Though he didn't know why, Jiang Chen had been curious about Zhuang Jie during Ji San's review earlier. But after seeing the man in person and hearing him speak, he now had a much lower opinion of him. Jiang Chen actually understood his opponent's displeasure. After all, the other youth was a genius in the Ranking of Young Lords, and therefore deserved more support and encouragement from the spectators as a person of a much higher stature. Reasonably speaking, he wanted more of the cheering and applause that should be naturally accorded to him. Unfortunately, Jiang Chen had a monopoly over all of these things presently. His opponent had become a mere foil. It would be an awkward situation for any man to face. Being somewhat embarrassed or even angry was understandable. But, at the root of it, none of this was his problem. Even if Zhuang Jie was secretly dissatisfied, he still should've stuck to a certain bearing.
No matter how upset one was, the arena was always the outlet for it. If his opponent could beat him fair and square in the ring, Jiang Chen would only respond with utmost respect. The fight hadn't even begun yet, but the other man was already spewing poison everywhere. Jiang Chen only looked down on this kind of petty behavior. No fighting was required to see the narrow-mindedness in this person's heart.
Master showman? Useless? Jiang Chen didn't know whether to laugh or scowl at being labeled as such. If the geniuses in the Ranking of Young Lords were all like this, then there wasn't much to be impressed about.
"Your fangs are so sharp, Zhuang Jie. I wonder if the dog is your zodiac sign? You know, your vicious tongue is remarkable, but I'd be a lot more impressed if you could actually beat me in the arena." Jiang Chen smiled faintly, not deciding to squabble in the same way that his opponent was doing. He didn't have any interest doing such a thing.
Zhuang Jie's face contorted. He had thought that it would be easy to rouse Pill King Zhen's anger, but his words had turned out to be entirely ineffective. However, he didn't tone down his behavior. "My victory against you is assured," he jeered, "but that's not the only thing I'm going to do today. I'm going to humiliate you, and crush the myth surrounding you once and for all. The whole world should know—you're just fame-chasing trash!"
Verbal provocation was clearly Zhuang Jie's forte. Having lived two different lives, though, Jiang Chen found it no more irksome than a cloud of noxious air. Aside from placing a hand at his nostrils, it warranted no reaction from him.
Seeing the visible disdain on Jiang Chen's face, Zhuang Jie knew his ultimatum had failed. He was truly furious now. He clapped both hands together. Rays of light burst forth from his palms, the very air around them quivering at the radiance.
"Moonflower Mirage!" Both hands moving in guidance as Zhuang Jie conjured the image of a boundless, rippling pool. It resembled an enormous mirror, smoothly enveloping all. As someone with an innate water constitution, he had a lot of practice and ease with water-attribute arts.
Jiang Chen treated the attack with due importance. He swiftly activated his Cicada Wings, his body soaring into flight. He brought himself above the oscillating waves at once. There would certainly be much more trouble if he was tangled up in the water.
"Running?" Zhuang Jie's eyes were derisive. Another hand sign commanded the pool to swirl, transforming from a mirror into a current in reverse. It swept upwards, roiling in an aqueous chain. It had every intention of vacuuming Jiang Chen into its influence.
Jiang Chen's wealth of experience told him that this was no ordinary chain. If he really was trapped by it, escaping would be laborious. The essence of water contained in the chain was very potent. Its ability to restrain was unrivaled, able to bend the laws of physics themselves. It was widely known that water was yielding, supple, and flexible. However, these were only some of water's traits. In actuality, the essence of water ruled over a very complicated and vast realm. Water was sometimes the exact opposite. It could be firm and unyielding. Water could destroy all, and yet nourish all. Attack all, and yet defend all. There was nothing that surpassed water in how multifaceted it was.
As someone who possessed an innate water constitution, Zhuang Jie clearly understood the intricacies of the element well. For him, using a water attribute ability came second nature to him. The coiling chain sailed upwards, taking flight like a gigantic, watery dragon. It aimed to constrict Jiang Chen within its rings, then swallow him whole.
With utmost haste, Jiang Chen fled its area of control just before the water pillar snapped him up. Watching his escape filled Zhuang Jie with scorn. Making another hand seal, he clapped once more. Two white pillars of water flew in the air. One went left, the other right, and both acted in unison to seal off every means of escape.
The water pillars surrounded him from both flanks. Jiang Chen could only shift up and down, the evasive airspace available to him becoming more and more limited. The audience held their collective breaths at the scene. Everyone knew that the emperors' true disciples were strong, but no one had expected the extent of strength that was currently being displayed.
