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Two months passed in a flash as Han Lingyun dived into his passions: research and cultivation. The other disciples weren't standing either and everyone was making progress.

By now, more than 30 grade 4 talents had reached the qi condensation's stage. Shen Lin was among them but Yang Hoayu still struggled at the body strengthening realm.

The qi condensation cultivators gained access to new training grounds that functioned with arrays. One array could simulate battles with puppets, another created strong winds meant to train movement skills. One consisted of a waterfall where one could adjust the water pressure and cultivate under it. The objective was to resist the water by releasing qi over yourself and maintain this state for as long as possible to train qi manipulation. The list went on as the disciples that entered the club of qi condensation cultivators could benefit from many more facilities than their peers. Nothing was free though and to use an array, one was required to pay the equivalent number of Ps as the array expended in qi crystals. Most of the disciples quickly deflated when they learned the prohibitive prices.

Some cost 100 Ps or more per hour. The waterfall exercise was among the most affordable ones at 20Ps the hour.

Everyone had to find their compromise. It was possible to use an array with several disciples at the same time, effectively dividing the cost.

 

One week ago, Wang Yimo had proposed another duel to Han Lingyun. This had taken him by surprise. He found it a bit premature but still went with it in the end. They decided to use similar bets to the first duel, with the consent of their elders, and to keep the 2-hour time limit.

The duo also agreed on taking a mission after they learned their lessons from the upcoming duel.

Another valley, same rules: Wang Yimo and Han Lingyun were facing off for a third time. Han Lingyun knew he had to be especially cautious this time. It wasn't unlikely for Wang Yimo to have gained another ace up her sleeve since last time, especially since she was the one to propose the rematch.

He wasn't the same cultivator as nearly 3 months ago either. With the spirit condensing pill and great increase in cultivation, his range and qi density were incomparable to before.

 

"AAand start!"

As the match began, Han Lingyun rushed at a right angle from Wang Yimo's approximate starting position. He then activated his merging ability. He could now nearly keep it at all times. The only downside was that he was now constantly expending a bit of qi to maintain it.

He slowly navigated the forest in that fashion until he spotted Wang Yimo searching for him. It seemed that their duels would always be starting by this little game of hide and seek.

Han Lingyun went completely immobile as Wang Yimo passed by, around 15 meters to his left. Once her back was nearly facing him, Han Lingyun silently launched an invisible qi blade to her neck.

Why try complicated methods when one can attack without even being found?

Bssst. White qi shimmered in front of the point that Han Lingyun was aiming for. His qi blade had been disintegrated.

Han Lingyun feared that things would go south and immediately ran in the opposite direction.

*BOOM*. After just 10 meters, a wave of qi collided with him and added to his momentum but he had taken a nasty hit in his lower back. Some of the trees behind were uprooted or demolished.

To what extent had Wang Yimo's moon gaze progressed?

 

Wang Yimo was swearing inside. Her all-in attack had missed its objective and she had just expended one third of her available qi to try catching Han Lingyun off guard. Han Lingyun was hit but not taken down and the battle had to continue on. Wang Yimo's plan was well thought out. She had learned a high-level defensive art that created an invisible qi shield around her. This happened to counter well Han Lingyun's surprise attacks so she walked around with her defense art active at all times, waiting for Han Lingyun's blade or thread to appear to determine his rough location, then respond with her upgraded area attack at full force.

But now, things were back to square one and she had lost a trump card. Due to just launching her greatest qi attack, she momentarily couldn't sprint in Han Lingyun's direction, which was enough to lose him in the forest.

 

Han Lingyun was hiding behind a tree in some dark corner, his breathing heavier than usual. He had to find a way to pierce Wang Yimo's carapace if he wanted to win. Just like his ability to merge with the environment, Wang Yimo was probably activating her defense art at all times, thereby expending qi.

'Under such circumstances, as long as I remain hidden, I will keep the upper hand and always have the initiative.'

Han Lingyun's next strategy was then to remain hidden and make Wang Yimo slowly use her qi. At the same time, he would not be using his merger art. There was a two-hour time limit to the duel after all, plenty of time to play with!

He would then strike the weakened Wang Yimo.

 

Wang Yimo started to search for Han Lingyun again, or more accurately she was waiting for Han Lingyun to reveal himself in order to counterattack. As 30 minutes passed and still no signs of Han Lingyun could be found, his strategy to hide for as long as possible dawned on her.

She was now in a precarious situation. Han Lingyun might as well be observing her right at this instant, ready to pounce. But if she used her qi defensive art continuously, she would not have any qi left in another hour. And she couldn't refill qi from crystals while still keeping the art activated, as absorbing qi required one's absolute concentration.

