195 The Star
The competition formally started after three days of primary fights.
There were twelve rings with a diameter of 300 feet set up in the square outside the Imperial Palace.
Muscular soldiers in heavy armor stood there in a row, keeping spectators outside.
As bells tolled to signal the start of the competition, the crowd started to gather in the square. Flying ships also flew over slowly, about 100 yards above, away from the palace wall.
Most of those on the flying ships were from big groups, including the top ten sects and schools of the Fire Field and important families.
On the ground, beyond the soldier line temporary stands for the spectators held people from the local forces.
Most people could only stand on the ground. Fortunately, the square was spacious enough to hold them, but there was one place beyond compare, nobler than both the flying ships and the spectator stands. That was the grandstand of the Palace. The royal members sat there with imperial yellow canopies overhead, overlooking the square.
The emperor of the Xia Dynasty was sitting in the middle wearing a feathery robe. He had a full forehead, a sharp nose, and a long beard. His eyes were brimming with vigor. He looked majestic even when he wasn't angry.
The interesting thing was that there was an old man in a gray robe sitting beside him. His average looks made him stand out in the group of royalty.
"The Fire Field is developing well, much better than other fields," the old man said while looking at the crowd below with his milky eyes.
The emperor beamed when he heard the praise.
"Thank you, the Venerable," he answered the old man politely, trying to hide his excitement. The old man in the grey robe nodded. He didn't seem a talkative person.
"General Xue, let's start," the emperor said.
A general in armor was standing beside the palace wall, upright as a javelin. The only fly in the ointment was his single arm.
"Those who earned a wooden token in the primary election please enter the square."
It didn't seem like he had put in any effort, but his voice could be heard over the uproar and reached everyone's ears.
The youngsters, including Jiang Chen, entered the square immediately. They scattered among the twelve rings. After three days of elimination, there were still thousands of participants.
"Listen to the rules carefully.
"The competition has four rounds. In each round, you have to defeat a certain specified amount of rivals to advance to the next round.
"In the fourth round, you have to defeat four rivals. In the third round, you have to defeat three. In the second, two rivals, and in the first, one rival. At that point, you will advance to the final.
"Between every two rounds there will be a fifteen-minute break. The Xia Dynasty will provide you with recovery panaceas. The wounded will be treated by the imperial physicians.
"In order to see your potential, we don't have any limits in the competition, but of course, if you kill a rival who has thrown in the towel, we will not only eliminate you, but also punish you severely.
As Xue Jiangtian spoke, the participants on the square were in heated discussion.
No one had expected the competition system to be like this.
Undoubtedly, the competition would be more difficult this way. Unless you were lucky enough, among the four rivals, there would always be someone stronger than you.
But a rule is a rule. It was impossible to change it. Besides, no one dared question it.
"Everything is random. Watch your wooden tokens. If it turns red, please enter the ring."
The participants followed instructions and took out their wooden tokens. Some people's tokens turned red immediately.
Jiang Chen was among them.
Chu Luo was standing beside Jiang Chen. She was surprised when she learned he had to start fighting in the first round. She was worried.
"It had to happen sooner or later. Don't worry."
However, Jiang Chen was quite optimistic. He chose a ring casually and jumped in.
"Everyone else, watch your wooden tokens. Numbers corresponding to the rings will appear on them. If your token emits a blue light, please go to the corresponding ring."
Soon, another twelve people went into the rings.
"Spiritual weapons with classes higher than five are not allowed. You cannot receive any outside help during the fight. If you are found doing this, you will be eliminated.
When Xue Jiangtian declared the start of the competition, the whole place was seething with enthusiasm, everyone cheering. The long-awaited competition had finally started, but it was a pity that none of the twenty-four people in the rings were ranked in the top 100 of the Eternal Flame List.
"That guy is even wearing a mask. Is that allowed?"
"There is only age limit. Save for that, you could even fight naked."
"It's so unfair. If you make a great effort to defeat the first three rivals, but the fourth is much more powerful than you, it'll all be in vain."
"What can they do? There are too many people. If they fight one-on-one, it'll take at least three days."
"That's true… Look, that guy has already won!"
As the discussion went on, a fight in one of the rings ended. It had ended so fast because it was between a Mental Wander State and a Gathering Yuan State. There had been no suspense at all, yet the winner's joy didn't last for too long, since his next rival totally blindsided him.
It was Baili Tu, ranked in the top 100 of the Eternal Flame List.
Baili Tu waved his hand casually and didn't bother to speak.
"Please spare me!" That guy gnashed his teeth and tried his best to resist it, but in the next second he flew away directly, feeling like his whole body had been crushed to pieces.
It was more or less the same for the first twelve participants. It didn't take them long to encounter a powerful rival, except one man, the eye-catching Jiang Chen, who was still hiding behind a mask.
He had defeated three rivals and would advance to the next round if he could defeat one more, so everyone was paying attention to his ring, wondering who his next rival would be.
"Chu Luo, the man you're in love with doesn't look so great."
Outside the ring, Meng Feifei, whose turn hadn't come yet, was chatting with Chu Luo.
Chu Luo smiled, not agreeing or denying. She wasn't surprised, since Jiang Chen was holding his knife in his right hand.
The three rivals he had fought with were quite average. One of them had been in the Gathering Yuan State and the other two were in the preliminary stage of the Mental Wander State.
That was why Meng Feifei had commented. She thought the man Chu Luo was in love with should be better than that.
"Chu Luo, tell me. Who is he?" Meng Feifei said softly.
"Doesn't the Intelligence Pavilion know everything?" Chu Luo smiled.
"This guy came out of nowhere, and I only learned of him yesterday," Meng Feifei argued. She had investigated the day before, but found nothing.
On the other side, Huangfu Hua was looking at Jiang Chen in the ring, casting his mind back to the day before, when Jiang Chen had walked into Chu Luo's room. He frowned at his wooden token, hoping it would light up.
He intended to educate this loathsome guy in person, to pull his mask off and see who on earth he was.
Unfortunately, his wooden token hadn't lit up yet, but a person whose token was also remembered Jiang Chen and his mask.
It was Yun Xiao, the fraud who had swindled the princess of her spiritual sword on the sailing ship and claimed he would teach Jiang Chen a lesson with his swordsmanship in the competition of the Sacred Institute!
The sailing ship was in the air. Princess Fragrance and Liu Peng were surprised by them being assigned to each other, since there were so many people that it was against the odds for them to be paired up.
"Princess, the show is about to start. Apprentice Brother Yun Xiao won't go easy on a guy who doesn't even dare take his mask off!" Liu Peng said confidently.
He said this because he had watched Jiang Chen's fights and didn't find him tough at all.