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Ryu didn't seem to have eyes for anything else other than his task. His mental focus was entirely drawn to the minute changes of the world around him. He didn't even seem to notice Selheira who was just a stone's throw away. If he had paid more attention, he might have noticed her slight glances every so often. But the state of his mind really didn't allow him to focus on anything else.
Initially, his thoughts were skewed toward being more forceful. Before he noticed the subtle hidden rules of the round, he had planned to attack every person who made an attempt and crush them in that way. He thought that maybe if he did this, not only could he force others back, but he would be able to accelerate his forward progress as well.
But now that he took a step back, he noticed many issues with his previous thoughts, issues that went beyond just the fact he had failed to challenge two trial takers in a row. If he had been allowed such a continuous challenge, what chance would others have?
Taking a step back, there would be no reason that Ryu would be the only one capable of taking this sort of action. Would the Heavenly Path essentially allow free rein of the strong?
A more cynical Ryu would say yes. The Heavens were cruel and uncompromising. It only wanted the strongest to flourish.
But if that was the case, then why had it allowed him to begin with such a head start just by virtue of the fact he had stepped onto the Incomplete Heavenly Path? That path, by its nature, was constructed for those of lower birth and gifted them a chance to change their Fates.
This told Ryu something. The Heavens might be cruel, but they always left a path for survival and it wasn't in its best interest for one power to rise up and then continuously suppress the budding flowers that could have bloomed into lofty trees.
The Heavens didn't just want experts, it wanted those experts to be constantly pushed and strained. If those experts were permitted to snuff out any resistance before it could even take form, they would naturally stall evolution and even weaken over time as a result.
The current situation of the True Martial World, where Daos were suppressed and limiters were placed on the number of experts that could be raised up, should be exactly the kind of situation that the Heavens didn't want to see.
The fact that they were so far from the true cap of Daos painted that picture perfectly. In fact, the Convergence might be the attempt of the Heavens to change the current status quo, to raise up something that could crush the current system and hopefully not uplift it themselves…
These thoughts were fleeting in Ryu's mind as he watched one after another go. Some failed, but they were in the minority. Anyone who could make it this far was definitely capable of clearing a Bronze Challenge. What was more interesting was how much effort they had to put in, and that was where the variability was quite wide.
One would think that the deeper they went into the round, the less strong the participants would be as they were granted less and less Heavenly Favor. But this wasn't the case at all.
There was a rollercoaster of performance levels, some didn't surprisingly well, almost matching the performance of the three Immortal Deities, some were clearly holding back in Ryu's estimation, and there were some who performed quite terribly, all things considered.
Of course, the worst of them were those that failed on purpose, and the best of them was Adlael.
Ryu noticed something else during these rounds: he couldn't sense anyone's Daos clearly.
This didn't make sense, and it didn't have anything to do with his suppressed Daos right now either. Everyone was waiting around for it to be their turn again, many might have already sensed and come to understand what Ryu had and were paying close attention to every little detail. And yet, looking around, it was clear that no one had any idea as well.
It was another piece of the puzzle. The round wanted them to come to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their opponent's by watching the challenges. It might even be the case that they could replicate what they struggled with the most, increasing their odds of winning a duel.
It was an interesting wrinkle, but it was also one that was quite troublesome. That being because…
Adlael was surprisingly last to go of them all. It was hard to tell why this would be, especially since everyone had sensed his strength earlier, but Ryu had an idea. Looking at the man's white hair, and remembering his aura from earlier, he was certain.Adlael was indeed a member of the Heavenly Dew Branch, and though Ryu wasn't certain what level of strength Isemeine had now, or more accurately how that strength would translate if her Realm was in the World Sea Realm much like Adlael, but what he could tell was that if he contrasted their starting points… Isemeine wasn't comparable at all.
Of course, this was if he disregarded the fact Isemeine was born in Sacrum and as such had her true talent stripped and limited. This meant that there were tiers of existence even within the Heavenly Dew Branch.
But this made sense. Even if they were the unwitting pawns of Elena's mother, or even willing pawns, how could they allow their absolute best to be sacrificed?
Isemeine had probably shed off some of that weakness, or maybe even all of it by now. But that was unimportant in the face of the strength of this man, especially since his grudge with Ryu was threatening to burn holes into the latter's eyes.
And now, Ryu had less information about him than he wanted. In addition, if he was too slow with his progress, soon, even if he started off in last position, Adlael would be able to challenge him directly.
Adlael had learned from his first unsuccessful challenge and he hadn't made another challenge since, but Ryu didn't think for a moment that he had given up on it. He was aiming for another angle.
Ryu's lip curled. It was once again his turn… what to do?
He looked forward, not moving immediately. Why should he? The person who took the longest to move had taken up at least a quarter of an hour before there were signs of him losing his chance, so he would take advantage as well.
"The Domain Board has a second function. It's not just a division of progress, or a subtle hint that this is a battle of wits as well as one of brawn, but it also completes one of the most important functions of the board it's based off of: territory."
The game of Domain was complex, and one of the reasons it was so difficult was because of the territory triangles, squares, pentagons and hexagons.
The board was filled with these shapes and they came together to form various territories. These territories provided various buffs and debuffs to your units and could affect the success of your assault or defense.
This was a simple concept and it was something that could be found in many games, but what made Domain different was the various shapes as it was far more akin to real life.
Most game boards were uniform. Go, for example, was an array of squares,
the corners of which were most important. Chess was similarly an array of squares, but this time their centers were most important.
Domain reflected the variability of nature, and each shape had its own function.
It was too complex to explain in a short time, but essentially what was most important about the shapes on a Domain Board wasn't the shape itself, but rather how it interacted with those around it.
A triangle could come into contact with six other shapes, three from its sides and three from its corners. A square could come into contact with eight.
A connection to a side represented a strong influence over the tile and a corner connection represented a weak influence.
Each tile would have a base affinity, but it would require a formulae taking into account each surrounding shape to unearth its true affinity. If there were a piece or pieces on the tile, its affinity would be influenced once again depending on the piece and its actions.
Realizing this, Ryu came to understand something new.
Picking out the perfect Challenge seemed to rely entirely on your senses, but was that the case? What if he could guess the affinity of a tile ahead of time without access to his Dao at all?
Since he had gone first, he didn't have enough data to complete the formula. But now, he had just witnessed the turn of dozens. He felt that he could take action with about 70% accuracy.
With a confident smile, Ryu locked onto a challenge and surged toward it. It seemed that he wouldn't have to be so passive after all.
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