Translated by J. of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
“Hmph.” Tightening his grasp on the hilt of his sword, Xiao Yan suppressed the urge to slap the shameless person before him senseless. Turning his gaze, he smiled, “Say what you will, but do you really think QingQing will recognise you? You don’t even compare to Gu Yu and Lin Yi, let alone me… tsk.”
Gu Yu and Lin Yi? Names that Xiao Yan seems to be wary of. DanTai ZiYan slightly narrowed his eyes as a bloodlust flashed across his eyes.
There were nine gates that led to the fourth-level trial, where each one represented a different trial type: Physical, Divine Sense, Path Understanding, State of Mind, Cultivation, Will Power, Divine Power and Sword Path. 1
Any one of these gates could lead to the next level, with each gate being both a trial and an Opportunity. If a cultivator could reach the highest level of performance and completely dominate the world behind the gate, they would be rewarded with Divine Source energy, as well as a secret treasure corresponding to the trial.
In his last life, Chu WuQing went through the Gate of Sword Path. He passed the trial quickly due to his numerous treasures and elixirs. Then, without paying attention to what kind of reward the trial provided, he rushed to the next trial to ensure he arrived before the other cultivators.
It wasn’t until Lin Yi passed the trial did he become the first person to receive the reward for reaching the highest level of performance. Only then did Chu WuQing realise what he had missed out on. Immediately after the first gate, Lin Yi passed through the other eight gates, completely dominating each one.
With his body awash in Divine Source energy, Lin Yi’s essence was cleansed and his bones reformed. Each drop of Divine Source energy could raise a cultivator by half a stage. Nine drops was enough to transform a cultivator’s entire body into a Spiritual Body. However, the most important reward was that, through a single drop of Divine Source energy, one could glimpse into the distant realm of the immortals.
Countless cultivators lived in the cultivation world, but only one could successfully ascend every thousand years. Hence, even if they could only comprehend a tiny, or even minuscule, part of the Divine Realm, the fact that the drop could open the door to another unimaginable world meant that it was precious beyond comparison.
“If I wanted to pass the Trial of Sword Path quickly, it would be even easier in this life compared to the last. But I will never be able to achieve Lin Yi’s level on the Sword Path and receive the Divine Source as a reward.” Chu WuQing thought to himself, “As for the Gate of Will Power, the cultivators from my past life who passed through this gate, regardless of level, all got something out of it, and managed to increase their cultivation. It’s worth a try.”
“Father, whichever gate you choose, I will come with you.” Chu YunZhi took a small step forward and knelt before Chu WuQing. He pleaded, “Please don’t leave me behind. A’Zhi doesn’t want any divine opportunities. A’Zhi only wants to be with father.”
The youth’s blue eyes seemed as pure as a puddle of spring water, full of unconcealed devotion. A tenderness seeped from Chu WuQing’s eyes, and he could not help but develop an urge to pet Chu YunZhi’s head.
“How could I leave A’Zhi behind?” Chu WuQing caressed the top of Chu YunZhi’s head. It felt like stroking a small puppy that was wagging its tail, eager for attention. The more he stroked, the better he felt. But Chu WuQing wore a slightly worried frown and gently sighed, “Although your cultivation is higher than your father’s, A’Zhi is inexperienced in the world. Your heart is as pure as a blank sheet of paper, and could be easily led astray. I can never let that happen.”
“Father.” Chu YunZhi became even more attached to Chu WuQing. With his heart filled to the brim, he could not help but rub himself against Chu WuQing’s palm once more.
Hand in hand, Chu WuQing led Chu YunZhi into the abode. He only managed to step one foot inside the abode before a powerful force rushed towards him. Before he could react, Chu YunZhi’s hand, which was tightly held in his grasp earlier, had abruptly slipped away…
Then everything went black before Chu WuQing’s eyes as he fell into the darkness alone.
“Is this the Trial of Will Power?” Chu WuQing mused, “Perhaps ordinary people would sink into loneliness and despair, or even go mad from the unending silence and darkness. But for cultivators, we can meditate for a decade or even a century as if it’s the blink of an eye. How will this test our will power?”
