Chapter 41 A Debt Repaid
A thrill coursed through Number One’s veins the moment she saw the blade’s movement. Deep inside her, a sense of utmost peril loomed, enshrouding her heart like a cage. Unbidden, a piercing cry tore past Number One’s lips. A split second later, lightning surged, as if spurred into action by her cry. Before, the lightning had been hovering idly in mid-air, shrouding the agents’ bodies like two cloaks. Now, in the throes of danger, the lightning lashed out in lethal bolts, whipping and zipping across the yellow gloom of the battlefield. The lightning burst onwards, following Number One’s line of sight until it clashed head on with the descending longsword.
Jarred by the impact, Number One’s vision shook. All of a sudden, the surrounding ambiance dissipated before her eyes. Streaks of murky dark-yellow vacated the air, as if whisked away by a strong gust of wind.
Intense firelight burst forth in a long, continuous stretch. The light gushed towards the two agents like a tidal wave of flames.
In a flurry of sharp cries, Number One and Number Two scrambled to defend themselves. But their efforts proved futile against the undying blaze. Fire danced around them, interweaving and entwining. It was only a matter of seconds before they were both completely engulfed in flames. Everything else in the vicinity evanensced. The inferno reigned, leaving nothing but pure heat and ashes in its wake.
Amidst the chaos, the longsword had morphed into something else. It had split itself into two, with each blade long and threadlike. Number One realized, much to her horror, that one of the swords had drawn all the lightning to itself. The blade, now infused with lightning, soared skywards, higher and higher.
Number One gazed aloft. Her eyes, now devoid of all hope, beheld the entire scene from a crystal clear perspective.
Li Tianlan’s strength had far surpassed anything she could ever imagine. But still, what confounded her even more was the weapon he wielded in his hand.
She and Number Two had poured everything they got into their combined lightning attack. In fact, that last attack should have been the deathblow. The very instant Li Tianlan’s longsword connected with the lightning, all the power contained within the bolt would have been unleashed upon Li Tianlan, causing instantaneous death.
Besides, she could see that Li Tianlan had been advancing through realms forcibly. Attaining the Fire-flaming Realm by force would most certainly have left Li Tianlan’s body in a weakened state. And needless to say, the chances of him being able to withstand a combined, all-out assault from her and Number Two while weakened was close to none.
And yet he had survived. That sword of his had saved him. Right before the clash, the sword had bifurcated and taken a new form. It had transformed into two long, threadlike, dual blades.
One of the swords remained tightly clasped in Li Tianlan’s palm.
Whereas its twin had taken to the sky after absorbing all the lightning.
Across the battlefield, hellish incandescence pervaded. And there, amidst the dancing flames, stood Li Tianlan, completely unscathed despite everything Number One and Number Two had thrown at him. The longsword in his hand now rose slowly. There was a momentary lull as the blade reached the top of its path, where it paused. And then, in a single, powerful swipe, the blade sliced through the air.
The Tenth Blade.
Unlimited and boundless power, condensed into a single weapon.
Following that single sword strike, the battlefield plunged into darkness. The surrounding flames died out, withering to the point of nothingness. Only the aura of Li Tianlan’s sword remained. Li Tianlan’s Sword Energy bore a murky, wraith-like form. It sprouted from the tip of Li Tianlan’s sword, swirled, and then hurtled across the battlefield towards Number One and Number Two.
Majestic and powerful, the Sword Energy was truly a sight to behold. It resembled the strength of a raging fire as well as the jarring clamor of roaring thunder. It was far-reaching, like the heavens above. And yet sturdy and strong, like the earth. It was the embodiment of every phenomenon known to the world.
Such was the power of the Tenth Blade indeed. Vast. Boundless. Unstoppable.
Of all the techniques Li Tianlan had acquired throughout his Martial Arts training, and of all the sword forms belonging to the Fire-flaming Realm, the Tenth Blade was the one with the greatest destructive power.
In a battle to the death with nothing held back, the Tenth Blade’s power surpassed even that of The Eighth Blade of Celestial Flames and The Ninth Blade of Eventide.
Number One released yet another scream. The high-pitched shriek tore past her lips and pierced through the air.
