The lights shifted again, this time illuminating the entire space. It made our spirit rings shine out even more with the dazzling angles, though the glitters coming from the ceiling might have something to do with that. Beside me were Rongrong and Oscar standing close to each other and focused on our opponents, they were to keep as far away as possible from the fighting using Oscar's spider legs while Hongjun and I covered them. But with this new revelation, things were bound to change.
This was our first time fighting a Silver ranked team, and anything could go wrong. Everyone else we'd fought before was on the same Iron or higher by a grade Copper rank, and from what I'd seen before on the betting stands, every other silver team at least had five or more members above the forty-fifth rank, which meant these guys were to some extent comparable to those sorts of teams.
Granted, we were also on the same general level.
As I felt the familiar weight of my Hammer, Tianheng scowled my way while the rest of his team went on guard. Dugu Yan stepped in front of Xie Lingling, while Shi Mo and Shi Mu enclosed Tianheng from either side, hiding Yu Feng and Osler behind them. With a full fifty meters on of length, width, and height of space there was a lot of ground to cover—and even more air—and not enough people to keep everything nice and tight. With luck, Yu Feng wouldn't have anything too smart of an ability on his side.
"Careful," Tang San said.
Their tightened-up formation looked closer to a pillar now than their earlier inverted triangle.
A subtle tug pulled on my waist, and I met Tang San's eyes. He pursed his lips then gestured me over, and I moved up to the front. That announcer lady only watched the changes in our formations as Tang San walked to the back of the team.
"I believe teacher has a plan," he whispered as we passed each other.
"Understood," I said, taking my place beside Mubai.
With my means of attack returned to normal, I was better off serving as a front liner than a rear debuffer. My spirit power was more cost-effective when invested into keeping the attackers at bay than simply weakened, since I had the possibility to do both myself anyway. Oscar and Rongrong also shifted forward up to the middle while Hongjun moved back together with Tang San.
With my Crown already on, I could see better now what they all looked like up front. Puzzled looks colored our opponents' faces, but none dared to speak.
Shi Mo and Shi Mu were both nearly twice my size, both in terms of height and bulk, with clean shaven bald heads. Their faces also looked the same, and only their differently colored robes set them apart: Mo with black, and Mu with grey. As expected, Tianheng behind them was in the pristine blue of the Tyrant Dragon clan. He, however, looked like a guy you'd see anywhere, modest build and height, not too handsome, though the long scar from his left eyebrow down to his cheek made him iconic enough.
Yu Feng and Osler behind them were two blonde slender youths, with the former's bright eyes and girlish looks somewhat reminiscent of his pixie-like spirit, and the latter's lazy gaze was exactly like that of a cat's he was also the bigger of the two in terms of physique and height.
We were too far to say anything to each other, but even from here it didn't take a genius to know Tianheng was sizing me up.
Further back were Dugu Yan and Xie Lingling. Yan kept her figure with the snake lower body, her green robes swaying together with her bright red hair. She seemed a bit shorter after her transformation, but the sharp look in her eyes could rival that of Xiao Wu looking at her carrot cakes—or anyone who insulted Tang San's honor. Xie Lingling though was covered from head to toe in black lace besides her purple hair which glistened in the light and so didn't look as menacing, but she wasn't any less eye catching.
When we finished rearranging ourselves, there was me and Mubai together at the front, then Rongrong, Oscar, and Zhuqing in the middle, and Tang San and Hongjun just a step behind them. The front was meant to breakthrough and receive: Mubai was the anvil, and I was the Hammer, then behind us were scouting and support protected as much as possible, with ranged firepower closest to them and suppressing whatever they saw fit.
With Xiao Wu, this formation would've finally seen the light of day at its full might, but we had to make due.
"Are both sides done with their changes?" the announcer lady said.
"The Emperor team is ready," Tianheng said with a dismissive wave.
"So are we," Tang San said with a nod.
The lady nodded back, and floated higher up the ring as all eyes followed her.
When she stopped ascending, she raised one hand up high as I tightened my grip on my spirit, and met Tianheng's eyes. Rank thirty-nine was a few ways to go from thirty-five, and with a spirit just as strong, that difference was as wide as it got. Still, to face someone from the Tyrant Dragon clan, it was an honor.
"Begin!" the lady said, flying away as Tianheng's yellow ring shone.
He thrust his dragon arm forward and three roaring claws of lightning barreled forward through the air. The guy wasted no time, coming in all business-like, simple and straightforward. Not a bad first impression for the first ever member of the Tyrant Dragon clan I'd ever met.
I expanded Domain into a corridor of golden light, and activated Shock at the very edge of the shell just as the lightning entered my space—deflecting the tendrils of blazing blue into the ground.
