After feeling stunned for a while, Ji Ning regained his normal composure. In the end, outside sources of power were extraneous. The path of cultivation was a path where one would have to rely on one’s self.
“Time to go test out the Mirrorsnow Paintings,” Ning murmured to himself.
The Mirrorsnow Paintings could only be entered once one reached the World level, and only World-level cultivators were granted entry; Samsara Daolords were unable to go inside.
“I wonder what sort of trials Emperor Mirrorsnow left behind? Time to take a look.” More than two months had passed since he had returned from the Badlands Court. It had only taken him a single day to form the [Novessence Thunder] technique. The rest of his time had been spent ruminating over the Dao of the Sword. Ning had gained quite a few insights since his battle against Arroyo.
Ning had acquired the first Mirrorsnow Painting from the crocodilian bugbeast in the Grove of Monoliths within the Allgod Estate.
Ning was now seated by the sandy shores of that oceanic island, admiring the first painting. The painting was of a beautifully decorated palace, but the artistic quality of it really was rather low.
“In I go.” Ning had bound the first Mirrorsnow Painting long ago. He now filled it with his Immortal energy, and his World-level energy instantly connected to the estate-world located within it.
Ning entered the world of the painting.
“Eh?” Ning looked at his surroundings. Moments ago, he had been atop a sandy beach. Now, he was located within a towering palace that was carved out of jade. Its pillars glowed with golden light and were filled with carvings of strange beasts.
In front of Ning, far off into the distance up the stairs, there was a golden throne. A figure suddenly appeared before the golden throne. It was a tall, golden-robed man who sat down atop the throne, staring downwards towards Ning like an emperor staring at his subject.
“After so many years, a new World-level cultivator has finally entered.” The golden-robed emperor said, “Junior, the Eternal Emperor ordered me to wait here for you. All you need to do is defeat me. If you can defeat me, you’ll have passed the trial of this estate-world. The four Mirrorsnow Paintings hold a total of four estate-worlds within them. If you can pass all four trials, you shall become a true, personal disciple of the Eternal Emperor.”
“Defeat you?” Ning looked at the golden-robed emperor. “Might I ask, what techniques am I permitted to use in this attempt?”
“You are not permitted to use Immortal energy or divine power. You must rely on nothing more than your own raw physical strength, and I’ll use the same amount of strength as you. The two of us shall compete in swordplay and nothing but swordplay. Neither of us shall use divine abilities, secret arts, or anything else,” the golden-robed emperor said. “If you can defeat me, you will have won.”
Ning now understood. This was a test of his sword-arts. The four paintings represented four major challenges. Daolord Windsource’s disciple had access to the third painting for an extremely long period of time, but he still remained unable to pass its trial. This was a testament to how difficult the trial would be.
“Come, then.” A Frostice sword appeared within Ning’s hands.
“Very well.” The golden-robed emperor rose to his feet, a broad golden longsword appearing in his hands as well. He slowly walked down the stairs, his aura growing in power as he did so. It was as though he was the one and only sovereign of this world, as though everything had to prostrate before him.
Ning’s face tightened slightly. What a terrifying sword-art! The man had yet to strike, but the sword-intent radiating from him had already caused Ning to feel a sense of danger.
“Great Firmament stance!”
Ning made his move. The Frostice sword in his hand struck out, causing the entire palace to become submerged within an endless mist of sword-light which blanketed everything. Although the Great Firmament stance was the third stance of the [Nameless] sword-art, it represented an entire Sword World. As Ning’s sword-arts and cultivation continued to improve, his Sword World would naturally become increasingly powerful as well.
The seemingly endless Sword World was like a vast net that completely encompassed the golden-robed emperor.
The sound of a sword ‘roaring’ suddenly filled the entire palace as a golden streak of sword-light tore apart that endless Sword World. It was like the rising of the dawn sun casting its first glow of light upon the world, and it completely shattered Ning’s sword-arts apart.
Ji Ning was just barely able to use his own sword to block this attack, but he was knocked flying backwards by the force of the collision. Boom! He struck directly against the closed gate beneath him, causing a loud bang to be heard.
“What a dominating sword-art!” Ning was truly stunned.
This was a sword-art that was every bit as dominating as Arroyo’s saber-arts had been! The reason why Ning had been able to so easily defeat Arroyo was primarily because he was being reinforced by the azureflower mist energy. If it hadn’t been for his overwhelming advantage in speed and strength, and if he had to rely on just his sword-arts, there was no way he would’ve been able to defeat Arroyo’s saber-arts in such a way.
“CHOP!” The golden-robed emperor took another step forward, once more striking out with that towering, majestic broadsword. His sword-light flashed brilliantly, and it seemed as though nothing could stop this strike.
Whoosh. The Frostice sword in Ning’s hands suddenly transformed into a black hole, seeking to ablate the power of the enemy’s strike and then defeat it. However, Ning could sense that his opponent’s sword was so dominating and forceful that there was no way he could shake it at all. Instead, it was his own Soleheart stance which was broken. Once more, Ning was sent flying back by the force of the collision.
