With a splash, a figure surfaced from the water.
Although he didn’t crawl ashore in a bedraggled manner like Ruan Zhan, his movements weren’t really carefree either. Something seemed to be pursuing him, and fire seemed to be nipping at his heels as he looked extremely panicked. As he reached the shore, some evil spirit teeth were still clamped onto him. However, the moment he left the water, they vanished as if evaporating.
He wore a snow-white Chinese outfit that was completely dry. His hair was neatly in place and he held a wooden box in his hands. His appearance should have been extremely leisurely, yet his flustered expression now seemed a little out of place.
This scene made Ruan Zhan who was sitting on the walkway explode with laughter!
He was an aloof and restrained person, and had never burst out laughing before. This made it seem all the more piercing to Si Ma Nan.
“Is something funny?” Si Ma Nan suppressed his fury and looked at Ruan Zhan with a calm expression.
He saw Ruan Zhan sitting on the railing of the walkway, his long, slender legs dangling. Although his expression was haggard and his shirt covered in blood, he seemed rather relaxed. There was no nervousness prior to battle, and he seemed to be watching a circus.
“I’m laughing at the lotus breaking the surface.”
“Hopefully you can still laugh in a bit.”
“I’ll laugh if I want to. Don’t tell me I need your permission?” There was still a hint of laugher on Ruan Zhan’s face. “I though you were very powerful, yet you can’t even handle the things you brought yourself from the Hungry Ghost Path.”
Si Ma Nan sneered. “You were vicious enough, leaving some things to welcome my arrival.”
“Sharing is caring.” Ruan gave tit for tat. His words were relaxed but he was no longer smiling. His expression turned cold and filled with challenge.
Si Ma Nan was infuriated and no longer responded to Ruan Zhan. With a flick of his hand, he sent two pieces of paper flying over. They were black and folded in the shape of a fin. After being thrown out, the didn’t drift about, but rather shot far like two pieces of rock. They burst into flames above the lake before falling into the water. It was clear that they were the things that had brought Si Ma Nan inside via the water.
Ruan Zhan was still sitting in place, but he gathered his focus. He knew Si Ma Nan could attack at any moment, and secretly made his preparations. As expected, after Si Ma Nan tossed away those fins, he reached into the wooden chest once again and suddenly threw something to the floor.
Ruan Zhan saw clearly from the distance. He had thrown another folded piece of paper. It was both black and white this time. It was definitely a piece of origami covered with spellscript. The paper was only half the size of a palm, but it suddenly enlarged after landing on the floor. It turned into a ferocious hound that pounced towards Ruan Zhan after howling.
The hound approached swiftly but Ruan Zhan was even faster. Right before it reached him, he shot out a flaming handprint!
They had only fought directly once. Ruan Zhan knew if it hadn’t been due to Si Ma Nan’s overconfidence that time, and due to having taken a blow while still recovering his body, he wouldn’t have beat him. Therefore, he knew it would be a bitter struggle this time.
Si Ma Nan’s skills were jumbled. His knowledge of Daoist techniques was profound and deep, yet he was most skilled at nightmare spells and turning origami into real objects. He could make it hard for his victim to know truth fro illusion, or use many spirit-possessed pieces of origami under his command. His paper cranes and fish were such examples.
Yet paper was afraid of fire. Even though Si Ma Nan’s paper hound had been specially treated and enchanted, his flaming handprint contained similar spell power!
The ferocious hound cried tragically and twisted several times in front of Ruan Zhan before finally turning into a small pile of ash!
“Good kid, your powers have grown again.” Si Ma Nan praised, but it sounded like mockery. “How about you give this one a try!” He threw out another paper hound as he spoke.
Ruan Zhan met it with a flaming handprint again, but this hound seemed impervious to fire. It passed through the spellfire and leapt at him, bringing with it a strong scent of blood! The snowy fangs gleamed like daggers, seeming about to swallow him whole!
Ruan Zhan swiftly stood up and ducked, avoiding its first leap. He pulled a simple wooden club from his side and swept it mercilessly at the hound who leapt over once again!
There was another tragic howl and the hound vanished in midair. What replaced it was a burnt piece of paper covered in spellscript that landed at Ruan Zhan’s feet.
“You actually even prepared a weapon.” Si Ma Nan said carelessly.
Ruan Zhan ignored him.
