Meng Hao stepped into the pavilion calmly. He didn’t look at the four others, nor did they look at him. He sat down off to the side.
Not much time passed before three more people arrived. They were surrounded by the sound of singing, and yet no dancers could be seen. It created a truly bizarre air. Suddenly, contented laughter rang out as a ruddy-faced old man appeared and strode toward them. He sat down in the seat of honor.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, let today’s secret meeting begin. I won’t go into all the rules. I’m sure this is not your first time participating as guests in a secret meeting, Fellow Daoists, so let’s get going.” He flicked his sleeve, and a Nine Dragons Furnace appeared in the middle of all the participants. Mist began to spread out, and Meng Hao glanced at the old man.
This man was clearly not the same old man Meng Hao had seen at his first secret meeting. However, Meng Hao’s Cultivation base was not the same as it had been at that time. With his Spiritual Sense, he could tell that the old man wasn’t even real.
He was actually a projection!
“These secret meetings are really mysterious,” Meng Hao thought. “There must be some powerful forces behind the scenes that organize them. The meeting back in the Black Sieve Sect territory was exactly the same as this one.” He pulled out a jade slip, which he sent into the furnace.
All the other participants did the same, and soon the mist from the dragon furnace filled the area, enveloping everyone.
Glowing lights began to appear, which Meng Hao started to browse through. His eyes began to flicker. The vast majority of the offerings were for pill formulas and medicinal plants.
“There must be at least one person from the East Pill Division here today, and not just a master alchemist, but a Furnace Lord.” In the past few days, Meng Hao had made a few inquiries about the East Pill Division, and now knew much more about it.
For example, disciples of the East Pill Division started out as apprentice alchemists. Eventually, they could become master alchemists, then Furnace Lords. Higher than the Furnace Lords were the Violet Furnace Lords, who were very important figures within the Southern Domain.
Violet Furnace Lords were automatically novitiates of Grandmaster Pill Demon, and thus could receive direct instruction from him. The only other way to become a novitiate of Grandmaster Pill Demon was to have special backing, and thus reach heaven in a single bound, so to speak.
For example, Ding Xin from all those years ago, had been a disciple of the Violet Qi Division. However, his gift for pill concoction impressed Grandmaster Pill Demon, and he eventually was selected to become a novitiate. Sadly, before he could even begin his studies, he had been sent to the State of Zhao and had fallen at the hands of Meng Hao. 1
After that, the only disciple Grandmaster Pill Demon had accepted to be a novitiate was Chu Yuyan. However, her skill in pill concocting was actually only at the level of a Furnace Lord. She was still quite a distance from Violet Furnace Lord.
Meng Hao sat there thoughtfully, looking over the various twinkling dots of light. After a while, he reached out to grab the glowing dot that contained his information. He quickly imprinted it with some more details and then threw it back out to wait.
Not too much time passed before a streak of light appeared in front of him.
“You have a friend who wants to join the Violet Fate Sect’s East Pill Division and become an apprentice alchemist? You’ll need a recommendation for that. What do you have to trade?”
Meng Hao’s eyes glittered. This was the exact purpose for which he had chosen to attend the Violet Moon City secret meeting.
According to the rules of the Violet Fate Sect, it was impossible to just randomly join the Sect. However, the larger a Sect is, the more dragons and snakes will be jumbled together 2. Of course there would be some people who would break the rules out of self-interest. And apparently this secret meeting had a Furnace Lord in attendance, most likely because of the recent Pill Auction.
If medicinal herbs could be sold for profit, then why not a spot in the Sect for an apprentice alchemist? After all, in the Violet Fate Sect, there were roughly one hundred thousand apprentice alchemists. One spot didn’t really count for anything.
Meng Hao didn’t respond immediately. He waited for about the time it takes two incense sticks to burn. No more responses to his request came in, so he began to negotiate with the person who had just messaged him. They felt each other out to confirm each other’s legitimacy. Meng Hao was familiar with this process.
It didn’t take long for the two of them to reach an agreement. Meng Hao traded some of the medicinal plants he had acquired in Patriarch Reliance’s Immortal’s Cave in exchange for a spot as an apprentice alchemist. When the deal was completed, Meng Hao had a new jade slip in his hand.
It was dark green, and the image of a pill furnace was carved on its surface.
Soon, the secret meeting came to an end. The mist dissipated, and one by one, the various participants disappeared into beams of light. When Meng Hao passed through the glowing exit, he found himself in a remote corner of Violet Moon City. He lowered his head and promptly disappeared into the night.
Three days later, at the foot of the Violet Fate Sect, Meng Hao appeared, still looking like the sixteen or seventeen year old scholar. He had a nervous expression on his face as he respectfully handed the dark green jade slip over to a stout middle-aged man.
The man wore a Daoist robe and had a thin beard. He appeared to be at the eighth level of Qi Condensation. He glanced at Meng Hao and then looked over the jade slip.
“Since you have this jade slip of recommendation, you may join the Violet Fate Sect as an apprentice alchemist. However, all apprentice alchemists must cross the Pass of Truth. Including yourself, there are three people here today who wish to join the Sect. If any of you harbor sinister intentions, then you will meet your death on the Bridge of Truth.” He flicked his sleeve and began to walk.
