After breaking with Imperial Prince Huo and Warden Ding, the three houses began to take a more aggressive route. They no longer avoided formations and traps, destroying any that stood in their way.
It increased the speed of their advance by a considerable amount, but carried the risk of notifying those that they pursued.
“My fellow daoists Xuan Zan and Xue Yi. Please hear me out.” After two hours, Kuang Han began to think that their current method was too blunt. He extended a request for communication to the other two houses.
They gathered together once more.
“What do you think about all this, Daoist Kuang Han?” Xue Yi asked.
“I’ve been thinking about Warden Ding’s words. His attitude wasn’t good, but he had a point. This place just might be a forbidden place from an ancient heritage. Given our numbers, we’ll suffer a loss we can’t afford to if we just charge in blindly.”
The eight houses were visiting the Rejuvenation Isles with only elites, which meant they hadn’t brought too many along. Each house had brought maybe several dozen people, which included seniors, young geniuses, and their personal guards.
Altogether, they numbered a hundred and a bit. They lacked the ability to perform a carpeted search of the Blackwraith Mountains and couldn’t possibly cover the entire area.
They had been able to employ that kind of method before because of the combined presence of men from the Rejuvenation Isles, Winterdraw, and Winterdraw’s various factions. This had afforded the mixed group a significant numbers advantage compared to their task.
Now that they had massively reduced manpower, it was unrealistic to do the same as what they had done before.
“You’re right, fellow daoist. We don’t have nearly as many men as we would like. Plus, those two scoundrels are wily indeed. They haven’t left any traces of their passing.”
“That’s right. I’m beginning to wonder myself: did we make an error in judgment somewhere? Maybe there’s no murderer in the first place?”
Kuang Han frowned. “Impossible! There must be a culprit.”
Xuan Zan nodded as well. “The one pretending to be Xuan Rui certainly killed him. Someone saw him disappear into the Blackwraith Mountains. He can’t possibly have vanished into thin air!”
Xue Yi inclined his head in concession. “Alright. What do you think we should do now, fellow daoists?”
“We can’t allow selfishness to get the better of us. We need to put some real skills on the table,” Kuang Han declared coldly. “I have a secret method for pursuit. It costs a great deal of mental effort, but it captures all traces of consciousnesses within a thousand miles. I can’t keep it up for long, so I need your help.”
“Oh?” Xuan Zan became interested. “How so?”
“I can keep up the secret method as long as you channel your mental energy to me. If we collectively put power into it, we can use it for as long as we need. As long as we lock on to our opponent, we can take down a mere great emperor upstart. So what if he can rival an empyrean expert? Can he survive an onslaught from all of us combined?”
Their most pressing concern wasn’t killing their opponent, but finding him in the first place.
Once that was done, killing a young great emperor was no harder than wringing the neck of a chicken. Alas, they hadn’t been able to find him at all over the past few days.
Xuan Zan and Xue Yi traded a look. Evidently, they’d been ruminating over the same issue. After a few moments, they seemed to come to the same decision and both nodded.
“Daoist Kuang Han, we will do as you say. Are you sure your secret method is reliable?”
“If it wasn’t, do you think I would waste my time and consciousness on it?” Kuang Han retorted icily.
The two other men agreed after brief consideration.
“Then, please do. We will assist you. Perhaps we’ll instantly find where that kid is, eh?”
“Yes, yes. We must trouble you then, Daoist Kuang Han.”
Kuang Han was the most angry one out of the three. All three geniuses of his house had perished, forcing his hand on the matter. He sat down cross-legged, beginning the initiation of his secret method.
A violet haze rose from his body. Ripples of the same color radiated outward from his head.
“We depart!” Kuang Han suddenly stood up. The secret method didn’t prevent him from moving.
“Let us clear the way and protect Daoist Kuang Han!” Xue Yi and Xuan Zan made a show of their support by taking the initiative.
Jiang Chen was sitting cross-legged as well. Four hours had passed in the blink of an eye, and in a rather peaceful and undisturbed way too.
In fact, the lack of disturbance had been rather astonishing.
After four hours, he opened his eyes once more. The rest period had allowed him to recover roughly eighty percent of the strength that had been lost through two days of grueling expenditure.
