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Having compiled the relevant Heaven's Path Divine Art manual, Zhang Xuan began cultivating with the Earth Vein Spirit Essence without any hesitation.
Due to the easier absorbability of the Earth Vein Spirit Essence, his rate of cultivation was much faster than if he had cultivated using a spirit stone instead, so he was able to achieve breakthroughs faster than normal.
However, even though he had managed to achieve breakthroughs swiftly, the amount of spiritual energy he needed had, in fact, increased exponentially instead.
He had procured a huge pool of Earth Vein Spirit Essence from the Cloudmist Ridge, but in just this hour of cultivation, he had already depleted nearly a third of it!
The higher my cultivation is, the harsher the requirement on the spiritual energy I have to absorb. Even though the Earth Vein Spirit Essence is rich in spiritual energy, its purity is still lacking… Zhang Xuan shook his head.
The Earth Vein Spirit Essence was rich in spiritual energy and had a high absorbability, thus making it an invaluable treasure. However, its purity was inferior to high-tier spirit stones. It was sufficient for the usage of saint beasts and other cultivators, but to Zhang Xuan, who cultivated the Heaven's Path Divine Art, it was still lacking.
Only a tenth of the Earth Vein Spirit Essence was suitable for his absorption, and the remaining nine-tenths ended up being wasted in the process.
It seems like I shouldn't cultivate using the Earth Vein Spirit Essence anymore. If it comes to it, I should just sell it for high-tier spirit stones… Zhang Xuan thought.
Since the effectiveness of the Earth Vein Spirit Essence for him was declining, he would only be wasting it if he were to continue using it. Rather than to waste such a valuable resource, it would be wiser for him to sell it instead.
It might be useless to him, but it was still an invaluable treasure to others. Otherwise, the saint beasts of the Cloudmist Ridge wouldn't have been guarding it so desperately back then.
Forget it, I will think about it when I return to Hongyuan City!
Putting the matter to the back of his mind, Zhang Xuan turned his attention to his newfound strength.
Advancing from Ethereal Treading realm primary stage to Chrysalis realm primary stage, the strength that he could draw from his zhenqi cultivation had increased from 17,000,000 ding to 29,000,000 ding!
With just that, he was already on par with a Chrysalis realm advanced stage cultivator!
(Chrysalis realm primary stage 25,000,000 ding; intermediate stage 28,000,000 ding; advanced stage 31,000,000 ding; pinnacle 34,000,000 ding)
If he were to factor in the 20,000,000 ding from his soul cultivation and 16,000,000 ding from his physical body, that would total up to an incredible might of 65,000,000 ding, which was on par with a Nascent Saint intermediate stage cultivator!
(Nascent Saint primary stage 60,000,000 ding; intermediate stage 65,000,000 ding; advanced stage 70,000,000 ding; pinnacle 75,000,000 ding)
In other words, he wielded strength equivalent to a cultivator two realms stronger than him!
With this, that fellow shouldn't be a match for me anymore! Zhang Xuan chuckled confidently.
That Brother Lu was clearly no pushover, but compared to Zhang Xuan, the other party was still slightly lacking.
Zhang Xuan meditated on the spot to reinforce his cultivation, bringing his aura to its strongest state, before opening his eyes and gazing at the duo opposite to him.
Brother Lu seemed to have mostly healed from his wounds as well, and his aura felt sharper and more pressurizing than before.
Most likely, he had used some kind of formidable secret art to bring himself back to his peak state for the duel.
That fellow sure won't be easy to deal with! Zhang Xuan remarked internally.
Under normal circumstances, given how much weaker he was than the other party, the other party should not view him as much of an opponent. Yet, the other party focused his attention fully on conditioning himself to his peak state, not underestimating him in the least…
It was truly rare to see a cultivator not becoming complacent before an opponent weaker than them. Often, geniuses were defeated not due to being overpowered by the strong but due to carelessness against the weak.
A long moment later, Brother Lu exhaled deeply and abruptly stood up.
"I am done recuperating. Are you done yet?"
