Chapter 401: An Informative Battle

    Chapter 401: An Informative Battle

    The last time the two sparred Lan Jue walked away with the man's Harlequin Silver. Now he knew the ins and outs of the Barber's power well.

    He was very skilled in speed and force. A solid mastery of Wind made the councilman even more dangerous. Considering the Barber's age, his future looked bright. He'd said during their last confrontation that there were no ninth level ninth rank Wind Adepts yet. Of course Lan Jue disagreed - his brother was living proof that there was.

    Luckily for the Jewelry Master, the Barber was still unaware of his sudden drop in power. He would be hesitant to try and test Lan Jue's limits directly.

    The Barber waved his hands, and the air became thick with condensed air. They were visible only by a shimmer, but where sharp enough to cut through bone. The wind blades filled the air, then fired toward Lan Jue like a hail of arrows.

    There were different cultivation methods even among Adepts of the same Discipline. For example, the smallish guy from the Driver battle was specialized in wind-accelerated speed. The specialty lacked direct attack force, which was why he turned to machinery to help. Strength and control together made him a capable foe.

    His decision was not a poor one, but there were consequences. A Bionic was no longer entirely themselves. Their blood was part machine fluid. Breaking through to Paragon became far more difficult once an Adept surrendered himself to the knife. In fact, in all the history of humanity the Terminator was the only one to achieve this. Through some unknown method, he joined his body with machinery to break through the barrier to super-human status. It had been reputedly as dangerous as it was mysterious.

    The Barber did not possess the same comprehensive grasp of Wind that the other man did, his strengths lied elsewhere. In the future it was likely the Avenue denizen would far outstrip that Northern contemporary.

    Every Adept was faced with a choice; take the short path to power, or build on what you were given. The Driver's opponent probably came to a barrier he couldn't breach, and elected for help to overcome it. Most Adepts with adequate Talent didn't choose to become Bionics.

    That was not to say there weren't advantages to making the change. At the very least, machinery and science could make them stronger almost over night. In the North they called it Stratified Refinement, and many low-order Adepts chose this path. For most they knew that advancement beyond a certain point was hopeless. The desire for strength was especially strong for these unfortunates. It was for most the best way, as the West's Fantascia Genetica was both expensive and uncertain. At worst, a failed surgery resulted in being maimed.

    The wind blades joined together in a veritable tidal wave that covered the entire arena. It was a move to prevent Lan Jue from fully employing his terrifying speed.

    He didn't have any illusions that he would beat the vastly stronger Lan Jue. His hope was that he'd be able to stick it out a little longer this time. He knew - or thought he knew - that Lan Jue was a seventh ranked Adept, and you couldn't feasibly overcome that at his level. The sour look on his face was due to that realization.

    Dappled sunlight shimmered as the rain of wind blades covered the sky. Lan Jue was on the move. His advance wasn't quick, but steady. With a wave of his right hand there was a flash, and lightning condensed in to his trademark spear.

    He thrust the weapon forward, then it blasted outward like a column of explosive energy. Every cutting slice of wind it encountered was dissolved. It carved a path directly toward the Barber.

    The Barber paused. He half-expected Lan Jue to start with his overpowered Forest of Lightning, and had his next moves planned accordingly. Now the whole thing was scrapped - Lan Jue was taking a different approach.

    A close-quarters battle, eh?

    The Barber was as touched as he was stunned. For someone so far above his skill level to elect for a close-combat battle was clearly a way to give him face. This was more a friendly exchange than a competition.

    The remaining blades of wind came fluttering back to the Barber's hands and fused in to a spear of his own. The cyan-hued weapon was surrounded by the sound of buffeting winds - the sounds of his elemental gathering to strike.

    "Die!" he hollered, as the councilman lunged right for his adversary. The spear of wind became ten roaring beams of light sharp enough to cut steel. It cut at Lan Jue and all the areas around him. It was an imposing scene to run head-first in to.

    With a grunt, Lan Jue tore his own spear through the air. Where it passed, a sizzling crescent of energy was cast outward. The Barber's thrusts and Lan Jue's sweep collided. A blast of energy resulted, that nearly knocked them to the ground.

    It was important to remember that lightning was explosive, but it also had a tendency to spread. Wind, alternatively, had a powerful coverage and cutting force. Both were strong, at their level much of these battles came down to mastery, control and application.

    The intensity of their collision continued for a long moment, with thunderous roars and stabbing light punctuating their meeting.

