Skyfire Avenue Chapter 471-480

Chapter 471: Punish And Extinguish Evil, Nine Heavenly Rays!

The Pharmacist found herself in the midst of a crisis. Now she had to face two enemies instead of one. If she went after Jiang Yuan, that would leave Yaduobaha to swallow her up. That wouldn’t be a matter of winning or losing – she’d lose her life!Back in the waiting area Lan Jue had jumped to his feet. He had to hold himself back from rushing to her aid. However, his fears were unwarranted. For the briefest moment he caught sight of the Pharmacist’s expression. She glowered with a dark and unforgiving look – like they were both beneath contempt. He no longer felt the urge to run in. She had this under control.

Her body became illusory, like a spirit. Jiang Yuan rushed at her, but seemed to pass right through her ghostly form. When he turned around, he saw the Pharmacist blazing brighter than the surface of the sun.

She opened her pretty mouth and released a ray of searing white light. It spread wide before her. Below, the monstrous beast roared as the Pharmacist’s seven swords became clearer.

The light changed direction and raced toward the vortex where the floor had been. In its trek, the light condensed and grew larger until it took on the form of another massive
broadsword over a hundred meters long. Once fully formed, it simply hung there in the air. But while it did not move, Yaduobaha seemed similar pinned in place. If it rose, that sword would be there to meet it.

Rays of incandescent light poured from the Pharmacist. She took seven steps forward, and with each was released a burst of light. The purple mist from earlier revealed itself again, thicker than before though it was hard to tell by how much.

ζ

Eyes near the VIP platform suddenly shot toward the Terminator, who had gasped in spite of himself. He could feel it, the power raging from the ring – strong enough to even make him shudder.

How could this be?!

He watched with steely eyes for any information he could glean from the ring.
“Punish and Extinguish evil… the Nine Heavenly Rays!”

At the Pharmacist’s harsh command, four thousand nine hundred and thirty six separate bolts of purplish lightning. They blasted down, but not at Yaduobaha. They hit that hovering sword, again and again, over and over.

An aura of electric energy buzzed around the weapon, and then a sudden release of energy burst out of it like a supernova.

Her face was starting to look drawn. Another aura of white power began to press out from within her. Jiang Yuan lunged forward to take advantage, but couldn’t approach. The dark aura around him scattered like darkness before the sun. Jiang Yuan turned and fled from her as fast as he could.

“Annihilate.” The Pharmacist commanded heartlessly.

The word rang through the air, and on cue the towering sword fell to the ground. Thump! The sword passed through the grey bone of the monster as though it were paper. With a ranging screech and a shrill yell, the sword and demon dragon were pinned to the vortex. The swirling darkness was changed before their eyes, infected with the white light of the
Pharmacist’s spectral weapon. Soon the whole thing was a radiant white.

The beast’s screeches were deafening, and yet the crowds could still hear it, raging in the back of their mind. “Noooo—!”

Cracks appeared, slithering out from where the sword had pierced through the dragon’s bony head. Powerful light fought from between the silk-thin fractures, until…

Boom–!

Every trace of evil scattered, fleeing every which way in attempts to flee the purifying light. The beast turned to ash, then singular motes – then nothing.

Every member of the audience gasped, finally able to breathe.
They’d been so nervous they’d forgotten.

Jiang Yuan was pressed against the far side of the arena, as close to the shield as he could press himself. He could no longer hide beneath that cloak of shadows, or anything in fact. His clothes had ben seared to ash and fell away, revealing his rail-
thin and bony figure.

His pale face looked worse than normal, and an indescribable fear shined in his eyes. He looked like he had been faced with the stuff of his darkest nightmares. His arms shot up in silent capitulation, too scared to even answer. He looked at the Pharmacist like she was some sort of monster.

Too frightening… really too much. He’d only felt the residual power of her sword, but even that shook him to the bone. He felt like her intent alone could turn him in to nothing but a memory. His ninth level ninth rank Discipline was useless. He didn’t know exactly how strong that sword strike had been, but it couldn’t have been anything less than Paragon-level. It wasn’t even protogenia… it could cut through that too!

Even the memory of that terrifying sensation was irrevocably seared into Jiang Yuan’s heart. He had no spirit of resistance left.

Several people in the waiting area were on their feet. The Great Malefic Wyrm had been destroyed, completely and utterly. Members of the audience were also standing, most notably the Gourmet and the Terminator.
Even the Gourmet was absolutely floored by how strong the Pharmacist had shown. Much stronger than he could have known. And that sword… he didn’t even know the full scope. She wasn’t even a Paragon yet!

The Terminator was quiet, and his face was crestfallen. He seemed lost in thought. Jun Yongye and Xianyuan Shishi had – at some point – fought to the front of the crowd to watch. They looked excited.

How could this be? What was all of this? Who could have imagined they would see this with their own eyes. The Pharmacist was much stronger than any Adept they’d have ever seen. Jun Yongye and Xiyuan Shishi’s simplistic mastery, the Pharmacist’s oppressive swordsmanship, and Lan Jue’s surprise rise – the championship was still up for grabs. Except, now they saw what the Pharmacist was truly capable of.

Constantine was actually trembling, ever so slightly. It was childish for him to think he could contend with the Pharmacist. Now he understood how little ninth level ninth rank actually stood for.

The Pharmacist’s weapon dissolved away and became a beam of light that returned to her. It melded in to her body and
vanished without a trace. She descended on to the surface of the ring, light as a feather. Delicate footsteps took her from the battlefield. From where the spectators sat, she looked like she was just finishing up a relaxing stroll. She wandered over to Lan Jue and smiled. “Why are you standing? Sit!”

“Uh… oh. Right!” He gulped and flopped on to the sofa.

The whole arena was a roar of cheers or groans. Wild cries howled from thousands of throats. Then, of course, there were those who felt more resentment for the outcome.

The beautiful woman triumphs over the dark wizard. It was a storybook ending that was definitely a crowd-pleaser. She was a bright point of pure light – the extinguisher of evil spirits! This had been the most stupendous display of ability since the start of the tournament. She’d left an indelible impression.

“You… you are… “ Two shadows hung over the Pharmacist. The White Blademaster had finally given up his impassive façade and faced the Avenue denizen with clear excitement on his face. Xuanyuan Shishi was like everyone’s favorite uncle, and smiled goofily as he reached out to shake her hand.
She lifted her finger and placed it upon the radial artery on his wrist. Shishi gasped, and drew his hand back like he’d been shocked.

“We’ll talk later.” The Pharmacist promised calmly.

“Y-yes… yes, later.” Xuanyuan Shishi almost looked pained, but still answered quickly.

Jun Yongye was back to his impassive self. He stepped back a couple of paces and nodded respectfully to the woman. He motioned for Xuanyuan Shishi to follow, then they both returned to their respective seats. The whole way back, Xuanyuan Shishi looked over his shoulder.

Lan Jue swallowed. “Sis… that was something else.”

She smiled. “Not really. It’s all in the weapon.”

Lan Jue nodded, but added nothing. He knew that the sword she’d used at the end was different than the others. It was her true weapon. Her Discipline allowed for the Big Dipper skills, but the sword was something separate. It must have been her
Astrum, and what’s more it seemed to contain the power of a Paragon already. But she was not a Paragon!

Chapter 472: The Sword-Spirit Fairy

Lan Jue had encountered Astrum before, with the Wine Master’s scepter first to come to mind. But this white sword of hers was different, like it belonged on a whole other level. Could it be a relic, passed down from the ancient days?

If that were true and this sword once belonged to Celestial Master Qian, then it was the faintest glimpse of the power he had wielded. His own master might one day be so strong. Hell, in truth Lan Jue didn’t even know what his master’s Astrum was. All the power he’d witnessed had come only from the old man’s fists.

Like going from a steak to chicken soup, the remaining fights all seemed bland and uninteresting. The two swordsmen did what they were expected to do, and swept their final matches.

At last, the final four were official revealed; Group One, Zeus the God of Lightning; Group Two, the Pharmacist, who some were now calling the Harbinger Fairy ; Group Three, the White Blademaster Jun Yongye; and Group Four, Ten Thousand Swords as One, Xianyuan Shishi.

The crowd had chosen a new moniker for the powerful
Pharmacist. Sword-Spirit Fairy, a name they’d chosen after witnessing her harrowing command of the sword – ‘Annihilate’, and it had! The Pharmacist seemed well pleased with their choice.

By night the evening news casts scrolled through highlights. Now everyone could see that the East had swept the tournament. Once again, the East was the center of everyone’s attention. This was especially true for Skyfire Avenue.

The Pharmacist was the only remaining competitor of the Avenue’s four entrants. But was that not enough? Then, the other three were Easterners as well. In a few shorts rounds, the East went from underdog to dominating force.

“We need a meeting!” This was the frantic message sent to the Avenue delegates through their communicators.

Intercontinental Hotel. A meeting room.

Several people were seating around the circular conference table. The room had sunk in to an uncomfortable silence. The accountant glowered at its polished surface.
His depression was warranted. Not only had his determinations for the Pharmacist and Lan Jue been wrong, he’d also lost his bet. Jun Yongye had actually given up his final fight against the Driver, making his record 2-1. It was still considered a loss for the Accountant, though.

Aside from the pouting Adept, all other eyes were fixed upon the Pharmacist. Lan Jue had made his impression, but a day later that was already old news. The Pharmacist’s display was not only fresh in their minds, but was a far more terrifying display of strength. No one expected her to do what she’d done, but they’d all seen it with their own eyes.

The Gourmet looked at her with a serious expression on his face. “Why not take that step?”

The Pharmacist laughed. “Some things can’t be rushed. If I haven’t accumulated enough then it won’t happen, and I’ll never get there.”

The Gourmet sighed. “You need you on the same level.” It was a phrase that, although the two were being candid, was not lost on the others gathered. The Pharmacist was strong enough to be a Paragon, so why wasn’t she?
“You can never forget the truths you learn of protogenia. My power comes from my Discipline’s ability to destroy protogenic manifestations, and that means I need to understand it clearer than anyone. One day it will happen, but at least not now.”

