“Imperial Prince Huo, Warden Ding. I don’t see any sincerity from your guides. Don’t blame us for not giving you face from now on!” Kuang Han’s expression was completely black.
The chief warden was astonished. “What are you planning, Master Kuang Han?”
“From now on, we three houses are taking control of this place. We will set the route and plan the pursuit. If you would like to follow us, feel free. If not, you can leave now,” Kuang Han announced.
“That seems a little ill-advised, Sir Kuang Han,” Imperial Prince Huo’s face changed color. “The deeper you go, the more restrictions there are. If you don’t know the territory, you’ll end up going slower…”
The imperial prince’s words made a certain amount of sense.
“Honored sirs, the imperial prince is telling the truth. Without us to guide you through the Blackwraith Mountains, you will go even more slowly than we are now,” Warden Ding advised.
Xuan Zan snickered. “You think we can’t live without your help? Absurd! You are mere frogs at the bottom of a well. Do you take us for your local factions? Our methods are far beyond your comprehension!” His tone was downright rude.
As figures of authority in their own right, the imperial prince and the chief warden were unhappy to hear such words. They would’ve turned on him instantly had he not been from Polylore.
“Please, do reconsider,” Imperial Prince Huo forced out meekly.
“Enough.” Kuang Han waved a hand. “It’s so decided.”
Warden Ding had had quite enough of these upper crust Polylore natives. As the chief warden of Winterdraw, he was an important man in the whole of the Rejuvenation Isles. The three houses were strong, but the seniors who’d come weren’t necessarily stronger than him. At most, they were comparable in skill.
Because of the difference in status, the chief warden had bit back all complaints. But he was having a hard time keeping things down any more. His expression darkened, his own tone completely turning from a respectful one.
“As the chief warden of Winterdraw, I cannot defy the will of you Polylore nobles,” he declared coolly. “I do have a word of warning, however.”
Kuang Han sneered. “What? Are you trying to stop us by force?”
“As the aristocracy of a divine nation, you have the ability to treat the Rejuvenation Isles as you wish,” the chief warden replied. “Even if I wanted to stop you, I would not be able to given the circumstances. This is quite separate from that.”
“Out with it then.” Kuang Han became detached as well.
“If you truly want to have things your way and decide on your own path, then Winterdraw is no longer responsible for whatever else happens in the Blackwraith Mountains. Whether you find the culprit or get into another accident – that is none of our concern.” Warden Ding took a hard stance.
“Tsk tsk, it sounds like you think we three houses won’t be able to handle these mountains, hmm?” Xuan Zan curled his lip.
“I don’t mean to belittle you,” Warden Ding responded with a cupped fist salute. “Still, the Blackwraith Mountains have been a dangerous place since ancient times. This place is foundational to the existence of Winterdraw itself. As a place of ancient heritage, its dangers are inestimable. I am sure of one thing though. Even you three houses cannot guarantee that each and every one of you will remain unscathed.”
The chief warden was in a difficult position. He couldn’t be too viciously certain about the statement, but he had to make himself clear. If they wanted to venture in without regard, any subsequent deaths shouldn’t be blamed on Winterdraw.
In actuality, he had borne displeasure for the three houses ever since their geniuses had gone missing. Their lack of decorum annoyed him. If they came to test themselves on Winterdraw, shouldn’t they have been ready to suffer some losses?
What kind of aristocratic house was it that blamed mishaps of its own upon another?
Were they not responsible enough to shoulder the burden of potentially dying? Why had they come to test themselves in the first place then?
The three houses’ current behavior was absolutely tyrannical in his eyes, with no reason whatsoever for their high-handedness.
Imperial Prince Huo hurriedly interceded. “My friends, Old Ding is the chief warden of Winterdraw Island. He feels a great deal for this place and knows what the Blackwraith Mountains signify. He wanted to protect the heritage here, nothing else. Plus, the mountains really are rather dangerous. He only means well.”
Kuang Han snickered. “Imperial Prince Huo, it doesn’t matter what you think. No matter what you say, our wish to hunt down the criminals is set in stone. As for the pointless air that Warden Ding has farted, don’t concern yourselves with our well-being. We will take responsibility for what happens from here on out. Pay attention to your own affairs.”
“That’s right. Follow us if you’d like. If not, get out of here.” Xuan Zan didn’t want to waste any more time.
Imperial Prince Huo’s lips quavered; he sighed helplessly.
