4. Talent
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There was a rest of three days between each round and three days had passed since the qualifiers. Adrian didn’t leisurely spend that time after he wrangled out a bit of talent out of the Shadow’s clutches but he knew that it didn’t matter in the short term.

It’d take at least a week to cultivate to the next layer even if he used various pills and cultivated in nature, and that was the best-case scenario.

Fighting right after breaking through wasn’t optimal and he could damage his cultivation by doing that so a last-minute breakthrough was foolish.

That’s a tricky technique you’ve learned but don’t think it’ll decide the match. You can’t use it properly yet,” whispered the Shadow within Adrian’s mind as he sprinted through the rooftops of houses until he got to the Arena.

It was a warm-up.

I know,” he thought back and for a moment, he wished he could somehow mute it.

While its advice helped him, it was far too nosy, and having someone monitor his each and every move was an annoyance.

But it’s just a tiny competition on the Northern Continent. The inheritance of the Sky School won’t lose to anything the trash on this Continent know,” said the Shadow, and Adrian rolled his eyes.

One of his eyes was hazel and the other was light gray, bordering on white.

That was the mirror.

Adrian didn’t understand half the gibberish the Shadow spouted but the term ‘Sky School’ came up several times as he tried to learn the techniques.

Out of the seven Jade Slips that the ring contained, he’d learned the first two.

The first was the Cloud Body Technique and he’d just finished learning the second one yesterday.

It was like a cheat.

So the only way I’m losing is if I suck… right?” Adrian asked, which the Shadow affirmed with a grunt.

He knew full well that he had no chance against Tristan, for the gap between them was too much but the others were manageable.

Tristan was of the Muscle Refinement Layer when major changes to the muscles occurred and made him leagues stronger than Adrian was, enough to punch through rock walls and bend steel.

The worst part was that unlike the others, who were of at least the Bone Refinement Layer, he did not have the durability to protect himself. If he’d been at the second layer, the Bone Refinement Layer, his bones would be able to endure Tristan’s blows as if they were by a normal person but as it was at the moment, they’d be snapped like twigs.

The layer between the Bone Refinement Layer and the Muscle Refinement Layer was the Flesh Refinement Layer, which would make it so that the flesh could endure a blow from someone at the Muscle Refinement Layer.

The first layer that Adrian had cultivated up to so far, the Cartilage Refinement Layer, only made it so that he was more flexible than a normal person, barring his immense Stamina and strength enough to punch through wooden planks without any effort.

It was all up to how well he could evade and whether he could defeat the others by a ring out, because defeating them with brute strength was not an option.

The Arena, while empty most of the time, was chock full of spectators when there was an ongoing match and they had to enter one way or another. If the contestants were to use the same entrance as the spectators, it’d be inconvenient.

That warranted for a separate entrance for the contestants, which was on the opposite side of the stadium.

Wherever several Cultivators, especially juvenile, were gathered, there was action and Adrian unwittingly managed to stumble into each and every one.

That was a sort of talent of his.

It was how he’d gotten mortally wounded before and why his father sold his mother’s life to the Shadow.

“Who do you think you bumped into, huh?!” hissed a no-name.

If even Adrian didn’t know who it was, it had to be a no-name. He made a point to learn about every Cultivator worth their salt in the city and the lanky fellow with a slightly oval head didn’t ring any bells.

The one that he was next to, on the other hand, was one of the favorites to win the competition: Eric Cranford.

Next to Eric, there was a girl with purplish-black hair as well. Perhaps both his minions were talents as well, as Lord Cranford went to great extents to recruit Cultivators with decent talent.

They did survive the Qualifier, which was difficult. When Tristan released his Martial Intent, even standing felt like trying to swim up a waterfall.

That kid there’s bad news. Kill him while he’s still a cub,” whispered the Shadow.

Why’s that?” asked Adrian.

He has a bad temperament and has the talent of a Core Disciple. If he can realize his full potential, then I fear for the future of this continent,” said the Shadow.

Didn’t you want to take over this place as well?” asked Adrian.

That’s why I don’t want his dirty paws on it,” hissed the Shadow but Adrian was drawn back to the situation outside his head.