That single blow had rendered her senses void. All perceptions fled her body, dissipating into thin air. Not a single sensation remained inside her. She felt nothing, nothing other than death.
In her final moments, Number One twisted her body around. And then she mustered the last vestiges of her strength and dove straight towards Number Two, her husband.
Due to their shared proximity, she did not have to dive far. All it took was a mere twist, and she was practically in her husband’s arms.
Behind her, a thick and dense wall of ice rose. Inside the Ice Wall, flames raged and roiled like a firestorm.
Despair lingered on Number One’s visage, though her gaze had noticeably softened. And at that moment, any thoughts of the lethal flashing of swords behind her had vanished from her mind. She stared longingly at her husband, as if trying to engrave her lover’s face, the face she had known for so many years, right into her soul.
The longsword and its aura zipped across the battlefield, slashing and cleaving through the ether.
In the split second that followed, the Ice Wall burst asunder, and the flames vanished into thin air.
The razor-sharp tip of the longsword slit across Number One’s waist in a blinding flash.
Crimson spilled forth in a fountain of fresh blood.
Number Two felt the weight in his arms slacken. Peering into his wife’s eyes, he saw the life in them swiftly fade away. His jaw dropped open in a scream, but no sound came out. His muteness, it seemed, had denied him even the right to mourn his wife. All of a sudden, there was movement. A rapid streak of dark silhouette tore past him in a flash, and Li Tianlan materialized behind him.
The longsword rose with unwavering conviction. Not a single shred of hesitance was present as it prepared to decimate yet another life. The point of the blade pierced through Number Two’s heart from behind.
Even until the very end, Number One’s efforts had been futile. Her actions reflected her affections as well as the devotion she had held towards her husband. But other than that, they were meaningless. They could neither save herself nor her husband from death. They accomplished nothing.
The longsword impaled, and then it withdrew.
Li Tianlan stared at the crumpled form of Number Two, whose arms remain tightly wrapped around the top half of his wife’s severed body. Plastered on Li Tianlan’s face was a look of cold indifference. Even after causing so much death, his face revealed nothing but apathy. That alone could strike terror into the heart of anyone who knew fear.
Steadfast. Decisive. Vicious. Ruthless. Enigmatic. And so immensely powerful!
The Enchantress, who had been watching the entire battle from the sidelines, was confronted by a deep sense of dread. Fear churned at the pit of her stomach, causing her scalp to tingle. In his current state, Li Tianlan might not be considered a threat to her yet. But what she had seen the man accomplish during this battle sent chills down her spine nonetheless.
“The boss isn’t wrong about him,” the Horsewoman said from beside the Enchantress.
Silence ensued as the Horsewoman pondered her next words. Several moments passed in silence. And then, all of a sudden, a tender smile lit across the Horsewoman’s face. “And it looks like a certain Princess of the Northern Sea’s Wang Family isn’t wrong about him either,” she said, sneaking a glance at Wang Yuetong.
An abrupt change befell the Enchantress’ countenance at the Horsewoman’s remark. Wordlessly, she glanced towards the battlefield, her eyes zoning in on Wang Yuetong. Immediately, she noticed the unfocused, glassy look in Wang Yuetong’s eyes, as if something had glazed over them. The Enchantress sighed inwardly, her own face now tinted with a paleness uncharacteristic of her.
Up ahead, something fell from the sky. It was one of Li Tianlan’s longswords, the one that had taken to the sky during the battle. The sword slammed into the ground with a crack.
In tandem with the longsword’s descent, Li Tianlan’s once monstrous vital force also dwindled. In a blink of an eye, his power levels had gone from the Fire-flaming Realm down to the Qi-controlling Realm.
Li Tianlan braced himself against Wang Yuetong’s figure, his face now as white as a sheet. His arm raised and found its way around Wang Yuetong’s back before settling itself there. Leaning against Wang Yuetong in that manner, he staggered across the battlefield towards the fissure on the ground where the other half of Human Emperor rested. He picked up the longsword, dislodging it from the ground. In his hands, the two halves of Human Emperor had already begun merging. And when the Human Emperor was once again back into its single form, Li Tianlan slid it into his cuff.
