Despite his sovereign mastery over the art, Jiang Chen was quite strained by the test of strength and speed. A test like this surpassed the limits that someone of his cultivation level could sustain. Because the trial taxed him past his breaking point, it was a significant hurdle with regards to both reflexes and stamina. Thankfully, he had two lifetimes' worth of experience to guide him. He was able to calm himself during crucial moments, keeping both his direction and composure.
The longer he fought, the more tenacious he became. In between dodges and shifts, he felt countless bursts of inspiration rise to the top of his mind. Initially, Jiang Chen had found the task to be quite daunting. In these last few moments, however, he gleaned ideas increasingly frequently about how to pick up his own speed. Thus, he found it easier to survive with every passing second.
The fifteen minutes were up before long. When all of the attacks ceased, Jiang Chen's clothes were absolutely drenched, permeated with sweat from the inside to out. He hadn't expected a mere quarter-hour to consume so much of his energy and stamina. Admittedly, this particular test had been exceptionally exciting. It was perfect in essentially every aspect. It had tested speed, reflex, finesse, and conscious judgment. Almost everything there was to examine, really.
"I suppose this shows that I shouldn't underestimate these Six Palaces of Heritage. I thought I'd prepared so well for them, but there had been only a fine line between success and failure just now nevertheless." The past round of trials made Jiang Chen warier of the palaces' difficulty.
"This is only the first of many to come. The later trials will surely be harder rather than easier. If I rush headlong into things, the slightest amount of hubris will be enough to cloud over my heart. Any impurities therein just now would likely have ended in my elimination." Thinking back on it, he was both relieved and somewhat grateful.
Jiang Chen adjusted himself a little before exiting the secret room, coming into a wholly different world. The test this time was to verify Jiang Chen's grasp of the Kunpeng's Meteoric Escape technique. Naturally, passing this round meant his successful weathering of the entire Skykun Palace. Accordingly, he would be eligible to receive the appropriate rewards: the kunpeng bloodline.
The kunpeng bloodline could be counted as a token, a mark of Master P'eng's trust. Receiving the bloodline was equivalent to receiving both the palace and the master's acceptance. The test was somewhat similar to that of the Veluriyam Obelisks. Jiang Chen needed to analyze the Kunpeng's Meteoric Escape with his consciousness. Standing before a gigantic stone obelisk, Jiang Chen injected his consciousness into the structure. Instantly, the shadow of a kunpeng appeared on the obelisk's surface.
Roar! The beast reared its head, roaring into the sky. Then, it began to move with comet-like haste.
Jiang Chen's task was to use his consciousness to understand the this art. In fact, he needed to follow and even predict the beast's path. It was a job that required meticulous attention to detail. He quickly accustomed himself to the rhythm needed for the trial.
Someone of his intuitive caliber was easily able to tail the meteor's shadow, plotting out all of its potential paths forward. Such fine control tested not only the keenness of perception, but also a thorough understanding of the technique's delicacies. Any inaccuracies in comprehension meant abject failure. Besides the aforementioned control, sufficient foresight was required as well. It was a trait that required certain foundations as well. Without sufficient practice with this technique, how could there be foresight? Jiang Chen's extensive experiences with martial techniques and superb martial talent both granted him insurmountable advantages. It wasn't easy, but it was actually comparatively easier than the second round. After a battery of struggles, Jiang Chen brought this round of testing to its conclusion as well.
"Good lad! I knew that you had it in you." It was Master Kunpeng's joyful voice. "You haven't let me down."
Three successive rounds of testing had drained Jiang Chen of every iota of energy. He had to sit for a while, regaining his strength, before being able to open his eyes again. A pleased smile now hung upon his face. "I appreciate your high hopes, senior master. Truthfully, I only passed by the skin of my teeth."
"I wouldn't say the same." Master P'eng chuckled. "I can see that you're actually quite skilled."
The master rarely praised others. He especially spared junior disciples such gestures, having the notion that youngsters who received too much adulation would become too proud and full of themselves. In this moment, however, his approval was entirely honest.
"Ah, yes. You will receive two things as your prize. The first is three drops of kunpeng blood, which is a token of Skykun Palace's trust. The second is a… spacetime seal."
Kunpeng blood was easy enough to understand from its name. What was a spacetime seal, though?
"A spacetime seal is a talisman uniquely found in the Veluriyam Pagoda. Breaking it will create a dimensional passage, no matter where you are. It will take you inside the Six Palaces of Heritage. Because you've broken through Skykun Palace, you will be taken straight to the next one whenever you do."
