For a martial arts sect, reputation was extremely important. Losing signified lesser skills, and practitioners naturally gravitated toward stronger martial arts, rather than picking weak ones. In the case that the reputation of losing was to spread, White Cloud Gate would be finished.
All sects, regardless of size or strength, would not generally want to compete throughout the entire sect to conclusively determine the stronger sect. If met with such a situation, someone must be picking a fight.
The real strength rankings may be an open secret, but publicly determining it would be interfering with the livelihood of other sects. Such an action would invite lethal revenge.
So, Andrela instantly led some people over after Ni Tenstar was killed and challenged the headquarters of the Lucene Brotherhood to restore the reputation of Celestial Circle Gate. Externally, they could claim that Ni Tenstar was not fully trained in his martial arts and then prove that it was not the martial arts of Celestial Circle Gate that was weaker than the opponent's martial arts. Instead, it was due to the practitioner's own insufficiencies and inability to fully absorb his teachings.
Garen was clear about the consequences of this duel, but the other side must have learned the whereabouts of his family members and his master: it was an invisible threat. Killing a spy from the Manleyton Corporation was nothing since the whole company was merely their tool; it would not help solve the plight.
This was the power of Celestial Circle Gate: to be able to force their opponents to wait in place and accept the challenge.
"A sect which was able to survive until now must have challenged many other sects. That was probably how they obtained their collection of rare Secret Martial Art tomes. The low-grade sects which lost these challenges could not carry on locally, so their only choice was to leave their base and continue surviving somewhere else."
Garen recalled several things that his master Fei Baiyun had mentioned when he was giving him guidance in martial arts. One of them was about the reason the ancestors of White Cloud Gate moved overseas to the Confederation. After being challenged by a local expert and suffering defeat, all they could do was move away to a place where no one knew them and start from scratch. There was no way to keep the original dojo running once their poor reputation spread.
"If you want the break the reputation of White Cloud Gate, you'll have to get my permission first." Garen closed his eyes and started thinking about measures to counter a faster opponent.
"When he has attained a qualitative boost in his speed, my speed wouldn't be able to keep up. All I can do is maintain the status quo. As long as I determine the opponent's target of attack, regardless of how he changes, all I need is to protect myself. Defense is simple, but to be able to successfully attack the opponent will prove difficult. I can't keep up because he will be too fast and I can't enhance my Speed with Attribute Points anymore…"
Garen began envisioning a high-speed opponent attacking him from all angles and imagined possible counter moves and ways in which he could successfully attack his opponent.
"The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. And that aspect… Maybe I can figure out a way from these two aspects…" He moved his body slightly, then fell into deep thought again.
After a while, he got up and walked out to the yard. He stood silently still in front of the rockery pond.
Seven Moon Group.
Andrela calmly stood in the pale gray ring. The fine sword in his hand gave off the crisp sound of tinkling silver bells. The tip of the sword was vibrating swiftly and this created a sound like chimes fluttering in the night wind.
He quietly looked across at the group of people holding up the old man, who was dealing with his wounds.
"Seven Moon Gate, let me face your true expert. I have no patience to waste time with you."
The old man spat out fresh blood as he pointed at Andrela, trembling in fury.
Shia was supported by two disciples clad in black. He had blood all over his face and his right arm dangled gingerly from his shoulder as he stared fiercely at Andrela. Around him were Rampas—his face white as ash—and a group of middle-aged men and women clad in red. This group of people came from Red Obsidian Gate, had just arrived, and looked nervous. Some of them, who wielded daggers in their hands, were trembling slightly. They rushed over after they had gotten wind that Andrela had appeared to challenge, but the scene that greeted them was of the Seven Moon Gate Great Elder being stabbed by Andrela.
Everyone heard a clear ringing, followed by a flash. The Great Elder groaned as blood spurted out from his right chest and he collapsed to the ground. They did not even see how Andrela retracted his sword.
"Our strongest expert is Great Elder Kudo Slant! You are strong Andrela, far beyond our expectations. But if you intend to humiliate us with such a crude reason, we at Seven Moon Gate would rather fight you until the end than see you prevail!" Shia, the strongest of the younger generation at Seven Moon Gate, roared in fury.
"Humiliate?" Andrela waved his sword and the ringing stopped. "The path to the Dao is so difficult. Do you think I would devote my time to humiliate garbage like you?"
His looked like his usual self, with a serene glow in his eyes. But in a moment like that, serenity merely conveyed an ice-cold impression.
"Seven Moon Gate… What a disappointment…" He leapt out of the ring. Xin Luo and the other two stepped forward to keep up. "Forget it. I have wasted too much time. Let's go straight to Circling Dance Gate."
The Great Elder spat more blood out from his mouth. He initially wanted to say something, but was hindered by blood flowing back into his throat. He was so enraged that he fainted straightaway.
The faces of the Second Elder and the others were livid. Some were firmly held back by their peers, who were afraid to let go lest they walked to their deaths.
