The golden beast looked deeply at Meng Hao, then threw its head back and roared. Instantly, all of the other beasts in the first level parted, creating a path for Meng Hao to follow to the huge door.
Meng Hao proceeded forward, passing through the animals, his gaze fixed on the door. Suddenly, an enormous beast off to the right who possessed a Spirit Severing aura, roared and pounced toward Meng Hao.
Meng Hao’s expression was normal, and he didn’t even look at the beast. He simply raised his right hand and made a grasping motion toward its forehead.
When compared in size to the enormous beast, Meng Hao’s hand was miniscule. However, he viciously grabbed onto the beast’s head, instantly causing it to begin to howl miserably. In response, the surrounding beasts leapt angrily to their feet.
Meng Hao’s expression was calm as he continued to walk forward. He did not loosen his right hand, but instead, dragged the enormous beast along with him as he walked.
The golden beast lying beneath the huge door looked on with wide eyes. However, it did nothing to interfere. It allowed Meng Hao to approach the door, where he finally released the beast from his hand, then looked at the golden-colored beast and nodded. Then he stepped through the door.
When he reappeared, he was on the second level, where he saw the same ancient, white-colored overseer beast that he had seen the last time. He also saw Lu Bai, sitting cross-legged in meditation, just a single pace away from the final level.
The stubble of a beard could be seen on Lu Bai’s face, and his clothing was in tatters. However, his face shone with a brilliant light, and as soon as Meng Hao appeared, he glanced over. A look of shock appeared on his face.
Meng Hao stood down below and looked up at the ancient beast. “Senior, I would like to attempt the third level.”
The beast looked down at Meng Hao and, after a long moment passed, nodded its head. Meng Hao immediately flew up to the peak of the level.
The beast’s pupils constricted, and a look of concentration appeared on its face.
“You’ve changed,” said the beast. “You’re far more powerful than the last time we met…. However, I would like to give you a bit of advice. Considering the level of your cultivation base, you will not be able to pass this third level.
“Considering how you passed the second level last time, you were given a chance to experience the third level for a moment, which is how you escaped death. This time… if you fail, you will likely have no chance to leave the level, and will perish inside.
“The test of the third level is to completely absorb the Essence of Divine Flame into your body.”
Meng Hao looked back silently at the overseer, but his eyes gleamed with determination. He nodded.
The beast thought for a moment, but did nothing more to block Meng Hao’s way. It waved its hand, and an enormous vortex appeared, within which could be seen the flicker of flames. This sea of flames was none other than the entrance to the third level.
Meng Hao was just about to step in when….
Lu Bai couldn’t hold back from calling out.
“Meng Hao…. Um… how are things outside?” He had been privy to the Northern Reaches’ invasion plans, and as such, he knew that the Southern Domain should have been occupied. However, now he saw Meng Hao, with a cultivation base even more terrifying than before. He himself had performed his third Severing, and had successfully stepped into Dao Seeking. However, with his early Dao Seeking cultivation base, he was unable to clearly see Meng Hao’s cultivation base.
He had a very bad feeling, a feeling that caused his face to go pale.
Meng Hao stopped in place and looked back at Lu Bai silently for a moment before replying.
“The Northern Reaches’ invasion failed. Most of your Dao Seeking experts were killed.”
“Impossible!” replied Lu Bai, his voice hoarse. “The Grand Elder, the High Priest, and all the others aren’t just at peak Dao Seeking. Some of them are comparable to false Immortals! Plus, they have powerful magical items! Even a false Immortal who went up against the Northern Reaches would perish! How could they all be dead?!
“The Northern Reaches has vast resources! How could an army of a million cultivators suffer a defeat like that!?!?”
Meng Hao’s voice was calm as he responded, “The Grand Elder you speak of, as well as the High Priest, and a few of the other strongest Dao Seeking experts are all suppressed under a mountain called Sin of the North. Their cultivation bases are being used to replenish the spiritual energy in the lands of the Southern Domain.
“As for the army you speak of, most of those million cultivators died. The surviving hundred thousand or so had their cultivation bases severed and were turned into felon citizens. For generations to come, the bloodlines of the Northern Reaches’ cultivators will never produce Nascent Soul cultivators.
“And then there’s you. If you get out of this place, you can go to Sin of the North to bear witness yourself. If, from this day forward, you agree to practice cultivation peacefully, then I won’t kill you where you stand. However, if you cause any problems… there are people in the outside world who will slaughter you.” With that, he ignored Lu Bai and stepped into the vortex.
Lu Bai’s face was pale white, and he coughed up a mouthful of blood. From the way Meng Hao spoke, he could tell that his words were not false. Everything he had said was true.
He was silent for a moment, and then began to chuckle bitterly. He thought of his friends from home, his master, his Patriarch. He had never imagined that while he was stuck in this place… the entire world outside would be turned upside down.
In the moment that Meng Hao stepped into the vortex, he felt as if he were passing through a boundless sea of flames. At the same time, a terrifying roaring could be heard.
The roaring became very clear as soon as Meng Hao stepped fully into the world of the third level. In front of him was no sea of flames, but rather, a blood-colored field.
The lands were also filled with white grass.
A total of 990,000 pagodas could be seen circling out in all directions, in the middle of which was a black city. The city was overgrown with the white grass, and a flame spark hovered in midair above it. The flame seemed as if it would burn for all eternity, and cast brilliant, flickering light throughout the entire world.
