Stepping through the black crack felt quite different compared to any of the spatial arrays Liang Chen had used in the past. There was no twisting of space nor was there any constricting sensation, he simply felt as if he stepped through a curtain of water, the world around him changing as he passed through it. But while it felt smooth and quick, Liang Chen guessed that the process actually took at least 30 seconds.
The reason he guessed this was the dangerous feeling coming for his back the moment his feet touched the soil in Purgatory's Cradle. The sensation carried with it the all too familiar scent of the Sky-Piercing Sparrow so he was likely on his way through the crack to chase after Liang Chen. But when Liang Chen stepped into the crack, there should still have been several seconds left before the spatial tunnel outside could fully form. As such, the only explanation for him to be able to chase after Liang Chen this quickly was that the perception of time inside the crack was erratic.
Liang Chen's brows furrowed as he looked back, Yumao was extremely weary and he himself was running a bit low on energy while having a broken foot. The foot would heal in less than a minute, but the lost energy would take a bit longer to restore even if he ate some pills, he wasn't in the best condition to fight someone.
And with how dense the sensation of danger coming from the black crack was, the Sky-Piercing Sparrow had definitely arrived with an avatar that held enough power to kill Liang Chen. After all, Liang Chen had slipped from his grasp twice already, he probably didn't want there to be a third one.
A completely blue hand was already stretching out from the crack, but unlike the appearance of the first avatar Liang Chen had seen, this hand looked far more corporeal and even had a few small feathers growing on the back. From the looks of it, the more power he put into the avatar, the closer it got to looking like his real body. The hand was stretching out quite slowly, the rest of the body that followed it looking as if it was slowly surfacing from a thick mire, further solidifying Liang Chen's guess that passing through the crack wasn't as quick as it felt.
But Liang Chen had no intention of waiting for the Sky-Piercing Sparrow to fully emerge from the crack, that would be far too risky. But he wasn't confident in his ability to immediately kill this avatar before he fully emerged, so he could only rely on some external means that he had recently acquired.
He swiped his interspatial ring and took out a withered crimson paper talisman covered in tiny scribbles. This was one of the four talismans his birth parents had given him, and it was one of the two offensive ones that could match a single attack from an early-stage Sovereign God. It might be a bit of a waste to use it now, but he didn't know how much strength this avatar had so it was better to be safe than to be sorry.
He sent his Qi into the talisman just as the head of the avatar stretched out from the black crack, the paper igniting and vanishing into a cloud of dust. And erupting from that dust was an oppressively piercing energy that pushed away even the sound of Liang Chen's own heartbeat, creating an area of complete silence.
A sound so faint that it might as well have been a gentle breeze broke the silence, a hole appearing in the head that had just poked out from the black crack. And the moment the hole appeared, it expanded violently with a thunderous screeching sound. The black crack momentarily vanished as the surrounding area was torn to shreds, a several tens of kilometres deep and long indent appearing on the ground, as if a massive pillar had fallen and pushed down the earth.
The screeching sound vanished as quickly as it appeared, only an echoing ringing sound remaining in Liang Chen's ears. The black crack was still gone, but Liang Chen saw a small dot appear in the space above the ruined patch of land. The dot expanded and stretched at a slow pace so Liang Chen guessed that a new entrance would form before too long, allowing new people to enter this meatgrinder.
Liang Chen let out a soft breath and cracked his neck, now he would at least have a little bit of time to leave this place before anyone else could enter. Wanting to find him at that point would be much harder so he would be able to be a bit more at ease when it came to the pursuit of the Sky-Piercing Sparrow.
He was just about to turn and leave when a thick stream of energy appeared around him, gathering in front of his chest. The energy merged together into a transparent droplet, a crimson colour quickly filling the droplet until it resembled blood. The droplet flashed forward and sank into Liang Chen's chest, a new one quickly starting to form in front of his chest.
But as the first drop of what seemed to be blood merged with his chest, a strange feeling welled up in Liang Chen's mind. It resembled a faint calling, drawing him towards the distance as if there was something there attracting him. The same strange sensation appeared as the second and third drops formed and merged with his chest, the fourth drop only half-filling before it faded. Liang Chen couldn't help but raise an eyebrow in slight surprise at the three new resonating feelings he sensed, glancing up at the slowly forming crack in space.
"So even avatars count as a kill? Does that mean I should thank him for chasing me?"
