Chapter 460: Ten Thousand Swords as One!
The VIP platform was woefully deficient in Easterners, with only the Gourmet and Jun’er to represent them. The rest were largely Northern dignitaries, with a spattering of Westerners. They were all silent as mice after watching the swordsman.
Ten thousand swords as one, occupying a single space.
“Boom--!” Constantine was fired backwards from a blow. He struck the force field so hard it bounced him back. He lay on the floor, covered in a hundred cuts the Spear of Fate could not defend him from.
“You’ve lost!” Xuanyuan Shishi was completely untouched. His smile was back, one which the audience saw as friendly and appreciative. Constantine saw it differently, however. To him, that smile was full of ridicule.
“Bastard, I’m not done yet!” Constantine roared. His body surged with holy light, instantly cauterizing his wounds and halting the bleeding. The damage from Shishi’s sword qi was ever more evident, though. The Inquisitor’s healing light was not as effective as it should have been.
“Gfah!” He spat another mouthful of blood, staggered, then full to his backside. Constantine, his eyes full of disbelief, had lost.
The sword dissolved in to mist, which slithered around Shishi and up his nose. He smiled pleasantly, then left the ring.
The underdog once more exploded in to the lead. Constantine, High Inquisitor of the Pontiff’s Citadel was eliminated! Xuanyuan Shishi had emerged as the qualifier for Group Four. He still had to fight Blackmoon, but everyone knew how that fight would play out.
The tournament was inching along, with two of the four groups locked up. The results were already much different than people had predicted. Constantine and Yan Ningya – two of the favorites – had been weeded out. Meanwhile the binary shock that was Jun Yongye and Xuanyuan Shishi exploded on to the public stage.
Two groups were still uncertain, though they could be guessed. For Group Two, the fight to watch would be Jiang Yuan and the Pharmacist. Most expected the Pharmacist to win, since Jiang Yuan’s abilities appeared much weaker. Group One looked much the same. Titan held back in his last fight, but most assumed it was out of respect for his female opponent. Although Lan Jue had pulled a surprise victory over the Wolf King, many believed Zeus’ defeat at the hand of Titan was inevitable.
Tomorrow everyone would have their answer. Tomorrow, the final four would be revealed!
Lan Jue’s keen eyes followed Jun Yongye and Xuanyuan Shishi as they exchanged another high-five [1. If you literally translate high-five, it means ‘to attack hands’. Shout that at the next frat party – Attack my hand bro!!]. He stood and trotted their way.
“I look forward to our fights,” Lan Jue said, stopping in front of them. He smiled amicably, his eyes calm and welcoming.
Jun Yongye returned the expression. Shishi looked a little surprised. “Excellent! We’ll see if your Taiji is stronger, of if my sword style has a little more. But if I’m being honest, it doesn’t look like you have the Discipline. Maybe the next time we meet.”
Lan Jue chuckled. “I guess we’ll have to see what happens.”
“Don’t let us down,” Jun Yongye interjected matter-of-factly.
This tournament had been full of unexpected upset, something the audience could not get enough of. There were two more today for them to talk about. Zeus and Shishi won their matches and in doing so, had made the next few rounds much more interesting.
Who was stronger between the two Eastern swordsmen? What will happen when they have to face Titan or the Pharmacist? The finals were already a rush of emotions for these spectators. To them it seemed almost a formality, and they were eager for the real contests ahead.
“Can I take you out for a drink?” The Driver intercepted Cao Shuiqin in the waiting area.
The musician’s eyes dropped to the floor. “I don’t drink.”
The Driver answered. “I have tea.”
“Alright.” After a moment she lifted her head, and nodded at him. Their eyes met, and she could feel the heat in his gaze. Her cheeks flushed.
The Driver motioned for her to lead, in a very classical and gentlemanly gesture. Cao Shuiqin, her instrument cradled in her arms, walked on.
Lan Jue and the Pharmacist left the arena together. As they idly walked through the streets, he turned to her. “Hey sis, Xuanyuan Shishi and Jun Yongye. Which one do you suspect you’ll be facing?”
She sniffed a laugh. “I’m only worried about facing you.”
“You have such faith in me!” He remarked.
She smirked at him. “What, just a little encouragement. You don’t like your chances?”
He replied. “It’s not that. I’m eager to get in the finals and see how I do against those two.”