    Meanwhile the Barber was focusing his concentration. He could feel himself becoming one with the tempestuous winds swirling all around. The fierceness of his earlier attacks was somehow softer - but no less frightening. Like a strong man behind a gentle face, these attacks could punch a hole through a man if they weren't careful.

    Lan Jue faced the change calm as a spring morning. His spear of lightning thrust out again and again, sometimes disappearing entirely from view. Like his opponent, Zeus was resonating with his lightning element. There were benefits to this, of course - such as a tremendous increase in his Discipline's direct damage - but there was also an increasing element of uncertainty. Lightning and thunderbolt Disciplines were inherently chaotic. One could never rely on them completely in the heat of battle.

    Speed versus versatility. Wind against Lightning.

    The two competitors forget the tournament. They forgot time. There was only their encounters, clashing again and again. It was clearly the closest battle yet of this second round.

    "Time!" The buzzer called for an end to their exchange.

    The two of them separated, eyeing one another. Lan Jue's face was hidden behind the golden mask, the the Barber was all smiles. "That was excellent," he exclaimed. "I surrender."

    He walked off the arena without another word, and without looking back.

    Though no one could see, a small smile crept in to Lan Jue's features as he watched his countryman leave.

    Even though his abilities had dropped to second rank, it still wasn't very difficult to win victory over the Barber. Aside from his two Disciplines, he also had a wealth of experience and understanding that Barber simply didn't have yet. The Avenue representative had lead the pace of the battle, but that was a result of Lan Jue's guidance.

    An Adepts first order of mastery came from understanding their own element, and adroit use. Comprehension of one's truth allowed them to know their place in the universe they lived in. From there, one could begin to trace the path of protogenia. That's where the road to Paragon began.

    Lan Jue flt that if the Barber spent time pondering their battle, the benefit to his journey would be significant. As for the Barber, though he didn't say anything it was clear the animosity from before was gone.

    Lan Jue allowed his spear of lightning to dim and eventually vanish, as he descended back t other arena from overhead. He, too, was quiet for although he didn't not learn so much as he suspected the Barber did, it was the first time he'd had a serious fight since the reduction in his Discipline. He was remembering a lot of the nuances to the rank he'd long since forgotten.

    The situations were very different, between now and when he'd achieved ninth level the first time. Now he had the comprehension of a peak-ranked Adept, and that made the details of the rank clearer. Like watching a movie a second time, subsequent viewing revealed secrets you'd missed before. It would certainly come in handy during the process of recovering his strength. A strong foundation would make the breakthrough to Paragon easier. Their brief but illuminating exchange has been good, and he could feel the tendrils of second rank within his grasp.

    It had come to the end of the second round. The one thousand seven hundred challengers had been whittled down to half. Around eight hundred remained to test their mettle in the third round.

    Beginning from this point on, their tournament field would be undergoing some changes. They next leg of the competition was still elimination rounds, but the arenas were a sight larger. Fewer adepts would compete per batch to accommodate. The audience won by getting a better view of the action, whereas the Adepts now had more space to really let their powers flourish.

    Lan Jue left the tournament grounds with the other competitors. Zhou Qianlin was waiting for him.

    In terms of means of communication, Qianlin and Lan Jue certainly were not lacking. Through their blood bond, and the Soul Caller stone there was no need to call out. Once they were within a certain distance they could sense precisely where the other was.

    "Alright, let's head back," he greeted. He took her by the hand and turned to go. He was in somewhat of a rush, with the looming promise of a breakthrough on the horizon.

    What he didn't see was the Pharmacist, standing a few feet away. Jun'er clutched her mother's hand, and stared sightlessly in to the crowd. Luckily she didn't have her helmet on. Her mother had a look of disappointment behind her eyes. Then, as though remembering something, she gently shook her head.

    "Mommy, where's daddy?" The little one turned her face up toward her mother.

    She answered with a smile. You could hear in someone's voice if they were smiling. "Daddy's busy sweet heart. He'll come back when he's finished."

    "Do you think daddy will be upset if I use the helmet big Uncle gave her?" She asked, with a note of worry in her little voice.

    Now the Pharmacist's face bore a full, warm smile. "Of course not, dear. The helmet big uncle gave you is even better than your old one. It won't hurt you as easily as the last one might. When daddy hears about it, he'll be very happy."

    The helmet - brand new and top of the line, had been the Terminator's gift to little Jun'er. He'd had it tailor-made with nothing but the best technology the North had on offer. Of course, nothing but the best would be provided to the Paragon's request. Not only did it offer better quality, but it also was less likely to cause damage.

    When they got back to the hotel, Lan Jue turned to Zhou Qianlin. There was an inquisitive look in his eye.
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