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Chapter 24: Chapter 24

Without suspense, Tang San won against Lin Tian who had a bear spirit, then Mubai won as well against Wang Yunyun with a crocodile spirit. Hongjun blew away a turtle spirit master named Li Bu all the way out of the ring, and the referee had to stop Xiao Wu from murdering this Hong Ji guy with a vine spirit. Zhuqing won too, against some lady who called herself Slender Cat with the longest time of all of us—since the two fought a very mobile battle.

Pair fights came next, and Zhuqing and Rongrong won against the Big Ram combination of two sheep spirit masters. They didn't stand a chance against Zhuqing's boosted speed and power combined, which was a surprise for all of us watching as well. She was never one to hit too hard, but backbreaking labor sure made a difference.

The next fight was Tang San and Xiao Wu against the Demon Axe team, and there really wasn't much to tell besides them winning; and Mubai boosted with Oscar's Eight-linked Salami just spelled doom for that poor pair of agility spirit masters.

Which brings us then to me and Hongjun waiting for our fight to begin by the entrance hall.

"I'll be relying on little brother to keep them away from me," he said, bowing.

I was wearing the same clothes as earlier and Hongjun had on the same themed shirt in bright red. All eight of us wore the same style of dress to the fights uncle made us wear: form fitting black trousers, a solid color shirt, and a sash to keep everything nice and tucked in. Mubai's was white, Tang San's blue, mine was yellow, Xiao Wu with magenta, Rongrong with pink, Hongjun with red, Oscar with brown, and Zhuqing with black. Our masquerade masks also matched the color of our shirts to complete the look.

"Sure thing big brother," I said, returning the gesture. "Now, let's show them hell."

Cheers actually sounded out for once, and Hongjun and I walked out to a bigger audience with the lights dimmed low.

Individual fights sold for the cheapest tickets since the betting wasn't as exciting. There, fights were more or less already decided by the time the ranks were announced, and even then, it was rare for anyone of lower rank to defeat a higher rank save for some rock-paper-scissors type battling. Power types were usually disabled by control types, who were usually defeated by agility types, and were beaten by power types to complete the circle. Our mandated winning streak was just how dean Flender was making a killing with us plowing through the competition.

Group fights however, changed the game completely. Suddenly, two power types might not necessarily fall to two control types because the combination of spirit rings and cultivation could factor in differently mid-way through the fight.

"Let us welcome the next challengers!" the announcer said as we stepped into the ring, spotlights falling onto us. "The Fire Lord combination enters the battle!"

The rings were a lot brighter and bigger, and the audience, rowdier. There were also some extra gimmicks like spotlights I didn't even know existed and even confetti depending on how many wins the combination before us had. We waved and got a cheer back, and Hongjun smiled back from under the mask.

"And now," the announcer said, the lights dimming once more, "our seasoned veterans, the Swift Iron combination take the stage!"

With that, spotlights fell over a pair of a lady dressed in long flowing robes and a buff guy in a filled to near bursting robe. Her eyes matched the light blue of her robes, and the guy's his dark red. When they saw us, the two shared a look and both laughed.

"I wonder what I'll buy later," the guy said, "maybe a nice and juicy steak."

"Zhang Ji, please control yourself," the lady said, "it's rude to ignore our purse."

Hongjun smacked his fists together. "Ah, little brother," he said, "I'll be sure to thoroughly cook our meal before this all ends."

I shrugged, I'd rather not talk big and get my ass handed to me if ever. "Let them be," I said, trying to placate him. That doesn't mean I won't try and make this as satisfying a win as possible though.

At that, both sides tensed up without needing a signal, and the crowd was silenced with the announcer's raised hand. "Both sides," he said, "prepare!"

That was another difference when it came to one-on-one fights, for pair and team battles, there was a time reserved for releasing spirits to further hype up the match as well as to make sure the action got started faster. Two people on each side meant the possibility of ending twice as long, and a bustling arena like this needed a steady flow of shows for the entertainment starved masses.

