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Book 36, Daolord of the Fourth Step, Chapter 30 – Heading Off

It was difficult for the three mighty Hegemons to slay Archon-rank Emperors, precisely because the Emperors could use their invulnerable forms to flee. However… if they were trapped in illusions, they would be unable to escape or to maintain their invulnerable forms. Their minds would’ve been drawn into the illusions, allowing them to be killed.

Heartforce Emperors were the terrifying stuff of legends. The entire Flamedragon Realmverse didn’t have a single Heartforce Emperor in it at present. For Heartforce Cultivators to succeed in the Daomerge was far more difficult than for those who trained in any other Dao; most likely, it was second only to those who walked the path of the Omega Dao. Heartforce Cultivators had to have extremely large and stable heartworlds if they wished to have a chance at the Daomerge.

Thus, Heartforce Cultivators would generally improve themselves to at least the supreme Daolord level. Only then would they have sufficiently large and stable heartworlds for them to even consider the Daomerge.

When Ning had visited the alternate universe, he had seen the corpse of a Heartforce Hegemon. He had also seen the Heartforce Hegemon who had died in combat against the Sithe. Both of those were Emperors!

It was virtually guaranteed that a Heartforce Cultivator who succeeded in the Daomerge would become a Hegemon-rank Emperor! Only a tiny, tiny fraction of them would end up as Archon-rank Emperors.

Ning, however, was already comparable to Archon-rank Heartforce Emperors in power! Although he wasn’t able to threaten Hegemons, he was more than capable of threatening the other Archons.

……

While Ning was training, other things were happening within the distant Terror Starsea.

Rumble… countless streams of fire formed a giant whirlpool that surrounded and filled this vast territory. The flames were incomparably beautiful, and they actually converged to form flowers.

A skinny white-haired, white-browed man simply stood there at the edge of the beautiful vortex of flames, staring into it. His white brows fluttered as his oily green eyes stared intently into the very center of the vortex.

“Hmph. Ninedust… no matter how crafty you are and how much you struggle, you’ve still fallen into my trap.” Archon Silksnow smiled coldly. “It took me a hundred million years, but I’ve finally found you. Did you think I really want you dead? No… killing you is just a perk. The person I really want to kill is Daolord Darknorth?”

A frenzied, murderous look was in Archon Silksnow’s oily green eyes. “You have chosen a path of death. You are actually helping me out tremendously by charging into the ‘Jadefire Realm’! Haha… all I need to do is send word of your predicament, and I trust your dear friend Daolord Darknorth will come here to rescue you. I’m not able to kill him… but the Jadefire Realm is!”

“The two of you will both die here.” Archon Silksnow’s eyes burned with savage hate. In truth, when he had first entered the Terror Starsea, his plan had been to kill Ninedust and steal his treasures. He had carefully searched through many places within the Terror Starsea. He was much more powerful than Ninedust and had the assistance of his realmship, which meant that he was able to escape from some of the more dangerous places thanks to its help. Even though the Terror Starsea was a vast place, he was still able to find the Ninedust Sectlord.

Ninedust had felt that he was already quite deep within the vast Terror Starsea. Logically speaking, it wasn’t very likely for Archon Silksnow to be able to locate him. This was why he had chosen to carry the realmship part alongside him in a rather casual manner… but who would’ve thought that thanks to luck and the realmship resonance, Archon Silksnow had really ended up finding him?

Ninedust had immediately fled in terror. He moved fairly slowly, and so he immediately used his escape-type treasures to flee! Archon Silksnow was forced to pursue him, and this pursuit lasted for quite some time.

No matter how he tried, Ninedust was unable to shake his pursuer. In the end, he had gritted his teeth and charged straight into the legendarily lethal ‘Jadefire Realm’. “Hmph, I want to see if Archon Silksnow would dare to come in as well.” All Daolords were possessed of a certain defiant and fearless madness.

