Jiang Chen wasn't originally planning on bickering with these people over pride. He found it better to ignore their goading entirely. Still, even a sculpture had a few rough edges. This Pill King Bu constantly pushed at his boundaries, acting like they were sworn enemies. Jiang Chen glanced coldly at the pill king, silently sneering. If you want to put your face right in front of me, then don't blame for for taking a few swings at it.
"Pill King Bu, is it? I don't know where your confidence comes from. I'll put it simply. If you have an issue with me, then be a man and cut to the chase. Did you want to challenge me? Then speak up. Stop trying to take pot shots at me. We're both men, I assume. There's no need to be so cowardly about everything. Acting like some shrieking harlot... you might be shameless, but I'm not." Jiang Chen's statements didn't quite cut to the bone, but the comparison he made was still insulting.
Pill King Bu had been compared to a common wench, with none of the flair that was characteristic of a pill king. The mental image the comparison conjured up was enough to make some of the neutral judges snicker. No one was blind here. Everyone could see the lack of style in Pill King Bu's actions, and the jealousy contained therein. A long-established pill king was intentionally making things unnecessarily difficult for a rising star. This kind of behavior was completely unjustifiable.
Pill King Bu's face became as red as a pig's liver. "You're good at talking," he harrumphed. "But have you got the skills to match? Shall we make a bet on the questions?"
"How so?" Jiang Chen smiled faintly.
"We'll let the candidates choose which question they like the best, and which gives them the most inspiration. Are you up for it?"
Jiang Chen looked at his surroundings, then suddenly smiled. "What if neither of our problems are picked? Wouldn't that be a rather shameful display?"
Pill King Bu sneered. "If neither of us is chosen, then that means neither of us is the best pill king in Veluriyam. I will accept that result."
Jiang Chen couldn't help but laugh. "So you admit that you're causing trouble on purpose, then? You're just jealous then. But okay, that's fine. What do you have to bet on this?"
"What I have? Winning or losing is enough. Stakes are extraneous." Pill King Bu was perplexed.
Jiang Chen shook his head. "What's the point of a bet without stakes? Am I supposed to entertain your arbitrary request out of duty or charity?" His voice was full of rampant disregard for the old pill king, almost as if he was already being charitable enough by simply speaking to the man. Pill King Bu found the feeling greatly insulting.
"What do you have in mind?" The pill king bristled with anger.
"What do you have that's worth anything?" Jiang Chen sneered.
Pill King Bu had never been looked down upon like this in his entire life. He took a deep breath. "Then let's do it like this. The loser has to leave Veluriyam forever, and cannot return for the rest of their days. What do you think?"
That was quite the vicious bet. Jiang Chen smiled placidly, however, clearly not thinking much of it. "Is that really a worthy stake? I thought you were already going to sneak out yourself when you lost. Surely your skin isn't thick enough to stay after the shame."
Pill King Bu had reached the point of coughing up blood. He's expecting me to lose before we've even begun? He glared at Jiang Chen. "Then why don't you give a better suggestion?"
Jiang Chen tapped two fingers against his forehead in thought. "Well, let's make the bet a bit more interesting. The loser has to ask the winner to become his master and follow the winner's orders for the rest of his life."
The raised stakes caused alarm to surface in all the other judges. Such a bet had irrevocable consequences. Any normal person would pale at hearing such a suggestion. It was shocking even for someone as arrogant and proud as Pill King Bu. His eyes bulged and he found it harder to breathe. His gaze fixated on Jiang Chen. He couldn't just instantly accept such a deal, especially in the heat of the moment.
Once the bet was made, the loser would lose their entire life and freedom. For a pill king who had a thousand plus years of fame to become the disciple of a youngster… it was a fate worse than death. Entering eternal servitude was too much for an old man's face to bear. Jiang Chen didn't really want the old pill king to become his disciple anyways. He'd merely noticed how puffed up the other pill king was and wanted to strike at his ego. Only in that way could he suppress the pill king's fierceness. If he really wanted to find students, he could easily find ones that were ten times stronger than this Pill King Bu. After all, his pill dao level was considered top-notch, even during his previous life in the heavenly planes. The current skills he displayed were only the tip of the iceberg. Pill King Bu's hesitation showed his weakness before the bet had even begun.
Jiang Chen laughed casually, "Pill King Bu, I'm not going to force you to make the bet if you're too scared. But please, don't pretend like you're number one next time. I don't care if that's what you really think, but don't act in such a manner in front of me. I can't say I enjoy seeing that kind of thing."
Pill King Bu grit his teeth, and his gaze became firm. "Who says that I'm too scared to make the bet? I'll hold you to your promise. I hope you'll stay true to your words when you lose."
