Within the Celestial Church's headquarters, the thirty-six Celestial elders surrounded Anatole, none wearing a smiling face. On this occasion, even his kinsmen, the Wirth sun spirits didn't stand on his side.
"Anatol, as the leader of the Celestial Church, you failed to consider the big picture, and surrendered the church's mightiest artifact to an outsider, all for the sake of retrieving your son!
Good. You now have his corpse. Are you satisfied?"
The great elder "inquired" in a mocking tone. But the mourning Anatol paid him no heed. His eyes peered into the distance, and only his back faced his peers. Taking his silence as a sign of weakness, the great elder carried on.
"Under your leadership, we first lost our footing in the Holy Continent. Then, we lost more than ninety percent of our forces beneath the Divine Rank. And finally, we lost our strongest artifact.
Now look at the faith radars! Look at how close our daily merit gains are from zero! Our passive boons from faith are shooting toward nothingness faster than the eye can follow! This is the last Holy War, and before we can confront the Infernal Cult, you've allowed a secular world youth to stomp us to this level!
Anatol are you not ashamed?! How can you answer to your peers and face your predecessors?"
The great elder roared, hoping to use the recent events to pressure Anatole into abdication. And still, no elder came to his defense.
Inwardly, Anatol sighed. There were always people like this. Individuals who never looked beyond immediate benefit and couldn't stop themselves from coveting swift profit.
The great elder was one such a person.
"Isn't it the church leader seat you want? Ok. You can have it."
Anatol replied without turning heels. And hearing this, to say nothing of the other elders, even the great elder couldn't believe his ears.
He couldn't help but blurt out.
"I said if you want the church leader's seat, just take it. I have no interest in such paltry dignity."
Anatol's words rang within the room, alarming his peers. But in a flash, fury replaced their shock.
"The Celestial Church's leader is the representant of the Cardinal Lords within this world, the guide of the faith! How dare you disparage that office?"
The great elder snapped. And soon, several high-ranking elders followed suit.
"Mourning is no justification for such disrespect. With those words alone, you're no longer qualified to hold your seat!"
"How could you po-"
But before the last rebuking elder could finish his words, Anatol's cultivation erupted, releasing a massive wave of divine power that sent all the elders flying against nearby walls with large gushes of blood.
Although the great elder managed to avoid his fellows' fate, his organs spiraled out of control, and he dropped on his knees…
…then spurted a large mouthful of blood. As he supported himself on his hands to avoid collapsing, his eyes widened in disbelief.
"Peak…peak of Divine Transformation."
He realized in fright. He and Anatol had been stranded at the limit of the late-stage for more than ten-thousand years, without any hope of breaking through to the peak. The reason was simple. To reach the peak of Divine Transformation, there were many conditions.
First, possessing at least twenty-seven Supreme Meridians and an Imperial Avatar.
Second, reaching the late stage in the martial and spiritual paths.
Third, turning a Mature Dao into a Grand Dao.
Fourth, transforming Supreme Meridians into God-Meridians and the Imperial Avatar into a False God Incarnation.
When all these conditions were fulfilled, the cultivator could break through the peak of Divine Transformation, and pursue Divine Ascension.
Alas, in the history of the Ancient Crystal World, no native ever managed to satisfy them all. For this reason, after the first batch that came from the higher realms, none could reach the peak of Divine Transformation and breakthrough Divine Ascension.
Never did the great elder expect that Anatol managed where all others failed!
"I've already said I would give you the seat. Why must you still pressure me?
Can a man not mourn his loss? Can a father not mourn his son? What law within heaven and earth forbids me from having this moment of peace?
Must I kill you all before you understand proper limitations?"
Laced with an invisible force, Anatol's words hacked at his suppressed peers' bones and organs, brutalizing them from within.
Even the great elder could not resist. Starting with the Divine Rank, each breakthrough triggered a monstrous strength leap. A leap that only grew with higher ranks.
At Divine Transformation, each level was comparable to the gap between early Divine Blood/Spirit and early Divine Transformation.
"What are wealth, glory and splendor before the hearth of our house? Before the shared warmth of our beloved. I do not care for such trivial dignities, because they are not worth caring for."
Anatol declared while turning toward the elders who know knelt on the ground, trembling before his might.
"Church leader we…"
They began, but before they could finish their words, Anatol cut them dry.
"No. No church leader. Don't you want me to abdicate? Very well, I retire. You can take my badge of office. However, I must warn you, the days ahead hold nothing good for you."
Anatol's words awoke the great elder to the new reality of things. With this breakthrough, even if he took the church leader's seat, if Anatol so wished, he would still hold all powers.
That seat…he couldn't take.
"Please forgive our impudence, we were narrow-minded and failed to share your burdens. Never again will such a breach occur!"
He pledged, renouncing his claim. And seeing this, Anatol sneered.
"As you wish. Surrender your houses' merit reserves. I plan to use both house and church merit to begin a summoning ritual.
Using our years of accumulation, we will permanently summon several Celestial Realm Divine Ascension Devas from mighty noble houses to lead us against our foes. With their strength and backgrounds, they should have a way to dispose of the Anti-Divine-Power Screen."
Anatol's order struck the kneeling elders like a bolt of lightning, and many of them failed to accept those words.
"But…if we do that…we're forcing the Infernal Cult into doing the same! Please remember the tales of the First Holy War!
Once a battle between forces of that level begins, how many of us can survive?! Worse, to the Celestial Realm, we're nothing more than glorified ants. How will those devas treat us when they descend? Please reconsider!"
The great elder exclaimed, unwilling to see the situation reach such a stage.
However, he'd underestimated both Anatol's determination and the depth of his hatred.
"To achieve great things, one must be willing to take risks. If you're not willing to take this gamble, as great elder, you serve no purpose."
Meanwhile, within the Barbarian Continent's forbidden and most dreadful zone, Gulistan and Berken stood before a gargantuan tree.