Stillwater Commandery. Swallow Mountain. The air above Serpentwing Lake.
The Golden Crow hung high in the sky, illuminating the world. However, the trees below were covered by a layer of thick snow. If one took a deep breath, one would feel the cold, crispness of the air.
A youth appeared in the sky, staring at the nearby Brightheart Island.
Swish! Swish! Swish!!!
A depressed-looking gray-robed youth, an azure-robed maiden, and a giant, snowy-white dog all suddenly appeared out of nowhere.
“Senior apprentice-brother?” The gray-robed youth, Mu northson, stared at the distant Ji Ning in disbelief.
“I told you that Master was back, but you didn’t believe it. I’m Master’s spirit-beast; how could my senses be off?” Little Qing charged towards Ning excitedly, transforming into an azure serpent mid-flight, then wrapping herself around Ning’s arm. The little azure serpentine head nuzzled Ning’s arm in a very friendly manner. “Master, I nearly died of worry for you over these recent years. You finally came back.”
Ning’s right hand gently patted the little azure serpent’s head.
“It’s good that you are back.” Uncle White didn’t say much, but his eyes were filled with joy.
“Senior apprentice-brother, it was all my…” Northson stared at Ning.
In truth, over the past eighteen years, Ning had been deeply worried about Northson’s situation. This was because, prior to Ning’s battle with the Youngflame clan, Northson had been tormented for decades, followed by the loss of his Dao-companion. With Ning himself being exiled to a danger zone while covered by karmic sinflames…he was afraid that his junior apprentice-brother Northson would be filled with self-recrimination. Given his junior apprentice-brother’s current state…Ning was worried about what so many years of self-blame would result in.
Although his junior apprentice-brother had more white hair than he had in the past, he was still alive.
“It isn’t your fault. If I have to blame someone, I’d blame myself for being too arrogant and underestimating the Youngflame clan.” Ning walked over through the air, gently patting his junior apprentice-brother on the shoulder. “In addition…the feud between myself and the Youngflame clan is a huge one. There’s no need for you to shoulder all the blame in such a narcissistic way.”
Northson couldn’t help but chuckle.
“Master, where have you been? We were worried to death!” Little Qing raised her head, looking towards Ning. Northson and Uncle White looked at him as well.
“That year…I was exiled by the Youngflame clan into a dangerous area in the infinite Void outside of the Three Realms,” Ning said. “I was trapped there for the past eighteen years, and was only able to return today.”
“So you were were just trapped in a danger zone this entire time. I was worried that you must’ve been undergoing countless dangers and trials,” Little Qing said with a sigh.
“Who else have you spoken to about me?” Ning asked.
Uncle White responded, “We’ve only informed Immortal Diancai. However, because all of us live here on Brightheart Island, and because Little Qing and Mu Northson found it hard to hide their grief and the worry they felt for you…Autumn Leaf eventually found out as well. Also…your Dao-companion, Yu Wei; when she came back to the world of the Grand Xia, she was already aware of what had happened to you. It should’ve been her master, Patriarch Lu, who told her.”
Ning frowned. In truth, he hadn’t wanted Autumn Leaf or Yu Wei to know about this affair; after all, if they had found out, they would’ve been extremely worried for him.
“Let me go see Autumn Leaf,” Ning said.
“Go,” Uncle White said. “In recent years, Autumn Leaf will go to your bedroom, your study, and your training room every single day and spend some time there. I can tell that this little girl’s mind is completely preoccupied with you.”
Ning nodded gently. His eyes began to blaze with torch-light as he glanced towards Brightheart Island…and thus he saw Autumn Leaf.
Within a study.
Autumn Leaf was carefully wiping the table clean with her hands. Actually, because of a formation present, there was no dust on the table whatsoever. However, whenever she touched the table, she couldn’t help but think back to those scenes from long ago, when she would grind ink for Ning as he wrote calligraphy within this study.
“Young master, when will you come back?” Autumn Leaf’s eyes shimmered with tears. She stared at the chair, the chair which Ning normally sat in.
It had been so long.
She had waited so, so long. Even the young master had disappeared for thirty-plus years last time when he had gone to study the Dao with his master, she hadn’t felt the years as keenly as she did this time. After all, last time she knew in her heart that he had gone to study the Dao. This time, however, she knew that her young master was actually in some sort of danger zone which he could die in at any moment. In this sort of an environment, every day felt as long as a year. It had been very hard to endure this.
As a child, she had been sold off as a slave. In the end, she had entered the Ji clan and became a maidservant that was assigned to wait upon Ji Ning.
Ever since she was young, that tiny little boy had become her everything, her heaven and her earth.
Spring Grass had her father to worry about, but Autumn Leaf had lost her kinsmen long ago. She had only one loved one left…her young master.
She had watched as her young master, that tiny little baby, had grown up step by step. She had followed him in roaming the Eastmount Marsh, had followed him until he had embarked upon the Immortal path and headed to Stillwater City. By then…she no longer had the power to help take care of her young master. If she accompanied him, she would only slow him down. She didn’t complain at all; she willingly stayed here at Brightheart Island, quietly awaiting her young master’s return.
The days when he returned were her happiest days.
The days when he didn’t return, she would wait quietly.
But this time…
Her young master might never again return.
Suddenly, the door to the study swung open. Autumn Leaf’s body trembled, and she hurriedly turned her head to look.
There was a youth standing in the doorway. He was still dressed in those furs, and he still had that familiar, warm smile on his face. “Elder sister Autumn Leaf!”
“Young master!” Autumn Leaf charged forward excitedly, but when she reached Ning, she hesitated.
Ning, however, reached out to take her into his arms.
