It was a stupid method, but the only one presently available. No other method was reliable enough; plus, Jiang Chen didn't have the time to try them out.
As dumb as it might've been, the method also happened to be the most suitable because the chain seal in his consciousness slowly came to life in the process, flooding his mind with an astounding, formidable power.
He could clearly feel the intensity and clarity of his mind surpass its normal limits. His consciousness far exceeded that of his peers even in ordinary times, but the chain seal amplified it considerably. His consciousness had now fully reached empyrean realm. In fact, ordinary empyrean experts might not have anything on him.
The seal was just barely awake. But even not fully active, it had easily neutralized the mental attack from Elder Xi, Huang'er's clansman. When he'd comprehended the nine Veluriyam Obelisks, he'd also relied on the chain seal's spiritual protection.
Thankfully, Jiang Chen had some experience in the arena of detecting mental awareness. In the past, he'd faintly felt the life and will hidden deep within the stone carvings housing the golems' souls.
Although the puppets were different, he could use the same approach today. Both had been hidden in the guise of stone carvings, and he likewise had to use his consciousness to scan for traces of sentience.
Suddenly, his eyes widened. A flash of light clamored in his consciousness, a hint standing out with fanfare.
"Got one." He stared fixedly at a sculpture and left his personal mark on it before continuing the search.
Second after second, time trickled by as he proceeded methodically and solemnly. After the first came a second, then a third...
He successfully located three puppets after an hour, fulfilling the senior's most basic requirement. But the guardian had mentioned the more the better. Anything above and beyond likely had a direct impact on his rewards from the third palace.
The first goal met, his state of mind steadied from there on. Everything else was an added bonus. More relaxed, his mood improved progressively as well. Under such conditions, half the effort brought double the results.
After two hours, he'd left marks on seven statues.
"Alright, time's up." The marquis' detached voice sounded. "Kid, how many did you manage to find?"
Jiang Chen smiled faintly, replying leisurely, "My luck seems to have held. I found seven."
"What?" the marquis froze at the answer. "Seven, you say?" Disbelief tinged his tone.
Without further explanations, Jiang Chen nodded in confirmation.
"Good, very good." The marquis nodded. "Now activate your marks and let me confirm your words."
In actuality, the marquis was rather taken aback. There were only seven puppets hidden on the wall among a myriad of sculptures. But Jiang Chen had spoken of finding all of them. How was that even possible?
Without further ado, the young lord activated the marks.
Ding, ding, ding!
Crisp tinkles sounded in their ears like a sweet melody. With a slight yank from Jiang Chen's consciousness, seven puppets released blinding light, exuding a dazzling brilliance.
The marquis stared, dumbstruck, reduced to silent shock despite his proud seniority. The young man really has located all seven. A hundred percent accuracy! If he weren't the trial's supervisor, he would've suspected someone was helping the young man cheat.
But like he'd previously explained, he was the lone guardian of the palace. Everything inside was under his control, so he was the only one who could've helped the young man cheat.
Incredible, simply incredible. He marvelled privately. I've never seen such a peerless monster even among all the ancient heroes. Is it a simple coincidence? Or is the brat truly that much of a genius?
Indescribably stunned, words failed him for a long while.
Jiang Chen stood calmly at the center. He wasn't privy to the marquis' inner thoughts, but the current atmosphere gave him a good feeling.
I must have found all seven puppets. Otherwise, wouldn't the senior have jumped at the chance to taunt me?
There could be only one reason for the prolonged silence: there was nothing to nitpick about.
Indeed, the guardian finally sighed after a long while. "Fine. Young man, I must admit you're indeed entitled to your arrogance."
A figure like the marquis wouldn't soften his tone so casually. There was only one reason for his change of attitude: he was now sincerely convinced. The young man had thoroughly won him over.
Jiang Chen smiled faintly. "Senior, I was simply lucky. I happen to be more confident when it comes to matters of the consciousness. I must have been fated to come here."
He wasn't complacent despite his success.
The marquis nodded, his tone conflicted. "You're right. Perhaps fate truly has a hand in it. In fact, perhaps there's a shared destiny between you and all six Palaces of Heritage. With your cultivation, I'm surprised you were able to pass Skykun Palace. But three palaces in succession... I now understand why Venerated Skysoarer and Honored Master P'eng have taken a fancy to you."
He no longer sounded as irritable as before. He still wasn't as friendly as Venerated Skysoarer, but his instinctive dislike of the young man had disappeared. Jiang Chen's attitude had earned his acknowledgment.
"Kid, it was actually a gentleman's agreement when the Pagodas' master asked me to guard the palace. No matter the reason, you've gained my approval by completing my trials. These diagrams for the Nine Labyrinth Formation and the seven Confounding Puppets are yours."
The marquis was fair and impartial. The subjects of his trials were also the rewards in case of success.
Jiang Chen beamed. "Senior, isn't that too great of a prize?"
The marquis snorted, his snappy tone from earlier returning. "Feel free to leave them behind if you think you're undeserving. I won't force you to accept them."
Jiang Chen hurriedly lifted his hands and begged for forgiveness, afraid the senior would have a change of heart. "Please don't. I didn't say I don't want them. The situation in the human domain is complex right now, I can definitely put these items to good use."
The marquis snickered. "Alright, I've offered my congratulations and given you the rewards. Kid, you're more interesting than the previous challengers. Perhaps I should keep an eye on you."
His voice possessed a strange commanding power, turning the nine diagrams into incorporeal marks that landed on Jiang Chen's sea of consciousness. The seven puppets also followed suit in the next moment.
Jiang Chen sighed with emotion. Each guardian for the Six Palaces of Heritage had their own temperament. This marquis seemed unreasonable, but stuck firmly to his principles.
"Alright, there's nothing left here for you, so you can get lost. Oh, here's the fourth palace's spacetime seal. Same old applies!" He added an unprecedented remark. "There's no big difference between the fourth palace and the third, but you better wait until you're great emperor."
Why had the marquis added such a sentence? It wa impossible for Jiang Chen to pry the specifics from the senior for now, but from the latter's tone, it seemed the fourth palace might be harder than the third.
Jiang Chen casually caught the spacetime seal. He'd become fond of these gadgets by now. Each of them represented a second chance of life, a gold medal of immunity from a death sentence.
As soon as he encountered a perilous situation, he could unconditionally teleport back to Veluriyam. The ancient senior who'd built the Veluriyam Pagodas was truly an extraordinary figure. Such incredible teleportation required a very high degree of skill and power.
"Alright kid, scram. I need my beauty sleep. Hahaha, I'm finally free of my obligations after all this time! Good luck kid, it's up to you whether I can leave this place and feel the sun on my face again." His mission was complete, the obstacle he'd guarded had been surmounted and his rewards doled out.
A force pushed Jiang Chen toward the transportation formation before he could react. He vanished from the palace in a flash of light, reappearing outside. Used to the Six Palaces' style, he returned to the young lord residence under the cover of the night.