Greatsword blinked once and his gaze grew firm. He lifted the sword in the air with his right hand as he made a hand seal with his left: when the blade slashed down, the earth cracked and the rifts spread around for a few dozen meters. From the cracks, black, flaming spikes flung out and stabbed those that did not protect themselves fast enough.
Then, the man bent his knees and clutched the blade with both of his hands. The sword began to glow red and a black, flame-like aura surrounded the blade. Core Elder Tai Fu, who was pretty close to the armored man, had a bad feeling.
“Everybody, move away!” He kicked off the ground but not everyone reacted fast enough.
The armored man kicked off the ground and approached the closest group of cultivators, the sword blazing with dark red flames. He swung his blade with all his might, cleaving in half those standing too close to him while black and crimson flaming blades bore down on all those within a fifty metres radius. The dark red flames devoured all those they touched, annihilating them completely not leaving behind a single speck of dust.
Similar scenes appeared all over the battlefield as tens of men were annihilated every moment that passed. The giant, Mace, held a gigantic mace which he used to crash those standing a few meters from him into blood puddles. The dwarf-like, Dagger, being danced into the crowd, streaks of light appearing here and there indicating another cultivator’s death, falling to his pair of twin blades.
In just a few moments ever since the ten monsters had appeared, more than a few hundred people had died.
Cheng Hao’s face grew dark and, from way up in the sky, Yin Hei’s voice reached his ears “Imbecille! A child like you hopes to defeat me? If you had let me become the Sect Head at that time and had flown low you might all have survived, but now you will all die! And it is all your fault, Genius Child! What’s wrong, new Sect Head? Why are you not answering? Why are you not retorting with that sharp tongue of yours?”
Lao Jianghu gritted his teeth and slashed with all his might at the former First Protector. Long Yin Hei smirked and parried the blow with one of his hands: sparks flew and the golden blade was deflected, leaving behind only a slight scratch on the human form Shadow Dragon’s claws.
“Damn” Lao Jianghu turned and yelled “Don’t listen to him, Ling’Er! Don’t let him toy with your mind, you should know full well that what he is saying is not true!” the Aura Tiger gritted his teeth and slashed at the chuckling Yin Hei roaring “Your enemy is me, don’t you dare take your attention off my blade, you vile beast!”
Yin Hei dodged and flew back a few hundred meters in the air and at the same time shouted once again “You know I am right and you cannot retort, don’t you? Good! As you know that, cry and fall into despair! Despair as you see the people around you die… Because of you! Ahahahaha” Long Yin Hei laughed mockingly.
Then he stopped talking and resumed his battle with Lao Jianghu. More sparks and flashes appeared here and there at each moment that passed, two streaks of light, one black and one golden, intertwined and clashed at high speeds in the dark sky.
Suddenly, up in the sky where the black clouds were churning nonstop, a rumbling sound came out as lightning fell down. A single raindrop fell on Cheng Hao’s face. He was looking down and his expression was hidden by his hair.
That raindrop slided down his cheek, making the child look as if he was crying. Then another raindrop came and was soon followed by many others: it had stared to rain.
Cheng Hao’s hair soon got damped with water and it hid his expression: his whole person exuded an impression of an abandoned child in the middle of a thunderstorm…
“Sect Head? Are you alright?” Wu Rou leaned in and asked worriedly. Cheng Hao lifted his head slightly and nodded trembling, his two eyes blinking as they stared into empty space “Yes… I am quite alright… First Protector”
Wu Rou’s expression softened: after all, the boy was still a child younger than ten years old! How could he possibly bear the burden of so many lives depending on him?
Cheng Hao trembled once and then sighed as his expression grew blank, his eyes lost even more clarity as he recited “It is the law of the universe. Ones with power are allowed to protect those they love, those who do not can only watch as their loved ones die one after the other, this is… Fate!”
The boy lifted his head slightly and spoke, his voice dreamy as if he were talking to himself “What is Fate? Is it book where every single page dictates every single being’s life, actions… A person’s destiny? If it something like that, can we humans truly not go towards Fate and thus are simply doomed to die? Like paper boats on a river, we are doomed to flow as long as the river itself flows, as we can not guide our way but simply follow the direction of the water stream…”
The boy paused “But then, who is it that created the River? Other Rivers? Or is was it an incredible amount of Raindrops? Such as these?” He looked up and more and more drops of rain fell on his figure, wetting his clothing even more… He wiped away the raindrop from his cheek “Does the River perhaps form itself? The river flows into the sea and turns into clouds and then into raindrops and back into the River again… A Sea, a River… Is there truly an end to Fate?
“Is there a beginning? Does the River ends into the Sea? No, it begins again, the River never stops, it never will as long as the water exists… And if that is it…” He looked at his own hands, his eyes slowly regain their clarity from their previous dazed state “If Fate is the River, what is it that created the Water?”
Wu Rou stared speechlessly at the child ‘What is with his view of the world… This is not what an Eight-something years old should have! This…!’
