Shin Sumi taunted Sei Shian back. She had never wanted any attention drawn to herself, but in this case it was unavoidable.
She was the last fighter to enter the arena, after fifteen other talented young men and women who had all stated their victory with confidence, even when they lost seconds after.
To remain quiet and not show the same self pride as the others would probably have the opposite effect of drawing the attention to her even more.
"The both of you are exhausted already and your half-baked explosions wouldn't even be enough to topple over a chicken."
Sei Shian laughed out loud, holding his belly as if he had just heard the world's most fantastic joke. After a few seconds of intense laughter, he pretended to wipe a tear of his eye before talking in a serious manner.
"Don't push your luck, now. Arrogance is fine only when you have the power to back it up."
Sei Shian sped up towards Bai Fulong who was still almost a hundred steps away. Chu Erlong was gathering Shinsoo on her side, her mind alternating between excitation and depressive thoughts.
The girl from the Cloud-Formation Pavilion knew that out of the three of them she was obviously in the worst state. She had been forced by Mua Lin to use her pseudo-domain, draining most of her energy.
She had definitely not expected Sei Shian to be such a good fighter and to give her this much trouble. If she wished so, Chu Erlong knew she could probably beat Sei Shian, but then she would definitely get trampled by Shin Sumi.
Her mind soon came to a conclusion while she was watching Sei Shian approach Bai Fulong.
"Even if I can't win myself, I'll do everything in my power to stop that freak Shin Sumi from winning."
The hatred she had for Shin Sumi had roots that were planted deep into her heart from even before the Rising Star Tournament. As herself, Shin Sumi had escaped her in the lower valley. As Bai Fulong she had ridiculed her in the determining fight of the Rising Star Tournament. As Yan Yan she had even taunted her in her own Cloud-Formation Pavilion.
Faced with the choice between helping Sei Shian and conceding the win to Shin Sumi, there was no hesitation on her part.
And so, as Sei Shian was attacking Bai Fulong head on, Chu Erlong was starting the incantation for another Burning Moon.
Shin Sumi frowned lightly when she saw Sei Shian approaching.
"That's not good, I don't want to take the fight over here."
Sei Shian was fast, but Shin Sumi was faster. She started running too, trying to meet him as close to the center of the arena as possible.
In less than three seconds, the distance between them disappeared. Sei Shian's martial arts stance was ready for any kind of counter attack the moment he had seen the yellow light forming at the tip of the raised Sky Deception.
"Tch, too slow!" Sei Shian didn't bother blocking the Shinsoo enhanced strike. "Mua Lin's version was much faster" he thought as he easily stepped to the side and out of Cleaving Meteor's path.
Bai Fulong lips turned into a sly and cunning smile.
Halfway down to the ground, Cleaving Meteor suddenly stopped. Bai Fulong's face went pale for a brief moment as the backlash for stopping a Shinsoo technique had momentarily reversed his flow of energy.
It was the price to pay for interrupting a technique but in Shin Sumi's case it was worth it. With the incredibly deep resources she had, especially considering she had just entered the fight, one Cleaving Meteor's worth of Shinsoo wasn't much.
Instead, she had voluntarily used a slow strike and forced Sei Shian out of the path.
Sky Deception had not yet completely stopped when Shin Sumi's powerful legs kicked the ground and she picked up speed. In the fraction of second she had become ten times as fast as she was previously, starting to close the distance between her and Chu Erlong and leaving Sei Shian behind, stunned by surprise.
From the speed at which she had entered the arena, who could have guessed that she would be capable of a much quicker pace?
Chu Erlong was only halfway through the preparations for Burning Moon. She, too, had been taken by surprise by Bai Fulong's move.
Forcibly interrupting her spell, she took out a large pole that seemed to be made out of wax and planted it on the ground as Sky Deception swiped at her.
There was no doubt about the origin of the wax pole. It was a gift from her dual cultivation partner Jun Qian, only she had not expected to use it so soon. The pole now activated by her Shinsoo extended into a great shield, blocking Shin Sumi's first blow.
The shield made cracking noises but held strong.
Second sword strike.
