Bai Xiaochun sat there stewing about the matter for three more days. On the afternoon of the third day, a Dharmic decree came down from the demigod patriarch that was spread to all corners of the eastern Heavenspan River region.
The decree contained two announcements. The first declared that a battleship would be setting sail for Heavenspan Island in one month. Anyone who wished to participate in the trial by fire to become an apprentice of the Celestial needed to be on that ship by then!
The second announcement was that… in addition to selecting an apprentice, the Celestial was holding the trial by fire… to award medicinal pills to increase longevity!
The 1st place winner of the trial would become the Celestial’s apprentice!
The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place winners would be given a Millennial Longevity Pill.
The 5th through 10th place winners would win a Quincentennial Longevity Pill, which would bestow 500 years of longevity. Everyone else down to the 100th place winner would receive a Centennial Longevity Pill!
The announcement caused a huge stir, especially among the cultivators who were camped outside of the Starry Sky Dao Polarity Sect. And many of the sect disciples who had been on the fence about the matter were immediately thrown into a state of madness.
“Millennial Longevity Pill!?!? With that pill, I could definitely realize my dream of becoming a deva!”
“I might not be able to win one of those Millennial Longevity Pills… but I could definitely get a Centennial Longevity Pill! I’m gonna go for it!!”
Commotions spread to the most remote mountains of the eastern Heavenspan River. Even many eccentric rogue cultivators were so excited that they decided to participate!
Longevity pills were especially attractive to aging cultivators, who would go to almost any lengths to get them.
As the eastern Heavenspan River went crazy, the other three riversource sects sent out similar news, leading to similar results in the other river branches. It wasn’t just chosen disciples who responded. Anyone who held even the slightest bit of confidence decided to participate in this trial by fire!
Even the other devas in the Starry Sky Dao Polarity Sect were excited, as well as experts from the Middle Reaches sects. The Nascent Soul cultivators from the Starry, Dao, and Polarity River Courts all hurried in the direction of the main sect….
The Nascent Soul cultivators in the River-Defying Sect, such as Song Que, were equally excited. Even Master Limitless decided to participate!
Li Qinghou hesitated over the matter for a short time before deciding to stay put.
When Bai Xiaochun realized that even more cultivators would be participating than he had originally imagined, he began to vacillate even more.
About a week later, Big Fatty Zhang came and asked if he would be willing to help. Big Fatty Zhang was worried that his cultivation base was too low, and yet still wanted to search for good fortune in the trial by fire.
At that point, Bai Xiaochun sighed and gritted his teeth. He obviously couldn’t become the apprentice of the Celestial. How could he possibly do something like that, considering that he was the Hell-Emperor’s Master!? However, he had been losing sleep and forgetting to eat recently because of those longevity pills.
“Fine, I’ll go for it! Even if I don’t get a Millennial Longevity Pill, maybe I can get one of the 500-year ones!”
Having made his decision, he decided to start getting ready. For one thing, he needed to be ready to help Song Que, Master Limitless, and the others from the River-Defying Sect. On the other hand, he also needed to prepare plenty of medicinal plants and pills.
“There’s definitely going to be a bunch of fighting and killing in that trial by fire. Ai… I have to go in extra prepared.” Thankfully, his status as a prime elder gave him easy access to plenty of resources.
Because he didn’t know how long he would be gone, he also decided to put together an even bigger stockpile of life force pills than he had already built up.
And then there was the matter of Big Fatty Zhang. Unlike Song Que, Big Fatty Zhang was in late Core Formation, and didn't quite meet the requirements to participate. Although helping him make a breakthrough ahead of time would be difficult, Bai Xiaochun was certain he could do it.
Even after all the potential risks were explained to him, Big Fatty Zhang was still determined. Therefore, Bai Xiaochun nodded and prepared to help him push toward a breakthrough.
Unfortunately, they only had about ten more days until the battleship set sail. Therefore, Bai Xiaochun had to use his authority as a prime elder to secure Big Fatty Zhang a place onboard. The plan was for Big Fatty Zhang to achieve his breakthrough either on the ship or after reaching Heavenspan Island. Then he would be able to secure his spot.
If he didn’t achieve a breakthrough, he could simply wait on the battleship until the trial by fire was over, and then return to the Starry Sky Dao Polarity Sect.
As Bai Xiaochun went about his various preparations, the days ticked by, and more cultivators poured into the region around the Starry Sky Dao Polarity Sect to wait for the battleship to set sail.
One morning at dawn, the Nascent Soul experts outside the sect flew up into the air and looked in the direction of the battleship with deep anticipation.
The battleship began to rumble as surely as if it were some ancient beast coming to life. Slowly but surely, the prow of the ship turned.
At the same time, the archaic voice of the demigod patriarch echoed out from the violet rainbow.
“Everyone who plans to participate in the trial shall board the ship now!”
Instantly, all of the Nascent Soul cultivators flew toward the battleship!
10. 20. 50… 100….
Not all of the Nascent Soul cultivators from the east were present, but most were. In the end, more than 200 beams of light descended onto the battleship.
Among them were Song Que, Master Limitless, and three other Nascent Soul cultivators from the Profound and Pill Stream Divisions. There were many others from the Starry Sky Dao Polarity Sect as well, including Bai Lin, Zhao Tianjiao, and others.
As for Bai Zhentian and the other devas, when they heard that Bai Xiaochun was going, they decided not to go. Therefore, Bai Xiaochun was the only deva to join the group.
As the only prime elder, he was responsible to act as the guardian of the battleship, and the leader of the forces onboard. Most of the cultivators who followed him onboard looked at him with the utmost level of awe, and offered respectful greetings as soon as he looked at them.
Although Bai Xiaochun was mostly used to his high status, and had started to tire a bit of everyone bowing and scraping all the time, to see so many Nascent Soul experts awestruck by him was quite pleasing.
“Ai. I guess I really am too outstanding. I didn’t even try very hard, and yet, here I am, a prime elder.” Clearing his throat proudly, he waved his sleeve. Then a wistful expression appeared on his face as he thought back to the last time he had boarded this ship, as a mere disciple. Back then, Chen Hetian had been the ship’s guardian.
Now, Chen Hetian avoided him at all costs….
Song Que and Zhao Tianjiao also reacted emotionally upon boarding the ship. The main difference was that, upon seeing Bai Xiaochun there, Zhao Tianjiao sighed, whereas Song Que lowered his head and cursed inwardly.
“What's all the fuss about Bai Xiaochun and his deva cultivation base!? And what is he doing here!?!?”
Bai Xiaochun unhesitatingly arranged for everyone from the River-Defying Sect, as well as Zhao Tianjiao and Bai Lin, to be given the best cabins. With the exception of Song Que.
“Que’er!” he shouted into the crowd, waving his hand back and forth. “Come over here and share a cabin with uncle!”
Song Que’s expression turned very dark, and he ducked his head down further. He had hoped to completely avoid Bai Xiaochun, and yet, still ended up being singled out.
“Dammit, Bai Xiaochun just won’t give up, will he!? If I’d known he would be here, I would have beaten myself to death before coming along.” Although he was nearly going mad with frustration, he couldn’t resist the temptation of being able to stay in the biggest cabin on the ship. Steeling himself inwardly, he strolled over in Bai Xiaochun’s direction, much to the envy of all the other Nascent Soul cultivators.
Before long, all the arrangements had been made, and Bai Xiaochun waved his hand in grand fashion.
In response, the disciples who had been assigned to power the ship set to work. Intense rumbling sounds could be heard as the ship then sped up, cutting through the waves as it headed deep into the Heavenspan Sea.