Zheng Kieren was over the moon. He was born from a lower-class family where he had to struggle for the large part of his younger life. Food was hard to come by, and it was tough for his commoner father to retain a job for six months at a time. Yes, his family were cultivators, but his father was barely a Rank 13 Spirit Apostle while his mother had been stagnant in the Spirit Practitioner realm. In the Lantis Republic where individual power determined one’s social status, there was basically no upward trajectory for his impoverished family.
However, Zheng Kieren’s father never gave up hope. He worked three to four jobs at a time to help raise money for his family, just so that his children could make something out of themselves, to live a life that he never could. Watching his father torture himself day in and day out, trudging to work even when his body was beaten down and malnourished, pained Zheng Kieren’s heart.
When Zheng Kieren underwent the Spiritual Awakening Ceremony, he managed to obtain a mediocre Spirit which no one thought could amount to anything. Even the Priest who conducted the ceremony suggested that he gave in to his fate to work as a coolie for the rest of his life. Nonetheless, Zheng Kieren didn’t give up hope. He strived tirelessly, never resting for more than six hours a day. With the help of his relentless father, Zheng Kieren was able to rise to the top of his neighbourhood, and then to his district, and then to his region.
Eventually, word got out that there was a rising talent that had smashed his competition and the Qilong Clan soon took notice. From there on, the trajectory of Zheng Kieren’s path had skyrocketed exponentially, and he was soon a prominent retainer of the Qilong Clan. Finishing mission after mission, Zheng Kieren had proven himself worthy of joining the Lantis Republic in their trip to the Summit, an honour that even youngsters from the direct bloodline of the Eight Ancient Clans would fail to get.
And it all started, with a dream by his now deceased father.
‘If only you were here to see this…’
Staring up the stage, Zheng Kieren held his head up high. He wasn’t representing the Qilong Clan, and neither was he representing the Lantis Republic. Zheng Kieren was embodying the hopes and dreams of his father, and he wasn’t going to disappoint.
“I challenge Brahmadhvaja Kittichat from the Kori Federation!” Proudly declaring his intent, Zheng Kieren turned to the Shaolin Sect delegates and called out one of their own.
It was a strategy that Qilong Hu had helped Zheng Kieren implement. On the grandest stage, there was, no one wanted to be a loser. Among all of the competitors in the arena, Zheng Kieren’s abilities best countered those from the Shaolin Sect.
“Amitabha. I humbly accept the comrade’s challenge.” A sonorous voice echoed out from the stands as an average-looking young man walked out with his two palms clasped together.
Removing the thick black prayer beads from his neck, the young man dressed in a standard orange uttarasanga, made an unhurried beeline to the ring. His skin was as beige as could be, and his features weren’t that prominent. If Zheng Kieren passed the man on the street, he wouldn’t spare him a second glance. Yet, he was a representative of THAT Shaolin Sect.
There were thirty Master Sects, a hundred Core States, and over a thousand House of Koris. Yet, the Shaolin Sect was by far the most well-known of all the entities in the Kori Federation. For one, they had the longest history, one that equalled that from the Eight Ancient Clans. Furthermore, they were also the one sect that accepted any disciples, regardless of their nationality or prior background. While the Himmel Empire and the Lantis Republic had banned the Shaolin Sect from opening any monasteries in their country, they didn’t prohibit any of their citizens to formally join the acclaimed Sect.
Legend has it that the Shaolin Sect was the birthplace of martial arts. All martial techniques, be it Shin’s Lightning Swallow Steps or Divine Needle Binding, could find their roots in the martial arts of the Shaolin Sect. Additionally, with their focus on peace and harmony, the Shaolin Sect barely fought outside of defending themselves. Against someone from that illustrious sect, it was only natural that Zheng Kieren would politely greet him.
“Brahmadhvaja Kittichat. I have long heard of your distinguished name.” Zheng Kieren bowed in respect. To become a monk of the Shaolin Sect wasn’t an easy feat. One had to renounce all worldly desires and align with the stringent regulations of the peace-loving sect.
“Amitabha. I’m humbled.” The monk just smiled. “I look forward to our exchange.”
Not willing to waste any more time, Kittichat bent his knees and took a deep breath in. A golden light began to emit from his core as he pushed his two palms forward. In a blink of an eye, the air surrounding his hands became replaced with a two-metre-long staff, with two splits equidistant from one another.
“Brahmadhvaja Kittichat. Rank 32 Spirit Adept. Spirit, the Golden Three-Section Staff. Please advise me.”
“Zheng Kieren. Rank 33 Spirit Adept. Spirit, the Whaler’s Harpoon. Please advise me.”
Zheng Kieren summoned out his own Spirit in response. The main reason why he called out Brahmadhvaja Kittichat instead of anyone else in the Kori Federation roster, was precisely due to the differences in their Spirits. One was a three-section staff that focused on irregular movement and deadly wound up attacks while the other was a harpoon that could pierce through even the toughest of defences. If he played his cards well, Zheng Kieren could easily disrupt Kittichat’s flow for the easy win.
“HARGHHH!!!” Zheng Kieren coated his harpoon with a miniature whirlpool and dashed straight at his opponent. The Shaolin Sect heavily focused on passing down the martial arts that had been honed to perfection. However, in turn, it meant that the Shaolin monks’ individual spiritual abilities were lacking as compared to their compatriots. Homing in on that weakness, Zheng Kieren attempted to end the match with on stroke.
