Ji Ning continued to lead Hegemon Azurefiend and Protector Whitethaw through the flaming passageways via his realmship, entering ‘negotiations’ with one trapped Hegemon and Emperor after another. Each flaming passageway was extremely long, while the Hegemons were all scattered in various places. As a result, it would take months to fully sweep through all of them.
“Hmph. Those fools.” Hegemon Azurefiend sat within the realmship, drinking some wine. A dark look had long ago appeared on his face. “All of them are saying that I’m afraid of death. Ugh…”
Hegemon Azurefiend didn’t even know how he was supposed to refute these rumors. Was he supposed to commit suicide to show that he wasn’t afraid of death? That would be truly idiotic.
“Brother Azurefiend, why bother with them?” Ning smiled. “If a dog bites you, are you really going to bite back? Just let them jabber.”
In truth, Ning felt a bit awkward about all this, because the person Hegemon Azurefiend was serving as himself! There was no way he could simply ‘give up’ a Hegemonic retainer, and so all he could do was just try and console the Hegemon as best he could.
“Yes, they are nothing more than dogs. I shouldn’t waste my time with them.” Hegemon Azurefiend lifted his head up to drink some wine, only to realize that his cup was empty. An awkward look appeared on his face. Clearly, he was so focused on what everyone in the outside world was saying about him that he hadn’t even noticed he was out of wine.
Seeing this, Ning grinned. “Let me fill that up for you.”
Hegemon Azurefiend watched as Ning poured the wine. He couldn’t help but stroke his pointed, ape-like jaw as he murmured, “I’ve been alive for many years. I don’t care about what those weaker cultivators say, but the Hegemons who are on par with me… I can’t help but care! I’ve made a fool of myself in front of you, Darknorth. My Dao-heart still is not strong enough.”
“So long as we are alive, there will be things we care about. Otherwise, we’d be nothing more than zombies.” Ning smiled. “Caring about face is quite normal.”
“Darknorth, there’s something I hope you can do for me.” Hegemon Azurefiend looked at Ning.
“Oh? Tell me what it is. I’ll do my absolute best,” Ning said immediately.
“I hope… that you will succeed in the Daomerge!” Azurefiend looked at Ning, a hint of eagerness in his eyes. Ning couldn’t help but feel slightly stunned by this. “If you succeed in the Daomerge, your Omega Dao will ensure that you vastly surpass the level of Hegemons. You will reach a level which I cannot even imagine. When that happens, I will only feel proud for having served someone like yourself as a retainer.”
Ning finally smiled. “Thank you for your kind words. I’ll absolutely do my best.”
The Daomerge… in truth, Ning was finally daring to feel a bit of optimism regarding it, primarily because the Autarch’s stone dais truly was shockingly effective with regards to meditation. He also had the countless techniques of the Sithe and the cultivator civilizations which the Autarch had left behind, giving him a much deeper foundation and level of understanding. Once he created ten Archon-class techniques, he would then gain another treasure the Autarch had left behind which would be of tremendous assistance to cultivators partaking in the Daomerge.
Thus… although it would be extremely difficult for a Daolord of the Fourth Step to succeed in the Daomerge with an Omega Dao, at least he now had a chance. If he really was able to succeed in the Daomerge, what new heights would he reach?
The Hegemons and Emperors all obediently handed their treasures over. In the end, even the group of Hegemons led by the Numerancy-focused Hegemon Blackwood chose to bow their heads and hand over the treasures. Hegemon Blackwood’s divinations had told them that it would be impossible for their group to securely leave this place with Hegemon Azurefiend causing trouble for them.
The Hegemons made certain requests of Ning as well. In exchange for handing over their treasures, they all wanted Ning to swear oaths guaranteeing their safety. They wanted to make sure that Ning couldn’t suddenly backstab them as they began to leave. Ning, in turn, asked the fleeing Hegemons and Emperors to swear oaths not to come back in the future for revenge.
Both sides swore the relevant oaths. Only then did each feel faith in the other.
In the blink of an eye, more than two months had gone by.
“Just one Hegemon left,” Ning said.
“There’s one more left? Who?” Azurefiend asked.
“Winterflame.” Ning grinned.
“Hegemon Winterflame?” Azurefiend nodded slowly. “He’s an extremely shameless fellow, but he’s quite strong. He’ll be hard to deal with.”
Ning sent the realmship towards the direction of Hegemon Winterflame. While flying over, Azurefiend suddenly realized that something was wrong: “Darknorth, why are we going backwards? Aren’t we going to meet Winterflame?”
“Yes, we’re moving straight towards him right now,” Ning said. “Winterflame is located at the very end of this passageway, right after that turn in the corridor!”
