Chapter 405: Experience Prevails

    Chapter 405: Experience Prevails

    The dark aura dispersed like a fog before hurricane winds. The shadow blade in her hand also changed, becoming a thin silvery rapier. The whole of her actually seemed transcendental, sort of separate. The oppressive threat of her aura was missing.

    Darkness turning to dimensional Discipline!

    A knowing smirk spread across Lan Jue's face, hidden by the mask. Things were turning out just like he'd hoped.

    He thrust forward with his spear, but slow enough to make the motion obvious. Shimmering electric light converged on the tip of his spear. It was taken from all around, gathered from out of thin air. When enough of it had come together, a massive dragon of writhing lightning exploded toward the Vampire Princess. The golden lightning serpent seemed to roar as it burned through the air.

    Even just the pulse of energy released by the strike felt staggering powerful. The air around him warped and shimmered. The figure of Lan Jue vanished as it was consumed by the lightning dragon.

    Lan Jue was very familiar with Dimensional Disciplines, thanks in part to his time with the Wine Master. The different in power between the Paragon and Dracula's heir was too wide to calculate, which allowed Lan Jue to unravel some of her peculiarities. Any bit of information was a valuable in such a fight.

    Lina had begun the fight with joining her two Disciplines together, resulting in a finely honed offense for him to contend with. Luckily for him the process took time, and she was just beginning to understand how the two fit together. In this way Lan Jue was much further ahead than she was.

    He was starting to come up with a plan.

    Lina began to furiously wave her rapier. Each swing came with a tearing whistle that pierced the air. A hundred thousand tiny tears appears around her as the blade split reality in its wake. The lightning dragon smashed in to her hazy shield , resulting in a teeth-rattling explosion.

    In the midst of that fiery abyss, she could see him. Lan Jue's outline was visible against the fires and electric light, but was moving before she could react. He was airborne again, but only until he changed in to a bolt of golden lightning. With a crack of thunder, he launched himself directly at Lina.

    Boom! Lina staggered backward a few steps, and Lan Jue reeled backward. His retreat shifted effortlessly back in to a charge. He needed no time before racing right back toward his foe.

    He's so fast! Lina was fast, too, but found herself struggling. Although she was able to ward off his attacks as they came, each one wore her down by degrees. She was starting to fall behind.

    Chu Cheng - watching from the sidelines - smirking in spite of himself. "Audacious," he said in appreciation.

    Lan Jue's strategy was simple and direct; play his strengths against her weaknesses.

    Despite Lan Jue's drop in actual power, he still had the benefit of knowledge. His mastery of the lightning and thunderbolt dual Disciplines was well beyond other Adepts of this rank. This included Lina, and her Shadow-Dimensional Disciplines.

    When considering just pairing, shadow and dimensional powers were stronger than lightning and thunderbolt. However, all of them were the peak of pure elemental power.

    But this revealed another problem. The Disciplines were too strong. Individually they were prosperous and worked alone. There was no correlation between her two powers, which made finding a way to merge them effectively a difficult and lengthy process - maybe even impossible. Lina wasn't there yet. This wasn't a joining of her powers she used now, instead they operated in unison.

    In this regard Lan Jue was leaps and bounds ahead of Dracula's daughter. Lightning and thunder were natural allies making their merger much easier. Along with his experience, it gave him an edge.

    The strategy he was using now required his two Disciplines to be joined. Lightning's speed and thunder's explosive power - together called Thunderbolt.

    This had been the Driver's tactic as well. Lightning first, accompanied by Thunder. Together there was impact force, explosiveness, and kinetic lethality. The three traits made Thunderbolt a destructive force that was hard to match.

    Lina was experiencing the totality of what that meant just that moment. In a rush she'd allowed her control to slip and her interdimensional powers took over. There was no chance of merging them now. Under constant assault from Lan Jue's speed-of-light attack she retreated, step by step. Every second drained her, and took away any chance of fighting back.

    Lightning was the fasted human-based Discipline there was. That was underscored by the unending, torrential rush of Lan Jue's attack.

    Spectators saw the arena become enveloped in golden light. Lan Jue was gone, but the dramatic figure of Lina was cut against the column of golden lightning. She valiantly swiped and slashed, but was still retreating. It looked as though she were nearing the borders of their ring.

    "You want a fight?!" Lina roared and bit her tongue, filling her mouth with blood. She spat, leaving a vibrant red streak against the silver light of her sword. Instantly, the weapon burst in to crimson fire. She bore her burning weapon high overhead, and the tournament field was suddenly flooded with an aura of defiant strength. With the whole of her powers behind her, Lina pushed back.

