The Desolate Era - Book 16, Chapter 5 - Ruler
The most terrifying tribulation of the red dust tribulations was this one, the thousand lives heart-tribulation. It was an experience akin to being reborn a thousand times. If one’s Dao-heart was weak, one would probably be lost forever…
After all, to Immortal cultivators, with the passage of countless lifetimes, one would begin to lose the memories of one’s former lives. With so many personalities and experiences in one place…the original personality and person would be lost.
Experiencing a thousand lives, in and of itself, was enough to cause many Loose Immortals to be lost…at which point, the karmic sinflames would burn their souls to ashes.
The thousand lives heart-tribulation was even worse; it wasn’t as simple as causing someone to be actually reborn a thousand times! Ji Ning was a classic example; with each rebirth, he ‘possessed’ the spirit of someone whose story and personality resonated with his own…and each of their stories caused him to feel self-recrimination and regret. If instead he had been randomly ‘reincarnated’ or ‘possessed’ the body of an evildoer, Ning’s iceheart-level mind probably wouldn’t have been shaken in the slightest.
But every single time, Ning’s soul rode with someone whose life experiences and histories resonated with himself. Slowly…these experiences had penetrated his iceheart and entered his inner heart.
And then…they had all merged together!
A flood of emotions born from a thousand lives suddenly exploded forth, reaching an inconceivable level of intensity. This was the final strike of the thousand lives heart-tribulation…and the most terrifying strike of all! Countless peerless geniuses had perished to this strike.
His ‘iceheart’ had been completely infiltrated and submerged. Ning was no longer able to maintain that state at all.
“I want you dead!”
“Vengeance for Lotus.”
The figures from a thousand lifetimes swam before his eyes. They were roaring with rage, their faces savage and vicious.
“…It’s all my fault. It’s my fault. My fault. If I hadn’t shattered that Qiankun pearl, all of them would still be alive. They had children…wives…parents…siblings…if it hadn’t been for me, they would still be living happy lives…” Ning had already been completely submerged by the endless waves of emotions that were crashing through him.
“Death is a form of escape…I owe them…I can’t face them…only in death…”
Within the Nihilum Zone. Within a vast, seemingly endless black void wave. Ning just drifted about with the waves, sent flying repeatedly in different directions.
His eyes were shut. He simply lay there, amidst the waves.
If Uncle White and Little Qing were present, they would have immediately noticed that Ning’s aura was growing increasingly weak at an utterly alarming rate. This was the exact moment when the final, explosive strike of the thousand lives heart-tribulation had arrived!
“The seven days are almost up.”
“It’s almost been seven days…Master will definitely survive. Definitely.”
Uncle White, Little Qing, and Mu Northson were quietly waiting at Swallow Mountain. Uncle White was no longer drinking, Northson was no longer repeatedly sighing and blaming himself, while Little Qing was constantly mumbling to herself nonstop.
They were all waiting and hoping…
Seven days ago, the karmic sinflames had descended.
Now, seven days later…Ji Ning would be facing the most dangerous test of all.
“You have to survive.”
Within the void waves of the Nihilum Zone. Ning’s aura was rapidly weakening in strength…but when it reached an extremely low level, that tiny strand of will just wouldn’t die out, no matter what. It was as though something was forcibly sustaining Ning’s Dao-heart, causing it to be unable to completely, truly break apart.
Within Ning’s soul.
It was completely dark here.
Under the pressure of that torrent of emotions from a thousand lives, Ning’s Dao-heart had weakened so much that his soul had been thrust into utter darkness, the darkness of utter despair. Logically speaking, Ning should have already succumbed to it…but he had not.
“I want to be carefree and unbound!”
“I want to control my own destiny, and to not be toyed with by fate!”
“I don’t want for those I love to leave me…”
In the moment when his Dao-heart sank down to its lowest depths…a voice rang out in the deepest part of his heart. This was Ji Ning’s own voice, a resolute voice, the voice he used when he was at his most stubborn, his most unyielding.