The Gourmet smiled ever so slightly. “Whatever the case, congratulations. The Avenue won’t ask what you can do, we’re just happy that you’re a part of our family. But, from what we’ve seen today we would be remise not to offer you a seat on the Council.

The Barber jumped to his feet. “That’s right. Fame follows merit! I’d gladly give up my Councilor position to her. Watching how everyone has performed brings me great pleasure, but also great shame. I’ll perform my penance when we get back home.” This wasn’t sadness talking. He already knew how strong Lan Jue was from long before, though he wasn’t aware to what degree. Zeus’ strength and the Pharmacist’s incredible showing had inspired him.

The Pharmacist, though, gently shook her head. “There’s no need. I have no interest in becoming a Councilor. I prefer calm and quiet. If you need me specifically, then you can send the Jewelry Master to let me know – I won’t refuse.”
Lan Jue blinked. She was both refusing personal advancement and supporting him instead. But now everyone was falling silent. The Gourmet’s next words would be important.

ζ

The Great Adept Tournament had citizens across their entire neck of the galaxy buzzing with excitement. The Adept world was especially thrilled with the appearance of these incredible Talents.

Of course, the East – having swept the semi-finals – was the big winner. Since yesterday they had received over three thousand applications to join. All of them were Adepts. Apparently the Avenue’s strong showing had inspired a sense of cohesion and patriotism in the Easterners. The Avenue helped push it along by releasing some information about its five leading Paragons. Excluding the Clairvoyant, of course.

The two newest additions, especially, served to lift the Avenue up. Their ascension had stirred the motivations of middle- and high-grade Adepts alike. Clearly, the Avenue was a place that was quite good at making Paragons.
But there were detractions too. Here on Luo, the excitement surrounding the semi-finals was different somehow. Everything was calm on the surface, but was that how people really felt?

Lan Jue was sunk in his sofa, staring in to the middle-distance with his brows screwed up tight. He was thinking of something. Little by little, a grin crept on to his face.

“I can’t get ahold of Chu Cheng. What are you smirking about?” Qianlin asked, looking at him strangely.

Lan Jue had been trying to reach his fellow Monarch all day.

He smiled. “Am I not allowed to smile? ‘Flake-tastic’ is another name we have for that bastard. He’s the representative of his family, and that means when it comes down to it he has to stand beside his bloodline. However, whether it’s his decision or not, if he has to break off his relationship with me then he’ll let me know himself. But at the very least we won’t see any significant changes until after the tournament. The relationship between the Three Alliances is improving, and with it the relationships between all the Adept organizations. In the end, the basic premise never changes; humanity’s future is paramount. Right now, though, outsiders will watch us with covetous eyes. The North especially will do what they can to
keep us down, but not until the games are done.”

Qianlin watched him with a calm smile, the nervousness that had been clawing at her gone. She moved to his side, and said “Should I ask dad to send the army in to help us leave?”

Lan Jue shook his head. “No. If there’s a chance we could get out of here safely, why risk a confrontation with the North? Anyway, I’m anxious for the fight with Jun Yongye and Xuanyuan Shishi – I want to see if my theory is right. I’ve gained a lot through this whole experience, that’s the most important thing. We should also keep an ear out for any new information about the alien aggressors, like how strong they really are. This is important, for every human alive.”

Qianlin nodded her head in agreement. “Wherever you go, I’m going to. We’ll fight them shoulder to shoulder.”

He smiled at her. “You know, I saw a particularly choice bottle of alcohol while making my way to the meeting. I’ve earned some money, so what would you say to a little drink?”

“Alright!” Qianlin said with a beaming grin. “I don’t really like to drink, though…”
“No problem,” he assured her. “You’ll definitely like this stuff. It’s famous for being popular with women.”

“Oh, really?” She asked.

Lan Jue nodded in affirmation. “Let’s go – today it’s just us.”

The two of them bundled up in their urban camouflage of hat, glasses and mask, then left their room. The hotel’s bar was on the second floor, at the end of a winding corridor. Like most bars, its lighting had been brought down to a comfortable twilight. Each table had an elegant candle burning in its center. Very atmospheric.

Every time Lan Jue visited a fine hotel, he made a point of looking over their bar. There were always surprises in places like this.

“I’m very sorry, sir. That bottle isn’t for sale. It’s decoration, a treasure of the owner.” One of the waitresses was apologetically answering Lan Jue.

He smiled at her. “No problem, kindly call over the manager.
I’ll talk it over with them, is that alright?”

“Of course sir, please wait,” she answered. Places like this were famous for their high-quality service. They did everything in their power to make customers happy.

Before long, a man appeared in a tight, straight suit. He greeted them both with a smile. “You’ve certainly got taste, sir,” he began.

Chapter 473: The Sweetest Wine In The Universe

Lan Jue mirrored the man’s smile. “You mean my luck! I would not have guessed I’d see a 1990 Rieussec here. I have to admit I’m desperate to try some. If you’re willing to sell it to me, we’ll open it up right here – we won’t take it anywhere.”

True aficionados of wine, even merchants, understood. If you had to give up a wine, then the next best thing was to watch it being enjoyed. This would also ensure it wasn’t wasted by the uneducated.

The manager was one such person, and the moment he heard Lan Jue’s assurances then his face softened. He looked much less defensive.

“I can see you’re a genuine connoisseur, good sir. Regrettably, this particular vintage is quite painful to part with.” He paired the words with an apologetic smile.

It was Lan Jue’s turn to adopt a pitiful look. “I hate to cause you trouble, but I’m determined. Tell me what you want and we can discuss a price that works.”
This made the manager think for a moment. “I’d have to ask the owner. If you’d wait for a little while…”

Qianlin stood quietly by Lan Jue’s side as they spoke. She was stunned at how difficult the process was just to get a bottle of wine! She could see it behind the glass of an ornate cabinet behind the counter. It was quite small – maybe only three hundred and seventy-five milliliters – filled with a golden liquid like the color of honey. It looked particularly attractive.

When the manager reemerged from his office, about fifteen minutes had passed. He returned with another man who was quite tall. The newcomer looked as though he were perhaps in his fifties, with a suit even more straight and starched than the manager’s. His collar was smartly pinned, and a Windsor knot fixed his tie to his neck. A pocket square with white embroidery was an accent. Altogether he appeared very gentlemanly.

He walked over to Lan Jue with a pleasant smile. “Ah, so this is the newest one to be smitten by my bottle of gold.”

He meant, of course, the wine, using an old name it was referred to in the old days. It was truly a precious vintage.
“It’s a special day for me,” Lan Jue began. “I was hoping to leave an impression with a very fine wine. I would be very grateful for your help. I would also be remiss not to share your precious bottle with you.”

The middle-aged man smiled in response. “If I might be so bold as to ask, what is so important about today? And, if I could see your face… I’d very much like to know who it is who shares my interest in this wine.”

Lan Jue grumbled, then leaned in close to whisper something to the man. He then stepped back, and picked off the items covering his face.

A waiter standing nearby gasped in surprise when he saw who it was, but the older man shot him a silencing look before he could say anything. He then swung his eyes back to Lan Jue. “As a Northerner, I really shouldn’t grant this request. You’re single-handedly responsible for kicking our greatest hope out of the tournament.”

Lan Jue chuckled. “For that I can only express my apologies.” He’d revealed himself to the man out of respect – and out of respect for the wine.
The man burst in to jovial laughter. “No, no – let me finish. I shouldn’t, but I also come from noble lineage. I should certainly do as you request, since I’m likely talking to a future Paragon. Perhaps we can build a friendship over a fine bottle.”

In the end the owner was a businessman. He managed one of the greatest hotel chains in the universe, and having a Paragon patron would provide stupendous benefits.

“The Intercontinental has enjoyed by business for quite a long time,” Lan Jue answered with a smile. “The rooms are wonderful, and you all have a great attention to detail. Even the starched sheets are perfect.”

The praise lit up the man’s face. “You are a man of impeccable class, I can tell. More and more it appears my bottle has found a new owner.”

The owner plucked a key from his coat pocket before turning away and walking to that ornate  cabinet.  Almost ceremoniously, he opened the lock and pulled out his prized wine. The bottle itself didn’t appear all that special – just a small bottle – but the cabinet it was stored it betrayed its worth. It was not just for show, but was very carefully climate controlled. Faint tendrils of condensation rose off of it as he pulled the
bottle from its chilly home.

The owner led them personally to a table near the window. After motioning for them to sit, he produced a corkscrew. from another pocket and opened Lan Jue’s new purchase. He placed it on the table, and spread his hands as though to say, ‘enjoy.’

Interesting aside; the tool used by waiters that includes the corkscrew, fulcrum and label knife is called a hippocampal knife
– named after the shape of the knife which looks like a seahorse (from the animal genus Hippocampus). Therefore, the Chinese have dubbed this a ‘Seahorse knife’. Hippocampus, by the way, is Greek for ‘horse monster of the sea’. Damn I love language.

Lan Jue smiled. “Aren’t you going to have some with us?”

The owner shook his head. “I imagine this is a time you’d like to spend together, just the two of you.”

Lan Jue didn’t argue. He offered a thankful nod instead. The owner then left them to their drinks.

Qianlin, appearing a little anxious, looked around at their
surroundings. She feared someone might recognize Lan Jue and cause unnecessary trouble. She didn’t want some stranger to destroy one of the few quiet moments they got together. Of course, cultivation didn’t count.

Lan Jue reached across the table and took up the bottle. He poured the contents in to the glasses, and immediate a sweet and fragrant aroma swirled between them. The refreshing scent filled them with a sense of rejuvenation.

“This is quite a rare treat. Chateau D’Yquem, giving a name in ancient China to evoke the memory image of liquid gold. It’s a French wine, from the Left Bank of the Bordeaux region. It’s among the best there was, even more of a prize than a Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte. We are about to enjoy one of the best white wines ever produced. Really, only the German vintages by Egon Muller are better. Ready for a sip?”

