Skyfire Avenue Chapter 421-430

Chapter 421: Chu Cheng’s Tough Break

All of the remaining competitors were gathered in to a single waiting area. It was much finer than the one from before. Where hard seats were the high prize in the first few rounds, now each of them had a personal sofa to lounge on between fights. A side table was also provided with fruit and drink.

While contestants were enjoying their upgrade, the field outside was being adjusted for the rounds to come. Now, the field was only separated in to four rings. Eventually it would be the whole field used as a ring, and that’s when the fights could get really spectacular. The Terminator and The Infernal Vanguard were rumored to be personally narrating the fights and offering their input.

“So who’s ass do you think you’re kickin’ today,” Chu Cheng said. He was draped over a nearby sofa.

Lan Jue looked straight ahead. “You,” he answered softly.

Chu Cheng shook his head in disappointment. “This guy… how could your heart be so full of the lust for revenge, eh?”
Lan Jue pinned him to the furniture with a frigid glare, but said nothing.

Chu Cheng chuckled sheepishly. “Alright, alright. So I may have besmirched your name, ok… but you’re wearing a mask! No one knows who you are, you haven’t lost anything. I handed over that damn fine cognac without a word of complaint, didn’t I? Anyway, I can’t complain with all these young  ladies suddenly so interested in who is Chu Cheng. What do you say, huh? After I get eliminated I find a good girl to love, settle down. But with the adoration of the crowds I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to deprive them of me. Needs of the many weighed against the desires of the few, right? What do you think?”

Lan Jue gave him a thumbs up. “You’re definitely a rare individual.”

Chu Cheng lifted a brow. “Am I?”

“Oh yeah,” Lan Jue assured. “It’s almost impossible to find anyone else with their head any farther up their own ass.”

Chu Cheng huffed indignantly. “Watch your tone. Big brother
here will kick the shit out of you if we do get matched up.” Chu Cheng was, of course, aware of Lan Jue’s drastic reduction in Talent.

Lan Jue patted his head in irritation. “Alright, hope you mean what you say.”

Chu Cheng broke in to a sudden and easy smile. “Ah screw it, right? We’re brothers, not barbarians. I do find myself in a quandary, though. There are a whole lot of people hoping for me to win, but I’m gunna have to go through that tomboy from the Avenue to do it. Ugh, and Constantine. I’m not worried about any of the others – no offense. Oh right, and there are a couple sleeping giants among us from the Conclave. Be careful if you run in to them, they’re strong and people don’t know it yet.” He delivered the last sentence with a serious stare.

Lan Jue’s eyes inadvertently swept the waiting room, searching for these mysterious Adepts. He spotted one, a tall man who looked like a copy of the Terminator. His skin was a rich brown, bald, and with no outside evidence of mechanical assistance. He was surrounded by a distinct aura of danger. From what he could gather watching earlier fights, this one’s Discipline was Force. However, his Discipline was so strong that his Talent could affect the atmosphere around them. So far no one had lasted more than three minutes against him. His Force
pummeled them long before then.

Lan Jue was more suspicious of the other one, though, someone who stood in stark contrast to the Hulkish man. She was a woman, in a long white dress with a veil obscuring her features. She was elegant and classically beautiful, all but for her eyes. They were a myriad of colors, which were hard to see with her smaller eyes. When her eyes widened, though, they shone brilliantly with the full spectrum of the rainbow.

Her earlier fights had been quite strange, and in fact many of her opponents weren’t even sure how they lost. It would just… end. Lan Jue had payed very close attention to her in the last few rounds. Her weapon was a long sword which she wielded with an almost ethereal grace. Her victories had all been easily – and mysteriously – won. She was alluring and dangerous like a succubus, and the only way he’d really understand her powers was if he had to fight her. He wasn’t in any rush to do so, but the longer her stayed in the running the more likely it became.

The Avenue still had five competitors in the games, excluding Lan Jue. The Dark Citadel and the Pontiff’s Citadel had three each. The North had a slight advantage, with six still in the running. The remaining few were unaffiliated.
“It’s about that time,” Lan Jue muttered. He took a glance at his communicator.

Chu Cheng didn’t answer. His eyes were closed as he silently meditated. Many of the other Adepts were likewise quiet as they time neared. Who they would fight wasn’t under their control, but a result of fate or luck. Who knew if the next fight would see glory or defeat? They couldn’t be sure, even the strongest of them. They could only hope for the best.

“Elimination, Round Eight. This will be the final elimination round of the tournament. Winners will proceed to Double- Elimination. Pairing will now commence.”

Forty-eight enormous portraits appeared in the sky. With so few now, details were far more readily discerned. The audience no longer needed to read help menus to see more. After a moment they began to flit back and forth across the cloudless blue sky, arranging themselves just as they’d done seven times before. Every eye in the waiting room was open now, glued to the results. Who would be their challenger? Where they going to be able to make it to the next one? A lot of that rested on those pictures overhead.

Those like Constantine were anxious, too, because there did
exist a chance that he’d have to face the Pharmacist. Before, with so many fighters, the chances were small. Now, however, there existed the very real possibility that he’d have a stroke of bad luck. Out of all the people staring up in that room, only the Pharmacist seemed completely at ease. She held no stock in victory or defeat here, cared not for prizes or reputation. Her single hope was that she wouldn’t have to face off against Lan Jue.

Gradually the pictures stopped moving. Chu Cheng’s face immediately darkened in despair.

It was important to note that no more resurrection votes would be held.

Lan Jue looked up, and his lips revealed a small smile.

Both he and Chu Cheng would be facing off against female fighters. Lan Jue smirked at the image of his opponent; Sariel.

Sariel was sixth degree, but to Lan Jue it was a fine result. She wasn’t going to embarrass him with how strong she was, and she wasn’t an Avenue representative. This wasn’t a dream pick, but it wasn’t a nightmare either.
Chu Cheng, on the other hand, had been forsaken by luck. He had been paired with the one person he had hoped he could avoid, the strongest competitor in the tournament, and the one heavily favored to win; the Pharmacist!

Like hot oil and water – that was going to be fun to watch.

Lan Jue looked at Chu Cheng, almost with pity. His friend’s face was frozen in shock at first, but eventually hardened in to a cold scowl. Proudly, he said “Ninth level ninth rank, so what? Two ranks, that’s all – not insurmountable. I mean you took out the Angel of War, right? Similar situation.”

Lan Jue’s response was calm and measured. “First allow me to express my congratulations. You deserve to get kicked out of the tournament by a woman who totally emasculates you. Next, it’s important to clarify that I beat Michael as a mecha pilot, not an Adept. Michael is far more deadly with his own hands than behind metal ones. The only reason I came out of that alive was because I chose the means of battle. And last, if you’re expecting the Pharmacist to be as strong as Michael you’re in for some serious disappointment. She’s much… much worse.”

Chu Cheng swallowed hard. “Really?”
Lan Jue burst in to laughter, rich and loud. His face was covered, but Chu Cheng didn’t need to see it to know he was gloating.

“Shit, what kind of brother are you?”

He shrugged. “That’s what brothers do, right? Talk shit, poke fun.”

Chu Cheng, clearly anxious, pressed him. “Come on, tell me about her Discipline. What are her strengths? You’ve gotta help me find some angle -”

“Nope!” Lan Jue said, even before Chu Cheng could finish.

“Why?!” Chu Cheng whined. “What, who’s side are you on anyway?”

Lan Jue shrugged. “Hers. She’s the mother of my child.”

“Holy shit on a lightning rod!” Chu Cheng’s eyes almost rolled out of his head. “Y-yo-you…”
Lan Jue smirked. “Go on – you two are first up. Don’t make a fool of yourself.”

Chu Cheng shot Lan Jue a look full of anguish and said, “You really aren’t going to root for me? Not even well-wishes?”

Lan Jue was silent for a moment, but that loathsome smirk spread wide on his face again. “Of the four of us, only my brother is strong enough to compete with her. He would have to fight harder than he ever has to come out on top. Her talent and training is comparable to ours, and she’s been at the peak of ninth level for longer. Her emotional baggage has kept her from immersing herself in the world of protogenia, but that’s her final hurdle. So tell me… do you think you have a chance?”

Chu Cheng felt the cold tightness of impending doom in his chest. He knew Lan Jue, and knew that he wouldn’t say something like that lightly. If that was how he really felt, than there wasn’t anything he could do about it. This was as far as luck would bring him.

“Let’s do this!” Chu Cheng shot to his feet without any further hesitation. He took off to the ring with long, eager strides. He knew what was coming, but losing wasn’t the end of the world. He had to show the world that he wasn’t a coward.
Lan Jue watched his friend go with his determined stride, and silently praised his strength of will. Even knowing he was outmatched, Chu Cheng didn’t let that shake his confidence. This guy wandered round with a flippant look on his face but really, it was clear at least to Lan Jue that Chu Cheng’s determination was legendary.

Chapter 422: Mommy Must Win!

Talent existed everywhere; as humanity spread so too did their capabilities. However, finding a Talent that was strong, dedicated and gifted was a rare thing. Chu Cheng’s Talent was the best in a generation, but he got to where he was today – with hopes that surpassed even the current Hades family Paragon – through quiet, hard work.

To most he was the Prince of Nightlife – they knew him by that persona. In reality that was just how to let off steam, to keep his sanity in the face of a strict household and high expectations. Really he was in fabulous shape, and still with potential to surpass the Gourmet.

The Gourmet abandoned the Hades title when he achieved Paragon. It was a misconception that the Gourmet gave up calling himself Hades and all the power that would afford him because of his old grudge. Really it was because he knew what his nephew would one day be capable of. With this in mind he passed up the opportunity so that it would be available for the next generation.

