Jiang Chen was slightly surprised when he heard this voice. This wasn't the voice he'd heard earlier. A voice had guided all the cultivators since they entered Veluriyam Pagoda. It had been the same voice up until he entered this palace of heritage. But this time, it was different. Although it sounded just as weary as the previous voice, there was a trace of human emotion behind this new voice. It sounded like a mix of some worry, joy and surprise. He thought that the voices of Veluriyam Pagoda were all set up through the mysterious application of some formations. So why was there such a complicated mix of feelings behind this new voice? Why did it sound like someone was talking to him in real time?
Jiang Chen calmed himself down and started looking around boldly. This place was a palace alright, but it wasn't nearly as dazzling or luxurious as he imagined before he came in. It was ancient and mysterious. Every inch of land in this place seemed to have been marked with the passage of time. However, it was completely empty. He couldn't find a place where someone might be talking to him from at all.
"There is no need to search for me, young man. You can't detect me with your current consciousness. You only need to remember one thing, and that this is the first palace of the Six Palaces of Heritage, the Skykun Palace."
"The Skykun Palace? Are you actually a real person, senior? Or are you a voice of some formation?" Jiang Chen asked curiously as he blinked.
"Heh. Is there even any doubt that I'm real?" The voice let out a wry laugh. "That being said, I suppose I can't exactly be called a real person. That's because I'm barely more than a speck of true spirit right now."
"Oh? What do you mean?"
The voice sighed. "That's a long story. Are you sure you want to hear it? It's a long story that go on for at least three to five years. It won't be strange if it goes beyond that."
Jiang Chen's expression changed when he heard this answer. He hastily waved his hands. "In that case just forget about it. Why don't you pick just the important points and tell me."
"Important points? I've been trapped here for more than a hundred thousand years, and at this point everything in this world is but floating clouds to me, including your so-called important points. I'll make this short. First, I'd like to congratulate you. You are the third youngster for the past one hundred thousand years to make it to the Skykun Palace. You are also the youngest genius out of all of them. Tsk tsk, you're not even over thirty years old, and yet you're able to step into the Six Palaces of Heritage. I wonder why I feel that you're slightly different from the previous two entrants?" The old man seemed to have been piqued by Jiang Chen. His lazy voice had become a bit more energetic than before.
"You know my true age, senior?" Jiang Chen was slightly surprised.
The old man broke into laughter. "Are you joking? I knew what kind of underwear you're wearing the moment you stepped into this place, much less your true age."
Jiang Chen also laughed wryly when he heard this response. He knew that it was no problem at all for an expert to see through a secular cultivator's true age after they'd reached a certain height of power. Therefore, this senior's cultivation was likely above even a great emperor like Emperor Peafowl. After all, Jiang Chen's disguise was good enough that it fooled even emperor level experts. They only knew that young lord Zhen was younger than usual, but no one could tell exactly how young he was.
However, the master of Skykun Palace was able to see through him completely. No secret of his were a secret to this old man, but he hadn't even seen this old man's face yet. Jiang Chen felt very depressed at this point. It was completely unfair. He didn't object to this intrusion of privacy, however. He was a guest in his host's territory right now, and he would have to follow the rules. He smiled awkwardly and asked, "You sure like to joke, senior. May I have the honor of knowing your name?"
"Mm hmm, my name is Honored Master P'eng.  Remember it well, young man. You're a bit interesting, more interesting than either one of the two fellows who came in before you. That being said, if you are planning to challenge my palace, I'm not going to go easy on you just because you're interesting, okay?" Honored Master P'eng said while cackling strangely.
Jiang Chen didn't expect him to go easy on him from the beginning. That being said, he still had no idea what the Six Palaces of Heritage are, nor their relations to the Veluriyam Pagoda.
"Senior P'eng, please forgive me if I say that I am utterly confused and that I have no knowledge regarding this Six Palaces of Heritage in my head at all. Should you not dispel my doubts first before we begin anything?"
It was true that Jiang Chen was very confused right now. a challenge wasn't a bad thing, but he wasn't willing to play into the old man's game while completely blind either.
"Alright, I suppose you haven't been an eyesore so far, so I'll tell you some things that you may need to know. As the name 'Six Palaces of Heritage' might suggest, there are a total of six palaces in this place. The Six Palaces of Heritage is the true core that surrounds and protects Veluriyam Pagoda, and we, the masters of the six palaces are responsible for protecting the Six Palaces of Heritage. We have no freedom, and we are not allowed to leave our posts. Freedom is possible only when a new master succeeds Veluriyam Pagoda."
"Freedom? Were you forced into your roles, senior?" Jiang Chen asked in surprise.
"Duh! Who in their right minds will want to stay in this shitty place for one or two hundred thousand years if they weren't forced? Worse, we weren't allowed to move too much or go beyond our designated areas like a tortoise."
"But why?" Jiang Chen grew even more puzzled.
"We have no idea when the Veluriyam Pagoda will welcome its new master. As powerful as we are, not even our lifespan is infinite. Therefore, we have no choice but to use a secret art and limit a year of physical activity into a single day. That is the only way to minimize the rate of loss of our life force. We would've been dead already even if we were actually turtles with ten thousand years of lifespan. It's been more than a hundred thousand years, you know."
Jiang Chen abruptly came to a realization after hearing the old man's explanation. He could understand what he meant. Back at the Boundless Catacombs beneath the eastern kingdom, Mang Qi and his people were trapped inside a formation. The only reason they managed to survive until this day was because they had employed various secret arts.
