Jiang Chen patiently recounted all that had taken place at the Mt. Rippling Mirage Pill Battles to the venerable master. After all was said and done, Venerated Skysoarer sighed. "I designed the formation outside Mt. Ripping Mirage. My first version was extremely difficult, but the sect head at the time advised me otherwise. If the formation outside is this hard, he said, then how can anyone have a chance at entering the restricted area?"
The exterior of Mt. Ripping Mirage, the ancient spirit herb garden, the sacred altar: all of these were an interconnected part of the Ancient Crimson Heavens Sect's grounds. The caveat was obtaining the nameless saber first. The unassuming weapon was the real key to opening up the ruins. One would be lucky to get to the ancient spirit herb garden otherwise, with no possible entry into the sect's ruins proper.
From Jiang Chen's mouth, Venerated Skysoarer heard the entire story of how Jiang Chen had gotten his hands on the saber. It had been confiscated as part of a certain Hidden Dragon Trials examiner's possessions back in the Eastern Kingdom.
Jiang Chen had taken it purely because he thought the saber was a nice weapon. He hadn't dreamed that doing so would lead to the events that proceeded much later down the line. Fate and destiny were sometimes wondrous things.
Venerated Skysoarer grew emotional as he listened to Jiang Chen's retelling, especially the details about several of the dangers he had fortunately evaded in the restricted area.
"Sect Head, the mechanisms I prepared target the hearts of men. If someone with ignoble morals entered the sect's grounds, they would not be able to pass those tests. Our heritage is not meant for the villainous and vile. That you were able to obtain the inheritance proves that you are deserving."
The venerable master became animated as the topic of conversation shifted. He asked incessantly about the Ancient Crimson Heavens Sect, and Jiang Chen withheld nothing from the old man. When he had heard all, the venerable master sighed.
"Now that our sect can see the light of day again, I have no regrets. Sect Head, as a guardian of the Six Palaces of Heritage, I made a promise to the lord of the Veluriyam Pagoda. Therefore, I cannot cheat on your behalf. My apologies in advance."
"I'm not here to cheat," Jiang Chen smiled. "If I pass the challenges with such underhanded methods, what's the point of taking them in the first place?"
"That is so." The venerable master was even more certain that Jiang Chen was an upright man, worthy of shouldering the sect. "However, you should've seen them already back at the Ancient Crimson Heavens Sect's tower of inheritance. Though they've been scaled up several times in difficulty, it shouldn't be an arduous task for you."
Jiang Chen's jaw dropped. "Not the Minor Artifice Formation, Ancient Slaughter Formation of Seven, and the Great Dream of Spring and Autumn Formation?"
"The Minor Artifice Formation has been ranked up to Major Artifice, and Ancient Slaughter is at its highest difficulty. Similarly, the Great Dream formation has been increased greatly. But before you take the challenge, we have a great deal of information here available for your study. The time limit is three months."
Jiang Chen thought about it for a moment. "Venerable master, I'd like to solidify my cultivation a while before I take the challenge and break through to emperor realm."
"Of course, feel free."
The young man had had the opportunity to break through to emperor realm for a long time now, but he had intentionally held himself back. Now, after obtaining the earth attribute orb from Cloudshatter Mountain, Jiang Chen had a treasure from all five elements. He was finally ready to make the leap.
He took the orb out from his storage ring and couldn't help but relish the potent earthen aura that filled the air. The orb was extraordinary without a doubt. The tremendous power contained within its pulses and its sheer ability to sustain an entire subterranean realm were both clear indicators of that fact. The powerful formation it fueled in addition to that only cemented that conclusion.
The collapse of the realm at the orb's removal was a testament to its absurdity. The Crimson Heavens Palace was instantly enveloped by powerful earth energy when he took the orb out, filling the air.
"Hmm? Sect Head, the orb in your hand is… curiously exceptional." Even an ancient expert like Venerated Skysoarer was moved at the sight of Jiang Chen's treasure. After hearing the youth's retelling of how he'd procured it, the master gasped. "From what you say, Sect Head, this orb is the Earth Bodhisattva Orb, from the sect of the same name."
"The Earth Bodhisattva Orb?" Jiang Chen was surprised. "Is the, er, Earth Bodhisattva Sect an ancient sect as well?"
"Not just an ancient sect. One of the greatest and with a name for formations. Possibly stronger than the Ancient Crimson Heavens Sect in some respects. They didn't surpass us in terms of technique or heritage, but their possession of this Earth Bodhisattva Orb gave them an edge over us."
"You are a blessed man, Sect Head," the venerable master sighed softly. "To receive the crowning treasure of the Earth Bodhisattva Sect… Hahaha, I remember their swaggering ways way back, and how they used to call themselves the number one formation sect, but what now? Their treasure is in our sect head's hands! The ways of fate are strange indeed."
