A gentle wind was blowing through the Astral Islands.
Ji Ning was in an excellent mood today. He was flipping through his golden book when his face suddenly changed. “A challenge?”
Ever since he had risen to the fourth stratum, this was the first time someone else on the same stratum had sent him a challenge! The fourth stratum was just a single step away from the fifth stratum, causing everyone to be quite cautious and unwilling to casually start a duel against an unknown cultivator on the same level. They would first gather as much intelligence as possible before deciding whether or not to challenge the newcomer.
“He is actually one of the protected cultivators?” Ning frowned. “There are only around twenty protected cultivators in all the Astral Islands! All of them are unfathomably strong. For him to challenge me…”
“Wait. I’ll wait for a short while.” Ning shut his eyes and began to wait calmly.
Each day, a person could only issue a single challenge. Earlier this day, he had already issued a challenge to another member of the fourth stratum, a cultivator who was not under protection. However, that person wouldn’t necessarily accept his challenge. The higher the stratum, the more cautious cultivators were about dueling people on that stratum.
This was especially true for fourth stratum cultivators who hadn’t received protection!
The closer they were to the fifth stratum and receiving protection, the more cautious they would become. They would generally first defeat some cultivators on the second or third strata, but they wouldn’t kill them. Instead, the fourth stratum cultivator would force these weaker cultivators to swear lifeblood oaths that they would accept any challenges from him, with him swearing that he would not take their lives.
That way, once the fourth stratum cultivator received a challenge from someone on his level that he didn’t wish to fight, he could immediately issue a challenge to those cultivators on the second and third strata, allowing him to avoid the challenge.
It was possible to avoid battles in this way, but unexpected things would sometimes happen as time went on. For example, those second and third strata cultivators might already be engaged in a duel, preventing them from accepting the challenge from the fourth stratum cultivator. This wouldn’t be considered a violation of the oath.
Thus, during the past two weeks, Ning had only been able to successfully challenge someone a single time. All his other challenges had been declined.
“I hope this one will go through. Unless absolutely necessary, I’d rather not duel a protected cultivator until I myself receive protection as well,” Ning mused.
If he wasn’t protected while his opponent was, their mental approach to any duel would be completely different.
Time ticked on minute by minute.
The golden book now displayed some new information. The cultivator which Ning challenged had just entered into a battle against a different individual.
“Another one avoiding battle.” Honestly, Ning had expected this outcome. He had only succeeded once in the past half month, after all.
“No choice but to accept the challenge. Time for me to see just how strong these protected individuals are.” Through the golden book, Ning was made aware that this individual was an Aberrant, was under protection, and had quite a few legacy treasures. Other than that, Ning knew nothing at all.
Ning reached out through the golden book and shattered the writ of challenge, accepting the challenge. He then immediately walked towards a room filled with many divine runes. Ning stood there in the center of the room, allowing the formation to be activated and teleport him away.
This was another oceanic island, filled with beauty and grace. Ning appeared atop a small mountain within the island, and he immediately saw the distant, azure-blue waters of the sea as well as the dazzling sands of the beach.
Rumble... another figure suddenly appeared on that same mountain, just a few hundred meters away from Ning. This was a figure that was completely covered in black robes.
Ning looked at his opponent.
The black-robed figure looked back at Ning as well. Only a pair of crimson eyes were visible beneath his dark robes.
“Upon arriving here at the Astral Islands, you immediately ascended to the fourth stratum, then won nine battles in a row.” The black-robed figure’s voice was cold and dark, and his eyes were completely different from the eyes of a cultivator. Those crimson eyes looked even more bizarre and sinister than the eyes of various strange beasts and monsters which Ning had encountered in the past. This was no cultivator. It was an Aberrant.
“Quite impressive. Given enough time, you would definitely be able to ascend to the fifth stratum. Unfortunately, you won’t have that chance.” The black-robed expert laughed, and his laughter was extremely grating and ear-piercing.
“Hahaha… you are just one step away, but you are going to die here. Do you not feel despair? Ahaha…” The black-robed expert laughed wildly, a chaotic aura of fire beginning to emerge from his body. This aura alone was probably capable of driving some weaker cultivators to the brink of insanity.
Ning simply frowned. No enmity existed between the two of them, and yet this man wished to destroy Ning’s future prospects?
“You talk a big game,” Ning said calmly.
Boom! A large black sword suddenly appeared in the black-robed expert’s right hand. Although it could be described as a sword, it didn’t have any edges to it at all. The aura emanating from this greatsword gave Ning an impression of incredible weight and density.