We released our spirits together, twelve spirit rings floating up in total, and that big man's arms grew longer and got covered in black fur as his legs shortened and his enter body grew larger. The man obviously had a gorilla spirit, and had a configuration of white, yellow, and purple. Next to him, the lady grew a pair of pointed orange ears as her hair turned a shade of reddish brown and two yellow and one purple ring floated up. Her spirit looked like a cat, but her now elongated face said otherwise.

Together, the two gnashed their teeth at the sight before them.

After receiving his third ring, Hongjun's Phoenix Body Enhancement grew a touch more distinct, with his hair growing into a bright magenta mohawk like a phoenix's crest and the evil purple fire aura around him distorting the air, just like the lady, two yellow and one purple ring shone behind him.

Me, I just put on Crown.

"Hmph, resorting to trickery," Zhang Ji said, pounding the ground. "We'll show them, Hua Yin."

I sighed. "Why's it so hard to believe someone has three purple rings anyway?"

Hongjun tapped my shoulder. "Little bro, that's a horrible come back."

I just stared back at him.

The spotlights focused on the ring this time, and the audience went wild.

"Begin!"

Zhang Ji's yellow ring shone as both arms smacked against the stage, and a wave of grey rushed forward like rolling thunder. At the same time, Hua Yin took to the sides with a running start, another yellow ring shining as she got covered in bright orange light.

Hongjun and I ran towards the right, as I extended Shock and Devour over Zhang Ji. His face immediately went rigid, and he tried leaping away only to be unable to escape.

Hua Yin approached us from our far left still running with that light of hers.

We reached Zhang Ji who stood his ground. His white ring shone and his body and muscles became more distinct, a faint grey covering his entire person. By now, I could already feel Hua Yin behind us after she stepped into my Domain. With my light, we had no blind spots in a way. I knew where they'd come from, and some semblance of how they'd act as well, it was just harder to pay attention to in the middle of a fight.

I lunged into a right punch straight for Zhang Ji's left—and he moved to catch it. My hand was caught in a solid grip, and I pulled myself over to his left side feet first. He let go of my hand and tried to body check me away, but he got a face full of Phoenix Fire Wire instead, and as his left hand was about to swat out, I blocked it with a forearm with all my weight against it.

His arm was thrown off enough—but an unrelenting force pushed me away from his body with a violent jolt and I felt like a wall slammed into me.

I crashed into the ground with a face full of dirt and rolled away, and as I was getting up the guy took a full Phoenix Burst up front and his entire person was blown out of the ring in a glorious mess of rags and char. The crowd went wild and Hongjun turned back in time to see Hua Yin stab at him with a hand ablaze in brilliant orange.

I extended Devour, Shock, and Corrode together after her as Hongjun's yellow ring shone.

Hongjun burst into a sphere of intense purple fire as Hua Yin's attack hit his shoulder, who winced when both my light and Hongjun's fire enclosed her. Hongjun then grabbed at her hands and tried pulling but her two yellow rings shone and her body became a brilliant orange blur and slipped from his hold. The spirit power entering me through Devour increased, and I arrived next to Hongjun, who now had a small wound on his pectorals.

So, a blitz wasn't the best of ideas, lesson learned. "Sorry," I said, making sure to cover him.

"Just a flesh wound," he said with a shrug.

When earlier Hua Yin was low-key insulting us with a playful smile, right now, she looked like bloody murder on the rocks. Literal most likely if she could manage. She stood away from us, her purple ring blazing with her hand covered in that intense glow—fighting back Hongjun's evil fire.

I then covered her and most of the ring in Devour, and her face scrunched up some more. Hongjun and I then slowly approached. My Domain's effects reduced the more I increased the range, and intensified when focused, and only with extra exertion of spirit power did it display the full effect even at full range. Our opponent was an agility spirit master with an unknown spirit type, and we were already damaged by her attack, by all intents and purposes, we've already won this bout—but better err on the side of caution.

