Seeing the sword light coming towards him, without having time to think about it even with the Flowing Mind, Flowing Thoughts Mantra of the Flowing Water Sect he was so proficient in, a mantra that allowed him to process his thoughts at a speed that was nigh unrivalled by the cultivators of any other major power within the kingdom, Finley reacted instinctively, throwing his arms out and erupting his qi out of them, performing the Shocking Streams martial technique of his Sect in a bid to stop the sword lights Duncan had launched at both him and his fellow apprentice brother.

Luck or skill, no matter what it was, at that moment Finley believed it to be on his side as he managed to successfully intercept the sword lights speeding towards both him and his fellow apprentice brother. However, controlling the streams of aqua qi he’d sent crashing forward and feeling them as they collided with Duncan’s sword lights, he realised they were not only failing to achieve the effect he wanted but were in fact about to fail altogether.

Initially, even as he’d lacked time to properly think things through, he’d wanted to not only block Duncan’s sword lights but also directly smash them apart, destroying them completely so as to regain the initiative and stop Duncan from taking advantage of the opening he had just made for himself. Unfortunately, as his aqua qi and Duncan’s sword attacks hit he knew that that thought was overly optimistic.

Nevertheless, even though his own attacks didn’t break Duncan’s, he clearly felt Duncan’s sword lights shudder and slow at the impact with his Shocking Streams martial technique and believed that although they were not outright destroyed they would surely exhaust themselves mere moments later.

This however, did not come to pass, as, shockingly, Finley discovered that the shuddering slow of the sword lights was only a momentary one and that not only were they not exhausting themselves as he expected but nor were they stopping. In fact, they actually began to speed up again as they cut through his aqua qi, first breaking through the Shocking Stream he’d sent out to defend his apprentice brother, then the other sword light, which, comparatively, had collided more head on and thus had more opposition to work through, travelled along the length of his Shocking Stream before breaking free of it and reaching his left shoulder.

Once again, Finley found himself in utter shock as in the period of a mere second he had discovered treachery within their ranks, been attacked in the moment his attention was distracted and then had his martial technique broken through before then witnessing as a blue sword light impacted against his shoulder.

[Oh God] was the only thing Finley managed to think in silent resignation as he felt the sword light impact against him and was momentarily knocked off balance, having to turn with the blow in order to secure his footing and prevent himself from falling over.

Fortunately for him however, he discovered that dressed lightly as he was, with the extent of his protective clothing being clothes made from the hide of a sea beast he had once killed, he was actually uninjured and realised that although it had taken time, time in which Duncan’s sword light had managed to travel along the admittedly short length Shocking Stream he’d sent out, Duncan’s sword attack had, in fact, been exhausted by his defence, dimming in the last moment before it hit him and losing most of its power.

However, as fortunate as that was, Finley’s mind was not put at ease. Instead, now that the chaos in his mind had subsided and he had gotten time to think again, he became increasingly more concerned and alarmed and although many in this situation might be relieved or happy to have come out unscathed from Duncan’s attack, Finley was worried.

That’s right, at this moment, Finley was worried. Worried that the stream he sent out to protect his apprentice brother hadn’t dissipated enough of the other sword light’s strength. Worried that his friend, who was similarly unarmoured, hadn’t reacted fast enough to throw up a defence of his own. Worried that put at such a disadvantage and thrown off balance as they were, Duncan would be able to easily close the gap in order to finish them off or at least seriously injure them.

All of these thoughts raced through Finley’s mind, as, anticipating Duncan coming to finish him off, he spun back round to face the front, drawing his sword in the process and stimulating his qi to course through and around his body.

Upon spinning back round however, he missed catching sight of Duncan and panic instantly surfaced in his mind as he continued with his spin in order to look to his fellow apprentice brother. In his mind, if Duncan hadn’t closed the distance to him, without even considering that he would take any other action, Finley believed he would surely be going after his apprentice brother instead.

