Editor: Dhael Ligerkeys
Rain began pouring down in a terrible deluge with lightning flashing intermittently across the darkened sky.
Amber flitted swiftly like a white apparition over the marshlands. Both he and Lu Ye each radiated a pale glow that hugged their skin—a thin layer of Spiritual Power just over their epidermis. The layer could not fully keep them dry from the rain, but it did manage to help keep the rain away from their eyes, allowing them to see better despite the torrential downpour.
Right behind them, Dong Shu Ye was still doggedly maintaining his pursuit. He had managed to close the distance bit by bit, just like a wolf on the scent of blood as he swore to not let Lu Ye slip past his fingers this time.
It was the terrain that had helped his cause greatly. The waterlogged soil was making it very difficult for Amber to travel fast. In fact, the tiger would have got himself stuck if he had not lept out of the sinking soil that was trying to devour him fast enough. It was that, plus the unfriendly landscape that allowed Dong Shu Ye to catch up.
At the same time, Lu Ye could see that the effect of his first Move-With-The-Wind Talisman was weakening. He was about to take out another one when he sensed the emanation of Spiritual Powers coming from somewhere ahead of him. A pair of shadowed figures leaped into the air, casting a huge net over him and Amber. The webbing of the net gave off a shiny shimmer and Lu Ye immediately realized what it was: a Spirit Artifact!
One that was especially used to ensnare Spirit Beasts!
Amphibian- and reptile-type Spirit Beasts inhabited these marshlands—lands which were part of Dong Shu Ye’s master’s estate. That made the animals partly the master’s properties, in a manner of speaking. Hence servants or employees would come and hunt for game, which contributed handsomely to the family’s income.
These two retainer Cultivators were sent here to hunt for crocodiles when they received Dong Shu Ye’s message to set up an ambush for Lu Ye and they were just in time to cast the net.
Amber was only just clearing a jump over a pond when the net whacked right into him. Without any footholds mid-air, the net wrapped all over him, causing him to lose his balance and land with a crash.
[We did it!] The pair of Cultivators were elated. [We’ve got the tiger that Young Master wanted! The Mistress would surely reward us generously!]
In their joy and exuberance, they did not notice a figure lunging at them under the cover of the thick rainfall with his saber bared and ready to attack.
Lu Ye clambered up and used Amber’s wide back as a springboard when he saw the net coming so that he could attack one of the Cultivators before they could get ready.
He did not know if a blow with his saber might work against the net or not. Being a Spiritual Artifact, it might have strength and sturdiness that outstripped his expectations. Failure would mean that both Amber and he were trapped. Therefore, the safest bet would be to separate temporarily to prevent them both from being incapacitated together.
The blow came swift and sure, but Lu Ye’s quarry was just in time to see him coming. As a Fourth-Order Cultivator himself, he was surprised, but not at all nervous. Dong Shu Ye had told him about Lu Ye’s rank earlier and knowing that he had the same rank as Lu Ye was what kept him cool. Besides, he was not alone and the odds really were stacking against Lu Ye since Dong Shu Ye would be arriving any time now…
All he needed to do was stall.
The clang of his weapon gnashing against the glinting saber of his assailant jerked him back to reality and his weapon, which he had raised just in time to deflect Lu Ye’s blow, was knocked out of his grasp by the sheer force of the attack. His right hand throbbed uncontrollably with soreness while he faltered unsteadily as the bashing force nearly tossed him backward.
[What kind of ungodly strength is this?!] the Fourth-Order retainer gasped. He had felt such strength before, not from Fourth-Orders, but rather, Fifth-Orders instead.
But before he could react, another steely glimmer came flashing dangerously close at him.
Blood shot into the air, coalescing with the droplets of rain as the man staggered with his final ounce of defiance, then his knees buckled and he crashed face first into the mud.
Lu Ye felled his equally-ranked enemy before shifting his attention to the next one without a moment of respite. The second Cultivator was just hurrying over to help his colleague only to witness his grisly death at Lu Ye’s hand which left him somewhat stupefied. He managed to regain his senses quickly but it was too late. Lu Ye was already upon him and all that filled his sight was the metallic gleam of the saber boring down on his head.
A litany of harsh and sharp clangs of steel bashing on steel resounded. The second Cultivator managed to defend himself against the first three blows of Lu Ye’s onslaught, but not the fourth. Since his physical enrichment, Lu Ye’s speed and raw strength had risen manyfold. His cultivation rank might not have risen much since the Conference, but his physical constitution had evolved greatly.
