As long as he did not cancel the Soul Contract from his side, there should have been no way for Vicious to liberate himself from it.
This was similar to how the Deathless Monarch, despite being a God Monarch, was unable to free himself from a Soul Contract on his own.
In order to prevent Vicious from turning against him, he had made sure to seal a Soul Contract with him while they were on the Master Teacher Continent. This way, even if Vicious gained the ability to escape from the Book of Heaven's Path, he would still be bound by the laws of the Soul Contract.
"Ah, the Soul Contract? It was a headache to me for quite a while, but I realized that my worry was unfounded. What I have in me is the malignant energy that can even neutralize the heavens! As long as I can obtain sufficient strength, it isn't too difficult to tear apart that farce of a Soul Contract!" Vicious smirked.
The Soul Contract was a binding force that held one soul hostage to the other, but the malignant energy was a force that could neutralize even the heavens. As long as it was used properly, it should not come as a surprise that it could neutralize a Soul Contract as well.
"Is that so?" Zhang Xuan murmured as a glint flashed across his eyes.
"Have I satisfied your curiosity now? It is my repayment to you for bringing me to the Firmament! You can die in peace now!" Vicious scoffed.
An ancient, distant aura flowed from Vicious' presence as the abyss beneath him grew even larger. While they were talking, Vicious had managed to absorb a lot more energy, allowing him to further reinforce his cultivation.
Luo Ruoxin also noticed that something was amiss, and she hurriedly sent a telepathic message over to him. "Zhang Xuan, the more the black hole devours, the more powerful he will become…"
"Let's make our move then!"
With all his doubts resolved, Zhang Xuan brandished his sword and said, "Since that's the case, shall we fight it out then?"
A powerful burst of Sword Intent gushed forth from his body as he executed his God Monarch realm sword art.
This technique carried all his persistence, pushing his Pathos of Heaven cultivation technique to its very limits.
With a single slash, he sought to split Vicious in half.
Luo Ruoxin also made a move at the same time. With a flick of her wrist, she charged forth with a sword in her grasp.
Her sword art was extremely similar to that used by the God Monarch of the Sword Hut. It carried a relentless momentum reminiscent of a cavalry unit charging toward an enemy, but at the same time, her movements felt free and unrestrained.
"Splendid! Your attacks are indeed remarkable. But it's still lacking a little to go against me…" Vicious chuckled as he pushed his hand downward.
In an instant, his palm seemed to have covered the entire sky. The surrounding space shattered under the pressure, and it felt like even the sun, moon, and stars would be knocked down from the impact of his attack.
Zhang Xuan and Luo Ruoxin were knocked flying simultaneously under the force of the palm strike, and fresh blood spurted from their mouths.
Even with the two of them collaborating with one another, they were still no match for Vicious!
Just what kind of realm had that fellow reached?
Zhang Xuan's clone suddenly bellowed loudly as he began walking over. Every step that he took was accompanied by the blossoming of a lotus flower, and faintly, one could hear a running stream from within the void.
Looking at it from afar, he did have the air of a true expert.
Having assimilated the Primordial Golden Lotus of the Nine Skies, his cultivation was no weaker than the current Zhang Xuan.
He raised his fist, and summoning unbelievable might in his arms, he punched Vicious.
In retaliation, Vicious waved his hand, and his clone was sent flying as well.
He was unable to match Vicious in terms of strength as well.
Watching this sight, Zhang Xuan clasped his own face.
Even after becoming a God Monarch, his clone was still unable to kick off its showoff personality. Instead of wasting his effort on creating such decorative effects, it would have been better for him to channel all his energy into that punch!
"We need to make a move as well! If they fall, we'll be next!" Little Chick bellowed as he unfurled his black wings, setting the sky ablaze with his black flames.
The other six God Monarchs also swiftly brought out their own attacks.
The combined might of the seven God Monarchs was enough to utterly obliterate any of the Skies, but the enemy they were facing was Vicious, who had already absorbed all the malignant energy. As their attacks approached Vicious, the black hole suddenly grew massive before devouring the attacks of the God Monarchs.
A moment later, those attacks rebounded at the God Monarchs with greater ferocity than before.
Peng peng peng!
The seven God Monarchs, along with Zhang Xuan, his clone, and Luo Ruoxin, were knocked flying by that onslaught of attacks.
Even with the combined might of the God Monarchs, they were unable to withstand even a single attack from Vicious!
How in the world was that scoundrel so powerful?
"Playtime is over. You can die now!"
After knocking all ten God Monarchs back, Vicious took a step forward as he raised his fist once more to press down on the crowd.
"Insolent, you wretched demon!"
A loud bellow suddenly echoed in the air, and the elder of the Sky of Heavenly Sword suddenly appeared before them. With a slash of his sword, he formed a silver river of sword qi before them, protecting everyone.
"God Monarch? He is a God Monarch as well?" Zhang Xuan narrowed his eyes in shock.
All along, as the elder had taken his position behind the young man whom he thought was the God Monarch of the Sword Hut, he had assumed that the elder would be a Conferred God King at the very most. However, as soon as the elder exerted his strength, he realized that the other party was a God Monarch!
But if the elder was a God Monarch… who was the young man?
