Chapter 1457: Vast Expanse Shrine!
Meng Hao did not exterminate the Eighth Sect. He did not take the grief for the Mountain and Sea Realm that lurked in his heart and vent it upon the world. He was not young anymore. He had practiced cultivation and experienced the transformations of time. He had long since lost track of how many years it had actually been.
The debt which he owed to Chu Yuyan still had to be paid. And yet, because his heart had been taken away along with the Mountain and Sea Butterfly, in his mind, the only thing that he could give as payment was the relationship between a Master and an apprentice.
For Chu Yuyan, he could hold back from investigating Han Bei.
For Chu Yuyan, he could allow his clone, who was at a critical juncture of gaining enlightenment of the Ninth Hex, to take up the responsibility of caring for her.
Because of Chu Yuyan, his lonely existence in the Vast Expanse School... now contained something warm and familiar, something that he would not allow others to interfere with. It was a simple desire... to protect her.
Chu Yuyan had lost her memories of her previous life, but not necessarily forever. Her memories were still in Meng Hao's possession; he just wasn’t sure whether or not he should return them to her.
However, he was still willing to allow her to be his weak spot. That weak spot had been prodded, and thus was birthed his rage toward the Eighth Sect. He had not held back, but neither had he gone on a mindless massacre. He had killed the culprits and the accomplices, as well as those who intended to be accomplices.
By his actions, he issued a warning to all cultivators on Planet Vast Expanse, including Han Bei. No one... was to trifle with Yan'er. If they did, then Meng Hao would appear, and his rage would shock Heaven and Earth.
Along with that rage... rivers of blood would flow.
Because of what had occurred, some people now realized there was a connection between him and Fang Mu. However, Meng Hao didn’t care.
In all of the Vast Expanse School, only a few people would possibly be able to guess what that connection was. Furthermore, Meng Hao now had some new ideas regarding the path to be tread by his clone.
Currently, Meng Hao’s true self was taking Chu Yuyan back to the ninth continent and the Ninth Sect. There, in a certain mountain range, were his clone’s secluded meditation facilities. His clone slowly opened his eyes, and they shone with an icy light, as though a detached coldness were brewing inside of him.
“I've been in seclusion for too long,” thought Meng Hao. “Apparently, people think that anyone can provoke me. I'm still Meng Hao, but there are still things... that only my true self can accomplish. It's a bit embarrassing.” This was Meng Hao’s clone, but it was still Meng Hao. He rose to his feet, not to leave the Ninth Sect, but rather, to head to a certain mountain peak within the sect.
At the top of that mountain was a high tower that was called... the Vast Expanse Shrine!
In the Ninth Sect, all disciples could challenge the Vast Expanse Shrine, with the results determining their standing in the rankings. It was a place that the entire Ninth Sect always paid close attention to.
All of the sects in the Vast Expanse School had a tower like this. There were nine of them, and anyone who could take first place in the rankings on one of them, would rock all of Planet Vast Expanse, and would become a Vast Expanse Chosen!
It was a completely different matter than the stir caused by Fang Mu’s Immortal Tribulation.
In fact, it wasn’t even necessary to take first place. Anyone who entered the top 100 would be considered one of the true Chosen of the nine sects. If Meng Hao’s clone could get into the top 100 in the Vast Expanse Shrine, then he would rise from being an Inner Sect disciple in his subdivision, to being an Inner Sect disciple of the Ninth Sect’s main division.
If he could enter the top 30, then he would become... a Conclave disciple!
Then there were the top 3 spots, which came with the title of Legacy disciple of the entire Ninth Sect!
Meng Hao was already walking on the path leading to the mountain, his expression calm. The other disciples he passed would look over at him in surprise. At first, most people didn’t recognize him, but after a moment they would recall events from the past, and scorn would then appear in their eyes.
“Isn’t that Junior Brother Fang Mu, who went from mortal to Immortal in ten years?” someone asked. “What’s he doing here?”
“He's a real weirdo,” replied a friend of his. “He pretty much never comes out in public. His apprentice Yan’er is a real beauty though.” It was in that moment that Meng Hao suddenly turned back to look at the man.
The gaze was nothing out of the ordinary, but for some reason, it caused the man to tremble, and his mind to become a complete blank. Without even thinking about it, he backed up a few paces. By the time he regained his composure, Meng Hao was far off in the distance.
The man hesitated, and was thinking of making another comment, but his gut told him that now was the time to keep quiet. Taking a deep breath, he said nothing further.
The Vast Expanse Shrine of the Ninth Sect was located on the highest point of the highest mountain in the sect, in the very middle of the sect. Meng Hao’s expression was calm as he continued to pass more and more fellow disciples.
Most of the people were unfamiliar with him, but after he passed them, they would recall his previous actions in the sect.
The majority made joking comments as he passed them by and continued on. As he proceeded, he encountered more and more disciples.
“Isn’t that Fang Mu? This is the first time I've seen him here. Could it be that he's about to have a cultivation base breakthrough?”
“Is he heading toward the Vast Expanse Shrine? How amusing. Does he really think so much of himself that he thinks he qualifies to challenge the Vast Expanse Shrine?”
Meng Hao could hear the things people were saying, but his expression was the same as ever as he proceeded onward.
Soon, he reached the foot of the mountain. When he looked up, he saw a stone stele about thirty meters tall, upon which were lines of script, which were names.
These names were the top 3,000 cultivators from the Ninth Sect who had participated in the trial by fire of the Vast Expanse Shrine.