Down on the ground, in front of the trio, was someone else. It was the girl that took out two contestants in the Qualifier: the Titan’s daughter. She was something of a big deal so Adrian knew about her.

Diana’s frame was large and Adrian estimated she’d be a head taller than him if she was standing. Her hair was left loose but that was no issue as it was short enough to not be a bother.

“Shut up,” said Diana as she climbed back to her feet and the no-name froze.

She managed to make it look ominous.

“H-hey, it’s the g-great Eric Cranford that you bumped into, you know?” he shouted.

Contrary to expectation, Diana turned around and walked away without a care in the world. Eric didn’t pursue her, for his eyes were burning holes into Adrian.

“Young Master, she’s leaving!” shouted the no-name with one finger pointed at Diana but the female minion slapped the back of his head and gestured at Adrian with her chin.

Eric gave the no-name a glare and made him gulp.

With no regard for his minions, Eric walked up to Adrian with his signature perpetual frown on his face and once he was close enough… he noticed how short Eric was.

It wasn’t noticeable at the qualifier and no one spoke anything about his height, but somehow, he was half a head shorter than someone who was almost below average in height.

What they did speak about was his nasty frown and constant glare, both of which were plastered on his face at the moment.

“I’m stronger,” said Eric, suddenly.

What was that supposed to mean?

“You probably are,” said Adrian with a raised eyebrow and slightly tilted his head, “But why say it?”

Eric grabbed Adrian by the collar and raised him up with one hand.

If Adrian’s information was up to date, Eric was at the Flesh Refinement Layer and that meant he was far heavier than Adrian. After all, his bones and flesh were condensed and that meant they became heavier. On the other hand, Adrian was lighter so even if they had the same strength, he could be thrown around far more easily.

“Umm, I think fighting before a match isn’t allowed,” offered Adrian with both hands slightly raised.

“Hmph, so you’re some bumpkin, huh?” asked the no-name. He put a smile on his face and raised a finger before explaining, “You see, you’re allowed to warm up before matches. As long as no one is crippled and no weapons are drawn, you’re allowed to fight whoever you want.”

That was better.

He placed his palm on Eric’s forehead and that made Eric fume. With one swift motion, Eric tried to throw Adrian away but to his surprise, he felt his head be dragged as Adrian fell.

It was like Adrian was holding his head with a palm, which couldn’t possibly do that.

“Another technique,” grumbled Eric, “But that’s only a trick! Without it, you’re nothing!”

Eric snapped his finger and from within his Spatial Ring appeared a wooden spear.

“So I’m guessing that doesn’t count as using a weapon,” said Adrian as he hopped back a few meters, the technique inactive now. Some cold sweat found its way on Adrian’s back as he nervously stared at Eric.

The technique he was using was the Mystifying Palm, the second of the seven techniques. It could let him hold onto others merely using his palm, even if he was touching a place that couldn’t be conventionally grabbed, like a forehead.

It was another Qi Technique.

While they were both powerful techniques, Adrian couldn’t generate his own Qi and could only use the amount his body amassed from nature. If he used it all up, he would have no chance in his actual fight because he couldn’t recover it fast enough.

“It’s a fight!” exclaimed a boisterous voice filled with joy from behind Adrian, where the gate was.

“Come back!” shouted Edna right after that.

Tristan pulled out his spear from within his Spatial Ring and slammed it on top of Eric’s wooden spear to hold it down.

Despite appearing wooden, both of them were far more durable than ordinary weapons.

“I have no business with you,” said Eric as he put the wooden spear back into his Spatial Ring.

“No fair,” said Tristan, an over-exaggerated frown on his face, “So you were just bullying him.”

Eric’s nose scrunched up and he almost tried to stab Tristan in the chest with it, pointing at him sharply.

“Don’t get ahead of yourself. In a month’s time, I’ll be able to easily defeat you,” Eric hissed.

“Oh? So you’ll breakthrough in a month?” asked Tristan as his frown turned into a grin, “Good spirit! Come to our estate once you do. We’ll have a proper fight then.”

Eric glared at Tristan for a few seconds before he sharply turned around and walked away.

Just as Adrian was about to open his mouth to thank Tristan, he managed to ask his question faster, “Since Eric’s gone, you wanna spar?”

