At night, in the gourmet street in the underground ghost city of Floating Spear City, a cozy restaurant was filled with flavorful cuisine, lively chitchatting, and colliding sounds of pans and knives. Everyone's faces were beaming with delight.
This was what one might call the joy of life.
Two cups filled with chilled fruit wine clicked. Li Yao and Meng Jiang, his old friend from back when he was in high school, drank up the wine and smacked their lips, enjoying it very much. They looked each other in the eyes and smiled.
"It's been three years since I last came here. The mulberry wine of Old Du Barbecue is just as scrumptious as the old days!"
Li Yao licked his lip, dwelling on his past.
In the day, after he left Mining Clan High School, he'd gone to see Peng Hai, his Senior Brother. Then, the two of them paid a visit to their Enlightenment Master Sun.
Mister Sun had been just a Cultivator at the Refinement Stage with no exceptional abilities in his early years. However, his eyes were sharp enough to discover Fiend Blade Peng Hai and Vulture Li Yao when he was old. As a result, his position in the Crimson Nimbus Sect had soared.
In order to make friends with Peng Hai and Li Yao, the Crimson Nimbus Sect had been taking care of Mister Sun devotedly over the past few years. It had even arranged an excellent villa in a suburb for the old man to enjoy his retired life.
Yet, Mister Sun had always remembered that Crimson Nimbus Second Senior High School had kicked Li Yao out before. He was never keen about the affairs of Crimson Nimbus Sect. Instead, one of his greatest hobbies was to wander around in slums, hoping to find the next talented kid.
Li Yao had dinner with Peng Hai and Mister Sun together. He entrusted Peng Hai to handle his shares in Dual Dragon Union. After sorting everything out, it was already nine o'clock in the evening.
He happened to hear that his old friend Meng Jiang had graduated from the vocational school after three years of study and successfully acquired the medium credential of beautician. He was idle at present.
Li Yao hadn't seen Meng Jiang for three years. They took the opportunity and met each other again in their favorite underground gourmet street.
The Goat Oil Fried Noodles with hot steam billowing up, skewers with meat that was even thicker than arms, clams which were so spicy that their tears were dripping, and the extremely fat drumsticks. All the delicious cuisines that they dreamed about in their high school were served on the table.
"I never expected that we would ever meet again. Good for you! Reaching the Building Foundation Stage after only three years. You are as famous as Fiend Blade Peng Hai now!"
With a broad smile, Meng Jiang poured wine into Li Yao's cup, while he observed, "I'm just an ordinary man, and I doubt I will achieve anything special in my entire life. The only thing that I'm proud of is that I have such a good friend like you! I didn't expect that you would still remember me as your old friend now that you are a Building Foundation Stage Cultivator, and that you are willing to meet and have dinner with me in such an unattractive place! I'm so happy!"
"Meng Jiang, you will always be my best friend! How can I forget you? Years ago, when I was seriously wounded on Devil Flood Dragon Island during the hunting trip, everybody said that it was impossible for me to wake up again. It was you who had been defending me in the campus. You even had quite a few fights with other people. I never forgot that, not even for a second!"
Holding his cup tightly, Li Yao said, somewhat embarrassedly, "But you know that once you set off on the path of Cultivation, you can only try your best to move forward. I've been spending almost 24 hours a day in training. Sometimes, I have been summoned to various battlegrounds where I engage in furious battles that can last for months. There really has been no time for me to reunite with my old friend!"
"I totally understand. The situation is quite intense nowadays. Cultivators are busier than ever! Now that you've embarked on this path, just dedicate yourself to it and climb upward! I'm waiting to drink with you again when you reach the Nascent Soul Stage!"
Meng Jiang grinned. "But don't keep me waiting for too long! If I am already an ugly old man when you become a Nascent Soul Stage Cultivator, it will be too embarrassing for me to take a picture with you!"
Li Yao grinned, too. "Rest assured! I won't keep you waiting for that long!
"Right, what about you?
"I know that your dream is to become the best beautician in the federation. You've been working hard enough to acquire the medium credential that many experienced beauticians find difficult to get. What are your plans next? Go job hunting or start your own business?"
Meng Jiang smiled and said proudly, "I'm going to join the army."
Li Yao was dazed for a moment. "Join the army?"
Meng Jiang nodded. "Of course, I want to start my salon. But you know my family's condition. There is barely any money for that. My father has never been supportive about my career, either.
"Now that the federation is in the first-degree state of war, the benefits of the soldiers have significantly improved. The standard of enrollment has been lowered, too. After three years of service, I will be able to apply for a sum of loans to realize my dream!
"I'll let you in on a secret. I took the military test a few days ago and passed it. As long as the vetting of my files is fine, I will become a glorious soldier of the federation!
"Haha. Even my father doesn't know it yet. He will be so furious when he hears the news!"
"So, that was the case"
Thinking for a moment, Li Yao took out a black, dull polish Gold Transfer Card from his pocket, put it on the oily desk, and pushed it over.
Meng Jiang was dazed for a moment. There was hesitation in his eyes. Drinking up the wine in his cup, he pushed the card back after a deep breath.
