The vortexes in the sky rotated, sending rumbling sounds echoing out in all directions. In virtually all regions of the Ninth Mountain and Sea, people were flying up into the vortexes. However, many of those people took steps to change their appearance upon entering.
They had various reasons for not wanting others to know who they truly were. After all, a grand event like this would draw the attention of the entire Ninth Mountain and Sea.
As soon as Meng Hao entered, he immediately sent some divine will out to the meat jelly. Moaning and groaning, the meat jelly helped Meng Hao to change his appearance to that of Fang Mu, from back in his days in the Violet Fate Sect.
Meng Hao was attending this event only for the trial by fire, and considering how he had flaunted his abilities in the Immortal Ancient Daoist Rite Temple on Planet South Heaven, and was now making his way alone off planet, he figured it would be much more convenient to rely on a second identity.
Furthermore, there would be no better opportunity to become famous under a second identity than this trial by fire hosted by the Three Great Daoist Societies.
“It’s too bad my second true self is temporarily incapacitated because the true Immortal’s soul was damaged by the Immortal Tribulation,” he thought. “But, that’s not such a bad thing.” Meng Hao’s eyes glittered brightly after making the transformation, and he looked out at the pitch blackness surrounding him. He could just barely make out a vortex spinning around him, with faint beams of light occasionally coming into view as they spun around him.
The sensation of being pulled along grew even stronger, and he felt increasing pressure weighing down on him.
After enough time passed for an incense stick to burn, a bright light became visible up ahead in the darkness. It grew brighter and brighter, and soon, completely enveloped Meng Hao.
When his vision grew clear once again, Meng Hao found himself looking out at a void, which was densely packed with countless platforms. Some were thirty meters wide, others, three hundred, and some three thousand.
The sizes varied, and in the center of each of the platforms was a stone stele, upon which could be seen a map. Beneath each stone stele was a candle holder. The candles were unlit, leaving the maps on the stone steles cloaked in darkness.
As for how many platforms there were, it was impossible for Meng Hao to count. His divine sense was under incredible pressure, making it impossible to send it out very far. As Meng Hao looked around, more and more people came into view. Much like Meng Hao, they stared out in shock at all the platforms.
All of them had peak Dao Seeking auras, and there were even a few who didn’t quite measure up to the Chosen he had encountered before, but were very close.
They all wore different clothing, and bore different appearances. There were men and women, old and young. Some weren’t even humanoid, but looked like beasts. From what Meng Hao could tell, there were several hundred in his immediate vicinity, with more and more people appearing off in the distance.
It was hard to tell who it was that flew out first, but soon, one of the three-thousand-meter platforms was occupied by a cultivator. After that, all of the cultivators who materialized in the void shot out toward the platforms at full speed. Each person who appeared occupied a single platform. Fighting broke out, but it was controlled. After all, there was no reason to unleash vicious fighting the moment they entered the Ancient Road trial by fire. It wasn’t worth it.
Furthermore, any ownerless platform apparently created a bond to whoever set foot on it first, and the unlit candle would then begin to burn, illuminating the map on the stele.
As such, there wasn’t very much fighting. As the saying goes, first come, first served, so anyone who was beaten to a particular platform would quickly leave in search of another.
Meng Hao’s eyes glittered. The three-hundred-meter and three-thousand-meter platforms were relatively far away from him, and the closest one to him was a thirty-meter platforms, so he quickly made his way toward that one.
However, just when he was about to step foot onto it, someone else nearby apparently had the same idea as he did. It was a tall, hulking man with ripples spreading out from beneath his feet which, if you looked closely, resembled illusory seawater that contained three swimming fish. Overall, it made the hulking man seem incredibly impressive.
He and Meng Hao were both about to step onto the platform at exactly the same time, when the hulking man snorted coldly. Killing intent flickered in his eyes.
“Screw off!” he said.
With that, his right hand made a hurling motion toward Meng Hao. The fish began to swim through the water at incredible speed, and an intense power surged out, transforming into an illusory sea dragon which shot toward Meng Hao, mouth gaping open to consume him.
Meng Hao’s expression was as calm as ever, but he moved with explosive speed as he dodged past the sea dragon and then set foot onto the platform one breath of time before the hulking man.
In that instant, the candle on the platform burned to life, sending light spreading out in all directions. The hulking man’s face was very unsightly as he glared at Meng Hao, and he let out a cold snort as he shot toward another nearby platform.
Meng Hao’s expression was the same as ever, and he completely ignored the hulking man as he sat down cross-legged in front of the stone stele to examine the map. The map encompassed a huge area, but roughly ninety percent of it was covered in darkness, leaving only about ten percent clearly visible.
Within that small visible area, he could see numerous narrow roads spreading out, the origin of which was the location he was in now. The end location of all the roads was a place near the dark area on the map.
Out in the void, more and more candles were springing to life; apparently the number of platforms here was equal to the number of people who had arrived. Before long, all of the cultivators had occupied a platform.
Unfortunately, a handful of unlucky cultivators ended up dying in the fighting.
As for the hulking man from earlier, he had managed to secure a platform to the right of Meng Hao. He looked over at Meng Hao occasionally, his eyes glowing with killing intent. The spat between the two of them had obviously left him irritated.
Apparently, Meng Hao didn’t notice the man, and focused intently on studying the map.
After enough time passed for an incense stick to burn, everything grew quiet. Finally, an archaic voice boomed out through the void.
“I am Ling Yunzi of the Nine Seas God World. As of now… the Dao gate has opened, and the Ancient Road stretches out. All of you must traverse the road… use it to corroborate your Dao, and to corroborate your destiny! 1
“The road is well-lit, but is filled with danger. Any who tread it must do so with utmost caution!
