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Yan Qingsang’s anger dissipated as quickly as it had come. The heat of the moment had gotten the better of him. Once he calmed down, rational analysis from Jiang Chen’s point of view enabled him to understand his friend better.

How could the undying bonds of love be broken so easily? Any hot-blooded man wouldn’t sit idly by while another robbed him of his beloved. And as a cultivation vessel, to boot!

Such an end was perhaps the cruelest of all. It would cost the girl both her chastity and life. As a man himself, Yan Qingsang found it equally unacceptable.

Thus, he understood Jiang Chen after his fury subsided. He had opposed Shao Yuan’s approach of Huang’er in the beginning because he considered the other youth a brother. He didn’t want Shao Yuan to die uselessly, nor did he want a mishap to occur to the house’s fortunes.

Now that he knew the truth, compassion welled up. Huang’er had always been his cousin, and he’d been upset at the whims of fate from the start. Alas, he hadn’t had the strength to alter it himself.

But Huang’er’s dao partner was now here; he’d gotten so far with step after painstaking step! It was easy enough to imagine the difficulties he’d encountered along the way.

Under these circumstances, Yan Qingsang felt that he could no longer cruelly suppress his friend’s efforts.

It would be to the ire of man and heaven alike if he did so.

The duo sat side by side on the edge of the courtyard, both silent after the fight and spat. Any more words now would feel feeble. 

After a while, Yan Qingsang couldn’t hold it in any longer. “What should I call you now?”

“Shao Yuan, still,” Jiang Chen replied coolly. “I won’t announce my actual identity without an absolute grasp on the situation. Not that I’m worried about trouble for myself, but I don’t want Huang’er to be dragged into anything else. Plus, I’m concerned about potential predators sizing the human domain up for retribution.”

Yan Qingsang harrumphed. “So now you’re worried about dragging Huang’er into things, are you? If not for you, Huang’er wouldn’t have been watched so closely after coming back.”

“If not for me, you wouldn’t even have gotten a live Huang’er back. How would you appease House Xiahou then?” Jiang Chen was positively frigid. His comment was completely true.

When Jiang Chen had first met Huang’er, the Generation Binding Curse had already taken a severe toll on her. If it hadn’t been dealt with in a timely manner, she wouldn't have lasted much longer.

Yan Qingsang cracked a wry smile. “Now I understand why Huang’er is so faithful to you. It’s not just talent that you have, but courage and intellect as well. Plus, you’re able to keep your cool. Given enough time and a proper stage, you might really have the potential to challenge Xiahou Zong.”

“Challenge Xiahou Zong?” Jiang Chen snickered incessantly. “You’ll know one day that he’s only an insignificant clown to me. A small interlude in the grand scheme of my life, one that won’t cause much trouble in the end.”

“You’re certainly presumptuous, aren’t you? I guess it makes sense. How long has it been since you’ve arrived at Myriad Abyss? You might not understand exactly how strong Xiahou Zong is yet.”

The corner of Jiang Chen’s mouth curled, but he didn’t reply.

“Brother Yan, I’ve cleared a road ahead of you. Think about coming to the Eternal Sacred Land. I haven’t been in House Yan long, but I can see the high hopes your grandfather has for you.”

“I know.” Yan Qingsang sounded a bit sad. “But I’ve disappointed him more than I’ve impressed him. I’m lucky to have met you. I’ve been able to hold my head higher in front of grandpa because of you, and the same is true with him and the house at large. I should say that you’re the one who changed my fate.” His tone encroached upon self-deprecation.

“People’s fates aren't decided by others. We were destined to become brothers, you and I. Truthfully, I hated House Yan as a whole before I came here. How could a family be so ruthless as to give away a granddaughter in its direct line?”

“It’s really not my grandfather’s fault,” Yan Qingsang asserted gloomily. “The house is too complacent and divided between petty disputes. All of them want to sacrifice Huang’er in order to ensure their own survival.” The young man’s tone grew indignant upon the mention of this.

“I’ve seen all of that myself. House Yan is a melting pot of chaos. The patriarch is an ambitious man, but lacks experience and charisma. He can’t keep all of the venerated elders and regular elders in line. When differences in opinion mount, the house will focus on internal strife and hasten its own decline. Once that happens, a collapse of some sort will be imminent.” Jiang Chen was completely blunt with his assessment.

House Yan’s administration had a myriad of issues. However, no one in the entire house had the ability to change it for the better. Their differing positions and interests ensured that it would stay that way. Who was willing to lose so that others might gain?

“What do you think we should do? Does the family really not have a future?” Yan Qingsang was immensely sad and disillusioned.