The exertion, however, had sapped away his remaining strength. As soon as the longsword was retrieved, Li Tianlan’s knees buckled, and he collapsed to the ground, where he sat wheezing and panting. Blood spilled from his lips in huge mouthfuls, showing no signs of stopping.
“Senior brother!” Wang Yuetong yelled, her voice imbued with unbidden dread and unshed tears.
She clung onto Li Tianlan’s form in a tight embrace, not willing to let go. With one hand, she swiped at the blood patches that had smeared Li Tianlan’s lips. Tears spilled from her eyes in huge, pearl-like droplets. Tremors shook her, and her body trembled with a vigor that surpassed even those produced by Li Tianlan’s wounded body. “Please, senior brother, you’re scaring me,” she whispered through her tears. She clung onto Li Tianlan’s form in a tight embrace, not willing to let go. With one hand, she swiped at the blood patches that had smeared Li Tianlan’s lips. Tears spilled from her eyes in huge, pearl-like droplets. Tremors shook her, and her body trembled with a vigor that surpassed even those produced by Li Tianlan’s wounded body. “Please, senior brother, you’re scaring me,” she whispered through her tears.
At the whispered plea, Li Tianlan’s gaze fell upon the palm on his mouth. Wang Yuetong’s palm, once a delicate shade of alabaster white, was now stained with the crimson of his blood. In a momentous feat, Li Tianlan forced his jaw closed and sealed his lips shut. More blood pooled in his mouth, but he swallowed them down. Mouthful by mouthful.
Gently, Li Tianlan shook his head at Wang Yuetong, his face now awash with serenity. There was a certain calmness in his expression, unexplained tranquility. And yet, he could not bring himself to utter a single word.
By then, Wang Yuetong, whose petite face had somehow retained its beauty throughout her tears, had begun to feel as if she was realizing something. A sudden clarity washed over her. And without further delay, she tore out a few buttons from her shirt. She crushed the buttons between her fingers and poured out their contents, which consisted of a variety of powdery substances.
“Senior brother, eat this,” Wang Yuetong said, the blend of powders now hovering close to Li Tianlan’s lips. “It’ll help your wounds recover.”
Li Tianlan shot her a glance. His jaw fell open, and he allowed Wang Yuetong to fill his mouth with powder. He swallowed the powder together with his blood.
Wang Yuetong reached for Li Tianlan once again, pulling him into her embrace. And while doing so, she wept and wept, as if she were a cat that had been cast away by its owner.
Meanwhile, in the forest, away from the battlefield, the Enchantress scrutinized the Horsewoman beside her. The Horsewoman seemed a little hesitant about something, though the Enchantress already knew what the source of her hesitance was. And when the Enchantress spoke next, her voice carried an air of nonchalance, “That was the Potion of Blessings. A special concoction of the Wang family of Beihai. The worst it can do is prevent Li Tianlan’s wounds from worsening.”
Upon hearing the Enchantress’ words, the Horsewoman’s features noticeably relaxed. “Farewell,” she said coolly before turning to leave.
There was a good reason for the Horsewoman’s hurried departure, and it was not because she was prohibited from appearing before Li Tianlan. Instead, she left in order to avoid a potential confrontation between herself and the elites of the Wang family. Plus, the Garden Party was a mere stone’s throw away from here, which was why she would have to hurry if she were to have any chance of leaving this place before the elites arrived. Obviously, her attempts at preventing the Enchantress from fulfilling Li Tianlan’s wishes would not be taken well by the rest of the Wang family. Considering all circumstances as well as Wang Xiaoyao’s barbaric tendencies, a confrontation was pretty much inevitable if she did not leave now.
Only when the Horsewoman’s retreating form had vanished completely from her sight did the Enchantress heave a sigh of relief. Slowly, she sauntered away from the forest and out into the battlefield.
Still holding Li Tianlan within her arms, a sniveling Wang Yuetong noticed the Enchantress’ presence from the corner of her eyes. A fleeting moment marked her stupor as she sat there, dazed, unsure of how to act. But then almost too quickly, she recovered and wiped her tears away. Wang Yuetong’s features bore a look of stiff coldness as she turned her face away, refusing to pay the new presence any heed.
