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Cai Xi Kong, Grandmaster of the Verdant Blade Sect, had almost completely calmed his beating heart. Beside him, his cousin’s breath was heavy. Yi’s stern face was hard as he collected himself, seated to Xi Kong’s right. Lifting the Earthly Arena was always difficult. Managing the enormous chains, locking in the support pillars... In truth, the defeated contestants did little. Lifting hundreds of thousands of tons of stone as well as a hundred thousand people was quite beyond the Younger Generation, especially when after their fights they were usually injured and out of Qi. Instead, it was the Elders who did the majority of the lifting. Elders from every sect, allowing the Younger Generation to stand upon their shoulders and benefit from their abilities.

 

Or at least that was how Xi Kong saw it. He glanced around at the closed eyes of his fellows. He tried to project an air of serenity—Every man and woman sitting around this table acted as if they felt nothing from raising the arena.

 

Though this place always put him a bit on edge. The Dueling Peaks Grand Hall was an ancient place. Its air was still and quiet, oppressive with the weight of eons. Tapestries thousands of years old hung on the walls. Some had long since degraded to the point of illegibility, while others remained as vibrant as if they had been crafted yesterday. The enormous stone table had evidence that it had once been painted, but that had long since disappeared.

 

One wall was completely made of crystal. A device that recorded every single fight that took place here, a repository of knowledge… or it would be. It only worked some of the time nowadays. The recordings were grainy and tended to cut out.

 

Xi Kong much preferred the Azure Sky Summit. The mountain was cold and the ruins old, but somehow they felt less unnerving, less dead than this place, deep in the Dueling Peaks’ heart.

 

The majority of his contemporaries were deep in thought. Two contestants were left. At the start of the year Guo Daxian was the clear favourite to win, as the Grand Ravine Sect usually won. It was just a matter of who was there with them. Yet now, every other power had been defeated. Only the Verdant Blade Sect, and a girl who had entered as an independent but obviously had a backer of some sort from the symbol on her shirt, were all that were left.

 

It had been the topic of much discussion, that much Xi Kong knew. Discussion and furtive glances, as Rou Tigu was staying at the Verdant Blade Sect’s manor.

 

While the Younger Generation honed their strength, the Elders meditated and engaged in politics. Such things were frustrating at the best of times. Long meetings were spent drinking tea and talking. And about such mundane things too. The trade agreements and territory disputes were generally settled at the Azure Sky Summit, while the Dueling Peaks were generally of gossip and the occasional marriage alliance.

 

Finally, there was a sigh from the head of the table. The strongest sect claimed that right, and Guo Daxian the Sixteenth was one of the strongest. Or at least his father was, the only Elder who was at the cusp of the Spiritual Realm… and had been there for over three hundred years.

 

It was time for the meeting to truly begin.

 

“Onto the suggestions put forward by the Tournament Commision, we shall take a tally. His Imperial Majesty’s Director for Spiritual Ascension Affairs has raised concerns about the presence of a disciple in the Profound Realm in the tournament. He states that the prize is useless to them and they have no need to enter, skewing the fights and unfairly suppressing others. He politely suggests that we consider those in the Profound Realm be banned from competing, to preserve the integrity of the tournament.” Guo Daxian stated with a slight smirk.

 

There were immediate whispers from all around. It was a good point, Xi Kong mused, from a mortal point of view.

 

There was a contemptuous snort from Elder Sheng of the Azure Horizon Sect. “How foolish. Who had ever heard of a tournament with a cutoff for one whose strength was too great?” Sheng asked, his eyes narrow.

 

“None. There is no precedent for such a thing. Tradition is tradition, as Kongzi the Wise holds true. The wisdom of the ancestors should prevail.” Another elder said simply.

 

“Why would we chastise a promising disciple for growing too strong?” Another Elder, of the Rumbling Earth Sect, stroked his beard. “It is true that Cai Xiulan, or any in the Profound Realm, would derive little use from the prize… but the prestige of winning the tournament and ascending so high is great indeed.”

 

“Most tournaments are self-regulating. What man would join a tournament for a prize worthless to him? It is a rare case when such things happen. And even then one usually uses this opportunity to crush their enemies, but such a thing is foolish and invites retaliation. Even the courtesy of Elders may be strained by such an event.” Chen Tai of the Framed Sun Sect stated, referencing the generally accepted courtesy that Elders did not involve themselves in the disputes of the Younger Generation.

 

“He asks for fairness, yet the world is inherently unfair.” Another stated.

 

Guo Daxian snorted. “All in favour of this measure?”

 

No hands raised. Why would they when it could perhaps be their sect’s time in the Heavens?

 

“It is rejected then. Onto the next matter…” Daxian stated. He raised a hand, lazing as he did in the stone chair, and an image formed of the rows that their sects would stand in. ”Speak now if anyone has an objection to the final arrangement for the closing ceremony.”

 

There was a brief discussion before the arrangement was accepted.

 

That was how the hours went. A matter was brought up, a matter was decided upon. Minutiae, proposals, rarely was the decision of anything of worth. A simple task to see the tournament run well.

