Chapter 623 - Poet, Ouyang Jianwang
Half a day later, Tianming finally found the entrance of the Heaven Branch. The branch itself was sealed off with a top-tier heavenly pattern formation, forbidding entrance by anyone aside from disciples or seniors of the Heaven Branch. The sole entrance was called the Heaven Dao Gate.
Tianming, as a disciple of the Earth Branch, had no right to enter, so he raised the faction lord's emblem.
"You can only go to the Heaven Cauldron after going inside. If you go anywhere else and end up offending disciples of the Heaven Branch, nobody will care even if you get yourself killed," said a senior by the gate.
It was only after coming to the Heaven Branch that Tianming realized that the Earth Branch was far inferior; even though the Heaven Branch was such a small area, it held more than three hundred spiritual energy springs.
"Damn, the spiritual energy in the surroundings feels like it's pouring down like rain."
It almost seemed a little foggy everywhere they looked. However, Tianming could still see a tall mountain in the distance, atop which stood a large black cauldron. That was none other than the Heaven Cauldron. He began making his way there immediately.
"Isn't that a little too big?" Tianming said, noticing its gigantic proportions the closer he was to it. It was no wonder that it could store so many spirit hazards. The mountain was called Heaven Sacred Mountain. When he finally climbed it and reached the bottom of the cauldron, he felt an ancient and powerful aura coming from it.
"I wouldn't be surprised if this was a divine artifact." The Old Deepstar Path was one such artifact as well.
There were countless engravings on top of the cauldron, depicting many different lifelike beastmasters and lifebound beasts. It was probably depicting a battle. Tianming could even feel the atmosphere of the battlefield with a single glance.
"Who’s fighting against who?" He couldn't really tell; while the beastmasters and lifebound beasts were quite clearly depicted, their opponents were shrouded in a kind of black mist, seemingly blurred in comparison, though Tianming could still feel a hint of fear.
He looked down and saw many layers of heavenly pattern formations surrounding the way into the mountain.
"I guess the entirety of Heaven Sacred Mountain is filled with such formations. The Archaionfiend Eye is definitely within!" Tianming felt his head hurt from the troubles that were to come. "I might be able to break through the formations with my black arm, but there seems to be too many. Not to mention, what happens if I cause a commotion and get discovered? If somebody is guarding the space, won't I be walking into a trap by going straight in?"
He decided that there were too many unknowns about obtaining the eye, so he couldn't be reckless yet.
"I only have one chance and I must make sure that everything is perfect. I should only act when I’m fully familiar with the heavenly pattern formations in this mountain, as well as the Heaven Cauldron."
There were many powerful samsarans in the Heaven Branch, so it would be too eye-catching for an empyrean saint like him to be here. He wouldn't be able to so much as walk around without being scrutinized, to say nothing of taking the Archaionfiend Eye.
"This won't be easy." He had long known that the assignment that Li Muyang had given him wouldn’t be something as easy as sneaking into the place, taking the eye, and slipping out again. "I suppose I'll just dip my toes in for today."
The only way for him to sneak in to steal the eye was if he was completely familiar with the situation, including the place's conditions as well as where everyone would be at all times. If he stumbled into a place where he wasn't supposed to be, he would most likely be killed straight away.
"I should be patient." He turned his sights back to the Heaven Cauldron. Countless types of spirit hazards were stored within it. It was a place for disciples of the Heaven Branch to cultivate body refining techniques. Tianming put the colorful egg in his hand back into his lifebound space and prepared to make his way up.
At that moment, countless seething glares came from behind him. He turned back to look and saw six disciples from the Heaven Branch standing ten meters away.
"I didn’t think that I wouldn’t notice them until they were so close to me!" It went without saying that these disciples from the Heaven Branch were incredibly powerful. Tianming could tell with a single glance that the youth standing in the middle of the group was proud and domineering. He had a head of colorful hair and a piercing gaze, instantly allowing Tianming to identify him as the most spoiled brat of the bunch. The youth's eyes practically spelled lawlessness.
"Fang Xingque?" Tianming said without a hint of fear, narrowing his gaze.
"Oh, you know who I am?" Fang Xingque said, a little surprised.
"Everyone in the Archaion Sect knows you. You’re really famous!" Tianming said with a smile.
"You seem to have a pleasant mouth." Fang Xingque exchanged glances with those around him and laughed, then continued, "so what’s an empyrean saint like you doing in the Heaven Branch?"
"Stop putting out that act. I'm sure you know me and have seen how I beat up the other disciples from the Sterling House of Fang. Sounds like you're throwing a tantrum over it."
