Chapter 423: Hades’ Falchion

    Chapter 423: Hades' Falchion

    Once, the hopes of the Hades family had rested on the Gourmet's shoulders. Love shattered those hopes. Now, all these years later, it wasn't anger that stopped him from going home. His shame was too great. It wasn't until he heard Chu Cheng's explanation, and after years of his own self-examination, that the Gourmet began to faintly understand his role in the lives of others. And even though there had been no attempted apologies from his family he didn't mind. Even now, as a Paragon, he didn't have the power to go back to a life with them. He'd lost that opportunity and desire long ago. Now Chu Cheng wore the mantle of the Hades legacy. He would go far, and help bring the Hades family back in to control of the world of darkness. That had been the Gourmet's task once, but now it passed to him.

    The rain of dagger strikes weakened. It was a deadly assault, but hard to maintain. Chu Cheng prevailed through it and came out stronger. His nefarious presence was so intense the audience feared it'd split the ring's force field.

    Chu Dong found himself by the ring, injecting his power in to the gemstones that managed the shields. Much like the Gourmet, he was completely absorbed in the fight. Whereas the Avenue Paragon was tied by blood, Chu Dong was the patriarch of the Hades bloodline. No one had more stake in this fight than he did. What the Paragon saw he did as well, and clearer. He knew his son's capabilities very well, and although he didn't show his rascal son a lot of outward affection, Chu Cheng was his pride and joy.

    He was aware of his son's antics, of course. How could he not be? But where many just saw a playboy squandering his life, Chu Dong knew just how much blood sweat and tears Chu Cheng put in to his cultivation practices. He was permitted to relax because he earned it. One iron fist and one helping hand, that was Chu Dong's way, the way that he had learned from his father. In reality Chu Cheng hadn't ever done anything to really let them down, so he turned a blind eye to a lot of his childish forays.

    From the sidelines he carefully analyzed the situation. When his son had first been set against the Pharmacist, his face had drawn tight in despair. Now, though, he saw the opportunity.

    He'd watched his son walk to the field and he couldn't help but break in to a wide smile. He saw how proud and valiant he looked, ready to face the challenge. The Hades patriarch was satisfied; his son was a mighty representative for their family. Their future would be bright.

    Now again he smiled and watched as the power of the Hades bloodline threatened to break from the ring. There was still anxiety, for he knew that this woman was the strongest opponent his son had ever faced. He didn't know how strong she was, or precisely what her powers were, but she was certainly a daunting foe. How hard she pushed him would affect how quickly he could comprehend protogenia, he was sure.

    Now was his time to strike! He could feel Chu Cheng releasing ever greater waves of power that threatened to sweep him up as well. Just when it seemed like the ring couldn't handle anymore, Chu Cheng's body went transparent, like he was carved out of crystal. The grey mist that surrounded him became clear as he pierced the net of blade strikes and immediately appeared in front of the Pharmacist.

    It was so fast and fierce that only a few spotted the short sword in Chu Cheng's hand. It's blade looked like grey crystal that had been carved to a razor's edge. That weapon housed his focus, and his determination. His will made real.

    The Pharmacist stood still as though she did not see him before her. The golden dagger was still. In all her previous fights she hadn't needed to move, and relied on the speed and power of the golden dagger to win the matches for her. This fight was the first time anyone had gotten close enough to be a threat.

    CLANG! A squealing cry rang out, a hundred times louder than their first encounter. Chu Cheng's crystal-grey figure went soaring away, and the force of their collision separated the falchion from his hand. The sword buzzed hideously as it was separated from its host, and Chu Cheng quickly thrust forward to get it back in his grip. It was the only thing between him and obliteration. A streak of fresh red blood ran down his grey hand.

    Although most weren't able to see what exactly had happened, Chu Cheng sure had. It shocked him.

    From the moment he'd learned his opponent was the Pharmacist, he'd been building power. Lan Jue's words had inspired his fighting spirit, and he was determined to put as much of his spirit and will in to the fight as possible. He would hone his will and bring it to bear from beginning to end.

    Were one to give an Adept's energy levels a numeric equivalent, then it could be said that employing even seventy percent of one's energy in a fight was difficult to do. One hundred percent would require unparalleled levels of will and concentration. A hundred and twenty percent would need outside help.

    Chu Cheng had never felt stronger when he delivered that blow. But despite that he had only succeeded in making the Pharmacist sway. She didn't even lose her footing and he was blasted away.

