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The remaining candidates followed Baili Jingwei behind the manor, to a wide clearing that had three high seats carved meticulously from wood.
The only seat taken was the main one, by a middle-aged man in lavish clothes and of imposing demeanor, Shangguan Feiyun.
Among the candidates, only Shangguan Yulin knew Sword King Feiyun. Recognizing him, the youth was instantly on guard.
Shangguan Feiyun had left eastern lands a century ago, but the younger generation had the benefit of the clan holding the portrait of this best in eastern lands expert, revealing it before this job.
Shangguan Yulin’s heart hammered in his chest, his brow soaked.
“Shangguan Feiyun, why aren’t I seeing Dragon Cleaving Sword King around?” Baili Jingwei asked, seeing the empty chair next to him.
[He’s Sword King Feiyun?]
The candidates went into a bow on the spot, “Greeting Sword King Feiyun. May you always know glory!”
Ignoring all of them, he glanced at Baili Jingwei, “Brother Danqing doesn’t like crowds and is walking around the manor. He won’t be joining this hearing.”
“Oh, what a shame.”
Baili Jingwei sat next to Shangguan Feiyun under the candidates’ dumbstruck gazes. His eyes shone as he spoke, “The play is finally starting, ha-ha-ha…”
Shuddering, the hearts of others sank. They were stunned and puzzled at Baili Jingwei’s demeanor.
[Who is he? Isn’t he a steward of Flying Cloud manor?]
[Out of the question. No steward will be this rude to Sword King, daring to sit right next to the lord himself. Then how else could he control the manor’s forces?]
The candidates were shocked at Baili Jingwei’s young age. Who was he to stand next to the Sword King?
Shangguan Feiyun grinned and pointed at him, “You still haven’t figured it out? Your host so far is our imperial Prime Minister, Sir Baili Jingwei!”
[The Prime Minister himself?]
It was as if a bomb was dropped, with everyone shaking in the aftermath. The great Prime Minister of the empire, the imperial family’s key figure, had actually graced this competition with this presence.
That meant passing it would make one Prime Minister’s man. One’d get all the glory and power he could ever want in an instant.
Everyone got fired up, eyes burning with excitement.
Shangguan Yulin was the most shocked of them all. Baili Jingwei’s fame had been widespread even before he came to the Sword Star Empire.
An immense talent in governing, of sharp mind and with ingenious plans.
Word went around that he was the wisest in the Sword Star Empire. The four lands’ powers knew the Sword Star Empire only reached such height all thanks to power correlated with politics.
Invincible Sword held the power and Baili Jingwei’s foolproof policies wielded politics.
While less known than Invincible Sword, as if to conceal this sage’s ability, the four lands were sure Baili Jingwei’s intellect had given Invincible Sword wings to spread his power.
The same Baili Jingwei was now before them, giving this competition a whole new value.
[Is this a trap?]
Shangguan Yulin felt like crying.
If he’d known Baili Jingwei was here, Shangguan would’ve stayed put and missed this rare chance of ambush.
This was the power Baili Jingwei wielded, that of the mind. One wrong step and it was curtains for any that crossed his path.
Scanning their reverend gazes, Baili Jingwei remained silent. Shangguan Yulin’s tense look caught his eye the longest, but then he shook his head.
[That miss pointed out one suspicious man. From his appearance, I sense fear. A guilty conscience is more like it, ha-ha-ha…]
Grinning, Baili Jingwei said, “You’re all here, in the finals, handpicked by me. This must make you grandmaster alchemists. Then, you must all grasp this chance and refine what I ask of you!”
“Please guide us, Prime Minister!” The people bowed in excitement.
[Prime Minister’s man, Prime Minister’s man…]
Baili Jingwei snickered, “The goal is… perfection!”
[What does that mean?]
They were all stumped.
[Why have all of the Prime Minister’s requirements been so weird? We can’t make sense of it.]
Baili Jingwei dispensed with the mystery, explaining, “You’ve refined the highest grade you could in the last round, some were average 9th grade, others inferior 8th grade. This time, I want you to make me a perfect pill to test just how exquisite your skills are. I want to see a flawless pill. Grade is secondary, as long as you make a perfect pill of that grade. Understand?”
“Yes, we shall follow Prime Minister’s instructions.” The candidates cupped their hands and confidence surged in their eyes.
Making a high quality pill by dropping a grade couldn’t be easier, especially compared to the hasty way the last round was held.
This was a test of their basics, to see how well they mastered them.
For a pretender like Shangguan Yulin who went through hell last week, the topic had him stuck. His pill’s grade was all due to his cultivation and some super secret refining arts. Oh, and don’t forget top ingredients.
As for top and perfect pills, this tested an alchemist’s skill, control, sharpness, and familiarity of the art.
He’d be exposed in seconds since he was no professional at this job.
His eyes darted around for a way out, only to find Soul Harmony Stage guards covering all bases, while Shangguan Feiyun was glaring from his perch.
The instant he fled, he was done for.
He felt like sobbing.
[What damn rotten luck…]
[I told them I didn’t want to but no, they had to send me. Now I’ll never come back!]
Shangguan Yulin’s face fell at the sordid fate awaiting him. He felt victimized. Though failure was quite nigh, he was thinking of any lifeline that he could grasp.
[Maybe they’re holding a true Pill King Convention, not a trap to ferret spies.]
Shangguan Yulin’s mind cooked up a fantasy to avoid reality, praying that luck hadn’t left him completely.
[Let me be eliminated and come out alive.]
At worst, he’d fail and Zhuo Fan’d get the credit.
[There’s plenty of chances to get recognition. Must have patience.]
Unaware his jittery and anxious attitude gave him away in Baili Jingwei’s eyes.
[Ha-ha-ha, this guy is shaking in his boots.]
Baili Jingwei said, “Begin!”
The flames were burning hot as the finals started. Shangguan Yulin had to sigh and take out his flame as well…
While the candidates gave their all one last time, Zhuo Fan and Shangguan Qingyan were cruising through the manor with a couple guards showing the way.
“Brother, does the grand Flying Cloud manor only have these lame sceneries? So boring. Isn’t there anything worth seeing here, a feast for eyes?”
Zhuo Fan asked a guard. He had his own goals, seperate from Shangguan clan’s, the World Wind Tunnel.
The guard frowned, “Uhm…”
“So there is one! Come on, can’t you take me to it?” Zhuo Fan was giddy at his reaction, thinking he scored, “The views of Flying Cloud manor must be spectacular!”
The guard shook his head, “Sir Gu, it is forbidden to go there. Only by Sword King’s authorization can…”
[Forbidden? All the more reason.]
Zhuo Fan was thinking how to get past this problem when a very familiar voice sounded, “Leave, I’ll take Grandmaster Gu to enjoy it!”
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