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The tournament started with those of the lowest cultivation, and would work from Body Tempering to Spirit Building to Essence Collection. There wouldn’t be a tournament for Life Transformation experts, though there was a time period arranged for some Life Transformation experts from those sects that had them to demonstrate some of their abilities. If it came to actual matches, even the impressive structure of the arena would hardly be able to withstand the battles, and keeping all of the spectators safe would require expending too many resources, or too severely restricting the participating cultivators.
In addition to that, Life Transformation cultivators were leery of showing off their full skills, as their enemies would want to use any weaknesses against them. Thus, it would be more of a ceremonial demonstration rather than a full exhibition. Those with lower cultivations might still be able to gain some insights, however.
There were very few Body Tempering cultivators participating that Anton knew. It wasn’t that he didn’t know many people, but instead that most of those he knew had already surpassed Body Tempering. The exception were a few of those he had rescued from slavery in Ofrurg who ultimately had chosen to devote themselves to cultivation as a lifestyle. Many of those he had taught were having great success while still continuing their trades, but some, especially those with higher talents, decided that joining the Order would be best for them.
Since the majority of cultivators didn’t advance as quickly as Anton and the others, it wasn’t strange for them to be in early or mid Body Tempering after a few years. Even late Body Tempering after three years was a sign of reasonable talent. Ultimately, however, aside from seeing some different styles, Anton didn’t find much of interest in the Body Tempering tournament. Though the arena was massive and open, it was actually separated into many parts and multiple matches happened concurrently. The size of the area participants would be using would increase with each part of the tournament, so the more interesting matches would have fewer going concurrently. There would also be fewer participants, and so it wouldn’t drag on the tournament forever to have individual matches at certain points.
In just one of many matches happening in the Body Tempering portion of the tournament, Gerd Aberg stood across from her opponent, Reynold of the Myriad Tool Society. She appeared much as she had when she first arrived at the Order. Her body was round with fat. She had thought that once she became a cultivator that would change, but it just never quite worked out for her. Underneath, at least, she was greatly changed.
No longer was she barely able to run, unable to pull herself up a rope. Even though she’d had some success in Body Tempering before attempting to join the Order, her weight had been a hindrance. It was like carrying someone else on her back at all times. That was still the case, but as she had reached the peak of Body Tempering… carrying someone else around on her wasn’t such a big deal.
Strong muscle and a solid body were underneath her soft outer layer. She’d tried to take the advice of those around her to lessen her weight. She tempered her body with exercise, expending a great amount of energy. Even as she did so, she tried to eat less. With both combined, it was illogical that she would still have fat on her. But with months of feeling like she was starving to death and having lost no weight except what she lost in muscle mass, Gerd gave up on that. If she could not remove the fat from around her, she would have to be strong enough to deal with it. And she could.
If only she could advance into Spirit Building, she thought she might have a chance to create greater changes in her body. Having been a member of the Order for sufficient time, she was able to study the full version of the Ninety-Nine Stars cultivation technique. She had attempted to break through to Spirit Building many times, but something was missing. She asked elders for help, but nothing worked. Anton even offered to help her. Out of pity, maybe, or because she was friends with Pete and a companion of Alva.
His advice had been most helpful, even if it hadn’t ultimately led to her advancing her cultivation further. She knew what she needed. A purpose, and a proper understanding of herself. If something didn’t fit, she would have to change it. But none of that was as easy as it sounded.
So she was fighting in the tournament, because ultimately combat was one of the ways cultivators came to know themselves. Even in a constrained fashion, it could still be useful. If nothing else, she would experience different forms of combat.
Like the man in front of her. He was laden with as many different pieces of enchanted equipment as the tournament allowed, while Gerd had a hammer and some armor and little else of note. Gerd found herself a bit jealous at his appearance. Was he a favored of his Myriad Tool Society, to have so many things? Everything seemed to be specifically tailored to him as well.
Reynold had a shield, but no traditional sort of weapon. As soon as the match started Gerd charged towards him, moving more quickly than the man anticipated. She attacked without reservation, swinging down at him to see how he would respond. She had of course expected him to block with his shield, but she hadn’t expected that she would be the one pushed back by the impact, her hammer nearly knocked out of her hands.
The man stood there unfazed as Gerd tried to figure out what had happened. His stance wasn’t particularly sturdy. It wasn’t that he had an unexpected weight to him, either. Thus, he should have been sent flying back. But at the moment of impact the force had all rebounded back at her.
He hadn’t used his own energy to accomplish that, at least not the majority of the effect. It was something about the shield… and his boots. Though she had been the one thrown away, the man in front of Gerd didn’t look terribly confident in approaching her. So she was happy enough to throw herself into another attack. This time she tried a sweeping strike, but the man turned his shield and once more her attack rebounded.