"We'll make a heavenly oath, naturally," Jiang Chen returned with a serene smile. "I assume we're not playing around, right?"
A heavenly oath to seal the deal? Even more shock was elicited from the judges at this new turn of events. This Pill King Zhen wasn't really just mouthing off. Was he convinced that he'd win because he had some kind of hidden plan? The bystanders weren't too concerned with the gravity of the consequences, and they looked on encouragingly at Pill King Bu. Their collective expectant gazes, tinged with a hint of interrogative intent, backed the pill king into a corner.
"A heavenly oath is perfectly fine. I'm no coward." Pill King Bu had enough trust in the potency of his question to proceed.
Turning to Sacred Peafowl Mountain's Pill King Yi, Jiang Chen chuckled. "Pill King Yi, how about you and everyone else here bear witness?"
The other judges all nodded in willing agreement. Neither party had a way out of it now. Both Jiang Chen and Pill King Bu made their respective oaths. News of the bet spread quickly to the seven titled great emperors. Emperor Peafowl shook his head when he heard of its absurdity. That kid is setting up a trap yet again.
On the other side, Emperor Shura could only frown. Why is someone as mature as Pill King Bu still so impulsive? His loss would throw a serious wrench into my plans. Emperor Shura had every confidence in Pill King Bu, but Pill King Zhen's existence in Veluriyam had reached an almost mythical height. His meteoric ascension had given rise to a feverish atmosphere in turn. Truthfully speaking, the emperor thought that Pill King Bu had a pretty good chance, even if he were to be pitted against Pill King Yi. But against this mysterious Pill King Zhen… he had a few more doubts about the matter. It wasn't because of bias, but rather, a kind of expert's instinct. The emperor was thusly very unhappy about the bet. He wanted to call it off, but he knew that if he did so now, it would become even more of a joke.
All eight questions were given out to the two hundred participating pill masters. The time given for the theory-based examination was quite long—four hours in total. The eight judges who drafted up the questions were unquestionably the cream of Veluriyam's crop. They stood at the pinnacle of their craft. Each question had its own unique way of being thought-provoking, and the pill masters who took the test felt a tangible benefit to their comprehension of pill dao. One of the questions, though, was at a cut above the rest.
If the other seven were around the level of a top-ranked pill king, then this additional question had definitely entered a new realm, surpassing a pill king's limits. The question bestowed a sense of enlightenment upon many of the. The deeper they probed into its depths, the more insight they received. Almost every contestant made the same choice—they answered the other seven questions first, and then proceeded to focus their full efforts on the final one at the end.
Although the other seven questions were quite beneficial for their studies, they only applied to specific categories of knowledge. Compared to these questions, the last question was like a stroke of genius that expanded their horizons and brought them into a brand new world. It improved every aspect of their pill-related skills. Like a treasure trove, the deeper they dug, the greater the rewards yielded.
Typically, a certain portion of the papers would be handed in early during theory examinations. But this time, all two hundred of the participants were still embroiled in the test even after their allotted time had been used up. Many didn't even notice that time had run out, and there was collective displeasure at the interruption. Regret was only natural when certain key reflections were cut off mid-thought.
Each judge's question had its own corresponding identifier. Jiang Chen's was number 8, because he had shown up late. Each participant had eight scrolls, each with a different identifier. The scrolls with the same identifier were gathered up and given to the judge who had come up with the question. That judge would then mark the scrolls one by one. Only when all of the scrolls were tallied up would a participant receive their final theory mark.
Because every judge had two hundred scrolls, it took a while for all of them to be scored. Still, it was quite easy to distinguish the quality of responses. The names on the scrolls given to Jiang Chen were obscured, having been sealed away via special methods to avoid any form of cheating.
Of course, judging pill battles was a sacred tradition, and cheating attempts were rare in the first place. From Jiang Chen's reading of the scrolls, most of the participants had spared no effort in drafting up their answers. There was sufficiently deep analyses on almost everyone's part. Despite this, however, barely anyone had an answer that shone through. There were a few glimmers here and there, but nothing particularly astounded him.
Only three or four out of the two hundred satisfied Jiang Chen's standards. Of those, two were somewhat superior, and Jiang Chen gave those especially high marks. He assigned scores to the other scrolls accordingly as well. The judges finished their marking processes at around the same time. All of the scrolls were sorted once more, this time by the examinee's name, in order to tally up the contestants' scores.
Suddenly, Pill King Yi piped up, "Everyone, please. We have a small additional request to make of you."
All of the contestants paused at this, looking at the pill king who had made the announcement. They didn't know what he wanted to say.