Within the beastworld. Ninedust was seated in the lotus position within the altar, staring at the giant claw-hand hanging in the heavens that surpassed and transcended everything else that was here.
“Whew.” Ninedust let out a long breath, then closed his eyes and revealed a smile. “Success. Finally, I see a glimmer of hope for myself regarding the Daomerge.”
When Ninedust had used up the Voidsea Jadeseal, he had been able to simulate a Daomerge. Although the simulation was partial and incomplete, he had still benefited from it enormously… but alas, he still didn’t feel good about his chances at the Daomerge. Now, however, he felt as though he had a shot.
“Autarchs… they truly are incredible.” Ninedust couldn’t help but let out a sigh of praise as he rose to his feet.
“Eh? You’ve memorized everything already? It’s only been five hundred million years. Not bad at all.” The black-robed figure materialized right next to him.
“Yes.” Ninedust smiled. “Not too shabby, but I wasn’t as fast as Darknorth.” He was an Ancient cultivator; when he was a Daolord of the First Step, his divine body and soul were already comparable to those of most Daolords of the Third Step. Now that he had reached the fourth step, his body and soul were unimaginably powerful. This was why he had managed to memorize it all in just five hundred million years.
“Ah, right. Master once instructed that every single cultivator who was able to memorize these Daos would be given a treasure based on their performance; the better they perform, the better a treasure they receive. Darknorth, for example, has improved significantly! Once he comes back here, I’ll definitely give him a superb treasure. Ninedust, go out and pick a few fights. Show me how much you’ve improved.”
“Treasure?” Ninedust grew excited.
“Yes, treasures the Autarch gave me to hand out.” The black-robed man had an enigmatic smile on his face. “An Autarch’s treasures are naturally extraordinary.”
“Alright, then let me leave right away.” Ninedust was eager to do battle. The black-robed man waved his hand, causing a spatial bubble to encompass Ninedust and teleport him outside the beastworld.
As soon as Ninedust emerged, he saw the white-robed youth seated in the lotus position next to a shattered wall that was within the ruined palaces.
“Darknorth!” Ninedust called out.
The distant Ji Ning opened his eyes and smiled. “You finally came out. I’ve been waiting forever for you.”
“You call that ‘forever’? Verge-level Daolords have all spent tens of thousands of chaos cycles training before they go attempt their Daomerge. In comparison, the amount of time I just spent was absolutely nothing.” Ninedust transformed into a streak of light that flew over towards Ning, landing right before the shattered wall. He asked, “You must’ve improved quite a bit in recent years, eh?”
“Not bad.” Ning grinned. His improvements weren’t exactly minor, but neither were they extravagant. More than five hundred million years had just gone past! During this period of time, Ning had slowly absorbed the insights he had gained from memorizing the teachings of the Autarch. He had broken through to the fourth stage with the Blood Drop stance early on, but now he had done the same with the Soleheart, Yin-Yang, and Shadowless stances. However, the Heavenbreaker stance had yet to make the breakthrough.
Going from being a Daolord of the Third Step to being a Daolord of the Fourth Step was incredibly difficult to begin with. Ninedust and Badlands had both spent many chaos cycles doing just that, with Ninedust only succeeding thanks to the legacy he had gained from that ancestral Hegemon of the Ancient cultivators. As for Badlands, he still had yet to reach the fourth step. As for Ning? His path was that of the Omega Sword Dao; it was far more difficult than Ninedust’s.
To be able to make so many breakthroughs in just a few hundred million years was already terrifyingly fast, much faster than Ning had originally anticipated. It was all thanks to the Stone Censer of Reunion as well as the Autarch’s guidance.
“Based on this level of speed… if I’m lucky, I might be able to become a Daolord of the Fourth Step after a chaos cycle.” Ning felt quite eager. “If I’m not lucky, though, I could well be bottlenecked for ten or even a hundred chaos cycles.”
Once he did take that final step and became a Daolord of the Fourth Step, the last great barrier awaiting Ning would be the Daomerge. That would be the true test, the deadly trial which he felt he had less than a 0.01% chance of passing.
“Darknorth,” Ninedust said excitedly, “That senior said that he would give each of us a treasure based on how well we perform. He also said that you’ve improved quite a bit. You’ll definitely get one extraordinary treasure!”
“He praised my improvements as being significant?” Ning revealed an excited look.
“Yes, that’s exactly what he said.” Ninedust nodded.
Ning grew excited. He himself didn’t know if his improvements counted as ‘major’ or ‘minor’ in the eyes of the treasure-spirit! Prior to memorizing the Autarch’s guidance, he had yet to break through in any of the five stances of his Omega Sword Dao. Now, however, he had reached the fourth stage in four of those five stances. Was this ‘major’? He wasn’t sure, but upon hearing Ninedust’s words Ning felt greatly relieved. He now eagerly awaited what would be coming next.
In truth, the spirit of the beastworld had believed that Ning had long ago reached the apex of power as a Daolord and that Ning thus had very little room for improvement. Given how much stronger Ning had become, of course he viewed Ning’s improvements as being incredible!