Liang Chen already knew the rules of Purgatory's Cradle, you were actively rewarded for killing, your reward based entirely on the strength of your victims and how many you killed. For these three drops to form and guide him to three different locations, it was clear that Purgatory's Cradle counted him destroying this avatar as him killing it, granting him suitable rewards to encourage him further.
As for exactly what awaited him at the other side of the resonating feeling, that was something he could figure out in the future. For now, it was best for him to focus on getting out of the area so that he wasn't targeted by any hopeful robbers. He still remembered the moment he stepped into the Mystic's Hidden Realm and was robbed, the difference here would be that things wouldn't end with people trying to rob him.
He quickly moved away, using a bit of wind to support his broken foot while it quickly finished repairing itself. He expanded his senses as he moved, scouting for other living beings in the area while also taking his first good look at the surroundings.
The place he had arrived in looked like it used to be a large clearing, dense rows of trees spreading out all around him. Of course, the talisman he had just used ruined a good chunk of this clearing and even carved a path into the forest, not even leaving behind a tiny piece of bark. The sky was still blue and the sun was still yellow, the only things that revealed clues about the true nature of this place were the faint crimson mist that meandered through the grass and the scent of blood that lingered in the air.
Other than the mostly normal surroundings, he also discovered quite a few living beings scattered throughout his immediate surroundings. But discovering all these living beings actually made him halt his steps, his brows furrowing slightly as he turned in the direction of one of the people he had discovered.
"Is... is that all?"
He couldn't help but mutter somewhat disbelievingly, kicking off the ground and shooting towards the person he had discovered. It barely took him a second before he reached the person, a voluptuous blue-haired woman clad in a dark brown robe that helped her blend in with the trees surrounding her.
The woman trembled as Liang Chen stopped in front of her, dropping to her knees and letting go of the strangely small halberd she had been grasping. Her lips were shivering uncontrollably as she looked at Liang Chen, who flooded her soul with a trace amount of his poison as he asked her a quick question.
"Shouldn't there be multiple strong cultivators here, why are there only people like you in the area?"
The woman was the strongest of the people hiding in the forest, but she was merely at the middle stage of the Heaven's Gate realm. That realm might have sounded very high to Liang Chen when he first entered the Mystic's Hidden Realm, but it meant nothing to him at this point. And it was so low that he could only consider it strange to find people this weak in a place as cruel as this. But the woman quickly spoke up thanks to the coercion of his poison, alleviating some of his confusion.
"The rewards suitable for stronger cultivators are all situated closer to the depths of Purgatory's Cradle, where the density of Qi and blood is much greater. They also can't gain any good rewards even if they kill all of us weak cultivators so the stronger people all head for the depths of this area, allowing us weaker cultivators to linger around here until we get strong enough to slowly move deeper."
It was quite similar to the Mystic's Hidden Realm, or most hidden realms for that matter. The Qi got denser as you got closer to the core, the dense Qi producing greater resources that were more attractive to stronger cultivators. In the end, things naturally became divided into different sections, one where stronger cultivators felt no need to linger and thus allowed weaker cultivators to murder each other and one where the strong people murdered each other.
Her words also matched the resonating feeling that Liang Chen was experiencing thanks to those three drops, they place they were calling him to felt quite distant. He heaved a short breath of relief but didn't lower his guard, there could still be strong people mixed in along with everyone else. After all, the current him was one such example, there was no telling if there were others like him. And whether it was about this or the finer details of this Purgatory's Cradle, acquiring information was paramount.
"Where is the closest settlement and what is it? And are there any locations here in the outskirts that I should know about?"
"The closest settlement lies beyond the northwestern edge of this forest, it's ruled by three cultivators at the early stage of the Soaring Immortal realm. It mostly serves as a hub where people can trade items, but you have to be careful that you aren't just killed or robbed when you bring out your items. As for places that you should know about, one has been titled the Ascetic's Venturing Abode, a hidden realm that appeared a year ago, and the second is the Blood Ocean, the site of a massive battle a few hundred years ago. Both contain a fair bit of resources, but they're also more dangerous than normal places here in the outskirts."
Liang Chen made a mental note of the two places, he wasn't in a rush to head directly for Purgatory, he didn't think that the current him would be able to subdue it. As such, checking out some of the places here to look for ways to increase his strength was his current plan, a place as ancient as this definitely held more than its fair share of heaven-defying resources.
But his first stop would have to be the trading hub, he could get more information and possibly even some resources there. He removed his poison from the woman and vanished from the area, following the directions that the woman had given as he headed for the trading hub.