A year later.
There were now fifteen astral islands within the fifth stratum, all slowly circling each other. Ji Ning sat within one of the astral islands, seated atop a wooden seat and slowly sipping a cup of wine as he read through the golden book.
One of the other astral islands in the fifth stratum suddenly began to drop down towards the fourth stratum.
“What a mess.” Ning couldn’t help but sigh softly.
Indeed. During the past year since he had been the first in his group of cultivators to make it to the fifth stratum, others such as Gorho, the Empress, and the Waterstrider had all made it to the fifth stratum as well. This made the fifth stratum much more lively than it had been in the past. Previously, all twelve of the cultivators on the fifth stratum knew each other quite well, resulting in very few challenges amongst them. Most of them would engage in training, only choosing to issue challenges once they felt as though they had made some new breakthroughs.
But the sudden addition of so many new geniuses had caused a huge disturbance. The twelve original denizens of the fifth stratum were all intrigued and excited, beginning to issue challenges to the newcomers.
One battle after another had begun to play out. With each battle, a fifth stratum expert would lose and fall down to the fourth stratum. However, that person would quickly be able to ascend to the fifth stratum once more.
Fall down, rise up.
Fall down, rise up.
Every few days, an astral island would fall down.
The fifth stratum always had at least nine astral islands within it. At most, it had a total of sixteen.
“Compared to all these other freaks and geniuses, I really am just an ordinary figure.” Ning let out a sigh.
After battling many times against the others, Ning realized that the vast majority of the people within the fifth stratum were Aberrants! Only a small number of them were cultivators! Everyone had his or her own specialty, and only Kilostar could be said to have almost no weaknesses.
Kilostar had a total of a thousand clones!
In terms of raw combat power, most likely only Ji Ning was a match for him. Once he used his thousand bodies to form that great formation, there was no one capable of injuring him at all. In terms of raw power, once his thousand bodies merged into one… he truly stood at the very top.
This was why Kilostar had never fallen from his position within the fifth stratum! As for the newcomer named Waterwalker, he was an Aberrant that similarly did not fall from the fifth stratum after reaching it. Ning had battled against him before as well. Waterwalker had a look of innocence in his eyes, almost as though he was a newborn child. He just stood there and allowed Ning to attack him as he pleased. Waterwalker himself simply transformed into an enormous globe of water, and none of Ning’s attacks could harm him whatsoever.
This virtually invincible defensive technique, all by itself, was enough to let Waterwalker find stable footing here on the fifth stratum.
“Kilostar relies on his thousand clones and that formation, making it impossible for anyone to harm him. As for Waterwalker, he can transform into an enormous water drop that is equally impervious to harm. Still… Waterwalker seems to be a completely guileless man. I wonder if he really is that innocent or if it is all a façade.” Ning was puzzled by this as well. Although they had only met a single time, the man had given Ning a good impression. The problem was that his innocence seemed excessive to the point of artifice. Before the duel between the two of them had started, he had repeatedly asked Ning all sorts of random questions. It was as though he was curious about everything.
Their ‘fight’ simply consisted of Ning attacking him and him not fighting back at all. No matter how hard Ning hit him, it was useless… and as Ning hit him, he actually continued to engage Ning in energetic conversation, continuing to ask Ning all sorts of random questions. In the end, Ning had to admit defeat.
“My body isn’t any whit weaker than the bodies of those Aberrants. My only weakness lies in my sword-arts. If only I had mastered the sixth stance of the [Nameless] sword-art! If I could do that, I would be able to easily deal with any of these other freaks on the fifth stratum.” Ning pondered on this matter. If he could master the sixth stance, his sword-arts would become comparable to Kilostar’s saber-arts. This was the same level which Arroyo’s saber-arts had been on, and also the same level which the trials of the three Mirrorsnow Paintings were on.
The sixth stance of the [Nameless] sword-art represented a specific level of attainment. At this level, a master-class World God could use a mere Dao weapon to unleash the power of a supreme World God.
With this sword-art and the Elementum Waterflame Gourd… Ning would be able to fight Kilostar to a standstill.
Two more months went by.
Ning finally managed to acquire a full sword-art legacy, but it was the legacy ranked seventy-third. Ning had been planning to wait a few days then gift this legacy to World God Pillsaint, who he was quite fond of, but he didn’t expect that during this period of time he was once more accosted by Waterwalker. Ning was unable to do any damage to him whatsoever, and the man absolutely refused to admit defeat, instead continuing to engage Ning in conversation. In the end, it was Ning who once more was formed to admit defeat.
Waterwalker had a bad habit. After he won a challenge, he would insist on taking away all of his opponent’s legacy treasures. As he put it, “I really like these legacies.”
There was nothing Ning could do…
He could only sigh quietly to himself. World God Pillsaint, you’ve been here for quite some time already. Just wait patiently for a bit longer. When I find the chance, I’ll give you another set of legacy treasures.
Five more months passed before Ning was able to acquire another set of sword-arts legacy treasures. This set was the one ranked number nineteen.
Within Ning’s estate-world.
