Written by Tinalynge & Blue Jay
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The nine princes of the Demon Empire were well known across the continent. Perhaps the places that didn’t know of them were so few that at this point, if anyone had a vague dream of achieving greatness, it was a vision most likely connected to the nine Demon Princes of the Demon Empire.
Of course, it depended on the kind of dream. If they felt like challenging them and becoming stronger than them on their own, they were welcome to, as nobody would tell them not to try. But many wanted to take the slightly easier route and be recognized and taken in because the benefits from serving one of the princes were immense.
That was the case with Fang Mu as well, a sixth layer Qi cultivator in the Cloudsoar Royal Academy. His cultivation level, if roughly compared to Luo Xiao’s, was lower, yet he was known throughout the academy as a true black horse, perhaps second only to Luo Xiao himself.
Fang Mu came from the outskirts of the Demon Empire and was obviously a demon himself. As his soul wasn’t suitable for being a soul cultivator, he had chosen to become a Qi cultivator and was quickly discovered to be a true genius of the sword.
Fang Mu had been recognized by many strong sword masters across the Demon Empire, with almost all of them wanting to take him under their wing, yet almost all of them were declined as the young demon only had one master he was willing to bow his head to – the Second Demon Prince.
The Second Demon Prince, Jiang Da, most likely would never advance another stage in his cultivation anymore. He had hit the limits of his potential a long time ago, but seemingly never hit the limits when it came to the way of the sword.
He was known as the Divine Sword Prince across the continent, seemingly of the weaker princes and yet able to shine in his own way. But his figure was elusive and it was also known that he was of the neutral factions in Cloudsoar City. Jiang Da had simply given up on the throne as he knew in direct combat with most of his brothers, he would never be able to win. Instead, he had decided to just focus on the sword and see how far he can understand and refine his mastery of the blade.
His faction was pretty small, but considering it basically consisted of sword fanatics, it was still something. And sword fanatics were scary when angered – stories still went around Cloudsoar City about the many times some poor lad accidentally angered someone from the faction and proceeded to be chased out of the city with at least a hundred different sword energies following him.
The Divine Sword faction, literally just named after the prince himself as sword fanatics weren’t the most creative kind in terms of names of anything aside from sword techniques, was closed off to the public. All of its members were well known and respected, especially considering it was almost a guarantee they had direct contact with the Second Demon Prince.
Fang Mu’s dream was to be recognized by Jiang Da and taken in as a disciple. He knew that the eight demon princes were watching the competition and he knew that it was the best chance he could use to impress them. So he truly showed the best of his ability, fighting and defeating people so far with as if seemingly no problem, becoming one of the dark horses of the competition. But now, his opponent was Luo Xiao, another true dark horse he shouldn’t underestimate.
As the two of them walked on the stage, their eyes met – Luo Xiao with his seemingly calm composture and Fang Mu’s expression, which seemed to be like a sharpened sword itself.
Immediately Luo Xiao became much more serious than before, suddenly aware that despite the apparent lower cultivation base that the other’s qi showed, his posture and gaze spoke to him that he was much stronger than he appeared.
The two said no words at each other – it simply wasn’t necessary. As soon as both of them were given the signal to start, Luo Xiao’s soul energy started coiling around him, giving him the protective shield of the Black Pagoda Art Fang Mu, on the other hand, simply unsheathed his sword, pointing it at Luo Xiao, as if challenging him.
“Come at me!” His gaze spoke, confident and aloof but not underestimating Luo Xiao. Fang Mu knew that the boy in front of him was unfathomable, therefore was both cautious and confident.
He was wary of Luo Xiao and confident in his own skill, despite his cultivation base being arguably lower.
The two stared at each other in silence, like two wolves eyeing each other, before, just as Fang Mu had wanted, Luo Xiao attacked first.
He simply thrusted his hand forward, making a part of his soul energy form into the Soul Reaping Palm which quickly shot at Fang Mu. He was testing the waters, wanting to know whether Fang Mu would be a difficult opponent or not since most of his previous ones were dumb enough to just try to get in close range and get hit with his abilities in point blank.
That’s where Fang Mu proved to be difficult. He chose to face the Soul Reaping Palm face on, lifting his sword and very quickly slashing down, a bright sword energy and a clean humm resonating throughout the arena. His sword had seamlessly cut through the Soul Reaping Palm!
Luo Xiao’s eyes went wide before focusing back on Fang Mu. Nobody had been able to counter his attacks in such a fashion before.
“Amazing…” he muttered softly, a bit curiously looking at the sword Fang Mu held before back at the youth himself.
The demon and blade seemed like one, waiting for Luo Xiao to attack again. Clearly, he was waiting for Luo Xiao to come closer first, perhaps hoping to catch him off guard. In the end, one couldn’t tell what could happen, especially since Luo Xiao had never fought a sword enthusiast like Fang Mu.
