Yan Qingsang cackled with glee. He hadn’t felt much of a sense of belonging to House Yan before, but his loyalties had rested there in the end. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have opposed Jiang Chen’s initial wooing of his cousin Yan Qinghuang so vehemently.
His disappointment with his house had developed gradually. The attempt on his grandfather’s life, in particular, had utterly crushed any remaining hopes. House Yan had betrayed him, not the other way around.
The conclusion freed Yan Qingsang from the chains of negativity.
He cared little for Xiahou Zong’s mockery. “Brother.” He turned to Jiang Chen. “It’s your turn to shine this time. That guy over there has run amok for many, many years. It’s high time he was taught a lesson.”
Jiang Chen sighed softly, becoming suddenly pensive. He didn’t know why, but he was reminded of his prior conversation with the sacred land’s venerated forefather—about the dangers lurking beneath the surface.
He hadn’t quite understood what it all meant, at the time. But now, it seemed that this danger was no laughing matter.
Though he lacked concrete proof, the passion with which the nation’s geniuses flocked around Xiahou Zong was reason enough to suspect something was awry.
At least in the younger generation, Xiahou Zong was far more influential than the sacred land’s own geniuses. The Eternal Sacred Land had the Five Great Gentlemen, but the total number of fans around them couldn’t match Xiahou Zong’s groupies.
This was in itself a taunting swipe at the Eternal Sacred Land.
“Enough with the spittle, Qingsang.” There was no need to engage in verbal disputes when the actual fighting was about to begin. Jiang Chen concluded mingling with the geniuses who’d approached him and returned to the rest area arranged by the imperial family.
“Wait up, Brother Shao Yuan!” Many of the geniuses who wanted to form a stronger relationship followed.
“Please be considerate, gentlemen.” Yan Qingsang grinned. “Brother Shao Yuan would like to focus his efforts on preparing for the tournament. If you’d like to talk to him, feel free to come after.”
The geniuses moaned and groaned at their star’s departure.
Meanwhile, Yan Qingsang chased after Jiang Chen into the rest area as well. Each competitor had his own personal resting area.
“Brother,” Yan Qingsang laughed, “it looks like you’re quite popular. Even the Five Great Gentlemen can’t compare.” Popularity was a point of frustration as well though. “What a shame that Xiahou Zong has such deep-seated foundations and an illustrious reputation! Sucks that he’s the most popular of all.”
“If you had the title of ‘best genius’ for as long as Xiahou Zong, you would be even more popular.” Jiang Chen smiled coolly.
“I suppose that’s true,” Yan Qingsang chuckled. “Too bad I’m not the best, eh? Still, I’m annoyed whenever I see his ugly, self-satisfied mug.”
“Let him strut.” Jiang Chen waved a hand. “He might not have a chance to after the tournament.”
There were three days until the actual fighting was scheduled to begin. Jiang Chen didn’t want to waste any time; his tight handle on time wasn’t just for the tournament of geniuses.
Yan Qingsang had never seen his friend so serious before. It was a sign for him not to intrude. He said his farewell before returning to his residence.
He had wanted to show off his empyrean breakthrough to the world and make House Yan regret their bad attitude. However, Jiang Chen’s placidity was infectious—after seeing it, Yan Qingsang had no more motivation for showing off to the rest of the world. So what if House Yan knew? How could he have been so shallow in the first place?
Jiang Chen had inspired him to work on his own cultivation.
The two friends’ behavior was rather exceptional in the views of the rest. The three days’ time had been allotted for the geniuses to connect with each other socially. Though the geniuses would no doubt meet each other in the arena, the matches hardly had to be crippling or lethal.
Some geniuses preferred using an opportunity like this to network and build up their contacts.
The first prime had wanted Jiang Chen to do the same in order to build a following. His pill dao talent made gathering a group of adherents easy enough.
As such, she was a little saddened that the young man had passed the opportunity by. Considering the pressure on his shoulders at this tournament though, the first prime couldn’t ask for more.
The results of that crucial match was key.
If the young man could bring about another miracle by defeating Xiahou Zong, he would be propelled to instant acclaim. If he lost, his pill dao talent alone wouldn’t bring him much popularity.
This was a clash of fortunes. To the victor went the privilege of guiding Eternal Divine Nation’s future.
