Chapter 391: The Psychic Projection Helmet
Lan Jue scratched his nose. “It’s fine. It’s very unlikely I’ll win, but it won’t cause me any problems. These fiends… let them search. There have only ever been a few who know who Zeus is behind the mask. Escape as Zeus is also easier, if that becomes necessary.” No matter who or how many of the Pontiff’s men came, he didn’t worry over it.
They exchanged small talk for a little while, then Hua Li and Mo Xiao left first. They still had preparations to make for the ceremony. Chu Cheng wanted to take Lan Jue out on the town, but he refused. The Jewelry Master didn’t have any aspirations of becoming champion, but he still wished to take it seriously.
These sorts of large-scale Adept events were few and far between. It was very likely he’d run in to Talents from all over the spectrum, and some of the biggest names out there. It would undoubtedly be a good opportunity to polish his own abilities.
He’d already encountered quite an array of powerful Adepts since reappearing on the scene – including new Paragons. The Gourmet, the Bookworm, Bize and Aubert were all familiar with Lan Jue. All of them had been great motivation for the Monarch, pushing him toward a breakthrough of his own. He
took great stock in the Clairvoyant’s words from before, but not completely. After all, who could say what destiny truly held, or if there was such a thing? Still, becoming stronger was certainly his goal.
The next few days were spend training with Qianlin. He taught her even more about using his Discipline in combat. More and more they ere working like a cohesive unit. Lan Jue’s own manipulations helped reveal some combat uses for Qianlin’s Queen of Heaven powers as well. Aside from its inherent Protogenic powers, her support-based Discipline could be aggressive under certain circumstances.
Su Xiaosu was rarely seen outside of her hotel room. She spent her days in silent contemplation, cultivating her powers back to their former glory. Lan Jue asked her several times about the prison hidden beneath the Citadel – about its purpose, and what happened – but she never answered. She just looked at him with a strange light in her eyes. She would shake her head and say nothing, like it was some secret burden she dare not share.
Lan Jue reluctantly let the matter lie. If she was unwilling to tell him, so be it. He’d already delivered her from tragedy.
He got in touch with the Skyfire Avenue. The Wine Master
and the Pauper had returned by then, and he’d heard that the beggar had locked himself away. After his experience with the Gods of Wine, he vanished from the public eye, and no one knew how long he would be gone. Whatever it was, it had to be important.
He listened as the Wine Master told him about a present that was given after he’d left the Gods of Wine – a crate of aged wine. They were choice picks from their personal cellar, and though they were all several hundreds of years old they would still be magnificent.
Three days before the tournament was set to begin, the Gourmet and his entourage arrived.
“You aren’t joining the team?” The Gourmet asked in wonder.
At Lan Jue’s suggestion the Skyfire Avenue team had booked rooms at the Intercontinental as well. They sat together in one of the hotel’s grandiose event rooms discussing the tournament. Lan Jue leaned against the back of his chair with a beautiful girl on his knee, leaned against his chest. A contented smile was on
Lan Jue spoke while stroking her hair. “Right, I don’t want to participate as myself. There aren’t many with my Discipline at the higher levels – really just the Driver and I. The less people know, the better. Zeus makes more sense.”
“I’ll help, daddy!” Jun’er declared fiercely from against his chest. He’d persuaded the Pharmacist to bring her along, just to get her out. She was a natural choice for the team, and was the single strongest contender in their group under forty. She was very nearly at the peak of ninth level, and her powers were only barely understood even by the Paragons. Reputedly, no one had ever seen her employ her full strength.
Lan Jue continued to gently stroke Jun’er’s hair. “Man, lucky me! I’ll definitely win, now. Oh – I almost forgot. Daddy got you a gift.”
The moment Jun’er called Lan Jue daddy, the whole of Skyfire Avenue’s team broke in to beaming smiles of surprise. The Driver’s cigar dropped right on to his very expensive suit, and the Accountant’s jaw dropped so low you could fit a fist in it.
However, despite their various reactions not a word about it dared be uttered. The Pharmacist’s glare was the very essence of bloody murder at anyone who looked like they might speak. Her imposing manner even gave the Gourmet pause.
“Really?! Whadja get me?” She tittered excitedly.
“Guess,” he teased with a wink.
Jun’er thought for a moment. “Is it a stuffed animal?”
He shook his head. “Guess again! It’s something you can use…”
“Oh! Bunny slippers!” She cried with a little shiver.
Lan Jue shook his head again with a laugh. “Nope. Let me tell you – it’s a psychic projection helmet.”
Jun’er blinked. “What’s that?”
With a grin, he explained. “It’s the newest technology from here in the Northern Alliance. My friend helped me find it. It turns images from the camera on top in to brain waves – right in to your brain. This will help you see in your mind what’s happening around you. You can see your mommy and daddy!”
Jun’er gasped at the last sentence, and it was echoed by the Pharmacist from behind. She covered her mouth with trembling hands, and her eyes threatened tears.
“Really daddy? Really?! I… I’ll be able to see? I can see you and mommy?” Jun’er’s voice trembled with emotion. Her tiny hands her curled in to fists of Lan Jue’s clothes.
Lan Jue wrapped her in a hug so she wouldn’t fall. “Of course really! Mommy will help you try it later, ok? But you have to promise that you’ll only use it an hour at a time. Then you have to rest, alright? I promised you I’ll help you fix your eyes, and until then you can use this.”
“Thanks daddy! Thanks, I have the best daddy!” She cried out. She couldn’t wait, and the Pharmacist took her and the helmet away to give it a try.
Watching the mother and daughter go, the Coffee Master was the first to recover his wits and speak. “What’s all this, Jewelry Master? Since when have you and the Pharmacist been an item, and with a child that big! That’s quite a secret you’ve been keeping from us!”
It wasn’t unheard of, either. The loose organization of the Avenue meant that members knew very little about one another unless they had a close personal relationship.
The Pharmacist’s Hall of Supreme Harmony was one of the most successful enterprises on the Avenue, but she kept all her contemporaries at arm’s length. She had no friends to speak of.
“If you want to live a long and productive life, don’t breathe a word of your curiosity to the Pharmacist or Jun’er. It’s a sad story…” Lan Jue went on to briefly explain the situation.
Much to everyone’s surprise, the Coffee Master began to mutter. “I’m a handsome guy, right? Why didn’t she pick me? What’s so good about? All these women around you…”
Lan Jue reached over to rap his knuckles on the man’s head. “Cut the garbage. Now where do you think you’ll end up on the
The Coffee Master chuckled. “I’m just here to participate. My guess is the Pharmacist takes it.”
The Pharmacist had also joined in what was supposed to be the friendly exchange with the Western Citadels. The shock of her performance was still fresh in their memory.
“So are you just here to putz around?” The Gourmet Complained.
The Coffee Master’s response was quick and shameless. “Not with so many beautiful women in attendance. This is a grand Adept tournament, right? I hear the North’s women are molded in to picture perfect figures and I’d like to experience it for myself. I am a lover of beauty.”
“That’s enough,” the gourmet grunted indifferently. “What you appreciate doesn’t matter, but our standing does and everyone needs a target. If you don’t get in the top one hundred you’ll have me to answer to.”
“You’re going to punish me?” The Coffee Master asked incredulously. “You never said anything about this before!”
The Gourmet cast him a withering stare. “I just thought it up, what of it?”
Under the Paragon’s intense glare, the Coffee Master could do nothing but nod his head. “Fine. Of course it’s fine. Whatever you say. What’s the punishment, anyway?”
The gourmet shrugged. “It’s nothing significant. I happen to be in possession of occult knowledge, that could seal off a man’s… potency. Fail to break the top one hundred and you’ll see what that’s like for half a year. Not bad, right? And it leaves no lasting effects.”
The Coffee Master nearly fell from his chair. “What?! You’ll make me a eunuch?! You’re a monster! I’ll defect, I’ll turn traitor. I’ll –“
The Gourmet lifted his hand, and immediately it was wreathed in dark flame.
“- I-I’ll absolutely get in the top one hundred.” The jittery man finished.
The Infernal Vanguard nodded in satisfaction. “Good enough.
Same goes for all you gentlemen. The ladies get a pass.”
The Coffee Master looked as though he wanted to burst in to tears. His own big mouth had caused this! He had no control, who wanted to talk themselves in to chastity belt!?
The Gourmet turned back to Lan Jue. “If you want to participate alone then that’s your prerogative, I won’t stop you. Just be careful.”
Lan Jue answered with a resolute nod.
Chapter 392: Huan Xue And Davis
The whole of Planet Luo was getting more and more boisterous as the Great Adept Tournament approached. The participating Adepts themselves were a small number – including those in the opening and closing ceremonies, the Adepts counted in the tens of thousands. This number was infinitesimal compared to the millions of average humans who lived there.
It’d been so long since the last Adept tournament of this size that no one could even remember when the last one was. Many of them weren’t even open to the public. You could watch these on the net, but the interstellar data delay meant it was often faster just to read news and watch highlights later. Those with means much preferred to come in person and see the action first-hand.
It was important to remember that there were significant differences between an Adept battle and a mecha competition. One of those differences was the arena itself; it needn’t be large, but protection had to be in place for spectators. These competitions would be live field matches held at the North’s largest stadium, the Luo Sports Arena.
The arena was capable of accommodating a hundred thousand
spectators, and though the tickets were expensive the event was worth it. A competition like this came about only very rarely – this is what money was for!
Luckily Luo was a grand city, used to having a great deal of people. The surge in tourism was staggering, but the city didn’t seem to have any trouble handling it.
Within the Conclave.
Two people sat across from one another like statues, separated by a table. Although they appeared to have been there for ages, they sat unmoving while manifestations of their aura swirled about. The waves of power exuding from them intermingled and separated over and over again.
They were a man and a woman. The gentleman was lithe, and even seated was strikingly tall. He was over two and a half meters tall with wide shoulders, and a black t-shirt was struggle to contain his barrel chest. Arms like sculpted granite rippled with muscle.
His aura had a distinctive metallic hue that played over dark skin. The power he wielded swirls around like he was the center
of the universe, and the sounds of rumbling explosions could faintly be heard
The young lady, on the other hand, was precisely his opposite. She looked young, maybe in her thirties, with delicate and attractive features. Her small size was made even more dramatic when compared to the man. Her dark hair fell unbound down her back.
‘Beauty and the Beast’ was probably the most concise way to describe the scene, though not something they would ever say to their faces. She was anything but a conventional beauty, and the man not your everyday beast.