Right now he was walking toward the ring, where his opponent the Pharmacist would meet him. Under the hopeful stares of the audience each step became more determined than
the last. He stood tall and defiant in the face of what was likely certain failure. From their angle in the waiting room Chu Cheng looked tall as a mountain by the time he reached the ring.

The Pharmacist was much calmer by comparison. In fact there was little difference between her now and when she fought yesterday. She walked up to the ring and entered without any change in expression. It was like all of this was occurring in the back of her mind. She had chosen to appear today in very traditional Chinese garb – a qipao. It was her normal uniform, actually, though the color differed day by day. Today it was silver, like the light of the moon, and embroidered with plum blossoms. They were fine clothes, but were only meant for those women with excellent figures. The form- hugging shape of a qipao was a dangerous choice for women otherwise endowed.

The Pharmacist had a daughter, but it didn’t appear to have affected her shape – in fact she was almost flawless. Her long black hair had been wrapped in to a ball and fixed to the top of her head, adding to the classical undertones of her outfit. Altogether she appeared cool, calm, and collected – the gentle flowing river that had the ability to carve through mountains. Just looking at her lent the viewer a sense of tranquility.

She stepped in to the arena – no, she floated. Her feet and legs
never moved, and instead she was delivered to the arena on a cloud of golden mist. It swirled beneath her feet without any indication of heat or mist to keep her aloft.

Chu Cheng walked in on the opposite side without any sort of display. His feet carried him to the ring with determined steps. The only indication he was preparing to fight was his invisible but powerful aura.

The Terminator watched from the VIP platform with a barely discernible smile on his face. He turned ever so slightly to the Gourmet while never letting his eyes stray from the ring. “Finally, a fight with some weight. Tell me Jun’er, who do you think is going to win this one – mommy or the red-haired man?”

“Mama!” She said without a hint of pause.

The Terminator grinned and looked her way. “Is that a feeling or just what you hope?”

The little one shook her head. “I don’t need to feel it. The red- haired uncle was really showing his power when he walked in, so he’s scared of my mommy. If he’s worried before the fight even started than he’ll definitely lose to mommy.”
The Terminator looked at her with surprise in his eyes. He shot a wordless glance with the Gourmet, though the look in each Paragon’s eyes was enough to share their thoughts. Indeed! This was as plain as day to the experienced fighter. But a six year-old? That was an inhuman level of comprehension for her age. Chu Cheng’s reaction clearly showed him to be in the inferior position. It wasn’t a display of force that made him do this, but instead fear. He was worried that he wouldn’t have the ability to call forth his full power once the fight began. It might be over too quickly. In this way he showed his weakness.

The Terminator heaved a long sigh. “How wonderful if this little treasure had been born in the North. The Avenue is incredibly lucky!”

The Gourmet offered a smile. “Thank you, Your Majesty.”

“How long before this one’s finished,” the Terminator asked.

The Infernal Vanguard thought for a moment. “Difficult to say,” he began. “Chu Cheng is weaker, but he has his heart set on victory. The stress of it may even be sharpening his will and focus. The Pharmacist may have more power cultivated, but that young man’s potential is staggering. There’s much more to him than meets the eye. How long this fight continues, and the
winner, will be determined by how much of that potential is brought out today.”

This caused the Terminator to chuckle. “I suppose this is a complicated fight for you.” And of course it was; one competitor was his nephew, a representative of his family. The other was a leader in the Avenue delegation that he lead.

The old cook laughed in spite of himself. “No – on the contrary this makes me very happy. An Adept can only improve and learn more about their powers through combat with opponents that challenge them. This fight should be of great benefit to Chu Cheng. The timing is right as well, because the benefits would not be so great if they’d met during the later rounds. He’s got one chance, and that is a motivating factor to make him pull out all the stops. From what I can see the Pharmacist will likely win, but Chu Cheng won’t be a push- over.”

The Terminator smiled and nodded thoughtfully. “Very well – let’s see what happens.”

They weren’t the only ones with eyes on that ring. Forty-eight fighters remained with four rings on the field. There would be six batches today, and this was the first. There was no better
way to start the day’s events than watching two powerful foes compete.

They were not, however, the only interesting fight. The Beautician was also fighting in the first batch, and against the Dark Mage that had kicked out her compatriot, the Coffee Master. It promised to be an interesting fight; she was a master of illusion and he commanded terrible arcane curses. They held powers in a similar occult base – it would be difficult for either to win the upper hand.

“Three, two, one. Begin!” Once more the unfeeling, digitized voice called for the fight to commence. The audience reacted with silence as they held their breath, waiting. The  statistics were trickling through the news wires as well – ninety-five percent of viewers in the audience had their eyes fixed on Chu Cheng and the Pharmacist. It was unfortunate, many thought, that the fight wasn’t going to have any commentary. Because this was still in the elimination portion of the tournament, they would have to wait to watch the recording on demand if they wanted a run-down. No matter what happened in the fight, it was almost a given that it would be one of the highest-viewed fights of the tournament – maybe even first place.

The Pharmacist watched him with calm eyes. Nothing on her face betrayed trepidation over the coming competition. Chu
Cheng, though, bore a hard and resolute expression that was marked different from his earlier fights. Without his characteristic apathetic demeanor he was like someone else entirely. The Prince of Nightlife was gone.

Lina was present in the audience and watched from one of the forward rows. She wasn’t on the VIP platform with the other powerhouses, but she was close – close enough to see the rings well. She muttered, mostly to herself: “If he wins this, I’ll give him another chance. He’s like a different person.”

She wasn’t wrong.

The second the word ’begin’ echoed through the ring, Chu Cheng’s eyes drained of color. The pale grey orbs were possessed of a haunting power that spread over him. It wasn’t fire, or rage, but an unsettling stillness like death itself that covered him. Where he stepped the earth turned grey and lifeless, a meter in every direction. He left a trail of oblivion with every stride that took him toward the Pharmacist.

For half a moment that iron calm in the Pharmacist’s eyes gave way. Still she did not move from her spot, the same as her other fights.
Chu Cheng continued his charge unimpeded. He raced ahead straight and deadly as an arrow. The grey power that trailed after him followed in his wake like a creeping cloud of death.

He approached, closer and closer. The Pharmacist finally reacted with a wave of her hand, which birthed a beam of golden light. The two opposing powers met in the space between them.

Clang! The staggering clash struck Chu Cheng head on. His forward charge was stopped short like he’d hit a wall while golden light bounced back and swung around for a second strike. Like he’d seen before, this was her golden dagger attack.

He recovered quickly and started to move again, faster this time. Already it looked as though he were throwing caution to the wind in favor of pure attack force. Astute observers might be able to see the faint grey figure at his back.

The golden dagger struck again. Bang! The strike was so strong it felt like it was rattling Chu Cheng’s bones and he stopped again. It swung around for a third pass.

Now, surprise was written clear as day on the Pharmacist’s
face. Her right hand swung up and her fingers waved like shoots of grain in the wind. The dagger reacted by exploding with light, and suddenly ten thousand cutting waves of energy were headed Chu Cheng’s way.

The Hades successor stopped on a dime. His pause was strategic and allowed him to miss the majority of the Pharmacist’s powerful attack. It was only for a half second before he was moving again, even faster. The ghostly specter at his back was still there as well, even larger than before he stopped. It completely encompassed Chu Cheng.

ζ

The VIP Platform.

The Terminator knowingly bobbed his head. “No one knows like family,” he said to the Gourmet. “Not bad at all. Chu Cheng has a much deeper comprehension of the Hades bloodline than he did before. He’s been given guidance, I assume?”

The Gourmet nodded, though his eyes never left the ring – fixed firmly on his young nephew. A real fight was the only way to determine just how strong an Adept’s Discipline really was,
and just how much they understood.

Chapter 423: Hades’ Falchion

Once, the hopes of the Hades family had rested on the Gourmet’s shoulders. Love shattered those hopes. Now, all these years later, it wasn’t anger that stopped him from going home. His shame was too great. It wasn’t until he heard Chu Cheng’s explanation, and after years of his own self- examination, that the Gourmet began to faintly understand his role in the lives of others. And even though there had been no attempted apologies from his family he didn’t mind. Even now, as a Paragon, he didn’t have the power to go back to a life with them. He’d lost that opportunity and desire long ago. Now Chu Cheng wore the mantle of the Hades legacy. He would go far, and help bring the Hades family back in to control of the world of darkness. That had been the Gourmet’s task once, but now it passed to him.

The rain of dagger strikes weakened. It was a deadly assault, but hard to maintain. Chu Cheng prevailed through it and came out stronger. His nefarious presence was so intense the audience feared it’d split the ring’s force field.

Chu Dong found himself by the ring, injecting his power in to the gemstones that managed the shields. Much  like  the Gourmet, he was completely absorbed in the fight. Whereas the Avenue Paragon was tied by blood, Chu Dong was the patriarch of the Hades bloodline. No one had more stake in this fight than
he did. What the Paragon saw he did as well, and clearer. He knew his son’s capabilities very well, and although he didn’t show his rascal son a lot of outward affection, Chu Cheng was his pride and joy.

He was aware of his son’s antics, of course. How could he not be? But where many just saw a playboy squandering his life, Chu Dong knew just how much blood sweat and tears Chu Cheng put in to his cultivation practices. He was permitted to relax because he earned it. One iron fist and one helping hand, that was Chu Dong’s way, the way that he had learned from his father. In reality Chu Cheng hadn’t ever done anything to really let them down, so he turned a blind eye to a lot of his childish forays.

From the sidelines he carefully analyzed the situation. When his son had first been set against the Pharmacist, his face had drawn tight in despair. Now, though, he saw the opportunity.