"He is the God Monarch of the Sky of Heavenly Sword," Luo Ruoxin explained as she struggled to rise back to her feet.
"Wait… then who is the young man whom I met the other day?" Zhang Xuan was bewildered.
Luo Ruoxin was just about to answer the question when the space ahead of them suddenly began distorting, causing the silver river of sword qi to bend away. Following that, the God Monarch of the Sky of Heavenly Sword was knocked flying before crashing into the ground, forming a huge depression.
Even Zhang Xuan, whose cultivation and mastery of swordsmanship far exceeded that of the elder, was no match for Vicious, so there was no way that he could last for long against Vicious.
"Hahaha! God Monarchs? Nothing more than a bunch of old fools who have stagnated with time! Today, I shall obliterate the Nine Skies and destroy the Firmament, returning everything to ground zero!"
After subduing the God Monarch of the Sky of Heavenly Sword as well, Vicious began laughing frenziedly. The space all around collapsed rapidly, signaling the impending downfall of the Firmament.
"What else can we do?" Zhang Xuan clenched his fists tightly.
He could continue pitting his life against Vicious, but it would be foolish to keep trying the same things when they had failed before while hoping for something different to happen.
Both he and his clone had already exerted their greatest power, and Luo Ruoxin had utilized her strongest trump cards. Yet, they were still unable to stop Vicious.
Was he already invincible in the Firmament?
Did they really have no choice but to watch the collapse of the Firmament helplessly?
"The only way is to have your Heavens' Imperfection return to the heavens and have the heavens suppress him," Luo Ruoxin said with tightly clenched fists.
"Return my Heavens' Imperfection to the heavens…"
Zhang Xuan understood the meaning behind those words.
The Library of Heaven's Path in his body was a fragment of the heavens, and if he relinquished it, the heavens would finally be completed. With the reinstatement of the heavens, the laws of the heavens would swiftly be enforced, and they might be able to fix the dimension fissure and expel Vicious from the world.
It was just that there was a problem with that plan…
"The current Vicious is simply too strong. If even our forces combined are unable to suppress him, will the heavens, even complete, really be able to do so?" Zhang Xuan shook his head skeptically.
The laws of the heavens were indeed powerful, but they were not absolute. The fact that God Monarchs were able to tear open dimension rifts and travel through space was evidence of that.
Given Vicious' overwhelming strength, could the heavens really enforce their laws and crush him?
"This…" Luo Ruoxin contemplated for a moment before her face sank a little. "You're right. The heavens won't be able to suppress him. However, if the heavens are made whole once more, he might be able to wake up. With his strength, he should be able to slay Vicious easily!"
"He?" Zhang Xuan frowned.
"I'll bring you over to meet him now. He's in the Sky of Freedom…"
Taking a deep breath, Luo Ruoxin grabbed Zhang Xuan's hand and quickly tore open a dimension rift.
"Trying to escape right before me?" Vicious harrumphed coldly as he pressed his palm down once more.
Luo Ruoxin was knocked down from the sky.
Angered by Vicious' attack, Zhang Xuan immediately executed his sword art once more to slash at Vicious.
Ding ding ding!
Yet again, it was easily deflected by Vicious' powers.
"The two of you should quickly head over. We'll hold him here for the time being!" Little Chick exclaimed.
Knowing that the two of them were leaving the area not to escape but to figure out a way to save the Firmament, the rest of the God Monarchs immediately charged forward to tie Vicious down. At the same time, Luo Qiqi also morphed into the Dimension Silencer to freeze the surrounding space.
Seeing how everyone was charging forth without fear of death to cover them, Zhang Xuan's eyes reddened a little. He knew that time was tight, so he quickly wrapped his hand around Luo Ruoxin's waist before creating a dimension rift and leaping into it with her.
The next instant, they were in the Sky of Freedom.
The Sky of Freedom no longer looked like the paradise it did before. The collapse of the Firmament had caused great chaos everywhere, and this center of the Firmament was no exception to the rule.
Zhang Xuan looked at the young lady in his embrace and asked, "Where is the person you spoke of?"
If the person she spoke of could really save the Firmament, it would be a small price to pay for him to sacrifice his own life.
"He's my father." Luo Ruoxin quickly regulated her zhenqi to recover her wounds as she explained, "The blood inside the pendant I have you belongs to him, and the Deathless Monarch used to be his tamed beast…"
"Your father?" Zhang Xuan widened his eyes in realization.
That explained why the blood in the pendant resembled Luo Ruoxin's so much but still somewhat differed.
That was also probably the reason the will left behind by the Deathless Monarch unhesitatingly acknowledged him as his master after seeing the pendant.
"Is your father a God Monarch as well, or does he possess powers surpassing that of a God Monarch?" Zhang Xuan asked.
The blood in the pendant had the ability to calm his Library of Heaven's Path and restore rationality to his mind. That was an ability that even the current him did not possess. Furthermore, based on what he had heard from Luo Ruoxin thus far, it seemed like he was much stronger than her.
If that was the case, why did he fall into a coma?
And how would making the heavens whole again allow him to regain his consciousness?
Luo Ruoxin clenched her fists tightly before answering his doubts hesitantly. "He isn't a God Monarch… but the heavens!"
