Huang Yifei staggered to his feet, his arms hanging limply at his sides as he trembled. The clinks of his iron bracelet pierced through the silence as he stood near the edge of the stage, staring at Li Yundong with wide eyes and quivering lips. He and his dimwit of a fellow apprentice had messed with the wrong guy. The fact that he couldn't feel his arms at that moment was clearly proof of that. Huang Yifei sucked in a deep breath, then exhaled, his lips tremoring uncontrollably. He gave Li Yundong the briefest of bows, then leaped off the stage. The moment his feet touched the floor, Huang Yifei turned around and headed towards the exit.
"Senior! What the hell are you doing?!" Zhou Yu hissed after he'd caught up with Huang Yifei.
"Shut up!" Huang Yifei said in a shaky voice. "We're in way over our heads— Tsk! Don't look back, you fool! Let's get out of here, now!"
Zhou Yu picked up his pace and caught up to Huang Yifei again. The two of them scurried towards the exit and left the hall.
Once they were outside the hall, Zhou Yu pulled Huang Yifei's arm to stop him. "Senior? What do you mean we're in way over our heads? What are you talking about? I don't understand! How did he punch you into the air like that? Was it some kind of trick?"
Huang Yifei turned around and grabbed Zhou Yu's collar. Zhou Yu shuddered at the look of menace in his senior's eyes. "I told you to shut the hell up!" Huang Yifei snarled. "Stop asking so many questions! We need to get out of here first!"
After that, Huang Yifei practically dragged Zhou Yu away from the grand hall towards the campus gates. Once they were inside their car, Huang Yifei heaved a sigh of relief. He glared at Zhou Yu, who was sitting in the passenger seat.
"How the hell did you manage to piss off a Cultivator, you fool!" Huang Yifei barked. "And you had to drag me into your shit!"
Zhou Yu gave his senior a befuddled look and said, "What Cultivator? What are you even talking about? You aren't making any sense! What's the matter with you today?"
Huang Yifei eyed Zhou Yu steadily, trying to figure if Zhou Yu was lying to him. About a minute later, when he couldn't detect any signs of deception from Zhou Yu's body language, Huang Yifei averted his gaze and leaned back in his seat with a sigh.
Zhou Yu watched his senior quietly from the passenger seat. A moment later, his senior broke the silence. "So you really didn't know?" Huang Yifei asked, staring out of the windshield.
"Know what?" Zhou Yu said, his voice teetering on the edge of his patience.
"Good," Huang Yifei muttered, removing the iron bracelets on his forearms. "Maybe you're better off not knowing."
"For f*ck's sake!" Zhou Yu threw up his hands in frustration. "Just explain to me what the hell's goin—"
Zhou Yu gasped when he saw the state of Huang Yifei's forearms, which were covered in green and purple patches. Zhou Yu knew how much time and effort his senior had spent on conditioning his arms to allow them to withstand harsh blows. With those iron bracelets on, nobody could bruise Huang Yifei's arms, not even if they smashed his arms with a giant mallet! Yet these contusions were caused by a single punch!
Huang Yifei's snort jolted Zhou Yu out of his stupor. It was as though his senior knew what he was thinking.
"All you need to know is that you're out of your depth," Huang Yifei said in a bone-chilling tone. "That guy isn't someone you can afford to mess with. In fact, if you value your life, I suggest you stay the hell away from him."
Huang Yifei started the engine, then raised his arms to grab the steering wheel. However, he winced and lowered his arms back down. He glanced at the bruises covering his forearm, then shook his head at Zhou Yu. "You're gonna have to drive," he said.
After they swapped seats, Zhou Yu drove off. They drove in silence for a while until Zhou Yu slammed his hands on the steering wheel and muttered a curse.
"Are we really gonna walk away just like that, senior?" Zhou Yu said in a tone of dissatisfaction. "We've just ruined Master's reputation by losing a challenge in front of so many people!"
"Just shut up and drive, dammit!" Huang Yifei snapped, causing Zhou Yu to flinch.
"Just think for a second, you fool. Think," Huang Yifei said coldly. "What good would it do if we stayed and fought? It was the right move to retreat before we get our asses kicked in public and ruin Master's good name even further!" Huang Yifei took a deep breath. "Listen, there'll be a rematch eventually, but not with us. This guy is way beyond what either of us can handle. Master has to take a trip to Canton to seek the help of another master!"
"Which master? You mean a master from another martial arts style?" Zhou Yu asked.
Instead of answering, Huang Yifei turned to the side and looked out of the window. Martial arts? Huang Yifei thought. No. Martial arts alone isn't enough to take down that guy. We need a Cultivator! An expert in the art of Shenda!
