That last trip took us seven days total, just enough time to get back into the thick of the fights. Points calculation were done at the end of the month, and assuming we kept up our team's winning streak, then that was enough to rake in the Silver Fighter Badge by the end of this next month. One point was awarded for each win, and five successive wins nets another ten after the next, so six wins total would have an accumulated sixteen points, then seven would be twenty-seven, thirty-eight, forty-nine, then sixty for ten straight wins. After ten straight wins, a hundred then is added instead of ten, meaning eleven wins would become a hundred and sixty-one, then two-hundred and sixty-two, and so on and so on.
Also, this count was separate for each category of fight, so with my current eight-win streak so far for all, I had already accumulated seventy-six points. Relative to our goal of a thousand points for the silver spirit badge, I only needed to win thirteen times straight for all three categories given the point system. However, Rongrong and Oscar couldn't join the individual fights so they needed at least fifteen wins straight to reach their goal.
Until this next month was over, I had no choice but to win at all costs—even if it meant eating some losses with the betting.
Uncle Xiaogang started us in the arena at the second week of the seventh month—which reminds me, I missed my birthday three weeks ago. Twelve months were divided into thirty days, with weeks in the normal seven, only problem was there were no weekdays or weekends since days didn't have any distinct names besides calling it the first day, second day, and so on, hence how weird it was to tell the dates. The last five days of the year were then bunched up into a five-day long celebration thus completing the three hundred and sixty-five days.
Missing the anniversary of my being here for eleven years already wasn't that important. But it'd have been nice to celebrate it still. After all, I'd found a home here when I didn't even think it possible.
The following month, I completed my minimum goal of thirteen wins just before losing to this Mad Xi guy with a rhinoceros spirit in the one-on-ones. Thirty-eighth rank spirit power was just too high a gap to make up for with just a bit of physical strength. A loss deducted one point from the contender and with a thousand and eighty-nine points to spare, losing wasn't so bad a deal. Me and Hongjun then made sure to pay him and his spider spirit control system partner two-fold, and the guy flew hard against the wall from Hongjun's flames while I drained his lady partner as hard as I could as she fell into unconsciousness.
I also broke through to the thirty-fifth rank with that last fight—so it wasn't a complete bust.
The team fight after wasn't exactly the best either.
"Shrek's Eight Devils versus Mad Battle team! Ready!"
Mad Xi and Yin Zhing were the captain and vice-captains of the team we were fighting, and it wasn't often this sort of situation occurred. I was still smarting from when Mad Xi threw me out of the ring, but for sure he was still feeling the burn from Hongjun's flames and that Yin couldn't have recovered her spirit power as fast.
The two threw me a seething glare as both sides released our spirits. We were evenly matched in terms of number of spirit rings, but we lost in terms of total rank. All members in the Mad Battle team had spirit power at the thirty-fifth rank at least, and right now, our team's ranks were: boss Dai still at thirty-eight, Tang San now at thirty-seven, me at thirty-five, Xiao Wu and Hongjun at thirty-three, Oscar and Zhuqing at thirty-two, and Rongrong at thirty-one.
We had our usual formation of three-two-three, while the opponents had a three-three-two.
Mad Xi grew in size as layers of grey armor covered his body. He had a white-yellow-purple configuration, and his three abilities were: an empowered punch, a charge, and a strength buff respectively. Yin Zhing on the other hand, had an ideal configuration of yellow-yellow-purple, and her spirit was a spider that caused her long hair to bunch up into eight arms. Her three abilities were: web weave, web cut, and some sort of buff that allowed her to move around with her hair-legs for her thousand-year ring. Its real merit lay in the increase of her mobility, though she lucked out with Hongjun's tenacious flames.
At Mad Xi's sides were two guys who grew ram horns each, then Yin had another two guys who grew brown furry tails behind them and adopted monkey-like postures. Last, were the two at the rear, one with a dinner plate, and the other with a short spear-like weapon. All six of their remaining members had white-yellow-purple configurations.
The first to act was Plate, whose three rings shone as Oscar finished up his incantation for an Eight-link sausage while Tang San let out a flurry of Needles and Swords, one batch flying upwards, and another two at each flank.
A faint reddish light entered the Mad Battle team as Oscar passed the sausages to Rongrong, and as one, all our opponents let out a ferocious roar.
Spear and Yin stayed behind to cover Plate, while everyone else on their side moved to attack with spirit rings blazing.
