Xiahou Ying didn't want to make the decision. She didn't like either of the two. One she detested, the other she hated. Neither was her choice of a winner.
She shook her head after some hesitation. "You should be the one to decide, teacher."
Seeing that she didn't have an opinion, Ziju Min nodded after a pause. "If that's the case, they'll both write down their answers on paper. If both turn out to be correct, they'll each get ten points. If either answers incorrectly, we'll subtract ten points from the wrong one."
Xiahou Ying considered the solution viable. She nodded. "As you say, teacher."
Ziju Min smiled faintly and turned to Duan Zhiyuan, national advisor of Eternal Divine Nation.
"What do you think, Advisor Duan?"
Duan Zhiyuan was deferential to Ziju Min. He smiled. "Since it's about pill dao, Brother Ziju should be the one in charge. I'm here merely as a guest. It'd be inappropriate for me to intervene."
Ziju Min chuckled. "Advisor Duan is an important guest. Your opinions matter a great deal."
"Haha, I'll listen to Brother Ziju." The advisor was pleased that Ziju Min respected his opinion and naturally wasn't going to argue.
Having made the final judgement, Ziju Min gave them each an ink brush and sheet of paper. They were required to write down the correct answer as quickly as they could, putting in the right supplemental spirit herb to complete the recipe.
Jiang Chen took the brush and started writing immediately. He finished in no time.
Pang Wei was quick to write down his answer as well.
The two of them handed in their answers at almost the same time.
Ziju Min checked Pang Wei's first. He gave it a quick glance and then read it carefully again before nodding slightly. His satisfaction was evident.
His expression and action made the sect geniuses brighten up visibly. They looked at their top genius with delight and congratulated him.
Pang Wei's lips quirked up into a confident smile. He was certain he had answered correctly. What he wanted to know was how the young man from House Yan had done.
If he gave the wrong answer, House Yan's score would forty points and the sect's at sixty. The gap thus widened, the Jade Lake Sect only needed to answer one of the two remaining questions correctly to secure their victory.
Pang Wei calmly looked at Ziju Min. He possessed the strong presence and unhurried confidence of a top genius. The closer it got to the end of the contest, the more resilient he became, and the more potential he was able to tap into.
Jiang Chen didn't pay any attention to this show of confidence. No matter how good the other was, he posed no threat.
Jiang Chen had never admitted defeat to anyone in pill dao. Not now, not ever. He was even more composed than Pang Wei was.
Or perhaps Pang Wei's calmness was partly an act, a front that a genius like him put up for the outside world. Whereas Jiang Chen's calmness came from the inside, from the bottom of his heart. A mere Jade Lake Sect wasn't enough to make him lose his composure.
Ziju Min put away Pang Wei's answer and picked up Jiang Chen's. He frowned when he unfolded the piece of paper. His reaction didn't escape anyone's eyes.
The sect members perked up. There was obviously something wrong with House Yan's answer.
Meanwhile, members of House Yan froze with panic. Yan Qingsang's nervousness was especially apparent.
Ziju Min read over the answer again, a bemused look flashing through his eyes. It seemed that he wasn't sure how he should judge the answer. In the end, he sighed and shook his head, putting down Jiang Chen's piece of paper.
His gaze swept through the crowd before he threw a regretful glance at House Yan.
"The Jade Lake Sect takes the eighteenth question. Ten points to them. House Yan's answer is wrong. According to the rules, they'll have ten points subtracted."
Raucous cheers broke out from the Jade Lake table.
At House Yan's table, everyone other than Yan Jinnan slumped in disappointment. Yan Zhenhuai and Yan Qingsang were especially affected. It was too much for them to take.
Jiang Chen seemed to have anticipated the result. His lips curved into an amused smile as he stood up and cupped his hands. "Master Ziju, may this humble one say something?"
Ziju Min looked over at him, a little surprised. "What do you have to say, young man? If you disagree with my judgement, you must present a convincing argument. Otherwise, it'll be against the rules."
Jiang Chen smiled lazily, his calm eyes fixed on Ziju Min. "Master Ziju, I do have some questions about your judgement. In my opinion, there isn't a better recipe than the one I gave. I don't understand why you'd choose a different answer over mine."
Ziju Min was shocked. Everyone else in the room was equally stunned.
