It was too late to learn the name of this warhammer wielder without it being awkward, but Chikere thought it was almost worthwhile. Despite him not wielding a sword, she was learning something about swordsmanship herself. The wide area attacks with the weight of mountains behind the man’s strikes were a different experience. What they taught her was another way to cut things that lacked physicality.
When her blades intersected, cutting apart a cross shape in the man’s attacks she saw his eyes widen then focus in a moment of inspiration. For his sake she hoped he could hold onto that for later, because she wasn’t going to give him the chance to use whatever he learned against her. The sword in her hands flashed forward, touching his throat at the same time his hammer came down on her shoulder- its force negated momentarily.
“I lose,” the man admitted, fortunately clearing things up since outside observers might not understand the results. He swung his warhammer onto his shoulder, “You’d better make good use of that sword if you get it.”
She still didn’t know why he was in the tournament, because she was quite certain he would not have used it. But instead of trying to resolve the mystery, she let it stay. It didn’t matter, because there was only one possible end result for who would own the sword.
As Chikere expected, the next matches were against others making use of various sword styles. Some had clearly been lucky in earlier rounds, while others had enough skill that Chikere could learn things from them. Most were marginal improvements, but she couldn’t exactly expect to break through to new levels with every battle. Each fractional improvement would add up in ways that would eventually result in a large change that couldn’t be placed anywhere along the path of Chikere’s growth. Or she would be dead.
A vast number of observers were watching the tournament, but the actual number of participants was no more than a few thousand. Nobody below the Integration stage even had a chance, so they weren’t even in the tournament to begin with. Most of the rest were sword cultivators pulled from a large number of systems, with a few others that simply came for the prize, presumably to resell. Despite their strength they did not have the conviction necessary to go far in the tournament.
Then she found herself against Vano. At the current stage of the tournament it was not terribly improbable that they would match up against each other, though also not particularly likely either. Though frankly Chikere did not care how they came to be against each other. “I’m impressed,” Chikere said. “You found some very expensive medicine so quickly.” Vaso’s eyes- whole with only the slightest indication they’d been slashed in the one that had been the worst off- glared at her with intensity. To recover so much in only a day… a few days? A week? However long the tournament had been going. To recover so much in that time took special stuff.
“You’re the one who will need treatment after this… if I let you survive.”
“An interesting statement,” Chikere said. The tournament should have some safety measures in check- she assumed. She hadn’t actually checked at any point since it didn’t matter to her, but that was the general setup. “… Did you forget your other sword?” Chikere asked as he took his stance.
That threw him off balance for a moment, though it was not her intention. “… What?”
“You can hardly wield the Swords of Heaven and Earth with a single blade.”
“You act as if you actually understand the style.”
“I’ve seen it in action,” she shrugged. She was quite confident he didn’t have another sword, but if he was supposed to she would have let him get it. Perhaps it was simply her opinion that the style would do better with two weapons due to the name, as she’d only technically experienced a single attack. “So are you a heaven style or earth style?”
Vaso’s eyebrow twitched. “Everyone is both! Heaven is the power of our upper energy, earth is the power of our bodies.” Then the match began, and he seemed less interested in talking than chopping her in half. Or at least he should have been. “Swords of Heaven and Earth: Sundering Skies!”
He actually yelled out the attack name. That couldn’t possibly be a good idea. Yet it also didn’t detract from the power of his downward slash. It took three swords to parry it even as she dodged to the side. The split it left behind cut apart more than just the skies and the ground, but the space she’d been standing in. Only careful maneuvering had prevented her swords from being part of that which was split apart, their material hardness being irrelevant against such a move. It wasn’t the first time Chikere had experienced such a thing, but she was actually surprised that this man could pull it off so easily, even with a cultivation somewhere in the mid Integration stage.
Perhaps she was simply looking down on Vaso because she’d already considered him defeated. Then she realized that the sword in his hands was not the same one he’d carried before. It had a very similar feeling, but it was several steps higher in quality. That sword had been in the area… presumably carried by the sect head, as there wasn’t a better one of the same feeling.
Attacks were traded back and forth. Series of quick slashes and thrusts. Vaso’s preferred defensive move was to block an attack with a thin sliver of energy and his body, a move that required precision and strong understanding of the sword. He still made use of dodging, of course, but she could tell that was always what he considered first. Chikere preferred avoidance and deflection- blocking or directly taking a hit were barely on her list of potential options, generally below biting an opponent or punching them.
“Swords of Heaven and Earth: Ground’s Ascent!”
The upward slash was more than just a potential killing blow or a severed arm in the making. It also moved the ground itself, raising it into the air where it floated, reshaping the terrain. The first slash also remained in place, providing a wall Chikere was unwilling to attempt passing through. As the battle continued, her cloud of swords continued to grow in number. Vaso expertly dealt with all of her incoming attacks while keeping her in an uncomfortable middle range where his slashes were most effective but she had to move closer to make use of her preferred style. Not that she couldn’t extend the reach of her sword a handful of meters if she needed.
