TWISTS OF LIFE
Lino sat silently by the edge, eyes focused onto Felix who was slowly walking over to the alert group of four. He was quite interested in the Cultivation Art as well as Martial Arts Felix had up his sleeves, as his Father has long since been considered one of the strongest Dukes in the entire Empire, partially due to the Cultivation Method.
Felix, on the other hand, quickly grew serious; though the four before him were all exhausted and wounded, all were actually Peak Purity Realm cultivators, Level 180! He himself was Level 163 and while that didn’t seem like that much of a difference, it was a difference between three stages - Mid, Late and then Peak.
He extended both his arms downward and clasped them into fists as cyan light suddenly flickered around his fingers like embers of birthing flame. He stopped roughly fifteen meters away from the four people and took in a deep breath; steeling his veins, he rammed both his fists into the floor causing it to quake fiercely while a glimmering, blue shadow flew forth from his arms like a river through the earth.
“Not good! That’s [Cinder of the Frozen Heavens]!!” one of the four figures exclaimed.
Just as the voice erupted out into the open and four figures tried scaling back, earth before them exploded into smithereens as countless icicles shaped like swords burst out from beneath, attacking them. Though all four somehow managed to evade the icicles, they found themselves off-balance which Felix didn’t pass up on; fluttering light shimmered beneath his feet as he skated sideways as though on ice, bringing the four figures directly into his view.
His eyes suddenly lit up light lanterns, glowing in beautiful, ethereal azure with strands of smoke escaping their edges. He bent halfway forward and extended his arms outward whereupon both shook; threads of thin azure coiled around, sinking down to his palms at which point they extended into flat, smooth discs. Felix heaved his arms forward, sending the discs flying through the air; they buzzed and whizzed, leaving behind a faint, cyan trail of smoke, barreling toward the four figures.
“Oh, not bad!” Lino exclaimed, taking a gulp of wine. “Decent timing, good aim! Unlucky though... tsk, tsk. Why attack so directly? You had created the perfect cover! Why not use it to attack from their blind spot?!” Because I wouldn’t be able to hit them!! Felix wanted to cry out yet held it in. As though the pressure of facing four people - all of whom were much stronger than he was - wasn’t enough, his Master decided to also add in a side-commentary.
One of the four figures suddenly stepped forth; it was a man in his mid-thirties, built like a wall. He took a deep breath and raised his leg before plummeting it down into the earth. Ground exploded and rose up into a extremely thick wall of dirt. Though it was unable to completely stop the discs, it slowed them down considerably, allowing time for the four to escape.
“What’s the meaning of this, Young Master Felix?!!” one of the four figures suddenly exclaimed. “Are you rebelling?!!”
“Hey, shut up!” rather than hearing Felix reply, another voice chimed in. “What do you mean rebelling? Who are you, you fat-ass? Shut up and fight my Disciple. Don’t make me come down!”
“They’re just some lowly bastards. Even if you kill them, Al’ won’t say anything. Don’t worry about it.”
“How dare you call out His Divinity’s name so casually?!!” the man erupted into a ear-splitting roar, completely ignoring Felix as he turned toward the source of the voice. “Your only punishment is death!”
“I’ll pass... better yet, why have you stopped fighting? Felix, chop-chop-chop! Come on! Show your Master what you’ve got.”
Lino acted like one of those cheerleaders during the Colosseum Games, making Felix physically blush in embarrassment. Burying it into his heart, the young man removed all distractions from his thoughts and resumed fighting. He drew Qi out through his palms and brushed a map above him, causing dozens of thin icicles to form before sending them spiraling toward the group. He then backed up slightly before turning around in a swift motion and, with extended palms, flashed out streams of frigid Qi, causing the earth surrounding him to freeze up almost instantly.
Icicles came crashing upon the four who had no choice but to defend; earth wall was erupted once again, beyond which stream of flickering, golden flames rose up in a flat wave, surmounting the wall and flashing past the icicles, crashing toward Felix. Still clam, Felix clasped his hands together and closed his eyes for a moment, rousing winds around him from their slumber. A moment later, earth around him melted into water before forming a blanketing screen before him. Fire crashed into the screen and dissipated, yet not before destroying the screen itself and forcing Felix to take a few steps back.
Felix grit his teeth and leapt, using the momentum to bounce off the walls of the crater and split sideways, evading the incoming boulder which crashed just a moment later at the spot he leapt from. While still midair, Felix spun and began condensing Qi into his fingers, suddenly weaving them out into a massive web which began falling toward the four. Without resting he also bolstered himself downward and crashed into the earth with a massive momentum, causing a resounding explosion and ensuing massive shockwave to emit forward, followed shortly by a blinding heap of stacked icicles which looked almost like a hedgehog from the distance. The further along the icicles spread, the taller and wider they grew, reaching nearly sixty meters in width and twenty meters in height toward their end.
Four figures groaned in dismay; not only were they wounded and exhausted, most-importantly, they were extremely short on Qi reserves. Net falling from the sky prevented their escape while the tidal wave of ice came crashing at them. Just as they gave up, they saw a shadow slither from seemingly nowhere and stand before them. It was a man wearing extremely tattered clothes, with long, black hair somewhat haphazardly tied into a tail, and beard consuming nearly all of his face. The man tilted his head sideways for a moment before nodding and extending his arm. An ordinary-looking sword appeared a blink later and then it flashed, well beyond the speed the four could keep a track of. However, they felt it; that single flash... carried at least a hundred times as much danger as the icicles bearing down on them.
