Chapter 12 – Swordforce, Stage Four

“How can he be so fast? My sword-arts are already quite fast, and I used six swords to launch six simultaneous attacks…but he was able to block them all.” After slamming into the frozen sea, Ji Ning quickly flew back into the air, his eyes filled with disbelief. Just now, he had used the [Starseizing Hand] with all six of his arms, but he was still easily smashed away by his foe.

The difference in power between the two made Ning feel quite miserable.

“Heartforce. In the end, it’s still an ephemeral, invisible form of energy.”

“In close combat, strength is just one aspect; combat techniques matters even more.” Ning sighed in his heart. He was able to see long ago that this Snowfiend was in control of taiji-force, and his battle-techniques were also incomparably profound. Ning’s own swordforce had merely reached the third stage; clearly, his [Brightmoon] sword-art, in terms of technique, was completely outmatched by his enemy’s staff-arts.

The difference in combat skill was simply too great. Even with three heads and six arms, Ning was still at a complete disadvantage.

“Ahahaha, come, come, come! Again!” Snowfiend was growing excited, and he twirled the golden staff in his hands, sending it howling forth once more.

As for Ning, he charged forward as well, once more entering the fray.

Clang! Clang! Clang! Boom! Boom! Boom!

The two battled wildly over the frozen sea. Every so often, Ning would be bashed backwards, but thanks to the [Eight-Nine Arcane Art] he was able to continue exchanging blows with his foe. He had to keep the [Starseizing Hand] maintained the entire time, as otherwise his swords would instantly be knocked flying upon contact with the enemy. The difference in raw strength was simply too great; only by using the [Starseizing Hand] was he able to maintain parity.

Every so often, Ning would let his heartforce explode forth as well! This would cause Snowfiend’s body to suffer some wounds as well, but Snowfiend’s body was capable of transforming into countless flakes of snow, then reforming; those light wounds were completely useless.

“Interesting. You are actually capable of suddenly exploding forth with great power in a way which even I cannot detect. Is this the legendary, invisible, formless power of heartforce?” Snowfiend continued his attacks while chatting with Ning, who just gritted his teeth and fought back.

This was the first time that he had found himself completely outclassed by someone who was on his own level of power. In strength, in agility, in technique…he was at a disadvantage in every single aspect.

“Faster. Faster!”

“The [Five Treasures] manual was correct when it said that upon reaching an unstoppable level of speed, one’s attacks will become completely unstoppable.”

“When the Golden Crow ‘Emperor of Monsters’ reached maximum speed, none of the major powers of the Primordial Era were able to do anything to him; in the end, Houyi had to use a special arrow to slay him. If I can make my sword fast enough, he’ll be unable to stop me!” Ning attacked frantically, completely ignore defense and focusing solely on offense. The two stances he used were ‘Shadowless’ and ‘Blood Drop’.

Although there were three attacking stances in the [Brightmoon] sword-art, Heavenbreaker primarily relied on crushing with weight and power. The difference in strength between Ning and Snowfiend was simply too great; Snowfiend’s own primary skill revolved around using overwhelming power in each staff-smash! For Ning to use the Heavenbreaker stance to fight head-on would be a foolish choice; he would be using his weakness to combat the enemy’s strength. He would lose disastrously if he did this.

Shadowless stance. Blood Drop stance.

His attacks were occasionally drifting and bizarre, occasionally rapid and savage. With three heads and six arms, he wildly launched attacks, attacks, and even more attacks!

Faster, fasater, faster!

Snowfiend himself continued to twirl that golden staff, the two streams of black and white energy flowing around it in a series of circles that completely shut down all of Ning’s attacks.

“I’m still not fast enough.”

Ning’s six swords emanated a natural, blurry golden light. This light was truly breathtaking and dominating, but no matter how valiantly and savagely Ning fought his attacks continued to be dispersed by the seemingly-ordinary staff techniques.

After fighting for a long period of time, Ning’s divine power was close to being depleted.

“It seems you still aren’t good enough.” Snowfiend chuckled to himself, his staff completely suppressing Ning.