"Heavens? You are saying that your father is the heavens?" Zhang Xuan found it hard to believe what he was hearing.
"That's right. Fifty years ago, my father was unable to withstand the prowess of that massive hand, and he ended up falling into a coma. At the same time, the heavens split into three fragments, and the Heavens' Order and Heavens' Imperfection fell into the chaotic space. I became the overseer of the Heavens' Nature, and I have been working ever since to ensure the stability of the Firmament.
"The only way for my father to regain consciousness is to gather all of the scattered pieces. It's for that reason that I was so determined not to fail. I descended to the Master Teacher Continent to study the Great Codex of Spring and Autumn, wanting to decipher a way to triumph over Kong shi. Before I fought with Kong shi, I also entrusted him with this matter, hoping that he could save my father in my place if I lost my life in the battle," Luo Ruoxin explained.
Zhang Xuan nodded in realization.
Shortly after they met each other on the Master Teacher Continent, Luo Ruoxin had told him that she was working to save her close kin, but as she had never spoken about the matter after that, it had eventually slipped his mind.
From the looks of it, it seemed like the person she wanted to save was her father, the heavens of the Firmament.
But was it really possible for the heavens to morph into the form of a human and give birth to a child?
Zhang Xuan noticed an anomaly in her words and asked, "You mentioned that you are the overseer of the Heavens' Nature… Does that mean that you don't have any fragments of heavens in your body?"
Being the overseer of a fragment of heavens was different from possessing a fragment of heavens.
"I am only controlling it for the time being. It doesn't belong to me," Luo Ruoxin said.
Hearing those words, Zhang Xuan heaved a sigh of relief.
That meant that as long as he could extract the Heavens' Imperfection from his body, everything would be resolved. There was no need for her to die for this.
Of course, he did not want to die either, but he did not wish for the young lady before him to come to any more harm than this.
"So, if I extract the Heavens' Imperfection from my body, will your father come back to life and resolve this crisis?" Zhang Xuan asked.
"This… I'm not too certain," Luo Ruoxin replied hesitantly as she looked at the collapsing Firmament around her.
As the heavens of the Firmament, she was not certain whether her father could really awaken when the Firmament was already in such a tattered state. Even if he regained consciousness, would he still have enough strength to defeat the powerful Vicious?
Even though she viewed this as their greatest hope, she was unsure about it.
"It looks like you aren't certain about it. Since that's the case, I think it'll be better for us to keep that as our last resort. It'll be safer for us to rely on ourselves instead of a stroke of luck. Let's think of a plan together!" Zhang Xuan said. "With you, me, my clone, the Nine God Monarchs, and Kong shi, I don't think that it's utterly impossible for us to achieve victory!"
"Kong shi? But he…" Luo Ruoxin frowned.
"Kong shi is dead—is that what you were going to say? He isn't really dead yet. According to what I heard, his death in the duel between the two of you was just a way to free himself from the restraints of the heavens. Most likely, just like Wei Changfeng, he possesses the Innate Soul Embryo," Zhang Xuan said.
After seeing Wei Changfeng, he finally understood what the key for Kong shi retaining his previous consciousness was. If he possessed the Innate Soul Embryo as well, he would not lose his sense of self even after death.
With all the cards that Kong shi had prepared for this event, it should not take too long for him to come back to life.
Hearing those words, Luo Ruoxin was taken aback. She did not expect Kong shi to have prepared such a hand.
"We'll know once we head over to take a look. If I'm not mistaken, he should have already recovered. Otherwise, his disciples would have come to the Flooding Sea."
Given the huge calamity that was going on, even though Ancient Sage Zi Yuan and the others were lacking in strength compared to the God Monarchs, they would have headed over in order to offer their help.
The fact that they remained absent meant that there was something more important that they had to attend to.
And this important matter likely had something to do with Kong shi's revival!
"This…" Luo Ruoxin widened her eyes in realization as she found Zhang Xuan's words perfectly logical.
"Let's head over!"
With a flick of his finger, Zhang Xuan created a dimension rift that led directly to where Kong shi had left. Traveling to the other side, he swiftly saw an old man floating in midair.
Noticing their arrival, the old man greeted them with a smile. "You're here."
Who else could the old man be other than Kong shi?
The World's Teacher was back!
Just as Zhang Xuan had guessed, he had discreetly come back to life while everyone's attention was preoccupied with the happenings over at the Flooding Sea.
"You…" Luo Ruoxin widened her eyes in astonishment.
She knew that Kong shi would have prepared a way to come to life, but she did not expect him to recover so quickly!
"Well, I have been concealing quite a few cards from the heavens," Kong shi said with a smile. "For one, I have left a Soul Imprint in the Netherworld Pool to accumulate Anima of Yearning quite a few decades ago, all in preparation for this moment. In our battle back then, I made use of the opportunity from my death to free myself from the restraints of the heavens, but in return for that, my body and soul ended up being devastated. It took me the last few days to make a recovery."
Skilled in the manipulation of temporal laws, even though only a few days had passed on the Firmament, in truth, decades might have passed for Kong shi.
