Chapter 461: Comprehensive Response
The Epochrion looked at her compatriot, genuinely stunned. “Are you thinking of doing something?”
The Terminator heaved a sigh. “There always needs to be a bad guy. As leader of the North, that mantle falls to me. Anyway, I’ve been seen as an enemy to the East for a very long time already.”
She sighed, but did not respond.
He went on in a soft, detached voice. “If you don’t agree I won’t force you to get involved. You’re from the East, after all.”
“You must consider our real enemies,” she said in a low voice. “We should try to preserve all of humanity’s power for that fight.”
“Then let it be the North’s power!” He said, his voice rising in pitch. “NOT the East, do you understand?”
She regarded him in silence for a moment, then sighed. “We
must think on it. Let’s wait and see what the rest of the tournament has in store.”
After lunch, Lan Jue made his way back to the hotel where Qianlin was waiting. She saw his pensive look and answered with high spirits. “You really showed them today! What a victory!”
He chuckled. “Qi Mu underestimated me. It’s an important lesson for you; never walk in to a fight with assumptions. His Discipline is much stronger than mine, and even with my martial arts I couldn’t keep defending myself completely. But he underestimated me, and that let me get the upper hand. I found an opening and was able to let loose with my full power. If this had been a real battle it would have been even worse for him.”
“There’s was another reason he lost, though, and that was faith. After his loss to Titan he was already in low spirits. It has affected is self-confidence, and for that reason the fight was easier than it should have been.”
Qianlin looked at him with a hint of anxiety in her eyes.
“You’re facing Titan yourself, tomorrow. Should we join for the fight?”
Lan Jue shook his head. “Not yet. I want to feel it out first and see where his Discipline’s at. After that we’ll re-asses.”
She nodded. “So should we cultivate?”
“Yup.” Lan Jue needed to relax and take some time to reflect over the joining of his Taiji and Lightning skills and how they’d joined today.
A Coffee Shop.
Hua Li sat with a cup of dark coffee cradled in his hands. The brew had begun to chill, but he still took the occasional sip. He was still hidden beneath the glasses and hat, but the facemask had been removed for practical reasons. He was seated in a far corner, and seemed unconcerned about being discovered.
Mo Xiao sat across from him with a cup of juice, untouched.
“You’ve got to stop taking digs at Lan Jue. I’ve told you a dozen times.” Hua Li patiently explained.
Mo Xiao’s response was measured. “I’m a sports caster, I was narrating the fight. You’re imagining things.”
Hua Li sighed in exasperation. “I wish that was the case… I wish I was down there with him.”
She shook her head without hesitation. “Unacceptable. Poseidon cannot lose. Fans can guess, but they can never see you lose with their own eyes. You’re an idol and an inspiration, Lord of the Seas – do you understand?”
“More often than not, I wish I was just a normal guy.” The rock star pitifully lamented.
“Telling me doesn’t mean anything,” she said with smirk. “Tell that to your family. And if there’s nothing else then it’s time to go back, we still have to rehearse. Don’t forget that the Epochrion and the Terminator will both be at the closing
Hua Li’s face fell. “I never thought it’d get this serious.”
Mo Xiao nodded knowingly. “But crisis can also bring opportunity. I got news from DreamNet that someone had gotten an alien Core from Taihua. It was full of vitality, which could be processed for human use. An Adept who used it could have their vitality improved, and may even have their lives extended. It’s even more potent than the fantascia genetica. Once research is complete, this should be an incredible boon for humanity.”
Hua Li looked stunned. “Really?”
She smiled, then added softly. “I would never dare lie to you. I learn more than that, too. There was also news of an auction on Lyr where an s-ranked Tear of Neptune was sold. It didn’t earn much. Do you know how the Tear is used?”
Hua Li thought for a minute. “I think it purifies the energy of other power gems.”
She nodded. “That’s right. And those alien Cores? They’re a lot like power gems. With a Tear of Neptune it could purify whatever alien potency it has. The only thing left would be that pure enhancing essence. With that we could start researching in full.”
Anticipation twinkled in Hua Li’s eyes. He blurted, “Mo Xiao. You really have a head for business. I’m pretty sure you’ve evolved passed humanity at this point.”
She gave him a demure smile. “Of course. I speculate to accumulate. I’ve already presented the plan to the board of directors.”
Hua Li laughed. “Again I’m the last to know.”
“But you are the patriarch,” she said, suddenly solemn. “Everything I do, you have to know I do it for you.”
Hua Li sniffed. “Could you not? The more you put it the less it seems to pay off. I don’t want that for you.”
Mo Xiao fell silent. After a time, she replied in a low voice. “I
have no expectations for you or what you will become. I only do as much as I’m willing to do, because seeing you happy makes me happy. That’s what you do when you love somebody, you do what you can to make them happy. If this plan works out, then it will be a victory for all of humanity. They will live longer, and I’m convinced that will not be the only benefit.”
Hua Li looked at her with a serious look. “Alright, let’s go and rehearse. It looks like the Gobi Entertainment Group will have to throw their gauntlets in to the fray.”
Mo Xiao looked right back. “I just hope when we’re ready it’s not already too late.”
“DreamNet upgrade is sixty-nine percent complete.”
“Continue the update. Maintain security.”
“Continuing DreamNet upgrade.”
Eastern Alliance, Planet Skyfire. National Eastern University.
“The Drillmaster won it! He’s the best! When are we going to be as strong as he is?”
“Stop daydreaming. At our age, we’re past due. The Drillmaster is on another level, still young – I think they say the cut-off is forty. Do you think we’ll be as strong as he is, even when we’re forty?”
“Who says? If we keep working as hard as we did in the A.R.C. classes then it’s a piece of cake!”
“Then you better pray the Drillmaster gets back soon to keep training us. All those needles and lightning and hot baths weren’t so bad.”
“You’re a damn sadist!”
“Heh, you’re one to talk. It was your idea, wasn’t it? If you
want to be a hero, what’s a little hardship along the way? At least I’m gunna be ready – he cooked us once and he’s gunna cook us again. I’m gunna go cultivate, so that when the Drillmaster gets back he’ll see how much I’ve improved. Then I’ll learn even more!”
“H-hey! Wait for me!”
The Pharmacist sat by the window, staring out at Luo City as it twinkled in the night. Jun’er lay peacefully in her arms. She looked up at her mother and smiled. “Mama, I’m so happy I got to come. Thank you for bringing me, and daddy, too.”
The Pharmacist smiled down at the little one. “Mommy used to think differently. I should have brought you out much earlier. It was your father’s suggestion.”
Jun’er went on. “Mommy, I do miss home a little though.
Skyfire Avenue is our home. When will we be going back?”
Her gentle voice answered. “When the tournament is over,
sweetheart, then we’ll go home. Do you really think daddy’s going to be the champion?”
Jun’er nodded resolutely. “I saw it, I know it’s the truth.
Daddy will be champion.”
“Alright.” The Pharmacist nodded at her and gently stroked the small girl’s hair. “Sleep little one. Tomorrow you can keep cheering us on. Especially daddy. If he’s going to be champion, then he’s got a big fight.”
“Yeah, but daddy’s still going to win.”
The room was dark, and cold. It stank of wet metal, like an alloy factory. A single figure occupied the center of the room. His bare back rippled with swollen muscles.
His face revealed traces of pain. A fine, metallic sweat trickled from his bald head. Most startling, though, was the sound they made – like metal scraping across metal as they popped from the pores.
Veins like writhing worms thumped below his skin. The rhythm was chaotic, and made the whole of him seem unbalanced.
His skin had become metal, from head to toe. The hue of it changed constantly; sometimes a radiant silver, sometimes an ashen grey, sometimes shimmering gold. He flickered between the three of them. The area around him also affected, and started to warp uncomfortably. At the borders of the light, a deep abysmal black appeared were reality was cracked. It was like he wasn’t really there at all, but somewhere between there and another dimension.
Chapter 462: I Must Win!
The two silver-clad women sat in a tidy room. They looked at the ten-digit number flashing on their communicators, then exchanged looks.
“Quite a lot of money!”
“Of course. This was the boss’ task for us. What do you think the odds are for tomorrow’s fight?”
“Worse than today’s, I guess. His challenger is really strong.”
“It’s so easy to earn money in the North! That’s good, since we need money when we go back. Heheh… feels good.”
“But do you think he’ll win tomorrow?”
“Of course! He has to.”
The streets around the Great Conclave Arena were packed tight, even in the early morning. The lines stretched for almost ten blocks. Scalpers prowled the area looking for people desperate enough to buy their criminally overpriced tickets. They were still able to catch a few nibbles, though. Ticket scalpers had been anxious since so few were buying. Electronic tickets were set with the buyer’s name and other info, making them hard to sell, but there were always loopholes.
The waiting crowds chatted amongst themselves, raising the city’s decibel levels. “So which fight are you looking forward to today,” one asked. Another answered sighed.
“Man, I dunno. At least on the books it doesn’t look like there’s anything to get very excited about. But we’ll see! The fight between the Pharmacist and Jiang Yuan might be worth watching. You guys remember that skull Jiang Yuan summoned in the quarter-finals? Someone told me it’s some sort of lizard skull. Lizard my ass, that thing’s like a demon dragon. The Terminator called it something, malcontent or whatever. I dunno if he’ll use it in the next fight, but he’s facing the
Pharmacist so I’m interested in taking a look.”
