Chapter 238: The Bet
Everyone in the hall was shocked when they heard the words that had come out of Tongtian’s mouth.
True, there was a plaque on the summit of Nameless Mountain that read ‘Number-one Killers in the Universe’. The predecessors of the Assassin Sect got that plaque with their superhuman expertise and fighting spirit, officially being recognized as the strongest entity in the Hitman Syndicate because of it.
Though the sect of the present had been languishing in strength since that day, they were still one of the strongest hitman organizations in the entire Pan-Human Alliance, and not they were not about to let others blaspheme what had been left by their ancestors.
Darkshadow, Moonshadow, and Silvershadow all eyed Tongtian with fury. The more short-tempered Moonshadow even directly stood up in direct defiance of his status, looking ready to throw down the gauntlet for this slight. The atmosphere in the guest hall had gotten tense.
Craneshadow waved his hand, signaling his three disciples not to make any rash actions. He knew very well that Tongtian had likely made ample preparations for this, for he was very bold in provoking the people of the Assassin Sect. Even though Craneshadow was extremely displeased with how the chips had fallen, he must fight this for the sake of the sect, and he must not lose. After all, the matter of face and prestige was very important for an ancient warrior organization like the Assassin Sect.
It was not just the Assassin Sect. Even a large organization like the Adjudicator Union would have to accept such challenges if someone were to do what Tongtian was currently doing, for it was an unspoken rule between the members of the syndicate. This was as good as a declaration of war, and anyone who refused to accept the challenge would end up drawing disdain from all the other people in the syndicate. In turn, it would only be a matter of time before word got out and the reputation of the sect would get ruined as a result.
According to the rules, the challenged could call for a wager from the challenger. This would sometimes be someone’s life or a secret manual. Meanwhile, Tongtian’s goal was somewhat malicious, since he was asking for the very face of the entire Assassin Sect.
Craneshadow was ruminating how they should go about dealing with this. There was no chance any of his three disciples would win up against an expert like Tongtian despite the aggressiveness they showed. After all, losing five generations of disciples in the Assassin Sect had brought about grievous damage to it, which was difficult to recover immediately, and that was not something that could be easily offset, too.
Craneshadow reckoned he had about a fifty percent chance of being victorious, while his senior, Shadowless, would have as much as a hundred percent.
Alas, Shadowless was in solitary seclusion on the thirteenth level. It would not be easy to convince him to do battle on behalf of the discipleship.
No matter the case was, a nocked arrow had to be fired; everyone would think the Assassin Sect was really afraid of the Sky Eradicators Sect if he did not accept the challenge, and that was not an outcome neither Craneshadow nor the thousands of disciples in the entire Assassin Sect would be willing to accept no matter what the situation was.
Having come to a decision, Craneshadow now planned to accept the challenge first, then convinced his senior Shadowless to come out once more, and if his senior refused, he would just do it himself. He was of high cultivation, too, so even if he was not entirely confident of winning, it was not too far off the hundred percent. Besides, this was his homeground, and that would surely work more to Craneshadow’s favor somewhat.
With this thought in mind, Craneshadow called in a deep voice, “Sect Master Tong, if this is your wish, the Assassin Sect will gladly accept your challenge. Men, prepare the large sparring field. Inform all the members of the sect to halt what they’re doing and head to the sparring field for observation and learning.”
“Understood!” Darkshadow and his fellows answered in unison. They had been impatiently waiting all this while, hoping that they could have a big fight with Tongtian.
Tongtian smiled. “How dauntless of senior Craneshadow; no wonder you are the sect master for the Assassin Sect.”
Changing the conversation, Tongtian suddenly very insidiously commented, “On top of us being sect masters, we’re already getting on in years; having two old men like us fight all bloody and gory is hardly presentable, and if word gets out, I’m sure we will become the laughingstock to the other organizations in the syndicate.”
Craneshadow had not expected Tongtian to make such a move. If neither of them was going to fight, did it mean that this would be a test of his sect’s disciples?
Tongitan pointed with one hand, and Fangyuan hurriedly stepped forward, respectfully standing in front of Tongtian.
“This is a disciple I’ve taken in recently, barely twenty years of age.”
Fangyuan smiled as he reminded, “Master, I have yet to pass my twentieth birthday.”
This caused Tongtian to burst into laughter. “I’m truly getting on in my years; even my brain is starting to get all muddle, so I guess you’re just nineteen.
“Senior Craneshadow, why don’t we let this young disciple here to take my place for the fight? Since he’s still young, I hope Senior Craneshadow will be merciful with his blows.” Tongtian chuckled.
Only now did Craneshadow notice the chubby Fangyuan, who had been staying in the shadows this whole time. Before, no one would have expected that the lead role would be his. The wily, old fox Tongtian must be very confident in his young disciple, or else given his personality, he would have not taken such a risk.
Furthermore, with Tongtian emphasizing Fangyuan’s age, it could not be made any more obvious that he was implying that the Assassin Sect should also send someone of a similar age; otherwise, this challenge could be seen as the strong bullying the weak.
Craneshadow swept his gaze on his three disciples through the corners of his eyes. All he saw was the three being angry, but none of them had that steeled confidence as before. There were plenty of disciples in the sect, yet they hardly had any younger than twenty who could pick up this mantle independently.
It was true that wisdom came with age. Craneshadow was able to remain relatively composed as he responded with a smile, “Heh, being holed up here on Nameless Mountain has gotten my muscles and bones somewhat soft. Since Sect Master Tongtian has come all the way here, why don’t you accompany this old man and limber up together?”
Tongtian was secretly elated in his heart. Craneshadow’s unwillingness to send a young disciple out to spar with Fangyuan clearly indicated the latter’s diffidence to the former’s proposition, meaning that he was right where he wanted him.
