As looks of curiosity focused on him, Pill King Yi could only smile. "We have a little… disagreement… internally with the judges. So, we'd like you all to rank the exam questions. Your exam consisted of eight questions. We'd like you to pick the one question you thought had the greatest beneficial effect for you. Please write it down, and we'll tally up the results."
There was some commotion from the test-takers. Finding the situation quite amusing, many of them broke out in laughter. The request left them in high spirits. There was a lot of pressure on them because of the judging process. Now, they were given the chance to decide something about the judges. No one would simply let such an enjoyable opportunity slip by! Everyone hastened to write down their answer. In truth, many contestants already had an internal answer to the question, even though they hadn't expected this additional bonus round.
Most wrote without much thought. The entire crowd finished their judgments in only a brief amount of time. Pill King Yi noticed this as well, and found it a little bizarre. "What, you're done already? You don't want to consider things a bit more?"
At the judges' table, Pill King Bu was clutching the sides of his chair with both hands with an intensity almost strong enough to break both armrests. His expression was conflicted and his gaze fierce, focusing on the contestants below. He was very interested in the final answer. Whose question would these participants pick? Why had it been selected so quickly and thoughtlessly? He didn't know why, but Pill King Bu felt an unreasonable sense of panic arise in his heart when he saw everyone's lack of hesitation. The answers had been given instantaneously. Though he felt his question could surpass everyone else's, he still had some degree of self-awareness. No matter how good his answer was, it couldn't have an absolute advantage… not enough to make everyone decide in such synchronized unison, at any rate. He had a bad feeling about this. His eyelids started twitching.
Suddenly, one of the participants below decided to cry out, "All of the questions this time were well-written, but there's no question about which one is the best."
"I agree! One of them in particular touched me in a powerful way. I have to pick that one." A single interjection turned into a sea of discussion.
The judges looked at each other helplessly at their table. Apparently, the decision process was very easy, and there was one question with significant public approval? An almost overwhelming edge, one could say? None of the judges considered their own question worthy of possessing such a characteristic.
Pill King Yi collected the two hundred slips very quickly, and returned to the other judges. Since Jiang Chen and Pill King Bu were the betting parties, they had no right to view the slips. The other six judges began the counting process. The results were simply stupefying. The judges' expressions looked uniformly odd after reading only a dozen or so of the answers. In particular, Pill King Yi's expression had the hint of a barely-suppressed smile within, like it was about to burst out at any given moment. All of them stared Pill King Bu up and down, their looks peculiar.
As the tallying continued, the judges' gazes intensified. By the completion of the counting, they were simply baffled. It was as if an arduous task had just been finished. Each of them leaned back in their chairs, their foreheads beaded with cold sweat.
All of the slips had voted for the same question! Not a single one was different.
Each of them selected question 8—the question Pill King Zhen had written. It was a total consensus. Even Pill King Yi hadn't expected such a conclusion. He had thought that Pill King Zhen was more likely to win, but not in such a devastating way. It was a complete and total annihilation!
Despite Pill King Bu's impudence, he had not received a single vote. All of them had voted for Pill King Zhen instead. Even Emperor Shura's scions hadn't picked another answer. Perhaps they disregarded matters of standing in this subject, choosing to view it in terms of skill level alone.
Pill King Yi's barely-contained mirth chilled Pill King Bu to the bone. Even a fool would know, considering the other judges' expressions as well, that the result of the tally was likely extremely disadvantageous for him. He didn't know exactly how bad yet, though. He looked at Pill King Zhen out of the corner of his eye. The kid was collected as always, almost as if he wasn't one of the betting parties. His confidence remained perpetually unshaken. Jiang Chen's aplomb painfully pierced Pill King Bu's ego.
"It's unfortunate for me to have to say this, but... Pill King Bu, you've lost." Pill King Yi wasn't too cruel about it. His announcement was matter-of-factly stated.
Pill King Bu's heart skipped a beat, and all blood drained from his face. He stuttered. "No… no way… how could I have lost? Did you get something wrong somewhere?"
"There's no mistake." Sighing softly, Pill King Yi shook his head. Maybe that was possible with only a few people, but all two hundred slips were identical. How could there be an error?
Pill King Bu was still struggling with reality. "I don't believe it. I want to see the slips!" He exclaimed loudly.
Pill King Yi laughed mirthlessly, "Pill King Bu, you definitely don't want to do that. You'll be even sadder if you do."
