“This road is so God. Damn. LONG.”
Within the winding narrow valley, both Young Master and his pageboy were quickly running out of breath.
Wang Lu wiped the sweat off his forehead. “Argh, it’s not like the Golden Bridge anymore… …I can’t feel my energy coming back… …seems like our baggage has gotten heavier as well.”
The pageboy sighed. “Energy coming back? What energy coming back? Are you feeling alright, Young Master?”
“No, I’m not feeling alright, so you carry the baggage.”
While talking, Wang Lu suddenly became excited, and pointed ahead. “Oooh look! The fog’s gotten thicker; we must have entered a new map!”
As always, his pageboy scratched his head in confusion. “What new map?”
Wang Lu explained, “Did you really think that the Immortal Path was just a straight line? If the only qualifications for the Immortal Path were just potential and knowledge, then all you’d need is a Golden Bridge and a piece of paper. Remember, the Spirit Blade Sect also wanted to test the newcomers’ character and affinity. But how do you test character and affinity? A written exam? A multiple choice question quiz? An EQ (emotional quotient) test? There has to be another trial in addition to the Golden Bridge. And I’m betting this fog is an indication of an upcoming trial.”
“Young Master, I have no idea what you’re talking about anymore…”
Wang Lu didn’t seem to be bothered by his pageboy’s confusion. He began to think out loud. “The Spirit Blade Sect is quite famous, so they’ve got to be strict with the selection of their disciples. And because they rarely hold Celestial Gatherings, there are so many people here. However, ancient Sects are nevertheless ancient Sects. They’re probably going to stick to traditional procedure, but complicate things with a twist.”
Upon hearing his thoughts, the pageboy could not help but ask, “Young Master, how do you know so much about the Spirit Blade Sect?”
The Young Master had spent the whole week in the Spirit River Town cooped up in his room. When and where did he get so much information from? Could he have been born with this valuable knowledge, like some kind of Sage?
“Do you really think I spent the whole day running around, completing those tasks for nothing? Many of the players just had their eyes on the prize – they lacked the patience to listen properly. The true prize, of course, was information. When I finished the final task, the elderly man at the town’s entrance told me that this was the first time the Spirit Blade Sect had held a Celestial Gathering in the last 100 years. Clearly then, the Spirit Blade Sect are inexperienced in running such an event. But, they’ve certainly put in a lot of effort and attention to detail – going so far that they’d even enlist the help of an old man. But the ordinary aren’t able to see the value of information. Those princelings wanted information, but weren’t bothered to obtain it through a few simple tasks. Why should they receive information? Just because they have money? Hah! When 500 liang of silver buys you a single radish, money is worthless…”
The pageboy was astounded. He simply could not take in everything the Young Master had mentioned. But his tone remained somewhat dismissive, just like it was back in the Wang Family Village. It amazed him that his confidence in the Wang Family Village had remained unmoved to this point. The Young Master was indeed the Young Master. You just couldn’t help but admire him.
According to Wang Lu’s explanation, the fog in the valley heralded a trial – one which would test whether or not they were suitable to enter the Inner Court of the Ethereal Peak.
Although the pageboy did not truly understand the difference between the Serenity Peak and Ethereal Peak, he knew the Young Master cared about it, which probably meant that it was important.
The area that the fog covered was much larger than they expected.
Wang Lu had expected the fog to last only a short while, but the two of them had been stumbling around in it for quite a time. Even Wang Lu had become slightly unsure of what was happening.
“Young Master, could it be that we’ve gone on the wrong path?”
“Bullshit, there was only one path since the beginning. Are you saying we’ve taken the wrong path?”
The pageboy wiped the sweat off his face, unable to answer.
Wang Lu was still carrying all the baggage. Although he had persisted in carrying it the whole time, he now felt quite tired. And although he did not feel any less confident, he began to walk slower, observing his surroundings as much as possible.
Within the thick fog, their vision was limited to a radius of approximately three metres. Wang Lu remembered that they were in a ten metre wide valley, and they had been walking straight and forwards the whole time.
“Wang Zhong, let’s head to the right.”
“That’s a cliff though.”
The pageboy paused for a second, then followed Wang Lu and turned to the right. Although he expected that they would run into the side of the mountain…
“Eh, this is… weird. I remember when we entered into the fog, the two sides of the valley stretched out for a long time…”
“We’ve left the valley for a long time now. The changes in the map can happen unknowingly… I thought the fog only acted as a ‘buffer’ or ‘transition’ phase, but it looks like it’s part of the new map too.”
As Wang Lu spoke, he bent down and pressed his hands against the ground.
“Young Master, is there something wrong with the soil here?”
“How would I know? I’m not a geologist.” He dusted the dirt off his hands. “I thought the dirt might give us some clues, but I can’t see anything out of the ordinary.”
Wang Zhong suddenly became scared. “Young Master, could there be some sort of danger here?”
Without Wang Lu’s confidence in knowing everything, the little pageboy lost his sense of security. To him, the surrounding fog suddenly became more ferocious, as if it wanted to swallow him up. In the end, the Immortal Path was something the little pageboy wasn’t quite cut out for.
“There’s no danger, but no clues either.”
“What!? Does that mean we’re going to be stuck here forever?”
“Of course not. Not having any clues is probably the biggest clue in itself. As I’ve said before, the Immortal Path tests a person comprehensively. With that in mind, this trial might be testing our luck – an important aspect of one’s affinity with Immortality. Xiuxian cultivators value affinity and fate very highly.”
“Err, so that means…”
“That means, there are no wrong turns in this place. Every direction represents a person’s fate and affinity. Basically, we’ll get out of this as long as we keep walking sincerely in a single direction.”
