It wasn't the ancient jade festival nor the impending competition with the Ten Divine Nations’ geniuses that he most looked forward to. It was Huang’er. He had done all this solely for her sake.
He was at the jade festival solely for a legitimate excuse to meet with her. He’d done a great deal for this chance.
For her part, Huang’er had also intuited he would be here. Though she hadn’t originally planned to come, she had specially requested it.
“Honored guests, the area we are opening this time is unprecedentedly large. You are free to go anywhere within a ten-thousand-mile radius. Anything dug up will belong to you and you alone. The Bluesmoke Isles will not take a cut from it.
“Of course, there are many competitors in the ancient jade festival as well. Conflict is unavoidable, but I must remind all of you: any death or injuries sustained are your responsibility. Bluesmoke offers only this arena of activity and does not bear responsibility for what you do here. We can only request that you bow to reason and avoid any murderous clashes.”
These words were meant for the guests, especially those from the Ten Divine Nations.
Everyone had heard about the happenings of Winterdraw. Though Bluesmoke had been able to invite these honored guests, it didn't wish for a repeat for what had taken place elsewhere. If something happened to a young genius from the Ten Divine Nations, they didn't want to be blamed.
Jiang Chen found this rather amusing. Still, wanting to absolve themselves of responsibility in the face of a previous example was reasonable enough. The Rejuvenation Isles had been unlucky indeed. The wrath of three Polylore aristocratic houses had completely turned them upside down and thrown them into mad chaos.
The bluntness of the warning was perhaps a bit painful, but necessary.
“Alright, I think we’ve said everything that needs to be said. All participants, please prepare yourselves. The staging area is about to open.”
Several thousand of the genius participants came to the forefront.
Elders He and Quan drummed important reminders into the skulls of House Yan’s contingent. They weren't to pay attention solely to digging up ores. Keeping an eye on Huang’er in case of an accident was equally important.
Neither Yan Jinnan nor Yan Qingsang could refuse this task. It was relevant to the house’s well-being as well as their personal interests. If something happened to Huang’er, House Xiahou’s anger would burn everyone equally in House Yan.
Therefore, they understood its importance as well as the elders did.
Alas, Huang’er was free to move about. Their cultivation was entirely inferior to hers. It was almost impossible to surveil her without being noticed themselves. Thankfully, the fact they had five on their side made it a bit easier.
The verification process at the entrance was very strict. Each participant had an exclusive jade token that Bluesmoke had handed out ahead of time. The great houses’ tokens in particular were custom made and freely given. The wandering cultivators who’d paid to enter were even more strictly scrutinized.
Several thousand wandering cultivators paying a fee of two hundred thousand per person… the income from this alone amounted to almost a billion sky spirit stones!
The jade festival created prosperity as well as popularity for Bluesmoke.
After Jiang Chen’s token was checked for authenticity, he was let through. He entered the area in Yellow Dragon Ridge that was open to them. Touted to be ten thousand miles in radius, it was a stupendously vast place.
Though there were several thousand participants, being thrown into such a sizable area was like so many waves in a bottomless ocean. No individual participant was easily visible.
Jiang Chen felt a weight lifted off his shoulders as soon as he came inside. Finally, he was no longer being watched by House Yan’s eyes.
Because House Yan’s participants were honored guests from the Ten Divine Nations, they had entered ahead of him. Huang’er had gone in an hour earlier.
But his and her heart were intertwined. Though they hadn’t communicated with their consciousnesses due to fear of detection, he wasn't at all concerned about finding her.
Their thoughts had fallen into step with each other long ago. Huang’er had left a number of clues behind her path that were undetectable to others.
With Jiang Chen’s skills, even the most imperceptible of traces were plain before him. He found it trivial to follow her trail. Two hours later, he knew that Huang’er was right up ahead. However, he was in no rush to see her yet.
It was impossible that House Yan was at ease about Huang’er’s participation. It was likely that all the other young geniuses of her house were keeping tabs on her. If he brashly ventured forward now, he might run right into them.
Thus, he decided somewhere so he could change his appearance yet again. That way, even if Yan Qingsang ran into him, the ‘Shao Yuan’ identity would remain safe.
Nothing was too extensive or bothersome to ensure that he was reunited with Huang’er. If he could, he wanted nothing more than to head to House Yan directly and spirit her away. Alas, he didn't have enough strength for such a task yet.
He could only bide his time until he did.
The deal he’d struck with Yan Qingsang wasn't currently a priority. He had a month’s time to contact the Yan genius. Now in a new disguise, he slowly pursued the trail anew.
Just as he’d expected, Yan Qingsang and Yan Jinnan were keeping a casual eye on Huang’er. She’d also noticed it herself.
