The powerful aura of the seal still lingered, yet a rush of bodies was already rapidly filtering into the palace. Past a set frosted jade stairs were the open doors of the Primosanct Sect's sacred palace.
Before the palace were eight statues, each sculpted from ancient jade of the highest quality. They were approximately ten times the size of normal people, and appeared to be eight brutish giants from a distance, defending the palace from intrusion.
Jiang Chen felt something tug in his chest. He couldn't move his eyes or feet away from the eight statues. The eight statues of white jade were identical to the stone statues he'd taken from the Prince of Shangping.
The actual size of the statues was obviously vastly different, but they were otherwise carbon copies of each other. One could almost say that they had been crafted from the same mold. Even the statues' expressions and other minor details didn't differ.
How can this be? Is this really the sacred place of the ancient Primosanct Sect? Jiang Chen found this difficult to doubt.
He'd questioned and suspected that this supposed sacred sect grounds was actually a trap, an illusion created by malevolent actors. That belief was viscerally shaken now by this new revelation.
The eight jade statues absolutely astounded him. He was sure that they were no illusions.
He knew that some experts could use others' inner demons to mirror their deepest desires and interests into reality, so as to create scenes of interest. However, what he saw before him wasn't nearly as trivial as that.
The chain seal in his mind pierced all illusions. The scenery before him elicited no reaction in his subconscious. It was quite the opposite: the chain seal was unchanged from its state of constant alertness.
Jiang Chen slowed down his footsteps without realizing it. He almost wanted to stop and observe a few moments. Alas, the momentum of the crowd meant that it would be very odd of him to linger here for any length of time. It was also unwise to attract unwanted suspicion by doing so. Therefore, he suppressed his curiosity in the end.
If the Primosanct Sect's sacred grounds are truly here, no one will be interested in these eight jade statues. Let me go inside to check things out first. A hunter cannot unduly disturb his prey.
In spite of his excitement, Jiang Chen didn't lose control. His mind was much clearer than those of Cloudbillow and company, at least.
If he lost himself and earned the vigilance of Cloudbillow and his compatriots, he would be in a very bad spot. Even though he had the spacetime seal to exit this place and enter Veluriyam Capital, he hadn't made the trip just to run away.
The eight enormous jade statues made him extremely unwilling for him to depart any time soon.
But past the doors, the fastest of the lot was already in the grand palace proper. Jiang Chen had been reasonably quick. He'd entered the palace with a large swathe of others still behind him.
At this moment, the airborne red cloud seemed to have finally finished brewing its storm. The cloud diffused itself into a hail of fiery meteors, blasting into the earth beneath.
The storm of meteors painted a crimson shower across the heavens, breathtaking in its grandeur.
A sea of fire burst into being outside the palace.
The cultivators that hadn't yet made inside were instantly reduced to ash by the fire raining down from heaven. Not even their bones remained.
Even emperor realm cultivators couldn't resist the fearsome flame. The barest touch was enough to make anyone unfortunate enough to make contact with it disappear.
The cultivators that'd already escaped uniformly felt the pangs of lingering fear. Their hair stood up at the terrible sight.
All of them instinctively backed a few steps deeper into the palace.
The red cloud dispersed, revealing the sacred fowl's body within. It was several dozens of yards wide, and its spread wings could hide every celestial body behind its plumage.
The sacred fowl had two elongated tails that spread out in proud arcs. It was the very image of a noble ruler amongst its fellows. Its feathers were as colorful as brilliant fire, well-kept and smooth as mirrors.
"It really is a Vermilion Bird!"
Jiang Chen was indescribably shocked. He fixated on the rampaging bird in midair, at the spirit creature fabled as one of the four ancient sacred beasts.
Among the four sacred beasts, the Azure Dragon and the White Tiger are mine already. Is this Vermilion Bird an opportunity granted by heaven? Jiang Chen was highly tempted. He also felt a tinge of relief as well.
If he'd paused any longer earlier, perhaps he would've burned to ash like the rest in the meteor swarm.
He was uncertain whether the chain seal would protect him with regards to mere physical attacks. Attacks on his consciousness were perpetually doomed to fail, but more material offenses hadn't been tested to the same degree.
It wasn't good to take that kind of risk, regardless.
