Chapter 1: The Aspiring Youth Expresses No Anxiety
It was a hot autumn afternoon. The sun was still blazing at 3 o'clock, dressing the black exterior walls of a large gymnasium in gold.
Large black letters were glimmering above the front entrance of the gymnasium, stating its name:
"Songcheng University Martial Arts Club!"
Looking from afar at the letters and the youths full of vigor and vitality streaming inside the gymnasium, Lou Cheng felt the vibrancy but hesitated to join them. He swallowed a lump of saliva down his throat and seemed to be bothered by the feeling that one would experience when returning home, though sure enough martial arts and the club had never been his home.
He could not help but turn to look at his roommate, Cai Zongming, who was standing nearby, seeking some psychological comfort. They met upon entering the university and soon became close friends, as birds of a feather. After the military training and course selection, they developed a friendship where they could comfortably exchange good-natured banters with each other.
Cai Zongming was over 1.8 meter in height and topped Lou Cheng by half a head. Lou Cheng had to admit that the tall and handsome Cai Zongming had the ﬁgure of some appealing heroes in Wuxia novels. Also, he was born in an afﬂuent family and had good taste in clothing, adding points to his charm. His only problem would be his gift of the gab!
"Cheng, why are you so nervous?" Cai Zongming noticed Lou Cheng's abnormal emotions and asked, still keeping his hands in the pockets of his cream-colored slacks. "It's just an orientation of the Martial Arts Club, and many students, like Old Qiu, won’t come to the orientation of Martial Arts Club. He just signed up but didn’t show up, instead, he went for self- study. It is not an examination, so why are you so concerned?"
Lou Cheng thought about it and found himself in need of advice. He carefully selected his words and asked his friend, this time using his nickname: "Casanova, do you remember the girl we met when we signed up?"
Claiming to have dated many girls, Cai Zongming was experienced and good at fabricating wild tales, which earned him the title "Casanova" among his roommates. Lou Cheng considered him a good consultant on love-related problems...
"Yes! How could I forget? Over one month here, I've only met two or three girls of her league. I would have accosted her, had I no true love!" Cai Zongming took a glance at Lou Cheng and smiled. "So what's the story? Having a crush on her? Longing to pursue her? You seemed like an honest and ponderous guy when I ﬁrst met you. Cheng, I didn't expect this from you!"
Lou Cheng hurried to clear himself. "Actually, I've known her since high school. We were in adjoining classes and we would stand right next to each other during the setting-up exercise to music. Day after day... You know?"
"Sure! Wait, does she know you?" Cai Zongming could barely keep a straight face. Lou Cheng shook at the mouth and glowered at Cai Zongming. Finally, he gave in and said in a low voice, "Not really…"
"I see... An unrequited love... Perfectly normal," Cai Zongming stopped teasing him. "No wonder you dragged me to join the Martial Arts Club. I thought you had somehow found out my hidden martial skills!"
"Bah! You are mere an Amateur Fifth Pin! What hidden martial skills are you talking about?" counterattacked Lou Cheng.
Until today, martial arts had run a long course of thousands of years. Neither a tale nor a myth, it carried on and on through decades of confrontation against science and technology until it had to change its tradition to integrate into the modern society. Even the ranking system of martial arts had adapted to this era. A special Ranking Event would be held by the Martial Arts Association to assess martial artists with the First Pin being the highest rank, and Ninth Pin the entry level. Below the entry level was nine amateur Pins for martial enthusiasts who were more than sufﬁcient to defeat the common mass. Cai Zongming tut-tutted. "Someone is not even of Amateur Ninth Pin. Comparing to you, I'm certainly a master, right? Let's ﬁght, and I'll use only one hand."
"Get lost," Lou Cheng cut him up and slowly walked forward after a deep breath. "She was very popular in my high school. I knew she was a fan of martial arts but I didn't know she had also entered Songcheng University. I saw it as some kind of destiny and was thrilled. So I dragged you into this to have more contact with her."
"Good. Reasonable enough," Cai Zongming took a few steps and suddenly burst into laughter. "Look, Cheng! Isn't that your goddess?"
With his heart thumping, Lou Cheng looked ahead following the direction Cai Zongming was pointing. Outside the main entrance of the Martial Arts Club gym there was a set of stairs with nine steps, on which he saw a girl in red and white traditional Han costume standing. Her small face was delicate and beautiful with exquisite features—a classic beauty from the south of the Yangtze River. She was Yan Zheke, the perfect girl Lou Cheng had constantly been thinking about. Her mother was from the south of the Yangtze River. Lou Cheng was stunned. It was the ﬁrst time he saw Yan Zheke in a Han costume. How gorgeous!
"How come she is working for the Martial Arts Club as a ceremonial usherette?" asked Lou Cheng with a confused look after he recovered from the shock.
She was also a freshman and the orientation was to take place today!
Cai Zongming laughed. "Simple. A girl of her league must have been contacted in advance by those senior members. Even if they can't win her heart, they can at least use her to promote the Martial Arts Club! Not like you, loser!"
"Aren't you the same…" Lou Cheng struck back.
"Well, actually, I'm not. I'm an Amateur-Fifth-Pin master, a future backbone for the Martial Arts Club…" Next, Cai seemed disturbed by some thought, "They should have contacted me in advance as well. An Amateur Fifth Pin is quite rare in Songcheng University Martial Arts Club. This year's freshmen are of this high quality? Besides that legendary Lin Que, would there be many of Amateur Third or Fourth Pin?"
While listening to Cai Zongming, Lou Cheng stared calmly at Yan Zheke standing on the steps like a star in the spotlight, outstanding and gorgeous, attracting all the attention. Many were probably ashamed of their appearance in front of her.
"Well, back to business. Cheng, here is a chance for you," Cai stopped talking to himself.
Lou Cheng turned and looked at him with dazed eyes. "What chance?"
"A chance to accost her! A chance to draw her attention." Cai Zongming heartily sympathized with this low-EQ pal.
"Accost her..." Looking at Yan Zheke from afar, Lou Cheng stammered, "Me?" He had never accosted anyone before and was never thinking about it. Would it be a good idea?
Cai Zongming shook his head and tut-tutted, "Though it mainly depends on your appearance and eloquence, you will never succeed if you don't dare to give it a try. On most occasions, girls may condemn cowards. Don't you adore her? What kind of adoration is it if you don't even dare to pursue? Besides, you are very likely to succeed according to my analysis. She might not even consider it as accosting."
"Why?" Lou Cheng became interested.
"Has the crush reduced your IQ? You two were schoolmates from the same city. What a perfect start! Being in this strange land, far away from acquaintances, she will certainly regard you as her ﬁrst choice when it comes to boys," Cai began to give an eloquent speech. "Imagine a young girl who has gone so far away from home for further education. Surrounded by strangers, how insecure she must be feeling now. Anyone with some common ground would be ideal for her to make friends with. As the saying goes, when two fellow townsmen meet each other, tears run down from four eyes. Not to mention you were once in the same grade of the same school! There are too many things for you guys to talk about, and the gap between you two is narrow.
"Just pretend to run into her and recognize her by chance. There is a ninety percent probability that you will get her QQ number or mobile number. Well, don't go too deep with her on your ﬁrst encounter. Get her QQ number and retreat."
Lou Cheng carefully listened with a pounding heart. He was very tempted, as what Casanova just said made perfect sense.
However, he soon sank into another hesitation. "But a man average as me doesn't deserve her. I don't know if I can provide her the life she wants. Err... I'd better not…"
That was what would be called as difﬁdence.
Cai Zongming was shocked for quite a while. "Cheng, isn't that too much at this moment? You don't even know each other yet, and you are already thinking about your married life with her? Your imagination impresses me…"
Giving Lou Cheng no chance to ponder further, Cai continued to persuade him. "Cheng, your intention to show responsibility and self-knowledge is good, but don't be a coward like this. We are in our ﬁrst year in a pretty damn good university doing an okay major. Four years of hard study should easily get us a decent job after graduation. Don't you have this conﬁdence? Or you are just going to be a quitter? Improve yourself and push yourself for her. Making yourself a better man for the one you love is true responsibility. Otherwise, your love for her will only move yourself. What counts is conscientiousness!"
Lou Cheng was amazed by Cai's words.
Cai Zongming waved his ﬁst and jumped to another topic. "Nothing is set yet. It remains unknown whether you can win her heart or not. Your chance is pretty small... Err... Come on! Cheng, no regret. We try and try. The aspiring youth express no anxiety!" Cai's speech turned Lou Cheng into an aggressive young man. His blood was boiling as he tried to suppress all the hesitation and concerns. Lou heavily nodded.
"I'll have a try!"
"Yes! Youth knows no failure!"
Looking at Yan Zheke's beautiful ﬁgure in red and white, Lou Cheng plucked up courage and was about to approach.
All of a sudden, Cai Zongming held him back.
"What's the matter?" Lou Cheng could feel his blood boiling.
Cai Zongming grinned. "Cheng, calm down. Your face is red like a monkey bum. She would be able to tell your attempt easily. Buy yourself a bottle of ice water to cool down ﬁrst." "Wow, Casanova, you are so experienced," Lou Cheng felt the heat on his face and almost stammered.
How exciting and frightening!
A good idea ﬂashed across his mind. He took the opposite direction, ran away from the grand venue for a hundred meters and returned. By the time he passed Cai Zongming on his way back, he could barely catch his breath.
"You..." Cai Zongming was lost for a second before he got the point. He gave a thumbs-up, "Smart!"
A red face from running should be enough to cover his blush.
While Lou Cheng's heart was racing, his pace slowed down out of timidity. Soon, he picked up his pace and moved away from Cai. He clenched his hands and talked to himself, "Umm, at least I'll give it a try!" He kept motivating himself while running toward the gymnasium and the beautiful ﬁgure in red and white.
Looking at his back, Cai Zongming hurriedly said, "Keep it short. You just met each other. Don't make it awkward. Leave a good impression for the future."
Lou Cheng waved to acknowledge his understanding and kept his pace up to get it done in one vigorous effort.
"This is youth..." A man with gray hair in his 70s or 80s was watching Lou Cheng from under a street tree by the pavement and got a bit sentimental. "I was once a young man just like him…"
Everyone has their youth!
Chapter 2: Everything Is Difﬁcult at the Start
The front entrance was not that far away. Soon enough, Lou Cheng reached the gym and walked up the nine steps. His heart was pounding fast and he felt his face burning. It was hard to tell whether the panting and ﬂush were from the long run or the upcoming accosting.
Rehearsing all the possibilities, Lou Cheng panted and clinched his hands to cheer himself up.
"What's there to fear? Man up!"
As different plots mingled in his mind for a few seconds, Lou Cheng slowed down and took frequent glances at the elegant Yan Zheke in that red and white Han costume, pretending she was just another person he was running by. Right before he brushed past her, he paused and asked in surprise, "You... Did you study in Xiushan No.1 Middle School?"
Yan Zheke stood there in amazement for a moment, as if she didn't hear him, but soon recovered and wiped the frown off. "Yeah. You are?"
Lou Cheng's heart was pounding hard but he managed to put on a smile under his heavy breath, "I was in class four. Every morning, I used to stand right next to you during the martial arts gymnastics. I mean, a few rows behind you... He-heh. Didn't know you were also here in Songcheng University."
Yan Zheke saw the light. Although she couldn't remember Lou Cheng, she lowered her guard and put on a smile along with two dimples. "I thought I was the only one from our high school here."
Keeping Cai Zongming's instruction in mind, Lou Cheng resisted the urge to scratch his head and replied humbly, "I kept it low and was thus not familiar with students from other classes."
The smiling Yan Zheke became even more attractive. Lou Cheng could hardly move his eyes away from her. Yan Zheke kept smiling without reluctance, showing her unfeigned joy, "What's your name? Maybe I have heard about you before? Your classmate Cheng Tao and his buddies attended our class."
Her voice was soft and gentle, without any shyness, as if she was born with this tone.
"Cheng Tao? He used to borrow my homework every day. I'm Lou Cheng, a nobody. I bet you don't know me," after a good funny line, Lou Cheng yielded to his impulse and continued, "But I know you, Miss Yan Zheke, one of the most popular girls in our grade... Actually, in the entire school. A girl smart and friendly as you are expected to go to the capital or Huahai for university. Who would have guessed you were here in Songcheng."
Hearing such a direct yet natural compliment, Yan Zheke turned her head and chuckled, "Had I come here because of an unsatisfying result at the college entrance examination, you would have offended me." "Damn it! What is wrong with me? Thankfully goodness Yan Zheke didn't fail the exam..." Lou Cheng thought to himself, quite terriﬁed and anxious as he thought about that possibility. He had almost thrown a "beautiful" in his compliment as well, but luckily he found it too ﬂippant for their ﬁrst conversation.
"No wonder Casanova warned me not to talk too much... He knows this kind of stuff." Recalling Cai Zongming's advice, Lou Cheng hastened to add, "It would be news if a celebrity like you failed the exam. Err... The crowd is coming. I'd better get going. I shall leave you with your work."
"Got it," answered Yan Zheke.
Lou Cheng took a deep breath and tried to put up a casual tone, "What's your QQ number, by the way? A few more students from our school are also here. We can have a get- together."
He held his breath and his heart stood still. The last sentence was merely an excuse to cover up his true intention of having her QQ number! Yan Zheke smiled and pointed at a red string around her neck without hesitation, "Can't keep my mobile in this suit. Take my QQ number and I'll add you soon. Don't forget to mention ‘Lou Cheng from class four, No. 1 Middle School.’ I don't accept requests from strangers. My QQ is XXXXXX."
"Got it," Lou Cheng was overjoyed and could barely remain calm. He repeated the number to himself and took out his mobile from the left pocket of his jeans. As soon as he logged in QQ and searched the number, a laugh broke out, "Dantai Cuihua?"
What a ridiculous name! The Yan Zheke online was the complete opposite from her real self...