Li Yao frowned and said, "Meng Jiang, we are best friends. You don't have to be courteous with me. The money inside should be enough for you to start a medium-size salon. You will be able to save yourself the trouble of serving in the army. It's really dangerous to be a soldier right now!"
Glancing at the Gold Transfer Card, Meng Jiang seemed somewhat regretful. But his eyes turned determined again, as he smiled and said, "Li Yao, I know you mean well, and the money matters little to you.
"However, I have always considered us to be best friends. Our friendship can be traced back to our high school. It's the purest of all and I value it more than anything else!
"Therefore, I can't take your money to run my business. If so, our friendship will not be pure anymore, but flawed and sour.
"What's more, compared to an effortless success, I'd prefer to build a business of my own with my own hands!
"Only in such a way can I feel confident about myself when I look back at my past after I establish a splendid empire from nothing!
"When you become a Nascent Soul Stage Cultivator one day, I will still be able to eat and drink with you confidently with my head held high!"
Li Yao pondered for a long time. Then he scratched his head and smiled.
"Well said, Meng Jiang. You've improved a lot over the past three years!"
Meng Jiang grinned, his eyes beaming with pride. "With such a super genius like you as my best friend, I'm under a lot of pressure. Of course, I need to try my best to improve myself, so that the distance between us won't be too big!
"Since my talents are limited, I will remain an ordinary man for my entire life because it's very likely that I will never awaken my spiritual root. I told you when we parted last time that ordinary people can made their own achievements, too, which will be no less impressive than those of Cultivators'!
"Maybe, I cannot become a Cultivator in everyone's eyes and shock the entire federation with my name. But at the very least, I can be a Cultivator of my own life and steer my own fate!"
Li Yao was greatly touched.
Illuminated by the burning furnace, his old friend Meng Jiang's face was gleaming, full of hope for a beautiful life in the future, determination to achieve it with everything he could, and confidence to break the shackles of life.
Li Yao was very delighted to see his old friend's new change. He raised his cup again.
"Remarkable, Meng Jiang. We are all Cultivators of our own life. Now that we've set off on the path of our own will, we should spare no effort in walking forward one step after another, never to give up no matter how bitter, no matter how hard, no matter how exhausting the journey is!"
Three days later, at the location of the Heaven's Artillery on a vast desert in the northwest part of the Star Glory Federation
The federal army had sealed off five hundred square kilometers nearby. More than five Nascent Soul Stage Cultivators were monitoring the sky and the underground carefully.
In the control center, more than ten research-type Cultivators at the Core Formation Stage, leading almost a hundred Building Foundation Stage experts and hundreds of Refinement Stage ones, were busy operating the facilities.
There were five minutes left before the first launch of the Heaven's Artillery.
On the wall of the giant hollow on the ground that Li Yao had seen once before, hundreds of thousands of runes were shining. A red sun seemed to be rising up.
Although it was a cloudless day, the brightness triggered by the spiritual waves still eclipsed the radiating sunlight.
In the middle of the round pit, deep down in the silo which lead underground, a cluster of redness was accumulating and roaring like the sound of wind and thunder, as if a behemoth made of magma that had been locked for a long time was ready to break out of its cage.
Bolstered by tectonic movements and fluctuations of spiritual energy, the volcano which had been tranquil for half a year was about to burst out in an unprecedentedly shocking way!
Inside the control center, the Cultivators were calculating the angle and trajectory of the eruption, trying to pour more oil onto it.
"Three minutes to go!"
"108 crystal bomb positions have been triggered simultaneously!"
"Earth fire enhancing array, activate!"
"BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!"
Feeble quakes came from deep underground. Ripples were appearing inside the glasses of water on the desks.
The faces of every Cultivator, including those of the Nascent Soul Stage Cultivators, were also shivering.
The stratum that blocked the volcano before had been blown to pieces by the crystal bombs. The enhancement array could trigger the enormous energy contained inside the earth fire momentarily.
The launch procedure had been started. Nothing could interrupt it right now. The only thing that they could do was wait.
Modern Cultivators were natural atheists.
They might believe that there were some godly or devilish species which boasted incomparable strength to crumble or create planets.
But they would never believe that there was an unperceivable, unobservable, and unfalsifiable god manipulating everything behind them.
However, in the three minutes that seemed to forever long, many of the firmest atheists started mumbling prayers to nonexistent gods like the ancient Cultivators did forty thousand years ago.
The earth was trembling more and more violently. The redness inside the silo was becoming increasingly bright. Scorching steams were surging up from the cracks on the ground almost a hundred kilometers around, which condensed into wildly-dancing white mist that brought the temperature of the environment up by more than ten degrees.
Heaven's Artillery was a perfect name that explained the structure of the super teleportation array. The star rails formed a helix inside the silo like rifling in a gun barrel.
Five star shuttles, with a hundred meters in between, were parked at the bottom of the silo.
In one of the star shuttles, the Orb Patrollers were singing aloud. Noisy national anthems and military songs echoed in the shabby cabin.
In another shuttle, the Orb Patrollers were telling ribald jokes to each other, trying to ease their anxiety.
In two of the other star shuttles, every Orb Patroller closed their eyes, while they listened to the roaring of the earth fire under their feet quietly.
One minute to go before the launch!
The most thrilling arc and the finale of Volume I is about to begin!
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