“The Wildlands are completely barren, so they absorb soul power from the souls they collect. Of course, they also thirst for spiritual energy, so whenever cultivators go into their lands, they try to capture them to drink their blood and absorb the power it contains. The barbaric savages have been our enemies since ancient times, and are always trying to get closer to the Heavenspan Sea to get spiritual energy. Our job is to keep them out.” Zhao Tianjiao seemed a bit surprised at how Bai Xiaochun had suddenly turned pale in the face, but didn’t think too much of it.
“That’s why the Starry Sky Dao Polarity Sect built three cities between the Heavenspan Sea and the Great Wall itself, to keep out the savages and the vengeful souls!”
Worried that Bai Xiaochun needed more than just a general introduction, he continued, “In a few days, we’ll disembark, and arrive at the first city. It's called East Sea City, and has strong spiritual energy. Obviously, it’s the safest location behind the Great Wall.
“The further you get from East Sea City, the weaker the spiritual energy gets. The second city is called World City, where a large military force is garrisoned. It can be considered a transfer hub on the way to the Great Wall itself, but is also a major line of defense.”
By this point, Bai Xiaochun had suppressed his terror at the thought of being eaten alive, and was listening carefully to all the new details Zhao Tianjiao was providing.
“Beyond World City, the spiritual energy gets even weaker, until you reach the Great Wall itself. That’s the location of the third city, which is simply named Great Wall City. That is where the Starry Sky Dao Polarity Sect’s most terrifying, steel-veined cultivators are stationed. Any one of those cultivators can be viewed as a god of death. Even I wouldn’t dare to provoke any of them.” As soon as Zhao Tianjiao mentioned Great Wall City, his eyes shone with respect and passion.
“Those cultivators form an army which is called the Hall of Steel Veins. They... are the true defenders of the Great Wall, and are at constant war with the Wildlands savages. Of course, the casualty rate among them is very high.
“According to what I’ve heard, the Hall of Steel Veins is broken up into five legions. Anyone who achieves the rank of captain in one of those armies will be very famous upon returning to the sect. After all, such a person would be backed by the Hall of Steel Veins, which surpasses even the devas. After all, the Hall of Steel Veins is the only hall in the sect... personally overseen by the demigod patriarch!”
Bai Xiaochun continued to nod in response to everything he was hearing, and couldn’t help but think that the name of the Hall of Steel Veins was particularly impressive.
“As for me,” Zhao Tianjiao continued, “my first goal is to go take a look at the Wildlands, maybe get some experience, and then... join the Hall of Steel Veins. After that, I’ll make some impressive military contributions and fight to reach the rank of colonel!” 
“Huh?” Bai Xiaochun said, looking in surprise at Zhao Tianjiao. For some reason, it seemed to him like Zhao Tianjiao was essentially talking about putting himself right in the path of death itself....
Zhao Tianjiao clasped Bai Xiaochun’s shoulder again, and his eyes were warm as he continued, “The only place where a deva is stationed is in Great Wall City itself. Actually, one of the purposes of this journey is for my Master to relieve Senior Zhou from his position there. For the next hundred years, my Master will be stationed on the Great Wall, tasked with repelling any invasions!”
Although Zhao Tianjiao was actually older than Bai Xiaochun, the recent events caused him to view him as a very close friend. Zhao Tianjiao didn’t have very many friends, and once he made one, that person was a brother for life.
“Xiaochun, getting a deva soul is only a secondary goal for me. My main purpose is to get into the Hall of Steel Veins. But you're different. You need to fight hard to get one of those deva souls.
“Remember, there are a lot of souls in the Wildlands. Every living entity that dies in the lands of Heavenspan ends up there, as long as their soul isn’t destroyed. They travel along the Underworld River all the way through the Wildlands, which is one reason why the Wildlands represent death and hell!”
By this point, Zhao Tianjiao’s voice was so low that he was clearly talking about secret matters, things that could not be spread to outsiders. And yet, fearing that Bai Xiaochun might end up pursuing the wrong path, he decided to clarify things a bit more. “Because souls have been building up there for years and years, it can be stated with certainty that there are definitely some deva souls there. Unfortunately, they only appear once every few thousand years, and are as rare as phoenix feathers or qilin horns. According to my Master’s calculations, the number of deva souls that exist in all the Wildlands can probably be counted on two hands! Furthermore, the number of people who have used deva souls to become a Heaven-Dao Nascent Soul expert are even fewer than that. There is only one, the Celestial.”