“All you have to do is take a look at the odds to know which one will be worth a watch, silly. The Pharmacist sits at zero point eight, and Jian Yuan is one point two – the closest spread today. That’ll definitely be the fight to watch.”
“The lightning Adept from Group One also has two wins. He beat Qi Mu. Do you think he has a chance against Titan?”
“Pfft, you’re dreaming. Were you asleep for Titan’s fight? You saw how strong he is. Whatever that sparkplug dude things he’s up to, he’s got nothing on Titan. One punch and the fight’s over, that’s my prediction.”
“Hah! Nailed it, one punch. I put five grand on Titan today, even though the odds were only point five. Pocket change for winnings, but still. The masked one is at point four, but who’s going to put any bets on him?”
“Oh don’t even start. I put money on Qi Mu yesterday and then he lost, damn near killed me. I put all the rest of my savings on Titan, so I’ll win it all back when he takes today’s victory.”
“Gambling has a dangerous habit of ruining families. Y'all should be careful.”
Gambling in all forms is very illegal in China, but it’s a big part of the culture. Underground gambling establishment – at least in my town – were on almost every street
There was an electric buzz and the audience took their seats. Today the final four would be chosen. The revelers outside were indicative of the larger interest; most people were anxious for Group Two, where they would see the Pharmacist and Jiang Yuan go head-to-head.
If Jiang Yuan beat the Pharmacist, and Titan beat Zeus, than the final four would contain two Easterners, a Northerner and a Westerner. The two Easterners already qualified, but they weren’t Avenue representatives. That would be a situation the Great Conclave could accept.
The Terminator sat in a locker room, perched upon a bench that had been specifically designed to hold his girth. He sat across from Titan, whose face looked like burnished metal.
“Stable?” He asked.
Titan nodded. “More or less.”
The Terminator’s voice was low and solemn. “You’ve chosen a very difficult road. But there is nothing impossible in the face of determination.”
Titan replied. “I have faith in my choice. I know it will make it much harder for me to break through, but my Path is all about faith. For that reason I cannot lose, and I will win glory for the North. My understanding, my vision of my Path will become clearer with each fight. Please, master, don’t worry; I will improve. This is not a step backward.”
The Terminator forced a smile. “Well said! But don’t underestimate your opponent – that was Qi Mu’s mistake. That Zeus… there’s a lot to him, he’s no simple Adept. I suspect he’s Jue Di’s disciple. His Discipline isn’t as simple as it looks, either. I haven’t seen him use Jue Di’s other trademark mastery, but handle him with care. Give it everything you’ve got.”
Lan Jue was the last one to enter the waiting area. All of the other remaining competitors were already waiting in their respective sofas. Xuanyuan Shishi shot him a thumbs up and beamed a friendly smile of encouragement. Jong Yongye sat nearby, with his eyes closed. Meditating, he suspected.
The Driver – who had lost his last two fights – sat with an inexplicable smirk on his face. He seemed to have forgotten that the White Blademaster would be his opponent today.
“Quite the atmosphere!” the Pharmacist beamed at Lan Jue.
He chortled back. “Doesn’t matter what’s going on today, I’m not a high school student, I can control myself.”
She smiled. “What? You don’t remember High school well?”
Lan Jue shook his head. “How could I not? We only have our youth once. But if we did go back, I’d probably panic again.”
A strange expression flitted across the Pharmacist’s face, and she adopted a far-off look. “Yeah…. Going back would be nice…”
He gave her an apologetic pat on the shoulder before sitting beside her.
His eyes then turned to his future opponent. When he saw Titan’s face – that metallic, silver façade- he knew that his guesses yesterday were correct. The Terminator’s apprentice was different.
As he pondered, a sudden and all-pervasive aura poured from him. It was full of arrogance.
The remaining players were all strong Adepts – they all felt it. Xuanyuan Shishi turned his eyes to Zeus, surprise in their depths. Jun Yongye snapped out of his meditative silence. The White Blademaster gave him a fixed and serious look as though he were thinking something. Titan answered by narrowing his eyes. The power around him thickened perceptibly. A host of eyes fell on Zeus. At least they had all been made aware that Zeus had no intention of losing quietly. He’ll be going in to that fight, ready to leave it all on the field.
The VIP Booth
“Sis, am I looking at this right? Three hundred million dollars! I have never in my life spent that much money before,” one of the women in silver fleece said to her companion, seated beside her.
“Stimulating! It feels great. Think about it, his odds are around point four again, that means a profit of over a million dollars. The numbers are dropping after our bet, too. Once all bets have been placed we stand to make a killing.”
“He’ll win! He’s got to win!”
The VIP platform.
“I’m sure you’ve come to anticipate my question, Your Majesty; which fight are you most interest in today?” Mo Xiao asked with a smile.
The Terminator gave her an easy grin, and spoke softly. “There are two.”
“Two?” Group One and Two I assume?” She went on.
Mo Xiao said “Does this mean you aren’t confident in Titan’s chances to win his group?”
The Paragon chuckled. “There are quite a number of twists and turns we’ve seen. I’m hoping for an entertaining match. We did not host this tournament to celebrate winning, or to demonize losing. Our greatest desire is that these brilliant up- and-comers have a chance to improve. By the end, they will leave better than when they came. We also intend for this to be a source of inspiration for young Adepts. We want them to be determined, and to grow strong. The stellar migration has been a boon for our species, and it continues to be the highest priority for us as denizens of the stars. If we wish to become the masters of universe, we’ll need power to do it.”
Mo Xiao thoughtfully nodded her head as he spoke. She was surprised, the Paragon was particularly chatty today. Meanwhile, the Gourmet sat on the Paragon’s other side with a contemplative smile on his face. Jun’er looked up at him. “Uncle Gourmet? Why do you have such a mean smile?”
Cough! Cough! The Gourmet’s face went rigid. He feigned a fit of coughing to keep her quiet.
The Terminator spared them only a passing glance, with calm eyes, before turning back to the ring.
“There you have it ladies and gentlemen, I hope you were listening! Our first fight will be the one many will be watching; Titan versus Zeus! Whoever wins will emerge as Group One’s finalist. Will our first competitors please make their way to the field, and get ready for battle!”
Titan slowly rose to his feet. It was like watching a mountain uproot. The aura of his intent was so pervasive it made breathing difficult for those around him. He spared a moment to look briefly at Lan Jue, then walked to the ring.
Lan Jue also stood and rearranged the mask on his face, fixing it in place. He took long and eager strides to the field.
As far as Lan Jue was concerned, the most important fight of the tournament was about to get underway. He was about to compete against the closest thing to a manufactured Paragon that the North possessed – the Terminator’s disciple.
Chapter 463: The Clash With Titan
In his heart there was only a singular thought; I must defeat my opponent. In defeating Titan, Zeus would prove that he deserved his spot in the final four. It would be a chance for him to learn more from the sword masters.
Lan Jue’s gains from this excursion had been tremendous. Still, he wasn’t satisfied. There was more to learn. The fire of battle was lit in Lan Jue’s chest. How strong is this pure-force Adept, he wondered. He wasn’t sure, but the moment he walked in to the ring and the force field shut behind him, he could sense Titan’s aura bearing down on him.
On the other side Titan was also stepping in. His chest was thrust out, and a prideful light shone in his eyes.
They nodded at one another. There was no banter, no threats.
“Final fight of the Group One quarter-finals will now get underway!”
“Three, two, one. Begin!”
Mo Xiao’s cries and the fight buzzer quickly gathered everyone’s attention.
Titan initiated, stomping his left foot hard upon the ground in front of him.
Boom! A shockwave tore across the arena so fast the air roared in protest. Lan Jue hadn’t expected an opening offensive from below, but he wasn’t flustered. He shot in to the air, clearing the top crest of the shock wave. Hands pressed against his ears to protect against the sonic boom.
His upward rise quickly became a charge, as Zeus became a bolt of lightning. The electric lance fired right for Titan. He was answering with a blitz offensive!
Titan grunt when he saw it. However, in the same moment that his foot had hit the ground, the convert’s fist was already cocked.
A roar to rival the blast of a fusion engine screamed through the arena. The force field actually rose against the pressure like a balloon in a tempest. The blast stopped Lan Jue’s charge dead, and sent him careening through the air. He met with the field
like a cannon shot. To him, the blast felt unstoppable. It even rippled through him, sending his Discipline in to chaos, and although he’d used his Taiji powers he was still thrown across the arena.
He was even having trouble breathing. When he hit the shield, every bone in his body popped. Lan Jue suspected he’d look very much like hamburger meat if he didn’t know Taiji. Titan was certainly a ninth rank Talent – even peaked. There was no way for Lan Jue’s own energy to compete directly with that force.
Now, bounced back from the boundary of the ring, Lan Jue was in free fall. Crackling lights appeared around him, however, and he fired against in to the air.
Titan took another step toward his foe, and thrust his palm forward. Lan Jue instantly felt another wave of force displacing air around them. Now, though, he knew what to expect. His defense was something he’d never shown before.
He shot toward the edge of the ring instead of for Titan. It was
the same portion of the force field the convert had punched toward. He got there before the blast did, with enough time to swing his arms in to a circle. In between them, the conflicting and symbiotic powers of yin and yang swirled. When Titan’s attack did arrive, the orb of energy devoured most of it. Lan Jue was blasted away again, but much gentler compared to the last time.
