Chapter 419: Pressure; the Core’s Catalyst

    Chapter 419: Pressure; the Core's Catalyst

    The roaring forest of lightning eventually restrained itself. The origin of that terrible attack - Lan Jue - shimmered as the last bolt of lightning faded. He looked at the dark yellow light where his opponent stood.

    122's aura of protection extended about two meters in all directions. However, with the onslaught finished the manifestation of the girl's power explode every which way like a sudden sandstorm. It covered everything in a rich mustard yellow, and even she vanished so as to be indistinguishable from the dirt of the arena floor. Everything was flooded with the Earth element, which deepened its color even further 1.

    The young girl's perky and playful persona had vanished along with nearly everything else. Even the audience could feel the waves of energy pouring from the ring. However, Lan Jue did not react. He remained suspended in the soupy yellow air while errant tendrils of electricity coiled around him. The audience could spot him through the haze, but if they didn't know any better they might mistake him for a spectator. He didn't move or react, just... floated. They would all be running if they could feel the crushing pressure he felt.

    The tension came from both the sky above and the earth below. It squeezed him from both directions and left him with nowhere to go - the turkey slice in a very unfortunate sandwich.

    Not bad! Lan Jue mused. Thankfully the girl in yellow didn't appear capable of reading thoughts, or she'd have crushed him in to dust for his unspoken insolence.

    It was true, he felt pretty great. It wasn't because of his clear domination of the fight, but indeed because he could feel... something. It seemed like the Pharmacist was right - having to fight his way back to his former power levels had helped strengthen his foundation. He doubted there were many at his current rank that could boast the same.

    What Adept would willingly give up their Discipline, even for the promise of future success? Not many. There was maybe only one in a million with that kind of resolve and mental fortitude. There was a great deal of guess work on the process, and he was lucky to have only dropped to first rank. Not many could afford the risk.

    Lan Jue's case was different. It was like fate had determined this course for him. It was the only explanation for how he ended up in this situation. He knew the Pharmacist was right because of the differences he felt - differences he hadn't noticed until she had explained it to him. Now it was unmistakable, and present every time he trained with Qianlin.

    The makeup of his core had undergone subtle changes since the binding. Before, he could describe his core as a solution of condensed electric molecules. Now it was as though someone drained away the fluid, and all that was left were those pure molecules. He felt purer, more stable. It wasn't an obvious change, easy to miss, but now that he knew where to look he could always see it.

    He could see how this effected his max potential. He was stronger than before, more capable. As with anyone else's cultivation process, however, progress came through bitter training - or, bitter experience. This sort of motivating discomfort was best when it came from combat experience, and could only really be obtained through combat against someone roughly one's own level.

    This girl was weaker than he, but her Discipline was unique. Earth-type Adepts specifically had very powerful defenses and had a stronger crushing force than any other power. There was nowhere to run, so Lan Jue had no choice but suffer the pressure directly.

    In a real fight Lan Jue couldn't have stood around like this. The idea would be to prevent your enemy from having any opportunity to counter attack. However, Earth Adepts were known for their relatively slow nature, and Lan Jue's advantage in the area didn't need to be affirmed.

    But why not abuse it? Because he liked when his enemy pulled out all the stops. This girl was showing her true strength, and that was what Lan Jue appreciated. He was a little busy, but if someone were to ask how he felt in that moment, he'd have a simple answer; perfect.

    The whole ring began to shake. The girl fixed Lan Jue with an imposing glare, likely biding time. Earth Adepts were slow, but if they had time to prepare an attack than it made then infinitely more dangerous.

    The man suspended in air left the girl with a very strange impression. She'd never met Zeus but knew him by reputation. She expected, considering his status, to lose quite quickly to the Mercenary king. However, instead he had allowed her to employ her full strength. Could he be that self-confident? Did he think he could shrug off everything she had to throw at him?

    122 clenched her jaw as the thought of his suspected conceit wormed through her mind. Somewhere deep in her chest her Core flared, but all Lan Jue saw was the sudden and violent expulsion of her Discipline. That familiar crush resumed, stronger than before. He could feel his bones creaking.