Zhou Qianlin nodded, then took up the glass and gently brought it up to her nose. She was quickly surprised to find that she could no longer smell the sweetness from before. Now it was replaced by a heady grape scent that was very refreshing. Like the scent of spring, or of a young woman.

She took a sip, and the fine liquor slipped passed her lips like
honey. That sweetness returned as the wine sloshed around her tongue, and for a moment Qianlin thought she could taste all the beautiful things in the world within it. A relaxing sensation spread out from within her. It was difficult to describe.

“This is a class of wine called ‘pouerriture noble’ – noble rot. All of the best white wines fall in to this category. If Champaign is the alcohol of choice for a good time, then this is what you open for a relaxing, sweet affair.” Lan Jue then took a sip of his own, and punctuated it with a heartfelt sigh of appreciation.

Qianlin was not one to often partake in alcohol, but this liquid gold was something else. It was like all the best things in the universe had been shoved in to a tiny bottle.

Lan Jue smiled at her. “Do you know what I said to the owner to convince us to let us have the bottle?”

“It wasn’t because of who you are?” She asked.

He shook his head. “Those types of people are quite stubborn. Anyway, he only learned who I was later. The only way to get what I wanted, was to make a good impression.”
Qianlin was curious. “So what did you say to him?”

Lan Jue laughed, and looked deeply in to her dazzling blue eyes. “I told him I wanted the sweetest thing in the universe to woo the sweetest girl I know. I had hoped that I could leverage this in to a chance at being her boyfriend.”

Zhou Qianlin, for a moment, was too stunned to speak. And then, “what girl is this then?”

Lan Jue’s face fell. “Who do you think?!”

Chinese internet lingo uses 囧 to describe a crestfallen feeling, simply because it looks like a lamenting face. It’s one of my favorite characters.

She looked in to the depths of her wine glass. A far-away look invaded her eyes, but she shook her head to clear it and stared out of the window. “A bottle of wine may not be enough to convince her. How do you know she’ll even like it? One shouldn’t be so arrogant.”

She looked up at him, and he could see her choking back tears.
Since this trip, their relationship had become much closer, as to be expected when on had to kiss simply to cultivate. And, he still couldn’t get past the walls protecting her. Qianlin knew it, too, and knew that the specter of Hera would always haunt her bodyguard.

She had been waiting, day after day. Waiting for him to see her for her. Although they were indeed much closer, Qianlin had fought to keep her affections on the surface only. She had no confidence.

Their bodies had touched long ago in the way that a man and a woman’s does, but their hearts had yet to catch up. It was completely unexpected that on this seemingly normal night, he was seeking to change that.

It was too sudden, and she was not prepared. On the one hand her heart beat excitedly in her chest, but somewhere in there was uncertainty, too.

It was not easy! She took another sip to try and keep the tears in her eyes from falling. As she did, she noticed that he had yet to respond.
Almost unconsciously her eyes turned back to him. But, much to her surprise, he was nowhere to be seen. Only his half-empty glass remained as any trace that he’d been there at all.

He left? Was he angry?

She felt herself become flustered. She turned around looking for him, and gasped when she turned to find his face right beside hers.

Chapter 474: I…

He knelt beside her on one knee, with bright  eyes  that watched her closely. At some point – she didn’t know when – he’d produced a sweet-smelling rose. He held it out to her.

“Qianlin, I’m sorry. I’m not sure if this is too late, or too early… maybe you can’t accept or it’s one sided. But I wanted to show you how sincere I am.”

“Ever since the day I met you, my heart’s been all knotted up. At first I couldn’t help but replace your identity with hers. Her shadow was a large one that covered everything in my life. For a long time I wasn’t even sure you weren’t her. I told myself it wasn’t right, and that it wasn’t fair to you. Just because you look alike doesn’t mean you’re some sort of substitute. In my guilt and shame, I kept you at a distance. I had to keep telling myself you weren’t her, you weren’t her.”

“However, somethings are out of our control. When you showed up my dead heart started beating again. I see your gentleness, your strength, and I see how well you treat me. Your sister’s image will always have a place in my soul, but you are just as deep.”


“I resisted for a long time because I thought it was a betrayal. It was a betrayal of her love, and so for a long time I couldn’t reconcile that within me. But life has to be about looking forward. Although, that’s much easier said than done. I told myself before that Hera would be the only woman I would ever love – but life had different plans.”

“At a point even I don’t know when, I fell in love with Zhou Qianlin. Not a Substitute for the love I lost, but something new. You are Zhou Qianlin, not Hera. My heart knows it now.”

“Hera had to go… and now I’m moving forward. My love for her will never subside, but I have more love to give. I know I’ve hurt you many, many times, and I can’t ask you to put that all aside and accept me. But maybe, you’ll give me a chance, I hope you will. I hope that I’ll find a way to tell  you, starting right now, you are the Zhou Qianlin in my heart. The girl I like… the girl I love.”

“I know it’s… not phrased the best, maybe. I don’t know what I can say to really get my point across, but I promise that I’ll never hurt you again. I will devote all of my care and attention on to you.”

“I was unwilling at first to be your bodyguard at the
university. I was afraid I was giving up my freedom. Now, though, I realize that this was a gift of a new start, from you. With your approval, I’d like to extend our contract indefinitely. I will stand at your side watching over you, protecting you, and loving you.”

He lifted the flower up to Zhou Qianlin, his face full of sincerity. She looked back at him too stunned to speak. Tears had begun to stream down her cheeks long ago. Her whole body shook.

Then, she shoved the rose away. Her head snapped to the side as though she couldn’t look at him. “No! I can’t, at least not now.”

Lan Jue was completely taken by surprise. He thought she might not accept right away, but outright rejection was not what he’d anticipated.

“Don’t cry, Qianlin. Don’t cry. Its fine – I can wait.” Lan Jue stood and enveloped her in a hug.

She shook against his chest. Her voice was low and broke from the tears. “I’m sorry, A-Jue. I’m sorry I can’t answer… and right
now I can’t tell you why. When this tournament is done and we go back to Skyfire, I’ll show you something. If afterwards you still want to be together we can talk about it again. Ok?”

With that said, she jump to her feet and fled the bar. Lan Jue was left standing there, flower in hand, feeling desolate. He returned to his seat and quietly finished first his glass, and then Qianlin’s. The taste was sweet as ever, but it couldn’t soothe the bitterness he felt. He replaced the cork. At least right now, he wouldn’t be enjoying this bottle.

A potentially important note; while bitterness in English implies he blames Qianlin (and is the precise word he uses), no such implication is in the original text. It’s safe to assume he is not angry with Qianlin.

Outside the bustling streets of Luo City were a circus of sights and sounds, but all he felt was loneliness. When he eventually returned to his room, he entered to find it plunged in to darkness. Qianlin lay on the bed, seemingly already asleep.

He didn’t trouble her, and absconded to the couch. It was then he felt it, the pang of those old wounds. It’d been a long time since he felt it, but it was as clear as sharp as ever.
They didn’t spend any time in cultivation. The whole day had gone by without any work. Early morning the next day, the first thing Lan Jue did after stirring was look toward the bed. He saw Qianlin there, clad in her nightgown, looking outside. He then noticed the blanket that was covering him.

He took a deep breath to try and calm himself, then wrapped the covers around him and stood. Qianlin, hearing him stir behind her, turned around and greeted him with a smile. She looked mostly recovered. “You’re up. I’ve ordered us breakfast, it should be here soon.”

“Alright,” he replied. “I’ll go take a shower, then.”

“Alrighty!” She shot him a dazzling smile, bright and wide.

Lan Jue shuffled toward the bathroom. He suddenly felt the need to escape her smiling face.

Qianlin watched him go, and once his back was turned a
pained look flitted passed her eyes. She nibbled her lower lip. Could you understand that my own heartache is so much worse than yours? But I can’t tell you. It would affect you too much, affect the tournament. Wait for us to get back, and then I’ll tell you everything. I don’t want anything to stand between the two
of us… and I don’t want you to feel regret, later.

On the outside, everything seemed perfectly normal. The two of them had a pleasant breakfast, then continued with their cultivation. Although, Qianlin could feel that Lan Jue’s kiss was far more ‘polite.’

ζ

The finals were about to begin, and the streets were a mess of people trying to make their way. Every broadcast station from here to the shattered starfields was covering the games.

Lan Jue hadn’t seen the Pharmacist all day. When he saw Jun’er, she was with the Gourmet. He guessed she’d delivered the child to the Gourmet early, so as not to interrupt his cultivation.

Now it was time for the games to continue.

The finals would be determined by lots, to see which fighters would compete against who. When Lan Jue got to the waiting area, it felt almost deserted. But wasn’t it? There were only four
left, where once there had been thousands.

The Pharmacist, Jun Yongye, and Xuanyuan Shishi had all already arrived. When his Avenue compatriot saw him, she greeted him with a smile and a nod. Jun Yongye and Shishi offered a respectful greeting as well.

Lan Jue offered a nod of his own, then sat. It was time to focus, but not for glory. He was eager to see what more he could learn.

Really, this chance was one in a million. He’d already done what he could to push the troubles between him and Qianlin to the back of his mind. After all, he wasn’t the same Lan Jue as before. He’d grown and matured considerably. Love was an eternal consideration, but it wasn’t everything.

He smiled to the Pharmacist. “If we happen to get paired up, then you have to promise not to go easy on me. Give it all you’ve got. I’m anxious to feel the destructive force of the fairy.”

She smiled back. “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”
He laughed. “I guess that’s up to lady luck. Best would be me against you for the championship. If that happens I’ll forfeit. We can always test ourselves back in the Reaper’s Arena.”

The Pharmacist looked at him seriously for a moment, but said nothing.