Yan Zheke squinted to him a naughty smile, "Yeah, don't you ﬁnd the name super approachable?" She added on after a pause, "Don't you know its provenance?"
"The one that ruined all those fancy, elegant compound surnames," Lou Cheng didn't know but it was not hard to guess. Murong, Huangfu, Shangguan, Zhuge, Dantai… These special compound surnames with a beautiful given name would be perfect for characters in those romantic books or TV series. However, it could become hilarious given a boorish or patriotic add-on, such as Murong Jianjun, Huangfu Sufen, and Shangguan Weiguo.
Yan Zheke had joy in her eyes, "Yeah, isn't it interesting?"
"Very. Should I change my QQ name to Zhuge Ergou?" Lou Cheng enjoyed talking with Yan Zheke so much that he wished it could go on and on until a sudden cough came from behind him, as Cai Zongming approached.
Lou Cheng made great efforts to restrain himself and then he waved at Yan Zheke, "My friend is here. We have to go inside. See you."
"Bye," Yan Zheke waved back, which attracted quite some attention from others. Lou Cheng turned around to join Cai Zongming, unable to mask his joy.
"Not bad! I thought you would stammer. You've got potential." As Cai Zongming walked through the entrance, noise and bustle reached them, to the point where he no longer needed to whisper.
The martial arts gymnasium was split into two connected sections, of which one was laid as a ring of the size of a basketball court, surrounded by stands of seats, and the other had the size of four to ﬁve basketball courts and had all kinds of sports apparatus for daily martial training. The latter was decorated as the venue for the orientation, which was busier than Lou Cheng had expected.
"Seriously," Lou Cheng laughed, "The Martial Arts Club really is a big family."
"Of course. The Martial Arts Competition is the world's most popular competition, and martial arts masters are the world's most popular stars. For sure the Martial Arts Club is the largest in every university." Being the "best" writer is as meaningless as being the "second best" ﬁghter¹. After decades of peace, more and more martial tournaments were taking place these days and the extreme excitement from these limit-redeﬁning competitions could boost the audience's adrenaline level and arouse their heroism. It seemed those night prowlers were no longer an issue, and cowardice was cured for good. As this trend carried on, media and the show biz quickly caught up and ofﬁcial martial arts competitions came into existence.
Martial arts competitions could be simply classiﬁed into two groups: one was a derivative of the traditional conﬂicts among different martial factions, in which various martial sects, schools and clubs participated in a team event to ﬁght for the honor of the greatest heir of Chinese martial arts; the other was held for individuals to compete for the championship.
The former had become a national craze known as the Professional Martial Arts Competition, which was comprised of four leagues, with the premier one containing 12 teams representing the highest martial arts level in China. For those 12 teams, the worst humiliation they could ever suffer was to rank bottom in their league, thus degrading to a lower one. As for the latter, there were ﬁve national individual challenge tournaments, also known as Title Competitions. The champion of each of these tournaments would win the corresponding title and be acknowledged as one of the most capable martial artists in the country. For example, when someone won the championship of the Warrior Sage Event, he would hold the title Warrior Sage for the following year. So, a saying went "A title tops the Professional First Pin!"
Such tournaments could bring a pleasing commercial return for the leading forces and martial arts masters. Wealth came hand-in-hand with honor, popularity and far-reaching inﬂuence. Even universities were under the impact, bringing about the National University Martial Arts Competitions and ﬂourishing the university martial arts clubs.
Cai Zongming straightened his back to show bearings of a hidden martial arts master and asked, "Have you got her QQ number?"
QQ number? Lou Cheng could not hide his joy, "Of course!
Casanova, what should I do next?" "What do you think? Find topics to chat with her, get closer to her, learn her hobbies and wait for an opportunity to ask her out. Finding topics shouldn't be hard, right?" Cai Zongming took a contemptuous glance at Lou Cheng and joked along. "Or give me her QQ number and I'll do it for you!"
"No way," Lou Cheng cut straight to the point, "So lucky to have advice from the experienced."
"Sure you are. I have dated lots of girls," Cai Zongming sounded very pleased with himself.
Playing on the downside all this time, Lou Cheng's mind clicked and murmured at Cai, "How old are you again?"
"Eighteen. So? Can't I have many girlfriends? I met my ﬁrst love in Grade Three!" Cai Zongming didn't seem to like being doubted about his strong point.
"No. I mean... You've had so many girlfriends over the years, but none of your relationships lasted. It must be your fault…" Lou Cheng's eyes ﬂashed all over Cai. He seemed to come to some realization.
Cai Zongming's face turned stiff as he complained, "Do you want to continue this conversation or not?"
Then he casually threw a brief explanation, "I've dated my pen friends. You know, easy come, easy go. A lack of contact for a short period was enough to kill the passion. Some of my dates transferred to another school. What could I do? And some were just not right... You know the song ‘it is easy to fall in love but hard to be together morning and night’. In short, I'm not a playboy and I've been behaving for a long time. Don't you call me a playboy or Casanova in front of my girlfriend! Actually, can't you give me a better nickname? Casanova is terrible. Stop calling me that, OK?"
"You got it, little Ming," Lou Cheng grinned.
Cai Zongming seemed to freeze and then heaved a sigh, "Casanova is ﬁne." "Yes, little Ming." Lou Cheng scored one and instantly cheered up.
There was always one thing to conquer another. Cai Zongming valued his current long-distance girlfriend in the same way Lou Cheng did for Yan Zheke.
Cai Zongming burst into laughter.
"Cheng, if we signed up for Crosstalk Club instead of the martial arts one, we would be famous for certain."
His voice was followed by a sudden turmoil outside the door.
"Lin Que is coming!"
The crowd began to move toward the entrance. Lou and Cai exchanged a glance with excitement, thrill and curiosity. They joined the mass toward the entrance.
Rumors had been spreading that a genius who had achieved the Professional Ninth Pin certiﬁcate at the age of 18 had joined the club at the entry level of professional martial arts, Lin Que had surpassed the majority of disciples of martial sects and students of martial arts schools.
A talent as him entered a university instead of any martial sect, school or club!
Among freshmen of the universities circle, Lin Que was not the only one who gained the Professional Ninth Pin. But for Song Cheng University, it was its ﬁrst time to receive such a genius.
That genius was Lin Que!
Chapter 3: A Real Man Is Like That
The crowd was jostling inside the gym. Fortunately, Lou Cheng and Cai Zongming had just made their way in, so they were close enough to the door to see two ﬁgures walking through it.
A man in suit with saggy cheeks and wrinkles at the corners of his eyes had his hair combed back. Appearing to be the coach of the Martial Arts Club, he walked at a steady pace while looking around solemnly. His solemnity softened when he turned to the man in jeans and a white t-shirt next to him, who was half a head taller than him. Slender and with short hair, this fresh-looking young man was carrying a bulging black gym bag on his back.
"He must be the legendary Lin Que," Lou Cheng thought.
Lin Que's appearance quickly quieted down the gymnasium, like a silencer. He remained cool and continued walking despite all the eyes locked on him, ﬁlled with curiosity, excitement, and adoration. He gave a gentle nod without a word when he was introduced by the coach, and then he was led through the crowd straight into the locker room, as if he were a celebrity.
The short silence was replaced by a fervent discussion as soon as his ﬁgure disappeared.
"The Martial Arts Club does have handsome boys!"
"How charming and challenging!"
These were some comments from the girls.
"What's that apathy for…"
"The capable ones are never easygoing." "If I had the rank of Professional Ninth Pin, I would be just as proud as him!"
"Our club is going to rock!"
"Yeah, when we defeat Guannan and Neihai, they can be arrogant no longer!"
"We might reach the amateur ﬁfth or sixth pin by the university graduation with his help. One more way to make a living..."
Those comments were from the boys.
As Lou Cheng withdrew his eyes, he happened to notice Yan Zheke in that red and white Han costume by the door. Her face and eyes were ﬁlled with admiration, just like the other girls.
"Sign... How much I envy him!" Lou Cheng complained to Cai Zongming. "I wish I were of Professional Ninth Pin to enjoy this."
Cai Zongming tut-tutted. "It is a good time to quote some classic to show your literature skills. You should say 'a real man is like that'!"
"A real man is like that..." After a moment of reﬂection on it, Lou Cheng took a glance at Yan Zheke and quipped to Cai Zongming. "And you will then say 'I can replace him'?"
"You really are my bosom friend." Cai Zongming laughed and raised one arm with a clenched ﬁst to show his muscle. "Though I skipped quite some martial arts training sessions, I've made it to Amateur Fifth Pin. Imagine if I take it super seriously. I'll reach Professional Ninth Pin in no time and become the most charming man in the Martial Arts Club!"
"You are probably the only one that can talk about skipping classes this proudly." The two continued to exchange good- natured banters.
After a while, Yan Zheke went into the women's locker room. The Orientation started on time. As the light was turned on, a muscular man stepped into the ring.
"Everybody, I am Chen Changhua in my senior year, manager of this Martial Arts Club…" In a black leotard, Chen Changhua looked sharp and husky. As he went on to introduce himself with a big smile, his ﬁerce look softened.
"Ha-hah! Check out his eyebrows. They remind me of the song 'Bugs ﬂying o bugs ﬂying'..." whispered Cai Zongming to Lou Cheng during Chen Changhua's speech.
Lou Cheng glanced at him. "Casanova, you really should join the Crosstalk Club. Don't waste your talent!"
Their whispering back and forth seemed to have no impact on Chen Changhua's introduction.
"As you all know, Martial Arts Realm has four stages - body reﬁning, Qi, invulnerability, and restriction. The latter two are out of our concern today, as the amateurs are probably never gonna get there. So I'll focus on explaining body reﬁning and Qi. The body reﬁning stage is all about training our body like reﬁning pills of immortality or smelting metals. It requires coordination from many aspects. A trance training or a session in the weight room is far from enough.
"I'm telling you this because I want you to know that no prior martial arts training experience is okay. We will help you with it. The Songcheng University Martial Arts Club has a long history and our body reﬁning training is professional and proper to the tradition, nothing like that taught in those random martial arts clubs or gyms. Commit yourself to it for the next four years and you will easily reach the rank of amateur ﬁfth or fourth pin, which will be enough to get you a coaching position in any martial arts club or gym. Then, you will have one more way to make a living.
"If some of you are true martial arts enthusiasts, you do have a chance to pass the Ranking Event and rank Professional Ninth Pin. I don't have a special gift in martial arts but I'm hard-working. Last year I got my Amateur First Pin certiﬁcate and now I'm preparing for the coming Ranking Event. So you know the Professional Ninth Pin is totally possible for us Songcheng University Martial Arts Club members. Diligence and devotion will get you everything! "Of course, if you are a real talent, it is also possible to break through the body reﬁning state and enter the Qi practice. Shanbei University has a genius who's been giving us lots of trouble whenever we encounter…"
Lou Cheng frowned in confusion and turned to Cai Zongming. "Shanbei University got last year's championship of the university martial arts event?"
"That's right," nodded Cai Zongming.
Lou Cheng asked with some hesitation. "Chen Changhua's words sounded a bit weird, didn't they?"
It seemed that he was secretly alluding to someone...
"Weird for sure. He's talked so much and I'm gonna summarize it into two sentences. First, Professional Ninth Pin is not that rare, so Lin Que is not a big deal." Cai Zongming laughed before continuing, "Second, our Martial Arts Club is not doing very well because our competitors are too strong!" Having his suspicion conﬁrmed, Lou Cheng shook his head. "Chen Changhua seems to have a problem with Lin Que. But isn't it bad for him to say it out loud?"
"Whatever. It has nothing to do with us." Cai Zongming got bored and took out his mobile.
Finally, Chen Changhua ﬁnished his long speech and put on a smile.
"Well, now let me introduce you our senior members. They all have experience in the Ranking Event and they are of Amateur Sixth Pin or higher…"
Before Lou Cheng could raise his head to have a proper look, Cai Zongming pulled at his clothes.
"Come on. Let's go back," Cai Zongming lowered his voice.
Lou Cheng didn't expect this. "Now? It's still early." "Are you waiting to meet those senior members? Come on! You are here for a girl. Do you actually think yourself an undiscovered talent who had no basic training in his ﬁrst 18 years but will just achieve enlightenment all of a sudden and rocket to become a martial arts master greater than all the
senior members? Do you see yourself winning the championship of the National Martial Arts Competitions for Songcheng University and attract attention from the top guys to start your rising to the peak of your life with money and women?" Cai Zongming indeed had talents in joking.
Lou Cheng laughed with embarrassment. "We are already here. Let's stay and see."
Cai Zongming looked around and said, "You are just gonna mess around here until you get your girl. What's the point in meeting the senior? I can teach you anyway..."
Cai Zongming lowered his voice. "If you leave now, you will have one more pretext to talk with your goddess."
"Ha?" Lou Cheng was lost. "Think about it. You make up some excuse to leave early and later you can ask her what you have missed. Schedule for training sessions or anything. A conversation starts naturally without making yourself an aversion of hers. Then, you can easily move on to other topics," Cai Zongming spoke with fervor.
Lou Cheng gazed at him for a few seconds.
"Little Ming, I admire only you among all the roommates!"
"Call me Casanova, please!" Cai Zongming slightly bent over and made his way toward the exit while the senior members were going into the ring. Lou Cheng followed behind him.
As soon as they got out, Lou Cheng was surprised to see an artistic man was ﬁlming them with an eye-catching camera.
"Damn! My skipping martial arts lesson is going on television?" A young girl in a classic ofﬁce outﬁt stood next to the cameraman.
Seeing Lou Cheng and Cai Zongming walking out, the young girl, with some nerdy looks, approached with a bright smile.
"Hello! I'm a reporter from Songcheng TV Station. Do you have time for a quick interview?"
With a refreshing short haircut, long dark eyebrows, clear eyes and a cute nose, she looked like a fresh graduate with a pair of dimples when she smiled. The identity card placed in front of her chest had her name, Shu Rui.