The atmosphere instantly grew cold. All the other disciples beside Fang Xingque were also members of the Sterling House of Fang, elite ones in fact. However, they seem to be rather listless right now.
"You are the bravest person I’ve ever met," said one of them.
"Wow, you actually dared to snap back at Xingque. Impressive," said another.
Fang Xingque himself remained stunned for a good moment before he broke out in laughter. "Go, go, one of you. Cut his hand off and pull out his tongue. Then, pluck out all of his teeth and even his eyes. Bring them back to this young master. I’ll show him who I am," he said, his shoulders shaking from the laughter.
"Let me do it," said a man clad in green.
Tianming, however, had a really powerful bodyguard and wasn't the least bit afraid. As far as he was concerned, all he had to do was to bring up 'Her Eminence' and nobody in the Archaion Sect would cause him trouble.
But just as his enemies were about to approach, a beam of sword ki shot down from the top of the Heaven Cauldron.
"Aaaagh!" cried the man who tried to approach, his palm pierced through by the sword ki, revealing a bloody hole.
"Stop messing around in my turf and scram!" said a drunken, but domineering voice.
Fang Xingque started and said, "Understood, Tribulation Elder Ouyang." Turning to Tianming, he said, "You were lucky this time, but you’ll never be able to leave the Heaven Cauldron for the rest of your life. Hahaha..."
"You’re too rambunctious. You must’ve been brought up rather badly," Tianming said.
"Is that an insult against my father and seniors that I hear?" Fang Xingque seemed to be ruffled up again.
Tianming looked at his colorful hair and beautiful, rainbow colored robes that appeared to be made of many different feathers. It looked like a top grade defensive tribulation artifact.
"I have a poem for you. Listen up," he said.
"A cultured one, are you? Out with it. I’ll give it a listen."
Tianming smiled and said, "Chicken-feathered robes, a Brave of Heaven Branch wears, breath of irony." 
Everyone fell silent again.
"Wonderful poem! Wonderful indeed!" said a voice from the top of the Heaven Cauldron, followed by applause. The clapping of hands felt like slaps on Fang Xingque's face.
The other disciples couldn't help but take a look at his feathered robes. Though they were about to burst out laughing, they forced themselves to stay silent, afraid of offending Fang Xingque.
They watched as Fang Xingque clenched both his fists and glared at Tianming. He felt like he had never been so angered in his whole life.
"Do you not care about losing your life at all?" Fang Xingque said in a hoarse voice.
"Stop exaggerating. You already want to kill me, so why should I bother being polite to you? Just scurry away and stop embarrassing yourself. I'm sure that a braindead scion like you must’ve been babied all your life. You should learn some dignity from Xuanyuan Yuheng, understood?" Tianming mocked.
"Good, very good, very very good," Fang Xingque said as he chuckled uncontrollably.
"It was nice meeting you, too. Have a good day," Tianming casually said as he waved in annoyance and flew up toward the Heaven Cauldron, leaving Fang Xingque and the rest flabbergasted.
Come to think of it, the height of the Heaven Cauldron seemed to be beyond five hundred meters. It was quite a strain for Tianming to fly so high, but he kept on.
"What’s this?" he said, continuing to look at the blurry depictions of the so-called enemies. Soon, he reached the top of the cauldron.
There was an old man in tattered clothing in front of him, lying on top of a sword as he poured wine into his mouth from a gigantic wine pot. "So you like to make poems too, young man?" he finally said after finishing his large gulp, face completely flushed.
"Tribulation Elder, I am but an amateur. My understanding of poetry can't even begin to be compared to yours. The legendary poem 'Of Swords and Wine' is a timeless classic that stands out among the rest," Tianming respectfully said.
Before he’d come, he had asked his neighbor, Fang Xingying, about the Heaven Cauldron, and learned about this person, the guardian of the Heaven Cauldron, Ouyang Jianwang. He was one of the three tribulation elders that stood at the top of the sect. There weren't many of them in the entire sect. When Feiling had returned as their goddess, Ouyang Jianwang was among those there.
While he was an unparalleled expert in the way of the sword, he wasn’t a member of the Draconis House of Jian, having started from humble beginnings. In his youth, he was a legendary figure in the Archaion Sect that had made his way from the Human Branch all the way to the Heaven Branch. Jianwang, or, 'sword king', wasn’t his real name, but more and more people called him that to the point that they had forgotten his actual name.