“He thought I wouldn’t dare to go in? Of course I would. I’d rather die than live such a miserable life… but it won’t be me who dies. Not only will you die, Daolord Darknorth will die as well.” Archon Silksnow was legendary for his savagery, even amongst Emperors. He was savage to others but even more savage to himself. He immediately road his realmship straight into the vast flaming vortex.

……

Nightfall. Vastheaven Palace.

The golden-robed Ning was seated at the peak of a mountain. The mountain wind blew past him as he sipped some wine. Su Youji was next to him, seated upon a large boulder and sharing the wine.

Ning’s true body was training within the Azureflower Estate with the help of the Autarch’s stone dais. This allowed him to train at a terrifyingly fast speed. Whether or not Ning’s avatar ‘assisted’ didn’t really matter, as it was of little help in speeding up his cultivation further. As a result, he now had a chance to relax and enjoy life.

The two drank together, exchanging a few casual words in conversation from time to time.

“Master… can you tell me about your Dao-companion?” Wine gourd in hand, Su Youji suddenly asked this question.

Ning smiled. “She was my senior apprentice-sister. When I first joined our sect, she was more powerful than me.”

“More powerful than you?” Su Youji was surprised. In her eyes, Ning had always been a dazzling figure. He was the most powerful Daolord in the history of the Flamedragon Realmverse!

“Yes. Back then, she held a very high status within our sect,” Ning said. “The two of us actually took part in the Conclave of Immortals together. She really was quite talented. Unfortunately… she concealed a great secret within her heart which prevented her from fully and truly devoting herself to cultivation.” Ning let out a sigh. “Come to think of it… she was a truly tragic figure in both her past life and in this life.”

“Her happiest days were most likely when she was pregnant and living together with me in peace.” Ning smiled. He would never forget those days, never forget how he trained in sword-arts while the pregnant Yu Wei watched him, a merry smile on her face as she gently stroked her protruding belly. Those days of peace and bliss, when the war had yet to truly erupt, were the most beautiful memories he had.

“Our daughter is all grown up, and the plotters are all dead. My homeland is at peace… but she is gone.” Ning raised his head to gulp down the wine, then put down his gourd. “I’ve focused on the Dao my entire life. Part of it is because I wish to gain a grander understanding of the universe and see more of its sights… but the other part is because I wish to one day be able to resolve those regrets and have our family of three be reunited once more.”

“You’ll definitely succeed, Master,” Su Youji said.

“In the past, it was just a wild dream… but now, I can feel that I’m closing in on success.” Ning smiled. “This is proof that even the wildest of dreams can be made real.”

“If the three of us can be reunited, everything will have been worth it, haha. So what if I pass the Daomerge? So what if I become a Hegemon or an Autarch? I’ll still just be living a life of solitude.” Ning raised his head up high to drink more wine.

The wind continued to blow, but the night was very calm. Su Youji just watched Ning silently. She could sense that Ning’s innermost heart had already been filled. There was no way at all for another person to enter it.

“Darknorth! Darknorth!” A cry rang out from afar.

“Big brother?” Ning turned, only to see a figure fly towards him from afar. It was Emperor Solesky. “Come, come! You came at just the right time. Let’s drink!”

“I have important news to report!” Emperor Solesky landed on the top of the mountain, a worried look on his face.

“Important news? Tell me about it,” Ning said.

“The Ninedust Sectlord has been trapped within the ‘Jadefire Realm’ of the Terror Starsea! His life could end at any moment,” Emperor Solesky said frantically.

“What?!” Ning turned pale as a solemn look appeared on his face. “The Jadefire Realm of the Terror Starsea?”

The Jadefire Realm was a deathtrap which the Sithe had set up during the Dawn War. Countless Emperors of the cultivator civilizations had died there during that great war! In the end, the Sithe had been defeated and the Jadefire Realm badly damaged… but it remained a place of great danger. Not even Hegemons dared to go too deep within it.

