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"God King?" Zhang Xuan nodded in realization.

Having read many books, he had gained a preliminary understanding of what God Kings were capable of.

Most God Monarchs rarely appeared in public, so hardly anyone had seen them before. On top of that, most of them had washed their hands of secular affairs, meaning that it was the Conferred God Kings who wielded true authority.

Of the Nine Skies, there were only roughly thirty Conferred God Kings in total, averaging out to around three of them per Sky.

Directly beneath them were the God Kings, and there were around a hundred of them in the Firmament in total, which meant that there were only ten of them per Sky.

In other words, someone who could reach the level of a God King could already be considered one of the thirteen strongest experts within their own territory, making them a true powerhouse of the Firmament!

Given that even high-tier Celestial Gods were no match for such experts, there was no way a low-tier Celestial God would stand a chance. It would only take a mere thought from a God King for a low-tier Celestial God to be utterly obliterated.

It was true that middle-tier God Essence Pills were valuable, but most Celestial Gods would probably value their lives more than that.

"No one really knows what his name is, so most people identify him by the three strands of snowy beard hanging from his chin. As such, people call him the Three Bearded Cultivator. He lives in the west of the city, not too far from here. If you really wish to look for him, I can take you there!" Qi Ling-er said.

Even though the influence she wielded in Dusklight City was severely limited, her intelligence network was still quite reliable.

"Let's go then!" Zhang Xuan said.

If the other contenders were only low-tier Celestial Gods, he would still stand a chance with his current level of cultivation. Unfortunately, his rivals included middle-tier Celestial Gods, and he was not too confident of dealing with them as a high-tier God.

The reason he had stopped cultivating previously was because low-tier God Essence Pills were no longer useful to him. So, his current priority was to find even more potent cultivation resources and raise his cultivation.

The place where the Three Bearded Cultivator resided was not too far away. It took only an hour's walk before they arrived at a relatively humble-looking straw hut. It seemed extremely out of place against the towering buildings beside it.

In the capital, where every inch of land cost a fortune, to be able to own such a large plot of land to build this straw cottage meant that he was a person who had his means. Most of those who wanted to steal from him would probably think twice after witnessing such extravagance.

Before even entering the straw cottage, they could already hear a voice sounding from within.

"Elder, your skills in chess are extraordinary. I am really no match for you."


"You made a few bad moves over the course of the game, but looking at it overall, you aren't too bad yourself. Work hard and learn well, and there's a chance you might surpass me in the future..." The voice of an old man echoed from within.

"Elder, thank you for your pointers!"

Jiya!

The doors to the straw cottage opened, and an exquisitely-dressed young man walked out with a frustrated look on his face. A subordinate followed closely behind him as they walked past Zhang Xuan's side and disappeared amid the alleys of Dusklight City.

"Due to the Three Bearded Cultivator's superior skills in chess, there are quite a few challengers who drop by his straw cottage every day. That young man should be one of them," Qi Ling-er explained with a smile.

Then, she walked up to the straw cottage and announced loudly, "Qi Ling-er from Royal City's Qi Clan is here to pay a visit to Elder Three Bearded Cultivator. I hope that you'll spare us some of your time!"

"I don't care whether you are from the Qi Clan or the Ba Clan, and I have no interest in meeting you. I'll have to ask you to leave," the old man replied from within.

"Elder, I have no intention of using the Qi Clan's influence to force you into anything. I am sincerely paying you a visit in hopes that you can accede to our request. At the very least, I hope that you can hear us out..." Qi Ling-er added.

Had it been anyone else, the reputation of the Royal City's Qi Clan would have surely made them scramble out hurriedly, fearing that they would offend her. Yet, the Three Bearded Cultivator did not seem to be afraid of offending her at all.

The rumors about his eccentricity were indeed true.

But that being said, even though the Qi Clan was formidable, its influence was mainly centered within the Royal City. Besides, they could not possibly make things difficult for someone just because the other party had turned them down. That would be petty and narrow-minded.

"I am nothing more than a carefree old man. I don't think that there's anything I can help you with, so let's not waste each other's time, alright?"

The old man inside the straw cottage did not seem to be willing to get involved with the Qi Clan.