As Chu WuQing tried to circulate spiritual energy around his body, his countenance slightly changed. Despite the air being rich with spiritual energy, he could not absorb any into his body. This meant he could not continue his cultivation.
One must understand that the spiritual energy contained within a cultivator’s body was limited. Once cultivators establish their foundations, they fast permanently. In reality, they had just replaced the nutrients from food with spiritual energy – the source of all creation. Once the spiritual energy in their body had been depleted, the cultivator’s body would fail and they would die.
A drop of spiritual energy could sustain a cultivator for a day. Without fresh nourishment, ordinary Foundation Establishment cultivators could sustain themselves for about five years. After that, their Foundations would be destroyed and their cultivation would gradually drain away, until they became nothing but ordinary mortals and starve to death.
It was ironic that he was surrounded by rich spiritual energy, but could not absorb any. It was truly hopeless.
In the pitch-blackness, there was nothing to do and no one to talk to, not even any colours could be seen. Extreme loneliness could destroy one’s spirit, and when compounded with such hopelessness, it wouldn’t take five years for a cultivator’s spiritual energy to drain. Most cultivators would lose their spiritual resolve and perish in less than half a year.
Chu WuQing brushed against his storage bag. It had been sealed as expected.
No wonder… all the cultivators who had emerged from this trial became extremely resilient in their will power. Of course, they also advanced their cultivation.
Maybe the rich spiritual energy in the air is a reward for passing the trial. Cultivating here for one day would be the equivalent of cultivating outside for ten.
“In order for cultivators to remain inside the abode for a decade or a century, with only days passing in the outside world, the Gate of Will Power must contain temporal and spatial arrays.”
“The purpose of this trial is to see who can persist in this extreme environment for the longest, without losing their spiritual resolve and will power. As for the cultivators who collapse during their trial, their cultivation would collapse with them. But for the cultivators who survive, they should have their cultivation restored the moment they pass the trial.”
“If the average prodigy can endure this for a decade, then Lin Yi must be able to endure this for a century. Only then would it be worthy of his protagonist halo and let him dominate completely.”
Once he had perceived the key to passing the Trial of Will Power, Chu WuQing revealed a faint smile. Pulling the hairpin from his hair, he let the silver strands fall freely about his shoulders, which unexpectedly glowed like faint moonlight in the pitch darkness.
Chu WuQing did not use any spiritual energy when he waved his arm like an ordinary mortal. However, the hairpin in his hand, which had been sealed into an ordinary object, suddenly exploded in sword qi, as if the object he held was not a mere ornament for his hair, but a sharp blade.
Lifting the tip up, he turned the sword mid-air, forcing the swirling spiritual energy around him to stagnate. As the immeasurable killing intent squeezed itself into the immeasurable lifeforce energy, the spiritual energy inside the abode was abruptly suppressed.
Then the movement of Chu WuQing’s sword grew faster, leaving behind only its reflections in the darkness.
“Just because I can’t absorb the spiritual energy, doesn’t mean I can’t cultivate my Path. This may be a death-trap for others, or a place of despair, but to me, it represents only supreme opportunity.”
He could have an extra century to refine his Sword Path!
“A thousand-mile increase in cultivation inside a hundred-year dream. What an amazing place!”
Above the Ninth Heaven in the Divine Realm, a magnificent palace rose from numerous colourful clouds.
All the architecture, including pavilions, pagodas, towers and long halls with carved panels, were constructed from celestial jade. Rich immortal qi condensed into fog, attracting flocks of Luan, or blue phoenixes, to circle the palace.
In the main hall, an immortal clothed in white robes was playing Go with a friend. They had been playing the same game for the past three years, but were equally matched and without a clear winner… Then, with a glint in his eyes, the white-robed immortal suddenly broke into a hearty laugh.
His friend, XuanMing, the grade-eight Celestial Demon, furrowed his brow. Did he just come up with a way to beat the game? If he wins, my purse strings are going to be tight for the next few thousand years!