As for Ning, he continued to launch attacks at a frenetic pace. Suddenly…one of the six swords exploded forth with shocking amounts of power.

“Heartforce yet again?” Snowfiend didn’t feel any concern at all. Although this sword-strike of Ning’s was even stranger and more unfathomable than before, and although his sword had managed to draw close to Snowfiend’s body due to the sudden increase in power, Snowfiend was still able to clip the side of Ning’s sword with his staff, knocking it aside. Ning was only able to leave a slash on Snowfiend’s flank.

However, right at this moment, one of Ning’s hands suddenly released a sword. The hand suddenly increased in size as it clawed towards Snowfiend.

This attack was simply too sudden. The heartforce-filled sword had been nothing more than a decoy; Ning’s true goal was to ensure that this hand of his would be able to close in on the enemy! In the same instant that the sword’s attack ‘failed’, Ning released the sword and let his hand become his true weapon.

“Eh?” Shocked, Snowfiend hurriedly moved backwards. His movement techniques were quite marvelous as well, and Ning’s clawing attack was only able to latch onto one of Snowfiend’s arms.

“Sever!” Snowfiend let out an uncaring chortle. He was formed from snow, and his body could manifest or dissipate as he willed it. The loss of an arm was nothing to him.

One of his arms had been seized by Ning, but the other sword continued to wield the long staff and battle against Ning’s other five swords.

BOOM!

A bloody sword-tip suddenly pierced out of Snowfiend’s forehead.

Snowfiend revealed a look of shock. He…he had actually been stabbed in the head?

Whoosh.

Moments later, Snowfiend’s body completely dissipated, reforming off to the side a few moments later. He stared in disbelief at the direction from which he had been attacked; a second Ji Ning was standing there!

“Two?” Snowfiend stared at the two white-robed Ji Nings.

“Just now, when you released your sword and grabbed me, it was all for the sake of giving your other clone a chance?” Snowfiend looked at Ning.

“Yes.” Ning nodded. “You are indeed strong enough to outmatch me; I’m not your equal at all. Thus, I had to play a small trick on you.”

“First, you filled your sword with heartforcce, then you released the sword to attack me with your hand. That hand of yours is no weaker than your sword,” Snowfiend said.

“Correct. To be precise, my hand is actually a bit more powerful,” Ning said.

Ning’s [Starseizing Hand] had made his hands comparable to supreme Protocosmic spirit-treasures. Although they weren’t sword-shaped, they were still comparable in might to high-grade Protocosmic swords. Naturally, his hands would be a bit more powerful than the swords he was using.

“Although my palms are a bit more powerful, and although my attack came quite suddenly, your agility techniques are simply too impressive; I was only able to grab onto your arm.” Ning shook his head.

“You released the sword so that you could attack with your hand, but even if the hand succeeded, you would still have the option of using your second body, which is just as strong as your first body.” Snowfiend shook his head. “I was tied down by you for a moment; that sudden attack caught me offguard, rendering me unable to dodge. I am thoroughly convinced by my defeat.”

“I wasn’t strong enough, so I had no choice but to use trickery,” Ning said.

If he had started the battle with two clones, the ape would’ve been prepared for it. Given how overwhelmingly powerful Snowfiend was, if that happened the outcome could be summarized in one word: LOSE.

Thus, Ning’s second clone would only appear at a critical moment, unleashing a sudden attack that would gain him victory.

“It was because you have other clones.” Snowfiend shook his head. “You actually have two true bodies, and both are Empyrean God bodies. It seems that you must’ve trained in some sort of special divine ability. Generally speaking, this sort of divine ability should allow you to create quite a few clones, correct?”

Ning chuckled. Indeed; [Taowu Eighteen Fiendgods] allowed for a total of eighteen clones.

“You win.” Snowfiend hefted the golden staff onto his shoulders, then turned and left. Snow fluttered around him, and he quickly disappeared into the snow.

Ning let out a sigh of relief. “Good heavens.” Ning felt a spike of fear for what had almost happened.

