Jiang Chen relaxed after learning everything he wanted. As for these fellows, he naturally couldn’t spare them. He stripped them clean of their house possessions before sending them to the afterlife.
The thought of disguising himself as one of the three crossed his mind, but he ultimately decided against it. He’d seen very little of their fighting styles and methods, and was too short on time to study them.
He chose to stick to the original plan and keep playing the part of Xuan Rui. The three were merely an unexpected interlude. He’d been pressed for time to begin with, and they’d only made it worse. He still hadn’t obtained the gray cloak integral to his strategy.
“I really need to find the cloak in the little time I have left.” Jiang Chen remained determined.
He’d wandered all over the mountains in the past few days, but hadn’t spotted another scion of House Xuan yet.
“Xuan Rui ranks first among the three from his house. Did the other two run into danger? After all, even geniuses from the eight houses can attack each other in the Blackwraith Mountains.” He became even more tense at the thought. If the aristocratic scions were truly going to kill each other, then the final few days would be the height of the fighting.
However, he’d learned from his interrogations that the eight houses had an agreement not to fight each other to the death.
“Hopefully those two fellows are still fine.”
Rather than roam aimlessly, he decided that waiting in one or two set points would be a more productive endeavour.
His patience ended up paying off. Two days before the deadline, he finally spotted the second gray cloak.
The man in question didn’t give off as strong a presence as Xuan Rui. He was in the middle of chasing a contestant from Winterdraw when Jiang Chen sighted him. The young lord watched the pair from afar in faint surprise.
The hunters from Polylore were so much stronger than their targets. More importantly, their powers were more comprehensive, and their numerous trump cards gave them an overwhelming edge. Winterdraw’s cultivators should’ve all been killed after a couple weeks.
Even Jiang Chen wouldn’t have spent the last few days in relative peace if not for his substantial advantages. The pursuit piqued his interest.
To his surprise, the hunted was a familiar face: Su Hong, Jiang Chen’s final opponent in the last stage of the selection back in Sin City.
The man’s strength and talent had been commendable back then, but it hadn’t been the full extent of his potential, judging by the current scene. Although he presently cut a sorry figure, his situation wasn’t entirely hopeless yet.
House Xuan’s scion held the upper hand as the hunter, but his opponent was from being routed. It was all rather fascinating.
Jiang Chen secretly stalked the pair.
Su Hong might realize something’s afoot if I kill House Xuan’s man right now, but who knows how long it’ll take if I have to wait for his death? At this rate, the trial will be over before his assailant manages to kill him. Am I supposed to hasten his demise?
It was purely a fleeting thought. He didn’t act upon it. He’d never been one to tempt fate of his own volition.
Su Hong was an old acquaintance. There was no deep enmity between them. In fact, he could almost be said to a brother-in-arms. Rather than bearing a grudge because of his loss, the man had proved himself gracious in defeat, so Jiang Chen had a good impression of him.
Kicking him while he was down was out of the question, even if the young lord didn’t lend a helping hand.
I’ll continue sitting back. I’ll attack once the Xuan fellow fails to kill his prey and gives up.
In this way, the three of them painted a living tableau of a mantis stalking the cicada, unaware of the oriole behind.
One day later, on the last day of the training.
House Xuan’s hunter was visibly frustrated by his lack of success. Jiang Chen himself was in disbelief at the sight of Su Hong’s formidable potential on perfect display during the chase.
Although not as strong Xuan Rui, his clanmate was still far superior to Winterdraw’s youngsters.
But Su Hong wasn’t an ordinary contestant. The talent and will to live he’d exhibited with his back up against the wall simply subverted common sense. Even Jiang Chen was quite bowled over by the performance.
The pursuit seems doomed to fail. It’s truly unfortunate for someone as talented as Su Hong to be born on Winterdraw. Alas, what a waste.
Escaping from his assailant wouldn’t guarantee Su Hong’s safety. Winterdraw would certainly eliminate any potential survivors afterward.
