It wasn’t Li Tianming’s first rodeo in Ignispolis. It was a blazing hot city, and even its walls seemed to be dyed a fiery red by the scorching sun. From afar, the city looked like a giant stove bustling with heat and activity.
Of all the cities Li Tianming had seen, it was the most prosperous of all. The city was occupied by the most famous clans and families, a hub for the nation’s wealth, talents, experts and resources. It was the ultimate dream for every youth in Vermilion Bird.
Four years ago, Li Tianming was just like many other youths. He arrived in Ignispolis with great ambitions and cultivated in the Flameyellow Scions Institute. Everything seemed to be going so well back then.
Four years had passed, and here he was, with a totally different meaning in life. Not only had his mindset changed completely, he even had his mother with him this time.
Wei Jing rolled up the curtains from inside the horse cart. Her gaze was as calm as water, hinting at experiences entirely different from Li Tianming’s own. She never told him any stories from her time in Ignispolis before, but Li Tianming always knew that she had lived in the capital before her marriage. Her childhood was situated in this passionate city.
Wei Jing wore a faint smile, but her eyes seemed to be misty. What could be going on in her mind, after returning to her hometown after twenty years?
Watching her silvery hair getting blown up by the breeze, Li Tianming suddenly found himself imagining her youth. Like Jiang Feiling or Princess Qing, she must have been a lovely and lively girl.
“This disease has been way too cruel to her.” Li Tianming could only exclaim in his mind.
“How do you find this place? Do you miss it? Are you holding back your tears now?” Li Tianming teased his mother.
“Ha, your mother was never a sentimental person. I just really miss the pastries in Ignispolis, those mung bean cakes and osmanthus jellies were heavenly.” She was almost drooling when she talked about the delicacies of Ignispolis. Did she spend her childhood strolling the street with snacks in hand? Li Tianming could only imagine.
“Rest assured, when your son makes enough money, you’ll get to eat all you want. Once we settle down in Ignispolis, I’ll bring you the best pastries in the city everyday.” Li Tianming smiled.
“Pinky promise. I will lock you out of the house if you ever forget.” Wei Jing tried to make a stern face.
“What a heartless lady.” Li Tianming shook his head, but he could barely hide his grin. Once they left Flamehaven, with that man out of their sight, life was so much more joyous.
“We have a problem now though. We have nothing with us, where are we going to stay in Ignispolis?” This was the most urgent problem Li Tianming had to solve right now. Had he arrived alone, he could live in the institute once he entered it. But his mother couldn’t — she needed a place to call home.
“I can settle this. Your mother still has some friends in the city.” Wei Jing smiled. Clearly, she had planned this through.
“It’s just that we haven’t met for a good twenty years, I hope they are all living a better life than me right now.” No matter how close they used to be, they all each have their own life, their own family now.
Ever since they entered the city, Wei Jing had guided Li Tianming towards the western part of the capital. The city was huge, and one would probably take a good week or so to tour it completely. They were headed for the commercial district of Ignispolis, where business was bustling all day.
“Do you know where the ‘Chen Chateau’ is?” Wei Jing asked.
“Who doesn’t? The Chen Chateau and Xing Mansion are the most luxurious mansions in the western district, only surpassed by the Imperial Palace.” Li Tianming lived in Ignispolis for a year, and was quite familiar with its geography. In fact, the only thing stopping the two mansions from one-upping the palace was out of respect for the Vermilion Bird Clan.
The owners of the brilliant mansions were none other than the two presidents of ‘Xing & Chen Merchantry’. The merchantry was the largest business union in the entire Vermilion Bird, and controlled most businesses interests that ran in the nation. It also had branches across the nation, including Flamehaven. One could have an inkling of the union’s power from the popular saying: There’s nothing you can’t get from Xing & Chen Merchantry.
As for its two presidents, they were both legendary icons of Vermilion Bird. The two of them started from scratch, and were known as the ‘Starry Twins’ twenty years ago. Now everyone knew them as the ‘Starry Sages’.
In a short twenty years, they expanded their business across the nation, and accumulated wealth matching that of a small country’s. They even had the strength to compete with old school powerhouses in the nation, such as the Lightning Manor.
Xing Mansion and Chen Chateau were Sage Xing and Sage Chen’s residences respectively, and had hosted many reputable personages over the years. It wasn’t a place for regular citizens, and at least Li Tianming had never visited it before.
“Why are we heading there? Do you know anyone from the Chen Chateau?” Li Tianming was curious about his mother’s connections.
“A girlfriend of mine married into the Chen Chateau.” She too was nervous about seeing a friend for the first time in twenty years. Things had changed, and she was now just a sickly old lady evicted from her own family.
Before long, mother and son found themselves in front of a gleaming manor. The estate was like a small castle, seated in the center of the most luxurious district in Ignispolis. Perhaps, the most outstanding aspect of the building was the glowing gems engraved into the walls and statues of the estate, making the place shine like a star in the night sky.
