The young geniuses watched with bated breath as the intense fight continued without an end in sight. Jiang Chen had demonstrated more than enough battle strength to captivate everyone’s attention.
All of the spectators were transfixed by the exciting battle.
In recent times, everyone in the sacred land had been talking about the young genius who’d conquered the Nine Winding Caves, but when all was said and done, they didn’t know for sure just how good Shao Yuan was.
The nine caves were for the entrance evaluation. Most undergoing it was of limited cultivation and mental fortitude. Therefore, the fact that Shao Yuan had passed all nine caves was surprising, but an unconvincing show of his competence.
A majority of them believed that Shao Yuan had been able to set the record because he joined the sacred land later in life. Most cave challengers were between age fifteen to thirty. Quite a few fell between thirty to sixty, but those were less common.
Naturally the crowd assumed that Shao Yuan must be older than most geniuses, and therefore higher in cultivation level. They didn’t know that he was actually quite young, and his cultivation history was half of that of many geniuses.
They didn’t know, and they didn’t want to know. Many were already upset about his performance during the evaluation; they didn’t have the slightest inclination of finding out more about him. As such, they came to the wrong conclusion.
They had believed that Shao Yuan would be deterred if he was to go head to head with someone his age. However, many of them were questioning their assumptions after witnessing the fight.
Had Shao Yuan really completed the Nine Winding Caves only because he was older?
“How old is Shao Yuan? He looks younger, rather than older than the senior brother.”
“Senior brother Gan Ning hasn’t reached forty yet, has he?”
“Hehe, none of the Five is over forty.”
In the world of martial dao, forty was the transition between childhood and adolescence.
“He’s younger than senior brother Gan Ning? Then he… can it be...” Some were beginning to question themselves.
“Isn’t Shao Yuan close to sixty? He set the record because of his age, right?”
“That’s one of the theories, but he doesn’t look sixty.”
“He looks at most thirty something. Hey, how old is Yan Qingsang? I think Shao Yuan’s supposed to be younger than him.”
“Yan Qingsang looks like he’s in the thirties at most?” Speculations about Jiang Chen’s age continued as confusion flourished.
Rumor had it that Shao Yuan wasn’t any better than people his age, that his more advanced age was the only thing giving him an edge. But seeing wasn’t believing. Shao Yuan didn’t look anywhere near sixty.
A sixty-year-old was still considered a youth in the martial dao world, but it was very different for someone to conquer the Nine Winding Caves at sixty, compared to thirty.
It was normal for a thirty-year-old cultivator to be below empyrean realm.
A sixty-year-old below empyrean realm wouldn’t be first-tier at all, at least in the sacred land. There were a few geniuses who were able to catch up later in life, but that wasn’t the norm.
“It’d be ridiculous for someone in his thirties to pass all nine caves!”
“I hear even the venerated forefather took notice. Maybe he really is in his thirties.”
“He is an extraordinary cultivator. Where did he come from? Apparently he was a wandering cultivator before he joined House Yan.”
“Him? A wandering cultivator? Since when were wandering cultivators this heaven-defying?”
“Isn’t it incredulous for a peak great emperor to go head on with a third level empyrean expert? Shao Yuan’s going to be famous after this!”
“Yes, he’s not to be underestimated. However, it’s clear that his foundation isn’t as solid as senior brother Gan Ning’s. His speed is the only reason why he can put up a fight. If senior brother Gan Ning’s a little faster, he’ll be able to defeat Shao Yuan.”
“Senior brother Gan Ning has the Water God’s Arm. He’s unparalleled in his mastery of the water element. Speed, however, is never the strong suit of cultivators specializing in water.”
“Right. He must be frustrated not being able to deal with a peak great emperor. It’s an insult to his reputation as one of the Five.”
“That being said, anyone can tell that he has the upper hand. Shao Yuan is just playing off his speed.”