Hua Yin raised her hand and I added Shock to the mix.

She winced from the added rancor and glared at me with the intensity of a tiger, staying like that for a few good seconds as she clenched her fists.

"I forfeit!" she said, almost spitting at the ground.

Hongjun relaxed his posture and I retracted my Domain to place her just outside of it. Just in case.

The announcer then jumped in and waved us all back to stand down, and all three of us left dispelled our spirits. Mixed reactions came from the crowd as our win was announced, and Zhang Ji stepped up to the ring to escort her down. The two kept looking at us bitterly as they left, and me and Hongjun left as well after the announcer presented us to the people.

We then met the rest of the team in the holding area after since our team fight was up next. Oscar passed Hongjun a sausage and I bandaged up his wound to prevent any further bleeding. We spirit masters healed fast anyway, and the lady's attack barely broke his skin, just enough to draw blood.

"This shouldn't cause any issues," Tang San said, inspecting the first-aid treatment.

"That was a good opening, but you were caught off-guard by that Zhang Ji's third ability," uncle said.

"It won't happen again," me and Hongjun said.

Uncle then debriefed us on our match: we were facing the Boiling Storm team who were facing us with a team of eight versus their usual combination of nine: three lightning element spirits, three water element spirits, and three fire element spirits. Their composition had the three teams acting on their own like little units, and they focused on fighting with a rotation like system where they keep their opponents guessing on who'll attack next with their ever-changing strategy.

Our plan of attack was to instead take out each unit with a major offensive repeated three times using our standard formation. Our three close combat attackers would take the front while Tang San and Hongjun supported the middle, and I, Rongrong, and Oscar held the rear. I was so much weaker without my Hammer, and in terms of control, my abilities were more debuffs than actual disablers. But with the combined boosts of Oscar and Rongrong, we at least had a plan.

Oscar was to keep fueling Rongrong, Hongjun, and me with his recovery sausages while us two guys kept up the pressure at range, and Tang San with his low-cost projectiles would fuck up everyone with Rongrong judging whoever needed her boosts at the time.

A simple plan by all respects—but things have a tendency of going wrong, and should it come to that, it was no holds barred spirit bone action from there. Our positions would then shift into a more mobile strategy with Tang San harassing the enemy from the air and Oscar running support with everyone while carrying Rongrong with his spider lances. Then me and Hongjun will join the front-liners to breakthrough with a strong push.

If the situation took a turn for the worst from there, then I break out with my Hammer and give the opposing team hell. We had masks on anyway, so that should make it harder a bit to tell who's who if ever.

I hope.

We were then ushered into the hallway and uncle had to leave us then after the attendant's urging.

"This will be our first real fight as a team," Tang San said, sticking a hand forward. "Let's all give it our best."

We all nodded, and joined hands, one over the other.

"Remember," Tang San continued, "our spirit bones are our trump cards, and we should avoid their use as much as possible."

"Little Wu and Zhuqing, make sure to stick close," Mubai said. "Let me receive their attacks, and you two find your openings."

The two nodded.

"And we'll provide support from the rear," Oscar said.

"And no using your Hammer unless absolutely necessary," Tang San warned me.

"Understood third brother," I said. Fighting like this was like having both hands tied behind me with one leg over my head. I felt like an absolute joke with those last two fights, and all this secrecy was really grinding at me. But even if the Great Spirit Arena was considered neutral grounds, that no grudges rule didn't extend to the audience attending nor did it prevent rumors from spreading.

A torrent of cheers reverberated from the walls, echoing down the hall.

"That's a huge crowd," Oscar said, swallowing a lump in his throat.

Team fights were the real money makers of the arena, and given how jam-packed our timeslot was and the number of teams to fight on well after us, the income was surely enormous. Maybe I could also introduce cock-fighting here or something, like a casino. Shouldn't be that difficult. Maybe a roulette and some card tables, the only real difficulty there would be teaching enough people the rules.

