Chapter 438: Titan’s Power
Lan Jue nodded acknowledgement of Bing Yu. The woman known as Absolute Zero said nothing. She left without engaging him further – hostility was a normal reaction before a contest.
The waiting area had undergone another makeover, with even more luxuries than were provided earlier. No expense was spared for their comfort. Lan Jue took up position beside the Pharmacist and faced the field. Although he wasn’t participating in the first fight, he didn’t want to give up his opportunity to watch from the sidelines. It would undoubtedly help him in the games to come, if he got that far.
The Pharmacist smirked as he sat beside her. “Aren’t you the lucky one!”
“So it would appear,” Lan Jue replied. “Maybe Qi Mu will surprise us all.”
The Pharmacist’s brows rose. “Remember that in your next fight. Surprises go both ways. If we do see something this fight, though, it will help you quite a lot.”
He nodded. This was part of the reason why the Accountant had mentioned this pairing as the best situation. His best chance was against the next weakest person, after himself.
Only one person was going to make it through the group phase, and that meant that every fight was a life or death struggle. He had to win to advance, that was the only way. Even one loss would prevent him from getting the points he needed.
Even in the first fight there was no holding back. Especially with how strong Titan was, the Wolf King would need to use every trick up his sleeve to earn victory. Lan Jue was anxious to see how strong Qi Mu was, and how much punishment he could take. He needed to know for his own fight with Qi Mu later.
It was an advantage that didn’t always apply, though. If he had been the first one to fight Qi Mu it would have been him giving it all he had. Later in his fight against Titan, it also wouldn’t matter how well he knew his enemy. Zeus was going to have to dig deep no matter the circumstances.
But he wasn’t interested in riches, titles or reputation. His goal had always been only to better himself. The greatest gains came through the greatest tribulations, he knew, so he would fight his hardest for that reason alone. Progress through conflict. He was no different than the others here, young and talented Adepts who represented the great potential of the future.
His three year lapse in cultivation was not entirely a bad thing, either. It gave him time for the dust to settle, to absorb all that he had experienced. This was like a new start, and his road ahead looked blessed. It motivated his Discipline to keep improving.
Only Titan and Qi Mu remained on the field. The two commanding Adepts slowly separated, each going to one side of the ring. There, they waited for the match to begin. Titan seemed hardly motivated, whereas a sharp and dreadful light blazed in Qi Mu’s eyes.
Pressure was motivation. Qi Mu felt it as clearly as Lan Jue did. The fear and uncertainty had awakened his lust for battle.
Several dozen beams of light sprang to life with an electric buzz, cleaving through the air to meet at a point a hundred meters over the center of the ring. In the place where they met, a brilliant golden light bloomed to form the force field. It filtered down to encompass the battlefield, and only then dimmed in hue. Once it was in place, it could only be faintly seen. The audience could hardly notice it.
For the contestants it was different. All the sounds from inside could be heard by the audience, but for the fighters themselves, they were cut off from everything outside of their bubble. It was like their own world, completely isolated. The shield’s had clearly been upgraded for the quarter-finals, to prevent the chances of having them shatter mid-contest.
Mo Xiao’s voice called all eyes back to the viewing platform. “Your Majesty,” she said, addressing the Terminator, “what are your thoughts on the coming battle?”
The Paragon turned to answer. “Titan has trained in pure force. This has restricted him to a single path – direct. However, if a challenger seeks to win he has to at least meet Titan’s own energy levels and surpass them. Qi Mu is from the Dark Citadel, and is undoubtedly a formidable opponent. His abilities appear more balanced, but in reality he has also specialized more in strength. This is pure force against an impure imitation. The result comes down to simple common sense.”
Mo Xiao was somewhat taken aback. She hadn’t expected such an in-depth answer, nor his matter-of-fact assertion that his disciple would win. However, she was a professional and recovered quickly. “Right to the heart of the matter, Your Majesty! Let’s see what comes.”
The monitors in front of every spectator’s chair lit up with a clock face. The numbers flashed tantalizingly as a digitized voice began the countdown.
