One year and three months. More than two hundred Empyrean Gods had been watching Ji Ning’s Immortal estate during this period of time, but Ning had remained in seclusion, not emerging. None of them dared to enter and disturb him, but every day there were many Empyrean Gods who were watching his estate. To these Empyrean Gods who had lost almost all hope, Ning was the only hope remaining.
“He came out.”
“Darknorth came out”
As soon as Ning emerged from his estate, other Empyrean Gods immediately noticed it.
Ning first waved his hand to collect his Immortal estate, then walked towards the group of Empyrean Gods and used his divine power to say mentally, “Fellow Empyrean Gods, there is something I would discuss with all of you.” Instantly, Empyrean God Sin, Empyrean God Sealthroat, and the others all emerged from their own Immortal estates. Soon, all of the Empyrean Gods were gathered here.
“My fellow Empyrean Gods, I gained certain insights during this meditation session and improved significantly,” Ning said.
Instantly, all of the two hundred-plus Empyrean Gods grew excited. In fact, some even began to softly mumble to themselves. To them…escaping this place was more important than life and death.
“I am completely confident of being able to defeat the ninth guardian. However…I can’t make the same claim when it comes to the tenth guardian,” Ning said. “However…I will definitely make it to the tenth guardian on this attempt through the Path of Blades. Are you all willing to join me on this trip?”
“Of course we are.”
“Fellow Daoist Darknorth, you truly are formidable. It’s only been a year, but you’ve improved so dramatically.”
“We’re all willing.”
The Empyrean Gods all hurriedly assented in unison with excitement.
Ning wasn’t surprised that all the other Empyrean Gods were going to accompany him. They had chosen to give up long ago, after all! But when Sin and Sealthroat actually spoke out as well, Ning couldn’t help but ask, “Sin, Sealthroat, are the two of you sure you want to follow me? You’ve already made it this far in Kilostar Island; you are only one step away from freedom.”
“That step is simply too long a step to take.” Sealthroat shook his head.
“Right. Both of us gave up long ago,” Sin said with a laugh. “We couldn’t even match up to Ninedawn and Greatdream, and it’s been a long, long time since we’ve improved at all. Based on our experiences during the Primordial Era, for us not to improve at all despite the passage of so many years means that we’ve probably reached our limit. There’s no way for us to improve any further. If we don’t go with you, we will probably be trapped here forever, unable to escape.”
Sealthroat nodded as well. “Darknorth, you said it yourself; nowadays, fewer and fewer people will be willing to enter Undermoon Lake, and the number that can reach Kilostar Island will be smaller still. If we don’t go with you, we probably won’t see another new Empyrean God here at Kilostar Island for the next trillion years.”
Ning nodded, understanding their feelings. “Alright. If that’s the case, then let’s have everyone follow me. I don’t dare to claim complete confidence, but I’ll definitely work hard.”
These Empyrean Gods hadn’t imagined that their opportunity would come so quickly. After initially experiencing excitement and nervousness, they quickly collected their Immortal estates and allowed Ning to collect them without fighting back.
In midair. Ning stared down at Kilostar Island. Previously, it had been extremely bustling and lively, but now it was completely silent. All the Empyrean Gods had departed.
“My [Brightmoon] has advanced by yet another level. This is the perfect time to find someone to test it against.” Ning transformed into a streak of light, flying far off towards the horizon. He soon arrived at the borders of Kilostar Island, then flew forward while following the floating wooden bridge.
He advanced forward, through the Path of Blades. He reached the place he retreated from last time, then stared at the ninth guardian who was seated in the lotus position.
“You came.” The golden-robed youth looked at Ning, his eyes filled with an aura of despair. “I’ve waited quite some time. I hope you won’t disappoint me.”
After speaking, the golden-robed youth rose to his feet, a pair of swords appearing in his hands. He said calmly, “You already had a chance to view the sword-art last time. This time, let’s just fight.”