The gates to the Chen Chateau were guarded by fearsome sentinels and ferocious beasts. The sentinels purely used lifebound beasts of adult tiger and lion species, scaring most pedestrians even though they were dozing off.
Li Tianming parked his horse cart in front of the gates. The horse cart was fancy and well-furnished, as it used to be Li Yanfeng’s personal ride. Therefore, he easily attracted the attention of the guards.
“Sir, may I know if you intend to visit Chen Chateau? Do you have an invitation?” They were rather polite to him, since they did not know which reputable family Li Tianming hailed from.
“Please inform your Madam Xue Lan that her old friend Wei Jing wishes to visit.” Wei Jing rolled up the curtains and answered.
“Our mistress? She doesn't usually entertain guests. I’m sorry, but I can’t let you in.” The guard treated his job very seriously.
“Please, just tell her my name. If she doesn’t want to see me, then I will take my leave.” Wei Jing asked politely.
To be safe, the guard ended up reporting to their mistress anyways. In the end, Wei Jing was an elderly lady, and could be their mistress’ senior. They would get into trouble if they chased the wrong people away.
It has been a while since the guard left to notify their mistress. That was understandable, considering that Chen Chateau was a huge place.
“Mother, is this madam you know famous in Chen Chateau?” Li Tianming was curious.
“Of course, how can Sage Chen’s wife not be famous?” Wei Jing replied with a smile.
“What?” Li Tianming gawked at his mother in disbelief. If she was friends with Sage Chen’s wife, she definitely had quite a background in Ignispolis twenty years ago. It was Sage Chen they were talking about, the legend of Ignispolis who held equal power as some of the highest-ranking officials in the nation. Li Tianming could only dream of meeting someone like Sage Chen.
Before Li Tianming could voice his doubt, the guard had already returned. “Madam Xue Lan extends her warmest greetings and invites her guests to the Daybreak Snow Pavilion. Please, follow me.”
Only when they stepped foot in the chateau did Li Tianming realise that he underestimated the wealth of the household. Pavilions and towers sprouted in the estate like bamboo shoots, each of them decorated with a myriad of ornaments and jewels. The governor’s manor back in Flamehaven was nothing but a shack compared to the glory of the Chen Chateau.
To be the mistress of the Chen Chateau, Xue Lan must be an extraordinary lady as well. It was hard to imagine how sisters from years ago ended up so differently, one being the mistress of a grand chateau, and the other homeless. Life had been really cruel to Wei Jing. But looking from Wei Jing’s expression, she seemed genuinely happy about her sister’s fortune.
It was quite a distance to the Daybreak Snow Pavilion, and the group walked past an arena where many youths from Xing & Chen Merchantry were training at. Many trainees from the merchantry enrolled in the Flameyellow Scions Institute each year, and today’s training was probably a final preparation for the entrance exam, which was only three days away.
A particular boy about the age of fifteen caught Li Tianming’s attention. He was tall and slender, dressed in a sky blue training robe. His long hair was combed neatly behind his back, giving him a meticulous look. The most prominent feature about him was still his eyes, sparkling and crystal clear.
From a single look, one could tell that the teenager came from an impressive family. The nobility that ran in their blood was not something you would find in common youths. Even in an arena filled with promising youths, he stood out among the rest like a shining star.
His lifebound beast was a stout purple lion, cultivating by his side. The lion had six distinct stars in its eyes, indicating that it was a six-star lifebound beast. That put him as one of the most promising youths in the entire Vermilion Bird, incomparable to those like Liu Qianyang or Jiang Yilin.
“This is our young master Chen Yao’s lifebound beast, the Hex-starred Clinquant Lion. Even among the six-star lifebound beasts, it is a high-tier one,” the guard explained, his expression filled with pride and envy.
Li Tianming was aware that Ignispolis categorized lifebound beasts into more specific tiers. Even within five-star and six-star beasts, they would be specified into low, mid and high tier beasts. For example, his Four-Winged Goldroc was classified as a mid-tier five-star beast.
This Hex-starred Clinquant Lion was not just any six-star lifebound beast, but a high-tier one. This further illustrated the young master Chen Yao’s superb talents.
“Is that Xue Lan’s kid?” Wei Jing asked.
“Of course! Young master Chen Yao is the madam’s youngest son. Her eldest son, Chen Hao, is currently training in Heaven’s Sanctum and is one of the best disciples there!” The guard replied.
Chen Hao? Li Tianming found the name familiar. Chen Hao had ranked third place in the exam three years ago and didn’t get the direct entrance into Heaven’s Sanctum. But ever since then he worked even harder, and made his way into the Sanctum some time later.
“Young master Chen Yao will be attending the entrance exam three days later. He is one of the most hopeful ones to get first place and enter Heaven’s Sanctum directly. Did you know, the earlier a person makes it into the Sanctum, the more opportunities and resources they will get? If young master Chen Hao had gotten first place for his year, he would be doing even better than that Lin Xiaoting.” The guard explained enthusiastically.
It went without saying that this young master would be another of Li Tianming’s rivals three days later.