This was a chant which Ning had shouted to himself, even back in his previous life on Earth.
In this life, after seeing his parents perish one by one at Swallow Mountain…this desire was only reinforced.
When he came to understand his own sword-heart…he realized that his sword-heart sought true freedom, sought mastery over his own destiny!
This was the voice that rang out in the deepest depths of Ning’s soul.
“I am Ji Ning.”
“I ask to be carefree and unbound, to control my own destiny, and not to be toyed with by fate.” Ning’s Dao-heart rapidly began to condense and strengthen, and as it did, the aura of the young body that was floating about within the Nihilum Zone began to strengthen as well.
Ning slowly regained consciousness. His mind gradually returned to him.
That faith, that chant…it had come from his very essence, rather than from his mind or consciousness.
Now that his mind had returned, Ning’s Dao-heart began to heal even more rapidly. His Dao-heart was also growing even firmer and more dense. “It was indeed my fault that they died…but they are already dead. All that is in the past. There is no way to reverse the flow of time, and there is no way to change past history. Punishing one’s self for something one can no longer alter…that is nothing more than being made a fool of by fate! The only one who rules over myself…is myself!”
The youth floating within the dark void waves of the Nihilum Zone suddenly opened his eyes. His eyes gleamed like the stars, filled with unfathomable profoundness.
“I survived. The karmic sinflames…I endured them,” the youth murmured softly.
The karmic sinflames had already turned invisible. It was difficult to see them with the naked eye; one had to use divine sense or coresense to see them. The invisible karmic sinflames continued to swirl around Ning, but they no longer conjured any more illusions. The likes of the ‘soulkiller tribulation’, the ‘red dust tribulation’, and the ‘thousand lives heart-tribulation’ would no longer appear. The karmic sinflames, however, did continue to burn away at Ning’s soul, causing Ning to feel pain.
This pain could not compare to the pain Ning had felt when undergoing the first tribulation, the ‘soulkiller tribulation’; the soulkiller tribulation brought pain into one’s very essence, and thus could increase without any limit. By contrast, there was a limit to how much pain the current karmic sinflames could bring.
However…the pain one felt when one’s soul was being burnt was far greater than the pain one felt when one’s flesh was being burnt.
Although surviving karmic sinflames was a form of baptism for the spirit, the agony of having one’s soul being burned…this, too, was a form of punishment for sin.
“No wonder everyone says that those who can survive karmic sinflames truly are incomparably demonic figures,” Ning sighed. “If a vile fiend truly did decide to kill countless innocents and cause karmic sinflames to descend, and yet was still able to withstand the thousand lives heart-tribulation…one can imagine what sort of a heart he has!”
“After having survived the karmic sinflames, my heart has reached the ‘iceheart’ level; in fact, I nearly reached the ‘ruler’ level,” Ning sighed to himself.
At the last instant, he had broken free of his shackles and awoken.
This was because within his heart, he had a powerful desire sustaining him…and this desire called him awake, condensed his Dao-heart, and made Ning realize that he had to be the one who was the ruler of his own destiny. Even if he was to die…he should only die if he himself chose to die. As for any others who wished to make him die? They could forget about it!
Still, although he understood this in principle, Ning also realized that he hadn’t truly reached the ‘ruler’ level.
[Houyi’s Archery] broke heartforce out into multiple levels. The first level was the basic level, the second level was the iceheart level, and the third level was the ruler level!
Once one reached the ‘ruler’ level…one would be the absolute master of one’s self! All outside forces could forget about trying to shake one’s heart. If one truly did reach the ‘ruler’ level, neither the red dust tribulation nor the thousand lives heart-tribulation would be able to cause Ning’s aura to weaken in the slightest. This was because Ning would be able to completely ignore all sorts of foreign, outside emotions and feelings.
If the ‘iceheart’ level could be described as completely separating one’s inner heart from the outside world and maintaining utter cold calmness, then the ‘ruler’ level was a form of supremacy and transcendence. It is better to channel than to dam; experts who had reached the ‘ruler’ level in heartforce would no longer act to intentionally suppress their emotions and desires, not even in the innermost depths of their heart.
