Someone ensnared by the Nine Labyrinth Formation would find it extremely difficult to escape. With Jiang Chen’s current level of control, it was capable of trapping experts up to third level empyrean realm.
Xiahou Xi was only a half-step empyrean genius. Cultivation-wise, he was barely stronger than his peak great emperor peers like Yan Qingsang and Yan Jinnan.
What did Jiang Chen have to fear from an enemy like this? He’d already seen many empyrean experts in his travels. Furthermore, he had defeated them several times back in the human domain.
A genius like Xiahou Xi wasn’t worthy of standing before Jiang Chen.
The former’s fate was sealed when the formation started contracting. Though he could avoid one or two arrows, he couldn’t avoid a steady stream of them.
Having no time to even shriek, Xiahou Xi was hit by an arrow in a flash of light. In the next moment, he burst like a bubble into nothingness. Only a storage ring remained, clinking to the floor of the Labyrinth’s simulated ground.
Jiang Chen smiled faintly, and was about to pick the ring up when he remembered something. He cautiously conjured a formation to wrap around the ring, then closed his palm around it.
Suddenly, his consciousness detected someone closing in on a several dozen mile radius of the area. Without hesitation, Jiang Chen put away the Nine Labyrinth Formation and dashed away in a flash of lightning.
Though the battle had been fierce while it lasted, nothing was left of Xiahou Xi’s body save for some dust. Anyone who approached the place was able only to sense that a fight had taken place; not much else was obvious.
This was the last day of the month-long festival. No one could spare time or energy for worrying about someone else. The unknown interlopers looked around, found no clues, and promptly left.
Jiang Chen tossed Xiahou Xi’s storage ring to the side. He decided to throw it away.
If Xiahou Xi was inferior to Xiahou Jing, the possessions in his storage ring wouldn’t be much either. Taking it with him would just create a future threat for himself. Murder was enough. Robbery didn’t seem particularly attractive today.
Jiang Chen reached the exit four hours later. He accepted his inspection with coolness and poise, exiting as if nothing had happened after handing over his jade token. Outside the valley, he saw Yan Qingsang waiting for him. Jiang Chen ignored him for now.
The young man of House Yan was no fool. Jiang Chen’s behavior tipped him off to refrain from a greeting. After Jiang Chen joined House Yan’s team, the rest of House Yan’s members exited as well.
Huang’er was among the ones who appeared at the valley entrance.
Elders He and Quan breathed a collective sigh of relief. They were worried about Huang’er most of all. If something were to happen to her, none of the elders would be able to bear the consequences. Her safety was extremely reassuring.
“How did you do in there, Huang’er?” Elder He asked hypocritically.
“Alright. Nothing special,” Huang’er replied coolly.
No one in House Yan was stupid enough to ask Huang’er to show her gains. “Participation is the most important part,” they chorused.
Huang’er glanced at Yan Qingsang. “Brother Qingsang, how about you? You have a wager to win, I understand.”
“Very well, I guarantee it!” Yan Qingsang chuckled. “The thirty million is as good as mine!”
Yan Jinnan snickered. “Don’t get too ahead of yourself. I did quite well too!”
“Your ‘quite well’ is powerless before my winnings. Thanks for the ten million, chump!”
Elders He and Quan ignored such petty bickering.
Those inside had almost entirely filtered out already. House Xiahou was all accounted for, save one.
“Where’s Xiahou Xi?” an elder of the house asked the other house geniuses. “Why hasn’t he come out yet?”
“I saw Brother Xi inside. I think he headed for the exit earlier than I did. Has he not come out yet? I thought he already did.”
“What, Brother Xi hasn’t come out yet? How is that possible?”
The Xiahou elder’s face darkened. “Are you sure Xiahou Xi went on ahead of you?”
“Yes, I talked to him when we bumped into each other. He said he had done quite well and was heading outside. Has he been delayed by something?”
“Time isn’t up yet. Fifteen minutes still remain. I assume he’ll be out at the last minute.”
“Possibly. Perhaps Brother Xi wants to make a grand entrance by being the last one to exit?”
House Xiahou’s geniuses were optimistic as a whole. Clearly, they didn't think it possible for anyone here to threaten their kinsman. There was nothing to suggest that to be the case, anyways.
Plus, the atmosphere had been quite amicable at this competition. There hadn’t been any significant fighting, except bouts by and against wandering cultivators.
