Chapter 21: Flaunting and Partaking
"Is it still that unripe freshman?"
"Is it still the same dude who was in a tearing hurry during the pair exercise three weeks ago?"
For the very ﬁrst time, Wu Dong started to doubt his brain. With no special admission for martial arts talents, all students in Songcheng University who enrolled in martial arts were fairly smart. However, the contradiction between Lou Cheng's previous performance and his current level completely messed up Wu Dong's cognition of the world.
"Am I in a dream?"
Staring at the stunned Wu Dong, Lou Cheng heaved a breath of relief before putting on a profound tone. "The campus recruitment will start in October, Brother Wu. I'm surprised you can still ﬁnd time to hang out with these two rogues. Thank you anyway for your instructions earlier, a great push for my martial arts progress." Campus recruitment fairs were mostly held in the ﬁrst term of the school year for the senior students with very few exceptions happening during the second term. Lou Cheng was implying Wu Dong had better take this ﬁght like a martial arts practice and put his mind on job hunting. Being involved in a ﬁght where two rogues attempted to bully a freshman wasn't something he would want to blow up at this point of his university life. However, when it came to Lou Cheng the freshman, if that got public he would very likely be praised for standing up against the bully or at worse be given some disciplinary measure which would probably be written off by the time he became a senior.
After a good moment of thought, Wu Dong said sternly, "Junior Lou, you've improved a lot, ready to replace the old. I'm glad to offer you some instructions. No big deal."
Often in touch with ancient stuff, martial arts practitioners inclined to talk in a classic, traditional manner.
"Thank you very much, Brother Wu," said Lou Cheng with a relaxed smile as he bowed slightly. After a quick glance at the two rogues, he resumed his running steps. Once the matter was settled on Wu Dong's side, Lou Cheng felt relieved. He didn't give a damn about the two rogues since they wouldn't have the balls to take revenge on the campus of the best university in the city. Also, they wouldn't have the time and effort to wait for Lou Cheng outside as that was only a ﬁght after all. Once the fever went away, trouble would only take place upon rare encounters.
Watching Lou Cheng running by them quickly and lightly with a refreshing breeze, the short-haired youth and the tattooed man were ﬁlled with astonishment and helplessness.
"Holy cow! He's a real runner!" said the short-haired youth as if a UFO just ﬂew by.
"He gotta be a monster..." muttered the tattooed man as he rubbed his eyes.
More fear for this inhuman monster developed in their minds.
... Back to the dorm, Lou Cheng didn't feel like queuing up for the shower. Instead, he had a quick rinse in their bathroom. Thanks to the rich kid Qin Mo, their private lavatory had a water pipe, a showerhead, and even a washing machine. Qin Mo himself probably used it just once in the past considering his rare presence in the dorm. Their counselor never came to the living quarters. It had been two months into the term, and Lou Cheng saw him only four times in total. A few student leaders were enough for the management as nothing major could happen on this closed campus.
Walking out of the bathroom in fresh clothes while drying his hair, Lou Cheng bumped into Cai Zongming, who was watching a martial arts match in the living room.
"Hey, Cheng! Where did you go? What took you so long? Did you succeed? In the grove?" asked Cai Zongming, winking excitedly for some hot gossip.
Lou Cheng paused to think before answering with another question, "What do you think?" "I think... Not yet. The revolution is not yet completed, and you must struggle on. Your goddess doesn't look like an easy target, or it won't be your turn. However, constant dropping will wear away a stone. Keep your good deeds up and your tomorrow is bright. It's no news that a fresh ﬂower is being stuck on a heap of cow dung. A blind cat will meet a dead rat in the end." Cai Zongming's encouragement sounded more like a
Lou Cheng stared at him and took a seat on the couch. Before he leaned to the backrest, a sharp pain came from his back, sending a chill down his throat.
Wu Dong was not bad!
"Little Ming, help massage my bruises," said Lou Cheng as he stood up to head back to his room. Bruises on his back needed help from someone else.
"Err?" Cai Zongming looked at a loss. "Were you beaten up by your goddess for trying too hard?" "What the heck is wrong with your head?" Lou Cheng said roughly.
In Lou Cheng's bedroom, Zhao Qiang was working on his homework, trying to cool himself down from the pleasant boat trip with Zhuang Xiaojun this afternoon. Zhang Jingye had got Pan Xue's QQ number during the meetup and was busy digging gossip about her roommates while watching a movie. Qiu Zhigao, standing by the window and gazing at the street lamps, was deeply lost in thought.
Lou Cheng stopped himself from laughing and returned to the living room with the bottle of ointment given to him by Yan Zheke. He passed the bottle to Cai Zongming before taking a seat with his t-shirt off, revealing his bruised back.
"Holy crap! What did you do?" Cai Zongming was confused and shocked.
"I was walking Yan Zheke back to her dorm. Thrilled by the big progress we made today, I was unable to calm down. So I went to the lake for some standing stance practice," explained Lou Cheng honestly. Cai Zongming sneered while opening the bottle. "Are you a lost brother of Qiang's? He's seeking calmness within his homework, and you went for standing stance by the lake to calm yourself down. Ha-hah. Young girls suffer from the spring fever. So do the boys. Hmm... Very horny!"
Lou Cheng ignored his tease and continued. "I ran into three rogues and had a ﬁght."
"No wonder." Cai Zongming poured some ointment into his hand and then spread it gently on Lou Cheng's bruised back. "The martial arts training has lent you balls. Were you bullied?"
As the chill penetrated into the bruise, the ache was relieved. Lou Cheng showed a squint out of comfort and said, "No. I put down all three of them."
"Good job, bro! Three weeks of martial arts training only. Did Geezer Shi teach you something incredible in secret?" Cai Zongming laid down the bottle on the couch and started to put forth his strength to rub the ointment, making Lou Cheng grimace in pain, "Any idea which department are they from? We can't leave it like this."
"Wu Dong, from the Martial Arts Club," said Lou Cheng easily with a gentle cough.
"Wu Dong, from the Martial Arts Club. So we can go back with Old Qiu. Wait! Wu Dong from the Martial Arts Club? Wu Dong the senior?" Cai Zongming raised his voice and lost control over his strength, almost causing Lou Cheng to jump with pain.
"Damn! Bad timing for playing cool..." Lou Cheng regretted deeply, "Yeah. The one who recruited us into the club."
Cai Zongming froze. "Cheng, don't trick me."
"If you could defeat Wu Dong, I would challenge Lin Que!" Lou Cheng tried to conceal his pride, "Seriously, Wu Dong has wasted his body on smoke, booze and girls. I ran away immediately upon seeing the three of them. Then, they were all exhausted and I went back. Wu Dong was really good. He almost kicked my ass."
Cai Zongming came to realization and continued to rub Lou Cheng's bruises, "I knew it! You're not a match for Wu Dong normally. But being able to defeat him and two more rogues... You must be at least of Amateur Ninth Pin now?"
"Brother Li Mao said I was getting there," answered Lou Cheng calmly.
"Three weeks only and you are of Amateur Ninth Pin now..." Cai Zongming remained silent for a while before putting on a dramatic voice, "Coach, I want to join the special training!"
Lou Cheng laughed. "Talking suits you better."
Cai Zongming weaved a sigh while rubbing Lou Cheng's bruises. "Honestly, I'm surprised to see how big a progress you have made. Your great effort for the martial arts club's dream has touched me. The last time I was this serious was when I was after my current girlfriend."
"Come if you really want!" Lou Cheng turned to the TV where the Shizhou School was ﬁghting against the Guanwai League in a Professional Martial Arts Competition. The two teams were both of the top level and specialized in body forging. Besides the metallic shine on their skin was their recovery capability. Seemingly they would never be exhausted and no wound would stay on their body.
Cai Zongming laughed mirthlessly. "I'm just a talker. As much as I want to train with you guys, I just can't give up my sleeping and game hours."
"How did you practice martial arts before?" Lou Cheng found it hard to imagine how Cai Zongming made it before.
Cai Zongming was done rubbing. He tapped Lou Cheng on his shoulder and complimented. "All ﬁrm and tight now. How did I? The son of the richest man in my hometown was kidnapped and killed, even though the family paid a fortune. Fear spread quickly through the city. My parents, who have a decent income, were so worried that they sent me to learn martial arts. All martial arts clubs were in great business those years."
"So you need supervision. By the way, did they catch those kidnappers?" asked Lou Cheng, full of curiosity.
"Sure. The Martial Arts Management Ofﬁce of the Police Department sent down a unit and had those villains killed in the mountain by random shots. I heard their bodies were torn apart..." Cai Zongming recalled an old tragedy from his hometown.
While chatting, Lou Cheng logged in his QQ and sent a smiley to Yan Zheke.
"What a great day!"
Thousands of words and tons of thrill and joy were concentrated into this sentence. The Martial Arts Competition ended with a narrow victory from Shizhou School. Lou Cheng went back to his room and ﬁnally received a smile from Yan Zheke. "Likewise."
The short reply sent a touch of warmth to Lou Cheng.
Yan Zheke continued. "I was watching the Shizhou School's match. Lion King is still the same mighty like years ago when we were little."
The "Lion King" Shang Youde, the No. 1 martial artist of the Shizhou School was close to his 50s. With six titles, including the king title "Lion King", he had always been a great master and idol in Lou Cheng's memory.
"Hah... I watched it as well! But only got the second half of it. Had a combat by the lake earlier." Lou Cheng couldn't wait to share with Yan Zheke his practical ﬁght.
Due to the defect of her body, she, a fanatical martial arts fan, must be interested in this kind of story.
Chapter 22: Competition Approaching
Yan Zheke soon replied, "Combat practice? Are you injured?" She added a shocked face emoji.
She put his safety ﬁrst, which warmed Lou Cheng's heart and curved his lips. He sent a smiling face, hands ﬂuttering across the keyboard. "Nothing serious. Just some bruises on the back. Little Ming helped me with using your ointment to massage my back. It's pretty effective."
"Of course. I chose it!" Yan Zheke sent a proud face. "Why did you go to the lakeside? We just said goodbye then. Was it a combat practice or a ﬁght?"
Noticing her curiosity, Lou Cheng replied carefully to not look like a bad boy with violence issues. "I was overjoyed and went to the lakeside for a stance training to cool myself down."
"You are so funny!" Yan Zheke replied. Lou Cheng continued, "I came across two punks there. I didn't want to get involved but they approached me, accompanied by an acquaintance of ours."
"An acquaintance?" Yan Zheke sent a cute face with question marks above its head.
"Yeah. Wu Dong, from the Martial Arts Club." Lou Cheng didn't keep her guessing.
"Wu Dong? How did you defeat them alone? Are you okay?" Yan Zheke sent a few questions in a roll with no stickers.
"Nothing serious. I'm still here chatting and laughing," Lou Cheng said humorously.
Yan Zheke sent her favorite doge emoji. "Then what happened? Wu Dong is of Amateur Second Pin but you only got minor injuries…" "In normal times I wouldn’t be able to defeat him. Also, those two punks were probably of Amateur Eighth or Ninth Pin based on their footwork. I had only one thing in mind at that moment." Lou Cheng deliberately kept her in suspense to keep the conversation interesting.
"What was that?" Yan Zheke sent a curious face.
"Out of thirty-six strategies, retreat is the best. I couldn’t defeat them so I ran." Lou Cheng sent a laughing emoji and continued, "Really fast I ran toward the lakeside grove before they reached me."
Yan Zheke sent a cute emoji of Ultraman and a small monster eating ice cream side by side. "Clever! So how did the ﬁght begin? They caught up with you?"
"Not really." Lou Cheng sent a goofy face scratching its head. "I ran all the way to the library hill, intending to seek help from teachers and security guards there. When I found Wu Dong and his fellows gasping and slowing down, I saw a good opportunity to practice actual combat and take advantage of their weariness." Lou Cheng slightly modiﬁed this part so he wouldn’t look like a troublemaker who planned this all up in advance. Most girls after puberty were no longer attracted to bad boys who had a wide range of friends.
"Emm… What happened then?" Yan Zheke sent an emoji of big blinking eyes.
"I changed my mind and ran around the hill toward the west district, slowing down on purpose for them to catch up so they wouldn’t quit chasing me." Lou Cheng continued with his story, pausing here and there to keep Yan Zheke dangling. "As soon as they stopped, out of breath, I turned around and went back."
"Weren’t you tired of them?" Yan Zheke sent an emoji of a ﬂashing question mark above its head.
"He-heh. To be honest with you, I'm a pretty good long- distance runner with great endurance. I played it low in high school." Lou Cheng bragged. "Hmm." Yan Zheke ended the topic with an emoji of blinking eyes. "You started with the two punks ﬁrst?"
"Yeah. That's very clever of you!" Lou Cheng appeared lavish in his praise for the girl.
No one would hate compliments as long as not too exaggerate or dramatic. Whenever talking to a girl, praise her when opportunities present themselves or create such opportunities if needed. Certainly nothing would work for all. For those fond of masochism, tease them with jests.
Yan Zheke sent back a blushing face and then Lou Cheng continued, "I was concerned that the two punks might be armed with knives or daggers and they seemed much weaker than Wu Dong. So I went for them ﬁrst to clear the ground to avoid a tangled ﬁght which would be really bad for me, a beginner with no practical experience.