"What interview?" asked Lou Cheng to the microphone.
"No problem," Cai Zongming answered with no hesitation.
They looked into each other's eyes and saw mutual disdain. The reporter Shu Rui raised her pretty oval face and smiled. "Are you members of the Songcheng University Martial Arts Club?"
"Damn! We are caught skipping class on site..." Lou Cheng thought as he scratched his head before replying, "Yeah. We... We've got an emergency."
"Yes, an emergency that we have to leave early," answered Cai Zongming calmly.
Shu Rui didn't seem to care. She maintained her professional smile. "Did you see Lin Que earlier in there?"
"Yeah." Lou Cheng and Cai Zongming looked at each other with astonishment as they heard the interview was about Lin Que.
It actually made sense to see a reporter there considering Songcheng University was the best university of the city and martial arts was the hottest sport these days. Shu Rui gave another smile. "Lin Que is the very ﬁrst freshman of Professional Ninth Pin in the history of Songcheng University. What do you think about his decision to join the Martial Arts Club? Any opinion?"
"Pretty good. Our martial arts club can probably make it to the next level," answered Cai Zongming, grinning.
Lou Cheng smiled sincerely. "Very excited. I'm actually thrilled. We are lucky to have him."
Shu Rui withdrew the microphone and her eyes were sparkling. "Thank you for taking this interview."
Watching the reporter and cameraman enter the gymnasium, Lou Cheng and Cai Zongming spoke at the same time.
"Cheng, was my smile a bit stiff?" "Casanova, was my smile a bit silly?"
They shared some laughter and the tension faded away.
"It's gonna be my ﬁrst time on TV. Kinda weird," Lou Cheng rubbed his cheeks.
Cai Zongming grinned. "Me too. Well, they might not use it. Lin Que is the key. He-heh. The reporter was not bad, beautiful, pure and in very good shape. Did you notice her legs? Longs and straight. I like her better than your goddess."
"Hello, 911? I'm calling to report a pervert," Lou Cheng took out his phone on purpose.
"Get lost!" Cai Zongming complained. "Just kidding."
Lou Cheng laughed. "Well, when I meet my sister-in-law someday, I'll tell her that Little Ming has been behaving!" They chatted and laughed on the way back to the dormitory and soon threw the interview behind.
The dormitory of Songcheng University were two-bedroom ﬂats with a basic living room, a balcony for laundry to the left and a bathroom and separated squatting toilet to the right. Two bedrooms, one on each side of the aisle, were shared by eight students altogether, each having their own bed on top of their desk, next to their wardrobe.
The two were not in the same bedroom. As soon as they entered the living room, Cai Zongming took out his mobile. "Cheng, I'll make a phone call. Wait for me to have dinner together."
"Huh. How sweet!" Knowing Cai Zongming would spend hours on the phone with his girlfriend, Lou Cheng decided to play some computer games in his room.
Walking into the empty room, Lou Cheng knew his three roommates were still in the study hall. "So hard-working..." He felt embarrassed seeing their diligence.
The time was a bit awkward, not enough to ﬁnish a game but too much to be doing nothing. Lou Cheng soon calmed himself down and signed in the forum.
That was a platform hosting a collection of different forums. There was a forum for pretty much anything you could think of and it had quite some users. Lou Cheng was visiting the Longhu Club.
Longhu Club was in the premier league of the Professional Martial Arts Competition and was one of the most competitive forces for the title of the most powerful heir of Chinese martial arts. Founded just over three decades ago, it was like a little baby compared to those sects with a history of hundreds of years. This young club and its martial arts school for different age groups had been challenging those noble, ancient and inﬂuential sects and had scored a good number of victories. Chen Qitao, known as the Dragon King and who was also one of the Legendary Twins of the modern martial arts world, was the best example of Longhu Club's excellent members. Such a martial arts club with such a matchless martial artist was certainly charming, and Lou Cheng was one of its numerous fans.
In the forum, Lou Cheng subconsciously put on a wicked smile and used the name Schrodinger's Tiger to post.
"Urgent! Just joined a Martial Arts Club today. How can I appear to be a frequenter?"
Chapter 4: A Human's Strength Is Limited Sometimes
The Longhu forum attracted a large number of fans, always having huge trafﬁc. It would only take a few minutes for any post to sink to the second page if no one replied to it. Thanks to Lou Cheng's eye-catching title, people noticed his post quickly.
The reply came from an ID called "Above the Sky", with an avatar photo of a rock and roll teenage girl: "The second ﬂoor! Become my apprentice and I will tell you!"
She was popular in the forums, and Lou Cheng was about to call her master, but suddenly the name of Yan Zheke echoed in his mind, and a tiny bit of guilt set in. How could he tease others if he was secretly in love with someone else?
At this time, the second reply popped out. "A Plumber Eating Mushrooms" said:
"First of all, buy yourself one set of exercise clothes, and then enter the class a few minutes late. Put on a grave and stern face and walk with steady steps. Meet your coach and tell him, 'I am sorry. I got hurt in a match earlier. Restorative exercises would be ﬁne for me today.' And then if the coach agrees, you could practice tai chi, do some stretching or take a walk. If the coach disagrees, you give him a serious stare and take a ﬁrm stand. Eventually, you will be OK. Well, one quick question, can you beat the coach?"
The answer was not intended to help, being merely a joke, yet Lou Cheng smiled and replied: "What if I cannot beat the coach?"
As he sent out the message, the page was refreshed, and several other replies emerged.
"Okamoto's Fan" posted: "Is the coach a woman? Chase after her! Amuse her!"
"Invincible Punch" went: "We do not have such a problem in our martial arts school. Behave yourself if you cannot beat the coach." "Road to the Arena" said: "Offer your coach some money in private. Since you have zero experience, all you have to do is exercise and pretend to be a ﬁghter. But it took me some real effort to get into the martial arts world."
"Outspoken" suggested: "Go exercise until your physical strength is improved. Or else you may ﬁnd the standing practice unbearable, and even the girls in the class would be better than you, wouldn’t that be even more humiliating?"
These four were the frequent visitors of the forum. Although Lou Cheng was a newcomer, he had spent some time in the forum over the last few months, so he was kind of familiar with these people:
"Okamoto's Fan" was one ﬁlled with dirty jokes, who made whatever topic a sex topic.
"Invincible Punch" was a student in martial school, one year older than Lou Cheng. He was already an Amateur First Pin, and was working hard to enter the professional circle. He always gave accurate and elaborated analysis of martial arts. Besides, his good character made him well received in the forum.
"Road to the Arena" always boasted about how rich he was or how he was taught by well-known masters. He claimed he owned a Professional Ninth Pin certiﬁcate, but he gave up a martial arts career to inherit the family fortune. Thus, a swarm of fans followed him.
"Outspoken", as his ID revealed, was somehow low on EQ, and offended people easily.
As a newcomer, Lou Cheng replied to them one after another: "Sorry to disappoint you, but my coach is an old man," to "Okamoto's Fan"; "Take it easy…" to "Invincible Punch"; "I am only a student, and I am saving the money for myself," to "Road to the Arena"; "You are correct. I had hardly ever done any exercise in the senior year of high school, and I wasted my summer hanging around. I should really work on my physical strength," to "Outspoken".
A few more replies came up after he sent out those words. "Unparalleled Dragon King" replied: "Martial Arts Club in a university? Which university? If you are in Shanbei, Capital, or Huahai, please ask Peng Leyun or Ren Li for their autographs! Wait no more! They are true geniuses and will be top Pin ﬁghters one day. Last year, in the ﬁnals of the National Martial Arts Competitions, they beat their seniors, who had inherited supernatural abilities from their predecessors. I have no idea why they stay in the university. You should seize the
opportunity and ﬁnd them!"
"Wonton Seller" send a cute emoji and wrote: "Go get them, Little Tiger, and keep working on your physical build!"
"Unparalleled Dragon King" was obsessed with martial arts and "Dragon King" Qitao was his idol. Lou Cheng had to reply, "Do not mention my stupid school, please."
He had spent his entire senior year in high school preparing for the national exam, and if there were any spare time and attention, he would focus on "Professional Martial Arts Competition" and ﬁve "title match" instead of "National University Martial Arts Competitions", not to mention the players such as Peng Leyun or Ren Li. "Wonton Seller" was a lively, gentle young girl in her second year in high school, who was well-liked by the elder members of the forum. Lou Cheng answered with a smile, "Why not wish me success in dominating the martial arts circle of the universities?"
Meanwhile, he also received replies to his previous posts.
"A Plumber Eating Mushrooms" said half-jokingly: "Since you are no match for your coach, as a Schrodinger’s tiger, all you can do is Fierce Tiger Falling Moves!"
Fierce Tiger Falling Moves meant crying for pardon with four limbs on the ground.
"Okamoto's Fan" said: "A male coach? All you can do is turn around and bend over!"
With an awkward smile on his face, Lou Cheng continued to browse through other posts for gossips of the various martial arts legends. He followed his own post closely and replied to comments timely. Of course, he prioritized his responses. Naturally, he tended to reply ﬁrst to the members who had a good relationship with "Pig-Riding Knight", the moderator. They formed a small fringe group including "A Plumber Eating Mushroom", "Above the Sky", "Unparalleled Dragon King" and "Wonton Seller".
Due to the living conditions in Lou Cheng's family, he had no PC before high school. Then, when he ﬁnally owned one, he had to study hard and play less. After the national exam, Lou Cheng ofﬁcially embraced the online world, full of interests in forums and QQ, especially when he met someone with similar ideas.
Lou Cheng felt delighted through the discussion, but then he noticed sky was already darkening. He found "Wonton Seller" had posted a new reply: "For I am simple and young, please fool me no more. Little Tiger, you are not even an Amateur Ninth Pin, how can you dominate in martial arts clubs? Little Tiger, stick to where you are, and ﬁnd yourself a promising job!"
As he smiled and replied, he heard a soft knock on the door, so he turned back. It was Cai Zongming standing by the door, looking embarrassed. "Cheng, please go and enjoy your dinner by yourself. I have to treat the people from my hometown tonight."
Lou Cheng made a mocking gesture with his index ﬁngers pointing down and thumbs stretched out.
Dusk was closing in. The last class would be dismissed in any minute. Now, he was more worried about the endless lines in the cafeteria. He turned off his PC, left the dorm and hastened toward the nearest cafeteria.
The dining hall was not crowded yet. Lou Cheng stepped to the counter, pointed to some dishes on the left and asked, "Rice with potatoes and beef, and lots of gravy, please."
Since the university was subsidized, its cafeteria provided inexpensive but substantial meals. Lou Cheng could spend less than 20 Yuan on food per day. If he had ordered less meat, 10 Yuan would have been enough. Of course, with such an advantage comes another price. For one thing, the taste, quality, and quantity of meals varied every day; besides, he would never know what course would come up. Thus, the Cafeteria Food was called "the Ninth Style of Cooking in China."
In Songcheng University, the braized potatoes and beef were cooked differently. They were soaked in delicious gravy. The potatoes were stewed so soft and tender that they nearly melted into the soup, and someone could ﬁnish a big bowl of rice served only with it. However, Lou Cheng’s favorite was still the fat beef, juicy and fresh, not quite like the tasteless lean beef.
Perfectly satisﬁed with his dinner, Lou Cheng decided to head back and play video games or chat with Yan Zheke on QQ. Suddenly, he recalled what "Outspoken" commented.
"I am indeed not strong, and I should work out more. I cannot make a fool out of myself in the Martial Arts Club, especially in front of Yan Zheke…" Lou Cheng mumbled to himself and decided to take a walk by the Weishui Lake. He would try jogging for one or two laps after his dinner had gone down. As the old saying goes, sharpen one’s spear just before going into battle. Songcheng University was located downtown. As the number of students soared, a new campus was built in the suburb, and it was called the "campus with landscape garden". Therefore, the Weishui Lake was included within the campus. It was a small lake with a vast expanse of misty, rolling waters, surrounded by green grasses and singing nightingale, just like a beautiful landscape painting.
Lou Cheng walked around the lake for half a lap, approaching the wasteland that was not yet under construction. It was dark and a cold wind was blowing. Lou Cheng noticed no one was around, except the dense woods. He trembled with fear, imagining all kinds of ghosts and monsters.
He tightened his coat, started to run back to get out of that place. Maybe there was no ghost, but a band of robbers could be waiting for him right there.
He ran for a while and started to pant. He started to feel exhausted and had no choice but to slow down to take deep breaths. At the moment, Lou Cheng heard a sound in the lake. He looked toward the direction it came, and he saw a black carp writhing by the lake, almost 20 cm in length. Its scales were dry and had a lot of scorch marks, as if it had been burnt by ﬁre.
The black carp skipped and hopped high, and then fell to the ground with the other side up. The scales on this side were covered with white frost, as if it had just been taken out of the freezer.
"What the…" Lou Cheng gasped in surprise. How can a carp be served half roasted and half raw, wait, I mean, half burnt and half frozen?
As he got ready to run, the black carp stopped struggling. The side of the carp split open and something inside the carp's belly started to emerge. It looked like a shining moon hiding within the carp’s belly, cold and bright, casting light upon the surroundings and turning them into a dreamland. Lou Cheng decided to take a better look. In the carp’s belly, there was a ball that was glistening as if it was encrusted with crystals. As Lou Cheng approached, the ball reﬂected the whole universe, like a spinning nebula. Every crystalline piece was a planet, encircled by light purple ﬂames, an image of the fusion between ﬁre and ice.
For a moment, Lou Cheng frowned, and then talked to himself, "It seems like a Jindan (the Golden Elixir) in a martial arts novel."
The crystal nebula was still there, tempting Lou Cheng, but he thought to himself and took out the phone to try to ﬁnd details about Jindan or internal alchemy on the internet.
"Never touch strange stuff!"