Meanwhile, things on the VIP platform were proceeding as they had been, without any visible deviation but for one. The Terminator sat in the center of the platform, calm and impassive as a mountain. What was new was the person beside him.

She wore a snow-white veil, with a gown that matched. From what one could see, she looked to be in her thirties. But here in the North, there was only one other person who deserved the same respect as the Terminator. The Epochrion!

She had settled herself between the Terminator and the Gourmet. She was still and silent, simply watching the scene around her.

On the Terminator’s other side was, as ever, Mo Xiao. She was still in charge of announcing the rest of the games.
“Ladies and gentlemen, hello and welcome. I am Mo Xiao.” As the time came for the game to commence, her voice rose like a crystal chime through the arena.

“I hope you’re all looking forward to the semi-finals! Finally, we have fought past the gauntlet and have emerged with four remaining fighters. Whatever their performance, each of them will be leaving with wonderful prizes to show for their effort. However, there can only be one champion, and all the riches they will earn.

“Let me introduce you to our potential champions. From Group One; Zeus, the God of Lightning! Emerging from Group Two, the Pharmacist, also known as the Sword-Spirit Fairy. Group Three has produced the White Blademaster Jun Yongye. And last but not least, from Group Four, the Ten Thousand Swords as one – Xuanyuan Shishi!”

Chapter 475: A God Versus Ten Thousand Swords

“I’m sure we’re all anxious to discover who will be in conflict for the semi-finals. Who will face off next for a chance at the championship? Who will put their best on display? I’m certain that these young Talents won’t fail to entertain, and soon we’ll have our last two for the Great Championship Battle. I must admit, even I’m excited. So, without any further adieu, let’s see who’s fighting who!”

Four beams of light appeared from overhead and fell upon the ring. Instead of the portraits, this time the competitors were represented by full holographic models. The area beneath their feet began to shine as well; two gold, and two silver.

“Today we are also blessed with honored attendees, aside from our majesties Terminator and Gourmet. Yes, today we are graced with the presence of the second Northern Paragon, the Epochrion! Our respected Paragons will take over responsibilities of selecting matches. Epochrion, if you would be so kind as to start us off?”

Ladies first, basic manners. The time mistress nodded her head, and in a cool and dispassionate voice that sounded like a child’s, called out over the arena.
“Begin!”

The four figures began to flash and shake. In fact, before long the whole ring was a sea of indecipherable flashing light. It was the Terminator who spoke next.

“Stop!”

At his command the flashing rings of silver and gold stopped beneath the projections. The fights had been chosen. Lan Jue and the other fighters watched carefully from the sidelines. The results brought a smile to Lan Jue’s lips.

“Well sis,” he said, “I guess our luck isn’t so bad after all!” He referred, of course, to the chance that they would have to fight one another first. That was not the case. The result: Lan Jue versus Xuanyuan Shishi. The Pharmacist versus Jun Yongye.

Mo Xiao’s voice called out again, alive with excitement. “Good. The fights have been decided. The first fight of the semi- finals will see the God of Lightning testing himself against the Ten Thousand Swords. In fight two, the Sword-Spirit and the White Blademaster will see who has better command of the sword!”
Lan Jue’s shining eyes swept over to Xuanyuan Shishi. He found his opponent staring right back. His countryman’s face still bore that friendly, almost jovial smile as he shot Lan Jue a big thumbs up. Lan Jue answered with a nod.

Zeus’ wish had been answered; he would face off against this masterful swordsman to see what he could learn. One of the best things about this tournament had been its rigid and efficient structure. Other than the finals, which would occur tomorrow night, everything else had been held to a specific and regular routine.

Lan Jue and Xuanyuan Shishi stood together, and walked toward the ring. As they made their way across the sidelines, floodlights followed.

Now, at this point, it was safe to say that these two young men had the attention of all of humanity. It was still too early to say who would walk away with the title of champion. No one dared look down on Zeus any more, after his dramatic victory over Titan. But, one must not forget, his opponent had bested Constantine. Who would emerge victorious? There was no way to tell until the dust settled.

“Who do you favor for this fight?” Mo Xiao turned to ask the
Terminator sitting beside her. She imagined the Paragon was still upset that his Discipline had lost, but she had a job to do. The show must go on.

The Terminator’s low cadence answered. “Hard to say. They both have very different combat styles, but in terms of Discipline Zeus has the edge. He did a frankly astonishing job at hiding it, as well. However, the determining factor in their fight will be their martial art. At the very least, Xuanyuan Shishi’s swordsmanship will narrow that power gap. Yet, Zeus has a very impressive grasp of Taiji. I suspect that ultimately, the winner will be chosen by how well they perform under pressure.”

Mo Xiao smiled politely as he explained. “Even you aren’t certain your Majesty – but at least it means it should be an exciting fight! We’ll have to see who rises to the challenge, and I hope that these two powerful young Adepts surprise us.”

Mo Xiao’s eyes slid almost unconsciously toward Lan Jue, and her eyes narrowed ever so slightly. It was hard to tell what she was thinking. He didn’t see – he was already in the ring with his opponent.

“I’m honestly surprised you managed to beat that blockhead.
Not bad, not bad. I suppose now we have no choice.”

Lan Jue looked at him in curiosity. What did he mean, no choice?

“I’m honored to test myself against you,” Lan Jue retorted. “Please, don’t hold back!”

To this the swordsman nodded. “Don’t worry, I will. Defeating me won’t be so easy, you’ll find. You’ll need to do your best as well. And if you do win, the rewards are significant.”

Another phrase that seemed to make little sense to Lan Jue. He maybe a little despondent… it seemed like this very respectable warrior had a few screws loose.

“Three, two, one. Begin!”

Xuanyuan Shishi raced to action as the buzzer sounded. His hands shot out, and at their motion a white fog rolled out to meet Lan Jue. It moved with unnatural speed. Although they had never met in the ring before, Lan Jue had watched enough
fights now to know what to expect.

The Mercenary King’s answer was to stamp his foot against the ground and soar in to the air. As the wind rushed around him, his own hands splayed out and pressed downward.

Lan Jue’s whole body suddenly turned royal purple. Then, revealed in a chorus of crackling blasts, countless bolts of bluish-purple lightning assailed the ring. The mists summoned by his foe were instantly dissolved, though the two enormous mist-swords hidden within – as well as Xuanyuan Shishi himself
– were unharmed.

The crowd was suddenly reminded, his Discipline was thunderbolt and lightning! Since his last fight against Titan had relied solely on Taiji, many in the crowd had forgotten what his Discipline was!

Titan’s strength had been his incredible defense. It had required an incredible pinpoint force from Lan Jue. Xuanyuan Shishi’s strength was in the sword style he was now famous for. Zeus’ tactics would have to be different, and so he started with his Forest of Lightning. It was important to note that he had joined with Zhou Qianlin before arriving. This Forest of Lightning was ninth level ninth rank – very different than those
that came before!

Each individual bolt was the size of a man’s arm. Everything beneath the force field was completely lost in lightning – Xuanyuan Shishi and his blades were no exception. Terrible blasts of thunder exploded all around them, again and again.

Xuanyuan Shishi himself was stunned by what he was seeing. His body dissolved in to a cluster of clouds to try and escape. But the Forest of Lightning was all-encompassing. There was nowhere he could run to. Almost immediately the bolts of lightning began to tear through the mist and separate it, but it also danced around like mad.

The fight came down to how their Disciplines interacted. When he fought Titan, Lan Jue’s lightning Discipline hadn’t been enough, by any measure, to break Titan’s shield. Shishi’s defense was not so doughty, not even half of what Titan had commanded. Further, his style of ten thousand changes couldn’t use its advantages against ten thousand lightning bolts.

Back in the waited area, the Pharmacist nodded as she looked on. Her little brother was smart. He knew what his foe would try, and had a fine answer for it.
However Shishi was no pushover. His tactics changed when he noticed his original plan was ineffective. The two giant swords dispersed, only to reform after a moment in to a large slender sword suspended in air. It swiveled and swiped around the bolts as it searched for Lan Jue. But the sword would never find him. Just as Shishi could lose himself in mists, Zeus employed the lost arts of lightning to become electricity himself. He was everywhere. The slender blade was a lost fish in a sea of lightning.

Shishi’s plan was a good one, in theory. His opponent’s attacks were sure to expend a great deal of energy. Therefore, he would save his own and focus on protecting himself. He could prevent himself from being too adversely affected and wait, and when Lan Jue’s energies were low enough than his defeat was assured.

It was the same mistake Lan Jue’s other opponents made.
None of them knew of his Phylactery stone.

This was not to say that the attacks were not exceedingly draining, especially at his level of power. However, with the benefits of the Phylactery he could sustain it for a long period of time without much trouble – maybe an hour and a half. Besides, these thick bolts of lightning had already started to affect Shishi.
Even if Lan Jue’s output was seven times Shishi’s, he could keep this up for quite a while.

“No… no, this isn’t right. This can’t be true, how could you have so much energy? We don’t have any long-ranged skills!”

It didn’t take Shishi long to see the problem. He yelled out in frustration.

In the end Xuanyuan Shishi was right. The fight continued until energy was gone – he just didn’t think it would be his own!

Chapter 476: Stabilizing Protogenia

Xuanyuan Shishi’s cries were heard clear throughout the arena, and it sent chaos rippling through the stands. Constantine was watching also, and he was full of a helpless disbelief. How could he have lost to this guy? And Zeus, what he was doing should be impossible. How was he sustaining such a taxing barrage?

The more attentive onlookers could see how this man’s Forest of Lightning was a problem. However, a competition was a competition, and victory was earned at any price. But what they did not expect was Lan Jue’s cry.

“Very well!”

The overwhelming swell of lightning finally began to subside. Just as all rivers flowed to the ocean, the great bolts of electricity all flowed back toward Lan Jue – standing suspended in the air – and disappeared within him. That slender sword tumbled to the ground where it reformed in to the figure of Shishi.

The swordsman looked at his opponent, refusing to believe what had happened. “Scoundrel… you must have a way to shore
up your energy reserves.”

