A mysterious, calm smile persisted on Emperor Peafowl's face, leaving the other emperors to speculate the hidden meaning behind it.
"Brother Peafowl," Emperor Shura suddenly declared. "First, know that I don't mean to inquire deeply into the matter of Sacred Peafowl Mountain's inheritance. I understand that Pill King Zhen has talent with pills, but he has few martial achievements to speak of. I doubt everyone will be internally satisfied with him as the heir, hmm? Unless he proves an exceptional martial ability as well, of course."
"He will prove himself. Hasn't an opportunity already presented itself?" Emperor Peafowl smiled with great wisdom. It was difficult to know what he was truly thinking.
"Opportunity? Do you mean the gathering's Martial Pagoda battles?" The other emperors glanced sidelong at Emperor Peafowl as well. Any news relating to a new heir for Sacred Peafowl Mountain was of personal interest for everyone present. Sacred Peafowl Mountain was the keystone that had propped up Veluriyam for thousands of years. Any changes to it would affect the city's fate directly, so a certain degree of concern was necessary. Aside from giving an ambiguous smile, Emperor Peafowl didn't respond.
His silence stopped the other emperors from asking any further questions. After all, Emperor Peafowl was the true master of the city. Though the other emperors were nominally his equals, they were in fact mere assistants. Veluriyam Capital would still be the same without any of the other emperors. Without Emperor Peafowl, however, it would never have achieved its current day prominence. Even Emperor Shura couldn't deny this fact.
At the judges' table, Pill King Bu had admitted defeat without much struggle. The other pill kings previously antagonistic to Jiang Chen were thankful that none of them had been the one to provoke Pill King Zhen. They didn't particularly relish the possibility of a disastrous fate befalling them.
Because Pill King Bu hadn't tried to renege on his promise after the fact, Jiang Chen backed off as well. "I'm glad you're so faithful, Pill King Bu," he smiled faintly. "And I am equally glad to accept you as my disciple. However, do realize that since I'm formally your master now, you'll have a lot of trouble if you try to deceive me from this day onwards."
"Don't worry. I agreed to the bet in the first place. I can take the loss." Though Pill King Bu was upset, he was at least true to his word. He was a bit too proud and stuck-up, sure, but he was no lying ruffian. Moreover, there was the matter of the heavenly oath as well.
Jiang Chen smiled casually at Pill King Bu's attitude. "Then we'll leave it like this. You shouldn't feel too bad about it, though… maybe you'll be happy that this happened, one day."
He wasn't merely pushing his advantage. It was the reality of the situation. Pill King Bu was extremely fortunate to have him as a master given his actual pill dao level, even though nobody besides him knew that at present.
The sideshow concluded, and the Pill Pagoda battles continued. Now that the first two rounds were over, the next round was related to refining pills. This round required heavy involvement from all of the participants. Over a month of time was allotted to its completion. Every judge needed to come up with a question to test the participants, just like they'd done during the theoretical round. However, the skill being tested this time was the participants' finesse over the pill refining process. Each judge would teach an exclusive recipe to the participants. After they were furnished with materials, the participants would then refine the pill according to their intuition. Finally, they would be graded based on the quality of the finished product.
Each judge had five days of time—one for teaching the recipe, three for the time it took the contestants to refine the pill, and the last for examining the pill's quality… and tallying up the results, of course. Eight judges meant at least forty days for the competition.
Jiang Chen didn't want any special treatment. Because he was the last judge to arrive, he voluntarily placed himself in the final timeslot. That way, all seven of the other judges would finish before it was his turn. His deference to the other judges earned him a reduction in enmity and an increase in respect from all of them. It was normal for a youth who was the idol of an entire city to be puffed up. If he wanted to make any demands of them, it was entirely within his right. Who were the other judges to deny him? But Pill King Zhen was following the rules to the letter. He treated everyone else with full respect and volunteered to be last. Such character was extraordinary.
Ordinary people found it difficult to stay calm in the face of fame. It was rare and unexpected for someone to keep their composure given the circumstances. A young man that was able to control himself was quite respectable. That he managed such a feat made him greater than many other pill kings with centuries of experience.
The Veluriyam Pagoda gathering had the undertones of being a festival. Even though it took place over an entire year, no one had ever felt that it overstayed its welcome. Rather, they relished in its length. Jiang Chen began preparations for his own recipe. He chose yet another work from the Deviant Pill Faction's repertoire. After all, he'd made a name for himself in Veluriyam by using the Deviant Pill Faction's fame. Why not see that charade through to the end?
The recipe he wanted to put forth this time was the Hundredfold Marrow-Cleanse Pill. As a pill that perfectly answered the demands of body-refining cultivators, it was an excellent pill for its niche. In addition to strengthening the flesh and reinforcing bone, it could remove the lingering pains of old, long-healed wounds. It was a rare effect for an equally rare pill. Though there were other pills that purportedly did the same available on the market, they were largely mediocre. Moreover, they were often singular in their function, and carried a number of undesirable side effects.