Titan’s answer was to do it again, three more times. Three terrific blasts of thunder preceded three columns of pure force. They shone like rays of sunlight.
And then the force shield shattered. Even the four powerful Adepts pouring their Disciplines in to it, couldn’t stop the shield from fracturing. The terrific blast was headed right for the audience.
Just then, a glittering rainbow of color descended from above. It didn’t isolate the ring, but instead separated the crowd from the fight. When Titan’s waves of Force struck the shimmering shield, it was immediately weakened and dispersed.
Lan Jue didn’t enjoy the same protections. There was no getting away from it, and when it hit him he felt like every bone in his body was reduce to powder. For his Core, it was like
someone had a grip on it and was trying to break it apart as well.
This pure Force was nightmarish, and he silently prayed even enough respite to catch a breath. While it had looked like three strikes, he had been assaulted by one continuous assault. Even before the first one passed him by, the second was bearing down, and then the third. He flailed head over heels until the shimmering rainbow shield stopped him.
This force field was different, softer. It seemed like it had some sort of negative energy that sapped the ferocity from Lan Jue’s flight, then returned him inexplicably to the ring. It was then he saw the figure overhead, of a woman in resplendent white. He didn’t know when she appeared there, but as he looked she folded her hands. Their battleground was once more isolated beneath a powerful shield.
“The Epochrion!” The first voice to call out her name was quickly lost in a sea of excited chatter.
Was this her? The fourth most powerful of the ten Paragons?
“Pfah!” Lan Jue spat a mouthful of blood. He felt like his insides had been wrapped around each other. Every inch of him
hurt, every bone ached, and he felt like he might fall apart at any moment.
Horrifying. Was this Titan’s power? No… that can’t be. He wasn’t this strong when he fought Qi Mu.
Even a peak ranked Adept couldn’t completely defend against this, unless they had secrets of their own. His Taiji skills had been just enough. He couldn’t even have a chance to put his tactics in to play – this was total control.
Titan gave his foe a cool look. His chilly voice called out. “Give up.” Lan Jue wasn’t his target. The Terminator’s disciple looked pointed at Jun Yongye on the sidelines.
That one was his greatest threat.
“I haven’t lost yet!” He grit his teeth, and pushed himself up off the floor. He looked like a mad man, and droplets of fresh blood trickled from the bottom of his mask.
“You want to die? Then I shall oblige you.” Titan’s voice became detached, and cold. His meaty fist rose.
Zeus took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and spread open his arms.
“Hera. I need you.”
A piercing white light radiated out from him. Thunder rolled, and flashes of lightning crackled within. A burst of light shot out, and hung over a three meter diameter around him.
Luo City, Intercontinental Hotel.
Zhou Qianlin sat cross-legged in the middle of the hotel room, lost in meditation. Then, an inkling in the back of her mind caused her eyes to pop open. There was a flash of white light – and she was gone.
This was the moment she’d been waiting for, and the reason she wasn’t at the tournament.
A pearl of white, surrounded by writhing veins of lightning.
Titan stopped, his fist still ready for a punch. Something didn’t feel right. A moment ago his enemy couldn’t hold a candle to his power. Now… it was different.
Suspended in air, the Epochrion watched the fight from her eagle-eyed vantage. She, too, was surprised at the inexplicable milky light. Even she could not see what lay beneath, but she felt it. There was something…. more, in the ring. What was immediately clear, was the surge of power coming from the masked Monarch.
Ninth level third rank… no, fourth… fifth. Sixth!
Seventh, eighth, ninth rank!
In only a few seconds, he traversed what would take Adepts years of painstaking work. When the light receded, the broken man from before was gone. In his place stood the towering, majestic figure of the God of Lightning – Zeus!
Titan’s eyes narrowed to thin slits. “I knew you were full of
sleazy gimmicks. We finally see the wolf in sheep’s clothing.
The Chinese is ‘reveal your fox’s tail.’ A trope in Chinese fantasy is the idea of magical animals – like foxes – that can change in to humans. Foxes in particular are often regarded negatively, and there are many stories of beautiful women who lure men away in to the woods only to murder them as magical foxes.
Lan Jue’s response was equally tepid. “Now we’re on a level playing field. We can really test what the Terminator taught you, against my Taiji. Don’t hold back – try the Fiend-crusher!”
Titan fixed him with a portentous stare. “We’ll see if you can survive it.”
Lan Jue narrowed his eyes. Bolts of electricity immediately fanned out, and wrapped around him as smooth as golden silk. The dramatic rise in rank had also granted him greatly improved control over his Discipline. Those threads of gold spun around him in near-perfect symmetry. Like the lightning had completely shed its wild nature.
Titan challenged him with a battle cry, and punched his
Zeus didn’t dodge, retreat or deflect. He took a step forward, and threw a punch of his own.
The rings of lightning shot out, becoming rays of electric light. As they pierced the air they joined, forming in the image of a giant sword chopping at his foe.
Lan Jue’s diminished Discipline had brought him this far. Now he had come across one who was not just a contender – he was a menace. It would be the same for every enemy he would face going forward.
He’d tried what he could, but in the end he had no choice but to rely on Qianlin. When they joined his Discipline strengthened to surpass even his former power. A peak-level Zeus was truly almost god-like!
Titan’s attack struck the shield with the force of an air strike. But there was something else, cutting against the grain and
impervious to his overwhelming Force. It was a streak of golden light, and it hit Titan head on.
Chapter 464: A Good Hand
A bell-shaped aura sprang out around Titan, warding off Zeus’ attack!
Zeus was pitting his Discipline against pure Force, and had the upper hand. Empowered as he was, his control over lightning was supreme. He longer had to fight for control, and created a much more stable – and deadly – electric current.
The VIP platform was silent. Even the Gourmet, knowing all he did, still looked stunned. The North’s Paragon watched with a stone-faced glower. His premonition had turned out correct, and this Zeus was much more than he appeared. Their intel had been wrong, but he was shocked to find by how much.
In the row behind, Metatron’s eyes burned, and his eyes fists were clenched. If there had been any doubt before, the sudden rise in strength put them all to rest. This was the one who was so bold as to break in to the Cathedral. This man was the one who stole away their assets. Zeus was the one who had brought such public shame upon the Pontiff’s Citadel. And – the bastard!
– Skyfire Avenue’s Jewelry Master!
Every one of the Avenue’s representatives just looked on, eyes wide and mouths open. The Accountant was as pale as a sheet. “W-what the hell happened,” he muttered to himself. “When did he get so strong?”
In the waiting area.
Xuanyuan Shishi’s eyebrows shot up. He, too, couldn’t help but speak up. “With a little stamina… brother, what do you think?”
Jun Yongye nodded his head. “Not bad. He’s got a good hand!”
The only one not taken aback by Lan Jue’s sudden transformation, was the Pharmacist. Only she was fully aware of the young man’s situation. Or so she thought – she had no idea he could join with Qianlin from so far away. That was a daunting revelation.
Titan’s eyes reflected the shock most everyone else felt. Part of that was for his own display. He’d hardly put a lot of power behind those three strikes of his, but they were each as formidable as his strongest attacks before the upgrade.
However, his enemy’s golden light pierced through like it was nothing more than a stiff breeze. This was in part because he had underestimated his foe, and partly because of Zeus’ sudden rise.
Titan roared and charge forward with earth-trembling strides. As he advanced, his energies poured in to the bell-shaped shield around him. It rotated around his hulking form, faster and faster.
Zeus stood calm and collected. Electricity slithered out around him, some thin as tendrils as others thick as tree branches. They hugged the monarch tight, forming in to a twinkling suit of electric armor.
The golden-masked being hovered in the air, with his golden cloak flapping behind and light bursting from his dazzling armor. He looked indiscernible from the mythical Zeus of old.
Titan heaved his enormous girth in to the air. His fists rose with him, and as his trajectory brought him crashing toward Lan Jue those fists aimed to smash him in to the floor. Even before he hit the ground, its alloy surface seemed to bow in terrified anticipation.
Zeus didn’t move. Calmly, his left hand extended forward. Titan’s fist first collided with that extended hand, but Lan Jue pivoted just as they made contact. His other hand stretched out, and radiating a strange energy, guided the massive convert away mid-air.
Then Lan Jue moved again. To Titan, it just felt like he’d miscalculated and went barreling toward the prismatic shield. But under Lan Jue’s subtle directions, he instead crashed unceremoniously in to the ground.
The entire Conclave Arena trembled from the impact. Even with Titan’s famously powerful defense, he certainly felt that.
The Nine Strikes of Taiji; Parry, Block and Punch!
This is one move that happens all at once. I couldn’t find a good example of this one move, but here’s a good video of the practical application of Taiji by an American hippie.
Lan Jue exploited the opening and, continuing the pivot,
brought his right hand crashing down right on top of Titan. At the point of impact, a bolt of lightning thick as a tree hit right where Lan Jue’s fist landed. BOOM!
The force buried Titan further in the alloy floor of the arena. The lightning strike had been so intense it turned the whole thing gold. But he frowned. If his control was really at its peak than one hit should have been enough.
The crowd saw it differently. They could only gape at precisely the opposite of what they’d all thought would happen. The scene was familiar, though the players were reversed. How masterful did this masked man’s cultivation get?