"Never touch unidentiﬁed objects!"
Lou Cheng was surprised by the search results. A well-known martial arts website mentioned: "In ancient times, the martial arts world was divided. Some people intended to break the limit of life to live forever, so they hid from everyone else. They lived in seclusion, taking an alternative way of martial arts training. They called themselves immortality trainers. After one or two millennia, through their relatives and clues obtained from caves that they lived in, we found out that they had succeeded in cultivating the internal alchemy and achieved immortality. However, they failed to pass the secret method to the next generation. As for immortality, a human's strength is limited sometimes..."
"A human's strength is limited sometimes…" Lou Cheng muttered to himself like he was somewhat enlightened.
"Maybe the shining ball is the real "internal alchemy", left by the last immortality trainer and mistakenly swallowed by a black carp inside a cave.
"Is this my destiny?
"Or maybe this is dangerous, and I will end up like that black carp? "There are one or two opportunities that could really change your life path. If you miss it, you will regret for the rest of your life. Is this my opportunity? Or am I doomed?"
Lou Cheng pondered over and over. Finally, after taking a deep breath, he took off his coat and wrapped his right hand with it, and stepped forward slowly, intending to pick up the ball with the greatest care.
As the saying goes, never let go of any opportunity, but always stay cautious as if walking on thin ice!
Chapter 5: A Flash of Thought
It was getting chilly in late autumn. As the night breeze blew, Lou Cheng, with his jacket off, felt an unexplainable kind of dry heat instead of a shivering cold. It was the kind of feeling one got when they were faced with a college entrance examination that was beyond their abilities.
Getting close to the glittering and translucent "Jindan", he held his breath and bent down carefully. Taking precautions, he carefully wrapped his right hand with his jacket and carefully reached out to touch it. Upon touching it, it gave him the impression of being solid, and the chilly cold and scorching heat seen by his naked eye were merely an illusion instead of reality.
Lou Cheng pressed a little harder, and the Jindan gave in accordingly. It had looked light as a feather, as if it was nothing, but when he touched it, the feeling would be completely different.
Lou Cheng was panic-stricken at the difference. He stared at it with ﬁxed attention and recognized that it was lying calmly in his palm wrapped with the jacket. The center started to spin, creating a swirl of ice crystals and ﬂames, yet it showed no sign of the cruelty and horror that had previously burnt and frozen the black carp.
"It's magic," Lou Cheng welled up this thought in his heart and tried to search for a reason for that change. "Perhaps the cruelty and ﬁerceness that had been in the Jindan had been dissipated and extracted by the black carp..."
With the danger gone for the moment, Lou Cheng started to think about how to handle the problem, as it was hard to conﬁrm whether the thing before his eyes was a Jindan. Even if it was, he had no idea what effect it had. "Shall I just turn it over to the state and suffer no misfortunes, yet also reap no beneﬁts? Or shall I conceal it, look for information, study it slowly, then use it to my advantage to change my ordinary life? It's a big risk to conceal it like that, but it's also a big risk to not achieve anything during your entire life.
"If I do take it with me to hide it, where should I put it? How could I keep it safe?" With these thoughts going through his mind one after the other, Lou Cheng realized with his remaining lucidity that he should leave this place as soon as possible, no matter what his decision was, for fear that some incident or change might unexpectedly come.
Suddenly, he felt the Jindan in his palm was gently expanding and then shrinking, like a human being inhaling and exhaling. Furthermore, the frequency seemed to be constantly adjusting.
At a loss, Lou Cheng's mind went blank and he could only sense his breath, but he noticed the expansion and shrinkage of the Jindan were resonating with his breathing, in a harmonious rhythm.
As the thought formed in his mind, he saw that the Jindan had become more illusory as it turned to a ﬂow of light that drilled into his palm, seemingly unstoppable even with the obstruction of the thin jacket.
"How could this be real? What is going on!?" Lou Cheng was terriﬁed by what he had just seen. His heart was stricken with fear, and his mind was ﬁlled with the pitiful sight of the black carp.
He took a few steps back, unable to think carefully, then turned around and ran toward the school hospital located further ahead on the road, at the lakeside. Of course, he didn't stop to consider if the doctors would have the ability to treat the damage caused by the Jindan.
After running for a while, Lou Cheng slowly calmed down and realized that fear and panic made no difference to the matter, but only burned up his physical energy when the situation went out of hand.
After cooling down, he frowned after suddenly feeling that something was wrong. There was an uncomfortable feeling in his lower stomach. With each breath, a warm current welled up and rushed toward his feet and lungs, easing the aches and pains from the running. His previous panting became slow and steady. He felt he could run for another three thousand meters without a break, and there were no signs of the previous concerns about the scorching hot and chilling cold.
"This..." breathing in lightly, Lou Cheng slackened his speed, tried to calm down and looked down at his stomach.
As he bent down, he felt a buzz in his head and vaguely saw a fantastical scene: In the spot directly under his own navel, called the Dantian by those in the martial arts world, was the Jindan. Nestled there, it seemed as if it contained a boundless nebula, and it expanded and contracted with his breathing. Ice crystals and blazing ﬂames swirled together brightly with each breath.
This vision seemingly disappeared in an instant, and Lou Cheng was left with only the sight of his own dark blue T-shirt. He lifted the bottom carefully, only to ﬁnd his usual soft and full belly, as if he had just ﬁnished a big meal.
After gradually slowing down his footsteps, he ﬁnally stopped. With the rhythm of his breathing coming back to normal, the hot current in his lower stomach disappeared.
"Does the Jindan supplement my strength when I am tired?" Lou Cheng frowned and thought about the change, "This may be a blessing. It doesn't seem like it has any ill will, but after all, human beings and black carp are not the same..."
After waiting for a while, Lou Cheng gradually relaxed and his expression went back to normal. There was no sign of the previous raging ﬁre and viscera-freezing cold.
"Let's try that again..." He decided and turned around to run along the previous path.
It was simply a fact that running made one tired, just like the fact that every man would eventually die. After a while, Lou Cheng started to feel exhausted, and this was the very moment the warm feeling in his lower stomach's Dantian appeared again and created a hot current to relieve his body.
"It is cool! I can even participate in the distance race of the school if I continue practicing this way..." Lou Cheng gradually felt more joy than worry and stopped in front of the dead black carp.
After thinking for a while, he bent over to pick up the black carp, stuffed it with stones from the shore, and threw it back into the Weishui Lake.
After all of this, he turned again and walked along the lakeside path back to the boy's dormitory.
Along the way, on the one hand, Lou Cheng was quite pleased with the fact he'd found his own genuine treasure. He hoped that he might become one of the well-regarded backbones of the martial arts club one day and gain the favor of Yan Zheke as well as the admiration of fans. On the other hand, he became worried about the risk of the Jindan and was afraid to follow the fate of the black carp and die at a young age. As a result, his steps were brisk one moment and heavy another.
"I'll just check it out ﬁrst. If there's any problem, I'll immediately hand it over to the state." Standing at the door of room 302 of the dormitory, Lou Cheng took a deep breath, made up his mind, ﬁshed out the key and opened the door. ...
From a secluded trail at the side of Weishui Lake, a ﬁgure wearing an old T-shirt walked from afar and stopped near the place where the black carp had previously been. He looked about seventy or eighty years old, with his hair all white, yet there were very few wrinkles on his face.
"There seems to be a strange ﬂuctuation here?" The old man looked around.
After a moment, he shook his head, and took out a silver- white ﬂask with a practiced hand. He took a deep gulp of wine, then walked away while humming a babbling song.
Back in the dormitory, Lou Cheng was worried whether Cai Zongming had come back or not. Lou Cheng let himself into the bedroom, turned on the light, and the darkness within the room was immediately dispelled. He shut the door behind him and sat in front of the computer blankly, neither moving the mouse nor looking at the screen.
He once again wondered how to reassure himself, searching for all manner of explanations. In all his short and inexperienced life he'd never encountered something of this magnitude. He was unable to completely keep a cool head in the face of such a potential danger.
You only live once, but the world is so beautiful.
No matter how many beneﬁts and prospects one had, it was hard to let go of the concerns deep in their mind.
Depression was overtaking him, heavy as a mountain. Lou Cheng gritted his teeth, instinctively picked up his phone, and dialed a familiar number.
"Hello, son?" A slightly husky female voice came from the other end. "Mom, it's me." Hearing this familiar voice, Lou Cheng got a little choked up, and the fear inside his heart dampened.
Whenever he was having a tough time, Lou Cheng would think of his family and recall how much pain and hardships they went through.
"Son, has something bad happened? Why does your voice sound strange?" Lou Cheng's mother asked sensitively.
Tears welled up in his eyes, but Lou Cheng forced a smile and said, "No, of course not, just a little homesick."
"Homesick? Didn't I ask you before if you wanted to come back before the holiday? Who said that a man has to be on their own?" Lou Cheng's mother laughed and said in a motherly tone, "Tell me the truth, do you need any money?"
Lou Cheng's mood sank even lower as he slowly explained. "It's true, I miss you and Dad, and the braized pork with eggplant, the quick-fried eel and tomato and egg soup that you cooked, and I even miss the garlic that I planted on the balcony..."
If he was to die just like that black carp, how pitiful it would be.
Lou Cheng's mother was silent for a moment. With her voice trembling slightly, she said, "So do your father and I. Bah, why do you have to be such a naughty boy and make your mother cry?"
Lou Cheng could not help but laugh, and he calmed down gradually. "Who would dare do such a thing? Oh, right! Where is Dad?"
Back during third grade, the company in which Lou Cheng's father worked had been in trouble. Even though his father was an incredibly valuable asset to the company, he could only get a base salary. The family mainly relied on his mother selling goods on the market stall and managed to get through with blood sweat and tears. When Lou Cheng went to middle school, his father ﬁnally decided to go out and get another part-time job. Nevertheless, he could never get along with his bosses due to his pride and could never stay in a single location for a long period. As a result, he was always hopping from one job to the next. Lou Cheng's mother supported the whole family and her hard work always left a strong impression on Lou Cheng.
The family situation did not take the turn for the better until Lou Cheng went to high school, when his father settled down and returned home to take a position as technical director in a local enterprise. However, his mother couldn't stay idle, and wormed herself into the community to work as a temporary worker and got along with a group of older women.
"Don't you know your dad? Hasn't he been playing chess for an hour every day after having his meal?" Lou Cheng's mother answered grumpily. It was clear that she cared more about the latest news of Lou Cheng. She took the opportunity to inquire about Lou Cheng's studies and how he was living.
"Is the course schedule tight?
"Do the teachers give good lessons? "Are the courses difﬁcult?
"Is it easy to get along with your roommates?
"Is there anything you're not used to?
"Is anybody bullying you?"
In the past, Lou Cheng had always been impatient about these questions and would reply frivolously. Today, however, he was in a good mood and, fondly recalling memories of his past, he calmly and thoroughly answered each and every question. Lou Cheng's mother went on to gossip about family triﬂes, from Grandpa's household to Aunt's household, then to an unreliable relative of Lou Cheng's father and the discord of various households in the community. Lou Cheng listened quietly with a smile on his mouth, tossing in a quick word every once in a while.
At the end of their conversation, Lou Cheng's mother showed her generosity and decided that this month she would give him 800 more yuan, to facilitate his adaptation to college life. "Who would have thought that calling home would have helped out so much with that extra bonus..." Lou Cheng didn't know whether to laugh or cry. The previous pressure and unease had all disappeared. "Up until now, it seems the Jindan poses no real danger. As long as I'm careful and report anything bad that comes up to the state, it should be ﬁne..."
With joy overwhelming his worries, Lou Cheng touched his belly and couldn't help but let his imagination run wild for a moment.
"With the Jindan, at the very least I can have at least enough strength to practice martial arts and achieve an Amateur Fifth Pin or Amateur Sixth Pin earlier, to impress Yan Zheke. Maybe I can even reach Professional Ninth Pin before graduating, and I will have more choices when it comes to getting a job.
"Of course, if the Jindan is more magical than I can imagine, then... could I possibly enter into the martial arts world as I dreamed as a child, and even compete with the Mighty Ones and obtain one of the ﬁve greatest titles revered across the whole country? "Oh, if little Ming sees me touching my belly like this, he'll ask me if I am pregnant."
Tossing and turning these thoughts in his mind, Lou Cheng seemed to have more conﬁdence to deal with life. At this moment, the door handle turned and several loud voices entered the room.
Lou Cheng could tell that the three "brainiacs" had come back from studying.
Chapter 6: You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover
The one who came in ﬁrst was Qiu Zhigao, Old Qiu. At 1.75 meters, he was about the same height as Lou Cheng, but was sturdy with hard muscles, and was enthusiastic about showing off his body and strength in the dorm. He was also as a member of the Martial Arts Club. He had never received any standard martial arts training, and thus he simply relied on his excellent physical condition to reach Amateur Sixth Pin, being just a little below Cai Zongming.
He was not a rude or uncivilized person, being straightforward and amiable instead. He had no serious ﬂaws, except for his craving for dirty movies. What's more, he was sensible enough to realize that it was impossible for him to have a bright future only through martial arts as he was still in the rank of Amateur Sixth Pin after his entrance to the university. Therefore, he devoted himself to study and was even absent from the Welcome Party of the Martial Arts Club.
"Cheng, what did they say at the orientation? What time are the weekly drills? When can we use the strength training gymnasium?" At the sight of Lou Cheng, Qiu Zhigao rattled off questions one after the other, asking about what issues had been covered at the afternoon's orientation.
Taken back, Lou Cheng answered, "I left a little early and didn't hear it. We can ask someone else later."
Since he'd run into that major event earlier, Lou Cheng had forgotten his previous plan and didn't chat with Yan Zheke!
"It would be better for you to stay put." This was said by the second person to come in, Zhao Qiang, who was the dorm leader, a "leading example" and a studying maniac who had a medium height and muscular stature, bushy eyebrows and large eyes. His hard work and self-discipline toward his studies had left a deep impression on Lou Cheng.