Since his first competitive match, Pill King Zhen had faced many a tenacious enemy, but none of them had been able to put on such an oppressive show. None of them had been able to achieve the spectacle that Zhuang Jie was demonstrating. Under the entanglement of the water pillars, Pill King Zhen seemed to be tired to death.
Spectating the battle, Ji San looked positively restless. His lips were pursed, muttering something darkly under his breath. But no matter what his inaudible remarks were, his worry was palpable. Zhuang Jie's prowess had surprised him greatly as well. He'd always thought that Vastsea's young lord was only a little stronger than Gu Zhenshan, that there wasn't much of a difference between the two. On a cultivation level, that was probably true. However, if present indications were accurate, Zhuang Jie's practical combat ability far surpassed Gu Zhenshan's. If Ji San were to go up and face an attack as preposterous as the one that Zhuang Jie was currently displaying, he too would have a headache.
"No way! This Zhuang Jie is quite strong. He's not letting Pill King Zhen have a moment's rest!"
"What do you mean? Pill King Zhen is just feigning weakness. It's not like that hasn't happened before."
"That's right. There were a few opponents before that looked like they were about to overpower Pill King Zhen, but the pill king came through in the end."
"It looks a bit different this time, though…"
"What's different about it? I'm sure Zhuang Jie's capable, but I have every faith that Pill King Zhen will win."
"Yeah, Zhuang Jie is only number twenty in the Ranking of Young Lords. There's no reason for Pill King Zhen not to win."
"You've got that right, eh? I'm still waiting to see him challenge the Young Lords' top five!" Jiang Chen's historically tough battles with Xiao Paohui and Mie Chenzi cemented the audience's conviction. Though it looked like he was currently at a disadvantage, there wasn't much worry coming from the peanut gallery. It had looked worse than this several times prior, but Pill King Zhen always prevailed without fail. This time was surely no exception!
The audience could accept the possibility of Pill King Zhen's eventual defeat, but losing this early on? That was ridiculous. In the public perception, Pill King Zhen was definitely competent enough to face the top five of the Ranking. Zhuang Jie was only a genius in the top twenty. He wasn't worthy to be the pill king's stumbling block.
Jiang Chen didn't have it as easy as others thought. At the same time, he wasn't as helpless as he looked, either. He'd tried several ways to tackle his current plight, such as using sword aura to cut the water. No matter how he tried to slice the water, however, the most he managed to do was slightly obstruct the water's movement. Its upward flow would not be hindered for long. Magnetism also failed to do anything against the pillars. The power of metal was effective against both metal-attribute attacks and physical blows, but it wasn't of much use against the permeating power of water. None of Jiang Chen's methods yielded much return.
Of course, he had various other untested approaches, the Bewitching Lotus of Fire and Ice being one of them. In particular, the ice lotus had exceedingly absorbent power. But using the Lotus would give him away immediately. If he were to use it, the entire world would know tomorrow that Jiang Chen and Pill King Zhen were one and the same.
Jiang Chen had no fear personally of that happening, but Taiyuan Tower was still experiencing budding growth. Many of the people close to him still needed its umbrella of protection. If he gave away his secret early on, it would be disastrous for those people. They would definitely need to find new hiding places. Jiang Chen wasn't willing to break that particular status quo.
The water pillar was very threatening, but Jiang Chen's speed was enough to counteract its harassment. He couldn't quash it just yet, but it also had a hard time getting anywhere near him. He wanted to use Cicada's Disappearance to escape, but the pillars seemed to have some sort of consciousness. Locking onto his very soul, they allowed him no opportunity to use the ability. Things were looking a little grim for Jiang Chen.
Even as Zhuang Jie continually directed the water pillars to strike at Jiang Chen, his eyes gleamed in thought. Evidently, he was looking for a way to snag the pill king with one final push. Jiang Chen never let his guard down for a second. More than half of his attention rested upon his opponent. Ji San had told him that Zhuang Jie didn't only have an innate water constitution; he possessed an innate wind constitution as well. An enemy with two elemental constitutions should not be underestimated. The attribute of wind in particular held a certain fleetness and unpredictability. Any arts that originated from it were extremely tricky to deal with. Still, staying embroiled in the fight was no solution.
Continually evading the water pillars, Jiang Chen devoted his thoughts wholly towards solving the problem at hand. Suddenly, a voice cursed near his ear, "What are you scared of, you idiot? They're just pillars of water. In terms of protectiveness and ensnarement, elemental water is unfathomably formidable, but it's not like it has no weaknesses!"
Eh? Jiang Chen's ear wiggled. The one who'd called him an idiot just now was Long Xiaoxuan. Though Long Xiaoxuan had always remained at his side, for the most part he generally stayed hidden. Why was the dragon giving him advice now? Did he have a way to deal with his current predicament?