What Titan had undergone in the last couple of days, had been the next step in the Paragon manufacturing process. What many did not know, was that the North had their own form of fantascia genetica that they employed in their experimentation
– a formula no less potent than the West’s. Since the Terminator had trained him, he had avoided the trap of replacing too much of his natural body with machinery. This had allowed them to move forward with this next progression. Ultimately it was a failure though, and they knew it. Comprehension of protogenia was not something science could emulate.
In his bid to win the crown, for the glory of his Master, Titan had taken this formula to stimulate the full breadth of his potential. He was already at his peak, so this was intended to force him right up against the barrier to Paragon.
But the power and influence he gained through this wasn’t real understanding, and thus not a real manifestation of Domain. This was the difference between Jun Yongye and himself. Although the blademaster wasn’t a ninth rank, his understanding was deep. Titan believed the difference in Discipline would be enough.
Yet in the face of Titan’s upgrades, his faith, and his strength, Zeus was still controlling the fight. The convert could not know that Zeus’ Ascension and Qianlin’s Queen of Heaven transformations had joined entirely. This promoted not only Zeus’ Discipline, but his protogenic command. Now it was all brought together here, the God of Lightning showed much more power than he had in the Pontiff’s Citadel.
Zeus also benefitted from two Disciplines. Just as thunder followed lightning, as one rose in power so did the other. He was two peak-ranked Adepts in one. Although Titan’s pure Force was impressive, Lan Jue’s Taiji skills made sure they weren’t insurmountable.
“Aaahhhhhh!” Another roar as Titan stumbled to his feet. He veritably poured with an oppressive aura. Zeus was not reckless, and retreated to assess the situation on the far side of the ring.
From within the divot, the convert’s body began to swell. Before the eyes of the audience, he stretched until he became as large as the titans of old. His clothes exploded in to shreds, with his modestly carefully protected by briefs of super-elastic material. His eyes blazed red, but his body was a union of silver and gold. His skin was a pure luminous white, and the gold flowed through his pulsing veins. Rays of glorious golden light painted the ring.
This was the manifestation of Titan’s greatest faith. His impenetrable defense grew with him, and the displacement of power caused the arena to shake once more. It shook as much from his strength as the cheers of his Northern compatriots.
Zeus regarded his opponent with dispassionate eyes. Metalmorphosis? Or something else? He could clearly feel the tempest that was Titan’s Discipline, swirling around them. It must be something granted through his conversion, some kind of installation to strengthen his abilities.
It achieved the same effect Lan Jue experienced in
compressing his Core, though not to the same degree. Still, Lan Jue had to acknowledge that what he saw before him was daunting. Titan was a hair’s breadth from Paragon, and some aspects of his power were probably already at that level.
Zeus took a steadying breath. He slowly extended his right hand forward and followed with a step. He flowed in this way like rolling clouds, difficult to directly face. If he wanted to overcome the strength of a Paragon, he had but one path; be yielding! Be fluid so that the full force of his power had nowhere to land.
“Boom!” Titan’s right foot stamped hard against the ground. A shockwave with the force of ten earthquakes rattled right for Zeus.
But ten meters from him, the vibrations simply stopped. Distant areas of the ring tossed and buckled, like a sea in stormy weather. Zeus was unmoved.
The enormous Titan roared again, and threw himself in a forward charge. His massive, metallic fist exploded through the air toward his opponent and fired a ray of golden light.
Lan Jue lifted his arms, and gently allowed them stretch out; Apparent Close Up.
A steady glow of black and white appeared in his palms. But as tendrils of electricity worked their way through the energies, both turned an incandescent gold. He effortlessly deflected Titan to the side, into the ring’s shield.
Titan responded with an apocalyptic hail of punches. Lan Jue danced around them, masterfully employing his Master’s teaching: Grasp the Bird’s Tail, Parting the Horse’s Mane, White Crane Spreads Its Wings. Each one, at the very last moment, turned away Titan’s murderous attacks. They weren’t the nine strikes, but the basic moves and practice of leverage gave him the edge over overwhelming force.
But while it looked effortless, one could imagine the kind of stress it put on Zeus to face off against a near-Paragon. He felt like a blade beneath the blacksmith’s hammer, but the beating only resulted in tempering his mastery of Taiji.
Chapter 465: What’s This Trash?
A pale white light surrounded Lan Jue, making his body seem oddly fluid. He slid around the fiend-crusher attacks, giving Titan no opportunity to land a blow.
This wasn’t a skill that Lan Jue possessed, at least not inherently. This was Zhou Qianlin’s Queen of Heaven. As the most peaceful and supportive of Disciplines, it wasn’t particularly masterful in defense. However, what it did do was greatly enhance the capabilities of her target. Her Queen of Heaven enhancement helped Lan Jue more perfectly join the yin and yang energy he already manipulated, offering him better security.
Titan’s furious attacks slammed against the shields, causing them to quiver. The Epochrion could do nothing but allow her shields to be assailed. They were for the protection of her Northern compatriots. One errant punch from Titan could take out half the Arena.
The other competitors had risen from their comfortable seats and were crowding around the sidelines. The fight had captured their attention, as much as it had the audience. Everyone was taken aback by Titan’s power, but no one – master Adepts included – could believe the explosive power of Zeus.
He’d hidden his true power away for the whole tournament, only pulling it out when faced with this monstrous foe. He was fearless, and for good reason; all along he’d been a peaked-rank Adept, with knowledge of powerful martial arts.
The Pharmacist especially, looked on with a quiet admiration. What skillful use! It looked like the young man was well on his way to true understanding of Taiji.
With each passing moment, the Terminator’s expression soured. He knew the ins and outs of his disciple’s abilities, and the capabilities of his tech. The Paragon manufacturing process had been completed, but his student’s power still wasn’t at its strongest. Nor could he sustain continuous punches, a distinct difference between himself and Qi Mu’s three transformations. His opponent already mastered a good deal of Jue Di’s teachings, as well.
Lan Jue’s two palms pressed in front of his chest, in the same moment that Titan’s next punch landed. He met it face on, and instead of deflecting it the whole of Lan Jue’s body was spun around, guided by the silver and gold energy in his palms. His left arm rolled and forced Titan’s attack up and away. In the same fluid movement, his right fist shot through the sudden opening to deliver its own blast toward the convert.
This wasn’t just deflection. Now he was responding with strength! Thanks to the pressure Titan put him under, Lan Jue was forced to understand his powers even deeper, or be defeated.
“Bang!” The Taiji move rang against Titan’s shield. Even with his protections, the convert was knocked back several steps. His protective shell shimmered.
Titan shook. He was shocked, but refused to let it undermine his faith. His giant hands were pressed together before his chest before another piercing gust of Force burst out from him.
Lan Jue spun like a top, but never left that one spot. The screaming rage of Titan’s power was drawn in to whatever enigmatic powers were at Lan Jue’s command. After a moment, the gold and silver lights surrounding him returned to black and white. They were different now, however; the black rumbled with an incessant peal of thunder. The white energies were a flowing orb of electricity, smooth as water. Trapped right in the middle, was the tempestuous power of Titan’s Fiend-Crusher fist.
Lan Jue made his move. In an instant, all of the powers around him appeared to condense in to a single point. A single beam of blinding light silently shot out, colliding directly with Titan’s defenses.
The explosion sounded like the whole planet had been cracked down the middle. The floor of the arena collapsed and fell ten meters in to the earth. Although the beam had been directed at Titan, the shields all around the arena warped drastically, like they’d been hit too. If the Epocrion hadn’t been supporting the shield herself, than there would have been a real danger that the blowback would harm the onlookers.
Titan, still covered by his shield, was blasted back like he’d taken a salvo from a battleship. As he flew through the air that golden shell cracked, then fell away.
Titan struck the far shield then hit the floor. His ten-meter tall figure immediately shrank back down to his normal size. His powerful aura was also perceivably weaker.
Lan Jue stood in the spot Titan had occupied. There was another ragged cough, and rivulets of blood dripped from below his mask. The great Monarch stumbled, but did not fall.
Titan struggled to pull himself up, but couldn’t. For some inexplicable reason his powerful arms seemed incapable of lifting his girth. Three times he fought to stay in the fight, until in the end he collapse face first in the ruins of the ring – unconscious.
There was no electric voice this time, calling the winner. The ring, and all the installations for the tournament – had been destroyed in their conflict. Lan Jue looked up to the Epochrion, just as his golden armor fell away.
“Zeus has won.” The Epochrion’s calm determination hung over the arena.
Beneath the mask, Lan Jue smiled. He took a step back then fell promptly on to his backside. The golden mask concealing his features crackled, then became dust and disappeared. His face revealed for all to see.
Planet Skyfire, National Eastern University. A.R.C. lecture hall.
“Hey, teach is pretty handsome!”
“Why does he look familiar… ”
Tan Lingyun stared at the projected image, with eyes big as saucers and her mouth hanging open. All the cameras were focused on the Adept, a man younger and more handsome than the crowd had guessed. But that face…
No. No no no. This is wrong – all wrong! How can it be him?!
The first time she’d met him, he was lounging outside of her class like some sort of pedophile. She’d dragged him like a beaten dog right to the Director. He never fought back.
Taihua! And then there was Taihua. That blue mecha was him! It must have been! Yes! This was the only explanation, and that means that blue mecha was Thor. Zeus’ Thor. He had saved me, and so many other lives during that attack.
