The second round of the competition also took place in the imperial city. The Three Directors and Nine Ministers would personally preside over this event.
The spectators were limited too; only those at a certain level of cultivation or enough status would be able to enter.
It was also divided into ten stages, a one-on-one elimination style - winner moves on.
The emperor and four consorts would be present. Princess Luofu herself would watch the fights in order to pick her groom.
After all, the one selected by her would have special treatment, an unfair advantage during the competition.
“You think the emperor will actually be there?” Ningshuai asked.
Both Feiyun and Ningshuai have made it to this round. They were resting at a palace with maids waiting on them.
The other prodigies waited at the other palaces. The majority was still cultivating with spirit stones while maintaining the top condition.
Only Ningshuai and Feiyun were this comfortable, being served fine wine by the maids and watching the stages being prepared.
“The emperor might not, but Princess Luofu and Consort Hua will definitely be there.” Feiyun sent a telepathic message.
“Haha! True, she’ll be crying so fast if the princess has to marry Prince Hongye. Oh, right, who do you think she will pick?” Ningshuai wasn’t aware of the fling between Feiyun and Luofu so he nonchalantly asked.
In fact, the one chosen by Luofu wouldn’t need to fight until the very end. The others would continue on until one was left, then this person would fight with the chosen candidate.
Feiyun said: “Hmm, under the current circumstances, the princess doesn’t have any choice. If I were in her shoes, I would pick either Jingshui or Xiaonan.”
“Why those two?” Ningshuai became curious.
“First of all, the two of them are strong.”
“Secondly, they will not marry her.”
“Thirdly, even if they marry her, she can continue to compete for the throne and would be gaining a strong ally.”
Feiyun objectively analyzed. Of course, if she were to know that the demonic successor was him, she would pick him for sure.
Multiple footsteps came from outside. The group wore imperial dresses with well-made hair and ornaments. Consort Hua and a group of princesses have arrived.
She was the birth-mother of Princess Luofu, naturally just as pretty to be able to give birth to a beauty like the princess. Her noble aura even surpassed her daughter.
The geniuses in this palace all opened their eyes and stood up to give her a bow.
She looked around the room before stopping at Dongfang Jingshui: “The Grand Preceptor has talked to me several times about you, Young Noble Dongfang. You are indeed a dragon among men.”
Jingshui had scaled gloves on. He cupped his fist and performed the proper greeting: “Excuse me, Divine Consort, when will the competition start?”
The consort smiled: “The Three Directors are finalizing the regulations. They’ll inform you soon.”
She left and everyone sat back down.
“Looks like Consort Hua has chosen that water-head as the back-up groom.” Ningshuai smiled.
Feiyun glanced over at Jingshui and said: “Looks like the consort has come to an agreement with the Yin Gou, perhaps a secret alliance.”
More and more people were arriving at the imperial city. Some big shots would occasionally show up, including prestigious sect masters. Two Hall Lords of the heretical faction have arrived too.
Feiyun looked through the window and saw a phoenix carriage being pulled by white cranes coming from the imperial palace. The carriage stopped and a woman wearing a thin green veil came out. Her figure was delicate, seemingly only sixteen or seventeen-year-old. Her complexion revealed an illness, drained of blood.
She adorned a red cloak and was being helped by two palace maids to get down from the carriage. She coughed while standing on the thick snow before wiping with a silk handkerchief. A bit of blood caught on but she folded the handkerchief to hide it from others.
The two palaces quietly consoled her so she forced a smile. Alas, this wasn’t enough to hide the sadness in her eyes.
“What are you looking at?” Ningshuai followed Feiyun’s gaze and saw the woman. His eyes grew big and bright: “Oh wow! Whose daughter is that, so pretty! How come I’ve never heard of her before?”
Feiyun replied: “That’s one of the four Divine Consorts, Consort Ji, Princess Yue’s mother.”
Having heard that, Ningshuai slapped his mouth so hard that his face muscles spasmed from the pain: “No wonder why she looks so familiar. Hmm, I feel that she’s younger and prettier than her daughter.”
Feiyun also agreed. In terms of facial features alone, Ji Lingxuan could be even prettier than Princess Luofu. Moreover, there was an indescribable charm to her, impossible to resist.
This was the reason why Feiyun was afraid to see her.
A young monk in a white robe came over with wooden beads in his hand. His robe was whiter than snow; a Buddhist radiance shone above his head. He stood before Lingxuan and placed his palms together while bowing his head. Who knows what they were talking about?
This was Buddha Maitreya from Southern Heaven Temple. Feiyun suspected that this monk might be from the Ji Clan.
The pale woman continued to cough out blood while speaking. Feiyun saw her palm dotted with blood. It looked like Cangyue’s death was quite a blow to her.
This was understandable. Her plans and aspirations were all on Ji Cangyue. Even the toughest woman would become feeble after this.
“I should find time to see her and let her know that Cangyue is alive.” Feiyun felt bad.
Jingxuan was downtrodden and lonely, no longer possessing the same confidence as before. Life was unpredictable; people could rise and fall at any moment.
A while later, all the prodigies received a message to come to the stage named Heaven.
Ninety-seven were present. Outside of the witchcraft genius killed by Feiyun, two more had special circumstances and withdrew from the competition.
The Three Directors sat at the highest seats. They had the highest status in Jin outside of the emperor. Despite being present, they were shrouded in fog. Only half-steps and up could see them. Everyone else only saw three foggy clouds floating above.
Nine more old men wearing purple uniforms sat in a line on jade chairs. Their face full of wrinkles; they lacked spirit energy from not cultivating. Nevertheless, their aura was extraordinary; all have lived for more than a century.
These were the most influential scholars in Jin. After taking in alchemy materials, they could still live up to 180 years without cultivating. Together, they were known as the Nine Ministers: the Minister of Ceremonies, the Supervisor of Attendants, the Commandant of Guards, the Minister of the Imperial Clan, the Minister of Coachmen, the Commandant of Justice, the Grand Herald, the Minister of Agriculture, and the Treasurer.
Among them, the Minister of the Imperial Clan was in charge of these matters. He represented the group and held a jade scroll: “We have 97 geniuses with us today, all top members of Jin Dynasty, the leaders of the future. Thus, the second round will not have death. Those who dare to do so will lose their qualification.”
A man with a pair of black wings coldly uttered: “May I ask, Minister, have you ever fought someone? In a fight between two experts, no one can hold back and must go all out in order to stay alive. If we aren’t prepared to die, then the whole thing is a sham.”
The minister responded: “Each stage will have a Giant standing by as a judge. They will stop the fight at the right time before any fatal blow.”
“Haha, I hope they can.” A skinny youth sarcastically said.
These geniuses were all arrogant with monstrous backing. Ordinary Giants couldn’t get into their sight because they would exceed this level in the future, or so they thought.
Feiyun didn’t care for these rules. He looked around the place and sure enough, the emperor wasn’t here. However, the four consorts and more than a thousand members of the concubine palace were present in order to watch this competition in person.
The minister stood before a bronze cauldron with ninety-seven balls shrouded in flame: “Princess Luofu will be drawing lots for the bracket.”
1. Remember, this is a play on Jingshui’s name. They’re calling him Jinshui, it sounds similar, and it means water in head, aka stupid
2. For translator’s use: 奉常, 郎中令, 卫尉, 宗正, 太仆, 廷尉, 典客, 治粟内吏, 少府.