Jiang Chen savored the potent spirit energy from the orb. It certainly lived up to its outstanding reputation as a top ancient sect's paramount treasure. The formation that had harnessed the earth pulses was proof alone how terrifying the orb could be.
The Ancient Crimson Heavens Sect had a great deal of formation-related knowledge, but it lacked a sovereign treasure that it could call its own. With this orb in hand, even the weakest of formations could produce miraculous results.
The Earth Bodhisattva Sect had relied solely on the orb to push them into the ranks of the top sects in the ancient times. The orb had even been enough to shove the Ancient Crimson Heavens Sect aside, a sect famous for its ingenuity in formations.
With the Earth Bodhisattva Orb, Jiang Chen now had all five elements at his disposal. For metal, he had his magnetic golden mountain; wood, his Taiyi Jade Vine; water and fire, his Bewitching Lotus of Fire and Ice; and now earth, his Earth Bodhisattva Orb.
When Jiang Chen had broken through to spirit realm all those years ago, he'd laid the foundation for this step by refining and consuming the Five Dragons Opening Heavens Pill. This meant that his long-run potential far surpassed his peers'.
The Earth Bodhisattva Orb had been ownerless for countless years since time immemorial. This made Jiang Chen's refining process comparatively easier. He finished before long, claiming the orb as yet another one of his exclusive treasures. This now meant that Jiang Chen had finished every preparation for attuning his meridians to the five elements, thereby ascending them.
It was time for him to formally break through to emperor realm! Given Jiang Chen's amount of cultivation, he had been eligible for emperor realm for at least several years now. Thus, this was more of a very natural upwards move.
All five elements rising within, Jiang Chen felt the streams of inner energy become a transformational cycle, radically reconstructing his spirit ocean with each pass. The binds of sage realm were easily ripped asunder, and checks and blocks broken effortlessly. The path of his entrance into emperor realm was clear.
For the average half-step emperor realm cultivator, the process of breaking through to emperor realm was intimidatingly arduous. However, Jiang Chen's own had no obstacles whatsoever. The brevity and ease with which he broke through was like a simple increase in power.
It was more dangerous to break through, the more advanced one was in cultivation. Often, heavenly wrath would be visited on someone who attempted to step from one realm into another. Most cultivators feared this wrath as a ferocious beast. Yet nothing of the sort had been visited upon the young man.
Rather, the final moment in Jiang Chen's breakthrough was accompanied by countless visions and marveling natural phenomena. Back when he broke through to origin realm, he had caused a similar display to occur at the Precious Tree Sect. The show was no less grand this time around, but it was muted to a certain extent by the Pagoda around it.
"It's been so many years… but, I'm emperor realm now!" Jiang Chen opened his eyes, shining with happiness. It couldn't be called a long-awaited development, exactly, but it was an important step on his martial dao journey.
It meant that he was almost at the pinnacle of the martial dao world of the Divine Abyss Continent! Any emperor realm cultivator was a force to be reckoned with here, and he had a wealth of tricks up his sleeves to back his cultivation up. Plus, he was only twenty-something. He had a lot of room to grow.
Jiang Chen was in high spirits. He'd suffered a great deal after coming to this world, braving ordeal after ordeal. But he considered everything he'd been through worthwhile. Better to live a fulfilling life than to be unable to cultivate for eternity.
"Congratulations, Sect Head! You've managed to break through at such a remarkably young age. I've no doubt at all that you'll become a great emperor before you're sixty." The venerable master was just as pleased as his newfound peer.
Jiang Chen flashed him a smile. It had been a one-of-kind experience to break through inside the otherworldly Crimson Heavens Palace. He had found things both astonishing and intriguing. He spent another fortnight to solidify his progress and foundations.
"My level of cultivation is stable now, Venerated Skysoarer. Starting today, I'd like to put my all into challenging the palace's three trials."
"Good, good. Now that you are in emperor realm, Sect Head, the possibility of you passing is over ninety percent!" The venerable master replied, overjoyed.
Jiang Chen never did things carelessly. Though he knew ahead of time that he had taken the three trials before in another form, he didn't underestimate the coming task. He studied the materials in the Crimson Heavens Palace very carefully. Only after every potential problem and knowledge point was internalized did he actually begin the trials.
As the higher level versions of the formations in the Ancient Crimson Heavens Sect's tower of heritage, the trial formations shared many of the same principles of their lower level selves. Passing the trials turned out to be child's play. Jiang Chen perfectly completed all three in the span of two hours.
"Genius, a true genius!" The venerable master had nothing but praise to offer. "The Ancient Crimson Heavens Sect is fortunate indeed to have gained such a genius sect head. A renaissance for our sect is at hand!"
Venerated Skysoarer was utterly convinced by the young man's skill. Despite knowing that Jiang Chen had tried these formations before, the flawlessness and ease with which the young sect head passed astonished him nevertheless.