Bai Xiaochun wasn’t the only one to be stunned. Bai Hao sat there inside his soulhoarding pagoda, his jaw hanging open and his mind spinning.
The sudden dramatic turn of events was almost too much to take. During the dramatic battle, Bai Hao hadn’t dared to come out into the open. Upon returning to the Underworld River, he had cautiously peered out into the world, listening to the gravekeeper and even feeling excited that his Master was about to become the Hell-Emperor.
Never could he have imagined that the gravekeeper would suddenly grab him… and then say that he was the one who was supposed to be the successor.
Worried that Bai Xiaochun might misunderstand the situation, he anxiously said, “Senior, sir… you must have made a mistake, I--”
Off to the side, Bai Xiaochun looked on, stunned. Actually, he wasn’t displeased at all. In fact, there was only one thing he was thinking. “My apprentice is going to be the next Hell-Emperor? Heavens, is this really happening…? If my apprentice becomes the next Hell-Emperor, then nobody in the Wildlands will ever dare to provoke me!!”
He was feeling very excited about the whole thing. Obviously, nobody would ever dare to cause problems for him from now on. If they did, he could have his apprentice wave his hand and crush them! He was essentially going to become invincible….
“Nine Serenities King? Grand Heavenmaster? Chen Haosong? Who will dare to provoke me? Who will dare to glare at me!?!” Profoundly pleased, he slapped his thigh, threw his head back and laughed uproariously.
“Wonderful!” he said loudly. “You have made an excellent choice, Great-Grandpa. This apprentice of mine is the perfect fit to be the Hell-Emperor! In fact, nobody in all the Wildlands is more suitable!” Seeing that Bai Hao was about to jump in and say something, Bai Xiaochun waved his hand dismissively in the way that a Master should.
“As your Master, Bai Hao, I will represent you to accept the offer. It's set!”
A profound gleam could be seen in the gravekeeper’s eyes as he looked at Bai Xiaochun and then Bai Hao. No one would ever have been able to guess the gravekeeper’s plan ahead of time. The truth was that he had never considered Bai Xiaochun as a possible successor. Furthermore, Bai Hao was only one of several that he had been watching!
For example, there was Zhou Yixing, and the soul of the Luochen Clan chosen that Bai Xiaochun had killed. And there were others…. He had many candidates, including the people on the Hell-Emperor Stele. However, the reason that Bai Hao had risen up from among all those candidates to become the official successor had less to do with the gravekeeper and more to do with… Bai Xiaochun!
The truth was that Bai Xiaochun was more important to the gravekeeper than any of the other people on the list of candidates. Naturally, the gravekeeper didn't want him to become the Hell-Emperor. He had a more important mission in mind for Bai Xiaochun….
It was for this reason that Bai Xiaochun happened to encounter Bai Hao when he was teleported into the Wildlands. Back then, when Bai Xiaochun had made his departure, the gravekeeper had appeared, with a very profound look in his eyes.
It was also for this reason that Bai Xiaochun ended up encountering Bai Hao’s soul in the Necromancer Kettle….
The gravekeeper wanted Bai Hao and Bai Xiaochun to meet, and to make that happen, he had interfered behind the scenes several times. Although Bai Xiaochun had been suspicious about certain things over the years, the clues had been too vague for him to come to any conclusions.
Of course, not even the gravekeeper could have anticipated that Bai Xiaochun and Bai Hao would become apprentice and Master, would accomplish so many things, and would develop such deep feelings for each other. All the gravekeeper had done was ensure that they met. And if Bai Hao could gain Bai Xiaochun’s approval… well then, he would become the chosen successor!
If he was unable to do that, then the gravekeeper wouldn’t have hesitated to discard him and pick another candidate. He would have then ensured that the next candidate encountered Bai Xiaochun and got to know him. And he would have continued to do that until he found a successor that Bai Xiaochun approved of.
In fact, as far as he was concerned, Bai Xiaochun’s approval was the only main requirement to become his successor!
Of course, he didn’t explain that to Bai Xiaochun. After looking closely at Bai Hao and Bai Xiaochun, he turned his attention to Bai Hao, to whom he spoke in a voice that seemed to echo out from ancient times.
