The clouds have shrunk. They’re not nearly as thick and wide as Lucia’s were. I’m a little offended. Did this heavenly tribulation regard me as weaker than Lucia? Even though it’s true, I’d rather face an equally terrifying or even stronger tribulation than hers. But wishing for it won’t make it happen. I sighed as I placed my hands on my hips while chewing on an exquisite sword.
“Don’t worry, Durandal!” Lucia smacked my back, almost knocking me over. “You’ll be fine! We’ve got the whole Red Phoenix Sect backing us up. Well, what’s left of them at least.” She coughed and looked around before making a threatening gesture towards the pouch at her waist with mini-DalDal. “Isn’t that right? An unfortunate accident might happen if this tribulation fails!”
“R-right.” The ancestor with the cone had a smile on his face that looked more pained than excited. “We’ll do our best to help you pass your tribulation. You can count on us.”
The thing is … I don’t really want their help. When I really think about it, aren’t these tribulations trials of sorts? These are meant to be passed on your own! Did the first saint-realm expert in the Immortal Continent have people helping him pass his tribulation? Who would’ve helped him? Mortal-realm novices? No! He must’ve used his own strength to surpass the lightning. And that’s what I want to do. I’m not lazy or fearful like Lucia. Sure, I avoided my first tribulation because I had no clue what was going on, but I’m ready for this one. I’ve specifically cultivated techniques from all the lesser sword sects around that are effective against tribulations. And compiling them all, I’ve created my very own sword formation. How effective it’ll be against the tribulation…, I’m not sure. But I have to try.
I reached into Lucia’s interspacial ring and pulled out a thousand exquisite swords. Sending my qi into them, I had them hover around me in a neat circular formation that created a cylinder with the swords pointing away from my body. There were ten circular layers, with a hundred swords in each layer. It was a little difficult to sustain this many swords with my own qi alone, but I’m not going to draw on Lucia’s unless it’s absolutely necessary. The road to the peak is supposed to be one of solitude after all. Or should it? It’s not like I can leave Lucia.
“Durandal? What are you doing?” Lucia pushed aside some swords with her bare hands, not minding the metal edges, and tilted her head to the side.
“Getting ready to face the tribulation.”
Lucia’s head tilted even further to the side. “But … why?”
I snorted and rubbed Lucia’s ears while ruffling her hair. “Because I want to.”
“But what if you die?” Lucia grabbed my sleeve with wide eyes. Was she that worried about me? No. She was most likely worried about how she’d take care of herself at night if I died and went missing for a week. After all, as long as she protects my core, nothing can happen to me.
“Then I’ll make it up to you later.” I pinched her nose, causing her to cry out. “Don’t worry, Lucia. Do you think I can’t handle a little bit of lightning? Look at the tribulation clouds. They’re not as ominous as yours.”
“This … isn’t her tribulation?” The ancestor had a strange expression on his face. “It’s yours? You’re a weapon spirit.” A familiar flash appeared in his eyes. Was that greed? I’ve seen Cottontail covet a lot of treasures, and her eyes always glinted the same way. But if this man thinks he can take me away from Lucia, he’s in for a rude awakening. “An earth-realm weapon spirit….” The ancestor lifted his cone and shouted, “This tribulation will be easier than before! Don’t lose hope!”
Hmm. If it weren’t for the fact that Lucia and I were isolated in a small space surrounded by enemies, I really would’ve faced this tribulation by myself. But since we’re in this situation, I might as well let the Red Phoenix Sect weaken the tribulation before taking part myself. It wouldn’t be good if I exhausted my energy and something unexpected happened that’d lead to a disaster. Though I want to overcome this trial by myself, Lucia’s safety is the most important thing. It’s still a shame. Suppressing my desires for the sake of Lucia, she’s not even going to praise me for this. But it’s my duty as a weapon spirit; why do I want praise? Hmm. The emotions that I shouldn’t have have been a bit unstable ever since I entered the saint realm.
Before I could think of an excuse to face the tribulation alone, the first bolt of lightning rained down. It collided against a barrier that the ancestor threw up and dispersed. The ancestor’s roaring laughter filled the air as he raised his cone to his lips. “This is a normal tribulation! A normal one! There are eight bolts of lightning remaining! Only the disciples will power the formation for the second and third strikes. Elders will power the formation for the fourth to sixth strikes. And everyone will power the formation for the last three strikes!”
It seems like there’s a science to tribulations. Another bolt of lightning crashed down. It was a little thicker than the previous one, but not by much. It crashed against the defensive formation that had reactivated, and the disciples powering it trembled. Lucia looked around with a disappointed expression on her face. “What’s this? Why isn’t it chaotic at all?”