He gave as many details as possible as Yan Zheke should enjoy all the body movements and mental activities of actual combat. "Can’t agree more!" Yan Zheke sent a proud face.
"Great minds think alike!" Lou Chen threw another compliment. "The two guys were out of breath and tired out. I stepped up and easily knocked one down with a forward punch, which almost choked him. Then I threw him at the other one and ﬁnished him with a whip kick at his shin, which killed his combat ability temporarily. After all this, I challenged Wu Dong formally. Which approach do you think was my best try then?"
Yan Zheke sent a pondering face. "Wu Dong is not known for his physical strength but very ﬂexible and nimble. Considering he was already worn out after the run, a close melee would be the best."
"Correct. Very clever! That was exactly what I thought!" Lou Cheng just created an opportunity to praise her. "Coach Shi mentioned that smoking had damaged Wu Dong's body. Press him harder and he won’t be able to catch his breath. So I approached him with Snake Steps and kept the distance between us short. He couldn't maintain himself standing after a few bouts and had to roll over to dodge my attacks." "And then? What happened to your back?" Yan Zheke asked with an emoji of blinking eyes and question marks.
Lying on his side, Lou Cheng smiled. "I was about to push my advance when Wu Dong grabbed a handful of dirt and threw it at my eyes. Completely out of my expectation, I had to turn sideways to protect my eyes but still some sand got in and I could hardly open my eyes."
Yan Zheke immediately sent a sticker of a cat dropping its dried ﬁsh out of fear. "And then? How did you turn the tide? How did you manage to dodge all but one blow on your back without eyesight?"
"In a terrible panic, I was lucky enough to receive only one hit on my back as I had already turned sideways. But that one hit almost knocked me over. My improved body coordination through Yin-Yang Stance training saved me from falling to the ground. I managed to adjust my weight and stabilize my body after taking a few big steps. I continued to shift weight and change directions and successfully dodged Wu Dong's attacks." Lou Cheng went on to share his feelings. "Standing on my feet ﬁrmly, I was surrounded by darkness, unable to see anything with tears in my eyes and fear in my heart. Luckily, Coach Shi noticed my gift in stance training and taught me the Ice Sect’s Condensation Stance and the Thunder Sect’s Lightning and Fire Stance in secret."
"The Condensation Stance can keep you calm, sharpen your senses and improve your concentration, well suited for a ﬁght in the dark." Yan Zheke sent a sigh of relief. She had a solid command of knowledge in all ﬁelds of martial arts.
Lou Cheng sent a proud smile. "The Condensation Stance calmed me down. I heard Wu Dong's deliberately-lightened footsteps and smelled his alcoholic breath. I pretended to be at a loss while listening carefully to his approach. When he got close enough, I suddenly changed to the Lightning and Fire Stance and took the initiative to attack ﬁrst. I gave him a good kick, which sent him rolling on the ground with no strength to get up."
"How exciting! Even better than tonight's competition." Yan Zheke sent a grinning dog. "Cheng, maybe one day you will become my idol!" Happy and proud, Lou Cheng tried to stay cool. "Don't praise me like that or I'll become conceited! By the way, do you have any actual combat experience?"
Asking proper questions was the key when talking to a girl. Instead of keeping the microphone, one should seek opportunities to make her talk. And whatever she said, the listener would love it!
Obviously, not every question worked. Nosing around her family matters was embarrassing and annoying.
"Me?" Yan Zheke sent a pondering emoji facing the sky. "I haven't attended the Amateur Ranking Event and only got involved in two actual combats. In Grade Nine, I indulged in homework and stayed in school late one day. Soon after I walked out the school gate, someone patted me from behind. I was so terriﬁed that I gave him a buttock subconsciously, only to ﬁnd out it was my dad coming to pick me up… How miserable my dad’s life is, thrown around by my mom in his youth and again by me in his middle ages… Dad, forgive me, please!" "I want to be treated like that! How lucky my future father- in-law is!" Lou Cheng thought to himself shamelessly while trying to ingratiate himself with Yan Zheke. "He’s probably already used to it. What about the other one?"
"So I accompanied my best friend to visit a scumbag who was using her hard-saved money while cheating on her with another girl. When we got there, the girl attempted to hit my friend and that jerk took her side. I was so outraged that I kicked both of them. They had some basic martial arts training so it could be considered an actual combat…" Yan Zheke sent a ﬂame of fury sticker.
"Scrumbag! He should be gelded!" Lou Cheng took the girls’ side with no hesitation. "Your friend was blinded by love… Didn’t know you were such a heroine!"
They stayed on this topic until 10:30 without any awkward silence. Lou Cheng said goodbye with reluctance and then fell asleep with a big smile.
... The next day by the lake, Lou Cheng couldn’t wait to show off his practical combat experience to Geezer Shi.
"Master, I defeated Wu Dong last night!"
Geezer Shi raised his eyebrows and responded, "Wu Dong? You must have worn him out with your immerse endurance in the long run before the ﬁght!"
Err... He was seen through at once... Lou Cheng was speechless.
"Even my big toe could ﬁgure out the story. Don’t be too pleased with yourself until you can defeat Wu Dong in the ring and become a leading player of the Martial Arts Club," Geezer Shi, proud and complacent, added, "For this year's National Martial Arts Competition, you can join the cheering squad or the logistical support. Watch the competition on site, observe and learn."
Lou Cheng was neither surprised nor disappointed as he knew he had only trained for three weeks. "Master, the partition contest of the competition will start next weekend, right?"
"That’s right, and the opening ceremony will be held in Songcheng University. A martial arts master of Professional First Pin will come as a special guest," said Geezer Shi.
"Who? Who's coming?" Lou Cheng seemed thrilled by the news. He was curious, and so would Yan Zheke be!
Geezer Shi answered with a smile, "Not a titled master. It’s Liang Yifan from Xinghai Club."
"I see. Terriﬁc! I’m a fan." Lou Cheng felt very glad.
A late bloomer, Liang Yifan suffered in his youth and practiced basic martial arts as a sparring partner in a martial arts club. He was of Amateur Second Pin only at the age of 22, older than Chen Changhua. However, he kept training and made progress through hardships, which earned him appreciation and opportunities. The saying "one won’t succeed in martial arts if he can’t reach the physical invulnerability by 30" didn’t stop him. Liang Yifan achieved the Upper Three Pin level at 32. A family-oriented man, he was always sedated and amiable.
For martial arts fans like Lou Cheng, Liang Yifan was their role model and a perfect example of "grand talents mature slowly"!
Chapter 23: Preparation
"Idol?" Geezer Shi smacked his lips with disdain for the shallow thoughts of enthusiastic martial arts amateurs like Lou Cheng. "Defeating him will be the best way to show him your respect."
"Defeat him if I idolize him and respect him?" Something inside Lou Cheng ﬂamed up upon hearing Geezer Shi's words. Something called ambition!
"Can I? Really?"
Trembling slightly with his ambition burning, Lou Cheng threw away his arrogance and complacency from defeating Wu Dong with wits, tact, and strength completely.
He quickly changed the topic. "Master, can we make our way to the National Finals this time?"
The National University Martial Arts Competitions consisted of eight conferences, of which the top two of each could advance to the ﬁnal stage. Divisional tournaments took place from November to January every year and the ﬁnals started in May.
Geezer Shi rolled his eyes. "Your master is not almighty! Wanna be one of the top two after a one-month special training?"
"But we‘ve got Lin Que…" Lou Cheng's voice faded as he continued, "Master, how does our Martial Arts Club stack up against other universities in this division?"
"Better than many but deﬁnitely not one of the top four. The top eight is possible." Geezer Shi thought about it and added, "Professional Ninth Pin is a very impressive level for a freshman but not as big deal for the seniors. Songcheng University is not the only one with great talents, profound cultural foundation and highly qualiﬁed coaches. Last year’s top eight each had at least one ﬁghter in Professional Ninth Pin. One year has passed. Some of them may have graduated but the rest won’t stay and wait for us to catch up." "Maybe they have become undisciplined and regressed." Lou Cheng kept the thought to himself.
"How many students in Professional Ninth Pin does Shanbei University have?" Lou Cheng asked curiously.
The national champion of last year!
Geezer Shi smiled. "What does it have to do with you? Don‘t overreach yourself! Peng Leyun was of Professional Eighth Pin last year. Considering his talent and hard work, one year is more than enough for him to move up one level before achieving the physical invulnerability state. Their manager Xu Wannian is also of Ninth Pin but don’t underestimate him as he’s gifted with some supernatural abilities. Another Professional-Ninth-Pin student has graduated but I heard they’ve got a freshman of the same level. For martial arts talents, schools like Shanbei are much more appealing than Songcheng University."
The gap between Songcheng University and Shanbei University in martial arts sounded huge. "Xu Wannian alone might defeat our entire club. Not to mention Peng Leyun." Lou Cheng thought.
"Is this the distance between a good martial arts university and the national champion?"
Looking at Lou Cheng's darkened face, Geezer Shi laughed out. "Take this year's competition as a warm-up. When Lin Que becomes stronger, you grow mature enough, and other members improve signiﬁcantly, it will be our turn to shine in the ﬁnals."
"You grow mature enough…" Lou Cheng felt thrilled and proud and blurted out. "Master, you are thinking very highly of me!"
He scratched his head and giggled in the manner of Crayon Shin-chan.
Geezer Shi replied, "Err… Just saying. Don’t take me too seriously." "..." Lou Cheng faced up to cover his awkwardness.
Luckily Geezer Shi soon changed the topic. "The ﬁght with Wu Dong yesterday must have taught you much. I’ve been watching your pair exercise with Li Mao. You are kind of proﬁcient in basic moves. So from today I'll teach you moves and styles of the Body Reﬁning stage."
What Lou Cheng had learned before was merely a combination of basic moves and skills in exerting strength.
Restraining his excitement, Lou Cheng bowed.
"Thank you, master. Which move shall we start with?"
Geezer Shi put away his casualness after a cough. "The root of my lineage is the Ice Magical Kung Fu, the lost knowledge of the Ice Sect. The nature and attributes of your moves and styles don't matter much in the Body Reﬁning stage. It won’t affect your achievement of the physical invulnerability state in the future. Today I'll teach you a body reﬁning set derived from the lost knowledge of the Ice Sect, 24 Blizzard Strikes." "24 Blizzard Strikes?" At this thrilling moment, Cai Zongming’s face appeared in Lou Cheng’s head. If he was here, for sure he would joke about the set, "24 Blizzard Strikes? The ﬁrst move must be Call Me Daddy!"
Geezer Shi continued while Lou Cheng was tripping, "This set is known for its ferociousness and craziness but don't let it take over your mind. Keep your head cool like water slowly becoming ice. Pairing with the explosive force of the Lightning and Fire Stance, it is deﬁnitely among the best of the Body Reﬁning stage…" Geezer Shi began introducing the set.
Lou Cheng listened carefully. This would be his very ﬁrst martial arts set.
Soon it was time for the martial arts club’s daily special training when Lou Cheng had just roughly memorized the key points of the 24 strikes.
... Standing in front of the remaining 12 members, Geezer Shi put on a coarse voice.
"Due to an accidental injury, Wu Dong is unable to continue with the special training. We have one week left before the divisional contest of the National Martial Arts Competitions. Now let me announce our leading ﬁghters and substitutes."
Li Mao and other potential candidates dared not to breathe, straining the atmosphere. Yet Yan Zheke nodded slightly at Wu Dong's misfortune and exchanged a smile with Lou Cheng.
"Three leading players are Lin Que, Chen Changhua and Sun Jian." Of course.
Wu Dong wasn’t a match for Sun Jian based on his previous performance, even if he was not injured. Chen Changhua's hands had fully recovered after over half a month.
Geezer Shi took a glance at Chen Changhua. "You senior students will graduate next July. We might never see each other again after that. It’s perfectly understandable if you don’t want to ﬁght your best in this divisional contest. However, after spending three years here, of which two years as the manager, don’t you have any special feeling for this club? Four years end quickly. Don't you want to leave something here? Don’t you want to be remembered by your junior sisters and brothers as the one who has led the Songcheng University Martial Arts Club to rise again? "
Very few people could live without longing for fame and wealth. Chen Changhua's expressionless face started to glow as he nodded solemnly.
"Coach Shi, here I give you my words. I'll do my best in the competition. If we can make it to the top eight, my years of training here will be worth it."
Geezer Shi looked pleased with his good attitude.
"To the top eight we have a good chance!"
He turned to look at the others. "Three substitutes. Li Mao, Lin Hua and Guo Qing." Most martial arts team events required each team to have three members who take turns to ﬁght one of the three opponent ﬁghters of another team. The winner of each ﬁght would stay for the next challenge until one team’s three members were all defeated. As the list of ﬁghters and the
lineup were decided by the coach right before the contest, it was critical to predict the opponent team’s members and strategy thus to accordingly adjust their own tactics like exchange, counteraction, and dissipation.
Amateur competitions could be as ﬁerce and brutal as those among professional martial artists with weapon license. However attentive and experienced the coaches and supervisors were, injuries couldn’t be completely prevented, making substitutes essential for the event.
Guo Qing was surprised upon hearing her own name but soon burst into a hooray and had a high-ﬁve with Yan Zheke as if she was already the champion.
