“What?!” Flame Clearspring said. “You want to give a gift to Yun Hailan and ask her to put in a good word with the Crown Prince? Are you kidding me? She’s my sworn brother’s biggest adversary! All of us hate her guts. Sucking up to her would be siding with the enemy!”
“Clearspring,” Pontifex Flame said, “you’re really acting muddle-headed. If she's the only one who has the Crown Prince’s ear, what else are we supposed to do? Do you really want to bring about the destruction of our church? The Flame Clan has been building up this organization for thousands of years. Do you realize that, back in the martial arts competition, not a single of the Great Sages did anything about the Crown Prince breaking the rules? Don’t you understand what that means? His rise to power has only just begun. Besides, everyone says he’s a god from heaven descended into the mortal world. He’s an invincible force who is destined to become a Great Sage. In fact, he might even progress beyond the Great Sage level. And he's also the future chancellor of the Demi-Immortal Institute. What is Yang Qi in comparison? In fact, I would bet money that Yang Qi is in a really bad situation in his institute right now. Maybe he won the competition and got a lot of merit points, but I doubt they’ll let him buy anything noteworthy with them.”
Nodding, Flame Midheaven said, “That’s exactly right. Father’s powers of insight are nearly supernatural, Clearspring. According to my eyes and ears, Yang Qi used his merit point to buy some rock from the Hell of Euphoria, something completely useless to him. In fact, it’s probably a disaster in the waiting. Don’t be hopelessly obstinate, Brother. I understand that Yang Qi saved your life, but don’t allow him to bring our entire church to ruin, and everyone in it!”
“I can’t believe this!” Flame Clearspring said, his hands clenching into fists. “I should just go kill that Yun Hailan right now. Put an end to her mischief once and for all!”
“What gall!” Pontifex Flame shouted. “What are you thinking?! You’re going to kill Yun Hailan? What then, just invite the Crown Prince to come over here and slaughter us all? Besides, how do you know you have what it takes to kill her? You don’t know how strong she really is. Remember, she has the Pearl of the Thousand Illusions World and also the Gate of the Great Void. With those two treasures, she’ll be able to advance her cultivation with incredible speed. If she's a Nonary Lifeseizer already, she’s probably the strongest Lifeseizer in existence.” By this point, Pontifex Flame seemed to have become really worked up. “Flame Midheaven!”
“Escort your unfilial brother to the dungeon. Once Yun Hailan has promised to put in a good word for us with the Crown Prince, maybe we can let him out into the open. I simply won’t let him drag our clan and our church into destruction.”
It was in that very moment that some disciples hurried into the hall. “Pontifex, Yang Qi from the Demi-Immortal Institute has come to pay respects.”
“What? Yang Qi is here in our territory? Tell him I won't see him!” With a dismissive wave, Pontifex Flame sent the disciple back out.
“Father!” Flame Clearspring shouted.
“Enough of this. Midheaven, escort your brother to the dungeon.” Pontifex Flame sighed as Flame Midheaven walked over and placed his hand on his brother's shoulder. “Truth be told, you have to admire Yang Qi. But in the end, he's not strong enough. Back when I clashed with the Crown Prince, I’d assumed he would at least hold back a bit. But he's passed that point. He’s not afraid of anything, and will hold back at nothing to achieve his goals. He’ll break whatever rules he wants, and even exterminate our Tabernacle of Flame.”
“Father,” Flame Midheaven said, “this is for the betterment of our clan, and for all of the disciples of our church. Clearspring will understand it all eventually.”
However, it was in that very moment that a voice rang out that shook all of the Mountain of Flames, and caused many of the springs to erupt with freezing, liquid jade.
“Uncle Flame, I'm the sworn brother of your son, Clearspring. Why are you keeping me at such a distance?  Could it be for fear of the Crown Prince? Did you know that he just had a huge fight with Young Master Shroud-Heaven, and suffered a head injury from a Demon Sage spell formation? He was hurt so badly that it will take years to recover, which means it will be a long time before he can even try to take me on. By the time that happens, he’ll find I'm not so easy to deal with.”
When Pontifex Flame realized that it was Yang Qi’s voice, he was visibly taken aback. ‘Such incredible true energy!’
Of course, what was even more shocking was the news about the fight between Young Master Shroud-Heaven and the Crown Prince. If the Crown Prince was going to be stuck in recovery for years, many new possibilities were now on the table.
He and Flame Midheaven exchanged a glance, and then he said, “My most esteemed nephew, I was grievously injured in my fight with the Crown Prince, and am currently convalescing. I shouldn’t really see any visitors, but considering the news you’ve brought, please come in for a short audience.”
With the wave of his hand, he sent out a beam of red light that transformed into a bridge of fire.
Almost immediately, a pulse of true energy surged from that bridge, making it seem like some enormous beast from primeval times were walking toward the hall.
As the ground trembled beneath the pontifex's feet, he looked over to see Yang Qi entering.
“Brother!” Yang Qi said. Laughing heartily, he strode over and clasped Flame Clearspring on the shoulder.