    Still he did not move. In utter stillness he focused on the changes in his own Core. As the outward pressures increased he watched the blue-purple energies condense in to a gloriously shimmering gold. The pale force encompassing it did not change, though its color dimmed the golden power that tried to expand outward.

    The interior of his Core also seemed different. He'd since felt the purity of his Discipline compared to before, but now it seemed even more concentrated. Like it was morphing.

    Yes, that's what it felt like! Lan Jue was overjoyed - losing this fight would be well worth it. If he was right, then the benefits of these changes would be reaped when he got back to the Avenue.


    Qianlin sat within the audience, far from the arena. Still she could also feel her own Core reacting through her connection to Lan Jue. As he was suffering the effects of 122's Discipline, so was her own Core. The changes were smaller and more subtle than Lan Jues', but were noticeable nonetheless.

    The Morning Star sat beside her. She was caked in make-up and hidden beneath an enormous sunhat to hide her identity. Large, dark sunglasses hid most of her face. In all it resulted in a near complete transformation from pirate queen to little rich girl. The Pontiff himself could walk right by her and be none the wiser. Metatron sat a few dozen meters away and hadn't the slightest idea.

    Now that her Discipline had returned mostly to normal, she had no more desire to be cooped up in her hotel room. Today she decided to join them at the arena for the games. For your average attendee finding tickets at this point was as likely as turning in to an alpaca. But they had the advantage of being friends with Chu Cheng.

    Xiaosu darted a glance toward Qianlin. Now that they were so close she could feel the waves of energy coming off of her. He spotted her eyes, which although open were staring blankly straight ahead.

    What was she thinking?

    Xiaosu turned her eyes back to the tournament grounds, and continued to wonder why Lan Jue refused to fight back. Her guess was her new Master aimed to goad his opponent in to using all of her power. Once she was drained and committed he would turn it around to finish her.

    Boom -! The building anticipation reached a fever pitch as her attack finally burst forth.

    It started on the ground. Towering obelisks of stone clawed upwards. They pointed at odd angles like a mouth of rotten teeth. Yellow light poured from their jagged crowns, each of which pointed squarely at Lan Jue. He could feel the gravity around him begin to change.

    122 wasn't a gravity Adept, but her Discipline was earth. Gravity was a result of mass, so she had a certain measure of mastery over it as well. If her eventual destiny was to reach Paragon, than gravity manipulation would be a staple of her personal Domain.

    None of this was a surprise to Lan Jue, even as the crushing force of gravity increased. The air around him warped oddly as though viewed through a veil of heat. Flashes of earthy yellow blinked and vanished all around. He first heard the whistling, which turned in to a roar as boulders the size of watermelons came screaming toward Lan Jue from overhead.

    The first few in sight weren't overly large but larger ones - many over a square meter - quickly followed. It was a meteor shower that encapsulated the whole ring. Lan Jue had nowhere to go.

    The falling stones and reaching stalagmites gleamed with a yellow aura. The force of pure earth elemental energy was empowering them. Common knowledge stated that Earth Adepts, if given enough time, could shatter planets. Lan Jue felt that to be an accurate assessment. Up or down, nowhere was safe.

    This was punctuated when suddenly the stalagmites ripped themselves from the earth, and launched at Lan Jue like terrifying javelins.

    He had nowhere to go, instead dodging the spikes and boulders as they came. He was so quick that he could barely be seen slinking through the tiny gaps between the stones. But with every stone he sidestepped, he could feel the gravity getting stronger. It made him sluggish, and slow.

    A meteor the side of his chest howled by when suddenly gravity changed again. He spun out of control just as another stone came right for him. He couldn't dodge - this one he'd just have to power through.

    That wouldn't work. Instead he fluidly pushed both arms out as the boulder came. It forced his body out of the way and sent the boulder spiraling. This was a benefit of his Taiji skills, which conditioned him to use gentleness against force for defense. He didn't even need to use his martial abilities.

    1. In traditional Chinese thought they believe the entire universe to consist of five elements; fire, earth, metal, water and wood. Each one corresponds to a set of things which they considered to be representative of the element. Fire, for instance, is action, North, summer, and red. Yellow is the color for Earth. Some of the other aspects associated with the Earth element are; sweet flavor, late summer, the center, anxiety and pensiveness, the spleen and stomach, singing, and a certain aspect of the soul.
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