A grand explosion rocked the ring and from the dust came Tianheng running with Shi Mo and Shi Mu like two bulldozers in front of him, the latter two with their yellow rings flaring. That trick worked last time with the Boiling Storm team, which meant that ability of Tianheng's didn't alter the nature of electricity too much.
Blurs of black flew from the sides of my vision, and I swung my Hammer once to build up momentum.
"Three seconds!" Tang San said, as I recovered into a second swing. Meanwhile, Yu Feng and Osler from the back ranks furiously swatted away Tang San's Needles away from Lingling and Dugu Yan
We were at our weakest while waiting for Rongrong and Oscar to finish their combo, but with both my spirits out, we at least had a better chance of making up for that lull. I reached the pinnacle of the third swing as red misty arrows shot out of Dugu Yan together with her yellow ring, encircling Yu Feng and Osler.
Tianheng scowled as he shot another three claws of lightning at us, and again I deflected them with Shock as I swung into the fourth, black light gathering around my spirit.
"Two seconds," Tang San said, and boss Dai now had to give me a wider berth due to the spirit power fluctuations I was releasing, at the same time, Zhuqing and Hongjun stepped closer, sticking to us front-liners like our shadows.
That red mist from Dugu Yan then reached Tianheng and company, and they breathed it in, their bodies glowing bright red for a moment before the light faded into a pinkish radiance.
Then, Tianheng smirked, and released his yellow ring, this time shooting out five tendrils of lightning flying with wild trajectories as Shi Mo and Shi Mu together let out whistling howls, their spirit power pressures increasing in breadth.
I expanded Shock in time to reach the lightning bolts, but their erratic zig-zagging made them skirt my Domain in ways that defied the laws of physics—like that's anything new. I finished the sixth and seventh swings, and Mubai and Zhuqing now had to keep away from me by a meter and a half as the former shot down the lightning strikes with Light Waves together with Hongjun's Fire Wire.
Tianheng with the Shi brothers shortened the distance further into close-range at around five meters with one more dash as Zhuqing erupted from our right flank and Hongjun let out a sweeping pass of Fire Wire. The brothers' backs glowed as their turtle shells shifted to the right arm for Mo and the left for Mu, while Tianheng let out a ferocious roar as he swung his dragon arm with a wide arc to dispel Hongjun's flames with force.
Replacing Shock with Devour, I pushed my Domain outward to meet them as Mubai's purple ring shone, his body expanding to meet the Shi brothers pound for pound.
Tang San kept the pressure up with Needles flying left and right, with the occasional one finding its way to some blind spot on either of the three, while Hongjun kept all of them a step away with Fire Wire, the purple flames kept sticking to the brothers' shields, creating enough of an opening for boss Dai to clash with Tianheng and for me to redirect my next attack.
Tianheng slugged boss Dai with a downward crash while the latter answered with a wide slash, sparks flying as the two's limbs met. Then boss Dai suddenly moved backward with a sharp jerk, and Tianheng was left to follow-through on empty air with an awkward over extension.
I followed up with the eighth swing as Hongjun kept Shi Mo busy with a Phoenix Burst to the face while Shi Mu was thrown off his groove with a timely Cleave from behind by Zhuqing.
"Boost!" Tang San said, as gold and yellow lights entwined in my vision.
Power condensed in my entire body as a rising tension burst out, and I pulled hard with Devour as my Hammer approached Tianheng with a step forward, black and gold light erupting from every fiber of me.
But a quick save from Shi Mu stopped my attack cold, with him only falling back two hops before he recovered.
My Hammer rang with the hit, but I was fine nonetheless. I spun into the ninth aiming for the person in front of me, but Shi Mo stepped in next, my Hammer head beating him back three hops back as boss Dai lunged forward with his claws out, both of us bathed in brilliant light.
Shi Mo stepped into my attack, right for right, and Shi Mu went for boss Dai while Tianheng's two yellow rings shone, crackling lightning surrounding his entire person as it did.
Shield met Hammer again and Shi Mo was pushed back hard, with him falling to his butt a good roll away, but before boss Dai's claws could clash with Mu's shell, boss Dai jerked backwards in the air again, leaving Mu to shove empty space and into a face full of Phoenix Burst.
A hundred spears of lightning then exploded from Tianheng and rained down, but Shock gave the four of us enough time to dodge, with Fire Wire and Light Waves to clear the front, and for Zhuqing to sneak a Cleave for Tianheng that was blocked by Shi Mu with a spin.
Three people suppressing four was huge, a testament to the rank the Emperor team had obtained for themselves.
I recovered into the tenth swing aiming for Mu—and activated Honored Ant Mantle with the motion as a dense layer of black covered my entire person and my Hammer grew to twice its size from the spirit power pouring into it.