At the moment of impact he threw what looked like a small metal stick at her leg. Her defensive energy kept it from striking her, but it suddenly bent and snapped around her ankle at the same time as the shield once more sent her hammer flying back, Gerd desperately holding onto it to keep from being disarmed.
She didn’t move as far, but it wasn’t due to any special technique on her part. The stick that had become a band wrapped around her ankle was somehow weighing her down. She could feel the energy imbued in it making that one leg want to stick to the ground. Gerd wanted to try to remove it, but as soon as she focused on it her opponent attacked with a long metal whip, forcing her to dodge about- yet slowly and with great difficulty.
But Gerd wasn’t going to let a little bit of extra weight, strange thought it was, keep her down. She adjusted her energy, distributing more to her left leg to counteract the resistance she felt while moving. Even restrained, she was still able to run about, to fight. So what if she was carrying another person wrapped around her leg? What was one more, anyway?
She moved in for the attack once more. Of course doing the same thing repeatedly was bound to get her in trouble, but she had some ideas. The first thing she had to do was dodge past the persistent whip. She had no doubt that if it wrapped around her arm it would cause all sorts of trouble, beyond just whatever injuries it might cause. Gerd put on a sudden burst of speed as she circled around, then leapt into the air. It was a bit more difficult with the extra weight on her left leg, but that would just make the force as she barrelled down on the man all the harder to resist.
Yet she found herself being tossed into the air regardless. She had a few moments to think about what was happening as she sailed straight up. First, the man from the Myriad Tool Society had simply shifted his shield to block her hammed, holding it above his head. His stance otherwise barely changed, and in fact it was the worst way to receive an attack. Besides some basic defensive energy to ensure its durability, she hadn’t felt anything special about how he held the shield. Beneath his feet, however, his energy was spread out like a net, covering a wide area of the ground. That wasn’t strange, since nobody wanted to be bashed knee deep into the stone floor of the arena and then have to figure out how to extricate themselves.
The strange part was that he hadn’t changed anything about that. Gerd was pretty sure his energy had been arranged like that to begin with. As she started falling, the whip struck out at her. Unable to do more than tumble in the air to dodge, she had to defend against its strikes with her energy, taking them head on where she would have liked to be more efficient with her efforts. Whenever it seemed as if it might grab her, however, she spun herself around. It was going to make it difficult to make a proper strike, but keeping herself minimally injured was important.
As she rotated she took stock of Reynold’s position directly below. He was just waiting for her to make another attack, and she didn’t intend to disappoint him. Her hammer was surrounded by a mass of energy as she twisted her body to stop her rotation. As her hammer was about to impact his shield, the mass of energy on it withdrew. Her hammer struck the shield with a reasonable amount of force, but it only bounced her about a foot up in the air before she got her feet back on the ground. Her energy didn’t disappear or get cancelled, but rather it was an intentional move on her part. She thought that he had been rebounding her with a special property of the shield- and perhaps that wasn’t incorrect- but it also wasn’t fully the case.
With her attack weakened, so was the rebound. Gerd got a good look at her opponent as she landed right next to him, inside optimal range for his whip. Everything he had fit him well, but he took care of it. He didn’t just rely on the power of his shield, but made sure it held together under her attacks. It wasn’t just going to get replaced. And she was beginning to understand something.
He wasn’t anything special. He probably wasn’t a chosen of the Myriad Tool Society, even equipped as he was. She’d seen other members of them with fewer tools, but this man in front of her wasn’t a genius. Or maybe he was, because if she was right he made everything himself. It just fit with him too well, the flow of energy too efficient.
She didn’t have time to ask, though, as she leapt forward and wrapped her arms around the shield. There was a slight repelling force as she hit it, but even as he expanded his energy to try to remove her grasp on the shield she yanked it towards her… and found his shield slipping out of her grasp for an unexpected reason. He went straight up into the air.
She applauded his efforts to clear her out of his landing zone with his whip, but she swung back with her hammer, letting it wrap around. It coiled more tightly than it properly should have, but she’d already expected something like that. Once it was solidly in place, she yanked downward. Reynold hit the ground at a reasonable speed, consequences of the moment of hesitation to let go of his whip. It was fully twisted around Gerd’s hammer and wouldn’t let go, but instead of concerning herself with that she threw both of them away out of reach.
Perhaps it was unreasonable to divest herself of her only weapon when she was aware her opponent still had more than a handful of tricky tools up his sleeve- partly literally- but something told her that confidence was key. She would fight with her arms and legs, even with one weighed down by a strange tool, and overcome whatever else Reynold had in store. But first she had to deal with that shield… and those boots.