The atmosphere was a bit stifling. The guardian of the third palace was purposefully causing difficulties by not breaking the silence.
Well, Jiang Chen assumed as much, anyways. "Senior," he saluted with a cupped fist. "I am the current head of Veluriyam Capital. May I know your name?"
According to the rules, the guardians of the palaces had to be fair to any challenging heirs…
Allowing for one's specific tastes and interests, of course.
There was one basic matter that couldn't be concealed — the guardian's name. They were forced to answer this kind of query.
"You can call me Grand Marquis, young man." The guardian of the third palace harrumphed.
"Senior Marquis." Jiang Chen saluted once more. "Senior, I've found a few things out about the Six Palaces of Heritage during my journey so far. I've had good relationships with seniors Master P'eng and Venerated Skysoarer. I hope the same will be for the two of us. Please do excuse me for any discourtesy when I last came through."
Jiang Chen knew that any issue Senior Marquis had with him would be because of what he'd done last time he was here. As a junior, there was nothing to be embarrassed about in offering a humble apology.
"Senior, things were pretty sudden last time. Myriad Abyss Island's descendants attacked Veluriyam Capital. In ancient times, deserting cowards from the war populated the island. And now, their children's children have come back to make trouble and stir up chaos. The past few years have seen the breaking of several Boundary Steles and the unrest of alien races around the human domain. Of greatest concern is that the ancient demons are attempting to make their way back into the world. The human domain is boiling over, so to speak."
Jiang Chen sighed softly. "If that hadn't been the case, I wouldn't have come through in such a hurry. I'm finding myself a bit powerless in the outside world. I've also come to get some possible advice on how to deal with the present problems."
Regardless of whether the other man enjoyed flattery, laying it on thick was never a bad idea.
Grand Marquis felt slightly mollified after hearing Jiang Chen's explanation. He hadn't actually been particularly angry about Jiang Chen passing through last time. He'd merely wanted to use it as an opportunity to test this young man.
How will he handle a difficult situation?
His even-tempered performance, serene and cadenced, was reasonably respectable. Thus, the picky Grand Marquis had his impression of Jiang Chen quite improved from their last meeting.
The young man no longer looked like an eyesore. He wasn't just another one of those young geniuses that liked to embellish his strengths and deflect from his weaknesses.
"You said you're called Jiang Chen?" Grand Marquis asked.
"Yes, indeed." Jiang Chen bowed.
"You look like you're only thirty. Someone of your age should be counted among your fellow young geniuses. How come you're ruling over Veluriyam Capital? Has Veluriyam stooped so low that it needs youths to lead it?" Grand Marquis was beginning to wonder about the city's current strength as a whole.
"I came upon the throne of this city by chance, senior…" Jiang Chen related the basics of the relationship between Emperor Peerless and himself, as well as their mutual promise.
Grand Marquis's tone softened once more when he was finished. "If you haven't lied to me, kid, then you're a pretty responsible guy. Not bad, making it to the third palace."
His mood was clearly a lot brighter.
"Alright, the third palace is named after me. It's called Palace of the Grand Marquis. Remember, you only have the right to receive the heritage here and pass on ahead if you pass my test. Are you ready?"
Jiang Chen knew that the third palace's test wasn't going to be simple. But since he was already here, he was long past being mentally prepared.
"Senior Marquis, I have no other way out. Veluriyam Capital is teetering on the brink between life and death, and the human domain is in a time of revolution. Give me victory, or give me death!" Jiang Chen's tone was resolute.
"Very good." Grand Marquis's voice showed the briefest hint of admiration. "Keep in mind that the palace contains both trials and dangers. You may not have encountered anything life-threatening at the Skykun and Crimson Heavens Palaces, but that's no longer true for this one. I can tell you clearly that geniuses have lost their lives here in the past."
Jiang Chen's heart beat a bit faster, then calmed. "I am willing to suffer any and all consequences for coming here. Please give me your test."
"Honored Master Peng and Venerated Skysoarer may not have mentioned me to you, kid. But you have the right to know this, since you're here.
"I don't intend to give you some kind of obstacle course. I only have two tests. One of them is for your consciousness. Your current level of cultivation means that it's disadvantageous for you to be tested on the basis of raw strength alone.
"However, I only care about finding a genius with the best potential. I don't care about what ultimate cultivation level you can reach. It's fine if you're a bit lower level as long as your potential is there. If you can convince me of that, you'll pass. The second test… will come after."
Jiang Chen nodded slightly. "I'm ready, Senior Marquis."
A test for one's consciousness?
He was very pleased as this was his strong suit. The strength of his consciousness far exceeded his cultivation level. He had the confidence to pass whether the senior tested for raw strength or available potential.
Grand Marquis noticed that spirit in the smile and found it mildly odd. The confidence to be found in the young man was a trait that the guardian quite admired. The old senior saw a bull-like tenacity in the young man before him, and it being backed up by genuine sureness was even more remarkable.
Many young men liked to pretend that they had courage and calmness in the face of calamity. True experts could largely see through any such facades presented to them.
Though the guardian marveled at it, he didn't point it out. This young man is either destined for greatness or to be an absolute fool. May he be given a trial through the refiner's fire. Will he turn out to be gold or pyrite, I wonder?
His consciousness created strange runes in the air. Suspended in space like a big screen, they created an unraveling veil. Once the process was complete, a number of images appeared on the surrounding walls. They appeared identical, as if formed from the same mold.
"Do you see these nine images, young man?"
Jiang Chen's eyes looked keenly at the mysterious images. He took a deep breath and nodded. "I see them."
"Very good. These nine images are a set, meant to be studied. However, only one is actually perfect. The other eight look close enough, but are all flawed in minor, different ways. So much so that some of the flaws are almost imperceptible. What you must do is find the perfect one and also identify where the other eight's problems are."
This was an insanely difficult problem to solve.
A quick glance from Jiang Chen revealed no differences whatsoever. Despite his sharp eyes, he found it hard to spot any telling flaws.
"Alright, then. You have two hours to accomplish that task. If you fail within that time, then that's it." There was no sympathy in Grand Marquis's voice.
Jiang Chen braced himself, then nodded again. "I understand."
If there really were differences between these images - with one and only one being perfect - he was sure he could find that one, wherever it was. He deployed the God's Eye alongside the Evil Golden Eye, examining the images one by one with a focused eye.
It was obvious that there were profound mysteries imbued within these images. Jiang Chen felt his head spin upon looking closely at them.
These images are very potent! There's something terrifying about their disorienting effects. Are they designed to confuse their viewers?
If his consciousness hadn't been sufficiently strong, Jiang Chen's mind would've been sent spinning by a single oscillation of the mystifying images. This barrier to entry cooled his head and spurred his patience.
He proceeded from there with more steadily. The chain seal in his consciousness ocean was coming to life like an awakening volcano.
This seal had been very helpful for Jiang Chen. It'd enabled him to achieve breakthroughs in his usage of the Holy Dragon Bow during several battles and inspired him with archery skills in general. The fact that it was roaring to life was a good sign. The seal was activating itself without conscious command.