    Why that happened, only the two Paragons and the Pharmacist herself knew completely. The result of the discover was clear in the Terminator's blank expression and the shocked look in the Gourmet's eyes.

    The dagger had been very quick to act in her defense, but the Pharmacist's tranquil exterior never cracked. It was in that fraction of a second when he appeared before her face that she moved, just a little. She opened her small mouth, and from it a piercing light shot forth. What in the world that power was even they didn't know, they were too far to see clearly. It was this light - not her dagger - that had repelled Chu Cheng.

    At last, the faintest hint of respect shone behind her cold eyes. Vestiges of that grey power flickered around her like specters clawing for her soul. Her golden dagger shuddered and swiped the air, sending eight sharp crescents spiraling through the air that cut the grey tendrils to pieces.

    Chu Cheng came to ground, staggering for half a step before regaining his footing. He took a deep heaving breath and stared at his opponent with eyes like grey whirlpools. He slowly extended a foot and placed his toe against the ground. The entire ring immediately felt lifeless and cold.

    He was off again like a beam of light. His charge looked just the same as his last failed attempt. In no time he was within striking range of the Pharmacist again. A flash of dull grey, aimed right for the center of her throat.

    Her dagger flashed up and clashed with the falchion, but the moment they collided all the light drained from it. The Pharmacist's dagger was infected with the same grey that choked the ring.

    Chu Cheng stopped, and an ashen figure separated itself from him. It looked exactly like he did, like his soul had torn itself from his body. Chu Cheng's living self was close on its heels as the spirit dashed toward the Pharmacist.

    She watched them come. Then, just before the moment of impact, the power within Chu Cheng bloomed outward by half again as much, and his cloudy sword released a shock wave of energy.

    Her right wrist flicked. and the corrupted dagger vanished form view. It reappeared a moment later in her hand, as bright as ever. A strange, feral cry like dragons could be heard filling the skies while under an explosion of golden luminescence the dagger grew in to a long sword. All of this happened in half the time of a lightning strike.

    She thrust out with her sword, and the point of her weapon met with the glinting ashen point of Chu Cheng's.

    The shuddering, bone-crunching crash resulted in the Pharmacist being pushed back half a step. However the grey light that was his power seemed drawn to the golden light released by her weapon. It looked as though her sword would swallow up the grey light around them.

    A strange shine flickered behind the Pharmacist's eyes. It was like they were covered in some strange reflective energy. Then there was a blast of intensity and another thunderous dragon's roar as her sword shuddered of its own volition.

    Her weapon wrenched itself free of her grip and began to twist. It warped until it was the massive figure of an ancient Chinese dragon. Chu Cheng's weapon was caught between its teeth. In the same instant she moved to avoid him, for the first time that anyone had witnessed. Seven steps, but they were strange and gave the onlookers an uncomfortably illusory sense. In a blink seven Pharmacists were in the ring.

    Chu Cheng lost his target but did not stop in his forward charge. As waves of pure death poured outward, he lifted his head and bellowed a terribly cry. His challenge hung in the air even as the man himself suddenly vanished. The grey sword remained, though imbued now with its bearer's power. It grew enormous, and flailed with a life of its own. A terrifying aura followed it, borne by an almost invisible grey hand.

    Chu Cheng's living weapon wrenched itself free and cut through the air like it was slicing the boundary between life and death. All the ended lives in all the history of man flashed in its faceted surface. Heaven and Hell were at war were the blade sang, here before everyone's eyes.

    The seven Pharmacist that had spread out at either side vanished, leaving just the real one, right in Chu Cheng's path. A smile spread across her pretty face. Her golden blade fractured in to a host of blazing motes. They gathered and pressed in to one another to form a shimmering starburst. Lights from the vanished copies arranged themselves before her in the shape of the Big Dipper. The world around them turned upside down, but the Pharmacist remained calm like a sage in the midst of the turmoil.

    Chu Cheng's sword had no way to approach, leaving them at a temporary stalemate.

    The Pharmacist lifted her hand again and paced her palm against the swell of her chest. Her soft lips fluttered as she repeated a mantra, saying it again and again. The seven stars swelled larger with every syllable and congealed in to seven separate golden blades. But that lasted only a moment before they gathered together to form one as large and imposing as Chu Cheng's. Once against the two swords met point to point in the blinding glare of the Big Dipper.
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