Meng Hao was aware of all of this, of course. His expression was the same as ever and he ignored everyone else. He paused at each layer to absorb as much spiritual energy as possible, and then continued to climb upward.
Several meters behind him were all the other Cultivators. They eyed Meng Hao helplessly, waiting for him to move onward before doing so themselves.
Each and every pair of eyes inside this world was watching Meng Hao. He was the focus of all attention.
The Song Clan’s competition in search of a son-in-law had turned into Meng Hao’s stepping stone. Regardless of whether Meng Hao was the winner or not, he had already left a deep impression on Song Jia. That, coupled with the events which had happened before the banquet began, caused her to ignore everyone else and focus solely on Meng Hao.
Perhaps it was fate; after today, the five Clans and three Sects would know that Meng Hao was also Chosen!
Perhaps it was fate; after today, stories of scholar Meng Hao of the State of Zhao would spread throughout the entire Southern Domain. There was now one more amongst the ranks of the Chosen!
Also fated was that previously unknown Meng Hao would be the complete center of attention. More and more Cultivators would hear of him and especially… the matter of him and Chu Yuyan. Rumors would spread like wildfire throughout the entirety of the Southern Domain.
Meng Hao would become the object of jealousy of countless male Cultivators. Of course he would also attract the notice of many female Cultivators. He was now the subject of a huge scandal involving one of the four most beautiful women in the Southern Domain. Everyone was paying attention to him now.
At the same time, anyone who hadn’t heard about Meng Hao’s dealings with the Violet Fate Sect back in the State of Zhao, would surely know about it now. Meng Hao’s name would only become more and more well known.
In actuality, if people knew about the feud between the Black Sieve Sect and Meng Hao, or how he had taken the Blood Immortal Legacy, then he would instantly become the most famous Cultivator in all of the Southern Domain. After all, he could now sweep across Chosen and push down Dao Children.
Today was only the first sign of what was to come, though. This was Meng Hao cutting into the Southern Domain! 1
Time passed. Meng Hao, his expression the same as always, continued onward slowly. Behind him, many of the Cultivators were growing impatient. A young man from the Violet Fate Sect looked at Meng Hao slowly absorbing spiritual energy, and frowned. Unable to accept the situation any longer, he shot forward.
He slapped his bag of holding, and immediately, eight talismans appeared to circle around him. A bright glow appeared, some sort of protective spell. With a triumphant cry, he charged onward, passing Meng Hao and entering the next layer beyond.
The Violet Fate Sect Nascent Soul Cultivator coolly mentioned, “This is a Chosen of the Violet Fate Sect, Liu Gao. His Cultivation base is beyond ordinary. His eight talismans treasure can reduce any force of pressure by eighty percent.” Even as the words left his mouth, his face suddenly grew unsightly.
As soon as Liu Gao passed Meng Hao and entered the next area, his body began to shake. His face tightened, and blood sprayed from his mouth. His body trembled as if it were under attack. Everyone watched as he howled and tried to endure. Meng Hao cleared his throat. He stopped in his tracks for a moment, looking up and waiting.
After the space of a few breaths, the Violet Fate Sect disciple coughed up more blood. One by one, his eight talismans disintegrated. With a miserable scream, he fell down into the sea below. He emerged moments later, pale faced, and began to climb again. It didn’t take him long to rejoin the group of people below Meng Hao, where he stared upward with fear and respect.
Everyone looked thoughtfully at Meng Hao, who once again cleared his throat and moved upward, absorbing spiritual energy along the way.
No one dared to attempt to pass him. They could only follow helplessly. Time passed as Meng Hao proceeded through the layers. By now, his fifth Dao Pillar was about seventy percent complete.
The further he progressed, the more spiritual energy he needed. Before long, Meng Hao was roughly three thousand meters from the apex of the enormous tree.
Wang Tengfei’s eyes flashed, and though Wang Youcai said nothing, his eyes shined brightly. A look of anticipation covered Fatty’s face. He had no thoughts of trying to pass Meng Hao, but was very much looking forward to seeing what happened when Meng Hao reached the top.
It wasn’t just the Cultivators whose eyes glittered; up in the cloud layer, the eccentrics from the five Sects and three Clans, as well as all the Song Clan members, were all focused on Meng Hao. Although his participation in the Song Clan search for a son-in-law had been unexpected, a critical moment was approaching. Everyone watched on with keen anticipation.
