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"YES!" Wang Yimo cried out. She was upset. She didn't blame Han Lingyun for not playing by the usual rules. She was angry at herself. Her pride had taken a huge blow and she wanted to redeem herself. Wang Yimo wasn't just a beautiful flower that knew nothing of the world. She had suffered in her clan, witnessed and heard things she sometimes wished she hadn't. She had trained hard; she had suffered as well. And now, at the first realistic match, she was defeated so pitifully. The frustration was hard to bear.

 

"Yes." Han Lingyun also agreed. It would become much more interesting now that Wang Yimo was warned. He would now have to use his martial arts and tactics to the fullest to win. This would be an even greater training experience.

 

Elder Zhang showed her appreciation for their mentality. "All right, you two talked about side bets previously. Obviously, Han Lingyun's mentor not being here, we cannot involve him behind his back for this one, so you should bet with your own means."

Han Lingyun proposed. "How about 5 000 Ps?". It was a quite sizable sum but wouldn't hurt too much the one winning or losing here. Both had Ps to spare. The adding that stake had an additional symbolic and psychological importance too.

Wang Yimo took him up on the offer. She had received a substantial amount of Ps from completing group missions on her own, and with transactions from her teacher.

 

"Okay, I'll drop Han Lingyun on the other side of the valley then."

 

"AND START!"

 

Wang Yimo was much more cautious this time round. She still began with a sprint towards Han Lingyun's position because she knew that he couldn't be in her part of the valley at the beginning of the match. That meant she could sprint safely until nearly half distance. At the same time, this would restrict the area where Han Lingyun could hide. She had also switched her white robe for the grey ones they had received when first entering the sect.

As Wang Yimo approached Han Lingyun's starting point, she slowed down considerably and focused her senses. She wouldn't be caught off guard by that thread once again. Her ears perked and she launched an attack to the side. It was a wide area attack that shook the forest and slightly illuminated it with a discreet white light. The lack of brightness of the skill didn't equate to its power.

This was as much of a probe and detection method as an attack. Wang Yimo could get a better read of everything present in the area where she had released her qi. Well, the probe wasn't harmless: it could still tear normal humans to shreds. Wang Yimo had an important advantage due to her stronger cultivation: her qi attacks could travel a greater distance without losing their effectiveness.

This time, Wang Yimo's probe didn't catch on anything hinting at Han Lingyun's presence and she continued her prudent search.

A shadow bolted out and Wang Yimo reflexes kicked in. She slashed with her sword to release a blue crescent that went straight to intercept the shadow that had to abandon its movement and duck to the ground. Han Lingyun was revealed.

Wang Yimo didn't let the opportunity pass by and launched another wide area skill at Han Lingyun's direction while watching out for the thread that was making a large circle from above.

Han Lingyun used his blackbird art to the fullest to bolt to the side but was still unbalanced by the attack, as the compressed air crashed into his right shoulder.

Just when Wang Yimo launched another crescent in his direction he decided to back off and ran away zigzagging between the trees, decisively leaving the thread behind.

 

Wang Yimo started to chase him down and was delighted to notice that Han Lingyun had lost his thread. She wouldn't put her guard down though, because Han Lingyun could have other tricks.

Wang Yimo also attempted some unconventional methods. She launched qi attacks towards trees that crossed paths with Han Lingyun to surprise him and slow him down.

Suddenly, after a Wang Yimo launched an attack, Han Lingyun made an abrupt turn and went straight for her. If she had the advantage at longer range, he would bring the fight to close combat.

With a great sword speed that tore the air, she managed to release a second crescent going straight for Han Lingyun once again. This time, he didn't duck but slashed with his sword as well.

Wang Yimo's crescent seemed to hit an invisible obstacle one meter in front of Han Lingyun that cancelled it. This was his invisible blade! Han Lingyun kept his momentum and continued his mad dash towards Wang Yimo.

Sensing the danger, she hurriedly defended from the approaching Han Lingyun with her superior sword reflexes. The two swords collided heavily, as Han Lingyun passed by.

Wang Yimo, with her great agility, turned around in one movement to not lose sight of her opponent for an instant but a small black cloud was right in front of her face. Wang Yimo didn't hesitate and slashed to launch her area attack once again in order to pierce through this qi and what was behind.

"STOP."

"I lost again." Wang Yimo sighed. She knew it before her teacher announced the results. She was sensing an invisible blade of qi breathing at her neck, coming from the right side.

She smiled ruefully and turned to witness Han Lingyun two meters to her right becoming more visible as he ended his merging skill, still in a striking position.

She understood what had transpired in those last instants. As Han Lingyun passed by her, he let out his mini black cloud behind her, then abruptly changed direction and went 90 degrees to the side where he used his qi blade while in a merged state as she was misdirected by the smoke screen. This insane change of direction at the crucial moment was only made possible by two factors: his understanding of the second level of the blackbird art and his tough but flexible body that could cope with the stress the martial art imposed.