"Indeed. Who knew that the orientation for the Martial Arts Club would be so boring." Lou Cheng didn't dare mention the greatest reward he received for attending the orientation: Yan Zheke's QQ number. He changed the subject intentionally, "Qiang, what were you guys talking about a second ago?" Zhao Qiang answered thoughtfully, "Old Qiu and Model Worker found a phone number on the desk of the self-study room saying that the girl's dorm was looking for a social meetup. I told them to ignore it and focus on studying."
Model Worker was the last member of the dorm, Zhang Jingye, who came from the northwest and had a calm disposition. Despite his good looks when he'd been younger, there were bumps and hollows on his face due to constant exposure to ﬁerce winds and sandstorms, and he thus turned out less handsome than before.
Following behind Zhao Qiang, Zhang Jingye said with a smile, "Was it because our dorm doesn't have any suitable social meetup partners?"
"Sigh, youth is the time of raging hormones. The honest ones, like Model Worker and Old Qiu, can't always control themselves," said Zhao Qiang, while shaking his head and sighing. Then, he dropped his school bag and started sorting out the books. With a serenity beyond his years, Lou Cheng digested all of the emotions brought on by the Jindan and said, "A girls dormitory phone number carved inside the study room? Could this be a prank, or some kind of revenge? How can it be possible that the girls dorm would ask for a social meetup like this? Aren't you all afraid of getting chewed out?"
There was a landline in every dorm room of Songcheng University, but they had slowly started to die out with the popularization of cell phones.
"I discussed it with Model Worker. That phone number is the same length as the one we have in our dorm. It deﬁnitely belongs to the girls' dormitory over there. Couldn't we just change the last few digits to call another girl's dorm? No need to worry about pranks or revenge or any of that stuff," Qiu Zhigao said excitedly.
Zhang Jingye nodded his head and said, "Furthermore, girls will probably prefer this kind of random call asking for a social meetup. It's got a feeling of being brought together by destiny, despite this great distance that separates us, you know? Lou Cheng thought carefully for a moment, then said, "Not bad, you've thought this through. How about you give it a shot?"
These two had brains!
Zhang Jingye and Qiu Zhigao stared at each other for a while. They were itching to have a try and were both excited and agitated at the thought of making a phone call and meeting new girls.
It was all so impulsive and impossible to know what the result would be. How exciting!
"Old Qiu, you do it," Zhang Jingye pouted his lips and said.
Old Qiu took a step forward, then paused in sudden fear, "Model Worker, it's better if you do it."
"Um, um..." Zhang Jingye was also afraid. At this moment, as an onlooker, Zhao Qiang said while shaking his head, "You guys..."
Lou Cheng and the others thought he would say that learning was more important and that such youthful temptations were unacceptable, but he dropped his school bag and looked around, then walked toward Lou Cheng's desk and picked up the landline next to the door, saying to himself, "As our dorm number is 302, let’s take the chance to fetch numbers from it as our lucky numbers and just take 32 to be the tail numbers."
Lou Cheng, Qiu Zhigao and Zhang Jingye could only stand there in astonishment as Zhao Qiang shot a sharp glance at them, as if to say, "Bunch of amateurs!"
After getting through, Zhao Qiang was all smiles, and his manner became slightly obsequious.
"Hello, this is from the boys dorm. We just casually dialed a phone number of the girl's dorm, and were wondering if there was any chance a social meetup could be arranged. Are you girls interested?" "Ummm, our dorms are the Computer Software College."
"We're in Dorm 302, Unit 2 of the 7th Building, and we happened to dial 32 for the last numbers."
"Aren't you girls from the Department of Chinese Language and Literature?"
"Um, um, ok ok, you can ask..."
"Um, um, um."
Girls' laughter passed from the other side of the phone into Lou Cheng and the others' ears. Several minutes had passed before Zhao Qiang reluctantly dropped the phone and turned his head with a smile. "It's settled! They've agreed. The girls from the Department of Chinese Language and Literature are going to meet us this Friday and have dinner together. If we get along with each other, we can all go out for a social meetup next time.
"What do you think, not bad eh?"
After he ﬁnished, Zhao Qiang noticed that everyone's eyes were ﬁxed on him, but not saying a word. He touched his face and said in wonder, "Is there something on my face?"
Lou Cheng's impression on Zhao Qiang had been completely overturned. Now he had to give him a hard time. He recalled his favorite comedy sketch and pretended to sigh with disapproval while shaking his head.
"I'd have never thought that you, Qiang, could have been a dashing wolf under naive sheeps clothing this entire time!"
Hearing this, everyone including Zhao Qiang himself broke out into laughter. Shaking his index ﬁnger, Zhao Qiang said in a singsong voice, "Even a wolf needs love! Even a wolf needs love! Even a wolf needs love!"
Everyone roared in hoots of laughter, but then they quickly switched their subject to the meeting on Friday. Even though it was still Monday, this didn't stop Zhao Qiang, Zhang Jingye and Qiu Zhigao's imaginations from starting and coming up with all kinds of hypothetical scenarios.
Lou Cheng listened for a moment, but then Yan Zheke's image suddenly crossed his mind. His mood returned from its playfulness back to a serene calmness.
Having a crush on a girl, yet still trying to get to know other girls and going out for social meetups... was that the right thing to do?
"I don't care what other people think. I just don't want to take it for granted..." After thinking for a while, he said, "Qiang, I've got something going on Friday. I've got to go downtown, so I can't joint the social meetup this time." "What thing?" Zhao Qiang asked in surprise.
"Some things are going on in my family." Lou Cheng lied, although he frankly wasn't sure if anyone would buy it.
Zhao Qiang didn't hesitate but nodded his head and said, "Fine. How about you help me to ask whether Casanova is available. After all, we have to scrape four people together, otherwise, it's not terribly polite."
Um, Lou Cheng was taken aback by Zhao Qiang's frankness. It was as if he'd wanted it to be this way all along... Lou Cheng asked hesitantly, "Why do you want to ask Casanova?"
Casting a glance at Zhang Jingye and Qiu Zhigao, Zhao Qiang said with a smile,
"You know that we are all too naive and clumsy when it comes to talking. In a social meetup, you need to have someone who's good at ﬁnding subjects to talk about. I was thinking about asking Casanova earlier, but it seemed like ﬁve people going together was a bit disrespectful. Now it just so happens you don't want to go, so..."
"Naive and clumsy... when it comes to talking..." Lou Cheng recalled the way Zhao Qiang was chatting up with the girls and stared at him in the face.
"What's wrong?" Zhao Qiang puzzledly asked.
Lou Cheng said seriously, "Qiang, you've become a wolf again!"
Then he stood up and went out to the next dorm to see whether Cai Zongming had returned. The door was left unlocked, and there was only one person in Cai Zongming's dorm, Tang Wen, who was the youngest one in the dorm and had skipped a grade in high school. However, after his senior year of high school, he'd become addicted to the internet and always stayed in his room to play games, skipping classes with teachers who were not stern or who did not give roll call frequently. "Tang Wen, hasn't Casanova come back yet?" Lou Cheng asked.
Without even turning his head, Tang Wen replied, "No, no one has come back."
Among the two other guys in Cai Zongming's dorm, the ﬁrst one was Mou Yuanxing. Mou was admitted into Songcheng University together with his girlfriend from high school and thus aroused the envy of all the single guys. What's more, he was always absent until the lights were out in the dorm. The other guy was Qin Mo, who came from a wealthy local family and always sneaked out of the campus to fool around with a different social circle, though he was nice and got along with everyone.
Lou Cheng sighed, took out his cell phone, and walked out to the courtyard of the 7th building. Squatting near the ﬂower bed, Lou Cheng dialed Cai Zongming's number and lit a cigarette.
Some things weren't convenient to talk about in the dorm, so he didn't use the landline. "Casanova, I have something to tell you." Lou Cheng got right to the point once the phone was connected.
There was noise coming from the other end, but soon after Cai Zongming seemed to have changed to a secluded place outside. He chuckled, "What's that? Why are you in such a hurry? We're still eating hotpot."
"Qiang and the other guys made a random call and found a dorm from the Department of Chinese Language and Literature for a social meetup. They want you to come as you are the Casanova and have your gift of the gab, which is perfect for that situation," Lou Cheng said with a laugh.
"Are you complimenting me? Or insulting me?" Cai Zongming grumbled, "That sounds interesting. I'll have a look, but isn't ﬁve people going together a bit disrespectful to the girls?"
Lou Cheng paused and said, "I'm not going."
"Oh, why aren't you going?" Cai Zongming asked in surprise. Lou Cheng did not keep Cai Zongming in the dark, "It doesn't seem like a good idea for me to go out for a social meetup with other girls when I have feelings for another girl."
"What?" Cai Zongming faltered for a moment and said, "Cheng, a social meetup isn't a date. Everyone's just going out to get to know each other, eat and drink, just broaden their social circle. No one's going to put a gun to your head and force you to date someone. Even me, maintaining my chastity, don't care that much. Moreover, you and Yan Zheke barely even know each other and you've got a long way to go before you can even think about becoming her boyfriend, so what's with all this fussing about?"
"Forget it, I just feel a little guilty. I'm not going." Lou Cheng made his decision.
Cai Zongming asked, "Cheng, are you a living antique or what? I think you could set up your own Chastity Memorial Archway!"
"Whatever you say." Lou Cheng hung up the phone and didn't get up, continuing to squat. He kept smoking his cigarette, the spark of which ﬂickered now and then, lending a great tranquility to the darkness.
With a smile on the corner of his mouth, Lou Cheng empathized with his roommates' horndog behavior, and felt he had also been affected by them. The whole thing was quite interesting; he would like to join them, were it not for his feelings for Yan Zheke.
This was the real college life, hustling and bustling about, yet with enough beauty to make a youthful heart soar skywards. On the other hand, the Jindan was from another world, imaginary and not real, yet brimming with hope.
"After today, how is my own life going to change? Will I impress Yan Zheke with martial arts?"
Lou Cheng sat on the edge of the ﬂower bed and put out the cigarette. He took out his cell phone, logged into QQ and clicked on Yan Zheke's proﬁle. The courtyard was full of students returning to their dorms in a continuous stream, while the corner was quiet and peaceful as if they were two disparate worlds.
Chapter 7: New Coach
Blip, blip, blip.
The sounds of QQ messages arrived in an unending stream of sound. Lou Cheng felt a little overwhelmed as he saw the automatic news updates, local weather forecasts, replies from childhood friends and online friends as well as hundreds or even thousands of messages from various QQ groups.
However, he ignored them all because he discovered Yan Zheke's had already accepted his friend request.
After clicking the dialogue box, he suddenly felt indecisive about how he should call her.
"It would be impolite to call her directly by her name Yan Zheke, but it's also too frivolous to call her "Zheke", "Xiaoke", or "Keke". That'd just be embarrassing and make her uncomfortable. But then calling her "classmate" or "classmate Yan Zheke" is really weird and feels too distant. Should I call her "old classmate"? No, a freshman may not like the sophisticated tone!"
After going through his options and hesitating for a moment, Lou Cheng ﬁnally decided not to use any form of address, and instead use an emoji.
After sending a grinning emoji, he typed with lightning speed.
"Sorry to bother you, but I had to leave orientation early today. Did they cover anything important afterward?"
After sending the message, Lou Cheng's heartbeat unconsciously accelerated, half out of eagerness and half out of anxiety. It seemed time had become endless when suddenly, with a "tick" sound, Yan Zheke's proﬁle picture went from dark to bright and from "invisible" to "on-line". Until then, Lou Cheng hadn't noticed that her portrait was a cartoon cat with light gray hair and large eyes. "Fortunately, you have an enthusiastic and kind-hearted classmate like me." Yan Zheke sent an emoji of an adorable little monster. "The timetable for the martial arts class was introduced after that. Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday from nine o'clock to noon. The content they will cover is the same in all three classes, so it's ﬁne if you only attend one of them, but if your schedule is free, it'd be best to attend them
all. After all, practice makes perfect ^_^"
The Martial Arts Club was open to all of the students in the university, from freshmen to seniors, from the Medical College to the Mechanical College. Everyone's course schedules were not alike, so they would repeat a class three times a week. Among these there would be one class offered on weekends, to show as much consideration as possible for all of the members.
Seeing the reply from Yan Zheke, Lou Cheng curved his lip and revealed a smile. His previous worries gave way to joy and excitement.
Swiftly pressing on the screen keyboard, he intended to ask Yan Zheke which class she would take. However, after some consideration, he changed his mind. He was afraid that he might embarrass Yan Zheke by being too straightforward when they were not yet overly familiar.
Because of his feelings for Yan Zheke, he weighed and turned over every sentence and every emoji repeatedly in his mind.
After some consideration, Lou Cheng spun in a circle and said nonchalantly, "I have calculus and linear algebra on Thursday morning, so I can only go on Tuesday or Saturday."
Yan Zheke sent a laughing emoji, "I can go all three times."
"What a coincidence! You don't even have class on Tuesday or Thursday morning?" Lou Cheng clenched his left ﬁst, admiring his resourcefulness. Through bringing up his situation, he could have her bring up the topic of her schedule, thereby getting the information that he wanted!
Yan Zheke sent an embarrassed emoji with a red face scratching its head. "An upperclassman from the Martial Arts Club told me in advance, so I deliberately left Tuesday and Thursday morning open during course selection." Songcheng University implemented a very free style of course selection. Each course had different options for teachers and class schedules. Students could choose their favorite teachers or the most appropriate time periods according to their respective timetables and the overall score of the teachers. Of course, there was a limit to each class size, so the most popular teachers and best class times often were snatched up quickly. Students had to be on the ball to get into these classes.
In addition, students could choose courses that weren't relevant to their majors or above their grades and take them as optional courses. Whether or not you took an exam was up to you.
