The Desolate Era Volume 27 Chapter 13-14
Book 27, Twelve Palaces, Chapter 13 - The Seventh Stance of [Nameless]
The Forest of Sword Pagodas was filled with tens of thousands of towering Sword Pagodas which stood silently erect. Numerous cultivators were scattered throughout the Forest of Sword Pagodas, quietly training with no one disturbing them.
There was a thatched cottage in the forest as well, and within the thatched cottage was a white-robed youth. Streams of sword-ki surged in the area around him, occasionally flicking out as sword-stances.
Suddenly, the youth opened his eyes. A look of delight could be seen in his gaze.
"I've finished mastering the seventh stance of the [Heartseal] sword-art, the 'Reincarnation' stance." Ning was in a superb mood. "My master, Emperor Mirrorsnow, used the Reincarnation stance to break through to become a Samsara Daolord, and now I myself have learned this stance as well.
Sword-light began to flood the area around Ning. Some of the sword-light was filled with an aura of murder, some of it was fluctuating and unpredictable, while the rest was dominating and savage. The different types of sword-arts cycled through in a perfect manner, and no flaws could be seen at all from any of the attacks. It truly was like the perfect cycle of reincarnation itself, and when any enemies made even the slightest of mistakes the Reincarnation stance would ensure that they would be trapped and buried.
"Emperor Mirrorsnow was a dissolute, adventurous man, but his sword-arts were extremely cautious and tight." Ning sighed in amazement.
"Mm. Given my current level of insight into sword-arts, I should be able to train in the seventh stance of the [Nameless] sword-art." Ning immediately began to ponder the [Nameless] sword-art.
Thanks to the Eternal Emperor's legacy, Ning was able to learn the [Heartseal] sword-art incredibly fast! By comparison, training in the [Nameless] sword-art was considerably more taxing… and Ning had the feeling that the seventh stance of the [Nameless] sword-art was actually more difficult than the seventh stance of the [Heartseal] sword-art.
The spacetime acceleration cottage maintained a rate of a hundred times the normal flow of time. Ning's mastery of his sword-arts had already skyrocketed, making the seventh stance of the [Nameless] sword-art much easier to understand as he continuously meditated upon it.
The seventh stance of the [Nameless] sword-art was named 'Cosmic Heart'. It was far more complicated than the Unicorn's Domain, and it was even more profound than the Reincarnation stance.
More than thirty years went by.
"Eh?" Ning opened his eyes. A distant look was in his gaze, as though everyone around him including the thatched cottage no longer existed. It was as though he was surrounded by an absolutely pristine, illusory world… and a single tear had appeared within it.
This single tear seemed to be a tear of love… but it also appeared to be the very heart of this world.
Ning flicked out with his fingernail as if he was stabbing forward with a sword, piercing that tear with it.
In this moment, Ning's heartforce burst out and completely meshed together with his finger.
A shocking aura of sword-intent billowed out of the thatched cottage and into the surrounding area.
Ning was completely stunned and absorbed by the perfect beauty of this strike. He couldn't help but close his eyes and savor the marvelousness of that sword-art. He had naturally, unconsciously infused his sword-arts with his heartforce, but he didn't force it as other cultivators did. Rather, it had all happened in a very natural manner. He hadn't even intentionally tried to add heartforce into the mix. He had purely wished to execute this sword-art to its full potential. His subconscious mind merged his heartforce into it, causing him to unleash an utterly mystical and utterly terrifying strike.
Suddenly, a loud sound rang out from outside. The entire Forest of Sword Pagodas began to tremble.
"Eh?" Puzzled, Ning opened his eyes to stare outside. The ground outside was trembling as that enormous sound boomed from far away.
"What's going on? The Forest of Sword Pagodas is the most sacred place of the Sword Palace. Who would dare cause trouble here?" Puzzled, Ning walked out of his thatched cottage and stared off into the distance.
"What was that?"
Dozens of cultivators within the Forest of Sword Pagodas rose to their feet. Some were at the World level, some were Daolords. In this moment, all of them stared at the area from where the disturbance was coming. At a distant part of the Forest of Sword Pagodas, the ground was booming loudly as it began to split apart. The tip of a pagoda was slowly emerging from underground and climbing higher and higher.
