The Desolate Era - Book 14, Chapter 1 - Homecoming
The world of the Grand Xia. Stillwater Commandery.
A spatial ripple appeared in the air above Serpentwing Lake. From within, out strode a plainly dressed youth, a snowy white hound by his side and a little azure serpent around his arm.
Ji Ning stared downwards at Serpentwing Lake. He murmured softly, “When I left here, I fled in such a pathetic state. But now…no one should even think about forcing me, Ji Ning, to leave again!”
Ning felt closer to this lake than anything else. If it hadn’t been because the Youngflame clan was so much more powerful than him back then, how could Ning have beared to part from it?
Swoosh. With a single step, Ning arrived within Brightheart Island, at the very center of Serpentwing Lake.
The buildings of Brightheart Island had all been rebuilt. There were quite a few servants and guards present. As Ning strolled forward through the sand, he quietly gazed at everything and everyone. His divine sense had long ago encapsulated the entire island. “When I fled, Brightheart Island had been leveled by the Youngflame clan. I didn’t expect that it would have been rebuilt, and that it would be built to look exactly the way it did in the past. However…it seems as though there is no one here that I recognize.”
“I imagine that elder sister Autumn Leaf is still at the City of Ten Thousand Swords.”
Ning took a walk around Brightheart Island. He visited the place where Autumn Leaf had previously stayed, as well as the place where his father had once lived. The servants and guards didn’t see him at all.
Brightheart Island of Serpentwing Lake was Ning’s home. Coming home was truly a wonderful feeling.
“This time…no one should even think about destroying Brightheart Island again,” Ning murmured softly. “Uncle White. It’ll be up to you.”
The Whitewater Hound behind Ning spoke out. “I’ve analyzed quite a few grand formations at Mount Innerheart, and within some of the secret tomes on formations there were also some hidden formations of supreme power. Although I haven’t thoroughly comprehended them all…simply setting them up in accordance with the instructions will prove simple. In the future, the entire Swallow Mountain region, all hundred thousand kilometers of it, will be surrounded by hundreds of layers of grand formations! Formations within formations within formations; not even Celestial Immortals will dare barge in here.”
“Good.” Ning nodded.
A powerful school or sect would definitely layer many terrifying formations around its headquarters.
In order to lay down a formation, one would first need to procure a formidable formation technique, and then go buy enough treasures to actually set it up. Thus, the formations of major schools were usually built up by successive generations of disciples of the school. The longer a school’s history, the more complicated and powerful its many layered formations would be, to the point of causing any enemy to hesitate!
Although Ning and the Whitewater Hound didn’t have that sort of long history and background, they were the disciples of Mount Innerheart!
Formation tomes generally weren’t valued that much, and so the formation tomes which Uncle White had acquired on the sixth floor of the Divinities Palace were already some of the supreme formations of the entire Three Realms. Naturally, he had learned an enormous number of formidable formations. Some he had thoroughly mastered, while others he had not, but even those he had not mastered, he could still lay them out according to the instructions.
“Uncle White,” Little Qing said, “I heard that some major schools take up hundreds of thousands of kilometers, all of which is completely covered up by formations, some of which are set down by generations of Loose Immortals and Celestial Immortals. You need to make sure that our formations aren’t weaker than theirs!”
“We are of Mount Innerheart; our formations are unfathomably more profound than the formations of those so-called major schools,” Uncle White said confidently. “With enough magic treasures…I can turn the entire Swallow Mountain into an unbreakable steel dome.”
“Right. When the time comes, let’s pay a trip to the imperial capital and buy some formations materials. Uncle White, think about what you need and prepare a list,” Ning said.
“I will. I’ll come up with some of the most supreme killing formations that I’ve learned from those formation manuals.”
A short while later. Outside the City of Ten Thousand Swords.
The gates to the city were open. Ning led a snowy white hound inside through the city gates. The gateguards couldn’t see them at all; naturally, they wouldn’t bar their way.
“The changes are so significant.” Ning murmured softly, “In the past, the City of Ten Thousand Swords had many ordinary mortals within it, and there were many hawkers lining the streets. Now…everything has changed. There are very few mortals here.”
