Reborn as a Demonic Tree-Chapter 274: Unwavering Confidence

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Chapter 274: Unwavering Confidence

Ashlock watched as Jasmine stood under his canopy, swinging her wooden sword and dodging the attacks of an enemy he couldn't see.

Elaine had cast illusion magic on Jasmine so she could fight a weakened copy of Stella while the real Stella lay slothfully on the bench under the shade of his canopy, reading one of the many technique manuals she had looted from the Azure Clan's library.

The idea of fighting an illusion had been brought up after Stella found herself unable to hold back during training and breaking Jasmine's wooden sword every few minutes. After going through dozens, it was clear another solution was needed. Diana offered Jasmine to fight the phantoms within her mist, but they terrified the poor girl.

Eventually, Elaine offered to let Jasmine fight an illusion created from Jasmine's mental image of Stella. The fight felt real, as Jasmine received some pain if the illusionary version of Stella landed an attack. Which is why Jasmine was fighting the air so desperately. This exercise also allowed Elaine to practice with her illusion Qi, as conjuring up fake enemies that inflict pain would do wonders in a fight.

Despite massive improvements, Jasmine was still struggling due to her intensive training regime. While cultivating, she was fed as many fruits and truffles as possible in the mornings. As the sun reached its zenith, Jasmine was expected to run a lap or two of the entire peak and then practice swordsmanship for a few hours. This part was naturally the most fun for Ashlock to watch as he saw her improve in real time.

"Master, it's been a few days," Jasmine panted as she jumped backward, "Can I use a real sword yet?"

Stella let the book she was reading lay flat on her chest and glanced to the side at Jasmine, "Why?"

Jasmine furrowed her brows, "So I can defeat the illusion version of you, Master."

"Wrong answer," Stella picked up her book and flipped the page, "You fight an illusion rather than something real. The blade you wield makes no difference. Once you understand this, you will be able to defeat the illusion, and only then will I give you Elder Mo's gift."

Jasmine rolled to the side and scrambled to her feet, "Master, I said I was sorry for doubting you! Beating you is impossible without a better sword!"

"Still the wrong answer," Stella replied.

"Master, I don't understandagh," Jasmine crumbled to the side in pain. It was short and sharp, so Jasmine could recover within a second.

A version of this conversation was repeated during every afternoon sparring session. Ashlock knew Stella had her reasons for training Jasmine the way she did, but he still felt bad for her Disciple.

"Jasmine has improved quite a bit over these last few days," Ashlock said to Stella, "Why not give her the sword imbued with Elder Mo's fighting spirit? It would surely help her improve and defeat the illusion of you."

Stella slammed the book she was reading closed and set it aside. "I agree she has improved. However, I hoped Jasmine would see the purpose of this exercise on her own." Stella swung her legs around and got up, "But a little guidance may be required. Elaine, could you dismiss the illusion for a moment?"

Elaine snapped her fingers, and Jasmine collapsed to the floor in relief as the illusion dispersed. novelbuddy.(c)om

"Let me teach you something, my dear Disciple," Stella said, holding out her hand and helping Jasmine to her feet. "The number one rule to fighting as a cultivator is not your abilities with the sword, your cultivation level, or even the plethora of techniques at your disposal because these things can be outmatched or overcome by an opponent."

Jasmine's eyes widened, "What is the most important thing, Master?"

"To have unwavering confidence," Stella answered simply.

"Unwavering confidence?" Jasmine tilted her head.

Stella nodded, "Cultivators have many ways to fight and win. Victory or defeat is never assured for either side, no matter the difference in realms. Certain affinities counter each other. A life-saving artifact could turn the tide of battle or even a lucky hit. There is so much out of your control, so it's important to steel the most important thing you have absolute control over at all times," Stella tapped Jasmine's forehead, "Your mind."

"My mind?" Jasmine frowned as she stared up at Stella's finger.

"Think about it. You have been fighting an illusion crafted from the mental image you have of me. The only thing holding you back from victory isn't this sword, but rather your own mind," Stella explained, "You believe that if you had a real sword, you would win, and you likely would. However, your triumph would not result from changing sword but because you believed in victory."

Stella withdrew her finger, "I will give you the sword when you have earned it by conquering your mind and forming unwavering confidence. Until then, defeating my illusion will be impossible, and you are undeserving of Elder Mo's gift."

"I can really win against you with this flimsy wooden sword?" Jasmine asked.

"You could even win without it," Stella winked as she returned to the bench and her reading. After settling into her slothful pose, "Elaine, could you restart the illusion and turn up the difficulty?"

Elaine shot her a confused look, "Really? You know I can't do that. The illusion is based on Jasmine's mental image. I just feed it Qi."