“Since Senior Craneshadow is interested, I don’t mind exchanging a few pointers with you, but my intention today is to retrieve the plaque, so if there isn’t a worthy wager between our fight, it will hardly be meaningful.” Tongtian guffawed.
Craneshadow replied without batting an eyelid, “Sect Master Tong, I wonder what else our Nameless Mountain has that you desire; why don’t you tell us?”
Tongtian slapped his thigh and loudly answered, “Senior Craneshadow is truly straightforward, then I shan’t be courteous. Why don’t we bet this planet? I’ll wager my Snow Mountain Fortress on the planet, Nightchill, for your planet, Nameless’ Nameless Mountain.”
This time, even Craneshadow himself could no longer remain seated. He never would have guessed that Tongtian would have such a large appetite, daring to bet the home bases of either sect.
The home base of a warrior organization was as good as a family’s ancestral land. It was priceless in terms of both its symbolic significance and practical use.
Imagine, would the Assassin Sect still be called that if they no longer had the Nameless Mountain to call base?
This was a foundation that several generations of predecessors had poured their efforts into establishing. If they were to lose it here and now, there was no way Craneshadow would have any face to continue living in this world.
This was simply too big a wager.
The reason Tongtian was willing to set such a hefty wager was his own surety. Though he was on par with Craneshadow in terms of cultivation, and it was hard to say who would emerge victorious between them, Tongtian was very confident in Fangyuan’s capabilities. He believed that there was no disciple under twenty in the Assassin Sect who could take on Fangyuan, and the hesitant expression of Darkshadow and the two others after he mentioned the stipulations only cemented this belief further.
As such, he was already in a foolproof position right from the start. Even if he lost at the hands of Craneshadow, they would end up in a draw. No matter the case was, he would not be running the risk of taking any losses.
Tongtian was only afraid that Craneshadow might not agree at this point, which was why he added, “Senior Craneshadow, my disciple Fangyuan has barely seen much of this universe, always wanting to exchange pointers with experts. I know that the Assassin Sect naturally has experts everywhere, so I hope that you’ll give this unruly disciple of mine a chance and let him have three matches. If the Assassin Sect wins any of these matches, it will count as our loss.”
If the words he had said before were even received as somewhat courteous, this additional suggestion he just posed was essentially a naked challenge.
Letting his disciple fight three matches at one go was simply conceited, so much so that it was hatefully arrogant.
The color of Craneshadow’s face changed. Never had anyone looked down on the Assassin Sect so greatly since it was established. While the various hitmen sects and organizations were in the same line of business, they nevertheless maintained a certain level of contact with one another. Other such organizations were either afraid of how powerful the Assassin Sect was or remembered the friendly ties they shared in the past, so no one was willingly to just tear off the veneer of courtesy with them and burn bridges this brazenly and to this extent. Even if some small altercations were to occur, they would mostly be resolved privately, yet Tongtian was truly testing the Assassin Sect’s limit of tolerance today, ruthlessly jabbing a knife into the declining sect.
Actually, many within the Hitmen Syndicate were aware of the Assassin Sect’s stagnancy, and plenty were jealous that they held the title as the number-one killers in the universe, yet Tongtian and his Sky Eradicators Sect were the first to plunge this knife oh so daringly.
If Craneshadow were to roll over here, that would be like announcing to everyone that the Assassin Sect was no longer at the level of greatness it once was in the past, becoming an open invitation for the others to come and bully them.
It was hard to get timely help, but it was easy to beat someone while they were down; this was instinctive of humans.
Who knew how many more hitmen sects and organizations would come out of the woodworks after this incident and strike the Assassin Sect while they were down, just so they could elevate their status?
Craneshadow suddenly smiled and loudly called, “Sect Master Tongtian, since you are interested, then let us meet on the sparring field.”
Moonshadow and the others could feel their heart sinking. No matter how decisive Craneshadow sounded, he was unable to change the victory rate for their present predicament. Hearing him give such an order was essentially pushing the Assassin Sect to an impossible situation—one where there was no way for them to back out of anymore.
“Men, escort Sect Master Tongtian to a place where he can rest,” Craneshadow ordered.
With his goal attained, Tongtian brought his men and retired at the base of the mountain, feeling satisfied. The Assassin Sect’s large sparring field was constructed at the mountain’s base, and they too had to make the necessary preparations for this fight.
Following Tongtian and his men’s exit from the room, Darkshadow, Moonshadow, and Silvershadow could not resist but crowd around Craneshadow.
“Grandmaster, don’t you think that you ought to reconsider? After all, this is a huge matter that will affect all of the Assassins,” Silvershadow quickly said, the expression on his face completely flustered.
“That’s right. I feel that this wager is simply too much as well.” Darkshadow concurred to that as well.
Craneshadow’s nostrils flared up coldly. “Do you think Tongtian is merely representing the Sky Eradicators Sect? Now that everyone can see the plight the Assassin Sect is in, even if Tongtian didn’t arrive today, it would not be long before other sects come knocking at our front door.”
Silvershadow and the two others were silent. What their master had said made sense, yet they were all caught up in the mentality that this had all just been a fluke, so none of them was as decisive as Craneshadow.
“Since there’s no way for us in the Assassin Sect to avoid this fate, rather than subjecting ourselves to a slow death, why don’t we be more forthright about it?” After saying this one line, Craneshadow strode out of the guest hall and made his way up the mountain, leaving just his three disciples to contemplate over what he had just said.
Around this time, Nameless Mountain suddenly began rumbling and rocking. These tremors were not particularly powerful, just like a small earthquake that stopped after dozens of seconds.
Earthquakes were not rare on Nameless, so no one had taken it to heart. Everyone had left, downcast, so none of them had noticed that there were some changes by the foot of the mountain.