"Presenting, Shrek's Eight Devils!" came the muffled announcer's voice.

"That's our cue," Tang San said.

We all walked into a sea of people where faces blurred into the colors of the crowds. Duller shades were more common with the higher seats, and the richness of the hues were so obvious from the ring. Tickets were more expensive the closer they were to the action, and there were even private boxes cut-off from the general admission.

Eight people walked out from the other side dressed in the colors of their themes: blue for lightning, light blue for water, and pink for fire. A horrible choice to be honest, but we weren't really one to talk with all our colors so distinct from each other.

"It's beginning," Rongrong said next to me.

After uncle debriefed me and everyone else about what happened with the ant nest and how I came into possessing that spirit bone, he then determined that it couldn't have had an attacking ability since that wasn't the function of the queen. Instead, he was intrigued with how closely that soldier guarded the royal chamber and from there deduced the possibility of a sort of guardian type designation. With the continent's foremost theoretical expert on spirits giving his approval, Rongrong decided to risk it.

When she finished absorbing it, her spirit power was brought to the cusp of the thirtieth rank and she even obtained exactly what uncle thought she would. The spirit bone's ability was called the Queen's Guard, and applied a fifteen percent spirit power boost to whoever she targeted at the cost of that person taking twenty percent of all damage she received. Taking half or more would've been nicer, but this was already pretty good for a bone not even in the ten-thousand-year range. Also, since she had a torso spirit bone, activating it didn't make any visible changes to her body besides the light from its ability shining out and connecting her to her guard, and even then, her spirit abilities worked that way anyway.

At least with this, she was somewhat safer.

"Stay close to me and Oscar," I said.

She nodded.

We stepped up to the ring as one with wave after wave of cheers rolling as we approached the center. Sixteen people altogether took up positions around the ring: us Devils with the three-two-three, and the Boiling Storm with a horizontal three-two-three. The sub-team with two members only was the water group, and the lightning and fire sub-teams took their flanks. Uncle's debriefing didn't contain any spirit abilities, just their names, ranks, and spirits. At best, we at least knew the average for their team was rank thirty-three, with two powers at the thirty-seventh rank being the leaders of the lightning and fire sub-teams.

The announcer raised his hand, "Ready!"

Fifty-two spirit rings all floated up, creating a spectacle for all the stadium to see. Two members of the lightning sub-team had configurations of two yellow and one purple while the last had three yellow, both members of the water sub-team had white, yellow, purple, and the fire sub-team had one with optimal configuration, and the last two also with the ten-hundred-thousand combination. Our side had all ideal configurations and two had better than ideal, but we lost out with the number of spirit rings by two.

As our spirits came out, those three with the ideal configurations were all beast spirit masters, and of the two lightning members, the taller of the two had his neck grow a bit longer as his hair stood on end with little arcs of electricity coiling about him with patches of light blue and orange showing up on his skin. Then the one next to him turned a shade of grey paler as his mouth grew larger, and his entire body got covered in electricity too. The fire spirit master on the other hand, seemed to grow plates of rounded red dermal armor with his hands extending two long talons forward.

All the others behind them were tool spirit users. The last lightning member had a large fan, then the two water members had a pearl floating above a clam and the other with what looked like a blob of corals, and the two fire users had one with a flaming saber, and the other with a torch.

More cheers sounded out, then faded as those spotlights grew in intensity, highlighting each fighter's position.

"Are you ready to rumble?!" the announcer said, and the crowd went wild.

Tension filled the air and my palms were beginning to sweat. To my sides were Rongrong and Oscar with their bodies stiff, and in front of me was Hongjun with a fierce smile on and an unwavering Tang San. At the back of my mind, I knew I had the potential to beat anyone we saw here given enough preparations—and since weapons weren't banned, I had my explosives to rely on should push come to shove. But that was a horrible way of settling things that could backfire in a just as horrible way should my bombs prove useless. Note to self, test these bastards some more when I have the time.