The fourth blow came cleaving down the man’s chest. He was fast enough to take a step backward or the blow itself would have hacked his brain into halves already.
His protective aura—the energy shield of Spiritual Power similar to Lu Ye’s and Amber’s—could do nothing at all. Where Lu Ye’s saber came down, the edge easily cracked through the shield like a hammer smashing through glass, allowing the blade to tear open his chest from top to bottom.
Then Lu Ye twisted around and gave him a roundhouse kick into his foe as a final touch. The Cultivator crashed to the ground with a painful grunt and he blacked out.
A pair of red glowing orbs padded closer to him. Lu Ye hurried towards Amber and ripped the magical net off him. They needed to leave quickly before their pursuer caught up. Then his movements froze. It was too late.
With a deafening bang that left Lu Ye wondering if some asteroid had just crashed just nearby, spattering mud and slime everywhere. Then he saw a figure standing not more than a hundred meters away, his eyes flaring with intense rage at Lu Ye.
Even through the thick veil of rain that separated him now from his nemesis, Lu Ye could almost feel the heat from the hateful glare.
[Dong Shu Ye! He’s here!]
Lu Ye felt his fingers’ grasp on his weapon tighten involuntarily.
The last few months of surviving on the Battlefield had taught him enough to know that fleeing with his back exposed to a Spell Cultivator at such close distances was tantamount to suicide. There was one and only one way to survive: fight!
Three minor tiers stood between the Fourth and Seventh-Orders, the difference between their respective unlocked Spiritual Points somewhere between fifty to sixty. That would mean that Dong Shu Ye has almost twice as many the number of unlocked Spiritual Points as Lu Ye had.
Then Lu Ye spied something else. Dong Shu Ye was holding an ordinary person by the back of his clothes like he was an oversized bag. Lu Ye gave one curt look and dismissed it. It looked odd, but Lu Ye could care less about that. He was more worried about his own safety.
“Heavens, it’s freezing here…” the young prodigal rubbed his arms to make himself warm while his teeth chattered uncontrollably. But that did little to extinguish his desire to take Amber for himself. He craned his neck up to shout at Lu Ye, “Oy, you! My idea was to make an offer for your tiger, but ‘Ding-Dong’ here was the one who suggested that we should just kill you and take your tiger instead. So if you’re gonna blame anyone, that person’s not me, all right?”
He wriggled himself free and stood a good distance away behind Dong Shu Ye. “Go, ‘Ding-Dong’! Take him down! As your young master, I’m rooting for you!”
Knowing that he could contribute nothing to a fight between Cultivators, he decided that he should at least keep himself at a safe distance to not be a nuisance.
[Who the hell is he?!] Lu Ye stared at him blankly, failing to make heads or tails of what was going on.
But that somehow reminded him of the heir of the Nine Star whom he had slain months ago…
[Young Master? That makes him almost like that fellow I killed that time… Only, that was a Cultivator while this bloke’s an ordinary person.]
[What the hell is between me and all these rich and privileged fellows?!]
“You should be six feet in the ground,” Dong Shu Ye broke into a wicked grin. “Perhaps I should return you to where you belong.”
Lu Ye refused to respond. Instead, his eyes squinted as he quickly made plans.
Dong Shu Ye was about seventy meters away. If he had another hidden ace, a head-on charge could be dangerous if not risky. Lu Ye exhaled grimly and gripped his weapon more firmly. He bent his knee and readied himself to charge nevertheless. The ground beneath him sank as he mustered his Spiritual Powers and right in front of him, his protective aura kept the rain away from him. With a kick, he launched himself straight at Dong Shu Ye, barreling through the rain and parting it like a bullet tunneling through water.
Amber did not move. Instead, at Yi Yi’s directions, the white tiger retreated slowly away and melted into the thick curtains of the heavy downpour.
Dong Shu Ye was none too amused at Lu Ye choosing to wrestle for the initiative. That explosiveness that Lu Ye displayed was well beyond what a regular Fourth-Order Cultivator should possess.
But as a former Seventh-Order Spell Cultivator with vast experiences in battle, he knew better than to allow Lu Ye the chance to undo his main advantage.
He did not even think of moving. Instead, his hands rose up swiftly and a golden crescent-shaped energy bolt fired from his hand and raced straight for Lu Ye’s face. He had no intention to use any fire-based elemental magic like the last time because of the rain. To attempt using flame elemental magic in such a wet condition was laughable even to him.
The bolt wheezed at an incredible speed, reaching Lu Ye even when it barely finished taking its shape.
