Lin Yanyu wasn’t as blind as many of the other wandering cultivators. With the weight of a family vendetta on his back, he didn’t overestimate his own strength. He was eager to do well here, but he was careful as well. After a few days, he was rewarded with modest results. He arrived seven days later, as previously agreed upon. He was very surprised when he saw Jiang Chen already waiting for him. He had been worried about the possibility that Jiang Chen might not show up after a week’s time. “Daoist Huang, did you wait long?”
Jiang Chen had indeed waited an entire day, but decided not to comment on it. He glanced at Lin Yanyu. The latter was well-worn from traveling, but free of demonic taint.
“You must not have picked the sky rank spirit herbs on the way in, Daoist Lin?” Jiang Chen asked rhetorically with a half-smile.
Lin Yanyu returned a wry smile. “Maybe someone else would have, if they hadn’t been paying any attention, but the Lin family specializes in pills and medicines. I’m not likely to miss any detail relating to spirit herbs. Those supposed sky rank ones… well, I knew better than to touch them. Frankly, I didn’t think that they were genuine.”
“Quite,” Jiang Chen nodded. “You have a good eye and remarkable self-control. That’s why you’re still alive. Others weren’t so lucky.”
He knew now that the sky rank and earth rank spirit herbs were mere illusions. Demonshade Flowers lay beneath their disguise. If cultivators were greedy enough to pick those herbs, the flowers would immediately strike. Their souls would be captured, and they would be fashioned into corpse puppets. Jiang Chen had seen many such afflicted cultivators on his way back.
The remark from Jiang Chen made Lin Yanyu grow more serious. “Daoist Huang, I think there’s something odd going on this time around. I’ve only been around the outskirts because I didn’t dare go further in, but I saw a large inward flow of cultivators while I was traveling. They didn’t look like they were part of the original five hundred.”
“Yes, it’s definitely not just five hundred cultivators,” Jiang Chen sighed. “I’d say the number is closer to tens of thousands.” He shook his head, shrugging. “Each man has his own fate. If they want to go hastily to their deaths, how are we to stop them?”
“Why do you say that?”
Not bothering to explain, Jiang Chen merely waved a hand. “You’ll see when we go back outside.”
Lin Yanyu was quite confused. Assessing people and trusting others was one of his good traits, and he knew, after prolonged contact with Jiang Chen, that he was someone rather extraordinary. He had good reason to trust Jiang Chen implicitly. As they headed back outside at a brisk pace, they saw even more cultivators rush in. Jiang Chen didn’t want to bump into them. He avoided them the entire way back to the valley’s entrance. The formation that the Prince of Shangping had set had long been destroyed. The hole in the restriction over the wildlands had been previously repaired somewhat, but there were signs of damage here as well.
“How can this be?” Lin Yanyu gasped in surprise.
Jiang Chen didn’t know how to answer. Of course he knew Lu Shinan was the culprit. The wandering cultivators wouldn’t have gotten in at all if the formations had remained untouched. Lu Shinan’s sabotage was the direct cause of roughly thirty thousand cultivators entering the wildlands. They would never return. Thankfully, nightfall was coming soon, and the number of cultivators near the valley entrance began to dwindle. Everyone that wanted to go in seemed to have already done so. The three of them carefully walked out of the restriction. Jiang Chen stared at it briefly. The restriction showed signs of self-recovery.
“This restriction… it can fix itself?” Huang'er saw a hint of the restriction’s recovery as well.
Lin Yanyu was awestruck. He couldn’t make any assessments about the restriction aside from noting its immense strength and power signature.
“This is an ancient restriction. It only opens up every so often because of how old it is. It looks like the period for this opening is almost over, though. Good thing we came out so quickly.” Jiang Chen sounded pleased. “Otherwise, we’d have to wait until the next time this thing opens up.”
“How long would that period be?” Lin Yanyu asked curiously.
Jiang Chen shot the young pillmaker a meaningful look. “Oh? Do you want to come back some other time, Daoist Lin?”
“No, no, I’m just asking. There’s no way I’ll come back to this dastardly place. It’s so creepy here.” Lin Yanyu shook his hands hurriedly.
“I’m glad you think so. Daoist Lin, perhaps we three are the only survivors of this wildlands excursion.”
However, Jiang Chen was quickly proven wrong. One by one, a few other wandering cultivators exited the opening as well, their appearances haggard. Jiang Chen probed each of them with his consciousness as they exited. If these people had been tainted by demons, he wouldn’t have let them just leave. However, his investigation revealed that these cultivators were likely the timid ones. Just like Lin Yanyu, they had only hung around the outskirts. They hadn’t been brave enough to go further in.
Huang'er gazed at the restriction’s opening, her expression serious. “Since the opening is closing up, it looks like anyone who still hasn’t come out will no longer be able to.”
“They certainly won’t come out alive again,” Jiang Chen sighed. “The only way they can possibly return is as a plague on the human domain.”
“Why do you say that?” Lin Yanyu exclaimed, fearful.
“The demon race is awakening once more. These cultivators are only serving as cannon fodder and sacrifices for the demons. When they come out again, they’ll either be converted to demons or be turned into their puppets. Lost forever to the abyss, as it is.”
