“What’s wrong?” Ji Ning immediately asked.
Immortals and Fiendgods would generally be able to withstand the loneliness of solitude. The prisoners of Prisonworld 17, for example, had been trapped for multiple chaos cycles with only a small number committing suicide in desspair. Empyrean God Roughpeak, by comparison, had been trapped here a far shorter period of time.
“Didn’t I tell you how I mistook you for ‘Snowfiend’ earlier?” Roughpeak said.
“Yes.” Ning nodded.
“Undermoon Lake is an exceptionally deadly place. Many years ago, I made my way past the sea yaksha and arrived here at this snowy island. When I first arrived, there were no other Empyrean Gods, and so I continued to advance,” Roughpeak said. “On the other side of this island, there is another floating wooden bridge. If you proceed past it, you’ll encounter Snowfiend.”
“I was unable to defeat Snowfiend. Fortunately, by relying on my agility techniques, I managed to escape and flee back to this snowy island,” Roughpeak said. “Snowfiend pursued me all the way back to this location, but once I fled into the island itself, Snowfiend immediately halted the pursuit.”
“Each time I fought against Snowfiend, I was unable to win. Thus, I have no choice but to remain here on this island.”
“I thought that I would be safe here, but I didn’t expect that after being here for a thousand years, one of Snowfiend’s clones actually attacked the island.” Roughpeak shook his head and sighed. “Every since that day, roughly every thousand years, a clone of Snowfiend would come to the island to attack me. Each time, its power is a little bit greater than it was before. After a million years, the clones will be close to its true body in power.”
Ning asked, puzzled, “Once every thousand years, with a gradual increase in power…is he doing this just to temper you, senior apprentice-brother?”
“This is indeed a form of tempering.” Roughpeak nodded. “At first, the Snowfiend clones were fairly weak, and I was completely capable of withstanding them. After a million years, my agility techniques reached an extremely formidable level; even the clone that was comparable to Snowfiend at full power is unable to kill me.”
“He’s not able to kill me, but I’m not able to go past him either.”
“And so, I’ve been trapped here on this island the entire time. Over the course of many years, other Empyrean Gods have come to this island. Some of them died to Snowfiend, while others made it to the next island. Some were like me, trapped here for long periods of time…but because the Snowfiend clones grew increasingly powerful, they were unable to keep up and ended up dying.”
“I’m the only one left!”
Empyrean God Roughpeak shook his head and laughed. “In terms of power, many of them were actually my equal…but my forte lies in agility. Thanks to Snowfiend’s pressure, I’ve reached a level that I would never have dared imagined I would reach.”
“But what of it? Snowfiend continues to disturb me time and time again. He uses illusions, ambushes, assassination attempts…he continues to try to kill me.” Roughpeak let out a sigh. “I’m here, all by myself, and I’m unable to improve any further at all. I’m also unable to make it past Snowfiend…and I have to be wary of his attacks.”
“Even if I’m not killed, I’ll eventually suffer a mental collapse,” Roughpeak said.
Ning nodded slowly.
“Senior apprentice-brother Roughpeak,” Ning said solemnly, “I feel that Undermoon Lake is quite a strange place. Based on what I’ve seen, it should be a world that was created by an ancient major power. After we enter, we will be beset by a number of trials. If we are unable to endure the trials, we will die. If we can endure them, we will be allowed to proceed, eventually acquiring treasures and even being allowed to leave.”
“Is it possible that the major power who created Undermoon Lake did so in order to help cultivate juniors, giving us treasures then letting us leave?” Ning was puzzled.
“He’s not as nice as you think.” Roughpeak shook his head. “The major power who created Undermoon Lake definitely had schemes of his own.”
“Agreed. Nobody is as selfless as that.” Ning agreed as well.
To help train Empyrean Gods, producing top-tier ones that would be gifted with treasures and allowed to leave…that was an act of utter selflessness. Ning didn’t think that anybody would be that selfless. There had to be a reason behind it all!
“Can it be that Buddha Jueming has never said anything at all, despite so many years having passed?” Roughpeak asked.
“Nothing.” Ning shook his head. “I asked my master, and my master also told me that Buddha Jueming sealed his lips, saying nothing about this place. It doesn’t matter who asks. Even Lord Tathagata the Buddha was unable to convince Buddha Jueming to divulge any information about Undermoon Lake.”
Roughpeak frowned. “How odd. Why is Buddha Jueming so completely closemouthed about this place?”
Buddha Jueming refused to speak, but he also refused to prevent other Empyrean Gods from entering this place. Still…no one could force him to speak.
“Snowfiend’s continuously attempted to kill me. In fact, he’s even chatted with me several times. That’s why I’ve learned that there is only one method of surviving Undermoon Lake and leaving with treasures,” Roughpeak said.
Ning immediately listened carefully.
“The method is…to continuously advance through the floating bridges, defeating all guardians. The journey will see you go past a total of five islands. Once you reach the fifth island, you’ll be able to depart in peace. However, to date only Buddha Jueming has succeeded,” Roughpeak said.
“Five islands?” Ning was stunned.
The snow-covered island the two of them were on was merely the very first island. To reach the fifth island would be no easy feat.
“Upon reaching the fifth island, you’d most likely learn what the creator of Undermoon Lake has been scheming,” Roughpeak said.
“Right.” Ning nodded.
In truth, Ning didn’t really care as to what that ancient major power was scheming. What he cared about was Iceheart Pith and Iceheart Leaf.
“Junior apprentice-brother, I’ve battled against Snowfiend for countless years, and I’ve also chatted with him many times.” Roughpeak looked at Ning. “He told me that there’s one other way to survive and leave.”