Bai Xiaochun had often wondered exactly how many deva souls there could be in the Wildlands, so this new information left him quite shocked. Considering that he already had two deva souls, he had often wondered if he could potentially... reach the legendary Heaven-Dao Nascent Soul stage.
However, after what Zhao Tianjiao had just told him, he realized that such a task would be far too difficult to accomplish. He had two deva souls in his bag, the value of which likely surpassed even his own imagination.
The thought of those two deva souls made him think of who had given them to him. One had come from Patriarch Frigidsect, and the other had come from... Du Lingfei!
“So, you shouldn’t try to pursue the path of the Heaven-Dao Nascent Soul. It’s a dream, a fantasy that could never become reality. You should aim for deva beast souls. They are rare, but are more plentiful than deva souls. According to my Master’s calculations, there are probably fifty or so deva beast souls in the Wildlands, although nobody can be completely sure.” After offering a few more warnings and reminders, Zhao Tianjiao finally left, leaving Bai Xiaochun standing there alone, looking at the distant shore growing closer and closer.
“We’re almost there.... Ten years! What am I supposed to do for ten years?” Bai Xiaochun sighed.
Three days passed by in a flash, and the battleship continued to near the shore. One afternoon, virtually all the cultivators on board spontaneously began to gather on the main deck.
From there, it was possible to see an enormous green city rising up where the land met the ocean, part of which was a huge harbor.
The power of spell formations filled the area, as well as the flicker of magical symbols. Waiting on the docks were quite a large number of cultivators.
The ship began to slow down, and two hours later, the cultivators onboard were close enough to see the people on the dock with their naked eye.
Rumbling sounds could be heard as the huge battleship slowly came to a stop roughly five kilometers away from the harbor itself. At that point, eight somber-faced Nascent Soul cultivators flew out from the city to receive them, followed by large numbers of Core Formation cultivators.
“Greetings, Senior Chen!”
“Please accept our congratulations, Senior Chen!”
Voices rolled out like waves as Chen Hetian and the five Nascent Soul cultivators appeared. After nodding in response to the greetings, they simply flew off into the city.
Some formalities were exchanged, and then Bai Xiaochun and the rest of the hundreds of Starry Sky Dao Polarity Superstars flew out over the five kilometers of the Heavenspan Sea into the East Sea City.
The entire way, the Core Formation cultivators who had emerged from the city were sizing up the Starry Sky Dao Polarity Superstars, and made no attempt to conceal their disdain. Obviously, these were seasoned veterans who were looking at a group of new recruits.
Bai Xiaochun also took the opportunity to measure up the Core Formation cultivators from East Sea City. It didn’t take long for him to realize that, without a single exception, they all had intensely murderous auras, even those who were in the Early Core Formation stage. These were people who were no strangers to killing, and their eyes even had a crimson tinge to them.
According to what Bai Xiaochun had heard, that crimson tinge came after killing large amounts of vengeful souls. Apparently, it was the outworking of some sort of natural law, and there was no harm to it whatsoever. Furthermore, it made a person seem quite threatening.
Before long, they were in the city, and unexpectedly, nobody came out to receive them. However, one of the East Sea City cultivators who was in the great circle of Core Formation handed everyone a command medallion.
“Welcome to the sect outpost. This is your one and only authentication device, so don’t lose it! If you go out into the Wildlands and try to come back into the Great Wall without it, you will be refused entrance. Be very careful with it.
“There are no official arrangements for any of you. This is a trial by fire that is set to last for ten years. During that time, you have to go out into the Wildlands at least three times. Make sure records are kept of any such outing. If you don’t meet that requirement, then when the ten years are up, you won’t be allowed to return to the sect.
“Finally, let me remind yourself to take good care of yourselves. Remember... you are only allowed to stay in East Sea City for a single day. For every day beyond that in which you remain, the total length of your trial by fire will be increased by an entire month. After leaving East Sea City, be very careful to control your usage of spiritual power.” With that, the man turned and flew off into the city.
Bai Xiaochun was already very anxious. This unfamiliar East Sea City had actually seemed like a pretty nice place, and he had initially planned to stay here for as much of the ten-year period as possible, only to find out that he couldn’t.
The Starry Sky Dao Polarity Superstars exchanged glances. Obviously, everyone had their own plans and goals in this unfamiliar location, and it only took moments before people began to disperse and head off in different directions.
1. In Chinese, the names of these military ranks make it clear how many soldiers are under the command of a given rank. A captain leads 100 men, and a colonel leads 1,000. The details about the ranks will be recorded in the AWE glossary for future reference. Included in the info on the glossary is a super-minor spoiler in terms of a lower rank that isn't mentioned in this chapter, but will come up fairly soon.