The many former residences of the City of Ten Thousand Swords had all been demolished, and the entire city had been completely renovated in a beautiful manner!
Within the city, there were now far more soldiers! There were also many more men and women that were dressed in absolutely beautiful clothes.
“Even I can barely recognize this place. I feel as though the City of Ten Thousand Swords has been transformed into an enormous private estate,” Uncle White sighed in amazement.
Whoosh. Ning swept forward with his divine sense.
Within an estate, there were two powerful Immortal Diremonsters who were leisurely sipping wine – Immortal Duohe and Immortal Witchsui. Their faces suddenly changed; they could sense an incomparably powerful, almost crushingly-strong divine sense sweep past them! Just from this divine sense alone…they could tell that the wielder was above ordinary Loose Immortals and Earth Immortals. It was extremely rare for Loose Immortals to have such a terrifying divine sense.
“Not good.” Immortal Duohe and Immortal Witchsui both were shocked. “An enemy!”
Puzzled looks quickly appeared on their faces. The divine sense seemed rather familiar…
“Fellow Daoist Ji Ning?” They shared a glance of disbelief…but indeed, when they carefully checked again, that surge of divine sense did indeed belong to Ji Ning. However, it was even more powerful and graceful than before.
“Immortal Witchsui, Immortal Duohe, we’ll meet at Darknorth Palace in a bit,” Ning sent mentally.
“Alright,” the two Diremonster Immortals assented.
Within a secluded courtyard in the City of Ten Thousand Swords. Autumn Leaf was taking care of her flowers. She had lived by herself for the past few decades, quietly focusing on her training. Without planning to, she actually made a breakthrough and reached the early Wanxiang level. Although Ning had previously provided her with some help, and although this was partially due to the fact that the Ji clan now had a prodigious Dao-repository, her own talent clearly was exceptional as well.
“Auntie.” A youth walked in, a look of absolute delight on his face and a look of yearning in his eyes. “Auntie, auntie, my swordplay has reached the ‘one with the world’ level.”
“Oh?” Autumn Leaf turned around, smiling as she looked at the youth. “One with the world?”
“Right right! When I was out adventuring and fighting Diremonsters, I suddenly made a breakthrough and my swordplay reached the ‘one with the world’ level,” the youth said excitedly. “Auntie, you promised me to teach me a powerful sword-art when I reached the ‘one with the world’ level.”
Autumn Leaf smiled. But suddenly…her body trembled. A look of disbelief and delight appeared in her eyes.
The youth was immediately puzzled.
“Little Rocky, hurry up and head back. Auntie has something to do,” Autumn Leaf said.
“But Auntie, you promised to teach me swordplay…” The youth was rather hesitant, unwilling to leave.
“Go back for now,” Autumn Leaf said.
“…fine.” The youth turned and left helplessly.
After the youth left, the courtyard once more became quiet. Autumn Leaf hurriedly stared at the surrounding area with agitation, searching for that familiar figure. And right at this moment, a fur-clad youth suddenly appeared out of nowhere, not too far away in front of her.
“Young master!” A look of excitement was on Autumn Leaf’s face. He looked just the same as he always had; he hadn’t changed at all. “Young master. You came back.”
“Right. I’m back.” Ning nodded slowly.
“Will you be leaving?” Autumn Leaf asked softly.
“Not this time,” Ning said.
Tears appeared in Autumn Leaf’s eyes. She nodded repeatedly. “Autumn Leaf will definitely take good care of you, young master.”
“It wouldn’t feel right if anyone else was to take care of me,” Ning said with a smile. “Let’s go and see Uncle Truekeep and the others.”
“Alright.” Autumn Leaf immediately followed him.
The City of Ten Thousand Swords. Darknorth Palace.
After the complete overhaul of the City of Ten Thousand Swords, the most important palace of the the entire Ji clan became this place, the Darknorth Palace. It was named ‘Darknorth’ after Ning’s own Daoist title, of course! Ever since news had spread of Ning’s victory in the Conclave of Immortal Destiny, the entire Ji clan had celebrated with wild abandon. This was a glory which the Ji clan had never before even imagined of in all of its history!
