Chapter 81: Ring of Blood
"What’s up with this? I thought I had the choice of not participating after winning the first battle," Xu Min mumbled to himself. He was sure the voice had said it was his own choice whether or not he would want to keep going, but now he had been forced into the second battle.
"Meager human, what do you know?" The voice boomed out once again. "Although you can choose to stop after the first battle, you just became stronger. Consequently, this is also considered your first trial. Every time you reach a new rank, you have to fight someone at your level before you can leave. Unless you have already defeated someone of the same strength."
"You already reached the fourth rank, thus you have to fight a four-star beast to leave. Only when you have defeated a four-star beast are you allowed to leave. Should you fight until you reach the rank of a five-star Warrior, then you have to defeat another five-star beast before you can leave. These are the rules you must abide by."
"Nonetheless, reaching the rank of a five-star Warrior would require you to at least reach the King tier. For a simple human, this cannot be easily managed." The voice snorted. Xu Min was left with more questions than answers. Was it possible to reach the rank of a five-star Warrior from this pagoda alone? Xu Min was astonished. It seemed that Ye Ling had brought him to a truly treasured location within the Immortal Valley.
Thinking for some time, Xu Min was sincerely excited, but worry suddenly gripped him. "I have limited time within this Immortal Valley. When my time is up, I will then be teleported out of here. Is it even possible to reach the King tier before I need to leave?" he asked the formless voice and received a snort in response.
"Of course you have time. The time within this Blood Pagoda flows differently from that of the outside. While you may have been in here for a full year, you will only be gone for a week in the outside world. Do not let these facts confuse you when it comes to the Blood Pagoda’s isolated world. You will not understand it unless you join the Guardians of the Immortal Valley later on."
Xu Min was instantly excited again. A full year was only one week? That meant he would have plenty of time to finish this Ring of Blood. Looking at the sword in his hands, he had full faith in himself in regards to fighting at least four-star and five-star beasts. Some six-star beasts were passable hurdles to him, while others would prove to be troublesome. For now, though, he was certain that he would be able to increase his strength tremendously.
Xu Min focused fully on the four-star beast after finally finishing speaking with the formless voice. He gripped tightly around the sword hilt in his hands.
Taking a deep breath and closing his eyes for a brief moment, Xu Min calmed himself. Although he was excited about the endless possibilities within this Ring of Blood, he could not take any of his opponents lightly. If he was too busy with his future fights, rather than the ones in front of him, he would very likely fall before reaching his goal.
Looking at the beast in front of him, Xu Min cleared his mind. He slashed down towards the beast in front of him. However, this Golden-Furred Blood Lion was much swifter than the one before it and, in an instant, dodged the slash, retreating several steps.
He was surprised at first, but then it dawned upon him. The beasts he was fighting were the ones who were considered talents in the Golden-Furred Blood Lion family clan. For it to have died in this Blood Pagoda, it was clear it had not died on the level that Xu Min was currently battling.
Not only was it capable of dodging Xu Min’s attacks, but it was also alert since its eyes were glued to his every move.
Xu Min focused fully on the Golden-Furred Blood Lion in front of him, neither even wondering why the difficulty had suddenly risen nor spending any time cursing the disembodied voice. Instead, his full focus was on this beast, each moment spent carefully considering his options.
His speed was not on par with the lion’s, but his advantage lay in the abundance of energy in his cultivation base. He knew he had more internal energy than this beast in front of him. Although he knew this, he was also fully aware that if he were the only one launching attacks, he would be the only one using up his internal energy. Upon using all of his internal energy, he would become a much easier target for the already dead, but still very conscious, beast in front of him.
"Come on then," Xu Min said as he, too, observed the lion. He decided to no longer attack it and rather waited to see what sort of move it would make. It could not avoid him forever.
Just as Xu Min took a defensive stance, the lion pounced forward, its sharp claws coming straight down at his chest with frightening speed. Xu Min had been prepared and raised his sword just in time to block this powerful attack, but it made him stumble backwards three steps before he finally managed to balance himself and stand his ground.
The lion was not willing to let him relax. As soon as it had attacked, it used the momentum from its first attack to launch a series of attacks. However, this time, the attack was slightly weaker, and Xu Min protected himself perfectly well. He stood his ground, ready to launch an attack.
Xu Min gritted his teeth and poured his internal energy into his sword. The Qi around his body started rising in heat as his determination spiked.
The elements within the Blood Pagoda were filled with the essence of the heavens and the earth. Feeling these energies enter his body, he once more entered a state where his entire body was one with the world around him. He had become one with the sword in his hand, one with the world, and one with the Qi that flowed through his meridians.