"Shrek's Seven Devils versus Boiling Storm, begin!"

The first to act was the lightning team, and Blue and Grey's purple rings shone and the two brought their hands to the ground as a wave of lightning travelled over the ground. Meanwhile, the fire team circled around under a blazing trail led by Torch, while the water team stayed in the rear as all three rings shone on both Clam and Coral. Bubbles floated upwards from Clam, and blue spirit energy shot out from Coral and hit the lightning team.

Lines of blue shot out everywhere from Tang San, wrapping around everyone's waists and shoulders, and he pulled back our three forward attackers, he then tugged me forward and I concentrated Devour and Corrode into a wedge in front of me and absorbed as much spirit power as I could from the two attacks while everyone else dodged to one side. As the wave of lightning was about to near me, and extended a trail of Shock from in front to connect a line of electricity over to the path of the fire team—and the wave followed Shock's trail.

Mubai, Zhuqing, and Xiao Wu then all charged forward while shifting positions under Tang San's masterful use of Bind. A tug at the waist meant to go forward, while a tug at the left shoulder meant defend, and attack with the right. Waist and left meant retreat, and waist and right meant reorient, and a tug at all three meant he was going to separate us.

We shifted our formation to give the fire team our right flank, and Oscar and Rongrong switched places to place her at the furthest from the rear as I moved next to Hongjun after Oscar passed us three with eight linked-sausages each. Oscar's ability worked to reinforce the spirit force behind any ability by twenty percent, meaning any spirit ability, whether single-use or sustained, would become stronger by that much at the cost of increased spirit power cost.

This included Rongrong's Boosts.

The two earlier attacks cut off the fire team's charge, and I got back a good chunk of spirit power from that last attack, so I extended Devour over the three, waiting with Shock for them to come closer.

Plates' yellow ring shone, and he shot a fireball towards us on which I concentrated Devour while eating my sausages. Oscar's Eight-linked Salami increased the potency of my Domain for as long as I kept it up, and as I finished each link, Devour's distinct golden intensity grew.

"Mubai, Wave!" said Tang San, as white Swords flashed towards the sides of the now weakening fireball.

Torch, Plates, and Saber all swatted away the missiles that flew at them and continued their advance in a row: Torch now covered in a ball of fire with his white ring shining, Saber with his yellow ring and sword also glowing, and Plates with another yellow, but this time with his claws ablaze.

Hongjun then met the fire ball with a Fire Wire as he and I moved forward.

He moved to block Plates and Saber while I moved for Torch, and just as I was about to break out with a punch, a different hue of gold colored my body together with bright red, and the three attacker's faces went from confident smiles to pained grimaces.

Hongjun covered himself in Bathing Fire just as Plates and Saber's slashes were about to reach him—and I broke out with Shock and Corrode at full intensity over the two. My spirit power drained at an astonishing rate, but the two's faces crumpled under my Domain, and Torch looked away long enough for me to sock him good in the chin with an uppercut.

Right now, Rongrong's strength boost was at an all-time high of fifty percent.

Torch's flame was lesser in quality to Hongjun's and didn't even burn as much as that soldier ant's puke, so I made sure to bury my fist into his face as hard as I could. His feet left the ground from the impulse, and I chased after him quick thanks to my Crown's increase in perception, then elbowed his face hard into the ground—slamming it against the stone ring and cracking against it.

He didn't get up after that.

Damn that felt good. Meanwhile, Hongjun's flame stuck like heavy tar onto Plates and Saber, and the latter started attacking wildly once he found he couldn't dispel the intensified flame. After absorbing the Acid Snare Ant Soldier, Hongjun's sticky flames became even more tenacious and now had the added effect of burning through spirit power, meaning anyone who wanted to keep the flames back would have to double their efforts to do so. With Hongjun, Rongrong, and I all boosted by another twenty percent for our sustained abilities, with another fifteen for me thanks to Rongrong's spirit bone, then these guys thinking they had an easy time with the rear just got a horrible surprise.

