2108 The Declining Firmamen
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Zhang Xuan had always thought of the Firmament as a utopia for cultivators. It would be filled with many experts who had reached the top of the world. Its atmosphere would be rich in spiritual energy, allowing any cultivators who had reached the mark to achieve a breakthrough. Even a tree branch that one picked up off the road would be as powerful as a High Immortal-tier artifact.
And he was not completely off the mark about that.
The wild grass on the ground was an invaluable cultivation resource that was on par with Premier Immortal Pills.But based on what he had just heard from Mo Yuan, it felt as if the Firmament was slowly crumbling apart. The receding of spiritual energy spelled the regression of life. Places that were devoid of spiritual energy would eventually be reduced to ruins.
For example, even though there were still plants growing on the Grand Spirit Mountain, with the disappearance of spiritual energy in the air, the amount of spiritual energy going around the place was slowly depleting, to the point where everything wilted and died off.
It was probably for this reason that Zhang Xuan had to travel long distances in order to gather the wild grass, and even so, the quantity that he found would often be severely limited.
Was this really the Firmament?
It felt almost as if he had walked into the Otherworldly Demonic Tribe's otherworldly battlefield instead!
Everywhere was barren and wilting, almost as if the world was slowly dying away.
"There's still some wild grass and fruits that harness spiritual energy on the mountain. That means that the receding of spiritual energy is a fairly recent affair, right?" Zhang Xuan asked.
If it had happened a long time ago, the Grand Spirit Mountain should have already become inhospitable a long time ago. The fact that he could find wild grass, fruits, and even beasts in the area meant that the receding only happened in the recent years.
Hearing such a question from Zhang Xuan, Mo Yuan looked at the young man with doubt in his eyes and asked, "It can't be that you've only just arrived in the Firmament, right?"
"Of course not. All of us lived in a small village isolated from the world, so we don't really know much about what's happening out there. However, a plague suddenly struck us one day, and before we knew it, we are the only ones left in our village. It was then that we met Yang Xuan laoshi, and he brought us out of our village. As a result of that, there are a lot of things that we don't know about," Zhang Xuan replied awkwardly.
He had no idea how those in the Firmament viewed those coming over from a lower world, but it was still best for him to proceed carefully.
"I see." Mo Yuan nodded. "The first time that the receding of spiritual energy occurred was around forty to fifty years ago. Back then, the skies fell, and earth sank. An entire half of the sky collapsed. Water rained down relentlessly and flooded the earth, causing great casualties. Eventually, the God Monarchs who guarded the north, south, east, and west slew the World Tortoise and used its four limbs as pillars to prop up the sky, thus bringing the world back to stability."
At this point, Mo Yuan chuckled a little before continuing. "Well, these are just the stories that spread around like wildfire after the catastrophe, so there's no way we can tell for sure whether they are true or not. There are also some that claim that the monarch of the Sky of Freedom used his unique ability to mend the collapsed heavens. Anyway, all kinds of rumors went around after that incident. However, it was clear that the collapse of the skies was only the start of something greater.
"Spiritual energy began receding swiftly everywhere. Eventually, except for major cities, most lands around the Firmament became barren, just like this Grand Spirit Mountain!"
"This..." Zhang Xuan widened his eyes in astonishment.
Forty to fifty years ago... That was around four thousand years ago on the Azure and forty thousand years ago for the Master Teacher Continent.
It marked the time when Kong shi first appeared in the world and the Six Sects first came to be.
The calamity of the Firmament and the collapse of the skies and earth, as well as Kong shi's possession of the Heavens' Order... Could there be some kind of link between the two?
If there was a link between those two, what did his possession of the Library of Heaven's Path mean?
After all, a fragment of the heavens would not naturally appear in the world. The fact that he could use the Library of Heaven's Path in the Firmament meant that the fragment of the heavens that he had received was no weaker than the heavens of the Firmament.
As such, he could not help but harbor some doubts regarding the origin of the fragments of the heavens.