“You’ve improved, Huan Xue. Not even I can compete with you any more.” His face had a simple and honest smile of encouragement. Whether or not that was truly how he felt, however, only he knew.
The woman known as Huan Xue shook her head. “You’ve been trapped by the second bottleneck for many years, and I just reached this level. There’s no need for empty praise, there’s still quite a difference between us.”
This caused the man to chuckle. He ran a hand through his coarse hair that stood up like a forest of needles. “Your innate abilities restrain mine. If we were to fight to the death, it’d be one hell of a spectacle.”
“You find these sorts of comparisons amusing, Davis?” Huan Xue asked indifferently.
He laughed again. “Fine, we won’t discuss it. The Great Adept Tournament is almost upon us. I hear Skyfire Avenue’s competitors have already arrived. The new Paragon calling himself the Infernal Vanguard has come with them. They call him ‘the Gourmet’ on the Avenue.”
“Hm,” she answered with a nod. “I remember him. When he first got to Skyfire he was a broken man. Star-crossed in love. I would not have expected him to ever break through. Satan finally has someone to turn his paranoia on.”
“Do you think Satan will make a move?” Davis asked.
She shook her head. “He acts like a madman, but he’s actually quite meticulous. I much prefer dealing with him instead of that old fox, the Pontiff. At the least Satan won’t react before
thinking. They learned that the hard way when they went to Skyfire for their little exchange. I’ll be interested to see how things turn out this time.”
Davis’ chair creaked as he shifted his weight. “We can go take a look if you like. I know you’re worried about it.”
The woman’s eyes hardened, and the air around her began to warp unsettlingly. Time slowed like wading through molasses, and even a change in facial expression felt like it tok an age.
“Now that I’m done with it, I waste no further thought. When the tournament does begin, make sure you tell all of our people to be appropriate hosts. Leave no lasting damage. Our plans for the Avenue are too far along and too well hidden, so focus on our second objective. We have a foreign invader en route – and the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
Davis looked at her in silence for a moment, then nodded his head.
Both of them closed their eyes in unison, and once more the aura of their power spread out to encapsulate them.
Where the Gourmet present he would know immediately that these two were the true power holders of the Conclave. The two most powerful Adepts in the North.
Davis was better known as the fourth most powerful Paragon of them all, and they called him the Terminator. Huan Xue was fifth among their number, and was called the Dimenstress.
Despite being in the early morning, life was already rousing on the surface of Luo. Crowds had already gathered around the sports center, standing in lines for the gates to open. Many other milled about, looking for any opportunity to get tickets of their own.
Luo was a wonderful representation of Northern style. Over a thousand mechas soared overhead, responsible for keeping the skies safe. The ground security and ticket holders were all robots. Even though the sheer number of spectators was staggering, entrance in to the arena was orderly and safe.
The arena itself was a massive, octagonal structure that looked as though it were composed entirely of composite alloy. Whatever it was made of caused the building to glow different colors depending on the angle it was viewed from; red, yellow, blue and green all shifting from one to the other as people
walked passed. Once inside, visitors were greeted by several massive columns of light that swept through the interior. Contestants, though, entered another way.
Application to join the tournament had long-since passed. The rules were that contestants had be under forty, and at least sixth rank. The conclave had come to these rules after a long period of discussion.
Originally, fifth level Adepts were considered as well. However, the organizers changed their mind when they found that they would have more competitors than they could accommodate. Even after they settled on sixth level, they still had more than three thousand six hundred people on the roster.
These numbers made the North’s tournament the single largest gathering of Adepts in the history of humanity. A lot of that was a result of th prizes. With every victory, ones rewards improved. It was also an opportunity to improve themselves and show off their abilities – all of which could translate in to benefits.
For most Adepts, combat prowess was an important skill. However, with the prevalence of mechas and their strength in comparison, an Adept had to show off their strength to attract
good opportunities. Naturally, the best off were those Adepts who were also accomplished mecha pilots, but if you weren’t than you had to prove you were stronger than them.
The number of Adepts was also in part due to the fact that no entrance fee was required. The combat rules helped, and the badges for victory were attractive flare.
For higher-level Adepts, the badges meant little. For those in the middle of the pack, though, they were practical advantages. Remember that these tournaments were very rarely held at all, and Luo spared no expense.
Lan Jue was there among the crowds. He was clad in a form- fitting flight suit, with his features hidden behind a golden mask. The golden wig and cloak he deemed a bit much, and left them behind.
A small fellow standing in line behind him gave Lan Jue the once-over. He couldn’t suppress a chuckle as he spoke. “Hey brother, you here to participate in the Adept tournament? You know you’re wearing a mecha pilot’s outfit, right? There are no mechas here!”
The comment illicit a round of chuckle from those nearby.
Lan Jue didn’t answer, and the short man felt slightest by the lack of attention. He patted Lan Jue’s shoulder. “Hey guy, I’m talking to you. You deaf?”
At last, the Jewelry Master turned to face his accoster. An icy warning was in his eyes.
“Are you sure you’re talking to me?” He asked in quiet tones.
The other stared right back. “What? I can’t have a conversation? Who the hell are you, you think you’re too important to talk to.” He reached out to poke Lan Jue in the forehead as he spoke.
Before he could, though, his world became a swirling mess of color. Lan Jue stood in the center of it all, with his hand in his grip.
Lan Jue spoke softly. “There’s no point in you joining this competition.” There was a flash of electric blue, and the short man’s entire body went rigid. The swirling coils of power
around him erupted, and sent him flying backwards.
The laughter from the crowd stopped abruptly. They were all adepts, and they’d all felt the power he’d used to silence their little friend.
Certainly nothing to laugh at, they reckoned.
The air surged around them as a massive, humanoid-shaped mecha descended from overhead. “What’s going on here,” it’s stern robotic voice queried. “Who’s fighting?”
A small contingent of robotic security drones had gathered as well.
“Check the recordings,” Lan Jue replied dismissively. He stood in line, unmoving.
Two minutes later the gathered security dispersed. Records proved Lan Jue not to be the aggressor, so they had no authority to hold him.
Chapter 393: The Opening Ceremony
The hosts and sponsors of the games ensured that no violence occurred outside of the arenas. That didn’t mean they barred people from defending themselves. The short man had started things my slapping his shoulder and poking at him – that earned a response. Of course Lan Jue would not get in to trouble for that.
The surrounding Adepts didn’t dare trouble Lan Jue further. Some of them knew the short man, and knew that he was a seventh ranked Adept. Even still, he didn’t even have a chance to use his Discipline against the masked man. Eventualy he picked himself up off of the floor, and slinked away like a beaten dog.
The first day would have a staggering number of Adepts competing, so they had set aside a place designated as an Adept resting and waiting area. Once registration was complete, robotic assistants lead them to this waiting room and urged them to have a seat.
As they made they way through the corridors of the arena, Lan Jue couldn’t help but sigh inwardly. The place reminded him quite a lot of the NEU’s training facilities, just much larger.
The octagonal sports arena was capable of holding over a hundred thousand people. The open air battlefield itself was the size of ten football fields, and had been separated in to several diamond-shaped fields. Each one was roughly fifty meters in diameter. Altogether there was a hundred of these small skirmish fields. It meant two hundred adepts could battle at a time. The stands were each equipped with a personal screen that let the view see the action up close. It was state-of-the-art, and despite the chocking throngs of people there was perfect order. Overhead, a cadre of mecha pilots hovered, keeping an eye on the situation below.
At the Western end of the field there was a raised dais different from the others. It stretched long, with seats enough for a hundred spectators. Clearly this was the VIP booth, as was evident by its perfect view of the arena.
After a little over an hour, all of the participating Adepts were registered. The ceaseless din of impatient people filled the waiting area. Lan Jue, however, stood with a firm dispassion for the goings on that swirled around him. A badge was pinned to his chest with the number 315.
“Hrrrmmmnn….” An electronic hum filled the air. The boisterous crowds were silenced as a blanket of darkness fell upon them – like the day had suddenly been extinguished.
Floodlights cracked as they switched on, sending beams of light piercing through the blackness in all directions. They swayed and rolled until settling on a single figure, suspended in air above the center of the arena.
He was dressed in black leather, and his physique could rival mountains. Tidal waves of oppressive force crashed against the awe inspired onlookers. It wasn’t focused, so the crushing asphyxiation they felt flow over them was thankfully temporary.
“Welcome Ladies and Gentlemen, fans and contenders, to the Conclave’s Tournament Arena.” The man’s thunderous voice boomed across the fields and bleachers.
Naturally, all the Northerners recognized the celebrity immediately. This was their pride and joy, fourth strongest Paragon, the Terminator! Outsiders didn’t need too long to guess for themselves who he might be.
“I offer you all a feast for the eyes, available live here and at home. You young fighters here for glory, show us what you’re made of. Let the whole human race see how strong you truly are.”
His were were simple, a few sentences only. But he said them with a fierce vigor and a booming voice, and that was enough to get the competitor’s blood boiling.
The Terminator had not been exaggerating. Everything that was going to happen on these fields were streamed live to all corners of the human Alliances. The proceeds would be used to help acquire the lofty prizes organizers had promised.
The lights peeled away and plunged them all in to darkness, but just for a moment. The darkness fled before a radiant blue – though this was not the blue of the sky. This was a heavier blue, like the boundless depths of the ocean.
There was not a sound. Then, rolling in with the soothing color came a ululating cry. An enormous column of golden light sprang to life, stretching from the ground up to the distant heavens. Gradually, a sapphire-hued figure radiating cobalt blue light descended through the glimmering column.
The notes of this man’s song were strong and clear, and the familiar strains of Sounds of Nature filled their ears. The silence of the arena was shattered. A hundred thousand voices rang out with cheers, like thunderous waves that crested and rose again and again.
The same word reverberated over and over; Poseidon!
Hua Li’s face was a mask of bitter pain, like the face he’d shown at the loss of that little mermaid girl. The magnificent decorations from his earlier concert had been exquisite, but this time… this time he truly did look like the King of the Oceans.
His voice had a strangely alluring quality, almost magnetic. Listeners almost couldn’t help but reach out, to offer comfort and companionship to this forlorn god. No one could escape the moving quality of his sorrowful ballad, a song that despite having no words resonated with the soul of every listener.
As the entertainer sang, a line of figures made their way on to the VIP observation deck. The Terminator stood at their head, and the newly minted Infernal Vanguagrd stood at his shoulder. Half a step behind them walked two more; Metatron, and Lucifer.
Neither Paragon from the Western Citadels chose to come. It wasn’t expected that they would. They didn’t have the luxury of the Avenue, after all, with so many Paragons to send as representatives. The Pontiff also had his own issues to deal with.