With a smile, Song Tian said, “At the top of the tree, there is a final test. Of the heroes of the various Sects and Clans, it’s hard to say which one… will be able to pass the final test.”
One of the Nascent Soul Cultivators laughed and said, “I had heard that part of the tradition of your Song Clan search for a son-in-law involves a difficult test. I’m very curious as to the nature of this test. Elder Song, would you mind explaining a bit about it?”
“That’s right,” said the Golden Frost Sect’s Nascent Soul Cultivator. “I’ve also heard such things. Elder Song, would you mind telling us some about it? We’re all very curious.”
Everyone seemed very interested in hearing about the final test.
Song Clan Patriarch Song Tian laughed loudly. Then, he looked at the middle-aged man who sat at his right hand. “Muqiu, we are searching for a husband for your daughter. Why don’t you explain the final test?”
The middle-aged man was handsome and dashing. Hearing the words of the Patriarch, he clasped his hands respectfully and then looked at the group of people, eyes flashing like lightning. Then he glanced at Song Jia, and a warm, loving expression filled his face.
His voice cool, Song Muqiu said, “The final test in our search for a son-in-law is a bit different than the tests in previous generations. This is a test of a Cultivator’s Dao Heart!”
The Nascent Soul Cultivators frowned.
Elder Fan from the Solitary Sword Sect frowned and took a drink of alcohol. “Matters of Dao Hearts aren’t even clear to us, let alone these Foundation Establishment pups.”
“That is why this test is special,” replied Song Muqiu. “Elder Fan is correct, Dao Hearts are mysterious and unfathomable. Actually, the Song Clan believes that one of the most important aspects of the Dao Heart is determined by personality and behavior. The combination of the two, as well as a person’s stubbornness… that is the Dao Heart. Therefore, although today’s test is not conclusive, it will give us some inkling of what will be. Actually, as it relates to Dao Hearts, this test is actually a choice!” Having said this much, Song Muqiu closed his mouth and declined to comment further.
Everyone else sank into deep thought. As for Song Jia, she continued to watch Meng Hao within the cloud vortex, very curious as to what choice he would make during the final test….
Song Yunshu’s eyes flickered as he calmly watched the cloud vortex. He was Dao Child of the Song Clan, and yet, as he watched Meng Hao, an uneasy feeling welled up in his heart. He was used to concealing his emotions, though. His exterior was calm. But he was extremely curious to see what choice Meng Hao would make.
“As Dao Child of the Song Clan, I was able to take the test myself ahead of time. My choice….” Song Yunshu was lost in thought. He had only succeeded on his second try. Succeeding in such a fashion had earned him the praise of Patriarch Song Tian.
With a smile, Patriarch Song Tian said, “Muqiu makes it sound very complicated. The final test is a choice, and also a test of observation. I should make clear that the Dao Child of our Song Clan succeeded on his second attempt.” He glanced at Song Yuncai with a look of praise.
This caused everyone to grow even more curious. They all looked back down, waiting for Meng Hao to break through. They also peered at the group of Cultivators behind him, all of whom were waiting for their chance to spring forward.
Meng Hao began to move faster and faster. His fifth Dao Pillar was now eighty percent complete, and he now needed even more spiritual energy than before. Remembering the horrific scene that had accompanied the completion of his last Dao Pillar, Meng Hao wanted to be certain there was enough spiritual energy in this place before he reached the point of no return.
Otherwise, when the critical juncture arrived, then he would have no choice but to consume the other Cultivators. That was a path that Meng Hao refused to tread.
Cautiously, but quickly, he absorbed the spiritual energy. He proceeded, leaving behind some of the spiritual energy and moving on to the next layer. He was rapidly approaching the top of the tree. Because he had left behind some spiritual energy, the Cultivators behind him suddenly encountered the resisting pressure, and had no choice but to slow down.
They trudged on desperately. However, there was now more and more distance between them and Meng Hao. Wang Tengfei’s eyes were completely red. He pursued madly.
Meng Hao was now only fifteen hundred meters from the top of the tree.
One thousand meters. Five hundred meters. Two hundred fifty meters…. One hundred fifty. Fifty…. Meng Hao leaped up, surpassing the final gap to stand on top of the tree.
At this moment, all eyes were upon him!
In case you forgot, this is the title of Book 2 ↩