He’d watched his son walk to the field and he couldn’t help but break in to a wide smile. He saw how proud and valiant he looked, ready to face the challenge. The Hades patriarch was satisfied; his son was a mighty representative for their family. Their future would be bright.
Now again he smiled and watched as the power of the Hades bloodline threatened to break from the ring. There was still anxiety, for he knew that this woman was the strongest opponent his son had ever faced. He didn’t know how strong she was, or precisely what her powers were, but she was certainly a daunting foe. How hard she pushed him would affect how quickly he could comprehend protogenia, he was sure.

Now was his time to strike! He could feel Chu Cheng releasing ever greater waves of power that threatened to sweep him up as well. Just when it seemed like the ring couldn’t handle anymore, Chu Cheng’s body went transparent, like he was carved out of crystal. The grey mist that surrounded him became clear as he pierced the net of blade strikes and immediately appeared in front of the Pharmacist.

It was so fast and fierce that only a few spotted the short sword in Chu Cheng’s hand. It’s blade looked like grey crystal that had been carved to a razor’s edge. That weapon housed his focus, and his determination. His will made real.

The Pharmacist stood still as though she did not see him before her. The golden dagger was still. In all her previous fights she hadn’t needed to move, and relied on the speed and power of the golden dagger to win the matches for her. This fight was the first time anyone had gotten close enough to be a
threat.

CLANG! A squealing cry rang out, a hundred times louder than their first encounter. Chu Cheng’s crystal-grey figure went soaring away, and the force of their collision separated the falchion from his hand. The sword buzzed hideously as it was separated from its host, and Chu Cheng quickly thrust forward to get it back in his grip. It was the only thing between him and obliteration. A streak of fresh red blood ran down his grey hand.

Although most weren’t able to see what exactly had happened, Chu Cheng sure had. It shocked him.

From the moment he’d learned his opponent was the Pharmacist, he’d been building power. Lan Jue’s words had inspired his fighting spirit, and he was determined to put as much of his spirit and will in to the fight as possible. He would hone his will and bring it to bear from beginning to end.

Were one to give an Adept’s energy levels a numeric equivalent, then it could be said that employing even seventy percent of one’s energy in a fight was difficult to do. One hundred percent would require unparalleled levels of will and concentration. A hundred and twenty percent would need outside help.
Chu Cheng had never felt stronger when he delivered that blow. But despite that he had only succeeded in making the Pharmacist sway. She didn’t even lose her footing and he was blasted away.

Why that happened, only the two Paragons and the Pharmacist herself knew completely. The result of the discover was clear in the Terminator’s blank expression and the shocked look in the Gourmet’s eyes.

The dagger had been very quick to act in her defense, but the Pharmacist’s tranquil exterior never cracked. It was in that fraction of a second when he appeared before her face that she moved, just a little. She opened her small mouth, and from it a piercing light shot forth. What in the world that power was even they didn’t know, they were too far to see clearly. It was this light – not her dagger – that had repelled Chu Cheng.

At last, the faintest hint of respect shone behind her cold eyes. Vestiges of that grey power flickered around her like specters clawing for her soul. Her golden dagger shuddered and swiped the air, sending eight sharp crescents spiraling through the air that cut the grey tendrils to pieces.

Chu Cheng came to ground, staggering for half a step before
regaining his footing. He took a deep heaving breath and stared at his opponent with eyes like grey whirlpools. He slowly extended a foot and placed his toe against the ground. The entire ring immediately felt lifeless and cold.

He was off again like a beam of light. His charge looked just the same as his last failed attempt. In no time he was within striking range of the Pharmacist again. A flash of dull grey, aimed right for the center of her throat.

Her dagger flashed up and clashed with the falchion, but the moment they collided all the light drained from it. The Pharmacist’s dagger was infected with the same grey that choked the ring.

Chu Cheng stopped, and an ashen figure separated itself from him. It looked exactly like he did, like his soul had torn itself from his body. Chu Cheng’s living self was close on its heels as the spirit dashed toward the Pharmacist.

She watched them come. Then, just before the moment of impact, the power within Chu Cheng bloomed outward by half again as much, and his cloudy sword released a shock wave of energy.
Her right wrist flicked. and the corrupted dagger  vanished form view. It reappeared a moment later in her hand, as bright as ever. A strange, feral cry like dragons could be heard filling the skies while under an explosion of golden luminescence the dagger grew in to a long sword. All of this happened in half the time of a lightning strike.

She thrust out with her sword, and the point of her weapon met with the glinting ashen point of Chu Cheng’s.

The shuddering, bone-crunching crash resulted in the Pharmacist being pushed back half a step. However the grey light that was his power seemed drawn to the golden light released by her weapon. It looked as though her sword would swallow up the grey light around them.

A strange shine flickered behind the Pharmacist’s eyes. It was like they were covered in some strange reflective energy. Then there was a blast of intensity and another thunderous dragon’s roar as her sword shuddered of its own volition.

Her weapon wrenched itself free of her grip and began to twist. It warped until it was the massive figure of an ancient Chinese dragon. Chu Cheng’s weapon was caught between its teeth. In the same instant she moved to avoid him, for the first
time that anyone had witnessed. Seven steps, but they were strange and gave the onlookers an uncomfortably illusory sense. In a blink seven Pharmacists were in the ring.

Chu Cheng lost his target but did not stop in his forward charge. As waves of pure death poured outward, he lifted his head and bellowed a terribly cry. His challenge hung in the air even as the man himself suddenly vanished. The grey sword remained, though imbued now with its bearer’s power. It grew enormous, and flailed with a life of its own. A terrifying aura followed it, borne by an almost invisible grey hand.

Chu Cheng’s living weapon wrenched itself free and cut through the air like it was slicing the boundary between life and death. All the ended lives in all the history of man flashed in its faceted surface. Heaven and Hell were at war were the blade sang, here before everyone’s eyes.

The seven Pharmacist that had spread out at either side vanished, leaving just the real one, right in Chu Cheng’s path. A smile spread across her pretty face. Her golden blade fractured in to a host of blazing motes. They gathered and pressed in to one another to form a shimmering starburst. Lights from the vanished copies arranged themselves before her in the shape of the Big Dipper. The world around them turned upside down, but the Pharmacist remained calm like a sage in the midst of the
turmoil.

Chu Cheng’s sword had no way to approach, leaving them at a temporary stalemate.

The Pharmacist lifted her hand again and paced her palm against the swell of her chest. Her soft lips fluttered as she repeated a mantra, saying it again and again. The seven stars swelled larger with every syllable and congealed in to seven separate golden blades. But that lasted only a moment before they gathered together to form one as large and imposing as Chu Cheng’s. Once again the two swords met point to point in the blinding glare of the Big Dipper.

Chapter 424: Big Dipper Godblade

Ting-!

The resulting explosion caused a spider web of cracks to appear in the ring’s shield and then explode in to a shower of shimmering sparks. The audience watched the golden great sword pierce through it and speed off into the heavens. Another roar, then suddenly a five-clawed dragon emerged from the roiling clouds above. It’s limbs each bore a shimmering star, seven across its whole form, and where it moved the clouds parted like the sea. The sense of majesty it exuded was dumbfounding.

Five claws is significant. In ancient China it was said only the emperor was permitted to bear the image of a dragon with five claws. Any lesser official who chose to use a dragon as a symbol must have fewer.

Booomm—! Chu Cheng’s body went sailing out of the ring. The dragon curled and swam above, partly hidden in the clouds. The blazing golden greats word, however, was ever visible. Even Chu Dong – himself the peak of ninth rank – took several uneasy steps backward. Once he regained his composure his eyes immediately shot to where his son had flown.
As the explosion of golden light receded it became seven beams of rainbow-hued glare. They each raced toward the Pharmacist and converged at the top of her head. From there they delved deep in to the Adepts body and vanished. Subtle flashes of golden light shone in her eyes, but silence was the prevalent scene. Her qipao fluttered though there was no breeze and she stood as serene as a goddess, hands clasped at the small of her back. Her pale face was offset by blushing cheeks.

No one waiting in the resting area was enjoying their fancy new sofas. Long ago they had forsaken them and stood to watch the breathtaking clash. The young upstart Chu Cheng had already displayed a level of power few would have thought him capable of. His last attack had the power of a peak-level Adept behind it. Yet still he’d lost and didn’t even leave a mark on his foe.

This was the Pharmacist, representative of Skyfire Avenue, and even her own people watched with wide eyes and opened mouths.

“Is she even human?” The Barber slowly shook his head in disbelief. He used to think he was strong, but then he lost to Lan Jue and now this. She was a ninth level adept, like him! Not a Paragon. How was there such a difference between them?
The Accountant had long since been stricken mute by the dramatic scene before him. All he knew was that if that sword was pointed his way, he’d have to bequeath everything he owned to his dad because he’d be dead meat.

The great quaking blast of power reached all the way to the VIP platform. It was silent as the grave. Both Metatron and Lucifer watched with expression dark and gloomy. They were a hair’s breadth from Paragon, but they knew they couldn’t beat her in a fight.

The Avenue was a whole lot more frightening than they’d originally thought.

The Terminator let out a long breath. His eyes swung to Jun’er, who was vociferously celebrating her mother’s victory. He couldn’t think of what to say. And the Gourmet? He looked as stunned as everyone else. If he weren’t a Paragon, he asked himself, could he face her toe-to-toe? He didn’t like the answer.

This was the first time ever the Pharmacist had revealed her true strength. Even against powerful foes from the Citadels, she had never needed to resort to tipping her hand.
Chu Cheng, beaten and bruised, struggled back to his feet. Rivulets of blood flowed from his nose and mouth, but his eyes were bright. He liked it.

