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No cultivator would willingly give up pursuit of martial dao when there was even a sliver of hope. Gan Ning was no exception. Xiahou Zong had completely destroyed his dantian, completely sucking him dry of all future and driving him to despair.

Jiang Chen’s words were made believable by his unparalleled talent in pill dao. Gan Ning’s eyes lit up, clinging to the chance of recovery.

Jiang Chen nodded earnestly. “I never lie. Take the pill and rest well. After the sword competition, I’ll find ways to restore you to peak condition. Everything Xiahou Zong has done to you, I’ll pay him back in spades!”

Gan Ning cut in urgently, “You mustn’t! Don’t lose your calm and go toe-to-toe with him! He hates you much more than he does us. He was merely taking out his anger on me, but you? You’ll be subjected to all his fury. He wants nothing more than to mince you into meat paste. A fight to the death is exactly what he wants!”

He was very concerned for Jiang Chen. Their last fight had ended in a tie, so he believed that he had a good grasp on Jiang Chen’s strength. Even if the other genius had improved significantly over the past few months, he couldn’t have bridged the gap between him and Xiahou Zong.

Jiang Chen smiled slightly in lieu of an answer and placed the pill onto Gan Ning’s palm, patting the back of his hand. “Don’t worry. I know what I’m doing.”

Gan Ning closed his eyes and sighed deeply. “You wouldn’t be Shao Yuan if you listened to me and just yielded. Fine, then one word of advice. Protect yourself and don’t give him an opportunity to destroy you.”

Xiahou Zong was now one of Gan Ning’s worst nightmares. He’d always fancied himself one of the top geniuses of the Eternal Divine Nation, but the fight with Xiahou Zong showed him what a real genius truly was.

It might be a stretch to describe it as a fight between an adult and a child, but he had indeed felt as if shackled when facing the man.

Xiahou Zong’s moves hadn’t seemed particularly powerful, but the way he’d chained them together had turned Gan Ning into a puppet that danced to his tune. Xiahou Zong had maintained full control over the flow of the battle. Gan Ning had only been able to deploy a fraction of his usual level.

Only someone overwhelmingly stronger could control his opponent’s pace of attacks.

Gan Ning resented Xiahou Zong’s brutal cruelty, but there had been nothing he could do. There was simply too big a gap between them.

The first prime approached the group with a dark expression. Her rage was evident.

Gan Ning was one of the Five Great Gentlemen and among the best that the sacred land had to offer. Someone as protective of her own as the first prime naturally wasn’t going to be happy about Xiahou Zong’s lack of restraint.

She’d warned Duke Xiaoyao earlier, telling him to keep a leash on Xiahou Zong.

Duke Xiaoyao had chuckled. “First Prime, I told you the last time I visited that not even I can predict what Xiahou Zong will do when he’s truly enraged. What can I do if he injures his opponent too seriously? I can’t tell him to hold back, can I? This is a competition. He isn’t going to throw his matches.” With that, he brayed with exaggerated laughter.

His laughter was grating on the first prime’s ears.

Duke Xiaoyao’s remark had been insolent, but there had been some truth to it. The sword competition didn’t forbid competitors from hurting their opponents. Even death was commonplace. Everyone participated knowing there was a chance they would perish. Those scared should drop out beforehand.

A fuming first prime now returned to the sacred land’s area. She knew what House Xiahou was trying to do. It pained her to see how disheartened her youths were.

“Xiahou Zong is a monster who knows no restraint. If you encounter him and are going to lose, surrender rather than push yourself. This seat won’t blame you for that.”

“Hmph, that animal’s gone overboard!” The geniuses shared in her anger.

The first prime waved a hand and cast a despondent glance at Jiang Chen, issuing a serious reminder, “Xiahou Zong hates you even more, Shao Yuan. If you encounter him, remember...”

Jiang Chen nodded noncommittally. “Worry not, First Prime, I know what I’m doing.”

No one would believe him now if he declared his assurance. It’d only make the others dislike him. He reminded Yan Qingsang, “Any of us could run into Xiahou Zong in future rounds, Qingsang. If you do, yield and leave him to me.”