Let any emotions or feelings come as they may…like Yu the Great taming the floods, no matter what waves or floods come, one would be the master of them all.
“I’m not quite there yet.”
“The final tribulation, the thousand lives heart-tribulation, caused my ‘iceheart’ to be improved, nearing perfection. I’m now very close to the ‘ruler’ level.” Ning knew this…but although he knew and could sense that at the end, when he was in the grips of despair, he even touched what it meant to be at the ‘ruler’ level…actually breaking through to truly reach that level would take a long time.
A breakthrough in the spirit…
This was even more difficult than a breakthrough in training in a Dao.
For Immortal cultivators, the most important thing of all was the Dao-heart. Next came one’s insights into the Dao. Last of all was one’s cultivation base!
If one’s Dao-heart was insufficient…no matter how high your cultivation base was or how many Daos you had comprehended, you would still end up deviating and going berserk. The more powerful you were, the more likely you would die, in fact!
The Dao-heart had to be powerful. Only with a powerful Dao-heart and enough insights into the Dao should a person break through to the next cultivation level. For many peerless geniuses and reincarnated Immortals who had awakened their memories, they had strong enough Dao-hearts and enough insights into the Dao that they could simply use liquefied elemental essence and spirit-pills to increase their cultivation base to the level they wanted it to be at. However, no matter what they did, they wouldn’t raise it to a level which was beyond what their Dao-hearts or cultivation bases could handle.
One could rapidly increase one’s cultivation base, but there was no shortcut to strengthening the Dao-heart or comprehending the Dao.
“Despite all this, I was still unable to reach the ‘ruler’ level. What a pity. If I had reached it…I would have become a truly supreme divine archer of the Three Realms,” Ning sighed.
[Houyi’s Archery] divided heartforce up into five major levels.
The third level was the ‘ruler’ level; at this level, one could be considered one of the supreme divine archers of the Three Realms.
The fourth level was the level which the absolute best divine archers of the current Three Realms had reached.
As for the fifth level…this was Houyi’s level. However, this divine archer of the Primordial Era, Houyi, had disappeared for countless years. Some claimed he was dead, while others said that he had secluded himself somewhere. However…what was undisputed was that he had gone missing for far, far too long. It was very rare for an expert to be patient enough to go into hiding for that long without interacting with any other major powers, and so quite a few suspected him of being dead.
Ning had nearly perfected the second level of heartforce, ‘iceheart’. His heartforce was so powerful that he could now be considered one of the top divine archers of the Three Realms.
Before this, Ning had merely reached the basic level; this had been only enough to let him be ranked amongst the divine archers.
A voidwave swept across Ning, pushing him thousands of kilometers away and bringing him to his senses.
“What a powerful wave. If I hadn’t trained in the [Eight-Nine Arcane Art], I would’ve died long ago.” Only now did Ning leave his state of pensiveness and come to his senses. He began to inspect his surroundings. He was within an utterly dark void, and he could vaguely make out voidwaves and voidwinds rage about. “What is this place? Uh…why isn’t there any natural energy here at all?”
Ning discovered to his astonishment that there was no natural energy of Heaven and Earth here. Immortal cultivators needed to absorb and refine natural energy in order to replenish their elemental ki, while Immortals needed it to replenish their Immortal energy.
“And…where is the Dao?”
“The Dao of the Heavens?”
In the past, he could clearly sense the Grand Dao of the Sword, the Grand Dao of the Waterdrop, as well as many other Daos…but Ning discovered to his amazement that now none of them seemed to exist. He couldn’t sense them at all. The Dao of the Heavens was missing…which meant that no matter how he infused his swordplay with the profound mysteries of the Dao, he wouldn’t be able to summon any of the power of the natural world at all.
“No natural elemental energy…and not even the Dao of the Heavens exists?” Ning stared into the black, dark void around him in disbelief. “Where…where is this place?!”