Meng Hao followed him along the foot of the mountain, the one that was shaped like a pill furnace. Up above was the imposing statue of Reverend Violet East. Meng Hao and the middle-aged man walked for some time, until they were about halfway up the mountain. Up ahead was a chain bridge, which swayed lightly back and forth. Clouds drifted about above and below, making the image of Reverend Violet East just barely visible. Behind the giant statue was the peak of a mountain, surrounded by curling mists and clouds.
Beneath the bridge was a deep abyss. Falling into the abyss meant sure death for anyone who couldn’t use their Cultivation base.
Not far from the chain bridge stood a Cultivator of about thirty years of age, with a blank expression on his face. Behind him were two youths, one boy and one girl, who cast nervous glances at the chain bridge. Clearly, they were so frightened that their scalps had gone numb.
The stout Cultivator led Meng Hao up to them and then yawned.
“The three of you must cross the bridge,” he said. “If no duplicity exists in your heart, then you will reach the other side safely. With that, you will be a Violet Fate Sect apprentice alchemist. However, if you do harbor duplicity, then you will die. Throughout the years, many youths have perished before reaching the other side.” Having finished his speech, the man completely ignored Meng Hao and the others.
The expressionless Cultivator closed his eyes.
Meng Hao looked over at the chain bridge. Without hesitation, he walked forward toward it. Behind him, the young man gritted his teeth and followed.
As soon as Meng Hao stepped foot onto the bridge, it began to sway back and forth. He took a deep breath as he walked away from the pill furnace mountain. About half way, a strong wind picked up, whistling past and causing the bridge to sway even harder. At the same time, a soft sigh could be heard. The sound of it pierced into Meng Hao’s ears and sent his mind reeling.
Distracting thoughts suddenly filled his head. They contained information about the various reasons he wanted to join the Violet Fate Sect. They bubbled up, beyond his control, as if at the moment anyone could read his thoughts.
At this exact moment, however, the aura which powered the meat jelly’s transformation ability suddenly rose up. It immediately pushed down the distracting thoughts. Suddenly, Meng Hao felt an invisible gaze descending upon him from the statue of Reverend Violet East, inspecting him.
His heart trembled. As the other distracting thoughts were pushed down, he tried hard to continue thinking about his desire to study pill concocting as well as his yearning to join the Violet Fate Sect.
The invisible gaze swept over Meng Hao for the space of about ten breaths. Then, it moved on to the two young people behind him.
Meng Hao continued on, his face pale. Behind him, a scream rang out. Nothing had happened to the young woman, but the young man suddenly fell off of the chain bridge, plummeting down.
Suddenly, the power of early Foundation Establishment erupted out from the young man. As soon as it did, though, his body suddenly trembled. A look of fear shone in his eyes as his Cultivation base suddenly vanished. Like nothing more than a mortal, he fell down into the abyss.
Meng Hao sucked in a deep breath. With an expression of both determination and fear, he continued on, clenching his jaw. The gaze swept over him a total of nine times. Each time, it stayed on him longer and longer. Finally, he reached the statue of Reverend Violet East. He stepped onto the mountain that formed the main gate of the Violet Fate Sect. He had succeeded.
There in front of him was an old man wearing a black gown. A thick aroma of medicinal plants wafted off of him.
He looked coolly at Meng Hao for a moment, and then nodded. Generally speaking, people could not cross the Bridge of Truth if they harbored secret motives. The chain bridge seemed ordinary in nature. However, it was a method that the East Pill Division had used for years to test disciples. If they passed the test, then they could join the Sect.
“State your name.”
“Fang Mu,” replied Meng Hao, nervously clasping his hands. 3
“I am the honor guard of the East Pill Division’s herb district, Xu Chen,” said the old man coolly. “I also supervise new apprentice alchemists. You’re lucky to be able to join the Violet Fate Sect’s East Pill Division. Apprentice alchemists are the foundation of the East Pill Division. Every single Furnace Lord was promoted from the ranks of the master alchemists, who of course all start out as apprentice alchemists. In the future, perhaps you will become an esteemed Furnace Lord. That will depend on your good fortune and latent talent.”
The young woman finally approached from the bridge. She trembled as she stood next to Meng Hao. Her face was pale white.
“Let’s go. Having reached this point, you can now call this Sect your home.” The old man smiled kindly, and then flicked his sleeve. A gentle wind picked up Meng Hao and the young woman as the old man flew off with them to another location.
Winding paths snaked through the surrounding mountains as they flew along. Looking around, Meng Hao could only see endless chains of mountains, as well as countless valleys filled with richly ornamented buildings. The whole scene looked celestial in nature.
“This place…” thought Meng Hao, “Is the Sect where Fang Mu will reside for a very long time….” His eyes shined brightly as he looked at all the sights.
Then suddenly, a strange expression filled his eyes. He had just noticed that in one valley was an empty space between the buildings. Stabbed into the side of the mountain there was an iron spear.
That iron spear looked very familiar….
Ding Xin made his appearance in chapter 64, and was eventually killed in chapter 67 ↩
This expression means that good and bad people will be mixed up together ↩
Fang Mu in Chinese is 方木 fāng mù – Fang is a surname, although the character has multiple meanings, some of which are “square” and “direction.” Mu means “wood” or “tree” ↩