“Oh?” Ning’s eyes lit up.
“To hide within an extremely powerful Empyrean God’s magic treasure.” Roughpeak continued, “For example…if someone felt tremendous faith in Buddha Jueming, they could’ve chosen to secrete themselves in his treasures, assuming he was willing to let them do so. Upon him successfully leaving the place, they would be able to leave along his side.”
“However, there’s one bad part about hiding; you won’t be able to acquire any treasures at all. In addition, your own life will no longer be yours to control.” Roughpeak continued, “For example, if Buddha Jueming was to die, then the Empyrean Gods hiding within his treasures would all die as well. After all, they would all emerge upon his death, and anyone capable of killing Buddha Jueming would also be capable of killing them.”
“Right now, I’m trying to decide…if I should follow you.” Roughpeak looked towards Ning.
Ning was startled. “Follow me?”
“Follow you. I’ll go wherever you go, as far as you go. If you manage to escape, I will as well. However, I feel that your chances of making it out alive are quite low.” Roughpeak chuckled. “Still, I want to at least take a look at the other islands. Even making it to just the second island would be enough. I’ve been here all by myself for so long…I’ve had enough of it.”
“Senior apprentice-brother, if you truly were to trust me in such a way, I would definitely do my utmost,” Ning said.
“But I’m worried about something…” Roughpeak said.
“I’m worried about whether you are strong enough to go past Snowfiend,” Roughpeak laughed. “If you fail and die, I’ll probably be unable to escape as I’ll be trapped in your treasures. I’ll end up being killed by Snowfiend. If that happens, I won’t be able to see the next island. I’ve been quite curious as to what the rest of the five islands are like, and how terrifying the upcoming dangers are, for so many Empyrean Gods to have failed here.”
Ning hesitated momentarily. “I…can’t make any promises.”
“I don’t need any promises. Follow me.” Roughpeak led Ning forward.
The snowy island was quite large, but the two of them moved with incredible speed. Soon, they arrived at the other end of the island, where they saw a floating wooden bridge.
“Eh?” Ning took a good look. This wooden bridge stretched off into the distant horizon, but the endless sea to each side of it was completely frozen.
Countless petals of snow continued to fall down from the skies.
“All you need to do is step on the wooden bridge.” Roughpeak gestured towards the bridge. “Once you step onto it, Snowfiend will sense it. There’s no need for you to even advance; you can just wait here for him. A short while later, Snowfiend will arrive! The first ‘Snowfiend’ you encounter will merely be a clone. Fight it. If you can kill it with just a single blow, I’ll take the gamble and hide inside your treasures, following you forward.”
“Junior apprentice-brother.” Roughpeak bowed deeply towards Ning.
“Senior apprentice-brother, don’t act like this!” Ning hurriedly moved to stop the bow.
“I’m asking you to help me advance, but I’m first insisting on testing out your power. I honestly am ashamed of my actions,” Roughpeak said.
“This is just normal behavior,” Ning said hurriedly. “If I can’t even dispose of one of Snowfiend’s clones, for you to follow me would be suicidal.”
Roughpeak no longer said anything else to Ning. He just stared at the vast sea, at the distant horizons. He murmured softly to himself, “I really wonder what the next island is like. I wonder if there are any other surviving Empyrean Gods on that island. I really want to know what’s there. Once I see it…even if I die, I’d be happy.”
As for Ning, he moved forward, stepping onto the wooden bridge.
Whoosh! As soon as he stepped onto the wooden bridge, the amount of snow falling from the heavens grew noticeably greater.
A pair of blood-red swords appeared in Ning’s hands as he began to wait quietly.
Far away in the distant skies, a large amount of snow began to rapidly condense, transforming into a white-furred ape. The ape held a snow-white staff in his hands, and he stood there in midair, his gaze passing through the endless snowfall and falling upon the distant Ji Ning and Roughpeak.
“Yet another youngster has arrived.” The ape-like Snowfiend murmured softly to himself, “Judging from their words…that kid Roughpeak is no longer able to endure the solitude of being trapped here for so many words. He plans to take a chance on following the white-robed kid?”
“It’s rare for someone to accompany for so long. If it wasn’t for Master’s orders, I’d be fine with letting you leave. But alas…although Master has left, his orders remain. I must follow them.” The simian Snowfiend shook his head.
Whoosh. Snowfiend disappeared.
Ning’s face changed slightly as he looked towards the front. A large amount of snow had begun to rapidly condense in front of him.
“Be careful, junior apprentice-brother. Snowfiend’s clone has arrived,” Roughpeak warned him from behind.
Ning just watched calmly. As the snow began to condense, a large amount of natural energy began to condense as well. Soon, a white-furred ape wielding a snow-white staff appeared before him. The ape’s eyes were filled with an innate killing intent; it was born for the sole purpose of slaughter.
“Heh heh heh. That kid Roughpeak has quite the agility technique; he’s been able to slip through my hands time and time again. However, nearly a thousand other Empyrean Gods have died by my hands.” The simian Snowfiend stared at Ning, seeming to weigh Ning with his eyes as a predator would its prey.
Ning didn’t dare to be too reckless. All of the Empyrean Gods capable of making it past the sea yaksha were extraordinary figures, but a thousand of them still ended up dying by Snowfiend’s hands. Although Ning had sparred for only a brief moment with Roughpeak, he could still tell that in terms of agility, he was far from being Roughpeak’s match.
“Don’t disappoint me.” The ape-like Snowfiend let out a strange, chortling laugh that reverberated in the skies, then charged straight towards Ning with a ‘swoosh’, both hands clutched onto that snow-white staff.