So he just wanted to fight…

“We already warmed-up,” said Edna and grabbed Tristan’s ear to drag him away with, “And if you fight him now, he’ll be too exhausted to fight in the match.”

“B-but-” retorted Tristan but Edna was having none of that.

“Shut it!” shouted Edna and Adrian only watched as the strongest contestant was casually dragged away.

Siblings were scary.

Brat, what continent is this?” asked the Shadow.

Did you just go senile, old man?” thought Adrian, answering a question with another one.

Is this the Imperial Capital? Has it changed since I’ve died?” it asked.

The capital is Pale Rose City,” thought Adrian, just in case it did indeed change.

Nonsense!” shouted the Shadow, “Talents like those five are rare even on the Central Continent. How could a backwater village have so many?


If he assumed four were Eric, Tristan, Edna, Diana but who was the last one?

The no-name or that girl from before?

Are all of them on the level of Core Disciples?” asked Adrian.

Indeed. Their talents are astounding. If they can survive for a five thousand years, becoming immortals isn’t out of the question,” said the Shadow.

Adrian understood that Outer Disciples were talented in their own right and that Inner Disciples were even more talented. Then there were the Core Disciples: the actual monsters.

But how big was the difference?

Thankfully, the Shadow could read his conscious thoughts and answer his questions before he aimed them at it.

If you say that an Outer Disciple is one in a hundred Cultivators and an Inner Disciple is one in a thousand Cultivators, then a Core Disciple is one in a billion. This entire continent doesn’t even have a trillion people and yet it harbors five worthy of becoming Core Disciples,” said the Shadow and that gave Adrian an idea.

It basically meant that he was out of his depth.

But he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“What level was your talent?” asked Adrian, but this time, he accidentally did so out loud.

That of an Inner Disciple,” said the Shadow, and Adrian put a smirk on his face.

If the Shadow could make it, then he would as well, no matter what.

After all, he had the talent of an Inner Disciple.

Even if he had to steal the talents and Cultivations of others, he’d become immortal.

No… perpetual.

Speaking out loud meant that, inevitably, someone would hear.

“Who are you talking to?” asked Emma Beaumont, the only remaining Beaumont in her own clan’s festival.

It had to be humiliating.

She was the same height as Eric and had curly ginger hair that reached the base of her neck. It looked puffy.

“Just giving myself some words of encouragement,” said Adrian and put a fake smile on his face. It was the kind that didn’t involve the eyes but a lot of cheek.

He’d learned to do that well, being the son of a merchant.

“You were pretty good back in the Qualifier. You have some talent,” said Emma as she walked next to him, matching his pace so walking either faster or slower didn’t shrug her off.

What did she want?

Six of them!” shouted the Shadow inside his head, making him wince.

She was that talented as well?

This was ridiculous.

“It wasn’t talent,” said Adrian.

He was too used to referring to the speed of growth as talent thanks to the Shadow, so whenever someone used the term ‘talent’ to refer to combat prowess, Adrian felt something innately wrong about it.

“Oh?” she asked.

When he opened his mouth to answer, he was stuck.

What was he meant to say?

That it was hard work?

That’d be plain arrogant but saying that it was dumb luck would make him sound weak, even if it was indeed luck.

It took him a week to learn the Cloud Body Technique and almost an entire month to learn the Mystifying Palm whereas it would have taken mere days for a decently talented Cultivator to learn. Even with how fast it made the learning process, it took him that long.

Now, he had better talent but how good it was relative to his old one, he did not know.

“It’s nothing,” said Adrian, at a loss for words.

“So that technique’s nothing for you? Hmm, that’s quite something,” she said and sagely nodded.

“I-” started Adrian but he got stuck again.

“Oh, and that eye you have is probably some priceless treasure, right?” asked Emma.

“The eye?” he asked and then remembered the mirror that merged with his eye.

Did it merge or did it get replaced?

“Oh, that’s from a training accident. I was trying to learn a technique and failed,” he said.

It was the most convincing excuse he could come up with.

“An Eye Technique? I see, I see,” said Emma and nodded a few times.

The Shadow cackled inside his head but Adrian ignored him.