A slight displeased frown appeared on Qi Ling-er's face.

She was just about to step forward and continue speaking when Zhang Xuan stopped her with a raise of his hand.

Then, he turned to the straw cottage and said, "Elder, I am Zhang Xuan, an unaffiliated cultivator. I have studied chess quite a bit myself, and I'm interested in having a match with you."

You are interested in having a match with me?"

The old man seemed to be a little moved, but eventually, he said, "I have already played three matches today. Return tomorrow instead."

"Three matches?"

"You might have heard that I am a fanatic chess player, but in order to prevent my hobby from getting in the way of other matters, I restrict myself to playing just three days every day. I played my third match of the day with that young man from earlier, so I'll have to ask you to return tomorrow if you wish to have a game with me," the old man replied.

"I'm afraid that I'm in a rush for time, so I might have to leave Dusklight City today..." Zhang Xuan shook his head.

"Leave if you must. What does that have to do with me?" The old man harrumphed impatiently.

"Elder, why don't you at least hear me out first? Since we are having a match, there's bound to be a victor. Since that's the case, why don't we have a bet then?" Zhang Xuan said calmly.

"To be frank with you, I'm quite proud of my chess skills. I have wandered the world in search of someone who could be a match for me, but it's unfortunate that I haven't found a worthy opponent yet. If you are able to defeat me, I'll accede to any request you have. As long as it doesn't go against my principles, I'll do anything you want. On the other hand, if I were to defeat you, I'll ask you to accede a request of mine too... How does that sound?"

"Oh? Are you sure about that?" the old man asked doubtfully.

He did not think that the young man would speak so proudly.

"Of course!" Zhang Xuan replied proudly.

"Since that's the case, I want that tamed beast behind you!" the old man said.

Even though the young man had not come in yet, he had already identified the young man standing right behind Zhang Xuan—Zhang Jia.

If not for that, he would have turned down Zhang Xuan's request right away.

"Pardon me, but even though Zhang Jia is my tamed beast, I view him as a brother and a friend. It's against my principles to use my friends as a bet. I'll have to ask you to request something else," Zhang Xuan said with a wave of his hand.

"Master..." Zhang Jia's eyes reddened in agitation.

For a moment there, it had thought that its master would accept the bet without any hesitation. After all, tamed beasts were often viewed as lesser beings in the Firmament. It did not expect to hear such words from Zhang Xuan.

To think that its master had viewed it as its friend and brother...

Just from this sentiment alone, it would not hesitate to brave through danger for him in the future.

"Oh?" The old man also did not expect to hear such an answer from Zhang Xuan either. "If that's the case, there's nothing you have that I want. I don't think that there's any need for me to make such a bet with you."

"You feel that I don't have anything you want? Pardon me, but I beg to differ."

With a light chuckle, Zhang Xuan flicked his wrist, and a silhouette materialized in midair. The silhouette was standing right before a cauldron, forging a pill. His fingers flew around the place with elegant dexterity, precisely controlling the environment within the cauldron.

"Elder, I heard that you are rather skilled in pill forging as well. I'm curious to know if this pill forging technique of mine is enough to catch your attention..."

With a snap of his finger, the silhouette vanished into thin air.

"That pill forging technique of yours..." the old man exclaimed in wonderment.

Other cultivators might not have been able to see anything special from the earlier silhouette, but as a skilled apothecary, he could tell that the movements were part of an extremely ingenious pill forging technique. In fact, it was far superior to what he used!

A moment later, the old man's voice sounded once more. "Come in."

At the same time, the doors to the straw cottage opened.

Jiya!

An old servant stepped forward and gestured for Zhang Xuan to enter.

With a smile, Zhang Xuan walked in without any hesitation, and Qi Ling-er and the others quickly followed him.

Based on the books that he had read, Zhang Xuan had found that the pill forging techniques used in the Firmament were quite similar to those on the Master Teacher Continent. In other words, the knowledge that he had learned back on the Master Teacher Continent was applicable here as well, making him a top-notch theoretical apothecary here.

The pill forging technique that he had displayed was just the tip of the iceberg of what he was capable of.

The courtyard of the straw cottage was not too large.

