Truth be told, most hadn't anticipated the parity of the two competitors’ eye arts.
Xiahou Ying’s pout was pronounced enough to hang a coat on. She’d wanted to admire her brother making mincemeat out of Shao Yuan, but the familiar sight of his victory hadn't come.
The Scorching Sun Eye was one of Xiahou Zong’s most proficient arts. Who would’ve expected Xiahou Zong not to gain an inch in a contest involving it?
Eye arts were one of the most technical and involved of all martial skills. They required not only the arts themselves, but strength of cultivation and consciousness as well. They needed all three components to deploy at peak power. When perfected, an ocular skill used the cultivator’s consciousness to strike down their enemy.
What was up with Shao Yuan? Tying with Xiahou Zong was no easy feat.
Xiahou Ying almost wanted to head into the ring to help her brother.
Nearby, Duke Xiaoyao and Xiahou Zhen traded surprised looks. The two giants of House Xiahou were as astonished as the rest.
Xiahou Zong had never encountered such a tough opponent before in his life. Perhaps they had been too used to him stomping the competition, which made them somewhat discomfited by the current situation.
“Kid, your true dragon bloodline and your ocular skill would’ve made you a good candidate for being the strongest genius of this generation. Unfortunately for you, that’ll never happen because you met me.” Xiahou Zong smiled coolly.
He was no longer interested in underestimating his opponent after the battle of the eye arts. He despised Jiang Chen’s guts, but he also knew that he needed to put some of his other skills into action.
“I don’t remember that being your tune when I first entered the ring, Xiahou Zong.” Jiang Chen raised an eyebrow. “Didn’t you say you’d kill me within a single breath? Ah, I see. Your breath is simply far longer than everyone else’s.”
Though jeering was hardly likely to be effective, Jiang Chen didn’t believe that Xiahou Zong’s dao heart was free of weaknesses.
He going in at every opportunity he saw, hoping to use any window to demolish his opponent with a single, decisive blow. Jiang Chen had been able to tell from the exchange of eye arts that Xiahou Zong had a higher cultivation level – at least fifth level empyrean, or perhaps sixth.
Jiang Chen himself was only new to the fourth level, and had matched Xiahou Zong thanks to different reasons.
Xiahou Zong was certainly the most exacting of opponents among Jiang Chen’s generation that he’d met so far. Up until now, Jiang Chen had always obviously held every advantage after commanding his full strength. He could typically crush his peers trivially.
Therefore, this bout was special to both Xiahou Zong and Jiang Chen. For the first time in their lives, the two young men had found a worthy adversary.
“What are you so proud of? You merely managed to match my ocular skill.” Xiahou Zong sneered. “It’s just one out of many of my abilities. How can an ant like you know even a fraction of what I’m capable of?”
The source of his pride was his status as a reincarnated divine cultivator. Though he hadn't yet fully awakened, he considered himself practically a god already. He’d always felt an inherent superiority when it came to anyone else in his generation.
“Oh, is that so? Blowing yourself and your ego up, are you? I hope you live after it pops,” jeered Jiang Chen.
“Perhaps one day I will meet a deserving rival,” Xiahou Zong retorted with nonchalance. “But that person is not you, and that day is not today.”
Jiang Chen chuckled. “You haven’t ever come down from your high horse in your life, have you? But today, your judgment is inevitable.”
“Then… die!” Xiahou Zong’s eyes suddenly burned with radiance. In the next moment, he raised both hands to produce a huge disk of light atop his head. It shone like a real fiery sun.
Countless vines surged forth from around him, each bearing a sunflower upon its tip. They turned towards the burning sun above Xiahou Zong, charging up with vitality.
The spirit herbs were obviously much fiercer and more resilient than the typical sunflower. The maws at the center of the sunflowers’ heads made their aggressiveness evident. Their bloody cavities made them appear as ghouls from hell, intent on consuming the world around them.
“An Infernal Sunflower?” Data about the plant leapt into Jiang Chen’s mind.
It was a heavenly rank spirit herb for sure. Though it hadn't evolved to the crux of its potential, it appeared quite mature already.
