No one could fault the Eternal Sacred Land for being late or the last to arrive. It had always been the true ruler and foundation of the nation, enjoying a bevy of special benefits. In fact, some thought that the sacred land’s tardiness was intentional in order to fully display its exclusivity.
Jiang Chen was different from the other geniuses in that he focused his consciousness inwards as to conceal his true strength. Meanwhile, his fellows showed off their power for all to see, wanting everyone to acknowledge their strength.
Since all the teams had arrived, everyone was led to a predesignated area. The emperor himself served as the host for this tournament. This was most luxurious treatment indeed. No tournament of geniuses had ever personally seen an emperor as its host before.
This emperor in particular seemed to treat the Eternal Sacred Land with great deference. “First Prime, shall we begin?” he asked with a smile.
The first prime frowned a little at the question.
In theory, the emperor had authority over the proceedings, given that the imperial family was hosting the event. The emperor’s question accentuated the sacred land’s dictatorial nature—a trait that was nonexistent.
She was mildly displeased at this veiled jab.
Still, no sign of her displeasure showed through in her expression. “Your Majesty,” she replied coolly, “we are all guests to this tournament hosted by the imperial family. Please, go ahead and adjudicate. It’s not my place to interfere.”
Her words were far from biting, but her attitude was clear enough.
The emperor smiled placidly, as if he had meant no harm whatsoever moments earlier.
“Alright. We’re only checking off the registry today. After that’s done, all the geniuses gathered here will remain in the imperial capital until the end of the tournament.”
Verifying identities was hardly a difficult task.
Yan Qingsang had become very serious immediately upon his arrival. He cast cold gazes at House Yan from time to time. There was no hatred in his eyes, but a bleak indifference instead.
The house members returned his gaze largely with hostility and disdain. They had evidently reached a consensus and concluded that Yan Wanjun had fled out because of a guilty conscience.
Understandably, they felt he should’ve stayed to clean up his own mess. As for the rumors about the patriarch’s attempted assassination, those were universally ridiculed. Barely anyone within the house believed them anymore.
Because the house had come to a conclusion about Yan Wanjun, they bore considerable animosity towards Yan Qingsang as well. The young man was the traitor’s grandson, and the cousin of the source of the house’s trouble.
Jiang Chen didn’t care much about House Yan. He had only one enemy in mind—House Xiahou.
Today, Xiahou Zong had clearly taken pains with his appearance. His extravagant attire helped emphasize his tall and handsome figure. He stole the attention of the crowd, and seemed naturally superior to everyone around him.
Even the Five Great Gentlemen of the Eternal Sacred Land felt themselves inferior to a certain degree.
The pressure that Xiahou Zong exerted upon every other genius of his generation was very potent. No genius from any faction dared lock eyes with him.
Everyone knew that he had refined an ocular ability and trained a powerful consciousness. Someone who angered him via a surreptitious look would be subjected to a world of pain through the reciprocal look alone.
Therefore, the younger generation was respectful to Xiahou Zong as a matter of fact. They lacked the courage to even look straight at him, much less face him.
There was one exception though—Jiang Chen. That young man’s eyes had been trained on House Xiahou as soon as he entered. He wanted to commit every member of the house to memory, so that he might send them all to hell if he had the chance to.
Xiahou Zong had likewise been watching Jiang Chen in secret. However, his enemy didn’t spare him a single look from start to finish. Jiang Chen seemed to think of him as nothing but air.
Xiahou Zong gathered up his strength several times, prepared to make a preemptive strike against Jiang Chen with his ocular skill. Alas, he didn’t receive the chance to.
That kid is gutless through and through. He’s not even brave enough to look me in the eye. The genius’s ego grew all the more when he saw his enemy’s evasive eyes.
The registration and verification was quickly complete. There were almost two hundred competitors.
Some geniuses from second and third rate factions were present as well, having obtained spots for themselves. Unfortunately, they were fated to serve as the backdrop for their more talented peers; it was unlikely any of them would make it into the later rounds.
