Chapter 384: Nine Strikes of Taiji

    Chapter 384: Nine Strikes of Taiji

    He recognized the strength of their opponent's martial ability. Four ninth level adepts had been guarding the Empress, with a skill that grew stronger as they channeled together. And yet, one single Adept bested them all.

    Metatron mulled over the details again and again. Annoyance was etched in the lines of his tired face. He had thought of everything. Everything, except the Empress.

    Michael stood a few paces behind the Lord Archangel. He his body was almost completely recovered from his battle with Lan Jue, and in that time his mind had grown sharper. He had his own suspicions about who it might be, or who they might be connected but. Now, though, it was all conjecture. Besides, the victim was most important.

    Metatron headed toward the Inquisition officers. A rattling sound followed as the Lord Archangel let his wings unfurl. Twelve spectacular wings spread wide, and he glowed with a golden aura that outshone the sun. The piercing blaze burst out in all directions, enveloping the dungeon in golden luminescence.

    Seraphic Luminescence! The slightest details revealed!

    An image appeared, suspended in the golden light. A figure, black and white. For half a second, no one moved.

    Metatron's mood changed suddenly. He raised his hands to the apex of his head and pressed them downward through the air. A hundred thousand voices boomed through the dungeons in an angelic chorus. The whole foundation shook as the weight of the whole Cathedral came pressing down on that lone figure.

    The figure was Lan Jue. He had gone as fast as he dared toward the exit, but Metatron was no slower. They met each other at the entrance to the dungeons.

    Smarts would not get him out of this one. It was time to get reckless.

    Metatron was more than worthy of his position as second-in-command. By speed alone he could outstrip any of the other Archangels. Only Michael was able to keep up. Constantine, who'd had yet to recover from his self-abasing haze, was last to arrive.

    Lan Jue had managed to slip the mask on his face before their ill-fated meeting, so he didn't worry about his identity. His next movement was fluid and almost involuntary. He planted his feet as the crushing load came bearing down. He sank lower, but more like a cat ready to pounce. His hands feel toward his waste like sinking through a puddle before gently pushing out from his abdomen. 1 The space before his hands shimmered with black and white power before they swirled in to one another. They spun to create a vortex which forced the focused rage of the Lord Archangel to either side of him. Michael, who'd tried to flank, was blasted away by the errant power.

    Becoming a Taiji master was a means to perfecting one's understanding of self and improving cultivation. The energies of yin and yang became interchangeable with one's own Discipline. The result was quicker improvement and fine-tuning of one's abilities.

    In regards to combat and understanding of self, Taiji taught that it was best to use the enemy's strength against them. There is iron in softness. Artists of the craft perfected their own skills which, while not as directly powerful as the Three Canons employed by the Arhat of the Descending Dragon, were especially suited for their guile and wide application. All together, the moves were called the Nine Strikes of Taiji.

    He'd used one to obliterate the runic cross in the dungeon moments before, a move called Deflect and Strike 2. The second he used now, was called Parry Block and Punch.

    Parry, Block and Punch was the only one of the Strikes that was primarily defensive. It was the apex countermove, allowing the master to redirect a foe's attacks while created an opportunity to strike.

    Jue Di had used this skill in his battle against the army of Adepts. It's defense was so perfect as to make him practically invincible. His mastery of the skill was comparable to protogenic energy, able to create a Domain by this power alone. It came from a fundamental understanding of one's place in the universe, and thus was something no one from the West or North would ever come to grasp.

    Metatron felt like a void had opened up between them, and watched helplessly as his power was deflected aside. Lan Jue recognized the opening, and pressed his right hand out toward Metatron's head. The dual powers swirled ominously, consuming everything around it like a black hole.

    Metatron fought to keep himself under control, both emotionally and physically. It was important not to get careless in the face of this stranger's powerful attacks. He dropped in to a low squat while thrusting his right fist forward.

    Lan Jue and Metatron's strikes met mid-air. While the Archangel expected to find fierce resistance, the strange power fell away like punching through a wet paper bag. The energy became a soft breeze that caressed his face.

    Lan Jue's wrist went limp, allowing it to slide around Metatron's fist like water. Metatron, expecting resistance, was stumbled forward. Lan Jue's left hand swung around at just this moment and collided viciously with the angel, joining with the full brunt of Metatron's own forward momentum.

    Strength hidden in weakness! Metatron's mistake cost him dearly. Still, he was the Lord of Archangels. His body was cultivated to near-peak form. The man was a small step away from Paragon status. His right fist flailed limply forward while his left arm was blocked. But he still had wings.

    All twelve of his massive wings beat in unison. A golden light shone from the apex of each, then merged. The radiating light collided with the center of Lan Jue's fist.

    Another misjudgement. Lan Jue's left hand became strangely opaque, like an illusion. Under the swirling vortex's guidance, the beam arced away and flashed just passed Lan Jue's cheek and behind him.

    Michael had to dodge again.

    With Metatron distracted by his left hand, the ignored right hand came crashing down with explosive force. The angel tried to block, but it was too late. Wielding opposite and complementary powers, using Metatron's own momentum, Lan Jue's right hand rose empty, while his left fist settled beneath his right elbow. The expulsion of opposing powers tore through the space between them like a torrent. Spinning, reversing, consuming and and again in the split second before reaching Metatron.