A cadre of government officials and famous Adepts trailed the four mighty leaders. Though distinguished, those Adepts that walked with Davis were too old to participate in the games. None of them were any less than ninth rank.
The final notes of Poseidon’s Tears of the Sea-God came to a close. However, he did not vacate the stage once the song was complete. His powerful voice, clear as crystal, sang acapella in deafening scales of emotion. The crowds howled back at the top of their lungs.
There weren’t many who could boast seeing a Poseidon concert live. Gobi Entertainment would generally never allow a concert to be streamed across the galaxy as this one was. Here, though, was a blessing. One hundred thousand people screamed and wiped away tears as they stared at the superstar mere meters away. People at home were glued to their televisions and projectors to watch the first ever universally streamed Poseidon concert. With nothing but his voice, the Divine Monarch inspired a thunderous zeal in his audience.
To the normal man, Paragons were too separate for them to comprehend. They were living gods, hardly even human. But Poseidon was different. People would scrape and claw for a copy of his records. Now here he stood before them, the universal idol, and it was almost more than they could believe.
Eventually his singing ceased, and with an easy smile he bowed. Suspending in air, he turned to face the crowds in another corner and bowed again. He repeated this several times.
“I am honored and humbled to have been given the opportunity to preform for all of you today. I myself am an Adept – and certainly under forty! I wanted to join the festivities myself… those prizes are something else. But, I don’t think I can honestly compete. I would be ruined before ever entering the arena. I do have a reputation to uphold, after all.”
His voice was soft and humble, with a note of mirth. He gave the crowds and easy laugh.
“But I do hope there’s one thing I can do while I’m here. I haven’t cleared this with our sponsors, but I’m sure they’ll indulge me. To whosoever wins this grand tournament, I’d like to buy you a meal. You and me, one an one. I’ll certainly have some questions on how to make myself stronger!”
Another round of cheers tore through the arena. Many of the spectators here and watching the stream had also seen Poseidon perform during the god battles. Though they were competing as mecha pilots, it had served to reveal Hua Li’s skill. His availability and proximity, along with his self-deprecating
words, only made the audience more excited for the likeable hero.
“I’m still talking because I’m waiting for my music. This is a real treat for all of you, a new and original song I recently composed. Here it is for all of, in commemoration of this momentous competition. I call it, Clash of the Titans.
On cue, the music swelled up to replace his introduction. The sound came low and rough like distant explosions. The floodlights pitched and rolled, and where they passed halos of radiant light swirled in feral eddies. The after image of the lights burned sharp edges in the eyes of onlookers as they swept across the skies.
Hua Li reached out a hand, and a flash of light responded. His trident appeared in his grasp, like constrained light that fought to be free. It’s emanating luminescence washed over him, and where it touched his body became encased in golden armor. In the space of a breath, their gentle idol had transformed in to a terrible god of war.
His blue hair blew back behind him, and his hands gripped tight upon the trident with a white-knuckle grip. Bathed in light, he roared with his powerful voice, filling the arena with a
It was a roar to shatter mountains and overturn seas. The swirling halos of light seemed to flea before his call, moving outward in rippling waves. The sweet tenderness of his first song was forgotten, replaced by the blood-boiling call to battle.
He cried and swept his arms like a seasoned general commanding his troops. Images of a mounted host surging toward the enemies lines played out in the swirling lights.
His voice grew louder still, and the armies vanished in the face of its power. In the distance a dark figure arose, bathed in an aura of poisonous purple. The two stared at one another from across the arena.
“This is the ultimate battle. Justice, standing against evil. The power of the gods permeates all things, so surely evil must fall. Light shall reign supreme. Clash of Titans! Clash of Titans! Witness the battle of good and evil, here on this stage where gods are made. We are the divines who mold worlds to our whim. Our splendor lights the heavens!”
Chapter 394: Big Uncle
The song was a tempest of emotion, bringing to mind images of two great armies meeting on the field. Poseidon brandished his golden trident, and where it passed waves of light burst outward.
“Come, you fierce gods of battle! Fight for glory and honor! Today you blaze hotter than the sun, and light up the sky with your radiance.”
The golden light restrained itself, until it was just hanging over the entertainer’s body. The trident itself remained a resplendent beam of congealed light, and launched to the skies like an arrow. It was a single line of pure golden light in a sea of soothing blue. The golden light spread like an infection. In an instant, that deep blue became a radiating light that blanketed the entire arena.
The blinding light slowly receded, until it vanished from sight. Overhead the audience was again treated to the crystal- clear blue sky of Luo City, and it’s happily burning sun. Enchanted though they were, the listeners began to cheer as they regained their senses.
Amazing… truly amazing. They were in shock.
A digital voice arose in the silence after Poseidon’s concert. “We will be commencing the tournament soon. The first round will be decided by lots. Competitors, prepare to meet your opponents.”
There would be no waiting. The competition would start right away, beginning with drawing lots. In the skies overhead pictures began to be projected against the backdrop of the blue sky. Each one represented one of the registered competitors, and in the end over three thousand faces hung in the sky.
The man known as the Terminator slowly rose to his feet. When he spoke, his voice cracked across the arena like a blast of thunder, without the help of any sound amplification equipment.
As his voice rang out, the pictures in the sky began to flash and change. They rearranged themselves over and over again in to orderly pairs. It only took a matter of seconds for the first round of fights to be set.
In the waited area, the badges pinned to each fighter’s chest began to glow with a pale light. They projected a number before their eyes, different from their own – they were the the badge numbers of their challengers. They rose and filed out in to the arena to find their places. The computerized voice called out anew.
“Round One of the Cutting-Edge Grand Adept Tournament. Would the competitors please make their way to the arena grounds.”
Lan Jue’s own badge illuminated; One thousand seven hundred and twenty four. Now he had to find the person that number belonged to. They were slotted to meet at arena thirty five. The final number was three – meaning they would go out with the third batch of fighters.
Each batch was about two hundred competitors. They would need fifteen batches to cover all of the contestants today.
The rules of this tournament had been expressed to them when they’d applied to compete. These were all Adepts, so they didn’t have any problem comprehending the simple instructions. None of the fights would go beyond half an hour, and each one was closely monitored to ensure all rules were
The fight ended the moment a fighter surrendered or could no longer fight back. It was absolutely forbidden to hurt anyone intentionally. In the event a fight was not over by the thirty minute mark, the results would be determined by a specially selected group of cross-Alliance judges. The final decisions would rest with them.
The sheer number of competitors was a blessing to sponsors, who no longer needed to worry about stunts to keep the action moving. They could move right through to the fights, and they did. Already the eyes of the galaxy were locked on them.
Transmissions rights and advertisements would earn enough to run a small planet for a year. The hype had been building for more than two months already, so the extravagant prices they’d promised had been earned over time. Whatever costs they’d accrued would certainly be countered by the proceeds from the games. But even considering that cost was hard to fathom the surplus.
Although Lan Jue wasn’t due until they called the third batch, he stepped out on to the field anyway. There were a couple familiar faces among the first group preparing to compete.
Three of the first group were representatives from Skyfire Avenue; the Barber, the Seamstress, and the Pharmacist. They stood upon their platforms and waited. Anyone not on their designated platform in five minutes would be disqualified.
The massive projectors flared, and a countdown hung against the clouds. It began at sixty, and began to drop.
“One minute until fights begin.”
Fifty-nine, fifty-eight, fifty-seven…
The competitors were busy getting ready. They weren’t permitted to use their Disciplines yet, but the time was spent adjusting ones internal energies and considering a plan of attack.
“… Five, four, three, two, one. Begin!”
At the computerized voice’s command, two hundred Adepts burst in to action. All one hundred segments of the arena were suddenly covered in a shield. This was as much to protect the audience as it was to ensure one arena didn’t unfairly influence
another. They were practically on top of each other, so it was a real danger.
The shields stretched over the arenas, and out three meters passed the designated fight zone. If a competitor stepped out, or struck the shield, they would be disqualified. The dome was fifty meters tall at it’s highest point, which was enough to allow Adepts full use of whatever Discipline they had.
“Boom–!” The Pharmacist was the first to silence her challenger.
There had only been a flash of golden light before her foe went sprawling through the air. He smacked against the far face of the shield, and slowly slunk to the ground.
The shield flashed red, then disappeared. It meant that their bout had come to an end.
On the main platform, the gourmet was seated with a young girl in his arms. She bounced happily on his knee, shouting “Go momma go!”
Jun’er pretty hair was covered by a metal helmet. Although her eyes stared blankly, they were alive with an indescribable joy. Her pure, jubilant cries were sweeter even than Poseidon’s. It certainly captured the Terminator’s attention.
The enormous man was so large he took up the space of two men, a mountain sitting on a chair. Thankfully there was only he the three of them in this section of the platform, or they’d be tight for space.
“Who is this child.” The Terminator looked at Jun’er in curiosity.
The gourmet answered with a gentle smile. “This is the Pharmacist’s daughter.”
“The woman who just finished her fight,” he confirmed to himself. “Very impressive. Strong.”
The Gourmet nod with a congenial laugh. He had to show respect for this old-guard Paragon. “Her Talent is unique. Even I don’t know what the true scope of her abilities are. It was hard to convince her to come, honestly.”
“Very well, let’s see how it plays out,” the terminator replied. “I hope she lasts a while.”
“My mommy’s the best, big Uncle! And my daddy, too! They’re both great. If mommy doesn’t win, then daddy will!” Jun’er began to bounce again in excitement.
The Chinese refer to any older person who is not related as aunt or uncle/grandma grandpa. It’s a sign of respect.
The little girl’s words startled the Conclave leader for half a moment. It had been a very long time since anyone had called him ‘uncle.’ He felt… strange.
“What makes you think I’m not your grandpa?” he teased.
“No, you’re too young!” Jun’er tittered. “You’re really big, but I can feel that you’re not scary. Mommy told me that a person’s outside doesn’t always match their inside. I can feel your heart, uncle. You have a good heart.”
A child’s voice, especially a young girl, did not have great volume. However, it penetrated the din, enough so that those
around them turned to look after hearing her strange assertion. Everyone, the Terminator in particular, wasn’t sure how to react to that. Metatron, Lucifer and the Gourmet were just as flabbergasted.
It was amusing enough for her to call the Terminator uncle. He wasn’t as old as the Clairvoyant, but he was no spring chicken. Because his Discipline was closely tied to his body, he was able to maintain the appearance of youth. In reality he was about as old as the Keeper.