Bai Fulong wasn't even using fancy techniques, but the sheer force of the attacks was making the shield crack more and more.
Third sword strike.
Sei Shian had no way of catching up to Bai Fulong. His only hope was that Chu Erlong would be able to last long enough against him so that he could surprise Bai Fulong from behind.
Fourth sword strike.
The wax shield exploded into a hundred pieces. In the meantime Chu Erlong had managed to squeeze her last few drops of Shinsoo, releasing a weakened version of Cold Smoke at Shin Sumi.
Of course, as she knew, Shin Sumi herself had mastered the same technique and its weak points. Not even a single snake cloud hit its target.
Expecting a last defence to spring up from the resourceful Chu Erlong, Bai Fulong lifted and swung Sky Deception one more time. Chu Erlong closed her eyes and crossed her arms in front of her in a last attempt to protect herself.
Seeing how she had become powerless, Shin Sumi twisted her wrist at the last moment, diverting the cutting edge of the sword away and hitting with the flat part of the blade instead.
Even without cutting power, Sky Deception slammed into Chu Erlong's arms with power. The girl from the Cloud-Formation Pavilion was sent flying backwards a few meters before hitting the ground pitifully.
"This definitely won't improve my relationship with Chu Erlong" Shin Sumi thought as she saw the drained girl moaning in pain, her consciousness barely present anymore.
"How humiliating... Chu Erlong was basically slapped into losing the fight" a disciple mumbled to another in the crowd.
"The Star-Sword Pavilion is using a brand new fighter but Chu Erlong has already dealt with Mua Lin AND Sei Shian, the outcome isn't that surprising..."
"Still, how could a nobody beat Big Sister Chu?"
"You haven't heard about this 'nobody'? Where were you during Mua Lin and Sui Lin's fight at the Third Star Arena?! Let me tell you, when the fight ended-"
Different rumors and opinions were slowly spreading among the crowd. Shin Sumi was oblivious to it, given her stance as a fighter with ears far away from them, but she would have been quite pleased with the way the conversations turned out.
Many disciples relied heavily on the fact that Bai Fulong has only inherited the lucky position of the fighting order. Only a handful of them believed in his strength being key in this fight.
Patriarch Sen's deep eyes contained a small sparkle as he couldn't help but overhear some of the conversations.
"Brilliant. Remarkable but not extraordinary. As any Ghost should be" he then discretely picked up a small piece of jade and sent his divine sense into it, "Wudao, prepare your quarters. The fight will be over in a few minutes and she is ready."
Shin Sumi was breathing with some heaviness. She wasn't tired at all but figured it would be a good practice to seem more exhausted, having swung her sword a few times.
She turned around to face Sei Shian, who was still quite a few steps away. She had taken him by surprise and dealt with Chu Erlong in only a few seconds.
The young man from the Light-Breaker Pavilion had already reluctantly accepted the fact that Bai Fulong was better than he had thought initially. And yet he also knew that Chu Erlong was already nearing the end of her rope, thus he believed that he was still capable of beating Shin Sumi with his two monstrous explosions remaining.
Sei Shian cracked his knuckles, telling himself with optimism "Great, I didn't have to lift a finger against the girl. This guy got rid of her for me, leaving me with more power to beat him with. Heavens are looking after me!"
One leg to the front, his weight resting on his back leg, his guard up, ready for battling Bai Fulong.
Shin Sumi attacked him straight away. Sky Deception whistled in the air, striking Sei Shian's Exploding Palm.
Shin Sumi's hands trembled under the impact of the Shinsoo burst but held strong.
"Woah, even a normal explosion is that strong... No wonder Mua Lin couldn't hold on forever. I have to avoid direct contact."
Shin Sumi hadn't planned on letting herself get hit anyway, but she wanted to know just how strong these explosions really were. And if they had been just simple explosions, maybe she would have pressed the fight to get it over with but seeing how Sei Shian still had one arm and one leg sizzling with Shinsoo wisps ready to explode ten times as powerful as what she had just felt, she had a better sense of the battle now.
"It is better if I make him use that troublesome technique first."