Mo Yuan continued with the story. "As a result of the receding spiritual energy, it's no longer as easy as before to reach the God realm. Furthermore, each breakthrough takes a significant amount of spiritual energy from the environment, and that could hasten the destruction of the Firmament. As such, the Nine Skies Nine Monarchs had no choice but to control the number of gods in the world. So, they constructed nine Celestial Mountains around the world, and all those who wish to become a god have to head to the Celestial Mountains and search for the Aura of Divinity."
On the other hand, Zhang Xuan widened his eyes in realization.
In a sense, it was similar to what had happened in the Kunxu Domain. Due to the scarcity of resources, those who possessed little talent lost the right to advance their cultivation in order to ensure optimal social welfare.
It was extremely cruel for the cultivators who had worked hard their entire lives to advance their cultivation, but this was the only way to slow down the collapse of the Firmament.
"I reckon that the reason Elder Yang Xuan is putting you through hardship right now is to build up your foundation while you are still at the Semi-Divinity realm. This will allow you to adapt faster to the environment on the Celestial Mountain, thus increasing the chances of acquiring the Aura of Divinity and successfully making a breakthrough!" Mo Yuan said.
"As expected of those from the Master Teacher Pavilion, they are really detailed and thorough in what they do. It's no wonder the students are able to achieve the same feats as geniuses despite their lacking talents... Ah, pardon me. I have no intention of looking down on you..."
Zhang Xuan blinked blankly, unsure how he should respond to those words.
On the other hand, Zhao Ya and the others nearly burst into laughter.
The person before them sure was gutsy to dare say that their teacher was lacking in talent. Their teacher was someone who had cultivated for less than two years on the Master Teacher Continent and slightly more than two months in the Azure to get where he currently was.
If one translated that to the time in the Firmament, he would have only spent 0.73 days on the Master Teacher Continent and 0.6 days in the Azure, which added up to a grand total of 1.33 days. In just 1.33 days, their teacher had overcome bottleneck after bottleneck to become a real god. Yet, someone dared to suggest that he was lacking talent?
What a joke!
"Cough cough, it's fine. I don't mind it at all." Zhang Xuan shook his head.
He continued asking a few more questions, and fortunately, Mo Yuan was an extremely forthright person who freely shared everything he knew. Soon, Zhang Xuan was able to form a preliminary understanding of the situation in the Firmament.
Without a doubt, the Firmament was filled with all kinds of experts. However, this came with a huge pitfall... A world filled with strong people was bound to be less restricted by laws.
In a world where there were significant differences in strength, the strong would be able to do as they pleased whereas the weak could only stay within the safe confines of the city walls, not daring to venture too far for fear of encountering bandits.
Of course, this was only applied to places beyond the city. Within the city, even the strong would have to obey the laws imposed upon them. This was because each city lord wielded absolute strength and authority in the region they ruled over.
In Twilight City, for example, City Lord Wu Fangqing was a Celestial God realm expert. He was known for his steel arms that allowed him to defend against swords and spears with ease. He held the record of eliminating eighteen bands of bandits singlehandedly with his bare hands, making him an unstoppable force.
Everyone that resided within the city had to obey the rules he had set, and those who dared to flout his rules would have to face the consequences.
The rules set by the strong had to be followed, or else one might just end up getting killed and having their Aura of Divinity extracted.
This was how the Firmament worked. It was not complete anarchy, but it was clear that the world favored the strong.
"Mo Yuan laoshi, can you tell me more about the Heaven Subjugation Monarch?" Wang Ying asked with eyes filled with curiosity.
She had also noticed that something was amiss.
"The Heaven Subjugation Monarch is a powerful expert who appeared in the past few decades. He came to fame around forty years ago after he, as a high-tier God, fought and defeated eight low-tier Celestial Gods successfully. That single fight placed him at the top of the Celestial God Aptitude Board!" Mo Yuan explained excitedly.
From the looks of it, it was clear that he carried great admiration for the Heaven Subjugation Monarch.
"Celestial God Aptitude Board?"
