According to Jiang Chen’s calculations, although the events of the spirit medicine garden were an ill omen, it was an omen yet to be fulfilled. The most pressing matter of the moment was for Jiang Chen to hurry back to the capital and complete his mission.
“Xiaoyu, remember my words. Seal off that patch in the medicine garden and don’t let anyone enter or leave.” In Jiang Chen’s eyes, this extremely foreboding sign could come to fruition any time between two to eight years. There was still time to think of a plan.
He took his leave from the Redbud region and returned to the River Wave City, bidding farewell to Jiang Tong. He brought a crew of old and new subordinates, setting out on the path to return to the capital.
Along the way, Jiang Chen travelled during the day and supervise the training of these guards by night, giving them pointers on martial techniques and teaching them the formation.
A trip that was originally three or four days long took a full ten days before reaching the capital.
Except, during these ten days, whether it was Jiang Chen or the eight personal guards, their level of training all advanced another level.
Back in the capital, the completion of this mission had only taken around twenty six to twenty seven days.
“Jiang Chen, second mission of the first rank, recruit eight personal guards. They must be less than twenty years old with strength higher than six meridians true qi!”
“This is the list of my personal guards. It also contains their information, identity, and origin.”
Jiang Chen handed over the information of his eight personal guards.
Once verification of the information showed that all was in order, the examiner continued, “This mission requires that each personal guard also pass the requirements of the martial arts exam.”
“How will the exam be administered?”
“There are two tests . The first test is for them to one by one undergo the test of six meridians true qi. This test is relatively simple.” The examiner responded.
“The second test is for them to go to the arena and fight against eight level six wooden puppets. They must defeat the eight wooden puppets within the allotted time. The time allotted is quite short, at only half an hour.”
The first test was a set matter with no skills whatsoever. When Jiang Chen had participated in the foundational exams, he had also undergone the test himself.
This procedure was simple and unable to be faked.
The second test was a bit more complicated. After all, it was a bit difficult to defeat eight wooden puppets, equivalent to six meridians true qi, in half an hour.
If Jiang Chen hadn’t made his preparations and rushed to complete his mission after filling his eight slots, he may very well have failed this exam.
Now, however, Jiang Chen was well prepared. Not only had he risen all eight of his personal guards to seven meridians true qi, but he had also passed on the formation and given them pointers regarding martial arts techniques.
In this way, they had a great deal more assurance regarding this second test.
Under Jiang Chen’s indications, the eight people didn’t reveal their strength and only released six meridians of true qi in the first test. They stopped when they reached six meridians and didn’t reveal all their hidden cards at once.
A successful pass.
Princess Gouyu had been paying attention to the entire proceeding, and breathed a small sigh of relief when she saw that Jiang Chen’s eight personal guard recruits all passed the six meridians true qi test.
She had been continuously worried that Jiang Chen’s control and charisma would be insufficient to recruit the required number of guards. It would seem that she had been worried in vain.
Princess Gouyu was rather unworried about the second test. What kind of character was Jiang Chen? He had been able to give pointers to even a true qi master such as she. How much easier would it be for him to give pointers to a couple of six meridians true qi followers?
When he arrived at the arena, Jiang Chen discovered that this location was extraordinarily bustling.
He discovered at the same time that he wasn’t the only one executing the mission of recruiting personal guards.
Almost all of the heirs competing for the position of duke of first rank had to execute this same exact mission. Familiar faces dotted the arena, and all forced a smile when they saw Jiang Chen.
In this place, everyone was competition.
The brother and sister pair Long Yinye and Long Juxue were naturally found amongst their ranks.
Hong Tiantong, heir to the Vermillion Bird dukedom, was also a staunch Long Juxue supporter. As one of the heirs of the four great dukes, he was naturally present in the arena.
In addition, Bai Zhanyun, the heir to the White Tiger dukedom, and Yi Taichu, the heir to the Black Tortoise dukedom, were all present and both renowned heirs in the Eastern Kingdom.
When these people saw Jiang Chen, some were full of hostility, and some smiled faintly in a form of greeting.
In particular, Yan Yiming, the heir to Yanmen dukedom, no longer dared to provoke Jiang Chen now. Rather, he turned his head vehemently and looked in another direction, observing but not paying attention to Jiang Chen.
“Foundations, this is what’s called foundations!” Hong Tiantong’s inopportune voice rang out to the side behind Jiang Chen. “Us dukes of first rank have long since completed the task of recruiting eight personal guards, unlike some new money upstarts who, without much of a foundation, seek to reach the sky in a single bound. They’ve only barely managed to complete the mission at this late hour, but it’s still unknown as to whether or not they’ll pass the second exam!”
Bai Zhanyun and Yi Taichu had by now seen through Long Juxue, and understood what a fool they’d been previously to be a weapon for Long Juxue.
But, even if Hong Tiantong weren’t willing to be a weapon for Long Juxue, he was more than happy to be of service.
Even if he didn’t gain Long Juxue’s heart, Hong Tiantong would still be quite happy to enrich his relationships with the Soaring Dragon family. He did so not to merely curry favor with Long Juxue, but also to put on a performance for Long Yinye.
Afterall, Long Yinye was the legitimate son of the Duke of Soaring Dragon, and was sure to inherit his position in the future.
Hong Tiantong’s words, laced with acid and abusing one person while pointing to someone else, were obviously aimed at Jiang Chen.
Except, at this moment, Jiang Chen had no interest in verbally sparring with these kinds of boring people.
He handed over the exam token to the examiner. The examiner took a look and said, “Arena seven. The exam will begin in one hour.”