What was more surprising was her brazen assertion of his goodness. She was only six, maybe seven, but she’d spoken like an oracle.
Before he was a Paragon, the Terminator has been known as the Cyborg Weapon. Could someone with such a name be kind- hearted?
Much to everyone’s surprise, the titan of a man fell silent. After a few moment he leaned his giant girth down and took Jun’er tiny face in his hands. “What’s your name, little one?”
She smiled up at him prettily. “My name’s Jun’er, big uncle!”
He beamed a smile at her. To any other creature it would look ferocious, but Jun’er smiled right back. The helmet allowed her to see through psychic projection, enough to react to a kind smile.
“Can big uncle give you a hug?” He asked with a wry grin.
She thought for a moment. “Okay. Mommy said I shouldn’t go with strangers, but I know uncle is very nice. You can hug me.” She stretched her arms out wide toward the Paragon.
He chuckled heartily as he picked her up, with no more effort than he might a doll. “Well said, little one.”
The Gourmet made no efforts to stop him, and openly smiled at the two. The man was a Paragon, and he wouldn’t dare harm a child. It looked like the two were destined to be friends, in fact.
The two together were an almost comical juxtaposition. Jun’er was almost lost against the giant man’s body. She sat comfortably on his forearm.
“Can big uncle give you a present, Jun’er?” The Terminator thumbed the helmet as he spoke.
“Oh, I love presents! Other than mommy and daddy no one else really gives me presents. I like you, big uncle!” Jun’er wobbled precariously on the big man’s forearm. She was still trying to take it all in; this new place, her new sight, and these nice people.
“Tomorrow, uncle Gourmet will bring you back. I’ll get your present ready and give it to you then, alright?”
“Ok! Thank you uncle!”
The Pharmacist made her way up the platform among the others. She was a ninth level ninth ranked Talent herself, so she belonged among them just as much as the others.
She heard the two talk as she approached to take her back. Her heart was filled with gratitude and surprise when she saw the look on the big man’s face.
Her little girl was going great on her first trip out. Even
Paragons were making play dates.
Chapter 395: The Competition Begins
Lan Jue was the most excited of them all. Had it not been for his suggestion, little Jun’er would not have come. Ever since leaving the Avenue, her mother had recognized a difference. In the end the Jewelry Master had been right – locking a little one up is very bad for development. The more she learned of the outside world, the better.
There were drawbacks and dangers to using the psychic projection helmet. He’d discussed these concerns with the Pharmacist already. In fact that had been the reason why the young mother hadn’t already tried it. She never even considered it an option before. When Lan Jue first asked if he could buy her one, she’d been reticent. However, Lan Jue explained that a child’s mental and emotional growth was just as important as their physical well-being.
Until now, Jun’er had never experienced anything other than the inside of the Pharmacist’s shop. It was truly amazing for this little girl, to experience the whole world opening up to her. The helmet only became dangerous if it was used too long, so if they regulated its use there would be no problems. It was an easy decision to make when you considered the benefits.
When Jun’er first used the helmet – when she saw her
‘parents’ loving looks, and saw all the richness and color of the world – she’d crowd copious, happy tears. She was almost like a different girl entirely. For more than an hour, she wandered around muttering ‘I can see… I can see’ before eventually falling asleep.
Now she was full of light and excitement, a child with a new lease on life. Her pale face was even turning a little ruddy as the sun kissed her cheeks. All of this meant that Lan Jue had been right. The Pharmacist’s protection of her little girl had been absolute, and her atrophied figure underlined that.
The Pharmacist did not approach the stories Paragon to get her child. Instead she decided to remain behind, and sit in the seat provided for her a few rows back. Now she was beginning to understand that if she wanted Jun’er to grow in to a healthy adult she would need to experience everything the world had to offer.
The Gourmet interrupted the unlikely friends. “Jun’er, you’ve been wearing the helmet for quite a while. Time to take it off now, sweetie.”
“No! I want to see daddy fight,” she replied fiercely.
The Terminator chuckled. “Which one is your daddy? What does he look like?”
She shook her head emphatically. “Daddy said that’s a secret only he and I know. He said I can’t tell anybody else. Only I know who daddy is.”
This caused the giant man to erupt in great bursts of laughter. “Your daddy sounds like a very mysterious man! Very interesting… very interesting indeed.”
The first batch of the tournament’s initial round finished in short order, not even breaking thirty minutes. With so many competitors and the random draws, there were many uneven match-ups. A ninth level Adept didn’t need more than a few seconds to finish a sixth or seventh level. Other than the Pharmacist, the Barber and the Seamstress. By twenty minutes, the second batch was getting ready to get on the field.
Once the first round of festivities was complete, robots flooded the area to help clear things away. They took the injured for recovery while the victors found they own way back to the waiting room. Each of their badges had an extra light, indicative of their victory.
After a ten minute break to reset the field, fighters from the second batch made their appearance. For those watching the stream, they were subjected to a round of advertisements.
They were just as quick as the first batch. Lan Jue didn’t recognize anyone on the field with, and everything seemed normal. Of course it was difficult to get an accurate lay of the land down here among the milling competitors. With nothing to focus on, Lan Jue closed his eyes and simply allowed himself to get swept up in the energy around him. It was a practice he engaged in a lot more recently after the first time he’d joined with Qianlin and felt the sensation of being a peak-level Adept.
Gramps would tell them ‘once an Adept reached the height of his power, he must begin to commune with the powers around him.’ Everyone had to find how they fit in the unfathomable patchwork of the universe, and discover the road to enlightenment. This process would not be a quick one; it would come like a supernova once one’s accumulated understanding was sufficient.
Every Adept had to break through their personal obstacles to achieve Paragon. The first attempt was the most important, and had the highest rate of success. Someone who failed would find their chances diminished almost to nothing without some epiphany.
This was why Lan Jue did not let up, despite understanding the nature of protogenia. He tried every day to commune with the universe like he was told, to find that underpinning truth.
“Batch three competitors, take positions.”
Lan Jue’s eyes popped open, and he made his way to the field.
He was in arena 350, against contestant number 1724.
By the time he got there his opponent was already waiting. He was a man with a dark aura and half made of metal. Even half of his head was man-made, and it made him look terribly ferocious. His eye had been replaced with a blinking orange substitute.
So this was 1724.
They stood at opposite ends of the small arena and eyed one another. Beside’s Lan Jue’s dramatic mask, he didn’t look anything special. Clearly though, 1724 was a product of the North.
These sorts of Adepts were unique to the North, remolded
humans who were neither machine nor man. The Terminator was testament to what the method could produce – although just what he did to reach such lofty heights was a mystery.
1724 slowly lifted a meaty thumb between them, held horizontally. His orange eye glared at Lan Jue as the thumb waggled, and ultimately pointed down. 1724 smirked scornfully.
Lan Jue stood with his hands clasped behind his back. He didn’t move a muscle, and showed no reaction to his enemy’s taunts.
“Prepare to fight. Fifty-nine, fifty-eight, fifty-seven…”
“… five, four, three, two, one. Begin!”
The moment the electric buzzer sounded, 1724 was bounding across the arena. With a feral yell he leaped, and came crashing to earth with his alloy fist.
“Phboom—!“ A dramatic blast accompanied an invisible wall of force.
A seismic wave!
An important distinction of a remolded Adept was that their powers still came from their own core. Others who didn’t were simply cyborgs.
Even the space between them shivered as the concussive force swept across the arena. The surrounding shield rippled in protest.
This was quite the foe. He was as strong as he was unique. Lan Jue cursed his luck – no lazy start for him, it would appear.
But that didn’t mean he outlook was at all dire.
Lan Jue took a small step forward, and instantly a cloud of writhing lightning bolts appeared around him. The sea of disparate bolts linked together to form a protective net with Zeus in its center. As the seismic wave reached his shields they were scattered harmlessly.
“Hmph!” 1724 grunted in irritation. He launched from his crouched position, soaring through the air like a missile. He
blazed a silver light and an ominous ‘wenggg’ sizzled through the air as a long whip snaked from the man’s arm. It lashed out toward Lan Jue’s face.
Vibration? Was this his Discipline? If so then it must be amplified by his machinery. The truth was something he’d likely never learn, since a Convert – as they called themselves – considered their construction their most important secret.
Lan Jue’s right arm shot out to block the humming whip. It entangled itself, then began to glow a smoky white. The net of electric energy dispersed like oil from water. With a fierce tug, 1724 pulled himself closer.
A red light flickered on his metallic shoulder, then a moment later it opened to reveal a small weapon. No sooner was the barrel revealed than a beam of energy thick as a man’s arm shot at Lan Jue.
The corner of Lan Jue’s eyes tightened. This one was crafty! He’d kept his methods secret until an opportune moment, and here it was. He looked like a hand-to-hand fighter, but the whip was a feint. He just needed an opportunity to blast Zeus close range with his laser. The real danger was coming right at his nose.
He couldn’t compete with the speed of light, there was no way he could effectively dodge the attack. The fraying net of lightning flared with power.
With an impotent puff his shields parted. The beam struck him at the right shoulder.
A shadow of anxiety crept in to Lan Jue’s heart. He’d grown so weak. Although his improvement with Qianlin was quick, he was still only ninth level, maybe the peak of first rank. It was still a bitter loss, to drop from seventh rank. Lan Jue suspected the Convert was the peak of eighth level, but certainly not ninth. Where he at his real strength, the piddling laser would never have penetrated his shield.
Seeing his attack hit the mark, 1724 began his charge again. He dropped his shoulder and a boquete of spikes half an inch log sprang out, set to impale his foe to the arena floor.
Lan Jue cursed his rotten luck.
Chapter 396: Daddy’s Back!
Lan Jue had no recourse but to lifts his hand to block. Bang! His hand met the spiked shoulder piece to push it away, even grabbing one of the spines.
1724 stopped dead in his tracks in mid-air.
Lan Jue didn’t give him an opportunity to react. The moment his grip tightened around the spine, an explosion of electric energy raced through the Convert’s body. 1724 lit up like a purple holiday lantern.
Of course Lan Jue had been judging his opponent the same way he himself had been judged. Taking the laser blast to the shoulder was the only way he’d get close. Not the only way, of course – there were other methods – but he didn’t want to reveal too much of his abilities in the opening round of the tournament.
Waves of diffuse electric energy poured from 1724’s body as the current tore through him. The metallic half of his body was particularly susceptible. After a moment Lan Jue let the bulk of his Discipline recede to conserve energy.
With an imperious wave of his hand, 1724 was smashed violently to the ground. His metal construction sizzles, burned black from the electricity. The rest of him twitched uncontrollably.
