“Brother Yong, have you really decided?” Since Jiang Chen’s treatment, Yong Peng’s wife had largely recovered to her usual condition.
Hesitation flickered across Yong Peng’s face. “Are you worried, Ah Tang?”
A candid smile appeared on the woman’s face. “I’m not scared of anything as long as I’m with you, Brother Yong. How about you, kids?” She caressed her docile children.
“We’re not scared, daddy and mommy!”
Yong Peng took a deep breath. “I’ve decided, Ah Tang. We must leave this place. I don’t want Zhen’er and Li’er to be stuck here their entire lives. Neither they nor we have committed any crimes. Are we supposed to be imprisoned here forever simply because one of our ancestors did? Fated to be chained down, never seeing the outside world?”
The guardsman couldn’t resign himself to his fate. If he were alone, he might’ve been able to, but he didn't want his children to live on Winterdraw forever. He didn't want them to wallow in a hopeless life, devoid of any freedom.
Existence without liberty and hope was meaningless, even if one struggled by.
“I’m right behind you, Brother Yong.” Ah Tang nodded firmly.
As the family was having this serious discussion, Xing Hui suddenly appeared in the courtyard of their home.
“Commander Yong, Sir Jiang asked me to come ask you whether you want to take his airboat out of Winterdraw. If you don’t want to, he won’t force you. If you do, you should answer straightaway. We don’t have much time!”
Yong Peng blinked. “W-what did you say?” he stuttered.
Xing Hui nodded. “I said it very clearly, didn’t I? We don’t have much time. Think about what you want to do, and quickly.”
As he said this, he pointed into the air. There was indeed an airboat there, hidden within the clouds.
Yong Peng grit his teeth. “A solution comes to our problem instantly, Ah Tang! Do you remember Sir Jiang, who cured your illness? He’s truly our family’s benefactor. With him, there’s hope!”
Of course Yong Peng knew that Jiang Chen had gone to the Blackwraith Mountains for a trial. Most had also found that the reason for the drastic changes in their environment had begun from there. Perhaps Sir Jiang had found some fortune within those mountains?
Yong Peng didn't hesitate. He rapidly brought his wife and children on board Jiang Chen’s airboat.
Jiang Chen didn't know many people on Winterdraw and had little attachment to the place. He smiled at the arrival of Yong Peng’s family. “Everyone’s here, I see. I’d like to ask you one more time: you won’t regret leaving Winterdraw, will you?”
“Why do you ask that, Sir Jiang?” Xing Hui brimmed over with excitement. “Why would we regret something that’s giving us a second life?”
“My apologies, Sir Jiang!” exclaimed Yong Peng. “I don’t know you very well, so I didn’t expect your chivalry here. My family owes you another great favor, truly.”
“I admire the love with which you treat your wife and children, Commander Yong,” Jiang Chen replied coolly. “That’s why I’m more than happy to take you along for the ride.”
There was nothing more to say. He had a feeling that his three idiot pursuers were near. “Sit tight, everyone!” he called out. “The airboat is about to accelerate!”
He didn’t want three people doggedly trailing behind him all the time.
Once Starfate was at full speed, it was shockingly fast. The vessel arrived at the coast almost instantly. There was an enormous mass of people below them. Evidently, the fastest of those in the know had already arrived at the island’s boundaries, ready for their own flight.
Alas, most of the coastline held only the dangers of the ocean. Boats were limited to a few important ports. There were no tools for travel by sea.
Everyone knew that it was impossible for ordinary cultivators to fly over the seas within a two thousand mile radius. The cost was simply too great if one attempted such a thing. Most importantly, there was too much spatial turbulence. It was easy to get lost somewhere without a way out.
If one was lucky, that wouldn’t be too much of an issue, but only empyrean experts could expect to succeed. Anyone below that level didn’t have much hope. So, flying was out of the question. But attempting to swim across was just as difficult.
Countless monsters rested at the bottom of these waters. They were known for their ferocity and danger. If one depended on luck to fly past, then swimming required both luck and strength.
Without enough strength, a powerful sea monster would find it trivial to eat the average cultivator.
Xing Hui and his daughter looked down at the teeming mass below through the transparent shell of the airboat. They felt tremendously relieved and fortunate. It was a vastly different feeling to stand above than below. Inside the airboat, they were essentially guaranteed to travel across the seas safely.
The people below, however – even if Winterdraw didn't block their passage past its boundaries – perhaps four or five out of ten would escape intact. This was already an extremely optimistic estimate.
Though Commander Yong Peng was quiet, the fact that he clasped the hands of his wife and children firmly was evidence enough that he felt similar to Xing Hui and Xing Tong.
“Winterdraw won’t be able to avoid a serious riot this time,” Xing Hui sighed. “I doubt a thousand years would be enough to restore all the damage it will endure this time.”