He was getting absolutely mauled in this fight.
The truth of the matter was, in terms of raw sword-arts Ning wasn’t quite at the level of master-class World Gods. Even though he did have the [Nameless] sword-art and the [Quintessence Sword-Intent], he was just barely on the same level as the Starlord of Fogstone. He was far from being a match for this trial which Emperor Mirrorsnow had left behind.
Only a truly dazzlingly talented figure would be qualified to become the personal disciple of Emperor Mirrorsnow.
The golden-robed emperor within the first estate-world had incredibly profound sword-arts. Most likely, even Arroyo’s saber-arts were slightly less mature in comparison. Arroyo had died shortly after making his breakthrough upon the Samsara Grinders, after all; he didn’t really have enough time to stabilize and build upon his gains. This golden-robed emperor’s sword-arts were finely perfected and absolutely flawless. They truly had reached a level of immaculate perfection.
“Wonderful, wonderful!” Ning emerged from the first estate-world, a look of delight on his face.
During this last battle, he had been sent flying into the walls, stone pillars, gates, and staircase more than sixty times. However, Ning felt nothing but pure joy. He had spent three thousand years meditating in the Hall of Sword, but he was in bad need of actual combat experience! No matter how much time you spent in meditation and training, if you didn’t have any actual combat experience you would always have flaws in your technique.
In the world of the Mirrorsnow Painting, Ning was given an opponent who had essentially reached the apex of World-level sword-arts. This battle had given Ning a clear picture of the many flaws which existed in his sword-arts.
“Even if I’m unable to become Emperor Mirrorsnow’s disciple, the mere fact that I now have an incredible expert in the Dao of the Sword who will spar against me whenever I wish is of incalculable value.” Of course Ning was delighted!
“Let me take a look at the third estate-world.” Ning pulled out the painting that he had acquired from the Windsource Ruins.
Ning entered the world of the painting. He found himself in a world with a beautiful mountain, a waterfall which seemed to descend from the heavens themselves, and beautiful creeks that swirled next to him.
Ning immediately saw the gray-robed fisherman located off in the distance. The fisherman simply sat there fishing.
“Finally, a new World-level cultivator.” The fisherman rose to his feet in a leisurely way, then said calmly, “I have been waiting here on the orders of the Eternal Emperor. You are not permitted to use Immortal energy, divine power, divine abilities, or secret arts. I will use the same amount of strength as you possess in a swordplay competition.”
“Understood.” Ning nodded.
“Then come.” The fisherman’s fishing rod suddenly shrank to become merely three feet long, and he pointed it straight at Ning.
Ning was utterly trampled and demolished.
The fisherman within the third estate-world was incredible. His sword-arts were like the clouds in the sky, completely unpredictable in their movements and transformations. The power of his sword-arts seemed to be utterly inexhaustible as well as he sent out one strike after another. Ning was confident in his defensive abilities, but in the end he was simply unable to defend against the fisherman’s attacks. He ended up getting whacked in the face quite a few times by that fishing rod, and was smashed into the ground each time.
Although the golden-robed emperor’s sword had knocked Ning flying backwards, Ning was still able to use his sword to block against those attacks.
The fisherman’s sword… Ning was actually unable to withstand it!
Ning knew that the fisherman and the golden-robed emperor each used different types of sword-arts, but were more or less on par with each other. The golden-robed emperor’s sword-arts were more regal, upright, and just, and his attacks were filled with enormous power. The fisherman’s sword-arts, by contrast, were more mysterious and unpredictable.
“Nice, nice, nice! Only by battling many experts who use the sword in different ways will I get a better picture of the flaws that exist in my own sword-arts.” Ning was actually ecstatic at the beating he had just taken.
From this day forth, Ning became even more obsessed with meditating on his sword-arts. He battled against these two experts of the sword repeatedly, discovering many weaknesses in his own sword-arts and finding many areas for improvement.
The many insights into the Dao of the Sword which Ning had gained in the Hall of Swords were now finally transforming into true power. His sword-arts continuously improved with each sparring session, becoming more and more powerful.
Meditation and actual combat – the two went hand in hand. Both were necessary.
In the blink of an eye, more than ten years passed here in the Badlands Court. World God Dragonbinder had returned from the Allgod Estate as well, and the first thing he did upon returning was to go speak to Ji Ning.
“Brother Ji Ning, when I sensed the chaos energy fluctuating within the Allgod Estate I simply knew it had to be you making your breakthrough.” When World God Dragonbinder saw Ning, he felt absolutely delighted.
The two spent some time dining and chatting together. Ning had gained many things from this trip to the Allgod Estate, but so too had World God Dragonbinder. In fact, he now had a vague idea as to what his path through Samsara would be. Alas, it was still nothing more than a vague idea. To actually tread that path and become a Samsara Daolord would be very, very difficult.
Still, it was definitely an improvement. If he couldn’t even see or sense his path, how could he have any hope of walking it?
Six more years went back.
Sixteen years after Ning’s return to the Badlands Court, a Samsara Daolord came to pay a visit to the Badlands Court.