Lan Jue brushed a hand along his right shoulder, where no trace of the Convert’s laser strike was visible. It was foolish to assume his electric net had had but one layer.
“Competitor 310: Victory.” The surrounding shields vanished and Lan Jue walked back to the waiting area like he was out for an afternoon stroll.
In the audience, Jun’er clapped her hands so ferociously she threatened to fall over. “Daddy won! Daddy won! My daddy’s so strong!” She spoke to the Terminator as though she were instructing him of some truth.
The Paragon gave her a sheepish smirk. “Are you sure big Uncle isn’t allowed to know who your daddy is? You can tell me…” There were a hundred battle going on below him, and he couldn’t keep his eyes on all of them. Jun’er wasn’t using her own to watch, so he couldn’t tell by her gaze. For all his knowledge and experience, the Terminator could not discover what he wanted to know in this moment – foiled by a little girl.
Jun’er tittered playfully. “Nope! You shouldn’t ask people to talk about the things they aren’t supposed to talk about, big Uncle.”
“Ehm…” The Terminator’s guilty grin deepened, faced with a simultaneously amusing and irritating quandary. “You’re quite the clever little thing.”
“I have to take my helmet off,” Jun’er announced. “Mommy doesn’t let me wear it for too long. I’ll be back tomorrow though, big uncle. Remember my present!”
The Terminator gave her a grandfatherly smile. “Oh, I won’t forget. I promise.”
“Ok, I have to go now. Gourmet uncle, is mommy back?” Jun’er turned her face back to the Avenue’s own Paragon.
The Pharmacist – who’d been carefully watching from a few rows back – rose to her feet and approached. Jun’er picked her out right away.
“Mommy you were great!” The little girl lung her tiny arms
around her mother’s waist.
The Pharmacist lifted her up in to her arms. She gave the Terminator an appreciative and respectful curtsy. “I’m sorry for the trouble, Your Majesty.”
The massive Convert answered with a smile. “No trouble at all. She’s an adorable little one, we connected well. Her eyesight’s been lost since birth, I imagine.”
The Pharmacist couldn’t bring herself to talk, but nodded her head.
The Terminator nodded. “Medical technology can fix this, but there are significant risks. Find an Adept skilled in bio-electric Discipline that can help stimulate the nerves and tissue over the long term. I imagine it’ll have some good results. If there’s some traction, a minimally invasive surgery might be considered – a specialty here in the North.”
The Pharmacist’s usually stoic features broke in to a smile. Lan Jue was doing just as the Paragon recommended already. For such an illustrious Paragon to make the same suggestion, it must mean she was on the right track. The Terminator hadn’t
made any promises, but she knew that if she did bring Jun’er here she would get the best medical care the North had to offer. This man was more powerful than the Pontiff and Satan put together, and not just in Discipline.
This man, nor fourth among the ten Paragons, was once a military man. A marshal, in fact. Now the entire army was effectively under his command. Even the upper echelons of Northern politics didn’t dare disturb him – oly the President, and only on certain occasions.
“Thank you very much, Your Majesty.” She curtsied again, this time lower and more formal.
“Bye-bye big Uncle!” Jun’er cooed, waving her tiny hand.
The Pharmacist hugged her little prize close and returned to her seat. The Terminator watched them go for a minute before returning his eyes to the field.
“Your Avenue has had a wealth of talent coming through lately, Gourmet,” the large man noted. “I couldn’t learn much from the Pharmacist’s fight either. Her cultivation method must have been a unique one. Limitless potential, though there are
hidden scars that prevent her advancement.”
The Gourmet nodded knowingly. “That’s probable. At her level of power she was tapped for a position on the council, but she refused. She was only interested in running her shop, and in fact she wouldn’t even be here except that a councilor convinced her to.”
“I heard that the Pontiff and Satan brought their crew to the Avenue and Lost,” the Terminator continued. “I’d like to make a visit myself sometime in the future. It’ll give me an opportunity to see my old friend one last time.” Of course he meant the Clairvoyant.
The Gourmet offered a congenial smile. “The Avenue would be honored to welcome you.”
“I know there was some trouble with an unreasonable visitor,” the Terminator said, his tone becoming somewhat more serious. “He’s been spoken to. I hope you can relay to the Avenue that the North has absolutely no intention of making enemies. We have other threats to consider now, that effect everyone.”
The Gourmet’s face hardened, too. “That is something I’ve been wanting to discuss with you. The Clairvoyant’s vision revealed that this could be a catastrophe never before experienced in all the history of humanity. The only way to survive as a species is to work together. The Citadels didn’t come to intimidate us, they came to talk with the Clairvoyant about just this. After that the Clairvoyant locked himself away. I suspect he has about a month left before he passes on. If Your Majesty has the time, I’d suggest sooner rather than later. You can come help see him off.”
There was a sudden, soft red light that glowed behind the Terminator’s eyes. “Is it really that serious?” As a Paragon himself, he knew to trust explicitly the Eye of Tomorrow’s visions.
The Clairvoyant had also been a special case. Most Adepts grew weaker as time wore on – like any living thing, their life force became exhausted. However, the Clairvoyant was precisely the opposite – his Sight was strongest the nearer he came to death.
The Gourmet nodded again. “It is. So we’re starting to prepare now.”
“Indeed,” came the big man’s emphatic response.
The tournament went on. Due to the sheer number of competitors, the first day was exclusive given to getting through round one. Lan Jue was done once his fight was finished, so he made his way out. Earlier he’d made plans to spend some time with Jun’er, which was why she was so eager to leave once his fight was over.
Lan Jue plucked his mask off in the bathroom and threw on a coat. Suddenly he was like anyone else – just another tourist. He left for the spot he’d promise to meet them.
A few moment later; “Daddy!” Jun’er’s clear voice rang across the street.
Lan Jue turned to the sound with a big grin plastered on his face.
The Pharmacist lead little Jun’er toward her ‘father,’ since she was no longer wearing the helmet. She’d been told Lan Jue was here by her mother, hence the excitement.
“Jun’er!” Lan Jue called. He trotted forward a few steps and took her by the hand.
“Daddy, you’re so great! You put your hand out and boom! You beat up the bad guys. He was a very bad man, I was a little scared. I thought he might hurt my daddy.”
He smiled and shook his head. “No way. Your daddy’s too strong for that. How could he beat me up, huh? You know your mommy’s even stronger! She beat up the other bad man in just a couple seconds, right?”
Jun’er giggled. “Mommy and daddy are both amazing!”
Lan Jue looked over to the Pharmacist, who was also smiling. Every day she could sense the change in Jun’er with this trip, and every second eased some of her own burden. Anyone from the Avenue would say that it had been many years since they’d seen her look this happy.
“Congratulations on getting to the second round,” Lan Jue offered.
She shrugged. “I don’t care much about this sort of thing. I just want to make Jun’er happy.”
“I thought I saw the Terminator holding her,” Lan Jue said.
This caused the Pharmacist to laugh. “I don’t know what happened. It looks like he and she really hit it off. She calls him Big Uncle. You should have seen everybody’s face.”
Lan Jue’s own features were not much different from what she described. It was quite the scene, a man of his lofty status and the little blind girl playing together.
“That’s a very good thing,” he assured.
“Let’s go home,” Jun’er offered as she leaned against Lan Jue’s shoulder. She looked a little tired.
This was the reason she so rarely left the Hall of Supreme Harmony. Jun’er’s mood had increased dramatically, but even a little excitement often tired her out.
The Morning Star, Su Xiaosu, had spent the entire day in the hotel working on improving her Discipline. Qianlin, meanwhile, had a seat in the audience to watch the tournament courtesy of Lan Jue. She had no interest in joining herself, especially since her Discipline wasn’t combat focused.
When they got back to the hotel, Lan Jue gave Jun’er back to her mother. “Daddy,” she said, “why don’t you stay in the same room with us? Are you busy?” The little one asked.
The question caught him off guard. After a moment, she laughed. “Alright, daddy will go with you. Nothing is more important than my little princess.” He felt like he was starting to get this father thing down. Jun’er reminded him of the possibilities. If Hera were here, their own child would be quite big too.
Chapter 397: Daddy Has To Go
The joy that poured out of the little girl was a font of positivity. She was like a sprite filling the area with happiness and excitement.
He followed the Pharmacist and Jun’er back to their room. The suite was quite large, as Lan Jue noted while Jun’er pulled him to the sofa for a story.
As had become somewhat of a custom, Lan Jue related his tale while carefully stimulating her ocular nerves with his bio- electric Discipline.
The Pharmacist smiled as she listened from beside him on the sofa. Whenever it came to story time she would sit and listen absent-mindedly, thinking about what could have been. She pondered on how life would be different in the man in her heart were here. He would hold his daughter the same way, and tell her stories of his own. That would be so perfect…
Before she would cry quietly at the painful thoughts, but over time she grew accustomed. The more they shared this family time, n fact, the more she enjoyed it.
The gentle current of electricity and Lan Jue’s soothing cadence soon put the little one to sleep. She lay against his shoulder, her sweet features content. Lan Jue’ tenderly relinquished her to her mother, and followed as she put her to bed.
“Thank you, really.” The Pharmacist whispered.
Lan Jue smiled warmly. He could see the depth of the emotion in her eyes. “Now I’m Jun’er’s father. Even if your husband came back, it wouldn’t change the fact. She’s an angel and I adore her. I do it for Jun’er, not for you.”
She nodded her head in understanding. “She’s been so happy since you’ve come, and healthier too. This trip especially, she’s often tired but ‘ve never seen her happier. You were right, even if she can’t see she doesn’t deserve to live in a cage. I’m confident she’ll only get better, and grow quickly.”
“Well I should go,” he said after a moment. “And don’t worry, I’ll keep an eye on her through the tournament.”
She gave a thankful smile. “Great.”
“Daddy…” Jun’er’s tiny voice muttered from her bed.
Lan Jue moved to her side, and gently patted her hand. Her tiny fingers wrapped around his thumb and wouldn’t let go. She was having a nightmare.
“Daddy… daddy don’t go, okay? Stay with me and mommy. I miss you daddy…” Her tiny face was scrunched in sadness and concern.
The Pharmacist had been holding it together, but Jun’er’s pleas immediately caused water to spring to her eyes. She fought to keep the tears contained.
Lan Jue gently stroked her hair. “Daddy’s here sweetie pie, I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying right here with Jun’er.”
He glances toward the Pharmacist as he spoke. She was stepping out of the room to regain her composure.