"A Sword Pagoda."
"A new Sword Pagoda."
"A new pagoda? We just gained yet another pagoda? Who was just acknowledged by the Sword Pagodas?" Everyone was excited.
They all understood what was going on. Only once you were acknowledged by the Sword Pagodas would the Forest of Sword Pagodas give birth to a brand new pagoda of your own. Countless eons had gone by, but only around eighty thousand cultivators had ever been acknowledged by the Sword Pagodas, and in this day and age only six World-level cultivators had been been acknowledged. They were, of course, the six exalted Swordlords.
Ning stared in astonishment as well. Although he had seen quite a few Sword Pagodas in the past, this was his first time seeing a new one rising.
That distant, newborn sword pagoda continued to rise upwards as the booming sounds rang out unabated. The entire Forest of Sword Pagodas was shuddering! Finally, the new Sword Pagoda came to a halt when it reached the same height as the other Sword Pagodas.
Suddenly, countless sword-shadows began to fly out from throughout the Forest of Sword Pagodas. There had to be trillions of the things, and they all began to bow down in a certain direction.
"Uh?!" Ning was rather flabbergasted.
The countless sword-shadows from throughout the Forest were all bowing down towards Ning!
All of this had caused a great commotion, attracting the attention of quite a few Daolords and World-level cultivators of the Sword Palace, all of whom came flying over. As a result, many of the cultivators of the Sword Palace were able to personally bear witness as all of this happened.
"It is him?"
"Isn't that junior apprentice-brother Darknorth?"
"His name is Darknorth?"
"Right, he's a newcomer. He joined us less than a thousand years ago."
"He's still just at the World level, but he's already received the acknowledgment of the Sword Pagodas?"
This stunning sight caused many of the cultivators present to begin to quietly chat amongst themselves. For a Daolord to be acknowledged by the Sword Pagodas was one thing, but for a World-level cultivator? This was extremely, extremely rare. The entire Sword Palace only had six Swordlords. Now, Ji Ning had become the seventh.
"Junior apprentice-brother Darknorth, congratulations."
"Congratulations, senior apprentice-brother Darknorth."
"Senior apprentice-brother Darknorth, congratulations."
"Junior apprentice-brother Darknorth."
Many cultivators came over to offer their congratulations. In the Sword Palace, there was a huge dividing line between those who were acknowledged by the Sword Pagodas and those who were not! If you weren't acknowledged by the Sword Pagodas, you would always be viewed as slightly inferior, even if you were a Daolord. As for those who were acknowledged? All of them were venerated.
Ning finally realized what was happening. His sword-stance just now had been acknowledged by the Forest of Sword Pagodas!
"Darknorth." A deep voice rumbled out in Ning's mind. "That new Sword Pagoda belongs to you. Only you are permitted to leave behind your sword-arts within it."
"You are…?" Ning asked.
"I am the spirit of the Sword Palace," the deep voice said.
Ning understood. Even the Starseizing Manor had given birth to a manor-spirit such as the giant yellow bear. It made sense that the Sword Palace had given birth to a sentient spirit as well.
The Brightshore Kingdom's imperial palace. The thirteen royal thrones.
A trace of emotion suddenly flickered through the face of the snowy-robed Hegemon. He smiled slightly, then looked at the nearby Lord Woodflower. "Woodflower, congratulations are in order for your Sword Palace. You just gained a new Swordlord."
"Haha, it seems as though I was right about him." Lord Woodflower laughed merrily.
"A new Swordlord? Did yet another World-level cultivator of the Sword Palace receive the acknowledgment of the pagodas? Who is it?"
The other eleven golden-armored powers were all quite surprised.
Lord Woodflower said in a very smug manner, "It is Darknorth!"
"Darknorth? That kid who sparred against Bertulu?"
"When he battled against Bertulu, he specialized in defensive techniques and was quite good in that regard. However, he was quite a ways off from being at the level he would need to be to receive the acknowledgement of the Sword Pagodas."
