The marketplace was moderately large, and in the distance could be heard the sounds of merchants crying out their wares, and customers arguing with each other over the price of various commodities. But in one particular square in that busy market, silence reigned supreme.
It goes without saying that every onlooker was shocked almost to death! One of the Fan clan’s own guards had been killed in a single blow, and not only that, the killer hadn’t even once glanced at the man. To say that Gan Zhu had not put the Fan clan in his sight, would simply be the unvarnished, literal truth!
And now all eyes were upon that young man, but he didn’t pay any of those gazes the slightest bit of regard. His own eyes were firmly fixed on the man he had named Li Stahn, apparently waiting for a response to his challenge. Li Stahn’s glare had become even more terrifying, to the point where Fan Mitsu and his allies, who were still surrounding him, involuntarily took a couple steps back. Yet, Gan Zhu didn’t seem even slightly intimidated.
There was one person who was not completely frozen in shock, however, and that man was the Fan commander! His face had darkened as he helplessly watched the body of his subordinate crash to the ground, and the gaze he shot at Gan Zhu was not one of surprise or fear, but one of hate!
“Surround him!” the commander bellowed, and with a collective shudder his men recalled themselves. With grim expressions they took positions around Gan Zhu, cutting off any path of retreat, while the commander himself took a position directly between the young man and Li Stahn. The commander felt itchy about turning his back on the dangerous Li Stahn, but he would rather risk taking an attack from behind than to allow this young upstart to ignore him any further!
Indeed, the sword in Li Stahn’s hand seemed to twitch, just slightly… But the fearsome devil practitioner did not attack. Despite the apparent fury on his face, his mind was actually racing. For some reason, the name “Gan Zhu” seemed to have caught something in his memory, but he couldn’t immediately say why…
“Miscreant!” bellowed the commander at Gan Zhu. “You dare raise a hand against the Fan clan? Surrender yourself immediately, and perhaps my masters will be lenient–”
“Shut up.” The young man cut off the commander without changing his expression. “You’re in the way. Move.”
The surrounding soldiers’ faces all darkened, and the commander nearly coughed up blood! This ignorant wretch was simply asking for death! But before the Fan commander could order his men to slaughter the foolish young man, Gan Zhu spoke again.
Suddenly, his form flickered and disappeared in front of the Fan commander’s eyes!
The commander flinched at the voice which was suddenly right in front of him. Warned by some instinct, he quickly raised his arms to guard, but–
Boom! A severely heavy blow landed on the commander’s arms, and shockingly tossed him several feet into the air! He felt his left forearm bones shatter into pieces, crippling his arm in an instant. The commander’s face paled, finally realizing just how powerful the opponent in front of him was.
Needless to say, although this commander had a relatively high position in the hierarchy of the Fan clan guards, there were many men within the clan itself which had a much stronger cultivation than his. He had sparred with many men at the seventh level, the eighth level, even the ninth level — but this was the strongest single blow he had ever received in his entire life. Could this young man actually be at the peak of Qi Gathering? Or could someone this young even be… at the Core Reinforcement stage!
Seeing their commander suddenly blown away, the other Fan clan guards shouted with rage and attacked Gan Zhu together. None of them were as strong as the commander, of course, but they were confident that they could overwhelm him with numbers. After all, they were all fifth level practitioners!
Such was the judgement of the crowd, as well, and no few of them breathed a sigh of relief. They were not partisans of the Fan clan, of course, and certainly wouldn’t mind if the arrogant soldiers tripped up a bit. But if this incident grew any bigger, it might provoke the Fan clan into an even worse reprisal; it wouldn’t be unthinkable for the entire district to be razed to the ground if Fan Gen decided that he had been slighted. And there was no more Sun clan to stop him.
There was one man who thought differently, however, and he was the one man who could follow Gan Zhu’s movements clearly: Li Stahn! In fact, his lips actually curled up in a wry grin. He had been hired to provoke the Fan clan and cause chaos in the city, and he suddenly wondered if he would still get paid if the one provoking and causing chaos wasn’t him…
The Fan commander’s face paled as he watched the body of Gan Zhu in front of him blur. He could barely recognize the young man’s movements as he ricocheted back and forth between the Fan soldiers. Naturally, the soldiers couldn’t even detect him before they, too, went flying through the air — ribs shattered, arms and legs broken, and flesh bruised and gouged. Within a moment, eleven men lay prone on the ground, bleeding from various wounds.