His complexion was still slightly pale, but he had managed to condition his state to be significantly stronger than he was before.
"Of course!" Zhang Xuan chuckled as he stood up as well.
"Let's begin then. Draw your weapon!" With a flick of his wrist, Brother Lu took out another sword from his storage ring.
As a sword practitioner, it was normal for him to have more than a single sword in his possession.
"Alright." Zhang Xuan flicked his wrist as well, and a sword appeared in his grasp.
Glacier Rain Sword!
"That is… a Half-Saint weapon?"
As soon as the sword materialized, a huge gust of frigid air swept into the surroundings, as if heralding the arrival of the king. Brother Lu's lips immediately began twitching.
To think that the fellow's sword would be a Half-Saint artifact as well… Does your family operate a weapons shop?
Otherwise, how could you have so many good items in your possession?
With a reddened face, Brother Lu asked hesitantly, "Ahem. Your sword is a little too sharp, so can you change to another one…"
The weapon in his grasp was only at Spirit pinnacle, which was far weaker the other party's Half-Saint sword. Just the sharpness of the sword would boost the other party's fighting prowess by at least fifty percent. On the other hand, he would have to avoid a direct clash with the other party's sword as far as he could, which meant that his movements would be severely restricted.
"Change to another one?" Zhang Xuan frowned in irritation.
When I sent Byzantium Lad against you, you said that I shouldn't rely too much on my capabilities as a beast tamer. When I sent the Golden Origin Cauldron against you, you said that I shouldn't rely too much on my Saint-tier artifacts. Now, you are even picking on my sword… At this rate, are you going to start picking on my clothes next?
But as displeased as Zhang Xuan was, he eventually nodded.
"Forget it. Since you were injured previously, I will just acquiesce to your request…"
He scanned his surroundings for a moment before reaching forward to grab a certain object. With a smile, he said, "I will fight with you using this then!"
"A blade of foxtail grass?" Hu Yaoyao and the others staggered weakly.
The object that Zhang Xuan had just picked was indeed a narrow blade of foxtail grass.
He was going to fight with that?
But his opponent was a Half-Saint, and an extraordinarily powerful one at that…
Even if you have achieved a breakthrough, is it really fine for you to do that?
Noticing their worry, Zhang Xuan chuckled lightly as he placed the foxtail grass in between his forefinger and middle finger. Pumping a surge of zhenqi into it, the bent foxtail grass immediately became taut, as if a real sword.
"The essence of swordsmanship lies not in the sword; to a true sword master, even a blade of grass or pebble from the side of the street can serve as a sword. This might be foxtail grass, but if used well, it can display astonishing power as well!"
As he said those words, Zhang Xuan gently slit the foxtail grass through the thick tree trunk that the Byzantium Helios Beast had tossed to the ground earlier, and it was immediately sliced into two halves.
"What pure zhenqi…" Brother Lu narrowed his eyes in astonishment.
Even though the other party was wielding a blade of foxtail grass, its true edge lay in his zhenqi. But to be able to make one's zhenqi as sharp as a sword's edge… just how pure must his zhenqi be?
At the very least, he knew that he was incapable of doing the same!
Knowing that the other party would still be a formidable opponent even when wielding a blade of foxtail grass as a weapon, Brother Lu let out a battle cry and charged forward, taking the initiative.
His sword, imbued with sword qi, sliced through the air with incredible momentum. From the very start, he was already using his full strength. He knew better than to underestimate his opponent due to his lower cultivation or his choice of weapon.
With a light chuckle, Zhang Xuan raised his foxtail grass and stabbed it toward the other party's armpit like a rapier.
All sword practitioners shared a common weakness. When they swung their swords, the area around the armpit would be open, even if just for the briefest of moments. This was a weakness commonly exploited against sword practitioners. But naturally, most sword experts would have already trained themselves to guard that area perfectly.
And Brother Lu was no exception to the rule.