“A thousand years is on the low side,” Yong Peng exhaled. “Fifteen hundred is more like it.”
Jiang Chen burst out into laughter. “No matter how much time passes, it will never recover.”
“Huh?” Everyone looked curiously at the young man.
He shrugged, smiling. “You won’t have anything to do with Winterdraw in the future. Why mind its eventual fate?”
Xing Hui laughed in turn. “I suppose you’re right, Sir Jiang. We’re very lucky to have you take us along. I never would’ve thought it possible in my wildest dreams.”
Xing Tong nodded emphatically in agreement, tossing occasional sidelong glances at Jiang Chen. She lowered her head embarrassedly whenever she did so, apparently worried that he would notice her actions.
The airboat rapidly soared across the cloudy skies, passing by the coastline without any trouble. It was evident that Winterdraw hadn’t had the time to prepare for a problem as large-scale as they now had on their hands.
Two thousand miles of sea wasn’t far at all. It took less than an hour for the vessel to make it past the deadly waters into the open world outside.
The pressure the dreadful seas had exerted was fully behind them. Cerulean sky, immaculate clouds, and azure ocean were only broken up by the occasional deserted isle. All of the passengers wanted to laugh out loud at the peace and exuberance they were feeling. They were free!
They were finally free.
“Don’t be too satisfied yet, my friends,” Jiang Chen declared. “Where are we going next? If the Isles know that Winterdraw is rioting, it’ll send out a mass of troops to cut any escapees off. We were among the earliest to leave, so we’re relatively safe. But it’s hard to say the same from now on. We must find where we may rest our heads next.”
Having only been on Winterdraw so far in his excursion to Myriad Abyss Island, Jiang Chen lacked an understanding of the world outside. Thanks to his lack of time, the books Senior Pei Xing had left behind hadn’t yet been perused.
“I was born on Winterdraw,” Yong Peng smiled bitterly, “so I know nothing of the outside world. I am the fifth generation of my family native there, I believe. My ancestor was apparently a minor aristocrat of the Rejuvenation Isles, but I don’t find it meaningful to seek out my lineage now.”
Xing Hui was silent for a long while before he mustered up a reply. “The Rejuvenation Isles are to the southwest of Winterdraw. We’re going eastward in our journey, so we won't encounter Rejuvenation’s armies. The closest large patch of land on our current course should be Warmspring Island.”
Xing Hui was different from Yong Peng. He hadn’t been exiled very long on Winterdraw and so was reasonably familiar with the world outside.
“Old Brother Xing Hui, I remember you told me that younger sister Xing Tong was born before you came to Winterdraw, yes? You should be no stranger to the outside world.” Jiang Chen inquired with a half-question.
Xing Hui knitted his brow. “To tell you the truth, I was a noble in the Rejuvenation Isles once upon a time. Alas, my clan offended the imperial family and was fully exterminated. My branch was exiled because of it too. I can’t possibly return to the Isles now.”
Yong Peng’s eyes brightened. He respectfully offered a cupped fist salute. “Old Brother Xing Hui, we are quite literally in the same boat. I know nothing about the outside world. Where should we go to find a stable place to settle down in?”
Xing Hui thought for a moment, then replied. “You’re a skilled man, Commander Yong. You’ll be able to do well for yourself in many places. If your son and daughter are talented at cultivation, I recommend you pick one of the Ten Divine Nations to live in. The cultivation environment and prospects there are superior to everywhere else.”
“The Ten Divine Nations?” Yong Peng was unfamiliar with that term.
“Yes. The Ten Divine Nations are the top factions in Myriad Abyss Island. They hold ultimate authority over the island, dividing up the power among themselves. Look at the Rejuvenation Isles. They seem impressive, but they’re just second or third-rate in Myriad Abyss. Ordinarily, they wouldn't even have the right to fawn on the Ten Divine Nations.” Xing Hui was clearly rather knowledgeable.
“Do you know the Polylore Divine Nation, Old Brother Xing Hui?” Jiang Chen suddenly asked with nonchalance.
“Polylore Divine Nation? Top five among the ten.”
“Right. The trial in the Blackwraith Mountains was staged by the Rejuvenation Isles. Over a thousand contestants became the prey of the young geniuses of Polylore’s eight houses. It was a conspiracy from the start…” Jiang Chen stated in a forbidding tone.
“Huh?” Everyone was stunned.
Yong Peng couldn’t sit still. “Sir Jiang, I recommended you to participate in the selection. I didn't expect to throw you into hell!”
Jiang Chen didn’t mind. “It’s fine,” he smiled coolly. “You meant well and you didn't know the specifics. In the end, it was a blessing in disguise anyway. How else would all of us be leaving the island so freely in this airboat? Do you know who was pursuing us a while back?”
“Can it be…”
“That’s right,” Jiang Chen nodded. “People from Polylore’s eight houses.”
Everyone else was stunned anew at his words.