Jiang Chen’s hesitation didn’t surprise Sir Xiao. Rather than continuing, the youth merely looked on with a faint smile. He showed great patience in waiting for an answer.
Jiang Chen mused a few moments before responding. “I can’t come to a decision on that yet. To be honest, I don’t know nearly as much about the Southsky Alliance as I’d like. It should be the same for you. You only know me superficially.”
His response didn't surprise Sir Xiao either.
“Haha, real geniuses are hard to recruit. I was prepared for your refusal from the outset. Still, I do feel a bit better with your explanation. Plus, your wines have given me a rather nice impression.”
“You compliment me too much, Sir Xiao,” Jiang Chen cupped his fist.
“May I ask your surname?”
“Jiang.” Jiang Chen was as curt as could be.
“I see. Not bad, Brother Jiang!” Sir Xiao laughed cheerily. “You’re a first-time visitor to Sin City, yes?”
“Not just that, but Winterdraw Island too. I have little idea as to the goings-on here,” Jiang Chen smiled wryly.
“Oh? So you’re a blank sheet of paper with regards to the local surroundings then.” Sir Xiao was astonished. “Where are you from, Brother Jiang? I hear the world outside Winterdraw is fabulous indeed.”
A great longing shone in the young master’s eyes when he heard that Jiang Chen was from the outside world, quite surprising the young lord.
“You’ve never seen the outside world?”
Sir Xiao’s face clouded over. “I was born on Winterdraw and told that I can never leave here.”
Jiang Chen was struck speechless. Sir Xiao’s father had most likely been exiled to the island and raised children here. The young master had been born with an original sin and marked as Winterdraw property.
He suddenly felt that the young master wasn’t as such high and vigorous spirits as he’d originally thought. How happy could someone be, to be confined to the island from the moment of their birth, no matter how high their position was?
It was an impossible thought.
“Are you curious about the outside world?” Jiang Chen probed.
A wry smile was his answer. “So what if I am or am not? Someone like me is born with a cursed destiny. Winterdraw is my beginning and end.”
Jiang Chen didn’t have a good response to that.
“Let me guess, Brother Jiang, you must be filled with thoughts and the impulse to escape. You probably think about it every second and minute, right?”
Jiang Chen blinked and looked suspiciously at the other.
“Don’t find it strange. Every newcomer goes through the same process, but the reality of the island continuously wears down on people. Most drop the idea forever after a few years, and those who don’t are basically dead men already.”
Those who don’t lose hope lose their lives.
Sir Xiao’s words prompted a wave of depression.
“Sir Xiao, is even the prestige of your Southsky Alliance unable to help you gain freedom?”
The gentleman sighed. “All status means nothing on the island. Only words from the Rejuvenation Isles wardens are the golden law.”
“The… wardens?” Jiang Chen was curious.
“You don’t know who the wardens are? Winterdraw is where the most reprehensible criminals are exiled, so of course there are wardens here. They hold the real power over the island. Though they don’t interfere in the day-to-day affairs, they rain fire and lightning down on whoever tries to break the rules or escape.” It seemed that Sir Xiao was quite wary of them.
“So, the selection process is overseen by these wardens?” Jiang Chen asked.
“Selection?” Sir Xiao smiled wryly. “How many people are selected compared to all the experts on the island? Us youngsters aside, even some of the oldest cultivators aren’t able to compete for a spot. It’s unimaginably arduous to leave through being selected. Brother Jiang, I can see you’re a genius, but you shouldn’t raise your hopes too high for leaving.”
This was the third party that had advised Jiang Chen of this. The first was the Cursefiend Trio, the second, Xing Hui and his daughter. Sir Xiao appeared to wholeheartedly agree with their conclusions.
Jiang Chen found the young man more pleasant because of his candor. There was at least a touch of fidelity in his words. Though he guessed that Sir Xiao’s intentions for inviting him were less than aboveboard, the other youth conducted himself in a more open manner. He was different from those born with deep-seated malice.
“Sir Xiao, I’m new to Winterdraw. I don’t know this place very well yet. Can I ask you a few things?” Jiang Chen suddenly felt it prudent to acquire more information from the young master. He was prominent enough to be in a position privy to information.
“Heh, what do you want to know about? Consider it repayment for your excellent wines. Whatever you ask, I will tell you honestly all that I know.”
“How big is the island? How strong are those wardens? What factions are there here on Winterdraw?”
“How big is Winterdraw?” Sir Xiao smiled wryly. “Well, it’s very big. Even I haven’t been to every corner. But, aside from where the wardens are, it’s divided into three territories. Sin City controls one, Nefarious Vale controls another, and Terminus Place, the third. These three territories are the framework for the island’s major factions. There are a few others who’ve carved out niches for themselves, but they’re hardly notable in any respect.”
