“Congratulations to the two of you…”
“Holy shit!? Are you some kind of demon!?”
The voice from behind them scared Wang Lu out of his wits, and he jumped as he spun around. What he saw was two young people wearing blue and white robes respectively, looking around twenty five or twenty six. Although they were wearing different coloured robes, the style was similar to the robes the Senior and Junior Brothers had been wearing. They were evidently also Spirit Blade Sect disciples.
The two disciples had looks of indifference on their faces. The slightly older disciple cupped his hands towards Wang Lu and his page boy. “I’m Zhang Ying, and this is Lu Ming. We’re from the Serenity Peak of the Spirit Blade Mountain.”
Wang Lu gave an ‘oh’.
“Congratulations to the two of you on persisting this far across the Golden Bridge. According to the rules, you can come with us to the Spirit Blade Mountain and join the disciples of Serenity Peak.”
“……” Wang Lu frowned, but did not say anything.
Zhang Ying did not press on, and silently waited for Wang Lu’s response.
After a short while, Wang Lu was still deep in thought, but the little pageboy opened his mouth, “O Respected Immortal, you… do you mean, we’ve already been accepted by the Sect?”
Zhang Ying nodded his head. “That is correct.”
Lu Ming added on, “The Golden Bridge was personally made by the Head Elder, and can be used to evaluate the qualifications of a cultivator. The better one’s potential is, the further one can walk. And by being able to walk this far qualifies you two to enter the Sect.”
The pageboy was shocked for a moment, then excitedly asked, “Is, is this really true?”
“It is absolutely true.”
“Young Master! Did you hear that? We succeeded! We’ve already been accepted by the Spirit Blade Sect!”
Wang Lu shook his head. “Excuse me, who were the other two present when the Golden bridge descended….?”
Zhang Ying looked a bit uncomfortable. “Them? They were disciples of the Ethereal Peak.”
“Ethereal Peak? Serenity Peak? What’s the difference?”
“Why do you have so many questions?”
Lu Ming smiled bitterly. “Senior Brother, it’s not like this is something we’re ashamed of. From the outside, the Spirit Blade Mountain looks like one big mountain. However, it consists of many peaks, one of which is the Serenity Peak, which is a part of the Outer Court of the Spirit Blade Sect. The Ethereal Peak is part of the Inner Court. Those two Senior Brothers are much higher ranked than we are.”
Wang Lu smiled. “I knew it. The two wearing black and white from earlier looked much more impressive than you guys.” He became suspicious. “But is the test for newcomers really that – just walking across a simple bridge? Is there any way to directly enter the Inner Court?”
Lu Ming answered, “Of course not. The Spirit Blade Sect’s criteria for choosing Inner Court Disciples is extremely strict. One’s potential, character and affinity with the Immortal Path have to be above a certain standard. Even if one has a Heaven Spirit Base, he would still be rejected by the Ethereal Peak if all the criteria had not been fulfilled.”
Wang Lu smiled. “Nothing, nothing. Then, to us new people, what are the requirements for entering the Inner Court?”
Zhang Ying gave a cold harrumph. “Enter the Ethereal Peak? Hah! Alright then. From here, you can follow this path to reach the Ethereal Peak. If you can make it there, the Peak Elder will most definitely accept you.”
Wang Lu looked towards the direction in which Zhang Ying’s finger was pointing. A path stretched out endlessly, covered by clouds.
“How far is it?”
Lu Ming smiled. “That depends on your affinity with the Immortal Path. It might be very far away, or it might be very close. The path to becoming an Immortal is not the same for everyone.”
Zhang Ying asked, “What is your decision? Will you come with us to Serenity Peak? Or will you continue to walk on this path? Let me make it clear that if you continue to the Ethereal Peak, there will be no second chances with us.”
Wang Lu replied, “So just to confirm, if we choose to continue on this path, our only choice is to either walk to Ethereal Peak or fail?”
Zhang Ying gave a cold smile. “That’s right. You either become an Inner Court Disciple, or you return to your little mortal lives after the Celestial Gathering has ended. So seeing as you’re looking down on our Serenity Peak, you can’t come crying to us if you fail. Even though we’re the Outer Court, we won’t be taking anyone who turns us down.”
“Hey, hey, don’t take it so personally. It’s not like I think you’re some sort of mediocre, trashy class or anything.”
“What did you say!?”
Wang Lu shrugged. “Now that I know that this path isn’t the end, it’s obvious I won’t stop here.”
“It’s not like we’re inferior to those in the Ethereal Peak, just because we’re Outer Court Disciples. Our Serenity Peak’s Eldest Senior Brother is comparable to even some Legacy Disciples. Out of all the people who set out on this journey, only a few people out of thousands manage to arrive here. I highly recommend that you value this opportunity.”
At this point, the pageboy was also nodding. “Young Master, how about we just go to Serenity Peak?”
“If you want to go, then go. Why do you need to ask me?”
“Ah…” The pageboy’s face became bitter. “Young Master, the Master sent me here to look after you, how can I leave you here by yourself?”