Then the competition with Lyr, that enigmatic and unbeatable Lei Fang? Him as well. He’d turned that desperate loss around, and she had been on his lap watching the whole thing. She thought she had him that time.
And the A.R.C. class? The mask was to make sure I didn’t find him out. No wonder they’d progressed so far in only three months.
The break-neck race through the asteroid field was also a clue. She should have figured it out months ago, she chastised herself.
Always at the last minute, Lan Jue – that etiquette teacher, the one she’d long ago labeled trash – came to the rescue. He was Zeus, the great Monarch of lightning, who just beat the strongest fighter the North could manufacture.
Him! Him! Him!
She just sat there in her chair, lost.
Tang Mi fared no better. She might have suspected something
was off, but who would guess that their idol wa standing right beside them the whole time? And it was all for Qianlin, from crashing the wedding to taking a teaching position.
No wonder her friend always acted so strange when she brought it up, she thought. No wonder they seemed to get along so well whenever she saw them together! He was Zeus, always has been!
Northern Alliance. Planet Luo, Luo City. The Great Conclave Arena.
The tournament had no choice to be put on a temporary hold. The damage to the arena surpassed ts own ability to heal, and would need a great deal of manpower to restore. After some consultation, the organizers announced that the day’s events were finished. All tickets would be good for tomorrow’s fights as well.
Titan had to be carried out. Lan Jue managed to walk off the ring, but only with the Pharmacist’s help. His face was drawn and pale, but his eyes were ablaze with excitement.
I won… in the end I actually won. Man has triumphed over machine – I succeeded!
When they got back to the resting area, he collapsed in the Pharmacist’s arms. He’d used up too much. No one in the audience had anything to say – witnessing such a dramatic upset was exactly what they’d come to see.
But Zeus’ name, his real face, was now known to the whole of humanity.
The whole of the East was in celebration. Skyfire Avenue cheered their victory. But more than anyone, the NEU A.R.C. class was uncontrollable. Names could be repeated, but barring surgical trickery there was only face like that.
When the news spread, Wu Junyi’s communicator was blowing up. Most of the callers were desperate for more information about Lan Jue. Several others were parents desperate to get their kids to sign up. Overwhelmed, he had to ask Principle Xi Renjian what to do. He was told to turn the thing off.
They’d really struck gold! Wu Junyi’s self-satisfied smirk
stretched from ear to ear. He could see the future of his beloved university, lauded as one of the best in the East. Who gave a flying shit about Lyr, those assholes didn’t stand a chance.
Chapter 466: Can We Not?
For those student who had gone to one of Professor Lan’s few etiquette classes, they could talk about nothing else. The A.R.C. students didn’t have that luxury. The Savage Goddess was already barking for them to continue their cultivation. However, they didn’t mind. Watching their teacher perform so incredibly, who wouldn’t want to one day become someone so widely admired?
When Lan Jue awoke, he found himself in the hotel. Things were different, though. The day had gone and evening light crept through the window. He ached all over, like he’d been flattened by a steam roller. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling.
He stirred beneath the covers, and was suddenly aware of something soft and warm beside him. He turned his head, and the first thing he saw was a head of thick black hair. They hung like silken strands across a pretty face.
He gently lifted the hair to reveal the familiar, alluring features. But it wasn’t necessary. Even without seeing, he knew near every inch of the body beside him.
He took a hard gulp. Lan Jue’s whole body felt mangled, but everything seemed to be in working order. The relief also came with a slight pang of regret, however. He had the capabilities, but he still couldn’t be any more intimate than right now. Otherwise, they’d just join.
He couldn’t know when she had been released from within him. So long as no one saw, then that was fine.
Qianlin – as though she’d dreamt something – cuddled closer against his chest. Lan Jue responded by regarding her with warm eyes, and pulling her closer in to a gentle embrace. She even smelled spectacular. Holding her, he felt complete.
With nothing else but to wait, Lan Jue shut his eyes. He turned his intention inward to see how he was recovering.
He wasn’t in terribly good shape. There were clear signs of trauma to several of his meridians. But things weren’t dire, either. Those meridians were still functioning and his organs didn’t appear to be affected… maybe a little displaced. None of that was irrevocable.
What he was surprised to discover was not the damage, but
the benefits. Because of the demands he’d put on them, his meridians were wider than they had been to allow for more movement of energy. That was why every bit of him hurt so badly.
His Core was quietly suspended in the center of his chest, where it had always been. The energies within it were purer, and his conflict with Titan appeared to have shrunken his Core even more. An unintentional boon! If someone would have asked him yesterday, he’d have said he didn’t think his core could shrink any further, but it was now four times smaller than it had been before the tournament. He could no longer see traces of the energy swirling within, making it look like an opaque gemstone. Even the shell of lightning was gone. These were all signs of continued purification, and more concentrated power.
From what he could sense, his Discipline had broken through as well. Third rank! Now he was at the border of ninth level’s beginning ranks. It was still retracing his steps, but at this speed he had no complaints whatsoever.
Qianlin stirred at his side, and he looked down at her just as her eyes fluttered open. They looked at one another. Then, her eyes squeezed shut; if you didn’t see it, it never happened.
A hearty laugh bubbled up from within him. He saw no reason to pretend, and yet he could feel her slowly retracting her leg from on top of his. She scootched away little by little as though she were trying to disappear in to the bed sheets. It also started to push the comforter down toward the end of the bed.
Before Lan Jue knew it, she’d completely kicked the covers off of him, leaving him naked to the air. Qianlin’s eyes were still tightly shut.
“Can we not?” Lan Jue muttered helplessly.
“Where are your clothes?!” She said, her face scrunched tight.
Lan Jue blinked. That’s right! Where did all my clothes go!?
Who brought me back yesterday… sis? This is no good at all!
There was a knock at the door.
Lan Jue almost jumped out of his skin. He gathered up the blankets and covered himself, then stood. Qianlin had a different idea, and lunged at him before he could go any farther. She planted her lips hard against his. There was that familiar
white light, then she was gone. Now he was all alone with whatever embarrassing situation he was going to have to address.
“Are you up!” The Pharmacist shouted at him from the other side of the door, but didn’t come in. She seemed anxious to avoid awkward exchanges, too.
“I’m up!” He answered hastily. “I’m up. Sis, was it you who brought me back here yesterday?”
“Me and the Gourmet. He helped get you out of your clothes. How do you feel?” She continued their conversation with the door between them. “I took the liberty of giving you a quick exam, and things looked ok considering. Your vitality was buzzing to meet the need, so most medicines were inappropriate but I made a specialized formula. Take it and see how you feel.”
Lan Jue was out of bed and had thrown on some clothes. He finally pulled open the door and stepped out to meet his compatriot.
Today she was in an emerald green qipao. When she saw him and his disheveled appearance, she couldn’t help but laugh.
“Are you alright?”
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” he assured her. “My body’s alright, just a little achy. Feels like I pushed myself too far, is all.”
The Pharmacist extended a small porcelain bowl. “This is a formula to shore-up yuan qi and fortify health. It’s especially good for recovering damage to the meridians. It’ll help you feel better.”
Lan Jue nodded. “Thanks, sis.”
“Congratulations are in order,” she said. “You made it to the semi-finals.”
He chuckled. “Thanks to no small amount of luck, don’t forget. Man, who’d have thought Titan would suddenly get so strong.”
The Pharmacist shook her head. “This has nothing to do with luck. You achieved this by virtue of your own strength. This is certainly going to earn you even more of a name than you already have. That also means that I have to remind you – your
mask was broken. Everyone knows who Zeus is.”
There was nothing he could do for it. Lan Jue’s tone was grudgingly accepting. “Something given, something taken away. There’s nothing I can do about it now. Anyway I’ll be going back with the Avenue. None of my enemies would dare make a move.”
The Avenue was enjoying a wonderful position of power – a sun at its zenith. Anyone after him would have to find a way passed four Paragons.
The Pharmacist went on. “Eat something then take some medicine. You’ve improved very quickly, but now it’s time to be calm. You don’t want to rush – the best thing for you in rest.
“Mm.” Lan Jue nodded in understanding.
Chapter 467: Joint Progress
The Pharmacist eventually left, and Lan Jue could breathe again. She hadn’t seen him unclothed, thankfully. Embarrassment averted, he returned to the bedroom and released Qianlin. He covered her in a blanket.
Later, when Qianlin had changed clothes, she came bounding in to the small living room where Lan Jue waited. He was feeling much better since yesterday. Though he still ached, it was much better than it had been.
“I broke through.” Qianlin revealed to Lan Jue.
“Oh?” He looked at her in surprise.
Two delicate fingers popped up, and she waggled them at him. “Rank two.”
A look suddenly passed his face as he thought of something. If he himself participating in the tournament benefited her, then of course it would be that much better when she fought, too! He thought back to the battle, remembering that it was largely by virtue of Qianlin’s defense that he survived.
“What was that last strike you hit him with? It was strong! To me it felt like it was almost Paragon level.” Qianlin noted.
He nodded. “That was a crucial moment, Titan’s strength is incredible. Talk about Paragon-levels, my martial art could only deflect so much. Some of that attack had to be borne by my body. If he’d have kept it up, I would have lost. At that point there was nothing I could do about it. A Paragon would likely have to work to break through his Impenetrable Defense.”