Though he was dearly attracted to the creature, the Vermilion Bird was no cub like Long Xiaoxuan and Little White. This was definitely a spirit fowl that had existed since the ancient times. Having experienced such a long span of years, it wasn't nearly as naïve and easy to tame as his draconic and tigrine friends.
There had been many experts in ancient times who'd been tremendously proud of their own abilities, yet died accidental deaths in the pursuit of taming a powerful sacred or evil beast.
The more grown an ancient spirit beast was, the fiercer and more arrogant it was. Naturally, the difficulty of taming such a specimen increased exponentially. Because of this, a lot of the ancient masters preferred to collect spirit beast cubs and rear them themselves. Only then could harmony between master and pet be easily attained.
Of course, it wasn't good to speak in absolutes.
The most elite of experts could beat spirit creatures into submission through martial prowess alone. That was perhaps the most efficient way of gaining such a proud animal's loyalty.
The Vermilion Bird furiously rained hailfire down on the cultivators who hadn't been able to hide inside the palace in time, reducing them to dust and ashes.
By Jiang Chen's rough estimates, the conflagration had killed at least a third of all the cultivators in the expedition team.
"Ancient sacred beasts are something else alright! There were at least one or two hundred of those cultivators, many emperor realm experts among them. Yet they;d all died instantly, every single one!"
Killing so many experts in so short a time was no easy feat.
This kind of fearsome power differential made the great emperors pale in cowardice. They finally realized that even their level didn't reign supreme even in the human domain.
There were living things that inhabited realms far more powerful than great emperor in places they didn't even know about.
They had encountered one of them today, in fact.
"Daoist Cloudbillow, was… was that an ancient sacred beast, a Vermilion Bird?"
The Divine Abyss Continent had records of sacred beast bloodlines. It'd flourished during the ancient era after all, and said bloodlines weren't too uncommon back then. It was the gradual dissipation of martial dao heritages in the last dozens of thousands of years that'd pushed things that used to exist into legend and lore.
Cloudbillow had been as shocked as everyone else. He took a deep breath, his eyes filled with apprehension as he looked up into the sky outside the palace. The sacred fowl there didn't seem satisfied.
Deep down, he was slightly worried. If the sacred fowl wasn't satisfied, it could very well enter the palace to carry on the fight. They would be trapped if that happened. There was no way out.
In this hour of uncertainty, the voice sounded once more. "Don't worry. You're safe inside this palace. That was the ancient sacred beast, a Vermilion Bird. It innately carries the embers of celestial flame within it, the kind that can incinerate an entire world.
"But there's no cause for concern. It's an ancient creature, and little of its former strength remains. That attack cost the strength it's been saving for years. It won't come for another round."
The voice was seemingly cognizant of people's thoughts. It touched on the topic that concerned them the most.
They'd traversed numerous trials to get to this point, but the ancient sacred fowl's fearsome display had kindled an unquenchable horror. Any viciousness from it was unstoppable.
"Senior, you… are you a lingering consciousness from an ancient senior, or do you still remain in this sacred place?" Emperor Cloudbillow with a bow.
This was a question on everyone's mind.
The voice was silent for a moment, then sighed softly. "Don't worry. I'm personally located within this palace. As long as you listen to my instructions, you will both guarantee your own safety and receive an unparalleled opportunity. Let bygones be bygones. The dead were not fortunate enough in the end. In the world of martial dao, those less fortunate are destined to be the stepping stones of others. You are very lucky to have had many on your road here. Now that you're in the Primosanct Sect's palace, your chance to rewrite your own destiny is here!"
The words brimmed with contagious fervor that magically brought the blood of everyone present to a boiling point.
Rewriting their own destinies!
That was a lifelong dream for almost everyone.
Truthfully, Jiang Chen wasn't able to find many flaws in the speech. However, his instincts told him that things weren't as simple as they seemed. He had nursed one thought from beginning to end: Agarwood Valley's secret realm had two forces controlling it that were fighting for dominance. That notion was only further cemented now.
The ancient Vermilion Bird was the force that had set up the sea of fire outside. It didn't want human cultivators to come here, thus its repeated efforts to thwart entrance.
The other force was the voice within the Primosanct Sect's palace. Its owner was unknown, but undoubtedly desired these cultivators' presence. After all, it'd led them here step by step!