Lan Jue looked at him helplessly. “Can you relax?”

“Fine,” Shishi replied with a sniff. “Now we’ll see what’s stronger – your fist or my sword.” His challenge came as Shishi flowed toward Lan Jue, himself very much like a cloud. Another misty sword had appeared in his hand.

Lan Jue answered by sinking in to his stance. His hands rose up in the now-familiar and fluid motions of Taiji. He’d agreed to stop the forest of lightning because winning wasn’t what he was after. He was in search of growth, and the best growth always came from pressure. What was there to be gained in a straightforward win?

There was a flicker of light against Shishi’s sword, then he was in front of Lan Jue. His weapon lashed out and birthed ten thousand copies that flowed like mercury. They slithered toward Lan Jue’s shields while the swordsman himself seemed to become more incorporeal.

Xuanyuan Shishi’s weapon was like an extension of his own body. His movements were unpredictable and dangerous. For
Lan Jue it was like everywhere he looked were swords. Every single one of those deadly blades were heading right for him, aiming to pin him to the ground. Shishi’s title was more telling than he’d imagined.

They hadn’t reached him yet, but he could feel them. Every one of the acupuncture points dotting his  body  began  to ache. But, he had a plan. He shrunk in on himself a little more, sinking lower in to his hands and bringing his arms around to form a vertical circle. Where Shishi’s sword style was swift, guileful and enveloping, Lan Jue’s response was to slow way down. It put the both of them in sharp contrast.

The human body is absolutely lousy with acupuncture points.
Maybe a little nsfw.

Then, the scene became strange. Those ten thousand sword- shadows were drawn toward something – that circle Zeus was making with his arms.

To Shishi it was like those swords were all piercing through a vortex. It was like they’d gotten lost in a quagmire, and even Shishi was starting to feel the pull. Years of extensive study led to Zeus being capable of completely fusing his Discipline with Taiji. Since electricity had its own vacuum force, it bolstered the
Taiji vortex even further. This was his plan, combine them together to creation the appropriate reaction.

Shishi, seeing this, had no recourse but to use all his strength to wrench those mist-blades free and attack again. He came at Lan Jue from a different angle of attack.

Lan Jue’s arm began to move, but maintained the circular shape. However, the Taiji power spilled free and started to conceal Shishi’s attacks from view. The new center of gravity sent the sword master’s weapons spinning, and ultimately unable to hit him. Gradually Shishi lost control, and his weapons were directed where Lan Jue wished. Their difference in Discipline also began to show. Xuanyuan Shishi’s mists had started to grow sluggish.

He inwardly complained at the situation. Whether the Forest of Lightning or the Taiji abilities, everything had him locked down and unable to fully engage his speed. The Taiji skills of a peak-ranked Adept were too strong. Even the atmosphere under the force field swirled at the behest of Zeus. Shishi was on a battlefield completely out of his control.

There were still a few spectators that thought Lan  Jue’s victory over Titan was a fluke. The proof now overwhelmingly
proved the opposite. No wonder he won, they thought. Taiji was much more capable than any ordinary person could have imagined.

This is largely true. Most people feel that Taiji is for old people, but I’ve seen/had my ass kicked by a Taiji master before. They don’t mess around

Lan Jue moved slower and slower, and the whole of the energy around them began to change by degrees. The shields surrounding the ring fluctuated as though it was under assault. Xuanyuan Shishi was losing control of himself to Lan Jue’s flowing force.

Lan Jue himself was a tool of it, he was a part of it and seemed almost separate from reality around him. For a moment, he even forgot he was in battle. Every moment saw his lightning Discipline and the Taiji powers more completely combining. His yang-style powers were brought in to the transformative properties of Taiji, and softened it. The overwhelming force of it felt more pliant, and yet the moment of release was as powerful as one of the Taiji Nine Strikes. It hit with enough force to shake the earth.

This is what he meant! I remember master telling me, that the
rage of yang lightning could be given peace by Taiji.

He also remembered the words of his teacher: When he could bring those two worlds together, he would discover his Path.

It was completely unexpected that he should have this epiphany now, in the midst of competition. It was not a revelation derived from this one fight, but the result of days – years – of contemplation. Only now was it revealing itself.

Nor was this just his Discipline. He could feel it flowing all through him. As his Core gently rotated in his chest, an aura of radiating energy was pouring forth.

This was not an aura of explosive electricity, but was infinitely gentle. Beneath his feet, the swirling image of the yin- yang, of white and black power, appeared and began to swell. It grew until every inch of ground beneath them was covered. If anyone could see the invisible flows of energy in the ring, they would see tendrils of power. Thin and pliant as a strand of silk, they flowed to the center of the enormous swirling image.

The sense of it was not grandiose, but the intractable pull of the energies were undeniable.
Xuanyuan Shishi’s body had begun to spin out of control. His weapons could only blindly flail through the arena. Even he had lost his target.

The results of the fight were already known. Lan Jue made no effort to press the attack.

Jun Yongye watched carefully from the arena. He nodded, agreeing with some unspoken thought.

Just then, Lan Jue bellowed a clear and righteous yell. It was as thunderous as a dragon, as fierce as a lion. In the space of a blink, the white and black powers flipped and collided around Lan Jue. Xuanyuan Shishi was buffeted every which way.

The tiger and Dragon are often depictions of yin and yang and are regularly pictures artistically with the yin-yang symbol.

In the midst of this overwhelming assault, a brilliant beam of light erupted from the swordsman. It was a sparkling red of pure sword spirit that fired through the top of the ring’s shields. Within it descended a ruby-red blade.
But it lasted only a moment. In a breath it was gone, forced shut by some invisible force.

The Pharmacist and Jun Yongye’s eyebrows shot up in the same instant.

The vestiges of red power from Shishi vanished. He, too, disappeared, but only to spring back in to view in the center of the ring. He was no longer spinning.

The spinning vortex of white and black power was also slowly reducing in size. It eventually retreated to reveal Lan Jue in it’s epicenter, and vanished in to a spot on his chest. His skin fluctuated between black and white, flickering and melding in to one another. It shifted to dazzling gold and silver and, flickering thrice to the intensity of Lan Jue’s screams, disappeared.

It was like witnessing a staggering phenomenon.

Xuanyuan was completely oblivious to the change in Lan Jue.
He couldn’t even tell where he was.
Lan Jue had chosen to wear his mask for the fight. It was a part of Zeus’ identity, and revealing his face one time was no excuse for abandoning tradition. But if people could see his face beneath the golden façade, they would discover that his face was covered by a glossy shimmer. The sense that came from him changed, too. It seemed more grounded in the natural way. He looked more like a Paragon.

This was the sign that an Adept was on his first steps of the Path. If a peak Talent could fortify his understanding and work hard, he would ascend to the rank of Paragon.

But Lan Jue’s true power was only third rank! This was the benefit of re-cultivation. These were the benefits to his future that were promised. It was slow to start with a sudden explosion of growth to Paragon, much different from barely managing.

“Do you still wish to continue?” Lan Jue asked his opponent.
He still sounded vigilant.

Lan Jue’s transcendence had been well timed, for while he took that great stride he could still feel the staggering power Shishi had summoned. It had been just a moment, but the strength of it had made Lan Jue’s heart race. But he was determined, now that his feet were on the path, he could
overcome.

Chapter 477: I Abstain!

Xuanyuan Shishi did not continue to press an attack. “So dizzy… no more, you win.” He punctuated the statement by hopping out of the ring. The first fight of the semi-finals was complete – Zeus, God of Lightning, had defeated the Ten Thousand Swords.

The swordsman was never given an inch, and could not bring his full strength to bear. The fight was under Lan Jue’s iron- fisted control from the start. The result was completely unexpected.

Mo Xiao’s surprised voice confirmed it. “Congratulations to the God of Lightning, our first competitor in the finals. With each victory he seems more and more the deity. Your Majesty, what can you tell us about that last fight?”

The expression in the Terminator’s eyes could be described as despondent. “Xuanyuan Shishi didn’t really lose. He had something up his sleeve, but had no chance to use it – or couldn’t control it. Zeus had very good understanding, that’s what saw him win so quickly.”

His own disciple had made his own future progress slower in
order to win glory for the Great Conclave. But he lost, giving his spot in the quarter finals to this mercenary king. What’s more, Zeus had used the opportunity to find his Path. Was Skyfire Avenue really so richly endowed?

Of course he knew that Zeus also went by the name of the Jewelry Master, a Councilor of the Avenue. He was his organization’s future, and he had played a part in stealing away the North and West’s splendor.

Mo Xiao could hear the irritation in the Terminator’s voice and quickly changed the subject. “The next fight will be against the White Blademaster and the Sword-Spirit Fairy. Do you have any thought on this fight?”

He didn’t hesitate to give this answer. “The Pharmacist appears stronger, she showed us that at the end of her fight against the Dark Necromancer, Jiang Yuan. It was no less powerful than a strike from a Paragon. Her weapon is likely already an Astrum, or equivalent.”

He was a second level Paragon, and with that insight he knew that her strength was even enough to curtail the spread of his own Domain. In fact, it was hard to say for certain she weasn’t already a Paragon in disguise. And she was of the Avenue as
well! With their five Paragons, even minus the Clairvoyant, Skyfire Avenue was simply lousy with star Adepts. The Terminator was less than pleased.

Mo Xiao nodded. “Well, let’s take a look!”

Zeus jaunted back to the waited area in time to see the Pharmacist give him a smile and stand. “Congratulations,” she said.

Lan Jue chuckled. “You’ve got this one, sis!”

His companion’s face bore a smirk, full of trickery. “You’re the one needing encouragement. Your next fight is a big hurdle.”

“Eh?” He lookd at her quizzically. But before he could get any answers, the Pharmacist dissolved in to a beam of light and raced for the ring. There, she reappeared.

