This kind of competition was quite cruel. If neither application was completed, it was equivalent to directly losing one’s dukedom.
This way, there were sure to be many dukedoms that were vacated.
The vacant dukedoms would be filled in by strong aristocratic families. Of course, these filled vacancies would only rank at the bottom.
This was to say, the heirs that successfully completed missions would be ranked with priority in the higher ranks. Those who filled in for heirs who had lost their dukedoms could only compete for the vacated, lower ranks.
Of course, Jiang Chen had no need to consider these rules.
Jiang Chen’s goal was clear; he was aiming for the championship. To him, obtaining even the first runner up position on this level of competition meant failing.
“Brother Chen, say something. What rank’s mission do you intend to apply for?” Fatty wasn’t that concerned about his matters, but cared very earnestly about Jiang Chen’s decision.
Jiang Chen smiled faintly as his gaze naturally flitted towards the four great dukes.
Following his gaze, Fatty slapped his thick thigh. “Damn straight. I knew that our Brother Chen either didn’t care to make a move, or would shock everyone when he finally made one!
Heh heh, Brother Chen, I hope you can drag that chit Long Juxue down from her high horse.” Fatty Xuan cackled. “It’d be best if this chit voluntarily offered her body after she was conquered by Brother Chen, and that Brother Chen cast her off after he’s had her. Hahaha, that would truly be too perfect.”
Fatty Xuan’s thin rat eyes had almost formed slits in his laughter as he thought of this scene, fully depicting what “one is invincible when one is base” meant.
Following that, the 108 heirs all lined up according to their current dukedom rankings and prepared to step forward to apply for the missions of this year’s Hidden Dragon Trials.
There was almost no suspense regarding the rank of the missions that the heirs to the first rank dukedoms would apply for.
Each heir had their own self dignity and pride. They would absolutely not tolerate their position being replaced by someone else and being thrown out from the rank of first.
However, it was an absolutely normal thing for the strong to replace the weak. Strength spoke for everything.
The Jiang Han dukedom was ranked 14 out of the 108 dukedoms, so it was soon Jiang Chen’s turn.
“Jiang Chen, what rank’s mission would you like to apply for?” Princess Gouyu asked.
“First rank!” Jiang Chen didn’t even bat an eyelid.
“You have great aspirations, but I must remind you that everyone ahead of you has also applied for missions of the first rank. The competition between you all will be quite fierce!”
“What is the point of rankings without competition?” Jiang Chen smiled faintly.
“Very good. According to the rules, each heir must complete three missions to pass this particular exam. If a single mission is failed, that will be deemed as failing this application.”
“Understood.” Jiang Chen nodded slightly.
“Mm. Head over there to draw your first mission.” Princess Gouyu marked down a symbol for the mission of the first rank on Jiang Chen’s application tablet.
“Jiang Chen, you’re applying for a mission of the first rank. Correct?”
“Please come over here. All the scrolls here are missions of the first rank. Please choose whichever one you’d like.”
Jiang Chen nodded, swept his eyes in a circle, and picked one at random.
They were all missions of the first rank and thus, their difficulty should all be similar. Jiang Chen naturally would not be overly selective. Not to mention, these scrolls were all sealed with no hint at their inner contents.
After selecting his mission, Jiang Chen was in no hurry to open it. The organizers of the Hidden Dragon Trials also didn’t demand immediate verification of the mission.
Candidates only needed to complete the mission and hand it in for verification.
“Jiang Chen, what kind of mission did you select?” An heir next to him asked out of curiosity.
Jiang Chen flicked a glance at him but only smiled faintly and left. It was obvious that the other heir wasn’t a friend, and was possibly from the enemy camp, here to elicit some information from him.
Although Jiang Chen was unafraid, he was unwilling for additional people to appear and cause trouble for him when he was completing his mission.
According to the rules, the three missions had to be completed within three months.
When the exams were over and the 108 nobles were present again, after weeding out and replacing the appropriate ones, the ranking contests would commence according to each rank.
This was to say that, when rank were decided, the twelve heirs of the first rank would only be able to challenge others within the first rank to determine the final rankings.
The competitions within each rank were for the final rankings.
The heirs could leave after selecting their first mission. They only needed to come back when they had completed a mission in the future to select their second mission.
“Chen’er, what kind of mission have you drawn?” Jiang Feng asked eagerly upon returning to the manor.
Jiang Chen gave the scroll to Jiang Feng. Jiang Feng took a look and frowned, “This first mission is a bit harder.”
“A serial rapist has appeared in the region of the Red Moon county located within the Tianhu territory, collecting the flowers of beautiful girls. His qinggong is extraordinary, and he calls himself “Lotus Harvester”.1 He specializes in hunting young girls and is exceedingly cruel. Whenever he harvests a young girl, he even kills them and cuts off the two things in front of the victims’ chest as a momento.”
“Such a frenzied lunatic exists on this world?” Even Jiang Chen was vaguely surprised. Such a villain who had committed his full share of crimes should have been slaughtered long ago. Why was he allowed to thrive until this day and destroy so many lives?
“The level of this thief’s training is said to be between eight meridians true qi and nine meridians true qi. He has weathered hundred of battles because he works alone, and thus his combat ability is incredible. Chen’er, your mission is not simple.”