However, Ning wasn’t afraid of it. He had his Shadowless form as well as his Sithe Protector golem, ‘Whitethaw’. Hegemons were able to enter and scout the outer areas safely, which meant that he was strong enough to deal with the dangers as well.

“Yes, the Jadefire Realm.” Emperor Solesky nodded. “This information is absolutely trustworthy. My good friend, Daolord Badlands, sent me the same information a while ago. He said that he engaged in some Numerancy to test it, and found it to be genuine. The Ninedust Sectlord is indeed in great peril. However… Badlands told me to warn you that you are the real target. He was unable to calculate if you will be in danger or not.”

“I’m the real target?” Ning nodded slowly. “Help convey my thanks to brother Badlands.”

“Ninedust didn’t ask me for help. That means he is worried about implicating me in this affair… but somehow, news of it still spread. That means this is likely an enemy plot.” Ning nodded. “If Badlands’ Numerancy says that this is a plot targeting me… the person who holds the greatest grudge against me is Archon Silksnow and the Emperors under his command. Alternately, it could be the Aeonians.”

“Darknorth, the Jadefire Realm is a legendary deathtrap of the Terror Starsea. Not even Hegemons dare to go too deep into it,” Emperor Solesky said worriedly. “Don’t let yourself fall for their schemes.”

Ning nodded: “Don’t worry, big brother.”

……

The Azureflower Estate. The second hall. Ning stood up on the stone dais.

“Hm?” The nearby white-bearded elder opened his eyes. He said with surprise, “You’ve developed the third technique already?”

“Not yet.” Ning shook his head. “Not even close. Right, senior… I need to leave on some business. My Primaltwin can come here and train, right?”

“Of course! I told you, so long as you are still alive, you may come and train whenever you please,” the white-haired elder said with a nod.

“Good.”

A short while later, the black-robed Ning arrived at the estate. He entered it, sat down on the stone dais, then continued the training process. This was an Autarch’s training chambers, after all; it was far more effective than the Stone Censer of Reunion, which Ning had already left in the Three Realms for his master Subhuti, his daughter, and his parents to use. In the future, it would be the supreme treasure of the Three Realms.

As for Ning’s true body? He left the Azureflower Estate by himself, beginning to advance through the Flamedragon Realmverse towards the Terror Starsea.


Book 37, Flamewing God, Chapter 1 – Avatar

As Ji Ning began to head towards the Jadefire Realm of the Terror Starsea, his avatar sent word to Ninedust via the Palace of Ancient Truth.

“Ninedust, you are in the Jadefire Realm? I’m on my way.” This was the simple message which Ning sent.

The Palace of Ancient Truth had branches within all eight of the Sacred Cities of the Dao Alliance, and the mighty Ancients were the power behind it. Ning’s words quickly made its way to the Ancients and thus to Ninedust’s avatar.

“What?!” Ninedust was shocked. He never would’ve imagined that Darknorth would find out that he had entered the Jadefire Realm. In his heart, he couldn’t help but feel gratitude; everyone knew that the place was a deathtrap! Darknorth knew it as well, but he still rushed towards it without hesitating.

“Darknorth, I’ve been chased by Archon Silksnow into the Jadefire Realm but I never made that information public. If you’ve found out… that means it must be Archon Silksnow who spread the news. This is his plot!” Ninedust sent word back to Ning as well. “No matter what, don’t come here. Archon Silksnow is a madman. This is definitely a plot aimed at you.”

His message made it back to Ning’s avatar in Vastheaven Palace… but alas, it was of no use.

“Ugh, Darknorth is so…” Ninedust knew that he wouldn’t be able to dissuade Ning, and so his avatar within the Ancient stronghold immediately headed off to Vastheaven Palace.

……

Outside Vastheaven Palace.

A man dressed in fluttering gray robes emerged from a tear in space, then stared at the distant Vastheaven Palace.

“Here I am.” The gray-robed man looked weatherworn, with anxiety written on his face. “I hope I made it in time.”