Chu Dong came quickly and looked over his son. Only once he was sure there wasn’t any lasting damage did he heave a sigh of relief. “Failure is the mother of success,” he said, “don’t worry about it.” It was a rare word of comfort from the man.

However Chu Cheng hardly noticed. His eyes were glued to the Pharmacist, he had since floated down and away from the ring. “Goodness gracious,” he hummed. “That right there is the woman of my dreams.”

Smack! Chu Cheng’s face whipped back toward Chu Dong after his father slapped it back around.

The Pharmacist slowly made her way back to the waiting, clearly in no hurry. The eye of every Adept followed her, but she acted like nothing was out of the ordinary. She took a seat, instead of leaving immediately as she had always done before.

Lan Jue made an effort to keep the shock he felt out of his expression. The whole fight was still roiling in his mind, and
now finally he thought he had an inkling as to what her power was.

Legend told of the Big Dipper Godblade, which was less an actual weapon than it was the apex of Celestial Master Qian’s martial knowledge. He couldn’t be sure whether that distinctive golden sword was real or just condensed energy.

What incredible power!

There were still other fights from the first round yet to finish. The dramatic finish to the Pharmacist’s fight had been a major distraction. In one case they had to pause the fight, and resumed once Chu Cheng and the Pharmacist had finished. Though the Beautician fought valiantly, in the end she was just not enough to match the Necromancer’s curses. Perhaps she just didn’t want it enough, but whatever the case the Avenue had one less horse in the running.

The Coffee Master, Beautician and Barber had seen defeat, but that was to be expected considering their relatively lower ranks.

The first batch was done, but the audience still remained quietly in their seats. They were still stunned – maybe even
frightened. The vision of that coiling dragon and golden sword were burned deep in to their collective memory. They were suddenly vary aware of the force shields around the rings, and very grateful. That woman’s power was beyond imagining, enough to shake the pillars of heaven!

Chu Cheng tenderly walked the distance back to the waiting area. No one in the audience looked down upon him for the loss. His strength was proving in the Pharmacist’s response. No one before had made her resort to such frightening attacks. He gave the imposing woman a thumbs up as he limped passed, and his eyes were full of praise. She acted like he didn’t exist.

“You’re full of shit,” Chu Cheng wheezed.

“Oh? How’s that?” Lan Jue asked.

His companion sniffed. “My ass she’s your baby momma. That other stuff you said was right on the nose. She is at least as strong as big brother – and when I saw those seven stars gather and come right for me, she was even scarier than him. Lan Qing’s fear is ominous, like a net slowly closing around you. He is a terrifying strategist. There’s no escape – you helplessly deliver yourself right in to his hands. But the Pharmacist, damn… that’s straight domination. No tricks or fanciness, just
straightforward, in your face superiority. You expect me to believe she’ll let you in that dress? Having a kid at her level definitely has a negative effect on breaking through to Paragon. So whatever, you lied to me, but don’t spread that nonsense. Otherwise you better be careful.”

Realization dawned on Lan Jue as he listened to his friend. Yes, the sacrifices that she made to give her husband a child were great, and showed how deeply she cared for him. There was a dark envy in his heart, but she had lost her love as well. If he were still alive they would be a loving, happy family.

Chu Cheng, confident he’d exposed his friends lie, let the silence extend for a moment. He spoke again after a second, his voice thick with pride. “I may have lost the fight but I didn’t lose the people. If you don’t believe me check tomorrow’s headlines. Your brother here will be plastered all over the front page. Now that I’ve fought the Pharmacist I’m convinced she’s going to win it, I’m putting my money on her. Constantine ain’t got shit on her.”

“Aren’t you hurt,” Lan Jue asked dryly. “How about you sit quietly and recover. It’s time for my fight.”

The second batch would be where he was to face off against
Sariel. Lan Jue rose to his feet and left for the rings. Watching the fight between Chu Cheng and the Pharmacist had been an inspiration. Both her power and Chu Cheng’s grit had lit a fire in him. The tournament restricted the use of protogenia, so all of that power had come from just his friend’s Discipline. Had you asked Lan Jue yesterday, he would never have thought it possible. His brother’s potential was a point of pride.

He thought about Chu Cheng’s three consecutive strikes, and wondered if he’d be able to stop all of them. That sword he’d used sure wasn’t any ordinary sword – he figured it was the Hades family Astrum. That’s the only explanation as to how it almost broke the Pharmacist’s defense and corrupted her weapon. His grey falchion was the factor that forced her to reveal her true strength.

But what about him? Lan Jue absent-mindedly fiddled with a spot against his chest.

He made his way to the ring and was silently grateful to Chu Cheng. The audience was still processing the fight and didn’t have the energy or attention to fling curses his way. Things had gotten better as time went on, but he still heard the jeers and hisses every time he stepped out on to the field. His protest was to continue climbing the ladder.
Sariel flew into the ring on great, majestic wings. She had an absent-minded expression on her face, but that wasn’t odd. When competing at their levels, an Adept had to possess an intimate understanding of themselves. They were always turning their perception inward.

Watching each other recently meant that both he and Sariel knew what to expect and were preparing accordingly. This was going to be a good fight.

Chapter 425: Zeus vs. The Angel Of The Moon

The last time Lan Jue had encountered Sariel they were on the same side. Now they were opponents – it was strange. Sariel did not feel the same, however, as she didn’t know this masked man was the same one who had terrorized the Pontiff’s Citadel. Lan Jue was perfectly happy with the arrangement, as he didn’t want to bring her any trouble. He acted as though he didn’t know who she was.

“Three, two, one. Begin!”

Sariel’s wings brought her in to the air. As she hung there above him, the Seraph’s power surged out in a golden wave of light. Lan Jue answered with vigor, in contrast to the strategies of his earlier fights.

There was a flash of electric light and Lan Jue appeared before the Angel of the Moon. There was nothing so fast as lightning, and Sariel didn’t even have time to summon her holy sword. She could only thrust her hands out in hopes they would deflect his attack.

Lan Jue reached out two barehanded, and a point of light was
spat from each fingertip. The ten twinkling dots gathered together in a strangely specific order. Voracious Lightning! It was a skill even Chu Cheng’d never seen before.

Sariel wasn’t Lena. There was quite a power discrepancy between them, not to mention their diametrically opposed Disciplines. Zeus’ lightning-based powers were especially forceful against the vampire’s Dark Discipline, but were notably less so when faced with Light Adepts. In addition, she was also several ranks higher than he was. Winning this fight without some sort of secret weapon would be next to impossible.

The Angel wasn’t frightened or alarmed by the lightning attack. Ten tendrils of pure white light slithered from her own fingertips to cut off and reflect Lan Jue’s attacks away. A crescent moon was revealed a few meters above her head with a single silver light shining down upon her. The light was serving as a shield.

“Boom-boom-boom-boom….” The careening orbs of lightning erupted one after the other in fierce blooms of light. The special quality of these strikes was their ability to devour  outside energy. Explosions spread their influence farther.

Sariel right away felt a strange sense of detachment with her
energy. She beat her wings and rose higher to escape. This encounter had her on her back foot. Her knowledge of Zeus was extensive, as was all of the Archangels in the Pontiff’s Citadel. After all, they had long-held plans to deal with the troublesome Mercenary. All of them were aware that he had this ability. It was used to catch his enemy off guard, not only with the explosions but the sudden loss of energy afterward. A fighter’s body suddenly felt drained, and sluggish.

There were drawbacks, though, as a miss meant a great deal of wasted energy on Lan Jue’s part. The Voracious Lightning didn’t do much if the attack didn’t land straight on. The cost to Lan Jue was great, in part because the skill covered a large area. Sariel felt like he’d managed to deplete some of her energy, but guessed that it wasn’t as much as he’d spent performing the attack. Pros outweighed the cons, so why did he make that choice?

Lan Jue made no move to chase her through the skies. Instead he pressed his hands together before his chest. The air crackled ominously before the whole ring erupted in to a web of screaming electricity.

The Forest of Lightning!
In no longer than the time it took to gasp, lightning covered every inch of the area, including Sariel and her shield. The rays of godly light that emanated from her ceased as she focused on keeping her shield intact.

Lan Jue turned his hands over until they made a circle in the center of his chest. Spider-web bolts of lightning raced along his arms and hands, joining together between his palms to create a roiling orb of electric power. Thick bolts of purple and blue snaked along the outside of the ball, but the core of it was pure, tumultuous golden energy.

The blaze of holy light filtered through the lightning as Sariel finally summoned her righteous blade. She held her position suspended in the air, ready. When there was a break in intensity, she was prepared to launch forward in an all-out assault. However, Lan Jue had different plans, for as the first wave finally extinguished a second enormous Forest of Lightning attack swept her up again.

The angel looked around her in disbelief. Could he really have so much energy that he could use this attack twice? The most current intelligence put him at rank six or seven, the same as her. It made no sense that he’d have so much energy to waste.
Obviously, the discrepancy in total energy between ranks was most obvious in a fight. However that was only part of Sariel’s mistake. Her first was trusting in the Pontiff’s information about Lan Jue. She also knew that he had been strong enough to defeat Michael, which meant she started this fight behind. Still she wouldn’t have thought he’d come out of the gate so intense. Her final, and perhaps biggest mistake, was failing to see passed the intensity at the actual strength. If she did, she would see that a sixth ranked Adept would be quite a bit stronger.

In the back of her mind somewhere she noticed, but she never thought to question why he felt weaker than expected. Perhaps it was a diversion, or some other sort of trick. As a precaution she chose not to rush in.