“Young Master, how are you so sure about this?”
“Remember how those two wearing blue and white said that every blade of grass and every tree that appears has a reason for its being? Wouldn’t that mean every direction we walk in also has reason and purpose? At least that’s how I would have designed this, but the organiser of this Celestial Gathering seems to be quite professional himself, so I don’t think we’ll be disappointed. ”
As he spoke, his gaze seemed to pass through the thick fog, and towards the mountain peak in the distance.
“Spirit Blade Sect, wait for me…”
At the same time, far above the fog in the valley, the Ethereal Peak had exploded into chaos.
“Shit! Why is the Disciplinary Elder here!?”
“Quickly tell Master and Martial Uncle to pack up their stands!”
“You over there, go and stall for time!”
“Ha!? Senior Brother, you’re a Legacy Disciple, shouldn’t you go?!”
“No way, the Disciplinary Elder is even stricter towards Legacy Disciples! If I go, I’ll definitely be put into confinement until the Yuanying stage!”
“Congratulations to Senior Brother on his future prospects of reaching the Yuanying stage!”
“Cut the crap! I’m still a step away from the Xu Dan stage. I’d be kept in confinement for one or two hundred years! Stop spewing trash and go and stall the Disciplinary Elder!”
“Which of you wanted to stall me?”
“…… Senior Brother Liu Xian, Junior Brother Zhou Ming – what you guys doing?”
“Wah ah ah ah! Who?! Who is it impersonating Junior Brother Fang He?! Such audacity, impersonating the Disciplinary Elder! I’m going to report you! Stay right there and don’t you dare run!”
“…… Senior Brother Liu Xian, have you had enough? And Junior Brother Zhou Ming, don’t try to use the Shadow Light Sword to escape. I’ve already put a Stellar Veil in place. You can’t escape.”
“…… Senior Brother Fang He, when the Head Elder gave you the Stellar Sword Manual, he didn’t give it to you to use it against your fellow sect members!!”
“If I don’t discipline my fellow sect members as Disciplinary Elder, then who am I meant to discipline? The residents of the Spirit River Town? You are all Elders of the esteemed Heavenly Sword Hall. You have been assigned to monitor the Celestial Gathering. And yet here you are, playing around. You even disobeyed the Sect rules and gathered together a crowd to gamble. In accordance to the Sect rules, you won’t be able to leave the mountain for a hundred years.”
“Goddamn, no way!? Where is this rule even from?”
Just as the Elders began to raucously argue, a ray of light shot out from the cloud layer, transforming into a disciple wearing a black and white robe.
The disciple bore a serious look, and ignored the overturned mah-jong table, as well as the red-faced, arguing Elders. “Reporting to the Elders, someone has emerged from the Cloud Wave Map.”
“What? So fast!?”
The Disciplinary Elder and the Ethereal Peak Elder who had been arguing until their faces were red suddenly stopped, and quickly walked to the cliff. In disbelief, they looked upon the image on the cloud layer.
“Those two actually did it…”
The Luminous Peak Elder, Zhou Ming, walked over. “What do you mean ‘those two’? Do you know them? Their results are pretty good – they walked out of the Cloud Wave Map in just four hou– Wait, only four hours!?”
At this moment, even the usually serious Disciplinary Elder, Fang He, couldn’t help but raise his eyebrows. “Four hours? Doesn’t that mean they didn’t get lost at all? The Cloud Wave Map should have sealed off all five senses, and should have also attacked one’s heart. The only way anyone could have managed to pass in four hours is if they had an extremely firm emotional stability and character… These two must have a terrifying level of confidence to be able to walk straight from beginning to end.”
Liu Xian was dumbfounded. “When was the last time we saw someone pass through at such a speed?”
Zhou Ming shook his head. “I’ve never seen it happen before.”
Fang He softly replied, “Never seen it happen before? Junior Brother Zhou Ming, your memory is getting worse and worse. We’ve all seen it happen before. The last person who was able to walk out within four hours…”
“We’ve all seen it? The best result I’ve seen was probably from the Head Elder, who spent about eight hours… But to think someone was faster than him…” Zhou Ming frowned, then had a sudden though. “Senior Brother Fang He, could you mean…”
“…… Who else could it be?”
An image went through the minds of the three people, and they collectively let out a sigh.
After a long pause, Liu Xian said, “As expected from the genius who even caught the attention of the Head Elder… His talent and potential may be mediocre, but his emotional stability and character are exceptional.”
Fang He shook his head. “We can’t speak too early. The Cloud Wave Map is only the first step of the trial. Their success doesn’t just depend on their emotional stability and character, but also their affinity with Immortality. Let’s see what the next part of the trial is… Hey, Senior Brother, when did the Ethereal Peak design such a trial?
At this time, the clouds began to change. Apart from the two little cloud doppelgangers of the Young Master and pageboy, ten or so building structures also rose up, forming the model of a small village.
Fang He became more and more confused. “After the Cloud Wave Map… according to the entrant’s performance… the next trial should be either the Red Ridge Mountains, Frozen Wind Valley, Azure Cloud Canyon or the Nether World Path. If one can continue on the path to the end, they will have the right to enter the Ethereal Peak. But I don’t remember this little village… did Senior Brother change the trials of the Celestial Gathering?
Liu Xian was also very confused. “Junior Brother, you know me. Why would I randomly change the Sect’s procedures?”
Fang He looked at the overturned mah-jong table, but did not say anything. Although Senior Brother was not exactly a model Elder, he was not someone who would make such a whimsical decision. Which meant…
“Fifth Junior Sister, what have you done this time?”