When the Sword-Spirit Fairy appeared in the ring again, the crowds went wild. The strength she’d shown was absolutely incredible, like some legendary warrior. Ever since, she’d been
everyone’s favorite subject. If the Northerners were asked who they’d like to see win the championship, more than seventy percent would probably pick her.

Jun Yongye, known as the White Blademaster, also entered the ring from the other side. He offered the Pharmacist a respectful bow. It was a gesture she did not return. She stood quietly for a moment, looking carefully at her opponent.

“I abstain!”

Abstain! The two rounds rang loudly through the arena. She was conceding? Why?

The place became a sea of voices trying to shout over one another.

How could this be? She was the favorite, their Sword-Spirit Fairy. And yet, when faced with the White Blademaster she gave up her chance. What had promised to be an epic class between two powerhouses was finished, just like that.

This…
Lan Jue had just sat down, but when he heard her voice he
shot right back up on his feet. She quit?! Sis, what are you doing? You were supposed to meet me in the finals, weren’t you?

He was as stunned as everyone else. This included the Gourmet, who sat up in the viewing platform with wide eyes and open mouth. What was she thinking? The Pharmacist, concede? She represented Skyfire Avenue, and her loss meant that now no one in the champion fight would carry their banner. It was an embarrassing situation to suddenly find himself in!

The Terminator turned his massive head and gave the Gourmet a long, silent look. Then nodded.

Inwardly, the Gourmet screamed relief. This guy thought it was planned, a stunt to avoid embarrassing the North and West. But… that wasn’t his plan at all!

The crowds had fallen in to disarray, but Jun Yongye seemed unperturbed. He simply offered her another bow. The Pharmacist nodded, then left the ring. She was calm as she walked back to Lan Jue.
“The fights for today are done, let’s go.” She grabbed his arm, and pulled him from the arena.

If she had quit when facing Zeus, then this whole thing would have made more sense. Their relationship had been clear to the audience for some time, and they couldn’t help but concoct stories to go with their assumptions. But that was not the case, and she had given away her opportunity to Jun Yongye. It was flabbergasting. She had no reason to throw the fight!

“Sis… why did you give up?” He could deny his curiosity no longer.

She shot him a glance. “I can’t tell you now, but you’ll know soon enough. What you need to focus on now is preparing for tomorrow – to fight Jun Yongye! Do you understand?” Her tone had hardened, and she sounded for all the world like a big sister, or perhaps a strict mother.

Lan Jue almost unconsciously nodded his head in acceptance. A thousand ideas were swimming in his brain, but none of them explained why she would act this way. There didn’t appear any logical reason. The only one, was that she would give up her spot so he could learn from another opponent. For cultivation? But even this didn’t make much sense.
Lan Jue dutifully allowed himself to be pulled along out of the Great Conclave Arena, though his heart was full of doubt. Many shared his confusion, but the tournament sponsors jumped on the chance right away. Seats needed to be filled.

Now the competitors for the final had been decided; Zeus, versus Jun Yongye! Ver soon they would battle for supremacy, to reveal who would be this tournament’s Grand Champion.

“I told you daddy’s going to be champion. Tomorrow, daddy’s definitely going to win!” Jun’er, bundled up in the Gourmet’s arms, excitedly gave everyone around her a talking-to. She wasn’t the least bit upset at her mother’s loss – like she already knew it was coming.

The Avenue’s Paragon got to his feet and bid his two Northern Compatriots farewell. With Jun’er in his arms and uncertainty gnawing at the back of his own mind, he left.

The Pharmacist and Lan Jue walked lazily toward the hotel. “When you get back, get right to cultivating,” she instructed. “You must work on firming up your control over Domain. Don’t trouble yourself with anything else, you can deal with all of that when the tournament’s finished. Jun’er and I will be cheering for you. We’re both certain you’ll be the champion. Certain!”
“I’ll do my best,” he promised.

The Pharmacist answered by patting his shoulder. With a smile, she turned and left to go collect her daughter.

Lan Jue watched her go, mulling over something. After a minute he left for the elevators, but carefully. He was wearing his mask, and it would be very easy to be noticed.

The first thing he did when he got back, was to release Qianlin. He absconded in to the bathroom and waiting for her to get herself decent. He leaned over the sink and stared at himself in the mirror. “So why do you think she threw the fight? I have a strange feeling that sis knows Jun Yongye.”

Qianlin shouted through the door as she changed. “Maybe it’s something she finds hard to say. At the very least, I’m sure it’s nothing that would hurt you.”

Her words immediately reminded him of their exchange at the bar. Was she talking about the Pharmacist, or herself?

He was silent. After a moment Qianlin’s voice called again.
“I’m done.”

He left the bathroom, and saw Qianlin waiting for him in a simple and breezy white dress. “You can relax,” he told her. “I want to meditate on what I’ve learned today for a little while.

“Ok,” she replied with a nod. “I’ll make sure you aren’t troubled.”

Today, Lan Jue’s command over domain had risen. It was a great boon. They were joined at the time as well, so she had very clearly experienced the breakthrough just as he had.

Lan Jue wasted no more time in conversation. He knelt cross- legged on the floor, shut his eyes, and slipped in to meditation.

Qianlin stood beside him. She looked down at his quiet, relaxed figure, and a strange expression passed across her pretty face. Inwardly, she thought; A-Jue, if only you knew how much
I wanted to tell you everything. But right now you are on such
an important trajectory, I can’t distract you. Please just wait until we get back. I’ll tell you everything.
ζ

The audience had been less than pleased with the finals, the viewer ratings highlighted that very clearly. There appeared quite a lot of criticism over the web, directed at both the sponsors and the Pharmacist. Fewer of those curses came from Easterners, though, for after all the final two fighters were both Easterners. Whoever won, the tournament crown would be coming to the East.

Chapter 478: Before The Championship

“Why would you forfeit?” The Gourmet’s incredulous question was directed at the Pharmacist.

Her response was tepid. “I have my reasons. I do regret that I was unable to take the championship in the Avenue’s name.” Her words were apologetic, though her expression bore no such sign.

The Gourmet’s grin was drawn and bitter. “Fine. We wouldn’t even be in the quarter finals without you, anyway. We’d have more trouble to consider, certainly. At any rate, the Jewelry Master is one of ours, even if it isn’t on his name tag. It is what it is, and I wouldn’t speak any more on it. Now, let’s just hope our Jewelry Master can emerge victorious tomorrow.”

There was a flash of excited energy in the Pharmacist’s eyes.
Her voice was resolute. “He’ll win. He must.”

The Paragon was a little taken aback by her sudden and intense demeanor. What pride, to state he’d win so categorically. Was her surrender today somehow tied to the Jewelry Master?
The Pharmacist went on. “That’s enough about this. We can talk more about it after we’ve finished preparations, if we must.”

The Gourmet’s face stiffened, and his eyes narrowed. He answered with a curt nod.

By the afternoon, news outlets had run wild with reports of the finals. The Pharmacist was now the target of widespread ridicule for her decision to concede. Unfortunately for her detractors, the Pharmacist couldn’t care less what anyone thought. At around evening, however, the story had grown tired. Now people were starting to talk about the final fight.

Every fight the White Blademaster and the God of Thunder had participated in were shown one after the other. Reports and analyses flashed across the screens. Meanwhile, social media chatter focused on who the champion would be affiliated with, and what sorts of prizes they’d earn. No less popular were the odds. Zeus’ odds were 1:.6, and Jun Yongye’s were 1:.8.

Evidently there were significantly more people, now, who thought Zeus might pull away with the win. After juxtaposing the two competitors, their relative journey to this point was highlighted. Jun Yongye’s rise through the rounds was largely
unhindered, whereas Lan Jue had to fight tooth and nail nearly every step of the way.

Ever since winning his Group, analysts have had to completely reword their models for Zeus. Every one of them used pretty much the same phrase as well; wolf in sheep’s clothing. His ability to conceal his true strength was staggering.

The Championship! At last it was time to pick the greatest warrior of humanity’s up-and-comers. This was the latest news, the one thing on everyone’s mind. At last the day had come, but perhaps ominously, the weather did not hold. In the early hours of the morning clouds gathered over the city of Luo and began to sprinkle it with rain. It made the air chilly. However, the wet blanket of precipitation didn’t dampen the city’s spirits. It was a rare occurrence here, and made the air thick with humidity.

However, today’s last fight would not follow the structure of earlier rounds. It would not be in the morning, and would instead proceed at night. By early morning, the arena had already been transformed into an awards amphitheater. Winners from previous rounds were invited back to receive their just rewards. Audience members who had won various raffles or prizes were also recognized while the field was available.
Then, there was the closing ceremony.

The audience members were allowed into the arena to watch all of this, so ticket-holders had already begun to mill about in the early morning. Those little digital slips were veritable treasures that would grant them access to all of that, and the championship fight besides. They came in droves, lugging bags laden with food and other essentials for a day-long event. It looked more like a concert than an Adept fight.

Many of the competitors from previous rounds were also in attendance to pick up their winnings. The crowd was most interested, though, in the last two – the focus of many bets. The novel activities and the exciting conclusion on the horizon conspired to make the whole arena feel like a carnival of anticipation.

The afternoon came quickly. The activities slowed, and eventually stopped as the crowds settled. After all, not even a child could keep up a whole day’s worth of high excitement. They would need to conserve their energy if they wanted to be ready for the night.

That didn’t mean the audience was idle, by any measure. They sat in their seats and went over older footage. Of course, those
fights with in-depth analysis were also available, for a fee. Platforms for digital payment made consumption – and profits – easier.

Lan Jue entered the arena, accompanied by tournament attendants. He walked throughout without any fuss to a separate waiting room, where he took his seat. There he would wait for the time to arrive. Jun Yongye wasn’t present, and must have had a room all his own. He figured it was a ploy by the organizers to make the process more exciting.