With a slight tap, Gan Zhu appeared again, standing in exactly the same place. Blood dripped down from his hands, which he held slightly away from his body; however, his clothes did not have even the slightest trace of blood on them. Shockingly, he had moved so fast that even the spray of blood could not catch up to his speed!
The guard commander had not been able to completely follow Gan Zhu’s movements, but Li Stahn’s eyes were much better. He had watched carefully as Gan Zhu fought, and he thought to himself, “This Gan Zhu is very strong and fast, but that is all. He obviously doesn’t know how to fight properly, and there is no trace of a system in his movements. At a guess, he was never formally trained, and this chaotic sequence of blows could generously be considered his self-taught style.
“Still, to be able to gouge the flesh of fifth level Qi Gathering cultivators with nothing but his bare hands — his pure strength should not be underestimated! Combined with his speed, he might even be equivalent to an eighth level Qi Gathering cultivator in bodily power, or perhaps even higher.
“Still, without combat training or Qi techniques, as a cultivator, he is lacking! Even in my current state, I still have a 90% chance of defeating him.”
Reaching this point, Li Stahn frowned at his own thoughts, recognizing his own arrogance. “No, I can’t be certain of that,” he scolded himself. “He didn’t use any Qi techniques against those Fan soldiers, but he had absolutely no need to. He might still have a trump card or two, which could likely put me in a difficult situation. He is already perfectly suppressing his martial aura, after all, so he must know something about Qi manipulation. Best to be cautious.
“Still, that fighting style.” He chuckled to himself. “It truly looks more like something used by a monstrous beast, than by a man: a simple, wild rampage! Something more like a Cold Red Ape King, or a Forest Giant. Or something like a Wolf-headed Bear from the Cerulean Abyss–”
Suddenly, Li Stahn’s thoughts froze, as an old memory resurfaced.
The Cerulean Abyss. A severed left arm. A broken young man, already on the verge of death, named — Gan Zhu!
“Impossible!” Li Stahn’s shout sent a shudder through the silent crowd, many of whom were now completely paralyzed by dread. Even the Fan commander was pale and silent in the face of Gan Zhu’s explosive, overwhelming power. But one word from Li Stahn suddenly woke the crowd from its dread, and many of the onlookers suddenly found they had no curiosity at all, and simply decided to retreat away from this mad scene.
“Impossible! Simply impossible!” repeated Li Stahn, completely agitated. “You–! How could you not have died!?”
The few onlookers who had been brave enough to remain, including the Fan commander, initially thought that Li Stahn was simply shocked at how quickly Gan Zhu had defeated the eleven men, who should have been able to overpower him with sheer numbers. Gan Zhu himself, however, broke into an amused smile as he replied, “So you finally remembered. I’m glad; beating you would be less satisfying if you truly didn’t know who I am.”
“I don’t know who you are,” said Li Stahn, calming down a little as his mind worked furiously. “I know who you claim to be, and you have the outer appearance of that person — but when I met Gan Zhu three years ago, he was already all but dead! His body was so damaged, he didn’t even notice the pain of having his arm cut off!
“And furthermore,” Li Stahn continued, his eyes narrowing as his hand clenched even tighter around the hilt of his sword, “your eyes are completely different from his. The eyes of Gan Zhu were dead and emotionless, while your own practically glow with vitality. And finally, I certainly did cut the left arm off Gan Zhu, and took it away with me! Therefore… I can only presume that you are not the true Gan Zhu!”
“Hmph!” snorted Gan Zhu with a twisted smile. “And when did we get so close, that you could determine whether I am my true self or not? It is certainly true that I was one step away from death — but I had held back that step for well over a month already! Had you not stolen my arm, who knows how long I might have continued? Yet because of you, I nearly perished for good in those caverns, killed by monstrous beasts following the scent of my blood.
“Yet in the end, your interference didn’t matter. I had a fortuitous encounter, and in the end my body was healed, including the arm you stole from me. And as you see… I have become strong!”
Gan Zhu glared at Li Stahn with furious eyes. “I had initially thought that I would not pursue vengeance against you for my arm, since in the end, I was able to recover even my broken dantian. However, seeing you here has awakened the grievance in my heart once more! To clear away the rough feelings in my heart, I will definitely — beat you until you cry for mercy!”
“I see,” murmured Li Stahn. The frown on his evil-looking face grew darker, and he raised his sword. Almost idly he swung twice, as if loosening up the muscles in his arm. But Gan Zhu, who had been watching him closely, reacted with an indrawn breath. “You…!”