Lan Jue’s condensed orb of lightning was released in to the flood. Where it passed, the forest of lightning was devoured in to it, empowering it. A tail of ionized air gushed passed, propelling the orb toward Sariel.

Boommmmmm! The grand-shaking rumble drowned out all other sounds. Sariel put all of her power behind maintaining the shields against the orb. She knew this one, another special attack unique to Zeus; Thundercharge.
The Thundercharge hit with enough force to make her shield sputter. It was weaker than he was capable of before, and Sariel felt it. His power was explosive but not as terrifying as she was lead to believe. Was he holding back? Sariel’s mind raced with uncertainties.

Lan Jue used the cover of his attack to retreat. He stopped at the far end of the ring, while Sariel suddenly found herself in a very unenviable position. She could pit her hopes on her shield which was strong, or evade. She could not do both, for though durable her shield restricted movement. It’s strength was greatly reduced while she was on the move. No… there was only one option, and that was the Rite of the Holy Spirit. It would render all her previous effort pointless, but it was that or defeat.

The moon over her head blazed with ethereal silver light. Sariel’s massive wings beat against the air and sent her soaring toward her foe. She steeled her resolve with the knowledge that Lan Jue must be near spent. Two rounds of his forest of lightning, the Voracious Lightning orbs and the Thundercharge could only mean he was almost drained.

ζ

Metatron’s enigmatic gaze was fixed on the fight. His
organization had a keen interest in Zeus, in no small part due to his insistence on protecting the Stygian Succubus. The refusal could only mean he stood against them, and was deemed an enemy. They knew he was a member of the Avenue – their ‘Jewelry Master’ – which made it curious that he had chosen to participate as Zeus rather than with his fellows.

There had been more interesting fights earlier in the tournament, and Metatron had assumed there was little more to learn about Lan Jue that they hadn’t already discovered. The times he had chanced a gaze, it looked like Zeus was mostly toying with his opponents. However, something seemed strange this time – off. It drew his attention in a way his other fights hadn’t. He knew Sariel like she was one of his own children, in fact it could be said he taught her everything she knew. It also meant that he knew how much punishment she could take. From what he knew of Lan Jue’s skills, the result of their clash should have been radically different.

“When did Zeus become so weak?” Metatron muttered to himself.

Lucifer chuckled softly at his side. “Maybe he’s luring her in to a false sense of security!” Lucifer certainly bore no love for Lan Jue, but his hatred for the Pontiff and his crew outweighed everything. He didn’t hesitate to wish the worst on Metatron’s


people.

The master Archangel shot his dark counterpart a flat glance. He didn’t respond, although he was ever more curious for an answer.

ζ

Pulsing waves of holy light flung out from Sariel, and met with Lan Jue’s Forest of Lightning. The Mercenary and jewelry salesman stood with his feet planted and a golden spear of lightning clutched in his hands. Sariel restored her focus to her shield, which she knew now to be enough to protect her.

Tendrils of vicious lightning struck all around her but could not penetrate her defenses. She pierced through the undulating sea of electricity on a collision course with Lan Jue.

He smirked. Lan Jue didn’t advanced or retreat, but there was a flash and suddenly he appeared on the far side of the field. The alternative storms of electricity helped him move. The air was charged, and helped conduct him across distances quickly and unseen while transformed in to lightning. It was like a temporary, small-scale Domain of his own creation. It sure cost
him to maintain, though.

Sariel paused as she lost her target and looked around to find him. She was protected from the unceasing attacks from the lightning, but every moment she was out there she was spending energy. Sariel had so many questions, but the fight was first.

She charge ahead again, but just like before Lan Jue vanished as she came near. What was the point of this? Why was he running?

Ariel wasn’t the only one confused. The excitement of the fight was beginning to wane, and the audience had begun to sense something was strange too. Muffled conversation fluttered through the bleachers.

Chapter 426: Battle Of Attrition

What sort of strategy was this? Neither one ever actually collided with the other. One simply covered the area in a massive draining area-attack, and the other darted around at full charge while evading the lightning. Both of them were hemorrhaging energy.

“This isn’t right. Zeus’ attacks are far weaker than they should be.” Metatron muttered.

It was loud enough for the Gourmet to hear, and he furtively smirked to himself. They were already late in their discovery, and there was no way for them to alert Sariel from up here. Metatron was among only a few members of the audience who understood the tactic – force Sariel to waste her energy. In a pure contest Lan Jue was a great deal weaker than Sariel. The difference between a second rank and a sixth was more than considerable. This was true even despite his dual Disciplines and the benefits of re-cultivating. If he wanted a shot at winning, it would be from draining his enemy and striking when the time was right.

However, it didn’t look like this was the case. Outside observers could tell that Lan Jue was spending far more energy than Sariel was. In reality, though, Lan Jue still had the skills
from before his fall to second rank that made them efficient. There was also the special gift he’d gotten for surviving the bug attack on Taihua – the Phylactery Stone!

Even Lan Jue didn’t know how much energy the Phylactery stone could hold. The tournament didn’t prohibit the use of weapons or power stones, banning only mech suits. This stone was also unique in that it was bound to his blood and body.

These rules were specifically implemented for Converts. A lot of what made them powerful Adepts were installations such as these. Aside from the fact that they could only be removed by hacking off a limb, the reduction in power would cripple them as Adepts as well. They couldn’t be expected to compete in a situation like that. Other banned materials were filtered out with scans when they’d first entered the arena to sign up.

The Phylactery stone would not be a problem, especially since it had long since joined with his left hand. In peaceful times he had developed a habit of infusing the gem with energy every day. No matter how much he put in it, though, the gem never seemed satiated. Using it felt equally bottomless, and that cache of energy was what fueled his steady stream of attacks.

How could Sariel know about this secret weapon? She hadn’t,
and the result had been dire. From the start she had been forced to waste her own precious energy by protecting herself from him. She was playing to his tune. After fifteen minutes of fighting, Sariel guessed she had no more than sixty percent of her stamina left.

It’s off! Sariel was beginning to get the idea that something was wrong. From what she knew of Lan Jue he should have been exhausted by this point! However from what she could see, he could keep this up for the rest of the fight. This was not normal. Sariel still couldn’t fathom the truth, but few would. The situations surrounding Lan Jue’s drop in power were unthinkable for most Adepts. But whatever the mechanisms she saw the result; if she didn’t try to end this now with all of her remaining power, than her loss would be a slow and shameful one.

Sariel stopped her fruitless chasing, and thrust her holy weapon toward the heavens. The crescent moon that followed her transformed, just as it had in her fight against Chu Cheng. Soon it was full and glorious, releasing piercing rays of silver light. She became more imposing with each pulsing wave of light, and the six great wings at her back shimmered with pure white light.

Lan Jue’s face was lit stark against the encroaching waves of
light. He wasn’t surprised or alarmed – he figured this would happen sooner or later. Even getting Sariel down to her current level of fatigue was difficult. The burst meant there was nowhere to go, and just like he’d left her no room for escape, now it was his turn to face the strike head on.

His shimmering spear of lightning vanished without ever having been used. As the sweeping lunar power grew ever closer, Lan Jue pressed his palms to the sky like he was supporting it. Again he summoned his Forest of Lightning, stronger than last time. Individual tendrils of gold appeared in the sea of purple electricity, and soon began to spread. The ghostly remnants of protogenia flickered in that power. Soon the entire ring was lost in a sea of gold and silver. Their clash was so bright not even the Paragon’s eyes could pierce through.

Sariel could feel the power increase, but there was no other choice. Whatever came, her only chance lay in a head-on confrontation. She held her sacrosanct blade aloft with both hands as a sweet and piercing call rang from her lips. The moon above descended to join with the lunar angel. Imbued with the power of the moon, she brought her weapon down in a brazen chop. From outside the spectators could see a milky-white dragon cleaving through the sea of gold toward Lan Jue.

Sariel had pulled out all the stop to try and lock Lan Jue
down. Even if he dodged, it would set him up for a fierce counter-attack.

Trickery became a lot harder when Adepts got to the higher echelons.

Lan Jue stood in the center of the roiling lightning with his hands pressed together before his chest. The electric power around him sizzles and congealed until it produced an elemental essence shield around him. He watched as the powerful eminence of Sariel’s holy weapon came barreling his way, and then moved. Eight steps, strangely paced and specific. Beneath his feet the faint image of yin and yang appeared. Lan Jue threw up his hands and an arc of intertwined black and white raced out to meet the danger.

Boom—!

The ring’s shields quivered. The tournament organizers had learned from their mistakes, so this time there was a team of high-level Adepts continuously strengthening the shields as they fought. Even with their help, though, it was a full ten seconds before the shields returned to stasis.
Eventually the blazing lights inside also dies away to reveal the scene. Lan Jue stood where Sariel had sent out her attack. Sariel, likewise, stood where he had made his defense. The two had changed position.

Lan Jue stood calmly. The air around him was charge, and tendrils of lightning burst to life then vanished. He seemed perfectly fine.

But Sariel looked pale, even more than usual. She looked at Zeus with wide, bewildered eyes.

Chapter 427: Th-this…

She’d seen it. The angel knew that her opponent was using the powers of Taiji. His mastery over the skill allowed him to face her strike and deflected it to the shields.

Zeus was just this kind of person, completely different once he put on the mask. But the Zeus she knew was powerful – strong enough to survive a confrontation with the Angel of War, Michael. Why, then, was the energy he released today so weak by comparison? None but her saw, for the golden lightning hid everything from the view of the audience.

Lan Jue lifted his right hand, which crackled with faint arcs of golden lightning. The air felt charged, moments away from another blast of his Forest of Lightning.

“Do you want to continue?” He asked.