After recovering from the shock of seeing that Kong shi had really returned, Luo Ruoxin shook her head and said, "We are indeed quite strong, but it still won't be easy for us to defeat Vicious…"
Earlier, they had all collaborated with one another, but they were still unable to stop Vicious. Even if they added another Kong shi into the mix, would it really make a huge difference?
The situation would likely remain the same!
"I agree with what you're saying. Even if we put our strength together, it isn't likely that we will be a match for the other party. However, what if we channel all of our strength into a single person?" Kong shi asked with a smile.
"Channel all of our strength into a single person?"
Both Luo Ruoxin and Zhang Xuan were a little confused as to what Kong shi was getting at.
"That palm from fifty years ago was able to tear through the Firmament and dissipate the heavens," Kong shi said. "There's no doubt that it wields tremendous strength, far beyond what we can handle. Vicious has absorbed the entirety of this power, as well as fifty years of spiritual energy from the Firmament. If we fight him normally, there's no way that we'll be a match for him.
"However, if we channel all of our powers into a single person, we might just be able to change the result!"
"How do we do so?" Luo Ruoxin asked.
Such a thing was easier said than done.
God Monarchs were already the strongest existence in the world. If it was that easy to absorb the powers of another person, her cultivation would not have remained stagnant for so many years.
"My idea is very simple. We'll channel all our strength into Zhang Xuan and have him overcome the limits of a God Monarch. If he succeeds, he will be able to save the Firmament," Kong shi said.
"Me?" Zhang Xuan was taken aback. "Why me?"
"God Monarch Lingxi cultivates the conceptualization of freedom, pursuing a state that transcends nature and desire. However, she is tied down by her father and the heavens, and she also has someone whom she yearns for. She will never be able to transcend in her current condition," Kong shi said.
He turned to Luo Ruoxin and asked, "If I'm not mistaken, during our battle on the moon, you also once thought of giving it all up to die at my hands, right?"
Luo Ruoxin was unable to say a word.
Such a thought did flash across her mind during their battle. It was for that reason that they had ended up subconsciously holding back, making it appear like an ordinary spar instead of a life-and-death duel.
"One who is unable to transcend oneself will not be able to transcend nature. You won't be able to overcome the limitations of a God Monarch no matter how much spiritual energy you absorb. As for me…"
Kong shi sighed deeply. "I am an ambitious and greedy person. I wish to enlighten the whole world, but I don't want anyone to sacrifice themselves for me in the process of doing so. I have too much compassion in me, and that's a flaw. If I could harden my heart back then to exterminate the Otherworldly Demonic Tribe, we wouldn't face such a crisis now."
Back then, after he killed Vicious, the ranks of the Otherworldly Demonic Tribe had swiftly collapsed. Yet, he had chosen to let them off in the most decisive moment due to the benevolence in his heart.
If only he had hardened his heart and pushed on, they would not have been facing such a situation.
"So, I am not suited. On the other hand, Zhang Xuan, your cultivation technique is aligned with your will and intent, and there is no flaw I can see in you. You seek to live your life to the fullest. Even at the cost of your death, as long as you are able to live with your conscience, you will be able to charge forward bravely and overcome any obstacle. Such a person is more flexible and has more room for development. That's why you will be able to reach a height beyond the two of us!" Kong shi said.
"This…" Zhang Xuan frowned.
He did not expect Kong shi to have such an evaluation of him and Luo Ruoxin, and he was just about to say something when Kong shi waved his hand. "You don't need to feel bad about this. We don't have the time to groom anyone else anymore, and even if we were able to make it in time, I don't think that anyone would be able to do better than you already have.
"God Monarch Lingxi might not possess a fragment of the heavens, but years of controlling Heaven's Nature has granted her a deep understanding of the heavens. I govern the Heavens' Order. If we pass our powers over to you, you will gain the complete powers of the heavens. Together with your clone, the Primordial Golden Lotus of the Nine Skies, you will surely be able to stabilize the Firmament, reverse the tides, and vanquish the intruder!"
Seeing how Kong shi's mind was already set up, Zhang Xuan turned to look at Luo Ruoxin, only to see her nodding in agreement.
Since that was the case, he nodded as well. "Alright then, let's go with that."
They swiftly sat down, and soon, two surges of energy began flowing into Zhang Xuan's body.
This caused his body to stiffen a little. In that moment, he felt as if he had morphed into a manifestation of the heavens, soaring above the nine skies.
Be it his soul, physical body, or zhenqi, all of them were being cleansed and reinforced, making them grow stronger and more powerful.
"The lot of you dare stop me as well? Very well then. I'll start with you before hunting down Zhang Xuan…" Vicious sneered coldly as he knocked Luo Qiqi, Zhang Xuan's clone, and the others flying.
The combined prowess of them all was indeed formidable, but they were still sorely lacking.
The Flooding Sea had devoured all the spiritual energy in the Firmament, except for the spiritual energy in the cities, and this massive bulk of energy was now under Vicious' control. This granted him the destructive power to obliterate anything that stood in his path.
Even though these God Monarchs and Conferred God Kings were already the strongest existences in the world, they were powerless before him.
The current Vicious was like the indomitable tyrant of the Firmament. No one could stop him.
"If the Firmament falls apart, there will be no point in us living. I, the Cloud Dragon Monarch, will fight you down to my final breath!"