The Infernal Sunflower had the suppleness and regeneration of a plant, the bloodthirst of an animal, and specialized in eating others. Most formidable was the Sunflower’s noxious scent, able to invade a cultivator’s consciousness undetected.
Most cultivators were defenseless before the olfactory ambush, even if they knew about how deadly the Sunflower’s smell really was.
In an intense fight, it was difficult to defend against the Infernal Sunflower’s multiple vectors of attack. Its poisonous miasma, constricting vines, and consuming maw formed three angles with which it approached any given fight.
The petals of the Sunflower possessed incredibly strong suction, enough to change the tide of the battle. Even if it couldn't draw in more capable cultivators, it would serve sufficient interference. All of the above often made the Sunflower’s summoning often fatal.
“To force me to call upon the Infernal Sunflower… you can congratulate yourself on a worthy death, Shao Yuan.”
Jiang Chen’s focused expression was slowly replaced by a smile. “An Infernal Sunflower is an aberrant plant, Xiahou Zong. Still, I’m game if you want to play with your toys.”
His interest had only grown upon spotting the Infernal Sunflower. Showing off manipulation of plants? Well then, bring it!
Flexing both arms, he produced a mass of vines from himself as well. It was naturally the Bewitching Lotus of Ice and Fire.
The lotus had evolved alongside his cultivation, and now that he was fourth level empyrean, it neared great perfection. Furthermore, it was valuable and powerful enough in the heavenly planes to be ranked among the top ten. It claimed superiority to the Infernal Sunflower in its genealogy.
In any case, his plant was also better grown than Xiahou Zong’s. There was nothing to be concerned about.
The Infernal Sunflower did have the advantage of a poison that affected the consciousness, but the Bewitching Lotus was uniquely dual attribute and adept at illusion in its own right.
There was another wave of surprised gasps from the crowd. There was intense interest in Jiang Chen’s spectacular performance. Current events were almost too incredible to behold.
Everyone had thought Shao Yuan would suffer at the tendrils of Xiahou Zong’s new treasure. Its properties were widely known by many, and a cultivator with insufficient strength would be easily crushed.
Even those who were higher level than Xiahou Zong didn't enjoy going up against the Sunflower. The plant was simply too dangerous to deal with. It was hard to handle both on the attack and defense. Unless one was significantly higher level, avoiding the plant was far superior.
But if Shao Yuan were to retreat from the plant in the arena, that would be tantamount to surrender.
Public opinion had previously been uniform about Shao Yuan’s eventual loss in the near future – though there was some disagreement about exactly how. And yet, he’d defied common expectations in a very good way once again. What would he do next?
“How cool. I know Xiahou Zong’s plant is the Infernal Sunflower, but what is Shao Yuan’s? Are both young men spirit creature controllers? That’s real genius for you!”
“Indeed. We’ve all known about Xiahou Zong’s genius for a long time, but there’s plenty to discover about Shao Yuan.”
“Everyone has underestimated Shao Yuan. Looks like he held back in the fights against Wu You and Shen Fan. If he hadn’t, those two wouldn’t have lasted a second against him.”
“Amazing, amazing. This fight will go down in history as a classic!”
“How many years has it been since a fight like this between youngsters of Eternal Divine Nation? Is Xiahou Zong’s arrogant era over?”
“Impossible! Xiahou Zong has been established for too long. Shao Yuan has the genius to match, but not the time and experience. He won’t be able to win in the end without those other necessary factors.” Most favored Xiahou Zong still.
In fact, very few actually favored Jiang Chen to win despite his defiance of expectations time and time again. Still, most were hopeful he could hold Xiahou Zong up for awhile longer and cause him some more trouble. Learning about the best genius of the generation’s special attacks was useful in itself.
Only some from Eternal Divine Nation had the beautiful dream of Jiang Chen’s triumph.
Xiahou Zong glanced at the Bewitching Lotus disdainfully. “I wouldn’t be able to tell from just looking at you that you had something like this. But do you think you’ll be able to stop my sunflower’s attacks using those pathetic vines?”
“The Infernal Sunflower is just a second rate spirit herb. Only a third rate cultivator like you would treat it like his treasure. What would your little sunflower do if I simply… stood here?” Jiang Chen matched with equal scorn.