Though Lau had already faced off against Zura once, the weaving mana blows that snaked past his parries made it seem like a repeat of their previous engagement. Hands that looked like snakes made of pure mana extended from Zura’s body, the basis of his offense.
The fluid movements that continuously changed shape and molded itself to avoid Lau’s strikes were particularly difficult to deal with, as he had to constantly be on his toes to intercept properly. He could literally feel Zura’s mana slither across his arms. At the tip of the mana hands was a snake’s fang waiting to bite a chunk out of him, the manifestation of a cultivation technique that had reached mastery.
Often, the elevation of mana control resulted in the creation of a physical form that embodied those principles. As a result, the strikes of the Flowing Water Fist had essentially created a nest of snakes coiling around the body of their foes – strangling and siphoning their mana, before slithering in for the fatal strike.
Lau kept a watchful eye for those critical blows, but he was hardly able to prevent all of the snake hands from ensnaring him for moments and slowly sucking him dry.
If only they had more solid of a form, he would be able to bat them away like normal. But even as he brushed them away, they would just change directions and circle back around, an attack that was practically futile to avoid.
Lau kicked off the ground and made some distance once again. The first few exchanges hadn’t gone so well. He had been steadily pushed towards the first gate. Even if losing ground did not give him any visible disadvantage, it was having an effect on him mentally.
Scanning around the area, the other warriors on his side weren’t doing terribly. There were numbers on his side and a mix of different styles and families, so they were holding out decently. Needless to say, they were nowhere on par with Marude Zura. However, he could also tell that this balance would soon tip in favor of who reigned on top, whether it was the renowned Electi or the Zura family head.
“Got to stay afloat. Can’t let those snakes drag me into the water.” Lau softly mumbled to himself, trying to regain his confidence. He couldn’t let the back line fall and allow the front to become pincered.
But what could he do against these tricky blows? If he couldn’t parry with his overwhelming dexterity, then what else was left? He was but an old man who had trained most of his life in martiall arts. There had to be something in the decades of experience that could help him turn the tide.
Hesitantly, Lau continued to try different techniques to slash at the snake hands and cut off the mana flow to them. However, his hard mana strikes only momentarily diverted their direction. Like a stick caught on a whip, the snakes would simply coil themselves around his limbs and proceed to suck on mana before he could tear his arm free.
Delivering bursts of mana into the air like flinging blades of air, Lau clicked his tongue as he watched Zura dance between them, his snake hands skimming across the surface of the blades.
Zura looked smugly at Lau, an evident smirk on his face as he had barely exerted himself. On the other hand, Lau had already expended a fair amount of mana trying to break through Zura’s technique, much of it being absorbed into Zura himself.
The weakness in his knees was starting to catch up with him. This was not something that Zura needed to worry about, being 20 years or so younger. Feeling like his footwork could fail at any moment, Lau knew that it would be over in an instant as soon as one of those snakes drew blood.
“So, this is it, huh? Time to pass the torch to the next generation.”
He had lived in this world for decades. He had spent many loving years with his wife, Kanade. Though the pain and regrets of his past continued to prod him in the back of his mind, he tried his best to live out the rest of his life in this world. He had become essentially a hero of legend, one that required special scrutiny to take down. He even had the token, clueless disciple to train. Overall, his life could have been compared to that of a martial arts master that raised a protagonist before going out in a glorious fashion. Not a bad end, for all intents and purposes.
A single voice screamed from the bottom of his heart.
‘It was not enough!’
‘I have not seen enough! I have not done enough!’
How could he settle for a warrior’s end – when he had just witnessed the humiliation of the country’s cockiest clan? How could he not be curious for more – when new people had dropped into his life with amazing and jaw-dropping abilities? How could he settle for a peaceful end – when the demon of his past was still out there mucking up the world?