Had this young man from House Yan, who bore a different surname, lost his mind? No one in Eternal Divine Nation dared question Ziju Min's judgement. In the realm of pill dao especially, he was considered the unequivocal authority. The young man's boldness was both admirable and absurd.
Pang Wei huffed and said coolly, "Who are you? What role do you play in House Yan? You're in no place to question Master Ziju!"
He was plainly offended by Jiang Chen's reaction. He was just as confident in his answer and was naturally upset when it was suggested that his answer wasn't the best one.
Jiang Chen gave him a faint smile. "I so happen to be qualified to question this answer. Why are you so angry? Do you have a guilty conscience?"
"A guilty conscience? Me?" Pang Wei laughed. "You're insane. Is this how you try to make a name for yourself? Don't you see how deplorable your methods are?"
Jiang Chen didn't spare him a glance. This man didn't deserve his attention. Instead, he turned to Ziju Min with a smile.
"You will be the final judge, Master Ziju, but allow me to say something. To make a Mirage Introspection Pill, the best spirit herb to complete the recipe is Silverstripe Grass. Greenhorn Grass and Illusory Spirit Grass rank lower. Those two are decent options as well, but not the best." Jiang Chen explained eloquently, ignoring the odd looks cast his way and Ziju Min's changing expressions.
Ziju Min had to recover from his shock before he took a deep breath and asked, "Can you explain why you consider Silverstripe Grass the best option?"
He felt as if the rug had been pulled out from beneath his feet. Pang Wei had answered with the Illusory Spirit Grass, which he himself considered the best option as well. It was also the one single correct answer the entire pill dao community on Myriad Abyss Island agreed on.
Were there really so many alternatives that worked even better? Why had no one on Myriad Abyss Island ever brought up the possibility?
He couldn't determine if he should believe Jiang Chen.
"A theoretical debate means nothing. I'll give you the facts. If Silverstripe Grass is used to refine a Mirage Introspection Pill, the success rate is guaranteed to exceed ninety percent, and the likelihood to produce a supreme rank pill is higher. As for Illusory Spirit Grass or Greenhorn Grass, the success rate is at most sixty percent, while the likelihood of producing a supreme rank pill is only ten percent. Master Ziju agrees with at least the last, correct?"
"You say that success rate using Silverstripe Grass is over ninety percent? How about the chance for a supreme rank pill?"
"Thirty to fifty percent. Provided that the pill refiners are at the same level, Silverstripe Grass is bound to get better results. There's no doubt about that."
"Are you certain?"
"A hundred percent," Jiang Chen responded decisively.
Pang Wei scoffed. "You can lie all you want. The success rate won't be higher just because you say so. You're insulting Master Ziju and challenging the Eternal Sacred Land's authority!"
Jiang Chen laughed derisively. "That's a clumsy attempt at putting words in my mouth. Have you forgotten that the Jade Lake Sect is one of the biggest factions in Eternal Divine Nation, and that you're the alleged top genius of your sect? Your pettiness disappoints me. I respect authority, but I respect the truth more."
Respecting authority, but respecting the truth more.
Many were captivated and upon further reflection, felt that his words made a lot of sense.
After a while of deep thought, Ziju Min turned to Duan Zhiyuan. "This is a difficult dilemma, Advisor Duan. What do you think we should do?'
"You are the pill dao authority, Brother Ziju. We'll do as you say."
Ziju Min sighed. "If I make my judgement without basis, I'm afraid our two young talents will feel insulted and bitter. Experience is the best teacher. Let's have them refine the pills here and now."
The declaration flabbergasted the crowd. The two participants were going to refine the pill now? How exciting!
Since an agreement wasn't forthcoming, they were now given the opportunity to prove themselves in practice.
Pang Wei was displeased. "Illusory Spirit Grass is accepted as the best option, Master Ziju. This man rejects conventional wisdom and questions authority. He's leading the others astray. I believe there's no need for us to waste time validating his theory. Not every disagreement is worth the time."
He'd been announced the winner of this round. It'd be a slap to his face if the result was to be changed.
Besides, he didn't think that there would be a better option than Illusory Spirit Grass. The convention had been established through generations of practice. It was the one true answer on Myriad Abyss Island. It was laughable that this young man dared say this wasn't the best choice.