Only after hugging for a long, long moment did Autumn Leaf finally calm down.
“Elder sister Autumn Leaf, the snow is beautiful outside. Let’s go look at the snow,” Ning said. Towards Autumn Leaf…Ning felt very special, unique feelings. She had taken care of him since he was a child, and they had grown up together. In his heart, Autumn Leaf was family, just like his parents or a true sibling.
His parents had perished. The only family he had left was Autumn Leaf and Uncle White.
Autumn Leaf, in his heart, was his older sister, his most beloved older sister.
Uncle White was a senior, a senior who had always quietly watched out for him.
Ning would be reserved with his affections when he was with other women, but with Autumn Leaf…even if they hugged, it was the hug of siblings. It was a warm, wonderful feeling.
“The snow?” Autumn Leaf nodded repeatedly. “Okay. Let’s go look at the snow.”
Brightheart Island was Ning’s home. Autumn Leaf had naturally taken wonderful care of it. Brightheart Island was a beautifully scenic place to begin with; now, with so much snow on the ground, it was a place of truly incredible beauty, the likes of which were rarely seen.
In fact, it wasn’t until the sun was starting to go down that Ning finally said, “Elder sister Autumn Leaf, I need to make a trip to Stillwater City. I haven’t told my master that I’m back yet, nor have I told my senior apprentice-sister.”
“Go.” Autumn Leaf smiled. “Your master and your Dao-companion have probably been worried sick about you as well, all these years.”
“Right.” Only now did Ning ascend into the clouds, flying off into the sky.
Autumn Leaf raised her head, watching as Ning left, a look of satisfaction in her eyes.
Her young master was safe. Even if he wasn’t by her side…she still felt at peace.
The underwater estate. The main palace.
The black-robed Ning looked at the giant yellow bear and the seven Empyrean Gods before him.
“Senior bear, it’s time to tell me some things, yes?” The black-robed Ning said.
“I imagine you must’ve guessed some of it.” The giant bear nodded. “Let me make some introductions first. These seven…are seven Empyrean Gods that had been under the command of my master, Daoist Threelives.”
Seven Empyrean Gods?
Although Ning had suspected it all along, he still couldn’t help but feel stunned upon hearing it. These weren’t like those many warriors of the Snaphorn world, each of whom had obvious weaknesses; these were true Fiendgods, born of Heaven and Earth, each of whom had utterly astonishing power.
“This is Empyrean God Ninefang.” The giant bear pointed towards the bald elder, who cracked his lips in a smile towards Ning. “Young master.”
“Don’t be deceived by this old bastard; he’s the most sinister of us all,” the white-eyebrowed beauty next to him said.
“Did you just call me an ‘old bastard’? What, are you saying you are younger than me?” The bald elder snapped at her.
The giant bear laughed, then pointed at the woman. “This is Empyrean God Snow Scorpion; she’s the straightforward type.”
“Young master.” Snow Scorpion smiled merrily as she looked at Ning. “Hurry up and train hard. Overcome your tribulation, and become an Empyrean God; by then, we’ll be able to accompany you in roaming the universe.”
Next, the giant bear pointed towards the harmless, amiable-looking youth. “This is Empyrean God Dovesnake.”
“Empyrean God Dovesnake?” Ning was amazed.
Dovesnake was a true Godbeast that had been born in the primordial Pangu’s World. He was a truly venomous Godbeast! For such a venomous Godbeast to actually look so gentle in human form…
“And these two…” The giant bear pointed at the two most muscular men, one savage-looking and red-skinned, the other icy-looking and black-skinned. “Long ago, in Pangu’s World, a pair of Fiendgods were born. These Fiendgods were twins that were born at the same time, one from the blazing truefire of the Sun and one from the dark truewater of the Moon. No matter who they fight against, they always fight together. They are known as Empyrean God Sunblaze and Empyrean God Darkmoon.”
“Young master.” Both looked towards Ning.
Ning secretly sighed to himself.
These Fiendgods had been alive since the Primordial Era. Clearly, they were born in the era of Pangu’s World, and they each had extraordinary backgrounds.
“This one,” the giant bear said, pointing at the child wearing a neck-circlet, “Was the first to accompany Master, back in the most early, desolate days of the primordial Pangu’s World. He is Master’s adopted son, and his name is Empyrean God Primelight.”
“Long ago, I wished to learn the [Starseizing Hand] from Father, but alas…I was born as a Void-level Fiendgod; there was no way for me to learn it.” The child laughed as he looked at Ning. “Father’s [Starseizing Hand] finally has an heir. You need to train hard. Become an Empyrean God as soon as you can!”
The giant bear finally pointed at the last man, Redsnow. “You already know Empyrean God Redsnow. He was the most valiant Empyrean God under Master’s command, and the most powerful of them all. Amongst Empyrean Gods and True Immortals…there are few who are stronger than him.”
“I heard Master say earlier that senior Redsnow is just a single step away from becoming a True God,” Ning said.
“Alas, that step isn’t so easily taken.” Empyrean God Redsnow smiled as he looked at Ning. “However, Ji Ning…last time I saw you, I was worried about whether or not you’d be able to convince everyone to follow you. Don’t be fooled by how courteous they are all behaving; in reality, they are all incredibly proud figures. However, in the Nihilum Zone…you survived karmic sinflames and advanced your heartforce to the third level. You even developed a way to apply heartforce and, despite not reaching mastery in the Dao of the Sword, managed to take control over a sliver of swordforce. Even I have to feel admiration for you. The other six are convinced by you; they are simply waiting for you to become an Empyrean God. You heard it yourself; just now, they all addressed you as ‘young master’.”