“As of this moment, if you turn back, you still have a chance to retreat. But once you step forward…when you look back, there won’t even be the safety of a shoreline.” His voice rang out over all the platforms, filling the entire area. All of the Dao Seeking competitors in the trial by fire could hear him.
When Meng Hao heard the Nine Seas God World mentioned, he looked up. It instantly made him think of Fan Dong’er, and he felt a bit apprehensive. He reminded himself that he had changed his appearance, but still didn’t feel any less nervous. He quietly took out the black feather the parrot had acquired, and placed it an easily accessible location in the front of his robe.
“You may now enter the road. This is a trial by fire, and anyone with unsuitable latent talent will be eliminated first, leaving behind only the most suitable candidates.
“After that, you shall not simply walk as you wish along the road. At every stage along the way, you will be tested.
“Depending on your performance in the tests, I will arrange for you to proceed a certain number of steps. Everything you do here is visible to observers on the outside, so you need not fear that I will be unfair in my decisions.
“And now, let the first stage begin, the stage of combat!
“You may use any means fair or foul, even deadly means, to snuff out as many candles as you can in the time it takes an incense stick to burn! Anyone whose candle is snuffed out will lose the qualification to continue. Anyone who is killed will automatically be considered to have their candle extinguished!” As soon as they heard Ling Yunzi’s words, all the Ninth Mountain and Sea cultivators in the Dao Seeking trial by fire felt their hearts tremble, and their killing intent exploded up.
Everyone had assumed that all participants would be allowed to enter the Ancient Road, and that the fastest one thousand among them who reached the end would be able to proceed. They had never imagined that the trial by fire would actually begin in this way.
The point of the first stage was to prevent one’s candle from being extinguished, and at the same time, put out the candles of the others.
In the blink of an eye, people began sending out Dharma Clones to charge toward other platforms. Instantly, fierce fighting broke out; divine abilities and magical techniques caused everything to rumble and shake. The entire area was thrown into chaos, and roaring filled the ears of everyone present. It only took a moment before screams of death rang out.
Even as Meng Hao’s eyes began to glitter coldly, the hulking man off to his right who had been glancing at him murderously gave a vicious laugh and waved his right hand. Instantly, a Feng Shui compass flew out, which then transformed into a glittering spell formation that spread out to protect his candle. Then the man flew out toward Meng Hao.
“I’ve killed lots of peak Dao Seeking experts,” he said. “Since you dared to compete with me, then you’ll be the first person I kill in this trial by fire!” The illusory seawater swelled beneath his feet as he stepped onto Meng Hao’s platform. He quickly performed an incantation gesture, causing a sea dragon to roar toward Meng Hao.
Meng Hao was sitting cross-legged next to the candle, and when he looked up his face was calm. There wasn’t even a cold gleam visible in his eyes. He looked placidly over at the hulking man, then waved his hand through the air in a snatching motion. Shockingly, the Star Plucking Magic was unleashed.
The first thing that it grabbed was the sea dragon, which was completely incapable of fighting back, and although it struggled for a moment, Meng Hao simply pinched his fingers together, and it collapsed into pieces. The hulking man’s eyes widened; he was well aware that the sea dragon had materialized with roughly eighty percent of his total power. Normally speaking, there were few peak Dao Seeking experts in the Ninth Sea who could possibly evade this sea dragon.
However, he had just watched as his opponent casually waved a hand and crushed it to pieces. In that instant, the hulking man’s scalp went numb, and he was very nearly scared out of his mind.
“Not good!” he thought. “Don’t tell me this is one of those inhuman freaks from one of the sects or clans? Impossible! I’ve seen all of those people from afar, but I’ve never laid eyes on this guy before!”
The man’s face fell, and he immediately cried out with a loud voice: “Misunderstanding! Fellow Daoist, this was just a misunderstanding….”
As he spoke, he retreated at top speed. However, Meng Hao’s Star Plucking Magic bore down on him and snatched up him. The hulking man’s face filled with fear, but Meng Hao’s was expressionless as he gently squeezed down.
Before the hulking man could even let out a bloodcurdling scream, his body was crushed into pieces, and he was destroyed in spirit and body. When he died, his candle immediately snuffed out.
After making his deadly attack, Meng Hao pointed toward the Feng Shui compass that covered the hulking man’s candle. It trembled, and was just about to fly back toward Meng Hao when a black beam flew toward it. The beam turned into a black-robed youth, who reached out to grab the Feng Shui compass.
However, almost as soon as his hand latched onto the item, Meng Hao’s cold snort echoed out. When it entered the young man’s ears, he began to tremble violently, and subconsciously looked over at Meng Hao. When their gazes locked, his mind filled with a roaring sound.
To him, Meng Hao’s gaze felt like two sharp swords, stabbing into his eyes and threatening to slash his mind into pieces, stabbing into his brain and down into his soul.
The young man’s face fell, and he coughed up a huge mouthful of blood. His face was pale, and he ceased all attempts to grab the Feng Shui compass.
“Fellow Daoist!!” he cried urgently in a raspy voice. “Pardon my offense!”
To check out a recording made by Deathblade to go along with this chapter, click here.
Ling Yunzi’s name in Chinese is 凌云子 líng yún zǐ – Ling is a surname which also means “rise high.” Yun means “cloud,” and Zi means “son” or “child.” Also, 凌云 is a word which means “soar to the skies.” Therefore, his name contains a bit of clever wordplay