“What? He’s right there? But we went past here earlier. Why didn’t we go speak to him and instead moved around him? That was unnecessary.” Azurefiend was puzzled. He didn’t really care about having ‘wasted’ a day or two, but this entire time Ning had ‘swept’ through the Hegemons and Emperors using the most direct paths possible. Why had they wasted a day or two on Hegemon Winterflame?
“Because he’s different from the other Hegemons and Emperors,” Ning said coldly.
“What, is there a feud between the two of you?” Hegemon Azurefiend could sense a hint of anger emanating from Ning.
Ning nodded. “He once assaulted my avatar and tried to abduct my clan, ‘Vastheaven Palace’, to use its disciples as hostages against me.”
“Hmph. Winterflame lives up to his reputation. As shameless as ever, I see.” Hegemon Azurefiend let out a cold snort, then frowned: “If I had a way to help you get rid of him, I would, but he’s a Hegemon who can transform into countless flames. So long as his invulnerable flamebody is active, my attacks will be of no use against him.”
“We might not be able to kill him, but we can’t let him off easily,” Ning said.
The flaming passageways. The handsome, pale-skinned Hegemon Winterflame was frowning slightly, his skin so crystalline that one could see the vessels beneath them. “Damn. Daolord Darknorth actually managed to reverse the situation! Not only did he take control over the mechanisms in the flaming passageways, he even managed to convince that idiot Azurefiend to be his retainer. The Hegemons and Emperors have all given up on fighting for that realmship.” Hegemon Winterflame frowned, his heart filled with resentment: “What should I do? What are my options? The flaming passageways are filled with dangers. I can’t move at all.”
“Forget it. I’ll bow my head and just endure it for now. Escape is the most pressing issue,” Hegemon Winterflame mused silently. “A pity that Daolord Darknorth is going to profit by it.”
Whoosh. An ancient, rather damaged-looking realmship suddenly flew towards him from afar. “Here they are.” Hegemon Winterflame raised his head to stare towards the realmship.
The realmship came to a halt, and three figures emerged from it. They were Ji Ning, Hegemon Azurefiend, and Protector Whitethaw.
“Hmph.” Hegemon Winterflame suppressed his anger and said coldly, “Daolord Darknorth, you really are quite impressive. All these Hegemons came attacking, but in the end you cleared the board! You even convinced one of them to become your retainer. I have to admit some admiration for you. Here are the treasures you requested. I can give them to you, but I need you to swear an oath not to attack me while I leave the Jadefire Realm. I must be allowed to leave in peace.” Hegemon Winterflame held out a bracelet as he looked at Ning.
“Hegemon Winterflame. We meet again.” Ning finally spoke out in a leisurely voice.
“Meet again?” Hegemon Winterflame was briefly startled before his face went blank and hard.
“I told you that we’d meet again here in the Jadefire Realm.” Ning smiled. “I’ve always been a person who keeps his word. I’ve had you on my mind for quite some time now, ever since you attempted to take away all of Vastheaven Palace to try and threaten me.”
Hegemon Winterflame growled, “What do you want?”
“The other Hegemons only needed to pay a minor figure in treasure, but you are different,” Ning said. “I won’t claim your life. However, if you wish me to let me go then you must give me all the treasures you are currently carrying.”
“You won’t claim my life? As if you could.” Hegemon Winterflame was rather angry. In terms of raw power, most likely only Otherverse Lords had any chance of slaying him.
“You can choose to refuse.” Ning looked at him.
“You…!” Hegemon Winterflame stared hard at Ning. “You ask too much. Half! I’ll give you half of the countless treasures I’ve accumulated over the aeons.” He was legendary for his shamelessness, but it was this very shamelessness that had allowed to build up such a prodigious stockpile of treasures.
“Either accept my offer or decline it,” Ning said coldly.
“You…!” Hegemon Winterflame was so furious, his teeth hurt from all the clenching. Still… when he considered his situation, he realized that all the other Hegemons and Emperors had fled. The Jadefire Realm was simply too dangerous; the only person in all the Sixteen Realmverses Alliance who would be able to come here to save him was Realmslord Windgrace. But not only did Realmslord Windgrace rarely intervene in matters like this, the Realmslord didn’t even like him. The two weren’t on very good terms.
“Fine! Take them!!!” Hegemon Winterflame had a rather savage look on his face as the bracelet in his hand trembled slightly. Clearly, he had just moved many treasures into that bracelet.
“I already told you… I want ALL of your treasures.” Ning looked at him. “The armor that you are wearing and the Universe weapon you are wielding… give them to me as well.”
“You even want my armor and my weapon?!” Hegemon Winterflame’s eyes bulged out.