The wooden club was something he made by breaking off the staircase’s railing. Not only was it covered in spellscript, he had also embedded several half-exposed nails into it. It was a convenient way to use his strength. Yet he had been too fierce with his swing earlier and it stimulated his shoulder’s wound. He sweated slightly from the pain.
Si Ma Nan had noticed the traces of blood on his shoulder and smiled disdainfully. “How was that one?”
“Was it able to do anything to me?”
“At least you stood up. No one can oppose me while remaining seated!” Although Si Ma Nan had a genteel smile on his face, his words were spoken through gritted teeth. Ruan Zhan’s proud, cool, stubborn and slightly lazy demeanor made him feel insulted, and he was unable to endure it.
He knew Ruan Zhan was very impressive, but his indomitable nature made him feel extremely unpleasant.
“Battle wounds? That’s fine, I can wait for you to stem the bleeding.”
“No need. I’m young and have plenty of blood. Unlike somebody, who needs to steal it from others.” Ruan Zhan retorted mockingly, bringing up the fact that Si Ma Nan had previously needed to absorb blood essence to survive.
Si Ma Nan immediately became enraged. He knew Ruan Zhan was trying to provoke him, because from what he knew of him, Ruan Zhan wasn’t someone who liked to banter. He wanted to maintain his calm, but for some reason, his chest burned with uncontrollable fire. Perhaps it was because he repeatedly suffered defeat at someone younger than him. Perhaps it was their connection that made him even more unwilling to be looked down upon by Ruan Zhan.
He didn’t speak, and merely threw out a bunch of origami. These were different from the two previous ones. After landing on the floor, they immediately formed into a pack of ferocious doglike beasts that rushed towards Ruan Zhan!
Ruan Zhan was instantly surrounded!
Their pelts were black and glistening, their eyes were bloodshot and saliva dripped from their fangs. Threatening growls sounded from their throats, as if Ruan Zhan wasn’t a person in their eyes, but rather prey that was about to be torn apart! Furthermore, those beasts didn’t just attack him from the walkway. Several of them floated in midair above the lake. Along with the ones attacking head on, they formed a fan-shaped enclosure as they glared at him.
Ruan Zhan calmly evaluated the situation. The walkway was too narrow. There was essentially no buffer between him and the beasts. If they really started fighting here, he didn’t have any margin to protect himself or use his abilities. He had to move the battle to somewhere more spacious.
In a flash, he conjured another flaming handprint. Yet this time he didn’t shoot it towards any of the beasts. Instead, he slammed it against the ground in front of him!
With a bang, the bricks of the walkway in front of him shattered. From the destruction, a ring enlarged and swiftly spread, suddenly stopping after reaching those beasts. Like a barrier, the ring of fire temporarily kept them at bay. Taking advantage of the respite, Ruan Zhan drew in the air, quickly using the space-warping technique to shift to the spacious plaza.
“Trying to run? It won’t be that easy!” Si Ma Nan called loudly. Before Ruan Zhan could steady himself, he immediately used the same spell in pursuit. He was in control of those beasts. Therefore, they went wherever he went. Ruan Zhan was still surrounded!
At this time, Ruan Zhan was completely focused on the battle and had no more mind to spare on banter. Therefore, he didn’t say a word.
He was only able to teleport himself. Even if he brought someone with him, there couldn’t be too large a distance between them. But Si Ma Nan could shift an entire area of space. His abilities were clearly several times higher. Ruan Zhan would have to rely on his wits and stubbornness to emerge victorious. Seeing the beasts drawing close once again, Ruan Zhan switched the wooden club to his uninjured left hand, knocking the first pouncing beast back several meters. His right hand continued drawing the seals for the space-warping spell in midair before pointing towards another beast that was trying to bite him. He shifted it over the surface of the lake, pushing it into the water for the even more ferocious evil teeth spirits to pick clean.
He wasn’t skilled enough to shift a large area, but he could do it one by one!
In a few seconds, the beasts surrounding him where thus reduced by half. The rest retreated to the side. Despite baring their teeth at him, they didn’t dare get any closer.
“You’re really good at killing with a borrowed knife, huh!” Si Ma Nan said resentfully.
Ruan Zhan still didn’t speak, merely looking over provocatively. Yet this was more effective than any verbal retort. It made Si Ma Nan recall his failed plan to borrow a knife while Ruan Zhan’s display was exceptionally effective. How could he not be furious!?
