It was time for the Younger Generation Tournament. Every year, the strongest of each family who were twenty one years of age of younger would compete for the honour of their clans. Aside from the Holy Orchid Institute, there were two other schools in Glory City which trained the warriors of the younger generation, and the competition between these schools was another layer which made the tournament an exciting event each year.
To be fair, the Principal of Holy Orchid Institute decided to ask Ning'Er, Ziyun, Du Ze and Linjian not to participate, but they would be asked to give an exhibition of their skills as part of the programme, which would also help to raise the profile of their school.
However, this would be a good time to test the martial prowess of her other friends. She hoped that they would be able to gain valuable experience through their fights in this tournament, especially in the relative safety of a competition where there were ethical rules to not purposely cause serious injury or death.
The tournament proceeded as normal with all her friends able to display the skills they had gained from their training to effortlessly progress to the knock-out rounds. Although they were far stronger than their peers of the second year, due to their young age and cultivation levels, there were some in the third year who were still considerably higher in rank than them.
The first interesting match came about as the tournament official called out, "Next match, Lu Piao versus Lin Hong!" As both were at 4-Star Silver Rank, everyone expected Lu Piao to easily win especially because of his association with Ning'Er. However, Ning'Er remembered that he was the only one that had given her a sense of danger when she had first encountered the Genius Class.
She grabbed Lu Piao's arm as he headed out to the sparring arena. "Be careful," she whispered into his ear.
He turned to her with his usual nonchalant laugh, "Don't worry, Ning'Er. Who can match the mighty, Lu Piao?"
She tried to assure herself as she watched him walk down to the sparring area. Her concerns began to be dissolved as the fight began. Although Lu Piao was lazy in his cultivation, his combat abilities were clearly much more formidable than Lin Hong, especially with some of the martial techniques she had taught to him. In every aspect, whether it was movement, punches, kicks, and strength, it was clear that he was superior. But she could not completely get rid of the nagging feeling in her intuition telling her that Lin Hong was dangerous.
As Lin Hong was outmatched step by step, he was large restricted to defensive maneuvers, and it was inevitable that Lu Piao would break through with some key attacks at some point. A sharp hook to the rib area caused the third year student to drop his arms a little and gasp in pain. Lu Piao jumped on the opportunity with a punch that rocked his opponent's head back and hold his nose as blood suddenly poured out. In that moment of disorientation, Lu Piao stepped in and released a vicious uppercut causing Lin Hong to fly back five feet.
Everyone murmured in approval at the precise techniques that Lu Piao demonstrated and fully expected Lin Hong to be knocked out. There were some complaints that they didn't even have the chance to merge with their demon spirits yet, and that the fight could have been even more impressive.
As the referee started walking up to Lin Hong to verify that the fight was over, they heard the puzzling sound of laughter from the unmoving body. In the next instant they saw the soul force churn, showing the signs of Lin Hong merging with his demon spirit.
Lu Piao was momentarily shocked but quickly merged with his Dark Banshee demon spirit, not underestimating his opponent. He had a strange sense of dread as he saw Lin Hong's transformation, and a mass of thick vines started to burst out from the body.
There was an explosion of murmuring from the audience as they saw the transformation. Only the Principal and Vice Principal of the Holy Orchid Institute were not surprised because Instructor Lu Ye had already briefed them of this unusual student from the Sacred Family. Although they were not shocked like the rest of those watching, their eyes were filled with concern.
Lin Hong had actually survived integrating with a demon plant spirit! This was something that families usually wouldn't do for their talented youngsters because of the high risks involved. First of all, to find a plant who had grown strong enough to be sentient and defeat it was very difficult, and then for that plant to have a spirit which could be released and captured in a demon stone was highly unlikely as well.
But more importantly, because of the nature of plant spirits that were drastically different from human, or even beast, spirits, there was a high chance of backlash due to incompatibility which would usually kill the person. On top of this, even if it were successful, as the person grew with the plant spirit within them, their personalities would be affected in ways that were unpredictable.
Demon beast spirits could be kept distinctly separate from the human soul, but plant spirits had the ability to slowly spread and integrate within the dantian of a person until it was difficult to differentiate. This meant that there would always be a risk of the plant spirit taking control at any point if it grew too strong, even if the demon spiritualist didn't merge with the demon spirit!
Ning'Er grabbed the sides of her chair tightly as she remembered the unusual person who had attacked her in the dark when she left the guild of Inscriptionists. The surprise attack had caused her some damage and she remembered the scary strength of those lashing vines.
