Chapter 432: The Group Situation

    Chapter 432: The Group Situation

    The flashing stopped. One, two, three, four; four golden numbers appeared around clusters of portraits each. These were the groups for the next round.

    Group One: Titan, Ji Mu, Bing Yu, Zeus

    Group Two: The Pharmacist, Jiang Yuan, Chi Tianjiao, Qian Bian

    Group Three: Yan Ningya, the Driver, Cao Shuiqin, Jun Yongye

    Group Four: Constantine, Xuanyuan Shishi, Windshadow, Blackmoon

    Lan Jue's face was hidden beneath the mask, but the pupils of his eyes contracted when he saw who he would be facing. He couldn't stop his eyes from turning to the mountainous man who sat nearby. This wasn't the worst group Lan Jue couldn't gotten, but it was close.

    Defeat was a real possibility, with the Wolf King and Titan as his opponents. However, the tide of competition had washed away all but the strongest challengers. He wasn't the only one bemoaning his luck, to be sure. In fact, none of the Avenue denizens had to fight one another, so the end result was good for them.

    The Terminator's thunderous voice filled the arena. "The groups have been chosen. We will have a day of rest for our fighters to prepare. Afterwards, the tournament shall resume."

    The news was a clear shock to several of the competitors. Others were clearly careful to hide their reactions from their peers. Giving them a day was giving them time. Time to study up on their foes and develop strategies. Members of a group were at an advantage since they had access to a pool of knowledge to help hone their approach. Whatever the case, the quarter-finals were sure to be spectacular. They would have to fight for every inch, and use every advantage.

    Only the best from each team would advance to the semis. Each competitor would have three tries max to advance, so they had to fight their hardest for each point. Any loss might mean the difference between getting to the semi-finals or going home.

    When Lan Jue got back to his hotel room, a message was waiting from the Gourmet. There would be a meeting tonight to discuss the tournament, so the afternoon was left to him to prepare and research. Research was precisely where the Accountant would thrive. With his intelligence, skill set, and the wealth of the Avenue's knowledge behind him, they would be swimming in data.

    Lan Jue did not spend part of the afternoon in cultivation, and with research handled he elected to take time with Jun'er. They wandered and played while she wore the helmet, happily taking it all in. With her discipline yet to fully reveal itself, she looked like any other happy child.

    When the sun came down they went back and had dinner with the Pharmacist. Afterwards, they all went to the conference room the Gourmet had rented out.

    By the time they got there, everyone had already arrived and were locked in intense discussion. Most of it as the Accountant, who was veritably vomiting words on anyone who would listen.

    "It's not that simple with Cao Shuiqin. She's listed as only sixth rank, but all of her previous fights and the data I've dug up suggests she's much stronger- Hey! Why hello there gorgeous lady!" the Accountant stopped when he spied Jun'er. He hopped over with an impish smile.

    Jun'er returned the devious smirk. "Hello Uncle Accountant."

    He went on with sweet countenance. "Call me Big Brother, I've told you a million times! I'm not old like your father."

    Lan Jue grinned at the banter, then muttered something to him under his breath.

    The Accountant's eyes went wide. "What?" He balked. "No way. You're messing with me."

    "Would I joke about something like this?" Lan Jue asked coolly.

    "Right," he answered. "My mistake. Well let's get to work! Time to plan countermeasures. I've been busy all afternoon - I am such a reliable guy. So hurry up, stop loitering about. We're all here so let's get started!"

    The others looked curiously at Lan Jue. They were keen to know what the Jewelry Master had said to get such a response from the Accountant. Of course, Lan Jue failed to explain and left it at that. He walked to a seat and fell in to I, placing Jun'er on his lap.

    The Gourmet nodded at the Accountant, indicating that they would start. "Tell them what you've learned. Focus on the members of the other teams."

    "Very well." The Accountant's persona shifted noticeably. His usually irritating and abrasive nature was replaced with a scholarly air that surprised everyone in the room.

    His eyes went first to Lan Jue. "The quarter-finals consist of four teams, and the contestants are all formidable fighters. We'll start with group one. It consists of Titan, Ji Mu, Bing Yu and Zeus - our Jewelry Master."

    The group grew quiet. Everyone wanted to learn more about Lan Jue, even those who weren't participating in the Tournament. The fact that he rose so high made him an outstanding Adept, and young. Those who weren't fighting could still watch, and having background information would make it more interesting.

    "I've also made my determinations who I think will advance." He stopped and gave the Lan Jue a quick look, then went on. "Titan will be the winner from the first group."

    "I looked around for a long time but could only find a little information about him. Most of it has been deleted or misplaced, so the information I have had to be pieced together."

    "He's stronger than the Jewelry Master?" The Driver asked.

    The Accountant nodded without the slightest hesitation. "Unless he has any more tricks up his sleeves, I don't think he has any more than a fifty-fifty shot."

    The Accountant's certainty surprised the Avenue delegation. Although he was ordinarily full of hot air, in these matters he was deadly serious.

    Lan Jue nodded. "Alright, go on."

    The Accountant obliged. "From what I could gather, Titan is the Terminator's own disciple and the single successful result of a program to build potential Paragons. His specialty is physical force. Ninety percent of him has been replaced with high-tech machinery. Everything except his brain is made from metal. And he's a ninth level, ninth ranked Talent. It's very likely that, at his level, he has a fair knowledge of protogenia. Since its use is forbidden in the tournament, you can expect him to use the full force of his Discipline."

    "If I had to pick a single person I thought would win the championship, it would be him. A lot of people look down on his Discipline as simple, but that would be a mistake. Any power trained to perfection could be terrifying. I did some basic calculation after his last fight, and the power output he displayed was twice the stopping power of a loaded mech suit. I only had my eyes to gauge, but I suspect he used about a third of his entire energy stores in those attacks. Remember, that all of this is without considering that he may have some other hidden functionality we aren't aware of. Direct force isn't going to work against him, so you only have two paths to victory. The first is to outlast him. The second, is to focus all of your power in a single point, at a single moment, and hope it's enough to penetrate his shields. From there the target should be either his head, or his Core located in his chest."

    "It's fair to say Titan isn't even really human anymore. He is a product of the North's technology machine, and it's clearly much more advanced than anyone had imagined. I actually managed to hack in to their military supercomputer. I only had three seconds before they found me, but I managed to find something. The amount of money they put to their Paragon-building program was enough to build a mothership. This is much larger than their human-weapon programs from the past 1."

    "I also managed to come across an interesting bit of information, from three years and seven months ago. It said they'd successfully concluded research on something called 'ferrocytotropism'. In short, it's designed to attract iron from the body to replace the cell membrane's phospholipid bilayer. It also slows their metabolism, but the trade-off is incredible strength and resilience. My estimations put them at two months passed launch of this program now. I think all of these are connected."

    The Gourmet face was grave as the Accountant gave the report. If this was true and the North had found a way to manufacture Paragons, it would be an historic event. But while it would be a tremendous leap forward for 'humanity', it would almost certainly also spell ruin for the West and East. If there came a day when the Northern Alliance was able to reliable create power like this, no one could stop their domination. Unification would be inevitable, and weapons of mass destruction would freely roam the galaxy.

    1. Remember that Ke'er is a product of this program, which was the reason she was saved by Lan Jue and ultimately became his Amazon.
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