Andrela and the other three walked out of the Seven Moon building. An Elder from Celestial Circle Gate was waiting for them with some men outside.
"Settled." Andrela grinned.
"They were not comparable. Eldest Senior Brother settled it in minutes. Such garbage is only a waste of space," the girl beside Xin Luo said in contempt.
"Weren't you injured earlier, Iona? If Eldest Senior Brother hadn't interfered… Heh," a short boy snickered.
"At least I held my ground for a bit. What about you? A midget is indeed a midget. One blow and you were out of the ring."
"Let's go. Off to Circling Dance Gate." Andrela did not say more. He turned around and went into the car.
He held more and more sway now. One sentence and both of them were silenced. They separately got into the black car.
The onlookers from other sects waited until the car from Celestial Circle Gate drove off into the distance before starting frenzied discussions in clusters.
At the same time, a large group of people poured out from the entrance of the Seven Moon building. Shia, Rampas, and the rest were carrying the Great Elder who had just regained consciousness. There was also the group from Red Obsidian Gate led by their Sect Master.
"Come, let's go to Circling Dance Gate!" Shia snarled as he watched the black motorcade drive away.
Seven Moon Gate was different from other sects because they had a solid foundation as a group and would not be annihilated merely by a fall in reputation.
A white motorcade arrived and they boarded.
Rampas sat with his father, the Second Elder.
"Rampas, you were one of the disciples at the exchange gathering. What did you think of Garen from White Cloud Gate?" The Second Elder was a stern-looking middle-aged man with short black hair and white sideburns. He looked deeply troubled.
"Senior Brother Garen, he's a very powerful person," Rampas candidly recollected. "He has a strong Physique! He's the type that uses Strength as an advantage."
"The type that uses Strength as an advantage?" a trace of regret flashed across the Second Elder's eyes. "Unfortunately, I didn't take it seriously when you came to me, but Seven Moon Gate is not a plain martial arts sect. This defeat would cost us some loss at most, yet it wouldn't affect us too much. We don't rely on martial arts to support the entire group. Forget it. Since we've offended him, even though it's our fault, let's just put the matter to bed."
"But…!" Rampas seemed to want to continue, but was halted by his father.
"We at Seven Moon Group can't possibly humble ourselves and apologize to a plain martial arts practitioner. You do not understand the Great Elder. If it were up to me, I would be willing to do it. But the Great Elder has the authority now. Even if he knew that he was wrong, he wouldn't apologize," the Second Elder sighed. "He is a man who would rather die than admit fault."
Rampas was speechless. A surge of indignation pent up inside him without release.
Horse carriages from other sects trailed the Seven Moon Group motorcade. Everyone knew that the decisive battle between Celestial Circle Gate and the Southern Twelve Gates was at Circling Dance Gate. This decisive battle was a golden opportunity to openly witness Andrela's true strength. Celestial Circle Gate had no intention of stopping them either: this was a golden opportunity for them to showcase their true strength.
Andrela had defeated Seven Moon Gate effortlessly. Red Obsidian Gate was too scared to even make a move. Celestial Circle Gate's foundation of power was firmly established.
The final step was to settle the score with Garen from White Cloud Gate.
The mighty motorcade formed a long chain and stopped in succession in the open spaces and streets around Circling Dance Gate.
The locals in Dinah City thought that some official had come for an inspection and a crowd of onlookers formed in the periphery. The city police sent a large number of officers for security. They put a cordon around the area and refused to allow non-martial arts practitioners within 500 meters of the Circling Dance Gate premises.
Only residents within the cordoned zone who were already at home had the opportunity to witness what happened inside.
The black motorcade of Celestial Circle Gate slowed to a stop at the entrance of the Circling Dance Gate courtyard.
The reddish-brown wooden door was shut tight.
With the sound of car doors closing, Andrela and the rest stepped out of their cars.
He looked up at the black plaque above the courtyard door. The words "Circling Dance Dojo" was clearly visible on it, but some black paint around the edges had come off, exposing the brown wooden material underneath.
Andrela had changed into a new set of clothing, wearing a black shirt and long trousers. His long hair reached his waist and he had a grin on his face. If not for the fine silver sword at his waist, he did not appear like he was here to challenge anyone and looked more like a visiting friend.
He gently pressed the eye patch over his left eye. With a creak, the courtyard door opened.
Beyond the open door, he instantly saw Garen standing in the courtyard, with his back to him.
Garen shut his eyes tightly, mildly conditioning the muscles of his entire body. He was in a peculiar subtle state and in the best form he had ever been in his life.
"Andrela of Celestial Circle Gate?" he asked softly.
"Garen of the Southern Twelve Gates?" Andrela asked in soft tone too.
Without the slightest hesitation, he unsheathed his sword and transformed into a black shadow rushing towards Garen.
Garen turned around and opened his eyes. His stature rapidly expanded.
Both approached each other at breakneck pace. Suddenly the sounds of wind bells chiming and a mammoth bellowing could be heard.
In that moment, both their faces lit up with a smile. It was anticipation!