The chief warden nodded after spending a moment on the list. “Prepare yourselves,” he waved. “The formation opens very soon!”
A group of formation masters under the chief’s command started unlocking the formation on the outskirts of the Blackwraith Mountains, heralding the inception of the trial.
“The Blackwraith Mountains have been sealed off for three hundred years. No doubt countless beasts and evil presences have cropped up during that time. You have two goals for this trial: one, survival, and two, harvest. You have half a month ahead of you. Those that fail to last that long are considered to have failed. Only those who manage to persist the entire term are eligible for ranking.
“We will tabulate the top hundred geniuses with precise scores. You will be ranked according to what you harvest. Remember, everything within the Blackwraith Mountains carries its own unique mark. Don’t bother trying to pretend with your own belongings. Any would-be cheaters will have their scores summarily canceled!”
The rules governing the trial were quite simple and in fact, crude.
Jiang Chen was a bit surprised. He expected something more complicated, with a intricate and detailed ruleset. These particular rules were so simple and had been announced so abruptly. What was up with all this?
This contest was obviously an important one. The sheer number of important players made that more than clear. And yet, shouldn’t the rules have been set far ahead of time if that were the case? Why were they being announced only now?
Though Jiang Chen didn’t understand this, the perplexity didn’t cause him to lose himself. He remained his cool in the middle of the crowd.
The formation masters quickly unlocked the restriction. Jets of black radiance soared into the clouds like spirits out of hell. It was an altogether fearsome sight.
The entrance stabilized after a fit of violent shaking.
“Now that the entrance is open, come collect your numbers and enter in order!” The chief warden gave the command that signified the beginning of the trial.
Jiang Chen and his fellow elites had numbers that were comparatively lower – and thus closer to the front. After receiving ‘17’, he disappeared into the entry after his compatriots.
His heart skipped a beat when he did so. There was a disturbance in his consciousness, as if he had been pricked by an invisible needle. This premonition mildly surprised him. What did that mean? Are the Blackwraith Mountains exceptionally dangerous?
He was sure that it meant something. Very likely, it was to warn him of some undetected risk. No matter what, I should prioritize my own safety.
The space within the Blackwraith Mountains was a dark abyss without sunlight. The surrounding temperature dropped ten to fifteen degrees, filling the air with an eerie chill. Jiang Chen saw dark forest wherever he could see. Mist permeated the air.
The place had been sealed away for three hundred years. Its isolation from the world added to the element of inhuman terror.
It’s not surprising that this place is touted to be a birthplace of nightmares. I doubt it’ll be anything close to a playground. It’s only half a month, but I should be careful.
Jiang Chen never forgot about self-preservation regardless of where he was.
Outside the mountain range, all of the contestants had entered the restriction.
The chief warden gave a list of names to Imperial Prince Huo. “Your Highness, this is the collated list of all participants. There is information about everyone of them in there, including which ones are elite.”
The imperial prince smiled. “Very well done.”
He strode toward the white-haired elder, list in hand. “Elder Tong, this is a list of the participants’ names and profiles. Are they worthy, in your eyes?”
“Let me see,” the old man stroked his beard cheerfully. After reviewing the file for a while, he nodded with some satisfaction. “The talent here is excellent, and the quality, even more so. I observed them before they went in. There are some real geniuses in there. The Rejuvenation Isles has worked hard for this occasion, and Winterdraw has its fair share of geniuses.”
Imperial Prince Huo was overjoyed. “To receive such praise from you is these prisoners’ highest glory. They should be pleased to die after this.”
It was appropriate to call Winterdraw’s residents prisoners, given that this was a place of exile.
Elder Tong smiled, handing the list over to the eight houses’ representatives. “Take a look. These contestants are really quite good. Some elites will be especially hard to deal with. You all should be quite satisfied.”
The representatives took the list unceremoniously, riffling through them with abandon. After every man had done so, the list was handed back to the elderly man.
“As you said, Elder Tong, they’re passable.”
