Without a doubt, there was a complicated relationship between the eight great houses. Some even rejoiced at the bad luck that had befallen Houses Kuang, Xuan, and Xue. Why would they side with these three houses to make things difficult for Rejuvenation Isles?
Not to mention, the agreed-upon plan was to leave the island and return home as soon as the trial ended. Why would they delay the journey for the sake of rival houses?
Kuang Han shouted angrily, “Easy for you to say!”
“Heh, Kuang Han, should we waste our precious time for your private business? I don’t remember your house commanding so much influence.”
“How about this? Those willing can stay while the rest of us take our leave.”
Sitting on the side, Jiang Chen secretly gave these fellows a big thumbs up. He naturally hoped to leave as fast as possible to avoid possible complications.
Kuang Han glanced at House Xue and Xuan. “What say you?”
A prominent member of House Xue answered, “We won’t leave before we solve the matter of the disappearances.”
“Likewise,” an elder from House Xuan agreed firmly.
Jiang Chen felt helpless. If possible, he’d take charge of House Xuan and leave right this second. Sadly, as a mere junior, Xuan Rui didn’t possess such authority. The young lord started regretting his choices.
Why did he have to erase all traces of the bodies after the kills?
Perhaps he should have left the corpses intact instead. These fellows might have given up after finding hard evidence of the deaths.
Unsympathetic to their peers’ difficulties, the other houses told Prince Huo, “Prince Huo, we’re fully satisfied with your hospitality. We’re going to leave first. As to the other three houses, you can attend to them as you see fit.”
The prince would’ve happily left with them, but he didn’t dare offend the other three houses. How should he approach this dilemma?
In the end, he smiled affably. “Our guests’ satisfaction is our honor. Only, some guests have met with trouble, so this little prince needs to stay behind. Why don’t I have some of my close aides send you off?”
Black dots suddenly materialized in the distant sky. Soon, three airboats hovering overhead landed in their direction.
Sitting cross-legged on the ground, Jiang Chen’s heart pounded fiercely. Uh oh. Taking advantage of the crowd’s distraction, his figure vanished on the spot, disappearing with a few leaps and bounds before the boats landed.
The place was crowded with people from the Rejuvenation Isles and Winterdraw. Running away from the area was certainly not an option. He had no choice but to brace himself and return to the Blackwraith Mountains.
He sighed, rather depressed. He’d gone to great pains to plan his exit, but everything had been in vain. The airboats’ hurried arrival was a bad omen if he’d ever seen one. He chose to trust his pressing intuition. No matter how extravagant his powers, being surrounded would spell his doom. It was wiser to live and fight another day.
A group of men burst out of the doors before the boats came to a full stop.
“Commander He?” Imperial Prince Huo gasped. The man was a palace commander of the Rejuvenation Isles royal guard, and each of his companions a palace expert.
“Prince Huo, has something happened here?” Commander He asked anxiously as soon as he came within hearing distance.
The prince’s wry expression was all the answer he’d needed. “Is His Majesty also aware?”
The aggrieved commander replied, “Three Polylore aristocratic houses hectored us through a transmission formation. His Majesty is shocked. He’s sent me to assist with the investigation. His orders are to catch the murderer no matter what their identity. We can’t let them get away!”
“Murderer?” Prince Huo stiffened. The geniuses were merely presumed missing, their deaths yet to be confirmed. Had His Majesty received definite information?
Kuang Han rushed forward and stared at Captain He. “What did you say just now? Catch the murderer? Did House Kuang notify your emperor?”
Commander He nodded. This wasn’t something he could conceal. “Indeed.”
“What did they say?” Kuang Han barked viciously.
His manners were brusque, but now wasn’t the time for a quarrel. The commander replied truthfully, “Five geniuses are dead. Their respective houses have confirmed their soul lamps have shattered.”
“Aaahhhh!” An ear-splitting roar escaped Kuang Han’s lips.
How could all three geniuses from his house have died?! He’d been holding onto the hope they’d entered the mountain’s forbidden grounds by mistake, only to have his hopes cruelly dashed.
