The second stranger was ranked higher than Xue Feng among the twenty-four geniuses of the eight houses. Xue Feng had been seventh or eighth, though people in the top ten often rated themselves able to compete with the top five.
In actuality, those solidly among the top five were easily head and shoulders above him. The new stranger in the grey cloak was named Xuan Rui. He was fifth among the twenty-four geniuses. He had earned his rank through repeated intense competition, and thus the number held water.
However, he was no better than that. All who were ranked higher than him deserved their ranks too.
As the fifth ranked genius among all the young geniuses of Polylore’s eight houses, his talent was definitely exceptional in his generation. In fact, he was the cream of the crop in the entirety of Myriad Abyss Island. There were perhaps only two hundred able to compete with him on the same level.
Therefore, Xuan Rui had more than enough confidence to base his pride on. He just hadn’t expected such a tough bone among Winterdraw’s pack of prey.
As one of Polylore’s best geniuses, he had a large breadth of experience. He’d suffered a minor loss in the arena of eye arts, but his morale was stoked instead. He discarded pretense and conceit, fully devoting himself to the fight.
A genius on the level of Xuan Rui was quite terrifying when he became serious.
“I didn’t expect you to have refined ocular skills too. What a surprise.” Xuan Rui coughed out a grating laugh. “My Wind Vision’s only reached perfection, so that was just an appetizer. Don’t get excited too early.”
Jiang Chen smiled coolly. “Does everyone from Polylore like to run their mouth like you?”
Xuan Rui inclined his head. The acerbic comment had pierced his self-esteem in a painful way. Since first making his way into the world, he’d never encountered a genius opponent who had shamed and ridiculed him so.
The geniuses of Polylore didn’t dare be so blunt in their pre-fight banter.
“Keep being so full of yourself, kid. This will be the last chance to in your life.” As he said this, Xuan Rui retrieved the carved bow from his back. His entire body tensed like a living bowstring, readying himself for combat.
A master archer embodied perfection in all things, whether it came to poise, posture, or opportunity. For the highest ideal of a marksman, each arrow should ideally produce one kill.
Jiang Chen responded in kind by producing the Holy Dragon Bow with one fluid motion.
“Do you think I’m scared of you when it comes to archery?” he sneered.
Xuan Rui was mildly surprised by the maneuver. During Xue Feng’s fight, this guy had used every type of method that Xue Feng had chosen. It appeared that the same was happening with him!
He didn’t know what to say. Furthermore, he still couldn’t lock on to his opponent after all this time!
In archery, it was imperative to lock on to one’s opponent during the preliminary stage of the fight. And yet, Xuan Rui hadn’t found any openings despite spending quite a while on doing so. No wonder his opponent was so confident about his marksmanship.
One man’s failure was a testament to the other’s skill.
Alertness filled his heart. Xuan Rui realized that his opponent was really quite capable – and well-equipped too. The bow in the other’s hands exuded an intensely ancient aura, which clearly rivaled or even exceeded the carved weapon in his own hands.
He was unfathomably curious about Jiang Chen’s identity now.
“It doesn’t make sense for Winterdraw to have a genius like you. Where did you come from? How did you come to be exiled to this island?”
Without a doubt, a crack had appeared upon his dao heart.
Jiang Chen snickered to himself. His expertise tipped him off to Xuan Rui’s insecurities. If the young genius from Polylore had been able to target him successfully, there would’ve been no reason whatsoever to bother talking any more. A single arrow to harvest a life would have sufficed.
There was only be one reason why Xuan Rui was delaying: he didn’t have the advantage he wished for.
Of course, Jiang Chen had put up his guard immediately when his opponent had drawn his bow. He was doing everything in his power to avoid losing the upper hand.
There was a bit of an impasse; neither youth could find a chance to strike at the other.
Xuan Rui sighed to himself. This opponent from Winterdraw was more difficult than he could’ve possibly imagined.