She suddenly sped up near a valley, vanishing into a thicket of trees. The development took Yan Qingsang and Yan Jinnan aback, and both rapidly followed through.
But Huang’er was nowhere to be found in the patch she’d gone into.
As they were baffled about where she’d gone, a shadow appeared in the air behind them. Shocked, they swiftly whipped their heads around – to find Huang’er glaring at them from right behind.
“This is your last warning. Don’t follow me. I’m not going to run away. I just want to be by myself for a bit. If you’re going to try this again, I don’t mind making sure you never leave this area.” Huang’er’s glacial attitude and harrowing tone shone through.
Yan Qingsang’s lips quivered. He wanted to say something, but couldn't. He exhaled after a moment. “Never mind. I won’t pry into your business, Huang’er, but I hope you won’t forget about the burden on your shoulders.”
Yan Jinnan had even less of a right to speak. He knew that no matter what he said, Huang’er would only get angrier.
“Scram!” Though Huang’er was normally a genteel person, she forced herself into a brusque expression. She and Jiang Chen had gone to all this trouble to create an opportunity for themselves. She didn’t want to be interrupted by annoyances like these.
Indignation flared up from Yan Jinnan’s eyes, but he didn’t dare turn on her in the end. He stomped his feet, gnashed his teeth, and left.
Yan Qingsang sighed helplessly, then disappeared without another word after raising a cupped fist salute.
Huang’er silently watched them depart. She was a bit apologetic especially towards Yan Qingsang; she hadn’t wanted to be so threatening towards him. He was usually quite pleasant to her.
An easy laugh echoed from the forest shortly after their disappearance. “You’re really not very good at pretending to be mean. You’re so polite even when you get angry!” The voice naturally belonged to Jiang Chen.
Huang’er’s slender body shook, her expression blossoming into one of sincere joy. It was a beautiful sight to behold, the unfurling of spring flowers.
Jiang Chen appeared from the void. They exchanged a look and a smile, their palms pressing together almost unconsciously.
“Come, Huang’er. I’ll take you to a more discreet place.”
Huang’er smiled blissfully. No further words needed to be said. The duo disappeared swiftly like a bolt of lightning.
After two days, they finally found a reasonably secluded place. “Huang’er,” Jiang Chen asked with curved lips. “do you remember how I removed your Generation Binding Curse for you back in the human domain?”
“Do you mean that we should go underground, Brother Chen?”
“Yes. There are too many prying eyes above the earth.”
“I’ll do whatever you want.” Huang’er’s heart had already melted. She would comply with any request her beloved made.
With the help of the Bewitching Lotus and the Goldbiter Rats, Jiang Chen quickly excavated a private chamber deep within the earth. He took off his disguise and assumed his original appearance. Their eyes locked, then their arms; they could no longer control themselves.
Taking Huang’er’s perfect waist into his arms, Jiang Chen crooned. “I’ve been waiting every day and night for this moment. The heavens have taken pity on us and we meet again. I’m sorry that you have to suffer in the way that we’re reuniting!”
“Brother Chen,” Huang’er pressed a finger softly upon Jiang Chen’s lips. “I won’t let you say anything like that.” She shook her head. “I’ve always known you would come to Myriad Abyss Island. No matter how you got here, I feel only contentment and bliss.”
Gazing upon Huang’er’s breathtakingly delicate face, Jiang Chen couldn’t resist lowering his head to kiss her rosy lips.
The momentary contact stretched on longer and longer.
After what seemed like an eternity, the lovers finally broke free from their sweet embrace. Tears brimmed in Huang’er’s eyes.
“Brother Chen, I’m so weak. I said I wouldn’t cry, but…” Huang’er murmured. “I’ve thought about you every hour of every day for the last… how many years? I wanted you to come, but I was worried your cultivation wasn’t there yet. You don’t know how much I’ve fretted over this day…”
“I know, I know…” Jiang Chen was greatly moved as well. He tenderly wiped at the tears on Huang’er’s face. “I’ve come to take you away, and will deal with all the resulting problems before I do so.”
Huang’er gasped. “Have you dealt with the human domain’s troubles, Brother Chen? The demons…”
“The demon race has at least fifty more years before a large-scale outbreak occurs. My goal is to conquer House Yan within the next ten to twenty years, and take you away with full pomp and circumstance.”
This was what Huang’er liked most about Jiang Chen. Such boasting from any other man would be considered bluster, but he had the right to make this kind of sweeping statement.
“How did you come this time, Brother Chen?” After calming herself, Huang’er was curious about his itinerary.
Jiang Chen hid nothing from her. He related all his experiences along the way.
Huang’er sighed after she had heard all. “So Jiang Huang was you after all. That was my first instinct when Elder Shun mentioned that name, that you’d come to find me!”