Flame Clearspring returned the gesture. Laughing, he said, “What have you been up to, Brother? Is what you said about the Crown Prince really true? Brother, you’re so strong! Your true energy is far beyond where it was during the competition. Have you increased another level? Wait. Are you a Nonary Lifeseizer? It’s only been a few days! Back in the competition you were in Senary Lifeseizing!”
“What?” Pontifex Flame blurted in shock. Staring fixedly at Yang Qi, he said, “You really are a Nonary Lifeseizer. There’s no mistaking it. Your true energy is incredible, and you’re connected with the vital energy of heaven and earth. You look like an expert who’s practiced cultivation for hundreds of years! A miracle! This is nothing short of a miracle! Normally speaking, each seizing of life after Senary requires hundreds of years of bitter cultivation. Furthermore, you need deep understanding and enlightenment. You shouldn’t have been able to achieve three successive lifeseizings without the direct help of a Great Sage. But that would result in instability, and you’re clearly anything but unstable.”
“You flatter me, Uncle,” Yang Qi said, bowing slightly at the waist. “Uncle, I understand that, out of fear of the Crown Prince, you forbade my sworn brother Flame Clearspring from seeing me. To be honest, it was a sensible decision. The Crown Prince is not the type of person you can afford to offend. Of that, I am completely aware. However, he is now in seclusion, and he won't come out for several years. It’s impossible to say how things will change between now and then.”
“Are you saying that when the time comes, you’ll be able to fight the Crown Prince?” Flame Midheaven asked, his tone as cold as ice. “Come on, the Crown Prince is a Never-Dying Legendary, right on the verge of being a Great Sage, and you're only in Nonary Lifeseizing. The nine phases of the Energy Arts level are for mortals, and the nine seizings of life in the Lifeseizing level are about building a foundation. For all intents and purposes, Yang Qi, you’ve only begun your path of cultivation. Back in ancient times, only Legendaries were considered true energy warriors. Anyone below that was considered a mere mortal. As a mortal, how can you possibly stand up to the Crown Prince? Do you know how much energy and resources it will take you, not just to reach the Legendary level, but to reach the ninth transformation? Every transformation is a hundred times more difficult than practicing cultivation from the very beginning all the way to Nonary Lifeseizing.”
Turning to look at Flame Midheaven, Yang Qi said, “Is that so? Well, perhaps you’d like a little demonstration to show you why I'm so confident. You’re a Blood-Form Legendary, correct? The first transformation. According to you, I'm just a mortal. Why don’t we see if you can handle one palm strike from me?”
“A single palm strike? Are you insane?! I know you won the Inter-Institutional Martial Arts Competition, but none of the competitors were Legendaries. I'm getting the sense you have no idea how terrifying the Legendary level is. Alright, fine. I guess now is as good a time as any for you to learn.”
Flame Midheaven extended his hand, splaying his fingers as flames erupted from them, filling the entire hall with heat powerful enough to melt metal. Five columns of flame shot out, like fire dragons, heading straight toward Yang Qi with terrifying speed.
This fire was actually created by the means of numerous tiny paper talismans, giving it intense heat that vastly surpassed ordinary true flame.
Even one strand of such flame that hit an ordinary Lifeseizer would reduce that person to ash. Most noteworthy of all, Flame Midheaven was using a killing move, a signature ability of the Tabernacle of Flame, the Five Dragons Godflame Massacre.
The dragons intertwined, becoming like a sea of lava that bore down on Yang Qi with incredible speed.
Yang Qi hardly even looked at the incoming attack. He extended his palm and then swept it in a downward motion. It almost looked like he was performing calligraphy, except that it sent a graceful arc of light shooting out in front of him.
As soon as that light hit the true flame, the flame collapsed into a multitude of sparks, and the flame talismans that had powered them all went dim.
And then, the light proceeded onward, seemingly not weakened at all by the contact with the fire dragons. Distorting the air as it went, it shot directly toward Flame Midheaven.
Flame Midheaven was powerless to avoid the blast. His armor was shattered, and his clothes nearly ripped to shreds, revealing his bronze-colored skin beneath. Blood sprayed out of his mouth as he tumbled backward out of the hall like a kite with its string cut.
“Midheaven!” Pontifex Flame cried, lunging forward to grab his son. Pouring true energy into him, he found that he had only been superficially wounded, and in fact, much of the impurities in his blood had been forced out.
Eyes sparkling, he turned to look at Yang Qi and said, “You, a Lifeseizer, actually defeated a Legendary?! People like you only come around once every few thousand years! What move was that? With one sweep of your hand, you connected with the dao of heaven?! That’s something that is normally capable only for Legendaries. It should be impossible for you. And your true energy transformed according to the trajectory of your strike.”
Yang Qi smiled. “Oh, that was something I picked up when watching the fight between the Crown Prince and Young Master Shroud-Heaven. Now are you confident in how strong I am, Pontifex?”
1. There are many words that can be translated as ‘uncle’ in Chinese. This one is basically a term of address for men of your father’s generation, or perhaps a bit older, but who are not of your grandfather’s age. It could be used for a blood relative, but also for non-relatives.