Rongrong finished her sausages and set her red and yellow lights on all of us except Oscar who was now producing Recovery Sausages left and right after passing me an Eight-link.
An extra sixty percent spirit power was no laughing matter to anyone involved, and with it, Zhuqing was that much faster, or Mubai just as strong. Essentially, it improved everyone from the ground up instead of through a singular attribute, and together with another boost of strength, fighting hand-to-hand just became so much more fun.
I extended Devour and Shock, boosted by the twenty from Oscar and the sixty from Rongrong, to completely cover our side of the battlefield, and just then, all our opponents seemed to slow under my light.
Boss Dai and Mad Xi collided with their yellow and purple rings shining, and Hongjun intercepted the two Rams with Fire Wire further boosted by Bathing Fire.
Monkey One dodged Zhuqing's Stab in time, but his body stuttered just enough for her to chain into an uppercut Cleave that threw the guy out of the ring. At the same time, Xiao Wu teleported behind her target who lashed out with a kick that hit her in the stomach—but it only threw him off balance.
Her Waist Bow ability didn't lose one bit to Mubai's strengthening abilities, and it was just Monkey Two's rotten luck that he had to hit her square right where she was strongest. The guy's head was then planted in the ground without ceremony.
Plate and Yin fell to the rain of Needles that flew their way, but Spear kept his cool long enough to throw his spirit forward with all three rings shining just before his entire person was perforated by Swords.
His spirit wasn't dispelled after those massive injuries, and it kept flying towards us in the back row.
Hongjun intercepted the missile with another Burst Fire, and the resulting heat was enough to stagger Mad Xi long enough for boss Dai to make him eat a Light Wave to the face.
The spear deviated, but corrected itself mid-flight and by then, it was already too far for anyone else up front to react. I didn't know whether I could defend against it without my Hammer, but I was willing to try.
Spear's missile burned with an intense white, and I reinforced myself with as much spirit power as I could.
But a flash of brilliant blue intercepted the attack, shattering in the process.
I looked to my right and saw Oscar spit out a mouthful of blood with four broken spider legs while the other four kept him standing.
"I can be cool too," he said, and threw the shards from his external bone over to Tang San. This was one of our contingencies should it ever occur—and to think we'd have to use it now. His spirit bone was durable enough to receive a half-assed punch or two from boss Dai's Vajra transformation, but if he were serious then Oscar's bones would shatter and release the Man-faced Demon Spider's toxin.
Hence, this strategy was a counter based on Tang San's otherworldly throwing skills and Oscar's sacrificial block.
Tang San received the crystal blue shards in his glowing white palms, then more Swords flew out, tipped with crystal blue, and the fight ended after that.
Uncle led us back to the hotel with no one really talking, and we ate dinner in silence. That situation we faced wasn't anywhere near defeat, but to have our back row attacked like that sure was an eye opener. If I had my full strength, then it wouldn't have been a problem—but I couldn't fight like that, not yet at least.
"I'm sorry," I said.
All eyes went to me, and it was uncle who spoke up.
"That wasn't your fault," he said.
Nods went around the table.
"You can't be good at everything, little Jin," said teacher Zhao, ruffling my hair. "And besides, Rongrong still had her own trump card, she would've been hurt, yes, but your own contribution would still help no matter what."
Rongrong smiled my way and said, "You worry too much."
Xiao Wu only looked at me slyly. "He does do that a lot," she said. "But only for you." She winked Rongrong's way.
"That felt a lot like genuine danger though," I said.
"And you were willing to sacrifice life and limb to protect her anyway," Xiao Wu finished for me.
Boss Dai smiled in a cheeky way that didn't suit his rugged looks, and Tang San nodded in approval with Zhuqing. Oscar and Hongjun though only sighed together before shaking hands with firm grips.
"Brothers," Hongjun said.
"Brothers," Oscar echoed.
"Little Jin," uncle said, "trust in your team."
I met Oscar's eyes and he nodded back with a resolute smile. "I'll protect you and Rongrong both, what sort of big brother would I be otherwise?"
After that, the dinner became a lot livelier and our night ended on a positive note. And early that morning, I went through the markets to get myself a treat with some shopping. All this constant activity was getting to me and I needed to unwind. I was steadily building up my goods for trading later on, and the few profits I struck myself here were still more satisfying than winning from the betting. The money was bigger there, but there was a different satisfaction in getting a good deal.