The gray-robed man waved his hand, causing countless drops of rain to appear in the air. The rain sprinkled down upon every inch of Vastheaven Palace, but the power within the rain was completely blocked by the barriers protecting the palace itself. The blocked power generated ripples which immediately attracted the interest of Emperor Solesky and Ji Ning’s avatar.

“Eh?” Both emerged from the barriers, standing shoulder-to-shoulder as they stared off into the distance.

“Ha.” Ning’s avatar grinned. “You can head on back, big brother Solesky. Let me have a chat with my old friend.” Ning’s avatar then strode into the skies towards the gray-robed man.

Emperor Solesky smiled as well. He was also able to recognize who it was, as the gray-robed man had discarded his disguise and revealed his true appearance. It was indeed the Ninedust Sectlord.

“Ninedust.” Ning’s avatar walked over to stand next to the gray-robed man.

“Darknorth.” Ninedust looked at Ning, his feelings rather mixed. Although he didn’t wish for Ning to know that he was in great danger, he also felt very grateful for the way in which Ning had reacted upon finding out. This was what true brothers were like!

“I’m not too late, am I?” Ninedust asked. “Your true body hasn’t entered the Jadefire Realm yet, has it?”

“Not even close. I need to be careful when traversing the Terror Starsea. I can’t just blink about willy-nilly like here in the Flamedragon Realmverse,” Ning said with a smile. “It’ll take me at least another thousand years or so before I make it there.”

Ninedust let out a sigh of relief. “Thank goodness… eh?” Ninedust peered at Ning intently, rather surprised. “Why do I feel as though your aura has changed a bit?”

Although both were merely avatars, their auras were generated by their truesouls and their Daos. An evil cultivator’s very aura would become evil and malicious! Since the true body and the avatar were linked together and analogous, the aura of Ning’s avatar had indeed changed and become more powerful since last they met.

In the past, Ning was reserved and stately, like a blade that would reveal its sharpness when unleashed. Now, however, he seemed as vast and ineffable as the starry sky, but also as gentle as a drop of water. One couldn’t help but like him upon seeing him. He possessed a certain deep magnetism.

“It was caused by an illusory art I created,” Ning said.

“Illusory art?” Ninedust was surprised. “You’ve already reached such profound heights in the Dao of the Sword. How is it that an illusory art could have changed you this much?”

If one focused on illusions, one would generally gain tremendous charisma. Su Youji was a classic example of this. Ordinary cultivators who saw Su Youji would be uncontrollably intoxicated by her to the point of willingly following her as her servant. For those who had reached incredible heights in the art of illusions, their natural auras alone could seduce others without them even actively trying to do so.

Ning’s [Unfettered Dreamlands] technique was an illusory art Ning had spent over half a chaos cycle working on. He had created it with the assistance of the Autarch’s stone dais after he had delved into the many mysteries of the countless techniques he had studied. For it to have affected him was only normal.

“I was focusing on illusions recently and managed to make some progress.” Ning smiled smugly.

“Alright. Enough about your illusions.” Ninedust immediately said, “I came over here at full speed because I want you to avoid entering the Jadefire Realm. You already know that this is Archon Silksnow’s plot; why must you fall into it?”

Ning shook his head. “Plot? What sort of plot could he possibly have? Ninedust, why don’t you tell me what you think he can be plotting?”

“Don’t underestimate him. He’s crazy.” Ninedust revealed an anxious look. “I was chased by him through the Terror Starsea. I fled in panic and used up pretty much all of my treasures. When we moved past the Jadefire Realm, I gritted my teeth and dove into it to save my own skin.”

Ning nodded slowly. Faced with certain death, it only made sense that Ninedust had jumped into a deathtrap. At least that way, he had a chance, no matter how tiny. If he didn’t, he would be doomed once Archon Silksnow caught up to him.

“I thought that once I dove into it, he would be afraid to follow me inside.” Ninedust shook his head. “I was wrong. That madman actually charged in right behind me.”