“Although I knew that Snowfiend had to be powerful…he was way too powerful! I threw everything I had at him, and my first clone used up almost all of its divine power and heartforce. If my final ploy had failed, my only option would’ve been to try and flee back to the island.”

The reason why Ning had battled ineffectively for so long as to make the ape ‘accustomed’ too him. Everything lay in that final attack.

First the sword, then the hand, then the second clone! If he failed, he would’ve fled back to the island. Just like Roughpeak, he would train for a few more years before making any further attempts.

“Success! Finally, I succeeded.”

Although Ning celebrated his victory, he still felt a sense of pressure. This journey involved a total of five islands; his defeat of Snowfiend only allowed him access to the second island. This battle, however, had already forced him to reveal his trump card and use all the tricks he had available. Would he be able to overcome the upcoming challenges?

Whoosh.

The Ruyi Soulsnake Shuttle followed the floating wooden bridge, rapidly advancing towards the horizon.

While flying, Ning pondered the previous battle nonstop. Just now, when he had been battling so frantically, he had a vague feeling that he was about to completing the third chapter of the [Five Treasures] sword-art, which he was still a hairs-breadth away from mastering. However, because he was in a life-and-death battle, he didn’t have any time to think about the sword-art.

Now, Ning began to think back to the previous battle and carefully analyze it.

After flying for half a day, another island appeared before Ning. This island had a massive volcano in the center of it. Boom! Boom! Boom! The volcano constantly belched forth lava and ash, sending them flying into the skies and turning the entire island red.

“A volcano island?” Ning no longer pondered his sword-arts. Instead, he rapidly flew forward and landed atop the volcano island.

This was the second of the five islands.

“Eh?”

At the end of the wooden bridge, Ning sat a giant, vertical stone stele, with the stone stele covered by an enormous diagram of a bellowing ape. This ape looked rather similar to Snowfiend, and he was roaring at the heavens.

As soon as Ning saw it, his mind was drawn into the diagram’s depths.

He saw the illusion of an ape, twirling a longstaff in its hands as it trained in a staff technique. The ape started with the simplest techniques, then proceeded to the advanced ones, his staffwork growing increasingly marvelous. A short while ago, Ning had battled against Snowfiend for a long period of time. Now that he was able to carefully see each of the illusory ape’s separate techniques in detail, he instantly felt enlightened regarding his previous experiences. Only after a long period of time did the display of techniques come to an end.

“Eh?” Ning’s consciousness returned to his body.

“What a marvelous staff technique. A pity that my path is the Dao of the Sword.” But suddenly, Ning’s entire body turned stiff as he just stood there blankly.

He had been trapped at a bottleneck in the [Five Treasures] for some time now. Upon viewing that complete staff technique, it was as though a ray of sunlight had suddenly pierced through a covering of dark stormclouds, illuminating a world that had previously been cast in shadow.

Ning stood there silently and unmovingly. Both him and his second clone were completely absorbed in the [Five Treasures] sword-art. They were gaining continuous insights into the third chapter, and in the end the bottleneck was no longer able to impede Ning’s progress. The bottleneck shattered, and all of his insights became completely linked together, merging to form a perfect whole. The entire third chapter was completely mastered…and Ning’s swordforce silently advanced to the fourth stage as well.

Swordforce, stage one – Silver Moon.

Swordforce, stage two – Dazzling Sun.

Swordforce, stage three – Imperial Ruler.

Swordforce, stage four – Sword Heart.

“Sword Heart…” Ning murmured to himself, then flicked out with his finger in a slow arc. A black streak of sword-light appeared, swirling around it.

When he had created the very first stance of the [Brightmoon] sword-art, Ning had already reached the third stage of swordforce. Nearly a century had passed, and over the course of this period of time Ning had completed the [Brightmoon] sword-art, battled against many Empyrean Gods and Celestial Immortals in the prisonworld, and even sparred against True Gods and True Immortals there. However, he had been unable to make that final breakthrough. Only after sparring against Snowfiend and after his consciousness was drawn into the stone stele did he finally break through the last bottleneck and reach the fourth stage of swordforce.

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