The local nouveau riche Qin Mo from Lou Cheng's dorm had put all of his courses during Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, so he claimed that he would study for three days and then rest for four days!
Lou Cheng was about to reply when Yan Zheke sent another message, "By the way, there is going to be a new teacher this semester. Apparently, the principal isn't happy with the achievements over the last few years. He wants to take advantage of Lin Que's enrollment to revitalize Songcheng University Martial Arts Club's reputation. In the past, we had once entered the national ﬁnals!"
"So amazing! I have never heard of that," Lou Cheng said in surprise, slightly unconvinced.
"That happened many years ago; I'd be surprised if you knew!" Yan Zheke then sent a "Doge" emoji.
Lou Cheng immediately asked, "In that case, how do you know about it?"
"That's a secret!" Yan Zheke sent an emoji of a self-satisﬁed face with its hands on the hip. Lou Cheng could almost imagine her own charming expression, and smiled from ear to ear.
"Ugh, I can't stand secrets, I'm dying to know! Do you want me to stay awake all night?" Sending a pathetic emoji, Lou Cheng was amazed at his own ability to so quickly seize the moment. He thought, "Perhaps this is a male instinct?" "If you can't sleep, read a book!" Yan Zheke sent a snickering emoji.
"I was studying hard earlier, and I'm wasting away with every passing day..." After thinking for a moment, Lou Cheng stopped chasing the topic and changed the subject, "This new coach, what kind of person is he?"
"He hasn't come yet," Yan Zheke answered. "Apparently, he is quite an experienced ﬁghter and the principal used his connections to bring him here. In a word, he's not an ordinary person and if we follow his teachings we're bound to reap some rewards. Even someone who doesn't know the basics like you might be able to obtain an Amateur Top Three Rank certiﬁcation before graduation."
Amateur Top Three Rank... Lou Cheng suddenly thought of the Jindan inside his body, then focused his attention on Yan Zheke, "What about you? What are your expectations for yourself? "
"Me? Hmm, it's not like I expect to obtain a professional rank or anything. If I can just practice more special moves, and use them for self-defense, that's okay." Seeing the message sent by Yan Zheke, Lou Cheng vaguely feel her loneliness hidden beneath the surface.
He thought, "Could this just be a misconception on her part?"
"Why? Where there's a will, there's a way!" Lou Cheng said unconvincingly.
"It's a secret," Yan Zheke replied shortly.
There must be some reasons, but it was clear that Yan Zheke didn't want to discuss it. Lou Cheng's brain twisted and turned, analyzing every little detail. His only realization was that he had never been that dedicated, even during the senior year of high school.
He made a mental note and changed the subject. "Okay okay. By the way, I have heard that the Martial Arts Gym in Xiushan No. 1 Middle School is going to be ﬁnished soon! We must have missed it since they started construction after we enrolled and it wasn't completed until our graduation!" "Really? I haven't paid attention. Heh, even if it had been completed when we were still in high school, we probably wouldn't have used it that much. It's so easy to get injured during a Martial Arts Competition, and there weren't any high- level judges or supervisors. The No. 2 Hospital surely would have been packed. How could it possible to keep studying? I can only imagine the expression of Director Li from the Educational Administration," Yan Zheke replied.
After Lou Cheng had referred to their common Alma mater, Yan Zheke became more active in the conversation.
"Director Li, from the Educational Administration? He was our math teacher, and really interesting. That's right, wasn't he your math teacher too?" Lou Cheng seized the opportunity to develop the conversation further.
Yan Zheke sent a nodding emoji. "Yes, old Li was a funny guy. He would chat with all of us for at least 10 minutes before class started every day, and every time he praised us it was super embarrassing. One time, I wanted to head back home to watch the ultimate match-up between the Dragon King and the Warrior Sage so I planned on taking advantage of the math class to ﬁnish up my homework from earlier. I thought I could keep it hidden and that old Li surely wouldn't notice. However, when class was over, there were some classmates besides me talking, and they were scolded by old Li. He said, 'All of you, if you can get full marks in math like Yan Zheke, I won't say a word as long as you don't bother other classmates. You can do whatever you like; you can give birth for all I care. See, Yan Zheke has been doing her Chinese homework, and have I said anything at all?' At that moment I was so embarrassed. I felt like my image as a good student had been destroyed."
"Yeah, yeah, old Li was that funny. There was one time he was so conﬁdent with himself as he tried to explain a question to us, but half of the class had gone by and he still hadn't explained properly so he started to break out in a cold sweat. After looking carefully for a while, he mumbled that he had copied down the wrong question..." Lou Cheng sent a laughing emoji and asked, "Umm, the match-ups between the Dragon King and the Warrior Sage, you said? Which side do you support?"
"Warrior Sage" was one of the ﬁve supreme national title holders. In recent years, Qian Donglou of the Shangqing Sect had controlled the market, so when one referred to Warrior Sage, it was him they were referring to. He also was one of the Legendary Twins of the domestic martial arts realm, and together with Chen Qitao had obtained the majority of titles in recent years.
As well as Chen Qitao's "Dragon King", there was another title - "The King." After defeating a national martial arts master and obtaining this title, one was not directly referred to as The King, as this was too commonplace. Instead, each of them received their own unique nickname, which consisted of their martial arts specialty along with the title of "King", such as the Dragon King, the King of Swords, Lion King, the King of Spear, etc.
"The Dragon King of course!" Yan Zheke answered without hesitation.
"Me too!" Lou Cheng replied with delight, "It's too bad, Longhu Club isn't quite as good as Shangqing Sect in connotation. They're a bit inferior on the whole."
"That's true, but I just fancy the Dragon King!" Yan Zheke sent an emoji shooting out red hearts from its eyes. The two traded stories back and forth and chatted in a rush of excitement. From tall tales about the Dragon King to all manner of gossip about who had gone out with who during high school, to the one year there was an attempted rape case, and how the boys would escort the girls who didn't live on the school campus back home...
Thinking of his fellow townsman and classmate Yan Zheke and how they shared common interests, Lou Cheng had a smile on his face that wouldn't fade. He could only feel gratitude for how perfect tonight had been.
Suddenly he felt someone slap his shoulder and he turned around startled. He saw Cai Zongming inserting both his hands in the pants pocket. A beaming smile on his face, Cai said, "Well done, Cheng, you've learned without a teacher!"
"Learned what? What are you talking about?" Lou Cheng made a faint reply subconsciously. Cai Zongming tsked, "Go look at yourself in the mirror, your lovey-dovey feelings are written all over your face. Are you talking to your Goddess?"
"Umm." With his face red, Lou Cheng had to admit it.
Cai Zongming took out his cellphone to look at the time, "Alright, Cheng, talking up until this point is ﬁne, you need to stop before it gets too boring. This way you can leave the best impression on a girl and can make her look more forward to talking to you."
"You are truly a professional..." grumbling the words, Lou Cheng picked up his cellphone, and knowing it was the rational thing to do, he reluctantly sent out a smiling emoji, "I've still got some homework to ﬁnish for the martial arts lesson tomorrow morning, talk to you later!"
Yan Zheke replied with a smiling emoji, "See you at the martial arts lesson tomorrow." After closing out the conversation, Lou Cheng skimmed through other messages, replied to some important ones, then exited QQ. He held his cellphone and looked at Cai Zongming, "Casanova, are you gonna go to the martial arts lesson tomorrow morning?"
Lou Cheng suddenly became slightly melancholy at the abrupt stop of the cheerful conversation with Yan Zheke.
"Of course, I'm going! I'll let them see my hidden expertise in martial arts!" Cai Zongming and Lou Cheng's class schedules were identical, so there was nothing to hesitate about.
"Pssh, you better watch out or you're gonna get knocked out," Lou Cheng teased. The two of them were chuckling as they got back to the dorm.
After washing up, everyone lay on top of their own bed. Zhao Qiang, Qiu Zhigao and Zhang Jingye were still talking about the social meetup on Friday, imaging the looks and characters of the four girls. Meanwhile, Lou Cheng took out his cellphone and silently pored over every word of his conversation with Yan Zheke. He was overjoyed in his heart, yet calm in his mind, responding to the three horndog youths now and then with intermittent grunts and nods.
After the lights were out, the night gradually became darker, and the dorm became quiet. Lou Cheng fell into a slumber and had a bizarre dream, soaked both in excitement and horror.
Chapter 8: Martial Arts Lesson
In his dream, Lou Cheng's martial skills were progressing by leaps and bounds. In merely a few years he earned favor widely across the professional martial arts world. A budding martial artist, he managed to defeat Qian Donglou and scored the title Martial Lord, rising to the top of Chinese martial arts alongside Chen Qitao, the Dragon King. Adored by numerous fans, backed by a variety of supportive groups, and chased by many gorgeous girls, Lou upheld his principles and followed his soul despite all temptations. He eventually walked down the aisle with Yan Zheke, soaked in blessings from their schoolmates Cai Zongming, Zhao Qiang, Qiu Zhigao and Zhang Jingye, and expectation from his worn and weary parents.
At that very moment, Lou Cheng noticed his skin was turning scorched black with veins ﬂaming ﬁercely underneath. There was a layer of frost on his back where chillness was ﬂooding out as if inside an iceberg near the South Pole, just like that dead black ﬁsh.
With great fear he turned around, feeling Yan Zheke's eyes on him, strange and horriﬁed. "Ahh!"
Lou Cheng suddenly opened his eyes and found himself curled up on his side in bed. A gentle beam of light shone through the window, barely illuminating the dark dorm room. Within his sight, the bed, the desk, the chair and the mosquito net all seemed familiar yet strange and he was carried away with a short spell of pleasure in the dream.
After a moment of blankness, he took a few deep breaths and ﬁnally ﬁgured out where he was and what he was doing.
"A nightmare..." Lou Cheng looked out the window as the day was dawning and fell into a trance. The dream seemed blurry already, yet the delusion, the desire, and the fear it bore remained clear.
He picked up his mobile and lit up the screen - not yet seven. He wanted to fall back asleep but found it impossible. He heaved and tossed about till 7 o'clock, then got out of bed. Out of the small bedroom, he stepped into the lavatory. After a hectic time, he took a sit in the living room. Browsing content posted in the forum late last night by active experienced users, he ﬂashed smiles and gradually calmed down. His expectations in martial progress from consuming the Jindan started to emerge, along with the ones for today's martial arts lesson and Yan Zheke's warm words, "See you tomorrow."
Holding a ﬂurry of excitement, Lou Cheng returned to his small dorm room. He turned a blind eye to Zhao Qiang who was getting up with sleepy eyes to read English and dug out a new martial arts suit from his wardrobe.
This original Longhu Club suit was a gift Lou Cheng got upon his senior high graduation. The navy blue suit of traditional and modern design appeared elegant yet straightforward, similar to a leotard but loose enough to not repress forces from muscles. It would make the wearer look mettled as long as he was not too dispirited.
Lou Cheng walked back to the lavatory in the martial arts suit after ﬁxing his cuffs and trouser legs. He gazed at himself in the mirror where a green dragon and a white tiger twined up into an emblem adorned with cloud and wind patterns on his left chest, manifesting the great power of the club.
Styling his hair with water, Lou Cheng grinned at himself, "Not bad!"
"What a narcissist," satirized Cai Zongming with a yawn as he walked in.
Lou Cheng clicked his tongue, "The one that uses men's skincare products every day is the real narcissist!"
"Come on! I gotta take care of my face," replied Cai Zongming as he stepped to the squatting toilet. Apparently, he woke up to urinate after the booze-up last night, unlike Lou Cheng and Zhao Qiang who get up early.
Zhao Qiang rolled his eyes at the two upon hearing their conversation while washing up. He watched Cai Zongming walk into the squatting toilet and commented as the door closed behind him, "You two would do great in cross-talk. Never too early for you!" "Ha-hah," laughed Lou Cheng, "Little Ming will hurl down our roof if I don't teach him some lessons now and then!"
He stepped out and changed into a black pair of exercise shoes, waiting for Cai Zongming to go for breakfast.
While waiting, he logged in his QQ account, longing to chat with Yan Zheke but afraid of scaring her away with being too enthusiastic. He quickly checked messages from several freshmen groups and his class before browsing through moments updated by his friends. To his surprise, Yan Zheke just posted ten minutes ago:
"Sleepy but very happy! Today I will enjoy breakfast for all those who get up late. You're welcome!"
"How adorable!" Lou Cheng talked to himself and gently tapped his face. How could he forget to read Yan Zheke's old posts yesterday?
It would help to satisfy his desire formed by accumulated curiosity about her and a good way to understand her better! As Lou Cheng was browsing through Yan Zheke's old moments, Cai Zongming was ready to go and approached with a yawn, "Cheng, look at your kinky smirk. You must be up to something bad. What are you reading?"
"Nothing." Lou Cheng signed out with a smile and put his mobile away.
Cai Zongming took a glance at Lou Cheng and wagged his head, "This is what we call amorous!"
The pair continued to mess with each other while walking out of the dorm room to the nearest canteen for some soy milk, tea eggs, and steamed buns before they made their way leisurely to the Martial Arts Club.
The teaching buildings and living quarters of Songcheng University were separated from each other. The three-story ﬁne block set right by the lake was the ofﬁce building for the university management. The room deep to the left on the third ﬂoor with the sign "Dean's" on the door was ﬁlled like in a sauna. A black-haired senior in his 50s was starting the day with a tea ceremony. Opposite to him sat an undisciplined man in his 70s or even 80s. Wearing an old white t-shirt, the old man had entirely white hair, yet not many wrinkles.
His eyes were half closed and his nose gently ﬂuttered as if tasting the drifting fragrance of the tea,
A loud sneeze shook the whole ofﬁce. The black-haired man's hand trembled and almost dropped his purple clay teapot over his suit.
"Can't you remain silent for ﬁve minutes?" asked the suited senior in an annoyed tone.
