Eight days passed in a flash, while Ignispolis boiled in anticipation for the upcoming Abyssal Trials. In fact, that was the case for all the three nations. But within Heaven’s Sanctum itself, things were surprisingly quiet. Aside from the disciples’ discussions, the actual participants were engrossed in some final cultivation. In the depths of the sanction laid the ‘Xueyao Pavilion’, where Supernal Mentor Liu Xueyao resided along with her disciples, and of particular interest was the ‘Xiaoqing’ Residence.
In its middle was a serene lake, where lotus flowers would bloom during summer. A small hut stood at the heart of the lake, and inside it was an intricate guqin that sat on a table. Right now, however, the guqin’s owner wasn’t the one sitting in front of the table, but rather, Lin Xiaoxiao. Her back slightly slouched, she cupped her chins as thought after thought ran through her mind. A door creaked, interrupting her thoughts, as a girl walked out from within the residence.
“Xiaoxiao, sorry to keep you waiting,” Mu Qingqing said gently.
“Big sis Qingqing, I knew that you were trying for a bit of last minute cultivation, so I dared not disturb you,” Lin Xiaoxiao replied.
“Well, I'm pretty much done. One hour remains before we need to gather in front of the Flameyellow Pagoda.” Her expression was placid — the upcoming Abyssal Trials didn’t seem to affect her much.
“Big sis Qingqing, I was worried about you. Have you heard about Li Tianming? He even managed to defeat Wei Guohao.” Lin Xiaoxiao sounded slightly tense.
Mu Qingqing smiled. “Of course I did.”
“And? Aren't you afraid he will seek revenge on you after following you into the Abyssal Battlefield? From what I know, Wei Guohao ranks higher than you on the leaderboard,” Lin Xiaoxiao said.
“Once you enter the sanctum, you will learn that rankings mean little in battles of life and death.” The confidence radiating off Mu Qingqing strengthened.
“Are you saying that you can defeat Li Tianming?” Lin Xiaoxiao asked, but Mu Qingqing shook her head with a smile.
“Then what do you mean? Even if you have forgiven that fiend, with his personality, he’s definitely going to attack you for getting his beast killed. Traps, schemes... he won’t hold back,” Lin Xiaoxiao said with a hint of exasperation.
“It can’t be helped. I just need to exercise more caution. Relax. I have my own trump cards too. If he is going to seek trouble...” Mu Qingqing consoled the girl younger than her.
“Then I have less to worry about. Make sure not to believe a single word that scumbag says.”
“Of course I won't.”
“If you have the opportunity, subdue him. Don’t let him take you by surprise. And definitely don't let your kindness disadvantage you.” Lin Xiaoxiao carried on with her nagging, overcome with worry. No matter what she said, however, Mu Qingqing would simply nod and smile in reply.
After a while, she rose to her feet. “It's about time. Xiaoxiao, why don't you send me off at the Flameyellow Pagoda?”
“Alright, big sis Qing... Sister-in-law.” Lin Xiaoxiao used a term of address that she wasn't used to yet.
“Mhm.” Mu Qingqing nodded her head, satisfied with the way Lin Xiaoxiao addressed her.
“Big brother is on the third floor of the Pagoda; do you think he will come down to send you off?” Lin Xiaoxiao asked.
“Perhaps,” Mu Qingqing answered.
“I really hope so. Then once you win the trials, the two of you can depart for the Elysium together,” Lin Xiaoxiao said earnestly.
“Xiaoxiao, believe in me.” Mu Qingqing gave her a hug and said in her ears, “This is the most important event in my life, and I’ll never let you two down. No one will ever look down on me again. Ever.”
“Big sis, of course I believe in you!”
The two got up and left. It was worth noting, however, that Mu Qingqing’s smile had never abated, from start to end.
It was about time. Li Tianming, under the eyes of an attentive audience, got up casually and left the Flameyellow Rock.
“Big brother, this way.” The moment he stepped out of the rings, Jiang Feiling called out to him from the pagoda’s entrance. The sunlight worked together with her blue dress to make her look extra-lively.
There was another girl standing beside her. But today, that girl wore a black chainmail that protected all her vitals. It was evident that this chainmail wasn’t a run-of-the-mill armour, but a top-quality, grade five beastial weapon. This masterwork, however, also served to accentuate her honed, enchanting figure, a product of arduous training.
There were certain rules to the Abyssal Trials. Heaven's Elysium had decreed that no beastial weapons of grade six and above were allowed in, or the disciple would be disqualified.
“Ling'er, have you and father talked about this?” Jiang Feiling had returned to the palace the past eight days just to convince the king.
“I did. He agreed to let me go with you all,” she answered merrily.