If he’d received a response, he could’ve continued further analyzing his opponent’s mindset to find any weaknesses. But his opponent was extremely disciplined and composed. Like a curled-up hedgehog, there was no quarter.
The two young men remained completely impassive. They stood in silence, glaring at each other across the space. At this crucial juncture, whoever moved first could very well lose the initiative.
After a long while, Xuan Rui’s cold voice echoed forth once more. “I admit that I’ve underestimated you, kid. But if you’re going to stand around like this, you’ll surely die first!”
“Why do you say that?” Jiang Chen smiled faintly.
“Easy. My partners will come here after they finish off the other prey. You’ll be stuck in an encirclement then. You’re worth five points for them, a valuable prize worth fighting over. As long as at least one more person shows up, my arrows will send you to the grave.” Xuan Rui began to mount a psychological attack.
Jiang Chen instantly saw through the ruse.
“Partners?” he shook his head scornfully. “I wonder who killed Xue Feng? If Winterdraw’s contestants are your prey, don’t the hunters hunt each other as well? Don’t talk like you’re battle comrades with all of them. Maybe they’ll kill you first, given this golden opportunity.”
He wasn’t making anything up. A competition between aristocratic houses was fierce and brutal. It was quite normal for there to be a lot of fatalities.
In the eyes of these scions, Jiang Chen and company were just fodder. The geniuses on the other hand, were bitter, lifelong rivals. Thus, his words rang truly.
His retort took effect instantly. Xuan Rui was shaken. Just as his enemy had said, a rival that arrived would probably place priority on him rather than the Winterdraw genius. This wouldn’t be the case if someone from his own clan came, but only three had come from each house. What guarantee was there that the first visitor would be from House Xuan?
Regret flickered through Xuan Rui’s heart. He could have avoided this conflict altogether, but the Goldensable Fleeceflower and the five-point prize had been too attractive. Now, he was stuck in a swamp with no easy way to leave.
Was it better to stay? Or to go? Wasting time doing nothing was the worst choice.
Whether or not his life was being threatened, he wasn’t out there getting points during this delay. This was highly disadvantageous to his final score.
Xuan Rui had to warn himself repeatedly to stay calm. Otherwise, it was likely he would be slain by his opponent’s arrow. He didn’t suspect the truthfulness of this possibility as his opponent had more than enough ability to kill him.
Jiang Chen’s strong consciousness and Boulder Heart revealed their benefits now. His dao heart was completely unmoved by the circumstances.
He had methods to break through this standstill, but there was no reason to use them. He wanted to wear down his opponent’s patience through the stalemate, then make a fatal strike using his bow.
His purpose was self-improvement. In a confrontation like this, making his enemy reveal weakness first would absolutely result in a killing strike. Grasping the best timing was extremely valuable thing to practice.
Seconds passed into minutes; time ticked away.
The fabric of space seemed to freeze. All living creatures for miles around had fled at the outset of the duel. Even passing spirit creatures and beasts avoided this patch of ground. There was utter silence at the scene.
Jiang Chen lowered his eyes, as if in meditation. Only his Holy Dragon Bow was upraised. He was unmoving like a statue, rapt in the posture of killing. He awaited the right time to strike. His dao heart had never lost to anyone.
Xuan Rui’s own was plenty strong, but was shaken by his defied expectations. It was difficult for him to accept the transition from an easy hunt to a difficult standoff.
As time went on, he found it harder and harder to repress his impulses. Wasn’t he supposed to be the hunter? Why shouldn’t he make the first move?
Had he lost his courage simply because his prey posed an actual threat? Was he a coward?
Xuan Rui felt the invisible, mocking gazes of all his opponents within the eight houses. They were waiting to laugh at him!
Things couldn’t be allowed to go on like this. If someone else arrived, the fact that he had been held up by insignificant prey would get out regardless of whether the newcomer was hostile. He would be made the butt of his peers’ jokes!