This type of secret art was rather torturous. Imagine having an entire year's of physical activity shrank to just one day. This meant that the cultivator who employed this art could only perform a day of activity in an entire year. How dull must it be to live like this year after year? However, the benefits were huge. If a year's time was shrank into a day, then the cultivator would've only 'lived' for a couple hundred thousand days even though a couple hundred thousand years' of time had passed. A couple hundred thousand days translated to just a couple hundred years only. That amount of lost time didn't matter much to an expert of this level.
"Senior, you said you were all forced into your roles? Who on earth was the person who did this to you?"
"Who else could it be?" Honored Master P'eng sounded depressed. "The master of Veluriyam Pagoda is the one who did this to us, of course. That old bastard, he even forbade us from mentioning his name. But so what? If I can't mention his name, then I'm going to call him an old bastard. That cunning, cunning bastard!"
"What do you mean? It doesn't sound like being cunning has anything to do with forcing you into your roles."
Honored Master P'eng sighed. "Well, I suppose we weren't technically forced into our roles. The thing is, I have a feeling that I was fooled by him. Ah, a single slip has truly caused everlasting sorrow. Sigh, back then I often flaunt myself to be unrivalled in speed. One day, this old bastard came to me and said that he wanted to race me. Since the stake of this race was a treasure that tempted me greatly, I agreed to the bet, and just like that, I lost my whole lifetime of freedom. Depressing. Just depressing!"
Judging from Honored Master P'eng's tone, Jiang Chen roughly guessed a bit of what really happened back then. If he wasn't mistaken, this Honored Master P'eng was tricked by the creator of the Veluriyam Pagoda and fell into a trap, thus losing the race. That was how Honored Master P'eng lost his freedom and became one of the protectors of Veluriyam Pagoda.
"Do you understand now, boy?"
Jiang Chen reined back his urge to laugh and nodded obediently. "More or less, yes. The fact that you've kept your promise and accepted your loss proves that you are a trustworthy person when it comes to gambling, senior. I dare say that you are a virtuous person considering how trustworthy you are."
Honored Master P'eng had been trapped here for more than a hundred thousand years, and it was only natural that he was bored out of his wits. That was why tears nearly appeared in his eyes when he heard Jiang Chen's words. Just how many years had it been since he heard such warm words? Although the flattery wasn't great, he had stewed in boredom for at least a hundred thousand years. Even the worst flattery would sound like the words of god to him. That was why Honored Master P'eng felt so happy that he couldn't wipe the grin on his face. "I see that your insight is quite good, boy. That is a rare trait to have. Ah, back when I still traveled the world I've never gone back on a bet. I may have lost a bet once in a while, but I have and never will lose my honor."
"Mm. Now that's how a senior should act. This kid is impressed." At this point Jiang Chen had realized that this old man loved to hear compliments.
"Mm hmm, you are an interesting person, boy. Since I'm feeling so good today, I shall speak a bit more about the Six Palaces of Heritage. By entering the Six Palace of Heritage, you have won the right to obtain the inheritance of Veluriyam Pagoda. But that is all. If you truly wish to inherit the Veluriyam Pagoda, you must go through challenges presented by each of the Six Palaces of Heritage first."
Jiang Chen nodded slightly. He had guessed that this was the case earlier.
"Keep in mind that not all the protectors of the palaces are as good tempered as I am. That being said, you are a quick witted boy. I doubt that you'll be hated by any one of the protectors of the palace. However, if you truly possess outstanding talent, then it doesn't matter if everyone here hates you. That's because all six protectors of the Six Palaces of Heritage have sworn to their inner demons that they will never ignore the rules due to personal preferences. Therefore, even if I am very fond of you, the difficulty of the challenge you will soon face is the same as the two previous challengers who entered the Six Palaces of Heritage. In this regard, I will always be impartial."
Jiang Chen understood just how strict the rules of the Six Palaces of Heritage from Honored Master P'eng's repeated warnings that he wouldn't go easy on him.
"I can't go easy on you, but I can give you some friendly tips within the limits of the rules. To be honest, I wish for every genius who enters this place to succeed no matter how much I may dislike them. If no one succeeds, we won't be able to fulfill our end of the bet and complete our responsibility. We won't have a shot at obtaining freedom either."
"A shot at obtaining freedom? Why's that?" Jiang Chen was puzzled by this.
"Oh, it's very simple. That old bastard's scheme was watertight. Not only did he want us to protect this Six Palaces of Heritage, he even requested that we assist the new master of Veluriyam Pagoda for ten thousand years. He's totally planning to enslave me for the rest of my life, that old bastard. Damn me for being possessed by greed and falling for his devious trap…" Honored Master P'eng sounded like he was swearing through clenched teeth, but for some reason Jiang Chen felt that he didn't actually hate the former master of Veluriyam Pagoda. His tone wasn't right.
Of course, this was just Jiang Chen's feeling. "But senior, if you really hate that senior that much, surely you won't perform a sloppy job when you are serving the new master he requests you to assist, will you?"
"Well, of course not. I may hate that old bastard, but I made a bet and I am a man of my word, so I don't hate him that much. Also… haha. To be honest, if it wasn't for that old bastard, there's no telling if we might've survived the ancient demonic calamity. You win some and you lose some, I guess…" Honored Master P'eng sounded a little sad here. He seemed to be recalling something from a very, very long time ago.
1. The characters for his name are Kun and Peng. Together they make the name of a mythological fish that could change into a roc. K'un is the name of the fish, and P'eng the name of the roc. You'll see later why P'eng was chosen.