“Northmont Yin?” Ning was startled.
“Then what of Northmont Baiwei and his father, Northmont Blacktiger?” Ning hurriedly asked, “Are they doing alright?”
Internicine struggles within ancient clans could be incredibly devastating; generally, the losers would have dire ends.
“I know about the relationship between you and Northmont Baiwei,” Ji Truekeep said, “So I kept abreast of this matter. Northmont Blacktiger and his son continue to live within Stillwater City and continue to reside within the Northmont Blacktiger Estate. Although their power is not as it was before, they aren’t at risk of dying.”
Ning finally let out a sigh of relief. Still…he was quite surprised.
Based on what he understood, the struggle within the Northmont clan of Stillwater for the position of Marquis would be extremely cruel and savage; the loser would be driven out of their estate and perhaps even expelled out from Stillwater City to some other places. In an extremely serious case, they might even be sent to a completely different minor world with the assignment of subjugating it for the clan. There, they might live out the end of their days. Unexpectedly, after Northmont Yin had become the Marquis, his most powerful foe, Northmont Blacktiger, was still able to reside in Stillwater City.
After the time needed to boil a kettle of tea, Ning finished asking his questions and felt a bit more relaxed. He then said, “I’m going to make a trip; I should be back in ten days or half a month or so.”
“Ji Ning,” Granny Shadow said in her gravelly voice, “The outside world is very chaotic right now. You must be careful.”
“Chaotic?” Ning was puzzled. “Why is it chaotic?”
Truekeep explained, “Our Ji clan is permanently stationed here at Swallow Mountain, and so we don’t know too much about the chaos in the outside world. What we do know, however, is that in the past twenty to thirty years, many tribes and clans within Stillwater Commandery have been wiped out! The entire Stillwater Commandery is in a state of enormous upheaval right now. Of course, the annihilated clans and tribes were all fairly weak tribes that had no Immortals…but there were still a number of annihilated clans that were comparable to Snowdragon Mountain back in its heyday.”
“What?!” Ning felt as though something was off. In Stillwater Commandery, powers comparable to Snowdragon Mountain were already fairly strong.
Powers with Immortals guarding them, by contrast, would be considered truly first-rate.
Above them would be the eight supreme powers; the Black-White College, the Skysplitter Sword Sect, the Hundred Flowers Fairyland, the Heavenly Saint Church, the Blood God Church, the Dragonhunter clan, the Eastriver clan, and the Bluewood clan.
The most supreme powers, of course, were the Northmont clan as well as the local Raindragon Guard.
“Powers comparable to Snowdragon Mountain…they all have extremely deep and stable roots; it’s rare for one of them to be wiped out, even in a thousand years. How is it that a number of them have been wiped out in twenty to thirty short years?” Ning said.
“The Ji clan stays here at Swallow Mountain. We’re not too sure,” Truekeep said.
When Ning had left Mount Innerheart, his master had warned him of the dangerous undercurrents within the Three Realms, claiming that even he himself might fall. Now, upon returning to Stillwater Commandery, he discovered that local regions were already beginning to turn chaotic…
“A great secret most likely lies behind the chaos in Stillwater Commandery,” Ning mused silently to himself. “It seems I need to be even more careful than I anticipated. If even Master must be extremely careful…this little bit of power I have is nothing.”
“Granny Shadow. Uncle Truekeep.” Ning immediately said, “Given the state of chaos Stillwater Commandery is in, your actions are correct. It is best for our Ji clan to peacefully remain here at Swallow Mountain. Mm…I’m going to make a trip. I’ll be back in ten days or so. Autumn Leaf, no need to follow me; wait here for my return.”
“Alright.” Autumn Leaf nodded.
“Immortal Duohe, Immortal Witchsui…the safety of my Ji clan will depend on your efforts,” Ning said.
“We are only acting as is proper. Fellow Daoist Ji Ning, you rescued all of us from the Immortal estate; it is right and proper for us to help out,” Immortal Witchsui said hurriedly.