The white-robed immortal’s long, slender fingers were the personification of perfection itself. The black Go piece between his fingers made his skin seem even more translucent, like fresh snow. Anyone who saw his hands could only describe them as ‘graceful’, with glances lingering over him for longer and longer each time.
No wonder the young female immortals would use every trick up their sleeves just to encounter the senior Celestial Immortal. They dared not hope to attract his attention, but even being able to witness his grace in person was enough for them to savour the memory for a long while.
However, XuanMing felt that the hands suspended in mid-air before him were a pair of chicken claws, wanting to relieve him of the contents of his purse.
That scrooge even has the audacity to leave me hanging, while laughing without a care. Is he doing this to mock me?
As anger began to seethe within him, XuanMing bit out, “Luo NingChuan, are you going to keep playing or not?!”
Tossing the black Go piece aside, the white-robed immortal wiped the game board clean with his long sleeve, sabotaging the match. He shook his head as he replied, “No more, I’ll give you the object you seek.”
XuanMing was astounded. He had begged Luo NingChuan for a very long time to give him that particular treasure, but Luo NingChuan refused to even barter. Then finally, he agreed to stake the treasure on a Go match.
Although they were both addicted to the game, they were terrible players. In fact, they were the worst players in the entire Divine Realm. Even fresh-faced, newly ascended immortals could easily beat them at the game.
Being this terrible, they really had no one else to play with but each other. But since one was immortal and the other demonic, they lived extremely far apart. Moreover, they were each occupied with cultivation and hunting for treasure most of the time, hence only finding the time to play every few thousand years. So they relished each opportunity to play, if only to demonstrate to each other which of them remained the worst player.
Luo NingChuan sabotaged the match and agreed to give me the treasure I wanted?!
If Luo NingChuan wasn’t a grade-nine Celestial Immortal with his cultivation halfway to being a Celestial Lord, XuanMing would have suspected that his old friend had been possessed.
“What’s the matter? What in the heavens are you laughing at?” Asked XuanMing with a sense of satisfaction while he caressed the storage bag hanging from his waist, one that was not only prevented from being relieved of its contents, but was about to become even fuller.
“The mark from JianChen’s abode has been activated.” Luo NingChuan composed himself and continued with a serious expression, “Do you remember when JianChen created his abode, he had predicted that it could preserve a remnant of his soul and attract a prodigy disciple to assist in his resurrection?”
XuanMing’s expression grew sombre, “Of course I do. JianChen begged us with ultimate treasures to leave a remnant of each of our legacy inside his abode, saying they would become gifts for his precious disciple. He also said that if anything ever happened to us, at least someone would be able to carry our legacy.”
“At the time, we laughed it off and chided him for speaking of bad omens, then extorted a fortune from him. Who could’ve known that, apart from you and I, they had all met their demise in that war.” Despite having lived for who knows how many dozens of millenia and witnessing countless births and deaths during that time, XuanMing grew sentimental as he spoke those last few words.
In ancient times, the world was still unformed and in a state of primordial chaos. In contrast to the present, cultivation was far more difficult back then. Those who became True Immortals were ten times more powerful and battle-hardened than the immortals who had recently ascended from the lower realms. Not only could immortals live as long as Heaven and Earth, they also had endless methods to survive.
When the close friends admonished JianChen for speaking of bad omens, they were only joking. No one expected that they would die, let alone heed the predictions from JianChen, a mere Sword Cultivator. They all thought it was just nonsense, an excuse from JianChen to extort treasures for his fated disciple. Who could’ve known that his words had become prophecy?
“Has JianChen’s disciple revealed himself?” XuanMing quickly asked.
“No.” Luo NingChuan shook his head, “Once the war was over, I spent some effort cultivating the Path of Predictions. After draining ten thousand years’ worth of Divine Source energy, I was finally able to predict that JianChen’s disciple would possess a sword spiritual root.”
