“So it’s beginning…” Shin muttered under his breath as he watched the arena fill up by the second. Adjusting his brown hooded jacket so that no one could spot him, Shin carefully examined the faces of everyone who walked past him, hoping that no one could identify him from the crowd.
“Shin, we didn’t have to come you know?” Shizen kicked his feet in discomfort. To accompany Shin, the nature boy had to wear some dreadfully uncomfortable clothes, something that greatly contrasted his traditional baggy robes.
The petite young boy had a point. At this moment in time, Shin was being watched by the entire world, and it seemed rather unwise to enter a facility where everyone was out to catch a glimpse of him. Nonetheless, the allure of watching some of the world’s most prodigious Luminaries clash was too enticing. Merely hearing the results wasn’t enough. Many journalists paid a king’s ransom just to get a seat in the arena and Shin had to wait patiently at home? There was no way that the boy’s young heart would tolerate that.
Hence, Shin made sure to disguise himself well and snuck out into an obscure part of the stands to watch the battles unfold. Since Kanari and Elrin were too eye-catching, the only person that could hope to accompany the excited youth was Shizen who had missed out on the Welcome Banquet.
“Shizen! Those competing are among the top of their generation. Geniuses that could reach Rank 40 before the age of twenty-five. Even if we watch one match, it would be sufficient for us to boost our comprehension levels!” Shin explained.
There was a reason why entering the Spirit Spectre stage was called shedding the first barrier of mortality. Anyone below the Spirit Spectre stage was considered to be mortals that were as feeble as a baby. Not only were they impervious to regular illness such as the common cold, but they were also weak enough to die from a sufficient blow to the head.
Spirit Spectres were a different breed altogether. Those that managed to transcend the first barrier of mortality would see their lifespan double, their immunities to the regular ailments rise and had the capability to utilise the spiritual energies of the land to an exceptional degree. Their innate ability to fly was a consequence of that effect.
However, once a cultivator reaches the Spirit Spectre realm, cultivation becomes almost ten times more difficult. A talent might somehow be able to manage one rank a year, but as they slowly progress up the cultivation ladder, eventually, they would reach a bottleneck where just moving up one rank would be akin to surmounting the highest mountain of the Terre Continent.
That’s why Luminaries were so highly sought after in the modern cultivation world. If someone was able to break through into Rank 40 before they turned twenty-five, they had much more time to cultivate to the apex, and perhaps do the impossible and cross into the heavens above. Additionally, even if they didn’t reach the fabled heights of their predecessors, at the very least, the Luminaries were capable of achieving the Spirit Emperor or Venerate realm, making them talents to keep an eye out on.
“Yeah, yeah…” Shizen rolled his eyes. If only Shin gave that much energy to producing his favourite drink. Though, he had to admit that spectating some of the best of the best were rather interesting for his young mind.
“They’re coming out!” A gasp could be heard from an audience member.
Three platoons of neatly organised young men and women marched out from the bottom of the stands and paraded themselves into the centre of the arena. Each flank was segregated into five rows each to show order, and even though they weren’t militaristic in nature, the youngsters were all oozing with an intimidating might. Many spectators held their breath as they witnessed the confidence from the representatives of the three superpowers. They didn’t believe that they were inferior in the slightest, and each fateful step demonstrated that in droves.
“Are the Blacksmith League, Mercenary Guild and Healer’s Association not sending anyone out?” Shizen questioned naively.
“You silly…” Shin harrumphed at the ignorance of his good friend. “Who do you think makes up those three organisations? People from the three superpowers! It’s not like they don’t want to send anyone out, but they don’t have anyone to represent them! For instance, while I hold a Healer’s License, I technically belong to the Himmel Empire. Before I’m obligated to help the Healer’s Association, I would have to serve my nation first.”
“Hmmm? But don’t they have people serving their organisations?”
“Yes. At some point in time, those joining either one of those organisations must relinquish their respective citizenships. However, they usually do so during the later stages of their lives. It’s rare for someone from the younger generation to abandon their nation to join a lower organisation that can’t give the same amount of benefits as either one of the superpowers. Of course, those born into the organisations don’t have the luxury to choose.”
“I see…” Shizen stroked his hairless chin in enlightenment.
“That’s not the important part… Look at the contestants for the exhibition matches!” Shin took out his notebook and began to introduce the numerous talents that were about to compete. “There is probably nowhere else in the history of the world where thirty-three Luminaries have gathered!”
The Himmel Empire had gathered seven Luminaries, the Lantis Republic had twelve, while the Kori Federation had a record-breaking fourteen. It was perhaps the most glorious line-up anywhere in the continent right now. It was rare to even see one Luminary fight, and yet there were thirty-three of them contesting for the honour of their nations.