Stella hid her face with the technique manual she had been pretending to read all day and used her spatial Qi to carry her voice to Elaine's ear, and Ashlock listened in, "Just make her believe you did, and the illusion will naturally grow stronger. It's all in her head, after all. Until she learns this truth, she is not worthy of wielding a real sword as she will become too dependent on it. Our mind and bodies are our greatest weapons, not the piece of steel we hold in our hands."

Elaine smiled and turned to Jasmine, "On second thought, increasing the difficulty is a great idea."

Ashlock still felt bad for Jasmine, but he had to agree with Stella's teachings. "I have fought a plethora of cultivators over the years, and the ones that kept a poker face right up until their death were the toughest to deal with. For example, even as Nox was turning into a tree and had Stella's sword rammed through her chest, she stayed calm and even grinned. Stella has also bluffed her way through many situations with misplaced confidence."


"Master?!" Jasmine protested in horror. Every inch of her body was in pain, not from the stabs and slashes inflicted by the illusionary version of Stella as those quickly faded but from aching muscles overwhelmed with fatigue.

If Master hadn't made me run two whole laps around this place before swordfighting, I could have won easily. But I am so tired I can hardly react to the illusion's movements! Not to mention, I have this flimsy wooden sword while she has a black blade wreathed in spatial flames that burn my skin! This isn't a fair fight, and she wants Mistress Elaine to turn up the difficulty? I will die!

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Elaine smiled as she walked over, "Let's turn up the difficulty, shall we?"

Don't come any closer, you demon posing as a teacher! Jasmine cursed in her mind as she didn't dare say her thoughts aloud. Nothing good will come of it if I protest. Stella finds anyone who questions her annoying, and my life becomes far worse when she is in a bad mood.

Jasmine felt like she was going through literal hell. Who knew becoming a cultivator was so intense? But the results did speak for themselves. On the first day, a single lap of the mountain peak had taken the wind out of her, but now she could do two laps without fainting. She could also control the untamed Qi in her body and focus it around her fist for an hour now.

Elaine placed her hand on Jasmine's forehead. It felt ice-cold to the touch, as if it weren't even a human hand, and then Jasmine felt the coldness penetrate her skull while something wormed its way into her consciousness. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a person materialize from the ground.

It was Stella with a haunty expression and her sword casually resting on her shoulder. The illusion did not speak as it stared her down, and Jasmine felt her blood run cold. If she hadn't seen this version of Stella materialize out of illusion Qi, she would have believed it was the real deal.

Elaine patted her shoulder and gave a supportive smile, "Remember Jasmine, it's all an illusion born from your consciousness. She is crafted from your memories and experiences. The more you fear her, the stronger she becomes. Have some confidence, okay?"

Again, with the confidence? Jasmine wanted to scream, but instead, she nodded and tightened her grip on her wooden sword. Even as an illusion, Stella wasn't one to hold back. She only ever went for the kill.

Maybe her ruthlessness is due to the nightmares I had after our first training session, where she threatened my life constantly while saying I needed to toughen up and keep a calm head in a challenging situation. Jasmine wondered as she watched the illusion's every move. Ah, here she comes!

The second Stella lowered her sword, she vanished. Jasmine spun around and tried to meet the blade with her flimsy wooden sword that felt so weak and pathetic in her hand, and as expected, the illusionary blade passed right through and struck her shoulder. Immense pain greater than before sprawled through her entire body, making her yelp and seize up. This had happened before, and it would happen again. Over and over, she would try and fail to fight back.

She really did get stronger. Jasmine thought as the pain faded as quickly as it came. Her sword remained intact, but it was basically useless. Master really is scary. She is nothing but an illusion and a weakened version, yet she can kill me in an instant.

The illusion smirked as if it knew her thoughts and vanished again. This time, the pain came before Jasmine even had time to react. The wooden sword in her hands went flying as she crumbled forward in pain from being stabbed in the back.

The pain was already gone by the time she fell to her knees, but the experience of an unavoidable death was still fresh in her mind. Until now, she had fought with a glimmer of hope. She was always a little too slow, or her sword was too weak to block the attack. But just now, she would have died before she even knew what happened.

Why did the illusion get even stronger than before?

"It's impossible," Jasmine murmured as she stared at the wooden sword lying within arm's reach. Frustration began to boil inside her, and she reached out to pick it up and try again but then paused. It had been days at this point, and she only felt further away from beating the illusion. Clearly, what she had been doing until now wasn't working.

Is it really all in my head? Can I really beat something if I just believe I can? That sounds ridiculous.

Although Jasmine knew the illusion was fake, it felt authentic. The way it looked at her with contempt, went for the kill without a word, and was ruthless.

Wait, that isn't like Master at all.

Jasmine glanced past the illusion at Stella, the real one. She was lying slothfully on the bench and playfully petting a white squirrel she called Maple. Through the link, Jasmine could tell that Stella wasn't filled with wrathful hatred but was calm and happy.