The energy in his body had become increasingly agitated and volatile under this process. Soon, it started to turn red, signaling that his body was about to be set aflame. Then actual flames burst forth from his body, inadvertently increasing both his perception and his strength.
He could easily dodge any attack that the lion threw his way with the smallest movement necessary. Having become one with the world surrounding him, it was as though the lion was moving in slow motion. Its every movement was so easy for him to predict that avoiding it required absolutely next to no energy. Looking at these flames, he remembered them from once before when he had been back at the Yong family compound. He had become one with the world then. Even so, it seemed as though the energy was slightly different. It was now much more potent.
The sword in his hand hummed. The flames on his body also covered the sword, and, at having entered this state, Xu Min chopped the sword downwards with all he had.
The sword drew an arc as natural as the flow of water in a gentle stream, as nimbly and as elegantly as the winter snowflake, and as aloofly as the tall, unyielding mountain.
This attack seemed as simple as any other attack he had ever performed, but it contained some beauty and profoundness that not many would be able to understand.
The lion was a rare talent from the Golden-Furred Blood Lion's family. However, it was still only a four-star ranked magical beast. How could it possibly understand the profound mysteries behind the sword stroke that Xu Min unleashed?
Although it wished to avoid it, it could not. It was as though the world around it had locked the lion in on the impending attack. It was impossible to move and, with fear in its eyes, it could feel how the sword slowly sunk into its body before its soul itself dispersed. Finally able to leave this god forsaken Blood Pagoda, it could once more enter the circle of reincarnation.
Although the battle had finished, Xu Min was standing in the middle of the platform. His eyes were closed, and the flames flaring up from his body seemed to have no ceiling to their intensity.
It was clear that the young man was gaining some insight into the aspect of becoming one with the world, but even so, there were rules within the Blood Pagoda. The formless voice once more spoke out to Xu Min.
"You have defeated the trial that has forcefully been placed upon you. Do you wish to continue onwards or leave this Blood Pagoda? If you wish to continue onwards, you have a moment to regain your energy."
The previous haughtiness in the voice had vanished. Instead, it was rather somber now. Xu Min paid no mind to the change in tone and nodded his head without opening his eyes.
"I wish to challenge the next step of the trial now!"
Xu Min was aware that he was in a stage of enlightenment, but he had also noticed that he had gained an understanding and insight during the battle. This insight came to him far swifter than when he was standing alone, trying to comprehend the mysteries of this strange domain.
Saying no more, two shadows appeared on the dueling platform and quickly took the shape of two Golden-Furred Blood Lions. They were both of the fourth rank, but they seemed lacking comparing to the one before.
Still, they were not to be looked down upon. Although they might be weaker, individually, they were now two beasts that could team up against Xu Min. Nonetheless, he was not worried at all.
His eyes were still closed as he felt in the air around him how the beasts were edging closer and closer. One was walking slowly, while the other was pouncing rapidly. One seemed to be on guard, almost timid, while the other was aggressive and eager to start the battle.
Having his eyes closed did not deter his ability to dodge. He did not need to see—all he needed was to dodge through feeling alone.
He gathered all the energy within his meridians. This time, he sent it all into the sword, causing the blade to turn completely white. Flames flickered off its edge and he severely injured the aggressive of the two with another one of his bizarre strokes of the sword, causing it to instantly retreat, whimpering as it tried to lick its wounds. A large gash had appeared on its chest, and death would have been a certainty it could not escape had it been a living creature of flesh and blood... However, for a soul, having the incarnation of its body almost split in two, it seemed, was not enough to 'kill' it.
The already timid lion seemed to become even more cautious than before. It paced around at the back of the ring of blood, baring its teeth but not taking the initiative to attack.
Xu Min finally opened his eyes, a flame burning within their depths. A smile spread on his lips as the dense energy of Heaven and Earth seemed to revolve around only him. The dense energy entered his body as though he had become a massive black hole that sucked up all the energy within the vicinity.
Xu Min swung his sword as he moved forward. It seemed as though he moved slowly, but every step he took covered a third of the platform. Reaching the wounded soul, it took but one attack for him to sever its head and allow it to return to the circle of reincarnation before he turned his sights on the remaining Blood Lion.
This was the most cautious one of their kind he had ever seen. He could not help but wonder how this lion had managed to lose its life within the Blood Pagoda, considering its cautious nature. He knew, however, that he would never get an answer. All he could do was focus on defeating this spirit and finishing the challenge he had been given. It took him only one attack, as the lion was too fearful to even fight back. This was of Xu Min's benefit right now. He understood that the next trial would be even tougher, having yet to experience truly facing two of the lions at once due to the cowardly from prior. Still, a smile was on his face as he sat down on the stone floor and started meditating. The benefits he had gained from this Blood Pagoda were already outstanding.