A moment of silence, and then came the sound of numerous bodies hitting the ground. Blood ran freely from the sliced corpses, not one of which were bodily intact. These bodies were… the bodies of Fan Mitsu’s followers! Even up until this point, they had maintained a loose encirclement of Li Stahn and Sun Mia, and not one of them had run away — but now they would never have the chance!
Although his companions were all dead, Fan Mitsu was not among them. Once he realized that Li Stahn’s attention was entirely upon Gan Zhu, he had beat a hasty retreat! So hasty, that he did not even bother to warn his followers to follow him. He didn’t dare risk taking any action that might draw the vicious Li Stahn’s attention once more, and so he decisively left his so-called friends to their own fates. Fan Mitsu’s first priority was always Fan Mitsu!
And so, Fan Mitsu was already half a kilometer distant, and still running. People in the market had seen him running away, and many had snickered under their breaths. Fan Mitsu’s fat body was not made for running, but he was travelling at a pace that would rival that of a second level Qi Gatherer. He was aware of people jeering at him, but Fan Mitsu was not a man who knew the meaning of shame. Life always came first! And so, he kept running.
What Fan Mitsu, the onlookers in the market, and even Li Stahn did not know, was that Fan Mitsu had been fated to die from Li Stahn’s blade! It had been Fan Mitsu’s unbreakable, indestructible, perfect fate, to die in this place, at this time.
But in defiance of fate, and the world itself, Fan Mitsu actually ran away!
With a single cowardly action, a weak, useless man had actually changed his supposedly immutable fate! And that was only possible in one circumstance: the intervention of a being which was not controlled by fate!
Yes, everything was due to the existence of Gan Zhu!
–Somewhere else, in a higher realm, a certain minor deity thought he saw something strange in the web of fate covering the mortal realm. He looked again, carefully, but… there were millions of individuals in the mortal realm, creating millions of threads, and even for a deity it was impossible to keep track of them all.
And so, that minor deity shrugged, and simply continued to observe the web of fate, carrying out the task he had been given.
Naturally, where a deity noticed nothing, no lesser being would be able to notice anything either. And so, the only one who noticed that fate had been undone, was the person who had been expecting it to happen — indeed, the very one who had introduced the element that could defy fate in the first place!
And so it was that, atop a four-story building overlooking a certain market, a bald, fat man in a simple threadbare robe watched as Fan Mitsu barrelled clumsily down the street. Where everyone else snickered and mocked, that man instead applauded and cheered. Of course, no one would notice him no matter what…
This day, this insignificant event, would have major consequences in the future. And this was only the beginning! The fat man, Zebu Biel, felt a great swell of satisfaction in his empty chest.
Meanwhile, back in the market square, the bodies of Fan Mitsu’s companions had just landed on the ground, mercilessly cut down by two swings from Li Stahn. This was a terrifying and inexplicable event in the eyes of the remaining onlookers, since by all appearances Li Stahn’s black blade hadn’t been anywhere near his victims. No one within the crowd had a cultivation strong enough to detect the Qi that had been infused in the two swings, and so none of them had any idea how it was done.
Gan Zhu couldn’t sense this Qi, either — he couldn’t sense Qi in his own body, let alone the body of anyone else! But his hearing was much more acute than an ordinary human’s, and he could hear the air being sliced apart by Li Stahn’s attack. He frowned, feeling more cautious towards the evil-looking man in front of him.
He also felt slightly disgusted at the way Li Stahn had slaughtered the men around him, but… Gan Zhu had been watching for a while, and knew that the men had intended some harm to the young girl who was even now cowering against the vegetable stand. Gan Zhu didn’t know the connection between the girl and Li Stahn, but having seen the man rescue her twice, he could only assume that there was a reason. It could be said that the dead men had only reaped what they had sowed; those who do evil, shouldn’t complain when evil is done to them in return.
Having dealt with the men who had threatened Sun Mia, Li Stahn glared at Gan Zhu and said, “You wish to challenge me? Ridiculous. You should feel grateful that it was only your arm, and not your head that I removed that day. Though if you think you can beat me with such pathetic skill, I would have to say your head doesn’t work anyway, so it wouldn’t be much of a loss!”
“…I see. Interesting. So you believe yourself to still be stronger than me? I highly doubt it,” bluffed Gan Zhu.
“Indeed, you have strength and speed — but that is hardly enough to challenge my Sacred Evil Sword. Without technique, how can you possibly expect to win?” replied Li Stahn with confidence.