“A sword spiritual root?!” Exclaimed XuanMing. “Since ancient times, I’ve only ever met a single sword spiritual root! And he became the Celestial Emperor. If he didn’t have to protect the entire Divine Realm, His Majesty would not have met his demise in that war. JianChen is so fortunate, no wonder according to his predictions, his disciple would be able to resurrect his remnant soul.”
At that, XuanMing felt a sense of comfort from within, which smoothed the frown on his brow, “But if it wasn’t JianChen’s disciple who triggered the mark, then why are you so cheerful all of a sudden?”
Smiling as he looked down, Luo NingChuan retrieved a pot of celestial wine to share with his friend, “It might not be his disciple, but couldn’t it be my disciple?”
“The Gate of Will Power contains my temporal and spatial array. I predicted some time ago that JianChen’s disciple would be talented to the extreme. He would be able to remain in the extreme environment for at least a century without losing his spiritual resolve, and reach the upper limits of the Trial of Will Power.”
“At the time, I couldn’t help but grow envious. But who could’ve known that the little fellow who just entered the Gate of Will Power would treat the death-trap as an Opportunity? Abandoning the cultivation of his spiritual energy and turning to the cultivation of his path instead?”
“The little fellow may be far behind JianChen’s disciple in talent, but with his power of deduction and intellect, he’d have a very promising future ahead. It would be hard to say who could travel further down the path.”
“Since he chose the Gate of Will Power out of the nine gates, then he and I are destined to meet. He is meant to be my disciple after all!” Luo NingChuan emptied his cup in one go, “Wouldn’t you agree that I should be happy?”
“Nevertheless,” Gently tapping his finger on the table, Luo NingChuan abruptly changed the subject, “if he wants to be my disciple, seeing through JianChen’s trial is not nearly enough.”
Pointing his finger, a formless immortal spiritual energy pierced through the clouds and the barriers between realms, and continued its trajectory downwards.
Behind the Gate of Will Power, a ray of light suddenly descended upon the darkness, tearing it apart like a pair of giant hands.
Thick layers of cloudy fog rose from beneath Chu WuQing’s feet, swirling as they did. As the fog grew thicker, not even his Divine Sense could pierce through it.
In the fuzzy blur, he could see a small lamp glowing before him, revealing an eerie stone tablet.
However, before Chu WuQing could read anything etched onto the tablet, a powerful force pushed him deeper into the fog from behind, and further and further away from the stone tablet and the small lamp.
In his haste, all he managed to catch a glimpse of was a line of poetry.
Like a spring breeze suddenly arriving in the night, countless peach-blossoms bloomed in unison. 2
“Shouldn’t it say pear-blossoms? Maybe the ancient True Immortal never went to school.” Murmured Chu WuQing before he lost consciousness.
When he came to, he immediately felt a throbbing pain coming from his bottom.
An unfamiliar female voice sounded next to his ear, “Chu-daren really went too far this time. Even if he is the crown prince’s teacher and is highly respected by all, he didn’t have to beat our little earl like that. It was only truancy and drinking! The little earl doesn’t even have to sit the civil service exam 3 to brighten his future career, why does Chu-daren have to take things so seriously?”
Little earl? Teacher? Chu WuQing was frozen with disbelief. Recalling the illusory nightmare that his father woke him from earlier, he suddenly opened his eyes and climbed up.
He saw a roomful of pretty handmaidens, but could not sense a shred of spiritual energy inside his body.
Had he entered that illusion array again?
But that was impossible. He was with Chu YunZhi, not Chu YunShu, and they were separated by the Gate of Will Power. Even if he was Chu YunShu, he would not be powerful enough to influence anything inside the Gate of Will Power.
So it must’ve been a coincidence… a mere coincidence that he had mistakenly entered the new trial as a little earl, and there was also a teacher, who beat him when he truanted from school and got drunk…
Chu WuQing laboured to convince himself of this. Disregarding the bowl of medicine next to him that was brought in by a handmaiden, he threw himself inside his duvet to hide from everything before his eyes.
However, since the little earl had a delicate constitution, with skin softer than the most stunning beauties, his body was too frail to endure the teacher’s punishment. When he burrowed inside his covers, he scraped his bottom against the bed and it became inflamed and throbbing with pain once again.
