Everyone was stunned by the sudden change taking place before them. Not by the dragon image alone, nor by the amazing duel between the two images, but rather the vicious counterattack the Jiang kid managed to mount in the face of adversity.
How much more was he hiding?
It was plain to see that he’d intentionally allowed Su Hong to strike the first blow.
In a martial bout, the person to make the first attack gained a tremendous advantage that wasn’t necessarily immediately obvious. Taking the initiative was extremely valuable.
Su Hong had done so quite handily here. Because of this, everyone thought that he would win for sure. Jiang Chen’s brilliant reprisal had stunned his entire audience!
Turning an attack back on its owner was one of the highest forms of the art. To crush an opponent with his own favorite move – a maneuver like that was fierce and powerful indeed.
A force hammered into Su Hong’s chest with the shattering of the giant eagle image. He tasted blood in his mouth, barely managing to keep everything down. He had imbued a part of his own blood essence into the image, the same way that Jiang Chen had used his bloodline to activate the true dragon image.
But Jiang Chen was clearly far more practiced in its usage. He had extremely fine control over the details.
Su Hong on the other hand, didn’t have this luxury. It cost him quite a bit more blood essence to use and maintain this art. Accordingly, this increased the backlash on himself when the image was damaged.
His handsome face changed color several times before he calmed the blood welling up within his body. The structure of qi within him had been on the verge of collapse.
His proud physique instinctively flew back a few dozen steps to maintain sufficient distance from Jiang Chen. He was concerned about a follow-up.
Jiang Chen smiled coolly, his eyes as calm as still water. “I have a lot of ways to defeat you. I don’t need to take advantage of a situation.”
Su Hong was furious and struggled to master his emotions.
“Don’t hold yourself back like that. If you don’t want the injury to hurt you in the future, you better spit out that mouthful of blood.” Jiang Chen was almost cheerful. His words were the last straw that broke the camel’s back.
Su Hong could no longer suppress the blood welling up from his stomach. Crimson liquid spewed out from his mouth. His face paled instantly.
Jiang Chen was the image of a gentleman and didn’t press his attack. He wasn’t a cold-blooded killer, nor was he boorish enough to demand the blood of every man who stood in his way.
Truthfully, Su Hong had little hope of winning at this point. Though he wasn’t at the end of his tether, it was better for him to concede on the spot.
He attempted to gather strength and draw on his inner qi several times over without success. He hadn’t sustained a crippling injury, but he was far from being in peak condition.
The divine eagle image he had unleashed at the height of his strength had failed to defeat his opponent. For the first time in his life, Su Hong doubted his own strength. Was his opponent truly indomitable?
Obviously, Su Hong had other cards up his sleeve. However, none were particularly better than his eagle image. The fact that he could no longer bring all of his resources to bear meant that his subsequent attacks would be weaker too.
The ease that his opponent had displayed was very telling; he hadn’t marshaled close to a hundred percent of his strength. Su Hong felt strangely bleak inside. Powerlessness and sorrow welled up in his heart. It was all but confirmed that he couldn’t beat this opponent.
This conclusion was born out of knowledge about both himself and the other. His opponent couldn’t even be bothered to follow up when Su Hong had been at an obvious disadvantage! If he were to continue the fight, he would surely be greeted by another slew of different attacks.
To put it bluntly, his opponent didn’t consider him anything close to a threat. Otherwise, a tempest of attacks would’ve rained down the moment his image was broken. He’d be laid out cold on the stage in one fell swoop.
Su Hong’s last shred of fighting spirit disintegrated. He wasn’t the sort to give up easily, but he wasn’t a blind fool. The understanding that the fight was over elicited a sigh.
“Forget it. No matter how good I am, there is always someone better. Your strength is a cut above us all. I’ve lost here. May I be so bold as to ask the name of who’s defeated me?”
“Jiang Huang.” This meaning behind the pseudonym was obvious: it was related to Huang’er.
“Jiang Huang, Jiang Huang!” Su Hong muttered this a few times to himself, then smiled dismally. “I suppose I’ve been taught a lesson in this loss. I have nothing else to do here and no face left to stay. So long!”
He raised a cupped fist salute, preparing to depart.
“Hold!” A voice brimming with authority came from the air. In the next moment, a figure emerged to land before the arena.
The entire audience was moved at the sight. “City Lord,” they acknowledged respectfully.