“Yes. Those so-called elites might be as good as second-rate geniuses in the divine nations, though they can’t compare to the geniuses of our own houses.”
“Quite, quite,” the imperial prince laughed ingratiatingly off to the side. “How can these prisoners possibly compare to geniuses from the divine nations?”
“We don’t have a lot of time. The scions of the eight houses should prepare themselves too. Shall the entrance be temporarily sealed off after they enter, or should it remain open?” Elder Tong asked the representatives.
“Temporarily sealed off, of course,” the representatives stated in unison. “If not, what if the prey realizes the danger and runs out?”
“That’s right. It would ruin the hunt if that were to happen. Now that the game is afoot, we should make sure the youngsters enjoy themselves to the fullest.”
“Absolutely right. The formation can’t be opened until half a month is complete.” No representative supported allowing the restriction to remain open.
Elder Tong smiled a little. “Remember, if you seal the entrance and your scions encounter danger…”
“Haha, you’re too cautious, Elder Tong.” The representatives interrupted before he could finish.
“How could these pathetic mountains threaten our young geniuses? You underestimate our nation’s geniuses, elder!”
“There’s definitely no need to worry about that.”
“A bit too circumspect, Elder Tong.” The confidence of the representatives meant there was nothing more for Elder Tong to say.
“I was invited here by all of you,” he smiled. “Thus, I have to warn you about whatever I can. If you’re so confident, I hope you can take care of any accidents that occur.”
“Don’t worry, Elder Tong. Even if there’s an accident, we wouldn’t possibly blame you.”
“Honestly, who would? Not that we expect accidents to be possible, of course.”
The imperial prince didn’t think much of their arrogance. Truthfully, he was none too pleased about the fact they were so full of themselves despite the flattery prior. Furthermore, he was slightly worried that what Elder Tong said would come to pass. A good thing would fully morph into a bad thing then. Their attempt at winning favor would result in ire.
“I hope the eight houses’ scions are really as strong as they say. It’s best if nothing happens,” prayed the imperial prince. Sometimes, the one-in-million tended to be the absolute worst cases.
If some tragedy were to occur, the Rejuvenation Isles would be in big trouble. The eight houses were sure to utterly destroy Winterdraw if something happened to one of their own.
The prince could only comfort himself over and over with their apparent boldness. The eight houses had come to Winterdraw for their trial, which meant they had to have a few extra cards up their respective sleeves.
And true, what young genius of Vividlore’s eight houses wouldn’t have a defensive treasure of some sort? Even if they did encounter unanticipated danger, making it out alive shouldn’t be too hard.
The geniuses that Winterdraw had picked out at least, wouldn’t be able to hurt them.
Elder Tong looked at the list again. “I see that there are sixty elites on this list who are somewhat stronger than the others,” he smiled. “The rest are around the same level. Why not score things this way? One of the sixty will count for five points, and the others, one point each. How about it?”
The eight houses’ scions all laughed. “Sounds good. We’ll listen to you, Elder Tong.”
The imperial prince was wholly unsurprised at this, but the chief warden’s heart sank when he heard. The dots connected for him. So these people really are using the selected geniuses as their prey?
The imperial family’s prodding earlier had given him some hunches, but they hadn’t been proven until now. He snuck a glance at Xie Wushang and the rest, an apologetic thought flickering across his mind.
Never mind that. We’ll keep it a secret from those guys. They are subjects of Winterdraw, and as such the island owns them. They live if we want them to live, they die if we want them to die.
The chief warden wasn’t the sentimental sort. It was a bit of a waste to use those geniuses as prey, but nothing more than that.
He was focused more about the benefits available to him personally, and the Rejuvenation Isles generally. After all, the point of Winterdraw’s existence was to serve the Isles. The lives here were but pawns in his hand.
The chief warden had no need to explain anything even to the faction leaders. So what if they knew that they were being toyed with after the fact? They couldn’t and wouldn’t dare possibly resist.
“It’s your time, young geniuses.” Elder Tong’s voice echoed forth crisply. “This is a new journey. I wish you the best of luck on it!”