The grand hall went into an uproar after Zhou Yu and Huang Yifei scrambled away with their tails between their legs.
One voice below the stage was particularly loud: "Booooo!!!!! What a bunch of fakers! This isn't real sparring! This is a sham!"
The voice continued: "This is ridiculous!!! You Chinese are just a bunch of frauds!"
Good thing the voice spoke in English, otherwise it was doubtful that the dude could walk away from the hall with his limbs intact.
Kris, who was sitting beside the owner of the voice, yanked him back down.
"John! We're in China, you idiot!" Kris hissed. "Watch your tone!"
"I thought I could watch real Kung Fu in action during this trip," John scoffed. "Those fools are acting, not fighting. What a complete disgrace!"
Then, without waiting for Kris to reply, John charged towards the stage and leaped up onto it.
"John!!! What are you doing up there?! Get back down here!" yelled the teacher who was in charge of overseeing their trip.
Kris covered her face and moaned into her hands.
"Oh, God... Who even agreed to let this idiot come on this trip?"
Li Yundong turned to face the audience when he heard the boos and hisses.
A tall, blonde man leaped onto the stage, confusing Li Yundong even further.
"Another one?" Li Yundong said with a frown, looking towards the MC.
The MC didn't even notice Li Yundong looking at her, since she was busy staring at the six-foot-one blonde man, who was bouncing on his feet as he moved agilely around the stage. Her jaw dropped when the blonde man removed his jacket and shirt to reveal a bodybuilder's physique.
John tossed his shirt and jacket down from the stage towards the front row, then snapped his fingers at the beautiful MC. When the MC was brought out of her daze, he curled a finger at her. When the MC approached him tentatively, John took the mic from her and started rambling in English.
Never had Li Yundong regretted not paying attention during high-school English class more than he did now.
What the heck is he saying? Li Yundong thought. Dude even took his shirt off! Is this another challenge? The American rambled on while Li Yundong stared helplessly at the MC. Suddenly, the boos and hisses turned into cheers. The Americans in the front row got up to their feet and began clapping and whistling. Li Yundong retreated a few steps and glanced towards the right wing. I'm gonna kill her if this is one of her pranks, Li Yundong thought as his eyes landed on Feng Na, who was standing beside Su Chan and Chengcheng. Feng Na shook her head helplessly at him. Okay, this isn't her doing, Li Yundong thought, turning back towards the MC. Now what?
The American stopped talking and passed the mic back to the MC. About damn time, Li Yundong thought. The MC looked at Li Yundong briefly, then turned away to stare at somebody below the stage. Li Yundong walked towards the MC, then followed her line of sight. The MC was staring at the professors, who were all busy pretending not to notice the MC's deer in headlights expression.
The MC sighed and gave Li Yundong a look of resignation.
"He said his name is John Schelter, and he's a big fan of combat and martial arts," the MC spoke into the mic. "He wants to have a friendly spar with you."
"A friendly spar," Li Yundong repeated wryly. Not that he hadn't guessed as much.
"Hey, Chinese," John taunted. "Beating someone in a play-fight doesn't prove anything! Take me down if you want to prove yourself! Prove to me that Chinese martial arts aren't just for show!"
Li Yundong frowned at John in confusion, then turned to the beautiful MC. The MC leaned towards Li Yundong and whispered into his ear: "He's mocking you and Chinese martial arts in general. He is implying that Chinese martial arts are all just for show."
Before Li Yundong could say anything, the MC pushed away from Li Yundong and headed over to the edge of the stage, where she crouched down to speak to a professor.
Moments later, the MC stood up straight and walked back towards Li Yundong.
"Guess what," the MC said with a low chuckle. "It's time for you to play the diplomat. The professor said you're allowed to accept the challenge on the condition that you don't humiliate the challenger, or injure him."
"So you're saying that everything's fine and dandy if he injures me, but I'll be in deep shit if I do the same to him?" Li Yundong growled. "That's bullshit!"
The MC gave him a helpless shrug without saying anything.
F*cking suck ups, Li Yundong thought. Fine if you wanna play it that way! I'm going to kick this arrogant foreigner's ass and humiliate him in front of the audience. Let those suck ups clean up the mess.
Li Yundong gave the MC a nod. "I got it," he said.
"Give it your best shot, okay?" the MC whispered. "I'm rooting for you!"
Li Yundong gave the MC a brief smile, then turned his eyes towards the challenger.
Bring it on.
John nodded at the MC after she told him that Li Yundong had accepted his challenge. John approached Li Yundong, stopping when they were about three feet apart. Then, John held out his fist for a fist bump as a show of sportsmanship.
Hmph... I can't wait to beat your ass to the ground, John thought as Li Yundong’s fist touched his.