The Pharmacist was solemn. “These two are definitely not pushovers. Xuanyuan Shishi did not beat Constantine by luck. He won from sheer skill and understanding. Jun Yongye is even stronger.”
“I never said I’d win,” Lan Jue countered with a chuckle. “I want to see what I can learn about swordsmanship, fighting them. I’ve already decided that my Astrum will be a sword, it’s important for me to know how to use one.”
She nodded. “It’s a good opportunity. Honestly, I’m surprised you were able to beat Qi Mu without Qianlin’s help. A pleasant upset to my expectations.”
Lan Jue shrugged. “It’s not usually that easy. He set the tone, I just followed the notes. He never got a chance to use his whole strength. I don’t think he fully recovered from using the third metamorphosis yesterday, either.”
With a smile, the Pharmacist added. “You must have learned quite a lot today. Meditate on it when we get back.”
Lan Jue had been especially punished by the thirteen claw-swiped from Qi Mu’s transformation. He’d been able to deflect them by joining his Discipline with Taiji, but only just barely. If Qi Mu had pressed the attack for much longer, he’d have had to rely on more tricks to eke out a victory. Thankfully he hadn’t had do. He grit his teeth and forced himself to take it, hoping that conflict would lead to progress.
In the end, it was a success.
The last year – largely thanks to the Mystic Raiment and Qianlin’s other powers – he had seen a tremendous boost to his potential. When he’d first starting joining with Qianlin it was like he was a rough diamond. Every fight polished that diamond a little bit more. Each fight changed his Core in a positive way.
It had been much more difficult to defend against the wolf’s attacks than people probably thought. It had forced him to really apply himself to integrating his Taiji abilities. Integration was the most important part of martial training. Only when an Adept joined their martial skill with their Discipline were they at their most potent. Why was Jun Yongye so strong? Because you couldn’t differentiate him from his weapon. He was his weapon, completely absorbed by his philosophy. That was why people saw his skills as almost peerless.
That was what Lan Jue wanted for himself, and today was a solid step in the right direction. All of this had positive implications for his future that he couldn’t even describe. Already he could sense the progress – he was at the peak of second degree now. Soon, he would break through to third rank for the second time. If he just kept his nose pressed to the grindstone, progress was assured.
“Daddy!” Jun’er’s ringing voice called out to him. His face immediately broke in to a beaming smile as the Gourmet handed her over. She pecked him on the cheek. “You’re so great, daddy. The best!”
He chuckled at her enthusiasm. “I get all my power from little Jun’er! Let’s go, I think you need something to eat!”
The Gourmet smiled at the two of them. “Did someone say eat? Count me in.”
“The undisputed king of Northern food is the steak,” Lan Jue said with a laugh. “I think that should be our target.”
The Gourmet nodded emphatically. “Sounds good to me! It’s about the only thing I’ll stomach. Impressive fight today, by the way. You certainly captured my attention.”
“Do you know anything about Jun Yongye or Xuanyuan Shishi?” He asked. “Why is it no one seems to have heard of them?”
The Gourmet shrugged helplessly. “No one is right. I’ve asked everyone who could have any information, even the Keeper and Wine Master. No one knows anything about them. It’s like they were just born out of the stones [2. This is a common Chinese trope in old stories, were powerful individuals like ‘Gourd Boy’ and the Monkey King would be born out of a stone egg or gourd]. Not a single bit of information to be found anywhere. Whatever the case, it’s evident that they’re Easterners. When the fights are over I’ll see if I can’t put out some feelers, but I’m not sure if we’ll be able to win them over.”
“You should do everything you can to win your groups! It would be a mean slap to the North’s face, followed back a swift backhand to the West.”
And wasn’t that the truth? Both of these strong strangers were from the East. They didn’t represent Skyfire Avenue, but they were countrymen. If the Pharmacist and Lan Jue beat out their competition, then the finals would be dominated by a single Alliance. Aside from the prestige, those six S-ranked power gems the North would have to pay to their rival. They’d be so mad it would give the Conclave a collective aneurism.
The Terminator looked like he knew it, judging by his sour expression. He sat quietly in the assembly chamber, joined by the Epochrion Huan Xue.
“This whole things seems wrong. Could the East have rigged the games?” Huan Xue mused.
But the Terminator shook his head. “No. I saw the look on the Gourmet’s face. He doesn’t know them either. But something seems familiar about these two young men. They aren’t as strong as Jue Di, but in the future? I don’t want them to leave the North, no matter who they are.”
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