As the chain seal in Jiang Chen's mental sea stirred, his consciousness instantly grew fivefold more. Things previously fuzzy became crystal clear. The same applied to the nine diagrams.
When Jiang Chen had first inspected them, it felt that understanding was just within reach. He had a grasp of them, or maybe he didn't.
But thanks to the chain seal's formidable assistance, his mental acuity spontaneously reached an entirely new level.
As… I thought, this set of diagrams depicts a maze. It's a Nine Labyrinth Formation.
Jiang Chen had finally set foot on the right track. The diagrams had seemed ordinary at first, but in fact they seamlessly came together to form a whole.
One amongst the nine wasn't like the others simply because it had a way out, while the other eight led to dead ends. Once the diagrams were placed together, they formed a labyrinth. Challengers could be stranded forever in eight of them, whereas hope for life was present in only one.
"I see, I see!" Relying on his immense consciousness, Jiang Chen finally deciphered the core principle of the diagrams. His confidence soared.
Due to the high similarity between the diagrams, attempts made to differentiate their intrinsic natures based on observation alone would be made in vain. All were cast from the same mold. But now that he'd understood the profound mystery behind the whole, the diagrams took on a whole new meaning in his eyes. He was no longer flailing in the dark. The dead ends were now readily apparent to him; he simply needed to exclude them.
"Eight dead ends, one chance of salvation… These diagrams are really something else." He wasn't relying on simple observation anymore. Instead, he combined his active perusal with logical deductions.
Inspiration abruptly flashed through his mind. The Evil Golden Eye latched onto a diagram filled with penetrating and abstruse principles.
"That's the one!"
The sudden insight filled him with an indescribable, mysterious sensation. In fact, such spontaneous enlightenment were also a kind of comprehension on the path of martial dao.
"Senior, I have the answer." Turning into a stream of light, he rushed towards his choice, passing through it in the blink of an eye.
The scene in front of him blurred. The nine diagrams had vanished from sight, replaced by what'd greeted him when first stepping into the third palace, as if nothing had happened.
Looking around him, he exclaimed in silent awe. Everything had seemed so real, but it was all illusion! The Nine Labyrinth Formation is extraordinary indeed. I can't help but wonder if it exists in truth.
At a realm at the crossroad of dream and reality; he couldn't help but admire Senior Marquis' astonishing accomplishment in this domain. There was a subset of cultivators that specialized in illusory arts. Their mastery in that domain was hard to fathom.
The so-called illusory arts weren't always entirely imaginary. They manipulated the intersection of illusion and reality to confound their targets. Without a doubt, the senior was an expert in these arts.
The guardian's astonished voice appeared from thin air. "Jiang Chen, this marquis now understands how you managed to reach the third palace."
Jiang Chen remained modest. "My luck hasn't deserted me yet."
"Hmph, just accept my compliments. What's this false modesty for?" The marquis snorted coldly. "You can count on one hand the number of people I've praised in my lifetime."
Jiang Chen laughed, no longer so humble. "Senior, I've already passed the first trial. Can you tell me about the second?"
The first hadn't been child's play, but it hadn't been all that arduous either. In fact, this was what had most surprised the marquis.
He knew well the diagrams' ingenuity. If the challenger was really foolish enough to meticulously compare them one by one, he might not find the answer even after a decade.
In the ancient era, more than one of marquis' enemies had fallen prey to the diagrams' labyrinth, stranded inside until the hour of their deaths. If one couldn't decipher their underlying principle, it would be no exaggeration to say one would be a victim a hundred times over out of a hundred attempts.
However, it hadn't taken long for the young man in front of him to solve them.
This Jiang Chen might truly possess genuine potential. However, the marquis didn't lose his composure despite his astonishment. The first trial was the easier one out of the two, just a mere appetizer. There would've been no need for the second if the first had been enough to foil the young man.
But after seeing Jiang Chen succeed so easily once, some anticipation crept in for the second trial's outcome. Could this youngster truly succeed?
He hadn't been very optimistic before, but he'd slowly become more and more fascinated.
Honored Master P'eng and Venerated Skysoarer both admire him and acknowledged his qualifications to challenge the third palace, so there must be something to this kid, right?
"Jiang Chen, you should prepare yourself. The second trial will be much more difficult." The warning was a marked difference from his usual style.
Neither servile nor arrogant, Jiang Chen faced the senior, his eyes shining with intelligence. "I'm completely ready. I wouldn't be here in the first place otherwise. Please begin."
In truth, he was a little impatient.
Wasn't this a little too easy? Testing his consciousness? The third palace seemed simply tailor-made for him.
The Skykun Palace had tested his speed instead. He wasn't lacking in that area either, but it'd been somewhat of a challenge, more than the third palace at least.
"Pay attention now." As the guardian's voice rang faintly in his ears, the scenery in front of him changed abruptly once more in a dazzling light.
A tall rampart filled his vision in every direction. To be more precise, sculptures of every expression sat atop the high wall. The sculptures varied between majestic, dignified, teasing, solemn, eccentric, contemplative, furious, or gleeful…
The expressions were so vivid that it seemed the sculptures would come to life at any moment.
"Young man, do you see the Wall of Life before you? I've collected all of the human emotions, desires, and sins and placed them here as the masterpiece of my lifetime. I can be found within, as can everyone in the world…"
Indeed, the sculptures were so lifelike that nature itself seemed to have carved their miens.
"Jiang Chen, this wall contains Confounding Puppets. I can't tell you the number for now. The Confounding Puppets are creations into which I've poured the essence of my lifelong study in the illusory arts. Each of them possesses thirty to seventy percent of my own powers.
"You need to find the puppets within limited time. Remember, you can scry and contact them with your consciousness, but you can't touch them. You'll pass if you can find three, but more would be a testament to the strength of your mind. The more you find, the greater your rewards might be," the marquis faintly said.
There was little to differentiate the puppets from ordinary sculptures at first glance. The puppets contained a spark of their creator's will and possessed certain intelligence and awareness. Ordinary statues also held a trace of their creator's will, but they were devoid of self-awareness. Therein lay the key difference between them.
Jiang Chen nodded, keeping the senior's instructions firmly in mind.
"You have only two hours." The senior fell utterly silent after announcing the time limit.
Jiang Chen sat down cross legged. The space around him seemed sealed off, restricting the scope of his movements. He couldn't approach the wall nor leave the area.
"Two hours, Confounding Puppets."
His deep gaze locked onto the wall. He slowly extended his consciousness, looking for clues.
There were at least a hundred thousand carvings of every shape and form. For one with ordinary consciousness, finding the puppets out of the myriad of statues was as impossible as finding a needle in a haystack.
But Jiang Chen was no ordinary cultivator.
He was the reincarnated son of a celestial emperor, carrying with him a chain seal in his consciousness that perhaps housed the will and might of a celestial emperor. And the seal seemed to be reawakening as of late.
His mind was clearer than it had ever been. Through God's Eye and the Golden Evil Eye, his consciousness shot towards the wall like a soul-piercing beam.
"Not this one… Not this one either…"
One by one, he excluded carvings as his gaze skipped over them. He had no choice but to use this simplest and most primitive method. However, he did so at a mind-boggling speed. With the power of the Evil Golden Eye and his consciousness, he could pass judgment the instant his gaze swept across a sculpture.