“Of course, if that is your wish,” Ling Yunzi said with a smile. “Why don’t you think about it a bit. Once you get to the Nine Seas God World, you can give me your final answer.” He waved his sleeve, causing a command medallion to fly out to Meng Hao.
“When you’ve taken care of your affairs, crush that medallion. It will bring you to the Nine Seas God World.” With that, Ling Yunzi turned and vanished. At the same time, the air around Meng Hao shattered. When things grew clear again, he was back on the altar on the Ancient Road.
All of the other competitors in the trial by fire were looking at Meng Hao with expressions of disbelief.
As for everyone in the outside world, although they weren’t sure about the details of what had gone on between Meng Hao and the Three Great Daoist Societies, that didn’t mean they were any less amazed regarding Meng Hao’s rise to prominence in the trial by fire.
This was especially the case due to Ling Yunzi’s recruitment of Meng Hao as a Conclave disciple.
When the spectators in the Ninth Mountain and Sea heard that, their gazes became torn between envy and admiration. All of them were staring at Meng Hao on the screen.
“He’s pretty much the number one figure in the entire trial by fire. It’s no surprise that he ended up joining the Nine Seas God World.”
“I wonder if he’ll participate in the final two stages. Of course, after that is the most important part… the arena matches!”
“If I were him, I would participate in the final two stages, but not the arena matches. After all, the Chosen from the great Sects will be able to join in the fighting there. They’re qualified to do so without participating in the testing, which is why they don’t walk the Ancient Road. They can directly go straight to the arena matches!
“This Fang Mu might be strong, but it’s doubtful that he can measure up to all those Chosen.”
“That’s really too bad. Throughout the successive trials by fire put on by the Three Great Daoist Societies, the arena matches are the highlight. There are incredible prizes up for grabs!”
Even as the discussions continued outside, the ninth stage was beginning on the three Ancient Roads.
The number of people still participating in the trial by fire had already been significantly reduced. People had been eliminated consistently throughout the previous eight stages. Plus there were people like Fatty and the others who had been directly recruited and escorted away by various sects, and would not be participating in the final two stages or the arena matches.
Ling Yunzi suddenly materialized on the Ancient Road of Dao Seeking.
“The final two stages will assess the heart, and the Dao!” he said. He looked over at Meng Hao with an approving smile, and then swept his hands through the air. This caused everyone’s positions to change once again, and Meng Hao was yet again in the lead position.
“The ninth stage refines the heart! The tenth stage inquires of your Dao!
“After these two stages, seven thousand Nascent Soul competitors, two thousand Spirit Severing competitors, and one thousand Dao Seeking competitors, will be chosen to partake in the arena matches!
“I must remind you that there are many prizes available during the arena matches. However, your opponents will not just be fellow competitors in the trial by fire. You will also be up against Chosen from various sects, as well as disciples from the Three Great Daoist Societies.
“This might be a bit unfair, but there are many things under Heaven that are like that. The truly mighty will definitely rise above the others!” Ling Yunzi waved his hand again, and the altar once more began to grow hazy.
The crowds in the Ninth Mountain and Sea were gazing steadily at the screens as they waited for the final two stages. In the palace in the starry sky, the various Patriarchs were also looking on with pensive expressions. None of them asked any questions of the Three Great Daoist Societies, but instead, focused on the competitors in the trial by fire who they had taken note of earlier.
The Patriarchs from the Three Great Daoist Societies sat up front, their expressions calm. They themselves were the only ones who knew how truly excited they were.
Meanwhile, many discussions were being carried on in the outside world.
“The ninth stage tests the heart, and whether or not the contestants can be victorious over the Devil in their hearts!”
“That stage has something to do with willpower, but not a lot. The key to being victorious over the Devil in one’s heart is not just willpower, but most importantly the certitude of one’s Dao Heart. That’s why the ninth and tenth stages are conducted together.
“I wonder if Fang Mu will continue to be the center of attention in this stage. If he stays in first place like he has so far, then his glory will be completely and utterly established. After all, he’s completely surpassed tens of thousands of others in each of the various stages.”
“I’d say… not necessarily. He might have come in first in the previous stages, but now that the final two stages are here, he’s definitely exhausted. It will be difficult for him to succeed!”
As the discussions continued, the competitors in the trial by fire on the Ancient Roads were gradually being covered over by the blurriness as they were taken to a special world. This world was completely different than the others they had been to.
Meng Hao opened his eyes to see… a purgatory!
It was a world of flames. Even the sky was on fire, and what land was visible that didn’t have flames was dry and cracked, without the slightest sign of life.
Furthermore, Meng Hao quickly realized that he had been strung up, bound by an iron chain. As he looked around, he saw that there were iron chains everywhere, all of which bound people.
Among those were Nascent Soul and Spirit Severing cultivators, as well as some Dao Seeking cultivators like Meng Hao. Meng Hao saw the young man in the mask, as well as Chen Fan with his Nascent Soul cultivation base.
“What’s… what’s going on?!” Before coming into this world that tested the heart and the Dao, he had been full of confidence. After all, he had passed through all the previous levels as the center of attention.
Now, though, as he looked around at this unique world, for some unknown reason he was suddenly filled with a stifling sense of crisis.