For a while, Bai Fulong only swung his sword classically, sometimes throwing in a Cleaving Meteor for good measure. His panting became heavier and louder as time went on.
Shin Sumi's fellow disciples from the Star-Sword Pavilion were all silent. Every one of them who had battled or trained with Bai Fulong before knew exactly what he was doing.
Tai Bu's nerves were on the verge of breaking, as was the vein on his temples.
"That bastard. He's feigning exhaustion." Tai Bu was very conflicted. He had been caught up in Shin Sumi's special strategy a few times himself, each time thinking he had a chance of beating Bai Fulong.
But that was exactly what she wanted. She could see it in Sei Shian's eyes, she could almost read his thoughts.
"Oh I see... You're the type to hit strong but with low stamina. The more the fight goes on the more your power decreases."
On the sidelines, Tai Bu was hitting his thigh with his fist, "Come on, he's obviously faking it! This guy's reserves are endless", owning him a strange look from his fellow cultivators. Who exactly was he rooting for in this fight?!
Four entire minutes had passed since the beginning of Bai Fulong and Sei Shian's duel. This wasn't a long time but for a cultivator battle it was sure to be draining.
Sei Shian was showing signs of fatigue although less than his opponent. Bai Fulong's movements were becoming a bit sluggish despite his sword still hitting with a lot of power.
Shin Sumi lifted her sword with a shout, using Cleaving Meteor while sweat poured out of her brows. Fast on his feet, Sei Shian evaded the blow easily, Bai Fulong's precision had drastically gone down too.
"Now is my chance" thought Sei Shian.
The young man pivoted on his heel, using all his strength to kick his leg backwards. All the Shinsoo wisps on his leg condensed around his heel for the third of the four massive explosions he had previously prepared.
"You can't evade that now. DIE!!"
After the long and slow paced, dragged out battle, Sei Shian's kick was as fast as lightning. There was no way Bai Fulong could parry it as well, considering his level of fatigue.
In the crowd watching patiently, a few disciples has already accepted Bai Fulong's defeat by this point. He had shown a great deal of power and speed against Chu Erlong, earning their respect, but unfortunately it hadn't worked against Sei Shian.
The foot about to explode was getting closer and closer to Shin Sumi's side with all the speed a martial arts expert could muster.
It was at this moment that Shin Sumi stopped breathing hard and reacted with even faster reflexes. She had waited four entire minutes for this, for a chance at getting rid of Sei Shian's troublesome explosions.
Bai Fulong pressed one hand against the flat side of his blade, orienting its length perpendicular to the incoming attack.
A small light formation shone briefly on the other side of Sky Deception, forming the shape of a ram's head.
The image only lasted for an instant, quick enough so that a blink would make an observer entirely miss it. In the crowd intently watching, a young man from the Cloud-Formation Pavilion stood up with a jolt. It was only after the others looked at him strangely that he sat back down.
The young man's name was Rui Keshin, the poor disciple who had lost a bet to Yan Yan before during the Cloud-Formation inner tournament.
"Rui Clan stolen technique: Heavenly Ram!" Bai Fulong received Sei Shian's foot straight on, the latter detonating his intense burst the moment his leg touched the body of the sword.
The ram head on the sword glowed more intensely, although its light was extremely dim compared to the fire of the explosion. But as its glow gained in intensity, the explosion suddenly started to lose power.
It happened so fast that probably no disciple had properly seen what had occured. In the fraction of a second the entire explosion was absorbed by the Heavenly Ram, Shin Sumi standing straight against Sei Shian's heel.
The first part of the Rui Clan technique was complete. Sei Shian's leg was still up against the flat part of Sky Deception when Shin Sumi activated the second part. By simply pressing forward with her sword, the Heavenly Ram made contact again with her opponent.
The longer Heavenly Ram stored the energy it had absorbed, the more difficult it was to control it and the less it was able to restitute.
By immediately attacking after canceling out the explosion, more than ninety percent of the Shinsoo fire of Sei Shian's own technique was unleashed against him.
From the outside, where the Heavenly Ram technique was not visible, it appeared like something strange but not impossible had occurred.