The old man with white hair rubbed his nose, "I would be quiet like your old dog if you were pouring a shot of strong liquor." "Well, you can pick a bottle from my wine cellar if you manage to take the Martial Arts Club to the national tournament. Pick three if you make it to the top eight. Have a sleepover if you get the championship," the suited senior waved his hand as if giving a speech, "As Principal of the University and a martial arts enthusiast, I see this as my last chance to see the Songcheng University Martial Arts Club rise again!"
Grunt... The old man in a white t-shirt swallowed and let out a brief sputter of laughter, "Deal! Considering our brotherhood, I'll do my best without you asking. Wait for my good news!"
Watching the old man walk out of the ofﬁce, Principal waited for another ﬁve minutes to make a phone call, "Hey, Yuejian. Your dad didn't draw himself back."
"Don't worry. I'll make sure to keep him busy. He won't be idle at home any longer."
"No need. I have known your father since childhood time!" ...
In the grove by the lake, the old man gazed at the waves with his ears moving gently. He took a sip from a metal wine ﬂask and sighed with a faint smile.
Inside the Martial Arts Club gym, the ﬁrst martial arts lesson had a very high attendance. Even Lou Cheng's roommate Qiu Zhigao showed up.
Lou Cheng looked about in search of Yan Zheke, ignoring Cai Zongming standing right next to him. Cai quietly complained about Lou's hiberdating. Finally, Lou Chang spotted Yan Zheke's beautiful ﬁgure stepping out of the girls' locker room. Having her black hair tied up, she wore a white martial arts suit with the same emblem of the twining dragon and tiger, another version of Longhu Club's suits.
When the four eyes met, a smile climbed on their faces for their matching suits. As Lou Cheng was about to approach Yan for a quick chat, Chen Changhua, the sturdy Martial Arts Club Manager with bushy eyebrows, came out from the men's locker room, followed by the slender and fresh Lin Que. The two had their lips pursed. The atmosphere between them seemed depressing.
"Stand in line and get ready. The new coach will arrive any second." Standing in front the crowd, Chen Changhua shouted loudly.
With experience from the military training, all members quickly lined up. Lin Que casually paced to the front of Lou Cheng's column, despite Chen Changhua's angry gaze.
A shadowy ﬁgure appeared at the entrance of the gym, approaching and revealing itself as an old and clumsy man in a worn-out white t-shirt and white hair. His skin was in good condition with fewer wrinkles than expected.
"Master Shi," Chen Changhua stepped forward to greet him. The old man nodded gently and signaled him to join the team. The new coach stood facing the crowd and spoke after some cough, "My family name is Shi, which means to offer. From today, kids, I'll be your martial coach. You may call me Coach Shi or Geezer Shi. I've always been easygoing and approachable with respect for the elderly and fondness for the youth."
Respect for the elderly and fondness for the youth... Respect for the elderly? "Quite hard to ﬁnd someone older than you, isn't it?" Lou Cheng talked to himself in silence and exchanged a glance with Cai Zongming. Apparently, Little Ming shared the same view.
Geezer Shi continued with a grin,
"Regional matches for the National University Martial Arts Competitions will start in November. The Principal expects us to do better this year. Three martial arts lessons per week are way from enough. I intend to gather our members with potentials for a daily special training from eight to noon. Rest assured, the Principal has agreed to help move all your morning classes around if you are in for the morning training. Maybe evenings." His words brought a shock to everyone. Members whispered to one another in disbelief.
"Training every morning with no day-off... He-heh... What about games, relationships, and leisurely activities," complained Cai Zongming quietly.
Schedules for ﬁrst-year students were not so tight. However, dedicating all morning hours to martial practice would leave them little free time besides classes and sleep.
Listening to complaints from the crowd, Lou Cheng fell into an odd silence. He just gave a curt response to Cai Zongming.
Geezer Shi took out a sheet with the register of members and shouted in a loud voice, "Lin Que, are you in?"
Lin answered coldly, "Yes." "Good. The next, Chen Changhua. What about you?" continued Geezer Shi.
Chen glanced at Lin Que and gnashed his teeth with anger, "Yes!"
"Wu Dong, what about you?"
Geezer Shi called out names of Amateur Sixth Pin or higher from the sophomore year to the senior. Most of them chose to take part in the training while a few turned down the opportunity.
"Cai Zongming," he came to the freshmen.
Cai answered with no hesitation, "Coach, I'll have to say no.
Studying is more important!"
Geezer Shi moved on to the next with little care, "Qiu Zhigao?" "I... I can't", responded Qiu Zhigao.
Geezer Shi took out his wine pot and had a sip, "Of course, the Martial Arts Club is open to all. Students of lower than Amateur Sixth Pin are also welcome to participate in the special training. As the saying goes, participation matters and improving physical ﬁtness is the key. Requirements for these students will be lowered accordingly. So... Anybody? Raise your hand."
Members of the Martial Arts Club looked at each other and remained silent. A passion for martial arts was one thing, but spending so much time on martial practice and sacriﬁcing all free time was another story. After all, the special training would still be hard and tiring, even though the requirements were lowered. In the dead silence, a hand rose abruptly. Cai Zongming turned to look and was shocked by what he saw. It was Lou Cheng.
Lou Cheng shouted, "Coach Shi, I want to join the special training!"
His voice echoed among the team.
If running could help the Golden Elixir function slowly, would some professional, hardcore martial arts training help with its absorption by the body?
Chapter 9: Unique Skill of the Thunder Sect
A tree taller than the rest of the forest would be the ﬁrst destroyed by the wind. Within a few seconds, Lou Cheng reached a much deeper understanding of the saying. As soon as he cried out his interest in joining the special training, eyes turned to him like a shower of arrows from all directions, shocked, puzzled or simply curious, making him horriﬁed and nervous. It reminded him of his attempt to give a public speech to the entire school on the stage in the past. Staring at a dark mass of countless peers and teaching staff, Lou Cheng came up with an uneasiness from his heart and could barely talk. He felt fortunate that he wasn't the protagonist.
Geezer Shi seemed pleased.
"Terriﬁc. You must be a true enthusiast in martial arts.
What's your name?"
"Lou Cheng," Lou Cheng took a deep breath. Geezer Shi looked through the registry to search Lou Cheng's name and asked casually.
"In which year? Of which amateur pin? Seventh or eighth?"
Dead silence in the gym. Lin Que kept his eyes down, appearing unconcerned. Chen Changhua, taller than most of his peers, glanced at Lou Cheng from a distance, wondering who this strange fellow was. The rest of the Martial Arts Club members were waiting eagerly for the answer except for Lou Cheng's acquaintances Cai Zongming, Qiu Zhigao and Yan Zheke who seemed terribly in shock.
Lou Cheng replied calmly and frankly. "A freshman of no rank."
"Of no freaking rank and you want to join the training," words slipped out of Geezer Shi's mouth. It was the ﬁrst time that he spoke inappropriately since he had entered the gym.
The crowd in the gym burst into laughter. The venue was instantly ﬁlled with a cheerful atmosphere. Lou Cheng couldn't help feeling embarrassed. His face was on ﬁre.
"Good," Geezer Shi lowered his right hand as a signal for the gym to quiet down and continued. "A newborn calf is not afraid of tigers. Very much like me in my youth. I'll see you tomorrow here. Quit when you can take no more. Don't push yourself too hard. I can't assume responsibility for your life."
"Are you praising me? Or boasting yourself?" Lou Cheng thought to himself and then replied. "Yes, Coach Shi."
He subconsciously looked up to Yan Zheke, who happened to meet his eyes with joy and made a gesture of encouragement.
Geezer Shi ignored whispers from Martial Arts Club members and carried on. "So Lou Cheng was the ﬁrst to apply for the special training. The ﬁrst mover. Anyone else?"
"Coach, me." A sweet, familiar female voice came to Lou Cheng's ear. He turned around and realized it was Yan Zheke. "She... She also wants to join?"
"Is she simply a big fan of martial arts or?"
"One illusion in life: she is doing this for me," Cai Zongming brutally broke Lou Cheng's fantasy.
"Couldn't you allow my happiness to last a few seconds longer?" Lou Cheng stared at Cai.
Cai Zongming grinned. "Not feeling too good about oneself is an essential prerequisite for chasing girls. However, Cheng, I'm impressed that you are willing to get up four hours earlier every morning to attend this special training just for a girl. I have to admit you have beaten me in perseverance and courage. Nothing is impossible to a willing heart! God won't let down a determined heart!"
Listening to Little Ming's nonsense, Lou Cheng didn't know what to say. He couldn't speak of the Jindan as there was a saying "He who loses his secret will lose himself." So he just admitted that it was for a girl. "Anyway, have a try. You can always quit."
"Makes sense," Cai Zongming nodded and put one thumb up. "You are worthy to be taught!"
Yan Zheke's participation tempted many boys. They raised hands to apply for the training, and it took Geezer Shi a good while to have every name written down. Geezer Shi straightened his face. "Everybody, attention. Get ready for class."
"Your ranks vary from nothing to Professional Ninth Pin, but in front of me you are all the same, unprofessional martial arts enthusiasts, or in other words, babies on a feeding bottle. So we shall start our ﬁrst martial arts lesson with the foundation. Remember, the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step."
Geezer Shi kept his hands together behind his back and paced back and forth in front of the team. His voice was not that loud but clear enough to be heard by everyone, "The entry- level of martial arts begins with stance training supplemented by footwork practice and current strength training such as bench press, deep squat, pull-up and back muscle stretch. Only when you have grasped these to a certain extent, you can move on to the practice of actual martial movements to grasp novel force launching techniques of each move..."
"... Your Principal put in a lot of effort to bring me here with sincere respect. I'm not a man with an unearned reputation. The stance training of our ﬁrst lesson will be Yin-Yang Stance, the lost knowledge of the Taoist Thunder Sect!"
Bang! The crowd burst into a passionate discussion. Martial Arts Club members whispered in each other's ear with excitement or shock.
The lost knowledge of the Taoist Thunder Sect had long been well known all over the world. Its basic stance training was a hot topic within the martial arts circle but frequently skipped from knowledge by the amateurs. Those crude and straightforward stance training were nothing like it. Just as excited, Lou Cheng turned to Cai Zongming. "Shangqing Sect's lost technique of the Thunder Sect?"
"Must be," said Cai Zongming, thrilled.
The Taoist martial arts had a comparably short history, not part of the genuine origin of martial arts. However, it inherited from pre-Qin eras, organized The Old Gods and Old Ghosts System, and laid a foundation for the next blossom of martial arts, making up a signiﬁcant fraction of the martial arts circle. The core of its martial arts was known as the Five Sects Unique Skills with the Restriction Sect topping the Thunder, Fire, Fighting and Plague Sects.
Two major forces, Shangqing Sect and Longhu Club, were respectively the heirs of the unique skills of the Thunder Sect and the Fire Sect. Another mighty force, Shushan Study, carried forward the entire system of the Fighting Sect while skills of the Plague Sect had been scattered in wars and partly passed on by many forces.
The basic training of such unique skills would bring a thrill to those martial arts members who had long soaked in the news regarding the martial arts circle.
Considering Coach Shi was invited by the Principal in person, he must have some real skills other than ostentation.
Sadly, not Longhu Club's stance training of the Fire Sect...
Lou Cheng seemed slightly disappointed.
Geezer Shi kept some space between his feet and suddenly became overwhelming like a towering mountain or a roaring sea. He lifted both of his hands, forming a closed ring in front of his chest, and began to ramble:
"Physical poses of still stance are usually simple. However, the key lies in the stillness. As a saying of the Thunder Sect stated, concealment of spirit and Qi can ward off trouble. It's pretty much telling us only the dead can keep the mind void. Think about one item and completely focus on it. Remain concentrated to bring peace..."
"You may think about anything, a man or a woman, a cat or a dog, a holy statue or a tableware as long as it arouses no desire. I usually think about a one-hundred bill, suppressing my mind with the founding father of the country without waking up my greed. This refers to treating money like dirt..."
Mocking Geezer Shi's pose while listening to his interesting description, Lou Cheng prepared himself for meditation, but threads of thought led him from one thing to another. Focusing on one item to achieve peace seemed impossible. When his mind fell on Yan Zheke, distractions ﬂooded in and he couldn't help dreaming about future.
At this moment, his attention suddenly turned to the Jindan inside his Dantian.
Focusing on his lower stomach, Lou Cheng slowly gathered all his thoughts and restrained them all inside the Jindan. He imagined a fantastic ice ball of nebula pattern and small ﬂames.
As his thoughts gathered, the scene in Lou Cheng's vision abruptly changed. He could see the inside of his Dantian, where the dreamy Jindan set. The Jindan rotated slowly. Small ice crystals transformed into stars around those tiny ﬂames, creating a vast universe, profound and grand.
"This... Can I look inside to see the Jindan already?" As an experienced martial arts fan, academic terms were no strange for Lou Cheng. Soon enough, he ﬁgured out in what status he was.
That was the advanced level of Solemn Silence!
Before, he could only sense the Jindan after a long and weary run. Now he could see it within his body by merely remaining in silence. He started to enjoy his gradual control over it and no longer felt terriﬁed and helpless like yesterday. Conclusions were being drawn on his mind:
"Practicing martial arts indeed can help me gain control over the Jindan. Furthermore, it can also speed up my martial arts training just like it helped with my meditation! Participating in this special training is the right decision!" Lou Cheng focused on his Dantian and achieved peace through concentration. Random thoughts appeared and vanished and then reappeared but could no longer affect his meditation.
His surroundings became void. Everything ﬂew up to the sky.
Geezer Shi's voice rang into his ear from a distance.
"Once you achieve peace, slowly move your weight to the left, to keep the left foot heavier and the right foot lighter, and then do the opposite. Feel the strength changing in every muscle during your weight shifting. This is Yin-Yang Stance. Your body appears still, yet movements and changes never stop inside."
