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With the battles for the Ranking of Young Lords finished, the months-long Veluriyam Pagoda gathering was almost at an end. The next order of affairs was awarding the victors their spoils. The top 36 of the Pill Pagoda battles were eligible to study within the Pill Pagoda. The top 36 of the Martial Pagoda battles were permitted to cultivate within the Main Pagoda, and those in the Genius Rankings, the Martial Pagoda.

There were three pagodas in the Veluriyam Pagoda complex. The Main Pagoda was flanked by the Martial and Pill Pagodas. Martial geniuses had a slight edge in the competition: those in the Ranking of Young Lords could enter the Main Pagoda, but those in the Genius Rankings had the Martial Pagoda as a consolation prize. The benefits and opportunities available in the Martial Pagoda were inferior to those in the Main Pagoda’s, but they were still quite attractive for those in the Genius Rankings.

The three pagodas opened only once every sixty years, and many people competed for only a few chances at entry. The three hundred were chosen out of countless cultivators were recipients of utmost honor. Their attendance and victory represented the entire Veluriyam Capital on this occasion. Of course, there were still a few ceremonies to go before the pagodas actually opened. It would be slightly anti-climatic to go without, given the event’s rarity. It was also a time where all seven emperors would make an appearance.

There were at least three hundred thousand congregated upon the enormous square in front of Veluriyam Pagoda. All the geniuses who’d been able to stand out from the crowd had their own place in the center of the square, ready to receive the emperors’ examination and plaudits. Aside from the seven emperors’ factions, the twenty-eight great clans and a few of the more powerful aristocratic houses had places as well. In addition to the recognition that came with the event, there were a few rewards ready to be gifted as well.

Compared to the prize of being able to cultivate and study within the Veluriyam Pagoda, these rewards were only symbolic. Nevertheless, they still represented a hard-fought glory that no one would refuse. Dressed in opulent, five-colored robes, Emperor Peafowl was in high spirits. His commanding presence revealed the head of Veluriyam Capital’s style in full. Their breaths held, the audience awaited the emperor to give his speech.

Smiling serenely, Emperor Peafowl began to speak. “We at Veluriyam Capital have many traditions both ancient and sacred, and the Veluriyam Pagoda gathering is one of the oldest, most splendid, and liveliest! This year’s gathering has brought us another wave of promising geniuses and was an extremely successful festival. It’s been a show unmatched for almost a thousand years! Whether pill or martial dao, we have seen abundant talent in both fields. More notably, two dark horses have made their way into the Ranking of Young Lords. Their stirring of the pond has set a wonderful example that I hope more are able to follow. Relating to this, I have an exciting announcement to make…”

The emperor took an intentional pause at this point in the speech. The bubbling chatter everywhere around the square ceased at once. Heavy silence set in instantly. The audience’s collective gazes burned in the emperor’s direction. An exciting announcement? Was there finally going to be a clear statement about Pill King Zhen? Was his ascent to Sacred Peafowl Mountain’s young lord decided at last? The collective expectations of the common people rested upon Emperor Peafowl.

As for the seven emperors: some were surprised, some thoughtful, some looked like they’d expected it all along, and some furrowed their brows in abject sullenness. Emperor Peafowl didn’t seem to take note of any of that. His expression remained as laid-back as ever. “I believe that you’ve all been troubled by a rumor lately. So, I have a formal declaration to make. On Sacred Peafowl Mountain’s behalf, I appoint Pill King Zhen as my foremost successor. Thus concludes the conflict over our Mountain’s heritage.”

These words reverberated in everyone’s ears as if a bell’s gong, hammering on their very hearts. Thunderous applause came from every direction. Tides upon tides of cheering rushed forth.

“Young lord Zhen! Young lord Zhen!” Countless cultivators shouted the name aloud with all passion and emotion. They were happy, wholeheartedly happy, for both Pill King Zhen himself and the wisdom of Emperor Peafowl’s decision.

Despite being informed beforehand, Jiang Chen still felt a small quake in his heart when he heard Emperor Peafowl utter the words aloud. He locked eyes with Emperor Peafowl across the square, the two minds mingling for just an instant. Rising from his own seat, Jiang Chen cupped his fist in greeting to the entire square. He’d received only the utmost support, only the best treatment, from the entire Veluriyam Capital.

He’d heard their encouragement and applause in each and every battle. Though it had displeased his opponents, it was also the highest of honors for him personally. How could they support him with such heartfelt abandon without truly holding him in love and esteem? Waxing emotional, he felt the immense pressure on his own shoulders. The better the treatment, the weightier the responsibility. Jiang Chen knew that as well as anyone. The four monarchs of Sacred Peafowl Mountain strode up to offer their goodwill.

“Congratulations, Pill King Zhen! I am simply astounded by your skill,” Cloudsoar Monarch exclaimed. “A genius skilled in both pill and martial dao! It’s hard to find more than a handful in Veluriyam like that, even in a thousand years.”