He gritted his teeth and used the sharp nail on his index finger to cut his wrist, causing fresh blood to well up. He caught the blood in his hand and flicked it outwards. It wasn’t clear what method he used, but each beast ended up being splattered by a few drops. It was as if they had been fed stimulants. They roared loudly and pounced at Ruan Zhan once again!
Ruan Zhan knew that spells imbued with blood were exceptionally powerful. Therefore, he didn’t dare act negligently and seriously countered. However, this time the beasts that were thrown into the water struggled a long while before finally sinking. The ones he sent flying with the club seemed invulnerable. No matter how far they flew, they would get back up and renew their attacks.
At this rate, he was struggling on both sides. The wound on his right shoulder had completely opened and blood flowed once again. The smell of blood once again stimulated the bloodthirsty beasts, making them even more excited. They wanted nothing more than to immediately tear Ruan Zhan apart and suck his blood dry.
Ruan Zhan gritted his teeth and endured. Despite the difficult circumstances, he refused to retreat a single step. He silently counted the number of beasts: ten, nine, eight…no matter how hard they were to deal with, their numbers were still limited.
Watching from the side, Si Ma Nan was both angry and resentful. As if venting, he took out another stack of talisman paper and swiftly tore them into strips. He wiped them against his bleeding wrist, chanted a couple of lines and flung them outwards!
The torn strips landed on the floor and immediately turned into countless creepy-crawlies. They crawled towards Ruan Zhan in a dense swarm. They crawled rather quickly, especially the snakes which seemed to be flying along the ground. In the blink of an eye, they reached Ruan Zhan’s feet.
Despite the chaos of battle, Ruan Zhan still shot a lightning palm out that blew them some distance away. Yet the momentary distraction allowed a beast to fasten its teeth around his calf.
He gritted his teeth against the pain and flung it off with a kick. Due to his rhythm of battle being disturbed, the beast he was pressing into the water managed to escape its fate. It scurried into the air and dove down towards Ruan Zhan!
He was busy dealing with the swarm of insects and wasn’t paying attention. The evil hound bit onto his left shoulder. Ruan Zhan involuntarily let out a grunt. At that moment, even more beasts and insects that he was unable to mind ended up reaching him!
Despite the circumstances, Ruan Zhan remained calm. The urgency of the situation stimulated his mental acumen, allowing him to come up with extraordinary counters.
On one side, he knew the waist was a weak point for these larger animals. Therefore, he changed the lightning palm into a crackling blue blade of lightning. The gathered energy struck towards their waists. Where the blade passed, the fiendish beasts that were impervious to fire and brute force were bisected. On the other side, he first shook off the evil hound still clinging to his shoulder and trying to bite his neck. Then, he dipped the wooden club’s end into the blood flowing from his shoulder, increasing the power of the spellscript he had drawn, and used it to sweep away the waves of bugs!
Despite this, he was gradually getting overwhelmed. Injuries started to accumulate and the speed at which his opponents’ numbers were dropping slowed. He knew brute forcing it like this wasn’t a solution. He had to quickly get his plan back on track.
As his mind turned, he glanced towards Si Ma Nan and saw him controlling the things attacking him with both hands, his face full of smugness and mockery. A thought flashed through his mind. While being attacked by several fiends, he pulled back his hands and sent one lightning palm and one flaming handprint flying towards Si Ma Nan!
He didn’t have the strength to go on the offensive, and had been on the backfoot the entire time defending. However, he couldn’t hold on much longer. He had to force a situation where both sides risked serious injury and make Si Ma Nan defend himself. That way he could get a reprieve and ultimately seize the flow of the battle.
It was an extreme risk for him to do so. If Si Ma Nan was ruthless enough, he might ignore his attacks. Si Ma Nan would merely be injured while he would be covered by Si Ma Nan’s creatures. Even if he didn’t die, he would be seriously wounded!
However, he was betting that Si Ma Nan cherished himself too much, and couldn’t beat him in ruthlessness!
As expected, his all-out assault caused Si Ma Nan to immediately pull one hand back, shouting, “You think you’re the only one who can use flaming handprints and lightning palms?” With a swing of his hand, he sent out the same spells, colliding with Ruan Zhan’s in midair. With an ear-shattering explosion, the spells vanished.
During this direct exchange, Si Ma Nan didn’t seem to have been affected much. Instead, Ruan Zhan seemed to have been heavily struck, his body flying back a dozen meters, landing in one of the flowerbeds!