Ning also knew that each person was only given a single chance to view each sword-art. If you failed at the Path of Blades, you would be allowed to try again, but you would never be able to view the sword-art again.
“Alright.” A pair of twin swords appeared in Ning’s hands as well.
The two quickly charged towards each other, and sword-light began to howl through the air. The golden-robed youth’s sword-arts were incredibly fast. Although they seemed to be filled with endless mourning and despair, they were also incredibly deadly and vicious. As for the two streaks of sword-light in Ning’s hands, they transformed into a pair of black holes that completely blocked out the golden-robed youth’s attacks. Every so often, Ning was even able to launch a counter-attack or two.
“Is defense the only thing you can do?” While attacking, the golden-robed youth barked at Ning.
“First break through my defense, then talk.” Ning was very calm.
To him, the ninth guardian was merely someone he was going to gain further experience from. Ning wanted to see what the differences were between his own mastered [Mourning] and [Mourning] as wielded by the ninth guardian.
This battle went on for a full hour.
The ninth guardian revealed all of his abilities for Ning to see, and as a result Ning was able to discover a few imperfections in his own mastery of [Mourning]. When cultivating in a type of sword-arts, every person would put their own distinctive twists on it, after all.
“Time to finish it.”
Ning’s sword-light suddenly changed as he went from defending to attacking.
Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh!
Sword-light howled forth with incredible, extraordinary speed, seeming to cover the skies with its might. The ninth guardian was so startled he immediately used [Three Heads, Six Arms]. Ning, however, did the same. An infinite amount of sword-light seemed to blast forward like an inexhaustible, seamless flow of water, carrying an aura and intent of mournfulness within it. In but a single breath’s worth of time, the ninth guardian was knocked flying backwards. He fell onto the ground, rolling over several times before managing to clamber back to his feet.
“You win.” The ninth guardian grinned. “Darknorth, the only one standing between you and escape is the final guardian, the tenth guardian. Be careful.” After speaking, he vanished into thin air.
Ning grinned as well. When he used full power, his opponent had only been able to just barely hold on for a breath’s worth of time. Ning was quite satisfied with this result.
Swoosh! He advanced deeper into the Path of Blades at incredible speed!
The sky was completely dark in this part of the path. The countless titanic spears, blades, and swords that were jutting out from the ice on each side of the wooden bridge were glowing with dim light. Without their light, it would probably be completely pitch-black here.
“How odd,” Ning mused to himself.
Soon, a black-robed youth appeared in the distance. He was seated in the lotus position, and when Ning arrived he opened his eyes to look towards Ning.
They contained a deathly silence within them. They seemed to have no life within them at all, just utter despair, enough to freeze one’s heart.
“View the sword-art,” the black-robed youth said calmly.
Ning turned his head to look at the sword-art which had appeared on the nearby giant sword. As with before, the entire sword-art was displayed from start to finish, from simple to complex. As Ning watched, he began to feel stunned. Even after watching three times, Ning didn’t recover from his dazed state.
“Enough.” The black-robed youth rose to his feet, a pair of swords appearing in his hands.
Ning came back to his senses.
“What is this sword-art?” Ning immediately asked.
“The name of this sword-art is Seversoul!” The black-robed youth replied.
“Seversoul? Seversoul…? The name is just like the sword-art itself…it really does sever the soul.” Utter agony filled Ning’s heart when he just visualized that sword-art. He knew, however, that there was no way for him to truly master this sword-art, because the essence and intent of this sword-art was the ruination of the soul that would come when one experienced true, absolute, eternal despair.
Ning, however, had no way of forcing himself to feel this sort of absolute despair! The techniques of this sword-art were also far superior to that of the [Mourning] sword-art; in fact, it was no weaker than Ning’s own [Brightmoon] sword-art. It was only surpassed by the [Five Treasures] sword-art itself.”
“Come,” the black-robed youth said calmly.
Ning nodded, swords appearing in his hands as well.
Their two figures became blurred as they started to fight.