The commotion in the outside world didn’t disturb the meditative pool within Jiang Chen’s heart. Right now, he wasn’t interested in worldly glory or profit. On the other hand, adulation positively surrounded Xiahou Zong.
“Young master Zong, that Shao Yuan really is scared of you. See? He’s hidden himself away already.”
“Hmph, who would dare call himself a genius before young master Zong? Shao Yuan has some pill dao skills, sure, but we cultivators settle our scores in the ring.”
“As long as the young master is here, no one else can possibly be the best genius of Eternal Divine Nation.”
“Young master Zong, we look forward to your triumph at the tournament. Teach that fool a lesson!”
“Isn’t that right? Drill it into him!”
Though Xiahou Zong maintained an impassive expression, he was quite pleased to hear the flattery. He had a lot of pent-up anger from the affair around Yan Qinghuang. His pride simply hadn’t allowed him to show any of it.
“Gentlemen, since you know my goal is Shao Yuan, I hope you know what you have to do in the tournament when you meet me?” Xiahou Zong asked smoothly.
“Ah, definitely. How would we dare duel you? We will surrender on the spot.”
“Quite so. Fighting with you means biting off more than we can chew!”
“Young master Zong, I’m going to symbolically use a couple of moves to save some face. Please go easy on me.”
“Why would you need to do that? It’s hardly shameful to surrender before young master Zong. Since we can’t win, we should just save the young master some effort.”
The sycophants vied to set the bar for their words and tones lower and lower.
Xiahou Ying found all of this very interesting to listen to. Remembering the proud Shao Yuan made her angry once more. She wouldn’t be satisfied until he fell in the ring.
“What if you meet Shao Yuan?” she suddenly interrupted.
“We’ll give it our all, obviously.”
“Hmph, I’ll beat him if I meet him. He needs to be exposed for what he is: a fame-seeking sham!”
“That’s right. He’s just an outsider. No matter how amazing he is, you really think he can beat us geniuses from the divine nation? I don’t believe it for a minute!”
“You don’t mind if I smash that kid, do you, young master Zong?”
“If he can’t even reach me in the first place, he’s not worthy to lose to me,” Xiahou Zong stated coldly, indicating that he wasn’t opposed to their suggestions.
Jiang Chen didn’t know about the makeshift alliance among Xiahou Zong’s devotees. Though it had hardly any permanence to speak of, the members of this alliance would doubtless stop at nothing just to lick Xiahou Zong’s boots. There would be plenty of resistance against him in the tournament of geniuses.
Of course, he wouldn’t have cared even if he did know.
He didn’t expect that any opponent would sandbag a match in any arena. Only an opponent who committed himself in full was of interest to him.
Three days passed in the blink of an eye. Jiang Chen used the time to re-familiarize himself with his own combat methods, abilities, skills, and treasures. A practiced hand was crucial to winning in the heat of battle.
When the rays of the morning sun struck the earth of the fourth day, Jiang Chen looked up into the horizon. The fervor of the impending tournament’s atmosphere filled his heart with anticipation.
All of the geniuses were gathered in the arena.
The nation’s emperor was in attendance, garbed in a luxurious dragon robe. Imperial guardsmen with suits of polished armor stood all about him, looking very imposing indeed.
The various factions’ leaders and notables sat in the guest area in a large circle.
“Friends, the tournament of geniuses is an important affair for the young people of this nation. Every young man and woman who stands here is a scintillating pearl deserving of praise. Only one question remains: who is the brightest among you? That is what this tournament seeks to answer. Please put on a fantastic show for us to enjoy. We, for one, would like you to win Us over from the bottom of Our heart.” The emperor refrained from rambling in his speech.
A few introductory words were sufficient before a segue into the rules.
The rules themselves were simple enough. Single elimination was the name of the game.
Since there were nearly two hundred competitors, two small-scale elimination rounds were carried out to reduce the number to a hundred and twenty-eight.
After that, the real elimination tournament could begin. A hundred twenty-eight competitors meant seven rounds to decide the champion.
Jiang Chen was lucky enough to be passed over for the preliminary elimination rounds, but Yan Qingsang was chosen as a participant.
Of course, it was trivial for someone who’d distinguished himself in the sacred land’s internal competition to pass the preliminary with flying colors. He faced two opponents in a row, neither of which gave him much trouble. Winning twice secured him a spot among the hundred twenty-eight.