“So I’m already at one of the three major factions?” Jiang Chen shared the crooked smile.
“I suppose you can put it that way. As for how strong the wardens are exactly, that’s not a question I can answer either. Some have made an educated guess that there is a great empyrean expert behind the scenes here on Winterdraw. Whether one really exists or not… I don’t think many people know for sure. Here in Sin City, the city lord is the strongest. I hear he’s a peak mid empyrean cultivator.”
Peak mid empyrean?
That meant the peak of sixth level empyrean realm.
Jiang Chen had seen someone of that strength before. In fact, Forefather Bamboo had been that level. However, were the two cultivators really comparable given the difference in their environments?
He couldn’t make a decisive judgment.
If Winterdraw is just a place of exile for the Rejuvenation Isles and there are so many experts here already… the Isles themselves must have stronger experts still. And yet the Isles are only a second or third-rate island domain in Myriad Abyss, completely outstripped by the Ten Divine Nations…
Jiang Chen didn't dare think further. How incomprehensibly horrifying were the Ten Divine Nations in light of all this?
House Xiahou was a major faction within the Ten Divine Nations. Its forces were surely to be many times stronger than anything found on Winterdraw.
He suddenly realized that it wasn’t necessarily bad for him to have been transported here to Winterdraw. If he couldn’t conquer even Winterdraw, how would he defeat House Xiahou? Conquer House Yan? How would he be able to take Huang’er home?
Perhaps Winterdraw Island is heaven’s first test for me. If I had gone to Eternal Divine Nation and found House Yan, I’d only be inviting humiliation for myself given my current level of strength!
Thinking like that brightened Jiang Chen’s mood considerably. He decided to treat Winterdraw Island as his first trial. If he couldn’t triumph even here, he couldn’t possibly go up against House Xiahou or solve Huang’er’s problems.
“Brother Jiang, we’re fortunate that you didn't kill those guards earlier. You would be in really big trouble then.” Sir Xiao’s emotions stirred upon remembrance of the recent past.
“Is the authority of the guards absolute?” Jiang Chen asked inquisitively.
“There are seven factions in Sin City, but they’re just pawns for the city lord to balance the situation here. The real master is the lord. Of course, under ordinary circumstances, the lord wouldn’t excessively interfere. If the pawns are agitated too much, unrest tends to brew. When that happens, even the city lord would find it troublesome to clean up the mess. There are three territorial powers here on Winterdraw after all. If Sin City sees internal strife, Nefarious Vale and Terminus Place might come rushing in.”
Unable to restrain himself, Sir Xiao downed another cup of Drunken Immortal. “What wonderful drink,” he praised. “Heh, I talk too much when I drink. I’ve said quite a lot today and you needn’t do much more than listen. Of course, some things should remain between the two of us.”
“Of course,” Jiang Chen laughed. “I won’t tell another soul about what I’ve heard today.”
Sir Xiao chuckled as well. “Alright. You’re a straightforward person, Brother Jiang. You’re the kind of person Sin City needs!”
The two young men had bonded over alcohol – at least, on the surface.
“Come, let us drink some more.” Jiang Chen raised his cup.
After another round of drinks, Sir Xiao spoke again. “Brother Jiang, I have a few comments to make that are entirely unrelated to my invitation. I know you want to leave, but you have to make a name for yourself first. You need to make the important factions and people pay attention to you and know that you exist. Only then will you have more opportunities to reveal your talents. If your name can make it into the wardens’ presence, then your dream of leaving may really come true. On one condition, however: your talent and strength must be terrifyingly superb.”
“Sir Xiao, among the seven factions of Sin City here, has anyone left in recent years?” Jiang Chen asked.
“Yes! Very few though. There’s a chance maybe every decade or so, but it’s not always that someone is so lucky,” Sir Xiao sighed. “Basically, it’s not something you can really pursue. Everyone wants to leave to see the outside world, but this is the fate of everyone that lives on Winterdraw. Most people are spend all of their lives here. I suppose those that do are comparatively luckier. Many more simply die in the streets.”
Noticing Jiang Chen’s somber expression, Sir Xiao coughed out a laugh. “I’m not trying to scare you, but a lot of traffic comes through here. New people show up every day, and the same goes for the mysteriously dead. That’s why Winterdraw never has a shortage of people.
“Oh right, Brother Jiang, there’s a chance at fame quite soon. Are you interested?” The young master of the Southsky Alliance suddenly recalled something.