Sei Shian flew backwards as a painful scream echoed in his throat.
"Sei Shian's technique backfired!"
"How is that possible? Was his explosion so high level that even himself could not deal with it? He has been holding onto it for a while now, his energy probably turned unstable..."
Sei Shian's leg was bloody and nauseating smoke was coming out of his charred flesh. It was indubitably the most pain he had ever been into. And it could be said that he had inflicted that on himself.
From where he had stood in a kicking position, he had not seen the Rui Clan technique at all. He was almost to the point of believing himself that his own energy had gone unstable, if it wasn't for the slight delay he had felt.
His Shinsoo coursed through his mangled leg, suppressing momentarily the pain and blood loss. Because of the gravity of his injury, Sei Shian had no choice but to dispel his last remaining explosion. As much as he wanted to use it to blow Bai Fulong's head off, he had to use the energy on his leg.
Sei Shian propped his body on his elbow, looking at Bai Fulong with rage and fear in his eyes.
With a voice hoarse from his scream he spoke, "What did you do to me?! My attack connected and the moment after, my technique was returned against me!"
Shin Sumi didn't speak a word. She, too, had been slightly surprised at how well her plan had worked.
Now only she and a tired, badly injured Light-Breaker Pavilion cultivator remained in the Arena. It was virtually impossible for her to lose the fight at this point and she intended to finish it quickly.
She lifted Sky Deception whose length was now bare from any ram's head. Walking over to Sei Shian, the latter attempted to crawl backwards, dragging his useless limb along the cold ground.
"You have to surrender the fight now..." Bai Fulong spoke in a calm and quiet voice. The tip of Sky Deception was pointing straight to the young man's neck, in a sign that taking his life had become the easiest thing to do.
Sei Shian gritted his teeth, a gleam of defiance burning in his eyes. But only a dark and absolutely terrifying willpower met his gaze. Bai Fulong's stare seemed to calmly speak to him, saying "There is no point in killing you but I can do it."
"You are a mad man. I'm out of here" Sei Shian told Shin Sumi before enhancing his voice with Shinsoo, "I surrender."
Shin Sumi heaved a sigh of relief, putting away Sky Deception. Her hand trembled slightly before hiding inside her sleeves as she quickly returned to the Star-Sword Pavilion corner.
A few people from the Light-Breaker Pavilion had now entered the arena to recover Sei Shian who could barely move his leg without screaming in pain. Some disciples from the Shinsoo-Medicine Pavilion also entered the arena splitting up in three groups, each going to enquire if the fighters from all branches needed help and recovery.
At the same time, Patriarch Sen had started hovering above the scene, speaking in a very loud voice and announcing the results of the Cross Branch Arena.
Shin Sumi didn't deem necessary to listen, though, as she had just now returned to Xiao Yue and the others. Mei Yunei and Mua Lin had already left in the care of the Shinsoo-Medicine healers, leaving only Tai Bu and Sui Lin, the old members of the Shinsoo Gathering Realm's Big Three.
Sui Lin looked at Bai Fulong intensely for a few seconds before simply nodding and leaving, her arms crossed and her face cold like ice as always.
Tai Bu, snorted loudly. He too exited the arena without uttering a word. His anger towards Bai Fulong was far from quenched but Devil Maiden Xiao Yue was right there next to them and he wasn't willing to confront them.
Turning down the Shinsoo-Medicine Pavilion disciples' offer, Bai Fulong and Xiao Yue were now alone in their corners. The disciples who had watched the entire Cross Branch Arena were slowly leaving and the Elders and Pavilion Masters had long since disappeared.
"Let's go home, Yue, alright?" Bai Fulong spoke softly, almost imperceptibly.
Xiao Yue turned to Shin Sumi and smiled, her hand finding her sister's and they disappeared through the dark passageways dug into the earth.
I am a French PhD student in condensed matter physics. But I also draw a lot on instagram, make YouTube drawing videos, and of course: write.
I've started writing intensely mid 2018 and haven't stopped for a single week since. I used to publish my english novel to Webnovel.com but I decided to move to this better platform. I hope you enjoy my content, bye !