"How miraculous!" Jiang Chen was surprised at the seal's effects. He knew that some talismans were potent enough to accomplish similar things.
However, only masters of the heavenly planes could create such items. Prospective makers had to grasp powerful spacetime mysteries in order to be able to forcefully open such passages. A spacetime seal was an extremely effective lifesaving treasure. No matter how dire one's circumstances, breaking it would instantly return the user to the Veluriyam Pagoda. The architect of the Veluriyam Pagoda had to have been a master among masters.
An expert like that would surely have had a place even in the heavenly planes. Jiang Chen was suddenly filled with curiosity about the Divine Abyss Continent. If this plane really was only an ordinary one, how could it have spawned someone so powerful? To put it another way, why had he been reborn into such a supposedly mundane plane? What kind of power had led to his reincarnation here? Had it been a willful act from his father the Celestial Emperor, or simply a stroke of happenstance?
For now, it was a question without an answer that filled Jiang Chen's heart with doubt. Puzzled by all of this, he sank into deep thought.
"Can I leave the Pagoda right now, then, senior?" Jiang Chen suddenly piped up once more.
"Obviously, you dolt. Anyone who comes into the Six Palaces of Heritage has a chance to leave and re-enter after every individual one. However, before you do, you have to swear on your inner demons that you will not reveal the palaces' secrets. Otherwise, may they consume you totally." Master P'eng sighed. "Those are the rules. The person who built the Veluriyam Pagoda made them, and no one is allowed to break them."
Jiang Chen found these rules to be quite understandable. Those who refrained from entering the Six Palaces had no such opportunity. The formation that sent them away automatically wiped the associated memories clean.
Only those who entered the Six Palaces had the chance to preserve their memories, but that also required them to gain the right of re-entry. If they failed at their single chance and repeated their result a second time, their memories would be wiped away just the same. The Veluriyam Pagoda had perfected its art of secrecy. That was how it had preserved its traditions throughout over a hundred thousand years of heritage. The outside world knew none of its enigmas to this day.
Jiang Chen's subsequent silence made Master P'eng scratch his head. "You're not really going to go outside, are you?" He couldn't help but ask. "If I were you, I would rather stay here and go challenge the second palace when the time comes."
"Senior, I do have to go out for a bit." Jiang Chen cracked a wry smile.
His stubbornness disappointed the master. "If you want to go out, the other palaces have formations that do that as well. Are you sure about this?"
"Yes, I am." Jiang Chen nodded. Having been here many years, he was unsure about how the outside world had progressed while he'd been gone. The heaviest thing that hung upon his mind was the possible premature occurrence of the demonic invasion. The promise he had made to the Coiling Dragon clan lord was another reason he had to leave. Breaking it would likely result in the creation of an inner demon.
Master P'eng was depressed at the young man's resolution. Jiang Chen didn't seem like he was amenable to staying for any reason. "It's rare that there's a kid around to chat with me and alleviate my boredom. Why do you want to go outside, huh? Never mind, never mind, I know you'll have your reasons for this-and-that. Alright, swear the oath."
Jiang Chen immediately swore an oath on his inner demons. Just like a heavenly oath, an inner demon's oath tended to be both horrific and self-fulfilling.
"You better not renege on that oath, Jiang Chen. If you do, you will be eternally doomed. I'm not just scaring you, you know. The Veluriyam Pagoda's secrets are linked with the fate, fortune, and future of the human race. There can be no mistakes, no errors, no accidents. Do you understand?" Master P'eng was tireless in his repeated admonishments.
The old master's seriousness sparked a question in Jiang Chen. "The human race's fortune? Who built the Veluriyam Pagoda exactly? I hear that the Main Pagoda holds his empyrean decree and relic? Was he—is he—a great empyrean expert?"
Master P'eng smiled serenely. "Empyrean expert? Too young and too simple, my little friend. The so-called empyrean decree and relic are mere smoke and mirrors. They are hardly the things that actually lie at the heart of the Pagoda. Just that old bastard's elaborate ruse, you see."
"…What?" Jiang Chen was perplexed. He remembered the first day that he'd come into Veluriyam Capital, still. Back then, Wei Jie had proudly told him, very clearly, that the Veluriyam Pagoda held the first-generation master's empyrean decree and empyrean relic. All this time, he had thought that they were the most important items the Pagoda held. Given what Master P'eng had just said, was that not the case at all? The decree, the relic, were both just part of a lie?