It was a good thing that her shield was invisible, that way Han Lingyun couldn't tell if she had it activated or was saving energy. But she couldn't openly absorb crystals or Han Lingyun would immediately strike if he saw her in that obviously vulnerable position.

She hadn't previously realized those limits of her new defensive art. After some hesitations, Wang Yimo's face lit up as she found a new idea to get out of this impasse. There was a small cliff wall in front of her as she had invertedly reached the end of the valley.

Wang Yimo started to cut down trees with just her sword and her strength. She tried to make as little sound as possible to not alarm Han Lingyun in the case he wasn't seeing what she was doing.

After transporting the trees further away, she had created a 30 meter wide clearing in front of the cliff wall. Wang Yimo then put her back against the rocks, deactivated her shield and concentrated forward for any movement.

She knew that with that distance, Han Lingyun had to step into the clearing to threaten her with his qi blade. And Han Lingyun's merger art wasn't absolute, he was not invisible for an attentive eye, especially in a bright environment.

Wang Yimo wouldn't have any trouble spotting him with this luminosity as long as she remained concentrated.

 

One hour later, Han Lingyun who had remained hidden without using his ability to merge with the environment, activated his ability back and began to search for Wang Yimo to assess the situation.

It took him another 15 minutes to find her little clearing from afar as it was at the edge of the area reserved for the duel. He grimaced when he realized that his plan had failed miserably. Now only 15 minutes were left until the time limit and qi usage shouldn't be a problem for Wang Yimo. She could most certainly sustain 15 minutes of qi shield.

Things could end in a draw if Wang Yimo decided to be satisfied with that result. She had proposed the duel though so that was most likely not the case.

Han Lingyun thought for a bit. It was very likely that Wang Yimo would now be the one hunting for him in that case, and would leave her safe area.

About 20 meters from the clearing, Han Lingyun began slowly placing his thread on the ground for a possible ambush.

 

Wang Yimo could now activate her shield until the duel's time limit, without fear of running out of qi. She thus activated it back and walked away from her precious rock wall, to search for her opponent.

She walked into the forest once again and kept a close eye for any movement, ready to react. A small reflection activated her alarm bells, a thread!

It was too late as a black cloud had already enveloped her.

Han Lingyun had caught Wang Yimo. He closed his eyes, that were now useless in the absolute darkness and concentrated on his qi perception. Creating the black fog was quite taxing and expended a good third of Han Lingyun's qi reserves but he was now the master inside. As all the dark fog was his own qi, so he could sense in his mind everything the fog came in contact with.

Wang Yimo, on the other hand, was completely blind. Han Lingyun encircled her with his thread and tightened it. Wang Yimo was still holding on by enforcing her qi shield that repelled the thread but she was losing qi at a much faster pace than her opponent. Wang Yimo was expending qi at a faster pace due to the larger area of the shield compared to the thread.

Under desperation, she released her moon gaze in a random direction.

*Crash*! She hit nothing except some trees but the dark fog had nearly disappeared in that zone, creating a slice of pizza from above. Before anything else, the Black Fog had already closed back on the free area. Wang Yimo couldn't run away because the qi was binding her down in all direction but she still found some hope. She looked into the grey fog and launched ci crescents randomly. It created small openings before rapidly being closed down by the surrounding black fog.

Those crescents required far less qi to materialize than her qi wave. As a result, Wang Yimo could continue to slash the air without restraint.

Han Lingyun was able to anticipate the crescent's trajectories and was dodging when one came in his direction, by making circles of maximum radius around Wang Yimo. He just had to keep on dodging and wait for Wang Yimo to expend all her qi and fall to his qi thread scrapping around the invisible shield.

But the blades were incredibly fast and Wang Yimo launched them in groups at rapid succession to uncover his position. It became more and more challenging for Han Lingyun to keep out of their way.

Finally, Wang Yimo had her stroke of luck as a blade caught the edge of Han Lingyun's robe. She immediately launched her strongest area attack in his new supposed position, with most of her qi left.

Another loud round of crashes and cracks echoed as her attacks shattered the trees that were still standing after Wang Yimo's barrage of qi blades.

This time, Han Lingyun let out a groan of pain as he took the attack head on and was launched in the air backwards. He had survived due to releasing as best he could a large quantity of qi at the last moment before contact. But he was now completely disoriented as he crashed down and the thread handle had slipped from his hands.

That was all it took for Wang Yimo to bolt towards Han Lingyun and aim for his neck.

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