Sariel shook her head and sighed. She fixed him with a look. “I forfeit.” It was the right choice, she was already down to forty percent of her power, much less than she’d need to face Lan Jue and his Taiji mastery. There was no path to victory for her.
Lan Jue smiled a small smile, and nodded. Sariel – representative of the Pontiff’s Citadel – was removed from the tournament lists.

Despite the theatrics, few were surprised by the fight. After all, Zeus had a reputation that probably served him better than his Discipline did. His hatred for evil was legendary, as was his status as king of mercenaries and one of the Four Divine Monarchs. Defeating Sariel wasn’t any great accomplishment for him. The same was true for all of his previous fights as well. People would have been much more animated if Sariel had won.

Lan Jue knew he’d won victory only by the skin of his teeth. He had only just managed to deflect Sariel’s attack, but only by joining his dual Disciplines and Taiji skills together. If he hadn’t, than he most likely would have lost to Sariel due to her superior rank. This was also just a friendly competition. In a life or death confrontation, who knows what would have happened. He wasn’t without a contingency plan, but he was saving that for when there was really no other option.

Man! Being second rank was a real pain in the ass! He longed for those passed days when he could tangle with the best of them.
Chu Cheng’s voice called to him. “You’re down-right insidious.”

Lan Jue answered with an impatient sniff. “I think you meant ‘clever!’ Anyway, how much can I trust the advice of someone who got trounced so badly? You lost, go home and rest.”

“Let’s go.” It was another voice that answered from somewhere behind Lan Jue. Before he could even turn around, a hand had him by the crook of his elbow and was pulling him away. Chu Cheng, who had wanted to answer with some snide remark, now only watched with his mouth hanging open.

He wasn’t alone, either. Every Adept around looked at them with the same stunned expression. Lan Jue jumped at the unexpected contact, and had his complaints silenced when he saw it was the Pharmacist who had grabbed him. He nodded wordlessly and followed her.

The second round had just finished. The ruckus from the audience didn’t start to swell until Lan Jue had already been dragged a few steps.

Th-this…
It wouldn’t have been such a big deal if this had occurred before her fight with Chu Cheng. Now, though, she’d captured everyone’s attention with her power. Then, first thing she did after her fight was drag Zeus from the resting area. Could this mean they were a pair?

The dragon lady swept her eyes over the crowd, and just like that they all fell deathly silent. Where her gaze fell, a chill followed. She didn’t look at any one person, but the whole audience felt like she was staring right in to their soul. It was unsettling, to say the least. When her face pointed their way, whole sections busily tried to look everywhere but at her. There weren’t any more jeers directed at Lan Jue.

Suddenly is struck Lan Jue. He knew what she was up to; taking care of him! It was certainly a strange sensation, being protected by a woman. Strange, but heart-warming. Lan Jue and his brother had been orphans ever since he could remember. He had no memory of his parents, only the old instructor who took care of them. Since he’d never had a mother, he never felt this sensation before. Perhaps that was why he had such a soft spot for sensitive, compassionate women. It’s why he loved Hera.

Earlier chapters – very early, unless I’m mistaken – referred to Lan Jue’s teacher as ‘father’ or ‘gramps’. The word they used to
describe him – lao fu – can have these and other meanings. This is the first time it is explicitly stated that ‘lao fu’ is Jue Di, and that he isn’t related. It was probably inferred and I misread it – my bad. Earlier translations alluding to a ‘father’ or grandfather are wrong. We now know that Lan Jue and his brothers are orphans. Sorry conspiracy theorists.

ζ

Su Xiao Su shot a sideways glance to Qianlin, seated beside her. She looked a little pale, but otherwise perfectly composed.

“Aren’t you jealous?” Xiaosu asked. “What are they doing?”

Qianlin answered with a smile. “Jealousy is the most pathetic and self-abasing reaction a woman can have. If it means he no longer loves me and has an interest in someone else, then I must not be charming enough. Not enough to keep him.” With that said, Qianlin rose to her feet and left. Lan Jue’s fight was over, there was no other reason for her to here.

She was a smart girl. She knew what the Pharmacist was doing.
Lan Jue had already told her about the situation between him, the Pharmacist and Jun’er. There was nothing for her to be suspicious about. That didn’t mean she wasn’t adversely affected by the image of her pulling him out in front of the crowd. She had faith in her estimations.

ζ

The Pharmacist didn’t retract her hand until they were out of the sports arena. Only then did she give him a little space.

“Thank you.” Lan Jue’s appreciation was sincere.

She smiled. “You should.”

“Big sis-!” The words came out before he could stop them. The Pharmacist’s eyes slowly went wide.

“You…”

He shook his head. “I don’t know… I just, suddenly had to call you that. Like a protective big sister.”
The extraordinarily powerful woman snorted a laugh. “How old are you? Who says I’m your elder?”

He coughed in embarrassment. “Really not important. It just blurted out.”

“It’s not so bad having a younger brother,” she mused with a grin. “Of course you mustn’t speak like that when Jun’er is around. I’m counting on you to keep up appearances.”

He smiled reassuringly. “Never around Jun‘er. Going from father to uncle is a demotion, don’t you think? Unless…”

“Unless what?” She asked.

He looked at her again with that sober gaze. “Well, unless her real father comes back.”

There was a visible jerk from the Pharmacist. Her mouth turned turn at the bitter memories. “If that day were to come, I could die and meet the afterlife willingly.”

Chapter 428: Self-Confidence

“I’m sorry,” Lan Jue apologized. “I shouldn’t have brought it up.”

The Pharmacist offered him a reassuring smile, and waved a hand. “Let’s go. Change your clothes and get rid of that mask while I get Jun’er. I’ll meet you at the arena gates in a little bit. She’s upset when you aren’t there in the morning, you know.”

Lan Jue chuckled helplessly. “I wish she was really my daughter!”

“You’re not lacking for willing girls,” the Pharmacist dryly remarked. “Your relationship with Zhou Qianlin seems to be going very well.”

Lan Jue shook his head, in part to hide the loneliness in his eyes. “Some things aren’t so easy to forget. I think you know that as well as I.”

She sighed. “Misery loves company. Get going!”
The final elimination round was the last chance for the Adepts to get in to the finals. The fights were far more dramatic – and dangerous – than those that had come before. Skyfire Avenue still had a very solid presence with the Pharmacist, Seamstress, Driver, and Bartender in the running the first twelve. The Pontiff’s Citadel had only Constantine while the Dark Citadel was represented by the necromancer and a tall lycanthrope. The Conclave had four after Chu Cheng’s defeat, the same as the Avenue. The remainder were unaffiliated.

Tomorrow the tournament would begin the Double- Elimination rounds. Winners would advance and the losers would fight again for their second chance. That would take the whole day, and the final day of the tournament before they got in to the finals.

Reports of the day’s events trickled out, in the end proving Chu Cheng’s prophecy to be true. Indeed, everyone was talking about his fight with the Pharmacist. Lan Jue’s own encounter with the woman was also widely speculated about. The Pharmacist and Zeus an item? Her presence had been such a deterrent to the crowd’s mocking cries against Lan Jue that the media didn’t even report on it. This was for good reason, too. Everyone had seen how strong she was in that fight – near enough to Paragon that making her upset was phenomenally unwise. Many experts agreed in interviews through the night. Who would dare pick on a potential Paragon’s lover? This
wasn’t even considering Zeus’ own considerable strength.

Lan Jue spent the afternoon with Jun’er, taking her and the Pharmacist around town to sight-see. Together they didn’t need to fear anything short of a direct Paragon confrontation. Keeping Jun’er cooped up was the opposite of what they’d brought her here for. The Terminator seemed to be precisely what Jun’er had said – a good man.

Jun’er was still small and frail, and an afternoon of activity absolutely wipes her out. A simple dinner and Lan Jue’s soothing bioelectricity put her right to sleep.

“Go on,” the Pharmacist said, taking Jun’er in to her arms.
She smiled at him. “You have people waiting.”

He could feel that the two of them had grown closer after today’s fights, more open. Lan Jue could feel their relationship changing from one of convenience to a genuine friendship.

“Well then I’m off, big sis,” he said with a smirk. The Pharmacist lead him to the door after putting Jun’er down and covering her in a blanket.
“If that scene in the arena upset your friend tell me, I’ll help you explain.” The Pharmacist offered.

Lan Jue smiled back at her. “I will. Sis is so pretty I’m not convinced Qianlin won’t be a little jealous.”

“You’re already so popular. If I remember correctly you have a gaggle of young girls following you around already. Make sure you handle that carefully. You don’t want things between a man and a woman to grow complicated, otherwise you’re just asking for trouble.” The Pharmacist advised.

Lan Jue shook his head, looking distressed. “Mika and the others are just friends, I treat them like little sisters. If it weren’t for their special set of problems, I’d have had them leave a long time ago.”

The young mother gave him a serious look. “If you treat them like sisters than they will see you as an older brother. Whatever relationship you have with those girls, you’ll want to make sure you deal with it or you’ll regret it.”

He nodded. “I know, I have to really think about it. It gives me a headache. But I saved them and promised protection, I can’t
just throw them out now.”

The Pharmacist smirked. “Your problem, but I’m sure you’ll find a solution. It’s not something that will be solved in a day or even a month, I was just offering council. You should start thinking about it now, though.”

“Got it.”

Lan Jue wished her goodnight and returned to his room. He quietly pulled the door open and stepped inside.

“You’re back!” Qianlin smiled at him from the sofa in a pair of white pajamas. She was curled up with a throw pillow and a magazine. She greeting him with a wave.

“Hey,” he answered with a nod.

She unfurled from her perch and took his coat. She returned a moment later with a cup of warm water and directed him to the sofa, where she gave him a gentle neck rub. Very much like a wife would for her husband.
“Qianlin, about today…” Lan Jue wanted to explain the situation, but felt Qianlin press a finger to his lips.