Two mighty sword-arts. One was filled with the intent of mourning, its sword-light flowing out in a consecutive stream. It had been created by distilling the essence of [Five Treasures], [Mourning], and many other techniques.
The other was filled with the essence of a ruined soul and utter despair. Its profoundness and marvelousness came from the creator of Undermoon Lake, who had intended it. Although it was different from the [Five Treasures], it was also quite shocking and brilliant.
Boom! Boom! Boom!
The two continuously battled, advancing and retreating.
They actually fought to a complete standstill. Both sword-arts had their own strengths; both could be described as having reached the apex of skill possible for the fourth stage of swordforce. If their swords moved any faster, they would have surpassed the limits of the Heavenly Daos. If the intent of their swords was any deeper and stronger, they would have reached the Sword God stage.
“So the sword can actually be used in a way like this.” Ning had viewed this sword-art three times prior to this. Upon seeing how the tenth guardian actually wielded this sword-art, he instantly gained a much deeper understanding of some of its mysteries. New insights regarding the [Seversoul] sword-art began to fill his mind.
There was an intrinsic difference between Ning and the tenth guardian.
The tenth guardian was only capable of unleashing this single sword-art.
Ning, however, was capable of learning from the tenth guardian and fusing what he learned into his own [Brightmoon] sword-art. Although the learning process resulted in him occasionally being put at a disadvantage, Ning’s overall level of power was slowly, steadily beginning to rise. His sword-art became even more unpredictable and ephemeral, and it became faster and more powerful as well.
The battle continued for a day…two days…three days…
Neither side used any divine abilities. They were solely competing in sword-arts.
The insights Ning had gained into this sword-art were merging together nonstop in his mind, then inspiring him further. This sort of feeling, the feeling of of nonstop improvement, was quite intoxicating…but he had still essentially reached the limit possible for him at his current level of sword-arts. Any improvements he was now able to make would be minute. He would at most be able to put the tenth guardian at a disadvantage, but the tenth guardian would still be able to launch occasional counterattacks as well.
Ning was suddenly stunned, and his sword-light turned sluggish for a moment.
Boom! A streak of sword-light crashed against his body, knocking him flying.
“Why did you stop?” The tenth guardian stood there, a frown on his face. Ning’s sword-art was clearly on a slightly higher level than his. If they continued to fight without Ning making any improvements at all, he would’ve permitted Ning to go into the fifth island. However, he could sense that Ning was still slowly improving, and his sword-arts were slowly transforming. Thus, he didn’t stop the fight and instead continued to battle against Ning.
This was because the purpose of Path of Blades was to temper and train Empyrean Gods. If Ji Ning was still improving, then of course the guardian wasn’t going to halt.
But Ning had suddenly come to a halt…this puzzled the tenth guardian.
Ning stood there atop the wooden bridge, a dazed look in his eyes. In his mind, however…there was a disturbance that felt like Pangu cleaving apart Heaven and Earth.
The [Seversoul] sword-art worked in a way that was completely different from the [Five Treasures] sword-art. Ning’s [Brightmoon] was derived from the essence of the [Five Treasures], and so as Ning gained more and more insight into [Seversoul] and began to fuse it with the essence of the [Five Treasures] within [Brightmoon]…with a boom, he suddenly understood. He blew through the last bottleneck preventing him from mastering the [Five Treasures].
Prior to this, it was as though a thin curtain of mist had been preventing him from seeing the final parts of it clearly. But now…Ning broke straight through that final barrier.
“The [Five Treasures]…” Ning shut his eyes, the many profound mysteries within his mind rapidly beginning to join together. All of the insights he had gained into the [Five Treasures] were merging into a perfect whole at high speed.
He had mastered the entire [Five Treasures]!
There was no doubt about it, no questions left in his mind.
“So this…this is what it means to surpass the Heavenly Daos.” Ning opened his eyes to stare at the dark skies surrounding him. He lightly flicked out with a finger, and it seemed to create a ripple as though it had touched something.