 

================================

 

After their discussion ended they entered a different hall. Adjacent to the main one it was a bit more relaxed, and they settled into separate tables to mingle and discuss things. There was a recording playing of Xiulan and Guo Daxian the Junior’s battle. Xiulan’s serene expression warmed Xi Kong’s heart, while his contemporaries searched for weakness. They found none. His daughter had grown magnificently, rising up like one of their ancestors.

 

“The Heavens have truly smiled upon the Verdant Blade Sect.” Elder Bingwen of the Misty Lake Sect intoned, lowering his head in acknowledgement with a soft smile on his face. Xi Kong nodded back at his ally. There had been a small stir when Bingwen had appeared instead of Liu Xiang. It was not something Xi Kong had expected. Liu Xiang had always been an honourable man when they worked together.

 

He wondered about the relationship between their sects… but Bingwen had been quick to assure him nothing had changed. In fact, the man was quite eager to strengthen ties, and propose some joint exercises between their disciples.

 

The Verdant Blade and the Misty Lake Sects sat with each other, and all eyes were upon them.

 

The Verdant Blade was ascendant—and their allies as well, if they could make more of those strange pill furnaces. Calculation and envy gleamed in their eyes.

 

And marriage offers for his daughter. The answer had been the same three times.

 

“She is at a critical stage in her cultivation and needs no distractions,”

 

Yi had complained, but that was one thing Xi Kong would not budge on. Even if the Grand Ravine Sect were to make him an offer.

 

“Indeed, it would seem they have. We are blessed with a dutiful daughter and skilled initiates to our sect.”

 

“Indeed, indeed.” Bingwen mused. “And an ally as well in Rou Tigu. Do you think she would be amenable to visiting the Misty Lake Sect in the future?” He asked lightly.

 

Xi Kong held back a sigh of irritation at Bingwen’s question. Though they were allies, that was a tricky question.

 

“I shall see if she is amiable...” He said, but had little desire to push the issue with the girl. However, she—”

 

Which is when there was a small commotion. A disciple of the Grand Ravine Sect, one of the older ones, stepped into the room and whispered something to his Master.

 

Guo Daxian’s eyebrow raised.

 

Another Disciple entered, this time of the Framed Sun Sect, and whispered in his Master’s ear.

 

Now Xi Kong was intrigued.

 

Which is when a member of his own sect, Bolin, entered. He seemed quite amused.

 

“In the Central Square, Master. I think it is something you should see.” He whispered in Xi Kong’s ear.

 

It was evidently nothing urgent, yet as more older disciples entered some Elders started to rise.

 

They ventured into the city, following the shouts and pounding music.

 

The Elders descended, onto the rooftops and standing on lantern poles. They gazed imperiously down at the Younger Generation.

 

What he beheld sent a surge of shock through the all the elders present.

 

Guo Daxian was chatting almost amicably with Rou Tigu, reaching out to ruffle her hair while his cheeks were flushed red from how deep in his cups he was.

 

Chen Yang of the Framed Sun Sect was singing badly to the Young Mistress of Raging River Sect while two young cultivators had their arms on a barrel, wrestling for control.

 

It was organized chaos. It was a mish-mash of every sect colour and disciple. Quite frankly, it was a miracle that no fight had broken out yet.

 

“The hells?” Xi Kong heard one Elder mutter, a bewildered expression on his face. Even Xi Kong was quite bemused by the whole thing.

 

It was… Well, it was the passion of youth. The reaction from the other Elders was mixed. Some frowned at how loose their disciples had gotten. Some looked on, amused at the folly of the youth. Most… most either shook their heads with exasperation or stared in contemplation at the party below.

 

But none interrupted. It was not their place to interrupt them. Just as they rarely interfered in fights, this was part of the unwritten rules.

 

Even if two Elder’s eyes twitched, as they stared at two disciples from different sects attempting to suck each other's souls out.

 

His own Elders were mostly neutral, though Yi had a disapproving frown. Though his sworn brother disliked most things that people enjoyed. He was morose by nature. Xi Kong shook his head, and turned back to the disciples.

 

Something had happened here. The normal groups of alliances had broken down. Enemies sat together, drinking and cheering.

 

Xi Kong’s eyes were drawn to the center of the crowd. The center of the crowd where a ring had formed, centered around his daughter.

 

Xiulan was smiling.

 

Genuinely smiling as she danced.

 

He drank the image in. The look of absolute peace on his daughter’s face melted his heart.

 

Slowly, the Elders departed. Few-if any-below noticed them.

 

Slowly, the Elders turned to leave. There would either be scolding or praise in the morning, for most of them.

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A note from Casualfarmer

A little bit of world building.

This one probably should have been right after the party.

 

My apologies for the very late post.

 

This one.. well this one is completely my fault. I got caught up in doing final edits for book 1's release, and prepping for/talking to audio book people that I may have spent a little bit too long on that.

 

And then looked at the time and went "aw, crud."

 

Time management. A skill I definitely need to improve.

 

And Again, there will be a break from DEC 20-31 at the end of the month.

 

And As always, if you wish to read the next TWO chapters, I do have two advanced chapters on patreon


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