In the next moment, he dematerialized into nonexistence, fading away like a ripple in the air.
A silvery streak slashed through where he'd stood. A fissure appeared on the spot, a jagged scar that was almost too painful to behold.
"Remarkable!"' A bellow came forth from the air. Clearly, its source was astonished at Jiang Chen's exceptional reflexes.
There was a faint magnetism to this voice, as well as a particular unruliness that defied authority. The man's personality was evident in his way of speech.
Jiang Chen trained his God's Eye upon a specific patch of space while hovering in another part far opposite. "This is the first time I've been welcomed like this in the Six Palaces of Heritage." He shrugged with a faint smile.
An odd ripple in space was followed by the slow emergence of a towering figure. A mane of messy hair hung on his shoulders. His complexion was quite brutish, his eyes wild and free. He seemed animated to the degree of reckless madness.
Jiang Chen perused this rather strange man, who returned his regard with a similar half-smile.
"A very special welcome, is it not?" The long-haired codger flashed a toothy grin.
Jiang Chen harrumphed. “A sneak attack is unbecoming of a true warrior.”
The codger seemed to take that as a compliment. “A true warrior?” he cackled. “In the world of martial dao, those tend to die out real quick. I’m beginning to wonder how you got to the fourth palace in the first place, kid!”
His voice was loud and booming, the man apparently in high spirits.
“What’s your relation to the protector of the fourth palace?” Jiang Chen frowned. His understanding of the palaces so far had showed him that the real protectors typically didn’t take to the field themselves.
Master P’eng, Venerated Skysoarer, and the Grand Marquis alike had followed this rule. In fact, they had seemed to be stuck in the palaces, lacking freedom outside their respective posts. But this old man was very different.
The eccentric elder grinned again. “Do I look that ugly? What, you don’t think I can be a protector?”
“You?” Jiang Chen raised an eyebrow in doubt.
“Congratulations, kid! You haven’t had the chance to fight directly with the first three protectors of the palaces. But this palace has the protector as the test. Don’t be surprised if you fall here! Every genius must kneel before the Mad Fiend.” He licked his lips in mock bloodthirst.
Jiang Chen felt like he was hallucinating.
How could there be such a strange guardian in a place as sacred as the Six Palaces of Heritage? This ‘Mad Fiend’ was completely off his rocker!
Weren’t these protectors supposed to be imprisoned by the master of the Veluriyam Pagoda, hence their presence here?
He saw no such restrictions with this specific one. Was he the exception?
Jiang Chen took a deep breath. “If you are the protector of the fourth palace, may I ask your name?”
“What’s with you?” The maniac of a man shouted with arms akimbo. “Didn’t I introduce myself already? I am the legend feared by all, living and dead alike – the Mad Fiend!”
Jiang Chen had no impression whatsoever of this title. None of the previous protectors had mentioned someone like this. Nevertheless, he didn’t look like an easy character to contend with.
He played it cool. “If you are the fourth palace’s protector, what is your test?”
There had been specific tasks he had been required to perform to pass through the first three. Now that he was in the fourth palace, Jiang Chen believed the same rules applied, and it certainly wouldn’t be easy.
The Mad Fiend smirked, then shook his head. “The fourth palace has only one test. To pass on through, you must go through me!”
“What do you mean?” Jiang Chen asked in a low voice.
“Heheh, haven’t I made myself clear? Your only test is to beat me!” The kooky old man chuckled. “Of course, you’ll leave if I beat you as well.”
Jiang Chen furrowed his brow. Each and every protector within these palaces was immensely powerful. As a venerated senior worthy of becoming a protector here, the Mad Fiend would be no slouch.
To defeat him was an almost insurmountable task. He examined the Mad Fiend, calculating all the while.
The madman had guessed what he was thinking. “Kid,” he laughed, “I know why you’re trying to size me up. Don’t worry! I am a senior of the ancient era. I see no reason to use my cultivation as a bludgeon. I had a bet with the master of this Veluriyam Pagoda once… that bastard managed to trick me!
“While guarding this place, I can only fight with strength equal to the challenger. You’re already fifth level empyrean realm, eh? Almost sixth, now. The strongest among all the challengers I’ve seen so far! This’ll be very fun, very fun indeed. I wouldn’t want my playtime to be cut short. Are you prepared, kid?”
“Prepared for what?” Jiang Chen was somewhat relieved. If the protector was forced to use only the same amount strength he had, he was no longer too worried about the fight ahead.
Perhaps the Mad Fiend had once been someone universally feared, but Jiang Chen saw no reason to fear anyone at an equal level of cultivation.
“Why, prepared for a trip to hell, of course!” The Mad Fiend grinned once more. “You did well to come so far, kid, but this place has always been a nightmare for its challengers. I hope the risk and excitement is sufficiently stimulating!”
Jiang Chen shrugged. He wasn’t scared of threats from an opponent at his level. Given the constraints, he firmly believed that he had a better chance of winning.
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