Even though Brother Lu was perplexed as to why the other party would use such a basic move to deal with him, he dared not to make light of the other party's counterattack. With a powerful flick of his wrist, he pulled his sword back to seal the advancement of the other party's foxtail grass, and at the same time, he sent a powerful blast of sword qi straight toward Zhang Xuan's glabella.
In a single move, he managed to defend himself while launching a counterattack simultaneously, successfully turning the tides of the battle in his favor!
"Not bad, your reflexes are good. However… that's not enough!" Zhang Xuan said with a chuckle.
In the next instant, his foxtail grass abruptly bent like a flexible rope, completely bypassing the other party's sword.
"What?" Caught off guard by the unexpected twist, Brother Lu's face paled in shock.
With the bending of the other party's foxtail grass, not only was his defense rendered ineffective, more importantly, the tip of the foxtail grass was heading straight for a major acupoint on his chest. If he failed to dodge this, he would be severely wounded!
After all, he had witnessed how formidable the might of the other party's foxtail grass was when the tree trunk was easily split in two with a light flick earlier!
Not daring to take any risks, Brother Lu hurriedly retreated a few steps back.
On the other hand, Zhang Xuan seemed to have expected Brother Lu to respond in such a way. He leaped forward, closing the distance between them in an instant. At the same time, the foxtail grass in his hand straightened as it lunged forward, this time directed at Brother Lu's throat.
Despite the abrupt change in movements, the maneuver was completed extremely smoothly and elegantly, making it peculiarly pleasing to the eye.
While others were appreciating the gracefulness of the movement, Brother Lu felt as if the grim reaper was pulling him down instead. If he were to stop at this instant, his throat would be impaled.
Thus, with a pale face, he continued retreating hurriedly.
On the other hand, Zhang Xuan continued to pursue him relentlessly, and this time, his foxtail grass was aimed for the other party's Shanzhong acupoint, located at the center of the chest.
Helpless, Brother Lu could only continue retreating.
The foxtail grass moved around flexibly in Zhang Xuan's hands, aiming for the gaps in the Half-Saint cultivator's swordsmanship precisely with every move. Frightened, Brother Lu didn't dare retaliate and could only retreat endlessly.
From the start of the battle to this point, the sword had never come into contact with the foxtail grass at all.
Hu Yaoyao, Dong Xin, and the others glanced at one another, and they couldn't help but gulp.
They had gotten a glimpse of Brother Lu's strength earlier from the aura he exuded, and even an average Nascent Saint wouldn't be a match for him. But it was only after witnessing Zhang shi's prowess that they realized what true power was.
Using a blade of foxtail grass to face a Spirit pinnacle weapon directly, but not only was the foxtail grass not severed, it was even able to force the other party back continuously. Just how deep of an understanding of swordsmanship did one need to possess to do this?
"It seems… that Brother Lu's defeat is sealed…" Xue Zhenyang muttered with clenched fists.
Before the battle, he had thought that Zhang Xuan still wouldn't be a match for the other party even with a Half-Saint sword in hand. But with this… he realized that he got it all wrong.
It was Brother Lu who was never a match for Zhang Xuan, and the difference between them was as clear as day!
He couldn't help but feel thankful that he had acknowledged Zheng Yang as his teacher then, thus becoming Zhang Xuan's grandstudent. He could hardly imagine what would have happened to him if he had really faced Zhang Xuan.
While the others were overwhelmed with shock, Brother Lu continued retreating under Zhang Xuan's relentless assault, and finally, he found his back pressed against the cliff face, left with nowhere to escape anymore.
Zhang Xuan's foxtail grass also stopped right before the other party's heart.
"I have lost…"
With a face as pale as a sheet of paper, Brother Lu hated to admit it, but he knew that it was his utter defeat.
With a polite smile, Zhang Xuan flicked his wrist, and the foxtail grass finally broke apart into eight pieces, scattering on the floor.
Wu Xu, who had taken the entire battle into sight, muttered with quivering lips, "132 moves, but Brother Lu didn't even manage to nick the other party! Instead, he retreated a total of 77 steps and was eventually forced to cast aside his sword and admit defeat…
"Is this… still the feat of a human?"
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