“Three. Two. One. Let the battle begin!”
“Aaaaahhh!” Qi Mu let loose a roar that drowned out the cries of the audience. In a blink his human form was lost beneath coarse fur and gnashing teeth. He dropped to all fours, bristling with murderous intent when a copper-gold light spread out from between his shoulders. The Wolf King grew larger, more regal as he immediately entered in to his second metamorphosis.
His choice was clear and correct. If he wanted a chance to put the whole of his strength to use, he needed it immediately. Restraint would win him nothing, and to prove that he raced forward like a golden bolt right for Titan.
The Northern contestant stood for a moment and watched the wolf come. The audience stared wide eyed and with baited breath, as Titan lifted one meaty leg. He slammed his foot forward one step to the gasps of the crowd. To them it was like watching a lofty mountain uproot. And then, the convert threw his whole body in to a straight punch!
“Wrrrummmm–!” The audience could see the force field flicker, and hear it crackle in protest. For a moment the whole stadium rumbled beneath their feet. Qi Mu stopped in the middle of his blitzkrieg, followed by a deafening screech.
The Wolf King immediately stopped his advance, and curled in on himself. The thick fur of his back stood straight, and he hugged in tight like a porcupine. When the inevitable shockwave of Titan’s punch finally arrived, he was thrown across the field like a football to smash against the far side of the force field.
Bang! Qi Mu struck the invisible shield then rebounded back toward Titan, even faster than before.
“What an ingenious defense!” Mo Xiao exclaimed.
Qi Mu was the first one since the start of the tournament to actually survive Titan’s punch. It was a cleverly devised plan that showed the Dark Citadel had done their homework.
The Terminator had been right in that no one could match Titan blow for blow in terms of direct force. However, balance had its advantages. At least in regards to agility, the Wolf King was clearly superior. Qi Mu used the benefits of his strength, leverage and tactical knowledge to give himself a chance. If he relied on speed and strength, he could dance circles around Titan. Qi Mu fired toward his enemy like a bullet. His right hand shot out as he passed, golden claws bared and set to tear the Convert’s head off.
Only seconds had passed between Qi Mu’s initial charge and his counter attack. Titan hadn’t even retracted his hand before those golden claws arrived.
At the last moment Qi Mu’s claws dropped, going right for Titan’s eyes.
The Terminator’s student had skin harder than titanium, but his eyes and his brain were his weak point. Qi Mu’s strategies must have taken this in to account. Going for the eyes was deliberate.
However, even though Titan could see the strike coming, he didn’t move. Like an indomitable mountain he remained rooted in place. His arm was still recoiling, but changed direction and swept outward toward his encroaching foe. His hand splayed out wide as though to swat the wolf away.
Qi Mu unfurled as he approached, summersaulting through the air to avoid Titan’s sweep. His vicious claws sliced through the air, still aimed for their target. It was an incredible display of skill, lauded for its clean execution despite the wolf’s towering figure. It took the spectators by surprise.
Qi Mu did not completely avoid the convert, though. His enormous arm swung with such force that a sonic burst followed and knocked Qi Mu off course. It looked as though his clever riposte would be avoided.
But just then, there was a sickening series of pops. The Wolf King’s arm stretched unnaturally before their very eyes, still groping wildly for Titan’s face.
Qi Mu had studied extensively, considered a myriad of possibilities he may encounter in the fight. He also knew his limitations. A window of just a few moments after the match’s start was all he had. He hadn’t started with any jukes, tricks or feelers. It was do or die. Qi Mu’s previously unused left hand reached out to slap the ground as he came to it, moments before his other arm started to extended unnaturally. Because of this everyone was focused on the claws, and were stunned when he suddenly shot up and changed direction. It was enough to land the blow, but he missed Titan’s eyes. His claws raked violently against the Northerner’s back.
Titan swung around from the force of Qi Mu’s swipe. The attack ripped away the clothes from his back, revealing the dark skin beneath. Five long, indented grooves appeared down his spine.
But that was all. For all of Qi Mu’s planning and execution, the best he could muster was still not enough to best Titan’s defense.