“Ahahaha, I dare make these claims because I have the power to take your life. You simply haven’t been here in the Astral Islands long enough, and you haven’t undergone sufficient tempering. There is no place in the outside world which is quite like the Astral Islands, with its many elites and geniuses for you to test yourself against. I think you won’t be able to take so much as my very first sword-blow.” The black-robed expert let out a bizarre laugh.
“Hmph.” Ning’s gaze turned sharp, and a crimson-gold lightning seal suddenly appeared on his forehead.
Ning was beginning to get rather irritated by this black-robed expert’s words. Screw the talking; he was going to give this person a taste of his [Novessence Thunder] first!
Bang! A crimson-gold streak of lightning shot out with incredible speed, giving the black-robed expert no time to dodge at all. The lightning bolt hammered directly against him, causing his body to tremble slightly. However, he was still able to stand there calmly.
“What powerful lightning. Unfortunately, I’m the wrong person for you to use it against.” The black-robed expert completely ignored the [Novessence Thunder], allowing it to crackle and writhe around his body. A few flickers of lightning brushed against some of the nearby boulders, instantly reducing them to dust.
“You can die now.” The black-robed expert struck out with his sword.
Ning didn’t dare to be too brash. This person knew that he had won nine battles in a row on the fourth stratum, but still dared to make the claim that his very first sword-blow would be too much for Ning to handle. Without a doubt, this strike would be an extraordinary one.
Boom! Once this strike was unleashed, the skies above the oceanic island began to dim. Countless flaming clouds began to gather in the air above them , and the sword crushed down upon Ning as though it was bringing the might of Heaven and Earth down with it.
The sword came crashing down towards Ning with a feeling of absolute, immeasurable ponderance.
“Allgod stance!” A cold, fierce light flashed through Ning’s eyes as well as he unleashed the most dominating, explosive sword stance he possessed. As Ning’s insights into the sword had risen, his Allgod stance had become increasingly extraordinary as well. It was now able to unleash a truly significant amount of the might of Violetjewel’s quintessence core.
Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!
Ning immediately manifested [Three Heads, Six Arms]. His six swords transformed into six blood-colored wyrms that howled towards the massive world-sword that was crashing down upon him.
BOOM!!! When the first blood-colored wyrm slammed into the greatsword, the blood-colored wyrm was brought to a halt but the greatsword was knocked flying backwards.
“What?!” The black-robed expert let out a startled shout.
“He does have a bit of power. No wonder he bragged so much.” Ning was secretly startled. Thanks to the azureflower mist energy, Ning was as strong as a Daolord of the First Step and far above the vast majority of World-level cultivators. He was also using an Eternal weapon and had unleashed his most powerful sword-stance, a strike which was so powerful that very few were capable of withstanding it.
And yet… that black-robed expert’s greatsword had managed to halt his strike in its tracks! But of course, it had only been able to block Ning’s first strike. Ning had six Eternal weapons he was using!
Although one of the blood-colored wyrms had been destroyed, the other five continued to surge forward towards the black-robed expert.
“How can…” The black-robed expert was absolutely stunned. A blazing crimson warblade appeared in his other hand, a saber that gave off a similar aura of incredible ponderance. He joined his saber and his sword in front of him, using them to block Ning’s attacks.
Boom! Boom! Boom!
The five blood wyrms came crashing down with enough power to shake the heavens.
The entire mountain they were on actually collapsed, and the island itself split apart as the ground below the strike was completely caved in. As for the black-robed expert, Ning had already smashed him down into the very bottom of the sea.
Swoosh! Moments later, the black-robed expert came charging out of the waters of the sea. He hovered there in midair, staring at the distant Ji Ning who was standing atop a gray boulder.
“You talked a big game, but you don’t have much to back it up.” Ning let out a chuckle.
“You...!” The black-robed expert was enraged.
There was a reason for his earlier braggadocio. He was an extremely powerful Aberrant, and despite being at the World level he was completely capable of unleashing a level of power comparable to that of a Daolord of the First Step. Given that his two Eternal weapons were also quite suited to him and to unleashing the type of power he specialized in, most fourth stratum foes would never dare to take his blows head on.
That was why he had felt so confident in his abilities! What he didn’t realize was that for many years now, the way Ning had fought was by directly crushing his foes with overwhelming power.
“Your swords are quite powerful, and you are just as strong as I am.” The black-robed expert’s voice began to transform, turning low and gravelly. As for his crimson eyes, they began to be filled with an even more insane look than before. “You are now qualified to see my true form.”
The area around the black-robed expert suddenly became filled with endless tendrils of dark-red flames. He was like the god of this world of flames, and his black robes suddenly vanished, revealing the form underneath…