The man watched Tianming as he respectfully greeted him. He definitely knew that he was the one Feiling had brought back as a 'disciple'. "You have potential, young one. You have a good eye for these things, too. When I get back, I should test out my poetry and alcohol tolerance against yours."
"I might not be a good partner to test against, but I’ll be glad to receive any guidance, Tribulation Elder."
"Alright, on your way now."
Tianming almost cursed out loud from the sudden change in attitude. He bid Ouyang Jianwang farewell and looked ahead at the sword ki pool that was several times the size of the one he had seen before. Though, it didn’t only contain sword ki, but many other spirit hazards as well. It was a true sea of spirit hazards, having a mixture of fire, lightning, wind, ice, water, metal, and many other types of spirit hazards together, forming a rather terrifying sight.
"This looks much scarier than the sword ki pool...." Even the spirit hazards on the top layer had tens of saintly heavenly patterns, with some even reaching a hundred.
Without saying anything else, Tianming directly stepped into the pool and almost immediately felt the spirit hazards tearing at his flesh. It was so painful that his teeth chattered.
"I heard that it’s only going to get far worse down there. Spirit hazards with tribulation patterns are much deeper."
He continued sinking even deeper. "Is there anything you need here, little friend?"
The colorful egg in his lifebound space rolled around excitedly, much to Tianming's joy. He immediately sank even deeper and eventually saw tribulation spirit hazards when he reached a thick layer of black flame.
The moment he touched it, he screamed in pain. Even his Aeternal Infernal Body charred at a visible rate when burned by it. It was among the most painful sensations that he had ever felt.
"Did you come here to kill yourself? Why did you dare to resist a tribulation spirit hazard without an empyrean gold body?" said another Heaven Branch disciple in the distance in disbelief.
Tianming also noticed the problem. He couldn't take it at all. "Fourth, how deep is the spirit hazard you need?"
The egg merely rolled around, unable to communicate.
"It said it's at the bottom," Ying Huo said.
"All the way to the bottom?!" Tianming nervously said. "I'm only a third of the way down and can't continue beyond the tribulation spirit hazard. Won't the one at the bottom burn me up completely?"
"Can't you just hide in Prime Tower and let it sink?"
"That won’t work. First, I still won't be able to go out. Second, I need to engage in symbiotic cultivation with Fourth, so my body must be able to take it or problems will arise. Now that my stage is much higher, it won't be as easy for Fourth to reach the Empyrean Saint stage right away. It’ll be much harder than before," Tianming said, troubled.
"Then what can we do?" Ying Huo asked.
"Well, based on the fact that we’re only a third of the way down and the spirit hazards will only become even more powerful the deeper we go, the ones at the very bottom must have quite a few tribulation patterns. My guess is that as long as I can reach the fourth level of the Empyrean Saint stage and use a good body refining technique, it might just work. It must at least be better than the Invincible Sword Body. That technique is no longer as good as what we have here. I wonder how long it’ll take me to be able to reach the bottom."
"Damn, so we still have to wait after all," Ying Huo said, consoling the colorful little egg.
"Of course. Did you think raising you guys is easy?" Tianming had no choice but to leave for now. "It's fine. If Fourth needs a powerful tribulation spirit hazard, that means it’s very powerful. It will no doubt be of great help when it is born."
"I guess we have no choice, my poor little girl." Ying Huo continued stroking the egg, which seemed to jump and angrily knock Ying Huo on the head before scurrying away.
"Hey, it's not my fault, you know!"
"Haha, Ying Huo, you’d better be prepared. If it dares to hit you before it’s even hatched, you might have some tough days to come," Tianming joked.
"Well, we can always talk this out, can't we? Can't you slow down your training? We'll let it hatch later," Ying Huo whispered, then felt another hard bump on the back of his head.
Ying Huo rolled around the ground in pain, on the verge of tears.
"Goodbye, Tribulation Elder," Tianming respectfully said.
"Kid, remember to come back for a poetry battle with me," Ouyang Jianwang said.
"I wouldn't dare," Tianming said, before he hurried away.
"I have to find a way to get a powerful body refining technique!" He knew that trying to hatch the fourth egg was bound to be a huge challenge. He returned to the Earth Branch after leaving through the Heaven Dao Gate and headed to the Number One Pavilion.
Meanwhile, hidden in the snowy wilderness, a few people suddenly appeared, among them Fang Xingque. "My friends, the show is about to begin. Let's have lots of fun!"
1. A senryu 5-7-5 poem I wrote [the literal translation wouldn't be particularly poetic]