Warden Ding tossed the prince a thoughtful glance. “Well then.” He raised a cupped fist salute. “We will not bother you with our presences any longer.”
The chief warden knew that they would only be abandoned by the three obstinate houses if they tagged along. Thus it was better not to go at all.
“We’re going!” Kuang Han waved without looking at the imperial prince and the chief warden. He and his team departed. Xuan Zan and Xue Yi zoomed after him along with the elite of their own houses.
Warden Ding’s expression was chilling as he glared at their backs. A fire burned in his heart. He desperately wanted to give the order to kill all of them, if it were possible.
Winterdraw Island and the Rejuvenation Isles had the power to do it.
The three houses had many experts, but they were few in number. Winterdraw and the Isles on the other hand, had all of their best men here.
Commander He sighed. “ Warden Ding, you’re too hard-headed. You’ll only end up insulting these three factions in the end.”
“You saw their attitudes,” the chief warden retorted with evident displeasure. “They don’t think much of us at all. What’s the point of us sucking up to them? Will they somehow show us any kindness in return?”
Imperial Prince Huo waved a hand. “That’s enough complaining. Our invitation to the eight houses was supposed to have been a good thing, but now, I can’t really tell…” Tragedy colored his voice.
“Warden Ding, is there really insurmountable terror within the Blackwraith Mountains?” Commander He questioned worriedly.
“I don’t really know myself. It’s been quite a while since I became chief warden, but I haven’t been everywhere in these mountains yet. There have always been historical records. This is the most dangerous of the five forbidden grounds we have here on Winterdraw, and certainly the most mysterious. Moreover, any trespassers into the deep of the mountain can reportedly only expect death.”
“Isn’t that going to be very bad?” Commander He became extremely anxious. “The death of a few geniuses has already driven three houses into a panic. If something further happens to them… wouldn’t they turn the Rejuvenation Isles upside down?”
“No worries.” Warden Ding shook his head. “I’ve mitigated that risk already.” He raised his arm to show off something in hand. It was a recording crystal.
“Our journey here, my warning just now… both have been recorded within the crystal. The three houses can’t blame us in the future, even if they want to.”
Warden Ding handed the crystal to Imperial Prince Huo. “Your Highness, please keep it for future need. Perhaps it mightful be useful at some point.”
The imperial prince was overjoyed. “Good. Well done, Warden Ding! If some accident happens to them, it is their stubbornness that’s to blame, not the Rejuvenation Isles.”
Commander He’s ugly expression was alleviated somewhat. The recording crystal was helpful proof. The three houses couldn’t be downright irrational or unreasonable.
The other five houses had been quite satisfied with Rejuvenation’s reception of them. Any hostility from these three stragglers would need to be dealt with as things came up.
“We leave!” The imperial prince finally came to a decision to not mess around with the three houses.
“Fall back,” Warden Ding gave the signal. He and his men withdrew outside.
“Warden Ding,” Commander He ran up to him. “If one crosses the Blackwraith Mountains, where will one end up?”
The chief warden halted his step. “Why do you ask that, Commander He?”
“Heh, I was just worried. If those two contestants really did pass through the Blackwraith Mountains, won’t they have escaped?”
“Impossible!” Chief Warden Ding shook his head. “The Blackwraith Mountains cannot be traversed so easily. Your concern is misplaced, Commander He.”
“We must prepare for the worst. If those two really were responsible for killing the houses’ scions, they are extraordinary talents indeed. Think about it: you’re intimately familiar with this place, Warden Ding, yet you found no trace of them after several days of careful searching. What does this prove? They are anything but predictable. What if they succeed?”
Imperial Prince Huo stopped in his tracks as well. “I suppose we must defend against that possibility.”
“You’re overthinking things, Your Highness, Commander He. Barely anyone has gone from one side of the Blackwraith Mountains to the other since ancient times. Plus, there is reportedly a terrifyingly powerful ancient restriction at the mountains’ heart. The core of an ancient formation lies there. Anything living can’t even approach, much less pass through.”
“How about this.” Imperial Prince Huo thought for a moment. “We’ll send a group of elites each to search the mountain exit on the other side. An ambush will be prepared there for them. If they don’t pull it off, we’ll have wasted only a few man-hours. If they do, we can cut them down on the spot to prevent them from endangering the formation on the edge of the island. We can’t let them escape!”