There were only fifteen minutes remaining in the Radiant City Elite Soul Engineering Tournament's round of six.
Huo Yuhao had just been sitting there with his eyes closed for almost an hour, resting up. He finally opened his eyes, and his eyes sparkled before he got down to work once again.
A formless layer of Spiritual Detection blanketed his crafting desk, and every single sophisticated component seemed like it was numbered. He raised his right hand to draw a component from the desk's other end toward him using Controlling Crane Capturing Dragon and pressed it down on another part to lock it in before placing them flat on the crafting desk. His right hand began to move like a butterfly meandering through flowers, and he was so fast that he left afterimages on his crafting desk.
The multiple soul tool components of different shapes and sizes that were made from all sorts of rare metals were being continuously assembled by his right hand. A soul tool gradually took form on his crafting desk.
Time continued ticking down. The other five contestants had already finished their work; nobody would dare to risk the final minutes to complete their soul tools. They gave themselves enough of a buffer and reserve time during their crafting process, so all their eyes drifted over to Huo Yuhao at the same time.
They could see that Huo Yuhao didn't have a single doll on his crafting desk at all, meaning he had no finished product. The other five contestants had different expressions on their faces, and even He Caitou's eyes flickered with a hint of worry. Hongchen's Blessing is a Class 9 soul tool! What's he doing? With his Spiritual Detection to guide him, how can he not create a single soul tool after ten hours?
The hourglass had dwindled down to its final minutes, and the fine grains of sand were gradually flowing away. 98 smiled condescendingly; he was entirely confident of winning even if Huo Yuhao could finish crafting the soul tool he was working on. It was easy to make mistakes when working under such tense conditions. Besides, could this soul tool be operational and effective? In other words, could he really succeed in completing it?
Even if he does succeed, I already have a plan to counter that. What can he do with just one soul tool?
Yes, his stake was quite impressive. It looked like a defensive soul tool that's at least Class 8! Very suitable for me!
"It's done." Huo Yuhao raised his right hand vigorously, and his soul tool dropped down onto his crafting desk with a clang. His hourglass still had a teeny bit of sand.
The gamblers who placed their bets on him fell back into their respective seats, as if their souls had departed their bodies. Huo Yuhao had finally completed one soul tool, which meant that there was still a thread of hope. A single thread was better than nothing at all.
98 frowned from where he sat opposite Huo Yuhao. He could see that Yuhao had forged a very strange-looking soul tool that it was shaped like a shield. The shield's physical appearance was split into three different parts. There was a protruding center shaped like a sphere and as large as a human head, whose silver-white metal surface shone with gentle bluish-green light.
The shield's outer surface was mostly grey metal, with this protruding hemisphere at its center, and otherwise very unassuming. Its outermost circumference was a pale blue metal, and a lot thinner compared to its other parts. One would realize upon closer inspection that this shield was crafted by assembling many different components together. There were multiple rare metals contained inside, and even an established soul engineer like 98 couldn't identify them all with one look.
"Time's up, contestants. Please stop everything you're doing. Judges, please step forward to assess their soul tools." Ajin was back on the stage. The soundproofing barrier dropped, and clamorous noises immediately flooded the competition stage.
The three judges were already on stage, and the first person they approached was Huo Yuhao. Huo Yuhao hadn't produced a single soul tool throughout the entire round up until the last moment, and they wanted to make sure whether he was qualified to continue in this round.
A few people were sitting inside a guest lounge at the center of a structure hovering in the air above the Golden Hall. There was a lady dressed in a long black robe seated in the middle of everyone, her baggy and oversized robe covering her entire body. One could only tell her gender from the faint lines of her physical frame.
She was wearing a conical bamboo hat, and a black veil covered her face. Only her two peculiar bluish-grey eyes were revealed, and they were silently watching everything that was happening outside.
The guest lounge was very quiet at this moment; everybody was just watching without making a sound.
"What do you think about 66, Old Three?" the lady sitting in the middle asked plainly.
The person she was talking to was an elderly man who looked about sixty years old. His silver-white hair dangled behind his head, and he had a very tough and muscular physique. He wasn't that young anymore, but his eyes were still exceedingly sharp and pithy.
