Chapter 369: Challenge (1)
Han Li sized up the soldiers. Although they didn't possess spiritual power fluctuations, they were full of vigour. It seemed they had trained in some shallow martial arts, but what caught his eye the most was the cylinder. There was actually such a wondrous item that could differentiate cultivators from mortals.
Han Li couldn't help but take another look at the cylinder.
Wang Changqing saw this and gave Han Li an explanation with a smile, "That is a spirit plate. It allows us mortals to identify who is an Immortal!"
"Spirit plate?" Han Li was somewhat surprised to hear this, but he immediately thought of the palm sized jade plate embedded in the cylinder and faintly nodded, not saying anything further.
Han Li then detachedly watched as the carriage traveled on the white stone street towards the center of the city.
There were countless pedestrians on the street, coming and going without stop or rest. The deeper they went into the city, the livelier it became.
A majority of the people wore white. Those that didn't wear white, wore a dull yellow, faint green and other such mild colors. There was no one wearing any bright colors.
In addition, those that didn't wear white were clearly of high status. These well dressed individuals would often have three or four shabbily dressed subordinates closely following after them.
Because there were far too many people and carriages on the street, their carriage was forced to slow down. After spending a long time traveling with such slow speed, their carriage finally arrived at a huge plaza in the city's center.
The plaza took up about five acres and was filled with a huge crowd. All Han Li could see was a vast sea of black-haired heads, hurriedly flowing in every direction without end.
Shops lined the plaza, each one fully packed with customers. At the very center, the shops seemed to be made up of temporary booths. They were abnormally overcrowded and were accompanied with fervent chatter. It appeared to be bustling with unusual amounts of activity.
Han Li estimated that with the density of the crowd, there were at least several tens of thousands of people in the plaza.
It was naturally impossible to further advance in the carriage through such a large crowd. Master Gu took the lead and descended from the carriage, bringing Han Li and company towards the palace-styled building at the side of the plaza.
The palace was over thirty meters tall, far taller than the other buildings around it. The huge gate of the palace was guarded by a line of soldiers with sparkling long spears in their grasp, preventing anybody from casually approaching.
"This is the Stalwart Star Island's first market day of the third month. That is why there are several times more people here at East Stone City. Basically, the many cities and towns on the eastern part of the island all come here to trade for rarities that would normally be hard to obtain." As Master Gu was leading the way toward the palace, he turned his head and gave Han Li an explanation with a faint smile.
Master Gu stepped forward and spoke with the gate guards. A guard then waved his hand, signifying that they could pass.
Master Gu hastily called out to Han Li and Wang Changqing before heading in.
Once they passed through the gate, it became much more shaded and quiet. In the corridor past the gate, there were several tens of individuals of seemingly high status having whispered conversations in groups of three. When they saw Master Gu arrive, they seemed to look at him with hostility.
But at this moment, the purple gate at the other end of the corridor opened, revealing a white clothed youth of about twenty years old. His appearance was delicate and refined, much like that of a frail scholar.
The youth gave Han Li a friendly glance before speaking courteously to Master Gu,"Are you Mister Gu? The others have already arrived. Cultivators that are participating in the challenge must go further in. As for you, Mister Gu, please wait outside."
From a single glance, Han Li was undoubtedly sure that the youth's cultivation was about the same as his current cultivation, the fifth layer of Qi Condensation.
Master Gu could only give Han Li an expectant look before stepping off to the side.
Han Li followed the youth through the gate. Afterwards, the gate immediately shut.
"My surname is Wen but Fellow Daoist can call me Wen Qiang. You seem quite unfamiliar. Could it be that you're new to our Stalwart Star Island?"
"I am Han Li. I've just arrived here last month!" Having a month of practice, Han Li was able to speak the local language without problem.
"Hehe, how admirable! Daring to journey from your homeland with your current cultivation, Daoist Friend's courage and insight must be outstanding! I wouldn't have been able to do it. I've never taken a single step off this island since birth." The youth spoke with admiration.
Han Li faintly smiled but didn't say anything in response.
Han Li followed the youth, eventually arriving at a round hall. There were over thirty cultivators there, sitting and standing, each wearing various expressions.
A shriveled old man sitting across from the crowd of cultivators spoke quickly, "It seems that everyone has gathered. Let's start drawing lots! Each fight will be decided in one round. Killing is forbidden and will result in disqualification."
He was the only Foundation Establishment cultivator among a room of Qi Condensation cultivators. It seemed he was the cultivator in charge.
Once the youth surnamed Wen entered the hall, he hurriedly went to stand by the old man and await his orders.
The old man didn't pay the youth any attention. Instead, he took out an azure jade cylinder with over twenty bamboo sticks.
"To participate in the challenge, draw a lot. Once the number of challengers matches the number of the representatives of the incumbent merchants, the remaining challengers will be qualified to challenge them."
The majority of the crowd stared at the jade cylinder as it was enveloped in a layer of azure light, concealing the sticks within. Naturally, the light repelled spiritual sense, and upon doing so, the owners of the spiritual sense seemed to have suffered and couldn't help but sway.
Those that didn't use their spiritual sense to probe the cylinder revealed schadenfreude. These cultivators naturally wished for Han Li and the other challengers to suffer a disadvantage.
As for Han Li, who possessed powerful spiritual sense, he would have no problem forcefully breaking through the azure light. However, this would be far to eye-catching. As such, Han Li could only helplessly look at the others in dismay and take his turn drawing lots.
When Han Li went up to draw his lot, he was unexpectedly able to see through the azure light, but all he saw was strange silver characters. He wrinkled his brow in response. He had completely forgotten that he still couldn't read the local writing!
But still, Han Li expressionlessly drew a lot as if nothing had happened.
"Number one!" The old man coldly shouted. The two cultivators that drew that lot immediately walked forward.
The old man bluntly said, "You two will compete on the stage over there. There is a formation setup, so there is no need to fear destruction from magic techniques. It will be your victory if you are able to take away their lot. So long as you don't kill your opponent, I don't care what methods or tricks you use."
"Yes, Senior!" The two participants bowed to the old man before walking towards the elevated platform at the back of the hall. The platform then flashed with white light and the two disappeared without a trace.
Shortly after, the two reappeared on the platform, revealing slight fatigue. One of them animatedly gave the old man two bamboo sticks. The other dejectedly walked out from the hall.
"Number two!" The old man coldly shouted.
Because the battles of Qi Condensation cultivators were simple, victory was decided extremely quickly. Battles ended almost as soon as they began. But Han Li was baffled to see that regardless of whether they won or lost, they were exceptionally happy.
"Number seven!" A cultivator walked out as soon as the old man yelled, but his opponent hadn't revealed himself.
"Number seven!" The old man yelled again with a gloomy expression.
Han Li suddenly walked out and hastily apologized, "Senior! I apologize! I had misread my number. I thought it said nine!"
The old man didn't pay any mind to what Han Li said and impatiently waved his hand. Han Li then tactfully went up to the platform with his opponent.
After a flash of white light, Han Li and his opponent appeared in a world of white mist. The area spanned about a hundred meters and was covered by the white mist in every direction.
The middle-aged cultivator spoke to Han Li with confidence, "Your cultivation is lower than mine by two whole layers. There is no need to fight. Fellow Daoist should forfeit. Else, I might accidentally give you a heavy injury!"
Seeing that this "expert" was only a seventh layer Qi Condensation cultivator and hadn't released a protective barrier like he had, Han Li faintly smiled.