    The world around them became a nightmarish world of blood red. Horrific, ripping waves of energy were so strong they warped reality around them. Through the bloody haze, an arcing boomerang of intermingled shadow-dimensional power screamed his way.

    It aimed to cut directly through the golden ray, but the ray changed, ever so slightly. It's trajectory shifted just a few centimeters - enough to allow a single, slender bolt to slither passed.

    Lina was exhausted. Her last-ditch effort had failed. Her grim face was starkly lit by golden light as Lan Jue's attacks overwhelmed her. The ring was consumed by a booming explosion.

    "Winner: 315."

    Lan Jue stood on the field, his clothes sticky with sweat. If only she knew! If Lina hadn't had gone off half-cocked like she did, there was a good chance she could have won. It would have even left a mark. That final blast of power was lethal. The ancient power of blood joined with Discipline... she didn't want to win, she wanted to kill him! If that had landed even years of bed rest wouldn't have seen a full recovery. Determination was putting it lightly!

    Lina lay on the floor, drained. His parting gift had been that final bolt of lightning, which leached away what remained of her exhausted Discipline. She got to her feet, but just barely. She fixed Lan Jue with a murderous glare, then on shaky legs, turned and left.

    Lan Jue rubbed his mask. Damn, what did I do to earn that kind of hatred? If looks could kill...

    What he didn't know was the emotional state Chu Cheng had put her in. She was confused, angry, embarrassed. This masked man couldn't know how hard it was for her to show up today and compete. He definitely didn't know her secret desire to face Chu Cheng again. Her dreams of redeeming herself by humiliating Chu Cheng were dashed by this stranger. He'd stolen revenge from her.

    Lan Jue had no idea. Chu Cheng, though, had an inkling.

    Hade's descendant trotted after Lina. It was fine, he assured himself, since his fight wasn't until later. He couldn't give up an opportunity like this.

    "Lina... are you alright?" He swept around her to block her path.

    "None of your business." Lina slapped his hand away and walked on.

    It wasn't hard for Chu Cheng to see the bright red streak of blood on her pale face. He wanted to say something but she didn't give him the opportunity. He could only follow.

    They proceeded to the exit of the arena, where Lina slipped out through a gate. Chu Cheng attempted to follow, but was blocked by a robot attendant. "Competitors who leave the arena grounds will forfeit their match!"

    Chu Cheng froze in his tracks. Lina looked back just long enough to shoot him a glare full of loathing before stomping off.

    A few steps later she heard something from behind her.

    "I forfeit."

    Linda suddenly felt like her body was very light, a though a gust of wind could blow her away. There was a yelp of surprise, then a pair of strong arms were holding her up by her waist. She looked over to see Chu Cheng's concerned and handsome face looking down at her.

    Did he really forfeit?

    Her wide eyes searched his for a minute before she blurted out, "Idiot! What are you thinking, giving up? You represent the Northern Alliance! You're as thick as alpaca manure!"

    "It was for you," Chu Cheng answered. He smiled then said, "I guess being thick is worth it. The North has a bunch of other strong Adepts to take my place - they don't need me. You're hurt, let me take you home. The tournament doesn't matter."

    With that, he took a long step across the boundaries of the sports arena.

    Lina felt... complicated. She just watched the man give up his chance at fabulous riches, and at his power maybe even the top spot. He really didn't want all of that?

    As they walked on, Chu Cheng began to relay a story. "Yesterday, after I left, I thought a lot about what you said. And you were right... I'm a shameless playboy. I've been with many women, and I've enjoyed every moment. When I was with them I was happy, I loved them. When I was young I always yearned for that perfect, beautiful thing. I would accept nothing but the most beautiful woman. I tricked myself in to thinking it was charity. But as time went on I began to notice things. When the infatuation and excitement would invariably go, I could see that a beautiful face didn't always mean a beautiful soul."

    "I was lost, but gradually I began to understand what I really wanted. Now I won't deny my love for beauty hasn't diminished - that exists in the hearts of all men. Still there needed to be more. I needed to see the goodness of them, the beauty of their heart and not just their bodies. Only that kind of woman could I ever love forever. I've experienced a lot... seen it all. Maybe tomorrow you'll leave and I'll never see you again. Maybe we'll get married in a whirlwind ceremony. Either way, that's tomorrow. It starts now, if you give me a chance. Let me get to know you, because I need someone to cause trouble with long term. My playboy days are over."

    "But, I'm in the West," she stuttered, "and you're in the North. Then there is the little matter of our family's mutual hatred.
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