"That youth is very sophisticated, vice sect leader. I noticed that he was crafting an extremely complicated composite soul tool from the very beginning, but it's the first time that I've seen this production method. There are seventeen formation arrays contained inside. The largest one is an energy-gathering formation array, and it's also the one that's located at the shield's center. He was the slowest when he was creating that formation array, but I couldn't see anything out of the ordinary about it. The other sixteen formation arrays should be deflective rays and something of the like. Some are a little different from the rest, and the six formation arrays on the outermost circumference should be deflective rays with reversal capabilities, if my eyes didn't fail me. That also means that this shield should have absorbing capabilities."
"Deflection and absorption at the same time? What's he trying to achieve?" The vice-sect leader's silver-white eyes showed a little doubt and suspicion.
The elderly man shook his head and said, "I won't be able to guess that, either. Even though he's not considered a very high-level soul engineer, every soul engineer has his or her own innovations and creativity. This soul tool's complexity can be compared to a Class 7 soul tool, and I can tell from the final assembly phase that there are many gears and other structures that I cannot understand. Most of them should be his own inventions. I have to say that this youth is a genius. I wish to take him in under our wing if it's possible."
Another elderly man sitting on the vice-sect leader's other side smiled and remarked, "Even you hold this fellow in high regard? Since that's the case, I'll find someone to talk to him after the contest and ask him about his thoughts. Some of my people told me before this that they've closely inspected the soul tool that he's using for their individual wager, and that soul tool is from the Illustrious Virtue Hall. Furthermore, it's likely that the Hallmaster of the Virtue Hall, Jing Hongchen himself, was the one who created it. It's a Class 8 soul tool at the very least, but it's actual strength can only be confirmed after proper assessment."
The vice-sect leader sounded a little surprised. "Can he be Jing Hongchen's disciple? But I've never heard of Jing Hongchen having a crippled disciple. Do you think this fellow can defeat your precious disciple?"
The first elderly man shook his head and said, "It's hard to say. Between my two disciples, Huang Zheng is relatively levelheaded and steady, and he does things more stably. He's the senior brother, and lives up to his status. However, Mo Ke is more talented. But his greatest weakness is that he is easily arrogant and condescending. He's a little better in front of me, but he's always arrogant and condescending towards outsiders. I've reminded him countless times, but he's never kicked the habit. I do wish to see him lose to 66 today, and that's not a bad thing for his future growth and development."
The vice-sect leader said, "We shall wait and see, then. Second Elder, how are the Duskwater Alliance's profits looking from this tournament?"
The other elderly man that spoke to the first one replied, "We have gained almost thirty-three percent more than our original projections."
The vice-sect leader nodded her head and said, "Very well. After this, we will increase our control over the government's rare metals. You have to send some people when the time comes, as these are our sect's core resources."
"Yes," the Second Elder acknowledged respectfully.
The three judges swiftly made their assessments on the competition stage, and they affirmed that Huo Yuhao had successfully created a soul tool. However, the judges shared the third elder and the vice-sect leader's confusion, and they didn't understand why Huo Yuhao would craft a soul tool like that. This was a defensive soul tool in a fight, which meant that Huo Yuhao would be the passive one taking hits. Did he want to defeat his component by grinding down his soul power?
98 didn't look so good when he saw that Huo Yuhao's soul tool was a shield. Initially, he had believed that Huo Yuhao was creating an offensive soul tool with incredible attacking strength. But it seemed like his judgment was wrong, and that meant some of his plans to counter Huo Yuhao were wasted. He had spent four hours creating an Invincible Barrier against Huo Yuhao specifically because of his erroneous judgment.
All six soul engineers were quickly validated. 98 had six completed soul tools, Huo Yuhao had only one, and 96 also had six. He Caitou had five, and the remaining two had four each.
96 and 98 had a great advantage over the others in terms of the number of soul tools they had created.
The chief judge took the speaker-type soul tool from Ajin. He announced the number of soul tools that each contestant had finished before he lowered his voice and said, "I'll pose my routine questions now. The crafting phase is over, and because this is the round of six, every soul tool will have to be field-tested, no matter how each one has turned out. Your soul tools have to be proven in battle to show their strengths and their worth. Let me ask you now - does anyone feel that your soul tools are not enough to fight against your opponent? You have the option to back out now. Otherwise, you are responsible for your own injuries, and even your death once we enter the combat phase."
There was a lot more tension on the competition stage once this was said, and the atmosphere felt a lot more antagonistic. Many officials were already on stage to remove the six crafting desks, and they also temporarily removed the rare metals that were intended as prizes. It was clear that this circular competition stage was where the six soul engineers would fight it out!