“If a faction or sect wants to rise, it must do so on the back of a superlative genius. An ambitious hero of sorts may lead a house out of the swamp of its troubles. When a man like that appears, all petty strife will cease. House Yan’s decline began after the death of your venerated forefather.”

“You’re right, but the house is missing someone like that. I doubt he will appear anytime soon.”

“Why haven’t you considered yourself?” Jiang Chen smiled faintly. “Your talent isn’t bad, and neither is your mentality. Why not believe in yourself a bit?”

“Who says I don’t believe myself? But it’s important to have some self-awareness as well. Even Brother Zhenhuai doesn’t think that highly of himself. How can I have such delusions of grandeur?”

Yan Zhenhuai was the only other man in House Yan that Yan Qingsang respected.

“Brother Zhenhuai is indeed remarkable, but you’re not half bad either. The Eternal Sacred Land is an opportunity for you. Are you going to give it up?”

“Of course not.” Yan Qingsang’s voice grew louder. “I’m not going to give up a chance like this. Even if I won’t last in the sacred land, I need to grasp it to drive myself forward.”

Jiang Chen smiled serenely. “Come with me then. I have my reasons for recommending you. One day, you will rise to the top – as long as you have the resolve and daring to become one of the future drivers of House Yan.”

Yan Qingsang pondered his friend’s serious expression. The sight of it was somehow powerfully encouraging. He saw hope within, and it bolstered his fighting spirit tenfold. In that moment, his passions got the better of him. “Alright, I suddenly feel that we’re somewhat similar.”

“How so?”

“No one is optimistic about either of us, but we’ll prove all of them wrong!”

Jiang Chen curved his lips. “You’re wrong there. I’ve never thought about proving myself to anyone else. I pursue one thing and one thing only: that no one else will be able to halt my step or impede my will beneath the heavens.

“Do you understand what I mean?” His smile was full of wisdom and determination.

Yan Qingsang sank into a reverie as he looked on at his friend. After a long intermission, he sighed softly. “I’d always thought that Huang’er fell in love with you because you saved her life. It seems I was foolish to have thought so.”

“From this day forward, Brother Yan, are you on Xiahou Zong’s side? Or mine?”

There was no need for Yan Qingsang to even think about it. “Is that even a question? From the bottom of the heart, I’ve always been on yours. It was reason that told me not to indulge your attempts at wooing my cousin. Xiahou Zong? I wish he would drop dead right this very moment! Even if you were to kill me a hundred times, I’d still not take his side.”

Jiang Chen grinned with leisure. “That’s why I picked you, Yan Qingsang. There are only two men among House Yan’s younger generation: Yan Zhenhuai and yourself. The others are spineless worms!”

He really didn’t care for the other Yan youths.

His animosity with Yan Qingsang thus concluded, he no longer felt like he owed anything to House Yan.

The morning of the second day, Ziju Min came to visit once more to inform House Yan that he’d made an arrangement with the Jade Lake Sect to have a rematch on the Mirage Introspection Pill. 

“The Eternal Sacred Land has taken responsibility for this little disagreement. It is no longer tied to House Yan, and the sect bears no other grudge against your house. That should be enough to alleviate your worries,” Ziju Min explained to the patriarch.

Now that things had gotten to this point, House Yan’s patriarch had no room to comment.

As long as the grudge with the Jade Lake Sect was erased, the house could at least comfort itself with the prospect of resting easy once more. Since Shao Yuan was destined to remain no longer, House Yan didn’t want to touch the matter at all.

Early next morning, Yan Wanjun brought a large batch of the house’s elites to Cloud Camel Mountain. Since his grandson was heading on to bigger and better things, there were no more worries clouding his heart.

Ziju Min himself cared quite a bit about the Mirage Introspection Pill. Clearly, he wanted to burn the new judgment about the pill into the public consciousness as authoritative fact. Only then would the Jade Lake Sect have no room to salvage their position.

Therefore, he made every effort to advance the affair.

“Shao Yuan, the Jade Lake Sect doesn’t know when to quit. Several old coots have been invited, all of them adamant that Illusory Spirit Grass is the best choice. They’ve tested using Silverstripe Grass several times, with disastrous results each time. Therefore, they feel that your refinement process included some kind of special method. In fact, they go so far as to suspect that the Eternal Sacred Land’s set everything up to strike down the sect.”

Jiang Chen grinned when he heard all this. “The Jade Lake Sect has such an overactive imagination, doesn’t it?”

Ziju Min smiled wryly. “It’s too late to say anything about it now. You need to prove it to them with your actions so that they will finally give the subject a rest.”

“That’s not hard at all. Will they accept the results, though?”

“They’re the ones bringing humiliation upon themselves. They can’t possibly blame it on you,” Ziju Min shrugged.

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