Unfortunately, his opponent wasn’t just going to hand him the match…
The tip of Zheng Kieren’s harpoon collided straight into an invisible barrier, dissipating the whirlpool it created in an instant. Stunned that he hadn’t drawn blood, Zheng Kieren hopped backwards in preparation for the next strike. Alas, it wasn’t to be.
Swirling the three-section staff irregularly, Kittichat had created a golden force field that took the shape of a hefty, divine bell. Each time an end of his three-section staff spun around, a gleaming golden light flashed by the golden bell. His pupils dilated, Zheng Kieren felt a sense of dread as he unquestionably recognised this spiritual ability.
“To stay like a nail. To be as heavy as a mountain. To be as hard as iron. That is the way of the Golden Bell Shield.” Kittichat chanted as if he were reciting scripture to Buddha. “Jin Zhong Zhao!!!”
‘Tsk… I didn’t hear about him learning this technique!’ Zheng Kieren cursed in his head. He had thought that he researched all there was to know about his foe. He hadn’t expected that Kittichat was hiding such a potent ability.
‘It’s going to be a little troublesome to pierce through that defence…’
The Golden Bell Shield was one of the leading martial spiritual abilities that were passed down in the Shaolin Sect. Alongside the Varja Body and the Iron Shirt, the Golden Bell Shield spiritual ability was one of the most prominent defensive spiritual abilities that the Shaolin Sect possessed. In the past, a Shaolin Abbot that had reached the Spirit Saint stage had once used those three abilities to reign as the invincible. Nothing could enter his defences, and he had virtually no weaknesses.
“The Shaolin Sect has someone that inherited the Golden Bell Shield already?!” Prince Koshaku jumped out of his seat and turned his head to the representatives from the Kori Federation. There, a withered and decrepit old man donned in humble garbs brought his hands together in prayer and replied with a wide smile on his face:
“Amitabha, he may be immature now, but yes, Kittichat is on the path of our ancestor.”
“…” The audience in the upper chambers went silent. They all knew how frightening the celebrated Abbot was. If Brahmadhvaja Kittichat was truly emulating the path of that Shaolin ancestor, it wouldn’t be strange for the Shaolin Sect to gain yet another invincible in a few more decades.
“Congratulations, Abbot Phassakorn.” Prince Koshaku was the first to applause the High Abbot. Following his lead, the numerous distinguished guests did the same, putting on a false face of happiness for the Shaolin Sect.
“It’s all heaven’s will.” Abbot Phassakorn bowed down and said no more. Kittichat’s identity being revealed that early on came as a surprise for the jaded monk, but it was an inevitability anyway. With the alliance being formed, it was helpful for Kittichat to make his name known to the world.
Unaware of the commotion in the stands, Zheng Kieren was wrecking his brains on the best course of action that he should take. Fighting head on against that terrifying spiritual ability was idiocy at its finest. However, fortunately for Zheng Kieren, the Golden Bell Shield that Kittichat had created was still in its nascent stages, and it looked rather faint. Lacking its full golden lustre, Zheng Kieren knew that there was a chance for him to pierce through that legendary defence.
A phantom of the harpoon-wielding man appeared behind of the Shaolin Monk as Zheng Kieren launched a frontal assault. Completing his pincer attack. Forced to defend on both ends, Kittichat whirled his three-section staff to completely delete the phantom out of existence before sending the other section of his staff to slap Zheng Kieren. The Golden Bell Shield that surrounded Kittichat roared in defiance as its light brightened to a dazzling degree.
“He’s spending too much mana.” Shizen frowned. Even from up in the stands, the nature boy could feel his skin crawl. The spiritual energy being released by that unsuspecting monk was horrifying, to say the least. Shizen knew that there was no way that Kittichat could continue to sustain such a massive ability for long. “He’ll lose if he continues to fight this way.”
“What if he’s not fighting to win?” Shin laughed.
“What do you mean?”
“That Shaolin monk must have understood that he was being targetted due to his inferior skills, and poor compatibility to Zheng Kieren. Accepting that he would be defeated, the Shaolin monk is probably trying to showcase all of his abilities to at least lose in the grandest way possible.” Shin deduced.
“I see… How incredibly complicated.”
“Haha, that’s the nature of this competition. No one is entering the ring to win. They’re fighting for their backings’ honour. In this case, the monk would probably lose, but at the very least, he wouldn’t be tainting the Shaolin Sect’s honour.”
As if to prove his hypothesis, after dozens of phantom blows and deadly strikes coated with whirlpools, Zheng Kieren’s harpoon finally tasted the sweet flesh of Kittichat.
“Amitabha. Comrade, you are strong…” His defence broken, there wasn’t any point in continuing this match. Nonetheless, Brahmadhvaja Kittichat had already proven that he was a talent to watch through his display of the notorious Golden Bell Shield.
“You too.” Taking a cursory glance at the crowd, Zheng Kieren found that the majority of their eyes were focused on that humble-looking Shaolin monk instead of himself, the victor. The winner of the third match would be recorded as Zheng Kieren, but the history books would remember it as the time that Brahmadhvaja Kittichat announced himself to the world.
‘Is this what it feels to win the battle, but to lose the war?’
Shaking the useless thoughts away from his head, Zheng Kieren bowed in respect to his opponent as a healer rushed to mend the monk’s wounds.
‘Whatever, let’s just challenge more opponents…’
So what if he had lost his fame to Kittichat? Zheng Kieren has the luxury of staying in the arena until he was defeated or exhausted. Now that he had one win under his belt, he should at the very least, try to extend his record…