"This rate of improvement is crazy. Even if he was accelerating time to train a thousand times faster than normal… it has been less than a million years!" There had been many major powers who had witnessed Ning's battle against Bertulu. Even the Hegemon had gone to watch! Although they had all been focusing on Bertulu, they naturally had also paid some attention to Bertulu's opponent, Ji Ning.
The stronger one was, the more difficult it would be to accelerate the rate of time for one's self. A thousand times the normal rate of time was already a ridiculously fast pace… but Ning had entered the Sword Palace less than a thousand years ago. That meant that even at a thousand times the normal rate of time, he would've been training for less than a million years.
In reality, Ning had only maintained a pace of a hundred times the normal rate of time.
"I said long ago that I had a good feeling about him. He truly is quite talented in sword-arts." Lord Woodflower said in a very smug manner, "My Sword Palace has gained yet another Swordlord, which means we've gained yet another chance to be the ones to go to the alternate universe."
"Yes, another candidate has appeared." The almighty Hegemon nodded as well.
Everyone acknowledged by the ancient pagodas were qualified to take part in the trials.
"Let's see what sort of sword-arts he came up with to be acknowledged by those ancient pagodas." The almighty Hegemon waved his finger. There had been sixty-six images in the air, and now a sixty-seventh image joined them. This image displayed the scene of a white-robed Ji Ning standing in front of a Sword Pagoda, staring at it curiosity.
"Rewind." The almighty Hegemon smiled as he watched, and the other twelve golden-armored figures watched closely as well. All of them were curious as to what type of sword-art this World-level cultivator had used to receive the acknowledgement of the Sword Pagodas.
Time began to reverse at high speed until the image returned to the time when Ning had just executed his sword-stance.
The image showed Ning seated in the lotus position within his thatched cottage. Ning gently flicked out a single finger in a seemingly simple manner, but the strike was indescribably profound. Slash! The strike shot out into the distant skies above him.
Book 27, Twelve Palaces, Chapter 14 - The Eternal Emperor Closest to the Hegemons
"Hrm?" The almighty Hegemon sat amongst the thirteen thrones, and both his face and the faces of the twelve golden-armored powers around him tightened. The almighty Hegemon actually once more took control over the flows of time to cause the earlier scene to replay once more. Ji Ning once more flicked out his finger…
"No mistaking it. That's the [Heartsword] sword-art." The almighty Hegemon nodded slowly.
"Darknorth actually trains in the [Heartsword]?" Daolord Thousand Waves was somewhat speechless.
"I thought he must've created a new sword-stance that received the acknowledgement of the pagodas. I didn't expect that it was actually due to him executing the [Heartsword]." The golden-armored major powers present were all rather surprised. It must be understood that there was a difference between using your own sword-arts and using someone else's. A self-created sword-art would generally be a bit more powerful.
When Ji Ning had mastered the Reincarnation stance of the [Heartseal], he could've chosen to develop a sword-stance of his own that would also be acknowledged by the Sword Pagodas. However, he was in no rush to do so. Instead, he had decided to meditate on the even more difficult and profound [Nameless] sword-art. The seventh stance of the [Nameless] sword-art had an extremely powerful sword-intent, and so when Ning executed it his burst of sword-intent was acknowledged by the pagodas.
"He has merely learned the sword-arts of another." The almighty Hegemon shook his head slightly. "Only if he reaches this level through his own power and own skills would he be considered a truly dazzling figure."
The golden-armored powers all nodded. Long ago, a person had been able to use the [Heartsword] to reach the apex of power and become an Eternal Emperor, but that didn't mean that Ji Ning would be able to walk the same path. In addition, Ji Ning had only gained an elementary understanding of this sword-art.
"Woodflower." The almighty Hegemon looked at the nearby Lord Woodflower.
"Hegemon." Lord Woodflower nodded respectfully.
"Go give that young fellow a gentle reminder," the almighty Hegemon instructed. "In the future, when he finds his own Dao and his own path, he should merge his heartforce and his sword-arts together and pour them both into his Dao! But of course, that's just a suggestion. His own path will of course be up to him to choose."
"Understood." Lord Woodflower nodded.