“Oh?” Ning narrowed his eyes. “He went in as well? Does he have a death-wish?”

“That’s why I said he’s crazy!” Ninedust said seriously, “The Jadefire Realm is a deathtrap which the Sithe set up during the Dawn War. Even though we beat them in the end, many of our major powers died in it during the war! Even though I charged inside, if I’m careful and take my time, I should still have a chance to find an escape path and be able to leave it… but now that Arhcon Silksnow has charged inside as well, I’m forced to continue my headlong flight. I’m being forced to straight for the more dangerous-looking places inside the Jadefire Realm… but he’s still chasing me! In the end, I ended up being trapped in a place that looks like some sort of prison.”

“Prison?” Ning frowned.

“I’m not too sure myself. All I know is that I’m trapped within a small area of just thirty or so meters.” Ninedust sighed. “Thankfully, there’s no danger inside the cell for now… and Archon Silksnow didn’t dare to continue his pursuit.”

“A prison-like place, eh?” Ning frowned pensively. He was a member of the Brightshore Kingdom, after all; he had immediately set off to acquire a map of the Terror Starsea from the Brightshore Hegemon. He was planning to use treasures to trade for it, but Hegemon Brightshore had just given it for free. He now had maps from both the Hegemon and Daoist Bluestone, and as a result, he knew a bit about the Jadefire Realm. The Jadefire Realm was a deathtrap the Sithe had set up… and at its very center lay the prisons!

Quite a few major powers of the cultivator civilizations had been trapped within the Jadefire Realm. Many of them were unable to escape! Once the Sithe had trapped enough major powers, they would unleash a single ‘Decimatus Wave’ and annihilate all of the prisoners! Hegemon Brightshore’s records stated it thusly:

“The Jadefire Realm’s prisons are primarily spread across seven regions, and there are differences in them based on importance. However, the Sithe are all dead. I once scanned them from afar and found no signs of life within them… but the place is still filled with countless dangers. Although the Jadefire Realm has been badly damaged, rendering its apocalypse wave unusable, there are still many formations and barriers that are strong enough to cause even Hegemons to die.”

“The prisons?” Ning frowned. “Damn that Silksnow!” Even the ordinary prisons within the Jadefire Realm were incredibly dangerous places!

“Don’t worry, I’m fine for now,” Ninedust said hurriedly. “I’m merely restricted to a thirty-meter region. So long as I don’t touch any of the barriers, I won’t be in any danger.”

“But you are still in one of the Jadefire Realm’s prisons!” Ning was worried.

“That’s why you need to stay away, Darknorth.” Ninedust said hurriedly, “Archon Silksnow was crazy enough to charge in because he wants to use it to get rid of the two of us. He’s cast all caution to the wind. He’s already been inside for quite some time; by now, he probably knows quite a bit about that place. He has probably prepared traps for you! Once you go there, you’ll be in a new and foreign place. It’ll be easy for him to trick you.”

“I’m no fool,” Ning laughed.

“But he has the advantage!” Ninedust argued.

“Don’t worry. I’m not completely ignorant of the Jadefire Realm.” Ning shook his head. He had star maps from Daoist Bluestone and Hegemon Brightshore. As a result, he was quite familiar with the Jadefire Realm by now. “And… I’ve been wanting to get rid of him for some time now. If we just let that vile madman do as he pleases, he might end up causing some real trouble in the future. Best to get rid of him soon.”

“You…!” Ninedust was extremely anxious. “How can you…”

“It’s not like you don’t know what sort of temper I have.” Ning grinned.

“I knew I wouldn’t be able to dissuade you, but I still had to try.” Ninedust felt quite resigned. “Ugh. After all that talking, I still wasn’t able to budge you in the slightest! No matter what, safety first!”

“I’m not a hot-headed kid anymore,” Ning said with a laugh. “The only way I’ll be able to save you is if I keep myself alive.”