It was no other than the lord of Sin City, Xie Wushang. Appreciation was written all over the man’s face as he looked between Su Hong and Jiang Chen.
“You are both young geniuses, the kind that Sin City has desperate need for. Su Hong, despite your loss to Jiang Huang, you are assuredly top three among all the geniuses who participated in the selection. I’ve decided to make an exception for you. Are you willing to stay?”
Xie Wushang was one of the biggest players in Winterdraw Island. A metaphorical stomp from him would cause the island to tremble thrice.
Su Hong was flattered that such a personage was personally asking him to stay. His pride didn’t prevent him from feeling shocked by the flattery of such a gesture. Though he was a genius, he needed a backer and a patron in the end. Sin City was clearly the best faction for that role, and Xie Wushang one of the most powerful existences in Su Hong’s imagination.
The city lord’s wise and charismatic eyes moved him. “This junior is willing to follow you, City Lord.”
Xie Wushang roared with laughter. “Good, good, good! Today’s selection has yielded many geniuses – a stupendous occasion for Sin City indeed. All of you will be given titles as my dignitaries, with well-paid salaries. The other geniuses making it to the elite round are eligible to become my executives, with one pay grade down. And the geniuses of the qualifiers, yet another grade down from that. Are all of you willing?”
The city lord’s speech brought great honor to all the candidates. Some were originally unwilling, but the lord’s charisma converted them. “We are, we are!” they shouted uniformly. “We are willing to serve you, city lord!”
Jiang Chen felt the fervor in the air. The city lord’s poise made him thoughtful. A charismatic leader in the world of martial dao had a lot more pull than one would expect. The enthusiasm of these people was quite telling. It was likely that they would all eventually become Xie Wushang’s diehard supporters.
“Jiang Huang.” Xie Wushang’s wise gaze focused on Jiang Chen.
Jiang Chen didn’t share in the same ardor, nor was he particularly thrilled about his success. Still, he offered a cupped fist salute. “Jiang Huang greets the city lord.”
Xie Wushang chuckled. “I’ve seen a lot of geniuses, but someone like you is very hard to find. I predicted you would be the biggest prize in the selection this time, and it turns out my judgment was correct.”
“You praise me overmuch, sir. Some luck was certainly involved in my victory against Brother Su.”
Xie Wushang waved. “Alright. It’s good for young people to have a bit of edge. No need to be cautious about everything, boy! You should be appropriately proud of your accomplishments. You are stronger than Su Hong, and there’s no need for me to exaggerate about that. But there’s also no need to despair, Su Hong. Opportunities available in the world of martial dao are different for everyone. You’re weaker than him right now, but you may yet have a chance in the future to surpass him. In our world, we never know how things turn out until the very end.”
“I understand, sir.” Su Hong’s mentality had recovered from his defeat.
Jiang Chen didn’t think much of it. Whether Xie Wushang was merely comforting Su Hong or actually thought that, none of it mattered to him.
Next came the awards ceremony. The nine people granted dignitary status were overjoyed. Jiang Chen had to feign the same.
After the ceremony was complete, Xie Wushang had a few more words. “From now on, you belong to Sin City as men under my command. You represent the city in your travels. In Winterdraw, you no longer have to pay attention to anyone but the wardens. Do you understand?”
This was the confidence Sin City had in itself – and Xie Wushang, in himself.
“There are many things you must familiarize yourselves with. You are newcomers to the city lord’s manor. You should stay here for the next few months, so that you may integrate more easily for the future. If you would like leave, you must ask for it from me alone. Let me make this clear ahead of time: as a member of my faction, you must follow the rules we have here. Brazenness, individualism, and impulsiveness are not tolerated here.” Xie Wushang wasn’t some kind of overly benevolent ruler.
In a place as filled with malice as this, how could any local ruler man be anything be a simple nice guy?
Still, his words passed through Jiang Chen’s head from one ear through the other. There was no need for him to break the rules ordinarily, but he wasn’t going to shy away from breaking them when necessary for his departure.
Xie Wushang followed up the warning with a few more words of encouragement before he dismissed them to their own business.
Immediately afterwards, he immediately sent a messenger to the chief warden with a letter. In it, he reported that the selection in Sin City had just concluded. Many young talents had been chosen, perhaps more excellent ones than usual.