A distant look appeared in the Hegemon's eyes, and he murmured softly, "When Emperor Heartsword suddenly descended upon the world, he challenged all three of us Hegemons, then wandered off into parts unknown…"
The twelve golden-armored figures all listened attentively.
Emperor Heartsword was indeed a legendary figure. He was a legend who was roughly comparable in power to the three mighty Hegemons! However, his rise to prominence was just as sudden as his disappearance. Prior to him becoming a Verge-level Daolord, he didn't really have much of a reputation. He was a very low-key figure, and it was said that he lived the life of an ordinary commoner in a distant chaosworld.
However, once he became a Daolord of the Fourth Step, a feud resulted in him slaying more than twenty Daolords in a row, and he even completely crushed and wiped out a large enemy sect. This action had shocked the Endless Territories, resulting in his rise to fame. Shortly afterwards, he succeeded in his Daomerge and gained eternity.
After gaining eternity, he immediately went and challenged each of the other Eternal Emperors. He won every single battle! However, he didn't kill a single one one of them.
After that, he challenged the three ancient Hegemons.
Ever since the most ancient of days, the three ancient Hegemons had stood at the very apex of the Endless Territories. No one had ever been able to shake their positions. No one knew what the results of those duels had been. When asked, Emperor Heartsword simply said one thing: "I lost."
However, one of the three ancient Hegemons, the one belonging to the Ancient cultivators, had said something else: "His power is comparable to ours."
This phrase guaranteed that Emperor Heartsword would become a legend! However, despite his quick rise to prominence and the many waves he had caused, he disappeared just as quickly. Despite that, most later cultivators acclaimed him as being the Eternal Emperor who was closest to the level of the three Hegemons, and his [Heartsword] style was venerated by many. Alas, he had never transmitted his [Heartsword] sword-art to any disciples. The only thing he did was leave behind a complete copy of the [Heartsword] sword-art to the Dao Alliance before he disappeared on his journey.
The [Heartsword] tome became a precious treasure of the Dao Alliance. All the copies of this tome circulating in the outside world were all fragmentary, with only the tome in the possession of the Dao Alliance being genuine. Other organizations such as the Brightshore Kingdom would never be given access to a complete [Heartsword] manual, no matter what price they offered to pay.
"His sword-arts… although he reached an extremely high level of proficiency in the Dao of the Sword, some of the most freakishly talented Daolords, the ones capable of slaying Eternal Emperors, were superior to him in that regard." The almighty Hegemon sighed. "His strength lay in the fact that he was actually able to almost perfectly merge his power as a Heartforce Cultivator and as a Fiendgod Body Refiner. That is why he had such tremendous power."
"Right." The twelve golden-armored figures all nodded.
Logically speaking, Heartforce Cultivation, Fiendgod Body Refining, and Ki Refining were three completely separate paths that couldn't merge together.
Take Bertulu as an example. In battle, he could use some illusions or use his heartworld to pressure his foes. In short, he would use heartforce as a supportive skill as he engaged in close combat!
Emperor Heartsword was different. When he used his divine abilities and struck out with his sword, he was able to unleash tremendous power. As for his heartforce, he was able to use its illusions to affect reality itself. Most importantly, he was somehow able to cause his heartforce to naturally join together with his sword. This made it so that he was able to perfectly meld his power as a Heartforce Cultivator and as a Fiendgod Refiner, causing his power to skyrocket to a terrifying level. This was why he was acclaimed by so many as the Eternal Emperor who was closest to the three Hegemons in power.
The Sword Palace.
"Congratulations, senior apprentice-brother Darknorth."
"Senior apprentice-brother Darknorth, now that you've been acknowledged by the Sword Pagodas, you are the seventh Swordlord of our palace."
Ning was in a superb mood as he entertained his fellow disciples. Suddenly, he saw a figure appear at the margins of the Forest of Sword Pagodas.
"Senior apprentice-brother Woodflower?" Ning immediately recognized him.
"Follow me, Darknorth." Lord Woodflower sent him a mental message.
"Everyone, the Palace Lord has summoned me. Pardon me." Ning said a few words of farewell to the cultivators nearby. They, too, had seen Lord Woodflower appear.
