The spectators simultaneously arose from their seats, their minds abuzz with the sudden resolution of the fight. Their minds struggled to comprehend to unexpected scene glaring into their eyes, their fingers groping for stability in the empty atmosphere.
Finally, a quivering voice broke the silence, doused in disbelief and wonder.
“Since when was Yan Xiao that powerful? Isn’t he supposed to be in the first pillar of the Body Tempering Realm, and Meng Peng in the third?”
“That’s right,” another argued, the dam having been shattered.
“How could Yan Xiao beat such an opponent? Unless… he has a heaven-defying martial arts technique!?”
“Impossible! All of us cultivating youths learned the same set of martial arts techniques, and the Yan Clan isn’t spectacular enough to own a technique on that scale! Hell, not even the Xiao Clan possesses such a treasure!”
“That treasure is wasted on Yan Xiao! He’s only a scrawny youth without much strength, lets see how he can evade our questioning!”
The sea of people roared with a tsunami of overwhelmed emotions, the majority seeking a proper explanation from the victor of the first duel, Yan Xiao.
An Fei could distinctly feel the jaws of greed and malice part to chomp on its prey, thankful that she was not on the side facing the gateway to an unfortunate end.
“The victor of the first duel is Yan Xiao!”
The elderly man of the Heaven and Earth Arena stood at the side of the basin of sand, his powerful voice quelling the boiling and fervent ardor of the spectators.
With a silent nod, the scrawny youth staggered towards the opened pathway leading out of the arena, not sparing a glance for the fallen Meng Peng.
The bulky youth lay on the ground with his eyes outstretched with shock and fear, his mouth opened to release a heartrending shriek.
Alas, the fallen Meng Peng could only be carried away by the cultivators charged with handling the disposal following a battle, dragged by his feet to stain the sand with a wave of scarlet.
As they awaited the second duel to finish its preparations, the spectators returned to their engaged conversations regarding the surprise card utilized by Yan Xiao, many plotting to steal it from the scrawny youth without any moral barriers or impediments.
“Young lass, what did you think of that fight, ah?”
The elderly man besides An Fei asked with a twitch of his lips, the pair of beady eyes observing each and every change on the young girl’s countenance.
“…nothing much,” the young girl replied after a few breaths of silence as she continued to stare at the floor of the arena.
“I thought it would be more intricate and engaging, but it resulted in a brawl between brutalized people.”
“All contests between cultivators below the Spirit Building Realm are brutal and strife with violence and blood,” the elder released a heavy sigh.
“Only then will the fights become more refined and colorful – it’s a pity that our Bone Spirit Town will never experience the opportunity to observe such a battle. We can only satisfy ourselves with primal bouts of strength and cunning, as though we are watching two dogs bite the other to death.”
The young girl slowly nodded, the pair of scarlet irises deadpan and devoid of emotion. An Fei lowered her gaze towards her delicate hands, her mind reeking with scathing disgust.
To her, the Heaven and Earth Arena was nothing more than a farce.
A playpen of human lives where two were delicately selected to dance on a manicured stage, to display the dying embers of their destiny in an attempt to produce a brilliant spark that could perhaps dazzle the eye of a blind peddler.
She had no qualms or considerate sentiment towards those who elected to throw their lives into the drain, only disdaining the promotion of brutalized tournaments.
It… reminded her of her harrowing experiences in attempting to escape detection from the military of the world, having to suffer as she waded through the horrifying and gruesome black market trades to stay undercover.
The little raven shrieked to break the young girl from her gloomy thoughts, its beak pointing towards the center of the arena.
An Fei raised her head, only to discover two youths dressed in the complementary combat uniform provided by the Heaven and Earth Arena march towards the center of the basin of sand.
“That’s Tang Shiqi! He truly has iron courage, daring to contest against the Young Master Fang in combat!”
“Tang Shiqi! Hey, Tang Shiqi!” another jeered, eliciting a sweeping wave of fierce boos and insults to rain onto the youth’s head.
“The second duel of today shall be between the Tang Shiqi of Bone Spirit Town and Fang Man of Du Zhou Providence!”