And so, the voice in his heart rejected the notion of his surrender. It roundhouse kicked Lau’s mind to wake him up from his complaints of weakness. It parried the excuses of old age that his brain tried to signal. He wasn’t young anymore, so no one would blame him for being too senile to know when to give up.
A fire lit in his eyes. One that hadn’t been around since his younger days, back when Jiro was still around. It was a fire that was constantly fed by the memories of seeing Jiro overcome his weak body and master the art of mana control to the level that none had seen before. Though he had secretly known that Jiro looked up to the heavens to avoid the weaknesses at ground level, he had nonetheless never stopped looking up. That image of Jiro facing skyward had attracted Lau and pulled him along for the ride.
Even now, he still wished to grab the hand that Jiro had extended towards him after waking up in this world. His legs sprung forward, trying to grasp that hand that would pull him up each time he fell.
The swirl of snake hands grazed past his left side. Snapping back to reality, Lau had realized that Zura had just whizzed past him. The image of Jiro in his mind had subconsciously beckoned him to leap away from danger.
“Tsk. I thought you had given up for a moment there, former demon slayer. Guess your ancestors aren’t ready to take you in yet. That is, if you’ll even return to your world to see them.”
“Who knows?” Lau smiled. “But the ones here aren’t ready to let me join them either, it seems.”
Lau switched his stance, recalling the one which Jiro favored during his fights. He had dismissed using it in his own style of fighting because the soft style of harnessing momentum to connect powerful blows had not been necessary. However, this was the solution that he came upon after waking up from his rusty self. He had long relied too much on his Dexterity. Now, he had to trust in his true skills, the ones that he developed through his life’s training. He could only rely on the feel of objects grazing against his hands and the subconscious motions that guided their movements.
Zura continued his assault as he leapt in once again with a flurry of slithering snake hands. This time, Lau tried to grasp at the snake-shaped mana that flowed out from Zura rather than batting them away with force. The snakes coiled and fought with his grasp as he swirled his own mana-coated hands along their surface. To onlookers, it appeared as if the two fighters were trying to swim their way through each other’s current, hoping to break past the vortex of blows that they had been sucking each other into.
Finally, Lau kicked back and retreated, being slightly at a disadvantage still in the exchange.
‘Not enough! I’m still nowhere as fluid as Jiro! If only I had more time to train! If only there was a slight difference to tip the scale!’
As he got into position to intercept another flurry of blows, Lau’s prayers seemed to be heard.
Above Zura, a portal suddenly appeared. And from the other side, a small gem-like object fell from it. The snake hands immediately shifted directions towards the object, wrapping themselves around it. A burst of mana was ejected from the object, causing a ripple to move through the form of the snakes and making them coil about wildly. Zura tried to divert their attention back to Lau, but another object fell in front of him, creating another burst that caused the snakes to flail about once again.
This was not lost on Lau. For some reason, those gem-like objects had perturbed the movements of the snake hands. Zura had difficulty controlling them after the explosion of mana that emitted from the object.
“According to my analysis, it seems like those mana appendages that he is using is attracted to spikes in mana in the environment.” Katsys popped out from a portal and casually commented to Lau.
Lau was surprised to see her again. Though it had been some time since she had left to continue the aerial bombing, it didn’t occur to him until now that the sounds of explosions in the distance had stopped some time ago.
“You didn’t go to protect your knight in servant clothing instead?” Lau joked, thinking that she would have surely chosen him over an old man.
“After surveying the battlefield, Claude seemed to have no trouble breaking all the way to the main house. In fact, you appeared to be having the toughest time, Mr. Lau. As a result, I analyzed the Zura family’s mana technique and surmised that it was susceptible to fluctuations in the mana intensity of the environment.”
“Susceptible to fluctuations, huh? That certainly helps…” Lau brought an arm out to cover Katsys, asking her to back up as Zura regained his focus once again.
That bit of information had given him an idea. He took the initiative this time with a smirk on his face.
Once again in his soft stance, he focused the mana on his right hand and greeted the snake hands by coiling his arm around them. Zura wondered what Lau was up to, as it didn’t seem like his movements had changed at all.