Ji Ning had become the absolute most glorious figure in the Ji clan’s entire history!
“Uncle Truekeep, Granny Shadow, Immortal Duohe, Immortal Witchsui.” Ning walked into Darknorth Palace, then called out to them.
Only four people were present within the palace. Clearly, the news of Ning’s return was too shocking and sudden; none of the other formidable figures of the Ji clan had been notified yet. His return was to be kept a secret for now.
“It’s good that you are back. It’s good that you are back!” Granny Shadow looked at Ning, a hint of excitement and delight in her eyes.
“Where’s the former patriarch and the others?” Ning couldn’t help but ask.
“Because they reached the end of their lifespans…my big brother and Ah Xing have both passed on,” Granny Shadow sighed. “After they left, I spent all my time by myself within the Dao-repository, waiting for my end to come as well. Who would’ve thought that after being within it for so long, I’d actually end up making an unexpected breakthrough?”
Ning sighed. The former patriarch, Ji Ninefire, as well as the old servant Ah Xing had both died. Of the older generation, only Granny Shadow remained.
“However, before they died, they learned of the fact that you, Ji Ning, became the champion of the Conclave of Immortal Destiny,” Granny Shadow said excitedly. “They were both excited and proud. Our Ji clan actually produced a scion that became one of the most glorious figures of the entire Grand Xia Dynasty. This is an incomparable honor for our entire clan! Right…after you became champion, you suddenly disappeared for thirty years. Did you go follow a Celestial Immortal to study the Dao?”
The nearby Immortal Witchsui said with a laugh, “Only a truly peerless genius could become champion of the Conclave. It is quite normal for such a genius to be taken on by a Celestial Immortal; in fact, even Pure Yang True Immortals and Empyrean Gods would consider accepting such disciples.”
Immortal Witchsui was of Celestial Immortal Witchriver’s lineage; naturally, he knew about True Immortals and Empyrean Gods.
“I did indeed leave to go studying,” Ning said with a nod.
Ning had already prepared his explanation for his thirty-plus years of disappearance. The explanation was…he had left to go studying!
Studying with who? Who was his master? That would be a secret! The more mysterious it seemed, the more caution it would inspire in careful-minded folk.
“If my gaze is correct…fellow Daoist Ji Ning, you are now a Void-level Earth Immortal,” Immortal Duohe said with a laugh.
“Not just that; both of fellow Daoist Ji Ning’s spirit-beasts have become Void-level Earth Immortals,” the nearby Immortal Witchsui added.
“What?!” Granny Shadow, Patriarch Ji Truekeep, and Autumn Leaf all stared towards them in astonishment.
Although they were delighted by the fact that Ning had become a Void-level Earth Immortal, this was as they had expected, because they had heard long ago about Ning’s Primaltwin being capable of killing Loose Immortals. Given that Ning had also gone to study the Dao with a powerful figure, what was so strange about him now having reached the Void-level and become an Earth Immortal? But the two spirit-beasts had also become Void-level Earth Immortals?!
“Right.” Ning smiled and nodded, then said, “I can see that the Ji clan has changed quite a bit.”
“Thanks to the help of Princess Xiyue, the squads which the Youngflame clan had stationed in the Ji clan’s territory left long ago.” Truekeep tamped down the curiosity he felt, then explained, “And given the additional fame and glory you won at the Conclave of Immortal Destiny, Ji Ning, who would dare antagonize our Ji clan now? We haven’t expanded; we’ve just continued to stabilize around Swallow Mountain. Over the past few decades, Swallow Mountain’s defenses have become airtight.”
“Our Ji clan hasn’t changed that much; by comparison, Stillwater Commandery has changed much more.” Truekeep let out a sigh. “The entire Stillwater Commandery is now vastly different from what it was like when you left. Even the Marquis of Stillwater has changed.”
“The Marquis of Stillwater has changed?” Ning was surprised. “To who?”
The two principal contenders for the position of Marquis of Stillwater had been Northmont Yin and Northmont Blacktiger.
“The current Marquis of Stillwater…is Northmont Yin,” Truekeep said.