Gan Zhu did not respond immediately, but eyed Li Stahn carefully. To the older man’s surprise, he eventually nodded his head and said, “You may be correct. I certainly don’t have the same abilities as you, and the chances of defeating you may be slim.
“However,” he continued strongly, “that is no reason to retreat! You owe me the price of my lost arm, and whether I have the ability to collect it or not, I will certainly make the attempt!”
“And if you die, instead?” asked Li Stahn coldly. He lifted his sword and pointed it straight at Gan Zhu’s throat, unleashing the full strength of his bloodlust-infused aura at the same time.
Gan Zhu was completely unmoved by the evil-looking man’s display, and indeed seemed to welcome it. “Then I will be no more dead here, than I would have been in the Abyss!” he said, and his voice was laced with anticipation.
“So be it,” replied Li Stahn coldly, and took a step forward — but this step was quite mysterious, and placed him instantly next to Gan Zhu! He swung his sword to bisect the young man, but Gan Zhu seemed to have anticipated his attack, and had already blurred into motion, circling around Li Stahn to attack him in his blind spot. But before he could land a single blow, Li Stahn twisted his wrist and stabbed behind him, nearly impaling Gan Zhu who was forced to dodge the unexpected blade.
The next few exchanges were exactly the same, with Gan Zhu attacking from various angles, and Li Stahn fending him off with a minimum of effort. Even worse, every single counter Li Stahn employed would be a lethal blow should Gan Zhu allow it to land, so he was forced to dodge every single strike.
It could be said that, despite Gan Zhu’s superior strength and speed, Li Stahn was suppressing him with no effort at all!
However, only the two of them had any idea of the true state of things, as not one of the onlookers present could follow their movements. They could only see Li Stahn standing in the center of the square, while his black sword flickered around him. Even the stunned Fan commander could only see a blur as Gan Zhu attacked, seemingly from all sides at once.
Sun Mia couldn’t even see the movements of Li Stahn’s sword, but she continued to stare at the dangerous-looking man nonetheless. She had long since lost all sense of the events around her, and was paralyzed with fear and confusion to the point where she didn’t even seem to remember where she was. But suddenly someone grabbed her hand and hissed in her ear, “What are you still doing here, girl? Run!”
Gan Zhu and Li Stahn clashed twenty or thirty times in what seemed to watchers a single moment, and then they separated once more. Both had a pensive frown on their face — although in the case of Li Stahn, the expression only made him seem slightly angrier.
Gan Zhu had thought that he had gained an edge over the Li Stahn of three years ago, but it seemed that Li Stahn had himself improved since that time. No matter how he approached the swordsman, he couldn’t penetrate the lethal protection of that black blade.
Li Stahn, on the other hand, was also discomfited. While he had held Gan Zhu at bay with relative ease, no one was more aware than he of the danger the young man posed. Should his counters be anything less than perfect, if he gave Gan Zhu the slightest opening, his weakened body would be damaged even further.
Fortunately, he wasn’t limited to simple swordplay. However, if he unleashed his true arts inside the city, he would no longer be able to avoid the attention of the few Core Reinforcing practitioners in the city. He was definitely not prepared to face a Core Reinforcer in his current state. Not to mention… he glanced over at Sun Mia, only to realize she was gone, along with merchant woman she was negotiating with before Fan Mitsu approached her.
Li Stahn grimaced, but he had no further leeway to worry about Sun Mia. In order to avoid being embroiled in further complications, he was going to have to convince this Gan Zhu to let him go, or move to a more remote location. But before he could begin to formulate his argument, Gan Zhu suddenly spoke up.
“Hey, Li Stahn. Why don’t we move this fight somewhere else?”
- Soon-ish, I said. ;_;
- But seriously, you guys, stop chatting and just fight! What the heck are you waiting for? 😛
- I was reading back through the first chapters, and I’ve made a few changes — but it was mainly word choice and order edits, so nothing too big. No need to reread them. Unless you want to. 😉
- Oh, one big change. I’m changing the second stage of mortal cultivation, “Core Reinforcement.” to “Core Reinforcing.” This is mainly to make it grammatically similar to the other two stages, Qi Gathering and Void Transcending. Oh, and in the future, I will sometimes call a practitioner at the Qi Gathering stage “a Qi Gatherer,” and similarly for the next two stages, “Core Reinforcer” and “Void Transcender.” This will make things 100% easier on me, trust me. I’ll be going back to update the previous chapters with the updated terminology soon.
- Thanks for reading! 😀