Zhou Yan was anxious. Ye Piaoling, hesitant. Li Jiancheng had turned dark and brooding. Shui Rutian distanced himself from this seeming powder keg of a situation. The only one standing confidently was Jiang Chen. It was as if the bet was just a small game to him, a passing fancy. Ye Piaoling looked at Jiang Chen, his eyes filled with a sliver of concentrated dread. Finally, he inhaled deeply and shook his head. “Zhou Yan is right. Contests born out of personal feelings are meaningless. Ultimately, we are all scions of Veluriyam Capital. We should bare our steel against outsiders, not each other.”
Though the statement was a veiled admission of defeat, he had still managed to recover a portion of face. On the other hand, Jiang Chen was a little surprised. He’d thought his provocation enough to spur the other youth into the bet. Was Ye Piaoling just giving up? His opinion of Vastsea’s young lord imperceptibly rose a notch. Though his trouble-stirring attempt failed, Li Jiancheng was still entirely unaffected. He wasn’t the least bit self-conscious about his villainy, much less embarrassed. Faintly smiling, he drifted away.
Ye Piaoling gave the others a cupped fist salute. “I’m taking a break from the Veluriyam Obelisks, everyone. I’m heading to the secret realm of battle for a while. Who’s with me?”
“I want to take a stroll around the secret realm of adventure.” The previously aloof Shui Rutian chose this moment to pipe up.
Zhou Yan looked at Jiang Chen. “How about you, senior brother Zhen?”
Jiang Chen smiled placidly. “I’ll stay here for now.”
The declaration moved Zhou Yan. “Does senior brother intend to challenge the seventh obelisk?”
Despite the four geniuses’ exceptional talent and potential, they had in common a pessimistic view of their chances against the seventh obelisk. It was why Shui Rutian and Ye Piaoling had both departed in order to better themselves within the other secret realms. The geniuses of the first division had plenty of time left. They were in no rush at all to get the results they wanted.
“Of course I’ll challenge it,” Jiang Chen affirmed. “But I haven’t decided exactly when yet.”
Remembering the speed with which his senior brother had comprehended the obelisk, Zhou Yan sighed. “You started more than ten days later than us, but we finished on the same day. If there’s one person among us who can get past the seventh obelisk, it’s probably you.”
Though Li Jiancheng ranked number one on the Ranking of Young Lords, Zhou Yan was sure that Emperor Shura’s young lord would assuredly fail if he were to challenge the next obelisk immediately. On the other hand, senior brother Zhen had at least a thirty to forty percent chance, possibly even sixty to seventy right now.
As they spoke, the obelisk beeped once more. Young master Ji San opened his eyes in the next moment, his face splitting into a wide smile of success. This was no illusion, the obelisk was indicating that he had passed!
“What?” Ye Piaoling hadn’t left the vicinity yet. He couldn’t resist turning his head at the commotion, and the sight that greeted his eyes stunned him. The young master Ji San that he’d belittled had comprehended the sixth Veluriyam Obelisk–in a shorter amount of time than he had taken as well! Though Li Jiancheng had been the first to comprehend it, even he had taken more time than Ji San in total.
The perpetually calm Shui Rutian examined the approaching Ji San with appraising eyes before tossing a thoughtful glance at Jiang Chen. He turned to depart, a soft sigh escaping him. Ye Piaoling was speechless and ashamed. The outcome was more powerful than any verbal smackdown. He had almost no courage to continue heckling. With a wry chuckle, he hastily followed suit. If there had been a hole in the ground, doubtless he would have headed straight for it. At the same time, he felt a frisson of lingering fear. If he’d gone and made the bet with young lord Zhen on a moment’s impulse, he would be out of the Pagoda right now.
He was the fourth-ranked genius in the Ranking of Young Lords. Being kicked out now would be one of the heaviest blows one could strike against Emperor Vastsea and his faction. Even removal by more typical means was more preferable than that. Failure due to raw arrogance was extremely likely to earn him a severe cursing-out from His Majesty Vastsea, and possibly demotion from young lord as well. As an onlooker, Zhou Yan had only a dry smile and utter silence to give. His vehement opposition to the bet prior had been wholly unnecessary, it seemed. If senior brother Zhen was inclined to open his mouth, then it was probably a foregone conclusion. The fact that Ji San had used less time than a sword dao genius like him instilled a strong sense of danger in Zhou Yan’s heart. He felt the metaphorical whip crack behind him. If he didn’t put in more effort, then he would only be left behind.
Outside the Veluriyam Pagoda, the seven emperors were on careful watch for any changes from within. When they saw that six people had passed the sixth obelisk, there were sighs and exhales all around. Besides Emperors Peafowl and Shura, none of the seven emperors had passed the sixth obelisk during their trials within the Veluriyam Pagoda. Although the obelisks’ content changed with each iteration of the Meeting, their relative levels of difficulty remained the same. The discovery that six people had conquered the sixth obelisk was tremendously rewarding news.
