It was a simple request and yet it was one that shocked the entire hall. The court officials glanced at Qing Ning before shifting their eyes onto the Empress. Everyone knew that this girl was the most trusted confidant of the Empress, that fact that she issued a challenge could only mean one thing.
Her Majesty was furious!
The officials stood there stunned. Even the Emperor was taken aback by this development, his eyes shrunk slightly as he pondered this matter.
And yet, he chose not to speak up in the end, quietly assenting to Qing Ning’s challenge.
The officials stirred, whispers echoed throughout the grand hall as each of them tried to deduce the intentions of the Emperor and at the same time pinpoint the source of the Empress’s anger.
Was it because Zhenji chose one of her subordinates?
Among the three grand dukes, only Duke Taishi reacted by opening his eyes slightly. However, he shut them right after as if he had never heard a thing.
A bewitching smile flashed across Concubine Wan’s face, she knew that Her Majesty wasn’t ridiculous enough to get roused over such a reason. Her instincts told her that that eunuch had a large part in this matter.
Truth be told, a women’s sixth senses were extremely frightening at times. Her deduction was made without much proof and yet it came infinitely close to the truth.
As for the Zhenji emissary, his face was truly a spectacle at this moment. He wasn’t able to figure out why the Xia Emperor didn’t stop this pointless, rude and ridiculous challenge. At the same time, he was hesitating over whether to accept the challenge or not.
In the end, he chose to accept it. After all, he had no plausible reason to reject it.
“Jinyi, I’ll leave it to you.”
Upon giving out the order, a man of thirty of so years stepped out from behind the emissary. He was clad in an extremely wide, blackish-red robe. He had an unusually pale countenance that gave him a certain aura of deviousness.
Qing Ning could tell from a glance that this man had at least achieved the Eighth Grade on the martial path and was the strongest among the five.
The martial path was divided into Xiantian and Houtian. Within the realm of Houtian was nine grades. Qing Ning was currently sitting at the top of the Ninth grade and could be said to be the strongest among the strong.
Given that there were only five Xiantian experts in this world, she could be said to be the strongest person besides those five.
However, Qing Ning was still recuperating from her injuries. While she had over ten days to recover, the injury she suffered was a major one and needed much more time to recover.
Injuries were serious matters for warriors. They severely impacted a warrior’s abilities and at times could prove to be the decisive factor in a match. There were even instances where newcomers like Ning Chen who hadn’t even achieved a grading, managed to finish off a heavily wounded Ninth Grade expert through sheer luck.
While she had a full grade’s advantage, she wasn’t one to underestimate her opponent and so she entered the battle, fully prepared and serious.
Within Revelations Hall, the battle started in an instant with a decisive step forward by Qing Ning. It wasn’t a particularly fast nor complicated one but it unerringly struck at the chest of Jinyi.
Her slender arms hissed through the air, slamming thunderously into Jinyi’s chest with a force that felt painful to watch.
Jinyi winced at the crushing blow but knew not to waste any time facing it head on. He immediately retreated three steps back before dodging to the side twice. However, no matter how much he tried, he simply couldn’t shake off the porcelain arms of Qing Ning. Wherever he dodged to, her arms would appear in a shadowy flash as if they were truly a part of his shadows.
Her first move was an extremely domineering one that was intended to shatter his will from the get go. Jinyi’s eyebrows rose as he stared at the approaching girl. He could tell from a glance that she was a whole grade higher than him and yet her attacks had a certain leeriness to it.
He knew exactly what this was. Injury, and it was one that hurt her core.
It was common knowledge among martial practitioners that an injury didn’t tolerate a long fight, especially such a serious one.
It was for this reason that he so desperately tried to dodge her attacks despite the fact that he knew it was futile. He retreated three more steps and began encasing his body in True Qi; he gritted his teeth and punched out at the slender yet terrifying arm.
He knew that this wasn’t enough to defeat her and so he already made preparations to retreat in a heartbeat. As long as he was able to drag it out, it was his victory.
Who knew that just as the two fists were about to collide, her piercing attack abruptly changed directions. With a slight twist of her upper body, she avoided his fists entirely and launched a counterattack on his right shoulder.
Her palm smashed into his shoulder with a sickening crunch, a blood rose bloomed at the spot where his shoulder once was. All of a sudden, what was initially a manageable level of speed immediately accelerated beyond the realms of power. Her silhouette disappeared in a flash, circling around him in an instant.