“Luckily, I figured it out. Taiji is more than just deflecting, but reversing, too. I could turn that overwhelming power back on him. I was only going to give it a try, then I saw how effective it was. I couldn’t face him directly so I had to take advantage of everything I could.”
“I guess you can say I won with Titan’s help. His own redirected energy, thunderbolt and lightning, and all of that behind one of the nine strikes of Taiji. It almost reached a Paragon’s level of destructive force. That was the only way to get passed his defenses. And don’t be mistaken, he couldn’t get off the floor because he was exhausted – not because of any damage I did. I had only managed to break the shield. If anything, he might have felt a little numb. Thankfully, it looks like his sudden breakthrough had its limits.”
Lan Jue’s explanation, as well as her own experiences there in the ring with him, helped her understand just how dangerous that fight had really been. However, both had learned a lot, especially about force. It was the toughest fight Lan Jue had faced yet. He’d only barely avoided being ground to dust.
Lan Jue’s wrist buzzed and he lifted his communicator to see who was calling. The first thing he noticed was the number of missed calls flashing on the screen. He answered.
“Boss.” A woman’s voice, clearly trying to keep her excitement quiet.
“Yeah,” he answered.
“Are you feeling alright?” Another voice asked from the other line.
“I’m fine, you can relax. How are things going?” Lan Jue urged.
“Taken care of. We’ve placed several bets and won one hundred and eighty-seven billion dollars. That’s over two
hundred and seventy billion NED. Boss, we’re rich! We could buy a mothership and then some. Wa-hahaha, we’re rich!”
Lan Jue chuckled. “Careful, not so loud – I know. No more bets. I need to get better.”
“Alright, I don’t want to push it either. The two of us will go shopping, there’s a laundry list to get through. With this much money there’s no excuse for anything but the nicest toys! Hehehe!”
“No doubt!” Lan Jue added, then cut the connection.
Qianlin had looked down at her own communicator, and was staring oddly at it.
“What is it?” Lan Jue asked.
She smirked back at him. “What else? Everyone knows who you are now. Little Mi has sent me over ten messages already trying to find out if it’s true.”
This made him chortle. “Things have a way of sorting themselves out. Revealing my identity may not be entirely bad. At least anyone thinking of causing you trouble will think twice.”
She turned her eyes back to him. “Are you still going to teach when we go back?”
He sighed. “That was my plan, but now the situation appears to have changed. At the very least I won’t be able to continue the etiquette classes. The A.R.C. classes shouldn’t be a problem since its small scale. It’s hard enough making sure these kids have a shot at being great.”
Qianlin nodded. “It would be best if you didn’t leave. Anyway, you’ve already agreed to the terms of service.”
He smiled at her. “I did! I am your bodyguard, by your side at all times – how’s that? Hell I couldn’t escape even if I wanted to, right? One thought and here I am.”
She couldn’t help but giggle. He was right, he had nowhere to run. Until they both became Paragons, each one was at the other’s beck and call.
“I’m hungry, let’s go get something to eat.” Qianlin pulled at his hand, smiling prettily.
“Alright, let’s go foraging.” Lan Jue had already changed his clothes and was ready to go.
However, they only got so far as the lobby before they had to turn back. What he had managed to do was not something many were capable of, beating the Terminator’s disciple. To people in the East he was a hero, but to Northerners he was an affront to their pride! When it came to issues of nationalism, there were few with their heads screwed on right. An old woman even pelted him with some fruit when he dared show his face downstairs. Now he was starting to understand Hua Li’s misfortunes.
Luckily he also had the benefit of listening to Hua Li complain. Using power lines to sneak away from the hotel, the first thing he did was bring Qianlin to a nearby shop and purchase a hat, facemask and sunglasses for her. Once the pair were suitably incognito, they went out for a bite to eat.
They chose a nondescript restaurant serving sea-food. He ordered them a bottle of white wine, then set about answering the messages on his communicator.
“A-Li, come get some food and hang out.”
“A-Cheng, want some grub? Come and chill for a bit.”
Chapter 468: Get Back Here!
Lan Jue quickly replied to his two brothers. Afterward, he stared for a moment on the next number on his list. His eyes narrowed.
Sensing something wasn’t right, Qianlin looked his way. “What is it? Are you alright?”
He smirked bitterly and shook his head. He hesitated, but after a moment ultimately dialed it in.
“Doooo… dooooo” The low ring sounded twice before someone answered.
“When the tournament’s over get your ass back here!” Click! One sentence and the connection was cut. Lan Jue just sat there in stunned silence for a moment. He shook just a little bit.
“Lan Jue, are you…” She swung around to stand in front of him, and took his hands in to hers. They were cold and clammy.
“It’s fine. Qianlin, after the tournament would you mind
coming with me somewhere?” His tones were soft and secretive.
She didn’t hesitate. “Of course,” she answered with a nod.
He breathed a heavy sigh. They lapsed in to silence, with Lan Jue chewing his lip as long-ago memories flooded his mind.
Is he really ok? We should go back.
Just then, Lan Jue quickly made another call.
“Yeah.” The voice on the other end was low.
“He’s called me back,” Lan Jue said. He sounded defeated.
Silence. After a second, Lan Qing answered. “When you plan to go back give me a call. I’ll go with you.”
“Alright.” His brother’s assurances seemed to give him a little bit of backbone. He hung up, then swallowed his half glass of wine in one gulp. The cool and refreshing flavor of the beverage
spread through him. He felt like he could breathe again. Lan Jue pecked the back of Qianlin’s hand with a kiss.
Hua Li and Chu Cheng arrived together. They had already been hanging out when they got Lan Jue’s call, discussing the fights to come. They wandered in to the restaurant and looked around for a moment before spying their brother.
The very moment Chu Cheng saw Lan Jue’s get-up he burst in to laughter. “A-Jue! Looks like you’ve finally had your day, eh?!”
“Gloating is hardly gentlemanly,” Lan Jue muttered.
“Congratulations,” Hua Li added with a smirk.
He nodded. “Truth be told, I won because of a fair amount of luck. I didn’t expect him to suddenly get so strong.”
This made Chu Cheng frown. “Shit, the same could be said about you! You Easterners are shameless, you know that? The Pharmacist will win her fight, then the finals will be dominated by your Alliance.”
Lan Jue could only shrug. “The North took that chance when they hosted. It’s not like they can stop us from participating.”
Chu Cheng’s face only soured further. “This is gunna be trouble. Dad’s already been summoned to some meeting. I have a feeling that if the East does sweep the finals, the North and West won’t leave it at that.”
Lan Jue was suddenly fearful, remembering Jun’er a few blocks away. “You think they’ll make a move?”
Chu Cheng grunted. “Hard to say. At the very least, you guys need to be careful. I mean, you won’t have to worry until after the tournament. They won’t do anything with all of humanity watching. Those of you from the Avenue are probably fine, but that may not be the case for those two unaffiliated ones. I’ve heard those two have already been contacted by agents from the North and West – though I don’t know what they said.”
“A-Cheng, I don’t want you anywhere near this,” Lan Jue said, suddenly serious. He didn’t want his friend even remotely incriminated in something so dangerous if it could be helped. There was, of course, the possibility of betrayal – after all, Chu Cheng was a Northerner.
Chu Cheng seemed to understand. “Alright, enough about that then. If anything happens I’ll make sure you all get out ok, but you should prepare. You’re already persona non grata out here. And shit, son, talk about sneaky! When did you become a peak-ranked ninth level?! You’re as strong as the big guy.”
“You scared? If it wasn’t for this tournament, I’d have kicked your ass up and down Luo City already.” Lan Jue grinned at his compatriot.
Chu Cheng snorted dismissively. “If I can’t win I won’t fight, what are you gunna do about it? Now let’s get some goddamn food, I’m dying over here. A-Li and I were about to grab some grub when you called.”
“Where’s Lina?” Lan Jue asked.
Chu Cheng shot a quick look Qianlin’s way. “That girl is cunning as all hell. She’s been stringing me along and I’m not gunna put up with that nonsense. There are always other fish in the sea. Anyway, what was up with Titan yesterday! I don’t remember him being that strong at all. No doubt luck was at play, just like you said.”
Lan Jue nodded again. “He must have done something to raise his strength quickly, before the fight. He’s about as close to Paragon as you can get, but has no real understanding of protogenia. That final step to Paragon status will not be at all easy for him. My guess is you’ll break through to Paragon before he does.”
“Is this your attempt at comfort,” Chu Cheng teased. “Don’t you worry, when you leave I’m gunna really apply myself. I can’t let you all leave me in the dust. I ran in to uncle, actually, and he taught me some of the cultivation methods he’d learned. He asked me to bring them back home and teach them to the family.” When the discussion reached the Gourmet, Chu Cheng’s eyes became red, ever so slightly.
Lan Jue felt for his brother. “He didn’t want to go back?”
Chu Cheng gave him a biter smile. “He said he couldn’t face his brother, my dad. He’s acknowledged that what happened all those years ago was a misunderstanding.”
Lan Jue, moved by the situation, added, “Tell your father not to pursue it, A-Cheng. He has a whole lot on his plate, not the least of which is keeping trouble from your family. The relationship between the North and the Avenue is tricky right
“I know,” Chu Cheng replied. “Uncle said the same thing. We met in secret, you can relax. No one knew anything.”
The restaurant they’d chosen wasn’t anything special, providing only traditional Northern fare; grilled fish, prawns in garlic sauce, salad and so forth. With the addition of the white wine, it was a fine meal.