Hongjun and I nodded to each other, and Plates' purple ring shone—creating a large explosion with me and Hongjun caught in the middle.

But a strong pull took me and him out of the blast zone and safely back into the formation. Mubai glowing red and white was blocking Blue and with Vajra transformation, while Zhuqing and Xiao Wu both distracted Grey. Meanwhile, the two lightning members were suppressed by Tang San's constantly flying and erupting Swords, while the two water spirit masters were being covered by Fan fending off San's black Needles that kept flying about everywhere.

On our side, Plates was able to remove Hongjun's flames, but Saber wasn't as well-off, his body was now starting to turn a dangerous red in places as his face cycled between rage and worry in quick bursts. Devour and Hongjun's evil flames together burned spirit power away at an astonishing rate, and him not using any spirit abilities to try and do what Plates did meant he had nothing going for him.

I charged forward then, again getting boosted with Rongrong's red. Right now, Rongrong didn't have a choice with performing her boosts, and if she gave someone something, then she could only give everyone else the same thing. Starting her Heart Separation Control was something uncle wanted her to do during one discussion, but the constant physical training didn't give her any chance at the peace of mind she needed to prepare herself for the technique.

As a workaround, we all then agreed she'd only ever use one type of boost at any given time to make sure she kept her spirit power in check. Right now, Strength was her sole boost.

Plates had three abilities: fire slash, fireball, and explosion, and he again used fireball, this time aiming for Rongrong—while I rushed Plates hard and tackled him to the ground. Hongjun was pulled upwards by Tang San and intercepted the fireball with Burst Fire, dispelling the flames, while I fully retracted my Domain to cover only Plates and pulled hard with Devour, while at the same time Shock and Corrode ground him down with Rongrong's extra spirit power boost from her spirit bone.

Plates' struggled hard against me, but with me hanging onto him with a sleeper choke while separating his legs with my own made it hard for him to fight back in a meaningful way, the few moments he'd elbow me at the ribs were too weak thanks to my smaller body, and his struggling started getting weaker and weaker.

Just then, Saber appeared above me with his sword held high—but was also blown away with another Fire Burst, with the flames burning me too from the proximity, but Devour solved that issue quickly. Plates then stopped struggling as Saber was announced disqualified from ring out. I gave Plate another few squeezes to make sure he was out cold, and when I was already sure. I let him go, and dragged his body over together with Torch's to near where Tang San was, while Hongjun moved up together with me.

By this time, Blue and Grey had gotten some good shots at Mubai, Xiao Wu, and Zhuqing who were smoking and burned at places, and just then, Rongrong's light left me and the three were covered in a mix of purple: Rongrong's red Strength and blue Speed. The tide changed just as quick, and I dragged the two unconscious people further forward, keeping Devour trained on them.

Whenever Blue or Grey would shoot out their lightning, I'd meet the attack with a full power Corrode and Devour while redirecting some of the attack with Shock, and the two's faces became more and more enraged as time went on. With my batteries, I could keep going until they hit empty, and with Oscar now free to supply Tang San with Eight-link sausages…

A white Sword struck Fan's hand, drawing blood, and the lull in his defense was enough of a hole for San to cover him, Clam, and Coral with his Needles, and when that blue light from the two water members faded, Blue and Grey quickly fell to a beat down from a smiling Mubai, and two very very annoyed girls with burnt hair.

There came a lull in the cheering as Blue finally fell, and after that came a loud roar of clapping and shouting, and though a little worse for wear after the whole ordeal, we came out on top for our first ever fight as a full team.

"The winners! Shrek's Eight Devils!" came the announcer's sweet sweet voice.


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