In the meantime, Lu Ye had concentrated his Spiritual Powers in his eyes the moment he saw Dong Shu Ye fire his shot. He wanted to see where the blow would hit so that he could activate his Spiritual Pattern “Protection” in time.
Just when he looked hard with his Spiritual Power-imbued sight, everything around him became slow as if Time itself had suddenly decided to switch gears…
He could see what was the supposed line of where the energy bolt would travel, allowing him, for the first time, the ability to evade the blow. He lowered himself quickly, letting his body acclimatize to the heightened sense of perception his newfound vision afforded him. Lo and behold, as soon as he crouched, something fast swept over his head, the deadly force slashing through the rain and slicing a few strands of his hair.
But there was no time to celebrate; a second blow came screaming through the air at him. This time, Lu Ye saw where it was coming and swung his saber with all his weight behind it. The second golden scythe-like bolt collided hard against the steel and erupted into a minor explosion that tossed Lu Ye backward. He managed to remain standing despite staggering unsteadily at first, but his wrist felt painfully sore.
Then came a third. Resolved to settle this once and for all, Dong Shu Ye was giving it his all to make sure that Lu Ye would never be walking out of these marshlands alive.
This time, he withdrew and stood straight and the third attack hissed past his nose harmlessly.
He knew what was going on. The physical enrichment he experienced at the Dragon Spring had not only made him stronger where he could fight faster and deal harder and heavier blows, it even enhanced his reaction speed and granted him incredible clarity of perception, allowing his eyes to capture things that he could not before.
That was why he felt as if the world around him had slowed down.
This was a much-welcomed variable—one that truly convinced him that he might survive another encounter with Dong Shu Ye yet again.
His initial plan was to soak up whatever damage Dong Shu Ye hurled at him by relying on Spiritual Pattern “Protection”. But that could result in a huge exhaustion of his Spiritual Powers, not to mention the amount of strain and internal injuries that he might still collect.
Inch after inch, he pressed closer toward Dong Shu Ye. Whatever attacks Dong Shu Ye fired at him, he would just employ whatever evasive maneuvers to keep himself unharmed while maintaining his pace as much as he could, slashing and hacking at some with his saber. Those that he could not dodge nor destroy, he would just absorb using the Spiritual Pattern “Protection”.
A few of the blows did manage to throw him backward, but he was, beyond any doubt, drawing nearer and nearer towards Dong Shu Ye.
Dong Shu Ye wasn’t pleased. Not one bit at all. If anyone had told him that a Fourth-Order Cultivator would weather an endless barrage of attacks from him while closing the distance between them, he would have only dismissed the notion as a mere figment of a phantasmal delusion.
Being in the Sixth-Order where some of his Spiritual Points were too damaged to construct Microcosmic Orbits, he might still retain the experience of what the Seventh-Order felt like, but his powers had nevertheless taken a dip.
Even so, that did not change the fact that dealing with Fourth-Order Cultivators should have been a cakewalk for him!
Yet right here, right now, the very thing that he could have flippantly and easily dismissed as impossible was unfolding right before his eyes. To say nothing that it was being accomplished by the one person whom he held the most hatred and loathing for.
Frustrated, Dong Shu Ye snarled. He mustered more Spiritual Power and condensed them into a fixed point. Slowly, the churning magical energies began to take on form and mass, slowly turning into first a pole and then a spear. At Dong Shu Ye’s control, it shot into the air and streaked straight at Lu Ye like a golden thunderclap.
Lu Ye did not need to be told how dangerous this attack must be. His senses—both physical and mental—were tingling like mad. But the spear forged of magical energies was just too fast and just too powerful for him to evade or endure. [Spiritual Pattern “Protection” just won’t cut it!] he thought at that moment.
But just when he thought all was lost. The round runic circular sigil of Spiritual Pattern “Protection”, this time as large as the size of a gong, materialized right in front of him, glowing and blazing in full splendor.
With a resounding bang that could shake even the entire marshland forest, the energy-forged spear smashed into the runic round shield of energy protecting Lu Ye, eliciting a shockwave that rippled in all directions. Lu Ye crouched to lower his center of mass, but it was no use. The waves of shock, steam, and dirt nearly knocked him off his feet and it was all he could do to not fall while his entire body slid backward.
The energy-forged spear and the circular shield of glyphs slowly ebbed into the air, dissipating like dust and ashes. Dong Shu Ye fired another shot at Lu Ye that missed abysmally. Lu Ye saw his chance and dashed forward before his adversary could attack again.