They ate until the four of them had reached their limit.
Hua Li patted his stomach. “Now that you’re in the finals it doesn’t look like you have easy fights to look forward to. Don’t let up! But on top of everything going on, you have to be extra careful since everyone knows who you are now. Now that I think of it you all can use the Gobi Entertainment ships for transport if you need to. Even the North doesn’t want to upset us.”
That was an understatement. Gobi Entertainment and its parent the Poseidon Group was the largest business collective in all of Alliance space. They were based in the West, but they’d grown past the borders of a single Alliance. They were
everywhere. He had single-handedly crippled Reims’ economy after he’d heard about their assassination attempt against Lan Jue. Not even the Pontiff was able to solve that easily. They even had enough power that they could cause the powerhouse that was the North’s economy to stumble if they really went for it.
Lan Jue gave his friend a small smile. “If it comes to that then you’ll hear from me. You both can relax, I’ve got it all figured out. Skyfire Avenue isn’t an organization they can easily push around.”
Hua Li nodded. “Good.”
Lan Jue stretched. “It’s getting late, I think I’m going to call it and head back. I have work to do for tomorrow.”
Hua Li smiled. “You’ve really put the pressure on A-Cheng and I, after advancing so quickly. At least it compels us to want to catch up!”
“Then we’re all gunna be working hard,” Lan Jue urged. “One day we’ll all be Paragons, then we’ll really be the Four Divine Monarchs.
Hua Li and Chu Cheng exchanged a glance. In one voice, they answered. “Looking forward to it!”
Before long he and Qianlin were back at the hotel. He took up the Pharmacist’s medicine, then they set about cultivating their abilities. Part of the reason he’d wanted to go out and eat instead of stay in and work all day, was to relax. Too much pressure inhibited a person’s recovery time.
Lan Jue uncorked the china bottle the Pharmacist’s had given him, and it immediately filled the room with the distinct aroma of medicine. He poured its contents out in to his palm; a single pill.
It was a dark, verdant green, about the size of a lychee fruit. Strangely, it glowed with a light that radiated out from within it.
When he popped it in to his mouth, the sizeable pill immediately dissolved and slid down his throat. The bitter, acrid flavor slithered down in to his belly. Soon, however, the unpleasant flavor was replaced with a mellow, sweet aftertaste.
The warm and relaxing feeling spread out from his stomach
like he was sitting in a bubbling hot tub. His damaged meridians were quickly relieved, and those that had expanded from use were fortified. After only a short time, he could sense a sort of glossy sheen covering his energy pathways.
He didn’t need to ask. He knew it must have been some benefit from the Pharmacist’s decoction. Although he didn’t know what this medicine was, it was easy to guess its worth by how quickly it started to work. In the end it did just what the Pharmacist said it would do; support, not improve.
An interesting shift going on in China now is the move from ‘slow but healthy’ to ‘quick and easy.’ It was a very clear trend in China that traditional, healthier lifestyles are quickly being discarded for more instantly gratifying western methods.
Chapter 469: Ascension
Lan Jue understood. This was the Pharmacist’s way of helping, by letting him pick himself up. Quickly shooting up a few ranks could be done, but that wasn’t the point of re- cultivating. It was the journey, and the insights you gain walking a familiar path a second time. You came to know your power and stood on sturdier footing. Your energy was purified by it. So Lan Jue would pick himself up, and take no short cuts.
With the aid of his friend’s medicines, he slipped in to a peaceful and meditative state. The precious pill was miraculous in returning his body to health. More importantly, his meridians were tonified, nourishing them for the cultivation ahead.
Two figures faced one another in a dark room, no trace of light to be seen.
“You face the Pharmacist tomorrow.” The one speaking was surrounded by a dripping purple aura, which scattered the darkness. It was the Fallen Angel – Lucifer, second only to Satan.
“Yes.” Jiang Yuan, the Dark Citadel’s Necromancer, sat across from him.
“You are the last hope of your Alliance, and the last hope of your Citadel. Work a miracle.” There was a dark and fanatic light in the dark Angel’s eyes.
In Jiang Yuan’s, there was a caustic gloom. “Yes… the final miracle.”
It was a word rarely used, not since the God-Rank battles on DreamNet when the Star Alliance and the Four Divine Monarchs fought. This last miracle had been witnessed by everyone, right on their projector screens.
They were calling it the Miracle Melee. Titan’s shield would give a Titan pause, but Lan Jue busted through. The image of Zeus’ crumbling mask was plastered everywhere. Lan Jue’s drawn, pale face was revealed to the world.
He had been respected for his poise. There was no wild cheering or flagrant displays of celebration from the Monarch. Only confidence. The audience was amazed, how could a single Adept’s power be so terrifying?
When the analytics were released, it was revealed that Zeus’ final attack could only be compared by measure of battleships. A blast from the main cannon wouldn’t do what the Monarch’s final strike had achieved, to say nothing of hardware like a mech – assuming it wasn’t piloted by a strong Adept, of course.
Now everyone knew what kind of power they were witnessing. This was the next generation of Paragons, battling for supremacy!
Zeus’ name had been elevated.
The God-rank battles were mentioned again, this time in comparing the metrics from that fight to the last one. There was also in-depth digging in to his actions as the once-mercenary king. His name was one everybody’s lips, and electricity was the new fad. Almost overnight, Zeus was everyone’s focus.
Lan Jue was completely unaware of it all, he’d spent the night
in cultivation. He split his focus between healing and meditating on what he’d learned. Every day was a struggle that brought new revelations, a step on the path to understanding.
Although he didn’t know how far things had gone, Lan Jue was still wise enough not to leave without his disguise. It was lucky he did, otherwise he’d have been swarmed in an instant.
When he got back to the Great Conclave Arena, he couldn’t help but admire the efficiency and ingenuity of the North. It had taken them only an afternoon to completely repair the damage to the battlefield. At least on the surface, it looked good as new.
By the time he arrived, the stands were already packed with spectators. When they spotted Lan Jue, the crowd erupted in to a noisy din.
If this was the East, then he would be greeted with cheers and cries of admiration. This was not the East. Here, he had besmirched the name of the Northern delegate, and snatched victory from their home court. His name was well known in the North, now, but that didn’t mean it was held in high esteem. He was practically an enemy of the state.
He got no respite from the eyes of participants, either. They followed him from the shade of the waiting area. One of them was Titan, and in fact all three of the other losing fighters from his team were present. At least Qi Mu wasn’t glaring at him with the same loathing he had before.
Bing Yu made up for it, with eyes even colder than the day she’d lost. Clearly she still believed he’d shown her tremendous disrespect.
Jun Yongye and Xianyuan Shishi also looked his way. When Jun Yongye caught his eye, the blademaster gave him a knowing nod. Shishi smiled warmly and gave a friendly wave. It was like there was no concern at all that they would be future competitors.
Lan Jue took his seat. “Thank you, sis,” he said to the Pharmacist beside him.
She smiled back. “You call me sister, and you act like a father to my little girl. What are you doing thanking me?” She never explained what the medicine she’d given him was for. He didn’t ask. But whatever it was, the act had brought them closer.
The Terminator sat at the place of honor upon the VIP platform. His expression was stony, and no one could guess at how he was reacting to the tournament. Mo Xiao was beside him, with a professional smile and a polite demeanor.
“Your Majesty,” she said, “Yesterday we had to postpone the final fight of the quarter-finals for what many are now calling the Miracle Melee. Analysts are now saying that Zeus may win it all. What do you think? Is this just luck?” She was very much like a reporter following a lead.
The Terminator’s answer was delivered evenly. “Luck is a kind of power, but I don’t think that’s what brought him to the semi-finals. The answer is information. There’s more to Zeus than we knew, and he’s a much more complicated Adept than people expected. In that last fight, if he’d held back even a little than Titan might have won. I hope he has a chance to test himself against this young man again one day, and that Titan will emerge victorious.”
It was a fair and accurate analysis of his discipline, and a fine display of the Paragon’s character.
Mo Xiao returned her attention to the camera. “Yesterday we witnessed a miracle, but who knows what today has in store. In
just a moment, we’ll begin with the final fight of Group One. Although neither of these fighters will be advancing to the next round, it’s still a chance for them to test their mettle.”
Indeed, they hadn’t been able to complete even the first group fights yesterday. Qi Mu and Bing Yu still had to trade blows. Altogether there would be seven contests, but Mo Xiao’s tone said that only one had a chance at being a stunner; The Necromancer Jiang Yuan, versus the Pharmacist. They would battle for the final spot in the semi-finals. Jiang Yuan carried the hopes of two Alliances on his shoulders.
The fight between Qi Mu and Bing Yu went as expected. Bing Yu was too weak in Discipline to put the full advantages of absolute zero temperatures to work for her. Qi Mu never gave her a chance, and quickly won after changing in to his second metamorphosis. In the end, neither looked like their hearts were in it. They knew they had lost the tournament already.
Now that the first fight was out of the way, the crowd started to perk up. Next was the Pharmacist and Jiang Yuan! Now they would see if the West could sneak in to the final four, of whether the East would sweep it.
Lan Jue turned to the Pharmacist, and called to her in a low
voice. “Sis. Be careful how you deal with him. I can’t shake the feeling that Jiang Yuan’s been hiding something. There was something unusual about that summoning. Don’t overestimate him.”