“The monsters of the Immortal estate are living here at Swallow Mountain as well. We shall prosper together or perish together with the Ji clan.” Immortal Duohe spoke out warmly as well. In the past, for the sake of their clan, they had sworn a thousand year oath…but now that Ning had come back as a Void-level Earth Immortal, as had his two spirit-beasts, their attitudes had changed significantly.
In the air a few thousand kilometers outside of Stillwater City. A spatial ripple appeared, then a fur-clad youth walked out, a snowy white hound by his side.
Around Ning’s arm was a little azure snake. The snake raised its little head, staring into the distance, then said excitedly, “We’re finally at Stillwater City. Hahaha, I, Little Qing, have become a Void-level Earth Immortal. I’d be considered an expert even here in Stillwater City now!”
Ning rode the wind as he flew towards Stillwater City.
“I’m back. I wonder if Master is at the Black-White College.” Ning quickly saw the distant Black-White College; when Ning had left, Immortal Diancai had gone out adventuring to temper himself. Nearly forty years had passed since then; Ning wondered if he was back yet.
Whoosh. Ning flew directly into the Black-White College.
Within the marquisate of Stillwater. There were many crystal globes hovering in midair, each being watched over by an Immortal cultivator.
“Someone flew directly into Stillwater city!” A cultivator quickly noticed the scene that just appeared within one of the watched crystal balls. He immediately reported this aloud, and soon had his report verified by someone else.
“A fur-clad youth, an Azure Skysnake, a Whitewater Hound.”
“This person should be the person who became the champion of the Conclave of Immortal Destiny more than thirty years ago, then disappeared without a trace – Adept Darknorth, Ji Ning!”
“Intelligence reports regarding Adept Darknorth are classified as top-priority. Quick, go report this!”
Soon, this intelligence report was transferred to higher-ups.
The Northmont clan of Stillwater kept an extremely tight watch over its enfeoffed territory. In Stillwater City at least, anyone who dared to fly about in the open had to be clearly investigated. In fact… whenever there was an especially powerful ripple of elemental energy anywhere in the entire vast commandery of Stillwater, it would be discovered and investigated!
For example, when Immortal Firedragon made his breakthrough in Swallow Mountain, the Northmont clan of Stillwater immediately discovered it.
“The Ji Ning that disappeared more than thirty years ago after the Conclave of Immortal Destiny?”
“This information needs to be reported to the Patriarch right away!”
The news continued to climb through the ranks. And soon…the news made its way to Celestial Immortal Hunchmont.
A hunchbacked old man with white hair who held a gnarled wooden staff took a single step forward and appeared in midair, then flew towards the direction of the Black-White College.
“I heard that Sword Immortal Evergreen of the Crimsonbright League had intended to take Ji Ning as his disciple…but it seemed as though Ji Ning didn’t take him on as his master, nor did he apprentice himself to any of the other Immortals or Empyrean Gods affiliated with Daofather Crimsonbright. In fact…the Immortals of the Crimsonbright League have no idea where Ji Ning is at all.” Celestial Immortal Hunchmont quietly pondered over this.
Ning’s disappearance had briefly caused a stir. It must be understood that even Pure Yang True Immortals like Lu Dongbin had been interested in taking Ning as a disciple…and in fact, Lu Dongbin had been extremely eager to do so. However, the Grand Xia Emperor had resolutely refused to agree, insisting on keeping Ning for the Crimsonbright League.
But in the end…?
Almost everyone who had been in the Skylight Palace for the Conclave had been a Celestial Immortal. The news of this matter had quickly spread. All of those Celestial Immortals were under Daofather Crimsonbright’s command, and so they were all investigating this matter. They all had learned that Sword Immortal Evergreen had sought to take Ning as a disciple, but Ning had refused and disappeared.
However…no matter how they searched, none of the Immortals under Daofather Crimsonbright’s command could find out who had taken Ning on as a disciple. Everyone guessed that Ning had most likely ended up not joining Daofather Crimsonbright’s side.
So where had Ji Ning gone to?