Although everyone on the list were extraordinary individuals, only those in the top 1,000 could be considered blazing suns. The top 100 were officially Chosen.
Meng Hao scanned the list, then looked back toward the peak of the mountain.
The mountaintop pierced through the clouds, and had a staircase winding up it into the sky.
Meng Hao didn't know much about the Vast Expanse Shrine, only what he had heard from Yan’er.
He knew that the trial by fire of the Vast Expanse Shrine didn't just refer to the tower at the top of the mountain. It also included the staircase which started at the foot of the mountain.
The people who were able to make it all the way to the tower itself would make it into the top 100. Furthermore, one’s progress didn't have much to do with one’s cultivation base, but rather, one’s relative battle prowess and potential.
“I’ve been hiding away for too long,” he thought. “When people heard that Yan’er’s Master was Fang Mu, it didn't mean much, and my true self had to handle the situation.” He shook his head.
“Well then, it’s time to make a scene. Yan’er deserves a master who has taken 1st place on the Ninth Sect’s Vast Expanse Shrine. That will make the little girl happy.
“If it’s not enough, then I’ll just have to take 1st place on all nine Vast Expanse Shrines. If that’s not enough, then I might just have to try out the Transcendence Path.” Meng Hao smiled, and his eyes glittered brightly. Within the Vast Expanse School, there were more than enough locations to earn rankings of some sort or another. However, there were only two locations which people throughout the sects, and even the Paragons, took very seriously.
One was the location to test potential and latent talent, which was... the Vast Expanse Shrine. The other was the Vast Expanse School’s one and only... Transcendence Path!
It bore the name Transcendence, but the truth was... although Transcendence was a possibility, what was more likely was that those who walked it would benefit from the Baptism. According to the legends, if you could reach a certain point on the Transcendence Path, you would receive a Baptism, and thus, good fortune!
As for how far the Transcendence Path stretched, no one knew. However, it was well known that the person who had walked the furthest along it was not the Sect Leader, but rather, a woman by the name of Bai Wuchen.
She was also commonly known as Immortal Bai Wuchen!
However, not even she had reached the end of the path. Perhaps the difficulty level of that path was why the Sect Leader and the others placed their hope in the necropolis.
Meng Hao gathered his thoughts, then calmly took a step forward onto the first step of the staircase.
1 step. 2 steps. 3 steps....
No one paid him much attention. In fact, few people would pay attention to anyone in the starting stages of the Vast Expanse Shrine. Meng Hao walked along, climbing up the stairs, facing increasing levels of pressure. To some people, taking even half a step would be difficult. But to Meng Hao, it was like strolling along a level path. He didn't seem pressured at all, and maintained the same speed the entire time as he continued upward.
10 steps. 30 steps. 50 steps. 80 steps. 100 steps....
Meng Hao wasn’t the only person climbing the steps. Ahead of him were a few hundred people who had been in the process of climbing during recent days. It was a difficult process, and many of them would occasionally rest before struggling onward. To these disciples, this mountain was their hope of making a name for themselves.
Some people would even sit cross-legged to cultivate. However, when someone reached their limit, they would be teleported away. That was generally the only way people would leave.
There were quite a few people on the mountain who suddenly saw Fang Mu pass by. When they realized how casually he was walking along, and how he didn’t seem to have any difficulty whatsoever in climbing the stairs, their jaws dropped.
They saw him proceeded along rapidly, leaving all the other disciples behind, and soon, a bit of an uproar ensued.
“Hey... who’s that?!?!”
“How can he be walking so fast?!?! This is 300 stairs in, and the pressure is intense. He... he isn’t even pausing at all!!”
“How is that even possible...? Could it be... could it be that he's one of the blazing suns!?!?” The cultivators on the mountain looked on with reeling minds, and soon the sounds of their exclamations echoed out.
That sound grew louder as Meng Hao passed one Ninth Sect cultivator after another. There were some who, upon seeing him pass them so casually, mistakenly believed that the pressure from the trial by fire had suddenly disappeared. They then subconsciously stepped out, only to be slammed down into the ground or even ejected from the mountain.
“Who is that? He... he’s already reached the 700th stair!!”
“Heavens! He’s almost past 800 stairs! Whenever someone reaches the 1000th stair, a bell tolls, shaking the whole sect!!” More and more conversations broke out on the mountain. Meanwhile, Meng Hao’s true self had arrived with Yan’er.
“You... you really aren’t my Master?” she asked as they landed outside Fang Mu’s residence. When she looked at the majestic and supreme Ninth Paragon, she didn’t feel any fear or reverence at all. In fact, she somehow felt familiar with him, which left her very confused.
Almost as soon as the words left her mouth, an ancient-sounding bell tolled out from the Vast Expanse Shrine, filling the Ninth Sect.
The sound was clear, ancient, and sonorous, and it instantly attracted the attention of the disciples of the Ninth Sect. The sound of discussions rose up, and Meng Hao’s true self smiled and tousled Yan’er's hair.
“Your Master is challenging the Vast Expanse Shrine. Why don’t you go cheer him on?” With that, Meng Hao’s true self turned and vanished.
Yan’er was left gaping in shock. Then, she seemed to recall something in particular, and turned to look toward the Mount Vast Expanse.
“Huh? The old fogey is challenging the Vast Expanse Shrine? Um... isn’t that something for young people to do to make a name for themselves? Elite disciples like Elder Brother Bi Yun?” Eyes flickering with disbelief, and heart pounding, she took to flight toward the mountain and the Vast Expanse Shrine.
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