Selecting geniuses merely to sacrifice as human prey; controversy was bound to arise if this were to spread. It would be a massive blow to Winterdraw’s reputation. Who would trust their selections in the future? Even the imperial family’s disgraceful deeds would be exposed. They couldn’t allow the news to leak.
So Su Hong’s life was forfeit one way or the other. Even if he left Blackwraith Mountains alive, only a secret execution awaited him.
Jiang Chen heaved a secret sigh of pity.
A man forced by dire circumstances to draw deep on his potential was sure to burgeon into a fearsome existence if he survived. Sadly, he’d been born in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Only four hours were left before the deadline. House Xuan’s youngster had intercepted his target multiple times, but the ensuing fights had been superficial skirmishes at best.
Aware of his pursuer’s strength, Su Hong had focused on running away instead of facing him head on, not giving the man time to use his trump cards.
“Now’s my turn.” Waiting further would hamper Jiang Chen’s plan.
After lying in ambush for a long time, the young lord suddenly activated the Nine Labyrinth Formation.
The formation trapped House Xuan’s youngster before he could react. He couldn’t even begin to make sense of the situation before a fatal arrow from the Holy Dragon Bow lodged itself into his skull.
He might’ve come back to life out of pure anger if he knew he’d been killed over a trivial cloak. Fortunately for him, he remained blissfully unaware even unto death.
Jiang Chen’s strike had been lightening-quick. Activating the formation and firing the lethal arrow had taken less than a breath’s time.
Everything was over by the time Su Hong came to his senses. Shaking all over, he looked back. At this precise moment, his eyes happened to meet Jiang Chen’s gaze. They stared at each other.
To think a single arrow was enough to kill a man who hunted me for this long.
Jiang Chen snorted coldly. “You didn’t see anything.”
Su Hong froze, then nodded subconsciously. “Right. What was I supposed to see, anyways? Friend, are you a candidate from Winterdraw, or are you with them?”
“Does it matter?” Jiang Chen deliberately changed the timbre of his voice.
“If the former, I need to warn you. A group of hunters have infiltrated the mountains for the sole purpose of killing us. I think almost all the thousand something contestants have died by now. If you’re with them, then pretend I didn’t say anything. I promise my lips are sealed tight.”
Jiang Chen hadn’t pegged Su Hong as the type to offer kind warnings. He nodded, slightly touched. “It can’t have been easy for you to learn so much, so let me leave you a kind word as well. You must believe you’ll be safe as long as you can hide from the hunters. Forget that. Winterdraw planned for the contestants to die from the very start. Even if you can leave safe and sound, it’ll be difficult surviving afterward.”
Su Hong trembled. His guesses about the hunters had come from what he’d seen and his personal experience. Unliked him, Jiang Chen was armed with knowledge forced from his prisoners.
Bewildered, Su Hong stood frozen. The news was a bolt from the blue.
Jiang Chen snorted lightly. “Take care of yourself then.”
He held the man in high esteem, but his own survival was at risk. He was in no position to try and save someone else. And unlike him, Su Hong couldn’t disguise himself as one of the hunters.
Looking pensive, the latter watched the young lord’s disappearing figure, both surprise and gratitude flitting across his face. The mysterious man had saved him, and instead of killing him, had given him a warning.
The world of cultivators knew no morals. His pursuer had been killed in a single hit, so he himself could have been disposed of just as easily.
But the man had spared him at the risk of leaving a living witness behind. What could be the reason? An inexplicable thought occurred to him. He wore a hood, but why did I have a fleeting feeling that he knows me?
He hesitated now that he knew the truth. He’d originally thought he simply needed to wait half a month for the end of the trial. Everything would be over once the seal over the Blackwraith Mountains was lifted.
But reality had cruelly dealt him a harsh blow otherwise. Even if he could leave unscathed, an even more bitter fate awaited him!