Cheng Hao pondered “… Does this mean… We are actually meant to act as simple travellers on this River? Are we just enacting a play that presents itself over and over again? Just actors on a stage? But who is the one who wrote the play?” He looked at his own hand “Is there truly an end to cultivation? Is there an unfathomable realm way above our comprehension, even above Immortality? Something so mysterious and powerful, something like…” His eyes glinted with understanding “That… Spark…”
“To become immortal is to become one with the Qi and live forever as the world itself… But what if there was a realm that does not mean becoming one with the universe and in the end succumbing to fate even once you reach the end, but it actually is… Taking control of the river, governing the universe…” He clenched his fist as his eyes burned with bright light “And dictating Fate yourself!”
Suddenly Cheng Hao’s eyes brightened as his whole figure began to glow, but this could only be seen by him, as everybody else couldn’t notice anything. His whole appearance began to look mystical as the whole universe could be seen by staring at the boy, galaxies, worlds, even time itself! Everything flashed by Cheng Hao’s figure as it glowed with otherworldly light…
Suddenly, Cheng Hao felt somebody speak in his head “Oh? Someone is getting it! Yes! Finally!” The voice was devoid of any distinctive traits, it could be a man’s, a woman’s, a child’s or an old man’s…
“Wait.. This is… What?” The voice seemed troubled and it trembled for a bit, in peril. Then is grew silent as if it were pondering something and broke out into laughter “Ahaha, boy! This is just so funny! To think that this time it would be YOU!”
Cheng Hao trembled when he noticed that all sound had been cut out and looked around him: everything was still and there was no trace of movement. Xiao Wu was staring straight ahead, Fu Yin was gritting his teeth and looked like he was about to rush into the battlefield. Even the Primordial Beast, Blindlight, was immobilised.
Cheng Hao trembled and tried to sense the flowing Qi… Nothing. Well, more accurately, he could sense it all around him, but it was completely still and he was unable to control it in any way, as if… It had been sealed away!
Cheng Hao’s eyes widened, his mouth gaped and his heart trembled with deep fear and terror: this voice! Its owner had just frozen not only his surroundings, his friends, the air… It had frozen even… the Qi!
What is the Qi? It is everything! It is a code, the code with which reality is written in, it is the language of the universe! What cultivators do is to attempt to sense certain aspects of the Qi and then train to understand it more deeply! Reaching immortality was nothing more than becoming one with the Qi! Not a living being anymore, but a part of the Universe itself, Immortal and Omnipresent… a God!
Yet that very Qi, right now, it was frozen still, not even showing signs of having noticed that, let alone rebelling! What did that mean? That what the owner of the voice did not stop only his surroundings, his friends, the air… No. He had just frozen…
“Reality” the boy muttered astonished.
“Oh, great Senior, might this lowly existence possibly know your name?” Cheng Hao trembled and his mind worked at high speeds, analysing and adapting to the situation as fast as he could and at the same time, trying to bid time.
“A name?” the voice asked and it pondered. It sighed “A name is something given by another, those who created you, right? I have no one like that so I have no name as of now! Kukuku…” the voice didn’t sound sad or felt bad about it, it was instead amused as seen by his chuckling.
Cheng Hao paled at the answer and knelt on the ground “This lowly existence was impudent, oh great one! I beg for forgiveness!” he closed his eyes and prayed in his heart: this being was the most powerful existence he had ever seen in both this life… And the previous! Let alone himself, the Four Primordial Emperors, the Heavenly Emperor himself… None of them could ever even try to compare to this entity that had control over Reality itself!
“Senior, may I know why you have lowered yourself to speak to this lowly being?” Cheng Hao inquired: if he had angered the existence, there would be no chance left for him anyways, if he was about to die, he would want to die knowing why and how he died!
The voice stood silent for a bit and then replied kindly “You have nothing to fear, child, I will not harm you in fact… I wish to help you!” The voice was warm, just like a mother talking to her child or a father protecting his son from any harm.
Cheng Hao was stunned and gaped “Help me? Why would…”
“Of course you have not done anything that should make me want to help you, but you are amusing! You should not still be here, you should be lost forever! And yet you are here! That is why I won’t help you right now… But in the future though, I will aid you if you deem yourself worthy, well, again! The reason, you ask…?” The voice lingered off.
“It is because you are… Well, unlike your predecessor, you are an anomal-” the voice interrupted when suddenly, the surroundings clad in grey trembled slightly and the Qi slowly began to move… As if the blocked time was on the verge of beginning to flow again. The voice stopped and then spoke hurriedly “I have no time, and that is not too important. I am not strong enough yet to change reality to this extent… That is also the reason why YOU exist, after all!”
After what seemed some hesitation on the part of the mysterious being it spoke one last time “I might help you soon… But first, you will have to show me your strength, your power! If you can impress me I will help you, if you do not… Then I guess you will become just another failure on my part and I will simply have to move on to the next! Still, you are a lot more interesting than your predecessors…”
It lingered off and Cheng Hao was even more confused “… After all, you are totally unlike me! I wonder if it is because you have developed… I will have to wait for now and find out”
The grey surroundings suddenly regained their lost colour and time began to move slowly. Cheng Hao looked around him and found that the Qi was now back to normal.