“I haven’t exactly gone fast over the last few days, but the Blackwraith Mountains span tens of thousands of miles. I should be halfway by now at least, no?” Jiang Chen guessed that he must be nearing the mountains’ heart.
Calling his Goldbiter Rats back to his side, he prepared to set off again.
It was at this time that his consciousness felt something odd in the air. An indistinct wave formed by another’s consciousness was radiating in his direction. He didn’t have time to retract his own before he made contact with it.
There was a slight exchange midair; he felt an indescribable pressure on his chest.
“Not good, a consciousness sweep!” Jiang Chen instantly realized that something was awry. He retracted his consciousness without another word, leaving in the same breath. If the sweep was this close, his pursuers couldn’t be far.
“They’re so quick!” Mildly upset, Jiang Chen didn’t pause for a single moment underfoot. He sped up as much as he could, hurtling deeper into the Blackwraith Mountains.
Even if eighteen layers of hell awaited him within, he could do little else but press on. He certainly couldn’t turn back. His pursuers weren’t going to give up easily now that they’d chased him all the way here. Death alone awaited him if he retreated.
“Got one!” Kuang Han was overjoyed. He hadn’t expected a response in only an hour. “He’s six or seven hundred miles out. He’s a pretty quick runner. Why’s he so far ahead of us?”
It wasn’t a relevant amount of distance in the outside world, but the Blackwraith Mountains had different rules. Here, each mile was as difficult as five to seven.
“Did you really find him, Daoist Kuang Han?” Xuan Zan was exuberant as well. “One or two?”
“Just one for the moment!” Kuang Han replied in a low voice. “He’s in this direction. Make no mistake about it. Hurry up, everyone! After him!”
“Daoist Kuang Han, why not have us three go first? Let the men behind us catch up,” Xuan Zan proposed. They were the three houses’ leaders on this trip and thus the strongest among their expedition. They had a bigger advantage in the chase.
“That’s right,” Xue Yi assented. “We should go on ahead and cut that kid off. We can’t let him escape our control again!”
Kuang Han thought about this for a moment before nodding. “Alright, it’s so decided. Everyone else, follow as quickly as you can. We three will serve as the hunt’s vanguard.”
Finding their mark was a large boost to their motivation and fighting spirit. They wanted to catch up to their target right this very moment. All three were mid empyrean experts. Once they had a clear target, they moved at drastically different speeds from the large group behind them.
Though Jiang Chen was accelerating as well, he could clearly sense the threat behind him rapidly approaching. Moreover, his life was clearly in danger. He pushed himself to his absolute limit.
Thankfully, his speed and consciousness rivaled an empyrean expert’s. This allowed him to maintain a reasonable gap that wasn’t reduced too quickly. Nevertheless, the danger behind him also approached inexorably.
“Why are my pursuers coming so quickly?” Jiang Chen was quite bothered. “Did they send their elites ahead alone?”
Remembering the clash of consciousnesses made him uneasy. Someone who could send his consciousness out so far had to be a terrifyingly strong empyrean expert. It was very likely that the same man had come for him.
Jiang Chen didn’t think it possible for him to fight toe to toe with an expert like that. Perhaps he could have outmaneuvered a the other one on one, but he would only choose to run from two. If there were three, his hopes were slim even for escape.
“I can’t let them close too quickly. Otherwise, I’ll be done for.” Jiang Chen hadn’t encountered a situation as risky as this since he’d first entered the world of martial dao. He felt the blade at his neck closer than ever.
The pressure his pursuers exerted on him from several hundred miles out was a crushing mountain that hung over his head. The mere sight of it was enough to bring a man to his knees.
“Stop struggling, kid! You can’t get away!” A tyrannical voice echoed forth from the air. It came upon the consciousness, attacking Jiang Chen’s own like a flood wave.
He was well-protected from such intrusions by his chain seal, but the presence of the voice in the first place meant that his enemies were near.
“I’d like to see the person who dared kill Polylore’s geniuses. You think the Blackwraith Mountains will hide you from us?” The voice carried overwhelming authority, filling heaven and earth with power. It appeared the secret method’s master wanted to use it to defeat him preemptively.
Though Jiang Chen felt a heaviness on his chest, his feet were totally unaffected. He wasn’t bored enough to argue with his pursuers. Instead, he charged ever forward.