Elder Cultivator 556

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Despite its great power, the Harmonious Citadel merely happened to be the largest sect in between the Trigold Cluster and the Exalted Quadrant. Thus, whatever claim to fame it had was only in relation to those two agreeing not to conquer the region between them. As for the Harmonious Citadel’s size, it was a moderate number of systems. More than a few, less than hundreds. Where it was between those numbers barely mattered.

All that was really important was that some of them had nice swords. The Trigold Cluster did too, unless the examples they lost in the lower realms were their very best. That seemed unlikely for any number of reasons, but they likely hadn’t thought there was real risk of losing Integration cultivators in the invasion. Otherwise, it would be hard for it to be worth it.

Chikere knew the Harmonious Citadel definitely had more. She hadn’t been able to get close to their sword saint because it wasn’t easy to get onto their main planets without being noticed- and she was a little wanted. Maybe because of the bandit thing forty years earlier, or the whole part where she’d been fighting a more official war against them for decades. Either way, she’d seen some and knew there were others she wanted. 

And there happened to be a really nice one as the reward for a tournament. That was why she was here on Thaizuno, and despite hearing about how it was forged by a grandmaster smith using dragon bone and the heat of a sun, she hadn’t really believed it was as good as advertised until she got close. Then, there it was, sitting right out in the open. Surrounded by at least two dozen Integration cultivators and at least two layers of formations. So perhaps not quite in the open, but its aura still got to her. 

It had taken her ten minutes to pull her gaze away and look at Rahayu. They would both be competing for it, of course. Not only did that increase their odds of winning it, both wanted it- and it was unlikely they would give it to the other. Though they hadn’t been quite so sure about that until they saw it.

Most of the Harmonious Citadel’s tournaments were internal- for their own disciples only, resources only going into making them stronger. This one, however, was mainly sponsored by them… but also by some surrounding factions and the grandmaster himself. Or herself. Chikere hadn’t bothered learning the name because she’d assumed it would only replace number twenty or thirty at best, which would have barely been worth the trip. Okay, so replacing a sword was always worth a trip- but it wasn’t worth getting worked up for, if it was only one so old.

A large fellow shoved his way in between the two watchers. “Out of the way!” he commanded, though he was certainly tall enough to see without moving past them. 

He found himself with two swords pressed against his neck, and a pair pressing against important parts of his inner thighs. “Keep your hands to yourself if you wish to have blood in your body,” Chikere commented.

The man snorted, “Don’t you mean ‘or lose them’?”

“No. Why would I bother with specifically your hands?”

He brushed away Rahayu’s sword as he turned towards her. “I have no interest in an old man… but you, girl, have some guts. Not that it’ll do you any good. Do you even dare to cut me? Can you?”

“Why wouldn’t I dare?” Chikere said. “And I can cut anything.”

“Oh yeah?” The man grinned. “Do it. Cut me.”

Chikere sized up the man. His self confidence was not entirely misplaced. The instant the two of them had made their moves, his energy had shifted to cover the precise locations of their attacks. He was obviously quite familiar with blades. What was more, judging how tough an opponent’s defenses were in other ways was important. If she could cut through an opponent’s upper energy but not their armor or flesh, it hardly mattered. With her swords on vital points already, his armor was irrelevant- it was already bypassed and she only had to slice. His body and upper energy however were both significant. 

She was impressed. Though she hadn’t encountered his cultivation technique in the flesh before, she had a likely candidate. “Swords of Heaven and Earth?”

“That’s right,” the man said confidently. “I’m Vano.”

Chikere focused her eyes on his, her sharp gaze clashing against his. Then, his eyes sprayed two lines of blood as they were cut without a single motion. Chikere turned away from him as she spoke. “I have accomplished your request.”

She stepped away from the man called Vano who was yelling and cursing. He’d done well to protect himself from most patterns of attack, but though he came from a sect that tempered the body to be a sword, clearly he had not internalized the concept. Though he would have reacted had she drawn her blade along his throat or had any of them gone towards his face, he had simply been unprepared. Of course, had it been a real battle such an attack would have not been possible. Only because she was given time to gather herself was she able to pierce his natural defenses without a blade. And, Chikere had to admit that even given the circumstances her attack had not been perfect. If it had, neither of his eyes would be able to recover. As it was, he would likely only have to replace one.

It only took a second for Vano to draw a weapon and begin swinging at Chikere, but without being able to see how could he match her? A dozen blades blocked his surprisingly modest weapon, one not carrying the massive weight and size many men of his build would favor. “Do you wish to battle in the streets?” Chikere said. “That is forbidden in this tournament city.”

“You attacked me first!” he growled. His blade withdrew in a brilliant manner, slipping past her weapons barring its retreat. A decent move, followed by a horizontal slice that seemed to arrive before it started, switching directions of attack as Chikere blocked- swinging in from her left then suddenly being on her right- but ultimately merely grazing the skin of her neck as she leaned back, leaving a tiny drop of blood leaking out in front of her windpipe. 

