Chapter 1696: An Arduous Challenge

The ninth cave was an ever-changing hellscape invoking the worst fears of the human heart. The endless desert abruptly transitioned into a bottomless swamp, which strange creatures lurked within, ready to strike at anytime.

Jiang Chen was treading on thin ice. He knew that one wrong move could lead to an unimaginable catastrophe. Fortunately, the seal in his consciousness grew more active the greater the danger he faced, helping him to instantly detect any threats.

His versatility once again gave him an edge. He was trapped several times, but the vines of the Lotus got him out of trouble time and time again.

The swamp posed a serious threat, but the Lotus’ endless vines were tough enough to endure the harsh environment. He ended up using the vines to form a bridge, making it a lot easier for him to cross the hostile landscape.

He got to the other side without difficulty. Creatures from the bottom of the swamp ambushed him every once in a while, but he killed every one of them with ease. The swamp could not trap him. He pushed onwards.

Soon, he’d left the swamp and entered a grassland that spanned only a few miles. Ahead of it was an area of scattered stones. Rocks of unusual shapes stood before him, forming a jungle of stones.

As he contemplated what to do, the ground beneath his feet trembled. The stones hurtled into the sky like they’d grown wings and rained down on him like cannonballs. The danger here wasn’t the physical impact of the stones, but their power to create an inescapable vacuum. 

Countless rocks fell from the sky like meteorites, forming a bizarre space that sealed off all escape routes, preventing him from running in any direction.

Jiang Chen activated the Earth Bodhisattva Orb, forming a safe zone to stop the rocks from hitting him.

“Damn. The ninth cave is indeed perilous and full of death traps.” He broke into sweat from the unrelenting dangers. There had been a lot of close-calls.

“Someone less versatile is bound to fail terribly in this cave.” He kept his guard up, unable to see an end to the rocky area. Countless stones shot through the air. He was able to keep them from getting close, but his way forward was blocked as the stones landed all around him.

Jiang Chen’s scalp tingled numbly as he stared at the dense rain of flying rocks. Had ten thousand mountains collapsed simultaneously? Why would there be so many rocks otherwise? 

The rain of stones grew more intense. The barrier formed by Earth Bodhisattva Orb prevented anything from getting within a couple meters of radius from him, but there was seriously no end to the rain of stones. 

The stones piled up, encircling the space around him. In less than fifteen minutes, a mountain spanning dozens of miles had formed, trapping him underneath. Jiang Chen didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The flying stones weren’t an attack! They were a powerful formation meant to trap him.

The formation took the shape of a mountain in its final stage, keeping any living beings beneath it from escaping. 

Despite his realization, it was a bit too late. The newly formed mountain shouldn’t be that difficult to break, but he couldn’t destroy a mountain of such scale through his own fists alone.

More importantly, the stone mountain was a formation that fortified itself. That power was the most difficult thing to destroy.

He tried several times to break out, but to no avail. Raw power alone wasn’t enough. He considered digging downwards, but the formation prevented him from doing so as well. The ground was made solid and unbreakable.

All other attempts failed miserably. He didn’t know whether he should laugh or cry.

“I’ve had an unstoppable streak of success, but now I’m trapped under the mountain. Though I’m in no danger of dying, I can’t stop here!”

He refused to accept defeat. He was here to conquer the cave. He wouldn’t be able to forgive himself if he failed.

According to the rules of the ninth cave, if he didn’t escape in one day, he would fail his challenge.

There was still plenty of time, but if he didn’t break out, it wouldn’t make a difference if he had a dozen or hundred days more.  Even an empyrean expert would be helpless in his place.

“Is it impossible to pass this cave?” Jiang Chen’s head was clear despite his frustration. He tried his best to calm down. 

An idea struck him.

Ah! The Goldbiter Rats! He grinned widely. How could he have forgotten about the army of rats?

Known for their ability to consume anything and everything, there was no fortress the Goldbiter Rats couldn’t topple. The stone mountain may be sturdy, but it wasn’t tough enough to stop the Rats.

Besides, he had a terrifyingly great number of them at his disposal.

He summoned Goldbiter Rat King immediately. “I’m trapped within a stone mountain, Ole Gold, and the mountain is reinforced by a formation. I can’t break out on my own. Can you eat away the mountain from within?”

The Rat King cackled. “That’s what we’re best at, young master Chen. You should have summoned me earlier. Come out, my children.”

At its order, an army of Goldbiter Rats flooded out of the Millionditch Stonenest and swarmed in all directions. They devoured everything in their way.

Jiang Chen marveled at their ability.

In less than half an hour, the army of Goldbiter Rats had created a long tunnel. Jiang Chen observed for a while. He could tell that the rats were close to digging through the stone mountain completely.

“That’s enough, Ole Gold. Call your children back. I don’t want them exposed.”

As long as the rats stayed within the mountain, they would remain hidden. However, if they dug through the mountain and got out, the ones observing outside the cave would be able to see them.

