Li Yundong huh?" the old librarian mumbled to himself as he watched the man walk out of the library. "That's the kid's name..."
Every time the kid came in here to borrow new books, the old man never really got around to ask for his name. Their conversations never involved pleasantries anyway; they always turned into some kind of intellectual debate about the contents of the books that the kid was returning.
The old man followed Li Yundong with his eyes until the latter reached the elevator lobby. A moment later, the old man detected movements beside him. Someone else was approaching the counter he was sitting behind.
It was his grandson, Yan Hua.
"What were you staring at, Grandfather?" Xiao Hua was frowning as he approached.
The old man pointed at the library's entrance. Li Yundong was still waiting for the elevator.
Xiao Hua leaned his side against the counter and glanced in the indicated direction.
There was a sound of surprise, and it didn't sound pleasant.
"You know that guy, grandfather?"
The old librarian looked towards his grandson, whose eyes held so much hatred, disdain, and jealousy.
The old librarian sighed inwardly. This spoiled brat never learns...
"That's the guy I told you the other day over the phone," the old librarian said, then chuckled. "I told you he's good, Xiao Hua." The old librarian raised his brows. "I suppose you believe me now, eh?"
Xiao Hua's expression turned into a scowl. "What's there to believe in? I truly don't see what's so good about him."
The old librarian chuckled. "Tell that to the pretty boy he just brought back to life earlier." He jerked his thumb towards his left.
Xiao Hua snorted. "A coincidence, that's all it is. A coincidence."
After that, Xiao Hua stormed off.
The old librarian shook his head. "That kid is too prideful for his own good..."
The old librarian followed his grandson's movements towards an empty table in the library. He sighed. "He will fall this time. And he will fall hard."
The marching drills had stopped by the time Li Yundong exited the library building and stepped into the scorching hot sun. Most of the cadets now sat in groups under several large, shady trees near the academic building, which was located on the opposite end of the field. Li Yundong descended the porch steps of the library building and made his way towards the field. He would have to cross the field to get back to the academic building.
A chorus of cheers drew Li Yundong's attention towards the field. The cadets, who had been lazing around under the trees earlier, were now on their feet, and they all seemed engrossed in something that was taking place on the field. A few cadets had even abandoned their comfortable spots under the shade to indulge their curiosity.
The cadets were looking towards the area where the mats were set up, where the hand-to-hand combat demo had taken place earlier. Even from afar, Li Yundong could tell what it was that had gotten the cadets so excited: a sparring match was about to take place.
As Li Yundong stepped onto the large field, he zoomed in with his telescopic vision.
What he saw surprised him a little.
A student sparring with an instructor? That's a little bit unusual.
Usually, students would only spar with fellow students, not with one of the instructors—unless, of course, the student was looking to get his ass kicked.
He wondered which student had the balls to take on—
Li Yundong stopped short.
The instructor's sparring opponent was none other than that burly guy who had given Li Yundong the death stare earlier.
Li Yundong resumed his journey across the field, but kept his telescopic vision activated as he walked. Admittedly, he was a bit curious to see how the sparring match would turn out.
The instructor was a dark-skinned man about the same height as Li Yundong; fit, albeit a bit too skinny in Li Yundong's opinion. Definitely too skinny to be taking on his burly student. Not that anybody cares about weight classes on the battlefield.
The action began before Li Yundong was even halfway across the field. Burly Dude charged straight at the instructor and went for a takedown. The nimble instructor leaped aside just in time to avoid being taken down.
Li Yundong frowned. That's an odd way to fight...
Usually, when two experienced combatants engage in a hand-to-hand fight and neither of them were in a position of disadvantage, they would approach each other slowly, which would give them the opportunity to observe their opponent to look for openings they can exploit.
The more agile fighter will try to circle around their opponent in order to find a chance to attack their opponent's back. The less agile fighter, on the other hand, will favor close-quarter techniques by constantly keeping their opponent within their striking range. Nobody would do what Burly Dude just did—charging in blindly without even testing out their opponent's strength and agility.
Burly Dude charged again, this time aiming a punch at the instructor's face.
The instructor dodged the punch by taking a large step backwards.
Clumsy though it might seem, Li Yundong could tell that the punch packed a lot of power, which was strange considering this was supposed to be a friendly spar, not an all-out brawl.
By the time Li Yundong was approaching the mats, he got the impression that the military instructor was having the upper hand despite his smaller frame. Based on all the martial art books and videos that he'd been studying, Li Yundong would also guess that Burly Dude was a practitioner of Wushu. A few of his straight punches were launched from the hips, which you'll never seen in boxing. Not to mention those flowery kicks he had thrown a couple of times. There was also a matter of the stances that Burly Dude had used, which Li Yundong recognized as the Ma Bu, or Horse Stance.
As Li Yundong skirted along the side of the mats, he saw Burly Dude throwing yet another reckless punch at the instructor's chest.