“Jiang Chen, Hong Tiantong speaks correctly. A family clan’s heritage and foundation still matters for some issues. From what nooks and crannies of some rural backwater country did you find your personal guards? They look awkward no matter how much I look at them. Can these country warriors be dependable and reliable in important matters?”
Long Yinye was different to Hong Tiantong. He would never beat around the bush about anyone he wished to provoke or suppress – he would always make a direct attack on the subject.
“Haha, it would be a bit harsh to compare them to ugly plants that didn’t grow properly. But, brother Jiang Chen, the people you’ve found are truly a bit too uncouth? Oh, this person looks a bit familiar. Isn’t he that guy? The grandson of royal tutor Guo? If I recall correctly, his father is that deserter that is renowned in the capital?”
Hong Tiantong was spurred on to greater heights upon seeing that Long Yinye was also taking a stand, and walked over as well.
“Hong Tiantong, do I understand correctly that you’re provoking me?” Jiang Chen smiled lightly.
Hong Tiantong stood behind Long Yinye, and feeling the reassurance of a strong back up thus puffed out his chest, “If you really must think that way, then let it be so! I just can’t bear jumped up upstarts like you. People carry out business according to what position they have. On what basis or ability does your Jiang family dare to compete for the position of first rank?”
Flaunting their qualifications or displaying their position, these were the usual methods employed by the so-called nobles.
However, Jiang Chen had never been one to play his cards according to predefined expectations.
He flicked a carefree, sidelong glance at Hong Tiantong, “What’s the point of so much blather? You look down on my personal guards? It’s very simple, call out your eight personal guards and let’s have a little competition. There’s an hour left until the exam anyways. Rather than standing here in boredom and waiting, why don’t we put on some entertainment for everyone. Wouldn’t you all say so?”
How could Jiang Chen not see that Guo Jin’s eyes were just about ready to spit fire. Hong Tiantong’s appraisal of “deserter” had bore deeply into Guo Jin’s nerves.
As someone’s superior, Jiang Chen naturally had to protect the dignity of his subordinates.
“A match?” Long Yinye’s eyes gleamed slightly as he looked at Hong Tiantong, “Tiantong, at the end of the day, your Vermillion Bird dukedom is one of the four great dukedoms. Would you be scared by an inferior duke?”
Hong Tiantong’s carefulness went quite deep as he thought cautiously for a bit. Of his eight personal guards, one was at eight meridians true qi, three at seven meridians true qi, and the remaining four at the peak of six meridians true qi.
This kind of allocation was sure to be some distance away from Long Yinye’s personal guards, but would definitely not be subpar to the heirs of the other four great dukes.
Jiang Chen, a mere duke of the second rank and hailing from the out of the way Jiang Han territory – how many young geniuses would he be able to recruit?
Jiang Chen couldn’t make a move in a match between personal guards, why should Hong Tiantong fear him?
Now matter how Hong Tiantong calculated things, he felt that he had full assurance of success. After all, after casting a glance upon them, none of Jiang Chen’s troops stood out.
On his side, one eight meridians true qi was enough to trample over three or four six meridians true qi. He also had three more of seven meridians, and they weren’t pushovers either.
As his thoughts travelled around, a notion struck Hong Tiantong as he revealed a trace of a sinister smile. “A match is not out of the question, but the exam is about to start. How will things be handled if something untoward was to happen?”
Long Yinye said impatiently, “Fists and feet have no eyes, if anything untoward does happen, then you’ll have to admit that you were unlucky, wouldn’t you agree, Jiang Chen?”
Although Long Yinye appeared brashly violent, his thoughts were actually quite malicious. He was goading Jiang Chen into action by sarcasm.
Jiang Chen privately felt that this was funny, but purposefully said angrily, “Admit that I’m unlucky? You guys are merely trying to make my Jiang Han dukedom lose face and make me fail the exam.”
Long Yinye laughed heartily, “Jiang Chen, it’s no big deal to admit your defeat if you’re afraid of affecting the exams. After all, this match is completely voluntarily, and no one can be coerced.”
“Getting cold feet is the action of a coward.” Yan Yiming on the side suddenly interjected this sentence out of the blue.
Jiang Chen chuckled, “Hong Tiantong, they’re pushing you and I onto the grill over the fire, what say you?”
Hong Tiantong thought that Jiang Chen was appearing to have second thoughts. He was even prouder and smiled, “How could my Vermillion Bird dukedom be so disappointing as to throw a wet blanket over things? Since people are so interested, let’s have a competition!”
“Have a competition?” Jiang Chen asked, playing along with Hong Tiantong’s tone.
“A match!” Hong Tiantong spoke with a heroic air and sidled a look at Long Juxue. He seemed to see Long Juxue’s head vaguely incline, appearing to approve of his actions.
With this, Hong Tiantong’s fighting spirit became even more full of flight.
“There’s still one more hour. Everyone clear a patch of land. The heirs to Vermillion Bird and Jiang Han will be sending out their personal guards for a demonstration for everyone’s entertainment.”
Long Yinye’s words had the effect of clearing the area. Everyone else’s entourage all backed up, vacating a large patch of land.
“What are all of you doing? The Hidden Dragon Trials are no trifling matter!” Princess Gouyu had appeared with a dignified and imposing manner at the same time.
With eleven meridians true qi, Princess Gouyu was undoubtedly the cream of the crop within the kingdom. Her appearance immediately put a complex twist in the atmosphere.
Hong Tiantong had originally been arrogantly overbearing and full of fighting spirit, but he too now subconsciously stood behind Long Yinye, hoping to make use of Long Yinye’s presence to ward off Princess Gouyu’s flames of anger.
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