"Good physical ﬁtness, great potential plus the three-week training. You are outstanding among Amateur Five Pin ﬁghters if not already at the level of Amateur Fourth Pin," Geezer Shi was always kinder and sweeter to girls. While Wu Dong was injured, all members of sophomores and juniors except Li Mao, Lin Hua and Sun Jian were of Amateur Fifth Pin, it made perfect sense to choose Guo Qing.
"What a pity Little Ming didn’t attend the special training…" Lou Cheng sighed to himself.
"Yan Zheke and Li Xiaowen, gather some girls on your martial arts lessons to form a cheering squad, enlivening the atmosphere on the stand. Lou Cheng and Wu Meng, call for two to three dozen boys to help the university guards and student union with security work," Geezer Shi continued.
Everyone was lost. After a good while, Chen Changhua asked, "Coach Shi, what security work are we talking about?"
Geezer Shi laughed. "Don't you know this year's opening ceremony will be hosted in Songcheng University and we’ll have a special guest of First Pin? Don't worry about his safety. He alone can take all of you single-handed…"
He was cut off by the students’ cheers and shouts. "Which master?"
"Who? Who's that?"
"Can we ask for autographs?"
Geezer Shi cleared his throat and continued, "You will soon ﬁnd out. The First-Pin master needs no protection from us but should protect us. Our security work will be to help school guards and the student union to block reporters, supporters and fan club members and maintain order on campus. If there's a chance, I'll try to help with the autograph."
"Long live coach Shi!" The members yelled together as if the pain and weariness from the special training had all gone.
After the cheers, they looked at each other with gentle eyes and a sense of belonging—even Chen Changhua's gaze at Lin Que was softened. Geezer Shi smiled and reached his hand out to quiet them down, "The conference contest is coming and we have loads to prepare. First, collect information. Split the work and gather all information and videos from last year’s regional and national competitions. As soon as the draw results are
announced, all leading ﬁghts and substitutes shall start to watch the corresponding parts to learn about your opponents."
Lin Que raised his hand. "Coach Shi, I have all this information."
"Good. Very good. Don’t forget to send it to me. " Geezer Shi nodded in satisfaction.
Lou Cheng had never heard so many words from Lin Que since he joined the Martial Arts Club. As Talker would say, everyone would sympathize with Songcheng University Martial Arts Club in future competitions since commentators will introduce Lin Que, the chief ﬁghter, as a tough-minded deaf-mute…
"Secondly, in this one last week, I'll teach you 12 strikes, the ﬁrst 12 moves of 24 Blizzard Strikes from the Ice Sect." Geezer Shi stretched his muscles and bones.
"Hehe. I can learn 24 strikes, but you can only learn half. This is my privilege…" Feeling very pleased with himself, Lou Cheng took the opportunity to review what he had already grasped.
At noon, Lou Cheng approached Yan Zheke and Guo Qing once again as always after his pair exercise.
"Which First-Pin master will come this time?" Yan Zheke took the initiative to ask, showing great curiosity.
Lou Cheng replied with a smile, "I know."
"Who's that?" Yan Zheke's black eyes were shining, capturing all Lou Cheng's attention.
"Liang Yifan from Xinghai Club." Lou Cheng didn’t want to keep her guessing. "Liang Yifan?" Yan Zheke's thin face was lightened up. "He is also my idol!"
Guo Qing was the same excited.
"Many idols you have…" Lou Cheng teased.
Yan Zheke pouted her lips to make a naughty expression. "If it was the Dragon King, Cheng, would you let me break in?"
"I'm already a betrayer!" Lou Cheng answered ﬁrmly.
They both burst into laughter but soon Yan Zheke sighed. "I hope Coach Shi will get his autograph for all of us."
"Autograph... " Lou Cheng kept it in mind.
Chapter 24: Coach, I Want to Join Special Training
A week later, although it was already 1:00 a.m., the night was hardly peaceful near the Songcheng University Hotel.
Wearing the special exercise clothes and pinning the walkie- talkies, Lou Cheng and Cai Zongming stood guard by the door. Behind them was the hotel lobby that remained as brightly lit as ever, scattering silhouettes and shadows of the security department, student council and other club members who stood around.
"The school is stingy. They make us do overnight guard duty, and all they provide is a set of martial arts suit." Cai Zongming tugged his martial arts suit and said grudgingly, "If it weren't because my darling likes Liang Yifan and wants his autograph, I wouldn't even care enough to be here."
Lou Cheng shot him a death glare. "Talker, that was not what you said. You said we are sworn brothers for life, and 'Cheng, if you couldn't depend on me, who else could you depend on...' Though I am also doing this and trying so hard to get the autograph for Yan Zheke!" "Ha-ha," Cai Zongming laughed dryly. "If I only wanted the autograph, I could just ask you to get it for me. Didn't Qin Mo say that if you could get him an autograph, he would pay for your meals for a week? If it was not because of our brotherhood, why would I bother to burn the night and accompany you? Where's that Liang Yifan? "
"The ﬂight was supposed to arrive at 12:05 a.m.. It has been more than 40 minutes already, right? Flights are seldom late." Lou Cheng looked outside, only to see people everywhere, mainly young ones. There were people walking to and fro, people holding banners, people whispering, people holding cameras, people excited, and people just simply squatting around.
Cai Zongming looked around in awe and said, "It's already the wee hours of the morning, and we still have a few hundred fans waiting here. The appeal of a First-Pin expert is incredible."
"Plus, this is only what is within our sight." Lou Cheng sniggered, "Lucky for us, I managed to pull some strings with Geezer Shi. Else, we would not even get this near the door. See, the student council and security department are turning green with envy. "
It was a great position to be close enough to the star!
"Cheng, yes, yes, I will say many good things about you!" Cai Zongming gave a thumbs-up. "So, after we end our shift in the morning, are you still going for martial arts practice?"
Lou Cheng could hide his 5 a.m. mornings from everyone except his roommates. He had explained that the extra training was mere to strengthen his martial arts.
"I must go. Sleep comes after training. If I skip training because of small matters like this, I will lose discipline and start to slack," Lou Cheng answered matter-of-factly. It was not a tiring chore to him. It was something he had to do anyway.
As they talked, the scene outside began to become restless.
Three black sedan cars rolled into view. As the cars approached, the crowd exploded into continuous screams, cheers and the people started to chant.
"Liang Yifan! Liang Yifan! Liang Yifan!"
Banners were lifted, partly hidden and partly visible under the lights of the hotel, matching with the ﬂuorescent light. The characters "Liang Yifan Songcheng Fan Club" on the banners were distinct and added a heated atmosphere to the chaotic spot.
"Hey, hey, hey. You, at the door, move! Make sure you block off the fans and the reporters," the walkie-talkies hanging on Lou Cheng and Cai Zongming started to buzz loudly.
The pair was a little taken aback by the chaotic scene and only regained senses when they met each other's eyes. In quick strides, the pair joined the other security guards at the door of the car that just came to a stop. Together with the professional security ofﬁcers, they locked their arms and formed a huge circle like a fence against the frenzied fans and sneaky reporters. It was almost rhythmic, like strong tides crashing on the shore, wave after wave. The human fence almost could not hold its form. Fortunately, Cai Zongming's Amateur Fifth Pin's strength and Lou Cheng's internal coordination had strengthened enough to help the fence hold it together. Frustrated fans who had been unable to get any closer to their idol could not help but shoot angry glares at them.
"Who knows? Maybe we are on a live broadcast on the Xinghai Club or Liang Yifan fan forum, and have all the people there scolding us, calling us hooligans or unreasonable guards. What do you think?" Despite the squeeze, Cai Zongming could not restrain himself and found an opportunity to talk to Lou Cheng.
Lou Cheng held on to his position tensely, and replied distractedly, "Perhaps they would even accuse us of hitting people and make use of the messy situation just to stir some trouble and create news."
Just then, the car door opened. From the even more intense screams of the fans, Lou Cheng could tell that Liang Yifan has appeared. It was a pity that his back was facing Liang Yifan. He could not catch a glimpse of the star at all. The rhythmic waves of the crowd grew stronger and faster. The screams of the fans became louder and shriller. Just as Lou Cheng felt that his arms could no longer hold off the crowd, a crisp and mellow voice said, "Everyone, please calm down. I am honored to receive such generous love from all of you, but it is already late in the night. We can't be selﬁsh and affect other people's resting time. Please be quiet. I am here with all of you."
In such a rowdy environment, though his voice was just like any other, the crowd actually fell silent. People stopped pushing, and the area outside the hotel went back to being quiet like how it should be at such hours.
Lou Cheng and Cai Zongming turned toward the voice. On the stage, outside the hotel main entrance where all the lights were shining on, stood an average-built male who was approximately the same height as Lou Cheng. In a dark blue traditional martial arts suit, the ﬁgure's presence was strong, with an indescribable aura, an aura so strong yet calm, that no one cared that he had the most ordinary-looking facial features.
"That's the real Liang Yifan..." Cai Zongming mumbled softly. Liang Yifan was 30 plus years old, the perfect age when men were most mature and yet still didn't look too old. While facing the fans' stares of admiration, he smiled gently and said, "I am always thankful, and I can never repay the love that you all have given me. So, I decided that I will sign an autograph for every single one of you here, until there is no one without my signature. So, please be orderly and line up. We are learned people, so as long as we do not get too loud, I will continue signing till the last fan standing."
His words moved the fans. Some girls were even weeping and exclaiming how good Liang Yifan was.
The walkie-talkies of Lou Cheng and team buzzed again, "Keep them in order. Let them line up without noise."
With the change of their duties, Lou Cheng and Cai Zongming started to get busy again. They guided the fans into a line and stopped those who were trying to cut the queue. One by one, the fans went up the stage to receive his autograph and the reporters at the side clicked away, capturing the moment. As the night turned quiet, Cai Zongming started to observe the ﬁgure who was continuously signing autographs under the lights, and then turned to watch the fans and reporters who were in the queue. With an unexpected twist of his head toward Lou Cheng, Cai Zongming said in a low tone, "Cheng..."
"What?" Lou Cheng responded, seemingly uninterested.
Cai Zongming took a deep breath and with the seriousness he never had, he said, "I want to join the special training now."
"Uh..." Lou Cheng looked at him intensely and pursed his lips, as though he could read Cai Zongming's mind.
He did not say anything else while they continued to maintain the order of the crowd. Time passed, and soon it was 3 a.m. There were not many left in the autograph queue, but many still lingered around, reluctant to leave.
Seeing that the queue was getting shorter and about to end, Lou Cheng heaved a sigh and stepped out of the security team formation. Relying on where he already was, he took a couple of steps and was already at the end of the queue, with only three fans before him.
"Hey, you there! What are you doing? Return to your position!" the walkie-talkie blasted.
Without hesitation, Lou Cheng ﬂicked his walkie-talkie's switch off and felt exceptionally manly for doing so.
"They can't punish me for such a minor matter, right? Even if they do, I will be happy to accept it!"
Cai Zongming's jaw dropped. He came out of his dazed state rather quickly and jumped right behind Lou Cheng, turning his walkie-talkie off at the same time.
"Cheng, you have my respect today!" he said softly.
Lou Cheng was already in front of Liang Yifan. He took out a small, cute looking notebook and said nervously, "Mr. Liang, my friend and I admire you very much. I hope you could sign here for me."
Liang Yifan smiled gently, "Of course, no worries at all. I know and I can see that the team has worked hard tonight. Just spill into batches to come and get your autographs."
Though he did not announce it loudly, the news spread quickly. All the students who had volunteered to be security personnel cheered quietly.
Upon seeing Liang Yifan ﬂip and sign on three pages of his notebook, Lou Cheng was overwhelmed.
"Thank you, thank you!"
Half an hour later, at the hotel entrance. "We are lucky that nothing happened this time. You cannot even afford to take the responsibility if anything went wrong because of your reckless behavior! It wouldn't even be unreasonable of us to ﬁre you two..." the deputy head of the security department hollered furiously at Lou Cheng and Cai Zongming.
After a long pause, he said reluctantly, "I will be reporting this incident to your department head. Whether you will receive a disciplinary order will depend on whether you admit and have reﬂected on what you have done wrong."
"Sir! You are right, absolutely right. We have done wrong. We were too hot-headed and impulsive." Cai Zongming glibly apologized for their mistake, and Lou Cheng followed suit. It did not bother the pair in any way since they had already got the autographs they wanted!
If the matter went back to their school, it would be better for them. There would be more space for negotiation and they could probably wiggle their way out of trouble since covering up for each other had always been a great tradition of every team. After greeting goodbye to the deputy head, Lou Cheng let out a sigh of relief. "He's really something. Indeed someone who had been a Professional Seventh Pin. Even after all these years of sitting in an ofﬁce, his yelling had such an impact. I almost couldn't keep my spirit and Qi steady."
"You were in a still stance just now?" Cai Zongming looked at Lou Cheng with curiosity.
"Of course, it was too boring," Lou Cheng answered matter- of-factly.
It was almost 5 a.m.. The crowd was dispersing, and the hotel's surroundings had become strangely peaceful. With the gentle autumn breeze rufﬂing their clothes, Cai Zongming and Lou Cheng subconsciously fell silent.