This was a vast place with a towering mountain at the center of it. At the tallest peak on this mountain there was a white-robed youth who was seated in the lotus position, staring at the wide world beyond the mountain.
“I’ve finally mastered this stance, the ‘Silent World’.”
From this vantage point at the top of the mountain, his gaze was able to see to the very edges of this estate-world. Ning felt as though this entire world was under his control. In addition, he had benefited from his acquisition of those two mighty sword-arts legacies. As a result, Ning finally mastered the fifth stance of the [Nameless] sword-art, the ‘Silent World’.
“I’ve only mastered five stances. That is nothing.” Ning shook his head.
In the Endless Territories, this was already an incredible achievement. World God Northrest himself had merely reached this level of sword-arts. However, Ning was now comparing himself to the terrifyingly talented geniuses which the Hegemon of the Brightshore Kingdom had selected from throughout the many territories.
“To reach the sixth stance is no easy feat. Even after gaining those two legacies… it’ll take me tens of thousands of years at the very least, or perhaps as much as a few hundred thousand years.” Ning shook his head and sighed.
Arroyo had made his breakthrough during the battle atop the Samsara Grinders.
The sixth stance would allow Ning to just barely fulfill the criteria necessary for overcoming Eternal Emperor Mirrorsnow’s trials. To reach this level truly would be very difficult. Ning was living in the Astral Islands, had a large group of fellow geniuses to test himself against, and two mighty sword-arts legacies. This was why he might be able to succeed in ‘just’ a few hundred thousand years at most. This seemed like a long period of time, but Ning had the temporal acceleration treasure known as the Luminous Room. A thousand years in the real world might be enough to allow him to master this technique.
“As for these two sword-arts legacies?” Ning waved his hand, causing a thick tome to appear.
This tome was six hundred pages long. Each of its pages was a legacy treasure. Ning had to acquire all six hundred pages before being able to merge them all into this book and acquiring the sword-arts legacy within it. This was the legacy that was ranked nineteenth.
Ning flipped the book open.
Every single page had a single character on it that was filled with the aura of the Dao of the Sword.
Ning had memorized this legacy long ago. As for the six hundred characters, they represented six hundred different types of sword-intents that allowed Ning to get a better understanding of this sword-art.
“This Daolord Shipstream truly loved calligraphy. I love calligraphy as well. That’s something we have in common.” After acquiring this legacy, Ning had also gained some information regarding Daolord Shipstream.
Daolord Shipstream was an ancient power who had reached the Verge of the Daomerge. In the end, he had failed his Daomerge. He had perished and his Dao dissipated.
He liked to wander about and disliked combat. He titled himself Shipstream because he liked to voyage through the Endless Territories. Due to his personality, his sword-arts didn’t focus on offense; instead, they were incredibly defensive!
He had left behind an extremely detailed and complete legacy, as well as those six hundred characters. Each legacy represented a specific sword-intent. Ning himself was fond of using calligraphy to symbolize his sword-intent, and so he was easily able to understand the information and insights which Daolord Shipstream had sought to transmit through these characters. Given that Ning’s sword-arts were quite defensively oriented to begin with, he was indeed able to quickly understand the true essence of the sword-arts of Daolord Shipstream. A short month after gaining this legacy, Ning had mastered the fifth stance of the [Nameless] sword-art.
Two sword-arts legacies.
The first was ranked seventy-three. It seemed dazzling but it actually had clear weaknesses.
The second was ranked nineteen. It had been created by Daolord Shipstream. It seemed ordinary and unremarkable, but it was actually filled with boundless wisdom.
Afterwards, Ning continued to focus on analyzing his sword-arts. Even though Kilostar once more issued Ning a challenge, Ning made his position quite clear. “I can admit defeat, but I absolutely cannot give you this sword-art legacy. If you don’t accept my terms, then I won’t admit defeat and we can just keep up this battle of attrition. In all honesty, most likely the only person capable of defeating Ning in a battle of attrition was Kilostar. But of course, that was if Ning didn’t use any of his chaos jewels. When Ning had left the Badlands Territory, he had converted quite a bit of his chaos nectar into chaos jewels.
None of the other cultivators could possibly beat Ning in a battle of attrition.
Kilostar walked the path of the Dao of the Saber. He really didn’t care about sword-arts at all and so he didn’t mind Ning’s terms.
Waterwalker… Ning wasn’t able to do anything to him, but he wasn’t able to do anything to Ning either.
Thus, the book which had been personally authored by Daolord Shipstream remained by Ning’s side. Each day, Ning would spend much of his time silently meditating on this book, and his sword-arts continued to rise in profundity, especially in defense.
Ning was so absorbed in his sword-arts that he very nearly forgot all about World God Pillsaint. As far as Ning was considered, if he could help out he would, but that was a favor and not an obligation. World God Pillsaint had been here for countless years anyhow. To be here for another ten thousand years or hundred thousand years wouldn’t be that big a deal to him.
Time flowed out. In the blink of an eye, more than five hundred years had gone by in meditation and battle.