Wang Lu smiled, looking at the pageboy’s face that seemed to be in constant worry. He opened his mouth, shook his head and said. “I’m determined to keep going, whether you come or not. So if you want to come, then come.”
Zhang Ying stared at the two people.
“I sincerely hope that the two of you won’t regret your decision… the second half of this path is far more difficult than you can imagine. No one has succeeded in the past three hundred years. In the previous Celestial Gatherings, everyone was happy to stop here. It was actually the Inner Court Elders who went out in search of disciples for the Inner Court. It may have taken them anywhere between ten to a hundred years to find one – but they did it because it is impossible for anyone to overcome this path.”
“All good. I’ve been a professional adventurer for tens of years. I can handle it.”
Zhang Ying shook his head. “Up to you then.”
Wang Lu laughed, and waved towards Lu Ming. “In that case, Senior Brother Lu Ming, I hope we’ll meet again in future.”
Lu Ming also laughed, “This is the first time I’ve seen someone be so familiar with us. I’ll just give you a piece of advice: the path you walk on is in an ever-changing state, every blade of grass, every tree that appears has a reason, and some relationship with you.”
“…… Every blade of grass has some sort of relationship with you? Is this meant to satirise someone who has romantic affairs wherever he goes?”
“Hah! Whatever it means, you go and think about it yourself. If I reveal any more to you, I’ll be punished by the Master. Good luck!”
Zhang Ying pulled his Junior Brother. “That’s quite enough. We need to go and welcome the next few who are arriving soon.”
As the two people spoke, they pulled apart the clouds in front of them, then flew out.
In the valley, Wang Lu and Wang Zhong, Young Master and pageboy, looked at each other.
“Young Master, are we going to just give up like this?”
“Of course not. Who said I was going to give up!? The challenges behind this Serenity Peak have caused many geniuses and heroes to give up over the past three hundred years. Would you really want to throw away that kind of experience? That kind of opportunity?”
The pageboy shamelessly nodded his head. “Yes, I would definitely accept it! Young Master, being able to reach here, I would not even dare to dream of it! When you said you wanted to enter the Celestial Gathering, everyone in the village thought you were crazy. When I left, the Master told me that if you were rejected, you can go with him to the large cities nearby to get rid of the frustration. Who would have thought that Young Master actually… actually reached this point?”
“Reached what point? We’ve only just begun.”
Upon seeing the pageboy’s look of confusion, Wang Lu began to explain to him his strategy.
“There are three main points that those two in blue and white just talked about. There’s potential and talent, character and affinity. Right now, we’ve only passed the test of potential and talent. No, that probably didn’t even count as a real test. We just merely stepped over a necessary threshold, and yet you’re blabbing on about this like it’s some sort of final destination?”
“But the Serenity Peak has already opened their doors to us? Don’t be an idiot. The second point. Remember they said that the abilities of the Serenity Peak’s Eldest Senior Brother is on par with the Legacy Disciples? He must be a talented genius, so why is he still at Serenity Peak? Why hasn’t he advanced to the Ethereal Peak?”
“Just as other people who got here thought they were sooo amazing, and thought that entering the Serenity Peak would be a glorious feat… It all means that they just simply reached their limit. If you choose the ‘easy mode’, then you can’t possibly ever attain true glory.”
“Oh forget it. Even if I explained it again a million times, you wouldn’t understand. As for the third point.”
Wang Lu raised his head, and looked towards the clouds. He became dead serious, and his eyes almost seemed to flash in ablaze.
“As a tactician, I must have the mindset to conquer all obstacles and solve all problems!”
“I’ve already decided to continue on this path. Whether you want to come or not is up to you. In any case, those two wearing blue and white have already left, so there’s no option for you to turn back, haha!”
After speaking, Wang Lu picked up the bags and started marching forwards.
“And also, Wang Zhong, this journey looks like it’s going to be an extremely long one, so brace yourself.”
The already exhausted Wang Zhong asked, “How long?”
“If I had to write this journey as a story, it’d probably be around 80,000 words.”
“… that is indeed a very long journey.”
“The path to the Ethereal Peak is definitely not as easy to walk on compared to the Golden Bridge.”
Standing on a sea of clouds, an elderly man with white hair was stroking his white beard.
“When the Senior Brother Head Elder set down the date of this Celestial Gathering twelve years ago, none of us expected so many talented youths to appear. Almost one hundred people were able to walk more than 80% of the Golden bridge. All of them, just based on their Spirit Bases, are qualified to enter the Serenity Peak.”
Beside him, a cultivator wearing a black and white robe laughed. “Has Master already set his eyes on someone?”
The elderly man answered dismissively. “Hmph, walking across the Golden Bridge only means that that their spirit base is decent. If they want to join my Ethereal Peak, they need to have more than just a decent spirit base. Out of these hundred people, perhaps ten will be able to succeed.”
While talking, they heard a voice from behind them.
“You don’t have to be so strict.”
On the cloud platform, the two cultivators, one elderly and one young, were both suddenly shocked upon turning around.
“S-Senior Brother Head Elder!?”
The one who had suddenly appeared behind them was the number one expert in the Spirit Blade Sect, the Immortal Feng Yin.