"Each of the Nine Skies would have a Celestial God Aptitude Board that gauges the potential of the cultivators within its territory. Those who are able to get into the top ten will eventually reach the level of a high-tier Celestial God, and those are within the top three have a good chance of becoming a God King eventually! For this reason, many cultivators seek to place their names on the board. As long as one can get within the top ten, they will be entitled to the best cultivation resources within their sects, paving their way to greatness!" Mo Yuan replied.
Due to the scarcity of resources in the Firmament, most sects and major powers would only choose to groom individuals who had displayed exceptional talent. As a result, there were all kinds of boards existent that cultivators would squeeze their heads to get into.
The rankings were important for them to secure enough resources for them to advance their cultivation.
This was strikingly similar to how the Kunxu Domain worked.
"After the Heaven Subjugation Monarch rose to the top of the Celestial God Aptitude Board, his growth suddenly surged forth with unstoppable momentum. In less than a year, he reached the level of a God King. After that, during the Flowing Tide of Spiritual Energy, he accomplished feats that no one has done before, leading to seven of the God Monarchs bestowing him with the honor of a Conferred God King simultaneously.
"Less than a year after that, he began to challenge the Nine God Monarchs. Initially, everyone thought that he had gone mad. Contrary to everyone's expectations, he actually won the first match... In the following decades, he challenged the God Monarchs one after another, and based on what I have heard so far, it seems like the only one that he has yet to challenge is the monarch of the Sky of Freedom. Well, to be exact, the results of the duel aren't publicly announced, but the fact that the other monarchs have acknowledged his identity likely means that they lost the battle," Mo Yuan said with a hushed tone.
While there were rumors going around about the Nine Skies Nine Monarchs, it was still best to be discreet when gossiping about such matters. Carelessness could possibly cost him his life.
"He challenged eight of the God Monarchs one after another..."
Even listening to the story left Zhang Xuan feeling hot-blooded.
As expected of Kong shi! No matter which world he was in, he was still able to claw his way to reach the top of the hierarchy.
"May I know more about the monarch of the Sky of Freedom?" Zhang Xuan asked. "I'm quite curious to know why the Heaven Subjugation Monarch hasn't challenged him yet."
While others might not know about the results of duels, as fellow God Monarchs, the monarch of the Sky of Freedom should be aware of the outcomes. So, it was a little peculiar to see that the other party had not made a move in response.
Could it be that the monarch of the Sky of Freedom did not dare fight with the Heaven Subjugation Monarch after hearing about how the others had been defeated?
"To be honest, I don't know that. The Heaven Subjugation Monarch controls the center of the Firmament, and they're viewed as the lord of the Nine Monarchs. They're the most formidable God Monarch of the Firmament, as well as the most mysterious one... There is an utter lack of information regarding them, such that even their gender, age, name, and his alias are mysteries. However, since time immemorial, no one has dared to lay their hands on the Sky of Freedom, and that is the greatest proof of that monarch's strength..."
At this point, Mo Yuan suddenly realized that he might have talked too much. With an awkward smile, he waved his hands and said, "Alright, let's end the conversation here for today. We are just minor figures of the Firmament, so the affairs surrounding the Nine Skies Nine Monarchs have no relevance to us. There's nothing we can do to change anything, so let's not bother ourselves with those matters, alright?"
Knowing that he would not be able to get anything more out of Mo Yuan, Zhang Xuan decided to stop there.
Everyone had exhausted themselves over the day, and before long, Mo Yuan's students had already started dozing off with their heads leaning against the cliff. Even Mo Yuan himself had shut his eyes, making it hard to tell whether he had fallen asleep or not.
Only Zhang Xuan and his direct disciples remained seated on the ground, completely focused on their cultivation.
Even though the spiritual energy there was extremely thin, making it difficult for them to cultivate, they were unwilling to waste any time at all.
As midnight approached, Zhang Xuan was just about to stand up and stretch a little before heading off to rest when his body suddenly halted.
Seemingly having sensed something, he turned his head in a certain direction as his eyebrows knitted together into a frown.