless at this, but he didn’t dwell on it.
However, Yan Jinnan was plainly determined to stir up more trouble. He scoffed. “Sir Shao Yuan, Brother Huai has given you a seat as a show of his recognition. You were a guest the moment you sat down at the table. Did you come empty-handed to mooch off the free food and drink?”
Yan Qingsang couldn’t let that slide. “What do you mean by this, Yan Jinnan? I’m handing out two pieces of Bluesmoke ancient jade. We’ll split them between us.”
“Tsk, are you going to split one gift into two?” he jeered. “People are going to laugh at House Yan for really having come down far in the world. I’m really not trying to start trouble, Brother Huai. If the other factions found out, they’ll mock us for not displaying proper manners.”
But no matter what he said, he was indeed stirring up trouble.
Yan Qingsang opened his mouth to say something, but Jiang Chen smiled and cut in, “Who told you I didn’t prepare a gift?”
“Haha, what gift can a wandering cultivator like you possibly prepare on such short notice? Are you giving out ancient jade as well? That’s all just trickery.” Yan Jinnan refused to stop. “Besides, it’s unsightly to give the same gift?”
“Who told you I was giving her the same gift?” Jiang Chen had had enough of this clown. He flicked over a cold glare.
Yan Jinnan felt a chilly wind breeze past the back of his neck.
Jiang Chen took out a jade gift box and put his two gifts inside.
The master of ceremonies came to the table to collect their gifts. Yan Zhenhuai put his gift on the tray, the others following suit as well. The tray then came to Jiang Chen, who smiled slightly and offered his jade box.
The master of ceremonies glanced at him curiously. “Who is this, Sir Zhenhuai?” He was rather taken aback. They’d issued only six invitations to House Yan. Why were there seven people at the table?
“This is our newest allied young genius.”
The master of ceremonies was in no place to complain since Jiang Chen had given a gift. All of the gifts were brought back to the stage.
Jiang Chen’s gifts were two jugs of wine - Drunken Immortal and Shennong Liquor. The two were completely different styles of alcohol. Back in the human domain, he’d treated reclusive empyrean experts to the two wines. Even on such an occasion, they were worthy gifts.
Yan Jinnan scoffed at Jiang Chen, finding the wandering cultivator pretentious. “Your last minute gift can only be a pale imitation of the real thing. I hope you won’t embarrass House Yan.”
Yan Qingsang had had enough. He retorted, “You should take care not to embarrass us, Yan Jinnan. You’re in no place to worry about others. You’ve done quite enough to shame us at the Jade Revel Lodge.”
Yan Jinnan’s face flushed red. That had become a permanent stain on his record. When he thought about it, he realized that he’d made a grave mistake. Xiahou Xi’s death made his actions even more ludicrous.
There were quite a lot of guests milling around. The gifts were brought to the centerstage one table at a time. Xiahou Ying stood tall among the crowd with a poised smile. Her every move gave her an air of a great daughter of nobility.
However, Jiang Chen didn’t hold a high opinion of her.
“Xiahou Ying’s one of the sixteen beauties, brother,” Yan Qingsang explained seriously. “She’s always styled herself as the most beautiful and graceful one out of the sixteen women, but that’s to be debated.”
Jiang Chen threw her a glance. She was as overweeningly haughty like a proud, white swan. He knew where she came from though. She was loved and spoiled by everyone around her. Very few young women would be able to remain humble in her shoes.
He was the way he was only because he was living his second life. Even so, his emotions got the better of him sometimes and caused him to make a different decision.
Thus, it was natural for Xiahou Ying to be a little arrogant, vain, and pretentious at her age.
Nonetheless, it was ridiculous for someone with her personality to think of herself as the best of the sixteen beauties. No matter how he looked, Jiang Chen couldn’t imagine anyone considering Xiahou Ying better than Huang’er.
Beauty was in the eye of the beholder, but he believed that Huang’er was objectively the better woman.
Hundreds of gifts were delivered into Xiahou Ying’s hands. She slowly went through them to make her six choices.
Yan Qingsang didn’t care if the girl liked his gift. He’d be happy as long as his gift wasn’t among the bottom three.
She finally made a decision after some deliberation.
“Quiet, quiet. After careful consideration, Miss Ying has chosen her favorite and least favorite gifts!
“Her third least favorite gift is the bolt of blue silk. The blue is too dull and lifeless. The color is displeasing to the eye.
“Her second least favorite is this marble. It’s incredibly old-fashioned and doesn’t fit her image.
“And what of her least favorite gift? These two ancient scrolls! Yes, the ancient scrolls!” The master of ceremonies sucked in a breath as if he could barely suppress his rage. “Our Miss Ying isn’t object to ancient scrolls in general, but these scrolls are counterfeits! The giver’s character is questionable!” His sharp gaze settled on House Yan’s table.
Jiang Chen paused. It seemed that the prologue had begun on the House Xiahou plot against House Yan.