The Pharmacist nodded. “I’ll be careful. He never seemed like a straightforward case. But I’m afraid he doesn’t know, that I know all about him already.” Her words put him at east. The Pharmacist rose and made for the ring.
Jiang Yuan walked toward the other end. Today he was clad in a robe which was black on the outside and purple inside, which made him look even more like a dark sorcerer. The necromancer was hidden beneath a strange aura that drank in the light and obscured his face from view.
He walked to the ring, not too fast and not too slow. Each step saw his aura dim and thicken.
But Lan Jue wasn’t worried, after what the Pharmacist had told him. Although he had no idea what Jiang Yuan was hiding, she seemed to. There would not be any problems. He was strong, but who could stand up to the full power of this incredible woman?
With the Pharmacist and her knowledge, it was like a sea of stars at his fingertips.
The two fighters faced each other from across the field. The thousands of spectators were silent, holding their breath. Every eye was on the screens before them. They had high expectations.
Tickets for the semi-finals were already astronomical. Everything so far had gone off without a hitch. There was no need for them to advertise or sell more tickets at all – they were already rolling in profits. By now, those tickets that people could find were already five times more than sale price.
Chapter 470: Jiang Yuan’s Secret
Hordes of the rich and powerful tore across the border or the Northern Alliance, racing for Luo City. Then trend now was to use tickets for the semi-finals as negotiating tools in business exchanges. This was to say nothing of seats for the finals. The end of the tournament was near, with just the semi-finals, the finals, and the Championship Battle remaining. Even the average citizen knew that they were watching future masters of protogenia. Being able to witness this with one’s own eyes was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be treasured.
The Pharmacist was clad in a moon-white qipao, whose simple elegance was interrupted by an elaborate peony flower that had been etched upon it. Swaths of red, yellow and pink stretched across her figure and made her especially alluring. She certainly stood out, and in fact had been voted the most attractive competitor in the tournament by its authoritative body. While she was not as physically attractive as Yan Ningya, she was greatly superior in bearing, willpower, strength and nearly every other category. From the beginning, she’d been the center of a lot of attention.
She stood with her delicate hands folded before her abdomen, regarding her opponent calmly. Jiang Yuan stood at the far end, spewing an aura of caustic black power. His eyes were cold and dead. He was hardly visible beneath the cloak of shadow.
“Three, two, one. Begin!”
The most anticipated fight of the semi-finals was underway. Most people expected the Pharmacist to win – Northerners included – but everyone was hoping first and foremost for entertainment. They all dreamt of another dramatic, miraculous upset. Jiang Yuan’s earlier performance gave them fuel for speculation, like what was that beast he’d summoned? How strong was he really? His mystery was a sort of strength.
In a break from normal tactics, Jiang Yuan did not immediately begin casting his poison curses when the fight began. Instead, a guttural and uncomfortable chant rattled from his throat. The resonating notes birthed an area of black beneath Jiang Yuan’s feet. Each syllable spread it further out in all directions.
The Pharmacist sniffed. From her back, a beam of cyan light burst in to the air. It rose drastically then swelled, forming the shape of an enormous sword suspended in the heavens. Seven resplendent orbs of light twinkle along its length. She adapted her strategy as well, and instead of lashing out with the force of a thunderbolt, the weapon instead hung unmoving over the top of her head. An instant and shuddering sensation of sharpness swept through the ring. And yet, the black aura around the necromancer scattered the deadly gusts, like he was hardly
present in this reality at all.
However, it was visible that – when their powers collided – the Pharmacist’s was more explosive. Jiang Yuan felt almost powerless, though he didn’t let any of that show. He instead took a brazen step forward to meet the aura. He extended his gnarled finger, and a silver light shot outward.
It started as a single point of light, but quickly grew to the diameter of a silver coin. It bulged larger, until lines of fresh blood could be made out upon its glittering surface. An uncomfortable and dangerous sensation preceded it.
The light power congealed in the air, first a mist of silver and red but quickly fusing in to the figure of a demonic beast. It flailed, hellish maw wide and ready to swallow the Pharmacist’s weapon. The sharp aura it passed through was dispersed like it had never existed at all, and the aura of black at Jiang Yuan’s feet began to rapidly spread.
Lan Jue couldn’t shake the inkling that this power was familiar. It was a faint memory, somewhere in the back of his
“Hmph!” The sound came from beside him. Lan Jue turned his head to spy the Pontiff’s High Inquisitor standing nearby. He glared at the field with a dark and accusatory look.
Now he put the pieces together. Seeing Constantine’s reaction immediately brought to mind the incredulous looks of the Dark Citadel when they’d come for their ‘friendly’ exchange with the Avenue. They’d dispatched someone who’d used this same power, or something close to it.
Judas? Was this one of the descendants of that man who’d betrayed the founder of their faith? Now, the bloodline seemed as malefic as it ever had been. He was stunned to discover that the inky shadow from before had been this man, Jiang Yuan. And yet, from what he could recall that Judas didn’t fight at all like Jiang Yuan, but was a close-combat fighter! He had been a peak-ranked Adept.
And didn’t they battle one another in the Avenue, too? It ultimately had been interrupted by an incensed Satan. This was Jiang Yuan’s ultimate secret, that he was holding himself back, and was in fact the future successor of the Dark Citadel. The Pharmacist knew it all along.
It appeared that Judas’ true specialty was the power of betrayal, his birthright. It meant he was good in close and far away. What looked like a straight-forward fight suddenly got a lot more complicated.
The blood-beast the necromancer had summoned was bearing down on the Pharmacist’s Seven-Star sword. She sniffed again, “Thunder in the Realm of the Big Dipper!”
A burst of light exploded from the sword, so powerful it threatened to destroy the shields again. Clouds gathered over the center of the arena – but not normal clouds. They were purple, and laden with a strange energy. Jiang Yuan’s dark creation paused.
Just then, a purple orb descended from on high. It passed through the shield like they were made of paper, and merged with the floating sword. The weapon answered by growing even larger. Bolts of purple lightning lashed out suddenly, striking the demon.
The dark vision dissipated in to a cloud of blood, and vanished. The silver coin that had seen its creation was struck away, flying toward Jiang Yuan. The necromancer himself had not moved, but swayed slightly back and forth. After a moment,
he too vanished from sight.
Lan Jue was immersed in the action. As a lightning user himself, he recognize the Pharmacist’s lightning as yang-type. And it was a pure, natural form of lightning. It contained levels of pure elemental power that his own lightning lacked.
Was this… the Dharma of Heavenly Lightning? Designed to smite the evil things a monk passed on his path. Meanwhile, the Pharmacist’s sword was swiping dangerously. The aura of power around it flared, and then one became seven. Seven enormous swords came tearing through the air, descending so fast they were little more than beams of light. They arcs around and buries themselves in the alloy floor surrounding the Pharmacist. She was now surrounded by the cyan-purple light, and as if their own volition that beams exploded out every which way.
The radiating power clashed with the encroaching black filth. It receded in the face of the Pharmacist’s holy corona, like ice beside a flame. Clearly, the Pharmacist’s own abilities were well equipped to counter the necromancer’s, and the whole thing seemed pretty one-sided. But, where did he go?
Their answer was delivered in the form of a booming, devilish
sermon that rag through the whole arena. A series of roars came from where Jiang Yuan had been standing. The floor was painted with an enormous, glowing hexagram. While the dark aura surrounding it was pressed back by the Pharmacist’s Heavenly Lightning, the hexagram itself appeared impervious.
A hint of shock passed across the Pharmacist’s face, but it lasted no more than a second before she was ready to react. With a cold and belittling laugh, she pointed a slender arm toward the far end of the arena. Her swords wrenched themselves free of the ground, and raced for their new target.
Another roar shook the ring’s foundations. The hexagram suddenly surged, expanding until it covered the whole floor. The frighteningly familiar sight of the evil vortex was again revealed to the audience. A massive skull started to heave itself out of the hellish dimension that had been opened.
The Pharmacist’s weapon’s retreated back to her location. Their flickering power swirled around her like a column of protective light. It lifted her high above the collapsing arena floor. She stood suspended near the apex of the upper shield.
Everyone watched as the great skull of the demon-beast, Yaduobaha, joined the fray! They were treated to a good,
nightmare-inducing look. It was only bone, with no hair or skin, and teeth as large as broadswords. A toxic green fire blazed where its eyes should have been. Its great maw spread wide, and it reared skyward to try and swallow the Pharmacist up.
She could feel crushing waves of fear rushing out from that darkness, pushing the beast toward her like a tempest of fear. Her Dharma didn’t appear to slow it down at all.
The swords around her glowed even brighter, and she rose ever higher – but the shield was just overhead. If she left, it would count as a forfeit. Her swords answered the call, falling down toward the beast. The dissolves until they became seven glimmering points, falling in the shape of the Big Dipper. They landed upon the great skull, becoming drilling flares of light that melded in to the monstrous head. A bone-shaking explosion followed moments later.
But, with the Pharmacist occupied, she did not appear to see the dark figure silently creeping up behind her – Jiang Yuan!
His figure seemed larger and, arms folded across his chest, he seemed to float quickly through the air toward his unsuspecting victim. The beast below shook off the great blast that had stunned it, and began to rise for another try. There wasn’t a
single mark on it, like that seven-star attack hadn’t done anything at all.