After the fist bump, the two fighters backed away from each other until they reached the side of the stage. John was on the left side of the stage.
Roars and cheers shook the hall. Most students there were patriots, so they were all shouting and screaming Li Yundong's name. There were, of course, a few who believed that Li Yundong's earlier performance was just a choreographed fight sequence. The latter bunch wanted John to expose Li Yundong's deception. However, none of the professors shared the students' excitement. To the professors, this "friendly spar" shouldn't have happened in the first place. Nothing good would come out of it, especially if either one of the fighters got injured during the fight.
John bounced on the balls of his feet a few times, then studied Li Yundong's stance. This guy clearly hasn't been in a real fight before, he thought. Don't close your eyes, moron. Keep your eyes on your opponent. And what's with that loose stance? Heh! He's leaving himself wide open for attack!
John laughed mockingly. "Let me show you what real combat is," he muttered under his breath. You're gonna pay for leaving yourself wide open like that, John thought, getting into his fighting stance. This is going to be over in seconds...
John released a loud roar, then charged towards Li Yundong.
John leaped into the air and executed an advanced Muay Thai technique — the flying knee strike!
Li Yundong's eyes shot open the moment he heard his opponent's footsteps. His Qi surged from his lower Dantian straight towards his upper Dantian, causing his eyes to flash like lightning. John leaped into the air to launch his attack, but Li Yundong wasn't worried at all. He did the same thing he did earlier to defeat Huang Yifei — throw a straight punch.
The shockwave generated by Li Yundong's fist crashed into John's chest. John, whose feet had already left the ground when Li Yundong threw the punch, flew across the length of the stage. A moment later, a loud thud sounded as John’s body crashed into the stage floor and slid through the side curtain of the stage into the left side wing.
The audience was thrown into an uproar.
Everyone saw it clearly this time. John's feet had already left the floor when he leaped up to execute the flying knee. In other words, it was impossible for John to "fake" being blown away by throwing himself backwards. Nobody could change the direction of their body's trajectory in midair!
What did this mean then?
Did it mean that Li Yundong was a Qigong practitioner?!
Everyone below the stage looked as though they had just seen a ghost.
Su Chan burst into laughter, then quickly slapped a hand over her mouth. She was standing in the stage’s right side wing (directly behind Li Yundong), so the people below the stage might hear her if she laughed too loudly. The last thing she wanted was to cause more trouble for Li Yundong.
Su Chan backed away from the curtain and crossed the length of the backstage towards the left side wing. She stopped beside John's body and began studying the blonde man curiously. The guy appeared to be unconsci—
All of a sudden, Su Chan froze. Dropping to her knees, she flipped John over so that he was lying on his back, and then felt his pulse.
All the blood drained from Su Chan's face when she realized that there was none.
He... He's dead... Yundong killed him with a punch! Su Chan thought.
Fear and panic wreaked havoc inside Su Chan's chest. She couldn't imagine the consequences that would follow Li Yundong's killing of this man, even if it was an accident.
Will Yundong be taken away? Su Chan thought. What about me? What about our life together?
No! I must save this man, Su Chan thought.
She needed to cast a spell to save this man's life, then everything would be alright.
Li Yundong tried not to smirk as he watched his opponent fly across the stage. Take that, you arrogant prick, Li Yundong thought. The crowd was in an uproar again, but Li Yundong didn't care. He just wanted this to be over so that they could go home. Then, he heard Su Chan's brief laugh, which turned his insides into a warm gooey pile of mush. However, when he turned around, Su Chan was no longer behind him. Moments later, he saw Su Chan appearing in the side wing opposite him. She stood beside John, staring down at the guy with a smile.
All of a sudden, Su Chan got to her knees, then flipped John's body over.
Wait... Is he unconscious? Li Yundong thought.
Something was wrong. He could feel it in his bones. Su Chan was no longer smiling, but was moving her fingers as though she was making a bunch of weird hand signs. At the same time, her lips were moving rapidly as though she was chanting something.
Li Yundong began to make his way towards Su Chan but stopped short when a shadow charged past him.
It was one of the Americans, a blonde woman.
The blonde woman reached the left side wing in record time, pushed the curtains further apart, and then shoved Su Chan aside.
When the blonde woman knelt down and put her fingers on John's neck, Li Yundong began to feel a twinge of fear. He snapped out of his stupor and began moving towards John.
However, the blonde woman's next words stopped him in his track.
"He's dead! You killed him!" the blonde woman yelled in Chinese. Her accent was slightly unnatural, though her words were clear. The guy was dead.
Li Yundong sprinted towards John and put his finger to the guy's nose.
Not breathing... Li Yundong thought, his face paling.
"Oh my God... Did I kill him?"