“Shizen, you should pay attention to how they fight! You’ll definitely gain some insights that would aid in your cultivation! Especially from watching those Luminaries with plant-type Spirits.” Shin advised.
The bosom friend of his was never one to open a book and study. Living only by his instinct, the best way that Shizen could grow was through visually learning moves from cultivators much more superior than himself. As for Shin, he really wished to witness the might of the Luminaries from the Lantis Republic, in particular, the ones from the Eight Ancient Clans. He had been training blindly when it came to the Celestial Water Mantra. For the first time, he was able to witness the right way of using the dreadful cultivation technique that was unique to the Eight Scions of Water.
After a few moments of basking in the limelight, the contestants retreated to their designated waiting pavilions as the stage was being set. The rules for the exhibition match was considerably simple. It was not a round-robin format, nor was it an elimination tournament. The exhibition match followed an old-school method, discontinued to this very day.
The call-out system.
Each contestant gets a chance to name anyone they wanted to challenge, and the nominee had to choose whether he wished to agree. Yes, it was a barbaric system, but since there was no one being crowned ‘champion,’ this format was followed to ensure that the most competitive and exciting matches were held for the visual pleasure of the audience. In theory, the most powerful cultivator from the Himmel Empire could face the most powerful from the Lantis Republic in the first round. But where’s the fun in that?
“Greetings, glorified dignitaries and fellow comrades!” A gaudy looking man stepped foot on the arena with a face of tranquillity. Looking no older than thirty, the young man cupped his hands together and bowed to the executives seated at the top of the arena.
All of the lead representatives from each superpower was present. With the Alliance agreement being inches away from being signed, the majority of them were cordial with one another. Even the cold and distant Deputy Prime Minister Venus had shown a rare smile every now and then as she made small talk with her fellow compatriots. Naturally, the relationship between Prince Koshaku and Zhangyu Yaoguai was still estranged, but otherwise, the atmosphere in the VIP area was rather jovial.
“My name is Abraham Banks from the Blacksmith’s League! A Rank 35 Spirit Adept, and I have been tasked with fighting in the opening match!” As anticipated the Blacksmith’s League didn’t have any potent talents in their midst. They could only send out Abraham Banks as a sacrificial lamb to get things kicking.
“For my first challenge… I give out an open invitation! Anyone who dares to join me in battle, come down and test your might!”
Issuing a challenge for anyone who wished to confront him, Abraham Banks waved his arms in the air like a chimp looking for attention. He didn’t care if a weakling or divine being came down onto the platform. Just by offering his services as the opening meat bag, he was already guaranteed a one-year apprenticeship with one of the League’s greatest blacksmiths. It didn’t matter if he won or lost this fight. He just had to fight.
“Let me test your strength…” A chilling voice entered the eardrums of the young man.
An auburn-haired young man, who had two adorable dimples on each side of his face walked into the arena with a face full of passion. To fight in the opening match of the Summit was an honour that no man or woman could pass up, and there was actually a tonne of hands being raised. However, only one man dared to saunter into the ring without being asked.
“That man… He’s from the Nine Suns Clan…” An audience member instantly recognised the man. Hearing that name, Shin’s brain immediately went into overdrive as he recalled the details of the Nine Suns Sect from the Kori Federation.
“Haha, looks like we’re in for a treat.” Shin couldn’t contain his excitement. His fingers were trembling and eyes glistening. “The very first match would have someone from the Nine Suns Clan…”
“Shizen… The cultivation world is full of wonders and mysteries. However, they were all grounded by a system. Awaken a Spirit, cultivate until to reach the peak of your realm and breakthrough by learning a spiritual ability. Almost all of the cultivators in the world follow this system, barring a few exceptions…”
“You can’t mean?”
“That’s right… The descendants of the Nine Suns Clan follow a different path. One so unique that it has become the subject of wonder. Whenever a member of the Nine Suns Clan participates in the Spiritual Awakening Ceremony, they will all receive the same Spirit. The Yang Flame. An inextinguishable fire whose innate ability raises its owner’s senses, physical capabilities, agility, mental fortitude, regenerative abilities, fire elemental powers, and overall mana output.” Shin grasped the bottom of his bench as he explained.
“Isn’t that too strong? How can a Spirit have that many innate abilities?”
“That’s the problem… It’s too strong.” Shin sighed bitterly. “During their early years, the members from the Nine Suns Clan are unparalleled. When they advance to Rank 10, the Yang Flame will condense into a Yang Sun, using their Nine Suns Divine Technique. When that happens, no one in the continent could ever hope to match them while they are below the Spirit Spectre stage. However, with such power, there came a major drawback. They weren’t able to promote by learning any new spiritual abilities.”