As a cultivator, especially one who had experienced extreme mental and physical torment while establishing his foundations against normal practices, one would reasonably assume that Chu WuQing should be able to endure such a trivial flesh wound. But this illusion was particularly bizarre in that Chu WuQing could not withstand the pain at all, he was forced to whimper softly, then turn over and lay on his stomach in a kind of kneeling position.
As soon as he became slightly more comfortable, the voice he least wanted to hear sounded in his ear, “I only spanked him three times – with a ruler no less, not even a cane. How is it that he cannot even get up from his bed? Fine, leave us be. I have special imperial medicine which I can use to treat his injuries.”
It was Chu YunShu!
“Get away from me!” Chu WuQing did not care that he was no longer the young master of the Chu clan, but the son of the Earl of ChengEn – a strict father; and Master Chu was someone his father took great pains to hire for him, someone that even his grandmother, the princess, must treat with great respect.
Cursing heavily inside his covers, “Have you all turned stupid? Why haven’t you chased out my abuser? I am the distinguished little earl, the first grandson of the eldest princess! I’m not somebody this miserable bookworm can beat whenever he pleases.”
The handmaiden who had badmouthed Chu YunShu earlier jumped at the little earl’s words. She half knelt in front of him, but only words of betrayal sprang from her mouth, “Young Lord, has your illness gone to your head? How could you speak such nonsense? I will report to the princess straightaway and ask for an imperial physician to call on you.”
She might have complained about Chu YunShu behind his back, but she did not dare to offend him to his face. If they had actually banished Master Chu from the house, the entire roomful of servants might just receive the death sentence from the princess.
Chu YunShu had no intentions of putting the servants in a difficult position, so he waved his hands to dismiss them, “Please leave us. Let me take a look at his injuries.”
Burying his head completely inside his covers, Chu WuQing secretly cursed the handmaiden’s betrayal to the dark side.
After a while, the clinking of jewellery from the handmaidens had vanished into the distance and the room became quiet once again, until only the sound of his and Chu YunShu’s breathing remained.
“Disgusting pervert. You can piss off as far away from me as you can! Stay back!” He groaned, “This little lord doesn’t need your medicine. Even dogs wouldn’t eat your medicine if you gave it to them.”
A pleasing, soft laughter sounded next to him, “WuQing, how old are you now, that you’re still so bashful in front of others? Since the founding of our kingdom, each Earl of ChengEn had won his place on the back of a warhorse. Why is it that when it comes to you, that you are so delicate and frail?” He gave a long sigh, “I hope you have a speedy recovery. When you’re better, I’ll give you a day off and take you riding and hunting.”
The man’s footsteps grew closer, completely disregarding the little earl’s rude words.
Chu WuQing wrapped the duvet that was his only protection tighter around him, until the sinful hand of his visitor had finally rested on the edge of his covers. As if coaxing a child, he gently implored, “Be a good boy, WuQing!”
Chu WuQing wanted to shake him off, but despite Chu YunShu looking like a bookish intellectual, he was extremely strong. Even after exhausting all of his might, Chu WuQing could not move even an inch from the devil’s claws. His fierce struggles had only aggravated the throbbing pain on his butt, making him sob as he cried out, “You dirty scoundrel! Lecherous pervert! Get away from me… Stay back!”
“Huh.” Chu YunShu gently sighed. But even his sigh was extremely pleasing to the ear and graceful beyond compare, fully accentuating his refined disposition as a respected scholar.
“If you won’t come out for your treatment, then I can only make you. It is my duty as your teacher after all.” Lifting his slender hand, he picked up his disobedient disciple along with his duvet and placed him on top of the desk.
“Mmm, you’re wrapped up so tightly. It’ll be fun peeling the layers off you one at a time.”
- The original text only named eight types of trials.
- A line from A Snow Song: Farewelling Magistrate Wu on His Return to the Capital, by Tang Dynasty Chinese poet Cen Shen