Jiang Chen decided to break through the last bit on his own. He was confident that he’d be able to handle that much. He used his fingers as cutting tools and cut through the stone piece by piece. After less than fifteen minutes, a ray of sunlight shone through a crack he’d made.

……

While Jiang Chen was trapped within the stone mountain, the three primes and the elders watched the changes in the cave with rapt attention.

“The ninth cave is unpredictable. It’s unlikely Shao Yuan will succeed.”

“It’s good for young people to be brave and ambitious. His experience inside will improve his mental fortitude.”

“First Prime, can you see what’s happening in the cave with your mind’s eye?” an elder asked, turning to the leader of the primes.

She smiled. “He’s overcome many areas, including the quicksand and the swamp, but he’s now trapped in the stone mountain. It seems that he’s having trouble breaking out.”

Ziju Min’s face fell at this news. He knew how difficult a challenge the mountain of falling rocks posed.

If Shao Yuan had gotten around the mountain, he stood a decent chance of passing the area. But once trapped, he was in big trouble. He’d have to overcome not only the stones, but also the fortifying formation.

It’d take even a mid rank empyrean expert hours to escape the mountain, let alone a young man at peak great emperor.

“He’s so close to escaping the cave. What a shame for him to fail with only a few more challenges ahead. Nonetheless, his performance is already remarkable.”

“Indeed. Elder Ziju has done the sacred land a great service. First Prime, the mountain isn’t going to cause any permanent damage to Shao Yuan, is it?”

“Right. We don’t want anything to happen to a genius like him.”

The prime smiled faintly. “Don’t worry too much. Most areas in the Nine Winding Caves offer protection to the challengers. Only a few places are fatal. There are life-threatening dangers in the stone mountain, but I think Shao Yuan will be able to deal with them.”

Ziju Min sighed in relief. It didn’t matter if Shao Yuan failed the ninth cave. All was well as long as he survived. He’d set a great enough record already.

“Is there a chance for Shao Yuan to escape the mountain?” asked one of the elders.

The prime shook her head. “We don’t know yet.” Suddenly, she blinked as a sharp light shot out her eyes. She looked forward incredulously. “This young man is full of surprises.”

“What’s happened?” The others turned to her, surprised by her change of tone.

The prime took a deep breath. “He forged a path through the mountain and has escaped!”

“What? He’s broken through the mountain? Isn’t it strengthened by a formation? How can a peak great emperor destroy the fortifying formation?” All eyes widened in shock.

The prime shook her head with a wry smile, her eyes sparkling with astonishment and bemusement. A flash of imperceptible delight streaked across her face.

They were witnessing the rise of a genius.

She’d come to fully recognize what a genius Ziju Min had brought to the Eternal Sacred Land. No matter where this genius came from, no matter who he had been, as long as he wasn’t a spy from one of their enemy factions, they must spare no effort in supporting him.

Jiang Chen broke through the mountain and took a breath of fresh air. Excitement swelled in his heart. He leapt out of the mountain and rushed away. He didn’t want to be trapped again.

He kept his guard up even after leaving the formation. The cave was filled with dangers and he couldn’t afford to be careless. Fatal threats lurked around every corner. He might not be as lucky next time.

Not long after, he found himself entering a dense forest area filled with lush vegetation.

All around him were ancient plants. The grass was at knee level, and the trees soared up to the sky. There were also various species of strange vines.

The seal in Jiang Chen’s consciousness became active as soon as he stepped into the forest, which meant that dangers laid in wait. He deployed the Pentecolor Divine Swords to cut a swathe through the grass.

The trees were clearly visible, while the grass could be home to many dangerous beings. No one knew what dangers lurked within the overgrown grass. Plus, there was his seal also acting up again.

Suddenly, a strange wind swept over the turf. All the grass and crawling vines in his view transformed into snakes of different colors. There was nothing but multi-colored snakes within his sight.

Their combined hissing sent a chill down one’s spine.

Even a regular person would be alright with the sight of a couple snakes, but being surrounded by so many was a different story. The density alone could make one’s hair stand on end.

Jiang Chen’s lips twitched as he snickered. “How dare you little snake spirits stand in my way?”

He fearlessly raised the Pentecolor Divine Swords and shouted, “The first sword, shaking heaven and earth…

“The second sword, moving existence itself…

“The third sword, separating yin and yang...

“The fourth sword, claiming dominion over the world…

“The fifth sword, gathering the five elements and forming thunder itself. Torrent of Ten Thousand Swords, slewing the heavens themselves!”

He’d used the Torrent of Ten Thousand Swords of the Divine Five Thunderclap Sword Technique. The torrent was unstoppable. It was the perfect technique to use in a group battle.

The endless slashes left nothing intact within the area of effect. Every last one of the snake spirits was rendered into small pieces by the blades, splattering flesh and blood everywhere. 

Jiang Chen braved the rain of gore. He paused, his nose twitching. A foul smell assaulted his sense. Suddenly, the tree before him exploded. 

The land behind the tree fractured. An enormous snake spirit of terrifying size shot out of the ground and straightened its body. 

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