The ability I got from the queen doubled my body's strength the same way Rongrong's Red Light empowered us in a sort of kinetic force multiplying manner instead of an actual reinforcement. It was the disadvantage of us tool spirit masters compared to beast spirits, but it also meant we had higher potential for attack since we weren't putting our own bodies on the line.
Mu bravely met my Hammer as Phoenix Fire Wire and White Tiger Light Waves grappled for control against Tianheng's ongoing onslaught of lightning showers, explosions ringing left and right then—
Shi Mu was thrown off his feet high into the air and flipped twice before landing on the ground writing. Zhuqing didn't miss her opportunity to press the attack and dove in with a Hell Stab but her target rolled along the ground back to the protection of his brother who blocked her nails just in time as boss Dai grappled with Tianheng who was covered in whirls of lightning.
Shi Mo quickly charged forward with his purple ring shining as a blue glow continuously circled around his person.
"Push!" Tang San said.
Hitting Shi Mo and Shi Mu were like trying to juggle two gigantic boulders together with a just as gigantic gold club. They gave way to overwhelming force but stayed their resilience, and as I swung into the eleventh, nausea pushed its way up my mouth from the sudden drop in spirit power.
The biggest disadvantage to getting boosted by Rongrong's Yellow Light and Queen's Guard abilities was she only consumed her spirit power to pull more out of her target, but the cost of powering abilities was still shouldered by the target. Mantle consumed a whopping ten percent spirit power for every second I kept it on, and with the seventy-five percent boost total in spirit power, my cost was also raised to a total of seventeen percent give or take.
The time limit then played in because the attribute increase her sprit provided would also scale up with the consumption of the abilities she boosted, and as the only one in charge of six—five for now—the costs racked up fast and sustained hard.
Shi Mu took his brother's place with a quick dash, and everyone else melted away in my vision. Here, in this moment, was only me and my target.
My Hammer found Shi Mo with his shield now larger than he and glowing two shades of purple and blue together his own earthen tone, and where before I hit a loose but hard boulder, this time I struck a mighty oak deeply rooted in place. The wall in front of me crashed hard into the ground as Shi Mo's body was indented into the ground a good inch or two.
I was thrown back hard as spirit power lashed back into me and throwing my guts into disarray like that time with the soldier ant—but at least this guy didn't spit out acid.
He wasn't any worse for wear however since the guy spat out just as much blood as I did.
The Disorder Splitting Wind method rose in terms of compounding force for every nine swings, and at the eleventh this was equivalent to a rank exceeding attack, giving it the same force I'd be able to output if I were at the fortieth rank give or take. This was the main selling point of our spirit we advertised to the rest of the world, but our true strength lied with our clan's Nine Absolutes, self-created abilities much like the Seven Treasure clan's Heart Separation Control or the Tyrant Dragon clan's Lightning Dragon Roar—which thankfully couldn't be used anywhere below the seventieth rank, else this wouldn't even be a match.
A sharp tug then pulled me from the waist making me draw an arc as I drew along the air, and I landed in someone's arms as I fought off the urge to puke. I looked back at the action, and saw Shi Mo bleeding from the nose and ears and staying behind his brother.
"Jin!" Rongrong said, pulling me close.
"I'll live," I said with a wince.
"Stand down!" Tang San said, pushing me back into Rongrong's embrace after I tried moving. He never stopped throwing his Needles and Swords everywhere despite that as a sausage was placed in my mouth.
"Eat," Oscar said, shoving the meat down my throat, and Rongrong shook her head and gazed back at the rest of the team, her eyes burning with a fury I'd never known before.
Her gold light left me, and moved onto boss Dai, brilliant yellow still bathing everyone else besides the three of us, then Red Light filled my vision as Rongrong's yellow ring shone together with her purple, and this time Tang San was the next to move forward—with his wings bared in full, taking to the air with a graceful trail of shimmering blue spirit power.
"Keep eating, we still need your Domain," Tang San said, all three spirit rings flared behind him. He then extended a hand towards Oscar who passed him a batch of sausages which Tang San threw at Hongjun and Zhuqing, eating the last one for himself.
Shi Mo was thrown back from boss Dai's shove, and in came Tang San with a flurry of Swords held between his fingertips like a ninja and slashing about with graceful circles. He'd stopped his throwing and instead met Tianheng head on, leaving Osler and Yu Feng to break free of their stalemate, and the latter two wasted no time with charging for the three of us in the back row.
Hongjun then moved forward while Zhuqing to our right flank to intercept Osler.
Bile rose and I coughed away a mouth full of blood and meat bits, and Oscar shoved another sausage down my throat. Our formation was in disarray from that unexpected counter from Shi Mo, and now we had Hongjun, Tang San, and boss Dai fending off the three all while under the light of Devour, and I restored what spirit power I could to mitigate the damage.
