The cultivators from the west, south, and north made for a total of over 600 people. There were also several hundred special guards from Heavenspan Island. All of them flew into the air toward the stone gate.
The group from the Starry Sky Dao Polarity Sect exchanged glances, then took deep breaths and did the same. Big Fatty Zhang hesitated for a moment, then looked over at Bai Xiaochun, nodded, and also headed toward the gate.
As Song Que, Zhao Tianjiao, Bai Lin, and many other familiar faces headed toward the gate, Bai Xiaochun’s eyes flashed with determination, and he also headed forward. However, before entering, he noticed a group of seven or eight special guards approaching.
One of them was Hou Xiaomei.
“Good luck, Big Bro Xiaochun!” she said, keeping her voice down, but smiling broadly. Bai Xiaochun was actually a bit surprised. Although he had seen Hou Xiaomei in the special guards earlier, it hadn’t occurred to him that she would actually be participating in the trial by fire.
Hou Xiaomei was only in Core Formation, so as far as Bai Xiaochun was concerned, going into the trial by fire would be a very dangerous thing for her.
“You’re coming too?” Bai Xiaochun said nervously. “Well, why don’t you go in with me? It’s going to be dangerous!”
She blinked a few times, and then covered a smile with her hand. “Okay, sure! It would be great to have you there to protect me, Big Bro Xiaochun.”
There wasn’t anything particularly strange about her words, but for some reason, Bai Xiaochun felt that there was something odd about her. In fact, he could even detect an unusual, sinister aura on her that felt distinctly uncomfortable.
However, there wasn’t any time to think about it right now. After all, the frigid qi from the stone door had filled the area, and he couldn't quite tell for sure if what he was sensing was that, or something specifically coming from Hou Xiaomei. Either way, it put him on guard.
It was difficult to see anything in the area, but it was possible to detect a powerful force of teleportation building up. As the teleportation formation inside of the stone gate was activated, intense rumbling sounds erupted into the ears of everyone present.
It felt as if the air were being ripped open around them, as though powers of both gravitation and repulsion were being exerted at the same time. Then, Bai Xiaochun’s vision swam.
When it cleared… he was in a completely unfamiliar world!
A desert stretched out around him, and off in the distance, he saw a sandstorm that looked like a massive ocean of sand. And it was heading in his direction! It was so shockingly powerful that any dunes it encountered were instantly razed flat!
Shockingly, he could see a cultivator tumbling through the air inside of the sandstorm. Although he couldn’t see the man’s face, based on his clothing, he was from the Dragon Totem Ghost Sea Sect. At the moment, he was letting out a bloodcurdling scream.
A moment later, the cultivator exploded, sending blood spraying out in all directions, and staining the sand around him bright red. However, in the blink of an eye, the screaming winds erased any evidence of the blood!
Bai Xiaochun was completely shaken by what he was seeing. Looking around, all he could see was endless desert, without a single person visible anywhere.
The sky was violet, and yet the light it cast down didn’t make anything difficult to see. Right now didn’t seem to be the time for protracted thought, so Bai Xiaochun immediately began to edge backward.
As he did, twinges of pain shot through his leg, only to vanish moments later. It only took a moment to realize that the pain had come when he moved backward, and the sand shifted against his leg.
When that happened, he came to a shocking conclusion about how the Dragon Totem Ghost Sea Sect disciple he had just seen ended up dying. He simply couldn't fight back against the power of the sand storm, and had been shredded to pieces.
Shockingly, each grain of sand in this desert contained the power of a divine ability from the early Nascent Soul stage. Every single bit of sand contained deadly power if it hit a person, not to mention if someone was tossed into an entire storm of it.
The sandstorm also exerted a powerful gravitational force that would make it very difficult to escape once sucked in. As Bai Xiaochun realized these things, he gasped in shock. Although he had a deva cultivation base, and shocking fleshly body power, both of which made it possible for him to shrug off an attack from an early Nascent Soul stage cultivator, his keen senses told him that the power of the sandstorm increased the further one went inside. In fact, he wasn't sure how long he would last if he got sucked in that far.
“What the hell kind of trial by fire is this? How come this place is so dangerous!?” Already, the gravitational force was tugging at him. Furthermore, the haze of the sand being kicked up into the air made it difficult to see very far.
A Nascent Soul cultivator, or even a half-deva, would have almost no hope of surviving in this area. However, Bai Xiaochun was a deva. Despite being shaken, he unhesitatingly called upon his Undying Hex, and began to flee at incredible speed.
Because of the conflict caused by the gravitational force and his incredible speed, intense rumbling sounds rang out. Thankfully, though, he shot like an arrow off into the distance, buffeted by the wind and pelted by sand and rubble.
Even after breaking free, he kept flying at top speed for several hundred kilometers. Only then did he stop and look back at the distant sandstorm, his heart pounding with residual fear.
Only at this point did he realize that occasional lightning bolts danced through the sandstorm, releasing muffled cracks of thunder.
“This trial by fire is terrifying!” he thought, his eyes wide. As of this point, he was absolutely certain that the sandstorm would be the death of any Nascent Soul cultivator who was unlucky enough to encounter it, and didn’t have any special means of fleeing.
“I felt like I was almost ripped to pieces by the teleportation power of that gate. That was much more power than any ordinary teleportation. That means that we’ve either ended up in a very distant location… or had to pierce through an indescribably powerful barrier!” Already, he was starting to regret coming here.
And yet, the thought of the longevity pills caused him to grit his teeth and push forward. Along the way, he tested some of his magical items. Unfortunately, accessing his bag of holding wasted spiritual power, and furthermore, anything he brought out seemed locked down in some way, making it completely useless.
The teleportation had sent the nearly one thousand cultivators from the various river branches to different locations within the enormous land that made up the trial by fire. Because of that, the only way they could run into each other was by blind luck.
One upside was that his transmission jade slip still worked. Sadly, based on the fluctuations coming from it, he could tell that, even with his deva cultivation base, it would only have a range of about 500 kilometers.
Messages that weren’t received by another jade slip within that area would simply vanish.
Another disquieting fact was that the spiritual power… was far weaker here than in the outside world. To most of the cultivators present, that would be very difficult to deal with.
Of course, to Bai Xiaochun, it wasn't a problem at all. After all, there was actually more spiritual power here than in the Wildlands, where he had lived for many years. He had long since grown used to the practice of conserving energy, and only using it in bursts when necessary.
Furthermore, his impressive fleshly body made it so that he didn't actually need to use divine abilities powered by his cultivation base to unleash devlevel battle prowess.
“This place is so dangerous! Hou Xiaomei, Big Fatty Zhang, Song Que, Bai Lin, and everyone else… are in great danger!” Then he thought about that strange, sinister feeling he had sensed from Hou Xiaomei earlier, and he started to get more nervous. He pulled out his transmission jade slip and sent some messages. Unfortunately, only people within 500 kilometers would get them. When he didn't receive any replies, he picked up speed and proceeded along anxiously.