“Bai Hao, are you willing to become my successor?”
Looking very nervous, Bai Hao looked over at Bai Xiaochun. “Master….”
Bai Xiaochun was worried that the opportunity might pass. Besides, he really did feel that this was a wonderful thing for Bai Hao. “Hurry up and agree, my little apprentice,” he said. “This is good fortune for you!”
Bai Hao hesitated for a moment, mixed emotions in his eyes as he looked at his Master. The truth was that he didn't care too much about the supposed position of being the successor to the Hell-Emperor. What he was more worried about was losing out on the happiness he felt by being able to accompany his Master.
His Master was his only family, and the only person he truly liked. That relationship was the most important thing in his entire life.
However, he also realized that his Master had offended too many people in the Wildlands. By becoming the Hell-Emperor, he could make sure that no one ever dared to cause problems for his Master.
Having reached the conclusion that this was definitely the best way of looking at the matter, he gritted his teeth and looked back at the gravekeeper.
“Senior, I am willing to become your successor. However, sir… I can’t view you as my Master. For all eternity, I will only ever have one Master!!” Both his voice and his eyes brimmed with determination. He was willing to become the next Hell-Emperor so that he could protect his Master, but that didn’t mean that he could change his allegiances.
Bai Xiaochun was shocked to hear Bai Hao’s words, and his gaze turned even softer as he looked at his apprentice. However, he knew his apprentice well, and understood how importantly Bai Hao viewed their Master-apprentice relationship.
Although no expression could be seen on the gravekeeper’s face, he was smiling inside. The truth was that despite what he knew about Bai Hao, he still wasn’t absolutely convinced that he was the perfect person to be the next Hell-Emperor. After all, it was a very important position. As such, he was still performing a few tests.
However, Bai Hao’s answer conformed perfectly with what the gravekeeper was looking for. There were no false feelings in them, and they caused the gravekeeper to be even more satisfied.
“Good!” the gravekeeper said, nodding. Although Bai Hao had a lot of questions, the gravekeeper didn't give him an opportunity to ask them. He waved his hand, causing a streak of red light to fly out toward Bai Xiaochun.
Bai Xiaochun's eyes widened as he reflexively reached out to catch… a lock of blood-colored hair!!
As soon as it was out in the open, intense rumbling sounds filled heaven and earth. The sky dimmed, and a whirlwind sprang up around Bai Xiaochun!
It almost seemed like the hair was trying to escape his grasp, prompting him to quickly clasp his hand down to hold it. As he did, he was certain that he could sense something howling, and even detected a dramatic thrum of life force from inside of it.
The gravekeeper’s eyes sparkled. He waved his sleeve, and the howling ceased. An invisible seal had been placed on the lock of hair, making it impossible for it to flee, not even if it had more life force than it already did. All it could do was lay there meekly on Bai Xiaochun’s palm!
A mere brush with the life force inside the hair caused Bai Xiaochun’s entire body to thrum. Of course, he recognized this hair. It was… the very same blood-hair which he had seen on the Celestial!
“The life force in that hair should push your Undying Bones to the peak. Think of it as a gift of good fortune from me to you!” The gravekeeper then took Bai Hao with him as he stepped toward the Underworld River. The water surged as they entered, and then they floated off into the distance until they were gone.
The Underworld River slowly faded away, revealing the dry riverbed. Everything in the area was completely quiet….
Bai Xiaochun was alone on the dry riverbank, holding the blood-red hair, looking off in the direction his apprentice had just vanished in.
Everything had happened so quickly. Although Bai Xiaochun wasn’t interested in becoming the Hell-Emperor, he did hope that his apprentice would succeed at it. However, to have Bai Hao gone so suddenly had him feeling a bit lonely and disappointed.
“When the baby eagles grow up, they have to leave the nest eventually, and soar in the sky….” He sighed, reminding himself that at least he had become someone very important because of everything that had happened. “There’s nobody more powerful than me in the Wildlands now…. My Daoist partner is a deva, my father is a demigod, and my apprentice is the Hell-Emperor! Not even the Grand Heavenmaster could match up to me!”
When he thought about it in this way, his heart began to race with excitement.