Jiang Chen was also a bit surprised. None of the missions of the first rank were simple alright. The first mission was to kill a practitioner in the advanced realm of true qi who was between eight and nine meridians.
And this mission had to be completed within a month.
According to the exam’s rules, the participating heirs had to absolutely keep their identities a secret. They could not mobilize any connections.
If they used any connections without authorization, they would immediately be judged as failing the mission if discovered. As a punishment for cheating, their dukedom would be confiscated.
A few heirs had held the mentality of getting by on a fluke in past years, but would almost always be found out by the Eastern family clan’s mighty intelligence network. They would be called out and lose their dukedoms.
Therefore, there were fewer and fewer heirs who held the mentality of getting by on a flukes.
With no time to lose, Jiang Chen made a few minor adjustments to his preparations and set out on his way.
The Sheng battalion brothers escorted Jiang Chen out of the capital and halted their footsteps. According to the rules, if they escorted him another step, it was very likely that Jiang Chen would be deemed as having cheated.
Jiang Chen urged his horse onwards after leaving the capital. He came to a large canyon after galloping 60 km. Jiang Chen urged the horse to give a mighty leap forward, their bodies soaring high up in the air as he allowed the horse to descend into the bottomless abyss as it would.
As for Jiang Chen, he made a flip in midair and dashed towards another narrow winding trail. His figure vanished into the boundless and indistinct open country with a few leaps and bounds.
After roughly ten minutes, more than ten figures abruptly appeared where Jiang Chen had sent his horse jumping off. The person in charge was the Soaring Dragon warrior who was willing to die for his mission, Long San.
Long San’s face was covered as his sinister and ruthless eyes patrolled the area. He cursed viciously. “This brat Jiang Chen is so damned devious and wretched. His presence scatters apart here. In front of us is the boundless open country, but we don’t know where he’s gone.”
“Lord San, what should we do?”
Long San looked at the terrain again, “There’s only one place to go here. We’ll split up into three parties here and chase after him separately. Remember, the duke will award a hundred thousand gold, bequeath land, and award a rank with eight thousand below him to whoever kills Jiang Chen.”
Territory and bounty, these were irresistible temptations. Moreover, this mission was merely killing an heir and wasn’t too difficult!
The groups for the three different directions were quickly settled upon, and they started searching according to the three different paths.
Although it was the first time that Jiang Chen had ever walked out of the capital since arriving in this world, the memories of his past life were enough to help him handle such a situation.
There were roughly 2,500 km between the capital and the Tianhu territory. The ordinary steeds of this world could travel 1,500 km in a day. A practitioner in the advanced realm of true qi, if dedicating himself to traveling, could also travel 1,500 km in a day.
Of course, no advanced practitioner would waste true qi on traveling. Jiang Chen was no exception. He’d seen from the map that a larger village could be reached by traveling through this narrow, winding path and traversing a few mountain ridges. This village was one of the more renowned livestock farms for producing steeds in this area.
Jiang Chen had arrived at the road to the village after roughly two hours. He didn’t enter the village, but spent a large sum to purchase a steed that could travel 2,500 km a day.
Jiang Chen didn’t linger after swapping out his steed, and he dashed towards the direction of Tianhu territory.
To elude observation, Jiang Chen would occasionally choose a few trails off the beaten path. He’d rather take the longer way around, instead of having new complications crop up.
Like this, Jiang Chen covered 2,500 km in four full days before he entered the Tianhu territory.
Jiang Chen didn’t just spend these days traveling. Whenever it was nightfall, Jiang Chen would revisit and study the past cases of that Lotus Harvester.
Jiang Chen had made a few gains after a few days.
One thing that Jiang Chen could be sure of was that the area in which the Lotus Harvester would commit his crimes never exceeded the Tianhu territory. There were ten counties within the Tianhu region, and the Lotus Harvester had committed most of his crimes in the Red Moon, Black Forest, and Large Rock counties. There was an occasional incident or two in the other counties, but the frequency wasn’t high.
Jiang Chen spread out the map of the Tianhu territory for perusal and mused at the map for a while. From the terrain of these three counties, their location formed the Chinese character “品”.
Incidentally, the terrain of these three counties was more complicated and was advantageous to the Lotus Harvester’s operations.
“This rapist has extraordinary qinggong, but the distance he can cover should be middling. This is why there are a few cases that involve a long and arduous journey. That is to say, this villain must have a lair within the three counties. It is said that the wily hare has three holes to its burrow. If I can find one of his lairs, then it will be much easier to capture and kill this villain.”
Jiang Chen had more or less deduced a few clues.
Jiang Chen arrived at the Large Rock county on the fifth day. He had his reasons for choosing the Large Rock county, and not the Red Moon county, which had the higher number of incidents.
According to the patterns from the previous cases, the Lotus Harvester had succeeded twice in the Red Moon county. Black Forest county neighbored Red Moon county, so its guard would be raised higher.
There was a mountain between Large Rock and Red Moon. Red Moon was located to the south of the mountain, and Large Rock to the north. The flow of information between the two was blocked due to the mountain.
Jiang Chen speculated that it was possible that this Lotus Harvester would choose to make a move in Large Rock county!
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