The bed creaked as he tenderly lay down beside her. Like a kitten, Jun’er curled up against his warmth. Almost immediately her nervous expression melted away, and a look of
stasfaction replaced it.
She dreamt for a while and Lan Jue waited. After some time he attempted to get up, but the effort nearly woke her. He had no choice but to stay. After the Pharmacist calmed down she poked her head in once or twice but said nothing. Eventually Lan Jue also succumbed to drowsiness, and himself fell asleep.
When he awoke Jun’er was no longer in his arms, and he was covered in a blanket. He sighed and stretched as the comforting warmth flowed through him.
He noted that he felt… released. His mood seemed abnormally easy. He hadn’t felt this since Hera died. Just as he was comforting Jun’er, she must be comforting him he thought. He sorely wished he had a little one of his own just like her.
When he stumbled out of the room he saw the Pharmacist carefully feeding Jun’er some fruit.
“Daddy!” Jun’er’s sharp hearing picked out his foot steps right away.
Lan Jue gave the Pharmacist an embarrassed and apologetic smile, to which she mirthfully shook her head. He trotted over to Jun’er and placed her on his knee.
Jun’er stuck her sticky little fingers under Lan Jue’s nose, clutching a piece of tangerine. “Eat some!”
“Aww thank you honey. Such a good girl!” He answered with a big smile.
“Daddy’s so lazy. I got a long time ago and you were still sleeping!” Her accusation actually caused Lan Jue to blush in embarrassment. He coughed to try and conceal his embarrassment.
The Pharmacist couldn’t help but laugh. “Daddy’s just very tired, Jun’er. He still has a lot of things to do. You shouldn’t tease your daddy so much!” She then turned her attention to Lan Jue. “You can go ahead and manage your business.”
He nodded in agreement.
“Daddy!” Jun’er called. “You should come back early tonight
and help me sleep again. I had such a good sleep!”
He wasn’t sure how to respond. It was certainly an awkward situation. If he were to do as little Jun’er asked, how would the Pharmacist react?
He looked her way to see, and saw her own face reddening. She shook her head helplessly. “We’ll have to see baby. If daddy gets everything done then he can come home early.”
“Oh.” She answered as her face fell.
Lan Jue wanted to say something to comfort her, but held his tongue. He and the Pharmacist were only friends, despite what Jun’er thought. The situation between him and Qianlin being what it was, he wasn’t sure it was such a good idea she learn he was spending every evening in another woman’s room.
He bid them both farewell and left for his own room. He trotted down the hall in high spirits, but there was a hint of bitter sympathy for the Pharmacist and her plight. To be so
young with an absent lover. He certainly knew how that felt.
“You’re back.” He was surprised to find Zhou Qianlin waiting.
“The competition is over for the day?” Lan Jue asked in surprise. He’d have guessed it would be a little while longer still before all the fighters finished.
She answered with a shake of her head. “No, they’re still at it. I came back early since I’m not terribly interested in combat. Besides you’ve already finished your first round. Are you alright, by the way? I saw the Convert land a hit.”
He smiled. “Relax, I’ve got a thick skin. I just spent the time looking after Jun’er, the poor girl.”
Qianlin knew of Jun’er, and was equally sympathetic. When she heard about his role as the small girl’s father, she encouraged him to continue.
“We should work on our Disciplines,” Qianlin announced.
His smirk widened. “So diligent today. What lit a fire under you?”
“After seeing so many Adepts fighting, I feel like I need to at least match their strength. I feel like I’m getting close to a breakthrough,” she mused.
Lan Jue’s brows crinkled at her words, and he grunted. “Shit, if only I advanced so quickly.”
Both she and he had both undergone Bize’s ‘extraction process,’ but ever since then she’d been improving at light speed. If she did break through soon, it would mean she was already at eighth rank!
Her rapid advance wasn’t just because of her protogenic powers. Lan Jue’s bio-electric Discipline, and their combined cultivating efforts have all been tremendously profitable.
She blushed. “So are you going to or not?”
“Yeah, yeah of course!” He answered quickly.
By the end of the second day, the three thousand Adepts who signed up were weened to half. The second round looked like it would have around seventeen hundred participants. All of those were already winners, considering the prizes for making the cut. Now with each win their prize will get better, becoming even more outrageous the further up they climb.
The arena was a mess of people scrambling for seats. Scalped tickets were priced so high they would cost an average family their year’s salary, and yet they were being sold. The reduction in the sheer number of adepts didn’t appear to affect the audience numbers at all, but there was nothing for it. Safety concerns meant they couldn’t somehow increase capacity.
Lan Jue made his way back to the arena in his golden masked and waited with the others for his turn to come. Things were much more straightforward in day two. There were no fancy speechs or extravagant shows. When the time came, lots would be drawn and that was all.
The Skyfire Avenue combatants were nearby. Because of their illustrious standing and their shared origin, they were given their own rest area. Lan Jue was out with the ‘normal’ Adepts.
The numbers were a lot smaller, but the system remained the same. Two hundred Adepts at a time, one hundred arenas. Things would move a lot faster this time around, though.
There was a buzz, and the random draw began. Seventeen hundred pictures appeared suspended in the sky. With a maddening and dramatic shuffle, they arranged themselves in to pairs.
This time Lan Jue’s opponent was number 67 – a very low digit, considering, and it took him by surprise. The Pharmacist was number 66. Close call!
At his current level of strength he would have absolutely zero chance against the Pharmacist. More importantly, though, he didn’t want Jun’er to see her parents fighting! If it came to that, he would forfeit.
This time, though, it was 67 he was facing. He’d heard from somewhere than the first hundred were all seeded competitors – all of them were ninth level at least.
The opening round of fights had been rife with sixth and seventh level Adepts. His own eighth level opponent was an
aberration that would be seen far more this time around – even far more ninth level foes. With his luck he’d fight a Paragon.
Particularly depressing was the fact that he was in the ninth batch this time, instead of the third. He’d be waiting here for quite a long time.
So be it, time to wait.
Chapter 398: The Cloaked Lady
In contrast to himself, the Pharmacist had excellent fortune. She was to compete with the first batch, just as she had yesterday. She was the only Avenue representative in her group.
However, there was another familiar face among the crowd. Sariel, Angel of the Moon. Lan Jue had paid close attention to the Citadel presence, and noted the lack of a certain Cherubim. It was no surprise, of course – the suffering Uriel had received in the Holy City was not easily cast off. Raphael was similarly absent.
Aside from Metatron, there were three other representatives of the Pontiff’s Citadel in attendance. They were Sariel, High Inquisitor Constantine, and another in priestly cassock.
Lan Jue was surprised at Sariel’s presence in the waiting room. Archangels could not be judged by appearance, and that went double for age. He didn’t think she was so young, but her presence here meant she must fit the criteria.
As for their mortal enemies the Dark Citadel, there didn’t seem to be any luminaries aside from Lucifer. However, Satan’s men didn’t have a uniform like their glittery counterparts so
picking them out of a crowd was difficult. That didn’t mean they were any less of a threat, though.
None of these familiar faces were preparing to go out on the field with the Pharmacist. But there was one he knew very well
– unfortunately. Chu Cheng.
Today Hades was dressed in a traditional black tunic suit. It was a rare style these days, but fitting for him. It made him look tall and thin. The fiery blaze of red hair only added to his heroic persona.
With hands stuffed in his trouser pockets, Chu Cheng stood in the waiting area looking out toward the arenas. He paused for a moment, then like he hadn’t a care in the world, began walking. Lan Jue didn’t know if his pause had been for prudence or dramatic effect. His friend lazily chewed a toothpick while he half-heartedly moved toward the field.
Lan Jue had to admit that his friend exuded a certain dark charm. His dramatic appearance and laissez-faire attitude was like something out of a novel. He also wasn’t without his own crowd of admirers. He was definitely a notable figure in the North, at his ninth level seventh rank standing.
He made a move to exit out onto the field, when suddenly a pair of robots barred his path. A metallic hand stretched out, wreathed with electric bolts of lightning and plucked the toothpick from his mouth.
“Contestants are not permitted to bring any weapon on to the tournament grounds,” it’s metallic voice croaked. Chu Cheng’s prurient grin fled at the interruption.
Hades’ eyes went wide, and his face twitched. What a mistake!
A smattering of laughter echoed from the bleachers.
The audience had monitors which they could set to any portion of the arena that they wished. As there was some interest around Chu Cheng, it would stand to reason that thjere’s be more than a few eyes on him. And now he looked like a complete idiot to all of them. The look on his face alone was tragically comical.
Lan Jue had also just turned his attention toward his friend. When the scene unfolded, he couldn’t help but wince and fight back a cackle. I don’t know him! He promised himself. I don’t know him!
Chu Cheng rigidly huffed passed the robots and found his arena. His opponent was already waiting, and immediately struck him as unique. They were hidden beneath a cloak, so thick and wide so as to even hide their gender.
“Well you’ve got some shit luck, I’ll tell you,” Chu Cheng muttered as he approached.
His challenger said nothing.
“You know why?” His voice nearly cracked in rage. “Because I’m in a crap mood. That f-rhgmmn… that robot!” The last sentiment was delivered with a murderous glare toward the nearby metallic servants.
“Moron,” was finally the response.
Chu Cheng was struck dumb. Not because… well, not just because of the curse, but because of the pitch it was delivered in.
Crisp, melodious, smoky. Underneath that cloak was a gorgeous woman. Chu Cheng knew this from long years of extensive experience.
“You’re a girl?” Despite the disparaging words his eyes showed excitement. He almost buzzed now, eager for action.
“Three, two, one. Begin!”
The call and buzzer started the second batch’s time in the spotlight.
The cloaked lady didn’t wait for Chu Cheng to finish gushing. Her first action was to leap up, piercing the clear blue sky like a hawk. When she reached the apex of the protective dome covering their arena, her trajectory began to drop. With a flourish, her cloak splayed open like a pair of great wings. A blackness crept out that plunged their section of the field in to darkness.
Darkness Element… Chu Cheng’s brain rapidly worked around the new information.
On the battle field, Hades was an entirely different man. His sharp eyes followed her inky shadow as it slithered through the darkness. His right hand lashed out and a raging column of fire spat from his fingertips. It split the darkness three meters from the woman’s nose, directly in her path of descend. If she didn’t
manage to get out of the way, she’d be fried black.
She stopped in the air like she hadn’t been moving at all. Hovering in the blackness, she idly waved her hand. The motion summoned a sharp slash of red light to appear right in front of Chu Cheng.
He instinctively leapt backward to avoid the strike. He wasn’t expecting that! A cold sweat had broken out over his brow.
