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At the end of the day, Shi Xuan was a pill dao master who’d enjoyed a lengthy career of success. His opponent Shao Yuan was just a young genius. Though he might have incredible talent when it came to theory, the expertise behind his practical technique seemed rather more nebulous.

Surely there was a marked difference between a young man and a proven senior? Wasn’t it very unwise for Shao Yuan to fight in a field favorable to his opponent?

Even those from the Eternal Sacred Land felt that he had overreached here. Shouldn’t he have brought out the Crowning Empyrean Pill, forcing Shi Xuan to lose on the spot?

After all, there was no way the other man could refine the pill, which would lead to an automatic loss for the second round. The bet would be absolutely over then.

Ziju Min exhaled a distraught sigh. He was pained by Jiang Chen’s apparently reckless decision, a sentiment that the three primes keenly shared. However, they guessed correctly that the young man had a good reason behind his choice. Maybe he was so certain in his victory that it didn’t matter.

Shi Xuan didn’t know what his opponent intended, but he was pleasantly surprised when he heard what Jiang Chen had proposed. He’d been worried that the youth would ask another arcane question, just like the first. Whether he could muster up an answer in that case was still up in the air.

But kindling a flame was a technical affair. Shi Xuan considered himself too much of a veteran to lose to a youngster.

His inexperience and arrogance is showing through. He wants to beat me with his practical skills? What a joke!

He’d been in the depths of despair, losing himself in an endless night. But a ray of hopeful light shone through. He would be a fool not to take advantage of this opportunity. “Fine, fine,” he cackled. “I’d like to see how good you are at kindling a flame.”

Jiang Chen ignored the strange looks all around him. His eyes were placid, and a mysterious smile hung on his face. “I hear Elder Zimu was beaten by your control over flame. How good are you actually, I wonder? Perhaps you cheated all those years ago?”

Shi Xuan didn’t care about the young man’s mockery. His face didn’t matter nearly as much as the result at this point. He needed to at least break even. Thus, the pill dao giant patiently waited for Jiang Chen to present the terms of the battle. He firmly believed he had a chance to come back when it came to practical technique.

Jiang Chen was as relaxed as ever. “I have two standard cauldrons prepared right here, of the exact same quality. The audience members are free to review them ahead of time. We will use the same kindling technique to see who warms his cauldron up first. Resonance marks victory. How about it?”

Everything about the proposal was commonplace and customary. However, Shi Xuan hesitated. He was worried that Jiang Chen might have fixed up the cauldrons in a deceptive way.

“I don’t think we need to use two cauldrons,” he declared. “One is fine. Also, it has to come from a neutral faction to be fair.”

Everyone shook their heads at Shi Xuan’s words. Was this the same proud Shi Xuan who’d challenged so many seniors? The man whose defining characteristic was how overbearing he was? Why did he quibble over the slightest details all of a sudden?

Still, his behavior was understandable. If Shi Xuan wasn’t circumspect about everything he could be, he would lose even more badly than he already was. The young man from the Eternal Sacred Land was significantly more generous in comparison.

“You are the guest, Shi Xuan, so do as you like. Using only one cauldron is acceptable. Which friend is willing to contribute his cauldron?”

None of the divine nations’ pill dao heavyweights were miserly with their cauldrons.

After a brief selection process, a cauldron from Polylore Divine Nation was chosen. Polylore had no relations with either Flora or Eternal, making this a very safe, neutral pick. There was no bias or assisted cheating to be wary of.

The cauldron underwent an examination from both contestants before the round proceeded. Neither found issue with the vessel they were presented with.

Since there was only one cauldron, the competition couldn’t take place simultaneously. There needed to be an order, with an intermission to allow the cauldron to cool down. An hourglass or burning incense could be used to keep time.

Jiang Chen smiled serenely. “Shi Xuan, I’ll be generous one more time. Why don’t you go first?”

Shi Xuan didn’t seem so eager for priority this time. “No, you can go first,” he feigned charity.

The young man replied with a laugh. “You won’t have a chance if I go first. I don’t want to crush your confidence like this. What if you lose all hope of proceeding?”