After registration was over, the emperor proclaimed aloud, “Eternal Divine Nation has always had excellent geniuses. This tournament in particular has drawn together our country’s best. Each of you will become future pillars of national support! We hope that you will all do your best, and bring your best! Show us the strength of your characters.
“From now on, you are free to do what you like. You may wish to chat with, or learn from, each other. Rivals in the ring may well become friends out of it. Why not encourage each other to improve?”
The registered geniuses were no longer permitted to leave. They would need to stay here for quite a while. Just as the emperor had mentioned, free time was when they could freely intermingle with each other.
Other young geniuses appeared near Jiang Chen rather quickly. But barely any of them were curious about his martial dao potential; they were here for the singular reason of asking after his pill dao talent. Some had been present at the Skymender Festival, and had borne witness to his spectacular skill.
They all wanted to make the acquaintance of this pill dao prodigy. Perhaps they would unexpectedly get something out of it, right?
Jiang Chen had always been steady when it came to dealing with people. He neither refused them with aloofness nor received them with enthusiasm.
The Five Great Gentlemen also gathered similar crowds. However, Xiahou Zong was the most popular by far.
He towered above the crowd like a giant among normal men. There were two dozen or more young geniuses by his side, attracted to him by some kind of inborn charisma.
Yan Qingsang was extremely annoyed by what he saw.
“Those sycophants only know how to suck up to Xiahou Zong. I daresay they think everything out of him smells like roses, regardless of which end it comes from.”
Yes, Xiahou Zong was arrogant, detached, even callous. However, he had no shortage of adoring lackeys at any time. Many were overjoyed at a single look or polite comment from him, an emotion that would linger for quite a while.
While Yan Qingsang seethed, Jiang Chen felt as calm as a moonlit pool. What he saw completely reasonable. Humans naturally flocked to the strong.
Xiahou Zong was at the pinnacle of his generation. It was quite likely he would become the ruler of a territory someday. Therefore, it was a good idea to make connections with a man so destined for power. Becoming his close friend wasn’t necessary, as long as one did not become his enemy. Most were more than happy enough just to make the acquaintance.
Xiahou Zong chatted with the geniuses around him with complete apathy. He wasn’t interested in socializing with those he considered so far beneath him. Shao Yuan was the only topic on his mind.
The day’s finally come. No amount of outside pressure will persuade me from killing you, kid! Xiahou Zong’s internal monologue was filled with determination.
Suddenly, a young man from House Yan sidled over to Yan Qingsang. He spat a ball of phlegm at the former Yan genius.
Having been prepared for the sudden assault, Yan Qingsang evaded it with a tilt of his head.
“Yan Qingsang, you traitorous scum. What face do you have to appear here?” The youth from House Yan glared at Yan Qingsang disdainfully.
The insult made the young man glower. “Shut up, Yan Seventh. Who the fuck are you calling a traitor? Clean yourself up!”
“Your grandfather Yan Wanjun was a traitor, and you’re his grandson. So you’re just as bad as him.” Yan Seventh was incredibly vicious.
“That’s a load of fucking bull. My grandfather was persecuted by the house. Is he not allowed to withdraw from the attacks aimed at him? Traitor? Who’s actually brought shame to House Yan again and again, hmm? Who was it that sent someone to Mount Cloud Camel to assassinate my grandfather? Some people have the gall to commit these filthy acts behind the scenes, then make up lies to frame my grandfather. Well, I say those people are becoming more foolish as they age. Maybe one day they’ll become real dogs and slaves of House Xiahou!” Yan Qingsang was criticizing House Yan’s patriarch, of course. He felt that the meek and indecisive patriarch was the root of all troubles.
“Yan Qingsang,” someone from House Xiahou suddenly interjected, “don’t drag House Xiahou into House Yan’s insignificant affairs. What is House Yan worth? We wouldn’t take you as a dog even if you offered!”
The speaker was none other than the smug Xiahou Zong.