The resulting clash of the massive formation of ice and a tiny sword went completely against the common sense; former collapsed into pieces immediately, splattering around into tiny, pebble-sized chunks. The mere after-shock of the swing then cruised into the sky and disintegrated the net entirely, leaving not only four figures, but also Felix himself gobsmacked. He himself knew the best just how strong the combination was; he could actually threaten Early Illumine Realm cultivator, yet his Master dealt with it all by roughly swinging a sword. A completely ordinary-looking sword... swung in a completely ordinary-looking way... indeed, Felix thought as he smiled faintly, that’s my Master.
Four people standing behind Lino, however, had harder time coming to terms with reality. They didn’t care much as to who the man was, but more as to which side he belonged to. Even if they stood some, remote chance while contending against Felix if they burned their Vitality, they stood absolutely none against this man. That was a mountain that was impossible to climb for them; at the very least, they imagined, the man was Peak Numinous Realm, possibly even an Exalted.
Naturally, Lino was neither at Numinous Realm nor an Exalted... he hadn’t even reached Illumine Realm. He was even weaker than Felix when it came to realms, being only Early Purity Realm. However, Realms themselves hardly ever truly defined one’s strength. And even less so for Lino, Bearer of the Empyrean Writ. If he couldn’t skip dozens - if not hundreds of levels - while contending against people with Cultivation Methods from the Western Continent he may as well stab himself in the foot and call it quits.
“Hooh... not bad, not bad,” Lino praised Felix with a smile, putting the sword away. “That was quite a combo. It’s just... doesn’t it use a bit too much Qi? You’re halfway done!”
“... ah, Master is truly amazing,” Felix said, sighing. “I’ve been trying to lower the Qi cost for a long while. But.. I’m kind of stumped...”
“Hmm... well, I don’t know the exact way you summon it,” Lino said, stroking his chin. “But perhaps you could hollow out unnecessary parts of the tidal wave, sustaining just enough mass to carry the onward momentum?”
“Ah? That... that... that could actually work!” Felix exclaimed softly, immediately sitting down to do the calculations, afraid he might forget them. Lino, on the other hand turned toward the four still-stumped figures and smiled faintly.
“It’s too early to be fighting,” he said. “I imagine Al’ already warned you to avoid conflict as much as possible, no?”
“...” the two men who seemed to be under the Emperor Althone nodded absentmindedly. Seeing how the man before them referred to the Emperor... there was a chance he was actually an Imperial!! Such figure... they would be lucky to just catch a glimpse of him from the distance, let alone talk to him! Lino was completely unaware of the mounting misunderstandings and, even if he was, he wouldn’t really care all that much. For all intents and purposes, his actual strength compared to the rest of those within the ruins indeed ranged around Imperial to Eximious Realms.
“... you two...” Lino then turned toward the other two men; though their faces were completely unknown to him, their Qi was somewhat familiar. “Who do you work for?”
“Uh... we... uh...”
“Geez, just spit it out. What are you? A maiden in love?!”
“We, we work for Lady Ava...” one of the men managed to mutter out, causing quite a bit of shock to Lino.
“Oh? Major Ava?” he smiled faintly. “Is she in the ruins?”
“Ha ha, Fate’s really a strange thing. So she’s here, huh? Eh, it only makes it more interesting. Alright, go back you four. Remember, don’t go fighting just yet. It’s too early.”
“What about the Artifact----yes, we’re going.” just a single glare from Lino was enough to dissuade all four of them from attempting to take back the Artifact. They bowed lightly and bolted away as quickly as possible, afraid the strange man might change his mind; experts are, after all, known to have really... fickle tempers.
“... Master... why did you let them go?” Felix asked, feeling confused. “Didn’t you tell me to kill them?”
“... hm, you’re really quick on the trigger, eh?”
“What? Just because I tell you to kill someone, you wag your tail like a dog and do it?!”
“M-master...?!” Felix felt rather helpless at the moment, wishing to cry out ‘I didn’t want to do it!! You forced me!!’ but having no courage.
“... don’t go dolling out death punishment so easily, Felix,” Lino said, his tone rather serious, surprising Felix who was quite accustomed to ever-goofy Master of his. “Life... isn’t so cheap.”
“Do I really have to spell out my teachings?” the ever-goofy Master was back, which helped Felix relax quite a bit. “You ought to think for yourself! Don’t just do what others tell you!! ... were you really willing to kill them just because I told you to do it?” Lino asked, looking at Felix somewhat strangely.
“You... ah. Whatever. Pick up that Artifact and let’s go. Looks like my teachings are still inadequate... I have to improve as well!” Master... you... ah, whatever. Felix simply resigned himself to whatever Fate welcomed him. He knew for a while his life would be anything but peaceful while serving under Lino; it was, really, just a matter of scale at this point. And it looked like Master had absolutely zero intention of playing a side character or a role of an observer during the exploration of ruins. Will I be forced to choose between him and the Emperor? Oh gosh... dad, please be here in the ruins!! I really need your advice!!!