Jiang Chen continued staring at the opening in the restriction, but Lin Yanyu was pale with terror. The news about the demon race positively frightened him. He wanted to leave immediately and go as far away as possible.
“Daoist Huang, shall we go now?” He called out to Jiang Chen. The latter shook his head, then walked to the side. He found a mossy rock and sat cross-legged upon it. Knowing what he was planning, Huang'er sat beside him as well. Eyes affixed on the opening, Jiang Chen furrowed his brow. He was contemplating something.
Lin Yanyu’s heart was bitter with complaint when he saw his benefactor’s strangeness. What had come over Daoist Huang? But as a kind-hearted man, he wasn’t just about to up and leave while Jiang Chen remained stationary. He didn’t want to let the other down by fleeing alone. Picking a spot reasonably near Jiang Chen, he sat down quietly in wait. He didn’t know what this ‘Daoist Huang’ wanted to do, but his instincts told him that his friend had some unfinished business.
Only when the morning of the second day came did Jiang Chen let out a breath of relief.
“The restriction has closed up. Only eighteen people came out during the night. They’re the only survivors. I assume they similarly only went around the outskirts and didn’t have any clue regarding what happened further in.” He muttered, speaking as much to Huang'er as he was to himself.
“Mm. How long is the period until the restriction reopens?”
Having observed the restriction for a long while now, Jiang Chen gave an accurate estimate. “Half a year to one year, but that’s only temporary. With the restriction loosening up more and more, I’d posit that the period could shorten to three months, or even one month. Plus, with news of the desolate wildlands spreading further, there’ll just be more and more cultivators who go in.”
“Then we have to make sure that news about the demon race spreads as well,” Lin Yanyu added from the side.
Jiang Chen smiled bitterly. “It’s no use. Wealth ruins many. Even if we say that there are traces of a demonic presence, it’ll hardly stop the desperados who go in solely to satisfy their own greed.”
He wasn’t just making things up. Though he’d previously killed the Six Wolves of Sparrow Mountain in front of hundreds of wandering cultivators, none of them had actually left. Clearly, all of them had put their faith in their own luck, as none of them had personally seen a demon before. Thinking about the situation at hand for a little while, Lin Yanyu didn’t know what he could do either. “Demons… the demon race… is another demonic calamity going to fall upon the Divine Abyss Continent?”
Jiang Chen had his own ideas regarding the matter, but there was no way he could spread the news himself. Simply making it known to the masses served only to incite panic, nothing more. Those who needed to know the news might not believe in such an unreliable word-of-mouth recounting either. He inspected the fully-healed opening of the restriction. “I’d like to trouble the two of you to intercept any unwise trespassers from a bit further away,” he stated to Huang'er and Lin Yanyu. In secret, Jiang Chen instructed Long Xiaoxuan to protect Huang'er.
The girl seemed to know what Jiang Chen was planning. “You should be careful,” she pressed lightly upon Jiang Chen’s palm.
Jiang Chen caressed the soft, silky skin on the back of her hand. “Don’t worry, the restriction is closed now. No matter how fierce the demons are, they can’t leave for the moment.”
Huang'er and Lin Yanyu fanned out. Jiang Chen circled the restriction a few times. “There’s nothing for it,” he sighed internally. “If the seniors of the Ancient Crimson Heavens Sect were still alive today, they would undoubtedly do the same. As the heir of their legacy, I should strive to be worthy of it.”
Back at the sect’s forbidden area, Jiang Chen had read the characters carved into the cliff face. They had detailed the history of the sect—every member had been devoted to fighting the alien threat from the outer realms, sealing off their own doors in the process. Such exemplary conduct was characteristic of great sects in the ancient times.
As heir to their tradition, Jiang Chen didn’t want to lose face for the sect. Taking out both sets of sect flags, he surveyed the landscape for a good place to begin setting up a formation. Jiang Chen had marked the flags with his own unique signature. Though he was using them in a formation, he wasn’t scared of losing them permanently. This time, he was setting the Majestic Mountain-Sealing Formation.
It was two formations in one, one primary and one supplementary. The Majestic Mountain-Sealing Formation was ten times stronger than the Nine Gates Incineration Formation. As one of the formations passed down from the Crimson Sect, it had excellent compatibility with his two sets of flags. Setting the formation would cost a jaw-dropping number of spirit stones, but thankfully, it was what he had the largest surplus of.
Even so, he was only a sage realm cultivator. He could barely unleash a tenth of the power of an ancient formation. It wasn’t because his formation skills were insufficient, rather, he simply didn’t have enough power to fuel the formation’s true capabilities. Three days later, two vastly different Majestic Mountain-Sealing Formations had been completed. One was within, one without; one aligned with yin, one aligned with yang.
It had cost Jiang Chen more than a hundred million saint spirit stones to create. It was a heart-bleedingly huge sum to spend, but he didn’t have any regrets. Though using up so many saint spirit stones was indeed painful, the alternative may have led to a lifetime of regret. With the formations complete, Huang'er and Lin Yanyu were free to return. They saw a newly-fashioned formation and obelisk stationed outside the restriction’s opening.
“Beware of demons?” Lin Yanyu pondered over the writing on the monument. The Demonward Obelisk was Jiang Chen’s handiwork. It served as a warning to anyone who came after them. There were demons roaming out and about in the wildlands, and any accidental trespassings should be avoided.