Vaso continued to call out names of moves, and Chikere found it didn’t affect her ability to respond to them in any way. Knowing what he was doing was clear enough from his motions, and the words didn’t really exist until the entire phrase was said. Or something to that effect.
If Vaso had been even slightly lacking in either energy or body, she would have turned any of the tiny nicks and scrapes he had into deadly wounds long before. As it was, she found herself nearly in the path of so many attacks- and avoiding them didn’t leave her unharmed. Blood flowed down her limbs and torso, her light but exceptionally durable armor punctured in several places.
Chikere worked her way forward, a cloud of blades limiting her opponent’s movement as she danced among the hanging chunks of ground, leaping off of them to where her opponent was now standing in the sky. She was quite done, and she felt she sufficiently understood his style. As she jumped off a floating hunk of rock, her left hand grabbed the hilt of number two, normally left to roam freely as she held number one in two hands to improve her maneuvering.
“Swords of Heaven and Earth: Heaven and Earth Meet!” Vaso’s sword sliced horizontally, well over Chikere’s head. Then suddenly, they were both on flat ground. It was as if the previous attacks had not happened- and what’s more, his initial downward stroke was coming towards her at the same time as his current horizontal slice.
Chikere looked him dead in the eyes. Since he was aware, she would no longer be able to cut him merely with willpower. “Swords of Heaven and Earth…” Chikere called out. What was a good name for this move? Ah. There it was. “Severing Eyes!”
Ten swords countered the attacks of Vaso’s first and last moves, some swinging down and back where the lingering power of Sundering Skies actually came from. Others directly chopped for the blade coming at her from both sides. In a way, it was almost two or more swords.
Chikere’s arms crossed each other as her blades sprang outward, their trajectory bringing them through the front of Vaso’s face. That was the point defensive formations would have prevented her, if they had been fully active. They still tried to stop her, but her momentary theft of the essence of his technique set them back even further in their partially disabled state. Though Chikere had been willing to push through them at full capacity regardless.
Vaso cried out. “My eyes!” His hands clasped onto his face.
Chikere sighed as she looked at the chipped sword he dropped. It was far too strong to sunder, but chips like that were nearly impossible to repair perfectly. What a waste. Too bad they wouldn’t let her keep it… but for the moment she snatched it away. “You lose.”
“My eyes, you destroyed my eyes!”
“Yes. We went over this… yesterday?” Chikere honestly hadn’t paid attention to the passage of time, as being in matches and observing them had become one continuous experience overlapping with itself. “You’re the one who literally asked to be cut.”
“This isn’t possible…” Vaso fell to his knees. “They were replaced with heavenly jewels. They can’t be cut.”
“Swords of Heaven and Earth: Sundering Eyes can cut anything that is eyes.”
“That’s not one of our moves! You just made that up!”
“It could have been, though. If you were willing to use two swords.”
Chikere finally heard her official declaration of victory. She left the chipped sword just at the exit, as she pondered the muscles in her arms and how they wouldn’t do anything anymore. She would take note that using moves requiring a highly tempered body were possible… at least once.
Chikere did not find the use of her arms necessary against her next several opponents, and she was pleased to find she hadn’t completely ruined her muscles when they were vaguely recovered in time for her match with Rahayu. She certainly wouldn’t try anything like the Swords of Heaven and Earth, but she could swing her arms while only causing them temporary damage.
As this match happened to be the last in the tournament, it was also the last one she had to win. The chances of her facing Rahayu in the final spot were… basically one hundred percent with how the bracket had been placed. She didn’t care about the other factors involved.
The two opponents faced off wordlessly. Their swords would say everything necessary. They moved, and from the perspective of most observers there was only a single move exchanged. At the very least, with Rayahu’s sword stabbing directly through Chikere’s neck and hers into his heart, it appeared that way. There was more to it than that, but a drawn out fight wouldn’t have been good for either of them.
Rahayu clicked his tongue as he stepped back, his sword withdrawing. “Can’t believe you avoided everything important. I couldn’t even extend my cuts. You win this time.”
The hole in Chikere’s neck from front to back did seem like it should be significantly more deadly than her own sword barely poking into the outside of Rahayu’s heart, but the vertical blade had passed between veins and arteries, past the spine and even slipping between most of the important muscle groups, angled slightly as it slipped out the back right side.
“I-I w-win,” Chikere nodded, her voice strained as she hadn’t considered protecting her vocal chords high priority. “I will nooow claim my prize.” She walked towards the end of the arena that was where the tournament’s prize was kept. She couldn’t help but drool as she looked at that sword which she would soon hold in her hand.
Before she could even touch the outer layer of formations, several figures landed around her- including some old sword guy who might have been in the late Integration Stage. All were from the Harmonious Citadel, “Hold on there, bandit. We can’t just hand over the prize to a criminal.”
“W-what is this?” Chikere said poorly. “A sud-sudden shift in t-terms? Who could have p-possibly anticipated this?” As the Harmonious Citadel moved against her, hundreds of other ‘onlookers’ in the crowd suddenly sprang into motion as well. Chikere grinned. Finally, it was time to start. After she got that sword in her hands.