After noticing the lights in the hotel lobby and feeling the chilly winds of autumn, Lou Cheng suddenly said, "Talker, are you serious about joining the martial arts special training? Don't you care that you wouldn't have time for your girlfriend? Or have time to sleep or play games?" Cai Zongming said determinedly, "My girl has always been tops in studies. I will persuade her to take a second major. The time for games? I will use that to video call her. My plan is to make a trip to the Capital during Christmas and spend some time on the New Year's Day with her, so I got to make some money now."
He was from a decent family and received twice the pocket money that Lou Cheng did. Although he had at least 3,000 yuan a month, he was quite a spendthrift too, never leaving any by the end of the month. As for classes, since many helped to report in for his attendance, and excluding holidays and the weekends, he probably only skipped three or four days of class.
Not waiting for Lou Cheng to respond, Cai Zongming continued to talk,
"I kinda thought it through. After graduating, we will have to step into the real society. We will not have the energy and time like now. We will not have the passion and free spirit to do what we like now. I've always liked martial arts. Although I'm a little lazy, sometimes I do fantasize. If we have no ideal or dream, how different are we from a walking dead? I don't really want to spend four years in college just in classes, exams, and games.
"I think I have some talent. Since I am already at Amateur Fifth Pin, I probably have some hope to enter the professional martial arts community. No harm trying anyway, who knows... Maybe I'll make it? Just like how you are chasing your goddess. Maybe I'll just be lucky enough to hit the jackpot?"
Lou Cheng glared at Cai Zongming. "You can go on being all sentimental and romantic about your dreams, why do you have to add in those few lines of sarcasm?"
"Used to it," Cai Zongming answered with a smirk.
They looked at each other and grinned, then, at the same time they said, "Life is short, you live only once, why not try?"
Chapter 25: Corvine Mouth
The next night, Songcheng University's martial arts hall was brightly lit and packed with people. Everyone was waiting eagerly for the opening ceremony of the annual National University Martial Arts Competitions.
Lou Cheng waited for Yan Zheke outside the women's locker room. When she came out, he passed her the cute notebook with a grin and said, "Liang Yifan's autograph. I tore a page for myself."
Yan Zheke's eyes widened with surprise. She took the notebook and ﬂipped to the two pages where Liang Yifan had signed and exclaimed.
"You, you managed to get his autograph... Thank you very much!"
Lou Cheng tried his best to remain as calm and collected as possible. He smiled warmly and said, "You're welcome! You don't need to thank me. Didn't you also give me some medicine?" Reciprocating her favor was only an excuse that he was using so that the situation would not become too awkward for the two of them.
"Oh yes, I did." With a thoughtful look, Yan Zheke nodded lightly, and said, "I was about to say I could treat you to a meal, but since you have said it, thank you for the autographs anyway."
"Huh? Treat me to a meal? So this means a date? Did I just miss my perfect chance?" Lou Cheng was stunned. He was ﬁlled with regret for talking so much! For explaining so much!
"Actually, I don't mind a treat..." he said shyly.
Yan Zheke said with her eyes glittered. "Didn't I already return the favor with the ointment? Why do I still have to treat you to a meal?" Without waiting for Lou Cheng to respond, Yan Zheke beamed and with her pretty dimples showing, she added, "Since you have missed this opportunity, you can only wait for the next chance." "I will pick an expensive place next time!" Lou Cheng tried to use a joke to soothe the pain and regret in him.
"Expensive meal? Then I will probably not give a treat then..." Yan Zheke teased.
"Alright, alright. My fault. If Yan Zheke treats, even if it's street food, I will gobble it down like it is the most delicious thing in the world!" Lou Cheng clasped his hands together and answered her in a joking manner.
Yan Zheke tilted her head and good-naturedly said, "Gobble it down? Can you eat a lot? Maybe I shouldn't treat you then..."
"... Just look at my sincere eyes," Lou Cheng felt an urgent need to make an expression that could be found in a sticker pack of a chat application.
"Oh yes, why do you have such a girly notebook?" Yan Zheke giggled and tried to change the topic. "I bought it especially for the autographs. A manly guy like me will never use a notebook," Lou Cheng joked.
"Oh..." Yan Zheke looked at him, amused by his words. She was about to say something when Guo Qing waved to her.
"Cheng, I'll go over ﬁrst. I have some stuff to settle." Yan Zheke pointed at Guo Qing.
The cheerleaders would be trying to get the crowd ﬁred up tonight. They need to warm up the people, get them to clap and cheer, especially since this was a live broadcast, so they couldn't afford quiet moments on the screen.
As Lou Cheng waved goodbye, Cai Zongming, who was nearby, leaned over and said seriously, "Cheng, do you know how I feel after hearing your conversation?"
"What?" Lou Cheng braced himself for a sarcastic attack. "I was trying so hard not to laugh! Can't hold back any longer! Hahaha!" Cai Zongming cracked up. "You talked too much! You looked for an excuse! You didn't ask me for advice! Your date is gone now, right? Filled with regret yet? Heart aching yet?"
Lou Cheng glared at him. "Little Ming, come here."
"For what?" Cai Zongming asked with caution.
"Let me strangle you!" Lou Cheng said sternly. "We should go and maintain order."
Today's event required some order. The pair in Songcheng University martial arts suits moved toward the holding area for guests. Presidents, vice-presidents, and coaches of the various schools from the Partition Contest were present. As for the top two Martial Arts Club of the Partition Contest, which were also the representatives of the host district, Shanbei University Martial Arts Club and Sanjiang College Martial Arts Club, both their main and substitute members were invited to join the competition. In their midst, Shanbei University Martial Arts Club as the defending champion would have to go on stage later to draw lots to determine the competing order of the rest of the competitors.
After Yan Zheke walked to Guo Qing, she did not mention anything about the notebook and Liang Yifan's autograph. She only talked about how the cheerleading team could help warm the crowd up.
During their discussion, when they touched on the topic of Liang Yifan hosting the drawing lots segment, Guo Qing seemed to recall something, and said, "Ke Ke, I heard that last night Cheng was crazy cool."
"What did he do?" Yan Zheke asked curiously.
"While the deputy head of the security team was watching, he stepped out from the security team formation and asked for Liang Yifan's autograph. When the deputy head demanded that he returned to his position through the walkie-talkies, Lou Cheng simply switched his walkie-talkie off! Totally calm and collected, without any fear." Guo Qing continued with her gossip, "Fortunately, Liang Yifan did not mind, and the deputy head just reprimanded him and he was off the hook..."
While listening to Guo Qing, Yan Zheke bit her lips and a subtle glow came into her eyes. Her lips arched slightly and her right hand stroked the notebook's cover lightly.
A young man, smartly dressed in a black tuxedo and tie, stood at the aisle of the guest holding area. His position overlooked the male locker room of the Songcheng University Martial Arts Club. He sniggered and whispered to his partner beside him, "This year Songcheng University has Lin Que in their team. It will be worth watching. Catch the matches, if you can."
"Club Manager, so what if there's Lin Que. Why should we, Sanjiang College, care about them? In the old days, you would have been worshiped as a God!" Next to him, a tall but childish- looking youth casually passed a blandishing statement.
"No, no, you ﬂatter me. It would only be because the people in the old days didn't know better and hadn't seen enough." The tuxedo man beamed proudly. When he did so, his feet left the ground and he was ﬂoating at least 10 centimeters above the ground!
He kept his ﬂoating stance and drifted along the aisle to the seats at the back of the guest area.
The rows of the guest area were arranged in an inclined slope. As the tuxedo man ﬂoated past a few rows, a familiar voice called out to him. "Qu Hui, you haven't changed a bit, as shameless as ever."
The tuxedo man, Qu Hui, turned around to ﬁnd out who called out to him. A young man in a white martial arts suit stood at the edge of a row, with his arms crossed in front of his chest. He was about 1.80 meters tall, with thick bushy eyebrows and heavy dark eye rings. He seemed fatigued and had not slept for many nights. "Hey, Xu Wannian, you also haven't changed at all. Still the same rufﬁan look." Qu Hui sneered. "No matter how shameless I am, at least I wouldn't be defeated by a new member of the club."
Shanbei University Martial Arts Club President, Xu Wannian, gave a tight smile and said, "There's no need to provoke me or stir anything. I respect my Junior Peng's ability and have nothing to be ashamed about. Alright, I'll stop bickering with you. Watch your step and don't fall."
After watching him return to his seat, Qu Hui continued drifting toward the rows at the back and questioned the youth beside him, "There must be something wrong with Xu Wannian. Since when was he so quick to stop?"
"Yes, there must be something amiss, or else he wouldn't have missed the chance to curse that you'd trip and fall. You're ﬂoating in midair, how would you trip and fall?" The tall, childish-looking young man said in a joking manner.
"If there is anyone who would fall in this crowd, it would not be you, our President!" The other Sanjiang College Martial Arts Club members echoed.
Qu Hui was little confused and felt funny. He could not help but turn back to look toward Xu Wannian while drifting to his seat.
"Is there anything else between those lines?"
Just as Qu Hui turned back, he bumped face-ﬁrst on to a pillar that was supporting the roof of the dome. His nose was so sore that tears trickled down his cheeks. Then, at that moment, he forgot to maintain his supernatural ability and fell backward. The rest of the team members tried to catch him.
"Damned! What kind of building is this! A pillar in the middle of a walking path!" The childish-looking young man angrily started to blame the pillar. At this moment, they were nearly at the last row.
Qu Hui ﬂoated again. His tuxedo was still crisp and neat with no signs of wrinkles. He looked at Xu Wannian grudgingly and said, "I actually tripped..."
Such a big pillar, but no one, including himself, had noticed it!
After seeing Qu Hui's pillar knocking scene, Xu Wannian turned to the rows occupied by his club members, the Shanbei University representatives, and said, "See that?"
"Senior Brother Xu, is that your supernatural ability?" The members of the Martial Arts Club asked openly. A good-looking young man with a freckled face pursed his lips while some thoughts ran through his mind.
Xu Wannian proudly said, "Right. In the past, I never thought so, I always assumed that I was just a 'Corvine Mouth', the good things I speak of may never come true, but the bad ones always will. Fortunately, Junior Xu noticed it, and he looked for someone to help me hone this special ability."
While sharing his history, he patted the shoulders of a young man next to him.
"Huh?" Looking lost, that young man turned to look at who had tapped on his shoulder.
While everyone was chatting happily, he was actually out of sorts and in his own world.
"Nothing, Junior Peng. You can continue to ponder about your biological challenges and life goals." Xu Wannian let out two laughs and patted Peng Leyun's shoulder again.
Peng Leyun's skin was as smooth as that of a girl, with some facial hair around his mouth. His looks were not outstanding, but he looked clean. After he heard Xu Wannian's words, he turned back, and with a blank stare, he said, "Think about life." "Senior brother Xu, this supernatural ability of yours, to what extent can it be used?" The junior with a freckled face asked.
Xu Wannian replied good-naturedly, "For now it just interferes with my opponent. The worst is a splitting headache and no side effects."
After saying that, he pointed at the two people who were making their way up the rows and said arrogantly, "I'll show you all again."
Following instructions blasting from the walkie-talkies, Lou Cheng and Cai Zongming walked toward their assigned positions. Just as they had climbed a few steps, they heard a voice. "Hey, you there."
Lou Cheng turned toward the voice and saw the bunch of young students dressed in the Shanbei University martial arts suit. He was puzzled as to why they would call him.
"What do they want from me? Is Peng Leyun here?" With a questionable smile, Xu Wannian said, "It's a little slippery in the front. Someone fell just now. You should be careful too and not fall too."
"Oh, thank you," Lou Cheng responded with gratitude.
Suddenly, the Jindan in his abdomen did a little jump, and the nebula began to expand and contract quickly.
Uh? Lou Cheng stopped in his tracks. The Jindan reverted to its original form and stopped acting up.
"What's wrong?" He frowned while thinking. Though he was trying to understand what just happened, he continued to walk up the steps with Cai Zongming.
One step, two steps, three steps... they reached the last row and turned to look over the entire stadium. "What? Why didn't it work?" The Shanbei University Martial Arts Club members who were waiting to see Lou Cheng fall were shocked.
Nothing happened to him!
Xu Wannian was also surprised. He stood up and stepped onto the aisle to make sure that he did not miss anything. Lou Cheng was truly still standing upright and smiling brightly.
What went wrong? Xu Wannian was confused and he turned back.
At this moment, he missed a step! He could not regain his balance in time and was about to roll to the bottom of the steps!
A hand stretched out and held on to him ﬁrmly, helping him to regain his balance, preventing that embarrassing fall. "The soul of language can sometimes fail, and when it does, there will be a boomerang effect," Peng Leyun said with an unfathomable look in his eyes. Nobody noticed when Peng Leyun left his world and returned to everyone else's world.
"Huh? Junior Peng, what just happened?" The now standing steady, Xu Wannian asked in a surprised tone.
Why would he fail?
Peng Leyun shook his head to express that he did not know the reason for the failure. Then, he looked away and mumbled to himself.
"I smell the scent of the stars..."
His eyes went back to being empty and blank.
Chapter 26: Drawing Lots
Xu Wannian still hadn't recovered from his shock before the launching of the opening ceremony of the National University Martial Arts Competitions, which began with an instrumental performance by the philharmonic orchestra of Songcheng University, followed by the graceful dancing of the young and lively dance company.
