Somehow, the tolling of the bells seemed particularly urgent as they spread to all of the various immortal worlds in the Dao Defense League.
The Dao Defense League was expanding faster than ever. All sorts of immortal worlds were joining, and as would be expected, the organization was becoming a hodgepodge of good and bad people. Because of that, the elders of many of the organizations were being somewhat isolationist and exercising special care not to interfere in the affairs of others.
In contrast, the truly strong organizations were able to call the wind and summon the rain in the league as a whole.
Overall, the league was growing larger, but less stable, although it wasn’t necessarily obvious from an outsider’s perspective. The resistance to the future world was as fierce as ever.
Only one thing was certain: the situation was very different from before, and no one knew exactly how things would turn out. History was being written, or, depending on the perspective, re-written.
‘They’re sounding the bells to summon the top patriarchs to the Heaven-Dao Operation God-Temple,’ Yang Qi thought. ‘But why? Is there some sort of emergency? Maybe an influx of warriors from the future world?’
After some thought, he decided to just go find out for himself. For the moment, he wasn’t worried about the safety of the Sage Monarch Heaven. His immortal-slaying clone was a Chaos God, and had seven of King Immortal-Slayer's legacy medallions. He was currently in the position to tangle with demigods.
At the same time, the seventy-one patriarchs had been given plenty of treasures from the Myriad Worlds Monarch Chart. That and the blessings from Yang Qi had helped them to advance by leaps and bounds, to the point that most of them were at the peak of the Buddha God level. They trained constantly with the immortal-slaying clone, thus they would soon be breaking into the Chaos God level as well. When that happened, the Sage Monarch Heaven would become one of the top ten strongest forces within the Dao Defense League.
Yang Qi had other hidden trump cards as well, such as Sectlord Nine Yangs, King Bone Dragon, General Samman, and random future warriors he had captured and forced to work for him. No one knew about them, and they would be a major force to contend with if they were released in a surprise attack.
If anyone attacked the Sage Monarch Heaven, they would quickly find themselves in a quagmire of death.
With affairs settled in the Sage Monarch Heaven and the Sage Monarch Society, Yang Qi headed to the Heaven-Dao Operation God-Temple. Upon arrival, he saw that the teleportation portals were active and countless important people were arriving. Many of them were people he had never seen before.
Some were Chaos God patriarchs, some were demigod old-timers who were half a step into the Deathless level. They were all mysterious and powerful figures, and there were so many of them streaming into the temple that it was almost impossible to count them.
Yang Qi even saw Dragonfolk! There were numerous top experts from the Eight Tribes, including some with the enigmatic aura of buddha dragons. The God, Heaven, True, and Devil Dragon Tribes had also sent old-timers. They weren’t the only thirty-third ranked immortal world to send people; there were also violet-robed experts from the Tusita Heaven.
Yang Qi frowned slightly at the sight of it all. A new dimension had been set up in the middle of the Heaven-Dao Operation God-Temple, with numerous thrones filling it. Yang Qi sat down quietly on one of the thrones, then looked around at the buzz of activity as the temple filled up.
Of course, he was only a third division Incarnated God, which caused quite a few of the old-timers to look over at him curiously. After all, the general requirement to attend meetings in the Heaven-Dao Operation God-Temple was to be a seventh division Measureless God.
There were some people who recognized him, so word quickly spread that he was the ‘Medicine Sage’ who could neutralize the morphblight virus and cure hidden cultivation injuries even in Chaos God patriarchs.
It led to quite a bit of shock among the patriarchs who had been in seclusion recently and hadn’t been updated on current events. It was a common thing for the patriarchs to operate from behind the scenes. They would focus on their own cultivation and have lower-ranking disciples handle day-to-day affairs. Because of that, they usually weren’t aware of the dramatic daily affairs in the Dao Defense League.
People were showing up who were rarely seen in public.
A beam of golden sword light pierced into the temple, accompanied by a powerful aura. A sword crypt appeared, within which a young man sat cross-legged, pulsing with sword energy. He carried no sword, but seemed like the embodiment of a sword at the same time. At a single glance, everyone could tell that he was some grandmaster of the dao of the sword. 
There was already a buzz of conversation.
“Hey, that’s August Patriarch Sword-Burier! I heard he disappeared into the primal-chaos a hundred million years ago to pursue the dao of the sword and seek enlightenment of the Deathless Throne. He’s basically the top expert from the Sword Crypt Heaven. I wonder how close he is to the Deathless Throne.”
“I have no idea. As we all know, after you reach the Chaos God level, there are nine stairs to climb, which comprise the half-Deathless level. Most people call it the Deathless Heavenly Stairway. I wonder how many stairs he’s climbed.”
“He’s definitely an august patriarch that surpasses all the other old-timers.”
“Not necessarily. Look, that’s August Patriarch Great River. People say that he’s actually the incarnation of a heavenly river from the depths of primal-chaos. He got famous a hundred million years ago.”