Wang Yimo understood what Han Lingyun had done but she was still amazed that he pulled it off. That sequence of events should have been extremely difficult to do. It must have been especially taxing on the body and demanding on the mind.

 

"I'm impressed, disciple Lingyun and truly glad we had such a fight."

He grinned. "I must say that luck played some part here, miss Yimo. Don't belittle yourself as you have been a true threat all along. I had found some good combinations during the last week but couldn't really make this one work in such a fluid fashion. I guess this is a case of making some progress while fighting on the edge."

Wang Yimo was a good sport. "Haha, it seems that overexerting the mind during instances of high stress and adrenaline could help making some improvements. It's not just a myth. Actually, I previously hadn't managed to repeat different attacks with such a short time frames as fast as during our last clash where I used two crescent slashes and a moon gaze without pause."

 

Elder Zhang had already landed beside the two disciples. "If you two have finished congratulating yourselves, we can move on. Do you wish to fight another round?"

 

Han Lingyun hesitated. "I think it was enough for today, do you wish for another round miss Yimo?"

"I'm good, maybe another time."

The two were in fact, completely spent. They had just finished an intense fight that had used all their concentration and pushed their bodies to the limit. Han Lingyun's head was aching from the stress coming down and the fatigue.

 

Elder Zhang crossed her arms. "You do know that in the real world, you won't be choosing when to fight, and you will be forced to, even when you are not in your top conditions, right?"

They looked away, they understood that well, but none wanted to have another grueling match right now. Both already had a lot to digest from today anyway.

"Well, if that's what you want, let's move on to the reward distribution."

The black-haired woman put her badge next to her pupils' badge and collected 5 000 Ps before placing her badge next to Han Lingyun's and transferring the sum. She also gave him a small translucent bottle with the spirit condensing pill inside.

"For the 200-year-old blue Fountain grass, you will have to accompany me to my garden where it's planted."

 

Wang Yimo tagged along and Elder Zhang offered some advice on that previous match to the two of them. Everyone then agreed to keep the details for themselves. The two young ones had profited today. First, they made some slight improvements to their martial arts. In addition, Han Lingyun had gained a spirit condensing pill and had been able to test out his methods in a realistic fight. Wang Yimo was taught a crucial lesson and made important strides in her mentality. However, she would have to accomplish something else if she wanted that Calypso's blessing pill she was promised in case she won. In the end, they both agreed that another similar battle could be organized but none gave a clear date. The rematch would only be as useful if they had progressed substantially on their own beforehand.

 

Han Lingyun went on to retrieve the plant prize for Elder Wen and brought it at the array pavilion. The elders had become involved in the wager as the disciples couldn't offer much in the first place.

 

After everything was settled, Han Lingyun came back to his house for a 12-hour long cultivation session. He digested the gains from his duels and was able to condense qi further than usual.

Once Han Lingyun had reached his fill for the day, he took out the spirit condensing pill. Its greyish appearance seemed quite banal but the heavenly fragrance that emanated from the pill told another story: its effect would make many salivate. The name sounded a bit abstract though, and arguably a bit bland: spirit condensing pill. But for the cultivator, consuming such a pill would provide more substance to the spirit, enabling him to manipulate qi at a longer range. This was every qi condensation cultivator's dream!

After he finished admiring that pill with a deceitfully unremarkable appearance, Han Lingyun gobbed it up in one swift motion. He first sensed a warm power like a mother's embrace trickle down to every corner of his body. Then he felt as if his perception of the world was widening, like if his field of view was enlarging while still seeing the same things.

This dizzying feeling lasted for another 5 minutes before dying down. The pill had already worked its magic. Han Lingyun decided to try out his skill of creating a black qi fog. To his shock and joy, it was much denser than previously and Han Lingyun couldn't see its end from his point of view. In front of him there was only pitch-black darkness.

After some stumbling and by relying on his qi perception, he realized that the fog had spread to his entire room. He willed the fog to dissipate and went in the forest to determine the new range of his qi blade.

For this test, Han Lingyun aimed at a tree 10 meters away and launched his invisible attack. Nothing happened. Han Lingyun then repeated the process by stepping closer and closer to the target.

When he arrived at 5 to 6 meters from the tree and slashed again, a big cut nearly separated the trunk. At least 5 meters! His range had more than doubled after consuming the pill and the density of his attacks seemed to have improved as well. By now, his blade could cut ordinary metal like tofu and it would be twice as hard for other cultivators to defend themselves with their own martial arts and qi usage.

And the final benefit, having condensed his Will further, would speed up his cultivation too; what a windfall!

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