Chronobalance Monarch was a rough man. “Work hard! I expect great things from you,” he boomed.

“Don’t let His Majesty down,” Wildfox Monarch said.

As the only woman among the four monarchs, Plumscore Monarch stared at Jiang Chen the longest. “It’s hard to find youths who’ve accomplished things as great as you have. I only hope that you don’t let it get to your head too much.”

Jiang Chen smiled and nodded politely at all of their words. As the number one disciple at Sacred Peafowl Mountain after young lord Fan’s fall, Zhou Yan had the most mixed of feelings of anyone present. He had hoped for a chance at becoming young lord himself, one day. Alas, it turned out that the title was passed to Pill King Zhen instead. Depressingly, Zhou Yan remained second place. As someone deathly loyal to Emperor Peafowl however, he hailed every decision from the emperor as a stone-set law. This was no different. Though it was very harsh to him, he convinced himself internally to give his blessings anyway.

“Senior brother Zhen, I wish you all the best. Even though I have a few doubts still about His Majesty’s choice of you as the new young lord, I hope that all of them will be dispelled in the coming days. When that happens, I will absolutely be one of your staunchest aides. I promise that our relationship will be a problem-free one.” Zhou Yan was quite honest about what he thought. There was no false courtesy in his speech.

Jiang Chen exchanged a long look with the youth. The sword dao genius’ gaze was plain and honorable. “We’re going to spend many of the coming days together. There’ll be many opportunities to prove ourselves to each other, no?” He inclined his head, smiling.

Returning the smile, the second-best disciple returned to his seat. Zhou Yan wasn’t the biggest conversationalist, but his heart was cloudless and lucid.

“My compliments to you, Pill King Zhen! It can be said that I was your guide to Sacred Peafowl Mountain, so I still find it hard to believe that you’re one of them now. You’re really making your way up the world!” This was the Coiling Dragon clan lord .

“I sincerely thank the kindness of your recommendation.” Jiang Chen grinned in acknowledgement.

Wei Tianxiao edged over shakily as well. As a member of a ninth-ranked aristocratic house, he wasn’t usually permitted to speak on occasions like this. However, Pill King Zhen was still nominally the guest pill king of House Wei. Thus, the house’s young master worked up the courage to go up and put in a word. “Pill King Zhen, House Wei thanks you from the bottom of our hearts. You were the one that rescued us from a perilous situation and improved our outlooks so much over these past couple of years. Our house will pass down the tradition of our cooperation with you over many generations.”

It had been only three winters and summers since Jiang Chen’s initial arrival in Veluriyam Capital. He had needed to watch his actions and words in front of Wei Tianxiao, back then. But now the latter had to call himself subordinate in front of the former. Such was the way of the world. It often changed in the blink of an eye. Still, it was clearly a desirable change for House Wei’s young master. There was only good in it. If House Wei could receive Pill King Zhen’s continued assistance, what was there to worry about the house’s future? 

No matter whether they had any relations with the pill king prior to this, all the great clans allied with Emperor Peafowl came to congratulate Jiang Chen as well. No matter what they thought internally, it was hard fact that Pill King Zhen was Sacred Peafowl Mountain’s new young lord. Nobody wanted to leave a bad first impression. Even those who weren’t necessarily aligned with Sacred Peafowl Mountain stepped forward in greeting. Their words were warm and affectionate.

Jiang Chen had received a formal title today, directly from Emperor Peafowl’s own mouth. This act carried significant meaning.

Before, he had been Pill King Zhen, the guest pill king of House Wei. Now, he was elevated far above that, into the company of Veluriyam Capital’s loftiest. In terms of position and status, his current and former states could not be compared. Beneath the seven emperors themselves, even the great clans and monarchs had to accord a measure of respect to a young lord.  Though it was slightly exaggerated to say the young lord was second only to the emperor, he was definitely more than equal to just about anyone else. Moreover, besides Emperor Shura and Vastsea, every other emperor and their corresponding faction was largely supportive of Sacred Peafowl Mountain’s decision to name a new young lord.

At the end of the day, Veluriyam Capital under Emperor Peafowl had always been stable and strong. What was wrong with letting Sacred Peafowl Mountain continue their rule over the city? Yes, Emperor Shura was very powerful, but he was still missing something compared to Emperor Peafowl. On the other hand, Pill King Zhen had many of the same qualities as Emperor Peafowl himself: mysterious, indecipherable, and full of surprises. He also had an advantage that Emperor Peafowl lacked: he was skilled in both martial and pill dao! If Pill King Zhen really did come to power after another few centuries, Veluriyam’s pill industry would surely be taken to a higher level. There was more than a little hope of being able to challenge Pillfire City. It was no wonder that a young lord like this would receive so much approval from the entire city.

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