The military instructor once again impressed Li Yundong with his skills by deftly side-stepping Burly Dude's punch and then grabbing Burly Dude's arm. The instructor then rotated his body, dropping his center of gravity while pushing his backside into Burly Dude's hips. During all that, the instructor never let go of Burly Dude's arm.
A struggle broke out with both fighters grunting and panting. The instructor was clearly trying to execute a judo hip throw, whereas Burly Dude was trying to prevent that by using his size to his advantage.
Li Yundong kept walking.
This fight was clearly over. The instructor had the upper hand since he had a lower center of gravity. It wouldn't be long before he found the leverage on Burly Dude's hips to execute the judo hip throw. And once Burly Dude was down on the ground, the instructor could easily end the fight via a submission—a simple arm bar from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu would have Burly Dude tapping out in seconds.
Li Yundong looked away from the mats and smiled to himself. The whole situation kind of reminded him of that time when he had stupidly accepted Zhao Yujian's challenge to a fight despite knowing that he was severely outclassed in terms of skill.
God, I was such an idiot back then…
Li Yundong chuckled at himself.
But still. A cadet taking on an instructor? The guy had to have some guts to—
That loud roar made Li Yundong turn around. And when he did, he saw something that took him by complete surprise: the military instructor had just been flung off ground like a ragdoll and was now flying across the mats with both his legs pointing towards the sky.
Li Yundong moved his feet in an instant. He ran back towards the mats and then dove forward, hoping to catch the instructor before the poor guy crashed head first into the ground and end up with a devastating neck injury.
Shit! Can't reach him in time!
Li Yundong extended his arm and then mobilized his Zhenqi, shaping it into some kind of invisible scoop. The Qi Kinesis slowed the instructor's fall just in time for Li Yundong to jump up and then grab the instructor's body in midair. By the time Li Yundong landed on his feet with the instructor leaning against his side, the field was roaring with the other cadets' cheers.
"Feng Ji!!! That's so cool!!!"
"Holy shit, Feng Ji!!! You kicked his ass!"
Li Yundong released the instructor and then readjusted the straps of his backpack. Turning his head, he did a quick check to make sure that the Fan of Seven Treasures was still there.
"You alright, sir?" Li Yundong said, pressing a hand on the instructor's shoulder.
"Yeah, I am." The instructor nodded gratefully. "Thanks to you, kid." The instructor looked at Li Yundong strangely. "That was a nice save."
Li Yundong answered with a smile and a casual shrug.
The cadets' uproar continued.
"Feng Ji! Feng Ji! Feng Ji!"
"Brother Feng is awesome, isn't he?" said one of the cadets who was standing a few feet away from the instructor.
"Of course he is! Don't you know? He's the country's Wushu champion!"
"Tsk! Why would I lie? Just look him up on the internet!"
"Then what the f*ck is he doing here? Shouldn't he enroll in a sports college or something?"
"Yeah... Not so sure about that, brah. But I heard he's on the Special Admissions program."
"Cocky bastard," the instructor grunted. "I thought I had him." Suddenly, he shot a sheepish glance at Li Yundong. "I think I just made a fool of myself in front of those punks."
"Don't be too hard on yourself, sir." Li Yundong smiled at the instructor. "You only lost because you fought him fairly."
Indeed, if groin kicks or eye gouges were an option, Li Yundong would put his money on the instructor any day.
"And you're both in different weight classes," Li Yundong continued. "He's a heavyweight, and you're probably a…" Li Yundong appraised the instructor for a moment. "I'm guessing you’re a bantamweight? Or maybe a featherweight…?"
"Featherweight," said the instructor.
"There." Li Yundong smiled. "There's really no shame in losing to a heavyweight. In fact, I'm actually impressed that you could hold your own against the guy." Li Yundong jerked his chin towards the mats.
"Ah. A fellow martial artist, I see."
Li Yundong could feel the instructor's eyes appraising him. Li Yundong turned and gave the man a strange look. So he doesn't know about me. That's a nice change. Well, the guy was probably too busy conducting military drills to bother with the stupid university forums.
Li Yundong cleared his throat and gave the man a casual shrug.
The military instructor chuckled, then shook his head slightly. "Yeah. What am I even saying? You definitely know combat," he said. "It's written all over your posture. Not to mention all those combat jargon you were throwing around seconds ago."
Li Yundong smiled. "Well, I suppose I know a little bit."
That is if the definition of knowing combat extends to reading books on boxing, judo, Jiu-Jitsu, and JKD.
The cadets' cheers suddenly quieted down.
A second later, Li Yundong knew why: Feng Ji was walking towards them.
At first, Li Yundong thought the guy had come to apologize to the instructor. But as soon as Feng Ji got close, Li Yundong realized just how wrong he'd been. The asshole didn't even spare the instructor a single glance; instead, his eyes were trained on Li Yundong the whole time.
And those eyes weren't apologetic—they were taunting.