The Cloud Dragon Monarch morphed into his original form, a humongous Five-clawed Golden Dragon, and charged right at Vicious.
"You? You aren't worthy!"
With a wave of his hand, Vicious held the Five-clawed Golden Dragon tightly in his grasp. No matter how the latter struggled, he was unable to escape from Vicious' clutches.
"Old friend, wait for me!" God Monarch Fumeng roared furiously as he morphed into a white tiger and charged as well.
The Deathless Monarch also turned into his original form, the Deathless Celestial Phoenix, and loomed over the sky.
The Acheron God Monarch turned into a massive tortoise that shook the lands with every step that it took.
The four beasts guarded the Four Extremities of the Firmament, so with them morphing back into their original forms, the collapse of the Firmament began slowing down.
It felt like four pillars had risen from the ground to support the falling Firmament.
Peng peng peng peng!
But with four consecutive palm strikes, Vicious subdued the four beasts with ease. Killing intent flared in his eyes as he said, "Since you are courting death, I'll fulfill your wish!"
With a furious bellow, he was just about to kill all the God Monarchs present when he suddenly felt his hand freezing in midair.
"Have you asked me for permission to kill them yet?"
Before everyone's shocked gazes, a silhouette slowly walked over from the horizon.
The young man was at least ten times stronger than when he became a God Monarch earlier, and power was overflowing from his body. He had turned to a completely different person ever since returning from the Sky of Freedom.
"You've grown quite a bit." Vicious slowly retracted his hand as he assessed Zhang Xuan with narrowed eyes.
Clearly, he was shocked by how Zhang Xuan had grown so quickly within just a few minutes.
"So what if you've grown stronger? Even the Firmament is unable to hold me back. I don't believe that you can stop me…"
With a cold harrumph, Vicious raised his palm to strike Zhang Xuan down, and Zhang Xuan raised his sword to meet Vicious.
The two of them began clashing with one another, and powerful shockwaves blasted everywhere, opening dimension rifts all around.
Over in Kong shi's base in the Sky of Freedom, Luo Ruoxin worriedly asked, "Can Zhang Xuan win against him?"
After both she and Kong shi transferred their powers to Zhang Xuan, their cultivation had fallen to the God King realm, making it too dangerous for them to head to the battlefield.
However, their experience was still there. As long as they could acquire sufficient energy, they should be able to regain their cultivation soon enough.
Kong shi pondered for a moment before replying. "Even with his current strength, it'll be difficult for him to achieve victory… unless… he comprehends a power stronger than the God Monarchs!"
Vicious was an opponent whom they could not defeat even with their powers combined. Even if they had transferred all their powers over to Zhang Xuan, it was unlikely that Zhang Xuan would be able to triumph over him.
The only reason they did it was to allow Zhang Xuan to touch the tip of the God Monarch realm. Only then would a window of opportunity open for him to overcome the limits of the God Monarch realm and transcend himself!
"Comprehend a power stronger than the God Monarchs?" Luo Ruoxin muttered to herself.
Back when her father was still conscious, he had said similar words to her. However, as hard as she had tried, she had never been able to break through that limit. Would the man she loved really be able to do it?
"Trust him. He'll be able to do it. His sentiments for the world and his unyielding heart will allow him to do so," Kong shi replied with a chuckle.
Peng peng peng!
After a few blows, Zhang Xuan's finger was already bleeding profusely, and a deep gash had been inflicted on his chest.
Just as Kong shi had said, even if Zhang Xuan had formed the complete heavens within him after taking in their powers, he was still not a match for Vicious.
"Hahaha! I was wondering how formidable you would be, but it turns out that this is all you've got," Vicious sneered coldly.
Taking a few steps back, Zhang Xuan gasped for air as he looked at Vicious and said, "Since I'm not a match for you anyway, why don't you fulfill one final wish of mine? I would like to see the strongest attack that you have."
"Are you finally ready to accept your fate? Very well, I shall fulfill that final wish of yours!"
With a cold sneer, Vicious slowly raised his palm, and green light began suffusing his hand.
Then, he struck it down in a decisive motion.
The tremendous might of the attack caused the entire Firmament to scream under the overwhelming weight, and a massive depression was struck into the ground.
In the face of such an attack, Zhang Xuan closed his eyes, as if a person resigned to his fate.
His head burst apart, and his soul dissipated into the void.
Seeing such a sight, everyone's faces paled.
Luo Qiqi staggered backward as she stared ahead, horrified, as if she was going to go insane.
The Cloud Dragon Monarch and the others narrowed their eyes in disbelief.
Even Kong shi and Luo Ruoxin were stunned by that scene.
They had given their powers to Zhang Xuan to allow him to push for a breakthrough beyond the God Monarch realm, so why did he still give up without fighting back?
What was their sacrifice for?
"No, that's not right. It's the Deathless Monarch's Quintessence of Deathlessness!" Kong shi suddenly cried out.
Luo Ruoxin quickly took a closer look at the screen, and she saw the crimson pendant that had been hanging around Zhang Xuan's neck all this while breaking apart, causing a droplet of blood to float in the air.
The droplet of blood burst into flames, forming a sea of inferno. Amid the inferno, an unharmed figure walked out calmly.