"Bullshit! How do I know you're not just messing with me if I don't get to see the votes?" The judges' table had a soundproof barrier around it. The contestants could see the commotion, but they didn't know what they were discussing. Still, there seemed to be some kind of an argument.
Pill King Yi furrowed his brow at his colleague's attitude. He was saving Pill King Bu from further embarrassment by not elaborating on the details of his loss. How could Pill King Bu not know what was good for him? Calling him 'bullshit' was just rude. He suspected that everyone else was fudging the votes just to mess with him?"
"If you want to see the votes, then go right ahead." Pill King Yi's expression grew cold. "I only hope that you don't have nightmares that plague you for the rest of your life!"
There was no way the other pill king could take his advice now. Pill King Bu desperately wanted to see a difference somewhere. All two hundred of the slips were laid out in front of Pill King Bu. He looked through them one by one, his facial muscles spasming every time he read past a slip. Similarly, his face grew more and more colorless with each answer he read. He was already on the verge of collapse after going through forty or fifty slips. His hands and lips shook, as if he'd seen a ghost in broad daylight.
Past a hundred, he no longer had the courage to continue. He sank into his chair, his expression suddenly decrepit. Despair oozed out of his eyes. After a long while, the old pill king sat up again. He looked at Jiang Chen, his face ashen. "I admit defeat. I only have one request remaining. Let me see the question you wrote. What kind of question was it, that everyone picked yours over mine?"
"Feel free." Jiang Chen smiled easily.
Opening up the scroll, Pill King Bu read it for only a brief moment before his face underwent a series of different expressions. There was surprise, astonishment, and finally—utter helplessness.
"I… truly, I have totally lost." Placing the scroll weakly down, he walked in front of Jiang Chen. "Pill King Zhen, I'm just a frog in a well. You are my master from this day forth, and I will heed your every order."
There wasn't much unwillingness in his tone. Only deep resignation and failure. No one had defeated him so soundly before. There was no room at all for debate. The aftermath of this localized storm was quickly passed on to the seven great emperors, who could only shake their heads one by one.
"You've lost another key general, eh?" Emperor Void said jokingly, sixth among the seven emperors.
Emperor Shura was sullen. "Just a small bout. Battles over pills can only be considered an appetizer. Not worthy of much mention, really."
None of the other emperors wanted to respond. Shura's displeasure was plain as day. Emperor Peafowl was the first to break the silence, "Both pill dao and martial dao fall under the demesne of the heavenly dao," he smiled. "Your bias remains, Brother Shura."
Emperor Shura frowned a little, "Do you hold pill dao in such high regard, Brother Peafowl?"
Emperor Peafowl returned an unrestrained smile, "Since time immemorial, countless geniuses have made their way into the world through pill dao. It's not my opinion alone, you know. It's the truth."
Determined to pick a fight, Emperor Shura considered the pill geniuses before him thoroughly. "Then, if I may… Is there any among these pill geniuses who has the potential to become a great emperor?" He asked suddenly.
The question was somewhat tricky to answer, but Emperor Peafowl was unaffected. The emperor nodded instantly in response, "Yes. For example, Pill King Zhen's future accomplishments will not be any lesser to mine."
The other emperors gasped in surprise at his words.
"Brother Peafowl, don't you think that you're drawing conclusions far too early?" The fourth-ranked emperor, Vastsea, couldn't help but interrupt. He was like a brother to Emperor Shura. The two of them moved as one.
The resolution in Emperor Peafowl's eyes did not dim. He didn't turn directly to Emperor Azuresea, showing only a lighthearted smile. "Not at all. Perhaps my judgment could even be called somewhat late."
Emperor Shura became very serious. "You must have high hopes for this Pill King Zhen then, Brother Peafowl. Perhaps losing young lord Fan and gaining Pill King Zhen is a blessing in disguise, hmm?"
"Quite so. Sacred Peafowl Mountain finally has a worthy successor with a genius like him here." Emperor Peafowl didn't go on, but the implication was clear. Because of that, Veluriyam had a worthy heir as well. However, he didn't want to lay too many burdens on Jiang Chen all at once, nor cause the young man any undue trouble before the appropriate time came.
All of the other emperors reeled at his words.
"Brother Peafowl, do you truly want to make him Sacred Peafowl Mountain's heir?" Emperor Void was the first one to speak up and inquire. Continuing to look at Emperor Peafowl, the other emperors were just as surprised. Sacred Peafowl Mountain's successor was a serious matter, but they hadn't heard the emperor mention such a thing previously.
Did this recent notion mean something was about to happen...?