Her heart sunk as she saw Lu Piao release a piercing shriek that caused all those watching to cover their ears in pain. Although normal opponents would have had blood running out of their ears by now if they faced a Dark Banshee's scream, it appeared that Lin Hong's plant spirit was the natural nemesis of soul attacks. The vastly different type of soul naturally insulated the sonic attack that was meant to rampage through a human or beast's soul defenses.
She stood up in horror but was helpless to stop the fight as a vine viciously pierced right through his stomach in one explosive motion. The referee was already in motion but did not intervene in time. "Lin Hong! Withdraw! This is your last warning. If you cannot demonstrate that you can control yourself when you're merged with your demon spirit, you will be disqualified."
There was a stunned silence from the crowd as they realised that an attack like that piercing right through Lu Piao had a good chance of taking his life in a short time as he bled out from his ruptured organs. The medics rushed to his side in a desperate attempt to save his life.
"Zhang Ming! Transform now and save Lu Piao!" Ning'Er came to her senses and screamed at him. He quickly transformed into a large stingray and swallowed his friend without another word. The medics were stunned and stepped forward to stop him but the more experienced elders from the clans quickly stepped in, recognising the demon beast that specialised in healing.
"Quickly," she instructed the medics. "Bring them to the Lu Family's headquarters. They should have already begun the process of making some batches of Nine Transformation Pills." They brought over a carriage and gently lifted the Azure Stingray into it so it could focus its powers on the patient instead of rushing to its destination.
The audience got over their initial shock and began softly discussing what had taken place, debating whether the ruthless boy should continue fighting. It was clear that the integration with the plant spirit may have even warped his personality so that it was difficult for him to place the same values and principles on human life and ethics.
As the officials debated, the next fight was announced. "Nie Li versus Wang Fang! Remember to fight with integrity and not cause any serious injuries or you will be disqualified!" Knowing that Lu Piao's condition would be stabilised with Zhang Ming's intervention and the Nine Transformation Pill, Ning'Er sat back down. This would be the first time she observed Nie Li's ability with the Shapeshifting Fae she had given him. Although she had seen him train with it, it was always friendly sparring among their group of friends and not with a serious opponent.
The battle began in the same manner as the previous one. Nie Li's experience training with the group allowed him to dominate the fight. Wang Fang had no answers to his opponent's martial ability. Every attack was easily countered, and once Nie Li started attacking, it was a storm of flexible attacks from unpredictable angles that kept Wang Fang completely off balance.
After getting struck with a whipping roundhouse kick across the face, Wang Fang knew he was outmatched. With a shout, he jumped backwards to create space and began merging with his demon spirit, a Raccoon Dog. Instead of continuing to attack to disrupt the merging process, Nie Li followed tournament norms and stepped back to merge with his own demon spirit.
His heart began to speed up as he thought about the battle ahead and the different ways it could play out. This was what he lived for and wanted to grow stronger for, to be able to carry out the battle strategies that he formulated in his mind. The more options he had, the more effective and flexible he could be to find ways to defeat his opponent. He had already thought of five different ways to nullify the Raccoon Dog in front of him and it had only been ten seconds!
The murmurs in the audience began as they watched what was happening in front of them.
"What's that mysterious demon beast that Nie Li transformed into?"
"It looks like a slender puppet with no face..."
"Can this sort of beast have attacking power? It looks harmless!"
The Raccoon Dog barked in aggression and lunged at Nie Li. He jumped up as his humanoid shape suddenly took the form of a hawk. The moment Wang Fang landed, the hawk swooped down unexpectedly and raked its razor sharp claws across his back.
The Raccoon Dog whimpered in pain and twisted its head around to snap its jaws at the hawk only to find its teeth striking at the armoured skin of an armadillo beast and finding no space to sink in at all. Right at an opportune moment, the arm of the armadillo sneaked in and yanked on the tongue of the Raccoon Dog, who squealed in pain and rage.
Over and over, Nie Li transformed into different creatures and it became obvious to the crowd that Wang Fang was just being played with. The fight could have concluded a long time ago but Nie Li was letting it play out to test out different theories and techniques on his opponent. In frustration, Wang Fang abruptly transformed back into his human form and cupped his hands to his opponent.
"I concede," he said as he abruptly walked away embarrassed at the farce of a battle he had just displayed.