Darkness and Interspacial Disciplines! Not to mention this energy intensity!
She began to descend through the inky blackness, all the while rowing her hand. Each swipe caused scarlet fissures to split reality around Chu Cheng. He dodged, and where he dodged another appeared to cut off retreat.
Lan Jue watched closely from the waiting area. The Pharmacist’s fight had been over about one second after the buzzer rang. Her opponent was an eighth rank, but had received a significant injury from the first round. His unfortunate condition and the Pharmacist’s power meant an embarrassingly quick bout.
Chu Cheng, though? He had some kind of luck.
Lan Jue’s snap judgement was that this woman was a representative of the Dark Citadel. It looked like his fellow Monarch’s luck was no better than his own. No wonder they were brothers – misery loves company.
The unfortunate surprise Chu Cheng suffered made him p[lay passive, but that was not to mean he was in a bad spot. He was Hades, a Divine Monarch and a ninth level, seventh rank Adept!
The last attack woke him up. His fiery orange flames darkened suddenly, and slowly licked out from his every pore. With him at the center, a raging bloom of fire exploded out in every direction.
Those crimson flames didn’t release any heat, but where they met the dimensional scars the two cancelled each other out. Pockets of nothing remained where the opposing powers clashed.
Chu Cheng’s narrowed eyes blazed. His right hand shot out again, and a meteor shower of crimson orbs blasted out in quick succession. However they didn’t seem aimed at his enemy, and
instead remained suspended in air.
The air around each hovering orb swirls and waved, like viewing the world from beneath the ocean. The effect stretched around him as well to create a bubble of undulating air fifty meters in diameter.
Her descent continued and all the while she called razor-sharp cracked around her enemy. Yet nothing landed. It was difficult to predict his position in that wavy scene, and where the fissures appeared they were quickly snuffed out in plumes of flame.
The clash had attracted quite a lot of attention, not least from the main viewing platform.
Jun’er was among there, seated once more upon the Terminator’s arm. This time, though, her head ware was different. This one was pink in hue, and fitted the shape of Jun’er’s head precisely. It seemed a significant upgrade from the one Lan Jue had purchased. That one was clutched in her arms. Like any child, her attention was not where the adults were focused.
The Gourmet watched carefully, however, and gently nodded his head at what he saw. His nephew definitely had talent. He knew this power he used to be called the Hellfire Nimbus, which was specifically tailored to deal with Interspatial Disciplines. Adepts who used Interspatial powers required very precise control, and the heat created by the Hellfire Nimbus warped everything. Only two options remained; flee or hope one’s Discipline was stronger than the Hellfire Nimbus.
The woman was surprisingly strong, but Chu Cheng’s reaction had been quick and correct. Now they were moving in to another stage of their dance.
The cloaked woman stopped in the air with a flourish, then joined her hands before her chest. Suddenly the darkness around them congealed until it was thick as paste. It hardened and gathered until it formed in to a rapier, drinking in light from around the woman’s grip.
Her control in air meant she had the power of flight; a sure sign of ninth level. This was confirmed with her ability to aggregate energy – another high-level skill.
Her attacks never ceased. Now her blade swept through the black, and with each swing beams of darkness came tumbling
from the heavens.
If her Interspatial Discipline wouldn’t work, than a stronger thrust right through his defenses would have to do. It would be a valiant clash of direct strength.
It was a pleasant surprise to have two ninth level Adepts facing off in only the second round. A lot of the audience woke up and fixed their eyes to the scene. The status of these two upped the stakes – a famous Northern playboy and a representative of the Dark Citadel, head to head! Both of them stood on a fine foundation, but it was the whole package that mattered.
Where the beam of light pierced the Hellfire Nimbus, swirling blooms of fire answered. It slowed visibly, but still encroached and did not look set to waver. It pushed on like it had a mind of its own, and a single-minded desire to cut Chu Cheng in two.
Chu Cheng bore no smile or mirthful expression now. His was a face of concentration. His right hand made a sweeping motion, and suddenly the fires around him changed. Everything about him, even his aura exuded a sense of impending doom.
The hellfire Nimbus erupted in to a shower of firey petals, but just as quickly as it flowed outward it turned back in. Implosive force draw the fires around the column of darkness. A firestorm revolved within the confined of their arena’s shield, gathering together again in to the shape of a blazing lotus.
Chapter 399: Disgrace And Immolation
The ungodly friction of her dark blade and Chu Cheng’s fiery lotus caused an ear-splitting screech. It was eventually the eminance shadow blade that gave way, shattering into oblivion.
Chu Cheng thrust a palm forward, and at his command the smoldering buds began to shed petals. These petals were black as the world around them, and sharp as razors. They sliced erratically through the air toward the cloaked lady.
She brandished the rapier in her grip, and executed a series of rapid swiped all around. Crescent-shaped waves of energy spread out like ripples, leaving behind them tails of opaque light. Still the petals came, though many where swept away by the waves. The cloaked lady dodged and weaved among them like a shadow – no, like a host of shadows, too quick to fix your eyes on. In truth there were, for several shadowy clones had clawed free from her and scuttled through the dark.
Metatron watched from the viewing platform. He turned his eyes to Lucifer beside him. In a voice flat with indifference he said “Well, it appears the deep pockets of our affluent colleagues have purchase another unholy masterpiece.”
“That is Dracula’s daughter,” was the tepid response from the Dark Citadel’s second in command. There was no attempt to hide the cloaked lady’s identity, there didn’t appear to be a need to. The two citadels butted heads often, and if they didn’t learn about her now then it would be soon. She was strong enough now to get their attention.
There was a sniff from the Lord Archangel. “It’s unfortunate! She’s come across one opponent that may be more than a match. Unless I’m mistaken, that’s the Northern successor to the Hades bloodline.”
While he spoke to Lucifer, his eyes slowly went to the Gourmet in the row ahead. Especially after the Gourmet’s ascent to Paragon, no one was unaware of his history.
Lucifer didn’t react to the taunt. He gave his Pontifical counterpart an admonishing grin then returned his attention to the field.
Metatron smirked back, then followed his eyes to the cloaked woman.
The two where at the climax of their confrontation. Dracula’s
offspring had shown staggering speed and power, but the Hades scion had replied with power to match. Now as the petals fell and she weaved, another surprise ensued. The metal-looking petals dissolved in to lapping flames as they were destroyed. That was part of what made Hades dangerous – his powers were sinister.
This was where the gap between them began to show. The cloaked woman was blessed with two Disciplines, and even still couldn’t match the superior Chu Cheng. After only this brief exchange, she was starting to look sluggish.
Chu Cheng curled his body in like he was preparing to jump. Then, with claw-like hands, he pulled his arms up over his head. The ground rumbled as a column of hellfire erupted from the earth, directly beneath the woman’s feet.
She managed to leap out of the way half a moment before the fires consumed her. But while the attack didn’t hit her, it did suck in the orbiting lotus flowers surrounding them. The column grew with every addition, until another flower, larger and more intense than all the others began to emerge. More than three times the size of its predecessors and bearing a crushing atmosphere of its own, it came crashing toward the cloaked woman.
Lit by the hellish fires, the cloaked woman let loose a beastial roar. Her whole body shook, and the cloak flapped as a pair of giant leathery wings sprang from her back. A sanguine cloud of red surrounded her, and set her shadow blade ablaze with crimson fire.
She took a step forward, then launched herself directly toward the enormous nimbus like she meant to face it head on. Chu Cheng watched with a dark grin, and when she began her approach he moved as well. Raising his hands overhead, a swirling vortex of fire and brimstone crackled to life before him.
Just as the crowd was wondering why he’d waste time with a short-range strike, the cloaked woman vanished from view. She reappeared moments later, right in front of Chu Cheng’s vortex and that’s when it turned a boundless grey.
This wasn’t just power. It was forethought.
The cloaked woman’s rapier grew impossibly sluggish, like it was trying to cut through molasses, or glue. Her interspacial powers seemed useless. The vacuum force of his vortex finally ripped her cloak away revealing a lithe and beautiful young woman.
She was as beautiful as she was dangerous. Tall, with dark tights covering and outlining her athletic figure. Her face was pale, and cold, but beautiful. Like gazing on an iceberg. Dark red hair framed her black eyes.
Chu Cheng reacted immediately. As soon as her face was revealed, his vortex weakened. As it did the woman took advantage, melding her shadow rapier back in to herself. A moment later her entire body turned in to a living blade, which she used to try and destroy the vortex holding her.
Chu Cheng released a gentle sigh, and motioned with his hands again. A second vortex appeared, adjacent to the first and rotating in the opposite direction. The two crashed into each other, and the resulting explosion sent waves of feral power tearing out in all directions. The blade-woman went sailing though the air, and the strike caused her to return to her human form.
When she hit the floor vestiges of the grey energy congealed in to shackles. They pinned her to the ground, stretching her catsuit even tighter.
Chu Cheng swallowed and offered a chuckle. “Come on. Look, we can be friends, right?”
The digitized voice called out Chu Cheng’s victory.
He walked over and extended a hand to release the chains. They were his creation, after all. There was more to it than that, of course. He wanted to get his hands on her.
Impressive elasticity, Chu Cheng mused to himself as he looked over her outfit. He banished the shackles with no further delay.
The cloaked woman delivered a slap so hard it spun Chu Cheng in place. She looked as surprised she hit as he did. “Why didn’t you move?!” He was strong and experienced enough to have seen that coming, certainly.
“You’re so pretty that I forgot,” he said, rubbing his face.
“Pervert!” She glared daggers at him, and then without any further exchange soared in to the air and away.
All he could do was shrug his shoulders. “You can run sweet heart, but I know your number.” Every contestant had one, and hers was recorded on his badge. With a family as important as his, finding out more about her wouldn’t be a problem.
“Pretty, fit, fierce and strong… Not bad, not bad at all. Heh, now I’ve got me a target. A-Jue can’t steal all the ninth level ladies, can he.”
“Get the hell out of here.” A gruff voice interrupted his thoughts from a few feet away. When Chu Cheng looked he discovered a man who looked like he was in his forties. He looked quite a lot like Chu Cheng, though a sight more level- headed. Still, he didn’t need to be angry to instill the immediate sensation that he had to be listened to.
He was dressed in the uniform of the tournament judges. He had to be a powerful Adept, since the North would only ask those capable of stopping an issue to perform these duties.
“Erk…” Chu Cheng didn’t say a world, and practically ran from the arena.
“If you embarrass me in public again I’ll roast you,” the older
man said, slapping him upside the head.