"We can sleep for a while after watching the dance." Cai Zongming yawned naturally.
Lou Cheng deliberately made an expression of fear. "At the school's opening ceremony, the principal talked nonsense for over an hour and a half. Think he'd get knocked out if he did the same thing again?"
"I can't tell whether he will be hit today, but he's not the only one who has been talking nonsense. I watched a video a couple days ago about last year's opening ceremony. The chairman of the Martial Arts Federation made a speech that was so long it both remained fresh in my mind and also nearly put me to sleep." Cai Zongming said with a "righteous" look on his face. Honored guests of the Martial Arts Club of Shanbei University were seated in the front row. Listening to the speech of the president of Songcheng University, Xu Wannian looked weary. He wanted to sleep yet didn't dare to, since it a live telecast.
"He's just going on and on..." a delicate-looking boy with freckles on his face next to him said as his mouth twitched. "Brother Xu, could you use your 'Misfortune Seer' tactic on the old man to make him forget what he was going to say, or lose his notes, or make his blood pressure go up, something like that?"
After a short silence, Xu Wannian sighed. "I want to, but he's too f*cking far away!"
He looked toward Peng Leyun next to him. "In times like this, I admire and worship Junior Brother Peng the most. He can reﬂect on life and go on a mental journey whether or not there's someone around talking nonsense. I honestly suspect that he just has a supernatural ability to sleep with his eyes open!" "I also envy Brother Leyun. He can be lost in thought while he is still talking." Another member of the Martial Arts Club echoed the opinion.
"All of you, lower your voices," said the instructor of the Martial Arts Club of Shanbei University sitting in the front row after turning his head. With his hair all white in middle age, he had sunken eyes and an old-fashioned temperament. He was well respected in the Martial Arts Club, so everyone shut their mouths immediately.
Half an hour later, Cai Zongming became drowsy, his eyes glazing over.
"Cheng, we should talk to each other. Otherwise, I will fall asleep and roll down from the steps. If that happened, I'd be a running joke all over the country!"
"I guess the principal may ﬁnish his talk soon. There are so many guests today, and every one of them has to say a few words. If the principal takes too long, the opening ceremony won't ﬁnish until dawn." Lou Cheng attempted to comfort himself. The atmosphere that had been created by the music and dance a moment ago had already frozen over.
Lou Cheng had barely ﬁnished speaking when the principal abruptly brought his speech to an end, made a salute and got down from the platform. It seemed that the principal was unsatisﬁed about the time limit of the speech.
Clap! Clap! Clap!
There came a roar of thunderous applause in the gym, practically blowing the roof off the place.
Feeling as if they'd escaped from a great catastrophe, Lou Cheng and Cai Zongming also clapped their hands forcibly, showing their thanks to the principal for his mercy by releasing them from the long-winded speech.
"Next, we shall invite Mr. Fang Jingjue, the Chairman of the National College Martial Arts Federation to give a speech." The host invited the next guest. "..." With his mouth agape, Cai Zongming said, "Cheng, we'd better talk to each other."
Eyeing the front, Lou Cheng watched the cameras at each position and murmured.
"Do you know about the special competition format for martial arts competitions in teams?" Cai Zongming threw himself into the topic with his heart and soul.
"I don't live under a rock, how could I not know? Under normal circumstances, each party may send three ﬁghters to ﬁght one by one in single combat, during which the winner stays and the loser leaves. The ﬁrst party to have all three candidates defeated is out of the competition. However, sometimes it's allowed to apply for a special competition format in which all three candidates from each party come on the stage to ﬁght. That way they can fully display all the unique aspects of that certain kind of martial arts." Lou Cheng casually talked about the special competition format, while listening to the unending speech by Chairman Fang Jingjue. Cai Zongming answered with a smirk, "Then do you know what they say about the special competition format?"
"What?" Lou Cheng became interested.
Cai Zongming grinned. "It is said that during the initial establishment of the Professional Martial Arts Competition, the Xuanwu School went to the leader of the martial arts realm at that time, Master Lin Zhongxun. They said to Master Lin that the competition format was not fair, for their school-based itself on swords formation and was good at the 'Sanyuan Dingguan Swords Array (three-man swords array).' If they were going to ﬁght one by one in single combat, what was to stop the others from taking advantage of their weakness?"
"Ah, that's right! Some schools are better at joint formation than single combat. The ordinary competition format truly is unfair to them," said Lou Cheng.
Cai Zongming replied with a laugh, "Master Lin also thought so. So he formulated a special competition format where if the application was put forth in advance, one school could send three disciples in at the same time to do a set swords formation. The opponent could ﬁght with a three-person formation or have the three substitute ﬁghters together."
"This sounds quite fair, a school poor at formation holds the advantage in number. Why is that so funny?" Lou Cheng gazed at Cai Zongming, puzzled.
Cai Zongming stiﬂed his smile and said, "Hearing this, the Master of Kongtong School couldn't help but go to Master Lin to seek equal treatment. He said to Master Lin that Kongtong School was good at 'Five Directions and Five Elements Formation', and three disciples were far too few to meet the demand."
"Seems to make sense..." Lou Cheng said in hesitation.
Cai Zongming continued. "The Shangqing was beside the Kongtong School, and they couldn't ignore it hearing them talk like this. How else could they suffer such an injustice? 'Master Lin, please show some consideration for the 'Big Dipper Sword Formation' of Shangqing Sect!' What do you think, didn't this put Master Lin in an awkward position?" "This truly was a speciﬁc problem. Master Lin would have to rack his brain to ﬁnd a more comprehensive competition format..." Lou Cheng said, furrowing his brow.
"At that time, the Buddhist abbot of the Daxing Temple came in. He stared at Master Lin and mentioned the Five Hundred Arhats Formation..." Clapping his hands, Cai Zongming continued, "Well, Master Lin just told them to get out!"
Lou Cheng couldn't help but burst into laughter. "That's true.
There is nothing in the world that can satisfy everyone."
They seemed to be entirely absorbed in listening to the speech with a smile on their face when they were chatting with each other. Talking and laughing, one guest came up after another. They enjoyed the song and dance in between, waiting until "Light in Still Night" Liang Yifan, came onto the stage.
It was necessary for Yan Zheke and others to take the lead, as the martial arts gym had exploded in the clamor. This was not only because of the personal charm of Liang Yifan, but also due to the "efforts" made by the guests in the front row!
"I'm not the best speaker, and I know that you all are eager to see the results from the drawing. So at this moment I just want to declare my sincere wish that National University Martial Arts Competitions will be better and better, have a deep lasting impact and provide an opportunity for the youth who had missed training when they were younger!" Liang Yifan said knowingly.
"Great!" Cai Zongming, Xu Wannian and others were amongst the ﬁrst to applaud. Seeing the smiles of everyone in the gymnasium, one could clearly sense the feeling of warmth amongst the people there.
The projector started and behind Liang Yifan a screen showed up, on which there was the roster for the district contest. However, the ﬁghting competitors were still left blank.
According to the competition format, there would be four groups within this region. The top four participants of the region last year would enter the group competition directly as seeded players, while other schools should enter corresponding groups through two rounds or three rounds of individual competitions. The one who got the left side during drawing lots would enjoy home advantage.
The group competition was carried out in a single cycle, and the home ﬁeld was determined according to last years results. The top eight would enter the Top Eight Knockout, and the top two Knockout would participate in the national ﬁnals as representatives of their region.
The master of ceremonies and the host then put two boxes, a large one and a small one, on the stand in front of Liang Yifan. He drew out the seeded team of each group from the small box.
"Group A," Stretching his hand inside, Liang Yifan took out a piece of paper, then unfolded it and said out loud, "Shannan University Martial Arts Club."
They had gotten third place last year. "Group B... Shanbei University Martial Arts Club!" Liang Yifan didn't skip a beat as the coaches in the gym stared at each other in dismay; the other participants on group B could only ﬁght for second place.
"Group C... Sanjiang College... Group D... Haiyuan School." After drawing the seeded player of each group, Liang Yifan made a bow with his hands folded in front and left the platform, while the other guests continued to draw for the teams in each knockout.
Lou Cheng's heart was in his throat, and he realized that he already cared about the honor of the Martial Arts Club.
The fact that Songcheng University Martial Arts Club was not among the Knockouts of Group A made him somewhat regretful. Compared to Shanbei and Sanjiang, the other two martial arts clubs were not so scary.
"Group B, the third Knockout, Home Field..." Drawing out the paper, the guest spoke out, "Songcheng University Martial Arts Club!" "Holy shit! Turns out to the most difﬁcult group..." Lou Cheng felt a little depressed.
"No big deal, perhaps the other opponents were weak? It's OK if we can make second place." Cai Zongming always looked on the bright side of things.
The guest then drew out the opponent for Songcheng University - Neihai Normal School.
"That's okay." Lou Cheng breathed a heavy sigh of relief as Neihai Normal School was known as a weak team.
As the opponent for the second round of Knockouts would come from Qin Yang and the other weak school, the odds would favor Songcheng to enter the group competition.
When the drawing was ﬁnished, it was already late into the night. After coming back to their dorms, they were all too exhausted to pay attention to the news and went to sleep one after the other. The next day, Lou Cheng returned to the dorm in the afternoon. He searched for news about the opening ceremony of the National University Martial Arts Competitions. Everyone was still following everything quite closely due to Liang Yifan attending.
In the Longhu Club forum, Lou Cheng found some posts below the front page where there were video news and a featured program made by Songcheng TV Station.
"Featured program?" Without reading the comments below, Lou Cheng skimmed one time through the news video and set his mind at rest after verifying there was no footage of him and Cai Zongming chatting and laughing. However, when he clicked the feature program of Songcheng TV Station, he caught sight of his own face!
"Very excited and thrilled. Umm, I'm really honored," said dimwittedly, with an idiotic smile on his face.
That was the time they were interviewed as onlookers outside the Martial Arts Club during the orientation conducted inside... Recalling past events, Lou Cheng opened the door of his dorm and shouted toward the opposite side. "Talker! Little Ming! Come and watch this, we're on the TV!"
Originally, when the interview had ﬁnished, they'd both eagerly looked forward to seeing their faces on TV, and would watch the Songcheng TV Station now and then. However, they never saw their faces and soon forgot about it. Who'd have known that this interview was part of the program? They hadn't thought it wouldn't be broadcast until the opening ceremony of the martial arts competitions.
"Really?" Cai Zongming came in and asked Lou Cheng to play it back. "Whew! Nice! I've got a handsome smile, not like a certain someone who seems clumsy and dumbfounded. Let's take a look at the comments, any words of praise for me?"
Chapter 27: Source of Income
Honestly, Lou Cheng felt awkward seeing online friends he was familiar with judge him from the viewpoint of strangers. He didn't know how to face it. For a moment he just wanted to ignore the comments and bury his head in the sand like an ostrich. However, he couldn't stand the exhilarated Little Ming's constant pushing and was compelled to roll over to the pages below.
Except for several people ahead who raced to take the second ﬂoor and comment with supportive words, "Unparalleled Dragon King", the martial maniac replied ﬁrst: "Lin Que is alright, but it's hard for him to prosper in the future as he has encountered sessions with numerous Mighty Ones in the past 10 years. For example, Peng Leyun from Shanbei, Ren Li from the Capital, Ann Chaoyang from Huahai, and Zhen Huansheng from Guangnan are all well-known genius ﬁghters, amongst which the former two are the martial heirs of their respective school, and the latter two have been appointed by Xinghai. Not to speak of other famous individuals, among freshmen of this year, Li Xiaoyuan from Guangnan and Fang Zhirong from Shanbei are also said to be better than Lin Que."
"Jesus! Who is this? He knows martial arts like the back of his hand!" Cai Zongming was shocked by the reply from "Unparalleled Dragon King".
With a look of worship, Lou Cheng said, "He is an addicted martial maniac and is the best choice for you to inquire data about martial arts. It is said that he is a rich kid returning from studying abroad and has been staying at home all the time."
"A Plumber Eating Mushroom" also replied, "Peng Leyun and Ren Li are both freshmen of the last year, and there's no hope for other schools before they graduate."
"Why?" The user "Brahman" sent a blank expression. She was the favorite of the forum. Graduated from elementary school last year, she was quite childish.
"A Plumber Eating Mushroom" replied, "Whoops, didn't you quit the forum this year? Think about it! During the enrollment of Peng Leyun and Ren Li and sessions before that, the one who has attained the Danqi Realm of Professional Eighth Pin were qualiﬁed to ﬁght for the national champion. But it won't work this time since they both passed the Ranking Event in October and are Professional Seventh Pins. Their aptitude is only going to increase every year through their hard work. How could the latecomers possibly surpass them?"
"Maybe someone can attain the Danqi Realm in one year and surpass them in two years?" "Brahman" was not convinced.
"Invincible Punch" sighed below, "I've failed in my Ranking Event once again. Thinking about Peng Leyun and Lin Que, I wish I were dead. The meaning of someone's existence is to make your life meaningless."
Reading a lot of comments, Lou Cheng and Cai Zongming looked each other in the eyes and sighed.
"Lin Que's become famous."
Through this live broadcast and the feature program, he had won a nationwide reputation. Looking at the comments again, the old hand "No Hooligans" had said, "Am I the only one thinking that the journalist in the feature program is a beauty?"