Dead. Such was the cold hard truth!
The issue now lay with the identities of whoever had gone inside the mountains’ second level forbidden area. Could it be the two missing prey?
The atmosphere suddenly turned heavy.
An elder from House Xuan asked at this time, “Honorable commander, what did House Xuan say? Did they have any instructions?”
Commander He stammered, “The one from House Xuan seems to be called the Elder Zun. The dead Xuan Rui is his direct descendant, so you can imagine his anger…”
“Xuan Rui?” House Xuan’s elder was puzzled. “The one missing is Xuan Fei, not Xuan Rui.”
“Ah?” Commander He stared blankly. “But the transmission clearly stated Xuan Rui’s soul lamp had broken.”
“Impossible!” The elder’s face sank. “Isn’t Xuan Rui over there, hale and hearty?”
He looked over at Jiang Chen’s previous spot and froze. Xuan Rui was nowhere to be seen. Surprised, he quickly looked in every direction but couldn’t find a trace of the young man.
“Where is he?” He asked, his face darkening.
Jiang Chen’s departure had gone unnoticed in the previous chaos.
A genius from another house suddenly offered, “I paid it no heed, but I seem to remember a figure flashing by this area moments ago.”
The crowd fell into a strange silence. Xuan Rui had suddenly disappeared!
The one missing should have been Xuan Fei, but the broken soul lamp back home belonged to Xuan Rui. Even stranger, Xuan Rui had returned just fine and dandy a short while ago.
The situation was almost supernatural. Upon further thought, some cowardly fellows even shivered.
House Xuan’s elder murmured, “What the… what’s going on? Xuan Rui’s soul lamp broke? Then who was that earlier? Xuan Fei? No, impossible.”
“Lord Xuan Zan, could have someone be impersonating Xuan Rui?” One of Prince Huo’s men suggested.
Xuan Zan froze. His chest suddenly felt heavy. There had been nothing wrong with Xuan Rui, at least on the surface, so there had been no reasons for careful scrutiny. Neither the young man’s personality nor his attitude had been suspicious. Even his results in the training had been up to his normal standards.
That he could’ve been a fake simply hadn’t crossed anyone’s mind. However, it was a possibility they had no choice but to consider now.
The more he thought about it, the more his blood ran cold. Could it be… the Xuan Rui he’d seen earlier was a fake? If not, why had he vanished at this crucial juncture?
“A fake, it must have been a fake! He slipped away once he saw the boats because of a guilty conscience!” Someone from House Xuan shouted.
“If it’s an imposter, what about Xuan Fei? Where’s he gone off to? The house didn’t mention his soul lamp.”
They wouldn’t know that Jiang Chen had killed Xuan Fei mere moments before the end of the trial. House Xuan had notified the Rejuvenation Isles right after Xuan Rui’s death. Xuan Fei had still been alive then.
His death had come days later, and his house naturally couldn’t have foretold his fate. It was aware of his death by now, but the news hadn’t made its way over yet, so Winterdraw was naturally in the dark.
“Strange, very strange.” Xuan Zan murmured. “How could a talent of Xuan Rui’s caliber die out of the blue? Am I supposed to believe a local could have killed him…?”
Kuang Hand humphed. “His caliber? Are you implying Kuang Rong’s weaker?”
Xuan Zan glanced coldly his way. “Keep the nonsense to yourself. What bloody use is it now? Our priority’s to catch the murderer.”
“My lords, if Xuan Rui’s a fake, then the impostor must be related to the murderer, or be the culprit himself. There’s no other explanation possible,” Xue Yi interjected.
“What’s his motive for passing himself off as Xuan Rui after killing him?” Xuan Zan was still perplexed.
Winterdraw’s chief warden solved the riddle.
“My lords, if the two prey truly are the culprits, then they must have planned to use young master Xuan Rui’s identity to leave the island!”
The three house seniors’ face fell at the explanation. At a guess, their geniuses had been killed by the very prey they’d hunted. That the murderer was bold enough to disguise himself as his victim bespoke courage and skill astounding even by Polylore’s standards.