Li Yundong sighed inwardly. This guy was clearly another one of those "challengers" with a chip on their shoulders, one of those attention-seekers with something to prove and about a dozen egocentric axes to grind.
Perhaps there was a ring of truth after all in what Cheng Cheng had jokingly told him: trouble would find him even if he tried to keep a low profile.
Not that he could actually keep a low profile when people were constantly posting shit about him on the forums.
Feng Ji stopped at the edge of the mat and continued to stare at Li Yundong.
Li Yundong met the guy's stare for a moment, wondering what he was up to. As the death stare continued, those eyes glinted challengingly.
Then, Li Yundong wanted to laugh at himself.
He was a frigging Cultivator at the Shentong phase. He was the Jindan's Heir, for crying out loud.
Why the heck was he even bothering with such trivial nonsense?
Li Yundong didn't miss the look of puzzlement in Feng Ji's eyes when he answered Feng Ji's taunting smile with a graceful smile of his own. Nope. Not getting in your face, pal. Not today. Not ever.
Despite its grueling nature, Li Yundong was immensely grateful for his journey to Tibet. If Su Chan's appearance was the one thing that changed his life, then his Tibetan pilgrimage would be the thing that changed his soul.
He was a changed man after that trip, both inside and out.
Those moments he'd shared with Changbagela, Meiduo, and Zi Yuan had made him realize that there were far more important things in life than engaging in these meaningless scuffles just to feed his own ego.
The fact was that Li Yundong knew; he knew just how much power he now wielded, knew how much capacity for destruction his hands were now capable of.
There was no need to prove himself to anyone.
Li Yundong broke his eye contact with Feng Ji and turned to give the military instructor a polite nod.
"You have a good day, sir."
The military instructor returned his nod and even gave him a salute. For a fleeting moment, Li Yundong caught a glimpse of the approval and respect in the battle-hardened instructor's eyes. And that, to Li Yundong, was far more fulfilling than winning ten bouts of meaningless brawls.
Li Yundong realized that his had forgotten to deactivate his Eryue when he could still hear the cadets' chatter despite having walked quite some distance away from the mats.
"Hey, do you guys reckon that the whole display just now was Brother Feng's way of issuing a challenge?"
"Tsk! What kind of stupid question is that, man? Of course it was a challenge. Didn't you see the look Brother Feng was giving the guy when the guy walked away from him just now?"
"Yeah... He looked like a hungry beast ready to pounce..."
"I think he even cracked his fist a few times..."
"The Legendary Hero of Tiannan University..." There was a derisive snort. "I bet he's just another coward."
Li Yundong smiled to himself and kept walking.
I don't expect you morons to understand.
This wasn't him being a coward at all. In fact, it was the opposite; this was him having the courage to walk away from literally a free opportunity to show off his strength.
If he really wanted to, he could level the entire campus within seconds, and all it would take was a simple, six-syllable mantra.
But then what would be the point in unleashing that kind of power?
Other than to feed his own vanity and ego, there was no point at all in doing that.
For wielders of immense power, hubris is usually the first sign that they've been corrupted by the power they wield. This was what he'd learned over the past few months.
Oh, he had learned that lesson alright.
He had learned it the hard way, and his impending divine punishment was a proof of that.
During those long jogs between Tibetan towns, he had subjected himself to long bouts of self-reflection, had looked deep into his soul in order to understand his exact motivations for killing He Shao that night. And it was during then that he realized something crucial: amidst all that anger and that compelling need for vengeance, there was a small part of him that thought he had all the right to punish He Shao, that he actually had the right to act on behalf of the Heavens.
Then, after his long conversation with Zi Yuan at Tingri, he realized that Meiduo and Zi Yuan were both accurate in their assessments of what motivated him to end He Shao's life.
Yes, it was true that he had been willing to sacrifice his own life and suffer the karmic consequences of murder to spare others from He Shao's evil. Meiduo was right in that regard.
But Zi Yuan was right too. There was a moment where he had succumbed to hubris. He could see it clearly now; the truth, glaring right back at him. There had been a moment when he actually thought that he shouldn't be punished at all for killing He Shao; he had even whined and complained to Su Chan afterwards about how unfair his divine punishment was.
This is so unfair! Why do I have to die just because I helped rid this world of an evil man!!
Those were his exact words, the words of a self-righteous man, not of a man who is willing to take responsibility for his actions.
None of it mattered now, of course.
He had learned from his mistake and grown as a result.
And he was grateful, grateful to Zi Yuan, to Ao Wushuang, and to Su Chan for all the help and guidance that they had given him over the past few months.
Perhaps Ao Wushuang's success in delaying his divine punishment—and also her promise to help him survive the actual punishment—was the Heavens' way of giving him a second chance? Perhaps the Heavens wanted him to redeem himself by building his character and becoming a better man?
Whatever the Heavens had in store for him, and whatever his future held, there wasn't a single doubt in his mind how he should begin his path towards redemption.
By accepting his punishment like a man.