“No need to explain,” she chuckled.

Lan Jue felt relieved and appreciative. “You trust me that much, huh?”

She smiled. “Not just you, I trust myself too. If a girl steals you away it means I wasn’t enough of a catch, or you don’t like the kind of girl I am. What’s the point of forcing things? I know that even if there were a hundred women around you, you’d still be with me.”

Lan Jue turned around and looked at her. He’d learned that she was soft on the outside with a core of iron, but he didn’t know she felt like this. She gave her a thumbs-up and a sigh. “The Pharmacist herself has lived a bitter life, what she did today though was to help me.”

Qianlin nodded. “That what I guessed. I’m sad I couldn’t be the one to help you. I really envy her strength – she’s something else.”
This earned a chuckle. Lan Jue’s voice grew authoritative. “What are you waiting for, then? Let’s get strong!” He wrapped an arm around her waist leaned in. Qianlin just felt the warmth of his lips for a split second, before dissolving in to radiant white light.

Lan Jue sighed as he felt the power flood through him. There was less and less resistance each time they joined, like she was water that flowed through every part of him. If only she were her, he thought, things would be perfect…

He sat cross-legged on the floor and began to meditate.

The cultivation he’d undergone in the last few days had served to firm up his Core considerably. The impurities within continued to be filtered out. In addition to this, he could feel the joining between him and Qianlin become more complete the more they did it. Their integrated powers were purer, and easier to command. Even when they were separated, he could feel a piece of her somewhere inside.

Lan Jue had had the unfortunate luck of facing ever-stronger enemies in the last few days of the tournament. It did, however, serve to help him get used to the limitations of his current rank. He was still pretty strong and ninth level second rank despite


the considerable drop from seventh, but his Discipline sat on a much firmer foundation now.  The  Pharmacist’s  explanation had helped ease his nerves, and now he was confident all he needed was time. This didn’t mean, however, that he could take his cultivation practices easily. Progress was only one by dutifully sensing one’s place in the world, and learning  the subtle presence of protogenia.

Lan Jue felt the path forward was clearer now than it had been when he was seventh rank. Sometimes it felt like he was being swept along by a current. He felt positive that when he did finally encounter his bottleneck, he would break through to discover his Domain.

They spent the night like this. Before they knew it, the light of the next morning was filtering through their window shades.

ζ

Each passing day of the tournament made the spectators more excited, especially thanks to the extensive news coverage. Now that things were coming to a close, these last few encounters were sure to be something to watch. They were all looking forward to the next phase of the entertainment; round robin.
There was of course still interest in the Double-Elimination events of the day. The fights were certain to be hard-fought, especially considering the astronomical rewards at stake. But aside from all the tactile rewards, everyone wanted to be a winner. Those who earned their place in these final twenty-four contestants were truly heroes of the people, and exceptional talents. None of them would fall easily to defeat, and were ready to face the increasingly steep odds.

It wasn’t only Lan Jue who felt himself become stronger from the ordeal. It was a similar situation for many. It was very rare that an Adept would have an opportunity to test themselves against such strong and varied opponents. The benefits were especially important for the great Adepts organizations, and each would gather together at the end of the day to discuss what they’d learned and analyze the competition. Ten days of this meant that very many Adepts had enjoyed various levels of growth. Those that had already lost also remained to see what they could learn from watching more fights.

This tournament was a great benefit for the entire world of Adepts, and humanity as a whole. Now the next stage was set to begin. Twenty-four pairs of eyes rose to the sky.

Chapter 429: Qi Mu, The Wolf King

Twenty-four enormous portraits were painted in the sky over the arena. The Pharmacist stood beside Lan Jue now, and no longer with the Skyfire delegates. She needn’t hide her affiliation with him after yesterday’s display. They stood shoulder to shoulder, with their eyes raised.

Some in the audience had guessed their relationship was close, and this confirmed it. Although, they couldn’t know the whole truth of their partnership.

The Citadels and Conclave could guess that Zeus was part of the Avenue if they didn’t already know, though they were at a loss as to why he would try to hide the fact and enter in to the tournament unaffiliated. In fact his whole demeanor was clearly low-key. Each fight he only used enough power to get the job done, appearing to actively hide his tactics from view. The deceit put his opponents on edge. He was also strong by association, because surely the Pharmacist wouldn’t be caught out with a weakling. No one was particularly interested in facing off against Zeus in the coming round.

“Match making has begun!” The Terminator’s rumbling voice boomed through the whole arena, without the aid of any amplification equipment. These last days of fighting were when
the true strength of the Adept world would be displayed, so he would narrate them personally for the benefit of the audience.

Silence fell in the wake of his announcement. All eyes were skyward. Twenty four pairs were fixated. As they looked on the portraits arranged themselves in to a circle and began to spin in a clockwise direction. It picked up speed until everything was a blur, and no one would guess which portrait was which.

The Pharmacist remained as passive as she always had been, as though none of this made any difference to her. Lan Jue was similarly at ease, and the two of them projected a powerful image of self-confidence.

The pictures stopped. The matches were made!

The reaction of the crowd spoke volumes as every eye went wide. There were even a few gasps from the audience. It was expected that there would be powerful matchups, but what they saw left them stunned. Twenty-two sets of eyes swung right to Zeus and the Pharmacist.

She had a strange look on her face. It was hard to tell behind Zeus’ mask, but his reaction could be imagined. The two
exchanged glances and the Pharmacist answered his concerned look with an enigmatic smile.

Their pictures were right there in the sky, right next to one another: The Pharmacist vs. Zeus.

Lan Jue heaved a sigh and a chuckle. “So I guess I’ll have to make it up against my next opponent.

The Pharmacist said nothing, but her mirth was shown in the slight raise to her brow.

Laughing after getting paired against the Pharmacist? They would think he was crazy, except that everyone had seen how close he and she were yesterday. It was worse than they thought, though. For those two, this was the worst result.

This was proven when, before they even looked toward the ring, the Pharmacist indicated that she would abstain from the match. In the round robin tournament each fighter had two chances, so it made the most sense for her to forfeit and she knew it. It kept the illusion of Zeus’ strength and she didn’t need to worry much about winning her next fight, whoever it was.
Lan Jue made out like a bandit. He avoided a very mean fight, was automatically in the quarter finals and earned an a-ranked power gem for it. Any remaining weaker Adepts in this group like him, though, could no longer hope for luck. Nothing short of total commitment to a fight would win it from here. After all, as this unfortunate event had shown, anyone could be unfortunate enough to run in to the Pharmacist. Their chances at washing out then were astronomical.

In the end, the match-up was a boon, assuring both of them would advance to the next round.

The Seamstress’ luck had reached its end when she was paired against Constantine. She also forfeit before the match began, allowing Constantine to move on. It was a wise decision, since it would be pointless to waste time and energy on a hopeless fight. Constantine and the Pharmacist were on an entirely different level from the rest of them and they knew it.

The fields had been rearranged again, this time to create two large rectangles. The twelve fight for today would be separated in to six batches. The first batch concluded in moments without a punch thrown. They went right to the second batch.

One of the fights was the Bartender, the one he’d first known
as Bahamut during the god-ranked battle. He knew his Discipline to be the conflicting elements of ice and fire. The Dark Citadel’s lycanthrope would be his challenger. The second fight was between a Convert specializing in close combat and the Necromancer.

The fighters took up positions, and began when the buzzer sounded.

The second batch was under way!

Lan Jue heard the Pharmacist mutter to him from his side. “This will be a hard match for the Bartender.”

“Oh?” Lan Jue answered. “Is the lycanthrope that strong?” He’d focused on his own business in this tournament, since he hadn’t come as part of the Avenue. He didn’t have all the information needed to make a fair assessment.

The Pharmacist explained. “Our intelligence tells us he’s a powerful acquired Talent named Qi Mu. He took to the fantascia genetica particularly well, well enough for them to call him the Wolf King. He’s one of the new generation representing the Dark Citadel. He doesn’t have the power or potential of the
vampire princess, by comparison, but he is very strong. Seventh level eighth rank, the peak of ninth level when he transforms. His specialty is close-combat, and his technique is said to be flawless. Speed, attack, defense and energy are all far above average.”

Lan Jue’s brows furrowed as he looked over toward the Bartender. For the Pharmacist to call praise the man so much, he likely couldn’t defeat the Wolf King himself. If he were seventh rank he’d be begging for a round against him, but as he was now it would be a very unfortunate meeting for him.

The Pharmacist continued. “The Bartender’s potential is impressive; A dual-Discipline Adept with a very rare pairing of ice and fire. He’s third rank, and strong, but stuck. His two Disciplines put him at around the power level of a fifth rank, but he can’t advance until he’s got some idea of his  Path forward. If he doesn’t he’ll be stuck forever. At any rate, he’s going to have a hard time defeating this Wolf King.

“The second fight won’t have any surprises, I think. The Necromancer’s name is Jiang Yuan, a seventh rank who was improved with genetica. He is a master of dark curses and our intelligence says he has some notion of protogenia – meaning he can turn in to a Lich and use Eldritch Hexes. Don’t look down on him for being a rank lower than Qi Mu, we haven’t seen his
full strength yet. We suspect he’s the ace in the hole for the Dark Citadel. The Convert isn’t bad, but not even as strong as that Chu Cheng. He doesn’t stand a chance against the Necromancer. He’ll have to hope for more luck next time.”

Lan Jue was happy to have some understanding of these two new faces from the Dark Citadel. Just in time to see what they can do.

Bartender vs the Wolf King!