This girl. When did she develop such a strong sense of schadenfreude? It’s wrong to derive pleasure from other people’s misfortunes. Who taught her such immoral things? Sheesh. I looked up at the barrier which was clearly weaker than it had been when Lucia’s final tribulation lighting fell. It seemed stable: no cracks, no fluctuations. Perhaps my tribulation would pass just like this. How disappointing. The third bolt of lightning rained down and crashed against the barrier, crackling with a bang before dispersing. The disciples who were powering the formation coughed out mouthfuls of blood as the barrier dimmed. Then the elders connected threads of qi to the barrier, causing it to brighten again. Did they not have to move around to gather more qi like they did with Lucia’s tribulation? Just what was wrong with Lucia to provoke such a huge tribulation?
Lucia poked my side after waltzing through my formation of swords. “Is it just me, or is your tribulation a lot easier than mine? It’s not fair.”
Even Lucia realized the difference. That’s how obvious it was! “Mm. Well, I think it’s safe to say I’m favored by the heavens while you’re not.”
Lucia narrowed her eyes at me. Then she snorted before turning her head away. “Humph. Fine, be like that.”
Did I say something wrong? A crashing sound echoed through the dome. The fourth bolt of lightning was purple instead of white. The barrier didn’t even tremble as another two bolts of lightning rained down in succession. Before the elders could orient themselves or the disciples could add on their qi to the formation, a seventh bolt of red lightning roared like a dragon as it crashed against and pierced through the barrier like a spear through paper. I forced the swords around me above my head and into a pyramidical formation like a metal umbrella. The lightning surged against the wall of swords before crashing into the ground around me, spreading out like red snakes once they touched the earth. A few disciples screamed as they were slowly corroded away as the snakes lashed out at them. A few snakes of lightning crawled towards Lucia, but she punted them away with her tail, burning a few of her furs.
The Red Phoenix Sect didn’t have time to reactivate the formation, and the eighth bolt fell. Metal shattered as the swords above me snapped apart, causing the qi inside me to become turbulent. I coughed out a mouthful of blood as I snatched more exquisite swords from Lucia’s interspacial ring and had them replace the broken ones. The air hissed and the sky crackled as a vortex formed in the clouds. Dirt and ashes were lifted into the air, floating an inch above the ground as some sort of force prevented them from falling. The hairs on everyone’s heads spread outwards like afros, and a tingling sensation surged through my limbs. The final strike was coming!
“Hey, hey! Activate the formation, you bird worshippers!” Lucia kicked the ancestor with the cone before reaching into her pouch and pulled out a phoenix egg. She raised mini-DalDal over it, ready to break it apart with my weapon body’s hilt. “If anything happens to Durandal, I’ll smash this egg!”
The ancestor glared at Lucia, his eyes glinting at the egg and sword hovering over it, before shouting into the cone, “Ready the Soaring Phoenix Formation!”
The Red Phoenix Sect leader, who was next to the ancestor, widened his eyes. “T-the Soaring Phoenix Formation?”
Was there something wrong with the Soaring Phoenix Formation?
“Hurry up!” the ancestor shouted, his amplified voice causing my ears to ring. “We don’t have much time! Focus the formation on the weapon spirit!”
Fire sprang into life beneath my feet. What was this!? Wait. It wasn’t hot. Qi surged through my veins, and the swords above me took on a red hue. This clearly was a formation that amplified my strength. Perhaps the ancestor thought a defensive formation would be too dangerous if it were to break? Well, regardless, with this much support, I could take out another thousand swords to defend myself. It’s a shame not all of them were exquisite; despite the numerous number of sects we robbed, exquisite swords were hard to find.
The vortex in the clouds rotated faster and faster as it sucked in the surrounding clouds, shrinking the whole tribulation. The remaining lightning was condensing and spinning around, roaring like a trapped tiger. This is it! One man versus the heavens! Alone, I shall surpass this final strike of the tribulation! I forced all of my qi into my sword formation and launched it towards the vortex. The first to strike has the advantage! The swords howled as they split apart the air, flying upwards like a massive metal spearhead. As if provoked, the tribulation cloud flashed twice and roared before striking down with its condensed ball of red lightning. Like throwing paper into a fire, the swords at the forefront of the formation disintegrated as they made contact with the crackling ball, but I believed my sword formation could overcome it! In an instant, half the swords were gone and half the lightning had dispersed. But at that very moment, a fierce pain engulfed my chest and exploded outwards, setting my meridians ablaze with agony. I screamed as I lost control of my sword formation, and the ball of lightning crashed down unimpeded, filling my vision as it grew larger and larger until all I could see was red.
The next moment, when my vision finally returned, I was floating in a vast empty space filled with red light. Ahead of me, there was an animal that looked like a featherless chicken. It was pink and around the same size as me. Once it saw me, it’s eyes widened and it let out a shriek before dashing at me. What the hell was going on? Was this part of the tribulation? Whatever! It doesn’t matter! I’ll overcome any adversary even if it’s a featherless chicken!