I traded for some more ores since Tang San always had something going on during his daily visits to the forge, and some herbs I could identify from uncle's medicinal baths during those hellish boot camp days. I also picked up some sweet buns for the girls to enjoy later and some quality meat I can barbecue later for dinner with everyone.
As I was doing my usual rounds, a peddler new in town caught my eye. On his cart was laid out a bunch of random knick-knacks. but what caught my eye was an all too familiar black pearl. I snatched it up as fast as I could and injected spirit power into it—and lo and behold, it warmed in response.
"How much mister?" If this was anything like I got before, then surely the price was worth it.
"Two gold," he said.
Sure, why not. "Any chance you have more?"
"Just that one."
"It's really pretty," I said, turning the pearl over and about. If I could just get to the source… "Where'd you get it?"
"From a dealer of ores," he said with a shrug.
That didn't make sense one bit, and my finding this was too much of a coincidence. But it's not as if I'd encountered it before as well in my time trading everywhere else. Luck perhaps? Still, he didn't look anything outside of normal, so I doubt I'd get anything more from him.
I checked out his other wares and found nothing else that responded to spirit power so I paid my dues and left, and after making my way towards the outskirts of town where there wasn't as many people, I touched the pearl to my ring and it absorbed it just like before. As expected, its capacity grew another meter on all sides, bringing my total capacity to a small barn's worth instead of just a few moving trucks.
Not one to say no to good fortune, I returned then to the hotel and got ready for the next round of fights.
The next few days weren't as eventful since everyone else kept winning their pair fights, though only Tang San kept his one-on-one record clean. We'd already been here for a month, though only half if we're only considering within the scoring periods.
After Oscar revealed his spider legs, he'd been using them every match now and without boss Dai having to worry as much, he could completely focus on beating everyone else silly. Rongrong and Zhuqing together on the other hand were oppressing everyone they met, and not even those pairs with spirit masters at the thirty-ninth rank could compete with them. The two together were just too scary with the combined forty percent boosts on strength, speed, and spirit power, plus another fifteen percent for the latter, all of which worked well with Zhuqing's fighting style.
Tang San and Xiao Wu though didn't even need the auxiliary support, and just kept plowing straight through.
For the team fights however, that was when me and Hongjun got to shine the most. With Rongrong and Oscar's synergistic boost, everyone could perform at more than their best, but my Domain and Hongjun's flames burned at their brightest. Under my enhanced debuffs and Hongjun's constant bombardment, the last time anyone really gave us any problems was the Mad Battle team from that last-ditch attack by their Spear user, but barring him, no one really stood a chance anymore.
This also meant betting on our team had finally stopped being profitable.
After our team won thirty fights in a row—bringing everyone well and above the minimum required points for the Silver Fighter badges—uncle told us we'd have a special fight in two days care of the Spirit Arena itself.
"The arena's manager has come to us with a request," uncle said. "Due to a certain team, the Spirit Arena group has suffered some heavy losses with their income, and as such, I agreed to have you fight against them in their stead."
We all nodded. Uncle wouldn't really put us through something we couldn't handle, so him announcing this now was just like him telling us to go climb a mountain or something.
"This Emperor team is Silver Ranked as a team," continued uncle, "meaning their cooperation must be good enough for them to reach it while they are all still Spirit Elders."
To be fair, we'd also already reached that level after twenty straight wins. It just wasn't official yet since points were calculated at the end of the month.
"However, your hardships do not end there," uncle added. "The Emperor team only has seven members, meaning you must leave one person out for this fight."
Yeah, that would be a problem alright.
"Ultimately," uncle said, "there will come a time when all eight of you cannot be complete for any number of reasons, and sometimes, these situations as well will be the most difficult. Little San, little Jin, I forbid you both from using any of your weapons in this battle, but just this once, I will permit little Jin to use his hammer as a trump card."
I raised an eyebrow his way, and everyone else seemed to have the same question in mind.
"Worry not," he said, "I've already arranged for such matters. For this, Spirit Arena has sworn themselves to secrecy for any happenings within the fight, and have given us an advance of ten-thousand gold coins as a trust. Also, the audience for this fight will only be those high-ranking nobles much too embroiled in their own petty fights to be loyal enough to Spirit Hall."
"Understood," I said.