Yan Qingsang was confident in himself, but he knew he was far from Xiahou Zong’s level. He sighed. “Alright. I can’t defeat that bastard anyway.”

The Eternal Sacred Land was very dispirited that night. Only four of their members had entered the round of thirty-two, which was too little for a faction of their rank.

Jiang Chen was sure that the hosts were undermining the sacred land on purpose. As he expected, the four remaining competitors from the faction were struck again by bad luck the next day.

Jiang Chen’s opponent was the top genius of the Cloudwave Sect, one of Xiahou Zong’s most devoted supporters. He’d showed his devotion with great enthusiasm and sworn to Xiahou Zong that he’d aim to kill if he encountered Jiang Chen.

The other members of the sacred land were pitted against powerful opponents as well. The top of the Five Great Gentlemen, for instance, was going to fight Xiahou Zong, while Yan Qingsang and the others were facing strong contenders for the top five spots of the competition.

The sacred land was in danger of full elimination. Jiang Chen shook his head. The hosts had really gone overboard. Was the imperial family trying to free themselves from the sacred land and establish their own reign? Even a fool would realize that the matchmaking had been manipulated.

The first prime maintained a calm face. It wasn’t the right time for her to make a scene, but the imperial family had thoroughly roused her ire with their little tricks.

There was a great chance that only one or two out of the sacred land would be able to enter the top sixteen, and none at all after the next round. If Jiang Chen won his match, he predicted that he was very likely to encounter Xiahou Zong next.

Whoever pulling the strings must think the Five Great Gentlemen were more worthy foes for Xiahou Zong to deal with. There was no doubt that every one of Xiahou Zong’s opponents would be from the sacred land.

This wasn’t so much a competition, but a conspiracy against the Eternal Sacred Land.

“Do your best and don’t push yourself,” the first prime offered in comfort when she saw the match-ups.

Yan Qingsang’s opponent was too strong for him to defeat.

The one pitted against Xiahou Zong was Gentleman Sui Chen, first of the Five. His level of cultivation was higher than that of Wu You. If his opponent hadn’t been Xiahou Zong, it was almost a guarantee that he’d enter the finals. As it was, his journey in the competition had come to an end.

Jiang Chen didn’t know Sui Chen well, so he couldn’t offer the young genius any comfort. Sui Chen’s scowl made his dark mood clear. It seemed that he was resentful of Jiang Chen for bringing him bad luck. In his eyes, it was Shao Yuan and his provocation of Xiahou Zong that had started the series of misfortunes for geniuses from the sacred land.

Jiang Chen could read the hostility in Sui Chen’s eyes. He shook his head. In truth, he wished his opponent was Xiahou Zong rather than someone from the Cloudwave Sect. Unfortunately, Xiahou Zong seemed to deem Jiang Chen unworthy at the moment, or perhaps he wanted to toy with his prey a little longer.

“The situation is more complicated than it appeared to be, Qingsang,” Jiang Chen reminded Yan Qingsang again. “Someone is plotting against the sacred land behind the scenes. Do your best, but remember to put your own safety first.”

“Don’t worry.” Yan Qingsang grinned. “I won’t give anyone a chance to hurt me. If I can’t win, I’ll surrender. Given my lack of reputation, I’ve achieved more than enough in the competition. I have nothing to lose and can freely admit defeat!”

As he said, it was remarkable enough for him to partake in the competition. He’d already defeated several; it was more than enough to prove himself.

“Alright, geniuses, go to your designated stage,” announced someone from the host area. “Let the third round of matches commence!”

“Let’s go!” said Jiang Chen as he rushed to his stage.

The genius from the Cloudwave Sect had been waiting for some time. He looked like a cat toying with a mouse, his gait relaxed and his smile frigid.

Jiang Chen glanced at him and didn’t cup his hands in greeting.

“It’s Shao Yuan, isn’t it? You’re talented in pill dao, but you’re far from good enough in martial dao. Let me, Shen Fan from the Cloudwave Sect, teach you a lesson today.”

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