The elder from the Heaven and Earth Arena waved his palms, invisible fluctuations of spiritual essence quelling the roars of the crowd. Having re-attained his desired respect, the old man coughed once, before introducing the two youths.
“The grudge between Tang Shiqi and Fang Man is of a battle between two wills of pride! Fang Man has stolen Tang Shiqi’s fiancé and humiliated the latter in public, without sparing his identity! Tang Shiqi stands here today to challenge Fang Man to reclaim his valor and honor within Bone Spirit Town, and as a cultivator!”
The spectators remained silent as they absorbed the elderly man’s declaration with a solemn expression, until a more attentive person rose to his feet, a disbelieving expression on his countenance.
“That’s… Tang Shiqi, right? How… how did he reach the fifth pillar of the Body Tempering Realm so quickly?”
His voice was muted and considerably quiet in respect to the magnitude of the stadium, but triggered a wave of discussions to sweep throughout the seated people.
Though they dared not to speak loudly to avoid angering the elder from the Heaven and Earth Arena, many had the same question shattering their mind.
How had Tang Shiqi risen to the fifth pillar of the Body Tempering Realm in merely a day and a half?
“That’s odd…” many people mused to themselves with a subtle frown on their countenance.
“Tang Shiqi’s position within his own clan is terrible – how could he have managed to obtain the resources to achieve such a feat?”
“Fifth pillar of the Body Tempering Realm… outside of the difference between their martial arts and cultivation techniques, the two are practically foot for foot!”
Near the front stands, An Fei similarly furrowed her brow in confusion, but not regarding the mysteries behind the youth named Tang Shiqi.
The young girl focused on a more simpler and obscure question at hand, partly due to her own inexperience regarding the cultivation path.
How… did these people know that Tang Shiqi was of the fifth pillar of the Body Tempering Realm?
All she could obtain from either youth was a faint buzz that tickled her skin if she focused onto their figures, but couldn’t discern any unique information regarding their attainment in cultivation.
How had the people within the stadium achieve such a feat, then?
“Young lass, are you curious on their identity?” the elderly man besides her extended an olive branch of assistance.
“No… not their identity…” An Fei mulled to herself for a brief moment, her fingers stroking the feathery head of the little raven.
“Esteemed Senior, you are a cultivator since you participated in this Heaven and Earth Arena, no? How does… one discern… what realm of cultivation another is at?”
The young girl turned to face the expectant and amused beady eyes of the elderly man, her scarlet irises flashing with a tinge of curiosity.
The elder raised his eyebrows in surprise, before hooking a finger into his grey beard.
“Detecting the cultivation of another… you do not practice cultivation, for I can not sense an aura emanating from your body,” the elder quietly mused, before extending three fingers before An Fei.
The young girl paused in surprise, her index finger tickling the base of her chin as she quietly listened to the elderly man.
“A person’s cultivation can be discerned in three general formats; if they can command the earthly nature to their whims, they have attained the Realm of Spirit Building, or have surpassed it. Second, if they can display strength or physical capability exceeding that of what their physique reveals at first glance, they have achieved the five pillars of Body Tempering. Third – each cultivator releases a distinctive aura that others many receive and analyze; Body Tempering Realm cultivators display an aura that is dyed in purple, Foundation Establishment Realm cultivators exude an aura of orange…”
“…as for the others, I too do not have any knowledge of them,” the elder released a light cough in embarrassment.
“…thank you, Esteemed Senior,” An Fei rushed to thank the old man, before returning her gaze to bore holes into the flattened sea of sand.
Others couldn’t detect her cultivation…?
Why was that?
“Could it be… that this aura the other cultivators experience is simply the fluctuation of the resonance between spiritual essence?” the young girl silently pondered to herself as her fingers played with the little raven’s feathered wings.
“In that case, spiritual essence could only resonate with others of the same source, akin to the distinct shifts discovered in surges of pure energy… perhaps, perhaps I might have –“
The roar of the spectators drowned out the rest of An Fei’s thoughts, and the reek of bloodthirst re-emerged into the stadium of life and death for a second helping.