Yu Feng flew in but was kept at bay by Hongjun's Fire Wire, and Zhuqing kept Osler busy with a running chase.
"Change!" Tang San shouted, and he flew towards Yu Feng instead as the golden glow moved from boss Dai to Hongjun, after which Burst Fire roared with a huge explosion towards the Shi brothers and Tianheng.
With a quick flurry of slashes and a timely bind, Yu Feng was tied up a second later and deposited to in front of me.
"You know what to do," Tang San said as he swooped in.
A quick stab of Oscar's spider legs then stopped the guy's struggling completely. Tang San then flew back into the fray to keep Tianheng busy while boss Dai kept the Shi brothers from blocking with Hongjun's help, the golden glow now back to him. All this while, a purple mist started creeping from Dugu Yan together with her purple ring, and judging from how Osler avoided the paths where that mist lingered, it was most likely a harming poison versus those earlier red and blue mists.
"Go," Oscar said, shoving Yu Feng to me.
I set a hand on the poor guy and used Devour from point blank while making sure to keep Oscar's poison at bay while doing so. Yu Feng dying would make me lose my battery, as well as earn the ire of the opposing team, the former was unacceptable while the latter would be a total pain. No need to make enemies out of everyone.
"Bastards!" Tianheng said, as his entire person lit up in furious blue.
A lightning storm broke out with Tianheng at its eye, and I expanded Shock outward just in time to deflect most of the lightning away, using the spirit power I'd taken from Yu Feng, as well as what I could from his own attacks. Every now and then Oscar would pull me and Rongrong away from a too close lightning strike, and every now and then Tang San would pull someone's leg out from under them.
I focused on recovering as the fight took on a more serious air, with Tang San sneaking a Needle here and there to attack Dugu Yan and Lingling who were only able to defend themselves thanks to that purple mist letting them know where the attacks were coming from.
Tianheng and the Shi brothers kept up their dance with boss Dai, Tang San, and Hongjun, while Zhuqing kept Osler busy. Thanks to Tang San's added dimension of flight, his battlefield presence became even more prominent with how his attacks would come from almost anywhere. Blue lightning and purple fire would trace through the through the air in alternating patterns.
Just then, Shi Mo shoved Hongjun away long enough for Tianheng to catch him with a lightning claw, but Shi Mu was thrown into the way by boss Dai—whose purple ring shone, deflecting the lightning strikes away from him and towards the three of us at the back instead. A timely application of Shock deflected the lightning again.
But Shi Mo also didn't expect Hongjun to break out with a left punch shining with a brilliant earthen tone—caught off-guard, the guy's ribs were hit dead on, and he had to be pulled back by Tianheng to avoid the flash of Blue Silver Grass Tang San extended.
To think Mo would have a counter while Mu had a reflect, this was a lot more complicated than it seemed, we also hadn't seen what Tianheng's purple ring did, and for him to save it this long.
Meanwhile, the rest of the ring kept shrinking as more purple mist encroached from the Emperor team's sides. Right now, trying to Devour Dugu Yan's poison technique would overextend me compared to just draining Yu Feng dry, and with one for one down, throwing him out now would surely be an advantage later. Of course, there's also taking the guy hostage…
"Progress?" Oscar asked, throwing an Eight-link Sausage over to Tang San who swooped in.
I settled the energy in my stomach and felt for anything wrong, and a sharp pain issued from my right side. "I'll be fine," I said, "not anytime soon at least, but I'll be able to run."
"Good enough," Oscar said, picking Yu Feng up as he stood with his full height together with his spider legs. "We need to support the others."
"Right," I said, and Rongrong nodded.
"Let's go," she said, pulling me up.
We slowly made our way to the front as I kept my hold on my battery, with Rongrong beside me buffing everyone, and Oscar keeping my and her spirit power consumption at a minimal. When my spirit power reached a more comfortable forty percent, I turned Corrode on over Tianheng and the Shi brothers, and started burning away the spirit power of their abilities together with their bodies.
The occasional pillar of lightning would find its way toward us but Shock would deflect them as they pass, and bring me an extra jolt of spirit power too.
As the fighting area would shrink, so too did the effective range of my Crown grow—but Dugu Yan wouldn't normally do this without a reason.
Corrode was doing its part, and the Shi brothers and Tianheng weren't looking as hot anymore, but Osler kept up his pressure to no avail with Zhuqing matching him blow for blow with her life stealing Cleaves. However, the ring had finally shrunk to just within my Domain, and by then, a small corridor in the poison mists opened and the four fighters of the Emperor team all retreated behind Dugu Yan's poison, with Lingling's purple light guiding them through.
"Regroup," Tang San said, pulling everyone together with him to join us nearest the edge of the ring.
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