The Hundredfold Marrow-Cleanse Pill had no side effects whatsoever. It could both help in cultivation and heal one's body. It held two uses within one pill. The best thing about it, though, was that anyone from origin realm cultivators to emperor realm cultivators could use it… depending on the pill's quality. Emperor realm cultivators would find it somewhat less effective, especially those at the pinnacle of the realm, but it was still quite good for those at the lower ranks of the emperor realm. For sage realm cultivators, it was an amazing, top-notch pill.
After deciding on the pill recipe, Jiang Chen carefully examined it to determine how exactly it should be taught. He was putting in quite a bit of effort for the judging process. If the pill was presented at Taiyuan Tower, it would surely cause yet another wave of publicity. But he was willing to publicly give away the recipe for the sake of the competition. Not for fame alone, of course.
For what exactly? Jiang Chen wasn't able to say himself. Perhaps it was to give some face to Sacred Peafowl Mountain, or perhaps this level of pill recipe wasn't really much to someone like him. Regardless of the reason, he knew very well that his recipe would definitely overshadow the other judges' yet again. It wasn't his original intention, but he didn't just want to give out a normal recipe in order to make a show of mediocrity.
It had been a struggle for the pill geniuses present to enter the top hundred. As a judge and an object of admiration, he felt that it was fitting that he give them both a present and an opportunity. This time, none of the other judges wanted to bet with Jiang Chen. Everyone knew just how terrifying the young pill king was. Anyone that did want to bet with Pill King Zhen should be prepared to lose in advance. Nothing good had ever come of a bet with him, starting from the first day he showed up in the city.
At the opening of Taiyuan Tower, Pill King Rong had challenged Pill King Zhen on the Majestic Clan's behalf. The result? The Majestic Clan lost one of their stores in the Farmer God Market. The second enemy was even more formidable—the indomitable legend of Pillfire, Pill King Ji Lang. It resulted in a devastating loss for Pillfire City. The third time—well, it was that Pill King Bu. Everyone had seen how that had turned out.
The present Jiang Chen was a horseman of the apocalypse, an omen of bad luck. Maybe it was alright to make bets in other subject matters, but betting against him on anything pill-related meant a sure-fire loss. If there had been any dissatisfaction before, Pill King Bu's misfortune removed any and all ideas of causing trouble.
The judges' segments went by without a hitch. Understandably, the only recipes presented were for pills of normal quality. These judges preferred to keep the best pills to themselves. It was customary, but not particularly challenging for the pill geniuses. There had been no method of differentiating between skill levels. So far, the refining round could even be called boring.
The seven titled emperors saw the phenomenon, of course, but came to a tacit understanding. Having top-ranked pill kings to part with their best exclusive pill recipes was unrealistic. There was no reward for doing so. Yes, every top-ranked pill king had many great recipes, but who wanted to simply give one out for the sake of teaching the youth? Even Emperor Peafowl knew that the situation couldn't be helped. Still, he wasn't particularly pleased with their behaviour. I wonder if Jiang Chen will be as miserly as those other pill kings? The pill kings were the cream of the crop of the seven emperors' representatives, but they didn't carry themselves in a way that befitted that fact.
Emperor Vastsea smiled suddenly, "Brother Peafowl, I hear that Pill King Zhen's astounding genius is due to his tutelage from a secluded hermit. I wonder if he will show us something amazing this time, too?"
Emperor Peafowl laughed, "Don't ask me. I have no idea who his master is, either. I do know one thing, however. He is no threat to Veluriyam, but rather, a boon."
Emperor Vastsea laughed as well. He wanted to question Pill King Zhen's identity, but he knew as well as anyone that it was taboo. If anyone openly questioned someone that Emperor Peafowl was so optimistic about, then wasn't that person just openly rebelling? Vastsea was a great emperor, but he knew that he didn't have the qualifications to challenge Emperor Peafowl's authority, nor was it possible, really. History had proved Emperor Peafowl's foresight many times. He was rarely wrong about anything.
Emperor Void had his own opinion. "If this kid can disregard the shackles of profit and differentiate himself from the cheapskates, then I'll change my opinion of him."
Emperor Peafowl chuckled. "Then you may very well have to do that, Brother Void."
"Oh? Are you positive, Brother Peafowl?" Emperor Void's interest was roused. He had no opposition to Pill King Zhen, and in fact respected the young pill genius quite a bit for his victory over Pillfire City.
"Quite sure. The size of his heart is much larger than that of ordinary men." Emperor Peafowl stroked his moustache, smiling.
It was finally Jiang Chen's turn to teach and judge.