“Ah! Hey!” Chu Cheng cowered and rubbed his head. “Since when could judges hit people?!”
He stepped closer and kicked at him. “Right now I’m no judge, I’m your father!”
This was indeed the head of the Hades Bloodline, Chu Cheng’s father – Chu Dong. He was a ninth level Adept, who all his life had been looking for his Path to protogenic understanding that never came.
Chu Dong looked up once his son scuttled off, and his eyes met the Gourmet seated atop the main viewing platform. There was something there between them, unspoken but visible in their face. Without a word or motion, Chu Dong turned and continued to watch the remaining fights.
Chu Cheng found the cloaked woman’s name quickly and without much effort. She was the legitimate daughter of Dracula and was a member of the Dark Citadel. Lina Lee. She came from the most stories vampire family to have ever lived. She was born with two Disciplines, with strength of Talent, and
was widely considered the eminent successor to the Dracula bloodline.
There was only one Prince of Vampires, and that was Dracula. Like many titles it was not the name of a single person, but rather generational. When the old Dracula passed, another was crowned from the new generation. They would then be called Dracula. The bloodline had remained strong and unbroken for countless generations, peak of the world of vampires.
“Lina Lee, quite a sexy name,” Chu Cheng sniggered to himself. He continued to gather whatever other information he could find.
At last the second batch was called. There were more familiar faces this time, namely the Driver, Constantine , and Sariel. Constantine was lucky enough to be given a weak opponent which he dealt with in short order. Sariel was similarly quick in putting another win in her column. The Driver, however, had more of a challenge.
Lots meant who you fought came down to luck. Sometimes you came out ahead, an sometimes you didn’t. Chu Cheng encountering Lina was certainly an example of unfortunate placement. She was a ninth level Talent indeed, but thankfully
only third rank.
The brunt of that poor luck obviously fell on Lina. The difference in Discipline rank was too much for her to overcome, even though she had two Disciplines. Chu Cheng already had a grasp on his protogenic transformation in Hades. Although they weren’t permitted to use protogenic powers in the arena, it still helped him tremendously in other ways.
The Driver’s opponent was a Northerner. He was a young man, thin and small, who wore a curiously cone-shaped hat. The arms crossed across his chest were more interesting, composed of some pitch-black material. It made it impossible to tell just what sort of trouble this tiny man had installed.
Chapter 400: The Nine Taiyin Flares
The Driver and Lan Jue were cut from the same cloth; both Lightning-based, both dual-Disciplined. He was even stronger than Lan Jue in terms of cultivation, so he didn’t fear a little competition. Even still, the little man from the North gave him quite a shock at the battle’s onset.
Not a moment after the buzzer, he was soaring two meters in the air. That didn’t mean anything, it was what happened next that gave the Driver pause.
He began to spin horizontally like a drill, furiously boring toward the Avenue representative. The Driver’s mastery of lightning made him fast, but even so the little man’s piercing charge was on him in a flash.
His black metallic arms were outstretched, and each one was adorned with five nasty-looking spikes. They were black as pitch, which made them very hard to see. He was still some distance away when his cutting aura began to hammer at the Driver’s defenses. The subconscious shields protecting him shuttered and fell away under the invisible assault.
However, the Driver was one of the preeminent younger
generation of the Avenue. This was not his first proverbial rodeo. He planted his feet, and an aura of crackling electricity sprang up around him. At the last minute he lunged to the side, narrowly avoiding his opponent’s charge.
Speed was evidently part of this little man’s repertoire, as he turned and bounded back the moment he hit the floor. In the blink of an eye he was tearing back the other way toward the Driver’s back with the same tactic. In the same second, the Driver reacted. He stepped just out of the way, and in the space he vacated there hovered a condensed orb of electric energy. The challenger was going too fast – he couldn’t stop himself from ramming head-long into it.
What followed was unexpected. Instead of an explosion, the crowds watched in shock as the smaller man drilled a hole clean through the orb. He pierced through it leaving behind a clear cavity, but too fast for the energy to ignite. He landed nearby, unscathed.
The Driver juked to the side again, and an explosion of crackling light erupted from him in all directions with a rolling roar. The smaller man, seeing his attacks fail, whipped around to face his enemy. His metallic hands shot upward, and the motion birthed a swirling purple tornado between them. It was a well-chosen tactic against the explosive power of lightning.
It just went to show that you couldn’t judge a book by its cover. The man looked like a scrub, but he was a terror on the battlefield.
Thunderstorm and hurricane collided. A roaring blast punctuated their meeting that caused the shields to crackle in protest.
Chu Dong had appeared by the arena at some point. His job was to watch these sorts of encounters for fairness and safety. Most were settled electronically, but clashes at this level needed a peak Adept to make sure it didn’t get out of hand.
The two two clashed and destroyed one another. The splintering bolts of lightning dispersed through the shields, and the tornado spun itself in to oblivion. The resulting tidal wave of energy that was released swept through most of the tournament grounds.
The smaller men leaped backward, summoning another hurricane around himself. The sharp aura around him was almost visible. This earned a dismissive grunt from the Driver denizen before he vanished. When he reappeared half a moment later, he was suspended in air behind his opponent.
Another sweeping blast of power raced across the field, but this time it was only the little man who found his power destroyed. Nine successive blasts followed directly on top of where he hovered. The concussive force eventually knocked him out cold.
Nine orbs of compressed electric energy detonated one after the other. The last one erupted in the shape of a curious symbol, which hung burned in the sky for a moment before disappearing.
This battle was over.
From their even start to the little man’s crushing defeat, perhaps only a minute had passed. This was how the Driver won things, and most in the crowed hadn’t even seen how he’d done it.
Chu Dong, who’d watched from the sidelines, looked as surprised as he did interested. This fight had been even more impressive than his son’s.
He knew that man – a ninth level first rank Adept. Despite his relatively lower rank, he was still a person of interest in the North. He had an intimate and masterful knowledge of wind, it’s destructive properties. He was a congenital Talent, as well. However, he decided to become a Bionic in the pursuit of greater power. Those arms of his were constructed of precious metals that resonated with his wind Discipline. It allowed him to resonate at high frequencies, and gave his strikes an incredible boost in power. He could reputedly a punch a hole through a battleship’s hull. He had come from an assassin organization, one of the best of their ranks. A defeat like this was unexpected, to say the least.
He hadn’t caught a break. The speed he was famous for couldn’t catch lightning. His powerful attacks were useless if he couldn’t hit his target. Worse, however, was the fact that thunder always followed lightning. Two Disciplines were tough to overcome.
That final attack in particular was daunting. That wasn’t normal lightning he’d faced, but had been infused with protogenic energy – well hidden beneath the rolling lightning. It had been the most explosive attack he’d seen in the games so far. He was curious what it was named.
Others knew. Lan Jue smiled behind his mask as he watched.
The Nine Taiyin Flares
It was an attack specific to the yin-biased nature of his Discipline. He also knew that what they’d seen was only the tip of the iceberg. Any more and they’d have to cart the little man out in pieces.
Lan Jue could see from the battle that the Driver had a firmer grasp on the properties of lightning than he did. There was an opposite for the Taiyin Flares, as they was for all opposing forces. For those of a more yang nature, it was called the Nine Taiyang Flares. Lan Jue was cultivated to the point where those secrets should have been revealed to him, but his focus had been on mastering Taiji. The secrets of the attack still eluded him. He’d understood his teacher’s thought process though. Once becoming seventh rank, mastering the Taiyang Flares would be easier with a Taiji background.
A helpless depression fluttered across Lan Jue’s heart as he realized he needed to make that loathsome visit. It would be worth it to learn that attack.
He remembered the stories he’d heard, about how the Nine Strikes of Taiji and the Buddhist Mantras were the most powerful of these lost arts. The ultimate goal, though, was to
combine the Taiji Nine Strikes and the Taiyang Flares. The near-mythical ability – called the Hammer of Supreme Yang – was a step on the path to Paragon.
The Taiyin and Taiyang Flares were exceptionally powerful attacks, and their explosive nature was harmful to the Adepts who used them. Only a Taiji master would be able to modulate the erratic flow of power, and drain the excess before it harmed the user. This was especially true for the yang-portion, and that was why an Adept had to be of only the highest caliber to be able to use it.
The thought of learning something new, something that strong, was an exciting prospect for Lan Jue. His power level would see a very sharp rise once that skill was learned.
The Driver probably only recently uncovered the knowledge as well. Both Taiyin and Taiyang Flares depended on protogenic energy. Learning it to perfection was one route to Paragon. The Driver must have chosen this as his Path. For Lan Jue things appeared more complicated, and he wasn’t yet sure how to proceed.
The next batch passed in relative quiet. There weren’t any clashes between ninth level adepts in this group. It didn’t look
good for the sponsors if their strongest fights were all at the beginning, so a lot of it was by design.
It wasn’t until the middle of the day that the final batch – Lan Jue’s – was called to compete. Arena 8, against opponent 67.
When he got there, he faced his opponent with a helpless sigh.
He knew Challenger 67 alright. It was the Barber.
Now Lan Jue was thinking his sour luck was a curse. How was he supposed to defeat someone on his own side? Still so early in the games?
It was in the rules though; none of the big names from the Avenue or the Citadels were to meet in the first three rounds. Of course Lan Jue wasn’t representing the Avenue just this moment. There was always a chance he was going to run in to his own people, and here it was. Now his crappy luck dictated that he would have to take out one of his home’s few representatives.
The Barber recognized his adversary right away, and his face fell. Lan Jue thought he had bad luck, but Barber sure thought it was he that got the short end of the stick. Thankfully he kept
his piece, and didn’t reveal Lan Jue’s identity here on the arena floor.
“I’m sorry,” Lan Jue offered.
The Barber sniffed. “So sure of victory, are we? Let’s just see who comes out on top.”
The Avenue councilman had been working hard to improve himself after the embarrassing loss to Lan Jue all those months ago. His effort had earned him a breakthrough, rising him to the second rank at last.
The Barber’s challenge reminded Lan Jue of the situation he found himself in. Yes! He wasn’t the seventh ranked powerhouse he used to be. Now he was first rank, and defeating the Barber would not be as easy as it had been the first time.
Still a grin came to Lan Jue’s face, visible beneath the mask hiding the top part of his features. Now was a good opportunity for him to give his contender a little gift.
“Three, two, one. Begin!”
The Barber disappeared with the buzzer, appearing again a few meters in the air. His Discipline was also wind, not unlike the Driver’s last opponent. His was purer, however, and it was by that power alone that he broke through to ninth level.