“What’s the matter? Mad at me?” the Enchantress asked, opting for a jovial approach.
In truth, the Enchantress’ thoughts and emotions were a muddled mess. And yet, when she stood before Wang Yuetong, she did it with a smile.
Wang Yuetong shook her head, but said nothing.
Deep within the Enchantress’ heart was a huge tangle of unspeakable burdens and ineffable tribulations. She shifted her attention towards Li Tianlan, whose countenance was gradually acquiring a serene quality. “Tianlan, are you alright?” she asked softly.
“Nothing too serious,” Li Tianlan answered, looking completely at peace.
His mouth fell open. Yarns of blood spilled from its corners. “Thank you for your concern, teacher.”
“Didn’t I say to call me Six Sister?”
The Enchantress’ brows raised just a tad, and that was when she noticed that the look of serenity had yet to abandon Li Tianlan’s bearing. A passing glint flashed across her eyes, and all of a sudden, the Enchantress’ mien turned pensive. “Tianlan, with your strength, if you had wanted to leave just now, those people probably wouldn’t have been able to stop you. And you didn’t have to go that far to rescue Yuetong.” There was a brief pause as the weight of the Enchantress’ words sank in. “Tell us,” she said, leveling a pointed stare at Li Tianlan, “Why risk your life for our Princess? Are you in love with her?”
“Six Sister!!” Wang Yuetong protested.
Her delicate face, tearful and lachrymose, blushed a deep crimson. Instinctively, her arms tightened around Li Tianlan.
Li Tianlan stiffened momentarily. Then, he pulled away from Wang Yuetong’s embrace into a sitting position. “That was meant to repay my debt to fellow student Wang Yuetong,” he said.
Vacant looks took over the two women’s features simultaneously.
“A debt? Is that all there was to it? Well, if that’s the case, then I’m sure it has been repaid, whatever it was that you owed her. I mean, after what you’ve done today, it’s pretty hard to imagine otherwise,” the Enchantress said, “but the real question is, what comes after?”
Silence prevailed. It was as if the surrounding air had grown taut by the Enchantress’ loaded question. Nevertheless, the look of resolve on her features did not waver.
“What comes after?” she prodded again, her tone firm as ever.
Li Tianlan shot a glance at the Enchantress.
And there in the Enchantress’ eyes, he saw nothing but endless and unfathomable depths. Those eyes had rendered the Enchantress thoughts utterly inscrutable. Deciphering them was virtually impossible.
“Nothing,” he said, smiling as if he was mocking himself.
He forced himself upright, all the while staring at Wang Yuetong whose face had now gone white in distress. “From now on, we’re even,” he whispered to her.
With a brisk nod, he turned around and left.
Wang Yuetong remained seated on the ground, seemingly at a loss of words. Li Tianlan’s words had left her completely thunderstruck. Only when Li Tianlan was about 10 meters away did she finally regain her voice. “What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked shakily.
Li Tianlan did not answer. He walked on without so much as a backward glance.
This was for the best, Li Tianlan thought as he paced on. Considering that the Li and Wang families were destined to follow different paths, the best choice for both of them would be to part ways now and never contact each other again.
Silently and solemnly, he retreated. Strides grew into limps. And soon, he was staggering. But he never stopped. He kept on walking. And with each step he took, the distance between himself and Wang Yuetong grew further and further apart.
Wang Yuetong’s gaze followed Li Tianlan’s shrinking form. Finally, the tears she had been holding back could no longer be contained. Streaks of them spilled from between her lashes.
She sprang to her feet, her gaze fixed upon Li Tianlan. But her attempted pursuit was thwarted before it even began. A pair of arms held her back. Wang Yuetong glanced at her detainer, and was met with the glacial eyes of the Enchantress.
Wang Yuetong struggled with all her might, though her efforts were in vain. She could not break free. Now, wrapped in the Enchantress’ arms as her strength slowly seeped away, there was nothing more she could do except to cry her heart out. With every single tear she shed, her heart broke even further. Watching the diminishing contours of Li Tianlan’s retreating form, she cried out, “What’s that supposed to mean? Li Tianlan, answer me!”