Why didn’t he take Sword Immortal Evergreen as his master?
Who had he taken as his master? Or did he even have a master at all? Was he wandering alone?!
This became a mystery!
“You all seem to be having a happy chat.” The staff-holding Celestial Immortal Hunchmont arrived before the Headmaster’s Hall in the Black-White College. He strode inside, sweeping the people within with his long-browed, deep gaze. There were more than ten Immortals gathered here. Thirty years ago, the Black-White College didn’t have this many Immortals. During the past period of time, however, Stillwater Commandery had simply become too chaotic, and so the Primal Daoists with very deep levels of enlightenment such as Daoist Jadesea, who had previously been taking their time, all decided to make their breakthroughs. They had all reached the Void-level and become Earth Immortals.
Instantly, all the Immortals of the Black-White College saluted respectfully. Ning saluted as well. “Senior Hunchmont.”
“Ji Ning returned?” Celestial Immortal Hunchmont nodded lightly, his eyes lighting up. “It’s only been thirty years, but both you and your spirit-beasts have reached the Void-level as Earth Immortals. Monsters train much more slowly than we humans do, but your two spirit-beasts have both reached the Void-level…it seems the past thirty-plus years represented a huge stroke of fortune for you.”
The short elder nearby, Immortal Fivecraze, let out an emotional sigh. “We were just discussing this as well. Becoming a Void-level Earth Immortal is no easy task. Ning and both his spirit-beasts…well, our Black-White College now has three more Earth Immortals. Naturally, all of us are extremely happy.”
Celestial Immortal Hunchmont nodded, then said, “Young friend Ji Ning, you disappeared all those years ago, drawing quite a bit of attention. Where did you go for the past period of time?”
Ning smiled. “I went to take on a master and to study.”
“Take on a master?” Celestial Immortal Hunchmont was intrigued. He hurriedly asked, “Might I ask who?”
“Forgive me for not being able to tell you,” Ning said.
Celestial Immortal Hunchmont laughed. “I won’t force it, I won’t force it.” But in his heart, he secretly mumbled to himself, “It seems one of the powers of the Three Realms must’ve run off with him, which is why he isn’t willing to say his master’s name; I imagine he doesn’t want to cause trouble. However…for his master to be so daring means that he is most likely a formidable figure.”
The question of who Ning had taken on his master was indeed quite an intriguing one. This was because any power who took on Ning as a disciple would have at least somewhat offended Daofather Crimsonbright’s side!
Still…the Crimsonbright League wouldn’t hold anything against Ning personally. This was because if one was to take on a disciple, the disciple had to be willing! True Immortals, Empyrean Gods, Daofathers…anyone taking on a disciple had to ask if the disciple was willing to accept him as a master! If Ning was unwilling, nobody could force him. For Ning to willingly run off with someone else and take him or her as his master only meant that the Grand Xia Emperor would have to suffer this loss in silence.
“If you are free, young friend Ji Ning, you can pay a visit to the marquisate of Stillwater,” Celestial Immortal Hunchmont said with a chortle.
“Definitely,” Ning said.
“Right. I won’t interrupt your reunion with your comrades any longer.” Celestial Immortal Hunchmont immediately turned, still-leaning on his gnarled staff, and gracefully departed.
Within the hall.
“Ji Ning, Stillwater Commandery is a bit chaotic right now. You need to be careful. Although our Black-White College stands on the side of the Northmont clan of Stillwater…we can’t just stupidly offer ourselves up and die for them for no reason,” Immortal Fivecraze said in a low voice. All the other Loose Immortals and Earth Immortals present all nodded and looked towards Ning.
Ji Ning and the Sloppy Daoist were the two mighty future pillars of their Black-White College! They didn’t wish for Ning to be taken advantage of.
Ning nodded. “I understand. Right…has my master returned to the Black-White College?”
“Your master came back just a few days ago. He’s in closed-door meditation right now; most likely, he is going to attempt his Celestial Tribulation soon,” Immortal Fivecraze said.
“Tribulation?” Ning was surprised.