Completing his movement, Finley looked at his fellow apprentice brother and saw that he too had been knocked off balance from Duncan’s blow, seeming to have stumbled down to one knee. However, looking closer, just as he began to process the yell of pain he was hearing, he realised that his friend was actually clutching the left side of his face with his hand and could see the red of blood seeping out from beneath it.

Seeing this scene and understanding what it meant; understanding that there was a good chance his friend had just been blinded in one eye, Finley didn’t have the time to process his anger at what had happened nor his concern for his friend. This was because, as he turned in panic, wanting to see the condition of his friend and preparing to rush forward to intercept Duncan, the man himself hadn’t appeared in his vision.

There was only one reason for this that Finley could think of. Duncan wasn’t in front of either of them because he didn’t close the distance to them. As for why he didn’t close the distance, once again, there was only one reason Finley could think of.

[The Others!] he thought, partly in alarm at how things would be going on at their end, especially considering the rogue cultivator who had turned out to be a traitor and partly in thankfulness that they must have acted to stall Duncan, preventing him from taking advantage of his first attack in order to kill them.

Thinking this, Finley swivelled his head and turned to face the front again, expecting to see the others battling it out with Duncan and the traitor, putting pressure on them or at least holding them at bay.

The scene he saw however was completely contrary to his expectations and caused him to stare in shock. This was because, instead of a scene of his allies, however shortly known they were, battling it out with Duncan and the traitor, with the fight just having begun and the two Iron Fist Sect disciples surely taking some advantage given the fact that they had been standing behind Duncan before everything had just kicked off, he was instead greeted by a scene of one of the disciples falling to the ground, his chest split open with blood gushing out and the other being outmanoeuvred and about to have his neck split open.

To Finley, this course of events was just too unexpected, too ludicrous. He’d had some concerns of course, especially given Duncan’s reputation and the fact that he didn’t know the other’s personal strengths… but this; this was beyond anything he could have imagined.

[My god. He got us. I can’t believe it but he got us.

His acting earlier wasn’t arrogance, it was just confidence. Confidence in his trap, confidence in his ability to take advantage of it and confidence to take us all out]

Thinking this while looking at Duncan and seeing the blue light of Duncan’s qi shining on his sword as he thrust it forwards towards John’s neck, Finley, even in all of his frustration and even as he started to move forward, knew that there was nothing he could possibly do, no movement technique he could execute and no qi art he could perform that would allow him to save John’s life in time, and so, even as he stared in frustration, in anger and in a multitude of other emotions towards Duncan, his mind fell into a silent resignation that it was hopeless, that their party of 8 was about to be cut down by 2 more.

[It’s over] he finally thought, despairing at the strength, skill and ability that Duncan had shown and in that moment losing confidence in his own ability to retake control of the situation.

That was… until he saw a stream of aqua qi cutting across his vision from the right.

[Hah] laughed Finley inwardly as a grin started to appear on his face.

He might not have been able to save John in time but there was another who could, and, seeing that confined, highly pressurised jet of aqua qi shooting over towards Duncan, he knew that he would. That was because his fellow apprentice brother, who had been late to react and had stumbled to the ground in pain at having his eye cut open by Duncan’s sword light, had managed to keep his wits about him and, extending his right hand towards the man who had injured him, performed what was, if not the most offensively powerful martial art of their Sect, then definitely the most dangerous.

[Yes] thought Finley as he saw that jet of qi shooting towards Duncan, despair turning into joy as this one act pulled him out of his mental desolation, uprighting the skies and overturning the resignedness of defeat that had fallen upon him.

[It’s not over yet] thought Finley fiercely, confidence returning to him alongside a swelling of pride as a noble practitioner of the Flowing Water sect.

[You got us good with your little tricks… but you’ve played your hand. Now it’s time we play ours]

A note from jmj1011995

Kind of feel I dragged this encounter on longer than I should have. I actually only intended to have one Duncan chapter. I'll wrap it up next chapter.

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