“Haha, good! Ninedust, you need to make your breakthroughs as soon as possible as well,” Ning said hurriedly. “The Autarch’s guidance truly is of incredible help in cultivation.”
“Yes, after seeing the Autarch’s Dao, I finally understood what petty, irrelevant figures we are,” Ninedust said. “I’ve already gained many new insights, and I trust I should be able to make a breakthrough soon. Haha, I’ve fully memorized the Autarch’s Dao-guidance! If I still can’t beat the likes of Dawnstar, the Radiant King, or Dreamlore, even I would feel ashamed of myself.”
“Haha, that’s the spirit!” Ning laughed as well.
“My improvements are nothing. I imagine even Eternal Emperors and Hegemons would love to have a chance to gaze into the Dao-teachings of an Autarch.” Ninedust shook his head. “Alas, blessings like this can only be hoped for, not counted on. I’ve always felt that I’m incredibly talented… if even this blessing isn’t enough to propel me past the Radiant King and the others, I would view myself as nothing more than a joke.”
“Hurry up and train,” Ning urged. “Improve as much as you can. After we pick up our treasures, we’re going to leave this world and return to the Endless Territories.”
“Alright.” Ninedust nodded. “I’m gonna go find those Emperor-class golems and fight them again.”
“You should probably stay away from me. Otherwise, those golems will refuse to engage with you,” Ning said with a laugh.
“What? Why?” Ninedust was surprised. “Did you beat them up that badly?”
“Kind of,” Ning said.
“Darknorth… how many golems have you caught, exactly?” Ninedust asked rather excitedly. Emperor-class golems were definitely quite valuable; only the Sithe had them in fairly large numbers.
Ning shook his head. “I caught a few early on, but all of them are quite clever; once they saw they couldn’t beat me, they refused to battle me any further.”
“So how many have you captured, exactly?” Ninedust asked again.
“When you first entered the beastworld, the Emperor-class golems began to assemble. A total of thirty-two of them joined forces against me.” Ning shook his head. “They really were quite cautious. Even I was put in rather dire straits by their combined powers! However, I intentionally held back some of my power, using them to temper my sword-arts. After I managed to make a new breakthrough, I suddenly struck out with full power and caught them offguard, capturing eight of them in a row. The others were frightened off at that point… and ever since then, they haven’t dared to approach me.”
“Eight?! If we factor in the two you caught when helping me out, then add in the two you took when we captured three from the three great clans… that means you have a total of twelve Emperor-class golems?!” Ninedust had a state of disbelief on his face. “I only have two!”
“Getting envious?” Ning smirked.
“No wonder they don’t dare to approach you any further.” Ninedust shook his head. “Fine, I’ll go hunt them down and fight with them. When I feel I’ve improved as much as I can, I’ll come find you.”
“Alright.” Ning nodded. Swoosh! Ninedust quickly soared into the distance, flying hundreds of kilometers away into a ruin-filled region. The golems knew exactly how strong Ninedust was; as a result, they feared Ning but not Ninedust! Three of the Emperor-class golems immediately appeared and surrounded the Ninedust Sectlord.
Ning watched this all happen from afar. A few seconds later, he leapt forwards and transformed into a streak of light that shot towards the core Sithe residential zone.
“This is the place.” Ning immediately came to a halt when he reached the borders of the core region.
“You actually dare to invade the Sithe grounds yet again?” Four figures appeared in the distance, roaring furiously at Ning as they transformed into streaks of light and moved towards him faster than a hundred times the limits of the Heavenly Daos.
Ning just stood there, watching from afar. Ever since the weaker Emperor-class golems had refused to battle against him, Ning began to harbor designs upon these four stronger golems, each of which was on par with the eight lords of the Sacred Cities. Over the course of five hundred million years, Ning had already battled against them countless times.
Each time he would go to the very margins of the core residences. Once the battle started to go against him, he would quickly retreat. So long as he left the core residential region, these four golems would cease their pursuit. They were golems, after all; now that their original masters were dead, they would forever carry out the final tasks their masters had ordered them to do without any deviations. Only if they were forcibly bound would they follow a new master.
“The Sithe must’ve hidden quite a few treasures in the core regions, but these four won’t let me get even close to them. I can see some of them but I can’t acquire them,” Ning mused to himself. “I’ll see if I can get Ninedust to come up with a way to capture a few more of those Emperor-class golems. He can lead them and assist me in assaulting the core regions.
The Sithe truly had left quite a few treasures here. Almost all of them had been shattered, but over the course of time they had slowly healed and recovered. All of them were under guard.
Ning was quite intrigued by them, but he just wasn’t strong enough to take them; he needed help! Alas, the Emperor-class golems refused to even go near him, giving him no chance at all. The rest was up to Ninedust. Ninedust was viewed as much less dangerous, which meant he actually had a shot as he was able to lure the Emperor-class golems out of hiding. He might actually be able to capture a few more.