The tinge of soberness in Shi Xuan’s expression complicated the mood of everyone who’d looked down on Jiang Chen earlier. They hadn't anticipated the young man from Eternal to take the lead as soon as the competition began.
Though Master Shi Xuan seemed relatively unaffected, things no longer looked as easy as they did moments prior. This meant that Shao Yuan’s provocation had been premeditated rather than impulsive.
Taking the scroll of answers in hand, Shi Xuan furrowed his brow as he perused it. Truthfully, his pill dao knowledge was insufficient to fully understand the Trinonary Sages’ Puzzle. Even if he’d been given the answer, he remained perplexed about a portion of the recipes.
“The scroll doesn’t prove anything, kid. Who knows if you made it up? If you want to convince everyone, you need to present more evidence.”
“I knew you’d say that,” Jiang Chen chuckled. “Well then, what kind of proof would you like?”
“Hmph. You say that these pill recipes all exist? That means you should know how to refine any that I pick at random. I’ll choose three momentarily. If you manage to refine all of them, you pass.” Shi Xuan persisted in his skepticism.
Jiang Chen grinned with exaggerated confidence. “I know you’re a sore loser, but your resistance is futile.”
“You’re the guest here. Pick as you like. If you manage to stump me, we’ll count it as your win then.” The young man’s attitude was positively flippant. His irreverence only lent more credence to his claims.
Shi Xuan sank into thought for quite a while before carefully making his three selections.
“Refine these three on the spot. If you pull this off, then we’ll take your word for it.”
Jiang Chen laughed. “You really are a bad sport, Shi Xuan. Fine, I’ll crush your hopes. Your ignorance doesn’t mean that the Trinonary Sages’ Puzzle doesn’t exist.”
The materials prepared, he got to work right away in front of a rapt audience.
Jiang Chen had entered this duel solely in order to make his name known. He allowed the full measure of his pill dao skill to be seen by all. During the refining process, he intentionally added unique flourishes to improve the splendor of his technique.
He won over the hearts of some for his showmanship. Though other heavyweights were opponents of unnecessary flair in the world of pill dao, they found nothing to critique about his craft’s fundamentals.
The Trinonary Sages’ Puzzle had been meant as amusement. Though some of the pill recipes were comparatively more esoteric, none were difficult to refine. It took Jiang Chen just short of two hours to deliver all three requested types of pills.
“Please take a look at the pills presented here.” Jiang Chen snapped a finger, prompting a ready and delighted Yan Qingsang to carry a platter with them to the various representatives.
The pills themselves weren’t particularly impressive, but Jiang Chen’s artful approach had imparted them with an exceptional aura. All of the pills were technically flawless. They were so masterful that they might as well have been works of nature.
Many pill dao giants didn’t spare their praise after viewing the young man’s handiwork. “To imbue simple creations with such impressive mastery… Well done, young man. Very well done!”
“Could you make a gift of one of these pills to me, young man? As a souvenir?”
Though the world of pill dao emphasized seniority, its masters granted the utmost respect to those who exhibited surpassing skill.
Jiang Chen’s superb expertise was more than enough for them to retract their two-part bias—both his youth and the Eternal Sacred Land’s past inadequacy had colored their perceptions. The young man’s commanding prowess was winning him widespread recognition, even reverence.
Many no longer thought that he’d bitten off more than he could chew with his challenge to Shi Xuan. He clearly had enough talent to teach his opponent a serious lesson, even if he didn’t end up winning. Plus, who knew how things were going to play out? With phenomenal performance and a little bit of luck, a miracle was always possible.
Having been presented with the three pills in turn, Shi Xuan was entirely expressionless. “Fine, you pass,” he stated with a blank look. “However, I haven’t given my question yet this round. Don’t celebrate yet!”
There were three rounds in total. Both participants had the opportunity to present their opponent with a question. Right now, Shi Xuan had merely failed to answer Jiang Chen’s. If Jiang Chen couldn’t answer Shi Xuan’s question in turn, this round would be a tie.
Shi Xuan had plenty of confidence in his own question. He regretted his earlier failure to answer, but he firmly believed that he would stump the young man in turn.
Producing a different scroll through a flick of the wrist, he shook his right hand to unfurl it. “This question is also related to pill recipes. This is an altered recipe with nine materials, but some of these are false. Your job is to revise the recipe with the correct materials so that it’s useful again.”
He tossed the scroll right in front of Jiang Chen, who casually snatched it out of the air.
Shi Xuan was composed and confident. He had found the ancient pill recipe in a fragment of text, and had repaired it through two to three decades of research. He adamantly believed that the source of it was one-of-kind; in fact, he was doubtful the author himself had possessed the full recipe. There was no way the young man could do what he had done on the spot.
Jiang Chen opened up the scroll leisurely. A single sweep caused him to burst into laughter.
He was all too familiar with pills of every stripe. A myriad of materials and recipes were imprinted in his mind as rigidly as unchangeable formulas. Vivid images appeared in his consciousness out of instinct.
He combined the materials together automatically, resulting in a dozen or more possibilities. The process of elimination produced three most likely candidates.
After some further consideration, Jiang Chen flashed a leisurely grin.
“Are you trying to trick me with your question, Shi Xuan?” The trip down memory lane had stimulated his powers of recollection. He now remembered what the three recipes were associated with.
What he had in front of him was a different puzzle. Less famous than the Trinonary Sages’ Puzzle, but also much more deceptive in nature. The nine types of materials and their permutations meant there were multiple possibilities as to the correct answer.
Entirely different recipes were obtained depending on whether two, three, or four types of materials were swapped out. Therefore, there were no fixed ‘wrong materials’ to speak of.
Shi Xuan raised an eyebrow. “There’s no need to posture if you can’t answer, kid. How am I trying to trick you? You’re the uninformed one here.”
Jiang Chen sneered. “No, you’re definitely trying to pull the wool over my eyes. I’m lucky I know how sinister of a puzzle this is, so I need to ask this in advance: which kind of answers are you looking for?”
Which kind of answers? So… were there multiple?
Jiang Chen’s daring comeback caused an eruption of interest. Everyone was curious exactly what kind of devilish puzzle deserved the young man’s condemnation.“What do you mean?” Shi Xuan countered icily. “How can there be multiple answers?”
“Hmph. According to what I know, there are at least three. If I were to say just one of them, you would definitely declare it incorrect. That’s why I have to know: do you want the answer that changes two, three, or four materials?”
The collective curiosity in the crowd turned to astonishment. How long had it taken the young man to come up with such an insightful response? Had Shi Xuan really been unlucky enough to ask a question that Shao Yuan knew the answer to?
If that were the case, the Flora master was in big trouble this round. Was he going to concede the first point?
Shi Xuan was in the dark himself. His years of research had yielded only a single answer—the one that swapped out two materials. He had no idea about the ones that swapped three or four. How was he supposed to answer?
He could feel his mouth dry up. Calming down his agitated heart, he harrumphed. “Answer the one that swaps out two materials. Stop pretending like you know more than you do.”
“Two materials? That’s the most rudimentary answer,” Jiang Chen replied coolly. “Too easy.”
He immediately started to draft his answer, taking special care to announce exactly which two materials he’d swapped out afterward. Furthermore, he announced the question itself to the public to garner more witnesses.
Jiang Chen didn’t believe Shi Xuan had any ethics to speak of. He was worried that the older man would have some other ploy up his sleeve, hence the insurance policy. He wanted to nip any potential conspiracies in the bud.
Shi Xuan was petrified when he heard Jiang Chen’s words. The fruits of decades of research into an ancient pill recipe—rudimentary?!
This was an immense blow to his ego.