"Okamoto's Fan" followed, "Nine points at least! Sister, I want to..."
"Above the Sky", who had a portrait of a rocker girl, replied using a similar tone, "Am I the only one thinking that the boy in the interview is handsome?"
Cai Zongming sighed with emotion. "Don't cast pearls before swine. How fortunate to have a normal girl here!"
The little girl "Wonton Seller" replied with hesitation, "Which boy do you mean?"
"The one who looks silly. He's so cute saying about how he's honored or something like that." "Above the Sky" answered quickly. "Her tastes are all screwed up!" Seeing the answer, Cai Zongming cursed in disappointment.
Lou Cheng burst into prideful laughter. He realized there was no longer the awkward feeling he had experienced before. Instead, he found it interesting to read the comments made by intimate online friends when they had no idea about his true identity.
"Talker, not all is lost!" He patted Cai Zongming's shoulder.
"I can't believe this!" Cai Zongming grabbed the mouse from Lou Cheng and ﬂicked through pages himself.
After glancing over two pages, he ﬁnally found the reply from "Beautiful World": "The boy beside the goofy-looking one is handsome. Songcheng University boys aren't bad, they're handsome even in a casual interview."
She was a popular girl on the forum and a student at a famous school in the Capital. There were many replies from men and women, all expressing agreement with the opinion that boys of Songcheng University were not bad.
"How touching!" Putting the mouse down, Cai Zongming made a gesture of wiping away tears.
Lou Cheng stood by his side playing with QQ, and sent the link of the feature interview to Yan Zheke. "Had I known that the interview would be broadcast, I would have been more serious!"
After sending out the message, he turned his head to look at Cai Zongming by his side. "Talker, you said you would participate in the special training before. Do you still want to? Which time would you like to join us? I can mention it to Coach Shi."
"I said that from the bottom of my heart, are you questioning me now? Look at my eyes!" Cai Zongming answered dramatically. "But I can't do it this year. With my family, there's not enough time to mess with a second major. I'll join special training at the beginning of next semester." Lou Cheng drew out his words, "One today is worth two tomorrows."
"I swear!" Cai Zongming said resolutely and decisively, "I'm preparing to ﬂy myself to the Capital, and I need to save money from now on."
While talking, he ran back to his own bedroom and came back with a glass jar.
Lou Cheng looked at the jar with a ﬁxed gaze and gulped.
"Chinese chili sauce!"
Did Little Ming save up money for his date by saving money on food?"
Cai Zongming replied with a righteous look on his face, "I can't ﬂy to the capital for my date without any money. I intend to save up all of my living costs for the next two months, which should be enough for a good trip with a private hotel room."
"Save everything?" said Lou Cheng in shock.
"Well, the phone bill is ﬁlled up for three months. I'll quit smoking, drinking, social interaction, beverages, games, online shopping as well as feasting. Instead, for my meals every day, I'll have two steamed buns in the morning and ﬁfty cents of rice along with Chinese chili sauce for lunch and supper, respectively. I may also allocate twenty yuan to have a fried dish. I've done the calculations; since the charge for the water heater and internet is less than two hundred, I can save up 2800 yuan each month, which will make 5600 in two months..." Cai Zongming talked about his money-saving almost in a stream of consciousness.
Lou Cheng couldn't help but shudder at his vivid description.
"Chinese chili sauce with rice every day?"
Would he throw up? Little Ming was working his butt off for a date with his girlfriend in the Capital!
With this perseverance and willpower, was there anything he couldn't accomplish?
"Well, I'll eat anything when I'm hungry," Cai Zongming said fearlessly as he took in a deep breath.
He gave the extra autograph to his roommate Qin Mo. Instead of asking him to take care of his board expenses for a week, Cai Zongming just required him to treat all members of the dorm to a barbecue.
Giving a thumbs up, Lou Cheng said, "Hearing your miserable story, I nearly want to lend you some money. But on second thought, I don't have any money to lend to you..."
Ever since the beginning of his martial arts training, Lou Cheng had acquired a huge appetite. In addition, Geezer Shi offered a special suggestion on a balanced diet which, though it might not be as delicate as what a foreign dietitian would prescribe, met the basic requirements. Afterward, Lou Cheng's outgoing expenses each month shot straight up, became twice as much as the 600 before and got up to 1200. However, his quota living expenses for each month was 1300. If it weren't for the cheap and generous portions of the food in the canteen, he would hardly be able to afford the martial arts training, and that was even at a fee that was lower than what an ordinary person had to pay to undergo training. As the saying went, "The poor go for academics and the rich go for martial arts."
Fortunately, when he went to college, his parents had given him 2000 more for miscellaneous expenses. With 1000 left and the 800 his mother had given to him, Lou Cheng just made ends meet for the social meetup.
Also, Lou Cheng didn't want to ask for any more money from his family before he had achieved something in martial arts training. He was obsessed with the idea that it might make him seem like he was slacking off when it came to his studies.
Cai Zongming shook his head and grinned. "I don't like to borrow money from others. I just save up the money myself if I can, unless I'm at the end of my rope. However, if that happened, would I still be foolish enough to not ask for money from them?"
"We're brothers! I'd help you out however I could!" Lou Cheng said, thinking of himself. He murmured enviously, "I have no idea when I will have the opportunity to ask Yan Zheke out on a date."
Excluding the board expenses, he had 700 yuan left, which would be enough for several dates combined with the money he'd received during the New Year, and everything he'd scrounged up. But how could he talk to his parents about increasing his living expenses after he used up the money he'd been given?
It was a sad state of affairs for students that didn't have any other sources of income...
"Not to mention whether you two are close enough or if you'll even have the chance. Looking at your upcoming schedule is pretty hopeless as well since you don't have much time available." Cai Zongming laughed. "With special training every day and your duty for the martial arts club competition during the weekend, how can you spare any time for dating? By the time the group competition is over within mid- December, assuming we haven't been knocked out, you may have some time for yourself. The Amateur Ranking Event at the end of December would be a good excuse for a date, so start saving up money now!"
"I'll stop myself from carelessly spending the 700 yuan!" Lou Cheng nodded his head.
Jeez, he was too busy even to have a part-time job!
After chatting with Cai Zongming, Lou Cheng noticed a reply from Yan Zheke. She also joked about his silly smiling during the interview, which would be a blemish if it were made into a sticker pack.
With a silly smile on his face, Lou Cheng held his cell phone and chatted with her eagerly.
... At the end of November, winter had already arrived and the wind blew with a chill. However, the gym of Songcheng University Martial Arts Club was in bursting with excitement and the noises inside were loud enough to shake the heavens.
It was not only the ﬁrst battle of the regional group competition of the National University Martial Arts Competitions, but also the most important for the Songcheng University Martial Arts Club.
During the previous knockouts, Lin Que had fully displayed his might and defeated Neihai Normal School. In his ﬁght with Qinyang University, he had won two rounds consecutively and brought the two strongest opponents down, but bowed out of the third round due to exhaustion. Afterward, except for the second ﬁghter Sun Jian unexpectedly suffering an injury while entering the ring, Songcheng University Martial Arts Club had joined the group competition smoothly.
Teachers and students of the whole university had greater expectations than previous years due to Lin Que and his excellent performance. After such a long time, the martial arts gym was once again ﬁlled to the max with spectators! Besides Songcheng University, the group consisted of Shanbei University, Guannan School, and Liucheng University of Science and Technology. Among these, Shanbei University was The Champion last year. They had all of the same leading players as before and were far more superior than Songcheng University at the moment, while Liucheng University of Science and Technology was weak and had reached the group competition by chance during the drawing.
For Songcheng University, Guannan School, which was at the same level as they were, was the major obstacle blocking them from entering the Top Eight of the Division.
The ﬁrst match of the Group Competition, Songcheng University VS Guannan School!
"Guannan is actually a bit stronger than us. However, they ran into Sanjiang College and were defeated in the ﬁrst round of the knockout with a result worse than ours. So, we have the home advantage and are evenly matched with Guannan." Wearing a black old man cap, Geezer Shi was explaining the situation of Guannan School Martial Arts Club to the leading players and substitutes.
The women's locker room had been given to Guannan for their usage. Lin Hua and Guo Qing were also in the men's locker room, in which the bathroom was separated by compartments.
Acting as the logistics ofﬁcer, Lou Cheng stood to the side, listening to Geezer Shi's introduction with curiosity. Now and then, shouting could be heard from outside.
"Songcheng University! Songcheng University!"
Chapter 28: Journey to Glory
"Songcheng University! Songcheng University!"
The deafening shouts bore a sea of enthusiasm. Standing among thousands of cheering fans, Lou Cheng felt his head numb and body trembling. His blood was boiling and he wished he could be the next to ﬁght for Songcheng University Martial Arts Club.
After one month of hard training, he had pretty much mastered the meditation and all moves of 24 Blizzard Strikes. Practice after practice and progress after progress. He had no idea which level he was of as the pair exercise had been removed from the special training since the start of the partition contest.
Bringing himself from wild thoughts back to Geezer Shi's talk, he returned to reality of his ﬁrst ever Martial Arts Competition event and pre-combat locker room experience.
Geezer Shi, of the same unconcerned old man look, appeared more serious than usual. Facing his leading players, Lin Que and Chen Changhua, and some substitutes, he said, "The strongest player of Guannan is Gu Yue, the manager of their Martial Arts Club and the son of their coach Gu Zhen."
Lou Cheng could hardly hold his laughter. Instead of giving a solemn speech, Geezer Shi began with the opponent's family background.
Geezer Shi suddenly switched the thread of his talk, "Don't you feel relieved knowing he has used backdoor connections to get to this position? Hey, he has his backdoor connections but he also has solid skills. He took part in the Professional Ranking Event this April for the very ﬁrst time and got the Ninth Pin certiﬁcate smoothly—around the same time as your qualiﬁcation, Lin Que."
Lin Que nodded slightly as if it were no news to him.
"Gu Yue is tall and sturdy, ﬁrmly built with great might. He's a very tough ﬁghter. Hear me clearly. Very tough!" Geezer Shi cleared his throat before continuing, "I believe you've watched his ﬁghts. Here I'll focus on three aspects. First, don't be fooled by his great might and tough moves into ignoring his advantage in physical strength. Except for one time when he was defeated by Qu Hui from Sanjiang, he was always the one to take the lead of his club and fought through the three rounds without showing much fatigue."
He took a quick glance at Lou Cheng, the monster that never felt tired, as if crying for a match of endurance for him to win. Lou Cheng nodded silently and felt sorry, thinking, "If I was to ﬁght him in physical endurance, he would submit and worship me after a run!"
"The second, he is very cool-headed and able to defend himself calmly in front of an opponent specialized in skirmish ﬁght. Instead of following about blindly, he usually waits patiently for the rival to make moves and then react accordingly. He either drains the opponent's physical strength or leaves a weak point on purpose to lure the rival into a lock. Afraid of neither injuries nor shortage of energy, he inclines to ﬁnish a ﬁght quickly by playing tough." Geezer Shi took another look at Lou Cheng, wishing he was strong enough to be the nemesis of Gu Yue as his physical strength would never run low to reveal weak points. "We could do it in his way for three days without a stop. It would all come to a point who felt sleepy the ﬁrst..." Lou Cheng let his imagination go wild. "Sadly, it wouldn't be a good match for the audience. They would probably give ﬁngers to me and my deceased ancestors... Also who would possibly want to watch my ﬁght ever again? Better keep it in my mind."
Geezer Shi took out a metal wine pot like a magician. He had a big sip and enjoyed it loudly. "The last, according to my observation and the information Lin Hua has gathered, Gu Yue is very proud and arrogant. Certainly, he will be the ﬁrst one to ﬁght today as he doesn't expect any of his club mates to sap Lin Que's strength."
Lin Hua's best friend, a student of Guannan School, had become a secret informer.
"Lin Que, you go ﬁrst. Meet strength with strength. Defeat Gu Yue and bring down Guannan's morale. A victory from the ﬁrst round will boost our chance of entering the next stage to 70%." Geezer Shi gazed at Lin Que. Lin Que, in the black-edged white martial arts suit of Songcheng University, clean and fresh, answered with no facial expression to Geezer Shi's arrangement, "Okay."
"You can pretend to play skirmish ﬁght today to trick Gu Yue into leaving an opening and grab this opportunity to defeat him with 24 Blizzard Strikes. Injuries may happen and you may run low on physical strength quickly but go wild and suppress him completely. Knock him out as fast as you can and don't give him any chance to counterattack," continued Geezer Shi with his tactical plan.
Lin Que thought about it and nodded to give his consent.
"In this way, you won't have much strength left for the second round. If Ji Lan is your next opponent, do your best and we have a chance to score another win. However, if it's Fei Sanli, exhaust him and enrage him to earn a good start for our second ﬁghter, Chen Changhua." Geezer Shi turned his eyes to the thick-eyebrowed Chen Changhua. "Fei Sanli is more or less of your league. Known for his brutal and vicious style, he often goes for the rival's eyes and hair. An actual combat has no limitation so his moves, maybe annoying and unpleasant for the audience, are perfectly acceptable. Protect yourself from his nasty moves or all the work we've done will be wasted."
Chen Changhua conned his words carefully and then answered, "Yes. I'll be careful."