“I will leave you with one last piece of information! That Spark you used to create that Immortal Ascension Tower… It is not connected to me! Even I have no idea what that might be! In that Immortal Ascension Tower there are many secrets that even you, its creator, and even I are unaware of! It did not try to hide from you and yet, it was able to elude your attention all along! In the last four floors of the tower, you will find power greater than any other!”
Cheng Hao recovered from his stupor and asked one last question to the fading voice “What kind of price would I have to pay for such a great power?”
The voice was silent for a while and then spoke, the words hitting Cheng Hao like an hammer “Death. The price will probably be your Life! Now go ahead, show me your power! Fight and show me I was not wrong in choosing you and give you… Another chance!”
“Head Cheng Hao…” Wu Rou asked concerned “Are you all right?”
Cheng Hao looked at his hands and pondered on the words of that strange being from before.
“That spark… My Immortal Ascension Tower… You mean I was not its true master all along? That the Spark… Is actually still there?” He closed his eyes and examined his sea of consciousness, searching for any kind of disturbance, but he found none.
‘Could that guy have lied to me? But why would he?’ He pondered but then his eyes grew emotionless and cold.
“You want to see my power, right? You want to see wether I am unworthy? Well, you are wrong about one thing…” Cheng Hao muttered.
“You are WRONG!” He suddenly shouted and startled Wu Rou. The air around him began to tremble, as the seal that had locked his cultivation down for the past two months slowly began to lift… The air had long lost any resistance to his power, the space surrounding him had began to crumble and looked like it would shatter at any time.
He turned to look at the sky “It is not you who will judge me, it is I who will judge you! I am not the one who needs your power, because I will own one even stronger than yours! So show me wether your strength is going to be enough to serve under me!”
He stomped on the ground and cracks appeared around him in a radius of a hundred meters. The Earth then swelled up and turned into countless Earth Spears, this was none other than another perk of the Divine Earth King’s Blessing: the ability to manipulate Earth!
The thousands of Earth spears rose into the sky and began to shoot towards the ten members of the Shadow Legion like thousands of sharp ballista arrows. Greatsword turned and when he saw the scene, his eyes widened and the pupils shrunk.
He instantly dodged to the side and more than a dozen earth spears embedded on the same spot he was standing on before. Cold sweat run down his back as he slightly shivered wondering what would have happened if he had not dodged.
He grabbed his great sword tighter and stepped forward, stomping on the ground with his foot. His eyes began to glow even brighter than the previous red light and a powerful black fire aura appeared on top of the large sword in his hands. The dark flames didn’t scatter and instead focused on one of the blade’s edges.
He then slashed with all his might, a pillar of black fire shot towards the countless Earth Spears that were being shot towards him like tens of thousands of earthen spears.
When the two attacks met, the spears slowly began to melt and only when they were about to pierce him did they got blown away from the powerful fire attack. Greatsword panted as he looked around, witnessing the aftermath of the clash: in a radius of a few tens of meters, everything had been burned and turned charred black!
Such a frightening attack that he almost had to use his full power to block, was there truly such an expert here?
The boy coldly waved his hands as he shattered a crystal in his hands.
“Wu Row… I hereby strip you of your title as a Sect Protector and you are free from taking part in this battle. What I am about to ask now is not an order, but a request: please, leave this place and live your own life…” Cheng Hao turned and smiled kindly “Don’t you have someone to meet? Wouldn’t it be a shame if you died here?”
Wu Rou gaped as she felt the fancy words on her back disappearing. She widened her eyes and then looked towards the battlefield and saw countless people, ready to give their life to protect the Sect, just like she should. She sighed and shook her head “How could I? So many people are here, fighting with their life on the line, how could I possibly do anything else and abandon them?”
Cheng Hao sighed and then walked towards her and put his right hand on her forehead and the left on his own: a bright light appeared and passed from Cheng Hao’s left hand, to his left and right arms, reached Wu Rou’s forehead and then brightly shone. A strange pattern appeared on top of her skin and then sunk into the girl’s head…
Wu Rou gaped in astonishment as she felt her cultivation was sealed down, without a hint of it flowing out! She stared at the youth in front of her terrified as, right now, she could feel something…
“So… this was your true power?” She smiled and asked, because… She vaguely felt something move in Cheng Hao’s Sea of Consciousness, like a beast awakening from a deep slumber! A beast that should never have been awoken!
Cheng Hao smiled and turned “Now you have no means to protect the Sect, do you? Just sit quietly… And enjoy the show!”
His eyes glinted with hatred and his two thin lips arranged into a fiendish smile. He stared at the ten men wearing black clothing and armour “You dare block my way to Tian? To Fate? Even if that old guy hadn’t told me to show him my power and kill you, I would have slaughtered you nonetheless! Feel the Wrath of Xu Ling! Feel the wrath of the Chosen One! FEEL THE WRATH OF CHENG HAO!!!”