Another palm smashed into his shoulder. This time it was his left shoulder. She pushed forth with her palm, driving the True Qi out of her body, igniting it in a Qi explosion that blasted Jinyi away. As he landed on the floor, he coughed violently, spitting out a mouthful of blood with every heave, his face turning as pale as snow.
Qing Ning coldly snorted, while she might be injured, she was still a Ninth Grade expert. Even without being at her best, it’s still unlikely that she will lose to a Eighth Grade.
There were definitely geniuses in the world who could overcome the grade difference but clearly Jinyi wasn’t one such genius.
Jinyi lost, completely. It wasn’t because he underestimated her nor was it because he was overconfident. He simply couldn’t react in time and more importantly, the difference in strength was just too great.
Zhenji’s face darkened immensely at the outcome. He didn’t expect that such a young palace maid was actually a Ninth Grade expert. The fact that Jinyi lost so swiftly was an even greater shock to him. He knew that there was a difference between the two grades but he didn’t expect the difference to be so wide.
Amidst this strange atmosphere within the hall, Ning Chen quietly snuck in without anyone noticing and took his place behind Zhang Sun. His right arm was smeared in a white balm as it laid wrapped in a sling hanging from his neck. His face winced in pain as he silently stood making him look even more pitiful.
The Xia officials turned towards the returning eunuch, their eyes clearly showing their approval. This eunuch had done well this round.
Ning Chen was slightly flustered by this attention. He came back to watch the show, not to become one! However, he endured this unease in order to see the ensuing spectacle with his own eyes.
“My thanks for the duel.” She cupped her hands as she coldly thanked him.
Jinyi rose to his feet and stared at her, his face changing colors rapidly. In the end, he decided to bear with the pain and return her thanks by cupping his own fists as well.
Ning Chen’s lips broke into a radiant smile as he saw his nemesis suffer in front of him.
Zhang Sun naturally wasn’t aware of this as she said: “Ning Chen, you’ve done a great service for our empire. This Queen will bestow a reward upon you, you may choose the candidate from Zhenji.”
Ning Chen’s smile instantly froze up; however he didn’t dare to defy her edict. With a disgustingly ingratiating smile on his face he said, “This one is grateful for her Majesty’s bestowal.”
Zhang Sun nodded passively.
Ning Chen turned his gaze onto the emissary before turning to look at his three attendants. Finally, he turned towards the injured Jinyi, his face contracted as he broke into the widest grin his face could muster.
“Since this general’s arms are well enough to return Qing Ning’s thanks, would this general care to do the honors?”
Hearing this, the Zhenji emissary turned coldly towards Jinyi and asked: “Well?”
“This one is willing to serve.” Jinyi replied in a grave tone as he endured the pain from his injured arms.
The emissary nodded, satisfied with his subordinates answer. He turned towards the little eunuch behind Zhang Sun and coldly glared at him.
A cooling breeze blew past the entranceway of the grand hall. However, this gust of wind did little to disperse the blistering heat waves from the bubbling cauldron of oil before Jinyi.
As he drew back his hands, he gathered his True Qi around the entirety of his right arm before thrusting it into the boiling oil.
His injured meridians immediately howled in pain as the bubbling oil rolled over his protected skin, burning it. The True Qi on his arm was unusually unstable as it encased the agonized arm beneath it.
The entire hall waited with bated breath for the outcome of this round. Not only was the party from Zhenji anxious, the Xia officials were equally anxious as well. Zhang Sun glanced at the kid behind her, up till now, she still couldn’t understand what he was thinking.
As the seconds ticked by, Jinyi’s body began shaking, his face looked visibly worse. Even now, he still hadn’t pulled out the needle from the cauldron. To be exact, he still wasn’t able to locate it.
Seeing this, Ning Chen’s grin grew even wider.
Hah, it would be stranger if you could find it! Burn in hell, kid!
Zhang Sun was stumped, the Xia Emperor was stumped, the Zhenji emissary even more stumped. They stared wide-eyed as the seconds pass by, the needle still lying hidden within the boiling oil.
The scorching heat had severely damaged his arm by now. No longer able to withstand the cutting pain, he immediately stepped back and withdrew his hands from the cauldron
“Imperial Physician.” Zhang Sun immediately called out, clearly waiting for the moment he gave up.