"As long as nothing goes too wrong, it shouldn't be a problem for you to take Fei Sanli down. Unless you are injured, play hard in the last round. Ji Lan was recently qualiﬁed for Amateur Second Pin. Press her hard enough and she will break down and miss your shortage of strength." Geezer Shi went on to analyze and arrange.
His words had obviously strengthened their conﬁdence in winning this contest.
"In case you are wounded by Fei Sanli, push it close to drain Ji Lan's energy, building up advantages for our last ﬁghter, Li Mao." Geezer Shi ﬁxed his eyes on Li Mao and said, "You are one level lower than Ji Lan but a victory over her shouldn't be hard as long as Lin Que and Chen Changhua can ﬁnish their share." "What a pity that Brother Sun Jian is injured and Brother Wu Dong has quit the club. Otherwise, the victory would be in our bag," said Guo Qing with a tinge of emotion.
Wu Dong left the Martial Arts Club after his recovery as he was ashamed of the defeat dealt by Lou Cheng and busy with job hunting. His every encounter with Lou Cheng felt like loud slaps right on his face.
Geezer Shi sneered loud, "Wu Dong? He's pretty much wasted. He wouldn't be a match for Li Mao if he was here. Li Mao, are you doing alright?"
Li Mao swallowed a spittle. Listening to the loud hooray outside, he nodded heavily.
"So our ﬁghters and the order are set. Lin Hua and Guo Qing, you are the substitutes." Geezer Shi signaled Lou Cheng to write down the arrangement for the match supervisor who was waiting by the side. Before a ﬁghter got in the ring, in case of a reoccurrence of some old injury or any special circumstance, a substitute could go in instead. However, if the ﬁghter was already in the ring, he couldn't be replaced and would lose the combat even if he passed out before the ﬁght started.
Lou Cheng quickly wrote down the list Geezer Shi had just arranged and gave it to the match supervisor waiting by the door.
The supervisor accepted the piece of paper and strode out. A few seconds of sudden silence was followed by a loud cheering, "Come on, Songcheng University!"
"Come on, Lin Que!"
"Lin Que! Lin Que!"
The hooray hit Lou Cheng's heart like an electric current. He longed to ﬁght more than ever, to be the one at the center of the ring for these wild and surging screams and attention! "Next year..." He quietly tightened his ﬁst.
The shouts and cheers quieted down both locker rooms.
"The martial arts atmosphere is awesome in Songcheng University. Indeed a great martial arts school with a long tradition." The bald Fei Sanli from Guannan School was stunned.
Sitting on the metal bench calmly, Gu Yue slowly put on his bracers and then suddenly stood up, with his strongly built body bringing an intense oppression to the people around him.
"A great martial arts school with a long tradition? Maybe ten years ago. Now it's a group of losers, not a match for our Guannan." Gu Yue moved his neck left and right and turned to his father, Gu Zhen.
"Let's go." Gu Zhen and Gu Yue shared a very similar face with a high-bridged nose and deep eyes as if they were both multiracials. The most signiﬁcant difference lied in their hair
—one had turned grey and the other was short and spiky. Gu Yue rubbed his hands against each other before making his way toward the door.
"Let's go!" Fei Sanli, Ji Lan and other members of the Martial Arts Club got up at the same time as if they were going on an expedition.
In Songcheng University's locker room, Lou Cheng stood by the door, browsing across the full auditorium in search of Yan Zheke. When he withdrew his eyes, Lin Que had put down his black thermos and stood up.
"Lin Que! Lin Que!"
The loud shouts and cries shocked Chen Changhua. Every new member of the Club dreamed about glow and shine, and admiration and fondness from their schoolmates. Who didn't long to defeat the opponents and bring honor to their Club?
In his freshman year, he ran errands for the Club, jealous of his elder brothers and sisters who were welcomed with cheers and screams.
Then, in the second year, he ﬁnally became one of the leading players and fought in two knockout competitions and three group competitions for Songcheng University Martial Arts Club, where his name Chen Changhua was shouted and cried out loud. That was the moment of glory he would never forget. However, year after year their defeat drained the passion of their supporters and the Martial Arts Club was no longer the hit in their university. He gradually lost his ambition in winning the match and began to worry not to fall. All that still mattered to him was his position.
When it came to his third year, they lost in the second round of the knockout stage. Few people sitting in the auditorium shouted his name. They also didn't suppress the opponent team's fans. Today, when he was about to bid farewell to Songcheng University, the passionate audience and loud cheers were back just like before. However, this time they were there for Lin Que.
"Lin Que!" He abruptly called Lin Que to stop by the door.
Lin Que stopped and turned around without any emotion. Lou Cheng and other members of the Club were unable to breathe with fear for any drama to take place at that very moment.
Chen Changhua stood up and walked up to Lin Que. He reached out his right hand and took a deep breath.
"Good luck, Lin Que!"
Lin Que seemed astonished. So did Lou Cheng and other members of the Club. A few seconds passed and Lin Que still had the same face. He stretched out his right hand and held Chen Changhua's hand.
The grasp was tight.
Lin Que turned around. Members of the Martial Arts Club stepped out of the locker room and into the massive stadium with deafening cheers coming from the frenzied audience. A ﬂight of stone stairs led to the ring.
This was a journey to glory, a trip to honor!
Chapter 29: 24 Blizzard Strikes
Thunderous shouts and screams surged hard, raising the roof of the stadium. Bringing up the rear, Lou Cheng noticed a brief halt of Chen Changhua, Li Mao and Guo Qing. Even the quiet, calm and collected Lin Que seemed to have slowed down a bit.
How could anyone stay cool in front of such blood-tingling enthusiasm?
The referee, a wide-faced man in his 40s, was already at the heart of the ring. The Martial Arts Alliance required that referees and supervisors of any formal competition must be at least two pins higher than the combatants to minimize the possibility of accidental death or serious injuries. However, it didn't apply to matches between martial arts masters of Third Pin or higher with physical invulnerability, as the role played by the referees and supervisors was weakened to barely existent. Fortunately, ﬁghters of that league could be defeated but severe injuries would rarely happen to them since they all had a secret move or two that could save their life. The gentleman of Professional Seventh Pin took a good look at Songcheng University Martial Arts Club and Guannan School Martial Arts Club in their respective resting area. He shouted sonorously after a deep breath, "Competition between Songcheng University Martial Arts Club and Guannan School Martial Arts Club, round one."
"Lin Que versus Gu Yue!"
Without Liang Yifan's talent, he had to seek help from a megaphone to send his voice out above the screaming audience.
More screams and louder cheers. The atmosphere inside the stadium was pushed to the apex.
The leading player of both teams would ﬁght in the ﬁrst round?
Gu Yue loosened his limbs and shook the robe off his shoulders. In a sky blue martial arts suit, he strode ahead to the stone stairs. "Good luck, Gu Yue!" The pep squad of Guannan School burst into cheers.
Their voice was instantly suppressed. There seemed ﬁre of passion burning in every corner of the stadium.
"Come on, Lin Que!"
"Come on, Lin Que!"
Gu Yue stepped into the ring, facing a ﬁgure in a black-edged white suit. Lin Que touched the school logo of "all peaks under my feet" on his chest as his face twitched slightly which was soon replaced by his usual calmness and coldness. He bowed with no emotion at all.
"I don't understand why you are such an idiot, choosing Songcheng University. Don't you know the Martial Arts Club there has become another name for a garbage dump? If you came to Guannan, you could ﬁght into the national ﬁnals this year!" In accordance with established practice, the referee announced a three-minute conversation time prior to the actual ﬁght where the two combatants could catch up or throw some hurtful remarks. Gu Yue didn't waste this spiritual combat.
This practice applied to the ﬁrst round only. Before the second and last rounds, ﬁghters weren't even given time to catch breath.
Lin Que calmly stared at him without a word.
"Why not say something? Afraid of revealing the rage or regret deep in your heart?" Gu Yue pushed and pushed like a jerk, attempting to tear off Lin Que's annoying calm face before the actual ﬁght.
The timer of three minutes would soon tick but Lin Que's face remained the same, which started to bring frustration to Gu Yue. Words jumped out of his mouth, "Do you have autism? Or are you a natural deaf?" He didn't expect an answer but to his surprise, Lin Que began to talk in a cold, ﬂat tone, "To the weak I have nothing to say."
Nothing to say to the weak? The weak? All of a sudden, rage ﬂooded into Gu Yue's head, turning his eyes blood red.
At this moment, the referee stretched out his hand and pressed down the timer.
Gu Yue dashed forward on his side in an aggressive manner, trying to force Lin Que into a close melee.
Lin Que moved to the side and swayed his hip to throw a powerful punch with each of his hands at Gu Yue's left and right temples.
His feet seemed to be solidly planted on the ground. Gu Yue leisurely lowered his center of mass and raised his hands to block Lin Que's strike. He then turned into grasping hands to lock Lin Que.
Lin Que took another step sideways to dodge the catch. His body twisted and waist pulled to launch a low kick at the opponent's shin. As soon as the kick was blocked, he quickly changed his position and put on a classic skirmish ﬁght posture.
"Skirmish ﬁght... According to the information we have collected, his endurance is not a match for mine. Skirmish ﬁght will consume his strength faster than me playing defensive. Why would he feed my advantage with his weak point? Would it be a trap?" As Gu Yue thought about all possibilities, his hands in the form of two iron plates worked together with his legs to provide perfect defense.
Lin Que stepped to the left and Gu Yue shifted his position and weight accordingly. Suddenly, Lin Que straightened his spine and moved his weight back to the previous position like a snake. His palm cut to the opening Gu Yue left on the side. What the heck! In a little frenzy, Gu Yue's head was clear and fast at making decisions. He bent over with his knees twisted and got away from Lin Que's palm. He quickly adjusted his weight and raised his hands to block Lin Que's further attacks.
Seeing no opportunity, Lin Que moved away and continued with skirmish ﬁght, throwing surprise punches at Gu Yue here and there.
"That was close. Lin Que's control and adjustment of weight have almost reached the Danqi stage. No wonder he has chosen skirmish ﬁght. He's seeking opportunities to take me ruthlessly by surprise." Gu Yue played a safe defense while speculating, "I can't play defensive forever. I need to create an opportunity to drag him closer. If his swiftness plays on, there will be more problems I'll have to deal with!"
As this idea became clear, Gu Yue acted to be out of patience. Upon another sneak strike from Lin Que, he stepped out to counterattack, leaving his footwork in chaos. Bang! Lin Que didn't let go of this opportunity. He moved to the front of Gu Yue and hit his right shoulder blade with his palm.
"Excellent!" Cheers came from the audience.
A ferocious grin climbed on Gu Yue's face. His left hand, seemingly well prepared, rolled up to grab Lin Que's arm as his feet stepped forward to stay close enough to Lin Que to give a fatal dash.
At this time, a sharp sound of wind came to his ears and a scene of a winter blizzard ﬂashed across his mind. His face actually felt a stabbing pain.
Lin Que advanced straightforwardly with calmness and craziness coexisting in his eyes. He curled his free hand into a ﬁst and punched madly like a barbarian. The speed of his punches was beyond imagination!
Gu Yue dared not show slackness in this bout and quitted his powerful dashing move after weighing the good and bad. His right hand ﬂicked and left hand blocked his head, resuming the safe defence.
Lin Que's punch was followed by a powerful kick, an elbow hit and a knee kick. Gu Yue felt that he was standing in a vast ice ﬁeld, facing an overwhelming snowstorm. He could barely breathe.
In Songcheng University Martial Arts Club's resting area, Lou Cheng stood up subconsciously. "This is the ﬁrst eight hits of 24 Blizzard Strikes!"
He watched Lin Que's offense become intenser and intenser, draining his strength while taking some energy from Gu Yue's blocks by constantly adjusting his weight and muscles. The pair seemed connected by a spring. One taking a step backwards would result in the other to advance faster, pushing the craziness and ﬁerceness of Blizzard Strikes to the next level.
Fear grew in Gu Yue's mind as the ﬁght continued. He felt exposed in a ﬁerce snowstorm. He would die if he sat put. But he would soon run out of strength if he struggled. Less and less strength was left. Colder and colder his heart became.
"This is the essence of 24 Blizzard Strikes! It doesn't lie in a move or a style... " Lou Cheng was stunned. Every single detail of his one-month practice replayed in his mind. He broke them down and then blended them into one. His hands were itchy and he felt desperate to try it out.
24 Blizzard Strikes consisted of three groups of eight moves each. Lin Que was performing the essence of the ﬁrst group, Brutal Blizzard.
Pong! Bang! Sounds of physical collisionss gradually covered the screams from the audience.
A ﬁgure repeatedly retreated until another kick at his chest sent him down the ring. After a brief silence, waves of hooray broke out again, "Lin Que!"
Lin Que won!
Gu Yue got up, breathing heavily. He couldn't believe he had been defeated like this with very few opportunities to ﬁght back. The ache in his chest was unbearable.
He squinted at Lin Que who was standing in the ring panting. He let out a low hum and returned to the resting area. Gu Yue spoke to Fei Sanli through grinded teeth, "Don't give him the time to catch breath. He can't hang on much longer!"
Fei Sanli touched his bald head and laughed. He ran up the stone stairs and got in the ring.