“You laid hands on us first, and then you specifically requested that I cut you. If I had actually attacked, you would be dead.”

Whatever argument Vano had about that, it was cut off by a twenty centimeter wide blade as tall as a man crashing down between them. With it came a man, his hand resting on the hilt like he had been there all along. “Enough.” The single word was paired with the feeling of Chikere’s head being chopped off- a sensation she was familiar with as it had happened halfway more than once. This time, however, it was simply that. A sensation- or perhaps a promise. “No ruining my tournament. If you want to kill each other, do it off planet or after the tournament.”

Chikere was not listening to the man because she was looking at his swords. Not one sword, as it first appeared, but many fit together, their blades meshing side by side. With only a single hilt it would be impossible to properly wield them all in a human’s hands- besides the obvious limits that came with lack of limbs- but she couldn’t help but wonder if he fought in a similar manner to herself. Ultimately decided based on the part where she felt her head be severed that his style was still quite different.

“O-of course, Grandmaster Smith,” Vaso inclined his head and walked away with his teeth clenched. The somewhat temporary loss of his eyes would not prevent him from moving around in a normal fashion- he was a powerful cultivator after all.

“And you?” Chikere realized that the olive skinned man was speaking to her.

“I want your sword,” she stated.

“You can’t have it,” he flatly countered.

“I can when I win the tournament,” she turned her head towards the center of the area where the prize was displayed. Then she turned back to the man who was apparently a Grandmaster Smith. “But I would also take those swords should you be willing to give them up.”

“Swords?” he raised an eyebrow. “This is just one sword.”

Chikere blinked. His touch was all over the weapon- clearly crafted by his own hand as much as the other in the center of the square. “Perhaps we have different definitions of what composes one sword, then.” She inclined her head and turned to leave.

Soon enough Rahayu caught up to her away from the square. “I could see both sides of the single or multiple sword argument.”

“I could as well,” Chikere shrugged, “But I would still say it is several. What about you?”

“I don’t think my opinion matters as I would not wield such a blade.”

—–

The first opponent Chikere faced in the tournament appeared to be lost, as he quite clearly was wielding a warhammer. She approached cautiously just to make certain he had no swords, but he really didn’t. The weapon in his hands was small enough it could have been used as one, but sized to still be comfortable for his current two-handed grip. 

Chikere arranged a modest amount of her blades around her. She understood this was still the early stages of the tournament, and skilled swordmasters could see through her style if she showed it in its completeness. She had to treat it as if she were already fighting the best of those in the tournament. Rahayu was in that category as well, but they were already quite familiar with each other. And no doubt both had plans to defeat the other.

The man with the warhammer charged straight for Chikere, swinging his weapon down. She did not dare block, determining that a good majority of her weapons would be shattered upon impact. Tournament protections would keep her from death, they would not protect her equipment from harm if she couldn’t handle it. Should she not understand her weapon properties it was her own fault.

The attack was slow enough she was easily able to step to the side. Chikere’s other blades lashed out towards the charging man, seeking vital points. He did not appear to have enough energy reserved for defense to stop her. 

When she felt the blow to her head she realized that was not a tactical error. Chikere was at least a hundred times better off than the space she had been standing, which now had a sizable fissure torn into the ground, but she was not unharmed. The single hammer blow had not touched her, yet she felt it crash down atop her head and her spread out weapons. The force was not enough to damage them, but they were knocked out of their killing trajectories. 

Chikere had not been lacking in seriousness in the battle- her attacks had not been casual, nor had her dodge been anything short of what she intended to be flawless. Clearly, however, this man had insights into a different sort of fighting that extended beyond what she had expected. She sighed. It would have been so much easier if he was a swordmaster of some sort. That would make it easy. She understood swords. Hammers were weird. But she supposed she had to deal with it, even if this guy was probably in the wrong tournament.

Knowing the man could perform attacks with a wider area of impact than he had indicated- even concealing his intent- Chikere was more able to deal with the following actions. When he lifted his warhammer from his downward chop into a sweep, she stepped inward and past the man. She attempted to cut into his arms as she went, her additional weapons positioning themselves in a way she thought they wouldn’t all get caught up in any side effects of the swing.

She was half successful, as even the man’s forearms possessed the might of a hammer, knocking her main weapon away and forcing her to regain her balance instead of continuing towards an attack on his torso. At least his attack had been too slow to hit her.

Though she wondered if it had to be too slow, or if he was trying to catch her off guard. Even with the simple abilities he displayed, he clearly wasn’t weak. She’d have to choose between carefully watching his style for weaknesses, or merely attempting to win quickly. Ah, who was she kidding. Only one of those was her style.

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