The Bartender was as much aware of his poor standing as the Pharmacist, but he didn’t concede. Lan Jue wasn’t the only one who hoped to use this tournament as an opportunity to get stronger.

At his level of third rank his Disciplines of ice and fire had begun to intensify, but were still very difficult to join. They weren’t pure elements either, but magical manifestations of them. He could use one to compliment the other, and that was what had got him to this point. However, it looked like that was no longer enough. He needed more power and experience, he needed to get stronger, then he could continue along the path of understanding.
The Wine Master had told him once that his way forward was to feel the changes in his powers in the midst of combat. The stronger the Adept, the stronger the catalyst needed to break through.

Qi Mu’s cold, hard eyes glared at the Bartender. He kept him fixed with his gaze, until those eyes became a feral golden yellow. His already powerful form swelled further, transforming in the space of a breath in to a giant humanoid wolf.

His limbs were thick as tree trunks. Snarling lips were the only things not covered by coarse crimson hair, and a palpable aura of blood lust followed him. It was visible in the air, a vibrating mist of red.

There was a snarl and a flash of red! The Wolf King moved so quickly his afterimage remained. In no time at all he was face to face with the Bartender.

Chapter 430: Second Metamorphosis,

Silvermoon Alpha
“Raaaaagghhh!” The Wolf King Qi Mu raced like a lightning bolt right for the Bartender. The primal roar shook the Avenue fighter, and in the blink of an eye the Avenue fighter found himself face to face with an enormous red wolf’s jaws.

So fast! Surprise flashed through the Bartender’s eyes, and he retreated as quick as he could. As he went back, his arms went forward and the ring filled sound. A roar, like twin dragons.

Two powerful beams of light erupted from his palms, one blue and one red. The blue light was surrounded by a hazy mist of crystals, while the air around the red beam warped under intense heat. Two conflicting powers, both equally bleak for his enemy. It was like being caught between magma and glacier.

Booooooom–!

The explosion was followed by a deluge of energy. It struck Qi Mu so hard the dark pupils in his yellow eyes contracted. The force penetrating deep to his qi and blood.
But he was a shifter! Adapting was his specialty. A dark crimson aura spread out from the surface of his body, and it made him look even darker and more feral. He paused for just a moment to dodge the beams, then raced forward once again. He swiped, revealing terrible claws aglow in golden light.

The Bartender narrowed his eyes but stopped the retreat. He couldn’t go any further back or he’d be against the ring’s far border. That was a bad position to be in. He crouched, and the raging powers separated to either side of him. A pair of great dragons – one red, one blue – could faintly be discerned weaving in and out of reality behind him.

The Wolf King’s swipe came tearing through the air, and the Bartender threw his arm out to meet the blow. Clang! Those golden claws were held fast against the Bartender’s forearm, caught between dense dragon scales. They emerged from his skin, protruding several inches and capturing the blade-like claws between them. The Bartender took advantage and launched them both toward the sky. He began to spin as the dragon cries grew louder and more agitated.

The higher they rose the stronger the Bartender’s influence became. An aura of swirling red and blue surrounded the wolf’s claws first, then spread over all of Ju Mu’s body. His had was cramped like it’d be electrified, latched firmed to his enemy’s
arm. He was swept up with the Bartender, powerless to extricate himself.

The two diametrically opposed powers seemed to work as one, attempting to drill in to the Wolf King’s body. The energy itself was frightening, bringing with it an ominous aura of doom. Qi Mu was more than surprised. When he first met the fighter, he knew that the Bartender’s gifts were greater than his own. However, he thought his rank advantage would more than cover the discrepancy. In this moment, though, the Avenue representative felt unstoppable and indestructible. His attack hadn’t even left a mark.

Surprised or not, it didn’t slow him down. He urged his powers outward and expelled the infectious powers from his body. He tore at the Bartender with his free hand and struck him. There was a muffled clank, and the attack leveraged the Wolf King free to fall to the ground.

The Wolf King had been taken by surprise, but the Bartender was no less startled. The ability he’d just used was called Rise of the Twin Dragons, and it turned the explosive nature of his Discipline inward. The implosion doubled his power for a short time and made him nearly invulnerable. The only attacks that could penetrate his defense had to surpass his own strength three times over.
It was one of his most powerful and effective tricks, one that required a bit of protogenic knowledge to master. And yet, the Wolf King was far less affected by it than he’d thought. The beast even had the strength to purge the dual Disciplines beforehand. Instead of continuing to join as the Bartender’s powers were meant to, the Wolf King shattered them.

However, the Bartender hadn’t relied on luck to get so high in the tournament ladder. His reaction was quick as the lycanthrope’s.

The sound of screeching dragons never ceased. Before the Wolf King’s eyes the Bartender stretched and grew, warped in to a two-headed dragon seven meters long. The scaly mythical beast was split evenly down the middle, one half red and one half blue.

Icefire Wyvern, metamorphosis!

Qi Mu’s pupils contracted. He’d never met an Adept with this Discipline before, but he could tell right away that he was very strong. Few in the West were a match, he reckoned.

But natural talent didn’t always mean superiority. The greater
an Adept’s potential the more difficult progress became. This was especially true when breaking through to new ranks, and it was often discovered that these Adepts rose quickly, but could spend years at later ranks caught in a bottleneck. Qi Mu knew that true power came from only one road; talent, dedication, and understanding. Without one, you could never grow strong.

The Wolf King’s clawed feet dug in to the earth, and he thrust his chest out as he thrust his head toward the heavens.

“Aooorghouuuuuuuu!”

The bone-chilling howl rang through the air, and everything beneath the ring’s force shields darkened as though night had fallen. A full moon appeared above the crest of Qi Mu’s head, and it’s silvery light fell over him like a blanket.

“A second metamorphosis!” Lan Jue gasped from the waiting area.

A second metamorphosis like this was a sign of mastery for beast-class Disciplines. Only Adepts who’ve reached ninth level sixth rank could employ it, for the power almost evolved the Adept in to another form. It filled their blood.
Lan Jue had met one once. The Adept’s power awakened in the form of an ancient beast that turned him in to a veritable nightmare on the field. As he looked on, Lan Jue watched the blood red Wolf King grow even larger. Soon he was even more imposing than the Icefire Wyvern, stretching over eight meters long and five meters tall on all fours. He crouched like a small mountain, and as they looked on the color bled away from his fur. The once red wolf became silvery-white, its eyes as well. Qi Mu’s form exuded a majestic and intelligent grace.

Still crouched, the crowds could see something pressing out from beneath the wolf’s shoulder blades. It swelled until, with a piercing rrriip, Qi Mu’s fur parted and spat a pair of fully- formed wings.

The first batch had ended without any action, and was a great disappointment to the audience. Now they watched with wide eyes, for it was clear these Adepts were pulling out all the stops.

Two orbs of ice and fire were spat from the maws of the Icefire Wyvern. He’d seen the transformation, but at this point his only option was to forge ahead.

The long lupine face gave the wyvern a mockery of a grin. His enormous front legs waved and a flash of silver shot out.
Moments later the Bartender’s orbs erupted without warning, too far to cause him harm. Below the great silver wolf’s wings beat once, and he rose high in to the air.

He was too fast to see. When he reappeared Qi Mu was hovering over the Bartender, bearing down on his prey.

“I concede!” The Bartender’s voice cried.

For a moment the scene froze. The Bartender’s cry had stopped Qi Mu just as his razor-sharp talons were at his back. In a flash the silver wolf was back on the ground.

Lan Jue, watching from the sidelines, was distracted when he noticed the Pharmacist from the corner of his eye. Her lips were moving as though she were speaking, but he couldn’t hear what she was saying.

She was projecting her voice? Could the Bartender really hear her from this far and through those shields?

The match was over! Qi Mu, the Wolf King, emerged victorious. The audience were somewhat disappointed that the
final clash never commenced, but the drama of their transformations was plenty entertaining. For most of them it was probably the first time they’d seen a second metamorphosis.

The Bartender left the ring with a sour expression. He looked once at the Pharmacist and nodded, then instead of leaving went to his sofa and watched. Tactics and knowledge came in to play now, as these duels were all between powerful contenders. He had to see what he could learn from the other fights.

Jiang Yuan the Necromancer was nearly finished in the other ring. The Convert was strong, but he couldn’t penetrate Jiang Yuan’s control. His curses tormented him with sluggishness, weakness, preventing him from affecting any sort of real damage. Qi Mu was strong, but it was a shadow of Jiang Yuan’s true strength. This was proven with his leadership position in the Citadel, and his presence here as their trump card. His current opponent wasn’t enough to make him tip his hand, however.

“Did you know about the second metamorphosis?” Lan Jue asked the Pharmacist beside him.

She nodded. “The Silvermoon Alpha, a rare and powerful
evolution. He has exceptional strength and speed, and wings for flight and heightened maneuverability. That’s just part of it, though. The worst, is he’s practically invulnerable to the six elements.”

Lan Jue grunted in appreciation. Water, fire, earth, wind, light and dark… he was empowered against them all. Luckily for Lan Jue things like time, space, and lightning Disciplines didn’t fall in to those categories. They were either composite elemental powers, mystical or occult. None of this helped the Bartender.

It was no wonder the Pharmacist convinced him to concede when one knew the breadth of his power and defense. With the added hurdle of their rank discrepancy, the Bartender hadn’t stood a chance. Even if he’d suddenly broken through to sixth rank and gained more control over his powers, his chances wouldn’t have exceeded fifty-fifty. The Wolf King was too strong, much stronger than he could have known.

ζ

Metatron sat on the viewing platform with a dour expression. Qi Mu and Jiang Yuan… everything the Pontiff’s Citadel knew about them was terribly wrong.

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