Shi Xuan harrumphed. “If you can do that, that would be more than enough cause for my loss.”

Going second actually had the advantage in such competitions. He wanted to see how his opponent warmed the cauldron, noting any characteristics of the vessel in the process. It was a good chance to get acquainted without actually getting hands-on.

Jiang Chen knew what his opponent was thinking. “I’ll go first then, since you’re being so kind,” he nodded.

“Hold on!” Ziju Min interjected. “I think the latter is favored in this kind of competition. A chance to observe one’s opponent and the cauldron can’t be underestimated. I suggest that Shi Xuan be forbidden from watching Shao Yuan’s technique.” 

His proposal was completely reasonable. The other observers nodded uniformly. The second competitor had a clear edge thanks to first hand observation.

Though Shi Xuan had wanted to secretly take advantage, he could no longer do so when the fact was brought out into the open.

“Why would I need that kind of edge?” he harrumphed.

His pretentious rigidity was a bit too obvious. Those from the Flora Sacred Land would be watching regardless of his presence. He left the competition area and sat back into his spot, turning his back to Jiang Chen.

The young man approached the cauldron. “You can start the count,” he declared.

Time was kept through the burning of incense.

A single rub of his hands was enough to produce the pill-fire inherent in Jiang Chen’s body. A flame appeared in the palms of his hands. He was in a very good mood. It was a damn thrill that he could use his own inner flame in this life for pill-related things.

Because he had been unable to cultivate in his previous life, he’d been forced to rely on external sources of fire. Even then, he had a superb mastery of fire control techniques. They were only amplified now that the fire came from inside himself.

The embers of the pill-fire leaped about in Jiang Chen’s hands like dancing sprites, full of mysterious vigor. He pulled them gently through the air, producing a trail of afterimages.

Layers upon layers of these afterimages were produced, interlacing with each other.

Most remarkably, the afterimages—or so they appeared at first—were coming to life themselves at the beckoning of Jiang Chen’s hand seals. They became as real as their original fellows.

This wasn’t the first time Jiang Chen had used this ability to kindle a flame. He’d actually done so many times in the past. However, this was the first time he had done so in such a glamorous fashion.

Because he was an empyrean cultivator now, his pill-fire had become even more dazzling and magnificent than before. There were nine layers of flame in all, each containing nine embers. They surrounded the cauldron in a burning ring. This method was called True Fires of Ninety Nine. 

It was the first time Jiang Chen used the method after breaking through. The mesmerizing visual effects that accompanied it fascinated his entire audience.

Every observer was silent. No one uttered a word or dared move even a little. In fact, many held their breaths in an unconscious attempt to preserve the beauty they witnessed. There was a widespread sentiment that this exquisite moment could be frozen in eternity, so magnificently divine was the spectacle.

Eighty-one balls of flame bloomed like crimson lotuses. Pure, noble, and splendid, they gave off a radiance that garnered the attention of whoever beheld them.

The cauldron was no ordinary vessel, either. It was one of the best cauldrons in Myriad Abyss, so preheating it was no easy matter.

However, the True Fires of Ninety Nine took not even two or three-tenths of an incense stick to bring the cauldron to a healthy roar. The sound was filled with an excitement that seemed as if the cauldron had been also won over by the marvelous flames. The cauldron rang far louder than it usually did.

Everyone was shocked by what they saw. It hadn’t been long at all, and he was already done? The incense had barely burned!

Even the pill dao giant who’d loaned out the cauldron was astonished. He found it entirely unexpected that his cauldron was warmed so quickly. What did the brilliant sound of the cauldron mean?

Shi Xuan trembled when he heard the commotion from the cauldron. His mind almost crumbled on the spot. How can he be so quick? 

He had planned on going second because he thought perhaps the person going first wouldn’t be accustomed to the cauldron. He had wanted to begin turning the tables from this segment. Unfortunately, his opponent had heated up the cauldron unbelievably fast.

Though his back had been turned to the proceedings, the silence just now had been very strange. This disquieted him.

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