    "Boom-!" The Lord Archangel soared backward toward the stairwell, but at his level of strength remained relatively unharmed.

    This was the Third Strike; Fist Under Elbow!

    Lan Jue originally disdained using this strike. He felt it less than honorable. After hanging around Fatty Tang for a time, though, well...

    Metatron went flying. The other Archangels, by now, had gathered together for an assault. Gabriel, Sariel and Ramiel surrounded him, cutting off escape.

    They looked on in confusion as the masked man did the opposite of what they'd expected, and chased after Metatron.

    His gait became strange. Each stride swiped from one direction to the other like a yin yang pattern 3. The whole area around them began to twist. Reality inverted as yin and yang of all things swapped, a skill not unlike protogenesis.

    The absence of a Paragon gave Lan Jue confidence, especially at his current rank. The fact that these angels had never experienced something like this gave him the opportunity he needed.

    Lan Jue took seven strides, but they were more than that. The raging qi within him caused his strides to extend. Each one took him dozens of paces forward, like a ball of screeching yin yang energy.

    Each step left a dot of light behind, blazing light a star. Where the Fist Under Elbow utilized trickery, this skill was righteous and straightforward.

    Before Metatron went soaring, he could feel the opposing forces rip through his body. He had to call upon his Faith to protect himself from being torn apart. He'd also expected this stranger to try and flee, but instead he was rushing forward for another exchange. Each mighty stride caused him to swell until, by the final step, he was as tall as a mountain.

    His flickering fist of black energy came tearing down Metatron's face. The Archangel roared in defiance as his wings blazed with golden fire. A halo more brilliant than the sun hung over his head. His entire body radiated pure golden energy, and as his hands reached out a blade of light pierced through the center of his palms. The golden blades stretched to meet Lan Jue's descending fist.

    Reality around them still shuffled through a myriad of inverted scenes, heaven and earth were interchangeable. The terrible force of this strike used no trickery, and bore no flourish. It was a direct and devestating attack.

    Seven Stars Fist!

    "BOOM!" Metatron collapsed, his golden blades reduced to twinkling gold dust. Lan Jue swung back again and, netting his fingers together, brought both fists down on the angel. His momentum was so fast that a swirling contrail of black and white followed him. The resulting blast of energy sent Metatron's encroaching friends flying in all directions.

    Downward Fist!

    "Boom-" Metatron took the full brunt of the strike that sent him through the ground, and buried half of his body in the floor.

    Lan Jue gave a dark chuckle. With the strongest of their number down, his work was done. He raced for the exit.

    A blazing light filled Michael's eyes. He swept his holy blade toward him, and an arc of light tore out through the air. Gabriel, Sariel and Ramial all lashed out with their own powerful attacks to try and stop him. Constantine swept his hand, and the Spear of Destiny appeared in his grip.

    But just as it appeared as though their foe had nowhere to run, he reached out and gripped something. There was a flash of light, and then - nothing.

    The Angel of War raced forward, in time to sense the faint vestiges of electricity crackling through the air.

    "Bang! Crack!" A series of small explosions reverberated off the wall. They were electrical lines, which burned away until nothing was left but ash. Just like that, the mysterious attacker was gone - a ghost amid the dungeon halls.

    1. He performs real Taiji moves during combat. The idea behind Taijiquan is maintaining balance in one's body for health and defense. So long as you aren't uprooted by an enemy, a perfectly balanced body becomes like a well-balanced engine; actions are strong, precise, and almost effortless. Taking advantage of the imbalance in your opponent is how you win, if that's your aim(most taiji practitioners do it to prevent fights, not win them). The move described above is called many things, but this resource refers to it as 'Apparent Close and Push'. If anyone is interested in Taiji as a form of health, exercise and self-defense you should really look in to it. The body's Qi is not some nonsense from fiction writers - you'll feel it if you learn how your body works.

    2. You guys are going to be mad at me, but I'm not going to give Lan Jue's strikes cool names. I'm going to translate them as the Taiji movements are meant to be described, as basic as possible. This is not because I'm lazy, but because the spirit of Lao Zi and the Dao De Jing which Taiji was based off of, was striving for simplicity in all things. Here is an excerpt (all credit to Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English.), describing perfection in man:

    The Tao of heaven is like the bending of a bow.

    The high is lowered, and the low is raised.

    If the string is too long, it is shortened;

    If there is not enough, it is made longer.

    The Tao of heaven is to take from those who have too much and give to those who do not have enough.

    Man's way is different.

    He takes from those who do not have enough and give to those who already have too much.

    What man has more than enough and gives it to the world?

    Only the man of Tao.

    Therefore the sage works without recognition.

    He achieves what has to be done without dwelling on it.

    He does not try to show his knowledge.

    Taiji began, according to my knowledge and travels, in a small farming village. The general who created it needed to train farmers, who were largely uneducated. Simplifying the names adhered to the precepts of the religion while having the added benefit of being easy to describe and remember. As an interesting addition, Taiji as a martial art is far less physically demanding in the beginning. This was also likely intentional, since the farmers couldn't be expected to work in the fields if they were half-dead from martial training.

    3. Taiji practitioners call it 'empty stepping.'
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