Luo Ruoxin widened her eyes in astonishment. "He… made use of Vicious' power and the blood in the pendant to sever the Heavens' Imperfection from his soul."
Unlike the Zhang Xuan before, the resurrected Zhang Xuan did not possess the Library of Heaven's Path anymore. Free of the interference of the heavens, he finally managed to transcend the heavens!
"How did he manage to do it?" Kong shi was taken aback as well.
Their souls had been too deeply intertwined with the heavens, such that they could be considered as one. That was also the reason Kong shi needed his soul to be disintegrated thrice before he could finally free himself from the restraints of the Heavens' Order.
Yet, the young man was able to free himself from the heavens so easily. Just what kind of method did he use?
"I see, I see…" Luo Ruoxin nodded in realization. "He used the method that Vicious used to liberate himself from the Soul Contract!"
The Soul Contract was a binding contract that was carved into one's soul. Unless the master released the servant, the servant's life would forever remain in the control of the master.
That was the same for the relationship between Zhang Xuan and the Library of Heaven's Path.
In essence, it could be considered an even stronger form of a Soul Contract. It was a contractual relationship that was binding even after death, which was why Kong shi had resorted to special means to liberate himself.
However, Vicious had explained to him how the malignant energy had the power to liberate a person from a Soul Contract, and it was probably at that moment that Zhang Xuan had begun formulating such a plan.
That was also why he had tried to convince Vicious to use his strongest attack against him. Through tapping into the malignant energy within his strongest attack, he would sever the bond with the Library of Heaven's Path from his disintegrated soul.
And everything worked out as planned.
"I see, so this is the method to exceed the God Monarchs…"
Walking out of the flames of resurrection, Zhang Xuan had a faint, enlightened smile on his face. He seemed to have understood something from his earlier death.
With a wave of his hand, he beckoned his clone over, who then morphed into a lotus.
In that instant, everyone felt as if Zhang Xuan had become the Nine Skies, and the Nine Skies had become his.
With a stomp of his feet, stability returned to the chaotic Nine Skies.
The Primordial Golden Lotus of the Nine Skies was born with the power to stabilize the world, and through the connection between him and his clone, Zhang Xuan was able to utilize such a power.
Not only so, after absorbing the cultivation of the Primordial Golden Lotus of the Nine Skies, he could feel the bottleneck that he had finally felt after taking in Kong shi and Luo Ruoxin's powers loosening a little.
There was a higher realm above him, and he was going to reach for it.
"The relationship between a master and his subordinates, the camaraderie of brothers, the ties between a teacher and a student, the sentiments between a parent and a child, the love that binds people together… It is an amalgamation of all these things that created the world. This is what it means to be alive," Zhang Xuan muttered to himself with a smile on his lips.
The moment that his soul was liberated from the Library of Heaven's Path, he had finally understood it.
Did the world come into existence because a life became cognizant of its surroundings, or did the world nurture the first life?
Was it the wind moving, or was it the heart that had moved?
These were questions that had confounded countless people over the years.
And of course, to the current Zhang Xuan… all of them were unimportant!
Without life and sentiments, what would the meaning of the existence of the world be?
So, beyond love were the sentiments of the world, the sentiments of all beings interweaved in the world.
All beings in the world possessed sentiments, and it was only with sentiments that the world came into existence. That was also what was sustaining all life in the world.
Love was a sentiment.
Hate was a sentiment.
Joy was a sentiment.
Pain was a sentiment.
The interactions in the world were all tied to sentiments, be it farewells or reunions.
"And I shall channel the sentiments of the world for my own use!"
With a deep roar, Zhang Xuan finally overcame the bottleneck trapping him, becoming an existence transcending the God Monarchs.
In that instant, it was as if a brand-new world had appeared before him, and his soul swiftly grew under nourishment.
Primordial energy swiftly surged into his body, bringing him to a new height.
He could only advance his cultivation through absorbing spiritual energy in the past, but with this advancement, this restraint had been released. Be it the spatial turbulence, the primordial energy lingering in the air, or even the green light formed from the neutralization, he could tap into everything.
Not only did Vicious' attack unexpectedly fail to kill Zhang Xuan, he even inadvertently helped the latter make a breakthrough. Trembling with fury, he bellowed in anger as he launched yet another attack.
"You resent the lofty God Monarchs for failing to save you from the chaotic space. That is a sentiment. You feel indignant and humiliated to have served as my servant. That is a sentiment. You wish to destroy the world to vent your fury. That is a sentiment. You wish to rise beyond the masses to gain ultimate power. That is a sentiment as well. You are a being controlled by your sentiments, so how can you possibly not fall under my control?" Zhang Xuan spoke with a voice that crescendoed with every word.
With a raise of his hand, the sentiments that made up Vicious swiftly intertwined to bind him tightly together, sealing off his movements entirely.
Just like that, the indomitable Vicious had been stopped.
As long as a being had sentiments, it would fall under his jurisdiction.
"You…" Vicious' eyes widened in horror. "Zhang shi, I am your servant. Please don't kill me… I'm willing to offer my soul to you once more…"
"It's too late for you to be saying all of this now…" Zhang Xuan looked upon Vicious coldly as he shook his head.
