The incoming whip did not catch Shi Mu unprepared, as Re Che had thought. To his surprise, the whip missed its target, who ducked aside, as if he had foreseen his opponent’s movements. Shi Mu made a counterblow, producing ten cuts in one breath, sending ten blade shadows roaring toward Ruan Che’s left shoulder. The lanky youth’s countenance changed, but only for a short moment, before he rapidly flicked his whip to call it back. The wriggling black snake soon answered to its owner, coming back to form a black net in front of Ruan Che’s chest, shielding his body behind it.
Shi Mu responded to the ‘loyal snake servant’ with a sneer, not slowing his knife one bit. The next moment, an ear-deafening boom echoed throughout the plaza, and the audience saw the ten blade shadows crash against the whip net before they disappeared. Shi Mu’s eyes glared, his hands shook the knife, instilling real Qi into his weapon, which, in turn, droned faintly while trembling and emitting white light.
“Ha!” Shi Mu let out a loud shout, wielding his knife with both hands, and launched a powerful thrust. The steel knife caught light and glared, then, before one could make out its trace, eleven blade shadows plummeted toward Ruan Che.
The junior judge, with sunk cheeks on the ring, felt his blood chill, his eyes seeking Ruan Che’s anxiously. “Eleven cuts in one breath! This bastard is really hiding his actual strength! No wonder brother Su was defeated by him!” He cursed silently.
Simultaneously, Ruan Che turned pale with fright, overwhelmed by Shi Mu’s successive attacks and the ever increasing momentum. He could only wield his black whip desperately, trying to resist the blows, but, with Shi Mu’s attacks being flawless, he could find no weak points to strike back. This realization filled him with fear.
The black net was finally broken, with the whip snapping into small pieces, its handle left in Ruan Che’s hand, like a dead fish unable to flop anymore. Before Ruan Che was able to recover from the shock, his was dazzled by another blow of eleven blade shadows, cascading down to his head, his body was in imminent danger of being cut into halves.
Right then, a tall figure flashed to Ruan Che’s aid, forestalling the tragic end that was to take place in the very next moment. He was none other than the junior judge with sunk cheeks, who had been watching the match closely the entire time. He waved his sleeve casually, and a silver short spear appeared, from nowhere, in his hand, clashing with Shi Mu’s knife. The spear shook violently as it met the knife, accompanied by an invisible air wave, charged with enormous energy. In an instant the eleven knife shadows were all mercilessly crushed.
Shi Mu’s face drained of color as he received great shock from being crushed so easily. A terrible force crept onto his hand through his own knife, almost knocking him over. He felt his stomach upturned, his muscles screeching in pain. But he did not allow himself another minute to panic over this sudden attack. He supported his body with full strength, steadying it after it was pushed back half a step.
“You proud thing, if you ever overlook our sect’s rules and try to kill, my spear will bring you to justice!” The judge took back his spear with a turn of his palm, and though he spat the bold words, which made him feel quite proud of himself, his eyes showed a trace of uneasiness, incongruous with his previous bluster. As a matter of fact, he had harbored a secret grudge against Shi Mu ever since the latter defeated his friend White Su, who should have entered the top ten rank. Now that a chance was in his hand to vent the anger, he did not hesitate to strike with full force. But the result was contrary to his expectation. Shi Mu took the blow without getting wounded in the process. This was very humiliating to an Advanced Houtian Warrior, like himself!
“Your humble servant has overdone this match, and he begs for senior’s forgiveness.” Shi Mu changed countenance and hurriedly took back his steel knife, apologizing with clasped hands.
Luo Yunji threw Shi Mu a cold glance, and, without a word, walked to the other side of the ring. Under the watchful eyes of the audience, this was as far as he could go. Ruan Che took a meaningful look at Shi Mu, flung his whip handle on the ground, and walked off the ring with a stern face.
“Winner, Shi Mu!”
As the judge’s reluctant voice resounded, the audience broke into hails. They had been astounded by Shi Mu’s imposing manner in the fight, his clean cuts, devoid of any wasted movements. His overpowering air seemed to bring Death to the very air they breathed in, reducing the environment to a dead silence that lingered even after the fight. For the following time, nobody dared to challenge Shi Mu. Before him, the new disciples kept silent, like cicadas in cold weather. Finally, Shi Mu succeeded in sensing the strange tension in the air, and kindly decided to stop pressing the kids any more with his frightening killing intent, that might lead him to kill by accident. After all, the award for top ten winners differs little, and too much attention is never a good thing.
Near the end of the day’s matches, he accepted another two challenges from two of the more courageous primary disciples, who were both made to recognize their naivety after losing their matches to Shi Mu. So Shi Mu secured his No.9 rank without a doubt. As for his acquaintances, Blue Phoenix was ranked No.5, Stone Bai No.7. Xiao Ming also displayed his fair gifts as a future Adept, which successfully raised him to the place of No.27 (magic is always the antidote to many warrior arts).
The second day, as dawn broke over the valley, Shi Mu traveled along the familiar road to the circular plaza, holding his steel knife all the way there, which frightened some of the passing disciples without catching Shi Mu’s notice.[A] But he was surprised to find Stone Bai and Blue Phoenix already at the venue, both surrounded by their supporters.
Right now Stone Bai was discussing something with Xiao Ming. The former had made himself a famous star by playing a loyal friend, a strong warrior, and especially after his first day’s electrifying performance in the matches his reputation had been greatly boosted.
“Brother Shi, so you’ve come! You really surprised us yesterday, amazing the world with your brilliant feat!” As soon as he spotted the knife-holding Shi Mu, Stone Bai was all smiles, greeting him like a host of the plaza, his enthusiasm even arousing Huo Mao and Xiao Ming standing aside.
“Brother Bai, you flattered me. All I have is some stupid strength, how can I compare with you?” Shi Mu waved off Stone Bai’s dramatic praises, smiling. Then he noticed that Huo Mao was dressed differently today, in a suit that best showed his muscular shape.
“Brother Huo, are you also participating in the matches today?” Stone Bai directed his eyes to Huo Mao, who was eagerly toying with his double-edged axe.
“Yes! And if you guys want to challenge me, don’t blame me for taking it seriously, haha!” Huo Mao threw them a broad, sunny smile, waving his axe vigorously. The three were taken aback for an span, but Stone Bai soon came to himself and brushed away the tension by bringing up the topic of yesterday’s matches. They talked a bit about the top five that were really good, and that, except for Blue Phoenix, the other four winners were all older primary disciples that had entered the sect a little earlier than themselves.
As the three had chatted, the plaza had already been filled with many more disciples than the day before. In fact, basically all the elder primary disciples had gathered here.
After a day of intense fighting, the new disciples that were present numbered less than two hundred, the others had already been eliminated. Among the ones who were present, only the top thirty were eligible to challenge the elder disciples. They are also the only ones with a chance to win. After all, the elder ones had practiced Houtian arts a year longer than them, what else would a new disciple, behind No.30, want from them, except humiliation? According to Huo Mao, the previous matches showed that even the top ten new disciples had only a slim chance of winning. Anyway, though the second day was for “kids” to challenge “teenagers”, the fighting would not be as exciting as the other two days’, considering that the results were almost foreseeable.
Before long, it was nine o’clock in the morning. Some clear clatters of gongs and drums announced the official start of second day’s challenges. The crowd on the plaza fell silent for a moment before they broke into an uproar of anticipation.
[A] - HA. Shi Mu has very poor social skills!