Yang Qi watched as a heavenly river flowed into the temple and resolved into a humanoid shape.
Top patriarchs like this were arriving left and right. And everyone was talking about what happened after reaching the Chaos God level. Of course, it was only at that time that a cultivator would be able to sense the Deathless Heavenly Stairway and its nine stairs. At the top of the stairs was the Deathless Throne, and when one sat on that, one became a god, unafraid of ever dying.
For seven days and nights, patriarchs of all sorts streamed into the Heaven-Dao Operation God-Temple. Thankfully, the dimension which had been set up was huge, otherwise there wouldn’t have been enough room.
In the middle of it all was a stage where people could stand to address the audience or engage in contests of martial ability.
Ding. Ding. Ding.
Yet again, bells tolled nine times in a row, causing everyone’s hearts to pound and their blood to rush. Afterward, everything went silent.
At this point, one of the patriarchs raised his voice and said, “I am Daoist Great Void. Presumably, most of you have heard of me. We called this urgent meeting because we acquired intelligence indicating that the future world will soon deploy a large number of troops, led by both generals and marshals. Apparently, there may even be some generalissimos present. They wish to batter our defensive lines until they completely break. Our Dao Defense League is the only bastion of defense that exists for the immortal worlds. If we fall, the consequences would be too horrible to contemplate. After all, there is no immortal world strong enough to single-handedly stand against the armies of the future. Perhaps some of you are unaware of what the generalissimos of the future world are. They all stand on the ninth stair of the Deathless Heavenly Stairway, their hands brushing the Deathless Throne.”
The audience erupted with shock. “The ninth stair on the Deathless Heavenly Stairway? How strong would a person like that be? They’re just on the verge of godly ascension. From what I've heard, each stair on the Deathless Heavenly Stairway comes with new skills and abilities. And each stair is as separated from the next as earth is from heaven.”
“That’s right. According to what I’ve read in the ancient texts, there are nine stairs in total. The first is the Stair of Valor, in which you acquire boundless Valor. That’s not the normal kind of valor you would think of, but the preheaven Valor of the gods. It’s incredibly strong, and with it, your cultivation base can advance immeasurably. Someone who’s stepped onto the Stair of Valor is virtually beyond the compare of anyone beneath them.”
“What? How do you know about the secrets of the nine minor stairs? Tell me more!”
“Sure. First is the Stair of Valor, followed by the Stair of Strength. Next are the Stairs of Wisdom, Endurance, Fearlessness, Awareness, the Heaven-Fate, and Forgetfulness. The last, the ninth, is the Stair of the True Void.”
“Nine stairs. That's a lot of names.”
“Yes, those are the stairs you have to climb to reach godly ascension. You must have incredible Valor, Wisdom, Strength, Endurance, Fearlessness, and Awareness. You have to gather Heaven-Fate and acquire Forgetfulness. Then you can enter the True Void and become truly deathless.”
Yang Qi listened carefully to the discussions going on around him, which were like a bright light dispelling the darkness of ignorance. Soon, he had an idea of the path that lay ahead of him.
‘So, it’s about Valor, Wisdom, Strength, Endurance, Fearlessness, Awareness, Heaven-Fate, Forgetfulness, and True Void. Nine stairs to become deathless. It makes sense. How could you be deathless if you don’t have those qualities?’
When it came to the True Void, the ‘true’ aspect came from the expression ‘to cultivate truth’. There were some corporeal objects which were false and needed to be dispensed with. Only by embracing absolute truth could one truly practice cultivation.
As Yang Qi was contemplating these things, Daoist Great Void raised his voice again. “Because of the urgency of the situation, the Dao Defense League cannot afford to be lax. We’ve called you patriarchs here today because, at the moment, our alliance is like a headless dragon, incapable of moving. There is no commanding officer to give orders. Everyone is doing their own thing, and because of that we lack stability. We need a ‘dragon head’, a league-lord to take charge of things. That’s the only way that we can be united.”
‘What? They’re going to select a league-lord?’ Yang Qi was stunned, and immediately realized how important of a moment this was. Whoever became the league-lord of the Dao Defense League would essentially be the leader of countless immortal worlds. An emperor of the Heavenly Court.
Obviously, all of the patriarchs present would want a title like that.
1. Sword crypts are common in Chinese fantasy settings. Based on my understanding, the inventor of the concept is the most famous wuxia novelist of all time, Jin Yong. A sword crypt would be a collection of swords, perhaps one’s personal swords collected through one’s lifetime, or perhaps swords collected from killed enemies. Usually, they feature some sort of stele or altar, oftentimes shaped like a sword. Obviously, each author can handle the concept as they wish. In the xianxia and xuanhuan settings, the sword crypts will be much more magical and fantastic than in wuxia settings. Here are a couple good examples of what they might look like. Example 1. Example 2.