The Ten Divine Nations hadn’t fought against each other. There had been a kind of mutual understanding that this event was for profit only. Where could Xiahou Xi possibly be, given this?
As more time went on past closing, he was nowhere to be found. House Xiahou’s elders looked worse and worse.
“Alright. Time’s up. Yellow Dragon Ridge’s jade mines are to be closed!” an organizer from Bluesmoke shouted.
“Hold on!” Someone from House Xiahou could no longer remain calm. “House Xiahou has a young genius who hasn’t come out yet.”
The organizer was a bit surprised. He glanced at the house’s group to verify that it was indeed the case.
“Elder Geng, has Brother Xiahou not come out yet?”
“No,” the named elder’s tone had turned a bit hard.
Bluesmoke’s organizers found the situation rather tricky. They had warned everyone before of the possibility of death. Any liability for casualties wasn’t their responsibility. But what’d they feared had really come to pass. If something had happened to Xiahou Xi, his house wasn’t an easy faction to deal with.
If it had happened to a faction like House Yan, that would have been much better. In the Eternal Divine Nation, House Xiahou was sailing in favorable winds; it was the foremost house, second only to the imperial family. Geniuses from a house as important as that were universally spoiled and valued.
Thankfully, their prior warning made it unlikely to be blamed even by the likes of House Xiahou.
“We’ll wait a bit more, then. Elder Geng, how long would you like?” the organizer was very courteous to House Xiahou’s elder.
“Thirty minutes should be enough. Xiahou Xi is a punctual boy. Something important must’ve delayed him.” Elder Geng was embarrassed to extend it any longer. After all, the organizers needed time to clean up after the month-long dig.
Thirty minutes overtime was plenty.
Alas, there was no shadow of the youth even after that time. The elder was thoroughly defeated. He’d never thought something would happen to Xiahou Xi in a place like this.
There was no doubt about it. Though the house had not yet sent news that his soul lamp had shattered, Elder Geng was almost certain that Xiahou Xi was dead.
“You lot, are you sure Xiahou Xi headed outside earlier than you did?” He queried the young geniuses of his house once more.
“Oh, yes, definitely.”
“Brother Xi had a very good harvest and he looked like he was in a good mood. But I did remember him mentioning a person he wanted to keep an eye on.”
“Who?” Elder Geng asked curiously.
“He didn’t say. Someone he didn’t like, I think. Perhaps a former opponent.”
Many of the participants wanted to leave with their winnings, right now. They didn't want to stay in a place where the party was over. Everyone else began to head out.
“Wait just a moment!” Elder Geng suddenly went ahead of them. “Fellow daoists,” he cupped a fist to the Ten Divine Nations’ other factions. “Please, may I have your attention.”
“What is it?” there was some displeasure at House Xiahou’s elder blocking the way.
“I have something I’d like to say. House Xiahou has lost a young genius. We suspect that he has been ambushed on his way out. I kindly request that you do us the favor of helping us find the criminal. I suspect he is targeting the Ten Divine Nations as a whole, and is flaunting his actions at us!”
The last sentence had entirely been made up. He wanted to provoke them to action, nothing more. If they found a common enemy with him, they would surely assist to the best of their abilities.
But Elder Geng had evidently overestimated himself. The factions of the other divine nations didn’t care.
“You think too much, Elder Geng. I felt the festival went quite well and the atmosphere was very good. Our youngsters told us there was barely any fighting. Maybe he’s had an accident – not like that’s uncommon in the world of martial dao, eh? Why mind it so much, Elder Geng?”
“Definitely. Bluesmoke emphasized that there was a certain amount of risk, didn’t it? We were reminded not to engage in life-threatening clashes.”
“We’re all busy, Daoist Geng. Why waste our time and energy?”
House Xiahou was only important in the Eternal Divine Nation. The other divine nations’ factions didn't need to give it any face.
Elder Geng was rather depressed by the lack of a reaction. He’d thought too highly of House Xiahou’s influence. Outside of the Eternal Divine Nation, the prevailing factions were largely ambivalent.
Of course, there were some that intentionally displayed their benevolence. “That’s easy enough. What if we ask everyone to take out their storage rings and examine them? The criminal must have Xiahou Xi’s ring, no?”
This wasn’t a very good suggestion, but Elder Geng was enticed anyway. However, it was almost impossible to get all of the young geniuses from the Ten Divine Nations to comply.