As the day wore on, the sun faded and night took hold. The arena’s floodlights cracked noisily as they lit up. They blazed so bright it looked like daytime in the center of the ring.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the lovely Mo Xiao to the stage!” The announcer’s excited voice called out just as the image of Mo Xiao appeared in the air. Suspended by some unseen contraption, she descended from on high like an angel.

“Spectators, friends, Adepts… good evening to one and all!” The ultimate mistress of ceremonies was clad tonight in a blaze of red fabric. She was a blaze of fire in an otherwise black night sky that descended like a meteor.
She spread out her arms and curtsied low to the ground, using the Western means of etiquette to give everyone her regards. The crowd screamed back their welcoming cheers.

She smiled. “I imagine you’re all eager to get started? I am, too. This has been a clash we’ve been waiting for, and at long last the time has come. For more than half a month, we have followed these amazing Talents on their journey  to  discover who is the strongest. Soon we will have our answer. Remember that this is only the first time these young Adepts have been tested. I’m certain it won’t be the last.   We hope that as the youth of this generation and the next look on, they are inspired by the magnificence put on display these past weeks. Let all of this drive you to become the best citizen of humanity that you can be. We as a species need strong and capable leaders, and that is all of you – the future.”

“After the tournament our magnificent, handsome, boundlessly talented Poseidon will be holding a concert. Also, our gracious hosts, the Paragons of the Great Conclave, have some important news that concerns all of us. They would like to request that everyone remain until the end, so that they hear this announcement. Of course, the final winner will also need to receive their grand prize. Our two competitors have both earned an S-ranked power gem, simply for making it to the Championship Battle. The winner will receive a special mystery prize. What that prize is, even I do not know. We’ll find out
together, when the Great Adept Tournament comes to a close!”

“Ah, and before I forget, I will be narrating our fight from here. I know I’m rather like the ghost of some unfortunate soul, hanging here in the air, but I’m confident I am at least your favorite specter. Right?!” She looked out over the crowds, beaming. The arena shook with their cries.

As Mo Xiao fired up the crowds, the guests of honor entered and took their seats. First were the two Conclave Paragons and other Northern political leaders. The Avenue Paragon was followed by his delegation, then the Pontiff and Dark Citadel representatives.

It was finally time!

The Terminator bore a smile, and spoke cheerfully with the Gourmet as they entered. Any hint of his earlier displeasure with the situation was gone. His Avenue compatriot was absent the little girl he’d watched over for the last month. Jun’er, instead, was nestled in her mother’s arms a row back, with Metatron, Lucifer and Titan.

Jun’er was pressed against her mother’s bosom, looking
particularly well-behaved. Her gleamless eyes would wander as she got lost in some internal monologue. She wasn’t wearing her helmet yet, instead waiting for the activities to begin. The Pharmacist was wary to put her under any undue strain from wearing it too long.

“Very well, the end of the Great Adept Tournament will begin in five minutes. Let’s introduce the final competitors, warriors fighting for the crown of Champion. Ladies and gentlemen, first
– please welcome the White Blademaster, Jun Yongye!”

Her words were punctuated by a flash, and a cone of golden light beamed into the distance. Its target was a platform slowly making its way through the air. Jun Yongye, his robes flapping in the breeze, was deposited into the ring. He looked like a legendary hero of old, emerging from the wilds.

He quit the platform and took a few slow steps out onto the battlefield. He stood in the center, beneath humanity’s collective gaze.

“Next, I encourage everyone to welcome our second challenger, the miracle challenger and God of Lightning, Zeus!”
Another column of light blazed forth,  pointing  in  the direction opposite from where Jun Yongye had emerged. A similar platform silently glided through the air and bore Lan Jue to the ring. Today, he was clad in ornate, golden battle dress. His trademark golden mask was also in place. All of it shone majestically with each errant photon, sending light scattering every which way.

When the platform settled, he stepped down with a firm and resolute pace. He never made a sound, only approaching like an inevitable tide. He stopped a few meters from where his opponent stood, and nodded.

“Our potential champions have entered the ring. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re ready for the Championship Battle of the Great Adept Tournament! These last moments belong to them – we ask our warriors to give it their best!”

Chapter 479: The Championship Battle!

The floodlights popped as they all turned on, all at once. Every detail of the Arena was highlighted in the stark light. The shields around the ring itself also shimmered dramatically. It looked significantly more robust than ever before.

Most fights started with the champions separated by some distance. This kept things fair. However, neither stepped away from the middle of the ring. They stood toe to toe, looking at one another.

“Three, two, one. The Championship Battle has begun!” They’d even changed the digitized voice. It sounded more excited for this last fight.

Lan Jue rose to the tip of his toes. His arms rose and splayed out, in a motion that looked as fluid as it did gentle. Jun Yongye’s eyes honed in with laser focus, for he felt the energy coming from the God of Thunder. It was a strange and formless power that tugged at him to come closer, but not at his body. The force was pulling at his soul.

Jun Yongye shot his arm out to his side. In the same motion, he staggered back half a step. A flash of white light emerged
from his hand, and grew until it became his trademark simple sword.

“Eh? The White Blademaster staggering already? Is there something more than just the gentle motions from Zeus?” Mo Xiao looked on from overhead, narrating the important points of their clash.

In truth Jun Yongye’s movements were as deliberate as Lan Jue’s. The flailing of his hand had looked like some sort of mystical seal, but it was really casting out an invisible gust of sharp Discipline. It split the attractive power from Lan Jue’s Taiji, making it slip harmlessly around him. An orb of white light also faintly appeared around the swordsman.

The whirling, diametrically opposed powers of Yin and Yang joined between Lan Jue’s hands. The orb of black and white was surrounded by its own atmosphere of peace. If they hadn’t seen it created at Lan Jue’s bequest, then it would be easy to confuse the universal power for a living entity.

As though of its own accord, tendrils of errant power stretched out from that orb, alternating black and white. They brought with them the same power that swelled around Lan Jue, that odd vacuum force that was neither seen nor physically
felt.

In a day’s concentration, he had brought his Taiji powers to an entirely new level. Closer inspection would reveal that the dark and light energies were, in fact, thunderbolt Discipline. They were as soft and fluid as water, and a cursory glance wouldn’t reveal it as lightning at all. It was as insidious as it was powerful.

As that beguiling power pulsed larger, Jun Yongye swung that simple sword skyward. The tip pierced through the air, pointed to the vaulted crest of the ring’s force field. Lan Jue heard from somewhere the disjointed sound of gurgling water. While he couldn’t see it, something the swordsman did fought back against his protective aura. Stranger, though, was what came from the crack. The breadth of inhaling force from it was staggering.

Lan Jue’s aura undulated like an orb of water. A dip from Jun Yongye’s sword, and it was like popping the bottom end of a balloon. All the power of it flooded down and out.

The orb in his hands rotated as Lan Jue moved his arms. As it moved, the supremely harmonious essence of it was clearly felt all throughout. The fissure that had appeared in his aura was
inexplicably sealed. Then, as gentle as a breeze, Lan Jue’s hands pressed outward. The waves of harmonious energy urged the orb of black and white forward, right for Jun Yongye.

The sword in the Blademaster’s hand moved, almost of its own. It rotated and swung in an arc, spinning the swordsman’s body with it. The arc became a circle, with him in the center of it. It was like he had cut away reality and stood in a realm all his own. The blade finished with a single-minded thrust that cast a beam of invisible energy right to the center of Lan Jue’s orb.

In great contrast to Xuanyuan Shishi’s style, Jun Yongye’s blade was calm and peaceful. His concentration was like iron, fixed on the body of his weapon. It looked simple, but the spirit behind every movement was almost transcendent.

This was Jun Yongye’s grasp of martial prowess. If this fight had occurred yesterday, the difference in comprehension between their styles would have been quite large. However, Lan Jue had had an epiphany, and that made him stronger.

“Shhrip!” The strange noise came from Jun Yongye’s sword driving through the orb of black and white.
Both of them stopped. For a moment, nothing moved, and then suddenly the orb erupted with a hundred thousand beams of light. Tendrils of lightning coiled up around Lan Jue, and an unparalleled surge of electric power condensed around him.

Like the orb, it was a tide of black and white. After the explosion began to subside, to observers it was like that peaceful sphere of energy had simply swallowed everything up. Jun Yongye’s body was enveloped by a deep cobalt blue, and where the electric light encountered it, the assailing energies vanished without a trace. His weapon, however – that blade of light – couldn’t take it. It broke apart and dissolved in to a hazy cloud of dimming light.

An airburst, massive as a missile shot, erupted between the two fighters. Both of them were thrown violently backwards.

Finally the crowds were waking up. The beginning of their contest had been almost boring, until that giant explosion. Only now did they realize that the beginning of the fight had been no less dangerous, just less visibly exciting.

Where they had been inches from one another at the start of the fight, the blast had separated them by hundreds of meters. They glared at one another, their eyes full of… admiration.
Lan Jue’s arms traced another arc, but this time instead of summoning a ball a beam of light descended from above. It coalesced in his grip, becoming a sword ten meters long. His aura shifted, becoming more regal. He then threw himself at his foe.

Jun Yongye watched as the black-and-white sword came crashing down from overhead.

The Blademaster’s right hand snapped out, and another blade of light was summoned on his palm. The vicious intention of that oncoming attack made his robes flap dramatically. He spun again in a similar motion to before. This time, though, when his sword thrust out it met directly with the tip of Lan Jue’s.

“Ting!” At the moment of impact, a blast of power was released from around him. The aura that propelled it was earth- shaking. Once more, that deep-blue shielding appeared around the White Blademaster, extending now to imbue his sword as well. It changed from white, to the same cobalt blue.

Lan Jue’s weapon was swallowed up by the blade of light. He switched his trajectory in the air, stepping out to strafe and lashing out with his right fist.
The Seven-Star Strike of Taiji! One of the Nine Taiji Strikes!

The true essence of the Taiji Domain was the most important aspect of stabilizing one’s powers. Lan Jue’s comprehension was put on display when the entire fields reacted to the strike. All of the arena became a stark world of black and white, and the floor was indelibly marked with the image of yin and yang on the floor. A flickering orb of lightning was right in the middle. The whole place was immersed in the essence of Taiji.

