Dying fills people with fear. Dying 100 times will make people numb. Dying 1,000 times can cause one to feel lost. Dying 10,000 times…
That can make someone feel as if they aren’t even human any more.
Such an experience gave birth to pain, a pain that the competitors could only hope would just come to an end. A pain that spread into the hearts of everyone. Their hearts filled with torment to the point that their Daos were in peril of being lost.
This trial by fire was like an enormous grindstone, slowly crushing away their wills as it turned and turned.
More and more people gave up on fighting back. If fighting back 10,000 times in a row did no good, how many people were there that could persevere…?
Meng Hao persevered. Every time he woke up, he would continue to fight and kill the beasts that attacked him. 10,000 times.
As time went by, Meng Hao saw countless cultivators making various decisions. Some chose to try to flee. Some chose to attack the giant. Some chose to commit suicide.
There were even some people who attacked other cultivators.
Regardless of what they did, every time Meng Hao regained his senses, he saw the same people in the same places on the iron chains, without exception.
The audiences in the Ninth Mountain and Sea watched the screens, and their hearts and minds trembled. If you said that the spectators had been shocked by the previous eight stages, then this stage left them completely astonished.
Before, they had been envious of the competitors, and had even sighed, wishing that they could switch places. Now that they saw what was happening in the final two stages, however, they could only watch silently.
As for how many times the cultivators had actually died, nobody knew.
“Just what kind of test is this? How does dying over and over again help their hearts and their Daos?”
“These last two stages are basically Hell!” By this point, the audience members were all breathing in ragged pants.
“You can see people trying all kinds of different methods. If you add everything together, it seems they’re trying every possibility! But in the end, there’s no other result than defeat.”
“How can this test be passed? I’m afraid Fang Mu will have no way to clinch first place.”
Complete silence reigned in the starry sky palace as the Patriarchs stared wordlessly at the display screens.
The dying continued, over and over again, an endless cycle.
Meng Hao remained silent and taciturn throughout the process. However, unlike many of the people around him, he never attempted to flee, nor did he lose his desire to fight. From beginning to end, every time he regained lucidity, he would begin killing.
However, his deaths came more and more quickly. That was because more and more of the others ceased resisting. When the iron chains were flung out, they would simply close their eyes and wait to die.
Gradually, fewer and fewer people were like Meng Hao, constantly fighting back. Of the tens of thousands of people who had started out fighting, there were now only a few thousand remaining. Suddenly, Ling Yunzi’s voice echoed out within the world.
“If you say ‘I give up,’ you can leave.”
The instant these nine words spread out, among the countless cultivators who had grown numb to the constant dying and were once again on the verge of being killed, someone quaveringly spoke up.
“I give up….” As soon as he spoke the words, he vanished, leaving the world entirely.
After him, one voice after another began to ring out, and one cultivator after another began to vanish.
Without the presence of despair, if someone is given hope, they might not attach too much importance to it, especially if they have a steadfast heart and an unchangeable Dao.
However… if you torment someone to their limits and place them in the midst of despair, then give them a sudden scrap of hope, an opportunity to be extricated, then most people would not hesitate to grab that chance.
More and more people chose to give up. However, there were also others who had previously ceased resisting, who suddenly seemed to be filled with energy, and began to fight the beasts.
Time passed by. They died over and over again, and as they did, the words ‘I give up’ seemed to become like an inner Devil, lurking in the hearts of all the cultivators.
Simply speaking, all they had to do was say some words, and the constant torment would be over. They would be released.
“What a brutal test,” said one of the Patriarchs in the palace.
“From ancient times until now, the mark to pass this stage has been 30,000 deaths.”
“More than 50,000 marks a participant as Chosen!”
“To date, no one has exceeded 79,113. That was the mark set by Sir Fan.”
“So, he participated in this part too. Without the element of despair, perhaps many could grit their teeth and continue on. But with hope right there, so close that all they have to do is reach out and grab it, how many people will be able to persevere?”
“The ninth stage tests the heart, the tenth stage inquires of the Dao. These two stages test how strong one’s heart is and how unyielding one’s Dao is!”
“The longer they endure, the more terrifying everything becomes!” In addition to the Patriarchs in the palace who were discussing the matter, there were many outside in the Ninth Mountain and Sea who were able to piece together some clues about the nature of the two stages.
“I heard that when Sir Fan reached these last two stages, he died more than 79,000 times. He held on until he was the very last person before giving up.”
The outside world was abuzz, but their discussions could not pass into the world in which Meng Hao was continuing to persevere. Inside of him, two voice were speaking, one of them telling him to give up, the other telling him to endure.
Every time, he would die wracked with pain, and would wake up confused. It is a simple thing to describe, but it was nothing short of torture. The number of cultivators left behind continued to shrink.
The sound of the words ‘I give up’ that echoed around was like the voice of that inner Devil. It actually caused even more of the remaining cultivators to eventually decide to quit.