"Little San," uncle said, "I leave you in charge for strategy."
We all gathered round Tang San, and even if boss Dai was the captain as the eldest, even he deferred to Tang San's directions in battle.
"Yes, teacher," Tang San said.
After that, uncle passed us the official record of the Emperor team with the Spirit Arena group.
All of them in the team had ideal spirit ring configurations, and their captain was Yu Tianheng with the Blue Lightning Tyrant Dragon spirit as a thirty-ninth rank battle system. The vice-captain was a lady named Dugu Yan with the Jade Phosphor Serpent spirit, and was a thirty-eighth rank control system, then two defensive system masters named Shi Mò and Shi Mó, both with Black Tortoise spirits and at thirty-eighth and thirty-seventh rank respectively. They then had two agility system masters both at thirty-sixth rank, Yu Feng with the Wind Chime Bird spirit, and Osler with the Ghost Leopard spirit, and last but not least was their auxiliary system Xie Lingling with the Nine Heart Flowering Apple spirit at thirty-fifth rank.
When we finished reading uncle spoke again, "Of these seven you must be most wary of three, the captain, the vice-captain, and their auxiliary master. Little Jin and Rongrong, I believe you two already know why I told you to be wary of the Tyrant Dragon?"
"And for this Jade Phosphor serpent," he continued, "I believe she should have some relation with that Jade Phosphor Douluo."
Dean Flender and Mubai both swallowed hard, and uncle nodded to them with a grim expression.
"I understand," boss Dai said.
"For this Nine Heart Flowering Apple, from what I know it's ability is singularly focused on healing, and how much can be restored is dependent on the spirit master wielding it. However, be it poison or disease, this spirit is able to dispel them all."
Rongrong nodded. "And what's more," she said. "My father has told me of this spirit as well, and that its true power lies in how little spirit power it uses relative to its effect. I believe taking her out should be our first priority."
At that uncle raised his hand, "I know I said to be wary of these three, but you also shouldn't forget about the Shi brothers. Their Black Tortoise spirit is just as potent as the Tyrant Dragon. Only, instead of attack, their cultivation focuses on overwhelming defense."
"This is a well thought out combination then," Tang San said. "With the Tyrant Dragon leading the charge, followed with what I assume to be a poison control system?" Uncle nodded. "Then surely, her abilities will be an area of effect style. After that would be the defense of the two brothers from both flanks, and the ground and air support of their two agility masters, and last would be the healing, only the addition of a Seven Treasure spirit would truly make their combination perfect."
Rongrong frowned. "Yes, I do believe that is the case as well."
Everyone had serious looks on, and I had to speak up. "Their team seems like it's well suited for a long-protracted fight, but they don't seem to have any long-range attacks or any methods to strengthen themselves with."
Tang San nodded. "Their formation is good, but it's not perfect. We still don't know their abilities, but I believe their biggest lack would also be this capability to fight at mid-range like we do, and if they have defenses, then we only need to overwhelm them with overbearing attacks. Boss Dai, Zhuqing, how well confident are you with executing your spirit fusion ability?"
The two looked at each other before boss Dai answered, "We have seventy percent confidence with perfectly executing it."
Zhuqing nodded as well. Over these last few months, I've noticed that though she acts cold towards boss Dai, she never physically lashed out at him nor had she rejected him outright. Of course, him stopping his nightly activities—at least from what I heard with Hongjun—seems to have contributed to that, and it had even begun a week before the five of us showed up. Almost as if he was forewarned of her coming. But then again, these two having more to themselves wouldn't really be all that surprising anymore.
"All spirit bones are allowed as well," uncle said. "Hongjun and little San, feel free to use your bones should the need arise."
The two nodded, and we all agreed on who'll stay back. After much debate, it was decided Xiao Wu will be the one to stay back. Her Soft Skill was strong against most opponents, but against a major unknown, her abilities were instead a major risk on our side. Zhuqing's life stealing ability would help greatly with her staying power, and with Mubai there, their ability to release a spirit fusion would be indispensable.
Me, Rongrong, and Oscar together were a given with our synergy with my Domain, and Hongjun and Tang San were too strong to leave out. Xiao Wu pouted all the way, but a promise from Tang San to take her out shopping on my expense placated her enough to let us go to the arena.
Flender then signaled me that all bets were against us, with odds at a too absurd eight to one. The only other time we got them this good was during our first fight as a team, and even then we couldn't risk the capital.