“You can’t say that. I noticed that Shao Yuan’s only using his speed and his eye art, and not any other techniques. I hear that he showed amazing versatility during the evaluation. Why is he utilizing only a few techniques now? Maybe he’s hiding his real strength.”
The audience couldn’t reach a consensus. Some supported Gan Ning. Others found different ways to praise Jiang Chen.
“Nonetheless, Shao Yuan’s going to shoot to fame after the fight. His speed’s amazing for a great emperor. If he can reach empyrean realm, he’ll join the rank of the Five. Maybe it’ll be the Six Great Gentlemen then.”
“Tsk, tsk. Shao Yuan’s getting famous overnight. He’s made the right bet.”
“Hmph, those who get famous overnight often let their hubris get the better of them. Who knows how long his success will last?”
As the debate offstage grew heated, the fight onstage grew intense as well. Gan Ning had perfectly mastered his weapon. His techniques were awe-inspiring and eye-opening.
Jiang Chen made use of nothing but his speed in the fight, but was also impressed with Gan Ning’s ability.
Gan Ning is a bit of a bastard, but he’s the real deal. He deserves his spot among the Five. I’d need to use the Confounding Puppets and Nine Labyrinth Formation in order to defeat him, but I’d like to keep those hidden for now.
He didn’t want to show his hand just yet. This was just a personal fight of no importance. He could tell that Gan Ning hadn’t gone all out either. His opponent was certainly hiding some trump cards.
Though Gan Ning wasn’t level-headed enough, Jiang Chen didn’t think any ultimate moves would make an appearance in the fight. Gan Ning couldn’t be that much of a weak fool.
The sword competition next year and the competition for all geniuses in the Ten Divine Nations three years later were when geniuses would truly make a name for themselves. It’d be wise to keep his real power hidden until then.
At the beginning, Gan Ning had intended to teach Shao Yuan a lesson on Xiahou Ying’s behalf; to curry favor with her, even.
As the fight wore on however, he realized that his opponent wasn’t the easy prey he’d imagined. His mindset was challenged and tempered throughout the process. Towards the end, he became an entirely different person mentally. The fight was no longer a petty conflict, but a learning experience for his martial dao and mind.
Epiphany dawned on him once he calmed down. He noticed what he’d once been blind to, and resolved the emotional knots in his mind.
His heart sank when he saw the schadenfreude flashing through Xiahou Ying’s eyes every now and then. She’d been tricking them, using their jealousy of Shao Yuan to stir up trouble.
He thought back to what Shao Yuan said. Why were the other four unwilling to associate with him? Why did he receive so little respect even as one of the top geniuses?
He’d resented the others before, but now saw that he was to blame. No one had ever pointed out the problem, while newcomer Shao Yuan had beat him over the head with it.
Throughout the course of the fight, they slowly reached a mutual understanding. The duel morphed into a friendly exchange. Eventually, Gan Ning sighed. “People said that you tricked your way through the Nine Winding Caves, but now I know you’re the real deal.”
They ended the fight and landed on each side of the stage as if agreed upon beforehand.
Jiang Chen had been observing Gan Ning all along and noted the changes in attitude. From the genius’ tone, it was clear that he’d resolved some of his issues and arrived at some realizations.
Jiang Chen smiled faintly. “Senior brother Gan Ning’s technique in the water element is flawless. I greatly admire you for that.”
The audience couldn’t quite recover their jaws when they heard the conversation.
What was going on?
Hadn’t the two of them fought like they wanted nothing more than to knock out the other? Why were they showing their appreciation and showering each other with praise now?
Had they formed a friendship through the exchange of blows?
Jing Yi couldn’t be more shocked. He’d witnessed the start of their conflict. Why would senior brother Gan Ning be so polite to someone who’d insulted him?
That wasn’t the senior brother he knew! Besides, Shao Yuan had been so rude to Miss Ying. Why would senior brother Gan Ning forgive him so easily?