Most Qi cultivators simply fought with their fists or Qi abilities. He had after all witnessed it plenty of times that weapon users, at least with the young cultivators like him, were a bit rarer to find.
Luo Xiao’s soul energy suddenly ruffled up again, forming a couple Soul Reaping Palms that he quickly send shooting at Fang Mu, his eyes now clear and serious, no longer curiously looking at the demon.
Yet a blink before those palms reached Fang Mu, he effortlessly moved his sword and the sword hum was heard again, slicing all of the Soul Reaping Palms into loose soul energy that gently fell apart.
Fang Mu shook his sword and finally attacked back, suddenly running closer to Luo Xiao. The sword hum turned sharp and clear, almost resounding like a sword hymn, yet not quite there, and an abrupt sense of danger made Luo Xiao gasp.
This was something he had to defend, he couldn’t take it head on! If that sword could hut soul energy, he quickly deduced that he had to avoid it, especially since he didn’t want to use the Stalwart Shield Defense this early on in the fight.
His body moved barely fast enough to escape the silent strike of the sword, the blade hitting empty space as Luo Xiao ducked and jumped away at the same time, landing a few feet to the side, his eyes wide with caution.
The blade of the demon did not hesitate as it suddenly swerved to the side, forcing Luo Xiao to once more run, the two of them chasing each other as if to no avail around the arena. And despite not actually being able to hit Luo Xiao as the other seemed to dodge just barely in the nick of time, Fang Mu was getting closer and closer every time, quickly predicting where the other would go, the hum of his blade getting sharper and sharper.
This movement was Fang Mu’s Striking Sword Steps, something that someone without an understanding of the sword could never user. It was one of the most basic techniques for a sword user, thus most cultivators who used a sword only got the basics down before just moving on to stronger techniques.
But Fang Mu was different. As he had never wished to accept a master other than Jiang Da, he had refused guidance from any other sword geniuses and had dedicated himself to studying the blade alone. Thus, he had no choice but to use the most basic techniques for such a long time he had basically understood them to the point of being able to utilize them while asleep.
What made him stronger than most other sword users was the understanding of the blade he had managed to reach with just those techniques.
Luo Xiao felt that. Despite no actual aggression from Fang Mu, his determination and the certainty with which his blade seeked out to strike him was beyond visible, and he knew it would catch up even if he kept running and dodging it.
So he suddenly turned around, his soul energy boiling around him as he chose to truly just go all out before the chance was taken from him.
Thousands of shining spheres, all formed from his spiritual energy, suddenly glistened all around the arena as Luo Xiao felt his spiritual energy quickly drain, but he didn’t care. He had to take the chance before it was taken away from him!
“This-!” Fang Mu almost cursed out loud, mainly because it took him by surprise, but his shock didn’t last long. He knew that if he wanted to win against that ability, he also had to go all out!
Quickly, he lifted his sword high in front of him, Qi swirling around him. As he was holding it gently, the sword hum intensified as if a thousand fold, the blade vibrating before it suddenly shone brightly as well. And then, just as the brilliant sword energy began colliding with the shooting stars from Luo Xiao’s Devouring Starry Sky, a loud, crisp and clear sword hymn echoed across the arenas, making an incredible amount of people to look over, including more than just one of the eight princes sitting at their royal seats.
And then an enormously loud boom echoed just as a piercingly blinding flash of light took over the arena where Luo Xiao and Fang Mu were fighting, followed by a large dust cloud.
By the time the dust dissipated somewhat to let people see what had happened, Luo Xiao was kind of standing in such a pose that if he had to dash away it would be easy. His eyes were wide as his hair and clothes looked slightly dusty and disheveled and his breathing was irregular from having used so much spiritual energy at once.
Meanwhile, Fang Mu was leaning on his sword, which was stabbed into the ground, his breathing heavy. Clearly, he was in about the same state as Luo Xiao.
The two, after a long moment of silence, stared at each other. The battle seemingly wasn’t done as Luo Xiao prepared to use one of his weaker attacks in case Fang Mu would attack.
And then, “I give up.”
Luo Xiao looked at Fang Mu in surprise, clearly not expecting the strong youth to concede.
In return, he got a slight smile and a soft sigh as Fang Mu shrugged, pulled his sword out of the ground and walked off, looking somewhat dissatisfied with himself but overall quite happy he had gotten this far.
Luo Xiao stood there somewhat in a light daze as he was announced the winner of the match, before making sure to remember Fang Mu’s face.
He was actually quite interested in making friends with the boy now, after having fought him and feeling like he had an idea of what he was like. Only, who knew when the two would meet again.
Luo Xiao sighed to himself before getting off the stage.