Shin didn’t mind the interruption and paused for a moment before he continued. “That’s right. Each time they advanced a realm, the only difference that they would experience is the improvement of their innate abilities and an increment of one more sun into their Spiritual Body. But that’s not all. There’s a reason why they’re called the Nine Suns Clan. Each time they advanced a realm, another sun would be added to their powers. The cycle would continue until they reached the ninth sun…”
“What happens then?” Shizen asked.
“Nothing.” The black-haired boy sighed grimly. “That’s the limit of the Nine Suns Clan. The price they pay for having overwhelming strength in the mortal world is the complete abandonment of the Immortal Realm. The upper limit for all members from the Nine Suns Clan is the level of the Spirit Saint. No higher.”
Was it a blessing, or a curse? Below the Spirit Spectre realm, those from the Nine Suns Clan were virtually unbeatable. However, as they climbed through the ranks, slowly the other Spirits that weren’t as restricted as their own could gain terrifyingly powerful abilities that the Yang Sun couldn’t hope to challenge.
Yes, those from the Nine Suns Clan that reached the Spirit Emperor or Spirit Venerate stage were unkillable machines that could regenerate any limb and organ in their body as long as they weren’t mortally wounded. Yes, Spirit Saints from the Nine Suns Clan could challenge any other Spirit Saints if they had the battle wits to outsmart their opponents. However, the fundamental problem was still laid bare.
They were ripped from the most basic goal to strive towards immortality, something inborn for all mortals.
While others in his clan had resigned to their fates, Lorian didn’t believe that the nine suns were his limit. He foolishly chased the impossible dream. The dream that he could create a tenth sun to transcend his mortal flesh.
To prove that dream, Lorian worked twice as hard as anyone who came before him. Breezing through the ranks, the young man became the beacon of hope for the Nine Suns Clan which was struggling to maintain their position as a member of the Master Sects. While he wasn’t a Luminary, he was extremely close to one in talent, and if all went well, Lorian would smoothly cultivate his way to the top.
“Lorian Yang from the Nine Suns Clan. Rank 37. Spirit, the Yang Sun. Please advise.” Cupping his fists together, the auburn-haired young man brought out three spectacularly orange fire spheres that resembled that of an ever-burning star. The fire elements leapt up with joy as the temperature around the man peaked to the highest it has ever been.
“Against you… I can’t hold back.” Abraham Banks spread out his ten fingers, allowing two compact hammers to enter his grasp. He was hoping for some weakling to bite the bait that he had thrown, but instead, a shark had ripped it out from his line. To fight against a member of the Nine Suns Clan, not to mention the absolute monster that was Lorian Yang… Abraham Banks was seriously considering if that one-year apprenticeship was worth it.
“Either way, it’ll end in a moment!” Propelling himself out straight towards his foe, Abraham Banks lunged with all that he had. From the audience stands, it looked like a barbarian ape had leapt out from the forest and was ready pulverise the meat that stood in its path.
While the attack appeared to be unavoidable from Shin and Shizen’s perspective to Lorian, the man was moving so slowly that it was almost hilarious. The most essential benefit of having the Yang Sun as his Spirit was his increased perception and physical enhancements that no mana strengthening could ever hope to replicate. In a blink of an eye, no, in the time taken to flash a light, Lorian Yang evaded the oncoming strike with a simple footwork technique and landed a brutal uppercut at Abraham’s thorax.
Flying up twenty metres in the air, the poor blacksmith fainted in the air before knowing what had hit him and had forced a senior from the Blacksmith’s League to rescue him from the downward fall. An Elder Healer that joined Raphael in the expedition immediately came to Abraham’s rescue as if he knew the outcome beforehand.
“He was only two ranks higher than Abraham… How is there this kind of difference?!” One journalist from the audience gulped at the quick conclusion to the first match.
“You idiot! Don’t you know that the Nine Suns Clan are unparalleled under the Spirit Spectre realm? This result is to be expected.”
“But it was too fast! For him to have such speed and power… Don’t tell me he has reached the level of a Luminary!”
“Don’t be ridiculous… Actually, that might not seem that far-fetched…” A fellow reporter wanted to deny that claim, but he found himself agreeing to it the more he recalled the overpowering figure of Lorian.
“He’s strong…” Shizen gaped in awe. He wasn’t able to follow a single movement that Lorian took.
Shin was also in a similar boat. While he managed to catch some static in the air, Shin couldn’t tell how Abraham found himself flying.
‘His speed… It’s staggering!’ Shin hasn’t seen anyone who could move that quickly since Mychael, and the perverted old man was already a Spirit Emperor. Yet, Shin couldn’t track Lorian’s speed, who was not even in the Spirit Spectre realm.
‘If he’s the opening dish… What other monsters are there?!’
Shin felt himself bubbling with anticipation. Lorian wasn’t even a Luminary, and he had shown such dominance. When the top talents entered the fray, what kind of crazy matches would be exhibited?