Standing before him was a person who had hurt his girlfriend, Luo Qiqi, his direct disciples, and so many of his friends. He had tried to destroy the entire Firmament just to vent his own anger, killing many lives in the process.
How could he show mercy to Vicious?
Sensing Zhang Xuan's decisiveness, Vicious narrowed his eyes as he tried to escape, but the next moment, he felt a stabbing pain piercing through his entire body.
Vicious blew up, turning into countless surges of spiritual energy that surged over the entire Firmament.
The energy that had been devoured previously by the dimension fissure and the Flooding Sea had all returned to the Firmament, returning life to the barren wilderness.
"Has everything ended just like that?"
The Cloud Dragon Monarch, Deathless Monarch, Fairy Linglong, and the others were flabbergasted. They could hardly believe their eyes.
They had crossed blows with Vicious earlier, so they knew just how terrifying his strength was. Yet, such a powerful individual had been killed just like that. Just how powerful had Zhang Xuan become?
Was there really another realm above the God Monarch realm?
Kong shi and Luo Ruoxin were finally able to release their tightly clenched fists.
"This is the final fragment of the heavens. I'll return it to the Firmament now…"
The Heavens' Imperfection that he had torn out from his body was floating above Zhang Xuan at this moment.
With a wave of his hand, the Library of Heaven's Path, which had accompanied him ever since his transcension, flew up and fused with the sky of the Firmament.
The loud chiming of a bell echoed in the air, and the devastated Firmament started to come back to life. Order began returning to the chaotic flow of spiritual energy in the air.
"It looks like the Firmament is going to enjoy an era of prosperity from the resurgence of spiritual energy…" Zhang Xuan chuckled.
The dimension fissure had closed after the completion of the heavens, and it would only be a matter of time before the Firmament returned to its peak.
"Zhang Xuan, come over here…"
After that was all done, a voice suddenly echoed in Zhang Xuan's mind. He was slightly stunned at first, but he took a step toward where the voice was coming from.
This single step seemed to take him across countless boundaries, bringing him right before a young man.
It was the young man who had taught him swordsmanship back then.
Seeing that it was him, Zhang Xuan was slightly taken aback.
He had thought that the young man was unfathomably powerful back then, and that was indeed the case.
Even in Zhang Xuan's current state, he realized that he was only a sliver stronger than the young man. The young man had already reached the very peak of the God Monarchs, wielding powers that far exceeded those of Luo Ruoxin and Kong shi.
"I am Nie Tong. You can call me by my name," the young man replied calmly.
"Nie Tong?" Zhang Xuan repeated the name contemplatively.
This was the first time that he had heard the name.
"Follow me. I'll bring you to meet my elder brother," Nie Tong said as he took a step forward.
Zhang Xuan followed behind him, and after traveling an unknown distance, they finally arrived before a mountain peak.
Standing before them was yet another young man who had eyes that seemed to be as deep as the abyss, making it nigh impossible to see through him.
"This strength…" Zhang Xuan shuddered a little.
He could tell that this young man before him was far stronger than him. He had transcended the limits of God Monarchs as well, and his cultivation was much deeper and more stable.
"I am Nie Yun." The young man introduced himself to Zhang Xuan with a smile. "I am also Nie Lingxi's, perhaps you might recognize her more as Luo Ruoxin, father!"
"Ruoxin's father?" Zhang Xuan was astonished. "You are the heavens of the Firmament?"
Luo Ruoxin had told him earlier that her father was the heavens of the Firmament, but he did not expect him to be such a young man.
"Back then, I divided myself into three wills, and a will of mine became the heavens of the Firmament. Besides, this world was created by me. It isn't wrong to say that I'm the heavens of the Firmament," Nie Yun explained with a smile.
Zhang Xuan widened his eyes in astonishment.
The Firmament had actually been created by the person standing before him.
How powerful must he be?
"No, that isn't right. If you were the one who created the Firmament and you are the heavens themselves, why would you watch by the sidelines as Vicious tore apart the Firmament?" Zhang Xuan asked.
If it was not for his breakthrough, the Firmament could have been torn apart. Was the other party going to watch as everything he had built fell to ruin?
Was he not concerned about his daughter at all?
Instead of answering Zhang Xuan's question, Nie Yun gazed into Zhang Xuan's eyes and asked, "Do you think that there are even stronger lifeforms above the Firmament?"
"Even stronger lifeforms?" Zhang Xuan pondered for a moment before nodding. "I guess so…"
He might not have met anyone else, but since he had been able to cultivate to this level, there should be others who had done the same.
The young man before him was one such example.
"I have always wondered about this question, so I tried to use my powers to peer above. However, as a result of my actions, it brought about retribution from a higher world. A palm descended from above to tear apart the Firmament," Nie Yun said. "If I had dodged, the Firmament would have been utterly destroyed by that strike, and all life would have fallen to ruin. So, I gathered all my strength to withstand the palm strike, but as a result of that, the heavens ended up splitting into three fragments.
"I could have recovered with a single thought, but I knew that if I wanted to overcome the limits of the Firmament, uncover the origin of the palm, and explore the world beyond the Firmament, it would be impossible for me to do it alone. So, I wanted to see if there is anyone else in the world who could transcend the boundaries of the God Monarch realm to stand on the same level as me.