“Li Tianming, let me put it straight. Before we meet in the battlefield, you are the only one who can protect Ling'er. I’ll bury your whole family if anything happens to her,” Jiang Qingluan hissed.
He snickered. "Are you not aware of who is in my family? You, taking down the Wei Clan… I want to see you try.”
“Not like they ever admitted you to be part of the clan.”
“Yeah, yeah. Ling’er is more important than my life; I can’t not protect her.” Li Tianming said.
“Nonsense. I didn’t say you two could be together, did I?”.”
“What, are you my mother-in-law? Annoying!”
“Li Tianming, I am your mother!!”
“Whatever, no point arguing with a farmer.” Jiang Qingluan rolled her eyes. She’d nagged at Jiang Feiling enough times on their way here.
A good crowd had gathered by the time the three of them walked out of the pagoda. Almost all of the sanctum's mentors and disciples were there, led by Vice-Potentate Mu Yang and Chancellor Wei Tianxiong. Five of those chosen for the Abyssal Trials were already there, the five being Li Tianming, Jiang Qingluan, Mo Lin, Chen Hao and Xing Que.
The crowd’s attention turned to Li Tianming as he joined the line with Jiang Feiling. Details of the fight on the stone bridge were no secret, and discussions had run wild in the sanctum. As for Jiang Feiling's appearance, it was of no surprise to anyone. Since the Vermilion Bird King had agreed to it himself, the sanctum would naturally not oppose it. However, the condition was for her to be attached at all times, and not be spotted by the supervisors from the Elysium. Otherwise, they might get into trouble. Mu Yang had told Li Tianming about this, and instructed that she be attached before they entered the bottomless pit.
These bottomless pits were the passages to the Abyssal Battlefield. Once a person jumped into the pit, he would accelerate downwards until a certain point, beyond which they would start rising. From there, the ascension would gradually slow until the person left the pit and came out from the other side.This was also the reason why people claimed the Abyssal Battlefield to be a reflection of Flameyellow Continent. In the imagination of the masses, the world they resided in had two sides to it, the top being the continent they lived and the bottom being the Abyssal Battlefield.
Mu Qingqing arrived a while later than the rest, followed by Lin Xiaoxiao. Lin Xiaoxiao had been shooting threatening looks at Li Tianming the moment she arrived, the sparks in her eyes a clear warning. But to her dismay, that person who used to be her rival just a month back was already Mu Qingqing’s opponent now, while she herself hadn’t improved much. Their eyes met for a moment, and shivers ran down her spine. Li Tianming had changed. He was no longer someone to be taken lightly.
But Li Tianming’s eyes didn’t stay on Lin Xiaoxiao for long, as it fell on Mu Qingqing moments later. They had been lovers just a few years ago, but now, they were total nemeses. A casual smile adorned his face, but the emotions beneath that smile could not be read by anyone else. Similarly, Mu Qingqing smiled and nodded at Li Tianming, as if to congratulate him on his achievements. It was almost as if they were still the couple they were a few years ago, with no animosity between them. Perhaps, only Jiang Feiling knew that one of them wasn’t going to walk out of the Abyssal Battlefield alive.
At that point, everyone had arrived. With a serious expression, Mu Yang cleared his throat and announced, “So many days have passed. Yet, the rules behind the Abyssal Trials, and how one wins... I know everyone present must have their questions. Alas, I must disappoint you today.”
Everyone else looked at him, puzzled.
“Up until now, no rules or updates have come down from Heaven’s Elysium. The only information we had was to pick out disciples to enter Azure Domain, and that disciples were not allowed to hold weapons of grade six and above,” Mu Yang continued. “Therefore, what awaits everyone in the battlefield remains unknown. It may be that only after entry will the rules be made known. Once we enter the Abyssal Battlefield, I will send everyone into Azure Domain and wait outside. All that I can do from there on is to pray for the best, and hope that you lot will treasure your life more than the victory.”
Survival over victory — that was Mu Yang’s stance on the Abyssal Trials. But that wasn’t something Li Tianming could do. Wei Jing’s life was on the line, and it was enough reason for him to do anything for the victory. Besides, he also wanted to stop Mu Qingqing from obtaining first place. A place in Heaven’s Elysium was the least of his concerns.
“Prepare to depart.” With that, Mu Yang prepared to bring the six of them towards the bottomless pit.
“Vice-Potentate.” Mu Qingqing suddenly stopped halfway.
“What?” Mu Yang asked.
“Please give me a while. He is here,” Mu Qingqing said.
Everyone knew who that ‘he’ Mu Qingqing referred to was. Sure enough, a young man wreathed in lightning had walked out of the Flameyellow Pagoda.
Li Tianming always knew that he was in seclusion in the Pagoda, but didn’t expect that he would appear at this very moment.
It’s been a while, Lin Xiaoting…