Lau’s next motion was a follow-up strike with his left hand which would cause the snake hands to coil that way to intercept.
However, as Lau’s left hand approached, the snake hands didn’t budge from their position. With a look of surprise, Zura panicked as he watched Lau wrap his left arm around the base of the snake hands. With a loud cry of ‘Hyah!’, Lau gave a swift tug and pulled Zura off his feet. Though Lau couldn’t dispel the dense mass of mana that formed the snake hands, he could lift its user, who was attached to it, off his feet. As Zura felt himself sailing in the air, he was desperately trying to will the snakes to uncoil themselves and bite at Lau.
Lau had a feeling that they wouldn’t. After all, the snakes were tuned to react to a surge in mana, greedily trying to suck from the densest source. This had been an ability that had been honed through generations of training and meant to take out the toughest of foes. But it had also become a double-edged sword which avoided heading where mana density was low.
For most practitioners of mana control, one’s mana was typically uniform across their bodies. Only during moments of strong attack or defense does one concentrate it at certain parts to maximize its effectiveness. The Flowing Water Fist Style capitalized on that, aiming for the highest concentrations of mana to quickly drain an opponent.
If one were to wield this concentrated mana as a diversion, a follow-up attack relatively low in mana could sneak through. Normally, one that did not know of this weakness would never purposefully attack in such a way. Or even if he could, one could not balance their mana well enough for the snake hands to ignore the true strike.
But Lau had been an expert juggler in his home world. He was used to the dips and sways of momentum in his hands. The unpredictable movements of objects that have gone off-course were automatically corrected and fine tuned from years of experience and familiarity. This had translated to mana manipulation in this world.
Easily gripping the base of the snake hands with just enough mana to grasp them, he had successfully avoided drawing the receptive tips back, enabling him to bunch the snake hands into a twisted mass that he could pick up into a Herculean swing.
As Zura spun around and around Lau, he could tell that they were both heading towards the wall. Lau was going to slam him into it! Hastily, Zura was left with only one option – to disperse his technique in order to free himself from the old warrior’s grip.
As the mana connecting to the snake hands started to scatter, Zura waited for the moment that he could break free and retreat. He would have to revise how to compensate for this weak point in his technique.
As the final thread of mana connecting him snapped, Zura braced himself for the ground, aiming to kick off and leap away to safety. However, a palm caught him by the leg.
“Who do you think I am?! I’m the Electi of Dexterity! If there’s a physical form, there’s no way that I can’t grab ahold of it!”
Lau’s fingertips had barely grazed the leg of Zura, but mysteriously, that was enough to latch onto it. Not losing any momentum, the swinging body of Zura collided into the wall of the gate with a thunderous boom. Though Lau was an old man, his high-level stats had not deteriorated. The full force of his attack power transmitted into damage as a hefty section of the wall turned into rubble.
The crash signaled the end of the Zura family as its members all witnessed their leader beaten soundly. One by one, they surrendered, knowing that they could not stand up to Lau, who had defeated their champion.
“What?! You mean to tell me that none of you have the backbone to finish what you’ve started?! The hell is this?! Just when I got my blood boiling! Come have a taste of Lau Ki Young’s fist!”
Lau looked ready to bludgeon the lot of them with his fist for all the trouble that they had caused. Feeling sorry for them, Katsys quickly fired some portals that appeared next to each one. Sticking her lighting wand into the portals, the tip shocked each fighter into paralysis before Lau could charge at them.
“Dammit, princess. You sure know how to spoil an old man’s fun.” He shot her a disappointed look.
“Leave them for the others. We should go help the front line.”
Katsys opened a portal in front of Lau, while sending the exit hundreds of meters down the pathway. The backs of their men could be seen on the other side.
“Here I thought that I could get a bit of rest walking off the previous battle.”
“Just get in the portal, Mr. Lau.”