He was not the only one to be regaining clarity. Around him, there were roughly a hundred thousand cultivators all recovering their senses. When they realized the situation they were in, they began to cry out in alarm.
“What is this place? How could the final two stages be like this!?”
“I never thought… I never thought that we would all be tested together!”
Meng Hao’s breath came in ragged pants as he tested out the chain that bound him and found that he couldn’t make it budge an inch. Also, his ability to use his cultivation base had apparently been suppressed, leaving him with nothing but the ordinary power of Dao Seeking.
Even more shocking to Meng Hao was that he could feel the iron chain that bound him swaying back and forth. Also, when he looked off into the distance, what he saw caused him to gape. In fact, there were even some people whose eyes went wide when they saw what was off in the distance, and they let out cries of shock and alarm.
Meng Hao was able to clearly see that at the very end of the iron chains that bound all the cultivators was an enormous cudgel, which was in turn slung over the shoulder of a giant!
The giant was gargantuan, and bare chested. He wore animal hide clothing, and his skin was pitch-black, with a violet tint. He moved forward at a run, which caused the iron chains to sway back and forth, making everyone attached to them feel as if the entire world was spinning.
The crowds in the outside world of the Ninth Mountain and Sea were equally shaken. They watched the vortex screens, and the gargantuan giant which had appeared.
“So the final two stages are like this!”
“What kind of test is this?”
It was at this point that a huge rift appeared in the sky of the world that Meng Hao and the others were in, out of which flew hundreds of thousands of figures.
These figures were not cultivators, but rather, winged beasts. Their appearances were savage, and they kicked up a shocking wind as they immediately began to fly toward the cultivators.
It was at this point that the giant suddenly stopped running, and then swung the huge cudgel into the air, which also swung the iron chains attached to its end. All of the cultivators were buffeted by gale force winds that made it feel as if they had been slammed into a huge cliff face. The cultivators were sent flying directly into the charging flying beasts.
The beasts’ eyes were bright red, and voracious grins could be seen on their faces. They immediately pounced onto the cultivators, and in the blink of an eye, miserable screams could be heard. Many people were instantly killed in the initial salvo, completely wiped out by the beasts, who swallowed them alive.
A rain of blood fell down toward the ground, causing the sea of flames down below to dim and darken.
A vicious gleam appeared in Meng Hao’s eyes as his body swung with the chain, completely out of his own control. However, he was still able to attack, and he didn’t hesitate to perform an incantation with his right hand. He made a claw-like gesture, and lines of claw marks appeared, which slammed into an incoming beast’s head.
A boom could be heard, and the beast shrieked, after which its head exploded. However, even as its body tumbled past Meng Hao, three more beasts appeared behind it.
More booms could be heard as Meng Hao attacked like the wind. He had a vicious personality that he now made no attempt to hide. His attacks sent blood flying through the air, and the killing intent which shone in his eyes grew more and more intense. After enough time passed for an incense stick to burn, more than thirty beasts had died under his attacks.
There were many other cultivators like Meng Hao, all engaged in fierce fighting. Gradually, more and more of them died. The few people that were left behind were now facing ever greater numbers of beasts.
Furthermore, some beasts had appeared that were similar to the Dao Seeking stage in power. Within an hour, false Immortal beasts were on the scene, and one cultivator after another died around Meng Hao. After two more hours passed, there were less than a hundred people, who were surrounded and quickly being overwhelmed.
Meng Hao held on for fifteen breaths of time before his body collapsed and his head was devoured by a beast. In the last moments before his death, he was able to see that he had held out long enough to be the last person to die.
Everything went black.
When things became clear again, Meng Hao found himself in a world of flames, with a dismal sky, and swaying chains. Everything he saw was exactly the same as before. Other people began to awaken, then stare around themselves in shock.
Meng Hao was also gaping, and then his scalp went numb. Apparently, nothing had changed. The giant was still running forward, and everyone who had died was back where they had been before.
After enough time passed for half an incense stick to burn, the rift opened up in the sky and the beasts poured down. It was all exactly the same as before, almost as if they had been reincarnated. Yet again the giant roared and flung the cudgel out. Meng Hao and all the other cultivators who were attached to the chains were once again thrust into battle.
Meng Hao quickly found that exactly the same beasts as before came to attack him.
After two hours passed, Meng Hao died. When he opened his eyes, the chains were still there, swinging….
Once, twice, three times…. Meng Hao quickly lost track of time and how many times he had died. Soon, people around him began to grow numb to what was happening. As soon as they were tossed out, they chose to die, then begin the cycle again.
An expression of frustration gradually appeared on Meng Hao’s face. There was no way to leave this place. This was supposed to be a trial by fire, but there seemed to be no chance to live.
Die, die, and die again.
Revive, revive, and revive again.
Some people began to collapse into frenzied howls. However, that made no difference. Some people silently contemplated different methods of success, but all craftiness and plots were in vain.
Meng Hao watched as a Dao Seeking cultivator used some unknown method to try to possess one of the attacking beasts, then use it to flee. Soon, he vanished, apparently having escaped.
However, the next time Meng Hao regained consciousness, the man was still strung up on the chain, just like before.
As to what exactly had happened, the man gave no explanation.