At the center of the courtyard, an old man was seated right before a stone table. This old man had three strands of beard that flowed with the wind, giving him the look of an enlightened hermit.

"Let's start!"

Without even raising his head, the old man picked up his chess piece and stared intently at the chessboard. He did not bother mentioning the bet that they had spoken about earlier or the pill forging technique that Zhang Xuan had displayed.

With a smile, Zhang Xuan walked up to the stone table, but just as he was about to sit down, he saw the chess set on the stone table and frowned.

When he heard the word 'chess', he had immediately assumed that it would be the same as the one he played back on the Master Teacher Continent. Yet, who could have known that he would be faced with a chess set that he completely could not recognize at all?

He had read a lot of books regarding the chess of the Master Teacher Continent, and his skills are more than enough to make him a grandmaster among grandmasters. However, a different chess set meant different rules and different playing styles. How could he win in a game that he did not even know the rules of?

The heck! Since they were two different games, they should have used different names for them! How misleading!

Seeing how the young man was not sitting down at all, the old man finally raised his head and asked with a frown, "What's wrong?"

"Elder, can you please spare me a moment? To me, chess is not just a hobby but a sacred ritual. I view every chess match with great respect, so I tend to take some time to condition my state of mind and prepare myself," Zhang Xuan said without the slightest hint of embarrassment on his face.

Hearing those words, the old man's eyes lit up with a slight hint of approval.

Only the truly skilled chess players would understand the sheer depths of the game and carry more respect for it.

Despite the young age of the person before him, it was respectable how the other party was able to take what others viewed as a mere game so seriously.

With a polite smile, Zhang Xuan closed his eyes and took a deep breath. His calm yet concentrated demeanor really made him look no different from a true grandmaster.

But the truth was that he was desperately sending telepathic messages to Qi Ling-er and Zhang Jia.

"Do either of you know the rules of chess?"

"Eh?" Qi Ling-er and Zhang Jia were shocked.

Did they not just hear with their own ears how the young man boasted about his chess skills? After all that had happened, it turned out that he did not even know the rules!

Bro, isn't it too late for you to start asking us for the rules now?

This was especially so for Zhang Jia. It was so flabbergasted that it nearly froze up into a statue.

When its master spoke about how unrivaled he was in the art of chess, it had really thought that its master was such a multi-talented person who could do everything under the sun.

Words could not even express how speechless it was when its master asked if it knew the rules of the game!

Surely you can't be thinking that you can defeat a true chess grandmaster just by learning the rules?

Even though it was a divine beast, it had learned the game back in the days when it was walking through the streets of Twilight City disguised as a human. Sometimes, when it got too bored in the cavern, it would also study the game a little out of curiosity.

The chess that the Three Bearded Cultivator played was officially known as the Chess of Goddess Luo in the Firmament. It was much more complicated than Go.

The rules of the game were simple, but the sheer number of possible scenarios made it extremely difficult to master the game. It was very testing of one's flexibility in thoughts and intelligence.

There were some people who immersed themselves into it their entire lifetime, only to achieve very little. In fact, there were a lot of God Kings who were fans of the game yet played average.

The fact that the old man was able to defeat all the experts within the city showed that he was a true grandmaster in the game.

Zhang Jia thought that it was nothing more than recklessness for its master to challenge him and make such a huge bet when he did not even know the rules.

Can we please stop living life on the edge? I feel like my heart will just pop like a balloon one of these days...

After a moment of speechlessness, Qi Ling-er finally started answering Zhang Xuan's question. "The rules of the game are …"

It did not take her long to run through all the rules.

The essence of the game lay not in the complexity of the rules but the ability to foresee the enemy's moves. If both players were able to read many steps in advance, it would become a true fight of wits, creating a sight of ingenuity that could nearly be called an art form.

Those who could not even do that much would just end up being destroyed like ants standing before a giant.

"I see!" Zhang Xuan heaved a sigh of relief after hearing the full set of rules.

It was fortunate that the rules were not too complicated. Otherwise, it might really be troublesome if he had to slowly grasp the rules in the midst of the game.

The old man noticed that Zhang Xuan had finally opened his eyes, so he asked, "Can we begin now?"


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