“Please, no need to get so tense.” Feng Yin smiled as he waved his hands. “I just came to have a look at how things are going. After the Golden Bridge lies Junior Brother Liu Xian’s Ethereal Peak. The backbone of our Sect.”
Liu Xian was very serious as he lowered his head and said, “The Senior Brother entrusted me with an important task. Of course I would take it seriously.”
“Thank you for your hard work all these years. Seeing how well the Ethereal Peak has flourished, it’s quite difficult to think back to the state it was in all those years ago… However, since we’ve put so much effort in organising this Celestial Gathering, there’s no need to be so harsh on the newcomers. If there’s anyone decent, just take them in.”
Liu Xian was a bit hesitant. “But Senior Brother, this doesn’t really fulfil the rules.”
“Ai, rules are dependent on the situation. The number of disciples in our Spirit Blade Sect has remained the same for such a long time, don’t you want things around here to be a bit livelier?”
“Honestly, not at all. It’s already lively enough with Fifth Junior Sister.”
“…let’s not talk about her. Asking her to help with organising of this was asking her for a lot of trouble. I almost lost my mind in these past few days. Hmmm… this child seems familiar, and has pretty good potential. He’s worth my attention.”
As he spoke, the Immortal pointed at a layer of clouds, and two little doppelgangers made of clouds became animated. Needless to say, it was the Young Master and pageboy pair from the Wang Family Village.
Liu Xian became extremely shocked. “Senior Brother, do you really have a very good impression of them? Oh wait, these two peoples’ results on the Golden Bridge aren’t that bad at all…”
“The Golden Bridge was just a little toy I made casually, so don’t take it too seriously.”
“Senior Brother is being humble. The Golden Bridge can precisely control the amount of spiritual energy released. The higher the quality of one’s spirit base, the easier they are able to replenish their spiritual energy, and thus making it easier for them to walk across the bridge. The further one walks, the greater the resistance they face. When the rate of their energy replenishment is the same as the rate of energy depletion, they are forced to stop, allowing us to see the quality of their spirit base. Even if they can push forwards using their body strength alone, there’s simply no need for them, seeing as they’re struggling so much on such a ‘toy’. The Golden Bridge’s design is indeed marvellous. Using this as a preliminary test is perfect. So if the Senior Brother decides that these two are worth the attention, I won’t argue with him.”
“Err, actually it’s not me, but Little Ling’Er, who has her attention on someone… it’s said that he actually completed that monstrous chain of tasks. As for his potential, it’s similar to what I’ve seen in the past, probably between third-rate and fourth-rate. I guess it’s ok.”
“No matter, just follow the rules of the Ethereal Peak. We’ll see how far they can go according to their abilities…”
As he spoke, a blazing sword talisman appeared, and nearly set the Head Elder’s beard on fire.
“Ah! Ah! Who did that? Who’s so bored that they’d use a Spirit Blade Heaven Talisman to find me… so it’s you! What do you want? Is it the Age of Chaos?! Is the Demon Clan invading!? What? Overtime pay? You want overtime pay for organising the Celestial Gathering? Why are you so shameless!? Aiyo, are you going to anger me to death? I feel like my primordial spirit is going to explode…”
Immortal Feng Yin spent a long time calming down, then turned around, staring into the endless sky. The clouds surrounding the mountain had been completely obliterated!
The young cultivator’s face was full of horror, and Liu Xian’s face revealed a hint of admiration. “Head Elder’s cultivation is indeed peerless. Just releasing a bit of energy caused the Ethereal Peak’s Cloud Array to be obliterated… Junior Brother is deeply in awe.”
“I only broke the first layer. Moreover, the Deity stage isn’t much in the Nine Regions. Heh heh, ten years ago, at the Ten Thousand Celestial Alliance Meeting, there were a few members at the Unity stage already.”
“Hmph, did they do any demonstrations?”
“Demonstrations my ass. In any case, I slept through the whole thing… Anyways, I’ll be going now, otherwise if Junior Sister keeps burning through those precious Heaven Talismans we’re going to go bankrupt… Junior Brother, I’ll leave the Celestial Gathering to you. You don’t have to mind too much about what I’ve been saying, just go with the rules if necessary.”
After speaking, the Head Elder transformed into a ray of light and sped off. Liu Xian sighed. He looked through the Cloud Array, towards the Young Master and pageboy who were walking through the valley.
Caught the attention of both the Head Elder and Little Ling’Er…? Although the Head Elder told him to follow the rules, this sort of attention was in itself a violation of the rules.
“Whatever, I’ll keep my eyes on those two. Hopefully they won’t disappoint. Let’s get on with our work!”
Just as the cultivator wearing black and white was about to leave.
“Oh, right, remember to tell your Junior Brothers to bring spirit stones and sword manuals… Ai, and bring mah-jong. It looks like this Celestial Gathering is going to take some time, so let’s not bore ourselves to death.”
“Heh heh, and remember to call your Martial Uncle Zhou Ming. Last time, the Luminous Peak won ten or so treasures from us. Let’s see if we can win them back this time.”