Without the referee's announcement, he started his footwork and dashed into Lin Que. Lin Que didn't dodge. Instead, he took a step sideways to close up the distance between Fei Sanli and himself and started a tough hand-to-hand combat.
Fei Sanli refused to back off. He threw different strikes at Lin Que.
His two ﬁngers rubbed by Lin Que's eyelids while Lin Que's ﬁst touched his stomach. He grabbed Lin Que's hair with his right hand whereas Lin Que's palm blade cut his arm... The ﬁght had gone wild, leaving the referee extremely nervous about accidental injuries.
The combatants of a formal Martial Arts Competition were bound by the waiver. However, the referee would still be investigated for any intent or improper disregard.
After two or three minutes, the two ﬁgure suddenly separated. Lin Que was trembling with his eyes squinted and nose bleeding. Fei Sanli's face was badly beaten and legs shivering as if he was about to rub his bruises right in the ring. The referee looked at them carefully and raised his right hand.
"Fei Sanli won!"
The outcome was clear. He stopped them before things went too far.
Earth-shattering boos broke out. The audience was disgusted by Fei Sanli's hooligan style.
Lin Que held a breath and went out of the ring with no delay as he didn't want to give Fei Sanli any time to recover.
Chen Changhua suddenly stood up, shaking his arm muscles.
He strode up the stone stairs, brushing past Lin Que.
Lou Cheng stepped forward to give Lin Que a hand. He felt Lin Que was extremely weak, just a breath away from passing out. "Thanks..." Lin Que murmured quietly.
"You're welcome," said Lou Cheng sincerely with his eyes locked on him. "Your 24 Blizzard Strikes is brilliant!"
"It drained his strength in a terrifying way. Lin Que could barely make it through the ﬁrst round. Err... What a perfect match with my style!
"I have no concern about running out of strength!
"Master has chosen this martial art set for me for a reason..."
Chen Changhua was in the ring, facing the ﬁercely beaten Fei Sanli, who breathed heavily.
The scene changed suddenly as if he went back to his very ﬁrst ﬁght for Songcheng University Martial Arts Club. It had been a really long time but everything was vivid like yesterday. "I was once high-spirited and vigorous...
"I was once full of patriotic fervor...
"I was once here with glory and shine!"
Cheers and hooray echoed by his ears, loud and intense!
"Come on, Chen Changhua!"
"Come on, Chen Changhua!"
Come on, Chen Changhua... Chen Changhua looked lost, unsure if he was in a dream.
His eyes slightly ﬂamed with emotion. He gazed at Fei Sanli like a hungry tiger and sprang at him in his Snake Steps. "At the end of my youth, I can burn another ﬁre!
"I am the manager of Songcheng University Martial Arts Club!"
Chapter 30: Rubbing on the Ground
Keeping his center of mass low, Chen Changhua made his way up with his zigzag snake steps as if a heavy truck was about to run over Fei Sanli.
The ﬁght between Fei Sanli and Lin Que was diamond cutting diamond. Although his vital parts were missed and those punches he failed to dodge were not with full strength, Fei Sanli was still hit black and blue with his legs sore and body aching. Facing the much taller, heavier and stronger Chen Changhua, he dared not take it lightly. Considering his current body condition, he swiftly made a step to the left to avoid frontal conﬂict.
Similar to the round with Lin Que, Fei Sanli's moves seemed predictable. As soon as he made his move, Chen Changhua instantly changed his footwork and picked up his speed, charging at the opponent like a heavy water buffalo with sharp horns. His overwhelming bearing and terrifying strength shook the ground under Fei Sanli.
With no knowledge of Yin-Yang Stance, Fei Sanli was unable to coordinate his body, withdraw his weight and ﬁght off inertia in this position. However, it was not the ﬁrst time he was cornered in such a situation during his years of martial arts practice. He shrank his body immediately and squatted down to avoid the bump. Meanwhile, his right hand stretched out toward Chen Changhua's crotch, the most vulnerable part of every man.
Watching the ﬁerce confrontation on big screens, many male students in the audience felt a chill down their crotch. It seemed like Chen Changhua's vital part would be grabbed before they collided. If he attempted to overcome the inertia with a rush dodge, his footwork would be completely messed up.
"This one will hurt..."
"What to do?"
The audience was on edge. Fei Sanli was delighted with his quick reaction which would successfully turn the tide and put the rival into a very dangerous dilemma. "Chen Changhua is too impatient and reckless!"
All of a sudden, his eyes dazzled as Chen Changhua's feet were both off the ground.
Off the ground?
"Isn't it the taboo move in the body reﬁning stage? How can he keep his footwork and control his weight to prepare his body for attacks with both feet off the ground? Can Chen Changhua ﬂy?"
As thoughts mingled in his head, Fei Sanli looked up to a black shadow falling to his head.
Chen Changhua was no Qu Hui and of course he couldn't ﬂy. To avoid Fei Sanli's crotch-grasping movement, he jumped up and threw his entire body at Fei Sanli. This unconventional move gave the already cornered Fei Sanli no chance to respond. Chen Changhua's long and heavy body, strengthened by the inertia, was coming down like the Mount Tai.
Fei Sanli attempted to curl up and roll forward to avoid the attack, but it was too late. Chen Changhua fell on him heavily.
The two were both down on all fours. Chen Changhua took this opportunity to grab the dazed Fei Sanli by the wrists and was about to strangle his lower body to prevent knee kicks. This basic technique of the casting and throwing genre pulled the ﬁght into Chen Changhua's ﬁeld.
Fei Sanli would not sit still for his defeat. His legs struggled to break free and his hands ﬂicked to ﬁght the catch.
Cai Zongming in the auditorium, having his lips half open, murmured. "Looks like a damn raping scene..."
Lou Cheng shoot at the mouth and whispered to himself,
"It is literally rubbing on the ground..."
Abruptly, Fei Sanli went for a headbutt at Chen Changhua's nose to break away from this difﬁcult position at all costs.
The experienced Chen Changhua stayed calm and got away from the headbutt by ﬂipping over with strength from his waist and back. Lying under Fei Sanli, Chen Changhua then tightened his legs and started rolling.
The pair rolled on the ground where one attempted to control and the other tried hard to break free. There were collisions and catch moves here and there as the ﬁght went on. Suddenly Chen Changhua let out a loud shout and threw a headbutt to give Fei Sanli a taste of his own medicine. Bam!
As two heads smashed into each other, the two both felt dizzy accompanied by a sharp pain and tinnitus. There seemed golden stars jumping in front of their eyes. The scufﬂe came to a halt.
Chen Changhua on top of the exhausted Fei Sanli came back to consciousness ﬁrst and tightly locked Fei Sanli's hands behind his back. He pressed the opponent's face to the ground.
"Chen Changhua won!" The referee observed the situation closely and announced the result.
"Chen Changhua! Chen Changhua! Chen Changhua!"
The audience burst into a thunderous hooray, ﬁlling up the entire stadium. Chen Changhua rose unsteadily to his feet. Dizziness was still there in his head but his eyes were ﬁlled with excitement and joy.
"I can do this!
"I'm here enjoying cheers and applause!
"I'm the manager of Songcheng University Martial Arts Club!"
"Wouldn't that cause a concussion?" said Lou Cheng, touching his forehead.
Martial arts competition was not something for the show. It was so brutal that accidental injuries and death occurred every year.
Geezer Shi standing next to him answered leisurely, "It would, but nothing severe. Once you are in the ring, forget about injuries and death. Leave those to the referee." Lou Cheng took a deep breath and swallowed down his words. He was only a young student.
A dead silence hovered over the resting area of Guannan School. Coach Gu Zhen and Manager Gu Yue said no word.
They had one last combatant left. But the opponent seemed still capable...
"Ji Lan, he's suffering from the concussion. Play skirmish ﬁght to worsen his dizziness and seize any opportunity to knock him out!" Gu Zhen turned to the girl next to him.
Ji Lan, with short and thin hair, was very boyish. She pursed her lips and left her seat. Up the ﬂight of stairs, she went when Fei Sanli staggered down with dizziness as if lines were circling in his eyes.
In the ring, Ji Lan approached and threw a kick at Chen Changhua, which was blocked. She drew back to create some distance and kept her footwork. She seemed better at kicks. Sidekicks, low kicks and swing kicks, she moved agilely with her ﬂexible footwork and great strength in her lower body, little by little pushing the giddy Chen Changhua into a frenzy.
Ji Lan suddenly dived forward and targeted Chen Changhua's shin with her right foot, to which Chen Changhua appeared unable to respond.
As Ji Lan's foot reached his shin, Chen Changhua abruptly grabbed her shoulders. His face was distorted with pain but his body pressed forward instead of leaning back.
Tightening his grasps and pressing his body, Chen Changhua, ignoring the possible injuries, attempted to pin Ji Lan down with the same trick and win another ﬁght in his ﬁeld of specialization.
A chill hit Ji Lan's heart. Her legs span and strangled Chen Changhua's upper body like a pair of scissors. She managed to use the power from her fall to throw her opponent out.
Pong! They both fell to the ground, dizzy and close to fainting.
Taking advantage of Chen Changhua's giddiness, Ji Lan played the Carp Jumping Move and advanced to lock his throat with her right hand.
"Ji Lan won!" announced the referee tersely.
Chen Changhua slowly stood up, shaking his head. As he wobbled down the ﬂight of stairs, he murmured to their third combatant Li Mao, "The fall was heavy, consuming her a lot. Stay calm and you got this."
Li Mao gazed into a distance nervously and nodded slightly to the information. Making no eye contact with Chen Changhua, he looked lost in the loud cheers of his name.
"Phew... That was close. I don't think Ji Lan has much strength left," commented Guo Qing to Lin Hua in the auditorium, with obvious joy on her face. Lou Cheng shared the same view but sadly Yan Zheke was too busy leading the pep squad to talk to him on QQ.
Gazing at the ring, Lou Cheng sent his encouragement to brother Li Mao silently. His face turned pale when he noticed that Li Mao's body was trembling.
Suddenly, Li Mao's words ﬂashed back,
"... Sigh... I can't do it. I was so nervous that my body was shaking in the Amateur Ranking Event. Luckily my opponents were either very weak or more nervous than I was."
"Damn it! I hope brother Li Mao won't get too nervous!"
Lou Cheng could tell Li Mao's abnormality, and so could Ji Lan. She clenched her teeth and made a bold decision—giving up her strong point skirmish ﬁght and playing offensive!
"Give him no chance to calm down!" She advanced and threw a sidekick!
Li Mao's head was in a swim. In front of Ji Lan's strikes, he didn't know what to do or how to get out of this situation.
"I can't let down the audience...
"I can't disappoint the coach...
"I can't waste Lin Que and Chen Changhua's effort..."
The more he thought, the worse he felt. He could hardly breathe among the loud cheers of his name. His mind was a hell of emptiness.
He raised his arms into a defensive position by instinct but it was too late. Ji Lan's kick landed on his chest, forcing him to stumble back. The chest pain brought him back to reality. Li Mao imagined it to be a pair exercise. However, before he could stabilize his body, Ji Lan's kicks came one after another.
Pong! Pong! Pong!
Li Mao received several kicks in a roll. He tried to block them but was still forced to move backward until he fell off the ring.
The scorching hot atmosphere in the stadium instantly dropped to the freezing point. They had got the key to victory and taken the absolute superiority. What happened in less than one minute? How was the tide turned?
Lin Que rose with his ﬁsts clenched tightly. Chen Changhua, expressionless, was wondering if he was still in a dream that suddenly turned into a nightmare.
Lou Cheng looked blankly with only one thought in his mind, "This year's martial arts competition is over? Over in just a simple and unreal way? Over together with our two- month hard, painstaking training?" That was the martial arts competition. The winner collected all the honors and cheers whereas the loser would soon be forgotten.
On the stand, Yan Zheke stood quietly with red eyes. Lin Hua, Guo Qing and other supporters from Songcheng University had the same facial expression.
No one could understand such pain and grief without experiencing the failure on the verge of success in person.
In Guannan School's resting area, Gu Yue and other members were not prepared for this shocking result. It took them a good while to ﬁnally raise their hands and cry with joy and secret relief.
Lou Cheng returned to the locker room after helping the supervisors pack up dully. He was welcomed by the extreme depression and a dead silence.
The always distant and cold Lin Que stripped to the waist. Sitting on the metal bench with his head, completely wrapped up by that black-edged white suit, resting on his hands in front of his bare chest, he was silent like a stone statue. Chen Changhua, standing in a corner facing a distorted closet door with blood dripping down from his right hand, kept murmuring, "How is it possible? How?"
Li Mao was in the middle of the room, terriﬁed, and kept his head low. His face was ﬁlled with pain, misery, and guilt. "It's my fault. My fault... My fault..."
Guo Qing and Lin Hua had tears on their face, silently weeping.
The massive grief became an actual, physical substance, ramming into Lou Cheng with all its strength. He opened his mouth but was unable to speak.
"It's my fault. It's my fault... My fault..." Tears blurred his vision. He repeated his apology, helpless and wretched like a poor child.
A black shadow appeared by his feet. He looked up and saw Geezer Shi's hoary face with a few wrinkles.
"You think it's your fault. Then make up for it next year," said Geezer Shi gently.
Li Mao burst into tears and cried, "Yes, Coach!"
Lou Cheng's eyes were wet. For a long, long time, he would not forget this moment.