As we stepped into that stage, there was none of the usual flair, and neither were there any people in the audience. Instead, cold crystal walls surrounded us, with each facet corresponding to a room. This was a more private arena for the high rollers, such that even after betting a total of thirty-five thousand gold, the odds still hadn't moved.
Uncle, Flender, and teacher Zhao stood behind us with Xiao Wu and the rest of the teachers, but only one person stood behind the Emperor team's side.
Seven people from opposite sides of the ring stepped up, and from what I could tell, those guys in the emperor team were all older than us. But then again, almost everyone was.
"Did they actually send us a child?" asked the red-haired lady. There were only two women on their team, and given that the other person looked rather timid with that lace mask of hers, I'm willing to bet this one was that Dugu Yan.
"Don't underestimate them," said the guy in the long black robes. He had black hair and piercing blue eyes, the characteristic hereditary trait of the main line descendants of their clan. I may possibly be facing the heir of the Tyrant Dragon sect.
"Really? But these guys don't even look like they could put up a fight?" said a blonde in a short-sleeved tunic and shorts.
None from our side really bothered with replying. It was better to win with humility than to have our asses handed to us after bragging. At least this way, in case we lost, we'd at least save some face
"There's only two possibilities from here," said a guy in grey robes, "these are just trash they sent out to stall for time, or this is their solution."
At least two people were difficult to deal with, and those last three in their team were unreadable.
The lights then went out, and a spotlight illuminated a section of the high ceiling—revealing a shimmering pair of wings attached to a lady with three yellow spirit rings floating behind her.
"Welcome ladies and gentlemen," came a velvety smooth voice, "our Suotuo Great Spirit Arena proudly presents to you the main event of this night!"
More spotlights opened, one trained on us, the other on the Emperor team.
"Shrek's Eight Devils versus Emperor Team! A one night only event filled with intrigue is definitely one to remember."
What the hell did uncle tell them to get that sort of intro?
"Without further ado, both teams, prepare!"
Calmly, forty-two spirit rings floated up, our side in a three-one-three formation, with Tang San, Mubai, and Zhuqing at the front, Hongjun in the middle, and us three at the back, while the Emperor team were in a three-two-two. As we did, the people on the other side couldn't help but stare.
"Of course, they couldn't be normal," said Black, his right arm enlarging into a scaled and spiked blue. It was the first stage of the dragon transformation all Tyrant Dragon wielders experienced, so this was surely Yu Tianheng.
The two with him in front then threw their shirts away, revealing black turtle shells on their backs and fronts together with steeled muscles, the Shi brothers.
"That must be some trick," said Red all the way from the rear, whose legs had now fused into a long and scaled green tail as she stood with swaying motions, Dugu Yan. Beside her was Xie Lingling who was holding onto an ornate flower.
"But none of his rings are shining, so it can't be," said Grey in the middle, who grew two pointed ears as the tips of his fingers glinted with silvery tips, Osler.
"We'll just have to find out later," said Yu Feng next to him, whose arms had now turned into a pair of brown wings.
The lady announcer then flew to the middle of the stage. "The fight will only stop after all combatants from one side have either: forfeited, been disqualified, or been incapacitated. Killing is also forbidden, is that clear?"
No one really answered since that was already a given.
"Now," she said, "before we proceed with the fight, we will first present the combatants for each side!"
Well that's new.
"First, as the reigning champions, we have the Emperor team…"
She finished listing off what we already knew of the other side, and she then began with ours.
"Shrek's Eight Devils, White Tiger, Evil Eyes White Tiger spirit, rank thirty-eight battle spirit master; Thousand Hands, Blue Silver Grass spirit, rank thirty-seven control spirit master."
At that the four from the Emperor team did a double-take.
"Seven Treasure Princess, Seven Treasure Glazed Tile Pagoda spirit, rank thirty-one auxiliary system spirit master; Hell Civet, Hell Civet spirit, rank thirty-two agility system spirit master; Sausage Monopoly, Sausage spirit, rank thirty-two auxiliary system spirit master; and…"
All lights dimmed, and a single spotlight shone on me.
"Amber King, Amber Crown and Clear Sky Hammer spirits, rank thirty-five battle and control spirit master!"
The lights opened up, and all eyes from the Emperor team fell on me.
"Oh," I said, summoning my Hammer, "that makes it easier then."
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