“Boom!” The yin-yang sword crackled and fractured into a bolt of lightning. Jun Yongye’s sword acted like a lightning rod and took the full brunt of it. The ensuing blast forced the Blademaster back nine steps before he could recover.

Zeus rolled his arms again, once more summoning the yin- yang sword. Its reemergence was a tide of majesty that swept across the whole arena. This one was different from before. Where the first sword was borne of calm and quiet, this one was almost overbearing. It was slower, but its path was marked with a wake of black and blue that ejected like solar flares. The enormous yin-yang symbol emblazoned on the arena floor started to rotate.

The ring was now a self-contained world of blue. Jun Yongye
found himself immersed in it, and it felt like fighting against an undertow. He had no more time, there was only attack.

He rose on to the tip of one foot and thrust forward. His body and blade moved in perfect in unison, as a single unit, then melded into one. The cobalt blade hung suspended, alive, and from its tip was fired an array of deadly wisps. It rolled like a sea of a hundred thousand swords, sweeping past Lan Jue’s electric world.

The pull of Lan Jue’s sword-aura sent Jun Yongye’s attack scattering in all directions. Once again, he was relying on the duality inherent in the yin-yang powers to defuse the attack. Every deadly sharp wave ultimately was swallowed up in black and white.


ζ

The Pharmacist watched from the VIP platform. Her hands were fists, and she muttered darkly to no one in particular. “Convergence style, ‘where all rivers meet the sea’… little brother, prepare yourself!”

ζ
Lan Jue and Jun Yongye met on the field, their swords whistling through the air toward each other. At the moment of impact, the yin-yang sword warped and imploded into a vortex that threatened to swallow Jun Yongye whole.

But, in that moment, the blue light surrounding the living sword flared like a supernova. Though it should have been impossible, Jun Yongye was untouched and unmoving in the air. Then, it swept horizontally toward Lan Jue.

The wave of energy released from the motion was sharp enough to split the sky. Lan Jue’s almost impervious yin-yang powers were chopped right in half. Again there was an ear- splitting explosion as all of that power was released. The whole ring was lost in a sea of black and white lightning.

Lan Jue was stunned. He hadn’t guessed Jun Yongye would have this ability. His blade could make the sky collapse! More startling, Lan Jue felt the world around him grow fainter. The peeling rolls of thunder sounded far away, muffled as though his head were underwater. It became dark. The whole ring melted away in the darkness until even he was swallowed up.

Don’t get rattled! Lan Jue inwardly chastised. In situations like this, it was only the calm who saw opportunity.

Chapter 480: The Pervading Blade

Lan Jue didn’t know what Jun Yongye’s sword was, but he felt it. It was vibrant, full of steadfast intention. It was so complete that it cut right through space and time, not unlike the powers of the Wine Master. But this seemed more complete.

Lan Jue’s hands gathered together in the shape of a circle, and the yin-yang energies existing all around him were drawn together in tendrils of monochromatic lightning. The more it fed, the thicker the tendrils grew, converging to a point that fought to both expand and contract in equal measure.

He was suddenly assailed by a tremendous pressure. It fell on him like a mountain, constraining his Taiji and keeping it from spreading too far. He fought back, focusing everything on his lightning and forcing it to the strongest he could manage.

It was fearsome… like nothing he’d ever felt before. That pressure squeezed not just his body, or his Discipline, but collapsed upon his Core directly – even his soul. He had to fight against it with every fiber of who he was.

No! I won’t lose like this!
Lan Jue bit the tip of his tongue, and the light in his eyes flared. He dropped his hands, and from the center of his chest – from his Core – a column of pure white light issued forth. A miniature symbol like the one that had covered the floor rotated against the center of his chest. The black and white that composed it flashed with its own power.

Zeus was immediately surrounded by an aura of righteousness. He pumped his arms, attacking with his open palms nine times. With each push a blast of white light ensued which birthed an orb of energy. Those orbs quickly dissolved and rippled over, but would overlay one another in beautiful patterns

Then, something strange happened. They spread out in a refractive pattern all but for the very center, where a single spot of black resided. Zeus’ pupils contracted to a pinpoint as it fixed on that singular location. His right hand – a glowing white, pale as pearl – extended to point at that distant black spot.

Time slowed to a crawl, stretching out impossibly as that tiny black dot was consumed in to the surrounding white. The collapsing world around them intensified, stabilized, like it was enough to drink up the whole planet.
There was an explosion, and the entire Great Conclave Arena shook on its foundation.

The audience looked on as the protogenic world the fighters had built collapsed. They saw the sword that was Jun Yongye thrown away across the field. The chaotic flow of Taiji also refused Lan Jue’s control.

In the next moment, though, another change overcome the battlefield. The first place where it was evident was around Lan Jue. The nine orbs he’d used had somehow served to stabilize him in this chaotic tempest. He pointed again.

Lan Jue turned in to a superconductor, with bolts of feral electricity exploding out from him in all directions. Each bolt started as a deep sapphire blue, but quickly changed to gold, then silver, and finally pure white.

A buzz came from Jun Yongye’s sword. His metallic figure stabilized after being blown away, and hovered in a pocket of safe sky. He followed with three ripping swipes, trying to sever whatever invisible power was connecting him to Lan Jue.

The force field rippled and strained. Its dome shape had
warped, falling in on itself as whatever vacuum force from within sucked at it.

“Not good!” The words only barely left the Terminator’s mouth before he was soaring through the air toward the ring. The Epochrion was close behind.

The Great Conclave Arena had a million people in the audience. Any problem could potentially spell disaster for a great many souls! As hosts especially, the North couldn’t allow anything to happen. It had been made clear that they were unprepared when the first force field had been broken, so the Paragons reacted to make sure that unthinkable result wouldn’t happen.

The two Northern Paragons appeared above the ring in the same instant. They spread open their arms, and waves of Discipline radiated out over the ring.

The Terminator and the Epochrion had been close compatriots for years. Of course they knew the ins and outs of each other’s Disciplines without having to ask. Ooperation was seemless, and the Epochrion’s technicolor power joined with the jet black Force coming from the Terminator to create another shell.
They finished just in time. The moment that shell was complete, everything beneath erupted in an apocalyptic display. The attraction even started to bend the Paragons’ shield.

The black eminence of the Terminator’s power blocked vision of the ring’s interior. The audience could only stare wide-eyed with baited breath. But what they could see was the image of a face, pressing hard enough against the shell to leave an indentation.

The Terminator’s face fell, and the Epochrion openly frowned. They could both sense it; this power was Paragon level. This wasn’t near-Paragon status of Discipline. This was true protogenia, the same as either of them.

It should be impossible for a normal Adept – it went against everything they knew about Protogenia! But as much as they could not believe it, the evidence was right in front of them. This Easterner really did possess this level of strength.

The truly unbelievable happened after. The Paragon’s protective shell continued to yield until the ringing sounds of cracking filled the air. Then the implosion reversed, and all the condensed energy beneath the shell changed direction. Everything moved outward. The shell expanded sharply
outward like a balloon – but one that was quickly reaching its limit.

The audience could see the danger and became afraid, and though they knew the power contained beneath the shell would obliterate them, they were too afraid to move. Was this… could a human do this?

The look of the Paragons’ faces weren’t any more composed. The Terminator reacted, roaring an earth-shaking warcry. Behind him, the faint silhouette of a black figure could be discerned. It was enormous, with three heads and six arms each bearing a war hammer. All six of the jet-black hammers where thrust in to the sky.

Reality cracked. A fissure the size of a building split the world, belching six black orbs. They fell upon the strained shell, bolstering it even more.

The Epochrion did not dally, either. The ever-shifting halo of colors around her drained away to a pure white, while the image of a massive clock shimmered behind her. It was one of the ancient kind, with a pendulum below an ornate clock face. The pendulum slowed, and with it time seemed to get stuck. It was like moving through soup, densest around the shell.
Everything that approached that lensed horizon slowed to a crawl. Meanwhile, the Terminator began to direct his overwhelming Force toward compressing the shell  to  its original size. A tempest could not last forever, so the raging explosion of power beneath had also begun to calm.

It took two Paragons summoning the power of their Domains to keep that terrifying power at bay. They had to disregard the safety of the competitors or potentially sacrifice the audience.

The Gourmet had long been on his feet. He hadn’t moved to help because he’d have gotten in the way, the two Northerners were a well-practiced team. Yet he fretted for Lan Jue, even though releasing that power meant sacrificing a million lives! That wasn’t even counting the area around the arena.

The combined strength of the Paragons won out, as the chaos beneath eventually calmed. After a full minute, they let the shell fade away. The audience was a sea of gasps when they saw what lay beneath.

The newly-repaired floor of the ring was a wasteland. Its alloy coating appeared to have evaporated, leaving a crater one hundred meters deep. In the deepest part of that pit, Lan Jue pulled himself to his feet. His once majestic clothing had been
reduced to rags, thankfully sturdy enough to protect his modesty. His mask did not survive, and his beaten features were revealed to the cameras. His tousled hair and bruised face made him look like a wild man.

Jun Yongye was nowhere to be seen, but the blue sword was. It hovered in the air in front of him. The weapon looked almost identical to before, but now its length was covered in faintly pulsing runes. The strange script flickered like ghostly writing.

Wisps of gentle light spilled from the runes, coalescing in to the shape of the White Blademaster. He looked pale, like the fight had taken everything out of him.

The two men looked at each other in silence, but the mutual respect was clear in their eyes.

“I’ve lost.” There was regret in Jun Yongye’s voice.

“The victory was hard won!” Lan Jue offered the swordsman his hand. The two shook then, with a laugh, had to stagger and hold each other up.
Jun Yongye nodded at him. “But worthy.”

Lan Jue gave him a weird look, just for a moment. He was as crazy as his friend, full of nonsense.

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