"This stance training ﬁrstly helps you with meditation and secondly allows you to feel the subtle changes and cooperation within your body while pulling strength to exert better control of your muscles and make use of your whole body. At the ultimate level of the training, your strength, muscles, and mind will become one, like a human elixir. Once the elixir is formed, Qi will begin to grow and you are stepping into the Danqi stage, the real martial arts entry level. At this stage, even the worst of you can reach the rank of Professional Eighth Pin. "Ha-hah, just saying. Don't think too much about it, as most of you will never reach this stage. Lin Que is probably the only one among you with such potential. The rest of you don't need to take it too seriously."
"Damn it! He's probably stating the fact but this old man indeed has a bitter tongue..." The thought ﬂashed across Lou Cheng's mind but didn't disturb his concentration. Meanwhile, he began to move his weight to his left foot slowly.
As the weight moved slowly, he could feel changes in his leg muscles, feet and waist. With those subtle changes reﬂected in his mind, he could barely recognize his own body.
"While running with arms waving, my mind manipulates my body and physical moves take place smoothly but who could have noticed such continuous changes at every inch of the body? No wonder a wrong pose can signiﬁcantly slow me down and consume more of my energy! The order of changes of strength pulling was wrong!"
Perceive as you see, believe not what you perceive! It didn't take Lou Cheng long to immerse himself in that new feeling. He continued to slowly move his weight while feeling the changes in his body between falsehood and reality, movement and stillness, and lightness and heaviness as if a gate to a new world had just been opened. Especially when a warm stream of the Jindan reached every corner of his body, some kind of mystery was gently touched.
Upon teaching the Yin-Yang Stance, Geezer Shi started to patrol around reviewing his students. First timers of still stance training had almost no chance of actually remaining in one. He merely wanted these young fellows to adapt themselves.
Lin Que was doing pretty well. From a family with a long history in martial arts, he had already been familiar with Solemn Silence. Geezer Shi stepped past him and nodded with a slight smile.
"Chen Changhua is disturbed by too many thoughts to calm down... Wu Dong's health condition doesn't allow him to stay calm... Yan Zheke is doing alright. With a few more tries she might be able to achieve peace... What the heck is this? What is he thinking about? Is he dribbling?" As he walked past one member after another, Geezer Shi gave silent comments within his mind, "This must be Cai Zongming. Has some talent but more useless thoughts. He needs to organize his mind or it will take him quite some long time to master Yin-Yang Stance. Hmm?"
Geezer Shi paused by Lou Cheng, carrying surprise and confusion in his eyes.
Chapter 10: Everyone Has Their Future
With his eyebrows shooting upward, Geezer Shi squinted and then slowly opened his eyes up. In a ﬂash his dull eyes turned into silver, cold but luminous. Deep in his eyes was a reﬂection of Lou Cheng.
After a moment of hesitation with a frown, the odd color faded from his eyes. He kept his hands together behind his back and moved away from Lou Cheng. He turned around a few steps later to take another look at him and then continued with his inspection as if nothing special had happened and nothing was strange to him.
The ﬁrst still stance experience could be extremely boring which usually resulted in physical weariness and sourness after a short while. Geezer Shi stared at his watch and cleared his throat when the clock hit one hour and a half.
"Stop. The ﬁrst still stance training is over."
In Lou Cheng's perception, Geezer's Shi's voice seemed to be coming from heaven, almost to the point Lou couldn't tell if it was real, but in the end he quit the "remaining in one" state. All hustle and bustle, as well as men and women in reality, came back at once, ﬁlling up all his senses, which felt like another brand new world.
"How goddamn tiring Yin-Yang Stance is," Cai Zongming complained to Lou Cheng while relaxing his legs in turn.
"Yeah, but also quite interesting," Lou Cheng went with the ﬂow instead of confessing that he could stand to the end of time in it.
After, Geezer Shi ordered Chen Changhua to show and explain a moving stance of their Martial Arts Club, including the skills and the divided movements. He gave them one hour to practice, which could help stretch and temper their body, naturally infusing coordination into their instinct.
During the entire practice, he was chilling in the ring with a cigarette. His total relaxation was quite annoying. "Ok. Split the group into two. Those on my right-hand side now follow Chen Changhua to the Strength Training Gymnasium for some muscle training and the rest on my left stay to practice footwork under Lin Que's supervision. Swap in 40 minutes," Geezer Shi jumped out of the ring after checking his watch and shouted while holding his arm straight ahead of him, pointing at the middle of the group to split them.
Lou Cheng and Cai Zongming, both standing on the right- hand side of Geezer Shi, headed toward the weight room among half of their peers.
Lou Cheng's right foot stumbled as he walked past Geezer Shi. His body staggered forward.
A cold sweat overspread him upon the sudden accident. His falling onto the ground face down seemed unstoppable.
However, Lou Cheng felt all the subtle changes in his muscles while in the air. Similar to the earlier meditation, he wiggled his muscles little by little almost out of instinct to adjust his weight rapidly. As soon as one of his feet landed, he straightened his back a bit to drive his entire body forward. A few strides forth and he ﬁnally came to a stop on his feet without raising much a laugh.
He looked back but couldn't ﬁnd a clue among all the strange faces of what he had just stumbled over.
"Cheng, are you alright?" asked Cai Zongming with fright on his face.
"I'm OK. I don't know what just happened," answered Lou Cheng while shaking his head. He let go of the thoughts and resumed his pace.
Among the crowd, Geezer Shi still held a cigarette in his right hand while he nodded thoughtfully at Lou Cheng's back.
In the Strength Training Gymnasium, Lou Cheng felt frustrated. Even with the aid from the Jindan he was still far from being able to push the barbell. "It seems the Jindan can only help me get over fatigue and soreness and open up my senses to subtle changes within my body during meditation thus improving coordination and footwork training. It doesn't quite enhance my performance in strength, speed or agility..." Lou Cheng recalled how he had almost fallen earlier and quietly summarized the beneﬁts of the Jindan. He then doubled his effort in strength training on
all his muscles to make use of the instant recovery and little weariness advantages from the Elixir, attempting to improve his strength in a short period. Cai Zongming was dearly stunned by Cheng.
At the end of the weight and footwork training, Lou Cheng, although strengthened and recovered by the Jindan, was sweating all over. He planned to catch up with Yan Zheke before hitting the shower with Cai Zongming. Chen Changhua, the club manager, stepped out of the troop before Geezer Shi called the end of the martial arts lesson.
"Coach Shi, the Ranking Event is coming soon but I didn't have enough practical exercise." Chen Changhua smiled after a glance at Lin Que, "I'd like to challenge Lin Que. Please be our referee to avoid possible injuries."
Hearing his words, many members of the Martial Arts Club took several indrawn breaths. Chen Changhua's dissatisfaction with Lin Que was apparent during the orientation as the club couldn't accommodate two champions. However, no one expected such an open challenge to take place so quickly in the very ﬁrst session.
"Why is he this conﬁdent?"
"Has he already overcome the rank difference and reached the level of Professional Ninth Pin?"
Lou Cheng didn't see this coming either. He looked at Cai Zongming and then attempted to exchange a glance with Yan Zheke through the mass.
Cai Zongming clicked his tongue. "This ape is not that stupid. At least he knows he should issue the challenge as early as possible." "What?" Lou Cheng withdrew his eyes and turned to Cai Zongming for an explanation.
"Before reaching the Danqi stage, height and strength play a major role in martial arts, with proper use of which, an amateur of the second or third Pin does have a chance to pass the Professional Ranking Event and be qualiﬁed to receive a Professional Ninth Pin certiﬁcate. Regarding overall strength, he can level himself as Professional Ninth Pin." With a few years of formal martial arts training, Cai Zongming explained plausibly, "Lin Que is a genius who reached the Professional Ninth Pin at the age of 18. Give him two more months or half a year and he will become even stronger. OK, he might not reach the Danqi stage yet, but for sure his progress will be much greater than that ape!"
"So Chen Changhua challenges Lin Que now, before the gap between them enlarges. He wants to defeat Lin and leave him a mental block so he can maintain his superior position till the graduation," said Lou Cheng with a sudden realization.
"Mental block? Too many novels you must have read," Cai Zongming glanced at Lou Cheng, "If Chen Changhua does score a victory here, the rising force may connect his willpower and physical strength to push him to a higher level. Hmm, he is probably conﬁdent that he has reached the Professional Ninth Pin level or he wouldn't ﬂing down the gauntlet now."
When the pair were in a hot discussion, Geezer Shi turned to Lin Que with a grin, "Will you accept the challenge?"
"Sure," answered Lin Que coldly, showing no emotion.
Chen Changhua turned around with a courtesy smile and strode into the ring. His bearings changed completely, like a tiger with sharpened claws or a buffalo ready to hunt.
"The manager of the Martial Arts Club is undoubtedly capable," thought Lou Cheng, and then his eyes moved to Lin Que.
Lin wiped the sweat off his face and casually stepped toward the ring. His handsomeness and cool disposition were dazzling in the white suit, drawing all the attention. When he stood in the ring, Lin Que maintained the same bearing. His feet resumed a T-step position with his toes slightly pointing inwards and his face showed no expression toward Chen Changhua.
After Geezer Shi slowly made his way over to be the referee position, Chen Changhua bowed with clasped hands, "Brother Lin, please grant instructions."
Of one level lower in rank, Chen made the ﬁrst move and threw himself at Lin Que like a snake.
"The ape's footwork is not bad," commented Cai Zongming to Lou Cheng. Known for his strength and physique, Chen Changhua's agile footwork apparently amazed many. No wonder he dared to challenge Lin Que.
Lin Que moved his left foot to the side to dodge Chen Changhua's attack but as soon as his left foot landed, Chen abruptly changed his style, pushing his right leg and dashing into Lin with his shoulder and arm like a wild bull. Low screams rose from the crowd. Everyone was worried about Lin Que. Such a ferocious move made the audience tremble with fear. Lou Cheng doubted he could handle this strike without breaking an arm and a few ribs if he was in Lin Que's position.
That was a move of the Professional Ninth Pin level!
And it was Chen Changhua's strength but Lin Que's weak point!
At this very moment, Lin Que hacked his back and moved his spine like a snake, pulling his left foot before it completely touched the ground to shift his weight back to the right foot. Using his right foot as the shaft, he spun to the back of Chen Changhua and launched a blow with his left elbow.
His previous move was a trap!
Chen Changhua missed his target and felt a strike coming from behind. Chen was left with no choice but to dive forward and roll over to avoid the elbow hit. As Chen attempted to use his core to spring up while rolling, Lin Que slid over and pulled his right foot as if cracking a whip. A crispy sound burst in the air.
Chen Changhua closed his palms in front of his body to confront this whip kick. He pulled back half a meter and blood streamed out from the split between his thumb and index ﬁnger.
Lin pushed his advantage and threw one whip kick after another at Chen's lower legs, with his legs repeatedly hitting Chen's palms with a crack.
Chen Changhua got pushed out of the ring and his hands were battered to blood and pulp. Lying on the ground, he appeared puzzled with disbelief in this cushy defeat. He didn't even have a chance to use his well- mastered throwing skills.
Seconds of dead silence was followed by a ﬁerce hurrah for the true capable in the hall.
Lou Cheng turned around, seeing Yan Zheke cheering with excitement on her face and both of her arms in the air.
"Awesome! You've earned my respect. A Professional Ninth Pin martial artist is amazing," Little Ming murmured to himself.
Lou Cheng withdrew his eyes with all sorts of feelings twisted inside. Recalling the ﬁght, he became enlightened suddenly.
The trick move Lin Que made to win this ﬁght was a practical use of Yin-Yang Stance! The key of Yin-Yang Stance, he had experienced himself clearly, was to coordinate the entire body and use strength at will. The ultimate of the Yin-Yang Stance training will be the Danqi stage.
Lin Que had apparently mastered it to some extent. His coordination and control of his body were terrifying. Didn't anybody else notice that?
He should be very close to the Danqi stage, the Professional Eighth Pin level...
Lin Que walked down from the ring after a nod at Geezer Shi. Without a single glance at Chen Changhua, he made his way to the locker room. Wu Dong, another amateur master and a close friend of Chen, stepped out of the troop to raise Chen from the ground.
At lunchtime, Lou Cheng had a good appetite, wolﬁng down more than twice as much as his usual portion. Cai Zongming and Qiu Zhigao were in the same shoe. An intense training consumed plenty of energy and their body was crying for a reﬁll though they did take a long rest until one pm to shake off the tiredness.
Waiting for his two friends to ﬁnish their meal, Lou Cheng logged on his QQ account and started chatting with Yan Zheke. The conversation they had would stay vivid even until the afternoon classes.
"Lin Que is brilliant," Lou Cheng started.
"Very! I knew he would win but I didn't see it coming so easily!" Yan Zheke sent an emoji of a chick nodding as if picking grains.
Lou Cheng felt jealous, "When can I ﬁght like him..."
Yan Zheke sent an emoji of gleaming white teeth, "Do you want to hear the truth or a lie?" "What is the truth, and what is the lie?" asked Lou Cheng full of curiosity.
Yan Zheke sent a cute face. "The lie is you have great potential to get your Professional Ninth Pin certiﬁcate and reach Lin Que's current level by graduation if you train hard under Coach Shi's supervision every day, in all weathers."
"Ha, you speak highly of me," Lou Cheng sent a shy face. "What about the truth?"
Yan Zheke sent a laughing emoji, "The truth? The truth is you can't stick to martial arts training for four years because more and more classes and employment pressure will suck up all your time. Also, a university graduate of Professional Ninth Pin will be a bit too old to enter the martial arts world. Everyone has their future. It doesn't have to be martial arts."
"Everyone has their future. It doesn't have to be martial arts..." These words replayed in Lou Cheng's mind over and over again when he was staring blankly at the class slides. If he hadn't taken the risk to get the Jindan, these words would have been his best annotation...