That's the Master I know. Jasmine retracted her hand from the wooden sword, leaving it there. Master said I could defeat the illusion without a sword. I just need to figure out how. Sitting cross-legged, Jasmine cycled her Qi while keeping her eyes glued to the real Stella.

Jasmine could feel the illusionary Stella behind her but made no move to block the attack that she knew was coming.

You can't hurt me. You aren't real. You can't hurt me. You aren't real. Jasmine chanted over and over in her mind while keeping her eyes glued to the peaceful view of Stella. Her heart was pounding, and her ears were ringing as she anticipated the pain. It came a second latersharp and hot like always, but to her surprise, it hurt less than the last hit.

Stella's resentful look flashed in her mind, but she purged it from her consciousness, and the pain passed. It's working. She thought as she imagined patting Stella on her head for a change. Any mental image that made her seem less fearsome is what Jasmine focused on. If this illusion is as strong as my view of her, I will make her as harmless as that squirrel she's petting.

However, it was not easy. The illusion didn't take her refusal to participate in their dance of death lightly as it kept slashing and stabbing at her back. Yet, with every strike, the pain lessened.

It isn't even real. Jasmine snorted. To think I was terrified by a sword that doesn't even exist.

From a pain that had once winded Jasmine and brought her to her knees, it now felt pathetic. She didn't even need to look at Stella playing around with the squirrel anymore. As a test, Jasmine decided to close her eyes and try cultivating despite the illusion's measly attempts to break her concentration.

Oddly, the pain helped her focus. Perhaps it was because her body felt it was a life-or-death situation, so the heaven's whispers were more vivid than usual, and the Qi flowed through her spiritual roots with ease.

An hour or so passed, and something more threatening than the illusion broke Jasmine's concentration. Her stomach was rumbling. In fact, she was so hungry she feared her stomach would emerge out of her throat and be the one to kill the illusion rather than her.

I guess it's time to finally end this. Jasmine opened her eyes and saw the real Stella watching her from the bench with interest. Giving her Master a smile, Jasmine rose to her feet and rolled her shoulders. The slight pinpricks of pain from the illusion's attacks drilling into her back hardly fazed her.

Jasmine's gaze landed on the wooden sword lying on the ground. I can't believe I was so foolish to think I needed such a thing. Swords really are worthless when I have all I need.

Untamed Qi gathered in her fist, and with as much force as she could muster from her Qi-enhanced body, she spun around and delivered the most vicious uppercut she could muster to the illusion of her Master. Surprisingly, the illusion did not fly through the air like she had envisioned. She had pulverized the illusion out of existence as it faded into nothingness.

Jasmine looked down at her fist with awe. She stood there for a moment, relishing in the victory, and felt a tear streak down her face. Days of pain and fear had been conquered in a single confidence-filled punch.

"Master, I did it," Jasmine turned to the bench and was almost thrown off her feet as Stella ran over and embraced her in a tight hug. Bewildered, Jasmine didn't know what to say. "Master?!"

"My Disciple is so cool!" Stella released her and was grinning, "I knew when you opened your eyes that you had conquered your fear of my illusion, but to think you would turn around and deliver such a vicious punch right into what I guess was my face!"

"Um..." f(r)

"Honestly, you were a bit hopeless with the sword, and I was growing worried that you lacked what it would take to fight in the tournament so soon. But that punch was excellent," Stella continued rambling, "I know talent when I see it, and to think you were hiding that inside you. Forget the sword. You should just punch people in the face!"

"Wait, what?!" Jasmine was shocked out of her daze as her goals crumbled. She had dreamed of becoming one of those dignified cultivators cruising through the skies on flying swords and engaging in fierce duels. There was nothing dignified about punching people in the face.

"Master, what about Elder Mo's gift? I beat the illusion. So I should get the sword now, right?" Jasmine asked desperately. She heard it would help her train. Even if I lack the talent with the sword, Elder Mo should be able to save me, right? I don't want to only punch people.

Stella shrugged, "Sure, you can have it. Swords are a cultivator's best friend, as even if you don't use them in combat, they are useful for flying around. But as your Master, I am telling you this is not where your talent lies. As a cultivator that defies the heavens, sometimes it's important to understand and lean into your strengths to get ahead of others. There's no shame in doing so."

Jasmine felt like crying. Why did her Master say such reasonable things that made it hard to refute?

Stella's spatial ring flashed with a silvery light, and a sword that looked comically short appeared in her hands. "Here you go. A gift from Elder Mo. You earned it."

"Thank you, Master," Jasmine accepted the sword with her best manners. It felt heavy in her hand, but it didn't fill her with the confidence she had anticipated. Something buzzed at the edge of her consciousness, compelling her to swing it. However, with a sigh, she ignored it and sheathed the blade.

Master is right. My fists are better.

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