Then, the same voice Meng Hao had heard the previous time he had been here echoed out.
“Dao Fang, you must die!!
“You killed me, Dao Fang, and if I’m reincarnated, I’ll definitely kill you!
“The Immortal World is doomed to experience tribulation! The Immortal lands will grow old, and the Immortals will perish! But I refuse to give in!!
“I know the truth! No matter how long you suppress me, I won’t admit defeat!
“Damned monkey! If I can get free, I’ll have your hide!
“If I’m transmigrated, I will slaughter myself out of this place! If my transmigration fails, I will fall into oblivion like all other living things, with virtually no hope of reawakening even after countless cycles of reincarnation. Therefore, I will leave a Dharmic decree for this place!
“My decree contains the essence of my Dao flame, the last vestige of me, Huoyan Zi. I hope that countless years later, that vestige will still exist!”
The voice was like a sharp sword, stabbing into his mind. His head spun, and he felt as if his body were about to collapse into pieces.
However, this time, not only had Meng Hao come prepared, but also, his cultivation base was far different than before. It was like the difference between Heaven and Earth. Now, the only thing that happened was that he bled from his eyes, ears, nose and mouth. His body did not begin to fall apart like last time. As the sound echoed out, Meng Hao looked at the enormous Essence of Divine Flame up ahead.
The Essence suddenly burst with power that rumbled out through the entire world. Originally, there had been no flames here, but now, everything burst out with fire. The land, the sky, everything turned into flames. In the blink of an eye, the whole world was aflame.
The flames were shocking, and Meng Hao felt a sense of deadly crisis as soon as they spread out. These flames were definitely powerful enough to kill him.
In the moment of crisis, Meng Hao unhesitatingly produced the white crystal from his bag of holding. As soon as he grabbed ahold of it, icy coldness spread out to cover his body, blocking the flames.
When that happened, Meng Hao sighed in relief. The whole reason he had dared to come to this place was because of the crystal. However, he had only been eighty percent sure that it would be successful, and had thus hesitated. However, now that he saw that the crystal was indeed effective, Meng Hao’s eyes glittered brightly.
He looked up at the Essence of Divine Flame, and smiled in anticipation.
The huge flame spark hovered in midair, spewing out a sea of flames, as if it were the source of all flames.
Meng Hao took a deep breath. Then, hefting the crystal, he began to slowly move forward. The flames around him raged ferociously, battering against him in waves. The power of the fire was shockingly intense, and he knew that if even the tiniest ember from those flames touched him, even his Eternal stratum would only keep him alive for a short time before he was completely destroyed.
Time passed, and Meng Hao continued to get closer and closer to the enormous Essence of Divine Flame. After a while, he came to a stop a few thousand meters away from the flame. He found it very difficult to progress further, not because the crystal was incapable of absorbing any more of the flame’s power, but because he was physically unable to approach any further even by employing his cultivation base at its maximum power. The pressure in the area was just too intense.
If he didn’t have the crystal, at most, he could reach a point around ten thousand meters away from the flame.
Meng Hao took a deep breath and looked around at the sea of flames. By this point, he could see images within the flames, including beasts, magical items and types of vegetation.
Each image was intensely powerful, something that would shock even someone at the peak of the Immortal Realm. The closer he got to the Essence of Divine Flame, the more terrifying the flame spirits became.
“I don’t want to take away the entire Essence of Divine Flame,” he thought. “I just want a bit of fire to use as a trump card in the future.” He cautiously sent his divine sense out, opened a gap in the protective shield created by the crystal, and pulled in a flame spirit that looked like a butterfly. Once it was inside, he backed up at top speed, and used all the power of his cultivation base to use the power of the crystal to envelop the flame butterfly.
After backing up some distance, the power of the flame sea decreased a bit, and Meng Hao stopped. Panting, he looked at the butterfly fluttering around within the power of the crystal. Then, he carefully sent a stream of divine sense toward the flame butterfly. As soon as it made contact, his divine sense ignited into flame, and he instantly severed the connection.
Determination appeared in his eyes as he produced the ancient bronze lamp from his bag of holding. Exercising the utmost caution, he extended it toward the flame butterfly.
“If this works, then I’ll have an excellent trump card to use in the future. If I fail, well… I won’t have lost out on anything.” Gritting his teeth, he touched the bronze lamp to the flame butterfly.
In that instant, the bronze lamp suddenly flickered. The flame butterfly landed on the lamp’s wick, and a puffing sound could be heard as the flame blazed to life!
It only burned for a moment, and then went dark. However, there was now a glimmering spark inside the lamp.
Meng Hao excitedly attempted to put the lamp back into his bag of holding, and was successful. Then he pulled it back out and blew on it. Instantly, a sea of flames erupted out, and Meng Hao held his breath. A moment later, the flames died out, and only a spark remained in the lamp.
“Success!” he said, laughing loudly. Licking his lips, he thought about trying to collect some more flame, but then he looked at the Essence of Divine Flame floating there in midair and considered the bizarre nature of the place. In the end, he decided that it wasn’t wise to act rashly. Reigning in his greed, he backed up a bit and then put the the crystal away. He allowed the flames to burn him a bit, then, eyes glittering, stepped into the exit and vanished.
In the moment that he vanished, a vertical eye suddenly appeared within the Essence of Divine Flame. It stared coldly at Meng Hao as he faded away, and then, after a moment, a long sigh could be heard.
“After all these years, he is the first person to succeed…. He… will definitely be back!”