“Who is number twenty-one?” In the heat of the moment, Emperor Skysplitter couldn’t quite remember whom that number in particular belonged to.
“Number… twenty-one?” It wasn’t a hard question for Emperor Mountaincrush. He recalled that his very own Gu Zhenshan had been the former occupant of that spot. He smiled wryly, his expression slightly odd. “Number twenty-one is a scion of the Coiling Dragon Clan. Ji Ole Third.”
These words jogged the other emperors’ memories. Their expressions too grew slightly strange.
“I remember Coiling Dragon’s Ji Ole Third. Weren’t there rumors that he’s just a frivolous dandy?”
“But he passed the sixth obelisk. Has he been concealing his strength this entire time?”
“It’s quite possible. Even the geniuses in the top ten of the Ranking will find it hard to comprehend the sixth obelisk. It’s very surprising that he completed it in just over twenty days. That’s a superior showing than the top four, isn’t it?”
“Tsk, tsk. Li Jiancheng, Zhou Yan, Shui Rutian… he’s outshining all of them. Is the Coiling Dragon Clan kid going to set the world on fire?” The seven emperors were absolutely astounded. Jiang Chen’s overabundance of absurdities had numbed their expectations of him. They’d long accepted that young lord’s position to be head and shoulders over everyone else. But Ji San had just appeared out of the blue. He was a scion of the great clans, a fair bit lower in position and standing than the other young lords. The very fact that he’d even entered the Veluriyam Pagoda proper was striking in and of itself. How could the fact that he had comprehended the sixth obelisk… not be?
“Daoist Peafowl, everyone under your wing seems to be full of surprises. They’re sweeping up everything good. What’s up with Ji Ole Third, eh?”
“That’s right, brother Peafowl. The Peafowl faction is simply ludicrous already. Maybe you can let me have Ji Ole Third instead, huh?”
“Daoist Peafowl, my Skysplitter faction has a shortage of geniuses. Why not give Ji Ole Third to me?”
Emperor Peafowl laughed. “Please, everyone. Coiling Dragon Clan is allied with Sacred Peafowl Mountain, but they are ultimately a secular faction. I cannot take away what is rightfully theirs.”
In truth, he was just as shocked as everyone else. He had entered the Veluriyam Pagoda himself before. The sixth obelisk’s difficulty wasn’t something that great clan’s scion could handle. They needed a miracle to stand the ghost of a chance in front of it. He knew that the geniuses this year were some of the best he’d ever seen, but the scion of a great clan? It really was amazing where one found excellence sometimes.
“Is Jiang Chen’s excellence contagious?” He allowed himself a wry smile. He had originally been very satisfied with the fact that he had been able to keep Jiang Chen around. But now, it was amplified by newfound expectancy. Jiang Chen himself was outstanding enough, but he could also elevate those around him to the same heights! Emperor Peafowl was happy to see a change like that.
The Coiling Dragon Clan did not have the right to sit in on matters relating to inside the Veluriyam Pagoda. Only the seven titled emperors and their personal factions had the right to observe, and of that, only certain results and details that the image formation saw fit to display. However, Emperor Peafowl quickly sent them the good news.
The Coiling Dragon clan lord was quite reclusive nowadays, and barely left his residence. Though Jiang Chen had used the Five Elements Augmentation Art upon him, it’d only given him a few extra years of life. Each of his days was spent in nervousness and apprehension. He suddenly received a message glyph. Glancing at the time, the clan lord let out a low laugh. “It’s already been half a year now. Is Ole Third coming out from the Main Pagoda, finally?”
He opened the glyph as he thought idly. A brief once-over brought flushed color to his cheeks, and his eyes bulged out of their sockets. “What? Ole Third succeeded at the sixth Veluriyam Obelisk? He’s one of only six geniuses that managed to do so?”
The clan lord almost thought he was hallucinating. He rubbed his eyes to make sure he wasn’t reading incorrectly. The glyph had been sent from His Majesty Peafowl himself. The clan lord’s aged hands, wrinkled like deadwood, were trembling slightly.
“Ole Third, Ole Third… you’ve really given this old man a pleasant surprise.” Alone in his room, unseen, the clan lord allowed himself to give vent to his outburst of emotion.
During the battles for the Ranking of Young Lords, Ji San had given up on his opportunity to challenge those ranked higher than him. His decision had led the clan lord to suspect whether the young master was missing a key component in his determination. At the time, Ji Ole Third had promised him that the young master would one day stand upright before him. This result, from within the Veluriyam Pagoda, was the best display of that promise.
Only six geniuses had comprehended the sixth Veluriyam Obelisk. What did that mean? Young master Ji San was effectively in the top six in the Ranking of Young Lords! No matter what the numbers on the Ranking had been, the geniuses were tested like gold in the refiner’s fire after entering the Pagoda proper. Who was the wheat and who was the chaff? The fires of Veluriyam Pagoda's furnace revealed all. Certainly, with this, young master Ji San was showing himself to be the former.