The emissary coldly snorted as he looked at the kneeling Jinyi. “ The first round is our loss. I’ll announce the second question tomorrow at this exact same time. However, there won’t be such a generous grace period of three days. I pray that His Majesty and Her Majesty will be just as fortunate.”
As he said this, he led the other three attendants away without giving Jinyi a second look.
Jinyi’s body shook violently as he kneeled in a prone position, his head lowered to the ground. Was it pain? Or was it something else…
The court session ended soon after with the Xia Emperor being in a visibly better mood. As he left the hall, he gave Ning Chen another appreciative look. However, his intentions weren’t transmitted properly and ended up scaring him into a cold sweat.
A light fragrance blew past his nose as Concubine Wan paused momentarily before him. She gave him a slight smile before leaving as well.
The satisfaction on Zhang Sun’s face was clear for all to see as she left the hall with Qing Ning supporting her by her side.
Ning Chen obediently followed behind them, clearly not in the position to say no. As he did so, he continued to play the part of an injured person while simultaneously answering the questions of Zhang Sun.
Initially, the method he suggested last night was more than enough to secure a victory for Grand Xia. Who knew that the Zhenji emissary was shameless enough to bring four martial practitioners with him to participate in the round.
And so, he had to make some minor alterations to the plan. He had the oil swapped for soybean oil which had a boiling point that was nearly 400 degrees celsius. Compared to the usual oil they used, it could withstand almost two times the amount of heat. Given his injuries and his unstable True Qi, there was no way he could withstand this heat for long.
“Why couldn’t he locate that needle?”
This matter had lingered in her mind ever since that round ended. She simply couldn’t figure out why Jinyi wasn’t able to locate the needle after searching for so long.
Hearing this, his lips curved upwards in a shy smile as he replied softly, “That needle was made out of tin. Given the heat of the oil, it had long dissolved in the oil. No one would’ve been able to locate the needle then, not even Jinyi.”
Prior to this, he noticed that there were a number of exquisitely-made, tin decorative pieces placed throughout the palace. This gave him the idea to have a tin needle specially made for that round.
Tin melted at merely 200+ degrees celsius. This meant that even before the oil began boiling, it was no longer in that cauldron. It would’ve been a miracle if Jinyi was able to fish out that needle.
Zhang Sun nodded her head, seemingly having gotten the gist of it. She peered intently at him with a strange look on her face that sent shivers down his spine.
He smiled helplessly at this. She probably had something to say about the strange ideas he had been providing recently.
As they conversed, they unknowingly reached their destination, Weiyang Palace.
“Alright then, since we’re back, you may return to your confinement, this Empress is going back to rest.” She blandly said as she paused her steps momentarily.
“…” He was left speechless; so this was what it means to change your mood as rapidly as the seasons.
Even so, he couldn’t help but throw out a reminder before she left, “Your Majesty, that Jinyi could prove useful in the future.”
“You shouldn’t worry yourself with unnecessary matters.” Zhang Sun paused momentarily and issued that warning in a deadpan voice without even turning around to address him.
Under the dense starry sky of night, Ning Chen sat quietly in his room. Surging ripples of silvery light radiated outwards from his body in waves. Compared to his previous sessions, the True Qi contained within was significantly more as if he was about to break through a barrier.
Within the sea of Qi inside his Dantian, Qi began condensing together to form a silvery cloud that continuously radiated primal energies.
Right outside the room door was a clenched fist frozen in mid air. Qing Ning was just about to knock on the door as the rippling energies within began to radiate outwards. Having sensed what was going on inside, she immediately halted her action and quietly waited outside, not daring to distract the occupant within, a look of extreme disbelief written all over her face.
There wasn’t a lack of geniuses in this world, being able to step into the First Grade in under a month wasn’t a particularly strange thing. However, this shouldn’t have been possible for Ning Chen.
The martial path was never a fair one. The rift between a genius and a commoner was an unimaginably wide one. While this may sound cruel, reality was simply like that.
It was at this moment that Qing Ning’s face suddenly took a turn for the worse. She had sensed a disruption of Qi from within the room. Without wasting anymore time, she burst into the room and rushed up to Ning Chen in a couple of strides. Her slender fingers shot out the very next instant, thrusting into the location of his Qi ocean.
“Focus your psyche and condense your Qi, make sure not to get distracted.” She anxiously shouted.
The silvery cloud within him was on the verge of dispersing when she rushed in and forcefully averted its collapse with her own Qi.