A short while later, Ning and Lord Woodflower were walking side by side through a mountainous forest.
"Darknorth, you have received the acknowledgement of the Sword Pagodas and become a Swordlord. Per our rules, you are permitted to go to Armaments Gorge and choose a single treasure that doesn't cost more than a million cubes of chaos nectar," Lord Woodflower said. "This is a special rule the Sword Palace created for the benefit of our Swordlords. Only Swordlords are given this benefit."
Ning's eyes lit up. No more than a million cubes? What an enormously generous offer!
It made sense. Swordlords were capable of becoming Daolords at any time, and they would be extraordinary Daolords once they made their breakthrough. They were worth the cost.
"Oh, right. Now that you are a Swordlord, there is something I must tell you." Lord Woodflower smiled. "All of the World-level cultivators in the Twelve Palaces who have been acknowledged by their respective pagodas are preparing for a very special opportunity which has come before you."
"A special opportunity?" Ning was puzzled.
"Right. In the end, only four World-level cultivators in the Twelve Palaces will be given this special opportunity." Lord Woodflower looked at Ning. "This truly is a stroke of tremendous fortune for you. None of the Twelve Palaces have access to this. In all the Endless Territories, most likely only the exalted Hegemon is capable of bringing this opportunity before you. If it wasn't for the sake of a newcomer who recently joined his clan, the almighty Hegemon definitely wouldn't give us this chance."
Lord Woodflower knew very well that in the Hegemon's heart, what mattered the most was his imperial clan.
Only for the sake of his Brightshore Imperials was the almighty Hegemon was willing to make use of this opportunity! The reason why he was giving the Twelve Palaces four of the medallions was partially because they were subordinates, but also for the sake of giving that young Imperial four assistants! Although the chance to enter the Archaeus region of the alternate universe was an incredible opportunity, it was also extremely dangerous. Tremendous opportunity always came with tremendous danger.
"There should be many in the Twelve Palaces who have been acknowledged by their pagodas. Only four will have a chance?" NIng was puzzled.
"Just four." Lord Woodflower sighed. "I'm worried that our Sword Palace won't be able to get so much as a single slot."
"You've just recently been acknowledged and haven't spent much time in our Sword Palace, so it wouldn't really matter if you fail. However, you should still do your best. According to what the Hegemon said, the strongest four shall be given this tremendous opportunity," Lord Woodflower said. Frankly speaking, he really didn't have much faith in Ning. Although Ning had been acknowledged by the Sword Pagodas, so had the other six Swordlords.
"In roughly one century, the almighty Hegemon will select the four strongest candidates," Lord Woodflower finished.
"A century?" Ning nodded secretly. It seemed as though it was indeed time for him to make some preparations.
"Oh, right. Do you know the name of the sword-art you used to gain acknowledgement from the Sword Pagodas?" Lord Woodflower looked at Ning.
Ning shook his head. "I do not. I obtained this sword-art by accident. Because I don't know what its true name was, I've been calling it the [Nameless] sword-art this entire time. Do you know its true name, senior apprentice-brother Woodflower?" Ning's eyes became filled with an eager blaze. When Ning had executed the seventh stance, the Cosmic Heart stance, he had noticed that although it was harder to use than Emperor Mirrorsnow's Reincarnation stance, the two were actually on the same level when it came to the profundity of their insights into the Dao of the Sword. The tough part of the Cosmic Heart stance lay in how ephemeral and unpredictable it was. One had to follow one's own heart, allowing one's heartforce to perfectly merge into one's sword-stances.
Ning was quite talented in heartforce. Although his heartforce wasn't at a very strong level, he was still able to execute the stance.
If he had been more skilled in heartforce, the power of this stance would've been much greater. This would have been especially true if he had reached the sixth stage of heartforce and established his own Heartworld.
"This is a sword-art which perfectly combines Heartforce Cultivation with the Dao of the Sword." After executing this stance, Ning immediately understood what made this sword-art so valuable. He instantly grew eager to learn more.
"I do indeed know its name." Lord Woodflower nodded. "This sword-art was created and passed down by a powerful Eternal Emperor who was nearly as strong as the Hegemon."