This time, Jiang Chen was determined to stay in seclusion until he attained sixth level emperor realm. He was at already peak fourth level, so he needed two successive breakthroughs.
Anyone else might have found it a great challenge, but for him, ascension within emperor realm posed little difficulty. He'd gained many things in Agarwood Valley, including a deeper understanding of martial dao that would help him reach his objective.
He might even be able to rush all the way to seventh level in one session. In actuality, reaching seventh level within five years was the goal he'd set for himself.
According to Venerated Skysoarer, Jiang Chen needed to be at advanced emperor realm for the highest chance of success in the third of the Six Palaces of Heritage. The lowest threshold for that was seventh level emperor realm. And given their close relationship, Venerated Skysoarer wouldn't scare him for no good cause.
He really had no time to lose.
He needed absolute power to protect those dearest to him. He'd understood this cold hard truth when Elder Xi had taken away his beloved Huang'er. The trip to Agarwood had reinforced this notion even further.
After such rude awakenings, he now longed for strength as he never had before.
But first, he went looking for the Vermillion Bird in the rear mountain of the young lord residence. The divine beast had become fond of the place. Not only because it was Jiang Chen's territory, but because of the wood spirit spring.
Bathing every day in the spring had helped it recover quite some lifeforce. Although the spring couldn't fundamentally reverse its predicament, the waters could at least noticeably prevent further deterioration in the short-term. Such improvement was the best insurance for the ancient bird.
"Senior, I might spend a long while behind closed doors this time. A year at least, but it might be five years or more."
"You do you, why tell me? Or do you want to chase me away?"
Jiang Chen smiled. "Of course not. You're welcome here as long as you want. With an divine senior holding down the fort, what else could I ask for?"
The longer the bird interacted with the young man, the fonder it was of him.
"Kid, you don't need me for that. And don't you have the golem brothers? Get to the point, what do you really want?" Seeing the human prevaricating, it knew he must have something else to say.
Jiang Chen grinned. "Hehe, I can't hide anything from the mighty senior. In fact, I came to ask you for a few drops of blood."
This, for an ancient divine creature, was the most taboo of subjects. Of course, they had enough blood to spare. They would hardly feel the loss of a hundred drops, to say nothing of a couple.
However, their blood was as important to them as their very lives. They would fight to the death to protect it. Unless they offered it on their own, very few would gift it away. After all, some risk was involved in the process.
Indeed, the divine bird turned stony. "You want my blood essence?"
"Senior, I'm cultivating a formidable art that can shape the essence of ancient flames into the form of a Vermillion Bird. Unfortunately, it can imitate the shape but not the soul. After careful study, the reason seems to be my lack of a genuine Vermillion Bird bloodline. Otherwise, it might well be ten times stronger."
Jiang Chen looked at the divine bird with sincerity, his expression tranquil and candid, free of nefarious ambitions. The bird stared back for a long while before sighing. "Jiang Chen, even in ancient times, no human expert's ever dared ask me that. You're the first one."
"Senior, let's pretend I didn't say anything if I was out of line. I have many other ways to deal with my enemies anyways."
He longed to enhance his technique, but it wasn't in his nature to compel someone else. He would naturally drop it if the bird wasn't willing.
"Ah well…" the ancient bird sighed. "Why do I have to be so fond of you? Why did you have to help me at every turn? I guess I'll indulge you this once. But remember, bloodlines are very important for us. The longer we live, the more we cherish it. Another divine creature might have killed you for this insolence."
Jiang Chen was well aware of this fact, but he simply nodded docilely. "Many thanks for your guidance, senior. I'll be more careful next time."
Long Xiaoxuan and Little White were also ancient beats, one a true dragon and the other an astral white tiger. But the dragon willingly gave his blood whenever Jiang Chen asked. As for the white tiger, he'd raised it since young. It was essentially his contracted beast, so it never refused him anything.
Hence, he'd overlooked this issue.
It wasn't until the Vermillion Bird's reminder had he realized how impetuous his request had been. Fortunately, even if reluctant, the ancient bird hadn't been miserly enough to refuse.
It gave him three drops of blood in the end, quantifying sorrowfully, "My strength has plummeted because my life is near its end, so the blood has lost much of its potency. How about I give you some more once I fully recover?"
Jiang Chen beamed with happiness. "I can't thank you enough, senior. That reminds me, please make the residence your home. Once I become great emperor, we'll go to Myriad Abyss Island together. Perhaps you'll find a suitable place there to break free of the shackles of life and be reborn anew."
The Vermillion Bird perked up, remaining silent for a long while before exclaiming, "I'll wait for you to reach great emperor realm then. Hurry the hell up!"
That was a simple jest. It was already pleased enough with the wooden spirit spring and life in the young lord residence was easy. In fact, it wouldn't abandon the spring's safety even if Jiang Chen were to chase it away.
The young lord then went to find the eight golems. He'd reserved an area behind the mountain for their rest, cultivation, or other activities.
They'd revived not too long ago, their bodies and souls previously separated for aeons. Compared to their prime, they were still far too weak. Now, they too could cultivate single-mindedly in the residence.
Big Stone thumped his chest when Jiang Chen mentioned seclusion. "Don't worry. Us brothers will defend this place with our lives, even if some lame demons come invading."
The young lord smiled. The golem had understood him before he'd said anything.
Golems were purportedly slow and simple, but Big Stone seemed to have absorbed human culture quite fast and now understood the way of the world.
His next stop was the residential area, or more precisely, Madame Yun. He felt guilty over Peerless' disappearance. He had to pay a call at least, and perhaps provide whatever solace he could. It wouldn't do to cause her continued worry by just remaining silent.
Indeed, surprised by his visit, she couldn't hide her inner worries.
"Sister-in-law, I'm to blame for Old Brother Mo's disappearance. But I promise I won't idly sit by.
I've already sent out many men to investigate. His business is Veluriyam's business. And with his vast powers, he'll surely stay out of harm's way. So don't be too worried."
Madame Yun was a proper and empathetic lady. She was indeed sick with worry, but she knew Jiang Chen wasn't at fault.
"Little brother, the heavens help the worthy. Just as you've said, I'm sure Brother Mo is safe and sound somewhere. He must be detained for some reason, but he'll come back one day." She had great faith in her dao partner.
Jiang Chen was slightly relieved by her steady mood.
Indeed, after obtaining the kunpeng blood, Peerless had the potential to break through to empyrean realm. With his ability, he'd surely be safe no matter who was plotting in the shadows.
With everything finally sorted, Jiang Chen entered Guo Ran's palace, formally starting his seclusion. His first priority was to refine the Vermillion Bird's blood essence. Even near the end of its life, an ancient divine creature's blood wasn't for show.
As long as he could fuse it with the Vermillion Bird image, the power of his technique would soar.
"Azure Dragon, White Tiger, Vermillion Bird, and Black Tortoise. I'm only missing the Black Tortoise bloodline. If I can obtain it one day… With all four, I can master all five elements and fathom the heavenly dao. That would be the opportunity of more than a single lifetime!"
Although the trip to Agarwood Valley had been fraught with danger, he'd reaped enormous gains. The Vermillion Bird's blood, in particular, was a heaven-sent.
His long-term goal was to reach the heavenly planes and plumb their depths. Why had the planes shattered? Gathering the blood of all four great ancient creatures might allow him to make the impossible possible, bringing him one step closer to the root of his past life's mystery!