"Thus, I sent the fragments of the heavens to the lowest world, and I bestowed one of them to a soul in this world and the other to a soul that belonged to another world. And you have not let me down," Nie Yun explained with a smile.
"A soul that belonged to another world… So, my transcension to this world was your doing as well?" Zhang Xuan widened his eyes in astonishment.
He did not think that there would be such a truth to his transcension.
"Haha!" Nie Yun chuckled softly. "Those who are native to this world carry great deference toward the world and the heavens, making it harder for them to transcend nature. It was a decision I made on the spur of the moment, but you fared far better than I thought you would."
"I…" Zhang Xuan's face reddened. "If it wasn't for Kong shi, I never would have reached my current level."
His achievements were built upon the guidance of his predecessor. Had it not been for many others paving the path ahead for him, it would have been hard for him to reach his current level.
"I gave him a chance as well, but he didn't grasp it well. His fight with Lingxi was the ideal opportunity for him to make a breakthrough, but he chose to back down. He prepared a hand that allowed him to overcome fate, but in exchange, he lost the determination to charge ahead in the face of adversity. Without such a spirit, there's no way he'll be able to face life forms that far surpass us!" Nie Yun said.
Zhang Xuan fell silent.
He had witnessed the battle back then, and Kong shi was indeed lacking decisiveness. It stemmed from his unwillingness to sacrifice Luo Ruoxin in order to climb to a higher height. With that, he lost the opportunity to make a breakthrough.
"But if Kong shi had won, Ruoxin would have lost her life!" Zhang Xuan exclaimed with a deep frown.
Did the other party not care about the life and death of his daughter at all?
"I am around. I wouldn't allow anything to happen to her," Nie Yun replied. "You have also reached the same realm as me. Do you think that I wouldn't be able to save them in a battle of their level?"
If he had made a move, he could have saved Luo Ruoxin at the very last moment while ensuring that no harm came to her.
There was simply a huge difference between a God Monarch and an existence who had transcended the God Monarchs.
"Lingxi was born from my wife, Luo Qingcheng, and that's why she chose to use the surname 'Luo' for her persona. In order to convince her of the situation to prevent her emotions from getting ahead of her, she still thinks that I'm in a coma at the moment." Nie Yun shook his head with a derisive smile directed at himself. "I sure am a vicious father, aren't I?
"I think it would be best for you to explain everything to her. After all, she has already devoted all her feelings to you. I reckon that she barely has any thoughts left for me… Haha, I think I shan't appear before her for a period of time, or else she might just flip everything upside down…"
Looking at Nie Yun with a conflicted expression, Zhang Xuan could not help but lament at how Luo Ruoxin had such an unreliable father. With a deep sigh, he nodded. "Alright, I'll tell her about it…"
What else could he do? If he wanted to take Luo Ruoxin as his wife, he needed the approval of his future father-in-law. He would just have to leave Luo Ruoxin to deal with Nie Yun in the future.
"The Library of Heaven's Path is an artifact formed by my thoughts. It is both a foundation and a limiter. Through relying on your own abilities in the end to advance your cultivation, you have proven your own capabilities and potential. I believe that you will achieve great things in the future. As a father, I am relieved to entrust my daughter to you." Nie Yun nodded with a satisfied smile.
Zhang Xuan nodded for a moment before he suddenly thought of something. He turned to Nie Tong and asked, "Elder, are you the one who comprehended the Gods' Sword Intent in the Azure?"
Based on what he had heard, the founder of the Ascendant Cloud Sword Pavilion, just like Kong shi, had risen to the Firmament, but Zhang Xuan had not heard of the other party's name yet.
A person who was that talented could not possibly have remained unknown in the Firmament.
"It was a heritage that I left behind with a sliver of my will. I wanted to help you avoid some detours so that you could quickly advance through the ranks and catch up to my brother. He… has been alone for a very long time now," Nie Tong replied calmly as he glanced at his elder brother with a deep look in his eyes.
It was as if there was no one in his eyes other than his elder brother.
To him, leaving behind a sliver of his will in a lower world like the Azure was nothing at all, but it had indeed helped Zhang Xuan a lot along the way.
It was that experience that had solidified his will to further his swordsmanship, allowing him to become the person he was now.
"I see. You have my gratitude." Zhang Xuan nodded.
It seemed like they had been observing him all this while, and this left him a little conflicted within.
"You should return for now and focus on your cultivation. When your cultivation finally stabilizes, I'll bring you to a greater world beyond so that you'll know just how big the world is!" Nie Yun laughed heartily before waving his hand.
With a distortion in space, Zhang Xuan returned to the Sky of Freedom.
Standing before him was none other than Luo Ruoxin.
With a beautiful smile, the young lady leaped right into his embrace.
 Five-clawed Golden Dragons are usually weaved into the robes of Chinese Emperors as a symbol of ultimate authority.
 This is from a famous Buddhist story about two monks arguing over a moving flag. Monk A says that it's the flag that is moving, and Monk B says that it's the wind that is moving. An enlightened monk then comes in and say that it's their heart (mind) that has moved.
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