Time passed by. Fewer and fewer cultivators remained behind. Soon there were only a few hundred. After three days, there were only a hundred. After another three days, there were only nine.
Of those nine, there were three who were enduring, but had ceased to fight back. It was a somewhat fraudulent method, and although it initially seemed as if it would lessen their torment, in the end, it actually made things even more painful.
The other six included Meng Hao. Every time he awoke, he would begin to fight.
He had no idea how many times he had died. His eyes were bloodshot, and everywhere he looked, he saw blood. Another three days passed, and the three people who had been passively allowing themselves to be killed, finally couldn’t take it any more and gave up.
Of the five people other than Meng Hao who had continued to fight, four quit.
There were now only two people left. One was Meng Hao, the other was… Chen Fan!
Chen Fan fought. Every time he regained his senses, he fought viciously, almost as if he hoped to achieve some special state amidst all the carnage.
Out in the Ninth Mountain and Sea, everyone was shocked. In the starry sky palace, the Patriarchs were watching with baited breath, closely observing Chen Fan.
Chen Fan had had his outstanding moments in the previous stages, but had not attracted much attention when creating his divine ability. Now, in these last two stages, he was suddenly rising to prominence.
“With such a heart and such a Dao, this young man has incredible good fortune!”
“He could give up at any time, but has endured all the way to this point! He’s already died 70,000 times!!”
“He’ll most likely be able to hold on for a while longer. In this stage, the most difficult point is when there is only one person left. At that point, first place is secured, which leads to a softening of the heart, making it difficult to continue on. Even Sir Fan, when he reached that point, didn’t last for more than a thousand deaths before giving up.
A day later, Chen Fan began to tremble, and finally chose to quit. He had endured for more than 70,000 deaths, which was second only to Sir Fan’s performance all those years ago. He was now quite the center of attention, and there were several sects who were preparing to try to recruit him.
At this point in the shocking trial by fire, everyone was looking at the final remaining participant… Meng Hao.
“He took first place in the first two stages, outshone the first place winner in the middle three stages, and then in the following three stages, took first place yet again. Now in the final two stages… he actually… took first place again!”
“He’s definitely going to rise to complete prominence! Nobody can get in his way. As long as he doesn’t get killed, then he’s going to be thoroughly famous in all the Ninth Mountain and Sea!”
“It’s like we’re looking at a future Paragon….” All of the cultivators who were watching the trial by fire out in the Ninth Mountain and Sea could now feel their minds spinning.
By now, especially after seeing the final two stages, they all had to admit that if they were in Meng Hao’s place, they would not be able to do what he was doing.
Meng Hao was still hanging on. He knew that he was the only person left, and yet he didn’t give up. A vicious, ruthless smile appeared on his face, and each time he regained consciousness, he would wade into battle with the countless beasts. It was in the middle of this carnage that he tempered his heart and his Dao.
“My Dao is the endless path of life, freedom and independence! Now, I am restrained by these chains, which is the furthest thing from freedom!
“My heart is unconstrained. If Heaven and Earth collapse, it will not be destroyed. If all living things become ancient, it will not wither. But now, it hesitates!
“My Dao is not free, but I desire freedom! My heart hesitates, but I wish to persist past the point of hesitation!
“This trial by fire is testing me, and I’m using it to polish my Dao. In this way, although I might seem to be restrained, in actuality they are nothing but chains. They can’t tie me up, they can only polish my Dao!
“As for my heart, if I wish it to be unhesitating, then I need to endure. Endure to the point… where I do not feel pain in this trial by fire, but instead, happiness!
“When I pass this stage, then I will be truly free, and my heart will be incredibly strong!” Eyes shining brightly, he launched an attack.
73,000. 76,000. 79,000….
When Meng Hao died for the 80,000th time, the audiences in the outside world roared, and the patriarchs in the starry sky palace, despite being somewhat accustomed to how Meng Hao worked wonders, were still completely shaken.
“He exceeded Sir Fan!!”
“I just added it up, and that was the 80,000th death! That puts him in first place among everyone from ancient times until now!!”
“Fang Mu. Fang Mu! This name is definitely going to shock the Heavens!”
While the audience was in an uproar, Meng Hao continued to persevere. A smile could be seen on his face, and he actually seemed to be incredibly happy. It wasn’t happiness because of dying, or killing, but rather, a happiness because of his own Dao. His heart was now growing even more resolute.
To his heart and his Dao, death… was unworthy of being anything more than a grindstone.
A few days later, he died for the 90,000th time!
A few more days, and it was… 100,000!
That 100,000th death caused universal uproar. When Meng Hao opened his eyes afterward, wild colors flashed in the sky, and a wind screamed. The giant slowly dropped to one knee and raised the cudgel aloft. The countless beasts that had poured out of the rift all dropped to the ground.
It was as if they were prostrating themselves in worship!
The stage had been cleared!